yes, those are my feet and I have news about crocodiles 🦶🏼🐊

 

 

 

Yes, those are my feet! We’re in Costa Rica on a sweet little vacation. To the right of me, just out of the frame is the Nosara Biological Reserve…howler monkeys, birds, bats, anteaters, fire ants, termites, and crocodiles in abundance.

We took a walk with a naturalist, Santos, and learned a ton. For one thing, did you know that once crocodiles lay their eggs, the gender is decided by the weather! The hot eggs will hatch into males. Cooler eggs will hatch into females. You know where this is going, right? Global warming is causing an abundance of males and since male crocs are territorial, this is causing an abundance of trouble. There simply isn’t enough territory for all these males. Santos told us that for the first time in his lifetime male crocs are eating one another. Add to this problem fewer females and, well you can connect the dots. Yes, this is terrible news. Though I’m happy to tell you that the monkeys are thriving.

 

 


read

 

 

One of my children’s favorite books was LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE by Bernard Waber. Lyle, a mute and charming crocodile lived in brownstone on East 88th in New York City and had amazing adventures. There’s a sweet little animated film you can watch here preferably with a child beside you, if you have no child in your home, perhaps you can borrow one! Also, who knew… but Uncle Google tells me there will be a new Lyle film coming out in November with Javier Bardem.

 

 

 

Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers who leave books behind in the Airbnb. I ran out of books on this trip and was lucky to find THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2020, ed. CURTIS SITTENFELD stashed away in a cupboard. I’d forgotten the pleasures reading stories from writers I love and also being introduced to new voices, all in one volume. A bonus of course is the essay in the front of the collection by the editor. In her essay, Sittenfeld says, “What makes a short story succeed? Whatever the writer can get away with.” She also says:

These stories are…windows into emotions I have and haven’t had, into other settings and circumstances and observations and relationships. 

And she is right, these stories are invitations to new worlds, in the same way travel invites us to see things through fresh eyes. So far, they’re terrific and a window into the last batch of stories that came before the pandemic. I can’t help but wonder what the zeitgeist will be for the 2021 edition.

 

To prepare for a class I’m teaching in May I spent an afternoon on the beach reading, THE ART OF TIME IN FICTION, by Joan Silber. It’s wonderful to be engaged with the mind of a smart writer/teacher. Silber breaks up time into categories for the book:

 

  • Classic Time: a season or a year
  • Long Time: decades, or a life, or multi-generational
  • Switchback Time: the narrative moves around between then, now, farther back, and future
  • Slowed Time: the focus comes down to a small event w/large impact for the character
  • Fabulous Time: time is magical, fluid, cyclical

As a writer and reader, I am most interested in switchback time. It’s the way I tell stories to friends, interrupting myself to add a detail from the past which enhances the present. As a writer it enables me to see the story from a less limited point-of-view, complicating and deepening my stories in a way that mimics the way I think, associatively. As a reader I love to learn what characters can’t let go of from the past and how it colors their present.

The book, like all the books in The Art of… series from Greywolf Press that I’ve read thus far, is helpful, with solid samples and clear descriptions.

 

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’ve got some short classes coming up! I’d love to meet you (over zoom).

LEAPING FORWARD, SLOWING DOWN: TIME IN PROSE, on May 6, 10:30 – 1:30 EST.
Time can be a challenging aspect to master when writing in any genre. When should we slow down and dwell in a scene? When should we summarize and move rapidly through weeks, years, or decades? When should we go back in time to reveal and understand a character’s motivation? How does the experience of time differ in a short story vs. a novel, or in memoir?
This workshop will explore how writers bend time to create different narrative effects. We will read work by Tessa Hadley, Alice Munro, Toni Morrison, John Cheever and others, as well as look at examples from TV shows and films such as Ted Lasso, and The Lost Daughter. After the discussion, we’ll work together with some prompts, expanding and contracting time to see how we can effectively utilize it when telling our own stories.

CONVERSATIONS WITH THE WORK: READING AS A WRITER, on May 28, 10:30 – 1:30 EST.
Many writers come to writing from a love of reading—the pleasure of being pulled out of the real world and plunged into the world of a story—only to discover how difficult it is to replicate that magic feeling. In this workshop, we’ll explore the tricks our favorite writers employ to create immersive fiction and nonfiction, and how we can borrow from them to enhance our own work.
We will close-read excerpts from authors like Michelle Zauner, Saaed Jones, Deborah Levy, Louise Erdrich, and Samantha Hunt to study their use of movement, scene, and summary, dialogue, conflict, imagery, and character revelations. We’ll then launch into a few prompts and share what we come up with. Students will come away from the seminar with a new set of tools to read with an eye for craft, and encouragement to mark up the margins of their favorite books as they converse with the work inside.

 

 

retreat.write.energize.

 

 

In my last newsletter I mentioned my upcoming retreat.write.energize on the Oregon coast. Well, details are falling into place and I want to keep you up to speed. We will gather at the Sylvia Beach Hotel from October 9 – 15 for a week of workshops, time to write, community, inspiration and the solace of the coast. All you have to do is arrive, ready to write, ready to make writer friends IRL, and share your beautiful work.  I don’t know about you, but I’m so delighted to shake off my covid cobwebs and be in community. If sharing your work with smart, engaged writers, learning, improving, and focusing is just what you’ve been craving… Drop me a note so I can get your name on the list! For this inaugural gathering we will be a small group.

SAVE THE DATE! October 9-15, 2022,

and do direct message me shoot me an email: natalie@natalieserber.com to get your name on the list. Our group will be very intimate and supportive. Cannot wait to share this beautiful gathering!

 

 



eat

The food has been delicious and fresh everywhere we go in Costa Rica. The fruit, out of this world! But I want to tell you about the regional dish, Casado which is easy to make and satisfying. Consisting of rice, black beans, and a protein such as chicken, beef, tofu, or fish, and a salad or coleslaw. Sides may include avocado slices, tortillas, or fried plantains. The name casado translates to married, and everything on the plate goes perfectly together.

I’ve looked around on the internet and can’t really find a recipe worth sharing, and the thing is, you don’t need one. Just make up a pot of black beans, perhaps flavor them with red bell peppers and onions, some garlic and cilantro. Cook some brown rice. Make a coleslaw or a salad of your liking with a simple vinaigrette. Here’s a great one from the NYTs (pay wall). Grill a piece of fresh fish and season with salt and pepper, a bit of oregano and lots of citrus, lemon or lime. If you have them, some fried plantains would be a great addition. Arrange all the ingredients on your plate and garnish with avocado slices, perhaps some pico de gallo, and pass the hot sauce.

I also plan on making this delicious thing when I get home!

 

 

**********

 

I hope you are all enjoying little glimpses of spring wherever you happen to be. It’s simply amazing here in Costa Rica. Meanwhile, Stanley’s been with his best friend Milo back in Portland. He was having a fine time and then it snowed (in April!?!).

 

 

Since then he’s been calling us to come get him!

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am very pleasantly moved to tears.

Spring is rushing in. The sight of tender petals brightens my mornings. In Portland spring is quixotic, one minute offering enough warmth for the crocus and tulips and the stalwart daffodils to bloom, only to harass them with hailstones or heavy rain.

 

Maybe you’ve been feeling interior hailstones and heavy rain. News of war is hard. I encourage you to do some small act, besides consuming news, to give you a tiny sense of agency in a nonsensical situation. Give where you can (I have ideas at the close of this email), maybe find a Ukrainian church in your town and participate in the social hour after services, they often are selling pierogi and collecting money for their families abroad, attend a peace vigil in your community. Meanwhile, here’s a poem by Mari Andrew that may help you sit in the paradox of suffering/getting on with it.

I am washing my face before bed
while a country is on fire.

It feels dumb to wash my face and
dumb not to.

It has never been this way and it has
always been this way.

Someone has always clinked a
cocktail glass in one hemisphere as
someone loses a home in another,
while someone falls in love in the
same apartment building where
someone grieves. The fact that
suffering, mundanity and beauty
coincide is unbearable and
remarkable.

