Cooking phases.

When I first started really cooking, I threw things together. Lentils, salt, crock pot, thyme. Then I started following recipes. And eating, lots of eating of things that I wouldn’t have otherwise eaten. Nothing truly daring, but new foods. Indian buffets were my daring indulgence. I lived in a vegetarian co-op and cooked green pea soup without sour cream or bacon.

Then I started breaking out of recipes and cooking without recipes. Not baking, just cooking. This was a combination of wanting to recreate things I’d eaten, memorizing recipes and not needing them in front of me, and little touches of understanding. And when I followed recipes it was in making things that I’d eaten a lot of, but never made before. Mayonnaise, salad dressing, pesto.

Then I started researching, trying to find out why I couldn’t cook certain things. Beans. I kept trying to make things with dried beans and it wasn’t working. I think that was the trigger, one of the main triggers on that phase. I wanted to make homemade pork’n’beans. Is it so much to ask for? Apparently.  I still don’t have it down.  And how do you meet the challenge of cooking vegan? Cooking gluten free? These were the kinds of questions I cooked to answer.

Then, over the last year or two, I drifted out of cooking. Even as I ate more widely and daringly, I hated the effort involved in keeping people fed. The obligation of it. Lee kept telling me, “You don’t have to cook if you don’t want to.” And nothing fell apart without me. My daughter learned to do more for herself, Lee started cooking more. We ate less complicated, less “cooked” things. Bowls of cereal, yes, but also more grilling, more salads, more rice cooker rice with leftovers on top. I was done, I was dried out, I was bored with everything and didn’t know where to go to find something new. My cooking wasn’t perfected, not even close, but even so the quality of my cooking went downhill as my soul went out of it. Boiling eggs was too much work, making breakfast. I used to make a batch of granola every week, but I stopped. It just dried out of me. I had a few things I wanted to make. Green chili. But mostly the drive faded.

Today I’ve been thinking about that.

I started getting more into cooking because it helps balance me out. I’m in my head so much that I need to be dragged out from time to time. I like to eat. I like the sensuousness of smelling fresh-chopped garlic. I like surprise of the perfect cherry. I like listening to the bubbles pop as I knead bread, the hiss of onions in the pan.  Being able to taste when wine needs air.  I struggle to get out of my own head; cooking used to be my line to shore.

Today I made garlic potatoes, trying a new technique. It’s too hot in the house to roast the damn things. If you’re going to fry potatoes, for example the perfect french fries, you’re supposed to fry them first at a lower temperature to cook the insides, then crank up the heat, drain them, and fry them again so they get the perfect, glasslike crust. While the sausages were grilling, I nuked the cubed potatoes with some garlic and some salt to cook the insides. And then I pan-fried them over higher heat in olive oil, finished them with salt and grated Irish cheddar.  Not perfect.  Also: next time I’ll add the garlic later, it got too brown.

A couple of times I tried to escape from the moment: get back into my head and stop caring about what was actually going on. If the theory was good, the potatoes would be good. But that’s not how cooking works. Every time, the potatoes are different. And so theory is nice, but theory will always come up short.

This is where I’m going. Maybe not now, maybe not soon. But learning to stay with the ingredients, with the heat, with the timing.  Maybe I’ll cook more, maybe I won’t.  Maybe I’ll make a thousand batches of potatoes, one after the other, until I go insane.

Unwanted Story

Another exercise thingy:

 

Two stories tall, narrow, Victorian-style, hardwood floors now sprinkled with antique rugs, two and a half baths with good plumbing under them; a cellar whose shelves groaned out for jars of jam and carbuoys of beer; robin’s-egg blue walls in good condition and an air conditioning unit fit to freeze Hell over with: the house on Mulberry Street was perfect for a children’s writer with ice-blue eyes and dark brown hair and a new husband named Tim.  There was even a nursery already decorated with white wainscotting and blue wallpaper splattered with Beatrix Potter characters–although honestly, she intended to take the paper down and replace it with something from The Hobbit long before she got knocked up.

