Sunday, October 12, 2014

An Interview with Susan Fish and a Book Giveaway

Susan Fish, hanging out in Ithaca, NY.
So -- how many of you bought the Kindle edition of Ithaca after reading our last post?

If you did, and you've started reading, you'll probably enjoy this interview we did with the author, Susan Fish.

But, even if you didn't, you'll want to keep reading. Not only is Ms. Fish pretty interesting, but she was also generous enough to share one of her favorite fall recipes!

And hey - if you're still looking for a copy of her book, we're doing a giveaway for one at the end of this post.

What inspired the storyline in the book?
I visited the town of Ithaca, New York in the summer of 2011 and saw a number of small signs that said ‘No Fracking.’ Months later, curious, I looked up the term and discovered that the lush farmlands, orchards and vineyards of Ithaca and the Finger Lakes region sat on the gas-rich Marcellus Shale, and that there were proposals to ‘frack’ the land to address our petroleum addiction. There was—and is—significant grassroots opposition to this action. At the same time, New York State had been hit hard by the 2008 recession, with many family farms at risk of foreclosure: selling drilling rights was a tempting proposition that led to deep soul searching for many.

Another factor that inspired this book was my fascination with the simple power of simple food in bringing people together.

Is there a specific individual who inspired the character of Daisy?
Years ago, I knew a woman whose professor-husband dropped dead in a faculty meeting, as Daisy's did, and like Daisy, she faced the challenge of figuring out who she was at midlife in a radical new way. But I wasn't privy to how she did it so I really only borrowed the barest of bones. I started writing this book while walking my dog around our neighborhood, along streets where there were a lot of 1960s bungalows.

As we walked in the early evenings, I could see into the kitchen and living room windows of many houses. One house had a collection of china figurines lined up in the window, while another had all sorts of unironic, kitschy knick-knacks, and I began to think about the stuff we accumulate over the course of our lives, the stuff that tells our stories but that also sometimes holds us back. Originally, I imagined a story about two women who had been living together platonically for years, coming to terms with past relationships and the things they had held onto. I've known several such "couples" but these two were invented. As I wrote the story, I began to realize that it really was one woman's story to tell.

What made you decide to integrate food into the theme of the book? Why soup?
I've known some people who host a weekly community supper, and I've actually wanted to do this myself for a long time, but I have kids who need to be chauffeured places most nights, so it's never actually become something I've practised.

In my earliest draft of the book, on the very first page, Daisy says to the reader, "The Wednesday suppers were a sort of lifeline for me." I knew early on that Daisy had been someone who opened her home up on a regular basis, to an unknown number of people. Given that this wasn't a dinner party where numbers were assured, I figured it had to be soup she served--because soup can always be stretched to serve a few more people.

You developed a number of soup recipes to go with the book. What was that journey like?
I love to cook. Until a few years ago, I was someone who pulled out cookbooks, made a weekly menu and shopped accordingly. Then one of my kids developed food intolerances and I learned to substitute and improvise. This skill stood me in good stead when it came to developing recipes for this book. Each of the chapter has a soup as a title. I made each one up myself and then later figured out the recipe for it. (The recipes aren't included in the book, but I am releasing them one a week this fall--on Wednesdays, of course--on my blog susanfishwrites.wordpress.com).

Even after a few years of cooking by instinct, this was challenging. For one thing, I needed to measure, in order to be able to replicate the recipe again later. For another, how original could a recipe for soup really be? My notes were quickly splattered as I needed to keep pencil and paper handy as I cooked.

There were a few duds. There was one glorious soup—Apple-Cheddar-Onion—that I was never able to replicate again after I ate pretty much the entire batch singlehandedly. Sometimes I looked up a variety of recipes to get a kind of baseline for the idea of the soup. I was interested for that every single soup I had invented in the course of writing the book, there was a recipe somewhere online. Sometimes others’ recipes were no help at all.

My character Daisy had planned a Pepper Pot Soup the week before Christmas: in her (my) mind, this was a soup with chopped red and green peppers and a spicy broth. As it turned out, a true Pepper Pot soup is a Jamaican recipe with chunks of beef, sweet potato and okra, with hot spicy peppers added as seasoning. Daisy and I were on our own with our idea for that soup.

