Monday, August 27, 2012

Easier said than done.

"I don't think you have to be in your heart's song.  I think you just have to be where you are."
This will be the last time I mention Writing Down the Bones for a while. After spending months reading and rereading passages that resonate with me, I'm finally ready to loan it out (to one of the best writers I know by the way), to get it out of my sight.  For the longer it sits on my nightstand, the more I feel like it weighs on me, pulling me into an analytical world from which I need to be jarred from time to time.  I am invariably a ponderer, a wayward wonderer who is constantly battling the "why"s and "how"s of the "what"s. Sometimes, though, I just need to act.  Instead of reading about writing habits, practices, and motivations, I need to just pick up the damn pen. 
But not without first sharing a passage with you from the Afterword ("An Interview with the Author").

Q: Do you think there's a connection between place and the inspiration to write?
I think land and environment are very important. ...But I don't think you have to be in a gorgeous place to write.  I don't think you have to be in your heart's song.  I think you just have to be where you are.  In other words, if you're in Cincinnati, if you can really eat Cincinnati, know the streets and the weather, the trees, how the light looks at the end of your workday, that's what's important.  Now, for me, I had a great love for Taos. ... And it was actually painful because I couldn't always be there....And yet, Taos was my passion.  But once I got to live there full-time, as I do now, then I remembered...when you know a place well, it's a place.  You might love it deeply, but it's a place that has good and bad things.  But having this place gives you a freedom to go anyplace and appreciate and love other places. Which wasn't true for me before, because I was always fighting where I was, because I wanted to be in Taos. 

Don't do that to yourself - "I am here, but I should be there." It was torture for me. Wherever you are is the place to be writing from.  Don't use the excuse that you are not in the right place. There is no perfect place. Just pick up your pen, record the details of where you are."

This is exactly how I feel about Cumberland County (or, at least today it is).  I'm not sure I've ever allowed myself to really "be" in another city in my adult life, because I was constantly romanticizing what it would be like to live in the place where the rest of my family shared impromptu weekday suppers, where I could drive Dad's truck on familiar backroads, where people knew my name when I checked out at the grocery store. Now that I am here full-time, though, I battle frustrations that rarely crossed my mind when I envisioned the quaint, whimsically-charming, cedar shake house I would build on Turner Farm. Sometimes I long for anonymity rather than first-name-basis Houchens encounters. I miss having opportunities to take any random skill-based class that has piqued my interest. I wish I knew more left-leaning, Kerouac-reading, hippish spirits.

Yet, even in those moments when my wandering urge is the strongest, I know, without fail, that I have a profound love for this place, a place I embrace and a place I push against daily.  And, that sense of place is something for which I am grateful, something that will hopefully allow me to "be" wherever I may ultimately find myself. And, you know what?  "Where I find myself" might be exactly three miles east of Marrowbone, seven miles west of Burkesville.  Maybe that cedar shake house will go up next year. I honestly have no idea.

If it's not, however, at least it won't be something that I am constantly fighting against, something to which I'm comparing everything else.  Having a genuine love of a particular place may help me find a home somewhere completely foreign to me, somewhere completely foreign to that fundamental place, but where I know how the light looks at the end of the workday. It is a understanding that grounds this not-really-purposive, not-really-accidental drifter, the one who dreams of writing and a cafe and freedom and finishing the dissertation and figuring out her passions of priority.

I truly wish for all of you the ability to "be" where you are. Trust me, I know it's easier said than done.
What I'm currently reading and loving...

Coconut Cream Pie (via

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 2/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 1/4 cups chilled whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon coconut extract
For filling:
Whisk 1/2 cup sugar, eggs, egg yolk, and flour in medium bowl. Bring milk and coconut to simmer in medium saucepan over medium heat. Gradually add hot milk mixture to egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return to same saucepan; cook until pastry cream thickens and boils, stirring constantly, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in vanilla and coconut extracts. Transfer pastry cream to medium bowl. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface to prevent formation of skin. Chill until cold, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day. Transfer filling to crust. Cover; chill overnight.
For topping:
Toast coconut in heavy small skillet over medium heat until lightly browned, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Cool completely. Using electric mixer, beat cream, sugar, and coconut extract in medium bowl until peaks form. Spread whipped cream all over top of filling. Sprinkle evenly with toasted coconut. (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Serve cold.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Art of Piddling

Just call me F.D.R.
(the screen is supposed to be black)
I originally did this: 1) because I stalk Vivian Swift and want to one day be as interesting as her ("she" is probably grammatically correct, but it sounds ridiculous); 2) I miss my girlfriends and had an idea that we should send each other videos of our everyday moments so it would seem like we were just sharing a cup of coffee or something; 3) What else ya gonna do at 4:18?

