inasmuch as it concerns Feeding The Beast:
Food, cooking, recipes, and so forth. Because I don't do that "starving artist" thing.
new publications for the holidays with a side of mirliton and fruitcake for dessert
I have a couple new publications to announce for the holidays!
First, for Winter Solstice, we have the latest issue of the Pagan literary journal Eternal Haunted Summer. It includes my poem "Hold the Door", a tongue-in-cheek contemplation of homesickness framed by an invocation to Papa Legba.
Second, for New Year's Eve or reasonably thereabouts, we have Episode 413 of the Tales to Terrify podcast. It features my story "Lambing Season" as read by the excellent Summer Brooks. It went live on the last Friday in 2019, and I've only had a chance to listen to it today. (I'm always nervous about hearing someone else read my stories. Then, when they're done, I always wonder why I was nervous.) It's longer than most of my stories, and a bit of a slow burn. Enjoy it with a mug of tea while wearing something warm and fuzzy.
On Winter Solstice, our Yule Log, a formidable chunk of elm, burned all night long and then down to ash. A friend and I had the first test slices of this year's fruitcake, shared some very tasty brandy, and worked on hand crafts together. Mine was a pair of socks that had been lurking unfinished in my bookbag for far too long. I finished them. (They are warm and fuzzy.)
John and I spent the last weekend of the year down in Colorado Springs with family near and extended, old and new, local and out-of-town. Mostly we cooked and ate good food, watched a lot of football, and took a healthy amount of naps.
One of the things we ate was a mirliton & shrimp casserole produced somewhat by committee: I brought seven mirliton that I'd bought recently and not yet got around to cooking, and I added to it the remaining portion of the shrimp Dad brought up from Louisiana and the onion, green pepper and celery that our hosts volunteered from their stash and chopped up. (The author's chronic homesickness was nicely assuaged, if temporarily.)
Another thing shared was a big chunk of the fruitcake, which was a lot closer to acceptably boozed up by then. The addition of candied citron turns out to have been an asset after all. Whew!
I may regale you with the casserole recipe--or, as "recipe" is saying too much, method--tomorrow, if I haven't already done that on this blog at some point or other. But not tonight. Tonight I am keeping my blog post short and to the point.
& so goodnight!
late fruitcake preparations for a quiet winter solstice
So I'm baking a fruitcake today.
I almost didn't bother. It's less than a week until Winter Solstice, so it won't really be ready to open up at the annual all-nighter Winter Solstice vigil and open house. It won't have had time to soak up enough booze. Besides, I don't even have the wherewithal to host the all-nighter this year anyway, so why bother with a fruitcake?
And then I thought, screw it. I like fruitcake. I like mailing slices to long-distance friends. And Dad's going to be in town shortly after Christmas, and he likes fruitcake. So let's do this thing.
But let's also be kind to myself about it, all right?
So when I browsed Whole Food's bulk section for dried fruits, I prioritized stuff that didn't need chopping up. I got raisins, both golden and Thompson. I got currants. I got blueberries, sour cherries, and cranberries. The only things I got that needed chopping up were the dates and the prunes. Why prunes? Prunes are tasty. Also they are easier to chop up than dried figs.
Then I forgot about "be kind to myself" long enough to pick up a Buddha's Hand Citron and make plans to candy it. Which I finally got around to doing last night.
Want to play along at home? Here's the recipe I used.
So his ingredients list includes weights for everything except the citrons themselves. Two citrons, the recipe calls for. But in the introductory blurb, the author refers to "one 8 ounce (240g) fresh citron", so I assumed the recipe called for 480 grams of chopped up citron. I also assumed from "cut them up into 1/2-inch cubes" that including the pith of the citron was OK. Thank goodness. I hadn't been looking forward to carefully peeling the zest off a fruit so inconveniently shaped for applying a peeler. I wound up with about 375 grams of citron and adjusted the other two ingredient quantities accordingly.
The bit where you're supposed to "blanch the citron pieces in barely simmering water for 30 to 40 minutes, until translucent" was a lie. Some 75% of the fruit was nicely transparent by minute 45; the remaining 25% only got part of the way there over an additional 45 minutes. This seems extreme even given how widely my citron pieces varied from the prescribed 1/2" cube. The next step took forever too. You'd think at a high altitude it would take less time to boil off sufficient water to result in 230-degree syrup, but my candy thermometer didn't reach the magic number for at least an hour. It was 1:00 am by then, so instead of leaving the citron to sit in the syrup for an hour and then straining it, I left it to soak overnight. I went to bed.
