29 November 2010

On My Rickety Shelves: Kitchen

Thanks to the lovely people at Random House Canada, a copy of this month's cookbook selection was delivered to my doorstep.

By Nigella Lawson
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House Canada
512 pages; $55

There’s a small number of authors whose new works I eagerly await: AS Byatt, Christopher Brookmyre, Stephen Fry, Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater. Their words are smart, engaging so incredibly well honed. When I grow up I want to write like that.

When I peruse a cookbook, I skim it for more than just recipes. Without a doubt the recipes must make me want to lock myself into my kitchen and lose myself in chopping, drizzling, frizzling and sampling. Just as important is how the author coaxes me into keeping that book in my hands. I want the author to talk to me as a friend and be someone I’d invite into my kitchen. I don’t want to be talked down to, lectured to by someone with self-fashioned airs of superiority.

Nigella Lawson brings her brand of combined eloquence and common sense cookery in her new offering, Kitchen. In it, she continues her particular type of food diarisation—her first book How To Eat features a section on nursery foods and feeding very young children, others included foods palatable to younger mouths—this time as a busy working mum with equally busy teenagers.

Her recipes, as usual, range from combining simple ingredients into quick and tasty meals such as Egg and Bacon Salad to longer cooked meals such as Beer-braised Pork Knuckles with Caraway, Garlic, Apples and Potatoes. She also brings in disparate foodish inspirations from areas such as Spain, Vietnam, South Africa and Italy. The instructions are clear and easy to follow and usually accompanied by lovely photographs. Many recipes include tips about freezing, how to use leftovers and make-ahead notes.

As with her other Canadian imprints, the text appears to be the same as in the original British imprint, which means she uses weight metrics and not volume. This may be an issue for many North American cooks, but since a digital kitchen scale can be bought for the price of a couple of bottles of extra virgin olive oil, this shouldn’t be that much of an issue.

What some readers may find useful are two early sections: “Kitchen Caboodle” and “Kitchen Confidential”—the first is what’s known in some books as “batterie de cuisine,” a listing of kitchen equipment the author finds essential. What’s equally useful is her “Hall of Shame” section that lists regrettable purchases she’s made (ahem, including the slow cooker). Such lists are, of course, highly individual and should be taken with a grain of salt. Kitchen Confidential compiles her various kitchen tips on ingredients such as baking powder, sea salt and vermouth to tools and gadgets such as pastry brushes and disposable rubbery gloves and tips on baking and frying.

As with my other reviews, the proof of a book’s value is in the recipes. Here are the ones I attempted:

Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup (p82)
I really like pho, but find their quantity overwhelming when at restaurants. Nigella’s version had fresh and bright flavours and it was very warming. As with any home cooked food, I can control my portion, but here I thought the noodle quantity was two to three times what I think it should have been or the amount of broth should be increased. Easily resolved the next time I make this.

Spanish chicken with chorizo and potatoes (p100)
Delicious. Spicy sausage and roast chicken with just a hint of orange. I was so happy with this meal that I’ve since replicated it with other types of sausage and seasonings. It’s more than easy and (as you can tell from the picture) a doddle to decrease to feed one person (as opposed to six).

Chocolate Chip Cookies (p236)
Everyone has their own idea as to what makes a good chocolate chip cookie and this was definitely not mine. I prefer thin, buttery discs which are crispy around the edges and chewy in the centre. I also like them to be of a reasonable size (say 2” or 5cm in diameter). Hers are cakey and are dolloped in ¼ cup measurements. I would have used a teaspoon or a tablespoon at most.

Sweet Potato Supper (p340)
This dish combines three of my favourite ingredients—asparagus, bacon and sweet potatoes—in an incredibly simply way. I loved the way the salty, smoky bacon played against the lush sweet potatoes and slightly caramelised asparagus.

So how does it rate?
Overall: 3.8/5
The breakdown:
Recipe Selection: 4/5
Writing: 4.5/5
Ease of use: 3/5
Yum factor: 4/5
Table-top test: Lies flat

Kitchen comfort-level: Easy-Intermediate
Pro: A good range of recipes ranging drawn from a number of cuisines.
Con: Based on the pho and cookies, some on-the-fly corrections may be needed.

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21 November 2010

Copyright and Cooks Source

It’s been a few weeks since the online masses raised a hue and cry against Cooks Source and its publisher/editor Judith Griggs. In case you weren’t caught in the crossfire—or need a refresher—here’s its Wikipedia entry.

Griggs’ Cooks Source web site is gone. That doesn’t mean her content has disappeared into the ether forever: for now, her final post is preserved in
Google’s cache and either in whole or in part on various web pages such as this one.

I followed, commented and opined about Griggs’ behaviour as well as the brand and reputational damage she hastened. It’s still fresh and the dust has yet to settle (possibly by impending legal actions)—but at the heart of this issue is the simple fact that she ventured into a territory she appears to have little understanding of or respect for.

I look at this matter through various lenses—as a writer and artist, as a publisher, as a professional communicator and as someone with more than a passing familiarity with issues and brand management. The way it unfurled in a few short hours is the stuff case studies are made of.

