escape from the current situation

How are you? No, I mean it. Covid infection rates are high, family—far flung or nearby—is best kept at arms-length (that is if you have an NBA players wingspan), it’s cold and dinner on the deck with friends requires a sleeping bag! I’m cooking gifts from my kitchen, listening to audio books, bundling up for long walks and ordering more outdoor heaters.


read

I just finished listening to Tana French’s newest novel, The Searcher. She does SO many things well. French tells suspenseful, meaningful stories with many moments of connection between reader and character, even if the character is a divorced, middle-aged man, a retired Chicago cop who has moved to Ireland to refurbish a farm and live a quiet life. I recognize his genuine human needs and feel comfortable in my own yearnings…to be close with my kids, to have friends nearby, to be in a community and do good work with my hands.
One of French’s superpowers is her gorgeous descriptions of the natural world. A friend mentioned to me that some readers feel the descriptions slow the narrative down. How can that be? Check this below! Not only is it vivid, but it reveals the interiority of the character who is looking out the window, and it speaks too of the nature of people in general, as illustrated by bird behavior.

The enforced idleness and the misty rain give that week a dreamy suspended feel. At first Cal finds it strangely easeful. For the first time he can remember he doesn’t have the option of doing anything, whether he wants to or not. All he can do is sit by his windows and look out. He gets accustomed to seeing the mountains soft and blurry with rain, like he could keep walking towards them forever and they would just keep shifting farther away. Tractors trudge back and forth across the fields and the cows and sheep graze steadily. There is no way to tell whether the rain doesn’t bother them, or whether they just endure. The wind has taken the last of the leaves. The rooks’ oak tree is bare, exposing the big, straggly twig balls of their nests in the crook of every branch. In the next tree over there’s a lone nest to mark where, sometime along the way, some bird infringed on their mysterious laws and got taught a lesson.
(Please forgive any punctuation errors, I took this from dictation. Remember when we had to do that in school?)

There is much to be lauded about French’s writing and this book in particular. There are surprises and suspense, stakes and, perhaps most important, an escape from the current situation.

 

 



write

It’s that time of year, when lists drop all over the place, (gifts, best & worse, movies, books, songs, dinners, cocktails…). I’ve read through a bunch of writers’ lists on the most important rules of writing and I’ve winnowed them down to what I think is crucial.

  1. (Jeanette Winterson) Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.
  2. Don’t hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it went in the drawer it will be just as bad when it comes out.
  3. Enjoy this work!
  4. (Zadie Smith) Read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
  5. Read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
  6. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.
  7. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
  8. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied
  9. (Kurt Vonnegut) Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  10. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  11. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  12. Start as close to the end as possible.
  13. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
  14. (Anton Chekov) Extreme brevity
  15. Audacity and originality: flee the stereotype
  16. Compassion
  17. (Elmore Leonard) If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.
  18. (Neil Gaiman) Write. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  19. When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  20. Laugh at your own jokes.

Do you have any rules you find useful? I’d love to know!

 

 



eat

I’ve been baking pies, and stuffing squash. Also, I’ve made a fabulous new cocktail from Smitten Kitchen. You’re welcome!

Stuffed Acorn Squash (variation from this recipe)

  • 2 average size acorn squash
  • 4T olive oil
  • 2t kosher salt
  • 2t black pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 shallot (minced)
  • 1.5 cups sliced mushrooms of choice, I used crimini
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • 2 cups COOKED French lentils
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2t cumin
  • Chili flakes to taste
  • 3 cups COOKED brown rice
  • Juice and zest of 1 large orange
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Prepare squash. (Preheat oven to 425°)

  1. Use a sharp knife to slice both ends off of the squash about 3/4 inch below the stem. This will prevent the squash from wobbling on the baking sheet pan.
  2. Scoop out the seeds and excess pulp from inside the squash.
  3. Brush w/olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 25-30 minutes. Be certain to test with a fork and make sure the squash is tender.

