Do I have a fun book and story to share with you today!
It all started about a year ago, when the four walls began closing in. People! I thought. I need people!
Cue Barbra Streisand.
Writing is a solitary occupation, and I spend my days largely by myself, four-legged friends notwithstanding. Much as I love my cozy office, increasingly I found myself missing the cameraderie of a “normal” work environment, and the company of other people.
Not one to mope, I decided to do something about it. And so I got in touch with a few writer friends, knowing they were in the same boat, and asked if they’d like to come over once a month and play. I’d provide the soup, they could all bring sides. We’d spend the morning writing, then relax and visit over lunch.
As quickly as that, Soup & Solidarity was born.
It was a huge hit, if I say so myself. My house is small, with a limited number of corners for everyone to curl up in and work, and a table that seats six. Half a dozen of us makes for an intimate, friendly group, prone to linger over lunch as we swap tips, talk shop, catch up on each other’s books and families and yes, sometimes even kvetch about our jobs.
It also gives me a chance to let my inner Martha Stewart out. Once a month, my house is spotless. Once a month, I have an excuse to show off my mother’s pink china and set a pretty table. And once a month, I get to whip up a pot of something warm and nourishing.
(OK, I want to make it clear that I really do clean my house and cook for my family more than once a month, but you get the idea.)
Here’s where things get even more interesting. Coincidentally (was there something in the water last year?), I got an email from my friend Maggie Stuckey.
Here’s Maggie. Isn’t she adorable? She has the best smile!
Maggie sent an email letting me know that she was working on a cookbook about soup, and specifically soup groups. Did I know of any?
Did I ever!
I emailed her back right away to tell her about Soup & Solidarity. And that is how we ended up featured in Maggie’s new hot-off-the-press cookbook, SOUP NIGHT!
I can’t rave about this cookbook enough. Seriously, you need to go out and buy it right now. (In fact, you can click here to do just that.) It’s that fabulous! The best thing about the book is that it’s not just a collection of wonderful recipes, it’s a collection of wonderful stories, including mine.
I’ll get to that in a minute.
But first, let’s talk about soup. I love soup. The simplicity of it, the earthiness of it, the purity of it. There’s something almost magical about soup, isn’t there? Soup brings people together. It speaks of hearth and home. Soup is humble; it doesn’t put on airs. You don’t need to dress up to eat soup.
What could be better than soup? Especially on a frosty night…
This is one of my family’s favorite soups (and yes, the recipe is in SOUP NIGHT – and I’m sharing it with you below). The leaves on the trees can turn color and blow away, the nights can grow frosty and cold, but fall doesn’t officially kick off at the Frederick house until I’ve made my first batch of Nana Mac’s Canadian Beef Stew.
My grandmother, Eva MacDougall (aka “Nana Mac”) was from Nova Scotia. I have no idea how long this recipe has been in the family, but she taught my mother how to make it, and my mother taught me.
My mother told me the story that goes with this stew, too. It’s a wonderful story, about a young woman from Canada who boards a train in Halifax one day many years ago, bound for a job in the United States. The young woman doesn’t know a soul where she’s going. It’s a big adventure, but a scary one, too. As she says a tearful goodbye to her parents, her mother presses something into her hands–a little piece of home to take with her.
The young woman was my mother, of course. What did my grandmother give her? A simple lunch: a thermos filled with homemade beef stew, some bread-and-butter sandwiches made with homemade Nova Scotia oatmeal bread, and a slice of homemade apple pie. A little piece of home indeed.
The story gets better. My mother was on her way to a job as a private duty nurse in Connecticut. My father, who was in the army, had worked as an orderly in a hospital where he cared for her patient. He came to Connecticut to visit him one day. When my mother opened the front door, my father took one look at her and fell head-over-heels in love. Within a month, they were engaged.
Who says soup isn’t magical?
And once a month, it sprinkles some of its magic over my writer friends and me.
