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!

 

 

 

apart together

 

I don’t know about you, but I have not fallen to temptation, I’m still committed to pants each and every shelter-in-place day. I’m also committed to toast and butter, and these two things may turn out to be mutually exclusive. I guess the point is, we all try to find comfort during unsettling times. For me there’s comfort in the normalcy of pulling on jeans, and comfort in a piece of buttery toast, anytime of day. What’s comforting you?


read

I’ve got a pretty great TBR stack beside my bedside:

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, by Bess Kalb. This memoir is about four generations of women in Kalb’s family. Her great grandma Rose, who fled pogroms in Belarus in the 1880’s. Her grandma Bobby, who is the ‘me’ in the title, telling the story of her life from beyond the grave. Bess’s mother who fought against conventions in the ’70’s. Finally Bess, who lives in LA, and writes for the Jimmie Kimmel show. Funny/Sad, my favorite combo. Read the NYTs review here.
 
I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This, by Nadja Spiegelman. This is a memoir of her mother’s family. (Her father’s family has been masterfully depicted by her father, Art Spiegelman, in his Pulitzer prize winning graphic memoir, Maus.) The Guardian says in its review of Nadja’s book, “Her subject appears to be the impossibility of feeling anger towards one’s mother, and the extent to which to do so would require a belief in potential change.” This is totally my jam and fascinates me. The Guardian also notes, “A remembered injury, however long in the past, can inhibit and wound its recipient seemingly out of all proportion.” When writing memoir, memory is our friend and foe. How deeply we cling to what we believe to be the truth, those opaque visitations from our past, define us and our relationships. I’m all in for any writer who chooses to explore this edge.

Finally, during this time of great uncertainty, like toast and butter, books can offer great comfort. Here’s a list that I find soothing:

Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne. Seriously, it’s a joy. If you’ve got no kids at home, read it over Facetime or Zoom to a young family member or friend. (Maybe don’t include this, Pooh and Piglet on social distancing.)

Emma, Jane Austin. I love how Emma navigates her world with humor, and maintains a capacity for personal growth, all within the tight social confines of an age.

Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl. Here’s a great clip of him talking about recognizing the spark, the desire, to make meaning in our lives.

A Lamp in the Darkness, Jack Kornfield, who says this (stick with me to the end): “If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm, if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate; if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill; if you can always find contentment just where you are: you are probably a dog.”



write

Are you writing? Are you giving yourself the opportunity to be creative? Damn. I know it’s hard. I’ve been keeping up the Pomodoros and they’re a boon. I’ve spoken about them before, write for 45 minutes, stop to stretch/pee/nibble/grab a beverage for 15 minutes, then boom! Start again. I’m practicing with friends in a different city 2x per week. And I’m offering them to my students 2x per week. It really motivates me to know that other writers have their noses in the page at the same time I do. The 15 minute break is a great time to chat and feel connected. If you’re interested in participating with me, Monday and Wednesday, 3-5pm, send me a message and we’ll figure out how to make it happen.

If you aren’t working on a project, doodling around with an idea for a story, an essay, a novel, a poem, or an anything, that is just fine. Did you catch this quote from Lorrie Moore this week? When asked by the NYTs Book Review about living writers she admires, she said, “All of them. I also admire the ones who are taking a break and not working.”

Even if you’re not working, you can still write to connect with another human being. Why not write an email to a faraway pal you haven’t spoken to for some time? Send a card, a love note, a text. Children in my neighborhood are taping their drawings to the windows, a way of revealing the creative spirits in the house. My daughter is celebrating her wedding anniversary and I sent a homemade collage in lieu of a card, as I can’t get to the stationary store. Write a song, post it to your Instagram! If we take the time to throw out seeds of love, to write, to connect with each other, perhaps we can emerge from our homes, squinting like moles, into the bright light of stronger friendships.



eat

I have been really amazed by the amount of kitchen waste our family produces. In an effort to cut that back, I made a chicken and stretched it to three meals.

