Author’s working with a movie studio– A Producer’s Notes

It’s not all fun and games when working with a movie studio. In truth it’s about 90% fun and 10 % seriously hard work. I wake up every day, pinch myself and think how utterly blessed and completely awesome (not to mention other worldy) that I get to have more than a passive role in the book-to-movie process. As such, I feel its my job to pull back the covers on what very few authors have heretofore talked about. What’s it like to get feedback from a producer, what happens to the manuscript and how it impacts the way I write.

First–check out the note to the right. This was given to me by Lucas at a sushi joint in early Feb of 2010. Upon reading the Chambers manuscript (all 550 pages of it), he invited me to LA for a 3 day session. I had no idea what was going to happen during those three days, but I figured he did. I went.

I’m mid-bite of a unagi, and he whips this out and says “I have a few thoughts to share.” I stop chewing when I see the list. Upside down across the table, it looked very messy. I had chopsticks in my hands, not a pen or paper in sight to take notes. “Keep eating,” he advises, “I’ll talk.”

As an author, my role is to create content, provide it for review, have discussions, talk about scenarios (plot and other story elements as it relates to creating a movie), make the changes, have those approved, and then write the next book.

The ‘fun’ part is getting my masters degree in movie making under the tutelage of a brilliant man who has churned out box office hits. Would he call his productions life-changers in the dramatic sense of the word? Nope. Nor would he even hint his films are much more than larger-than-life action-packed blow-em up escapes. However, many of the films have a human element that intrigues Foster, (Man on Fire for instance), where choices are made and the consequences of said choices impact the character. In other words, he’s the perfect product for my Chambers series.

So let’s go through the notes shall we?

Foster’s writing is in black, beside the numbers. His seven points were major changes, all with making a movie in mind. I added my comments in purple, after he was done (and what I could remember when we made it back to the studio).

1. more info about the orb. The orb is a time travel object– an ancient artifact. He didn’t think I’d described it well enough. Backstory– as an author, a major dilemna is when to reveal how much. Too much too soon removes the sense of discovery, while not enough irritates the reader. He wasn’t irritated, but he wasn’t ‘fulfilled.’

2. more of a sense of wonder. (not my scratch/this was after I’d done it, then decided I shouldn’t scratch up the original notes). Foster meant that both lead characters should display much more shock and awe (wonder) about their amazing trip/adventure and not be so pragmatic or immediately believing. It was interesting listening to a grown man (49ish) talk as though HE were one of the characters, living the story and being transported through time. (it’s not just me, a crazy author!)

3. concern for dad/checking in on him. the lead characters, Cage and Mia, have different emotions about their father. Cage blames him for the death of their mother while Mia is her father’s staunchest defender. Foster’s point is that children, particularly teens, invariably have emotional struggles with their parents, often times still caring for a parent if when said parent isn’t all that great. He wanted to see more of this struggle of emotions that are typical for teenagers (e.g. even tho one is anger at him, still not wanting him to die. I was a bit more one-dimensional in the first few passes).

4. more curiosity about history/cause and effect. This is a huge one that required me to go back in multiple sections throughout the book. The first part was more inquisitiveness on the part of Cage, looking, absorbing and engaging with history. For a reader, Foster pointed out more detail on location, scenes, clothing was required. For an eventual movie, I needed to paint a picture for the director so he/she could get it right. I went back, hit the history books (lots of pictures) and did an entire re-write with this in mind. The second part– cause and effect, became a huge theme. In short, we all make decisions, every day, that have consequences in our lives. I agreed with Foster that this should be true in the book…once a choice is made, there is no going back. As such, I had to include the notion that Cage and Mia’s very presence could/would impact history, therefore they had to be careful to leave as little of a footprint on society as possible. Fortunately, this was great for the plot twists, since the real outcomes of the lead characters from China are not even known by historians.

5. More romance or close calls. Foster pointed out that the true ‘romantic’ interaction was page 80. Not good for movies. To address this, I added a few glimpses and heart palpitating situations in the first 20 pages, then a few longer scenes in the 30’s and @page fifty. After that, the romantic line was all set. Lucas told me he had to capture the romantic part in the first five minutes of the movie or it wasn’t going to work. (As a side note, the first 50 pages gets condensed to about the first 5 min of film).

6. More secret admiration from the Emperor (how different he is from Cage and Mia).  Because this book (and all books in the Chambers series) is historical fiction, the Emperor in book one was actually 14 when ruled as the second Ming Emperor. Before Lucas brought it up, I’d never thought about including more information from the Emperor’s point of view. Since the book is first person, this had to be done from Cage’s point of view. The way to address it then, was through the Emperor’s comments and questions, as well as Cage’s interpretation of the Emperor’s mannerisms and actions.