Let me start by stating one of my simple truths.

Writing and editing (and other communicative skills) are like fresh air or potable water: excruciatingly undervalued.


Because they are ubiquitous. Everyone communicates in one way, shape or form, but when it comes to writing, my favourite illustrative line I fling about like a confetti-tossing wedding guest is: “Eye right good. I talk good. So I is a come you nick 8 ore.”

Get it?

Just because you can string words together it doesn’t mean you communicate effectively or well. It certainly doesn’t mean you are a (professional) communicator.

By extension: just because you change sentences with a blue pencil, turn on tracked changes in Word, or arrange words around pictures and display ads, it doesn’t mean you are an editor.

I’ve read the 206-word excerpt of
Griggs' email to Monica Gaudi, the woman from whom she stole content. Like Cooks Source’s final online missives, there are grammar and spelling errors (differences between American and Canadian spelling and grammar notwithstanding), it meanders like a million year old creek and stands up to the scrutiny of something written by a fast-tracked MBA who’s all suck-up and no tangible experience.

Griggs mentions a couple of interesting terms any legitimate editor should know like the back of her hand: “public domain” and “copyright laws.” She also implies online publishing waves ownership rights. At the time she tapped out that email I’m certain she thought she felt she was on solid ground and believed the web was ripe for picking. I suspect now she’s better educated.

Please note a couple of things. I am not a lawyer. I’m speaking to a Canadian context which is similar to standards and practices in the US (if you live elsewhere, you’ll need to check your national law books). Much of what follows is distilled from various sources, but some excellent sources include
Royal Roads University’s Copyright Information Page, Ostmann and Baker’s The Recipe Writer’s Handbook, Giuseppina D’Agostino’s Healing Fair Dealing? A Comparative Copyright Analysis of Canada’s Fair Dealing to U.K. Fair Dealing and U.S. Fair Use (pdf).

If you think your rights have been infringed upon, I strongly recommend you consult a lawyer who specializes in copyright law.

Copyright is just one kind of intellectual property protected by Canadian law.

Canadian Copyright Act gives people who create literary works (print and electronic), dramatic pieces, musical works, recordings, performance and communication signals (such as TV or radio signals) the right to control how their work is used. Copyright holders have several rights:

  • Reproduction rights include performance and publishing;
  • Economic rights allow for remuneration for the work’s use, and
  • Moral rights which include right of attribution and the right to maintain the work’s integrity (in other words: not allowing alteration, distortion, or mutilation).

Just because someone has created something doesn’t necessarily mean they are the copyright holder (for example, an employer can own the copyright of work done by an employee). It can be transferred in whole or in part to someone else; moral rights can be waived entirely. Currently, Canadian copyright lasts to 50 years beyond the life of a creator. For example if I die today, my pieces will be in copyright until 2060. Copyright can be renewed to ensure the works do not fall into public domain.

The Canadian Copyright Act’s fair dealings provisions lets people use original works without infringing on a copyright holder’s rights for research, critiques and reviews, or to report the news, but they must reference sources. When evaluating fair dealings, several factors come into play, including:

  • How the original work was dealt with;
  • How much of the original work was used;
  • If alternative sources were available;
  • The nature of the original source, and
  • What effect it had on the copyright holder.
  • Public domain
    If something is in public domain, it is free for others to reproduce, perform etc. Basically one of two things happen for a work to be in public domain: either the copyright has expired or the copyright owner has purposely placed it in public domain.

    Please note: This does not mean online documents are necessarily public domain.

    My rule of thumb is unless there is a disclaimer on the web site stating that the works are free to use, I assume the content is bound by copyright rules.

    Copyright as it pertains to recipes
    Hoo boy. Now here’s a topic for you. I’ve heard everything from “a recipe can’t be copyrighted” to “mine mine mine all mine and you can’t touch it without paying me oodles of money” and everything in between. Seriously.

    When it comes to recipes, my current understanding is it’s a combination of copyright law and ethics:

    • An ingredients list cannot be copyrighted.
    • The method’s description can be copyrighted.
    • If a recipe is based on another, and the author wants it to be considered original, there must be a minimum of three significant changes to the original recipe.
    • For recipes that have simply been tweaked, the original author should be acknowledged in a fashion such as “adapted from a recipe by…”
    • Classic or standard recipes such as those for classic mayonnaise or classic shortbread are considered to be in public domain and do not need to be attributed.

    But really, the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ rule is best: when in doubt, give credit.


    I don’t think it fair to assume every small town editor scalps content from unsuspecting writers and then demand the victim pay for editorial services—many live by strong journalistic standards. Many Canadian journalists and editors take the

    Atkinson principles to heart. Unfortunately Griggs has done a lot to damage the reputations of ethical journalists and newspaper editors…which is probably why she was “grilled” (her word, not mine) by a reporter about the situation.

    Do I feel sorry for Griggs?

    Not really.

    She’s a thief. She was rude. Apart from Monica, she’s unrepentant to the others she stole from. She’s a bully who tried to paint herself as a victim…which she was…of her own words…those same words she herself chose and committed to pixels.