Most mornings, she sent her husband off to his job with a kiss and climbed back up the stairs, pulling on the wooden banister so she could take the steps two or three at a time, she was so eager to get back to work.  But lately she’d been brewing herself a cup of too-strong Earl Gray tea in their shiny new microwave, drinking it while sitting in the breakfast nook of their narrow but otherwise charming steel-and-oak kitchen, staring out the windows onto the heavy, humid greenery in the back yard, and wishing she hadn’t signed the contract.  There were so many other stories that wanted to be written, and the dark, watchful spaces between the lilac leaves weren’t helping.

She sat and drank cups of tea until the cats sent for her, tangling around her ankles and sticking their heads in her cup–and then she went upstairs.  There was no arguing with cats.  So she climbed the stairs, more slowly now, the eyes of the cats pressing on her back, and opened the crystal-knobbed door to her office.

Tim had painted it for her.   Deep, cloudless blue, with a white ceiling that lit up with at least a thousand stars at night.  The window curtan was a shimmering, translucent purple stitched with gold thread. A negligee of a curtain.  The only lights came from a pair of antique stained-glass lamps on either end of her glass-and-steel desk.  And her monitor.

The a/c clicked on.   Chris slid into her office chair, dropped the heavy quilt over her blue jeans, put her toes over the vent, then leaned over and booted up her computer.  Magoo, sleek and black, and tabby Tuna clawed up onto her lap, one head in either direction.  Shasta hogged the back of the small futon like it was her hoard; the gray-and-black tiger-striped Things packed themselves into the space between the monitor and the lamp like sardines.  The lamp wobbled.  Chris picked it up and set it on her printer on top of the tan filing cabinet.

The cats always knew when she was having trouble writing.  She’d never been able to tell whether they meant to comfort her or if they were just pleased by the smell of frustrated tears.

Rubbing the creases across her forehead, Chris started to open the file, then stopped.  She hated this story.  Just hated it.  Yet every morning when she woke up, she knew what to do next with it.  It was just that predictable.  She wanted the story to fail.  She wanted to keep her name off it.  She wanted to call her editor and say, “This just isn’t my kind of thing,” take the advance out of savings, and break the contract.

And she would have.  If the pages hadn’t been writing themselves.

Cherry Season

Part of a writing exercise thingy:

 

You hate food balloons.  Anything with a tough skin over a mushy middle.  Peaches are okay.  The skin isn’t thick enough to conceal rot.  You know where you are with a peach.  But grapes, most grapes are horrible.  You can’t just pop a grape into your mouth.  That’s just disgusting:  until it’s too late, you can’t tell whether the grape’s going to be rotten or not.  There’s a thin blade between optimal grape eating time, and rotten grape time, and you can’t always tell with your fingers when it is.   You don’t eat the mushy ones, of course.  But grapes rot from the stem out, so sometimes they still feel firm when really they’re falling apart.  Pop one straight into your mouth, and you get a mouth of rotting sweetness that makes you gag.  No matter how carefully you feel for dry stems or search for a wet brown ring around them, you’re going to end up eating a couple of rotten grapes in every bunch.  So you avoid grapes.  The risk is too much, the reward too little.

Cherry tomatoes are pretty touchy, too.   But you like tomatoes more, so you risk it: you cut them in half first, of course, and check the yellow seeds and the white flesh and the watery, pale insides and think about how it’s too bad that most tomatoes aren’t allowed to get really ripe.  But of course that’s a risk, too.  It’s one thing to say you’re serving tomatoes, and it’s another to serve the perfect tomato, and you get most of the reward, as a restauranteur, from just saying you’re serving tomatoes and not actually serving good ones.   Serving good tomatoes is too high a risk that a customer’s going to bite into rot.  You can lose your shirt chasing the perfect tomato.

But then there are cherries.

You don’t buy cherries when they’re expensive.  There just isn’t any point.  When they’re cheap you buy a lot of them.  The first few batches are too sour.  Underripe.   You bite down on them with your upper teeth at the edge of the stem so that your incisors sheer down the side of the pit.   Cherry pit poison scrapes onto your teeth and you like it.  You bite off half the cherry, eat it, then use your teeth to bite the pit out of the other half.  There’s juice on your fingers, it’s staining under your fingernails.  With the really ripe ones you find stray dots of juice like blood spatter at a crime scene.  Then, like a magic trick, you spit out the pit at the same time you eat the other half of the cherry.  A switcheroo.   And toss the pit away into the trash while you swallow.

