Book tour, book clubs, yesss! (I can't wait.)

You guys are tremendous. This blog goes dark for months while I hole up and write a book, and when I do finally pop my head up and say, “Hey, I’m done! Wanna see?” in fact you do. Thank you for all your pre-orders over the last month – so many that someone at my publisher apparently noticed and wanted to know what had happened. You happened. You! Thank you for standing by me, friends. I can’t tell you how much that means to me. This book is for you. I hope you know that.

I also hope that I will get to meet you, at least some of you, very soon. On June 24, the day after Stir comes out, my book tour begins. I know how lucky I am to get to say that in 2015, when books, and bookstores, and publishing, and complete sentences, and probably even multisyllabic words, according to some Henny Pennies, are allegedly doomed. (Shhhh, it’s not true!) If you can make it out to an event, I’d be thrilled, and incredibly grateful. It will be so nice to meet you, to actually see each other’s lips move as we talk!

My publisher is still nailing down the details of a couple events, but I’ll tell you what we’ve got so far so that you can mark your calendars. Keep an eye on the events page I've created for updates. All events are free and open to the public, but PLEASE R.S.V.P. if you plan on attending the evening at BookCourt in Brooklyn or Harvard Book Store in Cambridge. These two evenings are launch parties, and I want to be sure we’ll have enough food and wine on hand.

Brooklyn, NY 
June 24, 7:00PM
163 Court Street
with Wall Street Journal book review editor, Bari Weiss
Dessert and wine will be served; please R.S.V.P. here.

Hartford, CT
June 29, 7:00PM
Beth El Temple
An evening of healing in honor of Rabbi Ilana Garber
Please R.S.V.P. here

Cambridge, MA
June 30, 7:00PM
Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave.
Dessert and wine will be served; please R.S.V.P. here.

Washington, DC
July 1, 6:30PM
1517 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Please R.S.V.P here.

Columbus, OH 
July 9, 6:00PM
Barnes & Noble 
Easton Town Centre
4005 Townsfair Way

Cleveland, OH 
July 12, 2:00PM
Barnes & Noble
Eton Chagrin Boulevard
28801 Chagrin Blvd

San Francisco, CA
July 16, 6:40PM
Omnivore Books
3885a Cesar Chavez Street

Seattle, WA
July 21, 6:30PM
Book Larder (in conversation with Molly Wizenberg)
4252 Fremont Ave. N.
Please R.S.V.P. here.

Seattle and San Francisco folks, stay tuned for something in your neck of the woods, too.

UPDATE: Seattle and Washington D.C. events have just been set! See above.
UPDATE 6/15: San Francisco event has been set! See above. 
UPDATE 6/26: Hartford event scheduled! See above.

I can’t wait to meet you. (PLEASE COME.)

And if we can’t meet in person, how about the next best thing? Book club! I want to Skype into yours. If you’d like to read Stir with your book club and invite my head floating on a computer screen into your home, I’d be honored. I’m not sure how many of these I’ll be able to do. I hope lots. I figure we can get started and see how things go. To sign up, please send an e-mail to sweetamandine[at] gmail [dot] com with the subject line STIR BOOK CLUB, and include a date or two that might work for you. I’ll get back to you just as soon as I can.

I think that’s all for now. I'm excited, and plenty nervous. Typing this out made me feel ever so slightly less nuts. Phew.

Next time: cookies.




A nice thing about dotting i's and crossing t's on a book manuscript just a few short months before its publication date is that you (I) (WE!!) have only those few short months to wait between its once-and-for-all completion and the day we'll get to hold it in our hands. Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought Me Home will be out on June 23. Forget "few." As of today, that's NEXT MONTH.

So, uh, would you like to see the cover?

It is the work of the very talented Alison Forner, and I could not love it more. When the e-mail with this cover attached landed in my inbox, I was so nervous, I couldn't open it. I forwarded it along to Eli with the message, "I'm sending this without opening. Please tell me what you think." Then, as soon as I hit send, I opened the file myself. Because as nervous as I was, I was even more curious. I stared. Maybe book covers are like newborns, where no matter how wrinkly, alien-like, and oldman-ish yours is, you think she's the most beautiful child in the world. Maybe - but I doubt it.

Stir is available now for pre-order, and some early reviewers have even started reading it and saying nice things. There is nothing about the previous sentence that doesn't blow my mind. And fill me head-to-toe with gratitude for you, you, YOU. Thank you, friends. Thank you. For helping me carve out a place to start, a place to come back to, where I could learn how to try and how to believe. My publisher is in the process of putting together a book tour with stops on both coasts and a couple in between. I sincerely hope you'll come out so I can meet you in person, and look you in the eye as we chat without this screen between us.

