Archive for August, 2012

By now you may have noticed this blog is not about a single topic. I struggled for a while to think of my “niche,” my “platform” and all those irritating terms. And then I had the epiphany that I have no single niche or platform, and that this is a good thing. I simply believe in enhancing life’s richness by exploring many interests at once. I hope those of you who have clicked to follow this blog after reading a post on writing and publishing will nonetheless enjoy those on food, or parenting, or dance, or freelancing, or community, or how to manage a creative career, or juggle all of these at once.

So today, Friday Food.

Salade Niçoise

The harvest season is at its peak here in New England, and the farmers’ markets are hopping. Here are a recent week’s simple, easy-prep meals from our table, with recipes below.

(In summary, in case you want to jump down to one in particular:
Monday: Lemongrass beef on rice noodles
Tuesday: Salade Niçoise and chilled cucumber and yellow pepper soup
Wednesday: Spicy chicken thighs with rhubarb salsa, garlicky rice, spinach salad
Thursday: crab cakes, home made tartar sauce, corn on the cob, sauteed spinach, lemon squares
Friday: Fresh vegetable extravaganza!)

Monday: Lemongrass beef on rice noodles

This is a meal-in-a-bowl, a go-to for Mrs. Next Door. Fresh, lemongrassy, crunchy, fried-shallot-y goodness. And all four of the Commune children LOVE the meat, which comes out tender and flavorful. Apologies to those of you who don’t have a native Vietnamese friend conveniently living next door, but she did post the recipe here last March, so it is within everyone’s grasp.

Tuesday: Salade Niçoise and chilled cucumber and yellow pepper soup

It’s a sad state of affairs that every Salade Niçoise that I, or friends, have encountered lately in Paris, or anywhere in France (although I haven’t tested Nice itself) has included canned tuna. Seems like heresy to me. Granted, fresh tuna is pricey, but a little goes a long way in this dish, and it makes all the difference. One doesn’t need any more than a quarter pound per person. Upon returning from two weeks in France, one of Next Doors’ first requests was for a “real” Salade Niçoise. So from a kitchen in New England comes this Parisian’s version of the dish:

Boston lettuce, or other similar lettuce, not too crunchy, not bitter
Red or yellow baby potatoes, boiled whole until tender, then cut in half—about 3-4 per person
Green beans, steamed until crisp tender—a small handful per person
Hard boiled egg – one per person
Nicoise olives – a couple of tablespoonfuls per person. (Use Kalamata if you can’t find the smaller Nicoise variety)
Cherry tomatoes – 4-5 per person
Fresh tuna steak –1/4 lb per person
Capers
Olive oil, salt and pepper

Vinaigrette (for 4 servings)

1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp shallot, chopped fine
1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
Leaves from 2-3 springs of fresh thyme
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt & pepper

Spread a few lettuce leaves on each dinner-sized plate, enough to overlap and cover at least half of the plate. Arrange potatoes, cherry tomatoes, olives and green beans on the plate, part on the lettuce, part not. Cut the hard boiled eggs in half and arrange two halves on each plate as well.

Pat the tuna steak(s) dry, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a non-stick pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, put the tuna in the pan. It should make a satisfying sizzly sound without spattering. I tend to prefer my tuna seared on the outside, light pink as one gets to the center, and still semi-raw in the center. (To be done this way only if you obtained the tuna from a source of reliably fresh fish.) For this, I let it cook on medium-high heat for about 3 minutes per side. (NOTE: the fish will continue cooking after you take it off the pan, unless you slice it right away. So best to take it off just before you think it’s ready. If you’re tempted to leave it on another minute or so, it’s time to take it off now.)

Slice the tuna into quarter inch think strips and distribute among the plates. Spoon the vinaigrette over all elements of the salad on each plate. Sprinkle with capers.

Serve with baguette and butter, and a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or Vouvray.

In this case, we also had a cold cucumber and yellow pepper soup with crab meat and chives.

This is a super easy chilled soup: toss all the ingredients in a blender, blend, strain, and let sit a couple of hours in the fridge. (If you’re short on time, it works fine to put it instead in the freezer for 30-45 minutes.) Five minutes at the end to prep the crab meat and mound it in the middle. It looks fabulous and impressive, it’s flavorful and refreshing.

Wednesday: Spicy chicken thighs with rhubarb salsa, garlicky rice, spinach salad

A good bet for all eight members of the quasi Commune, these chicken thighs are not really spicy but definitely flavorful. This happy cook gets to munch on extra chicken skin (I know, I know, but so tasty!) since the under-9 set tend to reject it. It’s crisp and moist, and, due to the skin, also just fatty enough, and the salsa, with its tangy-crunchy-tart-sweetness, is a perfect complement. Mrs. Next Door provided garlicky fried rice, and I put together a quick salad of baby spinach leaves, thinly sliced red onion, and avocado, with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

Thursday: crab cakes, home made tartar sauce, corn on the cob, sauteed spinach, lemon squares

By Thursday, the Commune gals sometimes needs a break from cooking. Plus Thursday afternoons are tricky in this double house, with two small kids needing to nap (invariably at different times), one older one going to kung fu class and one going (i.e. being taken to and from) a guitar lesson. By the time Mrs. Next Door and I are both home, it’s 6 pm, so time for something quick. In this case, crab cakes from our local fish store, Fresh Pond Seafood, which we were delighted to see open up a few months after we moved here. I served these with homemade tartar sauce, made earlier in the day with the following ingredients (and very approximate measurements):

Tartar sauce

3/4 cup light mayonnaise
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
4 scallions, chopped (green parts only)
2 tbsp dill relish
2 tbsp capers, drained
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (which itself is a complete enigma to me)
Some small amount of a hot sauce of your choosing

We steamed some ears of corn, sauteed the leftover spinach from the previous night’s meal, and finished off with some defrosted lemon squares from Trader Joes, which are not half bad, and definitely tart.