Cherries rot from the inside out.  At least, the ones you trick yoursel into eating. The rot that lies along the pit tastes dry and tannic, like mummy flesh, and you can fool yourself into eating two or three before you have to stop, because your body is in revulsion of your betrayal.  Poison.   You’re eating poison, you know.  If you don’t stop this instant I will vomit this back up, I don’t care that you’d need to eat a ton of these in order to be in actual danger, young lady, I’ve had enough of this…

Then you retch.

And that’s the end of the cherry season, and you’re back to hating all food balloons, everywhere, except the ones like ikura eggs that go crunch between your teeth.  Even orange slices are iffy sometimes.  But that glorious cherry season.  Every year.  You push it as far as you can go.  To the point of feeling the rotten cherry slide back up your throat.

Writer Blog: How to Bootstrap

I’ve been talking to someone about writing, about learning to write, about integrating parts of your life so you have something to write about…

…and she’s kind of soaking it up like a sponge.

It’s eerie.

(I’m perfectly fine running at the mouth, but having people take me seriously gives me the creeps.  I’m not built to be an authority, even though that’s where it feels like I’m going sometimes.  Ugh.)

Here’s the deal, though:

No matter what writing advice I give, no matter what I say, every writer has to do it for themselves.  It?  What it?

Bootstrap.

Bootstrapping:  the act of walking up an imaginary staircase by pulling yourself up by the straps of your boots, one step at a time.

Every single writer you’ve ever read?  Bootstrapped themselves.  (Except those employing ghost writers, but even then the ghostwriter had to do it.)  And every single short story, every single book, brings new challenges which then must be bootstrapped on an individual basis.  You don’t ever magically get to a point where writing stops requiring bootstrappery.

If you wanted to identify a single meta-skill that would put you further ahead in writing, it’s this:

Learn to read faster.

Not joking.

But if you could name two skills that would put you further ahead in your writing, here’s the second one:

Learn to bootstrap.

Seriously.  It’s not just a writing skill, it’s an everything skill.  But how do you do it?

I can only tell you how I did it…because everyone, of necessity, bootstraps differently.

  • I don’t accept other people’s advice until I’ve tested both the advice and the opposite of the advice, or at least the cost of not following the advice.  Yes, I will stick my hand into the fire just because someone told me not to.  Because sometimes people tell you bullshit things like, “Don’t eat the cake, it doesn’t taste good.”  Just because they don’t like cake.  Is it cake or is it fire?  Nobody else gets to decide.  Plus, if you’re too scared of the fire, you never learn how to make cake.
  • When testing advice, I test the holy crap out of it.  I don’t just try it once.  I try it multiple times, in multiple moods, in as many ways as I can think of.  Even bad advice, if it catches my eye.
  • @#$% perfection.  Nothing I make is going to be perfect, right?  Nothing anybody else makes is going to be perfect, either.  Especially when I try to apply it to my own imperfect self.
  • Instead of searching for perfection, I search for the razor’s edge between satisfaction and discomfort.  Comfort Zone | Outside Comfort Zone.  I shoot for that moment where I have no idea where I’m on familiar ground or not.  If I head too far out into the unknown all at once, I shut down and start telling myself that it’s too hard, that I have no idea what I’m doing, etc.
  • I don’t make anyone else responsible for teaching me.  I hope.  This is a lifetime’s habit to break.  I’ve had to learn how to disobey, ignore, subvert, mock, destroy, and otherwise spit on the idea of following directions.
  • At the same time, though, because bootstrapping is a paradox anyway, I had to learn to respect the giants upon whose shoulders I stand.  Even the midgets who wrote nothing but crap filled with typos and handed it out from a Xerox machine, I stand on their shoulders.  I’m heavy.  Show some @#$%^& respect.
  • I ditch what’s not working, even if it used to work.  This is kind of sad, actually.  Because nothing happens without touching other people’s lives.   I turns out the people I value the most support me, the ongoing project.  I treasure you [mwah! mwah!] and try to follow your example by supporting your and other people’s changes, even the ones who whine whenever I don’t do what they want.  Because bootstrapping isn’t without hypocrisy, as we learn to pull our heads out of our butts.
  • I keep faith.  This isn’t like “Every day I wake up and I am filled with faith!”  This is more like keeping the fire going or keeping kosher.  It’s @#$%^& work.  Writer’s faith:  I keep working at this, I’ll get better.  The only mistakes are 1) not trying, and 2) not accepting that mistakes are mistakes, so I can learn from them.

