The Waiting Game

Here are two facts about me: 1) I hate rejection. 2) I am not a patient person.

Rejection

Does anyone like it? Of course not!

Most of us have developed a lovely set of defense and coping mechanisms specifically for dealing with it. Or rather, avoiding it. Some people, including myself, have become so skilled in this area that we begin to circumvent situations where there’s even a possibility of rejection. Pre-emptive rejection rejection! Perfect! This pre-emptive rejection rejection, which I fondly refer to as PRR, is great reason for to choose a career other than telemarketing. But advanced skills in PRR, as I have found, are sucky for becoming a published writer.

If I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure how I expected to get published if I wasn’t putting my work out there. Writers don’t just “get discovered.” (But wouldn’t it be nice if we did? Like the stories of old where models and starlets were plucked from obscurity while sipping a malted at the drug-store counter, or while shopping for the perfect tankini at Abercrombie & Fitch?) Perhaps I had a pipe dream somewhere in my mind that this little unpublicized blog would somehow come to the attention of an editor, who would then see brilliant potential in my ramblings on fiber, and offer me a book deal. Yes! Sweet!

Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. What a rude awakening!

So I started making a few formal queries by submitting a very few article and story ideas. But so far? No takers.

To be fair, this is all quite recent. Most of what I’ve sent out into the world is still waiting for a reply. But now that I’m in the middle of it, I wonder if that isn’t worse than a straight-out rejection: the dread grows in step with the length of the silence. Enter the Need for Patience.

Patience

It may be a virtue but it’s not one of mine. When the going gets tough, I find something else to do. I Perhaps you’ve seen evidence of this in some of these blog posts…  15-month Angelberry? Two-year tweed? Each Day’s Beauty?

But patience is something I must develop on the path to getting published. And more than just patience, the ability to shrug off doubt and to keep moving forward, working and trying. And out-PRRing PRR.

After all, what great writer hasn’t curated a lovely collection of notes saying “No Thank You” or “Not for Us”?

Recently relevant examples include Louisa May Alcott and Stephen King. LMA’s struggle with what to write and how to get published is an integral theme of Little Women. King tells funny yet poignant stories in On Writing about his own stack of rejection slips, which he kept skewered on a spike (how appropriate) above his bed so he would be inspired to persevere. And of course there is the ubiquitous recent example of J.K. Rowling, who was rejected by 12 major publishing houses before she found one willing to give Harry a shot.

As I was looking up the statistic for Harry Potter (since I thought it had been rejected “only” 8 times, that in itself was a little glimmer of encouragement), I found this article: 50 Iconic Writers Who Were Repeatedly Rejected. The list is stunning: Kenneth Grahame, Dr. Seuss, Meg Cabot, Shannon Hale, Jasper Fforde… these are incredible writers.

I guess I should be embarrassed at my own audacity: Who am I to feel inadequate when I experience the same challenges as these Lions of the Pen, when I don’t have half their talent? But I do feel inadequate as I wait, and that’s a fact. I guess that should be Fact #3 in the list above.

But here’s the thing: As I’m going through this process, through these experiences, I’m learning about what’s truly important. I’m learning to care less about the rejections (and the anticipation of them), and to care more about honing my skills and trying by submitting my work. I’ve let fear of rejection stifle my forward progress for too long. Now it’s time to practice patience while believing in myself and my talents, and to surge forward with relentless enthusiasm toward getting published.

This is one Waiting Game where I plan to emerge the winner.

Bamboo Pattern Scarf

During the holidays, one of the many fun books I looked at was Nature’s Wrapture by Sheryl Thies.

It had a few patterns that looked like they would be nice to knit. One in particular, the Chunky Bamboo scarf, caught my eye. I really liked the broken rib that resulted in a fabric that did look just like tall-growing bamboo! I wasn’t sure what yarn to use, but then remembered this in the stash

and decided to give it a whirl. Noro Silk Garden Sock, color S279.

