Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Marine (Halley's Casino II) by Mark JG Fahey

Review of Halley's Casino (book 1) - HERE!

Synopsis - 

Nebula Yorker (“Neb” to his friends) finds himself on the water planet of Marine in a race to recover a long lost Triopelian Star Chart he previously never knew existed.

Along the way Neb encounters new friends and a villainous brother and sister team bent on doing whatever they must to get their hands on the star chart first – including mayhem and murder.

One cocky android, one imbibed professor, one universal(ly) renowned scientist and one ice breathing sassy Water Dragon make Neb wonder whether the past 3 years travelling with Halley’s Casino was just a peaceful lull?

Who will find the star chart first? What are the implications if Neb doesn’t? And what does a Water Moon have to do with all of this?

​John Lennon seems to know….

Review - 
Marine - book two in the Halley's Casino trilogy - opens on the watery planet of Marine following a new main character, LeBeau who is the cousin of the Prime Minister of Telvon 3, TeeceeFore.  He had just inherited the estate of an old friend, Professor Gabriel Pheet. But behind the facade of heir, he was also on a second an more dangerous mission to search for a lost Triopelian Star Chart. Several factions were desperately working to be the first to find it, so danger and intrigue surrounds him.

At the same time, we continue to follow Nebula York on Halley's Casino.  A deadly pair has landed there through misdirection on the part of the professor. They are determined to find the star chart first, and anyone in their path is in danger. When they discover they have been sent on a wild goose chase, they head back full speed to Marine. Nebula and a few others race there as well.

Although a little more serious this time around, Marine has that same madcap feel to it.  Whether on Halley's Comet, on the surface of Marine or deep in the caves under it's ocean, the plot still unexpectedly turns left on a regular basis, continuing the amusing, madcap feel found in Halley's Casino.

A moon that rising out of  the ocean, an android with an unusual sense of humour, a race evolved from tadpoles, a sentient underwater creature and of course John Lennon are just a few of the elements wound together in the plot.  Marine is a fun and easy read that is sure to bring a smile.

Meet The Author - 

Read a fab author interview HERE!

Mark JG Fahey is not an alien, contrary to what you may have heard, though he swears he has been to space. Mark has dabbled in various undertakings throughout his illustrious career, from on-air hosting/reporter/stand-up comic to messenger for the Prime Minister of Canada. Mark also holds a degree in Restaurant Services. His family and friends can attest to his excellent cooking skills. Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Mark was raised and still resides in Aylmer, Quebec, Canada.  Halley's Casino is the first book in the Halley's Casino trilogy.

​Halley's Casino: 3rd place winner in a worldwide competition with World's Best Story 2017 . Finalist and 3rd place winner with the Independent Author Network October 2018 and is also a finalist for the inaugural Canadian Book Club Awards 2018.

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Accessible Fine Dining: The Art of Creating Exciting Food in Your Everyday Kitchen by Noam Kostucki - Book Spotlight and Author Interview

The purpose of this book is not to teach you specific recipes...

Synopsis - 

Six months after opening my first restaurant, one of my dishes was selected as "25 dishes to travel around the world", featuring me next to culinary legend Heston Blumenthal.

Exciting and healthy food doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Over the years, I have seen some of the most exciting dishes come from the simplest kitchens and the most modest ingredients. The purpose of this book is to focus our attention away from the distractions of fancy kitchen equipment and luxury produce and instead focus our attention towards ingenuity in the kitchen and culinary innovation.

For some strange reason, cooking is taught in books as a series of mechanical steps to follow and repeat with precision. I see cooking as a creative art like painting or playing music: it is the freedom of expression that is most interesting to me. When we create from an artistic perspective, we give birth to something new and potentially magical.

The purpose of this book is not to teach you specific recipes, because the ingredients you will find in your local organic food market will likely not be the same as the ones we see here. Nor is the purpose to show you how to imitate us.The purpose of this book is to guide you into thinking about your dishes in a way that elevates them to a fine dining level, from ingredients which are easily accessible to you. Naturally, you will find a few recipes, but most importantly you will find a new way to look at food.

We will share how we think about food shopping, searching for unusual ingredients, the combinations of flavors, techniques, textures, nutritional value, and of course, plating. The purpose of this book is to guide you to become a more exciting, creative and adventurous version of yourself in the kitchen. What separates a craft from an art form is the story behind it; cooking is a craft, while fine dining is an art form.

If you want to create fine dining dishes, start to focus your attention on the different stories a dish can tell. Some stories can be told through your cooking, and others are told through words. Taking the time to present your dishes before people eat is crucial to creating anticipation for the food they will eat.

Buy the Book: Amazon ~ Add to Goodreads

Meet The Authors - 

Author interview with Noam Kostucki HERE!

Noam Kostucki

I was an awkward child, so I changed school 5 times. I spent most of my life trying to please others, and be the kind of person I believed everyone else wanted me to be. I wasn't happy and I struggled to get what I want. Everything changed when I started changing.

I spent the last 12 years creating the life I dream of. I've had the privilege to be homeless twice, and to speak at Harvard about entrepreneurship. I have grown to be myself more fearlessly than ever before. I am now surrounded by people I love, and who love me.

I traveled over 40 countries, and I've helped over 25,000 people create magic. For example Patryk Wezowski who raised $500,000 in 8 weeks and Esther Perel who gave the 30th most viewed TED talk. Some less public successes include a blind eyed student who experienced his blind eye for the first time and a journalist who left an abusive relationship.

HiR Fine Dining in Costa Rica by TamCam for IG

As a university drop out, I was surprised when my first book (personal branding) became required reading at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC, as well as receiving the UK Business Speaker of the Year runner up award, and a honorary degree in Business from Hofstra University. As an artist, I was honored to exhibit my photography at the European Union's Innovation Conference.

