Pimpin' Product: Scream Sorbet

WARNING: If you don't live in the Silicon Valley Bay Area and you love food, you will be sad after reading this, so just skip it.

I can't believe I haven't mentioned Scream sorbet before (I did get them a shout-out in my Big Eat post, but it's about time they deserve their own).  I have been quietly feeding my addiction to Scream whenever I visit my local farmers market, enjoying their beautiful, brilliant flavors like plum shiso, cashew caramel, Satsuma mandarin, and kettle corn (yes, that's right, sorbet made from kettle corn).   The flavors burst in every tiny frozen spoonful and the mouth-feel is so decadent, it's hard to believe I'm eating sorbet.  In the case of the plum shiso, I'd argue that I'm eating the very essence of summer distilled into a petite scoop of frozen perfection.

You say that I'm exaggerating.  "Sorbet doesn't taste that good.  It's overly sweet and grainy and sour," you say.  You used to be right.  Before Scream came along.  Their nut-based sorbets are every bit as creamy as ice cream.  Their seasonal fruit flavors are smooth and light and so intensely colored and flavored, you'd swear you are eating the whole fruit.  I'd explain the genius behind their product, but you're better off checking out their web site

Normally, I would be happy to keep this gustatory treasure all to myself (which is what I normally do with the pre-packs I bring home), but tonight I had a revelation.  I managed to obtain some Scream sorbet sandwiches and shared one with my husband tonight.  First of all, that's the last time I'll make that mistake - no more sharing!   We had their lemon sorbet sammy: lemon shiso sorbet between two crisp lemon shortbread cookies.

I knew the sorbet would be good.  Shiso is a wonderful complement to the tartness of the lemon, and like all their flavors, this one is intense.  When I took the sandwich out of the freezer, I didn't have high hopes for the cookie part, though.  The sandwich under the gold foil felt like it would have the texture of cardboard on the outside, and the sorbet would be too cold to yield softly to the first bite like a good ice cream sandwich should.  Wrong!  The shortbread was lightly sweet, tangy, and buttery, delicately thin yet substantial enough to lend a nice crunch.   I was so sad the experience was over when I swallowed my last bite.

I still have an almond peppercorn oreo and coffee almond gingersnap sammy in the freezer, and I'm selfishly glad for my husband's nut allergy so I don't have to share those.

I hope everyone in the Bay Area will stop at the Scream Sorbet tent the next time they go to their farmers' market and try a sample.  I'm sure you'll be hooked after the first taste.


Random Thought Balloon in the Wee Hours

As I was brushing my teeth tonight, I spied a little black speck moving across the floor.  I followed it to find more of its friends wandering around a little dead bug carcass in the corner.  When there are more than 4 ants wandering around each other anywhere in my house, I pretty much freak out about an ant infestation in the kitchen.

So I found myself ant-proofing the kitchen at 12:30am, and now I'm on a post-freak-out high.  Don't be surprised if this post, which is solely to bide my time while my stress level subsides, is completely random and disjointed.  It's 12:48am, and I'd rather be sleeping.

I haven't come over to LJ in a while because August is apparently WFMAD (Write Fifteen Minutes A Day) month.  Lo and behold, I have been trying to work on my WIP for 15 minutes a day since I found out about WFMAD on the 5th of the month.  I'm pleased to say I have only missed 3 days.  But I'm totally tapped.  I'm really hoping September can be my SEHAD (sleep eight hours a day) month.

I'm wondering if it's possible for a person to have a full-time job, raise two kids under the age of 6 (not alone, thank goodness, I have a wonderful husband who is an equal partner in this parenting business),  get in three solid hours of exercise a week, and have serious time for writing.  Oh yeah, and still get a decent amount of sleep.  If the answer is yes, somebody please send me the instructions on how to do this.  Thanks.

