Monday, July 19, 2021

It's a process

There is a strange intimacy with preparing an audiobook. Not only my own words, but the reader’s voice, in my ears, saying words I’ve worked so hard to make right. It’s disorienting, in a way—the feeling those words no longer belong to me.

Which is only right. They don’t. Once a book is published—I won’t say finished; books are never finished—it no longer belongs to its author, but to the people who read it, and who bring their own thoughts and opinions and life experience to bear upon it.

Despite how much effort I’m putting into making this audiobook as good as it can be, I’m not a big fan of the form. I like to physically read a book, and let my mind supply the voices and the pictures. Having someone read it to me takes away a bit of that, and if I’m honest, I also find it hard to keep my attention focused. I’ll hear a good line and start to think about it, and realize suddenly that I’ve missed half a chapter and have to go back and re-listen, ignoring this time the line that distracted me in the first place.

But A Wider World’s audio is coming along so well. He’s finished 66 of 70 chapters, and I’m up to chapter 64 on the edits. I can actually see it being completed by the end of July, which means it will be in the hands of my publisher for final mastering, and will be up for sale sometime (hopefully) in the fall.

 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Mejedra recipe

I wasn't being a deliberate tease with yesterday's post, but if anyone wants to try my favorite mejedra recipe, I've written it out below.

A few caveats: the recipe can be made with either rice or cracked wheat/bulghur. I much prefer cracked wheat, but you will have to adjust the amount of water you use in that step, because it puffs up more than rice.

Also, don't be afraid of the amount of onions. They cook down, mix in, and you'll never realize you've used an entire bag.

 

Ingredients

2 cups green/brown lentils

1.5 cups rice or cracked wheat/bulghur

1 tsp. salt

4 tsp. olive oil, divided

8-12 onions, 3/4 chopped and 1/4 sliced

1 tsp. ground cumin

Instructions

1.  Rinse the lentils, strain and place in a large pot with 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook covered until the lentils are tender but not fully cooked, about 15 minutes. Most of the liquid should be absorbed.

2.  Rinse the rice/bulghur and add to the lentils. Season with salt. Add 2 cups of water (2.5 for bulghur), bring to a boil, then reduce and allow to cook down, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to rest. You may need to add more liquid, especially if you've used bulghur - it's very thirsty.

3. In a separate pan, heat two tsp. olive oil on medium heat and saute the chopped onions until golden brown and carmelized, about 15 minutes. Add to the lentil mixture, stirring in along with the cumin.

4. In the now-empty onion pan, heat the remaining 2 tsp. of olive oil and fry the sliced onions until golden brown, about 15 minutes. At the end, turn the heat up to high so that the onions get crispy. These are your topping onions.

Serve with yogurt, sour cream, hot sauce, or any other condiment that strikes your fancy. It's remarkably versatile. I sprinkle sumac on top because that was how it was always served to me.

Another option to make it more savory is to stir in a pint of plain tomato sauce in lieu of some of the liquid when cooking the bulghur. It doesn't add a specifically tomato flavor, but it deepens the overall flavor of the dish.


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

A piece of my past

Two of the most gloriously technicolor years of my life were spent behind this sign, which read, in its glory days, Middle East.

It was a restaurant, a bar, a gathering place, a dysfunctional man supermarket, and for a while, the place where I felt most at home and alive.

Strangely enough, it had also been a part of my life when I was a kid. The Middle East was my mom's favorite place to go out for dinner. She judged her dates by how they responded to the belly dancers, working for tips, and when she had enough drinks, she got up and joined them. She said she knew she'd had one too many when the Arabic waiters started to turn blond.

I drank there, a lot, but that never happened to me.

Years later, in my late twenties, a friend started taking belly dance lessons. The guy she was dating thought it was cool until she got good at it and wanted to try performing. Then he wanted her to quit, so she quit him. We started hanging out at the Middle East so she could convince them to let her dance there.

It became the slightly out of the way place we would go for a drink after work, and usually end up staying until bedtime. It became the place where I got so comfortable that when the bar phone rang, I answered it if no one was available. It became the place where if I saw a table that needed clearing, I would grab a bus tub and do it. Finally, it became the place where the owner looked at me one night and said, "Why am I still surprised to find you in my kitchen?"