HiR Fine Dining pop up in New York

My most recent venture is HiR Fine Dining, a jungle culinary adventure. I create a discovery menu of 7 plates per person for groups of up to 12 people. HiR Fine Dining became #1 fine dining on TripAdvisor in Tamarindo within the first month. Within 6 months one of my plates was selected out of 40,000 restaurants by OpenTable as one of "25 dishes to travel around the world for". I was invited to speak at Chateau 1525, Costa Rica's most reputable cooking school and our guest chefs include a blind chef who traveled all the way the United Kingdom.

Quentin Villers

Quentin has been cooking in restaurant since the age of 18. He helped his brother build a restaurant for which they received a Michelin Star. Quentin moved to Costa Rica to consult for hotels and restaurants. He managed 3 of the 4 restaurants at Hotel Nayara in La Fortuna, for which he lead a team of over 20 people to be selected to enter Relais & Chateaux, a prestigious network of unique luxury hotels with exquisite cuisine. Quentin is a regular guest chef at HiR Fine Dining and consults for a number of fine dining restaurants in Costa Rica.

Connect with the Authors: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram 

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Interview With Noam Kostucki, Author of Accessible Fine Dining: The Art of Creating Exciting Food in Your Everyday Kitchen

Like most people, I am intrigued by the fact you never studied cooking in any manner, but decided to make a striking life change from marketing to embrace this new direction. Can you share in more depth about how the idea arose and what influenced you to throw caution to the wind, take a leap of faith and dive in the deep end?

Before I talk about how the idea arose, let’s talk about the second part of your question: what influenced my ways of living?

My grandparents are Polish Jews who were around 11-14 years old when World War 2 started. I went to a Jewish elementary school in Belgium and every year, someone’s grandparent would come and tell us how they survived the war. Every story was more unbelievable than the other. I remember an old man dressed in a suit with grey hair who started crying as he told his story. He was explaining that they had to stand up for 3 days in a line in the camps and if someone tried to sit, they’d get shot by a Nazi guard immediately. They were peeing and shitting themselves standing up, hearing friends getting shot next to them. As a result of hearing these survival stories over and over again, three things became clear to me:

1. If nobody’s out there to kill you, you’re actually doing pretty dam good!

2. If you’ve got food to eat and a roof to lay under, you’re doing awesome and better than too many people in the world

3. Some people fought really hard for us to be free

The third insight gave me a sense of responsibility: people fought really hard for us to be free to live the lives we want. From a young age, I felt it was my responsibility and thank you to previous generations to live my life freely, and somewhat “dangerously”. As a result, I’ve taken big leaps of faith many times. I changed school 5 times in Belgium, I went to university in the UK and dropped out against everyone’s advice. I moved to Poland to start a company against everyone’s advice. When the 2008 financial crisis hit I went to London against everyone’s advice, and that story repeats since my childhood.

So starting HiR Fine Dining in many ways didn’t feel like a big deal. It was part of what I do: I get an idea, I give it a try, I see how long I can run with it before I get uninterested and then I try something else. To be honest, I had no idea it would become so big. I had problems doing my business coaching calls with clients because the internet was too slow. HiR Fine Dining was only supposed to be a few months thing to keep busy and get a bit of cash while looking for a solution for the internet. It was “just” another of my crazy projects. Nobody was surprised because they’re so used to hearing that I started yet another insane project. My mum told me once something along the line of “I don’t understand most of what you do. I don’t get how it’s possible to do what you do. I would never do things the way you do and to me the way you do things seem crazy and scary. And I see that over the years you’ve been achieved amazing things and find a way to make things work. I love you, and it both stresses me out to see how you do things and I’m happy to see that somehow you achieve incredible things.”
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That touched me a lot because it was both so loving and so honest. And I know this is the case for the majority of my friends, family and people I meet.

Now for the first part of your question: the idea arose because I bought a plot of land in Costa Rica to do business coaching retreats, only to discover the fast internet was nowhere near good enough to do even just audio calls… that meant I couldn’t do my work. When I was studying civil engineering at university, I was always cooking because I was in self-catered halls of residence. Very often people commented on my food and asked why I don’t work in a restaurant. I never liked the idea of working in a restaurant because you’re stuck in a room without windows, you work crazy hours, it’s a very rigid-hierarchical-brutal environment, you never get to see clients (unless they want to make a complaint), and the pay is really not that great. So cooking in a restaurant really never appealed to me, but these comment planted the seed for the dream that one day I would have enough money to open a restaurant. I would hire a chef and that way I could contribute to idea and let the chef do his / her work.

Having lived in Costa Rica for two years, I knew that there was a food crisis there… at least from the foreigners’ perspective. Costa Rican food is OK. It’s not bad, it’s also not amazing. It’s fine. It can even be really good. But it’s not exciting. There are a couple of dishes, mostly rice and beans with a protein and a salad, but there isn’t the culinary creativity that you find in countries all over the world. So I knew that there were a lot of foreigners who live in Costa Rica and are tired of eating the same thing all the time. I knew they’d be happy to eat something different. I figured that having cooked for myself 2-3 times a day in over 10 countries for over 10 years, I could cook 7 dishes that were good enough for people who have lived here for a while. I figured I’d do this once or twice a week for a few months while I get a better internet and go back to business coaching.

I had noooooooooooooooooo idea that I would get the reviews I got, the guests chefs I got, and the international recognition. I mean, that was just crazy. That felt like a movie.

When you created your first 8 person chef's table in Costa Rico - 30 minutes from the nearest town - how did people even find out your existed? What promotion did you put out to lure them to make the trip?

