inasmuch as it concerns Feeding The Beast:
Food, cooking, recipes, and so forth. Because I don't do that "starving artist" thing.
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.
things return to normal, for fairly decent values of normal
- Feeding The Beast
- Friday Fictionettes
- Mapping Territories
- Selling My Soul
- Spit and Polish
- Support Structures
- 3,541 words (if poetry, lines) long
Yesterday I got to everything but the blogging, so today I'm starting with the blogging. This my occasional strategy for making sure I do all of the writing things--start with whatever didn't happen yesterday, to make sure it happens today. I am very clever that way. *pats self on head*
Among the things I did do yesterday was a solid editing pass on "Survival, After." It came back from Shimmer with rejection in hand; I'm getting it ready for its next outing. Mainly I just need it to be about 350 words shorter, so I'm going over the manuscript with a Scalpel of -10% (two-handed weapon, imbued with curse: Perfectionist). But yesterday's pass also uncovered a lot of typos, cut-and-paste artifacts, and gerunds that ought to have been changed to simple present tense when the sentence got restructured. And vice versa. All of which were there on the story's last outing. So Much Embarrassment. This is the sort of thing that happens when it's a rush job to squeak it in under deadline. Go forth and do not likewise.
Anyway, I hope to finish this edit today so I can resubmit the story.
I'm back in Boulder now, back to the normal weekly schedule of writing and roller derby. There's still a touch of travel journaling for me to wrap up. Here it goes:
Thursday, July 19, 2018: I get out of town. My timing sucks.
Travel anxiety got me out of bed early, which meant plenty of time for a shower, laundry, packing, and last-minute printouts. I'd gotten as far as the shower and was starting on the laundry when Dad got up from the computer and shared the bad news: One of his oldest friends--the one whose garden had produced the tomatoes we had in yesterday's sauce piquante and also the cucumbers and squash we used in the kimchi, had just died that morning. He'd been less than two weeks out from receiving an artificial heart, but his all-natural original just wasn't able to wait that long despite all the day-to-day medical support he was receiving. Dad had volunteered to email mutual friends, seeing as how his friend's widow was obviously not in a space where she could handle that right now. I'm not sure really how able Dad was to handle it, but he muddled through.
So that was deeply sad. And it seemed like adding insult to injury that it happened the same morning I was leaving town, so that I was abandoning Dad right when he'd suffered an unexpected additional blow. But we made space in that morning's itinerary for extra hugs and a few stories about Dad's friend.
I headed out about two hours in advance of my train, leaving myself time to top up the rental car's fuel tank, return the rental car, and walk from the Hertz office to the train station. I could have had them shuttle me over, but if I had, I couldn't have stopped at Cochon Butcher for a sandwich and beer to go. Now, the smart plan would have been to ask Hertz to hold my luggage, walked down to Cochon for to-go, walk back to Hertz, then let them shuttle me down. Because after Cochon there were about six very long blocks to walk, and six blocks of New Orleans in July is a lot. Because I was not as smart as I could be, I arrived at the train station a lot sweatier and dehydrated than I might have. But my beer was refreshing and the sandwich was worth waiting for.
There was wifi on the City of New Orleans. I made a good-faith effort to get the Friday Fictionette done while I was still able to upload it; nevertheless, it would not go up until Saturday evening. It was "Mardel's Salamander" (ebook, audiobook), an irreverent romp through a fantasy future in which computer programming is magic and magic has consequences. I also got my Saturday morning AINC reading done later that night. Audacity's noise reduction filter worked astonishingly well; you could hardly tell from the finished MP3s that I was on a train. Given how well I could hear my next-door neighbor's phone call, though, I was probably not my next-door neighbor's favorite neighbor. I tried to keep my volume down, but you never know.
I could not possibly have been my next-door neighbor's least favorite neighbor. That prize had to go to the room across the aisle from me in which two pre-teen boys were roundly enjoying their mobile sleepover. They boarded the train at, I think, Jackson, Mississippi, and the shrieking, squealing, shouting, and roughhousing began almost immediately. Their parental units were just down the hall and sometimes poked heads in to adjudicate some point of sibling rivalry (not sure they actually were brothers, but you see what I mean), but never, so far as I could tell, to tell them KEEP YOUR VOICES DOWN AND STOP USING THE HALLWAY AND SLEEPER DOOR AS YOUR PERSONAL PLAYGROUND. Thankfully they fell asleep early and didn't rise until late. And I actually slept pretty well that night.
Friday, July 20, 2018: A little work, a little play, and once again we're on our way.
