Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Allons-y

My husband has beautiful eyes.

When he was young, his mother told him that, one day, a young lady would fall in love with those eyes. She was totally right


So when he told me that he wanted to drive to Bellingham before driving to Eugene (which happens before we drive to Lincoln City), I was, ultimately, putty.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Sparkly Shoes Blog


I've been looking for sparkly shoes lately - sparkly shoes for less than $30.  Thing is, I couldn't find any that weren't:

a.) Open toed (too cold)

b.) Too tall (I'm already two inches shy of six feet. I don't need a 4.5 inch platform, thank you much. I'm going to church, not to Vegas.)

c.) Too expensive (though I found the perfect pair... for $149 plus tax.)

Yesterday morning, I *literally* woke up with one thought in my head - could I make sparkly shoes?

I asked my husband. Had to ask twice, actually, because I kept mumbling (first thought, you know). He thought the chances were pretty good.

When I was awake, I poked around online. I found this (rather adorable) video, which was a good start, followed by this excellent post. I used the Dainty Squid's method of mixing the glitter with the Mod Podge, using heels instead of flats and spending a long time taping up the edges before starting.

$16.99 Payless Heels
 I put on four coats, followed by a final topcoat.





Tesla, waiting for me to finish so I could come play.

Honestly, I couldn't be more pleased. Because I mixed the glitter with the Mod Podge, they don't shed at all - every bit of glitter is sealed up. I didn't even get through half of the $5 bottle of Martha Stewart glitter (in Hematite), either. The next time I do this (and there will be a next time), I'm looking forward to using another Martha glitter - the extra fine texture and sophisticated color really make the shoes special.

So there's my Christmas project - what are you working on?


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sur La Table

...is also the name of a store. But that's not what this post is about.

When not traveling, moving, or raising a spirited (read: obstinate) puppy, I've spent the past year cultivating a new book project. Though new is a bit of a misnomer, since it was cooking in my head well before Jayne made an appearance.

But it's been what I like to call a slow-cooker idea, requiring a lot of time to develop. In between, it has changed tremendously in the best way.

One key component of the book has been the same, however - it has always been about the food.

Well, that and two people who find each other. But they eat well.

The two specific kinds of cuisine found in the book are French and Italian. Now, I'm fairly conversant in Italian food. It's really pretty straight-forward and very accessible. Versions of it can be found in Olive Gardens, Macaroni Grills, and in every restaurant where someone boils pasta and tops it with sauce.

French food...it's a bit trickier.

There is often some technique involved in French cookery, and if not, there's the appearance of technique. You don't find Coq au vin in pizzerias, or cassoulet at buffets. Shari's does not have tarte tatin month. Here in Tri-cities, the likelihood of my finding a little French bistro is well below nil.

But I need it for the book, so I popped onto Amazon and picked out a small selection of books, as well as a blue steel crepe pan that I'm really quite in love with.  But along with the crepe pan, it's obvious that I'll also need a proper Dutch Oven soon, as well as a roasting pan and a tart pan (had one, but the bottom is missing and that's a somewhat crucial piece). Oh, and ramekins.
After flipping through the books - which look amazing - it's very clear that I will have to get over my dislike of whole roasted chicken specifically, and my inexperience when it comes to roasting meats in general.

(I've roasted vegetables - does that count for anything?)

But it's been a good year for expanding my repertoire, since I'm now quite proficient with cutlets, sauces, and roux making. Oh, and custard.

Well, off to contemplate making potato leek soup.  Will post later as the food adventures continue...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankfulness


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

I'm all for giving thanks, and being thankful, and spending time with family, and eating.  Really, I am.  But I can sum up my feelings about Thanksgiving best in a recent Twitter post:




I have ADD. That's just the way it is. So Thanksgiving can be the Trifecta of stress for me. Don't get me wrong - my love of food and cooking is well documented. But cooking on a schedule is...dicey.  And cleaning? No, we're not hosting Thanksgiving (thanks be to heaven above), but we're still leaving, and being a woman, I don't like coming home to a messy house.

And travel?

Little bit traveled out.

Little bit.

A lot.

So throw in the fact that Thanksgiving food is not my kind of food and my general apathy towards professional football, and it leaves me with a strong desire to fast-forward to the yuletide season lurking around the corner.

(And if you've stepped inside a place of retail in the last month, you've caught it mid-lurk)

But I'm thankful for my husband, and his job, and our house, and my publishing career, and our wiggy dog. I'm thankful for red curry, sunny days, digital photography, antique china, Nars lipstick, how Danny looks in his motorcycle jacket, title insurance, new friends, old friends, Starbucks, good books, alpacas, freeze-dried beef liver treats, sale books at Barnes & Noble, red leaves, TJ Maxx, Nutella, full-spectrum light bulbs, Target, comfortable shoes, pink nail polish, candied ginger, the bulk section of WinCo, butterflies, dry shampoo, vacuum cleaners, pink spackle, Doctor Who, and the fact that the holiday movie season approacheth.

I'm thankful for my family, my parents, siblings, parents-in-law, siblings-in-law, aunts, cousins, uncles, and another holiday with my 95-year-old grandmother.

I'm thankful for my agent, for the wonderful editors I've gotten to work with, my publicists, and the booksellers who help people discover my books.

I'm thankful we found a truly crackerjack dog trainer to help with Tesla's "special needs."

I'm thankful that we are no longer building a house.

I'm thankful that the Lord is gracious.

Because of that thankfulness, I can handle a traffic-snarled bit of organized thanks-giving.

And after Thanksgiving?  Let the advent season commence!

Update: Also thankful for this - 




Yay! Sometimes it really is the little things :-)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rescue, Kiss, Repeat



I don't know about you, but I'm loving ABC's new show, Once Upon a Time. It's one of those rare TV shows that keeps getting better and better with each episode.


In the first few episodes, we see Prince Charming (whose real name is James, we learn), wake Snow White. Later, we learn how Snow and Charming met. It was the kind of meet cute that involves a lot of flirtatious squabbling, adventure, a grudging admiration and a certain amount of chemistry. She saves him. He saves her.

Rescue, kiss, repeat.

I love that.  I love it because it's a truer model for a real-life happy ending in marriage. It's not just the prince rescuing the princess in the classic model, or the princess rescuing the prince in the feminist model. Long-term love involves both.  Marriage is committing to rescue each other, over and over again. It's having each other's backs, it's being strong for each other.

Fairy tales will always have a special place in my heart, but I'm troubled by the lack of stories that involve courage on behalf of both men and women. East of the Sun, West of the Moon is one of the rare examples of a couple who must rescue each other. The prince, as the bear, rescues the girl from poverty.  The girl rescues the prince from the troll princess.

There is still a happily ever after for them, but both the man and the woman have had to work for it.

