Thursday, 26 October 2017

Love Apples by Melissa Van Maasdyk

Release Date: 2nd September 2017
Publisher: Lulu Publishing
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

I'm thrilled to welcome Melissa Van Maasdyk to the blog today with a super guest post. Lets find out about her new book first though!


Why get married? London-based food writer Kate Richmond can conceive of no good reason. She’s seen where it got her mother and so has written her own recipe for life, relishing her career, with men on the side — including a delicious love match in Daniel Price.

When Kate heads to Mauritius on an assignment, she seems set to secure her dream job at Be magazine until a cyclone curdles her carefully laid plans for the summer issue. With her career at stake, Kate will stop at nothing to get things on track, shamelessly entangling others in her quest, including the irresistible Fai Li, but when she takes a step too far, she sets herself on a tempestuous course that will upturn some long-held beliefs.

Set in the glamorous, racy world of magazines and suffused with sensual descriptions of food – plus recipes – Love Apples delves into love, marriage, infidelity, and why people continue to invest in a convention so prone to failure.


I didn’t set out to write about food, but somehow it found its way into my debut novel to become a character in itself, also bringing a collection of recipes to the table

What makes food so sensual, and meals often integral to romance? This is a question asked by Diane Ackerman in her wonderful book A Natural History of the Senses (Vintage Books), which I came across during research for my novel Love Apples. The answer, she says, is that, whereas humans can enjoy the other senses in solitude, they seldom choose to dine alone because taste has such a “powerful social component”. By way of example, she points out that in certain traditional African cultures “exchanging food makes a contract between two people, who then have a clanship of porridge”. And so it is in dating. We might meet over a drink in a bar, flirt on the dance floor, but a relationship is cemented over a meal, at which we bring so much more to the table than food – our own tastes, our background, our conversation, our appreciation of sensory pleasures. My own most enduring relationship, with my husband of 16 years, gelled over a meal of Mozambican prawns with Portuguese rosé, which remain a symbol of our love, enjoyed on anniversaries and Valentines.

Ackerman also points out that from the moment we’re born, the association between love and food is created when our mother feeds us milk. In my case, the association started with breast milk and continued through my childhood since my mother is a brilliant cook, who has always expressed her love through food. This focus began when, feeling despondent about her humdrum life devoted to domesticity and four daughters, she decided one day to make her home, specifically her cooking, her brilliant career. School lunches were thus made with homemade bread, we boasted the best birthday cakes in class, enticing aromas constantly wafted out of the kitchen, and experimental dinners were served up at night (admittedly sometimes too exotic for a child’s tastes – liver and grapes anyone?). Along the way, I absorbed a passion for food and cooking as if by osmosis. I had, however, never dreamed of a career in the culinary realm – or in writing – and was working in corporate communications when Marie Claire South Africa advertised for a sub-editor with French. Hired primarily for my French skills, acquired through a Masters in Translation, I was soon applying my passion for food to the page too, as the editor of the magazine’s food and travel column, which led to a subsequent role as the food and travel editor for a lifestyle magazine.

So how did I leap from writing five-page features to a 300-page foodie novel? This was precipitated by a move to London following my marriage, where I found myself copyediting for Marie Claire UK, and signed up for a fiction-writing course at Central Saint Martins as a creative outlet. The weekly classes involved writing short stories to different themes, one of which was inspired by a travel assignment, and proved to be the beginning of Love Apples. As in my career, this didn’t start out with a focus on food, but was rather a contemporary romance about a commitment-phobic journalist on assignment in Mauritius, whose island fling wreaks all sorts of havoc in her life. However, food being so integral to romance – perhaps more so for me than others – scenes began to play out in food markets, in the kitchen, and over seductive meals, while food-related metaphors pervaded the prose. The journalist became a food writer and the name of the book morphed from Creole Love Song into Love Apples, which is the term for tomatoes in Mauritius due to their reputed aphrodisiacal powers. Conversely, the British initially thought that tomatoes were poisonous, and thus labelled them “wolf peaches” – contrasting myths that, in combination, symbolise love, since it can bring the greatest joy, as well as the deepest pain. Tomatoes are also a key ingredient in the spicy Mauritian dish prawn rougaille, which features in the book and is one of 30 recipes included at the end – my final relinquishment to the force of food in my life and writing. Bon appetit!
Recipe for prawn rougaille from Love Apples

Spicy, tasty, and simple to prepare, this mild Mauritian curry is not merely the colour of love; it also contains aphrodisiacal pommes d’amour (love apples), as tomatoes are known on the island.

Serves 4–6.

1 1/2 kilograms queen prawns (or 8 per person), peeled and cleaned with tails intact
1 1/2 kilograms ripe vine tomatoes (pommes d’amour)
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 bunch coriander, leaves stripped off stems, plus 1 tablespoon stems, chopped
2 red or green chillies, deseeded and chopped
2 tablespoons grated ginger
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 sprigs thyme
12 fresh curry leaves
a pinch cayenne pepper
salt to taste
a pinch turmeric for dusting

To serve:
chopped coriander
basmati rice
coconut chutney

Place the tomatoes in a bowl, and cover them with boiling water for 1 minute. Then immediately immerse in cold water. Peel them, cut them in half, and remove the seeds. Chop coarsely. Next, pound garlic with sea salt using a pestle and mortar (the sea salt dissolves the garlic). Add the coriander stems, chillies, and ginger, and pound to a paste.
Pour 3 tablespoons of the olive oil into a thick-bottomed pan, and heat slowly. Add the onion. Cook, stirring, until softened and golden (about 5 minutes). Add the chilli-ginger paste, along with the ground cumin and turmeric, and stir over heat for 1 minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, curry leaves, cayenne pepper, and salt to the pan.

Cook over moderate heat, stirring from time to time until the juice from the tomatoes has evaporated (10 minutes or more, depending on how juicy the tomatoes are). Add half the finely chopped fresh coriander, check seasoning, and set aside. Season the prawns with sea salt, and sprinkle with a little powdered turmeric. Heat the remaining olive oil in a very hot pan. Add the prawns. Cook without stirring for about two minutes on one side, and then turn
over and cook for another two on the other side. Immediately incorporate the prawns into the heated rougaille sauce, but don’t allow to cook further. Sprinkle with chopped fresh coriander. Serve with basmati rice and fresh coconut chutney. 

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