an Italian novel, a French salad, a song to break your heart

I sent my first newsletter in September 2018, and here we are, Issue 52! I’m all in for  this labor of love! Knowing I’m going to be writing to you makes me pay attention a little harder to the things I enjoy, to discover things I may want to share. In these hard times (fires, climate change, pandemic, social unrest, my city fraying from counter-protests, looming election, fear mongering), I’m finding joy-accountability a real boon to my well being. What a gift you’ve given me!

The newsletter is free, but I’ve a quick favor to ask of you: if you enjoy r.w.e. dropping in your box every two weeks, do me a solid and share with three friends. My readership is growing (almost 900 of you!! Thank you), but I’d be grateful if you invited three of your smart and lovely pals to join in.

Some things I’ve loved:

 

 


read

I mentioned accountability, having to show up in this notes with some good things to share, and how that has been helping keep me on track when I’m anxious and distractible. Maybe some accountability would help you as well. So, I’ve an idea. Want to read a book with me? I’m really excited to dive into the new Ferrante novel, The Lying Life of Adults. The NYTs gave it a glorious front page review, and since I am a big fan of the Neapolitan Quartet (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Stay and Those Who Leave, The Story of the Lost Child) this newest Ferrante was already high on my TBR list.

I’d like to host a free r.w.e. community read. We can keep in touch over on my Instagram page along the way, plus, I’ll host two zoom meetings, one midway through and one when we’re all finished. Talking about a book, sharing ideas, discovering something new in a smart pal’s interpretation, always enriches the reading experience for me.

Are you in? I hope so. Drop me an email by responding to the newsletter. I’ll be in touch to get this virtual book club rolling!

 

 



write

I often talk to my students about the importance of secondary characters, in fiction and in memoir, as a way to reveal more about the main character. A character is only fully realized when she interacts in a social context. A fully realized character is one that we want to follow. The playwright, Arthur Miller said that successful plays “have no characters, only relationships. If you leave a character alone for too long, you’d better think about some interaction soon. Fiction is people acting and reacting.”

To illustrate the importance of secondary characters, I used a song, “Lockdown,” by Anderson.Paak. Hang with me.

First, I shared only the lyrics, which we read together. Here’s a bit, and you can find the entire song lyrics here. (warning: they’re explicit and include violence).

You should’ve been downtown (word)
The people are risin’ (for real?)
We thought it was a lockdown (what?)
They opened up fire (damn)
Them bullets was flyin’ (ooh)
Who said it was a lockdown? Goddamn lie

Next, we listened to the song. And of course the melody and tempo added another layer of meaning and texture. I know this isn’t a huge lightbulb moment, but it is important to keep this in mind with our writing. We control tone and texture with word choice, sentence length, setting, white space on the page. Check the song here. We had a brief discussion about our perceptions. Had they changed by listening, not just reading the lyrics? Absolutely.

Finally, we watched the music video, which you can do here. Following the speaker (our main character) through his night, witnessing interactions with friends, noticing the exhaustion in all their bodies, the tender kindnesses exchanged, the loneliness the speaker feels sitting in the backseat, the frustration of watching the news, the meta-moment when we see him at the piano, making art from his experience, and the end, comforting his child–all the other people, his relationships, his movements, all of it brings the story home. I love this song and it breaks my heart.

From Life to Fiction: When we set out to write a story often we have no idea where to begin. In this class we’ll look at the wealth of possibility in our lives, our family life, our work life, or perhaps with a story from a loved one’s life that seems perfect fodder for fiction. We’ll use life as the starter for stories to which we apply our imagination, the skills in our writers’ toolbox, and the joy that comes from being in charge of how the story ends.

Finding Your Flow: Carving time and space to be attentive to our creative practice can be daunting at anytime, during a pandemic, when we’re struggling to juggle all our roles (partner, parent, teacher, professional, creative) it’s even more difficult. Not only do we have to make the time, which often means taking time away from our responsibilities, but then, once at our desk we must release the tight grip of the critical mind that stands in our way. Let’s come together to write, read, talk and laugh about our human experience and how we can get out of the way to get words on the page.

 

 



eat

How could I have forgotten the humble Salade Niçoise? In my twenties, when I was hell bent on being sophisticated, I made them all the time. This week our CSA share was resplendent with green beans, red bell pepper, yellow finn potatoes, lettuce, fennel. I had a few fresh eggs on hand, Joel went out for some tuna, and lo and behold!

Salade Niçoise :
Vinaigrette:

  • 2 tablespoons good-quality red or white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, small or large to taste, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oilUsing a fork or a small whisk, mix together the vinegar and lemon juice with the garlic, salt, pepper and Dijon mustard. Whisk in the olive oil.

Salade:

  • ¾ pound medium Yukon gold or fingerling potatoes, cut in 3/4-inch dice and steamed until tender
  • 6 ounces green beans, trimmed, and cut in half if long, steamed and put in ice water bath to maintain color
  • 1 small red pepper, thinly sliced or diced
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced in half-moons
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and cut in wedges
  • 1 small head of Boston lettuce, 1 romaine heart, or 4 to 5 cups mixed baby salad greens, washed and dried
  • ½ cup chopped fresh herbs, like parsley, basil, tarragon, chives and marjoram, even a little mint
  • I pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1lb fresh albacore tuna steaks, about 2″ thick
  • 1 tbs fennel seeds
  • About 1 tbs olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Fennel bulbed sliced very thin, soaked in a bit of lemon juice and a pinch of salt
  • ½ cup niçoise olives
  1. To cook the tuna, first allow the fish to come to room temperature. Rub with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and fennel seeds you’ve smashed in a mortar and pestle.
  2. Heat the grill to hot.
  3. Cook for 2 minutes on one side. Flip, cook for 2 minutes more for rare, an additional 2 minutes if you like your tuna cooked through.
  4. Remove from grill.
  5. Let rest while you compose the salad. Lay the lettuce on a large platter and arrange the gorgeous vegies.
  6. Slice the tuna (across the grain) into thin slices and lay on top of your beautiful salad, sprinkle with the olives and drizzle that vinaigrette all over the top.

 

 

this is a mistake making place

Holy Crap! I deeply embarrassed myself the other day. We had newish friends over for dinner, and Joel and I spent time performing our anti-racism… do you know what I mean? The important books we’ve read, conversations we’ve had, friends we’ve left behind because our differing views on racism, capitalism, the virus, and the election are just too far to bridge, all the learning and unlearning. On we jabbered, until I looked at our guest and said, “Oh my god, it must be exhausting for you to have to watch/listen to us try so hard.” And, much to her benefit, to her grace, our new friend said, “I’m just wondering when you all are going to internalize this.” And, of course she’s right. Still trying to get it right, not to be right, to move on to a better future for all of us.
Meanwhile, some things I’ve loved:

 


read

I’m writing to you from Suttle Lake. Here for a few days to swim (can’t because the lake has a bird parasite that makes your skin rash up), hike along the Metolius river (can’t because there is a forest fire), and read (okay, can!).

