burn your secrets, thank your mother

My mother gave me a book– ten years ago? fifteen years ago? I finally cracked it open last week. It’s fantastic. Why-O-why, even in mid-life, are some of us so resistant to our mom’s suggestions? The fact that my mom got it so right with this particular book recommendation makes me feel seen by her. Here’s what I propose, instead of looking at a recommendation as an assignment from the Mom Administration, why not look at the book, podcast, recipe, movie or tv show as a declaration of love, as a way of being reminded, “Hey, I know you, and I still love you.”


The book is Fierce Attachments, by Vivian Gornick. I know I was initially resistant because the memoir is about Gornick’s relationship with her mom. I feared that if my mom and I read the book, we’d end up excavating our relationship. Yikes! The writer Edna O’Brien says that Gornick’s book confronts, “the principal crux of female despair,” that is, the mother/daughter relationship. Yikes again! And it does, though I would add it also celebrates the crux of female strength, resilience, and selfhood.

In alternating chapters, Gornick focuses on her childhood in the Bronx in the 50s, and upon her adult relationship with her mom. The two women walk around Manhattan and argue. It’s fantastic because each woman retains the capacity to be surprised by the other’s insights, reactions, and experiences. Their intimacy is palpable in the way they know how to push buttons and in the way they resist the temptation.

In one section, the mother is disparaging a book suggestion the daughter has made. Of the book she says, “Maybe this is interesting to you, but not to me. I lived through all this. I know it all. What can I learn from this? Nothing?” To which the daughter, Gornick, has an internal rant, “only a know-nothing talks the way you do.” But, the operative word here is internal. She holds back. What she says aloud is, “don’t say it has nothing to teach you…That’s unworthy of you, and the book, and of me. You demean us all when you say that.” After silence and a few blocks of walking the mother returns with an assessment of the main character in the book, and a truth about her own life.  “I’m jealous she lived her life, I didn’t live mine.” Gornick and her mother hug and I feel a tug of recognition about how we try to protect ourselves from the truth, and a wash of gratitude about the way books bring us face to face with said truth.  (Man, I just killed that moment–in a bad way–with this telling. Trust me. It’s marvelous.)


A conversation I constantly have with my students revolves around stakes. What are the stakes for your character in this situation? What do they have to lose? How are they playing a part in their own demise? If the student is writing memoir then I wonder, why are you telling me this anecdote from your life? What truth are you uncovering here? Why do you believe this moment in your life has stayed so vivid and bright? What is it illustrating about you, your family, your relationships?

Sometimes we don’t want to know what the truth is. We avoid the stakes in the situation because they are too big, too frightening, and we don’t want to reveal our dark roles, our unkindnesses, or any of our ugly parts. We all want to be loved.

To help my students get to the underbelly of a story or a section of their memoir, we do this fantastic exercise from my friend, the poet, Jessica Bergamino.

Think about your deepest secret, the thing you are most afraid of telling anyone. How would you admit it to:

  1. Yourself
  2. Your best friend
  3. Your therapist
  4. A doctor
  5. A parent
  6. A teacher
  7. A neighbor
  8. A stranger in a bar/seatmate on a plane

Write out each version of the secret (and then burn them!), gradually getting farther and farther away. Perhaps this will help you discover the stakes at the heart of of all your stories, and reveal a way for you to get the risk, the fear, on the page. In our work we take the soft, squishy, and painful bits of our lives and make them into art. In so doing, the work becomes more powerful and the burden of the secret is lightened.


As you may recall, my New Year’s Resolution was to make a cake a month. Cakes, as I’ve said, bring their own parade. It’s been a blast. I’ve made banana cake, chocolate raspberry cake, lemon semolina cake, mocha walnut cake, carrot cake, olive oil cake, apple cake, almond blood orange cake, blueberry lemon yogurt cake. But friends, I now give you the pièce de résistance, the cake I’ve been waiting all year to make…Pumpkin Cake w/Brown Butter Icing.

Can you see how these pages from my hand written recipe book are so well loved? I have no idea from whence the recipe came, all I know is I ADORE it. And, you may too. Boy, I hope so! Maybe you’ll even make one for your mother.

croissant anesthesia

Well, I’ve had two things happen since last you heard from me. First, I enrolled in a French class and it’s been wonderful. Currently we’re studying le marché. In every class we talk about food. Croissant, gateau, brioche, fromage, beurre, et les legumes. Consequently, J’ai faim tous les jours! The second thing, I had a medical procedure (I am well, no need for concern, but thank you) and when I woke from anesthesia, all I wanted was a croissant. Seriously, on the way home from the hospital, I insisted my husband stop á la boulangerie and buy me two, which I ate in bed, and, yes, there were crumbs.


I am SO into Margaret Atwood’s follow-up to The Handmaid’s TaleThe Testaments is fantastic thus far. Atwood uses three points of view to great effect. Each time we leave a narrator for someone else, I feel slightly robbed. I want to stay with narrator #1, but then, as soon as I get into narrator #2, I’m delighted. Same holds true for narrator #3. Honestly, this novel is damn good! If you’ve not read The Handmaid’s Tale, run out to pick it up. Don’t count on the fact that you’ve watched the show on Hulu. (Which, by the way, I have not. I don’t want to ruin the novel. If you think I’m making a mistake, please write to convince me.)

My husband and I went on a little road trip to Suttle Lake. We stayed at the Suttle Lodge, which I highly recommend, comfy, friendly and a damn good fish sandwich. On our drive we listened to Heartburn. Yes, that Heartburn! The old Nora Ephron chestnut narrated by Meryl Streep. It is a bit dated, everyone having nannies and live-in maids, making raspberry vinaigrette and discovering arugula. But man, it was funny and fun.


