The Right Fuel

Wow–that last post was gorgeous. The photos, the recipe, the concept of cheesecake made with cashews, your thoughts on manuscript revision….it all made me drool. Well, maybe not the last one. But it did get my thoughts swirling about how we go about editing and reshaping our works-in-progress (WIPs) with everything else going on in our lives.

I’m in the same boat (mine’s a dingy with only one oar, so I keep going around in circles–what’s yours?). My manuscript is due in about five weeks and several Important Things have been coming between me and it lately. And they have been important. Well…haven’t they? Okay, maybe there’s been some procrastination. And some how-on-earth-can-I-make-this-novel-as-good-as-I-want-it-to-be stressing.

But. BUT. I always feel better with something good to eat beside my pile of manuscript papers. Don’t you?

Since it’s a new year and I’m still regretting all the sweet, unhealthy things I ate over the holidays, I want something wholesome, grainy, comforting and sustaining. Granola bars. Yes, that’s it.

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These are really simple, really easy and fast. They can be altered and doctored and multiplied. And when I sat down to my WIP with a cup of tea and one of these, it felt possible to write a really, really good book. You know–the kind other people would actually want to read. ‘Cause the thing is, I really love editing (most of the time). I love the possibilities becoming reality as I work. I love ticking off the items on my editing to-do list. I love the satisfaction of characters getting rounder, plotlines becoming stronger and things getting funnier or stormier or more layered. I like editing more than writing the first few drafts. But getting started editing, sometimes, is a tough go.

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Granola bars help. They coax my hungry, reluctant inner editor out just long enough to see that it’s not so bad, this manuscript. It has redeeming qualities, and also crumbs between the words.

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XO

Ria

PS-my Best Times to Edit:

One hour before bed.

When home from work early but before picking up Little e.

When Little e naps (a likely story these days).

When I should be marking student essays.

You?

Just add magic

To make a cheesecake : Blend cashew nuts and lemon…

Ever come across a recipe that you can’t imagine how it’s going to come together? Sarah Britton of My New Roots keeps posting recipes that intrigue me so much I have to make them. It helps that the recipes are dead easy (I am such a lazy cook!) and often require no cooking or baking. “Raw Cashew Dreamcake” is no exception. Nine ingredients, none of which are dairy, “whizzing” the major step and voila, you have yourself a “cheesecake”. It’s like magic…

Cheery cashew dreamcake

This particular recipe seems to be everywhere. Blogs, Pinterest, even one of my favourite design magazines. Clearly it’s not just me who is captivated by the impossibility of the ingredients. How can this dish work? How can it look so pretty? How can it taste like cheesecake? Surely it’s an illusion.

I’m reaching for a little magic of my own this week. I have feedback on my manuscript from my agent and my trusted manuscript genius (more about her some other time, she deserves a post or three of her own) so now I need to make some edits. It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? The feedback is very good and helpful, it will make it better. But it’s complex and layered and there’s the tricky business of applying it. Do you make a small mend, do you unravel a whole chapter or do you change a character or storyline completely? How will one change effect other parts?

Cherries

Don’t get me wrong, I love getting feedback on my work. I am used to working in teams (I had a ‘past life’ as a Human Resources Manager) so the isolation of writing is quite foreign to me. The opportunity to discuss the plot and the characters I’ve been working on for so long is such a gift and insight from someone objective is priceless. But taking all that feedback and making it work….hmmm. It’s a little like making cheesecake from cashews. Possible. Often simpler than you expect. But requiring forethought, imagination and…a little magic.

Added to that, life has a capital L this month. Matt is out of the country for work for a few weeks and there is a whole heap of parenting to be done. For starters B1 is rocking the two and a half year old tantrums and jealous rages. They are fun (eye roll). B2, determined little soul that she is, is utterly focussed on standing, eating and speed-crawling, resulting in head bumps, squashed fingers and lots of bits of lint stuffed into the mouth. I have to watch her like a hawk. It’s a cliche, I know, but truly, finding time for a shower is a serious success around these parts. Where oh where, to find the time and headspace to edit a manuscript? Advice? Wisdom? An Ollivander’s wand?!

Cherries and cashew cream

The good thing is – there is a will. I am dying to work on it. I know it can be better and I just have to figure out how to make it that way. I’ve been thinking about it in that daily shower of mine or when I’m falling asleep. The characters are alive again in my mind, I keep changing tiny details to see if they improve; adding complexity, stripping some away. To work on the manuscript I’ll just have to find time in smaller pockets. I’ll have to ignore the laundry. And the vacuuming. I’ll have to get to work before I know if it’s going to work and trust the process. That’s right, trust. Now that is the real magic. Right? (Am I getting too deep for a Monday?!)