The Margot Affair: A Novelby Sanaë Lemoine was a sweet discovery I made from The Smitten Kitchen newsletter which rhapsodized about the glorious food writing in the book. I’m always down for that. The Margot Affair is about the secret second family of a French politician and the teenage daughter who decides to out herself. So far, halfway through, there’s beautiful writing, a character I care about, Parisian settings (which make me weep with the desire to travel), and wonderful descriptions of food. Check this:

The salt cured cod was layered with creamy mashed potatoes and presented in a small cocotte. The mussels bathed in a white wine and garlic sauce that we both finished with our spoons. My lips were sore from the salt. Father ordered a bottle of white wine and served me a glass. I’d had alcohol before, but never with an adult. Even before taking a sip, I felt drunk from the meal. For dessert, the chef brought our crêpes Suzette, a dessert Father always ordered at restaurants, and lit the crêpes on fire. Father lifted them with the rounded back of his spoon, allowing the liquor to slide onto the plate and under the crepe. I could smell the burnt sugar and oranges. Look at those edges, he said, prodding with his spoon. It reminds me of lace. 

I don’t know about you, but Lemoine had me at cocotte!

Another bonus, once I held the book in my hand I saw that a writer I admire, the wonderful Victor LaValle, who taught at my grad school and who is quite possibly one of the nicest people I met at grad school, blurbed the book. If you don’t know LaValle’s work, check The Changeling. It’s a speculative love story, with a vanishing wife, secrets, a scary baby, and magic! Maybe just the escape you need right now.

 

 



write

My hometown is burning. The redwoods in Santa Cruz county are engulfed, tens of thousands of my fellow Santa Cruzans have been evacuated to shelters and doubled up with friends. One beloved friend wrote about making a last ditch return to her home to collect a blanket her deceased mother had made for her years ago. It’s painful to be so far away and to feel helpless.

Prompt:  Write a letter from a burning building. You won’t be able to escape. This is the last thing you’ll ever write. Dear ____________, I have something to tell you:

Another prompt, this from the poet, Marie Howe, under the theme, It Hurts to be Present:

Write ten observations of the world around you—just ten concrete details, no metaphor, no abstraction—this may prove to be incredibly challenging at first. Howe says, “To resist metaphor is very difficult—because you have to actually endure the thing itself.”

Three upcoming opportunities to write with me this fall:

Memoir Infusion: This class is meant to get you moving, excited and deeply engaged with your memoir project. Whether you’ve almost got a full draft, are just beginning, or somewhere in between, together we’re going to make progress. Through reading memoir samples, craft talks and readings, plus specific writing exercises, we’ll examine what makes a reader engage with your story. We will look at ways to organize and shape life-chaos into art.

From Life to Fiction: When we set out to write a story often we have no idea where to begin. In this class we’ll look at the wealth of possibility in our lives, our family life, our work life, or perhaps with a story from a loved one’s life that seems perfect fodder for fiction. We’ll use life as the starter for stories to which we apply our imagination, the skills in our writers’ toolbox, and the joy that comes from being in charge of how the story ends.

Finding Your Flow: Carving time and space to be attentive to our creative practice can be daunting at anytime, during a pandemic, when we’re struggling to juggle all our roles (partner, parent, teacher, professional, creative) it’s even more difficult. Not only do we have to make the time, which often means taking time away from our responsibilities, but then, once at our desk we must release the tight grip of the critical mind that stands in our way. Let’s come together to write, read, talk and laugh about our human experience and how we can get out of the way to get words on the page.

 

 



eat

Because my husband craves chicken multiple times a week, and because what he does with the bones is practically obscene, I’m always in love with a good, bone-free chicken recipe. Enter a new fav from NYTs cooking which has the value add of using up abundant zucchini from the CSA box!

Chicken Zucchini Meatballs w/Feta

  • 3 large zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 large shallot, halved
  • ½ cup panko
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • 1 pound ground chicken dark meat
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, basil, parsley or dill, plus more for serving
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing and drizzling
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
  • 4 ounces feta

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Slice 2 zucchini into 1/2-inch-thick pieces. Season with salt, and set aside.

2. Working over a large bowl, using the large holes of a box grater, grate the remaining zucchini. Grate half a shallot into the bowl as well. Add the panko, cumin, 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes and 1/2 teaspoon salt, use your hands to mix until combined. Add the chicken and herbs and mix until fully combined.

3. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment. Wet your hands and form the chicken mixture into meatballs (around 2 to 3 tablespoons each). Place them on one side of the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and roast for 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, pat the sliced zucchini dry, lightly coat with about 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with pepper.

5. Coarsely chop the remaining half shallot and transfer to a small bowl. Add the lemon juice, season with salt, and stir to combine.

6. Add the sliced zucchini to the other half of the baking sheet, shifting the meatballs to make room (same as you push your partner over to make room in bed!). Bake until meatballs are cooked through and the zucchini is golden on the bottom, another 15 to 20 minutes. To brown the meatballs and make them pretty, broil for a few minutes.

7. Meanwhile, crumble the feta into the shallot mixture. Add the 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes. Stir, smoosh up the feta, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

8. Eat the meatballs and zucchini with a drizzle of the feta sauce and more fresh herbs. If you have pita bread, consider yourself very lucky!!

 

 

 

what are you denying yourself for what stupid reason?

How upside down does the world have to get before we right ourselves? It’s been hard and hot here in Portland and we’ve been on the streets. I know you know what’s been going on. I know you’ve been reading and consuming smart reports. Just in case, here’s a good summation. Do what you can. Be safe. Express your outrage. Keep learning. Here’s more.

There is no graceful way to pivot, so I’m just going to. I’m not an influencer. I get no cash for things I share, so take this as a true love object from me to you.  My new Patagonia baggy shorts have made me ridiculously happy! Could it be Covid-19 isolation that makes this small thing such a big deal? Because I’ve always hated my thighs I never would’ve considered shorts. (I know, yawn, who hasn’t hated some part of their body and kept it covered?) Big question, who gives a shit? Why have I denied myself the comfort and pleasure? It’s 100°! I am a slow learner. What are you denying yourself for no good reason?

read

Are you reading? I am, very, very slowly due to doomscrolling.  But, a book I recently plowed through? The Puppy Primer, by Patricia B McConnell and Brenda Scidmore. If you need help with play biting and house breaking (and doesn’t everyone?) The Puppy Primer has your back. The koan of the book–we humans are the ones that need to be trained in helping our pups become part of our family pack.

One of my favorite people and teachers has a new craft book, And Then Something Happened. Believe me, this is a reason to celebrate! I’ve not yet gotten my hands on a copy, but if it’s anything like her first craft book, Curious Attractions, we’re all in for a treat. Smart, accessible, kind, Debra Spark is a wonder.

If you’ve been in a creative nonfiction class with me, in all probability you’ve read the essay, “How to Make a Slave,” by Jerald Walker. Well, more good news, he’s publishing a collection with the same title. Preorder here.

 

 

 

 

 



write

Two great things are happening! Both Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference are offering online content for us. Napa will send an email every morning with content, so do sign up. (I know, it is 3 days in by the time you read this, but they may have the previous day’s posts available still.)

Bread Loaf has rebranded the 2020 conference as Dream Loaf and is offering some pretty sweet talks and readings. A few I’ll be certain to check out:

  • Stacy D’Erasmo’s talk: “After the World Ends: The Artists Response to Crisis”
  • A reading by Gloria Naylor!! (Who I’ve mentioned in this newsletter)
  • Charlie Baxter’s talk: “The Request Moment, or  ‘There’s Something I Want You to Do'”

I have new teaching and editorial pages on my website. Please click on over to find out about virtual opportunities to write & read together.

And, there are a few spots left in my Literary Arts class. Could one be yours?