I still owe someone a full manuscript critique (you know who you are).  I'm sorry!  I've been really bad about it.  Your MS is sitting on my bedside table.  I really need to get it done.  Maybe September will be my CFMAD (critique fifteen minutes a day) month, and I'll have that back to you within 2 weeks.  In fact, in my over-tired state, I am going to rashly commit to having your MS back to you within 2 weeks.  There, I said it, it's out there, so I have to make it happen.

I'd say I'll go re-read some passages now so I can work on the critique, but I think I've actually de-stressed enough to go to bed now.  Yay!

Amp It Up!

In recent critiques I've given, I have found myself talking a lot about upping the emotional intensity of a scene or the voice of a character.  Ironic really, considering that I consistently get feedback that my writing seems detached.  It seems to be a common struggle, especially for those who excel at "beautiful language" or "great description", which are comments that I seem to give a lot to those same folks who I suggest to take the emotional arc up a notch.

Here's the thing, it's darn hard to do!  First of all, there isn't really a formula for it.  There are "rules" for things like how to write smart dialog or when and where to throw in plot twists.  But there isn't any easy way to make your story dig its hooks into the reader's heart, to hold the reader captive until she's read the last page. 

It's about giving the reader a glimpse of the most interior part of a character, making the reader feel a character's rage, frustration, elation, fear, etc. on a deeply personal level.  Not making the emotions bigger but rather making every moment, big or small, resonant and indelible. 

And what makes that hard, in my experience, is that it requires the author into places that are emotionally messy for him and not so fun to poke around in.  I can't give a lesson on how to achieve it.  As I said, I have a lot of trouble with it myself, but I know when I am doing it because the sentiments I've written make me feel completely vulnerable and exposed.  I guess that's what a writer strives for: feeling naked on the page.

Do you have a secret for getting the maximum emotional charge out of your writing?

Easing Back Into It

I haven't written in a LONG time.  That includes WIP, poetry, recipes.  I feel like I have Twitter syndrome and am incapable of stringing more than 140 characters together at a time.

But I've been thinking about the WIP.  And thinking is a start.  First I need to devote the brain cells, and then the time will follow.  I hope so, at least.  I have one more spell of insanity coming up at work, but once it passes (and I get a few days to recover), I'm hoping that I can get back into the writing thing.  Egads, I actually miss it.

Wish me luck.

Big Eat Update: Dynamo Donuts

As you can see, I'm really putting some effort into this 7x7 list.  I may not live in the city or get many chances to head up there, but I will not be deterred by those little setbacks.  When I found out a co-worker drives past Dynamo Donuts every day on the way in to work, I enlisted his help on a reconnaissance mission.   He brought me one of each of the donut selections for that day, which included #54 on the Big Eat list: spiced chocolate doughnut (with a Four Barrel Coffee, but since I'm not big into coffee, I'm giving myself a pass on that second part).

54. Spiced-Chocolate Doughnut at Dynamo Donut with a Four Barrel Coffee - I wanted to love this doughnut so much.  I love chocolate.  I love chipotle.  I love the chocolate-spicy combination.  But sadly, the doughnut didn't live up to the expectations of the list.  I mean, seriously, you could die not having had this doughnut, and you're still OK (albeit dead).  

Was is a good doughnut?  Yes.  It was a very good chocolate cake doughnut.  It had good chocolate flavor and wasn't overpowered by that cloying sweetness that makes your teeth hum when you bite into a lot of standard issue doughnuts.  The doughnut was encrusted with sugar and spice, imparting it with a crunchy, smoky sweetness.  It was definitely unique and an interesting experience and I wouldn't turn one down if it was offered to me.

But if I might be so bold as to suggest to the sage folks at 7x7 to consider the other flavor always on rotation at Dynamo: the maple-glazed bacon doughnut was to die for.  I'm a firm believer that adding bacon to anything makes it better to begin with, and this doughnut just affirms my beliefs.  It's a pillow-soft raised doughnut that has an almost sourdough-y tang to it, topped with maple syrup glaze and bacon bits.  It tastes even better than it sounds, and if it doesn't sound good to you, read it again.  How can you not love all the best parts of the all-American breakfast assembled into one convenient package?

