the dish that makes me channel Carmela Soprano

sausagepepperspotatoesforblog

recipe first. that’s the rule.

SAUSAGE, POTATOES, & PEPPERS (I call this an Italian-inspired Sunday dinner meal, you got a problem with that?)

12 sausage links (I used True Story chicken, got them at Costco)

12-15 waxy red bliss or yukon gold potatoes, sliced

1/2 jar sliced peperoncini with bottle juice (I use Jeff’s Naturals)

1-2 evoo, or coconut oil, your choice

1/2 red onion, sliced thin

1 tsp dried oregano

all purpose seasoning, I love FlavorGod Everything)

dash paprika

salt & pepper to taste

TOSS AND ROAST EVERYTHING ON 400 DEGREES UNTIL POTATOES ARE TENDER, ABOUT 45 MINS.

I don’t have a life like Carmela Soprano did. I couldn’t ride out The Sopranos until the end. I listened to the conspiracy theorists about the series final episode for fun.

Aside from Tony singing Steely Dan‘s “Dirty Work” in his car with a monotonous “oh yeah…”, Carmela in the kitchen was my favorite part of the show.

If I were Italian, I told myself (and thanks to the DNA tests, turns out I am 13%, I KNEW IT!!!), I would have some kind of claim over the food that is my favorite, the cuisine I most love to cook, the history I get lost in, and the country/destination #1 on my list. Positano. Then Florence. Those museums and architecture, before I die.

For years on Sunday nights, I watched The Sopranos to see what Carmela was cooking.  I love how Uncle Jun knew someone else (Janis?) was trying to pass Carmela’s lasagna off as hers. Meadow cracked me up when she scoffed at her mom for blaming Tony’s vomiting on Indian food. I could go on and on.

Well, I’ll tell ya, thanks to the decade of the 90s, and I mean the explosion of food and cooking networks and shows, and shows like The Sopranos, I learned how to glean the basics from a recipe: proteins, starches, acids, lipids….and get creative on my own, departing from recipes.

I no longer use a recipe for lasagna (and because of Carmela, I use Italian sausage). I make my own bolognese, sometimes doing an all-day sauce like Livia (a strange bird, Livia).

And now that I know I’m Italian, do I ever pull a Rita Moreno and say “Please! I’m Italian!” like in that other movie (The Four Seasons, my husband HATES it, I love it). Yes, I do. Can I do my own scratch sauce, a quick version, a healthy version, an all-day Sunday gravy version? Can I cook it for 2, and up to 75? You bet your a** I can.

Because I’m Italian. Even if it’s just a drop, come on, that drop. It’s Italian.

And I’m a sponge when it comes to food tips, finding foodies, pulling knowledge from even the most old-school, “not-sharing-my-secrets” cook.

If you remember HBO years ago like me, there was carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City at 8pm, saying she skipped meals to buy Vogue because she felt it fed her more.  Then you had The Sopranos at 9pm, when Tony was getting a steak thrown at him by a jilted lover.

I looked forward to 9pm more.

My life isn’t like Carmela Sopranos was. And yeah I’m aware it wasn’t real life.

But when I get to Positano, and I’m eating shrimp by the seaside with my Greek guy just like Marisa Tomei in Only You, I will say “You like shrimp? I like shrimp!” and then tell me that a movie isn’t real life. Go ahead.  Tell me.

I’ll find you in a diner while you’re eating onion rings.

#boom

 

Blizzard in a Tervis (Rule Break Shake)

smoothie

Recipe first, backstory later. Tick tock, friends 😉

RULE BREAK SHAKE (the shake that is Whole30 compliant other than the fact that it’s a shake)

10 oz. unsweetened coconut or almond milk

1/2 banana

2 tbsp. collagen protein

1 tbsp. cacao nibs

1 tbsp. chia seeds

1 tbsp. almond butter

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. raw cacao powder

1-2 dates ( I use one)

optional: fresh fruit, like melon or berries, about a palmful (hineydew melon or strawberries work great)

Put it all in a blender and whirl-ify. Liquify. Puree. Whatever.

I call this “Blender in a Tervis” because with its little pieces of cacao nibs, creamy cinnamony color, with pieces of date that are the same color of the inside of a Butterfinger, it reminds me of a Dairy Queen dessert, but healthier.

