Monday, January 22, 2018

America's Test Kitchen: Author Version

Some of my author friends love doing research for their books so much that they keep on deferring the actual writing so they can linger in the library a bit longer. Not me. I love the actual writing so much that I tend to write the book first and then do the research for it afterward.

This is not always a good idea.

It's not always a bad idea, either, as after all, the story is the most important thing, and if it's right, those pesky little real-world details can be tweaked afterward. But sometimes, the after-the-fact research can prove a bit, shall we say, daunting.

My current work-in-progress is a third-grade-level chapter book set in an after-school program, where each book will feature a different camp: cooking camp, robotics camp, graphic novel camp, etc. Book one takes place in the cooking camp, and at least I know how to cook, right? I mean, I have made meals for my family for decades, and a few of them have turned out all okay. Still, I am not what you would call much of a cook. And this book, as you might expect, involves a great deal of cooking. The kids learn how to prepare healthy lunches; they make their own pet treats; there's a whole week devoted to pumpkin delicacies, and another for bake sale goodies; the camp culminates in a Trip around the World international feast.

In her editorial letter to me containing her suggestions for revision, my editor asked, as her final query, with perhaps just a tad of suspicion: "Have you made the food you are describing?"

Um, that would be a NO.

So last week I got busy. I searched for recipes all over the internet and found a bunch for the Morning Glory Muffins the kids make for their healthy lunch week. I combined, altered, tweaked, and experimented, and they turned out SCRUMPTIOUS!
But the make-your-own dog biscuits were a disaster. The dough would NOT stick together. It refused to be rolled out to a half-inch thickness. It was so tough and leathery you could NOT cut it with bone-shaped cookie cutters, even if I had had a bone-shaped cookie cutter, which I didn't. The first batch looked grotesque. (Yes, Tanky-the-dog did eat one happily, but this is the same dog who had to be stopped from eating out of the cat's litter box, so this sets the bar pretty low.)
I tried again, adding a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and using smaller cookie cutters, and this time the results were more aesthetically pleasing:
Next up: the cat cookies with tuna fish mixed into them (ick! but, yes, the dog ate one of these, too), and home-made granola (pretty yummy). Still lying ahead, the greatest challenge of all. Nixie's team is the one that makes the saag paneer for the Trip around the World feast. Luckily, I put out a plaintive plea on Facebook for a simplified recipe, and a brilliant children's book author friend, Varsha Bajaj, sent me one, which I'm planning to try, bravely, this afternoon. Wish me luck!

Here, today, I offer you the Morning Glory Muffin recipe. Enjoy!

Morning Glory Muffins

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp salt
2 cups grated carrot
2 cup grated apple
½ cup coconut flakes
¼ cup sunflower seeds
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup orange juice
1/3 cup honey
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup seedless raisins

Preheat oven to 375.
Combine dry ingredients in large mixing bowl (flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt).
Stir in carrots, apples, coconut, walnuts and seeds.
Beat together eggs, vanilla, orange juicy, honey, and oil.
Fold in the raisins.
Spoon into muffin pan (the recipe makes 18 muffins).

Bake for around 18 minutes (a bit less for darker pans).

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Creative Joy Progress Report

I have now had four hours of creative joy in this new year, the two hours I spent writing at BookBar -  the indie bookstore/cafe on Tennyson Street in Denver (see my previous post) - and two more this week.

One of the hours was just spent here at home doing a careful review of my chapter-book-in-progress in preparation for a conversation with my editor. To make the hour extra-special I put Cool Whip on my Swiss Miss hot chocolate, and it was a most satisfying hour indeed.

But the most creative hour of creative joy was yesterday, when I went with Kate, my partner in the creative joy project, to the Denver Art Museum for the final week of "Her Paris: Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism." Our mission: to look at beautiful paintings and write poems about them, or about anything at all, really. Kate brought along her sketchbook, too, for creating a visual record of our visit.

