My new story is out! Buy it now for $1.99!

When Trevor left Southern California for the redwood forests up north, he was looking for more than just an education. He was looking to change himself. Part of that change was remembering how much he loved dancing ballet when he was a boy. The other part was another boy, Cam, who may not share Trevor’s love of dance, but who was very interested in Trevor’s body.

Buy it at Amazon for your Kindle and at Gumroad for all other reading formats. Go now! What are you waiting for?!

Tomatoes signal the last of the summer. Whether they’re ripe on the vine or not, it’s time to pick them all before the blight gets to them. The great thing about tomatoes is that you can eat them green–chopped up in a relish, coated in corn meal and shallow fried–or you can let them sit on your counter and they’ll work their way to red.

How to love tomatoes in salad.

One of the things that eating vegan has only confirmed for me is how much I don’t like lettuce salads. I find them boring. I’m not interested. Take all those veggies and add them to some couscous with the exact same dressing, and I’ll eat that for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But lettuce–don’t care. Tomato salad–that’s what I can get behind.

Salad almost always starts with tomato for me. Not because it’s my favourite vegetable, but because it brings its own acid to the dressing. Chop a couple of tomatoes and throw them in a bowl, making sure you get as much of that juice off the board as you can. Then add whatever you like. Salad has no rules. I think, as long as it’s a bunch of vegetables, mixed with oil and vinegar, you can call it a salad. I love green onions, grated carrot, shredded cabbage, sliced radish, chopped parsley. If I’m making a meal, I’ll add carbs: couscous, quinoa, short pasta, croutons. Nuts and dried fruit are nice on top. A salad dressing doesn’t have to be anything more than oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper, though mustard is a good addition.

How to keep enjoying them fresh.

I love thin sliced tomatoes on a pizza, sprinkled with oil, coarse salt and pepper, and maybe fresh green herbs, then blasted in the hottest oven you can find. The juice sinks into the dough, and the edges get jammy and crispy. I don’t even miss the cheese. A layer of pesto before you lay down the tomatoes is delicious.

I love thick sliced tomatoes on toast in the morning. Again, just salt and pepper. You don’t even need any oil because the juice from the tomato is enough to season the bread. I make my own, because I can, but use whatever you have. A dense whole wheat is nice, or a crunchy ciabatta.

Once you get to the end of your loaf, or it’s been sitting around too long, dice it up into small cubes, toss with oil, salt, pepper, and sauté until charred and crispy. You can use these as croutons in any kind of salad, but because I still have tomatoes ripening on my counter, I’ve been eating panzanella. Bread salad is as simple as chopped tomatoes and day old bread. You can add other things to it. I prefer just green herbs, maybe green onions. A few shots of balsamic vinegar, toss, and eat.

The tomatoes from my own pot were tiny, but plentiful. For a few weeks at the end of August, I was picking a handful a day, then slicing them in half and adding them on top of the fried potato and kale hash I made for breakfast. Grate or dice your potatoes. Sauté on high until golden and crispy. If I dice the potatoes, I shake the pan constantly. If I grate, I let it go for a long time before executing a less-than-perfect flip. The secret is to show no fear, and sometimes that works, but sometimes I balk at the last minute. I don’t know how, but the pan always knows. Depending on how many potatoes you’ve grated and how big your pan is, the thickness of your hash brown will determine how long it takes to cook. Stick the pan in a 350 oven for few minutes if it’s a thick one.

Use that time to chop tomatoes, kale, zucchini, swiss chard–whatever you have in your fridge that’s fresh. When I’m cooking potatoes, I like something green for contrast. Once the potatoes are crisp, I add the tomatoes. Let them melt into the pan, soften, spread their juices. Then the kale. Toss and use a lid to let it steam. At the last minute, I like a little vinegar–apple cider or balsamic–and just enough time in the pan to make it sticky.

How to preserve the flavour.  

My grandma, though, has a lot more tomato plants than me. Therefore, she ended up with a lot more tomatoes than me. And once she had made a few dozen quarts of whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, and antipasto, she still had boxes and baskets, from green to ripe. The first thing I made was oven dried tomatoes. Slice them thick the long way. (These are Roma tomatoes, by the way.) Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet, salt and pepper, maybe some dried herbs, if you have them. I crushed some oregano over top. Then bake at 350 for about an hour. I like mine to have a bit of chew still. I like to chop them up and mix into couscous or rice, or even add to a pasta sauce for that extra deep tomato flavour.

