How many meals?

If you cook, as I do, you probably spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen. You probably also have a cookbook collection, as well as bookmarks for your favorite sites. I discovered another site to add to my list of favorites: food52.

The “52” in the title refers to the number of weeks in a year, which is related to the contests they run on the site for best recipes in different categories.

To bring together our community, we’re creating a cookbook using the best recipes from food52. We do this by hosting weekly recipe contests: we choose the finalists and post slideshows of us making the recipes; then everyone votes and the winners go into the book. The food52 community will help choose the title, cover design and photos. In 52 weeks we’ll have our first cookbook, published by HarperCollins.

On their about page, food52’s owners talk about the value to the family of cooking your own meals, as well as how it helps with sustainability. The site has everything — lots of recipes, a service (through Twitter) of answering food questions when you find yourself in a pickle (@foodpickle), videos, a store . . . and did I mention the recipes?

I discovered it because my husband pointed out some of their soups to me last week. In the past week, I have made Lentil and Sausage Stew for a Cold Winter’s Night, Smoky Minestrone with Tortellini and Parsley or Basil Pesto, and Three Onion Chowder with Parsleyed Oyster Crackers. Each recipe made plenty — enough for at least two meals for my family, although my kids thought the minestrone needed more tortellini and the lentil and sausage stew needed more sausage. Oh, and the oyster crackers? I multiplied the recipe times four, and we still ran out the second night. Excellent snack.

The recipes aren’t perfect. One called for 2 bay leaves and never said when to add them. Another said to cook something in butter — which wasn’t included in the ingredients list. However, I used the print versions to cook from; it’s possible that corrections were mentioned in comments on the actual pages.

Today, while getting ready to write this blog post, I started browsing the site again, trying to focus on breakfast recipes. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be having the Overnight Miso Porridge, and I think the Crispy Salt and Pepper French Toast is a real possibility for this weekend. Sometime, I might also try the Warm and Nutty Breakfast Couscous, although it’ll be just for me, since the rest of the family doesn’t care much for nuts. I found another couple of stews, a dessert, and — of all things — a cocktail I want to try, too.

I highly recommend this site. My only regret, as it is with many of my cookbooks, is that there are far more recipes than I will ever have time to cook. Check it out, and let me know what recipes you find especially tasty.

If you have another site you think is worth checking out for the recipes, let me know in the comments. As always, thanks for reading.

Pointing to art

Justine Musk has blogged a couple of times about Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin. Based on what she had to say, I checked it out from my library, and I’m glad I did. The book is about choosing to be indispensable in your work, whatever it may be. Even without that meta-topic, however, he covers a lot of ground. So far, I’ve hit three important ideas that resonated with me.

Obedience versus art

Would your organization be more successful if your employees were more obedient?
Or, consider for a second: would you be more successful if your employees were more artistic, motivated, connected, aware, passionate, and genuine?
You can’t have both, of course.

This hit home for me not in discussing employees, but in thinking about my children. He summarized the ongoing struggle I have between wanting my kids to listen to me, to their dad, to their teachers and wanting to not stifle their creativity and free spirit because I know they will be much happier later in life if they don’t have to fight to reclaim what they have naturally now.

There aren’t easy answers for this dilemma in Godin’s book. I don’t think obedience is, in and of itself, bad. Without rules and obedience, we get anarchy, as even he admits. (“Yes, we need facts and rigor and systems.”) However, the book is helping me to rethink my approach to parenting, and to cut myself short when something the kids are doing isn’t actually bad, just annoying. (Okay, yes, I have a ways to go with that, but I’m working on it.)

The nature of art

“Art is never defect free.”

“Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient.”

“Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.”

He says an awful lot about art. That’s what the book is about — art, creativity, how to make your work art (whether you’re a designer, a painter, or a coffee shop worker). The way he’s defined art as requiring a change is, I think, what separates the merely competent writing (of which I have done much) from the stories that stand out, get bought, get talked about.

