Imagine walking into a kitchen in the full swing of prep on Thanksgiving morning. As you walk in, you’re hit with the scents of citrus and herbs, the earthiness of sage and the nuttiness of browned butter, the scents of cheeses and cooked pasta and cornbread. The fragrances of cinnamon and warm apples, or the clove and honey coating the outside of a ham, might linger in the air. The brightness of tart cranberries bursting in a bath of orange juice and Grand Marnier may cloak you like a warm blanket of fall goodness.
And now I want a turkey sandwich for those cranberries!
Consider the feeling that vibrates through your very being when the last kitchen timer dings, meaning you’re about to eat to your heart’s (and your waistband’s) content. Go beyond those olfactory senses to the rest of your senses. How your mouth begins to water or your eyes widen at the site of a beautifully presented meal--how it feels to place something decadent or bursting with umami on your tongue. Do you hear anything, or did the room suddenly go quiet? If you can find a way to touch on each of your five senses, you’ve created something beyond a picture--the reader can experience it with your character.
As a writer, a former private chef, and a foodie since (let’s be honest) birth, incorporating food into my writing is a given. I mean, yes, these are romantic comedies, but if my characters go on a date, I need to know what they ate! I want to picture the ambiance, the distance between them at the table, the way their knees might awkwardly knock together, and the sensual way that they interact with the food between them. I want to watch someone devour a plate of food and consider the ways that they might take their time enjoying their partner. All food writing doesn’t have to be sensual in nature, but for me, everything about the experience of sitting down to a meal can be (and I love that).
In my debut, Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell, which comes out on March 22nd of 2022, I incorporate food into many scenes. My main character, Savvy, is a foodie at heart, as are her best friends, Joanie and Mags. As she begins to get close to her contractor (Spencer), she introduces him to some of her favorite restaurants and some of her home cooking, which gave me a myriad of opportunities to showcase the depth and complexities of food, different relationships with food, as well as how it brings people together. Mags has a love affair with some tender oxtails, Savvy falls hard for a fresh chowder, and Spencer observes Savvy’s meticulous work putting together an apple tart.
In a lot of ways, food is a side character in this story, and if I made my reader hungry, I feel like I’ve accomplished a part of my job.
Over the past month, I’ve had the distinct privilege of assisting the chef in a close friend’s restaurant and wine bar. All of my previous private chef experience has been within the confines of people’s homes, so this has been a great way for me to get hands-on research for a couple of books that are in the pipeline. From expediting tickets to making more charcuterie boards than I’ve ever imagined, from wine tastings and running food orders to kitchen injuries and heated tempers, I’ve gathered enough research (hopefully) for several projects. I love making my characters’ experiences as vivid and sensory as possible, and that will always include the food.
Writing food into romance is all about the senses. They say the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and while we all know that’s anatomically incorrect, perhaps there’s some truth to connecting amorous vibes with food experiences.
Think of all of these foods that are supposed to have natural aphrodisiac-like properties about them. Think about the chemistry that you can create across the table from someone. The eye contact, the occasional glances at each others lips and mouths and expressions as you taste and savor parts of your meal. The way you might use your tongue to lap up the juice from an extra ripe piece of fruit or a melting ice cream cone. How the eyes naturally fall to the mouth of the person with the cone.
Think about how cute someone can be when they eat something they love and do a little happy dance. Consider the orgasmic response of someone who’s placed something on their tongue that’s so decadent that they can’t help but allow their eyes to roll back and close, or their toes to curl, in a moment of sheer bliss. People don’t describe those they’re attracted to as a snack or a meal just for the hell of it--they want to devour their significant other because they’re HUNGRY for it. Consider what it is that whets their appetite to the point that their mouth waters and their mind closes to everything but the possibility of being satiated by whomever is the focus of this craving. It can be urgent--visceral--or savored with delicious deliberateness.
Food can be extremely sexy, and like Savvy, I hope it leaves you satisfied and feeling good as hell.
Taj McCoy (she/her)
Oakland native and law grad, Taj McCoy, is committed to writing stories championing Black and multiracial women of color, plus-sized protagonists, Black love, and characters with a strong sense of sisterhood and familial bonds. Her debut novel--a romcom featuring a plus-size heroine--SAVVY SHELDON'S FEELING GOOD AS HELL will be published by MIRA Books (Harlequin HarperCollins). When she’s not writing, she may be on Twitter boosting other marginalized writers, trying to zen out in yoga, sharing recipes on her website, or cooking private supper club meals for close friends.
Preorder SAVVY - OUT March 22nd 2022! (Multiple retail options): https://www.harlequintradepublishing.com/shop/books/9780778311843_savvy-sheldons-feeling-good-as-hell.html
A debut #ownvoices rom-com about a plus-size heroine who gets a full-life makeover after a brutal breakup, with the help of an irresistible cast of friends and family, a kitchen reno, and a devastatingly handsome contractor.
Savvy Sheldon spends a lot of time tiptoeing around various aspects of her life: her high-stress and low-thanks job, her clueless boyfriend, and the falling-apart kitchen she inherited from her beloved grandma who taught her how to cook and how to love people by feeding them. When Savvy’s complacency (and her sexy new lingerie) reaches a breaking point, she knows it’s time for some renovations.
Starting from the outside in, Savvy tackles her crumbling kitchen, her waistline, her work/life balance (or lack thereof,) and last (but not least): her love life. The only thing that doesn’t seem to require effort is her ride-or-die squad of close female friends. But as any HGTV junkie can tell you, something always falls apart during renovations. First, Savvy passes out during hot yoga. Then, it turns out that the contractor she hires is the same sexy stranger she unintentionally offended by judging based on appearances. Worst of all, Savvy can’t seem to go anywhere without tripping over her ex and his latest ‘upgrade.’ Savvy begins to realize that maybe she should’ve started her renovations the other way around, beginning with how she sees herself (and loves herself,) before she can build a love that lasts.