Since the end of NaNoWriMo, I've been having a lot of problems with the organization of my novel-in-progress. Or I should say, the dis-organization. And the universe heard my frustration and answered with a tidy solution.
Here is the software solution to chronic disorganization:
Allow me to introduce you to Scrivener. (I even like its icon--the yin yang and quotation marks--perfect!)
Its like I have my own personal team of software developers who heard about my (writing) problems and created this software just for me--that is how perfectly it solved my (writing) problems. I downloaded it a week ago and have been using it happily all week.
Actually, that is an understatement: I have been **spazy** and **thrilled** to get to my computer each day and to get my paws on my story. It's like my computer now has a magic organizing fairy inside!
Instead of wading in the mire of folders that I had in the word processing program that I usually use, trying to find what I know I wrote last week and want to now incorporate into my master document, and tearing my hair out because I can't remember whether it is in the file titled "Scrap" or the file titled "Fearless Risk Taking Writing" (which I named on a day that I needed a little pep talk) or in the file titled "Rewrite" or the file titled "Gaps to fill". Scrivener helps me actually find what I am looking for pretty quickly.
It has even transformed my non-creative days into productive days. I did not write much new prose today--my brain was foggy and groggy and really not sharp enough to spit out sparkly words that anyone would want to read. But with my buddy Scrivener I was able to solve some other important problems that didn't require a creative mind: things like in which POV a troublesome chapter should be written, how to integrate the antagonists story in the flow of the plot (rather than my previous method of having a separate file called: "Bad Guy Stuff" with little stars inserted into the main document where I thought parts might eventually be inserted). I was even able to come up with some chapter titles. This is all stuff that I would have struggled to do with my word processing version--it was just too big, too long and too much of a mess.
And even better, since I was a NaNo winner, I got 50% off the regular (reasonable) price of $40. I can't even quantify how much the $20 I spent on this software has increased my productivity.
Coincidentally, the same week that I discovered and started to use Scrivener, I read a terrific book, probably the best book with an unreliable narrator I've ever read, called Liar by Justine Larbalestier. I'm not going to blather on about the content of the book because it does have a nifty plot twist that I didn't see coming and I don't want to ruin it for anyone else. Let me just say, it's a really well written YA novel that I'd bet a lot of adult readers would enjoy. The Scrivener coincidence came up when I finished the book and was reading the author's acknowledgments (I like reading these--does anyone else? Though I confess it bugs the crap out of me when they are positioned before the book begins. I think you should thank people at the end of the book). In it she says that she used Scrivener to write the book and didn't think she could have managed the complexity of her plot without it.
I started reading this book the day after I downloaded Scrivener and now that I have played around with it for a week I can completely see how it would make her novel much more manageable. Another reason for me to feel grateful for Scrivener since it enabled me to read a really fun book!
Now I just need to see if the smart people who created Scrivener have another program that will solve the rest of my problems. Anyone know of software that can tackle the problem of every horizontal surface in my house being covered with paper? Earlier this week I waded through a mountain of bills, catalogs, the girl critter's many drawings of dragons, the boy critter's homework that I have no idea whether or not he was supposed to turn in last month, scraps of paper with phone numbers but no names, coupons that I'll probably never remember to use, printed out recipes, book reviews, torn off pages from the Cute Overload calendar, business cards, school phone directories, and so on. I thought I did a pretty good job of organizing and recycling, but now that it is the weekend, I look around the sty house and it has all reappeared.
If someone can write a program that solves this problem, I swear I will drop this novel writing nonsense and devote myself to pitching your product until you have made your first million.
It'll be a little easier to name the cookies with the photo below, which contains the quantity I brought home, minus the cookies I ate while at Patti's, minus the cookies I ate in the car, minus the cookies Brian ate when I came through the door... (The cookies I brought aren't in this photo because I gave all of them away at the swap. I froze some extra dough so we can have some once we deplete this vast quantity of sugar and fat...maybe sometime in April...)
Starting with the top left corner and working vaguely clockwise we have: apricot and raspberry linzer cookies, white chocolate cookies, pecan snowballs, ginger snaps and molasses cookies, three different kinds of 'bastards': Oreo bastards (the white ones), lemon bastards (the yellow) and peanut butter bastards (the chocolate), raspberry rugulach, Hanukkah dreidels and stars, Spritz cookies, mini carrot cardamon muffins, date walnut spirals, anise cut outs, chocolate crinkles, and chocolate macarons.
I love this tradition--it is the best way to get variety in your cookie selection and I get to hang out with a bunch of cool women for an evening and I don't get guilt-tripped by my critters for ditching them for an evening. When they saw this platter of sugary bounty their eyes went all round and they started treating me like God.
Since I filled up a trash can at my hairdressers with the bulk of my hair recently (quick way to lose 5 lbs) I have felt the liberation of the short haired.
I'm loving the short hair but, with the newly nippy weather, have now encountered a new problem: hat head. It's not something you have to worry about with a ponytail, but with short curls that are kind of wiry in the texture department, putting on a hat is like sticking my head into a weird hair mould--pointy hat=pointy head, bowl hat=bowl head, etc.
So I've been on a quest for a knitting pattern for a loose warm hat that won't smash my curls or make me look like I have a muffin on my head.
I knit this one (pattern is available for free on Ravelry if you are a member): It treats the curls well, but isn't very warm due to the loose knit and the shape (it only barely covers the tops of my ears.) If I pull it down over my forehead, my head looks like a big moss covered boulder. Not really the look I'm going for. So this will do for a brisk fall day, but I hear that a blizzard is on the way and this hat does not have the chops to keep my noggin warm.
