A couple of weeks ago, this paper introduced you to my recently published book, “STOCKED: Flavor Bombs & Staples for Your Kitchen.” Let me tell you a little more about what it took for me to become an author.
The Inspiration: About two years ago, I was an invited guest on a podcast. The host, Florine Mark, is one of the founding influences of WW (formerly Weight Watchers). As a young mother of five in the early 60s, Florine tried all the weight loss advice and products available at the time. Crazy fad diets and ultimately, diet pills, didn’t work and were dangerous. She discovered the fledgling Weight Watchers program in New York and flew there once a month from Detroit until she reached her goal weight.
Thrilled with her success and finally able to keep her eating and weight under control, Florine helped the organization create their franchise system, ultimately becoming the world’s largest owner of WW franchises. She had overwhelming success in business at a time when women were not typically welcome in upper-level corporate positions. Today she is a motivational speaker, a generous philanthropist, and the beloved matriarch of her large family.
So, how did I get invited to her podcast? My sister-in-law is the Executive Producer who grew Florine’s podcast from a local weekly AM radio show to a nationally popular program. Florine focuses on all things related to wellness and health. I pitched an idea for my appearance. My SIL never mentioned our relationship; Florine accepted my pitch. She asked this question: “Why don’t I ever have what I need to fix dinner? I have a kitchen full of food, but I always seem to need to run to the store for something.”
I had barely started preparing for the podcast when I had that Ah-Hah moment — that light bulb when I realized that there was much more to say about this topic than could be covered in a half-hour conversation. I started writing and 30 days later, I had the first draft of a book.
This is my 63rd column over four years for this paper. Writing a 1,500-word article and an original recipe every month, on a deadline, has improved my writing dramatically. It helped me find my voice and honed my philosophy about ingredients and cooking.
When I’m working on my Israelite articles, I edit each piece three times — for accuracy, length, and consistency. Although STOCKED went through many more than three edits, I applied everything I’ve learned through my work with The Israelite. Without this monthly column, I would not have written the book.
Surprise! No one is more surprised than I am that my first book is not about strict kosher cooking or Jewish dishes. Over the years I created several book outlines that are still collecting digital dust somewhere on an old hard drive. But this book had to be the first. It’s the culmination of my life’s experience that shaped my perspective, my style, and my passion for cooking and eating great food.
In August 2021, I took a driving trip back east; along the way we visited my oldest child, Margalit, and their partner, plus several dear friends. I asked everyone to read through the very rough book draft and offer honest feedback. My first readers included experienced, confident cooks with whom I have shared many meals and nervous new cooks. Some are super foodies; others just eat to live.
I listened to them react and comment to themselves as they read. I heard them say things like: “Oooo. I didn’t know that!” And “Ah-Hah. So that’s what THAT means.” I heard snickers and giggles. All the reactions I was hoping for.
I wanted this book to appeal to both ends of the home-cook spectrum: people who don’t like to cook and aren’t good at it, and people who love to cook and try new things. The reactions from my first readers told me I met that goal.
Write, rewrite. Design, redesign: I returned home with all their comments, questions, and suggestions. Over the next six months, I expanded the outline, added chapters, did research, and reorganized the material. This second draft started to include consistent text styles, color coding, charts, and pictures.
I sent this draft only to Margalit. I know I can count on them for brutally honest and constructive criticism. Over the years, I have read and edited more of Margalit’s professional work than I can remember. Now Margalit had the editor’s pen, and it wasn’t pretty. But they were right, especially about design.
When publishing a book, the author must have legal rights to all the artwork, so I used my own photographs. The quality was okay, but the style, lighting, and scale were inconsistent. Margalit said they were both inadequate and dated. And my page design was dated as well. Margalit offered to create black and white line drawings to replace my photos and developed a color palette and font style guide, which I followed.
Filling in Content: It took a couple of months to put everything into the new format. Margalit was finishing graduate school and could work on my drawings only as time allowed, which gave me time to have another set of readers review the book. Their comments came back and got folded into the next draft. Another suggestion from Margalit pushed me to rethink the introduction. Solidifying that context put the whole book on the right path towards completion.
I read through it several times myself and realized there were some holes in the information, so I added two entirely new sections and did some major reorganizing. I met an artist once who told me that one of the keys to being great is knowing when to stop. Keeping that in mind, I did one final reorganization and stopped adding content.
Twelve Drafts: All together, I wrote 12 drafts. I sent the book out for more reviews to friends with specific points of view. One is a chef; I asked her to read for accuracy. An English professor read for grammar and consistency. And finally, I have a friend whose superpower is finding typos. I asked her to copy edit, looking for typos, extra spaces, etc. and making sure all the page references were right.
I chose to self-publish with an online company that offers print-on-demand. That means that when you order a book, it’s printed just for you and shipped directly from the publisher to your home. I keep a small inventory at home, but I didn’t have to order any minimum number, like 500 or 1,000 books.
What’s in STOCKED? The first half is about Shopping. It explains ingredients — which you need, which you don’t, and which are worth paying a little more for. It starts with a section about Flavor Bombs — those ingredients and techniques that make your cooking better, without adding a lot of salt or sugar. And I explain how to read a package label — front and back, including all the symbols, claims, and nutritional information.
The second half of the book explains what to do with the ingredients you STOCKED up on. It includes ideas for meal planning and formulas that show you how to make several dishes with the same ingredients. I also explain how to make substitutions if you’re missing an ingredient, so you don’t have to run to the store.
And finally, there is a small section of some core recipes; things I make frequently and base recipes that help you get a meal on the table quickly.
If you’re inclined to buy my book for yourself or as a gift, please go to my website.
Serves 4 to 8 depending on size and the rest of the menu.
Sometimes, I use fish scraps for this. When I buy a side of salmon or pieces of fish that are uneven, I cut away the thinner parts and throw them in the freezer. When I have enough, I make cakes. You can use all salmon, all other fish types, or a combination.
Make small cakes as a first course or larger ones as a main. Use a scoop or spoon to measure out 2- or 4-ounce servings. Roll each serving into a ball; then flatten and press the sides to create a hockey puck shape. This helps them cook evenly throughout. Depending on their size and the rest of the menu, you can cook them entirely in a pan on the stove or just brown them in the pan and finish them on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.
Serve with sides, on top of a green salad, or on a bun and with any sauce you like such as tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, BBQ sauce, or Ranch dressing.
About 1 LB salmon or other fish or a combination, chopped roughly
¼ C bread or cracker crumbs
1 very small onion (about 2 TBSP diced)
½ bell pepper, any color, diced
2 TBSP fresh dill, chopped (or substitute any fresh herb you like or 1 TBSP dried herbs)
Salt & pepper
¼ C bread or cracker crumbs for coating
2-3 TBSP neutral oil or butter for frying
1. Put all ingredients except extra crumbs & oil in bowl of food processor. Pulse until well combined.
2. Form into cakes; carefully coat each cake with extra crumbs.
You can prepare the cakes up to this point and refrigerate to cook later. Chilling for at least half an hour helps them firm up and hold their shape.
3. In a non-stick pan, on medium to medium high, heat the oil until a pinch of the fish mixture begins to sizzle. Add the cakes to the pan.
4. Adjust heat so that cakes are sizzling slightly, but oil isn’t smoking. Cook on one side until golden brown; then carefully flip the cakes and brown the other side.
5. Cook until interior reaches about 140 degrees. For larger cakes, after browning, move to a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for about 8 to 10 minutes to finish cooking.