Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z is for Zachary

Letter of the Day:  Z

Z is for Zachary, the last letter of the alphabet, and the second child in this family.

I'm going to repost the poem I wrote for him on his birthday, Dec. 7.  Inspired by Naming My Daughter by Patricia Fargnoli.

The One who was born on a infamous day

The One who came early in a quiet hospital
The One who needed sunlight for jaundice
The One who looked like Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve
The One who slept best
The One who likes pancakes and lasagna
The One who told stories and memorized books
The One who brought home Matilda
The One who makes friends easy
The One who sings
The One who plays trumpet
The One who broke his cheek bone
The One who doesn't have an appendix
The One who got the swine flu
The One who cared for me when I got it, too
The One who is a math master
The One who rocks at the breast stroke
The One who reads and reads and reads
The One who hugs
The One who doesn't think he's too old to say, "I love you."
The One who got sick on his birthday
The One I call my Christmas Baby

Blogging A-Z has been a blast!  I've made new friends, found new blogs to follow, and added many new followers here.  Thank you so much!  You are all an inspiration to me.  Now, back to Scriptfrenzy!  Ya, I was signed up to write a script in a month...looks like April won't be that month, but there's always May!

Journaling Prompt:  What projects have you neglected this spring?  When are you going to pick them back up? Or, are you going to start something new?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Vidalia Onion Tarts with Smoked Bacon . . . Relying on the Kindness of Onions

"Life is like an onion: You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep." -- Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

This time of year, is there anything lovelier than a lustrous and golden Vidalia onion? The moist heft and smooth skin of the typical one-pounder naturally appeals to us. It's fresh and ripe in a way that most onions can only dream about. The way in which the Vidalias show up just once a year, have their coming-out party, and then, for the most part, quietly recede into the background endears us to them. They're similar to the New England cranberry crop in that respect--fragile in their brief longevity, and very distinctly American.

One could say that Vidalias didn't appear on the scene by design; they just happened. They were in fact a fluke, planted by a Depression-era Georgia farmer (Mr. Moses Coleman) who didn't get quite what he expected upon tasting his onion crop in 1931. Onions weren't supposed to be sweet! Who'd want a sweet onion? Indeed. Turned out everybody wanted a sweet onion. And they still do.

Personally, I tend to feel that Vidalias are the most cooperative member of the allium family (allium cepa vidalia, to be specific). They kindly refrain from burning my eyes when I slice them. Despite their rather forward juiciness, they shy away from causing discomfort. Most vegetables aren't that thoughtful. That fact alone sets the Vidalia apart from its less civilized and more barbaric cousins, as far as I'm concerned. How can you not love an onion that cares about your feelings? I mean, really.

Some folks even claim you can bite into one and munch it like an apple. Not sure I'm quite brave enough to try that just yet . . . but maybe one of these days I'll give it a go.

About this recipe . . . 

One of my favorite pastry chefs, Nick Malgieri, has published at least two onion-tart recipes over the years that are very similar. This particular recipe, which he calls Swiss onion tart, is adapted from his book The Modern Baker; it is the less rich of the two I am familiar with (the other recipe, which calls for lard in the crust and higher quantities of eggs and cream, appears as Alsatian onion tart in an earlier book, A Baker's Tour).

Malgieri notes that he doesn't like to use onions that are sweet in this type of tart, but I have to disagree. I thought it was the perfect venue for beautiful sugary Vidalias. (This is blog is called Jane's Sweets, after all.) I reworded the instructions to reflect exactly what I did when I made these.

This satisfying little tart makes a nice main dish for a light lunch, alongside a spring-greens salad, and a thick wedge of melon. I can even see packing these tarts into a picnic basket.

Vidalia Onion Tart with Smoked Bacon
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: Eight individual small tarts, or one large 10" - 12" tart

Ingredients for the tart dough:
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached.)
1/2 tsp. salt (I used sea salt.)
1 tsp. baking powder
10 Tbsp. unsalted butter, very cold, cut into chunks
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk

To make the tart dough: 
In the large bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda. Add into that the butter chunks, and pulse about 20 times until finely mixed.

Add in the egg and the egg yolk; pulse just until the dough begins to form into a ball.

Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, gather it together, and press it into a round disk about 1/2" in thickness.

Cover the disk with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for one hour before rolling out. 

