Monday, November 29, 2010

I'm thankful for stories with endings

Amazingly, the month of November is already coming to a close. This means we will soon be back to our regularly scheduled programming here at Living the Astorian Dream. Which, as you've probably figured out by now, is not really that different. Mostly I'll just feel obligated to write a little more, resort to recipes a little less, and consider proofreading before publishing.

I wish I could say that my time this November was fruitfully spent. However, the only fruit really born from this experiment were shorter hair (theoretically haircut time was one of many times my nose should have been in closer proximity to a grindstone) and the discovery of my henceforth untapped skill for making sublimely creepy Christmas cards. That said, while I'm not finished, I can say: my word count did go up, and I'm determined that before month's end my book will have an ending. So yes, at the very least my book will have a beginning and an end. Now it's just a matter of filling in a few gaps (if you're feeling charitable, you can imagine them as small gaps), and my draft will be complete.

One thing that stood between and my writing this past week (not that I'm making excuses), was that I was far too busy stuffing my face with Thanksgiving goodness. Impaired by mass amounts of turkey and wine, I wasn't equal to writing so much as haiku. (For the record, I'm not intending to belittle the labors of true haiku poets...just that the type of haiku I write could generally be generated in a semi-conscious state.) I don't have much else to say about Thanksgiving, except that it was lovely to see my family and to eat the delicious offerings they provided. It was also fun to eat some proper BBQ and briefly attend (though not participate in) a square dance. Below find two photographs that I feel succinctly sum up the event:

What a beaut'. Behold 21 pounds of free range deliciousness.

Did I journey to Japan? Or is this just one of the culturally varied parts of Fort Worth, Texas? It's surprisingly hard to tell sometimes. Also, I'm posting this because I'm weirdly proud of this picture. Notice the delicate balance of shadow play. That just happened.

Finally, I'd like to take this time to give a shout-out to my talented mother, a loyal reader and commenter of this blog, who has already completed her 50,000 words for the month. Congratulations, frenchteacher! You are proof that it can be done. And done despite turkey-and-wine-impairment to boot.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Recipe for a tuberlar Thanksgiving

Last weekend, I went to see a friend do a cooking demo at the farmer's market in Union Square. Said friend is in culinary school, and it was a class assignment to demonstrate how to cook something using locally grown, seasonal vegetables from the market.

I think the recipe they made--braised fennel and potatoes--would make an excellent contribution to a Thanksgiving feast. I know most people are Thanksgiving tradition purists and have a long settled menu that doesn't abide changes or substitutions. That said, for those Thanksgiving mavericks, this particular recipe would be an excellent stand in for the traditional mashed potatoes. (This is easy for me to say, because mashed potatoes are something my Thanksgiving dinner could do perfectly well without. I know this likely makes me a Communist, but I hate mashed potatoes. It's a texture issue. For whatever paranoid reason, I feel like they're choking me).

My friend displaying his well-honed knife skills. Turns out, I've been cutting things inefficiently all my life.

After trying the little sample cup allotted to me at the farmer's market, I had to buy all the ingredients and make my own skillet full at home:

Potatoes don't photograph super well, I've decided. I'm willing to forgive them that, though only when they're braised in cream.

Here's the recipe (courtesy of the National Gourmet Institute) if you want to make it a part of your Thanksgiving. Or any fall meal really.

Braised Fennel and Potatoes

1 large fennel bulb (with fronds intact)
3 T butter
1 large onion, cut into 1/4 inch saute slices
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 lb potatoes (I used fingerlings, but any will do)
1/2 c water
1/4-1/3 c heavy cream

Remove fennel fronds from fennel bulb. Chop enough fennel fronds to measure about 2 T, and set aside.

Quarter fennel bulb lengthwise and core, then cut into 1/4 inch slices.

In large saute pan heat butter over low heat. Add fennel, onion, salt, and pepper. Cover pan, stirring occasionally until onion is softened (about 5 minutes).

Add potatoes to pan and cook over low heat, uncovered, stirring frequently for about 3 minutes. Add water and simmer covered until potatoes are tender and water has evaporated (about 10 minutes).

