On the Sly: Cookbook Marketing + Chocolate Lava Cupcakes, Lazy Caesars and Squiggly Instant Noodles
+ My crabbilicious birthday
When people learn about what I do, they sometimes ask if they can buy a cookbook directly from me. It’s a very kind query but I don’t keep inventory in my car trunk. I direct people to local bookshops and online vendors. Cookbook sales and marketing is complex and for your edutainment, I’m sharing some of my experience.
During the months leading up to a book release, I’m extra anxious. Despite my ‘pro’ status as a cookbook author, I wonder how the book will be received. For example, before Vietnamese Food Any Day published in 2019, I pondered if people would perceive the book as inauthentic because shopping at Asian markets wasn’t required. (A few did but the majority, including people of Asian descent, found the book liberating. We are part of mainstream America.) VFAD’s title aimed to convince cooks to incorporate Viet food into their rotation whenever they wanted. I don’t eat Viet food every day and don’t expect you to, either! “Any Day” is my end goal.
In 2020, when I proposed a vegetable-centric cookbook to my publisher, Ten Speed Press (part of ginormous Penguin Random House), told me that it could easily sell a vegetarian Vietnamese cookbook if I wrote it. But I couldn’t write that book because I couldn’t rep such a cookbook. It wouldn’t be me. I adore vegetables but am not vegetarian. They agreed and allowed me to take the lead.
Ever-Green Vietnamese is about vegetables but it’s not vegetarian. It spotlights Vietnamese foodways, which have always involved lots of plants and a little animal protein. My twenty-first century take on that approach blends traditional techniques and ideas with local produce and modern hacks. In other words, it’s a bit of the old snuggled up with the new. The majority of the book is vegetarian or vegan but there’s meat blended in here and there, for people who want it.
Last year, my editor, Lorena Jones, presented sample content to the corporate sales team, which reacted enthusiastically. Phew.
What opened up their vistas? I’m unclear but from my vantage point, the pandemic and climate change got people considering how to eat and live sustainably. How may we do so without giving up too many pleasures? Dietary deprivation isn’t sexy or sustainable. We need plausible solutions.
Additionally, Asian culture also has gained currency. The Mediterranean diet sometimes includes tofu(?!). There’s greater appreciation of the Asian American experience, which I’ve championed since Into the Vietnamese Kitchen published in 2006. Hang in there long enough and things may turn your way. Ha.
Closing in on the book release on April 25, 2023, I huddle with my publicity and marketing team to connect with food media and other allies. There are positive signs, such as Tasting Table’s early review, which included:
Note the “sly” description. Heheheh. I am somewhat sneaky. Casual persuasion is better than dogmatic shaming.
I’m not Ina Garten so national morning TV shows aren’t clamoring to book me. But I do my part to gently agitate and tweak the narrative. It works best when people join in. Together can expand and enrich the table conversation.
When you preorder Ever-Green Vietnamese, hold on to the ordering information. As we get closer to the April 25 launch, I’ll be doing some fun stuff for early birders like you.
What I Cooked this Week — Salad, Noodles, and Crab
We are a household of two so I’m always cooking for my Valentine! Lunch for us is often vegetarian (or close to it). This past week, with a head of crisp, locally grown romaine, I made a lazy version of my lazy day Caesar salad (fish sauce is key). The dressing is the same but I didn’t have time for croutons. So I added a fried egg and served the salad with dry toast to sop and wipe up the tastiness. If you add the egg, let it briefly cool before topping the salad with it.
I also tried Trader Joe’s squiggly knife cut noodles, which are modeled on Chinese noodles. The packaging reminded me of Momofuku scallion soy noodles, which sells for about $10 for 4 servings; the TJ version costs $4.99. The noodles cook up to a very interesting chew after boiling for a good 4 minutes. The sauce could use more punch from vinegar and chile oil. For nutrition, I let the noodles cool a bit and then added them to a bowl of chopped lettuce. I added peanuts for protein and texture. Strands of kombu, a byproduct of making dashi, increased interest. You could boil an egg in the pot before adding the noodles but we were happy with the vegan lunch.
Thursday was my 54th birthday and in lieu of a fancy restaurant dinner, I celebrated with two live Dungeness crabs. Taking time to cook for myself is one of my guilty pleasures. No recipes, just me relying on my instincts for how to dispatch a crab (grab it from the rear and put it head first into the pot of boiling salted water; after the water returns to a boil, cook for 6 minutes per pound). I’ve cleaned and picked crab since I was twelve but nowadays, I don gloves to prevent random skin reactions.
I made a crab salad — homemade umami mayonnaise, lemon, parsley, salt and lots of pepper. The greens were dressed with lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper, and a touch of sugar. I also dipped the crab in a Viet sauce of salt, pepper, and lime. Mix your own with this Muối Tiêu Chanh recipe.
Chocolate Lava Cupcakes Recipe
Today I got an early start on Valentine’s Day by revisiting chocolate lava cakes, which I’ve been baking since the late 1990s. A New York Times recipe by Yossi Arefi for kids led me to figure out an easier way to bake them. I looked in my cupboard and the solution was looking right at me — ceramic teacups. In one day, I went three rounds with the recipe.
My husband is very happy. These chocolate lava cakes taste incredibly rich despite involving only 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 ounce of chocolate for each portion. Seriously.
Because this PTFS dispatch is getting long, the Chocolate Lava Cupcake recipe and a how-to video are on my website. Head on over there for the Full Monty.
I found these reads particularly good (I’m using my subscriber link so you should hopefully be able to bypass the paywall).
Kim Severson never fails to win my heart with her reporting: Candy Hearts as conversation pieces at NYT
I can eat these faster than I can make them: Bánh Nậm, central Vietnamese rice dumplings by Hong Pham at Serious Eats
Substacker Andrew Janjigian is a thorough writer and skilled recipe developer: Armenian Rice Pilaf (the original Rice-a-Roni) at Serious Eats
Incredibly charming: The retirement life of yakuza, Japanese mobsters who play softball in pink shoes at NYT
I was very sorry to read about this because I enjoyed Barbara’s work so much over the years: Barbara Hansen, inquisitive and pioneering food writer, passed at 90, by Laurie Ochoa at LAT
Enjoy a great week, including a splendid Valentine’s Day!
Andrea Nguyen, I LOVE your posts. They are so real and honestly friendly - and inspiring. Thank you always. And now I am going to pre-order your book! If I were signing your yearbook, I would say ‘Never change!’ 😊
I’m enjoying PTFS already! Am I able to share pix here? I also made the TJ squiggly noodles (they remind me of A-Sha, another air-dried brand), and added: boy choy, pickled radish, boiled egg, and crumbled bacon.