Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Season for Kvetching…and Barbeque!


The Editor Unleashed/Smashwords Flash Fiction 40 contest closed to voting this weekend. I know I’m not alone when I say I’m glad. It was an emotional experience, watching my story ride the whimsical wave of voter favor. In the end, I finished a respectable 9th. I’m satisfied.

Except for the hollowness.

Turns out the ranking was more than just a process. It was a distraction. A source of euphoria and blistering outrage. It was something to email WB’s about while we kvetched over the voting. But now it’s gone and it’s time let go and write again.

Yep, the season for kvetching has ended.

Lucky for me, I have transition activities to help me switch gears. These days, I’m embracing grilling season on my glorious new gas grill. Some transitions are easy, like getting rid of the crusty old Char-grill, a fire hazard of a beast that breathed licking dragon tongues of flame. I lost more arm hair to that monster than I care to admit. The end of the Char-grill’s season couldn’t come soon enough for me.

With the new grill has come a new sense of adventure. And some misadventures, but mainly successes. For those who are interested, here’s my latest effort. This came out so juicy, it left a pool or beer-infused yumminess on my plate. We enjoyed it with lightly grilled bruschetta and a mixed greens salad.



1 Tbsp seasoned salt (I use Lawry’s)
1 Tbsp poultry seasoning
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp. Hungarian paprika
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 – 4# whole chicken
1 – 12 oz. can beer (use the cheap stuff)
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

Mix seasonings in a small bowl. Loosen skin all over chicken, including legs, being careful not to tear skin. Rub 1/2 of seasoning mixture on meat under skin. Tuck wings for roasting. Place in a dish and refrigerate overnight.

When you’re ready to cook, preheat grill to medium-low heat.

Discard (or drink) 1/2 of beer. Add remaining seasonings, 2 Tbsp butter and 2 Tbsp EVOO to can. Spray can with non-stick spray. Place chicken over beer can. Stand the chicken and beer up on a disposable foil pan. (Use the legs to form a tripod.) Combine remaining EVOO and butter. Rub over surface of chicken.

Place foil pan on preheated grill. Grill 1 hour, or until chicken was cooked through. Remove chicken from can and place on serving platter. Cover with foil. Discard beer. Let chicken stand 10 minutes before carving.

Serves 4.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Matter of Taste


I wasn’t thrilled when my husband told me he wanted Hamburger Helper for Father’s Day dinner. I’m not a big fan of chemicals and salty, prefab food. I like herbs and fresh vegetables, preferably stuff just picked from the garden. I like to shop a couple times a week. I avoid the middle aisles of the grocery store and build meals around the fresh foods at the perimeter. I believe in building layers of flavor and that good technique brings out the best in food.

But I also understand that everyone has different tastes. Even though I’m no fan of convenience foods, I respect that my husband likes them. In turn, he respects my predilection for homemade pesto using imported olive oil and garden-warm basil.

Just like with food, there are a million different style of writing. And I admit there are styles I just don’t like. Extreme minimalism doesn’t do it for me. I like writing with mystery and music in the language. I don’t like being spoon-fed stories. But (and I believe this is important) I still respect talented, hard-working writers who write stories outside my particular preferences.

Last week, I ran into someone who tore apart a piece of my writing because he didn’t like my style. I’ve been around the block enough that I’m not devastated when someone doesn’t like my stuff. I need the feedback. Growth comes from seeing what went wrong. I know I have a lot to learn.

But here’s what I don’t have to learn: to treat others with respect and to evaluate their writing gently even if the piece isn’t tailor fit to my interests. Everyone is different and that’s a good thing. If we were all the same, we’d never sell a story.

I won’t share the Hamburger Helper recipe. A monkey with the box and some hamburger could do that. But here’s what I’m simmering for dinner. It isn’t a favorite of my husband’s, but I adore it. It’s good served hot, cold, or room temperature. A little dishful, on the side, tastes great with a sandwich. I LOVE it spooned, cold, over a cheese omelet or scrambled eggs. It’s also great spooned on toasted pita bread or with grilled fish or chicken. And it's diet friendly and packed full of nutrition, so what's not to love?