After that, I went on the payroll. I worked the door for their upstairs music nights, I hostessed at the comedy club and at the restaurant, and eventually, when my law firm job got to be too much, I started working days in the basement office, helping to organize a business that looked like it ran well but was total chaos behind the scenes.

I slept a little, drank a lot, ate mostly Middle Eastern food, and was absorbed into a family both real and found. While I mostly worked the upstairs concert venues, it was the Middle Eastern music that had gotten its hooks into me young, and while I never wanted to dance, I can, if pushed, make a mean belly dance costume.

Also, I still love Middle Eastern food. I've been making mejedra all through the pandemic. It's a one-pot meal that I can make on a Monday and that will last us for lunch all through the week.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Dive in

Now that I - and most of the people I know - have been vaccinated, it's time to start thinking about getting back to normal. A new normal, I think, because there were things wrong with the old normal, and if this has not been a chance for a reset, then we've learned nothing.

 I've actually enjoyed the lack of peopling during the pandemic, but that doesn't mean I can avoid them indefinitely. Nor do I want to.

An local acquaintance recently sent out an invite for a party on Friday night. She asked her guests to provide proof of vaccination, so we would be comfortable being around each other, but we could certainly still mask up if that made us more comfortable. She noted that the party would be held both indoors and outdoors, so we could pick the zone where, again, we felt the most comfortable.

When I accepted the invitation and sent my proof of vaccine, I was excited about going. As the day grew closer, it began to feel more like work than pleasure, and by the time I left the house - I still went, despite having reached a level of existential dread usually only provoked by large family gatherings - it was just as likely I would run for the hills as walk the five blocks to her house.

I met up with a friend on my way there, and within a block, we ran into two more women, each walking with a dish, or a bakery box, all of us radiating twitchiness and nerves and a general aura of not having left our house for a year plus.

Thankfully, when we got there, there was a full bar, because there were also at least 60 women spread out over the front porch, living room, dining room, kitchen and back deck. I haven't been around this many people in 16 months, and I admit it was really, really unnerving at first.

I wasn't alone in that feeling. There were lots of jokes about not remembering how to behave in public, and reaching up to remove non-existent masks before eating or drinking. It made us all feel a little better, knowing we were in the same unfamiliar boat.

The plan was only to stay for an hour, but I ended up staying for nearly three. The second glass of box rosé really helped, but it was also talking to a lot of women who had been through similar things and were feeling the same conflicted feelings about getting back to normal.

Anyway, I've done it. I've gone to a party, without a mask, talked to a whole bunch of people, and lived to tell the tale. Now that I think about it, it always has been my MO - if I'm scared of something, the best thing I can do is plunge in and think about it afterwards.

What about you? Have you been out and about yet? Does it feel weird? Normal? What is normal, anyway?

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

I did it!

It was 90+ degrees by the time we packed up to go home last Saturday. But before that, it had been 4 hours of near normal - talking to people, selling, listening to music outdoors in the sun, and petting dogs. Lots of dogs. 

It felt way more normal than I expected. Being that the sum total of my conversations for the last year have been with my husband and a few neighbors, I wasn't sure how I would be able to handle the general public, but it was great. We were all a bit dazed, like we've just been let out of cages, and we were all a little more gentle with each other than would normally be the case. Which is good, and I hope is one of the things we've learned in the pandemic that sticks.

The big hits of the day were my toddler dresses - I sold seven of them - and my recycled fabric dolls. 

Being that it was Swarthmore, a liberal college town, the Pride dolls in their rainbow dresses went over particularly well. I also had a small stack of my books with me, in the hopes of selling a few. No luck there, but there were a few interesting conversations with people, and I gave out a lot of bookmarks, so hopefully this will lead to future sales. 

I don't have another show booked for some time, though I am considering doing a 4th of July flea market in the next town over. My stuff doesn't class as flea market, but the organizer said there are so many artists out of work that they've expanded their admission criteria. And it's only a few miles from my house, so hard to turn down.

