June 11th, 2021
|04:52 pm - Anonymous commenting turned off|
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December 31st, 2016
|08:56 pm - "Orbit" up now at Pea River Journal!|
Last week I dreamed that I was back at my old library, but my not-boss from my previous library was there. I went to her with some issue - that the YA nonfiction was being shelved with the YA fiction instead of with the adult nonfiction where it belonged - and she went off on me about how worthless I was. (In real life, in the past, she had been extremely unkind to me, but not that bad - except behind my back.)
It was right after I had gotten the proofs for the journal where my story "Orbit" will be appearing, and just a few days before it went up on their site. I didn't realize the weird synchronicity in that until just now - that it's a story, in part, about failures of leadership, about what happens when you're getting blamed for not knowing how to do the things that no one ever taught you to do. It's a story I couldn't have written if I hadn't worked at that library. (Which is not to say that it was worth it.)
It's happened to me before, and it's always such a strange feeling - that sudden moment of knowing that, somewhere in the process of getting something hard out on the page, it lost its power over you.
(Content note for the story: some hunting-related gore.)
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December 28th, 2016
|05:55 pm - It's so nice to feel listened to|
The email that IHG Rewards Club sent to me after I attempted to impress upon them that I was getting marketing emails from them that were meant for a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PERSON with the same name as me, that I had NEVER signed up for IHG Rewards Club and never would, and that I had no interest in ever doing business with them (which may be difficult because IHG owns Holiday Inn and various other megachains, but when I make up my mind to do something - !)
Hello Mr. Horner,
Thank you for your e-mail.
Foremost, please accept our apologies for any inconvenience this matter may have caused.
Please know that as a service-oriented company, we are taking your complaint seriously. We understand and appreciate that as a loyal customer, you think highly of our company and so it is our commitment to live up to the high standards of service you have grown accustomed to receive from us.
Your comments have been recorded and we have shared them with the management staff of the IHG Service Center, which will in turn pass them on to our corporate executives that make decisions pertaining to future enhancements of our program.
Thank you for your patience and understanding with this matter. Should you need further assistance, please feel free to contact us directly.
Sunshine E. Dino
As a loyal customer! I think highly of their company! The high standards of service I have grown accustomed to receive from them!
(I do end up staying at Holiday Inns a lot when I'm traveling for family stuff and my dad is paying, because he has loyalty points, but it would be an exaggeration to say that I have grown accustomed to high standards of service from them.)
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December 20th, 2016
My literature term paper was supposed to be the first draft of a publishable journal article, and my professor says that it may be publishable with some more drafts.
I don't know whether publishing literature papers would be good for my career or not. It seems obviously useful, but I can think of so many arguments against it - mostly, it would take time away from writing things I actually care about; but also, my professor pushed it in directions I wasn't very interested in, which made the paper kind of an awkward amalgamation of the things I wanted to talk about and the things she wanted me to talk about. (Also an awkward amalgamation of a literature paper and a sociology paper - "Here is some sociology on how working-class students feel the need to repress their identities in order to fit in at college. This is also what happens to the main character of this book!")
-insert many doubts about the usefulness of academic literary criticism generally-
-insert many doubts about my level of productivity generally-
Well. I will be able to make a better judgment about the paper when I stop feeling angry about some aspects of the class.
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November 3rd, 2016
Yesterday my lit class discussed The Coddling of the American Mind with a totally unexpected amount of millennial-bashing and anger at the very idea of trigger warnings and all those other "university culture war" issues.
I AM THE OLDEST PERSON IN THIS CLASS WHO IS NOT TEACHING IT.
I AM, JUST BARELY, A MILLENNIAL.
I want to shake all of these people and tell them "yes, you may well have found your classmates lazy and incurious; you may well find your students lazy and incurious; this is not a problem with the Youth Of Today. You're the kind of person who is in grad school, so BY DEFINITION, NOT EVERYONE IS AS HUGE A FAN OF SCHOOL AS YOU ARE. DEAL WITH IT."