It’s a whole lot easier to trust that a My New Roots recipe is going to turn out well. You remember the Raw Brownie, of course. Yum. I knew Sarah Britton had my back when I was leaping into making cheesecake from nuts. I even substituted some cherries for the berries it calls for, because they were in my fruit and vege box delivery this week and omitted the vanilla bean because I didn’t have one. Yup, it’s rock n’ roll risk taking in my kitchen. Raw Cashew Dreamcake didn’t disappoint. It’s not cheesecake, of course, but something different that tastes familiar, if you know what I mean. I don’t really like the cloying taste of cheesecake that much so it suits me, but you do need that lemon juice to give you the “vibe”. It’s a pretty cake and you could really play around with the flavours. I’m thinking of trying it with more lemon and a little ginger next time, leaving out the berries completely, a version to make for my Mum.

If you make it, let me know what you think and what you did with it, and if you have tips on manuscript mending and polishing, I’d love to hear them. Oh, and if you come across a white rabbit, sparkly red shoes or glittery fairy dust, please enclose them in a postage box and send quick-smart. This girl needs to make it all come together….somehow…

HUGS, Hannah x

B1 and dreamcake

Sweet Little Something

An end of week ritual – a wordless post, a personal photograph that captures a moment to be savoured, relished and preserved for looking back on. One photograph from Hannah, in the Southern Hemisphere and one from Ria, in the Northern Hemisphere. Feel free to post your questions, thoughts and comments. Have a great weekend!

From Hannah:

Fairy bread

From Ria:

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Eating History

I have to agree–reading is a slim promise these days. I find myself with piles of new, unread books around the house–stacked beside my bed, on the table in my daughter’s room, on top of the bookshelves, kitchen table, and on it goes…That is to say, I cannot leave a bookstore empty-handed, and I have no time for actually cracking said purchased books. Depressing.

But I have noticed a trend in what I am (not) reading lately. Some fiction, yes, some kid lit and some adult. But I also love a good non-fiction read, and apparently I really love books about one thing. One ingredient, to be exact. On my bookshelf right now are Cheese and Culture by Paul Kindstedt, chloroform by Linda Stratman(okay, not an ingredient, but definitely fits the one-thing category!), Salt by Mark Kurlansky and Bitter Chocolate by Carol Off. I suspect this is an overall trend in NF publishing, but it’s still intriguing. And when I started to think about it, I realised each of these books goes deep into the history and function of these ingredients, which makes for a complex and holistic read. History from the perspective of chocolate–what could be better? Which brings me to another small discovery:

Fry bread. I promise there’s a connection here.

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I live in the Pacific Northwest, where bannock is the Native (we say First Nations) dough most often heard about, though I had also heard of fry bread. Last night I wanted to make something to go with a pot of soup and was out of regular bread, so I did a google search. A quick-bread cooked in oil and eaten hot? Yes please.

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Pioneer Woman has a nice little recipe and how-to on her website. Check out the Indian tacos!

So, the connection is this: My quest for a dinner side dish, and the simplest of recipes–just flour, leavening agent, salt and milk–led me to learn a whole lot about something completely different–First Nations cultures’ historical use of government rations to create a staple food–their own kind of bread. There’s a great article about it here.

I just love history I can eat. Now if only that book about chocolate were edible…

XO

Ria

The drought-breaker

Peaches peas mint

I’ve been in a reading drought. Too little sleep, too much rushing towards a manuscript deadline. No time, no space in my head for any stories other than my own. I’ve been so desperately grasping the thread of my own story I couldn’t possibly read any others.

So when I finally sent off my manuscript to my agent a couple of weeks ago, I quickly found myself at the library, stalking the aisles. There are so many books I want to read, but the first book after a drought is an important choice, don’t you agree? What kind of book do you reach for when you haven’t read for a long time? I look for something not so dense and inaccessible it hurts my head. But also nothing so light that it sets my mind loose, wandering and distracted. I need something a little new, something beguiling yet welcoming. And so it was The Tiger’s Wife came home with me.

I’d heard about The Tiger’s Wife and was intrigued most by the story of the author. Tea Obreht is young and very talented and this is her debut novel. She was born in 1985 (I know, you had to read that twice, right?!) and The Tiger’s Wife won her the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction. This rich, layered novel is set in a Balkan country, told over the period of seemingly endless wars, swinging back and forth between Natalia (the protagonist)’s life and the wars of her time, and her grandfather’s life and the wars of his time. It’s a thick braid of folklore, magic, grief and grit and has been compared to the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The voice is fresh and cool and unique, the setting captivating and the characters complex. And I am writing this as I am a mere few pages from the end, struggling to rein myself back from hurrying through the very last of it.

