Thursday, November 28, 2019

NON-WRITERS’ BLOCK

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” Stephen King, On Writing
Stephen King wrote that.

On my good days, I remember that Stephen King - Stephen mofo-ing King, a man with both an amazing body of work and an absurdly cute dog - apparently considers me talented. I’m not going to be using my income from writing to buy a solid gold pony, or even a solid gold hamster, but I have made it into five figures. That was over three years, mind; not exactly a lucrative career but enough to keep me in beer and boots.

On my bad days, I remind myself that those three years were over six years ago and that my cumulative work since having children are four dull and forgettable pieces for business publications and a few blog posts where the amount of swearing considerably outweighs any interesting content.

I have written many other things. Birthday cards. Endless childcare forms. Snippy work emails. Impassioned diatribes to government representatives on refuges, childcare and the environment, and less worthy but no less impassioned comments on Facebook on how Tropic Thunder is a great Christmas movie. But having failed miserably to write anything of substance in the last, oh, four years, it has come to the point at which I have to face the fact it may not be writers’ block. Maybe I am just not a writer. Maybe I am just a non-writer with notions.

Let me tell you of the many joyous stages of my recent non-writer’s block, now with additional swearing and maybe some CAPS.

PRE-READING
The astute amongst you (okay, actually just those of you still reading this self-indulgent hot mess, YOU GO GUYS) will notice I opened this with a quote from a book. Reading books about writing is a great way to be a writer but not write anything. It is super-meta and I can’t recommend it enough. You can sit in coffee shops or on buses or work meetings (phone under table, of course) basking in the warm glow of being a writer without actually producing a single word of original text.

GOOGLING
Bonus; I didn’t even read a book on writing! I vaguely remembered the quote from back when I used to read books about writing and put an absurd sentence into Google (stephen king pay my gas bill) and it did the rest! Google can do basically anything. Go on Google, take the wheel and write this bitch! Autocomplete my fucking manuscript! Take my first word, fill in the second, third and fourth words, and ad infinitum!
...please also give me the first word.

RESEARCH
I would like to be writing, I really really would, but I need to research for world-building. Did you know there is a page devoted to autocomplete games? Shussssssh, I have a high score to beat.

EDITING!
Don’t want to write anything new? Have you considered the endless joys of editing? You look over some stuff you wrote a while back and actually it's not too terrible. So you add in a bit, and spruce up a bit, correct some errors, change a few outdated references... and you’ve been working for 3 hours without actually having written anything new. It’s the literary equivalent of reheating mystery frozen foods from back of the freezer to find out what they are or attempting to serve up regurgitated 2am curry chips as a balanced meal.

EDIT IT ALL 
Cut the word count. Cut it. Keep cutting. More. Even more. ALL OF IT. Remove all the extraneous words. Kill your darlings. Trim the fat! Throw out your notebooks. Destroy your pens. Give your clothing to charity! Fuck it, donate a damned kidney, you’re not using it right now. EDIT YOUR LIFE. The fun thing about editing is the more you do it, the further you can get from writing.

EDIT SOME MORE 
Keep trimming and strimming and editing until eventually you have just one sentence left, which you present with twitchy-eyed pride to an unwilling reader declaring it a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. You are a prodigal sculptor releasing a tiny but perfect figure from a mountain of marble, or a brilliant archaeologist brushing fields of dirt away to find one arrowhead or - lets be more realistic here – a deluded fanatic painstakingly polishing your turd for years to reveal a tiny perfect lump of curiously preserved sweetcorn at the core. Such a fine line between wordsmith and turdsmith, don’t you think?

YOU NEED A PLAYLIST
You really really do.

EAT SOMETHING
Maybe you aren't crap. Maybe it's just low blood sugar. Eat something. Eat everything! Fall down the rabbit holes that is cookery videos on YouTube and embrace a new career as a pastry chef! You can justify it by saying you will write about it some day. Or you can write 5,000 work blog posts on how to make toast for recipe sites.
"To understand what makes this toast so good, I need to tell you a long-winded personal anecdote about Russia in 1986, which I will begin by quoting War and Peace in its entirety..."