  • Day one: Alison Roman’s Slow Roasted Chicken w/all the Garlic, served with green beans and polenta.
  • Day two: Chicken fajitas, our own version with red bell pepper, onions, garlic, shredded brussels sprouts, jarred salsa, cheddar cheese, chili flakes (we had no fresh jalapeño), stewed pinto beans (soaked and then simmered w/half an onion until tender), rice. (Leftovers provided lunch the next day.)
  • Day three: Soup! Meat stripped from the bones, bones thrown in a pot with a carrot and an onion and water to cover, gently simmer for a couple hours, strain. Meanwhile, I sautéed an onion, I peeled and cubed a butternut squash, julienned some chard, picked every last leaf of a bunch of parsley, sliced some wilted celery, diced the last half of a fennel bulb, opened a can of tomatoes, and found some thyme in the yard! Once all of that was sautéed in the soup pot, with salt and pepper, I poured in the stock, added a bit of water, the chicken meat and leftover rice from the fajita night. (You know it, leftovers for lunch.)

Because it’s sunny right this minute in Portland, and the tulips are trusting enough to poke up their heads, and I crave muffins, and I’ve got lemons, and this recipe for Lemon Poppyseed Muffins, shared by a pal, I will bake post haste, as soon as I get my hands on poppyseeds!

 

 

 

not alone. not today

 

 

Nervous? Confused? I feel you. I’ve written this newsletter three times in the last four days and I keep redoing it because, well, things change swiftly. I’ve gotten the horrible notification on my phone that my screen time has gone up–way, way up–since last week. I keep hitting refresh and my emotions run the gamut from freaked out to less freaked out. So, I’m jamming this newsletter with things to keep you busy, creative, and chill. And, here’s a short shelter-in-place soundtrack.

 


read

My attention span is about as long as my thumbnail. But, here’s what I’m thinking about reading:

1. Writers & Lovers, by Lily King. So far, I’m all in. The main character, a young writer, is struggling to build a creative life in the face of huge loss (the end of a relationship and the sudden death of her mother), as well as tremendous financial stress. I LOVED Euphoria, King’s last novel, so I’m excited about this one.

2. Tiny Habits, by BJ Fogg.  I heard Fogg on the Armchair Expert podcast and it was a great convo. Big takeaway, you can affect the changes you wish for in your life by shrinking your goals. One example, want to be more creative? Promise yourself 10 minutes of playing an instrument daily. Just 3 chords on a guitar. It’s creative. It’s fun. It’s low pressure. The vibration against your body, expressing yourself, it’s all good for you.

3. Charms for the Easy Life, by Kaye Gibbons. From the flap copy, the main character, “possesses powerful charms to ward off loneliness, despair, and the human misery that often beats a path to their door.” Huh, misery beating a path to our doors? Sounds like a book for our times!

4. In case reading is hard right now (due to that refresh button thing) here’s a podcast I enjoy: Conan O’Brian Needs a Friend. Particularly this episode, a special self-quarantine conversation. I was on a walk, laughing so hard, people looked at me as if I was insane.

5. If you need to buy books, please, please buy from small businesses. Many bookshops are waiving mailing costs, offering drive-thru pickup if you pre-order online. If you don’t have those options, check out this website: Bookshop where you’re able to shop online and credit your local independent bookseller at checkout. If you who don’t have a local independent bookseller, may I suggest Cloud and Leaf? Being isolated as they are, in tiny and adorable Manzanita, Oregon, they will struggle. The writer Deborah Reed, whose work you can see here, just bought the store! Let’s give her a leg up, no?

6. War and Peace anyone? These times may call for Tolstoy! Check out this massive virtual book group, Tolstoy Together. Run by the amazing writer, Yiyun Li, it’s bound to be elucidating, and the commitment is small, 30 minutes a day. Are you in?

