Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by admin on Thursday Nov 24, 2011 Under Uncategorized


Janes Thanksgiving Comparison


. . . Here’s a great recipe for a Thanksgiving hors d’oeuvres from two wonderful southern cooks. These Cheese Straws taste just like my mother’s.

Recipe: Cheese Straws

1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 pound extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (2 1/2 cups)
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons water

Sift the flour, mustard, salt and cayenne into a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the cheese and butter on low speed until well blended. Gradually beat in the flour until completely incorporated. Add the water and beat for 1 minute.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 5 times. On a large sheet of wax paper, roll the dough into a 12-by-9-inch rectangle. Slide the dough onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate until chilled, about 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425°. Cut the dough in half crosswise, then cut it into 6-by-1/4-inch strips. Transfer the strips to 2 cookie sheets. Bake 1 sheet at a time for about 14 minutes, or until the cheese straws are golden brown and crisp. Let cool slightly, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
MAKE AHEAD The Cheese Straws can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

I’m making mine this afternoon. They’re perfect with my traditional Thanksgiving cocktail — Maker’s Mark Old-Fashioneds.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Ranch!

Tags : | Comments Off on Happy Thanksgiving!

What Poetry is For

Posted by admin on Thursday Nov 17, 2011 Under Uncategorized

I’ve just gotten back from a trip to Mexico City for a week, and in my absence, the autumn clouds have moved in. Seems like just yesterday I was standing in big pools of sunlight, hardly remembering winter at all. Now, the light is grey, and every now and then, the clouds settle close to the hill, covering my window.

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment. I thought that we’d have a big freeze while I was gone and that would be the end of the vegetables from the garden. But no. Yesterday, Dave came it with a grocery bag full of eggplants, which I had to cook and freeze instead of unpacking my suitcase.

Okay, I could have thrown them out, but what’s the point of a garden then?

To add to my learning curve up here, Big Mac has a cyst on his face—dryland distemper— it’s called. My neighbor came over to diagnose it, said she had a horse that had it last month, that it’s common in these parts this time of year, and that no large animal vet will come up here to take care of cattle. And adios.

So along with learning that you can tell a heifer newborn calf from a bull calf by the direction it pees (down on the ground if it’s male and straight out the back if it’s female . . .in case you wanted to know), I’m now consulting a book called Raising Beef Cattle to figure out what to do here.

Basically, I’m supposed to lance the cyst, drain it, and swab the wound out with iodine. After that, I give Big Mac an antibiotic injection with a cattle syringe.


Do you know what Big Mac weighs? Over a thousand pounds! Not counting the horns, friends. You think he’ll cooperate?

Poor Big Mac.

So there isn’t much I can do but follow him around in the clouds and make sure he is still eating, that he hasn’t gone down.

So far so good. I’m told this will resolve on its own and that it won’t be pretty. I can take “not pretty”, but if he gets really, really sick, I don’t know what I’ll do.

Anyway, last night after checking on Big Mac, after putting the last of the eggplant slices in the freezer, I poured a glass of wine, flopped on the sofa and picked up the New Yorker I’d tossed there with the rest of the mail.

In it I found a beautiful poem by Jennifer Barber that carried me off to another place in my consciousness, made me think about language and life at their most basic, and this was both calming and transcendent and just what I needed.

Here it is.


A man. A woman, A road.

Nouns like mountain and gate,
water and famine,
wind and wilderness
arrange themselves in two
columns on the page.

The verbs are
remember and guard;
the verbs are
give birth to and glean.

The eye picks its way
through letters like
torches and doors, like scythes.

The harvest, the dust.
The day calls, the night sings
from the threshing floor.

A woman, a man:
I was, you were, we were.

Tags : | Comments Off on What Poetry is For

Autumn on the Ranch

Posted by admin on Thursday Nov 10, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Here in the Sierras, the heat of the summer is gone, and the autumn light has that Indian Summer tinge to it, clear and lovely. But still, the days are getting shorter and the work lists longer.

Dave and I have all the produce in the garden to finish harvesting and fallen leaves to rake. Plus, I have to add a a few more edited chapters of Palace of the Blue Butterfly to my blog.

In anticipation of winter meals, I just ordered The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook— full of recipes from The Fabulous Beekman Boys farm. This broccoli soup looks like the perfect thing for a cool, fall evening after the chores are finished. Maybe we’ll just bring the bowls into the living area and sit around the fire.

Autumn on the ranch has arrived!

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons long-grain white rice
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 head broccoli (1 pound), end trimmed
2 cups milk
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice, add the broth, and simmer until the rice is tender, 12 to 15 minutes.

Separate the broccoli florets from the stalk. Peel the stalk and thinly slice. Coarsely chop the florets.

Add the milk to the onion and rice mixture along with the sliced broccoli stalk and cook 4 minutes. Add the florets and cook until still bright green but tender, about 4 minutes longer. Remove the pan from the heat.

If you have an immersion blender, use it to puree the soup right in the pot until smooth. If not, working in batches, transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Return to the pot and reheat.

Remove the pan from the heat, add the cheese, salt, and cayenne, and stir until the cheese has melted.

Serves 4

A note from the Fabulous Beekman Boys from whence this recipe came:

“We like to use as many parts of the vegetable as possible, and sometimes we find the true essense in the parts of the plant that are less often used. Both the broccoli stalk and the florets are used in this creamy soup rich with cheese. The stalks are very sweet; all they need is a little peeling to make them edible. A small amount of cayenne gives the soup a little heat. If you like, garnish with homemade croutons.”

Tags : , , | Comments Off on Autumn on the Ranch

Kiana Davenport or Self Publisher Beware of The Big Six

Posted by admin on Thursday Nov 3, 2011 Under Uncategorized

This image, folks, sort of sums up what self-publishing writers are up against.