Finally, I pass it on.  What I, personally, have to say isn’t all that new.  But it might be a clue that someone else hasn’t picked up yet.  And if nobody passed on what they learned, we’d be screwed within a generation.

We’re completely alone in our bootstrapping…and yet we’re all in this together.  Cheesy but true.

So: don’t make me the first voice you listen to, or even the hundredth.  If you can’t learn to listen to yourself, it’s always going to be a waste of time to listen to me, or to listen to anybody.

Writers and artists don’t need their hands held and their egos stroked…they need their asses kicked.  The best way to get this done is to make it a self-kicking ass.

 

Cover Redo: The Scaredy Wizard of Theornin

The Scaredy Wizard of Theornin with the updated cover available at Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple, and Smashwords so far.

High fantasy story for preteens/middle graders with a kickbutt heroine!

The Scaredy Wizard of Theornin

I decided that I missed my cover updates, so I did one. I’m not sure whether I’ll leave this one forever, but…Ray liked it better than the old one, so it stays for now.

This one is a high fantasy short story for middle-grade/preteen readers featuring a kickbutt heroine who has a certain disregard for the property of other people.  Including wizards.

Recipe: Romesco Sauce

This is a red pepper and tomato sauce with Spanish influences, she said, trying to throw in the keywords that Lee’s most likely to use when looking up this recipe…

Romesco Sauce

1 14.5-oz can of chopped tomatoes (may be some left over, reserve for another use) or the equivalent of 6 Roma tomatoes

1 roasted red pepper (about 1/2c from a jar or you can roast your own), halved and seeds/stem removed as necessary

12 cloves garlic, peeled

1/4 c olive oil

1 slice bread (the crustier and chewier the better)

1/2c sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

1/2 c toasted almonds

1 t Spanish paprika

1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes (or more)

salt to taste

Right, you have two options here: the DIY method or the from-a-can method.

DIY: preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line baking sheet with tinfoil, dump olive oil on it, put halved tomatoes, red pepper, and garlic on the baking sheet, roast for 15-20 minutes or until mushy and just slightly caramelized.  You could also roast the pepper over a gas or charcoal flame, but that’s beyond the scope of this recipe.

From-a-can: pull out about half a cup of jarred roasted red peppers and about 8-10 ounces of tomatoes and juice from the can of tomatoes.  Drop the peeled garlic cloves in a dish with the olive oil and nuke on medium high until the cloves are mushy, about 4-5 minutes on medium heat.

The rest of this recipe applies to both options.

Take the half cup of almonds, spread them out on a small saute pan and toast them over low-medium heat until they smell toasty.  If they look positively burnt you’ve gone too far.  Remove the almonds from heat and toast the bread in the same pan to the same doneness.  You might then toast the paprika and then (separately) the red pepper flakes the same way if you’re feeling ambitious.

Everything’s going into a blender or food processor at this point.  But start with the peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil first just to give you a fairly wet base.  Then add the almonds, paprika, and the bread, blend to a consistent but not smooth consistency, and taste.  Add some salt and vinegar, a little at a time, until you’re happy with the taste, more or less.  If the sauce is too thick, add more tomatoes.  If too thin, try another half-slice of toasted bread.  Taste again for salt/vinegar.  Finally, add a few pepper flakes and see how that does ya.  Secret ingredient: pinch of sugar.   Only add that if you feel like it’s too sour, though, and not more than a pinch.