Also because I’m listening to RHCP and I made the correlation…my pseudo-“Blizzard” in the Tervis I personalized with fandom quotes and pictures of my pittie.

This recipe was born on one of those (post-Whole30) mornings where I had no time to make myself an omelette with leftover veggies and sliced avocado. God bless those mornings when they happen, when I can balance a skillet in one hand and sign a permission slip with the other, but that sure isn’t everyday.

Like most of my creations, the ingredients are what I had on hand.

No shakes, that’s the Whole30 rule as I remember it, because it can bring the sugar dragon out of dormancy. I stick to Whole30 guidelines, and when I go off, I’m re-introducing or splurging and I have carefully thought out and planned both.

Knowing the sugar dragon never really held sway over me, I kept this shake in my breakfast rotation and watched myself for pangs of sugar-needing. The experiment reveals, clothes not tighter.  Haven’t jonesed for a Java Chip frapp or pint of Heath Bar Crunch.

But that’s just me. Proceed with self-awareness.

But in case anyone needed a satiating, protein and nutrient packed breakfast, STAT, here it is.

It fills many needs that way.

It also satisfies that rule-breaking need, that urge that hits you out of nowhere, after extended periods of dietary obedience.

I won’t judge 🙂

#storminateacup

That Weight Loss Cabbage Soup from the 80’s

IMG_6315

Recipe first, backstory last. Time is valuable, especially when you’re hungry.

CABBAGE SOUP RECIPE

  • 1-2 tbsp EV olive, coconut or avocado oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 2-4 carrots, diced
  • High quality beef bone broth, enough to fill up stock pot
  • 1 large (28.5 oz) can San Marzano tomatoes, diced or stewed, your preference
  • Chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2-1 whole green cabbage, chopped rough is fine
  • 2-4 stalks kale, chopped (stems removed)
  • 2 cups frozen green beans (fresh is fine, but the frozen ones you don’t have to chop into smaller pieces)
  • 1-2 tsp organic better than bouillon beef base*
  • 1-2 tsp smoked Hungarian paprika
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1/8 tsp ground turmeric
  • Juice of one (Meyer preferred) lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Adobo seasoning to taste, optional

Instructions:

Sautee garlic, onions, carrots and celery in oil until soft.

Add broth and tomatoes, bring to a boil.

Add cabbage, kale, and green beans. Return to boil.

Now.  Taste the broth (caution, it’ll be hot!).  Does it need a kick of flavor, meaty depth? Add the bouillon or glace de veau, how much is your call.

Add paprika and cayenne.

When the cabbage and kale are soft, soup is done. Turn off the heat.

Add the turmeric, salt and pepper last. I’ve read turmeric should be added last, I’ve read it should be heat activated for best health benefits. I add turmeric last because I go for the right color, which I can’t discern until the soup has taken on it’s splendid color at the end.

Squeeze in lemon juice.

  • Bouillon vs. glace de veau: I haven’t yet found the bouillon that is 100% clean or Whole30, which is to say, not loaded with sodium, MSG or sugar.  Even the organic stuff.  I’m lucky enough to have a butcher near me that sells glace de veau (veal stock), that’s made with just veal bones and herbs. But if it’s not a big deal to you, it isn’t to me. My family can’t taste the difference between BTB and glace de veau.

Now, the evolution of this recipe…

I love to eat, I always have, this includes when I was a teenager in the 80’s. I did not hit the genetic jackpot to counterbalance my (very) healthy appetite. From the 1980’s until well into the next century, I would go back and forth between Weight Watchers, NutriSystem, natural supplements, carb-deprivation, the paleo diet, liquid diets, detoxes and cleanses to lose weight.

The weight came off and went back on, and kidney stones developed while I was on those protein-heavy diets. Kidney stones suck.

I gave birth to three kids in six years. So my default ancestral code decided I needed to breastfeed and entire county during the next inevitable potato famine, and store fat for a long, Siberian winter. Which was a problem, because I reside in the drought-stricken western United States where there is no winter, and delicious fish tacos and beer are always available.

When Instagram was introduced to me by my kids as they became social media aware, I started following lots of food pages. I’m a foodie. I followed all the pages.

Some people were doing this thing called Whole30. I noticed funny hashtags like #butdidyoudie? That intrigued me. I wondered if I could handle it. 30 days, no cheat days? I thought, no way. That thought bugged me about me. I researched Whole30 a bit.

