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Eat, Love & Pray the Clams are Okay: Jennifer Platt Talks to Kathryn White About Her Latest Novel Anna Peters’ Year of Cooking Dangerously

By Jennifer Platt for the Sunday Times

Anna Peters' Year of Cooking DangerouslyAnna Peters’ Year of Cooking Dangerously
Kathryn White (Umuzi)

Food, romance, humour and a bit of mystery: you can’t go wrong, really. Or some can, but Kathryn White doesn’t. Her third novel is on point – it’s sort of like a Marian Keyes set in Joburg. 30-something Anna Peters is now single. Broken-hearted because she and her “almost fiancé” Garry – him with the two Rs – have split up. She is still living with him, and has decided that she will to cook her way back into his heart.

Problem is, she doesn’t exactly know how to cook. For her first attempt, she decides to make Save-The-Date-mussels (read the book to get the recipe), but unfortunately buys the mussels at a petrol station, half-defrosted. Disaster occurs. Poor Garry.

Each misadventure of Anna’s starts off with the time of year and a recipe, a structure that White says helped her bring the book into being. “Because I work as a copywriter I like a tidy concept. Food is inherently about love, so a single girl looking for love in all the wrong places fits very neatly with someone experimenting in the kitchen.”

All the delicious, mouthwatering recipes are White’s own – and are quite solid, even if Anna does mess them up. The book began life as White’s food diary in 2011. “The story was added after the recipes. Once I realised I could turn the diary into something more, the single-girl story came about, because I had run out of good romcoms to watch. And the bad ones are so incredibly boring. So I wrote one I would like to watch.

“The barley-seeds-lodged-in-the-pastry-case was the very first dish I wrote down. It happened exactly like that. And the chicken thigh-bone pie. And the orange scrambled eggs – I tried to make that. And the steak, with the plum jam sauce that doesn’t ever reduce because I decide to shower, and I come back and I have burnt everything. The big winner is the chilli chocolate cake. That I improvised and it worked and it really is incredibly delicious.”

Besides waiting to see what Anna is cooking up next, there’s a mystery that keeps the reader pre-occupied: we want to know why Garry and Anna broke up in the first place. When this is revealed toward the end (no spoilers), it is completely unexpected and comes like a punch to the gut. “The first time I understood how this works was with Marian Keyes’ Rachel’s Holiday”, says White. “She makes you laugh and then you’re like, oh my god, oh my god, I got this so wrong, and you’re crying because her characters are so brave because they try to see the joy or light in a terrible situation.”

Anna Peters’ Year of Cooking Dangerously starts light, funny and irreverent, but eventually goes dark, like a burnt soufflé. White says it was quite difficult to write the serious bits. “The fun stuff is so much more entertaining – then to stop and let the character actually deal with the reality of what she hasn’t been confronting, it was as difficult for me as it is for Anna to accept that she has to face up to it. That’s honestly why it took a while to come out – the urge to carry on making jokes had to be tempered down.”

The book is filled with kitchen tips that are amazingly useful – like how to work out how much alcohol you need to cater for your party. “That information is from family. I remember a family friend once telling me it was essential to know how to make a perfect Bloody Mary. Assuming you haven’t forgotten the Herbamare, you also need fresh horseradish – the store-bought stuff often has mustard seeds or vinegar in it.”

As for the next course, White says that there might be the possibility of a sequel: Anna Peters’ Winter of Content. Sounds divine.

Follow @Jenniferdplatt on Twitter

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