I don’t know about you, but I am signed up for quite a few newsletters. (Yes, I get that that is a slightly meta comment coming from me, as you are signed up for mine! Thank you! I hope you find it useful and entertaining.) I thought I might share a few that I enjoy. Literary Hub weekly is a great round up of articles and book reviews, commentary on what to read, when to read, why you shouldn’t self-publish your poetry, and many other great links. Creative NonFiction and Submittable have newsletters full of submission deadlines, and genre related news from around the web. I just started following eye level magazine, and I’m loving it. They have interesting articles, plus this gem, worth a follow for accounts to check out on Instagram. How about this one. Finally, The Paris Review has lots of newsletter options, daily, weekly, and the redux, which is full of pieces newly released from their archives.

For inspiration and thoughtful commentaries on all things life, try The Red Hand Files from Nick Cave. Here’s a quote from a recent missive:

“Tom Waits famously wrote “You are innocent when you dream”, yet dreams are not nearly as innocent as they seem. Neither are songs nor poetry. Songwriting and poetry are perilous callings, full of intrigue and infidelity. They are covert undertakings that creep around our deepest and most hazardous needs. They are not for the squeamish or the eager to please.”


A long time ago, I was in love with the cookbooks of Patricia Wells. Now with my resurgent love of French, I’ve dug back into her oeuvre. Bistro Cooking, which came out in 1989, was a favorite of mine. The book is not a lifestyle book, it’s a straight up cookbook, full of great recipes from small family owned restaurants in France. Many may become your go to standards. Here’s a few of mine: onion soup, fig clafoutis, chicken in wine vinegar, broiled clams with garlic and parsley, ratatouille, and many delightful salads. In fact, I so want you to love her too, I’m including the best potato gratin in the world just for you and just in time for fall.

Gratin Dauphinois Madame Cartet
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced in half
2 pounds white potatoes—I use Yukon Gold, she likes Russet. I’ve been known to use a mix of white and sweet potatoes
1 cup grated Gruyère
1 cup crème fraiche

1. Preheat the oven to 350º
2. Thoroughly rub a shallow 6 cup porcelain gratin dish with the garlic. Layer half of the potatoes in the dish. Sprinkle with half of the cheese and then half of the crème fraiche. Sprinkle with salt Add another layer of potatoes and the rest of the ingredients.
3. Bake uncovered, until the gratin is crisp and golden on top, from 50 – 60 minutes. Serve immediately.





is anything better than crying in the shower?

We’re in the shoulder season, enjoying warm days, cooler nights. My tomatoes are still producing, and yesterday my neighbor was raking. Moving into autumn stirs up so many feelings for me. Excitement about a new beginning, ready to bring out my sweaters, but also a tinge of melancholy. I love the summertime warmth on our deck at 10p, sharing laughs with pals, and oh, the blue August sky here in the Pacific Northwest. Holiday season will soon be upon us, both happy and fraught for all. The dog is older, so am I.


I’m reading two books right now, well three.

First, I’m so late to the party reading The Overstory. So far, I agree with Ann Patchett who’s blurb reads: “The best novel written about trees, and really just one of the best novels, period.”  I don’t know what to say about my love of trees without sounding hokey, so I’ll say, reading Powers’ novel has me paying close attention. And my god, are we puny, in every way.

I am also rereading Beloved. Actually, I’m listening to Toni Morrison narrate, hence my walks are getting longer each day as I don’t want to turn her off. In case you need more of Ms. Morrison, and who doesn’t, check out her conversation with Hilton Als on the New Yorker Radio Hour, and an homage from Fresh Air.

The third book, which I’m also rereading, is Citizen, An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine. I was inspired to pick up the book again after watching the post-match exchange at the US Open between Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka. I was inspired by Osaka’s grace and humanity. When she asks Gauff to share the stage in the post-match interview she says, “It’s better than going into the shower and crying. Let the people know how you feel.” I reached for Rankine who writes of the Williams sisters in her lyric. She writes of grace and anger in the face of racial indignities. “At the end of the day, I’m very happy with me,” says Serena Williams. So are we. Do you follow her IG?


Pals, I am nose down, working hard to finish this manuscript. Hence, my only teaching this fall will be my memoir class. All of us come to writing memoir, to telling our truths, for different and compelling reasons, but honestly, and don’t be mad at me, I believe the heart of the heart of telling our story is the desire to be loved. Love me, as I am, despite what I did, despite what was done to me. Isn’t that what every memoirist is saying? But does that make the act of writing therapy? I don’t think so. When I wrote Community Chest, about my breast cancer experience, it wasn’t therapy exactly. Though I did feel lighter getting words and thoughts and fears out of my body onto the page, I wasn’t purged. I felt part of a larger conversation, part of the world.

This essay, by T Kira Madden, takes a long look at what writing memoir does and doesn’t accomplish for writer and reader. My best hope as a writer of memoir is that in forging my experience into language, I deeply connect with a reader. As I reader of memoir, I want to nod my head in recognition.

If the trees are all connected and speaking to one another through their root systems (see how I did that…), then we can certainly consider stories our own intricate system of connection.

In case you’re interested, I’m also offering individual editing/coaching. If you’d like to explore working one on one, shoot me a message.


Made this cake, and loved it. And I mean loved it. Whatever you do, don’t cheat on the amount of mixing time the recipe calls for, the cake is so light and tender. I think it would be perfect with wine poached figs for a very elegant dessert.

