Writing the book is the easy part.

For a period during the 90s, my parents embraced the power of positive thinking (see above), and they received much of that messaging via audiobooks on cassette tape that they’d play in the car while we drove around town on their weekend errands.

I am not exactly the world’s most positive thinker – I am a worrier, and always imagining worst-case scenarios, most of which never occur (but YOU NEVER KNOW so there’s no reason to ever stop this pattern of behaviour). There’s a perverse satisfaction in imagining you’re on the verge of some spectacular failure and then having everything work out fine – you always sort of feel like you’ve avoided catastrophe, or like maybe your luck is changing.

Positive thinking may not be as powerful as some motivational speaker – or my parents in 1994 – would have you believe, but somewhere deep in the dusty back corners of my hippocampus, I know that I can manifest strange scenarios based on my particular worry of the day. Positive thinking is fine, but the true power is in the brain’s ability to retain and mutate an idea over decades.

If you can believe it, you can achieve it! Kind of.

I work at the University of British Columbia, and I have been there, more or less, since 2004 when I started taking classes in the Creative Writing department. I started working at the university in 2008, and have been a regular customer of the campus bookstore for much of that time. They feature a lot of local authors, and there is often a shelf for books by staff and faculty.

When Well Fed, Flat Broke: Recipes for Modest Budgets and Messy Kitchens came out in 2015, my very first thought was “I wonder if UBC Bookstore has it, and more importantly where they have put it.” I don’t know what I was imagining, because I wrote a cookbook and not, say, a book of short stories or a history of Canada, but I thought it might be on display somewhere people might see it. So I went to the bookstore on my lunch break. I worried that maybe no one would buy the book, but I wasn’t worried about anyone recognizing me because who knows what any author looks like unless they are famous and I’m not.

In an unusual turn of events, my worries were misplaced.

And so I puttered around the store, assessing the shelves full of new releases and the tables full of featured nonfiction, and the book wasn’t there. “That’s fine,” I’m sure I thought. “Maybe they’ve filed me beside Vikram Vij in the cookbook section, which would be flattering and good.”

I wandered to the back of the store where the cookbooks were shelved. It wasn’t there either, but it was a new book and maybe they didn’t have it yet. I accepted this, because though I am a worrier I am also mostly rational once I think about things for a minute. Everything would be fine. I would check back in a week. Maybe they’d devote a small area of the front to displaying it. You know. Maybe.

I cut through the nonfiction section on my way back to the front of the store where the new releases were – I don’t generally leave bookstores empty-handed. I walked past two women with a cart full of books to be shelved, and they were chatting and I had no plan to interrupt, except that at the exact moment that I walked past, I caught a glimpse of my dumb face leering up with a terrifying watermelon grin from the cart, and then I died.

They saw me, and they saw me pause for the millisecond it took for my death to occur.

“Is this YOU?!” one of them ask-exclaimed.

“HAHA OH MY GOD,” I remember saying.

I began backing away.

“Would you like to sign a few copies? We don’t mind!”

“I AM NOT LURKING IN THIS BOOKSTORE HOPING TO BE NOTICED!” I think I yelled. I think they said something reassuring, like “no one thinks that” or “wow you are turning so red” but I can’t be sure because I, an adult woman in her thirties, dressed in drab business-casual clothing as if to suggest a level of professionalism and maturity, turned and ran away.

For clarity, I did not walk briskly, it was a full run which is unusual because I don’t like to run and I know I don’t look graceful doing it. I stumbled out of there and ran back to the building where I work and pretended that I was a normal, functional human being for the rest of the day, even though every 30 minutes I had to pause for a nervous shuffle to the washroom to relive and/or purge my shame.

I wish I could tell you I learned something tangible from that experience, but here we are in 2017 and I’m still lurking in bookstores.

Dutch Feast is now out there in the world, and I’ll be visiting Winnipeg and Toronto to launch it into the Canadian market (we launched in Vancouver on November 7), and I don’t know how it’s going to go but I’m trying not to imagine scenarios that involve me sprinting away from the scene.

With that in mind, I’d love if you’d come say hello! I’ll be in Winnipeg on the evening of November 27, reading a bit and hopefully sharing some Dutch sweets at McNally Robinson Books. And if you’ve ever wondered about writing a book, just know that getting the words down is the easy part.

 

 

 

 

 

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Let’s talk about Snacks (and a giveaway).

Your next must-read book came out last month and I meant to tell you all about it … last month. And now it’s November. Maybe it’s better I tell you about it now, because the book is Snacks, and I think you should buy it for your snackiest friends and family this holiday season (which we can fret about later, at this rate my household will be celebrating Christmas on January 25).

