Friday, July 29, 2005

Summertime and the Grilling is Easy

With apologies to George Gershwin for the bad pun. I couldn't resist. I'm a little disappointed, though. Stephen Raichlen, who writes Paul's favorite books on grilling, was supposed to do a demo and book signing at a local Barbeques Galore store. Unfortunately, they closed the store and didn't reschedule the signing at the other store in the area. He's going to be at Sur Le Table in Santana Row tonight. But they're starting before Paul gets off work. I was hoping to write a post about the signing.

Instead, I'll write a bit about our new barbecue. Barbecuing is one of Paul's passions. He misses being able to cook with charcoal, but we understand why owners of apartment complexes prefer gas. A few weeks ago, the propane tank on my mom's horrible gas barbecue ran out of gas. We went off to the service station to fill it. No dice. It's old and doesn't have a safety valve that's required by law. Mom doesn't want to buy a new propane tank because she doesn't use her barbecue when she's by herself. We went shopping.

At first we thought we were out of luck. There are lots of gas grills in all price ranges that will cook steaks and hamburgers. But, we couldn't find a gas barbecue that would cook ribs, small roasts and whole chickens for under $500. That's way out of our budget. Then we perused the Weber barbecue site. They have two small grills that are perfect for apartment living. The "Q" and the "Baby Q". The secret to doing roasts on the Q is that the cast iron grill acts as a heat source. So, you put the meat on a rack above the grill, turn the gas down so it keeps the grill hot, and roast away. Paul got a great Father's Day and birthday gift this year. We bought the Q and really love it. I cooked a pork roast and it turned out great.

Now I bet you're expecting a pork roast recipe. Unfortunately, I just coated it with a commercial rub and roasted it for an hour and a half. So, how about a rib recipe instead? I got this from a Good Housekeeping magazine. My notes don't have the date when it was published. I've changed it a bit, as I'm wont to do with recipes. My family accuses me of never cooking a recipe the same way twice.

Plum-Good Baby Back Ribs

Serving Size : 4

Ingredients:
4 pounds pork baby back ribs
12 whole black peppercorns
2 whole bay leaves
10 whole star anise
2 whole cinnamon sticks
4 quarts water -- enough to cover per instructions
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon ginger -- peeled and finely minced or grated using a ceramic ginger grater
1 whole garlic clove -- crushed
1 small jar plum jam
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil
Optional garnishes: toasted sesame seeds and sliced scallions

Instructions:

1. Place ribs, peppercorns, bay leaves, 4 star anise, 1 cinnamon stick in an 8-quart stockpot. Add enough water to cover ribs, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 40 minutes. Remove from the water and pat dry with paper towels. You can do this in advance and refrigerate the ribs, covered, until you're ready to grill and serve them.

2. Prepare glaze: In 1-quart saucepan, heat soy sauce, remaining star anise, cinnamon stick, grated ginger and garlic. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Strain mixture into bowl; discard star anise, cinnamon, ginger, and garlic. Stir in plum jam and toasted sesame seed oil.

3. Place ribs on grill over medium heat. Cook 10 minutes, turning once, until browned. Brush ribs with some glaze and cook 10 minutes longer, brushing with remaining glaze and turning every two minutes.

4. Put on plates and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and scallions.

Notes and Tips:

1. I've made this successfully with both beef ribs and regular pork spareribs, both of which are way less expensive than the babybacks.

2. Plum jam is readily available here. But if it weren't, I'd try blackberry, black raspberry, or boysenberry.

3. If you can't find star anise, you can buy it online from Penzey's Spices. And if you're not a licorice lover, as I and my family are not, I assure you that the star anise doesn't add an overpowering licorice flavor to the glaze.

Mangia!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Random Stuff

A couple of my buddies have linked to fun little things on their weblogs.
Jean wonders, "How Weird Are You?"

40%

You Are 40% Weird

Normal enough to know that you're weird...
But too damn weird to do anything about it!



Holly has the world's shortest personality test on her blog today.


You are dependable, popular, and observant.
Deep and thoughtful, you are prone to moodiness.
In fact, your emotions tend to influence everything you do.

You are unique, creative, and expressive.
You don't mind waving your freak flag every once and a while.
And lucky for you, most people find your weird ways charming!



Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, again--

It's been 5 days since my family and I went to see this film. We're still talking about it. It randomly pops into my brain. Anything that gets me and my family thinking this much deserves to be recommended to other people.