 



write

1. Buddy up! I once heard the amazing writer Jo Ann Beard talk about how she and a friend would chat on the phone late at night. They’d drink a beer and give each other a prompt, hang up (smoke a cigarette which I cannot support) to write for twenty minutes. Then they’d call back and read what they’d written. I was SO JEALOUS. It sounded so great to have a writer pal to encourage you, to trust with your brand new, baby words. So, get to it! Here’s a prompt. Write about a tv show and what it meant in your life and why…Check Beard’s essay, Bonanza to see how rich the prompt can be!

2. Take an online writing class. StoryStudio in Chicago has a series called “Pajama Seminars” that looks terrific.

3. My new year’s resolution is to write a love letter each month. So far, so good. I’m 2 for 2. With many elders shut in and not allowed visitors during this covid-19 situation, here’s an opportunity for us all to write letters. Shine a little light. Write notes to seniors, addresses provided here: Timeslips: Postcards

4. One Story Magazine offers online classes and this one sounds terrific: Write a Great Beginning with the wonderful, Will Allison. Will’s an all-around good egg, and great editor. Give yourself this gift!

5. Hire me! I’m building my coaching/editing business. Need deadlines? Need support? Need a macro read of your manuscript, a micro line edit? Both? Let me know. I’m also putting together small Zoom workshops that have been a real joy for all involved. Hit me up! Simply reply to this email and we’ll talk.

6. Sometimes it’s hard to write. That’s okay. Might I suggest emerging yourself in the oeuvre of a particular filmmaker you admire. Pedro Almodóvar anyone? Perhaps start with Pain and Glory, which took my breath away. About a director who can no longer make art. It’s gorgeous. Maybe listen to this Antonio Banderas interview on Fresh Air. There’s some great writing advice buried in the interview. Listen for the moment when Banderas talks about ‘humid emotions,’ and how much more powerful it is to try not to cry, rather than to cry. While your at it, why not make this Paella! (Fewer ingredients as it may not be prudent to run to a bunch of different markets at this time.)

 



eat

I’ve been cooking a ton. It’s a combination of nerves and necessity! Here’s recent winners:

1.  Creamy White Bean and Fennel Casserole, yes it’s behind the NYTs firewall, and because it’s so delicious and comforting, I’m including the recipe here. I served it up with garlic bread, a super lemony mixed green salad, and a glass of red wine.

  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large fennel bulbs (about 2 pounds)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans white beans, such as cannellini, great Northern or navy
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons juice (from 1 lemon)
  • ½ cup fine breadcrumbs
  • ½ packed cup finely grated Parmesan (about 1 ounce)

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Trim the fennel. Cut it in half lengthwise and slice it crosswise, about 1/4-inch thick (reserve about 1/4 cup roughly chopped fennel fronds). Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium. Add the sliced fennel, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but still retaining a little bite, about 12 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour 1 can white beans and its liquid into a blender. Add the heavy cream, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons olive oil and purée until smooth. Drain and rinse the remaining can of beans and transfer it to the skillet along with the bean purée. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Mix the breadcrumbs with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl. Add the Parmesan, lemon zest and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss to coat. Sprinkle evenly over the fennel-white bean mixture.

Bake until bubbly and lightly golden on top, about 15 minutes. Broil until topping is browned in spots, 1 to 2 minutes, if desired. Top with reserved fennel fronds and serve.

2.  Spicy Pork and Mustard Greens Soup from Alison Roman, my total chef crush! If you have NYTs cooking, check this version. It’s delicious. I added (you know it) mushrooms that I sliced and tossed with olive oil and salt, then roasted at 420 for about 15 minutes. I also added firm tofu, cubed, which I sautéed with the pork.

3.   West African Peanut Soup from Mark Bittman. Delicious. Double it, freeze half, just in case

4.  Chocolate Stout Cake @smitten kitchen. Look we all missed St. Pat’s day. We have next year, and we can still make this cake! Guinness is the way to go, says a student of mine who raves about this cake. I cannot wait!