A simple tomato sauce you can put up in jars or into the freezer starts with thinly sliced onion. Sauté in oil for as long as it takes to get some good colour. Add chopped garlic and a whole mess of tomatoes. Let it sit on the stove just below a simmer for a long time. I started my pot after getting home from work at 7 and turned it off when I was ready to go to bed at 11. This kind of sauce, I would absolutely recommend putting through the blender, if only to break up the tomato skins alone.

My load of tomatoes made such a big batch of sauce that I put half in the freezer for the winter, then put the rest back on the stove the next day. I chopped up a bunch of carrots, celery, fennel tops–anything in my fridge on the verge of going bad. I cooked that down for another few hours, went at it with my immersion blender, then pushed the whole works through a fine mesh sieve. It made a beautifully sweet silky sauce that I’ve eaten with cabbage and rice, cooked with lentils, and tossed with pasta. Not much makes me happier than making something delicious with the bits that too often get thrown away.

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My new book cover! One week from today, A GENTLE JOUST goes on sale. It’s a short story (10k words) about boys who do ballet. Or rather, one boy who does ballet and another who is in the class because his soccer coach ordered him there.

(If you’re signed up for my newsletter, you might’ve seen this cover last week. Perks!)

The rest of this year is dedicated to publishing those stories which have been hanging around, rejected by a publisher, stalled without an ending, searching for a few more to make a collection, or just abandoned because they had been deemed “not good enough.” This is one of those stories, but with the distance of time, I couldn’t remember why I didn’t do anything with it.

This week’s lesson is that one’s “not good enough” might be someone else’s “A+ would recommend.” As artists, we see the flaws, and they always look too big. We have to trust that we can get 90% there on our good days. The audience will do the rest.

Not a writer

What’s bugging me right now? It’s not ideas. I have a lot of ideas. And it’s not time. I have an easy work schedule. There’s nothing wrong with my computer, I have the right software, I even have a title for my book. So why can’t I write it? Why is it so hard?

Writers complain a lot. We’re sorry, by the way. At least I am, but then, I’m Canadian. I want to love writing way more than I actually do. When I’m brainstorming and the idea is fresh, it’s fun. When I’m stuck into the meat of a great scene, it’s all consuming. But the starting, oh, the starting. That’s when writing sucks. When you suddenly realise you have to do laundry. When emptying the compost actually seems like an urgent job. When you find yourself, hours later, still watching whatever is on the Food Network.

I’m not a writer in those moments. I’m someone coming up with excuses. I’m writing this at 10 o’clock at night because it’s not tomorrow yet, so this post isn’t late yet. Deadlines are great, as long as you stick to them. Build a habit. If writing on the computer isn’t working, pick up a pen. If your pen runs out of ink, find a pencil. I bought myself a whiteboard last month, and I’m loving making lists and drawing arrows, then erasing it all and starting again.

It’s a change of scenery that your brain is looking for when it nags you about the laundry or the compost. Sometimes just getting up and writing on the couch instead of at the desk can help. Sometimes you have to go all the way to the library. But you have to do something to knock those ideas free in your brain, and you can’t let yourself turn into a lump. Lumps don’t write; writers write. Even if it’s only a few hundred words for a blog post at 10:30 on a Wednesday night. I needed to hear this. Maybe you did, too.

When I sat down to make a list of all the restaurants where I’ve been since I started eating vegan, I hadn’t expected it to be this long. But I also couldn’t believe that it’s been almost six months. Some of these places are brand new to me. Some are old favourites, where I’ve had to try new dishes.

At any restaurant, vegans have to be confident enough to ask the staff to help you out and make exceptions. For me, too, just starting out and getting used to eating this way, I’m willing to be forgiving. Most breads shouldn’t have eggs, and if the pasta is dried, it should be safe. But sometimes even the wait staff don’t know. Don’t be afraid to ask, but don’t beat yourself up if you forget. Eating vegan is about increasing your awareness, which is an ongoing learning process.

This is a short guide for locals or tourists visiting Vancouver and the surrounding Lower Mainland.

I’ve visited two old family favourites in the last few months: WHITE SPOT and FRESGO INN. WHITE SPOT is the local chain, a casual sit-down restaurant with lots of variety on the menu. Most people go, though, for the burgers. My old favourite is the Legendary, which is just a basic burger, thin patty, and Triple O sauce, their signature mayonnaise-based topping. They do the best deep fried zucchini, called Zoo Sticks, which goes with Zoo Dip, also dairy based. I had never tried their veggie burger before. It’s a portobello cap with sautéed peppers and onions. It comes with cheese and aioli, which I asked to be left off. WHITE SPOT offers all their burgers with lettuce wraps instead, but I ate the bun.

