Recipes From (and For) the Journey: Everyday Magic, Day 930

Okay, a confession: I wander through my days with great anticipation for the next meal. Even if it’s just a hot cup of strong tea and bowl of brown rice cereal, envisioning what I get to eat next is a great motivator for getting out of bed in the morning and getting off the computer in the evening. I just love food and always have, and eating is  surely one of the most fun things a person can do sitting down.

No surprise that food looms large in all my memoirs and novels, whether it’s the hunt for the best fried chicken in Kansas (in the memoir, Poem on the Range), or a vivid description of the magical rotating dessert case in a New Jersey diner (in

Meg Heriford and the Ladybird Diner always offer a dose of sunshine (and pie)

About a month before the manuscript was to mosey on over to my publisher, I couldn’t sleep at night because the idea of including recipes kept waking me up. Luckily, Steve Semken, owner of Ice Cube Press, said yes, and then so did some marvelous food geniuses in our community: Nancy O’Connor, educator director of our long-standing food co-op, The Merc, and author of The Rolling Prairie Cookbook; Jayni and Frank Carey, who have gathered and created many quintessential Midwestern recipes, particularly in The New Kansas Cookbook; Janet Majure, not only my weight-lifting coach, but a cookbook author with an eye for good dishes; and Lauren Pacheco, Kris Hermanson, and owner of the Ladybird Diner, Meg Heriford, who happens to make some of the greatest pie in the cosmos.

Close to 40 pages of recipes later, the cooking and baking in Miriam’s 40-plus-year journey through America becomes recipes for some of our journeys too. Here’s a sneak preview of two recipes, each named for a character in the book: Batty is Miriam’s mother, originally named Matilda, nicknamed Matty, and then called Batty for reasons you’ll see in the novel.  The Acadian Dream Inn is a resort on — where else? — Mount Desert Island of Maine where Miriam and her sister-in-law Cindy commandeered the kitchen to the delight of guests.

Please consider getting all the recipes and the whole novel through my Indiegogo campaign to help fund my national tour for the book — you can get advance copies of the book (and at a discount) here (other cool perks abound) until the campaign finishes on March 9.

My grandmother beholds the turkey, but she also beholded a whole lot of stuffed cabbage in her life

Batty’s Stuffed Cabbage

Batty learned this recipe from her parental grandmother, who died before Miriam was born. It was a dish the whole family, especially Miriam, loved, so Batty made it often. The smell of this baking filled the kitchen with such warmth and comfort that Batty was drawn to keep making on a regular basis long after she moved to the Southwest, and she even brought it to various potlucks, where others fell in love with the dish.

1 large green cabbage

1 lb ground beef

1 cup uncooked rice

1 large onion chopped into large slices

2 large cans stewed whole tomatoes

1 cup water

1/8 cup lemon juice

1/8 cup honey 

1/2 cup golden raisins (optional but highly recommended!)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Boil or steam cabbage until soft enough to roll. While the cabbage is boiling, combine the rice and beef, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Lay out cabbage leaves, and roll in the meat/rice mixture, placing the meat at one end, rolling, then tucking in the sides. Place seam side down in casserole dish. For the sauce, brown chopped onions in pot until softened, add in stewed tomatoes and water, and mix well. Coat the bottom of a casserole pan with sauce mixture, place the cabbage rolls in, seam side down, and add in the rest of the sauce and water. Cover tightly with lid or foil. Bake for approximately three-four hours until done to your desire  Add in lemon juice and honey and  raisins in last half hour of cooking. Note: this dish can also be prepared in a crockpot.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe by Lauren Pacheco, based on a recipe from Caryn and Lauren’s grandmother, Molly Prusak.

The Acadian Dream Inn’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Miriam and Cindy together created this recipe one year at the inn when they had too much zucchini. It turns out that the zucchini made for an especially rich, even sinful-tasting, cake that everyone loved so much that they kept it on the menu until the inn went under. Both Miriam and Cindy continue to make this on a regular basis just because.

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups unsifted, all-purpose flour

1/4 cup dark cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups zucchini, finely shredded

1 (10-ounce) bag dark chocolate chips, divided

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

Place the butter, oil, and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until well blended. Beat in the eggs, vanilla extract, and buttermilk. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, dark cocoa, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the batter, and blend until well combined. Stir the shredded zucchini, and half of the dark chocolate chips (5 ounces) into the batter. Spoon the batter into a greased and floured 13” x 9” baking dish. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Transfer the cake from the oven to a wire baking rack and, while still hot, sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the top. Let them melt and spread evenly over the cake. Variation: dark chocolate frosting can be substituted for the chocolate chip topping.

12 to 16 servings

Recipe by Linda Wilson, from Jayni and Frank Carey’s The New Kansas Cookbook

More recipes and the whole enchilada of the novel, Miriam’s Well, available through the campaign here, and you can see early reviews here.

