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Exciting news! Karis is giving away a copy of Wingspan here at Women and Words, winner’s choice between a signed paperback and ebook. Leave a comment about how awesome Karis is and that will enter you in the drawing. 🙂 I’ll draw the winner this Friday, 2/28.
Exotic, Erotic Spices
by Karis Walsh
Cooking is my preferred form of therapy. It’s cheaper than paying a psychiatrist to feign interest in my problems. And, end result, instead of being left with a shitload of no-longer-repressed issues, I’m left with dinner on the table. There’s something about gathering ingredients and melding them together in my kitchen that lifts my spirits. It distracts my mind and occupies my meandering thoughts during those early afternoon hours when my personal biorhythms take a plunge and I’m prone to homesickness or worries. I have a variety of therapy styles from which to choose—comforting baked bread, invigorating healthy food, soothing soups and stews. My favorite? Curry.
Cumin, coriander, turmeric. These are some of the scents that enticed voyagers to climb aboard rickety ships and sail to what they thought were the literal ends of the earth. They fill our homes with heat and fire the imagination, whisking us away to unfamiliar and exotic worlds. I love the lack of structure or rules for curries. I can choose any combination of spices, any level of depth or complexity I want. I can spend six hours on a homemade curry paste for Thai green curry chicken, or use a pre-mixed curry spice blend and store-bought ingredients to whip up a last-minute, but delicious, meal. I can follow recipes to the letter, or make it up as I go along. Freedom, focus, food.
(Side not: the curry paste wouldn’t have taken quite as long if I hadn’t cut myself three times in the process—including grating some of my thumb with the lime zest and slicing off half my fingernail when I chopped cilantro. It took time to staunch the bleeding.)
Curry provides good relationship therapy, as well. On a daily basis, when all is well, shared meals bring us closer together. Spices and interesting flavors, new tastes and combinations, provide a spark for interesting conversations. And when relationships are strained? Well, we all have to eat, even if we’re in the middle of a fight. Sometimes just sitting down together for a meal, passing bowls of rice or plates of naan, gives us a sense of connection even in times of disconnect. Maybe those short sentences—the polite but brief pleases and thank yous—are the only ones we spoke to each other all day, but they’re civil and home-y and remind us that we are, no matter what, a family. Maybe we linger at the table after the food is consumed and talk about our feelings and needs, enveloped in the dinner table’s atmosphere of comfort and good smells and satisfying flavors. Maybe our problems no longer seem so huge when discussed in the context of world-wide flavors.
I like having my characters share meals in my romances. Not necessarily in the “smear her with fudge sauce and whipped cream and two carefully placed cherries” kind of way. (Although….Yum.) But in a normal, sit-down-for-a-meal way. Food is sensual, but everyday. It connects two people in contexts that are believable and relatable to readers. In my new novel, Wingspan, Ken and Bailey eat together three different times. The food is secondary, but the development of their connection is key. In their first lunch, they’re with other people and each is stressed by the situation for a different reason. But as the meal unfolds, they both shift their focus off themselves and onto each other. Empathy grows as the food disappears, and they start acting and feeling like a team, a partnership. The second time they eat together is a private, shared meal. A wild, outdoor setting and simple food wraps them in a cocoon—albeit still tentative—of intimacy.
I enjoy spending hours in the kitchen and creating sometimes elaborate dishes, but Bailey’s ramen noodles—something she makes for Ken when they go hiking—would definitely be among my top ten favorite meals if I had to choose. A packet of ramen, a spoonful of peanut butter, and a healthy squirt of sriracha chili sauce.Killer.Pennies to make, satisfying to eat. Nothing fancy, but something shared. Easy and exotic and hot, it leads to a connection Ken and Bailey hadn’t experienced before. A little erotic, a lot vulnerable.
Ah, curry. Once the catalyst for adventure and exploration, but now as close as your local grocery store. Lemongrass and ginger root and garam masala get tossed in your shopping cart, and suddenly a web of connection forms between continents, cultures, and tablemates. Eyes watering from the scent of Thai chilies, taste buds salivating as garlic and spices sizzle in hot oil. Conversations flowing along with the wine or beer or water you drink to quench (or stoke?) the fire.
What’s cooking in your kitchen this weekend?