So I also cast on to make myself a fish hat like the girl critter's. I tried hers on and it is pretty loose but able to be pulled down low to cover most of my head. And I don't look like a muffin-head; I look like a fish is swallowing my head (but that's intentional, right?) The colors are all wonky in the photo; I'm making it in the subdued tones of grass green, dusty blue and black. Because subdued is really the quality I'm going for with a fish on my head...(really I chose them because they were a) in the stash bin b) all wool so hopefully warm c) passed the squish-up-against-my-forehead-not-itchy test).
Does anyone have ideas for other patterns that might work for non-curl compression? Please send me any ideas because I have a feeling I'll be in some situations this winter where a fish might not be totally appropriate...
They also make some terrific fries served with mayo and seriously addictive smokey ketchup. I wasn't as impressed with the sandwich I ordered which was a shaved lamb and blue cheese panini--it was just kinda greasy.
Montreal has a number of good places to try local and non-local beers. I loved the bar decor at Le Cigare du Pharon where we had these lambic beers. It's a Belgian place and is covered in Tintin memorabilia. Brian and I had fun identifying different scenes and witnessing someone else's obsessive trinket-collecting habits. Unfortunately it was too dark to get photos of all the quirky stuff without bugging the crap out of the other patrons by using the flash, but here are the beers: Brian's Mort Subite kriek (cherry) and my Floris fraise (strawberry). Mine had 25% strawberry juice and was less dry than I expected though it still managed a nice crisp finish.
Conveniently located right around the corner from our hotel was a branch of Les Trois Brasseurs. I tried their Brun and Amber and thought they were both pretty tasty, though not super memorable. Brian is drinking the White in this picture which I did not care for--I thought it had way too much coriander in it so I couldn't taste anything else. But tear your eyes away from the beer and focus on what he is eating: a banana chocolate tarte flambee. We've had the classic tarte flambee when we were in Strasbourg: creme fraiche, onions, and bacon on a thin crust that is a cross between a pizza and a cracker. But I've never had a desert flam and this one was fantastic. I thought Brian was crazy when he ordered it, but I was won over with my first bite and am now a determined to make it at home. It seems pretty simple: crust, bananas, cinnamon, some sugar and a dark chocolate sauce drizzled on after it comes out of the oven. If I figure out a recipe, I'll be sure to post it here. And if I can locate the St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout around here, I'll serve it with this.
Sadly we did not get to sample the wares at Dieu du Ciel or Reservoir. We got to Dieu du Ciel an hour before they opened and were too tired to wait around. Ah well, next time. We loved Montreal so much that there definitely will be a next time.
I did it! I added 53000 words to my novel this month.
That said, my novel is more done than it was but still not a full draft. I'd say the last third is still pretty sketchy. The first third is now pretty darn good and the middle third is on its way.
But the best thing about NaNoWriMo is that I realized that it really wasn't that hard to crank out 2000 words a day. I really loved the little statistics page on the NaNo website where you saw your word count compared with your daily goal. I'm going to set up a spread sheet and log in my efforts on my own to keep this momentum and motivation going.
Today I am going to clean the house and make dinner and deal with a lot of the stuff that I let slide in the past month. I know that sounds like a sad way to celebrate but asserting some order on my real world (as opposed to my fictional world where all the organizing energy has been spent of late) will feel good. I'll blast loud music and make cookies, too.
And tomorrow morning, I'll be sitting down and cranking out another 2000 words.
Let's start with a dramatic shot: That's a huge pile of smoked meat, the Montreal version of Pastrami, at Schwartz's. All the guide books warned us that there would be lines down the block--they clearly weren't in Montreal in November! We waltzed right in and found a seat and moments later were looking at this spread: Classic smoked meat sandwich on rye with mustard, half-sour pickle, coleslaw and diet coke (I know, it should have been a black cherry soda to be authentic, but I needed some caffeine.)
And then we dug in: Thanks to Brian's photographic efforts, I have discovered that I often eat tasty things with my eye brows way the hell up: Fairmount Bagels: I'm cuddling the other 11 which are still warm and are like carrying a bagful of kittens (except you can eat them!) Montreal bagels are boiled in a water and honey bath and the sweetness on the outer crust is very nice.
We indulged in a little French bistro food at L'Express: The bass and green beans were delicious but that is probably because they were sauteed in about a pint of clarified butter and cardboard would taste good with that treatment. I had a glass of Pouilly Fumé and a tasty octopus and lentil vinaigrette appetizer but the photo didn't come out because for about 15 minutes the restaurant lost all power. They seemed to expect it (and we saw a big Hydro-Québec truck parked on the block) and had candles ready but it made for lousy picture taking.
There is a big Vietnamese population in Montreal which led us grab the occasional Bánh mì sandwich for a snack and to indulge in big bowls of Pho, with copious quantities of basil and bean sprouts to stir in. There is also a food phenomenon that I ardently wish we could persuade to come to Ann Arbor: Portuguese Chicken. Here it is, with a couple of really delicious loin lamb chops. Doesn't look like much: grilled meat with fries, right? But oh, how wonderful the seasoning is. The mug in the background contains extra marinade so you can really douse your food in it--tangy, spicy, umami. Yummy. (The fries, which were super fresh and crisp and hot, responded particularly well to a dousing in the marinade followed by a little dip in mayonnaise. Mmmm: fat with salt and then a little more fat!) Oh, and it's pretty cheap too. There are a whole bunch of Portuguese chicken places in Montreal and, were we lucky enough to live in this city, I can imagine it being our take-out stand by for those crazy days when no one has time to cook.
The only food area that I wasn't thrilled with was the lack of patisserie on every corner. Actually, the lack of patisserie on any corner. There were a few bakeries that we saw, but they were really more bread oriented, not the individual elaborate pastries that are everywhere in France. So, other than a strange and delicious creation that I will cover in my next post about Montreal beer, we hardly had anything sweet.
