Where Two Loves Meet: the Joy of Cookbooks

Howdy, folks! ‘What gives?’ you’re thinking. ‘Last Monday of the month means comic day! What are these word things doing here??’ But uh oh, boy do I suck at technology!  So while I struggle to exorcise the demons from my drawing tablet, I’m gonna have to swap in next week’s post for now. Hopefully I’ll have a shiny new comic to puke onto the internet next week. Thanks for your patience!

LucidI am a creative person.  This shows up in my life in a lot of different ways.  I like to sketch and paint.  I like making up languages.  I enjoy building things, like my chicken house and ever more bookshelves.  But my two main creative outlets are writing and cooking.

Anyone who reads this blog knows how much I love writing.  And anyone who has set foot in my home for more than ten minutes knows how much I love making food.  If I hold any affection for you at all, I will have spent time daydreaming about the foods I could make especially for you.  (I’m looking at you, internet friends.  Pie-Pal Madison can vouch for this.)

That said, it should come as no surprise at all that I am just as addicted to cookbooks as I am to any other book.  Every time I get a new one, I read it like a novel.  I sit down and go through it page by page, ingesting it from introduction to index.  I stare at the pictures- for it must have pictures- and I tally up ingredients and I start crafting menus and planning dinner parties and imagining tweaks and adjustments right then and there.  I stay up late reading them, desperate for just one more recipe before I collapse.bowl

One of the many (many, many, augh, so many) books that I picked up while traveling this summer was Lukas Volger’s Bowl.  While books like 1000 Vegetarian and our 1974 edition of Joy of Cooking are regular workhorses in my kitchen, I really love a glossy, photo-packed cookbook with an itsy-bitsy, super narrow theme.  Bowl is filled with vegetarian recipes for ramen, pho, and their soupy one-dish kin.  Likewise, the other darlings of my kitchen are all very specific.  Louisa Shafia’s Lucid Foods is about crafting seasonally appropriate eco-conscious menus.  Wynnie Chan’s Fresh Chinese is about healthier alterations to traditional Chinese dishes.

Another kind of cookbook that sings to my soul is the narrative cookbook.  Like Herreid and Petersen’s Recipes from the Bun, which tells about how each recipe came to land on the menu of this iconic little food truck in Fairbanks.  Or Arevalo and Wade’s The Mac + Cheese Cookbook, which talks about the inspirations for every recipe, and the experimentation that went into their creations.  Or David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen, which probably has more stories in it than actual recipes.

PlentyWhen I get a tightly themed, visually gorgeous, narratively transporting book all in one package… *swoons*  So you can imagine, I’m always on the hunt for a good cookbook.  I’ve got a dedicated wishlist (Plenty, Charcuterie, 100 Days of Real Food, etc), but nothing in the world can stop me when I spy a cookbook that just has to come home with me.

This probably goes without saying, but all of this ogling over beautiful recipes in my shiny new copy of Bowl got me thinking: what kind of cookbook would I produce?

I cook a lot, and I joyfully muddled around through quite a few ideas over the span of days.  (I pestered my husband about it for like an hour before he firmly asked me to please stop, and then I festered on in gleeful silence.)  Burgers!  I could do a whole cookbook about burgers.  Ooo, or breads, I love baking bread.  Or maybe I could make like an Around the World in Eighty Recipes sort of cookbook, and feature something from everywhere.  Or dairy-free desserts, I can always do with more dairy-free desserts.

And then it came to me, and one word stole my every thought:

Crêpe.

A whole cookbook of crepe stuffings, all healthy, all flexible in their ingredients, and all with fifteen minutes or less active prep time.  I can already picture it! *squeals* Maybe the table of contents would look something like this:

 

Sarriette (Savory)

Quick Cassoulet- Tomato, Canelli Bean, Sausage, and Herbs

Garbanzo Tajine- Garbanzo Bean, Winter Squash, Raisin, and Spices

Chowderhouse- Clam, Potato, Carrot, and Cream

Chicken Caprese- Chicken, Mozzarella, Tomato, and Fresh Basil

Indian Dal- Lentils, Onion, Paneer, and Chutney

Ratatouille- Tomato, Eggplant, Winter Squash, and Herbs

Spanakopita- Spinach, Feta, Egg, and Garlic

 

