Tag Archives: writing

A New Tangent

food dyed woodIt’s been a few millennia, at least in computer years, since I last posted. I’m sure you are wondering what I’ve been up to, why I haven’t been sharing photos, recipes, etc. The truth is I’ve been off on a spectacularly long tangent, possibly branching off to another tree entirely.

The things I am making now are meant to be savored and chewed over, but not swallowed. For the last year I’ve been writing poetry, and turning my poems into visual works of art. I’ve wanted to share, but wondered whether I should start a new blog all together.

But I’m still very fond of kitchentangents, and since much of my art is done in the kitchen, as the sunniest, most spacious room in my house, I think it is still relevant to this sharing space. It might even embody the very essence of kitchentangents!

Leaping from branch to branch can be a bit scary, so I’ll start us off slowly with something familiar, a recipe. However, it’s a recipe for something to play with, not eat.

I’ve adapted it from eHow’s How to Use Food Coloring to Dye Clothes. It’s a nice way to add color to toys and projects for kids because it’s non-toxic. After I adapted the recipe, I noticed they do have a how to for dying wood that does not involve boiling, but I’m not sure it results in such lovely, intense colors. If you try either method, let me know!

Using Food Coloring to Dye Untreated Wood:
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons vinegar
Food coloring
Light colored, untreated wood such as popsicle sticks, toothpicks, wooden ornaments, toys, small frames, or any sort of raw wood remnants

1)   Mix just the water and vinegar in a non-porous bowl such as stainless steel or glass.

2)   Add wood items to the mixture and soak for 30 minutes. Weigh them down with something if they float.

3)   After soaking, remove wood items. Add food coloring until the water is a few shades darker than the color you want. If you are dying small items, or if you want multiple colors, divide the vinegar water into smaller portions before adding colors. Don’t use too small of an amount though since it will be simmering for a while.

4)   Put wood items and color water into a saucepan on the stove top and turn heat to Medium. When it starts to simmer, turn heat down to Medium Low. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.coloring wood with food dye

5)   Turn off heat and let cool to room temperature. If you want more intense colors, let it soak overnight. They will be lighter once they dry.

6) To mix colors, you don’t have to go through the whole routine again. Just take the pieces that soaked overnight and add them to another color for a few minutes. It doesn’t take any time while it’s still wet.

7)   Once cooled, rinse until water runs clear. Dry on a paper towel on a non-staining surface. Dry completely before using.food coloring tie dye

I just love the pretty colors.

food dyed wood ends

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Jottings Inspired by “Imagine: How Creativity Works”

A good book satisfies the same spot in our middles as a good cup of tea.

I believe the urge to create is just as strong, if not stronger than even the urge to eat sometimes. I have been called the “creative type,” but Jonah Lehrer shows in his book Imagine: How Creativity Works, there is no such thing.

We all have the capacity, and more importantly, the desire to create. The question is, are we answering that call? Are we nurturing ourselves by filling this need? Whether we are or not, Lehrer shows us how we can do it better.

The pages of this book hold beautifully written real-world examples of people and companies that have learned to foster creativity. Lehrer offers insight not only into how our mysteriously malleable brains work, but how we can develop our environment and follow our own rhythms to a higher art.

These are just a few hand-pickings by the chapter-full.

Chapter One: Bob Dylan’s Brain & Chapter Two: Alpha Waves (Condition Blue)

The frustration that arises when trying to find a new way to describe the color of a sunset, or the dull black of a moonless night is a good thing. It’s an important, though very difficult and annoying part of the creative process. The truth is, our brains thrive on challenge.

What to do when you’ve hit the wall? Take a few steps back, and allow for a different view so you can find a new way to climb.

Pick a meditative activity and let your mind wander. Garden. Have a cup of tea. Go for a walk. The answer will come when you relax and stop beating yourself over the head trying to force it out.

Here’s another hint: the color blue gives the illusion of space, and actually inspires creativity. I plan to paint the wall behind my art table a bright sky blue.

Chapter Three: The Unconcealing

Some insights, unlike the wall scenario, emerge slowly with persistence. There are times when you know if you keep your butt in the chair, the answers will come. As Lehrer says, “A good poem is never easy. It must be pulled out of us, like a splinter.”

