“Cut a good story anywhere, and it will bleed.”
Anton Chekhov

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

the work goes slowly but nevertheless it goes
Thu 2021-03-18 21:11:51 (single post)
  • 2,810 words (if poetry, lines) long

Food content in today's blog post is going to be minimal because I'm in the middle of revisions, and revisions are hard, and I'm going to whine about that.

Also there isn't much to say about the food, beyond that 1. if you're going to substitute oysters for shrimp in this recipe, you probably need to account for the oysters being rather smaller than your average prawn to begin with and then shrinking as you fry them. Which is not to say they weren't delicious. I would happily eat a meal of nothing but those oysters in that fry prep and sauce, noodles optional. But that would be rather labor intensive what with the shucking and all, and I have kimchi plans for the rest of these oysters.

AND ALSO 2. if you are going to put the oyster brine into the dish, you have to subtract an equivalent amount of liquid from the recipe, or else you get a slightly soupier result. Unless you just cook it longer, in which case you might end up with overcooked noodles. One or the other. (Next time I think I'd sub the brine for the 2 tbl water in the cornstarch slurry.)

It was tasty, though. I ate it all. And that's all I have to say about that.

So. Revisions! I'm simultaneously revising two things, a poem and a short story, both of which I want to submit to Nightmare Magazine before their current open submission window closes on Sunday. And the work is going remarkably slowly.

In the case of the poem, it's mainly that I've got an image I am telling a very short story about in verse... and that's pretty much all I know. The rest is the problem of UNLIMITED CHOICE, and I'm having the darndest time deciding anything concrete. So I keep throwing words and phrases at the page, hoping that something will stick. There's a lot of uncertainty here. Today's session felt a bit more successful to the extent that I reduced the amount of uncertainty more than in previous sessions. Hooray. But sometimes poems come easily and sometimes they just suck, and this poem is definitely not an example of the former.

As for the story--ye gods, this story. It's got a major pacing problem. The tension tightens and tightens like a good horror story do, and then all of a sudden we end up at the end without having hit the anticipated turning-point-of-no-return. I've suspected it will take a new scene to fix it, but without any clue what that scene will look like or where it should go. So I've been putting that decision off, or, to put it more generously, laying the groundwork for making that decision, by doing line-level edits to the rest of the story. And it's working! I have a much better idea of what the new scene will look like! It will look like several new scenes.

Did I mention this thing needs to be submitted by Sunday? Argh.

I console myself with the indisputable fact that I have managed to find time and energy for revision sessions four whole days in a row. Four! And each of those sessions has brought non-trivial improvements to the story. So while it's easy to think I've spent all this week circling around the real problem without actually landing--because I'm a writer, right, and writers are by and large very good at talking smack about ourselves, and devaluing our own accomplishments, and catastrophizing about what we perceive as our failures--in truth, I really have been making progress.

But progress is happening so slowly.

Look, I'm going to submit something by Sunday, OK? One poem, one story. But I might keep revising them afterward, right? Because odds are they're going to get rejected so I can submit them again. That's not self-smack-talk! That's just sheer numeric probability, given how prestigious the market is, how few open slots they've got, and the skill and talent and artistry of the authors competing for those slots. Hell, even if I am fortunate enough to make a sale here, there will likely be a revisions phase. So basically, what I'm saying is, deadlines happen but the work continues.

For how long? Until I've decided it's enough, dang it. At which point, back to the reprint rewrite. Woo.

Dinner is served. Well, appetizer, anyway.
Should last up to 10 days in the fridge.
Useful tools and a lovely note.
got a shucking knife, not afraid to use it
Tue 2021-03-16 19:29:34 (single post)
  • 2,810 words (if poetry, lines) long

Writing content in this blog post will be minimal. THE OYSTERS HAVE ARRIVED and I'm a little obsessed.

You remember, right? The mail-order oysters I mentioned splurging on? Yeah. They showed up today. And I have successfully shucked and eaten a few of them. Hooray!

