“Thank you, God. My character is all built up now. You can stop.”
Debra Doyle

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

a refreshing lack of direness and some surprise chicken
Wed 2021-03-03 23:03:03 (single post)
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long

Dear Diary: Today is a Red Letter Day! I have got up on time and done all my writing (excepting this Very Important Missive) by four of the clock in the Afternoon. As you might Imagine, this has left me simply oodles of daylight and evening for all sorts of Pleasant Pastimes...

*Ahem.* No, seriously, it's been great. I had a long and deeply satisfying skating session outside, taking advantage of this single perfect day between snowstorms when enough of the previous storm's accumulations of ice have melted away to allow for rolling, but the next storm hasn't yet started. Then I came home and logged into Story Hour to hear Meg Elison and Gabriela Santiago read their glorious and heartwrenching tales. (I was very good and did not get any tears on my cross-stitching.) And now I am pleasantly ensconced in the bath with a beer, writing this blog post and letting my poor abused adductor muscles relax.

You may recall my announcing an upcoming appearance on Story Hour. That is scheduled for May 5. I suggest you make this Zoom or Facebook livestream part of your weekly routine, so that by the time that date rolls around it'll simply be habit and you'll be able to catch it easily. Story Hour airs each Wednesday at 7:00 PM Pacific Time and runs for an hour, with two authors reading for half an hour each. I know that's pretty darn late for y'all in the Eastern time zone; if you can't catch it live--or even if you can!--you'll be able to watch the archived video on Facebook whenever you like.

Today was also weird and surprising in that we got some windfall groceries. Some chicken breasts, mushrooms, asparagus, and heavy cream that no one at this address asked for are in the fridge now, and there's a packet of sliced almonds and some shallots in the pantry. John ordered his usual game night snack food supplies from Safeway, and they brought him the wrong order. Unfortunately, this means John doesn't get chocolate and potato chips during tonight's Apex Legends session. On the other hand, I'm now plotting a creamy pasta dish for after tomorrow evening's BCB workout. Of course I will share the details with you. Probably in tomorrow night's blog post.

(I'll probably save the shallots to do the caramelized shallot, anchovy, and tomato paste sauce/spread again. That stuff was excellent. I finished off the leftovers by spreading it on the toast I made an open-face green onion omelet with.)

"But what about the story?" I hear you cry. "The one that was tying you up into guilt-ridden knots and revision angst?" Yes, well, never fear, I did not shirk my duty. Avoidance came calling, but I said "Not today, avoidance!" and got right to it. I read the manuscript through carefully and left myself nearly a thousand words of margin notes. That sounds kind of daunting, but I'm honestly not sure I'm going to act on the majority of those notes. It is an extremely imperfect story in many ways, and in many ways it will remain imperfect. I don't want to set myself the task of making an entirely new story out of it except at dire need.

And the need may not be so dire. The themes of dehumanization are more evenly balanced than I remembered; it's the (presumed white) townspeople who have the first episode of inhuman aggression. (That would be the scene where the stranger rolls through town and is careless at a 4-way stop.) And I think that once I fix the beginning, and of course those bits directly affected by the change in the beginning, certain resonances will emerge to shift the balance away from the "white neighbors friendly, brown shepherds scary" dynamic, and more towards "Oh, shit, another group of people I came to trust that I suddenly can't trust. Maybe I can't trust myself, either."

All right, I'm not happy about Bob making the racist joke about worshipping cows in India. If I leave it in, it's gonna need some pushback. I think I know how to do that, but I'll have to see how the fix looks on the page.

Anyway. Not saying I'm perfectly satisfied that the limited changes I'm now planning will fix everything. But I am willing to start out with just those changes, and then to see where things stand.

So that's the state of the rerprint revisions. Thank you for joining me on this journey, and I hope to give you more good news (and possibly a recipe) tomorrow.

an occasion to rethink and revise before reprinting
Tue 2021-03-02 22:46:47 (single post)
  • 3,453 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long

So, just to remind y'all that the author is a New Orleanian author, lemme tell you what happened this week. So yesterday, OK, the payment for the short story I sold to Apex Magazine arrived via PayPal. Hooray! So today I decided to celebrate the sale, as I had not tangibly celebrated it yet, by splurging on mail-order oysters. In fact, I ordered the gift bundle (it's a gift for me! From me!) on the strength of it including a free shucking knife and gloves, reason being, I don't own any yet and I probably should, and I don't want to make a special trip to--where would I even buy an oyster shucking knife in Boulder, Colorado? A restaurant supply store, I suppose. Or I'd have to mail order it from somewhere and try to get the two separate shipments to coincide. Hell with that. This is easier.