We were a smaller group than usual this week at Soup & Solidarity. That’s Jane Kurtz on the left, author of many wonderful books for young readers, including her brand-new novel ANNA WAS HERE (click here to read a rave review in The New York Times). She’ll be featured soon in one of my “In the Spotlight” blog posts. So will Trudy Ludwig, who’s on the right. Trudy’s a nationally-known expert on bullying and social justice (she’s even been on the Today show alongside Big Bird, how cool is that?!), and her latest picture book THE INVISIBLE BOY was just named a School Library Journal Best Book of 2013. Huzzah!
Not able to join us this time around: Susan Hill Long, who was recently featured in one of my “In the Spotlight” blog posts (click here to read it), and whose new novel WHISTLE IN THE DARK was just named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2013; Susan Fletcher, whose fabulous FALCON IN THE GLASS will be featured soon in an upcoming “In the Spotlight”; and Chris Kurtz, who was also the subject of an “In the Spotlight” blog post (click here to read it), and whose hilariously wonderful THE ADVENTURES OF A SOUTH POLE PIG garnered raves and multiple starred reviews.
I have lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving season, including these awesome friends!
Happy Thanksgiving to each one of you — now go eat some soup!
NANA MAC’S CANADIAN BEEF STEW
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into
2–3 cups water
1 teaspoon summer savory
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 pound fresh button mushrooms, stems removed, cleaned, and cut in half
4-5 medium onions, chopped into large dice
10–12 good-size carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
4–6 potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
2-3 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch slices
1 medium turnip, peeled and chopped into large chunks
1. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat; add the meat and sear on all sides. Depending on the size of your pot, you may have to work in batches. Don’t crowd the meat; if you do, it will steam rather than sear. Each batch will take about 5 minutes to develop a good sear.
2. Add water to cover and the summer savory; season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
3. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat and sauté the mushrooms until tender, about 8 minutes.
4. Add the mushrooms, onions, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and turnip to the soup pot. Cover with water again and simmer for several hours (or all day in the slow cooker), until the meat is fork-tender.
With the finish line for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) looming — see it there just ahead, on the other side of Thanksgiving? — I thought this would be the perfect time to check in with my friend Angela Sage Larsen and find out how she’s doing.
Not only is Angela participating in NaNo this year — she’s also being offered as a prize! Well, her expertise is being offered. Read on to learn more….
Isn’t she gorgeous? And check out that cool purple streak in her hair — Angela is not only braver than me, signing up to participate in NaNo, she’s also w-a-y hipper.
Angela is the author of the fabulous Petalwink books and the oh-so-fun Fifties Chix time-traveling adventure series. Actually, she not only wrote all these books, SHE ILLUSTRATED THEM. (I put that in last bit in caps because as most of you know, I can’t even draw stick figures–I’m just in awe of artists.) As if that weren’t enough, Angela is also hard at work these days writing a musical. (Click here to learn more about Petalwink: The Musical).
Let’s see, she’s wildly creative, amazingly versatile, can actually say the words “I’m writing a musical” with a straight face, and she has a cool purple streak in her hair? How can we possibly be friends? Oh, that’s right — because she’s TOTALLY AWESOME.
HVF: You’re a NaNoWriMo first-timer, Angela, right?
ASL: Yes. I’ve been a member of NaNo before, but I’ve never actually participated.
HVF: So how’s it going?
ASL: I’ve got 20,000 words — not quite halfway there.
HVF: Think you’ll make it to the finish line?
ASL: Well, I have a real-life deadline — the musical — so that has to take priority, but I’m hoping to!
HVF: Why did you decide to hop aboard this year?
ASL: I don’t tend to complete things unless I have a deadline, so I’m using it as an excuse, as a kind of self-imposed deadline.
HVF: Can you tell us what you’re working on?
