In which I get chatty about nothing in particular

Over the holidays, I (finally!) made it home to my parents’ house for a solid twenty days. It was fantastic to be back in the Bay Area, surrounded by mountains and water every-which-way I looked.  No offense to the Jersey folks – the shore is very beautiful – but I like a little sudden elevation with my ocean.  Not to mention the food!  I’m a glutton when in California.  Sourdough baguette, good wine, Zachary’s deep-dish pizza, fresh artichokes and Brussels sprouts from the Sonoma Coast…

TANGENT/

Speaking of Brussels sprouts, I’ve been noticing a disturbing web-wide trend of disparaging these heroic vegetables.  (Carolyn Jewel, I am looking at you!  Yes, I saw that interview!)  While driving along the coast, I obtained two stalks of Brussels sprouts and they changed my world.  I am here to tell you that said stalks are 1) fun to wave like wands; 2) ideal for bopping people atop the head; 3) DELICIOUS.  I now issue a dare to all the haters:

1. You get some Brussels sprouts and slice them into thirds.

2. You put them into a bowl and add a whole lot of olive oil, salt, and chopped raw garlic.

3. You mix it all up.

4. You toss the contents onto a tinfoil-covered pan and cook it for twenty to twenty-five minutes at 400-425 degrees, depending on your oven.

5. When the sprouts look nicely browned on top, you remove the pan and you eat the sprouts with sour cream.

6. Then you come back and talk to me about how you like Brussels sprouts!

* Disclaimer: If you steam the sprouts, all bets are off.  I cannot argue with the awfulness of steamed Brussels sprouts.

/END TANGENT

I am one of those curious children who truly enjoys being at home with my parents, doing nothing.  Indeed, if left to my own devices, I would have been shamefully content to spend all twenty days of my break sitting on my parents’ couch, egg nog (AND BRUSSELS SPROUTS) to my left, sourdough bread and e-reader to my right, mainlining various World War II-themed miniseries. Winds of War and War and Remembrance?  So fantastic!  (Apart from the whole miscasting thing. Robert Mitchum is a fantastic actor, but he was 65 at the time the first series was shot, playing a character who’s supposed to be 39 or 40.  As a result, a romance that thrilled me in the book began to seem rather…icky…on-screen.)

But the Lad, AKA my partner in crime, was out in California to meet the parents.  And he insisted we Do Stuff.  Which, you know, sounded reasonable.

So off we went to the aquarium in Monterey, where I ogled a great many jellyfish, cuttle-fish, octopuses (nope, it doesn’t pluralize to octopi, apparently.  This bums me out for obscure reasons.  I guess I like the idea of a Latinate sea creature), sharks, and otters.  I return to you with a discovery: the underwater world is twice as weird as anything ever shown to me in Star Trek: The Next Generation (a formative influence).

The aquarium experience also got me thinking about how wonder is such a devalued feeling in adult life.  As a child, so many things are new and strange, but once we grow up and settle into jobs and learn the art of juggling bills and various other responsibilities, we tend to forget to take time to search for the strange and unexpected.  I certainly forget how rejuvenating it can be to encounter something you knew absolutely nothing about.  Sea horses, for instance—did you know they could look like this?

Seahorse!
Not a great photo, but trust me, the sea horse is technicolor.

At the aquarium, I felt like a wide-eyed kid as I walked through those rooms, and I left feeling younger and lighter, somehow.

The other wondrous highlight of my holiday was The Secret River, by Kate Grenville.  This is a beautifully written piece of historical fiction that conjures 18th century London and Australia with vivid, gripping immediacy.  I highly recommend it to the historical fiction fans out there!

All right, I feel a wee bit bad having posted and said not a word about writing.  Suffice it to say that A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal is off my desk, into production, and features a heroine who’s my favorite yet.  (How amusing: I feel slightly bad admitting that…as though Lydia and Emma and Gwen et al might take offense.  Ha!)  I’ll be sure to speak more of ALLiS in my next post. In the meantime, please attend to your Brussels sprouts!

