Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Why I should be writing serialized novels and other revelations

I just finished reading Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street, which I picked up as a fluke at my new local library. (I went down that aisle in search of either the first book of the chronicles of Professor Dr Von Igelfeld or The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Alas, both were out.) The book uses multiple character narration told in the third person in very short snippet-like chapters that last roughly three pages each. The short chapters build on one another with multiple epidsodic mini-conflicts, as well as a subtle over-arching conflict about a painting and the building relationships of those who populate the address that is the novel's title. I rather enjoyed the way the characters sketched themselves on the page and how they fit together in the world of the narrative. It was quiet but stirring and highly entertaining to boot.

At the start of the book, its foreward explained the way in which the book is set up and its origins. You see, the book is born from the author's decision to write a serialized novel in a Scottish newspaper a la Charles Dickens. That's when it hits me: that's the gig I need.

I would make an excellent serialized novelist. I work well when on strict deadline, I edit as I type (though not as closely whist blogging, which I humbly apologize for but will probably not correct in future blog posts), and I'd rather fix a plot issue by adjusting as I go rather than go back and rewrite sections from earlier in a novel. What's more, I usually know the end of the book before I begin, which makes structuring, pacing, and planning a serial novel much easier. The problem here is not that I chose the wrong profession. No. The problem is I was born in the wrong century to really illustrate my greatest gifts as a writer.

What I need is a newspaper looking for a way to gain readership located in a city with a population interested in a novel structured as though it where a recurring strip in the funnies. This could be genius in the making, folks.

As I contemplate this new genre commitment, I have taken the liberty of taking the other five books in the series out of the library as well. I'm on Espresso Tales.

Friday, April 19, 2013

There's a Fox in the Etsy Shop

If you haven't heard, trouble has arrived for a number of unsuspecting sellers on Etsy. The reason for this trouble has beginnings that span a decade into the past, when a crappy network decided to cancel one of the best shows on television after less than half the length of a normal season and after airing the few episodes they did air in the wrong gorram order.

Despite the network's lack of decency, the fans of this show, self-proclaimed as Browncoats, kept the series alive, fought for it so long and so hard that it lived on to become the only canceled series ever to be turned into a movie. And that movie did very very well, which the network took full advantage of, seeing as they still owned the rights to this show that they neglected and cast down without ever giving it a real chance.

That show was Firefly and the network was Fox.

For a decade, Browncoats everywhere have been crafting merchandise inspired by Firefly, because they sure as heck didn't get a lot of merchandise options from the network who abandoned their show. Now, as of last week, Fox has found an entirely new way of sticking it to Firefly fans. You see, Fox has belatedly decided to cash in on the fanbase by selling so-called Jayne hats through Thinkgeek (who are now donating all proceeds to a Browncoat charity that benfits equality because of Fox's misdeeds).

As you well know if you are a fan of the whedonverse and Firefly in particualr, in the episode "The Message" (which was one of the 3 episodes of the show Fox didn't even air before they cancelled it), Jayne Cobb opens a package from his mother in which is a rather loud orange and yellow earflap hat that his mother made for him. He proceeds to wear said hat through the rest of the episode, while various other characters make digs at his ugly headgear. The Jayne hat is much-beloved by fans, especially those of the knitting persuasion (like myself). Many sellers on etsy sell their own versions of the Jayne hat, made by their own hands and have for years without the interference of Fox. Until now.

Now, all of those etsy sellers selling the Jayne hat and any other Firefly-related or inspired merchandise found there stores shut down due to copyright/trademark violation, even if they did not mention Firefly or Jayne in the tags or name of the product, even if they only used a quotation from the movie as the moniker for a self-invented product that otherwise has nothing to do with Fox whatsoever. We are taking single mothers/fathers and little old ladies and self-employed business owners who rely on their Etsy shop as their sole source of income. And Fox and Etsy shut them down without so much as a word of warning or a fair shake.

I will be making a Jayne hat, when I'm not immersed in my brothers giant blanet of doom (aka the Maize and Blue Stained Glass Blanket), in protest and I encourage all my knitting compatriots, whether Browncoat or never-watched-that-show-in-my-life, to do likewise or, better yet, to find one of these closed etsy sellers and purchase a Jayne hat from them. We proles need to stick together when the giant evil corporation comes along and ruins everything. Again.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Zucchini Rice Gratin (salt lightly)

With the hardship involved in making meals since we moved into our new house (remember: we live in one half of the house and the fridge lives in the other), we've been lax with meal ideas and dinner has been more a hassle than a joy. On that end, I received a meal idea from my co-worker Rachel, who told me to head on over to the Smitten Kitchen for a recipe of Zucchini Rice Gratin.

