Throwing Caution to the Wind

May 15th, 2019 11:43 AM

Yesterday, I did something wildly optimistic. I should preface this story by saying that I do believe that I am an optimistic person in general. I’m no Pollyanna, mind you, but I choose to look for the upside in the day to day challenges and the occasional larger grenades life throws at me.

There is one area of my life that I am not an optimist, however. Trying to launch a career in writing. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. Ever since I was little, and learned to fall in love with books, I knew I wanted to be the person who wrote a book someone else would fall in love with.

I grew up in a practical middle-class family with a mother who warned me against pursuing a career that would be difficult to succeed in. These are a few of the statements she’d often make: “Very few make it.” “It’s a long-shot.” “Pursue it as a hobby but go into something that will let you take care of yourself if you need to.”

This was actually very good advice. All of it was true, including needing to support myself. When I went to college, I took as many writing courses as I could cram into my English requirements, but my major was Communications. I did pair it with an English minor with a writing emphasis, instead of Marketing like my advisor suggested.

I didn’t end up going into Communications but I did find a career I enjoyed, was well-suited for and allowed me to take care of myself and my son when I needed to. Writing took a backseat to life. I still did it, but only for my own consumption. I never submitted my work anywhere to be published.

A year ago, I decided to get serious about finishing the novel I started in 2001. I entered into one on one coaching with a published author, Kathie Giorgio. I joined a class with her small company, AllWriters’ Workshop &Workplace. I wrote, I revised, I critiqued. I made writing a priority for the first time in my life and I loved it.

I also learned that it’s very helpful to have short works – poetry or short stories – published before trying to publish a novel. I struggled with this for close to nine months. I am not a short story writer. I’ve tried, but they end up too big. I have works-in-progress that started out as short stories and are now sixty pages into being a novel.

I have written poetry, but only for myself. I suspect it’s terrible since I don’t know much about how to write poetry. I do have this blog, where I basically write short memoirs, but they’re written informally and again, for myself, so I wasn’t optimistic that they’d be a candidate for publication anywhere.

After almost a year in coaching, my book is now completed. I’m finishing up my last few revisions and I will be ready to start the process of trying to get it published within a few weeks. The pressure to get something small published, so I have some publication credit that’s recent, was mounting. (I have publication credits but they are from twenty-five years ago when I was doing some freelance writing for magazines and such.)

Two weeks ago, I found an online site which was looking for stories about moms to be submitted for their May issue. I thought about my blog and when I wrote about my mom going into hospice care two years ago. I combined a couple of blog entries from that time, made a few changes and sent it off as a short memoir submission. Normally, I would have my writing coach review it and give feedback before I’d submit anything, but I didn’t have time as the deadline to submit was just a few days away.

The day the site was going to publish the stories came and went and I didn’t hear anything from them. I’d pretty much forgotten about it until I received an email yesterday telling me my story was published on their site. What?!

I immediately went to look and there it was, my words with a photo they’d chosen to complement the story. It’s on a site called The Story Pub. I actually published something. And not a newspaper article, but something creative that was born out of my experience, not recounting someone else’s. This is a first for me.

It. Was. So. Cool.

When I told my husband about it, he asked me if I got paid for it. That wasn’t so cool at all. That’s a blog topic for another day, though.

Even though I didn’t make money for getting my story published, it feels pretty great to think that someone else liked something I wrote enough to put it on their literary website. So what’s the wildly optimistic thing I did yesterday? It’s a little thing, something I wouldn’t normally think twice about, but yesterday, it was meaningful to me. I created a new folder in my outlook inbox entitled, Acceptance letters.

            I’m hoping and anticipating that there will be more.

acceptance

12:30 PM

Happiness in the Form of Bananas?

February 19th, 2019 9:28 AM

It’s been a rough winter for those of us living in the Midwest. In the past month we’ve seen several snow storms that dropped over 10″ of snow each, two back to back ice storms and a polar vortex system unlike any we’ve seen before. For several days our high daily temperatures were -25 degree with wind chills in the -50’s. Not fun.

