Paula Quinene has been known for writing about…food; Chamorro food to be more precise. Her two cookbooks will definitely make your mouth water, but her debut novel – an erotic historical romance entitled ‘Conquered’ – will leave your mouth wide open. Interested to know more? Just read the interview.
Pasifika Tales: Up until now you were focused on Chamorro recipes cookbooks. What inspired you to write a novel?
Paula Quinene: I was in the midst of working on my two Guam cookbooks. The first was a pure cookbook, the second was a cookbook and memoir book. The idea for the novel was to combine food, memories, and history. I was so mahȧlang, or homesick, that it seemed like the natural progression in my string of Guam books.
PT: The story is set in 1940s. Was it your idea right from the beginning? Why didn’t you choose a contemporary setting?
PQ: Yes, it was my idea from the start. Guam’s liberation is so important to the Chamorros, the natives of Guam and the Mariana Islands. Our liberation from the Japanese by the Americans during WWII has been celebrated on Guam and around the world for decades. When most folks think of WWII in the Pacific, they think Pearl Harbor. I felt it was important to share that after Pearl Harbor was bombed, the Japanese bombed and occupied Guam for almost three years.
PT: How did you come up with the plot?
PQ: During one of my visits to Guam, I spent some time at my sister-in-law’s house. Her backyard was so beautiful. It was the inspiration for the main setting in ‘Conquered’. I had to find a military unit that came as close to that area of Guam so that he would somehow bump into my heroine. The main plot revolves around the movement of that particular unit. For the subplots, I wanted gut-wrenching, emotional scenes to develop the romance, the sex, and to showcase the Chamorro culture.
PT: Do you think that your book may help get readers interested in Guam’s history?
PQ: The short excerpt I had sent to my then potential editor, Stacey Donovan, definitely got her interested. Those who don’t know much about Guam will learn a ton. Some Chamorros reading the novel will have a handful of ‘aha’ moments. History buffs may be motivated to dig further into Guam’s past as there are references to both the Spanish and American colonization’s before WWII.
PT: ‘Conquered’ is not only a purely historical novel; it is actually an erotic historical romance. I’d say it’s a bold combination. Do you agree?
PQ: Yes. My senior paper in high school was ‘Conformity vs Non-Conformity’, and I was all for being a non-conformist. I believe in pushing the limits, in go big or go home, as long as no one gets hurt.
PT: Why did you decide to venture into the erotic romance genre?
PQ: The romance novels I read as a teen and young adult just didn’t have enough erotic scenes, but they were always loving and romantic. Besides, by the time of ‘Conquered’s publication, it was a plus that explicit books were more acceptable. Sex was so taboo for adults to talk about while I was growing up. Even the loving, romantic kind. Coming from a very cultural and Catholic background, I wanted to say, ‘Hey, sex can be full of love, fun, and pleasure. It will enhance a marriage if you are open and accepting of mutually acceptable activities.’
PT: Was it difficult to handle the erotic scenes without crossing the line of good taste?
PQ: Initially, I used too many somewhat lewd words for that time period. I took my editor’s advice and changed the words. The sex scenes in romance novels I read in the past were in very good taste. I don’t remember the details of such scenes, but I remember words like womanhood and manhood.
PT: Do you plan to further explore the world of literary fiction? Is there a new novel on the horizon?
PQ: Literary fiction? No. I’ve been on the fence with another erotic romance novel since 2014, working on it a tiny, tiny bit here and there. It will bring Guam’s history into a more recent decade, but will be a while before the story is ready for an editor. The heroine of my novel-in-the-works is the granddaughter of the heroine in ‘Conquered’.
PT: Now, because you are an expert when it comes to Chamorro cuisine, would you mind sharing your favourite Chamorro recipe?
PQ: I love a lot of Chamorro food, but boñelos aga’ is my favorite because I can remember it from forever ago as a child. It’s also something my mom taught me how to make, scooping the batter with my hand and dropping it into the oil between my thumb and index finger. My life is so grounded because of the culture and traditions I was brought up in, much of which was family life around food. My kids love this dessert, and it’s something they can pass on to their children.
Boñelos Aga’ [Banana doughnuts]
This will yield a small batch of boñelos, which should be quite soft even after it has completely cooled. Making boñelos aga‘ requires minimal adjustments to the dough depending on how much water is in the bananas. Do not add more flour than listed.
Makes about 40 doughnuts.
3 cups overripe, smashed bananas (previously frozen and thawed to room temperature is best)
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2½ cups flour (¼ cup more may be needed)
2 teaspoons baking powder
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Tools: large pot, ladle with holes, medium bowl, colander, napkins, long butter knife
Fill the large pot halfway with oil. Heat the oil on medium heat.
While it’s heating, combine the smashed bananas, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl.
Add 2½ cups flour and baking powder. Mix thoroughly.
Depending on the ripeness of the bananas or if they were previously frozen, you may or may not need the remaining ¼ cup of flour.
Check the thickness of the ‘cake mix-like’ batter. The batter should be a bit thicker than cake mix, but not at all like bread dough. Take a scoop in your hand. Drop it into the rest of the mixture. The scoop should retain some of its shape without completely blending into the mix. It will flatten out, but you should be able to see the outline.
If you are not sure, leave out the extra flour for now.
Test your ‘batter dropping’ technique. Scoop a small amount of batter into the palm of your dominant hand. Make a circle with your thumb and fingers. Turn your ‘circled fingers’ to drop some batter back into the bowl. This takes a little bit of practice. If you can squeeze the batter out and let the trail of batter fall onto itself in the oil, your doughnuts have a good chance of turning out round. If not, and the boñelos has a tail, more crunchy parts to eat! You can always use two small spoons, or a small cookie-dough scoop.
When the oil is hot, drop about a teaspoon of batter into the oil. The dough should turn into a puffy ball. The batter may fall to the bottom of the pot, but rises as it cooks. It will only stay at the bottom a few seconds. If it sits longer, the oil is not hot enough. Use a butter knife to tease the doughnut from the bottom of the pot, and discard. Wait five minutes for the oil to continue to heat.
Test a bigger doughnut. Scoop enough batter in your hand to form one doughnut. Position your hand about an inch above the surface of the oil then squeeze the batter through your thumb and fingers. If the batter falls to the bottom of the pot, let it cook for two minutes. If it doesn’t rise after two minutes, nudge it free with a long utensil.
The oil should be hot enough to cook the center of the boñelos and brown the outside of the doughnut within 15 minutes.
Cool the larger test doughnut on a napkin. Open the doughnut and check to see if it is cooked. Check carefully as there will be chunks of banana in the boñelos. If in doubt whether there is enough flour, go ahead and add the remaining ¼ cup of flour. Mix this very well.
Continue to squeeze batter into the oil without overcrowding the pot. The entire first batch of doughnuts may need nudging from the bottom of the pot.
The doughnuts in the remaining batches should float to the surface of the oil on their own.
Drain doughnuts in a colander then transfer to a napkin-lined dish.