Elisabeth here. Today I’m pleased to welcome queer romance writer Roan Parrish to Cooking Up Romance. I don’t have a lot of guest posters, but Roan takes such great foodie Instagram pictures and there’s so much food in her current release, In the Middle of Somewhere, that I just had to ask her to make something for the blog. I’m sure you’ll love this gingerbread. Take it away, Roan!
I am an incredible sucker for books that describe food. Well, for books that describe food written by folks who clearly love food. Alexis Hall’s For Real and Garrett Leigh’s Misfits and Heart are some of my favorites. Daniel, the narrator of my book, In the Middle of Somewhere, however, has no interest in or knowledge of food at all, though Rex, the man he falls in love with, is all about it. So I basically tortured myself writing about food from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know how to describe it. (Why did I do this to myself? Also, this clearly means I need a do-over food book where I write about food the way I’d like.)
I’m doubly excited to be here on Cooking Up Romance, then, because it means I get to geek out about food the way Rex would!
In the Middle of Somewhere is a romance that unfolds between Daniel, a snarky professor from Philadelphia who’s recently moved to small-town Michigan, and Rex, a quiet carpenter who’s made a home for himself in a cabin outside of town. They’re drawn to each other right away, but Daniel is used to taking care of himself and Rex struggles to make Daniel understand how he feels. It’s a major source of tension, though, because Daniel’s grown up believing that accepting help is a weakness.
The one language that Rex keeps using to express his care for Daniel is food. The night they meet it’s just a gesture—a sandwich—but as the book and their relationship continue, Rex’s offerings become more elaborate and more personal. It’s a kind of care that Daniel can accept, because Rex enjoys it so much. It takes Daniel a while to recognize Rex’s gestures for what they are, but he gets there eventually:
“Rex expresses something of himself through cooking. Not just his personality, but his care. It’s like he cares about what I eat—if it’s healthy, if I like it. And so everything to do with it feels important. Even grocery shopping. Because I can feel him looking at food the way you’d look at a shelter dog or something: as a thing that might come home with you, if it’s the right fit. Something that will be incorporated into our lives. Life. Our life. It’s all there in the way he chooses an onion or a bagful of apples, his attention totally focused on it. I can see the path from apples in the store to apple pie. Can see his hands kneading the pie crust.”
Cooking appeals to Rex because it’s both creative and practical. It encourages total focus but also creates a space for zoning out. But cooking is also an escape for Rex. A way for him to blot out everything but what he’s making with his hands. And in a few tense moments in In the Middle of Somewhere, it’s what he turns to try and get away.
“‘Gingerbread?’ he asks. And just like that, it seems the topic is closed. I nod, dazedly, and follow him to the kitchen.[Daniel says fumblingly sweet and slightly spoilery things.]
He hoists me up onto the counter and kisses me silly.
‘Daniel,’ he says, ‘the things you say sometimes. You kill me.’ He kisses me and it’s hot and sweet, flushing heat from my stomach to my throat. I chase his mouth, but he pulls back to look at me. His whiskey brown eyes are warm and there’s a bit of color across his cheekbones. His lips look swollen from mine and that line between his eyebrows is a perfect crease.[spoiler, spoiler, spoiler]
Rex kisses me hard and pats my cheek firmly. Then he pulls me down off the counter.
‘All right, so I’ll tell you what to do and you do it, okay?’
‘You wish,’ I snort, pushing my hips against his.
Rex explains things clearly and gropes me often enough that the time flies. Before I can believe I made something that didn’t come from a can, there’s gingerbread on the counter.”
The recipe I’ve made to go along with In the Middle of Somewhere is for a dark, intense, molasses-y gingerbread, leavened with oatmeal stout, brightened with fresh ginger, and studded with chunks of crystallized ginger. It’s delicious on its own, so if you want to stop there, you’ll be golden. However, since I tend to cook the same way I write, I didn’t want to stop there. The owner of the coffee shop that Daniel frequents in In the Middle of Somewhere names the coffee he always orders “The Daniel,” much to his horror. So, I’ve done gingerbread three ways: The Daniel, The Rex, and The Roan (because, hey, I want gingerbread too, damn it. It’s my all-time favorite dessert!)
The Daniel slathers intensity on top of intensity and garnishes it with a side of intensity. It’s gingerbread with a salted maple and whiskey caramel sauce and maple-glazed pecans. The gingerbread isn’t all that sweet in and of itself, so though the caramel sauce is certainly rich, the combination isn’t overly sugary.
The Rex is a bit more reserved and bit more elevated. It is gingerbread topped with an elderflower whipped cream and crushed pistachios. The main things here are the contrast between the depth of flavor from the molasses and the lightness of the whipped cream. The floral quality of the elderflower brings out the brightness of the ginger.
The Roan is just … you know, what I like. Which is the combination of sweet, savory, and spicy. It’s gingerbread with gooey Brie, sliced pear, and a slash of cayenne pepper. Pear and ginger is one of my favorite combinations, and soft cheese with dessert is the best. The cayenne just … er, reminds you you’re alive. To be honest, I think this would be even better with a stronger cheese, like a Taleggio or a Cambozola, but Brie seemed more approachable and I didn’t want to scare you away (story of my life).
I didn’t make The Leo, but you should feel free to do so at home. It would be gingerbread with chopped crystallized ginger and (of course) crumbled bacon on top.
