about bliss

Thursday, July 30, 2009

daily bliss: summer salads

There comes a moment in summer when there are almost too many fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Each meal becomes a true omnivore's dilemma--whatever will I eat this time?

There also comes a moment in summer when temperatures rise and the desire to turn on the oven or stovetop decreases. (note: a chilly midwestern summer means *these* moments are rare, but i pretend, out of a perverse desire for a hot, humid summer. must be all those years spent living south of the mason-dixon line).

At these moments, your best friend is a summer salad, crafted out of the freshest ingredients, and arranged in endless iterations. My go-to food reference, Mark Bittman, just posted a list of 101 salads on the NY Times website last week, and he's the inspiration behind this post.

Here are two of the many salads I've been making lately.

Nicoise inspired Salad

boiled new potatoes
steamed green beans
chickpeas/garbanzo beans
lemon juice
olive oil
basil (italian and thai)

This vegan salad is tasty and adaptable. Some kind of potato and bean is essential, as is the lemon and olive oil dressing. A traditional Salad Nicoise also contains hard boiled eggs and tuna, neither of which I like.

Trattoria Stella inspired Salad

Trattoria Stella is a gem of a restaurant, tucked into a former mental hospital in Traverse City, Michigan. (the buildings are gorgeous, with a touch of the gothic. the whole "campus" has been transformed into upscale housing, restaurants, and shops).

Two summers ago I enjoyed a salad of butterhead lettuce, sweet cherries, and goat cheese that was transcendent. I had just started eating sweet cherries, and this salad was a revelation.

My version is built around some of my favorite ingredients.

local lettuces (whatever is available, from butterhead to spring greens to heirloom iceberg)
toasted pecans (don't skip the toasting--it adds the perfect level of complexity)
sweet cherries (halved and pitted)
bellavitano cheese (an amazing wisconsin cheese, a fruity parmesan style that crumbles)
balsamic vinaigrette (olive oil + aged balsamic vinegar)
maldon salt
black pepper

Imagine a lunch with *both* of these salads and a little wedge of bread, and you'll have my staple lunch this week. Yumm. Next week I'll try some new combinations...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

daily bliss: pink paper + fabric folders

Yesterday I stopped in OfficeMax to buy my requisite ream of pink paper. Yes, I use pink paper at home. It's just so...pretty. And cheerful! Whether I'm printing out really boring things, like academic calendars (boo!) or mapquest directions for a fun road trip (yay!), the pink paper is a nice touch.

I had a little chat with myself before entering OfficeMax, a la Stephen Colbert's formidable opponent bit:

"It's not time for school supplies yet."

"But see the sign? They already have them on special!"

"It's not even August yet! Don't do it."


"Okay, you can look at pens and folders. That's all."

I picked up my paper, and sauntered over to the folders, when one solicitous OfficeMax worker, complete with headset, approached me: "Do you need help finding anything, young woman?"

Young Woman?


Oh, the temptation to say "I need some school supplies for college, yo." (which would be true. he doesn't need to know that i'm a *professor* and not a student, right?!?)

But I didn't.

He walked away and I looked longingly at folders and binders in shiny pinks and greens. Then I saw a fabric covered binder that looked familiar.

Glee! Delight! Squeeeeee!

The folder was covered in a fashionista Parisian fabric, a fabric I fell in love with a few years ago, and commissioned my Mom to make me a few throw pillows with. The folder claimed to be 100% ecofriendly and was also made in the USA. With a quick glance at the price tag (ahem!), I lovingly scooped it up.

Carolyn asked for photos of my finds, so here they are. I don't usually keep reams of paper and folders in my bedroom, but I had to take a shot with the matching pillows.

And, last night, talking to G, I decided what to do with my new folder. It will be my new journal. I hole-punched some of the new pink paper and added it to the folder. This will be a great journal to play around with and do some more creative things like collaging and drawing and adding other bits of goodness other than just the random musings of my mind. Yay!

twd: vanilla ice cream + fresh blueberry pie

I've gone missing from TWD the past few weeks and have dearly missed the baking camaraderie! I'm back this week, with Dorie's delicious version of vanilla ice cream, chosen by Lynne, of Cafe LynnyLu.

I've mentioned that custard freaks me out. Visions of scrambled eggy bits floating around ice cream or pudding just terrify me. And so, yesterday, with much trepidation and deep yogic breaths, I faced my demon. And, you know what? I don't know what the big deal was. The custard was simple to make. I remembered reading a tweet from one of the TWD crew that explained the consistency of a properly cooked custard, and how it is only slightly thickened, which was immensely helpful. Without this little bit of wisdom in my head, I likely would've overcooked the hell out of the custard, and had more than scrambled bits.

I made a pint, and used the last chunk of vanilla bean in my baking stash drawer, as well as some vanilla extract. I used 1% Organic Valley milk and heavy cream. I chilled the custard for several hours, and started up the LOUD ice cream machine last night, sequestering myself in my bedroom with the door closed in order to carry on a phone conversation. Except I had to keep checking the ice cream, tasting it part way through the process. You know, to make sure it was okay.

And, oh, this ice cream is wonderful, with a voluptuousness that Philadelphia ice creams just can't match. Think Marilyn versus Audrey. Both are fabulous in different ways. Most of the time I'm more of an Audrey girl myself, but sometimes, you want a little Marilyn to push you over the edge.

