Finally, a rom-com that does food right!
Usually food is an accidental backdrop in a story. Hero and heroine meet cute at a farmers market, or there’s a front-of-the-house hookup between host and bartender in a restaurant, but the food is usually window dressing rather than a focus. In the last couple of months, I’ve read two very different books that do right by food and put it front and center. Call it fiction for the food-obsessed. Alice Clayton shows her food lover side and gets it right in Nuts.
I know, you’re snickering already. Nuts?! Yeah, walnuts, of course. At its heart, Nuts is a love story — a hilarious, cheeky little love story. Like a good walnut cake chock full of nuts, it’s loaded with subtle and not-so-subtle double entendres. It’s not just a rom-com, it’s very nearly food porn at the same time:
Selecting the greenest and the most pristine, I carefully placed [the bok choy] in the center of a white porcelain bowl, creating a tiny green tower just as the egg timer went off, alerting me to my shrimp. Poached in a court bouillon with the faintest hint of Thai chili and cinnamon, they were pink and perfect. Stacking three on top of the bok choy trio (symmetry, always symmetry), I sprinkled bias-cut scallion, pickled garlic and shallots that had been ever so slightly browned in peanut oil (a secret that would never to Be disclosed to Miss Fat Gram Counter) all around.
Private Chef Roxie loses several key clients in the blink of an eye after serving dinner four minutes late and over-whipping cream for coffee. Apparently her trendy LA client hadn’t caught onto Bulletproof Coffee. Roxie is called home to upstate New York for the summer to run her mom’s diner, and with nothing to keep her in LA, she heads East and meets local farmer Leo Maxwell. Cue the Grease soundtrack – which Clayton does!
Yeah, that sounds pretty standard rom-com. Roxie and Leo must meet cute at the farmers market, right? Well, they do, after an initial meeting at the diner, but neither meeting goes quite the way you’d think. That’s where the “com” comes in so handy, and it’s what makes the story so engaging. Did I also mention that Roxie’s also (re-)meets her old high school crush, “THE Chad Bowen?” He’s moved back to town, too, with his husband and all of a sudden Roxie is in with the cool kids.
As Roxie makes some tweaks to make the diner hers, she starts baking cakes, including a black walnut cake with nuts from Leo’s farm. And here’s my main complaint about the book — no recipe for black walnut cake! I may have googled “Mrs. Myra Oglesby black walnut cake” just to see what would come back. A whole lotta black walnut cakes, but unfortunately none attributed to Mrs. Oglesby. And, it turns out, black walnut cake seems to be more of a Southern thing. Maybe not surprising since Roxie also whips up a Triple Layer Southern Caramel Cake.
I won’t spoil the rest of Roxie’s story, but suffice to say, it’s a cute one with a twist you might not expect. This is the first book in the Hudson Valley series, so we’ll have to see what comes next with Natalie, one of Roxie’s City friends, and Oscar, the cheese guy. Due out in July 2016. Nuts is available now at your favorite bookseller.