Friday, February 24, 2006

Yankee Magazine!

Great news!

Yankee Magazine is going to review Murder on the Rocks in their June or July issue. I'm delighted... Yankee is a fabulous publication!

In celebration, I'm posting a blueberry pound cake recipe I found in one of their issues and loved.... it's called Absolutely Incredible Blueberry Pound Cake, and that's truth in advertising, my friends.

So here it is. Enjoy!

Absolutely Incredible Blueberry Pound Cake (from Yankee Magazine)

2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light butter
4 ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened
3 large eggs
1 large egg white
3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (8-ounce) carton lemon low-fat yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
cooking spray
1/2 cup powdered sugar
4 teaspoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees . Beat the first 3 ingredients with a mixer on medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs and egg white, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a separate small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons flour and blueberries and toss well. Mix remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt separately and add to prepared batter alternately with yogurt, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Fold in blueberry mixture and vanilla. Pour cake batter into a 10-inch tube pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes; remove from pan. Combine powdered sugar and lemon juice in small bowl. Drizzle over warm cake. Cut with a serrated knife and serve.

By the way, this is just a taste of what Yankee Magazine's got in their fabulous recipe database; if you're trying to figure out what to make for dinner, check it out! (And make sure you pick up the June and July issues; I'm planning on it, myself!)

A few thoughts on voice

I've been thinking about writing a lot lately.... so if you're here for the food, skip down two posts for some great popovers! (And I promise you a few great new recipes in the next week, so be sure to check back soon)... If, on the other hand, if you're here because you love writing, read on!

Recently, someone asked a question about voice; as in, "what is it and how do I find mine?"

Interesting question.

I was tooling around town the other day in my sleek minivan listening to music, noodling over this very question, and had a little brain flash. The group I was listening to was one I recently discovered on our local station, KUT. Their music captivated me so much that I went out and bought their most recent CD, and to my delight, there were several songs on that CD that exemplified that wonderful, unique sound -- the voice -- that created a reponse in me.

So I went out and bought a few of their earlier CDs. And was disappointed. Why? The songs were good, but they weren't as mesmerizing as the group's more recent work. It's because they was still trying out other voices -- and I recognized several of the styles they were experimenting with. Occasionally, a few strains of what would eventually become the group's voice came through, enough to get me excited for a few seconds, but it didn't happen very often. All told, it took them six CDs to figure out who they were. And the music they make now has a unique and wonderful feel to it that resonates in me -- and a bunch of other people, too, since their new stuff is selling like hotcakes.

Now, the point of this little digression, in my opinion, has a lot to do with writing. And growing as a writer. Because if this particular group had given up on the second, third, or even fifth CD, that fabulous voice never would have had an opportunity to develop. And I think every one of the songs they wrote -- even though they weren't stellar -- was a necessary step on the road to finding their unique sound.

Like me, you've probably picked up a recently released book, loved it, and then read the author's earlier work, only to see flashes of brilliance, but not the fully realized voice you fell in love with in the author's latest book. And I think that's how it usually happens for all artists. We feel our way along, keep working, keep experimenting, keep emulating people whose work resonates with us, until finally, maybe without us even realizing it, we've found it. The thing that makes us special. That voice.

So even if you're awash in rejection letters, keep working, keep writing. Every word, every scene, every story we write is another step along the path. And every sentence puts us a little bit closer to finding that magic inside us... that voice.

Speaking of voices, I hear one from the kitchen now... and it's saying "I want lunch." So I'll sign off now... with the promise of a great roast pork recipe to come, as soon as I have time to type it in!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A Writer's Greenhouse

I got back a few days ago from the Kiss of Death conference in San Antonio... what an experience! Writers in all stages of their careers... just starting out, on the agent trail, multi-published... all along the continuum.

On the drive back from San Antonio, my brain was buzzing with new information, and I got to thinking. So many of us have stories inside of us, just waiting to come out... and for most (if not all) of us, it's incredibly hard to sit down and make it happen. Kind of like walking outside in your underwear and yelling "Look at me!"

But we do it anyway, because we have to.

Now, as I'm launching on another project, for the first time I'm also juggling all of the million tiny things that go along with a book coming out. As I weeded my garden this morning, it occured to me that although so many of us want validation at the very beginning of our work (and I'm sending a first chapter to my critique group for tonight), it's not always a good idea. We need to write for ourselves first. And in some ways, stories -- or story ideas -- are like young, fragile seedlings.

