Cookbook Review: Fire in My Belly

We’re delighted to introduce Sarah Ramsey, a longtime bookseller in Toronto, to our blog.  Sarah will be sifting and blogging her way through some of our cookbooks – and we can hardly wait.   When she’s not cooking or reading, you can find her volunteering with Farmers Feed Cities ( or crafting in her favourite materials – butter, sugar, flour, and eggs.  You can follow her at @juliaschild.


Kevin Gillespie was raised in Locust Grove, Georgia and is executive chef at Woodfire Grill in Atlanta, although he is probably best known for having appeared on the sixth season of Top Chef, where he cooked with quiet confidence and heart that demonstrated his simple approach to food. He, rather shamefully, I think, didn’t win the title of Top Chef, but won the coveted ‘Fan Favourite’ distinction.

His approach to food is simple, seasonal and sustainable and his enthusiasm is evident in Fire In My Belly. In it, Kevin crafts the story of his culinary awakening as a child and his play with the traditional Southern dishes he lovingly remembers. He states  “…I read a review of my cooking that described it as ‘modern Southern food’. It’s true that I was cooking sophisticated food with a distinctly Southern feel. But in my mind, I was just exploring the food that I really cared about. I wasn’t ‘modernizing’. My dishes were springing from food memories, often from my childhood.” That idea really resonated with me. My best memories in childhood are those spent watching my grandmothers (and great-grandmother) cook and bake; food, to me, is a gift and an expression of love.

I read the book from cover to cover, and loved that I felt I was having a passionate conversation about food with the author (and shared this sentiment to my Twitter followers. @topchefkevin replied with his thanks and “That is exactly what I hoped for.”) Kevin starts the book with his belief that “good cooking starts with good ingredients” and argues that “cooking is, at its root, figuring out the great qualities of any food and then making those qualities shine”. He primes us for cooking with an introduction to some ingredients, techniques and equipment he frequently uses. My favourite is his use of the word plucky, meant to describe bright acidity, something sharp or piercing but not unpleasant.

The well-constructed (and beautifully photographed) recipes start with Foods You Thought You Hated, including asparagus, beets, broccoli, mushrooms, and salmon (things I have always enjoyed) and oysters and sweetbreads (which I think I may never enjoy). Next, Kevin shares his Southern dishes (such as boiled peanuts and cornbread pancakes with sliced brandywine tomatoes and bacon mayonnaise) and revisited world classics (including salad Lyonnaise and eggs Benedict), as well as recipes for grilled foods, spicy foods and junk foods (hooray!).

I was drawn to the One-Pot Hog Supper on page 83 for a few reasons. First, it has a wonderful story: as Kevin’s Granny first prepared it from a jumble of ingredients on hand, her brothers teased her, saying, “What’s this? Some slop you feed the hogs?” I think some of the best cooking has sprung from using one’s imagination with a handful of ingredients at the ready. And in my experience, a grandmother’s recipe will never fail. Never. Secondly, the meal is slow cooked, and I really enjoy slow cooking. It’s deeply satisfying and I get a lot of pleasure from it. And lastly, how can one go wrong with fatback?

I was late coming home from the shop, frazzled by my frustratingly long commute and hungry. Ravenous, actually. But, I had committed to trying this recipe. I was excited and had been thinking about it all day. I walked in the door, greeted my husband with a kiss and pulled out my mandoline. I washed up the potatoes and peeled the onion and garlic, then sliced them thinly. I sliced my fatback and laid it in my Dutch oven, then tore up some cabbage and sliced some fat, fragrant heirloom tomatoes. When crispy and golden, I removed the crackling from the pot and drained some of the fat, then carefully layered the potatoes, onions and garlic, cabbage and tomatoes in the pot, seasoning each vegetable generously with salt and pepper. Then I covered the pot and waited for the magic. Our little kitchen was aromatic and warm. My tummy was rumbling.

After forty-five minutes, as per the recipe, I uncovered the pot and allowed the dish to simmer. I tore up some fresh celery leaves, tarragon, chives and parsley and tossed them with some fresh lemon juice and a sweet, fruity olive oil and dressed this herb salad with the crunchy crackling. I also toasted a few slices of a fresh boule.

Although it was past nine o’clock when the supper was finished simmering, I took a photo or two of the dish after I spooned it on to my plate and nested the herb salad atop it. I had hoped my patience was about to be rewarded. I dove into the dish; the vegetables were soft and rich and seasoned simply and perfectly. The accompanying herb salad added balance and texture and I used the toasted bread to clean my plate. I took a moment to post to Twitter to say, “It is late. It is rainy. But I am eating @topchefkevin’s delicious One-Pot Hog Supper & I am SO happy.”  I attached one of the photos. (Kevin responded to my Tweet: “I love it! What a wonderful picture. So glad you are enjoying one of my cherished family recipes.” I was thrilled.) . The dish was wonderful and I have been recalling the experience of cooking it fondly to friends and family; they tell me I have a twinkle in my eye when I describe the construction of the dish and the taste and the simple joy I derived from eating it.