There was a little anxiety at first, because I had no idea how to read a timestrip. The Real Oyster Cult FAQ says that if the temp sensor hasn't turned blue, you're cool. Great! So I open up the package, I pull out the two baggies of live oysters (Truro Pearls and Irish Point, 20 each), I find the temp sensor strip at the bottom of the box, I flip it open, and it is all blue. Oh shit! Panic! Needlessly. I was looking at the completely cosmetic faceplate color, rather than the actual temp sensor window--which was still empty and white, indicating that the oysters had spent no appreciable time above 50 degrees. To be fair, making the faceplate the same color as the temperature sensor dye was definitely a choice. Anyway, an email to ROC with a photo of the thing cleared up the whole misunderstanding without delaying my dinner one bit.

And I had been very good. I had put in my time and my wordcount by then. I'd got the beginnings of a new poem, a decent start on the February 19 Friday Fictionette (still a month overdue, but still uploading a new one every Friday or as soon afterward as possible), and real progress on revising the story I intend to submitting to Nightmare Magazine this week. (I've got until Sunday to submit it, so everything's fine.) I'd even done my bunny chores--I gave Holland his daily fresh veg, tidied up his habitat, refilled his various hay containers, and gave him treats.

I'd done my homework, is what I'm saying, so I was free to play with oysters.

They were a lot easier to shuck than I remember from when Dad taught me several years ago. But then they were a lot smaller than gulf south oysters and also a bit pointier around the hinge. I made myself up a lovely little plate with a half dozen on the half-shell, each with a dollop of that fantastic caramelized shallot spread on top, and then a couple pieces of crawfish bread. Crawfish bread is not as effective as plain French bread for sopping up oyster brine, being already fairly sopping with cheese and spices and crawfish tails, but that's OK. It's tastier. And I am not above tilting the plate up to my mouth and simply drinking whatever's left.

As I mentioned before, this splurge was in celebration of a rather special huge big deal of a story sale, so when I placed the order, I left myself a little gift message commemorating that. It sounds hokey, and it is hokey, but I still got such a happy thrill when I opened up the shipping box and found a hand-written gift card inside saying, "Dear Niki: Congratulations on your first sale of fiction to Apex! Love, Niki."

So now I have a very hard choice to make. Do I commit the sin of drowning the delicate briny flavor of these maritime gems in kimchi? Or do I give myself the joy of homemade kimchi flavored with fresh delicious oysters? That's a trick question, of course. The answer is yes, and also yes. Besides, I'm only going to make half the recipe anyway, so there will still be a few oysters left to do other things with. (I'm thinking of subbing a few in for the shrimp in this dragon & phoenix recipe.)

So that's the story. It's Tuesday, I'm feeling accomplished, and life is delicious. I hope things are going just as well for you, whoever you are and wherever you may be.

there's such a thing as overdoing it
Wed 2021-03-10 12:57:17 (single post)
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 2,540 words (if poetry, lines) long

Ha. So remember that "long and deeply satisfying skating session" last week? Well, it turns out that when I kick my own butt skating for three hours straight, including over less than hospitable terrain (the sidewalks! OMG, the sidewalks on the east side of 28th Street! Whyyyyy?), and then the very next day I take part in an exceedingly ambitious 40-minute HIIT workshop that's heavy on the same muscles I wore out skating the day before, the result is several days of being pretty much good for nothing but whining.

I have been a little more cautious in my daily workout since.

I mean, I'm still trying to have a daily workout. That has been my goal for March. A year of no roller derby has meant fewer hours of physical activity per week, and lower-quality exercise when I do exercise because I'm not a particularly strict self-coach. My endurance has suffered, and so has my strength, both in terms of both ability and muscle mass/definition. I am a pathetic noodle during the league's Thursday night Zoom workouts. I've put on weight, and though weight is a number that never meant much to me before, it says something when that number's the highest it's ever been in my adult life. (I've never paid much attention to BMI either, except to note that it, like one's credit score, is a metric that is notorious for being misused, with malice aforethought, to make people's lives measurably worse. But realizing that my current BMI might qualify me for the COVID vaccine a little earlier than I had hitherto expected is just weird.) And my blood pressure, which metric does mean quite a lot to me, has been up a titch. So! Daily exercise is my current goal.