Snacks: A Canadian Food History, by Janis Thiessen, explores the history and context for Canadian snack foods and it’s absolutely fascinating. Thiessen’s writing is engaging throughout, weaving the history of our national love of chips and candies with stories of the workers behind the brands and tales of corporate intrigue. I read the book over a month ago and am still a little miffed that Old Dutch Foods isn’t even really Canadian (or Dutch, for that matter – some guy named Carl Marx called the company Old Dutch Foods because he associated Dutchness with cleanliness).

Thiessen is an associate professor at the University of Winnipeg, where she lectures on Canadian, food, and business history, and brings a unique perspective to the topic of snack foods in Canada. The thing that spoke to me the most about this book was Thiessen’s critical look at how we vilify some foods as junk, and why we do that. I, for one, am very bored with hearing about how best to eat and live, as usually that kind of information is aspirational at best (at least for me as a lady professional out in the world having it all and then falling over from exhaustion).

Whole foods are good and fine, but sometimes I want to eat sour cream and onion chips and Hawkin’s Cheezies, and I want to enjoy them for what they are. Thiessen quotes food historian Sara Davis: “There’s a lot of unacknowledged privilege at work when food activists insist that the endgame should be more people cooking more meals at home,” explaining that disdain for snacking has its roots in gender bias – which is to say, if more people (women) stayed at home and prepared more meals from scratch, we wouldn’t need snacks, and we wouldn’t snack so much.

I like working and I like snacking. Thiessen makes a solid case for the benefits of a food system which, though it could be vastly improved, allows us to enjoy the occasional bag of chips we needn’t fry for ourselves. (Her favourite are dill pickle flavoured.) While the book was centred around snacks, the stories are what makes this so interesting – Thiessen incorporates oral histories from workers, business owners, and other academics to create a complex picture of the Canadian food landscape. Canadians are an idiosyncratic people, and I enjoyed learning more about our national quirks and odd preferences (ketchup chips are our passion, whether I am okay with that or not).

You should absolutely give this book to your best foodie friend for Christmas this year (ideally with a box of Ganong chicken bones). And because I love this book so very much and want you to have your own copy, I’m doing a little giveaway.

Comment below or follow me on Instagram and tell me there: what is your favourite Canadian snack food? (It is totally fair, by the way, if your faves are this entire list of PC chips from Superstore, from which I cannot choose just one. Maybe the sriracha ones. Maybe the jerk chicken ones.) You do not have to be Canadian to enter, but liking Canadians in general is preferred. Anyway, let me know by Wednesday, November 22 and I’ll pick a winner from Nick’s old hat and drop your copy into the mail before I head off to Winnipeg.

Also, because this is my site and I do what I want, I want to state for the record that All-Dressed chips, a uniquely Canadian thing, are trash and Serious Eats is wrong.

General Tso’s Chicken + Cookbook Giveaway

I have been kind of obsessed with General Tso’s Chicken since last spring, when I sat in my dark living room and watched The Search for General Tso on Netflix, and on an empty stomach. I think General Tso’s is the kind of thing that is a phenomenon in the US; in Canada we have our own interpretation of “Chinese food” – did you know that Ginger Beef was invented in Calgary, Alberta? Anyway, it looked delicious and I needed to get into it right away. I wish I could see people doing yoga and react with the same sense of urgency.

General Tso’s Chicken is not served at dim sum, which is how we most often enjoy Chinese cuisine, and though it appears on the occasional take-out menu, it’s never in the combos (we’re a Dinner for 2 B family, with its chicken chow mein and red saucy sweet-and-sour pork). For too long, there was no opportune time to get to know the General. No time, that is, until this past Saturday.

Thanks to Food Bloggers of Canada and Clarkson Potter, I was offered the opportunity to review a copy of food writer Kian Lam Kho‘s cookbook, Phoenix Claws and Jade TreesIn order to fulfill my part of the deal, I was tasked with preparing a dinner with a few of the dishes from the book. To get a sense of the variety of recipes, I read the whole thing in a single evening, shouting excitedly at Nick about all the wonderful things we would get to have once he cleaned the kitchen and figured out how to get me eight pounds of nontoxic pottery clay (Beggar’s Chicken, page 314).

This book is beautiful. The writing is clear and well-paced; the photos are stunning and often demonstrate multiple steps in a single collage. Everything about it says “cooking Chinese cuisine unlike anything you’ve seen on a North American take-away menu is easy and fun and you should do it right now. Right now!” And while I can’t speak to the ease of obtaining the ingredients just anywhere, in Vancouver it was only as challenging as deciding which T&T to go to (Renfrew & 1st Avenue won out – free parking).

