Experience the warmth

The wild mustard is starting to poke out of the ground and fill the rows of vineyards in blankets of goldenrod flora. In just a few weeks time, the bare vines – some still scraggly with shoots, will become swathed in yellow.

I love this time of year. Most everything among the winter landscape is stark, and the brightly glowing mustard contrasts everything around, especially the cornflower blue sky with wispy streaks of clouds. Every January the wild mustard invades the fields, and every year, it never gets old. I keep thinking that one of these days, I’m going to get so used to my surroundings, that I will begin to take for granted. But each year, something amazes me; whether it’s the changing colors of fall, or cherry blossoms in spring, or wild mustard in winter, this place that I call home will never get old.

I’m trying to own a story this morning. I’ve got nothing but the picture-perfect image of wild mustard in the field. I’ve set the scene; have you staring out that imaginary window, regarding the mustard-emblazoned countryside. I don’t know what I’m going to tell you after that.

This is how it goes as a writer. Creativity ebbs and flows. I’m doing this tiptoeing balance of work, play, cooking, reading and writing. The only problem is I seem to have time for everything except reading and writing. All I asked for in 2012 was for time to slow down. It never did. 2013 is already twenty-seven days old this morning. And full disclosure, I’ve changed how many days old this paragraph is four times already; that’s how much I’ve been struggling creatively.

I have all these ideas and thoughts throughout the week. I jot them down, but rarely get time during the week to further develop them. So when I get to Saturday morning, the haze of the week hangs over me and I look at my notes and nothing clicks. That’s ultimately what I’m craving is that “click” moment, where I find myself in the zone. I had one of those days last weekend and let me tell you, it felt soooooo good!

I think the tools in my toolbox are getting rusty. I’ve been reading Steven King’s, “On Writing,” and he talks about putting the necessary “tools” in your “toolbox.” What good is a big chest of tools if they never get put to use? There is always something that needs some adjusting and fixing, but instead my tools sit in an enclosed box, asking to get taken out and twisted, pulled and pried. And they don’t want to wait around until Saturday morning to get used. I need to be writing every day, but I’m not. I guess one of my biggest struggles is a space to write in. I’m nomadically pulled between my house, Amber’s house, work, and The Flying Goat. Each place has its own sweet spot for creativity, but some of more mojo than others. Amber and I are a month-ish away from moving in together. I’m hoping we can find a two-bedroom place and use one room as my place to retreat to write. Shut the door and get to it. Every day.

I feel like I’m masquerading as writer. I have my notebook with scribbled notes and laptop with half-finished stories, but struggling with the actual act. It used to be that the only time I would write was in the morning; my head was clear, thoughts fresh; I could sit for hours, hammering out tales tall as cliffs, with a coffee nearby and no plans for the day but to write.

Then there’s the issue of keeping up with this blog. Time slips by and I forget about the food I make, getting lost like cut out recipes in my trapper keeper brain. Certain recipes are always evolving. I made this Asian dumpling soup a few months ago that was awesome. Amber deemed it one of the best soups I’ve ever made. I’m going to tell you what I remember doing, and what I’ve tried to recreate twice since then, including once last week, but have yet to get right. Sometimes I like that unwritten recipes evolve and taste different. But I am going to keep trying with this one until I get it right.

So let’s get back to our original image: put yourself in my passenger seat, it’s about four-thirty and the sun is beginning to set, layering the western sky with shades of pink and orange and blue, while the blue to the east is fading with delicate streaks of clouds. Glorious, wild mustard draped across the entire countryside. The windows cracked just so to let in the refreshing afternoon air. “The Warmth” by Incubus is playing, you know, “experience the warmth, before you go.” You’re lost in the vineyards full of mustard as they go zipping by. You have a perfectly quiet moment and a recipe starts to develop in your head. It’s a soup that is rich and spicy and completely warms the soul. Take one serrano, seeds removed and chopped, four green onions chopped, a tablespoon of fresh grated ginger, two cloves of thinly sliced garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes over medium heat until enticingly fragrant, but don’t let the ingredients burn, nobody wants burnt, bitter garlic in their soup. Add a splash of sesame oil and a tablespoon of soy sauce add a touch of umami; maybe a tablespoon of mirin or white wine for acid and sauté another couple of minutes. Then add 4-5 cups of chicken broth. Allow to come to a boil, and simmer, covered for 10-15 minutes, then add sliced mushrooms and simmer another 15-20 minutes. Add roughly chopped mustard greens, stems removed and cook 5-10 minutes, covered, until greens are wilted and tender. Lastly drop in a handful of store-bought dumplings. You could make your own, but that takes time that you don’t have tonight. Cover with lid and allow dumplings to get warmed through (3 minutes or so). Find a cozy place to curl up with a bowl of soup, remember the scenic drive, and experience the warmth.


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