Wednesday, June 4, 2008

You are what you eat ...

I have to confess. I’m one of those people who likes to look in everyone's trolley in the supermarket and at everyone's plate in the restaurant, to see what they're eating. I tell myself it's research, but it isn't. It's nosiness. Food interests me.

It's the same in books. One of the details that adds to my overall enjoyment is how the author handles food. When it comes to reading, I don't just want to know that they ate, I want to know what. I've just finished a cosy murder mystery by Louise Penny, and she is now right up there with my food describer heros. Everything is there, right down to the arugula in the sandwich.

Some authors are taking this thing a step further and printing the recipes along with the story. I've never made anything I've found in a novel, but it's still interesting to know. I probably wouldn't want to be hearing about the precise constituents of the heroine's burger, or exactly the way it was flame grilled, while the hero is trying to propose (over a burger -- what a cheapskate!), but everything in its place. That brings me to a pet hate. Waste of food. Even on paper. I can't count the number of times a meal has just been served and the hero/heroine gets kissed/dumped/shot and the food is never eaten. I realise I'm shallow, but it lifts me right out of the story. This one is the exception to the rule. If they're not going to eat it, then please don't tell me about it.

I know I'm sometimes guilty of too much food and drink when I'm writing. Not me, the characters (okay, yes, me as well.) I usually have to count up to find out how many cups of tea/coffee my characters have consumed, then delete a few. All that caffeine -- they'll be hopping like frogs -- but I had to give the heroine something to do with her hands when she made that tricky speech about ... (Fill in blank here.)

Food is a big part of life, and it's a big part of what goes inside a book. What better way of getting your characters together than over a meal? But if you're inviting me to dinner, via the pages of a book, please let me know what I'm eating!

Footnote. I'm taking to crime at the end of the week. A huge list of British and American crime writers will be appearing at Crimefest, here in the UK this weekend. It's a follow-on from the West Coast Crime Convention that is usually held in the US, but took place over here in Bristol a couple of years ago. The organizers enjoyed it so much they decided to do it again. Louise Penny is one of the guests. If I get some interesting sandwich fillings, along with the writing tips, I'll let you know.


Trish Milburn said...

I look at what other people are having in restaurants too, to see if it looks good for future reference. :)

I think authors can use what a character eats and how he/she eats to show something about that character. Like if she likes to make gourmet meals and eat them leisurely or if she's grabbing Cheetos on the run.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

You know I've never really thought about it. I guess I expect they will eat but I don't need to see it. However, at restaurants I do check out people's food because I want to know what looks good.

I think the only time I focus on food in detail is when I'm writing futuristics--I need to describe that food to the reader to enrich the world building.

Savanna Kougar said...

Evonne, that is absolutely fascinating to me. While I love food, I've never done the shopping cart observations, except for whoever is behind me and ahead of me. At restaurants, I don't really care what anyone else is eating. Now, if I happen to see something that looks good, I'll ask about it. Strange, I only care about what I'm hungry for, and what the person(s) I'm with are hungry for.
I do have food descriptions in my novels, especially food sensual scenes. Anyone remember Tom Jones, that great lusty scene?
Like Anitra, I often take extra care on my futuristics or OtherWorld stories simply because it is worldbuilding, and I'm curious, and it goes to the culture(s) in those worlds.
One WIP I'm working, the hero is using food to tempt the heroine, to essentially woo her by offering the foods she loves at his birthday party, but doesn't have the budget lobster and sweet crab, and mushrooms sauteed in expensive wine, then flambe' cherries -- okay, sorry, for getting carried away.
I do have to agree it's always driven me crazy in novels where food is wasted. I grit my teeth and carry on, if I'm enjoying the story.
Oh, I just remembered, I'm including some of my own recipes, brownies and chocolate chip cookies, in another WIP... 'cause I think it adds to the 'flavoring' and the fun.

Evonne Wareham said...


You're making me hungry! Not that it takes much to do that.

Lexie O'Neill said...

What a cool, different blog! I don't really look at other people in restaurants or grocery stores, BUT I am a recipe nut! I have shelves of cookbooks, three card boxes, and my own "cookbook" I give to students when they are graduating.
In my writing, I've really only written other world manuscripts so there's some food in there somewhere to show the other world. Oh, and in my redneck book, the heroine waxes seductive over her Mama's homemade caramel cake. Wait--in my first manuscript, a contemporary that's sitting on a shelf because there was a make-believe famous country singer, I tell how to make fluffy biscuits.
Hmmm...good thing I just ate:) Lexie

Savanna Kougar said...

Lexie, homemade caramel cake, I think I'm needing that recipe! I've created cake recipes just using dark brown sugar and molasses, is that similar?

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

You guys just made me think of that part in Steal Magnolias where Dolly Pardon's character is talking about a recipe called cuppa cuppa cuppa--a cup of flour, a cup of sugar, a cup of fruit cocktail; mix and bake for 1/2 hour at 350--it did add a lot to her character (like she didn't have time for fancy recipes; just simple memorable things like cuppa cuppa cuppa. :)

Oh, and no, I've never made it but it sounds good for a sugar shock. ;0

Terry Odell said...

ALL my books have food in them. I keep meaning to post more recipes on my website; so far I only have a couple. I love reading books with recipes, and yes, I've even tried some of them (Diana Mott Davidson's Goldie Bear series has some good ones).

And I love to sit a couple of characters down with a carton of ice cream and see what happens.

Sometimes it's the heroine who's the better cook; sometimes it's the hero. Sometimes they go out to eat. But a book without food? Hard to imagine. I know I can't write them.

Evonne Wareham said...

Terry - a woman after my own heart! Food is a very useful tool for a writer - at least, that's my excuse. I will be along to check out your recipes later!

Ladies - maybe we can have a baking day on the blog and all publish our favourite?

Savanna Kougar said...

Good idea, Evonne. Maybe one of our favorite romantic recipes. Or some theme related to what we write?

Terry, I especially luv the ice cream idea.

Anitra, I remember that scene with Dolly Parton, now that you mention it. It does express her character perfectly.

Terry Odell said...

Evonne, I really have to get more recipes posted to my site. I think there are only two now -- a pasta puttanesca from one of my short stories, and a Dijon-honey chicken from What's in a Name?

The hero of Starting Over was an accomplished chef, albeit a 'hobbist'. I was going to post his recipe for Moussaka, but I couldn't find mine. It's been ages since I made it.

My heroine in my December release is a 'non-cook' who makes "kid" food for her daughter, but it leads to some interesting 'comfort food' memories for the hero.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Okay, so now I'm thinking of what I call "White Trash Cooking", which is anything I make that comes primarily from cans or boxes.

Like low-budget beef stroganoff: Brown a pound of ground beef with a chopped onion, add a can of cream of mushroom soup, a can of water, a half can of sour cream. Salt, pepper, then simmer while you cook up egg noodles.

Slather the beef/soup over noodles and serve with sides of corn or green beans.

Whalla! Gourmet dish in White Trash Fashion! Kids love it. :)

And I agree: we should have a recipe corner for Title Magic. Hmmm. We have to discuss how to do this but I think it would be a blast since I love to cook. I can do everything from Martha Stewart to White Trash. :)

Lisa Hendrix said...

One writer who is including recipes right now is Sheila Roberts ( She did On Strike for Christmas and her current book is Bikini Season, which is about a group of friends and their issues with food and dieting and the way their loved ones sabotage them. It really hits home—and the recipes are terrific, too.