I had the opportunity to write an article for Women Writers, Women’s Book. The site was launched in 2011 to be another platform for contemporary women writers and authors around the world writing in English. Its mission is to encourage and promote the visibility of women writers. We are particularly interested in the edges, the intersections between genres, nationalities, languages, arts, cultures.
Barbara Bos is the managing editor and owner of Women Writers, Women’s Books. With sections such as, writing, interviews, recommended reads, agent’s corner, submissions, library 2021, author genie, hybrid publishing, and ask BLIX, Barbara has lovingly and judiciously curated a site that both supports and encourages women writers.
Barbara was born in Holland. After finishing University she left for the UK. Since then she has uprooted herself twice more, currently living with her family in a small village in Galicia, North-West Spain.
The once rolling forest of the Allen-Boggs-Levitt Estates served as an ideal place for a golf course on the North Shore. It had all the things golfers look for, sweeping fairways, gently contoured greens, and sparkling ponds. It was a far cry from the cookie-cutter homes one of the estate’s namesakes, Levitt, built for GI’s returning from World War II. However, Levitt’s part in the creation of the North Hills Country Club and Golf Course was anything but assembly-line.
The 6730-yards, par 72 golf course’s gorgeous arboreal setting allowed members to enjoy a private island course less than 30 miles from Manhattan. It was there at the 18th hole, where all six feet of fifty-four-year-old Camilla, CJ, Jordan stood impatiently leaning on her club. A fair-skinned woman with freckles, CJ, was a brick house 1970s Commodores style with her long reddish-brown hair, 44-DDD boobs, curvy girl waistline, and firm round butt. At that moment, the curvaceous CJ’s eyes were set on her best friend and professional golfer, fifty-five-year-old Tyler, T-Shot Mitchell as he circled the hole again.
“Are you going to putt or square dance? You’ve circled the hole five times already.”
“Yeah.” He put his hand up. “I’m lining up the shot.”
Although over fifty, Tyler was still blond, toned, and tanned with a six-pack that rivaled men half his age. In terms of a sport to show off his swimmer’s physique, golf wasn’t on the list. Tyler grew up surfing and boogie boarding with his friends, many of whom were rich beach bums. Golf entered the picture courtesy of his grandfather. Tyler turned out to be a natural at it. He competed in amateur events all over California. Then a funny thing happened, wherever he played, there was a spike in female attendance from the amateur circuit to the NCAA. Everyone wanted to be near the golden boy. Tyler became golf’s first real sex symbol when he joined the PGA. His love life and exploits with women rivaled any NFL or NBA player. He dated supermodels, lead actresses, starlets, singers, and performers. He even married a supermodel turned entrepreneur and had one son. The marriage didn’t last. Tyler liked a la carte dating and relationships too much. Although conservative, the PGA overlooked his exploits. Tyler Mitchell’s name increased attendance and ratings.
Luckily for the PGA and Tyler, his good genetic fortune continued, but his fortunes on the green had taken quite a few hits as of late. At first, it wasn’t too bad. He only missed the cut for one tournament the year prior. Yet, after his disappointing performance in the subsequent cuts, he did make, he may have been better off not making the cut in the first place. He was in a slump and though no one came out and said it, everyone knew it. CJ was the last person he wanted to hear it from, but he knew it was coming.
While Tyler hailed from sunny California, CJ was a Long Island native from Manhasset. Already 6 feet tall by the time she got to junior high school, CJ confidently took auto repair and woodshop instead of home economics. At twelve she knew how to cook, but sewing gave her a headache. Once in high school, she captained the all-male debate team, then led them to four straight statewide and two national titles. Then she went on to hold the distinct honor of being the first and only female practice partner for UCLA’s men’s golf team. She was a man’s woman, but not a tomboy. She’d put on a dress as easily as a pair of jeans, fussed with her hair, and wore makeup, but could still roll with, talk to, and out bluster guys. Yet men continued to baffle CJ when it came to dating and relationships. A self-professed serial monogamist, she’d broken up with her longtime love a year earlier and wasn’t focused on much else besides business and golf. All of which meant, she had no intention of going easy on old T-Shot.
Tyler walked around the hole for the sixth time.
“Are you kidding me?!” CJ huffed. “I don’t think I have any chalk with me, but I can give you a red lipstick to use to mark up the grass. Give me a second, I’ll check my bag.”
“Fine.” He huffed. “Point taken.”
Tyler lined up his putt, swung, and it sailed past the hole. “Don’t say anything.” He tapped the ball in.
“That was anticlimactic.”
“You just had to say something, didn’t you?”
“What else could I do. You set yourself up. The only other thing I could say is I’ve seen you sink par 4 holes like this with your eyes closed.”
“You can’t help yourself can you?”
“Yes. I can. However, since you’ve taken to playing like shit lately, it’s becoming a reflex action.” She headed for the golf cart.
“I’m just off today.” He followed behind her.
CJ put the club in her golf bag. “No, an off day happens every so often. You were off for The Palmer Invitational, The Players, Quail Hollow…”
He cut her off. “I did take the green jacket at the Masters. What do you call that?”
“As of lately, a fluke. You’ve got to get it together Man.”
“Not everyone can be as stealthy as you, Priscilla.” He put his bag on the cart.
“I know how to separate personal from professional, especially in golf. If you have both going on in your head while you’re playing, you are sunk.”
“Not everyone can turn the ice on in their veins.”
“I don’t have ice in my veins. I keep my shit separate. Maybe that’s something you should aspire to.” CJ climbed into the passenger side.
“I’ll put it on my list of things to do.” He got in the cart. “We didn’t keep score, did we?”
“No, I was merciful for once.” She smiled. “Do you want me to make lunch at your condo?”
Tyler stared out at the course. “No, let’s drop the gear at the condo and have lunch in the club.”
“Works for me. You’re paying, right?”
“Aren’t I always?”
CJ laughed as they drove off.
Being wealthy and from California, Tyler liked anything that reminded him of the west coast and luxury. The Ritz Carlton Residences in North Hills fit the bill perfectly. His 2,000 plus square-foot condo was more than enough room for the bachelor and his usual parade of lovelies he called girlfriends.
CJ walked into the living room with her golf bag. “Where do you want me to put this?”
“Put it against the terrace entrance. I’ll have someone get it and bring it down to your car later when we get back. By the way, this is a full-service condo. You didn’t have to carry it in here.”
She put her bag down. “I’m sure people here keep the staff busy enough without me adding to it. I’ve been carrying this thing since I was a teenager.”
“Speaking of being a teenager, is that why you have that thing in your hair?”
“Oh, good grief. I forgot I put the scrunchie on.” She took it out and tossed her hair. “People find me less intimidating when I look like Gidget.” CJ put it on top of her bag.
Tyler chuckled. “Scrunchie or ribbons, you’re 6 feet tall, CJ you will always be intimidating. There’s a reason I call you Priscilla Amazon Queen of the Fairway.”