WENDEL’S (9233 Glover, Fort Langley) has a portobello burger, too. Ask them to leave off the bocconcini and garlic mayo, but the burger is juicy enough with balsamic onions and peppers, and the side is a simple salad with your choice of dressing, instead of fries.

FRESGO INN (10102 King George, Surrey) is an old school cafeteria-style diner. You order up front with your tray, then wait for your number to be called. (They just added a pager system–welcome to the 21st Century, Fresgo’s!) They do a lot of everything, and it all comes on huge plates–sometimes on two plates. I knew I would be able to get a veggie burger here. Then I asked them to add a side of sautéed mushrooms (maybe butter? I kind of forgot to ask) because I love their mushroom burger. It comes open face on a large oval plate, and the less you can see the burger and bun under the mushrooms, the better. The fries are relegated to their own plate. The veggie burger is rice based and really savoury, with peas, corn, and carrots. The mushrooms were indulgent, but I bet it’s great with just lettuce and tomato, too. Be sure to ask for no mayo. I forgot.

I’m still getting used to remembering all the little details. I usually remember to ask for soy when I order a latte, but not always when I get iced coffee. STARBUCKS does soy milk, but not almond, which is my preference at home. The other day, though, a barista told me they’re adding coconut milk. I’d love to try this in iced coffee, but in my favourite hot drinks–cafe latte and London Fog–I like something more neutral. Coconut milk is always coconut. Coffeeshops are one of the easiest places to be vegan. Non-dairy milks have been normal for decades now.

Sushi is another easy vegan meal, and it’s cheap and plentiful here in the Lower Mainland. There are cucumber and avocado rolls, vegetable tempura, and so many different tofu dishes. Try rolls with bean curd sheets instead of seaweed. Try the spinach gomae with peanut sauce. Try miso soup and vegetable dumplings and edamame to start. And green tea, of course, which needs no dairy.

Before a concert downtown, my friend and I ate at JADE DYNASTY (164 E Pender, Vancouver) in Chinatown. I love Chinese food with friends because it justifies ordering a variety of dishes. By complete chance, this restaurant had a number of fake meat dishes. I haven’t eaten a lot of fake meats yet. They’re pretty expensive, and I usually prefer to cook for myself than eat frozen foods at home. On my friend’s recommendation, we ordered a spicy fake chicken (because the heat helps maintain the illusion), broccoli with black bean sauce, as well as rice to go with. I was really impressed with the texture of the fake chicken–the heat did the trick.

Most pho places will have a vegetarian option. In my neighbourhood, PHO 77 (15230 Russell, White Rock) makes one with vegetable stock, packed with noodles, carrots, bok choy, and a huge pile of bean sprouts, lime, and Thai basil to add to your liking. I like just eating the bean sprouts like crudite. A little hot sauce is necessary, too.

Next door to PHO 77 is PENANG SZECHUAN CUISINE (15228 Russell, White Rock), a Malaysian restaurant. I went by myself, so I couldn’t try everything I wanted on their menu. Their Gado Gado salad is bean sprouts, carrots, and celery thinly sliced, mixed with peanut dressing, and topped with fried tofu cubes. Their Thai Special Tofu is also crispy fried and tossed in a sweet sticky sauce with vegetables. I took my leftovers home and reinvented the dish with added ramen noodles and zucchini.

A lot of restaurants have at least one vegetarian option that can sometimes be made vegan by asking them to leave off the cheese. But you can get tired of a veggie burger. My absolute favourite cuisine to eat out has become Lebanese because there are just so many different options. Falafel gives me the deep fried indulgence that I crave, except it’s pretty healthy. CRISPY FALAFEL (1570 Johnston, White Rock) in my neighbourhood is a tiny corner shop for quick takeout. Their falafel are dark and crunchy, their tabbouleh is loaded with parsley, and their dolma are vegetarian. The plate comes with many side dishes, almost too much food for one.

NUBA (207 W Hastings, Vancouver) has two locations downtown. This is Lebanese for a fancier night out. They offer a number of small plates, so it really is best to eat with friends. I had their garden falafel, made green with a lot of vegetables, and served with hummus, red cabbage, avocado, and pita in the bread basket. The food went well with a homemade ginger beer, capped with the baklava sampler. I ate two pieces, then took the rest home to enjoy for the rest of the week.