I did everything online. I built the website (something I did for the first time age 15 for a medical clinic in Belgium), a Facebook page and created a tiny social media campaign. I had maybe $30 Facebooks Ads budget, I got myself on TripAdvisor and I posted every day beautiful photos of my food. I invited people I owed favors to try my dinner and give me feedback. They were all in love and very happy to write a review on TripAdvisor about their 7 course dining experience. Within a few weeks, people started making reservations. To this day, clients often joke about how they’re in the shuttle and getting concerned that they’re getting kidnapped.

Then it started spiraling: every review that came in was more extraordinary than the previous one. People weren’t just saying “yeah the food was nice”, they were writing very long reviews and saying it was the best meal of their lives. I couldn’t believe it. I still struggle to believe what I cook is as good as people write. I know what I make is good, but is it possible that it’s REALLY… THAT… good?!?! I don’t know. As long as guests continue being this happy, it’s hard to imagine not continuing.

Yesterday I hosted a little party at home. One of my friends has a shuttle service and regularly he’ll be driving my clients back and forth. Yesterday he said something that touched me a lot. He explained that when he drives people to my place, they’re mostly quiet. They don’t really know where they’re going. They’re very unsure about everything and he can feel a tension. Then on the way back, they’re always extremely happy and talkative. He said he loves driving our clients because of the change from before / after, every single time. It made me very happy.

So I didn’t ever really do any discounts or free anything. I posted photos of beautiful online and got awesome reviews. 4-5 months after starting this mad project, I got picked by OpenTable for their “25 dishes to travel around the world for” (out of 40,000 restaurants!!!). That helped build my confidence and definitely brought me more clients.

You have run an HiR Fine Dining in both Costa Rica, Los Angeles and New York. How did the experience differ between the three? The menus? What was easiest and what was most challenging in each location?

It was very different for sure. Here in Costa Rica, we’re at home. People come to our home and we get to share with them not just the food but the magical environment we live in. Our home and kitchen is all designed for the dining experience so that we can talk to guests while they eat, and they get to see us cook. We also get access to ingredients that aren’t available anywhere else in the world. We get to tell guests which ingredients come from our garden and what comes from our neighbors. That brings an element of magic that was impossible to completely recreate.

In both LA and NY, what I lacked most was contact with the guests. In Costa Rica, people feel like friends who are hanging out with us. We’re chatting through the night and having a good time. We’re so used to talking to people while we’re cooking that it was very strange to be serving food to people who we didn’t interact with. That being said, we still had amazing contacts with guests in both LA and NY. I shared stories with every dish to bring them closer to our home in Costa Rica and we would chat briefly with guests in between dishes and after the dinners. That was really nice.

In terms of menus, due to having so many unknowns and everything being done very last minute, we picked the 7 favorite dishes. Of course we adapted them to local ingredients and what we could find. In NY we went with Chef Noah to all his favorite food suppliers and he helped us pick ingredients that were most local and in season. We then created new versions of the favorites from home.

The most difficult challenge was finding fish heads and fish scales. In both locations we went to specialized fish markets and people looked at us as if we were crazy because we asked for fish heads and fish scales. In LA, the guy blanked out and said “sorry, we don’t have scales”. I pointed behind him and said “there, that guy is scaling a fish. Can you give me the scales?”. Very confused, he went to collect the scales but couldn’t find a barcode to sell them to us. In NY, when we asked for fish scales, they said they didn’t have any. Then as Chef Noah stepped in, they started going to the back rooms and seeing if they could find scales. An old Colombian lady who works there eventually shows up with two huge bags of scales. All the employees were confused and asked “what the hell is she doing with all these scales?!?!?!”. She explained that she boils them which turns them into a thick juice that’s apparently good for joints, bones and digestion.

So I now want to make a dessert with fish scale gelatine because I think it would be very cool. That’s the best things for me about this trip: meeting new people, discovering new things, having new experiences, getting surprised.

The other huge challenge was doing EVERYTHING from scratch. In most restaurants, chefs buy things like chimichurri sauce, mayonnaise or teriyaki sauce. We push to the extreme everything we make ourselves. We even oven dried our own cherry tomatoes and ground cherries rather than buying sun dried tomatoes. So making everything from scratch when you’re cooking 7 dishes is a lot of f… work!! And it all had to be done from morning because we didn’t have access to the kitchen the previous day. We started at 7am and cooked non stop until guests arrived around 7pm. Basically 11h of cooking and 1h to snack and shower. It was absolutely exhausting. And also incredibly empowering and rewarding.

Cooking in NY with Chef Noah was amazing because he’s very passionate about food, knows all the local providers and local history, he helped us pick amazing ingredients we don’t have in Costa Rica and he taught us some tricks we didn’t know. It was also amazing to have a team of people washing everything for us… OMFG that was so nice!! Here in Costa Rica, we do everything ourselves. We clean everything throughout our cooking day and while people eat and we’re cooking the next dish. And he also had a few cool gadgets that made me jealous. It was also very inspiring to see that him and his wife started small like us and that 10 years later they’ve expanded a lot and they’ve food institution in their area. That gave us something to look forward to.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’m an educator / teacher at heart. At 7 years old, our judo teacher made us teach the 5 years old. At 9 we were teaching the 7 years old, and by the age of 15, I was teaching judo to adults. As a result I became a corporate trainer, a consultant and a business coach. That lead me to write three books about personal development / growing a business. I love sharing with others what I’ve learned because not doing it feels selfish.

Over the last 2 years, I have learned soooooooooo much about cooking it blows my mind. I look at what we serve clients, and I hear myself describe the complexity of each dish and I’m like “wow, I can’t make I make this”. Friends who visited me months before I started the restaurant often comment “I ate food at your place and it was really nice… but it was nothing like that. What happened? How did you go from good to restaurant fine dining in just a few months?”

