Lemons

Have you ever bitten into a lemon? I did once, when I was a kid. Note the word once. I quickly realized that some fruit have a taste other than sweet.

Now, I realize that many people love to eat lemons. (My mother for instance.) And this article talks about the benefits of eating lemons: https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefit-eating-whole-fresh-lemons-4390.html

Yet I prefer my lemons paired with other things: sugar and water in lemonade; sugar, water, and tea for iced tea; or sugar, eggs, flour, and other ingredients in lemon meringue pie or lemon bars. Even the lemon candy I like is of the sweet and sour variety.

    

It’s much the same with stories. I like a mixture of sweet and sour. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien; Sabriel by Garth Nix; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016 movie; the novelization was written by Alexander Freed). An author who writes this kind of story has to strike the right balance between hope and hopelessness.

   

Usually I love the point in the story where things are at their worst, and you don’t think good can come out of it—but then it does, sometimes at a high cost. A thoroughly satisfying conclusion is a great reward for that kind of tension.

I also think of lemons because the sourness of life sucks sometimes. I can’t help putting it that baldly. (Yes, baldly.) Jobs are lost. People you love face health issues or are in emotional pain. These moments are the “shut the book, Dad” moments Samwise Gamgee talked about in Lord of the Rings—the moments when you’re not sure everything will turn out right. I’m in that kind of moment right now. Maybe one day, I’ll provide the full details. But I wanted to write about it in the moment—when a happy ending isn’t a guarantee—because often you hear stories of triumph after the fact, after the darkness has passed and the “sun shines all the clearer”—another quote given to Samwise, this time in The Two Towers:

I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you.

These words gives me hope when life hands out lemons. May they enable you to keep pressing on in a sour/dark time of your own.

Now I’m thinking of some words Galadriel spoke in Fellowship of the Ring:

May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.

Lemon image from freepik. Lemon meringue pie image from Pillsbury. Lemonhead image from Target. Quote from Two Towers is from the script by Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, and Fran Walsh © 2002. Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee image from Cinema Blend. Words of Galadriel and others are by J. R. R. Tolkien.

I Scream for Ice Cream

When I was a kid, one of the dearest sounds in the world was the song the ice cream truck played. Often, the tune played was “The Entertainer,” written by Scott Joplin. I wondered why, so I turned to your friend and mine—Google. According to this AVClub.com post by Joe Blevins, “Most professional ice cream distribution vehicles come complete with a music box from Nichols Electronics.” This music box has “public domain favorites like ‘Yankee Doodle,’ ‘Brahms’ Lullaby,’ and Scott Joplin’s deathless ‘The Entertainer.’”

Ooookay. Though we often had ice cream in the freezer, as my mother would remind my brothers and me, we still wanted to buy whatever the truck sold. We knew the right moment to bug Mom for money—when she was on the phone. Many times she would give it to us just to get us to leave her alone.

Why am I bringing up ice cream? Because I am resurrecting the ice cream giveaway. If you’re new to the blog you’re probably wondering what on earth I mean. (It’s been awhile since I hosted this giveaway, so even if you’ve followed this blog awhile, you might be confused. Click here for a past giveaway.) I’m giving away one pint of ice cream (or yogurt, sherbet, gelato, or sorbetto, if you prefer), which will be sent by Icecreamsource.com. Again, you might be wondering why. My answer is one that many parents have given over the years: “Because.”

Why now? I love the notion of giving away ice cream outside of the usual ice cream season—summer. I’m just weird that way.

Click here to see the varieties offered. In the comments below, please name the pint of ice cream, yogurt, sherbet, gelato, or sorbetto you’d like to receive. This company only delivers to the U.S., so my apologies to any readers outside of the States. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

After a hard day, Tia Tigerlily needs a little pick-me-up. And yes, she can quit eating ice cream anytime she wants. She just doesn’t want to.

Ice cream truck from clipartion.com. Ice cream images from Serious Eats and Tasting Table. Other photo by L. Marie. Tia Tigerlily Shoppie doll is a product of Moose Toys.