Last week my Mom visited for a few days, and we had great fun browsing at greenspace galleries and vintage shops. She brought me three big bags of blueberries, the first of the season, fresh from our farm. I'm still not accustomed to eating blueberries plain out of hand, but I love, love a fresh blueberry pie. It's my Dad's favorite pie, and he used to have most of the pie to himself as he and my Mom were the only ones who liked it. My brother L and I were too scarred by all of our childhood farm labor to partake (just kidding--the farm days were mostly fun. dirty. hot. seemingly endless. but fun. and profitable). Now, L and I not only love the pie, we make it ourselves at our respective homes.

The fresh blueberry pie really allows the floral overtones of the berries to shine through. And just think of the antioxidant rush eating a slice of this pie will provide!

Fresh Blueberry Pie
from my Mom, K

one 9 inch pie crust, baked to a golden brown (i make an all-butter pie crust)
3/4 c. sugar
3 T cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c. water
4 c. blueberries, divided
1 T lemon juice
whipped cream or ice cream

Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan. Add water and two cups of blueberries. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil and is thickened. The berries will turn into a jam like consistency, and it will be clear and thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Once it is cooled, add the remaining blueberries and stir. I sometimes add extra berries if the ratio of fresh berries to cooked looks off. Place the mixture in the pie crust and allow to chill in the refrigerator. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, and think of those dedicated souls who hand picked those berries with love:)

Monday, July 27, 2009

daily bliss: two years

Two years ago today I slept, for the first time, in my new apartment, where I would start to build a life for myself here, on the other side of the lake from where I grew up. I remember, not that night, but those few days of packing, loading trucks, saying goodbye, driving through michigan indiana illinois and half of wisconsin to get here, saying hello, unpacking, saying goodbye, feeling that elemental loneliness one feels when one's a stranger in a seemingly strange land, one in which the natives wear green and gold and report on any and every peregrination of one brett favre (before he disgraced the pack. oh, wait, they *still* report on him daily...).

Fall 2006
But the story begins a little earlier, say, back in the fall of 2006. Back when one ever-increasingly jaded academic declares to her journals and people she trusts implicitly, that if she doesn't land a tenure track job that year, she will walk away. She will move to Traverse City and become a barista. Or attend culinary school. Or live out of her G6/the family hunting cabin. She will not take the rejection and doom one day longer.

After sending out scads of job letters, including quite a few to public and private schools in Wisconsin, she waits. She hears from one Georgia school that wants to interview her at the MLA convention in Philadelphia. She waits. On December 11 she receives a call from one Wisconsin school, wondering if she is still interested in the job, if she knew what it would entail, and so on.

"Yes, yes, I'm interested!" She gushes. Later, she revisits the job description and school website. A good location, an innovative approach. The job she thought she wanted? Not so much. But she is interested.

She waits. A week. No word back from the school in WI. She starts to do that doubty thing. "What did I do wrong? Why aren't they calling?" (she realizes that this conversation with herself nearly perfectly mirrors the conversations that have taken place during her limited dating experiences). She starts making rationalizations, but her heart sinks as she thinks they've gone another way.

She makes a cake for her best friend H's baby shower, and when she's tipping the cakes out of the pans, she sees the name of the town where the school is located pressed into the pan. Serendipity?

A few days later the call comes. They *are* still interested. She's making chocolate babka, drinking an Oregon pinot noir, and eating thick soup with her old college roommate N, and she races for a pen and paper to write down the details. She dances around her tiny kitchen and pours another glass of wine.

January 28, 2007
A ridiculously cold day. She boards the Amtrak in EL, headed for MKE, where she'll drive a rental car to the town where the campus is located. The day is frigid, hovering at or below zero, the sky crystalline blue, the ground barely covered with a skiff of snow. She pulls into town and curves around the lake, looking for her hotel, and for somewhere to eat dinner that night. Everywhere looks closed. She orders pizza and settles in with her notecards and folder of research to practice for the next day.

January 29, 2007
She dresses rather conservatively in her back Ann Taylor pantsuit, a white ruffled blouse, a green cashmere vest. She winds her long hair into a bun and slips on her low heeled black heels. In the lobby, she meets M and B. (B, who will become her bff and co-conspirator of silliness).

The day is grueling--a series of interviews and chats, presentations and happy hours, tours and meals. She's shocked by the smallness of it all--the school, the town. But she's utterly blown away by the kind genuineness of the faculty and staff. She stands outside of the hotel, freezing and exhausted, as C gives her a hug and asks, "Can you see yourself here for 30 years?"

Thirty years? THIRTY YEARS? she thinks, and mumbles something about other interviews, about really liking the school, and hopes she's hidden her shock at the idea of THIRTY YEARS.

Over the next few weeks, she flies to Georgia and Wisconsin for other interviews. She hopes that her fate of living in her car and pulling shots of espresso is fading, but she's never one to be overconfident without some concrete evidence, so she waits.

But while she waits, she wonders. She weighs geography and climate. She considers social possibilities for single girls. She tries to intuit that indescribable "fit," that "rightness."