ASL: It’s something for adults for a change, a book about four best friends from college who promise to keep in touch, and who go on a trip together 20 years after they graduate. We get to find out what the characters’ dreams were in college, and where they are now. It’s been really fun to work on.
HVF: What are some of the things you like about NaNo?
ASL: I love the pep talks they send right to your inbox. They’re super helpful. I’ll be coming back to those all year. [Editor's note: Click here to read a sample NaNo pep talk with Rainbow Rowell] Also, I don’t think I’ve ever done a word sprint before. They’ll set a goal and announce one on Twitter, and it’s kind of cool, knowing everyone else is trying to write [in a concentrated burst], too. At first I thought, “There’s no way,” but I squeezed in a half hour sprint one day, and was amazed that I got 2,000 words out.!
HVF: Any other things about NaNo that you’ve particularly enjoyed?
ASL: I did my first write-in! I went to a coffee shop, and there were probably about a dozen NaNo-ers there. It was hard, because I’m used to writing alone, and at home I have everything set up just the way I want, but I was surprised that I actually got some really good work done. Probably because I was concentrating so hard due to the noise. It was interesting to have that sense of camaraderie, but at the same time it forced me to work a little harder.
HVF: I don’t know about you, but I find there are more distractions at home than when I write at coffee shops. Especially four-legged distractions!
ASL: I know! My dog Daisy is always popping in to say “Look how adorable I am, don’t you want to post a picture of me on Instagram?”
HVF: With just days to go until the finish line — and that 50,000 word goal — what advice would you offer NaNo-ers?
ASL: I think now is the time to go for broke, to have something really dramatic happen in your story, even if that means going off in a totally unexpected direction. Wait, what is that alien doing here? Now is the time to remind yourself that anything can happen. This is fiction! This is the perfect time to drop in the wildest thing you can think of and see what happens. Especially since it’s NaNo. Unless you have a book contract waiting for you, just go for it! Have as much fun as possible.
ASL: Yes! They’re actually kind of a perfect tie-in with NaNo, and especially the Young Writer’s Program. The emphasis in the guides is on writing — how do I as a reader write my own stories? Each one has a different focus, such as establishing characters and setting, researching historical fiction, that sort of thing. There’s a guide for each book in the series, and they build on one another. Whatever you learn in one book, you take to the next level in the following book.
[Click here to learn more about Angela's lit guides, including a free sample.]
HVF: Sounds great! Now I want to hear more about this contest from your publisher, FastPencil, who is an official sponsor of this year’s NaNoWriMo. I understand they’re offering you as the grand prize?
ASL: Well, it’s 2013, so they don’t get *me* as a prize, but the winner gets an hour-long consultation with me!! Lucky ducks. And just think, Heather — you can call me any time and I’ll talk your ear off for an hour for free.
HVF: The perks of friendship!
Click here for all the details about FastPencil’s NaNoWriMo contest, including their grand prize, a $299 Print and eBook Wide Distribution Package and a one-hour phone call with best-selling author Angela Sage Larsen.
Now that I’m back in town for a while (more about my travels later), I finally have time to share with you some of the AMAZING, INCREDIBLE fan art that has found its way to me recently!
When this particular package came in the mail a few months ago (yes, shame on me, it’s been that long since I’ve had a chance to sit down and organize my blog), I was speechless. Just. Speechless. The care and love and thought and artistry that went into making each of these lovely friendship bracelets–color coordinated to match the corresponding books–totally blew me away.
So Brianna, today’s post is ALL ABOUT YOU! I’m sending love & hugs your way, as words are inadequate to tell you how much your beautiful gift meant to me. I’ll treasure them always, along with your letter.
These photographs don’t do Brianna’s craftsmanship justice, I’m afraid. If you click on them, though, it should enlarge them so you can see at least some of the detail.
Fabulous (as Wolfgang would say), right? Here’s a closeup of the bracelets on their own:
Just had a brilliant thought:
I’m going to hang them on my Christmas tree this year!