Sunday, September 26, 2010

The good life, yellow capsicums and round zucchini

A little break from the 'writing a cookbook' posts. Writing a book doesn't stop you (or shouldn't stop you) doing other things too! And then I also have two children, other work to do, and while I am in Italy I should also try to help my Aunt Alice in the country. I am in the north of Veneto, and this is the view from my Aunt's house. (The view, not my Aunt's house!)

Aunt Alice needed help with cutting the grass and raking it. I even found this old hand-made rake, a bit heavy really, the newer ones are better, but I liked the look of it, it reminded me the rakes my Grandfather used to make.

Raking is hard work, the grass need to be turned so that it can dry in the sun, then transported to the barn (with a wheelbarrow, and the land is very steep too), but in the end I was glad for a a bit of exercise outdoors, and for my children to learn about traditional farm work.

There are also 5 new chicks, they are still in the cage with the hen, I thought that they could go out in the courtyard by now, but Auntie looks after several stray cats (at present she has 17) and the chicks are safer in the cage.

Here are some of Aunt Alice's cats. Yes, in Italy cats also eat pasta!

The other night a fox or a dog or another animal went into the hen house and killed all the chickens.
Only the hen and chicks in the cage were safe (so it was good that they were in the cage after all!). So sad, there were 5 chickens and a rooster... Alice never eats them, she keeps them for the eggs, and when they are old they die of old age and get buried. So it was a pity. Let's hope that the chicks are not all male now!!!!

No eggs this week, but we got payed for our farm labour with other produce: here some lovely organic apples...

...and blackberries.

Then we picked the last tomatoes, for salad and sauces.


This zuccotto pumpkin is not ready yet, but I wanted to take a photo :-)

Not so many beans this year. The last ones are drying to be shelled,

The fresh (we call them teghe) are green and purple and lovely.

There are still a few white eggplants,

and the capsicums were huge this year! Here a photo when green...

.... And after a week of sun!

We cooked them like this:

Stewed Yellow Capsicums

Chop and onion, a carrot, a stalk of celery and 4 (huge) capsicums. Place in a pot with a little olive oil and sauté for a few minutes. Simmer on low, keeping the pot covered and stirring from time to time for about 40 minutes to one hour. The vegetables should have enough water and as long as you keep the heat very low you probably won't need to add water. I add the salt only halfway through the cooking. Usually we serve them with eggs, but as I told you before, we had no eggs... so we served this with chunky bread and cheese.

A part from capsicum Alice also has lots of zucchini flowers. For my favourite recipe, fried zucchini flowers, click here.

And then there are 'regular' zucchini, and round zucchini in Aunt Alice's garden. I like the round zucchini!

Here how the round zucchini look like sliced.

Lemon Sautéd Green and Round Zucchini

Slice the zucchini and cut the bigger slices into quarters. Sauté two peeled garlic cloves with a little olive oil, then add the zucchini, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring often. The round zucchini are softer and will mush a little, but they have a great taste. The round zucchini will 'almost' mush, but keep their shape and colour better (the round one turn yellow!). Add salt halfway through cooking. At the end add a tsp of fresh chopped Italian parsley and a few lemon slices (or the juice of half a lemon).

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, September 20, 2010

Writing a cookbook Part 3: on writing a book proposal, and being flexible

I must apologize, I have been traveling in the last two weeks, and I had little time to dedicate to this blog. It was interesting to read your comments, and a looong comment stream on FB from a friend who shared my link. Most of the comments there came from published authors, and mostly moaning about competition and an overloaded market and not enough good cookbooks (theirs???). Of course there was a bit of humor there, which was good, but no publishing advice of any kind.

Maybe some authors don’t like to share tips?

I don’t know if I can be helpful, but I least I can talk about my own experience. I have been asked (again) “But how??? How do your actually start if there are so many cookbooks out there?”

OK, there are a lot of cookbook out there, and

usually there are two ways to start a book:

1) A publisher contacts you and asks you to write a book

2) You contact a publisher, and ask to write a book

I belong to the first category, probably like most cookbook authors, and in this we are quite different from fiction writers.

Things may change for seconds and subsequent books: you have already established a relationship with a publisher and, if you come up with a good idea for a book, you can initiate the talks. It is correct to always talk to your original publisher first, and not to go to other publishers (this may also be in your contract anyway), unless there are some very good reasons to do this.

A book idea must then become a book proposal, which you have to write, brief but detailed, well written and containing all the information that the publisher needs: type of book, proposed length, target audience, what kind of images…

This is the time to be flexible. A publisher will know the market better than you, and can tell you if your idea may or may not work. Remember, just because it is a good book, this doesn’t mean that it will have a market.