    I'm a quill for hire!

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    08 November 2010

    *Blush*: Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Bacon

    The thing about foodblogging--or many other types of blogging, I suppose--is it's quite a solitary endeavour.

    I sit here, alone, in my basement TV temple, my laptop perched on my lap, unfurling my thoughts as I type away into the ether. I never quite ask "is there anyone out there?" I know there is. Who you are is mostly a mystery to me.

    Some of my regular visitors are known to me--they comment, email or talk to me via Twitter. Many are anonymous passers by who find me through links, Internet searches or simply by accident. But then there are those who stop by on a regular basis who are quiet voyeurs to parts of my life. I often wonder about this last group--who they are, why they visit and why they return.

    Every once in a while someone uncloaks--I always feel a bit honoured when they do. Sometimes when they say "hi," I'm a bit amazed at who's dropped me a line.

    Imagine my surprise when I received a note from an editor at CanadianLiving.com, asking me to participate in an article featuring their favourite bloggers. Seriously. Me?

    They've followed my pixelated rants and escapades for years and decided to include me with some of food blogging's finest voices and photographers. Angie, Béa, Clotilde, Dara, Hillary, Ilva, Jeanette, Kalyn, Matt, Melody, Paula, Peabody and I all shared some of our kitchen aventures in a piece about ingredient phobias. You can read it here.

    A couple of weeks later, I received another note. A writer for Taste Magazine, a local quarterly food journal contacted me for a feature she was pulling together about local foodbloggers. One of her colleagues has read me for a while and suggested that she track me down. And track me down she did. She came to my home and we had a lovely natter over some lemon-blueberry buckle. The article also profiles Charmian and Andrea; we've all contributed seasonal recipes for cold winter months. The magazine's editor was kind enough to flip me a pdf, so I can share it here.

    In case you don't have Adobe Acrobat, here's my recipe that appears in the Winter 2010 edition of Taste:

    Sweet, tart, creamy and just a little bit smoky, this hearty, cool-weather soup was inspired by Trish Magwood's sweet potato-chipotle soup, Jennifer McLagan's pumpkin and bacon soup, and Molly Katzen's curried apple soup. By leaving out the bacon and sour cream it easily becomes vegetarian-friendly: sauté in oil, use vegetable broth and garnish with fresh sage. Like many soups, its flavour improves if allowed to steep for at least a day.

    Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Bacon
    Yield: Approximately 2.5 litres /10 cups

    150g (4-6 strips) streaky bacon (or pancetta), chopped
    flavourless oil, such as canola or safflower (if needed)
    2 medium cooking onions, diced
    1 celery stalk, diced
    2.5ml (0.5 tsp) dried sage
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    250ml (1 cup) white wine
    1kg (2lbs) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
    500g (1lb) tart cooking apples, such as Granny Smith or Jonathan, peeled, cored and chopped
    250ml (1 cup) apple juice or cider
    1L (4c) cold vegetable or chicken stock or broth
    cayenne pepper (optional)

    To serve:
    sour cream (optional)

    In a four-litre (four-quart) pot, fry the chopped bacon over medium heat until crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked bacon and drain on kitchen towels, leaving the bacon fat in the pot. Keep the bacon pieces aside for garnishing.

    Add the onions and celery to the hot fat—you may need to add a splash of oil, in case the bacon is particularly lean. Stir occasionally to lift up any browned bacon bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pot. After about five to eight minutes, the onions will be translucent. Add the sage and garlic and stir for about 30 seconds, or until the garlic releases its scent. Pour in the wine and stir for about a minute or until the alcohol evaporates.

    Add the chopped squash and apples to the pot. Stir well, coating the pieces in the onion mixture. Add the apple juice and enough stock to cover. Bring the mixture to a boil and let simmer until the squash and apples are easily pierced with a fork—this will take about 15-20 minutes.

    Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes (or longer, if you wish). Purée the soup in a food processor, immersion blender or a jug-style blender until it’s as smooth as you prefer. For a chunky texture, you can mash the ingredients, by hand, with a potato masher.

    Return the soup to the stove and simmer over medium heat. Add cayenne (to taste), if using. Balance and adjust flavour to taste: honey to sweeten, white wine or white wine vinegar to add a bit of sharpness, salt, pepper, additional sage or other herbs to round out the flavours as you see fit.

    Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream stirred into each bowl; garnish with crisped bacon.

    - For a deeper, smokier taste, fry the bacon until soft and do not remove it when you add the onions (etc). Purée all together. Fry extra bacon, for garnishing.

    - For a more pronounced apple flavour, use hard cider instead of wine.

    - Much of the soup’s flavour will come from the broth. Use homemade if you have it, but store-bought broth, concentrate or bullion cubes work just as well.

    - If you are puréeing hot soup in a jug-style blender, remove the centre piece from the lid, keeping a folded towel over the opening. Process in small batches by starting on low and slowly increase the speed. This will help to lessen the steam’s pressure from building in the jug and could reduce the possibility of hot soup exploding from your blender and onto your walls, counter, cupboards and you.



    I'm a quill for hire!

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