My brother’s bar of choice is STORMCROW (1305 Commercial, Vancouver). We were only there for drinks, but ordered some fried cauliflower to snack on. Deep fried foods is probably what I crave most. I love fish and chips, fried chicken, and chicken fried steak when I’m travelling in the US. But this is an incredibly easy craving to sate for vegans. Anything can be dunked into a batter (no eggs required–just use sparkling water or beer) and deep fried. It’s about the grease and the crunch, not so much what’s underneath.

We had eaten lunch earlier, at BON CHAZ (426 W Hastings, Vancouver), a sandwich shop which bakes their own bread. (They call them baguettes, but it’s a pretty generic white bread.) Their trick is cutting two sections into the bread to make a kind of club roll. BON CHAZ’s vegan sandwich is hummus with cucumber, tomato, and romaine lettuce.

I’m lucky where I live. Vancouver is a city of multicultural cuisine, as well as an environmental and health conscious place. It’s a big city with a lot of choice. But when travelling, you can’t always be sure of the comforts of home. Earlier this summer, we visited my great aunt in Sechelt, a tiny coastal city north of Vancouver, accessible by the ferry. You might not expect to find the same kind of choice in a small town, but a lot of BC’s small towns are populated by aging hippies. My aunt suggested STRAIT COFFEE (4330 Sunshine Coast Highway, Sechelt), a cafe serving sandwiches and baked goods. Instead of the veggie sandwich, I tried the risotto pie, layered with beets, and served with a green
salad. This isn’t vegan–it has feta inside–but it was such a novelty, I wanted to try it, so I could try to make it at home.

Eating vegan at home is easy and more fun than I thought it would be when I began this experiment. I like it. It’s not only about adding new dishes to my repertoire, but adding new skills and techniques. Still, eating out is a great treat, and I’m so lucky for the variety in my city.

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Revert

When I received the email letting me know the rights to my first published story were being reverted, I could have been sad. It was more than two years ago now that my first book, A GREAT ROUGH DIAMOND, was published with Torquere. It feels like yesterday and forever ago at the same time.

Instead of treating that news like a failure, I took it like an accomplishment. Three years ago, I sat down, I wrote this thing, and then I did the hardest thing of all: I sent it to a publisher. I put it out into the world for someone else to judge, and they said yes.

I could have kept writing my stories and doing nothing with them. I could have kept being afraid of what other people would think. And I could have taken these two novellas back from Torquere, put them in a folder on my hard drive, and forgotten all about them. “They’re not that good,” I could have told myself. “Nobody wants them.”

But it’s not my job to decide what people want. It’s my job to write the stories I love, the stories I believe in, and put them out into the world for other people to find. So that’s what I did with A GREAT ROUGH DIAMOND and COUNTRY MESSES. I took them back, slapped them together, threw a new cover on the front, and sent them back into the world.

(You can buy them on Amazon or Gumroad.)

I hope someone finds them.

In this sense, what happened to women is part of what happened to all of us in the years after the war. We found excuses for not facing the problems we once had the courage to face. The American spirit fell into a strange sleep; men as well as women, scared liberals, disillusioned radicals, conservatives bewildered and frustrated by change—the whole nation stopped growing up. All of us went back into the warm brightness of home, the way it was when we were children and slept peacefully upstairs while our parents read, or played bridge in the living room, or rocked on the front porch in the summer evening in our home towns.

Women went home again just as men shrugged off the bomb, forgot the concentration camps, condoned corruption, and fell into helpless conformity; just as the thinkers avoided the complex larger problems of the postwar world. It was easier, safer, to think about love and sex than about communism, McCarthy, and the uncontrolled bomb. It was easier to look for Freudian sexual roots in man’s behavior, his ideas, and his wars than to look critically at his society and act constructively to right its wrongs. There was a kind of personal retreat, even on the part of the most far-sighted, the most spirited; we lowered our eyes from the horizon, and steadily contemplated our own navels.

Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique

A new collection of two old novellas. 

In A GREAT ROUGH DIAMOND, Wes’s boyfriend, Charlie, is acting weird the night of a party. It might be the snow outside or their newly married best friends, or something Charlie has planned that Wes can’t even imagine. 

In COUNTRY MESSES, Matthew’s friends drag him and his dog out to a family beach house for the last weekend of the summer. Instead of peace and quiet, he finds a strange boy sleeping in what was meant to be his bed.

For one week, you can buy the collection for $1.99 at Amazon (for your Kindle) or at Gumroad (for all other file formats). 

If you haven’t yet picked up these books, now is your best chance. I’ve put them together with the extras as well to make a complete set. If you bought these books back when they were first published, thank you. Please pass it along to someone who you think might enjoy a good story.