by Elisabeth Lane
Pretty much all of my favorite romances have a significant food component, not surprising considering I write a blog called Cooking Up Romance, where I pair romance novel reviews with recipes. But then, most contemporary romance involves some kind of food. Eating together is one of the primary ways modern couples get to know one another! Plus, food is sensual. It’s sexy (which Jeffe Kennedy wrote about in her post), but also because it wakes up all of a reader’s senses. Whenever I’m in the kitchen, I’m touching, tasting, smelling, listening and watching to make sure everything goes just as I’m planned. Great romance does the same thing!
I think most of us probably associate food with taste. For Emma Barry’s Party Lines, a romance featuring a hero and heroine on opposite sides of a US Presidential election, I constructed fiesta chicken salad, an Applebee’s knock-off from a scene in the book where the hero and heroine sit down and really talk for the first time. In the book, Barry does an amazing job of evoking the busy bustle of the campaign trail. For my recipe, any complicated dish like this gets tasted constantly to be sure that each of the individual elements works together. I ended up piling single kernels of corn and a black bean on a piece of lettuce dipped in dressing to be sure the final dish would work.
Ruthie Knox’s Truly has a hero who is a frustrated-chef-turned-beekeeper and there’s a ton of great food in it. And the heroine in Truly has recently moved to New York. We get to experience the city through her overwhelmed senses. The pureed cauliflower soup I made for this book requires roasting the cauliflower. I can tell when it’s done because it’s browned, but not burned, a fine distinction in the land of cauliflower roasting. It goes from done to overdone pretty quickly!
In Jenny Holiday’s contemporary romance Saving the CEO, the hero constantly eats at the restaurant where the heroine bartends. They get handsy with each other pretty quickly in that one! And the dish I came up with, a stuffed pork tenderloin, is one you’d probably want to take off your rings for. I pounded the pork flat with a rolling pin, then had to get into the stuffing with my hands to mix it, finally tying it all up with string to keep it together in the oven. Sometimes you can use a spoon when you’re cooking. Other times, you’re just going to get dirty.
Speaking of getting dirty, when Jeffe Kennedy wrote a scene involving cannoli into Under His Touch, I knew I had to try making it. Kennedy is a master at bringing the sexy—her description of the heroine eating that cannoli! Whoo boy! Making cannoli shells is a little tricky as it turns out, though I learned pretty quickly that the sound they make changes as they’re being fried. They always bubble and they brown pretty quickly so the visual aspect isn’t terribly helpful, but they kind of stop hissing when they’re cooked on the inside.
No discussion of food and romance would be complete without mentioning Laura Florand’s Amour et Chocolat series, which features Parisian pastry chefs. I named the Gâteau Lion d’Or after the hero of The Chocolate Kiss, Philippe Lyonnais. The cake is a take-off on a macaron Philippe makes for his heroine, Magalie. Though what makes me associate this dish with smell is the process of making the frosting, which is honey Swiss meringue buttercream. It involves boiling sugar and egg white to just the right temperature. Once I’d made it enough times, I could tell when it hit 160 degrees just by the smell.
When a writer makes use of all our senses, we get pulled into a story. The scent of a hero, the description of a beautiful vista, the sounds of a city or a farm, the feel of silk on a heroine’s skin, and of course the taste of food all bring a romance to life. Senses in romance are so evocative. What’s your favorite sensory moment in a romance?
Elisabeth Lane lives in the Washington, DC suburbs with her husband and their dog. She spent nearly 15 years in marketing before quitting to become a full-time housewife. She matches the romance novels she reads with a recipe from her personal archives or just makes up a new one. She loves to experiment in the kitchen, go ballroom dancing and spend lots of time in thrift stores looking for mid-century modern pottery to add to her collection. Read more about her and her adventures pairing romance novels with food at cookupromance.com.