Whole30 didn’t present itself to me as a diet, it seemed like a philosophy. And I was so over the things that felt liked fads, band-aids, or like I’d paid too much for a used car.

I had just finished a cleanse, followed by a weekend splurge during an out of town soccer tournament. This cycle was nothing new to me. On Weight Watchers, I was so programmed to use my extra points over the weekend that I would wake up Friday morning, starved and conditioned to devour a California Burrito faster than my son or any of his friends. (If you don’t know what a California Burrito is, it’ll be covered in another post, with a recipe. I got you).

Who the hell needs that cycle? What J. Law calls that “competitive mental illness” kicked in with me…me vs. me is the only competition I will engage in, so I bought Whole30 off Amazon.

I jumped right in without reading “It Starts With Food”, the pre-requisite to Whole30. But aside from a Day 1 reboot because of sugarless gum, I managed. The first 12 days almost killed me. I was pure evil. I slept A LOT, I zombie walked from one room to another in a sugar-withdrawal pity party. And I didn’t think I even consumed that much sugar! Sugar wasn’t ever my thing.

Carbs are my thing.

HELLO.

Potatoes, roasted whole cauliflower, cauliflower rice, roasted broccoli, braised cabbage in tomato sauce.

And when you want something bad enough, like me with food that comforts me, you find a way to get it. That is not to say I was completely comforted during the Whole30. By the time I was out of the first-two-weeks fog, I realized what I had taken on, why it needed to be done, and that I really couldn’t ever go back to eating the way I did.

But I didn’t want to. See, I love control.  If I could, I would prepare for every situational variable that my brain manages to create. That ain’t ever gonna happen. So at the very least, I can control what goes in my body. My kid’s bodies. It beats the hell out of sending nastygrams to Weight Watchers, and it felt good to stick it to Big Ag and the liars that try to make me think sh*tloads of additives in my food aren’t hurting me.

Adapting my favorite foods to be Whole30 compliant gave me such creative bliss, and I got really good at it. No one in the house realized they were pretty much doing Whole30 with me. I did adapt the menu for them based on their activity needs.

While I was on that last cleanse just before I started round 1 of Whole30, soups were recommended and I ate a lot of them. I was always on the lookout for new recipes. I remembered the cabbage soup from the 80’s. The self-inflicted three days of torture diet on which you eat peanut butter toast, hard-boiled eggs, black coffee, and cabbage soup for dinner.

During that moment of nostalgic inspiration, I had all of the ingredients you see in the recipe. I made a huge batch, admittedly, for myself. I didn’t think anyone else would like it. I underestimated how the palates of my family had changed….they scarfed it up.

My family and I ate the cabbage soup for about three days straight, for snack, for lunch, as a side for dinner. And my waist whittled noticeably. I only lost 7 pounds on the Whole30, so when the clothes felt looser after I’d been eating the soup, damn, I felt empowered.

These days, I add collagen protein to the soup, and I make my own bone broth (there are so many posts on this, NomNomPaleo’s is what I follow) with roasted grass-fed beef bones from my butcher. I never throw away the tops/bottoms of carrots, celery, or onions, it all goes in the InstaPot for broth.

Maybe sometimes I eat too many potatoes for dinner, maybe I don’t drink eight glasses of water some days, maybe I give myself a cheat meal every three weeks or so. If and when these things happen, a big batch of the cabbage soup is the remedy.

I looked the cabbage soup recipe up on Pinterest, out of curiosity. I don’t recall many references to the three-day cabbage soup diet that emerged in the 80’s.

Doesn’t matter. I’m kind of a sucker for nostalgia. Seriously. I’m listening to the SugarHill Gang as I write this. This soup and I, we got history, man. At age 13, I suffered three days of giving up the my favorite middle school cafeteria beef burritos and those peanut butter brownies with the powdered sugar glaze to lose the ten pounds that stupid diet promised me.

Ha. How many years did I waste chasing some number on a scale. I don’t even weigh myself these days. And I’m 45 years old.  This would be hashtagged as #NSV, I suppose.

Recreating something revs me up. When my kid quotes a John Hughes movie, or I catch my teenager listening to AeroSmith, when Supernatural uses our song by The Doors, that s**t just makes my day. Food is no different, I’ve adapted so many of my favorite recipes to be Whole30 compliant, or just clean, that I want to share them. There’s a better way to eat that. I’ll show ya.

