having fun out here 💙🌊🌀 killing it 💥💛🌞

Dear Ones,

My husband and I have been weather nomads for most of February, escaping sodden Portland for warmer California climates. I’m writing you now from a pal’s front porch where the sun is glinting off the denim blue Pacific, barking sea lions add a bass line to the trill of birds, and it’s already spring. Yesterday was a minus tide and we walked stretches of beach that are rarely exposed. There’s something about being in my hometown, Santa Cruz, that makes me feel as if happy parts of my personality are more fully exposed as well.

Which is why I’ve spent the last thirty minutes combing through Zillow listings. I am so homesick and I haven’t even left yet!

Have you left behind someplace you’d love to get back to? Tell me about it, please. I want to know where your heart is called. I want to have company in my yearning.


read

I’m thoroughly enjoying Anthony Marra’s, MECURY PICTURES PRESENTS, which takes place in Hollywood and Italy about fifteen years before the United States entered WWII. The book is by turn hilarious (evidenced by lines like this: a father says of his son, “I’m so proud of him, sometimes I’m convinced the milkman was his father.”), and uplifting, full of life and love affirming events. This novel is not pablum, it’s hard and funny and bright. I’m not finished yet, and even though I promised myself I would no longer promote books that I hadn’t yet finished, I’m doing it. Honestly, I like this book so much I wanted to prolong my reading experience so halfway through, I went back to the beginning.

I am proud to say I have a piece up at the fabulous online magazine DOROTHY PARKER’S ASHES. I feel lucky to be in the company of terrific and smart writers, including one of my favorites, Abigail Thomas, whose memoir, SAFEKEEPING, I adore. You can read my piece, “Banana Cake on the Breezeway,” and all the others in the current issue.

I’m also delighted to have participated in Alyson Shelton’s, WHERE I’M FROM project. Alyson is a wonderful literary citizen and all-around good egg! She invited me to participate which entailed using a “Where I’m from…” template to write a poem, and then have a brief Instagram Live session to talk about the poem, writing, life, whatever. She’s an excellent interviewer and the two of us went down a rabbit hole discussing how we were mothered by TV moms. Should you wish to listen, the full interview is available here. If this appeals to you, please reach out to Alyson through Instagram and find out more. She’s open to new participants in the series.

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter.

***
This newsletter is free and a delight for me to write. It also takes time and consideration to put together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to say a quick thanks by clicking on the adorable button below and buying me a cup of coffee! Thanks so much to everyone who has spread love and caffeine my way!
***


write

I took an online class, “Build Me a Hummingbird: Micro-Memoirs” from Beth Ann Fennelly, whose book, HEATING AND COOLING, is an absolute pleasure. I learned so much about tiny structures and the freedom they bring.

Attributes of micro-forms:

  • Demand specificity
  • No room for dishonesty
  • Clean & Clear – write like you speak
  • Playful – invite risk-taking
  • Provide a safe home for dangerous emotions (too short to wallow!)
  • Possibility of wonder
  • Compression – the story is pared to its essence
Where to read (and submit) micro-writing online: 100 Word StoryBrevityTiny Love Stories. Also, do check out the fabulous instagram account, MaryOliversDrunkCousin.
A prompt:Need inspiration first? Look how much Brenda Miller gets done with SWERVE, at about 250 words! And Naomi Shihab Nye’s beautiful piece, GATE 4-A is a wonder.

  • If you told the story of your life through objects, which objects would be the most loaded? Quickly list eight.
  • Choose the top three items, the most invested with emotion.
  • Give yourself a container…250 words is a good place to start. Write a micro story or memoir about each of the objects. Be curious. Keep in mind all the attributes listed above.


eat

A few years ago my cousin recommended The Lark, a terrific restaurant in Santa Barbara, and on our recent drive through town, it did not disappoint. I know, I know, every damn place worth its salt has crunchy-sweet-hot-salty-umami Brussels sprouts on the menu, but the ones at The Lark? G.O.A.T.…they demand respect. Here’s what the menu says: Crispy Brussels Sproutssesame, medjool dates, garum, lime. That’s all the information I could get out. Garum is fish sauce, which makes sense, part of the flavor profile, plus sweet dates, and tangy lime. The interwebs was no help. You chef-y folks, do you have a fav BS recipe? I’d love to know. And stay tuned! I ordered The Lark cookbook. Recipe to come.

In honor of the nearness of spring, I plan on keeping a green sauce in my fridge all the time. Something to spread on a sandwich, dollop on eggs, smear on roasted chicken breast, mix with ricotta and penne, stir with butter and slather on corn, spread on a sliced tomato salad. Keep this sauce around for anything that needs enhancing.

Verde Amore

½ c coarsely chopped parsley
Grated lemon zest
2 sm cloves garlic, chopped very fine
1 T capers, rinsed and drained and chopped
½ t salt
¾ c olive oil
2-3 T good quality mayonnaise

Additions:
Herbs (basil, cilantro, chives, thyme, mint) – chopped
Anchovies – smashed
Shallot – minced
Lemon juice

Mix well. Keep in a glass jar in the fridge and use on demand.

*****

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***
Stanley and I spent a little time watching a surf contest today, and the announcer yelled over the loud speaker, “They’re having fun out there, killing it!” I have to admit, we were out there, having fun, killing the winter blues.
If you aren’t on my mailing list, hop on over to my website to sign up. And, if you’d like to buy my books, you can do so here and here.  If my newsletter isn’t your jam, you can unsubscribe in the box below. I don’t want to clutter your inbox.
Please, remember to tell your people you love them.xN

even the dog doesn’t want to leave the house! 🐶☔️🏠

Dear Ones,

There’s a line in a Tony Hoagland poem that says something like: February is medical waste being torn apart by dogs! I agree. The cold, the dismal and dark sky, one moment cloying as sodden dryer lint, the next a lid of hammered tin. The dog doesn’t want to go outside! I don’t even have a television show to brighten my mood. Where’s Ted Lasso to lift my spirits?I did come across this poem. I don’t feel “all lit from the inside” like Major Jackson. Within me I feel a pile of discarded household items—broken waterpik, stained and naked pillow, the never-used fondue set—left on the curb with a free sign. Yet his poem, his mood, gives me faith, that with the return of the sun, my shelves will restock.

It Must Be the Supermarket in Me
~Major Jackson

It must be the supermarket in me,
all lit from inside, full of wide aisles
and thoughtful shelf-stocking
where you’ll find my feelings and
memories. That’s why on the outside
I look so ordered and put together.
My inner supermarket contains
an old-world butcher shop and fish market.
Shoppers arrive with an unfathomable
hunger which I relieve by
offering freshness, quality,
and value. Some are penniless
and can only fantasize, licking their lips
at rows of artisanal cheeses and meats
behind glass display cases, the clothbound
bries and goat, at ropes of cured
salami and prosciutto. Still
they taste. I offer free samples
at stations throughout
my supermarket so people will
come to know and like me.
In the produce department,
many test my pears and avocados
for ripeness. In the floral area, they sniff.
Some walk off with my bouquets.
I contain cheerful baggers
who will escort you to your car.
At times, truthfully, I dislike this
about myself, forever accommodating.
I’ve not always had a supermarket in me.
It began when the church in me
lost its congregation and when
I lost my mother’s love to cocktails
and other stimulants. There is no place
for anger in my supermarket. I keep
it in the backroom with a sign that reads
“No Trespassing: Employees Only.”
It’s a way of being in the world,
a self, full of checkout lines and refrigerators,
until someone runs through me,
knocking down my pyramids of canned
goods or panic shopping, leaving empty aisles.

***

This newsletter is free and a delight for me to write. It also takes time and consideration to put together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to say a quick thanks by clicking on the adorable button below and buying me a cup of coffee! Thanks so much to everyone who has spread love and caffeine my way!