That’s what “needs more cowbell” boils down to: The story didn’t affect the editor or the agent. She might have admired the prose; he might have liked the twist in the plot. When all was said and done, though, the story didn’t touch them. They weren’t changed.

That’s where I need to focus my efforts. Not on merely telling a story. Not on writing impeccable cliffhangers to keep the pages turning. Not on finding a plot that has been miraculously overlooked by every writer since the dawn of time.

On touching people. On changing my readers. On making my art real.

Emotional labor

The next question, of course, is how to do that. I think the key is in putting in the emotional labor. It’s work. It’s hard. I have to put myself into the work.

Don’t I already do that? Sometimes. Sometimes, I write a story just because I have an interesting idea or I have a character and a plot. I need to care about the writing, need to think about what I find important in what I’m doing, and need to see the change in myself that I hope to evoke in others.

To that end, I’m taking some time this week to think about what sort of change or shift I’m trying to achieve in each of my works in progress. Where is the art? Have I taken responsibility for making sure it’s there? Am I changed because of what I’m writing?

Sometimes the change I’m hoping for may be something I’ve already experienced in my life. It may be something as simple (!) as sweeping readers into the story and letting them step away from their own lives for a time. But I think that thinking about what the change is that I’m looking for may help me more in the long run than contemplating themes and character arcs.

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Linchpin is an excellent book. I’ll blog soon about Godin’s discussion of resistance and how it differs from Stephen Pressfield’s. There may be other topics I blog about, too — I’m only halfway through the book.

Do you have any thoughts on obedience versus art, the nature of art, or emotional labor? Or perhaps you want to recommend another Seth Godin book? Please leave thoughts and questions in the comments.

As always, thanks for reading!

Death After Dusk and other drinks

The other thing we did on Friday night (besides the holiday party) was visit the Bookstore Speakeasy. This charming purveyor of food and drinks on Bethlehem’s South Side is a fairly faithful recreation of a 1920’s speakeasy.

No external sign shows the Bookstore’s location. You step down a couple of darkened steps to a door stenciled with “THE BOOKSTORE.” Inside is a small room with shelves of books on three walls and a black curtain separating the room from the back. The clerk behind the desk will show you beyond the curtain to your table. (Make sure to have a reservation on weekend nights!)

The tables are lit with small oil lamps. Books are everywhere, and if you’re lucky, there’s a piano player at the instrument in the corner. When we were there, he was accompanied by a clarinetist/saxophonist, which makes perfect sense — jazz being a key feature of the Roaring Twenties, after all.

In keeping with the theme of a speakeasy, the menus on the table are only for food — open the book set on your table to find the drinks — a pull-out list of beers (I wasn’t certain whether the one described as “jaw-dropping” was because of its taste or its price; $42!) and a several page cocktail menu pasted onto the pages of the book.

The cocktails are incredible, and an effort is made to be faithful to the replicated era. The Bookstore notes in its overall description, for example, that vodka was not widely available until the 1950s. There are drinks with egg white, drinks on the rocks (actually, rock — a single hand-chipped cube of ice), drinks with absinthe, bartender’s choice, and make your own.

I had the “Death After Dusk” and was rather disappointed that I couldn’t pick out the violet or champagne notes over the heavy licorice of the absinthe, although I did occasionally catch a hint of the cherry garnish. (The effervescence of the champagne did come through, of course.) After that, I switched to the Knickerbocker — again, the lime juice and rum overwhelmed the Grand Marnier, but the raspberry component was perfect.

If you want to try this place out — and I really recommend it — look at the strongest flavor listed for the cocktail because the odds are good the flavors won’t be balanced enough for you to pick out the accents, which is a shame. Other than that, high marks all around.

Old reviews

What old reviews, you may ask? Some from a writing blog I kept before I had this site.

Read the reviews, follow the links to the sources if you’re so inclined, and get ready to learn.