Add cream to dish. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with fennel fronds and serve.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I can take a hint

During short post month (er, I mean National Novel Writing Month...because I swear I'm still doing that), I always enjoy it when posts can just write themselves. Or rather I enjoy throwing other people's writing up on here that they may entertain you with their fine words. Today's contributions come not from my 826 kids (whose work I've had no compunctions about pirating in the past) but from some contest-winning writers. That's right--they finally announced the winners of the Hint Fiction Writing Contest of many posts ago. Here they are without further ado (by which I mean: effort on my part):

First Place:

Cabin Fever
by Sean Johnston (Sachse, TX)

Cindy had agreed to the electric fence, the deadbolts, the new alarm system—true—but she had assumed his intentions were to keep people out.


Inheritance Money,
by Tami Absi (Dayton, OH)

To fish his apartment key from his pocket, Gunther placed his pink slip, the Detroit Daily’s obituary section, and the flowers on the floor.

by Matt Mintz (Fontana, CA)

The pastor's daughter made me meet her in the church basement. There was no light but she told me where to duck.

Swimming Lessons
by Vicki Wilson (Clinton, NY)

Her husband told the coroner she'd only signed up for the damned class because some crazy fortuneteller told her she'd die from drowning.

The Mirror
by Colleen Leeman (Brooklyn, NY)

She held the old, straggly feather boa up against her business suit. She apologized to the picture of her with pigtails on the dusty table.

How Does Your Garden Grow
by Katheryn Yu (Dripping Springs, TX)

One morning Annie found a hand under a the rosebush where she had never left one before.

Although I was sad to see none of my readers' wonderful entries made it (unless...Sean of Sachse..are you out there?), I must say I very much enjoyed the winning entries. Particularly the swimming one, but then I do have a soft spot for fatalism in short fiction.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Squashed mac and cheese

Another short post up ahead. I've been getting some requests for the mac and cheese recipe I alluded to in my previous short post. And I can completely understand why: I've always been a fan of hiding vegetables inside junk food. It makes you (or the very least me) feel less guilty to be gorging on mac and cheese when you've squashed some dietary fiber and potassium in there. Also, it's nearly impossible to avoid squash at the farmer's market right now. A friend sent me this recipe, but I'm transcribing it below with my changes. Mostly I just left out things I didn't have at the time. And I didn't use whole wheat pasta because really isn't the squash healthy enough?

Squashed Mac

500 g organic macaroni or other pasta (I used shells)

One small onion diced

¼ cup butter, softened

3 Tablespoons flour

3 cups organic whole milk

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 1/3 cups butternut squash puree (about one squash peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces--simmered with water for 10 minutes, drained, and mashed)

2 cups grated cheese (I used a combination of extra sharp cheddar, Parmesan, and Jarlsberg--I think as long as you have some sort of Swiss in there, it'll be delicious)

Salt & pepper to taste


1/3 cup Panko or plain breadcrumbs (I used the latter)

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated, not powdered

2 Tablespoons unsweetened coconut, shredded (I was a little concerned about the coconut, but it turned out great!)


Boil the pasta according to package directions, taking it out a minute or two early so that's it's slightly al dente. Drain and set aside.

For the sauce:

In the same pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, stir to coat and cook gently for about five minutes.

Sprinkle flour over the onions and stir well. Slowly add milk, whisking well. Cook for a few minutes, stirring often until mixture thickens slightly.

Add squash puree and mix well. Add cheese, a few handfuls at a time, stirring continually. Once all the cheese has been added and melted, stir in Dijon, and season sauce with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For the topping:

Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan and breadcrumbs in a bowl. Set aside.

To assemble:

Combine cheese sauce and cooked egg noodles together until noodles are well coated. Put mixture into a large casserole dish.

Top with bread crumb topping. Bake at 375F for about 20 minutes or until bubbly around the edges. Serve and enjoy your delicious (slightly healthier) mac and cheese!

Also, here's another cheesy, starchy vegetable (or fungus, I guess) recipe. I made this deliciousness last night. I'm not going to transcribe this one because I actually followed the recipe perfectly. Those who remember me from my Vegetables Are Friends days will know that I was not always so big a fan of mushrooms, but put enough cheese in something and you can make it taste good. A good lesson for us all.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Shutting up and reminissing about leaves

I'm still working on writing so this will be a (nearly) wordless post. The cold has finally hit New York and with it has come the darkness. Or maybe that's more the fault of daylight savings time. Anyway, all I know is that when I leave work it's dark now. To compensate, I'm posting some pictures of Fall taken within the last few weeks when we still had nice things like daylight in the evening and warm days to enjoy the park.

Note the color in the leaves and the fact that you can still see Central Park because of the magic of sunlight.

It's just like When Harry Met Sally, except slightly more dead.

Now that's a proper Central Park Fall tree.