Salad Days

Back when I was in college, back when the transportation of choice was the covered wagon, I aspired to afford the salad bar at Fritz That’s It. What’s that, you say? It used to be a well-loved restaurant in Evanston, Illinois—part of the Lettuce Entertain You chain of restaurants. Alas, it closed in 1987. Click here and here for more information on the restaurant. Today, that name is associated with another establishment.

A menu from 1973 (I was not in college at this point, in case you were wondering.)

When I was a student, I was always broke. So I shared restaurant menu items with my friends, who were equally broke. As the articles I linked to above will tell you, Fritz was known for its extensive salad bar. It even had caviar and pâté! But the salad bar was an extra cost.

A well-stocked salad bar was the hallmark of Lettuce Entertain You restaurants. Rich Melman, the founder of Lettuce Entertain You, talked about the salad bar at RJ Grunts  (the first restaurant he opened) in this post at Foodandwine.com:

Instead of just iceberg and a few toppings, I would say we started with about 30 choices, maybe more, and it just kept growing and growing.

I loved having so many choices. Those were indeed salad days! But years later, many restaurants scaled back on the salad bars. Even Wendy’s pulled the plug on them back in 2006.

Yet salad bars live on at some restaurants (like buffets) and many grocery store chains. The grocery stores in my area have salad bars with multiple options (including soup) and charge for the salads by weight. (The photo below was not taken at a grocery store in my area, in case you wondered.)

The element of choice is one many people treasure, not just in a salad bar but in other areas in life. I love going to a craft store and seeing aisle after aisle of colorful skeins of yarn of all different textures in which to choose. Many of us love to binge watch seasons of shows on Netflix because we have multiple episodes from which to choose. (Unless the show is uploaded once a week like The Great British Baking Show is this season. Sigh.) And many make purchases on Amazon because of its staggering variety of items.

Another area of choice I love involves authors with multiple books just waiting to be discovered. Many, like Jill Weatherholt, John Howell, and Charles Yallowitz, have been featured on this blog. (To discover where to purchase any of these books, just click on the cover.)

   

What authors have you discovered recently, who have multiple books just waiting to be read?

Have you visited a salad bar recently? What do you like about it?

Kitty thinks her giant veggies will net her a fortune at salad bars across the nation. But I doubt that, since most edible vegetables don’t have faces.

Fritz menu from worthpoint.com. Salad bar image from Rochebros.com. Salad items from clkr.com. Kawaii veggies from etsystudio.com. Other photo by L. Marie.

Doughnuts or Donuts, Which One Is “Write”?


Though doughnuts is the correct spelling for the wonderful ring or ball-shaped cakes many of us enjoy, donuts is the popular American spelling. Click here to find out why. So, I’m going with donuts throughout, since it is shorter. 😊

When I was around 10 or 11, on a Saturday in the summer, my older brother and I decided to make donuts for breakfast, never having made them before. But Mom had a recipe book, so how hard could it be? And my brother was around 12 or 13—the wise elder. Obviously we could handle this task. Though I have to say, his sage advice had led me to leaping out of windows with a towel wrapped around my neck like a superhero. This same brother also liked to bring home the odd snake he’d found in the grass somewhere. As you can imagine, the emergency room was acquainted with our family.

Anyway, we had all of the ingredients to make the donuts, which involved a lot of frying. We made a plain cake donut. Taste wise, they were okay. And the sizes varied, which was a little disappointing. After all, this was our first attempt.

I can still remember the way the kitchen looked after we finished our donut project—like a bomb had gone off in it. Dirty bowls, pots, measuring cups, and spoons lay everywhere. The stove top was totally covered in grease. Rest assured, we didn’t expect Mom to clean up after us (as she made us aware would not happen). We had to do that ourselves.

Of course there are many who wouldn’t touch a donut. But for those of you who do, you probably enjoy these varieties of donuts:

Cake
Glazed
Cream-filled
Boston cream (below)


Cruller
Apple fritter
Old-fashioned
Beavertail
Jelly
Cider
Potato (below)


Long John
Dutchie
Cinnamon roll
Donut holes
Malasada (below)


Beignet

And many more! Do you have a favorite?

A coffee roll from Dunkin Donuts—one of my favorite donuts

As you can see from this list, donuts come in a variety of shapes—with or without holes. If you love donuts, you’ll undoubtedly try as many as you can. (Okay, maybe I’m totally speaking of myself.)