7. Zheng He is famous and beloved in China. Let’s discuss a better set up for him. Years ago, when I was researching volcanoes, and where they resided, I created an entire list of countries/cities. China rose to the top when I found the 14 year old Ming Emperor. While researching the incredible list of historical figures (including the treacherous Minister of War and General Li, who let the invading army in to the Imperial Palace) I came across Zheng He. He is considered by many historians to be the greatest navy admiral to have ever lived (just see the cover story on him that National Geographic did a few years ago). In any case, Zheng He appears in the middle of the book and plays a large role, yet Lucas wanted him introduced much earlier (he is, in fact, one of my favorite characters). I had to create a massive scene for him (e.g. about 20 pages) and then insert him in several other areas. This was a huge rewrite.

**Verbally, Lucas told me I “needed a better balance of good characters.” Apparently, I subconsciously focused so much on creating awesome characters, I didn’t have a good balance. Lucas was concerned the book would be a bit depressing, and not representative of all the great people in China. The thought had never occurred to me, since lots of characters did good things. “But they aren’t main characters,” he pointed out. Ahh. He was right. This meant creating 3 new characters, writing entire sections from scratch and integrating each in to the plot line.

Process….
This process is similar to what an editor will provide…general comments that impact the entire book. In order to address each area of feedback, I went in sequential order, going through the entire manuscript, line by line, page by page, adding and changing throughout. It took me three months, and added 150 pages (approximately) to the book. It was about 625 pages when I was done with it. When I handed it off to the editor, she stripped out about 175 pages or so, but interestingly, not the 150 pages I’d added. She cut out dead weight, dialogue that didn’t keep the pace of the story and non-essential descriptions. That’s the job of an editor. When Lucas read the final, edited version, he pronounced it acceptable and ready to go to final proofreading.

Now that I’m on book 2, and recently got the first 150 pages approved, I’m writing away, and fully expect to go through this same cycle for book 2 (and every one thereafter). The difference is this:

1. I think about the ‘seedlings of ideas’ that need to be included in the first 50 pages
2. the cadence/rhythm of characters (how often they appear)
3. the descriptions (too much/not enough)
4. the balance of good/evil characters
5. when I reveal what. (in the movie world, it’s called ‘the reveal’ or ‘the big reveal’ This is now much more top of mind than it was before book one.

Sunday dinner– Roast and Pecan pie

During my childhood, mom had a routine on Sunday’s that included making easy yet impressive all-in-one meals that provided a great lunch but also lots of left-overs. Prepping for the afternoon meal meant she put a roast in the oven before we left for church, allowing it to cook to perfection as we sang to the heaven’s above. When we arrived home, the roast was ready, along with the vegies. All she had to do was make the buttermilk biscuits and gravy as we set the table (as we aged, she allowed us to take over the biscuits). Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting down to dine like we were at King Arthur’s Court.

Meal in one: The Perfect Roast

Mix of fingerling potatoes (my fav), carrots and onions

My favorite is my clay pot meat roaster. It’s divine for keeping the juices in the meat, capturing the gravy and circulating the air for the vegies. That said, I’ve made 2-sponge breads in it as well, because it turns out a perfectly formed loaf that is brown on the sides and spongy in the middle. The food is restaurant quality (serious).

Ingredients

  • Roast
  • Vegetables: sweet onion(s), carrots, potatoes (your preference) and any other vegies you’d like
  • Broth-your choice
  • Salt and pepper

Prior to the onions and additional vegies

Process
1. Heat oven to 500 degrees.
2. Brown all four sides of the roast, on all four sides. Salt and pepper to your hearts desire.
3. Cut one onion, lining the bottom of the roaster.
4. Place the meat in the roaster, covering with the onions.
5. Cut and place carrots and potatoes around the meat.
6. Add about 3/4-1 cp of vegetable, meat or chicken broth.

Once you have loaded up the claypot, place it in the oven and cook away.

Now I completely spaced to get the ‘after’ photos, so I’ll have to do it when I made the next one. Trust me, it comes out perfect. The serve..

6. Remove the vegies, place in a serving dish and keep warm (covered is best, in the warming oven).
7. Make the buttermilk biscuits (will add link).
8. Top off with pecan pie or chocolate mousse.