I think this speaks more to the editing process. You’ve had your big idea, now you just need to chip away the rough parts and polish it to a high gloss. Sometimes, this work feels like a weed wending it’s way through hairline cracks in cement toward the sun. It doesn’t always feel plausible, but if you stick with it, you know it can be done.

Chapter Four: Letting Go

One of the biggest challenges we face in breaking through clichés to produce something fresh is finding a way to bypass the filter in our brain that keeps us from farting at dinner parties. Self-control keeps us from embarrassing ourselves, but it also inhibits creative improvisation.

One way to overcome this is to pretend you are a little kid again. Stop worrying about truth, common sense, or logic. Let yourself go. So what if the trees are pink and the sky is green? Play!

Chapter Five: The Outsider

Interestingly, creativity does not increase with experience. In some cases, knowledge can even cripple. A study discussed in Imagine finds the ideal level of education in creative fields is two years of undergrad. It seems once we’ve put on the magician’s hat and learned to pull the Ace of Spades out of our own sleeves, our brains have the tendency to just sit back and enjoy the show.

The secret is to continually seek new challenges. Our thoughts are shackled by the familiar. Travel. Seek mystery. When you start considering your art strictly as “work,” it may be time to find a new game to play.

Chapter Six: The Power of Q

Another way to encourage innovation is through collaboration. When you get the right mix of rookies and old talent sparks can fly, particularly if the group is comfortable with challenging each other’s ideas. There’s nothing like a little criticism to get you riled up, ignite the fire, and push you to refine your vision.

Chapter 7: Urban Friction

New ideas come from connecting seemingly unrelated ideas. It makes sense that the creative process accelerates in cities where random experiences and people are jostled together more frequently than they would if they lived miles away from their nearest neighbor. This explains the innovative success of companies like 3M that not only encourage the interaction and sharing of ideas amongst their employees, they require it.

While some people worry that social media puts a screen between you and the people around you, if used properly (as in not at the dinner table) it also increases face-to-face interactions. Groups are more easily organized. It’s probably happened to you; you notice a friend on a social networking site will be in town and arrange to meet up with them. Without social media, you probably would never have known they were in the area.

The more interactions between people, the more random connections are made…which morph into ideas, and when circulated, ideas can become even better.

According to a study in Imagine, there is actually a correlation between walking speed and the production of patents. Cities with unusually fast pedestrians come up with more ideas (think NYC).

Chapter 8: The Shakespeare Paradox

Innovation inspires innovation. Education, the sharing of ideas, willingness to take risks, these are a few areas Lehrer points out that we need to improve on if we want to foster a new generation of genius, and genius is no small commodity in this ever-shrinking world’s market.

Curiosity is a fragile thing. If we don’t nurture it, genius cannot bloom.

Lehrer tells us, “Unless we encourage young inventors with the same fervor that we encourage young football stars, we’ll never be able to find the solutions that we so desperately need.”

The good news is, Shakespeare did not need Cambridge, or Oxford. He did not have the college education of his contemporaries, and yet he surpassed them. What he did have was a bookstore full of ideas worth stealing, freedom from fear of censorship, and time.

One can only imagine what new ideas will sprout in this, the Age of endless Information free at the touch of a button.

Thank you Jonah Lehrer, for collecting and sharing these wonderful stories and ideas. Formally at Wired.com, he recently accepted a staff position at the New Yorker and blogs at: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/frontal-cortex

Here’s a few more blog spots and posts that have recently inspired me:

http://www.brainpickings.org/

http://theunquietlibrarian.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/makerspaces-participatory-learning-and-libraries/

What do you do to nurture your creativity?

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Metaphors of Motherhood

Shel Silverstein’s, “The Giving Tree” is the ultimate metaphor for the loving sacrifices of motherhood. I never understood the incredible balancing act carried on by mothers every single day until I became one myself.

It’s funny, I’ve been a mother for over eight and a half years, and I still don’t really think of Mother’s Day as a holiday for me. I still think of my mom on Mother’s Day.

Motherhood is nothing if not sentimental. These spiky red blooming trees remind me of my mom’s mom because there was one near her home. As a child they seemed so exotic, I had never seen one anywhere else. This one grows right outside my office, so my grandma says hi to me every day.

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Preparing to greet me…

To celebrate all of us moms, this is my meditation on the wonders of motherhood.

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Wonder

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Play is both learning and learned. Children remind us to play.

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It smells like chocolate.

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Food is love.

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Art is everywhere, as it should be.