I plan to try many more recipes from Fire In My Belly. I’m terribly impressed by Kevin Gillespie’s food philosophy, his flavours and rich and personal culinary history. It’s a beautiful book and one of my new favourites.


Indie Bookstore Spotlight: Words Worth Books

The independent bookstore is a cultural and community hub – authors are introduced, works read aloud to an audience and ideas are shared.

Each month, we will be featuring an independent bookstore from across Canada, proving what a special role these shops play in fostering authors, community and a love of reading. For August, we are featuring Words Worth Books in Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow them on Twitter and Facebook!

1. Tell us a little bit about the history of Words Worth Books:
Mandy Brouse and I bought Words Worth Books from the previous owners, Chuck Erion and Tricia Siemens who founded the shop in 1984.
We recently moved the store to another uptown Waterloo location and hope to be here for a long time ourselves.

2. What made you want to open a bookstore?
As far as taking the shop on, we don’t know how to do anything else, and we can’t see beyond that.  Or at least we don’t care to look too hard.

3. What do you like best about your career in books?
The very best thing about bookselling is the absolute authenticity it provides.  Perhaps other retail allows for similar passion, but selling shoes or sporting goods doesn’t seem as authentic.  Every day we get to talk enthusiastically to people about something we really do love.

That’s a rarity anywhere, it’s certainly a rarity at one’s job.

4. What does the book-buying public understand least about independent bookstores?
Independent bookstores and independent business of all kinds provide a tax base for thousands of urban centres in North America.  From a purely economic standpoint, everything collapses if that’s not kept up.

But indie bookstores are entirely staffed by readers.  Chain stores are not, and if plants don’t get watered they wither away.

5. What is the hardest part about being a bookstore owner in 2012?
The hardest part of bookselling in 2012 is the simple fact that there are so many other entertainment options and fierce competition within the industry.

‘Twas ever thus.

6. What types of books does your store stock and/or specialize in?
Words Worth Books is a general bookstore so we try to get to everything in our stock. Literary fiction, crime fiction, history, sciences and all manner of everything else.

7. What are some of your favorite titles?
Our favourite titles change daily to weekly, but the book I’m wild about at the moment is a slick little crime novel by a Montrealer Robert Pobi Bloodman is an entirely accomplished first novel in which an FBI man on Long Island has to solve a series of grisly murders in the teeth of a Katrina-like storm that’s days away.  I’d actually like to buy stock in the guy’s career if it becomes possible.  He’s that good.

8. What is your most current best seller?
Our current best sellers are the same as elsewhere I imagine.  It’s a Fifty Shades planet right now.  The rest of us just live on it.

The filming of Gatsby is giving the book a new audience and that’s a fine thing.

9. What have been some of your favorite (or most memorable) author events?
We’ve done author events for twenty years and the best one is probably having former Prime Minister Jean Chretien drop by about five years back.
Actually, we’ve got something on that level coming this fall, I just can’t talk about it yet.
It’s a heck of a perk meeting authors and one of the best parts of the job.

10. Any strange, wild or crazy-but-true stories?
Crazy stories?  The fact that in the press, it’s said constantly that ebooks are taking over.
They’re certainly beyond the early adapter, but they’re far from taking the print option off the table.
A crazy story if ever there was one.

11. What book are you, or will you, hand-sell with a vengeance?
I’ll be hand selling Dana Spiota’s Stone Arabia this summer.
It’s not only the Great American novel, but the Great American rock and roll novel.  Damn near flawless.

12. Is there anything else you would like to tell our blog readers?
For your readers, I’d simply ask that you shop indie bookstores.  We know our stuff and we’re more likely to hire you than Amazon is.


Book Blogger Spotlight: Bibliobabes

We’re excited to bring you our August Book Blogger Spotlight! This is where we chat with one of our bloggers, ask them to share some of their favorite authors, the books they can’t live without, and find out how they came to book blogging.

This month, we bring you our chat with not one but two lovely ladies, Cara and Kat, from Bibliobabes. You can follow them on Twitter @Bibliobabes.

What made you want to start a book blog?
When we first met, Cara and I immediately bonded over a love of reading.  I then very shyly showed her my book reviews; I had been keeping them for several years at that point and had reviewed every single book I’d read from the Summer of ’06.  Cara loved the idea of keeping book reviews, started keeping her own, and said we should post them online.  I mean, why not, right?  Might as well share some insight with fellow book lovers.  Because Cara’s a computer genius, she had a website up and running almost immediately and we just kind of fell into it.