I wanted to write a book while I still remember “not being a chef”. I still remember being a home cook and how life was when I was cooking for myself two years ago. I still remember how it was to not know everything that has now become second nature. Within a few years, it’ll only be distant memory. I feel that now is the time I could write a book that is both about fine dining and about being a home cook. I guess that in a way, it’s a book for myself three years ago. There’s a lot of things I didn’t know I didn’t know. I didn’t realize that a lot of restaurants “secrets” are actually very accessible, and that if only someone had told me / showed me, my home cooking would have improved a lot more. I figured that someone is where I was and would be happy to learn these things. I hope that it helps readers think about cooking in a different way and makes their dining experience at home more memorable.

In looking through the book I was intrigued, but also overwhelmed. I wasn't exposed me to a wide variety of food growing up nor had money to travel very far. It feels like these 2 things heavily influenced your food journey. For those like me without that wealth of exposure, what are the simplest baby steps we can take to begin?

I was very privileged to have the upbringing I had and I know that the way I was brought up is not the norm. Through my experiences, I have also learned that the best food is very often not the most expensive. That’s actually something I repeat over and over in the book because it is core to my belief and the way we cook. The reason I started to cook is because I got to university in the UK and on a student budget, I couldn’t eat out like I was used to with my parents.

My shopping mainly happened at the reduced sections: the food that was discounted because it had to be used with 24h, the food discounted because the packaging was damaged and the food discounted because it was sold in bulk / special offers. I would find the best deals and make sure I had proteins, vegetables, and carbs. I would go back home and google “recipes with brussel sprouts” or “recipes with chicken liver”. I would scroll through a bunch of recipes and try to mix and match. I made a lot of mistakes and I made some awful dishes. But a lot was actually fine. And the more mistakes I made, the faster my cooking improved.

My answer to the last friend who asked “how did you go from cooking nice food to cooking fine dining restaurant quality food” was “Masterchef” and “Chef’s Table”.

And that’s the truth. I watched every day episodes of both series, and I made myself do the stuff I saw on screen. I would search on Google for ways of doing things I saw on screen and gave it a try. So for someone who doesn’t have much money nor exposure, I would recommend:

Watch “Masterchef”, “Chef’s Table”, “Julie & Julia”, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, “42 Grams” because they’ll give you inspiration and open your mind to completely different ways of thinking. Watching these series and documentaries will give you new ideas of what is possible and what can be done with very little.

My motto in the kitchen is “elevating waste into gold”. Put a post-it on your kitchen wall or fridge that says “turning waste into gold” so that you remember that magic is NOT buying expensive ingredients. Magic in the kitchen is taking cheap stuff and making them into something extraordinary. Don’t be afraid to buy the discounted stuff at the store: I love a great deal, and I often think about what I can cook based on ingredients on offer. You would be crazy not to! Get out of your head that amazing food has to cost a lot of money.

Google recipes and give it a try. Things often seem more complicated than they really are. Give yourself an afternoon or evening to try a recipe. Best is to do this with a friend or partner and make it a fun time together. When you make cooking fun, it becomes something you want to do more of.

Finally, this is what hoping to help with through the book “Accessible Fine Dining”. The most important part of the book for me are the challenges I suggest. Every chapter has a few challenges that for reader to try something different with their cooking.

I enjoyed the handwritten opening and at dotted throughout your book. Why did you choose to include handwritten pieces in certain places?

HiR stands for “him” and “her”. It represents the integration of opposites. In everything I do, I thrive to integrate opposites. When working with other artists and creators, I don’t tell them what to do, all I do is to give them a sense of what HiR means, then I let them create. I didn’t specifically ask the designer to write by hand. I explained to him what life was like here and how we integrate rustic and handmade stuff with the use of high tech stuff and luxury presentation. I explained to him that I wanted the book to integrate different styles and genres. I wanted the book to feel like it comes from the jungle, with a McGiver feel to it… and at the same time something that feels beautiful and elegant. I also explained to him how a lot of what we do tastes amazing because we simply take the time to do things other people are not willing to do (eg. simmer a tomato sauce for 8h until it becomes absolutely delicious). For the first prototype he wrote different things by hand and both Nadia and I felt in love with the idea right away. I’m very happy that David Tomaszewski brought his touch on integrating opposites and took the time to do what other won’t do.

You have eaten widely and cooked so many intriguing dishes. Is there one dish (or two) that stand out in your memory as top favourites?

I think that my two most memorable dishes are (1) the trilingual ceviche and (2) grandma’s octopus.

The trilingual ceviche is a pesto ceviche I first made 4 years ago. It happened “by accident” while I was cooking for myself. For the past few years of living in Costa Rica, it’s something I’ve served so many friends because everyone was in love with it, especially Costa Rican… which I have to be honest, made me feel very proud. I knew it was a very nice dish so I elevate a bit the presentation but essentially it is 95% the same as I did originally for myself. When the michelin star chef came to try my food during the first month of opening, every dish he complimented and suggested small improvements. That’s the one he stopped for and said “I’m sorry, I’m going to have to steal this”. And that same dish was selected by OpenTable for the “25 dishes to travel around the world for”. I removed that dish from the menu after about a year, then six months later did it again because I missed it and from the first night it was again the favorite. This is the only dish from my very first menu that we still serve almost 100% the way it was done the very first time. This dish is very humbling for me because it reminds me that sometimes the simplest things are the best.