Tell me which part of the day makes YOU feel most settled. 

Coffee, Dad's Centre College sweatshirt, the moon, and Willie Geist: recipe for a good morning.
It isn't just the perfect "morning time," however, that makes me feel most settled.  Sometimes beautiful weather,  unexpected produce deliveries, and good conversations keep my restlessness in check, too.

Yesterday was a day I would like to think, "looks like me."

A sincere "thank you" to all of those who helped remind me how very lovely my life is...
Carmelita Smith: for not getting mad at me when I dropped my camera on your foot while trying to get pictures of Chris Scott's tomatoes at the Farmers Market....and for suggesting I put sugar in my cornmeal mix before dipping my eggplant.

Minit Mart coffee: you were good yesterday.

David Arms & Ed Peretto: David brought me tomatoes to the library, Ed, watermelon, peppers, and the Biography of Malcolm X (we had talked about it the previous day; oh, and if you get the Cumberland County News, notice that Ed is our "Patron of the Week.":)).  More importantly, thank you for interesting conversations about books, small town politics, and/or how good "fried stuff" is. I'm always glad to see you all walk in the door.

My mother: She and I decided to go to Lake Cumberland Winery in Monticello yesterday for their "Grand Bottle Opening." I can't imagine a more perfect way to spend a Saturday: music, crafts, a beautiful vineyard and winery, wine tastings, and funny, funny friends, some of whom I've known for years, some who I met only yesterday.  There's no one else I would've rather spent the day with.  My mom is laid-back, foolish, and completely endearing.  And Jim Brady, Gary Haddle, and both of your respective families....thanks for reminding me what neat people I am fortunate to know.
It was just one of those days that made me stop, pull my head out of my ass, and say to myself, "You need to stop wondering and complaining so often. You have a lovely life filled with interesting people. Sometimes that is enough."

Some of my favorite creations of the summer. If you want any of the recipes, just let me know.
Fruit Pizza
Pistachio Cupcakes with Buttercream Icing
 Butternut Squash Pie
 Balsamic Cherry Glaze
 Homemade Pizza Crust
 Tomato Pie (just prepping the vegetable medley)
 Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake
 Eggplants...pre-frying/pre-eggplant Parmesan lasagna

Monday, August 6, 2012

One Lovely Day.

Nothing contemplative today; just some things I'm loving this morning...

1) Seeing my sister so happy.  Her classroom is fun, inviting and crafty cool (including a poster with dancing teeth so she can mark which month her respective Montgomery County first graders lose their first tooth).  Her and Zach's apartment is the perfect "first place," full of personal touches, yet classically streamlined and "real house like" too (it's obvious that two adults live there who enjoy things other than cornhole and drinking). 

She found a guy willing to have a Chopped showdown with her sister, who will tell her when she is getting on his nerves, and who has already fixed her french toast in bed. And he's getting a girl who is confidently herself all the time, who will tell him when he is getting on her nerves, and who knew the life they were building together was more important than staying in the familiar. Good for them. 
Their first place!
He's smiling now.  Wait until Lydia and Adam tell him my appetizer is better.
I told them I was calling bull shit on this though. 
I love the artwork they did together!
2) When I leave a movie confident I just saw something impressive, something that mattered, something that made me feel; and something that I'm still thinking about the next day (even if I have no idea what to think about it). 

3) Independent CD shops that have an "Americana" section.  I love CD Central in Lexington; I still love buying actual CDs; I love the selection I got yesterday: the newest albums from Alabama Shakes, Justin Townes Earle, Regina Spektor, Citizen Cope, and the Punch Brothers.

4) How excited people are about the Olympics...even BBC announcers.

Quick and easy summer side dish

Stuffed Banana Peppers
Cut the tops off the banana peppers and make an incision down one side of each.  Clean them out.  Mix softened cream cheese and finely chopped jalenpeno peppers.  Stuff this into the banana peppers. Cook bacon for a few minutes in the microwave. Drain. Wrap 1-2 slices of bacon around the peppers to "seal" them and secure with a toothpick.  Bake in the oven or put on the grill (preferable).