In the morning, the pot contained a block of something that was too soft to be called "citron brittle" but certainly too solid to pour. So I stuck that pot inside another pot to heat it in a water bath until it did pour. I poured it into a strainer and left it there as I went about my morning. When I came back, what remained in the strainer was more or less one solid mass again, so I rinsed it with boiling water (I'd have to rinse it for the fruitcake recipe anyway) until I had individual pieces which I could scatter on parchment paper to dry.
This was not what was meant by "being kind to myself." But I've been snacking on candied citron all morning, which is by no means a bad thing. And I'm kind of eager to do it again, knowing what I know now. For instance:
- The recipe told me to use the coarsest sugar I could find. The coarsest I had on hand was raw turbinado, which has a molasses component that I probably could have done without. This made the syrup much darker than in the recipe's photos. It also probably made it stickier.
- I'd probably skip step 4 and proceed directly from "we have reached 230 degrees" to "Strain."
- I might try doing it with just the zest. I'd hate to lose the slight bitter note from the pith which compliments the sweetness so well, but it might make blanching the fruit take a lot less time.
- The reason I did this at all was Whole Foods being out of candied ginger when I went fruitcake shopping. Maybe next year I'll candy my own ginger. I'll be able to cut fresh ginger into the long, thin shapes I prefer, rather than trying to cut up already candied ginger cubes. Fresh ginger is much easier than sticky candied ginger is to cut.
- And I'll darn well start earlier than 9:30 at night!
So now all that remains is to actually bake the fruitcake later this afternoon or evening. That's the easy part.
As for Winter Solstice itself, while I'm not going to announce to every social circle that I'm holding party space open all night long, I'm still going to hold vigil, keeping a fire lit the whole night through and waiting for the return of the sun. That part of the ritual is my own personal Pagan religious observation. I'll always do that, party or no party. And I'll probably still cook all the things I usually cook, because when else do I get to drink home-made eggnog and eat medieval midwinter pie?
And I'll probably spend a good part of the night writing like it's the first few hours of NaNoWriMo. Or the last. If any friends in the area want to join me in writing or crafting, or reading stories aloud, or reciting poetry, or other such quiet celebrations of creativity, my door will be open to you from sundown on Saturday night to sunrise on Saturday morning.
And the fruitcake won't really be ready by then, but we can give it a taste.
what i talk about when i talk about homemade kimchi stew
I'm still getting over the gluey aftermath of the week-long cold that hit me upon my return to the Denver area. I'm very, very sore from yesterday's yoga-for-derby-skaters session, which, possibly because the yoga instructor knew her audience, turned out to be more of a two-hour conditioning session masquerading as a yoga session. Also there is a lot of snow outside.
Good thing I have a ton of leftover kimchi-jjigae in my refrigerator.
This is a statement requiring several caveats. Or possibly one big caveat, from which all the other caveats flow, which is to say, I made the stuff, so don't expect a high level of fidelity to the recipe as written.
I use Maangchi's recipe, which is a good place to start. Possibly the best place to start. Maanchi's blog is my absolute go-to for all Korean cuisine. Read it, love it, bookmark it, eat it, order the cookbooks, watch all the videos. She's wonderful, and she makes a point to lead her non-Korean fans gently by the hand through the maze of unfamiliar cultural touchstones and unfamiliar ingredients labeled in an unfamiliar language. Her recipes are great, is what I'm saying.
It's when the recipe falls into my hands that all the trouble starts.
First off, I don't pay much attention to ingredient proportions. I mean, it's soup. Stew, actually, not that this changes much. I approach kimchi-jjigae with the same mindset as I approach all soup recipes, which is this: It's soup. It is not baking. It does not rely on precise chemistry. It will tolerate variation and substitution. In fact, this is how I approach a lot of recipes that aren't soup. I've substituted yellow squash for carrots in tomato soup because I had squash and not carrots in the house at the time and the whole thing was going through the blender anyway. I substitute parsley for cilantro in any recipe calling for cilantro because I don't like cilantro, and I will substitute carrot greens for parsley if I have the one on hand but not the other. I'll typically double any recipe's call for garlic or green onions, because there's nothing in my opinion that can't be improved thereby. There are things I won't bother measuring because life's too short. It all turns out fine, but it's worth knowing, if you're ever in a position to eat stuff I cook, that this is how I cook.
