I no longer remember much of “Chocolat” by Joanna Harris about a chocolate-shop owner in a small French village and “The Book of Salt” by Monique Truong about a Vietnamese cook, but I do remember their effective use of food. It’s a lesson I’ve kept in mind all these years. In my debut romance book, “In His Corner” (published under my pen name, Vina Arno), I used food to help describe my characters and add nuance to a scene whenever possible.
Description as an Opportunity
“In His Corner” is about the unlikely romance of an up-and-coming boxer known as the Juggernaut and an ER doctor, Siena Carr. In various parts of the novella, food is mentioned. Both characters are shown preparing date-night dinner at home in different chapters. I could have picked random dishes, but why waste an opportunity to deepen a character or a scene?
I’m a marketing professional and a former journalist. In my experience, no other type of writing offers the joy of descriptive writing as much as fiction. I try not to waste that opportunity. For me, every page is a chance to get away from the objectivity of news writing, the formality of a white paper, and the “salesy” tone of P.R., marketing, and corporate writing.
If you’re writing a novel, make your work shine with the right kind and the right amount of description. If you have a chapter set in a bar or a restaurant, why not mention the food and drinks being served or consumed? You don’t need to write 10 pages of description, sometimes a well-crafted sentence or paragraph is all you need.
There’s a lot of wisdom behind the writing dictum, “show, don’t tell.” Choosing the appropriate food and drinks for your characters is part of that. Below are the recipes for some of the food mentioned in my romance book.
The Juggernaut’s Salmon Dinner
Tommy Raines, also known as the Juggernaut, is a typical 22-year-old who doesn’t like to cook. After he meets Siena, his attitude toward food changes as he tries to impress her—no more frozen pizza or TV dinners, no drinking out of the milk carton, and no more eating scrambled eggs off the skillet.
One Friday night, he even cooks dinner for her. His menu: baked salmon, arugula salad, rolls, and a bottle of Italian pinot noir, vintage 2005. These easy recipes are perfect for a young bachelor like the Juggernaut, but also for harried women, especially moms like me.
Recipe #1: Arugula Salad
Ingredients: rinsed arugula leaves (4-5 cups), 1/2 cup of sliced cherry tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, 1 teaspoon of grated parmesan, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, salt and pepper
Directions: This is how Tommy makes the salad as described in the book—toss together the arugula, cherry tomatoes, and lemon dressing (olive oil and lemon juice). Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Recipe #2: Baked Salmon
In the book, Tommy “shoved the Pyrex dish containing the marinated salmon inside the oven and set it to bake for thirty minutes.” The type of marinade is not specified. Use fresh lemon and olive oil to make an easy marinade.
Ingredients: 2 pieces of boneless salmon fillets, freshly squeezed lemon juice (one lemon), 1 teaspoon of lemon zest, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of thyme, salt and pepper, 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs.
Directions: Mix the lemon juice, lemon zest, thyme, and olive oil. Put the salmon in a Pyrex dish and pour the mix over it. Let it stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. After 10 minutes, sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper, then with bread crumbs. Bake the salmon in the oven for 30 minutes. The bread crumbs will add a slight crunch.
Siena Carr’s Portobello Panini
In a chapter near the end of “In His Corner,” the heroine makes panini for two in her condo. Siena, who was named by her parents after the Italian city, loves all things Italian, so her choice of panini makes sense. Here’s the recipe for her favorite sandwich.
Ingredients: For two sandwiches, you need 4 slices of ciabatta bread, 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, 2 portobello mushroom caps (rinse but don’t slice), 2 slices of tomato, 2 slices of fresh mozzarella, 3 tablespoon of olive oil, fresh basil leaves (if available), salt and pepper
Directions: Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. When it’s warm, sauté mushroom caps, adding salt and pepper to taste. After 10 minutes, remove and set aside.
Spread mayonnaise on the ciabatta pieces. Take one piece and layer it with mushroom, a slice of mozzarella, a slice of tomato, and finally a fresh basil leaf. Top it with a piece of ciabatta. Toast the sandwich using a panini press if, like Siena, you have it, or you can use a pan or a grill.
If using a pan, brush each side of the sandwich with olive oil and cook each side for five minutes until it’s brown and the cheese is melted a bit. If using a press, follow instructions accordingly. Repeat the process to make the second sandwich.
“In His Corner” (contemporary romance) by Vina Arno, published by Lyrical Press, is available at: