Journal writers: Beware the rut!

Image by PicsbyFran from Pixabay
Stephan Pastis, creator of the Pearls Before Swine comic strip, explores the dilemma of journal writers.
And if you think you’re in a writer’s rut, check out this post by K.M. Weiland:
8 Signs You’re Stuck in a Writing Rut—and Why You Should Care
Some favorite points from her 2011 post:
— “And where stagnation lives, art dies.”
— “Challenge yourself to tell each story differently.”
— “Thanks to laziness and fear—and often obliviousness—it’s much too easy to fall into comfortable patterns…”
For those readers/writers in the U.S., have a Happy [though possibly disjointed and untraditional] Thanksgiving.
Any readers/writers from Canada? How was your October 12 celebration…complete with fall colors, right?

A bad time for writers ;->

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Stephan Pastis, creator of the Pearls Before Swine comic strip, captures the current dilemma of ‘a few’ writers out there…

Have a great weekend…and go outside. ;->

And if you’re bored with what you’re writing–check out this three-minute read from Susan Mary Malone.

I should be writing.. Instead, apple crisp…and apple cake.

This off-kilter shot is all about featuring our beloved former dog Bear’s watchful eye.

I really had no choice.

It’s officially apple season and the golden delicious tree is burgeoning.

So, last Sunday I slapped together an apple crisp sans recipe, though my trusty assistant in culinary crimes–my wife and herder of Buddy the Rescue Dog–pulled up an Epicurious recipe for a crust topping as a guide. For the filling, I just knew what ingredients I wanted and went from there.

Result: a caramelly ooze —gee, go figure, when the cook indiscriminately tosses in plenty of brown sugar and enough flour…well, there were the sweet cherries and their juice, and the chunks of golden delicioius–well, you get the picture… and the crust was as good as the apple-goo. 

Autumn…I love you.**

***

A few days later, within hours of finishing the crisp, and with plenty of Act of Kindness Writing chores I could/should be dealing with, it was time for an apple cake…or, as the recipe calls it, a ‘moist’ apple cake.

On its own, this is a ‘will bake again’ item. As always, though, I did stray ‘just a bit’…

  • I added allspice to both the apple mixture and the flour mixture.
  • When it comes to cinnamon, I just don’t get the low doses in most recipes. Can’t remember the last time I actually measured cinnamon.
  • I added rehydrated Craisins.
  • I made my own ‘apple sauce’. I just mashed away at, and then seasoned, chunks of golden delicious with the pastry cutter. And mashed away some more.
  • Figuring on a more moist result, I used a loaf pan instead of a 9” x 13” pan.
  • Fearing there might be spillover, I scooped out about a cup of the mixture and slathered that into a greased pie pan. Gotta say, when revisiting this recipe, I’ll be tempted to go exclusively with pie pans. It’s a quicker bake and four smaller cakes open the door to more experimentation, say a little creme de cassis reduction for one of them…and Ree Drummond’s Easy Caramel Sauce for another. Come to think of it…I guess it wouldn’t hurt to have those on hand for slices of this current version…

The problem with a spillover cake is its insistence on immediate measures for quality control.
Buddy anxiously awaiting ‘his’ afternoon coffee time.
He fully approves of fall flavors.

**“No, deeeear! I don’t know anyone named Autumn!”

I should be writing. Instead, drifting…toward chocolate cake.

  1. Raise your hand if:
  • you’ve ever left a measuring cup in the bag of flour or sugar.
  • you’ve intentionally left a measuring cup in the bag of flour or sugar for the next baking venture.
  • you skipped the ‘firmly pack the brown sugar’ step and instead just poured in an extra tablespoon or two of the stuff.
  • you would consider breaking off a hunk of this cake rather than resorting to a [pinkies up!] utensil. Recipe below…Note: Feel free to overdo both the chocolate chips and the cocoa.

2. Best way to get rid of the redolent odor of wildfire smoke in your kitchen? Four batches of roasted tomatoes, with generous supplies of garlic chunks, rosemary sprigs, etc. [It ain’t pretty here in Oregon right now…]

3. And then there’s this: Do you think dogs lying peacefully on the floor know the difference between our giving them half our attention [one hand scratching their chin and one hand clicking links or entering a passcode] vs. our full attention? Do we send out a ‘semi-distracted’ vibe when we are, in fact, semi-distracted?