I recommend a lid with a handle that fits tightly.
This is enough to feed a family of four or 6, depending
on the ages of the kids.

7. Place in the oven at the appropriate temperature and timeframe based on the size of the meat. (6 min/pound at 500 degrees).

Perfect Pecan Pie

It’s a fallacy to think that pecan pie is only suitable for the holidays. Many restaurants in the states serve it year around, warmed, with a huge dollop of vanilla ice cream. It’s no wonder. It’s very inexpensive, requires only a handful of ingredients and is practically idiot proof.

The essentials. Use good ingredients. Don’t skimp on the butter. Use a quality brand, and make sure its salted and sweetened. Using unsweetened, unsalted butter results in a bland pie.

Pre-cooking

Another essential is the corn syrup. I’ll admit, I avoid corn syrup like the plague. The impact on my health is just not worth the stuff. My lone exception to this (and of course, my justification) is that it’s worth it for the pie. Why corn syrup? It is a good thickener, and recipes without it have a different texture (and tend to be runnier). The tip? If you want a slightly thicker pie, use more corn syrup–not much though. A little goes a long way (e.g. if you increase the amount from a 1/2 cup to a 1 cup, it will almost turn to candy. You’d have to cut it with a bit of butter).

Make my tried and true perfect pie crust ahead of time

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
4 large eggs eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 to 1 1/5 cup pecans

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
2. On the stove top and low heat, melt the butter, add the sugar and the corn syrup. Heat until melted, stirring constantly.
3. Remove from the stove. Let cool (this means you can insert your finger w/out getting burned).
4. Mix the eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl.
5. Add egg mixture to the butter/sugar mixture. (hint: if your mixture is too warm, the eggs will cook, ruining it, and you will have to discard and start over).
6. Add pecans
7. Pour in to uncooked pie crust. Cook for 50-55 minutes.

The make or break aspect of pecan pie is not to overcook. The top should “bounce-back” to the touch (place your index finger on the top, in the center). If it’s hard, it’s overcooked and will be unedible. If it’s mushy, you need to cook it a bit longer.

When you remove the pie, place it on a cooling rack for at least 20 minutes. This will ensure it sets and doesn’t run. Serve warm with ice cream.

This is the butter, corn syrup and sugar.. ..nicely melted

As it’s melting (and in between stirring, chop the nuts)

Test the mixture for “done-ness” (my Don-kingism). The mixture should drop easily from the spoon

Take off the stove and cool slightly. Add the nuts
Now, you might exclaim “why nuts! those belong at the end”. I’ll tell you why.
you must wait for the mixture to cool, or else you will curdle and cook your eggs
(in other words, they will scramble). Since you have nothing better to do,
you might as well get busy and add the nuts, stirring it around.

When the mixture is sufficiently cooled, add the eggs

This is the final mixture–slightly brownish. NOW you may add to the empty sheel

Photos…

No-Fail Pie Crust

With nearly 70 cookbooks, you’d think I’d reuse the same pie recipe over and over. Until recently, the problem was I was making pies so infrequently that I’d forget the one I liked most. Then I’d buy a new cookbook, feel compelled to try a new recipe and start all over again.

Starting with the dry ingredients

Fortunately, Southern Living is a mainstay in my cookbook library, and it was what I reached for over the holidays. I made five pie crusts, each one turning out perfectly. The sixth one–not so much– I didn’t put in the exact amount of shortening. The entire batch had to be discarded. The lesson learned? Do not mess with a perfect pie crust recipe.

Perfect, no fail pie crust recipe

Ingredients
For a 9 inch pie crust
1 1/4 cup flour (unsifted)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar (this is my add. I like sweeter crusts)

Mix by hand

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons shortening (also my add. 2 tbs vs 1 makes the dough just perfect to hold together and roll)
3-4 tablespoons chilled water (put water in a glass of ice)

Process
1. Place flour, sugar, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl
2. Cut in the shortening
3. Hand-mix (I prefer this. It’s much better than a Cuisinart mixer as the dough is softer/flakier)
4. Add in the water. The dough will slightly moist and should hold together well.
5. Roll in to a flat ball, wrap with Saran wrap and chill for 1-3 hours or overnight. It will hold for several days.
6. Roll out when ready to use (follow directions for the pie you are making)

The dough should resemble peas in size

I doubled the batch, enough for a pie and a few mini-pies

Roll and fold in preparation for placing in the pie
Place crust in the pie dish

This is the mini-pies

Mold the edges of the crust
Add the filling–pecan


Pie filling-pumpkin

Get spicy — the cook’s ultimate spice rack

Making good on my promise to cover all things kitchen and kitchen remodeling, I’m starting with the most important section of the kitchen– the spice cabinet, for one cannot properly cook without spices.

