Ithaca Launch in Pictures

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Full house. And they asked thoughtful questions.

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Me and my baby.

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Talking with Pamela. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to really talk to everyone at the launch–especially those who came from far away and long ago, and completely surprised me.

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Ithaca’s main character is named Daisy.

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My son and daughter along with my daughter’s friend served three kinds of soup–all Daisy’s recipes–made last week with the help of two good friends.

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Signing books.

Fracking Friday: Countdown

Tomorrow is the official launch party for Ithaca–and you’re invited! The launch is at the Waterloo Public Library (35 Albert St. Waterloo) between 2-4 pm. We’ve made vats of soup, have prepared a reading, have lots of books for sale, and have folks from Transition KW on hand to talk the science of fracking with you.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday Night Soup: Corn Chowder

Like many of you, we made turkey soup this week, using the leftovers and bones of our Thanksgiving supper.  As I’ve mentioned here before, my grandmother died this summer. Thanksgiving was the first holiday we celebrated without her. We actually had a lovely day, filled with kindness, laughter, sunshine and turkey–but several of us reported a gnawing anxiety afterwards, a sense that something just wasn’t right.

In the Corn Chowder chapter of Ithaca, Daisy, too, is “constricted by sorrow” and struggling with grief, finding her way in a new world without her husband. And that’s what soup does, too. It reconstitutes ingredients into something new, transforms them into something that nourishes and heals.

Soup doesn’t need bones to do that either. Here’s a recipe for Daisy’s Corn Chowder. Enjoy it now before all the corn is harvested.

Melt 2 Tbsp butter and 2 Tbsp olive oil and add one onion, diced and sauté until softened. Add ½ tsp of thyme (or a good sprig of fresh thyme) and ¼ cup of flour. Stir in 5 cups of vegetable stock, 2 diced potatoes and 3 cups of corn (approximately 2-3 ears of corn). Bring almost to a boil, then reduce heat and cook until the potato is soft. You can blend the soup with a hand blender if you like, or blend it a bit. Add ¾ cup cream and salt and pepper to taste.

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Speaking of soup, we will be serving soup at Saturday’s book launch at the Waterloo Public Library (2-4 pm and you are invited). I’m quite settled on two of the three soups but I’d love your input into soup #3. We will be serving Carrot-Lentil Soup with Lime and Cumin and Three Sisters Soup for sure. Should the third soup be Tomato-Basil Bisque, Corn Chowder or White Bean and Tarragon? We’re cooking tomorrow so let me know today!

Fracking Friday: Global Frackdown

Tomorrow, Saturday October 11 is Global Frackdown Day, an annual international day of action initiated by Food & Water Watch to ban fracking. Events will be held in more than 30 countries around the world, including in Canada. Organizers say the Global Frackdown will unite concerned residents everywhere to send a message to elected officials across the globe that we want a future powered by clean, renewable energy.

How can you get involved?

Find an event in your area: http://www.globalfrackdown.org/

Sign a petition to the Canadian government today: http://canadians.org/ban-fracking

Take a few minutes to learn more about fracking: http://www.globalfrackdown.org/research/

Know that you aren’t alone: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/10/08/fracking-ban-canada_n_5952796.html

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So, what are you going to do tomorrow for the Global Frackdown?

Wednesday Night Soup: Lentil-Carrot Soup with Lime and Cumin

My criteria for vegetarian meals is that they have to be satisfying and flavour-full. When a meal has those two qualities, you don’t miss the meat. This soup is one of those. It’s bursting with flavour. In Ithaca, it’s described as the soup that brings someone back to the land of the living.

Let me know what you think when you make it.

Carrot-Lentil Soup with Lime and Cumin

Saute 1 leek (white part only), 4 onions, chopped, in 2 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil until softened. Stir in 2 cloves garlic, minced, and 2 cups carrots, diced. Add 1 cup red lentils and 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let vegetables and lentils cook. Add 1 tsp cumin and juice of one lime. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread.

By the way, one of my soup recipes is featured in a book review on a food blog. Check it out and enter to win a copy of Ithaca.

Fracking Friday: Book Review

If Wednesdays are soup days, Fridays have to be Fracking Fridays, no?

Fracking was a new term to me when I first visited Ithaca in 2011. I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned about fracking in the last three years.

I’ll start today with a book review of a book from an energy reporter who presents different sides to the argument. This review of mine first appeared in the Waterloo Region Record.

