I cook for—and eat with—the people I love a lot, and my characters do, too. This is such a natural part of who I am that it surprised me to get a lot of comments from people who read my debut novel, The Wedding Date, about just how much food these characters ate. (One notable comment early on was from my copyeditor, who noted, “Alexa and Drew just ate all of those doughnuts, and now they’re going out to breakfast?” I responded, “Doughnuts are not a meal!”) Anyone who read The Wedding Date won’t be surprised to learn there’s a lot of food in my second book, The Proposal, as well. I didn’t do it on purpose, it just happened!
For me, food is a celebration, a way to share your background with people you love, a way to break the ice with people you want to get to know better, and one of the joys of life. I have a big family, and some of the times I got to see a lot of my aunts and uncles and cousins were when the word got out that Granny was making gumbo that Sunday. We would all pack into my grandparents’ small house, smell that fragrant, warm, spicy aroma in the air, and look around to see who else turned up that day. She always made coconut cake for big occasions because it was my grandfather’s favorite, and whenever I see a coconut cake now, I feel her love for all of us.
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My characters often show their love through food, the way I learned from my grandmother. In a pivotal scene in The Proposal, Carlos takes a day away from his busy schedule as a doctor to make a huge batch of enchiladas to stock his pregnant cousin’s freezer. He feels powerless to help her through her difficult pregnancy, but he knows he can feed her and her family well. He invites Nik over to help him, even though he could very well do all of this himself, because he wants to share this joy of food and sustenance with her. And in one of my favorite scenes from The Wedding Date, when Alexa first meets Carlos—the best friend of her not quite a boyfriend, Drew—he picks up tacos for them on the way home from the airport. Their shared love of the tacos (and their shared ability to lovingly mock Drew for his inability to eat spicy food) is what gives Alexa the Carlos seal of approval, and makes Carlos decide Drew had better hold on to her.
There are lots of small things about the way we eat that can show someone cares about you. One of the things that made Alexa first have feelings for Drew was when he remembered how she took her coffee—it made her feel seen, like he’d paid attention to her, and most importantly, remembered something little about her. These are the things that make us realize the people we think about when they’re not around are also thinking about us.
My grandmother died over 15 years ago, but I think about her all the time. A few months ago, I went over to my cousin’s house and taught her and her kids how to make gumbo. As we stood around the stove, and my cousin’s 15-year-old son—the boy she was pregnant with at my grandmother’s funeral—stood next to me and watched me stir the roux as it turned from white to golden to brown to the luscious dark-reddish brown of roux perfection, I felt the love of my grandmother for all of us.
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