Mari Andrew

 

 


read

I’m listening to Frank Bruni read his memoir, THE BEAUTY OF DUSK. It’s a beautiful book which dwells in loss and resilience. Bruni suffered a stroke that affected the vision in his right eye. The memoir illuminates the possibility of loss as a growth point. I’ve been moved by many passages, enough that I’ve gone back to listen to some chapters a second and third time. His love of his dog certainly warms my heart! And his capacity for compassion is inspiring. I feel that Bruni is my partner in shine! Here’s a passage that moved me:

 

With my one good eye, I looked harder and longer, and I hope, more soulfully at everything around me, starting with my acquaintances and friends. I realized that we know too little about the people in our lives because we inspect them only superficially, ask the easy and polite questions, edit them down to the parts that give us the least complicated and most immediate pleasure. There is heartache in them that we don’t adequately recognize, triumph in them that we don’t sufficiently venerate.

 

Of course this is no lightning bolt revelation, but it is something to tuck in our pocket and remember. Perhaps make a pact with yourself to recognize heartache and celebrate triumph.

 

My mom and I went to lunch the other day and our paths crossed with an amazing woman! Danusha Lameris, sitting at the table next to ours, reading Louise Glück. My chatty mother struck up a conversation with Danusha and we were charmed by her warmth and her smile. Turns out we all had friends in common, we shared some laughs, and enjoyed sitting outside in the sunshine. When we said our goodbyes, it seemed we had a new friend.

 

When I got home and looked her up, as one does these days, I was further charmed by her poetry. BONFIRE OPERA looks to be a wonderful collection and I cannot wait to get my hands on it. Meanwhile, you can find one poem of hers here in the NYTs, and this one from her website:

 

Small Kindnesses   

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”

I like your hat.

 

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

One of my many amazing students, Meriwynn, is working on a novel with a powerful character. Irina (the character) is an emigré, and an artist, who is a “Captain Happen” (that is, she gets things moving) for the protagonist of Meriwynn’s novel.  Because Meriwynn is wonderful and curious and deeply engaged with her book, she found a Ukrainian Etsy shop to buy herself a blouse, a vyshyvanka similar to one her character would wear. And then, well, war broke out.

 

Meriwynn wrote to The Fair Anna, to say, don’t worry about my blouse! Please, take care of yourself! What can I do to help? She also told Anna that she shared the shop with her writing group. Amazingly, Meriwynn got a notice that her vyshyvanka had shipped.

 

And she got this message from Anna:

I am very pleasantly moved to tears. I feel the support as well as the whole Ukrainian people from the countries of Ukraine’s friends. I am very grateful to you for distributing my small shop among your friends. These are very difficult times in Ukraine. The enemy destroys cities and razes them to the ground. These barbarians do not leave a single house, they destroy all living people in Ukraine. It hurts a lot I am very grateful for your prayers.

 

I share this with you for three reasons:

1. To remind us all that the war is real, not just television images.

2. To put us in touch with Anna’s Etsy shop where we can donate five or ten dollars straight into her bank account. I’m certain every little bit helps. Perhaps in sunnier times we can order a beautiful piece of clothing from her.

3. Look at where our writing can take us!  Meriwynn’s deep engagement with her creative work shrunk the world! Her novel-in-progress has brought all of us in touch with someone on the other side of the planet, and Anna knows.

Art is amazing.

 

 

retreat.write.energize.

 

 

n my last newsletter I mentioned my upcoming retreat.write.energize on the Oregon coast. Well, details are falling into place and I want to keep you up to speed. We will gather at the Sylvia Beach Hotel from October 9 – 15 for a week of workshops, time to write, community, inspiration and the solace of the coast. All you have to do is arrive, ready to write, ready to make writer friends IRL, and share your beautiful work.  I don’t know about you, but I’m so delighted to shake off my covid cobwebs and be in community. If sharing your work with smart, engaged writers, learning, improving, and focusing is just what you’ve been craving… Drop me a note so I can get your name on the list! For this inaugural gathering we will be a small group.

SAVE THE DATE! October 9-15, 2022,

and do direct message me shoot me an email: natalie@natalieserber.com to get your name on the list. Our group will be very intimate and supportive. Cannot wait to share this beautiful gathering!

 

 



eat

Ever have a cookbook that manages to be comforting and expansive? A MODERN WAY TO COOK: 150+ VEGETARIAN RECIPES FOR QUICK, FLAVOR-PACKED MEALS, by Anna Jones, is just such a book. Not only are the recipes truly quick, but she has delightful flavor bombs to add just before the food hits the plate and your palate. Minced herbs and nuts to sprinkle over pasta. Lemon zest with za’atar and a bit of walnut oil to adorn asparagus. The idea is to use fresh herbs, nuts, citrus and oils to offer a flavor wallop after you’ve done the cooking. It works beautifully. In this delicious salad (which I’ve changed up a bit to welcome spring vegetables) Jones makes a pecan and pumpkin seed brittle to toss on at the last minute, adding texture, a bit of protein, and sweetness.

 

Winter Vegetable Salad
Serves 4 as a main dish

For the salad:

  • 3 carrots (multicolor add beauty)
  • 3 beets (also a mix of color is a visual treat)
  • 1 radicchio head, julienned
  • 1 bunch of radishes, if you can find French Breakfast radishes, do use them
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 pear (I used bosc for the firm texture)
  • a large handful of pecans
  • a large handful of pumpkin seeds (I used tamari toasted, which added a nice salty finish)
  • a glug of maple syrup
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • feta cheese to taste
  1. Peel, chop, and slice all the vegetables and the pear as thinly as you can, making sure to shred the radicchio especially thinly; a mandoline may be useful here, but a sharp knife will do just as well.
  2. Put a sheet of parchment paper on a small tray or a plate, then put the nuts into a frying pan. Toast briefly, then add the seeds and toast until the seeds smell toasted and are starting to brown. Add the maple syrup and a pinch of salt and stir, then take off the heat, tip onto the parchment and leave to cool.

For the dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  1. Mix the dressing ingredients in a little jar.
  2. Put all the chopped veggies into a bowl, season with salt and pepper, pour in the dressing, and mix well. This would be a nice moment to add the crumbled feta cheese if you like. Scatter with the nuts and seeds, serve!

 

 

 

**********

 

As promised, here is a list of places to reach out and help Ukrainian people.

It’s beautiful here in Santa Cruz, where I’ve been the last week, visiting my mother, laughing with friends, riding my electric bike around with Stanley. I hope you are all enjoying little glimpses of spring wherever you happen to be.

 

via GIPHY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

yes, and…yes, and…yes, and…

You probably know the ‘yes, and…’ improv principle/infinity loop.

 

 But just in case:

In improv, when Person A offers something, “Wow, this line is so long.” Person B responds by accepting Person A’s statement (the “yes” part) and then building on it (the “and” part). “I know! But what do you expect, they’re giving away baby crocodiles!” Person A replies, “Perfect! Finally a way to get rid of the rats in my bedroom.”

The idea being you must be open to whatever is thrown your way (sorry, you’ll have to sit through a 4 second ad).

Why am I telling you this? Because I am trying to lean into flexibility and resilience in my life, in my writing, inside my head!

We’re faced with cruddy situations and events all the time—long lines, new variants, supply chain issues, trouble sleeping, cancelled plans—it’s what we do with those things that makes the difference. Starting with YES acknowledges the difficulty or disappointment. Ending with AND gives us the opportunity to build resilience. How are we going to cope?

Why have I been thinking about this? Because I read in the NYTs Well Newsletter about the notion of choosing one word for the entire year rather than making a resolution. The idea is the word will sit on your shoulder and gently guide you toward a new focus or a change, rather than trying to adhere to a resolution which may set you up for failure. In case this strikes your fancy, here’s a few words to peruse:

 

 

 


read

I recently read or heard:

 

“Writers must express things that normal people (meaning non-writers) cannot, but which normal people recognize as the Truth (my capitalization). Writers, like mothers, do the heavy lifting of emotional life for everyone else.”

 

That really resonates with me. When I recognize those emotional truths in a book I’m reading, I’m so damn grateful.

 

Currently I’m reading THE GREAT CIRCLE, by Maggie Shipstead, which is incredible. The characters are wonderful and maddening. I’m finding many moments of emotional truth.

A character says of the boyfriend she has jilted:

I guess I’m surprised he could walk away without needing to yell at me. Most people want you to witness how much you’ve hurt them. But not him apparently. I don’t know if that means I didn’t really hurt him or if he has more dignity than I thought.

