COOKBOOK REVIEW: Life in Balance

Cookbook review written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef
Donna Hay - Life In Balance

Life in Balance is available for purchase at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Harper Collins Canada.

Dear Donna Hay, 

Damn girl. How do you do it? Time and time again you put together these cookbooks with killer recipes that are straightforward yet impressive, relatively quick to prepare and taste amazing. This has created a bit of a problem for me because, you see, I don’t want to stop cooking from your latest book – Life in Balance. And sista I have bookcases full of other cookbooks waiting for a chance to be reviewed. Food blogger problems, I know.


Donna Hay’s cookbook are all coffee table worthy, with gorgeous photography that you want to jump right into so you can immerse yourself in the scenes they depict. Life in Balance has a different feel from her other books – dark and vibrant tones with content divided by colour to showcase the culinary rainbow of food. The premise of the recipe collection is healthy eating without resorting to diet food, everyday recipes that utilize the bounty of nature in a way that makes you feel good but still satisfies those cravings. You know the ones I’m talking about.

One of the things I love most about Donna Hay recipes is that they are easy to understand. You might look at the stellar photo of a particular dish and think there’s no way that you could ever make that, but thanks to straightforward instructions you will be taken step by step through the entire process and before you know it you’re eating what you never thought you’d be able to recreate. And it tastes GREAT.

Subsections throughout the book allow you to learn more about specific vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, while a detailed glossary at the end provides information about specific ingredients you might not know a lot about as well as pantry staples. Never cooked buckwheat before? No problem. Flip to the glossary and find out more about this popular seed related to the rhubarb family.

I am not exaggerating when I say I want to make every single thing in this cookbook. Honestly, the thought behind each ingredient results in the recipes reading like a burst of flavours that you can’t wait to try. The gorgeous photos will inspire you into culinary action. I for one will be returning to this book again, and again.

Never before have I given a cookbook full marks across the board for each of the three recipe tests. Until now. Yup – 5 out of 5 for each recipe I tested from Donna Hay’s Life in Balance. This is a historic moment folks – go out and celebrate by buying this book.

Grilled Beef Skewers with Red ChimichurriPeri Peri ChickenToasted Grain and Cauliflower Tabouli

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Cookbook review written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef

Flavor Flours

Flavor Flours is available for purchase at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Artisan.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Alice Medrich when her Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy book first came out. At the end of our conversation, we started talking about gluten-free baking and how it can be so difficult to get just the right texture. I jokingly commented how she needed to write a gluten-free cookbook. Not that I’m taking credit for being the inspiration behind this book! But I did get a thrill when Flavor Flours was published because if anyone can tackle the gluten-free world of baking and become master of its domain, it’s Alice Medrich.

Dedicated entirely to no-wheat flours, this book pays homage to Alice’s skill as a pastry chef. The book is divided into eight chapters, each one tackling a specific flour: rice, oat, corn/cornmeal, buckwheat, chestnut, teff, sorghum and nut/coconut. These recipes go far beyond simple gluten-free substitutions and really delve into the structure of each flour and how it enhances the dessert based on its unique texture and flavor.

The majority of the recipes in this book are based on familiar desserts and baked goods such as brownies, chocolate cakes, muffins and cookies. Because all of the flours are gluten-free there’s less emphasis on technique as there’s no risk of over stirring. No gluten to activate means no tough cakes or cookies!

The book starts off with a glimpse into the recipe testing process and what insights came about for Alice and her recipe developer cohort Maya Klein as they got to know each of the different flours. Information about various techniques – such as the best method for melting chocolate – and details about specific equipment and the best type of ingredients to use is also included and super helpful. Each chapter begins with an introduction to the flour that describes its unique characteristics along with the best methods of storage, with each of the recipes holding detailed steps and information that I personally love about Alice’s cookbooks. No detail is overlooked and I appreciate that level of passion and caring.

I would describe this book as a bit of a baking bible, one that you will turn to and pick-up time and time again. The photos are beautiful and I personally like being able to figure out what I can make based on the type of flour I happen to have on hand.