We got into Chicago Union Station more or less on time. I made my way to the sleeper lounge and staked out a spot at the workstation counter downstairs. Here I could sit at an actual desk with my computer and work or play comfortably. Also I did not have to listen to the ubiquitous televisions because here they were silent; if you wanted to listen, you connected your smart phone to a particular "Hearing Hotspot" wifi network and downloaded an app. That was useful intel. The official Amtrak Wifi network wouldn't let me connect to game servers, but the Hearing Hotspot did. So after I uploaded that day's blog post I got to play Spiral Knights until it was time to board my train.
The rest of the ride was much like the previous leg of the journey, only minus the disruptive pre-teen boy sleepover element. And no wifi, of course. I continued work on the fictionette, cleaned out my email spam folder, solved jigsaw sudoku, and read ebooks. I also even got a small amount of physical conditioning to make up for spending the whole day on my butt and Saturday's crossfit (which I would because tired). See, there are these vertical bars in the bathrooms for you to hold onto when the ride gets bumpy, and it's possible to use them for a sort of assisted squat/pull-up exercise, and then do a set of ten each time one is obliged to visit the facilities.
So things were productive and peaceful. And on Saturday morning I woke up in Colorado.
Food talley for the remainder of the trip:
- 2018-07-19, 12:00 - Pork belly sandwich with mint and cucumber on white bread (Cochon Butcher)
- A bunch of Amtrak meals that were adequate or even tasty but not particularly worth reporting
the saga continues: skating happens, much venison is eaten
- Feeding The Beast
- Friday Fictionettes
- Mapping Territories
- Political Maunderings
- The Beast That Rolls
Have just arrived at Chicago Union Station. Will be boarding the train for Denver in just under four hours. Going by my experience on the outbound journey, there won't be a wifi hotspot on the California Zephyr (or if there is one, it won't get much reliable signal after the first couple hours), so if I'm going to upload a blog post today, I'd better compose it now-ish.
The Friday Fictionette for July 20 will also be late; I'm going to have to finish it on the train, but I won't be able to upload it before Denver Union Station. Still, it'll be a sight closer to on time than last week's "sometime this weekend, I mean Tuesday" release (see below).
Anyway, to continue the travel journal...
Tuesday, July 17, 2018: Mini family reunion over venison backstrap
Was deliberately antisocial when I woke up so I could get caught up on some writing tasks. Among other things, got the much-delayed Friday Fictionette for nominally July 13 recorded, packaged, and uploaded.
Breakfast: Made myself a little omelette-on-toast. Had an unexpected boiled egg on the side (I expected it would be a raw egg when I cracked it open BUT IT WAS NOT) which I chopped up and mingled with some kimchi. The kimchi turned out just fine, though if I had to do it with yellow squash again (and I might--the Diaz Farm back in Boulder is starting to harvest their squash and zucchini), I'd slice it into rounds and include it with the traditional cabbage kimchi. It didn't benefit as much from the stuffed cucumber treatment as I'd hoped.
So. Got those things done. Then Dad pokes his head in the door and says, "Let's go find some oysters for lunch." Which is how we ended up at Seither's devouring a dozen oysters on the half shell each. NO COMPLAINTS. NONE.
After that it was time to run some errands. I had postcards to write and mail and also I needed fountain pen ink. (Forgot to refill my pens before leaving Boulder.) Plus I figured while I was out I could finish illustrating the April Fictionette artifacts (still running a bit behind on them) and get them ready to mail out, too. So I headed over to the 17th Street end of Lakeside Mall where all three errands could be conveniently accomplished within a two-block radius.
OR SO I THOUGHT. I mean, well, they could, but not the way I'd imagined. I'd imagined visiting Scriptura for fountain pen ink, then walking across the street to Morning Call for coffee and beignets and postcard writing and artifact illustration, then dropping off all mailables in the blue drive-up boxes at the post office. In fact the coffee and stationery enjoyment phase happened at Puccino's because MORNING CALL IS GONE FOREVER AND I AM BEREFT. Oh, they've still got a location in City Park, sure. But is that within an easy biking or skating distance of Dad's house? No. Is that where I got taken to all through childhood for beignets and chocolate milk? No. Is that where I faithfully wrote every morning around 6:00 AM during my visits home from college and struck up a brief correspondence with a waiter who was also a writer? No. No, it is not. The location of so many formative memories is GONE. Some sort of smoke shop appears to be going in, but not a smoke-and-news shop of the sort that used to be next door to the Morning Call and where I often used to pick up copies of OMNI and F&SF for market research. Just a smoke shop, going by the sign. And it's not even open yet. There's a big blue garbage roll-off in front of the shop because apparently they are ripping out all the marble counters and mirrors and little round tables and crappy chairs and I AM GOING TO CRY FOREVER.