In the end, the flavor should be not too garlicky (if it’s too garlicky, the garlic cloves weren’t cooked enough), fairly tart, almost kind of buttery from the almonds and the olive oil/garlic combo.  It should have a pretty full body.   If you put ketchup at one end of a spectrum and mashed potatoes at the other, romesco should be around halfway to mashed potatoes.  The sauce holds up well in the fridge for a few days, and goes well with pretty much anything as a pasta sauce, dip, or sauce for meats.

 

 

So…Which Stories Do I Write?

 

(Note: Experimenting with blog design again; the last one was pretty but killed commenting on the site!  Bah!)

This is not a question I’ve asked myself in a long time, I have to admit: Which story should I write? The one that wants to be written! The one that’s an assignment! The one that I got hired to write! The one that might get into that sweet anthology!

Duh!

But, well, I’m in a position where I need to ask that again.

Not because the world is beating a path to my door. That’s gonna be a whole different problem. This is more like, “I now have the skillset to write competent (not, you know, excellent–just competent) stories that I don’t really like, for one reason or another. What now?”

My goal is to have 25 short stories out at any given time. Here’s the usual process: Write story, tidy story up, send story. I was up to 33 stories a bit ago, and I was at the point where I didn’t like a bunch of them.

“Is this something I want to have published?”

And, on a couple of them, I had to answer, “No.”

No, because they weren’t up to my current standards.

No, because they bored me.

No, because in the end, they said things I couldn’t stand behind.

So I’ve been pulling down the most obvious choices as they get rejected. Because, you know, if I’m wrong and someone wants to publish them? Well.

Some of the stories I’m not sure about, I intend to leave for a while. Because maybe someone else will see something I can’t. But is that what I should be doing? Should I be responding to what sells and trying to write more of it, or following “the muse,” whatever that is?

Here’s how I’m answering the question for now:

1) I should follow the muse when the muse is like, “This is what you’re doing right now.” For example, today. Today I don’t get to make any other progress until this blog is worked out. Jeez muse, I have deadlines! But muse, like honey badger, don’t care.

2) I have been writing stories to react to things that get under my skin. A lot of times, this means I’m writing angry stories. Is that what I want? To be the angry story writer? Sheesh. How many stories consumed by anger do I love? None. Just none. So when the muse isn’t strangling me, then I write stories that have, at some level, things that I love.

3) Stories that I write for pure study. I mean, sure, I’m working on something with every story I write. But there are stories that I write mostly because I want to try out someone else’s writing techniques. In multiple cases, those are the ones that I’ve been pulling back on lately. I don’t regret the experiments, but I don’t know that they need to go any further than my desk.

More and more I’m wondering: now that I can write stories that are clearly not meant to be what I’m writing, how do I know what to write? How do I make forward planning decisions? A production schedule?

Right now I’m following the muse without hesitation. I write whatever it wants me to write. On the one hand, this is great: listen to your subconscious! But on the other hand, the subconscious needs the conscious, too. If I follow the subconscious the way it’s been leading me lately, I write a bunch of angry stories, a bunch of copycat stories, and whatever freelance job pays the most at the time. I don’t think that’s what my subconscious wants to end up with, any more than my conscious self does. My subconscious is like, “But what about your personal writer heroes? Can’t you write their stories?” Not, dear subconscious, if I follow your urges all the dang time.

So here it is: Can’t force myself to write what I subconsciously resist writing.

Can’t let the subconscious have 100% control over what I write.

Have to find that sliver of space between those two statements. And it feels like going that way involves finding what I’m pulled toward with delight, rather than pushed away from by anger. I don’t know that I can really come up with a plan based off this. But it’s probably at least a small step forward.

Women Destroy Science Fiction

I have an essay (a brief one) in WDSF, an essay about finding the kind of science fiction that I want to find, and how science fiction has to outcompete the various media that my daughter’s exposed to: science fiction needs to be able to appeal to a kid who’s watched Powerpuff Girls, you know?  She isn’t going to put up with stuff that’s scientifically interesting but dull plotwise and doesn’t feature any women in it.  Why should she?