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We are all a little nuts, and that’s okay.

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Tears are happy, sad, glad, and mad.

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A little patience goes a long way.

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Mothers are always behind

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fading into the background.

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Stolen moments are sweet too, and make better mothers.

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Gratitude is awe.

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There really is such a thing as buried treasure.

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For all mothers everywhere, Happy Mother’s Day.

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Farmer’s Market Chronicles – Again At Last

It is difficult to put into words why the farmer’s market makes me so absurdly happy. I arrive on my lunch hour feeling like this

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buy some of this

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Break it. Break another little piece of my heart now baby. Go on, break it. Break another little piece of my heart I know you will.

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sit on a bench as waves drift by

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and by

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and by

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under blanketed sky

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April’s Promise

Winter’s jagged edge softens

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Spring brings sweet release

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Summer is a promise of yellow days

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Fallen petals drift like unmelted snow

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Interview with Middle Grade Author Dawn Lairamore, and “Chocolate Fairy Cakes,” an Ivy-Inspired Recipe

I am very honored to share with you my conversation with middle grade (books for 8-12 year olds) author, Dawn Lairamore. Dawn’s debut novel, Ivy’s Ever After, was released in 2010, and named A Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year in 2011.

Her follow-up book, Ivy and the Meanstalk, was just released October 2, 2011. She describes her books as fractured fairytales. (I just love the imagery in that expression.) They are fun, spirited stories that whisk you away with Ivy, a fourteen-year-old princess whose love of books and the outdoors inspire high adventure with the most unlikely of friends, Elridge, a rather un-ferocious and smaller than average dragon. Together, they find their fire to help save their kingdom (and themselves from conventions that just don’t fit.)

Isabella, my 8 year old, liked Ivy’s Ever After so much we read it twice. We had recently started reading the Harry Potter series, but she insisted on taking a break from it when I brought home Ivy and the Meanstalk.

Also, to give you a little background on this latest tangent, i.e. how a food blog comes to interview a children’s author whose books are completely unrelated to food: I met Dawn through SCWBI, a wonderful organization for children’s book authors and illustrators. They organize fantastic conferences and networking opportunities locally, on up to the international level.

I joined SCBWI because I’m developing a kid’s cookbook that encourages picky eaters to explore fruits and vegetables. My obsession with produce stems from my own pickiness. At 18 months old, my daughter started refusing to eat anything green. I challenged myself to find ways to prepare a greater variety of vegetables so that I actually like them as a way to provide a better example for her. It has been quite effective! She gets just as excited when I make artichokes as she does when I make cookies.

To celebrate Meanstalk’s release, I thought it would be fun to create a recipe inspired by Ivy. “Oh, fairy cakes!” is a charming little expression used throughout both books (in the same way as one would say, “Oh, darn it!”).  My kid-friendly recipe for “Chocolate Fairy Cakes,” made in a magical, most unconventional way (in the microwave), will follow the interview.

Dawn’s books are not about food, but in true kitchentangents style, I couldn’t help but ask her about my favorite subjects: writing, food, and the little things that make life sweet.

On Writing:

kitchentangents:  In both of your books, you’ve taken a familiar fairytale and turned it on its ear. In Meanstalk, (a riff on Jack and the Beanstalk) rather than Jack being a lucky boy who gets his hands on some magic beans and treasure from a kingdom in the clouds, you tell the story with more sympathy towards the giant whose treasure was stolen.

What inspired you to write this kind of story?

Dawn Lairamore: I love fairy tales, but I also love stories that do the unexpected or have some sort of twist, which is why I’m often drawn to retellings of traditional tales.  A very common fairy tale motif features a princess being saved from a dragon or other monster by a handsome prince or courageous knight.  I thought, what if the princess wasn’t so helpless and was perfectly capable of rescuing herself?  What if the dragon wasn’t a ferocious beast but a timid creature with a heart?  What if the handsome prince wasn’t a hero but a villain?

And what if the princess and the dragon actually teamed up against him?  And so, Ivy’s Ever Afterwas born—a fairy tale about a princess seeking out her own “ever after,” rather than having one thrust upon her.  Ivy and the Meanstalk continues that idea of twisting a traditional fairy tale.  Jack and the Beanstalk has always been my least favorite fairy tale, because Jack never seemed like much of a hero to me.  He seemed a lazy, thoughtless boy who stole and did some other not-so-nice things.  So Meanstalk is my revisitation of the Jack and the Beanstalk tale with a rather dim view of Jack.

kt:  I was so excited when I found out we share a common profession (paralegal by day, creative writer by night). It’s reassuring to know that not all artists are starving, and that it is possible to have a creative life even if you have a not-so-imaginative day job. Do you have any advice for balancing work demands with creativity?