And when three job offers rush in, she flirts with the possibilities. She envisions herself in the different settings. She imagines her life in small towns in a dairy state versus a bustling metropolis in the new south. It's a cold February, and Georgia has a slight edge. But. When the agonizing decision must be made, she thinks about where she felt most welcome, most at home. And she chooses M. She worries about living in a small town. She worries about being the token single girl in a world of married and kidded colleagues. But. Immediately, they all email congratulations and offer boundless help when the time comes for my big move...and I know, in that deep, intuitive place, that this is the right decision.

July 27 and 28, 2007
Journal Entry:
Can't sleep--though very sleepy--because today's the day of my move--well, the first day of my two day move. I'm sad, excited--just had the thought: it's time for my life to be my own, to own my own life. I think this move will be very good for me, but also very hard after being so comfortable here--but I also know my life is meant to be bigger than all of of *this*--how to explain? or why is it necessary to explain--is it enough to simply *feel*?

one door closes
another opens
and life expands...

And then. The loneliness. The worry about fitting in and doing well. The stress filled stomach, the fluttering heart. The missing my family, my friends. A feeling of utter aloneness. The wrenching goodbyes when I travel from one side of the lake to the other.

Moving to a new, cozier, posher home after five months helps alleviate some of the homesickness, but as temperatures dip ever lower and snow swirls ever deeper, my spirits sink.

Mom and I meet in Chicago one weekend in April and I don't want to come back. I know I can't return to Michigan either, at this point, but I long to be somewhere that feels like home instead of in this in between place where nowhere is home.

Despite a moment in late April when I write "I feel hope for this place," I teeter between overworked burnout and deep interiority, if the pages of my journal are to be believed. I yearn for those visits to and from Michigan, even as I begin slowly making connections here, planting roots in the community through my job and my personal interests. I'm finding pockets of good, kind, caring people who support me. My home is a refuge. And yet...still not entirely home.

May-present 2009
Another grueling academic year draws to a close, and I vow to recharge when classes end and grades are submitted. My friend B and I sit in my office and I make some other declarations with laughter and the kind of certainty that only comes with uncertainty, and I step back and wait...

And it's easier to love this place in Spring and Summer, when greens and blues compose a palette of beauty and hope, rather than drifts of snow and ever-present greyness bespeaking dullness and weariness. I cast away all thoughts of winter, of sadness, and head out into the sparkling, shimmering world.

I travel, I visit, I plan. Michigan beckons and I go and glory in the sunsets and the comfort of porches and my oldest, dearest fans and loves. The place wraps around me like a shawl on a cool June day, and I carry it with me, even as I leave, as I drive around the contours of the lake, and walk up the 10+ stairs into my home. I carry it with me as I frolic in the sun, watch the sun rise, and daydream of the future.

I know that home is somehow the place within me, but to be grounded in a place, well, that's to give that internal home a real home. I've lived a temporary life in many respects, since leaving my parents' home at 17 for college, always returning but never to *stay.* I've learned to live with multiple homes, to have my heart torn between places, to not set down too deep of roots as the next degree program or temporary job beckoned.

To be settled, to know a place, to come to love it for its treasures and tolerate its faults, to know its people in real, meaningful ways, and to become, openheartedly, one of them, is a leap, a stretch. It involves an act of letting go and digging in. It requires both a groundedness and a willingness to lift both feet off the ground in order to give oneself over to the place.

And so, we paint walls.
We hang paintings.
We volunteer.
We plan events.
We forge connections.
We build relationships.

We come home.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

daily bliss: berries + waffles

How many ways can you (er, i) enjoy bounteous berryness?

Cakes. (done)
Pies. (on the way)
Jam. (done, with more on the way)
Smoothies. (done)
Yogurt. (done)
Cereal. (done)

Mom inspired me to make waffles...the delicious, handy yeasted variety that rest overnight in the fridge and cook up in a snap in the morning, when I'm trying to wash away somnolence and vivid dreams with strong cafe au lait, tangy orange juice, and something sweet and special.

I was on the verge of whipping cream to top these waffles, but (miraculously, though a moment on my fancy body fat scale certainly helped) exercised restraint. A dab of butter, a drizzle of maple syrup, and a pile of berries--strawberries from Wilfert Farms and blueberries from Creek Water Blueberries (my family! our farm! the best blueberries you'll ever eat, i promise!)--made these a perfect start to a lazy, hazy day.

Mmmm, goodness. sweetness. blissfulness. happiness.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

daily bliss: clouds and rainbows

Tonight I'm entranced by the clouds shaping, gathering, and moving across the sky, out over Lake Michigan.

Sun and rain have been playing tag today, and I've had the chance to feel warm rays and cool drops dance across my skin.

It's a quiet night here in northeast wisconsin (if my phrasing sounds reminiscent of garrison keillor's "news from lake wobegon," well, it's stuck in my head as i listened to phc for the first time in, well, months), despite the brief torrential downpours of this afternoon and the rumblings of thunder off to the west some time ago. A few birds chirp, and few cars drive past, a few voices catch a wave of air. I allow the silence to fill the house before switching CDs, selecting the perfect songs: Mindy Smith's "It's Amazing." Matchbox 20's "Hand Me Down."

I walk out on my deck, barefoot, feeling the slick damp asphalt and soggy astroturf under my feet, the gentle lift of my floral skirt as I turn this way and that, trying to capture these clouds.

Look closely, and you just might see a rainbow, evidence of the mingling of sun and rain, the yin and yang of it all.