Anyway. Oysters coming mid-March. Forty of 'em. I'm gonna slurp up a dozen on arrival, then chop up the rest for kimchi. (That link there, that's the recipe that got Dad's whole hunting club asking, "Niki's coming home next week, you say? Will she make us kimchi again? Tell her to make it spicier this time.")

All right, yes, I could have been responsible and left the money in my PayPal account against actual household necessities. But it's not like we're relying on my story sales to make household ends meet. (Hoo, girls-n-boys, would we be in trouble if we were!) Besides--a sale to Apex Magazine! The hell to the yes that deserves celebrating!

(Don't worry, it only cost about half the check. I'm sure I can find something responsible to do with the rest.)

So for my next trick, I'd like to see if I can get "Lambing Season" reprinted again. It initially appeared in NAMELESS Magazine #3 in March of 2014. (You can still purchase the issue as an ebook from that link for $3.99. I recommend it; there's a lot of good stuff in there, including a haunting story by my friend and colleague Nicole Cushing.) It's been reprint only once so far, as episode 413 of Tales to Terrify, narrated beautifully by Summer Brooks, on December 19, 2019. (You can listen to it there for free, along with a retrospective of the horror of the two-thousand-teens.)

...And that's probably a good thing. The only having been reprinted once, I mean. Because... Wow there's some problematic bits in the story. Which I completely overlooked when I wrote the story because Hi there, white privilege! Without even having laid eyes or ears on it since the Tales to Terrify outing, I knew I'd need to revise the opening a titch. Here's the second paragraph so you can see what I mean:

I'd so badly needed to escape. Months had passed since I'd last been able to relax. In my mind, I was always on duty, no matter what the clock said. Then my partner went to the hospital on a bullet fired by a twelve-year-old girl, and I started suspecting everyone I met of being armed and dangerous. The chief suggested I take off the uniform and badge for a while before I wound up shooting someone for startling me.

Wow. Just... wow. That sounds like nothing so much as a "Blue Lives Matter" defense of the cop who murdered Tamir Rice. "How was he supposed to know it was only a toy gun? Some of those urban kids out there, those little monsters'd shoot you soon as look at you. You try taking time in one of those neighborhoods to verify if the gun is real, you're dead."

Eeeuuurgh. No. So much no. There is no way I'm submitting that story to be reprinted with that opening. Should be simple enough to fix, though. Instead of a crisis of paranoia, the main character can have a crisis of conscience over her partner having shot a child, and the rest of the department rallying around to defend him, and maybe the protagonist's reluctance to join in the defense is why the chief suggests she take a temporary unpaid leave. Much more believable of a scenario (except for the crisis of conscience part, I fear), and a lot more defensible then what's there now. Because, face it, what's there now is doing white supremacy's work of upholding the narrative of cops who are more wronged than wrong-doing even when they've just fired a bullet into a Black child's body, or knelt on a Black man's neck until he suffocated. As though that had anything to do with justice and keeping the peace. My God. No. I will have no part of even appearing to support those abominations. Not if I can help it. Not any more than I already have, Gods forgive me.

(Virtue signaling? Damn straight I am, and what's wrong with that? The bigots are out there signaling to each other all the time with their dog-whistles and bullhorns everywhere from the corner store to the Capitol. The rest of us are gonna damn well "signal" that we stand four-square against that shit. Got it? Good.)

Except it's not going to be as simple as fixing the opening, turns out.

The manuscript was still in one long LibreOffice RTF, so the first thing I did tonight was pull the manuscript into a Scrivener project and break it up into scenes. There were hard-coded tab-indents, too, so I had to remove those by hand because Scrivener for Windows still doesn't have find-and-replace for special characters. So that required traveling paragraph by paragraph through the whole story. Which meant I was lightly skimming the text as I went along. Which resulted in my realizing the racism kinda permeates the whole story.

I'm not going to get into the details at this time. It's not that I'm worried about spoiling the story for you; you can go read or listen to it right now if you haven't already. No, it's that I know, with a sinking, that I have yet to uncover all the details. Right now I just have a general impression of the dehumanization of non-white people in this story. And you could argue that it's not just the shepherds but all the townspeople too who are under Maud Shempf's sway, they're all going to wind up fleeced and turned into mutton eventually. But the predominately (implied) white townspeople get to act like human beings, even so, while the predominately (heavily implied) black and brown shepherds get to have "dead shark stares" while they menace the protagonist (including with a gun!). And yeah, that could stand as a metaphor for the way systems of authority regularly dehumanize non-white people--but that's not how it looks on the page at this time. At this time, it looks hella racist, and it makes me cringe.