Ditto for Harry Potter--

All the people I know who've read the latest Harry Potter want to talk about it. It keeps randomly cropping up in conversations about other things. There's something about this series that gets you thinking. So, I recommend it, too. But I'm a huge fan from the start, before it was a huge hit, so my opinion is slightly biased.

Yes, I'm a total Geek--

I've been book shopping, but not for a good read this time. I want to make my own template for the blog and I need to learn what's been going on in the world of HTML since I last did web stuff. I learned it originally in 2000, and things have changed a lot since then. So, I'm going to be playing with code and graphics and giving my brain a real workout. Don't expect any real changes anytime soon, though. I have to learn some new graphics software, how to use the blogger code, update from HTML 4.0 to XHTML and upgrade my CSS knowledge. And maybe borrow David's digital camera to take some pics to create the graphics I want to use. It's going to be fun.

Andi posted a great quote and I had to share it with you all:
"There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls." --Howard Thurman

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Writing Schedules

I touched on a topic in Carpe Diem that Zette wrote a post about--writing every day. She said:
Anyone can write every day. It's not difficult. You just have to sit down and do it. A few hundred words -- it's easy. There is no reason why anyone here can't find that much time to work on material.

But it's not what everyone should do. There is no rule that says you can't be a published writer if you don't work every single day. I know many published authors who take time off, either in huge chunks or a month or so, or a few days a week. Writing every day is not the sign of a successful author. It's a choice, and there are other choices that will work just as well.
And she said:
But the real goal is to finish your work. It doesn't matter how long it takes you as long as you do the best you can with it. Some of us write more than others; that is not a sign of talent, just that we have more time to write and really don't want to do other things. (grin)
I agree with what Zette said.

However, I'd like to make a related point on the subject. It's very difficult to finish something if you wait for the Muse or inspiration or the right mood to hit before you work on it. I've noticed a couple of things about people who wait for inspiration to strike. They have more problems with writer's block, which I attribute to waiting for the Muse to get them unstuck rather than actively working to unstick themselves. They don't grow in their writing very quickly because they don't write very often, again, because they're waiting for that Muse to strike.

A member at FM once asked me if it would be possible for a writer who can't write every day, but has to wait for inspiration, to have a career. I told him that I worked that way for years because writing was a fun break from being a mom. When I decided I wanted to be a published writer, I changed my approach because it's unlikely I could have a career writing as infrequently as the Muse showed up, especially if I want to earn a living from my writing. I wondered how he planned to meet contract deadlines if he's sitting around waiting for the Muse to drop a story in his brain. The writers I know who are paid for their work tend to follow the maxim I quote in my signature on Forward Motion:
"Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just get up and go to work." --artist Chuck Close
That's not to say they're never inspired. They are, and more often than those who wait for the Muse. The process of writing primes your mind to be open to inspiration. One fear I had when I started this blog was that I'd run out of things to write about. So far, I haven't written about everything on my list, and the list keeps growing. Because I'm writing regularly, I'm thinking about writing. When a potential topic passes through my mind, I recognize it as a potential topic to add to my list.

If Zette's right, you don't have to write every single day, and if I'm right, inspiration happens more when you're writing than when you're not. How often should you write? It's up to you, but I recommend setting a regular schedule. It doesn't have to be a 9-5 workday, like so many dreaded day jobs. But it can be, if that's the best schedule for you. You can write every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7 pm. Or during your coffee breaks or lunch hour in your day job. The point is to make writing appointments and keep them.

When you know you're going to write at whatever time is on your calendar, your mind prepares itself to write during that time. That's one reason the pros get more inspiration. They've trained their minds to be ready to work during their writing time. It's been my experience that if I have a day when I get stuck, I figure out how to get unstuck much faster if I report to work as scheduled. First I try brainstorming using my favorite brainstorming tool, Inspiration. If that doesn't get me unstuck, I'll use the time to stare at the walls and think about it. If that doesn't get me unstuck, I'll let my backbrain work on it, while I work on something else. No matter which approach I'm using, I show up at my desk at the appointed time. I've noticed that my writing is the better for having a regular schedule.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Perfect Rake

A note on reviews--Don't be looking for me to trash stuff in here. I'm not pretending to be an objective critic. I'm just sharing things I enjoyed that I think other people might enjoy, too.

