Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Darling readers, I have a fun giveaway post coming tomorrow, but tonight I'm going to cheat a little. I realized I don't have enough content to try and do two seperate blogs (not until I finish school or quit my job, at least!), but you all seem pretty receptive to me writing about other things besides, well, writing.

So today I hoped to do some boundary-pushing (for me) with a recipe post.  I love paellas, but MJ is allergic to seafood.  It turns out you can make a tasty paella without seafood, blasphemous and Americanized though it might be. Here's mine - I started off with a recipe from one of my go-to cookbooks, Perfect Chicken (which pretty much describes me in the kitchen). But it rapidly evolved (devolved?) based off the ingredients I had on hand, since I made this on a whim out of things found in freezer, fridge and pantry:
Chicken and Chorizo Paella
3 garlic cloves
1/2 onion, diced as finely as you really care to after a long day at work
2 chicken breasts, chopped to 1/2 inch cubes
1 pork chop, chopped as above
5 oz chorizo (half a sausage), in slices, halved
12 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 quart sliced mushrooms
1 1/2 c. peas (I thawed some frozen peas)
2 c. rice
4 c. chicken broth
saffon threads
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes (you might use a diced pepper and no pepper flakes, I didn't have any or that would have been my preference)

Soak a few saffron threads in a few teaspoons hot water (if you prefer, you can use a package of saffron flavored yellow rice in substitution for the saffron and rice - saffron is expensive!).  Brown the mushrooms in a little butter and extra virgin olive oil and set aside.  Meanwhile, salt and pepper the chicken breast and pork. To the same pan, add a little more butter and olive oil and add garlic, onion, chorizo, pork and chicken; cook over medium-high heat until chicken and pork are cooked through.

Add the mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, and let the tomatoes sweat a little. Season with a generous pinch or two of cayenne, paprika, and parsley, and a light dusting of red pepper flakes (specific, I know, but that's how I cook  - just like I write, without much direction :p).  Add the saffron, and let it all cook for a minute. Then add the rice, mixing well with the spices and liquid, and allow to cook for another minute.  Add the chicken brother, bring to a boil, and then set on simmer until the rice has absorbed the liquid.  I like my rice to still have a bit of toothiness, but that's up to you - it took about 20 minutes of simmering for me to be satisfied.

The result is a spicy, flavorful, one-pot meal with protein, starch and veggies - and except for the prep, not much work! (Isn't that always the case)

MJ and I had chocolate cupcakes with brown sugar frosting for dessert. The cupcakes were leftover from the Betty Crocker gluten-free cupcake mix  I made for my mom, who has Celiac's - I was surprised by how tasty these were, by any cupcake standard and not just by a dietary-restriction standard.  I whipped up this delicious brown sugar chocolate frosting to go with, very creamy and with a rich flavor.
Brown Sugar Chocolate Frosting:
1 c. heavy whipping cream
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 tbsp. cocoa powder (Any cocoa powder, but I loved Ghiradelli Sweet Ground Chocolate & Cocoa in this - I also want to try it with my usual dark chocolate cocoa powder)

If you have a mixer, it takes little to no active time or energy to make frosting, and yet it impresses people so much (which, besides the nom-nom-nominess of it all, is one of the things I like about baking for friends and family). This recipe is no exception:

If you have a stand mixer,  beat heavy cream on high; add in brown sugar, vanilla and cocoa powder. Beat until the frosting looks like frosting - creamy but stable.

One of the nice things about this recipe is the frosting stows nicely in the fridge and comes out still spreadable, which is great if like me, you'd rather keep the cupcakes in an airtight container and the frosting in the fridge until it's time for them to unite. :)

Oh, and I think we can safely add to the list of things that are Not My Day Job? Food photography.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Warning: Spoilers for Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instuments series may follow, though according to my husband, it's not a spoiler because anything could still happen!