DENIAL!
Fuck you. I don’t have Writer’s Block, I have Non-Writer’s Commitment. I am so good at not writing I haven't done it in years. Don't want a thing written about? You should call me. I will absolutely never write a tell-all book about your deepest darkest secrets because I have no muse left, bastarding Google won’t give me a first bloody word, and I am still editing down my 1,200 page Livejournal into a line of useable text. (The sentence is currently, “Wow, I was so drunk guys, sorry!”.)

CAAAAAAAAPS
OH GOD JUST FUCK OFF I AM TRYING MY HARDEST OR AT LEAST A TEENY BIT WHILE CURATING MY SPOTIFY PLAYLIST AND LOOKING UP RECIPES FOR ROAST PORK AND ALSO DISTRACTING MYSELF WITH MEMES HAHAHA I FOUND A FUNNY MEME



REPEAT FOREVER
For those of you hoping for a point to all this, or some useful advice, in case it’s not obvious you will need to go elsewhere. May I suggest the rather excellent On Writing by Stephen King?

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Fail to Kale

I am the youngest child in my family. By the time I was old enough to cook my Mum was past the “let us bake together, angel children, never mind the mess” stage and into “get out, get out, are you trying to get burnt”. So I haven't really been taught to cook food basics. This can be an issue when I am faced with standard foods that I don’t care about enough to learn how to cook. I do a mean butter chicken, for example, because butter chicken is delicious but fail every time at making vegetable soup because, ugh, vegetable soup tastes like used socks.

These days I have family of my own to feed - four people and a dog! - so obviously there's only one solution; exploring the wonderful worlds of malnutrition and massive credit card debt simultaneously by ordering takeaway all the time! Hah, but seriously no (as my partner says to me ALL THE DAMN TIME). Most nights I try to put together a home-cooked meal to give the impression that we are a functional family unit and not a near-riot of hangry rodeo clowns held together by a shared mortgage and the promise of yogurt for dessert.

I am super impatient and also have limited time between daycare pick-up and total toddler meltdown so speed and ease are of the essence. I have been looking up a lot of "fast" recipes on the Internet which is always a quick way to cook up a boiling rage. You click on something like "simple fast curry" whatever – expecting, you know, simplicity and speed – and after a carpal-tunnel-inducing level of scrolling past prose and photos you eventually find the actual recipe right at the bloody end. It’s after 5,000 words of (completely unrelated) anecdotes and by the time you find it, it is too late to cook anything and your children have gone to the pub for dinner without you.

Adding to the carpal-twinge factor is the sheer amount of photos involved. Why do three ingredient recipes need 20 pictures? Who takes that many photos while cooking? My gastronomic adventures involve staggering around the kitchen with a screaming toddler on one leg, the dog underneath the other, and demands for attention from the five year old who will set the house on fire if I take my eyes off her for too long. The only reason for twenty photos in my kitchen will be in the insurance claim as evidence it was the childzillas, and not my cooking, that burned the place down.

But anyway, food. One of the reasons I’ve been looking up a lot of recipes is that my fruit and veg co-op box (which I ordered in a fit of optimism, thinking we could be the sort of family actually used a veg box and not our local kebab shop on a daily basis) has delivered what I can only describe as small forest to me.


It turned out that forest was made of kale. It is embarrassing that after ten years of living in Sydney’s most leftie latte-sipping suburbs, I still had to google it. Twice. The first search being “what does kale look like” and the second “how do you do you even eat it, ugh”.

This is definitely the sort of thing you don’t share around my part of Sydney. People would spit their biodynamic eco-friendly hand-reared grass-fed coffee right out at you. I live in suburbs where they not only embrace the eating of “superfoods” like kale and quinoa, but also the naming of their children after them: Saffron, Sage, Kale, Quinoa and Gluten-Free.

