The Moment Before

 

TheMomentBefore_cover

I had heard the Hottest Writing Group would be in Seattle.  ”Suzy Vitello & Friends / Adult Bedtime Stories” at Elliot Bay Book Company. Guests were invited to arrive in PJs with a blanket (and get a box of chocolates).  I don’t go “in costume”, but I dress up and I had already picked out the slinky blue lace nightie my friends had brought back with them from Paris for my bridal shower (that was 14 years ago), and decided to pair it with fishnets.  No flannel or fleece for me, I don’t care that I live in the Pacific Northwest, I prefer to overdress for each and every occasion I can. Lipstick required. Rhinestones too. Fake eyelashes if I have time to apply.

I was nervous.  Nervous because the last time I was excited to see an author speak, it was devastating.  I should have guessed when the location was a church, but I was ill prepared with certain expectations.  I should have realized she would have spent the entire session talking about Jesus.  I didn’t pay to see a woman talk about Jesus. His name was mentioned so many times, I was sweating.  Where was the discussion about WRITING? Or even Spirituality? Instead it was religion, religion, religion.

Not that I was expecting anything of that sort on this night, but hey, you never, ever know.  And Chuck Palahniuk was supposed to be there.

We arrived an hour before, and stood in line.  Chuck Palahniuk handed out beach balls and glow sticks. “Make sure they are firm,” he said. “They work better that way.” Many things do I suppose. Once inflated, two glow sticks get inserted into the ball.

Glowing Beach Balls

I picked up my signed copy of The Moment Before by Suzy Vitelloflashed my lace nightie at Chelsea Cain who handed me a box of chocolates before I took my seat.  Whatever it takes.

The place was packed. People were still blowing up beach balls.  And then it started.

Suzy’s writing group each read while in their PJs (also not fleece, FYI): Chelsea Cain, Lydia Yuknavitch, Monica Drake , Suzy Vitello and Chuck Palahniuk.

I wish you could have been there.  It was, hands down, the most awesome author event I’ve been to.  Not that I haven’t seen awesome authors, it was just so fun, inspiring, deliciously eclectic.  I haven’t heard so many F-Bombs dropped since living in Brooklyn. It was so creative and alive, and so welcome from a Brooklynite now living in Seattle. Everyone on stage was in their PJs, and everyone had something sparkly on.

And, the work, well, I added each to my list of authors to read.  Except for Chuck, he’s been on the list since 1996.

And then I finished The Moment Before today.  I started it yesterday, and I couldn’t get anything done today until I finished it.  I was in the tub, and the water had to get cold before I could get out, and I still wasn’t finished.  My kiddo wanted lunch, but I told her to make her own sandwich, I had a book to finish.

Brady and Sabine are sisters and Sabine died in a cheerleading accident.  Life is not what it seems, and as a teenager, that can be a harsh reality, especially for Brady, who was not a cheerleader, or popular, and now has to deal with the death of her popular sister, her sister’s friends, and her parents, and ugh, highschool. (But she had some awesome teachers.)  I guess when people aren’t around to protect their secrets, discovering them or realizing what they are can be sad and upsetting, even devastating.

It’s times like these, when you are at the age that you turn into an adult, and the secrets those older than you have been keeping, become part of your reality, throwing you into the lake to learn how to float, to swim.

I love Brady, I love her green hair, her art, her ability to know that she should skip school and just be.  I love her voice, her relationship with Sabine and her grandparents.  I love her honesty. I love Sabine too, and I felt for them both. I felt as though these characters had a lot of depth, unfolding with each chapter and truth.

I know the characters on these pages, I went to high school, college, I have even worked with them. Struggling with death and fitting in, isn’t prone to just high school, it just seems that’s where most of us encounter it first.  And it can go so many ways. Like the Dad who can’t deal and strikes out. The mom who steps in to control everything that’s out of control.  The friend who has more than you who wants you to be happy, with her.  The other friend who helps you discover the truth, and brings you donuts.

It’s been 4 hours since I finished the book, I’m still carrying it around with me, looking up passages that haven’t left me yet.  I’ll recommend this book, but it will be a while before I can lend out my copy.

Thanks Suzy Vitello, I want to read more.

