Daily prompt: Brevity pulls

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I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” — Blaise Pascal
Where do you fall on the brevity/verbosity spectrum?

In all of my experience writing, I deeply appreciate Blaise Pascal’s wise words. Prior to blogging, my only experience with writing lay in the academics from elementary school all the way through to graduating from university. I remember learning the structural requirements of term papers, learning proper research techniques and learning the morals and ethics behind sound writing. At first being handed 10 pages writing assignments seemed such a daunting task: how am I going to find the words to fill 10 long pages? But as any skilled and talented writer will attest to, (I can only imagine, not being one myself as of yet), all of this experience is a necessity in order to exercise your writing muscles and develop your skill and voice.

While I was writing at this level, it did give me the opportunity to hone my argumentative skills, my logical progression and the development of a strong narrative that I was able, point by point, build upon a solid foundation of fact.

I thought by this point that I was standing on solid ground by way of writing until I took one course that changed my writing style forever, at least academically. The course funny enough wasn’t even a writing course or an English course, it was a political science course analyzing the Israel/Palestine question. The academic requirements for the course were simple, four 3 pages papers over the course of the class. This was the most difficult writing assignment that I had ever been given, I’ll never forget one of the topics “Explain the dynamics of the wars of 1947, 1953, 1967, 1973 on the region”. Do you know how extraordinarily difficult it is to explain and dissect 30 years of war between two peoples and the ramifications in only 3 pages. It taught me so much in terms of achieving concise and precise language. It taught me how to edit, how to strip away all of the flowery words, all of the hemming and hawing and get to the heart of the matter.

I would not say which is better after all that I have written; academically I would lean more towards brevity and strong precise arguments. However when it comes to personal writings, fictional writings of all genres, I would not criticize long passages of descriptive language, they paint pictures for the reader and that is as important as the ideas that words bring to life.

Basically writing in whatever shape or form is a blessing and a beautiful endeavor.. If you have something inside that wants to be said, put it on paper however long or short you want to make it, as long as it gets written down, that is the most important part.

This is where I leave you : Movie review

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My mother and I went to the movies this evening to see “This is Where I Leave You”. My mother wanted to see it for Jane Fonda and I wanted to see it because I love the entire ensemble cast: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Connie Briton, Rose Byrne and Timothy Olyphant and other strong character actors, whose names escape me right now, but give solid performances nonetheless.

The story in a nutshell is the dad passes away after a long illness and the siblings, along with the mother, are made to sit shiva. The entire movie is about familial relationships, sibling rivalry, sibling pecking order, role playing, role reversals and expectations.

I left with the feeling of having seen wonderful performances, I shed a few tears at various intervals, and I am glad that my mother and I had gone to see it. After thinking about it for a while, I have to say that Jane Fonda’s performance did it for me. She didn’t miss a beat and she was the mother to them all and a mother to each of them. She nailed the character wonderfully.

If you like movies that explore family dynamics, then definitely go see this one. You will enjoy the time you spend with this family.

My head feels lighter

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I received a picture from my new French friends, Claudine and Marc and I laughed as soon as I saw it; it was part of a running joke we were throwing back and forth during our time together. Whenever we were either on the beach on Long Island or any one of the boats we took to take pictures of the New York skyline; I had a devil of a time taking pictures because of my flailing locks whipping around my face and cell phone, getting in my way of picture taking, at one time the name Medusa was hollered, I think by me and that moniker kept popping up thereafter. So when Claudine mentioned in her e-mail that she had captured a “meduse” on film, I burst out laughing when I saw that it was me and seconds later I gasped at the huge amounts of grey hair that I saw.

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This was unacceptable and needed to be remedied immediately. My husband made a quick call to his good friend who owns the salon next to my mother’s house, SPACE, and viola. My head is lighter, my hair is brighter and I feel witty and pretty and gay! Kidding, I couldn’t help it, I was channeling Natalie Woods from Westside Story. It is amazing how something so frivolous as coloring and hiding your grays makes you feel so much better about yourself so quickly. When Rudy checked out my wet hair after the shampoo, I said “hooray! I won’t look lie the old hag anymore or least for another few months”. She said “you are too funny”. If hiding the grays puts a spring in your step and a smile on your face then why not I say.