***

Buy Natalie a coffee ☕️


read

I am a fan of Allegra Goodman. I’ve been reading her books since I first discovered her NYer story, “Apple Cake” which is wonderful and has terrific dialogue. I whole heartedly recommend SAM, her latest novel. The characters are vivid. Sam’s story is one of self-discovery. I read this book while also reading DEMON COPPERHEAD, and I found it heartbreaking that Sam had more timidity than Demon, even though her home life offered stability, her mother loving, her father in her early life as much as he could be, and yet… I was so worried about her at school, in the world where her unique raison d’être didn’t fit the rules we apply to girls. How we make our girls wobbly is really an awful thing. Ultimately, Sam grows into confidence and fullness. Which was a relief, and I was delighted to have travelled with her in this coming-of-age novel. Sidebar delight? I learned so much about rock climbing! I love to learn things in a novel.

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter.



write

So much of what we writers do is lonely work, hence I love being a student, learning and generating new work, and sharing my writing. Whether it is an off-the-cuff reading of words inspired by an excellent prompt, or an opportunity to be “up” in workshop. It’s a joy to hear responses to my writing.

I encourage you to put yourself in the student chair. One of my fav places to do that is a summer writing workshop. Last year I taught at Aspen Summer Words, and I had the best time. What a fabulous crew of teachers, students, editors, and agents. They’ve asked me to spread the word and I’m happy to do it. Only two more weeks to apply! Here’s the joy + benefits:

  • By applying you’re saying to yourself, my writing matters. I prioritize my creative work. I believe in me. In some ways applying is the most important step. ✅ done!
  • Meet writers from around the country and build yourself a community. 💥BOOM!
  • Get smart eyes on your work.
  • A new setting invigorates! Let me tell you, Aspen is unbeatable.
  • Be with your people—humans who love words and writing as much as you do.
  • Return home with a new vigor!

Look who’ll be teaching: Major Jackson (see his poem at the top of this newsletter), Claire DedererAshley Ford, Tom Perrota, Katie Kitamura, and Emily Roboteau. Oh please! Louis Alberto Urrea will be there. What inspiration and light he brings! I’ve heard him deliver a talk called “Hymns to the Broken.” You can hear it here! The quote I often repeat to my students:

[Writers] “…have the chocolate. We have Curtis Mayfield on the stereo, my friends. We can wear fabulous slippers if we like. We’re caffeinated. We can work naked anytime we want.…Fill your pen with love or don’t pick it up.”

I encourage you to take yourself seriously, check out the Aspen Summer Words website, make yourself a little vulnerable, apply, grow!

 

***

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eat

I’ve shared this roasted carrot and avocado salad with you in the past. I’m including it again because, well, it’s been in constant rotation at my home this winter, and not only have I simplified it, but I’ve also got an amazing salad dressing hack for you.

Roasted Carrot/Cumin Salad

  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 t cumin seeds
  • 1t fresh thyme leaves
  • ¼ t crushed red chile flakes
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1T red wine vinegar + more to taste
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil + more to taste
  • 1 lb medium-size carrots peeled
  • 1 orange, halved
  • 1 lemon, halved

Step 1
Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a small food processor or a mortar, pulse or pound the garlic with the cumin, thyme, chile flakes, 1½ t salt and ¾ t pepper to make a paste. Add vinegar and 2 tablespoons of the oil and mix well.

Step 2
Arrange carrots in a roasting pan and spread spice paste on top. Place orange and lemon halves, cut side down, on carrots. Roast until carrots are tender and starting to brown, about 45 minutes.

Step 3
With a dishtowel to protect your hands, squeeze juice from the roasted orange and lemon halves over the carrots in the roasting pan. Toss with tongs. Now you are faced with a choice. You can serve the carrots hot, alongside a roast chicken, or salmon off the grill, skirt steak with chimichurri. OR, let the carrots come to room temperature, cut them into smaller pieces and toss in a green salad. Perhaps a mix of arugula and radicchio with some radishes, and avocado. Toss in pumpkin or sunflower seeds and you will be so happy, both for the delicious salad and for the faces at the table who are beaming love your way.

Step 4
Using a rubber spatula, scrape up all the goodness left behind in the roasting pan and add to a jar with a lid. Add more olive oil, maybe ½ cup, and ¼ cup vinegar to make the vinaigrette to end all vinaigrettes. My rule of thumb is 2-1 ratio oil to vinegar (yes I like the tang), + the goodness in the roasting pan. Let me tell you, the flavor is over the top. Season with salt and pepper. Use this to dress your salad.

Hey, I feel better after writing this! Thank you for reading. Thank you for being part of my community. I’m grateful for you. And so, I’m leaving you with this beautiful and joyful power! Braids and Bowlers!

Stanley! The best co-pilot on a sun chasing roadtrip, seeking respite from February.
If you aren’t on my mailing list, hop on over to my website to sign up. And, if you’d like to buy my books, you can do so here and here.  If my newsletter isn’t your jam, you can unsubscribe in the box below. I don’t want to clutter your inbox.
Please, remember to tell your people you love them.

xN

Dear Ones,

In the days leading up to my nothing-burger of a birthday (61), I had a scare. My annual exam was fine except for cholesterol, and then about ten days later I got a MyHealth alert. I hate alerts! I feel like MyHealth knows terrifying things about me. This alert supported my fear, a horrifying blood test result (when you’re a cancer survivor, any bad result hits so hard), for a test my doctor didn’t order. Being a slightly woo-woo person, I thought the universe was taking care of me, you know, performing this test to reveal something god-awful so I could deal with it in time. Thanks, Universe?

My doctor said it made no sense. “Go on your birthday vacation,” she said. “Enjoy yourself and we’ll deal when you return.”

😳
Guess what? I didn’t enjoy. I tossed and turned, pictured my painful demise in vivid detail.Once home the test was redone, and it was 💯 fine. The all-clear call came in the produce section at my market, where I gave a yelp. Basically, this is what I did, except I was surrounded by kale and bananas.

Wrong results were attached to my chart. Was it just a miscalculation, or did the results belong to someone else? I was happy for me, sad for whoever may have bad news coming. (Which reminds me of a T. Coraghessan Boyle story, which you can read here or listen to Lionel Shriver read here. The story grabs you by the lapels and won’t let go.)

Why am I telling you this? Because I seriously want to know if you are good at compartmentalizing. Can you push back potentially devastating news and keep on keeping on? Will you teach me how? Also, don’t forget to notice the beautiful bananas. Don’t forget to practice kärt besvär.

*****
Big thanks to everyone who has bought me a coffee. I’m so grateful you enjoy the newsletter, and that you took time to drop me a note and offer support. Yay! Cute button below for anyone who’d like to join in.

Buy Natalie a coffee ☕️


read

Do you know about Read Like the Wind newsletter from the New York Times? If you don’t, please seek it out. I love Molly Young’s voice and her quirky selections.

With a nod to her style, I’m going to suggest two books from my past that changed me, inspired me, and made me feel less alone.

COME TO ME, by Amy Bloom, has one of my all-time favorite stories, “Love is Not a Pie,” which is about the capacious nature of the human heart. Gosh, I’m tearing up just thinking about all that love. This collection, as well as Bloom’s, A BLIND MAN CAN SEE HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU, filled me with yearning to write funny stories about passion with recurring characters because once I fall in love with someone, fictional or IRL, I want to meet them again and again. If you like the idea of a story that begins at a funeral and ends at a card game, this is for you.

EXQUISITE PAIN, by the French artist, Sophie Calle, is an instillation in book form. Calle writes of a terrible moment in her youth, when her heart was broken by a man who failed to show up. How does one get over extravagant loss? The book begins with a countdown to her broken heart (as in “69 days to my unhappiness”) and then pivots to a counting up to her return to less naïve happiness. On each page, Calle repeats her story, the same way I (and maybe you) obsess over our pain. She begins to include stories of strangers’ extravagant losses. Her aloneness and her pain lessen. The book is gorgeous, and terribly expensive. If you can find it at a library, please check it out. Read more about it here. If you believe there is kinship in despair if you seek to feel less like a freak in your foibles, sorrows, and quirks, Sophie Calle is for you.