Stir's release date bounced around a bit, and while I'm quite content for it to be coming out just as summer goes into full swing - I don't know about you, but summer makes me hungry for books - it occurred to me recently that it's a little bit of a shame it won't be out until after Mother's Day. Because yes, yes, Stir is about illness, recovery, food, love, and beginnings in unexpected places. But, though I didn't realize it until my editor told me so, it is also very much about women and mothers: how the mothers and mother-like people in our lives take care of us, each in the way she knows best, how our mothers show us who we are, who we are not, and who we might become. "All these women!" my editor said, and she was right. She flipped through the pages on her desk and called them out: my mother, my stepmother, my great-great aunt, my grandmother, my mother-in-law. And, without giving too much away, one (lovable?) protagonist who, when disaster strikes, is juuuust beginning to think about what it might mean to be a mother one day herself. I couldn't believe I hadn't noticed. 

So! How's this for a plan? If you'd like, please go ahead and pre-order Stir for your mothers. (And stepmothers! Definitely stepmothers. Amy is a hero of this book.) The book won't arrive until late June, but to the first 150 people who pre-order, I'll send a small gift that will arrive before Mother's Day next week. (Continental U.S. only, please.)

The gift is a set of five postcards featuring glossy photos of several recipes from Stir on one side, and your typical "I'm a postcard! Write on me and drop me in the mail!" design on the back. They just arrived today from the printer. The paper is thick and heavy and feels nice to write on and, if I do say so, the photos turned out beautifully. (The images in this post are three of the five designs.) I'll also include a personalized, handwritten card and package everything up so that it looks nice and pretty.

Here's what to do:

1. Pre-order Stir from anywhere you please, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, iBooks, IndieBound, and Kobo, to name a few. You'll need your order number as proof of purchase.

2. Complete this short form

That's it! 

Of course, if you want the postcards for yourself, or if you'd like me to send them to someone without any mention of Mother's Day, that's more than fine by me. You can specify everything according to your preferences on the form. If you've already pre-ordered Stir (THANK YOU!! No, really, THANK YOU!!!!!), you're still eligible to receive the postcards. Just look up your old order number and you're all set. One more thing: if you do want the postcards for Mother's Day, I'll need your order in by 5:00pm (PDT) / 8:00pm (EDT) on Sunday, May 3, so that I have time to write all the cards, pack everything up, and get it in the mail in time. 

And away we go! Writing things down here makes them feel real. I know I've said it before. It's true. 


Coming up fast

A five-minute walk into Golden Gate Park from the entrance at 9th and Lincoln Way, you'll find a yellow ice cream truck called Twirl and Dip where you can get this:

Top to bottom, that's a sprinkle of salt, a dark chocolate dip, vanilla bean soft serve, and a handmade cone. On any given day, it's a short, straight shot on the bus from where I sit to this beauty, because where I sit now is San Francisco. Where I live now. Where I live is San Francisco. 

Twirl aaaaaaand dip.

If you've been following along on Instagram (and please do! I love the community over there), this San Francisco thing isn't news. It's been, what, three months since we left Cambridge? No - almost four! In any case, HELLO THERE. I am so happy, so thrilled, so relieved to be here. To be back in a place where I can be here. Whoa.

So, let's see. Where were we? Brownies, right? That was the end of May, when Freddie (remember her?) (she looks like this now!) was two months old. I hadn't touched my manuscript since before she was born. Then June happened and I got writing again, and though my work time looked different than it had pre-Freddie, the book swallowed me right back up. I was grateful to discover that it still could. (I told me so!) Meanwhile, something secret was in the works, a long shot that was no way going to happen, then did: Eli's company, Directr? Google bought it. (GOOOO ELI!!!) And by the end of the summer we found ourselves with an infant and a toddler, a book not yet done, and a cross-country move coming up fast.

We landed in San Francisco on December 30 and in the months that followed I set myself to the extremely difficult task of not unpacking, not settling in, so that whenever I wasn't chillin' with the little people of the household, I could write, write, write my way through the final-final-for-real-forever edits of my book. And you know what? I did it. The book is d-o-n-e, done. Getting to write those words here, here, where it all started, means more than I can say. 