And that's how marriage is, isn't it? Courage is required for both the husband and wife to fight for and rescue each other, facing down despair, discouragement, illness, and injury in battle.

You never know how many battles you'll face in marriage, or when the next one will find you. The happily-in-betweens? Absolutely worth the work.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy End of Tacky Day



Okay, I know. Tacky Christmas decorations abound. But are they as tacky as Halloween decorations? No. Not at all. No contest.

Our neighbor down the street has an inflated skull with inflated ghosts coming out of it.

Really hoping that it'll get put away for storage. Also, really hoping they're just as into Christmas lights.  I love Christmas lights.

So...blogging this much. *Almost* as much of an epic fail as getting (or trying to get) Tesla's toenails ground at the PetSmart in Mount Vernon, WA.  (We ended up having to get a refund. It wasn't going to happen.)

We ended up, once we got back from the three-week Memphis/Little Rock/St. Louis trip, having to go to Portland (Anacortes for Danny), Anacortes (Mount Vernon for me), and Los Angeles (technically Foothill Ranch, east of Irvine).

By the end, I was a complete mess. Actually, I think I was a mess beforehand, but that doesn't mean we didn't have some fun. In California, we got to go to Disneyland (my first time!) and I got to hang out with my dear friend Kara and see her digs in West Hollywood. A grand time had by all, even for Tesla, who got to be admired by one and all on the tram to and from the Disneyland Kennels.

Now that we're back, it's time to return to the task of moving into our house. I'm just about done with choosing which photos need to be printed for which walls - I'm VERY excited about having artwork up! As the granddaughter of two artists, I don't handle blank walls well.  My brain doesn't know how to handle them..


In other important news - both ABC and NBC aired their fairy tail themed shows, Once Upon a Time and Grimm, respectively.


When the trailers were released, I thought Grimm looked a bit more focused. Having watched both pilots, I'm wondering if it's too focused - it feels more forced and rote than Once.

Not that Once doesn't have its awkward moments, but it's sticking close to the Hero's Journey arc for its heroine, played by Jennifer Morrison. You might remember Morrison as Cameron from House.  Now, I'm convinced that the writers for House kind of really hate women, since Cameron's character was wheedly and annoying. Not so with Emma Swan, who has got a backbone and knows how to use it. It's refreshing, honestly.

In Grimm, the lead, David Giuntoli, is stiff and bland. Werewolf Silas Weir Mitchell (Prison Break) is far more interesting, but it's tricky when the best character is a supporting character.

It often takes a few episodes (or a couple seasons) for a show to hit its stride. So we'll see how goes, but do catch Once - it's well-cast and has vision. Whether the vision is carried off or not remains to be seen, but I think it's off to a strong and inventive start.

Anybody else watching the two shows? What's your take?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Un Jour de Pluie

The rain, it comes.

You know you live in the desert when it rains and you're confused about what, exactly, is going on.  This is after 25 years in the Willamette Valley, where it rains 10 months out of the year.

Still. Brain trying to recollect what one does when it rains.

Tesla is completely befuddled by the moisture from the sky, because she spent her Spring rainy season in our corporate apartment as a young pup, only experiencing the rain that blew/dripped in past the patio covering.


(I apologize for the crick in your neck. I'm not techy enough to figure out if the orientation can be changed. But cute, no?)

Right now, Tesla will ring her bells to go outside; I'll open the door, she'll take in the scenery and decide - no, actually, not worth it.

Just kidding.

I've been reading The Paris Wife, FINALLY - I've wanted to read it for some time, but the Kindle edition is on the pricier side, and the wait list at the library took a long time...


...anyway, reading it now, and oh. My. Goodness.  Poor Hadley! An excellent read so far, The Paris Wife tells the story of the first Mrs. Hemmingway from her perspective, from meeting Ernest in Chicago to marrying him at the age of 28 (he was 21). They moved shortly after the wedding to Paris - and not the nice part of Paris, either - and make a home for them while he struggled to find himself as a writer.

Writers are difficult people in the best of times; Hemingway had hemochromatosis, the inability to metabolize iron, as well as (most likely) bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

He also drank like a fish.

Easy man to be married to? Not so much.


Another book that makes for terrific rainy-day reading?

Jenny B. Jones' There You'll Find Me  is perfect for a day with precipitation.  I should have realized it was also perfect for an airplane ride...I slogged through a truly terrible book (actually, two of them) on the flight back from St. Louis, which was painful because Danny's book was absolutely brilliant.

He'd giggle at his book and I'd role my eyes at the pages (and pages) of limp characterization.

I came home and pulled out There You'll Find Me.  I loved it for all of the reasons that I loved Anna and the French Kiss - a very real, very likeable heroine, a gorgeous setting, and a crush-worthy boy.

(Speaking of, Stephanie Perkins has a new novel out.  I'll get back to you on that...)

There You'll Find Me treads perfectly across themes of loss and hope, romance and change, friendship and grief.  Did I mention it's funny? That the protagonist refers to Pride and Prejudice as the single girl's Magna Carta?

Really, it's grand. Trust me.

So if it's rainy where you are - these are the books! Grab a mug of tea (carefully) and tuck yourself into bed with a book.

Or, if you're Tesla, you can go catch a raindrop.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tricks of the Trade


I mentioned on Facebook that I wasn't going to blog about ACFW until (at least) tomorrow, and that's still true. I've got, like, 500 photos from the Memphis-Little Rock-St. Louis trip that need to be loaded onto my computer.

It's a job, let's just put it that way.

Anyway, lots of exciting stuff on the horizon and the realization that my year of quiet has come to a close. Once book projects become official, I will have a lot of work to do.  This is good, because it's a little disconcerting to be a writer by trade and not have any official projects on the horizon.

I am a bit overwhelmed at the prospect, though, partly because the writing process for Sara (and Jayne, in some ways) was VERY stressful.  I have to remember that I've learned a lot; every book is a learning experience!

Several of my friends have books releasing soon, so I thought that until I get those 600 or so photos downloaded (which, I have to admit, are largely photos of waterlilies in various botanical gardens. Apparently I have a waterlily photography "issue"), I've definitely got time to share the bits of writer's life wisdom I've discovered along the way...


1.) When the going gets tough, the tough go underwear shopping.  And socks.  Basically, when you're on a deadline/ tight marketing schedule, laundry needs to not be quite so high up on the list. Stock up on undies and socks, and an extra pair of jeans for everyone in the family.

2.) Spruce up your own wardrobe.  The writer's life doesn't lend itself to business wear acquisitions, but you'll appreciate having go-to pieces of clothing for headshots, book events, and conferences.  Take a small chunk off the top of your advance and look for pieces that can be dressed up or down (like a silk blouse in a print) and worn for multiple seasons. I'm a big fan of denim suiting pieces for author events - a denim blazer or trouser pant looks polished without being stuffy.  You're a writer, not a stockbroker. Have some fun with your look!

