Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Hundred Packets of Seed while a Real Writer Muses (annuals, flowers, wriiting, James Fenton, 750words.com)

With thanks to Vonetta Young https://brevity.wordpress.com/2018/03/21/you-are-not-a-real-writer/
A real writer sits at a clean, tidy desk on a green ball or a standup affair to produce a submittable essay or story.
A real writer has requests pouring in from publishers, agents, editors.
A real writer knows who her readers are.
A real writer easily moves from Executive to Peon, structuring and generating.
A real writer writes more than an hour a day.
A real writer doesn’t go out to lunch unless she’s pitching a story.
A real writer has a resume of publications, not just one online travel piece.
A real writer understands chronology and knows the difference between the situation and the story.
A real writer has multi-dimensional characters even in her memoir.
A real writer reads for craft and understands the difference.
A real writer supports her fellows by attending readings and signings.
A real writer has a notebook with her at all times to jot down thoughts, ideas.
A real writer keeps a pen and tablet by the bed for nocturnal enlightenment.
A real writer uses a fountain pen.
A real writer revises online but generates with a pen.
A real writer has a MAC.
A real writer is not afraid to email her editor for help.
A real writer doesn’t take any more craft classes which are just an excuse.
A real writer does go to workshops but more often she goes to retreats for solitary work.
A real writer puts her social media on hold while working.
A real writer has an elevator pitch for her project.
A real writer of memoir has read the key memoirs, the Tobias Wolff, Mary Karr, Nabokov and can rattle off their techniques.
A real writer has a neat office in which to work and an unshaded window from which to gaze, vacantly.
A real writer has a log of production and submissions just like Priscilla Long recommended.
A real writer interviews subjects of stories.
A real writer has a book in her, either online, on paper, or in her mind.
A real writer does not jump up to answer the buzzer.
A real writer is dedicated to her craft.
A real writer would rather write than watch movies or read or go out drinking.
A real writer feels the call.
A real writer has a filing system, on word docs and on her desk and in her cabinets.
A real writer focuses.
A real writer does not noodle around like this.

There is an orange aeroled daffodil against a royal blue vase in a grey-tiled bathroom. How can the scent of almond cake extend all the way to my study while I work vigorously on a shiny new laptop without touching it? Without laying hands upon its pristine keys because I have a little plastic keyboard which is at an ergonomic height. The new laptop sits where the old Dell did. It perches atop two gardening encyclopedias and those rest on a wooden box. Is there anything in the wooden box. I have no idea. Packets of seed. Articles on pruning. Old photos. Perhaps a copy of James Fenton’s little book, One Hundred Packets of Seed, a gem in itself. I pick up that book - but where is it? - and I am compelled to plant at least thirty or forty packets of seeds. Fenton had a little more room on his British acreage than we do here on our urban farm. Some of my past enthusiasms still appear, the bluebells (heaven help me), the bachelor buttons, but there are many I would like to see again: cosmos, that intense lime green plant which looks so good in a vase of flowers, starts with an E?, Stock and morning glory and dianthus and foxglove, lupines, sea holly, yarrow, that drippy fuzzy red plant, poppies, pom poms. As The Guardian reviewer, Tim Adams, writes:

"What Fenton delights in mostly are intensity of colour and vibrancy of life. He rejects prissy notions of subtle palettes: the extension of the good taste greys and blues and whites of the Elle Decoration living-room beyond the French windows."

So, you see, Dear Reader whoever you are, I have gone from bemoaning the state of my writing to a tiny treatise on what I want to be doing, at least metaphorically, planting seeds for a colorful and  vibrant garden. A garden of words. And so it happens right here on 750 words. And the day drifts along.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I'm told some people like to read about day-to-day lives...

Arising around nine in the morning as befits a retiree, I went out to the kitchen to foam the milk for my first latte. I drink two each day, very milky, and then poured TJ's O's into a bowl with blueberries, banana and walnuts topped off with more milk. I figure I'm ingesting calcium without having to take pills. I hate to take pills and resist as long as possible. I am 72 years old and various parts of me have begun to break down but I'm still enthused about mornings. I read some poetry by Robert Wilbur or Fannie Howe, or a bit of the paper - two papers, the Seattle Times and the New York Times, come to the backyard every morning. Leo the Labradoodle has the responsibility of fetching them in any weather for which he is rewarded with a treat as well as three hidden treats. That gives him something to do until his breakfast of cottage cheese over kibble is served.

If I don't look at my phone, giant sync hole that it is, I can be at my laptop in my study by 10:30 pecking out 750 words a day on www.750words.com. Love the pace.