Which I did and forwarded the link to my husband. He agreed that it looked like a simple but tasty meal idea and we gathered the ingredients we'd need. If you too would like to gather what you need, find out what that is by visiting the link for Smitten Kitchen in the paragraph above.

While I was on my way home from work, the husband made the rice, chopped up and cooked the veggies, and popped it all into a baking dish in one of our two ovens for 450 degrees F for about 20 minutes. When he popped it back out again, it looked good. Really good. I helped myself to a heaping portion and discovered the problem also noted by Smitten Kitchen itself: Way Too Salty. And keep in mind that this is after the recipe was altered to contain much less salt because the blogger of SK thought the recipe too salty. Oh boy was it. Still.

The problem is that each step of the recipe tells you to add salt. You add it to the veggies before cooking them seperately, you add it to the rice, and you add it once you mix everything together. Did no one tell the inventor of this recipe that a little dab will do you? Did no one think to inform that unknown recipe writer that if you add salted things to a salted thing and add salt, that might lead to an oversalted finale? Either way, I know the answer. Too much salt, there was. And now the husband has learned a valuable lesson: if you think the recipe is asking you to add a ridiculous amount of salt to something, you should probably listen to your gut, as it is going to have to digest that puppy when you eat it.

That aside, the dish was good, and still edible despite its salt-lick nature. Thus, we will make it again and only add the salt at one step instead of to everything.

(And I apologize for the lack of photos. I re-lost my camera in the unpacking hullabaloo. No worries. I have since re-found it again.)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

National Poetry Month, i.e. a kick in the pants for writing productivity

We are now in the midst of April, now known to writer's everywhere as National Poetry Month. As the month began, I subscribed to a service of the Academy of American Poets that emails me a poem a day to keep me in the spirit of things. I haven't written a poem this month, because I've been too busy unpacking. (The part of the house we are living in, as of the end of this past weekend, officially has no boxes located in the living room, kitchen, dinette, or bathroom. I consider it a small victory and rewarded myself with my first viewing of The Dark Knight Rises, which I borrowed from my new local library.) However, my poem a day has keep me feeling the holiday poemy spirit. The first poem emailed to me was, in fact, one written by my old Craft and Theory of Poetry professor. The universe has a way of reminding you where you've been and helping you not forget those who have helped to shape you along the way.

I have not poemed. I have, however started making headway on my novel restructuring. I have the entire thing laid out and I'm fitting the pieces back together one time-frame at a time. It's a slow, tedious process, but it's one I'm hoping will reward my labor at the end. I'm impatient to have the thing done and sent off again, but I also want to make sure I do this thing right. Thus, I'm taking my time with it, but it's getting there. Like the tortoise. Slow and plodding but determined to finish the race.

In the meantime, I have managed to finish Cloud Atlas. I immediately gave it to my husband upon finishing, because this book was brilliant. It's one of those rare finds that live up to the hype you hear people spew about it. At the start, I was like "What is this?" but a few chapters in, I got into the meoldy of it, the nested dreams it reveals and their minor but important connections. And then, the message of hope and of humanity, the vision of destruction and carnage, it's fantastical elements all melded together to give such an apt picture of the world as it stands. Admittedly, some of the accents written in bothered me no end, but I coped and slogged through them, and after doing so, I can tell you: read this book. If for no other reason than to get to the last sentence and feel the weight of its full meaning.

I also read Jasper Fforde's first Thursday Next novel, The Eyre Affair. Considering that in the Craftlit Podcast of which I'm a listener, we are currently reading an audiobook of Jane Eyre, I particularly got into The Eyre Affair, being able to remember clearly what scenes from the book were used and changed. Granted, after reading Cloud Atlas, the first Thursday Next novel can only offer so much in comparison, but it was a fun romp. The originality and playfulness of the prose and the way in which Fforde melded (alternate) history and literature was something that I, as an English major with two masters degrees under my belt, couldn't help but appreciate in the fullest. I only wish we lived in a universe that valued literature even a quarter of the amount that it is appreciated by the characters in the universe constructed by Fforde. It was fun but intelligent and I'll continue to read about Thursday and her literary antics.