Ingredients for the filling:
6 or 7 strips of thick cut smoked bacon, cooked until crisp (Be sure to make enough to equal 1/2 cup when fully cooked, well drained, and diced. Leave a very small amount of the bacon fat in the pan you used to cook the bacon; you'll use the same pan to cook the onions.)
3 Tbsp. butter, unsalted
1 and 1/2 lbs. Vidalia onions, peeled, halved, and sliced 1/4" thick
Salt (I used sea salt.)
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour (I used unbleached.)
1/2 cup milk (I used 2 percent.)
1/2 heavy cream
Fresh ground black pepper
Fresh ground nutmeg (Don't use too much. Seriously.)
3 eggs, large

In the same pan that you used to make the bacon, melt the butter on medium heat. Add in all of the onions and generously salt them. When they begin to sizzle, lower the heat, and cover the pan. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring now and then; you want the onions to exude most of their water. Remove the lid, and continue to let the onions cook slowly for about 20 more minutes. They should be golden and quite reduced (aka caramelized!). When they're done, set them aside in the pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the dough from the fridge and cut it, pie style, into as many pieces as you'll need (eight equal sections for eight small tart pans, etc.), shaping each piece into a small disk. On a floured surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll each piece of dough out one at a time into a circle a little larger than your tart pan. Gently press the rolled piece down into the pan (best to use tart pans with removable bottoms) without stretching the dough.

Run the rolling pin right over the top; it will cut off the overhanging dough to give each tart a clean edge. Do this for all of your tarts. Put the tart shells onto a baking sheet.

In a large mixing bowl, place the 1 Tbsp. flour. Pouring slowly, whisk in the milk first, and then the cream. Stir in all of the cooked onions, excluding any extra drippings from the pan. Add salt, pepper, and a scant pinch of nutmeg to taste. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl with a fork, then add them in as well. Stir well to completely combine.

Portion the filling into each tart shell evenly (I used a small ladle to do this), making sure to put some onions into each one. Sprinkle bacon over the top of each tart.

Bake the tarts, on the baking sheet, for approximately 30 minutes, or until golden all over.

Let the tarts cool slightly before removing them carefully from their pans. Leftover tarts reheat well in the oven or microwave and can be  refrigerated for a couple of days without losing their gusto.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Y is for Yoga

Letter of the Day:  Y

Y is for Yoga!

This is Roseanne my yoga instructor.

She is a beautiful little sprite of a person with a generous and creative spirit.

I believe that Roseanne truly cares about all her students, here at the Y yoga studio and her dance studio, and probably everywhere she goes including her work.  (BTW, she drove a UPS truck for several years, but has since retired from that job.)

I have a new attitude of gratitude and I'm attributing much of that to yoga.  It is an amazing practice.  Not only is it a good workout for the body, but also it increases concentration and body image.  Yes, it helps you love your body no matter what shape it's in.  Roseanne gives us possitive messages as she's teaching.  She says, "Listen to your body.  Never force anything.  Respect your body and its limitations." 

As we're warming up, she has us in a foreward fold and tells us, "Let all your worries and cares fall out of your head and into the earth.  Leave them there for this hour.  For one hour, you just need to be.  We are in a culture that praises us for what we do, but here we just need to be."  Isn't that beautiful?  Today, I felt those worries and cares falling out and going into the earth.  I thought of them as being planted and left to grow or become what they need to be, maybe even the fertilizer.  I didn't need to carry them around anymore.

