[Adapted from an original post I shared back in the day before my sabbatical from writing.]
The thought to write this post was fueled by an interview question I was asked some time ago in regards to what I felt was the sexiest room in the house. Now, being as I write romance, I think the general consensus was my answer would most likely be the bedroom. It wasn’t. The interviewer was quite bewildered. However, I went on to explain that I believed then as I always have and will continue to believe, the sexiest room in the house is the kitchen/dining area. Again, by answering this way I’m sure I conjured up all sorts of images involving sweet sticky substances and naughty happenings aboard the dining table.
Sorry to disappoint, that isn’t the reason why at all (well at least not the only reason). Although, one of the Delaney children from the Slower Lower series is conceived on a dining table—but I’m sure that’s to be saved for another post at another time. It can be titled “All the Places My Heroines Have Conceived” or some such thing.
No, my perception of why the kitchen is sexy has nothing to do with whipped cream or champagne or chocolate syrup…It has to do with nurturing others and the reasons we eat.
My characters, I have discovered over the years, by nature are foodies and I suppose it’s because I myself am a self-proclaimed foodie—yes, I love to eat. In fact, if I’m not careful I’ll eat my way out of my current size and right into three more. I have to constantly watch myself and my diet. But I digress. My love affair with food began in my youth and has never stopped, although my horizons are quite a bit broader than when I was three. I’ll try just about anything once, but my tastes didn’t begin with five-star cuisine, they in fact had humble beginnings.
Like me, my characters eat for a variety of reasons. In celebration, in mourning, to fill a void, to ease anxiety, for comfort… You see, eating in my stories is much like intimacy, neither is purposely planted and each has a reason and a clear function in driving the story forward. Many times, we see characters in romance eating for one reason and one reason only—the date. The food has no real purpose other than to serve as a catalyst for the two love birds to get to know one another a bit better. Not that that’s not a good reason to eat, it’s just—well, not the only reason at all and well, kind of typical and boring. My characters eat for a host of reasons just like real people do. In fact, many times their eating forays are emotionally driven.
When I was a child growing up in the foothills of the Ozark mountains, my grandmother held Sunday dinners at her house as religiously as we attended Sunday service. After a couple of hours of fire and brimstone—well, we were ready to eat! Grandma’s house was probably no more than 800 square feet at best, probably much less if I had to guess. Sizes as many things in life are a matter of perception and the perceptions of a child and what I remember are probably a far cry from the reality of it. At any rate, her dining room was small and probably only big enough to serve a half dozen at a time at best, but somehow we managed to squeeze at least ten of us around her table at once and often times in upwards of twenty to eat her Sunday dinners which consisted of good southern cuisine—soul food, comfort food, down home. Call it what you will, it was the stuff that your very being is raised on and nothing made you feel so good as her fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, greens and beans, or fried green tomatoes, and don’t forget the hip building desserts by way of cobblers. It was simple food, lots of which was grown in her garden, but it filled you up and gave you a sense of well-being. That well-being spilled over into wedding receptions, baby showers, and sadly funeral wakes. Nothing screams happiness like sherbet punch and nothing soothes a broken heart like chocolate cake.
As I grew and expanded my wings and left the nest, my contact with food also expanded and I found myself clinging to those foods from all the Sunday dinners, but trying everything under the sun as well—and learning to cook the dishes of the world along the way as traveling with my military husband opened my eyes to all sorts of new ingredients and ways of preparing them. I’ve had sushi straight from the waters surrounding Okinawa, pancit and spring rolls prepared for me by women who’d married their marines from the Phillipines, and oh my gravy you’ve never had a tamale until you’ve had one prepared by my friend Eladia. And all those things influenced the way I cooked and the places I sought out to eat when we had an evening out. I’m as likely to been seen stopping at a greasy dive for a hamburger as I am to be seen in Standford’s eating calamari and grilled artichokes followed by lobster bisque.
And all those things spilled over into my writing.
In the Slower Lower books, the Delaney clan is seen eating a huge family dinner together more than once reflecting my experiences of huge family dinners as I was growing up. Since the Delaney family is so huge, as was my extended family when gathered, their dinners are reflective at times of family reunions. And Anne Delaney is the queen of fried chicken as were my grandmother and her sisters. Each of these ladies was a divine cook and had some influence on my own culinary skills. My grandmother and all four of her sisters are gone now, and what I wouldn’t do for one of those reunion type family dinners now with Grandma’s chicken and dumplings, Aunt Thelma’s fried chicken, and Aunt Lela’s pies and green beans and potatoes. These women knew what it was to cook from the heart and nurture their families not just physically but soulfully as well.
Looking back on that whole scenario now from the eyes of an adult woman and not the eyes of a child, I realize something. I’m pretty sure while I and my cousins were obliviously eating our way through towers of homemade cookies, my grandpa and his brothers-in-law were probably thinking the ladies looked pretty darned hot in their aprons. When you’re a kid, everything concerning adult life is in the realm of the unknown and mysterious. As an adult, I now know that through the stomach of the person you adore is truly the way to the heart. My grandma not only showed all us kids love by the perpetual plate of cookies on her buffet, she was also on the down-low wooing my grandpa the whole time with her sponge cake he couldn’t get enough of. I think I even recall a couple of instances where he patted her bottom and winked as she collected his empty plate after his second helping of that luscious dessert. And that very type of wooing has managed to make it into my stories.
True confession. I’m an anxiety eater. There I said it. At times I have an awful time controlling it. And when I get the urge to splurge it drives me most often not to tubs of ice cream but the most fattening of all southern comfort dishes. I crave biscuits and gravy, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy… In one of my stories which is no longer available, the main character’s best friend knows just when to draw on the theory that sometimes you just need to ingest carbs so you can think straight. When the main character needs it most, they’re seen having cocktails and apps from around the world or sweet iced tea and pancakes and hashing about what ever problem has her down. (Yes, iced tea with breakfast—it’s a southern thing, sugars!)
PMS! Need I say more? I mean really…is there any other time in a woman’s life she just needs to eat than when the ugly head of womanhood rears and presents herself complete with cramps, acne, and mood swings? In another of my now defunct releases, the hero drives over 25 miles to get the love of his life the pie she needs to ease the period blues. Now that is devotion and a man after my own heart!
Yes, I still stand by my choice of the kitchen/dining area being the sexiest room in the house. It’s the place where hearts and souls are nurtured along with bodies. Where wooing takes place and aprons are hot attire. And the act of nurturing is one of the highest displays of love. That, sugars, is just plain sexy to me.