This is the outside of my spice cabinet
(excluding the top cabinets)

Let’s all bond on one simple thing: the stand-alone spice racks are inferior. Too short or tall, circular or standing, wrong color, plastic, rotating or not. Trust me. If it’s out there, I have bought it. A cook needs counter space and a spice rack takes up valuable real estate (for grins, I should calculate money spent on my kitchen, divide by counter space and…wait. I do not want to do that. I’ll make myself sick). In any case, I couldn’t find a price listing of just the spice cabinet portion of a kitchen, just the entire remodel.
I’ve also gone the other direction, placing my spices in drawers when I was living in various condos and 

didn’t have the space to spare. My spices have also done their time in a pantry, which was the ultimate in inconvenience. So when it came time to create the kitchen of my dreams (and given the size constraints of the house we were remodeling), the first thing I designed was the spice rack.

Consideration #1. Your height.
Sounds strange, but you don’t want your life spent bending over. We do that enough, picking up, putting down, bending over. Ideally, you reach straight across, eye or chest level to get what you need.

Consideration #2. Your space constraints.

Each shelf holds 7 spices (you can
see I have a blend of brands–they are
all pretty much the same size).
5 shelves per cabinet = 35
6 cabinets = 210 spices

It’s all about priorities. You can always put extra plates in the storage area or move the food to the pantry. You use spices every day, multiple times. You need to prioritize the spice rack is first and foremost (not all kitchen designers will understand this, particularly if they are non-cooks).

Consideration #3. Volume of spices.
I’d never actually counted my spices, until we were preparing to leave the condo I’d purchased prior to Rog (great location, nice kitchen, but not lots of counter space. I used the drawer technique). “What are you going to do with allll those spices?” he asked me, as though I were going to ditch some. I thought about it a bit longer. “Cooking without spices will make your food taste like dirt.” They resided in boxes during the remodel (2 yrs). In the end, though, I had to throw them out and start anew. (the moist nw air ruined most).
1- count the spices
2- measure the size of the spices. Bottles, boxes and tins are all different in height.
2.a- measure dry spices first. You may use these most often
2.b- measure the tins second. Tall tins/short tins as well as widths (think my Hungarian paprika tins).
2.c.- measure your cooking oil bottles/containers, shortening/lard size etc.

All these impact the height of the shelves (which should be adjustable) with the exception of the number and size of the dry bottles (the ones used most frequently).

Once you have this down, then you can start understanding the possibilities.
1.  Fold out drawers. I’ve seen this in a variety of kitchens. The labels are on the top. It’s convenient if you have more drawer space than you do shelves. My challenge is that I’m nearly 5’11” and bending over is something I hate to do. Plus, I like to see the spices (I’m weird, I know) and I realize one of my deficiencies is not alphabetizing a drawer. I want to see everything at once.

The right swinging cabinet opened,
revealing the backside (where I keep
all of our hot sauces-we are hot sauce freaks)

2.  Standing cabinet. That’s what I chose. Other than the bending-over-seeing-the-spices-thing, I had/have very specific requirements for every single drawer/cabinet under the counter. It was by default. (Future blogs will cover drawers designed with baking in mind, pan, slide and in racks etc).

Going with the standing cabinet, you now can create the style that fits for you.
1. Clear or wood fronts. I prefer see-through plexi-glass. This ensures I can identify small tins that are not as tall.
1.a. Height of the fronts. As this like a retaining wall, keeping the spices from falling out, the height should keep them in w/out being burdesome to put in and out. Mine are 2.5 inches.
2. Fixed or flexible. You need to determine if you want to be able to adjust the spaces or not. I was pretty firm on not adjusting my spices, but Rog told me to be flexible just in case. I did so. In eight years, I’ve not moved the spices once (I guess this shoes how anal I was in the first place)!

Now that have got that down, count your spices and all other baking items. I realized pretty fast that I was going to need a non-traditional cabinet. Specifically, one that rotated out, giving me a double-sized shelf. This dramatically increased the number of spices it could hold.

This is the left side-more spices

In our case, I have all of our “American” cousine spices in this standing spice cabinet. The dust wasn’t even off the kitchen when I loaded it up, and to my dismay, I realized my spices of Indian and oriental cooking were nearly as many as the American ones. Thus, they are relegated to my pantry. In my next life, I’m going to have cabinets for each type of food I like.