I asked Roseanne why so many people seemed to be afraid to try yoga.  She believes it comes from two sources.  One is that some people who have a strong Christian connection think that yoga is about teaching Buddism or Eastern religion.  That is incorrect.  Of course, every teacher and experience is unique, but Roseanne says, "You are here to water your own spiritual garden."  Again, isn't that lovely?  So reassuring.  Honoring who you are and your own beliefs.  I find comfort in that image.  The second reason people are afraid to come is ego.  Yes, folks, ego is one of our biggest barriers.  That's why we adults are afraid of trying anything new.  We don't want to be the beginner in a class.  We want to come in already knowing what to do and having the skill.  But, unless we can humble ourselves to be the kindergartner in the room, we will never gain new skills.  Ego was my biggest barrier.  Roseanne says, "You don't need to be afraid to fall off your pony."  She gives us examples of beginner level to advanced.  Once I let go of my ego and accepted the chance of "falling off my pony," I swung my arms back in a spider-type pose and flipped on my arms in a back bend.  I was exhilirated.  Later, we started a pose by lying on our backs. I finally got my legs up over my head and experienced that release.  I pulled out of it with a huge smile on my face.  Yes, I needed to strengthen my core, but more than that I needed to build my confidence and not be afraid of falling.  It worked.
As we're lying on our backs in a cool down, Roseanne tells us to shut our eyes.  She says, "Be aware of your breathing.  Feel whatever you're feeling without judgement.  If you have a tense place, go there with your breathing."  She plays soothing, beautiful music, and I lie there listening, breathing, visualizing my garden, the top of a mountain, wherever I need to go in that moment.  The song she played this week is called Jetaime, sung in both French and English.  It sounded like a lullaby to me.
Yoga is one of those exercises that truly strengthens your body, mind, and spirit.  Thank you, Roseanne!

Journaling Prompt:  Have you ever tried yoga?  What have you accomplished that boosted your confidence and helped you on your physical and spiritual journey?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for Xerophyte

Letter of the Day:  X

X is for Xerophyte that my friend RoXane will describe in a guest post.  I write about Roxane often on this blog because she is my best writer-mama-pal.  We have helped each other along the writing path.  Here we are at a Boyds Mills Workshop in PA, a workshop sponsored by the founders of Highlights for Children magazine.

X: A Letter Most Expressive

“Xerophyte, X, is a plant
That includes the prickly pear cactus.
It’s not exactly exciting, though,
When its thorny arms reach out to greet us.”

– X page from P is for Peace Garden: A North Dakota Alphabet

Oh how I enjoyed writing the X page for my nonfiction children’s book, P is for Peace Garden: A North Dakota Alphabet. And I still love reading it, every chance I get, to children especially. Not just the rhyme (though it’s awfully fun to personify cacti), but the sidebar information about the xerophyte; how its juices can be strained and boiled to make prickly-pear syrup, and that it is used for cattle food and, in long-ago years was consumed by humans during food shortages.

First, as you can well imagine, X was not the easiest letter of the alphabet to write about. And I had some constraints. I needed to find something significant within the state of North Dakota that had to do with X. Other authors in this series writing about other states came up with creative things like “X marks the spot.” But I wanted something educational and not so elusive, which is why I was so elated to stumble upon the word xerophyte. I didn’t have to stretch my imagination too far to remember stepping on prickly-pear cacti as a girl growing up in Northeastern Montana, and stepping over them frequently as well in Western North Dakota, where these sneaky babies thrive and often hide.

But there’s so much more that draws me to the letter X than that. For one, how many people can claim they have an X in their name? I’ve always felt particularly proud to have a name that was a little different, though not in an odd way. And I largely attribute the X in Roxane for making it so. When you say the name, everything sort of rises and falls on the X. Without the X, my name would be Roane, and that, I’m afraid, would have been a downer. The X brings so much vibrancy to that one word alone!

I also love symmetry. Oh, don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for asymmetry as well. But I love it when things can come together and find a happy union. The two lines of the X are a joyful pairing. They’re each doing their own thing, going their own way, but they meet in the middle. I like balance, I like peace. X gives that to me.

Perhaps more than anything else, though, I think I’m lured to X through the fact that it often does not get the attention it deserves, or when it does, it’s the wrong kind of attention. Take X-rated movies, for example. Couldn’t they have used a different letter to signify something being off-limits? (And who is they anyway?) Sometimes, X just don't get no respect (I'm calling to mind Rodney Dangerfield of old)!

Even within my name, X is sort of hidden. It’s shy and a little different, kind of how I felt as a child. And yet, it has something to offer the world. It has something to share. It has all sorts of potential, which is exciting in a most exclamatory sort of way. Note, though, that it’s oftentimes led by another letter. I consider myself a leader, but I prefer allowing someone else to guide me, just as I did as the younger of two siblings in childhood.

Indeed, the possibilities for X are extraordinary, if only we would take the time to examine X and appreciate its strengths. I see this as part of my life’s mission – to seek out all the X’s in the crowd, call them out gently, and help them notice just what it is about them that makes them so very excellent, even if they can’t see it themselves.