Alice knocks another one out of the park.

 Banana Muffins (gluten-free)Dark Chocolate Soufflés936308_525890844137315_931971608_n
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Food & Wine Magazine: January Cover Recipe

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (well-balanced flavours that complement each other)

THE TEST: Let me start off my saying that my husband thinks I’m the victim of my own expectations. I think he may be right.

Food & Wine MagazineIt’s no secret that since returning to the world of full-time work four years ago, my blog has suffered terrible neglect. Try as I might – finding a work/life/blog balance continues to elude me. But when the January issue of Food & Wine Magazine arrived in my mailbox and I laid eyes on the piri piri chicken and fries gracing the cover, I was filled with a strong sense of determination. This cover recipe must be made and will mark my triumphant return to the world of food blogging.

Yes – this was going to happen.

The entire month goes by and I start panicking. Quick phone call to our favourite butcher (insert shout-out to Pasture to Plate!) revealed they were sold out of chicken breasts and thighs so in an act of desperation I pulled a package of wings out of the freezer and left in the fridge to thaw overnight. My plan was to make the piri piri marinade in the morning before work and then leave the chicken to infuse with all that spicy goodness until we got home.

Of course in my mind things went a lot more smoothly than reality.

It didn’t take long for me to become flustered as I juggled getting ready for work, making lunches for the kids, micro-managing getting them dressed because after all these years it still seems to be a struggle to get socks on, while simultaneously trying to make the marinade. With my work phone in one hand responding to emails and the other pouring cereal for a hangry kid, things quickly spun out of control.

Mise en place

I managed to stage my first photo for the blog post but couldn’t find my SLR camera. Quick phone call to Mr. Spock confirmed it was at his office. No problem, that’s why iPhones have such a great camera – for times like this. I grab my cellphone and get ready to take the first shot only to find my memory was full. I hastily plugged it into my computer and started downloading all of my files to make room.

Meanwhile the kids are starting to stare at me in a weird way.

“Mom – are you okay?”

“Yup – just busy being the victim of my own expectations!”

“Okay. But I need you to sign my homework book and there’s a field trip form I need to return today….”

You get the picture.

I finally snapped my first pic and moved on to chopping the red Thai peppers (couldn’t find red jalapeños or fresno peppers to save my life), dried chiles de árbol, garlic, shallot, ginger and cilantro. Did I remember about the hot peppers when applying my make-up? Nope – not until I went to blend my eye cream.

Moving on.

Piri Piri marinade

I buzzed everything in the blender along with champagne vinegar, olive oil and sweet smoked paprika then seasoned with salt and pepper and mixed with the chicken. A valiant effort went into trying to make the blender photo look Instagram worthy but I couldn’t get it right and in the end my eldest daughter took my phone away because by this point she was seriously worried they’d be late for school. So I quickly doused the chicken with the marinade and tossed into the fridge for later and hustled out the door.


THE RESULTS: After the morning mayhem I can’t tell you how lovely it was to have Mr. Spock pick-up the kids and start barbequing the wings, so that by the time I got home the house smelled delicious and all I had to focus on was the glass of wine he put in my hand.

I love you sweetie.

Piri Piri Chicken

If you’re able to barbeque the chicken instead of bake in the oven I highly recommend going that route, as it really dialed up that smokey piri piri flavour. The kids found the chicken a bit on the spicy side but managed to eat it all. I opted to slather on more of the piri piri sauce and combined with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice the combination was perfect. The heat from the chillies complimented the acid from the lemon and tang of the vinegar, while the cilantro brightened everything up nicely. If I were to critique the recipe in any way it would be to suggest adding more vinegar as it got lost a bit with everything else going on in the sauce.

Despite all the drama in the end I’m happy I made this recipe because it’s a keeper, and I’m damn proud of the fact this post got up. Even though it’s February.

