Second Draft

Nonsense, I Say.

Posted in Food,Uncategorized by Jill Snider Lum on Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What would you call a fantasy or science fiction cookbook?  You must understand that I am not in a particularly sane or sensible mood just now, so if you’re interested in a serious post, this blog is not your best choice today.  However, if you’re feeling less-than-profound, as I am today… what would you entitle a cookbook filled with recipes based on your favourite SF or fantasy stories?

I mean, for a cookbook based on the hard-boiled detective novels of John D. MacDonald, there is no possible title but The Dreadful Lemon Pie.  For a Regency romance-themed cookbook, you want April Ladyfingers.  For recipes based on cosy British mysteries, there’s Five Red Pickled Herrings, maybe, or Passage to Frankfurters.  So what about science fiction?  What about fantasy?

Surely you have better ideas than I do.  Must we be content with Lord of the Rings of Calamari, or Time Enough for Lunch?  No, I say,  You can do better, even in a silly mood.  Go ahead.  Make my soup — I mean, my day.


Heat that’s Up Your Nose

Posted in Food,Research by Jill Snider Lum on Thursday, March 11, 2010

I’m getting a great kick out of trying to figure out what people ate during the Sengoku Jidai.  Sometimes we’ve had to work at that problem backhandedly.  I’m thinking of wasabi right now — that tasty green root, whose effect, a wave of brain-displacing fumes up the back of your nose, so resembles that of horseradish.

Wasabi roots, in a Tokyo restaurant

Most wasabi you get in Canadian restaurants is horseradish — powdered, mixed with water and coloured green — because wasabi roots are difficult to cultivate.  (The plants only grow in or beside mountain streams, for one thing.)  Real wasabi, though, has layers of delicate flavour that transcend standard horseradish.  Much as I love horseradish, this could give it a run for its money.

Our friend Hicaru took us to his favourite Tokyo restaurant when we visited, and for the first time we got to eat real wasabi.  It was used in the way we’re used to, with sushi and sashimi, and Hicaru also showed Michael and Lorna how to use it as a garnish for their soba noodles, which was new to all of us from Canada.  He grated it on a traditional grater, which I now know, after some research, is made of sharkskin.  The flavour — of the wasabi, not the sharkskin — was lively, bright, and intense.

Grating wasabi root on a sharkskin grater

So, you ask, what’s this got to do with the Sengoku period?  Well, we were hoping to have our characters enjoy wasabi in some way.  Not being able to find a handy menu of Sengoku Jidai condiments, we decided the way to work it was to try and learn just when wasabi was first cultivated in Japan.  We’re still working on the details, but apparently written record has been found of its being grown as early as the year 685.  That means our characters will likely be able to enjoy some with their suppers.

Wasabi has antibacterial qualities as well, so maybe it was used medicinally, too — even before people knew what bacteria were, they knew that some plants seemed to help fight infections, so maybe wasabi was used in poultices for wounds.  I’ll have to look into that.  I’ll bet it would sting like crazy.

In the meantime, one or the other of us will see you tomorrow, all going well!

Sengoku Jidai Munchies

Posted in Food,Research by Jill Snider Lum on Friday, February 19, 2010

I like writing about food, historical food included.  It’s not been easy, getting a lot of details about what people ate in the Sengoku period during which Demon Gate is set.  When you think of Japanese food, what do you think of?  Sushi?  It dates back to the Edo period; too late.  Tempura?  Also later than our story — the practice of deep-frying food in batter was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese.  Even rice wasn’t commonly eaten by ordinary people during our time period.  It was reserved for the higher classes, while the workers and peasants and shopkeepers ate millet.  If you were a peasant growing rice, most of it went for taxes.

But we know that people ate a lot of seafood, fish, and vegetables.  Lots of vegetables.  Cabbages, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, eggplants, mushrooms, daikon radishes, snow peas, and all sorts of things without English equivalents, fresh and pickled.  Buddhists weren’t people to eat meat, so things like beef and pork weren’t on the menu.  But Japanese udon noodles date back to the 13th century, well before our story begins, and certainly everyone ate fruit — grapes, oranges, plums, pears, even the occasional watermelon.

Visiting Japan we discovered one reason why obesity isn’t common in that part of the world:  it’s hot.  September in Kyoto is hotter, and much more humid, than July and August are in Toronto, which takes some doing.  In the morning we’d have a light breakfast and some green tea, then spend the day exploring, sometimes stopping for a small lunch — lunch was almost unknown in the Sengoku Jidai, unless you were a soldier.  By four o’clock we’d be so hot and exhausted that the idea of eating an actual dinner didn’t appeal to any of us.  So we’d stop at a convenience store and get a few snacks, and some beer, and bring them home to our guest house to nibble away at during an evening of writing and chat.

Convenience store supper. The basil potato chips were addictive.