“Don’t I know it?” She smirked.
Tyler put his bag next to hers. “You ready to go?”
Lunch at the Governor’s Room boasted Michelin-rated food. It served as a banquet hall for larger events, but during the week, dining there for lunch or dinner was a culinary affair. CJ and Tyler took advantage of the warm weather and dined on the patio. A couple of luncheon-size steaks with salad and baked potato was just the thing to satisfy their appetites. Tyler had a beer while CJ stuck to sparkling water.
“The Memorial Tournament is coming up quick.” CJ sipped her water.
“I know. I’ve got a little time to pull it together.”
“You’re going to have to practice a lot and I know that’s not one of your strong suits.”
“I’ve grown up a lot since college, CJ.”
“You have, the women you date haven’t.”
“What? I’m just saying your current le chat du jour, is a black hole when it comes to her need to be the center of attention, especially when it comes to you. She practically demands your full attention.”
“She loves me. It’s nice to be wanted.”
“Being wanted by Alyssa makes the FBI’s ten most wanted list look like an informal invitation. Something about this girl.” She shook her head.
In the years since he turned forty, the age of the women Tyler dated skewed twenty years younger than him. He thought he was safe dating millennials. They weren’t into labels, so there’d be no strings. Then he saw tall, blonde, and lithe Alyssa Brummel at a red carpet event. She wore a neck-to-toe nude illusion lace bodysuit and Tyler couldn’t help himself. By the end of the evening, they went home together. A year later and the twenty-four-year-old, trust funder and bonafide Influencer regularly overshared everything, including her relationship with Tyler with her followers and the media.
“You’ve been talking to me about my love life for 20 plus years. Your love life…” he stopped.
CJ had a steak knife in her hand. “You were saying.”
“I can’t even with you.”
She laughed, and then looked up. “What is that?”
“What are you talking about?”
“In the sky. It looks like smoke.”
“Maybe someone’s burning leaves.” He kept eating.
“This is the gold coast part of the North Shore. People don’t burn leaves here.”
He looked up. “The smoke is too dark to be organic.”
CJ’s cell rang. She looked at the caller ID. “It’s Tim.” Hey, Tim. What’s going on?”
“Mom, have you been on Instagram?”
“Really, Tim? This is your mother you’re talking to. Of course, I haven’t been on Instagram. Why?”
“You need to go on it right now. Is uncle Tyler with you?”
“Yeah. We just played a round of golf and we’re having lunch at the club.”
“He needs to go on Instagram too. It’s Alyssa.”
“What do you mean, it’s Alyssa?” Tyler put his fork down.
“Tim’s saying that we both should go on Instagram to see.” She put the knife down.
Tyler took his phone out.
“Make sure you turn it so I can see.”
“Oh boy, Mom.” Tim groaned.
“I really don’t like the sound of that.”
When Tyler opened Instagram there was a live stream with Alyssa with ablaze and fire trucks behind her. She was ranting and raving.
“What the hell?!” CJ exclaimed.
Tyler watched frozen.
“It’s already gone viral, Mom.” He paused. “Are you there?”
“Yeah. It’s all I can do not to sail off into the atmosphere. “Wait, there are two bags. The bitch set fire to my golf bag.”
“Oh, no,” Tim said quietly. “I’m going to go, Mom. I know you want to talk to Uncle Tyler”
“I may do more than that. I’ll see you later.”
Tyler was stunned. “Where did she come from? She wasn’t supposed to be in New York. I spoke to her this morning.”
“She just did the golf equivalent of a burning bed, and you want to talk about when she got here? That’s the hill you want to die on?”
Tyler didn’t know what to say. Soon the whole dining room was focused on the patio.
“Everyone’s looking Tyler.”
“We better get out of here. I have to see what’s happening.”
“You have to see? It’s streaming live.” CJ got up. “I don’t know if you want me near her.”
“We have to be calm. It’s already horrible.”
“She just melted the bag my father gave me for my high school graduation. Thirty-six years I’ve had them and in one afternoon, they’re barbequed. You better hope the fire department got the blaze out. Otherwise, I may throw her shrimp ass on the barbie.” CJ huffed away full speed.
“No, CJ. I’ll make it right. I promise.”
“Bullshit. I’ll do it.” Head full of steam, she charged through the dining room with Tyler right behind her.
“No, we have to calm down and find out what happened.”
CJ stopped dead and turned around. “Please tell me what’s a good reason for setting a fire in front of private property and ranting like a mad cow. It’s stupid and fucked up.”
“Seriously. I will make it right.”
“How? She burned my shit. How are you going to make it better?”
“I’ll get your bag and clubs replaced with the exact same bag.”
“I don’t know if the company that made the bag is still in business. Or do you think that like a Phoenix, the bags will rise from the ashes?”
“You let me handle it.”
“Like you handled her when she showed up at Quail Hollow and trashed that poor woman’s room because she transposed the room numbers?”
The trashed room happened after the first round when Tyler went out for a beer with some fellow golfers and sport’s bloggers. He left his cell in his room. The next morning as he waited to tee off, he got the news that not only was Alyssa there, she was angry with him for not returning her calls. She flew in ready for a fight, but she went to the wrong room and furiously destroyed another guest’s belongings. Luckily, her father’s deep pockets compensated the guest for the damages plus suffering. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do the same for the damage to Tyler’s game which swiftly went down the tubes.
“You had to bring that up?”
“Yes. I did. Someone has to put some sense into that head of yours.” She exhaled. “You know what, let’s get going. We, or should I say you, have to see the damage. Thank God, I drove my car here. I’m going home.”
Tyler looked relieved. “I know you’re upset and getting in her face now won’t help anything.”
“What it will do is save her life. I was going to murder her on her live stream!” She took a breath. “Are you moving? Let’s go.”
Every set of eyes in the club was on Tyler. He knew this attention was only the beginning. He looked down at his phone. She was still going. “F my life.”
In the short time it took to get back condo, the residents’ parking lot was filled with police cars and fire vehicles. Tyler found a space in the secondary parking lot. Knowing it was imperative to get CJ out of there, Tyler flagged down a police officer to guide her out of the parking lot.
“You are one lucky son of a gun.” CJ scoffed as she hopped into her Range Rover.
“I’m not stupid. I’ve seen your temper.” Tyler closed the car door. “Well, you’re all set to get out of here.”
CJ started the car, then rolled the window down. “I don’t see any handcuffs. I bet she called her daddy.”
“That’s not fair, CJ.”
“You want to talk about what’s fair? I can still get out of this car and wring her neck.”
“Okay. You got me.”
“I don’t know why I am surprised. Girls like that always skate. You’ll be upset for another 10 minutes or so. Then you’ll move on to the makeup sex.”