Food and nostalgia. I can do this all day.

 

Glenn Frey, the Ultimate Gentleman of Songwriting

You never thought you’d be alone, this far down the line.

Victim of love, it’s such an easy part, and you know how to play it so well.

She’s so far gone, she feels just like a fool.

You just want someone to talk to, they just want to get their hands on you.

All the broken dreams, all the disappointments…

In the movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis defends a local “Baseball Annie” named Millie who had history with more than a few ball players. Her character was a girl who some men would call four letter words, or worse, but Crash threatened anyone who “said anything bad about Millie” to the man she was about to marry.

Even though, based on his infamous speech earlier in the movie, I had decided I would marry a man like Crash Davis, and though I was around thirteen years old, I spotted a difference between self-assured gentlemen like Crash Davis and a classless, compassion-lacking, ignorant, machismo type of guy.

About this time — early 80s —  I’m thirteen and I have HBO and a walkman so life was good, and Glenn Frey begins getting lots of airplay. He wrote a brilliant song for Miami Vice, You Belong to the City, which beat had such a pull that I recorded it from a radio station onto a high-bias tape. He wrote a catchy tune for Beverly Hills Cop. And the lyrics of Smuggler’s Blues, popular on MTV, put the “war on drugs” in great perspective for a kid not particularly well-versed in international affairs, as well as a sexy spin into the minds of common criminals. (I don’t think the pretty blonde in the Smuggler’s Blues video hurt the song’s popularity, either).

I grew up with The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. But for now, we’re discussing The Eagles. Pre-high school I would catch Eagles lyrics here and there “I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight, with a billion stars all around…“, and Desperado was turned up max volume on the living room speakers or my mom’s cheap car stereo whenever it came on.  I didn’t really understand Desperado then, but it was melodic, and I liked it.

Fast forward a few years to when I’ve become that city girl, and I had indeed figured out to to open doors with just a smile. And maybe I’d suffered a broken heart. Or two. And unfortunately, by that time, the singles bar references in Eagles songs made perfect sense to me.

Through the new wave, romantic, ska, hair metal, grunge eras, although I enjoyed music from all of these genres, I stuck to The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac to make sense out of everything I saw, experienced, felt, and wished for.

And I don’t like to think of my youth without Glenn Frey and Don Henley’s contribution to the way I saw myself.

That’s right. Out of all the self-help books of the 80s and friends I had come and go, The Eagles gave me the mirror with the best reflection (Stevie too, but that’s another post).

Because there are men who will sniff out regret or insecurity, sharpen it like a spear, take aim and use it against the girl who is in a transitional phase. It’s predatory, sometimes misogynistic, and always wrong.

There are men who look at certain women (the interesting kind that The Eagles wrote about, yeah, “interesting” is a good word to use here) and see sadness instead of desperation, heartbreak instead of easy prey, hope instead of a lost cause.

The Crash Davis’ of songwriting. The way a man thinks about women and girls — good girls, bad girls, young ones, old ones — will reflect in just about everything that man says and does.

So thank the Music Gods for songwriters like Glenn Frey (plus Don Henley, together, such a team). The ultimate gentlemen of songwriting.

The Music Gods gave Glenn Frey the gift of observation and instilled in him the kind of reverence that translated into an insightful blend of empathy and enticement in some of the best songs ever written. Frey wrote songs that made women who were listening feel alright about the oftentimes seedy, confusing landscape of love, loss, and regret, but still feel optimism and yes, even lend to a healthy self-assessment. If that sounds like a stretch, stop for a second and listen to Victim of Love or Lyin’ Eyes.

I see a broken heart, you’ve got your stories to tell.

She drives on through the night, anticipating, ’cause he makes her feel the way she used to feel.

Infidelity, drugs, bad decision making at the club, or up and down the highway, whatever…okay, you can invoke a righteous position about these behaviors all you want, but they are still things people do. Always will do. For whatever reasons. And it’s all compelling material for songwriters, artists who see what other people don’t and have to express it through their medium. The music of The Eagles has teeth and heart. Frey was cerebral and pointed, but forgiving. Maybe you know exactly what he, and The Eagles, were talking about. Maybe their music was sweet relief and not bitter condemnation. Who the hell turns on the radio to hear that.