Read this sweet piece from the NYer archives. Oh man, do I miss Nora Ephron. I loved all the cookbooks she describes, and I made the same entertaining mistakes she did. It was a sweet dive into my own cooking and growing up past. Remember Lee Bailey? I adored his cookbooks when I was a newly married woman. It wasn’t just the food, it was the zeitgeist of conviviality, and the draw of a life that was completely out of reach for me, financially. Oh the envy! (In the act of writing this, I just bought a used copy of Cooking for Friends. Now, this little pet project of mine is costing me money.)

I know I’ve said it here before, but it is worth saying again, I believe buying a cookbook is an act of hope. Cookbooks conjure joy, the meals, the people, the love. In the novel I’m working on, one of the characters is a food blogger with a large following. When she says, “Come eat,” which she often does, she’s really saying, “I love you.” All this yammering is a way of me getting to express my excitement over a new cookbook from Alison Roman coming soon. nothing fancy: the art of having people over, which, I guess, is the same as Cooking for Friends, no? The lack of capital letters in the title, does it make you relax? I’m here to say, it kinda does it for me.

And, here’s a recipe for a little snack I’ve been loving, in case you need something to do with the tomatoes in your garden,  Mediterranean Baked Feta.








quick read, quick listen, quick meal

With this note I embark upon year two of the read.write.eat. newsletter! Thank you all–for reading, for commenting, for letting me know you’re out in the world. As I’ve often bemoaned, writing is a lonely business, and you’ve helped me out by meeting me at the virtual water cooler, letting me know what you’ve read, how your writing is going, and what delicious meal you’ve eaten. I’m so grateful for your company.


A quick note here as I’ve not read a new book since last I wrote. I have read two fantastic stories in the New Yorker.

First, “Motherless Child,” by Elizabeth Strout, which appears in the August 5 issue. Hallelujah! It is a story about Olive Kitteridge, my favorite curmudgeon. I loved the novel, Olive Kitteridge, because Olive is so complicated. She doesn’t suffer fools, and her insights about people around her are often spot on, and she has such blinders about her own behavior. I am of the belief that we all have a tiny bit of Olive in us, especially those of us who deny, deny, deny! You can read the story here, listen to Elizabeth Strout read it here, and read a brief interview with Strout here.

Next up, “Elliott Spencer,” by George Saunders, which appears in August 13 issue of the magazine. This story is a challenging read, playful with language, playful on the page, it reflects our current political situation, has characters you come to care deeply about, and is full of pain, regret, and forgiveness. Saunders reminds us what compassion and empathy mean. He reminds us that we all have tremendous capacity for love if we only allow ourselves to really look at the people in our society whom we choose not to see. You can read the story here. Listen to Saunders read it here. Read a brief interview with him here.


I’m really moving along on my book! One story to go and I’m so excited about the project. Writing a book takes so much time, love, faith and worry. And then, you release it into the hands of the world who may not get it, may not love it. Ouch!

I think we can all benefit from reexamining our relationship with success. What does success mean for you and your work? What is your condition of enoughness? Certainly we all want to hold our beautiful books. We want to connect with readers. We want our books to sell. And, don’t we also want the satisfaction of writing the truth, whether in fiction or memoir or poetry or personal essays, don’t we want to reveal the truth of human experience to the best of our abilities? Life is messy and we want to successfully portray all the mess with love for our characters, and without flinching. It is so damn hard!

As you consider the definition of success for you and your work, I encourage you to listen to this wonderful interview with Steve Almond (one of the Sugars from Dear Sugar) about what writing success means to him, and even bigger than that, “How do we esteem what we tried to do in life?” The conversation is so uplifting and powerful. Find it at Otherppl Podcast.


Need something to do with the zucchini your neighbors have been giving you? Make this pasta and you’ll find yourself begging for all the zucchini. Just writing it here makes me want to go to the kitchen and cook some up.  It’s adapted from NYTimes cooking. So Delicious! So Easy! Serve it up with a tomato salad and you’ll be all set.

  •      1 pound fusilli or other short curvy pasta
  •      1 ½ pounds zucchini halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2- inch thick pieces
  •      Kosher salt and black pepper
  •      4 tablespoons olive oil
  •      2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  •      1/3 cup cream
  •      Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  •      ½ cup grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  •      1 ½ cups roughly chopped herbs, such as mint, basil, Italian parsley, plus more for garnish
  •      1/3 c chopped Marcona almonds
  •      Flaky salt, for serving (optional)
  •      Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
  1. Prepare the zucchini: Season chunks with salt and pepper. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the squash in one layer (you may need to do this in two batches) and cook undisturbed until it begins to turn golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove from the pan and set aside. Taste and season again, if necessary.
  2. Meanwhile, Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until it is just al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
  3. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the zucchini pan. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic becomes translucent, about 30 seconds. Add the squash back to the pan along with the lemon juice and half the lemon zest. Toss to combine.
  4. Put the pasta in a large bowl. Add zucchini and toss to combine. Add 1/2 cup of the pasta water, the cream, and the grated cheese. Toss until the cheese emulsifies and is silky. Add the fresh herbs and almonds. Toss again. Top with additional herbs and the remaining lemon zest. Serve in bowls, and pass grated cheese at the table. Season with flaky salt, if desired.









burn the page down!!!

I’m just home from a sacred landscape. I feel so lucky to have visited Taos, New Mexico, where I taught and participated in Jen Louden’s amazing writing retreat with twenty-two women. At 7000 feet we all pushed the pause button on our lives, made writing and our stories a priority. The Mabel Dodge Luhan House hosted us. We wrote, laughed, danced, listened, learned, napped and sweat! (It was hot.) Sometimes we cried, and oh my god did we eat…  Hop over to my Instagram page to see some beautiful photos.