“No, I won’t.” Tyler insisted. “You have to forgive people. They’re only human and make mistakes. You know you could do…”
“I could do what?” CJ’s eyes flashed with anger.
“Nothing. I’m sorry.”
“Right. I’ll email you the specs from my bag to replace it. I hope you know Merlin.”
“If I don’t, I’ll make a point to meet him.” He looked over at the officer. “He’s giving you all clear to back out.”
Tyler watched CJ drive off, then made his way over to where the action was. As he got closer to his condo, he noticed the placement of the bags. Did she throw them off the terrace? He traced the path with his eyes. Yes. She threw them off the terrace. He shook his head then made his way to a fire official.
He tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me, are you the fire chief?”
A short, stout man with a ruddy complexion faced him. “Yes. Chief Carlson. You’re Tyler Mitchell.”
“Yes. Where is she? Is she under arrest?”
He pointed. “She’s over there by the property manager. The police are here, but I don’t know what’s happening.”
Tyler looked at the smoldering heap. “Was there any other damage?”
“The fire was pretty much contained to the bags. There’s some damage to the grass, but nothing horrible. Good thing the bags were real, a cheap one would have gone up like a Roman candle. All in all, it could have been worse.”
“Yep. Thanks.” He stepped away. What a parting gift. If she was going to be a firebug, at least the bags were made of good enough material that it only burned the grass, as opposed to burning the whole condo down.
Tyler nodded as he walked by some of his neighbors. Everyone waved politely, but he could feel residual flames burning through his back when he passed by. People began to part as he came upon Alyssa, who was in a blue dress with puffy sleeves and a white-collar. She looked like Madeline from the children’s book. All that was missing was a pair of Mary Janes. So, if Alyssa was the schoolgirl, building manager, Harrison Pinter, who was next to her, looked like the headmaster.
“Ty!” She ran up and put her arms around his neck. “I’m sorry.”
“You stopped streaming?”
“Yes. Daddy made a deal.”
“Your father what?”
“Hello, Mr. Mitchell.”
“Harrison. I would say it’s good to see you, but you know.”
“Ms. Brummel telephoned her father and gave me the phone. He offered to compensate us for the damages and the services of his crisis management team to handle the press.”
Tyler looked around. “They must work fast. I don’t see any other cameras here.”
“The powers that be okayed it?”
“Yes. They want it to go away quickly. I am sorry about the bags, Mr. Mitchell. It could have been worse if they weren’t so well-made.”
“Isn’t that something.”
“I’ll leave you to it. Good day, Ms. Brummel.”
Tyler waited a moment. “All I want to know is why.”
Alyssa batted her eyelashes; it was the prelude to her coquettish act. “It’s your fault.”
“I’m sorry. It’s my fault you did all of this. How?”
“You didn’t answer any of my texts this afternoon.”
“I didn’t get any texts.” He took his phone out.
She grabbed it out of his hand. “See. You have a bunch from me.” She fiddled through his phone. “You didn’t remember you put your phone on silent?”
“I always put it on silent if I’m playing golf. You know that. I was going to take it off silent mode after lunch.”
“Yeah. I remembered, but then I got here, and I saw this in the living room.” She held up CJ’s red scrunchie. “You were here with another woman.”
He shook his head. “That’s CJ’s.”
All the color drained from her face. “CJ’s scrunchie?”
“Yeah. She wore it on the golf course today. She offered to make lunch here, but we had lunch at the club instead.”
Still as pale as a ghost, she seemed to shrink. “The bag belonged to CJ.” She gulped and looked around. “Is she here?”
“She was going to come back. I convinced her to head home and cool down.”
“It was an old bag anyway. It couldn’t have been worth that much.”
“That’s not the point. Her dad gave her that when she graduated. Sentiment adds value. It was custom, like your shoes.” He paused. “We have to do something about this jealous streak of yours. You can’t keep having fits like this. Your followers aren’t substitutes for friends. If you’re mad, make like Who Wants to Be A Millionaire and phone a friend, use a lifeline. It doesn’t have to be a poll.”
“My followers are my friends. They have some good advice.”
“What poll said you should start a fire?”
She rolled her eyes. “I was angry. You didn’t communicate.”
“And that was communication?” He pointed to the charred pile.
“I’m going to do something to rectify that right now.” She began to fiddle with his phone.
“What are you doing?”
“Making sure you know when I’m trying to get in touch with you.” Her fingers flew across the screen. “Better.” She put it in his hand. “I gave myself a ringtone of a doorbell. Now you will know when I’m looking for you. And here’s the vibrate button. Use it. It’s quiet, but it buzzes.”
“I guess the problem is solved.”
“That’s right, Baby. Let’s go back in and forget about this. Someone will clean it up.” She kissed him then took his hand.
Alyssa was blind to all the disapproving looks and tut-tutting, but Tyler wasn’t. He was following her like a puppy on a leash. He kept his head low to avoid their gaze. Just before he went inside, he turned around and saw people with fireproof gloves pulling what was left in the rubble. I’m sure my pride is in there somewhere. I don’t want to think about how many people saw this live. He sighed and went inside. Before the day was over, there were over 6 million views and counting. Unfortunately for Tyler, even when it was over, it wouldn’t be gone or forgotten.
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It was a dark, cold, grey, January day in Manhattan. The city’s holiday shine had long faded away. Gone from the modern contemporary office lobbies across New York County were the trees, lights, and holiday decorations that made them sparkle. Now, they were more like a rich man’s trophy wife or girlfriend, beautiful to behold, but soulless and cold. At least that’s what went through fifty-three-year-old Clarissa Berman’s mind as she walked through the lobby of her office building on Lexington Avenue.
At 5’8, Clarissa wasn’t considered petite, but tall enough to be above average. A very curvy African American woman, she had big boobs, a generous butt, a smallish waist with a little more tummy than she’d like. Her long, curly, thick hair was a custom mix of Clairol light reddish and cedar red-brown, which played nicely off of the red undertones of her light brown complexion. To say Clarissa was a convert to the natural hair movement, was a bit of a stretch. She’d done so at the suggestion of Mary Ann, otherwise known as her mothership. A woman used to having her will be done, she now suggested things to her adult daughters who’d long discovered that her suggestions were the equivalent of mutton dressed as lamb, but it was still mutton.
From the moment Clarissa and younger sister Elena were able to understand their roles in the family, her mothership Mary Anne Stevenson made it clear that even when they became queens of their own domains, they’d always be the ladies in waiting to her. Growing up, the ‘I am the mother argument’ was the overriding element for almost everything. Everyone from her husband, family, and friends, were in the mothership realm, and therefore subject to her opinions, will, and advice.
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Breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day. So, instead of grabbing a fast-food breakfast sandwich, why not have a lightly sweet scone to enjoy with your tea or coffee instead.
These recipes come together fairly quickly and you can make the dough ahead of time and refrigerate it for up to two days. These recipes have been adapted for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and low sugar diets. The substitutions are in the parenthesis next to each ingredient.