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter. Buying books from my shop is another way you can support my newsletter.



write

🙂🙃

Since I last wrote you I had a rejection of an essay for which I feel a particular fondness. It’s about women-on-women cruelty, my bad actions, mothers/daughters, and repair. And, like Calle, it’s about the kinship of despair. I tell you this because rejections are hard. I know you know.

I also had a story accepted. I feel a particular fondness for the story and the main character, Trina, who is in her early fifties, newly divorced, and embarking upon a new dating life. The story is about vulnerability, how we expose ourselves literally and figuratively to new people. Trina is a recurring character in my collection (seeking a home soon!). The first story I wrote about her was published in Zyzzyva Magazine.

Why am I telling you this? Because I felt joy and frustration about my work in a matter of days.

Russell Banks has advice:

 

Please, take this to heart. There are gatekeepers who have control over our careers. The only thing we have control over is our writing. Write what brings you joy. Write your important truth. Write what makes you feel kinship with the world and with yourself. Keep writing. Keep learning.

If you are looking for a writing workshop in which to share your work, grow and learn, hang with amazing smart writers, please message me as I’ve got seats available.

Also, I have space for spring editorial projects. Check my editorial page here. We may be a good fit.

 

*****
Another way to offer your support is to share the newsletter with sassy friends. You can do so with the button below. If you get three people to sign up, I will send you:

  1. My undying affection
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eat

Sheesh! After that write section, I feel like I should tell you to go imbibe your fav beverage and scarf some French fries. Instead I will offer this beloved (can’t you tell by the stains!) family cookie recipe:

 

********
Thanks for reading. Thanks for being part of my community. I’m grateful for you. And, so is Stanley.
If you aren’t on my mailing list, hop on over here to sign up. And, if you’d like to buy my books, you can do so here and here.  If my newsletter isn’t your jam, you can unsubscribe in the box below. I don’t want to clutter your inbox.
Please, remember to tell your people you love them.

xN

Dear Ones,

Have you seen all the advice…besties, work-pals, loose connections, family, partners… connecting with people who populate your world is the most important action for health and happiness. I take this to heart. Thank you all for taking time to write me notes, click the links, buy me a coffee, and connect with me by reading. I feel so privileged to have a spot in your inbox, your reading, creating, viewing and eating lives.

More ways to flourish through companionship? Say hello to the neighbor who walks their dog past your house. Ask a friendly acquaintance who you run into at the grocery store if you can join their book group. (I might have just done this, and I’m not embarrassed! 🥴) Offer/accept a last-minute invitation to come to dinner. Join a club. (I just joined a hiking club and I’m going snowshoeing with strangers!) In other words, show up, for yourself and the people in your world.

Also, make it easy, hang around people you love!
Look at these beauties. 😘🥳❤️


read

I recently read, GROUP, by Christie Tate, and let me tell you, that was a wild ride. Buckle up! In her memoir Christie seeks help with life struggles of connecting and maintaining relationships, pernicious perfectionism, disordered eating, denying herself pleasure in any aspect of her life. She finds Dr. Rosen who invites her to join a group. As the song says, “I just might have a problem that you’d understand. We all need somebody to lean on.” Crowd sourcing solutions to problems may be the way to go. Let’s say that Rosen is an unorthodox genius who we all may want in our corner. Christie is vulnerable, enraged, funny, infuriating yet easy to like.

Next up, DEMON COPPERHEAD, by Barbara Kingsolver, a modern recasting of David Copperfield, this one about the opioid crisis in Appalachia. I am sort of prepared for bleak and sad, but I’m telling you straight up, the beautiful writing I expect and love from Kingsolver may not carry me through. I am guarding my joy these days. Have you read? What did you think?

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I’ve recommended in the newsletter. Buying books from my shop is another way you can support my newsletter.



write

This quote came across my desk from Verlyn Klinkenborg’s, Several Short Sentences About Writing and (almost) freed me!

Your job as a writer is making sentences.
Your other jobs include fixing sentences, killing sentences, and arranging sentences.
If this is the case—making, fixing, killing, arranging—how can your writing possibly flow?
It can’t.

Flow is something the reader experiences, not the writer.

A writer may write painstakingly.
Assembling the work slowly, like a mosaic,
Fitting and refitting sentences and paragraphs over the years.
And yet to the reader the writing may seem to flow.

The reader’s experience with your prose has nothing to do with how hard or easy it was for you to make.
You’re not writing for the reader in the mirror whose psychological state reflects your own.
You have only your own working world to consider.
The reader reads in another world entirely.

So why not give up on the idea of “flow” and accept the basic truth about writing?

It’s hard work, and it’s been hard work for everyone all along.
There’s good reason to believe this, apart from the fact that it’s true.
If you think that writing—the act of composition—should flow, and it doesn’t, what are you likely to feel?
Obstructed, defeated, inadequate, blocked, perhaps even stupid.
The idea of writer’s block, in its ordinary sense,
Exists largely because of the notion that writing should flow.

But if you accept that writing is hard work,
And that’s what it feels like when you’re writing,
Then everything is as it should be.
Your labor isn’t a sign of defeat.
It’s a sign of engagement.
The difference is all in your mind, but what a difference.

Do you have any idea how often I’ve felt inadequate and stupid because I rarely “flow” when I’m at my desk? What a relief to know that there is nothing wrong with me. That toil is just, well, writing. Maybe this passage takes the pressure off you as well. I hope so.

 *****

Maybe you, like me, promised to submit more work in 2023. I’ve been busy and brave. I sent two pitches for two essays in the first week. One had a typo in the first sentence, a speed bump I hope 🤞🏼the editor can overlook. As I mentioned in my last newsletter, I can’t let a mistake derail me because…life, right?

In case you’re curious, sans typo, here’s the start of the pitch… if you’re an editor and this essay appeals for April/Sexual Assault Awareness Month, drop me a note and I’ll send you the entire pitch or essay.

In “The Worst Thing A Girl Can Be” I’ve written about how in my 40’s, my tweener son showed me a disturbing “no means yes” frat-boy video that enacted and decried date rape as fake. The video and my son’s confusion triggered me to finally admit, out loud and with fervor, that when I was 16 and found myself beneath a stranger in the back of a car, I was raped. The narrative I’d told myself for years was that I’d put myself beneath that man. 

Don’t be silent. Put your truth, your work into the world. We will be richer for your voice.

Buy Natalie a coffee ☕️

This newsletter is free and a delight for me to write. AND, it takes time and consideration to put together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to say a quick thanks by clicking on the adorable button above and treating me to coffee!



eat

Speaking of joining clubs, how about this one? Wine clubs, out? Olive oil clubs, in!

I made this and boy am I glad!

California Pozole (which isn’t really pozole at all, more a wet taco, but that sounds disgusting)

·       3T olive oil
·       1 lg yellow onion, finely chopped
·       3-4 shallots, sliced thin
·       1-2 poblano chiles, finely chopped
·       3-5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
·       1t ground cumin
·       1t ground coriander
·       1t dried oregano
·       Kosher salt and black pepper
·       6 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
·       3lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs and/or breasts (I used both)
·       1 ½ cups cooked or canned pinto beans
·       2 cups cooked brown rice
·       ½ cup unroasted pumpkin seeds
·       2 cups shredded cabbage
·       1 bunch of parsley, roughly chopped
·       1 lime, quartered, for serving
·       Crumbled tortilla chips, thinly sliced radishes, I sliced jalapeno, diced avocado, roughly chopped cilantro, thinly sliced scallions, salsa, and sour cream, for garnishing

Step 1
Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet oven over medium. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have softened without taking on any color, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, and oregano, cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic and spices are fragrant, about 1 minute more. Season well with salt and pepper. Place in your slow cooker.

Step 2
Add the stock and chicken and cook on low until the chicken has cooked through and is no longer pink, maybe an hour. Don’t worry too much about the time, this is meant to get going and then walk away. Honestly, I left mine on low for 3 hours before I got to this step. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked chicken to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, shred the meat.

