reporting from the unexpectedly lengthened road
The train station in Raton, New Mexico is little more than a tiny waiting room cared for by dedicated WWII veterans who really, really, really want to help you with your luggage. (Honestly, the gentleman offering to take my suitcase looked like he could easily fit in it, at which point I could then bench press the whole ensemble.) However, there is this little gift shop across the street ("The Rat Pack"?) where the staff will happily stow your bags in the back room so you can enjoy beautiful downtown Raton while waiting for your train. I have, accordingly, been enjoying this comfy, friendly cafe and its delicious lunch fare.
Outside, the weather has cycled from sunny to light flurries of snow to sunny again. I hear there will be eight to ten inches of snow tonight, but by then I'll be well on my way to Chicago and my connection with Train 59, the southbound City of New Orleans. And the weather in New Orleans for the next few days is forecast to be perfect skating and biking weather. Also great weather for parade-watching.
What with the actually writing blog still being down (didn't find time this past week to poke at it, unfortunately), I've been turning the Monday Muse into something of a blog substitute. So this week's Monday Muse contains, in addition to the writing prompt associated with March 22nd's Friday Fictionette, the story of why I'm in Raton and not, as originally planned, in Denver Union Station waiting for the arrival of the eastbound California Zephyr. The tl;dr version is "blame climate change."
And that's about all I've got to report today.
quick, look over there at that convenient distraction
The actually writing blog is still broken because for three months I haven't been able to find the wherewithal to investigate what spontaneously went wrong with the code I hadn't touched in, like, ever. Probably some PHP or MYSQL upgrade I neglected to prepare for. This will probably involve my relearning how to speak database or something.
IN ANY CASE, please enjoy this week's Monday Muse over at the Friday Fictionette project. I'm still doing the Friday Fictionette project, though of late I've been chronically late about it. For those not in the know, it's one short-story-like object released (theoretically) every first-through-fourth Friday for subscribers/Patrons. On Mondays I try to put up a public post in which I share the writing prompt that gave rise to the upcoming Friday's release and invite readers to try writing a little something on it themselves. That's the Monday Muse, and this is the one for this week. (Posted on a Tuesday, of course, because what even is schedules?)
I hope to fix the blog REAL SOON NOW. Hope.
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 carnicerķa. 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 carnicerķa 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.
Day 15-17: and then this happened
- 1,077 words (if poetry, lines) long
So hey guess what happened on my ride home from Chicago? I GOT SICK. Fully symptomatic by the time I woke up in Denver.
Guess what didn't happen Thursday? WRITING. Friday was also impacted.
I go back and forth on whether to force myself to write when I'm sick. Sometimes, the sense of accomplishment makes me feel better: "Heck yeah! I am awesome! You can't keep me down, you stupid cold!" But sometimes I'm feeling bad enough to begin with that expecting anything productive out of me borders on cruel. Thursday was more in the latter camp, especially once the fever-chills set in. About all I was capable of doing was curling up under the blankets and waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in.
So here's the report:
Thursday the 15th: Nada, zip, zilch. Sniffle. Whimper. Moan.
Friday the 16th: Got off to a decent start. Had to be upright and functional because the Eco Handyman crew was coming over to remedy our under-insulated bedroom and to hook up our overhead range fan to the vent like it should be. I can't say I worked straight through the nine-to-five period when they were there, but I got my Morning Pages scribbled, my freewriting written, and my Friday Fictionette finished. Later that evening I was able to release the fictionette (although recording the audiobook edition was painful)... and that's about where I fizzled out. So no short story revision or submission procedures yesterday. Nor, as you are aware, was there blogging.