A Taste of Ireland recipe for Irish scones adapted by Chamein Canton
Makes 7 large scones and 10 small scones
(225gr / 2 cups) plain all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum, white rice, or brown rice flour)
2 heaped teaspoons (2 ¾ US tsp) baking powder
Large pinch salt
1 US level tablespoon) castor sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, monk fruit sweetener granulated, coconut, turbinado, or raw cane sugar, pulsed fine)
2oz (50gr / ½ a stick of butter) chilled unsalted butter (vegan butter)
(280ml / 2 fl. oz / ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons US cups) milk approximately” (dairy: whole, 2$) (non-dairy almond, rice, soy, or light coconut milk)
Beaten egg & sugar to glaze (2 tablespoons Aquafaba or 1 tablespoon soy lecithin)
Preheat the oven to Gas 8 / 450F / 230C
Sift all the dry ingredients together. Rub in the chilled butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make a well in the center and add most of the milk. Mix to a soft dough adding all of the milk if required.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead lightly. Roll out to about 1 inch (2 ½ cm) thickness. Dip the cutter into flour and cut the dough into rounds of 1 ½ inch (4cm).
Place scones on a floured baking tray, glaze with the beaten egg, and put immediately into the hot oven. In 15 minutes approximately, the scones should have risen and had a golden top. Enjoy with Irish butter and homemade jam!
The amount of milk added is determined by where you live and your house. If you’re in a drier area, you may need to add more milk so the dough begins to come together. Be sure not to overwork the dough. If you live in a humid climate, it may take less milk. Use your judgment.
Mini Chocolate Chip scones by Sugar Spun Run adapted by Chamein
2 cups all-purpose flour (465g) gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum, white rice, or brown rice flour)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (100g) (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, monk fruit granulated sweetener, golden sugar, coconut, turbinado, or raw cane sugar pulsed finely)
2 teaspoon baking powder (18g)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup very cold unsalted butter frozen is better (226g) (vegan unsalted butter)
1/2 cup heavy cream (237ml) (full-fat coconut milk or 3 tablespoons almond milk with 2 tablespoons melted unsalted vegan butter, cooled. With a stand or hand mixer, mix the butter into the almond milk, then add )
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 F (190C) and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Thoroughly cut in butter (I prefer to freeze the butter, grate it using a box grater, and then cut it in that way. This method yields the flakiest scones, but is not mandatory — you can use cold butter cut in with a pastry cutter).
Measure out the heavy cream in a measuring cup and add vanilla extract. Stir gently.
Carefully stir heavy cream/vanilla mixture into flour mixture. You do not want to over-mix, but due to the number of dry ingredients, it may be tricky to well incorporate the liquid and the dry mixes. You may briefly use a KitchenAid or electric mixer on a low setting to help coax the dough to cling together.
Once the dough is beginning to cling together, add chocolate chips, stir briefly, and then transfer to a very lightly floured surface
lightly knead the dough and chocolate chips together until you are able to form a ball.
Break the dough into 4 even pieces and round each one out into a disk about 5″ wide.
Cut each into 8 wedges and transfer to cookie sheet.
Bake at 375F (190C) for 14-16 minutes.
While the scones cool, prepare your glaze by whisking together milk, vanilla extract, and powdered sugar. Start with 1 cup powdered sugar, and if it still seems too runny you may increase the sugar amount.
Once scones are cooled, dip, drizzle, or spoon the glaze lightly over the top of each scone. Allow it to sit and harden before serving.
To learn more about Irish Cooking check out A Taste of Ireland on Recipe TV
It was a dark, cold, grey, January day in Manhattan. The city’s holiday shine had long faded away. Gone from the modern contemporary office lobbies across New York County were the trees, lights, and holiday decorations that made them sparkle. Now, they were more like a rich man’s trophy wife or girlfriend, beautiful to behold, but soulless and cold. At least that’s what went through fifty-three-year-old Clarissa Berman’s mind as she walked through the lobby of her office building on Lexington Avenue.
At 5’8, Clarissa was too tall to be considered petite, but tall enough to be above average. A very curvy African American woman, she had big boobs, a generous butt, a smallish waist with a little more tummy than she’d like. Her long, curly, thick hair was a custom mix of Clairol light reddish and cedar red-brown, which played nicely off of the red undertones of her lightly brown complexion. To say Clarissa was a convert to the natural hair movement, was a bit of a stretch. She’d done so at the suggestion of Mary Ann, otherwise known as her mothership. A woman used to having her will be done, she now suggested things to her adult daughters who’d long been onto her act. Her mothership’s suggestions were the equivalent of mutton dressed as lamb, but it was still mutton.
From the moment Clarissa and younger sister Elena were able to understand their roles in the family, her mothership Mary Anne Stevenson made it clear that even when they became queens of their own domains, they’d always be the ladies in waiting to her. Growing up, the ‘I am the mother argument’ was the overriding element for almost everything. Everyone from her husband, friends, and most particularly, her daughters, were subject to her opinions, will, and advice.
Eventually, divorce freed their dad. The years hadn’t softened her mothership’s edges, but she appeared as a kinder, gentler person in her church. The congregation saw the well-kept silver-haired seventy-six-year-old woman as a kind grandmotherly type, with the exception of one who was both a congregation member and her friend.
Clarissa’s text notifications chimed as she got to the front entrance. She looked down. It’s mom.
I just picked Ingrid up from JFK. She went to North Carolina to see her grandchildren. Jimmy has the kids, but that ex-wife of his told Ingrid some sob story about being sick and Ingrid gave her $2,000. The girl wasn’t sick, she needed it for a boob job. Can you imagine that? I told Ingrid she’s too soft. A boob job at her age. Tiffany is damn near sixty and still dresses like she’s getting ready to climb a pole, any pole.
Ingrid and her mothership had been friends for nearly forty-plus years. Ingrid’s ex-husband had an office in the same building as the magazine her mothership worked for and they became friends.
Clarissa shook her head. That’s not nice Mom. She typed.
It’s not meant to be nice. Jimmy’s mad at her and I don’t blame him. I told her not to give that girl any money. The money she got from selling her house isn’t going to last forever.
Okay, Mom. So, you dropped her off at home?
No. We’re going to dinner.
Before or after your church meeting?
No meeting tonight. I’m going to talk some sense into this woman. She needs to be careful with her money. It’s foolishness.
Okay, so you’re not going to the meeting. Wait. Ingrid’s in the car with you. You have Bluetooth in the car. It’s reading your texts aloud, right?
Yeah. I don’t talk behind anyone’s back. I believe in being direct.
You’re telling me? I’m not exactly new to this Mom. Clarissa rubbed her forehead. I can’t stay on too long. I’m waiting for my uber.
So, you’re not taking the subway. Good. I don’t know how you do it nowadays. I took the subway back in the sixties, it was kinda nice then.