Cue up Kermit, and ponder...

"What's so amazing that keeps us stargazing?
And what do we think we might see?
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
the lovers, the dreamers and me."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

daily bliss: looking ahead...

Meetings at work yesterday and today put me in the mind of fall and of all my work commitments that I have blithely pushed to the corners of my mind during this, the Summer of Fun. A forward glance at the calendar last night quickened the back-to-school anxiety. If I'm not careful, any day those dreams will start. You know, the ones where it's the first day of class and I'm supposed to hand out the syllabus and, um, it's gone missing. Or was never prepared.

A drizzly, hazy morning and a coolish, humid afternoon felt more like early fall than late July, and I felt that old sinking heart return. I pulled on my hooded sweatshirt (only in the upper Midwest will you need such garb on July 22, yes?!?) and walked my favorite lakeshore path, hoping to lift my spirits a bit. Perhaps a different soundtrack would've helped, but a dose of Coldplay and Damien Rice did nothing to make me smile.

As I sat on a log and stared out at a steely Lake Michigan, I thought about the class schedule I had started working on today--plotting assignment due dates, and envisioning hours grading papers. I'm trying a few different approaches this year, namely cutting out mandatory student-teacher conferences for the first essay (they make me sick, every single semester, and i'm not sure the benefit is worth the cost, so to speak), and scheduling paper due dates on Tuesdays instead of Thursdays in an attempt to *not* use my weekends for grading. I'm confident that I can make this schedule work, especially since Fall is my "easier" semester, teaching-wise.

Walking back home, I thought about how to maintain positivity and ebullience in the face of negativity and naysayers, and don't have many answers. In many ways, this is the most challenging aspect of any job. (all and any suggestions will be most welcome).

I climbed the stairs to my apartment, warm enough to remove my sweatshirt, and took refuge in the kitchen, cooking fresh, local veggies and pasta, unscrewing a bottle of Layer Cake shiraz, and playing a CD of a band I saw in concert earlier this summer. Eating dinner, I flipped on the television and wavered between Nora Roberts' Midnight Bayou and The House of Mirth. Tonight's *not* a night for poor Lily Bart, though I love her dearly.

As I type these words, my verb tenses shifting, my perspective tilting, I think that it's *not* wise to worry these last five weeks of Summer away. I think it *is* wise to dig in, prepare my classes, and stock up on school supplies (fashionwise and pen and paperwise and pink stapleswise). I think it *is* wise to find that happy, calm core, and cultivate it at will in the face of doubts and negativity and adversity. I think it *is* wise to focus on the students: the new, fresh, eager first year students, who need kindness and challenges, compassion and courage. Just like me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

daily bliss: dharmagirl's dc adventures

I arrive at the gorgeous Omni Shoreham hotel, after a relatively smooth morning of travel.

"Ma'am, I'll upgrade you to a King room," says the reception clerk.


"Oh, but the only King room is without a view."

"Then I'd rather have a Queen, if at all possible."

She returns to the computer, does a little magic. "I have a very nice room for you. It has a view of the park, and a bay window."

I gather up my bags, stroll across the elegant lobby, and take the elevator up to the 5th floor. My room is a coveted corner room, framed by windows on two sides. The plush King bed floats along one wall of the ginormous, sunny room. I set my suitcase in the closet and note the bathrobes hanging there. This space is gorgeous. Comfortable. Posh, yet simple. Perfect.

I head to the conference, where I sit in on a "chat" with Nora Roberts, who cusses and says hilarious things, though I don't agree with everything, and (shhhh) am still not a huge fan of her particular kind of romance. But, damn, the woman is prolific and sassy and divatastic.

proclaiming my scholarly identity for all the world to see

I roll out of the center of the giant bed, throw on my yoga clothes, and head to Open City, a corner cafe-restaurant-bar, where I deviate from my daily cafe au lait for something stronger--straight up coffee with cream and sugar. It comes in a huge latte bowl, served with two animal crackers.

I head back to the hotel, prepare for the day by dressing in my new linen suit, pink flowered H&M blouse, and my favorite pink shoes. I can feel my scholarly, presentationey self coming back, after a sun-drenched (and beer soaked) two months hiatus.

I sit in on a panel about using tense and point of view to craft the story, and leave after 10 minutes, during which the terms are defined and an informal quiz on said terms is given.

Instead, I go to the Borders book room, where I buy two writing craft books--Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing and Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life--as well as two RN's, Delicious, a historical involving food, and Seducing Mr. Darcy, a contemporary meets literary meets paranormal (which incidentally won the coveted RITA award Saturday night).

I listen to Suzanne Brockmann talk about writing romances that break social barriers--racial and sexual. I'm blown away by her passion and commitment to writing books that readers will love and will possibly be changed by.