3.) Set goals and stick to them. It seems basic, but it really is helpful.  Figure out how many words per day you need to crank out, be realistic, and work from there.

4.) When it comes to marketing, now is better.  When you get interview requests with questions, do them right away. It's much easier to get those done and sent off rather than keep track of the interviewer's schedule and have it leave the forefront of your consciousness.  Take a break from writing, set a timer, and answer the questions (however brilliant or inane they happen to be).  Just think back to the days of email forwarded surveys...

5.) Keep your files organized. I strongly recommend keeping your headshot jpg (in a large and small size) and book cover jpg (ditto) in the same folder (mine is labled "promotions"), as well as your press release and whatever interviews you're working on. That way, they're ready to go on a moment's notice whenever you're asked.

6.) Look sharp. Speaking of headshots, it's really best of an author shot to be a true head/shoulders shot. More than that, if it's viewed from far away or printed small, isn't going to read as well (and by "read as well," I mean that the image won't be quite as easy to understand or have the same visual impact). During the conference, there was one author who's photo made us scratch our heads until we figured out what was going on in that image.  Simple really is okay - it's your face we want to see!

7.) Synopsize! I totally made up the word, but you get the picture. Basically, if you're thinking ahead about your story's events and structure, you'll spend less time repaving over plot potholes later on down the road.  Seat-of-the-pants writing is only for people with years of time on their hands to write.

8.) Eat. Just not too much... Maintaining a steady blood sugar is important, so make sure you're feeding your brain as you work.  However, know that the write/snack/write/snack thing will come back to bite you - literally - in the behind.  Typing does not burn calories. Watch the munchies - eat smart.

9.) Take breaks. If you're not spending time with your family/friends/spouse/children/dog/cat/whathaveyou, you will become a hull of a human being and a sucky writer. It's okay to back away from the computer. Boundaries are your friend.

10.) Exercise.  I get through writer's block while walking with my husband (and these days, my dog).  The exercise does a lot for your body and your brain chemistry, so make sure to figure it into your schedule.

Remember, you can get creative with your exercise, as demonstrated here:

Well...it's my bedtime.  What tricks of the trade have you picked up?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ACFW from the Agent's Perspective: a Q & A with Sandra Bishop

If you're ACFW-bound, I strongly suggest taking a brief break from your packing.  On the blog today is my fabulous agent, ACFW 2010 Agent of the Year Sandra Bishop.  I asked Sandra a few ACFW-pertinent questions, which she was gracious enough to answer (and answer on a short time-frame).  This is information  you won't want to miss!

Hillary: As an Agent, describe the ACFW experience.

Sandra: It's fun. I get to wear dark glasses and skulk around looking for aliens.

H: What elements of ACFW surprised/interested you during your first conference experience?


S: That the "poolside rooms" in which they'd set faculty up for meetings were next to a covered pool. Actually, the organization and appointments are very well run. The staff is amazing and incredibly accommodating of faculty. I think they genuinely appreciate us.


H: When you're meeting with writers, what are elements that grab your interest?

S: Incredible writing. For me, it's always the writing. I see a lot of good writing, but that doesn't do it for me anymore.


H: I feel the same way about chocolate...back to the meetings, though - what are some of your pet peeves when you're meeting with writers?

S: When they don't actually bring a writing sample with them but say "they told us not to!" Who are "they" to tell you what you can have in your bag of tricks. If an agent or editor wants to see your writing and you don't have it, you've missed an opportunity to make a meaningful connection - or cross someone off your list.


H: Are there any cues that make you think, "Hey, this is going to be a really good meeting"?

S: Actually, when someone knows what they want from me. Even if it's just an opinion. Of course I love meetings with calm, focused, and confident authors who know what they are writing, and why. But, I also don't mind just encouraging writers who need it or talking through ideas - if they know that's what they want from the beginning so we don't end up with 45 seconds at the end of the meeting to talk about it.


H: Share a humorous, conference-related anecdote (you know how I enjoy humorous anecdotes).

S: I laughed about it now, though I didn't at the time. ... Once a writer refused to accept my advance critique saying I hadn't edited the whole thing and pushed it back across the table saying I owed him more. I pushed it back to him reminding him I really didn't owe him anything but that we could spend the rest of the time talking about his idea if he'd like. He pushed it back across the table again, stood up, and said "you are going to take this and I'm going to go talk with the conference director to make sure I get my money's worth." I took it and dropped the floor and said "any chance you might have had to work with me just landed where this is going. Good luck with the director." I like to think he learned a valuable lesson - and got his money's worth - though I doubt it. As it turns out, the director refunded his fee for the advance critique and invited him never to return to the conference.


H: Oh my goodness! I've said it before - do not be that guy!  It never ends well.  Let's talk food.  Mealtimes are generally conference-Kosher times to pitch to both agents and editors. What are good, non-obnoxious ways to gauge an editor/agent's interest?

S: Honestly, meals are hard because it's often times difficult to hear. If you don't get a chance to pitch your idea, don't despair. If you do, speak up and have a statement ready, which answers the following questions:
Are you published; in what genre are you writing; and what's the hook of your story. If they want to hear more about it, ask when they might have a few minutes to talk, or if you can contact them later. This gives others a chance and demonstrates that you're not desperate!


H: Because desperate is bad. Any additional tips for ACFW-bound writers?

S: Have fun, take notes, be assertive but not aggressive, and remember God may have plans for you you haven't even considered.

H: Excellent advice! Thanks so much for stopping by!


You may now resume your conference packing.  See you soon!

Monday, September 12, 2011

ACFW on the Mind

This blog comes to you from the Mid-South again, though a few miles south of Memphis than before (we're staying in Southaven this go-round).  Danny had meetings and further work training to complete in the Memphis branch (though "complete" may be an optimistic term), and with ACFW coming up, we decided to connect the St. Louis trip with the Memphis trip and make it one, giant trip away from home.

Danny's busy in the office and hydraulics shop by day. I've been spending my time getting ready for ACFW.

I confess, my priorities are not as my agent would have them. I need to get together my pitch materials for my conference meetings...but let's be honest. Those (when the author chooses to focus on them) tend to come together quickly. You know what takes more time and effort?

Getting your ensemble for the ACFW Awards Banquet ready.

I've got the dress - it took two tries (the first color I ordered was back-ordered until the day *after* the banquet), but it arrived before we left and it's at an alterations shop as I type. I've got the shoes - picked them up to wear for Easter this last spring.  I've got the handbag - found it at TJ in Richland. Bought a cute little hair-clippy and bracelet yesterday. Still haven't figured out what lipstick to use, and if I'm going to get arty with my accessories and perform some last-minute tweaking, but the essentials are there.

So now that *that's* taken care of, I'm on to the task of getting the pitches ready. This involves creating a title and names for character for a story concept I've loved but hadn't spent time articulating the particulars of. Now, if you've followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I take my names very, very seriously.

