“I don't take much notice of critics, except when they praise me extravagantly.”
Philip Pullman

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

another couple rounds, fortified with turbodog and banana cake
Thu 2015-08-13 23:59:58 (single post)

Today was an improvement. Instead of sleeping late and dragging around the house because of headaches and sinus pressure, I slept late and dragged about the house for the sheer pleasure of being pain-free for the first time in two days. Seriously, we are talking no small amount of bliss here.

Also, I had a dream I wanted to dwell on, or perhaps dwell in, for a little while after initially waking up with it. It involved moving into a new house, entertaining a very small child guest therein, and discovering an oven mitt full of cat hair that was defying the laws of physics. I blame late-night reading of the blog and other writings of Robert Jackson Bennett. On the one hand, the bit about acknowledging property boundaries for the communal fiction that they are, and recognizing the implied nightmare therein; and on the other hand, the bit about the Roomba.

So I got started late, but I did get started. I got busy with my submission procedures: I logged two rejection letters and sent one of the rejected stories back out again to a new market. One of the rejection letters was, happily, a response to a query letter I sent out last month seeking the status of a story I submitted last year. While I'd always prefer the story be accepted and published, it's a relief also to have the story simply pop free and be available for me to submit elsewhere. Which I hope to do tomorrow.

I got busy with overdue blogging: I finally wrote up the results of my recent Puzzle Pirates Seal o' Piracy experiments for the betterment of all. Examiner has recently moved to a new editorial model where everything you submit must be reviewed before it'll go live. I was disappointed to not be immediately placed on their list of writers the quality of whose output is sufficiently trusted that they can automatically bypass the review stage, admittedly. But given that I uploaded the post just before leaving for scrimmage, and the post had been approved and published by the time I got home, I can't complain too much. We'll see if they're just as quick at Saturday mornings; the blockade round-up is timely stuff.

Then I got home from scrimmage and got busy in the kitchen. Have I mentioned Ad Astra: The 50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook? It's a cookbook. It's handsomely covered and conveniently spiral bound. You can buy a copy, physical or electronic. I'm in it, hawking my crockpot red beans and rice on page 154, but more to the point, a handful of handy, tasty, quick & easy mug cake recipes are in it. These are recipes where you mix everything up in a mug and then microwave the resulting batter, and you get a one-person dessert that honestly took more time to pull out and measure all the ingredients than it did to cook.

I made the Banana Cake from page 30 in one of my large tea/soup mugs. I had bananas turning black in the fridge, after all, but it's been so hot, I've been reluctant to bake more banana bread. Microwaving a mug for four minutes produces a lot less heat and just as much deliciousness. I did it twice, because the recipe only called for half a banana, and what else am I going to do with the second half of the banana? And that was fine. It was delicious twice. I had one of them before my humongous antipasta salad (we ordered Blackjack Pizza when we got home from scrimmage, and I honestly find that salad with all its cold cuts and bacon and olives and cheese and hugeness to be more filling and more fulfilling than pizza), and another afterwards. With a beer. An Abita Turbodog, to be precise.

I should point out, though, if you should acquire a copy of Ad Astra (and you should! Money well spent and for a good cause!) that the bit about "1/4 c baking powder" has got to be a typo. When you look at the other mug cake recipes, and when you look at the 1/3 c flour and pinch of salt in this one, you realize 1/4 tsp is a lot more likely. I have mentioned this to the wonderful and hard-working editors, in case they are putting together an errata page.

I'm pretty sure my red beans and rice recipe came out as intended. I skimmed it, anyway, and it looked OK. Maybe next time I make the stuff I'll use Ad Astra instead of my usual index card cheat-sheet and double-check.

The evidence for blaming it on the rain is kind of shaky.
recipe for a crappy day
Tue 2015-08-11 23:32:19 (single post)

I think I have a barometer in my head. I woke up with a headache that lingered all day long, and all day long my ears popped and itched. Then this afternoon it rained for the first time in what feels like weeks. It's as good a theory as any, right? I should start keeping track, develop a chart showing the correspondence between changes in barometric pressure and days where I feel like crud.

Actually, it's a crappy theory. Data from Denver International Airport shows about the same range of pressure for yesterday as today, topping out at 30.3 on both days. And I felt fine yesterday. Granted, that's a high for the past seven days, rising from a low on Friday of 29.9--maybe it's a delayed reaction? Maybe I feel like crud on the second day after barometric pressure reaches a new high and stays there? I'm totally stretching for an explanation here. Any vaguely plausible nonsense will do.

Other theories include PMS and also maybe not drinking enough water last night after a high-sodium dinner and a beer. I dunno.

In any case, the result was me dragging around the house in a constant state of blah. I have no interesting reports to make, writing related or otherwise. Just a plea for do-overs on today.

