Revising, returning

Before I started teaching, back in 2010, my friend Joey told me he thought the experience would be good for me. Not just as part of my new career path, but for my work as a writer.

  You’ll learn new things and work on craft, he said. Teaching will help you develop your own work,too.

I knew he was probably right, but I couldn’t imagine that my students themselves would have a lot to teach me about the writing process. I remembered what it was like to be a student and whip out a paper at the last minute. My own process had changed,  a bit —I didn’t procrastinate as much then as I had in my  days as a student — but it was nowhere near as refined as I knew it needed to be. And let’s be honest. My process is still crap.  I put off my writing, tackling all manner of other things before turning to my desk or notebook or laptop; I still hate revising and editing; I don’t like to slow down enough to really give even my rough drafts the development they need. I guess all that leads to why I love blogging — it is all a brain dump, no editing needed, for me.  And yet… even in that thought it’s clear my process is crap. I don’t write here, regularly anymore. I write here almost never. And now that I’m not working in a corporate communications job, let’s face it. My writing is pretty much reduced to the notes I leave on student papers.

There’s merit to those notes, of course.  It’s been nearly seven years since Joey pointed out that teaching would enlighten me, and he was, of course, correct.  And when I write out suggestions, praise, admonishment for plagiarism, I’m still learning new things.  And as I near that seven-year mark, I am pretty stoked that the teaching work I took up back then has turned into a lifestyle and career.

And so. I am back at the keyboard. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of meeting the author who inspired my work as a grad student and who inspired the focus of this blog: Scott Russell Sanders.

scott

I could say there is something amazing about meeting your literary heroes, and it would be an accurate statement. When I met Tom Wolfe in 2004 I cheesed out HARD, especially when he asked questions about my writing, my work (I was an intern at NBC news in Washington, D.C.) and my writing goals. But I met the writer Barbara Hurd in 2011, and she let me down when she told me anyone’s idea is fair game for a writer.  If I had a good one while in workshop with her, she’d capitalize on it.

So as I waited to talk face-to-face with Sanders after his craft lecture and his reading, I wasn’t sure that I’d have any great literary epiphany. I had been wanting one, sure. But I didn’t expect one.

And in the end, I didn’t have one.  I gave him some tomatoes from the farm and we talked about heirloom plants. I told him his work had inspired my during grad school, and we talked about the MFA program at Chatham University.  I had wanted to ask him about his writing process, how he works with his ideas, how an essay comes to him.

But I didn’t.  Because it doesn’t matter.

As I drove home, I was grateful to have met him. He didn’t say anything that inspired me to work on my writing again, but as I listened to his and other instructors’ thoughts on the writing process, and as I thought about why we write, I knew that I just had to do it. I just had to make time for writing in my life. And no matter how my students write or what they teach me or how they keep me *too busy to write* I need to just make it happen.  No one’s process matters but my own.

Advertisements

Banapple bread

I have the best of intentions with bananas, buying them as I cruise the fruits/veggies section at the grocery store,  thinking I’ll have a healthy, portable snack for work in the week to come. But I hardly ever get the whole bunch  taken care of (I buy like, 3 at a time) before they go all Mr. Burns on me. So I freeze the things, they pile up in the freezer like dead slugs, and I eventually decide to make banana bread or some other variation of banana food stuff.  Well, this week I had 2 apples going all soft and wrinkly too, so I decided to dice up the apples and dump ’em in with the naners.

Behold,  banapple bread. It tastes pretty much like regular banana bread, but there’s an added  moisture, and an added sweetness. I used my food processor to  dice up the apples real fine, but next time think I’d like to have a bit more mass to them.

I used my favorite banana bread recipe, from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, then just added my apples into the  wet mix that goes into the dry.  Since I made muffins instead of  a loaf, I only  baked the batter for about 35 minutes.

Banapple bread

2 C flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 t cinnamon
1/8 t nutmeg
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas
1 C sugar
1/2 C cooking oil

First, mix all your dry ingredients except for the sugar.  The above recipe is the BH&G one, but I always add some ground ginger to my mix, about a 1/4 or 1/8 t.  In another bowl, mix the wet ingredients and the sugar.  Since my bananas came from the freezer, they had thawed and  were very wet. If you use this method, make sure to drain some of the liquid from the bananas before mixing all the other ingredients in. In addition to the above, you’ll also add your diced apples– I had 2 on hand, so that’s what I used, but I think the other elements of the batter would be ok if you had another apple or two.

Once you’ve mixed the wet ingredients with the sugar, dump that into the dry ingredients’ bowl, and stir. Batter will by lumpy, but you don’t want any flour clumps, either.  After you’ve given it  a few good mixes, spoon your batter into muffin tins or a bread loaf. Bake about a half hour (give or take, depending on muffin size, altitude, etc.), and voila! Banapple bread. Slather with butter and consume heaven.

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: A review

After months of waiting, I saw that a review I wrote for PANK Magazine went up today. It was a much-needed reminder that “real” writing is important to me. As much as I hate to admit it, I guess I need little things like this to keep me inspired and moving along, post-graduation.