Make Filling:

  1. Sauté mushrooms, garlic, and shallots in a little olive oil until the mushrooms start to brown.
  2. Add spinach plus salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the spinach is slightly wilted.
  3. Add lentils and walnuts, plus spices. Let cook for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the rice, toss, cook for 1-2 minutes more.
  5. Sprinkle in the grated parmesan cheese and toss to allow it to melt a little. Add in the juice and zest of an orange and the dried cranberries. Toss everything together.
  6. Fill each squash half with the rice and lentil mixture to nearly overflowing.  Bake at 425° for about 7-10 minutes, until the tops golden brown. Top with more cheese if desired.

My variation on Smitten Kitchen’s Winter Warmth Cocktail:

Winter Warmth Syrup

1½ cups water
¾ cup demerara or turbinado sugar (granulated will do just fine if you do not have them)
1/2 apple, cored, and diced
1/2 pear, cored, and diced
12 walnut halves
3 cinnamon sticks, broken up
6 whole cloves
1 whole nutmeg

Make the syrup: Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. Strain into a clean glass bottle, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 2 cups.

For Each Cocktail
1 piece of orange peel (about 1 by 2 inches)
3/4 ounce Winter Warmth Syrup
3 dashes of bitters (I used orange bitters)
2 ounces bourbon, rye or Canadian whisky
Juice from ½ lemon or orange (I found the drink too sweet w/out the citrus)

Make a drink: Place the orange peel, syrup and bitters in a low glass and muddle. Pour in whiskey, add a large ice cube and don’t forget to share.

 

 

 

tell the truth harder

Every morning, my dog, Stanley, gets up from our bed and heads downstairs to his other bed, which is actually this fabulous blanket I bought because Oprah told me to! Stanley’s migration is sort of an apt representation of 2020. In a miasma of malaise, I shuffle from one room to the next, confined to the walls of here. Not to say there hasn’t been joy, laughter and good food, but, man, anxiety has long arms!

Here are a few things to help push back!

 

 

 


read

Tell you what, I sure miss going to see live theater. I miss being a member of an audience and feeling all the feels in community. I miss watching actors on the stage, doing so much for me. And so, I’m going to read a bunch of plays this December. Who knows, it may strengthen my dialog game. If you’ve got some favorite plays, please do share with me.  Here’s my list so far:

How I Learned to Drive, Paula Vogel
The story of a woman who learns the rules of the road and life from behind the wheel. Wildly funny, surprising and a devastating tale of survival, a sexual coming of age through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s as seen through the provocative lens of a troubling relationship between a young girl and an older man.

Red, John Logan.
Red tells the story of Mark Rothko and his assistant, as he tries to create a definitive work for the Rothko Chapel in Houston.

Disgraced, Ayad Akhtar
The story of a Pakistani-American lawyer rapidly moving up the corporate ladder while distancing himself from his cultural roots. When Amir and his wife Emily, a white artist influenced by Islamic imagery, host a dinner party, what starts out as a friendly conversation escalates into something far more damaging.

I also want to read something by Sarah Ruhl. The plays I mention are pretty heavy, got a comedy for me? Please?

I am on the edge of my seat, waiting to pick up my copy of Charles Baxter’s new novel, The Sun Collective. The NYTs review says this: “Baxter’s true gift is in describing the tender complexities of a relationship.” It seems relationship is what I am most interested in right now, and, well, always!

 

 



write

I go out on stage and say what everyone is thinking.  -Carl Reiner

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. -James Baldwin

And there you go, Baldwin and Reiner elucidate why it is I write, why it is I read, and why I hold literature in the highest regard. Writing is a sacred act. In being as honest as I can on the page, and then pushing harder, peeling back self-protective layers, stripping away my ego (oh dear, I’m not as smart as I think I am, I can be that cruddy, that petty, that careless) I have the potential to make another human feel less alone when faced with their failings and foibles. If I go out on the page and admit the truth of human experience as I know it, as I’ve witnessed and lived it, I am saying what everyone is thinking. By saying it first, I’m giving readers permission to feel it and think it too! In community we can survive the hard stuff we’d rather not know about ourselves. In community there is safety.

