The Debut of the Hungry Novelist Questionnaire

I thought I’d spice up the blog a little by introducing a new regular feature wherein published writers complete the newly minted (heh) Hungry Novelist Questionnaire, a set of questions about reading, writing and eating, in the tradition of Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire, New York magazine’s New York Diet, and the NYT Sunday Routine.

First up to give the questionnaire a trial run is me! More writers to come in the weeks ahead.

Writer: Kim Moritsugu
Currently residing in: Toronto
Blog: The Hungry Novelist
On Twitter? Yes. As kimmoritsugu.

What’s going on in your writing life right now?
I recently had a YA story and an easy-read novelette published, I’m preparing to teach at Humber School for Writers Summer Creative Writing Workshop from July 9-15, 2011, and I’m chipping away at a novel in progress, my fifth or sixth.

What’s your writing routine:
Avoid writing for as long as possible each day, then consider myself productive if I get in two or three hours of writing or writing related work (like a blog post) before midnight.

What do you usually eat for breakfast?
Glass of o.j., slice of Harbord Bakery caraway rye toasted with butter, tea.

What good books have you read recently?
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. One Day by David Nicholls.

What did you eat for dinner last night?
Spaghettini with chopped fresh tomatoes, kalamata olives and baby salad greens, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Writing rules you live by:
I admire clarity, a strong story, skilful plotting and a mixture of funny and sad/bitter and sweet in the works of others, and try to incorporate those elements and qualities into my work.

Foodstuffs you’re fiending these days:
Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar from PEI. Buttermilk bread from Allie’s Bread at the Evergreen Brickworks Farmers’ Market or the St. Lawrence Farmers’ Market. Lemon meringue tarts. Rainbow sherbet/lemon frizzante floats.

A scene or piece you’ve written that features food:
In my first novel Looks Perfect, a romantic comedy, the heroine slurps up some noodles while eating ramen at a New York restaurant called Omen, and splatters broth all over her dreamboat crush object. He likes her anyway.

Favorite restaurants:
In Toronto: Pizzeria Libretto, Nami. In New York: Locanda Verde, Ippudo. In L.A.: Pizzeria Mozza.

Three formative books from your youth:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis), The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger), Brat Farrar (Josephine Tey).

Three formative books from your adulthood:
Heartburn (Nora Ephron), The Music Lesson (Katharine Weber), What Was She Thinking: Notes on a Scandal (Zoe Heller).

Dishes/recipes in regular rotation in your cooking repertoire:
Shrimp tacos, sesame-encrusted salmon on salad greens, caraway cheese straws, roasted vegetables in boeuf bourguignon sauce.

Random bits of writing advice:
Keep the story moving forward. Don’t eat over your keyboard.

What do you do when not writing, eating or reading?
Sing in a community rock choir. Go to step class. Walk. Procure and prepare food.

What’s your idea of comfort food and comfort reading?
Thanksgiving dinner – roast turkey with potato stuffing, rice, gravy and cranberry sauce. And a Maeve Binchy novel.


Lemon Meringue Tart Wars Round 2

The food: more lemon meringue tarts

The story:

Now that we’re in round two of the Hungry Novelist lemon meringue tart round-up (see round one here), it’s time to institute a completely arbitrary and subjective scoring system. Because I can.

Each tart judged in this round will be scored out of 19 with up to 5 points given for each of:
1) visual appeal
2) filling and meringue taste/quality
3) crust taste/quality

and up to 2 points given for each of:
1) shop ambiance, and
2) value for money

Contestant #1 in this round is a tart from the new Yonge Street branch of Nadege, a jewel box of a patisserie that originated on Queen West and recently set up shop in the tonier Summerhill area.

The design of the Yonge Street shop is similar to the award-winning look of the Queen Street shop, with a looks-like-it’s-curated selection of pastries, croissants, cakes and macarons displayed as if they were precious objects. Even the box that the $5.50 lemon meringue tart comes in is design-y:

Here’s the Nadege tart:

I’ll give it 1.5 for shop ambiance (the shop is lovely but a little off-putting/intimidating, like I felt I ought to be dressed better and be wearing more makeup than I usually am, just to enter it), 3.5 for the nicely circular swirled design of the rather pallid-looking meringue, 4 for the taste of the filling and meringue and the generous quantity of the lemon filling, 3 out of 5 for its competent but not-my-favourite cookie-style crust, and 2 for value, especially compared to the other cakes on display which cost around $8+ for tiny little things, some smaller than this tart. Total points: 14.