Now back to writing. I have edits due on the third Tudor book by June 15, and a self-imposed deadline to get at least another 10 chapters of my Great Depression story edited by then. I'm also still working on the audiobook of a wider world, but right now I'm in a waiting phase because my voice artist has a bad case of pollen and I haven't gotten anything new from him in about 10 days. 

So that's where I am. What about you? Have you done something normal yet? How did it make you feel?

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Back at it


Once upon a time, I did a lot of craft shows. A lot. During the season - early April through end of June, and then again from Labor Day through Christmas - I would be out every weekend, sometimes both days. For the holidays, Friday-Saturday-Sunday.

Then came Covid. My last craft show, excepting the informal one I set up on my front patio last Thanksgiving weekend, was the week before Christmas, 2019. It would have been later, but I picked up something viral and unpleasant before Thanksgiving that flattened me until mid-January, and by that last week, I couldn't do any more.

So it's been a long time. And I haven't totally missed it, as it turns out. The pandemic made a lot of people rethink their normal, and I made a few decisions regarding my handmade business - which aren't because of wanting to build my writing business, but simply because it feels time. 

I'm only going to do local shows now, here in town or in several suburbs nearby. They're not only the most convenient (necessary since I don't drive and I hate asking Mario to spend a day ferrying me back and forth; it eats into the profits, as well), but shows here and in Swarthmore, particularly, have always been the most profitable. I'm going to try to rework things to build a more sustainable online presence on Etsy, since right now the handmade shop is only busy at the holidays.

My first event is this Saturday, June 5, where I'll be the featured artist at the Swarthmore farmer's market. It's a short event - only 9 a.m. to noon - so I can ease back into packing the car, setting up/breaking down and, most importantly, remembering how to people. Social re-entry is going to be a little rocky for this introvert, but I'm sure I'll figure it out.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Anne Boleyn

Another snippet from A Wider World, because today is the 485th anniversary of Anne Boleyn's execution.

***

“We’re off now, Rob. Are you coming?”

“I thought I’d get some work done.” I hadn’t intended to witness the executions; I lost my taste for such matters as a boy, when I saw the Duke of Buckingham’s trip to the block.

Ned’s eyebrows raised. “We’re all going.”

I took his meaning. Of course, they were going. Cromwell had worked tirelessly toward this for months. He would be in front, in his rightful place in the proceedings. My absence would be noted.

“I’ll be right there.” Part of my hesitation was a strange sympathy for Smeaton. He’d gotten his start in Wolsey’s choir, transferring to the Chapel Royal on the cardinal’s fall from grace. From there, he found the queen’s favor and moved to her household, where, by looks, talent, and breathtaking stupidity, he encompassed his own end.

I hadn’t spoken up for him, of course. What I said to Tom was true—Mark was already dead, and I had no desire to join him in that subterranean chamber with the maiden and the rack and the thumbscrews. Being one of Cromwell’s men would not save me.

***

     The five men who died that day were guilty, though not of the charges brought against them. They were guilty of the crime of getting in the way of Thomas Cromwell.

     I was torn. I liked Cromwell. He was a man like myself, or Cardinal Wolsey: born low, and achieving greatness by sheer, stubborn hard work. He was arrogant, and rearranged facts to suit his intentions, but I would not condemn a man for my own faults.

     “All of them married men,” Ned said hoarsely. “With children.”

     “The king will not punish them for their father’s misdeeds.” I was almost certain of that, for Cromwell had worked with Wolsey, and had only risen after his master’s death. If one was useful, King Henry looked away.

     Smeaton died last, after the gentlemen, and worst. He was carried to the platform, the rack having done its evil work on his joints. When he saw the block, slick with blood, and the sodden, mucky straw beneath, he cried out and twisted away, so that the crowd jeered.

     Two days later, Anne Boleyn met a similar end. That execution I did not attend, having given myself no time the day before to complete some necessary task for my master. I had never been fond of her, but I could not bring myself to watch her die; if I did, I would have to write that to Bess.

     She was given the favor of a French sword, instead of an English ax. Her black hair was tucked up under a plain coif, and once her eyes were covered, the swordsman struck a clean blow.

     The king was rid of his troublesome second wife, and he celebrated by announcing his betrothal to Jane Seymour the very next day.