Chick Lit confections

shabnam minwalla | Updated on August 14, 2014 Published on June 20, 2014


In this gossamer world, protagonists down Chardonnay, lurch through hangovers, glower at skinny blondes and obsess about food, even if they merely peck at it

What ingredients usually go into a Chick Lit confection? A weekend in a luxurious Swiss chalet. Some Swarovski-encrusted stilettos. Failed relationships. Flirty emails. And fabulous food.

Cake-tasting in elegant studios warm with sugary-buttery aromas. Tortes filled with rhubarb compote and tartlets topped with tomato- mozzarella. Philly Cheesesteaks from Pennsylvania. A 50-pound wheel of Parmesan from the Bronx. Tempura of king prawns with chilli-and-lime jam in chic London restaurants. Chocolate feuillantine, lavender honey ice cream, and caramelised pears served amidst heavy crystal and snowy linen.

Clearly, this is a fictional realm that features the trendiest, drooliest foods of the moment. The surest indicator of what’s hot and what’s not. Is green tea ice cream too yesterday? Is piri-piri chicken still the choice of the hostess with the mostest? Do cellophane noodles score over soba? Just pick up the latest bestsellers with bubblegum pink and peppermint green covers and drawings of Prada handbags — and your answers will be served up alongside scoops of romance, fashion and grapefruit champagne ice cream.

Chick Lit — for those who have missed one of the biggest publishing trends of the last 20 years — is a genre that deals with contemporary women and their quest for love, flat tummies and happy careers. These tales exist in a paperback-land, full of recently dumped women who work hard for their Manolo Blahniks, iPhones and toned thighs. All so they can find true love — preferably in the arms of a world-famous photographer. Along the way the protagonists down Chardonnay, lurch through hangovers, glower at the skinny blondes. And obsess about food. All the time. Which makes it particularly strange that they eat so little.

For while these modern-day Cinderellas dine in the coolest restaurants, they are usually sloshing with too much emotion and alcohol to enjoy their salmon almondine. What’s worse, they are too busy counting calories to tuck into cherry clafouti with ginger ice cream. Serious blasphemy for all us foodie, cherryclafouti-loving readers out there.

Clearly then, all that marvellous food laid out by writers like Jane Costello and Lauren Weisberger is meant for the readers. The characters must stick to their skinny lattes (120 calories) and quinoa salads (90 calories per serving). And say things like, “I’m on this new diet. Well, I don’t eat anything, and when I feel like I’m about to faint I eat a cube of cheese”

Which is scary. But that’s how it’s been from the beginning — or at least since Bridget Jones started her diary and stormed the publishing world in 1996. Bridget Jones Diary is widely acknowledged as the grand matriarch of Chick Lit, and it’s no coincidence that Bridget’s very first entry, dated January 1, is a guilty list of the 5424 calories she’s consumed in the New Year:

• 2 packets Emmental cheese slices

• 14 cold new potatoes

• 2 Bloody Marys (count as food as contain Worcester sauce and tomatoes)

• ½ Ciabatta loaf with Brie

• ½ packet coriander leaves

• 12 milk trays (best to get rid of all Christmas confectioneries in one go and make a fresh start tomorrow)

• 13 cocktail sticks of cheese and pineapple

• Portion Una Alconbury’s turkey curry, peas and bananas

• Portion Una Alconbury’s raspberry surprise made with Bourbon biscuits, tinned raspberries, eight gallons of whipped cream, decorated with glace cherries and angelica.

Through the rest of the year, daffy but lovable Bridget battles with her passion for custard creams. And on one memorable occasion, hosts a dinner party at which she serves a blue soup, burnt chicken carcasses coated in jelly, rock-hard potatoes, tomato puree, mysteriously vanished tuna steaks and marmalade.

Somehow, generations of lovable, insecure Millies and Helens are compelled to follow Bridget’s frequently tottery footsteps. For example, Lucy Tyler from My Single Friend is a PR wiz and can whip up a mean Caribbean seafood stew. But she spends her life eating sawdusty slimming bread, measuring her thighs and wandering around supermarkets calculating the Nootrients (the no no quotients) in artichokes (0), bean spouts (0) and chocolate trifle (17).

All of which explains why Becky Bloomwood — the shopaholic in Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series — is such a breath of fresh air. She too is prone to scrapes. But at least she can forget her troubles when confronted with grilled Chick Lit confections In this gossamer world, protagonists down Chardonnay, lurch through hangovers, glower at skinny blondes and obsess about food, even if they merely peck at it scallops. “After so many torturous days of cheap, functional food, this is like going to heaven. I feel almost tearful — like a prisoner returning to the real world… After my scallops I have steak béarnaise and chips — and when all the others say no thanks to the pudding menu, I order chocolate mousse.”

Becky’s finest food moment arrives, however, when she visits a studio that specialises in wedding cakes like mandarin-and-lychee and dark chocolate sponge layered with chocolate fondant, white chocolate cream and a Grand Marnier truffle filling. While the other brides in the studio are counting calories and throwing tantrums, Becky asks for extra sugar lilies. “A smiling assistant disappears through a pair of double doors — then returns with a glass of champagne and a china plate holding two slices of cake and a sugar lily. She hands me a fork and says, ‘This one is passion-fruit-mango, strawberry, and tangerine mousseline, and this is caramel crème with pistachio and mocha truffle. Enjoy!’” So Becky makes the most of her food adventure — and proves that she is one of the few sensible souls in the skinny, scary world of Chick Lit.

Caribbean Seafood Stew

(..à la Lucy Tyler (400 calories per serving, in case anybody out there is a Chick-Litheroine-in-the-making)

Serves 4-6


2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp lime juice

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 kg skinless surmai or red snapper fillets, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped green bell pepper

6 cloves garlic, minced (1 tbsp)

1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped or a green chilli, seeded and chopped

2 cups diced tomatoes

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk

1 cup shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 cup + 2 tbsp coriander, chopped


1 In a medium bowl stir together 1tbsp olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper. Add fish cubes; toss to coat.

2 In a saucepan, heat remaining oil over medium heat. Add the onion, green bell pepper, garlic and jalapeno.

3 Cook and stir for 4-5 minutes or until onion is tender but not brown. Stir in tomatoes and coconut milk. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in shrimp, fish and 1/2 cup coriander.

4 Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for about 5 minutes or until fish just flakes easily with a fork and shrimp turn opaque.

5 Serve over hot cooked rice. Sprinkle with remaining coriander to garnish.

(This is part of a monthly series that follows a food trail through the realm of fiction)

The writer is a journalist and author of The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street

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Published on June 20, 2014
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