Topless carrots and deleted pages


A piece of writing does not appear fully formed on the page with just a wiggle of the pencil. We all know that. But do writers really believe that writing is work?

Measuring, prodding, covering, uncovering, failing, creating, cutting off, throwing away, paring down, then layering on again…. If we really think out our concept and have some talent and skill, we secretly believe, our little guy will show up all ready to go without all that bother. And how should I think about writing, anyway? Is it a sea that one can navigate smoothly as long as a good compass and some sea smarts are on hand? Is my next piece a golem that, if molded with just the right tools and spirit, will spring to life?

With or without a good working metaphor, I began assuming that I could “master” writing and be able to churn out lovely, neat prose in no time with just a little forethought. As you may have guessed, food came to the rescue, saving me from this sad misconception.

I happened to be making three-bean soup and slicing up the requisite onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and potatoes the other day. By the end of my prep, I was left with a pile of onion skins, carrot tops, celery leaves, and so on. This reminded me of the parings from an assignment I had just written, a short memoir about the first time I (Mom, cover your eyes) smoked pot. In my preparation for writing, I came up with some memories and then some nicely-written paragraphs about the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program that we loved to hate as middle schoolers. I even found a few drug quizzes online and came up with a structure that would play on questions in a hypothetical DARE test. I also wrote an amusing description of the uniformed and mustachioed Officer Gary who taught the class.

In the end, I used none of it. Continue reading

Good food gone bad

The steamed organic tofu at Adam Express on Mount Pleasant looked so safe, so innocent. It was 9 p.m. and I was ravenous for dinner. The dish was simply tofu, lettuce, and rice. So I ordered it. Somehow, my good intentions of eating something healthy for myself and sustainable for the planet came out like this:

Beware the good food in the bad packages, my friends. Beware.

The cowboy’s dessert

When you don’t have a coffee maker or just don’t feel like firing one up in the morning, you can make what my dad called cowboy coffee. You shovel a few tablespoons of coffee grounds into a pot, add water, and boil. The method implies that cowboys want their joe and will have it no matter what–even if they have to start a fire that they can’t stick around to enjoy and they have to wrestle bits of brown grit between their teeth for the rest of the day.


I’m also taken to understand that cowboys like a bunch of eggs for breakfast and some good, wholesome milk to wash it all down.


Given these three loves of cowboys–coffee, eggs, and milk–I have my suspicions that it was a Cuban Holstein herder who first invented coffee flan. I’ve written about this stuff before, but I made it again recently and a friend asked for me to post the recipe. I checked and sure enough I had posted it a little while back. But now that I’m older and smarter, I made a few modifications. I also added a prettier picture. Check it out, and let me know if you get the urge to tell the dogies to git.

Oh, to be Hemingway in Paris…

“It was like one of the best rooms in the finest museum except there was a big fireplace and it was warm and comfortable and they gave you good things to eat and natural distilled liquors made from purple plums, yellow plums or wild raspberries…. The paintings and the cakes and the eau-de-vie were truly wonderful.”

This is Earnest Hemingway on snacking and boozing with Gertrude Stein and her “friend” in A Moveable Feast. I’m enjoying the book quite a lot but I was wondering: when he’s hanging out with a soon-to-be-legendary writer and eating and drinking delectable things in Paris in the 1920s, must he add that it all was “truly wonderful”? Don’t rub it in, Tatie.