I encourage you to put a little post-it in your writing space. You can quote Reiner or Baldwin. Or, you can simply write: TELL THE TRUTH HARDER.

 

 



eat

Turns out I’ve been making flaccid chicken stock all these years. Leave it to Bill Buford (do yourself a favor and click the link, a charming video of him cooking w/his twin teenaged boys) and New Yorker magazine to set me straight.

I have stacks of NYer magazines teetering around my home. Yes, I’ve read nearly all the cartoons (though I never come up with a clever caption for the cartoon contest), 40% of the short stories, 35% of the poems, 90% of the film and tv reviews, an occasional article (Jelani Cobb!! Ariel Levy!! Adam Gopnik!!). But, my relationship with the NYer is troubled. I’m a person who likes the idea of me reading the NYer, hence, when I don’t, I feel bad about myself. So, I only renewed for the digital version. Then covid hit and somehow I signed up for newsletters, and who knew, the NYer taught me to make a robust chicken stock!

I offer this to you today, because tomorrow, many of us will have a turkey carcass lying around.

Brown Chicken Stock

  • 2 onions
  • A handful each of rosemary, thyme, sage and parsley
  • 6 stalks celery
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 6 carrots
  • 7 pounds chicken bones and carcass, plus (optional) neck and back of turkey
  • A spoonful (or two) of honey
  • A few splashes white wine (I had none open, so I skipped the honey and used madeira wine instead)1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place a large roasting pan on the middle rack2. Set a sauté pan over low heat, without fat or oil. Peel and halve onions. Place each half, cut-side down, in pan and leave to brown slowly. After 5 minutes, peek underneath one; if there is no color, increase heat. Once onions are thoroughly browned (10 to 20 minutes), carefully remove and set aside. Browned, the onions have a deeper flavor and will strengthen the color of the sauce.

    3. Make a bouquet garni of the herbs and 2 of the celery stalks and bind with twine. Roughly chop the remaining celery and place in a large stock pot w/ bouquet garni, onion, garlic, and carrots.

    4. Add bones to heated roasting pan. (If it’s hot enough, you won’t need fat or oil.) Roast until bones are browned on the bottom, 15 to 30 minutes, and then flip, using a flexible spatula to lift the pieces off the pan without losing the browned skin. Repeat regularly until bones are almost thoroughly cooked, but be careful—if the bones burn, they are useless. Add the bones to the pot with the vegetables.

    5. Deglaze the roasting pan by placing it over high heat, pouring in white wine to cover, bringing to a boil, and scraping up browned bits from the bottom.

    6. Fill pot with enough water to cover bones. Set over high heat and bring almost to a boil, then turn heat to the lowest setting and skim. The broth should be less than simmering. Continue to cook gently over low heat for 10 hours, or so, skimming occasionally, topping up as needed.

    7. Pour the stock through a sieve into a new pot, set over medium heat, and, if you choose to further intensify flavor, you can reduce slowly, by at least half. Once completely cool, refrigerate, then freeze to have on hand for soups this winter.

 

 

 

a note from the before time

Holy Crap!! It is Saturday afternoon as I write and who knows what will happen in the next three days before this note lands in your inbox.  Chances are, whatever happens will be big, and this note will be coming to you from “the-before-time.” Every day it seems our country passes through another one-way-gate, from which there is no turning back.
I hope you are all well. I hope you are having adequate days. Drink water. Get outside if the air is decent. Put your feet up. Close your eyes. Repeat. We are going to need one another.
Meanwhile, I offer these suggestions to bring you solace and flashes of delight.