So definitely go check out Dynamo, but skip the choco-spice and go with the Maple-Bacon doughnut instead.  The only one who will be sorry is your waistline.

Big Eat Update: Miette's Ginger Snaps

My husband had a meeting in the city this week, so I sent him on a mission to bring me back #49 from the 7x7 Big Eat list: Miette's Ginger Snaps.  Whenever we go to the Ferry Building, I am always drawn to Miette's booth, with its immaculate display of scrumptious-looking cupcakes and beautiful jewel-like macarons under glass cake domes.  I've always wanted to buy something of theirs, but everything looks so good and so expensive, I have no idea where to start.

So the 7x7 list made it easy to pick something.  Hubby comes home with a discreet little brown paper bag, and I decide that there's no need to eat dinner.  I'll just have what's in the bag, thanks.  Never you mind what message I'm sending to the children when Mommy skips dinner to dig into a bag of baked goods.

49. Miette's Ginger Snaps - The ginger snaps are neatly stacked in a clear tube.  With their delicate scalloped edges and flecks of salt dotting the surface, they are simple yet beautiful to behold.  What a shame that I tore into them like a crazed dog (actually, like OUR crazed dog might have if he had gotten close enough).  They are crisp and substantial, despite being fairly thin, not too sweet, and with a good ginger kick.  A nice salty finish with a lingering hint of butter.

To be honest, I didn't think they were all that when I ate my first one.  But they sneak up on you, and I ended up eating three in one sitting (they are good with a cup of tea).  Now there's just one left in the tube, and I'm saving it for hubby.  He better eat it soon, or I might conveniently forget that it's ear-marked for him.

I'm not sure it's something you have to try before you die - they are a little pricey ($7.00 for 12) and I wouldn't go out of my way again to get them, but the next time I'm at the Ferry Building and the Miette booth beckons, I know exactly what I'll end up buying.

Seven down, 93 to go.  I better get eating!

Drive-By Post: It's Time to Be a Jerk

It's been a long time since I've touched my  WIP, but I have been thinking about it more lately.  I always seem to get to the end of the first part of the story and then find myself stymied, no matter what direction I take.  Someone once said that sometimes we may have trouble creating conflict in our story because we love our characters too much to let bad things happen to them.  Well, plenty of bad stuff happens to my protagonist.  So that wasn't my problem.

I finally figured out that I am suffering from a corollary of the "I love my protagonist too much to make bad stuff happen to her" issue.  I suffer from the "I love my protagonist too much to make her do bad stuff" issue.  She suffers a lot, but she doesn't really do anything about it.  I've been so worried about her being a likable and sympathetic MC that she's kind of passive and boring and numb to everything around her.  Which, ironically, makes her come across as callous and unlikeable to most people (except me, but I'm her mom, so of course I love her, right?).

I think I'm finally ready to give myself permission to let her be hurt and angry and a little pissy.  Life's been dicking her around, and it's time she got a chance to lash out at the crumminess that's been raining down on her.   She's mad as hell and she's not going to take it anymore.

Now I just need a little more sleep to recharge my creative batteries.

Big Eat Update: Muracci's Katsu Curry

In my last post, I talked about the 7x7 Big Eat article on the 100 things to try in SF before you die.  In retrospect, it was a little crazy to think I could try everything on that list, especially considering I haven't set foot in San Francisco since my post, but I'm still going to make a go of it.

Lo and behold, as if the heavens read my heart's stomach's desire, Muracci's opened a second location within walking distance of my house here on the Peninsula!  Is that kismet or what?   Of course I have to take a quick stroll over for an order of their Katsu curry, #16 on the list.  So is it list-worthy?

16. Katsu Curry from Muracci's Japanese Curry & Grill - For the uninitiated, katsu curry is a breaded, fried pork cutlet with curry sauce served over rice.  Katsu curry is pretty standard issue at most Japanese restaurants as well as Hawaiian restaurants.  I never order it when I go out for Japanese or Hawaiian, mostly because the pork cutlet is usually over-fried and dry and the curry sauce bland and oily.

