Archive for November, 2009

Burn Before Reading

nano_09_winner_100x100My NaNoWriMo magnum opus is done. Thank god. Well, the story is not done, but I’ve reached 50,892 words and I’m stopping. I call it Burn Before Reading. That’s not it’s real title – working name is Flood System, actually. It’s more a statement of its dubious quality.

First sentence:

Paul Fernandez held his breath and signed the papers, once, twice, a dozen times.

Last sentence:

Somewhere, perhaps, he heard her. She sat in silence with his body, but there was no longer anyone there.

I feel a tremendous sense of relief; this was a really tough slog this year. I’m looking forward to really relaxing, reading, playing and enjoying the holidays with friends and family.

Posted on Sunday, November 29th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: writing | 2 Comments »

November Gingerbread

One of my family’s favorite comfort foods is gingerbread, the cake variety. I’ve always loved warm, spicy baked goods, and this comfort food is perfect for fall and winter. I adapted a recipe from Cooks Illustrated for this try.

gingerbread

Gingerbread

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose unbleached flour, plus more for dusting pan
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon Dutch-processed cocoa powder
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, then cooled to room temperature
3/4 cup mild molasses
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup milk

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom and sides of 9×9-inch baking pan and dust with flour.

  2. Mix together dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and cocoa.
  3. Beat butter, molasses, and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Beat in egg until incorporated. Gradually add buttermilk and milk until combined.
  4. Add dry ingredients to liquid; add ginger and beat on medium speed until batter is mostly smooth (ginger will make it slightly lumpy), about 1 minute, scraping down sides of bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Do not overmix. Scrape batter into prepared pan.
  5. Bake until top springs back when lightly touched, edges have pulled away from the pan sides, and cake tests done with a toothpick, about 40 minutes. Set pan on cake rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm, or at room temperature. (Gingerbread can be wrapped in plastic, then foil, and refrigerated up to 5 days.)

Recipe notes:

The grated fresh ginger gave it a wonderful kick but was a little overwhelming – I might cut it back to 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons.

I doubled the recipe and made this in a 9×13 pan. That didn’t work out so well – the cake was too thick and baked too slowly, about 1:05, and by the time it was done it was slightly scorched on the edges and still heavy in the middle. Next time I’ll use two 9×9 pans.

I’d actually like to find a lighter, cakier recipe that’s still very spicy and molasses-y – but this one was yummy.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. :) Enjoy!

Posted on Friday, November 27th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: cooking | 2 Comments »

Giving Thanks

Bryan and JeriThis Thanksgiving, I reflect on how very, very blessed we are.

Yes, it’s been a hard year, a year of terrible loss, grief and pain. But it’s also been a year of rebuilding, of adventure, and of the most wonderful inpouring of love I’ve ever experienced from my family and friends. I could not have gotten through this year without those I cherish, and this Thanksgiving, I think of them.

My awesome sons and I are healthy, thriving, and successful in our chosen endeavors. We have become closer and more supportive of each other, and they have helped me out with running our household and matured beautifully. I’m very, very proud of them.

We have a beautiful, comfortable house, reliable cars, and everything we need in our pantry and our closets, and can share that with friends when we see need. We also have both preventive and acute medical and dental care when necessary.

We have high speed Internet and more technology toys than we should; we’re all geeks. At the touch of a finger I can research pygmy marmosets, order flowers for a hurting friend, or watch the news from Afghanistan.

Those, though, are only material things. What we no longer have in our home is a father and a husband. While I miss Bryan intensely at times like this, I’m coming to terms with his loss. He’s in a better place, whatever that is, and he’s with us in spirit on Thanksgiving and every day. While I’d planned to grow old with him, I’m still so very, very grateful I had twelve beautiful years by his side; he loved us very much.

I also remember my father each Thanksgiving with love and honor. He left us ten years ago, 1999, on Thanksgiving day, and the world is a smaller, drearier place without his ideas, intelligence and integrity.

Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared ‘neath the stars above
For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known that you’d ever say goodbye

And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance

      ~Garth Brooks, “The Dance”

I’m thankful for the dance: the precious years with Bryan, but also for the unmarked future, on my own but surrounded, supported by so many I love.

I wish you all a peaceful and meaningful Thanksgiving, filled with love and laughter.

Posted on Thursday, November 26th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: family, grief, holidays | 8 Comments »

My Office Assistant

One of the many reasons I enjoy working at home – my lap never gets cold.

Panda

The Law of Panda is that you do not get up from your chair, disrupting her laptime, until she is ready to get up. Only then can you move about the house. Fortunately, she’s a benevolent ruler.

Posted on Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: dogs | 3 Comments »

Writing Can Be Painful

This is the third year I’ve participated in the writing madness that is NaNoWriMo, producing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.

The first year, 2007, was easy, and I was relatively proud of my story, Strange Things. I wrapped it up at around 60,000 words at the end of the month.

The second year, I challenged myself, shooting for a longer book, and wrote my unfinished 86,000 word volcano novel during November. I wrote myself into a plot structure I disliked, and couldn’t finish it, but far surpassed the minimum required word count so it counted as a ‘win’ for NaNoWriMo purposes.

I am embarrassed to admit that I did not go back and rework either novel. The first is very salvageable, and the second is a good core idea but needs lots of work.

This year, I hesitated to commit to NaNoWriMo. Since losing Bryan I’ve been plagued with a nasty case of ADD, an inability to focus for any length of time or at any depth. Still, I miss writing, and miss expending creative energy, so I chose to take the plunge.

It has been a painful exercise. Writing has been like pulling teeth, the book just hasn’t caught fire for me. Combined with that, it’s been an incredibly busy month with business travel and weekend commitments, and I’ve been exhausted enough I’ve skipped a few days and just gone to bed early.

I’m still here, still writing away. I’m about 5,000 words behind my target word count but catching up slowly; Thanksgiving weekend should be a really productive time. I’m battling my internal perfectionist, hard, as well as a continued lack of real engagement with my characters and my story.

I’ve had incredible encouragement and great support from friends – you know who you are. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. And I’ve gotten great advice about relaxing and making the writing process fun.

So, I’m killing characters. Writing sex scenes. Inserting random flashbacks. Adding gratuitous action. The story’s getting a bit fragmented, but the writing process is becoming more fun.

This year, so far, has been a real learning process about overcommitment and the creative process. I think, at the end of the month, the hard-won victory will be that much more meaningful.

Posted on Saturday, November 21st, 2009 by Jeri
Under: writing | 5 Comments »