Monday, April 27, 2009

busy (all the time)

hi, lil foodies.

i am very much aware of my neglect of food in this-here space lately. i'm kicking around a couple of ideas but to be honest, i have not felt very inspired on the food-front lately. could be because i've been writing so much, but hey...that one took a sputtering back burner for the last THREE YEARS, alright already? I'm trying to re-negotiate my relationship with food, which is linked directly to my satisfaction with work/living spaces. In the last year I've baked a lot less...because I've had no freezer space, a very unreliable oven, and now a toaster oven.

(yes...I do decide what to bake, if I'm baking at home, by what pan will fit in the toaster oven. yes...i am aware this is ridiculous)

so I'm just gonna leave you with two things:

1. new category in the overcrowded sidebar of other pieces I've written. currently this just contains other blogs I contribute to, but as I get new fictions published they'll make their way over there. I'm not going to put the old ones up, but you can find them if you want to without too much trouble.

2. I've got all my seeds started and I'm scoping out a couple more plants, but here's this year's sunset garden lineup:
early girl tomatoes
yellow pear tomatoes
some kind of determinate cherry tomato whose name escapes me
romano beans
red beets
mesclun mix
rainbow swiss chard
chantenay carrots
french breakfast radishes
lemon verbena
lemon basil

The apple tree and blackberry bushes are flowering. I'm contemplating letting my third shade bed get overrun with spearmint.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


marshmallows in the fridge! they're setting tonight, to be folded into brownie batter tomorrow...

because i am a good big sister.

homemade marshmallows are a luxury, if you haven't tried them. pillowy, playful, and not at all like those supermarket puffs.

{has anyone out there tried to make agar marshmallows? or xantham gum (so fun, but so creepy if you touch it)?}

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

oh please

from the craigslist "writing gigs" section: famous poet seeks intern

"famous poet/sculptress {insert URL here}. She has read with Charles, Bukowski and Allen Ginsberg. She also dated Charles Bukowski for five years. This your chance to learn from someone who learned for the greats. She have rare books from the 70's that need to be complied in a 'complete works' book. Please email me your resume and I'll be in-touch."

so many things to say but let's start with these:

1. Charles, Bukowski? no...alphabetizing goes last name first
2. Do we want to know your sex life to get a job with you? Do we need to?
3. "learned for the greats"
4. sounds like someone's books are out of print and she wants a vanity pressing, eh?

Happy Poetry Month. At least we know why it's unpaid....

Saturday, April 18, 2009

one more

oops...i forgot to tell you the best story in that last post! in a way it's about hustling, too, and in a way it's strange and sad, but i find i keep turning it over in my mind.

i have never been the sort of person to look outward for inspiration for stories, but this one, there's something about the mystery in it that i might just borrow it one day.

so, a while back i ran into someone i used to cook with. we chatted about workplaces and he gave me the rundown on who was still working at the restaurant {turnover. always} and who had moved on.

a skinny slip of a cook with intense eyes and a quietly cocky manner simply disappeared. he was married {i thought he was} and he left. left work. gave no notice. skipped town or not. changed the phone number or not. vanished.

i wonder if he took his possessions, his knives, his bicycle, his chefwear. i wonder if he's returned. in my mind he's on the line in some distant city, but what thoughts are possibly going through his head as he flicks the saute pan?

on a different note: i worked 32 hours in the last 3 days. give or take.

on a related note...i'm kinda totally in love with editing my manuscript. it's so scary and so wonderful. part of me wants to tell everyone i know and part of me wants to keep it all to myself. i know it's a very, very long process and i know there will be so many moments when i hate it and am discouraged and think i am not so good at this and want to go out into the world and do something else. but for right now it's such a rush...familiar yet totally not. i'm trying to trust it--the process, the voice, my skill, something. it makes me want to call up writer friends and have long intense conversations. it's somehow made writing feel new again.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

it ain't where i been/but where i'm bout to go

cooks are all hustlers. if you work in a kitchen long enough, you become one. {i'm not implying we all start out that way}

maybe it's because kitchens are such transient places, and we meet at the intersections between revolving doors, the borders of stations, in the walk-in.

i've been running into cooks and other restaurant i used to work with over the last few days. the questions are always the same:

where are you working now? or me? how's that going for you?

they tell me about the jobs they want/need/left/think i should get, or vice versa. they tell me about the other people that have moved on, ask who i am still in touch with.

cooking is a tiny community in this town, and a cook worth his salt usually has his ear to the pipeline. maybe he's pulling doubles working for his friend's new place, or he knows they're hiring, and hey, you need a coupla shifts? he'll hook you up. maybe he's afraid his gig is gonna go south, and he needs the hookup.