Book Review: The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie

I really enjoyed this Regency romance. I picked it up and started reading while browsing in our local B&N. A few pages in I was hooked and seeking a chair to read a bit more. When it was time to leave, I couldn't put it back. The story is about Prudence Merridew, plain eldest sister, and her plan to protect her four beautiful younger sisters from their grandfather's brutality. Enter Lord Carradice, a complete rake with no desire to be wed--ever. Prudence's plans always seem to go a bit awry and Lord Carradice keeps unintentionally ending up in the middle of them. This book deals with serious themes, but also has plenty of humor in it. I really liked that the conflicts between Prudence and Lord Carradice are strong and believable. They earned their HEA and I enjoyed going along for the ride.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

We treated ourselves to a movie in the theater yesterday. We almost never go to the movies, but I suspect we'll see a couple more before the end of the year, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which comes out around my birthday, and Tim Burton's next film, Corpse Bride, which looks like it's in the style of A Nightmare Before Christmas. Chris is a Tim Burton fan, so we try to see his films when we have the budget.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

There's a spoiler or two in here, but I tried to keep it to a minimum.

Although this is marketed as a kid's film, it's got that same juxtaposition of darkness and light that was in the original book. I wouldn't read the book to a small child and I wouldn't take a small child to this film. I wouldn't take a child under about 9 or 10.

This film is one of those you'll either love or hate. My family and I loved it. In order to appreciate it, you have to rid yourself of preconceived notions garnered by having read the book and seen the earlier film. Apparently, though, it helps to have read the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. My son's friend commented that some of what was in this film was taken from that book. It's been too many years since I read it for me to agree or disagree with that statement.

The film vacillated back and forth between light and delightful fun and dark and scary things. Unlike the original, this wasn't about how Charlie passed the Everlasting Gobstopper test and won the chocolate factory. This was about Charlie and Willie Wonka's relationship, how it built and how Charlie helped Willie grow and by doing so, earned the factory. That growth is what the flashbacks into Willie's past, triggered by Charlie's questions are all about.

In between, we got the delightful factory tour. We got to watch the icky kids get their comeuppance. The Oompa Loompa songs paid tribute to a lot of pop history, from the era of Busby Berkeley and Esther Williams, right up through Queen and techno stuff. There were tributes to movies of the past, too, including the Wizard of Oz and Edward Scissorhands. He also skewered some cultural icons. But I won't spoil it by saying what they were.

There was a lot of humor in it, too. We laughed out loud a lot. I'm not going to put any spoilers on the humor, though. You can go laugh for yourself.

They showed what happened to the bad kids after they were carted off to their various fates, which was something I'd wished had been in the earlier film. They updated the kids' characters to reflect more modern times. For example, they made Mike TV a video-game playing geek instead of a cowboy. I miss the geese and the golden eggs, even though the squirrels allowed a groaner pun into the film. I didn't believe that a child would want a squirrel that's nothing more than a trained nutcracker. It made more sense to me that a child would want a goose that laid a golden egg.

All in all, I'd recommend that you go to the film and make up your own mind. This isn't a film I'd say you could decide whether you'll like it or not based on what someone else says. It doesn't have clunkers that would cause me not to recommend it. But I can see how a lot of people expecting a faithful rendition of the story they're used to might be disappointed in it.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Something Fun

I'm one of those people who thinks the various quizzes and memes people pass from blog to blog can be a lot of fun. Here's one I got from Tambo.

pho
You are Form 0, Phoenix: The Eternal.

"And The Phoenix's cycle had reached
zenith, so he consumed himself in fire. He
emerged from his own ashes, to be forever
immortal."


Some examples of the Phoenix Form are Quetzalcoatl
(Aztec), Shiva (Indian), and Ra-Atum
(Egyptian).
The Phoenix is associated with the concept of life,
the number 0, and the element of fire.
His sign is the eclipsed sun.

As a member of Form 0, you are a determined
individual. You tend to keep your sense of
optomism, even through tough times and have a
positive outlook on most situations. You have
a way of looking at going through life as a
journey that you can constantly learn from.
Phoenixes are the best friends to have because
they cheer people up easily.


Which Mythological Form Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

BTW--My prediciton was almost accurate. Since Chris's birthday we've played 5 games of chess. I checkmated him once. He checkmated me once. And he won the rest of the games by simply taking all my pieces except the King. I love playing and don't care if I lose, so I'm looking forward to many more losses. Maybe I'll get better faster than he will and beat him occasionally. HAH!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Carpe Diem

Douglas Clegg wrote an interesting entry in his blog yesterday. You'll have to scroll down to read it because I can't find a way to link to that particular post. He talked about "seizing the day" in his writing and in life. It reminded me about some thoughts I've been having recently about that same subject.