But more about the book another time. Today, we feast! On Deb Perelman's Whole Lemon Bars. I've been holding onto them for you since December when, fueled by some combination of insanity, denial, adrenaline, and fierce love for who and what we were leaving behind in Cambridge, MA, we decided to go ahead and host our yearly Chanukah party for 80-ish guests three days before the moving truck arrived. We made 400 latkes, several quarts of cranberry apple sauce, and an assortment of cakes, cookies, and treats. Because business as usual, right? Why not? (Don't answer that.) 

Honestly, those hours in the kitchen were golden. It felt exactly right: frying, baking, stashing things away in freezer bags and airtight containers for a crowd we love, looking up to see the familiar, sweeping view of Harvard Square framed by the windows of our fifth-floor apartment. I can't imagine a better way to have spent those last days in the place we called home for nine years. (Also: procrastibaking. I am a pro.)

I did, in the end, pull back just a bit. No homemade candy this year, no sandwich cookies or anything I'd have to frost. I made those terrific brownies, instead, and a double batch of my favorite almond cake, among other things I could throw together quickly, with my eyes closed - so I wouldn't have to see the stacks of unassembled moving boxes breathing down my neck. It had never occurred to me that lemon bars, with all the zesting and juicing of multiple lemons required, might have a place in this category. But the single lemon rolling around our crisper drawer got me thinking about a recipe in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook that I remembered marking with a pink sticky tab a couple of years earlier, a recipe for Whole Lemon Bars. "Whole" as in the entire lemon, minus only the seeds. "Lemon," indeed, just one.

What comes of that lemon, puréed by machine with sugar, butter, eggs, cornstarch, and salt, is the smoothest, most beautiful lemon custard I've ever seen atop a shortbread crust. No tiny craters along the surface - you can forgo the classic powdered sugar topping, if you'd like, and they're just as pretty - no threads of lemon zest snagging the silky cream. These bars are sleek, a word I've never thought to use to describe something that's come out of my kitchen. The flavor is something special, too, thanks to the pith and peel. There's an edge, a faintly bitter note that you've probably never missed in lemon bars gone by but, unless you're eating these, you will now, forever more. (Sorry? You're welcome?)

In the parlance of the day (thanks to this wonderful, wonderful column-turned-book), Deb's Whole Lemon Bars is a "genius recipe," for sure, making me rethink the way lemon bars become lemon bars, showing me an easier, faster way to ones that turn out better than what I knew to expect.

I'm off now, but not for long, I promise. Thank you, friends, for being here, for showing up despite so many long months of silence. I told a friend of mine last week that one of the best parts of having the book and the move behind me is that I'll be able to start blogging again. I meant it. Blogging for me is writing for writing's sake alone. I've missed that very much. 

I'll be back later this week with something book-related and fun. I can't wait.


Deb Perelman's Whole Lemon Bars
Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

For the crust:
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 tablespoons (115 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, plus more for greasing the pan

For the filling:
1 medium-small lemon, about 3 inches long (around 130 grams)
1 1/3 cups (265 grams) granulated sugar 
8 tablespoons (115 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons (15 grams) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Cut two 12-inch by 8-inch strips of parchment paper. Press one strip into the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with a couple extra inches of parchment hanging over each side. Press the other strip down into the pan in the opposite direction, perpendicular to the first strip, to create a parchment plus sign. The two strips will overlap on the bottom of the pan, and you'll have formed a parchment sling with four "handles" for lifting the bars up and out once they have cooled. Lightly butter the exposed parchment and set the pan aside.

Make the crust:
Blend the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like a heap of crumbs, but holds together when you squeeze it. Dump the crumbs into the prepared pan and press evenly along the bottom and about 1/2 inch up the sides. Prick the dough all over with a fork and bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Leave the oven on. 

Make the filling:
Cut your lemon in half. If the white part of the skin is 1/4 inch thick or less, you're good to go. If the white part is thicker than that, you'll want to remove the skin from half the lemon to keep your bars from turning out too bitter. (The second lemon half, even if the pith is just as thick, can be used as is.) Cut your lemon halves into thin rings and discard any seeds. Toss the lemon slices into the bowl of the food processor with the sugar and process for about 2 minutes, until the lemon is thoroughly puréed. Add the butter, and run the machine until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, cornstarch, and salt, and pulse together until everything is evenly combined.

Pour the lemon custard over the crust and bake until the filling is set, about 35 to 40 minutes. (The finished custard should jiggle slightly when you bump the pan.) 

Let the pan cool completely on a rack. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, then use the parchment sling to transfer the uncut bars to a cutting board. I like to refrigerate the slab for 10-15 minutes right on the board before slicing it into bars. 