Turning Life into Fiction – August 6 – Sept 3
We have a wealth of story possibilities in our lives. What is a story that’s often retold to the point of folklore in your family? What is the anecdote that you trot out over a beverage with friends? In this class we will use life as the starter for stories to which we apply our imagination, the skills in our writers’ toolbox, and the joy that comes from being in charge of how the story ends!

Finally, if you cannot wait to get going, dive in to writing a short story with Curtis Sittenfeld and the New York Times.

 

 

 



eat

After the last newsletter, a reader wrote to tell me she was sad that I failed to include a recipe for her “not to make.” Haha!  Okay, so here is one you should make:

Remember I told you about Samin Nosrat’s google doc, “You’ve Followed, Now What? filled with opportunities to discover new-to-you voices in food and support BIPOC people in the food industry? Well, I signed up for a zoom class with Chef Eric Adjepong. It was fantastic! He’s super kind, smart and adept in the kitchen, inventive, kept us on track. We cooked fast! I learned some techniques. I learned some skills. I learned about the right oil to use on the grill (canola). We made a delicious Caribbean Picnic and then, my husband and I had pals over for a socially distanced meal on our deck.

Besides the pickled veggie salad rolls (so good!) and the jerk chicken (spicy and amazing), we made a punch called Sobolo-Sorrel Tea. Super thirst quenching and many possibilities to dress it up. Seriously, you should make this.

Sobolo-Sorrel Tea

  • 12 cups of water
  • 8 ounces of dried hibiscus flowers (I used Hibiscus tea, about 5 tea bags)
  • 5 ounces fresh ginger, sliced or, if you like a heavy ginger kick, smashed (about 3-5 knuckle sized pieces)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 10 whole allspice seeds (I didn’t have any)
  • ½ pineapple, chopped up w/bark and flesh (I made one version w/peaches instead, a delight)
  • 1 orange peel and juice (juice separated)
  • 2 TBS of lime juice (to taste)
  • 1 to 1½ cups of simple syrup, I used ½ cup and it was PLENTY sweet
  • Ice
  • Lime and orange slices, for garnish

1. In a large stock pot over medium-high heat, add clove, cinnamon sticks, allspice seeds. Toast, moving frequently until fragrant, about 3 minutes.

2. Add in ginger, orange peel and pineapple bark, and continue to cook for 3 minutes. Add in water (peaches if using) and bring to a boil.

3. Add hibiscus leaves to the boiling water and reduce to a simmer for 10 – 15 minutes. Cover pot and steep for 30-40 minutes.

4. Add in simple syrup a half cup at a time according to preference.

5. Strain tea. Add citrus juice. Chill.

6. Serve over ice. Some ideas: Serve tea mixed w/Fever Tree tonic, a squeeze of lime and a pineapple garnish. And/or add
a glug of spirits: rum or vodka or gin.

It is delicious! I plan on keeping a pitcher in my fridge. Do yourself a favor and check Chef Adjepong’s class schedule. It was a great way to spend the afternoon. I’m going to sign up for another.

 

 

 

mt. st anything

What I haven’t done since 13 March when my husband and I began our lockdown:

  • finished my memoir
  • reorganized my kitchen
  • kept a pandemic diary
  • home schooled children 
  • written the cookbook I’ve always dreamed of writing
  • taken a ________ class (you fill in the blank, French Language, Meditation, Chinese Cooking)
  • hiked to the top of Mt. St Anything

It isn’t that I haven’t wanted to do those things, believe me, if I’m anything I’m aspirational. Take a glance across the tabs on my safari web browser you’ll see all my eclectic fantasy projects as well as a pretty clear picture of the state of my wellbeing. Currently I’ve got:

What I have done? Stocked our home with a bar (not a barre), and, we got a puppy. His name is Stanley and we’re in love.


read

I came to it late, but I’m loving Saeed Jones’ memoir, How We Fight for Our Lives. Young, queer, and black, Saeed Jones writes about coming into his own in the south. His writing is fierce and lyric. He speaks of his love of books and language, the strength of his mother, the fear and awkwardness of coming into his own body and owning his desires, and the necessity of leaving those you love to gain yourself. The book is beautifully written, his story compelling. And, he has this gorgeous poem in the New Yorker this week.

A few weeks ago a friend sent me this essay from O, Magazine. “What The Black Lives Matter Movement has Taught Me About My Whiteness is a true call to action for white people, white women in particular. We have a real responsibility to lead systemic change in our country and Deborah Way beautifully describes her personal call to action, and how she may misstep along the way.  Our job is not to BE RIGHT, but to GET IT RIGHT, and that is going to take being willing to be wrong and the flexibility to change. Please, check it out.

Finally, the writer Sulieka Jaouad, who put together the Isolation Journal project, has now opened an Isolation Journal Bookshop Man, what luck, a beautifully curated store online that benefits independent booksellers.  I’ve just spent a few moments perusing and found three books I’m interested in:

 

 

 



write

I’ve been sharing this video with my writing students. It’s from Marina Abramovic’s performance piece, The Artist is Present, at MOMA. I find the rush of emotion in both Marina’s and Ulay’s faces so deeply moving. At this time in particular, when we’re all separated and yearning to hug friends and family alike, all my mirror neurons fire up.

I wonder, who would you like to see across the table from you? What would you like to tell them? Take 10 minutes, freewrite and then, perhaps turn the writing into a letter, send it off in the snail mail.

I’ve been poem bombing my neighborhood! Tacking this poem on telephone poles for whomever needs to hear it. What would you say to the person crying in the next bathroom stall?

If you’d like to work with me, I’ve got virtual classes about to begin with a few spaces left:

Beginning Fiction – July 22 – August  26.
Ready to get the stories in your head onto paper? If there’s a story you want to tell, but you have no idea where to begin (or you need a refresher), this course is for you. We will focus on a different aspect of fiction––character, dialogue, setting, and more––and explore it through stories by authors like Stephanie Vaughn, Jim Shepard, Edward P. Jones, Zadie Smith, Lucia Berlin, Tessa Hadley, Jhumpa Lahiri to illuminate that topic and inspire our own writing. We’ll put what we learn into practice through weekly exercises and writing prompts, and in the second half of class, you will have the opportunity to submit a full short story to receive feedback from the instructor and your fellow writers, to help you get a sense of what your strengths are, and how to build on them.

Turning Life into Fiction – August 6 – September 3
We have a wealth of story possibilities in our lives. What is a story that’s often retold to the point of folklore in your family? What is the anecdote that you trot out over a beverage with friends? In this class we will use life as the starter for stories to which we apply our imagination, the skills in our writers’ toolbox, and the joy that comes from being in charge of how the story ends!

And, I’ve updated my teaching and editing pages her on my website, take a peek.

 

 



eat

What do you do when your cooking mentors are outed as part of the problem? There has been a lot of pulling back the curtain in Portland’s restaurant scene lately, beloved restaurants revealed to have toxic work environments with abusive, misogynistic, transphobic, racist chefs. Many of the restaurants are already closed due to the pandemic, some have shuttered swiftly and permanently after being outed, others are taking a hiatus and refiguring, learning and (hopefully) making amends to staff.  What do we do as consumers? I actually feel bad pulling cookbooks by these chefs off my shelf.  It’s that question again, can we love the art but abhor the artist? This is not a rhetorical question.

And so, I embrace the generous and joyous and darling Samin Nosrat. Her cookbook, Salt Fat Acid Heat is a delight (in no small part due to the exciting and excellent artwork of Wendy MacNaughton. I’ve already said she deserves a MacArthur grant for her pandemic art classes. Seriously, you should follow her on Instagram). Nosrat’s  Netflix series is also a real treat. Especially the episode in which she makes crispy rice with her mother.