Then again, with my salt tooth, I'd go for a smoked meat sandwich over a mille-feuilles any day.
Many of you may know that Thanksgiving is not my favorite holiday--I like the sentiment of focusing on the good since it is a nice antidote to my normal pessimism, but I'd rather do that over a plate of something more tasty than dessicated turkey and bloppy mashed potatoes.
This year Brian and I decided to feel really grateful--for each other! It was our 10 year anniversary in September and we knocked around a bunch of ideas for how to celebrate. We decided a trip somewhere together without the critters was the way to go and since we have two sets of local grandparents to abuse the generosity of, we picked Thanksgiving week to abandon our spawn.
We contemplated trips to Italy/Spain/Southern France but the budget (and the US Dollar) did not support such a plan. Finally we decided to go somewhere that feels a bit like Europe but is easier and faster to get to, friendlier and a hell of a lot cheaper since it isn't exactly a major tourist destination in November: Montreal!
We probably got really lucky--the weather was beautiful, in the 50s, for most of our time there and we only had only one brief period of rain and even that fell on the evening that the Musee d'art Contemporain is open late (and free!) I complained at one point when we were walking into the sun that it was too bright and Brian, that sainted man who has put up with my moody self for 10 years and deserves a big medal, resisted the urge to whack me upside the head for kvetching about too much light!
Hotel rooms are cheap cheap cheap in November. Even the schwoopy boutique Hotel Gault was less than $150 per night. We decided on the Auberge du Vieux Porte and it was way nicer than we could have afforded at a different time of year. There was a terrific breakfast included in our pretty room with a view of the port and every afternoon at 5 pm they poured big, free glasses of a decent shiraz and laid out a plate of tasty cheese and grapes and baguette for the guests to consume before heading out for the evening.
The food in Montreal is lovely and the people even lovelier (and that is saying something since the food is really damn good). I think it may be my favorite North American city, definitely one that I would happily move to if life made such demands on me (not likely, but a girl can dream.)
We returned home at 1 am on Friday morning and that evening we consumed the dessicated turkey and bland side dishes with the slightly frazzled grandparents and felt very, very thankful for our good life together.
Stay tuned for some photos/highlights of our Montreal interlude.
I just passed the 25,000 word mark for NaNoWriMo--that's the half-way point and supposed to be today's goal. Because Brian and the critters are up north enjoying the beauty of Michigan in Autumn (and possibly freezing their asses off, but the weather has been kinder than in past years) and it is not yet noon, I suspect I will be able to add significantly to that word total in the second half of the day.
One thing that has really kept me going during NaNoWriMo has been new music. In the past I've written mostly to classical music--some traditional (the second movement of Beethoven's 7th Symphony and Bach cello concertos in heavy rotation) and some less so (Steve Reich and Philip Glass minimalism which can get me into a writing trance and make me forget how long I have been sitting in front of the computer).
But this time I'm writing to songs with words. I used to find the words in songs terribly distracting to my own attempts at prose generation. But this time I'm not distracted or annoyed but feel it pushing me gently to keep going. I'm using Pandora Radio to keep a stream of good stuff coming out of the speakers. So far my best writing has come from a station* composed of Great Lakes Swimmers, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Iron & Wine (who I just discovered will be at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival on January 29th). Men's voices, particularly kinda soft ones, seem be doing the trick which is strange because this isn't music I've written to or even listened to that much in the past. I've tried making stations based on some of my favorite women singer's voices but they haven't kept the words flowing like the boys. So thanks boys!
Do you have any particular artists/genres that get you writing? What is on your writing playlist?
_______ * I'm not sure if that link will take you to the station or not...I can e-mail individuals with a link that should work if you ask (nicely!)
The NY Times has their special Children's Books section in the book review today! And one of the books they review is a book I love: Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan. I just searched my blog and realized that I never mentioned it when I read it (a serious memory lapse on my part). Personally, I wouldn't classify it as a children's book, though my girl critter did like it a lot (her favorite story was "Eric" about a wee creature who comes to a family as their foreign exchange student--it is full of whimsy and light).
My favorite story in Tales is called "Grandpa's Story." I'd love to get it in stand-alone booklet form to give to people on their wedding day or anniversary: in it a pair of newlyweds embark on a surreal journey that best exemplifies the potential challenges and joys of the marriage endeavor. It is sweet and sad and hopeful and beautiful all at once.
I think of Tales as illustrated stories for everyone. Tan's previous book, The Arrival was a wordless moving meditation on immigration and cultural adaptation. Sure, kids who can't read could understand it, but that doesn't mean that it was intended for the pre-literate. In Tan's work images are just as communicative as words, and carry a poignancy and impress the mind in a distinct and powerful way. (I have always been biased towards words; my sister is very visually inclined). I find Tales particularly lovely because it contains both!
I'm 6 days into NaNoWriMo and I've added 12,199 words to my manuscript. If I can keep up the pace then I think I'll have a complete first draft done by the end of the month.
It helped that for the first two days I was under the mistaken idea that I had to generate 7000 words a day. I have no idea where I came up with that number--maybe I read it on the blog of someone who knew they could only write two or three days per week and thus set themselves an insane daily word goal? I mean, I'm not that bad at math (50,000 words divided by 30 days makes 1666 words per day)! But the goof up turned out to be kind of useful since for the first couple of days I really cranked out the prose (and ate a lot of the kids' Halloween candy). I didn't make 7000 either day, but wrote about 8000 words in two days. That got me ahead of the curve so that, when the critters had the day off school on Tuesday, I had enough of a buffer to skip a day and didn't have to feel guilty about wanting to park them in front of crap videos for hours on end.