City of Glass (Mortal Instruments)So, despite my best intentions to dive into some genre literature instead of more YA, I accidentally read City of Bone by Cassandra Clare while on a business trip. Which led to me selecting City of Ashes for our camping trip last weekend, and encouraging M.J. to read City of Bones (which he wasn't excited about, just like our camping trip, and we all now how that turned out - he's now reading the second book).

Today in  Target was my first chance to get the third and final book in the trilogy, City of Glass. Now, if you didn't know, the books revolve around a girl, Clary, who meets a boy named Jace who is a Shadowhunter - a demon hunter - and discovers that she's also a Shadowhunter.  Because she's related to Jace. Who she is now in love with.

Yeah, Luke and Leia style. Only Jace and Clary have a lot more chemistry. The books have a great plot, but it's the whole frustrated-love-because-holy-crap-incest that has me rushing to find out how the story ends.

So M.J. takes the book off the shelf at Target today, flips it open to the end, and reads one random sentence aloud, without reading it to himself first.

"Valentine lied - Jace and Clary were never brother and sister."

I sputtered for a minute, shocked.

"Oh. I can't believe I just read that. Oops. Well, it's an isolated sentence; it's not necessarily true - there's no knowing how the story ends. I didn't just ruin the end of the trilogy for you. Really."

Yeah. And the man still thinks I should bake him cookies this week, can you believe that?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Man, the small tsunami that is my life in a new semester started and I just vanished under the blogging waves, huh?

(There's a reason I don't use metaphor much in my writing, by the way).

Well, a part of my recent disappearance was school, writing class, and my ongoing attempts in the gym to redevelop some type of muscular definition (Result cloudy, try again after diet, says the Magic 8-Ball of my personal trainer), but the other part was my unplugged weekend.  For the part few weeks I've been turning to M.J. enthusiastically, preferably in the early morning as we're making the sleepy uncaffeinated commute to work, and saying, "We're going CAMPING!"

To which M.J. said, "Ugh. Yeah. Camping." Which is why I have to be so enthusiastic, you see, for the two of us. And also because it irritates him, and marriage is finding that one special person to antagonize for the rest of your life.

And then it was Friday, and "We're going camping TODAY!"


"And it will be FUN!"


Friday was a long day full of stupid people, and that's all I'm going to say about that.  By the time we got the car packed and got underway, it was after dark and I was doing Lamaze-type breathing techniques to prevent myself from short circuiting. It was really an ideal weekend to leave humanity behind. But not so far behind that there wasn't a discount department store if we forgot something, not that we'd ever be so disorganized...

We got there and set up our tent in the dark, which was quite the comedy of errors, since it's a brand-new tent and we were trying to read directions by the headlights. Also, the people at the next campsite over had their lawn chairs set up facing in our direction, and they just stared at us the entire time as we asked those deep questions of life like, "Wait, so where do these little poles go?"  Their staring was creepy.  The fact that they were still staring at our tent did not prevent us from setting it a-swaying. I had to do something to improve MJ's attitude about camping.

The next day we stepped out into the FREEZING COLD AIR Holy Crap Nature and were eager to get breakfast going. Except that our little hibachi grill was a sad grill.  It did not have a propane regulator. So here's the first photo from our camping trip:

 So, we bought supplies because we weren't going to have much of a camping experience without fire, and ate trail mix until we finally managed to get back to the campsite and start a fire.

Even with the generous use of lighter fluid, that put breakfast around 11am...

But there was BACON! And pancakes cooked in BACON GREASE! And it was seriously the most tasty meal I've eaten in ages.

And in case you were wondering based off my photo, no, combs and cosmetics are considered to be not in the spirit of camping.

We played mini-golf, played cards, poked at the fire more, grilled various meats, toasted an entire bag of marshmallows, stared at the flames, drank a lot of rum and Coke (me) and beers (him), asked each other deep questions... OK, that was me.  I waited until M.J. tried to wrap his mouth around a burning marshmallow and then asked, "So, would you consider yourself a cultural relativist?" Somehow it was all terribly relaxing.

