Creative Non-Fiction, Pad Thai, and My New Book

Every few months I get a hankering for a taste of my homemade Pad Thai recipe and last week it came again. I had all the ingredients assembled so that once I finished my writing for the day I could begin my next labour of love.

Making up a favorite recipe is a little like writing. You assemble the ingredients–writing and research tools–and then you start with a plan of some sort. For my historical fiction I did quite a few months of reading and research, made a bit of a plan starting with the premise for the book, and then started in writing the first chapter. I knew pretty much where I was going and as I went along and thought of ideas I put them at the bottom of my word document lest I forget them. And I felt free enough to make changes when brilliant ideas popped into my head. Gotta love first drafts!

So here’s the first change in the recipe. It calls for raw shrimp. Well, I use frozen cooked shrimp and the recipe works just as well as long as I don’t cook the shrimp over again. You, too, can make changes as you go along according to your taste and your imagination.

Here’s the recipe I use:

Pad Thai

8 oz. uncooked rice noodles

2 T. rice vinegar
1 1/2 T. fish sauce
1-2 T. lemon juice
1 T. ketchup
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 T. vegetable oil
1 boneless skinless chicken breast (4 oz.), finely chopped
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 oz. small raw shrimp, peeled
2 cups bean sprouts
3/4 c. shredded red cabbage
1 medium carrots, shredded
3 T. minced fresh cilantro
2 T. chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
lime wedges

  1. Place noodles in medium bowl. Cover with warm water; let stand 30 minutes or until soft. Drain and set aside. Combine vinegar, fish sauce, lemon juice, ketchup, sugar and red pepper flakes in small bowl.
  2. Heat oil in wok or large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken, green onions and garlic. Cook and stir until chicken is cooked through. Stir in noodles; cook 1 minute. Add shrimp; cook 3 min. or until shrimp turn pink and opaque. Stir in fish sauce mixture; toss to coat evenly. Add bean sprouts and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.
  3. Serve with shredded cabbage, carrot, cilantro, peanuts and lime wedges. Makes 5-7 servings.

And here’s the second change. I’ll put in more chicken and shrimp than it calls for as I like to up the protein. I love noodles but not too many of them.

Writing is like this, too. We do our first draft, we hone it, we edit it, we have others edit it, and after a whole host of days, months, and even years of this kind of work we have our book. I’m finding that the recipe for this new book which I’m planning as creative nonfiction requires a lot of rewriting and adding details to shape it into what I envision. I’ve never written in this style before so the work is frustrating at times but thrilling when I make a breakthrough.

My office shows just a little of the notes I have from all the interviews with my prime subject and memorabilia he has for me to sift through. Since last July I’ve been recording him and have pages and pages of transcribed notes to sift through. (Foreground of picture shows just some of them.)

Soon I’ll be ready to announce the title of this book. I have an idea for a good one but need to test it a little more (just like a recipe). Some of the subject matter, though, I’m ready to hint at with this next picture. See if you can come up with my subject person, the last surviving member of the Canadian Cancer Society team who managed the 1980 Marathon of Hope. He also came up with that name. The painting below is by Canadian artist, Cliff Kearns.

Oh! I forgot to take a picture of my finished Pad Thai. We had dinner guests and devoured it!