Oh, here, have a recipe for Leftovers Day Crawfish Chowder:

  1. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a medium pot over medium heat.
  2. Chop up half an onion and throw it in.
  3. Chop up a good handful of potatoes leftover from a crawfish boil.
  4. Add any other leftovers from the boil that float your boat: garlic, sausage, mushrooms, corn, whatever.
  5. Once onions are soft and potatoes are softer, add about a pint of the stock you made from the crawfish shells. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, simmer for a few minutes.
  6. Mash the potatoes a little.
  7. Add however much milk gives a consistency that says "chowder" to you. Simmer a few minutes more.
  8. Devour. Repeat if still hungry.

So that was dinner. So I made something today. Tomorrow I shall no doubt make something else.

Cover art incorporates public domain imagery sourced from Wikipedia. Click to see original.
crafts for using up those last few yards of weekend
Mon 2015-08-10 23:56:04 (single post)
  • 1,242 words (if poetry, lines) long

Once again, I got last week's Friday Fictionette done on time, but, due to evening plans (watching roller derby at the Fillmore and supporting my Boulder County Bombers All Stars!), never managed to get a blog post up. Please pretend this is that blog post, at least for a few paragraphs.

Anyway, the Friday Fictionette for August 7 is "Mucking Out the Kelpie." It name-checks Maureen Johnson's short story "The Children of the Revolution" in the author's notes, but as far as its fantasy subgenre goes (the care and feeding of magical creatures), it's really got more in common with Robin McKinley's Dragonhaven and Carrie Vaughn's short story "The Temptation of Robin Green." It's about having to do a dangerous, terrifying job whose mundane dailiness has made it just plain tedious. And also kind of gross. I mean, kelpie shit. Ew.

In other fictionette news, I'm slowly catching up on posting excerpts to Wattpad, at which point I will begin to be able to think about such things as filling out the audiofictionette archives and maybe composing a few simple piano ditties to include in the recordings.

Since today was Monday, I got to spend much of it playing Puzzle Pirates (getting my Seal o' Piracy trophy for August! woot!), sitting on the couch watching John play Skyrim, crawfishing down at the creek, and cooking and eating my catch. I caught an even 40 and settled for a very simple crawfish boil for one out on the patio. Then I made stock with the shells. I had a couple bags of shells from previous adventures stowed away in the fridge, but as it turns out I don't actually have a pot sufficiently sized for four pounds shells and eight quarts water. So I did a half-batch. By the time that was done, I declined to do a second half-batch, because it was 11:30 and I was tired. (I only began crawfish boiling operations around 8:00, just to put that late hour in context.)

I am now sipping a warm, savory cup of crawfish stock and contemplating another Puzzle Pirates session.

Tomorrow, being Tuesday, means back to work with a seriousness. Hopefully there will be interesting writing-related things to report at that time. Til then, I'm clinging to my last shred of weekend and you can't take it away from me!

fuel gauge on E, next gas station 48 hours away
Thu 2015-08-06 23:54:33 (single post)

Some days are just low-energy days. I don't like it much, but I still haven't figured out what to do about it.

Talking about yesterday. Yesterday I dragged myself out of bed about an hour late, more like two hours, and then I spent the rest of the day dragging around. Could barely get through my pages, and couldn't seem to stay upright. Eventually 6:30 came around and found me at team practice, but even after our off-skates exercises I was still dreadfully low-energy--yawning and drooping as I skated warm-up laps around the track. It was like I couldn't quite get enough air.

I wanted to blame it on not going down to the creek that morning like I had for the past few mornings. The five-minute walk in the sun and fresh air must help get the blood moving at a faster pace, right? And the creek has an energy all its own, chattering away downstream, stair-stepping down a sequence of miniature waterfalls and, y'know, just being running water. This was the first morning in a while I hadn't started out that way--whether fishing or not--and I figured it had an effect.

But for one thing, no amount of going for a walk, writing on the patio, or sitting out by the little lake out back seemed to help. And for another, this morning I also started off late and indoors, and I felt fine. I went outdoors later, yes, but by then I'd already observed in myself a greater store of get-up-and-go than was alloted to me yesterday. I didn't even have to try, to feel that way. It was just there.

I've had this theory that when I wake up all low-energy like that, I need to go for a jog, go biking, take a long walk, do something to get my body revved up. And if my day continues in a dragging, drooping sort of way, it's my fault for not "fixing it" like that. Except if I'm still feeling droopy after doing fifteen minutes of jogging and core work and plyometrics with my roller derby team, well, there goes that theory.

I take multivitamins, I have a daily cup of strong unsweetened black tea, I try to eat right, I exercise like woah, why've I gotta have days like that? How do I make them go away?