My Mother She Killed me My Father He Ate Me is a modern retelling of several classic fairy tales from around the world.  Check it here: http://www.pankmagazine.com/pankblog/reviews/my-mother-she-killed-me-my-father-he-ate-me-forty-new-fairy-tales-edited-by-kate-bernheimer-a-review-by-marcella-prokop/

Baco-chip cookies

This weekend is  BaconFest, a local fundraiser event hosted by our local roller derby team, and even though I’m not taking the bacon & maple cheesecake I’d hoped to experiment with (I didn’t experiment with anything of the sort), as I’d intended, I still have this bacon idea on the brain. And a slab ‘o meat in the fridge that needs cooked up too.

So, as experiments go, here’s the results of this one:

First, dredge 5 strips of raw bacon through gently heated brown sugar ( I zapped mine in the micro for about 20 seconds, til it was warm and sticky but not “wet.” Put your pig parts on a cookie sheet and pop into a 375 degree oven for about twenty minutes, or whatever it takes for the bacon to become crisp and carmelized. Let it cool, then snap it up into little bite-size pieces. It’s a good thing I used five strips as two of them burnt beyond that carcinogenic yumminess crispy bacon has, so I didn’t have quite as much as I wanted. Oh well.

Next I made a regular chocolate-chip cookie dough, thank you Better Homes and Gardens for your recipe.

Mix 1 1/2 sticks butter and 1/4 C. shortening. Add 1/2 C. sugar, 1 C. packed brown sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla together.

Add 3/4 tsp. baking soda and 1/2 tsp. salt.  Add 2 eggs and beat until combined. Mix in 2 1/2 C. flour, then add your chips (I used 1 C. chocolate and 1 C. white chocolate ) and then add dried cherries or cranberries (that’s not part of the BH&G recipe).  Add the bacon. If you want to add nuts, dump them in now.

Give ‘er a good mix, then spoon out onto your cookie sheet in little ball-shaped mounds.

Bake for about 8 minutes and let cool a bit on the sheet. By my estimate this recipe makes about 30  cookies.  The bacon flavor wasn’t as noticeable throughout in the cookie I sampled, but I think it would have been, had I not lost two pieces of bacon to the overzealous oven. When I did bite into that perfect  intersection of chocolate, white chocolate and bacon however, the combo was delightful.

Tofu-Oatmeal cookies

Back when my friend Kristen and I lived together I used to make these tofu cookies with dried cranberries and white chocolate  chips. That  was a good 5 years ago, and the other day Kristen, who is now 7 months preggers, called me and said “I’ve been having a real hankerin’ for those tofu cookies you used to make. ” We had made plans to hang out on Sunday, and we figured we’d spend the day baking something. When she called, we hadn’t decided on anything yet, but I knew we’d have to bust out  some of these   yummers.  They are the white cookie on the right.

Now, I don’t make your “standard” anything very well. I fuck up chocolate chip cookies every time I make them (I think I overstir the  ingredients), and I usually make omelette scrambles instead of straight up omelettes.  But I’ve never ruined a batch of these guys, and I think my Quiche always turns out lovely.  The point is, these cookies sound exotic, but really, they’re  pretty simple.

Kristen came over, we dished about the men in our lives (her husband, my boyfriend), our family members) and I handed her the recipe card. She’d been eating these cookies often enough that I figured it was time for her to make them.  Now you can too.

Mars”s Tofu-Oat mealcookies

2. 1/2 C plain oatmeal

2 C flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 block of silken tofu

1 stick butter  softened

1 C brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

12 oz (or whatever you have) white chocolate chips

a couple handfuls of dried cranberries

preheat oven to 375.

process oatmeal till crumbly, but not fine. Add to a small bowl, add flour, baking powder and soda. Set aside while you process the tofu until smooth.  In another larger bowl, beat the butter for 30 seconds, then add sugar. Beat in the tofu and vanilla next. Add as much of the dry mix as possible with  mixer, then stir in the remainder. Add your chips and fruit; nuts too (a handful), if you want.

Roll your dough into little balls, then flatten them between your hands. Bake 8-10 minutes on a cookie sheet. If you want cookies larger than a slightly large Oreo, make larger  dough balls, as these don’t expand much and are the perfect bite-size cookie.

Stay near for the next recipe, Chocolate-cherry crunch cookies (those dark lovelies to the left of the tofu snackers above).

Leaving Thailand

It has taken me two years, but earlier this week, I was finally able to leave Thailand. I found myself  able to think of the papaya,  the fresh seafood and the majesty of the country without feeling eagerness and longing for all that the country represented.  It was 4  a.m. on the first day of summer, and for the first time  that I can remember, I felt like Thailand was just as common a memory as any trip to Nebraska or Colombia. A grand adventure, but a distant one.

I remember the long bus trip– eight hours– from Ko Samui to Bangkok, and the long wait at the US Embassy and then the Thai consulate; I remember the long waits at the airport before I got a new passport and arrived home.  The time spent in between losing my passport, getting a new one and getting back to Chicago felt enormous  while I was caught in it, but I had no idea then that it would take me two years to separate myself from the beauty and disaster that was my past and would be my future if I were to spend it with  Kyle.

