Write on Wednesday – Mala’s Crack Pecans – November 28, 2018

Writing and holiday baking get shoe-horned into my hectic schedule this time of the year. This post is from a year ago, but I thought it worth sharing again. There may be more reposts this month as I am traveling to Indiana, Maine and Minnesota to see productions of the Christmas plays I wrote with Laura Ambler.

These are supposed to be called Cinnamon Sugared Pecans, but they are so addictive so I renamed them Crack Pecans. I made a batch because I was supposed to take tossed salads to two events. I put the nuts I needed in two baggies, but there were delicious leftovers. I should have thrown them out or put them in the trunk of my car where they would be too much trouble to get to. There should be step meetings for these pecans.

nuts 3

My husband got a few.

Then one of the dinner events was cancelled at the last minute. So that bag of nuts came into play.  As I sat in my office, trying to focus on writing, I could hear them faintly calling my name. Mala mala mala mala mala —  You just have to answer after awhile.

The second dinner is tonight. I am exercising self-control. The pecans are safe for the moment. I have blueberries and sliced strawberries to go into this salad and a lovely, light lemon and honey dressing. It’s going to be delicious.

Here’s the recipe for Crack Pecans. These make terrific hostess gifts. Be advised that checking for crunch in the final stages is where the addiction begins. Consider yourself warned.

Mala’s Crack Pecans (from Cookingclassy.com website who stole it from allrecipes.com where I made tweaks)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pecan halves (4 cups)
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • ½ tsp vanilla (up to 1 tbsp)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (can be half white, half brown)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (can add ½ tsp allspice, 1/8 tsp cayenne for kick)
  • ½ tsp salt (can be up to 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, vigorously whisk egg white with water and vanilla until very frothy. In a separate small mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add pecans to egg white mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour half of the sugar mixture over pecans and toss several times, then add remaining sugar mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour coated pecans over a parchment paper lined backing sheet and spread into an even layer. Bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Allow to cool, then store in an airtight container.

Notes: If you double this recipe you could keep the cinnamon sugar amounts the same. It’s plenty of sweet. If you do this, make it in two batches using two sheet pans. Four cups is just the right amount for one sheet pan. The nuts won’t get crunchy if there are too many on the sheet at one time.

I use sheet pans with a silpat liner.  You can also use parchment paper.The sheet pan has sides so the nuts don’t fall out.

The final 15 minutes in the oven is crucial to make them crunchy. I checked them after what I thought was the final time and they still weren’t dry in the middle, so I put them in for another 15 minutes. The first two times you stir them they will be sticky. They may need a little additional time in the oven. Just keep checking for crunch. I like adding that little bit of cayenne for a little heat. If you’re planning to use them as an appetizer with cheese and fruit, you could add more salt as well.

Write on Wednesday – Countdown – October 31, 2018

A FaceBook post from a cast member in the new play, A Christmas Wedding, that blocking for the play was complete got me thinking about how playwrights turn their babies over to directors, cast and crew.  It’s an open adoption of Laura’s and my work. We’ll get to see how the baby is raised but someone else is now doing the heavy lifting. Getting the show on its feet and ready for the curtain to go up. It’s a thousand details and, I expect, some sleepless nights for the director.

dancing kids

When I think about those details a wave of anxiety (okay a small tsunami) washes over me before I remind myself that every single one of the people involved in the new show and the original want each performance to be the best it can be.

We, the playwrights, have a vision and the words we’ve written must stay the same. That’s in the contract.  But that’s where any control we might have ends. Each director has a vision, an interpretation of our words and how they instruct the actors to say them. The blocking can make a difference and put a slightly different spin on the characters. The set and costumes are part of that spin. Every production is different and that makes each unique.

Of course my writing partner, Laura Ambler, and I are going to see the shows. We have a busy December planned. On Friday, November 30 we fly to Indiana. That night we’ll see the opening performance of The Santa Diaries in Crawfordsville, Indiana produced by the Sugar Creek Players and performed in the Vanity Theater. Directed by Keith Strain  and produced by Kym Bushong.

On Friday, December 7 we fly to Faribault, Minnesota and that night will see the premier of A Christmas Wedding: Santa Diaries Two performed by the Merlin Players at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Julianna Skluzacek is the director.