Makes 16 2-inch bars


You were hoping

Delancey arrived on my doorstep not long after Freddie was born. The timing was perfect.* For one thing, Delancey is a book. I read a lot in the first weeks after babies turn up here, so I need books. I also need food, and Delancey’s got that, too, to the tune of twenty recipes tucked between chapters. Knowing Molly Wizenberg (and trusting my friends around the internet), I’d bet that many of these recipes are success stories waiting to happen. I’ll have to get back to you on that though, since for now I am stuck on the brownies.

I cannot stop making them, and that is because they are perfect. Here is the part where you ask The Question, the one that’s hung in the air after every mention of brownies since the beginning of time, and I answer with the word that, admit it, you were hoping for: FUDGY. (No disrespect to the cakey crowd. Remember these?) Of course, we cannot stop there. We know we must be careful. Because it is often in the very name of “fudgy” that so many brownies go wrong.

We’ve all stomached them: gummy, squishy, smudgy, and wet, brownies that look as though they’ve gone for a sprint around the block in 100% humidity and collapsed onto your plate at the finish. I sometimes wonder whether the trouble isn’t in the question, since what I really want – more than “fudgy;” more than “cakey” – is a brownie that is good. And the truth is that if it is good, even the fudgiest brownie falls somewhere in between.

I think that when we say “fudgy,” what we really mean is “chewy,” like these brownies here today, rich and dense enough for your teeth to leave scrape marks when you bite in. We want something satisfying in the Chocolate, Now! department in a way that even the best cakey chocolate cakes are not. Molly’s brownies have very little flour, which explains their similarity to a spot-on flourless chocolate cake, but instead of soft and mousse-y inside, they’re the slightest bit spongy. (That’s the cakey bit talking.) The recipe makes just enough batter for a shallow pour, so the resulting slab of brownies is thin, easy to slice into neat squares. A big old brownie isn’t the most sought after summertime treat, what with the dessert files in our brains flipped open to berries, crumbles, and pies. But how about one of these, straight from the fridge – how I happen to like them best – perhaps with some of those berries? Yes? I thought so.

The recipe comes together in a flash, by the way. And I say that having only ever attempted it with the enthusiastic “help” of a certain two-and-a-half-year-old and an unconscious six-week-old tied to my chest. These brownies were that same two-and-a-half-year-old’s first in all her life, the effect of which being that she is now ruined for all future brownies.

She can thank me later.

*The pure punishment of reading a book detailing the production of Brandon Pettit’s pizza an entire continent away from said pizza, while nursing a baby every hour on the hour, notwithstanding.

Molly’s Brownies
Adapted from Delancey, by Molly Wizenberg

I suggest greasing your pan with butter instead of oil or cooking spray. The one time I used oil instead of butter, the flavor, however mild, was distracting. As I mentioned above, I like these best cold, straight from the fridge.

1 stick (113 grams) unsalted butter
2 ounces (55 grams) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup minus 2 tablespoons (175 grams) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup (35 grams) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter an 8-inch square baking dish and line the bottom with a rectangle of parchment paper long enough to hang a couple of inches over two of the sides. (You’ll use the parchment to lift the brownies from the pan.) Lightly butter the paper.

Melt the butter and chopped chocolate in a 2½-3 quart saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the sugar, then add the eggs and vanilla and blend until smooth. Stir in the flour and the salt. Pour into the prepared pan, then lift the pan and drop it down onto the countertop a couple of times to release any air bubbles.

Bake for 25-30 minutes (in my oven, they’re done at 28), until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, run a sharp knife around the edges between the brownies and the pan, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Pull the parchment paper to lift the brownies from the pan. Slice into 16 squares. 


Just the thing

Five years ago, my friend Molly wrote a book. She wasn't “my friend Molly” back then, not yet; just the voice behind the blog I’d discovered right before that book came out. I was recovering at the time from all that crazy brain stuff, still a couple of surgeries away from a fully intact skull, and on medical leave from graduate school. I’d recently started my own blog, this one, because I needed a project, and because for reasons I couldn't yet explain, occupying myself with food and writing felt like just the thing.

I didn't read blogs of any kind before I got sick; I didn't know food blogs existed. This was 2009 already, so I had a lot of catching up to do. The whole thing was a revelation: people sharing food and stories on the internet, like one sprawling dinner party, tables and chairs for miles. I did a lot of clicking around and determined that blogs were primarily records. Of days, of recipes, of photographs. A blog was a place to get things down, a jewel box of sorts for collecting favorites, a hub for sharing and connecting with likeminded people. Then I found Molly’s site, Orangette, and learned that a blog could also be something else: a space you turn into something; a kind of studio where you could go to make art.