In fact it is the publisher’s own sale department here that can determine if your book is worth publishing or not. Listen to what everyone has to say about it and be prepared to change your proposal if needed. Sometime it is just a question of changing a few things: your recipes are too spicy for the target market? The ingredients are too difficult to find? The book is going to be sold in a different country where they never use cups as unit of measure? Often the reasons seem really superficial, but you should take everything into consideration.

Professional chefs who write books for home-cooks know that their readers don’t have a professional kitchen at home. No high tech ovens, precision scales, and molecular gastronomy tools. And they use different terms. Likewise bloggers who have a big following know that they have to offer something original and not already published if they wants to sell a book.

Most importantly, generally bloggers are used to work alone, but if they want to write a book, and I mean a real book published by a serious publisher, bloggers must be able to work with other people. The quality of work required for a book is totally different from what you may find on a blog, and all throughout the writing process you will have to deal with professionals who can help you, but also expect to see quality work.

To start give your book a working title, even if it may be the title you want to have for real. It is good to show that you are calling it ‘working title’ because this will make you look like a flexible and open-minded author, and by the end of the project you may have changed your mind anyway, and want to call it something else. For both title and content you will work with an editorial team, and not solo, like most bloggers. Show your publisher from day one that you are able to work with a team, and you will be appreciated.

Idea, then proposal, and then contract! And this is going to be the next post.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Writing a cookbook Part 2: Why do you want to write a book?

Let’s say you are a good cook: half of the people you know will say things to you like “You should write a book!” Encouraging eh?!?!?

But why do you want to write a cookbook? Your prospective publisher may ask you this very question!

If it is for money you should really try to be realistic: it costs a lot to put together a book! Most first time authors may not know this, but if the publisher gives you a breakdown of the costs, from drafting the contract to the editing, designing, proofreading, printing and distributing, you will understand why royalties cannot be high.

If you want photographs you could share the royalties with the photographer, or pay him/her. In places like Italy it is still common to find recipe books without photos, but in places like New Zealand buyers want to see photos. Photos are inspiring, and they sell the book. Photos are expensive.

And you will need to prepare the food and style it for photography, all this on top of writing.

Personally, to write a book I need about one year. But this is I! I think about a recipe, then I make, then I make it again, then again and again until I am happy with it. I have to say that I am particularly fussy... but hey, this is going to be my book, I want it to work! Once I have the recipe I want, I then make three times, so I am sure that it works (and here there is a lot of difference with blogging!). If I consider the amount of time spent developing and writing recipes, plus the ingredients, gas, electricity and trips to the shops… well, you can see what I mean!

Writing to raise your profile? This could be a better reason than money. If you are (or want to be) a food writer or a food photographer it is always good to have a book or more in your CV.

Your prospective publisher will probably like this reason, and it will show that you are determined to put your best efforts into the project.

Finally, my last and most romantic reason: I write because I believe in my recipes, I want to share them, I love food, and I love books… I know that there are many cookbooks around but I feel that I can offer something different. It is a lot of work, but I cannot imagine a world without books, and in this world of books I too want to create books, books that I myself would want to read in ten or twenty years time (no matter if they are out of print) and still be happy with them, still meet people who tell me that they have tried this or that recipe and still love it!

And your publisher has to be the first to support your recipes: send a few sample recipes with your proposal. Invite him/her for dinner (or the commissioning editor, if there is one), bring food to the office when you are having your first meeting, and be prepared to be flexible: maybe your book idea is not marketable, but if your recipes and skills are good a publisher will be able to give you suggestions, and work with you until you both find the cookbook that screams to be published!

In the next post I'll write a bit more about writing recipes, and the difference with blogging.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Writing a cookbook Part 1 How can you get your cookbook published?

I get asked this quite a lot: how can I write a cookbook? And mostly, how can I get it published? I mean, how do I get published if I am not a famous chef or TV personality? I think this is what most people want to know, first!

So I’ll skip the writing bit (for now) and say a few words about publishing a cookbook (or any other book really!).

If you are planning to write just for friends and family this post is not for you: there are many computer and internet programs which allow you to write and design a book, and even to order some copies (at a price...).

The advice here is for those who want to see their work on the shelves of a bookshop, in the libraries, in the kitchens of people they visit for the first time.

Many consider self-publishing, but unless you are not only a great cook, great food stylist and great writer with an original idea, but also an editor, a proof reader, a designer, a photographer, and index expert, know a good printer and, most importantly, a sale person with a good distribution network… well… you may be getting into too much work…. For nothing!

But hey! It has been done, so if you have stamina, time and a little capital to invest, go for it!

The second option is to find a publisher that will help you in exchange of a financial contribution (like buying 2000 copies of your own book). Small publishers have to do this because the costs of production are really high, and get higher if you like to include colour pages (photos).