I started in early January, beginning on an airplane flight to visit a friend in Florida. I knit more there and on the way home, and through the next month and a half. Here’s where it was at in early February.

I wanted to lighten up the colors a bit… Noro can be rather intense. Fortunately the way the color patterning fell on these two skeins, I was able to splice in a few extra bands of neutrals in two different places in the scarf.

I loved knitting with this yarn. The slubs of silk really pop as they are knit, and it’s fun to see how the color bands flow into one another and how the wool and silk and whatever other bits are in there all combine to make a finished fabric that is unique to Noro.

Seed cake, if you have any

This weekend I was re-reading The Hobbit. I was laughing right from the start. Especially when all the dwarfs show up at Bilbo’s door just in time for Tea, in a frustrating progression one after another. Each comes right on in to his home and makes himself comfortable.

At the third ring of his bell, Bilbo is becoming a bit agitated and worried, as well he might:

…[Bilbo] liked visitors, but he liked to know them before they arrived, and he preferred to ask them himself. He had a horrible thought that the cakes might run short, and then he – as the host: he knew his duty and stuck to it however painful – he might have to go without.

“Come along in, and have some tea!” he managed to say after taking a deep breath.

“A little beer would suit me better, if it is all the same to you, my good sir,” said Balin with the white beard. “But I don’t mind some cake – seed cake, if you have any.”

“Lots!” Bilbo found himself answering, to his own surprise; and he found himself scuttling off, too, to the cellar to fill a pint beer-mug, and then to a pantry to fetch two beautiful round seed-cakes which he had baked that afternoon for his after-supper morsel.

Can you imagine having to offer up *your* lovely seed cakes to a bunch of scoundrelly-looking dwarfs? I can not!

That got me thinking about all the times I’ve read of seed cake – Tolkien, Burnett, Austen, Alcott, and many others. Always with tea, or snuck up into garrets for middle-of the night tea parties. What was it, exactly? I had a clear picture in my mind of a dense, sweet tea cake studded with lovely seeds and things, delicate but not too crumbly, and perfect for toasting (with butter).

This time I finally decided to look it up. There’s an entire library full of information out there on the internet, including much discussion of seed cake vs. seed bread, and the whole history, etymology, and evolution of the thing.

After about 30 minutes of poking about on the web, I realized I already knew far more than I wanted to or cared about, since the ‘real’ seed cake was not much like what I’d pictured in my head… and what I wanted to eat! What I wanted was something like this:

So I set about creating my own, and if I do say so, it is quite lovely.

I’ve made this twice now with excellent results, but as you’ll see the recipe is terribly inexact regarding baking time, and you’ll just have to experiment with your own oven and pan types.

The mix of seeds is truly up to you; select what you like and don’t be mean about it. I do encourage you, though, to include caraway – even if just a pinch. It really is wonderful, especially with the citrus undertones, and it gives a little depth to the sweetness of the rich cake.

Don’t forget to toast it. And a touch of butter too.

Shawn’s New-fangled Seed Cake

Yield: 3 tealoaves; 1/2 recipe makes one mammoth bread loaf

Dry Ingredients:

3c all purpose flour
1c granulated sugar
1c dark brown sugar
1½t baking powder
1t fine salt (non-iodized, if you have it)

1T poppy seeds
2t sesame seeds
1½t caraway seeds
1t ground cardamom
1t dried orange peel (or better yet, zest from 1 orange or lemon)
pinch ground anise seed
½c chopped pecans

Wet Ingredients:

1½c milk
1¼c canola oil (or other light-flavored oil, not olive)
5 eggs
2t vanilla extract
2t lemon extract

Instructions

Heat oven to 350º (see note if using glass).

Prepare baking pans with spray or grease/flour.

  1. Measure dry ingredients into large bowl with plenty of extra room. Stir well to combine and to coat nuts.
  2. Measure wet ingredients into second bowl. Whisk together, mixing well enough to thoroughly beat eggs and incorporate oil.
  3. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, folding together with a spatula only until well incorporated. (A few small lumps are ok.) Be careful of overmixing.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake – small tea loaves: 35-45 mins; large loaf pans 50-60 mins. (The half- recipe I made using a thick Pyrex glass loaf pan took 80 full minutes to bake going back and forth between 325º and 350º, so use your best judgement if you put a lot of batter into a huge loaf pan.)