January 2017 Food & Wine Magazine cover recipe

Cover Recipe:
Piri Piri Chicken with Crispy Potatoes

The mission of Food & Wine Magazine is to find the most exciting places, new experiences, emerging trends and sensations in the culinary and wine industries. From travel and entertaining to luxury and design, this magazine brings an energetic and stylish take on food and wine. For more information on Food & Wine Magazine, please visit


Cookbook review written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef


Cravings is available for purchase at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Penguin Random House Canada. 

Once upon a time there was a little girl born to a Thai mother and father of Norwegian decent who grew up and became a famous model and social media maven. Our heroine married musician John Legend and wrote a cookbook – which is where our story gets really good!

This cookbook has been getting a lot of attention online with skeptics converted into believers and a five-star Amazon rating out of more than 600 reviews. Oh and she looks like my friend Janakie (see below) so that kinda sealed the deal for me: this book must be reviewed.

My Friend Janakie

See what I mean? The resemblance is uncanny, right?!

After initially flipping through the recipes I headed straight for the gym. Warning! No low-cal diety recipes will be found in this book. Come on people – the title is Cravings – that pretty much sums up the recipe focus. Most of the dishes are meant to be indulgences.

In the introduction Chrissy writes that food has been her second language since she was a kid. Let me say this – you can tell. It quickly became apparent to me that this woman likes to cook. Everything I tried turned out super tasty and are dishes I’d make again in a heartbeat. The photos of her and John (I’ve made his famous chicken wings so I figure we’re on a first name basis) are fun and look like they belong in a fashion magazine. The writing and overall tone of the book is approachable and full of hilarity that will have you laughing like a crazy person in your kitchen.

I dare you to pick-up this book and not bring it home and start cooking right away. Divided into sections that include Breakfast All Day, Noodles and Carbs, Party Time and Sh*t on Toast – you’re bound to find something that strikes your fancy.

John’s Breakfast SandwichesJohn’s Fried Chicken Wings with Spicy Honey ButterSweet Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage

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COOKBOOK REVIEW: Quinoa Revolution

Cookbook review written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef

Quinoa Revolution_cover image

Quinoa Revolution is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Penguin Canada.

Apparently 2013 was dubbed the “International Year of Quinoa” by the United Nations, in honour of its nutritional qualities and adaptability to different agro-ecological conditions. The popularity of this protein-packed seed has not slowed down since that year, with many cookbooks dedicated entirely to different ways of preparing this ancient superfood.

Quinoa. So hot right now.

This is the second book from the sister duo of Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming. I was first introduced to them through their cookbook Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood, which has become a staple in our house. Their approach to quinoa is an educational one, with the first half of their latest book dedicated to detailing the health benefits of this versatile protein. From information on quinoa’s structure and nutritional traits to revolutionizing your overall fitness routine, tips for cooking a variety of forms of quinoa and notes on sustainability and fair trade practices in regards to production, Quinoa Revolution has it all. There is also a ten-page Q&A with frequently asked questions about quinoa and a quick reference guide to the basics of quinoa – including how to cook it.

Recipes are divided into easy to navigate sections that include breakfast, salads/sides/snacks, soups & stews, meals and desserts. Step-by-step instructions are clearly written but leave room for your own personal inspiration. Colourful photos are liberally littered throughout the book and compliment the overall design, which is clean and minimalist.

Learn more about quinoa in my interview with author Carolyn Hemming.

Baked Roasted Red Pepper DipChocolate Cream Mini CupcakesThai Chicken Fingers

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Goat cheese bootcamp

Written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef

I have a confession to make – I used to hate goat cheese.

It’s one of those dirty little secrets I’ve kept to myself for years. For as long as I can remember I always detested chèvre, to the point where I would force my goat-cheese-loving husband to keep his stash in the bar fridge downstairs in the basement far away from any food I would be consuming.

There was nothing I couldn’t find to hate about goat cheese: The texture, taste and smell. I remember getting food allergy testing done when I was in my 20’s and preying goat’s milk would get flagged – at least then I’d have an excuse. But, alas, the results indicated goat cheese fell in my ‘go ahead and eat as much as you can possibly cram into your mouth’ category.