What’s your favourite reading spot?
Kat – Anywhere I can; I have a book on me at all times for emergency reading breaks.  But I read most often late at night in bed, behind the counter at work, or when I’m in the laundry room.

Cara – I am not a night reader. I like reading outside, on the couch or in anything that moves, like a car or train. Summer reading outside at the lake is as close to heaven as one can get.

Your favourite book in the last year?
Kat – Tough call!  I have a hard time narrowing things down, but I’d have to say either Inside the Outside by Martin Lastrapes, Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters, 11/22/63 by Stephen King, Blood Road by Edo Van Belkom, or the Remember Me Series by Christopher Pike.  Hey, I narrowed it down to 5, that’s pretty good for me!

Cara – Hmmmm, I’d agree with Inside the Outside by Martin Lastrapes. Totally creepy and so well written.

Favourite book of all time?
Kat –  This one’s easy for me – Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov.  It is, unquestionably, the best book I’ve ever read.  Not only is it beautifully written, but I always feel more intelligent after having finished it.

Cara –  Impossible. My answer would change every day you asked me. Let’s see… today I pick Love you Forever by Robert Munsch.

Favourite author?
Kat – Tough call!  Stephen King for his sheer volume of awesomeness; Christopher Pike for how his books make me feel; Scott Smith for just being great; and VC Andrews (the actual VC Andrews, not her ghost writer) for being completely twisted.

CaraChristopher Pike, Roald Dahl, Laurell K. Hamilton, Carlos Castaneda, Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut; each author offers something different and satisfying.

Favourite movie adaptation of a book?
Kat – The NeverEnding Story immediately comes to mind.  The 1997 version of Lolita is another good one.  And who didn’t love The Princess Bride?

Cara – A Clockwork Orange. A horrifying movie that I admittedly only watched to find out what the hell was going on in the book. Droog? Gulliver? Sigh.

What do you do when you’re not working on your blog?
Kat –  What, besides reading?  I work a heck of a lot.  I’m the manager of a shop called Hempyz and I’m lucky enough to work with my husband and a great group of girls; we have a lot of social time, ha ha.  Actually, I have a lot of social time in general.  I’m usually hanging out with my husband and friends watching movies, playing with my ferret, going to the pub… you know, the usual 20-something activities.  And I visit with Cara pretty regularly.  Sometimes I even get a chance to sleep!

Cara – I work, cook, sleep and repeat, lol. I’m trying to learn Arabic, I love languages. I spend too much time watching documentaries and bad TV shows.

Do you seek reader engagement on your blog? If so, how does this affect your ideas about books and authors?
We’re lucky enough that we have a great core fanbase.  Our readers often comment on our posts, and we’re always eager to hear what they think.  We have a lot of authors who read our blog as well, and submit work for us to review.  We know these authors are going to read our reviews, but we promised each other one thing when we started this website: no matter what, we were going to be honest.  We weren’t going to compromise our feelings and thoughts on a book and what we wrote in a review because we were worried what someone might think of us.  If one of us didn’t like a book, we wouldn’t say we did just because we wanted to spare someone’s feelings; that would be a disservice to the people who came to our site looking for a good book to curl up with.  But we also do our best not to be callous.  If we don’t like something we’ve read, we make sure to say why, as opposed to just trashing it for no reason.  We tread a fine line between being honest and being kind, but we think we do it pretty well.  And that means the people who read our reviews are getting a real opinion, not just lip service.

Do you read other blogs? Which ones?
Kat – I’ve had a mad crush on Will at Too Much Horror Fiction for about… oh, a million years or so.  Seriously though, I’ve been reading his blog forever and he’s the reason why I would have even considered doing a book blog in the first place.  He was the first one to show me that you can be interested in a subject a little off the beaten path, and still be successful.  And if you’re reading this, Will… well, now you know.
And can I mention how epic Dreadful Tales is?!  They’ve got EVERYTHING that is horror literature related over there, and they update like crazy.

Cara – To be honest I don’t spend a lot of time on the internet. I check Goodreads and cruise Twitter for the latest book gossip, pics and merch. I check the blogs of authors that I like to find out release dates and cover art for upcoming books.

How has your blog developed or changed since you first started?
Not much. We have our “Daily Radness” section where we post the lastest book related goodies. We have been doing a lot of Indie book reviews lately, which we love as it has given us a chance to meet some pretty amazing peeps. We wish we had the time to read and review more *fingers crossed.* 


Indie Bookstore Spotlight: Bolen Books

The independent bookstore is a cultural and community hub – authors are introduced, works read aloud to an audience and ideas are shared.

Each month, we will be featuring an independent bookstore from across Canada, proving what a special role these shops play in fostering authors, community and a love of reading. For May, we are featuring Bolen Books in Victoria, BC. You can follow them on Twitter and Facebook!