I read Deborah Levy’s gorgeous, portmanteau of a book, Things I Don’t Want to Know. Part memoir, part gender politics, part writing treatise, and literary theory, the book is a swift and deep river. I was moved by all that Levy had to say about painful reckoning with one’s past. It is particularly when we don’t choose to remember that our past remembers us, and sneakily invades our lives.

Levy also has much to say about voice and agency. “To speak up is not about speaking louder, it is about feeling entitled to voice a wish.” Throughout much of her childhood, Levy spoke very softly and was admonished to speak up, though she could not. Using her voice felt dangerous. (Her father was imprisoned for five years in apartheid South Africa.)

As a grown woman, a writer, she said, “A female writer cannot afford to feel her life too clearly, if she does, she will write in a rage when she should write calmly.” I get it. I intimately understand the rage and dismay that can arise from the loss of freedom a woman feels when she leaves her child body behind, becomes an object, perhaps a wife and a mother, and is told again and again that to voice a wish that is solely of the self, for the self, is outrageous. Because women are givers, we risk merging into anonymity.

But I don’t believe this is entirely gender based. Any giver is threatened with erasure. Nor do I believe women aren’t strong, and cannot write from a place of rage. Don’t be sloppy, don’t harden, remain curious, bold, and recognize your strength. Then, burn the page down!!

In “Laugh of the Medusa,” Hélène Cixous, the French poststructuralist thinker said, “Write your self. Your body must be heard. Only then will the immense resources of the unconscious spring forth.”


Jen Louden, the most authentically enthusiastic person I’ve ever met, led the Taos retreat. She offered many questions and ideas to encourage us go deep into the why of our writing lives. She asked us reflect upon a question that dogs us–in our lives, in our writing. We scrawled questions on slips of paper and dropped them in a cookie jar. Everyone then drew one and held onto the question for a few days, walking the beautiful Taos landscape, jotting answers when inspired, then taping the questions to the wall. Where do I go from here? Who am I without ambition? How will I know when enough is enough?

And this: Is everyone lonely?

The question slayed me. Because of course, the answer is yes. Not all the time, but perhaps more often than we like. We’re lonely binging Netflix on our sofas. We’re lonely swiping through Instagram, or Twitter, or checking our Facebook feeds. We’re lonely sitting at our desks, struggling to write one true sentence, and then another. We’re lonely when we miss connections with those we love. We’re lonely when we don’t feel seen.
Any of the women at the retreat could have written the question. What I came to understand as I thought more about it: Thank God for my writing. Alone at my desk I am challenged and infuriated. I feel really shitty as I try, then fail, and then fail better. But that lonely time writing is when I’m with my best friend. My writing/my friend has seen me through really dark times. It has helped me gain understanding about…well, me. It has helped me develop compassion. My writing has helped me become a better human being.
So yes, Dear Writer who posed the question to all of us. Everyone is lonely. But you have the magic tool to learn the world and bring it closer. Do what you love (and hate) to do, write.


The food was so terrific at the lodge in Taos, mostly fresh vegetables, big salads and lots of baked treats.Yum! But, I didn’t get much Southwestern food. So, I plan on making these, even though Portland weather will be in the 90’s all week.  I promise, you will love these enchiladas. They were a staple in our home when the children still lived with us. Oh, now I’m feeling a little verklempt, missing their sweet faces at our dinner table. Which brings me back to Deborah Levy and the struggle for self. I guess the question is, how do we stay strong in the self and continue to give, to share our lives? I think an answer is to take time, to make time, to retreat and do what you love, just for you.









the weird joy of an above ground pool

I currently have three obsessions: Queer Eye, soft-serve ice cream, and pink wine. I’ve fallen hard for the QE Fab 5’s brand of kindness and consideration. Love the way they’re always hugging on each other, smiling and striving to help. Pink wine? It’s crisp. It’s cold. It’s beautiful. Try this one. Soft-serve needs no talking up, right? If you’re anywhere near Portland, Oregon, get yourself to Sugarpine Drive-In.

It’s summer, Lovelies! Sunny days are meant for indulging in all things sweet and pretty.


My pal, R.L. Maizes has a beautiful book out in the world this week. We Love Anderson Cooper is full of characters you’ll follow anywhere–mistake making, vulnerable people who so want to connect, and yet they keep getting in their own way. (Hmmm, that’s reminding me of….me.) There’s a housecat suspected of cheating on its owner, a bar mitzvah boy who outs himself on the bimah, a cast of loveably skewed characters in whom we absolutely recognize our fumbling along selves. The collection will make you laugh, offer insights and keep you turning pages.

Another pal, Dr. Louise Aronson, has a beautiful book in the world this summer as well. Louise is a geriatrician and professor of medicine. Her book, Elderhood is a deep dive into all the ways society fails our aging population at exactly the moment we’re all living longer than ever before. Louise is a visionary with ideas for how we can better support one another, because, let’s be real, we’re all on the way out, right? Funny and whip-smart, throughout her book Louise uses stories from her practice, literature, pop culture, and her life to illuminate her ideas.


Last week at the Tin House Summer Conference I heard some terrific lectures, and generally enjoyed the vibe of being in a big room with a lot of writers.

My favorite panel was called, “On Writing Towards Joy,” with Garth Greenwell, Kelly Link and Justin Torres. The conversation tossed around ideas about the complexity of joy, which, according to these smarties, coexists with other emotions like anger, shame, and sorrow. Joy just outshines them. Joy, defined as an unexpected welling up moves the reader (and the writer) into a space we aren’t expecting to find, in our lives and on the page. We suddenly experience a flash of recognition.