It’s something I have been offered by other unique, X-type people (even those without the letter X in their names), and something I hope to continue to do for others, especially in my life as a writer and mother.

Mary has been one of those people coaxing the X in me to come out and shine. And I so appreciate the chance to write this fun post for her today, to give X the time in the limelight it truly deserves.

This is how I end my sidebar on the X page of my book:
“Would you ever eat a cactus? How about some prickly pear syrup to go with your pancakes?”
Well, would you? Have you?

I find the possibilities of X exhilarating. How about you?

Roxane B. Salonen
Communications Specialist/Author
Beauclair Communications:
Peace Garden Mama:
Peace Garden Writer:

Thanx, Roxane! That's exactly what I was hoping for.

Journaling Prompt:  What makes you, or your name, unique?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W is for Writing Word by Word

Letter of the Day:  W

W is for Writing Word by Word by Beth Hautala. 

Here's what you get when you hang out at coffee shops:
1. Good coffee
2. Inspirational setting
3. Juicy conversation
4. Juicier converations that you "just happen to overhear"
5. Meet-ups with friends
6. Chance meeting with friends who have friends
7. Introductions from one creative spirit to another
8. New friends to share coffee conversations and write guest posts.

Introducing my newest creative friend, Beth! And, yes, I met her at a coffee shop thanks to our mutual friend Joey Halvorson, a fabulous photographer and the person who brought my character Lolly to life.

W is for WritingWordByWord

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working,” Pablo Picasso has been quoted as saying, and I stumbled across his words at a time when I was languishing away, waiting for my muse. Writers do this—most creative folk do, actually, but the reality is that all work, writing included, is only accomplished one simple act at a time. The muse is an elusive thing and hardly dependable.

I’ve always been a tad reticent to call myself a “writer,” though I have no particular reason for my hesitancy. Somehow, it always has seemed necessary to legitimize the title, and I’ve never felt qualified. But the realization that my work would need some consistency, should I ever wish to claim that elusive title, has served as motivation. Slowly but consistently, I began blogging about the writing life nearly a year ago now, and I have found the process surprisingly cathartic and instructive.

The very work of a creative profession (writing, painting, acting, or otherwise) demands that we bare certain elements of ourselves for the world to alternately love or hate. Whether performed on a stage, posted on a blog, or printed in a book—the work finds its purpose in the hearts and lives of the audience for which it was intended. That’s part of the thrill—causing a new train of thought or spurring a new perspective. But change never comes without struggle, and creatives—I among them—tend to be some of the most struggling and “rejected” people on earth. We continually run up against the wall of commercialism, and often our best ideas are sacrificed on that alter so that we can continue living with luxuries—like heat, plumbing, and electricity.

My heart is wrapped up in the creation and development of fiction, and the protagonists in my stories tend to wrestle with discouragement on various levels as much as I do. But if I’m honest, I’ve never written a story where the bravery of said protagonists is not tested, tried, and then revealed. Heroes, heroines, writers, and all of humanity in general need encouragement, the imparting of courage—the illumination of a bravery we already possess.

After working away at a middle grade novel for quite a while (inconsistently of course) the discipline of keeping a blog taught me to write consistently and I finished my book, refined it, and began the process of searching for a literary agent.

Which, in fact, I did this past January. You can read that post here.

And the little website that began as a place for me to cathartically vent my thoughts on writing, and teach myself to write with perseverance, has slowly transformed into a living breathing community of writers. We are teaching another to work at the craft, and encouraging and building one another up. The Writers Guild portion of the site gets an average of six-hundred hits a day and more than two-dozen writers stop in regularly to share work, offer critiques, and participate in forum discussions. We are drawn together by a mutual desire to write word by word, because as Picasso said, inspiration visits the working.

And I, well, I’m testing out that elusive “Writer” title a little more each day.

Beth Hautala runs where she blogs about getting wrapped and tangled up in words, encouraging others to do likewise. Her first novel, WAITING FOR UNICORNS, and other subsequent projects are repped by Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary.

Thanks, Beth, for sharing your inspiring story.

