Merry Christmas!

Whatever you celebrate, I wish you joy and peace at this time of year.

With love,


PS See you in 2015!


Fracking Friday: Good News

My mother called on Wednesday to suggest that my book had made a difference. “To whom?” I asked. “To the United States,” she replied. She had seen a headline on CBC that New York was going to ban fracking–and wondered if my visit to the state last weekend had been a deciding factor.

Debate and delay has gone on in New York for a number of years, but it turns out that a health report released today at a year-end cabinet meeting has allowed the state government to conclude that they will indeed ban fracking in the entire state.

Acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker said the review came down to a simple question: Would he want to live in a community that allowed fracking? His answer was no. “We cannot afford to make a mistake,” Dr. Zucker said. “The potential risks are too great. In fact, they are not even fully known.”

This is exciting news. My mother thinks it is no coincidence.

Wednesday Night Soup: Pepper Pot Soup

This soup is Daisy’s–and my–Christmas soup. I had heard the name of some of the soups listed in the book before, including this one, but I didn’t go searching for recipes or developing my own until well after the book was completed. It turns out that my idea of a pepper pot soup–a soup with a seasonal dice of red and green peppers in a clear broth–was not what Pepper Pot Soup actually was. In reality, it’s a Jamaican soup, smooth with pureed sweet potatoes and spiced all peppery with Scotch bonnet and other super hot peppers.

Which reminds me of my supper on Saturday night. We drove to Ithaca for a book reading, leaving at the crack of dawn on Saturday and returning after supper on Sunday, just my husband and me. The farmer’s market was going to close by 2 so we went there first when we arrived in the early afternoon. And then we spent the next couple of hours driving around to places that were featured in the book in order to take photos and video (most of which will appear here in the new year!). By four o’clock, the sun was fading and so was I.

We popped in to Wegman’s, an Ithacan institution–a massive grocery store–and I got what I always get there, a plate of Thai food from the food court/deli. Dave got a thin slice of pizza. Then we raced off to catch the fading light at Buttermilk Falls before going downtown to wander around the Commons where there was an ice carving competition underway and all the stores were open late for Christmas shoppers.

We were staying at Taughannock Farms Inn, ten miles outside of town, so we had decided to eat in town, and decided that if the menu at the Moosewood sounded good, we would go there.

It did and we were seated instantly at a cozy, quiet table. Dave was hungry and I wasn’t particularly so he ordered bibimbap and I just ordered a salad and soup. I also ordered a hard cider to drink. It turned out the cider, while alcoholic, was mulled with spices to be seasonal. It was unusual but not bad. The same was true for Dave’s meal. Unfortunately, although I am very fond of hot, spicy food, there was something I strongly disliked about the intense smoky heat of the Chipotle-Sweet Potato-Apple Soup, and after two bites, I gave it to Dave. I suspect I would have liked traditional Pepper Pot Soup more, but maybe it would have been similar.

In any event, here is Daisy’s Pepper Pot Soup. I hope you enjoy it.

In 1 Tbsp olive oil, sauté 3-4 green onions, chopped, and ¼ tsp hot pepper flakes until softened. Add several twists of black pepper, 4 Tbsp soy sauce, 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Toss in 1 green pepper, diced, 1 red pepper, diced, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar and 1 tsp sesame oil and cook until heated through.

This is a nice light but flavourful soup.

Fracking Friday: Great Fracking Stories

So apparently fracking is the new black. Or at least, stories about fracking and movies and television shows about fracking are emerging all over the place. There are many non-fiction books, looking at the science, but I wanted to share with you today a few links to stories being told about fracking:

1. Gasland  This 2010 documentary was the first popular exploration of the risks of fracking, by a filmmaker whose family had received a $100,000 offer for the mining rights on their land. This is an entertaining and compelling documentary. Definitely worth watching.

2. Promised Land Actors Matt Damon and John Krasinski wrote the screenplay and produced this film, based on a story by Dave Eggers about two corporate salespeople who travel from town to town, trying to buy drilling rights from the local residents. While the film had mixed reviews, it’s worth watching to see the challenge faced by landowners when it comes to fracking.

3. The Fracking King This young adult novel has been called a cross between Catcher in the Rye and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. I was eager to read it but found it a confusing read. I was excited to see fracking being addressed in fiction in all its complexity.

4. Black Gold: Just this week, a television pilot was announced for a modern-day Western set in the Dakotas in a boomtown that owes its success to oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The show is being described as a crime drama.No word on release date.

Have I missed any fracking stories?

Finally, I’m offering a limited promotion today only: purchase a copy of Ithaca from me today and I will sign and wrap it in Christmas paper and mail it to you–all for $20. Let me know if I can help you get ready for the holidays.

Wednesday Night Soup: Miso and Greens Soup

The table of contents of Ithaca tells me that this week’s soup is supposed to be Carrot-Dill Soup but to be perfectly honest, I don’t have carrot-dill soup in my recipes. I’m not sure whether that’s because I forgot to make it as one of the recipes (there is another carrot soup) or because I never copied it from my notes. I would go and look for it but my day–no, week; no, month–is a bit intense. That’s December for you. And it’s December on top of promoting a book, and on top of about five weeks of minor illnesses featuring nearly every member of the family.

