Recipe: Layered Raspberry-Almond Pavlova

Here’s the recipe of the dessert that Tauer Perfumes’ Une Rose Vermeille reminds me most of — it’s a favorite “special summer treat” of my family’s, and I’ll be upfront with you that it takes some time and effort to make.  It’s worth it, though: light as a feather, ethereal and yet rich.

The CEO did his master’s degree in Agricultural Economics in New Zealand, on a Fulbright Scholarship.  Pavlova was a dessert he encountered there and immediately enjoyed, and when I made a dessert called “Fresh Berry Meringue Torte” from my much-loved copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible, he sat up straight in his chair and exclaimed, “But this is Pavlova!  How did you know I love this?”

A brief history of Pavlova-the-dessert: it’s named, of course, after Anna Pavlova, the famous Russian prima ballerina.  Both Australia and New Zealand claim to have originated it as an homage to Anna Pavlova during one of her tours there in the 1920s.  Pavlova is essentially made of three components: baked meringue, whipped cream, and fruit.  The meringue can also incorporate such varied ingredients as cocoa powder, espresso powder, and ground nuts.  The baked meringue specific to Pavlova is supposed to be a bit soft in the center, with a crispy meringue-cookie texture on the outside.  Traditionally, the topping is whipped heavy cream with strawberries and kiwifruit, the tangy fruit contrasting with the sweet meringue and cream, but of course you see pavlovas made with all kinds of soft fruit: raspberries, blueberries, peaches, grapes, even passionfruit pulp.  Here’s a link to some other recipes which are perhaps more authentically Kiwi and/or Aussie, but I’ll also share mine, which is made in layers (not authentic, but yummy anyway).   The proportions and basic directions are from The Cake Bible, but interjections (and faux creme fraiche recipe) are mine.

I really like to use dacquoise (sometimes called meringue japonais), as the ground nuts in it cut some of the sweetness of the meringue.  Also, creme fraiche is far tangier than straight cream.  Peaches and blackberries sometimes grace my pavlova.

I admit this is one of the most involved and fiddly desserts I ever make, and I don’t make it often. Brownies tend to be more the kids’ speed anyway. The directions are long, but it’s really not all that complicated, and it doesn’t really require special equipment. You will need, at minimum, a large baking sheet, a whisk, a blender or food processor, a spoon, a rubber spatula, an electric mixer (I used to have only a hand mixer, and it turned out fine), an oven, and a refrigerator. Basically, if you’re going to cook anything, you’ve probably already got what you need on hand, in terms of equipment. So don’t worry.

Here’s Part I: Dacquoise Discs

¾ to 1 cup toasted, peeled, and finely ground almonds or hazelnuts

1 ½ Tablespoons cornstarch

½ cup + 1 Tbsp. superfine sugar (if you can’t find this at the grocery, just pulse regular sugar for a few minutes in your food processor or blender, then measure to get the right amount)

¾ cup powdered sugar, lightly spooned into cup

4 large egg whites (fresh – don’t use the packaged variety)

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Optional: whisk 2 Tbsp. cocoa into the powdered sugar. Only add this if you’re using fruit that marries well with chocolate, like raspberries and strawberries.

All ingredients should be at room temperature (yes, even the eggs). Preheat oven to 200° F. Important: don’t bother trying to make this when it’s humid. Seriously. It will be a soggy mess. If your kitchen is air-conditioned, though, you’re probably okay. You’ll know whether it feels humid in your kitchen or not.

Line a heavy baking sheet with a nonstick liner (like Silpat) or heavy foil. Trace a 9-inch cake pan onto the foil, or make a template to slip under the liner. If you’d like, you can make three 7-inch discs instead. Don’t line the baking sheet with parchment paper because meringue and dacquoise will frequently stick to it.

Place the ground nuts, cornstarch, half the superfine sugar, and all the powdered sugar into a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Set aside in a small bowl.

In a large mixing bowl beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat at medium speed. When soft peaks form when the beater is raised, gradually add the remaining superfine sugar and beat at high speed until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly.

Fold in the reserved nut mixture with a large rubber spatula. Be gentle. As soon as it’s mixed, spread the dacquoise mixture onto the foil or Silpat liner. You can pipe it on if you want to be fancy, but I never bother.

Bake. If you have a gas oven with a pilot light, bake the dacquoise for an hour and then leave it overnight in the turned-off oven. If, like me, you have an electric oven, bake the dacquoise for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until it’s dry but not browned. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR FOR THE FIRST 45 MINUTES, or the dacquoise will crack. Of course, it will still taste fine.