So, yeah. Postcards and watercolors at Puccino's. Dammit. And a latte. And a sad little slice of cranberry poundcake.
Meanwhile Dad's getting ready for dinner, because the time between meals should always be spent prepping for the next meal. (Food is important in New Orleans. You may have heard.) He's working on a particular Dad special, which is venison backstrap seared to medium-rare on the grill and served with a homemade béarnaise sauce. Also rosemary potatoes slow-roasted in a heavy, lidded pan on the stove. Also a package of frozen broccoli florets.
The occasion--not that it needs an occasion, really--was my brother coming over for a bit of a visit. Usually I visit him when he's tending bar at Hurricane's, but most of the nights I was in town he had off. He works the bar fewer nights now that he works full time during regular hours at an Uptown emergency vet clinic. So instead of us having a long, disjointed conversation over several hours of beer at the bar, we had a long continuous conversation over delicious food and red wine and a live DVD of Three Dog Night. It was a superior experience. I could actually hear what Ricky said on the first try, no one was smoking anywhere near me, and there were 100% fewer drunks demanding I get off my laptop and "have fun," or putting their arms over my shoulders and arguing with me over my right to tell them HANDS OFF. Yay for non-bar family reunions!
Wednesday, July 18, 2018: Mini high school reunion, mini derby meet-n-greet
Wednesday got off to a similar start: Anti-social productive beginnings to make room for socializing the rest of the day.
Social activity #1: Lunch with a high school friend at Giorlando's. This is something I try to make time for in all my visits home. In addition to giving us a chance to catch up on things since last time, it's a bit of an oasis politically. After tip-toeing around the news Dad always seems to have playing on the TV and biting my tongue so I don't yell back at the news anchors giving only half the story or the Republican senators on live cameras saying things like "Sure ICE operatives have raised performative cruelty and homicidal neglect to a fine art, but how do you think liberals pushing to have them shut down makes them feel?"... it's really, really nice to sit down to someone who's on the same page with me about, oh, human rights and fact-based education and diverse representation in media, those sorts of REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS.
Social activity #2: Public skate session at Skater's Paradise, the rink in Slidell. The whole afternoon after lunch I was fighting a case of the sleepies--well, not so much fighting it as not fighting it but hoping I'd be able to stop napping and get out of bed on time. I was starting to worry this was a pattern. When I was in town last October, I really wanted to go skating around the French Quarter on Halloween night; unfortunately, having already skated from Covington to Abita Springs that day, I had used up allotment of oomph, and so instead I stayed in bed and binged Stranger Things 2. I hadn't been quite so extravagant today, so thankfully I did manage to get up not only in time to make the skate session but also to enjoy another damn fine Dad dinner before I went. It was venison sauce piquante over pasta shells. Also some more kimchi.
(I told him that some time later I'd probably be picking his brain for the recipe over the phone; I had the recipe from Talk About Good! but I suspected his recipe was better. He said, "If it doesn't involve two cans of beer, forget about it." Which, fair.)
Anyway, Skater's Paradise is a pretty nice rink! Very smooth floor, polished concrete I guess but no trouble on my 88s. Good sound system, decent music selection given the audience, although the DJ did have a tendency to suddenly change songs midway through. And I got to meet and hang out with some of the skaters from Northshore Roller Derby. And also make up a little for missing a week's worth of my usual derby practice, alway an issue while on vacation.
So I got to skate and it was awesome. Then I drove home, set my alarm for stupid early, and went to bed. The end.
Food Talley for Tuesday and Wednesday, also something I forgot from Monday:
- 2018-07-16, 18:30 - Venison hot tamales! I knew the tomatoes were an appetizer for something, I just couldn't remember what. (Home: venison from Dad's hunting trips, tamales made by one of Dad's friends)
- 2018-07-17, 08:30 - Scallion omette on toast, yellow squash kimchi (home, made by me)
- 2018-07-17, 11:30 - Oysters on the half shell (Seither's)
- 2018-07-17, 13:00 - Sad little slice of cranberry poundcake (Puccino's)
- 2018-07-17, 20:00 - Venison backstrap with béarnaise sauce, rosemary potatoes, and broccoli. Also more squid-dressed tomatoes. (Home, thank you Dad)
- 2018-07-18, 12;00 - Crawfish fettucini (Giorlando's)
- 2018-07-18, 18:00 - Venison sauce piquante, Korean radish kimchi (home, thank you again Dad)
That sure is a lot of venison. Dad and his friends maintain a hunting camp in Alabama, so, no surprises there. ALSO NO COMPLAINTS. NONE. I will complain, however, about the lack of beignets on this trip. (ALL THE SADS FOR MORNING CALL.) I guess I'll have to make some when I get back to Boulder.