Sucré (Sweet)

Chocolate Mousse- Chocolate, Whipped Cream, and Crushed Chocolate Wafer

Honeyed Stone Fruit- Nectarine, Peach, Cherry and Honey-Cinnamon Glaze

Dita degli Apostoli- Ricotta, Dark Chocolate, and Orange Liqueur

Lemonbars- Lemon curd, Shortbread cookie, and Whipped Cream

 

Of course, I’d need five to ten times this many recipes to fill out any self-respecting cookbook.  But still.  I think it’s a good start.  Anybody wanna be a recipe tester?🙂

Writing on the Road

RoadIn my naïve notes that I wrote up for this blog post before starting off on an insanely long road trip, I wrote “Writing on the Road- About all the tricks and stuff I used to help myself write while traveling”.  Ha.  So cute.

As mentioned in earlier posts, I didn’t get much writing done.  Really, it was all I could do to keep up with blog posts, since I burned through the buffer before the first month was out, and even then I failed on the home stretch when I somehow improperly scheduled a post and it- shocking- didn’t post.  (I’m calling this another technofail.  They never end.)

Despite the startling lack of bonanza write-a-thons, I don’t feel like the summer was a total waste, as far as writing goes or otherwise.  True, there was very little drafting, and very little editing, and not even all that much outlining or active brainstorming.  But there was a lot of experiencing going on, and experience is the foundation on which believable fiction rests.

Write what you know is one of the sacred commandments of writing, and there’s good reason for it.  Obviously nobody writing today really knows what riding a dragon feels like, or living on a colony embedded deep in an asteroid, or working as an astrologer in the court of Tutankhamen.  We make a lot of inferences about the details in our fiction.  Riding a dragon probably feels kind of like a cross between riding a horse and a hang glider.  Living on an asteroidal colony probably feels similar to living in the Princess Elizabeth Research Station, or the International Space Station, or a fancy underground bunker from the Cold War.  As writers, we get as close as we can, and then we make an educated guess.

But there are some things that can’t be fudged.  These are the things that will bother a reader like an itch they can’t quite reach.  A child whose voice isn’t quite what it should be.  A victim shouldering his abuse in a way that feels off somehow.  An emotional outburst that’s somehow wrong.  These things are much harder to quantify and, in many ways, much harder to peg.  But they’re things that, once we’ve experienced them, we can smell a fake from a mile away.  And nothing snaps a reader out of a story faster than a fake.

(And then there are the mistakes that just drive the experts crazy, like having your Western hero shoot a Peacemaker three years before the thing was developed.  But just because the demographic is small does not mean it’s quiet.  Don’t irritate your experts.)

Experiences keep us from making those mistakes.  Experience helps us to know precisely what places ache after nine hours in the saddle.  But more importantly, experience helps us to transcend the particular setting and to find the truths that are just as relevant to a thirty-year-old woman writing in a closet as they are to a twelve-year-old boy in the second century staving off starvation, or a forty-year-old xenologist encountering their first alien, or a dwarf girl who wants to be a florist when she grows up.  And when we have the experiences that give us that insight into human nature, and then we couple it with a mind open to tangents, we give ourselves a powerful recipe for creativity.

When it became clear that I wouldn’t be penning my opus magnus on the road, I instead tried to focus on keeping this recipe for creativity stewing as much as possible.  Although I don’t have the write-no-matter-what pearls of wisdom that I hoped to have, I did get some sense of the sorts of things that fostered a creative mindset (and kept me open to new experiences), and the things that killed it.  Maybe better people than I can build on merely thinking creatively and actually create creatively.

What hampered creativity

High expectations– Being disappointed in myself was the quickest way to squash my ability to think clearly, let alone creatively.  Just like your body needs time to rest after a program of intense dieting or exercise, your brain needs a break too.  All my attempts to power through and keep up on my home routine were total failures.

Stress–  I know, I know, stress can be hard to avoid when you’re hurdling down the highway for hours upon hours at a time, day after day, and the kids are so over this.  But avoid it when you can.  If you’re stressing about missing deadlines or flubbing wordcount goals or whatever, your focus is on the failures instead of the opportunities.

