Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Busy Little Bee!

I've been a busy bee! Please pardon my lack of blog posts here. The truth is, I've been writing a lot, just not blog posts on Silver Webb. But the reasons are all good ones. I've recently started blogging for two companies in Santa Barbara whom I love. And the food writing at Food & Home continues. I had a story published in Volume 1 of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal. My interview "Cartomancy and the Queen of Cups: An Interview with Stephen Vessels" will be featured in Volume 2 of the same journal. I feel really blessed to have these opportunities.

So here's the roll call for writing fun!

I'm pleased to have my short story, "Andromeda Prime," published in Volume 1 of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal, June 2018!

Food & Home Fall 2018 is out, and I'm thrilled to have two pieces in it
~*~ Downtown Dish: The Big Easy Via State Street
~*~And a Few Words About the Sink

This is one of my favorite blog posts for Kanaloa Seafood:

And here is a sweet piece I wrote for Chocolates du Calibressan:
Avocado Truffles! A Visit with chocolatier Jean-Michel Carre, September 2018

And here is an interview I particularly enjoyed writing for sblitjo of singer-songwriter Magali Michaut.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Yurtle the Turtle and the Blue-ish Cake

I love a good theme. If didn't have a job and a freelance business and literary aspirations and bills to pay, I would spend a good portion of each day plotting events, outfits, photos, and food all around fun themes. Recall, if you will, the Summer of Tiki, in which three months of my life literally disappeared into the bottom of a Mai-Tai glass. So I have refrained, in the interests of semi-adulthood, from behaving like the Lord of Toad Hall and dashing off on each new idea's whim. But woman cannot live on responsibility alone. And last week being the occasion of the First Lady of Frosting's (FLOF's) birthday, I was fairly jiggling as I inquired, "Would you say I've been well-behaved? Would you say I haven't been carrying on an extended affair with my hot glue gun? Would you say I deserve a treat?" The FLOF looked at me with wary side-eye, before I began peppering her with the usual question of "What color is your birthday party going to be this year?" Admittedly, the FLOF has never asked for a theme color for her birthday, but for the last two years, I suggested it, and possibly even picked the color for her. I'm not sure it's cricket to decide someone's birthday theme for them, but we (okay, I) Googled her number of years and found that Sapphire is the usual color for such anniversaries (and what is a birthday, if not an anniversary?) So, the Sapphire birthday theme was set. The game was afoot.

I had a vision. Modest, but in my mind, totally achievable. Blue birthday hats with sparkly blue pompoms and beads glued to them. Several craft store and dollar store visits later, I realized that blue birthday hats aren't a common thing to sell in quantity. Amazon will sell you 8 of them for a certain amount of money, but they weren't pretty ones. I ended up with one very large blue party hat...big enough, in fact, that with a proper brim, it would like a blue witch hat. But no matter. A few plastic flowers later, and I had blue flower hair clips, with beads and sparkly things glued to them. 

Which left the cake. Blue cake, of course. I found a recipe for Sapphire Blue cake that swears that if you add blue and violet food color to a red velvet cake, it will turn a lustrous sapphire blue. IT IS A LIE. If you add blue food coloring to a red velvet cake, it turns a muddy mauve gray. Luckily, my baking track record is well-established, and I had backup boxes of white cake mix. The idea was three layers with an ombre effect of different shades of blue. Kind of like this:

I liberally doused each bowl of batter with different kinds of blue food dye, pondered briefly the possibility that I was going to turn my innards a permanent blue, contemplated (i.e., furiously scrubbed at) the kitchen tiles' solubility in the face of blue dye, and then slid those babies in the oven to bake.

It turns out, the exterior of a blue cake actually turns a foul shade of green. Yurtle-the-Turtle green, like something that belongs on a camo vest. Why? Does it matter? Of course my blue cakes ended up with a thin layer of ugly green. Of course they did. The miracle is that they did not slither out of the oven looking like spinach death-cakes. The FLOF was certain that the frosting would hide the green edges. It did not. Which is not to suggest that the cake wasn't pretty, or that it didn't taste good. In fact, it was met with rejoicing and clamoring and most of it disappeared in under fifteen minutes. It looked okay, despite the fact that I'd already had a frosty beverage by the time I attempted writing the message on it. But there was no getting around the little green lines of Yurtle-the-Turtleness in each layer of blue.

 Ah well. It tasted good, with blue cream cheese frosting and a side of non-blue ice cream. I guess I can live with the Yurtle Blueish Cake. Maybe in another hundred years, housewives in the South will be competing to make the best crust of camo green in their blue cakes.

Behold the blue!

Well, it was fun, and everyone enjoyed themselves. In the department of blue cake, I am happy to report that nobody turned blue or felt blue after eating it, and really, as long as you have decent food coloring, it's not any harder than normal cake. It has me asking...what about green cupcakes for St. Patrick's Day? I've already proven that I can do green! 

Interested in what the FLOF is up to? She has two new audio books out! Visit her here.