For both Plain Jayne and Simply Sara, the main character names were entirely informed by the titles. This is not typically how I roll.  I research, I think about the character in my head, I write out lists, I wait for the right name to pop out and say that this is the one that fits.

Kind of like trying on shoes.

Also, I used to be pretty good at naming books.  I think that period of my life is over.

Next, I'm going to tidy up the first few chapters of my WIP (work in progress), since the second chapter isn't doing for me what I'd like it to.  Especially in an age when readers decide to purchase books depending on the strength of the sample offered on e-reader, the opening chapter and a half (or so, depending on the publisher) is even more important than ever. The days of easing the reader into a story are over. The days of being lazy about starting a plot are over. Bookselling is a competitive marketplace - edit! Tighten! Rewrite! You'll never sit back and sigh, "If only I hadn't given my book a stronger opening sequence."

Seriously.

In other random ACFW news:

Last year at ACFW was tough for me. I resolved then to do what I'm doing this year, which is arrive early to rest up before the conference begins.

I didn't know until a couple weeks ago that I'd be given two weeks to acclimate to the time change, but we'll still arrive at the hotel a day early to get settled and figure out the lay of the land.

Also, ladies, I highly recommend packing this product - Benefit's Eye Bright pencil. They describe it as a nap in a stick, and I would consider that to be an accurate description. I went searching for something, anything to fix my under-eye issues after our last drive back from Memphis - things had gotten so bad I avoided looking at myself in the mirror in the morning.  You can apply it under your under-eye concealer, on top of your makeup at the corners of your eyes, pretty much wherever you need to banish dark shadows. It really is magic, and I don't travel without it.

I also recommend packing plenty of cardigans as well as comfortable shoes - considering that you're moving from one part of a hotel to another part of a hotel, there's still plenty of time on your feet (especially if you're me and you're running late and you've got to seriously hike it from your room to the elevator, and the elevator takes forever and you'd totally take the stairs if you weren't on the ninth floor, and even after you've caught the elevator you make two or three stops before making a dash to the conference room on the opposite side of the building, down a long hall) *and* you never know how the a/c is going to be tuned. Layers are your friend.

Well, it's back to pitch-work for me. If you're at ACFW in a couple weeks, be sure to track me down!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Birthday Clafoutis and Book Proposals

See, I thought it was appropriate to make a cherry clafouti for my birthday because the word clafouti sounds like a party in and of itself.  Like confetti. It just tastes better.

I've been circling this recipe for a month or two, waiting for the opportune moment (i.e. a loving reunion with my KitchenAid and assorted bake-ware. Oh, and my sieve) to do something really special with a bag of cherries.

Life is a bowl of cherries. Preferably sans pits.
I could be wrong about this. All I know is:

A. There are a lot of cherries here.

B. There seem to be more cherries than back home.

C. Generally, like the dentist situation in Tri-Cities (*never* have I seen so many dentists' offices. Ever.), it means that there's simply more of them.

But I digress.

A few things about this recipe:

It looks great when you put it together, smells even better in the oven.



Also, it's like, *really* bland.

Fresh out of the oven.
I didn't use the kirsch the recipe called for, and my vanilla beans were about a year old and would have needed some TLC to be usable.  I used my good Mexican vanilla extract, and threw a bit of cardamom and ginger into the flan batter.

On the table, sunning itself.
What really needed to go in was another tablespoon of sugar (which is really something, coming from me - I don't like my sweets overly sweet) and a generous tablespoon of lemon zest.  And maybe an additional tablespoon of flour.


It's certainly not an ugly dessert.  Though I will say, once you cut into it, photogenic isn't a word I'd use.  And the cherries tasted really good. I have more left.  They may very well turn into these.

A note on book proposals: I chatted with my agent this morning.  I told her about how I'd gone to my first critique-group meeting here in Tri-Cities, and how I wanted to tweak the sample chapter in my current book proposal.  The group had pointed out some things about my transitions (mainly, there weren't any.  This is a fault of mine that I freely admit).  The chapter itself was written, mostly, three or so years ago, and I hadn't done a whole lot of heavy-duty editing to it.

My reasoning is that while the sample chapter you include with your proposal should be clean, they also shouldn't be over-thought.  Slaving away at that chapter is kind of like naming livestock - an editor may turn around and say, "Hey, we love it, but how do you feel about writing ______ instead?"

This has happened to me several times.  I've learned to put emotional distance between myself and these chapters.  I work on them, and then I move on.  It's a mental health thing.

Now, I want to work on the sample chapter because I want to like it more than I do. It's an easy fix.  But my agent did point out that editors can be wary of über-perfect sample chapters.  Kind of, when you think about it, like guys on first dates who say they love children, small dogs, and Jane Austen.

So don't kill yourself striving for abject perfection when you're including those sample chapters. Make sure they're really, really, good - and then move on with your life.  There are other things to pay attention to.

Like figuring out how to fix a bland clafouti.

Try saying that three times fast.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reinvent Your Writing

Today's guest-poster, the lovely Lynne Gentry, knows a thing or two about reinvention.  Her debut novel, Reinventing Leona,  is all about making changes for the better.

Also red lipstick.  But I'll let you discover that for yourself.  Here's Lynne!

Writing good stories is like raising good kids, they never happen by accident. Someone has to invest a lot of time and effort in the project to achieve an award-winning result.

How many times have you thought you’d written the next bestseller only to take it to your critique group meeting and have them mop the floor with you? I’ve done it more times than I can count. Yet, every Tuesday night I print out a chapter and set off for another grueling round of iron-sharpening-iron.


Why do I put myself through this torture?

Because these trusted friends have only my best interest at heart. I’d rather hear what’s NOT working with my story in the comfort of someone’s cozy living room than have the flaws plastered all over an Amazon review.

True writing friends are not here to tell me I’m wonderful. They’re job is to make me a better writer. I’ll admit, crits can sting. But I’ve learned to consider their points and to think through why something tripped them up. Their suggestions challenge me to ratchet up the tension here or find a fresh way to drive my point home there.

Are you writing in secret?

Don’t do what I did. I wrote my first 400 page novel without letting anyone take a peek. When I finally summoned enough courage to submit the book to an editor, I received this terse response eight minutes later: I’m sorry, your writing does not measure up to the standards of our publishing house.

Ouch!

What did I learn? Don’t submit another thing until you get some help. I needed a group that would challenge, yet encourage a pleaser like me to continue in this often brutal and solitary calling.

Fortunately, I found a constructive writing group. And humbly submitting to the process reinvented my writing.

When I consider what each of the members of our writing group bring to the table, I’m reminded of how women used to gather around a well or quilting frame. Together, they helped each other raise their families, withstand the hard times, and make the world a better place.

What if writers did the same today? 