I really wish I'd been able to speak out more. There's something that happens when you feel like EVERYBODY in the class is on the other side and you feel the burden of representing your own viewpoint in a way that is perfectly clear and articulate and logical lest you become one of those horrible people who's against free speech. :/
But it really does feel like a different thing to be in graduate school in one's mid-thirties versus one's early-to-mid-twenties. When you're that young you're still defending the idea that you're mature enough to be there, and tough enough to be there, and smart enough to be there.
And I'm still scared about all those things but - I am who I am and I feel like there's just as much responsibility on the university as an institution to be a place that's good for its students as there is on me to be good enough for grad school.
I get that there's this perceived conflict between your duty to protect your students and your duty to prepare them for the real world - I get that this is why it's so contentious - I get that we all want to do right by our students - but there's so much that gets lost when we start making fun of people for being too sensitive, for getting their feelings hurt, for not being able to switch to robot logic mode when it comes to issues that are personal in a visceral and deeply felt way.
I can have this debate but I can't have it if the other people in the room think the people they're debating are too silly to be worthy of consideration.
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October 29th, 2016
I biked the mile and a half to Z.'s house in costume. It was a Pikachu costume I'd bought at Target and I was glad for the visibility it lent me in the dark.
The shoes I needed to complete the look were my Italian leather-soled ones. Months earlier I had slipped down half a staircase in those shoes, but I hadn't stopped to consider what it would be like to pedal in them. My shoes slipped against the pedals, slipped off them. At one point I took off my shoes and strapped them to the rack; it was worse, in my socks. So determined was I to keep turning those wheels around that I didn't stop to think I should go home and change. It was only a mile and a half.
"You went to college in Canada, right? Is this what parties were like there?" M. asked me. By this point I had drunk half a cider and a nonalcoholic butterscotch soda.
"The thing is, I had severe social anxiety when I was in undergrad. So I didn't go to any parties."
"Oh, me too," M. said.
Later he marveled at the change of moving from Brooklyn to Ames. People put down Ames, when they do this; but it was rarely enough that I actually felt part of whatever mystique New York City has for outsiders. There are fewer art-house movies and worse vegetarian food. But for a part of me, the big city bustle feels like walking in the Broadway crowd, exhausted and panicky.
"It's like in a 19th century novel," I said, "When a character moves from London to the country to recover from a nervous breakdown."
This wasn't accurate; I was pretty well recovered, by that time. I was well enough to figure out that I might need someplace cheaper, quieter, lower-key, if I was to avoid turning up in the same place again. It felt accurate, to a first approximation.
I worked up the courage to ask Z. a favor. It turned out he wore my shoe size; it turned out he had a pair of sneakers he could lend me until Monday. I put my Italian shoes in the pannier on my bike. It was past eleven and in the good-byes people kept telling me to bike safe. The Saturday before Halloween, people would be drinking. The roads were dark and empty. The borrowed shoes clung fast to my pedals, all the way home.
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September 28th, 2016
|07:45 am - Carol Bly, "Against Workshopping Manuscripts"|
A tiny book I found almost by chance in the university library while searching for books on evaluating student writing.
I like Carol Bly even when I don't agree with her -- which is fairly often -- so I was curious about what she had against workshopping student fiction. Well, it's this:
If a student is workshopping a manuscript with a deeply felt idea or emotion, but that idea or emotion isn't coming through effectively yet, workshoppers will tend to focus on issues of technique, and this will feel, to the writer, like an invalidation -- even in a small way -- of the deeply felt thing at the center of the story. When you reveal a deeply felt thing and it gets ignored, you feel shame. You feel like it was wrong (too personal, too intimate) to say what you said. And the result is that, as a writer, you get subtly dissuaded from writing anything genuine or passionate; you focus on technique when you should be going deeper into the heart of the story.
(Also, workshops are a way of passing the workload in a creative writing class from professors to students.)
It's an interesting thesis and I can't help but thinking about it in connection with fanfiction; I certainly can't characterize fanfic communities as supportive utopias, but I think that on the whole they do tend to validate the hot squishy stuff at the center of the story. And I think that great fanfic is indeed
hotter squishier more intense and passionate than even most very good profic. (I mean, that's also because restraint is explicitly valued in literary fiction...)