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Daily prompt: Overload alert

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“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” — Gertrude Stein
Do you agree?

I don’t know if I agree completely. I agree that we are inundated with visual and audio stimulus all day long and it can prove to be overwhelming, but I don’t know if we necessarily lose our common sense because of it. I think that discipline and self-confidence have a part in how we withstand the informational deluge. The advent of the intent and the birth of social media, on top of the older technologies has produced a cacophony of noise that can deafen one’s own mind and voice, perhaps drowning the common sense that lives in most of us.

In my own experience, I try to read as many different sources and texts before I formulate my own conclusions. I also do have an inherent inclination to avoid the bandwagons, it is the tiniest expression of my old rebellious streak that I allow to stay, marching to one’s own drum helps keep the noise and chatter at bay and gives you room to breathe and ruminate over the variety of information allowed into the mind palace.

I stole the phrase mind palace from Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman because I like the metaphor. A mind as a palace makes me think of something that deserves to be treated with respect and the immensity of the building reflects the immensity of one’s mind and the capability to lose oneself in any palace, even your own is appealing; finding your way in your own palace can lead you to rooms that you haven’t frequented in a while and can be refreshing or illuminating, however you choose to see it.

Perhaps that is why so many recommend yoga and meditation; if you feel overwhelmed and thus get lost within your mind palace, then meditating can perhaps be the waystation towards regaining possession of your mind palace allowing you to calmly settle your thoughts and regain your peace of mind and common sense.

My husband shines in the kitchen once again

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This the first time that I hope that one of my posts flies under the radar because if a certain someone that I know reads this, she will be very unhappy with us because my husband didn’t make it before today. It is our son’s fault, this morning he announced that coconut shrimp would be something that would tickle his tastebuds after my husband asked him pointblank what was it that he wanted to have for tonight’s dinner. My husband googled and found what we needed for the coconut shrimp, flaked coconut, shrimp and Panko breadcrumbs, which is something that we usually have in the pantry, but I used them up the last time I made something that I don’t remember what it was, this is getting to be par for the course, me forgetting what I had said or done.

My husband cleaned and shelled the shrimp while I was in the living room, taking care of the green beans and watching General Hospital at the same time. I came in the kitchen to help out with the messy part; dredging the shrimp first in the seasoned flour, dipping it into the egg wash and then dredging it into the combination of Panko and flaked coconut, my husband then cooked them in peanut oil until they were golden crispy. He also made two different types of sweet and spicy dipping sauces; one with orange and cranberry marmalade and Sirachi sauce and the other with duck sauce, fish sauce and some orange and cranberry marmalade; both were delicious but you had better like spicy because the kick on the back end was pretty intense.

The next time that we make these for the special someone who hopefully won’t read this post, we will have to scale back on the spiciness because she doesn’t like spicy at all, that won’t be hard to do, we won’t use any of my husband’s 7 spice when seasoning the flour and the dipping sauces will be more sweet than spicy.

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Jack was very interested in the goings on in the kitchen because when it is both my husband and myself working, the odds of something yummy dropping on the floor are greatly increased, Jack knows this and believe me he doesn’t let any opportunity for yumminess pass him by, his little nose is working overtime searching for those little pieces of deliciousness. He is so cute.

Daily prompt: Absolute beauty

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We’ve all heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Do you agree? is all beauty contingent on a subjective point of view?

I think that the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” holds true to personal beauty; when the personality, character and soul emerge from within and show themselves to others enhancing the physical outer shell. The saying works because human life and beauty is fleeting, it fades whereas the personality, character and soul endure for as long as life endures. However when it comes to sunrises, a magnificent piece of architecture, or a flower, I think that beauty can be objective or at least generally agreed upon by the masses maybe because those types of beauty are timeless, you can often see more than one and they don’t fade with time.