 

Dream Logic

I’ve become insanely obsessed with Franz Kafka (again) overnight after attending Erin Gilbert’s workshop Dream Logic for Short Stories at Write-O-Rama, the Hugo House Fundraiser.  I can not stop thinking about sudden shifts in reality, arriving at emotional truths while pushing time aside, changes in rules and roles, sudden and unexplained appearances.  Immediate problems like expressed emotions turning into an event, or dialogue that doesn’t make sense to the reader but it does make sense the the characters and quick changes in emotional states.  I just love the existential dilemmas that can pop up.  All of this and the writing prompt caused me to discover what I have been looking for in a scene in my novel.

Thankfully, I have a copy of Kafka, The Complete Stories and Parables, with a forward by Joyce Carol Oates!  It gets even weirder when I flipped through the book and a photo came out, that of woman peering over her pierced …. (Fits in the whole dream logic talk from the day before, don’t you think?)  I can’t stop thinking about where we could have picked up this book, and I’ll have to keep the bookmark.

Bookmark

The photo is definitely not mine.  (Is it yours?)  I think the book had to have come from either The Strand, or Twice Sold Tales….

And, while I write this, a man, wearing a clear plastic shower cap is outside in a short sleeve tshirt in 20 degree weather,  holding his little dog and giving it kisses and rocking it back and forth.

I’ve never been so inspired.

Coconuts Have Balls

Coconut Balls

I worry about making “special” desserts for the holidays. Use the wrong GF flour and you’ve baked a brick instead of a treat.  If eggs and butter are really important to the recipe, will flax seed and coconut oil be up to snuff? Or will they throw the whole thing off.  Can you use a vegan Creme Fraiche? It doesn’t help that I like to experiment on family and friends. If I’m going to make it, everyone should taste it along with me.

I also worry about the family jokes.  They see me coming a mile away and I know I’ve got a tough (but loving) audience, who question my dietary needs as it is, they don’t necessarily want to taste them.  I have seen the noses wrinkle, the tongues scrape the inside of their mouths as they try not to let the “yuck” escape from their lips before they have even tried something.  Although, I have built up a bit of credibility. There’s that Chocolate Pumpkin Tart.  I’ve baked this for 3, maybe 4 years in a row.  It is, hands down, the best combination of chocolate and pumpkin I have ever come across.

This year I found something vegan, gluten free and not baked.  I bookmarked it for later, no way was I going to put all three of those in front of my family, I didn’t want to torture them, after all, I wanted them to enjoy this treat.  Vegan and Gluten Free can be enough, but to throw in the no-bake factor?  I continued my search and found Pumpkin Hand Pies, Pumpkin Bars, Chocolate and Almond Butter Fudge, and an apple pie where the apples were shaved into strips, then arranged like roses on top of a pie crust.  Amazing really, but listen, I only had 30 hours until meal time, and I had to work my full time job, go to the grocery store, take care of the kiddo and make 3 other dishes for the big day.  Rose Apple Pie was out.

I went back to the recipe and read it again.  And again.  I didn’t have any shredded coconut.  I had no Xylitol or sugar (yes, it’s true, no sugar in the house, how can I possibly survive?).  I did have coconut oil. And Vegan Chocolate.  And Almonds.

I popped the kiddo in the car early, before I had to start answering the work emails, and we headed to the grocery story, list in hand so I would stick to it.  Shredded coconut.  Ugh, just the sweetened kind.  I put the sugar back on the shelf.  There was a bag of Xylitol, but it was to expensive, and if the coconut was going to be sweet, I didn’t need the sugar.  Bummer, I didn’t want the sweetened kind, and why only one brand?  I scanned the “natural” section again, and bingo, Bob’s Red Mill Shredded Coconut, unsweetened, so I put the bag of sugar back in the cart.  10 minutes later we were back home, and I read the recipe again. I was now fully committed to providing my family with Vegan, Gluten Free and No-Bake treats.

I didn’t get to start my food prep until after dinner, but this was quick, I measured the ingredients, and pushed the Cuisinart to “pulse” and nothing happened. I checked that it was plugged in, and pushed pulse again.  I gulped.  My Cuisinart is almost 14 years old.  I use it often.  I can not survive without it.

I lifted the button to “On”.  Nothing.  I moved the button back to the neutral position, my eyes tears a little, my daughter looking up at me with big eyes.  ”It’s broken Mommy, ” she said,

“No,” I insisted.  I checked the plug again, determined. I moved the bowl in and out of the lock position, I checked the lid.  Everything was as it should be.  ”On” worked.  I exhaled, realizing I had been holding my breath.