Another character, a young teenaged girl has an interaction with a much older man and her understanding of the sexual power structure is described this way:

Her nervousness had given way to a gathered deliberate feeling. She knew, without knowing how she knew, how he wanted her to be. Amused, aloof, a little tough. She was aware of the sharp edge of the porch against her fingers. The way he watched when she stretched out her legs.”

 

 

I’m also reading (and sobbing through), CRYING IN H MART, by Michelle Zauner. This beautiful memoir about the death of Zauner’s mother disabuses us of the notion that talking about things can hurt us. Talking about things can heal us. Zauner talks about all the things, revealing much about expectations and pain in her relationship with her mother, followed by the tsunami of understanding, acceptance, forgiveness and love that floods her when faced with loss. Zauner gets messy on the page, letting us see her try to figure things out. She shows the machinery of writing, lets the reader watch her discover her book, and her return to her mother in the midst of suffering. Don’t shy away from CRYING IN H MART because it’s sad. It is resilient. Full of “Yes. And…” moments that will leave you enlarged.

 

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’ve got some exciting news brewing. Maybe a week at the beautiful Oregon Coast, sharing your work with smart, engaged writers, learning, improving, and finding deep focus is just what you’ve been craving…

 

retreat.write.energize.

 

 

Perhaps you didn’t even realize you need:

5 days of writing workshops
uninterrupted time to write
prompts to get you going
walks on the beach
gorgeous and expansive views to sweep away brain fog!
new writer friends
engagement with your writing through visual pathways
one-on-one conferencing with me
craft talks
morning yoga
healthy food you neither shopped for nor prepared
lots of laughter

If any/all of this sounds enticing,

SAVE THE DATE! October 9-15, 2022,

and do direct message me shoot me an email: natalie@natalieserber.com to get your name on the list. Our group will be very intimate and supportive. Cannot wait to share this beautiful gathering!

 

 



eat

The other day I just wanted some toddler style pasta with tomato sauce. I think I was spurred toward the craving by this Smitten Kitchen Instagram post. The sauce, I knew, was based on Marcella Hazan’s crazy-easy/crazy-satisfying recipe so I looked it up. (Side note: use only the BEST tomatoes.) Quick-fast I made it, and then I committed the colossal error of listening to my husband. “Don’t we have some frozen ravioli?” Shoot! Indeed we did, and let me tell you, nothing like soggy-ass ravioli to ruin my toddler dream of pasta with a simple sauce and some parmesan scraped over the grater. But that isn’t what I want to share with you.

In the past week I made this Smoky Sweet Potato dish twice. The first time I followed the NYTs recipe to the letter, and the second time I improvised and, dare I say, improved?  Here is my version.

Smoky Sweet Potatoes with Eggs and Almonds, à la Natalie Serber

  • 5T olive oil
  • 2lbs (okay, I didn’t weigh mine. I just used 3 good sized-about two fists pressed together- sweet potatoes), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • ¾ t kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1T ground cumin
  • 1T smoked paprika + more, I used dulce
  • 1t freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
  • 3 to 5 thyme sprigs
  • 2T maple syrup
  • ½ t chili flakes, or more to taste
  • ¾ c plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 small garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
  • 1 lemon, both zest and juice
  •  Eggs, for frying, as many as you like
  • ½ c chopped Marcona or salted, roasted almonds
  • 1 generous bunch of kale, washed and julienned
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  •  Soft herbs, such as parsley, mint or cilantro, chopped, for serving. I used a lot! Go Big.

 

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, toss together sweet potatoes, 3T olive oil, salt, smoked paprika, cumin, black pepper, chili flakes, thyme, and maple syrup.
  2. Spread the potatoes in an even layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Roast, stirring and flipping the potatoes occasionally, until soft and caramelized, about 1 hour.
  4. As the potatoes roast, sauté the onion over medium heat in about 1T of olive oil. Once translucent, add the kale and cook until wilted. If the kale seems too tough, try adding ¼ cup of water and letting it evaporate as it cooks the kale further. Off heat.
  5. Place yogurt in a small bowl. Stir in garlic, lemon juice and zest, a large pinch or two of smoked paprika, and salt and black pepper to taste.
  6. In a large skillet, add remaining 1T of olive oil over medium-high heat and let it heat up for 20 to 30 seconds. Crack eggs into skillet and season with salt. Cook until the whites have set with crispy edges and the yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes, for a firmer yolk, flip the egg and cook for one minute more.
  7. To serve, spoon sweet potatoes into one half of an individual bowl, kale in the other side (picture a yin/yang symbol). Top with yogurt sauce and almonds. Place eggs on top, and sprinkle with paprika and a lot of the fresh herbs. Serve immediately.

I served this for a birthday brunch, along with bacon for the carnivores, and it was a huge hit!

Meanwhile, I’m still baking my way through SNACKING CAKES. I made this Chocolate-Almond-Olive Oil-Raspberry (page 139) joy bomb!

 

 

 

 

**********

 

Your dose of Stanley. Poor kid! Wherever he goes, he tries to make friends.

 

 

 

 

 

can the world be precipitous and wonderful at the same time? absolutely!

I last wrote to you in 2021 and I apologize for my silence, but I needed a minute. With all the omicron, congressional, and brink of war news, it feels as if I’ve had my finger in the dike of despair. I am holding it back so hard!

 

 

And, I had a BIG birthday (6-0), the start of a new decade that feels precipitous and wonderful. Yes, a contradiction, but I’m claiming this decade as mine to be creative, to feel joy, to draw that big-ass smiley faced sun in the corner of my paper, and to do the work to let my people know I love and appreciate them. That means you!

Luckily I have people who love me who bring me good news of the world, like this:

 

 

People who send me sweet little books like, DO ONE THING EVERY DAY THAT MAKES YOU HAPPY, full of wisdom such as:

  • You have to be willing to get happy about nothing. – Andy Warhol

In case you want to be happy (or mildly entertained) about nothing, here’s Andy Warhol on… wait for it… The Love Boat?!? WTF?

 

 


read

I am committed to upping my reading game this year. In the recent (pandemic) past, I’ve been swamped with news-consumption and escapist television viewing. I know a novel, story collection, or memoir can also offer beautiful escapism, but I’ve wanted to be spoon fed. This year, I’m feeling nimble and ready, like a fighter shadowboxing in the corner of the ring!

Two standouts thus far:

FIONA AND JANE, by Jean Chen Ho. A debut linked story collection which follows two friends from grade school to their early 40s. I was moved by their attempts at ‘adulting.’ Their lives felt real and compelling with serious loss, love, and humor–the way we all live. Jane’s story drew me in more deeply than Fiona’s as we spend more time with her and her family. One of the sorrows for me was the loss of a terrific character, Won, who appears early on. He sort of petered out and I missed him. But isn’t that the way of it? Sometimes friends do evaporate from our lives. It is worthy work to let people know how much we love them.

Jean Chen Ho does an excellent job of bringing her people to life. I believe in her characters, and I felt somehow known watching their dreams expand and contract and morph into real life. Let’s be honest, we all have to compromise and adjust to the amalgamation of our hopes and what the world offers. It feels good to have a book look back at you and say, “I know. I feel you.”

 

THESE PRECIOUS DAYS, by Ann Patchett. If Fiona and Jane showed people who struggle and strive and screw-up, Patchett seems to be the arrow who is released from the bowstring in a straight arc toward her goals. Man-oh-man, do I wish I lived next door to her! I know we would say hello over the fence! Who wouldn’t want to talk to someone who says things like:

Human beings hobble together their own mythologies over time: I was unloved, I was too loved, I was popular, a loner, misunderstood, persecuted, stupid, a winner. We use the past to explain ourselves.

I know that isn’t a huge lightbulb going off, but what if we used the now to explain ourselves to ourselves? What if we unshackled ourselves from the past? Can we hold ourselves responsible and let ourselves off the hook in one fell swoop? What freedom and possibility would we gain? I’m not suggesting we gloss over what happened to us, but must we use it as an explainer? How else can we talk about our way of being in the world that has more agency à la mode? For more on this idea, check out this article from the NYer contributer Parul Sehgal: “The Case Against the Trauma Plot,” in which she argues that defining our characters (and by extension, ourselves) by their traumatic history flattens them (and us), robs them/us of nuance and potentiality. Consider: …post-traumatic growth is far more common than post-traumatic stress. It’s a thought provoking read and I’d be curious to hear what you think.