An excessive I-got-this attitude– I learned this at the birth of my first child- ask for help.  Trying to do everything myself- the cooking, the childcare, the everything all the time- absolutely depleted me, mind and body, leaving no energy for creativity or adventures.

What promoted creativity

Taking care of myself– When I was sick or tired or hungry or desperately iron deprived, creativity did not happen.  Mostly tears and anger and hiding under blankets happened instead.  Things were just better for the world in general when I made sure the basic needs were met first.

Time for reflection– As weird as it sounds, time was kind of a hot commodity during this vacation.  But I found it was very important for my brains to just have sit-and-chill time.  I didn’t go into it with the active intent to brainstorm, but it happened naturally, and those are always the best of storms.

Paper at the ready– I know I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but always, always keep something handy on which to jot notes.  There’s just something about having blank paper begging to be filled that gets the juices flowing.  This is especially needful when you have other things going on (like funerals, reunions, weddings, and a million visits).  My little pocket notebook has tons of little ideas and snippets that I would have forgotten completely if I hadn’t written them down.  The paper helps you think creatively, and then it helps you hang on to the things you do come up with.

I had some great ideas while on the road, ideas that I can hardly wait to flesh out and write up.  So maybe I only had the time and presence of mind to jot down some don’t-forget-this sort of notes.  I’ll count the fact that I was having ideas at all- despite the oppressive heat and despite living out of a car and despite months of nausea- as a victory.

Inspiring Vacation Photos

Ah, I’m finally home!  *hugs house*  Seriously, I never want to leave Fairbanks again.

Not that we didn’t have a great time.  We did.  We saw tons of friends and family, had many an adventure, and I was able to get lots of notes taken, even if I didn’t quite get around to much actual fiction writing.  (More on that next week.)  Another thing I was able to get a lot of: vacation photos.

A picture says a thousand words, or so goes the famous adage.  But without a translator on hand, exactly what words are being said isn’t always totally clear.  For example, what would you say is happening in this picture?

IMG_0040

Copilot, can you check our altitude?

It kind of looks like two kids are flying an airplane and are calmly about to crash into a tree.  Or maybe you see a dystopian future wherein child soldiers are sent on bombing raids.  Or maybe even fully grown space aliens who just happen to look like human children who are about to land on Earth on a mission to prepare the planet for hostile takeover.  (It’s actually my kids at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, dangling over the rhinoceros pen.  Go figure.)

This has been the longest vacation of my life.  I have lots of pictures, and lots of stories.  But if I weren’t around to tell you why there is a chipmunk on this man’s face…

IMG_0342

Tiny claws! In my eyes!

… you could probably have a really fun time making up your own version.  And your version would probably be even better than the truth, at least from a storytelling standpoint.

Vacation photos can make wonderful writing prompts.  They’re often of people outside their element, at interesting places, doing unusual things.  In a single snapshot, you typically have a setting, a character, and a basic scenario.  You can write about the photo at any point in time: write either how the photo came about, what’s happening in the photo at the moment, or the aftermath of the photo’s events.  Or you can simply grab a single element of the photo- say, an interesting person in the background, or Cousin Judy’s red sweater- and write up a spinoff that otherwise has nothing to do with the picture at all.

When using these visual prompts, it’s probably best not to use your own photos.  When you already know the real story attached to the image, it can be hard to set that one aside and start fresh.  I know what this is all about-

IMG_3803

Hey, honey! Babies are on sale!

-but you don’t.  So I would have a harder time coming up with something that isn’t just a retelling of the events than you would.  But if I were to look at someone else’s pictures, I wouldn’t have that limitation.  Fortunately, hats off to the internet, there’s no shortage of vacation photos floating around to inspire you.

Have a few more!

Remember that inspiration is all around you.  If you find yourself stuck on your writing, maybe spending a little time nosing around through Uncle Terry’s vacation photos just might be the thing to get you thinking again.

Happy writing!

Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate

Curve Okay, real quick, think of a classic superstition commonly held by sailors. Got one?

It’s about ladyfolk on boats, isn’t it?