Yesterday's exercise was going to be skating, but I left it for too late, and now it's going to be snowing through the weekend. Yuck. So yesterday's exercise was an extremely modest amount of squats, sit-ups, crunches, knee-lifts, and leg-lifts. Like, fifteen minutes, all told. Not an impressive session. Enough to say there was a non-zero amount of exercise in the day, which is the main thing. Today will be similar. Then tomorrow, being a Thursday, will kick my butt again, but because I won't come to Thursday's workout with a pre-kicked butt, I should be functional the next day.

Which is all very much the long way of saying "No, I haven't gotten back to the revision of 'Lambing Season' yet, sorry." I'm going to put that sucker to the side for now, though, because I would very much like to have a horror original to send to Nightmare Magazine when it opens to all demographics for the week of the 14th. And I know just the story. I think I can get it revised in time, but I need to start today.

(Oh, look! They'll take poetry that week, too!)

Meanwhile, I promised you a recipe. Or a method. Or a something involving chicken, mushrooms, asparagus, and cream. Here, then, is that something.

Step One: Read this. Then put it away. We're not so much following a recipe as improvising on an idea. This recipe is the idea. Also preheat the oven to 350.

Step Two: The big cast-iron pan. Bacon in little chunks. Medium heat until greasy.

Step Three: Chicken breasts, liberally coated on both sides in LOTS of fresh ground pepper (seriously, this makes the dish) and a little salt, on top of the bacon. While they sear, sliced onions and mushrooms on top of that. Eventually, when that first side has cooked enough, flip the chicken, let the other side cook a bit. Then slice it into slices. Introduce those slices more thoroughly to the onions and mushrooms and also the heat.

Step Four: Now what? You want to boil some pasta, but your chicken onion mushroom mess is taking up the burner you want to use! Guess you'd better just shove that whole cast iron pan into the oven along with the crawfish bread. (The crawfish bread was why we preheated the oven in the first place.) Problem solved! Now boil up that pasta.

Step Five: While the pasta's cooking, check on the pan in the oven. Add some cream to the liquid being released from the mushrooms. It'll look a bit like cream of mushroom soup. That's fine. Let it boil down. When convenient, return the pan to the stovetop and the heat to medium-high. Add more cream if you want. It's sort of a balancing act between "is it thick enough" (no? cook it longer) and "is it creamy enough" (no? add cream). The flow chart also includes "can you wait any longer?" (no? eat it).

We are not worrying about the chicken. The chicken isn't getting overcooked or dry in this mess. The chicken is getting braised.

Step Six: So the sauce is the right consistency, the pasta is waiting to be introduced to it, you're ready to eat. BUT WAIT! There's asparagus! Toss it into the sauce and leave it on the heat only as much longer as it takes to get the asparagus cooked to your taste. Then: remove from heat, sprinkle with parmesan, and toss it all about so the parmesan gets melty.

And now it's done. Serve it over that pasta. Eat it all. Lick the bowl. And save a little bread to mop up the pan. The sauce is really tasty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover art incorporates and modifies glacier and dinosaur images from Pixabay
a strange but workable (for now) definition of On Time
Fri 2021-02-26 22:38:27 (single post)
  • 946 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,073 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,115 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,120 words (if poetry, lines) long

Not so much whining today, as it turns out. What was that I said about external systems of structure and accountability? Today's external accountability mechanisms were my Boulder Food Rescue shift and my various curbside shopping errands, for getting me out of bed on time; and Cat Rambo's afternoon co-writing session, for getting me back to work by 2 PM rather than collapsing into a nap that would eat up the rest of my productive day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We begin with pasta carbonara.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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