When Miriam Finishes Wandering the Desert: Everyday Magic, Day 911

Late last night, as I sent my novel Miriam’s Well to my wonderful publisher, Steve Semken of Ice Cube Press, I reworked a summary of this 500-plus page book that’s been at the heart of my writing life for 13 years:

In this modern day retelling of the biblical story, Miriam wanders the political and spiritual desert of a changing America, torn between her roots as the Jewish daughter of a Black father and white mother, her yearning for home, and her brothers, Aaron, a successful New York City attorney, and Moses, a Kansas autistic artist. An astonishing cook and singer, Miriam has a knack for showing up to feed and help people at at landmark events, including People’s Park during the Summer of Love, the Wounded Knee encampment in South Dakota, the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, the Oklahoma City terrorist attack, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina. As she seeks the promised land, she shows her people, and eventually herself, how to turn the chaos and despair of our times into music, meals, and meaning.

The amazing painting (sunset on the Platte River) by Anne Burkholder that will be on the cover of the novel.

This morning, waking up to the first day in the many years when I wasn’t finishing this book, I realized, that for all intensive purposes, the Miriam of my imagination is done wandering the desert. I got off easy compared to biblical Miriam’s 40 years of wandering, after which she never even got to the promised land (at least in that telling of her life). I’ve gotten lost, and eventually found, in many sentences in the writing and revision of the book, thanks to my tried-and-true process of writing what Anne Lamott calls “shitty first drafts,” then reworking my words for eons. I’ve read the in-process book in entirety aloud to Ken twice, and parts of it to Brave Voice participants occasionally, but from here on, the “in-process” part of the process is finished.

It’s a strange feeling to complete a big book that takes everything you think you can do, and asks of you to do more and go farther. So many times, I couldn’t figure out how to develop a scene, flesh out a curve in the plot, or show, with greater transparency but still enough mystery, who a character is. As I tell my students and workshop participants, sometimes you just have to tell yourself you’re not just smart enough to write something at the moment, shrug it off, write something else, then return to the page. Also, writing is a way of knowing: my hands on the keyboard had led me often to language that was far beyond me thinking into words.

Now I’m sitting on the porch in the rain during a morning thunderstorm, reminding myself I don’t need to rework something in the book that I loved writing so much. Despite the glory of being finished, I’m sad. Then I remind myself: I’m only leaving the writing of it. I’ll be doing readings from this novel for anyone who will listen for years, and I’ll be talking at length about its nuances, and what might happen to Miriam after the end of the novel (although I wish I fully knew). Of course, there will be many more times to proofread the book, even after the advance copies are printed and distributed this fall in time for us to garner some reviews for a Passover 2018 release date.

In time, just like Miriam, I’ll be done wandering, and in the case of such a long-term project, wondering how to shape each paragraph, lift and close each chapter. Miriam will find her next story, and so will I.

Finishing the Last Poem for Chasing Weather: Everyday Magic, Day 794

20110620_5447Yesterday, I finished the last poem, the one I couldn’t conjure for weeks, and not for lack of trying. Part of the 70 poems in Chasing Weather: Tornadoes, Tempests, and Thunderous Skies in Word and Image, the book I’m doing with splendid weather chaser and photographer Stephen Locke, “Rain,” capped about three or four years of writing weather poems (after many decades of writing weather poems because weather is the fascinating soundtrack to our lives).

As a poet, I’m not used to writing a body of poems on deadline although there have been plenty of times I’m pushing and praying through a poem for a special occasion. Because poetry is so hard to get published, usually, I have years (decades even) to linger over a book, but for this one, that goes to the publisher, Ice Cube Press, within a week, I had to throw myself into the mercy of the page. Sometimes the right line, image or rhythm would come, and often, it wouldn’t. I tended to play with the not-quite-right poems by trying them out with very short, then very long lines, each time, tweaking the language, and hoping some fresh new image landed in my lap. And that’s kind of the essence of poetry: you show up on the page, surrender all, work like crazy, pay attention while not paying attention, and hope the gods give you something to say.

Such was the case with this poem, which went through many versions, and which I began again to write a dozen times. Part of the challenge was what to say about storms and life that I hadn’t said in any of the other 69 poems. Now that I found something that feels good to me, I let it go, carry the manuscript to a wonderful writer who will proofread the poems for me, and then send it to my publisher. While I’m done chasing poetry (for a short while), we’re not done chasing dollars to fund the high quality printing of this book, so if the work connects with you, and you’d like to buy your copy in advance, and support a small press, please see our indiegogo campaign here. Meanwhile, in honor of being finished, and of this blustery, rainy day, here is “Rain.”

Rain

The wall of noise dissolves to rain,

a world held in place by a million falling threads.

In the balance, the fur on the coyote’s belly,

worn as leather but marked with a lifetime of fights,

and the lake hungry for new stories to swim with the old.

Lightning angles and wishbones, branches into branches

that mimic what grows or tunnels below.

Scenery unrolls quick-silver — expanses of land

or water, sky and darkness — in the flash that lights up

all the lines of roads and clouds, cedars and shorelines,

before sealing all back together in shifting hues of night.

What seems like the end, again a beginning.

What can’t be said, suddenly pouring down everywhere.