When writers urge other writers to write every single day, taking no days off, I cringe. Life is for writing about, certainly. That's what writers do. But it's also to be lived. It's living life that gives a writer something to write about. Living life refills the creative well from which our stories come. That sounds obvious, but how many writers, who tend to be natural introverts, make themselves leave their desk and go out into the light? It's far too easy to say, "I'm working." But a workaholic soon burns out, the creative well drying up.

I've been living with my mom this past year, as many of you may know. During a part of that time we had absolutely no income. Unemployment and savings had run out. We had food stamps and that was it. Except for the Internet, we were almost completely cut off from the rest of the world. It was an interesting experience. I developed an even greater appreciation for friends and making the effort to keep an active social life going. I developed a greater appreciation for keeping in touch with my family, planning activities together. The simple things of life became more precious to me than before. It's a lesson I hope I never forget.

Those simple things are also enough to fuel your writing. You don't have to live an exciting life to have something to say. You just have to live an aware life. You have to pay attention. By paying attention when you're away from your desk, you see things to write about. You get ideas and make connections. For example, when I'm walking, I get a lot of answers to problems in my current manuscript. That's really interesting to me because I'm currently not actively working on it. Yet, today, I had two knotty issues solve themselves. One of my friends says that my "backbrain", as she calls it, is still working while I'm on my hiatus from writing the draft.

But you have to seize the day when you write, too. When you write, write the way you live life. Paying attention. Using what you gathered from life to make your stories sing. But also, seize the moment. Seize the opportunity to be at your desk and write. How many writers, particularly unpublished ones without contracts to spur them on, waste their writing time? How many play games, watch TV, procrastinate endlessly because it seems like there's always tomorrow? Or they run super busy lives and never stop to pay attention to those minutes they could use to put a word or sentence down on the page. I've been there, done that. Complained about not having time to write. But the fact is, pro writers I've talked with say they didn't have time to write, either. But they wanted their writing and their career more than they wanted other things. So they rearranged their lives to write. That's what they did. It's OK if you don't want to be a pro writer. It's OK if you want to write when you feel like writing. But if you want to seize the day and really live life to the fullest, then be honest with yourself about it. Seize the life you really want, whatever that life is. Arrange your life to write regularly, if writing's what you want. Arrange it to do whatever your passion is, if it's not writing.

For me, it is writing. I've been given a huge gift this summer. My husband's making enough money that if we don't go nuts with spending, I can afford to be an SAHW. I can afford to focus on the stories without that awful fear that we won't have the rent money or be able to buy food. When my hiatus is up, that's what I plan to do. I also plan to cook for friends. Sing in the choir. Live all of life to the fullest. Seize the day!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

RIP James Doohan

I just heard the news. James Doohan has died. Apparently he was very ill. I'll never forget his portrayal as Mr. Scott on Star Trek. He gave a lot to the lives of a lot of people, even if all they did was enjoy his performances. My condolences and prayers to his family. "Beam me up, Scotty."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Finished Harry Potter--no spoilers

I finished Harry Potter. And now I want to reread them all, including this last one. She puts so many subtle things in that you don't see until you read them as a whole. So I end up rereading them. She left a lot of questions for Book 7. I'm eagerly awaiting that one. I suspect I'm going to be thinking about this book a lot over the next few days. There's a lot to think and wonder about in this book. I'm also wondering when they're going to do the next film. And hoping they don't screw it up, since it's based on the first of the really long books. They're going to have to do either a 2-part movie, with an intermision, or cut a whole bunch out of the story.

Last night we celebrated Chris's 21st birthday. We gave him a fantasy-themed chess set. I promised him I'd play him this afternoon. I will get beat because he has a knack for strategy and I don't. I doubt I'll ever beat him, but I keep trying, anyway. He beats me at Pente, too. And we're about even with Gin Rummy. But we have fun, which is the important thing to me.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Deidre Knight Impersonated

Deidre Knight of the Knight Agency has asked bloggers to pass the word: The Knight Agency Blog It seems someone is pretending to be her and emailing epubbed writers promising them representation by Ms. Knight. Details can be found by clicking the link and scrolling down to the Monday, July 18 entry. Beware, people. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

Harry Potter & Villains & Fiction & Music

Before I get to the main post: Happy 21st Birthday, Chris.

Harry Potter: So far, I'm enjoying the new Harry Potter. I've been reading it more slowly than I usually read books. I keep stopping to think about what I've read so far. This book is both like and not like the others. Like in that it's the same world, the same characters, the story is a continuation of the one she started way back in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. But it's different in that there's not a specific evil event Harry's supposed to stop, at least not yet, and I'm almost halfway through. It's not as clear-cut, the stakes are significantly higher, and, as everyone seems to be saying, it is much darker than the others. Rowling doesn't hold back or wimp out when it comes to conflict.