But think about it: can you sell 2000 copies by yourself? Maybe if you have a restaurant or a delicatessen shop, or hold regular cooking classes, in these cases you can sell a few books, but don’t think that this is easy. Even on the Internet it is hard to sell, there is a lot of competition out there, and too many cookbooks.. Worse if you have a blog: your readers are used to free recipes (and we will get to that in another post).

And are you sure that the publisher you found will print not only the copies that you buy, but also more, to be sold in shops, at least nation-wide? Remember: you are not going to receive royalties unless the books are sold in shops (real or virtual) or to libraries (not that you should hope to receive too many royalties with a single cookbook anyway…).

Some small editors will sincerely try to help you, while other may be just façades which provide vanity publishing services.

A small publisher which is trying to help you will:

Promote your book (but remember, they have other authors a part from you).

Ask you to help them with promotion (with publicity, appearances, food demos).

Trying to sell you book to shops (and not just to you!).

A bigger publisher will do the same, and will have a larger distribution channel and more sale representatives, but also many more books to sell and possibly less time to dedicate to you. A bigger publisher may not ask for you to buy books in advance, but will offer you a good discount if you want to buy them.

Finally, if you want to make sure that you are really getting published because you are worth it, find a publisher that believes in you and your book to the point that it will not put in the contract that you have to buy books (still, most publishers hope that the authors will buy some copies at least!) and, if your proposal is truly excellent, it may also give you an advance on royalties, which is good news!

So, next time I’ll talk about finding this last type of publisher, and about book proposals!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

hazelnut butter and chocolate sponge


100 g butter, cubed
150 sugar
1 tbsp hazelnut butter
3 eggs
250 g self rising flour
200 ml milk

60 g dark chocolate, cut into small piaces
icing sugar to dust

Beat the butter with the sugar, add the hazelnut butter and keep beating. Add the eggs, one by one, followed by half of the flour, then the milk, then the remaining flour and milk. Keep beating until light and foamy. Spoon (don't pour, just spoon delicately) inside a non stick 20 cm round baking tin, well greased with butter. Top with the chocolate (it will go down inside the cake during baking). Bake at 180° for about 25 minutes. When cold dust with icing sugar.
This cake is soft and it smells divine!

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Te Ara: Māori Pathways of Leadership

Coming this month is our newest publication Te Ara: Māori Pathways of Leadership, a full-colour paperback that documents the trajectory of Māori leadership from first settlement of Aotearoa/New Zealand through to the challenges and opportunities of the present day.

This 32-page book is concisely written by Paul Tapsell, professor of Māori studies at the University of Otago, with Dr Merata Kawharu, director of the James Henare Māori Research Centre of the University of Auckland, and features beautiful photos by Krzysztof Pfeiffer, photographer at the Auckland War Memorial Museum and author of over 20 books.

After a general introduction to Māori history, Te Ara focuses on the stories of iwi in five regions – Hokianga, Peowhairangi (Bay of Islands) Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland), Waiariki (Rotorua-Taupo) and Murihiku (Otago-Southland).

Te Ara accompanies an exhibition that will open in Olsztyn, Poland, on 22 September, before touring in Poland and then elsewhere to Europe. The present edition contains text in three languages – Māori, English and Polish – definitely a first!

Te Ara: Māori Pathways of Leadership - ISBN 978-1-877514-12-8 - retails at $19.99

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Arrivederci Bergamo, and Polenta e Osei

Sometimes... actually no... very often, I visit an Italian city for the first time and I became completely besotted by it! It happened with Bergamo, which is not exactly a city on the tourist route, but to me it is definitely one of the prettiest in the North of Italy. Bergamo is divided in two parts, the Lower City (Città Bassa) which is more modern, with various administrative offices, shopping districts and elegant buildings, and the Upper City (Città Alta), which is a real Medieval and Renaissance gem. Here are some pics of the Città Bassa....

And then you can get a cable car of a bus and get into the Città Alta

Wikipedia says that Città Alta is an extremely expensive place to live in, with properties being sold for a minimum of 2,000,000 euro, but some of the most expensive and beautiful houses are on the uphill road towards Città Alta, some of them being old villas with lovely gardens.

Città Alta

A typical sweet that you can buy in Bergamo is Polenta e Osei, (Polenta cake with birds), The cake is not actually made with polenta, but only to look like polenta! The birds are made with marzipan rolled in cocoa, I found this video with a lovely version of Osei (birds), it is in the Bergamo dialect, but easy to understand. I found the recipe, but only in Italian, here, a bit involved really, maybe I'll just go back to Bergamo and buy some!! Arrivederci Bergamo!

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©


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