Processing the shredded coconut and sugar released a sweet tropical island smell.  It almost smelled like I was at the beach, but then I just got hungry.  I melted the coconut oil, the recipe calls for only 6 tablespoons, I drizzled in the coconut oil and vanilla and finally the salt.  I thought the mixture would ball up, but it didn’t.  I took the lid off and tested the dough, but it fell apart.  The coconut oil needed to harden.  I popped the bowl into the fridge.

I was impatient and two minutes later I was testing the dough again, still not satisfied with amount of crumbling.  I melted more coconut oil, another 6 tablespoons, and ran the Cuisinart again until it was all blended.  I stood back and promised to wait 10 minutes this time and popped the bowl back into the fridge.

I dug around for a small ice cream scoop.  I’m not sure why I even looked for one, I don’t have one.  The melon baller might work, and I grabbed a spoon too, cleaned up my spot on the counter and got ready to roll.

The timer beeped in 10 minutes (I know why that sound sounds the way it does, but it is pretty harsh.) I tested the dough.  Perfect, sort of.  It was still pretty soft and crumbly and I could feel the sugar grains.  But I was out of time, I still had to prep 3 other dishes.

The melon baller didn’t work.  The dough stuck to it and when I tried to pop the formed cookie out, it crumbled.  Clock is ticking.  I tried a spoon, but it was too big.  I grabbed a smaller spoon to scoop, worked perfect for portion control.  I formed the balls gently with my hands and placed them on the cookie sheet.  In a few minutes, I was done.  My hands covered in coconut and sugar.  It smelled so good, I rubbed my fingers together first and realized this was a great exfoliant, I rubbed my hands together before rinsing, not only were my hands amazingly soft, but the coconut lingered on my skin, and I was eager to taste these treats.

The recipe said these would set at room temperature, but with the minutes flying by, I popped them into the fridge while I melted my chocolate and cut up the almonds.  Minutes later, the dough was hard.  They remained on the pan while I drizzled chocolate over each ball, then quickly sprinkled the almond bits, hoping the chocolate would hold them into place.  I put the sheet back into the fridge and cleaned up by sprinkling the rest of the almonds on the melted chocolate and popping a spoonful into my mouth.  I can absolutely assure you that chocolate and almonds do mix.

I cleaned up and moved onto my next dish a Cranberry Salsa (another post), but that was done quickly and jarred for the next day.

As I placed the Coconut Delights into a storage dish, we each ate one.  I can’t possibly describe the taste, these were creamy and sweet, but not too sweet.  They were coconut, but not over-the-top coconut.  I honestly didn’t know how these were going to last through our drive to the peninsula.

But they did.  There was just enough for each person to have one, and since you really only need a bite of a treat (not 30 bites), it was perfect.  I did see Uncle J lick the chocolate and almonds off, he must not like Coconut.  And Cousins M and L, well, they have us all wondering if coconuts have balls.

Coconut Balls

 

You can find the recipe here:  No Bake Coconut Delights

Thankfully, I bought way too much coconut, and since they don’t take long to make,  another batch will be up shortly.

——-

Before the Coconut Balls, we made GF Vegan Sugar Cookies with powdered sugar and coconut “butter” icing.  My first time using powdered sugar for cookies, and they were tasty.  FYI, they don’t change color when they bake, I had to put them back in a few times until they were consistent all the way through.

Sugar Cookies

Where Are You Going To Go?

 


 

Once a year,

 

go somewhere

 

you haven’t been before.

                                                                                                 

I love this quote.  It reminds me of the travel to China I did for my last job, and how every trip took me somewhere new, where I met new people, saw things I couldn’t imagine and ate food, made from things I wouldn’t normally consider food, like pigeon – in NYC, we called them rats with wings. That was hard, especially when the beak bobbed around in my soup.

It also reminds me to find something new to learn each year.  I love research.  It’s not quite the same as doing, traveling or learning something specific, but is does lend itself to expanding my horizons.

So. Where will you go this year?  Will it be out of your town limits? ( I have  cousin who rarely leaves his town, he’s just more comfortable that way.)  Will it be out of your state, your country? (I have another cousin, a few actually, who live abroad in Japan.)  Will it be to the top of a mountain, or the foot of the hills? (I remember when my aunt was planning on climbing Mt. Everest.  She wore her new hiking boots to work to get the required number of miles in them before starting her climb.  This was with her silk blouse and pearls.)

I think about all of these things, and they are all new to each individual, preparing for the experience might be habitual in the way that you prepare (make a list, do the laundry, etc), but you would have never prepared for these things this way.  So that makes that part new too, and it’s not just the destination that’s new, but the journey too.