I think that the reason beauty is so important is because it speaks to us on a primal level and we seek it out. I know that gazing up at a spectacular star filled night sky fills me with awe, peace and well being. The same can be said of gorgeous sunrises and sunsets or fields of sunflowers or a bunch of adorable puppies; I feel happy, relaxed and right with the world in that moment. I think that it is precisely appreciating that moment that makes beauty important, when you are taking the time to stare and capture the moment it puts you in the present, in the moment and that is something that isn’t of the norm for many of us. Our lives are mostly on the go, busy, busy with things that need to be done, should be done, had to be paid or purchased, that any time you can stand still and bask in a moment of beauty it’s something to be cherished.

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An excellent recipe for fried chicken

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Both our son and daughter love fried chicken and I can’t remember how we were led to the double dipped fried chicken. I would most probably bet that it was my husband who stumbled upon it, but all I know is that it is a huge hit in this household. We love watching food shows and Tyler Florence is a chef who has hosted many shows over several years and my husband must have watched one of Florence’s Ultimate shows where he finds the best recipe for the show’s featured dish.

I googled Tyler Florence and double dipped fried chicken and it led me directly to his recipe and we have been following it ever since.

It is so easy albeit messy. For our batch, I bought two packages of drum sticks and one package of thighs and buttermilk, all the rest I had in the pantry. All you need to do for at least two hours beforehand, although I let the chicken to marinate over night, is soak the chicken pieces in 2 cups of buttermilk with 2 teaspoons of Tabasco sauce, my husband went off script and added his secret 7 spice to the mix; imagine garlic, onion powder with paprika, cumin and chili powder, I think and you have the idea.

When I was ready to dredge the chicken in the flour, according to Tyler Florence you mix 3 cups of flour, I went off script this time and did 2 cups of flour with 1 cup of whole wheat, with 1 tablespoon of oregano, one tablespoon Kosher salt, one tablespoon granulated garlic and one tablespoon of paprika. Once again the secret 7 spice was added to the mix. The double dipping part comes next and of course the messy part, you take the chicken pieces out of the buttermilk bath and dredge it into the flour mixture, re-dip the chicken into the buttermilk and re-dredge it into the flour mixture, put it aside and repeat with all of the rest.

I use peanut oil for frying and my husband set up the cast iron skillet at the perfect temperature, around 350 to let the chicken cook through without browning the batter too quickly. I find that frying chicken correctly is the most difficult method of cooking chicken because if you don’t get the chicken cooked through nicely, you can’t really refry it and have it taste right. I was lucky and the chicken came out juicy although it was a little on the dark side of crispy. The most important part was that it was very good with a nice kick.

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Daily prompt: Voice Work

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Your blog is about to be recorded into an audiobook. If you could choose anyone — from your grandma to Samuel L. Jackson — to narrate your posts, who would it be?

My novel The Chic Bootlegger is still being worked on in my head; I have the last third to finish, maybe I am waiting for the kick in the pants of NANOWIRMO to get it done, I don’t know. This daily prompt is neat in that I could easily see Audrey Tatou in the role of Madeleine and her voice would be perfect for the part. Audrey has a wonderful youthful and innocent quality to her voice and that suits Madeleine I think perfectly. It is giving me an additional layer to work with while Madeleine is exploring New York circa 1925/1926.

Imagine Audrey speaking these words:
an excerpt of The Chic Bootlegger

Which brings me to my mother, I love her so much and yet she makes me so mad! I see her and I know that she is smart and she was beautiful. There should have been more for her to do than just marry, have babies and then work in the factory. But who am I kidding, just because it is the new century, it doesn’t mean that France would strip away centuries of how things are done. That phrase “how things are done” should be banished forever. In our class, that is what we do, we go to school to learn to read, write and do a little math. We are women; it wouldn’t do to know too many things, for the most part anyway. There are some really smart women but you have to be so smart and so stubborn to stay in school, that really isn’t for us Martins.
We are of the “ouvriere” class, the factory workers, we are the small parts of a big machine that makes things so that others can buy those things and make their own things and the circle just goes around and around. Everyone has their little place in the circle and no one should leave their little place because then it would upset the wheel and throw it off track. God forbid if that would happen, who knows chaos might happen and then where we would be? Who would remember their place?