All I can do is push through them, focus on one little task at a time and force myself to get that task done. Then the next one. Then the next. Which, honestly, doesn't sound like a very kind way of handling the problem. I just don't know of a better way.

In happier news, my new laptop battery came in. I might drag and droop, but my laptop can now say "3 hours 30 minutes (80% remaining)" and mean it, too. To celebrate, I went down to the creek and enjoyed an hour of writing without worrying about whether my laptop would crap out on me. And when we went to the IHOP after scrimmage tonight and the host asked us, "Do you need an outlet tonight?" (we're regulars, he knows we usually ask for a seat with an outlet) I pointed at John and said, "That's up to him," and felt smug about it.

So here's to finishing off the week on a high note tomorrow, with a smidge of luck, a lot of determination, and to the best of my ability.

the delays you get are not the expected delays
Tue 2015-08-04 23:07:25 (single post)
  • 1,200 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 443 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 566 words (if poetry, lines) long

So lunch was indeed delicious. The crawfish count included in it was 37 (live weight 2 lb 4 oz; yield 6 oz), about a third of which were caught in the DIY trap I will talk about at some later point. Also, it wasn't so much lunch as dinner, because I started it late and it took forever.

Started it late: Because I exercised self-restraint (for once) and finished my morning shift first. Some of it I did out by the creek, but some of it required wifi and so had to wait until I came home and plugged the laptop in. Until the new battery arrives, I can't have wifi on battery alone; the poor laptop goes from 98% remaining, to 86%, to 66% barely minutes later, then shuts itself down hard, over the space of fifteen minutes.

"Also it wouldn't be right to just use some random private residence's unencrypted signal."

Right, what she said. Who was that, anyway? My conscience? Right.

Anyway, the bits that required wifi, I came home and did them. Well, first I put the morning's catch in the refrigerator and tidied away my fishing supplies, but then I did the rest of my morning writing shift.

Notably, this included submitting "Keeping Time," a story that has been out into the world twice already, to a brand new likely suspect. Or, if not as likely as I like to think, then at the very least to a market I'd be very pleased to see publish it. "Keeping Time," like "Stand By for Your Assignment," is a story whose first incarnation was A) much shorter, and B) in second person point of view. Unlike "Stand By," which needed to be changed to 3rd person POV, "Keeping Time" remained in 2nd person. I seem to default to 2nd person when I write very short pieces. I worry that it's a sign of laziness. Except, when pieces like that go to workshop, they occasionally get encouraging critiques along the lines of "Normally I hate 2nd person POV but you seem to pull it off," so maybe it's OK.

(This should not be confused with stories like "The Day the Sidewalks Melted" or "Other Theories of Relativity," which, despite including a whole bunch of sentences starting with the word "you," are actually in first person POV. The perspective character is an "I" who is addressing the "you." If it were second person POV, the perspective character would be the "you." But the mere presence of many sentences starting with "you" does not by itself indicate 2nd person POV, no more than the presence of "to be" by itself indicates passive voice. This is a minor sore spot with me, since while shopping "Sidewalks" around for reprints, I got a rejection letter that said "Sorry, I just don't enjoy 2nd person POV," and I kind of wanted to write back, "OK, fine, I accept that you don't care for the story, but did you somehow miss the bit where the narrator refers to himself as 'I'? The narrative is epistolary! Only instead of writing a letter, he's leaving a message on someone's cell phone voice mail! Gahhhh!")

(I didn't, of course. Never write back to argue with a rejection letter! Write blog posts instead. If you must.)

Anyway, so, off it goes.

Took forever: There is nothing about jambalaya itself that takes forever. Ditto etouffee. What takes forever is crawfish prep.

OK, no, boiling crawfish takes no time at all. You bring the water up to a boil, tossing in your seasonings while you wait; you dump in the bugs and let them go for 3 to 5 minutes; you dump in ice and leave them to soak up the spices for 15 to 30 minutes according to your tastes. No big deal. Most of that's just waiting around. But shelling them, and shelling them thoroughly--deveining tails, scooping out the fat, picking out some of the claw meat--that took a little while. (As opposed to eating them right out the shell, which would take no time at all. My friends have to remind me at the Nono's Cafe crawfish boils that I have to slow down to give other people at the table a chance. In this I am very much my father's daughter.) It took a while, and it was a continuous working while.

I have a system for claw meat, by the way. You take a butter knife, and you split the claw vertically. Then you for each half of the claw you use the other half's claw tine to dig the meat out. Quick and easy.

Anyway, lunch prep began around 1:15 with a trip to the grocery and didn't end until I was scooping jambalaya into my bowl around 6:00. And then of course it was time to eat. Leisurely. While reading blogs and online articles. And forgetting, what with my tummy being all full and happy, that time was continuing to pass.

