Touring our new cookbook — and spending time with family

Thank you to everyone who came out to Astoria Bookshop for our New York launch and to the Book Cellar for our Chicago launch! Both bookshops were wonderful and we had a terrific turnout! I meant to write sooner, but we’ve been bouncing from one thing to the next for the last month.

We brought the kids for the NYC launch, as well as batches of Dante’s Nine Layers of Torture Bars and Pythagorean Serum cocktails to share with the audience.

At The Astoria Bookshop with Dingding Hu (who makes a fabulous Janet), our illustrator for FORKING GOOD.
It was nice to be able to share our NYC party with the kids this time. It’s not often that they’re all able to travel with us.
Thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate with us!

Inspired by Dingding’s costume, Stephen and I decided to dress as a gender-swapped Michael and Janet for the Chicago party…

So thrilled to have coworker friends from NIIT show up! <3
My Soul Squad. I love these people wholeheartedly.

The Book Cellar featured a special The Good Place-inspired cocktail created by Stephen that was not in the book: French Vanilla Antimatter! And we brought more Dante’s Nine Layers of Torture Bars to share with our guests.

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In the last month, FORKING GOOD made it to the Semifinal Round of the 2019 Goodreads Choice Awards for “Best Food & Cookbooks!” We also had some nice press, including this featured review by Foreword:

An extended inside joke that show fans will delight in adding to their shelves, Forking Good is a comfort-food laden, lightly philosophical cookbook worth indulging in.

We were included in this feature, “Pop culture cookbooks are one thing Millennials aren’t killing,” by Danielle Zimmerman for Hypable:

We’ve exhausted so many avenues of celebrating the fandoms we love that it was only natural for us to turn to food next. After all, fandom and pop culture already nourish our souls, so why not our bodies as well?

Stephen and I also did a fun interview for i8tonight, which is their own culinary spin on the Proust Questionnaire:

Where is your favorite place to eat?

Valya: Honestly, I love to eat at home—ours and other people’s. I appreciate the intimacy and personality. Outside of home dining, we really love our neighborhood Ethiopian restaurant, Ras Dashen. Also high on our list is Band of Bohemia, such wonderful food and cocktails.

Stephen: As an East Coaster relocated to Chicago, I thank the heavens for Jimmy’s Pizza Cafe, which is the place to get real New York pizza in town.

You can read the rest here.

Meanwhile, in the kid arena, there was a lockdown at my older kids’ high school. That morning, I got a text from my son telling me that their high school was on lockdown, and it was not a drill. My son and daughter, both in the high school, proceeded to relay information to us via text about what was happening as the students shared updates with one another around the school.

As it turns out, the lockdown was prompted by two pellet guns brought in by students, and the school seems to have dealt with it safely and efficiently. Still, it was terrifying to be a parent helplessly waiting for information about your children’s safety… in school, where they should be safe. I am so grateful that all the kids are ok, and I could not help but think of the hundreds of parents across this country who have sat frozen with feelings of helplessness and fear.

We talked about it at length at dinner, and the kids were mostly calm and pragmatic, discussing places where they think security could be better, praising teachers for staying calm and helping, relaying the fears and concerns of their peers.

This is their normal. This is anything but normal.

I’m still processing.

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And speaking of parenting, there was the time last week when I was tucking in my youngest, and she said something sweet about hoping to be a mom like me when she grows up. I told her thank you, but it’s also ok if she decides to be a cool aunt instead. She certainly doesn’t have to decide now.

She looked at me with that intense Lana gaze for a minute and then said, “I see what you’re doing, Mom, trying not to push me in a direction. I know how you think. I KNOW where you get your parenting from. I READ your parenting book. The whole thing.”

Then she settled into her pillow and said (very pleased with herself), “I guess I know famous people too.” And went to sleep.

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Thanksgiving behind us and the winter holidays ahead, I’m looking forward to some vacation days — cozy afternoons baking with the kids, coffee dates with friends, catching up with reading beside the tree, catching up with writing under quilts, and so much cuddling on the couch.

I hope that your December is also cozy and full of things that make you feel warm and happy and loved.