I am fully aware you haven’t taken the subway since 1971.
Are you running home to post food?
No, Mother, I’m going home to make dinner for my husband.
After which she would definitely post pictures and the recipe. Clarissa found it easier not to engage with anything her mothership didn’t understand. It was best to shut her down before it turned into a sermon, or worse, an abject lesson.
Good. Posting pictures of food for attention. Everyone wants to be a bigshot. Look what I made. It’s all such…
Foolishness. I’ve heard it before, Mom. Clarissa sighed sharply. Okay, Mom I’ve got to run now. Tell Ingrid I said hi. Better yet, hi Ingrid.
Enjoy dinner ladies. Try not to be too hard on Ingrid. Goodnight Mom.
Goodnight. Be careful. It’s dark.
Gotcha. Clarissa sighed softly as she stared out the car window. Good night.It’s a wonder Ingrid still talks to her mothership. She’s nearly brought the woman to tears, but she keeps doing things with her. I suppose that’s real friendship or Stockholm syndrome. Might be a little bit of both. Clarissa softly snickered. Her mothership is supposed to be a part of the Silent Generation. What a misnomer. Lord knows the woman is anything but silent.
Her mothership was born Mary Anne Stevenson in the early 1940s. She was a pretty girl who loved hair, fashion, and makeup in a small town in South Carolina. In addition to having deaf parents, Mary Anne had a blue and a brown eye, it made her look exotic, which was almost as misunderstood as her parent’s deafness.
It was the bad old days when deaf was often followed by two other adjectives, dumb, and mute. So, she and older brother Charles became their parents, or more specifically, their father, Landy’s protectors. Their mother’s family had the money to send her to the School for the Deaf and Blind in Spartanburg. Not only did an education put Annette in good stead, it made her confident and self-assured enough to stand up for herself. If she wanted to make her displeasure known, she’d turn, stick her posterior out and blow a kiss. It meant kiss my ass in any language.
Dad Landy was a different story. A kind and gentle man with a trusting nature that made him a mark for passing gypsies and some of the less than scrupulous town residents. She and brother Charles would go toe-to -toe with anyone who’d duped him to get his hard-earned money back, and they defended his dignity fiercely.
These were the experiences that shaped her mothership and gave her the impetus to leave South Carolina after high school. She headed due east to Baltimore to stay with cousins. The move changed her life once she met Ernest Cannon, a native New Yorker and student at Morgan State College. They dated, got married after his graduation, and then settled on Long Island near Ernest’s mother Geneva. Her mothership used her innate sense of style to land an entry-level position at a women’s service magazine. It wasn’t Vogue, but she made the most of it.
Clarissa and Elena became her mothership’s models. She kept them in Martins, A & S, and Macy’s. Weekends were devoted to hair, hot combs, barrettes, and ribbons. The girls appearance was micromanaged from head to toe. It went swimmingly until her daughters went from girls to women with growing assets. At the age of twelve Clarissa realized her body imperfections were as much about how her mothership saw herself, as it was about the way the world saw her and Elena.
Whether it was in spite of or because of her mothership, Clarissa and Elena turned out to be attractive, shapely, and intelligent women. Both became mothers to sons. Everything was mostly quiet on the mothership front, until she decided to implement a new tactic. When Clarissa turned 40, her mother issued some sort of weird executive order about shorts worn by women forty. It was a don’t. No exceptions. Even J-Lo’s ageless shape didn’t get a pass. To her mothership, La Lopez needed to cover it up and put a pair of slacks on.
At fifty she decided that both daughters needed to let their hair go natural. It didn’t matter that she started the whole hair relaxer thing. Elena shut it down. Clarissa decided to go natural, but the hair color stayed. Clarissa wouldn’t go grey gracefully, but she also hadn’t worn a pair of shorts in fourteen years.
Clarissa kept watch for her Uber. A black Navigator pulled in front of the building. That’s it. Clarissa walked out and into the waiting car’s backseat.
“Good evening, Ma’am.”
“Good evening.” She closed the door, buckled up, and unconsciously twirled her hair when she saw her reflection. Again with the mirror. At least they have products to keep it looking shiny and like hair. I used to look like I had the tentacles of a Portuguese Man O War on my head. I suppose that’s progress.
Her cell rang. It was Clarissa’s best friend of over forty years, Melanie Vargas Hopkins. Their birthdays were separated by a mere few days. They graduated from the same high school and went onto Skidmore College together. The curvaceous Latina with lush brunette locks was divorced and dating a guy Clarissa set her up with a year earlier. But first, she had to give the driver her customary explanation for the use of the speakerphone. She was partially deaf.
Clarissa was born a healthy baby girl, but at three months old, her Grandma Cannon noticed that she turned her head to the right when spoken to. When she mentioned it to her son, it ticked her mothership off. No one pushed the issue again until a routine hearing test in elementary school led the audiologist to confirm she was deaf in her left ear. Fortunately, Clarissa’s right ear was at 99.1% and she read lips, However, conversations on the busy, noisy streets of Manhattan were another story.
Clarissa looked at her phone for the driver’s name. “Excuse me, Bernie?”
“I’d like to answer this call, but I have to put it on speaker. I’m partially deaf. If it bothers you, I’ll send her a text and call her back.”
“No, that’s not a problem. Thanks for asking.”
“No. Thank you. I appreciate your understanding.” She hit answer. “Hey, Girlie. How was Fiji?”
“It was fantastic. So beautiful, warm, sunny, and lovely all the time.”
“Aww, that sounds nice. Then you flew back to grey and cold reality. What a bummer.”
“Don’t I know it? I figured I’d buzz you before you went underground to get home.”
“I am ubering home now. I didn’t feel like descending into the arteries of the city today. The whole city is shrouded in a post-holiday funk, and it’s contagious.”
“You’re not kidding.”
“When do you have to get back to the hospital?”
“I’ve got another week or so off. I have a ton of accumulated time. I’m taking some of it. No need to rush. I have to give my body a little time to re-acclimate.”
“Good for you. Where’s Jordan?”
“He went to his place, but he’s coming back.”
Fifty-eight-year-old graphic art designer Jordan Chan was always in Clarissa’s orbit as an editor and an agent. Jordan was blissfully married for many years until a drunk driver ended his happy world. Clarissa knew that people who truly loved before were likely to find love again, it was always a matter of timing. Melanie’s marriage to Troy began as a dream but devolved into a nightmare after the kids were born. Troy was a serial cheater and lazy to boot. Melanie had the role of breadwinner for their twin daughters and son. After their divorce, relationships weren’t on her radar for a long time with good reason.
It all changed during the holidays year before when Jordan finally decided to attend Clarissa’s legendary Christmas holiday buffet. Melanie met Jordan, and the sparks flew. They were a bonafide couple in no time.