So I'll be taking my time the rest of this week going over the story with a fine-toothed comb, trying my damnedest to blunt its capacity to do harm. It may take more than a week, in which case I'll put it aside temporarily, because the next story in the revision queue has a deadline. But then I'll come back to it, because this is job that needs to be done right more than it needs to be done in a hurry.

Whew. I warned y'all a while back this blog was gonna get political from time to time. Because the alternative is to be silently oblivious, and all that does is prop up the status quo. And the status quo has really gotta go.

Cover art incorporates and modifies glacier and dinosaur images from Pixabay
a strange but workable (for now) definition of On Time
Fri 2021-02-26 22:38:27 (single post)
  • 946 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,073 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,115 words (if poetry, lines) long
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Not so much whining today, as it turns out. What was that I said about external systems of structure and accountability? Today's external accountability mechanisms were my Boulder Food Rescue shift and my various curbside shopping errands, for getting me out of bed on time; and Cat Rambo's afternoon co-writing session, for getting me back to work by 2 PM rather than collapsing into a nap that would eat up the rest of my productive day.

(And what with having been up from early (for me) and not napped, maybe I'll sleep better tonight.)

Because today went so well, I can give you the January 2021 Friday Fictionette Round-up on time, which is to say, no more than the same month I've been late for quite a few months now. Huzzah!

January 1: "My Sister Draws Things" (ebook, audio) In which sisters have each other's backs, and imagination is queen.

January 8: "What the Desert Dreams" (ebook, audio) In which creation and destruction walk hand in hand, no matter what any nearby creator gods have to say about it.

January 15: "How It Begins" (ebook, audio) In which pet sphinxes are a comfort to a lonely old woman.

January 22: "What Is Not Prohibited" (ebook, audio) In which we are not the first nor yet the cleverest to question the three laws of robotics.

The Fictionette Freebie for January 2021 is "My Sister Draws Things", so you can download and enjoy that one regardless of whether you're a paid subscriber.

Also, dinner tonight is pasta with sausage and cream, only I used penne instead of shells, ground breakfast sausage instead of sweet Italian, and a whole lot of fennel seeds, hot pepper flakes, white and pink peppercorns, and nutmeg.

And that is all.

stealth foodie blog strikes again: mardi gras edition
Tue 2021-02-16 22:52:54 (single post)

Welp, all that crowing about the Zoom co-writing structure-and-motivation for the day, and what happens? I utterly fail this week to 1. get to bed on time, 2. get up on time, 3. make the morning co-writing session. Alas! Counterpoint: A. "This week" refers to two whole days, let's not panic here; B. I've still gotten a metric ton of stuff done, because after the afternoon co-writing session ends there's still a lot of afternoon and evening left. So it's all cool.

But that is not what I came to blog about. I came to blog about winning at dinner. Yes, again. I get very excited about this sort of thing. This is nominally a blog about actually writing, but it is also a stealth foodie blog. (You're welcome.)

A friend of mine tweeted approvingly about this recipe here, Caramelized Shallot Pasta, and I got all interested. I mean, I like anchovies. I like pasta. I like absolutely everything about what I see here. Let's try it.

What follows are step-by-step instructions to wind up with precisely, or more or less, what I wound up with for dinner on Lundi Gras (and lots of leftovers for Mardi Gras).

One. About three business days before you want to do this, maybe five days if catastrophic winter storms are forecast for the weekend, order you a 3-pack of crawfish bread. Yes, it's expensive, but if you can budget for it once a year, I say go for it. Mardi Gras is a great time of year for this, but so is your birthday, or in fact any of your 364 unbirthdays. (Obviously you should only do this if crawfish, cheese, and bread of the gluten variety are things you eat. And if you like spicy things. This is a spicy thing.)

Two. About two and a half hours before you want to eat, start you thawing a loaf of the crawfish bread, if crawfish bread you are doing. I only allowed two hours, and it wasn't quite enough. Also, start defrosting a pound of boneless chicken breasts.

Three. Go get that pasta recipe and follow Steps 1 through 3, ending with the bit where you squirrel away half of the resulting paste for future enjoyment. I did not use a dutch oven, but rather my largest cast-iron pan. That turned out to be pretty much ideal.

Around now is a good time to preheat the oven to 350 F.

