There’s no escaping food itself or American culinary trends in my new novel, What’s Left – not when the family’s livelihood and fortune are built around their landmark restaurant. What I did, however, escape is a story relating the day-to-day cartoon sequences of a kitchen demimonde of cooks, dishwashers, and wait staff, out of sight in the back, and the quirky demands of customers beyond the swinging service door and long countertop, out in front. My daughter, a pro in the hospitality industry, already has a fine draft of a novel addressing those, thank you. Besides, I touched on some of those incidents in the opening chapters of my novel, Promise.
Since my new work grows out of a template established at the ending of my first published novel, where her parents’ generation is already immersed in change, it seemed natural to have them look toward innovation and evolution rather than remain tradition-bound in hamburgers and fried chicken. For one thing, they were toying with Buddhism, with its vegetarian traditions.
Let me say simply that the possibilities have led to many heated discussions in our household, married as I am to a well-informed foodie and genius cook in her own right. And that’s before we get to the aforesaid daughter.
In the time since Cassia’s parents’ marriage, the awareness of food options and availability of ingredients in America has advanced by light years.
It’s prime time for hot soup. We’re not talking about anything out of a can or a package dropped into boiling water. These are the ones made with fresh ingredients – or things you froze in season for use later. Probably with a good homemade stock, too.
Tomato. Seriously, my wife’s is always a hit – and the glutten-free, lactose-intolerant, or vegans aren’t left out of the pleasure. Our secret ingredient is the tomatoes we cook down and stick in the big freezer in high summer in anticipation of this.
Potato-leek. Simply comforting. Again, with our own leeks. Storing them through winter is a special challenge – so far, we find peat moss works best in buckets placed at the back of the cellar.
Split pea and/or lentils. I imagine there are whole cookbooks devoted to the possibilities.
Ramen. Remember, Japan created restaurants purely for this. Forget that cheap stuff in the plastic bag – though if you do, add tofu, the way we do.
Pho. A hearty Vietnamese dinner in a wondrously big bowl.
Seafood, meaning clam chowder or lobster bisque. (OK, that’s two. I just love both.)
Hot and sour. Fresh Chinese bamboo shoots can make a world of difference.
White bean. Last one I had was an Iranian version with lamb’s neck and another eight or nine ingredients. It was heavenly. Or you can stick to a hambone. Just don’t disparage good beans, OK? (Well, let’s add a footnote for turtle black beans, especially as a great Cuban bowl.)
Ravioli. Yes, as a soup. Slurp ’em up!
Asparagus. We put those stems we cut off to work later.
Well, India’s Mulligatawany belongs on the list, too. I doubt we’re done here yet.
In my new novel, What’s Left, her great-grandparents parlay a hot dog shop into the purchase of a burger-and-fries joint at the edge of campus. Carmichael’s is a local landmark, even before her family takes over. And then they start buying up neighboring properties.
Her parents’ generation boldly sets out to enlarge on that base. They even buy out a dusty textbook store next door without quite knowing how it will fit into their business model.
Thanks to everyone who responded to my earlier invitation for comments regarding a few possible covers for my newest novel.
The survey ended in mixed results and prompted some heated in-house discussion, ultimately sending me back to the drawing board for a more compelling design.
Just what do we want as a cover, anyway? Are people’s faces a help or a distraction? Does a jacket work best if it somehow reflects a scene in the story, as my earlier mock-ups attempted to suggest? Or is reaching for a less constrained, emotional reaction more effective?
As you see, I’ve opted for the later. Here the image invokes a sense of being broken out from a protected shell and falling through space. It’s also appropriate for a family that owns a restaurant – food being a theme running throughout the story. Will this cover encourage a browser to open the book to discover, in effect, just what happens to the yolk? Where it will land?
That, of course, is my goal. To see if it fits, go to Smashwords, where you can order your own Advance Reading Copy for free. The offer will expire after 90 days, when the first edition comes out at $4.95, so act now.
Your early reactions will be most welcome in preparing for that release.