** I read that this is a quote from the Dalai Lama, then I read it wasn’t.  Happy to give the original author credit if you know who it actually is.

 

Letters to a Young Poet

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The amazing Strand Bookstore in NYC has a Tumblr for objects and notes found in their used books. It is almost as delicious as walking into the Strand itself.  Since I no longer live in NYC, I visit the tumblr site often.  I found this image of the underlined passage, from a book by Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet It makes me want to read the rest of the book.

Oh Onions…. How I Do Love You

Roasting Onions

We usually have onions in some form for every meal.  Red onions, White onions, Sweet, Walla Wallas, Vidalia, shallots, the list goes on, depending on what’s in season, what comes in our CSA box or we grow in the garden.

Onions are an awesome food, with major health benefits like being anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, and antiviral.  They contain great nutrients like vitamin C and calcium among others.

We either eat them raw, roasted (above), caramelized, sauteed or grilled.  They are juicy enough you don’t really need to douse with olive oil, but when not using oil for added flavor, we use it to keep the onions from sticking to the pan or grill.

I roasted this batch of onions and kept them in a jar to add flavor to dishes during the week.  We’ve also taken to adding raw onions to our batches of fermented cabbage, adding a strong, sometimes sweet flavor.  One batch even reminded me of the little cocktail onions my grandfather used to use in his drinks.  (Of course I only ate the ones from the jar, never from Pop Pop’s drink.)

Whenever we’re sick, we make a batch of onion, garlic and ginger soup, it warms you up, clears your sinuses, keeps you hydrated and makes you feel so much better…

Onion, Garlic and Ginger Soup

  • 3 large onions, chopped
  • 3 heads of garlic, peeled and minced
  • large piece of ginger, peeled and minced
  • olive oil
  • vegetable stock (or water)
  • peppercorns (optional)
  • cayenne pepper (optional)

Saute onions in olive oil over medium heat until the onions are translucent.  Add minced garlic and ginger, saute for another minute.  Add peppercorns, a dash of cayenne pepper (to your liking) and vegetable stock and bring to a boil  Reduce heat and cook for 20 minutes.  Serve hot.

Make enough to keep a batch in the freezer for the next time you’re feeling worn out.

 

Overheard from Seat 34B

Clouds Above Clouds Below

I have had my fair share of flights, more than some, a lot less than others I’m sure.  But enough.  I put on my noise cancelling headphones and read, sleep or watch a movie. Shoes are off and I’ve got the pashmina wrapped around me keeping me cozy. But mostly I read.  I find it’s the perfect time to finish three or more books, and I can read start to finish with the only interruption being, “What would you like to drink?”

I brought four books with me, two were in the seat pocket in front of me and the other two were stowed in my luggage overhead, and as usual, the boarding passes were my bookmarks.  One of the airports I was flying through still wasn’t able to manage the mobile boarding passes, so I had plenty of paper with me to help from losing my place if I had to stash my book.

The plane was still boarding as I settled in and opened the book.   Across the row from me were two very large men.  The woman in front of me offered to switch with one of the men, she was much smaller than both of them and it would give both of them more room.

Before taking off, the man in the window seat already had his good book out reading “scriptures”, explaining to his new seatmate, as she had just proclaimed that she was “born again”,  about something that I blocked out. The conversation was loud, Mr. Truck Driver clearly didn’t like women, they had their place and was struggling attempting kindness towards the smaller woman next to him.  The man seated in front of them shook his head, holding it in his hands.  At least I had my headphones on and could focus on the book.

I had just turned to page 12, “Guts“, this is the story that made people pass out during the author’s readings.  It was sickening.  In between pool bottom visuals, I could hear the conversation getting louder.  I shifted in my seat. The story was discomforting and the man’s voice started drilling into my brain behind my left ear, even with the headphones on.

They were discussing their religious experiences when I heard clearly, “I took him behind my truck and laid my hands on him.  I told him that the evil would be gone, I prayed with him.  They thought he had meningitis, but when he went back to the doctors, they found no trace of it, just some bad headaches.  He believed in me that day behind the truck, and I healed him.”

The woman was speechless.  The peanut gallery in the row in front of them were giggling, maybe at Mr.  Truck Driver, maybe at the woman for believing him.