It is oh-so-nice to be reading again. It feels like a treat. Especially when there is laundry to be hung, a fridge to be cleaned out, a nappy bag to be restocked for tomorrow’s activities. No, no, chores, you can all wait, you nagging little imps. I’m reading. But, to be honest with you, it wasn’t so easy to start with. It had been so long since I read a book (not blog, not magazine, not scanning my manuscript for dozens of flaws) that I felt rusty. My attention slid all over the place. I was irritated and restless. I couldn’t read much at a time without getting up and doing something practical and “productive”. It was though the reading aspect of my brain had laid idle so long it had to remember how to do it again. But slowly, chapter by chapter, the memory came back, the muscles were re-flexed and, as the Aussies would say, I was “back in the game”.

At the same time all this not-reading business was going on poor Sydney town has been suffering from heat-waves and state-wide fires. It has been an absolute sizzler summer. And we’re not even half-way through. This week the temperatures reached 45 degrees. (That’s 113 fahrenheit, North American peeps) We bunkered down at my in-laws place and lolled about in the air conditioning like puppies. We literally didn’t leave the house all day. It’s supposed to get very, very hot again at the end of next week and if it’s anything like last week it is a heat you cannot shelter from. Even the wind is hot and moist; like being blasted with a hairdryer. All you can do is hide and pant and nap. Or make this:

Drought-breaker and The Tiger's Wife

I whizzed this up from items in my latest fruit and veggie box delivery (peaches and spearmint), with the addition of some frozen peas. The combination is a bit nuts, I’ll admit it (hey, heat addles your brain!) but surprisingly refreshing. I made it with greek yoghurt and milk this time, thinking of a cardamon lassi my brother-in-law kept raving about from his trip to India, but next time I am leaving out the dairy to make it even more palate-refreshing. The spearmint is gorgeous and cooling, yet still sweet, and the bright summer peaches are so full of juice you have to be careful cutting into them. The frozen peas, clearly the odd-ball addition, chill the whole thing down a notch and add a grassy, garden flavour. Very English summer. And when it is so hot you could bake eggs on the pavement? This hits the spot, let me tell you.

I’ll leave you with the recipe for when the season is right and you’re in the mood. I’m off to scan my bookshelf for a good book to pair with it because now the drought is broken I am thirsty for more, more, more.

…………..

The drought-breaker:

Two juicy, ripe peaches, skins removed

About ten spearmint leaves

1/4 cup of frozen peas

greek yoghurt and milk or water and ice – depending on your preference

Blend until smoothie consistency. Yummo.

……………

HUGS, Hannah x

Sweet Little Something

An end of week ritual – a wordless post, a personal photograph that captures a moment to be savoured, relished and preserved for looking back on. One photograph from Hannah, in the Southern Hemisphere and one from Ria, in the Northern Hemisphere. Feel free to post your questions, thoughts and comments. Have a great weekend!

From Hannah:

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From Ria:

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Germ (of an idea)

Where do your ideas for stories come from? I know that’s kind of a rhetorical question, but, you know, humour me. Do you find yourself taking bits of other people’s and mashing them together? Do ideas spring from your head unannounced and raw? Do you get inspired by something that’s been written a thousand times before, but in a different way every time? Okay, that one is true for all stories…The point is, I find all of the above hit me at one time or another and I am still fascinated by how the muse comes to me. Have you seen this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert about creativity? It’s amazing.

I found myself rolling the start of a novel over in my mind the other day and suddenly realised where it had come from. I basically pilfered it from a short story I’d taught in a class last year. It didn’t occur to me until that moment that I’d taken three-quarters of the plot and tweaked it to fit my purposes. Not that it matters–the story is in the creative commons, and this is what we writers do: we pilfer and snag and reinvent–but it amazed me that I had not even considered the plot in my mind as anything other than my own creation until then. So, yeah, I felt kind of less-than-original. But who cares–it’s a great plot and as I just finished saying, stories are about repackaging old sh*t. So that’s one place my stories come from.

This other germ, the one that’s been keeping me in the kitchen lately, is this book I’ve been meaning to tell you about. I mentioned it here, but let me fully introduce you.

Meet Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce, my new baking bible.

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It’s all about baking with whole grains and whole grain flours. Which is not a new idea to me in itself, but using them in ways that enhance flavour, rather than creating a healthy version of something previously sinful, is. This is a little revelation. Just enough oat flour to lend a sweetness, enough buckwheat to give an earthy tone. So far we’ve loved the recipes. The waffles, above, were fantastic. We ate them so fast I forgot to get a photo.

And it might just lead me to experiment with my own combinations of flours, should I become so bold. Which is entirely possible–after all, I’m that bold with my writing.

XO

Ria