Life as a Moving Target review

Today marks the released of Life as a Moving Target, by Erin Zarro, a chapbook published by Turtleduck Press.

The publisher site describes it:

Life as a Moving Target is a poetry chapbook that explores living with fibromyalgia and intractable vertigo, from onset of symptoms to getting a diagnosis. Also the aftermath, learning to cope and manage the condition. Poems of hope, courage, and strength of spirit.

I know people who suffer from these problems (as well as others), and I know there can be beauty in our experience of suffering and our reaction to it, so I looked forward to reading this collection.

Some of Erin’s poems hark toward looking for that beauty in the pain, using imagery such as a chrysalis to describe how she felt, hibernating away from the world that she’d grown accustomed to. After reading lines like “I have no voice, no clean perceptions. / Lobotomized, silenced by the bell,” I will never look at a cocoon the same way again.

The lines that most affected me:

I tiptoe upside down
on the tightrope
of life.

Again and again, she uses metaphors for balance, for movement, for focus — tightropes and pirouettes, crawling, tops, the world pulling her along with it. Other images appear, rainbows and fog, medical terms and magic, shadows and shapes.

Overall, this is an incredibly moving and personal collection of poems, that deserves to be lingered with, reread, and shared. I encourage everyone to check out the excerpt at the Turtleduck Website and consider buying the chapbook.

second chances

I know, it’s Thursday, I’m supposed to be posting a review. I thought about posting about No Ordinary Family and its similarities and differences to The Incredibles, and why the tensions and conflicts — internal and external — make it not just watchable, but enjoyable. And it’s true that my husband and I do look forward to watching it, whereas the other new show we tried this season — The Event — left us cold with its false tension created by time cuts. What that’s taught me as a writer is that if I’m going to do jumps in time, I’d better have a darned good story reason for them if I don’t want readers throwing my book across the room. It has also reminded me that tastes vary — I’ve seen other people referring to The Event as good, which makes me boggle.

So, instead of talking about the superhero show that I actually like, I’m jumping off from the let’s-capture-the-Lost-crowd show that I don’t to examine when do I give something a second chance, whether it’s a show or an author or a book I just couldn’t get into. If I’m borderline on a show, but my husband likes it, I’ll generally wind up watching it. If a book is something I have to do for work or is something I’ve already agreed to review, I’ll keep pounding at it (and kvetching to my friends, most likely). Other than that, I think it takes a really phenomenal review or compelling evidence that I’ve misread something about the story itself to make me go back to it.

That’s right — second chances are scarce on the ground here.

I’ve got way too many calls on my time and too many books to read to spend my time on something I’m not enjoying. There was a time I finished everything I started reading. After that, a time when I gave every book 50 to 100 pages to prove itself. Now, not so much. If I’m not hooked by the end of the first chapter, forget it.

Which means, conversely, that I have to expect other readers to feel the same about my writing. No pressure or anything.

Oh, and it’s sort of amusing that I’m posting this today because I was just urging a friend to give an author that I like a second chance.

What about you? Do you give shows or books second chances?

Legacy of Wolves review

This review is a few years late in coming. I bought Legacy of Wolves, by Marsheila Rockwell, when it first came out, and I promised her I’d give it a review. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note I first met her on-line when we were both contestants in Wizard of the Coast’s Maiden of Pain contest, and I have since beta-read another novel for her. I like her, and I like her writing. Do yourself a favor, and check some of it out — short stories or poems, or this book.

I am trying to keep this as free from spoilers as I can.

The back cover copy:

Grisly murders shake the small city of Aruldusk. Both the Church and the Crown send in agents to investigate. But when the body count continues to rise, these rival factions will have to learn to work together to track down the killers — even if it means hunting a killer in the highest reaches of power.

Legacy of Wolves was the third book released in the Inquisitives series, set in the Eberron campaign setting. The title makes it reasonably clear even before reading any of the book that something related to wolves is involved with the murders, and that impression is borne out in the prologue. Indeed, thinking that a werewolf is responsible by that point isn’t that far a stretch.