The actual catching of the crawfish coexisted with my writing day quite well, especially since adding the DIY trap to my process. But if you catch them and bring them home, you gotta cook them, and, tasty as the results are, I'm not taking the time to do that again until at least the weekend. Maybe crawfish will turn into a Monday thing. That would work.

So I'll be off to work on the rest of my "afternoon shift" now, shall I? Got a YPP Examiner post I want to write, and a short story whose revision is seriously overdue. Guess which order I'll be doing those in. Go on, guess.

''And would you like an extra fishing rod for just five dollars more?'' ''No, thank you...''
Because John would probably appreciate the warning/reminder before opening the fridge door.
freedom from ac outlet tyranny means taking the laptop fishing NOT SWIMMING
Mon 2015-08-03 23:59:59 (single post)

I got the email stating that my new laptop battery has shipped! It's hanging out in Anaheim CA as we speak. I can only imagine it'll be in my hands by the time the week is out. I'll have 5400 brand new milliamp hours to play with! And I promise to use nothing but good battery longevity practices with this one. At least for the first couple weeks.

And I'll really be able to take my writing out to the crawfish hole.

I know, I know. You're probably getting sick of the near-daily crawfish report. But I'm terribly enthusiastic, so you're getting a crawfish report. Also, today was Monday. Mondays don't mean no writing, but they mean a lot less writing, less enough to allow ample time to play with the mudbugs.

  1. I bought a fishing license this weekend.

My crawfishing expeditions are now totally legit, for I have visited McGuckin Hardware and bought a license. (Actually, I parked at Hazel's Beverage World, walked to McGuckin, bought the license, then walked back and bought beer. Because fishing and beer go together in the LeBoeuf family, even if Colorado alcohol laws won't let me actually bring my beer out to the crawfish hole.) I have paid my small share toward the Colorado Division of Wildlife's efforts to keep our waterways clear and clean and well-researched. Also, I see from the itemized receipt that I've also put my quarter toward Search & Rescue operations, and my seventy-five cents toward the Wildlife Education Fund.

Was this necessary? Why yes, it was necessary.

ADULTS People 16 and older are required to buy and carry with them a fishing license to fish or take fish, amphibians and crustaceans, except as prohibited.

Sure, I could probably have got along without one--it's unlikely anyone was going to come check up on my activities and accuse me of poaching. But it's a darn good deal for $36. In addition to the doing-my-bit warm fuzzy and the "Yay I'm legal!" peace of mind, it's like a season-long all-you-can-eat ticket. (CDW imposes no statewide limits on crawfish. Or on bullfrogs. You totally needed to know that.) Generally that monetary amount would just about not quite cover a single afternoon of all-you-can-eat crawfish at Nono's Cafe. Not that I can spice them as perfectly or provide and prepare them in the same quantities as Nono's Cafe, mind you, nor even catch them myself during most of that restaurant's crawfish boil season (Colorado waters warm up a few months later than Louisiana waters, surprising exactly no one). But still.

  1. I've started experimenting with home-built crawfish traps.

I'm working on a series of photos documenting the project, which will accompany a longish blog post going into even more detail that you probably didn't want. For now, here's the short story: I started with these instructions, made some materials substitutions, and improvised in a trial-and-error sort of way from there on out. So far, results are mixed. The trap doesn't come up exactly stuffed, but the one or two mudbugs in there tend to be huge. Huge, like, "If I don't catch any more today I am still bringing this one home and cooking it all by itself and serving it with drawn butter because this, my friends, is a lobster."

So I've got 24 live crawfish in the plastic bin in the fridge tonight, all but one of which were caught in the last hour I was out. (The previous few hours were spent trying out different promising-looking areas downstream, but discovering that they just weren't sufficiently populated to be worth the time spent there. Once I returned to my usual haunts, things got busy. I was even throwing some back for being too smal.) To that double-dozen will be added whatever shows up tomorrow during the morning writing shift (or that part of it which my laptop holds out for), and lunch will be delicious.

I did say *rudimentary* illustrations.
fly free, little fictionette of July
Fri 2015-07-31 23:59:28 (single post)
  • 1,283 words (if poetry, lines) long

It's the last day of the month. Accordingly, one of this month's Friday Fictionettes, "And Did You Bring Enough For Everyone?", has gone free, free as in beer, free for everyone to download as an attractive PDF or to listen to as an MP3 narrated in the dulcet tones of Yours Truly.