Pondering the list of donuts makes me think of writing and all of its varieties:

• Fiction (science fiction, fantasy, romance, contemporary realistic, literary, flash, fanfiction, short stories, etc.)
• Nonfiction (narrative, persuasive, expository, memoirs, personal essays, short stories, etc.)
• Poetry
• Screenplays
• Song lyrics
• Musical composition
• Curriculum
• Picture books
• Early readers
• Articles
• Video game stories
• Graphic novels
• Advertising
• Blogging
• Podcast scripts

The list goes on and on. Looking at this list, there are two items that I haven’t tried. I’ll leave you to guess which two.

Which items on the list have you gravitated toward? What other forms of writing would you try if you haven’t already?

Tia and Henry thought it only fair that they each should receive one and a half donuts, rather than give the third to someone else.

Malasada from Wikipedia. Boston cream donut from seriouseats.com. Glazed donut from YouTube.com. Potato donut from kingarthurflour.com. Baking utensils from Walmart. Other photos by L. Marie.

Lollipops: Stick to the Old or Savor the New?

National Lollipop Day was July 20. Did you participate by consuming a lollipop? I wish I had! (Never too late to do so!)

Growing up, I was a fan of the free lollipops (which we also called “suckers”) usually given to kids at the doctor’s office or at a bank.

“Here you go, kid. Now go away.”

The freebies were usually Dum-Dums. (And no, I am not making a judgment call.) Or sometimes Tootsie Roll Pops were handed out.

       

Though I appreciated having a huge lollipop like the kind shown at the start of this post—the kind you can still find in candy stores today—I was never a big fan of them. I just liked how colorful they were, though they made my chin and fingers very sticky after eating one.

But my absolute favorite lollipops were (and still are) Charms Blow Pops. Why are they my favorites? Because of the gum inside of them. What were your favorite lollipops growing up?

Okay, those are tried and true lollipops. Here are some unique lollipops.

   

Yes, that’s right. Tabasco sauce and scorpions.

No actual chickens were harmed in the making of this.

You know you want these bacon-flavored lollipops.

I love that candy makers thought outside of the box. Would you try any of these? I would try them all, even though Tabasco sauce is not my favorite. I’ve eaten insects (grasshoppers, locusts, ants) before, so my guess is that arachnids probably would be okay too. (I can tell you are giving me a look right about now.)’

Looking at these unique lollipops, I can’t help seeing the correlation to writers who put a new spin on well-known tropes in the hope of creating a new flavor combination in a genre. 😊 Perhaps you are one such writer who feels the need do something new with an old trope. If so, my hat is off to you.

But you didn’t really come here for a discussion about lollipops, right? You came for the giveaway of The Art of Breaking Things by Laura Sibson (below left) and An Impossible Distance to Fall by Miriam McNamara (below right). Click here and here for the interviews.

        

   

The winner of An Impossible Distance to Fall is Ally Bean. And the winner of The Art of Breaking Things is Jacqui Murray. Please comment below to confirm, then send address details to lwashin301(at)comcast(dot)net.

Tia is hesitant to tell Henry that the “lollipop” he thinks matches her outfit so perfectly, is really the cap to a pencil case.

Big lollipop found at tensepresent.wordpress.com. Dum-Dums found at dumdumpops.com. Charms Blow Pops found at ebay.com. Tabasco lollipop from Oddee.com. Scorpion and bacon-flavored lollipops found at vat19.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Tia Tigerlily Shoppie is a product of Moose Toys. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company.

Perfectly Plated

I watch a lot of YouTube videos (like the Tasty and BuzzFeed Channels) and Netflix shows (The Great British Baking Show) on cooking. You’d think I would be a culinary expert by now. Naw. I’m still just an average cook.

        

When I was a kid, my parents had insisted that I learn to cook. I don’t mean throwing a frozen dinner into the microwave or oven. I mean baking a chicken, preparing rice, sautéing onions, baking biscuits—that sort of thing.

For my friends in Europe, I mean this type of biscuit.

Not this.