Friday, February 9, 2018

My Big Opinion on "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear" by Elizabeth Gilbert

I’m not a writer who needs to be encouraged to write. I don’t require someone to tell me to keep going at it. I don’t fear writing. I don’t question my right to write. I have to create; it’s not optional. I've been writing for over twenty years. Because sometime in my mid-twenties, I quietly decided I wanted to write novels, and write them exceedingly well. There has rarely been a week since then that I've not written, and usually it is a nightly occurrence. So, in reading through Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on creativity (let’s just say it: she wrote the book about writers, not the making of quilts or decoupage), the sections about getting over the fear of writing were yada-yada-yada to me. But the book is thoughtful, funny, and surprisingly down-to-Earth. Elizabeth snagged me with two lines of logic:  

Suffering does not add to your artistry. Martyrdom kills your creativity. 
Keep your day job. Your creativity doesn’t need the burden of being your bread.

It doesn’t need to be perfect. Just put it out there. 
The result is not that important; the process and what you gain from it are what is important.

I can see the points about avoiding drama, looking after your financial well-being, and not being a martyr. I learned all those points the hard way. I’m still learning them the hard way. But her ideas about perfectionism left a foul odor in my nostrils. Her thinking seems to be that we should lighten up, work hard at it, and then call it a day. If it succeeds, if it fails…who cares? As long as you’re devoted to the exquisite craft of writing and loving every minute of it, why hang your hat on an external outcome? Isn’t it more important to produce work than to produce perfection?

Well, why didn’t I like that? I will not knowingly put my name on something that is a slouchy, half-assed piece of fecal matter. I'm also an editor, in case you haven't guessed. And editors are genetically coded to perfect text. We are incapable of saying that mediocre will do. I am passionate about making writing the most amazing it can be, and that is what drives me. As Elizabeth points out, that kind of thinking can just as easily drive you insane. She is not a big fan of passion, though, and as a writer with longevity,  her words are allowed some weight here. She is a fan of curiosity, of following little wisps of interest that might unfurl into a fire. I understand her point to a degree…every day I collect little bits of conversations, mannerisms, watching what the people around me are doing. And those collected tid-bits usually end up in the writing, somewhere, somehow. But I will never, ever give up on making the story perfect.  

Another thing I pondered, in my boudoir of snarky thoughts, is this: It is all well and good for Elizabeth Gilbert to say that external validation shouldn’t drive you as a writer, that it doesn’t matter if you are ever published or not. She can say that because her efforts paid off in the end. She has six or so books published, one of which was a massive best-seller. But if she’d never gotten a book published? If she was in her fifties, still bar-tending, wondering if all those years of writing were worth it….would she really have such unshakable conviction that the creative life is its own reward? I wonder. Hey, maybe I’ll write a book about Elizabeth Gilbert’s alternate ending…what would’ve happened if she hadn’t eaten, loved, and prayed. No? Too harsh? 

All that said, Elizabeth’s writing about writing is really lovely and imaginative. She has such bright and whimsical ideas at times that I found myself shimmering in them. What if ideas are living entities that wait for you to notice them, take them in, and write them? If you don’t write the idea, will it travel to another writer and ask them? Can your writing love you back as much as you love it? Can you seduce inspiration by putting on a nice dress and making yourself magnetic? I really enjoyed these moments, as they are implicit permission to be wildly imaginative about the process of writing, not just the particulars of plot or character. The title itself, Big Magic, is something that I entirely agree with. Writing *is* magic, endlessly fascinating, and something that is the more precious and rich part of my life. A sacred part, if you will, a mystery…that’s what Elizabeth is getting at, the tending of the creative, magical soul within each of us. 

So, I recommend Big Magic to writers. It will make you think. It may give you courage. And if you take her advice to keep writing, consistently and with devotion, the book will be worth its weight in gold. 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

It's Possible I'm a Dingus: A Review of Jen Sincero’s “You are a Badass”

I am capable of really poetic, beautiful sentiments. Supportive of other women, encouraging to all. A nice person.

Except when I see a self-help book titled “You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” and on the back is a photo of what appears to be a glowing 27-year-old wearing lip gloss, cheeks abundantly funded with circulation because she is young and optimistic and has never, ever had anything bad happen to her in her life. So why would I take her thoughts on self-development seriously? Life will crush her one day and then we’ll see what kind of perky mantra she comes up with for it. AH HAHAHAHA!

I’d normally keep nice thoughts like that to myself, but there *is* a punchline here.  
As I began reading, Jen Sincero quickly drew me in with humor. This lady is genuinely funny, and she is filling the niche of self-help for people who don’t like boring, unamusing books that cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Her principles are, on the surface, potentially generic. Love yourself. Believe. Make the jump before you can see the landing pad. Vibrate at a higher frequency. But as I began to do some of the exercises she suggested, as I began writing down my worst self-deprecating thoughts and then inverting them into affirmations, as I put some thought into how I keep myself down, and (wait for it) began BELIEVING that life could be different…well, I really started to get into the book, appreciate Jen Sincero’s point of view, and will probably buy this book as a gift for my friends (just as a loved-one gifted it to me).