The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World by Russell Gold. Simon and Schuster, 2014, 366 pages. $32.00

Pulitzer finalist and Wall Street Journal reporter Russell Gold has written a book about the history and reality of fracking in the United States. Fracking is both a shortened version of hydraulic fracturing (a means of getting natural gas from shale rock) and a curse word invented by a tv show.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Gold has been an energy reporter for a decade and that this is a highly personal issue as Gold’s beloved family farm is being fracked, Gold manages to come down squarely in the middle of this issue. Where this is beneficial is that Gold manages to take much of the rhetoric and emotion out of the issue, at least long enough to fully explain the process of extracting oil and natural gas from previously un-mineable shale rock, and to document the history of fracking and the men who contributed to this. It is also helpful to see how dramatically quickly the energy landscape has changed—the first successful frack only happened 15 years ago—and how fracking has become a key player in the search for energy.

At the same time, although Gold’s eyes are open to the real and potential hazards of fracking, he is surprisingly equivocal about the issue. Early in the book, he says he advised his parents to sell the fracking rights to The Farm they owned since they arrived there as hippies in the early 70s.  Essentially, although Gold sits on the fence about fracking, he believes it is not unlike methadone: “it’s a way for an energy-addicted society to get off dirtier fuels and smooth out the detox bumps.” He also argues that the development of fracked gas and oil should accelerate competition among greener energy sources, such as wind and solar, to make cost-competitive options available to an energy-guzzling public.

The book bogs down somewhat in the second half with a sequence of stories about oilmen who pioneered the way for fracking; their stories and identities seem somewhat interchangeable.

What is most frightening is the lack of regulation around fracking: The United States has not had a comprehensive energy policy for decades; it relies on the free market to determine its energy system. Of this, Gold says “it can make you want to turn away and not look too closely.” Gold says that no one would build a nuclear power plant without making sure it is safe and strong, but because the risks of any single fracking well are tiny compared to those of a nuclear plant, corners are regularly cut.

The real gap in Gold’s book is the analysis which is only a few fleeting pages at the end, and the fact that to a certain extent he shrugs off the risks because the gain satisfies our collective appetite for fuel. I’ve long felt that fracturing the earth by pumping it full of a cocktail of chemicals, water and sand is a dangerous proposition. While it did not change my mind on this, Gold’s book gave me pause to consider both whether fracking could ever be done better, and also whether my own energy consumption makes my opposition largely academic.

Wednesday Night Soup: Tomato-Basil Bisque

Ithaca is about soup. Well, that’s not the whole story, but soup plays an important role in the book. I’ll let Daisy, the main character, explain:

I should explain about Wednesday nights. It started when Arthur was new at the university, new and assigned grad students. It had been my idea for him to get to know his students outside of school, off campus. I had suggested they come over for supper. And so they did and so they devoured the food I made them. And no one suspected how young I was. We invited them back and soon it became a standing date in our calendar. They brought their girlfriends and then their wives. Sometimes Arthur’s colleagues would come too. When Nick was a toddler, he loved having the students over, loved the energy of the house.

Eventually it drifted away from any affiliation with the school and it just became Wednesday night. I made pots and pots of soup, a different kind each week. I stocked up on bowls and spoons at garage sales and estate sales, mismatched bowls. You might get a bone china bowl or a wobbly earthenware bowl made in someone’s pottery craze.

Each of the chapters in Ithaca has a soup title, one that corresponds both with the food Daisy serves on Wednesday night and with some of what’s happening in her life. Each week this fall–on Wednesdays, of course–I’m going to post an original soup recipe, developed by me on Daisy’s behalf. The recipes are all vegetarian at heart. Like the mismatched bowls, the recipes are also imperfect: I’m no recipe developer. Feel free to add, subtract, modify–and tell us what you did to make the recipe better. I just realized also that I don’t suggest how many servings each recipe will make. That may depend on the size of your bowls anyhow. Each recipe should serve at least four people–or one really hungry teenager.

This is a nice comfort food kind of soup for a cold, gray day like today. If you’ve got lots of last tomatoes from your garden, feel free to substitute them for the canned tomatoes.