Journaling Prompt:  Who or what has inspired you lately?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for Voice

Letter of the Day:  V

V is for Voice.  You've heard about it.  I think just about every art form talks about finding your voice - that which makes you distinct within your craft.  If I'm reading random comments on another blog, I might think hmmm, that sounds like Roxane, then I'll look and sure enough, it's her.  I recognize her writing voice just as well as I'd recognize her speaking voice if she called me on the phone.  I'd know JeMA's abstract, textured art anywhere.  I know her style. I know which elements she likes to include and which colors fit her composition.  Classical musicians can distinguish a Bach piece from a Beethoven, and classic rockers know their guitar heroes.

I found my voice through Her Voice magazine.  I started writing for our local women's magazine about six years ago, and I've been a regular contributor ever since.  Meg Douglas, the editor, was the first person to call me an author, and I will always love her for those life-changing words.  After I sent in my first article, she wrote, "I'd love to publish more of your articles."  I got busy writing.  I'd been working on a novel, written some short pieces, done skits and dramas that existed as long as the event.  Then, I started a blog.  Now, I have a full-length play, and I have a voice.  I write realistic fiction and non-fiction centered on relationships and real-life characters. I have a gentle touch, thoughtful, and pondering.  I could describe my piano playing that way, too.  Sprinkle in a flourish of blues and humor, and that's me.

My latest article came out in Her Voice this week. It's about my friend Georgia who has claimed her voice as an artist and a writer, and claimed space and time to work on it.  She inspires me. Click on over if you'd like to read it.  My story, or should I say Georgia's story, starts on page 20. 

The timing of the letters and themes during this A-Z challenge has been amazing. 

Journaling Prompt:  What would an ideal artist's retreat look like for you? Can you describe your voice as an artist?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Guest Blogger Recipe!--Spinach and Potato Frittata

Do you ever have those weeks when there are TONS of things going on?  Weeks that are so busy you wonder when you might get to sleep?  This is that week for me and luckily I have a guest blogger to share a wonderful recipe with all of you that is not only tasty, but thrifty as well!

Alea, at Premeditated Leftovers , shares many of the same ideas about food as I do.  She shares her tips for saving money and time while reducing waste in her home at Premeditated Leftovers. She is committed to providing her family with homegrown, organic produce despite living in an inhospitable climate. Alea chronicles her gardening efforts at One Determined Gardener.  I hope you enjoy this recipe and also find many more on her sites! 

Spinach and Potato Frittata
By: Alea at Premeditated Leftovers

When I was a child, my dad often shared the story of the time he had to live on potatoes. He had started a new job and had to wait two weeks before he would receive his first paycheck. His milkman delivered eggs as well as milk. The milkman also delivered butter and cheese and, most importantly, he extended my dad credit. With the little bit of cash he had left he bought a large bag of potatoes. My dad would end the story by recounting all the different ways he cooked his potatoes and eggs. Over the years the recipe list became longer and a bit more exotic as the story took on a life of its own.

My dad’s story did more than just entertain me, it planted a seed of stubborn independence (Well perhaps that was genetic, but it provided me with a way to carry out my stubborn independence). When I was a poor college student I made potatoes and eggs the base of many of my recipes. Eggs were an inexpensive source of protein and I could buy a 10 pound bag of potatoes for .99 cents. My dad would ask me how I was doing and if I needed any money and I would respond, “Don’t worry about me, I know a hundred ways to cook potatoes and eggs”.

Prices have gone up quite a bit in the last 25 years, but eggs and potatoes are still a frugal and delicious source of nutrients. Last month we were not sure if my husband would be furloughed. My husband expressed concern and I reminded him that we had our emergency fund and we could subsist on potatoes and eggs until Congress came up with a budget if we needed to. Fortunately, my husband was not furloughed. I decided the most appropriate way to celebrate was with a potato frittata. :)

1 medium potato, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 cup shredded spinach
1 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
dash of pepper
6 eggs, beaten

Boil the diced potato until fork tender. Rinse and drain.

Preheat oven to broil.

In a 10” oven safe frying pan, sauté onion in olive oil until the onion is translucent.

Add potato, spinach, rosemary, and pepper to the onion. Cook over medium-high heat until spinach is wilted, approximately 3 - 5 minutes.
Add eggs to the vegetable mixture. Cook over medium-low heat until eggs are almost set, approximately 4 – 5 minutes.

Place frying pan 4 –6 inches beneath the broiler. Broil for 2 –4 minutes or until the eggs are cooked through and beginning to brown.

Cut into wedges and serve immediately.
I serve this with fresh fruit for breakfast or Strawberry Spinach Salad for lunch or dinner.