Let the dacquoise cool completely before trying to move it from the liner or foil. The best way to get the discs off the foil, I’ve found, is to cut around the discs with scissors, leaving an inch or so all around the dacquoise. Then pick up a disc and hold it upside-down in your nondominant hand, while you gently peel the foil away from the disc. Don’t pry the dacquoise off the foil; that way lies madness and dacquoise crumbling in your hands, as I know to my sorrow.

Meringue variation (I admit I like the dacquoise because it’s less sweet, and because I love the flavor of nuts, but not everyone can eat nuts):

4 large egg whites

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

½ cup + 1 tablespoon superfine sugar

1 cup powdered sugar, lightly spooned into cup

 Optional: whisk 2 tablespoons of cocoa into the powdered sugar. This has the benefit of reducing the sweetness level somewhat, although chocolate doesn’t go well with some fruits.

As with the dacquoise, have everything at room temperature, preheat oven to 200° F, and don’t make on humid days. Also prepare the pan with foil or Silpat liner, just as described above. In a mixing bowl, beat whites until frothy, add the cream of tartar, and beat at medium speed while gradually adding 2 tablespoons of the superfine sugar. When soft peaks form when the beater is raised, add 1 tablespoon superfine sugar and increase speed to high. When stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly, gradually beat in remaining superfine sugar and beat until very stiff and glossy.

Sift the powdered sugar over the meringue and fold in, gently, using a large rubber spatula. Immediately spread (or pipe, if you insist) onto the baking sheet, creating 2 large or 3 small discs. Bake as directed in the dacquoise recipe. Cool completely before removing from the foil or liner as described above.

And Part II: Creme Fraiche Filling

 There are three ways you can do this… well, maybe four, if you are lucky enough to find real crème fraiche at your grocery. Assuming you aren’t, here are your options.

 Option A: If you have a coupla days, make your own crème fraiche:

1 ½ liquid cup heavy (whipping) cream

4 teaspoons buttermilk

1 ½ tablespoon sugar

Combine the cream and buttermilk in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and place in a warm spot. The top of the fridge is fine, or near the stove. Allow to sit undisturbed for 12-14 hours or until thickened but still pourable. This may take as long as 36 hours.  When it’s thick, add the sugar and whisk lightly until soft mounds form when dropped from a spoon.

Note: the high fat content makes this possible – don’t stress about not refrigerating it. Like butter, it doesn’t spoil or mold or grow bacterial colonies when kept at room temperature for a few days. After you’ve got it to the right consistency, though, put it in the fridge, where it will keep for up to three weeks. Crème fraiche is tangy yet sweet.

Option B: Quick crème fraiche:

1 ½ liquid cups

½ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons sugar

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Beat just until soft peaks form when the beater is raised or until it mounds when dropped from a spoon. You can store this in the fridge for 24 hours, but rebeat lightly before using to restore airiness. This is the version I usually use.

Option C: If you’re seriously worried about the fat content (are you sure you want to eat dessert?), make this vastly less good but still edible faux crème fraiche:

1 8-ounce package of frozen whipped topping, thawed in the fridge until soft

1 8-ounce carton of vanilla yogurt (I recommend Yoplait – it’s far tangier than many brands) OR a 6-ounce carton of plain Greek yogurt plus 1 teaspoon sugar

Whisk together until creamy. Will keep in the fridge for 24 hours.

 Aaaaaand Part III: Assembly

First, decide if you want a crisper pavlova or a soft and airy one. If you’d like it crisp – which is more traditional – assemble about an hour before you’ll be serving the dessert. I like mine soft, because the topping soaks into the dacquoise discs and the whole thing gets light and ethereal as angels’ wings, so I assemble up to four hours before serving. You’ll need about a pint to a pint and a half of fresh raspberries, and a pretty plate wide enough to hold your dacquoise discs.

Drop a small spoonful of your creamy topping, whichever you made, onto the center of the plate. Then place one of your discs on top of it. (This will keep the pavlova from sliding off onto the countertop and smashing into globby bits, thus preventing your tears and rending of garments. Don’t ask me how I know this.)

Assuming you made two larger discs, top the bottom one with about half, or slightly more than half, of the topping. Then add half the berries (save the prettiest ones for the top). Top this with the second disc, and then add the rest of the creamy topping. You can swirl it with the spatula if you want it all pretty, or pipe it if you’re a Martha-Stewart-in-training. Then add the remaining berries in a decorative fashion. You can add a few chocolate shavings or a restrained sprinkling of ground nuts, if you like.  Of course, if you made three discs, apportion the creamy topping and the berries so you can have three layers (duh).