And since my initial burst, I've found that writing 1500 words per day isn't that hard. No, they aren't the best words I've ever written, but some of them are decent and others hold the germ of a good chapter. The important thing is that I'm getting the damn plot cranked out and not getting all OCD and revising the first 50 pages over and over again.
I needed something to slap me out of the pattern I'd fallen into and it looks like NaNo was just the thing.
I picked up my last Tantre Farm share this past Wednesday (sorry, no photo--I had a sick kid this week and obtaining the share was challenge enough). I thought it would be appropriate to reflect a little on the CSA experience.
Question: Was it worth it economically?
Answer: Yes, for the full 20 week summer share. No, for the 3 week autumn share. I learned a little something about my cooking moods and temperament by signing up for both the summer and fall extension. We saved a LOT of money over the summer by ordering virtually no carry out. It works out that each week's share is $30 and that is at least how much we'd spend on one Chinese or Middle Eastern carry out meal. My grocery bills for the summer were pretty low, more than a $30 reduction. And we ate more healthy and tasty meals with much less meat. The autumn share suffered both from the vegetable selection (hard squash and loads of brassica are ok, but didn't really get my creativity going) and from my own increase in rigidity
Q: Was it stressfull having to deal with all that produce at once?
A: Sometimes. Though I did learn that when the greens threatened to overwhelm me, I could always blanch and freeze them. It did take a significant amount of time planning meals so that the produce would be used in the right order (carrots can wait until the following Monday, spinach must be used pretty quickly), but I did enjoy that part, particularly prowling about for new recipes which were worthy of the vegetables.
Q: Discover any new likes or dislikes?
A: Turnips! Oh my lord do I love fresh turnips now. I had bought grocery store turnips before and liked them well enough but the small, fresh tender ones we got in the farm share were transformative. Brian and I would fork-battle for the last one. I also loved the black-veined peppermint--it made the best tea ever. The only thing I disliked was the kohlrabi bulb (the greens were just like kale so I was fine with those): however I prepared it I would think that another vegetable would be better. Roasted? Prefer potatoes or parsnips. In stir fry? Harmless but just filler. Raw shredded? Prefer cabbage. True, I didn't try it pickled. Maybe next summer that'll convince me of its worth.
Q: What about the control issue?
A: My summer self found getting the box a thrill. I looked forward to seeing what would be in there and letting it challenge me preparation-wise. As I mentioned before, my autumn self found it tiring.
Q: What about variety?
A: Tantre is very good at balancing the week's share so that there is variety from week to week (different varieties of potatoes, onions, greens, herbs each week). I think it would have grown tiresome if every week the same curly kale was there. There isn't a big difference between the three kinds of kale that I received but enough so that it didn't feel monotonous. There weren't very many times that I wandered through the market looking at the offerings from other farmers and wishing that something else had been included in my share box.
A: I wish there had been more garlic in the shares and some green zucchini. I know summer squash is almost identical in flavor, but I missed getting the green torpedoes. I also could have eaten turnips every week, but I know that not everyone feels that way.
Q: Knowing what you know, what will you plant in your garden next year?
A: Absolutely NO potatoes or basil! (Folks warned me of those bounties and they were right). I'll plant tomatoes--definitely green zebras and romas, my own turnips (since I can't get enough), leeks, and peas.
Q: What about the critters?
A: Sigh. The farm share did not magically transform my kids into vegetable lovers, but I'd say they are marginally more tolerant of different produce. In order to get their weekly allowance, they had to try one new thing from the farm share box and even though this was often accompanied by squinched up faces and minor gagging, they did it. And didn't die.
I'm a little amazed, but my latest attempt with my sewing machine did not leave me batty or swearing a blue streak (unlike, dare I remind you, last time). The girl critter wanted to be a bat for Halloween and no, she would not be satisfied with a purchased bat superhero costume--she is into animals, not superheros. So it was time to drag that crafty side of myself out of hibernation.
First we assembled materials:
Some black satin that was on sale at Joann's, a McCall's #3329 pattern to crib the bat hood and smock (the pattern is for a superhero jumpsuit) that was on sale for 99 cents, and a black umbrella from the dollar store.
The hood and the sleeve caps were a little fiddly, but luckily a costume that has to hold together for three events (Halloween concert at Hill, school party on Friday and Saturday trick or treating) can have plenty of wrinkles and fraying edges and still look ok.
I contemplated leaving some of the wire frame on the umbrella to look like wing-bones, but then realized the kid would probably impale herself or one of her friends. So off they came! It looks good enough to me, and, despite her very serious visage in the photo below, the girl critter is happily flapping around the house.
After my encounter with a real bat in the house this summer, I just have to resist the temptation to reach for a tennis racket and take a swing.
Thanks to Sarah's efforts (and willingness to have a crowd of drunken revelers in her home) we did it--we had our Oktoberfest/feast!
Yes, one must wear silly hats or little-lederhosen outfits. Funny how only Brian and I remembered that rule...My photos have some major gaps in them--primarily of the stuff I brought (German soft pretzels, braised cabbage with bacon and apples, green salad and sauerkraut) which I blame on the stuff that my Brian brought: BEER! The Dark Father in particular packed a punch, though there was also his Belgian White and hefeweizen to choose from. I'll have to make the pretzels again because they were terrific and a recipe worth sharing here. Next time I promise I won't have a beer until after I take a picture of them.
Brian P made and grilled a copious quantity of sausages:
There's smoked, bratwurst and a fennel-heavy Italian sausage (because, as Sarah said, "It doesn't matter if it isn't German: women love fennel!")