**sorry I didn’t get a close up of the plexi-glass. It’s there, in front of the spices.

You see my wood is solid cherry. You don’t have to go that expensive if you don’t want. In fact, a good friend of ours recently remodeled her home and saved thousands by doing a few things. It all started when she gave her husband the estimated price tag (He said he about swallowed his tongue). Aside from the appliances, the cabinets are the #1 expense (typically). He found an on-line service that allowed him to take his wife’s specifications, inserted his requirements to the software (free), and then a customer service person helped him pick colors. It was sent to his home (the company was in North Carolina, on the other end of the country), nary a person at his house, and to his delight “I saved fifty thousand dollars!”) Yes, he received a semi-hardwood, yes, it wasn’t quite the quality of a custom manufactured kitchen, nor did it have all the little details (such as metal shelf holders–his were plastic) etc. Still, it looks awesome, and for a savings that large (his version was $12K), the results more than matched the aesthetic and utilitarian requirements.

I hope you take this cheat sheet in to the cabinet design center, or the one of the many on-line design centers near you.

Letting go of friendships

I-5 south is a freeway that connects the northern tip of Washington, slices through the center of Oregon and California, finally ending at the borders of Mexico under the metal arches of the barbed wire laced boarder crossing. Two and a half hours north and I’m in Canada, joy in my heart, knowing my final destination is a ski resort in Whistler. Traveling the other direction for an hour, through little town called Centralia, conjurs a different emotion. It’s not the town that does it, for Centrailia is neither a tourist destination or recreational hotspot. It’s the five minutes it takes to drive from one end to the other at the regulated fifty-five miles a hour that used to depress me. It’s the home of my former friend.

File:Centralia Downtown Historic District.jpg
City of Centralia….home of…the cute mainstreet

We were grade school buddies, she and I, our mother’s inseparable due to their occupations and five-mile daily walks. From the six grade through junior high, most weekends were spent together — overnighters allowed since we attended the same church on Sunday. My friend even came with me on multi-week vacations, the true sign of a lasting friendship. Though middle school and high school found us with different friends during the week, (she was a year older, had completely different classes and was an introverted book worm, whereas I was an athlete-cheerleader who never heard of an event I didn’t want to attend) we sought one another out week after week, year after year.


In college, she was in another stage and I drove to see her on weekends, staying in her dorm, listening to great music and laughing non-stop until we collapsed from exhaustion. I started working, she went on a service mission in a foreign country. I got married, pregnant and divorced in the time she got pregnant and then completed her degree in nursing. Strange, the old addage that different paths lead to the same destination was true. By the time we were both 23, each of us were single and with a child in tow.

We moved to different states and did our best to keep the connection. Well, at least one of us did. I sent letters, I called. I drove to see her, to and through my trips to see family in Oregon and California. As the correspondence became more one-directional, I sought for the positive. The excuses of her life, living as a single mom, the challenges of working the graveyard shift. Even when she was promoted to swing shift, I empathized with the struggle she faced, always willing to see her, since my schedule had a bit more flexibility. When we turned thirty, twelve years post high school graduation, I realized she’d come to my house once, though the highway is only ten minutes off the beaten path from our road, and as far as I can tell, it still goes both directions, north and south.

The last ten plus three years (13), have been more of the same…well, a little less. Fewer return phone calls. Fewer emails. No visits. I was invited to her wedding, attending with with my husband and daughter, and though we looked at one another with the fondest, a separation existed that hadn’t been present before. It was as if the unique trait of instantaneously coming together in a moment after a long period of separation had, like a rubberband, finally lost its ability to snap back.

It was a few years later that I learned she’d had several unplanned pregnancies prior to her marriage, and given both up for adoption. The cause was ironic. She’d been smoking pot, and this, according to the nursing staff, dramatically reduces the effectively of the birth control bill. My ignorance disheartened me. The decision to not confide in me was  another step my friend had taken in the growing distance in the gap of our relationship.

Still, I held out hope. Never saying a word of doubt to spouse or mother, unwilling to admit that the people we were in high school and early twenties no longer existed, at least not in a way that connected to one another. That realization was the hardest. I continued to believe that life intrusions, ups and downs, were speed bumps and curves on the relationship instead of a toll bridge, where each pause took a little bit more from my emotional piggybank. Eventually, my wallet ran dry. I had no more money to give, even though the road was still there and always will be, just like I-5.