Four. This is where the multitasking starts. I got the pasta started in the usual stainless steel pot on the front burner on the left. I returned the cast-iron pan to the front burner on the right, removed the anchovy-shallot-tomato paste to a plate (to which I added another big teaspoon of hot pepper flakes because YOLO), and started the now empty-ish pan going over medium-high. Into the goodness remaining from the pan's previous activities I tossed two diced tomatoes as a sort of deglazing agent and also the chicken breasts. Salt and pepper on the chicken breasts to your taste; if you're me, that's a few twists on a salt grinder and about a tablespoon of black peppercorns rough-ground in a mortar and pestle. Pan fry the chicken until it is almost but not quite done through, slicing it up into strips whenever convenient.

Somewhere around here is when you shove the crawfish bread into the oven.

Five. Pick up again with Step 4 of the pasta recipe: Add the cup of pasta water, the very al dente pasta, and the anchovy-shallot-tomato paste to chicken and tomatoes in the pan, and let 'em thicken and coat just like the directions say. The chicken will finish cooking during this stage; so will the pasta. Follow through with Step 5 and the garlic-parsley mixture. By the time all this is done, the crawfish bread should also be fully heated, though you may still have to wait for it to cool a few minutes so you're not slicing into lava.

Plate it all up, optionally serving with a bottle of Abita's Mardi Gras Bock or other favorite carbonated beverage. Either resist the urge to have seconds or resign yourself to groaning and gently rolling uselessly around the house for the rest of the night.

And that is the process that led to this picture I tweeted. You're welcome!

procrastination pasta carbonara and follow-up fried rice
Mon 2021-01-25 21:30:37 (single post)

Because I am very pleased with my kitchen prowess right now, and also because I'm not terribly eager to do the writing task I'm supposed to be doing, you get some food blogging outta me. (Not that blogging isn't also something I'm supposed to be doing. But I'm not supposed to do it before the other stuff. Nevertheless, here we are.)

We begin with pasta carbonara.

Up until recently, I'd only ever done the mock carbonara thing involving heavy whipping cream. This is due to a long-standing horror of egg sauce failure. My last attempt at cooking eggs low and slow over direct heat with the aim of a thick sauce/broth was TNH's bacon and egg soup recipe, which attempt resulted, despite my doing everything right I swear, in something better described as bacon and egg-drop soup.

But I had a bunch of bacon ends from Lucky's and I was determined to give proper carbonara a try for once.

I was emboldened by this recipe, which calls for egg yolks and not whole eggs. That right there lowered both the perceived difficulty level and the psychological barrier for me. I mean, I know I've done OK low-and-slowing egg yolks. Witness my favorite eggnog recipe. Witness my success with lemon curd. Of course, neither of those was a direct heat situation; I put the egg yolks in one of my big chunky porcelain tea mugs and set that inside a sauce pan: instant double boiler. Nevertheless, I felt this might work.

But I noped right the hell out of attempting to cook the egg yolks via the residual heat of the cooked pasta alone. That was raising the stakes way too high. I absolutely do not need to choose between "oh no, the egg yolks aren't cooked enough" and "oh no, the pasta's getting over cooked." So here is what I did instead. It took longer than the vaunted 30 minutes, but it was foolproof, and I value foolproof when I am the fool in question.

  1. Crack open your favorite variety of Annie's Macaroni and Cheese. I favor Shells & Alfredo for this, but any of 'em'll do. (Yes, I know I said "proper carbonara." Shush.) Set the cheese packet aside for later. You will use it.
  2. Cook the noodles al slightly more dente than you usually would. This gives you some wiggle room at the end of the recipe. It also means you don't have to worry about "stopping the cook." You might reserve some of the pasta water when you drain the noodles, as per the Dinner Then Dessert recipe linked above. I admit I always forget to do this. It's OK. The starch in the Annie's cheese packet makes up for it.
  3. Take that pot you used to cook the pasta and stick some sort of smoked/preserved pork product in it. I've been using the half-pound package of bacon ends you can get from Lucky's, which I only discovered when I began shopping their catalog online for curbside pick-up. (Thanks, pandemic!) Several slices of fatty bacon would work well too. Cook it over medium-low heat until it's crispy and has given up the grease.
  4. While you're waiting for your pork fat to render, separate three eggs. Set the whites aside for other uses. (I will give you a suggestion for this. See below.) Whisk the yolks together with the cheese package from your Annie's box, another good handful of grated parmesan, salt and pepper and whatever else you like along those lines (nutmeg? mmmaybe! cayenne? most definitely!), and I guess that's it. I tried to get away with two egg yolks; they got lost in the powder. Three egg yolks still gave me more of a thick paste then I wanted, so I splashed in some sherry just to make sure.
  5. Bacon done? Great! Take that pan off the fire. Scoop out the bacon with a slotted spoon and set it aside to cool; eventually, when it's cool enough to handle, you'll dice it up. For now, take your quantity of frozen peas and dump them into the grease. Stand back. It'll spit. It'll also cool down your bacon grease, making it safe for egg yolk. Slowly combine the egg yolk mixture with the bacon grease and peas mess, whisking all the while. With luck, this should form a sauce, and not that dreaded soup of fried egg lumps that terrifies us so. Add back the diced bacon.
  6. Now here's the heresy: Put that mixture back on the stove. Cook it over very low heat. (The pasta is not involved in this step. The pasta is sitting patiently in the colander, waiting its turn.) Stir the sauce a lot. Watch over it closely until you're confident it's thickening and not turning into particles. If it's too thick, add reserved pasta water, or more sherry, or milk, or cream, or any combination that suits your tastes, to loosen it up. Over time, as you move out of the danger zone, you can cautiously increase the heat and maybe not keep an eye on it every second.
  7. When the sauce is just on the edge of a visible simmer--like, with tiny bubbles starting to break the surface--and it's the thickness you want, it is done. Take it off the stove, add the pasta, stir it about 'til all the pasta is nicely coated, and devour it all in one sitting. You deserve it.