All writers, really.

Or, at least, this is what dealing with the BIG SIX feels like.

Like climbers, writers train all their adult lives for one shot. Anything could happen. The weather could turn bad, your equipment could malfunction, and because of the tiniest error, (or simply because your editor moved to another house) you could fall. Very. Very. Far.

If you’re not a writer, you probably don’t know who the BIG SIX are. Ah, but as readers, you should. Everything on your bookshelves, I’m willing to bet, is published by one of these six media conglomerates. See the books on the table of a B&N? All from Harper Collins.

Sometime in the 90s, a massive consolidation in the publishing industry took place. After the dust from all the mergers settled, writers found themselves staring at the rock face of a publishing El Capitan with very few ways to climb.

First, there’s Hachette, which acquired Time Warner and is part of the French Media Conglomerate Lagardere. Little Brown and Grand Central are two of their imprints.

Moving right long, you’ve got Harper Collins which is part of American News Corp owned by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch’s empire has about fifty imprints. It might be possible to go for weeks getting all your information and entertainment from this one source.

MacMillan Publishers, owned by the German Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, publishes commerical fiction (St. Martin’s Press) Sci-Fi (Tor) and very literary fiction (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

The largest trade publisher in the whole, wide world is Random House, and it is owned by the German conglomerate Bertelsmann. It is is divided into several publishing groups— Random House, Knopf Doubleday, and Crown.

Then you’ve got Simon & Schuster, which is owned by the CBS Corporation. It has many imprints, including Scribner.

Last, but not least, there’s Penguin Group, owned by the British conglomerate Pearson PLC. Penguin is the second largest trade publisher in the world.

And it is now to Penguin I wish to turn.

Apparently, there’s something even more frightening than the threat of a hostile takeover by these guys on the right, the ones whose job it is to make boatloads of money on what you read. It’s . . .

Guess who?


Here’s a story that really put the fear of God in me for many reasons. It involves one writer of women’s fiction — Kiana Davenport — Penguin Publishers, and Amazon, and it had me wondering if I might need to lawyer up.

Kiana Davenport is what is known as a midlist writer. For those of you who don’t know what that means, I’m referring to to catalogues publishing houses send to bookstores each year. Front of the list books might include Michael Crichton, James Patterson, Tom Clancy, writers like that. Everyone else follows. Midlist is good, and used to be where ALL the literary fiction could be found, used to be the place for REAL writers before money became the end-all and be-all, back when houses wanted prestige.

But time marches on.

Here’s a bit of an article by David Streitfield of the New York Times, which gives you an idea of the tectonic plate-shifting that’s going on in publishing:

Publishers caught a glimpse of a future they fear has no role for them late last month when Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire, a tablet for books and other media sold by Amazon. Jeffrey P. Bezos, the company’s chief executive, referred several times to Kindle as “an end-to-end service,” conjuring up a world in which Amazon develops, promotes and delivers the product.

For a sense of how rattled publishers are by Amazon’s foray into their business, consider the case of Kiana Davenport, a Hawaiian writer whose career abruptly derailed last month.

In 2010 Ms. Davenport signed with Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin, for “The Chinese Soldier’s Daughter,” a Civil War love story. She received a $20,000 advance for the book, which was supposed to come out next summer.

If writers have one message drilled into them these days, it is this: hustle yourself. So Ms. Davenport took off the shelf several award-winning short stories she had written 20 years ago and packaged them in an e-book, “Cannibal Nights,” available on Amazon.

When Penguin found out, it went “ballistic,” Ms. Davenport wrote on her blog, accusing her of breaking her contractual promise to avoid competing with it. Penguin canceled her novel and has said it will pursue legal action if she does not return the advance.

In ten days. She’s got to come up with twenty — that’s two-oh — grand in ten days. Until then, she has no rights to the novel it took her five years to write.

(BTW: Lawyers for the National Writer’s Guild have taken up Ms. Davenport’s case, and state Ms. Davenport did not in any way violate her contract.)

Nonetheless, here’s where things stand now according to Ms. Davenport’s blog:

” . . . the publisher demanded that I immediately and totally delete CANNIBAL NIGHTS from Amazon, iNook, iPad, and all other e-platforms. Plus, that I delete all Google hits mentioning me and CANNIBAL NIGHTS. Currently, that’s about 600,000 hits. (How does one even do that?) Plus that I guarantee in writing I would not self-publish another ebook of any of my backlog of works until my novel with them was published in hardback and paperback. In other words they were demanding that I agree to be muzzled for the next two years, to sit silent and impotent as a writer . . . ”

Let’s, for a moment, do the math. The novel took five years to write. Ms. Davenport signed a contract with Penguin in 2010 and was expected, as we all are, to wait two years before it would be published, before it would earn back the advance and perhaps bring in more revenue. And now, she is being required to wait another two years before she can make money on any other novel or story in any other way.

Nine years of this woman’s life? For $20,000? The rough equivalent of $2,200 a year? So the boys you see above can live large? So you get to pay $24.00 for a hardback book?

Now enter Amazon. No wonder publishers are worried. A writer can put a book on Amazon for a buck, a book that’s available to every English language reader in the world . . .

Like I said before . . . Do. The. Math. Why wouldn’t they?

Anyway, I went right to Amazon.com and for $2.99 ordered Cannibal Nights. It’s wonderful.

Just think. If a few thousand of us do this, she’ll pay back her advance in no time, and we’ll get to read her civil war novel sooner and cheaper.

If you’ve got an ipad or Kindle and you want to right a wrong, why don’t you join me?

Tags : , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Kiana Davenport or Self Publisher Beware of The Big Six
Mexico Trilogy Graphic Link