So my kimchi-jjigae wound up with a full package of tofu rather than half a package, because I don't do tofu by the half package. It also wound up with two and a quarter pounds of pork belly rather than a half pound, because after defrosting the slab of meat I'd rather not put myself on the "use the rest before it goes bad" doomsday countdown. Besides, I like pork belly. I also like green onions quite a bit, as mentioned above, so I put most of a bunch in the pot where the recipe called for two, and most of the rest of the bunch in at the end where the recipe called for one. And then I'm not sure how close I got to the recommended pound of kimchi plus quarter cup kimchi brine, because I didn't bother weighing, draining, or otherwise measuring the contents of the two jars of kimchi I had in the fridge before I dumped it all in.
Those two jars consisted of one (1) jar of McCauley Family Farm's "radish root chi" and one (1) jar of Farm Hand's Organic Spicy Napa Kimchi. Neither of these contains fish sauce, so I glugged a generous glug of fish sauce into the pot. Neither is as spicy as I really want, either, so where the recipe called for two teaspoons hot pepper flakes I used two tablespoons. I'm not even sure how much gochujang I used; I carved out, with difficulty, a big lump of what was in the very outdated tub in the fridge, and figured it would dissolve eventually like bouillon. (Look, how bad can outdated gochujang go? It is made of hot pepper! Over time it stops being a paste and starts being a sort of sticky lava rock, but, hey, no big deal, I just start using a knife on it instead of a spoon.) The results still weren't hot enough for me, so there may be more of each added during subsequent stovetop reheats.
Oh! About that pork belly. It came from 63rd Street Farm. They do meat shares, and then any pork not already earmarked for meat shares gets sold to general CSA members on share pick-up day. I bought some. 63rd Street Farm also provided the daikon radishes, two of which I added in an attempt to approximate the anchovy stock flavor without actually making the anchovy stock featured in Maangchi's kimchi-jjigae recipe. (I also added about a teaspoon anchovy paste. Someone commented in asking Maangchi about substituting anchovy paste for dried anchovies. Maangchi said no. If you can't get dried anchovies, better to just skip the anchovy stock entirely and use beef or chicken stock instead. My answer to that was, I'M USING ANCHOVY PASTE AND YOU CAN'T STOP ME. But I did also toss in a big lump of Better Than Bouillon roasted beef base, just to hedge my bets.) I'll probably pickle the rest of the daikon radish I got from my CSA share according to this other recipe from Maangchi; it actually calls for Korean radish rather than daikon but I'm willing to take my chances.
In defrosting and slicing up that pork belly, I learned a thing! This has been your random biological fact of the day.
Anyway, point is: When I say I'm making kimchi-jjigae, this is a random example of how the process might go. Having been warned, if you're still interested in having any, come on over. But do it soon if you're doing it because it might all be gone by tomorrow evening.
(I'm not opposed to making more, mind you. It's not like it's going to get any less winter outside for the next few months.)
from the end of a pretty darn good week you get a pretty darn good view
- 1,164 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,009 words (if poetry, lines) long
As promised, the Friday Fictionettes for Week 1 of both August and September are up. They didn't go up on Friday, but given the overdue I'm overcoming, Saturday in the early afternoon is practically on time. So here they are:
- August 2, 2019: "Eyes in the Rain" (etext, audio) - "I first saw those eyes in the cafeteria, looking at me through the rain. It was raining everywhere in those days. Nothing could keep it out. The rain passed through roofs the way that elementary particles pass through the largely empty space of a living body. It passed through our clothes and glazed our living bodies like a second skin. It joined us for lunch, it slept in our beds, and it threatened to wash everyone’s sanity away."
- September 6, 2019: "The Best Revenge" (etext, audio) - "I’d never personally witnessed a deathbed curse, let alone been the subject of one. They tend to be something that happens to a friend of a cousin’s daughter’s classmate’s uncle’s co-worker. You never hear about it from the people who get cursed. I found out why. You mention that you’ve been cursed, people start to look at you funny. They start wondering if maybe you deserved it."
It's been a good week, writing-wise. There were no dud days. Even the day I spent biking most of the way across south Longmont, all the way from County Line to Hover and back again, while the Chevy Volt was getting serviced at the dealership from 8:30 AM until 6:00 in the afternoon, I still got all the things done: Submission procedures and short story revision at the Java Stop (highly recommended; a more comfortable space I haven't been in since that late night computer and video game cafe that used to be on The Hill closed), freewriting over a chicken sandwich at 300 Suns (they have a full kitchen now and a new menu, y'all!), and fictionette work and blogging back home late in the evening.
It's amazing--not surprising, exactly but still amazing--the difference a week like this makes in my overall outlook. Weeks where I barely eke out two good days between days of I can't even leave me feeling scared and despondent about everything that still needs to get done. I look back at how little I accomplished in the previous seven days, and I despair of what remains on my plate. But a week like this one, a week in which every day I hit every assigned task--except blogging, and that's kind of sort of optional anyway--I look back on this week and get a generous impression of how much I can get done in a week. Which makes the stuff currently on my plate look like an ordinary meal.