Enjoy!

Note: If using glass pans you may want to start with your oven at 325 since the glass retains heat much differently than thin metal baking pans.

Can’t get enough? Looking for more? Check out these fun sites:

Updates: Booklist and two new pages

Happy Thursday!

No formal post today, but wanted to say that I’ve updated my Booklist page, as well as added two new pages: Putting Up 2011 and Crafty FOs.

I wanted to add these pages so I have a nice repository for what I manage to get done this year… especially to catalogue my finished crafts. I seem to lose track of what I do over the course of the year, and I hope this helps me remember all I’ve done and do a better job of keeping notes on the projects and taking pictures!

For the most part, I’ll be linking to regular posts on these pages like I did for the Season of Reflection challenge.

Hope you enjoy!!

Gumbo

The Captain and I love gumbo. We didn’t really know this until recently; we’d had it a few times in restaurants, etc., but didn’t really understand the difference from jambalaya. (Of which we are also major fans.)

The Captain was in N’awlins a few years ago when he took a free day on a business trip in FL to drive over. He got to see Bourbon Street and the French Market, and go to the Riverfront Park and see the boats, etc. He would email me pictures as he took them, walking around the French Quarter – Since I’d been there two times myself, it was so much fun going on this virtual sight-seeing stroll with him.

…but I digress. Back to GUMBO!

One of the sweet New Orleans remembrances the Captain brought back for me was The Little Gumbo Book. Now, I ungraciously let this book sit on my cookbook bookshelves for a few years before I finally managed to make one of the recipes. I guess that procrastination was its own punishment, because now I know we could have been eating gumbo all of this time.

Even so, I’ve still only made one recipe from this book, which has 27. But, since most of them are a variation on a theme, it’s really not too awful; there are just a few base recipes, then everything else simply makes a few changes here and different pinch of that there, and off you go.

One of the things I love about this cookbook is that the first 1/3 of the book is all theory about proper gumbo makin’. For example, I’ve made my share of roux; I mean, the French version follows a hard rule of equal parts fat and flour. But this little book pays no attention to that. After all, they have a different way of doing things down there. When you’re in N’awlins, who cares about classic French cooking rules? You just fry your 2 parts flour in 3+parts vegetable oil until it is DARK brown and tasting mighty toasty, just this side of burnt. I had no idea. People, I’m telling you: Pure Flavor Country.

You can see how dark brown the roux is - here it's just been added to the sautéed vegetables.

Without this darkly toasted yumminess, I am certain that the Mamaw’s Gumbo recipe simply wouldn’t have the same depth of flavor, no matter how many cans of Rotel tomatoes and properly-frozen okra you added.

Though the recipe calls for bag after bag of frozen vegetables, the only ones I use frozen are the okra, because it’s hard to get it fresh up here in Seattle in the wintertime. I think the keys are toasting that roux, and then sautéing the okra “till not ropy anymore”; those two things make this the best-tasting gumbo I’ve eaten. 

Almost 'not ropy anymore'

Adding the okra. You can see that the roux is a little lighter here, because a cup or so of hot water's been added.

Prep station. Herbs, spices, salt, and garlic ready to add. Also note high-tech pageholder for cookbook.

All ingredients but the smoked sausage and shrimp. This is stirred well to incorporate everything (notice how red this is compared to the picture below - here the roux hasn't yet been stirred in) and cooks down for a while. Added bonus is that the whole house smells like the yummiest gumbo ever.

Ready to ladle over a big bowl of steamed rice!

 With a salad and a bit of cornbread (with butter – and raw honey), and a big bowl o’ fluffy rice and gumbo, well… I couldn’t be happier.

Do tell: What are your southern cooking favorites?