 

 

 

incredulous pie

How are you all holding up? No, really, jeez….

Currently, I’m mystified. How did common sense public health become emasculating? (Of course I know how, still, I’m experiencing a spike in incredulity!) My husband was verbally assaulted at the Credit Union, told to f*ck off when he suggested to a white man of a certain age that he should MASK UP. A friend encountered a mask-less white woman at the farmer’s market, screaming about her civil rights when my pal requested social distancing. Caring about the health of people around you should not be emasculating. It is MASKULATING.
Please, take care of yourselves, take care of your community. Here’s the science behind the mask.

 

 


read

I’m loving Red at the Bone, by Jaqueline Woodson. The novel is full poetry and drama, both dense and spare. In very few pages Woodson examines issues of class, ambition, racial prejudice, sexual orientation, identity, mother-daughter relationships, parenthood and loss.

I often talk to my students about authorial custody, about how much control or leniency a writer takes with her work. A low authorial custody book allows much of the work to be written in the reader’s head, while I high authorial custody book is measured and controlled, the author carefully guiding the reader. I am not arguing for one style or another. The book I just finished and adoredThe Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett, was a high custody novel, while Woodson’s book is low custody. One style is that of a busy Australian Shepard, circling the herd, checking that things are moving along, the other, a relaxed sheep herder showing us shapes in the clouds.

If your attention span is still diminished, as mine is (covid-19, social distance, social justice protests, (un)learning, election, confusion), here is a quick and thoughtful read, The Trayvon Generation from the June 22nd New Yorker. Elizabeth Alexander writes about the trauma of witnessing violence, how bravado and urbane-hipness may be a smoke screen for low-grade depression, and the uplift of joyfully moving bodies. After reading the article, and this interview in the NYTs, I’m picking up Alexander’s memoir on love and loss, The Light of the World. Here’s a snippet of a conversation with Alexander in which she discusses community and love built by Art. “Art replaces the light that is lost when the day fades.”

Finally, a sweet story about a pre-surgical braid! A woman goes in for brain surgery, and wakes with her hair braided. “thinking about this black man braiding my hair to prepare to cut my head open is hilarious and endearing at the same time. also the fact that he’s that active in helping his wife with their girls, I love it.” Read about it. I promise you a smile.

 

 



write

I want to share this lovely journaling exercise with you. It’s from Jen Louden, my friend and support beam (I mean that in both senses of the word, a beam of strength holding up the house, and a beam of light). Jen does a wonderful job of describing the tinder box we’ve built up in our hearts, just in the act of living, and also during this time of unrest.

Prevent the Blast: Anger is NOT bad or wrong! Women, especially women of color, have been taught by the dominant culture that our anger is, at the very least, unseemly and bitchy. And at its worst? It can get you killed.

When we deny our anger, the personal and collective costs are devastating. We have to learn to work with it so it energizes us to take action, both for ourselves and for our world. Anger, among other emotions, has stirred millions of people to protest against systemic racism all over the U.S. and the world. This November will hopefully be the biggest voter turnout the U.S. has ever seen.

Here is one way to work with your anger:

Imagine:
The uncertainty of the pandemic…
Witnessing again and again the murders of innocent Black people…
The worsening global climate…
Lack of leadership…

Then add:
A few small slights from loved ones…
Microaggressions from co-workers…
Worries about money…

Imagine the hard things that have happened to you and been witnessed by you as pieces of kindling collecting in the corners of your heart. As that kindling pile grows higher, it takes less and less for it to ignite into a huge conflagration. Our nervous systems are raw. It’s hard to focus on our work, our activism, our creativity.

It’s safe to say at this point in history that everyone’s kindling piles are at an all-time high.

Try this:

  • Write down everything in your kindling pile. Name the anger. Write fast. Things done to you, things you’ve done. Anything goes.
  • Put your hand on your heart. Let out a long exhale through your lips while making a whoosh sound. Repeat a few times. Remind yourself you are safe.
  • Recall a moment when you offered your natural warmth and goodness to another human. Recall what you do: spontaneous texts to friends, checking on an elderly neighbor, donating to causes. Feel your natural warmth and goodness now.
  • Read your kindling pile list. Is there anything in it that you want to, and can, take action on this week? It could be writing a letter to your police department, cutting back on news, registering to get out the vote in your town. Break it down into two or three specific things you can actually do this week. Vague plans or feeling hopeless will only feed your future fires.
  • Notice if there is anyone on your kindling list you have a personal relationship with and, if so, take a few breaths to remember they too are essentially good. They too extend warmth and kindness to others. They too have good intentions, if not always skillful means. (Note: you do not need to do this for anyone you don’t want. This is not about gaslighting yourself.)
  • Take what is left in the pile, the specifics, as well as general feelings of outrage, rage, fury, frustration, bitterness, even hatred, and imagine all of it is being held in a field of love. Again, not as an act of ignoring what is wrong, but to feel the truth that love is a reality, that love is a force that changes the world in incredibly practical ways. That love is where transformation begins.

If Jen seems like your jam, and you’re interested in working with her (writing coach, writing community) check her website here.

If you’d like to work with me, I’ve got virtual classes about to begin with a few spaces left:

Finding Flow – July 10 -12.
Together we will visit some questions about our work. Why we write? Why we read? What’s at the root of our frozen moments? Feeling stuck is an opportunity to look at the way we work, the way we talk to ourselves, examine our expectations, and be honest about what we can handle at this time.

Beginning Fiction – July 22 – August  26.
Ready to get the stories in your head onto paper? If there’s a story you want to tell, but you have no idea where to begin (or you need a refresher), this course is for you. We will focus on a different aspect of fiction––character, dialogue, setting, and more––and explore it through stories by authors like Stephanie Vaughn, Jim Shepard, Edward P. Jones, Zadie Smith, Lucia Berlin, Tessa Hadley, Jhumpa Lahiri to illuminate that topic and inspire our own writing. We’ll put what we learn into practice through weekly exercises and writing prompts, and in the second half of class, you will have the opportunity to submit a full short story to receive feedback from the instructor and your fellow writers, to help you get a sense of what your strengths are, and how to build on them.

Turning Life into Fiction – August 6 – September 3
We have a wealth of story possibilities in our lives. What is a story that’s often retold to the point of folklore in your family? What is the anecdote that you trot out over a beverage with friends? In this class we will use life as the starter for stories to which we apply our imagination, the skills in our writers’ toolbox, and the joy that comes from being in charge of how the story ends!

 



eat

And finally, the PIE!!

When I was newly married I decided to master the pie crust. I’m not arrogant enough to say that I have, in fact, I decidedly haven’t. My pie dough, when rolled out, always requires some patching together (I blame my insistence on whole wheat pastry flour). I never get that beautiful single round you see in magazine photos. In fact, I am like the Celeste Barber of pie crust. What I lack in elegance, I make up in substance.

But, I have a terrific recipe that I’ve been using for thirty years.

 

Here’s a pie I’m dying to make, (yet, alas, in reduced size) because, for now, we’re only able to be together in small gatherings. Though I would normally just use my recipe for the crust, this one, with the pepper (!) sounds pretty great.