(Pardon the food metaphors. John and I just had an amazing dinner. I put together some caprese, he baked butter fan rolls to serve with spaghetti, and we made apple fritters as a dessert experiment. Talk about a lot on our plates. There are most certainly leftovers. John's probably gonna put up a photo on twitter, but he hasn't yet.)
Anyway, I'm optimistic about my short story revisions and oddly excited about getting the Friday Fictionettes Project all caught up by the end of the month. Like, 1. it's going to happen, and 2. it'll be awesome. Happy weekend, y'all!
i share with you the casserole of my people
No news today, just a recipe. Because I win at casserole, is why. And you can too! Here is how.
First, acquire seven medium-sized mirlitons. Seven is a good number. If you can't find mirliton, chayote will do. BECAUSE THEY ARE THE SAME THING. If you don't already live in a climate and neighborhood where everyone's growing them all over their backyards, I am sorry. I'm with you. I get homesick about it sometimes. If you can't just run out and pick some, and you can't find them in your usual grocery store, you might have luck with an international market. Here in Boulder, I can usually find them at the pan-Asian market over at Valmont and 28th, and I've never not seen them at the Longmont Packing Company, which is a Latin grocery and butcher shop over at Ken Pratt and South Pratt.
Take those mirlitons and boil them for a while. Half an hour? Forty-five minutes? Stick 'em with a fork. If you'd eat a potato that felt like that when you stuck it with a fork, it's probably done.
When they're cool enough to handle, slice each mirliton in half and scoop out the seeds. The seeds are kind of flimsy but the flesh around them might be kinda tough; scoop the tough bits out too. Peel the mirliton halves and chop 'em up.
Put the chopped up mirliton in a pot over medium high heat. Don't add water; just mash up the mirliton. This is a very watery squash. Use a potato masher or a fork or, if you've got one, hit 'em with an immersion blender until they're about like lumpy mashed potatoes. Add as much bouillon as would make a couple cups good rich broth. I used chicken, but you can use whatever you like. Add a tablespoon or two of butter or your favorite vegan substitute. Add black pepper, cayenne pepper, and salt. Leave the whole mess to simmer, stirring occasionally. You want to boil off as much of the liquid as you can without burning anything.
If you like shrimp, now's a good time to prepare a pound of raw shrimp. If it's frozen, defrost it. If it's got shells on, peel it. Chop it into a nice nubbin size, large enough that your mouth knows it just got a treat but small enough to get several in every spoonful. Ham is another option, chopped to the aforesaid nubbins and added directly to the simmering mirliton mess. Or keep it meatless. It'll be delicious whatever you do.
Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in a pan. Chop up and sautée a respectable-sized onion, two or three ribs celery, a fistful of parsley, and some three or four scallions. Garlic wouldn't go amiss, but it won't be missed either. I meant to put some in but I forgot. Oh well. As long as we're talking onions and celery and New Orleans cuisine, you'll be thinking green bell pepper belongs in there too, and you're not wrong, but my mom always left out so I tend to do the same. Anyway, sautée this mess until the onion's soft and translucent, at which point you'll add your shrimp if you're doing shrimp and cook it 'til it just turns pink.
If the stars are aligned and all things are in harmony, your savory vegetables will be done and your optional shrimp just pinkened about the same time your seasoned mirliton mush will be mostly liquid-free. If the stars are not particularly cooperative, you can soak up the extra liquid with half a cup or more of bread crumbs. Actually, just add the bread crumbs regardless. I mean, it is a casserole. Combine the two messes into one big mess, stir it up good, then decant it into a 9 x 13 baking pan. Put more breadcrumbs on the top. Plain? Italian style? Panko? You know what you like. Make it happen.
Bake at 350 degrees F until done. "Done" to me means that there have been visible bubbles percolating up through the casserole for a while and that the breadcrumb topping has gotten some definite golden brown crisping action around the edges. Bake it until it's whatever "done" means to you.
Let sit about ten minutes, then eat it while it's hot. Leftovers may be reheated or eaten cold, optionally right out of the baking pan.