If it is MWF, then I hurry and put on a swimsuit to leave the house by 9:30 and head over to Green Lake's Evans Pool where I do water aerobics and chat with friends. Maybe we'll have coffee afterwards with a long standing group, chatting about books, theatre, art and tv shows. For years, there was a ban on discussing grandchildren but it's pretty much out of date as few of the surviving members have grandkids except Helen. And her grandkids are interesting and talented teens with various stages of sexual dysphoria giving us all sorts of cultural education on trans folk and use of pronouns. The group is interesting and living proof that growing old does not mean slowing down or dumbing down in any way. I can barely keep with the 90-year-old and her gallery hopping and volunteer work for the city's aging programs. I come from a line of long-living Swedes on my mom's side so I like to see how people age.

My grandpa was born in 1872 in Varmland, Sweden. The other day I reached for a tiny "Little Oxford Dictionary" that I keep beside my bed to look up a word and found pasted into the back of the book a yellowed clipping: "Victor Magnuson had a pleasant 95th birthday the first day of spring. Two daughter, Melva Reed and June Shepherd, and families, came to pay himi honor." So that tells me where I was March 21 of 1977, just shortly before I met Michael in April and a few week after my dad's death, assuming I joined the women . Funny parsing all of this info together. I think Grandpa was out chopping down trees well into his nineties. He was a vigorous soul and had his oldest daughter, Edee, to help. She never married and took care of her folks most of her life. I have her memories written in one of those Quillmark "My Memories" book and I am glad to filled it out. Much easier to track down Forsa, Halsingland and Varmaland in Sweden from whence they hailed. I also explored taking a transatlantic cruise on the QE2 or the like from Holland America. It seems a doable option to flying for our next trip to Europe.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Cookbooks again

Up at a reasonable hour to make a latte, then climbed back under the covers to read A Tuner of Silences, the book club novel about a kid in Mozambique hiding from war with his family of men. Made it to 106 and it's not a long book. It moves along but doesn't enchant so far.

I got up and made pastry for pie from Dorie Greenspan's Baking book, the one with 2.5 sticks of butter and 1/3 cup veg shortening for which I substitute leaf lard. Then I got out of the flannel nightie, took a shower, and dressed before caramelizing apples and adding some Dulce de Leche to them being short on heavy cream (1/2 cup needed). The recipe for the tart from The Lut├ęce Cookbook has you bake the crust on a cookie sheet by itself, cool and then add the caramelized apples which have been coated stovetop and then baked for ten minutes in the oven. All this is arranged atop the crust which hopefully still will be crisp by dinnertime.

Scanning about in Eat Your Books - I do love that website which I joined when it was Beta and free - I think they charge thirty bucks a year, perhaps more for an ad-free Premium membership, but it is well worth it. Every time I seek a recipe usually from one of my cookbooks (around 600 of which I have listed in my account and most are indexed, or from a popular blog (for instance, they have over 500 recipes from David Lebovitz website and over a thousand of Mark Bittman's recipes from his Minimalist days nad 80-some other blogs). Magazine recipes are indexed, too, including December 2017 issues. By indexed I mean the recipes are listed with page numbers for mags. For all, they include a shopping list of non-pantry items needed to make the dish. They do not include the actual recipe with specific amounts because they would run into conflict with copyrights. But you can use the phone app while at Safeway and see that you need scallops, saffron spinach and heavy cream for Bay Scallops with Spinach and Saffron Cream from James Peterson's cookbook and take it all home to start cooking. Or if you subscribe to a CSA, just put in "Jerusalem artichokes" to find 140 recipes in my owned books. And notes from other cooks, even photos. They have a running blog  plus notices of new cookbooks, errata from publishers on errors  (Sweet from Ottolenghi is rife with them). So Twenty-First Century all this assist for the cook, don't you think?  If only the site cooked.

Then I drifted back in time to my first honeymoon in the mid-Sixties when we were staying at a college friend's parents' home in Palo Alto, CA. They had offered lodging on our drive south to LA and we were sleeping in the den or rec room. I can't imagine now why I was reading at any time that night, but I remember finding stacks of Gourmet Magazine on the bookshelves and I was besotted by an affection that would far outlive that marriage. I pored through back issues and by the time we got home, I too was a subscriber. I continued my subscription for the next forty-five years with only a few hiatuses. Of course, being me, I tried to save all of the issues but more rational minds prevailed in our peripatetic life and now I have only three volumes of past years: 1985 and 1987, and a garage sale treasure, 1947. I rarely look at them but get the same reassurance and cooking enthusiasm when I do drag them out recalling the time I was seduced into making rose petal jam or beef wellington.