Good books. Novel Progress. New House. Plus, my husband came home last night with a present for me: the rototiller we need to create my giant vegetable garden in the backyard. I'm thinking positive and hoping that good things continue to make there way into my life, and I am gratefull for the good that has already come.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Finding My Yarn (And My Groove)

Moving house is difficult. I expected it to be difficult, but until staring at the room full of boxes after two major illnesses, a barely functions boiler, and a moving day in which temperatures plummeted below freezing, I did not comprehend the full understanding of its difficulty.

The effects of that difficulty have since crashed into me like an elderly Buick driver entering the expressway using an exit ramp. I'm not really doing much of anything in the way of productivity other than unpacking, searching for items I need that are still packed, working, preparing my son for school/extra curricular activities, and watching episodes of Keeping Up Appearances on Netflix to give my brain a much needed romp of humor in the half hour before bed.

I want to knit. I do. If only I had time to focus on the intarsia colorwork football pattern that requires a certain amount of attention (and that certain amount is a great deal). If I start something other than the blanket, my brother would be very put out and he did come out the over an hour and a half to drive our U-haul truck for us. Besides, I have only just found my yarn and have yet to find my needles. Or my pattern books. Or assorted knitting paraphenalia. I never realized how much stuff knitting requires me to own until it's packed in unmarked boxes throughout my house.

Keep in mind that my house, at the moment, consists of a main portion, with a living room, parlor, kitchen, two bathrooms, and three bedrooms, and an apartment potion, with a living room, dinette, kitchen, a bath and a half and three bedrooms. We are living in the apartment half at the moment, as the main portion's downstairs walls are coated in a layer of debris left behind from the previous owner's kerosene heater, though our refrigerator is located in the main portion's kitchen. This means that fixing meals requires walking out the front door of the apartment, down the front walk, and into the front door of the main house. It's been interesting to say the least.

As I sort though my life, gathered in boxes, please enjoy this glimpse at the top layer of best of my stash, currently located in the main living room in my house, the part of the house we aren't currently living in.

It's the most knitterly thing I've done lately, photographing the stash. We did take a drive through the adjacent town, where my new lys (local yarn shop) is located. Unfortunately, we didn't have the time to stop in and see the fiber-ridden terrain. Next time.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sweet and Spicy Lentil Chili, redux

We have moved. There has been little action on any front, not cooking, not knitting, not writing. It's just been packing and unpacking. Then, I had the good fortune of moving in thirty-degree weather that wore down my immune system just enough for me to contract this horrible cold virus that's been going around. I was bedridden for two days, not consecutive but still, I was a sad panda.

As I try to get back on some sort of track with my various outlets of creativity, including the blog, here is a recipe I did over two weeks ago now. We needed to use up existing pantry items and we had a bag with 1 cup's worth of lentils in it, frozen minced squash, and several bags of corn meal. (We still have several bags of corn meal.) I remembered a meal I prepared a few years ago that involved chili and johnny cake.

Sweet and Spicy Lentil Chili, revamped
What you need:
1 c dried brown lentils
1/2 c chickpeas (cooked)
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/3 c dark sulfured molasses
1 c. minced squash
2 c water
1 c white grape juice
2 Tchili powder
garlic powder, to taste
onion powder, to taste
1 T cumin
1/2 t ground allspice

Put all ingredients in a stock pot and cook until lentils are soft (time is indicated on the lentils packaging).

This version, which adds squash and cumin and replaces apple juice with white grape juice, had a particularly complex flavor that I enjoyed even more than the original recipe.

And here is my bowl of chili at the table with the bouquet of greenery (plus one blown white rose the florist gave me as a freebie) we purchased for my son's sunday school's lenten floral arranging. You can't see it very well in the photo, but that chili is topping a big square of johnny cake.

To make the johnny cake, I needed to grease a 9 by 11 cake pan, which gave me the perfect excuse to try out the oil sprayer we bought a while ago to avoid having to rebuy those spray cans of oil (like Pam). Instead of spending all that money on aerosal spray cans, you can buy this one spray bottle and refill it with whatever oil you prefer whenever it runs out.

You use the metal lid to pump air into the bottle. Then, you spray the oil. I was quite thrilled by it. It worked just as well as the spray can oils but instead of generic oil, it was filled with high-quality 100% olive oil. I'm not sure how I lived without one of these before it came into my life, but I hope never to have to do it again.

Of course, having to live without the oil sprayer might come sooner rather than later, as most of the kitchen supplies are still in boxes and I have no idea which of those boxes might contain a reusable bottle for spraying oil. Thus is life.