Monday, June 27, 2011

Baked Custard

Once in a great while I like to share a recipe. I always choose one I've been asked for time and again. This is one I often make when asked to bring a dessert to share. It's almost a lost art, elegant in its simplicity. The creamy specialty is not all that difficult to make, but its life expectancy in our house is quite short. We like to top it with whipped cream.

Grandma's Baked Custard


3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 Cup sugar
3 Cups whole milk
1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 Teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


Preheat oven to 325°

Butter a 1-quart baking dish and place it in a roasting pan with enough hot water to come halfway up the side of the baking dish.
Place in the oven to heat.

Combine the eggs, egg yolks and sugar, and whisk until thick and pale.

Heat the milk to boiling point and slowly add to the egg mixture, stirring constantly.
Stir in the vanilla.

Remove roasting pan from oven and pour mixture into the baking dish (carefully)
Sprinkle with nutmeg.
Return to the oven. Don't slosh.

Bake 45-60 minutes until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. The time will depend on the depth of the baking dish.

NOTES: I often double this recipe and use a 2-quart baking dish. With my particular baking dish it needs to bake about 85 minutes.

Yes, you can use nutmeg from a can, but there really is a difference you will taste if you get some fresh nutmeg and grate it yourself. It's cheap, stays fresh forever and will impress your own taste buds.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ben's 1st Trip to the Dentist

My daughter-in-law films and blogs the funny things their children do as they happen. Thirty years ago we didn't have digital cameras and an internet, with social media so handy for sharing the highlights of our little comedians' days. I'm still pulling up memories to record here, for the future amusement of our grandchildren. I hope they enjoy this one when they learn to read.

Anyone who knows Ben today would assume correctly that he's always been bright and inquisitive. He has an eye for detail and a question for everyone. His first trip to the dentist was no exception. We took him to a special children's dentist with a great reputation for building rapport with kids. Since my experiences with military dentists left me with a lifelong fear of being in that chair, I wanted my children to give this dentist a try.

I don't remember his name, but I'll never forget the hour he spent with my son. He sat him in the chair and took his photo with a Polaroid camera, then allowed Benjamin to pin it to the bulletin board. Once back in the seat, Ben was presented with a tray of tools to examine. The good dentist explained each tool, and how he was going to use it. He had me standing just out of sight in the doorway, where Ben couldn't use me as a safety net, I was told, but I would feel secure in his well being.

As the fairly long litany of tools and their uses came to a close, the dentist leaned over and said to Ben, "Now, do you have any questions?"

"Yes," Ben said very seriously. "Who made God?"

There was a short period of silence and then the dentist said, "I mean about your teeth or what I'm going to do." Ben said he didn't, and then the dentist came out to talk to me for a minute, leaving Ben with his laughing assistant.

"Why did he ask me that? I've never had anyone ask me something not related to teeth before!" He wasn't quite angry, but obviously frustrated. I honestly didn't know, so I suggested he ask Ben. He didn't. Maybe he was afraid of him—I'm not sure.

When Ben came out, quite content with his first visit to the dentist, I asked him myself. "I wonder about who made God, and he said I could ask a question."

Children expect us to know whatever they don't for a long time. They ask so many questions. The really smart ones can be a terrifying responsibility. That day I laughed while he couldn't see me, then I tried to answer him. I think today I might suggest we google it.

I was surprised to find, when I called for his next checkup, that the dentist had unexpectedly retired. I've wondered through the years if the Ben's visit could have pushed him closer to his decision. No, I don't suppose so...

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Jeremiah Tree

John and I drove to the other side of Longmont today to a big tree farm with an excellent reputation. We wanted to get an education on planting an aspen tree—and keeping it alive.

I had pictured having to get someone to truck a huge tree into the foothills and plant it for us at great expense. What I learned, however, is that this is something John and I will be able to handle ourselves. It will be a memorial tree for Jeremiah True, our first grandson. We want to have it solidly started before November 16th, the first anniversary of his short hour of life.

We chose the aspen for several reasons. They're so beautiful, and the slightest movement of breeze makes the leaves quake and shiver. The trees seem to live vibrantly, growing in clumps with white-barked trunks similar to the white birch trees I loved as a child playing in Northern Michigan's woods. They grow swiftly, and are extremely disease resistant. For a non-gardener, it seems like a perfect match. I know how to water. That's what it will need from me.

Add a little bench and a garden memory stone, and we'll have a wonderful place to commemorate our first grandson. His life may only have lasted ninety minutes, but his impact lives on. I've been donating blood again, which I had gotten away from since moving to Colorado. That's one thing I can do.

Hopefully our son and daughter-in-law will be able to join us here in November. We'll have the tree dedicated on the 16th. We'd like the tree to live on as a reminder—our Jeremiah tree.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Met The Most Interesting People

"Have you ever been compared to the Paula Deen of the writing world?"
"No," she laughed, "But I'll take it."

Kaki Warner was one of the most delightful people I met at the Crested Butte writer's conference. There are times it would be nice to own the home next door and keep it as a guest cottage. If I were in that financial bracket, this is one woman I'd love to have move in and stay for a very long time. She made me laugh, and she really knows her craft. Her writing craft.

There are two types of writers, basically. One type plans everything out painstakingly before ever setting down a word of the actual story on paper. They know from first to last exactly what will happen. The other type of writer sits down with the characters all yelling in her head and lets them tell their story through her as it unfolds. Kaki and I both fall within that latter category.

As an aside, let me say that my characters woke me up for months before I was told that if I didn't write their story nobody else would. Melissa Mayhue said that to me when I went to one of her book signings. I wasn't planning to try because I'd never written a novel before. Why would I have to nerve to think I could be a novelist, just because I'd written all my life? I'd never written anything that long.