5.  A Steak Marinade from my son, who has been sending me pictures of his food prep.

           

 

6.  Oh man, that is so much. I also have a great place to order knitting kits, if that’s your jam. Check out my facebook page and show me the face you’re going to make when Trump loses in November. Also, stay tuned, I’m going to try to learn to bake bread. Meanwhile I’m doing the best I can. I may send a mid-stream update with prompts and things to calm and sooth, like THIS.

 

 

 

all the world is green

Food blogs are calling it spring. Recipes burst with leeks and new potatoes. The SNL monologue promoted March as the “spring of winter.” Meanwhile, here in Portland, where grey skies continue to thrive, it’s annual tulip torture time—up they spring, stalwart, hopeful and bright, only to be battered and shredded by hail the size of cherry pits. Oh crap, oh well! I offer you 3 favorite songs of spring to get the mood going: All the World is GreenThey Say it’s SpringJoy Spring. (I had such a hard time choosing, so here’s my spring playlist.)

 


read

Three books queued on my nightstand:

1. For story and relationships: The Days of Abandonment, by Elena Ferrante which begins with this amazing paragraph:

One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me. He did it while we were clearing the table; the children were quarreling as usual in the next room, the dog was dreaming, growling beside the radiator. He told me that he was confused, that he was having terrible moments of weariness, of dissatisfaction, perhaps of cowardice.

2. For politics/immigration and new understanding: Everyone Knows you Go Home, by Natalia Sylvester. If you’d like more books to consider from Latinx writers, check out this great list.

3. For personal growth, also to aid and enrich my writing/coaching clients: Mindset, The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck

 

Oh, and of course I await with great anticipation Emma Straub’s new novel, All Adults Here. When I read her books I feel as if I’m reading the words of someone who works at her desk effervescent and delighted, and I get a little hit of that! More please!

 



write

Do you ever struggle to find, not necessarily joy as that seems a tall order, but invigoration in your writing practice? I know I do, and what I’m learning is that I’m so much happier when I disconnect the act of writing from the outcome. I feel full, and I mean full in the best sense, a fullness that actually feels light—buoyant heart and vibrant brain—alive to possibilities on the page. Standing up from a session of that kind of work I feel, dare I say, effervescent and delighted? Even if I don’t always bridge the gap between what I want to say and what I’ve actually said, I’ve nudged the needle and there’s joy in that, right? Step by step.

So, I give you a very open ended prompt from Stewart O’Nan. (If you haven’t read, Last Night at the Lobsterstop what you’re doing and run to the bookstore. You’re welcome!)

Characters (whether fictional or those who populate our memoirs) must care about someone, and/or have desires, in order that we care about them. If characters care/desire deeply, readers will follow them anywhere. Consider this from Kurt Vonnegut: “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” And “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.” We all yearn, we all care. Consider this prompt to get you thinking about your work-in- progress, or to fire up something new. And remember, areas of conflict and connection create sources of friction and possibility for writers.

  1. 5 people closest to me (can be dead, can be animals)
  2. My similarities w/each person
  3. My differences w/each person
  4. The most proud moment w/each person
  5. Most disappointing moment w/each person
  6. Thing you cannot say to the person
  7. What you wish this person better understood about you
  8. What you wish you could forgive them for
  9. What you wish they could forgive you for

Hopefully these questions will help kick open a door of understanding into what your characters (human beings!) endure all the time.

 



eat

Apparently there’s a perpetual battle on the internet regarding the sometimes brief, sometimes rambling, recipe headnotes on food blogs. Here’s quote from a terrifically funny NYer spoof on crazy long recipe preambles:

I sense that you’re trying to scroll down to find the recipe without reading this preamble I was kind enough to write for you. Yes, I dabble in creative writing and must insist that you enjoy this incredibly detailed tangential anecdote about the muffins before I tell you how to make them.