Grandma’s octopus is my second most memorable because it’s the scariest dish I ever served. I don’t really like octopus because it’s chewy. So I wanted to cook it for a very, very, very long time until it became really, really, really soft. I had some organic Costa Rican coffee a friend left me and I don’t drink coffee. I don’t like coffee in anything. I don’t eat tiramisu because it has coffee. For some weird unexplainable reason, that day I decided to cook the octopus in coffee. I remember talking to myself and asking myself “why would I cook something I won’t like?” and answering to myself “People love coffee and it’s not all about you: the most important is that others like it”. So I cooked the octopus for 8h in coffee, cacao powder and turmeric. Why that combination? I have no idea. I have never heard of it before, and I had no idea what it would taste like. I decided that because it was called “grandma’s” octopus, it needed something rustic and grandmaish… which is how I came up with a rustic butternut squash mash with smoked Costa Rican cheese. I mixed the two together and I was surprised to like it. I remember being actually VERY surprised that it wasn’t disgusting. I didn’t think it was amazing, but I thought it was definitely interesting enough to serve. There was something that wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t know what. When it was time to serve that dish, I was (forgive myself) shitting myself. Last minute, I drizzled a bit of teriyaki sauce I had made the previous with flor de cana rum and served it. While carrying the plates I thought to myself “WTF?!?! Why ruin something that was OK with something you haven’t even tried?!?! I can’t believe I’m so stupid! Dam it!!”. While they were eating, I was preparing myself to explain why the dish wasn’t that great. Going to pick up the plates felt like the walk of shame. I knew I had messed up and everyone said it was the best octopus they’ve ever had, and by far the best dish of the night. I ran back inside and tried it all together. I remember thinking it was nice, but I didn’t get why they were so excited. I served the same the next day and got the same response. I then served myself a full plate of it and fell in love. I couldn’t believe how tasty it was. Every since, it’s been one of the two favorites with the pesto ceviche. I still can’t believe I made that dish and I still can’t believe people love it as much as they do.

What are your plans and goals for the next few years? Will you continue to explore creating fine dining experiences, will there be more books or do you feel the siren call of a new direction?

Fine dining is definitely going to be a big part of the next few years. One of the new aspects is doing private dinners in the USA during the low season in Costa Rica. That will give us a nice opportunity to cook in different places, with different produce, different chefs, meet different people and travel.

Cooking like we do is extremely physically demanding and I can see how within a year or so, I’d love us to start getting more help in the kitchen and eventually find other chefs to take over the kitchen most of the time. I’d love to get more guest chefs. I’m not sure of the way things will work out, but I imagine something like having other chefs cook 5 days a week and I would cook 2 nights a week for example. That would feel less demanding, and also give me more space to do other things.

I want to go back to doing more business coaching, and invest my time in other projects. One of the newest projects that’s very close to my heart is called “HiR Transcenders”. It’s a business coaching program supported by a network of investors exclusively for transgender and non-binary entrepreneurs. You can read more about this here: www.hirtranscenders.com

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Halley's Casino by Mark JG Fahey

Review of Marine (book 2) HERE!

Halley’s Casino is set in 1986. 26-year old Nebula Yorker (Neb to his friends), is patiently awaiting the return of Halley’s Comet. He is about to discover that the world is not what it seems.

Synopsis -

Upon the arrival of Halley’s Comet, Neb is confronted by a mysterious stranger who literally swoops out of the night sky. What happens next will change the course of Neb’s life and that of all he befriends.

This stranger (Mr. Tict) reveals to Neb that Halley’s is not a comet at all, but an Intergalactic Casino that has been posing as a comet for countless years. Mr. Tict is the Concierge of the Casino and he has come back to Earth to recruit Neb as his assistant.

What happens next is an eye-opening experience for young Neb that no one on Earth can imagine. It can only be explained by watching old Star Trek reruns, while eating cheese sandwiches and drinking hot chocolate. From androids with attitude to a vast assortment of alien beings and historic individuals, with a touch of time travel from ancient Babylon to 1757 London and back to Rome of 12 BCE, Neb soon learns that his past, present and future have always lain in the stars above.

It’s a rock and roll ride chock full of chaos, a formidable nemesis, drama, satire, humour, death and new beginnings, with revelations that Neb never saw coming.

Even John Lennon is amused!

Starting out on a quiet evening of star gazing, Nebula Yorker finds himself caught up in the most extraordinary time travel and planet saving adventure of a lifetime.

​And that’s only the beginning of what is to come.

Review - 

I was first introduced to SciFi comedy - a definite sub genre in the SciFi category - through The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (a 5 part trilogy) and fell in love.  It's always great to find a new author offering new titles to enjoy. So I dove into book one and two of Mark JG Faheys Halley's Casino trilogy (book three is schedule to be released in the fall) enthusiastically. I was ready for fun and laughter and wasn't disappointed.

In Halley's Casino (book 1), we meet the cast of this fun and crazy romp, and what a crazy diverse bunch they are.  The main character - Nebula Yorker - is out stargazing when his life changes completely and irrevocably. Everything turns left in an instant. A stranger appears while he is in a dark field viewing Halley's comet and whisks him away to the inside of the comet. That's right the inside.  It turns out the comet is actually a casino disguised as a comet moving through the universe and filled with alien races.  A cool twist here is that the intelligent core running this casino alters the aliens into a human type form on arrival for convenience.

What follows is a wild, humorous and sometimes dangerous romp that includes an appearance by The Rolling Stones, time travel, an eminent threat to the casino, conversations with John Lennon and, over the course of the book, the discovery by Nebula of not only the mystery of his parent's disappearance, but the truth of who HE really is.

A fun read with lots of twist and turns. I look forward to the third book in this trilogy.

Buy Halley's CasinoAmazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ iTunes ~ Chapters-Indigo Add to Goodreads

Meet the Author - 

Read a fab author interview HERE! 

