Food--and Fighting?

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HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, two wonderful topics today—perfect for the Reds and readers.  Martial arts. And food. Only the amazing Tori Eldridge  (whose Ninja series has been nominated for the Anthony, Lefty, and Macavity Awards!) could put hte two together so perfectly. Her brand new book, The Ninja’s Blade, is just out! And we are thrilled to celebrate with her.

With food. And fighting. No, not that kind of fighting. Tori Eldridge--is a ninja chef!



The Voracious Appetite of the Modern-Day Ninja

If you’ve read The Ninja Daughter or the newly released The Ninja’s Blade, you’ll have noticed two things about my warrior sleuth: she’s always hungry, and she’s always ready for action. Good thing. The way this woman eats, she needs to burn serious calories.

“I looked forward to whatever Baba might be cooking. But before I could peek down the aisle of woks, a dart-like object flew through the air. I fanned a protective hand in front of my face as a bamboo skewer pierced the sack of rice on the shelf behind my head.”

Lily Wong lives above her North Dakota Norwegian father’s authentic Hong Kong cuisine restaurant. Take a moment to wrap your brain around that, then consider what a dream it would be to have a ready steamer filled with char siu bao, siu mai, and lap cheong zongzi—sticky rice filled with ridiculously fatty, sweet Chinese sausage. Okay, maybe this is my dream; but only if I burned as many calories as my ninja heroine!

Although old enough to be Lily’s mother, I’ve managed to stay reasonably active after retiring from dance and martial arts. Even so, I don’t burn anywhere near the amount of calories as I did back in the day, dancing the Jellicle Ball in Cats, kickboxing with sparring partners, or training as a modern-day ninja. I exercise just enough to stay fit and splurge on the occasional red bean mochi.

Lily balances her voracious appetite by cycling across Los Angeles, leaping from buildings, and kicking ass with Japanese Ninjutsu, Chinese Wushu, and even good old American boxing. Since her fighting expertise stems from my own, I enjoy crafting authentic scenarios that demonstrate real ability and empower women.

“He shoved off the ropes, madder than hell, and turned with a haymaker to my head. Instead of responding with one of the many ninja techniques Sensei had drilled into me, I went with the same technique Eddie’s trainer had done to him: I rolled under his hook and drove a shovel punch into his liver.”

After fighting for her life, a girl needs to eat. But more than fuel or pleasure, food is an expression of culture and community. Whether Lily enjoys “tamales for life” from a grateful taqueria owner who she saved from robbery (The Ninja Daughter) or the soul-infused empanadas made by her Compton-born employer (The Ninja’s Blade), the food Lily eats connects her to people. This is especially true of the Hong Kong dishes her father prepares for her as part of his commitment to anchor her in her mother’s heritage.

“Sweat glistened on Baba’s neck. His muscular arms were pink from the heat. Flames burst from the burner’s dome-shaped stand as he tilted his wok to dump the simmering broth into the trough. No wonder he was sweating, the flames were high enough to singe his arms. Did they remind him of his childhood when he and his siblings used to gather around a potbelly stove to ward off the freezing North Dakota winters? I’d ask him someday. Right now, I just watched him cook.”

Unlike Lily, I’m the head chef of my family, and—as with this book series—I draw from my heritage.

Here’s a simple recipe for a pan-steamed snapper I prepared for a Chinese New Year feast. Leave the head and tail intact to signify abundance. And if you have a special guest at your table, be sure to point the head at her!

Tori’s Pan-Steamed Snapper

2 pounds whole snapper or white-fleshed fish, cleaned and scaled
1 tablespoons chopped ginger
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
1 bunch baby bok choy
3 green onions shredded
3 tablespoons minced ginger
1 handful cilantro chopped
2-3 tablespoons cooking oil (with touch chili oil if desired)
low-sodium soy sauce

1.    Marinate fish for 15 minutes in chopped ginger, soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil.
2.    Coat bottom of pan with sesame oil, heat, and place fish. Drizzle with the marinade and water around fish.
3.    Cover pan and steam for 10 minutes until the fish is cooked.
4.    Add bok choy (and more water) around fish and steam 5 minutes longer.
5.    Plate fish and bok choy. Deglaze pan if necessary and pour juices over fish.
6.    Cover fish with green onions, ginger, and cilantro.
7.    Heat the cooking oil over high heat until it smokes, then drizzle hot oil over the fish.
8.    Serve immediately with vegetables, rice, and soy sauce on the side.

What foods connect you to your heritage and family?

 HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  That is SUCH a good question.  And oh, the head and tail signify abundance—I didn’t know that! And the head gets pointed at the special guest. Aw. Love that. 

What about you, reds and readers? What foods connect you? OR—do you do martial arts? (And whoa, how about that action photo of Tori? 

PS. (And you can participate in a wonderful event with Tori, Wendy Walker, Karen Dionne and me:—click here for more info! And I bet you will find other interesting J events on the same page. And more to come!)

 Eldridge is the author of The Ninja’s Blade, out September 1st, and The Ninja Daughter, nominated for the Anthony, Lefty, and Macavity Awards for Best First Novel. Her short stories have been published in several anthologies and her narrative poem appears in the inaugural reboot of Weird Tales magazine. Tori holds a 5th degree black belt in To-Shin Do ninjutsu and has traveled the U.S. teaching ninja arts and women’s self-protection.