U is for Unwind

Letter of the Day:  U

U is for Unwinding!  Have you ever heard someone say, "She's wound up so tight"?  Have you ever felt tension between your shoulder blades that really did feel like a knot was tied in your muscles?  Many of us are, indeed, wound up tight inside and need to untwist. 

At one of the breakout sessions at the Mothers of Multiples Convention, I heard Debra McLaughlin speak about Craniosacral Therapy. Craniosacral Therapy is a very gentle form of hands-on structural therapy that can profoundly help at any age to correct imbalances in the body. She showed us how she has worked with newborn babies who looked like they had a crick in the neck, arched their backs, cried when laid on their backs, and had terrible colic.  She taught the parents how to pick the baby up by her feet and let her untwist.  She likely had been in a twisted up position in-utero and had some trauma at birth.  Holding her upside down and letting her body naturally correct itself, allowed her to coil back into that position, then open up again, and finally relax.

I was fascinated.  The instructor also talked to us about her own experience when she was pregnant with her twins, 20 years ago.  She was stopped a stoplight, but the driver behind her hadn't been paying attention, and although slowing, slammed into her.  It was a minor fender-bender.  But, now, she had pain.  She was worried about her babies.  She explained that the seatbelt holds you in place at your waist and left shoulder, but the right shoulder was free to be jarred foreward, causing twisting in her abdomen.  By using her knowledge of Craniosacral Therapy, she was able to correct the problem, and her babies were fine.  Boy-girl twins who are freshmen in college, now.

This got me thinking about my feeling of being wound up too tight.  I've had two major collisions with deer. 

I didn't feel injured, but I've had a knot in my back since the first one.  I also carry my tension in my shoulders, and spend many hours a day hunched over a keyboard, playing piano, or teaching.  When do I ever really open up my arms and unravel my torso?

Debra encouraged us to lay on a ball and open up like this.

We need to stretch our chests and abdomens.  Another way to do this is to stand in a doorway, a narrower one like a bathroom, and place one hand on each side and lean in.  Move your hands up slowly and feel more muscles opening up.  Another place to try this is in a corner of a room.

Stretch, relax, let your body untwist.  Spend some time hanging upside down or letting your muscles go where they need to.  Start slowly.  Be gentle.  Be good to yourself and your body and you'll allow all your creative juices to flow freely.

Journaling Prompt:  Do you have any tips on how to unwind?  How do you help your body relax and heal?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

T is for Time

Letter of the Day:  T

T is for Time and the Texas Playwright Chick.  I stumbled upon her blog.  I think I liked one of her comments, or was drawn to the playwright part.  I don't know.  What I do know is that once I discovered the Texas Playwright Chick, I wanted to be the Minnesota Playwright Chick.  I signed up for Scriptfrenzy last year and I've completed my first full-length play.  Cher, the Texas Playwright Chick, has been most encouraging.  She read my play, said it made her laugh out loud, and told me she "loved it."  Well, that makes it official.  Let this Minnesota Playwright Chick introduce you to Cher, The Texas Playwright Chick....

Settle in with your favorite cup of brew, or tea.

T is for Texas Playwright Chick and all my Thoughts! And, what I’ve been thinking about lately, the personal motto I’ve been using to spur (get it? Texas…spurs?) myself on with is this:

Time to Tap your Talent!

The first time I saw Lord of the Rings, I was inspired by something Gandalf said to Frodo. He said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” That really struck a chord with me and I began to ask myself, “What am I doing with my time?” Am I really using my time wisely? Am I using my talent wisely? Am I tapping into my best life potential? Or am I puttering my time and talent away, wasting it doing things that aren’t important?

So, my personal battle cry has become, “it’s TIME to TAP your TALENT!” I say this to myself each day to remind myself to get to my computer and use those writing talents! But, to tap those writing talents of mine, it comes down to time. Finding time, making time, taking time, to sit down and explore my story ideas and characters on the page, is the only thing that can help me achieve my dreams. Without taking the time to tap into your own talents – whatever they may be – you will never fully reach your own potential.

We all have dreams for ourselves, and we all have hope that we will be able to make those dreams come true, yes? But, hope is not enough. You must take the time to tap our talents (which is really taking an action), or you will continue to live your life in a fog of status quo. Nothing new will happen to you. Nothing exciting will happen to you. Nothing extraordinary will happen to you. Is that what you want? Or do you want an extraordinary life full of amazing experiences?

