Overwhelmed at the thought of writing?

Fast Company’s Art Markman has four suggestions:

  1. Break it down

  2. Make an outline

  3. Just get something down

  4. Write for five more minutes


If the list doesn’t tell you enough [and it doesn’t], here is the fleshed out version.

And I would add another suggestion.

Bake…[no, it doesn’t necessarily help you generate a bestseller, but it’s great for an afternoon coffee and who knows, the caramel experiment might just pay off in a fun blog post.]

two banana breads side-by-side
I added an amaretto caramel to the banana bread on the left. I added an Irish cream caramel to the banana bread on the right.

Not writing? I’ll blame anybody.

I directed one of my morning pages blaming others for my not writing.

Sooo satisfying…

For starters, I blamed Hilary Mantel, who said,

“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie exclamations

, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.” [The Guardian, 25 February 2010]

One small segment of her message seemed to resonate…

I repeat…all her fault.

And I blame Trader Joe’s who is selling organic strawberries for $2.50 a pound. Let’s face it, most of those gorgeous ones in the supermarket have very little flavor and considering they are one of the dirty dozen, well, that doesn’t help in the ‘appeal’ category.

But back to my relentless search for scapegoats…let’s see…yes! Sam Merritt’s to blame for serving up this winning recipe for strawberry cream cheese pie.

strawberry cream pie with dog lying nearby
Always good to have a member of the quality control team nearby

My only complaint: “Return to refrigerator and allow to set at least 4 hours (preferably overnight) before slicing and serving.”

Okay, in what world do people actually wait that long?

 

Rants and Riffs: Installment #4–Tips for failure

So, here I am and I am clearly in need of a new look for drafts in MacJournal…

There—that’s better. Charter Roman…I like it.

Giving in to meaningless font-focused distractions prompts me to share a few more tips on how to fail at this writing thing.

1. Have a dog. For a less-fettered path to failure, get one with a clear opinion of his superiority over any digital device.

dog with chin resting on iPad mini

2. Live in a locale with great weather. That sun just pulls me away, with each wavelength of radiant flux** reminding me that: A. I need vitamin D B. camping out in front of a screen is a waste of valuable daylight.

3. Own a DVR. But if you ARE going to sit in front of a screen and waste valuable daylight, you might as well be catching up on [insert favorite cable series here].

4. Keep your most valuable insights and creations on a plethora of notebooks scattered throughout the universe.

These aren't strewn throughout the house, but you get the idea.
piles of notebooks

5. Nurture a lifelong interest in sports. [Diabolical ESPN.com opens on its own, I swear.] Checking for croquet updates is thus inevitable, followed by an all-too-convenient point-and-click side trip to your favorite croqueter’s profile.

**Another tip for failure: Find it imperative to research how sunlight is measure.

Rants and Riffs: Installment #3

cinnamon roll
This one stands on its own, but a thick layer of vanilla/cream cheese frosting wouldn’t hurt.

Today’s topic: Cinnamon rolls.

Come on folks, if there isn’t a roiling ooze of brown sugar, melted butter, and cinnamon the second the knife presses into the roll, it ain’t a cinnamon roll.

Want one with frosting? How about powdered sugar/cream cheese mortar? Something that requires the slathering skills of a professional mason. And yes, paying the guy’s union rate is worth it.

My cardiologist awaits…

I should be writing. Instead…orange marmalade cake.

Orange marmalade cake
My wife added orange marmalade on top after the photo was taken.
Here also is one of the three bambinos.

Orange Marmalade Cake Recipe

On Super Bowl Sunday, as I watched, paused, watched, rewound, paused…well, you get the idea…the game, I took on this new recipe.

Thanks to Virginia for the inspiration to bake this O.M.C. She had blogged about this once-a-year cake a few years back.

It’s so big–needs five whole eggs and four egg yolks–that I have to abbreviate the name. [Shape Shifters Fitness Trainer–avert your eyes.]

A few broken rules:

  1. I would double the syrup and poke even more toothpick holes into the baked cake.
  2. I didn’t go three layers high. Reason? I didn’t have three round cake pans.
    Instead, I went with a two-layer rectangular cake with leftover batter for three mini-cakes. I actually preferred this approach so I could experiment with other accompaniments for the bambinos. [My favorite: key lime marmalade mixed with sour cream as a ‘dip’.]

Anyway, I enjoyed the result. [Thanks again, Virginia!] And so did my work colleagues the next day. [Plenty for them and for us at home.]

Drawback: I didn’t enjoy the way the first part of the recipe was written.

Excerpt: Cake: Sift flour, baking powder, & salt twice in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat butter on MEDIUM (~4 minutes). Add sugar steadily with mixer running; beat until light & fluffy. Add eggs & yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition; scrape down sides at least once. After eggs are added, continue to beat on MEDIUM for 2 minutes; add oil & beat for 1 minute on LOW. In a third bowl, combine orange zest, vanilla, & buttermilk. Using a rubber spatula, fold in half of dry ingredients. [This is where confusion set in. Based on these instructions, wouldn’t you fold half of the dry ingredients into the bowl of the zest, vanilla, and buttermilk?]

If I rewrote this, I would have gone with:

Set up three bowls for the varied ingredients.

  1. The largest bowl for the butter, sugar, eggs, and oil. You will be adding the rest of the ingredients here.
  2. A bowl large enough for 3+ cups of sifted dry ingredients.
  3. A bowl large enough for the orange zest, a cup of buttermilk, and the vanilla.

I valiantly rose above the confusing instructions because, well, we’re talkin’ dessert here.

Give it a try.

Gooooood stuff!