The class that I'm in currently actually is explicitly constructed with the aim of recognizing and validating the thematic and emotional content in the piece before we talk about anything technical -- I wonder whether my prof has read Carol Bly or if it's something he got elsewhere -- and at the start of the semester I actually thought it was going to be too nice-at-the-expense-of-honest. But I was wrong. "I can tell you everything that's wrong with your story" doesn't get a person much closer to being a good writer, especially if we want to admit that a BIG PART of being a good writer is being open and vulnerable with your emotions on the page.
(Which doesn't mean writing autobiographically, or melodramatically, or sentimentally. It DOES mean that the most important stuff in your toolbox as a writer is the stuff that is personal to your own mind and your own heart.)
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September 1st, 2016
I have so many questions about this story in the Guardian about the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies being taken to court by his publisher for turning in a manuscript that was not just three years late but also “not original to Smith, but instead is in large part an appropriation of a 120-year-old public-domain work."
Like... isn't Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ITSELF an appropriation of an old public-domain work?
Like... How is it possible to spend three years on a manuscript you're getting paid $4 million for, and turn in a worse book than Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter? I mean, sophomore problems, high expectations, I get this stuff, but we're talking about a bar you can almost just walk right over.
Like... $4 million, really!?
Well, it must be said that there are authors who are having bigger publisher problems than me.
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B: I never knew Evelyn Waugh was a man.
Me: He was actually married to a woman named Evelyn. Their friends would call them He-velyn and She-velyn.
B: Wow! How did you know that, are you really into that period of literature?
I think I read it on Tumblr?
(It is no less true because I learned it on Tumblr!)
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August 24th, 2016
So, the very morning after I complained about the chair in my office, an email went out to the listserv saying we could come to the English building to pick up one of the outgoing old chairs if we wanted. I took my measuring tape and found the tallest one (feeling slightly like a criminal casing the joint) and now I am satisfied.
I have also signed up for internet service. I am not exactly thrilled about that but I finally figured out that the root of the problem was very high latency; I was getting ping times at the slow end of dialup speeds. I am willing to admit that medium-speed internet is one of the things I won't compromise on.
"I can install it myself," I said to the ISP guy.
"I'm sure you can, it's not that hard," he said.
Never had I wanted so badly to say, "That wasn't a question."
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August 23rd, 2016
|09:48 pm - The saga of the power cords (and other petty complaints)|
So, right after I moved in to my apartment I set up my desk and tried to set up my desktop, only to realize that I had no idea where the power cord had run off to. My current hypothesis is that I accidentally didn't bring it with me when I moved in with my sister, or I accidentally didn't bring it with me to Iowa. They didn't have one at Best Buy, they didn't have one at Target, they didn't have one at the Iowa State University computer store, so I ordered one off NewEgg.
Whoops. I ordered one off the NewEgg Marketplace.
So, a few days pass, a package arrives in the mail.
It's an HDMI cable.
I am first confused, then angry, then confused again. Eventually I get in touch with the seller and they promise to send me the correct cable right away. (At this point I check my email inbox three times to confirm that I actually ordered the correct cable.)
A few more days pass, a package arrives in the mail. I have just come from having a tetanus shot so I'm not in a great mood. (I didn't step on a rusty nail or anything; I went to Student Health for an unrelated thing and they were like "While you're here, has it been a REALLY LONG TIME since your last tetanus shot?")
It's an HDMI cable AGAIN.
Eventually I get in touch with the seller and they agree to just give me a refund so I can buy a power cable from some place that's going to send me a power cable.
(The seller was RiteAV. I can't leave a bad review for them on NewEgg because I didn't have a customer account when I ordered the cable, so I created a customer account just to leave a bad review, but I actually can only review a seller if I bought the thing under my customer account. I feel 10% bad about calling them out because they were nice and apologetic about it, but they sent the wrong cable TWICE.)
They offered to refund me and send me a new cable, but if they sent me another HDMI cable I would have four HDMI cables, and I have no earthly idea what I'd do with four HDMI cables.