Note: My carbonara sauce keeps coming out distinctly brown. I blame the burnt bits of bacon. Also the rich orange yolks of the eggs I get from 63rd Street Farm (they're selling eggs throughout the winter this year, drive up and take 'em out the ice chest and put your money in the jar). This is why I keep adding cream and/or milk even though the use of egg yolks should obviate the need for cream or milk; it corrects the color a bit.

Suggestion for those egg whites: Use them in fried rice.

I follow the method laid out here and it has not steered me wrong yet. Today the rice was the leftover fried rice from last night's Golden Sun delivery, which means I had twice fried rice, which was fine. The bacon came from the latest Wild Pastures 10lb chicken-and-pork box (I was out of Lucky's bacon ends by now). The veg content included some cabbage I needed to use up, along with the usual handful of diced, rinsed salted veg from the everlasting frozen bag of preserved salted Chinese vegetables I've been slowly working my way through over the years.

Key points of Dwyer's method include the light soy sauce towards the end of the fry and the stirring in of the fresh green onions once it's off the heat. Those two elements of the method should be followed faithfully. (If you can't find light soy sauce where you shop, welp, you do what you gotta do. "Light" here means a specific flavor and color; it has nothing to do with diets or with sodium content.) But I can assure you that the result did not suffer one bit from substituting three egg whites for two whole eggs.Eat it all up with a spoon.

And now, I suppose, I should go do the writing I'm really supposed to be doing. Until later!

Cover art incorporates and modifies image by Andrew Goldman (Pixabay)
post nubila ph...ictionette
Tue 2020-09-08 21:08:45 (single post)
  • 1,105 words (if poetry, lines) long
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Ahoy! Well. It's been a week. We've had a slow-moving bunny crisis which we only realized was a crisis this weekend. Gemma had been steadily losing weight all month, but at first we weren't tracking it closely, and then we thought it would get better--I mean, bunn's got an appetite like a raging bonfire!--and next thing we know she's down some 600 grams since August 5 and it's really time to get the vet involved.

Today she saw the doctor and the doctor said... no more bunnies jumping on the bed! ...no. He said, "The password is... mega cecum." Well, words to that effect, anyway. Basically, she's genetically inclined toward this particular category of GI disorder in which the cecum doesn't do what it should, which is bad. She'll probably need treatment of some sort for this all her life. For this week, we've got oral meds and subcutaneous fluids to give her, and if that's successful in "jump-starting" her cecum and helping her get back up to a healthy weight, I assume we'll then talk long-term maintenance.

Anyway, I didn't think I'd be back to administering sub-q to a pet so soon after Uno and Null's end-of-life care, but she takes it like a champ. Honestly, I'm just grateful it's Gemma and not Holland. Holland is a nightmare patient. Holland barely tolerates being picked up. Holland is a work in progress. Please may the universe not bestow any high-maintenance medical situations on him until that work has progressed quite a ways.

On a happier note, we had a dear long-distance friend spending last week in the Boulder area. There was much rejoicing. Also homemade pizza and beer and video games and coworking and actual hugs.

(Speaking of homemade pizza: Homemade eggplant parmesan pizza. It's easy. You take everything you'd normally put into eggplant parmesan, plus maybe that egg-and-ricotta mixture that goes so well in lasagna--basically my eggplant parmesan is a lasagna that substitutes breaded baked eggplant disks for pasta--but instead of layering it in a casserole dish you put one layer of it on a pizza crust. It's good.)