A Day in the Life…kind of.

hourglass day in the life

So I went to my inbox and there sat my assignment for the day.

That obsessive JG had left more work for me: Take your readers through a day in your life.

I started to nod off just thinking of the topic, but I knew if I didn’t get this done, I wouldn’t get that bonus check awaiting me. [Luckily, a previous assignment nudged us to lie to our readers so there may well be some carryover here. I have retained Siri as my official timekeeper. Such a loyal and efficient assistant. She told me I had surpassed my time allotment. I plowed through, though, as that just means a bigger cash bonus at the end of January.]

So, let’s get on with it. [I just noticed that’s the second time I started a sentence with ‘so’. The madness has to stop.]

First of all, I watched no football yesterday, thanks to this writing challenge. Oh, sure it’s not like I wrote all day, but I have to blame someone and the faceless JG might as well take the blame.

I used part of my morning finishing my highly-acclaimed project piece from the day before–a classic Q and A with some of my most avid readers–Ward, June, and The Beav from Mayfield, Colorado.  I set them straight on some of the ills of the National Basketball Association. I’m certain my pithy answers made their day just that much more memorable.

I baked a pumpkin [Okay, okay, it was sunshine squash] quick bread with a molasses, brown sugar, and cinnamon swirl and had to hurry through the follow-up photos and notes, as Cook’s Illustrated was hounding me for any and all documentation of the venture. These imaginary editors can be such divas…

I posted the experience on my wordinventions.blog site. [And yes, I am using a .blog address and yes, that suggests I am a lowly hack, but hey! I’m powering down an overly rich quick bread with coffee and you’re not!]

Next, I opened the local newspaper to an interesting article about the community college’s graduation ceremony of June 17. Full page, nice photos of grads, really special. Made unspecial, however, by the fact that it is now six months after the event. This proved one thing: My detractors, enemies, rivals, and other assorted scoundrels with nothing better to do have teamed up to tease at my last remaining shred of sanity.

I can just hear these lowlifes: “Let’s make him wonder if he’s in some kind of time warp and maybe he’ll just drift away to either six months prior or six months ahead.”

“Yeah, boss! That’s a good idea, boss. What’s a time warp?”

Yes, my day was shaken a bit. I reached for the quick bread and broke off a hunk. [Note to readers: always eat your cakes and quick breads in hunks. Check any utensils at the door. It tastes 3.4 times better.]

With sanity restored, I launched into some vital Web research: I need a coffee grinder that doesn’t result in a layer of black dust strewn across the kitchen counter. Vital, I tell you. Seems Krups might be my answer. And no, don’t accuse me of product placement.

It was time for errands around town. Still fraught with anxiety over my coffee grinder issues, I needed a shot of calm and equanimity. [And yes, I need to work on verbal redundancy and…here I go again,… superfluousness. Honest, folks, that is the first time in my life I have ever used that word. Thrilled that dictionary.com is letting it slide.]

Anyway, for faith-restoring dose of goodness, I headed to a U.S. Postal Service subsidiary at, where else but a swimming pool and barbecue supply store. Yes, you read that right. We’re a quaint town, we are.

And sure enough, plopped on the floor was Max, Golden Retriever and resident one-dog greeting committee/customer relations wizard. [Not his real name. He prefers a lower social media profile.]

Energized by some good-natured tailwags and wrist licks, I headed for Office Depot to look into creating dog-themed address labels for a colleague.

Mission accomplished: I printed out about a hundred with a photo of a Yellow Lab–50  with the words, “Can I have a dog as my life coach?’ and 50 with a quote from Robert Falcon Scott:  ‘The dog lives for the day, the hour, even the moment.’

We later met friends for dinner at Laughing Planet. Felt good to team with D and C to contribute to the place’s claim of ‘laughter’. My wife and I did the usual mid-meal plate switch, as she wanted a taste of the Santa Fe Bowl and I was ready for some of the Highway to Kale she usually orders.

We four teamed up to solve pretty much every woe of the world, except for this writing challenge’s damnable creator who will, no doubt, have another assignment awaiting me in my inbox tomorrow.

I should be writing. Instead…a quick bread.

IMG_2035

CHOCOLATE CHIP KABOCHA BREAD

http://dishingupthedirt.com/recipes/chocolate-chip-kabocha-bread-recipes/

The moist center is from the ‘swirl’ ingredients.

  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

But I skipped the chocolate chips in the swirl and added some molasses. [My wife is having the lawyer draw up the divorce papers as I write this.] I also added dried cranberries.

Notes:

  • The bread looks a little flat. Rationalization: I like ‘dense’. She suggested that I use more leavener. I actually [this time] followed the recipe and added the suggested amount of baking powder. I wonder if I added too much–Bridget Lancaster of American’s Test Kitchen once warned against overdoing it because the result might be a welcome rise…followed by an unwelcome slump. Shrug. Hand me another piece of the bread. The coffee’s ready.
  • Amazing how much post-baking cleanup can be accomplished when you set the timer for five minutes.
  • Siri loves a good countdown.

IMG_2030

 

I should be writing. Instead…Jillicious Bakery

Jillicious 2Jillicious 1

in Philomath, Oregon.

We are savoring Jill’s presence here, as she is looking to sell!

She loves baking [as the photos suggest], but she’s looking for a change in routine. Can’t fault her there.

Her berry scones had already sold out, but there were plenty of other choices, including the unphotographed chocolate decadence cake [it’s like eating a candy bar with a fork] and additional trays of cupcakes.

But for now, if you know of anybody with comparable personality and baking skills, let them know of this site’s availability.

I’ll even volunteer to be an official taster.