The story is well plotted, and the characters are clear. The setting is easier to follow if you have some familiarity with Eberron, but if you’re not too worried about specifics like tracking the dates, there’s enough detail in the book itself to keep you oriented.

At heart, this book is a mystery, and my one disappointment with the book was with one of the clues to the murderer’s identity. It felt so obvious to me that I hoped all the way through the book that it was instead a red herring, and in fact one of the characters close to the person indicated would turn out to be guilty. Alas, I was disappointed. However, from a story point of view the clue had to be present; if it had been withheld, readers would have felt justifiably angry at the author for hiding the information. Marsheila chose the right path, I think, and it’s hard to see how it could have been handled otherwise.

When this book came out, I had read every book set in Eberron that had been published so far (including Keith Baker’s, and he’s the one who created the setting). This is my favorite. I highly recommend Legacy of Wolves.

And look for her second book set in Eberron, to be released in 2011!

happiness is a choice

Last week, I watched a TED talk by Dan Gilbert on why we’re happy. He talked about natural happiness versus synthetic happiness — how our brains decide that we’re happy with what we’ve got — and more, how we’re happier with irreversible choices.

They did an experiment with college students, letting them take photographs, teaching them how to use the dark room, and making prints of their two best pictures. After all of this, the students were told that they only got to keep one. The students who didn’t get the chance to change their minds were more satisfied with their choice.

This intrigues me because I always have more story ideas than I have time to write, and when I decide which one to work on, there has almost always been a tacit acknowledgment that I can change my mind if it doesn’t work out. According to Gilbert’s study, that’s the wrong approach.

According to his work, the best approach if I am to remain satisfied is to pick a project, work on it to completion, and then choose again. I don’t think that necessarily means I can’t slip small projects in, as long as I continue work on the first choice, but rather if I’m trying to decide between a fantasy novel, two science-fiction novels, and a cozy mystery as my next major project, I don’t get halfway through (or one-third — 30,000 words seems to be a big hurdle) and say, “I need to think this through. I’m going back to this other idea I set aside.” More importantly, I don’t second-guess myself, saying maybe I should have chosen X, Y, or Z instead. I choose, I work, I’m happy.

That’s the theory. We’ll have to see how it goes in practice. The current project is getting the urban fantasy edited and out the door, and everything but paying work and family time is taking the backseat to that. So maybe I’m on the right track.

What about you? What makes you happy? Or have you watched a different TED talk that influenced the way you think about your life?

Screwflies

I’m going to try to make Thursday a review day here on my blog. Not necessarily a formal review, just a “here’s something I read (or watched) and what I thought about it.” I will not be duplicating reviews that I’m putting up on Goodreads, or that I’ve written about elsewhere.

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Last night, my husband was streaming a movie on Netflix, and I asked what he was watching. (I’d been putting the kids to bed, so I missed the beginning.) “It’s supposed to be a horror movie — The Screwfly Solution.” Me: “Like the Octavia Butler story?”

Yes, it was a reasonably faithful filming of Ms. Butler’s story. I hadn’t thought of it as horror, although clearly there was a threat to humanity and a lack of hope — both hallmarks of horror. I saw it as science-fiction, partly because that’s what I associate her work with, partly because there is a problem, and they’re trying to use science to create a solution. I love how fluid genre labels are — “It’s what I point to when I say this” indeed.

I found the story, when I read it, thought-provoking and enjoyable, despite a down-beat ending. When we watched the movie last night (which is short, by the way — only about an hour), I decided that it works better in the written form because you get the benefit of an internal view, thoughts and feelings. When we reached the end, my husband said, “That’s it?” In the story, there was no question that that was the end, or that the source was clear. In the movie, I don’t think it was as clear-cut.

I think I’m going to have to find the story again, so he can read it and see if he thinks the written form does a better job of resolution.

Have you seen films made from short stories? How do you think they worked?