CHIMACUM — You’ll need four shots of espresso, a pound of butter, a splash of milk, a teaspoon of vanilla and plenty of confectioner’s sugar.
We’re talking about the frosting for Triple-Layer Espresso Seduction Brownies, one of many sexy recipes in “The Ingredients of Us,” a new book from a local writer.
This is no cookbook; it’s a novel from the mind, soul and kitchen of Nicole J. Persun, pen name Jennifer Gold. “Ingredients” brings us inside the life of a woman striving to realize dual dreams: a healthy career and a loving marriage. She’s Elle, passionate baker and business owner, married to Tom, a professor whom she discovers has been unfaithful. They’re Seattleites; their first trip together back when they were dating was to a bed and breakfast at Lake Sutherland.
Tom’s affair knocks Elle off her feet. She tries burying herself in work; she tries picking up a handsome young dude at the nightclub. We travel across time, to her courtship with Tom, to the days and weeks after the discovery and to the extreme early mornings when Elle starts her work day.
Elle struggles with insecurity while Tom, for his part, isn’t just a rotten jerk. In telling their story, Persun wanted to explore that “nothing in relationships is black and white. I wanted to take that common trope, that the cheating husband is a dimensionless bad guy, and explore the gray area in between … I wanted to write a story about real people living real lives — the good moments, the bad moments, and all the messy stuff.”
The best compliment readers have given, she added, is that they identified with Tom.
“I love that,” she said. Persun’s fondest hope is to put a little more empathy out there.
The author, who grew up in Port Townsend, will host a book launch party from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at Finnriver Farm & Cidery, 124 Center Road. Persun will read from “Ingredients,” Anna Quinn of Port Townsend’s Imprint Books will sell copies for signing, and guests will have a chance to taste desserts featured in the novel. The author will also take questions and give away prizes.
It was soon after high school that Persun started her own baking life at Farm’s Reach Cafe in Chimacum.
“I learned a whole darn lot,” she said, not just about the power of sugar and flour but also about community, camaraderie and the life of a small business. In the back room where she baked all day, her mind expanded like a loaf in the oven. “The Ingredients of Us” was born of a recipe for lemon tarts — and her imagining of a woman pouring her turbulent, sour emotions into the bowl with the lemon juice.
Food can be such a mirror in our lives, Persun said. Baking is so cathartic, in that “you start out with ingredients, you make a mess of your kitchen, and you end up with something sweet and wonderful.”
That’s the hope and desire, anyhow. All is not sweet in “Ingredients.” Much is spicy. Persun writes sex scenes from Elle’s point of view — something she said required a particular sense of freedom.
“If you focus too much on worrying what people will think, you’ll stifle your creativity,” she said.
“ ‘Worrying what people think’ comes in many forms, from wondering if the work is good enough for an agent or publisher, to — in the case of sex — wondering what my friends or, gasp, family are going to think when they read those scenes.”
To write with intimacy and risk, said Persun, one has to let go of such thoughts, or at least move them to a back burner. This is why she writes her first drafts without letting anyone read them.
“Writing about sex is just like writing about other, more mundane things,” she added. Ask: “Who are these two characters? What do they want? How are those wants at odds? How are they in agreement? What emotions are under the surface, driving their actions?”
Persun’s own life took a turn last fall when she and her husband were living in Seattle. She was offered a job as a horse caretaker in Quilcene, and the couple decided to move back home.
“It’s been such a positive thing,” she said.
“The city was so expensive and trafficky. The Peninsula is peaceful, beautiful and has an incredible writing community. I have much more balance in my life. I can breathe; my creativity can breathe.”