Night of the Deadlines

Forking Good at the Quirk Books Booth at BookExpo!

A dear friend met me for coffee a month ago and gifted me with the mug pictured below; when I opened the box, I laughed long and hard in the cafe where we were enjoying breakfast–it was perfect.

When we started working on FORKING GOOD, I knew the deadline was going to be tight. I write pretty well under pressure, although it’s often at the expense of things like sleep, socialization, and self-care. What I was not prepared for was *cooking* under pressure—because this cookbook manuscript wasn’t just an exercise in writing clever philosophy lessons related to the sitcom The Good Place. It also required creating 30 tasty recipes that tied into those lessons.

As I have written before, I love to cook, and serving a meal to be enjoyed with people I love is one of my favorite things in the world. Most of the time, however, I’m a largely improvisational cook. I start with a recipe that’s new or familiar, and I adapt based on what’s in the pantry, what we have a taste for, who’s coming to dinner. I love that moment of adding new herbs and spices, and changing things up a little. I rarely note my changes, except in the general sense on a recipe card or page of a cookbook.

Playing with chives.

It will come as no surprise that this is not the way one creates a recipe to be shared in a cookbook. One must measure and record with precision and accuracy to be able to recreate a dish exactly. This was perhaps my greatest personal challenge in the process, making sure that I recorded and measured every pinch and dash and time change.

Most of the time we tried to make recipes in time for dinner to be shared with the kids (or a few guests) for taste-testing. They were amenable to the experiments; and for a few weeks, it solved the never-ending question of “What’s for dinner tonight, Mom?”  However, time constraints due to the dayjob and deadlines meant that we spent many nights making versions 2 or 3 (or 4) of a recipe at 1am (which then were frozen for future leftovers).

Long days of working, cooking, cleaning up, and writing meant that I was certainly grateful for the cocktail taste-testing required by Stephen’s drink recipe cultivation, and by the time we turned in the draft of the cookbook to our wonderful editor, Jhanteigh Kupihea, I was ready to order Thai takeaway and have a glass of wine. For a week.

Enough time has passed that I’m back to cooking enthusiastically, and we’re so excited about sharing the book when it comes out in October!  In the meantime, we’ve got photos and sneak-peeks to share along the way, and I’ll do that here and especially on our Instagram feed(s):

In the meantime, you can pre-order Forking Good or request it from your local indie bookshop!

Last week at Book Expo, our publisher had a table and was giving away promotional BLADs (stands for Book Layout and Design, these paperback excerpts from the book are given to publishers and readers to promote advance sales.) Danielle Zimmerman of Hypable was there and got a copy:

Forking Good at BookExpo!

 

The Taste of Something Sweet: A Small Ritual of Gratitude

As someone whose birthday falls ten days before Valentine’s Day, there were always a lot of red and pink decorations around the stores for my mother to draw inspiration from when decorating for my birthday; and I loved the lacy decorations, the red balloons, the hearts and roses. I still do. They are pretty and passionate and powerful and provocative, and I adore them, especially vintage cards and decorations and handmade tokens of love.

St. Valentine’s Day is also my “Name Day,” the feast day of the saint whose name I share. This is a tradition celebrated by many Ukrainians, and it can be tied to the feast day or birthday of various saints or martyrs. Valya is derived from Valentine, and I always felt a special connection to the saint whose mission was enabling and celebrating love.

I write many different things: some of them are grounded in the real world while others go to mythic places, some of them grapple with the darkness, many of them celebrate beauty. No matter what I am writing, I am a poet at heart and a Romantic. My writing tends to be sensual and descriptive, emotional and wonder-filled. I very much think in scenes and symbols.

Symbols are powerful because they give shape to ideas and emotions. They help us to imagine the possibilities, to manifest what we need by allowing us to visualize with intention. That is so much of what “magic” is—visualizing with intention. And as far as intention, we could definitely use more love in this world.

Viktor E. Frankl, whom I’ve written about before, wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning:

For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.

I know people dislike or have a love-hate relationship with this holiday. I understand that it’s complicated and muddied by the messages of the media, by toxic relationships we have lived through, by our personal struggles, and by systems put in place that have done irrevocable harm. There’s a lot there, and it’s important, and we certainly do not need to be told on this day, or any day, what love is or should be or how it should be celebrated.

I do think we all need love, however, and I choose to honor this day in that spirit, to see it as a day that remembers and celebrates the kind of love and optimism that Mr. Rogers talked about. For me, the way that he walked through this world with love and kindness embodies the heart of Valentine’s Day:

Deep within us—no matter who we are—there lives a feeling of wanting to be lovable, of wanting to be the kind of person that others like to be with. And the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.  

From The World According To Mister Rogers

and

Love is like infinity: You can’t have more or less infinity, and you can’t compare two things to see if they’re ‘equally infinite.’ Infinity just is, and that’s the way I think love is, too.

