Remember those essays? The first day back to school, the teacher was still setting up the year’s curriculum, ordering books, etc., and so you’d get handed a piece of loose leaf and a fresh new pencil and directed to start off the school year with the child’s worst enemy – the familiar essay.
We lived in the poor part of town. Nobody I knew came back on that first day of school with stories about Disneyland, or Europe. Camping maybe, but it was never one of those fancy camps where you learned French or how to play the oboe. It would have been a week at Grandpa’s fishing lodge (shack) getting eaten alive by black flies and leeches.
The rest of us spent the days at home, or at a grandparent’s or babysitter’s house if our parents worked. There would be trips to the lake (aka. a mile long forced march in the hot sun), or the beach (for this you definitely hoped for a drive, otherwise it was a 2-mile forced march in the hot sun, up a huge, steep hill to get home), but usually it was a “make your own fun” kind of summer where you spent the days in the woods, at the playground, in a wading pool in the backyard, or lolling around watching “stories” with Grandma in the cool of the living room with the blinds down.
Overdressed The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion
Elizabeth L. Cline
Portfolio Hardcover, June 2012, 256 pages
On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself sitting in a restaurant measuring the cost of my meal against the cost of the clothes on my back. This entree costs as much as my shirt. This tiny dessert, more than my scarf. A multi-course tasting menu can ring in at more than a pair of really well-made boots.
Like most people I’m inclined to blame this disparity on the high price of food. But I am wrong to do so, for the problem is not that quality, well-prepared restaurant food is to expensive, it’s that the clothing that we typically buy in chain stores across the Western world is far too cheap.
As Elizabeth Cline points out in her engaging and delightfully well-written book Overdressed, we like cheap clothes. A lot. Most of us have more clothing than we can ever reasonably wear, and manufacturers feed into our desire for more by creating clothing as cheaply as possible. Who cares if a shirt falls apart after two washes when it only cost $10 to begin with?
Most readers who follow this blog or follow me on Twitter probably already know that I spent the better part of this past year working on a book of food-related essays. Those of you who are not aware – hey, I wrote a book!
I’m posting about it now only because i realized that, in the flurry of activity getting stuff ready for the launch, I haven’t really said much about it here.
Publishing a book is a whole lot of waiting, interspersed with flurries of often stressful activity, in which you do all the grunt work that would be the responsibility of a publisher, should you be so lucky as to score a deal with a mainstream publishing house, which is more and more rare these days.
There are all the things you never think of when you sit down with the intention of becoming a writer, instead picturing yourself banging away at a typewriter, a cigarette hanging from your lips, a bottle of whisky at your side like William Burroughs; or perhaps imagining yourself sitting on the veranda of a hotel cafe in the tropics, watching the world pass by and scribbling away in a journal like Somerset Maugham.
It happened again. My own book is still a couple of months away from publication and already, I am getting pitches from people wanting me to publish their book. Specifically, their cookbook.
The first came via Twitter. (Incidentally – do not ever do this.) A public message asking if I’d be interested in a fun, quirky cookbook. Besides the fact that you destroy any credibility you might have as a serious writer by pitching to a publisher via Twitter, it helps to actually visit the website of the publisher and learn more about them and what they’re looking for, or if they’re accepting submissions at all. That you came across an indie publisher on Twitter and contacted them doesn’t get you points for taking the initiative, it makes you look like someone who is clueless, can’t follow protocol or written instructions, and who probably doesn’t really care about how professionally things are done.
Far moreso in the US than here in Canada, successful bloggers have been able to translate their blogs into book deals. But Canadian publishers have never had a lot of money to do such things and tend to stick with the more tried and true – TV chefs or chefs from restaurants with a strong customer base. And while there are many publishers who offer a lot of cookbooks and obviously do well with them, I don’t want to be one of them.
I’ve been reading a lot lately. This is about 50% procrastination (writers will do anything to get out of writing, especially without a firm deadline in place), 20% sheer joy at having time to actually sit down and read a book (during my TasteTO days, it was a rare occurrence if I finished a book in under a month, just because I had to read it in snatched five minutes bits due to being so busy) and 30% due to the fact that I wore stupid shoes and gave myself a super-bad case of plantar faciitis and have been trying to stay off my feet as much as possible over the past few weeks, because it hurts like beejeezus to walk.
During this time I thought to get caught up on the works of Steve Almond, a fantastic writer from Boston, probably most well-known for his book Candyfreak. He writes about stuff other than candy, though, and I recently enjoyed a collection of his ranty essays.
(Not that You Asked) includes a facetiously stalkerish set of letters to Oprah regarding inclusion in her book club, the story of Almond’s obsession with Kurt Vonnegut, stories of various sexual exploits, and oh yeah, the time he quit his job at Boston University over the announcement that Condoleeza Rice would give the keynote address at graduation, and the resulting shitstorm that occurred because he happened to send his resignation letter to a local paper. Almond found himself the whipping boy of all the right-wing TV pundits – you know the ones, those shouty guys who get all red in the face, with the veins in their foreheads looking as if they’re about to pop, the ones who don’t let the guest get a word in edgewise and who make you out to be evil because you voted for the left.