1 medium eggplant, peeled and sliced into 1/2” slices
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 large stalk celery, sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 large clove garlic, pressed
1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1 – 28 oz can stewed tomatoes
1 Tbsp. fresh basil, minced (or 1 tsp.dried)
fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Sprinkle eggplant slices with salt and layer in a colander. Place a heavy plate and the can of tomatoes on top to add weight. Let sit 15 – 30 minutes. Rinse eggplant. (This removes the bitterness) Blot eggplant dry and cut into cubes.

While eggplant is in colander, heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium low heat. Add onion, celery and peppers. Saut̩ 10 minutes to lightly caramelize vegetables. Add garlic. Saut̩ 1 minute longer. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer 30 Р40 minutes, until vegetables are tender, but not mushy. Add basil and salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat and let pot sit on stove, covered, for 1 hour to let flavors blend. Serves 8.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Blind Ambition

I promised WB Stephen I'd post a picture of my TO READ pile. Here it is:

Ok, the Nancy Drew book is my daughter's. She thinks she's big guns because she likes to read novels like Mommy. But wait. I'm not done showing you my TO READ PILE.

This is my TO READ bookcase:

Ok, in all fairness, I have read some of these books. I just ran out of room on my ALREADY READ bookcase.

Finally, this is why I don't have any time to read:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Salad Days


This morning, as I was making celery seed dressing for tonight’s salad, it occurred to me that writing is a lot like salad. You can serve a good salad with no dressing at all. The unadulterated ingredients taste good all in their own right. But a little dressing can bring the whole thing together and make the dish shine.

This is the dilemma I’ve been facing with my Flash 40 contest entry. “Mirror, Mirror” was a departure for me because I wrote it without my usual bag of tricks. I tend to use setting as a character in my stories. In this case, the setting was barely addressed. It felt a lot like that undressed salad and I wondered if the story suffered without it. But, after a lot of thought, I wanted the story as bare bones as possible, feeling it was a better match for my narrator’s overwhelmed state of mind.

Since the ranking process began, I’ve been keeping close tabs on my entry. So far, “Mirror, Mirror” is faring well. I’m neck in neck with good friends, all of whom I’d be proud to lose to. It appears my gamble paid off.

As for the salad, I’m going to share the recipe. This one’s a summer favorite here. For the salad itself, use leafy greens of your choice. Something tender is usually best. Top them with sliced nectarines and blueberries or strawberries. A little thinly sliced red onion adds a pleasant punch.

Celery Seed Dressing

Whisk together in a microwave safe bowl:

1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
2 Tbsp honey
1-1/4 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp Hungarian paprika
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp finely grated onion
1/2 tsp celery seed
generous pinch of salt

Cook on high for 1-1/2 mins.

Whisk in:

1/3 cup canola oil

Chill until serving. Served with greens and fruit.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Are We Having Fun Yet?


Lately, my attention has been hijacked by the Editor Unleashed / Smashwords Flash Fiction 40 Contest. It’s a great contest with a simple premise: write a short story under 1000 words and post it in the Editor Unleashed Forum. Forum members will vote, the editors will make their choices, and the top 40 stories will be published in an e-book by Smashwords. Simple, right?

Well, not really.

Let me explain: This week, I posted my entry, “Mirror, Mirror.” I felt good about it and figured I had a strong chance of making it into the top 40. I’d been reading other entries in preparation for voting. My “no” list was miles long, my “yeses” and “maybes” tallied in the scraggly handfuls. Many of the stories were laden with fundamental errors. Starting the story in the wrong place, errors in syntax, weak or nonexistent character arcs, stilted dialogue, you name it.

During this first phase of reading, I’d describe my experience as enlightening and affirming. I was learning a lot about life with the slush pile. I felt positive about my work.

Lately, my feelings have shifted. I’ve been fortunate to read several truly exceptional entries. With each, I’ve seen my chances dwindle. I’ve been forced to look at my work honestly and I can see there’s need for growth.

I don’t know why exactly that bothers me. I already know I have lots to learn. I already know I’m the sort who makes progress through hard work rather than by possessing literary genius. And I know there are MANY non-geniuses who make six and seven figures as writers. They find their niche and they know how to work it.

But it still brings to mind many questions. Should I push myself as hard as I do? Am I being distracted by platform and market positioning? Where can I best fit into the publishing hierarchy? Am I doing a good job of balancing writing with my life? But the biggest question I don’t have an answer for: am I still having fun?

Big questions, and no easy answers. Seems to me there’s a fine line between getting somewhere and enjoying the journey. One little contest sure has given me a lot to think about.