Now, back to Kaki. She was giving one of the workshops when a hand shot up. The question related to how much time or attention she gave to outlining each novel before beginning the first draft. She replied, "What's an outline?" or something like that. Then she explained that she doesn't tell her characters what they're going to do—they tell her. She said she got half way through one book and was starting to write something when her hero told her, "I can't do that. I'm dyslexic!" She said, "Well, why didn't you tell me that at the beginning of the book?"

She said she occasionally has to go back and fix things, since her characters don't always explain themselves up front. That's what "pants-ers," as those of us who write by the seat of our pants are called, pay for the creativity we get in return for allowing our characters the freedom to react to the flow of the story. We get a character-driven plot, rather than plot-driven characters.

I liked her. I understood my own writing style better, and felt the importance of her answer. I had been ashamed to admit that I didn't outline and plot each chapter. It was the reason I would have an eight page chapter followed by a two page chapter. It was what the characters needed.

The only problem with meeting someone like Kaki is that I now have three new books (signed, so they won't be carted around on our trips) that I want to be reading. Well, I'm world building right now, so they're waiting. Books are so patient.

God, please grant me another twenty years to write, and then fifteen more just to read and blog.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Accidental Conference

Thank you Robin D. Owens. Thank you John Harrell. If it weren't for the two of them, I would have spent my weekend writing at home instead of being at the Crested Butte Writer's Conference. Attending wasn't in our budget, but when Robin wanted a passenger for the six-hour trip, I mentioned it to John, not expecting a positive response. I'm blessed to have his wholehearted support for my writing. He said it was an important opportunity.

It was. As I mentioned in my last post, I had three appointments to discuss my fantasy novel, A Different Song. Two were with agents, and one with an editor. All three asked to see more of the novel. One asked me to email the entire manuscript. I got all that done today. Not only that, but I honestly enjoyed these people. Yes, they were professionals, but all were unpretentious. I loved the questions they asked. I loved having answers for them.

What will happen? I don't pretend to know. I could have three rejections, or I could end up with an editor and an agent. If so, I know these are people I could work with, editorial beasts to help me improve this novel while writing the sequels. In fact, I need to mention world building.

The most exciting workshop of the weekend, and there were several to choose from, had to be the world building workshop given by Michael Braff, Del Rey Spectra Books editor. His information on constructing your characters' world, from history and customs to religion and a timeline, was amazing. It's a good thing I type over a hundred words a minute. He talks fast and doesn't waste words. My notes are fabulous. I won't be having my characters falling out of context in the sequels. Thanks, Mike.

There are more stories to tell, writers published and not whom I met and enjoyed. I'm going to spend a few evenings sharing the weekend in my blog. I did look down several times today, though, and my feet really are still touching the floor. It just doesn't feel like it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How To Know When You're A Writer

Conversation during a recent Mini Conference in Denver enlightened me on the various ways my peers deal with friends and family members who scoff at the time they spend writing. To those of us who are pre-published, the term now being used when none of your work has managed to sell, the conversation triggered many questions.

How long do you continue writing before you decide this is just a hobby rather than a profession? What can you do to express your gratitude sufficiently to those closest to you who show their support with their own time, or pay for conferences from the family budget? Who cheerfully drive an hour to drop you off at a meeting point so you can carpool to another writer's conference, and miss your cooking for four days? And how do you know when you really are a writer?

You continue writing forever. It's not a choice. You write because you must. Most authors, even those of us who have never been published, were born telling stories. My parents said they thought my first stories were just lies. Then I got old enough to start putting them on paper, and they realized I never expected to be believed when I strung out intricate stories about what I saw in the park, or my reason for failing to change clothes after school. My stories were simply more interesting than the truth.

This will never be just a hobby. I work too hard at it. Spend too much time perfecting the craft. Music is a hobby. I'm happy just to have fun and entertain with the guitar and accordion. I don't need to be Chet Atkins or Les Paul. I'll never be willing to invest sufficient time in practice to achieve perfection. I'm not sure I'd ever have the talent for it. Knitting and crochet are hobbies. Writing is work. I enjoy it, but it's work I'm passionate about.

To thank my husband for his unflagging support, I plan to spend a couple of hours today cooking. I'll make sure the fridge is stuffed with food choices for him while I'm gone the next four days. The Crested Buttes Writer's Conference will be an exciting learning experience. He shouldn't starve because he wants me to allow me to grow in my career. My words of appreciation aren't enough. Food says it best for John. As soon as I return, we'll celebrate Father's Day together. His gifts are wrapped. His card is signed and waiting for him to open on Sunday morning. He knows how I feel. The good old days are the ones we're sharing now.

How do you know when you're really a writer? Everyone has to answer this question individually. I can gauge my progress as a professional by a quick glimpse at my DVR's Recordings Screen. I have 27 Jeopardy programs awaiting my attention. Seven weeks of 20/20 are ready for me to have time to watch them, along with 19 hours of House, 21 episodes of The Event, 7 Bones, 14 Fringe, and 8 movies. There are other things on there as well, totaling 39 hours.

My "to be read" shelf is stuffed. My dictionary and thesaurus get more action on most days. I used to read a book a day while I was working in corporate America. I read during all the cracks in my day. Every break, and even walking across the building to the printer would see me with a book open, walking and reading at the same time. Now, I'm plotting and thinking.

This weekend I'll have appointments with two agents and an editor. They've read the written pitch for my novel along with my first two manuscript pages, and requested a meeting at the conference. I'm somewhere between levitation and hyperventilation. Yes, I'm excited. Whether or not they're interested enough to sign on as my agent, request the entire manuscript, or even buy the novel, I know one thing with no doubts. I am a writer.