Tomato-Basil Bisque
Saute 5 Tbsp butter with 1 onion,diced. When softened, stir in 4 Tbsp flour and 2 (28 oz) cans of tomatoes. Add a pinch each of fresh dill and oregano. Stir in 6 c. of vegetable (or chicken) stock and bring almost to a boil. Add 3 Tbsp honey, and salt and pepper to taste. Lower heat to simmer. Add a small handful of fresh basil, diced and ¾ c. cream (or coconut cream).

Today is Ithaca’s release day. Let’s all celebrate by raising a soup spoon! Or by reading the book.

One Day, Baby, We’ll Be Old

Forgive the hiatus from the blog. I’d like to plead tropical vacation but that would not be true. Instead, with the push of the book over, I’ve been taking a bit of a break (cardinal blogging sin, I know) and I’ve been writing and shoveling snow and reading and shoveling snow.

And last night I went to the movies.

Oh, people. I went to the movies and my experience was everything art should be. It was extraordinary. I cried into my coat. I laughed. I was spellbound. I came home and didn’t quite know who I was. I was undone.

The film was a documentary: The Crash Reel. It told the story of Olympic hopeful snowboarder Kevin Pearce who suffered a catastrophic accident in the lead-up to the last Olympic games. Because Pearce had been both a potential Olympian and a young snowboarder, a lot of his training and goofing around was recorded on video. Possibly a documentary was already in the works when his world was shattered.

Now I really like the Olympics and snowboarding tricks come about as close to my dream of flying as anything I’ve ever seen, but even if neither of those has any appeal to you, this film should.

Only about three minutes into the start of the movie, the viewer sees Kevin’s crash–one that would have been fatal if he had not been wearing a helmet–and the rest of the movie goes back to previous footage to show how he got there, ahead to watch how he, his family and his team attempt to recover afterwards, outward to look more broadly at the sport, the sponsors and the spectators and the role we each play in this. To say the story is compelling and beautiful is an understatement.

At the end of the movie, the credits roll over footage shot several years before the accident, footage of a joyful nighttime snowboarding romp by Kevin and by his competitor and teammate, Shaun White, the Olympic star of the sport. The visuals are accompanied by a haunting acoustic song by Israeli songwriter Asaf Avidan, called One Day/The Reckoning Song. Have a look and listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OVLJWm0SKQ

The song repeats two lines over and over again: One day, baby, we’ll be old/Think of all the stories that we could have told.

As I stumbled out of the theatre at the end of this movie, I felt, as I said, undone, transformed by the beauty of what was told as a complex, mature, intelligent, challenging story with compelling and very real characters. The song echoed in my head as I drove home, stunned. And then the words began to sink in: one day we will indeed be old. I began to think of all the stories that I could have told. And then the stories I could tell.

What I love about the Olympics is the striving for glory. I know there are drugs. I know there is corruption. I know there are so many problems with them–and this movie pointed out more. But there is also the chance to come nearer to flying than anything else. The doing what you love, what you are made to do. I find it deeply inspiring.

And so too this movie. I take my hat off to film writer/director/producer Lucy Walker who has told a story that is worth telling and who didn’t just let this be a story she could have told, or one she could have sort of told.

Children watch Olympic athletes and think: maybe I could do that. I watched this movie and let it go deep within me and then, as a writer, dared to think: maybe I could do that.

One day, baby, we’ll be old.
Think of all the stories that we could have told.

Top 10 Books of 2013

One of my favourite writing gigs is reviewing books for the local newspaper. The reviewers are paid in books, which I think is more than fair, and we can choose among the titles sent to the paper. I sometimes use this opportunity to read books I wouldn’t normally buy or pick up at the library, to expand my reading repertoire.

It’s a good thing I did this year because I honestly had some disappointments among books I was looking forward to reading. I was the only non-16 year old girl to pick up the final book in the YA Divergent series–Allegiant–but it really failed to live up to the promise of the first book, which I very much enjoyed, and was worse than the second one. I did not enjoy the Giller-winning HellGoing by Lynn Coady, as much as I loved her most recent book The Antagonist and expected to like this one; for me, the characters were too contrived and the plots too loose. I heard much about the “new adult” book The Bone Season, whose very young author was touted as the next J.K. Rowling (which puts such expectations on her writing as to be patently unfair): I was stunned how excessively complex the worlds of the book were and how long it took to situate the reader in each of the various worlds. I had mixed feelings about Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda: I enjoyed it but it was bloody, constantly and literally bloody. It doesn’t so much fit in the category of a disappointment as that of a hard read; that’s not always a bad thing.