19 thoughts on “In which I get chatty about nothing in particular

  1. Meredith–
    How lovely to see a post from you! Yes! Brussels Sprouts! A most misunderstood veggie–but given the prevalence of steaming as a cookery mode and oversize spouts pre-packed in those awful little tubs–it is a wonder that anyone has discovered just how good they can be!
    The National Aquarium here in Baltimore had a special sea horse exhibit several years ago. I could have spent hours! Absolutely fascinating. And the colors! and all the variations!! Wow.
    The cover for your new book looks gorgeous. I can hardly wait!

    What do you mean ‘octopi’ isn’t the correct plural? I’m bummed!!

    • I know, the news about ‘octopi’ came as a harsh surprise to me as well — particularly since spellcheck has no problems with it! I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Perhaps Sherry and I should declare this blog to be an octopi-friendly space? 😉

  2. Hey look! You wrote a blog entry! Welcome back!

    What, no In and Out burgers when in CA? That’s unnatural.

    I adore Winds of War. I learned the word loathe from that book. Seriously, the girl says to Byron “I loathe Lisbon, Briny” and I thought she meant love and couldn’t figure out why that was bad b/c clearly it was. So I learned context from that book too. That’s how young I was when I read it (i think, 11?). And the mini-series was so great – I was totally in love with Jan Michael Vincent, quite possibly my first “bad boy” and the Mitchum factor made be feel squirrly. I didn’t understand why all these young women were so hot for the old man. Then Hart Bochtner took over for W&R and man that guy was hot. It’s amazing how those long mini-series in the 80s (North and South anyone?) sent me running for books I otherwise wouldn’t have read. I wanted to know more about those characters – commercial free – and stay with them for many more hours (I read all of the sequels to N&S).

    As for Brussel Sprouts – not even oil (yum) garlic (yummier) and sour cream (hoo baby) are enough to get me eating those.

    • I need to finish W&R. Ran out of time while at home!

      I miss the era of mini-series. I like them better than films, perhaps because they have a more leisurely pace and can attend more closely to character development. I hear there’s a miniseries about the Kennedys coming up — can’t wait for that one!

  3. So glad you enjoyed your time out here, weird weather and all.

    I’m not taking sides in the Brussels sprouts wars — I have enjoyed them cooked some ways and not others. I rarely cook them myself, as they are not a family fave (with the glaring exception of the eldest daughter, who loves them almost as much as she loves your books, Meredith).

    One tip I learned was to halve them and cut out the stem if you are cooking them using a short-term method (blanching, stir-fry). If the leaves are just cooked, the stem is still bitter; if the stem is cooked through, you have probably overcooked the leaves. I don’t think this applies when roasting them, however, since usually that’s designed to caramelize the leaves.

    Looking forward to the book!

    • Your diplomatic neutrality is noted and lauded, Ms. Sonomalass. Your cooking tips are copied and pasted to my Secret Brussels Sprouts Files (with an encrypted copy uploaded to the web, just in case the anti-sprouts league decides to take dastardly, underhanded action against me…).

  4. Meredith’s back and she’s turned into Chatty Cathy!

    First off, I’ve always liked Brussels Sprouts, which is odd considering that my mother had to lie to me to get me to try banana bread (“Do you like it? Of course you do.”)

    Secondly, a winter break with the family is one of the best things ever. I spent yesterday at a Hawaiian beach with my 16-month-old grand niece, where she taste-tested sand and was generally adorable (aside to Sherry: it’s the “Hooray!” baby, now in toddler size).

    Hart Bochner, yes; Robert Mitchum, not so much.

    I eagerly await ALLIS; in the meantime I’ll be on the lanai, reading a Gaffney western.

    • I’m chatty because I’m incandescent with happiness over something I probably won’t be able to talk about for a few weeks. However, when I get the OK, I’ll be posting about it right here on this blog, and I will link to this post and all my silly chatter to evidence how dazzled and delighted and dizzied I was by these tidings. 🙂

      Gaffney western – Crooked Hearts? Say, did you hear that Jo Goodman’s next was set in 1870s San Francisco? As a new fan of westerns, I’m pretty excited about that!