The last time I went through Centralia, I felt the nothingness of the great abyss (I know that’s from a movie, but can’t recall which one). As I reached the other end of town, heading back home, I realized that I’d finally let go of the hope we were going to be as we once were. I made the decision to keep her a place for her in my memory, one without association to a unhappy feeling. To ensure I’d not feel the bitterness of abandonment, I decided to remember her as a friend of my youth, the image bordered with fond memories. There she will stay, like a picture on my internal wall that is not often looked upon. When I round the corner to my everyday life, I know she’s no longer there, and that I’ve finally let my friend go.

Food as medicine

Finally getting rid of the ick that’s been lodged in my lungs and throat for the last ten days. It’s akin to the white clumps of flour on a gravy recipe gone awry (and pretty much the same color), the associated hacking and burning is not condusive to working out.

Nonetheless, it is Wednesday, the posting of the week I focus on getting in shape, and one can’t get back to shape without eating the right foods. Thus, I’ve pulled the title of this blog from a line in the Jobs bio. Long after Jobs is diagnosed with cancer, he insists on continuing dietary peculiarities: rituals of eating one food only for extensive periods of time (carrots for weeks, then another food), or various cleanses (liquid or other). The doctor gets to the point of irritation and Jobs must stop looking at food as food. Instead, view “food as medicine.” (apparently, his doctor isn’t the only one to think this way. conference as books abound).

That has been a great visual and concept for me to get my arms around. I take medicine that tastes awful but works, sometimes downing horse-sized pills in the name of eradicting an evil inside my body (and no, that would not be a pill for ’emotional sickness,’ thank you very much). Now that I’m healing, I don’t need my Swami to advise me on how to eat a parallel diet of health.

I like this one

My culinary medicinal routine started like this…I need greens every day. I hate greens, unless they are loaded with a thick, rich or highly fattening substance. (think caesar salads).
Instead, I have been telling myself “it’s the doctors orders, and I did in fact, look up the phrase “food as medicine” and found many recipes “that heal.”(going with the whole, food-as-medicine concept). Sadly, my energy is entirely back and I am still on deadline for my next manuscript. I’ve gone old-school, falling back in to my pregnancy-eating rut. It’s cheap. It’s easy. It’s healthy, yet I won’t have to deal with a child popping out at the end.

  • Breakfast: steamed spinach (three massive handfuls) steams down to a cup, give or take. salt + lemon juice
  • An hr later: 2 eggs+2 egg whites. First sautee 3 green onions then 1 chopped tomato. Add eggs. Scramble.
  • Snack: apple and some sesame seeds (or other nut if I can handle it).
  • Lunch: vegie soup: sautee onions, carrots, add celery and homemade chicken or veg broth. Add meat if kids and spouse are going to revolt.
    (pause…) At this point, I’m sick if making food and eating food. It’s hard the rest of the day.
  • Mid afternoon: whatever isn’t going to make me feel bloated and tired. I like frozen grapes, but honestly, it’s so not satisfying. I want sweets or carbs (same thing really). Protien drinks are normall great, but sound too sweet in this post-sickness state. Instead, I’ve been having a bit mor soup.
  • Dinner: spinach again, with either a bit of meat (fish) but actually, more soup. I’ve been making my lentil, split pea, beef with barely, turkey noodle…you name it. soups are great, warm and keep the weight off.
    • I just went to the Food and Recipe section of this blog and was chagrined to find that I don’t have a single one of my soup recipes posted. How lame am I??? I’m Swedish for heavens sakes. I just bought sardines, black truffle oil and skiens last night at the deli. I’m going to put all good Swedes to shame if I don’t get my act together.

Throughout, loads and loads of water, chamomile tea.No dairy at all. No breads (both stuff up my sinuses). I was reminded of Jennifer Aniston’s oft-quoted mantra: “I eat clean foods.”  I like the notion of a clean food (organic, no oils, fats, sugars etc) as much as the next idealic, global-piece-will-happen-in-my-lifetime-dreamer sort of a way. But really, I call this medicine. And like a good patient, I want to get well.

To do before the end of January

The month is swiftly moving along. Before I know it, Valentine’s Day will be upon me and I’ll be left standing with my proverbial red ruby lips on, matching my same-colored pumps, clicking my heels, wishing I’d done all those things in January I said I’d do (for the last ten yrs, but whose counting?)

By golly, this year, I’m going to rise with the morning sun, grab one of the icicles from under our deck, pick my teeth like the stone giants in the Hobbit and get myself in gear.