Recently I gave myself the project of writing a happy story. I don’t know about you, but considering… well, politics, planet, everything…I want to be in joyful moments. I want to translate joyful moments to the page. In life, when we find ourselves kicked under the proverbial bus, we’re mostly still alive and intact, right? Let’s celebrate that! Why not write a happy story? Why not give characters something to revel in? Why not write about up times as well as challenges in your memoir?  I’m of the belief that when we’re interested in writing joy, we notice it more in our lives. Consider how joy manifests and reproduces? What are the conditions that allow joy to flourish?

-Joy is riding a bike down a shady country road.
-Joy is an above ground swimming pool. (I don’t know why, they thrill me!)
-Joy is the ocean, all of it, wind, salt, glare, and possibility.
-Joy is a weird and difficult muscle we have a hard time flexing.

I did write that happy story, about young people falling in love. But, like an eyelash in your eye, shame, transience, and pain were lurking just in the corner. It made the joy brighter.

Here’s a great talk by Kelly Link, really inspiring, about all things writing, including how much it can suck, managing our expectations, and this gorgeous bit, “Don’t self-reject. You know what I mean.”


At my local bookstore last week I stepped up to the customer search monitor and saw that the person before me, I kid you not, had typed into the query bar, “upsetting cookbook.” I thought it was hilarious, but even funnier was the book that had populated the screen, A Super Upsetting Cookbook about Sandwiches. I laughed and went about my business, looking up some boring book about Mindset, or knitting, or something. Once home I couldn’t stop thinking about upsetting sandwiches…so I went back, and let me tell you, the book is a gem. It’s performance art. Tyler Kord has a deep and messed up sandwich love. Emma Straub (owner of Books are Magic, author of The Vacationers, and Modern Loversboth of which are terrific novels. Perfect for summer!)  writes the introduction. William Wegman (yes, of Sesame Street Weimaraner fame) does all the collages. (Here’s a bonus gem, a beautiful collage and painting book from Wegman, Hello Nature.)

In the sandwich book, sammies have names like, “Chutzpah Express,” “Gentle Thoughts,” and “the Frito Kid.” Besides normal sandwich fare, they have ingredients like pickled mushrooms, grape and celery salad, bleu cheese/avocado mayonnaise. You’re just going to have to trust me. The book is fabulous.  And, come on! It’s summer. It’s time to eat sammies in the park, at an outdoor concert, in your kayak!
In the meatloaf sandwich section of the book, Kord offers a basic meatloaf recipe in  which he says:

“Don’t overthink this. Or do, and use a thermometer to judge when it gets to an internal temperature of 150°F and it will be perfect, but at what cost? Are you actually satisfied with it? Are you ever satisfied with anything? Why did you buy this book…Throw away the thermometer and live your life!!”









keep jamming your summer jam

Scrolling through Instagram I’m delighted to see so many of us on vacation/staycation, whether it’s running through the sprinklers in the backyard, strolling an exotic beach, or chilling to your favorite song like this happy being (seriously, click the link!). I’m delighted that we’re taking time to play.


I’m currently writing a story about a family; an African American man, a white woman and their children. I’m writing from the woman’s POV, but I worry. I have so much to learn and understand about privilege and guilt, micro-aggressions and being seen. It’s scary, being a middle-aged white woman, living in white, white Portland, Oregon, writing about race. But, if we stay in our lane, how do we ever learn, how do we flex our imaginations and grow our compassion muscles? I reread The Color of Water, by James McBride. McBride is an African American man, with a white, Jewish mom. The book is the story of their family (12 kids!). It’s a gorgeous and powerful memoir. I’m so glad I picked it up again and got to know his family. Here’s McBride:

“During the rare, inopportune social moments when I found myself squeezed between black and white, I fled to the black side, just as my mother had done, and did not emerge unless driven out by smoke and fire. Being mixed is like that tinging feeling you have in your nose just before you sneeze—you’re waiting for it to happen but in never does. Given my black face and upbringing it was easy for me to flee into the anonymity of blackness, yet I felt frustrated to live in a world that considers the color of your face an immediate political statement whether you like it or not. It took years before I began to accept the fact that the nebulous “white man’s world” wasn’t as free as it looked; that class, luck, religion all factored in as well; that many white individuals’ problems surpassed my own, often by a lot; that all Jews are not like my grandfather and that part of me is Jewish too. Yet the color boundary in my mind was and still is the greatest hurdle. In order to clear it, my solution was to stay away from it and fly solo.”

McBride’s family was not always met with beauty, insight or generosity, and yet they thrived.

I also want to share with you an essay from Amy Scheiner. An amazing woman I was lucky enough to have in my workshop. She writes about her mother with love, honesty, and all the complications. Read it here.

“When I took her to the airport, I could tell we both were feeling the same pain in the space between our stomachs and our hearts. The pain of saying goodbye. “Promise me you’ll never leave me,” I pleaded as I had done since I was a child, terrified of living a motherless life, believing without my mom’s strong arms to carry me, I would surely fall.”

Amy does not fall. Amy soars.


Is your summer writing jam fizzling out? Get to it, Gorgeous! Here’s a few prompts:

1. Select a random household object (e.g., toy soldier, silver dollar, souvenir shot glass, button, box of matches, photograph) and answer the question: Why I stole it. (For a great example of where a prompt like this might lead, read Mona Simpson’s amazing story, Lawns.)

2. What’s a deep, deep, bottom of the barrel human fear? That we are unworthy of love of course. To access that fear, write about a crush. A crush bursting with yearning, but zero possibility of happening. Where you were dashed to the rocks of rejection. Oh come on, you have one. You know you do. (I’m looking at you, cute Steve C. in 7thgrade!) Your crush is right there, on the tip of your tongue. Describe the crush. Write a scene. Be certain to orient us in time and place.