 

Strawberry Slab Pie (From NYTs Cooking)

Crust

  • 2 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons/360 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 cup/226 grams cold unsalted butter (2 sticks), cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus more for buttering the pan
  • ¾ cup/177 milliliters ice water
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, the salt and the pepper. Using a pastry blender, cut butter into flour until the largest pieces of butter are the size of lentils.
  2. Sprinkle ice water over dough a tablespoon at a time, stirring and scooping the dough with your hands as you go to incorporate the water, until the dough just begins to adhere and you can gather it into an imperfect ball. (You may not need all the water.) Transfer dough to a piece of plastic wrap and press into a disk. Wrap tightly and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  3. Lightly butter a quarter sheet pan with a 1-inch rim, including the top edge of the rim, and set aside. (Quarter sheet pans are usually 8 by 11 inches or 9 by 12 inches, depending on the manufacturer.)
  4. Lightly flour a large work surface, a rolling pin and the dough. Roll the chilled dough into an 1/8-inch-thick rectangle. From that, cut a rectangle three inches bigger than the dimensions of your pan on each side Reserve the extra dough.
  5. Gently press the dough rectangle into the quarter sheet pan, trimming excess dough at the edges. The dough should go all the way up and over the top edge of the pan, if possible. Transfer pan to refrigerator and chill for 1 hour.
  6. Meanwhile, line another baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out reserved dough to 1/4- to 1/8-inch thickness. Using 1- and 2-inch biscuit cutters, cut out about 30 circles of different sizes (or use all one size if you prefer), rerolling dough as necessary. Transfer circles to parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate.

Filling:

  • 3 pounds strawberries, small berries cut in half and larger berries cut in quarters
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons loosely packed dark brown sugar, depending on berry sweetness
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon grapefruit zest
  • 1 ½ teaspoons grapefruit juice
  • ½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅛ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  1. Make the filling: Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir well. Set aside for about an hour, while crust chills.
  2. Heat oven to 375 degrees. When oven is hot, paint some buttermilk on the edges of the pie crust. Transfer berry mixture to crust, patting the berries down into a roughly even layer. Place pan on a larger baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake for 30 minutes.
  3. Paint buttermilk over reserved pastry circles and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon granulated sugar. Place circles all over the bubbling berries. Continue baking pie until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling, an additional 50 to 60 minutes.
  4. Run a small knife around the edge of the pie while it’s warm. Transfer the pie in its quarter sheet pan to a wire rack. Let cool for at least 2 hours before cutting and serving from the pan.

 

 

 

 

what we bring

How are you all holding up? What’s been happening for centuries in the United States, blatant exclusionary and violent racist practices, has finally, finally hit critical mass. And we aren’t turning away. A student of mine, an older white man, wept in zoom room the other day, he told us about being in Selma and protesting with Dr. King, and how now, all these many years later, the face of the protests has finally changed. All I know is that I am pressing on, doing all the things I can as an ally–protesting, petitioning, donating, learning. I get how exhausting it must be to have to watch white people perform their anti-racism. I will misstep. And when I do, I’m eager to hear about it. I have a lot to learn. Meanwhile, we’re listening to Mr. Gil Scot Heron around here.


read

I am revisiting The Women of Brewster Place, by Gloria Naylor, which was a favorite of mine in college. We bring to any book the current most compelling questions in our lives. As a young woman reading Naylor, I wanted to know about womanhood. I wanted to learn about power, sexual politics, femininity, about ambition, building a home and family, while hopefully retaining a self. Now, at this stage in my life, at this moment in our country, I want to look at the confines and struggles, the baked-in limitations, prejudice, and racism that black woman in America faced, and still face. I want to read Naylor with less self-absorption, to learn something different this time through. I wish, when I was younger, I had widened my lens.

After I reread Naylor, I’ll move on to Brit Bennet’s newest, The Vanishing Half. A novel about twin black sisters who choose to live in very different worlds, one white and one black. Vox says  the novel “offers a critique of whiteness from the perspective of someone who passes for white by choice — a choice motivated by an understandable desire for privilege, financial stability, and most of all, safety.”

I’m also rereading The Liar’s Club, by Mary Karr, in tandem with her craft book, The Art of Memoir. I’m working on a memoir, and reading these two together is inspiring and daunting. Damn, there is much to be said for being raised in a colorful crapshoot of a family, and for soaking in such gorgeous language as Karr did all through her childhood. The Liar’s Club is a master class in verbs! Seriously, buckhackhork, twig (as in understand), rathole (yes, that’s a verb!), jackscudge, and dicker.

I want to suggest one more time, looking for a summation of the day’s events, all things covid-19, politics, and protests though a lens of history and law, then consider Heather Cox Richardson’s insightful, brilliant, and incredibly useful newsletter, Letters from an American.

 

 



write

In Mary Karr’s, Art of Memoir, she talks about the quality that makes a book rereadable, “interiority—the kingdom the camera never captures.” What does she mean by this? That a great memoir is a story organized around the inner enemy—the psychic struggle against the self. That struggle is some hard truth the writer faces on the page every damn time she sits down. If the writer has no emotional stakes in the project, why should the reader?

My students exhibit this truth seeking all the time, and I am so grateful for their willingness. In the same way I try to put myself in the path of beauty by going for a walk at sunset, or grabbing a little sit down in the trees in a park near my home, I put myself in the path of smart and funny and striving creatives (my students! my friends!) as often as possible. And, I’ve been surprised by the community we all build with mere postage stamp windows on a zoom call.

In case you’re interested in taking a virtual class with me, I’ve got three starting up.

Finding Flow – July 10 -12.
Together we will visit some questions about our work. Why we write? Why we read? What’s at the root of our frozen moments?
Feeling stuck is an opportunity to look at the way we work, the way we talk to ourselves, examine our expectations, and be honest about what we can handle at this time. Join me and your fellow students to write together, to read, to talk and laugh about our human experience and how we can get out of our way and get words on the page.

Beginning Fiction – July 22 – August  26.
Ready to get the stories in your head onto paper? If there’s a story you want to tell, but you have no idea where to begin (or you need a refresher), this course is for you. Over six weeks, you will learn the essentials of fiction and put them into practice by starting to write your own short stories. Each week, we will focus on a different aspect of fiction––like character, dialogue, setting, and more––and explore it through published short stories by authors like Stephanie Vaughn, Jim Shepard, Edward P. Jones, Zadie Smith, Lucia Berlin, Tessa Hadley, Jhumpa Lahiri to illuminate that topic and inspire our own writing. We’ll put what we learn into practice through weekly exercises and writing prompts, and in the second half of class, you will have the opportunity to submit a full short story to receive feedback from me and your fellow writers, to help you get a sense of what your strengths are, and how to build on them.

Turning Life into Fiction – August 6 – September 3
Often, when we set out to write a story we don’t know where to begin. In this class we will look at the wealth of possibility in our lives, in our family life, our work life, or something a friend has told us that seems perfect fodder for fiction. What is a story that’s often retold to the point of folklore in your family? What is the anecdote that you trot out over a beverage with friends? In this class we will use life as the starter for stories to which we apply our imagination, the skills in our writers’ toolbox, and the joy that comes from being in charge of how the story ends!

 

 



eat

The charming and delightful Samin Nosrat recently introduced us to many black chefs, cookbook authors, and bakers on her Instagram feed, then she took it the next step, giving us a Now What google doc so we can support these folks. Give it a look as there are lots of fantastic opportunities for good food and getting to know some alternate voices in food.