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

**

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

**

  • 2 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 4 TBLSP cocoa

**

  • 3 six-inch long zucchini
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Cream first four ingredients together in large bowl.
  2. Add next three ingredients and stir well to mix.
  3. Measure next six ingredients into sifter; then sift into bowl of other ingredients.
  4. Finely grate zucchini into bowl; stir until blended. 
  5. Fold in half of the chocolate chips to mixture.
  6. Pour into greased 9″ x 13″ pan –or- two 9″ cake pans.
  7. Sprinkle rest of chocolate chips on top of batter.
  8. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. [Check it about the 37-minute mark. Hey, different ovens, right?]

*Cutting the oil in half barely changes the final result.

The power of warming up

So, here is a warmup for my discussion of ‘warmup’.

It’s a quick brain dump [not my favorite term, by the way] to get some ideas rolling.

It might be a typed list, since I’m currently [obviously] on my laptop, but it might evolve into a mind map in my codex.

But it’s something that gives me a starting point and it dodges the ol’ blank white paper/blank idea-less mind syndrome.

Warmup

Get ideas flowing

Don’t stop yourself. Don’t edit yourself. 

Get some momentum. It can help you achieve flow. 

Sometimes it takes a few minutes, 50 or more words, but it is rarely a waste of time. 

It often clears your mind of other distractions. 

It reminds you that you have ‘shown up for work’, so that’s a reward in itself.

It just hit me that ‘warmup’ is such a nebulous unclear term that writing about it can be a little dry, but I’m forging ahead.

It loosens your muscles and it reminds you that, by warming up, you are striking out against ‘perfectionism’, so that’s another reward.

This is a practice that yields plenty of benefits and I think it’s worth making it a ‘habit’, one that shakes the cobwebs out of your brain. Right now, I feel like sketching two brains…one filled with cobwebs and then one—after warming up—with just a few wisps of cobweb.

I’m still going on this warmup about warmups. This is almost getting weird, isn’t it?

As I write this, I’m starting to get a vision of what an ideal warmup session might look like. It might well include a fresh cup of coffee and both analog and digital tools nearby. I wouldn’t want to be cooped up in a windowless room. And I would want some creativity books [a future post] nearby if I do get stuck. And I might even make a poster with some warmup criteria and prompts listed to keep me on track. Yeah, I like this. And I wouldn’t have reached that poster idea unless I had reached that ‘ideal warmup session’ idea, which had resulted from the previous 250 words. 

Wow…what a warmup session on ‘a discussion of warmups’.


Have a safe 4th of July weekend, everybody.

Finally! A completed writing project!

Just click the book cover for a preview.

What are the best parts of this book being on the Amazon shelf?

  1. I finished a project!
  2. There’s nothing like seeing my book available publicly…to spotlight glaring necessary fixes.
  3. Offshoot projects resulted from this one.
  4. I have more time to create my mini-course on ‘acts of kindness’ writing.

I should have been writing. Instead, a kitchen marathon

This is me…except he is smiling, has tons more hair, and his kitchen is clean. [Oh, yeah, I don’t wear that dorky hat. It would fall into the Instant Pot anyway.]

So, back to procrasticooking... Result: 35 new recipes in 30 days. Note: A few sites were repeated. Hard not to fall back on epicurious.com.

Discoveries:

1. I’m not sure I followed any of the recipes to their exact specifications. More and more, I’ve been treating recipes as general guidelines rather than strict instructions.

2. I ‘created’ a few of my own — simple ones where I combined new ingredients/seasonings. Example: Avocado oil-roasted potatoes with a favorite Moroccan spice mix, ras-el-hanout.

3. New cooking questions arose in that vast abyss otherwise labeled ‘my brain’, like…if I oil the veggies before seasoning them for roasting, will the oil serve as a barrier to absorption and reduce the flavors? And no, I stillhaven’t looked it up. Sometimes, you just want a mystery to linger.

4. Oh, lord, some of those recipe sites take *forever* to load up all the ads and videos. I know these folks want to make a little money, but I had no problem just closing them up and looking for faster-loading alternatives.

5. Despite the physical separation from my writing tools and settings, I did get some good prewriting and first draft material churning as I cleaned up afterwards.

6. Speaking of clean-up, yep, even with my wife doing her part, dishes and counter mess were the bane of my existence. I even took a couple of days off in mid-challenge just to dodge the scrub-and-soak-rinse-and-repeat detail. Plus, the horrors of dishwater hands…

7. Some utensils, pots, and dishes never really made it back to the cupboards. They were used, washed, air-dried or towel-dried, and put back to work.