Mark JG Fahey is not an alien, contrary to what you may have heard, though he swears he has been to space. Mark has dabbled in various undertakings throughout his illustrious career, from on-air hosting/reporter/stand-up comic to messenger for the Prime Minister of Canada. Mark also holds a degree in Restaurant Services. His family and friends can attest to his excellent cooking skills. Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Mark was raised and still resides in Aylmer, Quebec, Canada.  Halley's Casino is the first book in the Halley's Casino trilogy.

​Halley's Casino: 3rd place winner in a worldwide competition with World's Best Story 2017 . Finalist and 3rd place winner with the Independent Author Network October 2018 and is also a finalist for the inaugural Canadian Book Club Awards 2018.

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

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Interview with Mark JG Fahey, author of Halley's Casino Casino and Marine (Halley's Casino Book 2)

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author?

The love of writing in something that is ingrained in my DNA from an early age I was creating and dreaming up stories. We had this 1912 Remington typewriter were my brothers and I would write up fake news stories before fake news was a thing and were talking late 1960's. Though my brothers ceased doing so I branched out into poetry, lyrics & short stories and finally writing two books to date and the 3rd one in progress. Thus began my aspirations. It took awhile but I accomplished my goal at age 54, the first book that is.

How does the writing process work for you? Do you schedule a time every day, work madly when inspiration hits or ?

I love to start writing in the mornings if I can, though it does not matter what time of day. But when I start I cannot let go. Sometimes I wonder where it all comes from especially when I get on a roll. Of course I start out with an outline but then it seems it has a life of its own, it's hard to explain. Inspiration hits most times when I am not at the keyboard but I jot down notes so as not to forget. Paper and pen are always nearby and a must!

Where did the inspiration for the Halley's Casino trilogy come from and for all the unique species and characters that populate these books?

It just hit me one day out of nowhere. " What if Halley's Comet wasn't really a comet at all but an intergalactic casino?" It just took off from there, literally.

The lead character of Nebula Yorker (Neb to his friends) had been kicking around with me for over 20 years in various other stories, he fit perfectly into this adventure. As for all the other characters they too came out of nowhere though the character of TeeceeFore the President of the planet Telvon 3 was named for mother, her nickname is TC, she's not a alien :-) 

As an author - what do you enjoy most about writing/publishing process? What feels like a chore?

The creating part is FUN FUN Fun when you see it all coming together and the ever evolving structure one has discovered when seen on paper or on screen.

Review HERE!
I have learnt so much over the years regarding the writing/publishing process good and bad, but once one gains all this experience it falls nicely into place that I have able to help out others on their journey, the do's and don'ts and the why's.

As an indie author it can be a chore, you're the chief cook and bottle washer, it can be a tough slough but I have found it to be very rewarding though I would not turn down a publishing contract should one come my way which of course on am always on the lookout for. (know any) :-)

With such a large cast of characters and several locations, how do you keep the story line consistent not only in one book, but throughout the trilogy?

In my mind I always knew where I was going with the story in the 1st book, though to be honest a trilogy was not what I had in mind, it only came to light in the last ten pages or so with Halley's Casino and then again the rest came out of nowhere. I saw the next two books just fall into my lap so to speak. How could I stop! And being a trilogy many of the story lines need to be connected and resolved which does leave me going back and forth to make sure everything lines up or else I am in trouble.

Some issues were resolved in the second book from the first but not all and likewise with the second will be resolved in the third and those unresolved from the first and second will be nicely tied up in the third...Phew! With a little wiggle room for a fourth but you did not that that from me!

Humorous Sci-Fi is a really unique genre I first stumbled across when I read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series and I'm always looking for more. Do you have some favourite titles of your own in this genre that you loved reading?

Yes, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, a fine trilogy in 5 books :-) Some reviewers have so honoured my style and books to Douglas Adams the author of Hitchhikers. I am very humbled to have been liken to him.

Of course I did not start out to copy Douglas in any way, shape or form but what is inspiration if one cannot be inspired? Of course Monty Python, The Max Brothers for example inspire me along with many others.

Now with that being said I am not implying that my body of work is greater or none greater than Mr. Adams or that somehow Douglas's spirit entered me when he hopped a freighter off world, that would be crazy, Douglas stood 6 feet 5 inches tall I am only 5 feet 7 inches tall, the math does not work out, for one thing his feet would be very cramped in my size 8 (38-39) shoe.
Review coming 01-15
There is one set of humorous sci fi/fantasy books that I have had enjoyed reading in the past. The Myth Adventures starting with "Another Fine Myth" by Robert Lynn Asprin.

Very enjoyable reading. Or The Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrsion which again some have liken my wit too. To be even mentioned in the company of these writers is humbling to say the least.

When can readers expect to see the third book in this trilogy released? Can you give us any sort of teaser about the plot?

I am shooting for August 2019. I am about 50% completed. The title for the 3rd book is (drum roll please)... "Return Trip" - Halley's Casino III

Teaser? Hmm? Spoilers? :-)

The second book Marine - Halley Casino II ends with...

Let's just say that a good villain never dies they're just too hard to get rid of or close off :-) almost.

Lastly, do advice for aspiring authors wanting to write books in this genre?
  • Stick to what you know.
  • Be you without trying to be someone else.
  • If your funny, the funny will come out.
  • If you're not funny you will soon know, especially... if your book turns to be a Harlequin romance novel.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Cantonese Style Black Pepper Beef

I was perusing the Wednesday edition of the Vancouver Sun newspaper - the edition that always has a section devoted to recipes - and stumbled across this.  It's very different than what I think of as a Pepper Beef dish as it contains both regular and sweet potatoes, so you don't serve it over rice.  I was instantly intrigued and it's going on the menu tonight. Just headed out to the store to pick up the ingredients.