Excuses, excuses. Well. Better late than never: Here's the promised Friday Fictionette Round-up for August 2020.

Friday, August 7, 2020: "The Traveler's House" (ebook, audiobook) Who gets to offer hospitality, and for what reasons?

Friday, August 14, 2020: "Cri de Coeur" (ebook, audiobook) Someone's lonely, Lord, kumbaya...

Friday, August 21, 2020: "The Memory of Flight" (ebook, audiobook) Sometimes, one very badly needs to change.

Friday, August 28, 2020: "On Dirkmere" (ebook, audiobook) A place for everyone, and everyone in their place. But this place has its compensations.

The Fictionette Freebie for August 2020 is "On Dirkmere." You can click on over and access it in any of the several formats I've posted it in. The other three are available according to the usual rewards tier structure: $1/month for the ebook (html, PDF, epub, and/or mobi) and $3/month for the audiobook (mp3).

Next time: Probably back to whining about the novel, I think. You've been warned.

odds and ends on a Monday afternoon
Mon 2020-07-20 18:39:57 (single post)

So I finished a new story and submitted it last week. It's an expansion on the 500-word story I submitted to Escape Pod's flash fiction contest a couple months ago. At its new 1,300-word length, there's a bit more room to flesh out the characters, the setting, and the resolution. I really like it now and I'm feeling an unwise amount of hope regarding its chances. If that hope founders, ah well. I know precisely where the next two places I'm going to send it will be.

Thanks to this July push to include a revision session in every work day, I proceeded at a somewhat healthier pace than I did during production of the previous story. Because of that, and probably also because this story was only about a quarter of the previous story's length, it was a fairly stress-free procedure. There were still a good two hours of last-minute revision on deadline day, but 1) that's within the bounds of a normal revision session, and 2) it really was revision, and not a race to write the last two thirds of the story from scratch.

And then I did one more copyediting read-through, this one aloud to catch typos and misplaced modifiers and other awkward things, and totally choked up during the last two paragraphs. With the story having unexpectedly passed the "made its own author cry" test, I felt pretty good about sending it out.


One pleasant side-effect of all this social distancing, partial isolation, and public activity shut-down is that in addition to not having contracted COVID-19 (cross fingers, knock on wood, turn three times and curse and spit on the ground), I haven't suffered a cold or flu since well before things got real. And sure, it's summer now, but since when has that stopped me from developing sniffles and coughing and post-nasal drip?

Undoubtedly this has to do with keeping myself well out of range, as best I can, of everyone else, and--because Boulder County is thankfully a place where mask-wearing and social-distancing compliance is relatively high--everyone else is keeping themselves well out of range of me. Your common cold transmits over similar vectors to the current plague (minus the ability for the virus to survive for days on non-porous surfaces *wibble*), so if you successfully keep yourself safe from the novel coronovirus you're probably safe from the less novel sort. Additionally, during normal times I probably catch colds more frequently than I might otherwise because I play roller derby. If one skater's got something, the rest of the league's going to get it pretty soon. I haven't been smearing my body up against other skaters' bodies since early March. Much as I love my sport, I have to admit it makes a difference.

So aside from the odd recovery day after an insomniac night (more to do with the summer heat in a house with no air conditioning than with pandemic anxiety), I haven't really had to give myself a day off work. I've had a remarkably healthy and productive pandemic, is what I'm saying.


Yesterday I tried out this fava bean hummus recipe in all its complex and high-maintenance glory. You may ask, was it worth it? To which I would reply, MOST ASSUREDLY. Yes, the recipe could stand to be simplified (why bother wringing out as much of the water from the blanched spinach as you can when you're just going to add water back in the blender? Why go out of your way to use a neutral oil to make your lemon zest tincture when you're going to add a quarter cup olive oil to the final product?). Also clarified (wait, in step 3 you blend the fava beans and the spinach together, but in step 5 you fold the spinach puree into the fava been mixture?). Also it could use a reminder that fava beans require a second shucking after you blanch them (unless they actually wanted that tough outer skin on each bean included in the puree? Really?). But the recipe seems pretty forgiving of mild variations, and in any case the results were amazing.

I think I'm going to have a little more right now on the sourdough discard naan I fried up over lunch...

Salmon-stuffed zucchini!
i accomplished a thing today dinner counts as an accomplishment
Fri 2020-07-10 23:11:20 (single post)

Today was a Friday. Fridays are hard. Today was an especially hard Friday because I had extra errands and it was far too hot. BUT I WON AT DINNER! Here's how:

So, the other week, 63rd St. Farm sent me home with a bunch of dill. I like dill. I especially like dill on smoked salmon. So next time I went to the grocery I picked up a bit of smoked salmon. And then I sort of forgot about them both until today.

