Posts from — May 2013

Start-over Cookies 3

May 19, 2013

I baked a bad, bad thing….

 

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No truly, I baked some cookies that were terrible. My big mistake was using the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip packet. I know, I know, you are shaking your head right now, I can feel it. My defence is that I was starving (for cookies specifically) and the recipe was right there and I (mistakenly) thought: surely they’ve done lots of testing. Hmmm. The ingredients seemed about right, the mixture wasn’t too bad. And then. Hello, strange, little, disappointing, mouth-drying cookie.

 

I’ve had a similar experiences with my writing. Everything is going okay but the end result, which I want to be wonderful, is not so. I was reassured to read your recent post about editing – how you had thought that a good writer should not have to edit a thing but it should all flow out perfectly from the first word. I think this is what a lot of people assume and certainly the delusion the good ol’ inner critic likes to rock. It should be perfect, first time… right? Nope. Hardly ever.

 

The hard part, the important part is what you do next. You asked me recently, what I think is the most important quality for a writer to possess. I answered curiosity. But runner up has to be “start-over-ability”. That crucial combination of optimism and tenacity. The dedication you put in to dusting yourself off and getting back into it. Perhaps the way I am describing it sounds slightly glamorous, like that running up steps, air punching scene in Rocky. In reality it’s not so awesome. You’ve received another rejection, a scathing review is posted, you’ve re-written the same problematic scene four times, you’ve been slaving away on something for months, years even, and it’s just not working. Your confidence is in tatters…those are the dig-deep times. It’s not fun or romantic.

 

As for my tiny, weird tasting cookies – well, fortunately, I’m not easily dissuaded. The very next day I was back at the mixing bowl, new recipe in hand, brow earnestly furrowed. I even got bold and adapted the recipe I’d chosen. It’s something I’ve learnt about myself that if I have a kind of ‘epic fail’ I often get very focussed and determined. Probably more focussed and determined* than I would have been if my failure had been less severe. [Apart from in the case of snow-skiing which is a whole other story involving many failures and, finally, surrender to my complete talentlessness]

 

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I baked the trousers off my cookie recipe. They were crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle, browned just so. The taste was sweet with a little salty, caramel from the brown sugar, rolled oat earthy and studded throughout with chocolate. When my sister and her husband came over we made ice-cream sandwiches with them and a creamy, hokey pokey ice-cream. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Start-over cookie: check. Now for some start-over writing. Big. Deep. Bracing. Breath.

………………………………………

Start Over Cookies:

1 cup /225 grams butter

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups plain flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons hot water

1/2 teaspoon salt (I like the coarse stuff – sea salt flakes or himalayan)

2 cups choc chips (I use 1 cup milk choc, 1 cup dark choc)

1 cup rolled oats

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 175 degrees centigrade

Cream butter and sugars till smooth

Beat in eggs one at a time and then stir in vanilla

Dissolve baking soda in hot water and then add

Add salt, flour, chocolate and oats

Drop large spoonfuls on to ungreased trays and bake for ten minutes or until golden brown

Nom, nom, nom, nom….

…………………………………….

HUGS, Hannah x

*Secret: I call it the “Well, F*#$k you then” phenomenon. I think my Mum used to call it “obstinance” or “being contrary”. I used to get called contrary a lot. I now consider it to be a huge compliment.

In: Food, From Hannah, Writing

Sweet Little Something 7

May 17, 2013

A Friday ritual – a wordless post: a personal photograph that captures a moment from the week. One photograph from Hannah, in the Southern Hemisphere and one from Ria, in the Northern Hemisphere.

Don’t forget to leave a “Haikument” in comments inspired by one of these photos. We’ve had some fantastic ones! Check them out here and here. No poetry degree required! You can use the  5/7/5 syllable count rule if you like, or create something unique. If you want to find out more about Haiku (and who doesn’t?), check this out.

From Hannah:

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From Ria:

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In: From Hannah, From Ria, Sweet Little Something

Accidental Treasures 9

May 15, 2013

So the other morning I woke up with two almost simultaneous thoughts: I forgot to let the dog out last night and what am I going to make with the corn that’s been sitting in the fridge for the better part of a week? The first thought was immediately followed by that sinking gut feeling; our dog has been dead for a year. We’ve been showing Little e photos of him and though she says “daw” when she sees him, she doesn’t know him by name. I grew up with animals and loved every minute of it. Little e already has all the enthusiasm of an animal lover, so sometime in the future, we will have a dog again. Probably some rodents or birds too. But it’s not time yet. Until then, we try to seek out animals for her to love and learn about.

The second thought was less emotionally charged but more urgent–I hate wasting food. Fresh corn on the cob must be respected. I gave myself until lunchtime to come up with a dinner plan that included it. (What would happen to me after the deadline I cannot tell you.)

Then we got a text message from a friend.  We have bunnies in our garden, it said. That was enough; we headed out. When we got there, my friend took us out to the back yard, knelt under a tree, gently pulled back the moss on the ground and revealed this.

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I have never seen a warren like this before. I have never seen such tiny rabbits before.

What struck me most was the surprise of being witness to something we aren’t usually privy to. Wee rabbits nibbling grass beside their mothers, sure. But such intimate beginnings, hidden so perfectly that you’d step on their nest as you walked by and not know–this was unexpected. This was a secret we weren’t supposed to stumble upon, a startling glimpse into such new lives. And though she won’t remember it, Little e will have these photos as proof that she was there (“Hi, Bunny.”).