And, soon, it's time for my panel. With trembling feet (clad in the aforementioned awesome shoes), I head to the presentation room. I greet Pam, and then fight my way into the room amongst crowds of women coming or going. I then greet Jenny, who...HUGS me. I'm trying to play it cool, to seem all scholarly and writerly and professional and not be the fan girl I really am. The panelists chat about our plan, Jenny mentions how cool it is that we're talking about her books, and we're off. I talk, I meander, I throw out little bon mots here and there, and then, it's over, and Sarah mentions my awesome shoes and the audience clamors for a glimpse, so I reach down and take one off and hold it aloft, to murmurs of approval and envy. Pam and Jenny raise excellent points, and just like that, the panel is done. I reach into my bag and remove the books I brought--Pam's scholarly tome and Jenny's Agnes and they sign them with sweet inscriptions.

the famous pink shoes

I head to the cafe early, eat a little breakfast outside, as the sun streams down, the birds flit about, and a bad city smell fills the air, prompting the little girl at the next table to say, repeatedly, "It smells like poop! I don't like it!"

And it's back to the conference, for another panel of writing tips that winds up being so obvious I leave once again, and walk around the neighborhood, down by the zoo. I feel alone and lonely. All these groups of friends, these couples, these families, make me long for a little company here, and I think about my favorite people and how much fun this day could be if they were here.

I head back to the conference hotel for Jenny's craft panel, which is absolutely packed. I hear a guy behind me complaining about her panel yesterday, and how he walked out when some college prof was talking about food. OMG! I briefly consider throwing a little PhD slap on him, but realize that he missed the point already. Jenny talks about turning points, and acts, and scenes, and beats, and moments in the story where people are fundamentally changed and they can't go back to how they were at the beginning of the story, and it's fabulous. I scribble many notes. I wave to her at the end, and then I head out.

It's time to explore the capital. I brave the metro, ride to Union Station, where I eat lunch at B. Smith's, and then walk straightaway to the Library of Congress, passing the Capitol on the way...

But, oh, the Library of Congress! Shivers run through my body as I contemplate the wonder at a temple of books. And I love, love America. And I love this place. And I want to sit in the reading room and write deep thoughts, but there's a whole process to gain entrance into that part, so I content myself with gazing at the wonders within and without.

Next, I walk past the various buildings lining the mall, and I head into the Botanical Gardens, marveling at the different climates and the wild blossoms. I snap shots of plants I can't identify, but love anyway, like this frilly flower.

Exhausted, I take the metro back to the hotel, where I relax for a few moments before the fire alarm shrills and I head to the stairs and out to the street, heart leaping. After 10 minutes, we're told we can return to the building, as a water pipe has burst and there's no fire. I still feel bluesy, and not up to another solo meal at a restaurant, so I head to the pool area, where I order a dangerously smooth Lemon Martini and a plate of hummus and olives, a fine dinner.

My spirits artificially lifted, I primp and slip into my new LBD (little black dress) for the RITA awards gala. In a large ballroom, conference attendees watch, cry, and cheer as the winners of best manuscript and published novels speak. Sequins and chiffon and glitter swirl, as does laughter and movie clips, in between the awards. My eyes tear at some of the more moving speeches, and I imagine what it might be like to win such an award...Afterwards, we head to the lobby for pastries, cocktails, and other finger foods. Famous authors flit between award winners and wannabes. I soak it all in, feeling delight from the top of my gleaming hair to the bottom of my strappy silver sandals.

I awake with a plan to head back to the Mall, to see the big monuments, the White House, and a few goodies at the Smithsonian American History Museum. The day is hot, the Mall is long, and I am tired. Still, I manage to giggle at the giant phallus towering over the mall...

say "hey" to Abe...

wave to Michelle and Barack...

and commune with Julia Child...

And then it's back to the hotel to retrieve my bags, ride the shuttle to the airport, fly back to Wisconsin, and drive back home. Back to routines and friends and writing and my glorious life...

...back to write my own stories, to craft art and life with happy endings:)

Monday, July 20, 2009

daily bliss: love and power

During the Golden Heart and RITA awards ceremony at RWA on Saturday, emcee Anne Stuart quipped that RWA in DC focused on "the power of love instead of the love of power," perhaps a slightly different focus than most DC dealings.

This distinction, this inversion of words, highlights the difference between RWA and most academic conferences I attend. At RWA, scores of people--mostly women, though a few men were always sprinkled in the audience--listened and nodded as speaker after speaker extolled the power of both love and of writing, a power seemingly magnified when the two were brought together into the most popular genre of writing in the country.

As I tweeted on Friday, the conference speakers and attendees didn't apologize for their content. They didn't cast ironic glances or make sardonic winks as they told stories of love tested, writing rejected, and, finally, goodness rewarded. Instead, they believed in the power of the genre, the power of words, and the power of love to...fundamentally change people's lives.

From Suzanne Brockmann's impassioned discussion of breaking through social differences through writing romance to Eloisa James' story of the intersection of art and life, smart, accomplished, professional women celebrated everything intrinsic about the genre.

What a revelation.

At most academic conferences, and, indeed in the academy itself, such devotion and affection is often met with derision. Where is your skepticism? Your irony? Your cynical, jaded, world-weary, too-good for all this silliness demeanor?

And yet.

How much of "literature" is about love?

How much of human life is devoted to finding emotional connection and blessed understanding?

How much tragedy and bitterness emanates from the failure to find such connections, or the heartache of connections broken?



So, why the skepticism?

Why not a happy ending?

Why not emotional satisfaction?

What are we afraid of?