Not so at Muracci's.  The cutlet was succulent and perfectly seasoned, the breading light and crispy.  You can get the katsu served over white or brown rice.  I took mine with brown rice, which added nuttiness and great texture to the meal.  And the curry?  Oh the curry! The curry sauce was sublime, substantial in both flavor and texture without being heavy.  The heat level was enough to make me sweat but not to the point of overpowering the spectrum of spices and aromatics. 

They serve the curry rice with a side of pickles, "house special pickles" according to the menu.  "Eh, pickles.  Not a pickle fan," was my reaction to the menu description, but I have to say that the pickles were the perfect complement of piquant, cool, and crunchy to balance the earthy, spicy heat of the sauce.

For $8.95, they give you a very generous portion.  I told myself I would eat half and save half, but I ended up eating the whole thing.  I even took the leftover sauce home (sad, I admit it) and found myself desperately rummaging through the fridge for some rice to sop up the remaining sauce the next day.

Definitely list-worthy.  So if you're up in the city or find yourself in Los Altos, stop by Muracci's and enjoy their divine katsu curry.  Yum, now I'm hungry all over again.

The 2010 Big Eat

I recently came across the 2010 Big Eat list, a list of 100 things to eat in San Francisco before you die.   I'm type-A, so putting anything in list form is going to pique my interest.  I'm a foodie, too, so a list of food will definitely get me hooked.  But 100 is a lot of things.  And I'm 35 miles outside the beautiful city of San Francisco.  And I have two small children, who aren't usually up for being dragged to the city merely for the purpose of sampling house-cured pig parts.  My husband says it's impossible for us to try all 100 things on that list within a year.

Sounds like a challenge to me.

And I don't back down from challenges.  (Well, except if it's a challenge that involves possibly getting hit in the face, because my face is my fortune.)  Now I am still trying to lose 10 pounds - technically, I'm down to 8 pounds to go (yay!) - so I'm not foolhardy enough to think that I can get to all 100 things.  But I am going to make a serious go of it and see how many I can try by February 4, 2011.

Luckily, there are some things that I have already tried, so I'm going to give myself a little head start for the things I've already eaten before:

1. Roast Chicken and Bread Salad at Zuni Cafe - It was uber-expensive (over $30, and that was at least 3 years ago) but damn good.  The chicken was so tender and redolent of the fresh herbs dotting its delectable, golden skin.  The bread salad was amazing as well, with bursts of dried currants complementing the crunchy, yet soft and chewy, yumminess of the bread cubes.

15. Any Seasonal Flavor at Scream Sorbet - I love Scream, and luckily, they have a stand at our local farmers' market.  The first seasonal flavor I tried was the plum shiso, which was simply summer perfection.  One spoonful of the insanely creamy, gorgeous fuschia frozen confection had me hopelessly addicted to Scream.  Since then, I've enjoyed their creative flavor offerings, including elephant heart plum, Satsuma mandarin, cashew caramel, fig walnut, and peanut butter and jelly.  Every flavor so far has been brilliant.

33. Prime Rib at House of Prime Rib - Often imitated, but never duplicated, HOPR is the place to go for a nice thick slab of meat.  Sure, no matter what time your reservation is (and you WILL need one) or when you arrive, they're going to make you wait in the bar and get at least one drink out of you before you're seated at your table - they want you nice and relaxed so that you can leisurely sup on your meal.  Don't fill up on the sides (lavishly presented salad prepared table-side, choice of potato dish, creamed spinach, and Yorkshire pudding), because make no mistake, the perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked prime rib is the star of the meal. 

89. Lettuce Cups at Betelnut -
Lest you think it's all gushy-gushy, I have to wonder why this is on the list.  Maybe I'm pickier about Asian food, but I don't recall the lettuce cups as being all that.  I do remember that the filling was well stir-fried; everything was cooked just right to that light crispiness that indicates supreme mastery of the wok.  The flavors were good but nothing special, so my lasting impression is mostly meh.