And I started thinking about John Thorne of Simple Cooking and found a review of his work here from Sandy Ebner: https://changesevenmag.com/2016/11/15/why-food-writing-matters-a-profile-of-john-thorne-by-sandy-ebner/

Much like Bourdain, part of Thorne’s appeal is that he seems so much like the rest of us. His recipes are for food that people really eat, not what they might want to eat but probably never will. Ironically, he doesn’t think of himself as a great cook, but neither does he consider that a shortcoming. In one of his best-known quotes he says, “You don’t have to be a good cook, or even aspire to be one, to be an interested cook.” That he’s interested is obvious.

I too am an "interested cook" even with the aspiring beef wellington and became interested in Thorne's passions for supermarket finds like Campbell's Pepper Pot Soup from Mexico, or his unique ideas on midnight snacks, or toast, or pine nuts. His voice convinces and gives it to his readers straight. He is also significantly to blame for my cookbook addiction because of his tantalizing reviews and sales of his own culinary book excesses. It's been two years since I received Newsletter SC95. I am ready to hear from him and Matt Thorne, his co-conspirator and a little worried about their well being.

We lost a great antiquarian book dealer this week, Louis Collins, who died of a heart attack at 77. I worked for him briefly before I moved on to the Library Answer Line. He was a genius bookseller with the right combination of memory and anecdote as he plied extensive travels in search of elusive volumes, the most memorable of which I saw was the rare edition David Roberts bound volume of Middle East sketches which I posted to a buyer in the UK.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Things I'm enjoying of late: Stranger, the Korean mystery on Netflix. The Crown part 2, all episodes but last night we got into Margaret & Snowden episode - hot stuff for royals.

Jane Kramer's book, The Reporter's Kitchen, which reminded me of my passion for cookbooks which had backed off of late. Oh, I buy the hot titles from Naomi Duguid and Ottolenghi and Vivian Howard of PBS' A Chef's Life who has a new cookbook, Deep Run Roots. I don't buy Ina Garten who is too easy, too shortcutty, and too TV-oriented. The same with most other television cooks. I like a scholarly bent to my cookbooks, a cook who has researched and tested thoroughly like Claudia Roden or the late Paula Wolfert and of course Diana Kennedy.  I do buy every Diana Kennedy (DK we call her) although I'm overdue on her new edition of Nothing Fancy which is as close to a memoir as she's published and includes British and other recipes from her youth and her travels. I have a special place in my heart for that book given to me by a friend lost to AIDS in the Eighties. The best DK to my mind is Essential Cuisines of Mexico but they are all different and each has its merits. The Oaxaca book is unique, thorough and glorious but has a lousy index. The Tortilla Book was the first I ever purchased and still my go-to- for simple enchilada and taco meals.

Kramer calls this research the Quest and it is so true. I've searched and found so many rarities, thanks to Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in Manhattan. For years, it was my goal to acquire - what is this acquiring gene of mine? - every cookbook cited in Richard Olney's Good Cook Series from Time Life. He supposedly selected the best recipes from hundreds of cookbooks to be anthologized by category in the series. Now, I use those books so infrequently although they still are reliable resources. In fact, I use most of my cookbooks a lot less often since I took up writing. In the morning, I think of making some elaborate recipe and by afternoon, I've lost my will or Michael has talked me out of it. Let's just grill that meat, lot less work, and I make a salad to go with grilled protein. Tonight however we're going for the Shrimp in Hot Lime Leaf Broth from Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia.

I love the idea of planning a week of meals out of my cookbooks and the planning would be a lark. But the execution is my bugaboo. I haven't even kept up the diary of past dinners served to guests although the few listed show delightful ambition.

Eat Your Books www.eatyourbooks.com  is helpful in planning, notes and hints from other cooks regarding individual recipes indexed on the site. They only list ingredients, not amounts which would infringe on copyright issues, but I can access ingredients on my phone so I know what to pick up to prepare that night's recipe. I subscribed years ago when it was free or almost free. And many of my hundreds of cookbooks are indexed. I've got 462 cookbooks on the site and that yields 98,902 recipes including a few from eight blogs and a couple dozen magazines. I do not lack resources but when have I ever? Working as a reference librarian for twenty years made that a priority.

I have no ebooks on cooking. What's the fun in that?  Leafing through an ebook.

Now if I could just reduce the inventory a bit, I am sure I would not feel the pain. But which to unload? The French Laundry Cookbook, complicated, time-consuming and huge? Larousse which I've rarely opened or one of the old bound Gourmet books on Viennese cooking? Novelty cookbooks which don't appeal, they seem too desperate: Zucchini Cookbook, Tomato Cookbook, Jello Cookbook?