Friday: Fresh vegetable extravaganza!

My fridge was exploding with produce from the farmers’ market, because I have a hard time controlling myself there. So I put many of the veggies to use in a modified pasta primavera, sautéeing them in specific combinations to keep them semi-crisp while I also boiled a large pot of penne:

First, quarter-inch zucchini half rounds, with thinly sliced carrots. Meanwhile, I steamed some broccoli until half-cooked, then added it to the zucchini and carrots, along with some sliced purple pepper.

Then, I took off the veggies, and in the same pan added some more olive oil, some sliced onion (fairly thinly cut in half rounds) and some minced garlic. When the onion began to soften, I added in some sweet Italian sausage meat, breaking it up with a spoon.

Once the meat was fully cooked, I added back in all the veggies, and tossed in a couple of diced up heirloom tomatoes. I also added some chopped herbs from our garden: basil, thyme and oregano. Finally, I poured in a quarter cup of white wine.

When the penne were done, I drained them, put them back in their large pot with some olive oil, added in the whole mess of veggies, sprinkled with pecorino romano and some fleur de sel, and served.

Following this was a Greek salad:

Chopped romaine lettuce
Diced green pepper
Diced cucumber
Kalamata olives, cut in quarters
1/8th inch cubes of feta
Thinly sliced red onion
Cherry tomatoes, cut in half

(The key to this salad is to chop the ingredients small enough that you get several in each mouthful, thus mingling the vinegarishness of the olives with the smooth-yet-with-a-bite feta and the crunch of the peppers and cuke.)

For the dressing, a simple combination of lemon juice, chopped fresh oregano and olive oil.

I could eat this salad all night.

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What kind of sales should I expect of my debut novel if I go the indie route? This is what I am asking myself these days, today in particular as I draw up a balance sheet of estimated expenses and revenues, to help me decide whether or not to launch into independently publishing Faint Promise of Rain. Of course, part of me feels like it would be the natural thing to do, in keeping with the whole being-the-people thing, but I still need to understand the nitty gritty of it all.

With enough poking around, I was able to obtain some concrete numbers on the expenses side such as the per copy cost of printing if I do a short-print run, the shipping costs for online sales, the standard retailer wholesale discount (which I was shocked to learn is 55%) and other such data points. For other expenses, the Internet is providing me with enough examples for me to make some informed guesses, such as how much to spend on a publicist, and what editorial services should cost for a manuscript which, my agent tells me, is in good shape.

But when it came to what to expect for revenue, the Internet became my enemy . Not only because I cannot find much in the way of concrete examples of debut literary fiction sales figures, but because I am finding posting after posting filled with depressing predictions. Apparently, if I am to believe what the doom-and-gloom folks out there are saying under the guise of bracing indie hopefuls such as myself for misery, I would be lucky to sell 5,000 copies of my book. In total. Not in one year. Not in five years. EVER.

And this is where turning to the Internet can be so destructive. It’s like allowing yourself to drown in a sea of information regarding an illness, and all its possible horrible ramifications, and how it could, it just might, ruin your life, and how in some cases it will cripple you, and how there are support groups to help you cope because otherwise you might just want to end it all now. You read the discussion forums of those who are suffering and while your heart goes out the them, you quake at the prospect of ending up like them. Ok, perhaps this is an exaggeration, but I see it this way: I could choose to throw in the towel and declare that there’s no point for just 5,000 copies, or I could stand tall and say: 5,000 is nothing to sneeze at, and in any case, I can easily beat that. (And the illness metaphor is not totally gratuitous, as I’ve had some experience in that realm.) The darn thing is, I do believe I can beat that. Five thousand copies? That seems like nothing to me! I think of the connections I have in the dance world, in the Indian community, all the people I know who revel in literary fiction, the fact that India is, for good reason, a popular setting and topic in fiction, I think of all the people who have told me my manuscript is beautiful (thank you!), the fun ideas I have for promotion, and 5,000 seems more than feasible.

And yet. Those glum predictions hang over my head, because now that I have read them, I can’t un-read them. Despite feeling confident in my manuscript and my marketing ideas, there is a voice in the back of my head asking me why I have the hubris to dismiss the cautions of people who purport to know more than I do about the ins and outs of publishing. But then, in the nick of time, the Internet comes to my rescue. Because therein is the beauty of the Internet: it can, in one day, in one hour, mete out despair and hope in equal measure. One of my go-to sites for realistic, supportive advice and ideas regarding publishing, Grub Street, posted this entry just today by Terri Giuliano Long entitled “Indie success: hold on to your dreams.” In it this writer takes us back to when she was, essentially, in my shoes, believing 5,000 copies would be her ideal, through her indie publishing experience, and her sales of 120,000 copies in the past twelve months. And that is when I knew to stop trawling the web for information. I’d found what I wanted.

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