I wish people were less envious. It seems like everyone who complains they "don't like Harry Potter", inevitably connects it with "I don't understand why Rowling's making all that money." Well, Rowling's making all that money because a lot of people disagree with you and DO like Harry Potter. Get over it! The worst are the ones who come up with "literary" reasons for not liking Harry Potter--"Rowling's not a great writer." "Rowling's books lack depth." And so on. But always, always there's that little envious dig that sounds like sour grapes. "I'm a much better writer than she is, so why is she making all the bucks?" Because a lot of people think her writing is just fine and has enough depth to tell a story they care about. Get over that, too! I feel that way about Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code . I hated it. I think he's a mediocre writer. And I kept stumbling over facts and technical details that I know are wrong, which made me wonder about the people who praise his research skills. I don't understand why so many people are loving it and recommending it to their friends. But I figure that I'm just not his audience.

I'd like to write something millions of people want to read, too. I don't expect to be the one person in all of human history to write something every person on the planet resonates with. Does that mean that because John Doe and Mary Sue Parker might hate my books I don't deserve to be successful? It's the same with Rowling and Brown and any other bestselling author. Just because I'm not this or that author's audience, or you're not their audience, doesn't mean they don't deserve their success. Whether I'm their audience or not, whether I can write as well as they do or not, is irrelevant. They wrote their stories and they resonated with a huge audience. And that's why they're successful. All I can say is,"Congratulations." May the rest of us find our audiences, too.

Villains & Fiction: Holly Lisle talks about villains in the last sentence of her post. She says, "I look at villains this way -- just because the cops don't have one like that on the books doesn't mean there isn't one out there." That resonated with me. I think it's important in fiction to balance realism with, well, fiction. You want it to feel real. But if you write it exactly the way reality is, it's highly likely you'll write the life out of it. You'll take out what makes it interesting. A serial killer that's exactly like the medical texts is not nearly as interesting as one who's enough like the texts to ring true, but enough different that your reader, particularly one who's a fan of serial killer stories, can't predict what he'll do.

My friend, June, has a favorite quote, "Nobody ever paid to see 'under the top'"--Joel Schumacher. I agree with Mr. Schumacher. Think about your favorite fiction or about the bestselling books you've read. They're all "over the top" in some way or other. No one really wants to read about an ordinary person, having an ordinary life, with ordinary problems. Something has to be extraordinary or out-of-the-ordinary or super-ordinary or it becomes just like the life the reader is trying to escape when he picks up your book. I think when an outrageous idea that works perfectly to tell your story, or the perfect villain is not "textbook perfect", don't wimp out. Go for it. Write that because that's what will make your story stand out.

Music: We had a treat yesterday. One of Paul's former bosses plays drums in a swing band, The Swing Solution. They played a free concert in Santa Clara. They play old big band standards and stuff by current big bands like Brian Setzer or The Cherry-poppin' Daddies. They mostly play private parties, but they have a public gig coming up in August at the San Jose Jazz Festival. There's info on their website, if you live in the area and like big band music.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Harry Potter's Here

I doubt I'll be posting much over the weekends. Weekends are my errand and family time. But this weekend, in particular, I won't be posting. I'm burying my nose in a book. Yep, THAT book. The one that's given the UPS guys and the FedEx guys lots of overtime today. The magical world is callling me. See you when I get back to the Muggle world.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Bloggers aid charities

Thanks to M.J. Rose, I've heard about a couple of good causes people are talking about on their weblogs. She's doing a promotion using a new technology where they make "vidlits" for books. They're similar to movie trailers. Here's a link to info about the Good Cause/Good Effects campaign and one to the vidlit for The Halo Effect, M.J. Rose's recent mass market release. The Halo Effect Vidlit.

I haven't read the book yet. But it looks like a good one. As I think I've mentioned before, we're moving soon. I'm not buying books until AFTER we move. They're heavy lifting. The Halo Effect is on my ever-growing list of books to buy after we're in our own place. I recommend that you check it out and see if the blurb and a couple of pages of reading appeal to you as much as they do to me.

M.J. is donating $5.00 to the nonprofit literacy organization
Reading is Fundamental for every weblog that links to her vidlit. Literacy has always been a cause this lifelong bookworm supports whenever possible. I'm happy to do my part, even though my blog is a tiny, new one without a lot of readers.

She's also reported about a quilt raffle to benefit Capital Candlelighters. Capital Candlelighters is the Madison, Wisconsin branch of Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation.