Are YOU taking the TIME you need to TAP your own TALENTS? Are you taking the TIME you need to create the life you want? Have YOU decided what to do with the TIME that has been given to YOU?

Ciao for Niao – Texas Playwright Chick

This post needs a theme song:  Time by Hootie and the Blowfish. It's a Youtube link if you're in the mood for a listen.

One more note:  Just this week I read a blog post by a young woman actor named Andi Zeisler about the need for women playwrights and the need for plays with strong women roles.  She was bemoaning the lack of respectable roles for women in musicals.  It gave me courage to persevere with Coffee Shop Confessions.  I'm in need of a composer, original songs, and a creative team to get it out to the public.  You can find the post here.

 Journaling Prompt: How have you taken time for yourself and your art lately? 

Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Self-Care

Letter of the Day:  S

S is for Self-Care and Slumdog Millionaire.

If you don't take care of yourself and tend to your needs, how are you going to be healthy enough to create?  You need to claim time for yourself (see tomorrow's guest post by Cher), and you need to nurture your creative soul. 

Have you ever taken yourself on an Artist's Date?  This idea comes from Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way.  This book is filled with great ways to unblock your creative spirit and get you to take steps towards building your art.  If you haven't worked your way through it, I recommend you find a creative partner and do it together.  It's great to talk through the ideas and exercises together and you'll always have a cheerleader for your creative endeavors.

This week, I took a much needed Artist's Date.  I drove to a nearby town and visited the locally owned bookstore.  I loved it.  I chatted with the owner, and he said he was interested in bringing books to a Dementia Awareness workshop that's being organized by a group I've recently joined, LAMAA (Lakes Area Memory Awareness Advocates).

Then, I stopped at a cute store called:

It's a coffee/tea shop that also sells loose leaf tea and coffee beans.  I was so excited to see that they carry a few of my favorites.  My best tea lady closed shop in town a few years ago, and I hadn't discovered this place, yet. 

I made myself a cup of Evening in Missoula tonight.  Mmmm. hits the spot.  It has mint and herbs and other soothing plants, which is good, especially during allergy season.

I also picked up some flowers for my mom.  I wrote "Happy Spring" on the card.  It includes her birthday, Easter, and Mother's Day.  She lives a ways away where it is now quite swampy and flooded, but she said the roads should be open by Friday.

One more thing that fed this "starving" artist was listening to Dawn's CD during the drive.  (She wrote the guest post on R Day.)  Her music and voice are gorgeous.

And, a quick review of Slumdog Millionaire.  It's intense.  I was so nervous the first time I watched it.  I was afraid it would be too violent or heart-wrenching for me.  And, yes, there are a few tough scenes, especially with the children.  It depicts a place filled with strife and violence.  But, it's a story of survival.  I am drawn in by those stories.  I had to see it to the end.  I figured it wouldn't have gotten such rave reviews, Oscar nominations and awards, if it wasn't a strong and satisfying story.  It is.  I didn't know it was a love story.  Despite all the struggles, all the ugliness of that place and time, the corruption of some of the people, Good triumphs over evil - with great sacrifice.  I was left feeling hope in the end.

Journaling Prompt:  Where would you like to go on an Artist's Date?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Brie Cheesecake with Shortbread Crust and Strawberry Sauce . . . (Step aside, Chocolate Bunny.)

Dear Chocolate Bunny,

Your appeal is undeniable. No question about it. You've shown up faithfully, year after year, in Easter baskets across the continent. Though your crinkly pastel foil is often askew, you'll always be a snappy dresser in our eyes. We love you, it's true. But, this year,  we're opting for the cheesecake with strawberries on top. 

Hey, you had a great run, but isn't it time to take a break? Maybe reassess your career goals? Think about it, won't you?


P.S. The truth can hurt, I know. But I had to give it to you straight.

About this recipe . . . 

Don't be thrown by the presence of the brie in this voluptuously rich cheesecake. It's a secret ingredient that pretty much stays hidden.