 

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 preparation for an editing workshop I am currently teaching, and to teach the book editing workshop this summer at the ASPEN SUMMER WORDS CONFERENCE (pinch me!), I’ve been upping my game. I just finished reading Peter Ho Davis craft book, THE ART OF REVISION. I found it to be illuminating in large and small ways. Davies solidified ideas I’d been stewing over for some time. Basically, before you believe in the scissor over the pencil (as Truman Capote glibly said of revision) you must believe in the pencil! Revision is a creative act in which there is more discovery to be made before you snip away. Here’s a description of my workshop:

A first draft (novel or memoir) involves discovering the story the writer has come to tell. We strive to write with speed and creative play, hopefully complicating and uncovering new ideas from those that compelled us to the page in the first place. The revision and editing that occurs in later drafts (often cast as drudgery or tidying up) is an opportunity for patience, for the writer to understand what they’re saying and to say it better. In this workshop we will emphasis the continued inspiration, creativity and discovery that comes with saying it better. We will look at craft choices (structure, language, setting, POV, tension, characterization, and dialogue) specifically for how they enrich and clarify the meaning of your book.

A goal of the workshop will be to highlight the qualities of your voice, your book, the exciting anomalies that make the work compelling and unique. We’ll discuss tricks to defamiliarize yourself with your work so that when you come to edit and revise, you’ll see it with fresh eyes. Discussions will illuminate strengths and weaknesses, leaving a writer with ideas and inspiration to get back to the project.

Did I mention I’m excited? Both to teach this workshop, and to be in the company of the great writers also offering workshops: Mary Beth Keane, Ayana Mathis, Mark Doty, Robert Kolker, Terrance Hayes, and Fonda Lee. If only I could be a student and a workshop leader at the same time!

Deadline to apply is 28 February! APPLY HERE

I will leave you with a writing prompt. If you are looking for new discoveries in your work, here’s an idea:

  1. Find a heated dialogue exchange between characters in a piece you are working on, whether it be fiction or memoir.
  2. Rewrite it from the POV of a non-verbal object, be it a pet, a housefly, a lamp. (This will help you to notice details of setting and gesture which the characters may be too absorbed to take in.)
  3. Write another draft of the scene, this time with only non-verbal action.
  4. Write another draft in which the characters have no filter and say everything they are thinking. (This one is a lot of fun!)
  5. Finally, compost all the drafts you’ve written into one final scene, incorporating some of the discoveries you made.

 

 

 



eat

My husband and I have been cooking together. It is cold and dark and January is 100 days long so this is a nice thing to do in lieu of an evening walk. The last great dish we made was this pasta from NYTs cooking.

Pasta Alla Norma Sorta 

  • Kosher salt
  • 10 ounces rigatoni
  • 1 ½ pounds eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • ¼ c plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  •  Black pepper
  • 3 oz prosciutto, roughly chopped into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces (optional)
  • 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced into rings
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 fresno or serrano chile, seeded, if you like, and thinly sliced into rings
  • 1 basket Sun Gold, cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes and their juices
  • 4 oz fresh mozzarella, finely chopped
  • 1 c roughly chopped fresh herbs, such as basil and mint (I used parsley and mint)
  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. On a large rimmed sheet pan, toss eggplant with 1/4 c olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Spread evenly in one layer and roast until golden, 25 to 30 minutes. (At this point, I made myself an old fashioned!)
  2. Make your sauce: In a deep, 12-inch skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium. Add the prosciutto and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to crisp and brown in spots, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from skillet and place on a paper towel-lined plate.
  3. Add the shallot, garlic and chile to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallot softens and garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook until they start to burst, pressing the tomatoes gently down with the back of a spatula or wooden spoon (I used a potato masher!) 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the diced tomatoes with their juices and season with salt and pepper. Simmer while the eggplant finishes roasting, about 15 minutes more.
  4. While you’re making the sauce, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water, then drain pasta. If the sauce appears dry, you can use a bit of this water to moisten. (Okay, on my list of hated words… you will find moisten!)
  5. When the eggplant is done, add it to the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Add the pasta and toss until everything is well coated. Stir in the mozzarella and toss until it begins to melt.
  6. Serve in bowls and top each portion with crispy prosciutto and fresh herbs.

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanks for reading. And now for your dose of Stanley, who cannot wait for daylight savings time!

 

 

 

 

 

think and feel and love more freely? …yes please!

Hey-Ho! I hope this note finds you well and happy enough. I’ve been having a hard time mustering up holiday vibes what with it being pandemic Christmas 2.0. Plus, the sky has been perniciously grey and low, like feral, out-of-control eyebrows that block my vision and set my mood. Turns out I don’t love cloud cover. Who knew?!?

Today the sky was bright, the air chilly, and I’ve strung up some lights, hung stockings and I feel a bit of joyful stirring in my heart. I found cake I want to bake,a cocktail I want to try. We are planning an open house for friends to stop by and share something sweet. I hope you too are welcoming in a celebratory spirit.

 

 

 


read

Finally! I cracked open REAL ESTATE, by Deborah Levy, the third in her Living Autobiography Trilogy. (The first is THINGS I DON’T WANT TO KNOW, the second is THE COST OF LIVING, and I loved both so much I am leading a discussion group on all three in the spring. More news on that to come.) REAL ESTATE has been languishing on my nightstand for weeks. I don’t know why I haven’t leapt in—part wanting to have something to look forward to? Part diminished attention span? Part my pandy related bad habits? News scrolling at the end of day which depresses me and interrupts sleep, then I do puzzles on my phone which diverts me. (Have you tried WORDLE? Or SPELLING BEE?)

I started reading the book the other night and already I’m writing in the margins.

Consider this: The narrator has pulled a book off her shelf, a gift from her now ex-husband, and the inscription reads to “my darling love.”  She ponders this:

“The odd thing was that the book itself (by a famous male author) was about a man who has left his family and sets out about making a new life with various women. One of the young women adores him so much that she reaches over to take the snot out of his nostrils. She has made him her purpose in life and we are clueless about her own sense of purpose. They have lots of sex but we have no idea if she enjoys it as much as he does. If this author’s female character feels or thinks about anything at all, her feelings and thoughts are about him.”

Levy says that she thinks she may have asked for the book. Now she is interested in it because she is still trying to learn how to write characters:

particularly female character. After all, to think and feel and live and love more freely is the point of life, so it is an interesting project to construct a female character who has no life. The story in this book was about a woman who has gifted her life to a man. This is not something to be tried at home…” 

Hmmm…perhaps you wonder what I wrote in the margins?

  • Has everyone gifted their life at times?
  • Is there a way to “gift” that doesn’t result in erasure of the self?
  • Erasure vs. Altruism a knife edge! Dangerous for women!

Which made me think of that tree in Shel Silverstein’s, THE GIVING TREE. That damn tree gifts so much of herself (yes the tree is gendered!) that she ends up a mere stump for the greedy little boy to sit upon in his dotage. And the tree is supposed to be happy! Altruism? I think not!

As you see, I’m engaged in a conversation with the book. Already I am thinking and feeling more freely, just as Levy wishes. I hope you all read with a pencil in hand. Conversations with a book enrich the experience tremendously for me. And I don’t mean that because I fawn over the author, sometimes I aggressively disagree. It feels like a conversation, or as Patricia Lockwood puts it: “There’s a way of reading that is like writing. You feel in collaboration… You have a pen in your hand, you’re going along in a way that’s, like, half creating it as you go.” 

 

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 got a big boost of creative energy from a recent workshop I took with the writer, Janet Fitch. It was focused on dialogue, which is my favorite thing to write and my favorite to read. I love the way dialogue looks on the page. I love the white space and the dynamic speed with which I move down the page. I love the mix of spoken words, gestures, interior thoughts, embodied sensations and the way landscape enhances meaning. I love the tension and desire in good dialogue. Characters want something and someone always wins in a dialogue scene.

Here’s a delicious tool for you!