hey, you know this place? oh i saw their ad on craigslist. you should apply.

hey, i need a good pastry person, did that girl you used to work with find something?

it's the hustle. in an unlevel playing field, information is currency--especially in this economy--and so we trade it in whispers on street corners, sliding back from the group to catch up before moving on separately.

i'll call you we say. or i'll stop by. in through the back door.

i get phone calls, occasionally. people trying to pass on information or pick up information, people trying to hustle me into something that suits us both. there's no meanness about it. it's just the game. in this town.

bacon n eggs by orin optiglot

Saturday, April 11, 2009

revisions, revisions

I got stuck on a chapter last night. I can usually tell when I'm stuck because I'm avoiding writing, or when I try to write I get nothing done (but sometimes I get so little done even when I'm not stuck). Last night I was trying to revamp a scene in a chapter that needs lots of work.

Group scenes are really hard for me. Parties. Crowded rooms. That stuff is a touch easier in first person because it's all being streamed through one voice. Third person, though...even if it's fairly limited, it's still something I have a hard time working with. All those bodies, what are they doing? I wrote a scant paragraph but no more.

Then I took a walk. Getting up and leaving the room is dangerous. When you're struggling to write, sometimes it works best to push through it, whether by giving yourself an arbitrary word count (500 more, = 2 pages) or by giving yourself an arbitrary time you must write until. I tend to try to stay in the room, even if it's not doing me any good. Even when I give into the urge to google this or that information that I really need to know, really before going any further. Getting up and leaving the room brings the danger that I won't sit back down at all. And leaving writing dissatisfied doesn't make me want to sit back down the next day.

Sometimes it also works to close the computer and let everything marinate overnight. If I've taken my characters up to the edge of a cliff, but not over the cliff, if I've started a new scene, gotten everyone into the next room, then I've got something to mull over and I've got a jumping-off point for the next day. This wasn't going to work because I knew the room they were entering, and they were all bottled up in the hallway.

So I took a walk with my dog, down to the public garden. I thought about the scene I was struggling with. I thought it through enough that when we got home, half an hour or so later, I made a few notes on a post-it and got back to work, and finished the scene.

By and large, characters make rational decisions. They might not be rational to you, the reader; if so, the writer didn't do her job well enough. Stylistically, sure, sometimes we choose altogether unreliable, irrational characters. Logic will always play a role. If I choose an unreliable narrator, I've got to use my logic to demonstrate her total unreliability at some point in the story. If my narrator is confused, heartbroken, manic, earnest, what-have-you, but otherwise trustworthy, he or she will make a rational decision. Additional characters will react in time. Raymond Carver is so skilled at showing these decisions with such sparse language. Writers who clutter their pages (Dave Eggers comes to mind) likewise have to justify their decisions. I walked through the garden at night, took away my fear and frustration and anxiety, and laid everything out straight. What did my character want? Who was going in that room with him? What other characters would hover on the periphery? How could I introduce tension, foreshadowing, doubt, anything for his to react against? How could I introduce information about minor characters that could be useful in future chapters?

Sometimes, but very rarely, we need to leave the room and walk about. That scene is finished, almost. Tonight on my drive home I realized I need to spend a little more time on something. Always writers have to think about how we can raise the stakes, introduce more tension, cut closer to the bone.

That is, if we're writing about something honest and true that we care deeply about. It is infinitely easier to put words on a page if our hearts are not behind them. They lose a degree of power. Choices get abstracted.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

schmidt happens

Hershey’s may not have spelled out their reasons for closing the plant to the employees, but the employee guessed that making artisan chocolates was too expensive and labor intensive for a such a large corporation.

“That’s why not one truffle looks like the next, even the special boxes are hand made and decorated,” she said. The truffle boxes are hand dyed on paper maché and individually decorated using the batik technique. “That’s what Joseph Schmidt is known for. A lot of people hold on to their boxes.”

Production costs for artisan chocolates may be high, but Hershey’s had a good 2008. Net sales in 2008 were $5.13 billion dollars, up from $4.9 billion in 2007. Hershey’s 2008 net profit was $311.4 million dollars, a significant increase from 2007’s $214.2 million.

“Working here was a good experience. I’m so sad. It feels like a death in the family,” the employee said.

The above comes from an interesting article on the last few days of the Joseph Schmidt factory in SF. Joseph Schmidt, along with the Berkeley ScharffenBerger plant, is being closed by parent company Hersheys.

People, don't sell your boutique chocolate shops to Hersheys.