The Friday Fictionette for November 16, 2018 is "What Dreams May Come." Content note for suicide bombing, violence against a child. (This is the first Friday Fictionette I've appended a content note to. It is probably not the first that I should have appended one to. For my past lapses in that department, I apologize.) It's about how the moral calculus vis-a-vis "ends justifying means" changes if it turns out one might actually survive to suffer the consequences. Also in there: me taking my loathing for the "it was all a dream" trope as a challenge to use that trope in a way I don't wind up hating. I think I succeeded. But I still prefer the inverse trope, where what appears to be a dream turns out to be all to real.
Patrons may download "What Dreams May Come" as an ebook in their preferred format (pdf, epub, mobi) and, starting at the $3/month tier, the audiobook too. Read by me. With a very sore throat and stuffed nose. You're welcome.
Saturday the 17th: That's today! I think I should be able to manage a short freewriting session and a little nibble at the Friday Fictionette for November 23. I managed more than that yesterday. And here I am blogging, even though it's not a weekday. Yeah, I think I can just about manage a Saturday's work requirements. Say that I do, that puts me at 14.5 days out of 17 so far. Not terrible. But I would really prefer not to miss any more days. Can I not be sick anymore? Pretty please?
I'm on the mend, at least. Well, that might be putting it too optimistically. My body appears to be reacting better to the usual over-the-counter medications and household remedies. My appetite has returned, even if my willingness to do anything about it remains at an all-time low. I am not entirely miserable while conscious. That's an improvement!
Day 14: surprise internet was not all that helpful actually
I thought Amtrak only offered mobile hotspots in the sleeper cars, but it turns out that the City of New Orleans typically sets one up behind the snack bar, too. So I spent most of my ride from New Orleans to Chicago ensconced at a cafe table. Working? Nooooo. When I get unexpected internet access, I use it to procrastinate. I caught up on a lot of my online reading, is basically what I did. Then I realized it was almost ten o'clock and if I was going to have a 100% day I'd better do it before today turned into tomorrow.
Thus, the NaNoWriMo Rebel Report for November 14:
Morning Pages: ...are a lot harder to do on a train that's rocketing north from Champaign toward Chicago, then they are on a train that's stopped on the tracks west of Ottumwa. Can't complain; we got to the station right on time, or as near as makes no difference. But it's a good thing I don't rely on being able to reread my Morning Pages later. And my handwriting kind of sucks at the best of times. Anyway, they got done.
Freewriting: Yesterday's got done in the wee hours. I had just read a lot of microfiction involving the intersection of "demon" and "cute & sentimental" (for example) (see also), so I decided my writing prompt would be "Write about a demon pony." The demon pony's name was Midnight, and he had a tendency to burn things with his drool.
As for today's, that'll be my first task once I've boarded the California Zephyr in a few hours.
Friday Fictionettes: Ditto on all counts: Yesterday's was very late, and today's will happen on the train. After several days of nibbling at the story, I hope to finish the draft today. It shouldn't be too hard; all the narrative beats are more or less determined. But there will probably be surprises in the details that show up when I fill in the outline.
Short Story Revisions: See above. This one I'm feeling kind of stuck about. I'm hitting that point in story development where I have to make choices about what happens and how and why, and I don't want to decide. I like all the possibilities. I'm considering taking advantage of the fact that this is a Weird Multiple Timeline Story to have all the cake and eat it too. I mean, why not make "it happened this way, but it also happened that way" a plot point?
Anyway. I hope to spend enough time on it this afternoon that I can resolve some of these quandaries and start producing something other than babble-notes. It's likely. Last couple times I rode the California Zephyr, there were no mobile hotspots, not even in the sleeper cars, so there oughtn't to be internet to distract me. However, there's always Merge Dragons. BUT I WILL BE STRONG.
Submission Procedures: I have a bit of time after I post this but before I get on the train to send some manuscript somewhere. So I will.
Blogging: As you see.