Janet talked about making a Rosetta Stone Notebook in which you write on the page a feeling, such as confident, anxious, afraid, excited. Directly below, list sensations one might experience in the body which are associated with the feeling .

Confident:
Solid, limber, warm, even keeled,
aligned in the body, buoyant
chest feels light, hands open,
muscles relaxed, legs able, knees
soft

Anxious:
Prickly, sunken or hollow in the chest,
Sweaty, heart rapidly beating, eyes
wide and darting/scanning the room,
clenched, clammy.

Creating this resource for myself is busy work, which I love! It’s like folding laundry, easy and pleasant. It’s low-risk creative work that may help when I am deep in the writing. Doing this work, this observing and considering will make me more aware of my own body responses, as well as what I see in the world, in a film or tv show. Plus, this kind of awareness can only help to make me a better human, no? Why not strive toward a bit more empathy and understanding of how others embody their emotions? Remember our theme from Deborah Levy? Say it with me: we want to think, feel and love more freely.

 

 



eat

Okay. This is the first time I am sharing an entirely original recipe. Go me! We went to lunch the other day at Coquinea restaurant the NYTs loves. They served a Pear & Celery Root soup that was garnished with chopped hazelnuts and maybe parsley? Anyway it was delicious, and I’ve been perfecting my version over the past couple of weeks. So here you go:

Pear & Celery Root Soup

  • 3T butter, unsalted
  • 1 celery root (about the size of a newborn baby’s head), peeled and diced
  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 2 Comice pears, very ripe, peeled and chopped
  • 4c homemade chicken stock
  • Water
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • ½ lb spinach, washed and stems removed
  • 2T olive oil
  • ½ – 1 cup cream OR half & half
  • ½ lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Melt butter in a 5 qt Dutch oven over medium heat.
  2. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add celery root and continue to sauté for four to five minutes, then add pear and a teaspoon of salt. Continue to cook for another 7 or 8 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet and add the garlic. Watch carefully and when the garlic softens, add the spinach in handfuls until it’s thoroughly wilted. Off heat.
  4. Add chicken stock and about 2 cups of water to the pear and celery root. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes or so.
  5. Add the spinach and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  6. Using a hand blender, puree the soup. Alternately you can puree in a blender in batches and return to pan.
  7. Add the cream to desired thickness. Add salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze in the lemon.

I think the soup would be terrific with crumbled croutons on top for texture. Some crushed hazelnuts if you want to go for the whole Pacific Northwest thing, prosciutto crisped up in that already-dirty-from-cooking-spinach pan would be delicious as well.

 

 

**********

 

Here’s a little whipped cream love from Stanley (no, I did not let him eat the whole thing):

 

 

 

 

via GIPHY

you think you are alone, and then you read

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

At nineteen my grandma lost her baby daughter to spinal meningitis. It was 1940. Baby Joyce was struck with fever on Friday and died on Sunday. I was a small child when I learned about her. I had no place to put the weight of it. I remember feeling a kind of reverence for my grandma, who had two more children, my mother and my uncle. Despite what she’d endured, she was kind, generous and loving, quick to laugh, quick to hug, joyful. She also kept a terrifying-to-me painting in a place of prominence in her house.

The story I told myself about this painting was that the family had lost a baby girl, drowned in the sea. The adults had nothing left to offer the small child in their midst, each so wrapped in private grief, the child was left alone.
Did this painting offer my grandma solace? I imagine her, sitting beneath it at her desk, paying her bills, and glancing up, knowing that her long ago pain was not solely her own.
I have certainly felt alone in my suffering du jour, have you? When I do, I turn to music, more music, poetry, and fiction to see me through, to lift me up, to help me accept, experience and bear the realities of life. Plus, there is always Ted Lasso, and his particular brand of joy. This beautiful short-short film is also a boost.

 


read

I recently had a long, solo drive.You know what makes time fly in a car? Celebrity memoirs! Who knew? I listened to THE LAST BLACK UNICORN, narrated by the author, Tiffany Haddish. Irreverent, crass, hilarious, and hard scrabble—I was laughing so hard at one point I thought about pulling over to be safe. I do want to emphasize that she’s irreverent, so if you’re sensitive, or if you have kids in the car, it isn’t the book for you.

OH, WILLIAM, by Elizabeth Strout, is one of the best books I’ve read all year. I am a huge fan of Strout, having read nearly all her books, and this one further cemented my love for her work. The New York Review says of Strout, “Her main subject is the drama of the uncertain self in relation to the world…” Oh my, the uncertain self? That’s my jam!

If art has the capacity to make us feel less alone in our confusion, suffering, living and loving, Strout certainly proves that for me. Late in the novel, Lucy Barton is driving through Maine with her ex-husband William, helping him find a half-sister whom he has never met. She’s reminded of past drives, of coziness in the car with William and their baby daughters, how her husband was once home for her. I too remember road trips through a dark and rainy landscape with my husband, our babies strapped in their car seats, and feeling that everything in that moment was okay, I was safe, cozy. Like Lucy Barton, that is not a feeling I often had in my childhood. Reading Lucy’s memories I experienced my own I felt known as an uncertain self doing her best.

 

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 participated in a podcast!! Oh my, it was so much fun. The lovely Kelly Fordon interviewed me about my story, CHILDREN ARE MAGIC on her smart podcast, LET’S DECONSTRUCT A STORY. We laughed, commiserated, talked about writers we love. Check it out here.

My students have been sharing with me a sense of malaise regarding their projects and I totally get it. We get sick of our stories, we get tired of our voices, and then doubt creeps in. I offer you this inspiration and prompt:

Read and/or listen to PET MILK, by Stuart Dybek on the New Yorker Fiction podcast.

  1. Dybek says the story began as a poem. He had a still life in mind, of an oil cloth covered table, a radio, a can of Pet Milk, and a coffee mug. He says he loves still life paintings… the way the light off the objects can give rise to emotions. The story was going nowhere and so, one morning he asked himself, “Why these objects?” That’s when the grandmother entered the story, and the railroad yard across the street. “Suddenly the story was heading toward a plate of oysters and I let it go.”
  2. Look at still life paintings, simply go on a virtual visit to any museum you choose, or better yet, go to your local museum! Here’s a place to start. Use the work as a way to launch into our own stories or poems. Begin by describing what you see. What emotions does it evoke? Why these objects?
  3. Consider the rhyming action in PET MILK. So many images bloom from the first image of the Pet Milk swirling in the coffee, the sky does the same thing above the railyard, the King Alphonse drinks repeat the image, the smoke of the boy on the L platform with the glowing late sky above him, the lyric repetition knits the story together. Spend some time outside, closely observe and then describe what you see in nature as precisely and vividly as you can. What does it remind you of?

Finally, if the writerly malaise is too much, try this!

 



eat

Pomegranates are almost five dollars each at our local hoity-toity market. This is surely a sign of impending winter. Before they’re gone completely, make this (which I’ve made 3 times in the last month):

Brussels Sprouts w/Walnuts and Pomegranate (NYTs)

  • 1½ pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 3T olive oil
  •  Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts
  • 4T pomegranate seeds, plus more to taste
  •  Pomegranate molasses, for generous drizzling
  •  Flaky salt, to serve

 

  1. Heat the oven to 425°. Place your sheet pan in the oven while preheating.
  2. In a large bowl, toss brussels sprouts with the olive oil. Season w/ salt and black pepper and toss again.
  3. Spread everything evenly on a sheet pan cut-side-down (enjoy the sizzle sound!) and roast until crisp and deeply golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes, flipping the sprouts halfway through to ensure even browning.
  4. Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to ensure they don’t burn, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. When the brussels sprouts are done roasting, toss them with the toasted walnuts and the pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with the pomegranate molasses. Season with flaky salt.

Also, I’m going to make this Olive Oil Walnut Cake w/Pomegranate.

**********

 

I wanted to share a picture of my sweet and loving grandma. As she used to say of me, “She’s a keeper!”

if input = output, why aren’t we more careful?

Are you taking care with your input? A steady diet of anxiety provoking headlines, television that pits desperate people against one another in a deadly game of red light/green light, the rise/fall/rise/fall of covid numbers, political logjams, it all takes a toll. I know you know this; input = output. How in the world can we be creative, experience joy, project a bit of happiness into the world if we’re eating misery and pain and stress?