It is a fifth Friday, so there is no new Fictionette today. However, I do have one of the July Fictionettes ready to hit the mail tomorrow, right on time, as a quirky typewritten artifact with rudimentary watercolored illustrations and lots of typos corrected by white-out ribbon. Lookit! I took a picture before I stuffed it in the envelope. This is totally a collector's item, y'all. You should sign up to get you some of that while supplies last. Make me type more! Typing is fun!

Speaking of which, I'm pleased to report that the replacement ribbon from Ribbons Unlimited came in earlier this week. It works like a charm. I am no longer typing on a twenty-year-old ribbon, which is kind of important. Maybe not as important as you're thinking; since I only used the typewriter once every two to five years, the ribbon's usable life spanned the two decades fairly well. However, black text was getting unmistakably fainter, and the white corrective ribbon had become all but useless and had ripped in several places. So it's a relief to be able to change it out.

While I was waiting for it to get here, I tried using the ill-fitting universal black-and-red. For some reason, it sagged in the mechanism, so that I'd lose the tops of my letters. Eventually I just turned it over and flipped the type-color switch since red was now on the top and black on the bottom. This worked OK, but I'm glad to have a proper solution at last instead of a kludge. I'm also glad to have a black-and-white/corrective ribbon (whose white half covers all my typos!) instead of black-and-red (whose red half I was going to use... when?).

In other news, I exercised great restraint and did not catch more crawfsh today. I did, however, take my Morning Pages out to the creek. I have the mosquito bites to show for it!

I miss my patio. I can't wait for the building re-painting project to be done so that I can put the furniture back out full time. And my squash, tomato, herbs, pepper plants, and John's sunflower too would really like to be back out on the balcony in full sun...

Adding the crawfish meat to the stew matrix, which is an amazing yellowish-orangish color thanks to the crawfish fat
All ingredients are in. Now we wait for the final round of simmering. Just look how studded it is with crawfish tails!
At last, I get to eat it. You cannot imagine how much restraint it took to wait to take my first bite until after the photo.
three reports on the three major components of my life at present
Thu 2015-07-30 23:59:59 (single post)
  • 2,345 words (if poetry, lines) long

First item to report: Writing. (This is a blog about writing.) I submitted that story, I did, and what's more, it didn't suck. It might well benefit from the careful eye of a critique group, but we'll cross that bridge when/if the story comes back with a rejection letter. For now, it's on its way as it is.

Now that it's done (or at least submittable), I'm finding all my worries have turned out largely to be mere borrowed trouble. For one thing, in a fully fleshed-out story grounded in worldly details, the speculative element sells itself as itself a lot better. Worldbuilding FTW! For another thing, the 3rd person POV does seem to be having that reassuringly authoritative effect I was hoping for. And for a third thing, which I had not actually thought about before, why can't the answer to "is the heart beating or is the main character just unstable" be--both? Normal life plus the uncanny incursions are pushing the protagonist toward paranoia and a nervous breakdown, but the pending nervous breakdown doesn't mean the uncanny incursions aren't happening. As they say, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't all out to get you.

Anyway, the story has been submitted. Also, it has been submitted in standard manuscript format but in Times New Roman rather than Courier New, because this market's submission guidelines state that Courier is evil. I mention this because it's an easy detail to overlook, especially when you're of a generation that reads "Standard manuscript format" and automatically translates that to "double-space, 1" margins, monospace font, size 12."

Always reread the submission guidelines sentence by sentence before hitting the big red button. It might just save your manuscript.

Second thing to report: Minor injury. So I have this perpetually sprained left wrist. That is, I sprained it years ago, and ever since then it's been ridiculously easy to re-injure. The damn thing flared up this week, probably because I tweaked it helping to move heavy equipment on Sunday when the BCB Carnival was over. I didn't really notice it until yesterday, but then, hoo boy, did I notice it.

(Brief tangent on gender and idiom: Why are these interjections always male words? "Oh, boy! Pizza!" "Man-oh-man, am I tired!" I can't even easily think of gender neutral phrases to replace them with, let alone feminized ones. I have a sudden urge to replace such idioms with things like like "lady-oh did that hurt" or "A circus? Woo-girl, I love the circus!" Only everyone would look at me funny and genuinely not understand what I was saying.)

(Tangent ends.)

So the wrist was pretty bad yesterday. When I went to pull on my roller derby gear, I just about cried trying to tug on my right elbow pad. That's already a difficult task after getting hot and sweaty and a little swollen (literally swollen, not this "GET SWOL" business) doing off-skates exercises. But with a sprained wrist it's near impossible. Once the gear was on, everything was fine and I had a lovely practice--although I might have yiped if I'd had to give or take a whip--but taking the gear off again was a whole 'nother thing.