Here's a glimpse of a partial plate of plenty (missing the braised cabbage; the pretzels were long gone by this time):
Meg's spaetzel, made moments before serving, Sarah's wild mushroom rice cakes (for the vegetarians among us, though there were plenty for the rest of us to try), a selection of Brian's sausages with sauerkraut, and my big green salad with honey mustard vinaigrette.
We discovered that Dark Father goes really well with dessert:
Meagan's German chocolate cake and Deb's chocolate ginger cake were great accompaniments to the dark-sweet beer.
The gathering fulfilled my revelry quota for the month. Now I can crawl back into my reclusive autumnal hole and wait for the next book-group feast to lure me out.
Bottom row (left to right): red onions, Easter egg radishes, spicy greens, arugula, wee red peppers, garlic, hot peppers Middle row: kohlrabi, sweet potatoes and yams, salad greens, fingerling potatoes, delicata squash Top row: shell beans, carrots, some sort of Asian greens, huge cabbage, huge bunch of kale
Next week is the last week for my Tantre farm share (since I chose to do the 3 week extension) and that's a good thing, because for the first time, when I picked up my box yesterday and unpacked the contents, I felt tired. No thrill of excitement when I saw all the pretty vegetables, just a weariness that I'd have to do something with all of them.
I think my burn out has to do with my non-summer cooking habits and moods. I tend to get a wee bit reclusive in the darker months and I think that my flexibility suffers as well. In the summertime, I'm game to try anything--why not? The sun is shining! The world is beautiful! I can do anything (within reason and only in the kitchen)! But my autumnal self really wants what she wants and this week I want to make roasted cauliflower with tahini sauce this week. While there are a ton of brassicas in this week's share, there isn't any cauliflower. And that is making me feel a bit cranky.
So this week's recipes and plan may not be terribly inspired. I'm going to make and freeze some stuff so we have a stash of things to pull out on those evenings when I'm on the run. And since Sarah is hosting an Oktoberfest party this weekend, I'll use up a significant amount of the above by pushing my produce on other people.
EZ part (i.e. make other people eat the stuff)--the cabbage will get sauteed with apples and caraway seeds for the Oktoberfest party. (I'll also be bringing a salad with the arugula, salad greens, carrots, red peppers, radishes and red onions, some of my homemade sauerkraut and lots of pretzel dough so people can shape and bake their own pretzels.)
Shelling beans will be sauteed with garlic and olive oil and served as a side with homemade mac and cheese (with some of last week's pureed squash sneaked into the cheese sauce).
Marinated, pan fried tofu slabs with stir fried Asian greens with garlic, and some brown rice.
I'm going to shove the rest of the potatoes, the sweet potatoes, yams and winter squash in a dark cupboard and ignore them for a week or so.
I'll slice and freeze the jalapeno peppers. They'll be good for Indian cooking this winter where the texture isn't as essential.
Anyone want a kohlrabi? I can leave it on a doorstep if you live nearby...or we can play kohlrabi catch if you're passing by in your car (if I can whack a bat out of my bedroom window with a tennis racket, I should be able to pitch this into the open window of a slow moving car.)
If you don't know what a fuck-wit is, come on over and have a look.
I still can't figure out how I wound up with the only copy of my work-in-progress novel being a version from September 22nd. Somehow all the work I'd done and all the versions saved since then went into the trash and, being a little compulsive (as fuck-wits are) I emptied the trash. Bye bye 3+ weeks of work!
Thank god for Mac Time Machine. It saved my ass, though only after a great deal of psychic pain and self-flagellation and the waste of a good writing day (or, if not a writing day, a good day to go for a walk--sun shining! leaves changing color!) But the fuck-wit was inside grinding her molars down into stumps.
About the only thing I feel proud of today is the fact that I have not turned to the gin (yet). Later, once small people have been toted to piano lessons and other forms of cultural enrichment, I, the fuck-wit, have a date with the gin bottle in the freezer.
Bottom row (left to right): big chunk of a massive winter squash, spicy salad mix, turnip greens (and a few wee turnips attached, 1 qt beans, Brussels sprouts, big bunch of parsley Middle row: beets, onions, purplish broccoli, red peppers, purple potatoes Top row: Easter egg radishes, bag of spinach, bag of baby greens, Italian kale, carrots, russet potatoes
I still have some eggplant and red peppers leftover from last week which, when combined with this weeks' red peppers and onions will become roasted red pepper and eggplant soup. With a salad of spicy greens and Zingerman's farm bread (on sale this month) it should make a comforting meal now that the weather is cold.
The broccoli will go into broccoli cheese soup--I might freeze this if we are all souped out from the previous soup.
Spanikopita with radish greens, turnip greens, and spinach will make good use of those greens, served with a salad of baby lettuce, parsley and roasted beets.
The kids will get homemade pizza while Brian and I have calzones with turkey Italian sausage, feta, kale and roasted red peppers.
The radishes were a bit strong when eaten raw last week so this week we'll be eating them cooked--braised radishes to be more specific, served with mashed russet potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, and pork chops.
The green beans look a little tough, so they'll get slow cooked with a slice of bacon and onions and served with hot sauce.
I'm going to steam the big hunk of winter squash and puree it; I'll freeze some and use some in pumpkin turkey chili.
Bottom row (left to right): Sweet dumpling squash, buttercup squash, red peppers, Easter egg radishes, spicy salad mix, red torpedo onions Middle row: Tongue of Fire shelling beans, turnip greens, baby lettuces, hot peppers, garlic, cilantro Interloper's corner (upper left): doz. eggs, huge bag of Asian eggplants, Roo's French Roast, qt Concord Grapes. Top row: savoy cabbage, spinach, sweet potatoes and yams, carrots
For a lot of people this is the last week of the Tantre farm share, but I signed up for the three week extension so I'll be blundering along for another three weeks.