The subject of Molly’s art – her writing, photos, and recipes – was everyday life. From where I sat in early 2009, that was huge, since illness had put such a giant wedge between me and my own. I missed the big things plenty: studying, teaching, runs along the river. But more than any of that, I missed my everyday. I missed waking up early, comfortable in my bed and in my body, contemplating the leftovers in my fridge and a second life for them beneath fried eggs; I missed kneading challah dough on Friday afternoons, carrying a heavy stack of dishes and a fistful of silverware to the table, standing around in the kitchen with Eli at the end of the night scraping plates, rinsing glasses, wiping down counters.

It's clear to me now that starting a blog and filling it with food, making something of the bits of normal life that were slowly sprouting up again, was my way of registering these things, really seeing them, and believing in them once again. Of course it was! But back then I didn’t have a clue. In fact, I wondered if it wasn’t perhaps a bit weird, this writing about and photographing my everyday. Molly made it feel less weird (or made me feel less alone in the weird) not least because she showed me what it looked like to do it really, really well.

So I sent her an e-mail: a short piece of fan mail on the day her book came out. And Molly, because she is very lovely and also a little insane – it was her publication day!! – wrote me back right away. She started reading my site, which meant a lot, and somewhere along the line, through e-mails, phone calls, and in-person visits on her coast and mine, we became friends.

About three years ago, Molly and her husband Brandon and I spent a couple of days at a house on a lake outside of Seattle. I was pregnant with Mia at the time and getting started on my book proposal, and Molly had just sold her second book, Delancey, to her publisher. We talked a lot on that visit about the stories we tell, why they matter, if they matter, about the process of getting them down (owwwww!), and the preliminary nuggets – memories, scenes, ideas – that were driving our respective projects. We've kept these conversations going over the years, and it’s the highest praise I can think of when I say that reading Delancey, which came out last week, felt exactly like those conversations: Molly being her smart, funny, thoughtful self, figuring things out as she goes, discovering what’s what through the stories she tells. I could hear her putting things together bit by bit as I turned the pages which, when I'm reading, is my favorite thing to hear.

Delancey the book is named for Delancey the restaurant that Molly and Brandon opened almost five years ago. All of these photos, if you haven’t already guessed, are from our visits there. The book is about the collision of their marriage with that restaurant and what came of it, for better and for worse. (Spoiler alert: Mostly for better.) It’s about how the things we make, make us. It is also, I think, about discovering our stories as we live them, learning to understand them, and ourselves through them. Oh, and it’s about pizza, too, of course. (Did I mention, Delancey’s a pizza restaurant? And that Brandon’s pizza is THE BEST?!) By the end of the book I was ready to consume an entire Delancey pie. Preferably the crimini, like so:

Congratulations, Molly, and thank you, for so much inspiration.



World, meet Freddie.

She was born in a flash on Sunday, March 23, at 9:12 pm. (As in, from 6 cm dilated to a baby in the room in 12 minutes flat. TA DA!!!) She flopped around on my belly for a bit, sneezed twice, just as Mia did upon arrival two and a half years ago, then settled in for some milk, a cuddle, and a snooze. She weighed 6 lbs. 13 oz. and was 19 inches long.

We're all feeling great. Really, really great. And super proud of the girl we loved first.

You want to get to Freddie, you've gotta get through THIS:

Last Sunday, together with a living room full of family and friends, we gave Freddie her name: Frieda Rose Schleifer. She's named for my great-great aunt Frieda, also "Freddie" to the people who knew her best, who just weeks before she died in 2008 at the age of 97, was on the phone with Eli discussing Walter Isaacson's book on Benjamin Franklin, and David McCullough's 1776. Rose is for Aunt Frieda's mother, my great-great grandmother, a woman I'd heard about, but never met. In our tradition, you get a Jewish name too, so our Frieda Rose is also Frayda Nitzan. The Yiddish, Frayda, comes from the word "frayd," which means "joy." Nitzan is the Hebrew word for bud, fitting, we thought, for this child born on the cusp of spring.

At the gathering on Sunday, my father spoke about Freddie's namesakes, his great-aunt Frieda and his great-grandmother Rose. Eli's father spoke about the German, Norse, Hebrew, and Yiddish meanings behind the names we chose. Mia's wonderful, wonderful babysitter read a story to all of the kids about an elephant who dreamed of becoming a photographer. There were quiches, and granola bars, and banana chocolate muffins, fruit, and flowers, and balloons, per Mia's request. Mia also requested a ringing of the bells, these bells, that she passed out to her cousins and friends at the end of the afternoon.