And that is, more or less, The Casserole Of My People.
a recipe for spur-of-the-moment dirty rice, presented in second person POV because that's what it sounds like in my head when i talk to myself
Defrost and begin browning a pound of sausage. You've still got a few pounds left in the freezer. You always bought it five or ten pounds at a time, and you're glad of that now, because you're not likely to get the opportunity to buy any again, not this sausage. The pig farmer, who was also your teammate, had to sell the farm and move out of state, herself with all her animals. You miss her. Maybe one day you'll see her on the track again, probably as her opponent at some away game in Kansas. One day you'll get to hear it again, her mutter of "Damn it, Fleur--" that means your attempts to play offense on her are working, at least a little.
Chop up a small white onion and add it to the sausage. Then three ribs of celery. You'd like to use all the celery, it's getting old and that takes some doing with celery, but three ribs really is plenty. What's left will keep for next time. Not so the parsley, which you bought three weeks back for those culinary adventures involving mirliton and seafood on the one hand and beef tongue on the other. Chop up and add to the pot as much as looks right, about a quarter cup or so. The rest can go in the compost. Add garlic. Two cloves? Better make it three. Three big cloves. Smash them lightly under the flat of the blade to loosen their skins, then mince them fine. Throw 'em in.
Stir. Break up the sausage. Add spices: black pepper, paprika, red pepper flakes. A shake or two of Cajun Land seasoning, if that isn't redundant. Keep mashing at the sausage with your wooden spoon to crumble it further. Add a cup of long grain white rice and stir it around, getting it nicely coated in the grease.
Defrost a quart of seafood stock, also leftover from that adventurous cooking weekend. You made this stock with veggies, spices, and the shells of almost three pounds of crawfish. When you upend it into the pot, the smell of crawfish is unmistakable and strong. Better turn on the fan over the stove. The stock is still mostly a thick core of ice because you got impatient and because the rice started sticking to the bottom of the pot. So it'll take longer to come to a boil and the rice will take longer to cook. Oh well.
Wonder for a moment whether there's too much broth and not enough rice. Will it wind up more like soup? That will be fine, as long as it's delicious. It smells like it's going to be delicious. Cover and leave to simmer.
Adjust the timer several times. With eight minutes left, the rice is still uncooked. Put it back up to fifteen. Ten minutes later, reset it to ten. Is it done yet? You're hungry!
When the rice looks cooked enough, take the pot off the fire. Ladle up a serving into a bowl. Put the lid back on securely. If it isn't quite there yet, it'll steam the rest of the way. It isn't, but it does, and you have another serving. The rice has absorbed most of the broth, so it's not soupy after all.
Exercise a little self-restraint. After your second bowl, put the rest away in the refrigerator for leftovers.
Contemplate the sink full of dirty dishes and cooking implements. Groan a little. Resolve to do it, but later tonight. It can wait an hour or so. Grab a book and succumb to food coma on the couch. Everything--the dirty dishes, the writing tasks not yet done, the still-broken web code on your blog, all the rest--will still be there waiting for you when you get up again.
a thing i did, a thing i did not
A thing I did not do today: Bake the fruitcake. I will have to bake it tomorrow afternoon.
Which is to say: there will not be an all-night Winter Solstice open house and vigil at Chez LeBoeuf-Little this year, because reasons, but there will be a fruitcake. And I was going to bake it today. This afternoon! Only by the time I really got going this morning it was too late to start, what with having to leave for scrimmage by 5:30 PM and all.
Then I thought, "OK, fine, I'll do it when I come home from scrimmage." Then I went to scrimmage. Then I came home, thoroughly exhausted and covered in bruises and scrapes, and I said, "You know what? Never mind. I'm heading for the tub and then to bed." (No one should be surprised by this. I honestly don't know why I keep getting surprised by this. Things planned for after derby don't happen, it's a reliable fact, and yet I'm still in denial about it.)
Look, this is a cake that takes three and a half hours to bake, and then a half hour after it comes out the oven I have to be on hand to take it out of its pan. Also the preparing of the tube pan and the mixing of the batter takes a good half hour at least. Really, I should have started the moment I woke up, just to be on the safe side.
But I didn't start the fruitcake first thing when I woke up. Instead...
A thing I did do today: WRITE. Damn straight. Not a lot, not as much as I would like, certainly not as much as I should given that I've got a Fictionette release due tomorrow, but more than I've done in a day since I got sick. With an earlier start to the day, too. Yeah, I'm happy about that. Damn straight.
Also my sore throat is gone. Was it the pork rinds, or was it coincidence? We'll find out next time I yield to temptation and buy pork rinds again. Which I will, because I have no self-control.
PS. I am married to the sweetest human being. I walked in the door and he said, "Dinner's on the counter for you. Nothing big, I just reordered what you got from Golden Sun last time." That is quite possibly the nicest thing anyone has said to me on my arrival home from roller derby activity.