DL:  Make writing a priority!  So many people would like to write but find that life gets in the way.  It’s so easy to let other demands pull you from a little time to yourself to work on a chapter or a few paragraphs.  But if writing is close to your heart, you have to make time for it the way you would any other important task or job, even if that means putting off doing the laundry for another afternoon or turning down the odd lunch invitation so you can park in front of your computer and write.

kt:  How often do you write creatively? Do you have a scheduled time, or are you more of a go-when-the-creative-juices-flow style of writer?

DL:  Schedule, schedule, schedule!  I think it’s the best way to absolutely make sure you have time to dedicate to writing.  I try to schedule at least several hours every week where I have no other demands on my time and I can focus solely on writing.  Of course, sometimes inspiration strikes at random and odd moments, and you just *have* to sit down and write!

kt:  Writing is very much about painting a picture in your reader’s mind with specific, meaningful details.

“They sailed over the broad windowsill and into a vast hallway that stretched as far as a hay field in either direction. Suits of armor as tall as ships’ masts stood at attention against the walls, along with iron candelabras the size of tress.”

Your stories are very easy to visualize, and yet move along at a nice clip (as a good adventure story should). Are there any editing secrets you can share that you use to strike a nice balance between action and detail?

DL:  This is a tough one because some readers–like me–love detail, but some find a lot of detail distracting and would rather a story focus on more “urgent” components like action or dialogue.  I think, as a writer, you have to do what feels right for the story.  I felt that the Ivy books, being fantasy/fairy tales with some rather fantastical and magical settings, warranted special attention to setting and detail.  But, yes, you have to be careful not to overdo it.  Description and detail shouldn’t overpower other elements of the story.

As far as action, young readers often have a shorter attention span than adult readers, so I think stories for young readers especially need to move at a good pace.  When writing for this age range, I think it does help to focus on the external (actions and events) over the internal (thoughts and emotions).  Don’t get me wrong–the internal *has* to be there, emotions and conflict have to be part of the story, but perhaps not at same level as you’d expect in an adult book.  Long internal monologues or scenes where characters reflect upon their feelings probably isn’t going to fly too well with a middle-grade audience.

kt:  How was writing Meanstalk different from Ivy Ever After? Was it any easier the second time around?

DL:   It did feel a little easier, actually.  I had already spent a good deal of time with these characters, so I didn’t have to get to know them the way I did when I was writing the first book.  We were already great friends!

kt:  I would love to ask what you are working on now, but I don’t want to spill the (magic) beans!

On Food:

kt:  There seem to be a fair number of pies, cakes, and giant gooseberry tarts in your stories. What was your inspiration for the food you describe?

DL:  The Ivy stories are fairy tales at their core, so they’re not meant to take place in any real-world, historical time period.  That being said, Ivy’s world felt very medieval to me, what with the castles and swords and suits of armor, so I researched medieval recipes and used a lot of what I found for inspiration.  And, of course, I think food in a fairy tale should have an appropriately fantastical and feast-like quality to it.

kt:  If you could try any of the food in your books, which would it be?

DL:  I’ve never tried a gooseberry tart–or a gooseberry anything–so I’d go with that.  I love experiencing new tastes!  Elderberry is a flavor mentioned in the book as well, and I had never tried anything elderberry until recently, when a friend of mine brought me a bottle of English elderberry cordial back from her vacation.  Delicious!

kt:  Are your food preferences similar to any of your characters’?

DL:   Well, I certainly don’t want to catch and eat wild goats like the dragons!!  The food served in the castle is probably more along the lines of my tastes.  I’m pretty adventurous when it comes to trying new foods (within reason), so I might even go for the roast pigeon that was served at the feast at the beginning of Ivy and the Meanstalk. (I had read that roast pigeon was often served in medieval times while researching foods of that period.)

kt:  This is a very important question. If you had to choose, which is your absolute favorite: Dark, milk, or white chocolate?