Within an hour, I had gathered all of the ingredients to prepare six recipes from the book for a Mid-Autumn Festival feast for three friends. The ingredients were very affordable. I think I spent $53 on the entire meal (including a very cheap and sort of embarrassing rosé), and we had leftovers for two days.

We had:

  • General Tso’s Chicken (page 174, recipe below)
  • Red Cooked Lion’s Head, a braised pork meatball with water chestnuts and greens (page 198)
  • Mapo Tofu,  a mix of beef and tofu with chili paste and fermented beans (page 211)
  • Black vinegar and garlic vinaigrette (page 327 served over steamed yu choy that I had chilled before serving)
  • Cucumber salad with garlic (page 336)
  • Spicy lotus root salad with Szechuan pepper, chilies and cilantro (page 338)

There were so many intriguing dishes in this book, and a good mix of challenging dishes to prepare when you’ve got the time and quick, straightforward recipes you could make on a weeknight or for company.

The best thing about this book, at least for me, is that most of the recipes are designed to make two servings: this way, I can make enough for Nick and I for a weekend lunch or weeknight dinner, or make a dinner party of multiple dishes without going overboard on quantity. I also love that so many of the dishes are so inexpensive to make; the Mapo Tofu, for example, called for a quarter-pound of ground beef and two dollars’ worth of tofu.

Once you build a pantry of some of the book’s more frequently used ingredients, you can make the recipes quickly and cheaply. I’ve already used the Szechuan chili paste from the Mapo Tofu twice more since Saturday. It brings boring old steamed broccoli or scrambled eggs to LIFE.

My dinner guests were split on their favourites – one liked the Red Cooked Lion’s Head: “I’ve never had this dish before,” she said, “but the flavour reminds me of something similar I might have eaten as a child.” Another was quite keen on the black vinegar and garlic dressing, which I’ll agree is incredible, especially for how simple it is.

I fell in love with the Mapo Tofu, a dish I have been fond of for my whole life in Vancouver – this version was so simple, but so perfectly spicy and salty and balanced. And General Tso’s Chicken? It’s not too sweet, with a lot of garlic and a little bit of vinegar and heat: in short, it’s everything I hoped it would be.

General Tso’s Chicken

Makes two servings.

Marinade

  • 2 tbsp. Shaoxing cooking wine
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

Sauce

  • 3/4 cup chicken stock or water
  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing cooking wine
  • 2 tbsp. Chinkiang black vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbsp. tapioca starch
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 4 cups vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup tapioca starch
  • 3 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup dried red chilies
  • 1 tbsp. roasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. sesame seeds, toasted
  • 2 tbsp. thinly sliced scallion greens

In a medium bowl, whisk together marinade ingredients. Add the chicken cubes, and, using your hands, work the marinade into the meat so that all pieces are well-coated. Set aside for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix sauce ingredients together in another bowl. Set this aside too.

Put the tapioca starch into a bowl.

In a wok or Dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil to 375°F, or until it shimmers. Dredge the chicken pieces through the tapioca starch until well-coated. Working in batches, fry chicken pieces in the hot oil until golden brown, four to five minutes. Remove chicken with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels.

Pour off all but two tablespoons of the cooking oil, then return your wok or pot to the stove and add the garlic and ginger, cooking for about 30 seconds; do not let these burn. Add the chilies and cook for another 30 seconds. Give the sauce mixture a quick stir, then add this to the wok or pot and cook for about a minute, until the sauce has thickened. Return the chicken to the wok or pot and toss the pieces in the sauce. Add the sesame oil, then toss again.

Garnish with sesame seeds and scallions. Serve with rice and a cold salad.

The giveaway

To win a copy of Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees from Clarkson Potter, leave a comment below describing your favourite Chinese dish. You can leave comments until 11:59 PST on October 2; on October 3, I’ll put all the names in a hat and draw a winner. The winner will be notified by email on October 3.

Please note that this giveaway is for Canadian readers only; watch redcook.net after September 14 for information on giveaways for American readers.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free. However, I really like the book and would buy it for myself if it wasn’t offered to me first. No one pays me money for my opinions, which is probably for the best.

Launched!

It's happening!!

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This is just a quick little note to say THANK YOU! The book’s official debut came this weekend at the nicest bookstore in town, and though it only just had its official stepping out, the book going to its second printing already. Thank you for buying a copy, and for telling your friends about it!

The launch, somehow both long-awaited and surprisingly quick to get here, was beautiful and wonderful and friends and family from all over the lower mainland and going back to my earliest years were there. There were meatballs and little pancakes and crudites and wine, and I had a dress on that I bought in a store that didn’t even have a clearance rack. It was a special day.