I began to forgive her for what I was sure were Millennial one-liners, chapter titles like “Fear is for Suckers” and “Lead With Your Crotch.” I started to look forward to the ending line of each chapter: Love yourself. It’s not anything new, but it’s a biggy, and everyone needs to be reminded of it, no matter how together their life is.

The book is not a doctoral thesis. It has 253 pages of very readable prose, and you can easily skip around, thumb through, open the book randomly and let your eyes land on one of the many bolded statements that will give you pause. The biggest one for me, in the entirety of the book, was this: 

So often, we pretend we’ve made a decision,
when what we’ve really done is
signed up to try until it gets too uncomfortable.”

She is challenging us to get those crazy warrior eyes, stoke the fire of pure determination, and hit the gas pedal. But she does it with humor, and in a way that does not seem overly macho…like Tony Robbins in a cardigan, without the testes or the helicopter. Total commitment would be another way to say it. She is challenging us to bring total commitment to the things we’d like to create. 

The punchline to this review is: That 27-year old with the lip gloss and the glowy cheeks who cannot possibly have experienced anything in life? It turns out, she's my age. And I'm no spring chicken. Yeah, I feel like a dingus. If you visit her website, you’ll see she has her share of laugh lines, and by her own admission, was still feeling like a pretty big failure when she was forty, struggling with money, and living in a garage. Now she has three books out, one of which is a New York Times bestseller. 

Why do I tell you this? Don’t let the cheery yellow cover or the glowy cheeks, or even the use of “Awesome” in the title stop you from taking this book seriously. There’s a lot of wisdom in it, and you will only profit by spending some time in Jen Sincero’s mindset. I recommend it as an engaging, humorous, encouraging read that will leave you energized and ready to get going on that dream life you always wanted.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Poop Cake and Other Holiday Disasters

All was jolly and bright...before I started baking!

I am quickly garnering a reputation for inciting some vortex of kitchen disaster in the 24-hour period preceding major holidays. Thanksgiving...ah, who can forget Thanksgiving. Not only did I fail, and fail miserably at making a cheese ball that looked like a turkey, I was also the would-be mistress of the vegetarian gravy for this event. The gravy tasted fine, but it was not quite silky smooth enough. So I poured the hot gravy in the blender, put the little hat on the machine, and flipped the can imagine how that ended. I spent the two hours before Thanksgiving enrobed in aloe vera, frozen packs of peas, and lavender oil. Well, after enough champagne and Advil, such details fade. I looked almost perky in the family photos.

Queue the triumphant Christmas music. Although this year my town was threatened by catastrophic flame (google Thomas Fire) and many people, including me, evacuated, my family still pulled together a fantastic Xmas celebration in Los Angeles. Keen to redeem myself from Thanksgiving, I volunteered to make a chocolate bundt cake filled with cheesecake and cherry filling. Rolling into the checkout, eyes bulging at the realization that it was going to cost $40 for this cake, I thought "Christmas happens once a year, it's worth it." And for once, I didn't improvise. I followed the instructions with the precision of a watchmaker. Every step attended to, done correctly. But by the time I had put everything in the pan, I did have a little worry wiggling at the back of my mind, as it seemed rather in, full up to the very rim of the cake pan. Queue hysteria as I watched the cake slowly rise in the oven a good inch above the rim of the pan as it cooked, and remained steadfastly jiggly, well past the appointed cooking time.

So far, so good....

Ah ha ha, you fool!

Yeah. Wrong size bundt pan. Didn't even know there were different size bundt pans. I do now. With the top of the cake well overcooked, it tested clean with a knife, but I didn't think to do a second check toward the inner funnel of the cake....which was not even vaguely cooked. When I unmolded it, the insides of the cake slithered out, collapsing into a coagulated mess. I was obliged to put a bowl over the entire thing, invert it, and pretend that I'd *meant* to make a trifle. But there was no way I was bringing that to Xmas dinner. Nuh-uh. So, Plan B. I grabbed the tree-ring pan, a box of Duncan Hines, and read the instructions...which said, explicitly, that the pan could be dusted with cocoa instead of flour. And it being a chocolate cake, I thought that sounded reasonable. But I now know that if you flour the pan with cocoa too heavily, it fills in the details of the trees, so that what emerges, although quite tasty, looks like it was baked by the poo demon of Golgotha.

The poop cake

And that, dear friends, is how I ended up buying an obscenely expensive buch de noel on Christmas Eve from a very good patisserie in town. I will happily report that the buch de noel was a big hit, that it looked quite charming with meringue mushrooms and some Lindt truffles scattered about it. I would share photo evidence of its grandeur, but the photo itself was so dark that no amount of Photoshop could save it...almost as if the universe was having one last Christmas chuckle at me. But I did manage to take a passable photo of one slice...

What is this strange holiday cooking curse? The other 360 days a year, I can be relied on to show up with a perfectly decent casserole, a bowl of mashed potatoes, cheese enchiladas, cupcakes....I mean I'm not Anthony Bourdain, but I can cook basic things basically fairly well. Just not in the 24-hours leading up to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter....

Next year, I bring a bottle of champagne and a carton of ice cream.