Store in the fridge, preferably in a cake or pie holder to keep it safe, and away from the Honey-Soy Glazed Salmon with Wasabi you had for dinner last night, until you’re ready to serve. Cut into wedges and serve. Eat with joy. Toast the New Zealanders (Kiwis). Then, just to cover all the bases, toast the Aussies.

A few years ago, The CEO got to revisit that part of the world through a different scholarly fellowship program – and I was able to join him for three weeks of the tour.   Australia was interesting, and friendly and clean and enjoyable.  I’d go back anytime.  But I fell in love with New Zealand, and from time to time I daydream of retiring to Wellington someday.  (The CEO says, “Not Wellington, it’s really windy there.  Aucklanders make fun of Wellington weather.”  I remind him that although Auckland was very nice, it felt more like Florida to me than home, and constant 70F temps would bore me.   “We could try  Te Awamutu instead; it’s not far from Wellington, and the weather’s better.  You’d like Te Awamutu.”)   Whether we actually go or not, we’ll probably be eating pavlova in the summer.

Image is Timeless Pavlova from (heart)babybee at Flickr.

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Mind Your Language, Part One

So I’ve been reading Julie and Julia: A Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell, lately, and I have this whole gigantor list of things I want to say about it, but it’s difficult to know where to start.  Also, I know that I’m going to tick somebody off, because not everything I have to say is positive.  (No, I haven’t seen the movie yet.  Yes, I know I’m about three years behind everybody else in reading this thing, but – hey, I have a life, you  know.)

I’m going to come at this from an oblique angle and talk about one of the things that bugs me most about the book: the language.  It is, shall we say, Not Suitable For Public Consumption.  Bookworm asked if she could read it, and I had to say no.  (She’s fourteen, and easily shocked.  I’ll never forget the time I picked up The Godfather from my high school library, not knowing what my 16-year-old self was in for, and about six pages into the thing got slapped in the face with a raucous sex scene.  I nearly swallowed my tongue.  Not that Julie and Julia is that bad, but it does have some adult themes.)

And last night, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” was on TCM, so after the kids went to bed, The CEO and I watched the whole movie – straight through, no cuts, no commercial breaks, and definitely no editing-for-TV.  If you’ve ever seen the thing, you’ll know that for the first five minutes or so, nobody says anything other than one swear word, over and over.  Charles (Hugh Grant) wakes up late for his friend’s wedding, says, “BLEEP!”  Shows his housemate Scarlett what time it is, and she says, “BLEEP!”  And of course they’ve got that “the hurrieder I go, the behinder I get” thing going on, where hurrying just makes everything more difficult, so every few minutes something else goes wrong.  Formal clothes are a problem, BLEEP.  The car won’t start, BLEEP.  They take the wrong turn, BLEEP. They get to the church just as the bride’s car drives up, BLEEP.  Charles, the best man, has forgotten the rings, BLEEP.

As much as it embarrasses me to admit this, I find it hysterically funny.

If you’ve ever seen it on network TV, where it’s been edited for language (and some adult content), the word dubbed in for the F-bomb used in the original is “bugger.”  Yep.  Bugger.  A lot of Americans have no idea what that word is, other than it’s something British people swear with and it’s not considered offensive here.  In case you don’t know what it means, I’ll post a link and you can go check it out here.  Go ahead, I’ll wait. 

Is that not worse than the F-word?  I thought so.  I still think it’s bizarre that somehow “bugger” was an acceptable substitute to the FCC.

Back to Julie and Julia: it too is hysterically funny in parts.  I read a bit or two to the kids over the breakfast table, editing on the fly.  They laughed.  Really hard.  Which brings me to my point: if you do a Find and Replace with all the swear words in the book, and it’s still funny, why did it need the swear words? 

If you do the same thing with “Four Weddings,” it’s not funny.  Your exercise is to imagine Charles’ and Scarlett’s dreadful morning with a different word expressing frustration.  I like “blast,” for its plosive and sibilant consonants and quasi-British sound. Or Winnie-the-Pooh’s favorite, “bother.”  Try “dang,” “darn,” or “shoot.”  Here goes:
              Charles, waking, sees his alarm clock.  “BLAST!”
              Scarlett is woken by Charles, and sees how late it is.  “BLAST!”
              Charles’ suspenders won’t cooperate.  “BLAST!”
See?  Not funny.  Okay, maybe the FCC was right.  “Bugger” is funny, and maybe nobody but me cares what it really means.

