Cooking Up Romance: Q&A With Elisabeth Lane
by Kiersten Hallie Krum
I was on The Twitter the other day–Surprise!–and stumbled across a convo between romance writers Jeffe Kennedy and Amy Jo Cousins and a new-to-me reviewer Elisabeth Lane. Being naturally nosy to occasionally stalkerish-lengths, I glommed in and checked out Ms. Lane’s review site. And man, am I glad I did.
Elisabeth Lane writes a unique romance novel review blog called Cooking Up Romance where she matches romance novels with recipes from her archives, cooks ’em up, and describes the process in detail while including a review for the romance novel that inspired her in the first place. Pretty cool, right? I thought so and asked Elisabeth if she’d chat with me a bit about herself and her site.
Warning: The following interview could make you very hungry and possibly add a few pounds by association. It’s not our fault. Really.
How long have you been reading romance? Do you remember your first romance novel?
I picked up my first romance novel when I was in the 8th grade. I was reading a lot of fantasy at the time and I think I mistook a Julie Garwood novel with a kilted Highlander on the front of it for a book with magic in it. I was just too young to know any better. I don’t remember which specific novel it was, but I was hooked from then on. I read a lot of Catherine Coulter, Nora Roberts and 25 cent used Harlequins in those days.
Well, there’s magic in romance, right? Works for me! What is your cooking background?
I don’t have any formal culinary training, but I started cooking when I was 8 years old. At first it was just oatmeal, muffins, and spaghetti, but by the time I hit high school, I was setting brandy on fire and working through 25-step terrine recipes. I guess I just have an aptitude for it.
I would say so! What made you start Cooking Up Romance? Were you inspired by any particular book or event?
I started Cooking Up Romance because I had been reading a couple of other romance blogs for about six months and just loved the community I saw there. Jackie Horne’s Romance Novels for Feminists is what inspired me most. I decided that I had to start my own blog just so I’d stop writing blog posts in her comments section.
What first made you connect cooking to romance novels?
My great-grandmother was one of those stereotypical Sicilian women who would ask us when we came to visit if we’d eaten. It didn’t matter what we said, the answer was always, “I’ll just fix you a little something,” usually resulting in at least a three-course meal. I understood very early on that cooking for people was how you told them you love them. I don’t write reviews of books I didn’t enjoy so each one I do is like a public mini fan-letter.
It’s also easy for me to get into cooking ruts. I never saw a recipe with bourbon, bacon, or salted caramel I didn’t like so picking foods from books forces me to branch out. Plus, I’m a Virgo so I need structure for my creativity. Choosing a food from a book gives me lines to color in and stretches my skills when I can’t find a recipe for something I’ve come across and want to reproduce.
What has been your favorite recipe discovery so far? Are there any funny failure stories to share?
My favorite recipe thus far was probably the Nutella Crème Brulee I made for Ava Lovelace’s Lumberfox. It was the perfect combination of a food that actually appeared in the book with a twist put on it by an unrelated element of the story. Plus, Nutella Crème Brulee.
What’s not to love about that?
I used to have cooking failures all the time, particularly in the context of dating. The first time I cooked for my college boyfriend, I accidentally put a plate on a hot electric burner. When I touched the plate, it exploded and gave me a third degree burn. These days I have many fewer failures and they tend not to be quite as spectacular. Though about a year and a half ago I did ruin a pan the first time I tried to make caramel. And the second time, I caught the stove on fire. I’ve mastered that now though. I can make caramel half asleep and more than half drunk.
More than half drunk? There’s a story there for sure.
Not every book has a food theme, yet you don’t restrict your reviews to only food-related novels. What is your process for extrapolating recipes or choosing one from your archive for non-food related novels? Do you prefer/seek out food-themed novels?
The food-related books are easy. I’m working on a review for Jeffe Kennedy’s novel Ruby right now, which features the chef of a five-star restaurant. And Laura Florand’s The Chocolate Thief will be up soon too. Those two provide an embarrassment of inspiration. I could cook for weeks on those books. It’s rare that a book has no food in it at all, but for the ones that aren’t totally food-focused like those are, I can usually come up with something based on the time period or the setting. I mostly just use the books for inspiration in either case.