in which real derby hits happen and kimchi gets assembled
Departure day dawns. It has been a morning of laundry and leftovers and last-minute printing out of things. My right hand is dyed orange from having packed up a sampling of Monday's kimchi to take home (insert "caught red-handed" jokes HERE). I've gotten my exercise walking from the Hertz rental office along Andrew Higgins Boulevard/Howard Avenue to the train station, and I've had a fantastic lunch thanks to one more visit to Cochon Butcher.
And now I'm relaxing aboard the train that'll leave New Orleans in about 20 minutes. Guess it's as good a time as any to continue the travel journal.
Sunday, July 15, 2018: When we tire of hitting pedestrians with fat-bats, we hit each other for reals
Woke up, as planned, at stupid o'clock. Got all the stuffs packed and ready. Walked out the door in search of the nearest Blue Bike hub, which I found without any trouble at St. Claude and Elysian Fields. Checked out a bike by means of the computerized interface in back, and off I went.
I hope that I will never not get that surge of delight as I pedal up the street of "WHEEEEEEE I'M BIKING! YAY!" Skates are my wings, but bikes mean freedom. They open up all of the immediate environs the way a car, with its bigness and its need for gas and to follow one-way signs and find parking, does not. On a bike, I feel like I could go anywhere.
Where I went was Daisy Dukes, a 24-hour diner on Chartres just off Canal. I had the fried oyster half-size po-boy with a cup of the gumbo. Also a coffee and an orange juice. They were hopping-busy, but they quickly found me a high-top for one right in the back.
Once I was fed and rested, I re-rented the bike and pedaled over to Hertz for my rental car. It was a black Chevy Sonic and it did what it was supposed to. It got me back to the airBnB to pick up my stuff and then it got me down into to New Orleans East and the Big Easy Rollergirls warehouse in time for the post-ROTB Hangover Mashup.
It was a good game. The score stayed fairly close right up through to halftime, after which the gap began to widen as patterns established in the first half replicated themselves in the second. Far as I could tell, a good time was had by all, and I hope I'm not just saying that because my team, the Matadors, won.
Last time I got to participate in a post-ROTB Mashup, three years ago, I was decidedly a beginner. An advanced beginner, sure, and if you saw me playing with BCB's Bombshells you might even call me an intermediate-level skater; but in a group of people I'd never skated with before, all of them from other leagues and many of them outranking me in years and skill, I was a bit of a mess. I hoped to acquit myself somewhat better this year, and I think I did. I had some good hits and some great stops, I called a lot of plays, I braced when the wall rotated, and, in the second half, I performed some decently effective dedicated offense for my jammers right off the line that I do believe helped widen our score differential.
I love feeling like I know what I'm doing. It's still kind of a new feeling for me.
To be clear, the skill level across both rosters seemed to skew high. Even the gals who said things like, "I'm sorry, I don't really know what I'm doing" right before the whistle, they did just fine. Everything felt friendly; I'm told that some years you get a certain amount of revenge hits between people from rival leagues, but there was none of that going on that I could see.
Dad came to watch, and I was super proud that he got to see how far I've come. He came to my last post-ROTB Mashup three years ago, and his main comment was an amused "You sure took a beating!" This year he sounded a little more taken aback: "There were some vicious hits out there!" I was all like, "I know. I gave some of 'em!"
(HAY HAY BCB YOU GUYZ I DID THE FOREWARD-FACING HIT THING IT WAS AWESOME. I missed a crossstep check though. My timing on that one's still kinda iffy.)
Dad's other comment was, "I don't know how you can do all that in this heat." He had a point--it was very hot in that warehouse. No surprise; it was very hot in New Orleans my whole trip. As I knelt by Dad's lawn chair to talk to him at halftime, sweat rolled down my face and torso in free-flowing rivulets. I went through a can and a half of coconut water, a couple cans of La Croix, and a whole lot of water from the Igloo cooler kindly situated between the two team benches. By the time we were done, we were all ready to throw ourselves in the pool.
The pool was at Pontchartrain Landing, the traditional site of the post-ROTB Mashup afterparty. Pontchartrain Landing is a marina and RV campground with a restaurant and bar. The pool is for residents only, but they have a running agreement with the Mashup hosts to let us use it. So we did.