To make matters worse, Dennis was traveling for work during the weeks when most of the crappy weather hit. Not that I’m not capable of handling crappy weather on my own. I am. But, somehow, crappy weather doesn’t seem quite so crappy when there’s someone else stuck in the house with you to commiserate with. There’s a reason that old adage, “Misery loves company” has survived. It’s true.

Aside from the crappy weather, it’s personally been a bit of a challenging winter. A relative that my mother was estranged from for the last decade, but whom I’ve been debating reaching out to for the past few years, passed away unexpectedly after Christmas. I guess I shouldn’t have waited to reach out.  Now the reason I hesitated, because I was embarrassed that I didn’t keep in contact with her after my mother severed their relationship, seems silly. I should have just told her the truth, that I lost track of her because I was busy working and being a single mother. Not a good excuse for sure, but better than her thinking I was following my mom’s lead and severing the relationship, too.

Another ending that happened this winter, is also a beginning, so it checks both the loss and anxious check-boxes in my psyche. I’m finishing up with the coaching and revising on my novel. Which is a good thing, of course, and what I set out to do last summer. However, that means it’s time for me to start a new novel and with that comes the unknown. Which I hate. You’d think being an author would give you the ultimate control to manipulate your characters into doing whatever you want them to do. You’re their master, their god, and the decision-maker of their destinies.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s true that authors create characters and breathe life into them, but after that, the characters take it from there. You can put them in different situations and conflicts and they’ll handle them the way they want, not the way you want. And if you try force it, to say, try to stick to your outline that you foolishly created when you thought you actually controlled the creative process, they’ll dig their heels in and refuse to obey. My book stalled for a year and half because I was forcing a male and female character to be romantically involved. Eventually, I couldn’t move forward in any part of the plot because their relationship wasn’t working. Once I cut over a hundred pages, and changed the nature of their relationship, I came to find out that the male character in the relationship was gay. Well, no wonder it wasn’t working! Once I sorted that out, the characters played nicely together for the rest of the book and plot continued on. I never looked at the outline again.

Now I have to go through that all over again with a new book and new characters. It’s kind of like getting divorced and starting over in a new relationship, trying to build a life and a new family. It’s hard. And awkward and I miss my old, familiar characters.

And how does all this relate to bananas, you ask? After all, the title of this blog entry is Happiness in the Form of Bananas? Today, in midst of my winter doldrums filled with loss and angst and heavy dose of cabin-fever, I received an unexpected bunch of bananas. Not just one or two bananas, but a large bunch of bananas. Much larger than I would ever buy seeing as how bananas are one of Dennis’ top three things he will never ever eat, right up there with sauerkraut and horseradish. When I buy bananas, I buy one or two at a time for myself.

Today I received an order from Peapod, the grocery delivery service. I don’t use them often, but the ground lamb I buy for Charlie’s dog food is four dollars cheaper a pound through Peapod than it is at the grocery store. Considering I buy it in ten pound increments, it’s a significant savings. Since I’m paying for delivery anyway from Peapod, when I order the lamb, I order a few more things for us, too.

Included in today’s meat-laden order (I got 20 pounds of lamb today because it was on sale) there was this lovely bunch of organic bananas.

bananas

I called Peapod and told them I received some one else’s bananas, but instead of sending the driver back for them, which I expected, they told me to keep them. Well, that’s kind of cool, I thought. But what am I going to do with all these bananas?

And then the creativity began to flow. Strawberry banana smoothies? Or how about banana bread? With walnuts and fresh butter? Yum. No, I know! Banana cupcakes with chocolate frosting! That’s it. Yummy and easily frozen in single portions since Dennis won’t eat them. The perfect treat.

Did I mention that Dennis and I have been dieting this winter? Nothing cheers a person up on gray, cold winter day like eating a piece of damned steamed fish. These bananas were a gift. A sign to shrug off the caloric restraints for a moment and go play in the kitchen. Psychotic rationalization of someone who’s tired of being perpetually hungry for a month? Quite possibly. Do I care? Not even a little bit.

So, on this 26 degree morning which is actually sunny and warm, (yes, I now consider 26 degrees a warm day), instead of working on the new book or finishing my revision on the old book, I’m researching banana cupcake recipes which I will bake this afternoon and consume happily later today. Probably before dinner. And then again after dinner.

Thank you, Peapod.