Duly noted! I’m just going to dive into this bit of delicious I’ve been making lately, originally from Bon Appetit.

Broccoli & Garlic Ricotta Toasts w/Hot Honey

1 baguette, sliced ½” thick on a diagonal (roughly 6 slices)
6 T olive oil
1 head of broccoli, stems peeled, stem and florets chopped into ½” pieces
1 head of garlic, cloves separated/skin ON
Kosher salt
1 T honey
1 T white wine vinegar
½ t crushed red pepper flakes
1 ½ c fresh ricotta
Fresh ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange bread slices in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined w/parchment and drizzle with 2 Tbsp. oil. Toss on baking sheet to coat, then arrange again in a single layer. Place broccoli and garlic on another rimmed and lined baking sheet and drizzle with remaining 4 Tbsp. oil. Season generously with salt and toss to combine.
  2. Place broccoli on top rack and bread on bottom rack and roast until bread is golden brown and crisp, 10–12 minutes. Remove bread from oven and continue to roast broccoli and garlic, tossing once, until broccoli is browned and garlic is tender. Perhaps 15–20 minutes more Let cool slightly.
  3. Whisk honey, vinegar, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl.
  4. As soon as garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze cloves out of their skins and mash in another small bowl to form a paste. Add ricotta and mix well; season with salt and black pepper.
  5. Spread ricotta over toasts and top with roasted broccoli. Arrange on a platter and drizzle with honey mixture.
  6. Yum! And if you want a cocktail, may I recommend The Paperplane

 

 

 

brave every damn day!

On a day when the weather app showed no rain, we quick-fast drove to the Columbia River Gorge for a hike. This is what we call sunny in February in Portland. It hailed!

Here’s what else I’ve got for you.


read

I am so loving Ann Napolitano’s DEAR EDWARD. She’s a beautiful writer who imagines the inner life of a teenage boy, the sole survivor of an airplane crash in which he loses his entire family, as he tries to remake his life. The novel toggles between Edward’s life post-crash, and the events on the morning of the crash—boarding the plane, taking seats, the inner lives of many passengers, the flight attendant’s excellent maneuverings, what the passengers are leaving behind and hurtling toward. It is a lovely examination of our humanity, and what an engine drives this book! For even though we know the plane is going down, we’re compelled to turn pages and find out how everyone deals on their way out. I mean, isn’t that one of the major questions we live with? What amazing hopeful and brave creatures we humans are, knowing we’re going to die and yet getting up and often being happy as we face a day that brings us closer to the end! We’re amazing!

I’m also reading Don Waters’ THESE BOYS AND THEIR FATHERS. It’s an open hearted memoir of seeking. How do we form our identities independent of our birth families? Where do we find a reflection when our caregivers abandon and/or fail us? The book, with gorgeous sentences and heartbreaking honesty, blends memoir, fiction, and reportage to tell a story of discovery, masculinity and fatherhood.



write

In my memoir writing class we’ve been talking about shame. The conversation started with a quote from Jonathan Franzen in Best American Essays, 2016.

My main criterion in selecting this year’s essays was whether an author had taken a risk…the risk I feel most grateful to a writer for taking: shame.”

When I read this the first time I had an OUCH jolt! Franzen goes on:

As Arthur Miller once said,The best work that anybody ever writes is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.””

Miller calmed me down. Shame is such a loaded word. Where do you go if you feel shame, which isn’t rooted in empathy, it is not “I did a bad thing” it is “I am bad.” There’s no room for change. Guilt on the other hand is relational, one feels bad for how they made someone else feel, and that seems adaptive. (Thank you, Brene Brown!) Guilt holds up our regretful actions against who we hope to be. Doesn’t that sound like fodder for a good story?

In our writing we have to run straight into the hard things, moments we’d rather not talk about. Sugarcoating characters (and if you’re writing memoir, please know that you must see yourself as a character), denying them of dark thoughts and actions, robs them of their humanity. By showing, through scenic action, bad choices and behaviors, our own or those of our fictional characters, we let readers know that the world has room for their screw ups. And that my friends, is art.