I don’t feel horrifically angry about women being excluded from SF or anything.  I think there are inroads being made, although not perhaps so much in hard SF.  (I’d love to see an anthology of just hard SF written by women…as well as non-military romance being written by men.  But I digress.)

What I do want to note is that SF is facing the same kind of choices that comic books are.  How are you bringing in kids?  It’s not enough to say, “Oh, well, we just hand them Heinlein juveniles and the love of outer space will take care of itself.”  Au contraire, mon frere.  Heinlein juvies are no longer able to compete.  My daughter just can’t relate to Heinlein.  There are too many outdated elements, both from a scientific point of view as well as from a “she hasn’t been conditioned to put up with this crap” point of view.  Male protagonists who mock girls?  Female protags whose point in life is backing up the guys and becoming love interests?  Heinlein might have been arguably advanced for his day, but why the hell would my daughter bother with that kind of book?  And even the target market, boys, aren’t getting hooked on Heinlein anymore.  Not like they used to.

With so many options, it’s not like SF can afford not to reach out specifically, deliberately to girls.  Or to kids of color.  Or to kids who are handicapped.  Or to kids on the autistic spectrum.  Or a hundred other different markets.  We need everyone.

Case in point: Firefly.

One of the best SF stories told in recent decades.  Not a story that could be told about a bunch of white guys and a token helpless female.

I’m not saying SF needs to be destroyed or anything.   I’m just saying we don’t need more Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein.   What we need is more Firefly.

 

 

 

Chez Moi: Leftovers.

 

I’m still brainstorming this dang cookbook.  I’m torn between thinking it’s genius or it’s idiocy.  Story of my life, right?  Who needs to be told to use up leftovers?  I did.

Leftovers.

In theory, you’ll eat them later and they will taste just as good as they did the first time.

I hate that theory.  Pfui!  I spit on that theory.

There are a few things that are good as leftovers:  pizza and fried chicken are good.  Mashed potatoes, good.

Half a soggy sandwich in a takeout box, not good.  That cooking experiment where it went okay and then you dumped everything into a container and threw it in the microwave but now you’re afraid to eat it.   Not good.  The perfectly grilled steak that you brought home from a friend’s house that now is covered with some kind of coagulated grease and takes like leather when you heated it up again.

Tragic.

Okay.  The thing is, you were probably raised like me, with the idea that you could just throw leftovers in the microwave and have them be magically all better. And you never really learned how to deal with them otherwise.

I’m going to say this, and it’s going to make me sound like an idiot to some people, but it needs to be said: before there were microwaves, people had waaaay more interesting, tasty ways to deal with leftovers.  They would cook things in order to have the leftovers they needed to make something else.  

I bet you could never imagine saying “Oh, yay, leftovers,” but that was how these pre-microwave savages operated: deliciously.

For example:

  • Chicken pot pie is a way to use up leftover roast chicken.  Same for chicken salad.
  • French toast, croutons, the breading crumbs on a lot of deep-fried dishes, bread soup, bread salad–all ways of using up stale bread.
  • Fried rice.  Oh, how I love you, fried rice.
  • Broth.  All broths are just ways of using up leftovers.
  • Burritos?  Leftover roast meat, rice, and beans.
  • Dim sum: leftover bbq pork, shimp, veggies, and more.
  • Even the classic roast beef au jus is just a way to use up…roast beef.

There are probably a thousand other tricks that we’ve been losing out of our cooking repetoire, because of microwaves.

However, there are some new tricks that we’ve made up, because of the era in which we grew up (and went to college).  Here’s one:

Kitchen Sink Ramen (Pan-Asian Version)

Prepare a package of ramen following the package directions–or however you see fit.

Add a half-cup or so (total) of the following:

  • Protein that isn’t a) nasty-smelling or b) covered in dairy products
  • Ditto for veggies.
  • Nuts.
  • Peanut butter.
  • Pieces of fruit (because sweet and sour is a thing, right?)
  • The little side dishes of whatever came with your takeout (no dairy).
  • I advise against adding other types of starch unless you’re desperate.  Leftover starch can quickly turn into mush.

