March 4, 2020 • No Comments
This is camellia season–a fleeting glimpse of perfection before rain yellows the pristine blooms. I took some photos around the neighborhood and then by chance saw some old illustrations that echoed those beauties. I put them together here:
March 1, 2020 • No Comments
I have a long list of “I really should watch that someday” documentaries, especially ones about lifestyle and stuff.
Forks Over Knives
Last week I finally watched Fork Over Knives (2011, Virgil Films), which talks about the virtues of a whole-foods, plant-based diet. It’s a few years old but some of the scientific studies cited were new to me. The film spells out why chronic diseases can be reversed through lifestyle. Given my family’s incidence of cancer, this caught my attention. For example, casein, an animal protein, “switched on” cancerous growths in test animals when it formed more than 5% of their diet. When it dropped back down to 5%, the disease retreated.
I know that no study is perfect (for instance, I have strong feelings about animal testing) but it infuriates me that there isn’t more focus on this kind of evidence. There is an epidemic of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Something like one in three adults develop diabetes in North America. Diet will at the very least alleviate the symptoms in most victims. Why don’t we see the same action on this file as on, say, a virus that kills a mere few thousand world-wide? Because the virus doesn’t have a corporation to lobby on its behalf? I resist conspiracy theories, but one has to wonder.
Will I become vegan? I’ll definitely explore the diet and see how I respond. I’ve been mostly vegetarian for decades but never seriously considered dropping all animal-based foods. I know many people who have and their health is amazing. What’s important, I think, is to have a handful of reliable recipes in advance. That’s how I cut out meat without feeling deprived. I was already able to turn to familiar dishes. Click here for more on Forks Over Knives and its community.
Two other great documentaries I’ve watched recently while doing my ironing are:
Playing With Fire, which is all about the “Financial Independence, Retire Early” movement. This is inspirational and so common-sense, especially if one has a rebellious streak. It definitely made me rethink my savings plan!
What’s With Wheat I saw this one on Amazon Prime. The approach here isn’t “wheat is bad” so much as “what the heck have we done to this crop?” With the recent rise of gluten intolerance, it’s a good question. Some friends who have eaten bread while visiting Europe don’t notice the same side effects, which lends credence to the idea that it’s hybridization and agricultural practice, not so much wheat itself, that’s the problem. Interesting stuff.
As you might have guessed, I’m fascinated by food, lifestyles, and other health stuff. Especially food, because it’s the cornerstone of health, pleasure, and social interaction.
February 23, 2020 • No Comments
Weekend coffee was well earned this time. These were catch-up days after doing a hard sprint of editing. Lots of email, answering questions from graphic artists, paying bills, cooking, and scheduling the release of a new series. Plus, lightly plotting the next project, which is a bit like flirting with pen and paper. The characters and I are doing a dance, but it’s not too serious yet.
At this moment, my desk looks almost sane. I know it won’t last, but I’ll enjoy the clean surface for today.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the level of administrative detail involved in being a writer. I spent an entire afternoon filling out copyright info on four books, which isn’t hard but does take time. I’m caught up filing applications for now, but too many of those jobs on a long list can give me brain freeze. I’ve been picking them off one by one in a bid for sanity, but I have a long way to go before my halo is sparkling.
Actual writing is more fun. Feedback from my alpha readers is arriving in my inbox, and that means more work before the book goes to a developmental editor. That’s tomorrow’s problem–tonight I’m making a birthday dinner. And eating a doughnut with my weekend coffee treat, because one has to grab the small pleasures as well as the big goals. That’s toffee-pecan icing, BTW. Check out Empire Donuts.
December 31, 2019 • 2 Comments
Some authors are posting dazzling lists of publications, and I heartily salute their accomplishments. I thought I would have a bumper crop of books, too, when this year started. Somehow, though, things changed along the way and the year didn’t end the way I thought. 2019 was a dumpster fire for a lot of people and, while I count myself lucky, I didn’t entirely escape the smoke. 2020 will be better.
What did I actually get in front of readers this year?
- In January, did a re-release of an older book that rounded out my 2018 goals.
- Released two books in box sets, hit the USA Today bestseller list for both, and then put them in the vault for later.
- Published an essay in an academic work.
- Wrote a short story that’s now a lead magnet.
- Got my extended print distribution onto Ingram Spark.
- By the end of this week, I’ll have finished a draft of a new, full length, first-in series.
I also investigated a lot of marketing courses, played with various ad platforms, and listened to many podcasts. That’s all hard to quantify as achievement, but it will serve me well in future.
Where did that get me?
I think it’s safe to say all authors want enthusiastic fans and financial freedom. It’s not an impossible dream, but it’s not an easy road. It requires groundwork such as intelligent branding, scheduling, and development of infrastructure like engaged newsletter lists, reader funnels, and social media. There are a thousand choices to consider, and dozens of platforms to learn. It’s all behind-the-scenes stuff readers don’t consciously notice and most authors despise unless they have an aptitude for business. However, it’s like gas for a car. It stinks, but you don’t go anywhere without it.