This recipe is credited to Christopher Kimball and is from his latest cookbook called Milk Street: Tuesday Nights. In the article notes they offer that the dish can wait in the refrigerator for a couple days - just add the fresh herbs at the last minute. Perfect. 

I also love one-dish meals, especially as all my kids are grown and moved out.  It's just two of us now so it's great when recipes can be easily divided in half to cover 2 night's meals. It's also a bonus when there is only one pan to clean up. 

If this recipes turns out as amazing, I will definitely be picking up a copy for my cookbook shelf. If you try it let me know what you think as well. I will definitely add my notes in a few days.

UPDATE - After reading this recipe carefully and making it myself I made some changes. I left the preparation the same, but the order of how things were fried to a way that made more sense to me. I have adjust below to reflect my preference.  In the original they did beef, then potatoes, then onion/pepper.  I didn't feel this would cook the onion enough for my taste and cooking the beef last leaves the pan very clean until the last step, so changed the order to onion, peppers, potatoes and lastly beef.  This dish was tasty and filling.  A rethink of Cantonese in a western style dish. 

= = = =

Cantonese Style Black Pepper Beef 
Serves: 4

Ingredients - 

3 T            Grapeseed or other neutral oil - separated
3T             Soy sauce -divided
5               Medium garlic cloves, finely grated
4 tsp          Finely grated, fresh ginger root
2 tsp          Cornstarch 
Kosher or coarse salt 
Coarsely ground pepper
1 lb.          Beef sirloin tips or other tender cut, patted dry, in 1-inch pieces 
3               Medium Yukon gold potatoes, in 1-inch pieces (3 cups)
1               Large yam, in 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
1               Medium onion, chopped 
1               Red, Yellow or Orange bell pepper, in 1/2-inch pieces
6 T           Chopped fresh coriander/cilantro - divided

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 T of the oil and the soy sauce,garlic, ginger, cornstarch and 1 tsp pepper. Toss the beef with 2 T of the soy sauce mixture, then let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Whisk 3 tbsp water into the remaining soy sauce mixture and set aside.

In a medium microwave safe bowl, toss the two kinds of potatoes with 1 tsp salt. Cover and microwave on high until almost tender to the fork, stirring halfway through. It's important not to overcook here as they are going to be fried later. Set potatoes aside. 

In a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat, add 1 T Oil and swirl to coat. Add the onion and cook until almost tender.  Add the peppers and continue cooking until onion is soft and peppers are cooked but still slightly crisp. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Add 1 T of Oil and swirl to coat pan.  Add potatoes in a single layer (if they don't fit, I would suggest fyring in 2 batches). Cook, gently flipping every minute or so, until browned on several sides.  This doesn't have to be perfect, just a bit of brown on the pieces.  Remove from pan and set aside with onion and pepper. Note don't overwork potatoes as you don't want them to get mushy.

Add 1 T of oil to pan and add beef in a single layer. Again, if your pan is too small, do this in 2 batches. Cook beef turning every minute, until well browned and cooked through. Lower heat to medium and stir in reserved soy sauce mixture. Cook, turning gently, until juices have reduced slightly and ingredients are well coated.

Add onion, pepper and potatoes, sprinkle with 1/4 tsp pepper and 5 T of the coriander and gently mix until all ingredients are evenly combined.

Serve, sprinkled with remaining 1 tbsp coriander/cilantro.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Interview with Vaneesha Advani of Designs by Sonia and Kapade Fashion Labels

Designer/Store Owner Vaneesha Advani
with fashion icon Iris Apfel!
Please share with readers a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming a jewellery designer.

I was a clothing designer by profession, but somewhere it all changed. The journey started when I was visiting my family in Accra, Ghana, West Africa in 2007, a year after I had moved to Netherlands. It was the materials I saw in Ghana which influenced and inspired me. Usually when change takes place it is rather organic, at least that has always been my experience. The materials and craftsmanship both impressed me. Initially I started to bring in the raw materials from Africa - mainly beads - and would finish everything in my workshop in Eindhoven using Italian leather.

My first collection which I took to Paris Fashion Week was a success with the Japanese clients. Before I knew it, I was producing and designing jewelry. Once my designs were accepted by the buyers, I continued expanding my jewelry line and adding new materials. That is why I use a lot of linen ribbons, Japanese yarns and leather in my collection.

How would you describe your jewellery line - aesthetic, materials, inspiration, palette, etc.? Who do you see wearing your designs?

I am inspired by sculptures, bells, water pots, masks, paintings, abstract art - anything which fascinates me. I find a way of making it happen. Of course things don't always turn out the way I want to, but when I see them year later, I find them rather fascinating. On the other, hand I also don’t get attached to any of my designs.

The best way to describe my pieces would be as wearable art. The pieces are a mix of contemporary as well as classic - a mix of old and new.  Somehow I have managed to make old pieces look new and new pieces look old. All are statement pieces, worn by women who are rather bold and not afraid to stand out.

Congrats on the grand opening of your new boutique Kapade Fashion Labels (101-440 West Hastings) - "KAPADE meaning clothes - a new clothing concept". Can you please share more about how you came to open Kapade?

Actually Kapade was a fluke.  It is not something I planned, but now I am here and I am growing into it everyday. It is quite a different experience. Usually I am the one going to the shows and presenting my Jewellery. This time I am on the other side. The change is a bit unsettling and nerve wracking because it is new to me. On the other-hand, I am also excited about the unknown.

Once I decided I was going to take the store, buying it was easy. I curated all the designers for it. I knew most of them personally and as well a professionally through the showroom in Paris where my collection. Deciding what to buy was the most exciting experience. I am grateful to designers who, despite being very busy, produced the pieces for me and delivered just on time before the store opened. I guess that was my advantage of knowing almost all of them personally. Otherwise I would have had to place an order 6 months in advance.