 

Our Kitchen: Cooking Under Construction

Last year we moved into a historic 1920s building in Chicago. The apartment had been empty for nearly a decade and was previously decorated in the popular styles of bygone eras — color and accessory choices from the 80s being the predominant style for the elderly couple who lived there before us.

I have grown to love all the kitchens I have had in my lifetime, from the spartan European kitchen I had in Frankfurt, with its tiny fridge and Ikea table where the kids would color, to my beloved Spanish-style kitchen in Casa del Lobos, with its red clay tiles and beautiful backsplash. (I cried when saying goodbye to that kitchen.)

Trillian Stars with the kids in Casa del Lobos. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

I understand that the kitchen is ultimately a container. It’s what we fill that space with that matters: the joyful celebrations and thoughtful conversations, as well as the architectural details, furniture, photographs, and art. I knew the style of this kitchen needed to be different, to denote a new chapter in our life, to complement the deco sensibility of the apartment, and also to deal with the challenges of a narrow cooking space that had to accommodate the daily maneuvering of two adults, three rapidly growing children, and two cats.

We tried to return the aesthetic of our apartment as close to the Art Deco style of the time when it was built.

However, the kitchen had already been “renovated” before and needed new cabinets and appliances. We kept it simple and clean; and because there was an impending massive building-wide plumbing renovation that was set to start soon after we moved in, we decided we’d wait to do things like backsplash tile.

As soon as the appliances were installed, pots and dishes were in their places, the pantry was full of food, and the ancestral altar was set up, I fell in love with our galley kitchen.

Even working full-time, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, not just cooking but chatting (in person, on the phone, on the computer) and writing. This is why I made sure to allow for a little counter space where I could sit on a stool and use my laptop; it’s also where Lana often sits to help me or keep me company while I’m cooking.

We mounted a radio under the cabinet so that we can play music (in case of spontaneous kitchen dancing), and when I feel stressed or overwhelmed, you can find me sitting on the stool by the window to see the sliver of lake in the distance or sitting on the floor beside the stove, with my back to the dishwasher. It’s usually the warmest spot in the apartment, and sitting there helps me to feel better, to feel grounded.

So as soon as the kitchen was ready, we settled in and started cooking and writing in a philosophical pun-filled frenzy to create the manuscript for Forking Good. 

Testing recipes for Forking Good, 2019.

When that was done and the manuscript sent off to our editor, it was time to pack everything back up into boxes, cover it all with dropcloths, and effectively stop using the kitchen for a few months while the plumbing work got underway. Goodbye to our lovely kitchen and hello to crockpot recipes in the dining room, barbecue in the garden, and the occasional takeaway Thai or pizza. Not to mention dishes washed in the small powder-room sink.

Kitchen plumbing construction, 2019.

Our building is massive, and the carpenters, plumbers, and crew have been working from the top down, riser-by-riser to replace all the pipes (often encased in concrete) in the walls. There have been days when the only disruption has been the thundering  wall-shaking from above or below, and other days when they are in the apartment opening up plaster walls and replacing massive pipes. Most days we come home to a layer of dust that has crept around drop cloths or was shed from the ceilings and walls with all the vibrations.

It has been… a challenge. I have moved enough times to have developed a true dislike of boxes cluttering my home, and I need to feel like there is a certain semblance of order before I can relax. This means the past few months I have been more tightly wound than usual and waiting for the work to be done so that our home can go back to curated creative chaos, not the messy disruption of construction.

Thankfully, it’s summer now, and that means a greater use of outside spaces and brainstorming about picnic ideas and grilling. It’s a little easier to not feel trapped by clutter when you can walk down to the beach in five minutes.

Mid-afternoon clouds over the beach.

The good news is, we are in the final month’s countdown until all the major work should be completed. We have just gotten back into the kitchen, so we should be able to post from there more regularly leading up to the book launch. We’re trying to figure out now which Forking Good recipes everyone might be curious to see behind the scenes, or maybe a few that we chose not to use.  Would you like to see videos, as well as photographs of food and process?

 

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.