I’ve banished my phone (and news headlines) from my bedroom. I’ve been rereading comforting books (Laurie Colwinanyone?), listening to songs I can shout/sing along with, binging Brene Brown/Ted Lasso content, trying new recipes, going on field trips in my town, and doing bit of volunteering.

Input = Output. Pay attention. Be thoughtful.  Here is something beautiful for you to see.

 

 


read

I read Stanley Tucci’s memoir, TASTE. Escapism is necessary. Italian food is a joy. Tucci is kind, funny, and self-deprecating. He’s a name dropper and a recipe dropper so you forgive him. If you have friends or family members that like a bit of Hollywood, a lot of Italy, some cocktails and pasta, some loss (because, well, who hasn’t had loss?), and humor, this is a great holiday gift book. Consider please:

A Negroni – Up

50 milliliters gin (1 generous shot)
25 milliliters Campari (1/2 shot)
25 milliliters good sweet vermouth (1/2 shot)
Ice
Orange slice

  • Pour all the booze in a cocktail shaker with ice.
  • Shake it well.
  • Strain into a coupe.
  • Sit down.
  • Drink it.

The sun is now in your stomach.
(There are those who consider serving this cocktail “straight up” to be an act of spirituous heresy. But they needn’t get so upset. I never planned on inviting them to my home anyway.)

What the heck is a coupe? Anyway, I’ve been a Tucci fan since BIG NIGHT. I’ve recently enjoyed his cooking/travel show, STANLEY TUCCI: SEARCHING FOR ITALY. And, I named my dog Stanley.

I also read THE SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS, by Sy Montgomery. Oh my. Just read it. A gorgeous and surprisingly moving book. Science, psychology, humanity, beauty… I underlined so many sections that showed me how to be a better human.

 

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 listening to a terrific writing podcast the other day, FIRST DRAFT, and was intrigued by questions the podcaster asks of all her guests. First, she wonders about a passage by another writer that meant a lot to the guest. Next, she inquires after a passage in their work that was really hard to write. So, I thought I’d interview myself.

This passage in Cheever’s story, “The Season of Divorce,” has always stayed with me. The first time I read it I was moved by the stew of upset. I was moved by how well Cheever got onto the page the compost heap of insults and events, some that you cannot even remember, that can lead to amorphous unhappiness. Just before this moment, a husband has been awakened by his wife crying in the middle of the night.

She sat up and slipped her arms into the sleeves of a wrapper and felt along the table for a package of cigarettes. I saw her wet face when she lighted a cigarette. I heard her moving around in the dark. 
            “Why do you cry?”
            “Why do I cry? Why do I cry?” she asked impatiently. “I cry because I saw an old woman cuffing a little boy on Third Avenue. She was drunk. I can’t get it out of my mind.” She pulled the quilt off the foot of our bed and wandered with it toward the door. “I cry because my father died when I was twelve and because my mother married a man I detested or thought that I detested. I cry because I had to wear an ugly dress—a hand-me-down dress—to a party twenty years ago, and I didn’t have a good time. I cry because of some unkindness that I can’t remember. I cry because I’m tired—because I’m tired and I can’t sleep.” I heard her arrange herself on the sofa and then everything was quiet. 

Like the Cheever, my passage takes place in the middle of the night, but this is between a mother and her teenage daughter. It comes near the close of my story, “Children are Magic.”

Barrett leveled her chin, slitted her eyes. She was electric. Swiftly, falteringly, she strode toward Sheila, hammering the air with the plastic pony. “Did you know? Did you ever imagine that I might like privacy? You and your sisters are surveillance cameras! Every move I make is viewed and judged. I am always on display and yet, still, somehow I’m invisible. I had no idea how exhausting it would be.” She would regret saying this. She would regret this entire exchange. She felt the shadow of regret already growing. 
            “What’s wrong with you?” Sheila took one step back. “Are you okay?”
            “Yes.” She felt the lying sting behind her eyes. “Nothing is wrong with me.” She looked at her hand, gripping the pony, shaking. How did she never realize the sting before tears was the same as the sting before milk lets down? 
             “Mom.” Sheila’s tone was both frightened and irate. “Are you drunk?”
              “I could be.”
              “This isn’t appropriate,” Sheila said. “You’re freaking me out. I’m your kid. You’re the adult.” 
              “I think, Sugar, I think you overestimate my maturity level.”

Please, interview yourself and let me know what work out in the world has inspired you? What of your own work has been particularly challenging?

In case I’ve encouraged you to try out some classes for yourself, hope over to my teaching page to see what’s up. I’ve got lots of opportunities for you!

 

 

 

 



eat

You’re welcome. These cookies will see you through the fall and winter. Double the recipe, roll sections into logs and freeze them so you can make them in a desperate moment, a cookie emergency if-you-will. If, as I’ve posited at the top of this newsletter, input = output, after these cookies your output will be delightful!

Almond Butter Oatmeal Cookies

  • 1 ½ c rolled oats
  • 2 c whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 c unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ c sugar
  • ½ c packed brown sugar
  • 1 T vanilla
  • ¾ c almond butter
  • 2 lg eggs
  • 12 oz bag semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips (I like Guittard)
  • 1 c (+/- depending upon your preference) slivered almonds or chopped pecans

1. In a bowl, combine oats, flour, soda, powder, and salt until well mixed.
2. In a mixer bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
3. Add the vanilla and eggs and beat well.
4. Add the almond butter.
5. Once well mixed, add the flour blend until just combined.
6. Add the chocolate chips and nuts.
7. Roll the batter into 2 or 3 logs, wrap in wax paper and chill for about 2 hours. Slice into rounds, place on a greased or parchment covered cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 8 – 12 minutes.

 

 

 

**********

 

Wishing you positive input and output. Stanley Pucci says, get out in the world! Have a beer and a card game with a pal!

why wasn’t I consulted?

Ever feel as if you’re moving through your week, minding our own business, and suddenly you’re bombarded by all sorts of bad decisions? Texas? I’m looking at you. Supreme Court? Don’t you turn your back on me! Anti-vaxxers—still? Anti-maskers—wtf? Florida? California recall? I can’t even.

I find myself wondering, why wasn’t I consulted? It bears repeating, Why Wasn’t I Consulted? #WWIC

 

via GIPHY

 

 

In case you feel similarly about things out of your control, I offer you this little spot of respite, in which Harry Styles and Phoebe Waller-Bridge dance it out in glittery argyle. Maybe we can find a way to feel good. Maybe we can treat people with kindness.

 

 


read

A wonderful friend/student suggested I read THE CHILDREN’S BIBLE, by Lydia Millet, and I’m so glad she did. A dystopian, climate catastrophe comedy? Who knew there was such a thing? The book is a generational battle royale. The kids are disgusted, the world is flooding, trees are coming down, the water is toxic, parents revert to lazy hedonism, taking MDMA in the midst of disasters. A young boy, Jack, stumbles upon a children’s picture bible and takes the stories to heart. You know, as a sort of self-help book, a code for survival.

At one point, he says about his book and about the abounding climate catastrophes, “And the proof is, there’s lots the same with Jesus and science,” Jack says. “Like, for science to save us we have to believe in it. And same with Jesus. If you believe in Jesus he can save you.”

The book is shocking and sad and funny, a gem, as well as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

The same friend/student I mentioned above, Elyse Chambers, has a beautiful essay, “The Weight of Something Familiar,” that I hope you will make time to read. Not only is her writing beautiful and clear-eyed, but her story is one of resilience in the face of painful choices. Her story is particularly important now as we grapple with Texas and Greg Abbott and the threat to women’s reproductive rights.

In case you need a little uplift right now, in this moment, I offer this beautiful poem from the NYer. And, if you’d like to hear it read by the poet, click here.

 

Monday
by Alex Dimitrov

I was just beginning
to wonder about my own life
and now I have to return to it
regardless of the weather
or how close I am to love.
Doesn’t it bother you sometimes
what living is, what the day has turned into?
So many screens and meetings
and things to be late for.
Everyone truly deserves
a flute of champagne
for having made it this far!
Though it’s such a disaster
to drink on a Monday.
To imagine who you would be
if you hadn’t crossed the street
or married, if you hadn’t
agreed to the job or the money
or how time just keeps going—
whoever agreed to that
has clearly not seen
the beginning of summer
or been to a party
or let themselves float
in the middle of a book
where for however briefly
it’s possible to stay longer than
you should. Unfortunately
for me and you, we have
the rest of it to get to.
We must pretend
there’s a blue painting
at the end of this poem.
And every time we look at it
we forget about ourselves.
And every time it looks at us
it forgives us for pain.

