Playing Catchup

As you've no doubt noticed, I took a little trip in June, which resulted in a lengthy period where I didn't need to think much about subject matter for this journal. I mean, I had four states, ten days, three national parks, and over a hundred birds to discuss, plus an ungodly number of photos.

It was also helpful to have that particular task set for me given the other thing I was trying to accomplish: whittling down the first draft of Along Those Lines into something a little tighter. Paul Dry asked me to take on the not-inconsiderable task of trimming down the manuscript from 106,000 words to about 80,000. Once I got back from points west, that become my job for the next month, and yesterday, I finally sent it to him. It's still a little longer than 80k, but after removing one chapter entirely, cutting significant chunks of several others, reorganizing the sections and splitting one long chapter into two, I felt as though I'd reached the point of diminishing returns with the editing process. It's definitely a better book now--much more tightly focused, and in many cases clearer and less inclined to lead the reader on a pointless ramble--but I think I'll need some editorial guidance before I can make further cuts. I've just been staring at those words for too long now.

That leaves me, for the first time in a while, without a specific project to complete. I'm somewhat weirded out by the prospect of working on something new--something I haven't had much of a chance to do in some time now--but I'm gradually getting myself into the groove. I'll almost certainly look back over one of my completed manuscripts in hopes of fixing it up and finding it a home--for example, I've had an idea on how to give The Amazing Q a tweak that may help it work better--but in the meantime I'm trying my hand at something different: a play.

I've directed about a dozen plays at Woodberry, but until now they've all been someone else's work. We have occasionally put on original shows, however, and if I can get my ideas into some kind of finished shape, I may see about staging this one. In the meantime, though, it's an interesting exercise. When you write nonfiction, dialogue and character are areas you largely ignore, focusing more on things like theme and description; when you shift to drama, you've really given up the chance to do much as a narrator, forcing yourself to have characters keep the audience's attention without you. Honestly, I'm finding it kind of a refreshing change.

My other creative endeavor this summer involves the kitchen. Last summer, Kelly and I decided we'd trade off the cooking duties; she'd fix dinners for a week, with me handling kitchen clean-up, and then we'd trade off for the following week. We use Saturday as the start of the week for this switch, since that's the morning of the Farmer's Market in Culpeper, which is the basis for our weekly shopping. Yes, we do still have to hit the local Food Lion for some stuff, but fresh vegetables! I mean, when you have the chance to buy fresh local beets and tomatillos and mushrooms at ridiculously low prices, why wouldn't you buy them?

Kelly has a lot more cooking experience than I, so she tends to favor familiar recipes that she knows work well, but as I have few such recipes, I'm more willing to hang my ass out there and try strange new things. Sometimes that means a highly involved meal like fried chicken. I got the recipe from Bon Appetit (thanks to the subscript our friend Q gave us a year or two back), and last year I tried it twice in the iron skillet. The first was an enormous production, involving more prep than I've ever put into a meal, and the difficulties didn't end when I finally got the chicken cut up into the necessary ten pieces; the frustration of keeping the oil at the proper temperature nearly broke me. I figured the second attempt would be easy, but I complicated things by deciding to make it for Thanksgiving, which meant doubling the recipe so that the boys could enjoy it as well. Let's just say that the resulting floods of oil, clouds of smoke, and yelping of the fire alarm took a lot of the fun out of that holiday meal, and note that for Father's Day I received and have now broken in a new electric skillet.

In seeking other recipes this year, I went with one request from Kelly (the Shrimp with Feta I got from Dinner: A Love Story) and also got some good advice from my online chums. Sara provides a bunch of recipes at her blog, endsandleavings , and I've now sampled several of them to good effect; The Best Broccoli of Your Life was a particular hit, but I've also tried her Nepalese Chicken Tarkari, Spicy Orange Garlic Shrimp, and Chicken with Dijon Sauce dishes, which have all been hits (especially the latter). She also recommends a simple chicken dish she published as "Delicious Chicken You Should Make and Eat Because I Said So," a name I opted to shorten to Chicken Mandatoria.

I also got a ridiculously simple salad recipe from another online friend, Brian: boil a one-to-one sugar and vinegar solution, then marinate cucumbers, radishes, carrots, and onions. Oh. Man. I later opted to reuse the marinade and tossed in some fresh beets as well, which turned the whole thing a decorative pink. Really, there's no way this can be a bad thing--sweet, pickly fresh veggies that crunch like candy.

And with that, it's off to take care of the other summer project: exercise. I have a date with an elliptical machine. Or possibly a treadmill.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on July 16, 2013 4:28 PM.

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