Not me. But that’s just me.

And it may be a generalization, it’s my personal opinion, that if you’re a woman who listened to The Eagles, Glenn Frey’s lyrics reached inside your head, identified with this thing or that time, and let you off the hook from any rotten self-judgement. Play a love-centric Eagles song with a female subject. Never did the idea of self-destruction seem so ludicrous as coming of age felt natural and free. As a similar female to the one written about, you knew that you weren’t the only one who felt that way, and maybe things didn’t go exactly as you’d planned, but Glenn Frey told you (actually, Don Henley sang to you) that you could get on with your search and contrary to your worst fears, it wasn’t Wasted Time. Not at all.

In The One You Love, with that hypnotic saxophone, Glenn Frey offered surrender, someone you can talk to, instead of judgement, in a love triangle. Lesser men or writers take shots at the person doing the hurting. I’ve listened to that song thirty times this weekend (I had just added that song to my 80s Spotify playlist last week) and I hear someone ready to reluctantly walk away rather than stick around to throw stones. It’s almost like a beautiful prequel to Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

And the common denominator of all those lyrics at the top of this post and throughout, is the man who, just by the way he wrote, nudged some (I’m guessing, but me, for sure) women towards better men. No need to inflict more punishment on yourself by choosing a bad seed, the 70s and 80s were punishment enough.

To me, Glenn Frey was the guy who watched the girl through some craziness, saw beyond Those Shoes, and waited until the time was right for them both, but no rush. He knew all along. And nothing she ever did is something he can’t get over.

You’re still the same old girl you used to be.

And I will miss his contributions, but we get to keep so many, and whatever they mean to us.

Going to get up and pour myself a strong one in honor of the founding member of The Eagles.

Maybe I’m that girl, and if I were, from the bottom of my heart with the shiny little chains around it…

Dear Glenn Frey,

You wrote me through.

I’m back, for reasons I don’t quite understand.

Disclaimer: I have mixed feelings about the blogosphere, leaning towards really not liking it.

What is to like about it?

It’s saturated. It’s a cacophony of egos, bullies, unqualified statements, non-experts, the righteously indignant, people explaining why they’re right, and posts with too many exclamation points and product endorsements before I get to the list of ingredients for a recipe I want to try. I’m not technically gifted so my blog will never be beautiful. There are things that distract from the mission of useful words like blog of the day awards. I won’t go to a blogging conference because seeing people fighting over swag bags would be enough to send me into hibernation again.

But, what is there to like about it, really….like about it?

The blogosphere connects people. The blogosphere gets people to take risks and put themselves out there, and there is good content out there that should be discovered. I’m a firm believer that good will needs as much generating as quickly as possible, and the blogosphere enables that. And after some impatient scrolling, I have found some incredible recipes.

Someone I respect recently told me to start blogging again, and my response was, who am I? I’m not an expert on anything. I only have an undergraduate degree. I have no platform. I’ve got one finished book I need to submit, a couple of books I’ve started, and a list of ones I want to write still. But what the hell makes me so special that I think I should get a share of web traffic, clicks, reads, shares, views?

I forgot that I am not after those things, so that’s easy. I think the cardinal sin I’ve been afraid of committing, and what has kept me from blogging for years, is seeming self-important.

But I don’t want to suppress any more the compulsion to sit and organize my thoughts through a keyboard when I am moved, inspired, or otherwise need to let the beast clawing it’s way out of my brain the f*** out and make sense of it so I know how I feel and most importantly, move on to the next thing. Idea. Recipe. Act of good will. Whatever.

Because, I write, It’s what I do, the only thing, in fact (besides having some luck in the kitchen) that I have ever been good at. My desire to introduce some stories and compelling characters to the world has to be bigger than my fear of sucking. If not, that’s my ego at work, too, just in a different way.

(Not to mention the fact that if I back off my ambitions out of doubt, my kids would be right to call me a hypocrite).

I don’t know where my work will end up, but I am going to write it anyway. I’ve read enough submissions, heard enough indie bands, seen enough underdog teams succeed, and consumed enough small batch craft beer to know, good material can come from anywhere, it doesn’t even have to start off as good.

But it has to start somewhere.

So here goes. I’m back, for reasons that, after writing this, I think I understand a little more clearly now.