The soup I am offering you is exactly the one I should make tonight. Because it too is intense in its flavour, and it is full of nutritious goodness. It’s quite unlike any of the other soups. It almost looks swampy but it’s just plain delicious. And intense. Did I mention intensity?

Here’s the recipe, and here’s to holidays on the horizon:

Miso and Greens Soup

Miso is a fermented soybean paste. Some people describe it as a vegetarian bouillon. There are various kinds of miso that range in intensity. Miso loses some of its health properties if it is boiled, so you want to add it late in the game.

Roast 1 whole head of garlic, drizzled with olive oil. Squeeze each clove out into a bowl and mix with chili flakes, ½ inch fresh ginger, chopped, 1 tsp maple syrup, 2 tsp rice vinegar, 1 tsp sesame oil and salt.

Coarsely chop 2 cups kale, 2 cups spinach, ¼ cup of pecans or sunflower seeds. Add garlic mix and 6 cups water and blend well. Heat well until greens are cooked. Stir in 2 Tbsp miso and serve.

Fracking Friday: Hindsight is 20/20

As I’ve read about fracking, a number of people suggest that the enthusiasm by those engaged in hydraulic fracturing is much outweighing the caution about the possible hazards of a new technology. People are acting first and asking permission–or forgiveness–afterwards.

This approach rarely ends up working out well.

This Sunday, I am going to be reading from Ithaca at a book event at TheMUSEUM in Kitchener. I will be reading with two other local writers. One of them is Bob Burtt, whose book I reviewed earlier this fall. While his book is not about fracking, it is most definitely about the environment and the dangers that occur when we figure what happens underground really can’t cause real damage. Burtt was the environment reporter at the K-W Record for a number of years, and closely followed the Uniroyal plant and the massive damage caused to the water table–damage which still exists today, 25 years later.

You’re welcome to join Bob and I on Sunday afternoon (1:30 pm) but I thought I would share with you my review of his book, a cautionary tale we can apply today to concerns about fracking:

No Guardians at the Gate: The Elmira Water Crisis by Bob Burtt 137 pages 2014

For years, residents of Elmira were fairly sure that the local chemical plant—sometimes called Naugutuck, Uniroyal, Crompton and Knowles, Crompton or Chemtura—was a mixed blessing. On one hand, it provided a significant number of jobs to the community, but on the other hand, there were signs of trouble, from dying, deformed and disappearing animals in and near the creek that went through the plant’s property to foul odours in the town’s air.

In 1989, however, the trouble became very clear when the dangerous chemical NDMA was detected in Elmira’s drinking water and several wells were shut down. This was only the beginning of the nightmare for Elmira residents. The ongoing saga of the investigation into what was polluting Elmira’s once pristine water supply, and the agonizing work to determine how best to un-pollute the water and land were undertaken by the company and the Ministry of the Environment, but mostly by and thanks to diligent work by local activists. Their stories are told in No Guardians at the Gate, written by Bob Burtt, who covered environmental issues (including the Elmira water crisis) during his tenure as a reporter and editor at The Waterloo Region Record. Burtt follows the various players in this drama as it unfolds over more than two decades.

Even today, 25 years later, it will be a long time before the groundwater in Elmira is safe enough to drink. This is an important cautionary tale which should not be forgotten and should never be repeated.

Wednesday Night Soup: Oyster Mushroom Soup

People who don’t write fiction sometimes find it hard to believe that novels aren’t thinly veiled memoir. But they aren’t.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about something that had happened to me. “Wow,” he said. “You could write a book about that.” I explained to him that I was never tempted to write about real life. It isn’t that fiction is a purely escapist act–writing or reading it–but I have no interest in rehashing events of my life, other than in a journal.

What I do take from life events and use in writing fiction, however, is the emotional experience. People who have read Ithaca (and my previous book, Seeker of Stars) have commented on their surprise that I can write something that seems authentic about an older woman’s grief or a young man’s yearning–but my secret is that at some level, we’ve all experienced grief and yearning, and my job as a novelist is to take that emotional experience and translate it to a context I’ve never lived through.

If there’s any doubt whether Daisy, Ithaca‘s protagonist, is me, this week’s soup ought to settle matters. For I loathe mushrooms. Loathe them with a passion. And this week’s soup–Oyster Mushroom Soup–is the soup that Daisy teaches her friend Carmel to make. It’s the only soup recipe that’s in the book. It’s also the only soup recipe that I did not taste test as I developed it. I’m going to presume that the people I shared it with had good taste, but I honestly never had so much as a sip of the soup. So, do let me know what you think, if you try this soup. I’m happy to hear your adaptations.

Oyster Mushroom Soup

Wipe down 3 cups oyster mushrooms with a damp cloth. Trim the ends and chop coarsely.

In a saucepan, melt 3 Tbsp butter and sauté 1 onion, chopped, until softened. Add mushrooms, 4 cups vegetable stock, splash of white wine, splash of soy sauce, pepper, salt and thyme. Heat through.

As Carmel says,  “I thought it would be way more complicated.”

Daisy replies: “Sorry to disappoint you.”

“No. I’m not disappointed. It’s just. It’s not much more complicated than opening a can and I’m guessing from the smell that it’s a thousand times better.”

And because it is indeed fiction, you’ll have to trust the character and not the writer on this soup.