3. Write three 150 words pieces, one from age 0-6, one 7-12, one 13-18. Set your timer for 8 minutes (you’ll do this 3 times), choose one moment from each age that’s attached to an unsettling emotion. Describe the moment using as much sensory information as much as possible.

4. Finally a little mysticism, a little woo-woo serendipity in a prompt:

      a. Walk up to your bookshelf
      b. Pull a random book off the shelf
      c. Flip open
      d. Choose the first quote that jumps out
      e. Do this 7 times (because 7 is magic, right?)
      f. Seek out themes and commonalities, write to link together the quotes.


So much gorgeous eating to do! We were just in Victoria BC and loved all the food. Our favorite spot by far was Agrius Restaurant. If you want a little food-porn jolt, take a peek at the website. The most delicious thing I had was the spaghetti with lemon, fava beans, peas, tarragon and morels. Damn! It inspired me to want to make my own pasta…almost. I don’t have the equipment, but I like the idea.

Here are a couple versions of the dish, this one, from the NYTs is behind a paywall, in case you don’t have a subscription, I’m including this beauty from Saveur as well. Be certain to add lemon, and replace asparagus, or peas with favas if you choose. Super delicious, super quick meal.

All the berries are calling to me to make some jam. For that I don’t need special new equipment. But I do need a tried and true recipe for sugar free, or low sugar jam. Help a girl out? Hook me up with your favorite recipe, please.









summer, new friends, and jalapeños

It’s officially summer and the 4thof July (ugh) is lurking. I startle at explosions and feel bad for all the creatures—crows, raccoons, songbirds, my little old man Maltese. I’m affronted by the boom of Black-Cats and M-80s…which is why we’re headed to our neighbors in the North (who’ve banned single use plastic bags!! Hooray Mr. Trudeau!) We’re taking a summer road trip to kayak, hike, and swim in the cold Pacific! I made a road trip playlist, which you can access here if you wish, but be forewarned, it’s eclectic yet upbeat, meant to keep us singing and moving on the highway.


As you may know by now, we’ve seen the last issue of Tin House Magazine. The final issue is a beauty with fiction from Karen Russell, Anthony Doerr, Kelly Link, Aimee Bender, Etgar Keret, Elizabeth McKenzie, and Joan Silbur. Such abundance! Poetry from CJ Evans, Nick Flynn, D.A. Powell, Brenda Hillman, Victoria Chang. Essays from Karen Shepard. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the beach, the lake, the bus ride across town. If some of these writers are new to you, hooray! You’ve met new literary friends to accompany you through the trials, truths and triumphs (small and big) of your life.


I’ve been teaching a good bit this summer and as always with class prep, I must face my very disorganized teaching files. I’ve got notes on how to build strong characters mixed in with a recipe for fajitas. I’ve got ideas about tension in a file with my insurance policies…well that one makes sense. In teasing things apart, I discovered these three things I thought worth sharing.

On Character: Of course we know characters are revealed through physical details (how they look, what they wear, their quirks and habits), what they say (what they don’t say), thoughts and beliefs, their yearnings and perversities, but also remember, it is best to reveal all of this in motion. A character unfolds through action and conflict, but they also infold, meaning revelations come through their inner lives. The action in character building is both forward and down. Forward into the action of the story, and drilling down into the heart and desires of the character. (Read Alice Munro and Joy Williams for a master class in characterization.)

On Authorial Custody: How much control does an author relinquish to the reader when the work is finally in her hands? A low custody writer views reading as a creative act, leaving lots of room for the reader to relate to and interpret the work in proximity to their lives. A high custody writer may push the reader toward their intended meaning, diminishing the risk of misinterpretation. There is danger of bewilderment in a low custody author and danger of over control in a high custody writer. Where are you? What type of author do you like to read? It’s something to consider in your work. You want your reader to be curious, but not confused. You want her to extrapolate and be engaged, but not be lectured at. Ursula K. Le Guin suggests, “The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.”

Adjacent to the question of control and how much we wish to relinquish to our readers (which, come on, is really a false question, for once the work is out of our hands it becomes something new for each and every reader our work is lucky to engage with) we should consider the difference between Mystery and Tension. (Thanks, Will Allison for this conversation.) Tension arises when the reader wonders how will the secret (which the reader already knows) be divulged to the character with stakes in the story. Mystery is a less compelling form of suspense, it’s simply, what is the secret? Whereas Tension is, holy crap! How is this going to shake out? Alice McDermott described this to us in a workshop, and I paraphrase, “If I invite a guest to workshop and she arrives and sits quietly to observe, you may have mild interest. But, if I invite the guest and let you know her secret, that she was just released from jail for murdering her fiancé, you will be watching her with much more interest and engagement.” This difference is something to keep in mind as you consider withholding information in your stories or memoirs or essays. What is the value of keeping the reader in the dark? How will you spark the most intrigue?


At a time when vegetables are abundant and the days are bright and long, we’re firing up the grill, taking picnics to the beach or the park, and having friends over for brunch on the deck, it seems like a good idea to share dressings and sauces, yes?  Here are four I’ll be making over and over again this summer. Roasted vegetables, grilled meat, grilled salmon, chicken, omelets, tofu, grilled bread, cold pasta, on a sammie, add a spoonful to a simple vinaigrette, yes please!


Spicy Almond Sauce (inspired by The Savory Way, Deborah Madison)

4 lg. cloves of garlic
1 lg. bunch cilantro, leaves and upper stems only
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 TBS peanut oil (I have used olive in a pinch)
1 TBS dark sesame oil
1 TBS hot chili oil
½ c almond butter
½ c soy sauce
2 TBS sugar or agave or honey
3 TBS rice wine vinegar
Hot water to thin if necessary

Place garlic, cilantro and ginger in food processor and pulse till finely chopped. Add oils, almond butter, soy sauce, and sweetener, process until well combined. Scrape down sides, add vinegar and hot water if you choose to thin. Store in an airtight jar. This will keep for months.