Yesterday, 63rd St. Farm sent me home with two zucchini. And when I say zucchini, I mean ZUCCHINI. We are talking humongous. About which the farm did warn us; in their email they included a recipe for stuffed zucchini.

And then I remembered the dill and the stuffed salmon. And I did a thing:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 d F, I guess
  2. Cut one huge zucchini in half crosswise. Cut one of the halves (Zuke Half A) in half lengthwise; scoop out each of these until they resemble canoes. These are what you'll be stuffing.
  3. Take all the scooped-out zucchini bits and dice them fine. Dump them in a bowl along with a good handful of chopped dill and also a chopped-up garlic scape. (Garlic scapes are the flowering stalk of the garlic plant. 63rd St. Farm gave us a bunch of those, too, and they keep forever in the fridge.)
  4. Add a good few big spoonfuls mayonnaise to the stuff in the bowl. (Maybe 1/4 cup?) Stir stir stir stir stir. Season with salt and pepper as you like. If it seems too thin, dice up a bit more from Zuke Half B and stir it in. At this point you have essentially made mock tzatziki sauce.
  5. Take 4 ounces smoked salmon and cut it up to nice bite-size pieces, maybe 1/2-inch cubes.
  6. Autobots, assemble! Fill up your zucchini canoes with the salmon chunks. Top with the mock tzatziki sauce. Stick the whole mess in the oven and let 'em bake for about 40 minutes or until you've achieved peak tender-baked zucchini. If you get impatient and/or hungry while you wait, chop some zucchini sticks out of Zuke Half B, maybe also some kohlrabi or carrots (also from 63rd St. Farm), and use them to dip up any of that leftover mock tzatziki sauce. Or, if you have more self-control than I do, put the remains of the sauce aside for other things. It is amazing on everything.
  7. Eat up. Try not to splash it on your computer keyboard.

Thus, at the end of a tired, too-hot, writing-poor Friday, I would up feeling like I maybe actually accomplished something with my day after all. If nothing else, good food doesn't make a low-accomplishment day worse, right? I always figure, if I can't make my brain happy, I can at least make my stomach happy. And my taste buds.

Meanwhile, I've still got the better part of Zuke Half B and also the second gigantic zucchini. I'm having additional zuke-stuffing thoughts. I could stuff that zuke with anything. Like, maybe, the leftovers from last night's beef panang curry and brown rice.

63rd St. Farm gets Gemma's stamp of approval.
salad days are here
Thu 2020-05-28 17:49:31 (single post)

Speaking of annual events that have been affected by the pandemic, today was the first veggie pick-up of 63rd St. Farm's 2020 CSA season. I was both excited about it and dreading it. Excited because, obviously, yay! farm-fresh produce! Also extra variety in greens for the bunnies. But I was kinda dreading submitting myself to yet another errand that had been made more arduous by contagion-suppression processes.

There were three processes each member could choose from, but only one gave me the option to be picky about my veggies and therefore probably not take home an unwanted bunch of cilantro. There are very few things I will not eat, and cilantro isn't precisely one of them--it's omnipresent in Colorado and in many of the cultural cuisines I enjoy, so I've worked up a tolerance more or less out of self-defense--but it's certainly something I will choose not to eat it if I get that choice without causing others too much inconvenience. Although, John points out, if I did wind up with a bunch of cilantro, the bunnies would most certainly eat it for us. But I'd still have to handle it, get the smell all over my hands, and, well, if at all possible, no thanks. (No, it's not that I think cilantro tastes like soap. I think marjoram tastes like soap. I think cilantro tastes like cilantro. And I don't like the taste of cilantro. It is a preference that reasonable people can have, as it happens.) So although I was wistfully tempted by the convenience of the two options involving prepackaged shares, I opted to come on out and select my veggies myself under the farm's strict sanitation and separation rules.

Pick-up hours were from 3:00 to 7:00. I arrived right at 3. And the line of cars was already well out the entrance driveway and damn near sticking out into 63rd street. There was just room for me to squeeze in at the end of the line without blocking traffic. And that was with every driver conscientiously inching up to compress the line just as much as they possibly could. Then the line moved slowly, slowly, slowly along the driveway (I'd brought a book to read, it was cool) toward the check-in station, where the farmers would check off that you'd arrived, give you your instructions, and, if you wanted to buy something extra, like honey or eggs or herbal products, sell you something extra. (I bought a dozen eggs).