"But perfect love drives out fear." (1 John 4:18)

Friday, July 17, 2009

rwa 09: lit establishment

As I prepare for my talk today, I can't quite forget what Nora Roberts said yesterday. Someone asked about her reaction to the recent New Yorker article about her, and wondered what she thought about being recognized, if not fully accepted by the so-called literary establishment. She quipped that it's not important to her, and that the issue is one for publishers to worry about. When asked about the exclusion of romance reviews from the NYT, she said she doesn't care and doesn't think about it, as "royalty checks are more important," as are reader comments at readings.

I was disappointed, because I think that recognition and acceptance by the lit est IS important, and having best selling authors as advocates for the genre and craft can help so, so much...then again, why is such recognition
important?!? I have lots to say about that issue, more than I can swiftly type on this itouch keypad...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

haiku: flight

lift both feet and fly
soar above the clouds in bliss
leave fear far behind

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

daily bliss: rwa

Tomorrow I'm heading to Washington, DC to present at the Romance Writers of American (RWA) National Conference, known by insiders as "Nationals."

Back in the winter when I found out my panel had been accepted, I jumped around my living room. I then concocted a plan to draft a solid opening few chapters of a romance novel to tote with me and pitch to agents. Or publishers. Or both.

Confession: I have three novels started. They are, in the words of Anne Lamott, shitty first drafts. Cliche ridden, underdeveloped, too talky, and riddled with (perhaps unnecessary) details about food and fashion. And, I have another novel project in the works, a collaboration for NaNoWriMo, potentially involving rugby playing telephone pole climbers and dangerous hot vampires (don't ask).

Alas, my fiction writing has fallen aside, as I've focused on blog entries and "creative non-fiction" this summer, so those dreamed of meetings with agents are a fantasy.

I'll be presenting as one of a very few professors. I'm anxious, eager, excited, nervous.

My presentation title: Food, Fun, and Fellowship: Reading Recipes for Romance in Jenny Crusie’s Fiction

My presentation topic: how Crusie uses food in three of her novels (Faking It, Bet Me, and Agnes and the Hitman) to develop characters, build relationships, and suggest successful recipes for other romance writers to follow.

My fellow panelists: leading romance scholar Pamela Regis and best-selling author Jenny Crusie.


Hence, the butterflies are flitting.

I'm looking forward to attending the luncheons and moonlight madness bazaar, the writer workshops and book signings, and, of course, the awards ceremony. My suitcase is filled with clothes to take me to all of these events. I'm partial to pink, power shoes, and little black dresses.

I'll be live micro-blogging and tweeting about my experience (brief blips because i'll be writing from my itouch) over the next few days, so the focus of this blog will temporarily shift to book dorkiness, with a few mentions of delicious eats thrown in, I hope.

Sunday will be my free day in DC. I had hoped to spend the afternoon with a certain dynamic DC duo, but I think they're a little busy at the moment, what with health care plans and such. Therefore, I'm looking for suggestions for how to spend my day. Should I wander the mall? Gaze gape-jawed in the Library of Congress? View the artworks at the National Gallery? Marvel at Julia Child's kitchen in the Smithsonian?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

cherry almond tart

[No TWD post this week, y'all. Instead, I offer up a little Martha goodness. But fear not, I'm a loyal Dorie acolyte (even if certain people in my family call me "Martha":)]

I have dreamed of such a tart (Martha calls it a galette, but I'm stuck on tart) these past three summers, ever since I moved back to a land where fresh cherries glisten and beckon during sunny, happy July.

Finally, this year, I committed to making said tart. In my mind, the tart was constructed in a rectangular tart pan, but the recipe calls for a more free form, rustic shape, made of puff pastry rather than a more conventional tart dough.

How positively providential that I had a block of homemade puff pastry stashed in my freezer. With a frisson of pride, I found the pastry and set it out to thaw.

Next, I toasted the almonds, and allowed them to cool while I set about pitting two pounds of cherries. Without a cherry pitter, I needed a little help. My tweeps Nancy and Wendy gave me swell suggestions, and I used one of my fancy chopsticks to pit the fruit.

After washing the crimson cherry juice off of my fingers, I whirled together the frangipane. My mini-prep motor strained and nearly died. Hence, the frangipane was not smooth and silky, but a little rough and rustic. No matter.

I spread the frozen crust with the frangipane and stuck it back in the freezer while the oven heated.

Next, I set about arranging the cherries in an alternating pattern (because i'm neurotic like that). I coated the sides of the tart with egg wash, and sprinkled the whole thing with raw sugar.

Last time I baked my puff pastry, it crisped but didn't puff. I kept checking the oven to see if puffiness prevailed, and...it did!

I removed the tart from the oven and compared my tart to Martha's. Is it totally egotistical and narcissistic that I thought mine looked better? Actually, as G pointed out, the tart had the same puffed and browned pattern as Martha's. Scary.

The tart was too ginormous for any of my containers, so I held the tart on my lap all the way to wine club. We were tasting Petite Sirah, and I thought the lush fruitiness would pair nicely with the earthy flavors of cherries and almonds. I was right. The tart was *good.* And pretty. And summery. And, though the cherries looked a little slumpy the next day, the leftovers were spectacular.

Monday, July 13, 2009

daily bliss: both sides now

good morning

good night

same colors
same lake
same dharmagirl

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze

from Fiddler on the Roof

Saturday, July 11, 2009

daily bliss: beach yoga

My favorite yoga studio, Lakeshore Yoga Center, offers beach yoga classes every July. Two summers ago Mom and I attended a few classes at the city beach in Grand Haven. As the sun slipped over the horizon, we practiced a series of sun salutations, stretches, and a long relaxation pose, listening to the sounds of the waves washing on the shore and the ebb and flow of conversation from other beachgoers.