He kept quoting from the book and a  few passages later, Mr Truck Driver tells Ms. Calico Skirt, “Adam did it all wrong.  He should have been the one to give Eve the apple, not the other way around.  That woman ruined him, and he knew better.”  I tried to just listen and let it go, but I couldn’t help wondering about this man’s vision of women.  I wondered too what his seat mate thought.  I tried to look over without staring, Ms. Calico Skirt was nodding away.

I was finally able to let the conversation dissolve around me and I got lost in all 23 characters of Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk.  I was uncomfortable, the stories are disturbing. And gross.  I couldn’t put the book down. I certainly wasn’t hungry on this flight. When I would pause in between stories, I could hear Mr. Truck Driver’s voice, and when he would take a breath, Ms. Calico would ask a question that would just keep him going.

I looked at the cover of Haunted and smiled, wondering what Mr. Truck Driver and Ms. Calico Skirt would think about this book, about me reading it, would I burn in hell?  Could I be saved?

My smile grew.  Thank you very much Mr. Palahniuk.

 

 

 

 

What I Like to Have for Breakfast :: Or How We Spend Our Mornings

It was 6:43 and the sweet Izonator had awoken.  We’d been awake for an hour or so already.  My husband blames me for our daughter’s early rising habit.  Apparently, I was not an early morning sleeper when I was pregnant, up and eating or pacing or reading at 4am.  I must have blocked it all out, I don’t really remember that. Hormones.

6:43 is relatively late for her.  When she was a mere 18mos, she was up at 4:30am. Regularly.  And I don’t mean as in, let’s snuggle mom, I mean jumping up and down TIME TO PLAY NOW!!!  I like to think she’s sleeping in these days.

I have to say that we do rise quite early, a sneeze usually lets everyone in the house know I’m awake.  Yes, I sneeze, it’s my internal alarm clock.

On this particular morning, we were up for a while, still in bed, talking and I was on my 2nd green tea refill in my signature Z mug by the time snuggler thumped out of the top bunk, turned off her noise machine and shuffled into our room, climbing into my husband’s side of the bed.  She blinked and smiled, pulling the covers up over her lap, scooting closer to me.  I put my arm around her and pulled her closer. Love bug.  She had Kitty and her Junie B. Jones book about Handsome Warren with her.  I know she slept with Kitty, but the books are the things she tends to grab on her way in.

I love books. There are a few stacks bedside and a few shelves full in the other room. I like to read them, flip through them, have them close.  She loves books too and I love that they are usually the first thing she thinks of when she wakes up, and they are the last thing she has before she goes to bed.  But since she slept in and it was almost time for me to start getting ready for my work day, I didn’t have time to read to her.  That’s ok Mom, I can read to myself.

Heart exploded and sank at the same time.  How awesome! She can do it herself! But that’s what we do together!!  Ugh, there are times when I think I’m ready to let her do her own thing (I want her to, I really, truly do with all my heart), and my first reaction is heart bursting love for my girl, I smile, and inside I think NOOOOOOO  we do that T O G E T H E R.  So now we all sit together and read silently together after dinner / before bed. I’m totally ok with that.

Anyway, I remember looking at the clock when I heard her pop down from her bunk bed.  6:43.  It all seems so clear.  I looked at my husband, smiling at me, sipping his coffee. I felt completely, awesomely happy.

After my shower, I came out to this:

What I lLike For Breakfast

A beautiful breakfast rice bowl.  I’ve been on a hypo-allergenic food cleanse thingy.  I feel awesome.  My wonderfully considerate husband completely takes care of me and made me this for breakfast.

I love rice bowls.  I never really thought about them until I had been in China so much and realized that I ate rice for breakfast every morning (lunch and dinner too…. go figure).

Here’s how he made the rice bowl in the photo

Hypo-Allergenic Vegan Gluten Free Rice Bowl (can you say YAHOO!!!)

  • Rice from night before (you can make it in the morning if you want to and have time)
  • Almond Milk
  • Avocado
  • Ground Flax Seed
  • Grated Fresh Ginger
  • Chopped Nuts

Pour almond milk over rice in a small pan, heat up until warm and moist. You may have to add more almond milk, the rice is thirsty.  When it’s hot enough pour into a bowl, add more milk to your liking, I like mine soupy.  Add Avocado and Ground Flax Seed and the Grated Fresh Ginger and Chopped Nuts.

You can do this with anything you love.  Other greens, other veggies, any legume, add a dash of cinnamon.

Our mornings are pretty spectacular, amazing conversations, cuddles and good food.  We love starting our days this way.