I’m interested in taking a cooking class from Chef Eric Adjepong, who was a finalist on Top Chef (which I’ve never watched… tell me your favorite episodes and I’ll take a peek). Chef Adjepong’s online classes are limited to 30 people, you get the recipes a few days in advance, and then it is almost like having a private lesson in your own kitchen. I can’t wait. We hope to snag a spot in July.

While perusing his menu and this deliciousness–Roasted Banana Grits with Cajun Shrimp, I got to thinking about my own version.

Cheddar Polenta with Grilled Confetti Shrimp

Confetti Shrimp

  • 1 lb shrimp, medium size, shell on
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced fine
  • 1 lg jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, diced fine
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 T olive oil
  • Zest of one lemon
  1. Mix everything in a bowl and let sit at room temp for 30 minutes before you heat the grill.
  2. Meanwhile, make the polenta.

Cheddar Polenta

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup polenta
  • ¾ cups of grated strong cheddar cheese, I like Oscar Wilde
  • Scant salt
  1. Bring liquid to a slow simmer, pour in the polenta, stirring constantly in one direction to avoid lumps.
  2. Once the polenta is incorporated return the pot to a simmer. Let cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the polenta is the consistency you like best, and when you taste it, the granules are soft to the teeth.
  3. Stir in the cheddar cheese, until melted, taste for salt and pepper.
  4. Off heat. Put the lid on the pan and set aside.

To cook the shrimp, I use a wok shaped basket made to go directly on the grill. You can also skewer the shrimp if you like. Cook for about 7 or so minutes on a medium hot grill until the shrimp is pink and firm. Alternately, you could cook the shrimp on the stove top in a cast iron skillet over a hot flame. Once done, give a generous squeeze of lemon.

Dish polenta into bowls, arrange shrimp on top.
Peel and eat! I promise it is delicious.

 

 

 

 

past the time to roll up our sleeves

Are you okay? I missed you last week. I just couldn’t bring myself to write about making strawberry jam, or what I’m binging on Netflix (nothing). A beautiful artist, Chloe Bren, made this portrait of George Floyd, he and our brothers and sisters have been on my mind. I sit in sadness, anger, and shame. And, I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and participate in changing our world, starting with my own complicity.


read

I’m taking a dive into reading about institutionalized racism in our country, about my role in the injustices of our society.

  • White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo & Michael Eric Dyson. What I’ve read so far is a discussion about why it is so hard for white people to be confronted with our missteps and racial blind spots. Yes, it is hard to hear when we’ve made mistakes, but can we shift our response from umbrage and denial to gratitude for showing us how to change?
  • The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas.  I read this YA book a few years back, about a young black woman who witnesses the police shooting of her best friend, an unarmed black man. Unfortunately Thomas’s novel did not require the giant leaps of imagination, as the killing set off national headlines and protests.
  • Here is an excellent list of Anti-Racism Resources, put together by two women I don’t know, but to whom I am very grateful. Sarah Sophie Flicker @sarahsophief and Alyssa Klein @dj_diabeatic 
  • And, an anti-racist reading list from Ibram X. Kendi’s Instagram feed.

  • To read a summation of the day’s events, all things covid-19, politics, and protests though a lens of history and law, sign up for Heather Cox Richardson’s insightful, brilliant, and incredibly useful newsletter, Letters from an American.


write

If you’re getting your creative work done, I applaud you. We need art. If you’re having a hard time writing, I stand in solidarity with you. Where can we channel that writing energy?

  • Google whether your police department requires body cameras and how they respond to officers that fail to turn them on. Write to your city council and mayor to make sure of transparency in police action.
  • Google whether your police department requires de-escalation training. If not, write to your mayor, your police chief, your city government.
  • Sign petitions and put them forward on your social media platforms.
  • Make signs and take them to protests. I understand there is a pandemic, and if your health and well-being is threatened by being in large crowds, donate what you can to organizations that are supporting the change we want to see. Black Lives Matter or Minnesota Freedom Fund, or ACLU. Or, consider donating to a campaign that can unseat politicians with a racist agenda. Jaime Harrison, is running a tough race against Lindsey Graham in South Carolina.
  • Consider writing Postcards to Voters in battleground states.  Now more than ever before, with peaceful protestors being tear gassed for a presidential photo op, we need to take back the people’s house, the White House.


eat

We all need to take care. Rest well. Eat well.

If you are bringing food in during this time, consider ordering from black owned restaurants. Simply google Black Owned Restaurants near me. You can find a Portland list here, Support Black Owned Restaurants.

We’re mostly cooking at home, here’s something we ate two nights in a row, in front of PBS News Hour. I hope it is a bit of comfort food for you as well.

Whole Grain Mac & Cheese (NYTs cooking)

  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for oiling dish
  • ½ pound whole grain macaroni shells, elbows, penne, or fusilli
  • 1 large broccoli crown, broken into small florets (about 3/4 pound)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
  • 2 tablespoons flour, sifted
  • 3 cups milk (1 percent, 2 percent or whole, to taste)
  •  Salt and white or black pepper
  •  Pinch of nutmeg
  • 4 ounces Gruyère, grated (1 cup tightly packed)
  • 1 ounce freshly grated Parmesan (1/4 cup tightly packed)

 

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 2-quart baking dish.
  2. Boil a large pot of water and salt generously. Add macaroni and cook al dente, a minute short of however long you typically cook pasta if you were serving it right away. Use a skimmer or strainer to lift macaroni from cooking water and transfer it to a large bowl. Toss with 2 teaspoons olive oil and set aside.
  3. Add broccoli to boiling water and boil 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of cold water, drain, and then drain again on paper towels or a kitchen towel.
  4. To make béchamel, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a medium-size heavy saucepan. Add shallot and cook, stirring, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in flour and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, until smooth and bubbling, but not browned. It should have the texture of wet sand. Whisk in milk all at once and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly until mixture begins to thicken. Turn heat to very low and simmer, whisking often and scraping the bottom and edges of the pan with a rubber spatula, for 15 minutes, until sauce has thickened and lost its raw flour taste. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Remove from heat.
  5. Strain béchamel while hot into the bowl with the pasta. Add cheeses and broccoli and stir together until pasta is nicely coated with sauce. Scrape into prepared baking dish.
  6. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until bubbly and the top is lightly browned. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

And, here’s a resource for eight cookbooks by African American Chefs.

 

We’ve got Nina Simone on repeat here at our home. Her song, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free, still stands. And, here’s a beautiful poem (scroll down the page a bit), from Audre Lorde, read by another amazing vocalist, Cecile McLorin Salvant

 

 

 

best shape of my life…wtf!?

I was having a zoom conversation with friends, and I noticed the gentleman looked particularly robust. His eyes sparkling, skin glowing. What’s up with that? Well, he said he is in the best shape of his life…. He’s used the past 8 weeks to exercise daily and practice intermittent fasting. I don’t know about you, but my pants are increasingly tight. And so, I joined the ranks of 3,600+ folks to do live sweatfest classes with Ryan Heffington. Moving my body around the living room? Joy. Joy. Joy

.


read

I am nearly finished with Laila Lalami’s, THE OTHER AMERICANS, and I love it. Told from multiple viewpoints, the novel focuses on a Moroccan family living in a desert town in Southern California. Events begin with a hit and run that results in the death of Nora Guerraoui’s father, bringing her back to her hometown near Joshua Tree, to uncover who was responsible. Immigration, racial tension, opioid addiction, the Iraqi war, art making, secretive children, identity, and the Mojave landscape are all themes in this gorgeous book.