90. Korean Tacos at Namu's Market Stand - This was delish, but the name is a bit misleading.  It's a piece of toasted Korean seaweed filled with a bit of short-grain rice, tomatoes, minced bulgogi (that's Korean barbecued beef for the uninitiated), diced tomatoes, and an artful squirt of what looks like Korean chili sauce mixed with mayo, then folded over in a taco-like fashion.  That's the only thing "taco" about it, that the seaweed is folded over.  But I'm not going to quibble with the name, it was still super tasty and was relatively cheap eats.

So that is 5 out of 100.  Writing all that made me hungry; now I have to decide what I'm going to try next.  I'm open to recommendations.

Happy eating!

Saying Buh-Bye to 2009

I know it's already well into January, and I probably should be ushering in the promise of 2010, but I haven't done a proper send-off to 2009 yet.  And it was a pretty big year for me, filled with both losses and opportunities.  So I wanted to thank 2009 for the following:

Thank you for teaching me how to deal with death and the unbearable heartbreak that comes with it.  I lost my beloved dog Lucy in May, right after her 13th birthday.  She was one of my best friends over the last 11 years, and thinking about her now still makes me want to cry.   But thinking about her also makes me smile, to remember how she loved to lick my toes while I watched TV, the way she followed me everywhere with her silly tongue hanging out of a perpetual smile, how she treated our kids with such patience and gentleness (that even I didn't have for them at times).  I learned that grief can burn away over time and leave an imprint of joy if we give ourselves the permission not to be consumed by our loss.

Thank you for kicking my ass just enough to get me out of my comfort zone.  I had been with Cisco for 12 years at the start of 2009.  I was managing a small but awesome team of really bright people.  I had a manager that I respected.  I had the cushiest telecommute schedule a person could ask for.  But I had nowhere to go, and not much to learn in my role.  As a result, I was bored and losing confidence.  Enter a cold call from a company I never heard of asking me to interview.  The economy was in the toilet; I had the easiest gig and a solid reputation where I was.  And for some reason, I interviewed anyway.  Call it Fate, call it Coincidence, call it the anonymous feedback on my review that said I could never get promoted as long as I "demonstrated a lack of patience for other people who are unable to do their jobs" (seriously!), but I had just enough clarity to recognize a great opportunity and took it.  Who knew I had it in me?

Thank you for showing me that the only sure way to fail is to give up on yourself.  I have never been any good at losing weight, and I've tried everything: weird diets (low-fat, low-carb, foods in a certain order, foods of a certain color, you name it), every kind of exercise program (cardio, weights, focus on my core, focus on my large muscle groups, low-intensity, high-intensity, etc.).  Eventually I just decided it's not worth the hassle.  After all, I have two kids; no one's going to think twice if I'm all doughy and schlubby.  But the truth is, I never tried that whole "eat less, exercise more" thing.  Not in earnest.   I mean, it's really hard to keep track of how much I eat and how many calories I'm burning.  And what if I do all that, and I'm still carrying baby #1 weight and baby #2 weight (and let's face it, the freshman 15 weight from waaaaaay back in the day)?  Then it means I really am an overweight schlub.  It's just easier not to test that theory.  Except that as long as I don't try, I am already exactly what I'm afraid I might be.  (Note to Alanis Morissette: this is ironic.)  And what do you know?  I lost 10 pounds in the last quarter of 2009, just by (really) trying.   I have 10 more pounds to go, and I know I'll be able to shed them - because I'm not going to give up.

Thank you for introducing me to new friends.  My writing buddies, my peops at Equinix - I've gotten to know amazing people over the last year.  People who are creative, courageous, generous, and examples of how to live life to the fullest.  It's so much easier to become the person you aspire to be when you're surrounded by those who inspire you.

So, 2009, you broke my heart, you kicked my ass, but you made me grow (and shrink at the same time).  Now we must part ways, but I'll always remember you as a year that forced me to exercise my own courage and made me better for it.   Good luck with your place in the history books.