Eventually we discovered that the campsite actually has Wi-Fi. But you know what?

I was happier unplugged.  Just for a little while.

And on Sunday when we drove home, M.J. asked, "So when are we going camping again?"

You know, being right might be even sweeter than pancakes cooked in bacon grease paired with a rum and Coke for breakfast!

*Oh, and the people with the creepy staring turned out in daylight to be a family of Mennonites. Not sure if that makes me feel better, or worse...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Every story starts with a first line. For me, that line is crucial - I fumble around with my storytelling until I have the perfect, reel-you-in first line. At least, a first line that reels ME in and keeps me writing. Whether the rest of my tale can live up to that first sentence or not, for me it has to be there to propel the plot forward.

I've written bits and pieces of BODIE'S MEN, my novel about a female Marine lieutenant struggling with a love triangle, taking care of her platoon after coming home from Iraq, and a difficult relationship with her disappointed parents. But it wasn't until today that I came up with that first line, while sweating in spin class and trying to think of something besides my burning thighs, pounding techno and the instructor yelling "And SPRINT! SPRINT! IT SHOULD HURT!"

Why yes, yes it should.

Are you ready?

Despite all the drunken promises we made to always be there for each other, it was days before I found out Josh lost his legs.

I guess I'm ready to write.

What do you need to start a story? A first line, a vision of the ending? 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes... is resting. Shh.

While I take a break before tackling revisions, I want to write more short stories and poetry. Does anyone else find it hard to resume the short forms after working on a novel for a while? I have tons of novel ideas right now, NO short story concepts.  Ghaa.

But I sent out what I have already polished, formatted and ready to go. Three stories, three poems, and a non-fiction query are out to various 'zines.

Hopefully my writing course beginning next week will help me get some inspiration up in here while I try to forget about The Goddess of Vengeance.  What do you guys find sparks inspiration?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Happy Labor Day, all! I'm spending today organizing closets, shopping, doing laundry and getting ready for the frenetic fall months ahead  (Grad school starts again tomorrow! I'm taking classes and working part-time as a TA! Writing classes start the 15th! NaNoWriMo is coming in November! And I still have that pesky full-time day job!). What are you doing this Labor Day?

Some of us were trying to write a novel this summer (here's the old post about it), with a goal of finishing before Labor Day. Mine was The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes. Blessedly finished a few days ago - I was thinking I might not make it for my own challenge! 

So how did the summer writing go for everyone else?  If you weren't participating in the challenge, did you still have a good writing summer? 

And who's doing NaNoWriMo? I'm already looking forward to the fall (and also nervous about my crazy schedule, but hey...).

Saturday, September 4, 2010

I'm coming up towards the end of my 100 Books in 2010 challenge, since I've read 88 books so far this year, so I've started to think about what gaps I have in my reading for the year. As a writer, I want to try and be well-rounded and read outside of favorite genres.

So here's what I've read so far  (view the full list of titles here)
Middle grade: 4
Young adult: 35
Historical fiction: 2
Romance: 0
Suspense/thriller/mystery: 5
Sci-fi/fantasy: 1
Fiction: 27
Non-fiction: 7

I've definitely skewed towards Young Adult and non-genre Fiction. Honestly, the wealth of genres within what we term YA (from contemporary romance to science fiction to fantasy to mystery) probably kept me from realizing earlier that my reading was so lopsided!

I have a few books I'm still finishing (both non-fiction, Richard Wright's Black Boy and Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran).  But I need to start looking for some new novels - and I'm thinking genre fiction deserves a turn.

Any fantasy, sci-fi, romance or suspense/mystery recs for me? And has anyone else taken a look at what they've read this year and noticed any trends?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I typed the last words to (the first draft of) The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes today.

It was: "Then they might have kissed, but the waitress brought their pancakes."

And then the birds sang. And I bought myself a frozen yogurt.

On to revisions, beta readers, and the next project...!