Today’s post, about Patricia Gaffney’s Wild at Heart, is a good example of a book with almost no food in it at all. I chose the scene where Michael gives Sydney a dead fish tied with a ribbon. I just imagined her handing it over to their cook. Since it’s a pretty high-class household, I pulled a menu from an old New York hotel’s website and settled on a standard French preparation for a white fish. So inspiration comes from all sorts of places.
What are your favorite genres? Do you have a preference?
I mostly read romance. I have a bias toward historicals, but since joining Twitter, I’ve met so many writers in other sub-genres that I just love. Even ones like New Adult and paranormals, which wouldn’t generally appeal to me, have their attractions thanks to the wonderful women I’ve met online. If I ever want to branch into M/M, for example, I know just who to ask for recommendations. Honestly, I’m like the virgin who just discovered sex: I’ve become a total sub-genre slut. I still read fantasy too, but I’m much pickier about those and tend to confine myself to certain authors.
I learned about you on Twitter because I live there, so it was perfect to find your Twitter post and see your enthusiasm. How has Twitter and social media in general affected your reviews/blog?
I started up with Twitter at about the same time as I started the blog. It’s also how I learned about Goodreads, which has been revolutionary for me in terms of organizing my reading. I almost instantly met people like Shari Slade and Amy Jo Cousins who were crazy welcoming to the newbie. I felt like a part of the romance community straight away. Since none of my real-life friends read romance, it was awesome just to have a bunch of smart, funny, like-minded people to talk to. I was in marketing for years so it’s not like I was new to social media, but this was my first time forming anything like a real personal connection. It’s addictive! Also, great for book recommendations, as I mentioned in that post. I probably get 3 to 5 a day!
Your photographs belong in a food magazine! They are so gorgeous and rich.* Are you an amateur photographer? How do you keep your kitchen so neat while cooking? While cooking is not my forté, I have a yen for kitchen gadgets. Do you have a favorite cooking gadget?
It cracks me up when people compliment my photos. My husband bought me a DSLR for my birthday last year so I do have a really nice camera. I also shoot with a lens that has a really shallow depth of field, which makes the backgrounds blurry. Hence why my kitchen looks clean! Basically I just wait for the sun to come out and then stand on a chair. That’s the sum total of my photographic expertise.
My husband is the only reason I ever have clean dishes. If he doesn’t come home from work to a sink full of them, he’s thinks I must be ill or something. Plus we make sure that the counters are clean and the sink is clean before we go to bed every night. It’s just a habit.
I’m not really a gadget person. I’ve internalized TV chef Alton Brown’s abhorrence for kitchen unitaskers. My favorite tools are probably my plastic Birki kitchen clogs and a little vintage brass box in the shape of a crab that holds my rings when I’m dealing with things like fish and sticky pastry dough.
I loved the post of how you got your husband to read romance novels. Can you share a little more about any insight you’ve discovered now that you have a man’s perspective (and a positive one at that!) on romance novels?
My husband is a sucker for a good story and the best romance novels really deliver on that score. The only things that have annoyed him about the books he’s read are things like the character who is never seen working out having perfect abs. I think the biggest change I’ve seen is in my own reading habits. I’ve become a lot more critical of books that I previously just tore through and then forgot about. I’m very selective about what I give him and in the process, it’s made me more selective about what I read.
Food can be intensely erotic especially in romance novels. Have you ever found one particular food to have unexpected erotic qualities?
I think any food, lovingly prepared, has erotic qualities. Though things like whipped cream, chocolate-covered strawberries, champagne, and oysters have erotic caché, a grilled cheese sandwich when you’re hungry or a bowl of chicken noodle soup when you’re sick really spells true love.
Thanks to Elisabeth Lane for joining us on LadySmut! Be sure to check out Elisabeth’s amazing culinary creations and in-depth romance novel reviews on Cooking Up Romance.
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*All photographs are courtesy of Elisabeth Lane and can be seen, along with many other equally delicious images, on Cooking Up Romance.