Here's what became of the mirlitons: They got boiled and peeled in preparation for use. Four of them will be casserole this weekend. Two of them went into tonight's soup.
"Crawfish, Crab and Mirliton Cream Soup" might just as accurately be called "Seafood Mirliton Chowder." If you made a chowder in which you substituted mirlitons for potatoes, it might come out something like this. If anyone out there is still following the Sugar Busters diet that was all the rage back home in the 90s, or for any other reason is trying to eat foods with a lower glycemic index, substituting mirlitons for white potatoes isn't a bad plan. The canonical thing to do is to substitute sweet potatoes or yams, but mirlitons would keep the recipe closer to the original flavor profile.
Which has nothing to do with why I decided to make this soup. I just wanted to find a soup recipe involving mirlitons, or just something other to do with mirlitons than casserole. Casserole is great, but I'd like to extend my repertoire. (Similarly, delicious as the stew I made yesterday was, I'd like it not to be the only thing I know how to do with beef tongue.)
Yesterday I went to the grocery for supporting ingredients for those three recipes I'd decided on. Carrots and parsley and tomatoes for the stew, tiny uncooked peeled shrimp and breadcrumbs for the casserole, and green onions and crawfish and crab meat for the soup. Crawfish, that is, if it were available. I figured if I didn't find crawfish for the soup, I'd settle for shrimp. But there was crawfish. Not the frozen packages of pre-cooked tails I was expecting, though. Instead, there were whole cooked mudbugs right there piled up at the Pearl Street Whole Foods seafood counter. They'd just started getting them in. I took home everything they had ready to sell, which came to about 2.75 pounds. (They had more in the back, but it was still frozen.) I don't think that yielded a the full pound of tail meat the recipe called for, but then it also called for three mirlitons and I only used two. It worked out fine. Soup is not a precise science. Main thing is, there should be a crawfish tail or two in every spoonful. A seafood soup should not be stingy with the seafood.
The shells went into the pressure cooker to make stock according to the instructions accompanying the recipe. Instead of putting in the prescribed eight cups of water, I just filled the cooker insert to its max line. That seemed to work out OK too. The stock had a good strong flavor. I've still got two quarts of the stuff after making the soup, so now I have to figure out what to do with it. I'm sure I'll think of something.
The soup was excellent (of course). And as with the stew, there's leftovers for days. A winner is me!
In writing news, there isn't any. Slept poorly all night and had a terrible time getting up this morning because my throat's getting sore again. WHY. I don't think I'm coming down sick again, but something sure seems to have restarted the post-nasal drip and irritated the tubes. I have a sneaking suspicion it was the pork rinds I brought home from the carnicería. Every time I snacked on them, they left the top of my throat raw. But how likely is it that I've developed an allergy to pork rinds at this time of my life? Or even to, I dunno, MSG? It was an in-house product. It didn't list the ingredients. There was a label with generic safe handling instructions, the price of the product, and the name of the shop. That was it.
In any case, I ate them all, so there are no more, so if that's what I'm reacting to I should start feeling better muy pronto. And tomorrow will most certainly be a better day. (I mean, from a writing standpoint. It would have to work very hard to be a better day from a food standpoint.)
Day Whatever: anyway I'm back
So hey, I'm back. Why so long? Well. Remember how I said I got sick? And remember how I said, "at least I'm on the mend"? Yeah, no. Possibly I was fooled by that brief feeling of well-being that comes with a really effective dose of pseudoephedrine. In actuality, I wasn't just sick but SICK. Like, the kind of sick that consists of maybe two, three days of pitched battle between the viral infection and the immune system... and two to three weeks of healing the damage this did to the respiratory system and sinuses. I'm now in my third week of having returned to a normal level of physical activity and I still come home from roller derby practice with my throat raw from all the unreasonable requirements I'm putting on it. You know, that air goes out and air comes in at a moderately accelerated rate? Yeah.
And before you ask, yes I got my flu shot. Back in October. I believe in herd immunity! For all I know, this actually was the reduced-severity version of the flu one might get after a vaccine. Or maybe it was just a really, really nasty cold. I don't know. It was awful, is what it was, and I pretty much ditched any pretense at attempting to continue my NaNo Rebel Self-Challenge.
And you know what happens when, after two weeks of effort fomenting new work-a-day habits, you suddenly just stop? It's like those two weeks never happened. Supposedly I'm all better now, but I'm having the hardest damn time getting more than minimal work in every day. I suck.