February 19, 2019. 10:22 PM

 

The Rush of Creating Something New

September 15, 2018 3:37 PM

Earlier this month, I accomplished a goal that I’ve wanted for a very long time. I finished the rough draft of my book. When I typed the words, “The End”, I had written 297 pages, and 91,644 words.  I was very, very happy. For about three days.

After three days, I started missing my characters. I felt like I lost friends that I’d spent years with. Feeling this way makes absolutely no sense because even though the rough draft of my book is complete, the book is far from done. It’s a rough draft. Which means revision needs to happen, many times, probably, to get to the final draft. I am still spending plenty of time reading, editing, rewriting and tweaking my book. I’m with my characters almost every day because I am working on revisions almost every day.

But I’m not creating any more new content. I might add a little extra something to a scene, but the story line is done. I know how it ends. There’s nothing new left, and I miss the rush that comes from creating something new.

I talked with my writing coach about this yesterday, and she said it was common for writers to feel the way when they finish the rough draft. She also cautioned me about starting another book just for the rush of creating. She said that’s how books never truly get finished. They sit in rough draft form forever because the fun part is done.

I can see that, although, I really am itching to start on book 2 of the series. I wasn’t sure there would be a book 2 when I committed to completing the rough draft earlier this summer, but now I’m sure. There will absolutely be a book 2. Even if I write it just for myself. But I won’t start it now. My writing coach is an author who has published many books of her own. I trust her judgement so I’m delaying starting book 2 for now.

But I still have that itch to create. What to do? Make a new quilt? I could, but I have two unfinished quilts already that have been sitting while I dedicated the summer to writing. Write something else? A short story, perhaps? Maybe, but I have a writing submission due to my critique group on Sunday that I should work on first. How about cooking? I like to cook, but I haven’t done much out-of-the-ordinary cooking like recipe testing/creating since I dedicated the summer to writing.

Cooking it would be and I knew just what I wanted to try to make. Deep-fried Swiss and Rye on a stick that I get at State Fair. Earlier this summer, I wrote a post entitled To Fair or Not to Fair, That is the Question, where I discussed my love, no, not love, obsession with deep-fried Swiss and Rye. Us Wisconsin-ites are known for our deep fried, batter coated, heart-attack-inducing cheese treats, but the Swiss and Rye takes deep fried cheesy love to another level. The batter isn’t light and crisp like you normally find on a deep fried cheese curd. It’s thick and flavorful, kind of like the batter used on a corn dog, only rye-ier.

Often, as I said in my fair post, my husband and I go to the Wisconsin State Fair on multiple days and part of the reason is so I can get the Swiss and Rye more than once per season. For the same reason, we sometimes go to our local county fair, so I can get the Swiss and Rye. This year has been a busy one, and we did’t get multiple fair visits in. Nor did we go to multiple fairs. I got one, ONE, Swiss and Rye this year, which I shared with Dennis. (I rarely share my Swiss and Rye. I wait for it all year and when I finally get it, it’s mine, all mine and I’m not sharing.) I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m addicted to Swiss and Rye, but I’m walking a very fine line and I know it.

Today, I decided to try to recreate the Swiss and Rye at home. I do not have a recipe. I only have the memory of the taste and texture to go by. Since the batter is very corn dog-ish, I started with the corn dog recipe from Cook’s Country, my favorite cooking site.

I tweaked the recipe quite a bit, omitting some of the cornmeal and cayenne and adding more rye flour and some water to loosen the batter up. There wasn’t much counter space left by the time I gathered all the ingredients I needed.

prep

Unlike writing, you can see the tangible effort of creating something when you cook.

 

Swiss and Rye from the fair is huge. You are served a large block of crispy, batter coated cheese. It’s roughly the size of my hand as you can see below.

swiss and rye

The is a picture of Swiss and Rye from State Fair. It’s the pinnacle of fair-food, in my opinion. (picture from Shepard Express)

I decided that my version of Swiss and Rye would be smaller. They’d be nugget sized. So I diced my Swiss cheese into 1″ by 1 1/2″ blocks. I mixed and measured. I whisked and stirred. I carefully heated my oil to right temperature. Once it was there, I battered one nugget of cheese and dropped in the oil.