FromThe World According To Mister Rogers

Some years this holiday has been happy or sad depending on what was going on in my life and in the world. There have been holidays hectic with kid-related activities, or deadlines and responsibilities that ate up all the time, or emotional heartaches and losses that left little room for optimism.

However, there is one thing I have always tried to do on Valentine’s Day, ever since my parents gave me a small heart-shaped box of chocolates when I was a girl. That Valentine’s Day so long ago, it was the only gift a lonely, disappointed, romantic girl received; and after I got over the feeling of being sad, I took the time to eat one of the chocolates, and it tasted like love.

Ever since then, this is my small, private ritual. On Valentine’s Day, I take a few minutes to savor the taste of something sweet on my tongue (preferably a piece of nice chocolate, but sometimes it’s been a sugar cube or a spoon of honey), and as it melts, I close my eyes and remember the feeling of love: of being loved, of loving wholeheartedly. Because love is a gift, and I am so very grateful. Thank you.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

(If you’d like to read more about the history, lore, recipes, and rituals associated with Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to check out this three-part article written by my friend, Katelan Foisy. Click here for more!)

Valentine by Katelan Foisy. You can buy them digitally on her website: https://www.katelanfoisy.com/market

Our New Book Announcement is Forking Good!

After several people we know and love told us that we really should be watching NBC’s The Good Place, Stephen and I finally made time for it. We loved it and rewatched it with the kids in time for Season 3 to begin.

For those of you who are not yet familiar, the show begins with Eleanor Shellstrop, who wakes up dead one day, welcomed into “the Good Place” as a reward for living such a good life. She is given her dream home, a heavenly neighborhood, and a soulmate. The only problem is that Eleanor realizes there has been a terrible mistake. She is the wrong Eleanor Shellstrop. They think she was a noble, self-sacrificing activist. The truth is, she lived a selfish, morally questionable life.

Realizing that she does not deserve to be in the Good Place, Eleanor convinces her soulmate, Chidi Anagonye, a moral philosopher, to help her learn how to become a good person and hopefully earn her spot in the Good Place…so that she does not have to suffer an eternity of torture in the Bad Place. The show follows Eleanor and her new squad of dead friends as they try to navigate the experience of afterlife living in the Good Place.

The cast of ‘‘The Good Place,’’ from left: Manny Jacinto, Jameela Jamil, Ted Danson, D’Arcy Carden, William Jackson Harper and Kristen Bell. Jeff Minton for The New York Times
The cast of ‘‘The Good Place,’’ from left: Manny Jacinto, Jameela Jamil, Ted Danson, D’Arcy Carden, William Jackson Harper and Kristen Bell. Jeff Minton for The New York Times

The show has a big heart and a smart (and not mean-spirited!) sense of humor that is often peppered with puns, and not just clever puns…but clever food puns.

Those of you who know me, know that I love food—preparing it, sharing it, and savoring it. In many ways, food IS my philosophy. (Another blog post on that soon.)

Those of you who know Stephen, know that the part of his brain that makes puns (just like the part of his brain that makes up song lyrics à la “Weird Al” Yankovic in perfect melody to match almost any situation) never stops working. Never. Puns are as central to his worldview as food is to mine.

One morning after watching a particularly funny The Good Place episode, Stephen and I were driving to work, and Stephen was making puns (as he does) inspired by the show. I groaned but joined in, and we tossed around several philosophy-pun-inspired recipe titles for food that fans of The Good Place would probably appreciate..

The light turned red, and we looked at each other and knew we had to pitch it to Quirk Books, our Geek Parenting publisher, because if a fan cookbook inspired by the show didn’t already exist, we needed to write it. We spent the weekend brainstorming, pitched it, and Forking Good was born.

This appeared in today’s Publisher’s Lunch:

The Good Place creator Michael Schur does a brilliant job of creating a vivid world and lovable, flawed characters. We intend for our cookbook to be a love letter to the show—to food, to puns, and to philosophy.

The show loves its characters, and so we grow to care about them too. Through three seasons, we cheer them on to become better, and perhaps along the way, it get us thinking about how we can also become better people too.

In a really wonderful New York Times story from last October, Schur is quoted saying, “We’ll keep trying as long as we can. We’ll keep trying. No one is perfect. No one will ever win the race to be the best person. It’s impossible. But, especially since starting this show, I just think everyone should try harder. Including me.”

Schur cites writer David Foster Wallace as a personal inspiration in several podcasts and interviews. he frequently references the following quote from a 1993 interview with Wallace. After reading it, I’ve printed it out and keep it posted nearby my writing space:

Look, man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.

We are so excited to bring you Forking Good with Quirk as our wonderful publisher (Just in time for Season 4!), and the whimsical art of Dingding Hu is going to be such a fun complement for our writing and recipes! We hope that you’ll watch the show, enjoy the book, make and share some recipes, and celebrate what’s human and magical in our world. Because no one knows what actually comes next; but right here and now, we have each other, and we can make art, we can make delicious food, we can make communities of people we love, we can make memories to cherish, and that’s what we want in our Good Place.