Julie Powell, at one point in the book, remarks that during her year of blogging about cooking her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, some of her blog readers complained about the language she used.  Her comment:  “…Somebody I don’t know from Adam takes the trouble to lament the fact that I use the word f**king so much; people who object to my choice of language always use a lot of asterisks.”  Ms. Powell certainly doesn’t use the asterisks.  Oh, no.  And she doesn’t limit herself to the use of “f**king,” either.  If you’re interested, you can go and read her blog.  She began posting Aug. 25, 2002, and by the 29th, there’s the first of the many swear words.

I will use the asterisks.  Call me hypocritical and prissy, call me a right-wingnut, I don’t give a — ahem, I mean, I don’t care.  (Little blogger sarcasm there, please forgive me for that.)  My take on this is that if she feels free to display these offensive, or  potentially offensive, words buck naked on her stage, I can certainly feel free to give them some darn underwear on mine.  Plain white cotton, because it might be boring, but it won’t scare your grandmother.

So why is it that the swear word in “Four Weddings…” makes the difference between Funny and Not Funny, but Julie and Julia is Funny, swear words or no?  My opinion is that spoken swear words seem spontaneous, and written words were chosen consciously.

Okay, okay, I acknowledge that “Four Weddings…” had to have had a written script.  Fine.  But they were going after real-life verisimilitude.  And never mind that for your mouth to shoot off an obscenity, you had at one point have had to learn said obscenity.  The book of James, chapter 3, says that the tongue is a fire, and that no one can tame the tongue (but that we should learn to control it!). 

It’s a far different, and easier, thing to control the words that come from my keyboard.  I’m just sayin’.  I’ll have more to say about Julie and Julia soon.

The image is from a German DVD version of “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” from imdb.com.

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NaNoWriMo 2009: I DID IT!!!

Okay, so technically it was more like 29 days and 51,094 words… but who’s counting? 
Ha ha.  Me, obviously.  And the nice people at NaNoWriMo, too.  In fact, my OpenOffice document swears on a stack of Bibles that my novel is 51,787 words; I don’t know what the heck the difference is between the two word count widgets, but BOY, am I glad I wrote that extra scene. 
Here’s some more statistics for the month of November:
Extra cups of coffee: 23
Loads of laundry done solo by The CEO, graciously picking up slack: 26
School lunches for Gaze and Taz flung into bags at the Very Last Minute Before We’ll Be Late, because Mom had a hard time dragging herself out of bed: 15

Pounds of food (turkey breast, ham, sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry gelatin salad, celery sticks, and pumpkin pie) prepared for Thanksgiving, unfinished novel notwithstanding: 29
Blog entries posted, including this one: 8
Late nights: too many to count
Christmas gifts purchased: zero  (Ack, better get crankin’!)

Here’s the kicker: I’m not even finished.  There’s more story… I only got through 68% of the scenes I intended to write.  The ones I did write – well, they need careful editing.  It might be more accurate to say they need lopping with a chain saw, so there’s still a lot of work ahead of me.

But now I know I can do it.  It might take me another month (how’s, oh, February?  February’s pretty quiet), but now I know what I’m capable of.  I’m so proud of me.

NaNoWriMo 2009 Winner’s Badge from nanowrimo.org.  Go check ’em out, seriously.

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Week Three, NaNoWriMo 2009

So here’s what’s burning my britches:

Sunday afternoon I’m counting up all my words from all the scenes I’ve written, most of them through the fabulously stern Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die widget, and I’m excited because I’m ahead of schedule now – 38,203 words written, according to my math, and I should be at the 36,674 point. Yay me… so I go and start saving all these scenes into a big long (and I mean long!) document so I can upload it to the NaNoWriMo official word counter.  And then I check the word count for the entire document, and it says, “34,959.”  What?!? Less than 35K? 

Less than 35K?  So where did it go?  Is my math that bad?  You wouldn’t think someone with a degree in accounting would have that much trouble adding stuff…  Oh, okay, forgot this little piece of a scene I wrote and somehow saved in the wrong spot; let’s add that in.  New count: 36,003.  What!?! Where are my other two thousand words?!?