It immediately started to bubble and all the batter stayed on the cheese, which was a relief. I very rarely deep fry anything, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After just a few minutes, I pulled out a perfect miniature version of Swiss and Rye.

nugget2

It’s a little Swiss and Rye Nugget! Looks a little like a hushpuppy, doesn’t it?

I anxiously, and with much trepidation, took my little nugget of heaven over to the kitchen table to try it. Would it be close to the fair food perfection I know and love? Or did I just make a big mess in my kitchen for nothing? Only one way to find out. I cut it open.

nugget1

The gooey inside of my little Swiss Nugget

What was the verdict? Not bad. The cheese to batter ratio was a bit off. I now understood why the vendor uses big chunks of Swiss cheese in their Swiss and Rye. The batter is so thick, you need plenty of cheese to stand up to it.

The flavor was good. It had the hint of the Swiss and Rye flavor, but not the full on, in your face, rye pop that I love. In writing terms, the rough draft of the book was done, but it needed some revision.

I added more rye flour to amp up the rye flavor, and then a little more buttermilk and water, to thin it out. The ratio of cheese to batter was a problem since I’d already cut up all my Swiss cheese into chunks. I dug around in the kitchen drawers and came up with some nice wooden skewers. I have no idea why I have them, but I did.

I carefully stacked three chunks of cheese on the skewer. This worked for nine pieces of cheese. A lot of the cheese pieces broke and cracked when I tried to skewer them, so I needed another method to stick them back together to create a larger chunk of cheese. Enter the toothpicks. I was able to thread two chunks of cheese on one toothpick without the cheese disintegrating. It wouldn’t be as big as the skewered pieces, but they’d be better than frying them individually. I hoped.

I brought my oil back up to temp, battered all my cheesy morsels of various sizes, and plopped them into the oil. I’m not gonna lie, there were a few casualties. Some of the cheese broke away from the skewers which meant part of the cheesy nuggets weren’t battered as they bubbled away. They floated in my oil like naked, gooey orphans. I tried to salvage them, and let them cook, but they were messing up my oil too much. Eventually, they had to be plucked from the group and thrown away. That happens with writing, too. Sometimes characters that I really like won’t play well with the other characters, and I have to pluck them out from the story, and get rid of them, too. Being creative isn’t for the faint of heart.

After a few more minutes in the oil, the rest of the cheesy survivors were ready. I scooped them up and popped them on a paper towel.

pic2

There are three chunks of cheese nestled under that crispy, golden batter. This looks exactly like the State Fair Swiss and Rye only a little smaller.

pic1

Finally! The perfect cheese to batter ratio!

I called Dennis is to come and taste test with me. We each tried the skewered ones first. When I cut it open, I could’ve sworn I was at State Fair (minus the crowds, the heat and the juggling the hot cheese while I’m walking.) The cheese to batter ratio was perfect. And the taste? Spot on! I nailed it. It was as good, if not better, than State Fair Swiss and Rye. The breading was crispy but not greasy and with the perfect amount of Rye savory flavor to meld with the hot cheese.

The toothpick ones were good, too. So good that I forgot to take a picture of them. It wasn’t as fun to eat them, however, because they had to be cut open in order to extract the toothpick. It’s more fun to eat Swiss and Rye off the stick, like it’s meant to be done.

We slathered them in dipping sauces (mustard for me, marinara for Dennis) and ate all we could, which, honestly wasn’t that much. These suckers are filling! We have plenty for left overs, although, I have no idea if they’ll be good reheated. If not, that’s okay, we really shouldn’t eat two meals of Swiss and Rye anyway. Actually, this recipe isn’t something I will make very often. I’m thinking the next time will be in January or February, when it’s below zero outside and we need a taste of summer to perk us up.

It was fun to create something this morning. It didn’t stop me from missing my characters, but it was a good creative outlet, nonetheless.  There is one down side to being creative with cooking. Clean-up. When I’m done writing, it takes me about three seconds to close my laptop and put it away. Cleaning up this disaster of a kitchen took a lot longer than that. It was worth it, though, to bring a taste of State Fair home.

stove after

Glass cook tops are great in theory, but they’re a real pain in the butt to get oil off of.

4:34 PM