The beach seems an ideal spot to practice yoga. If yoga is all about union or yoking (the traditional definitions of the word), then a shore embodies that sense of bringing-togetherness. If the spiritual goal of yoga is to accept where you are at any given moment without judgement or an attempt to bring about change, then the beach is perfect. If part of yoga is finding your "edge" and playing with that boundary, the liminal space between water and sand is flawless.

Last fall, H and I met *early* twice a week to jog to the beach, practice a little yoga, and walk back home. Our practice languished as the temperature dipped, and beach yoga became a dream of sunnier times.

Except for a crystalline winter day when I played with shadow photos (and hated how *substantial* i looked with so many layers of fleece and wool and down...)

Mom and I missed the beach yoga class last week, but when we were out walking the shore, I played with my favorite pose, half moon or Ardha Chandrasana, on a log, and managed to hold the tricky pose long enough for Mom to snap this photo. I joked that my torso and uplifted leg should be in one long straight line, and to do so I would need longer arms. We laughed, remembering the saleswoman in Ann Taylor who once upon a time declared my arms really long...In all seriousness, the perfect pose is the one where the soul expands, where the body feels weightless, and the heart flies out of the chest and embraces the entire world. I think I'm pretty close to that kind of perfection here:)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

daily bliss: pure michigan

Have you seen the new Pure Michigan advertising campaign? Dreamy billboards plastered with breathtaking vistas. Gorgeous commercials playing tranquil music.

Now, I suppose I'm biased, since I'm "made in Michigan" (to riff on a nifty tee shirt I saw at Summerfest). But Michigan in the summer is absolutely fantastic. Splendid sunsets. Luscious fresh fruits. Sun drenched days. Cool nights. The insistent call of a whippoorwill outside my old bedroom window. Being surrounded by water. Ahhhh.

None of the other states I've lived in--Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin--have quite this combination of natural wonders. They have their own wonders, assuredly, and the 'Sconnie Nation is certainly tugging at my state loyalties, what with all the dairy and hoppy goodness. But there's something inexpressibly wonderful about Michigan in the Summer.

Michigan's having some tough times, tougher than most other states. But, to quote the illustrious Destiny's Child, "[We're] a survivor/[we're] not gonna give up."

We have nowhere to go but up (economically. professional footbally).

To quote Jenny Cruisie, we're looking for "nothing but good times ahead."

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

daily bliss: backyard tent

I've been driving around the greater Midwest for the better part of a year with my tent in the trunk of my car. Late last summer I planned a three week stint in Michigan and was hopeful that I would camp somewhere along the way. I never did. And, I never brought the tent back inside.

In preparation for camping out soon, I decided to air out the tent. I set it up in my parents' yard, as I'm currently visiting them and they have a lot more yard space than I do.

Once the tent was assembled--a 3 minute process--I unzipped the doors and climbed inside. Suddenly, I was transported back to childhood, and endless summer afternoons spent sitting inside our family's canvas Sears tent, with my hard red plastic "briefcase" full of art supplies, drawing dress after dress, and imagining my grown up life as a fashion designer.

I rolled up the doors to let the warmish breeze blow fresh air through the tent, and climbed back out. I headed for the porch and my stack of books and notebooks, and set about making presentation notes for my grown up life as a scholar.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

twd: tribute to katherine hepburn brownies

I've previously posted a Brownie Manifesto of sorts, declaring a war on box brownies. See, homemade brownies taste soooo much better, and are soooo easy to make.

Even these brownies, an adaptation of the great actress' favorite recipe.

I whipped up these brownies on Thursday afternoon, and the most labor intensive step was chopping the chocolate for an add-in.

They're easy, delicious, and sophisticated. With a touch of cinnamon and espresso powder, they're most decidedly adult.

I brought these brownies to a fourth of July weekend Up Nort. I hoped that they would help me make a good impression on the many new people I was going to meet.

And so, Saturday night, after a day spent soaking up sun, booze cruisin' on a pontoon boat, walking to the local watering hole with the girls, and watching a spectacular fireworks display on the aforementioned sea-craft, I brought the brownies to the campfire.

Clutching an icy can of Miller Lite in one hand and a brownie in the other, I hoped for the best as my new friends each selected a brownie from the small container.

"Are these special brownies?" floated around the campfire, accompanied by laughter. And repetition.

"Um, well, they have four kinds of chocolate," I replied. (cocoa powder, bittersweet, milk, and white chocolate chips or chunks)

"These are totally homemade," I heard from somewhere around the circle.

Some people were so impressed they were speechless.

We ate the chocolatey-y goodness, drank our beers, and cranked up the music (motley crue. guns and roses. bon jovi). The stars peeked through wispy clouds, the towering trees cast strong silhouettes, and the conversation shifted from loud and raucous to quiet and cozy.

A perfect Independence Day, and a perfect new brownie recipe.

Thank you, Lisa, of Surviving Oz for selecting this recipe. Lisa designed our new TWD logo--tres chic!--and was awarded the special honor of choosing the recipe this week.