The launch was held at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks, which is one of my favourite bookstores in the world and, if you’re in Vancouver, my top pick for books on cooking and food. Like Omnivore Books in San Francisco, but afterward you can pop into Patisserie Lebeau next door for an excellent chicken salad sandwich and a waffle.

The lead up to the launch was busy as well, and I feel like I’ve been talking about myself for weeks. Indeed, I have: you can hear my interview with Rick Cluff on CBC Radio here, and watch me give the wrong URL for my website on Breakfast Television here. There are more, and I will post those links as they appear.

We’ll be back to recipe posts soon (we’re eating a lot of take-out lately). In the meantime, I just wanted send e-hugs (the only hugs I’m really comfortable with) and my warmest thanks.

 

Booked!

I think this has been my weirdest week on record, weirder than the time I was 20 and dyed myself and my hair orange at the same time and didn’t realize it. My ears are burning, and it’s not a tanning bed this time.

(If you’re wondering how you can dye yourself with a tanning bed, you can’t really. But you can turn yourself orange with a combination of tanning beds and self tanner, and then you can’t hide your shame.)

Anyway.

It’s like real life is happening in parallel with this other life I like the idea of, this alternate reality where I get to tell people stories and convince them to love kimchi and tuna and maybe even Spam. Of course, regular life is unyielding, and so on top of the euphoria of everything I ever wanted coming to pass, I am still wiping butts and folding laundry and finding mistakes in press releases I wrote or trying to book meetings with researchers at work.

And I know I wrote the book, and I knew that it was being edited and then designed and I understood that it would be printed and then I even had copies in my hands, and it all still felt like I could, I don’t know, get out of it maybe? Like if I panicked, maybe I could, I don’t know, stop the presses? Somehow in my mind it was going to be a real book but also maybe no one would ever know about it and I could escape judgment.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that none of it felt really, really real until this week, when people who weren’t my immediate family started getting their copies.

And then started making the recipes.

And then, well: I saw it, for real, in a bookstore I go to probably twice per week.

Aaaaahhhh! There it is!!!

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So, here we go. Stuff’s happening now. I’ve had an interview with Megaphone, and with the Vancouver Sun. My schedule for April is filling up.

I’ll keep you up to date as more dates get booked and interviews or reviews come out. In the meantime, thank you for your support and enthusiasm and for buying copies and telling me how much you like the book! Hardly anyone tells me they like my press releases so this is a kind of gratification I’ve never known.

Holy crap, it happened.

Much has happened since we last spoke. Spring has sprung in Vancouver, and we have been playing outside without winter coats. We finally finished all the cheese I bought in early December. I am now raising a Ninja Turtle (Donatello, specifically), and bearing the brunt of his ninja attacks which are not stealthy but do sometimes hurt.

And that book I’ve been thinking about and talking about and fretting over for months went to the printer, and then emerged fully formed this past week! I have real, hard copies here in my apartment, which I can hold and look at and worry about making sticky. I filed my reference copy between books by Nigella Lawson and Fannie Farmer, in hope that some of their magic rubs off.

WFFB Bookshelf

These are fast-paced times.

And there is so much to talk about, recipe-wise, but we’ve hardly had a moment to catch our breath or chew thoughtfully or clean the weird smell out of the garbage disposal. I have a couple of things simmering away, so stay tuned.

The book will be in stores in early April, and if you’re in Vancouver, I hope you’ll join me at the book launch! Save the date and update your calendar – it’s April 19, at 2:00 p.m., at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks. I’ll update you with other dates in other places as those details are finalized.

Eek! It’s here. I can’t really even believe it.

BOOK.

A big, exciting thing.

In real life I work in communications and any time anyone wants to communicate anything I first have to write a communications plan, which, for the uninitiated, is an extremely boring document detailing your goals, key messages, tactics, deliverables, and how you’ll measure your success. I don’t really like writing them, because I am a BIG PICTURE (impatient) person and I just like to jump into things and see how they come together once I’m in them. Nevertheless, I follow protocols and write plans and pretend I am an adult professional who can do things properly.

And now, here I am, with communication of my own to communicate, and I know I should take a deep breath or ten and write a plan. Or, at least, figure out my key messages.

But sweaty and messy has always been more my style. Which is why I am nervously thrilled to announce that Well Fed, Flat Broke, the cookbook, will be published by Arsenal Pulp Press and on bookstore shelves in Spring 2015. I have so much work to do, but I am so excited. And I could not have done it without you. Without you, I’m just some pantsless cat lady with a gross kitchen and an abnormal enthusiasm for fibre. Actually, I pretty much am that, but you keep coming back. So this is all your fault, but in a really good way.

Thank you. Like, very much.

Well … I guess I’d better grab a beer and get to work.

Love,

Emily