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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Dutch macaroni.

Not to rush the end of summer (I would never!), but I’m getting pretty excited for fall dinners, leggings-based outfits, 60 per cent less boob sweat, and a little cookbook launch party I hope you’ll attend if you’re in Vancouver. (I hope we can get to Winnipeg, Toronto, and elsewhere – stay tuned! If your local bookstore, pannenkoekenhuis, or licorice parlour wants to talk boeterkoek and bitterballen, drop me a line!)

In the meantime, while the temperature has dropped slightly ahead of another summer heatwave, I’m in the mood for macaroni. This recipe, a family friendly Dutch weeknight dinner not unlike American Goulash or a fancy take on Hamburger Helper, is a one-pot weeknight staple for us; I use whole wheat macaroni in mine because no one here seems to notice and, you know, fibre.

Dutch macaroni

(Makes 6 to 8 servings.)

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 6-oz can low-sodium or no-salt-added tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp grainy Dijon or Dutch mustard
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 14 oz dry macaroni
  • 4 cups low-sodium or homemade chicken stock
  • 4 oz shredded Edam cheese

In a large pot on medium, brown beef with salt in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Remove meat from pot and set aside. Drain off all but 2 tbsp grease.

Add onions, bell peppers, carrots, celery, and garlic, and sauté for about 4 minutes, until colors have brightened and vegetables are shiny. Stir in tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, pepper, smoked paprika, oregano, and basil, and coat vegetables.

Return beef to pot. Add macaroni, and stir well. Add chicken stock; liquid should just cover mixture. If not, add a cup or two of water.

Bring contents to a simmer, and cook 10–12 minutes, until macaroni is tender.

Add Edam and stir until melted. Serve immediately.


Dutch Feast is currently available for pre-order from Arsenal Pulp Press, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and other fine online retailers; order online to receive your copy this fall, or purchase it from your favourite local bookstore in November, 2017.

Cake for breakfast.

“Okay, but why are you sorry?”

“Because you got mad.”

I’m at the stage in whatever process I’m in – book-writing, middle-management, big-kid parenting, all of it – where I would like to turn a few pages back in this choose-your-own-adventure story of life. I accidentally set a meatloaf and four sweet potatoes on fire on the barbecue this week and then cried because Nick ruined dinner by spraying it with the fire extinguisher. How could he. If a little char adds flavour, what might a little incineration do? I guess we’ll never know.

“But do you know why I got mad?”

“It’s just something you do sometimes when I break stuff.”

Remember when we were teenagers and the high school teachers had us fill out those aptitude tests to find out what we should be doing with our lives, as if that meant anything? I took the test twice because my first result was “street performer.” I have no musical talent and it rains for months at a time here. My second result was “embalmer,” and I panicked because HOW WOULD THAT EVEN WORK? (Side note: what the hell, 1990s Surrey School District administration, did you buy the discount testing package?!) I was terrible at science and failing math and worried that I wasn’t meant for anything that would support my future cat family and ability to finally own a pair of Mavi jeans. Instead of aptitude tests, teachers should tell teens about all the things they will have to juggle one day, effectively and with a smile, and all their “what am I going to do with my life?” fears would be replaced by “how can I avoid all of that?”

Maybe worrying about your future career path is pointless. Maybe they should give kids parenting workshops so that they know what to do when they inevitably find themselves bested by the world’s sassiest five-year-old.

Aside from “marry rich” and “don’t teach your children to talk,” I don’t have many answers. But perhaps I can make a suggestion? Don’t try to be the kind of parent and partner and worker the internet thinks you should be, at least not all at once, and don’t sign your five-year-old up for soccer and T-Ball at the same time while you try to write a book and work a full-time job on five hours of sleep per night. Another suggestion? Eat cake for breakfast.

Ontbijtkoek means “breakfast cake” in Dutch, and the Netherlands is a place that in a lot of ways has its priorities in order. There is comfort in something that feels just a little indulgent, but still a little nutritious. Not that nutritious, though it has a reputation for it; traditional recipes for this particular delicacy boast of the whole-grain goodness of rye flour, and that there is no fat to speak of in the bread. Traditionally, it also calls for a bucket of honey and molasses and sugar, but that is beside the point. Health! Health?

I wouldn’t exactly call this health food, but I wouldn’t call it junk either. It is wholesome, somewhere between a bread and a cake. Drier than cake, but sweeter than bread, if that makes sense? It’s a very nice way to start your day, especially with a big cup of coffee or tea, and a generous smear of butter and a drizzle of honey. Coffee and cake for breakfast are how I’m surviving the chaos of little boys, and grown-ups who want to add to my to-do list and food that just engulfs itself in flames at RANDOM and not through any fault of mine. I’ll let you know if it works.

Ontbijtkoek

The rye flour in this loaf makes it more substantial than a typical loaf cake, and the molasses means it’s not as sweet. It’s virtuous cake, if there’s such a thing, and it’s meant to be eaten in the morning.

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ¾ cup fancy molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dark rye flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground allspice
  • ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan, and set aside.

Whisk together milk, molasses and egg. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine all-purpose flour, rye flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves.

Gently work the wet ingredients into the flour mixture until dry ingredients are just moistened but not lumpy.

Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan, and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean.

Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. After ten minutes, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and cool to room temperature. Will keep for about three days.