Meanwhile, I'm having trouble writing in my office because the chairs are too low, and I'm having trouble writing at home because I'm only getting about 200 Kbps for internet speed. I feel mildly resentful that the cable company is charging my landlord for providing free internet to the apartment but doing it so badly that half of my neighbors are paying the cable company on TOP of that to get decent bandwidth. So I would hate it if I had to do that, but also, I actually do need decent bandwidth!
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August 21st, 2016
I keep reading Carol Bly's "The Passionate, Accurate Story" and then getting myself tied up in knots thinking I've got to write stories about global warming and nuclear weapons and whatever.
It's not that I don't want to write stories about global warming and nuclear weapons and whatever, but they kind of have to be subtle enough that I can respect them, and also not just retreads of Paolo Bacigalupi.
I'm already dealing with a terrible and insidious level of perfectionism, where I can't even get to the stage of having an idea for something unless I can feel like it's going to be fantastic right from the beginning. So when I put on top of that, "OH, AND YOU HAVE TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO SOLVE THE WORLD'S PROBLEMS" - I mean, that's nonsense, that's just another avoidance mechanism.
And actually "Ramblewood Underground" - it's not all the way there yet in terms of storytelling and story structure but in terms of being a passionate accurate story, it IS very much the sort of thing that I want to be writing, with characters who don't have chemical-weapons-testing jobs to quit like the guy in Carol Bly's story but who exist in the world as it is with all its problems, who can be engaged and compassionate people even if they can't solve those problems.
So that's my challenge to myself: to try to find my way toward stories that I care about, that are important to me, while lowering my standards a hell of a lot when it comes to them being politically and aesthetically perfect.
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August 18th, 2016
So - I think that one of the most important things that art can do, and one of the things that gets into really thorny questions about representation and what is universal vs. what's merely presented as something universal, is this moment when you say "Oh, I thought that was just me. That isn't just me." And - I think these moments are maybe especially significant to me as a person who's introverted and socially anxious - like, it's really hard for me to get that feeling interacting with other human beings because anything I say has been run through so many "IS THIS WEIRD???" filters that -- if it's a thing where I worry I'm weird or alone in my thoughts, I just don't say it at all.
But I was at a party tonight, and it was that strange and great and horrible mix of pleasant conversation and roiling social anxiety, and I remembered the first time I heard that Stars lyric where Torq sings "But it doesn't make it easy / To leave the party at the right time," and I thought, OH MY GOD, there's someone else who understands that leaving the party at the right time is ridiculously difficult.
I think I managed it. If I hadn't bought lights for my bike, it would've been the wrong time.
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August 11th, 2016
Things That Need Doing
1) Buy a bicycle, which would make everything else easier, except that I think the store's going to need to order me a different size of whichever bike I decide on. (I test-rode a bunch of things yesterday and the only good fit is a bike I'm still kind of lukewarm about.)
2) Buy a coax cable so I can get cable and a USB wireless adaptor so I can set up my desktop. (I hate to do this while I'm still getting really bad internet speeds, but at least the desktop would have better ergonomics for typing.)
3) Go to the university to do my payroll paperwork and my sexual harassment training
4) Get a new bank account at a bank that has local branches
That's not bad, except that it will be raining all day and I really do need to get my payroll paperwork done before the deadline.
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August 9th, 2016
I have more or less moved in! (I'm still at the "Whoops, here's another twelve things I forgot to buy" phase and my mattress is being delivered this afternoon.)
I think I did the best I could looking for an apartment long-distance and I like the apartment itself but I feel a bit like I'm in Suburb Hell. The definition of Suburb Hell is that I can't go for a walk to get a soda; it's marked by big-box stores with giant parking lots. Within a half-mile of my apartment, there's Target and WalMart and Best Buy and a bunch of restaurant chains and it's all surrounded by immense parking lots... and yet I absolutely would be able to go for a walk to get a soda. It's very uncanny-valley; it looks like Suburb Hell but actually I probably will not feel trapped, just so long as the highway has crosswalks (I'm not at all sure that it does). There's even a multiplex in walking distance so I hopefully will never have to spend three hours on buses to see a movie.