I was disappointed in my choice of work environments inside Chicago Union Station. It was too early for the bar to be open, and there was no place in the food court with access to a plug. That was a deliberate choice on the part of station administration; there are outlets, but they've all got panels closing them off. Well then, so. I'm currently propping up a table in the Corner Bakery Cafe that's just outside Chicago Union Station, at the Jackson Street entrance. I had their Anaheim panini, despite being disappointed that no Anaheim peppers were involved in its making. Maybe I shouldn't find that disappointing. I mean, the town of Anaheim CA is about more than just delicious roasted peppers. But as far as I can tell, the only thing differentiating the sandwich's eggy filling from, say, a Denver omelette, was the inclusion of avocado. Is avocado necessarily an Anaheim thing? For that matter, who decided that ham, cheese, onions, and green bell pepper is a Denver thing? These claims seem tenuous at best.
(Diner chain Gunther Toody's attempts to answer the Denver omelette question. Tl;dr: They don't know, either, but they have a few guesses that might interest you.)
(Did you know Gunther Toody's had a blog? I had not known that. I guess if Dot's Diner can have a blog, so can Gunther Toody's. Did you know Dot's Diner had a blog?)
Days 10-13: moving the goalposts but not by all that much really
Welp, I did it. I broke my streak. I found an excuse that would not be denied, and that excuse was, "I'm tired." I'd been going non-stop since getting off the train Thursday. I got maybe three hours sleep Sunday night, not getting in from the various downtown afterparty activities until about 3:30 AM and then having to get up for some scheduled errands at 6:30. (I tried to go back to sleep after those errands, but, in a stunning reversal of roles, Dad woke me up playing his music too loud.) What I really needed was a whole 'nother weekend to rest from my weekend. I couldn't have that, so I took Monday off instead.
That's the NaNoWriMo Rebel Report for Monday the 12th: Nada, zip, zilch, and NO REGRETS. As for the weekend, I was very dutiful. I did my freewriting session and a bit of work toward Friday's fictionette every day. Got the work in Saturday morning before going to the tournament venue, and then did it Sunday evening at the Cafe Envie in the French Quarter (the one at Decatur and Barracks) when I ran out of personal partying capacity and was ready for some quiet me-and-a-laptop time.
...I suppose I should set down some thoughts here about the tournament. It was... a lot of derby. It was very exciting. I have thoughts, but I haven't sorted through them just yet, so. Maybe tomorrow?
Anyway, there you go. Out of the first 12 days of November, eleven had a perfect record and the twelfth was a rest day. It's the thirteenth now and I'm getting back to it. I'm also getting on the train out of town, so we're back to prioritizing the internetty stuff for when wifi is available and saving the offline-capable stuff for when I'm rolling. Thus, an early blog post. I'll also do a bit of puttering around my manuscript database before I go, see if there's any responses to outstanding submissions, maybe figure out what story to send where next.
Oh hey yeah, and I've also done my Morning Pages for the day. No particular psychological insights there or anything. Just listed out the stuff I'd have to do to get ready to leave, and then babbled about how stressed out I was about getting it all done in four hours. Travel prep stress! It gets me coming and going.
Anyway, that's all I've got. See y'all tomorrow morning at Chicago Union Station.
Day 9: i went to day 1 of WFTDA Champs and all i got you was this teal deer
- 1,133 words (if poetry, lines) long
This will be even briefer. It's going to be as "in with a technicality" as it gets. Today started at 6:30 AM and it's not quite over at midnight-thirty. I've driven to and fro across town several times and I've watched... four games? four games of roller derby, as a very engaged and active spectator. I have attended one afterparty with a lot of dancing and crowds and such. There was also a sort of "pre-afterparty" to pass the time until the afterparty venue was ready for us. It's been an even longer day. And now here I am.
The tl;dr version of the NaNoWriMo Rebel Report goes like this: I did most of the things before we left the house. I am doing the rest of the things now. The 100% streak will be maintained. And the Friday Fictionette for November 9 was released on time; it's called "Your Turn" (ebook, audiobook) and it involves an impossible Scrabble opponent.
That's the news and I am outta here.