Who is your target client?

I would say starting age anywhere from 30-60's but it depends, since age is just a number. These women are worldly. They take interest in world events, theatre, arts, politics , etc. In nutshell, they are well travelled, ageless, progressive and are not afraid to stand out.

The store offers "Exclusive clothing and accessories from European fashion labels and New York fashion label exclusive to Kapade." What exclusive labels are featured in Kapade?

The labels offered are -
  • Mutsaers from Netherlands - known for their high quality handmade handbags and one of the oldest companies in Netherlands. I know them personally as I used to use their leather for my jewelry.
  • Elementum - known for seamless dresses which are multifunctional.
  • Ablesia - an industrial designer/product designer. Therefore her garments have an interesting edge to them.
  • Nrk from New York - has interesting shapes to her garments. Very Japanese,
  • Uli Rapp from Netherlands - works with textiles. She screen prints chains and beads, giving them the illusion of chains and beads. Extremely lightweight, playful and luxurious at the same time. Statement pieces for sure
  • Designs By Sonia (my label) - the pieces are more like wearable art and mini sculptures. 
Almost all of these labels are sold worldwide in galleries and high end retail stores.

Where can readers find out about upcoming store events or new labels arriving?

Definitely on the store's Facebook and Instagram pages for now, but I will be announcing the next move soon.

Links -

Vancouver Fashion Week SS19 - Interview With Designer Shamsha Hashwani

Editorial images provided by Shamsha Hashwani
Runway images courtesy of Simon Lau

Please share a bit about your journey to embrace fashion design as a career.

Like many individuals, I had my own passion growing up and it was fashion. I was often called the “fashionista” of the family. I enjoyed dressing up, collecting magazines and flipping through pages and pages of fashion articles. However, the thought of pursuing anything had never come to mind until much later in my life.

When I grew up, I got married and moved to Pakistan. My family, especially my kids were my focus, my world. Once my kids went off to university, I had more time on my hands and I had the opportunity to focus on myself. I wondered, what if I tested the market and introduced a clothing line of my own? Without much hesitation and lots of enthusiasm I went for it! Of course – I could not have done it without the support of my family and close friends who believed in me every step of the way. 

How did you learn your skills?

I never studied fashion design, nor do I have any prior experience in the fashion industry before I launched my fashion brand. I have always been inspired and passionate about fashion. I am self-taught, and through my experiences I have learned and grown both professionally and personally.

 What comes easiest for you as a designer? What is hardest?

What comes easiest to me as a designer is creating a myriad of looks for a specific collection. However, what I find not necessarily the hardest, but the most time consuming is selecting the final looks for production. I create each look based on the collection theme, design concept and mood board. Selecting the final picks is one of the most tedious parts of the process as I go through a series of questions, debates, suggestions and alterations with my team. This process gives us the opportunity to conceptualize the collection down to the details and ensure its cohesiveness.

 Where do you find inspiration for new collections? How important is colour to your design process?

Because of my passion to create, I am constantly (many times subconsciously) taking inspiration from my everyday life activities (as cliché as it may be). For example, visiting the mosque and feeling inspired by the marble designs on the floor or the architecture - paying attention to design elements I have never noticed before or am noticing differently.

Combining colours is one of my favourite and essential steps when designing. Having alluring colours that complement each other plays a vital role that sets the tone for an entire piece. 

Readers would love to know more about the current collection you showed at Vancouver Fashion Week.

“This collection is very close to my heart as it is a tribute to my late-mother, Shanaz. Shanaz symbolizes love, compassion, integrity, courage and endurance. My mother was my support, my mentor, my best friend”.

Shanaz was an artist; this collection is inspired by her paintings depicting beautiful flowers, hence, the designs are specifically focused on floral embroidery. Textural embroidery techniques include 3D embellishments, beadwork, wasli motifs and intricate thread work.

The 16-piece collection features contemporary silhouettes ranging from glamorous jumpsuits, bejeweled gowns, and a modern twist to Shamsha Hashwani’s signature design aesthetics. The pieces redolent of old world and contemporary culture are crafted with silk, chiffon, georgette and jamawar, on a colour palette of gem colours.

“This is my tribute to Shanaz, my memories of her and my never ending love for her”.

My fav look in this whole collection is the one-shoulder shown on the far right above. Just wow!

 Do you have a favorite look in this collection?

One of my favorite looks in this collection is the “Fusion Saree”. It is an amalgamation of both eastern and western styles. A blouse imbued with striking silver embroidery (what we refer to as zardozi detailing), paired with contrasting colored, embroidered pants. For the final touch, the outfit is styled with one of my signature, hand crafted and intricately worked shawls.

Where can readers purchase your designs?

My designs are available at my boutique in Karachi, Pakistan. However, for international clientele, my designs are also available on my website and social media platforms – Instagram and Facebook. We deliver worldwide.

What's next for you as a designer and your brand? 

This season I will be launching my latest winter collection, which will also be available online for purchase. Furthermore, in the year 2019 I will be participating in my next fashion show in Pakistan. Stay tuned on social media for more! 

What advice do you have for young fashion artists just beginning their journey to become designers?

The advice that I would like to share with young designers is to remind them to stay true to themselves as artists. Realize your strengths and focus on them to improve them further. I realized that my strengths as an artist are my attention to detail and my colour combinations. I continue to focus on those strengths and today I am known for those qualities which stand out about my brand.

The process of designing is a step by step learning experience so it is important not to spread yourself too thin and lose focus. Set a goal and work backwards to create a strategy as to how to accomplish your goal. Do remember that not everything will go as expected or as you wished for, which is completely alright and sometimes essential for your learning. Most importantly, enjoy the journey of self realization and self expression.