Southwest style buttercup squash soup with chopped cilantro (recipe from Cook's Country which makes you pay for on-line access to their recipes, but the library subscribes to the paper version which is where I got this), corn bread, and salad with spicy salad greens, baby lettuces, radishes, red peppers and carrots.
Sweet dumpling squash stuffed with quinoa, with salad and probably something meat based or the meat lovers in my house will rise up in fury at the quantity of vegetarian proteins I expect them consume this week...
The yams/sweet potatoes are supposed to "cure" for at least a week so I won't be doing anything with them yet.
I don't remember Summer asking my permission to be excused.
That's how I feel, like a grumpy mama whose kid ditched the table with their plate half-full. (This is a feeling that I am all too familiar with since both critters continue their disinterest in food...)
Perhaps it's because we had an extraordinarily wonderful summer (for humans, not so good for tomatoes) that I didn't really look forward to Autumn the way I usually do. Usually by the end of summer, I'm so beaten down with sweating and mosquitoes and sick of feeling dehydrated no matter how much water I drink that Autumn feels like bliss.
This year, not so much. I'm loving the critters both being in school full day (finally) and they are thriving, so it isn't as though Autumn hasn't brought good stuff with it. Somehow, I just wasn't expecting it so soon. (In fact, I'm not really clear on where August and September went...I remember about a week of each.)
So in order to make myself feel better and to be a wee bit more accepting of the present, I've been indulging regularly in my favorite snack/desert/even (ahem) breakfast:
One Jonathan apple and one square of dark hazelnut chocolate.
Jonathan apples are my favorite variety by far. They don't last long because they don't store well, but when they are freshly picked they are just what I'm looking for: crisp, spicy, tart and not insanely huge. They remind me of Cox's Orange Pippins--an English variety that, when we went on hikes up to Captain Cook's Monument or Roseberry Topping, my Granny always had stashed in her jacket pocket along with a bar of Terry's dark chocolate. Alternating bites of apple and dark chocolate, particularly on a windy, nippy day, helps me accept, even enjoy, my present environment.
If you're having trouble accepting the season, give it a try. Jonathans are at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market and even at Meijer's. Trader Joe's is my source for the dark chocolate hazelnut bar.
I recently finished a book that does something quite remarkable: it presents all the sides of a conflict so evenly that as soon as you have sympathized and supported one side of the conflict, the author makes you see and understand it from the polar opposite perspective.
Paulette Jiles' The Color of Lightning begins with a scene of remarkable violence: a Comanche and Kiowa raid on a northern Texas frontier settlement, the murder of some, the torture of others, the brutal rape of two of the women and their capture along with four of their surviving children. If you told me that 100 pages later I would feel heartbroken when one of the captive children who has been adopted by the tribe has to leave the Kiowa to return to his family I'd have thought you were off your rocker. But that's what happened.
Jiles has written an historical novel that does not flinch at the complexities of history: she shows the flaws and the virtues of three disparate cultures that collided with tragic results. There is the story of Britt Johnson,* a freed slave, and his wife and children who are negotiating the freedom of the Texas frontier while tiptoeing around some very angry white people who are pissed about losing the Civil War. There is the story of Samuel Hammond, a Quaker from Philadelphia, who is sent as an Indian Agent to some of the most war-like and violent tribes, to preach peace and convert them to Christianity and an agrarian lifestyle (unsuccessfully in both cases). And there is the story of the Comanche and Kiowa whose traditions and way of life are disappearing and who react with both extreme violence toward the settlers, and extreme tenderness toward the captive children they adopt. Most vivid is the portrait of a particular warrior, Tissoyo, whose love of gossip and befriending of Britt make him a complicated bridge between two of the worlds.
Using Samuel and his friend the illustrator James Deaver as her mouthpiece, whose biblical morals (in the case of the former), and liberal cultural appreciation (in the case of the latter), make them echo the contemporary questions that were popping into my head as I read, the author probes the clash of the cultures: at one point Deaver remarks to Samuel that "Americans are uncomfortable with tragedy." Near the end Samuel, who finally sees the futility of his position, violates his principals of non-violence, and says to Deaver, "And here [tragedy] is. We are regarding it. Like an audience." Shortly after this statement, he leaves the territory and the role he has played forever. In a way, he is less like a member of an audience, and more like a character who walked off the stage when it is clear that things will turn out very badly (something that I've always secretly hoped Edgar might do in King Lear...)
I thought that one of the most memorable and heartbreaking moments in the book (and there are many) was watching Jube, Britt's son who was captured and adopted by the Kiowa, decide to return to his family. His loyalty to his parents, particularly seeing the sacrifices his mother made to keep him and his sister Cherry alive, motivate his actions. But he is ripped up inside because on an individual level, staying with the Kiowa would have been much better for him as a black man. For his own sake I wished he could live in a place where he could grow into an equal member of the community. His longing for the freedom and the self-esteem that he left behind is a difficult compromise to watch.
And on the other side, I loved Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a white captive woman who dubs one of the wives of the man who captured her "the Dismal Bitch." She is so terrifically foul tempered (with good reason since she is a slave and treated brutally, not adopted like the young captives) that she eventually causes the Dismal Bitch to commit suicide. After this, the Comanche are convinced that she is a witch and eventually when Brit arrives to ransom the captives, they pay him to take her back. Moments of levity like this help keep the book from sinking into a morass of historical misery.
