The Tasting Table | Food for love

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We all love to be romanced over a beautiful dinner. Food brings people together, filling our hearts as well as our stomachs. Writing about romance with a foodie theme are three delicious authors whose books will delight you.

Belinda Missen, Rebecca Raisin and Carla Caruso

Before the entrée arrives, please welcome Belinda Missen, Rebecca Raisin, and Carla Caruso.

I’ll be sneaking into the kitchen now to find dessert if anyone needs me. Enjoy!

Q1. Tell us about your passion for writing romance with a food theme. Where did it begin and how do you incorporate food into your books?

BELINDA: I’m not sure that it even began as a conscious thing to begin including food. I wrote A Recipe for Disaster in mid-2017, after what I’d thought was a rather dry year for writing (it was – I hadn’t written anything all year). During that time, I’d done a lot of baking, and not just for myself. Christmas had involved a few cakes for family and friends, then some birthdays and Easter.

Earlier in the year, a friend suggested I needed to write a book about a girl who baked. The idea had merit but didn’t go any further until I found one of my tattered childhood nursery rhyme books while cleaning up at home. I reread The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick maker, and the characters came to life. In fact, I wrote the first draft under the title: The Butcher, The Baker, The Single Male Caterer.

REBECCA: My first book was set over Christmas so it made sense to hold it in a place called the Gingerbread Café and then be able to add all those luscious descriptions of festive food!

CARLA: Friends of mine think it’s quite funny that I’m now writing foodie books … as I usually leave the cooking to my (Aussie) husband (though I love to eat!) and my forte is two-minute noodles with tinned tuna, lol.

My ‘foodie romance’ writing journey began when I noticed rural romance stories were flourishing in Oz, and I thought of a slight twist on the subgenre—setting such a story on a suburban market garden, established by Italian migrants, like the one my dad grew up on as one of 10 kids! (This idea became The Right Place, out with Harlequin HQ last August.)

I thought what would make the story really sing would be weaving through some of my mum’s traditional recipes. My ‘evil’ plan was to become a better cook by testing out the dishes. I have to say, it worked!

Q2. What are the challenges you face that are specific to this sub-genre?

BELINDA: More so in A Recipe for Disaster, I was writing about a baker and a chef specifically, so I had to make sure I got as much of the terminology right as I possibly could. What kind of ovens did they use? Or mixers? If Lucy was going to make a few hundred fruit mince pies, would she make them by hand, or did she have help? In the end, I think I did alright.

Oh, and the recipes. While I bake and cook at home, I certainly don’t concoct recipes, so I had to find some for the book that were easily doable, but not every day. Apparently, Oliver had much loftier notions for his café (those pesky characters!).

REBECCA: When writing in a series like most of mine are the follow-up books are expected quite quickly so I do have to keep that in mind if I plan on writing three. It makes for a messy house but a great feeling of accomplishment.

CARLA: Keeping it fresh. Now that I’ve written a story, brimming with tomato-laden recipes and pasta dishes, I can’t do the same thing again. But in future, I can perhaps focus on the dishes from one Italian city, like Venice, and build a theme around that. So there has to be a twist each time.

And, as always, when writing romances, there’s that challenge of keeping your hero and heroine thrown together—in this case, amid the food world. In The Right Place, I had the hero leasing the market garden of the heroine’s late nonna (a place which she’d just inherited).

Q3. Is there an author/s or book/s (apart from your own), you particularly love when it comes to food and romance?

BELINDA: A couple of authors come to mind, specifically Rebecca Raisin and her Gingerbread Café series. They’re gorgeous romances that are easily bingeable. Lucy Knott had a cracker of a book last year with How to Bake a New Beginning. Otherwise, Isabella May comes to mind. She’s done some cracker books: Oh, What A Pavolva, Costa del Churros to name a few.

REBECCA: Belinda Missen writes wonderful, funny foodie books, and Lucy Knott has a knack for writing about Italian food that has me dreaming about freshly made pasta!