 

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 mentioned in my last newsletter that I’ve been taking a few writing classes online and sitting in on some wonderful talks. One talk I particularly loved was from Dean Bakopoulos, “Creatures of Impulse: What Fiction Writers Can Learn from TV.” Gosh, not only was it full of wonderful insights, but it was funny and kind and true. Bakopoulos spoke about a creative sinkhole he fell into while in covid lockdown, and TV watching was how he muddled through.  Here are a few take-aways I hope enliven your work:

  • Get the characters to a place (a setting) and resist the temptation to deliver backstory, to digress, to explain. Lack of backstory can inspire curiosity in the reader and keep them turning pages. Also, trust the reader to fill in the backstory. Readers like it when you trust their intelligence.
  • Let secondary characters reveal things the main character cannot or will not talk about. Also, use your secondary characters for levity in tense scenes.
  • When a scene feels flat to you, introduce a third character. The new character will add energy, vary the mood, change the dynamic, and potentially provide an obstacle to resolution.
  • Give your characters secrets. Tension rises from keeping secrets! The reader wants to know when secrets will be divulged, what will the fallout be?  Remember to honor the thrill of the reveal.
  • No secrets, no trouble. No trouble, no plot.
  • Give your characters obsessions. Obsessions cause characters to act impulsively. Obsessions force the character through a one-way gate. They may do something from which there is no turning back, nothing will ever be the same. (For this section, Bakopoulos used The White Lotus as an example. If you haven’t watched it, give it a whirl, with a notebook in hand. Look at all the obsessions! Look at all the bad behavior! Enjoy!!)
  • Finally, Bakopoulos spoke about our obsession to write, and how we must guard it. He suggested that we must love ourselves enough to protect the joy we get from writing. We must love ourselves enough to practice our craft without expectation for approval. I hope you can do that! I hope I can too.

In case I’ve encouraged you to try out some classes for yourself, hope over to my teaching page to see what’s up. I’ve got lots of opportunities for you!

 

 

 

 



eat

My husband and I are not exactly changing our dietary habits, but neither are we willing to cook red meat anymore. We might, once in a blue moon, order it out at a restaurant, but mostly, we’re not eating it. We’re trying to have animal protein only once or twice each week. Which isn’t to say if you invite us over we won’t eat meat, we’re just choosing to opt out at home.

That said, my husband is a chicken man. Seriously, I have to leave the room when he picks the bones. Here is his latest chicken fav from NYTs Cooking (luckily with no bones):

Smashed Chicken Burgers With Cheddar and Parsley

  • ½ c mayonnaise
  • 1T plus 1t Dijon mustard
  •  Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 limes, 1 juiced (about 2 tablespoons), 1 cut into wedges
  • 1¼ c flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • ⅓ c grated Cheddar, plus 1/4 cup cubed (use fancy Oscar Wilde cheddar, it’s worth it)
  • 1 small shallot, minced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1t ground cumin
  • ½ t red-pepper flakes
  • 1 pound ground chicken, dark meat
  • 2T neutral oil, such as canola
  • 3T olive oil
  • 1 large head butter or Boston lettuce, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
  • 1 ripe Hass avocado, diced
  • 4 burger buns, lightly toasted

 

  1. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise with 1T mustard. Season to taste with salt and the juice of 1 lime wedge.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix 1c parsley w/the grated cheese, shallot, garlic, cumin and red-pepper flakes. Stir in 1T of the Dijon mayonnaise mixture, 1t salt and grind of fresh pepper. Add chicken and combine. Form into 4 large, round balls.
  3. Heat a 12-inch cast-iron or heavy skillet over medium-high until very hot. Add the neutral oil, then add the chicken meatballs, spacing them out in the pan. Use a metal spatula or the back of a wooden spoon to press them until they form 1/2-inch-thick patties. Cook without moving for 3 to 4 minutes, until a deep golden crust has formed on the bottom, and they easily release from the pan. Flip the patties and cook until cooked through w/a nice crust on both sides, about 3 minutes more. If the patties need more time, you can cover the pan and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes, adjusting heat as needed to avoid scorching.
  4. While burgers cook, in the bottom of a serving bowl, mix 2T lime juice with the remaining 1t mustard, whisk in the olive oil until smooth and season with salt and pepper. Add the torn lettuce leaves, avocado, remaining parsley and cubed Cheddar, and toss to coat w/dressing.
  5. Place the burgers on the buns, slather with Dijon mayonnaise, and top with a little of the greens and avocado from the salad. Serve with the salad, plus the lime wedges and any remaining Dijon mayonnaise on the side.

 

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We’ve all watched with horror the unfolding evens in Afghanistan. If you have the means, here is a way to help incoming refugees in the Portland area. Here is another opportunity, specifically for Afghan girls and women.

Wishing you a lovely mid-September. The air has turned in our little corner of the world. Maybe there is a way we can treat each other with kindness, eh? Stanley sends his love!

 

a summer of broken appliances and broken plans

It has been a summer of broken plans & broken appliances. I should be packing right now. My husband and I had plans for a five-week trip to France, two of the weeks I’d be teaching at Come to Your Senses, a wonderful writing retreat put on by the phenom, Karen Karbo. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be for us this year. I’m sure I will scroll through photos from the stalwart retreaters with some envy, some gloom, and some delight!

Meanwhile, here I am at home with a broken dishwasher, failed garage door opener, frozen air conditioner, and a washing machine that seems to be doing a dramatic, protracted death scene.

 

 

Fall is just about here, and thankfully, so is the appliance repair person! Pulling out my credit card. 🙁

 

 

 


read

Does it enlarge or diminish you?

If you’re a regular reader of my newsletter you’ve heard me lament that my reading abilities have diminished during the pandemic. A mix of anxiety, distractions (news feed anyone?) escapism television (White LotusHacks?), as well as the beautiful writing my students and editorial clients share with me each week, all of it stands between a book and me.

Now, when my thumb is poised above my iPhone or the TV remote, I try to ask myself, will this enlarge or diminish me? Maybe that inquiry will be useful to you as well?

Currently I’m reading, FOUR THOUSAND WEEKS, TIME MANAGEMENT FOR MORTALS, by Oliver Burkeman. It’s about getting off the hamster wheel of productivity and paying attention to what matters. Actually, it is a perfect book for the moment. It’s time to step away from joyless urgency. Some gems thus far:

It can’t be the case that you must do more than you can do. That notion doesn’t make any sense: if you truly don’t have time for everything you want to do, or feel you ought to do, or that others are badgering you to do, then, well, you don’t have time–…You’ll do what you can, you won’t do what you can’t, and the tyrannical inner voice insisting that you must do everything is simply mistaken

…merely to be alive on the planet today is to be haunted by the feeling of having “too much to do,” …. Think of it as “existential overwhelm”: the modern world provides an inexhaustible supply of things that seem worth doing, and so there arises an inevitable and unbridgeable gap between what you’d ideally like to do and what you actually can do.

Burkeman insists we must embrace finitude. Embrace the fact that we are all going to die, and then ask how you want to use your limited hours? “I’m aware of no other time management technique that’s half as effective as just facing the way things truly are,” says Burkeman. Or, as Mary Oliver says, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Or, as I’m saying, run like a house on fire toward your dreams!

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

Does it enlarge or diminish you?

The question was posed by my pal, Karen Karbo, in a weekend long, Writing Emergency 🔥class. I often take writing classes because I have so much to learn, because I want to remember what it feels like to be a student, and because I want to remain fresh and open to new ideas that I can in turn bring to my students. Boy am I glad I took this one!