The always lovely Bethesda Fountain, bathed in (albeit somewhat waning) evening light.

Sorry this last one's a little blurry. I was trying to be stealthy, although I'm not sure why because really you probably wouldn't dress your dachshund as a hot dog if you didn't want people to photograph the little frankfurter.

Remind me to tell you later about the live chicken living on the 5th floor of my office building (in accounts payable) last week, the excellent production of Carmen I just saw, and the recipe for mac and cheese with butternut squash in it that recently changed my life. But for now, back to the writing! I promise you I'm making progress. The word count hasn't increased that much, but the IDEAS are there.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I bet James Franco doesn't have 30,000 words

It's November, and I've decided to buckle down. Lay my cards on the table. Burn the candle at both ends with some midnight oil. In other words, I'm going to get more serious about writing my young adult novel, henceforth to be known as Project: Defeat James Franco. For you see, November is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, as the kids call it) during which participants are supposed to start and finish a novel in 30 days. I say I'm "sort of" participating because I'm not signed up, and I'm technically not attempting to write 50,000 words from scratch during the month of November. That said, I AM trying to finish my novel, even if I started it many Novembers ago. For those interested, November is also apparently Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, International Drum Month, and Pomegranate Month (but only in the United States). I only wish I had the time to participate in those as well.

Unfortunately, this means that I'll probably be posting here a little less. Or at the very least my posts will be shorter. After all, I've got to save the good writing for the werebears. I know this will be taxing for my more loyal readers (although I've been very excited to hear that many of my most loyal readers are doing NaNoWriMo themselves!). But just think: when my young adult novel takes off and becomes a smash sensation, you can say you read my juvenalia from the time when it was just blog entries. Perhaps they'll even publish these very posts, with a few edits of course, into an (albeit plotless) epistolary novel of sorts. Ah yes, imagine that.

Anyway, I promise not to forget about Astorian Dream and to check in and update as much as I can (or when I'm trying to avoid real writing...).

And finally, and this is completely unrelated to the above: remember that pumpkin contest for Zipcar? Well, my (boyfriend's) entry won an "honorable mention" prize of $15 in driving credit! I'm still not sure if the entry really was honorably mentioned or if it was more of a participation prize they gave to everyone, but I also don't really care. We'll take the $15, and they can keep their accolades! Although, I do think he should add this honor to his resume.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Michael Jackson-ing up 6th avenue

Last week I promised you an update on the Village Halloween parade and my not entirely pivotal part in it. The parade itself was a lot of fun, and definitely better than my previous attempts to try to watch it without participating. The only downside with dancing in the parade was that this was the week autumn weather finally came to New York. Last Wednesday it was an unseasonable 70 degrees, but come parade day it was more like 40. I figured that wouldn't be a problem because dancing would keep us warm. What I didn't take into account apparently was the 3 or so hours before the parade began that we would be standing on a very cold and windy Broome Street.

My group was performing two separate dances, both in tribute to talented pop icon Michael Jackson. The first was the dance to the "Beat It" video, complete with the fight scene that our fake Michael restores peace to. The second is the lesser known, and much more difficult, The Drill. I haven't found a video of us doing it online yet, but this is pretty much what we looked like, if a little less like Phillipine convicts. Also, there were less of us. Per the usual, I can't upload anything, but here's a link to the reasonable facsimile:

Our costumes were more suited for the Beat It part of the exhibition. We were divided into two rival gangs: those in leather and chains and those in torn jeans and bright colors. Naturally, I opted for Team Bright Colors because leather is expensive, and I already own torn jeans. Here I am looking as punk as is possible after just buying most of my outfit at H&M:
80s gang member or middle class poseur--you be the judge.

And here I am with a few members of my posse. In this one you can see that I put some red hair dye in my hair to add some more bright colors. It's a little more permanent than I thought, so I may be strawberry blond for a few days:

What a bunch of bad asses, am I right?

Now the moment you've all been waiting for: video footage of my first successful dance parade experience. As you can see, the videographers were slightly more interested in our awesome Michael Jackson impersonator, but you can totally see me trying to be thug in the background (the giant number 2 on my shirt does help). Here's the link:

Also, and this is totally unrelated to the dancing aspect of the parade, but who would have guessed that Chilean miner would have been the 'it' costume of 2010?

Hope you all had a Happy Halloween as well!

Update: Someone posted a video the us doing The Drill. You can't really see me, but trust me, I'm back there somewhere try to keep up: