Food for mind and body

Local author Nancy DeRosa has cooked up something that promises to be tantalizingly sweet just in time for Valentine’s Day.

A heart-shaped box of chocolates is always appreciated. But how about pairing that pleasure with a heartfelt confection of a book that’s rich in love, food and friendship? Westchester author Nancy DeRosa has cooked up something that promises to be tantalizingly sweet just in time for Valentine’s Day. 

DeRosa’s new novel, “Food for Thought: Just Desserts” (Black Opal Books), is the latest installment in the author’s “Food for Thought” series. In dinner terms, it’s the third course in the evolution of DeRosa’s main character, Emma Craven, as she chases her dreams in love and life. As Emma soon discovers, most grown-up dreams defy expectations. Life is messy but “Everything we do is shared around a meal,” she says.

DeRosa’s food-centric books chronicle her characters’ journeys toward acceptance and growth. “And food is part of everything,” she adds. Whether the story develops over a picnic, in a diner, at a restaurant or during an argument around the family table, “food becomes the prop while social interaction takes place,” DeRosa says. “If the family fights, the chicken loses its glisten. The spinach wilts.”

Described as a mix of “Sex and the City” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary” with a little Food Network sprinkled on top, Emma’s story began in the first installment of the series, “Food for Thought; First Course” (Black Opal Press, 2016). 

“First Course” follows Emma and four single friends as they gather each Saturday evening to taste every menu in the tristate area. “Food becomes the thread,” DeRosa says. Her characters’ stories weave together over long meals and good conversation with all five women in various stages of personal development, each one embodying relatable character traits. “They’re a composite of everyone (I know), including myself,” she says. The women’s initial plan to sample the entirety of tristate food offerings is borne out of a need, not only to bond, but to expand the chance of flirtatious interactions and avoid the loneliness of date night without a date. “They’re not perfect heroines,” DeRosa says. 

For Emma, the plan works. She finally meets love interest Gary, a chef, at a fictional location inspired by Ruby’s Oyster Bar & Bistro in Rye. DeRosa, a Purchase resident, had fun creating the scenes that form the backdrop to her story lines by taking inspiration from area restaurants.

Emma’s saga continues in “Food for Thought: Second Course “(Black Opal Books, 2017). She has become too caught up in Gary’s dream of restaurant ownership, placing her own dreams on the backburner. She struggles with prospective in-law relationships, feels threatened by Gary’s former love interest and squabbles over wedding and honeymoon plans. In order for her relationship to work, she must find a way to make things palatable. Ultimately, Emma learns to communicate her needs to Gary and determines it’s her own responsibility not to compromise who she really is at heart.

In the latest installment, “Just Desserts,” which hit shelves Jan. 26, Emma continues to navigate the bitter disappointments and dashed expectations that accompany success. She’s pregnant and “all she craves is desserts.” But she now grapples with the pitfalls of young marriage. “She’s resentful that nothing changes for (her husband) when she has to shelve her dream,” DeRosa says. 

“(This book) deals with how she’s losing her voice and how she regains it.” Emma is learning how to stomach imperfections and love herself first. But as she stumbles toward maturity, she has moments when she crumbles like the pear pies with cheddar rosemary crust she ruins in Chapter 38. “(The series) is fast paced, fun and funny but also poignant,” DeRosa adds.

A graduate of Purchase College, DeRosa began her literary career with the children’s book “Lazy Robert,” as well as two women’s novels,  “There’s No Place like Home” and “A Penny’s Worth.” But her “Food for Thought” series has been the impetus for the project keeping her busy lately.

She’s been filming segments of “Food for Thought: The Series, A Slice of Life with Author Nancy DeRosa,” a web series loosely based on the books. Produced by Starbaby Enterprises, the food-centric show, which will be streaming soon on Footprint TV, among other sites, will feature DeRosa demonstrating favorite dishes. “I’ve always been comfortable in the kitchen. It’s a joy to me to share family recipes.” Her favorite recipe to share is her Portuguese grandmother’s chicken and rice, she says. Her grandmother passed it on from previous generations. “When I share that recipe and others make it a part of their lives, I feel like I’ve become part of their lives, too.”

DeRosa eventually plans to include local food establishments and products into her segments. It’s a way for her to explore the culinary aspect of her books. As for the characters? “They would lend themselves so well to television,” she says, “It’s a very relationship-driven, dialogue-driven series.” Because of that, she’s turned her attention to other areas of development. “How do we bring the series to life on multiplatforms?” 

But fans who are hungry for more of Emma and her friends should take note that DeRosa is considering the fourth installment in the “Food for Thought” series, to be titled “After Dinner Drinks.” “I feel like (the characters) are friends of mine,” she says. “I want to bring them into when they’re 40 and dealing with family and career. What happens in that mid place of life? What are those challenges and losses?” 

As for now, “Just Desserts” is fresh on the shelves of Barnes & Noble and readers can savor the continued story of Emma Craven as she learns how to have her cake — and eat it, too.

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