Try this prompt if you dare! (adapted from Claire Dederer)

1. Write a list of 3 truths about yourself you’d rather not share. Secrets that make you inwardly cringe. Pick one that interests you.

2. Write about it for 7 minutes, as you would have in a diary with a little key that you hid between your mattress and box spring when you were in middle school. That’s to say, wallow and whine!

4. Make a list of times in your life when you wrestled with your secret. Pick one that interests you.

5. Write the scene! Be certain to include a specific time and place, characters, and sensory details.



eat

I’m feeling a little bad about the brownies from the last newsletter. Don’t get me wrong, they’re delicious, but I’d like to contribute to your health.

And so, tofu! (Don’t run away!)  Ma-Po Tofu (adapted from NYTs cooking), simmered with a soupçon of pork is so good and so easy. Make it. Serve it in a bowl with some steamed rice and tuck in while you binge watch THE MORNING SHOW, which is not hard hitting, but easy to enjoy.

1 T peanut or other oil, plus more to coat veggies before you roast
1 T minced garlic
1 T minced ginger
¼ t crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
¼ to ½ pound ground pork (optional)
1½ cups sliced shitake mushrooms (optional)
1 bunch broccolini (optional)
½ cup chopped scallions, green part only
½ cup stock or water
1 pound soft or silken tofu, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Salt to taste
Minced cilantro for garnish, optional

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss mushrooms with a bit of oil, salt and pepper them, and put them on a sheet pan lined with parchment.
  2. Wash and trim broccolini. Cut into down the length of each piece, creating similar size sections. Toss with a bit of oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Roast the vegetables in hot oven. Mushrooms for about 15 to 20 minutes, until they begin to brown. Broccolini for about 6 minutes until al dente. Remove and set aside.
  4. Meanwhile, put oil in a deep 10-inch skillet or wok, and turn heat to medium-high. A minute later, add garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes, and cook just until they begin to sizzle, less than a minute. Add pork, and stir to break it up; cook, stirring occasionally, until it loses most of its pink color.
  5. Add scallions, mushrooms and broccolini and stir; add stock. Cook for a minute or so, scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon if necessary to loosen any stuck bits of meat, then add tofu. Cook, stirring once or twice, until tofu is heated through, about 2 minutes.
  6. Stir in the soy sauce; taste, and add salt and red pepper flakes as necessary. Garnish with cilantro if you like, and serve over rice.

 

 

brownie points

What a week of struggle I’ve had. Ugh. I feel as if I need brownie points for getting out of bed in the morning! OR at least brownies. It doesn’t help that Portland is perpetually beneath a Dutch Oven lid (I’m talking Le Creuset heavy) of grey clouds. We get a tiny spot of blue, for 20 minutes, and I run outside. It reminds me of when my babies slept from 10p to 2a and I called it “through the night.” Here are a few things that have been getting me through the week, along with CBD gummies.


read

I listened to This American Life the other day while I baked myself a mood-boost cake, not to eat alone, but to share with neighbors. “The Show of Delights,” was the episode title. Yes, Please. It’s been a dark month. Some rejection. Some personal relations issues rising up. Super difficult to manage my perspective under a January sky. (Time to purchase a full spectrum light!)

The episode was its own full spectrum light and I was introduced to this gem of a book,THE BOOK OF DELIGHTS, by Ross Gay. The premise (from the flap copy) is that Gay spends a year writing lyric micro-essays about “the small joys we often overlook in our busy lives.” Essay subjects range from carrying a tomato seedling on a plane, to the use of air quotes, and one titled, “Babies. Seriously.” The photo on the jacket shows Mr. Gay brimming with delight. I wish I were sitting just beyond the frame, sharing in the laugh. Well, you know me, I bought three copies! One for me and two to send to my girlfriends. I want to start each morning with coffee and one of these shiny essays to set the tone. If you’re a student of mine, there’s a Delight assignment coming your way. Not just to make you sit up and notice, but selfishly meant for me to ride your coattails into a state of delight.

