Monday, October 16, 2006

"Beautiful, touching, award-winning book,"
says Marion Kane, Toronto Star Newspaper

Making Lemonade from Lemons
When it comes to awards, I may have fooled myself into thinking I'd bought that lofty adage about it being "an honour just to be nominated."

I know I dearly wanted to believe this when my book Dish: Memories, Recipes and Delicious Bites (Whitecap; $24.95) was short listed in the Special Interest category of the Canadian Culinary Book Awards held recently in this Prairie city during Cuisine Canada's national conference.

After all, I was up against two top-notch books and I knew it was best to keep expectations low.

They were West Coast author Pam Freir's cleverly titled collection of recipe-peppered stories called Laughing With My Mouth Full (HarperCollins; $29.95) and Tea and Pomegranates (Penguin; $26) by Nazneen Sheikh, a family memoir featuring Kashmiri cuisine and laced with mouth-watering recipes.

However, it is one thing to have low expectations and be filled with a spirit of generosity before the fact.

It is quite another to sit in a roomful of your peers at a gala dinner, having consumed several glasses of wine, only to discover that your name is notably absent from those announced by the emcee.

In keeping with a phenomenon I've noted when watching much more famous award shows on TV, I was among the non-winners that nerve-wracking night whose aching face was stretched into a forced smile. In my case, this belied feelings that included rage, despair and an urge to leave the room.

Adding salt to the wound, Sheikh's silver award was accepted by a friend who noted the author would have loved to be here but she'd recently married a prince and is living in Morocco.

Nor was it easy to hear gold winner Freir joke, to cheers and laughter, that she had no speech prepared and wouldn't have worn her brown Crocs had she thought she'd win.
Happily, however, I've had enough therapy to know that nurturing a grudge — okay, being bitter and twisted — is bad for the health, not to mention childish and unseemly so I turned lemons into lemonade.

The next morning, I met with Janice Wong, a talented artist-turned-author from Vancouver (no relation to Globe & Mail scribe Jan Wong) who was seated next to me at the awards wingding. My plan to interview a winner and rise above it all began to work.

Wong's book CHOW (Whitecap; $24.95) garnered gold in the Canadian Food Culture category. The silver runner-up was a frequent contributor to the Star's Food section, the charming Habeeb Salloum for his unusual entry: Arab Cooking on a Saskatchewan Homestead (Canadian Plains Research Centre; $29.95)

Hers is a tale of growing up in Prince Albert in north-central Saskatchewan, where her father, Dennis, was in the restaurant biz.

His second venture in this field was a Chinese Canadian eatery called Lotus on the town's main drag, which he opened in 1956 and operated for more than 20 years.
"He never succumbed to putting red dye in the sweet-and-sour sauce," recalls Wong, adding that her dad came from a family of cooks. "We grew up on his food," she says fondly of the man who died in 1999.

He left a slew of handwritten recipes that were the inspiration for her book. "I thought I'd collect all the recipes and notations, using his handwriting as an abstract element," she says, "as a gift to my family and to sum up my loss."
The result was heart-warming. "It caused a chain reaction of reunions of family and friends," she adds, including a book launch in her hometown.

Writing the book helped Wong get to know her father better. "He worked six days a week," she continues. "When we were little, we were pulled out of bed to see him at midnight."

Here is a recipe from her beautiful, touching, award-winning book.
Steamed Fish
Wong's recipe calls for a whole fish — for example, pickerel, halibut or snapper. I adapted her recipe and used a large salmon fillet about 1-1/2 lb/750g in size. You could use almost any fish, including haddock, turbot or tilapia.
1 whole fish or fillet, skin left on
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp soy or tamari sauce
1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
4 large slices fresh ginger root, peeled, slivered
1 tbsp vegetable oil mixed with 1 tbsp sesame oil
3 green onions, chopped
Kosher salt (optional)
Pat fish dry and place in baking dish — for example, a round pie plate.
In bowl, combine marinade ingredients. Pour over fish, turning to coat. Place baking dish in large skillet or wok filled with an inch or two of water; water can come up about halfway up sides. Place over high heat until water comes to boil. Reduce heat to low; simmer, covered, about 15 to 20 minutes or until fish is just cooked through.
In small saucepan, heat vegetable/sesame oil mixture until almost smoking. Pour over fish. Garnish with green onions and salt, if using.
Makes about 4 servings.

-Marion Kane, Toronto Star, October 14, 2006

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