After the check-in station, everything smoothed out. I hung a right into their Brand! New! Parking lot! (it wasn't technically much bigger than the old one, but it had a better traffic flow, and that made it feel HUGE) and got myself parked. My next stop was the hand-washing station, which was equipped with liquid soap and running water and paper towels and also a sign reminding you to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Then I took a plastic bag from the box of Brand! New! Plastic bags! (we were asked not to bring any from home, and also to save these for use in future, less complicated times) and headed over to the veggie cart.

"Cart" feels like an understatement; the word makes me think of shopping carts and bike trailers and, at most, small horse-drawn conveyances. This was more like a large horse-drawn conveyance, maybe 20 feet long by 6 feet wide, with vegetables arranged along its circumference on a shelf like a grocery store's produce display. Four people were allowed to be at the cart at once; more than that and you waited in line with 10-foot separation. Vegetables were pre-bagged in amounts labeled according to share size (I have a half-share, which is less than a full but more than a small). All you had to do was grab the bags that corresponded with your share size, make that tough choice between chard or kale or collard greens (I've got okra and mirliton at home, of course I chose collards), and maybe sometimes ask for supplies of this or that to be replenished. Which they would be from the prepackaging station where a number of farm staff were very busy not only keeping the cart supplied but also putting together the drive-up shares for those who chose Option #2.

So it all went very smoothly. Everyone, members and farm staff alike, was cheerful and polite and wore their face masks like responsible and caring community members do. The whole experience was much more pleasant than I'd anticipated. And as I left, I saw that the line of cars had now entirely outgrown the driveway and extended for several hundred feet along the shoulder of north-bound 63rd Street, so clearly I'd done well to get there right at 3. In fact, I might try for 2:45 next week. Maybe also budget time to order some pizza to take home. The smells coming from the brick oven were hugely tempting.

Anyway, I got home with fresh veg, made up a plate for the bunnies, and then made up a salad for myself. All in all, it was a successful outing.

Food goes in here.
the more skating but also more eating take-out diet
Thu 2020-05-14 18:18:22 (single post)

My roller derby league is challenging its members to skate an ULTRAMARATHON IN MAY. There are sponsors, there will be prizes, there is certainly competition. And I can tell you right now, I am not likely to complete even Tier 1. I'll keep track of my miles, but I have pretty much zero ambition about it.

But now I'm curious. I have been doing a fair amount of street skating recently (if somewhat less over the past couple weeks since it's been raining off and on). How much of it am I doing? At the rate I'm doing it, how long will take me to accumulate 26.2 miles of skating?

What if all the skating I was doing was to pick up take-out meals?

(Could I stop using GrubHub entirely? There are so many reasons.)

Could I SKATE A TAKE-OUT MARATHON?

Last week Tuesday, the day that I and my computer received a visit from that onsite tech who was a total tool, I got it in my head to skate to My Ramen & Izakaya. I began placing the order online on the backup laptop while the tech finished up with my Dell Inspiron and prepared to leave. I hadn't quite finished placing the order when the computer stalled out in its attempt to load Windows. While the tech yelled at Dispatch over the phone, I stared longingly at the computer screen. Then I put on my gear and rolled around the house gathering facemask, bluetooth headphones, and wallet. The instant the tech left, I hit SUBMIT on my take-out order and rolled the heck out of there. I figured, by now, between the tech visit gone wrong and the exercise I was currently getting, I would deserve my tantanmen ramen and Japanese pancakes. And yes, I did deserve those tasty treats, even if I probably shouldn't have eaten them all in one sitting. I went to bed painfully full but very happy. Or, at least, considering the loss of the use of my good laptop, more happy than I would have been otherwise.

Distance skated: 1.58 miles.

That worked out so well, I thought I'd do it again yesterday. Only this time I was in the mood for Buddha Thai. John was game--I could put him down for medium-spicy tofu pad thai any old evening. Me, I got the drunken noodles with seafood combo. I skated there mostly along the streets, taking advantage of bike lanes and multi-use sidewalks. At the restaurant, I took off my wrist guards and donned the disposable gloves that the restaurant had made available on a table outside the door. I put the entrees into my old Rock Boat soft-side thermal tote and poured the Thai iced tea into my old Einstein Bros. to-go mug with lid. Then there was a minimal amount of cross-stepping across a corner of lawn after skating over to the nearest trash receptacle to dispose of the gloves and the plastic cup and straw. Then, back home to stuff myself silly!

Distance skated: 1.20 miles.

At this rate, I will probably not skate a take-out marathon in May. But if I do this instead of ordering delivery more often, I will certainly be getting good exercise to go along with my tasty food!

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