About Lynne's novel, Reinventing Leona:

Leona Harper loves being a pastor's wife. Her impressive resumé touts thirty years of coaxing hot water from rusty parsonage plumbing, planning church potlucks, and standing beside her husband while members take potshots at his sermons. Except for the little tiff with her grown children, Leona feels her life is right on track with the wishes of the Almighty...until her husband drops dead in the pulpit.

When the church board decides to fill the Reverend's vacated position Leona is forced to find a paying job, mend her fractured family, and tackle her fears. With life spiraling out of control, Leona might find the church members antics comical if she weren't so completely panicked. Can the faith of an overwhelmed widow withstand the added heartache of two resentful children and several underhanded church members?

If Leona can't trust God, how will she learn to trust herself?

Don't miss it! Full of warmth and wit, I recommend reading with a glass of iced tea.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Journey's End


And what a journey it's been.

We moved in November, spending the month in Portland, doing our best to stay dry.  We drank good coffee, dodged parked cars on narrow streets, and enjoyed living with family across the street from the Kennedy School.

We drove to Memphis in December.  We met some of Danny's extended family in the Little Rock Area, visited museums and restaurants in Little Rock, Memphis, and Nashville.  We got to meet Ree and Ladd Drummond at the now-closed Davis-Kidd Bookstore. We watched the Peabody Ducks swim in the hotel fountain and waddle down a red carpet to the elevator.

Also heard my first tornado siren.

Hoping it's the last.

We returned to the Pacific Northwest in early March and moved into a corporate apartment which, after living in a dark, smelly hotel room for three months, was particularly magical.  Throw in some sunshine, the ability to sit on a couch and have both an extra bedroom *and* bathroom, and we were in good shape.

We got a puppy, who turned out to be a teenage girl in disguise.  We also looked for a house, fell in love with one and watched as the deal fell through.  We began to build a second, which took...

...a while.

But it ended.

And we completed the sale.

And the bank did not laugh at us or throw rocks.

And we moved in.  Actually, not in that order.  We didn't actually fund before we moved in, which made me nervous that the bank would, at the last  minute, decide to laugh or throw rocks (not that they have reason to do so, but I'd had a *bit* of anxiety about the subject).

So now we have a house, our first house, and a garage and a KITCHEN and a yard and an actual dining room...

...Did I mention the kitchen?

It's good to be home.  I'm realistic enough to know that we'll probably move again, very possibly out of state again, but for right now it's nice to let some roots go deep.  And now that we're settled, life starts again. Work starts again.  There will be guest posts on this blog and more posts about writing, since I'll be back to full-time work.  Thanks for being patient through this unexpected hiatus, and don't worry - there will be more books!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Countdown


Very soon...

1.) Tesla will no longer have vertical blinds to drive us crazy with.

2.) Neither will she have a coffee table to hide under.

(We've been in a furnished corporate apartment)

3.) We will have COUNTER SPACE.

4.) And a full-sized fridge!  For the first time in four years!

5.) Our things will be out of storage. Including:

               a.) My KitchenAid! Sadie!

               b.) My pastry-cutter! Which I stupidly did not haul out to Memphis!
               
               c.) My knives!
               
               d.) My DISHES!!!
               
               e.) My husband's third and fourth pairs of cargo shorts! (It's been 90+ degrees around here since June, and he only brought two pairs to Memphis because we wintered in Memphis and bringing more seemed silly. O that we knew how we'd have only that which we took to Memphis for our first five months in Richland...in the spring and summer. Hindsight and all that.)
               
               f.) My desk!
             
               g.) My copies of Plain Jayne and Simply Sara! (So that when people ask to buy/ read copies, I'll actually have one on hand. Or, like, fifty.)
             
6.) No more crazy-loud upstairs neighbors!

7.) No more crazy-loud downstairs neighbors...

8.) No more housekeepers who show up at inopportune moments.

9.) No more housekeepers to take out the trash and occasionally scrub out the guest bathroom tub.  Hm.

10.) Likewise the landscapers...

11.) We'll have a kitchen with an actually, honest-to-goodness PANTRY!

12.) Also, we'll have real-live guest rooms.  With beds.  For guests.

13.) No more Oregon sales-tax exemption...

14.) No more state income tax (and if you're self-employed in the state of Oregon, you know there is a definite ouch factor there!).  Ooh, and LTD tax. For a bus I haven't ridden since my freshman years of high school.

15.) We'll finally have a home. And that is something to look forward to.

P.S. That picture? So totally not actually our house. Just in case you were wondering
                     

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Expecting Disaster


We've been in the process of having a house built here in Richland. There are days I feel our house has been built by Lemony Snickett - it truly has been a series of unfortunate events.

They broke ground in late March. The first disaster occurred when the builder began to build with the wrong interior plans. Unfortunately, we did not know this until after the house had been plumbed, which wouldn't have been an issue *if* we hadn't changed the way the master bath was laid out. (Our real estate agent, if you must know, did not forward the plans to the builder. But that, dear reader, is a sad story for another day). and the slab foundation was poured. The concrete was ripped up, the bathroom re-plumbed. Until just over a week ago, the hole remained, as a reminder that we should be wary.

You should know we have really wonderful builders. The work is very good. Also, they're all either Central or Eastern European, so it's kind of like having your house built by Tom Hanks' Viktor Navorski, though it's possible that Hanks' Navorski moved a bit quicker.

(It should be noted that one of our builders in particular has a very heavy accent, and has difficulty with his vowels. Particularly "e" sounds. "Beat" becomes "bit." So when he talks about sheet-rock and sheeting, read into that what you will.)

We've had to pick out carpets twice, bathroom flooring three times. The carpet was back-ordered, as was the first vinyl for the bathrooms. The second vinyl was simply not sent by the manufacturer - twice. The wrong laminate floors arrived. We picked out a new stove (first was back-ordered). Afterwards, we volunteered to pick out a new microwave hood and dishwasher, all of them in-stock in Tri-Cities, for the sake of avoiding disaster.

At this point, I find comfort in the fact that it is difficult to find back-ordered sod; likewise with paint (the paint was ostensibly applied earlier today. We shall see). All of the light-fixtures, that I know of, have been picked up and/or ordered. When I sent the list, I sent pictures,  item numbers, installation orientations, website links - basically everything short of a store manager's personal cell phone number. So far, so good.

We shall see.

Did I mention that while we've been doing this, we've also had a post-spay surgery dog in the house? A dog who doesn't care that the vet wants her to stay calm? Who isn't particularly worried when she starts bleeding from her incision site, or when said mess winds up on the carpet? Who, before we got her, trained herself to be immune to Xanax (it was deliberate, I'm sure)? Who has *literally* been climbing the walls?

Well, we do.

I've gotten to the point that when I see that I've got an email, I freeze up. I think, "what has gone wrong now?" This happened earlier today when I received an email from the builder's agent that simply read "Give me a call."