The book kept me emotionally charged by my feelings for all the different characters and their cultures. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention all the physical beauty in the book: the way the mountains rise out of the plains, the horses that gallop in giant wild herds, the quick on-set storms rushing towards a settlement, the view of a buffalo calf tottering near its mother. The author's gorgeous prose makes this a tragedy that is drenched in beauty. Jiles facility with language makes the landscape sounds so exquisite that I understood why people loved it so fiercely and fought so hard to claim it for their people. ________ *I only discovered in the author's end-note that Britt Johnson was a real person and many of the events that she depicted were based on historical records.
Bottom row: carrots, qt of Brussels sprouts, onions, French radishes, tatsoi, two hot peppers and basil Middle-ish row: red fingerlings, lots of red peppers, cilantro, tomatillos, turnip greens Top row: green beans, broccoli, baby lettuces, butternut squash
I can't say that this week's menu plan is terribly inspired or inventive, but hopefully it will be tasty:
The tomatillos, some onion and the hot peppers and cilantro will get turned into tomatillo salsa.
I'll make cheese grits with spicy turnip and radish greens for breakfast.
Tonight we'll have roasted red pepper pasta sauce on whole wheat penne which will use up some peppers, onion and basil (I don't have any heavy cream, so I'll use some milk and a little sour cream--it won't be quite as luxurious, but hell, it's a Thursday and we don't need luxury on a Thursday); steamed broccoli will be served with it. (Boring, I know, but the girl critter actually eats it).
The tatsoi will go into a lunch stir fry with tofu and any of the broccoli that is left over.
My book group is meeting this week and I'll bring a salad with the baby lettuces, radishes, red peppers and carrots. I might mix up a blue cheese vinaigrette to make a change from our normal dressing.
Some of the butternut squash will be used to fill homemade ravioli and I'll strip the sage bush outside to add fried sage leaves to the brown butter sauce.
We need to have a roasted night with roasted Brussels sprouts, fingerling potatoes and what's left of the butternut squash. We might need some protein source to go with it...personally I could just pig myself on roasted vegetables but the other members of my household will probably feel like their needs have not been completely met.
The days have been gray and there is a chill in the air. Autumn is definitely here and I need a jolt of color to keep me perky. In the last few days I've been drawn to hot pink. This isn't a color I usually embrace--I'm more of a red and orange type--but it has felt good and energizing in a transitional sort of way.
I've begun knitting a pair of wool socks from some stash wool that I acquired about 4 years ago. I'm doing them toe-up, using the short row toe instructions that I found in Socks from the Toe-Up. This isn't the first time I tried toe-up socks; in fact this very wool was used in my first attempt and ripped out when it looked funky. But the short-row toe worked great. I'm not really using a pattern--just ribbing the top and keeping the sole smooth and I haven't decided what kind of heel I'll do yet. But it is very nice to have something so cheerful to knit and so portable; way better than wrestling with a big sweater when I go out (sweaters are better for in-front-of-the-dvd player knitting).
Yesterday I spread the pink into the kitchen by making 3 pints of pickled red onions. I was going to do Orangette's recipe, but then I happened upon David Lebovitz's much simpler lazy-person's version and went with that. Mine aren't quite as brilliantly pink as his--some of my Tantretorpedo red onions were almost white on the inside so there wasn't as much pigment to seep out into the brine. But they should still be a cheerful accompaniment to the burgers I'm planning on making soon.
Bottom row (left to right): two red onions, wee head of garlic, arugula, tomatillos, hot peppers, poblano peppers, cilantro, parsnips, basil Middle: two quarts russet potatoes, carrots, lots of red peppers, French radishes, pt grape tomatoes Top: almost 3 lbs of green beans, Red Russian kale, bag of baby lettuces, bunch of Asian greens, Sunshine Kabocha squash
I'm feeling a little maxed out on the simple steamed green beans and blanched green bean salads so this week we're going for the much less photogenic, but meltingly tasty slow cooked Greek green beans with tomatoes and potatoes, grilled lamb chops and Greek salad (with the red onions, cherry tomatoes, radishes, baby lettuces, feta, cucumber, olives)
So long as the hot humid weather we are having goes away and I can stand to turn on the oven, the parsnips, carrots and potatoes will get roasted and then tossed with feta and a squeeze of lemon when they come out, which should go well with an arugula, radish and cherry tomato salad (If the stinky heat continues the root vegetables will get chucked in the crisper bin while I wait for cooler weather.)
I'm going to have to do something Mexican with the red peppers, hot peppers, poblano peppers, cilantro, tomatillos and garlic. I'm thinking of some sort of vegetarian enchiladas with roasted peppers and roasted tomatillos combined with corn cut off the cob, cilantro and cheese and rolled up in corn tortillas and baked. Might crack out a jar of the homemade salsa and some sour cream to top it off.
Last Sunday I transformed these: Into this: Which got packaged like this: Whoo hoo! My first batch of canned salsa!
I've made plenty of fresh salsa, but never took the effort to preserve the stuff. Last spring, after tasting the salsa that one of Brian's co-workers made, I was inspired to make an attempt this year. John (the co-worker who might be a teeny bit obsessive since he has canned 46 jars of salsa so far this year...) was kind enough to share his recipe with me and the Farmer's Market cooperated by providing me with a peck of Roma seconds for $4 (I got there at about 8:30 am and think I may have got the last peck of Roma seconds. There were plenty more regular tomato seconds though.)