On a sidenote, we all know that "superfood" is generally marketing-speak for "lesser known foreign fruit and vegetables that don't always taste great but we can put a huge price mark-up on, because we're not paying the people who grow them a living wage", right? Just checking.

Anyway, kale as a food. Sorry, just trying to get into the waffling spirit of cooking blogs here. Having googled, my number one tip for eating kale is - don't. It’s not worth it. Kale is 80% inedible stalks and 20% disgusting malodorous crimped leaves. It is the man-spreading of vegetables; it arrives, unwanted, to take too much space and fills the air with an unpleasantly organic smell. Unlike man-spreaders, you can at least put kale in your refrigerator but then it is taking up all the space for actual edible food. When you finally do get around to cooking it the first thing you have to do is remove most of it to get at the bits that are marginally more edible.

Seriously, fuck kale. Chuck the whole lot in the green bin and you'll be saving yourself an awful lot of effort. Go buy some broccoli or cabbage or bok choy or any actual edible green instead.


But suppose you have decided not to throw all the kale in the bin. I don't know why you would do this when supermarkets are full of actual bloody food. Maybe, like me, you've been trapped into purchasing it and your Irish famine mentality is preventing you throwing it in the fire or the sea or Mount Doom or wherever is handiest. I'm not judging you; I'm just reminding you that ordering pizza or walking out the door and never coming back is an option. You could also just let the kids set the place on fire. Dinners out, guilt-free, for MONTHS that way.

Maybe you feel you should try it or you really shouldn't waste food. In that case, there's a recipe for kale that I strongly recommend. Hahahahahah nope, just kidding, I would never recommend a recipe with kale as a star ingredient. But in the name of using it up, here is one that will do so and also eliminate any sweet potato hanging around your cupboards taking up the space for perfectly good regular potatoes or better yet, vodka, which is basically fermented potato salad and therefore doubly good for you. Mmm. Probiotic salad in a glass. With a bag of cheese and onion crisps.

I feel I have managed to waffle enough so here is the recipe for a kale and sweet potato curry. Finally. Basically everything in this can be substituted apart from the sweet potato because that is all you can actually taste. A core component of most of the recipes I saw for kale had sweet potato in them, probably because they are one of the only things that can drown out the taste of kale.


Ugh, fuck kale curry

  • Some oil, coconut if you have it
  • An onion
  • Some grated ginger
  • Minced garlic
  • Curry paste (red would be best, or you could make a chicken curry and eat that instead, just saying)
  • A sweet potato
  • Can of coconut milk or cream
  • Some turmeric, cumin and any other spice you like the sound of. Go mad. It's not like you can make kale taste worse. 
  • Ugh-loads of chopped fucking kale
  • Some protein-y pulse-y thing; I used red lentils (soak first). Chickpeas, beans or cashew nuts would probably also be nice.
  • Lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, and pepper. Let the onions get a bit translucent.
  2. Add the curry paste, give it a minute to heat up and get fragrant.
  3. Add the sweet potato, stir in well, and cook for a bit minutes more.
  4. Add the coconut milk, turmeric, and a pinch of salt and stir. Add water to just about cover the sweet potato and bring to a simmer.
  5. Once simmering, add the protein-y thing.
  6. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to soften the potato.
  7. Once the potatoes are softened, add the kale and lemon juice, and cover. Cook for at least 5 mins, or you can sod off and leave alone in a slow-cooker if you like. I went off for a few hours. The sweet potato etc will break down to mush but the kale DOES NOT GO AWAY because it can't take a bloody hint already.

Serve, salted, with rice/quinoa and the hope that the health and smugness benefits of actually using up your kale will make the dish taste better.

To really get into the whole cooking-bloggery thing, I did intend to take some photos. Unfortunately I only rememberred at the end when the resulting curry was complete and looked like it had been ingested, digested and then barfed back up into the pot. It tasted pretty reasonable, in the end, for all that it looked pre-eaten. You can't really mess up a red curry too much. Not even with kale.

So, eat and enjoy! Or just set the kale on fire and go to the pub. I know what I will be doing.