You mentioned that you love to cook. What's your favorite recipe? And why?
That's almost like asking which one is my favorite child...and in both cases the answer is "depends on the day." :) One of my favorites is a recipe I memorized from a magazine in a bookstore. It's a great fall pasta dish.

You roast cherry tomatoes and a head of cauliflower (cut into florets) with lots of garlic, finely chopped bacon (or pancetta), slivered fresh sage leaves, olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir occasionally and roast until everything is somewhat carmelized. Serve with pasta, baby spinach or arugula, and fresh parmesan.   Why is it my favorite? Just because it's delicious.

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For your chance to win your very own copy of "Ithaca," please read the instructions below. Be sure to leave a comment for each entry (and leave your email address if you don't have it listed on your blog/contact info). Please note that this contest is limited to readers in the United States & Canada. Contest ends 10/18/14 at NOON (CST).

Mandatory entry (must be completed or no other entries will count):
  • Tell us what YOUR favorite soup is -- and why.
Extra entries – please leave a comment for each additional entry, letting us know you completed it
  • Give us a "like" on Facebook! (or let us know that you already like us)
  • Follow @Burp_blog on Twitter (or let us know that you already follow us)
  • Use the following text to tweet about this giveaway (please leave a link to your tweet in the comments for credit): Win a copy of "Ithaca" @Burp_blog: Ends 10/18/14 #giveaway
NOTE: 
The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Facebook on or before October 19, 2014. The winner will be emailed separately to arrange for mailing of the book.

Full Disclosure: This giveaway is sponsored by Susan Fish, who provided us with the books for our giveaway. However, all opinions expressed in this post are our own.
©BURP!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ithaca: A Book About Soup and Fracking

You know we've got a thing about soup, right?

After all, we host our annual Soup Nights. And we've even been featured in a BOOK about Soup Nights.

Well, I've also got a thing about novels. And writers.

I respect them so much. After all, it takes a great deal of imagination and talent to create characters that seem real to the reader and a storyline that makes someone want to keep reading.

So, it's kind of interesting that -- few weeks ago -- we happened to connect with an author who wrote a novel that revolves around soup.

Well, kind of.

The name of the book is Ithaca -- and each of the chapters in the book has a "soup" themed title, which corresponds to the various dishes that the main character, Daisy, serves during her weekly Wednesday night dinners.

We love the plot description that Janet Sketchly gives over at GoodReads:
Ithaca is a coming-of-age story—for a 59-year-old woman. Daisy Turner's husband, Arthur, was a professor at Cornell University. She typed his notes and kept his home. And made soup for a crowd every Wednesday.
They married young, and Daisy found fulfillment as a wife and mother. Now her son works overseas, and she's a widow. And most of her friends are really Arthur's friends.
She finds herself developing a friendship with a man who is slowly losing his wife to illness, and with a young woman who's an environmental activist. Daisy surprises herself—and her son—by signing up for a university course to learn about fracking. She doesn't know what it is, but the protest signs are everywhere, and she'd like to learn.
The book is about finding identity after experiencing loss. And it's something each one of us can probably relate to on one level or another.

If you're interested, we noticed you can get a copy of Ithaca for Kindle right now on Amazon for $3.19 (and no, we don't get paid anything if you buy it). But, if you're more of a hard-copy sortofa person, you should stay tuned.

We're actually going to be doing a giveaway of the book over the weekend. But, for now, we'll leave you with this excerpt where Daisy talks about her Wednesday night soup suppers:

I should explain about Wednesday nights. It started when Arthur was new at the university, new and assigned grad students. It had been my idea for him to get to know his students outside of school, off campus. I had suggested they come over for supper. And so they did and so they devoured the food I made them. And no one suspected how young I was. We invited them back and soon it became a standing date in our calendar. They brought their girlfriends and then their wives. Sometimes Arthur’s colleagues would come too. When Nick was a toddler, he loved having the students over, loved the energy of the house.

Eventually it drifted away from any affiliation with the school and it just became Wednesday night. I made pots and pots of soup, a different kind each week. I stocked up on bowls and spoons at garage sales and estate sales, mix-matched bowls. You might get a bone china bowl or a wobbly earthenware bowl made in someone’s pottery craze.

©BURP!