CARLA: New Zealand author Hannah Tunnicliffe! I read her debut novel, The Colour of Tea, as part of a book club. Then I went on to read her second title, Season of Salt & Honey, which also has recipes in it, and which I loved! The gal certainly knows how to weave a tale around the good things in life.

Q4. Please share some advice to those interested in writing romances with a strong food element.

BELINDA: I’m not sure I’m qualified to give much advice, but if you love food, I think that’ll come through in the writing. If you’re creative enough and can come up with your own recipes, even better.

REBECCA: Do your research! And if that means eating your body weight in food then you must suffer for your art. But truthfully, I do tend to try out recipes my characters make so I can really describe them well.

CARLA: This sort of storytelling really has to come from the heart. So don’t jump on a ‘chocolate’ theme, for example, if the confection doesn’t excite you. (Although, are you mad, ha?)

Even though my mum and nonna are/were far better cooks than me, I am passionate about Italian food. It evokes memories of my childhood and the women who’ve come before me.

Once you’ve picked your food theme, really run with it. Infuse your novel with it.

And if reviewers write things like “I constantly felt hungry” (as they did with The Right Place), then you know you’ve hit the mark.

Q5. Share one favourite meal/recipe/scene from a book that shows how special the combo of romance and food is.

BELINDA: Even the simplest recipes can have a special place in romance. On my first date with my husband, he cooked dinner. It wasn’t an elaborate feast, but a Shepherd’s Pie. We still have that for dinner on the anniversary of our first date, followed by a chaser of choc-mint ice-cream. It’s a nice reminder of how everything started, and of how far we’ve come since.

So, how about an ice-cream recipe for summer? I make this in a Cuisinart Ice-cream Maker, so please alter the instructions to suit your own method.

Ingredients
Serves: 8

2 cups (500ml) full fat milk
2 cups (500ml) thickened cream
1 cup (220g) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon peppermint essence
3 drops green food colouring (optional)
1cup (125g) dark chocolate chips

Directions

In a large bowl, stir together the milk, cream, sugar, salt, vanilla essence and peppermint essence until the sugar has dissolved. Colour to desired colour with the green food colouring, starting with just a few drops.

Turn on the ice-cream maker; pour the mixture into the frozen freezer bowl and let mix until thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Five minutes before mixing is completed, add the chocolate chips through the top and let mix in completely. The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture. If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in freezer until ready. Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving.

REBECCA: This is an excerpt from Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop out March 3rd.

‘This is my spot.’

‘No, it isn’t.’

‘It is.’

Witty repartee aside, I begin to have doubts. Am I in the wrong spot? I exchange a look with Aria and she shrugs breezily, continuing to stare unabashedly as she forks treacle tart into her mouth.

‘Let me check our paperwork.’ I dash off to the space that I call my office but is in fact a chair with a tiny pull down shelf. Space is at a premium in Poppy. Finally, I find the festival permit and check the numbers. Dammit. I am in the wrong spot, but I’m not far off.

I race back – well, walk the four paces at speed – to see he’s still got his huge arms folded, his muscles bursting out all over the place. He is an actual man mountain. I’m quite flustered. It’s that animal magnetism of his, and really it’s so hot all of sudden with the oven going and pots on the stove… I shake my shirt to try and circulate some air.

‘You’re right,’ I say, willing myself to speak with authority. ‘I’m supposed to be on the other side of Aria’s bookshop. It’s not that big of a deal, though? You can go there, and I’ll stay here?’

He lifts a shoulder and its only then I notice how long his locks are, dark at the roots but golden blonde at the tips like he spends a lot of time outdoors. He’s almost leonine. I bet he roars, too.

‘Would you like some spotted dick, as a thank you?’ I ask, hoping there’s no hard feelings.

‘What?’ He throws me a look that suggests I’m handling this all wrong. Am I that bad at communicating? I’m offering the proverbial olive branch, and he’s reeling back as if I’m offering him poison.

People are so complicated.

‘Spotted dick? A nice big…’

Before I can finish he bursts out laughing, shakes his head and saunters away.

I turn to Aria, puzzled only to find her doubled over as tears begin to stream down her cheeks. ‘What?’ I say, bamboozled.