The morning that Eli, Mia, and I brought Freddie home from the hospital, I checked Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac, as I do every day. Each post begins with a poem, and that day's seemed to have our Frieda Rose, our joyful bud, all wrapped up in it. Cheers to you, Freddie, to these early spring days, to the pleasure of being exactly where we are, and the love that enables us to feel this way.

"A Prayer in Spring"
By Robert Frost

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

(p.s. Third photo up. Dimple!!)


In it

Nope, nope, no baby yet. I’m 36 weeks along, though, so that will change very soon. (Mia came at 37.)

I want to talk a bit today about my book. I've been shy about doing so here; I know not everyone’s interested in the nuts and bolts, the nitty-gritties, THE PROCESS. But there’s some stuff I’d like to get down before a baby shows up and eats my brain. I hope you won’t mind. I’m just so in it right now. So deliciously embedded. There’s no way of knowing for sure how I’ll feel a few weeks from now, but I bet I’ll be glad for a reminder of this time.

Writing isn't something that comes easily to me. A lot of the time, I hate it. But in a sick, sick way, what I hate about it is also what I love. As my writing partner Katrina says, the hard parts are the figuring-out parts, the points in the writing where there is something important to learn and you get to do the work of learning it. The hard parts are what allow us to make writing that’s worth writing at all. And, hopefully, worth reading.

Earlier this year, I read a wonderful book called Good Prose by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder and his longtime editor, Richard Todd. It’s styled as a book on writing, with sections on point of view, structure, editing, things like that, but it’s also a portrait of Kidder and Todd’s working and personal relationship over the years. It’s moving and smart, and made me laugh out loud at least twice. I’ve been dipping back into it whenever I need a boost. Just yesterday I rediscovered this gem:

What you “know” isn't something you can pull from a shelf and deliver. What you know in prose is often what you discover in the course of writing it, as in the best conversations with a friend – as if you and the reader do the discovering together.

That feeling of discovery while I write is everything to me. It’s how I know the writing is going somewhere and, with enough revision, has a shot at being good. It’s also the only way I know to keep from dozing off and slipping into a boredom-induced coma as I write. Consciousness: very important for book writing.

When I first announced that I was writing a book, I said that it would be out at the end of 2014, as in, eight or nine months from right now. That was the plan. I’d write and test recipes for a year, spend a few months with my editor on revisions, and that would be that.

Things look otherwise now for a couple of reasons, the first and most obvious being this pregnancy, which took me doooown. I was sicker for longer than I was with Mia, and I had to put the project more or less on hold for a few months. But the main reason why the book has taken this long to write is because – wait for it – it has taken this long to write. It feels good to say that out loud because it’s been such a revelation for me (and to be fair, it wasn't even mine, but my agent’s and my editor’s, thankyouthankyouthankyou, you brilliant and generous people). I also want to say it because I know a lot of us here are in the same boat, making things out of words, or paint, or film, or food, and working hard to live up to our own ideas of what it means to do these things responsibly and well. It’s important, I’m convinced, to talk honestly about how we get where we’re going. I’m lucky enough to have artist friends near and far who have shared their own routes through. Thanks to them, I’ve never felt alone.

So let me tell you: That year I thought I’d spend writing? I spent it writing. (After I got the help I needed with Mia to make that happen, I should say, which turned out to be more help than I was able to admit for a while. Credit for this particular revelation – also not my own; why bother when I’m clearly surrounded by such smarties? – goes to Eli and a terrific series by Joanna Goddard on mothers who work from home in creative fields.) Anyway, I spent that year writing. Playing around, trying things one way, then another. I wrote mostly by hand, in no particular order, preferring instead to go in wherever I saw an opening, nail down the parts that felt most important, and let the narrative rise up to meet me.

What came out was a total mess. Some of the writing was terrible. Some of it was good, but had nothing to do with the story – whatever that was; it was getting harder and harder to see. I pieced things together into chunks and sent them off to my editor. I pieced other things together – once to the tune of 20,000 words – and sent them off to the cutting room floor. So it went for a year, I tell you. A YEAR. I like to think that I was a good sport about it for a while, but come last June, I reached a point where I thought, whoops. I made a mistake. I thought there was a story here, but you know what? There’s not. Pack it up, Fechtor. Move along. Nothing to see here. Forget about that book.