Despite my plan to avoid social media while working on my book, I’ve spent the earlier part of this afternoon over on FaceBook discussing meat glue (why yes, I am procrastinating, how did you guess?), and its implications in the greater food service industry, aside from its use in molecular gastronomy. Because it seems that there are a few restaurants and food supply companies that are taking chunks of stewing beef and mushing them together with meat glue to make what looks like a reasonable facsimile of a filet mignon.
These filet mignon, so far, seem to exist within the realm of large-scale lower-end food service – school cafeterias and catered weddings were two such examples given. I wouldn’t expect to see them at high-end steak houses or places that are known for the authenticity or terroir of their beef, but it’s reasonable to assume that they will eventually show up (unannounced, no doubt) on the menu of low- to mid-range restaurants across both the US and Canada.
(Note that the meat glue itself is perfectly safe. The concern comes from creating a “steak” out of various cuts of beef and then cooking it to less than medium well-done because of possible bacteria that may have been on the surfaces of the various pieces of meat that are now in the centre of the steak and might not be cooked to the appropriate temperature to kill said bacteria. A standard steak has no such problem since the centre is untainted and could not have come in contact with any kind of contamination.)
BIRDLADY from FORTNIGHT LINGERIE on Vimeo.
Parkdale, my neighbourhood since 1993, is known for its many characters. People who make the place unique and colourful, people who definitely dance to their own drummer. For 90 some-odd years, one of those characters was Annie Ross. Born in the building that stands on the south-west corner of Queen and Dunn in 1913, she lived there her entire life until her death in 2004. Miss Ross never married, instead running her family’s flower shop at the front of the building, and spending her retirement years in a small apartment at the back where she was known for feeding the local pigeons; thus her nickname, The Bird Lady.
Miss Ross could tell you stories of how Parkdale had changed and grown. She could remember when the lot directly across the street from her on Dunn was a field for horses. She could tell about how the buildings went up along Queen, or how the mansions along Jameson came down to make way for apartment buildings. And she could tell you about books. In a 4-minute short documentary filmed before her death, she talks about how she began keeping track of all the books she read in her lifetime, some 8,600 different titles.
Tom Fitzmorris’s Hungry Town: A Culinary History of New Orleans, the City Where Food Is Almost Everything
Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010, 224 pages
Anybody who has ever strolled the streets of New Orleans, lazy with the humidity and history, overcome by the wafting smells of magnolias interspersed with a blast of jambalaya, knows that the crescent city is a town that loves its food. From beignets and acrid chicory-laced coffee at the touristy Cafe du Monde to po’boy sandwiches served up at some place in the 9th Ward with no sign to even let people know it exists, New Orleanians like to eat.
Nobody knows this better than food writer Tom Fitzmorris. The man who has been writing about food in New Orleans since the early 70s is probably the most knowledgeable person in the world on the subject of New Orleans restaurants and Cajun and Creole food. To say the guy is high-functioning would be an understatement – he does a daily 3-hour radio show about New Orleans food (can you imagine? 3 hours a day – just about local food and restaurants?), writes reviews almost daily, hosts a weekly dining event and runs The New Orleans Menu, a website on dining in New Orleans that is updated daily.
What’s to Eat? Entrees in Canadian Food History
edited by Nathalie Cooke
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009, 310 pages
I appear to have gotten seriously distracted from “book review week” but this is the last of the lot. I saved it for last because it’s actually my least favourite (which might explain the long delay in writing the review).
I’m not saying that What’s to Eat? is bad, it’s just very, very dry. While it runs the gamut of topics from First Nations cuisine to the introduction of chocolate in Canada to the demographics of cookbook usage in Quebec, this collection of essays about Canadian food is, at its base, a collection of essays, in food studies, that are approached from a predominantly clinical, statistical point of view.
So while the topics themselves are interesting; the rise and fall of red fife wheat; the debate on whether there is a “Canadian” cuisine, and what it consists of; the history of the tourtiere in Quebec, there’s not a lot of excitement in the writing itself. And I can’t help feeling that there should be.
Baking as Biography – A Life Story in Recipes
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 260 pages, $24.95
Most of us can look to a mother or grandmother as a cooking mentor; someone who taught us the basics of home cooking, and who shared their love of the craft and inspired us to try new dishes and expand our cooking repertoires. But what of the poor souls whose mothers didn’t cook, or worse, who didn’t cook well? What of the people who mothers cooked, but hated it?
Dianne Tye had one such mother. A minister’s wife in the Maritimes during the 70s, Tye’s mother was obligated to cook, not just for family, but for myriad church and community events, but never truly enjoyed it.
Tye herself went on to become a Women’s Studies professor at Memorial University, and tells her story in two distinct voices; first the clinical voice of science, observing trends in food and social norms during her childhood, and analyzing how they affected her mother, and in turn her family with regards to what she baked, when, and for whom. But when recalling specific stories about her mother, her baking for various events or a description of the dish, Tye’s voice becomes softer, more familial, verging at times on romanticized. This jump can be disconcerting as Tye attempts to distance herself from the information.