So long as you have a food processor, making this stuff is a breeze. Without it, the daunting quantity of chopping might push it into the 'labor of love' category, but the taste was really terrific--full rounded flavor, little edge and kick, and very difficult to stop eating. Salsa makes about 6.5 pints (6 jars and a container to eat RIGHT NOW)
Approximately 31 Roma tomatoes (10-11 cups): plunge in boiling water until skin splits. Cool tomatoes in cold water—peel, core and squeeze out juice and excess seeds. (The first photo contains about 11 cups of peeled seeded tomatoes.) 3-4 big cloves of garlic, peeled 4-6 jalapeno peppers with seeds—tops cut off and cut in half width wise 3 large white or yellow onions, peeled and cut in 1/4s 4 mild red, green or yellow peppers—seeded, stem cut off and cut in 1/4s 1 small bunch of cilantro, washed and lower part of stems cut off 1/2 cup brown sugar 1 cup white vinegar 3 tablespoons kosher salt
Get your food processor ready for some action: with the S-blade roughly chop the tomatoes (in a couple of batches). Dump into a big pot.
Then fine chop the garlic and jalapenos, add the onions and peppers and chop until smallish but not reduced to a pulp. Then add the cilantro and pulse a few times to chop it. Dump into the big pot.
Mix in the brown sugar, vinegar, and salt and bring to a boil. Then simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring frequently so bottom does not scorch.
Prior to filling jars, heat the jars and lids in boiling water for ten minutes.
Fill jars with hot salsa, wipe the rim with a clean towel and cover with lids. Then screw on the ring. Be careful to keep everything clean when boiling and filling jars.
If you are a "proper canner" and have the deep pot/rack/jar lifter, go ahead and process the jars in a hot water bath. If you are a) lazy b) equipment challenged c) willing to risk a little (salsa is high in acid and salt so the likelihood of it poisoning you is much lower than some non-acidic, non-salty food) you can do the sloth version. Set the jars on the counter and as they cool down they should seal (my mom always flipped the jars over so they were resting on their lids with the hot contents in contact with the metal--I'm not sure if it is supposed to help the seal or if it is just a compulsive quirk, but I do it too). If jar does not seal it must be refrigerated (press the lid and if it gives and makes a little popping sound, then it didn't seal).
From left to right and vaguely bottom to top: Basil, hot peppers, squash, kale, big bunch of parsley, cherry and grape tomatoes, cabbage, two wee eggplant, 2 qts green beans, spicy salad mix, lots of red peppers, red onions, 3 small heads of lettuce, 5 ears of corn, carrots
Last week I didn't get around to making the long bean salad (I ended up just steaming beans and tossing with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper) so this week's green beans will get that treatment. I'll serve it with stir fried tofu, red peppers and eggplant and some rice.
Fish tacos will use some of the cabbage, some of the corn cut off the cob and some of my homemade salsa*.
Ina Garten's perfect roast chicken will get roasted on a bed of carrots and last week's huge cipollini onion (I plan to substitute the squash for the fennel in the recipe and don't think the chicken needs butter rubbed into the skin), served with some salad.
The rest of corn will be prepared Mexican style--grilled on the cob with mayo, chili pepper, pecorino, cilantro and lime juice--and served with turkey burgers and salad.
Some of the red peppers will get roasted and packed in a jar with olive oil (or some other preservation method? Must look into the best method.)
I like the looks of this recipe forbasil rubbed pork chops with blue cheese and nectarines and will try to adapt it to a pork tenderloin I have in the freezer, a lot more basil than the recipe calls for and the last few Michigan peaches that I still have. Probably served with some form of kale.
I'll have a big bowl of salad always ready for lunch to use up all the nice lettuce.
The bounteous quantity of parsley will get split between a batch of Sarah's hummus and a batch of parsley heavy tabbouleh.
* Recipe for and pictures of the salsa coming in the next post. This would also be a good week to make it, what with the ample quantity of red and hot peppers, so long as you can lay your hands on a peck of tomato seconds.
When you have recently returned from a camping trip, fresh food is really irresistible. That's part of the reason that I got a little greedy today at the market and supplemented my farm share with some interlopers.
The far left side of the table contains the interlopers (from bottom to top): Zingerman's Paesano bread, a huge eggplant, 3 peaches, a head of lettuce, a quart of raspberries, a pound of Roo's Roast and a bottle of Greek olive oil from Sparrow market. The rest of the table is taken over by the farm share (roughly left to right): big bag of green beans, bunch of tatsoi, carrots, insane quantity of basil, daikon radishes, big cipollini onion, cherry tomatoes, regular tomatoes, potatoes, bunch of thyme, red peppers and Italian kale.
I'm really not going to have trouble putting this week's share away. Vegetables taste so damn good after a week of mostly dehydrated stuff! (But it was worth the culinary sacrifice for the wealth of amphibianlife the girl critter was able to find).
For lunch, the daikon greens will get sauteed with garlic and lemon and heaped on top of slabs of the paesano bread and drizzled with the grassy Greek olive oil.
Tomorrow's dinner will be bi bim bop with: tatsoi, daikon, carrots, and a few green beans with bulgoki beef and kim chi (a couple of people have asked me for a recipe, which is probably a little more formal than what you'd call what I make, but I'll try to document the basic preparation and assemblage.)
On the weekend, I'm thinking grilled steak and grilled tomatoes with basil sauce--sort of like pesto but a little less pasty--with roasted potatoes *Update* Noelle posted a beautiful looking herbed potato salad that I'll try instead; now I won't have to turn on the oven at all!
I already made (and consumed two pieces of) this raspberry tart. (Hey, raspberries get moldy really quickly so I had to take action...)
They aren't long beans, but some of the green beans should adapt well enough to this SE Asian long bean salad treatment. I haven't figured out what to serve with it--maybe it's time to remember how to make pad thai again.
I'll probably make the kale into this salad. Meagan made it once for book group and it was terrific and I think it would make a great lunch with more of that paesano bread.
and finally, more pesto for freezing in ice cube trays.