Did the carpet catch fire? Difficult to say. I called. I expected the worst.

"When they paint the walls," she asked, "do you want the doors to be painted too?"

Um, sure.

I realize I may be a bit overly twitchy.

So, should you ever decide to build a house, my first word of advice is to expect abject disaster.

My second word of advice is to keep a sense of humor about it. Because at the end of the day, it might be all you have left.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Happy Anniversary, Us - Part IV


Four years ago today, I married my best friend.

When I wrote my second novel, Simply Sara, one of the themes that developed was the idea of home, and how home isn't necessarily a place.

What I've discovered in this past year is exactly how true that is.  Since our last anniversary, we've lived in Eugene, Portland, Memphis, and Richland.  At some point in the future (and goodness knows when) we'll move again, this time across town into our freshly-built house.

We've lived with family, we've lived far from family. But no matter where we are, my home is wherever Danny is.  As much as I miss my family, my friends, and the trappings of familiarity, I need Danny more.  No matter how unsettled our living situation is, as long as I'm with him, I can manage.

The thing is, no matter where we are, Danny's feet are still ticklish.  He still consumes large quantities of ice cream and Hot Tamales.  He still complains when his hair gets too long and it flops in his face.  He still opens my car door.  He still reaches for my hand when we walk together. He's still taller than me, even if I'm in five-inch heels. His smile still lights up his face (I know it's a cliché, but it's true). His hug is still the one that truly makes things better.  We still get each other.  Our "us-ness" remains the same, even if our location has shifted.

He's my home, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Synopsis Stuff

After a reply Tweet from a friend, I realized something big has changed:

I'm no longer afraid of writing synopses.

This might be because I've written seven in the last year, at least.  After about two or three, my attitude changed.  I started worrying less and focused more on "knocking it out," telling myself I'd change things later.

You know, like you're supposed to when writing.

So there you go.  My success tip for synopses.  Write them really fast.  Don't overthink them - all you need is to basically sketch out how the book follows a basic three-act structure.  Don't worry about all of the crucial information you're leaving out (hint: you'd be surprised how much you don't really need).  Don't worry about going to long or two short.

And remind yourself that everything - especially the book you're summarizing - can be changed.  Just because something is in your synopsis, doesn't mean it has to be in the book.

The caveat to that is that the synopsis is what your publisher uses to write catalogue copy, possibly before you're done.  So if you change things up, let them know.  I was waffling about whether or not Sara went to visit her sister Rebecca for a while.  The catalogue release sewed that one up.

So there you go. Happy synopsis writing!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Panini Post

I've written about my lunch-related angst before. At long last, I seem to have made a breakthrough.

Hello Panini.  Let's be friends.

Paninis solve several problems.  First, the bread is grilled, so you're unlikely to get icky bits of bread stuck in your teeth, which I hate.  Also, the grilling is pretty forgiving. You can use somewhat stale-ish bread, and it's okay.

I mean, I wouldn't serve it that way if I ran a restaurant.  But this is me, in my kitchen, at lunchtime.  I'm good with stale-ish bread.

Also, there is almost always cheese.  I love cheese.

And the pressing method warms the sandwich through, so you can put all sorts of veggies inside (ones more nutritious, say, than the requisite lettuce leaf).

Did I mention there are hundreds of variations?  This one is a variation on one of my signature sandwiches (I used ham and provolone instead of prosciutto and fontina), and I'm dying to try this one (with less bread, though, the one pictured is a bit overwhelming.

What's also great is that Danny enjoys them too.  We had dinner at Frost Me Sweet here in Richland, and while he was a bit wary going in (the seafoam green exterior paint and girly writing on the sign doesn't really connote manfood within), their Italian panini won him over.

Also, they had french fries.

But back to the panini.  It's pepperoni, salami, prosciutto, mozzarella and marinara sauce - very approachable for the red-blooded American male.  Also very easy to recreate at home.

(Side note - the salted caramel cupcake at Frost Me Sweet? Very good.)

So we bought a panini press.  You can spend a lot of money on them (one at TJ Maxx was going for $80), but I opted for the Hamilton Beach model.  Large enough to accommodate two sandwiches, a nice swivel-y top (so the top presses straight down, not from an awkward acute angle), but not particularly expensive.  Also, fits nicely on top of our mini-convection oven.

Here are some panini ideas in case you're feeling adventurous...

~ Southwestern (kind of) Panini ~

Inspired by the one at Starbucks, not available in Tri-Cities or the city of Memphis.

Flatbread if you have it, ciabatta, or sliced sourdough if you don't
Salsa
Sour Cream (I use light)
Monterey Jack cheese
Deli roasted chicken
Red and green bell peppers
Olive oil

Brush the outer slices of bread (i.e. the bread that will wind up on the outside) with olive oil, or spray if you have a spritzer or Pam-type olive oil spray), lay out on cutting board.  Mix the salsa with the sour cream in equal portions, spread onto bread.  Add some cheese to one side, then chicken, peppers, and more cheese on top (helps everything to stick together).  Grill until golden.

Note: Cheese will ooze.  Lost cheese is sad, so keep your cheese towards the middle.  Don't worry, it'll spread to the edges on its own.

~ Pear and Brie Panini ~

Inspired by a sandwich at Cafe Eclectic, by far one of the best places to eat (sans BBQ) in Memphis.

Brie
Thin-sliced Ripe Pear
Ciabatta Bread
Honey
Honey-Dijon mustard (optional)
Arugula

Slice Ciabatta in half, hollow it out a bit.  Feed the leftover bits of bread to the dog.  Brush the outsides with olive oil.  Mix some mustard and the honey together in a very small container (measuring cup works well), spread onto inside of bread.  Stack thin-sliced brie, pear, and arugula on the inside.  Press until golden and the brie is completely melted.

~ Italian Panini ~

Bread of Choice (sliced sourdough, ciabatta, Italian - really can't go wrong here)
Pizza sauce of choice (I like Boboli; use a pizza sauce rather than jarred marinara - less watery, less likely to soak the bread and get grossly soggy on the inside.  Which isn't what happened at Frost Me Sweet, but has happened elsewhere)
Salami of choice (I use Genoa)
Prosciutto
Pepperoni (I decline, but Danny likes it)
Roasted Red Peppers (optional)
Arugula (optional)
Mozarella cheese (aged or fresh)

Spray/brush bread with olive oil.  Stack ingredients. Cook. Enjoy.

~ Sweet Potato Fries ~

Partly inspired by Frost Me Sweet, who bake their fries with minced garlic, parsley, and shaved Parmesan cheese, and partly inspired by the idea that sweet potato fries are better for you but not quite *there* yet.