Monday, July 06, 2009

daily bliss: playground

On a whim, I ended my postprandial stroll with a trip to the swing set at the elementary school around the corner from my house. I selected a swing, tested the solidity of the chain links, decided to ignore the slight shift and click of the whole set, and pushed off...

As I pumped my legs, I swung higher, and as I swung higher, that stomach-dropping-head-rushing feeling hit me. Instead of shying away from the disorientation as the world tilted and shifted around me, I laughed out loud, squeeed, and let the rush of giddiness wash over me. I felt like a grade school kid again, not *so* worried about falling or being hurt or feeling sick (i was always a little cautious, even as a kid).

I was more concerned with enjoying all the goodness and possibility of the moment.

As I rose higher, I saw the lake to the East, felt the cool breeze on my face, and lifted off the swing as I was *so* high. I leaned back and floated closer to the earth before taking a deep breath, jumping off the swing, and running back on the ground.

My footing was sure, though my legs shook. My head was clear, though my thoughts tangented. My stomach was settled, though I still felt butterflies.

35. 17. 8.

You're never too old to play. To enjoy moments. To choose giddiness over fear.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

daily bliss: signs

A holiday weekend in signs and photos...

the famous meat store

My brother L calls me a vegetarian who eats bacon. Now, my bacon eating happens rarely, and when it does, I eat the tiniest, crispiest samples. But when I do, oh, I want to swoon. Facon (soy "bacon" strips) just cannot compare. Bacon currently has a hipster following--from bacon chocolate bars from Vosges--to bacon of the month clubs from Zingerman's--to bacon patterned shoes from Keds. With so many bacon products, one might begin to wonder what the plural of bacon is...

...for some reason, bacons strikes me as hilarious. The three times I've seen this BACONS sign, I've convulsed into giggles. This time, I was able to not only take a photograph of the BACONS sign, but also go inside the store and investigate their bacon selection (a disappointing 5 choices). The store also contains an abundance of meat products, local jams and other condiments, cheeses, and even wines!

As we traveled North to Antigo, we spotted this delightfully odd sign:

photo taken by ggg

Apparently, squirrel tails make dandy fishing lures...

Once Up Nort, the silly signs disappeared and nature offered vivid vistas--as we drove on undulating roads through the Menominee Nation, slim birches and substantial evergreens framed towering white, puffy clouds filling an azure sky.

At our final destination, we walked between large and small cabins and houses to reach the 800 acre lake ringed by evergreens and boat docks. In the evening, the sun set off in the distance, leaving a twilight trail of pastels and a moment of quiet magic.

Friday, July 03, 2009

daily bliss: birthdays

Today my Grandpa V turns 90! Would you believe that I could not find a "Happy 90th Birthday" card? 85, 95, and 100 were all represented but not 90.

My Grandpa's 90 years have been filled with adventures and achievements: he's a patent holding General Motors retiree, and he's also a World War II Prisoner of War. He and a buddy escaped from a prison camp in Italy, where the prisoners worked out an elaborate food bartering system, and survived the grueling Italian Alps on the kindness of Italian peasants and luck. Now he tends to the family blueberry farm, re-beads Native American slippers, and enjoys hunting and golf.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

daily bliss: deliciousness vs. aesthetics

Yesterday morning my new friend N called. "Are you still interested in making my birthday cake?"

For her party...that night. Granted, we had talked about cakes the previous week, but neither of us made definitive plans.

"Sure!" I said, as I set aside my pen and notebook, tied on my apron, and prepared my cake pans.

I've written about the Moosewood Chocolate Cake before, a no-fail, quick, tasty chocolate cake I could have in the oven in 15 minutes. Then, I could whip up an espresso buttercream, and cover the whole brown and tan fantasy in ganache. I would melt white chocolate and fashion a large "N" to decorate the cake.

I saw, very clearly, a classy, clean, elegant cake.

What I got (yes, I'm really using this word...it works in this context) was a messy, lumpy, disheveled cake, with huge cracks tenuously bonded with ganache.

What went wrong?

Bad decisions: wanting to accomplish most everything on my to-do list, I ignored that inner voice that said "the cake is still a little warm. Maybe you should stick it in the fridge before cutting the layers. Or applying frosting."

And I *know* to follow that voice. My intuition is mostly spot on. But, nooooo.

The cake was a mess. I was upset. I went to the gym, and tried to imagine a magically transformed pretty cake awaiting me at home.

Nope. It was still a mess. I tried to shore it up and even the layers before enrobing the lumpiness in ganache.

I was embarrassed. This was a special 50th birthday party! N was planning a great event! My foodie friends T and J would be there too, along with multitudes of strangers!

But, reader, I had no choice. I took the sad cake with me, apologized to N for the ugliness, and left it covered until it was time to serve cake.

N's daughter took many, many photos. N. loved the white chocolate N. Only a handful of people looked at the cake. N told horror stories of cakes and pies gone awry and served anyway. I cut the cake into wedges and slices, and waited.

"Do you sell cakes?"

"What do you call this cake?"

"Did you invent this?"

N said she needed to go in the house and eat her cake alone to truly appreciate it.

And, when I left shortly thereafter, N announced that I was the baker and everyone applauded.

Lessons learned:
1. do *not* disregard intuition
2. deliciousness trumps aesthetics