Now fast-forward to when I first launched this blog and began to lead a more serious life as a self-proclaimed foodie. This passionate dislike for anything goaty started to really weigh on me. I felt it held me back as an epicurean and I was ashamed. Anytime I would politely decline chèvre people would stare at me and proclaim “but you’re a foodie!” Yes. It was true.

So I came up with a plan of action that would force me to become a lover of goat cheese, creating a detailed step-by-step an approach that would not only acclimatize me to the taste but convert me into a fan. It was basically a glorified goat cheese boot camp.

And it worked.

I started off slowly; nibbling on über mild cream cheese textured options on salads, slathered on sandwiches or crumbled on pizza. At first I could only manage a bite or two, shuddering my way through and holding my breath. But ever so slowly I built up my tolerance and started experimenting with goat cheese dips served on top of strong flavoured crackers to help mask the taste, and then graduated to mild goat gouda and eventually more pungent flavoured cheeses masked under spreads and chutneys. With help from the cheese professionals at Benton Brothers Fine Cheese I discovered a newfound appreciation and love for chèvre. Not once did they bat an eye when I’d ask for a goat cheese for people who hate goat cheese. And not once did they steer me wrong.

Pepper-Glazed Goat Cheese Gratin

It might have taken me more than a year but I can now say I’m not only a fan of goat cheese – I’m addicted to the stuff. Mild, creamy, hard, soft – I love it all. But my ultimate favourite is paillot de chèvre from Quebec. Its soft interior is quite runny at the rind but gets firmer close to the centre, the flavour mildly aromatic and slightly tangy. Oh and in case you were wondering it goes great with a chill glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Here’s a recipe I’m currently obsessed with making: Pepper-Glazed Goat Cheese Gratin. This started as a favourite for my weekly date night at home with Mr. Spock, but the kids soon caught on and now help devour this fantastic appy.

Family of goat cheese lovers!


COOKBOOK REVIEW Saveur: the new classics

Cookbook review written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef


Saveur: the new classics is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Simon & Schuster Cananda

Saveur: the classicsWhen it comes to encyclopedic cookbooks I am only willing to give up a limited amount of shelf space. I mean let’s be honest here folks – we’re talking about big, heavy tomes with a gazillion different recipes that throw you in a tailspin of indecision and to top it all off photos are limited (if included at all). But the classics do have a spot on my shelf, such as The Joy of Cooking and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. After weeks of rigourous testing I can truly say Saveur: the new classics has also earned a spot on my shelf.

Before selecting which recipes to test I read through each and every one – all 1,000 of them – and can say with authority that this book offers a wonderful variety of options guaranteed to inspire you. Short little intros to each recipe provide informative details about the origin of the dish and help bring the food to life. I really appreciate the obvious thought that was put into the index; you can search by ingredient or by origin – particularly helpful when you’re in the mood for a certain type of food but don’t know what to make. The ‘Pantry’ section at the back of the book holds a treasure trove of DIY basics; including stocks, pickles and preserves, spices, rubs, sauces and condiments that will compliment your efforts in the kitchen.

I’ve had a subscription to Saveur magazine for close to twelve years, and I’ve kept every single issue. This book is like an extension of our magazine collection, minus the stunning photography and editorial pieces, but with the same foolproof recipes that provide cooks with a creative and flavourful trip around the world. It is a celebration of everything Saveur stands for – culinary passion and knowledge – and I know I will be reaching for this book time and time again.

Jalapeño CornbreadPork Spiedies Spaghetti Carbonara

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COOKBOOK REVIEW: Alice’s Cookbook

Cookbook review written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef

Alice's CookbookAlice’s Cookbook 
is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Lyons Press

I’m going to cut to the chase and announce right off the bat that I have a lot of heart for Alice’s Cookbook (Lyons Press $21.95 CDN). My crush on this book is unexpected as I picked it up on a whim, my purchase simply a reaction to the unusual thick cardboard cover with sketched illustrations on the front and back. The collection of recipes continue to inspire and motivate me in the kitchen. In fact, I’m having a hard time putting it aside and have a number of recipes earmarked to make in the near future.