Next up is a tart I bought in a moment of madness at a Loblaws bakery counter. The tart was labelled as being from La Rocca bakery, though I can’t find it on the La Rocca website, so maybe it’s from somewhere else.

Its conehead look was intriguing (I gave it 4/5 for appearance) but it tasted nasty, with a chemical-ish aftertaste to the filling and meringue and a yucky, possibly almond-pasteish flavour to the crust. It was so bad I threw it out after taking two bites. It gets 2 zeroes for taste, and 1 out of 2 for value, because at $2.99 it was cheap. Total score: 5/19

The round two winner, then, is the tart shown at the top of the post, and in cross-section below, from Frangipane, a charming patisserie on Dupont Street at Madison.

The shop gets a 2/2 score for being cosy, friendly and pretty; the look of the tart a 5 for the nicely browned, pleasingly shaped meringue, the taste of the filling a 4.5, and the crust a 4, because though it’s a shortbread crust, it’s a good shortbread crust. At $5.50 per, its value also garners a 2/2 score, making its total 17.5 out of 19, and coming in at a close second behind the round one winner from the Canadian Pie Company (score: 18) which, though pricey, is still the best, in my particular and perhaps peculiar opinion, in either round.

Torrisi and the Tonys

The food: Egg, potato and pepper sandwich

The story:

Before going to Torrisi Italian Specialties in Nolita, I didn’t know pepper (as in sweet green or red) and egg sandwiches were a traditional Italian-American food, especially in Chicago apparently, and especially featured around Easter time.

I had heard that the potato, egg and provolone sandwich (with peppers) served at lunch at Torrisi was a sandwich worth going out of one’s way for while in New York. And that the lunchtime Torrisi, an ultra-casual, busy hangout that serves upscale versions of Italian-American sandwiches and antipasti, morphs at night into a much lauded restaurant that serves a prix-fixe-only, no-reservations, changes-daily menu for dinner.

E and I timed our visit to Torrisi perfectly, and got our order in around 11:45 am, before the lineup extended out the door onto the street, and when we could still grab a table. We ordered potato and egg on a roll for me, eggplant parm on a hero for E, and three small antipasti plates to share: cauliflower with breadcrumbs, rapini with chilies, and asparagus with cheese.

Everything we ate was very good and deserving of the high end descriptor. Of the antipasti, I liked the crisp, cheesy and lemony asparagus best, with the sweet browned cauliflower coming in at a close second. But it was the delicious mixture of flavours in the potato, egg, cheese and peppers sandwich that lingered in my food memory and inspired me to try to recreate it when I came home to Toronto.

Torrisi Italian Specialties on Urbanspoon

After some trial and error – and substitution of an aged white cheddar for the too bland Provolone I used the first time I tried making this – I came up with a recipe for the sandwich that tastes almost as good as the Torrisi original.

Egg, Potato, Pepper and Cheese Sandwiches, Hungry Novelist style

4 large eggs, beaten with a splash of milk
2 good-sized Yukon Gold potatoes, cut in 1/2 inch cubes and parboiled until tender but not falling apart
2 roasted red peppers, seeded and cut in strips
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated aged white cheddar
Chalah rolls or slices of chalah bread
Butter for bread
Extra virgin olive oil for frying potatoes

1. Fry parboiled cubed potatoes in large skillet over medium high heat in 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil until browned on all sides. Remove to side plate.
2. Put bread in toaster or split rolls and toast in toaster oven or under broiler.
3. Pour egg mixture into skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring gently to scramble eggs, but keeping the curds large and soft. Just before cooking is complete, stir in peppers, potatoes and grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Turn off stove element and allow residual heat in skillet to finish cooking the eggs and melt the cheese while you butter the toast. Pile egg mixture onto hot buttered toast and consume immediately.

Makes 3 sandwiches.

Also worth going out of one’s way for in New York are the current crop of musicals on Broadway that have been nominated for the Tony Awards, which will be given out this Sunday, June 12. Here’s a taste of Catch Me If You Can, a show that I quite enjoyed for its newness, Rat Pack era sensibility, tuneful score, real live Broadway dancers doing lots of actual Broadway style dancing, the cute and talented Aaron Tveit, and especially for this show-stopping number featuring Broadway live wire and Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz: