PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
A Walnut Scones recipe in "Good Things" suggests the scones be wrapped in parchment paper and finished with raffia and sprig of pine needles, a presentation fit for Martha Stewart.
Grazing through the pages
Food and fiction prove a winning combination for Darien Hsu Gee, author of "Good Things"
STORY SUMMARY »
Orgasmic Corn Fritters, Maple Walnut Scones, Linguine with Rose Petal Sauce -- delicious food you can read about and simple food you can make from a light-hearted romantic novel, "Good Things," by Mia King, pen name for Big Island resident Darien Hsu Gee.
"Food, books and reading go together," said Gee, an eight-year resident of Waimea, who has capitalized on a trend of intertwining food and plot in novels and providing recipes, too.
"Good Things" (Berkley Trade, paperback, $14) is a fun, energized read with food sprinkled liberally throughout, whetting your appetite as you learn what happens to Deidre McIntosh, a Martha Stewart-like personality who suddenly loses her television show.
At the same time, her gay roommate of several years moves out to be with his new love, leaving her homeless. Without a job or a place to live -- and nearly broke -- McIntosh seeks refuge in a cabin in a small town, owned by a wealthy stranger she meets by chance. There she befriends the local café owner, bakes some goodies that the townspeople come to love, and encounters good things as her life moves forward.
JOAN NAMKOONG / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Author Darien Hsu Gee.
At the end, a baker's dozen recipes await for the reading or the making, recipes for foods that are Deidre's story. All are simple and creative, in keeping with other themes that run through the book.
The title of the book, "Good Things," is borrowed from the pages of Martha Stewart Living. "I am a woman who loves Martha Stewart," said Gee, adding that she has tried many a Stewart recipe and craft idea.
"The character William (Deidre's ex-roommate) is based on a real person; he was the best man at my wedding. He's a diehard Martha Stewart fan."
Gee's female characters are in their 40s. "They've lived awhile, they're a little established, they've been around the block," explained Gee, herself age 39. "They're faced with making new choices and significant changes in life; not an easy thing to do."
FULL STORY »
BETTY SHIMABUKURO / BETTY@STARBULLETIN.COM
Rose petals add romance to a creamy pesto dish that is part of the novel "Good Things."
More than just embellishment to the novel, food, cooking and recipes are an important tool in telling the story of Deidre McIntosh, central character in Darien Hsu Gee's debut novel, "Good Things."
Deidre, without a job or a home, is trying to sort through her options, testing ideas before she settles on what she knows she has to do.
"I need brain food," Deidre says as she sets out to make gingerbread. As she sifts flour with spices, combines honey and molasses, whisks oil, applesauce, brown sugar and eggs, Gee writes, "an idea started to form in her mind."
In this scenario, the act of cooking becomes both an escape and a way to think things through, a vehicle that Gee (writing under the pen name Mia King) uses to describe and develop her character and to move the story along.
For Deidre, food and her ability to make good food define her. She eats chocolate when she's down, relishes a martini after a productive day. "What a person orders at a restaurant is telling about a character," adds Gee.
Originally, there were no plans for recipes in "Good Things," but Gee came to see them as a natural evolution. "I started with a few token recipes, then it snowballed. We thought of a companion cookbook. But we ended up with recipes at the back of the book and on my Web site."
As it turns out, the recipes have been a plus. The book is being picked up by a German publisher who saw the recipes as a selling point. And it's been a feedback mechanism that Gee enjoys: "I hear about the recipes from readers and book clubs and the input is fun for me."
Gee describes herself as a foodie with an appreciation for the good and the beautiful. "I collect recipes, I love food," she said.
But with two young children and a budding writing career, she doesn't have a lot of time to cook. So she puts simple meals on the table every day, gathering fresh ingredients from neighbors and farmers' markets in Waimea.
A theme of simplicity runs through the book: Deidre's show is called "Live Simple and Simply Live!" -- an emphasis no doubt reflecting Gee's own life and the path it has taken.
She grew up in Missouri, Texas, Colorado and Hong Kong, and attended boarding school in Connecticut. With a degree in political science, she spent many years in the financial world, three of them in China with the accounting firm of Price Waterhouse and working with venture capitalists.
For years, she and her husband, Darren, a former management consultant, vacationed in Hawaii. In 2000, when she was five months pregnant with their first child, they made their first visit to the Big Island. Two months later, they moved to Waimea, seeking a change of pace and focus in their lives. It's the only place she has lived for more than four years.
Darren also recently published his first book, "The Seven Principles of Golf." His Golf Academy on the Big Island concentrates on the mental, inner game of golf. "Writing has given us a lot of freedom," Gee said.
She has just finished the manuscript for her next book, "Aloha Diaries," chronicling the story of another 40-year-old woman who follows her husband to Hawaii only to discover he's having an affair. Instead of creating a fictional town like Jacob's Point in "Good Things," her next book is set in Waimea. She's also mulling over a sequel to "Good Things."
When she's not writing, helping Darren at the Golf Academy or taking care of her kids -- which includes home-schooling her daughter -- Gee conducts creative writing workshops for adults and children.
"I love the process of writing, it has humbled me. I don't take it for granted."
When Deidre bakes these scones, the process enables her to search within herself for clues to her future. Food preparation is detailed through the book and become a metaphor for life itself.
Maple Walnut Scones
3-1/2 cups flour
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped and toasted
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter
1 cup milk
3/4 cup maple syrup
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine flour, walnuts, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
In a separate bowl, combine milk with 1/3 cup maple syrup. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix to form a very soft dough.
Scrape dough onto generously floured work surface. Divide in half. Gently pat dough halves into 7-inch circles about 1 inch thick. Transfer to 2 parchment-lined or lightly greased cookie sheets.
Divide each dough circle into eight wedges. Gently separate wedges. Pierce tops with a fork, and brush with remaining syrup.
Bake 15 to 18 minutes, until golden. Cool slightly, then gently separate scones and transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Nutritional information unavailable.
This creamy pesto dish was developed, according to the book, for a TV segment called "Coming Up Roses." The rosewater called for can be found in specialty markets that carry Indian and Middle Eastern ingredients. If you can't find it, leave it out; the strongest flavors come from the garlic and cheese anyway.
Linguine with Rose Petal Sauce
1 pound dry linguini
1 cup rose petals (see note)
1 cup fresh basil, shredded
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/6 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon rose water
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
1/4 cup Romano cheese, grated
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
Combine basil, garlic and pine nuts in food processor or blender until chunky, but not puréed. Slowly add olive oil and rose water. Add cheeses, salt and pepper, blending lightly.
Boil linguine in well-salted water. Drain, reserving 2 tablespoons cooking water. Return pasta to pot. Add pasta water and cream to pesto, then toss with pasta. Serve garnished with rose petals. Serves 6.
Note: Be sure rose petals are washed and were grown without pesticides.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (not including salt to taste): 600 calories, 33 g total fat, 10 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium, 60 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 16 g protein.
Nutritional analyses by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.