Then today I got seriously alarming levels of pain just handling pots and pans while making dinner (about which, see below) or while tugging the seat of my chair to scoot closer to the desk. It was while doing the dishes after dinner and discovering that I can't even pump the pump-action soap dispenser without pain that I decided I'd better stay home from scrimmage tonight. (Which decision had nothing to do with needing more time to prepare my story for submission, understand--but it didn't hurt.)

I'm icing my wrist aggressively (but safely!) and trying to remember what not to do with it. (I can't even scratch my head left-handedly. That's effed up.)

Third thing: Crawfish report! Because I'm obsessed, apparently. I took my cheesecloth-wrapped lumps of tofu bait down to the creek and proceeded to begin my writing day there, while only checking the lines and the wire basket thing at regular and strict intervals. Like, during Morning Pages, I was only allowed to check when I got to the end of a page. That sort of thing.

Which didn't hurt the day's catch at all. As we approach even higher summer temperatures, the water warms up and the mudbugs get even more active. And when the bait's been sitting on the creek floor for about 15 minutes, like as not there'll be three crawfish clinging to it when I pull it out. Whether they all hang on long enough for me to get them to the bank is another question, of course. (I was going to use another tier of the 3-tier wire basket as a net, tie it onto a stick and hold it under the line as it comes out the water, but I didn't think my left wrist was up for it. GOOD CHOICE.)

Anyway, between yesterday afternoon and today, the catch came to 34 crawfish from sizes medium to monstrous. They weighed in live at just under two pounds and yielded about five and a half ounces tail and claw meat. (A surprising number of claws were big enough to be worth cracking open. Miniature lobsters, y'all.)

And I made crawfish etouffee, as the pictures above will attest.

There are tons of recipes on the internet. I wanted a recipe that was roux-based and involved no tomato products, just like Mom used to make. Apparently there are battle lines drawn over things like this. I am firmly of the opinion that adding tomato paste to your holy trinity vegetables results in a creole, not an etouffee. Also, cornstarch is just cheating.

I also wanted a recipe that included the crawfish "fat," since my research yesterday indicated this was something people used it for. The recipe linked above met all of my criteria.

I cut all quantities down by roughly half, to kind of sort of match the available quantity of crawfish meat. I marveled that the recipe didn't call for celery, speaking of the holy trinity; I added three ribs. But I omitted the green pepper. I was going for "like Mom used to make" and Mom never cooked with green pepper.

Speaking of "just like Mom used to make," I'm pretty sure Mom never cooked with crawfish fat. She didn't like crawfish. Her etouffee was aways shrimp, and she started with a heavier roux than what this recipe calls for, one that was equal parts flour to oil. And yet, the moment I added the crawfish fat to the roux-vegetable mixture, everything turned recognizably into etouffee. I mean, the color and consistency were perfect. It was kind of amazing.

At the point where the recipe says "Optionally, add a little more water to thin the mixture," I added about half a cup of the crawfish boil water and a good few ounces of dry sherry. I bought the sherry for the crawfish Monica on Tuesday, so it was conveniently there and tempting.

Yield: Two bowls of etouffee and rice, all of which a single customer will inhale without apparent effort.

I'm including photos firstly to make y'all jealous but more importantly because I still can't get over having made such an amazing dish using crawfish that I caught five minutes away from my doorstep.

Random weird note: Crawfish boil water seems to cure warts, at least in my case here and now. The small collection of warts between my right index finger and middle finger are GONE. Like, between one day and the next. They came into being about... eight months ago? Annoyed the crap out of me, too. I couldn't stop picking at them and fidgeting with them. That's how I know they were still there Tuesday. Wednesday morning, they were GONE. I suspect that the crawfish boil seasonings may have had an effect similar to that of salicylic acid, and that dipping my hands in the pot to grab crawfish after crawfish for processing made the dosage sufficiently intense. But I have no certainty. All I know is, the skin where the warts had been is now smooth and healing over. Weird, huh?

This time I'm really not going back for more crawfish tomorrow. Really! Not even tempted. Not only do I need to rest my wrist, but I'm actually sort of all cooked out. I'm ready to eat simple dishes for a few days. (I'm also ready to take a break from keeping dormant crawfish overnight in the refrigerator. My crawfish casualty record remains goose-egg pure, but the endeavor remains slightly stressful.

I might still take my writing out to the creek, though. Turns out I really enjoy writing by the creek.

(Still need to order a new laptop battery.)

productive ways to give in to temptation
Wed 2015-07-29 23:59:59 (single post)
  • 1,156 words (if poetry, lines) long

Good couple of sessions on the short story today. I revised the first scene until it was actually a scene, you know? Which is awesome, because until today it was more of a "see Spot run" sketch. Rough drafts are rough, but that was really rough.