I also undertook an accidental reading project this year: the only time I really read mysteries (with a couple of exceptions) is when I am in times of transition. I read Dorothy Sayers in my ninth month of my first pregnancy, while on bedrest. This year, while in the midst of a whirlwind of renovating, moving and more renovating, I picked up a couple of Agatha Christie murder mysteries, and then a few more. By the end of the summer, I decided I would read my way through the canon, all 82 of them. By late fall, I was carrying around a list of the remaining mysteries and stopping in at various secondhand shops. It was interesting to solve some of the mysteries early on while others were unclear until the very end. I would put one of Christie’s books on my list if it were a top 11: be sure to read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Another change this year was the way in which I read some books. I received a Kobo e-reader for Christmas 2012 and read a number of books on Bobo, my Kobo. While I actually still prefer paper books the Kobo is particularly convenient when traveling and I tend to keep it in my purse so that as Oscar Wilde suggested “one should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

And now, with no further ado, my list:

10. How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny. Penny’s books seem to me to be getting better and better. A friend recently asked which was her first so he could start with it. My recommendation was that he start with Bury Your Dead, the book where the series really caught its stride. I enjoyed this book as it finally brought together a number of elements that have been hinted at throughout the series.

9. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. I read this book at the recommendation of a woman I met while we were looking at cookbooks. The title captivated me and the book was lovely. It’s a gentle read, reminiscent of Maeve Binchy, about people whose lives are entwined through a cooking class they take. Each chapter focuses on a different person and a different recipe. Bauermeister writes about food and its preparation like no one else I have read. It is luscious but never too sweet. A delicious lighter read.

8. Above All Things by Tanis Rideout. In my review of this book about Everest climber George Mallory, I called it exquisite, and said: “if you are looking for a good book that tells a grand sweep of a suspenseful story while remembering the heartbreak and joys of domestic life, this is it.”

7. Conceit by Mary Novik. This Canadian author says she is engaged in “ongoing exploration of minor characters in the lives of great figures of literature.” Conceit follows the life of the daughter of John Donne. The writing in this book is a pleasure and Novik knows her stuff historically speaking too. I also read and enjoyed her newer book Muse, about Petrarch’s muse.

6. The Woman who Died a Lot by Jasper Fforde. I love Fforde. He’s insane, of course, but his alternate BookWorld is a complete pleasure for anyone with an appreciation of literature and a writer with a zany, creative sense of humour. This book is more than a year old but I hadn’t realized it had come out. I enjoyed the fact that there was a touch of “physics” in this one too.

5. The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. Despite having an English degree that did not cure me of my love of reading, I had never read Chaucer. In one of my forays into secondhand bookshops this fall, I decided it was high time to read him. The great part about literature like this is that, like Shakespeare, the language at first keeps the modern reader at a bit of a remove so that when the code is broken and the reader begins to read the archaic language more easily, it is all the more shock to recognize the humanity shared then and now. Some of the stories the travelers tell en route to Canterbury are bawdy, some are hilarious, some are poignant and some are serious. This is a book that can be picked up and read almost as a series of short stories.

4. Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow. I had the pleasure of reading this YA novel in its earlier drafts as the author is a friend in my writers’ group. The quality of the writing, however, is such that although I knew the story and how it ended, I could not put the published version down. Dark but hopeful. I recommend this one highly.

3. Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver. I would not mind at all being Barbara Kingsolver when I grow up. I enjoy her fiction immensely, the way she weaves several stories and larger themes together. In this book, she looks at climate change and its surprising effects on one small valley and one woman in particular. The book is in no way preachy and in every way marvelous.

2. The Circle by Dave Eggers. Somehow I have never read Eggers before. I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. It is a cautionary tale about our increasingly connected world where our lives are lived more and more online. The book is almost a contemporary fable but again is not preachy. What stood out the most to me was the loss of small, quiet private moments for the protagonist.

1. Thinking in Numbers by Daniel Tamnet. What does it say when my favourite book of the year is a non-fiction math book? But it was. Tamnet is a mathematical savant who has synesthesia. He possesses the unusual ability to think brilliantly and to be able to translate his ideas to the rest of the world. Not all of the book is about math, but it is a book that conveys a deep understanding of the world and a profound sense of wonder. I thought about it and talked about it for months after reading it.