Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Robbing Shakespeare to Make a Coke Buy

    I have a habit, a demanding one, that I’ve lived with for the past 30 years. It’s seldom that I miss a day without feeding it. At times that are too close to payday, I’ve scrounged change from the sofa, the change jar, the bottom of my purse, the car. I’ve even robbed Shakespeare.
    It’s good to have cash in the house for some emergency and I’ve kept money in one of my Shakespeare books since my teens. I usually consider it to be off limits but when that jones demands to be fed, Will has seen me plunder his bank. I did that today.
    I quit smoking 21 years ago, I don’t drink coffee, and I’m not a drug-user. But I want my Diet Coke. Every day. Decaf is best when I can get it, but I’ll drink the leaded stuff too. What I don’t do is buy it in cans or bottles—I don’t like the taste. Made with 100% aspartame, it’s too sweet. According to Wikipedia, “Diet Coke from fountain dispensers still contains some saccharin to extend shelf life,” and that makes all the difference.
    I want my Diet Coke to come from a fountain where the syrup and carbonated water mix together at the moment it’s dispensed. In fact, I used to dream of making enough money to get a fountain from the Coca-Cola Company so I could have it whenever I want, but that wouldn’t be practical.
    Sometimes writers don’t get out for days at a time, depending on their schedules. Leaving to get my fix gets me out of the house and gives the car battery a chance to charge since I don’t live close enough to any store/fast food place to walk there.
    I’ll drink Diet Pepsi only if there is no possible alternative. I rather liken it to the Cullens getting their vampire blood from wildlife instead of humans. They’re better sports than I am.
    Today I left Mr. Shakespeare an IOU that I’ll honor this weekend.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Want To Make Some Dough?

    Over the course of my writing career, I’ve tried to do some of the chores I have given to my heroines, mostly for the sake of authentic experience. Since I write historical novels, those tasks can involve things necessary to basic existence 100 or 150 years ago. I’ve tasted brandy (cheap stuff that accounted for its resemblance to kerosene, so it really was a chore), baked bread, made candles, canned tomatoes and raspberry jam, tried to churn homemade butter, and a few other things. For some of you, this is no big deal—canning, keeping chickens, baking bread, making soap, etc., are part of a lot of people’s lives even now. But I was a city kid, raised by a busy single mother who worked outside the home. My grandmother taught me to sew and crochet, and I learned to cook in home economics and by experimentation. I’m a pretty good cook, and Mom says the tuna-noodle I’ve been making for the past four decades is her ideal comfort food.
    A couple of years ago I came across a recipe for no-knead bread in The Oregonian. There are dozens of recipes for easy breads, but all of the others I’ve found require a minimum 18-hour rise. That takes some planning. The recipe I found was a variation and, I think, a great improvement of the original idea. This bread will rise in four hours, produce a beautiful artisan loaf with a lightly crisp crust, and is so simple and easy, even non-bakers will have no trouble with it. Give it a try and let me know how it goes! (When fall sets in, I’ll give you a fabulous soup recipe to go with it.)

Fast No-Knead White Bread
(Makes 1 big artisan loaf)

3 cups bread flour (if you weigh instead of measure, 15 ounces)
1 packet instant yeast
1-1/2 teaspoons salt (I use kosher)
1-1/2 cups water
— Oil as needed (I use olive oil)

    In a large bowl, whisk together flour, yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until blended; dough will be soft and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise about 4 hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.*
    Lightly oil a work surface and your hands; put dough on the work surface and fold it over a couple of times. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise 30 minutes.
    Immediately pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic**) in the over as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Oil your hands again and put the dough into the pot. Shake pot once or twice to evenly distribute the dough.
    Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake another 10-20 minutes (oven temperatures vary so use your judgment), until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

*I put my dough in the microwave (DON’T turn it on). It’s a warm, draft-free place.
**I use a cast-iron dutch oven or a ceramic lined iron dutch oven.

    This bread is great with butter, dipping oil, or plain. If you have any left over you can make some killer croutons. Bon appetit!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Music to Write By

A lot of writers listen to music while they work. We all have different tastes and choices from which we gain inspiration. I once read that Stephen King listens to, among other stuff, Guns N’ Roses—the image of his psychopaths nailed to an audio backdrop of Axl Rose’s screaming thunder fits so well. (I’m a BIG GN’R fan, by the way.) Stephenie Meyer listened to other rockers while she toiled on the Twilight series. A lot of us also wish we had the ability to include the music with the book; music makes a big difference in the way a movie is perceived. Think of Jaws with that menacing undertone that means the shark is coming. Writers have a movie going too, in their mind’s eye.

I have a quirk—I can’t listen to any music with singing or lyrics when I’m writing. The repertoire I favor tends to run to instrumental soundtracks, piano solos like George Winston’s work, and those themed CDs you can buy from displays in Target and other places that let you listen to a sample.

Right now, I’m listening to the soundtrack for The Cider House Rules by Rachel Portman. I admit I didn’t like the movie. But the music is much better, wistful and yearning, perfect for illustrating what I’m writing: late summer blue skies hanging over miles and miles of pastoral fields. The movie camera in my mind’s eye pulls up and back to a high overhead shot of a woman waiting for the approach of a distant figure she hopes is the man she loves and has believed to be lost. The tall, yellow grass bends in the breeze and brushes against her skirt. The sweeping violins swell as her long, dark curls are pushed away from her shoulders. Sigh . . .

Other good scores that work for me are The Shawshank Redemption, Titanic—especially while I was writing The Irish Bride—and Lonesome Dove, The Last of the Mohicans and Dances With Wolves for a lot of my westerns.

When I wrote the love scenes for some of my books, I played CDs of recorded thunder and rain without music. The characters didn’t need it. They were the music, and nature gave them the elements.

Oops, I need to restart the CD. Back to work.