Number 1 thing to do: Take advantage of the remaining after Christmas holiday ornament deals. Some are still to be had. My favorite? Tree ornament shopping. Sound freaky, in a ‘your-getting-really-eccentric-for-a-forty-three-year-old’ kind of a way? I know. I agree. Here’s the deal.

When I was 23, I had a child and a divorce under my belt. I was in another state, where my child’s father was to be having his first Christmas. It was a few days prior and I dropped by my Aunt’s house. She had an open door policy for decades (still does) and so I went in her living room and hung out by the tree, alone. In my misery and woe, I looked at her tree. It was….a tree for cooks. It had minature spatulas, rolling pins, mini measuring cups, even some bread colders (all the size for a Tom Thumb). Feeling so distressed and sad, I found joy in what I’ve now referred to as the ‘cooks tree,’ for the last twenty years. It made me happy.

Patriotic without the guns

Her daughter got the spirit and then some, working her way up to eight trees at last count. All colors, size and shapes. My favorite is a ‘bear tree.’ Serious. She got started at a garage sale and kept going, picking up bears here and there. Personally speaking, I have three trees, one for each odd eara of our odd house. I have a lodge tree, a cowboy tree (which you have oft seen) and then a ‘formal’ tree. Even then, I mix up my formal tree. My favorite is when I go for my ‘author’ tree, or as my daughter says, my “book tree.” At an antique shop, I bought these 200 yr old books, little things with the brown leather binding falling off. I took each one, opened it up and placed it in the tree. I mixed in other fun books with red and white (Christmas themed) and so forth. That year, I had a party and everyone thought it was so cool I had done a “career tree.”

Decorating the Christmas tree
I like this, though I’m not sure what it is. A driver-
or poor-wayfaring traveler? 

How weird is that?? And yet, it’s a great idea, is it not? A cook’s tree for the cook. A sports tree for the sports fanatic (I’ve seen all types of expensive, lovely sports ornaments), or a gardening tree. I really like that one, and have never seen it done. I even think a combat tree would be cool. You know, for all things army? Every country has an army doesn’t it?  It could be full of plastic guns, tags, plastic medals etc. It can be a vet-tree or a grown-up bb-gun tree. 

Number 2 thing to do: (and this one is a lot more important than #1). Start making a list of what to get people next year!! and start doing it NOW.

Some years, I’m really good about buying in advance because I do just that. This last year? Not so much. Example: My next door neighbors came over for our belated Christmas dinner last week. As the turkey was coming out, the wife comments “I have always loved your turkey roaster! It is the most amazing thing.” Not to mention, it gets all the credit for my great turkey, not my lovingly buttering the thing every 20 minutes for 3.5 hours. Whatever.

Turkey Roaster for Joyce, color blue if possible. Check. Done. No more lame gloves or unecessary gardening tools. Get the woman what she wants.

I think this goes back to the honesty that comes with post-present opening gluttony. The true feelings emerge (“you know what I really need…” or “next year, I’m going to get you…”). Sit down, pay attention and write it down. Oh, and hope that nobody changes there mind.

The last and final thing to do now. Figure out how you’re going to pay for it all next year.

What’s coming-remodeling, writing and manners

I’m excited, for today I realized I can ‘back-post’ topics. This means that blogs can start appearing randomly (like April 1, 2010) and go straight in to a category of topics, rather than post sequentially. I’m thrilled. This is handy for subjects that aren’t top of mind or for the general reader because of the specific nature of the subject. Here are a few of the things that are on my mind…