The last month, it's been harder to find that tender place inside me where the words start as seeds, then shoot out little green tendrils, putting down roots in my subconscious. It's easy, sometimes, in all the hustle and bustle, to let those new seedlings get trampled, or try giving them too much mulch or fertilizer, just because that's what someone said would make them grow better. But the seeds come from you; and only you know what is the best environment for them. If you're a writer -- or an artist of any type -- allow yourself time to dream; give your ideas space to grow, take shape, put down a tap root. Later, you can ask for advice in pruning the full-grown tree those seedlings become, but I think at the beginning, you need to create a greenhouse inside you, let your dreams dig deep into the rich soil of your mind, and shelter those tiny storylings from the harsh light of criticism -- and the blustery winds of other opinions.

So today, instead of marching to my laptop first thing (which I felt I needed to do), I went down and weeded my community garden. The lettuces are gorgeous, the broccoli is about to bud, and tiny gray poppy plants are sprouting everywhere -- this twenty-by-fifteen plot of green is my creation, and I take tremendous pleasure from it. It felt good to work with the earth, with my hands instead of my brain. When I was done weeding, I still didn't write -- instead, I went for a walk and found my favorite bench, a green metal one that looks out over the water. I don't know how long it was, but for at least twenty minutes, I did nothing but watch the coots on the lake, letting my dreams unfurl and fly up into the cool gray sky. I didn't worry about whether my critique group would like my first chapter, or whether the book was holding together so far, or any of those things we writers obsess about. I just let my mind roam free.

And you know what? The writing today was better than it's been in weeks.

I think it's when we're in that that dreamy state, where your thoughts ramble down untrodden paths and you drift into a world that's not quite this one, that you're fortifying the greenhouse, sowing the seeds of work to come. Because some of it is sitting down at the keyboard -- and I do mean that. But if we forget the other part -- the childish part that sees fairies in the woods, or looks for patterns in the clouds on a summer afternoon -- we fail to give our ideas the nourishment they need to grow strong and reach for the sun.

So if you're a writer, take a little time for yourself this week. Read something delightful, and let your mind wander, freed from the hard work of plotting and composing. It'll be a long, cool drink of water for your story garden.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Jordan Pond House Popovers!

The weather here in Texas has been just like summer in Maine lately... so in celebration (and to remind us of tea on the lawn at Jordan Pond House), I made popovers!

If you've never been to Jordan Pond House, by the way, you should definitely put it on your list of things to do. It's a delightful restaurant that's actually a part of Acadia National Park -- their specialty is tea and popovers on the lawn, overlooking the Bubbles (twin mountains) and serene Jordan Pond. (Last time we were there, we picked blueberries a little ways down from the lawn, and a few loons were calling in the middle of the lake).

One of my fondest Maine memories is sitting out on the lawn on a late summer day, the cool breeze blowing, the clinking of cups and saucers all around, the grass like a soft green carpet underfoot. Jordan Pond is laid out before you, bluer even than the sky, and a few gulls soar high among the white puffy clouds. Just when you think life can't get any better, a kind waiter brings you a basket of popovers. Huge, light, and absolutely sublime with butter and strawberry jam... it's heaven on earth. (And if you add a cup of lobster stew, it's even better.)

We made them again the other night, and they were just as tasty as we remembered. Not all of my attempts have worked; there are a few tricks to making good popovers, so I'll share them here.

1) Put them on the bottom rack of your oven (with room above for them to expand)
2) Use popover pans
3) Do not open the oven until the baking time is over.

Here's the recipe I used -- it's right out of the Jordan Pond House Cookbook (which I highly recommend, as it includes recipes for lots of scrumptious dishes like Lobster Stew):

(For 8-12 popovers)

Four eggs
Two cups milk (I used 1 percent)
Two cups flour
One-half teaspoon salt
One-sixth teaspoon baking soda

(The cookbook recommends making the batter a day ahead of time, refrigerating it, and then letting it return to room temperature, but I skipped the day-before thing. I did, however, let it warm up to room temperature.)

Preheat oven to 450. Break eggs into mixing bowl and whip; add milk and blend. Add remaining ingredients and mix until almost smooth -- do not overbeat. Fill greased popover pans, muffin tins or custard cups 3/4 full. Bake for 14 minutes at 450, then reduce heat to 350 and bake 15 minutes more. (DO NOT OPEN OVEN UNTIL BAKING IS COMPLETE!) They'll be crispy brown on the outside and moist on the inside at this point; remove them from the pans and serve with butter and strawberry preserves. (Jordan Pond House uses Stonewall brand -- I looked in the gift shop.)

Yum. It's a good thing I just made myself a batch of Bread Machine County Line bread, or I'd be tempted to whip up another batch....