Karen gave us plenty of room to roam in her lovely workshop. She gave us a prompt to seek out an object which inspires an unexpected emotional response. She asked us to list the things we would write about if we could, and then made us choose one and go for it!. She gave us beautiful insights:

  • What are the reader requests that the work inspires? In other words, anticipate what the reader wants to know and follow the questions.
  • Visit your work every day, even if you don’t write, engage in some way so that it remains in the forefront of your mind.
  • Writing inspires complicated feelings, of course it does! When you drill down, writing (both the act and the words on the page) is about love, and love is damn complicated.
  • When you feel stuck in your work, embark upon a boring task, see what comes up!

In addition to KK’s class, I also attended three of the recent Bread Loaf Lectures. I’ll only mention one today, it was “The Art of Revision,” from Peter Ho Davies. What a tender man! He told a beautiful story about his father and how his relationship to said story has evolved and revised over the years as Davies aged and came to understand more about his father. Here are just a couple take aways from his talk:

  • Once more, with curiosity! Progress in revision is not toward perfection, but toward learning something new, as Davies did about his father each time he revisited the story with curiosity.
  • When we keep looking we discover so many deeper, and perhaps more personal meanings to the story. What does it say about me, the writer? What does it say about shared emotion between the characters? What does it say about love? About shame? About wanting to be seen? About who we are?
  • Don’t be afraid of making the wrong choice. A dead end leads to knowledge. Go back and try something else if it doesn’t work. We can only find out by writing. There is no wasted endeavor.

I also want to give you this freeing thought from Naomi Shihab Nye, “If you believe in revision you don’t have to worry about perfection.”

 

In case I’ve encouraged you to try out some classes for yourself, hope over to my teaching page to see what’s up. I’ve got lots of opportunities for you!

 

 

 

 

 



eat

This recipe will definitely enlarge you!

Pasta w/Zucchini, Corn, Tomato, Ricotta and Herbs

  •  Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 lbs zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick pieces (for larger zucchini, cut in half lengthwise before slicing)
  • 2-3 ears of corn, slice kernels from the cob
  • One basket of sungold cherry tomatoes
  •  Salt and pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced, or 2 tablespoons chopped green garlic
  • 1 pound ziti or other dry pasta
  • 8 ounces ricotta, about 1 cup. Absolutely find the best you can, Bellwether Farms is my favorite brand
  •  Pinch of crushed red pepper
  •  Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Generous handful of fresh herbs, perhaps including but not limited to: parsley, tarragon, mint, oregano, basil, thyme, chopped
  • 2/3 c Marcona almonds, chopped

 

  1. Put a large pot of water on to boil and salt it liberally!
  2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the onions in 3 tablespoons olive oil until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Add 2 cloves minced garlic, reduce heat to keep from browning. Add zucchini, and sungold tomatoes, season generously with salt and pepper. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until zucchini is soft, and the tomato skins have burst. About 10 minutes. Add corn to pan and turn off heat.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the chopped herbs, one clove of minced garlic, lemon zest, and chopped almonds in a bowl
  4. Cook pasta per package instructions but make sure to keep pasta quite al dente. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water, then drain the pasta.
  5. Add cooked pasta to zucchini in skillet and turn heat to medium-high. Add 1/2 cup cooking water, then the ricotta, crushed red pepper and lemon juice, stirring to distribute. Check seasoning and adjust. Cook for 1 minute more. Mixture should look creamy. Add a little more pasta water if necessary. Spoon pasta into warm soup plates and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Serve stat!.

 

 

**********

 

We’ve all watched with horror the unfolding evens in Afghanistan. If you have the means, here is a way to help incoming refugees in the Portland area. Here is another opportunity, specifically for Afghan girls and women.

Take good care of yourselves. Embrace finitude. Choose what really matters. Stanley consistently chooses his fish.

bliss out with a little away time

The other night I was having trouble sleeping. “Read the NYTs before you turn off the light,” says no one ever! But, that’s what I was did on this particular night, and I am so glad. I came across this beautiful essay from Andrew Rannells (Girls, Book of Mormon) about his quarantine time. He was fielding requests from people to send personal messages and recordings to them, to raise money for actors out of work during pandemic times.

Daily, I heard from young people, often in high school, sometimes older, many identifying as queer, others not specifying, all seeking messages of encouragement: statements from me saying, “You are OK,” “You are enough,” “You are going to be all right.”
I was surprised by this. I was saddened by this. I was also encouraged by this. I never would have had the courage to reach out to someone like that. To ask a stranger for a personal show of empathy. For guidance. The more I told people that they were OK, that they were enough, that they would be all right, the more I realized how much I needed to say those words. I was in need of connection and comfort, too. These interactions were more complex than I’d imagined.

Honestly, the essay is so vulnerable and true. What ultimately rises up is the question, “What can I say to you right now that will also comfort me?”

That’s it in a nutshell. Throw in some laughs, some universal truths, a story, and you’ve got the very reason I write!

 

 


read

Okay, bear with me. I know the pandemic baby-boom didn’t pan out. We all thought people stuck inside, frightened, with nothing to do, would result in lots of soothing, which leads to hugging, which leads to snuggling, kissing, which leads to… babies! But it didn’t happen.

That is simply not a good reason to skip this book. DARLING BABY, by Maira Kalman. Buy it! Put it on the coffee table, in the bathroom, somewhere that it will tempt you and your family, your guests, to pick it up and remember what it is to be still, to be quiet. What it is to observe the minutiae, the moment, the delight that is always around us, if only we would f*cking pause! (Well, maybe I’m just lecturing myself here, so please, accept my apology.) Here are a few pages:

I’m not embarrassed to say, I got a little weepy when I read it. The book is an ode to the common, vibrant beauty of life. Find a baby! Stat! Buy two copies, keep one for yourself.

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’m just back from a little DIY Writing Retreat. The first post-pandy gather with my amazing writing pal. We wrote all morning, cooked together (more on that down below), took long walks, talked work and life, laughed, and toasted our projects with pink wine. I got so much done! It is a joy and a gift to give yourself time away from home, to prioritize your creative work, to escape the niggling things (empty the dishwasher, pay the bills, the siren call of clean laundry awaiting folding!) and give over your mind wholly to the work. Seriously, it doesn’t take much… clear your calendar for even as little as one day, adopt a retreat mindset, if you can get away, do it! If not, make your retreat in your own home.

  • Set aside the day(s)
  • Plan some special/easy meals that you love. Prepare in advance. Buy good snacks.
  • Turn off social media!
  • Tell family and friends, “I’ll be writing this weekend, from 9-5 (or whatever hours). Don’t come to my door unless you are in flames.”
  • Print out your work. Read it aloud. Mark up what you love! Put question marks where you’d like to go deeper, to learn more.
  • Take walks. Move your body.
  • Make a playlist of lyric free music (here’s mine, the first song sets a mood) or don’t, if you prefer quiet.
  • At the end of the writing day, take a bath, enjoy what you’ve accomplished.
  • Drop me a note and let me know, what worked! What you did for yourself. Seriously, I want you to write. I want you to honor your creative impulses.

 

 



eat

Driving to our DIY retreat space on Whidbey Island, in Washington State, we hit Foxtail Farmstand and bought so many cherries, plus gorgeous turnips! Here’s what I did with them.

Roasted Turnips

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put a sheet pan in the oven to get hot as well.
  • Scrub the turnips, trim off the greens and set aside, cut in turnips in half, or for larger turnips, quarter. Toss with olive oil and good salt.
  • Dice ½ a sweet onion, and several cloves of garlic, or if available, 5-6 garlic scapes. Add to the turnips. Place the vegetables on the sheet pan, cut side down.
  • Roast for about 8-10 minutes.
  • Wash and chop the turnip greens. Remove the sheet pan from the oven, add the greens and roast for about 4 more minutes. Be absolutely certain NOT to overcook. Better undercooked greens (is there such a thing?) than mushy turnips, which, quite frankly, are awful.
  • Serve the turnips with a scoop of brown basmati rice, and this:

Delicious Yogurt Sauce

  • ½ c plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 T of honey, or to taste
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • A handful of rough chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Small, minced garlic clove
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix it all up in a bowl. Spoon liberally on the veggies and rice. Squeeze on some Sriracha sauce.

I’m telling you, this is brain food! The perfect lunch between writing sessions.

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I had a great time away, and I got so much work done. I felt somewhat blissed out driving home. Partly because of what I accomplished, and partly because I knew who was waiting for me at home! Joel (of course) but also Stanley! (Here he is a little blissed out as well!)