Chimichurri Sauce (An amalgamation of recipes)

1 shallot, finely chopped
1 Fresno chile or jalapeño, finely chopped
3–4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or finely chopped
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
½ cup finely chopped cilantro
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp. finely chopped oregano
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 – 2 TBS capers, finely chopped

Combine shallot, chile, garlic, vinegar, capers and salt in a medium bowl. Let sit 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro, parsley, and oregano. Using a fork, whisk in oil.


Coconut Lemongrass Dressing (from Food52)

¼ c just-squeezed lime juice
2 ½ TBS fish sauce
1/3 c full-fat coconut milk
1 TBS light brown sugar
1 ½ TBS grated lime zest (about 1 lime)
2 TBS  fresh lemongrass, finely chopped
½ serrano pepper, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
4 TBS finely chopped fresh cilantro
3 TBS finely chopped fresh mint

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce, coconut milk, and sugar in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Add the remaining dressing ingredients and stir to combine. Set aside


Miso Sesame Dressing (from Smitten Kitchen)

1 TBS minced fresh ginger
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 TBS white miso (the mildest kind)
2 TBS tahini (make certain it is fresh! Not that bitter dried up jar from 9 months ago! Other nut butters can work in a pinch)
1 TBS honey
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 TBS toasted sesame oil
2 TBS olive oil

Combine everything in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Stop to scrape down the sides once.

And a bonus:

Take some butter, + or – 3TBs, some feta cheese, + or – 4 ozs., a handful of chopped cilantro, a handful of chopped mint. Put it all in a bowl. Steam some corn on the cob, throw it in the bowl hot and, with your hands, rub all that deliciousness all over the corn.  Man!  I’ve also put this amazing mixture on top of grilled salmon with terrific success.






you get to choose

I write to you from my deck on a sunny morning. Despite the breeze and the blue sky, I woke up feeling a little low. Just tired of bad shit (large and small) in our country, in the world, with my people. It doesn’t help that my generally glass-half-full husband is out of town. So, I took my dog around the block, made strong coffee, chatted with a neighbor (thank you, Steve), and listened to this ridiculously silly Tiny Desk Concert. Not every day starts with a parade. And that’s okay, as long as I remember I get to choose where I put my attention..


Like everyone else, I’ve got a TBR pile for summer. Here are my top five, in no particular order:

Sweet & Low, by Nick White. I had dinner with Nick and he’s a delightful human being. His story collection is described in this way, “The poignant, dry wit of these stories–imagine if Faulkner wrote an episode of “The Golden Girls”–will have you falling in love and cackling. But it’s the reckoning honesty within each tale that will truly melt your spine.” I’m in!

Nick and I appeared on the Be Reel podcast together, talking favorite movies about writers. The podcast is a real treat, each episode the hosts, Noah Ballard and Chance Solem-Pfeifer, talk and rate movies. Add it to your podcast library.

Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicome, by Evan James, which, from the description in the NYTs book review, sounds like a companion to Jane Austen and Emma Straub–a comedy of manners that’s just my cup of tea. A depressed, newly retired pop-psychology guru, a son home from his year abroad, declaring, “I hate the very idea of fun,” a houseguest who makes up for his “carefree loafing with his charm and wardrobe,” all brought together in a rambling home on Bainbridge Island. Yes, please! I want to spend a couple hundred pages with these peeps.

Fleishman is in Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, sounds like another winner. From the booklist review, “…enthralling, affirming debut of midlife, marital, and existential despair. It asks and answers if there’s such a thing as fairness, in marriage or in life, and if the story of a marriage can ever be told from all sides—or the outside.” Really? Answers if there is such a thing as fairness in life? I can’t wait to get my hands on this!

Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead. On the subject of his novel, a reform school for boys, Mr. Whiethead says, “It was a story I hadn’t heard before, and it was emblematic of so many injustices that go on every day that you never hear about. The survivors are never heard from and the guilty are never punished, they live to a ripe old age while their victims are damaged for life. It seemed like a story worth taking up.”

Everything Inside, by Edwidge Danticut, an absolute favorite writer of mine. I have no idea what the stories are about, but in the nimble, smart, insightful hands of Danticut, I’m certain to be amazed by language, and to be brought close up to our human follies and frailties.


What is it about a new season that feels like a starting gun? Memorial Day weekend sets the summer clock ticking and suddenly I’ve got a million goals. Re-vamp my deck space to a comfy outdoor living room, plant a garden, walk 10,000 steps a day, finish my manuscript, get out of town, catch up with friends. Lucky for me, my pal and writing support coach, Jennifer Louden, recently brought home for me the idea of “Conditions of Enoughness.” Rather than bury myself beneath lofty goals, why not take a moment for a reality check. What am I capable of completing given the life-containers of available time, available cash, responsibilities to others, and hours in a day? Smarty Jen reminded me to set conditions I can accomplish, and make time to celebrate said accomplishments. Pat myself on the back for writing 750 words, for replanting the pots on my deck, for inviting pals over for an alfresco meal. By creating conditions of enoughness that are attainable, we won’t be burdened by failing to meet our own expectations. We won’t open our writing project already behind and grumpy, but with an “I can do this!” attitude. Writing is hard enough, why make it harder by expecting too much from each session?