Here are the three poems I wrote from the "Her Paris" exhibit, paired with the paintings that inspired them, as well as the one I wrote in the small exhibit featuring statues and paintings of the Hindi elephant god Ganesha. The beauty of this kind of creative hour is that the poems don't have to be good. They just have to be written - and in order for me to fulfill my own personal objective, written with joy. I have to have FUN writing them. And I did.
Anna Archer
Young Woman Arranging Flowers
About 1885

We do not know the year
or the month, or the day,
but we know the moment.
You stand erect, even stiff,
in your dress of jade velvet,
golden hair tightly coiled,
absorbed in positioning
yellow and white flowers
in their careless profusion,
lavish, almost lewd, their petals splayed,
drooping beneath the extravagant
weight of their blooming,
alive in this instant,
this instant,
this one.

Louise Abbema, Lunch in the Greenhouse, 1877

Little girl with the sunlit curls,
it is not your pink bow,
as big as you are,
that catches our eye,
but the sagging socks,
gray worsted bunched at the ankles,
as you stand, just barely on tiptoe,
gesturing with outstretched hand,
too busy to tug at knee socks,
the bright sun tangled in your bright hair,
too busy to care.

The Last Days of Childhood
Cecelia Beaux, 1883-85

But how did you know?
We can only say afterward
That this was the last,
And not even then.
Which farewell was the final one?
Which moment the marker
That tells us the when?
I lost a piece of my childhood
Just yesterday.
Then I found it,
And then I lost it again.

Broken Tusk – Poem for Ganesha

My tusk is broken, too.
All of me is, really,
Mainly the parts you cannot see.
Am I an Overcomer of Obstacles like you?
It depends on what is meant by overcoming.
But I guess it’s clear that brokenness
Isn’t a deal breaker here.
Even an elephant with a broken tusk
Can grant prayers.
Even a woman with a broken spirit
Can continue praying.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

New Year's Goal: Creative Joy

Happy new year, everyone!

I've made my main goal for 2018, and I think I'm going to have a lot of fun with it. For that is the goal right there: fun! Or to be more specific, creative joy.

As goals have to be measurable and quantifiable, so I can know whether or not I've achieved them, and also because it's just so much, yes, FUN to have tangible evidence of progress, I've formulated the creative-joy goal in this way: every month I am committed to finding ten hours (give or take) of creative joy, with a year's end total of 120 hours - with one extra hour thrown in, so that I can have a rhyming slogan (borrowing from a South Pacific tune): "121 hours of fun."

I'm still trying to determine exactly how much fun I have to provide for myself in any given hour of creative endeavor for it to count toward my goal, but my tentative thought is that I have to make at least some special effort - it won't be enough just to do my ordinary scribbling while lying on my ordinary couch, or ordinary tapping away at my ordinary computer. Some things that would count: writing with friends, writing at cozy cafes, or art museums, or on park benches, or mountain retreats - and DEFINITELY writing in Paris!

Writing at home can count, too, if I enhance the experience in some way: if I drink tea from a teapot (I have so many pretty ones I never use), or burn a scented candle, or eat a Pepperidge Farm apple turnover, or put a shot of Amaretto in my Swiss Miss hot chocolate - or even, maybe, just a big enough dollop of Cool Whip on top.

I had my first two hours of creative joy yesterday, when my writer friend Kate Simpson and I went together to the BookBar on Tennyson Street in Denver, a charming indie book store with a cafe with an appealing menu of munchables. Kate and I claimed a comfy couch and ordered our treats, all with literary names (I had the Melville Melt). And then we sat there and wrote, and chatted about writing, and shared dreams about writing.
So: two hours of creative fun completed, with eight more to go this month. I might go make myself a pot of tea right now and light my vanilla-scented candle (if only I had a Pepperidge Farm apple turnover to pop into the oven, too. . . .) And then I'll look at my editor's revision notes on my forthcoming chapter book and figure out how to respond to them.

With joy.