This is a hefty recipe: it makes a full-sized bundt cake or two full-sized loaves. But never fear! Gingerbread, like a curry, an impulse haircut, or a sharp humiliation, is always better the next day or the day after. And, unlike any of these, can be stored for several months in the freezer.
Also, note: like Rex, I’m not much for recipes, so while you should feel free to make everything just as I describe it here there’s plenty of wiggle room for you to improvise (slash curse my inexactitude).
- 1 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
- 1 cup stout (I used an oatmeal stout; you could use Guinness or whatever you want. Or probably ginger ale or another soda, if you don’t want to use alcohol.)
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon coriander
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- a few grinds of black pepper
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup brown sugar (I used light; you can use whatever)
- 1 cup white sugar
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 2–3 tablespoons chopped crystalized ginger (if you desire. I like the way it sinks to the bottom of the bundt pan and makes the top nice and moist after it’s baked.)
- 2 cups sugar
- 1¼ cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon whiskey
- 1 teaspoon salt (or more, if you like your caramel sauce ultra-salty)
- However many pecans you want, toasted
- Some maple syrup
- A half-pint of heavy whipping cream (or more if you want … more whipped cream. But this makes a lot. I am extremely exact. Practically a scientist.)
- 2 tablespoons elderflower liqueur (I use St-Germain and will never touch another, but you can use whatevs.)
- 1 ripe pear
- Cheese of choice
- Cayenne pepper
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Apply some non-stick agent to your pan. Butter, other shortening, et cetera. I used cooking spray and it worked great—no stickage. If you use butter or shortening, make sure to also dust with flour and tap out excess to avoid losing the top of your cake to the pan.
- In a large saucepan, bring molasses and stout to a boil, then remove from the heat, whisk in your baking soda, and cool to room temperature. Note: don’t bring to a boil by putting the lid on your pan and then going and doing other things. This will result in a bubbling over that resembles the Exxon Valdez oil spill all over your stovetop. Not that I’d know. Because I’d never do that. Nope.
- Sift together flour and spices in a large bowl. In another large bowl whisk together eggs and sugars. Whisk in oil and fresh ginger. Whisk in cooled molasses and stout mixture. (It doesn’t have to be super cool, you just don’t want residual heat to cook your egg.) Add wet ingredients to flour mixture and whisk together until just combined. Be gentle; you don’t want to overmix.
- Pour batter into bundt pan (or loaf pans or unicorn novelty pans or whatever the heck you’re using—just know that your batter will rise so it shouldn’t fill your unicorn pan more than ¾ of the way or so, otherwise you’ll have another oil spill in the oven. And this one will catch on fire. And then you’ll have to clean the oven. And let’s be honest, no one ever does that, so really you’ll have to live with your oven smoking the next ten times you use it as it burns off the excess of your excess. Actually, to be safe, just put your pan on a baking sheet.) Bake in the middle of your oven for about 50 minutes, or until your knife comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging desperately to it. Better slightly under than over.
- Cool in the pan for ten minutes or so, then flip onto a rack and cool completely.
- Heat the sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Keep swirling pan every few minutes. While it’s heating, melt together butter and cream in saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat when butter is melted.
- When your sugar has melted and turned a nice mellow amber color remove it from the heat and whisk in the cream and butter mixture slowly. Stir in maple syrup, whiskey, and salt. Let this cool so it’ll be a bit more solid. I poured mine into a glass measuring cup, but any heat-proof thing will do.
- Put toasted pecans in a small saucepan over medium heat and just cover with maple syrup. Let heated syrup coat pecans. Put coated pecans on parchment paper or tin foil to cool.
- In a large bowl, whip cream and liqueur together until it forms stiff peaks (2–3 mins). Okay, but a very large bowl, otherwise you’ll spatter everything.
- When you’re ready to assemble THE REX, plop whipped cream on a chunk of gingerbread and sprinkle with desired quantity of pistachios.
- Requires no instructions, really. Just, like, use a ripe pear and some ridiculously delicious cheese, and dust with cayenne if you’re into that kind of thing.
When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, wandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and cheese. But mostly cheese. She can be found online at her website roanparrish.com, on Twitter and on Instagram.
July 10, 2015
DANIEL MULLIGAN is tough, snarky, and tattooed, hiding his self-consciousness behind sarcasm. Daniel has never fit in—not at home with his auto mechanic father and brothers, and not at school where his Ivy League classmates look down on him. Now, Daniel’s relieved to have a job at a small college in Northern Michigan, but, a city boy through and through, when Daniel arrives in Holiday, Michigan, it’s clear that this small town is one more place he just won’t fit in.
REX VALE clings to routine to keep loneliness at bay: honing his large, muscular body until it can handle anything, perfecting his recipes, and making custom furniture. Rex has lived in Holiday for years, but his shyness and imposing size have kept him from connecting with people. Though he loves the quiet and solitude of his little cabin in the woods, Rex can’t help but want someone to share it with.
When Daniel arrives in Holiday, they are smitten with each other, but though the sex is intense and explosive, Rex fears that Daniel will be one more in a long line of people to leave him, and Daniel has learned that letting anyone in could be a fatal weakness. Just as they begin to break down the walls that have been keeping them apart, Daniel is called home to Philadelphia where a secret is revealed that changes the way he understands everything.