Step 3
Add the shredded chicken back to the pot along with the cooked beans and 1 cup of the cabbage. If you feel there is not enough broth, add water. I promise it will be flavorful. Allow everything to simmer on low together for another thirty minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Step 4
Meanwhile, sauté shallots in more olive oil in a skillet, add poblanos. Sauté till soft and slightly golden. Add pumpkin seeds, cooked rice and chopped parsley. Sauté and crisp up.

Step 5 
Ladle soup into bowls. Add rice, and the garnishes. Serve with limes, for squeezing on top.

If you aren’t on my mailing list, hop on over to my website to sign up. And, if you’d like to buy my books, you can do so here and here.  If my newsletter isn’t your jam, you can unsubscribe in the box below. I don’t want to clutter your inbox.

Please, remember to tell your people you love them.xN

she ruined my 20s and now she’s back? + 10 excellent writing ideas

Are you kidding me? She ruined my twenties and now she’s back?

 

 

So, I perused the New York Times list of 93 Stylish People of 2022. And lo, there was Martha Stewart. That woman! (I did soften to her after, you know…jail, and Snoop Dog) But here she is again with her deep pockets, beautiful taste, and impossible standards, all set to ruin aging by peddling elite Japanese skincare products ($550 for moisturizer). I’m all for age representation, but come on, enough with the photo shop expertise that belittles real life. Dewy and youthful Martha? I even peeked at her insta, and I’m out. (Or am I? something about that incredulous frisson, that moment when I get to have a bzzz of “come on!?!” It’s kind of addicting!)

 

Which brings me to Instagram and why I’m on it. Sure we all curate our lives to look full and happy and colorful. And yes, sometimes as I scroll I feel a little bit less. Less lucky, less happy, less connected. But today I had a change of heart. I decided to remember that behind every post, there are a bazillion ‘less’ moments for everyone. I use my insta as a gratitude journal. And I’m viewing your Instagram as the same. Look at the moments we get to be happy about!

 

 


read

Nothing says holidays like death! Nah, just kidding, but I did just read these two books, both lovely in their own way, and both about death.

LOST & FOUND,  by Kathryn Schulz is an elegant meditation on losing those we love and on finding love. In the first half of the memoir Schulz tells us about her father, his death, and the present absence she feels. She talks about all kinds of loss, but of course the ultimate loss we will all face. The second half of the book is about finding our person, finding love and it too is a beautiful meditation, full of life and love and hope.

ALL MY PUNY SORROWS, by Miriam Toews, is about the horrible pain and shame of not wanting to be alive, and how sometimes all a person wants is to escape. The novel is, yes, very funny. And yes, Toews says it hews very closely to the story of her sister’s suicide. I am an only child, and I wish wish wish I had a sister—devoted, angry, confused, funny, kind—as Miriam Toews. This book was a joy to read.

 

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you can find many of the books I’ve recommend in the newsletter.

 



write

In my last newsletter I gave you my top ten reads from this year, and their loosely linked cousins. If you missed it you can find it here. This time around I’m giving you a top eleven writing prompts, books, series, and inspiring people from whom you could take a class.

Prompts:

I just made the biggest mistake of my life, and if I tell it to you, that means it really happened.” Put those words in the mouth of your character, or yourself in a section of your memoir. Is it hyperbole? Or is it a true cringeworthy, head clutching moment? Go, go, go….!

When did you know IT was over? (This question forces you, or your character, to face the adjacent and very important question, what is IT?)

Good God! In the messy stew of your characters’ lives, or in your life (and for the sake of your book I hope there is plenty of mess), what is a plausible reason for hope? What did you, or your character, cling to that saw them through? Dreams of forgiveness? Success? Love? What?

This quick list, from Elissa Bassist whom you will meet in a sec, is terrific. Without pause, without over thinking, write down the TEN MOVIE SCENES that will be included in the bio-pic about you or your character. You only get ten! Winnow. What is important? What stands out? Go, go, go…!

Teachers/Coaches:

This year I’ve taken two classes from Elissa Bassist. Okay, she’s terrific. In her class, Funny Personal Essays, I wrote a piece about the tragicomic experience of taking my mother for a cognitive test and it’s been picked up! (Hooray! Stay tuned for the link in the next newsletter.) Elissa is smart, honest, kind, and kinda ruthless. She gives great advice. She also wrote a terrific book, HYSTERICAL, that you should read.  And she has a Yorkie named Benny!

If you need a coach, a cheerleader in the best possible sense, someone who knows a ton about our brains and how we sabotage ourselves, Jen Louden is a good person to have on your side. She is full of energy, full of ideas, will motivate your ass to get to your desk, to commit to your voice, your work, and to hush up the inner-critic (as my Peloton teacher Cody Rigsby says, “Hot people don’t have time for negative self-talk, and you are hot!”)

Books on Writing:

BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE, Charles Baxter. I have nothing to say except if you haven’t read this book, you should probably stop reading my newsletter, grab a sharpie and a notebook in which to take many notes, and read Baxter’s book instead. His newest collection of essays on writing, WONDERLAND, is on the top of my TBR pile.

CURIOUS ATTRACTIONS, by Debra Spark. These essays come from lectures Spark gave at Warren Wilson’s MFA program. They are smart, engaging, often funny, and taught me a ton. I have assigned many of them to my students. She also has a new collection of writing essays, AND THEN SOMETHING HAPPENED. Check them both.

A value-add for the books? They have quotes and references to plain-old wonderful literature. These two books will spin you out into the world for wonderful reading. So, be certain to check the notes to give yourself a great TBR pile.

Weird Ideas (things to skim, read, and consider that may help your writing and your curiosity):

For inspiration and new ideas, check these from New York Times: the series, The World Through a Lens, offers quirky, in-depth looks at small corners… like Mainers who subsist on seasonal work, a general store in Montana, and circus workers on cruise ships. Also from the NYTs check these weird and tiny interludes for story ideas (okay, it is hit and miss, but sometimes there is a gem!), Metropolitan Diaries. Another series from the NYTs is How I Hold it Together, a series of guides about stress and what people do to alleviate their woes. I find it great inspiration for when I’m thinking about how characters move through the world. I guess the message here is, THERE ARE WRITING PROMPTS AND IDEAS ALL AROUND YOU, STAY OPEN!

Newsletters:

George Saunders’s, Story Club, is terrific. He is not only making us all better writers, but better humans as well.

Advice:

From Ray Bradbury: Read a story, an essay, and a poem every night to spur and inspire your creativity. You will never run out of ideas.

 



eat

This delicious bowl-dinner is the perfect remedy to cookies and eggnog!

Miso Blackened Salmon (from the Wandering Chickpea)

Ingredients:

  • 1lb salmon, cut into filets
  • ¼ c soy sauce
  • 2T honey
  • 1T white miso paste
  • 1T  olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • Black rice is excellent, but brown is good too!

For the Cucumber Salad:

  • 1 English cucumber, sliced
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 2T chopped cilantro
  • 1/3c plain Greek yogurt
  • 1T olive oil
  • 1t sugar
  • Juice and zest from 1 lime
  • Salt to taste
  1. In a small bowl, whisk soy sauce, honey, miso, olive oil, garlic and lime juice. Pour 3/4 of the marinade into a shallow dish and place the salmon. Marinate for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, make the cucumber salad. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Taste for salt and add more as needed.
  3. To cook the salmon, preheat the broiler and place an oven rack 6 inches below the heating element.
  4. Place the salmon filets on a broil pan or foil lined baking sheet and cook for 6-8 minutes until no longer opaque and slightly blackened on top.
  5. Brush the remaining marinade over the cooked salmon. Serve fresh with the cucumber salad and a side of black rice if desired.

 

A little program note: I’ve been writing and sharing what I love for nearly 3 years! I love it and many of you write to let me know how much you enjoy my thoughts and recommendations, and for that I am truly grateful. Honestly, it makes my day to hear from readers. Also, it takes time and consideration to put my thoughts together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to show appreciation buy clicking below:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

**********

Stanley’s loving the short and crispy afternoons! Here’s his photo for the dating Apps.
Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN

to-do list? you are dead to me! + 10 books of 2022

In a recent post from The Isolation Journals, a prompt suggested instead of writing unending To-Do lists, we consider writing To-Feel  lists. If you know me even a little bit, you know I’m on it!