And then, slowly, things began to change. The story just opened right up. After so much doubt about what should be in and what should be out, so many starts, and restarts, and re-re-starts, the story was making itself known. One night in October when Eli and I were cleaning up the kitchen, I turned to him and said, without a trace of irony, “It’s like I’m inside the author’s mind now.” I guess in order to figure out what the story was, I first had to figure out what it wasn't.

In any case, my editor’s been with me all the way, and has kindly granted me an extension to get this job done right. I’m finishing up the manuscript now, and aiming to ship it off to her before this babe arrives sometime around April 1. If she stays put until then (the baby, not the editor), I think I’ll make it. If she shows up sooner, I’ll come close. Either way (take note, Jessica Kate Fechtor of the Future, TAAAAAKE NOTE), it will be okay. I will finish this book. It will come out next year, and honestly, that’s a-okay with me. One baby at a time, this way. It feels right.



Flutters and pokes

Since we last spoke, I've had my nose broken and smooshed back together again, spent a few days alone by a lake fattening up my manuscript, baked a mediocre chocolate cake (three times, just to be sure), read this book, and this one, and learned that the flutters and pokes rocking my belly as I type this are girl flutters and pokes. Mia thinks we should name her “Pizza.”

Pizza Schleifer. It has a nice ring.

So that’s what’s new on my end. That, and many thousands of words and a growing pile of recipes for the book. THE BOOK. A.k.a., the reason I’ve been scarce around here. There’s more to say about that – the book, not the scarceness – but the new year is almost upon us, and there’s still champagne and panforte to acquire. I don’t want to keep you.

I do, however, want to pass along a recipe, something for the next week or so when the merriment dies down and we go back to eating like the normal, monogastric bipeds we are. We’ll need something sweet and snack-ish while the cookies beat their retreat. Granola bars, say. These.

I wasn’t planning on sharing, since Molly posted about them only a year and a half ago, but they've become such a staple around here in the six weeks since I first made them that I feel compelled to deposit them in The Permanent Collection. Plus, I've played fast and loose enough with the ingredients to make an easy recipe even easier. That’s always something to write home about.

Off we go, then, into these final hours and the brand new ones that follow. Wishing you and yours the very best. See you in 2014.

(Vegan, if you want) Cherry Pecan Chocolate Granola Bars
Adapted from Orangette

This recipe produces a chewy bar, sweet enough that I’ve served them to lunch guests as dessert (and no one complained; in fact, they asked to take some home) and un-sweet enough that the words “nutritious breakfast” can reasonably apply. Aside from dialing back the sugar a bit, I’ve made one important change in the way that I deal with the oats. Instead of using a combination of finely ground oats and quick-cooking oats, I use quick-cooking oats and whole rolled oats. It saves me the step of hauling out the food processor and grinding the oats, and I prefer the heartier texture.

These bars are delicious with butter, but for vegan friends I’ve made them several times with coconut oil and they’re terrific that way, too. Feel free to swap it in.

1½ cups (143 grams) quick-cooking oats
½ cup (48 grams) rolled oats
¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1 cup (110 grams) pecan halves
½ cup (25 grams) unsweetened coconut chips
½ cup (85 grams) bittersweet chocolate chips
¼ cup (40 grams) dried cherries
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (85 grams) peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter or coconut oil, melted
6 tablespoons (120 grams) honey
1 tablespoon water

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan and line with parchment paper. You’ll want to cut the paper long enough to have some overhang on two of the sides. Lightly grease the paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the oats, sugar, pecans, coconut, chocolate chips, cherries, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, vanilla extract, melted butter or coconut oil, honey, and water. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir well. Transfer to the prepared pan, cover loosely with a sheet of plastic wrap (to prevent the mixture from sticking to your fingers), and press firmly into the pan. Remove the plastic wrap and discard.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown. Don’t worry that the mixture feels soft; it will harden as it cools. Set the pan on a rack and let cool for 15 minutes, then run a sharp knife along the edges of the pan. Cool completely, still in the pan, then cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Lift onto a cutting board, and cut into squares with a sharp knife.

Store in an airtight container between sheets of wax paper.


Little or big

Well. Now that that cat’s out of the bag, let’s get back to it, shall we? You may recall that once upon a time, approximately 26 months ago, I gave birth to a little lump of a thing bearing a strong resemblance to her father, yes, but even more so, to E.T. Despite this, I couldn't keep my eyes off of her – though I must have at least blinked, because one day in September, she woke up looking like this.

She tells knock-knock jokes now, made-up ones with questionable punch lines, and presses dough into tart pans. She’s into rocks, and band aids, and construction vehicles, and if you come for dinner, she’ll surprise you at the elevator and insist that you collapse in shock.

