I've been reading the diary of the woman who previously owned my husband's childhood home. It's from the late 1930's and mostly about the weather and chores and who came to supper. I love entries like, "Boy, what a peach of a cold I got," and "Grand wash day, but the machine went haywire so had to do two weeks' wash by hand. Poor me."
Wow—I didn't mean to disappear from here for two whole months! And I don't have much to report about my time away, either. I guess I've just been feeling unmotivated to post here (and on Instagram). I still love having this space, though, and hope to return to regular posting at some point.
I haven't been cooking anything new lately, and my garden this year has more or less been a bust, but I have been writing a lot this summer, generating new stories and editing older ones. One story in particular, after nine drafts, is finally good enough to be published (I think), so now it's just a matter of finding the right literary journal for it. And if no one will take it, well, I'll just post it here!
I'm not sure when my next post will be, but I'll be back, sooner or later. Hope all of you are well.
Above: some pretty air plants found at The Palm Room.
There's been piles of delicious mangos on sale at the grocery store lately, so naturally, I've been taking advantage. After enjoying a few fresh mangos, it occurred to me that I could make mango lassis... not to mention mango lassi popsicles. And so. Here we are.
Mango Lassi Popsicles (makes 10 popsicles in this mold)
2 ripe mangos, peeled and chopped (about 2 cups)
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1.5 cups plain yogurt
honey or sugar, as desired
Purée the chopped mango with the cardamom. Set aside. In a separate bowl*, sweeten the yogurt with honey or sugar. (I used 2 tablespoons of honey for a mild amount of sweetness.) Fill the popsicle mold, alternating spoonfuls of the puréed mango and the yogurt mixture. Gently swirl with a popsicle stick, then insert the popsicle sticks and freeze until set.
*of course, if you prefer a well-blended popsicle, just blend everything together in one bowl instead. I like keeping the mango and yogurt separate, so that each bite's a little different, but either way works!
I fell into a reading and writing rut recently, and whenever that happens, books about books always help me get back into it. I really enjoyed these four:
1. Plotted: A Literary Atlas by Andrew DeGraff and Daniel Harmon. Books visualized as maps. Fascinating even if you haven't read the selected works.
2. In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri. I'd previously read a little about Lahiri's obsession with Italian and enjoyed getting a fuller picture. And I loved seeing the original Italian and translated English pages side by side. (Interestingly, she didn't translate her own book.)
3. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. Rilke's letters to... well, a young poet. But at times it feels as if he's writing to you. This is one I'm sure I'll return to when I need some encouragement.
4. Why We Write edited by Meredith Maran. This collection of author interviews reminded me that there are endless ways to be a writer, and that success comes in many forms. A reassuring & inspiring read.
What have you been reading lately?
The tulips in our yard are opening up, and I love seeing all the colors – especially since I forgot exactly what I planted. My dilemma: let them beautify the yard, or cut a few/some/all of them and enjoy them in a vase? What do you do? (Maybe next fall I'll simply plant a ton of extra bulbs, so there's plenty for both indoors and out.)
I realized it's been three months since I shared books! Here's what I've enjoyed reading so far this year...
Nine Horses by Billy Collins (whose poetry I could read all day long)
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kitteridge will always be my favorite of hers, but this comes in second)
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (loved the voice and humor)
Last Things by Jenny Offill (for its tone and beautiful imagery)
The Lost Landscape by Joyce Carol Oates (an interesting peek into her life)
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (heart-rending and incredibly written)
Circus by Claire Battershill (short stories filled with wonder)
Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark (a nice variety of writing tips)
Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto (for its storytelling)
What have you been reading lately? I'd love to hear.
I don't know about you, but I tend to go through phases when I don't bake anything for weeks and weeks, and then one day, out of the blue, I'll get a craving for some particular type of dessert and will drop everything to make it. Today was one of those days. And so, for no particular reason, except that they're delicious: chocolate chip cinnamon rolls.
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 (.25 ounce) package instant yeast
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 oz cream cheese, softened
7 Tbsp butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine the milk & butter and warm until the butter is melted and the milk bubbles. Let cool. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Mix well. Add the water, egg, and milk/butter mixture. Mix until the dough pulls together, then turn out onto a clean, lightly floured surface. Knead for 5 minutes, until smooth. Place dough back in the bowl, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes. While the dough rests, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, cocoa powder, and softened butter. Mix well, then add in the chocolate chips and stir.
Roll the dough out into a 12x9" rectangle. (The dough naturally rolls into an oval, so I rolled mine slightly bigger than 12x9", then carefully pushed in the edges into as neat of a rectangle as I could manage.) Spread the filling mixture over the dough, leaving 1/2" empty on one of the longer edges. Start rolling from the opposite edge until it's fully rolled up. Pinch to seal. Carefully slice the log into 12 rolls. (I cut the whole log in half, then halved those pieces, then cut those pieces into thirds.) Place cut side up in a 13x9" baking pan. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes while you preheat your oven to 375°F. Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown.
