I love food: eating it, cooking it, reading and writing about it. Some of my characters love to eat. Others, notably Gareth Flynn, are more than just a dab hand in the kitchen. Actually, if you set me loose in Gareth’s kitchen, I could lay my hand on anything I’d need to make a sophisticated dinner. Even blindfold.
Like most food nuts, I find inspiration everywhere. And I love trying out new flavours and unusual ingredients. When I started watching anime a few years ago, I simply had to find out why Orihime’s mention of chocolate-covered watermelon onigiri made the other characters in the scene turn positively green. Or why Ritsuka knowing what burdock root tasted like was such a big deal.
Which led me to exploring Japanese food beyond the ready-made sushi in our supermarket’s lunch section, to playing with sweet and salty combinations and with trying out ingredients I needed to read up on before I could work out what they were.
I can never just cook. I need to read every label to make sure each ingredient is entirely Vegetarian – and no, tuna is not a vegetable and squid ink and gelatine count, too! So all my cooking is about adaptation, about sticking to the spirit of the dish while finding replacements for ingredients my husband wouldn’t eat. Which is fun in its own way.
I often work out my characters’ food preferences before I know their hair or eye colour. What foods they like, or don’t, tells me what kind of character they are. Adventurous or traditional? Open to new influences or stuck in a rut? Hearty eaters or picking at their food? Happy or sad? Laid back or easily stressed?
In my current WiP, Burned Once, surgeon Marius Leven loves seafood, but his job rarely leaves him time or opportunity to enjoy dinner at McCoy’s, Lissand’s finest seafood restaurant. That’s because the restaurant’s waiting list for reservations spans weeks and Marius’s job as a trauma surgeon doesn’t lend itself to forward planning. So when he does get the chance to have dinner at McCoy’s, he treats himself to all his favourites:
- a Maureseque cocktail, whose anise and licquorice notes go wonderfully with fish. You can click here for a recipe.
- a huge seafood platter of whelks, mussels, oysters, crab, shrimp and lobster
- hot-smoked salmon and scallops baked in cream
- pan-fried skate in black butter and capers
- a delicate lemon posset
Of course, I couldn’t just write about Marius’s wonderful meal. I actually had to have a nose around our supermarket’s fresh fish counter and wouldn’t you know? Beautiful fresh skate, right there. No need to guess what I had for dinner.
Not that I’d had enough of experimenting with food by then. Not nearly. At the weekend, it was time for more food-related research. For biscuits, this time, since the FireWorks stories are set in Connecticut and my idea of biscuit comes with a cup of tea, not sausages and gravy. I wanted to try cornbread, too. And yeah, I wish I’d done that sooner. I made jalapeno & cheddar cornbread and wow! I’m a convert. This is bound to turn up in a story at some point.
First, though, I need to head a lot further south in my hunt for recipes. The man who has caught Marius Leven’s eye, Gabriel Coelho, is Brazilian. And he needs to have a couple of favourite dishes to his name, too. Yeah, it’s hard work, but really – I don’t mind. 🙂