Friday, December 30, 2011

Favourite Books of 2011

I am always amazed by those people who profess to read 100 books a year. This year I managed 20, outside of those I read as a publisher. Of those 20 the following are my top five favourites and ones I'd recommend.
  1. Such a Long Journey, by Rohinton Mistry: one of those remarkable confluences of astonishingly beautiful writing, tightly crafted plot, and fully-developed characterization.
  2. A Paradigm of Earth, by founder, and fellow SF Canada member Candas Jane Dorsey, is a remarkable work of literary science fiction.
  3. North by 2000+, by H.A. Hargreaves; although one of Five Rivers' publications, this collection ticks all the boxes for me, and in many ways reflects Canadian cultural values: tolerance, collective cohesion, and a profound influence of the land on our fundamental nature. The print book releases March 1, 2012. It is now available in eBook through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Smashwords, and within six weeks from Apple and Kobo.
  4. The Damned Busters: To Hell and Back, by Matthew Hughes, is the first time since reading Terry Fallis’ The Best Laid Plans, I actually burst into laughter while reading a book.
  5. The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje. This is a deceptively powerful novel, deceptively powerfully written.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

For you, this Christmastide

One of my favourite carols, in remembrance of Mr. Borov, my grades 9-10 Spanish teacher, from whom I learned a love of languages, music, and seeing beyond the sphere of my own isolated and provincial world. I remember a Christmas assembly where students and staff performed for the entire school during an afternoon. There were the usual silly skits and loud garage bands. And then Mr. Borov, a small man, barrel-chested, porcelain skin and dark hair, took the stage and stood alone under a spotlight. The audience was rowdy. Unabashed, Mr. Borov opened his mouth and, a capella, sang O Holy Night. From that first, clear, unwavering note he had us and brought us to epiphany, so that when at last his voice soared through those last crescendos we were on our feet, weeping, cheering, clapping for the beauty of this simple man’s gift.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Festive Ribs

Apparently I need a lot of kitchen therapy this week. Sunday I treated us to a wonderful feed of ribs. They were so ridiculously easy, and just wildly yummy, I thought I'd share that experiment as well.

Festive Ribs

1 pkg (about 16 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
3 Clementine oranges (or one large regular orange)
2 large cloves garlic
1 large onion
1 tablespoon Tobasco Sauce
1 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup Madiera
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

1 pound pork ribs per person

In a food processor chop the cranberries, oranges (whole, unpeeled), garlic and onions until you get a coarse sort of chutney or relish. Decant into a large glass pan or sealable plastic bag. Add the remaining ingredients (except the ribs) and stir well. Place the ribs into the mixture, cover the pan or seal the bag, and allow to marinade overnight in the fridge.

The next day preheat the oven to 200F degrees. Place the ribs, marinade and all in a covered, ovenproof pan or dish, and roast on low heat for about five hours.

I served this with a pilaf of brown rice, lentils and asparagus. Simply divine.

If you're at all interested in some interesting and delicious recipes, created by an ordinary book for ordinary people, consider my cookbook, Stonehouse Cooks, available in print and eBook from booksellers everywhere.
Available from booksellers everywhere
In print and eBook

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cheddar and Greens Pasta Casserole

Available in print and digital
What does this have to do with writing? Probably not much directly. Having said that, I have published two cookbooks, the most recent of which is Stonehouse Cooks. And as an adjunct to that I find kitchen therapy, well, good therapy.

Take today, for instance. It's been a day of frustrations, between trying in my role as publisher at Five Rivers to edit, save and upload an interview I did with Patrick Lima, author of The Organic Home Garden, juggling scheduling problems in my role as administrator for the glass end of Five Rivers, and generally combating my usual seasonal disorder having to do with lack of sunlight, being a natural recluse (my own choice, I assure you) and this consumer-glut-fest they call Christmas.

So, it's dinner time. I knew vaguely I was going to make some sort of mac and cheese (see my cookbook above), found myself short on milk, long on stock, a surfeit of frozen greens, and a modicum of creativity.

The result? A really yummy cold weather casserole that requires a wee bit of time, but not much, and will prove to be economical as well.

Cheddar and Greens Pasta Casserole

400 gms rigatoni noodles (1/2 a 900 gm package)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the rigatoni about nine to 11 minutes, until it's just underdone. Drain and set aside.