 

 

 


read

A few weeks ago, I invited you to join me in a virtual book group, you know, to hang out and discuss!  A handful of you joined and I want to thank you for making me accountable to my own reading life. Not only am I getting through the book (which has been a little hard for me during the time-of-covid), but I’m marking up the pages and thinking hard about the newest Ferrante novel, The Lying Life of Adults.  I’ve been putting up weekly posts on my Instagram page, and we have a zoom meeting planned to discuss in mid-October. Send me a note if you’d like to join in.

Meanwhile, I want to sing the praises of a new Lorrie Moore story, Face Time, from the 28 September issue of The New Yorker.  The story is wry, funny and sad. Here’s how it begins:

I asked my father if he knew where he was and he said, “Kind of.”
       “You are in the hospital. Your hip surgery went well. But there is a virus and you have been found to have it. You are contagious. No one can get near. It’s happening all over the world. You caught it in your assisted-living facility. The chef had it.”

Moore is one of my favorite writers. If you aren’t familiar, you’ve got a joy-filled winter of reading ahead of you. Here’s a page with all of her books. Birds of America and Bark are wonderful.

 

 



write

I’ve begun doing some blind contour drawing with one of my workshops. It’s great! We find a few minutes in each session to stare at an image and draw what we see, without looking at our hands or the page. The goal is freedom, to feel unattached to the outcome, to develop confidence in not knowing how things will turn out, to trust that you can make a beautiful line (or write a beautiful sentence), to relearn how to see, to unlearn ‘polite’ and ‘boring’ sentences, to defamiliarize the product.

Don’t take my word, here’s a great Letter of Recommendation about Blind Contour Drawing. Maybe it is something you’d like to incorporate into your writing practice?

 

 



eat

How could I have forgotten how much I love the blank canvas of Minestrone?!?

Several friends have recently been in need of dinner drop-offs. With wet and chilly weather, soup seemed the perfect choice. Enter: Minestrone. Adaptable to whatever is growing, vegetarian or laden with meat, it’s perfect.  Here’s what I offer as a starting place:

Minestrone w/white beans and winter squash

  • 1 cup dried white beans
    • soak overnight
    • drain and cover with abundant water
    • cook at a med. simmer along with generous shakes salt and 4 whole cloves of garlic
    • when beans are nearly tender, 75 minutes or so, remove garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3-4 medium carrots, peeled and diced (1/2 inch dice or smaller if desired)
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 or 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved, cleaned well and sliced thin
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves (to taste), minced
  • 1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes, with juice
  • 2 cups chicken stock OR water
  •  A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf and a couple of sprigs each parsley and thyme, tied into one of the leek leaves if desired
  •  Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound winter squash, (I love Butternut) peeled and diced
  •  Lots of chopped flat leaf parsley or basil (or both)
  • Parmesan rind
  •  Freshly grated Parmesan for serving

 

  1. While beans are simmering prepare tomato base. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, and add onion, carrot and celery. Add a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until vegetables are just about tender, about 5 minutes, and add parsley and leeks. Cook, stirring, until leeks are slightly wilted, about 3 minutes, and stir in garlic along with another generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, just until the garlic smells fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute, and stir in tomatoes with their juice and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, until tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and smell fragrant. Toss in Parm rind for flavor. Remove from heat until beans are ready.
  2. Add beans and their broth, plus either 2c chicken stock or water, to tomato base, stir together, add bouquet garni and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Add winter squash and continue to simmer for another 30 to 45 minutes, until squash and beans are very tender. Taste, adjust salt, and add freshly ground pepper to taste.
  3. Just before serving heat through and stir in a generous handful of chopped fresh parsley or basil, or a mix of the two. Serve, topping each bowl with freshly grated Parmesan.
  4. Additions:
    Italian sausage, seared and cooked through, sliced into rounds
    Cooked chicken, cut to bite size pieces
    Tortellini, cooked until just al dente
    Kale or Chard, rinsed and julienned
    Whatever you LOVE

Serve with a simple mixed green salad, a sliced up tart and crispy apple, some soft and delicious cheese, and hearty bread.

 

 

 

 

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