Mia bunked with us for part of the night last week, a rare occurrence nowadays. I woke up with a small cheek stacked on top of mine and an arm curled gently around my neck. She was stroking my hair, whispering the lyrics to Baa Baa Black Sheep. You know, the one about the master, the dame, and the little boy who lives “down the drain.” Yeah. I like her.

Anyway, this kid turned two on September 9. She requested waffles for the morning of her birthday, and for her party the following week, granola, eggs, and coconut. (She’s a breakfast girl! Yessss.) So I made this, and these, and a double recipe of Dorie Greenspan’s banana-coconut cake, enough for one layer cake spackled white with cream cheese frosting, and a couple dozen cupcakes, pink and purple, per the lady’s request.

“Both,” a word and concept Mia’s just recently nailed down, came in very handy that day.

And again last night, when I asked her if she’s little or big. “Both,” she said.


p.s. Big thanks to the talented M.E. Francis for the photos in this post.

p.p.s. Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Orange who?
Orange JUICE! Haaaahahahaah

Banana-Coconut Layer Cake with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours
Frosting from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen

Dorie Greenspan calls this cake “Lots-of-Ways Banana Cake” because of the recipe’s flexibility. I made it as written, below, but you can substitute granulated sugar for the brown sugar, and milk, buttermilk, sour cream, or yogurt for the coconut milk, and all will be fine. Leave out the shredded coconut, if it’s not your thing. Leave in the rum, if it is your thing. (I skipped it because of the pregnancy thing and the tableful-of-toddlers thing, though that was probably overly cautious. There are only 2 tablespoons in the entire cake.)

The frosting recipe was enough to cover both the layer cake and 24 cupcakes, with a bit still to spare! If you’re making a single a layer cake or one batch of cupcakes, halve the frosting recipe.

For the cake:
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1¼ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons dark rum (optional)
About 4 very ripe bananas, mashed (enough for 1½ - 1¾ cups)
½ cup canned unsweetened coconut milk (careful not to use one of those coconut milk “drinks”)
1 cup shredded coconut, toasted

For the frosting:
3 8-ounce blocks cream cheese, at room temperature
1½ cups (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
6 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Bake the cakes:
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9x2-inch round cake pans (or two standard-size cupcake pans).

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, then add the sugars and beat at medium speed for a couple of minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then the vanilla and the rum (if using.)

Turn the speed to low and add the bananas. (Don’t worry if the batter curdles.) Add the dry and liquid ingredients alternately, adding the flour mixture in 3 portions and the coconut milk in 2. (Begin and end with the dry.) Mix until everything is just incorporated, then fold in the coconut with a rubber spatula. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans (or among the cupcake tins).

Bake 35-40 minutes for the cake pans, 25-30 minutes for cupcakes. The cakes are done when they are golden brown and start to pull away from the sides of their pans, and a tester inserted into their centers comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks and let cool to room temperature.

Make the frosting:
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using an electric mixer), cream together the butter and cream cheese. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the powdered sugar a little at a time and beat until smooth.

Spread the frosting on top and along the sides of one of the cake layers, stack the second layer on top, and finish the job. To frost cupcakes, load the frosting into a Ziploc bag, cut one of the corners, and pipe.

Yield: One frosted 9-inch round double layer cake or about 24 cupcakes.


Here we are

Eight years ago today, I married Eli Schleifer. I was 25 and in my first year of graduate school, and we’d just moved to Cambridge. The first snow of the season fell the night before the wedding, but by morning the temps had reached the mid-70s, so we moved the ceremony outdoors and set up the chuppah facing the ocean. There was French toast, and bluegrass, and baskets filled with pomegranates, and several ladybugs that found their way into my veil.

We weren't sure back then that we wanted to be parents. Then all of the sudden, we were very sure, but I got sick, and we didn't know if we could be. And now, here we are. Here we are! With one Mia, and one tiny human-in-the-making, whose flips and flutters I’m just beginning to feel. Yep. I’m pregnant. And so happy, finally, to share this news with you. (It was a loooong first trimester. Though, damn, powdered macaroni and cheese never tasted so good.) We’re due sometime around April 1.

I was much sicker for much longer with this pregnancy – hence the silence here – but I’m happy to report that things are better now. It’s 8:43pm and I am conscious! I’m cooking again, and writing. I’m even eating the occasional green vegetable. Goooooo, second trimester!

We celebrated an important birthday here in the months since I last wrote, and there was cake. Back soon to tell you about it.