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a false alarm 💔
+ a festival + my fav books so far + my soupy genius!
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I planned to write about my tyrannical morning cheerfulness and about how ‘fall back’ is my favorite day of the year. A 25 hour Sunday? Hallelujah. I love that it gets light a bit earlier. I can walk, write, drink more coffee, and claim the morning.
Then our smoke alarms went off at two a.m. (Why do batteries always fail in the wee hours?) Running to the garage for the ladder, I cursed the needless alarms and the shrill canned voice, Fire! Fire!
Shut up! There was no fire. By the time we disconnected everything and landed back in our bed, hearts racing with irritation, it hit me—a wave of sorrow. Our alarms were an annoyance. How lucky. So many people, now and forever, have cowered in the dark, with and without the warning of an alarm.
I thought of this poem, The Bees, by Audre Lorde. So much darkness, and so much opportunity for light if only we reconsider… well, nearly everything. Do read the poem, and here is the final stanza—a mule kick to our hearts:
Curious and apart
four little girls look on in fascination
learning a secret lesson
and trying to understand their own destruction.
One girl cries out
“Hey, the bees weren’t making any trouble!”
and she steps across the feebly buzzing ruins
to peer up at the empty, grated nook
“We could have studied honey-making!”
People in Gaza and Israel continue to suffer. One way to help is by donating to World Central Kitchen whose mission is to feed humans in times of trauma. Wishing you all peace, false alarms, good company, and comforting meals.
My favorite books of the year thus far, in no particular order. (Click on each photo to find more about the title.)
Check my read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I've recommended in the newsletter. Buying books from my shop is a way you can be a friend to the newsletter.
Three cheers for the Portland Book Festival! What a gift to be in the midst of book lovers and amazing writers, to listen and learn for an entire day.
My first event was a conversation between Tommy Orange (THERE, THERE) and Viet Thanh Nguyen, whose new book, A MAN OF TWO FACES, is a memoir that plays with form (redactions, justified on the right side, loads of white space…). Nguyen said he wanted to play with form because his son, to whom he reads many books, taught him that adults are boring! Humor and playfulness ease the burden of a terrible story. His crie de coeur… Give into the impulse to play around!
A big take away was his play on the word remember. As in re-member. As in reassemble as you look back and write your memoir. How were we taken apart? How do we put ourselves back together from a past (often rife with pain) that is still present in our bodies? Faulkner told us, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Think about this memoir writers, how is the writing an act of healing?
Consider attending book festivals and readings whenever you can. It is such a shot of enthusiasm and inspiration for your writing.
Here’s a PROMPT:
What is a scene from a movie that had tremendous power for you? A scene that taught you something about who you are?
Nguyen spoke about a scene from Apocalypse Now, in which the American soldiers killed Vietnamese citizens. He, a young boy who felt very American, saw himself as both the soldier and the citizen, he was bifurcated and changed.
Is there a scene that spoke to you and stayed with you? Why? And, if you are writing fiction, can you imagine a scene for your main character? What is it? Why did it stick?
Portland people! I’ll be offering an in-person one-day GENERATIVE WRITING HAVEN in early January. Think of it as a day spa to get your writing back on track after the distraction of the holidays. Stay tuned for more information. Let me know if you’re interested. It will be a small group.
I am not a root vegetable whisperer but I made this no-recipe soup and I think you should too. What you need is a slew of root veggies. I used about 6-8 waxy potatoes (think small yellow potatoes or fingerlings) which I cubed. Celery root which was the size of a baby’s head, so I used only half, peeled and cubed. 3 small rutabagas, also cubed. Also, you will need 2 large leeks (or a yellow onion) and 2 cloves of garlic. Chop up the leeks and garlic and sauté in a soup pot in a knob of butter and a glug of olive oil. Once they soften and smell wonderful, add all the cubed veggies and assess if you need more fat in the pan. The veggies should shimmer in a coat of butter/oil, not swim in it. Let it all sauté for about 10 minutes. Add 1-2 quarts stock. I used homemade chicken stock but veggie stock would also work. You just want the liquid to come up about an inch or two above the veggies. It’s really a question of how thin you want the soup. Turn down flame and let this simmer for 20 - 30 minutes. While it cooks, wash one bunch of leafy greens (turnip, chard, kale, mustard, dandelion, or a mix of braising greens), remove the center spine if it feels huge and cumbersome, then chop the leaves. I chose to steam my greens first because they were particularly stalwart. However, you could simply drop tender greens into the soup. Once everything is cooked through, grab your trusty hand blender, or as the French call it, the un, deux, trois! And blend blend blend until smooth. (You can use a blender as well.) Taste for salt and pepper. Decide if you would like a thinner soup and thus add more stock.
Here comes the part where I consider myself a genius! I was wooed by tiny and beautiful shiitakes at the market.
You’ll need about 1/2 a pound of shiitakes, cut in half and spread on a parchment lined sheet pan. Drizzle with more olive oil, not too much, and sprinkle with flaky salt. Roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 10 - 15 minutes. You want them to release their moisture and become a bit al dente—to the teeth, a nice chewy texture and rich flavor. Ladle your soup into bowls and float a few mushrooms on top… like croutons! I know!
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Remember to tell your people you love them, and take good care of your skin.