…Sam

 

 

 

 

my perfect little (imaginary) writing retreat

The woodsy scent of the pines mixes with the salty ocean air, and it is quite possibly one of the cleanest, purest, most intoxicating scent on Earth. A scent that draws you in, like the burning of the sugar cane fields in Hawai’i, a field of lavender, fresh-picked mint, or tangy barbecue in the southwest.

But the meeting of ocean to a forest, those two things put side by side are a divine gift that only those who appreciate it deserve to behold. Only those who see the ancient history and epochs past, know what a spectacle it is. If you can’t see where the water level used to be, or catch the tail of a sea monster out of your peripheral vision, you should move on down the highway and try to find techno music on a jukebox. It’s over your head.

The tall trees on the ocean cliff give depth and character to the landscape more than a clearing overlooking the Pacific would. And tucked behind some of the shorter trees, and a path of flat stones with moss tickling the edges, is my writing retreat, my solitary cabin.

Enough space exists beyond my porch to see the waves crashing on the craggy rocks. All I see when I look straight out over the cliff is white water splashing up like a standing ovation. All I hear is water crashing then hissing as it pulls back out to the break. Then another waves crashes. And another. It’s rhythmic, predictable, nature’s music to set my internal clock by.

Soon the sun rays (because you can’t see the sun behind the clouds) fade into a bluish-gray sunset and the moon, that looks like a pearl, takes over the sky like the main event. And the water dances and sparkles beneath it, the surf that crashes becomes opalescent. Some sea god spread his fingers under the tide and splayed electricity into the water causing so much brightness, and it makes me hope the night never ends.

The smoke from my cabin’s chimney is so welcoming now, pulling me back into the cabin though I want to stay outside watching shapes dart in between the tall, dark trees. I want to watch the water shimmer. But the cold reminds me where I am, that I am better off inside, and the owl in the distance is the final answer. Owls scare me with their foretelling, so I crunch on pinecone shards beneath my boots as I approach the steps to the cabin.  The hammock is swinging with the ghosts who love the night. I should bring them out some shots of agave tequila.

Inside the rustic cabin, the Navajo rug — a nod to my deceased mother — hangs above the bright screen of my Macbook, and I know, who the hell am I kidding…I want a fairy tale setting somedays, a roughing it feel on other days, but my modern conveniences comfort me as much as the traces of generations come before me in this sturdy, wood-paneled house. The coffee maker, microwave, computer and satellite dish pacify the modern girl in me. The quilts, stained glass window in the bedroom, and brick chimney take me to a place in time I require to connect with the people in my head who try to come out through written words.

I light some candles, including the taper tucked into the iron sconce on the wall. Can’t fall asleep with that lit. Need caffeine. I grab the coffee creamer out of the mini-fridge. It’s past 5 o’clock, so I add liquer to my oversized ceramic mug of java. Write drunk, edit sober, I saw somewhere once.

During the day I would put on a playlist — Stevie Nicks, movie soundtracks,  something on Spotify with the pre-text “Celtic” — but at night, why would I override the magic that happens outside? I’m a writer and I am supposed to close my eyes and hear sprites bouncing off leaves as the bells on their slippers jingle. I am supposed to hear a seductive cello as a vampire approaches. I am supposed to hear the screams of someone caught in the surf below. I am supposed to let the soundtrack of nature infuse stories into my mind.

Outside, a crushing of leaves underfoot should scare me, but it’s just one crush. A few more, I’ll bring my shotgun from under the bed next to my writing table. No human, no matter how twisted, desperate, or evil, lurking outside my window who was attracted to the dim light of my cabin from a mile away, scares me as much as that damn owl. That owl is commiserating with the ghosts in my hammock, I’m sure of it. I’ll get your damn tequila in a sec.

I close my eyes, breathe in the crisp air. There’s a whirl of dirt outside the right corner my porch. There are wings of a bird moving restlessly on a branch. The log in the fireplace cracks and spits out sparks. And the ocean in the background and forefront simultaneously, pounding the rocks. I’m safe, so safe.

I can write something scarier than anything that wants to invade my perfect little writing retreat. And I can imagine twenty-five thousand ways to defeat a dragon that tries to make me think it’s real. My created heroes are undefeated, clever, and soulful. They’ll save me.

As I bring them to life. In my woodsy cabin on an ocean cliff.