Written by Alice Hart, a British chef and food stylist, this book bridges a years worth of seasons and holidays with recipe options that include an autumn movie night, New Year’s brunch, hot summer barbecue and a light, post-Christmas dinner. The book is divided into five separate sections: breakfast and brunch, picnics and happy camping, seasonal Sunday lunch, supper and lunch to share and – simply – party. It is geared toward creating feasts to be shared with friends and family at leisure and in celebration. If you’re looking for prepared food or quick-fix ideas this book isn’t for you. That’s not to say that Alice believes in slaving away in the kitchen up until the last minute guests arrive, but instead spending time a day or two beforehand to make a marinade or bake a cake. In other words, taking what she calls an intelligent and enjoyable approach to cooking and entertaining.

Each section of the book contains a collection of recipes for a particular menu (e.g. spring breakfast for six on the weekend) and provides make ahead suggestions to help avoid that dreaded last minute rush in the kitchen. I really appreciated the fluidity with which the recipes are written…and this coming from a self-professed rule follower. Alice include all of the relevant detail one looks for in a recipe, but keeps it open to interpretation in a way that really makes you feel in control of the dish as if you are co-creating it together. It’s more of a guide, leaving room for your natural culinary instincts to take charge. Don’t get the wrong idea here folks – precise baking measurements are included along with oven temperatures etc. – but instead of dictating one tablespoon of chile Alice leaves it open to your own interpretation. You pick the type and amount of chile that suits you. Don’t like a particular root vegetable suggested for a dish? Swap it out for whatever root you fancy more. It’s a liberating approach to recipes that went over quite well with me.

Two thumbs up from me!

Sautéing frittata goodiesRice Pudding Squares with Star Anise PlumsGrilling off skirt steak

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COOKBOOK REVIEW: The Preservation Kitchen

Review written & photographed by Helena McMurdo
All images © Helena McMurdo. Do not reproduce without permission.

The Preservations Kitchen is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Random House Canada

The Preservation Kitchen

The Preservation Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, $29.99 CDN) is written by Paul Virant, the Michelin-starred chef behind the Vie, in Western Springs, Illinois. He’s known for his local, seasonal cuisine and has an awards list as long as your arm including Food & Wine 2010 Best New Chef and a James Beard Nomination. I admire his approach to food, which embraces the seasons and uses preservation methods in order to showcase local flavours and ingredients.

He is joined by food writer, Kate Leahy who you may know as the co-author of A-16 Food+Wine, the ICAP2009 Cookbook of the Year.

As the name suggests, this book paints a picture of a kitchen that is organized around the bounty of the seasons, where food is put by for future use. It has two main sections: Preserving methods and various types of preserves are tackled in the first section while the second section is dedicated to menus to make with the preserves. Paul Virant’s philosophy that food is part of the good life, is evident in the way he has approached the recipe section, featuring an array of seasonal and occasional menus. His menus paint a picture of life enjoyed around the table with family, friends and conversation, whether it be through a refreshing light summer meal, an abundant thanksgiving menu, or a delightful charcuterie platter to share with friends who help out on a fall day of canning.

My favourite things about this book are:

The variety of preserves – This book has recipes for lots of different types of preserves and has different chapters for acidified preserves such as pickles and relish, conserves (including mostly fruit-based jams, marmalades, butters), bittersweet preserves including Aigre-Doux and Mostarda) and finally fermented and cured preserves such as sauerkraut and cured meat.

The sophisticated flavours – I found that flavours in the preserves to be subtle and multi-layered, not the sour, acid pickles I remembered from home canning of the past. With most of the pickle recipes calling for champagne vinegar, I found the results to be more delicate.

Aigre-Doux – This group of sweet and sour French preserves was a lovely discovery and the recipes in this category are ones that I’ll be taking advantage of to add wow to my cheese plates. I fell in love with the tangy, zingy flavours in these preserves.