1/2 large Vidalia onion (or whatever kind of onion you wish, finely chopped, to equal about 1 cup)
2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
about 3 tablespoons finely minced fresh rosemary (or about 1/2 that amount dried)
1 450gm package frozen spinach (or fresh, slightly wilted. You can also use any kind of green you wish. In tonight's version I used some of our own homegrown, frozen arugula [rocket])
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Mix together all these ingredients in a greased or non-stick 4 litre oven-proof, lidded casserole dish. Add the drained pasta, mix and set aside.

1/2 cup low fat margarine
1/2 cup flour
946ml beef stock (You can also use chicken or vegetable stock.)
2 cups grated cheddar (I imagine Swiss would be wonderful as well.)

In the same pot in which you cooked the pasta, melt the margarine over medium heat. Add flour and stir, allowing the mixture to bubble but not scorch. Cook, stirring, for about one minute. Add the stock slowly, stirring well, to avoid lumps, but truly it doesn't matter that much, because you're going to bake this and any lumps will get lost in the mix. Once the mixture thickens slightly, add the cheese, and continue to stir until the cheese in melted.

Pour the sauce over the pasta. Stir together.

2 big hunks of leftover crusty bread, cubed finely, or grated
2 tablespoons golden flax seed (optional)

Sprinkle bread crumbs and flax seed over the top of the pasta. Cover the casserole with a lid and bake in an oven preheated to 400F degrees about 30-45 minutes.

Serves 6-8

Saturday, December 3, 2011

My latest for Christmas

Thought I'd offer my readers a wee Christmas garland of three short stories this year I wrote over 20 years ago, which came about in part to chronicle some of my mother's childhood experiences entitled Memories, Mother and a Christmas Addiction. They're sort of Rockwellian vignettes with what I think is a very Canadian overtone.

The first, Santa and Mr. Buck, captures the excitement of four year old Barbara Brown on Christmas Eve, and her meeting with Santa, only to discover she missed out on the best part of all, holding Santa's reindeer with her father.

The second, The Year Santa Didn't Come, is an exploration into the pressures of poverty on a family at Christmas, and the true meaning of sharing.

The third and final story of this small collection, A Christmas Promise, tells the tale of Barbara Brown's first Christmas without her step-father, who died earlier that year, of how she overcomes the pressures of being a wage-earner at the age of 15, while still keeping a promise she made to her step-father.

Memories, Mother and a Christmas Addiction is now available through Amazon's Kindle, as well as Smashwords, and hopefully before Christmas from Kobo, Nook, Sony, Apple and Diesel.

Hope you enjoy this wee seasonal read.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Deciphering Marketers

Perhaps it's my seasonal dysfunction, lack of light; the month of mayhem and rampant consumerism and delusional dreams of Rockwell realities. Perhaps it (my cynicism and raised eyebrow) is nothing more than a passing malady, like indigestion or flatulence or that plague that everyone south of me seems to suffer.

Today's grump is about marketers, self-proclaimed experts who mouth buzz words and scry trends in the entrails of the day's news, declaiming that they, and only they, can reveal the path your fortune will walk, Grasshopper.

There is a veritable infestation of these types on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media, all of them madly clicking away to befriend/link/associate/buddyup/whatever and sell you their brightly painted nuggets of marketing sophistry.

Query most of them as to what, exactly, they can do for you and your career, and you'll often receive an inscrutable response. And of course the overall question must be: what makes you an expert? Oh, you've self-published several books about self-publishing, which you then sell mostly through lectures you coordinate and teach to local writer's groups. Put enough spin on something and I'll bet you could sell a bottle of water as a miracle cure. Or maybe those shiny, plated Celtic-Romano style bracelets that will align all the magnetic fields in my body and cure my arthritis.

And have you ever noticed how all these marketing types have that retina-searing smile of perfectly manufactured teeth? Makes me feel like I'm looking into the mouth of some new hybrid wolf, but at least the wolf would have the honesty to let you know she's having you for dinner -- NOM, NOM, NOM -- instead of promising you possession of the Holy Grail which you'll be too anemic to grasp after she's done with you, should you ever find it.

So, I suppose my overall caveat is this: carry with you a healthy skepticism. Find out exactly what a person or firm is trying to sell you, whether it has to do with your literary career, or home renovation. Ask for credentials and then check out those credentials. Get a written quotation as to exactly what remuneration the firm is expecting for exactly what services. And then shop around and compare.

Just because someone has published books on a subject doesn't make them an expert.