Further into downtown, Ames reminds me a lot of the Midwestern Architecture version of Chapel Hill: pizza, pubs, coffee shops, somewhat aggressive State University Team Spirit. Later today I hope to go down to campus and get set up with a student ID so I can go to the library. I'm still nervous and unsure about a lot but it feels good to feel like I'm done, even for a short time, with groping around for the next chapter of my life.
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July 27th, 2016
|01:08 pm - The kinds of questions we ask ourselves|
I am still thinking about this essay, now several years old, which constrasts the kishoutenketsu structure that characterizes traditional Chinese and Japanese narratives with a traditional western plot structure that relies on a conflict-driven plot characterized by a protagonist trying, failing, and eventually succeeding at something.
I don't think it's necessarily useful to divide things so neatly. Kishoutenketsu literally means something like 'arising, development, turn, resolution,' and this idea of a 'turn' or a 'twist' is broad enough to encompass Eastern and Western narratives, high-conflict narratives and low-conflict ones. My book on writing (very cheesy and commercial, and certainly not low-conflict) Boys Love novels says that you should use kishoutenketsu as a plot model. But then I think about a Yoshimoto Banana short story that I read several years ago. The viewpoint character is a girl who lives next door to a boy who's well-off but whose family life seems mysterious and sad. One day, circumstances lead her to understand the boy's family life much better; then he moves away.
By the standards of the conflict-plot model, this is a bad story. The girl isn't really driven by her efforts to help the boy or find out more about his family life; these are just things that happen. (If you were hung up on the conflict-plot model, you'd say she gets things too easily.) But the story works because really, there are two kinds of questions we're asking through the course of a narrative that generate tension or suspense. There's wanting to know what's going to happen next; and there's wanting to understand what's going on now. If a story like this one works, it works because we feel like we understand a little more about the boy and his family; and it works because we feel like that knowledge is meaningful in the context of the story; and maybe we feel like we understand a little more about the ways in which families can be sad or cruel or complicated. It's not driven by success or failure, but by revelation. Or epiphany.
This is where the Western/Eastern thing breaks down, because epiphany-driven storytelling has been the model for Anglosphere short stories for the last hundred years. And even if we think of Hollywood blockbusters, even in hugely conflict-driven movies, it's often the epiphanies that generate the most resonance -- isn't "I am your father" the key moment of any of the Star Wars movies? Even very traditional conflict-plot stories are driven by much more than the conflict, by much more than the protagonist's success or failure -- they're driven by a situation with mysteries that need to be understood. And a lot of that is lost when we try to cram stories into a conflict-plot model that reduces events to a try-fail cycle.
This is true even when it's really just a conflict-plot model with a Freudian overlay: we've got to dig up the hidden trauma, search out the mystery at the center of the problem, so that we can beat the Big Bad. But even then, I think it reflects something important -- the idea that we'll succeed not by being the cleverest or the strongest, but the ones with the deepest understanding of things. Perhaps, if we're lucky, by being the ones with the most empathy.
But there are also stories where understanding things better doesn't really get you anything, except for understanding things better. These are the stories that often feel aggressively anti-narrative to me, in the same way that Japanese fiction often used to feel anti-narrative to me when I started reading it. And at worst, these kinds of stories can feel meandering and pointlessly sad. But at best, I can relate better to the people in these stories: people who don't know what will make them happy; people who don't have much of anything concrete to fight for or fight against; people whose action in the world often consists in watching and waiting and hoping to get a better understanding of themselves and what's going on around them. These are the stories that say, if the conflict-plot model doesn't work, if you're not going to win or lose at life, what else matters? Where else can we build meaning, or find meaning? The epiphany story is bigger than an assumption about the cruel and brutal truths at the center of the universe. Kindness can be a revelation; the moments in Miyazaki's movies of quiet and natural beauty come like revelations, even in a movie as violent as Princess Mononoke.
The conflict-plot story is fundamentally a story about how you can win as long as you have enough strength or guts or will. That's not my story; it's not most people's story, I think. I want a story that decenters its protagonists, a little. A story with enough room for the cruelty of the universe and also its beauty. A story where, in the middle of all the other conflicts that are going on, the protagonist can sit down and breathe in the fresh air and see things at a different angle than they did the night before.