For lunch, I had a "frozen alligator" daiquiri (mint and kahlua and chocolate chips) and the Salty Pig (pulled pork and fried oysters on top of toasted french bread rounds).
Eventually I got sun-dried enough to change clothes (I hadn't realized I'd need my own towel) and head home--home home, this time, the house in Metairie where I'd grown up. I let myself in and collapsed on the sofa. Dad vee-jayed his favorite live concert DVDs for us. That was about all I had enough energy left to do: be an appreciative audience. Also to eat. Dad had made chicken and andouille gumbo ("it has never come out so good!") and a neighbor brought us a bunch of boiled blue crabs (so, yes, I did get my boiled crabs fix after all).
It was a great start to my half-week at home.
Monday, July 16, 2018: The kimchi is now a tradition
My Mom lives at The Atrium, in the memory care unit. Every Monday and Wednesday, Dad picks her up and takes her for a ride in the truck. It doesn't much matter where. Just being in an automobile is enough to make her giggle. And that's about all she does anymore. She giggles, she taps her forehead slowly against the armrest, she repeats "One, two, three, four, five" (all she can remember or at least access of the rhyme that continues "Once I caught a fish alive") in a gruff and teeth-clenched voice, and she giggles some more. That was about 99.9% of her activity that I witnessed when I went along for the ride today.
I've done my mourning already. This is what is, and I'm resigned to it. But every time I visit, I'm a little shaken by how much farther the dementia has progressed. At least last visit she was able to respond to direct questions and would spontaneously say things to Dad like "I just want to be with you" and "You're so good to me."
It's strange and backwards and sad when the daughter moves into the role of comforting her father. Parents are mythically big and invulnerable and all-powerful. Even when we're all grown up, some of us sometimes still seek out their approval and appreciation. It's always a shock to see them helpless with illness or grief. It was a shock when I was eleven and newly diagnosed with leukemia and the two of them broke down crying in front of me, and it's a shock now to see Dad having to bear this burden of care and grief. Mostly he doesn't let it show. Sometimes, though, cracks appear.
Sometimes all I can do is just give him a big hug. At least I was there to give it.
On a lighter note, while we were out driving Mom around, we stopped at the Korean grocery on Transcontinental at Vets Blvd, and I went in for kimchi ingredients. I am simply not going to get away without making kimchi during a visit home. It's inevitable. It has become tradition. I'm not fighting it anymore. And I admit it's a kind of fun role reversal to be the one directing kitchen traffic and giving Dad food prep instructions.
We did this kimchi recipe (minus the oysters, which we did not have on hand) and also that one (but with yellow squash in addition to the cucumbers). We also had some sliced, seasoned squid that I'd picked up on a whim; it was a salty, spicy treat on fresh sliced tomatoes.
Every time I make kimchi with Dad, I am surprised all over again at how easy it is, and why don't I make some more the moment I get back to Boulder? And then I never do. It probably has to do with how far I have to drive to be sure of finding Asian chives. Like that's even necessary! They have a great flavor, but so do scallions and even leeks. So! No excuses this time.
Oh and hey--lunch was at Mr. Ed's. Not the one on Live Oak I used to bike to for muffulettas back in high school. They have multiple locations these days. This was their fish house and oyster bar on 21st Street, couple blocks over from Andrea's (which I did not have occasion to visit, more's the pity). They still serve that amazing turtle soup, but I didn't order it this time. I was distracted by oysters and other delicious things. That's kind of how most of this trip went, really: "Something blah-blah yadda-yadda OH HEY OYSTERS!"
Food Talley for Sunday and Monday:
- 2018-07-15, 07:15 - fried oyster half po-boy, gumbo (Daisy Dukes French Quarter)
- 2018-07-15, 14:00 - Salty Pig: fried oyster and pulled pork on french bread (Pontchartrain Landing)
- 2018-07-15, 17:30 - chicken and andouille sausage gumbo with boiled blue crab appetizer (home: Dad's gumbo, a neighbor's seafood acquisition)
- 2018-07-16, 12:15 - oysters rockefeller and bienville, softshell crab almondine with Meunière sauce (Mr. Ed's Oyster Bar & Fish House)
- 2018-07-16, 18:00 - fresh sliced tomatoes dressed with Korean seasoned squid (home: tomatoes from Dad's friend's garden, squid from Oriental Market)
What? No. The kimchi has not been eaten yet at this time. We're letting it ferment overnight. And the squash and cucumber are busy mingling with the seasonings in the fridge. Don't worry, we'll be tasting it tomorrow.