‘You…’ She struggles to control herself. ‘You…’

At this rate we’ll be here all day.

‘You are hilarious, Rosie! His face!’ She falls about laughing, for no reason I can fathom.

And then it dawns on me. ‘Oh god. He’s American so he probably doesn’t know that spotted dick is a pudding, right?’

CARLA: Here’s a sensual foodie scene from The Right Place, in which the hero shows the heroine how to make pasta from scratch… 😉

‘Think we need a vintage jukebox playing The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” right about now,’ Nella remarked. ‘Feels a bit like I’m in that pottery wheel scene in Ghost.’

Think we need a vintage jukebox playing The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” right about now,’ Nella remarked. ‘Feels a bit like I’m in that pottery wheel scene in Ghost.’

‘Oh, yeah?’ Adrian’s breath teased her ear. ‘Remind me how that scene ends again.’

Nella tittered some more. ‘Well, you might need to take your shirt off so I can demonstrate.’

‘All in good time,’ Adrian returned smoothly. ‘And anyway, we’re not making tortellini.’

Nella wrinkled her brow. ‘Tortellini?’

‘Doesn’t legend go that a peeping Tom Italian innkeeper, looking through a keyhole, spied the bellybutton of a bathing beauty and was inspired to create the pasta shape?’

Nella giggled. ‘You’re telling the story.’

After they’d machine-kneaded each strip of dough several times, Nella feeling ever antsier, Adrian moved aside to lay out the final sheet on the lightly floured bench.

‘Now what?’ Nella spun around, now hungry for only one thing, which involved more than seeing Adrian’s navel. The anticipation had only intensified the feeling.

Adrian tilted his head to one side, as though giving it some serious thought. ‘Well, next we’ve got to roll each sheet through the machine, so they’re even thinner, then cut them into strands. But first we have to allow the sheets to rest for about twenty minutes.’

At that, she lunged forward, grabbing a hold of the front of his polo shirt, not caring her hands were slightly mucky. Did Demi? ‘That’s enough time for me.’

Adrian’s eyes glittered as he lifted her up, twisting around to prop her jean-clad derriere on a spare bit of bench, joking, ‘Someone likes their pasta with sauce.’

She ripped his top over his head, something she was starting to make a habit of. ‘Faster pasta’s for idiots.’

A RECIPE FOR DISASTER Belinda’s Tasting Sample

Author and sometimes foodie, Belinda is a ridiculous romantic who met her husband after being set up by a friend two states away. It went so well, they were living together shortly after their first date. Residing in country Victoria, her husband is a not-so-reluctant beneficiary of her cooking, and their cats don’t mind it, either.

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SECRETS AT MAPLE SYRUP FARM Rebecca’s Tasting Sample

Rebecca Raisin is a true bibliophile. This love of books morphed into the desire to write them. She’s been widely published in short story anthologies, and in fiction magazines. And now she is focusing on writing romance.
Rebecca aims to write characters you can see yourself being friends with. People with big hearts who care about relationships and believe in true love.

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THE RIGHT PLACE Rebecca’s Tasting Sample

Carla Caruso was born in Adelaide, Australia, and only ‘escaped’ for three years to work as a magazine journalist and fashion stylist in Sydney.

Previously, she was a gossip columnist and fashion editor at Adelaide’s daily newspaper, The Advertiser. She has since freelanced for titles including Woman’s Day, That’s Life and Shop Til You Drop.

These days, she writes fiction in between playing mum to twin sons Alessio and Sebastian, making fashion jewellery, and restoring vintage furniture. Oh, plus checking out her online horoscopes, jogging, and devouring trashy TV shows

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Phillipa Nefri Clark

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Phillipa grew up along lonely Australian beaches with wild seas and misty cliffs. From a young age she wrote stories and dreamed of being a writer.

These days she spends half her week running part of the family business and the other writing. Currently she is working on the third in her River’s End series.

Living in regional Australia on a small acreage close to a mountain range, Phillipa’s great loves – apart from writing – are her family of two young adult sons and husband, their Labrador, music, fine wine, and friends.

Check our her website, contact her by email, or follow on her on Facebook and Twitter

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