And, if you’re interested in participating in a virtual discussion with the author, Next Tribe newsletter has organized one with the Marion Winik Book Club. I have attended one of these zoom groups and it was terrific, intimate and fun to spend an hour with smart women all over the country.

Our beloved Karen Karbo will be offering her own Sunday Salon with Next Tribe. Talking about her terrific new book, YEAH, NO. NOT HAPPENING, and the freedom that comes with embracing our imperfect selves. Cue the hallelujah choir!



write

I’ve totally changed up my teaching these days and I’m loving some things about an online community.

  • Love seeing people in their homes, peeking over their shoulders at art, book shelves, what’s displayed on the refrigerator door.
  • There’s a lowering of performative behavior… do you know what I mean? If we are all in our living rooms in comfy pants, we can sort of just be.
  • I feel connected.  We write together. We talk and learn from one another. We leave inspired.

If you’re interested in participating in an online workshop with me, DM me and let me know. I am opening up one more Living Room Writers’ Club. Here’s how it works:

  • 1 meeting per week. 2 hours a pop.
  • 1-2 people up each week for workshop
  • 1 prompt, plus time to write, plus ‘homework.’

I will provide:

  • zoom room
  • a poem
  • a prompt
  • craft notes for your work which I will email along with marginalia
  • classroom management (you’re all a little wild!)

You will provide:

  • your great energy
  • your words


eat

I dredged up an old favorite this week. Check out this recipe for coconut mango tapioca. Of course, you know me, I cut back on the sugar to ¼ cup, and I added strawberries, cut tiny and placed in the bottom of the cups. It was delicious and I ate it twice for breakfast!

I also finally tried to make flatbread. I hate store bought pita, and yet I’ve always been too lazy to try to make my own. In walked Smitten Kitchen with this recipe for layered yogurt flatbreads, which I made with whole wheat flour. I’m not going to lie, they are probably more tender and delicious with white flour, but they were damn good. Here they are, resting like sweet little puppies!

 

A friend also gave me this fantastic recipe for green rice that I’ve made three times already! Really, try it. It’s one of those refrigerator recipes where you can basically clean out your crisper drawer. Substitutions welcome!

Green Rice

3 garlic cloves, peeled
3 scallions, root ends and tough tops trimmed, coarsely chopped
1 large jalapeno, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 bunch fresh cilantro or parsley or spinach or all 3!!, root ends trimmed, coarsely chopped (about 2 lightly packed cups) + reserve about 2T fresh leaves
Kosher salt
1 cup whatever rice you have on hand, I used short-grain brown
2T olive oil
1 lime

  • Combine garlic, scallions, jalapeño, leafy greens (except reserved 2 tablespoons chopped leaves), 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 cup water in blender, and purée until smooth, about 1 minute. Pour into liquid measuring cup and add water if necessary to total 2 cups liquid; set aside.
  • Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, until grains of rice are glossy, slightly transparent, and stop sticking to pan, 2 to 4 minutes.
  • Slide pan off heat and carefully stir 2 cups of liquid into rice, scraping bottom of pan to release any stuck-on rice grains.
  • Return to heat and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook without peeking for 20 minutes.
  • Remove lid and gently fold in reserved leaves with fork; add salt and lime juice to taste. Serve.

I know I’m lucky. We’ve been regularly donating to a food bank in our community. If you can swing it, here’s a link to find yours: Feeding America  Another spot to consider donating to: Meals On Wheels

 

Finally, I woke up feeling low, low, low a couple days this week. SNL at Home was a fantastic mood lift, full of existential angst and laughs. Check it!  Thank you for taking good care of yourselves. As always, thanks for reading. I’d love to know what’s up with your read.write.eat. life. Please, send me news of your discoveries. SHARE the newsletter with friends

 

 

 

a negroni and a puppy cam!

Are teddy bears a thing where you are? Here in Portland, PE for the home schooled kids now means a teddy bear hunt. We’re putting bears in our windows so when the kids take a walk they have something to look for. And isn’t that just it? Aren’t we all looking for something right about now? Like a reason to get out of bed at our normal hour? Or, another zoom chat so you can enjoy your cocktail with friends? New way to combat climbing the walls?


read

I’m all over the place in my reading life. A YA novel? Why not! Some self-help motivation? You bet! Short Stories? Bring it.

My bright-light friend, and coach extraordinaire, Jennifer Louden (who’s tugged me through a rough slump or two) has written a new book, WHY BOTHER? Discover the Desire for What’s Next.  Jen knows what to bring and when to bring it. WHY BOTHER comes out at exactly the moment we may be asking ourselves basic questions like, “why bother to get out of our pajamas?” let alone, “why bother to be creative?” Her book is the perfect shelter-in-place exploration. And, she has a plan to counter our malaise! This book is a perfect kick in the pants.

I just finished the National Book Award Finalist, I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER, By Erika L Sánchez. Characters, pacing, conflict, themes, desires, it’s all going on in this book. If you have a high school student at home, this would be a terrific together read. It would open the door for important conversations about mental health, parental expectations, privacy, and the push and pull between our individual yearnings and family obligations. Julia, the young woman at the center of the book, is a force I won’t soon forget.

For a beginning fiction class I’ll soon be teaching online at Grub Street (more on that here), I’ve been rereading a few short story collections. Did any of you miss, LOST IN THE CITY, by Edward P Jones? Man, that book slays me. All of the stories take place in DC, all within the African American community. It’s so gorgeous, filled with palpable yearning, so much love of family, people trying their best in the face of unbearable obstacles. There is so much to learn about building character, about plot and setting. I am so excited to revisit this work.



write

Are you getting anything done writing-wise? If so, I’m so pleased for you, and if not, I feel you. I have had some great writing days and others where all I can manage is to refresh my news feed or click over to the livestream puppy cam. I hope you aren’t being too hard on yourself if your not getting anything down.

Either way, here are a couple prompts to keep you going:

Jen Louden wants us to consider, are we getting too comfortable in with the gap between where we want to be and where we are? What might we leave behind, just for the next writing session, that would free us to write with joy and truth?

All of this aligns so nicely with a project I’ve been following from Suleika JaouadThe Isolation Journals. Jaouad is quick to let us know that while she doesn’t consider herself an expert on many things, she is an expert on quarantine due to a long struggle with leukemia. She has invited writers, musicians and artists to gift us all with a daily prompt. And, don’t fear if you’ve missed out, the prompts are archived on the website.

Here’s one from Lori Gottlieb: (an opportunity to leave behind the story that we cling to, perhaps gain some insight, at least gain another view)
Think of a story that’s keeping you stuck—it might be a story about a friend or family member, a co-worker, or even yourself (some version of “I’m not loveable” or “I can’t trust people” or ‘Nothing ever works out for me,” etc.). Now imagine the story from the point of view of every other “character” in the story. How would they tell it? How would their version of the same event differ from yours? What can you see now that you weren’t willing or able to before? How does including their points of view add complexity and nuance to the storytelling? How does taking responsibility for your role in the story make the story far more interesting and compelling to the reader?

And another from Kiese Laymon: (for a bit of that joy Jen was talking about)
What’s the funniest thing that happened to you last year? Write a paragraph from the point of view of an inanimate object that bore witness to it. Could be your hat. Could be your wedding ring, a streetlamp or the plant in the corner of the bar. Use as much sensory/sensual language as possible to describe the memory from that object’s perspective.



eat

Yup! I tried two new things and I loved them. First off, rutabagas. Who knew? Those heavy looking root vegetables that can be big as a baby’s head, tinged with purple, they look terribly grainy and dull? Well, a couple arrived in my CSA (community supported agriculture) and I rose to the challenge. If you’ve been reading my newsletter, you know of my love for maple syrup and it didn’t fail me here.  From NYTs cooking:

Farro and Rutabaga salad.