But this is a new week and I am blogging again so some good things are possible! Also my excuse for not getting much work done today is this: I COOKED A LOT. Am cooking. I am cooking a lot, and also, depending on your point of view, adventurously.
It started like this: While I was in New Orleans, Dad's lady-friend brought us some head cheese, or "brawn" as they call it on the east side of the big puddle, from a favorite butcher on the road from Baton Rouge somewhere. (I didn't get the details.) And, wow, hot damn, had I forgotten how much I liked head cheese. I was introduced to it as a youngster, and already my tastes were proving to be preternaturally Cajun, in the sense of the Justin Wilson "They'll eat anything" punchline. I adored it. I adored it this time around, too. We devoured cold slices on crackers. It was amazing.
So a few days later I arrived back in Boulder, too sick to think about anything other than how awful being sick was. Took a while for my appetite to return. Once it did, I spent a few days just cycling through my habitual sickbed comfort foods. But once I was done with that, wow was I craving cold slices of head cheese on crackers. But I didn't know where to find it. It's a bit outside the usual run of deli meats, and presumably less popular in the Rocky Mountain Region than in the Cajun South.
So after some hesitant inquiries at the Pearl Street Whole Foods, where the question was met with blank stares and "what's that?" I did some research online and came up with a short list of places in Boulder County to rule out before making the trek down to some definite sources in Denver.
Yesterday afternoon I stopped in at the first on my list, Blackbelly Market. They were the closest to home. Also their website mentions utilizing the whole animal, a hopeful sign if one is looking for an offal product. And, as it turns out, they do make head cheese! Just not right now. But they invited me to call after the new year and ask them to set some aside for me. Mission accomplished!
Still, now I was curious about the second location on my list: "Longmont Packing #1," a butcher shop fairly convenient to an appointment I had that evening. I resolved to visit. Turns out, it's the carnicería right next door to Guacamole's (where I satisfied a craving for menudo that sad Saturday morning when I discovered that the Sancho's location in the north Boulder DMV mall had closed). Head cheese not being a particularly Latino offal meat product, I didn't think I'd find any there. (Note: Apparently I'm wrong about it that; Wikipedia says it's very popular in Latin America.) But I might as well go in and see what else I might find, right?
But here's the thing. It's stupid. I'm embarrassed about this. But when it comes to those places that primarily serve the area's Latino community, I'm, well, shy. I get self-conscious. I know I look like someone who couldn't possibly know her way around the aisles, someone who might ask stupid questions or say stupid things, someone who will almost certainly necessitate an English-speaking staff member at every transaction. And, OK, yes I'm semi-fluent in Spanish, but--and this is the really stupid thing--I'm generally too embarrassed to even try. I get anxious about screwing up in laughable or even offensive ways, or just coming across as a self-congratulatory show-off.
Look, I told you it was stupid. Nevertheless, there it is.
So I went in! Yay! And then spent a couple minutes wandering the aisles just psyching myself up to interact with anyone. I stared with great concentration at the various canned chilis as though seriously considering the comparative merits of various brand names. I might have kept this foolishness up for quite some time had I not worked my way over to the produce aisle and discovered that they had mirlitons! OK, chayotes. Same thing. Right there and then, visions of The Holiday Casserole of My People gave me the drive to get over myself already and head over to the meat counter in search of shrimp and actually ask, in Spanish, about the available varieties. Did they have the really tiny ones? No? Just the ones on display here? OK. No, no thank you. But one lengua de res, por favor. Because I saw those on display just a few feet to the left of los camarones, and it got me remembering fondly a beef tongue stew I wanted to try making again.
Anyway, I'm kind of proud of myself now. Not for successfully posing as bilingual for whole five minutes--it is not a particularly unique skill and I'm only so-so at it--but, I mean, for shoving my self-consciousness and anxiety to the side and managing to function in spite of them.
Long story short, that is how I came to have a soupy version of this Basque-style beef tongue stew waiting for me in the slow cooker after roller derby practice. And it was amazing. As amazing as Cajun head cheese on crackers? Unclear. I'll have to get back to you after side-by-side comparison.
And what of the mirlitons? That will be a story for tomorrow.
Days 3-5: In which we arrive, share some good news, and make plans to depart once more
- 2,850 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 3,453 words (if poetry, lines) long
So remember when I said that my first pro sale, "First Breath," would be on the Tales To Terrify podcast this year sometime only I had no idea when? Well, it's up now! It went up on October 12 in Episode 350, and you can listen to it here.