And on Friday, December 14 we fly to Bath, Maine to see Chocolate Church Arts Center’s opening performance of The Santa Diaries, directed by Dennis St. Pierre.

At each venue we’ll see two performances. It will be exciting to see our babies all grown up. Laura and I are filled with gratitude to all the people involved in producing our plays, and humbled by the dedication of time and talent that goes into each production.

To paraphrase Tiny Tim, “God bless you, every one. You are awesome!”

 

Write on Wednesday: Hiring a Script Consultant

When Laura Ambler and I finished our movie script for The Santa Diaries, we knew we wanted to hire Dara Marks to help us polish it. Laura had used her in the past on a couple of screen plays. We consulted our checkbooks, took a deep breath and called Dara. We booked an appointment and sent her a copy of the script which was ultimately called Santa, Flawed.

Santa Flawed

Laura and I have used writing consultants in the past. We hired two different editors to look at Big Skye Ranch. It was a better book because of the money we spent and went on to be a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. It won international awards at the London and Paris Book Festivals and an IPPY award.

A week ago we had our four hour telephone conference call with Dara. We were nervous. What would her reaction to the script be?  It was a somewhat fitful start because the email outline she sent us got hijacked by some virus scrubber on her computer which decided to scrub at precisely the moment she was emailing us. And her dogs went bananas when the UPS man came calling, but after a few minutes of sorting things out, we got to work.

By the end we were exhausted, but exhilarated. Dara told us our script was “highly marketable, it’s got everything, a really good piece, the writing is terrific, there is a strong structure in the script.”  She really said all those things. I took notes! …and then she told us the plot needed strengthening and we could be clearer about the theme. She said the first 25 pages needed to be totally rewritten. Well, that’s what we were paying her for – brutal honesty.

The theme thing is tricky. It’s the universal denominator and the theme drives the characters, the dialog, the setting. Theme should underscore everything in the script. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around because in the past our writing has been more character or plot driven. That’s not to say there wasn’t an underlying theme, but we didn’t spend time really trying to get that down to the bones.

In this telephone consultation we spent at least half an hour sorting out the theme. Turns out the theme is more elemental than Christmas, finding your inner Santa, nostalgia for small town life, or reconnecting with a lost love. The theme of The Santa Diaries script is “we’re all in this together.” We had not known that! Of course, the flip side of that theme is “we are alone” and that is Will’s fatal flaw. If he doesn’t change, he will be alone.

Will is isolated because he has sold out to Hollywood. He has lots of people around him, but they all want a piece of him. His business manager, Josh, whom Will calls his best friend, is a suck-up. Even his girlfriend has her own career agenda. If Will doesn’t find his authentic self (as opposed to his inner Santa) he will never be happy or fulfilled.

There were a couple of times when Dara pointed out that we were still thinking play, not movie. She was right. In the play we couldn’t have Sandy in the hospital with a broken leg. Heck, we couldn’t even get him staged in a bed in traction which is the way we wrote the original script. Sandy in a wheel chair with his leg propped up on a stool had to do. In the movie script he gets to be in a hospital.

Dara suggested that we start with a clean slate for the rewrite and we did. We are now 22 pages into the first 25 (Act 1 up to the First Turning Point). After that it will be more tweaking than a total rewrite as we make sure any changes in the beginning are reflected in rest of the script. All the characters are slightly different than they were in the original play and the script we sent Dara. We hope that gives them more depth.

Will Hawes is a little softer, more redeemable. His father, Sandy, is no longer the paragon of virtue. We’ve roughed up his edges a bit. Brandeee is smarter and shrewder. We haven’t decided if Brandeee and Will are engaged anymore. It always bothered me that Will broke up with Brandeee and moved on to Jessica so quickly.

The point is, do these changes drive the theme to its logical conclusion? We hope to have that figured out in the next month. Then the script will go back to Dara for notes. After that it should be ready to pitch. We think/hope the investment in using a script consultant will be well worth the cost.

Note: This blog was first published June 14, 2013. Gosh, almost five years ago. The script was eventually titled Santa, Flawed. No one bought it, but you can buy it on Amazon formatted for Kindle for $3.99. Using a script consultant was a great learning experience. In reading this post again, I am struck by the importance of theme. Whatever kind of fiction you are writing, figuring out your theme is paramount.