“My goodness, Girlie. All of this togetherness. Why don’t you two just move in together?”
“We were just laughing about that. It’s too soon.”
“On who’s watch? I’m not saying we’re old, but our even our shadows are shrinking.”
She laughed. You’re right about that.” Melanie paused. “Before it slips my mind, my esthetician can’t take me for a few days, and I need a little manicuring.”
“You need manicuring? How wild has it gotten?”
“It’s not wild. It’s grey as hell.”
“Oh, I understand that. Can you hold for a tick?”
“Um, excuse me Bernie.”
“Yes?” He looked into the rearview mirror.
“I’m still talking to my friend, and it might get a little bawdy. I don’t want to offend you.”
“Oh, please. You don’t know the stuff I’ve heard.” He laughed. “That’s not an issue. Go ahead.”
“Cool. Thanks. Okay, Melanie, I’m back. Isn’t it a bitch when south of the equator is greying faster than the hair on your head? Since, I don’t need a rug to match the drapes, the bare floor works for me.”
“Right? At least everything is still smooth down below.”
“Amen, girl. Knock on wood.”
“I love Jordan so much, but it’s a lot keeping up with all the stuff it takes to remain a soft and pretty woman. I was never bothered about it before we met, but you were a different story. You kept on it before you and Miles met.”
“I put dating and men on the shelf for so long, I was practically a reconstituted virgin. Nobody was on the streets of Brazil, but I was always ready if Carnivale came to town. The Boy Scouts didn’t corner the market on being prepared.”
Bernie began to howl with laughter. “I’m sorry. That was a good one.”
“Thanks.” Clarissa grinned.
“You’re talking like this in an uber?”
“I cleared it with Bernie. He’s cool with it. But getting back to you and Jordan, when are you two going to jump the broom? Seriously, have you checked our sundial lately? We have no business waiting around in this section of the pool. The water is receding. There’s no time to waste.”
Welcome to the premier posting for Monday Meal Makeover. Here we will try to up your Monday meal game for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, or snacks. All the recipes that can be adapted will include:
Gluten-Free, Celiac Disease
Low Sugar/ Low Carb
Lactose Intolerance/Egg Allergies
For what I hope will be the first of many, welcome to the first Monday Meal Makeover.
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Blueberry Muffins by Tastes Better From Scratch adapted by Chamein Canton
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum, millet, sweet or brown rice flour)
3/4 cup granulated sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, coconut, raw cane, or turbinado sugar, pulsed fine)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons grated lemon or orange zest
1/3 cup oil (vegetable or canola oil)
1 large egg (2 tablespoons Aquafaba, ¼ cup silken tofu pureed with 1/8 teaspoon baking soda, 1 flaxseed or chia seed egg, or egg replacer)
1/3 cup buttermilk (dairy: full-fat, low-fat, or light) (non-dairy: almond, rice, soy, or light coconut milk with 1 teaspoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, mixed. Let stand for at least five minutes before using)
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon lemon or orange extract, optional
1 cup blueberries , fresh or frozen
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, coconut, raw cane, or turbinado sugar pulsed fine)
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar (Swerve brown sugar substitute, organic light brown sugar)
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum, millet, sweet or brown rice flour)
2 Tablespoons cold unsalted or salted butter, chopped (vegan unsalted or salted butter)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a standard size muffin tin with liners, or grease well with non-stick cooking spray.
In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, orange or lemon zest, and baking powder.
Add oil, egg, buttermilk, vanilla, and orange or lemon extract (if using), and mix just until combined. Don’t over mix (the batter doesn’t need to be “smooth”)
Toss the blueberries in a spoonful of flour. This will help them not to sink to the bottom of the muffin. Gently fold blueberries into the batter.
Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter.
If you are making the crumb topping:
Add all of the ingredients to a bowl. Use your fingers, pastry cutter, or a fork to work the butter into the mixture.
Sprinkle crumb mixture over the tops of muffins in the pan.
Bake for about 5 minutes at 400-degrees, then reduce the temperature to 375-degrees. Bake for about 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs.
Remove muffins from oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
The bake time may vary by ovens. It may take a little longer or a shorter time depending on your oven. I tend to err on the side of a toothpick coming out clean or with a few crumbs when inserted in the center of the muffins.
I don’t recommend using shortening or butter-flavor shortening. It makes the batter heavier and the muffins oily.
Cast Iron Roasted Chicken- Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen adapted by me
1 whole chicken. Fryer or young chicken
Canola or vegetable oil
This is the seasoning rub I use, adapt it to your likes and measure it out to the size of the chicken.
Paprika sweet or smoked
Remove the chicken back. Set aside to make stock
Combine the seasoning in a bowl
Tie the legs together with kitchen twine.
Season the chicken skin side down
Place into a cast iron skillet
Make sure the skin of the chicken is dry. Rub the skin with oil. Season liberally and tuck the wings underneath. Roast In hot oven 450-475. Make sure there’s about seven inches from the rack to the top of the oven.
Roast for about 1 hour. It could be more or less depending upon your oven. So keep a watchful eye. The temp of the chicken should be about 160-165 degrees from the thickest part of the chicken.
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion finely chopped
3 cloves of chopped garlic
1 cup of ketchup
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup molasses * (sorghum syrup)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire
1 teaspoon mustard powder
pinch of cayenne
1 tablespoon chili powder
pinch of allspice
In a saucepan over medium heat, saute onions until tender, about four to five minutes. Add garlic, and stir for one minute. Add the tomato paste, and carmelize it stirring for two minutes. Add the ketchup, molasses, cider vinegar, and brown sugar. Stir for one minute. Add the chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, pinch of cayenne, and allspice. Stir. Add 1/4 cup water and cook stirring for four minutes until thickened. Take the sauce off the heat and let cool. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. You can also use a blender or food processor, but be sure it’s cool. It will make for quite the science lesson and a mess.
Spruce Eats list of molasses substitutes
If you don’t have molasses, you can make one of several quick substitutes. Replace one cup of molasses with one of the following: 1 cup dark corn syrup, honey, or maple syrup. 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/4 cup water
These substitutions may alter the taste of your recipe a bit. If the molasses flavor is vital to the success of your recipe, try the brown sugar substitute. Since brown sugar is granulated sugar and molasses it’ll be the closest flavor match. Maple syrup or dark corn syrup would be the next best choice.
If you have to use granulated sugar or honey as the substitute, consider increasing the spices in the recipe a bit to make up for the flavors that the molasses would have contributed.
It’s a heck of a thing to call yourself a teenage man snatcher, and to point to Martha Stewart as the reason it happened. Well, I have to be honest, she was just one factor that contributed to my delinquency, and she is in good company. Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Charlotte Bronte, and Emily Bronte also contributed to my rep as a modern Victorian seductress.