Turns out, see, that the WriteOrDie wordcount works differently than the OpenOfficeDocument wordcount –  WriteOrDie being the cheerful optimist with rose-colored glasses, curse it.  Totally out of character for a program that punishes you for seven seconds of no keystrokes by playing the most heeeedious noises you could imagine (babies crying, air raid sirens, untuned violins, shrieking alarm clocks, you name it).  To get the noise to stop, all you have to do is start typing again.  Simple but brilliant, right?

Actually, it is brilliant, and I’m going to keep using it.  I’ll just be checking word counts very thoroughly in a serious word-processing program from now on.  New word count as of midnight, 11/22: 38,482. So there. 

And the other thing I want to know is, Why is my face all broken out?  Am I that stressed?  It’s not That Time, I haven’t been eating loads of chocolate (all right, fine, I did have a square – ONE square – of NewTree Dark Chocolate with Ginger last week), and I haven’t had any Diet Dr. Pepper, which, although I love it, tends to break me out.  And I have been cleaning my face with the same cleanser and using the same brand of noncomodegenic makeup I always use.  I don’t get it.

Scents worn in Week Three:
Sonoma Scent Studio Tabac Aurea, custom samples of three versions: Zero Patchouli, Half the Patchouli of the Original, and Different Patchouli than the Original. Winner: 50% Patch.  Gorgeous.  Exactly what I wanted – pipe tobacco, dry leaves, grass, spice cookies, damp moss, golden sunshine, leather jacket, warm skin, and stolen kisses. Whoa baby. Laurie Erickson is a genius.
Chanel Bois des Iles, Les Exclusifs, decant: sandalwood, cool iris, warm gingerbread. Why does this seem thinner than my sample?  It smells like the right smell, but disappears faster and has less presence.
Teo Cabanel Alahine sample: a mellow, happy Party In a Bottle, complete with “candles at the window, carols at the spinet.”
Guerlain Chamade parfum de toilette, decant: a green-and-gold springtime.  (Is it sacrilege to say that this is beautiful but not as good as Parfums de Nicolai’s Le Temps d’une Fete?  I’m sayin’ it anyway.  Luca Turin’s right, Guerlain (LVMH) should hire Guerlain granddaughter Patricia de Nicolai as head nose.) In any case, I’ve now written the Chamade scenes into the novel.  Now I can stop feeling so seasonally disoriented – no wonder I’ve been reaching for the cool-weather stuff when I’m not at the laptop. I can’t believe, now, that for so many years I wore one perfume at a time.  Freesia and peony in the winter? Thank goodness I can leave the whole “signature perfume” idea behind.

Top image is wordfind by thinkroni at flickr.com.  Bottom image is Alahine, from fragrantica.com.

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Week Two, NaNoWriMo 2009

I’m a little behind.  (Ba-dum-bum.)

Hindered by feeling yucky, and the fact that people need clothes ironed and lunches packed and bathrooms cleaned, yada yada, and the fact that in all this mess, somehow I’m actually expected to go to work, I haven’t been working as hard as I should.

Not to mention that I got mad at one of my characters and didn’t want to write about him at all, and I got bored with the other major character – she was too nicey-nice.  Well, I fixed that all right, mwah ha ha!  She’s going to do a few questionable things, and that’s fun to write about. And I started fleshing out an uninhibited minor character, so that should help too. Tonight, the 18th, I should be at 30K words, and I’m not – I’m sitting on 29,213.  But it’s still doable.  In fact, if I stop blogging right now, I could probably go write another 1000… okay, probably not. 

Scents worn in week two:
Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur – stupid name, lovely scent.  Plum, white flowers, and a milky, ambery base that is sweet and smooth without being sugary. In fact, the drydown reminds me of creme brulee.  One of the few that lasts and lasts on me. Makes my sweaters smell great.

Teo Cabanel Alahine sample – Wow.  This freebie sample is a favorite of Abigail’s – see her review at IsmellthereforeIam blog here.  Smells like, for some reason even I cannot pinpoint, Christmas.  In fact, what it’s reminding me of is the Madrigal Dinners we chorus students produced at college: clove oranges, curried fruit, dusty music books, lit candles, slightly-musty costumes, evergreen branches hiding the Federal style mouldings on the ballroom walls… not that I actually smell all of that, but I think I’m getting olfactory illusion here.  Which is nice, actually.  Mad Dinners were so much fun.

Sonoma Scent Studio Tabac Aurea custom blend – I had this huge, head-over-heels emotional reaction to the standard version, only slightly marred by the patchouli it contains.  It’s nice patch, actually – grassy and fresh-smelling, not dusty and not the synthetic-y “clean” patch that seems to inhabit so many mainstream scents lately.  But patchouli has a way of simply hijacking my nose away from the whole composition, so that all I smell is patchouli.  Laurie Erickson was kind enough to make me a few custom samples to choose from: one with no patchouli, one with 50% patchouli, and one with a different grade of patchouli.  I think the 50% patch is winning, at this stage.  I love it.