I'm much happier with it now. Instead of panicking because the story resembled a page in a coloring book that can only hope for the attentions of a two-year-old with a box of My First Crayola, I get to panic because at this rate there's no possible way I'll have time to get the rest of the scenes anywhere as complete as the first scene is now. But I'll submit it anyway, because I can sleep better at night with embarrassment than with regret, which is usually the right choice except in this case the editors will read it and say to each other, "Who is this person who thinks she can write? Insta-reject her forever." And the story will languish on my hard drive, because I'll never revise it, because when I think about it I'll just die of shame for having sent such an inadequate version of it out for real people to waste their time reading.

That's a much more interesting flavor of panic than the first kind.

(Don't worry. Panicking is normal. None of the above is actually a prophecy. Editors don't insta-reject over a single sub-par submission, and I will revise if I think the version that gets submitted tomorrow is indeed sub-par. This is just the usual Impostor Syndrome acting out. Look, we'll give it a ten-minute time out, maybe it'll learn to behave.)

One of those short story sessions, I must admit, happened out by the creek, because my laptop appears able to hold an hour's charge after all, and I gave in to temptation and went crawfishing again. I know, I know, I said I wouldn't have time, but--look, I actually got the writing done. It worked out. Turns out, the longer you put off checking the line, the more crawfish crawl on over to check out the bait. So I'd work hard until the next few paragraphs were done to my satisfaction, then I'd go pull up two or three medium-to-huge mudbugs, then I'd go back to the story for another few paragraphs, and so on.

Today's bait was chunks of week-old leftover sesame tofu. Our usual order-out restaurant either had a substitute cook that night or has changed their recipe, so that when we checked "medium" like always, we got food so spicy as to be near inedible. I soldiered through my leftover twice-roasted pork with the help of a beer to mitigate the heat, but John wasn't at all tempted to revisit the tofu. I tried it out on the crawfish by staking out a piece, free to all comers, in a shallow stretch of the creek. Within five minutes, a crawfish marched on up and made off with it. It wandered along the bottom of the bank until it found a suitable hole. Then it backed in and settled down to eat, safe in the knowledge that it could keep an eye on its surroundings but no predator could come up behind it. I had a bit of fellow feeling for it. It reminded me of myself, sitting down to breakfast on my front patio, semi-secluded but enjoying the view.

Since tofu is too soft to tie on the line direct, I enclosed the lumps inside pieces of plastic from a produce bag, which I perforated. Then all I had to do was tie the twine around the knotted plastic end and leave some twine dangling for the crawfish to grab. But when I use up the rest of the tofu I'll wrap it in cotton cheesecloth instead, so that if any of it gets away from me into the water I'll be comforted by its superior biodegradability.

In an hour, I got about 15 crawfish (from a shallow spot about about fifteen yards downstream of the bridge), and I fleshed out my main character's flashback, cleaned up the text to make character voices more consistent, and made the creepy encounter on the bus decidedly creepier.

I have become yet another cliche, y'all. I'm now the writer who takes her work fishing. That's a thing, isn't it? That's fine. If it means I get to have fresh-boiled crawfish all summer long, I'm cool with it. I just need to order a new battery for this laptop, that's all.

And I'm thinking etouffee for lunch tomorrow.

With a glass of dry sherry, because I cooked with it so why not.
in which we discover how far I can make seventeen crawfish stretch
Tue 2015-07-28 23:18:40 (single post)

OMG you guyz I win at dinner like I have never won before. Crawfish bisque and crawfish Monica, starring crawfish that I caught myself in the creek next door and boiled in my own kitchen. How could it be possible for this not to make me win? I win.

Granted, the bisque was very simplified. I didn't serve it over rice, because there was already going to be pasta. And, more to the point, I didn't bother with stuffed crawfish heads, because for one, I didn't want to take the time (although this article and recipe makes it sound like no big deal, totally spontaneous "hey, come on down and we'll have dinner," none of this 2-day prep nonsense)... and for two, when I only have 17 whole crawfish tails, I'm not going to chop them up and coat them in breadcrumbs. I'm going to put them whole in the pasta. When I eat them, I want to know that I'm eating them. And OMG it was a very, very good thing to know.

(Remember writing? This is a blog about writing.)

Right, but who wants to hear about that? Another session of panicking over the short story that must be finished and submitted by Thursday, who needs to know? Another period of pulling up submission guidelines and figuring out where to submit some rejected-and-overnighting manuscripts anew--that's administrivia, that's boring, what's to blog about? Some days you just put in your hours and pat yourself on the head, you know? This was one of those days.

Now can I talk about crawfish?

(Oh, all right. If you must.)

Yay!