(Disclaimer time! I’ll be talking about menstruation. If you’re mega squeamish about things like that, maybe you should go read about helicopters or unicorns or something. See you next week!)

A few weeks ago, I was myself a ladyfolk on a boat. Furthermore, I was doing the ladyest of lady things- menstruating. Now, those of you who are regular readers, or who better yet know me personally, have probably already figured out where this was going. (Because research!)

If I was a girl on a boat pretending to be a ship’s boy or somesuch, could I pull it off? Since everybody on said boat knew that I was a girl, could I at least go without anyone realizing I was on my period? Could I do it without modern tampons? (Tampon history, go!)

I figured this was experiment enough for me. Setting aside all the other advantages I would already have over those swashbuckling heroines, I at least already knew I could make myself look like a boy. Just cutting my hair off was enough to get myself repeatedly called ‘sir’ in the grocery story. With the added benefits of breast binding and manly clothing, I’m confident I could blend in.

But then comes the ladytimes, and that’s where things would get tricky for me. I imagine this is true for most women, but despite the commonness of the girl-pretends-to-be-sailor-boy trope, menstruation almost never comes up. And I don’t know why! It seems darned important! (For just a few nautical cross-dressing examples, let alone the bazillions of books about girls whose stories cover months if not years of their lives without periods ever coming up, see Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb, The Pirates! series by Gideon Defoe, Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey, Bloody Jack: Being An Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy by L.A. Meyer, etc.  [My husband argued that some of these stories have the lady in question being taught how to change her rags, but I don’t think that cuts it.  Just because you know how to murder someone doesn’t mean you know how hide the body and evade prosecution.])

Menstruation is pretty taboo, I get it. I just don’t get why. I mean, half the population of the planet will in all likelihood have to deal with a leaking uterus for half of their lives. So why can’t we talk about this, even now that it’s been so thoroughly sanitized? I think that a story about a female pretending to be male would be much more realistic, not to mention more interesting, if we get the full spectrum of what that would mean for her and how difficult it would be.

Despite the hands on research, I think this experiment raised more questions than it really answered. For example, I took to sneaking used pads off the boat whenever we were in port, but what if I was at sea for months? Would I need a giant stockpile of wool rags? Where would I put all that? In a boat full of guys and devoid of privacy, how would I change them? How would I clean them? And if I couldn’t clean them, could I sneak them into the surgeon’s galley and stow it with dirty bandages or something like some kind of saltwater ninja?

One thing was thoroughly proved, though. I am not cut out for gender-bending cabin boyhood. Even after crumbling and using tampons four days in- between the crabbiness, the sleepiness, the vague but insistent refusal to jump in the water, and the half dozen daily chocolate raids in the galley, I was busted before the week was out.  Had I been busted by an eighteenth century sea captain instead of my mother-in-law, I probably would have been tossed overboard during the first storm. *sad trombone*

Alas, a pirate’s life is not the life for me, which just brought up even more questions. How does this work?? How are these characters not half-stupid with worry for at least a quarter of their time? And how are they so clever at evading detection, but that’s not even worth a mention throughout the story?

I already know I’m a failure, but how would you readers (or at least your characters) succeed at hiding? What clever menstrual hacks would you employ?  I’m itching to write a historical fiction now, so give me some ideas!

(Can’t get enough of menses? Go read Madison Dusome’s Menstruation and Magic! It’s great!)

Reblog: How to Land a Literary Agent

Hi!  I’m sitting in a graphic design shop typing away for the one hour of internet that I’ve had in the last week and have I got a lot of ground to cover.  With that brief excuse, please enjoy this short video by The Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, while I register my second child for kindergarten.  *sobs*

Sprint Leader Interview

NaNoWordSprintsHi, folks!  Jill here again, operating under the happy assumption that the internet hasn’t exploded yet in my absence.  I’m still on the road (or rather, the ocean) and still desperately clawing out my tiny word contributions toward my Camp Nano goal.  One of the things that always seems to help me (you know, when I can actually get on the internet) is to participate in writing sprints and word wars on Twitter.  And, what do you know, I found a real, live sprint leader willing to chat with me!