I was a bit concerned, while mixing the filling, that the brie's edgy bitterness might lend an odd aspect to the flavor of the baked cake, but that didn't happen. Which, I suppose, begs the question: Why even use the brie? Why not just use all cream cheese? After all, a wedge of high-quality brie costs a heck of a lot more than a brick of good cream cheese. So what's the point of the brie? Hmmm. Well, honestly, I'm not sure. The texture of this cake is beautiful, but is that necessarily because of the brie? I don't think so.

Would this dessert have been any less wunderbar had I used all cream cheese, instead of the called-for cream cheese and brie combo? Seems like further research is the only thing that might solve the mystery. Perhaps we'll do a double-blind study. Shall I apply for government funding?

Anyway, I found the recipe here, in a Wisconsin milk industry site. For the crust, I decided not to use their graham cracker version so I winged my own, using some homemade shortbread cookies I had in my freezer, and adding in the usual suspects (melted butter, sugar) along with a scant pinch of salt and an even tinier pinch of cinnamon. The fresh strawberry sauce is so simple, I just improvised that one, too.

Brie Cheesecake with Shortbread-Crumb Crust 
and Fresh Strawberry Sauce

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Wrap the bottom and sides of a 10" spring-form pan in heavy duty foil. Have a large shallow roasting pan, or a 12" to 14"-round cake pan, on hand to use for the water bath.The use of a water bath helps prevent the top of the baked cheesecake from cracking. Have a tea kettle full of water on hand as well. You'll need to boil the water shortly before you put the cheesecake in the oven to bake.

For the crust:
1 and 1/4 cup finely ground shortbread cookie crumbs
1/3 cup almond meal (finely ground blanched almonds)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 scant pinch coarse kosher salt
1 tiny pinch ground cinnamon

For the filling:
16 oz (1 lb). cream cheese, softened to warm room temperature
10 oz brie; rind completely cut off, and cheese softened to warm room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean (I used a Madagascar bean.)
3 large eggs, room temperature (not at all cool)
3/4 cup heavy cream (not ice cold)

For the sauce:
1 pint ripe strawberries; hulled, cleaned, and quartered
1 pint ripe strawberries; hulled, cleaned, and halved
3 to 6 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

To make the crust:
In a medium size bowl, mix together all of the dry ingredients.

Add in the melted butter, and mix together using a fork until the crumbs are well coated.

Dump the crumbs into the spring-form pan. Press the crumbs evenly and firmly onto the bottom of the pan and an inch or so up the sides.

To make the filling:
In the large bowl of your mixer, on its lowest speed, mix together the brie, cream cheese, and sugar, and vanilla seeds. Mix until smooth.

Still on the lowest speed, mix in the eggs one at a time. Make sure each egg appears well incorporated before adding the next one. The batter should look quite smooth when you're done adding in the eggs.

Slowly add in the cream, mixing just until well combined, still on the lowest speed.

Pour the batter into the crust in the foil-wrapped pan.

Lift the pan off of your work surface by an inch or two and drop it one or twice, or hold onto it and bang it straight down. This helps allow air bubbles hiding within the batter to float up and be released before baking.

Don't forget, also, to start some water boiling on the stove shortly before you need to put the cake in the oven.

Place the foil-wrapped spring-form pan into the large roasting/cake pan. Place it onto the middle shelf of your preheated oven. Pour the boiling water into the roasting pan so it rises only about an inch or less up the side of the wrapped cheesecake pan. Be very careful not to let any water get on the cheesecake batter.

Bake the cake for 70 - 80 minutes, or until it's just a little jiggly. (I would not, personally, bake this until "golden" on top as the original recipe states.) Let the cake cool in a somewhat warm and draft-free spot, for about one hour.

Run a very thin metal spatula or knife all around the outer edge of the crust. Then let the cake cool another hour at normal room temperature. Refrigerate it in the pan, lightly covered, several hours or overnight before removing the sides of the pan and slicing. 

To make the strawberry sauce:
In the bowl of your food processor, puree the strawberries until extremely smooth.

Place a fine mesh sieve over a medium size bowl and pour the puree into it, pushing it through the sieve with a spatula or spoon.

Mix in the sugar to taste (start with just a couple of tablespoons and add more as you prefer) and sprinkle in a few drops of lemon juice. Add in the quartered strawberry pieces and stir to combine. Let the sugar dissolve completely before using the sauce.

Serve on individual slices of the cheesecake. Be sure to keep the cheesecake, as well as the sauce, refrigerated.

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