Supplement with a couple of tablespoons of the following flavor-boosters (mix and match at your own risk):

  • BBQ sauce.
  • Hot sauce.
  • Lemon/lime juice.
  • Sweet/sour sauce.
  • Salsa.
  • The packets of whatever came with your takeout.
  • Soy sauce.
  • There is, in fact, a world of Asian sauces to explore.

And, as with almost any type of dish designed to use up leftovers, you can always top it with a fried egg, and it’ll be brilliant.

Variations & Further Research

Rice + leftovers + soy sauce + egg = fried rice (or bimbibap).

Potatoes + leftovers + beef broth + onion = hash (e.g., corned beef hash).

Macaroni + leftovers + cheese + milk = deluxe mac’n’cheese.

Rice + leftovers + tomatoes = Spanish rice (a knockoff version of paella by the way).

Beans/lentils + leftovers + broth = bean/lentil soup (in fact, most non-classy soups can be treated as a repository for leftovers).

Leftovers + bread crumbs + eggs = croquettes (ham croquettes, salmon patties, crab cakes, mac’n’cheese balls, etc.).

Leftovers + sour cream/mayo/plain yogurt + green onions/jalapenos/lemon = dip (onion dip, artichoke dip, shrimp dip, roasted red pepper dip).

Dessert + oatmeal + yogurt = parfait.

Leftovers + hotdogs + sauces and raw onions = yum (chili dogs, anyone?  how about kim chee dogs?).

Something that I’ve been noticing is that a lot of the things we buy or make from scratch are really meant to absorb leftovers, but people don’t necessarily write down recipes that start out with “first get your leftover chili…” We’re losing touch with what, exactly, we can do with leftovers and how fundamental they are to a lot of home-cooking dishes that never really got written down.  Everyone thinks, “Crap, who wants to see a recipe for ramen with stuff in it?”  But that’s how classic dishes get made: people looking to stretch their budget take the cheapest ingredients around, add all the leftovers they can gets, and use a couple of tricks to make it actually taste good.  Look up the history of a lot of traditional dishes, and you’ll find a hidden stash for leftovers in it.

Your Go-To Leftover Dish

What about you?  What if you don’t like ramen, or you have a lot of dairy mixed in with your proteins and veggies?

Here’s my suggestion:

  • Figure out your favorite cuisine.  American, Thai, Mexican, Italian, Greek, what have you.
  • Do a search for “[Name of Cuisine] leftover recipes.”
  • Because of the power of the Internet, you will strike gold.  LOTS of gold.
  • Pick a dish that you really, really like.  And always have the stuff on hand that you need to make that dish, other than leftovers.  I mean, write it on a permanent grocery list and tape it to the inside of a cabinet, so when you go out for groceries, you take a quick look and make sure you have all the stuff you need to make your leftover dish.

The Pantry

As a matter of fact, identifying your favorite cuisine can have a side benefit, too.  While you’re on the Internet, do a search for “How to stock a [Name of Cuisine] pantry.”

In a lot of cookbooks, you’ll see a section about how to stock your pantry, based on whatever the cook’s idea of what should go in it, but they don’t necessarily address the reason for having a pantry:

A pantry is a collection of stuff that makes leftovers taste good.

Okay, to an overachiever cook, it’s really a collection of items that you use in all your cooking.  But for our purposes, it’s really just a storehouse of what you need to get by with your leftovers.  So when you’re building your initial pantry (or taking a look at your overstuffed pantry and trying to figure out what you really need), look at your favorite leftover recipes, and prioritize the stuff you need to make it.  That’s your pantry.

Other Tips for Leftovers

  • When you throw the leftovers in the fridge, don’t mix everything together.  It’s easier to adapt leftovers when they’re in separate components.
  • It’s okay to throw out wilted bread, lettuce, and veggies and just eat the meat.
  • The mix seems to run about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cooked starch with about 1/2 cup of other stuff, with a bunch of flavor-boosting sauces and possibly an egg on top.  (Of course there are exceptions, like dips.)
  • When you are making something basic, like roast chicken or mashed potatoes, make a lot of it.  Because you’ll be using some of it for leftovers later.
  • I’m not going to lecture you on food safety.  I’m no expert.  But store your food safely.