What’s a To-Feel  list? Write down what you’d like to be feeling, and then make a To-Do  list to get you to the desired feelings. My To-Feel  list:

  • Excited
  • Connected
  • Light
So much better than laundry, market, make dermatology appt.

For me to feel excited I need something to look forward to. We’re in the midst of some heavy-duty recovery here, my husband enduring his joint-replacement winter, so we’re somewhat limited in immediate plans. I’m looking forward to teaching at the Come to Your Senses Writing Retreat in June, but that seems forever away. What about now, petulant me whines? Small plans—a wine bar date with a friend is a mini thing I can look forward to and has the value add of feeling connected. A matinee with buttery popcorn? Sure! A chilly hike? I’d love to.

A recent light hearted moment was delivering Thanksgiving dinner to a family in the teeth of RSV–baby, toddler, mom and dad. Such an easy thing to do and lifted their spirits and mine. Currently seeking another way I can be of service to welcome that light heart feeling. (FYI, I also went a little early and over the top with holiday lights outside my home…)

 

 

A side bar to this thought exercise, I now know what my new year resolution will be: make more friends—an action I can take that will help me feel all the feels on my list.

How about you all? I’d love to know your To-Feel  list.


read

Ta Da!! In no specific order, I offer the Top Ten Books I enjoyed this year (+ their distant cousins, or books I’ve loved in the past—my own algorithm):

ALIVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, Saeed Jones + CITIZEN, Claudia Rankine
Both of these books are unflinching. Both stare at the world with incredulity, anger, and humor. Both play with form, including poetry, storytelling and collage.

THE FAMILY CHAO, Lan Samantha Chang + LA ROSE, Louise Erdrich
Family is complicated, elastic, harmful and powerful. I know! I sound so trite, as if we don’t all have the scars to prove it. These two novels show us what family can endure.

LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY, Bonnie Garmus + FOREIGN AFFAIRS, Alison Lurie
What book is not uplifted by a full-throated dog? Both novels have fantastic protagonists as well as a delightful serving of unforgettable secondary characters. Really joyful, funny, and smart.

BODY WORK, Melissa Febos + THINGS I DON’T WANT TO KNOW, Deborah Levy
Febos and Levy are tremendous thinkers, and both books reveal and challenge expectations and limits society places on women. How do we continue to love ourselves and demand respect in a world that undermines women?

LOVE IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, Daniela Krien + SUNSTROKE, Tessa Hadley
Short stories (the first book is linked) about love, young children, fidelity and sexual politics. Krien is German, Hadley is British, just fyi.

CALYPSO, David Sedaris + DON’T GET TOO COMFORTABLE, David Rakoff
Two very distinctive, smart, opinionated, and funny voices with much to say about all of us, our families, and our world.

HORSE, Geraldine Brooks + GREAT CIRCLE, Maggie Shipstead
Big, expansive novels that elegantly shift between the present and the distant past, plus teach the reader about something new, the relationship between slavery and horse racing in one, and circumnavigation of the globe by small plane in the other.

GIRLS’ GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING, Melissa Bank + VICTORY OVER JAPAN, Ellen Gilchrist
Humor, foibles of young women learning about love, distinctive voices, loss, death, and coming of age? Both of these story collections have it all. And, both of them made me want to be a writer.

CRANE WIFE, CJ Hauser + HOW TO BE A WOMAN, Caitlin Moran + I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK,  Nora Ephron + DIALOGUES WITH RISING TIDES, Kelli Russell Agodon
The world is sometimes an asshole! And, we can laugh about it, learn from it, and continue to thrive. Boundaries are sexy! These are a few of the things I learned from these four books.

LESS IS LOST, Andrew Sean Greer + LESS, by Andrew Sean Greer
Both hilarious and delightful.
 

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you can find many of the books I’ve recommend in the newsletter.

 



write

As I mentioned we are deep in “getting well” territory here at chez Serber. My terrific family sent us a game for entertainment as we’re spending a lot of time indoors…together.

WHERE SHOULD WE BEGIN, from the couple’s therapist, Esther Perel, is one of those ask deep questions to get to know your friends, partners, and family better. Okay, not going to lie, they scare the crap out of me. I’m always afraid I will reveal too much and upset someone, or learn too much and have to hide how upset I feel. (Okay, we played it and it was a blast, no one was harmed.)

But here is the value add: what a tremendous writing tool. There are a bazillion cards in the box, all of which can help you delve into character and get things interesting on the page. For example:

  • I hope you never find out about the time…
  • I lose all willpower when it comes to…
  • The worst dinner party I’ve ever attended…
  • A grudge I’ve been holding on to…
  • I’ll never forget about the time I lied…

Of course, as a writing tool you can replace the “I” with a character name, or if you’re writing memoir, keep it about you. Do you know a writer who needs a wonderful holiday gift? This could be perfect.

 

 

 



eat

We have been participating in a terrific CSA (community supported agriculture) and I’ve learned so much about vegetables I usually pass by in the produce section. Like rutabagas! They’re hard, usually they’re heaped up without their greens attached so I wonder how old and woody are they? But I received a few in my bag the other day, along with instructions from the farmer. Below is my version of their great idea.
  1. Peel and dice 2 rutabagas to about ½ inch cubes. Toss with olive oil and roast at 400 degrees until they are just tender. (don’t over cook them!)
  2. While the rutabagas are in the oven, dice one medium shallot and sauté with a glug of olive oil in a large cast iron pan.
  3. Add about 1 pound of freshly washed spinach, it’s okay if it has water clinging to the leaves but try to shake most of the droplets off before cooking.
  4. Do not cook all the way. You want some spinach wilted and some barely wilted. Not raw, just as if the spinach had a fling with the hot pan.
  5. Toast ½ cup of walnuts in the hot oven. Be careful and attentive, you don’t want to burn them, they’re expensive and burnt walnuts are terribly bitter.
  6. Arrange on a platter the bed of spinach, the roasted rutabagas, crumbled feta (the freshest you can find, I like sheep’s milk), and the toasted walnuts. Splash with a tiny bit of sherry vinegar

Feel free to use beets, which I have done with great success, as well as turnips. If you do switch up the root vegetable, include the beet and/or turnip greens with the spinach. Delicious and I swear the meal is making my husband heal more swiftly.

A little program note: I’ve been writing and sharing what I love for nearly 3 years! I love it and many of you write to let me know how much you enjoy my thoughts and recommendations, and for that I am truly grateful. Honestly, it makes my day to hear from readers. Also, it takes time and consideration to put my thoughts together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to show appreciation buy clicking below:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

**********

Stanley’s loving the short and crispy afternoons! Here’s his photo for the dating Apps.
Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN

when I play the accordion everybody dances

I wanted to give you a tiny gift. I don’t know about you, but I’m in need of distractions right about now. I’m keeping my chitchat to a minimum and sending along diversions from news of the world. I’m writing this on Sunday night and have no idea how things will turn out on Tuesday. Some of us are guaranteed to be unhappy.

Maybe this little list will offer you some uplift. And, this little sidewalk collage. Gosh, I sure hope so.

 

 


read

THE MARRIAGE PORTRAIT, by Maggie O’Farrell is all things wonderful. If you want to be transported to another time and place, Italy in 1561, if you enjoy vivid and intense feelings, being consumed by an intricate and propulsive plot, this is the novel for you. The gorgeous Arno river, Italian light on the landscape and architecture, white mules with incredibly long manes, forests and fen, loneliness and love, pageantry and barbaric actions, it’s all here. Honestly, I couldn’t put this novel down. And, if you’ve not read O’Farrell’s novel HAMNET, I envy you! It is beautiful, gripping, and one of the best depictions of grief I’ve ever read. I am putting her memoir, I AM, I AM, I AM: SEVENTEEN BRUSHES WITH DEATH, on my TBR list.

TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, by Gabrielle Zevin, is (thus far, I’m halfway through) equally as compelling and equally other worldly. Set in the 1990s in Boston and LA, spanning thirty years, the novel is about friendship, physical suffering, betrayals in love and life, and (hello?) gaming. I am a n00b and know as much about gaming as I do about phlebotomy! And I love learning about new things. The main characters, Sam and Sadie, are best friends, colleagues and collaborators in a wildly successful video game called, “Ichigo.” The novel does a beautiful job depicting creative passion. How lucky these two are to be so driven! And, because this is fiction, because we need tension, something nefarious is on the horizon. I can’t wait to survive whatever it is with them.

ALIVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, by Saeed Jones, is bold and ruthless and hilarious. I was lucky to see Saeed Jones on a panel last weekend at the Portland Book Festival. He said many wise and funny things. He, or maybe the moderator of his panel, said of his poems, “they bring catastrophic laughter,” and “the book has its own anxiety medication prescription.” This is how he left us, “This is real. This is bad. But get the fuck up. Not everyone has the luxury to lie around.” If you’ve not read his memoir, HOW WE FIGHT FOR OUR LIVES, I hope you’ll check it out. In it Jones tells us, “The ‘I’ it seems doesn’t exist until we are able to say, ‘I am no longer yours.'”

 

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you can find many of the books I’ve recommend in the newsletter.

 



write

Along with Saeed Jones I was lucky to hear George Saunders (LIBERATION DAY)  and Jess Walters (THE ANGEL OF ROME) speak about short stories at the Portland Book Festival. They were smart, funny and a balm to my worried self. Here are a couple of lovely quotes that may see you through the week. (I was writing as fast as I could, so I may have mixed up a word here or there, but the intention is true.)

On tone, or modus operandi:

  • GS: “I write from a place of good-natured pluckiness.”  
  • JW: “I write from a place of wistful hopefulness.” 
  • GS: “To work out of affection is better than working out of agitation.”
  • GS: “I don’t get to be who I want to be; I have to be who I am. I want to be Bach, but when I pick up the accordion, everybody dances.” 

 On revision: 

  • GS: “I have faith that if I apply my subconscious to it over and over I will spit something out of value.” 

 On putting together a short story collection: 

  • JW: “I have to decide if it’s a yard sale or a concept album.”

 During these difficult times I feel:

  • GS: “Responsibility of connecting with readers is more essential post-pandemic. The world is falling apart and yet…there is Chekov. Literature is not a fading sideshow. A reader and writer meet over a made object, a book. If they keep asking, what is true? What is true? If they can land there (at truth) that is beautiful.” 
  • JW: “Reading literature, getting past systemic issues and seeing what it is to be human, lonely, misunderstood, unable to connect with people…when I read of loneliness it always strikes me as true. Social Media hasn’t helped us.(This line got a HUGE sardonic laugh!) Lonely is how many of us feel.…communion between reader and writer is highlighted and I feel more grateful than ever for my readers.” 

 

 



eat

Sweet and salty things are comforting, yes? Here is my favorite comfort snack that doesn’t have to choose one or the other, it embraces both! Kinda like this (but better)!
  • Buy yourself a beautiful loaf of bread. Something hearty, mixed grain, chewy, and sour.
  • Cut a giant slice… really, just cut a slab.
  • Toast it to your specifications.
  • Slather with delicious butter, the best you can find and don’t be meagerI like this.
  • Spread with honey. This is my favorite brand
  • Sprinkle with flaky salt. I like this brand.In fact, I like this salt so much, I travel with it.
  • Repeat as often as necessary.
If you just want to order in ice cream, try Jeni’s. I sent it to family members that were sick with covid and I do believe it was a hit.

A little program note: I’ve been writing and sharing what I love for nearly 3 years! I love it and many of you write to let me know how much you enjoy my thoughts and recommendations, and for that I am truly grateful. Honestly, it makes my day to hear from readers. Also, it takes time and consideration to put my thoughts together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to show appreciation buy clicking below:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

**********

Thank Goodness for Stanley!
Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN

right now I feel I don’t suck

When asked about a takeaway from my writing retreat, a participant bravely stated (with a slight break in her voice), “Right now I feel I don’t suck!” 

Sheesh, did that make my heart expand 3xs! That my work could contribute to this acceptance, this belief… Wow, am I grateful. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about it, because, come on, don’t we all sometimes feel we suck? Recently I taught a class that sucked. It was on endings, and try as I might to be helpful, to give advice, to share wonderful examples that I found successful, I could not connect. The more I yakked on about what works at the end of a novel or story–resolution, shapeliness, truth revealed, expectations subverted–the more I sucked! Everyone left the zoom room exhausted.Aren’t we all just beat when we fail? We keep straining and trying and sometimes it just doesn’t hit. I have neither an answer, nor a proposal to make things different. I’m not here to solve, just to normalize. Sometimes we suck. That has to be okay. Sometimes we find a community or a pal that says, you are wonderful as is! I believe in you! And then we feel we don’t suck. Maybe, can we befriend ourselves and be okay with the gaff? I wish you many, many suck-free moments.

 

 


read

Anyone in a book group? Anyone actually talk more about the books than drink wine and share about their lives? (BTW, I have no ill feelings about drinking wine and sharing about one’s life.)

Currently I’m leading a book discussion group about Deborah Levy’s Living Autobiography series. Y’all, I love being in a room, zoom or otherwise, with people who want to share joy, frustration, curiosity, about their reading life. Now that winter rain is lurking, I’m looking for book group advice. Drop me a line if you have a moment. I’d love to hear what makes your book group zing, what books have spurred fantastic conversations?

I’m reading Celeste Ng’s newest novel, OUR MISSING HEARTS, which is frightening. Set in what seems to be now, it’s about living in a police state where anti-Asian hate crimes flourish, book banning is expected, and children are re-homed. (Another book that explores a totalitarian police state is Philip Roth’s, THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA, with perhaps one of the most sorrowful scenes of a child eating cereal that I’ve ever read and will never forget.)

The main character in Ng’s novel is twelve-year-old Bird, touching and naïve as he goes off in search of his poet mother who has left him behind with his father. The novel explores motherhood and responsibility. Is it a mother’s job to secure safety for children just within the walls of home, or must we go into the world to try to secure safety for all children? How much can we do? I’m just halfway into the novel and I’m wrapped up in the story.

 

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you can find many of the books I’ve recommend in the newsletter.

 



write

At the recent retreat.write.energize., a participant (did I mention she’s terrific?) who’d just finished up a long project asked, “How do you start something new? Do you have any advice for how to jump in?” I wanted to offer something meaningful and truthful. My first thought, “How should I know?” Once we got past the usual list of characters, desires, obstacles, setting, tension, I quietly sat for a moment longer and then added, “You’ve got to love your characters.”

Hold up, before you get excited, note I didn’t say your characters have to be loveable, I said you must love your characters. And by love, I mean you must believe in their f*cked-up humanity. You must be curious about them, make them multi-dimensional. The world is a very interesting place. Life is interesting. If you don’t love your characters enough to let them be bad actors, to recognize shreds of your own vanity, pettiness, and selfishness in them, and to love them anyway, I think you’ll have a hard time sustaining the long haul of writing a book. You must be accepting of the contradictions in people. The difficulties or weird things about people, the things that make them unhappy or unkind, the things that paralyze them, those are the things that make them stellar characters, not problems to be solved.

Extrapolating from that position…if we are able to love our characters, if we are agreeable with Charles Baxter’s assessment that, “Characters are under no obligation to be good, they just have to be interesting,” then perhaps we will find ourselves a little (a tiny bit?) more tolerant of one another in the world. We’re flexing our muscles of understanding and insight and we’re remaining curious.