It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if our Samurai characters found themselves doing the 1506 equivalent, noshing on a small bowl of udon and a few pickles in the evening, rather than a full spread of broiled fish and boiled millet and stir-fried sweet potatoes with mushrooms and onions.  It’s too bad they didn’t have ice cream in those days; it would have made life a lot easier.

The big one was called "Sumo Special".

Guinea Fowl Weather

Posted in Food by Jill Snider Lum on Monday, February 15, 2010

It’s grey outside today. It’s been grey outside for the last few weeks.  We don’t really have any snow just now; only cold, dampish greyness.  My brain is in a kind of damp grey paralysis as a result.  I don’t feel like writing fiction, or even thinking about writing fiction.  I don’t feel like doing much of anything.  Except maybe eating.

Well, at least this is great weather for eating guinea fowl.

I first tasted guinea fowl at the River Cafe in Calgary.  They served it roasted and sliced into juicy morsels, with a cranberry reduction and wild rice.  It tasted like childhood Christmas, like turkey ought to be but isn’t, like chicken wishes it could be but can’t.  If you’ve never tried it, you ought to.  Here is a good way to cook one, developed from two other recipes that I merged together.  It’s not quite as good as the River Cafe’s version, but I think I’d need sous-chefs for that.  Don’t omit the wine, or the double layer of tinfoil; they keep the bird moist while it’s roasting.

Guinea Fowl with Garlic, Lemon and Rosemary


1 guinea fowl

10 cloves garlic, or more if desired, unpeeled (approx. 1 head or more)

1 clove peeled garlic

1 Tablespoon butter

3 Tablespoons olive oil

4 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1 lemon, cut in half

10 oz white wine

Salt to taste


Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Wash and dry the guinea fowl.  In a casserole large enough to hold all the ingredients, melt the oil and butter on the stove.  Brown the guinea fowl on all sides in oil and butter.  Remove it from the casserole.  Toss the unpeeled garlic and 3 of the rosemary sprigs into the casserole and stir-fry briefly.  Replace the guinea fowl.   Put the fourth rosemary sprig and the clove of peeled garlic inside the bird.  Squeeze one lemon half over guinea fowl, then place inside the bird; the un-squeezed half may be put in also if desired.  Sprinkle the chopped rosemary over the guinea fowl.  Pour the wine into the casserole and bring to a simmer.

Place a double layer of foil over the casserole and put the lid on top.  Bake the guinea fowl for 1 hour.  Remove the lid and tinfoil.  Bake 10 more minutes to re-brown.  Remove the bird to a platter and let it stand ten minutes before carving.

Strain remaining wine and juices from casserole and make  gravy (cornstarch gravy goes well here).  Discard rosemary sprigs.  Serve the garlic cloves with the guinea fowl.  Goes well with green beans and mixed rice.

Making Yogurt at Home (yeah, I know, nothing to do with writing)

Posted in Food by Jill Snider Lum on Friday, September 18, 2009

Well, there *is* a tag for Food, so I’m going to put a post under it.

Fed up with buying yogurt, and not wanting the hassle of complex yogurt making like my mother used to go through, I looked around and found the easiest, laziest yogurt-making method on earth.  Last night, I put it to the test.

Well, it worked — I’ve got yogurt!  My first batch is not quite as thick nor as sharp-tasting as my favourite brand (and which I used as starter for this batch), but it tastes very fresh and is quite smooth.  If I want it thicker I can strain it, or, for the next batch, use some cream along with the milk, or add a packet of unflavoured gelatin.  I gather the flavour gets sharper as you use successive batches for starter, or if you let it culture for longer than the 8 or 9 hours I had it in for.  It’s delicious, it’s cheap, and it was nearly effortless, so I thought I’d share it with the world at large.

Here is what I did:

Mix 1/4 cup of plain active-culture yogurt with 1 quart of milk (or milk-and-cream combination, or milk with a packet of unflavoured gelatin to thicken further) in a covered container.

(I added some milk to the yogurt first to make a liaison, then stirred that mixture thoroughly into the rest of the milk.  For the container I just used a casserole dish with a layer of tinfoil between the dish and the lid.)

Heat oven to 170 degrees F, then turn off.

(The recipe said 100 to 110 degrees F, but my oven won’t go lower than 170.  Since the milk I was using was still pretty cold, even though I’d left it out for a bit to take the chill off, I figured it was a good trade-off.  If I were using room-temperature milk, 170 would be too hot.)

Put container in oven and leave it there for 8 or 9 hours.

Remove and chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

(This chilling apparently converts the strep bacteria grown in the yogurt into lactobacillus, which is the kind you want.)

That’s all.  The recipes which insist that you scald the milk first, and measure the temperature with a candy thermometer, are evidently carry-overs from the days before aseptic packaging and reliable pasteurization of milk; if you’ve got those things, you don’t need to scald the milk.  Just make sure the containers and utensils used are very clean and have been washed with hot water to kill any germs.