Few of them are worth anything. I have sold a few online, The Plantation Cookbook the other day and also the YMCA Cookbook of Malaya. I have a delightful oeuvre of old Mexican cookbooks and small tomes which speak to their times, i.e. Butterick Book of Recipes and Household Tips ("Fasten jewelry to clothing with a strong safety pin while traveling" or "A toothbrush used for dampening seams for pressing saves time" or, best yet, wash black lace in a solution of one tablespoon of ammonia in one cup of coffee." Or substitute pickled nasturtium seeds for capers. Cheese cutlets for the vegetarian?

Lady Jekyll in her Kitchen Essays offers a Shooting Party Luncheon (cold game pie, baked beans and burnt house cake), a Christmas Shopping Luncheon might include Oysters au Gratin or Malay Curry of Prawns, and  reveals a secret family recipe for a Bombe Caramel.
But a few pages later, she  talks of fat as "unbecoming, fatiguing, and impairs efficiency (while) oftener the result of defective metabolism than of undue or indiscriminate appetite." She does think however that "weight can be reduced by a diminished consumption of dairy produce, sugar and starchy foods" and includes a recipe for Lemon Tea (lemon and boiling water served in "a delicate china cup").

Fifty-two Sunday Dinners is a catalog of excess always beginning with a consomme, a bouillon or chowder, meat with gravy and vegetables, stewed fruit and dessert. This is exactly what the women consumed each day in the diaries I found from the Sixties .

Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery from the Forties (reprinted in 1970) offered "mouth-watering recipes which could be whipped up with one hand, while the other slaked the cook's thirst with a cold glass of the best brew." She originated in the Suds series of novels from Mary Lasswell. "It's a poor cook who won't lick her own fingers, so taste, taste, taste!" The recipes are inviting and I'm tempted to throw a One-Armed Cookery Dinner Party with plenty of cold beer.

I'll probably never make Oxtail Jelly or a Chicken Pie out of Magda Joicey's Cook-book Note-book from l946 ("if you're not sure of the tenderness of your bird, it is a good plan to steam it for a short time before joining."), I might try a Milanese Souffle of oranges or lemons or a Bakewell Pudding.

But there is always satisfaction in looking at history through cookbooks, or envisioning with mouth watering a table laden with sauces and soups and desserts which we rarely offer. I'm now about to open a can of sardines for lunch - all that anchovy paste in the old cookbooks nudged me to the can. And start planning this one-armed dinner party circa 1946.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Manhattan BeachManhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Manhattan Beach    It's been a good reading year for me. Stayed up til all hours finishing this absorbing chunk of a novel about a young woman of Irish descent who longs to be a diver for the Navy during WWII when women had a chance at male jobs, and her interactions with her disabled sister, her coworkers on base and other New York denizens of the era. Beautiful writing and characters along with a suspenseful alternate wartime story of her missing father and the well-drawn criminal Dexter and his film noir cronies. I can envision a movie. Historical fiction with the satisfying drama of an earlier age.


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Monday, October 30, 2017

The Lucky OnesThe Lucky Ones by Julianne Pachico
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Lucky Ones is a collection of linked short stories about the fates of a group of wealthy Colombian schoolkids and their parents, servants and teachers affected by the country's war between 1993 and 2013. Each story's narrator is different and sometimes different points of view are portrayed, one chapter as wild as a bunny rabbit hooked on cocaine, another of a coke-sniffing hipster in the US and yet another of a birthday party for children on the Pablo Escobar-like estate with caged tigers of one of the parents; most are third person, but some are second or first person. Each story manages to be compelling and cover the horrors of war, disappearances, drug addiction and injury over the range of time periods and places near Cali where the author grew up.
The writing is exceptional and the book is compelling and well written. I couldn't put it down even in the face of Netflix latest streaming offer.


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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your LifeDear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Today I awoke eager to read more of the Yiyun Li memoir, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life. Pondering her life and rich literary history, her teachers, her mentors, the books she wrote and read that mattered to her, she also circles back to her two suicide attempts and experience with depression. She talks of memory and time. as well as transitions ordered by a new language. Born in China which she left to go to college in Iowa, she writes in English. This is another moving memoir expanding my to-read list by a dozen or more titles. During the time she is unwell, she focuses on journals and letters: Tolstoy, Turgenev, Stefan Zweig, William Trevor, Katherine Mansfield. A cover blurb from Mary Gaitskill says it perfectly: "A must read for anyone trying to stay sane in a world that might be perceived as insane."


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