 



eat

My poor husband is looking ahead to a bleak winter of joint replacement surgeries. We are going to be housebound for a good bit of time and won’t be traveling to be with family for Thanksgiving. Which is sad, sad, sad. In an effort to make things fun and interesting, I’m tossing out the traditional Thanksgiving feast because, well imperialism and historical misrepresentation…

On Instagram last year I read about someone who celebrates Hanksgiving and that’s what we’re going to do. This person, I wish I could remember who, makes an enormous Indian Feast and binges Tom Hanks movies with her family. I’m kind of excited! I’m hoping for a super rainy, super cozy day. I’m thinking about butter turkey, dahl, winter squash korma, sag paneer, basmati rice, and yes, okay, pumpkin pie.

Here’s the BUTTER CHICKEN recipe I will morph into Butter Turkey:

MARINADE

  • ½c whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 1t fenugreek seeds (optional)
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1T finely grated ginger
  • 2t kosher salt
  • 2lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (As mentioned above, I’m going to swap out for turkey)

SAUCE 

  • ½ c (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 3-inch cinnamon stick
  • 5 green cardamom pods
  • 1 whole clove
  • 2 t fenugreek seeds (optional)
  • 2 med onions, sliced
  • 2 serrano chiles, split lengthwise
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 T finely grated ginger
  • 1 T garam masala
  • 1 t paprika
  • ½ t ground turmeric
  • 2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes
  • ½ c heavy cream
  • Chopped cilantro, steamed basmati rice, and naan (for serving)

MARINADE

Whisk yogurt, garlic, fenugreek, if using, ginger, and salt in a medium bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Cover and chill at least 1 hour and up to 3.

SAUCE AND ASSEMBLY

Step 1
Melt 4 Tbsp. butter in a large wide pot over medium heat. Cook cinnamon, cardamom pods, clove, and fenugreek seeds, if using, stirring, until slightly darker and fragrant, 1–2 minutes. Add onion and chiles, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden and beginning to caramelize, 8–10 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until very fragrant and ginger starts to turn golden and sticks to bottom of pot, 2–3 minutes. Add garam masala, paprika, and turmeric and cook, stirring, until very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, breaking up into pieces with a spoon, and cook until brick red and most of the liquid is evaporated, about 1 minute. Using a potato masher or large spoon, smash tomatoes and continue to simmer, uncovered, until sauce is the consistency of a thick ragù, 40–50 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick (leave other whole spices).

Step 2
Transfer mixture to a blender and purée until smooth. Cut remaining 4 Tbsp. butter into pieces. Add butter and cream to blender and purée until creamy; season with salt. Return sauce to pot and bring to a simmer.

Step 3
Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Arrange chicken in a single layer on a wire rack set inside a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Broil until chicken starts to brown in spots (it will not be cooked through), 7–8 minutes per side. When cool enough to handle, cut into ¾” pieces. Add chicken to simmering sauce, cover, and cook until chicken is cooked through, 8–10 minutes.

Step 4
Top chicken and sauce with cilantro. Serve with rice and naan alongside.

Do Ahead: Butter chicken can be made 3 days ahead. Let cool; cover and chill.

And, if you have a favorite Tom Hanks movie we shouldn’t miss, drop me a line, I’m queueing up the viewing list.

**********

 

A little program note: I’ve been writing and sharing what I love for nearly 3 years! I love it and many of you write to let me know how much you enjoy my thoughts and recommendations, and for that I am truly grateful. Honestly, it makes my day to hear from readers. Also, it takes time and consideration to put my thoughts together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to show appreciation buy clicking below:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

**********

Just back from a visit to California to see friends and family, I’m short on Stanley photos. In lieu, and in honor of Halloween, here is a zombie baby living their best undead-life!
Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN

come sit at my table

It’s been a whirlwind here! I’m packing up, planning, scheduling, cooking, preparing for the first  retreat.write.energize. Like the ten amazing women joining me on the Oregon Coast, I’m a little nervous and a lot delighted to be spending a week with people for whom writing their stories is a calling, as it is for Annie Ernaux, our newest Nobel Laureate (one of only seventeen women to be lauded by the committee).

One of the many pleasures I’ve had in preparing for the retreat is in re-reading THE CRANE WIFE, by CJ Hauser, our retreat book, which I’ve already recommended to you in this newsletter. This time through, I am noticing friendships which stand out as if in neon. Her friends show-up, in joyful times, through sorrowful break-ups, when she must spread her grandparents’ ashes, when covid lockdown makes traveling home impossible. She has new friends, old friends, friends whom she has harmed and now seeks to repair. It’s a beautiful swath of connection, and it is making me aware of how I want to be in the world, what I want to emphasize. I want to be the friend who, if you find yourself suddenly in my town, I say “Your room is ready! Come sit at my table. You mean so much to me.” The NYT’s recently had an article about exactly this, making and keeping friends. The article says (I doubt lightbulbs will go off here, but):

…the quality people most appreciate in a friend is ego support, which is basically someone who makes them feel like they matter. The more you can show people that you like and value them, the better. 

The world is a tough room these days, friends and family are what will see us through.

 


read

I’ve been deep into student and editorial manuscripts these days. On the other side of my retreat, along with exploring Annie Ernaux’s books, I have a deep TBR list!

THE MOST HUMAN HUMAN, What Artificial Intelligence Teaches Us About Being Human, by Brian Christian. This book is totally out of my wheelhouse, and yet, CJ Hauser mentioned it in her book, and Krista Tippet recently mentioned it in her newsletter, The Pause:

The book begins with a loaded provocation regarding artificial intelligence: maybe it’s not so much that machines are encroaching on the distinct qualities we humans possess, but that, perhaps, we’ve been receding in our own humanity.

THE WONDER SPOT, by Melissa Bank. I’ve never read this collection by a writer who inspired me so much as a young woman. It was the follow up to her collection THE GIRLS GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING, which I adored. I can’t wait to crack this one open.

REFUSE TO BE DONE, by Matt Bell. I learn so much from Bell’s newsletter, Writing Exercises how could I pass up his craft book?

Humor me with two more by favorite writers of mine:

THE HERO OF THIS BOOK, by Elizabeth McCracken. She is inventive, sly, and a writer of gorgeous sentences.

LUCY BY THE SEA, by Elizabeth Strout. She simply writes the best interiority of anyone. Plain and simple.

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you can find many of the books I’ve recommend in the newsletter.

 



write

I was all set to write a rant here, in which I excoriated editors and agents (not all editors and agents) but those who don’t respond to writers. As I mentioned, the world is a tough room. We writers are making fools of ourselves in public every day, trying to show our insides on the outside with what we hope is meaningful and beautiful writing. Of course we won’t be everyone’s flavor, of course we will get it wrong. Please don’t leave us hanging. But I’m not going to write that rant. 

Instead I have a prompt. This sentence is from Joan Didion’s 1967 essay “Goodbye to All That.” 

When I first saw New York I was twenty, and it was summertime, and I got off a DC-7 at the old Idlewild temporary terminal in a new dress which had seemed very smart in Sacramento but seemed less smart already, even in the old Idlewild temporary terminal, and the warm air smelled of mildew and some instinct, programmed by all the movies I had ever seen and all the songs I had ever sung and all the stories I had ever read about New York, informed me that it would never quite be the same again.

I challenge you to use this sentence as scaffolding, as a flying buttress.

 

 

Write a serpentine sentence that reveals place, time, and character with as much verve as Didion does here. Invoke the senses. Send me your sentences! I’d love to read.

You can also try the Seven-Minute Sentence, a nifty prompt I’ve adapted from Janet Fitch:

When you feel dull and stymied in your work, try writing a serpentine sentence. Imagine a depleted helium balloon and the game of keeping the balloon aloft. That is your job with this long sentence. Replace periods w/commas, use connective words that keep a sentence going (where, but, while, and, too, except, until, then, surely, yes, anyway, maybe, still, so…etc…) Also, use lists! They are a great way to extend a sentence. Maybe write a list of the things your character would never do? Day drink? Wear pajamas to work? Eat steak tartar? Start your sentence with a dependent clause, for example:

Ever since she got home…
Across the room..
They walked out the front door…
When he first saw…

Now, set a timer and write.
 



eat

I love Pasta alla Norma. I mean, eggplant, cheese, tomato sauce, and pasta? What’s not to love. Thus I’m all in for making this, which I also found in the NYTs cooking App.

