By Meg Lacey
I’m sure you’ve all heard the expression, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?” Naturally, the truth of this statement would depend on whether or not the person can cook. I’m not sure the same holds true for women who can’t, but the sentiment is still applicable. Food is essential to life. Food inspires warm feelings and friendly smiles. A bond of companionship occurs when sharing a meal; and who hasn’t swooned as the spark of love ignites over a candlelit dinner for two. So is it any surprise that romance writers have decided to include food in their novels?
Amanda Usen says, “I write about the world I know: the kitchen. However, my stories are about heat and emotion. The setting is incidental.”
Write what you know is always good advice. Take me for example. Unlike Amanda and Ava Miles, I am not a chef. My children generally ask me what I’m burning for dinner. My background is theatre, film and television. I became involved with food as a food stylist working on commercials and national cooking shows. It was a field I fell into when I was the art director and assistant producer on a project and the food stylist got the flu. I was forced to use my artistic eye, bring my paintbrushes, oil and spray bottle and take over. Over the years I learned a lot about presentation and about cooking as a result.
In “Something’s Cooking,” I wrote a romantic comedy about Tess Banyon, who is touted in the media as the new ‘Martha Stewart.’ The only problem is she can’t really cook. A reporter, Josh Faraday, who is her nemesis, suspects the truth and is hot to expose her as a fraud to her fans. A lot of the funny things that happen as the story unfolds are things that occurred while I was working on cooking shows. I’ve had Angel Food cakes have deflated like a balloon on camera, whipped cream that didn’t whip, and a finished beef roast that was raw when the star sliced into it because one of the preparation cooks had browned it but forgot to turn the oven on. Thank Heavens we weren’t shooting live video.
Oh, and in case you are wondering what happens to all of the food prepared on cooking shows, it is spread on a table for the crew to eat, unless something unhealthy was used when styling the food for camera. TV crews are like a plague of locusts. The only things left within ten minutes are crumbs.
At a time when many of today’s women think about breaking the kitchen shackles of yesteryear, many of today’s authors are putting their heroines right back in handcuffs in many of the current romance and mystery novels. What’s up with that? How do you reconcile the two concepts? To me, it’s a question of attitude, which comes from the author’s approach to the material, and characterization. To help explore this concept, and food in novels in general, I asked two of my talented fellow Entangled romance writers who have written novels about cooking, or written books featuring food to chime in.
According to Ava Miles, “there’s nothing more fun that talking about how wonderful cooking can be, the creative aspects, and the community focus, bringing people together through food. I also have found in THE HOLIDAY SERENADE with my character, Abbie Maven that she was making up for her perceived insecurities with cooking, always trying to make more than needed, always trying challenging dishes, etc. It showed how much of a perfectionist she was and how cooking was her way of trying to over-love her situation as a single mom and to shower her son with great food as a coping mechanism.”
Is there anyone who can’t relate to those feelings, to the need to over-compensate when feeling inadequate? And as a bonus, Ava’s books, stimulate your taste buds at the same time they involve your emotions.
Amanda Usen says, “In my upcoming book, SEDUCING THE PLAYBOY, the second book in the Hot Nights series for Entangled Brazen, the heroine, Jenna, is the metaphorical center of hearth and home for the hero. When the hero, Roman, thinks of her he thinks of the settled home life he’d love to have. However, Jenna is far from the traditional stereotype of the homemaker. She’s a trained chef and wants to work beside him in the kitchen. I guess you could say she wants to bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan right next to her man…while forcing him to recognize her as an equal in the workplace, the home, and the bedroom.”
In SOMETHING’S COOKING, my novel for Entangled’s Indulgence series, Tess embraces the concept of homemaking. Her business and rise to fame is centered on providing the tips for making a home the center of a woman’s world, while still allowing her to focus on career ambitions. Tess tackles the complex role of being a woman who wants and needs to excel in both of those worlds in order to fulfill her life. Luckily for the reader, there are no heavy messages here, only fun, the warmth and humor of a woman who might not be perfect, but never stops trying.
Why are romance novels featuring cooking so popular with readers? Many of the books with cooking themes include recipes for readers to try on their own. The recipes might be alluded to, or be a full blown ‘how to’, but the purpose is to get the imagination and taste buds involved. Amanda doesn’t include recipes directly in her books, instead placing them on her website, while Ava Miles and I do include them at the back of the novel.
Ava uses her recipes to help present characterization. In her novel, Country Heaven, the heroine is writing a cookbook, so “I include her memories around the recipe presented. It’s a wonderful way to get to know the characters better and to feel that warmth in our hearts when we recall what our mom or grandma baked for us growing up.”
Ava’s right, food does evoke memories. When I smell chili, I remember sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen while she made her dry chili, and scolded us for sneaking into the pantry. When I see a yellow cake I remember my father making a boxed cake mix and then adding a cup of sugar with the result that the cake was so bad even the birds wouldn’t eat it. Poor Dad, even Tess, in SOMETHING’S COOKING, wasn’t that bad.
In the end though, readers do seem to love foodie romance. Watching as characters grow and change, while tantalizing the senses is satisfying on all levels. And there are no calories.
Today’s modern life makes a lot of demands on everyday life and the women who tackle it to succeed in reaching their goal. The setting might be a kitchen, a restaurant, a TV show studio, but all of our books about cooking have one thing in common: modern, strong, confident women, and men, who celebrate their strengths, learn to overcome their weaknesses, and embrace their careers, their family, their responsibilities and—hey this is romance—their sexuality. So the next time you’re wondering what to have for dinner, pick up one of our novels and dig right in.
Slumgullion A yummy go-to casserole that my sister-in-law makes. Slumgullion is an Irish word for an ‘everyday dinner’. Basically it’s a thrown together mash of meat, vegetables, etc. In Susan’s case it is a thrown together mash of pasta, ground beef, Italian sauce and Cheeses. My German father-in-law loved this and named it Slumgullion, even though it was an Italian Dish, developed by a half-Norwegian. Go Figure!
1 package of pasta shells
1 lb. ground beef (You can also use turkey or sausage for a spicier flavor.)
1 pt. ricotta Cheese
1 qt. jar of Italian Pasta sauce (such as Ragu, or choose your favorite )
Few tbs. of Fresh Grated Parmesan Cheese
Salt to taste
Cook shells very very al dente (They will be going in the oven also, so undercook.)
Drain and set aside
Chop onion and add to ground beef, brown in olive oil.
Mix in baking dish, shells, ground beef and onions, add 1 pt. ricotta cheese, 3 tbs. of fresh grated mozzarella cheese, add tomato sauce
Dump in casserole dish, cover with mozzarella cheese
Bake 350 until cheese melts and bubbles.
About the Author:
Meg Lacey has a BFA and MA in theatre, acting and directing, and a minor in Fine Arts and Promotion. Over the years, Meg has been an actress, director, producer, creative director, CEO, copywriter, creative dramatics teacher, mime, mom, college instructor, and a school bus driver. She’s established two creative marketing/media companies, working as a V.P. and as CEO, creating projects in all media: network cable programming to corporate initiatives; to video, games and interactive websites. Meg is published with Harlequin, Imajinn Books, Samhain Publishing and now Entangled Publishing.