Monday, March 7, 2011

Rise of the Whiskey Titans

My new novel won't be ready to send to an agent (that I still don't have) until June 2011, so this posting is a little pre-mature. However, because I mentioned it a the previous post, I thought I should give you some idea what it is all about.

It is the story of a small group of Canadian strongmen who organize to smuggle whiskey into the United States during prohibition in the 1920s. However, because they despise the psychopathic killers that proliferate organized crime, they team up with a small whiskey gang and go head-to-head with the Buffalo mafia. In doing so they precipitate a blood bath that engulfs the underworld on both sides of the border.

If you can help find an agent for the book, please contact me.

Down by the Railroad Tracks


'Down by the Railroad Tracks' is a fascinating look at life in Northern Ontario, as seen from the eyes of a child living in abject poverty through the recession-stricken 1930s.

Author Cal Smith's gift for captivating story-telling brought him outstanding acclaim for his first book, 'When Devil Fish Come Out To Play' published in 2009. He weaves the same mix of adventure, humor, and historical fact into this unique look at his family's struggle to survive on the outskirts of North Bay, next door to one of Canada's largest hobo jungles, during the 'Great Depression'.

In 1929, when Cal's father met his younger brother's bride-to-be, for the first time, only a few hours before the wedding, the two of them fell instantly in love and ran away together, leaving Gordon weeping at the altar.

Herman and Ruth crossed the border into the U.S. and were married in Niagara Falls. The author was born the following August, the first year of the 'Dirty Thirties'. It's hard to understand what could have prompted their return to North Bay to face the scorn and hatred of their parents and siblings, and endure the extreme financial hardships that would force them into the city's worst slums.

(That question prompted me to speculate and resulted in a new gangster novel, yet unpublished, called "Rise of the Titans")

Down by the Railroad Tracks is a dog's breakfast of stories about bullying railroad cops, quicksand, shadflies, the Dionne quintuplets, a one-eyed, one legged fisherman and his one-room poker palace, a budding serial killer, and 'honey wagons'. The result is a highly entertaining book, that transports the reader to a time and place that few people living today -- even those who lived there, but on the 'right' side of the tracks -- have ever seen or imagined.

Available from Amazon.com

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Experiment gone wrong

My three sons all swear that I burn everything I cook. It's not true. Maybe the toast is too dark, the egg yolks too hard, and the steaks kind of leathery, but I seldom serve anything that's actually burned.

I'm really a very good cook, but I'm a 'multi-tasker' and sometimes after I put a pot of rice or spaghetti on the burner, I get involved with something else while I'm waiting for it to cook. I don't use mechanical timers because my nose tells be when it's done. I am particularly sensitive to the smell of smoke and can usually get to the stove in time to salvage the stuff in the top-half of the pot. Anything burned on the bottom is too hard to scrape off anyway, and I swear I never serve food that has even the slightest tinge of brown.

That's what happened yesterday. During the process of making okara I got distracted a bit by my computer after I had put a pillowcase in the microwave, set it on high, timed it for five minutes, and went into my den to check my email.

Don't misunderstand. I wasn't trying to cook the pillowcase. I was just trying to sanitize it, so I could put the okara in it. You see, okara has to be dried before you make pancakes with it, and I thought it might be a good idea to use the clothes drier. A cotton pillowcase seemed an ideal container, but not without some kind of sterilization first. Enter, the microwave.

Anyway, I had hardly sat down at the computer when my nasal smoke detector picked up the warning. Rushing to the kitchen, I found the whole room enveloped in smoke. It was so thick my gold fish were choking. I groped my way to the microwave and opened it. The pillowcase, which - before I opened the door - had been smoking but only smoldering without oxygen - now exploded into flame.

Heroically, I reached into the chamber, grabbed a corner of the cloth, and pulled it out. Fortunately, the microwave is on the counter near the kitchen door which opens directly onto our concrete patio, so it should have been no trouble simply opening the door and tossing the burning pillow-case out. But there's many a slip twixt cup and lip!