  • 1 ½ pounds rutabaga, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
  •  Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 ½ cups farro/BROWN RICE WOULD BE GREAT, TABOULI, FREEKAH TOO WOULD WORK WELL
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, more for drizzling
  • 1 fat garlic clove, minced
  • ½ cup crumbled ricotta salata or feta cheese/ I USED MANCHEGO, WHICH I HAD ON HAND
  • ½ cup toasted, chopped hazelnuts/SUBSTITUTED WALNUTS AS THAT’S WHAT I HAD
  • 2 bunches watercress or arugula, cleaned and trimmed/SPINACH WAS A GREAT SUB
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss rutabaga with 2 tablespoons oil, the maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast, stirring once or twice, until rutabaga is very tender and browned, 30 to 40 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile cook your grain of choice. Use this guide from Bon Appetit  And, go ahead and double up, the cooked grain freezes beautifully for the next time you want to make a grain bowl.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the shallot, vinegar, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk in 3 tablespoons olive oil and some pepper.
  4. Drain the grain well and add to bowl along with rutabaga, tossing everything well. Let cool slightly (it can still be warm but not hot), then mix in the cheese and nuts. Taste and add more salt, pepper and olive oil if necessary.
  5. In another bowl, drizzle watercress or arugula with a little oil and vinegar and toss well. Serve salad on a bed of watercress.

The second thing I used, fava bean greens! Yes the leafy tops of the fava beans are terrific in a stir fry, sautéed up with some garlic and red pepper flakes with a poached egg on top and it’s a little bit of heaven.

Finally, I woke up feeling low this week. Spent my morning making these fantastic whole wheat apple muffins, to which I added a few stalks of rhubarb. Overall, I know I’m lucky. We’ve been regularly donating to a food bank in our community. If you can swing it, here’s a link to find yours: Feeding America  Another spot to consider donating to: Meals On Wheels

 

 

 

 

the grind of three meals a day

I’ve really noticed a drop off in friendly waves. Walking in my neighborhood, people aren’t saying hello as much. I too hold back, especially if someone doesn’t make an effort to stay 6 feet away, and I don’t like this new withdrawal. I get it. Anxiety is real. Worry is real. I’m still going to try to offer a wave and not fall prey to my mental loop of concern. We’ve got to be in this together.


read

Are you having a hard time staying focused? I know I am. That’s why I’m on a poetry spree right now. I’m loving Ellen Bass‘s new collection, INDIGO. From her poem, “Enough”

 

Oh, blame life. That we just want more.
Summer rain. Mud. A cup of tea.
Our teeth, our eyes. A baby in a stroller.
Another spoonful of crème brûlée,
sweet burnt crust crackling.
And hot showers, oh lovely, lovely hot showers.

I’ve got Susan Leslie Moore’s Juniper Prize winning collection, THAT PLACE WHERE YOU OPENED YOUR HANDS up next. And of course, I always, always, always love me some Dorianne Laux. Check her collections, AWAKE, and THE BOOK OF MEN. Both are lovely. From her poem, “Lighter”

 

Steal something worthless, something small,
every once in a while. A lighter from the counter
at the 7-Eleven. Hold that darkness in your hand.
Look straight into the eyes of the clerk
As you slip it in your pocket, her blue
bruised eyes. Don’t justify it. Just take
your change, your cigarettes, and walk
out the door into the snow or hard rain,
sunlight bearing down, like a truck, on your back.
Call it luck when you don’t get caught.

 

A poem before lights out may be the perfect antidote to weird dreams, which we are all in the grip of, at least according to this NYTs article.



write

Speaking of poems, maybe you’d like to write some. I’ve got two books of poetry prompts for you. SLEEPING ON THE WING, by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell. The collection has poems, essays and prompts. I’ve used it for teaching in the schools, so those of you homeschooling may find it a good resource.

Another one, MY SHOUTED, SHATTERED, WHISPERING VOICE, by Patrice Vecchione. Her book is filled with many terrific, short prompts to get you writing. Here’s a good one if you want to write about something from your past (hey, memoir writers, when feeling stuck you may want to give this a go):

 

To write a poem about a particular time, you needn’t remember any more than you do. Poems may be built from fragments, assorted threads that, through writing, are woven into new cloth. Keep in mind that the poem will not be a replica of what happened, even if you’re writing about an event you recall in detail; it won’t mirror what occurred. …there is the event itself, what you thought about it at the time, and what you think about it now. The emphasis of importance may shift. You may notice what went unnoticed when the event took place. Perhaps what was in the background or a side story will be what interests you now. 
            If you choose to write about something that’s only a shadowy or partial memory, consider starting…with the words “I don’t remember.” If remembering is the right thing, what you need to know will likely return. 

 

Here’s one more prompt for you. Forgive me, I forget from whom I learned this one. Perhaps it was from the wonderful poet, Kelli Russell Agodon:  Recall the nicest thing ever said to you. Compose a poem about a rainy day and something flooding. End the poem with the compliment.



eat

Ugh…this three meals a day is a grind. Remember last year when I was posting cake, cake and more cake? That was a good year. Guess what I’m going to do with my afternoon? Yup. Cake. This gorgeous recipe from NYTs cooking:

Orange Sour Cream Cake with Blueberry Compote

  • 1 ½ cups sifted cake flour I’M USING WW PASTRY FLOUR BECAUSE IT’S WHAT I HAVE ON HAND
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  •  Grated rind of 1 orange
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 ½ ounces (9 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • ½ teaspoon orange extract
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  Butter, softened, for cake pan

Compote:

  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  •  ¼ cup sugar
  • 4 cups fresh blueberries, I’M USING FROZEN, BECAUSE PANDEMIC!!
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  Pinch of salt
  1. Prepare the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, orange rind and salt. Cut butter into small pieces and add to bowl. Mix at low speed until crumbly.
  2. Add 1/4 cup sour cream. Mix at medium speed until smooth and paste-like. Scrape bowl, and add remaining 1/4 cup sour cream and egg yolks. Beat at high speed for 1 minute. Scrape bowl, and add orange extract and vanilla extract. Beat at high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 more minute.
  3. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch cake pan, and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit, butter the paper as well. Scrape batter into pan, and smooth with a spatula. Bake until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven. Cool.
  4. Prepare compote: In a medium nonreactive saucepan combine lemon juice, cornstarch and sugar. Mix until smooth. Add blueberries, vanilla extract, and salt. Stir gently to mix. Place over medium-low heat, and simmer just until liquid thickens and blueberries darken in color. Remove from heat, and transfer to a bowl.
  5. To serve, remove cake from pan. Slice, and serve topped with blueberry compote.

I made a maple miso halibut the other night that was pretty tasty. You could spread the miso on tofu, chicken, salmon, roasted eggplant, cauliflower steaks, whatever your heart desires.

Maple Miso Spread:
2T maple syrup
4T white miso
2T rice vinegar
4t soy sauce
2 cloves of garlic, grated
Optional, a squeeze of sriracha or a ¼ t chili paste

Mix ingredients in a bowl or in a mini Cuisinart. Spread on fish, tofu, chicken, vegies and roast as you normally would. Delicious!