While the rolls cool a little, make the icing: beat together the cream cheese and butter until creamy, then mix in the vanilla extract, milk, and salt. Gradually add in the confectioner's sugar and mix until fluffy. Drizzle (or slather) over the cinnamon rolls, and enjoy.
When I'm reading, I collect favorite sentences in different ways – some I type up, print out, and pin to a board in my office, others I take a picture of with my phone, others I save as a Goodreads quote. But I've wanted to have one central place to easily organize them all. A while back I created a little site called A Love of Sentences and have been slowly updating it; my intention is to continually add lines from stories and books I'm currently reading, as well as dig up some gems from previously read books. You can check out the site here; I hope you fellow readers & writers enjoy it.
I've made this cobbler more times than I can count. I've been making it with strawberries and rhubarb, but it works beautifully with mixed berries, too. (And though I haven't tried it with peaches or other fruit, I'm confident it would be just as tasty.) Usually I make double this amount and bake it in a small casserole dish (approximately 6"x8") which yields one night of freshly baked dessert and a second night of nearly-as-good leftover dessert. But just to shake things up, I figured I'd adapt the recipe for two perfect portions. Enjoy!
Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler For Two
adapted from Epicurious
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 cup chopped rhubarb (frozen okay)
1 cup chopped strawberries (frozen okay)
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
1.25 Tbsp butter (cut into smaller pieces)
3 Tbsp milk
vanilla ice cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a mixing bowl. Mix well. Add the chopped fruit and toss to coat. Set aside. In another mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Throw in the pieces of butter and smash/massage the pieces into the flour mixture until a coarse meal forms. Add the milk and stir. (The dough will be quite sticky.) Divide the fruit mixture into two 6-ounce ramekins and spoon the dough over top. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet, as the bubbling fruit may spill over the edge. Bake for 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and cooked through. Let cool for 15 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream, if you like.
Here's four recent books I enjoyed...
1. The Painted Veil (W. Somerset Maugham) – "The verandah was in shadow; and lazily, her heart at ease with satisfied love, she lingered. Their house stood in the Happy Valley, on the side of the hill, for they could not afford to live on the more eligible but expensive Peak. But her abstracted gaze scarcely noticed the blue sea and the crowded shipping in the harbor. She could think only of her lover."
2. Dept. of Speculation (Jenny Offill) – "The wife has begun planning a secret life. In it, she is an art monster. She puts on yoga pants and says she is going to yoga, then pulls off onto a country lane and writes in tiny cramped handwriting on a grocery list. She thinks she should go off her meds maybe so as to write more fluidly. Possibly this is not a good idea. But only possibly."
3. The Member of the Wedding (Carson McCullers) – "In the past year she had grown four inches, or at least that was what she judged. Already the hateful little summer children hollered to her: "Is it cold up there?" And the comments of grown people make Frankie shrivel on her heels. If she reached her height on her eighteenth birthday, she had five and one-sixth growing years ahead of her. Therefore, according to mathematics and unless she could somehow stop herself, she would grow to be over nine feet tall."
4. Ward No. 6 and Other Stories (Anton Chekhov) – "He had read a great deal. He would sit at the club, nervously pulling at his beard and looking through the magazines and books; and from his face one could see that he was not reading, but devouring the pages without giving himself time to digest what he read. It must be supposed that reading was one of his morbid habits, as he fell upon anything that came into his hands with equal avidity, even last year's newspapers and calendars. At home he always read lying down."
Do you have any reading goals for 2016? I'm hoping to read more poetry, and to not feel bad about abandoning a book if I'm not enjoying it... there are too many good books out there to squander time on unexciting ones.
Hi guys. Sorry for the radio silence! I was dedicating most of my time to filling holiday orders, and then was down in Los Angeles part of last week visiting family. Today I started settling back into the normal routine and thought about things I haven't done much of in the past six weeks – like bringing home fresh flowers. Surprisingly, there were tulips available. It's awfully nice to have a reminder of spring on these cold, pale days.
Zelda has changed a lot since we got her – at first she was very vocal, very much a lap cat, and very unsure of Rufus. Now she rarely meows (though she does grumble a bit when she wakes up from a nap, which is cute), and she no longer cares to curl up on my lap. She also now thinks she's the boss of Rufus. They still aren't friends, exactly, but neither are they enemies. The other day a neighbor cat came slinking through the yard and Rufus and Zelda sat together at the window staring at it, thumping their tails with indignation. How dare another cat come around! It's their yard. It's their house.
It feels like forever since I've shared an update about my novel-in-stories, though in actuality it's been about ten months. So. What's been going on with it? Lots of ups and downs (as usual), lots of "This isn't very good. Why do I keep working on it?" followed by "Wait. I do really like this one scene. And that one's not bad, either. And this part's actually quite nice." And so on.