But I’ve never been very innovative in the kitchen. Not like my sister-in-law, who loves to experiment. (I’m going somewhere with this. Don’t worry.)

Anyway, as I mentioned, I watch a lot of videos featuring culinary artists—people who went to school to master the art of food preparation. Other than the taste of a dish, nothing showcases a chef’s artistry like a well-plated meal. What do I mean by that?

According to an article entitled, “A Basic Guide to Food Presentation” at Webstaurantstore.com (click here for it):

People eat with their eyes, and creative and thoughtful plating enhances both the look and taste of your food. Focusing on presentation also allows chefs to showcase their creations and demonstrate to guests that they’re getting their money’s worth.

The article from which that quote came from has great tips on color and contrast, choosing the right plate, etc. That’s why you’ll sometimes see chocolate drizzled on a dessert plate, or your entrée artfully presented with the vegetables tucked up nicely. (Unlike what you see in the photo below.)

My usual idea of plating. Get your grub on, y’all.

  

The real deal done by experts

I love that chefs go the extra mile to make a dining experience special and to make food preparation an art form. While I’m unlikely to drizzle chocolate on a plate anytime soon (I’d much rather drizzle it in my mouth), I am inspired to go the extra mile in what I write.

I’m not sure what the literary equivalent of plating might be. Perhaps it starts with a resolve to write the best piece you can.

Speaking of resolutions, onto the winner of Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s novel Dirt Cheap, which was discussed in this guest post.

        

The winner, according to the lovely random number generator, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Bruno Lilly!

Congratulations, Laura! Please comment below to confirm!

Henry’s idea of plating—just candy in a bag, baby! (I hear you, Henry!)

Pillsbury biscuits from betterbatter.org. Tea biscuits from clipartkid.com. Tasty YouTube logo from YouTube. BuzzFeed logo from siliconangle.com. Great British Baking Show logo found at thats-normal.com. Plated desserts found on Pinterest. Other photos by L. Marie.

Still Going Strong

A friend and I went to the first annual Harry Potter Festival in Aurora, Illinois. I know what you want to know: Why is this the first one when the last book debuted a decade ago? Picture me shrugging.

   

Anyhoo, we braved the crowd of around five thousand people. The Harry Potter fandom is still going strong here. The crowd would have been six times that amount had the tickets not sold out within a matter of hours weeks ago. The event planners tried to keep the crowd small (ha) since this was the inaugural event.

Here’s the festival layout.

   

A tiny Hogwarts Express

The river nearby

We headed to a Care of Magical Creatures event, sponsored by SOAR (see the yellow sign in the photo below to learn what the letters stand for), which mostly involved rescued owls. But no snowy owls. They don’t migrate this far.

   

Dickens, the great horned owl depicted on a movie poster for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Yes, this owl is old. You can read more about her here.

Directors from SOAR with tiny owls rescued by SOAR. I soooo want one. But owls make horrible pets, we were told.

Then we had to have butterbeer. It was delicious! And no, that is not my hand in the photo below.

In Diagon Alley, we checked out the wares of the many vendors hawking wands, essential oils (the potions aspect of Harry Potter), jewelry, hats, and, inexplicably, soap.

We wanted to take in a Quidditch event at the Quidditch Pitch. But everyone had to register for that before the festival. Plus, the downtown area of Aurora is pretty big. Even the library is three times larger than any other library in my area. Some of the events were several blocks away from each other and had long waiting lines. There was no way we could get to all of the events in the amount of time designated for the festival (five hours).

But of course we went to the sorting event, which was held at the Aurora Regional Fire Museum. And of course, there was a huge line for that one. Unfortunately, though I’m usually sorted into Gryffindor, this time I was sorted into Slytherin House.

Not. Happy.

A little boy burst into tears upon being sorted into Slytherin. The sorting hat was forced to choose again for him. Yep. Gryffindor.   

What I loved about this festival is the fact that so many people still love the books and love showing up to participate in activities geared toward them. I can’t think of another festival dedicated to a book series that draws thousands of people willing to walk around in the burning hot sun, some wearing hot robes.

Have you attended a Harry Potter Festival? Would you go to one if you could?

P. S. Happy birthday, Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling!

Photos by L. Marie. Movie poster from impawards.com