1. Tell us a little bit about the history of Bolens.
Bolen Books was founded in 1975 from the now defunct chain of Julian bookstores by my father and then taken over by my mother in 1977. Mel Bolen, my mother, grew the store from 800sq feet to our present size of just under 20 000 square feet in 5 moves within our mall. I have been involved seriously with the store since 1990. I worked here before that but more as an employee than an owner.

2. What made you want to work as a bookseller?
I didn’t really want to work as a bookseller at first to tell you the truth. It was something my parents were doing so naturally I rebelled against it. However, after I returned to the store in 1990 and came to understand the operation of the company, selling books became so much more motivating to me. My deep love for books only happened for me in my 20’s when my daughter was young and I began to re-read her my favourite kids’ books. I then began exploring what I loved as an adult.

3. What do you like best about your job?
What I like best about my job is how what we sell is directly in line with what is going on in the world — whatever is popular, whatever is topical, and whatever is important to the world. Our store staff and customers remain current, as well as being completely respectful of the past. I guess the other thing I love is how our customers are unique even compared to other stores within the city and this individuality allows Bolen Books to read the communities wants and needs and fulfil them.

4. What does the book-buying public understand least about independent bookstores?
I think the public doesn’t understand margins. In most retail places, the price of the product is invoiced at wholesale cost and the retailer makes a decision on what they think they can sell the product for based on what the market will bear.  In our industry, we receive the books at selling price and are given a discount on that price. In order to run our businesses successfully, we cannot be selling significant amounts of books below the suggested retail price or our business model quickly crumbles.

5. What’s the hardest part about being a bookstore owner in 2012? 
The hardest part about being a bookstore owner is having the right people. I am extremely blessed to have the best staff in bookselling working with me. Some of my staff have been here for over 30 years and many of them have other family members working here. Mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, we all seem to get along too! I have a fantastic manager and the buyers I have are unparalleled in our industry. The one thing that we are always working on is cross training our staff so that if someone does leave, we are not stuck.

6. What types of books does your store specialize in?
We are a general bookstore; however we have a huge children’s section and staff devoted to that area. We have an amazing science fiction fantasy section as well as a very good history section. Because of our demographics here in Victoria, we also sell a tremendous amount of British books.

7. What are some of your favourite titles? Kids titles? Titles coming out this spring?
I am excited about the John Irving book. I really love him and this book is pushing the boundaries of everything he has written before. I am excited about the books by Jeffery Deaver, Mark Haddon, Chris Cleave, AJ Jacobs, and Richard Ford. And of course, like everyone else I am excited about “The Age of Miracles”.

8. What are you reading right now?
Right now, I am reading Richard Ford’s Canada book, the John Irving book and a book called Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson.

9. What’s your most current best seller? 
The Hunger Games is our best seller right now, but before that, Steve Jobs was the big book for quite a while.

10. What have been some of your favorite (or most memorable) author events?
Over the years, we had some of the most amazing events in bookselling history! We hosted Anne Rice who had the most riders in her contract out of anyone we have ever seen. We had to import Tab and have 6 different kinds of halls throat drops for her at all times and her back had to be against a wall. At Chuck Palahniuk’s event, someone passed out because of the story he was reading. We hosted with great success many hockey legends from goalie Vladislav Tretiak to Jean Beliveau to Eddie Shack. We had Robert Jordon, A.J. Jacobs, and David Sedaris. One of our proudest moments was when Robert Wiersema, one of our staff, was first published. We hosted every one of his book launches.

11. What book are you, or will you, hand-sell with a vengeance?
Last holiday season, I decided to give a money back guarantee on the Night Circus. I felt that book was the kind of book that would appeal to lots of different genres and different age groups. The book sold very very well for us and I only gave money back to two people.

I would like to find another book like this to stand behind. As I am forced to spend less and less time on the floor, taking a stand like this on a particular book is a kind of hand selling I can still do. It may be Canada by Richard Ford, but I am not quite done reading it so I reserve the right to change my mind. I have been selling Luther: The Calling to anyone that loves a good mystery. I thought Neil Cross did a fantastic job with that book.

Arnold Schwarzenegger needs your help!

Total Recall

Arnold Schwarzenegger invites you, his fans, to join him on Facebook, Twitter,and Pinterest and help him pick out a back cover for his upcoming memoir, Total Recall: My Unbeliveably True Life Story! As you know, Arnold has had three drastically different careers in his life. It’s hard to choose just one back cover image to represent him so he is planning to feature three images on his back cover to represent his career in bodybuilding, his acting career, and his time as the Governor of California. If he picks your picture, he will thank you in his book. How cool is that?

He wants the perfect image for the bodybuilding fans, the greatest movie shot from his movies, and an exciting photo from his time in office. Read a personal note from Arnold.

Which image will you choose?