The small batch recipes – I’ve been daunted in the past by canning because I felt like I needed to go out and procure 100lbs of tomatoes, and assemble a huge team of helpers, something my tiny kitchen would groan at. The recipes in this book allow you to try many different preserves in batches of 4 or 6 pint jars. So it’s not a huge investment in canning equipment or space. I liked the fact that if something grabbed my fancy I could put it together quickly in a few hours.

The clear and precise preserving instructions – Preserving can be daunting. I certainly don’t want to poison my friends or family with any unsafely canned food. In addition to the separate section outlining safe preserving instructions, the individual preserve recipes are very clear and have a good step-by-step sequence. I also really like how the authors have included equivalent measurements in volume oz, grams and percentages for all recipes.

My main criticism of the book would be that for most preserves, there was usually just one recipe to work with in the accompanying menu section. I found that certain preserves were really interesting to me, and while Virant definitely offers some additional suggestions for ways to use a preserve, in addition to the menu recipe, I would have appreciated additional menu recipes to work with. Despite the delicious and inspiring menus it was the preserves that really inspired me and I would have enjoyed other ways to use them.

That said, I think I’ll refer back to this book frequently. It’s basic methods and instructions for preserving are invaluable and the flavour combinations are truly inspiring. This is a book for the long haul, to sit with and plan with. The seasonal menus need some thinking out and I’m sure I’ll enjoy this book more in years to come as the seasons change and I’m able to take full advantage of more of the recipes.

Green Bean Salad Final Plate_© 2012 Helena McMurdoPanzanella Fennel Salad_© 2012 Helena McMurdoPear Vanilla Aigre-Doux Jars_© 2012 Helena McMurdo

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Monthly Butter Challenge: Saturday Morning Cinny Buns

Interview conducted & written by

The second recipe in our monthly recipe challenge was Saturday Morning Cinny Buns – specifically, peach pecan with bourbon glaze – one of many rotating flavours the folks over at the Butter Café make for their addicted customers once a week.

Getting ready to roll

Unfortunately, I experienced ‘one of those days’ in the kitchen. You know the ones; no matter what you do something goes wrong and you start wondering if what the universe really wants you to do is get out of the kitchen and put your feet up with a big ol’ glass of vino.

A brief recap of my efforts:

During my first attempt I failed to read the instructions carefully (insert gasps of shock and horror here). I mean I did skim the steps, reading how flour and yeast were mixed with a melted combo of butter, milk, sugar and salt. What I didn’t read was that not all of the flour and butter quantities were to be used at once. So when I mixed the dough my ratios were off because I followed the total amount of listed ingredients and not what was specified in the instructions. Lesson learned.

Fresh Okanagan peaches and pecans

My second attempt fared much better, but I have to say I decided to take a bit of risk with this recipe. Probably not the best idea when you’re already having ‘one of those days’. Because my eldest daughter is gluten-intolerant I decided to substitute a gluten-free all-purpose flour mix. I’ve had much success with swamping flours before, but it didn’t work out this time around. The dough barely rose which wasn’t too much of a surprise considering I was working without gluten. But the dough was incredibly sticky and difficult to work with when rolling out, and in the end although they looked pretty the results tasted rather ghastly.

Cinny buns - voila!

The good news is that while I failed miserably this time around, Tina from The Pink Spatula enjoyed great success! You can read her post here.

The Pink Spatula

Want to join in on the fun? Pick-up a copy of Butter Baked Goods and send me a photo of the month’s recipe challenge or send a link to your blog post. Recipe reviews must be posted before the 20th of each month.

Next Monthly Butter Challenge: I told Tina from The Pink Spatula that her two daughters – Lauren and Katie age 12 – could choose the recipe for our next challenge. It was a difficult choice to make but the girls settled on (drum roll please) Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Cupcakes (page 177). Nice choice Lauren and Katie! For those of you baking with us don’t forget to send your pics or blog post links before September 20!

And finally, a big congrats to the winners of the Butter Baked Goods giveaway contest! Sandra, Buffi, Natalie and Sonja copies of the book will be sent to you courtesy of the wonderful folks over at Random House of Canada. Please email your mailing address to