Frozen Sweet Potato Fries (make your own fresh and fry them yourself, but this is faster. This is lunch, people)
Fresh Rosemary
Fresh OR freeze-dried (thank you, Lighthouse!) Parsley
Olive Oil
Garlic, minced
Sea Salt
Fresh Cracked Pepper
Parmesan, grated or shaved

Pour some olive oil into a medium-ish bowl.  Add spices and garlic, let them sit for a few minutes to infuse a bit.  Toss in frozen fries, throw them around with your hands until they're adequately coated. Dump them onto a foil-lined pan; top with sea salt and a couple twists of cracked pepper.  Bake according to the package instructions.  Top with cheese once they're out of the oven; serve when cheese has melted.

Those are my food obsessions - what are you eating and enjoying right now?

BTW, booked my hotel room for ACFW. Who all is St. Louis-bound?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Maybe Later

So, I've tried to write a blog about characters for two days now.

That dog just won't hunt.


This one won't either.  She's a herder, not a hunter.


She also likes tulips.


And naps with Danny.


Baths? Not so much.


Peanut butter?  Yes, ma'am.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Black Heels and a Book Contest


So, a long time ago (February), in a far away land (Memphis), I attended a very large, very cool book signing at the Davis-Kidd Bookstore.

The business has since been auctioned off, but I'm VERY glad I got to be here, the night before we left to return for the Northwest.

Who was the author? None other than The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond!


Though in reality, it took some work to get to the point where you could actually see her.  You know who was easier to find?


A slightly iconic figure of the blogosphere...


...whom we usually see frowning at cows or covered in dirt.  Or cow poop.  Or...let's just be honest, from the back.  Not only was he clean and posing for picture, but he signed books!


It was very impressive.  Danny was in awe, since my book signings cause him conflicting desires; to be wildly proud of his wife vs. staying as far out of the fray as humanly possible.

After a not-short wait in line (which turned out to be longer because the line system was a bit confusing, and I was VERY glad I'd worn flats rather than heels, because I wouldn't have wanted to be in tears by the time I got to the front of the line), I made it to the lovely P-Dub...


...who graciously signed the stack of books I'd brought her.  Bless her.  And bless Danny for shooting the picture for me. Did I mention he was there with me through the craziness the whole time? Aside from when he had to make an emergency Best Buy (or was it Office Max?) run when I realized I'd forgotten the memory card for my camera (again.  I'm going to chalk it up to the going-crazy-packing-to-drive-across-the-country-brain).

He's quite grand, my husband.

The other funny part of that whole experience is that the girl in line in front of us was not only on her cell phone, but she stayed on her cell phone when she took her books to Ree and in fact passed the phone to her, asking her to speak to the person on the other end of the line.

For the record, a.) PW handled it very graciously, b.) I would not personally encourage this behavior, and c.) if a reader did that to me at a book signing, I can't even imagine what awkward thing I would say.  But I thought it hysterically funny.  What *did* people do before cell phones?

Anyway, I have a copy of this book...


(Which Tesla, an avid reader, recommends very much. And this picture was taken with my phone, so don't judge.)


...signed by both Ree and Marlboro Man, whose real name (for those interested) is Ladd Drummond.  This book has been lovingly transported across the country, protected from the elements, and has been hanging out in my closet (until just recently, when I made the dog pose with it) until I could get my electronic act together (more on that later).

Black Heels to Tractor Wheels is the story of how Ree and Ladd met, fell in love, and married.  If you've read the blog account (as I had), rest assured that there are parts not in the blog, and also tells the story about  their crazy Australian honeymoon and the birth of their first girl-child.  Also, if you're familiar with her recipes, gives a bit of history around some of her favorite foods and how they came to be.

If you'd like to win the copy, here's what to do:

1.) Comment below and answer the following question: What food means love to you?

2.) Hit the "Like" button on my Hillary Manton Lodge Fiction page on Facebook...

or...

3.) Follow me on Twitter

or

4.) Hit the "Follow" button to the right of this blog.

If you're already following, liking, Twittering, what-have-you, then all you have to do is comment, the other part is automatic.  The winner will be chosen at random.  Good luck!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Back From Hiatus

Didn't exactly *mean* to go on hiatus, but that's what happened.  Since the last post, we've...

1.) Driven across the country
2.) Visited friends and family at home VERY quickly
3.) Gathered our somewhat-in-storage belongings from various family members (four homes in total, bless them)
4.) Drove northeast with family to Richland, WA, our new home, and moved into our
5.) Glorious corporate apartment, which is fabulously amazing (especially after the...um...less than ideal hotel room we'd survived for the previous three months.)

I can wax about the apartment.  It has a mostly full kitchen, complete with a real oven and a real dishwasher and a real garbage disposal, which means I don't have to flush scraps down the toilet anymore.

If that grosses you out, you can either a.) know that the toilet was only six feet away, so this was actually a very convenient solution, or b.) pretend I didn't write it.  Whatever works for you, I'm good with it.

Anyway, we also have a second bedroom, AND a second bathroom (which is great for the after-church bathroom rush, you know?), and there are walls and doors and - oh yeah - CENTRAL AIR, and a fireplace...

...the only thing that could make it more magical would be a unicorn on the patio.  Which the dog would probably bark at.

Also a little more counter space.  But it's fantastic for now.

What else?

6.) The dog - we got a puppy.  And in all honesty, this is probably one of the biggest reasons I've been on hiatus.  Because she's less of a puppy than she is a 7-month-old infant who bit and peed and ran circles around things and caused me to cry and wonder why I'd spent three years desperately wanting a puppy.

Then, because she's full of much wisdom, she would choose that particular moment to curl up in my lap and sleep.

This caused two reactions.  First, I didn't give her away.  Secondly, I went to sleep myself.  Since those first few weeks, Tesla has a.) house-trained, save the evening accident, b.) kennel-trained, c.) learned to sit, d.) learned to lay down, e.) learned to drop (when it suits her), f.)  learned to roll over, and most importantly, g.) figured out that nipping lands her in jail (aka kitchen), and that licking people's hands instead grants her far more positive attention.

However, she's yet to figure out that a bath has yet to lead to her imminent demise.  Oh well.

So things, at this stage, are good.  We love the puppy.  The puppy loves us.  It was just a bit rocky there for a while, especially on four hours of sleep.

But wait, there's more!

7.) We put in an offer on a house.  After a long, protracted amount of back-and-forthing, we
8.) Decided to build in a neighborhood with easy access to the Barnhart yard for Danny, and easy access to Target and Starbucks for me.
9.)We've since picked out our exterior paint as well as our counter tops, despite the presence of walls or counter tops.

But enough about us.  How about the rest of the world?! The Royal Wedding-pocalypse came and...kind of went.  Kind of, in that it isn't dominating all of the media, but there's still plenty of coverage concerning Pippa's date and the going-away clothes and the timing of the honeymoon...