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July 16th, 2016
|02:35 pm - Hamilton Things|
(1) We saw Daveed Diggs's last show!
( The rest is under a cutCollapse )
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July 14th, 2016
|07:25 pm - Neoreaction a Basilisk|
I got the ebook for Neoreaction a Basilisk by Phil Sandifer because I backed the Kickstarter; the book should be widely released next year.
This is kind of a weird book. It's a book of philosophy-as-horror that takes as its organizing principle the internet "rationalist" movement, and the neoreactionary and alt-right movements, and the ways in which they intersect; but it loops out to consider Thomas Ligotti, China Mieville, Franz Fanon, Paradise Lost, Hannibal, and especially William Blake.
As a work of philosophy, it is unusual in that it is thoughtful, accessible, and well-written. Having read a couple of the "Philosophy and [Arbitrary popular mass-media product]" books, I have to say that it's refreshing for a writer to take Arbitrary Popular Mass-Media Product seriously in a way that doesn't seem like a condescending "Hey, kids! What does Hannibal have to teach us about [Arbitrary Philosophy 101 Topic]?" - and it's maybe still more refreshing that the book deliberately turns away from the impulse to tie things up neatly, arguing (correctly, I think) that rationality needs empathy and imagination if it's to get beyond a small and circumscribed vision of the world, and stepping away from the bounds of what we can logic out necessarily means embracing uncertainty.
I'm not sure how much appeal the book would have for somebody who didn't have at least a little bit of train-wreck-curiosity about the main topics of the book, and if you do have a little bit of train-wreck-curiosity you probably already backed this guy's kickstarter. But I am really glad I read it.
(And it pointed me to China Mieville's essay on social sadism, which I must now track down.)
N.B: Sandifer is also the author of Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons, on Theodore Beale and the recent Hugo debacle. I recommend it as well.
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June 13th, 2016
|10:30 pm - The Taco Cleanse|
"ALERT: Are you getting enough of the color blue in your diet? Colors are so important to the way our bodies function, and since the ocean is blue, it's especially critical that our bodies get enough blue in. The thing is, it can be tough to get blue food into your everyday diet without making conscious choices to choose blue! We developed this recipe to help."
Blue corn chip-crusted tofu.
The Taco Cleanse is both a cookbook for vegan tacos and a gentle send-up of health-and-nutrition-related pseudoscience, woo, and the very concept of cleanses. (Laura Beck of Vegansaurus writes in the foreword: "Cleanses are the fucking worst. They're socially acceptable starvation disguised as health, and that is the fucking worst.") In a nod to Cafe Gratitude, the book contains recipes like "Affirmation Cumin-Onion Rice," "Energizing Dutch Waffle Tacos," and "Euphoric Avocado Wedges</a>.
I will confess that my first thoughts when I heard about this book were, in order, "LOL," and "Oh actually I could definitely use some recipes for veg*n tacos." Not all of the humor bits work -- the section on "Taco Mudras" is uncomfortably ambiguous between making fun of white hippie appropriation of eastern spirituality, and just making fun of eastern spirituality. But mostly it manages to thread a weird, thin line -- silly yet practical, deadpan and serious in its total conviction about the healing power of eating more tacos.
I will have to report back once I find out whether the recipes are any good or not. (Not Dutch Waffle Tacos. No. Well, I mean, if I had a waffle iron...)
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|07:57 am - Recent cooking|
Charred eggplant and walnut pesto pasta salad - I dislike eggplant unless it's cooked just right, but this was quite delicious and not as bad as I expected with the prep time -- though it was challenging to handle the pasta, the pesto, and the eggplant all at once.
For my Tony viewing snack I made a fruit compote with strawberries, cherries, ginger, and a little lime juice. Served it over ice cream. Actually I didn't let it cool down enough before I ate, so I served it over melted ice cream, but it was still delicious.
We're almost at that time of year when I want to eat nothing but avocado on toast. Luckily I do have some avocados. I'm looking forward to having central air...
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