Eggplant Parmesan Pasta

  • ½ c extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¾ c panko bread crumbs
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • ½ c finely chopped yellow onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1½ lbs eggplant, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (8 cups)
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 1 (28-oz) can whole tomatoes, crushed with your hands in a bowl
  • basil sprig, plus ⅓ c chopped basil leaves
  • ¼ t dried oregano
  • 1 lb short pasta, such as rigatoni, fusilli or shells
  • 2 T freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced and at room temperature

Step 1
In a high-sided large skillet with a lid, heat 2 T of oil over medium. Add panko, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring constantly, until golden and crispy, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Set a large pot of salted water to boil.

Step 2
Wipe out the skillet and heat 2 T of oil over medium. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add eggplant and drizzle over the remaining ¼ c of oil. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is softened, about 8 minutes. Add in tomato paste and stir constantly until lightly caramelized on the bottom of the skillet, about 2 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, basil sprig, oregano and 1½ c of water, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Step 3
Cover the skillet and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally and smashing some of the eggplant, until the eggplant is very tender and the sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes. Discard the basil sprig.

Step 4
Meanwhile, in the large pot of water, cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Reserve ½ c of pasta water and drain.

Step 5
Add cooked pasta, reserved pasta water and the eggplant sauce to the large pasta cooking pot, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until sauce thickens and coats the pasta, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in ¼ c of the chopped basil.

Step 6
Add Parmesan to the panko and mix well. Divide the pasta in bowls and top each with some of the mozzarella. Sprinkle over cheesy breadcrumbs, and garnish with the remaining basil.

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A little program note: I’ve been writing and sharing what I love for nearly 3 years! I love it and many of you write to let me know how much you enjoy my thoughts and recommendations, and for that I am truly grateful. Honestly, it makes my day to hear from readers. Also, it takes time and consideration to put my thoughts together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to show appreciation buy clicking below:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

**********

Stanley says, “Why yes, I am a prince.”
Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN

Madame, are there stones in your luggage?

Do you feel a bit shamed when it is your suitcase that the TSA people pull aside for further inspection? I do. Traveling home from a recent visit with our daughter in Italy, the woman at the Milan airport heaved my suitcase from the conveyor belt.  

          “Madame, are there stones in your luggage?”
          Well, yes.

The stones on the shoreline in Camogli, Italy were hard to pass up. Smooth, dark as onyx, marked with circles and swirls of white—they are called wishing stones and I’d decided to bring some home as gifts. I thought my writer friends might put one on their desk, a place for their eye to land, or something to hold in their hand as they considered the next word, the next scene, what detail of setting would be perfect. 
          Alas, it was not to be. I was chastised for “stealing Italy.” I showed her the beautiful collection and said I hoped she would at least take them home, but she told me no. They were destined for the airport trash. How was that better?She did let me keep one and it is a place for my eye to land, to remember how we’d slip down to the Ligurian sea between the first espresso and our breakfast, to float and pretend Italy was our home. 
 

 


read

I’m thoroughly enjoying LESS IS LOST. Have you read LESS? It deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017, a terrific novel, by Andrew Sean Greer. And the follow up (which I’m listening to) is keeping me entranced as I walk around my neighborhood, combating jet lag, often laughing out loud. Greer is funny! A passage about a mediocre gay men’s chorus singing Leonard Cohen is particularly hilarious. But the novel is not always tra-la-la. We know comedy arises from pain and Greer smoothly transitions into the profound. Mixed with the humor are beautiful moments about love, loss, and perhaps not taking ourselves too seriously. (My favorite subject!) The writing is vivid and often gorgeous. Consider this passage when our hero, Arthur Less, has had a touching goodbye with his father, in the dark in South Carolina. He bears a lot of (not-unfounded) resentment towards his dad. And then he finds himself surprised by the exchange.
 
As for what Less came all this way to say, there is really no reason to say it out loud. Wind shakes rain loose from the Spanish moss and if falls to the road like a briefcase of diamonds. 

I wish I wrote that. 

Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you can find many of the books I’ve recommend in the newsletter.

 



write

When we left on our trip I had every intention of keeping a notebook. I wanted to try my hand at travel writing that wasn’t merely about place and food (we have phone cameras to document all that) but observations about people. Exchanges in which I learned about the world and about myself. And yet, I didn’t do it. I didn’t want to stop the experience of ‘living’ the trip to record the trip. 
 
Here are two moments: 
 
Before I left for Italy, I learned basic words: buongiorno, buona sera, grazie, un bicchiere di vino rosso, per favore.  I also learned to say, I’m sorry, as I thought it would be useful for when I bumped into people, or said the wrong thing, or took time gathering my euros to pay. After about ten days of this, some kind Italian said to me, “What do you think you are saying?”
         “I’m sorry,” I reported. 
          He smiled. “No you are not saying, mi dispiace. You are saying, mi piace. which means, I like you.”  
          Apparently I was bumbling along, getting in people’s way, giving the wrong amount of money, and announcing, “I like you. I like you.” Which is true. I did like the Italians I met. 
 

The maître d at breakfast will not let us take our plates to the veranda. He will not let us take coffee away in a real cup. He does not smile, and asks again and again, “Madame, what room are you in?” He is a large headed man in a dark blue suit, the pants shiny from wear. When I look in his face for signs of tenderness, I see none. What is he fiercely protecting? He lords over a crappy buffet with the worst eggs I’ve ever seen in a chaffing dish. And then, one morning he has spied us out the dining room window, swimming before the sun is up and when we arrive, hair wet, ready for our second espresso, he softens. The skin around his eyes puckers and I see when he smiles that his teeth are gapped and tobacco stained. We are now his favorites. He tells us places we must visit. Walks we must take. Every morning he stands at the window and waves at us in the sea. 
 
Why am I telling you this? Because I am encouraging you to take the time on a trip, to notice the goofy things you do, your missteps, your new friends, funny signs, fathers and their children, the pleasure in the fisherman’s face when he watches you bite into his fried anchovies.

 

                                                                   

 

I’m a little upset with myself for not recording more. How about you? Do you record your trip when you travel? Do you have secrets to share?

 

 



eat

We went to many a wonderful marché and I did very little cooking. One night, with pals in our Airbnb, Joel did BBQ a steak and I made a terribly French carrot salad. I have no recipe, but here’s what I did:

Carottes Râpées (otherwise known as, grated carrots)

Luckily there was a giant box grater in the kitchen, and I made short work of grating about 5-6 carrots on the large holes. Then I simply used what I had on hand. Briny green and black olives – pitted and chopped, but not too fine. A few glugs of olive oil.  Fresh lemon juice to taste (I like a lot!). A liberal sprinkling of black pepper and minced fresh rosemary, which grew by the roadside. Finally, a handful of chopped parsley and salt, which we did not have. The men-of-the-house merrily left to seek salt from the neighbors.
“Mon dieu, pas de sel! c’est une catastrophe,” said a delightful family who sent them home with an egg cup of salt.

Mix all the ingredients and set aside to marinate for at least 30 minutes. I served mounds of the salad atop the most gorgeous late summer tomatoes.

**********

 

A little program note: I’ve been writing and sharing what I love for nearly 3 years! I love it and many of you write to let me know how much you enjoy my thoughts and recommendations, and for that I am truly grateful. Honestly, it makes my day to hear from readers. Also, it takes time and consideration to put my thoughts together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to show appreciation buy clicking below:

buy me a cup of coffee!☕️

 

**********

I hope you and yours are well. I hope you’re embracing the change of season, and for those of you who celebrate, Shana Tova. May the new year bring sweetness into all our lives.

For your viewing pleasure, beautiful Camogli rocks. (Stanley will be back next time!)

 

via GIPHY

 

Please, remember to tell your people you love them,
xN