Here’s my interview with @NaNoWordSprints sprint leader Chris K.  Come enjoy his wisdom!

Jill: Hello!  Who are you?

Chris: Okay… my name is Chris K, I live in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and have a day job as a database programmer across the bay in Burlington. I have a brother, a sister, a brother-in-law, two nieces and a nephew. My father and my grandparents have passed away, but my mom is still with us and I hope will be for a long time. I collect digital gadgets and toy animals like teddy bears, and I’ve started to learn to draw. (Link to http://drawingteddybears.wordpress.com/ , my art blog!)

Jill: What first got you interested in writing?  What sorts of stories do you typically write?

Chris: I think I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember; I had this weird story about pre-European-contact people living in Nova Scota and having blacksmithing that I tried to tell my parents when I was still in the early grades. I wrote crazy stories about wizards with little pet dragons and teenagers serving as junior officers on starships when I was in high school–basically thinly disguised fanfic before I realized fanfic was a thing.

I still write mostly science fiction and fantasy… I love to write about true love, mysterious treasure, alien invasions and starships.

Jill: I met you through @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter, where you are one of the sprint runners.  What got you interested in large scale sprints?  How did you get involved in @NaNoWordSprints?

Chris: I’m not quite sure when I first got involved with @NaNoWordSprints as a follower. Since the first years I did Nano, (which is going to be year 12 this November,) I was a regular in the “Word wars forum”, where you can set up word wars with strangers for a certain amount of time or take up challenges like writing to a 3 digit number that somebody else posted, or to the nearest round thousand in your word count.

I probably found out about @NaNoWordSprints there. I remember that I looked up how to become part of the @NaNoWordSprints team after I’d signed up to be the Hamilton co-ML for the first year, and then they had an open signup for anybody who’d already been an ML for one year. But the next year, they’d changed the policy, and said that they weren’t looking for any new sprint leaders! However, the April after that, I spotted a notice asking for MLs interested in running sprints for Camp NaNoWrimo, and I’ve been part of the team ever since.

Jill: What are the benefits of writing sprints?  What can you get out of sprints/group writing that is hard to attain elsewhere?

Chris: I think that sprints, in their own way, distill the main benefits of NaNoWriMo: meeting other writers, getting an infusion of creative energy from the simple fact that others are writing at the same time as you are, and a push to focus for a short time on writing something new and not worrying about making it perfect on your first try before you continue.

Jill: Say you had an author who was pathetically unproductive without fellow sprinters (*raises hand guiltily*)- what could such a writer do during non-NaNo months to keep moving forward on their projects?

Chris: There are lots of ways to challenge yourself or find other writers to challenge you. You can always search on twitter with tags like #amwriting or #wordsprint , or visit the Nano word wars forum at http://nanowrimo.org/forums/word-wars-prompts-sprints — though that forum doesn’t get so much activity in certain months of the year.

There’s also a site a Nano made which runs three automated word wars every hour at http://mswishlist.com/war – and other places over the net where you can join writers to share more long-term goals. Journeymen writers have gathered here on the storywonk forums – http://forum.storywonk.com/index.php?/topic/2007-tjw-goal-sharing-support-thread/ – and I’m admin of a small writer’s forum with a lot of focus on goal sharing and support, at http://stringingwords.freeforums.net/

Jill: If you could give only one piece of advice to a new writer, what would it be?

Chris: Write for the fun and joy of it, and keep writing. There are a lot of different ways to pursue success on the publishing side, but if you can’t keep writing fun you won’t get too far with it.

Jill: Closing thought: give us a one-book reading recommendation.

Chris: Terra, by Mitch Benn. This was given me by a good friend–literally, she handed me the trade paperback and said “I think you should read this.” It’s the hilarious but touching story of an Earth girl who accidentally gets abducted by an alien, (he scared her parents and then takes the baby girl because he thought she’d been permanently abandoned,) and how she saves both her adoptive home planet, and planet Earth. There’s a sequel out now, and the third part of the trilogy is upcoming I believe.

 

Big thanks to Chris K for the interview!  If you find yourself lagging in your word counts, you should give word sprints a shot.  It just might be the jolt your story needs to get crackin’.  Happy writing!