Here’s a snippet from “Nicknames,.” These sentences follow a list of nicknames friends have bestowed upon Gay.

I know that I rarely call the people I love by their names. I call them, if it is okay with them, by the name I have given them. I wonder if this means I think of my beloveds as children. That seems very patronizing. Especially because I mostly don’t give them money. But, on the other hand, how lovely all my mothers. All my babies.



write

I’ve been thinking a lot about sentences. The best are smooth and invisible and one reads as if swimming across a clear lake. There’s the sandy bottom, you can almost make out the vague shapes on the opposite shore, but there’s still room for surprise. Perhaps one gorgeous sentence will stand out, an image, a metaphor, not enough to pull you from the experience, but enough to enhance and give you pause. Of course these glorious sentences are reliant upon the sentences around them. Here are 3 examples randomly pulled from my shelves:

  • The grass in the yard smelled like hay. The birds and the locusts were silent. The entire neighborhood was silent Nothing moved. He could almost hear the roaring of the sun.
    MR. BRIDGE, Evan S. Connell
  • (A mother speaking of her son) At one time he’d fitted inside her like the meat of a walnut; now everything he did and thought and said was in perfect opposition to her.
    “The Little Heart,” from WHO DO YOU LOVE, by Jean Thompson
    (ps. this is a beautiful book of under-appreciated short stories)
  • Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard? It’s as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepherd has gained the power of speech. And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment. CITIZEN, An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine

I read with a pen nearby so I can underline sentences I love, whether they offer up a quality of playfulness, a revelation of a universal truth, a vivid image, compression, or lovely language. A teacher of mine once told me that we should be able to stand on our sentences without them breaking. I like the slipperiness of that. What does it mean? I’m not completely certain, just that the sentence has to go somewhere, and remain stable. Sentences are how we pull stories from our heads, and how we pull readers into our work. Send me some of your favorites, honestly, I’d love to belong to a mutual appreciation society with you!



eat

I’ve fallen in love with a sometimes food writer, mostly lifestyle essays about wide ranging topics from weird jeans, to eggplant emojis, to canned cocktails. Amanda Mull writes for The Atlantic and I love her sensibility. Check out these three (the limit for free articles on The Atlantic website): The Rise of Anxiety Baking and The New Trophies of Domesticity and I Broke Breakfast, which doesn’t espouse traditional backwards day eating—breakfast for dinner—but puts forth the revolutionary idea of dinner for breakfast, and begins thusly:

There’s no good reason you can’t eat a chicken-parmesan hoagie for breakfast. That’s what I decided last year when I woke up one morning, hungover and ravenous, craving the sandwich’s very specific combination of fried chicken cutlet, melted mozzarella, and tomato sauce.

To offer delight in the dead of winter, here is my go to, never fail, favorite brownie recipe, both for the outcome and the ease.

2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter
4 oz. best quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 c. sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 ½  c. chopped toasted pecans OR 1 pint of raspberries, washed and allowed to drain on a tea towel

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 x 2 baking pan.

2. In a medium saucepan (just 1 pan!), heat the butter over moderately low heat until half melted. Add the chocolate and stir until the butter and chocolate are completely melted and combined. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar with a wooden spoon until incorporated. (this part is a blast!)

3. Using the wooden spoon, beat in the eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition until the eggs are fully incorporated. The mixture becomes super shiny, which is also a, ahem, delight.  Stir in vanilla. Add the flour and salt all at once and mix until blended. Stir in the chopped nuts or raspberries.

4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the brownies are slightly firm to the touch and a cake tester inserted in the center indicates the brownies are moist. Let cool completely in the pan. Cut into bars that suit your needs! 6 giant brownies (no judgement) or 35 mini nibbles.