  1. remodeling a kitchen. I’ve been wanting to do one on this topic for eons, because I’ve done several, and with my existing kitchen, I created it the way I wanted to–for a cook! I had the entire thing layed out, then contracted with the cabinet maker to general the details on a computer. It was awesome. Each time a visitor comes (who is also a cook) we gab about the little things. Important for those of you who are, or may, build or remodel your kitchen.
  2. upgrading your room by painting your walls. You must understand, each one of my aunt’s on my mother’s side could write a book about upgrading anything, cooking anything and sewing anything, so this will bore them. however, in 3 steps, a person can change the inside of their home from looking dull, worn and cheap to elegant and expensive. once again, my motto in life? If I can do it, so can you (I’ve been doing a lot of painting as I’ve been sick, though I have to wait until Rog leaves the house. He always meddles in my work).
  3. more blogs on writing. I scanned the page of notes from the movie producer and have put it in to Paint. I think that every aspiring writer (or just general gossip enthusiast) wants to see what a real-life producer of actual movies that make money (none of those are ‘real,’ are they??). Now that things are moving along, and I’m on book 2, and I go back and forth w/the studio frequently, I am comfortable sharing this. it’s cool. But that’s just one. Another blog is on the latest in ebook and overall publishing.
  4. cooking blogs. I’ve got nearly 2 dozen folders of photos for different food blogs, all started from back in November. What’s my problem you say? It takes so bloody long to write a blog on food. Seriously. Cropping those photos, typing the instructions…i can jam out something on a relationship faster and have it be more interesting. Not to worry. I haven’t stopped cooking.
  5. manners and etiquette. I’m always fascinated by the actions and reactions of people, for good and ill. It never ceases to amaze me how the littlest actions hurt, mutilate, tear up and otherwise destroy friendships, all in the  name of ignorance. So if you think I’m a little old-fashioned in calling out social faux-paus, that’s ok. I don’t like my own feelings trashed, so I’ll try and give out hints now and then.
Oh, and as She has been telling me “keep it to 5 paragraphs!” Yeah. I know. I’m like a drunk that keeps thinking I can walk past the liquor store and not walk in. I try. I really do. As we all know, that golden brick road doesn’t always lead to Oz.

Speeding up your metabolism

I’m getting over a stretch of illness and the first thing I want is some pecan pie. It’s my own. It’s good (thank you Southern Living) and it’s been patiently waiting in the fridge for me. Beyond telling me I was as crazy as a loon in winter, my ever watchful husband says,

salad“So what does it take to be pre-diabetes?” How’s that for  a desert buzz kill. Personally, I think he just wants me to be well enough to swing from the rafters, but that’s just a hypothesis.

“Don’t know,” I respond, glumly lifting my hand above the pecan pie and to the (only slightly) less toxic giblet bread stuffing I made. (The backstory is that on Wed, 2 days ago, I made a traditional Christmas dinner, complete w/4 pies, the bird, stuffing and lots-o-sides, including my buttermilk biscuits. Since we’d been gone and I was sick, I was annoyed I’d enter 2012 w/out my happy-time meal).

His question made me think about our guests on Wednesday, one that is on the line to pre-diabetes (so says his heart doctor) and his wife, who just sent an email out to her two grown children and husband that they all need to lose 30 pounds. As it’s Friday, and that means it’s a license to eat your heart out (even in South Africa, hi new readers!) here goes the results of my research on accelerating your metabolism and what it means to be pre-diabetes, (plus a bit of my own experience thrown in).

Pre-diabetes 
1. Being overweight. Solution: Drop 10 lbs. According to sources from Prevention Mag, even extremely overweight people were 70% less inclined to get diabetes if they lost 5% of their weight. For a 175 pound person, that’s only 9 pounds.
2. High blood glucose levels. According to Diabetes.org, 79 million people have high blood sugar levels. Solution. Take your hand and make a fist. That’s roughly how big your stomach is/should be (unless your stretched it to the size of an elephant). When you eat, put that much food on your plate. Try to be healthy about it, but let’s not split hairs. Just eating the size of your stomach is a major stat.
3. Mood swings. You’re not on your man-period (I’m convinced they have one just as we gals do), and you can’t figure it out, you may be pre-diabetic. Solution: take the three diabetes tests.

  • The A1C test
  • The fasting plasma glucose test (FPG)
  • or the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT).

Remember host/hostess, always ask your guests a few days prior about food preferences. If someone comes back with a list of lean meats and good carbs (vegies vs breads), be aware.

Now on to speeding up the metabolism. I must say that my Swedish Grandma wasn’t merely ahead of her time, I think she was mother-time. She always had 2 tablespoons of vinegar “with the mother” in the morning, along with her chamomile tea with cayanne She swore the former sped up her metabolism while the latter increased the blood flow and circulation in her limbs.

Guess what? Both are heralded for those exact benefits.

Speeding up your metabolism
1. Drink 2 tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar ‘with the mother’ in the morning. jumps starts the system. My choice is Braggs. Boy, will it wake you up.
2. Eat breakfast. It gets metabolism going + people who eat bfast are 4.5 times less likely to be obese.
3. Drink six cups of cold water a day. It burns 50 calories a day
4. Eat fiber. Women who eat fiber gain the least amount of weight over time.
5. Always eat meat. Studies show that eating meat during a meal increases post-meal calorie burn 35%. (Vegans will just have to make a bee-line for the treadmill).

With this good information in mind, go throw back a few chugs of vinegar, chase it with some cold water and eat protein.

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