I must sound like a spoiled bitter unmarried woman. Too old to be still living at home, bitter because I’m almost at the spinster stage in life, spoiled because I should be grateful for a roof over my head, a room to myself, family that loves me, food on the table, clothes on my back and a job. I know all this, I hear it quite often. I do try to be cheerful and thankful, I really do. It is just so hard sometimes when people around me annoy me like my little sister. She annoys me, I love her, you can’t help but love her. She is a sweet little thing; she brings out the protective instinct in everyone who meets her. She isn’t helpless, mind you. There is simply something about her that makes you want to take of her and that just grates on my nerves sometimes; I rebel against her magical power. Her two little girls are sweet, the oldest Georgette reminds me of me. We get along so well, she is curious and loves to read, as do I. The baby of the family Andree is still too young to be anything more than a little bundle of cuteness. For these two I am glad to be the one working full time so that Maman can get some physical rest so that she has it in her to be in charge of the two little ones, because my sister just isn’t up to raising the girls. She is still mooning over the two “loves” of her life and how miserable her life is without them. She also hasn’t been looking to well lately and we are all worried about her, hopefully the two little ones don’t notice it too much. I can’t tell for sure with Georgette because she is very clever, it is so sweet to watch her come and try to baby her own mother. I have such a special place in my heart for that one.

Madeleine has come a long way from that introduction; I need to finish her story in New York and then I can put the novel to bed.

Cooking is more than just about eating

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I have found over the years that gardening, writing, baking and cooking have all become ways that I channel away my anxieties and angst. There are times when I don’t even know why I feel anxious, but I do and instead of wondering as to the why of it; I focus instead of using either gardening or cooking to physically work out those negative feelings before they take a hold of my psyche and it works for me.

Today since it was raining, I turned to my kitchen and decided to make a frittata with what I had in the pantry and the refrigerator. Onions, garlic and chives when it as usual, but this time I wanted to use up the baby red potatoes, so I diced them up to sauté them and I had a flash of inspiration, why not sauté the potatoes in duck fat that I had in the freezer, potatoes taste wonderfully when sautéed in duck fat, so they should be a tasty addition to my frittata. I added a nice helping of crumbled goat cheese because my son liked it so much in the last one that I had made and I put it in the oven and voila.

Later on tonight I will assemble the Vietnamese soup with all of the herbs; mint, scallions and cilantro chopped and the bean thread noodles, the shredded chicken and the tiny shrimp. The kitchen has smelled very comforting these past two days, tomorrow I may bake something such as an apple tart, I’ll see how I feel tomorrow morning.

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Thoughts of an upcoming autumn season

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One of the first things that brings the start of autumn season to mind is when I start thinking stock and soup and today I am going to be making two stock pots of chicken stock. One will be for the freezer and the other will be to make a Vietnamese chicken noodle soup, full of the cellophane noodles, cilantro, chives, mint, black mushrooms, bean sprouts and of course chicken; if I really wanted to go all out, I would add tiny shrimp and sliced omelette with perhaps a water chestnut or two. That is what is so nice about great chicken stock, it provides you with a canvas and you can add whatsoever you have on hand to add the wonderful flavors and textures that produces a masterpiece of a soup ready for you and your family to eat.

Today I did the usual steps to make chicken stock; I gathered the herbs, I cut up the vegetables and I decided to roast the chicken thighs for a bit before adding them to the pot. As you can see I chose to use fresh sage, thyme and oregano from my garden and I studded the onions with cloves, the bay leaves I had in my pantry, I peeled several cloves of garlic as well. Theoretically with all of these wonderful ingredients the chicken stock should be rich and flavorful in about four to six hours.

While I was puttering about in the kitchen, Jack was sitting next to the refrigerator reminding me that he was hungry; he is always hungry and that position of his, is pretty much how he spends much of his day, if he isn’t laying on my lap that is or sitting by the window surveying all who walk by, occasionally barking to remind everyone that he is watching and earning his keep.

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