There  will probably always be moments in my life when I escape to my memories and find myself sweating, swearing and climbing uphill on our trek through the north country. Or rafting down a river. Or sleeping under the stars, Kyle under my arm.  That’s life, I think. We go back to the good times, even the bad because they are familiar. But the trick is to  keep moving forward.

For the longest time I couldn’t imaging giving up my thoughts of Thailand. Forget the shitty chicken balls that I almost died on after pulling a half-chewed feather from my mouth?  Or the opulence of the temples? Or the craziness of the Red Light District and the Thai mafia? 
No, I can’t forget these things. They mean something! I would think to myself. Now  I know that each of these things while beautiful and charming, each of these things were just stand-ins for what I really wanted. I wanted the beauty and charm and amazement of this life in my every day living. I wanted to have it all– our relationship included.

But that trip for all its amazement was not without self-inflicted disaster. I knew it then like I know it now, but today I finally know it with a stronger sense of conviction.  It’s not that I can’t handle the chaos and the bumps and the sense of baffled wonder (which is unlike grace-inspired wonder) that I was exposed to on that trip, because I can. I enjoy a certain amount of it. But I have learned to think more seriously about my future and what it is I am doing in this moment. And with that comes a sense of understanding.  Understanding that reminds me that  very little in life in in my control, but what I can control, such as my own actions,  is worth it. 

The last time I spent the night with Kyle he told me that he dreamt we were going to  “make babies,” but I added a bunch of stipulations,  specifically that he could no longer do drugs.  First, I thought, ahh, resistance to giving up drugs. That’s a problem now, so it would be a bigger one with a new lifestyle.  I don’t want to have to deal with that- I want my partner to make his own choices becuase he wants to.

Then I thought, oh the occasional joint would be fine, as long as it wasn’t around the children.  

 And then I thought aak! babies! At the heart of my anxiety at his dream, however, was that he would leave, be irresponsible, bind me to another potentially challenging decision.  Well, since I have the power to make a decision now that will prevent his dream from becoming my reality, I guess I’m acting on it.  I can deal with chaos and unpredictability fine on my own, but… not with a child.   And I shouldn’t have to deal with that kind of irresponsibility when I’m trying to move forward with my career and my goals.

So in the end, I  left Thailand tucked behind another whole shelf of memories. And  I’m not sure what you call visions of the future that you leave behind, but I’m working on letting go of these things too.  I left Thailand because as much as I can feel happy about that trip and how it ended now, that’s not the lifestyle I want for my future. Even without children.  And with or without Kyle.

Couscous, Crimini mushroom and Red Pepper burgers

I love making mistakes. Well, mistakes like the couscous mushroom and red pepper burgers I made last night. Yes, it was an accident, but damn if these falafel-like patties aren’t tasty.  Being someone who does eat meat, but also loves the nutrition of veggie burgers, I was planning on experimenting with couscous, mushroom and red pepper burgers when I messed up a batch of artichoke hummus.

marinated artichoke hearts

marinated artichoke hearts

My blender wasn’t cooperating with me, and the chickpeas were not pulping up as nicely as I wanted them to. So with chunks of chickpea staring me down, I combined the mash, the red peppers and mushrooms I already had cooked, and some couscous hanging out in my fridge. Yes, that’s right, I added leftover couscous to this stuff too.  I wanted to use all of these leftovers, and had it turned out terribly—or not at all—all of these foodstuffs would have gone in the trash. Which I hate.END OF AUGUST 016

I didn’t use any egg as a binding agent, so these patties were threatening to fall apart in the pan as I cooked them, but they did stay together to the very end. Eaten plainly as a patty these are quite tasty, throw them in a pita with some hummus or ranch dressing, and you’ve got yourself a hell of a dinner.

My ingredients are all eyeballed, but I think this is pretty close.

1 c. Crimini mushrooms, diced

1/3 red pepper, diced

Three large circles of onion (probably ¼ cup), diced

2-3 large cloves garlic

2 c. chickpeas, cooked and drained

1 c. cooked cousous

¼ C. marinated artichoke hearts

2 tbsp tahini

1 tbsp lemon juice

½ packet taco seasoning mix

1 tbsp flax powder

1/8-   ¼ tsp cumin powder

1 C. breadcrumbs

Oil for frying

1/8- ¼  tsp paprika

Process chickpeas, artichoke hearts, tahini, lemon juice, 1-2 cloves garlic, cumin and paprika until mostly smooth but not perfectly.

Set aside.

Saute onion, red pepper, mushroom and 1 clove garlic in olive oil until nicely browned but just a bit crisp. Add this to the chickpea mash, add the taco seasoning, flax and the couscous. Stir until combined.

Form patties about 3 inches in circumference, 1 in. or less in thickness. Roll these in breadcrumbs and fry in about an inch of hot oil. Cook about 2-5 minutes each side, depending on how well they’re staying apart (seems like a bit more heat helps them stay together).