December 9

Writing Ain’t Easy

Writing takes work. I mean, ask any writer and they’ll tell you that it’s a struggle. It varies from person to person. Some find it easier than others, but regardless, it ain’t easy for any of us.

What I’m trying to say is this: We often see the story in our heads. The opening, the characters, the plot, how the narrative flows. It’s all playing out like a movie in our minds. But then we sit down at the laptop or with a pad and pen and try to transfer those images from our imaginations to reality and find that it doesn’t translate well.

Of course, I speak from personal experience. I’ve read books and essays about writing that other authors have penned and, well, the consensus is that writing is a chore. It can be difficult to express what we see in our heads to the written word. We write and rewrite, then edit, delete, rewrite some more…and eventually we give up, never completely satisfied with what we’ve produced.

I haven’t yet met the writer who is completely happy and content with their final product. It’s abandonment, pure and simple. We get to the point where we can’t fiddle with it any longer because we run the risk of editing it into garbage.

But writers aren’t any different from other artists. Painters, musicians, it doesn’t matter. No one ever sits back and says to themselves, “Yep, that’s perfect. Exactly how I envisioned it from the beginning.” Because that’s not possible. There’s no way we can replicate what we see or hear in our heads in the real world. All we can do is try to approximate, try to get as close as we can to our dreams and hope that whomever is exposed to our creative output enjoys it. Or maybe gets something out of it…an emotional response at any level.

Mostly, we do it for ourselves.

Maybe we’re challenging ourselves, or it’s some sort of ego trip, or overconfidence. Maybe we’re just gluttons for rejection and punishment by the critics. Maybe we just need to express ourselves in some fashion. Get the noise out of our heads so we don’t go insane.

Writing ain’t easy, but no art form ever is.

December 6

Yum

Everyone who knows me knows that I like to cook. I’m not classically trained in the culinary arts, not by a long shot. No, I learned to cook by necessity. I was a bachelor for many years and money was tight. Eating out two or three times a day, even using coupons, ends up getting expensive.

So I started with simple things like boxed food. Mac and cheese, Hamburger Helper, things like that. After a while that became boring, so I started adding extra things, like a can of tuna and can of peas to the mac and cheese, tossing some mushroom or green beans in with the Hamburger Helper. It wasn’t groundbreaking, but it made me feel that I was being somewhat creative.

It wasn’t until I was dating my (now) wife that I tried to push my boundaries. Not only did I want to impress her (women love a man who cooks), but I wanted us to be healthy. And that’s when I realized that cooking is an art form.

Over the years I’ve modified recipes and came up with a few things on my own. One of my favorites (and one the wife always requests during the winter) is butternut squash soup. I recently made a big pot of it for Thanksgiving, which was a big hit with everyone. I thought I’d share it here:

    1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, chopped into one-inch cubes (more or less)
    3-4 apples, peeled, cored, sliced
    1 large onion (sweet onion preferred)
    4-6 cups of liquid (vegetable/chicken stock)
    1/4 cup of apple cider
    Salt
    Pepper
    Secret Ingredient (Chinese Five-Spice Powder)
    1 stick unsalted butter
    1/2 cup of a milk-like product (cream, whole, skim, soy, almond, whatever)

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Once it’s foamy, toss in the butternut squash (you can do this in batches if you have a lot). Saute’ for a few minutes until it begins to tender. Next, add the onions (Note: I generally toss in all the squash, saute’, then toss the onion on top, etc.) and continue to saute’. Once they begin to glisten and become a bit opaque, then toss in the apple.

Add some salt and pepper while you saute’ for another couple of minutes. Then add your stock to just cover, add your slash of cider, then bring up to a boil. Give it another stir, then lower the heat to low, cover, and cook for about ten minutes.

Once the bigger pieces of the squash are fork tender, remove the pot from the heat and grab an immersion blender (you can use a food processor here, but it’s messier). Be careful! The soup is going to be like hot lava. Blend that mess up until there are no more chunks, then add the milk product and a pinch of the five-spice powder. Blend a bit more, then let it cool for about five minutes. You can taste and add any additional seasoning if needed.

I usually serve this in tea cups or coffee mugs.

Enjoy!

RB