It helps to have a facility for jigsaw puzzles when it comes to putting a book together. I look for puzzles with a lot of colour and character, and then I start by sorting out the edge pieces and building the frame.
The Nelson Public Library’s new book Pairings: inspired words, inspired recipes — a compendium of beloved recipes and books from the chefs of Nelson was a lot like that in the making. With 21 restaurants, 27 chefs, 73 mouth-watering dishes, and 30 recommended books, it’s chock full of colour and character.
We wanted to build on the success of our 2010 book Seasonings: a year of local flavor in words and recipes, which was created in partnership with the Kootenay Co-op, and which raised funds for library expansion and collections. We wanted to build on what we’d learned, and create another gorgeous book to celebrate our community, our foodie culture, and our book-loving culture.
We asked Nelson chefs for their best-loved recipes, and we asked them for the title of a book they’ve loved. Almost all of the restaurants we pitched agreed to participate, and then puzzle-piecing began.
The project was framed with the creative talents of David Gluns (photographer, perfectionist) and Steven Cretney (inspired designer). Both will tell you that great content made the job fun, if challenging: because once the recipes began rolling in to yours truly (editor and jigsaw-aficionado) the mammoth task of finding the right place for the pieces began.
Chefs enthusiastically supplied favourite recipes — so enthusiastically that we added an additional 16 pages just to accommodate. Coconut cardamon panna cotta with saffron pear compote from All Season’s Café chef Amanda Skidmore; beef short ribs braised with wine, cocoa, and coffee from Max and Irma’s chef Steve Kirby; panko avocado and smoked salmon taco from Cantina Del Centro chef Mike Hesla; and spicy beef kebabs from Baba’s chefs Christopher and Anjali Matthias are just a few.
When it came to recommending favourite books, some chefs could hardly wait to tell me about them. The Story of My Life by Helen Keller left an indelible mark on Main Street Diner chef Nancy Diamond’s own life; Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck was the first novel Busaba Chef Rangsi Klinsutho read in English; and The Butterfly’s Burden by Mahmoud Darwish shares Mana’eesh chef Rania Kassem’s Middle Eastern roots. Other book recommendations drew from childhood, from Kootenay Baker chef Levi Nicoll’s choice Redwall by Brian Jacques to The Big Brag by Dr. Seuss, recommended by Oso Negro’s Crystal Langford.
And so, putting the pieces into place began. Dave spent a day with each restaurant, later uploading hundreds of images of the dishes and the chefs into the Dropbox project folder. Recipes needed to be formatted and chefs interviewed for their bios and their books. As things started to roll in Steven began the design and produced the first mockups while our volunteer proofreaders proofed, and proofed, and proofed.
You know about jigsaw puzzles: At first, they seem impossible, and then all at once the pieces nearly leap into place. And that’s what happened. But not without a little hair-pulling, tooth-gnashing, and long days and late nights to get to that point.
After one late-night emailing session with Dave, who was finishing up a shoot of chilli peppers, I awoke to find new photos in our Dropbox folder. There is an element of hilarity that creeps into every project at zero-hour that just puts everything into perspective. I’m still laughing.
Pairings is now at the printers and the chillies are back where they should be. We’ll launch the book on Tuesday, Oct. 27 during the library’s 95th birthday party — and I hope you’ll be there. Because you, the readers, are the very last piece of the puzzle.
This hearty soup — great for mushroom season — is one of several that feature in Pairings: inspired food, inspiring words, a new cookbook by the Nelson Public Library. The cookbook will launch Oct. 27. All photos by David Gluns.
Hearty Mushroom Soup
Chef Levi Nicoll, Kootenay Bakery Café Co-op
A hearty and healing vegetarian soup perfect for any time of year.
1 lb brown crimini or portobello mushrooms (frozen or fresh), diced.
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
9 cups water
2 bay leaves
¼ cup each butter and your favorite oil
1 cup whole spelt grain
6 cups water
¼ cup canola oil
1 cup each celery, carrot, and onion diced
1 ½ cups diced asparagus
2 cloves garlic, diced
5 cups mushroom stock
In a large pot, sauté the mushrooms, onion and garlic in butter and oil at medium high heat until you see caramelization. Add water and bay leaves, then bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for at least three hours. Let the stock cool and keep in fridge until you need it. Once cool you can skim off any extra fat if you wish (I leave the fat in the stock). This should make at least five cups of stock.
In a medium pot, bring spelt grain and water to a boil. Boil for 35 to 40 minutes. At this time the grain should be cooked and a bit chewy. Strain and rinse with water, then reserve until needed. In a large pot at medium heat, sauté the celery, carrots and onion in the oil. Once half cooked, add asparagus. Sauté for about a minute, then add the 5 cups of mushroom stock and cooked spelt grain. Simmer for at least half an hour and serve.
Chef Levi Nicoll began working at Kootenay Bakery — a cooperative started by his father Len and aunt Deborah — as a young lad. He graduated from dishwasher to baker to chef, and although he enjoyed a few stints in other restaurants along the way to broaden his experience, he ultimately returned home.
“I’m a lifer,” he laughs. “It’s been a long, happy blur of kale salad and quinoa.”
He fondly remembers the first recipe he created, a Southwest rice salad. When positive comments flowed back and he experienced the satisfaction of making people happy with the food he created, Levi was hooked.
As a child, Levi was hooked as a reader when he read Redwall by Brian Jacques. Set in a fantastic world inhabited by anthropomorphic animals, this multi-book series celebrates the courage of the smallest.
Martin the Warrior, a woodland mouse, must defend Redwall Abbey against rats and weasels in feats of astonishing courage in a wholly imagined and complex alternate world.
“The book sparked my imagination,” says Levi. “It allowed me to really visualize. It was inspiring — that’s something I’ve carried into my life, and that carries over into cooking. You don’t ever want to lose that.”
Anne DeGrace is the adult services coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. For more information go to nelsonlibrary.ca.