I loved all things baking from a very early age. My dad gave me an Easy Bake oven when I was four, and once I saw a wedding cake, it was all downhill from there. I was hooked on stacking and frosting cakes. Eventually, my baking repertoire grew over time to include cookies, pastries, bread, muffins, and naturally more cakes. At eleven, I had a subscription to the cooking magazine, Cuisine, which eventually became Gourmet. I loved trying new recipes to challenge myself and improve my skills.
I was a teenager in the eighties. It was a time of big hair, shoulder pads, Dallas, and Dynasty. General Hospital’s Luke and Laura were the onscreen soap couple. Cooking shows were limited to PBS on Sundays and for a few precious hours on Monday evenings. I wasn’t allowed to date at the time. So, while other girls were getting ready to go out to a movie on Friday and Saturday night, I was at home or spending the night over my best friend Melissa’s house listening to the Beatles, Adam Ant, Michael Jackson, and Prince. Madonna got some airplay from us too. After all, she was a Leo like Melissa and me. Not to mention, Madonna and I have the same birthday.
I had friends, but my girl circle was fairly small, but I had a lot of guy friends. Who were really friends and not the euphemisms used to define friendship now. Melissa liked being in the kitchen as much as I did. As a result, we were able to monopolize (as other girls and some of their mother’s thought) all of the guys time with scones, chocolate cookies, muffins, and the like. By no means was it a den of ill-repute, we’d either be at Melissa’s house under her parent’s watchful eyes, or at my house with her mothership (my mother) and my younger sister.
In the beginning, learned how to set a table for company from my mother. She worked in my junior high school cafeteria as a lunch lady, but she also worked on and off for Stone catering company. That helped me get a grip on the basics, but I wanted to do it will a little more style. I was fifteen when I went on a mission to find a cookbook that combined both recipes with entertaining. I checked the shelves of my local libraries and bookstores regularly to no avail.
Then one Sunday afternoon PBS had a special on entertaining with a caterer out of Connecticut, Martha Stewart. I’d never heard of her previously, but her name and style made a lasting impression on me. I was fascinated by her attention to detail, her home décor and the way she presented food on a holiday table. Martha was my parents age and everything about her seemed smooth, elegant, and just plain regal. I scoured TV Guide to see when she was going to be on television again. I couldn’t get enough. Then one day at Waldenbooks, I saw it. Entertaining by Martha Stewart. There she was on the cover in a Victorian style white dress presiding over a perfectly decorated table. I was there with my friend Joel, who I begged to buy the book for me. Lucky for me, he bought it with the catch that I’d have him over whenever i made something from the book. That was one of the easiest deals I ever made. There was no way I wasn’t going to cook my way through the book, or die trying.
It felt like my own little storyline was happening in real life. I wasn’t going on dates but I was in the kitchen with Martha and my friend Melissa. I was in my Victorian phase. I loved Gunne Sax dresses and old lace. We made scones, muffins, bread, pies, cakes, and more kinds of biscotti than anyone could shake a stick at. Although I predate Kelis, her Milkshake song is appropriate here, except it wasn’t my milkshake that brought the boys to my yard, it was my pepperoni loaf.
Martha Stewart’s first book was my gateway drug to Cuisinart food processors, Kitchen Aid stand mixers, mini-herb choppers, wedding cake pans, Madeline molds, and more. My entertaining game was on the rise and my guy friends could reap the benefits from my properly set table.
Entertaining worked perfectly, and I had all the eligible guys were at my house and around the kitchen. The funny thing was I didn’t want anything more than friendship. Although I had to admit there was one guy I liked, and my mother was okay with him. My sister didn’t like him that much, but that was neither here nor there at the time. I wasn’t allowed to date, and he was already in college. All the man snatching hullabaloo happened because he was the object of someone else’s affection, and that affection wasn’t returned. I can’t say that I didn’t understand why she and her mother needed a heavy. Who wants to believe a guy rejected them straight out of hand. So, naturally, I was deemed a little Entertaining hussy, tempting men with baked goods and cooked meals. Still, I didn’t let it faze me in the least.
At the height of our entertaining jag, Melissa and I held a formal dinner for all the guys at her house. There was Melissa’s Greek Moussaka, my pepperoni loaf, rolls, roasted vegetables and cake for desert made by me. It was a success and enjoyed thoroughly judging by the number of second helpings and empty plates. It was the only dinner party we ever had as teenagers, but that was okay with us. I had the opportunity to show off my Martha skills long before her name became a verb and before Snoop ever heard of the lady who used to rule over an estate and property in Turkey Hill, Connecticut (at the time). I have come a long way from the wide-eyed sixteen-year-old girl when the first edition of Entertaining was released. My skills have gotten better and while I still prefer to make things from scratch, I am a little more relaxed about it courtesy of another lifestyle/tv-chef maven, Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. I’ve integrated Martha’s penchant for good things, with Ina’s how easy is that philosophy, and the amalgamation works.
I’m no longer a man snatcher and my milkshake is a little thicker, but I still bring all the boys to the table, only this time, the boys are mine and the loves of my life. My twin sons Sean and Scott, who are my ultimate good thing.
I am including one of the first recipes I ever made from Entertaining by Martha Stewart Copyright 1982.
Banana Bread recipe by Martha Stewart adapted for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-sensitivities, low sugar, and no-sugar dietary needs by Chamein Canton
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pan (vegan butter, margarine)
1 cup sugar (Swerve sweetener, Splenda granulated, coconut, raw cane, or turbinado sugar, pulsed finely)
2 large eggs (4 tablespoons Aquafaba, 1//2 cup silken tofu, pureed with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 2 flaxseed or chia seed eggs, or egg replacer)
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free all-purpose flour, sorghum, millet, sweet rice, or brown rice flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
1/2 cup sour cream (dairy; light sour cream, plain yogurt) (non-dairy; soy milk, or almond milk yogurt) (vegan sour cream)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Step 1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan; set aside. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat to incorporate.
Step 2 In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. Add bananas, sour cream, and vanilla; mix to combine. Stir in nuts and pour into prepared pan.
Step 3 Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Let rest in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool.
To make a flax or chia seed egg, mix one tablespoon ground flaxseed/chia seed meal with three tablespoons of water. Mix together, and let sit in your fridge for 15 minutes to set up and thicken.
It’s the last Tuesday of 2020 and I don’t think 2021 could arrive any sooner for everyone at this point. Although, there is no need to state the obvious, it’s been an overall rough year for everyone. Everything most of us took for granted like having the choice between getting a cup of coffee or a burger to go, or to stay, for a stretch of time this year, wasn’t even an option. Then there was the change of working from home that required far more adjustment than anyone ever thought it would. Kids, pets, and life at home made it hard for many to stay in work mode. As it turns out, working can be stressful in the office and at home, which was a shock to some people, not me. However, the effects of Covid-19 on an industry like publishing, where socializing in person is just as, if not more important, than emails and posts, it’s been an adjustment. It’s the last Tuesday of 2020 and I don’t think 2021 could arrive any sooner for everyone at this point. Although, there is no need to state the obvious, it’s been an overall rough year for everyone. Everything most of us took for granted like having the choice between getting a cup of coffee or a burger to go, or to stay, for a stretch of time this year, wasn’t even an option. Then there was the change of working from home that required far more adjustment than anyone ever thought it would. Kids, pets, and life at home made it hard for many to stay in work mode. As it turns out, working can be stressful in the office and at home, which was a shock to some people, not me. However, the effects of Covid-19 on an industry like publishing, where socializing in person is just as, if not more important, than emails and posts, it’s been an adjustment.