8. Based on my ratings below…well, I’m easy to cook for.

9. Even after the challenge, I can’t seem to stop cooking new stuff. Just yesterday, on a whim, I baked a mango pound cake from Pati Jinich and made my version of Mexican street corn grits . Someone! Please stop the madness.

10. There was an added challenge this year…My gastronomically-devoted ‘shoo! chef’, Buddy.

black dog looking up at the counter

Passing through the work area, my wife would step around our furry child and mutter, “not quite a certified kitchen, I see.”


Here are my first five recipes with a few added comments, a letter grade, and a ‘Yes’ [would repeat this recipe] or ‘No’. Note: The letter grade is just as much a comment on how well I delivered as a cook as it is on whether I liked the recipe itself.

  • Bear Batter Bread by way of New Tastes from Texas by Stephan Pyles. B+ — Yes.
  • Slow-Cooked Garlicky Greens by way of Bon Appetit. A — -Yes.
  • Three Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies
  • Added dried cranberries and some almond flour to give them a little structure. In four of them, I added generous dabs of cold-hardened chocolate sauce. Result: Downright ugly, but cooked just right and resembling florentines. A- — Yes.
  • Savory cheese pancakes with half almond flour and half all purpose flour and the rest of the traditional pancake ingredients. I liked the nuttiness of the batter and the Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute. B+ — Yes.
  • Southern Fried Cabbage B+ — Yes

Links to procrasticooking:

https://www.instagram.com/procrasticooking/?hl=en

https://procrasticooking.wordpress.com

http://www.bakingequalslove.com/2014/10/procrasticooking-grilled-paneer.html

I should be writing. Instead, 30 recipes in 30 days

My first recipe from 11 days ago…Thank you, Epicurious.

So, yes, much like the summer of 2010 when I was laid up after Achilles tendon repair, I, like millions of others, am experiencing ‘restricted routines’. Hey, gotta do the right thing for others, including our front-liners. No complaints here.

And, as in 2010, it’s freed me up for another round of…

“30 New Recipes from 30 Sources in 30 Days”
Subtitle: “Without Gaining 30 Pounds”

Today’s entry, from Mom on Timeout: Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast

Okay, now this is weird. I’m revisiting the recipe and son of a gun if I forgot the eggs!

But it’s three hours after breakfast and it just hit me! 

This recipe’s batter called for a quarter cup of flour, which is not something I’ve used in the past, and evidently, that supplied enough substance and adherence qualities [‘stickiness’ is really the better word] that I didn’t notice the lack of eggs. Weird.

Probability: You throw in enough of the good inner stuff, you don’t notice shortcomings. Case in point: I’m not proud of its appearance–I can tell you, the wrestling match just to get this on the tray was not a pretty sight–but this stromboli-saurus recipe earned a ‘repeat visit’ award.

My apologies to Lauren’s Latest…her final product was much more pleasing to the eye.
‘Ugly Delicious’ folks: are you reading this?

Speaking of ‘inner stuff’, there was no reason to stop at peanut butter, so I pulled out black cherry preserves and a thick blueberry sauce that accompanied the flourless chocolate cake I’d made four days prior.

Half the fun of ‘following’ recipes is taking the detours. [Thank god there isn’t a Siri or Google Maps in the culinary world. That digital chorus would be endlessly yammering at me. “No, you nimrod, don’t double the cheese!”]

My final detour at breakfast: “Well, there’s still batter left…I wonder if I tossed in a wad of brown sugar and a glop of the blueberry sauce and then soaked the bread…”

Yep, I’d do it again. And maybe next time, a little creme de cassis or brandy wouldn’t hurt.

And speaking of detours…do this: While you’re eating, close your eyes. My experience: The food’s taste is ramped up. [Drawback, so is the sound of your chewing and chomping.] It seems to follow the truism that taking away one sense heightens the others.

So, what does all this have to do with writing? Experimentation in writing, as in cooking, can be a pleasant little kick in the seat of the pants.

Fellow writers and cooks: Go pave a new path. Have fun. 

An eye-for-details activity

Image by Marielou Lolilop from Pixabay 

I’m working on a mini-course, so I’ll be posting some of the activities here.

The activities are intended for a range of writers, though seasoned veterans may not be interested. Again, I’ll be using this site to park some of my works.

Here is the short, non-narrated activity.