2019 was my trip to the gas station. I’m not done putting everything together, but I’m well on the way. Part of the process has been discovering what mix of marketing makes sense to me, given my time, money, and introvert tendencies. I’ll probably blog more. I’ll review craft resources. I’m also very interested in sharing some of the ingredients that go into world building, especially with the fantasy stuff. I think it’s going to be fun.
And 2020? I haven’t scheduled it all yet, but I’ll have a nice list of the year’s releases by next New Year’s Eve. I’ve put in the work to be ready.
October 12, 2019 • No Comments
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
There are lovely aspects to every season, but autumn is by far my favorite. The cooler weather sharpens my mind and ambition and brings back so many good things.
- Soft, comfy sweaters. Here’s Glamour’s 23 Best Sweaters Under $50
- Beautiful boots. I love Fleuvog’s Gladstone boots
- Notebooks, erasers, calendars–I’m a stationery junkie, and this is prime shopping time
- Comfort Food. It’s soup season!
- Turning leaves.
October 8, 2019 • No Comments
Break out your saucepans, drill bits, and knitting needles—the latest trend is to do-it-yourself like our grandparents did. With so much information online, it’s easier than ever to find instructions on everything from dollmaking to drywall. Or for those seeking to connect with actual humans, knitting circles and crafting afternoons are trending. Still others may not dive into fray themselves, but appreciate the individual craftspeople and small businesses in their local community. And then there are those—like Ren Faire and Steampunk enthusiasts—who take the entire business to extraordinary lengths. The reasons for embracing DIY vary, but there are common themes: environmental concerns, stretching a dollar, and personal creative expression.
Ever heard of a repair café? This is a growing trend where, for a few hours, the public can bring everything from wonky toasters to ripped shirts to a room full of volunteers. There, crafters will teach the skills needed to make their wounded possessions whole again. Besides providing a boost in confidence, learning basic repair skills is good for the pocketbook and the landfill.
The DIY philosophy doesn’t stop with repairing zippers. These days, “artisan” or “craft” products are in vogue, along with farmer’s markets, pottery shows, and fancy micro-brews. As with all trends, results vary from delightful to silly, but the movement speaks to a need. Consumers want options beside the anonymous experience offered by the big box store.
Why? For some, the pull is purely emotional. With the move toward mass production, we lost the experience of having a unique item made just for us. There’s a world of difference in a custom-knit sweater versus something bought at a warehouse store. On the flip side, there’s the creative experience of making something for another person—every stitch or stroke of the brush is an expression of pride, affection, and the personality of the giver and receiver. Family recipes and workshop war stories are made of this.
For others, DIY is a simple way to protect the environment. Our throw-away culture has generated mountains of waste, so whatever can be repaired, reused, or created without tons of packaging is better for the planet. Along the same lines, whatever food we grow or make from scratch is tastier and more nutritious than a frozen meal shipped across the planet in a plastic tray.
And while DIY saves money by extending the life of a toaster, that’s not the only economic impact. Buying from other local independent crafters means supporting the economy close to home. We can stretch our dollars by learning to do things ourselves, but when we do shop, we can vote for quality, creativity, and our home community—so go ahead and buy the delicious cinnamon rolls at the farmer’s market. You’re preserving someone’s job.
Then there’s independence. It’s one thing to opt for convenience, and quite another to be helpless because we don’t know how to sew on a button or hang a picture. Surprisingly—or maybe not—there have been a number of recent reports about a loss of manual dexterity in young people who don’t grow up measuring ingredients, sewing, or building things in their dad’s workshop. This is causing problems for those entering the trades or even medical school.
So call up Grandpa and ask about learning to tie flies, or get some bread-baking lessons at the local community center. We don’t just want to learn how to DIY—apparently, it’s good for us.
June 2, 2019 • No Comments
Nothing quite says modern hustle like burger joints, food trucks, and grabbing junk food for that night’s Netflix binge. Fast food answers the problem of our hectic lives, where there’s places to be and work to be done and absolutely no time to spend crafting artisan eats in the kitchen. Plus, many so-called kitchen nooks in new apartments are barely big enough to comfortably butter toast, much less mess around with stock pots and canning jars. Picking up something to go is the obvious answer.
This need isn’t new. As long as there have been hungry people, there’s been food for sale in easy-to-eat forms. Ancient Roman thermopolia provided affordable take-out. Street vendors have been around as long as hungry urbanites have existed. Pretty much every culture has the “stuff wrapped in bread product,” whether that’s samosas, Cornish pasties, or the Czech klobasnek/kolaches. In the old days, if you were out harvesting in the fields or heading down a mine shaft, you wanted food that can be stuffed in a pocket to eat later. We might have better health regulations, but the principles behind fast food remain the same.
The pedigree of some current favorites is fun to look at. Hamburgers and hot dogs immediately come to mind, since they follow the meat-in-bread pattern. Speculation has it the essential ground meat that makes up the hamburger patty was introduced to Europe by invading hordes in the thirteenth century. Tartar horseman stashed raw meat beneath their saddles to tenderize it, a practice that was happily abandoned by later chefs. In the seventh century, Russians brought their version of the dish, steak tartare, to Hamburg, Germany, where it morphed into the cooked version we know now. In the early 1800s, the “Hamburg steak” was well-enough established to be included in the Oxford English Dictionary. The dish emigrated to America in the mid-1900s and eventually appeared with a bun at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The first burger chains appeared in the 1920s and the cheeseburger debuted a decade later.