This morning I went back out to the creek for another round. I went back to yesterday's fishing hole (I'm afraid "Boondocks" will never again not be stuck in my head), and I took my writing with me, so that was kind of virtuous, right? Only kind of not, because I got up from the writing every two paragraphs to check the lines. But since I started my morning at 7:00 because John got up at 7:00 because today was one of those thankfully rare days when his job required him to actually be in the office. In way-the-hell-South Denver. At 8:00 AM. So we were both up stupid-early. But these things were not to be compared. While he was up at "sucks to be me" o' clock (but thankfully with Gen Con tomorrow to look forward to), I was up at "oh boy, fishing trip!" o' clock. I haven't been up at fishing trip o'clock since my pre-teen days, y'all. So I took my writing with me, and I figured, what the heck, if fishing makes my first writing task take extra-long, that's OK, I started it extra-early.

I learned a few more things about this pastime. For instance, when tying your bait to your line, you must give the crawfish something to grip or they'll slip off before you get them on the bank. Didn't successfully land a one while the bacon was tied directly to the sinker rock. Went back to the arrangement of separating the bacon from the rock by at least a couple inches of twine, and the persistent things hung on a lot more reliably.

When the nibbles slowed down, I began working my way upstream until I was back at the bridge. I still felt exposed as hell, a curiosity for everyone and their dogs walking Wonderland Creek Greenway to stare at, but it was worth it--the bridge was like a crawfish vending machine. Put the bait in the water, wait a minute, pull out a crawfish. And it was shallow enough to see the crawfish approaching the bait, too--or to spot the crawfish and attempt to approach it with the bait.

Another thing I learned: You get greedy, you fall in and get your shoes wet. (Why did I bother wearing shoes today?) I had seven and probably could have caught another ten, but I took the slip-up as a sign that it was time to get on home, cook and process the crawfish, and then maybe actually get to the day's writing work? Maybe?

The ten crawfish left overnight in a plastic pin in the fridge with a moist cloth and some ice cubes for company, they were fine. All ten of them torpid from the cool but entirely alive. These joined this morning's catch in the cookpot with...

  • 1 oz Cajun Land Crab Boil (dry)
  • 2 Tbsp Cajun Land Crab Boil (liquid)
  • 1 quarter of a large onion
  • 4 split garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • couple good glugs hot sauce

Pot hits a rolling boil, crawfish go in. Three minutes later, take it off the heat and add ice to stop the cook. Soak until sufficiently flavorful, about 20 minutes. These proportions weren't going to send anyone screaming with fiery breath for a glass of milk or beer, but then that wasn't the goal.

Crawfish meat got extracted and put in one bowl, crawfish "fat" (which might more accurately be called "crawfish sweetbreads") in another bowl, and shells in a third. First two bowls got saved for the bisque and the pasta, respectively. Shells were sweated in a couple tablespoons butter, then boiled in a few quarts water to make stock for the bisque.

By the way, I can't find any warnings online about that organ at the tip of the crawfish head (seems to be connected to the so-called dorsal vein or "poop line" that many prefer to remove) that explodes in icky black gunk if you squish it--which you might accidentally do while scraping out the "fat." I am happy to provide that warning at no extra charge, like so: Don't squish it! And it might be best to remove it before boiling the shells for stock. You're welcome!

At this point I stuck a big TO BE CONTINUED on the whole process and went about the rest of my day until dinner time, when I cooked myself these marvelous things to eat, all in me-sized portions because that's about as far as you can make 17 crawfish stretch. Still, it was a respectable far distance to stretch 'em. I'm full and happy.

And I'm weirdly, irrationally, and entirely contralogically looking forward to doing it again. There's this semi-subconscious part of the brain (quasiconscious?) that just knows something fun is going to happen tomorrow, and it's looking forward to it, so I keep wondering "Why am I so happy all of a sudden?" And then I realize why, and I feel all disappointed and duped, because I don't actually have any plans to go crawfishing again to look forward to.

Well, I suppose I could go catch and cook more crawfish tomorrow. The pasta dish was pretty easy and quick. So's a plain old boil, though if done with enough frequency it might require me to shore up my supplies of Cajun Land Crab Boil. But I don't actually have time tomorrow for fishing and boiling and peeling and cooking. I have to get John to the airport for an early flight to Gen Con, and that's in addition to my usual Wednesday occupations of volunteer reading, roller derby team practice, and a full working day of writing. (That short story must get finished!) Also, if I'm going to make a habit of this, I should probably be a good citizen and get a fishing license. My online research indicates that one is expected to do that, even for just crawfishing.

But regardless of the impossibility of it happening, that Calvin-and-Hobbes part of my brain is gleeful at the process of running down to the creek to catch more crawfish tomorrow morning wheeeeeee! It is going to be so disappointed. I'll have to make things up to it by taking it back to the creek later on.

Maybe Friday.

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