I’ve been working from home for some time. I have a very small literary agency with a handful of clients. Being a part of the publishing industry, I spend time reviewing the latest signings and deals happening with the Big-Four publishers (it was five, but Random just bought the venerable Simon and Schuster), independent, and boutique publishers. I read Publisher’s Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, to keep up with the industry. I live on Long Island and I spend time in Bethel, Connecticut with my sister’s family where I am Auntie Mimi. In New York I am a part of the otherhood (mothers with adult children, in my case sons)
I’m also a writer and author myself. I’ve been in the publishing industry for close to twenty years. I understand the publishing industry from both sides of the table. Editors, senior and assistant, along with editorial directors and acquisitions editors spend a great deal of time in meetings that aren’t in a conference room. They meet literary agents and authors for coffee, lunch, and cocktails. There are industry dinners where they have an opportunity to talk with other publishing professionals about projects and trends. Agents like having the opportunity to pitch clients in person and to find out what types of projects editors are seeking. We think using the #mswl, is terrific, but have you seen most people’s let alone agent’s Twitter or Facebooks threads, it’s easily lost in a plethora of other tweets, posts, or updates. We were just getting the hang of the new digital submission, when Covid-19 took the social scene away. Now we had to Zoom, and for some editors living in an NYC apartment with children, zooming from their closets was a close to an office situation as they could get.
Combining this with the number of changes that have occurred since the first of my ten books (1 nonfiction, 9 novels) was published in 1998 through the last book in 2015, it’s night and day. The Internet was in its toddler stage in the late nineties and still somewhat of a novelty. Publishers still accepted hard-copy submissions through the mail. You could call and editor or the art department direct without hitting a menu-option. Now it’s all email and pressing phone options if you call. Neither guarantees you’ll get through. In the nineties through the early 2000s, being traditionally published by the aforementioned publishers, was the only way to go. Any other means of publication like hybrid and self-publishing were looked down on as an inferior way to be published or as vanity-publishing adjacent. Now, there’s a self-publishing section in PW. Some of the major traditional publishers, have a waded into self-publishing offering services for people looking to publish their books. A blogger with a large social media following is more likely to get a publishing deal than a previously published author with proven sales and readership. Getting on social media to develop a platform is a little easier for boomers and gen-xers who were always techies or gamers. For some like me, changing from the analog to the digital has been a bit tougher. I believe conversation is an art, and there are things that simply cannot be conveyed through a text or post, unless you’re scream (all-caps) tweeting or texting. Still, I don’t have much choice but to try to figure my way through the maze. There are plenty of bloggers who have developed a lucrative platform and are willing to help you. Some want a lot of money, others don’t want as much, but the problem is how do you know if what they’re going to teach will actually work for you. It’s a lot to process.
To deal with the new world, I head to the kitchen. It’s my personal ashram where I find a way to quiet my thoughts so that I’m able to think without the white noise of our online lives. It allows me to work through professional and personal issues. Writer’s block is a condition no writers wants for any extended period. Novelists, songwriters, television and screenwriters, anyone who depends on words for their livelihood/career. It was the kitchen that made this past year a little easier to cope with and from the number of banana bread posts I saw at the beginning of the lockdown in March, others have discovered what a tasty oasis the kitchen is. Covid-19 also stands for the average number of pounds gained (if it was more, I won’t tell). Being in the kitchen helped me figure out different ways to pitch my clients’ work to publishers. As an added benefit, it helped me tighten up three fiction manuscripts of mine. I was able to compile the recipes for two cookbooks, one of which celebrates my family’s traditions in the kitchen.
I’ve also taken on the daunting task of trying to build an online presence. While I love all of these great articles interviewing people who had blogs, then got a publishing deal for cooking or a memoir or something else, I can’t dwell there. I am having a time figuring all of the ancillary things out. I don’t have time to ponder or mope over why I haven’t been discovered. I was never one for a diary, which is weird because I always loved writing, but I preferred writing stories centered around what did or is happening in my life and around me. I start with a pen and paper, before I type anything into Word. There is something about connecting to the paper that helps writing flow for me. More often than not, I don’t use much of what I wrote by hand, it’s just the runway and taxiing. When I begin typing, my mind takes flight, the words come. That is not to say that I don’t edit and change it extensively. Words have life. They breathe, contract, and change shape.
I find that baking helps the most when I’m writing fiction. There are no bounds to what I can write, but baking is science. It’s orderly. You can’t deviate and add just a pinch more yeast or baking powder. The measurements are precise, there is no free-styling. Somehow, all of it allows my creativity to flow freely. I’ve figured out more plot lines and characters just by sifting, measuring, stirring, and kneading. It’s what works for me in my literary life and has made it possible for me to blog and keep up with my website.
For others it might be painting, drawing, or another form of art that helps their creative juices get going. Physical activity like working out, running, walking, or yoga is helpful for some people. I enjoy doing yoga in the mornings to help center my thoughts and stretch my limbs. It helps with the every day pain of having MS, but it’s baking and writing that sets me free of the condition, even if it’s just for a little while.
Now that there are vaccines available, I believe the world will return to a new normal. I am quite sure that pre-pandemic life won’t return as we knew it. Time is going to be the key for the industries that were affected and that may not be enough to resurrect many businesses. I suppose hope springs eternal for writers, as much as I prefer to bake my own treats, I’m looking forward to having sitting in a bakery café, diner, or coffeehouse and watching as people from all walks of life interact with each other before they go about their day. Covid-19 has proven just how social we are. I will still be in the kitchen cooking and baking, but I won’t take seeing people in person for granted again. Apparently, we’re all people who need people.
I love to share recipes, particularly when it’s cake. Chocolate was a weakness for my Grandma Salley. She kept Hershey’s Kisses in the pocket of her aprons. She’d sneak and give us a couple when my mother wasn’t looking. Chocolate is something I love to bake with, but as I gathered recipes for the Cooking with My Nanas cookbook, I wanted to be sure to include every dietary need. Family is about everyone at the table enjoying a meal together. What’s the fun if some members only have a bowl of fruit for dessert. I know it’s healthier, but who wants that when everyone else has chocolate.
I found this recipe for Gluten-free Chocolate Cake on What the Fork Blog, which was adapted from Ina Garten