I’m a big fan of creating atmosphere through the use of description and details–the experts tell you this is “adding context.” Characters don’t just stand around talking in a vacuum–they are someplace. As readers, we want to see, taste, hear, feel that someplace and have a similar emotional experience as our characters. That includes all the lovely details that put you there with a sense of authenticity in the scene.
There’s one scene–it’s in The Fire in Vengeance–where Three and Lexi are in the kitchen in the house at the top of the hill, on the island of Marittimo. (Yeah, I want to live there!) This island is off the western tip of Sicily. Three admits to teaching Lexi to cook Christan’s favorite dish–Pollo Alle Melograne, or chicken with pomegranates. It’s an old Tuscan Renaissance dish, and this recipe comes from a wonderful cookbook by Giuliano Bugialli, titled Foods of Tuscany.
Basically, it’s chicken browned in sweet butter and white wine, with a little olive oil (of course) ground cinnamon and nutmeg and chicken broth. The pomegranate seeds you can now get in the local supermarkets, already prepared, which makes it easy. As with much of Italian cooking, I love that I can start with the basic idea and go with what feels right at the moment, adding and tasting. The key to this recipe is adding the pomegranate seeds toward the end so they don’t stick to the pan or overcook.
Some of my fondest memories of Italy come from the areas around Florence. We stayed at a Tuscan villa and walked up the hill to eat at the local trattoria set in the middle of vineyards. It was small, family owned, and we dined outside beneath stretched white canvas awnings and watched the sun go down. Each evening we ate what the cook prepared, drank wonderful red wine and ate crusty bread dipped in olive oil with salt. Beautiful! Everywhere in Italy, I remember the food, and the stone buildings, the narrow streets of the hill towns and the warmth of the people.
That’s one of the reasons I use the area as a setting in some of my books. I hope you enjoy!