I had the weirdest reluctance to listen to it. Well, maybe not so weird. Maybe it's related to the way I have to leave the room if someone is reading something of mine; if I stay there, I'll be on pins and needles, trying to read reactions into every shift or sigh--"They yawned. Are they bored? They keep recrossing their legs, are they uncomfortable? Do they think I'm a freak because I thought up stuff like that and put it in a story?" I guess I had similar discomfort with the idea of hearing someone else read my story out loud. In my gut I was sure that, hearing it, I'd finally see what an awful, stupid, shameful thing I'd written and put out into the world--
Stop that, I told myself; you know perfectly well that a prestigious editor already thought this was worth putting in an anthology. And this is a Hugo-nominated podcast; its editor clearly has good taste--and he chose to run your story. Your story has not suddenly become awful. Press play.
I listened to the episode on my drive out of Avon Sunday morning. My story comes first, narrated by Michelle Kane, and she does a good job. I mean, I have quibbles, as I expect I would no matter who read it because it's my baby and they're not me; but they're only quibbles, and not worth going into. Most importantly, I was gently crying by the end, so, go her, and go me.
Thing about that story is, I keep forgetting it's a horror story, and, moreover, a vampire story, or at least it has a sort of vampirism at its heart. I didn't write it with vampires or the horror genre in mind. But it's clear the vampire aspect was a factor in the choice of story to pair it with: Victoria Glad's "Each Man Kills," originally published in Weird Tales in 1951. Now, there's a vampire story, one springing from under the cape of Dracula himself.
Anyway. I hope you get a chance to wander over and take a listen.
Time now for the NaNoWriMo Rebel report, covering today and the weekend we just left behind us. The short story is, I'm still at 100% on my self-challenge. Here are the details.
Morning Pages: (Weekdays only.) Did them today, but lollygagged on my way there. It was like I couldn't bear to admit it was Monday. Used them mostly to make sense of my vague sense of dread about all the things I had to get done today: it's my first full day back in Boulder, but also my last full day in Boulder before I leave again, so we're back in travel prep stress mode. It helped to write down the specific things I had to do, make a concrete list of them, and make a plan to hit each one. It made the scary big cloud of dread into an achievable agenda.
Freewriting: I'm happy to report that I did this faithfully each day of the weekend as well as today. But I'll admit that on Saturday and Sunday I put it off until almost the end of the night. Saturday I actually played Puzzle Pirates again--my crew on the Cerulean Ocean was defending an island, and I wanted to help. After four rounds, I pulled myself away and got to work. I had to put off all my writing work until evening today, too, but for a better reason--I had to prioritize some travel prep errands first.
Over the weekend I began using the 50 Creative Writing Prompts at NowNovel.com. This is a series of exercises for focused writing practice. They feel a little like classroom assignments. They remind me of working my way through Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft, which was also full of classroom-like exercises for focused writing practice. I did exercise 1 on Saturday and exercise 2 on Sunday.
Today's writing prompt came from Chuck Wendig's series of flash fiction challenges; I've been working my way backwards through his archive, doing one a week. Here's the one I did today.
Fictionette Development: Pretty much part of the same writing session as freewriting over the past three days. Each session was kind of small, in keeping with the philosophy of "at least do a little." By the end of Sunday I had finished the Monday Muse post and set it for scheduled release--I love it when I can do that, it means I am perfectly on schedule--and today I babbled to myself on the page about what the piece due Friday will look like.
Commercial Fiction Production/Revision: (Weekdays only.) More babbling. Made a list of questions that would have to be answered as I expanded the original flash piece into a full-length story. May have encountered some answers along the way. Will have to sleep on it.
Submission Procedures: (Weekdays only.) So, about Friday. You know how I said it was late and I wasn't going to do anything more than just think about where to send "Survival, After" next? Well, turns out, I figured out where to send it next--and discovered that they'd be closing to submissions Saturday afternoon. So I sent them the story then and there. Go me!
Today was just for record-keeping. Logged that "First Breath" was now published at Tales To Terrify; logged that the place I sent "Survival, After" had sent an acknowledgement of the submission. Pretty much left it at that.
Blogging: (Weekdays only.) And there you go.
Tomorrow's work day will be prioritized according to what must be done before I get on the train, which is to say, while I can still access the internet. So Tuesday's blog post should show up sometime in the afternoon rather than stupid-o-clock at night. At least I won't have to stress about getting in my daily 444 on 4thewords.com; since I have continued writing this post well after midnight (its date stamp notwithstanding), I've extended my streak through Tuesday the 6th already. That's a relief. However, I'm currently battling a 24-hour 3,000-word monster, and I'm not finishing that sucker tonight. Guess I'll have to blog it to death from Denver Union Station tomorrow afternoon.