DL:  Milk chocolate.  Not as bitter as dark chocolate or as sweet as white.  Just right.

kt:  On a similar note: If you had to choose between savory and sweet, which would you prefer? In other words, if you had to choose between your favorite dinner, say lasagna, and your favorite dessert, say chocolate cake, and you could only have one, which would you pick?

DL:  Probably the dinner. My sweet tooth kind of comes and goes.

kt:  What is your comfort food?

DL:  French onion soup with toasted sourdough bread when the weather is cold; a big bowl of chilled, juicy, sweet ripe watermelon when the weather is hot.

kt:  If we could sneak a peek, what would we find in your refrigerator as we speak?

DL:  Lot and lots of microwavable dinners.  I appreciate good food, but chef I am not!

On The Little Things:

kt:  What were your favorite stories or authors while you were growing up?

DL:  The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Secret Garden and The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.

kt:  What kinds of things do you like to collect?

DL: Books!!!

kt:  What smells or tastes remind you of childhood?

DL:  My dad was in the military when I was growing up, so my family moved a lot and lived in a lot of different places.  We moved to the Philippines when I was a year old, so my earliest memories are of our time there.  I associate many tastes of that region with my childhood.  I remember getting my face and fingers all sticky with mango and guava, and sucking on fresh, raw sugar cane.

kt:  When you like to treat yourself, what do you do?

DL:  So many things–sleep in or take a nap in the middle of the day (I don’t get to do either very often), have a lazy day where I do nothing but read a good book, visit someplace beautiful where I can take a long walk in gorgeous scenery.  Shopping is always good, too, or treating myself to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants.

kt: Thank you so much for sharing with us Dawn! Where else can we find you (links, bookstores, etc.)?

DL:  I hope your readers will visit my website: www.dawnbooks.com.  Here you can read chapters from both Ivy books, watch the book trailer, and see all sorts of fun stuff, including some “behind the scenes” info about the books. You can also visit my author page at Amazon.com.

And for our final course, Dessert!:

Fortunately for us topsiders, this dessert fit for the fairy realm is almost as easy to make as waving a magic wand. This bit of domestic magic is performed entirely in a microwave. It properly serves two princesses or princes. If a dragon guest comes to call, it may do to conjure up at least twenty.

It’s particularly important with this recipe to always level your measurements!

Chocolate Fairy Cake:

2 Tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon milk
3 Tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
3 Tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla

1)    In an oversized teacup (or cereal bowl, but something with high sides is best), melt chocolate chips, butter, and milk in the microwave for 20 seconds. Don’t stir it quite yet, just let it cool while you work your magic.

2)    In a separate bowl swirl together flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda.

3)    In yet another bowl whisk egg first till uniformly yellow, then twirl in sugar & vanilla until golden brown.

4)    Now stir melted chocolate chip mixture until dark and glossy. Add egg mixture to the chocolate (use a spatula to get all the eggy goodness out of the bowl), and stir till smooth. Sprinkle in dry ingredients and blend with a fork till there are no lumps in sight.

5)    Microwave for 1 minute, possibly another 10-15 seconds, but stop once about half of the cake top is dry. Don’t worry if the edges are moist, it will continue to cook even once it’s removed from the microwave.

6)    Immediately loosen the edges with a knife and turn the cake upside down onto a plate. Eat while still warm and steamy as the Isle of Mist. To make multiple cakes, just wash out the baking bowl and repeat.

The cake is delicious on its own, but if you wish to feast in true fairy style, top the warm cake with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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My Top 10 Fall Favorites in Northern California

For anyone who has ever lived on the East coast, fall in California may not seem like much of a fall. Spectacular fireworks displays put on by changing leaves are few and far between. Fall in Sacramento could be seen as just a season of morning debates, “What should I wear today? Is it going to be 90 degrees, or 50?”  Layers by the way, it’s all about layers.

However, there are some really great things about fall in California. I decided to make myself a list as a cheery reminder:

1)   Fall produce (of course)

2)   Rain’s novelty has been restored (however briefly)

3)   Steaming up the kitchen with great, bubbling pots of beans between summer salads


4) Folding warm laundry on cold mornings

5) Trips to Apple Hill!

6)   California’s extended growing season

7)   Visiting the pumpkin patch

8)   The plethora of apple and pumpkin treats

9)   Taking leaf walks – searching for different leaves around our neighborhood to do leaf rubbings

10)  Change. It’s not always easy, but it can be beautiful.

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