If you liked this blog post…consider signing up for my newsletter or check out a free copy of the first episode of Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts.  I have other (much older) foodie posts at http://foodie.deannaknippling.com.  Thanks!

 

 

 

 

More on Character.

 

Lately I’ve been working on endings and realized that I’ve been using my talents against myself: I get to the climactic battle scenes, and I end up so excited to find out how everything wraps up that I rush through them and leave out the details that make resolving a battle so satisfying.  Ack.  I hate it when other writers do that: I quit reading Fables by Bill Willingham because he pulled a couple of rushed endings on me. I have a thing for endings.  At any rate, I caught myself doing it more than once, and spoke sternly to myself.  It’s going to take a while and a lot of practice to weed that habit out, but it’ll come.

At least, my subconscious thinks it will.  It has moved on (or returned?) to character since then.

I’m working on a difficult ghostwriting project.  It’s awesome, but it’s difficult:  I’ve been fighting with the characters, trying to make them make sense.  They haven’t been working, or at least they haven’t been working in the form that I’d given them.  They feel flat sometimes, like they are only performing actions because I tell them to, not because they have a particular drive to do it.  Fortunately, the client let me take a break recently, and now that I’m back, I’m seeing the characters with fresher eyes.

1) The character I thought was a bad girl isn’t.  She’s a tragic figure: the one thing that makes her special is that she takes all the crappy stuff she goes through in life and turns it into art.  Then, suddenly, she gets more power than she can handle and can’t control it anymore, and instead starts lashing out.

2) The character I thought was an emotionally complex adult isn’t.  She has one strategy:  run at it headlong and make it fall over.  I was initially confused about this, because in the opening, she’s trying to be tricky (but failing miserably at it).

3) The character I thought was good and righteous–which is HARD to write as a character, because characters have to keep falling on their face somehow–is really just kind of compulsive about fixing things.  When something is broken, he attempts to fix it.  Sometimes he breaks things even worse in trying to fix them, and sometimes he just arrogantly decides something is broken and “fixes” it.

4) The character at the root of all this, I don’t have him.  I thought I had him.  I kept thinking of him as a chess player playing the longest of long games.  A kind of ultimately noble character that can look good or evil, depending on how he’s currently reaching his goals.  But that’s an exterior view of the character, not something I can pull on like a second skin, not something I can empathize with.

What I’m starting to suspect is that he’s driven by a fear of perfection.  He admires things that are broken, yet still functional.  He is perfectly willing to break something in order to make it more functional, or to otherwise achieve his goals–being broken isn’t something to be feared, but to be embraced.  He’s startled by reality sneaking up on him; he doesn’t really get that he’s participating in all this; he thinks he’s above it.

In the end I think I might relate to him most of all, but it’s a struggle at the moment.

The main thing that I pulled out breaking down my character choices was that there’s a difference between seeing the choices from the inside and the outside.  Which seems like a no-brainer in theory but is a bitch to sort out in practice.  For example, I kept circling around #3 as “wants to make the world a better place.”

This is not an effective character choice.  Because how you’re going to make the world a different place is so up to interpretation as to make the statement useless from a writer’s perspective.  You can’t check where you’ve jerked the character off the rails with a statement like that, and the problem was that I kept jerking the character off the rails, and it was leading him to yawn-worthy places.

Now, to see the world from his eyes, I’ve been going, “What’s the system here?” and, when he has that figured out, “How can I fix it?” He doesn’t ask, for example, “Should it be fixed?”  Nope, he just identifies the system and fixes it.  If he hasn’t fixed it, he’s going to pick at it until there’s something to fix, and then he’s going to fix that.  If he’s fixed it, then it’s fine.  Can’t you see it’s fine?  Fine.

You can a) see where this might be easier to check whether you’ve done it than “make the world a better place,” and b) create dramatic @#$%-ups, I mean, tension.

Additional work will be required.  Yay!  I’m learning more about writing.  Boo!  It’s a pain in the ass…

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