Despite the recurring doubt, in the last ten months I have made a lot of progress. I've gone through another three drafts. I've stopped skipping over the parts of the book that I kept telling myself I'd fix later; I actually got around to fixing them. I put on my too-small editing hat and watched my word count drop from 90,000 to 78,000, but as a result saw the good parts buoy up to the surface.
I've finally reached the point of feeling good enough about my book to start sharing it with other people.
Sharing your work, especially a project that you've been working on for a long time, is daunting, exciting, nerve-wracking, and a relief. Positive feedback is awesome; even the kindest thoughtful criticism inevitably makes you feel a little dumb (how was I so blind?) yet is also extremely necessary. I'm lucky to have a handful of friends and a husband whom I can get this sort of feedback from. I'm also looking into hiring a freelance fiction editor, too — as an investment in both this book and my writing in general.
A huge lesson I've learned in the process of writing this book has been to not count on your plans going as you expect. I've been working on this book for close to 3 years, and I had to completely start over at one point. But for anyone wondering, and in a continued effort to hold myself accountable, here's the plan for the months to follow: collect as much feedback as I can, use draft number five to fix what's not working, use draft number six for a final polish, then figure out how to get this book out into the world.
My favorite books from the last few months...
1. Housekeeping (Marilynne Robinson) – "When they had gone to bed Lucille and I got up and sat by the window wrapped in a quilt and watched the few clouds fly. There was a bright moon in a storm ring, and Lucille made plans to build a moon dial out of snow under our window. The light at the window was strong enough to play cards by, but we could not read. We stayed awake the whole night because Lucille was afraid of her dreams."
2. My Ántonia (Willa Cather) – "I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, and were outside man's jurisdiction. I had never before looked up at the sky when there was not a familiar mountain ridge against it. But this was the complete dome of heaven, all of it. I did not believe that my dead father and mother were watching me from up there; they would still be looking for me at the sheep-fold down by the creek, or along the white road that led to the mountain pastures."
3. The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafón) – "I roamed through galleries filled with hundreds, thousands of volumes. After a while it occurred to me that between the covers of each of those books lay a boundless universe waiting to be discovered, while beyond those walls, in the outside world, people allowed life to pass by in afternoons of football and radio soaps, content to do little more than gaze at their navels. It might have been that notion, or just chance, or its more flamboyant relative, destiny, but at that precise moment, I knew I had already chosen the book I was going to adopt, or that was going to adopt me."
4. The Hours (Michael Cunningham) – "Clarissa crosses Eighth Street. She loves, helplessly, the dead television set abandoned on the curb alongside a single white patent-leather pump. She loves the vendor's cart piled with broccoli and peaches and mangoes, each labeled with an index card that offers a price amid abundances of punctuation: "$1.49!!" "3 for ONE Dollar!?!" "50 Cents EA!!!!!" Ahead, under the Arch, an old woman in a dark, neatly tailored dress appears to be singing, stationed precisely between the twin statues of George Washington, as warrior and politician, both faces destroyed by weather. It's the city's crush and heave that move you; its intricacy; its endless life."
What have you been reading lately?
How many hobbies do you have that you truly keep up with? Writing, film photography, sewing, knitting, baking, drawing, gardening, making plush toys, flower arranging, ballet... a brief history of my fixations. Every time a new one comes along I'm convinced it will trump all the rest: why haven't I done this before? It's so fun! Must buy supplies. Must scour Instagram for other people who are into it, too. Must check every book out at the library about it. And so on, until a few weeks or months pass and the said hobby has fallen off the radar.
The last few days I've been playing around with embroidery. I've been collecting inspiration and threading and rethreading my needle, and daydreaming about possibilities. Possibly there will never be another post about embroidery again on this blog, but maybe there will. Either way, I'm learning, will be just fine.
I discovered Land Bird a few months ago at Renegade Craft Fair and immediately fell in love. The line is handmade by Nancy Froehlich in Oregon, and her pieces are stackable and food, microwave, and dishwasher safe. Lovely, aren't they? Even better, I'm now stocking a selection of Land Bird ceramic bowls at Mignon! You can find the dessert bowls here and soup bowls here, or learn more about Nancy's work over on her website.
Meet Zelda, our newest little troublemaker. She's about 1 or 2 years old, is a small gal (7 pounds, which is almost half the weight of Rufus!) and has made herself right at home.
As for what Rufus thinks of her...
...surprisingly, he's been nothing but a gentleman (gentlecat?) but Zelda isn't quite convinced, and has started plenty of arguments with him. Still, there are glimmers of feline friendship, too, like when they shared a spot at the window sill for a few minutes. I would love for them to cuddle up together, but one step at a time. For now, I'll take what I can get.
Hi! I'm Rachel, and these are bits of my days and things I like. I run the online shops Elephantine and Mignon, am a fiction writer, and live in Seattle with my husband and two cats. Read more about this blog...
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