Jennifer Chiaverini coaxed 61 authors to sign quilt blocks, which she made into the beautiful quilt they're raffling off. It goes along with the seventh book in her Elm Creek Quilt series. In that book, The Sugar Camp Quilt, the characters make a similar quilt to support a fictional charity. There are links on the Capital Candlelighter's web site with information and a photo of the completed quilt. There is also a listing of the 61 authors, with a picture of their signed blocks. There's a link telling you how you can enter the raffle. Tickets are a mere $5.00 and proceeds go to a great cause. The drawing will be held on September 17th.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Oven-Fried Mustard Chicken

I figured out how to do this without a table, after all. The problem was that I'd copied and pasted from my recipe software and it's not very compatible with blogger. All it took was a bit of fiddling in WordPad before pasting it into the compose post window.

It wasn't my intent to write a long essay yesterday, but as I worked with my ideas, it kept growing. I guess I'd really been thinking about it a lot. Today I wanted a a lighter post. It's summertime. Who wants heavy philosophy every day when there's warm sunny weather to enjoy? Here's a very simple recipe to make on a cool Saturday morning. Pack it up and take it to the park or the beach for a summer picnic.

Oven-Fried Mustard Chicken

Serves 8

Ingredients:
2 whole chickens -- cut up or precut chicken pieces
1 teaspoon tarragon
2 teaspoons paprika, hot or sweet, depending on how spicy you want it
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups flour
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
peanut oil--as needed to coat pan

Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Lightly coat a baking dish with peanut oil.

2. Combine tarragon, paprika, salt, black pepper, and flour in a plastic bag. Brush mustard on chicken pieces and shake them one at a time in the flour mixture, largest pieces first. Place in a single layer, skin side down, on the baking sheet. If chicken is skinned, spray top with peanut oil.

3. Bake for 30 minutes. Turn chicken over. Bake 30 minutes longer or until crisp and golden brown.

Tips:
1. An easy way to deal with the oil is to get a pump spray bottle designed for cooking oil. Misto is the most generally available brand, but there are other good ones, too.

2. I'm a "pinch of this, pinch of that" cook, so the measurements are approximate. Use the amount of flour you need to coat the amount of chicken you have. Use the amount of mustard you need to coat the amount of chicken you have. Adjust the seasonings to your taste. I don't add salt to the flour in this recipe because the mustard has enough salt in it for my taste. You can add some, if you want it saltier.

3. You can substitute other herbs for the tarragon. Thyme, basil, oregano, and chervil all go well with Dijon mustard. If you're not sure if an herb you want to try will taste good, open the bottle of mustard and the herb and sniff both at the same time. If it smells good, it will taste good. Or mix a teeny bit of mustard and the herb you want to try. Spread it on a bite of plain bread or a plain cracker, something that won't add a lot of flavor of its own. Taste it. If it's good on the bread, it will be good on the chicken. You might have to experiment with proportions to find the blend that suits your taste, but that's part of the fun of being the cook. You get to decide when it tastes good.

Mangia!

Recipes

The plan was to post a recipe today. I had it all written out and ready to go. I started to post it and realized that I need to do a table for the ingredient list. So, I get to play with HTML this afternoon. I hope to get it posted sometime today, in case anyone is actually reading this blog and wondering when I'm going to post next.

Also, I think I'll post my disclaimer here, rather than in the recipe. I don't mean to insult anyone's intelligence by writing instructions and tips that seem to state the obvious. They're only obvious if you're an experienced cook. If you've never cooked anything from scratch in your life, nothing's obvious. I try to write my recipes so the beginning cook, as well as the experienced cook, can be successful. I hope you enjoy them, once I get my template done and am able to post recipes so they look the way you expect them to. They're a lot easier to follow that way.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Words

Over on Zette's blog, Zette's Writing and Photography, she's been talking about an incident that happened at FM a month or so ago. The link is to the first post, but she has several more over the next few days, if you're interested in reading the entire bit that prompted my thoughs. The part that's stuck in my mind and prompted this post is that the writer wrote a bunch of posts and everyone who read them thought he was saying "X". He insisted he meant to say "Y". He complained that over on another writer's forum he wrote similar posts and they thought he said "X", too. He couldn't understand why he was being so badly misunderstood. I could see why he got the reaction he did. It was due to the writing style of his posts, the words he chose and how he put them together. The subsequent train wreck was inevitable because he made the mistake of assuming that his readers use words the way he does. When their reaction indicated they didn't, he essentially said that they were at fault for the misunderstanding because they should have used words the way he did.