Hot dogs followed a similar path. Sausages have been around since the ancient world, ultimately establishing themselves in the German cuisine that came to America in the mid-1800s. Around 1870, a German immigrant named Charles Feltman set up a food cart on Coney Island and did a brisk business selling sausages in a bun. From there they were introduced at ball parks as a snack to go with beer.
What about sides? The history of French fries is contested, with origin stories dating back to the seventeenth century. Belgium is petitioning UNESCO to endorse the fry as an icon of Belgian heritage. The story goes that in 1680 the River Meuse froze over, preventing citizens of Namur from catching and frying the small fish they were used to, so they fried potatoes instead. American soldiers, evidently confusing French-speaking Belgians with their neighbors, encountered the fried treat during WWI, taking so-called French fries back to the US.
There are other contenders for title of fry inventor. Spain has a claim. After all, they introduced the potato to Europe in the late 1500s after learning about it in the New World. France maintains an eighteenth-century street peddler on Paris’s Pont-Neuf bridge introduced French fries to the world. Canada has a special affinity since fries are an integral ingredient in poutine (invented in Quebec the 1950s). Without argument, America eats the most per capita.
The first recipe for onion rings is more certain. It’s generally agreed to have been published in John Mollard’s 1802 cookbook, “The Art of Cookery Made Easy and Refined.” Mollard was a cook and proprietor of the Freemasons’ Tavern at Lincoln Inn Fields in London. However, the dish did not become popular until it emerged in its full cholesterolific glory in twentieth century America.
Speaking of fried food, the potato chip was invented by the appropriately-named George Crumb in 1853, a chef in Saratoga Springs, New York. Originally called Saratoga Chips, they were eventually made and marketed by a company in Cleveland, Ohio. Herman Lay introduced potato chips to many customers from Atlanta to Nashville by selling them from the trunk of his Ford Model A. He eventually founded H.W. Lay & Company, which merged with the Frito Company in 1961, which eventually merged with Pepsi-Cola.
Naturally, we want something to drink after eating all these salty foods. Mineral waters have been consumed since Roman times, as they were believed to have curative powers. Readers of Regency novels will be familiar with invalids “taking the waters” at various spas. A man-made version of carbonated beverages was first produced in the 1760s by adding chalk and acid to regular drinking water. Initially, wine was added as flavoring, but various sweet syrups followed and by the 1840s, soda fountains began appearing in pharmacies.
In 1876, Philadelphia pharmacist Charles Hires concocted a mixture of herbs, roots and berries and added it carbonated soda water to produce the first root beer. In 1886, another formulation containing coca leaves and the caffeine-rich kola nut became Coca-Cola. Marketed as a tonic, the original formula contained extracts of cocaine, which wasn’t illegal at the time. In 1893, Pepsi-Cola was introduced as a digestive aid. Soon bottling facilities replaced soda fountains and, by the 1920s, soft drinks were available via vending machines. The medicinal claims surrounding such beverages were dropped and as early as 1942, the American Medical Association was specifically mentioning soft drinks as it recommended consumers limit their intake of sugar. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Slow Food movement aims to recover the joys of delicious home cooked cuisine, along with traditional methods of preparation. However, as the hipsters rush to rediscover bone broth and artisan sauerkraut, it’s worth remembering that food is as variable as the people who eat it. Our cuisine has a complex family tree, along with a few crumpled food wrappers tucked in the branches. Fast food—despite the overwhelming corporatization involved—is equally traditional, with a centuries-long story of its own.
February 4, 2019 • No Comments
Sometimes the most important things in life are comfort food and a house that smells like baking. In honor of those moments, I give you a new recipe I adapted.
3 mashed ripe bananas
½ cup yogurt
2/3 cup melted butter
4 beaten eggs
2/3 cup sugar
juice of 2 limes
In a separate bowl, sift:
1 and ½ cup flour
2/3 cup oats
1 cup shredded coconut
1.5 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Slowly fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture. Spoon into greased muffin tins and sprinkle extra coconut on top. (Makes about 20 muffins). Bake at 325 F until golden on top.
Note: these freeze well
December 5, 2018 • No Comments
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the truck parade that passes at the end of my street. It gets a little longer each time, a few more of the growling monsters donning antlers and lights and transforming into glittering wonders for the crowd. I love the ridiculous, joyful, contrariness of it all. I love that these big dirty workhorses can be the belles of the ball once a year, and that hundreds stand in the cold to cheer them on.
December 4, 2018 • No Comments
Every so often a nifty toy comes my way, and this very simple video maker (Lumen 5) thrills me to bits. Some of the photos in this are mine, too, which adds to the fun. The content is self-explanatory–nothing profound here, just an applesauce recipe in pictures rather than a boring old index card. Visit https://lumen5.com/ a try for yourself! I bet it would make a great virtual greeting card, too!