Working My Way toward Christmas

On Sunday Carpe Diem Arts* (in conjuction with the St. Michaels Community Center) presented A Winter’s Eve of Revelry at the St. Michaels High School auditorium and my younger brother, Ross, and his wife, Linda, performed a Scandinavian dance.

I’d made Ross and Linda a batch of Mala’s Crack Pecans and Walnuts but forgot to take them to the school. My husband went back to get them while Ross told me this story when I asked him about the vest he was wearing.

The Stewart tartan made it’s way into Norwegian history this way. Apparently some Scots were hired as mercenaries to attack the Norwegians — probably by those dastardly Swedes. The wiley Norwegians caught them in a valley and rolled huge logs down the hills mowing them as flat as scythed wheat. The local women collected the fabric from the fallen and the Stewart tartan made it’s way into Norwegian history. Sounds like a plot line from The Vikings! (Ross, this is quite possibly a totally wrong version of what you told me. If so, correct the tale in a comment.)

Family lore on our mother’s side is that we are descended from Harald Fairhair, the king who unified Norway. He was also a total badass. He’s the one who brought his enemies to a peace confab, locked them in a log long house and set it on fire. The Fairhair dynasty includes Eric Bloodaxe, Halfdan the Black (father of Harald Fairhair) and Haakon the Good.  I’d like to think that I have more genes from Haakon the Good. The tv show, The Vikings mashes different historical events into the same time period. There is now a Harald in the cast of characters. I wonder when he will lock up his enemies and set them on fire.

Also performing at Sunday’s event were Grammy nominated Andrea Hoag who played the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle and Meliss Running, one of a very few masters of the incredible nyckelharpa from Sweden. I had never seen this instrument before. There were Ukrainian and Balkan singers and dancers, all in traditional costume. People who keep these traditions alive are saving history in a very personal way. It was another step on our way toward Christmas.

We are staying home this year. It was our year to go to Montana, but our granddaughters are young adults with complicated lives. We decided to see them last May and not in December. Last year I sent them kransekakke form pans so they can carry on the tradition even if I’m not there.

The local shops and our small-town main street are festive with decorations. Attending Sunday’s concert got me humming the Carol of the Bells which originated as a Ukranian carol. My only attempt at decorating this year was putting lights on a potted tree on the deck and redoing arrangements on the mantelpiece. The photo was taken when we had snow the day of the St. Michaels Christmas parade. The tree is small, but we can see it outside while we sit by a warming fire.

Merry Christmas to all. May you connect with friends and family and be grateful for all your blessings. God Jul.

 

*Carpe Diem Arts is a non-profit organization founded by an Eastern Shore treasure, Busy Graham who lives just down the road in Royal Oak.Here’s what their website says about their mission.  “Carpe Diem Arts presents multi-generational and multi-cultural community events, concerts, summer arts camps, after-school programs, workshops and residencies, creating opportunities for all ages to participate in the visual, literary and performing arts, while also partnering with other arts and social service organizations to facilitate outreach to under-served audiences, positive youth development programs, and arts integration in education.  In addition to benefiting thousands of children and teachers, at-risk youth, special needs populations, families and seniors, Carpe Diem Arts supports the livelihood of master teaching and performing artists by providing meaningful and impactful work in our schools and communities.”

 

 

 

 

 

Mala’s Crack Pecans

These are supposed to be called Cinnamon Sugared Pecans, but they are totally addictive. I made a batch because I was supposed to take tossed salads to two events. I put the nuts I needed in two baggies, but there were delicious leftovers. I should have thrown them out or put them in the trunk of my car where they would be too much trouble to get to. There should be step meetings for these pecans.

nuts 3

My husband got a few.

Then one of the dinner events was cancelled at the last minute. So that baggie came into play.  As I sat in my office I could hear them faintly calling my name. mala mala mala mala mala  You just have to answer after awhile.

The second dinner is tonight. I am exercising self-control. The pecans are safe for the moment. I have blueberries and sliced strawberries to go into this salad and a lovely, light lemon and honey dressing. It’s going to be delicious.

Here’s the recipe for Crack Pecans. These make lovely hostess gifts. Be advised that checking for crunch in the final stages is where the addiction begins. Consider yourself warned.