This incident has been periodically invading my brain ever since. It's got me thinking about words. I'm a writer. I hang out with a lot of writers. They write everything you can think of. Fiction. Technical articles. Articles for magazines on a variety of subjects. Reports for work and assignments for school. Theses. Letters, emails, and posts. Business correspondence. Is there any literate person who doesn't write something, at least occasionally?

Words are a writer's most basic tool. Our goal is to say something. Sometimes we want to communicate information. Sometimes we want to entertain or evoke a certain emotion. Other times we might want to persuade the reader to agree with a certain viewpoint. Sometimes we just want the business to make right whatever went wrong with our purchase. Whether we're successful largely depends on the words we choose.

It's important to consider the dictionary definition when choosing words, but as my son reminded me after taking a linguistics class this past quarter, the dictionary can only tell you what a word meant at the time the dictionary was written. Definitions change. People use words in new ways. Writers need to be aware of that fluidity of language and take it into consideration when choosing which word is the best one to communicate what we intend to say. Just knowing the current meaning may not be enough. If we're writing about an earlier time than our own we may need to look up the etymology of a word to make sure we're not using it in a way that's wrong for that time. A good slang dictionary can help you know when a word developed its slang meaning. Knowing language and how to use it is only one side of the page.

The other side of the page is knowing our readers. Do our word choices communicate what we mean to people who read them? Even something seemingly as simple as what color an object is can mean something different to different people. Take red. If I write "a cherry red car", you will get an image of a car and owner. It will most likely be different if I write "a fire engine red car". Or if I write "a rose red car". The images you got from reading my car descriptions are different because they're based on more than just what the words mean in the dictionary. For example, they're based on things like the culture you come from. I would expect someone from America to see a different image than someone from Asia. Your experience with cars will affect the image you see. One person might think of classic American cars while another thinks of fancy sports cars. People of different ages will see different images, even if they're in the same culture. If you're my kids' ages or younger, you might not even have an image of "fire engine red" because they changed the paint on fire engines to lime green before they were born. All readers bring their own perspectives and perceptions with them when they read our words.

Because of those different perspectives we writers cannot assume that people reading our words will have the same reaction to them or that their reaction will be the same as our own. We usually don't know who our reader will be. So we have to guess at his reaction. How do we make good guesses? Writers are required to spend a lot of time alone, inside our own heads. We're only partly writing for ourselves, but we don't have the reader inside our head directing our words flawlessly to perfect understanding. How do we figure out readers?

We can learn a lot about choosing words by paying attention to our emotional reactions to them when we're reading, watching TV or movies and talking with other people. That's what a lot of writers do because writers tend to be introverts. However, we need to know how other people react. The best way to make better guesses about other people comes from observing the world. Writers, particularly fiction writers, are always being told to observe the world. Usually that admonition refers to using your senses so you can write rich description or listening to people talk so you can write good dialogue. I'm talking about a different kind of observation.

To do it we have to get out from behind the keyboard, put our pen and paper down, and go out. Participate in life, but keep a bit of our brains busy watching people. Eavesdrop shamelessly. Pay attention to the reactions people have to what's being said to them. Watch how they react to what other people say and do. When we pay attention, we can see which words with innocuous dictionary definitions have emotion-laden connotations. Which words are fairly neutral. Which words cause misunderstandings? What words are "hot button" words people trot out when they're angry? What words do people use when they want something they don't think the other person wants to give them? Why do some lines work better for seduction than others? When we ask those kind of questions and think about how we'd describe what we experience to someone who wasn't there, we start to gain insight into how words affect people, which can help us choose words that are more likely to say what we mean.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Obligatory Intro Post

I've been told that it's standard blog etiquette to tell something about yourself in an "intro to the blog" post. Here's a thumbnail sketch. I'm a middle-aged mama hen. I've been happily married to the same guy for 28 years. We have two grownup sons and one daughter-in-law. One of our son's friends is living with us. We have one mostly gray old lady cat named Smokey who posts messages when I'm chatting. I have a busy life for someone who mostly stays home. Stays home--SAHW. Stay-At-Home-Writer. I used to be an SAHM, but the kids grew up.