  5. Alliterative allusions to awesomeness? Triple Woot!

    The Gaffney is Outlaw in Paradise; Crooked Hearts is already on my keeper shelf. And thanks for the Goodman update – that moves Marry Me up in the TBR pile 🙂

  6. Look, with all due respect to the vegetable kingdom, the fact is Brussel’s Sprouts are the 3rd vegetable of doom. And YET despite knowing that, I tried my brother the chef’s rendition of that vegetable– not steamed. I should be commended for my bravery. They were terrible. Disgusting. AWFUL.

    I think people who play with their vegetables are highly suspect.

    Also, I repeat my belief that you you never get Brussel’s Sprouts to trend on Twitter.

    Lastly, Gaffney’s Outlaw in Paradise rocks. That’s one of my favorite Westerns ever.

    • “I think people who play with their vegetables are highly suspect.”

      I am giggling like a loon over this line.

      “Also, I repeat my belief that you you never get Brussel’s Sprouts to trend on Twitter.”

      Oh, but wait — this is no laughing matter.

      Ahem.

      Just you wait, Jewel. When you least expect it, that’s when #sprouts will pop up in the periphery of your vision. And you’ll know who made it happen. Oh yes you will. The sprouts, they will be coming for YOU.

  7. I love what you said about wonder, Meredith. We talk about that as actors all the time. How as children, we were curious, and filled with wonder. Even if we see something stunning or spectacular as adults, we sometimes tone down our excitement about it because of the lessons we learned growing up. There are, of course, exceptions.

    I’m going to share your quote with my acting class in the hopes that they will embrace the wonder in their work. Because, to me, that is the purpose of art – to bring wonder and the unknown into the audience’s lap. So, thanks. 🙂

    And SonomaLass is right – I adore Brussels Sprouts. It’s a well-known fact that they are mini cabbages, and Mr. Snuffleupagus is only friends with people who like cabbage…

    • Do you teach these acting classes, or are you a student? Either way, I’m terribly envious that you’re involved in them! I used to do theater in high school and college — interned with California Shakespeare for a couple of summers — and I still miss it a lot. I’d looked around at community theaters last year but they’re all devoted to musicals…and believe me, nobody wants to hear me sing.

      Oh, and yes: your participation in the pro-Sprouts league is much appreciated. We need all the help we can get! 😉

  8. OK:

    1) I LOVE brussels sprouts, and crave them constantly. I had a fantastic recipe that involved cooking them in cream and lemon juice (I specialized in rendering vegetables as unhealthily rich as possible). And there is a preparation that they do at Pizzeria Mozza in LA that is to die for. (But not better than their Caprese salad, which they make with mozzarella burrata. I have to stop typing about this before I work myself into a frenzy of hunger.) Keep fighting the good fight.

    2) I love love LOVE the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I go every time I can. Which amounts to twice in twenty years. Your post reminded me of my last trip, documented here: http://sycoraxpine.blogspot.com/2007/07/at-aquarium.html

    3) Hurrah, hurrah! for ALLis, which has a fantastic acronym. I can’t wait. And I am seriously considering bumping Crooked Hearts up my TBR list/shelf/Tower of Babel (of books) after reading this comment thread.

    • Your photos of the aquarium are stunning. I blush to compare them with my own, blurry attempts. Your snap of the jellyfish is now my desktop wallpaper. Hope you don’t mind. (Let me know if you do!)

      Apparently you also valiantly resisted the urge to pose for glamor shots in front of the jellyfish. For this, I applaud you. (Not that I know anyone who did that in the hopes of securing The Best Author Head Shot in the World… no, no indeed…)

  9. You will have to cook Brussels sprouts for me, Meredith. (And you too, Ariel, since I completely agree with the drench-vegetables-in-butter-and-cream school of thought.)

    My year in France I was too poor to eat anywhere but at the student cafeteria (Resto-U). And I’m sorry to say but the cafeteria where I lived had the worst food. And they served Brussels sprouts constantly. 🙁

    I am also forever poisoned against ratatouille, as a matter of fact.

    • Blech! Ratatouille. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I was turned against it (the original trauma), but I can’t even think of it without a recoil. It and tomato aspic. (And corned beef.)

    • These conference hotels do not provide the proper equipment for the cooking of brussels sprouts. We’ll have to do one of those fancy “writers in seclusion in cabin in the woods” weekends one of these here days.

      That, or you need to hit the lists so I can bully you into booking a suite with a kitchen at the next RWA!

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