The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Friday, December 23, 2011


       I just finished making four batches of fudge for neighborhood friends. They're not going to be packaged in beautiful holiday tins. The only thing that is festive about each plate is a brightly-colored bow on top of the plastic wrap. I'm a purist, and I know my friends. They will tear into the fudge so quickly, like a pack of wolverines into a moose, so what is most important is the chocolate.

     My mother used to make fudge, and it would take a while. The ingredients would have to come to a rolling boil, then to a soft-ball stage, or some similar nonsense. She had a candy thermometer, and I became an expert at making the delectable delicacy.

     Then I adopted a friend's recipe for fudge. It had to be on the stovetop for less time, which was a step in the right direction, but required a long list of ingredients. Some of the marshamallows had to be frozen (and some not), the fudge had to be stirred at one point until some of the "sheen" was gone...There were occasions when I would worry if the fudge was still glistening too much ('Do I need to stir some more?'), and other times when I would panic, since I had forgotten to put the marshmallows in the freezer and tried to "flash freeze" them.

     That fudge was extremely expensive to make, but delicious. Because of the cost involved, I only made it on special occasions.

      Unfortunately for my hips, but fortunately for my friends, I was given a fudge recipe by Holly, one of my team-mates. She knows how much chocolate third grade teachers need on an hourly basis * and for the past two years, it has been the recipe I've relied on, casting aside all others.

      Since I'd like to spread the madness, I'm sharing the recipe, in case you do not already have it.  Make a batch or two during this holiday season and share (or not).

1 bag of milk chocolate chips
1/2 bag (1 cup) of semi-sweet chocolate chips 
(Aldi's has the best price, and their chocolate is great)
1 can of condensed evaporated milk

Put the above ingredients in a glass microwavable bowl (I use a mixing bowl) and cook for 5 minutes at 50% power. Stop it halfway through (at 2.5 minutes) and stir. Then continue cooking.

When the 5 minutes are up, take out, put in a splash of vanilla, and nuts (if you want). I line a glass pie pan with plastic wrap, then I can lift it out easily and cut it up, or wrap up the "disc" of fudge and present it like that. One batch can be poured into a pie pan-sized makes a relatively small amount.

* In our teachers' lounge we don't have a soda machine. Instead, we have a chocolate fountain that is plugged in constantly and restocked regularly. 



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another Friggin' Fairy Tale

            There once was a mythical, magical land, shrouded in spiritual s*#t. Viggo Mortensen (with his long, Lord-of-the-Rings hair) stalked around, searching for his perfect mate: a middle-aged woman (middle-aged, if she was going to live to be 106, that is) with overactive upperlip hair and a poochy belly. (His tastes must have changed since moving into this fantasyland, you say? I'm the blogger here. I should get some perks. After all, it is my fantasy!)

         On one hilltop was Lady Linda. She would have been working on another submission, but she was too busy zipping up Santa's pants. (Sorry. This is not a G-rated fairy tale.) Santa was  looking for a  saying, "Ho Ho Ho," causing Linda to be...preoccupied. If you want all the lurid details, check out her side of the story.

        Surrounded by swarms of supporters was Shay. She lived in a lovely valley, where life is fair and everyone is free to choose who they love. (Did you forget again? It's a fairy tale.)  Her 1,000th poem had just been posted, which meant 1,000 tired spirits had done all the work but Shay had gotten all the credit. Bosco was at her side, as usual, to keep up the pretense that swirled around Fireblossom's blog; in her lair is also Emily Dickinson, preserved in dry ice.   

Bosco, the Wonder Dog

     On another hilltop was Temptress T'Mara, singing her Siren's song. Who was she luring into the sharp-edges of her words--handsome young men, men who are Cougar-worthy? Alas, no, they were bandy-legged baldies, because she was culling the depths for stories since--after all--men with quirks and men with twitches are far more interesting than Viggo clones. (And if you need sustanence during your tour of this fantasyland, Tammy has some birthday cake, topped with cream cheese frosting, that she can offer to you to...oops, it was consumed by a coven of five bwitches. Sorry.)

      If you looked quickly, you could see Beth darting here and there, doing planks and push ups and her exercise instructor other exercises. She has time to write and work and raise kids and look fabulous. (She must be destroyed!) The walls of her writing den are covered with the snot she has snorted out in her frequent fits of laughter. (She must be silenced!)

       There was a pinnacle, where two quiet writers perch. One is Donna, who refuses to read her work aloud. Elusive, shy, and humble, you must purchase anthologies with her work in them--or win a copy of one of her stories--in order to enjoy the gifts of her writing. The other is Lynn, who--despite her immense talent--makes excuses about her pieces. Her stories are haunting, poignant, and her endings are brilliant. When she opens her mouth in self-denigration, shove some of Nora Ephron's spaghetti into the open maw. (That heavenly stuff will shut anyone up!)

      There is another pinnacle where a humorless writer writes. No sound is heard except the sssssh of the wind. Don't stop or tarry too long there. Anyone who lacks a sense of humor is not worthy of your time... 

     There are more places we will visit in 2011 as this fairy tale continues before the year ends...Come back so we can get to the "happily ever after" part.



Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Hard Way is Sometimes the Best

         Revising is always one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Granted, I only write short pieces--1,400 words or under, usually--so I'm not like C. Hope Clark (in so many ways). She recently worked on revising her novel, soon to debut, which is gargantuan compared to the reworking I do.

     However, there are a couple of things I've discovered--one because of my daytime job, and one accidentally.

      When it comes to editing, there is no better strategy than reading your work out loud to yourself. The brain is a wondrous thing. If there is a word that's left out and you read it silently, your brain will slip it in, unbeknownst to you, but it will only get set into the mental version. It will remain absent on paper. If you scan your writing without hearing it spoken, you might not catch the  unwanted repetition, the awkward rhythm, the screwed-up tenses.

      (I expect my third graders to make their writing make sense. They are held accountable if they leave out a word because their mouth works just as well as mine, so when I grade their work, I read it quietly to myself.)

      A few years ago I participated in a writing retreat. Technologically, I am an idiot, so I brought along my husband's laptop, and a hard copy of the piece I was working on. Since I did not have the story on a flashdrive or in a file, and since I needed to have it saved some way so I could revise it during the weekend, I ended up typing it over, word by word. 

      When you are typing up something from a hard copy, you have to pay attention to every word, every bit of white space and every punctuation mark. You're seeing it with new eyes, revising as you go, and rethinking the choices you made. This works so well for me that often, when I have the time, I will choose to not send a piece to my work email, even though I know I will be working on revising it after-school hours. The simple, methodical process of retyping it works for me.

     What are some "backward" methods that work for you? What are some throwback strategies that you rely on? Inquiring minds want to know...