Mala’s Crack Pecans (from Cookingclassy.com website who stole it from allrecipes.com where I made tweaks)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pecan halves (4 cups)
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • ½ tsp vanilla (up to 1 tbsp)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (can be half white, half brown)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (can add ½ tsp allspice, 1/8 tsp cayenne for kick)
  • ½ tsp salt (can be up to 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, vigorously whisk egg white with water and vanilla until very frothy. In a separate small mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add pecans to egg white mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour half of the sugar mixture over pecans and toss several times, then add remaining sugar mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour coated pecans over a parchment paper lined backing sheet and spread into an even layer. Bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Allow to cool, then store in an airtight container.

Notes

You can double this recipe you could keep the cinnamon sugar amounts the same. It’s plenty of sweet. If you do this, make it in two batches using two sheet pans. Four cups is just the right amount for one sheet pan.

I use sheet pans with a silpat liner.  You can also use parchment paper.The sheet pan has sides so the nuts don’t fall out.

The final 15 minutes in the oven is crucial to make them crunchy. I checked them after what I thought was the final time and they still weren’t dry in the middle, so I put them in for another 15 minutes. The first two times you stir them they will be sticky. They may need a little additional time in the oven. Just keep checking for crunch. I like adding that little bit of cayenne for a little heat. If you’re planning to use them as an appetizer with cheese and fruit, you could add more salt as well.

God Jul

My blog readers know that I am Norwegian on my mother’s side, so I am sending you a photo of the traditional Norwegian wreath cake which is found in most Norwegian homes at Christmas. God Jul. If I were half Swedish this might be a photo of me with a wreath of lit candles on my head a la St. Lucia, the mythical bearer of light. The wreath cake is a lot safer.

mala-with-kransekakke

kransekake-decorated

Here it is decorated.

We had dinner Christmas Eve with my brother and sister-in-law. Farikol was the main dish (lamb in cabbage) which is another Norwegian national dish. It was delicious.

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My sister-in-law has her own tradition for dessert on Christmas Eve. She has some Swedish genes, but passed on the lit candles on the head and served us a fabulous baked Alaska. They turned out the lights in the dining room, poured brandy over the top and lit it. It was beautiful but I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the flash on my phone camera in time to get a flaming picture.

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Merry Christmas to all. Enjoy this day with your dear ones.

Why House Tours are Good for My Mental Health

Last weekend I was a hostess at one of the houses on the Christmas in St. Michaels house tour – a lovely big house, on the Miles River, at the end of our street. Twelve years ago the owners demolished the small rancher (probably just like mine) on that lot and built a new house. It’s really nice. Of course all the houses on the tour are decorated – sometimes by the owners, often by professionals.

I had a two and a half hour hostess shift during which I stood near the top of the stairs on the second floor and told people about the three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and the adorable space created when the owner realized what had been in the plans as a storage room had fabulous views. An additional window was added and it was turned into a small fourth bedroom/sitting room. It really was a perfect place to curl up, watch the river or read a book.

When I came home I told my husband that these house tours were bad for my mental health. That’s because when I walk back into MY house with the clutter, the dishes in the sink, the manuscript living on the table where we eat, the bed still unmade and the headboard I’ve been thinking about recovering for three years shouting at me…for a very few minutes I believe I live in a hovel.

Those hovel thoughts doesn’t last long when I look at the overlapping photos of my grandchildren that cover my fridge.

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Or the artwork by my mother which adorns many of my walls.

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That’s when I’m reminded that I love my little one story house that doesn’t hurt my knees with second story steps. I see the only Christmas decorations I have in place. A boxwood topiary tree I made at a Green Thumb meeting and a ceramic Christmas tree that Laura gave me when my husband and I were helping her clean out her mother-in-law’s house. I am beyond grateful that she is in my life with her creative energy and friendship.

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Maybe house tours are to remind me that most of us live in palaces compared to so many people in the world. A reminder that gratitude should be the order of my days. My fridge is full of healthy food and when I run out, the grocery store is minutes away. I hear the furnace go on and am grateful that we had the money to replace it this fall.

During this holiday season, I’ll try to be more present with gratitude for what is already in my life – including my adorable cottage nestled among large old trees and the gardens I’ve created. In my mind it is house-tour worthy.

What are you most grateful for?