And let's be honest.  We know the pregnancy speculation is right around the corner.  It's like a Presidential campaign - you know it's coming, and there's nothing you can do to stop it.  If I were Kate, I'd invest in some industrial-strength level Spanx.  Though she is impressively svelte as is, you know that the moment she exhales the wrong way, that photo's going viral in a mater of seconds.

That's just my two cents.

And while the world was engrossed in said wedding, a super-secret-don't-tell-ANYONE-especially-not-People-Magazine SEAL team (who used to be referred to as Team 6, but after the press coverage, they've probably changed their name to Team 8 or something, to keep things top secret) struck in Pakistan, killing Osama bin Laden in a fire fight, thoroughly confirming the identity of the body before burying it at sea.

While I'm glad the search is over, I do have mixed feelings on this.  I wish bin Laden could have been tried for his crimes.  I wish another death wasn't necessary.  I wish we didn't live in a fallen world. It's interesting seeing the reactions of others, from measured dread to jubilation. I think this C.S. Lewis quote sums up a Godly response nicely - "We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it."

On a lighter note...

A few days ago, Tesla picked up her water dish (my 5-inch Corningware dish) with her mouth from its place on the carpet to the tile by the fireplace, where she dropped it for no reason but noise.  Now, it's Corningware, so it's nearly indestructible (I say nearly, because I broke one at a Target once), but the overall effect was reminiscent of the clanging of a beer stein and yelling for the barkeep.

Glad to be back! Be sure to check in in the comments section down below.

Oh! And to kick off my return to the blogging world, I'll be doing my first-ever contest.  And let me tell you, it's cool.  So stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lemon Tartlets in a Small Kitchen


Isn't it pretty? I used the recipe (both the filling and the crust) from the Smitten Kitchen recipe.  With...well...subtle changes.

I decreased the butter in the filling by one tablespoon, mainly because I had one stick short of a tablespoon in the fridge and decided that would have to be enough (don't think that I'm stingy on butter.  I'm not.  This recipe is not short of butter!).

Also, I don't exactly quite have a food processor.  I have a food processing attachment that goes with our immersion blender, which works great, but only ever holds about a cup or so of anything.  So I processed in smaller portions, mixed, processed some more, at least with the filling.  I did the crust by hand.  I realized that my pastry cutter (among many other things) is in storage, and cutting the butter in with knives wasn't floating my boat, so I rubbed the butter in with my (clean) fingers.  Mary Englebreit got me onto that, and sometimes it's quite handy.


Discovered (belatedly) that it would have been easier to simply press the chilled dough into the tartlet pans, rather than try to roll it out using my can of Baker's Joy.  I was afraid of overworking the dough, but as a result of not whaling on it, the crust was thicker than I intended.

But it tasted good.

The tartlet shells did shrink up just the tiniest but, but it actually made it easier to remove from the pan.

As for the lemon filling, it set up without any problems.  However, I actually think I'll use a regular lemon next time with the zest of a second lemon (as opposed to one Meyer Lemon).  Or maybe one Meyer Lemon and the zest of a regular lemon.

Anyway, not as sit up, hold the phone lemony as I wanted it to  be, so I'll tweak that for next time.  And don't get me wrong - there's definitely going to be a next time!

Cooking in a tiny hotel kitchen-let is not for the faint of heart (or specifically for the faint of heart, the kind who order take out all the time.  It can go either way).  With two burners (and one saucepan), it really forces me to streamline the prep process for anything I'm making.  But its been a good exercise in using things creatively.  Rather than sauté veggies every time, I may roast them in the mini-convection oven (which has proved its worth, btw) so I can use that second burner for something else.  If I'm making a brown-butter sage sauce, I skip the browning and melt the butter with the sage in the microwave.  Is it purist cooking? No, but it works.

Though sometimes, it's easier to order Thai.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Out and About in Tennessee


We had a wonderful weekend in Nashville last week.  Far and away, the highlight was the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art. From the architecture to the gardens, to the sculptures to the Fabergé collection, it was absolutely worth the drive.





My favorite, the Glass Bridge by Siah Armajani, was created with the memory of the bridge designed to span the Grand Canal in Venice, during the heyday of Murano's glass industry. The original collapsed, but this one stands surrounded by oak trees.














This is bamboo in the forest near the Japanese gardens.  Almost makes me want a bamboo forest of my own.

Except I don't, because bamboo is like a tattoo for your yard.  Once it's there, it's not budging.











We also really loved the spider-web patterns formed in the melting ice over the ponds.  At some point, someone must have thrown rocks in, breaking the ice.  As it melted, it left the sheerest traces of patterned ice.


 Moments later, we literally watched as the wind blew over the surface.  When we returned 40 minutes later, most of the patterns were gone.  I shot these two photos with my point-and-shoot; I'm really pleased with how the exposure turned out, since it was entirely guesswork on my part (LCD screens not being wildly reliable).

We'll actually be going back to Nashville to meet up with some college friends of mine.  Since we weren't able to visit every part of the grounds (it's quite extensive), I'm not-so-secretly hoping to go back.

And when we return for a brief time to Memphis in June (most likely; we don't have solid dates yet), I'm hoping for another weekend Nashville trip.

In less sophisticated entertainment, we finally got to see the Peabody Ducks!


There they were! Swimming around and around in the fountain in the center of the lobby.  And after swimming, sometimes one would hop up on the ledge to get a look around...







...and preen.








Which makes sense, because it's not an insignificant audience.  We arrived twenty minutes ahead of the 5pm march out, and the place was packed!  We were able to get a spot on the mezzanine.  This was good, since we got a nice overhead view, but bad, because the flowers happened to block quite a lot of the exit.

Like, pretty much all of it.









After a while, the Duck Master (I'm totally not making this up) starts to prep the area by shoving away small children and preparing the red carpet.


Not an easy task.

After a rousing retelling of the hotel's origins - and how the ducks came to reside inside - the music played, the ducks swam more frantically, and the Duck Master called up!

And as far as I can tell, each duck jumped up.  But it's hard to say, because the flowers were in the way.

Then the Duck Master and the Honorary Duck Master (the elderly lady in the chair on the left, celebrating her 85th birthday, bless her) proceeded to walk the ducks down the red carpet.

At least that's my guess.  It's hard to see ducks when there are two adults walking behind them.  But they waddled (the ducks, not the adults) right into the elevator.

It was an excellent time.  As was dinner at Bhan Thai, which had one of the best Pad Thais I've had.  And very nice people, since I left my navy blue cardigan (the one I wear almost three times a week) and they not only found it but folded it nicely until we picked it up later.

We head back to the West coast on the 26th.  We both miss being near friends, family, and familiarity terribly.  But until then - we're still cramming in as much sight-seeing (and eating) as possible.  We'll meet Danny's cousin and great aunt at the Memphis Zoo tomorrow; Sunday, it's a whirlwind trip to Nashville.

And then...Washington!

Can't wait!