Which brings me to pomodoros. Here’s how they work: break your writing time into chunks, twenty-five minutes, forty-five minutes, whatever suits you best. Then give yourself a built in break of five or ten minutes (coffee, pee, snack, social media if you absolutely must, walk around the block). How many pomodoros can you fit into your day? How many do you need to meet your condition of enoughness. I love pomodoros because I get a built in reward every time I sit down to write. And, yes! I am such a dork, I love the timer!


In my last two newsletters I spoke about the pleasure of rereading beloved books, which inspired me to crack open cookbooks from my past. I’m particularly re-upping my love affair with Deborah Madison and two of her books,The Greens Cookbook, and The Savory Way. Back in the 80s and 90s, when I was a vegetarian for 10 years (I broke my resolve on a trip to France, faced with so much saucisson!) these two books were always on my counter. My husband, a consummate meat eater, is a little disgruntled by their reappearance, but I’ve been all in lately. Here’s a sample of my stand by recipes, noted by the food stains on the pages: Spinach Pasta w/Ricotta and Walnuts, Cold Noodles w/Peanut Sauce, Cilantro Salsa (on everything!), Filo w/Goat Cheese and Spinach (a great reboot of Spanakopita), Provençal Potato Gratin w/Olives and Lemon Thyme, Basil Fettucine w/Green Beans, Walnuts and Crème Fraîche. (I know, I know, it’s frustrating that I don’t have links to the recipes…but they aren’t online. You just have to take my word for it and avail yourself of one or both of these lovely books. You can find used copies really cheap online.)

Hmmm… in looking over this recipe list I notice every one, but for the potato gratin, is green! Could it be that the early summer world is so burstingly beautiful I just want to eat it?






life is not short

Days are long. Afternoon light is at the perfect slant, casting the neighbors yards in lovely, clear yellow light. Soon we’ll have stone fruit, watermelon, chilled pink wine, and grilled…everything. Here’s what I’ve been up to in this shoulder season between spring and summer.


Life is not too short to reread books. I’ve again picked up Louise Erdrich’s LaRose, and I’m so moved, amazed, enthralled with this beautiful, generous and heartbreaking story. At the center of this novel lies the question: can a person do the worst thing possible and still be loved? The novel begins with a terrible accident. Erdrich tells the story in such calm and lucid language, I’m mesmerized. The first time around, I listened to the book. This time I’m reading, and I mean it, every chance I get I pick it up to read a few more pages, then I lose track of time. It’s one of those delicious paradox books–you want to devour it and you want it to never end.

I’m also listening to the audiobook of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb. It’s a different kind of delicious. Written by a therapist, the book examines her work with her patients, her own experience in therapy, and explores behavior patterns, personality disorders, and just plain old human troubles. I feel a bit like a voyeur. It’s salacious at times and charming throughout. I’m learning about my own behavior. Plus I get the added joy of analyzing everyone I know!  If you liked In Treatment, an HBO show from 2008-2010 with Gabriel Byrne, which I loved, I think you’ll like the book


Do you fall off on your writing game when the weather changes? What are you going to do to stay committed this summer? Here’s some ideas:

  • Take your work outside. Whether that means you switch to writing long hand and take a legal pad to the beach, or if you simply cannot deal, take your laptop to the park. Writing outside in beautiful weather may diminish feeling deprived when you’re ‘stuck’ indoors at your desk.
  • Get up earlier! I mean it. Just 30 minutes can make a difference.
  • Set goals, but be flexible. Rather than time in the chair, maybe switch to word count. You may work smarter, quicker, in order to go for your swim/hike/bike ride. (And, really, really unplug. Put your phone in airplane mode. Install Freedom and use it. I’m chastising myself here…)
  • Have an accountability partner! Someone you check in with daily/weekly, whatever you need, to give a progress report.
  • When you’ve reached your goal, reward yourself. Run after the ice cream truck! Snooze in a hammock.
  • Get it down. Get outside. Worry about editing later.

Another possibility to keep you going, sign up for a class or workshop, or start your own workshop. Having peers and deadlines is a boon and boost to most writers.

If you’re looking for a class, I’ve got an online class up at Hedgebrook. I had so much fun teaching Becoming Unstuck, Finding Flow and Freeing Your Voice.  You can check out a snippet here. If you wonder why my voice sounds so mellow and chill it’s because…Hedgebrook! They take such good care of you, all tension and even your bones sort of melt away. Here’s another snippet in case you’re interested. And, register here!


In the past two weeks I’ve made this salad four times. Unbelievably delicious. It’s a take on a salad from the now defunct Tasty and Sons restaurant here in Portland. Make it. You’re welcome!

  1. Tear 1 head of radicchio into 2″ pieces and soak in ice water while you prepare the salad.
  2. Turn oven to 400 degrees. Tear the best quality whole grain bread you can get your hands on into roughly cork sized pieces until you have a very generous cup full. Toss with a couple tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and roast about 10 -12 minutes. Keep checking so you don’t burn the croutons. Set aside.
  3. Coarsely chop pitted, herbed green olives to make about ½ cup.
  4. Coarsely chop about 5-6 French breakfast radishes, or regular radishes if you cannot find French breakfast. (They’re thumb shaped, a bit milder than regular radishes, and white on top.)
  5. Wash one lemon, then zest. Place zest in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.
  6. Mince 2-3 cloves garlic. Sprinkle with sea salt and use flat surface of a chef’s knife to scrape back and forth to make a paste. Add to bowl with lemon.
  7. Add coarsely ground black pepper.
  8. Slowly whisk in ½ cup extra virgin olive oil.
  9. Drain and spin the radicchio. Transfer to large bowl. Add olives, croutons, radishes and a sprinkling of roasted, salted pumpkin seeds to taste. Toss well with the dressing. Enjoy!!