I got the door open alright, but when I hurriedly tossed the pillowcase out, a flaming piece of it stayed behind and landed on the floor. My first instinct was to step on the errant cloth and grind it into ashes on the ceramic-tile floor, but I was barefoot and resisted the impulse. Instead, I reached down and picked it up.

That was a mistake too. The pillowcase must have had some acrylic content because a molten mass of plastic as big as a pair of coffee grounds glued itself to my fingers. Ouch! I cursed under my breath and straightened up quickly. As I did, the top of my head made sharp, painful contact with the open microwave door on the counter. It didn't hurt the door, but cut my scalp and released a river of blood down my forehead. Another curse - louder this time.

Blinded by blood, choked by smoke, and with a flaming cloth welded to my fingers, I staggered to the sink and torqued open the cold water tap to soak my burning fingers and wet a hand towel so I could stem the flow of blood from my head wound.

Then I remembered the burning pillowcase outside the door. I hadn't had time to see where it landed. Luckily, the patio lounge chair it had landed on was getting old anyway, and the melted cushions weren't much of a loss. It was touch-and-go getting the lounge fire out, having to run in and out of the house carrying full coffee cups of water, but cleaning the mess up afterward was the worst part.

I guess my gawking neighbors thought I'd gone mad, giggling like I was while throwing burned-up cushions and pillowcase remains into garbage cans, but I couldn't help it. I was just glad my sons weren't home.

So maybe it's not such a great idea, sterilizing a pillow-case in the microwave. But drying okara in the clothes drier is unorthodox enough without putting it into an unsterilized pillowcase . Perhaps boiling it would be a better idea. I remembered my grandmother boiling the white stuff on wash days and she never once burned a sheet. So I dug out another pillowcase and stuffed it into a pot.

This time everything went fine. The water boiled and the pillow case cooked. When it was tender, I fished it out of the pot with a barbeque fork and carried it dripping to the sink. Standing there with the steaming cloth drooling scalding-hot water, I wracked my brain in vain, trying to think of some way to wring it out. I certainly wasn't about to use my bare hands, one of which already felt like it had been burned to a cinder.

But no ideas came to me, and by the time the pillowcase cooled down enough to touch, my forearm was cramped from holding it up on the heavy barbeque fork. It was only through sheer will-power and personal fortitude that I finally got the thing wrung out. I then inserted the 8 cups of wet okara, tied a knot in the open end, and put the whole thing into the drier.

I know you are expecting something else to go wrong, because I was too. I hate to disappoint you though, but within an hour the okara had dried beautifully and I transferred it to a sealed container without any further problems.

I know this sounds like a tale from Inspector Clouseau, but no matter what, you have to admire my ability to type so well with just one hand. Right?

Cal Smith


Oh, the wonderful things you can do with okara


You can whip up some pancakes
That’s what you can do.
You can stew up some soup,
You can soup up some stew.

You can add it to flour
to make muffins and cake.
Even scones and souffl├ęs,
Oh the things you can make.

You can even make meat balls,
and sausage, and fish.
I could go on for pages
If that’s what you wish.

But where do you get it,
this marvelous stuff?
You make it yourself
and the stuff isn't tough.

Just start off with soybeans,
they're easy to get.
And soak them in water,
they love to get wet
and the longer they soak
the bigger they get.

They swell and they swell
till they're three times the size
they were at the start,
now they're fat little guys.

I hate what comes next,
it couldn't be fun,
to be put in a blender
and get chopped up and spun.
and your bones turn to soymilk
before it gets done.

But then to get boiled.
What a terrible thought.
To get dumped in a pot
and that pot it gets hot.
I wouldn't want that,
Oh no, I would not!

The milk is delicious,
but cows don't like it a bit.
Milk can't come from a bean
cause a bean's not a bit
like a cow, and they're
off in a snit.

The pulp is strained out
of the milk by the way.
And up until now it was all thrown away,
or fed to the cows
who were happy that way.


WE call it okara
when we use it to bake
those wonderful goodies
that great tasting cake
The sandwiches that I
take to the lake.

And the cows are contented
they don't mind what we do.
We eat the okara,
not beef in our stew,
and they know that most soymilk
is used for tofu.

Cal Smith