I've been thinking about starting a blog for a while. It seems like I'm the only person without one, although that's just a perception based on the fact that I hang out with a lot of writers. Blogs are a natural for writers and they've enthusiastically embraced this technology. Recently one friend, Andi, started Fetu's Lantern. I never expected her to do a blog. My son, Chris, started one, Drippy's Rantings. And another friend, June, decided to write in hers, jddrexler , after starting it 7 months ago. My fear was that a blog would become the biggest procrastination device. I'm going to avoid this problem by borrowing a trick from another friend, Sheila, whose great advice can be found on her blog-- PBW

Starting a blog because everyone else has one is pretty lame. What changed my mind is that I read a lot of blogs. They provoke thoughts. I've been writing little essays in my personal journal about what I've been reading. It's not satisfying to write them just for myself. Of course, if no one reads this blog, I'll still be writing just for myself, but at least other people will have the opportunity to read them.

Along with the thoughts provoked by other people, I want to write about writing. No surprise there. All writers write about writing. I'm assuming that most of the people who might take a look at this know me from Forward Motion, a site for writers started by Holly Lisle, who's website can be found at Holly Lisle.com, or are relatives or friends. If you're in one of those categories, you know that I've been working on a mystery novel as part of Zette's 2-Year Novel class on Forward Motion.

Class info, if you're a writer looking for a freebie class on writing: The next class won't start until January. This is the second year she's taught the class. If she teaches a third year, look for registration information in December.

Forward Motion info: You don't have to wait until December to check out FM (as we call it). There's lots going on you can participate in to improve your writing. it's a great place to get to know other writers, too. It's all free, although Zette, current site owner and administrator, accepts donations to help defray the costs of running such a huge site. She has a blog, too. It's Zette's Writing and Photography.

I won't be posting a lot about writing the novel at first, though. I'm taking a hiatus from the writing until after we're settled in our own place. We hope that will happen later this summer.

Another topic that's likely to be a big one in here is food. I'm an enthusiastic foodie. I love to cook. I love to create my own recipes. I keep saying that one day I'm going to write a cookbook that focuses on food for one or two people, but it's not a top priority in my life. Related to food is weight-loss and exercise. I know that I'm planning to get back to a more healthy balance in my diet and start walking again once we have our own place again. I'm sure I'll end up posting about that in here, too.

Music will likely be a part of the blog. I sing in church choir. We played in the handbell choir at church, also. But we're going to have to give that up because Paul's new work schedule conflicts with the rehearsal time. When I had musical instruments, I played the piano, flute, recorder, and guitar. Somewhere in the budget, sometime when I don't have to buy necessities like bookcases for the usual outrageous number of books writers and cooks accumulate (not to mention the music musicians accumulate) and beds so we don't have to sleep on air mattresses on the floor for very long, I hope to replace our musical instruments, including my husband's clarinet. We used to have such fun playing flute/clarinet duets. I miss that.

Hobbies are likely to take up some space on this blog. I do those in spurts. I sew for a while. Then I may do photography or work on drawings. I may do various types of needlecrafts. I may do something entirely new. I love trying new and different hobbies. The next one I plan to try is quilting. It's one of the few needlecrafts I haven't tried. It's been on that "list of things I want to try" that the self-help books are fond of having you make. I don't do self-help books much anymore, but I do keep that list because it's fun. I have two writer friends who quilt, Tambo, (yes, she has a blog--Tamboblog) and Sheila, who has a blog dedicated to quilting--A Stitch in Time. I don't worry about how long it may take to finish a project when it's a hobby because the process of doing it is what's important to me, not getting it done as fast as possible. Once I figured that out about myself, I started to enjoy my hobbies more because I wasn't feeling so guilty about the half-finished stuff that I pull out and work on when the mood strikes. I finish them--eventually.

I'm likely to talk about multimedia. Books. TV. Music. Movies. The Internet. Video games. All the stuff we have that can be interesting, intellectual, thought-provoking, a stress-reliver, a time-waster, mind-boggling, mind-bending, or mind-numbing, depending on the choices we make. I don't subscribe to the theory that "TV is bad". Or "you should only choose books as your entertainment." There's good TV and horrible books. You won't learn which are which here. You'll just learn what I think and if you discover you and I have similar tastes, or radically different tastes, maybe you'll find my reviews and musings helpful or, at least, interesting.

Why do I keep saying that I'm "likely" to write about those subjects? Because I tend to be very spontaneous. What ends up in here will be whatever's going on that I think is interesting that day. So, there may be a ton of posts about writing, then nothing for a bit while I write about music or a batch of wonderful books I'm reading. I hope to keep the topics varied and interesting. I hope to write often enough to make it worthwhile for people to read regularly. Since I've always been curious and consider myself a life-long learner, things will pop up that are nothing more than "my latest interest". Who knows what those things may be? I certainly don't. That's why I love life so much. There's always something interesting going on somewhere. I hope that enthusiasm shows in what I write about here.