On the way home something on the radio about Italy made me think: risotto–it’s been a while since I made that. Risotto with corn? Why not. And then, of course, I had to check my trusty favourite cookbook for something with this combination and lo: parmesan corn risotto cakes. The day was two for two and it wasn’t even noon yet.

I didn’t have time that evening to make the recipe all the way to the fritter part, so I just made the risotto and a green salad. The corn makes it beautifully sweet and a bit citrusy. I like to sop up my salad dressing with the risotto; the acid cuts the creaminess in the most delightful way.

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The recipe calls for a from-scratch corn stock, which is easy and also necessary. I added a nice chunk of butter with the parmesan at the end of cooking the risotto, which the recipe for the cakes doesn’t call for.

Parmesan Corn Risotto Cakes

Adapted from Rebar Modern Food Cookbook

 

Fresh corn stock

4 ears fresh corn, kernels removed and reserved

1 yellow onion

4 garlic cloves

2 bay leaves

a few sprigs of fresh thyme, oregano and/or parsley

1 tsp pepper corns

8 cups water

Put all ingredients into a pot and cover with the water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Strain and keep warm.

 

Corn Risotto

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small yellow onion, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups arborio rice

2 cups fresh corn (or however much you get off the cobs)

1 cup white wine

The corn stock you made (above)

1 cup grated Parmesan

butter for finishing (if not making the risotto cakes)

Sweat the onion and garlic in the oil over low heat so they cook but don’t take on any colour, about 10 minutes. Add rice and stir as the rice turns translucent. I love watching this happen. Once the mixture is dry, add the wine and let the rice soak it up. You can turn the heat up to about medium now. Once the mixture is dry again, add a cup of stock and all the corn to the pot. Continue stirring the rice every few minutes to keep it from sticking and to massage out the starch, creating that amazing creamy risotto texture. Keep adding more stock by the cupful until the rice is tender and corn cooked. Turn off the heat and add about a quarter cup of butter (I always eyeball this) and the Parmesan. Leave the risotto to sit for a few minutes, then serve. If left for too long, it will get gummy, which won’t affect the taste, but will make it slightly less appealing on your fork.

OR: the next day–voila!–fritters from leftover risotto for lunch!

Form small cakes out of the cooled risotto and dredge in fine cornmeal. Fry in a few tablespoons of oil in a cast iron pan until lightly golden on both sides.

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XO

Ria

In: Food, From Ria, Kids and Parenting

Water bills 4

May 12, 2013

I’m wondering whether I can claim water bills as a work expense. I’m sure ours are going to be astronomical. My husband gives me that look when I emerge from the bathroom close to an hour after I went in. I scramble for excuses. I had to shave my legs! (How long are your legs?!) I had to wash my hair! (How much hair is there to wash?!) It’s a bit of a running argument between us. The real answer is, plainly and simply, I got distracted.

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I don’t know about you but as soon as I turn on the taps and the sound of running water fills my ears, I am in a different world. A world full of ideas and characters and plots and sagas that have me utterly mesmerised. Every time I get into the shower I remind myself – don’t be too long – but then I’m in there and I’m warm and cocooned by rushing water and the reminder completely vacates my head. Minutes go by. A lot of minutes. I enter a different dimension in which time is no consideration. In the shower characters I am working on become so clear; their layers come to me, their pasts – what their parents are like, the kind of childhood they had, who their first love was. They become richer and more multi-dimensional and I suddenly feel as though I know them and I get them. I tell you, it’s better than a soap opera, my brain in a shower.

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When I am writing problems with the plot will appear that I can’t figure out how to fix. I read my work over and over and know it’s not right but don’t know how to make it better. It’s a little like trying to find Wally in a Where’s Wally. You know he is there, you know how good it’s going to be when you find the stripey little blighter, but he’s evasive and irritating. You’ve got to step away…..but you can’t….but you must…and so the conflict goes on. When there is a problem with the plot or my characters feel a little “off” there is just no better way to fix it than getting into that shower and letting the answer come to me rather than chasing it.

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Of course, I am not the first person to make the observation that great ideas come whilst in the shower. In fact, a little research led me to this waterproof notepad for jotting down your showering inspirations! I’m not sure about a notepad in the shower. I wonder if staring at a notepad might make the spontaneous ideas dissipate. For me the whole point is that I feel free of the obligation to make notes / lists in the shower. I’m off the clock, as it were. Besides, words aren’t what come to me in the shower. Images are what come to me in the shower. Little clips of characters speaking with each other in a hallway while a party is taking place in another room, the light of the morning streaming in the window as one character reaches for another’s hand, the face of a character realising something bright and true. It’s all so vivid and yes sometimes I think – damn, I need a way to capture this stuff! – and other times the beauty of it is to let it slide by, trusting that it will serve its purpose or reappear in time.

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As you can see, I didn’t put any shower photos into this post. You don’t wanna see that business. Instead a few snaps just like the pictures that flash through my mind while the warm water rains down and makes prunes of my fingertips. Images that are off centre, unposed and rich with meaning. Characters that don’t know they are being watched. Sideways glimpses into a life.

The way I see it I might waste a bit of water but every minute of my shower is worth something. If my water bills aren’t claimable as a work expense then I’m notching them up as a worthy investment.

Where do your best ideas find you? What do you consider to be a good investment for your creativity?

HUGS,

Hannah x

In: From Hannah, Writing

Sweet Little Something 7

May 10, 2013

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.

Don’t forget to leave a “Haikument” in comments inspired by one of these photos. We’ve had some fantastic ones! Check them out here and here

From Hannah:

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From Ria:

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In: From Hannah, From Ria, Sweet Little Something