Just like last week, I highly recommend that you go smell something good, read something good, and hug someone you love.  And I’ll add one more: eat something good.

Image is Butt by Shooting the Kids at flickr.

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Week One, NaNoWriMo 2009

So, how’s it going?

Pretty good.  At least, I’ve written five of the seven days, and am sitting at 13,912 words with loads more to come and no writer’s block so far.  Also, everyone has eaten this week, including two bottle-fed calves named Davy and Beth, and no one has run out of underwear.  (Must give props to The CEO for doing laundry, though: ten loads.  Eek.  Note to self:  don’t add any more children to the family.) I’m still looking waaay, way up at the top of the hill, but I can see it.

Scents worn this week:
Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille sample.  Smells like gingerbread, which is kind of nice if you like that sort of thing, which I do, but it’s ungodly expensive for something that smells like, hello, gingerbread.  Honestly, I’d rather just bake some.
Guerlain Chamade vintage parfum de toilette.  Smells like spring.  Is allllll wrong for this time of year, but one of my characters wears it. 
Coty Ex-clam-a-tion!  Smells like rose+violet+face powder, drenched in syrup.  Was this an advance entry into the “I’m a teenager, I must smell like dessert” running?  Same character wears this one at a different stage of life.  She prefers Chamade, and I must say, so do I.
Guerlain Shalimar Light/Eau Legere, two different versions.  Review may show up this week, if I manage to post it.  Watch this space…

I have instructions for people who want something good to happen to them this week:

Go smell something good, even if it’s just dry leaves outside and some homemade gingerbread inside.  (There, now you won’t owe Tom Ford $170 for the 50ml bottle.  Or you could put a pouch of flavored pipe tobacco next to a bottle of Bath and Body Works’ Ginger Vanilla body wash, and pretty much get the same experience.)

Go read something good.  Comic books are fun, but they do NOT count.  Sorry. You only get a pass on this one if you have a newborn baby at home.

Go hug someone you love.

You have your instructions.

Image is Montsant, climbing up hill, by Monique vd Hoeven at flickr.

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You Win Some, You Lose Some

You know who holds the record for the most losses by a major league pitcher?

Denton True “Cy” Young.

Yeah, that guy.  The one they named the award for, the one that honors the best major league pitcher each year.  The guy that pitched 21 seasons, the one who still – even close to a hundred years after he retired, in 1911 – holds the record for the most wins by a major league pitcher.

Total losses: 316.
Total wins: 511.

A lesson for us all.

Especially for me.  This is my second attempt at NaNoWriMo.  I failed last year, only racking up 47,000 words (“winning” means you wrote 50K during the month of November).  But that was last year.  Ol’ Cy lost a bunch of games, too, and it didn’t stop him.

So it can’t stop me.

I probably won’t post full-blown articles here for awhile, just brief notes on how things are going, with the occasional Scent of the Day comment, or something short like that.  I’ll be back in full swing in December.

Image is from wikipedia.  Click on the link to read more about Cy Young at baseballhalloffame.org.

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National Novel Writing Month Is Coming Up Fast

Holy cow, it’s nearly the end of September, and you know what that means – October.  And once October is over, then that means it’s November.  (Duh.)  And you know what that means…
NaNoWriMo!

If you have somehow been living under a rock… oh, no condemnation here!  I barely know the roster of the  Virginia Tech football team, which amazes my husband and children; they think I live under that rock… here’s the scoop, straight from the NaNoWriMo website:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month’s time.
 
Who: You! We can’t do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.
 
Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Now… what am I gonna do this year? Write that romance story that’s been in my head for, oh, 13 years? Sounds like a plan. I didn’t finish last year. I got to 45K words and just had to stop and Deal With Life. It’s terribly sad for my poor characters; Sara and Mariella and Tony and Colin and William all languish somewhere on a floppy disc. Which is bad, because I now have a new computer that has no floppy drive. And I never finished the thing because I lost my momentum, trying to keep a house clean and people fed and the like. How on earth do they expect a mother to take the time to do this sort of thing?
 
I hereby direct myself to cease and desist the whining.  If I’m going to do it, I’m just going to have to do it.  I mean, the world will be just fine without the story of Deena and Troy, but if I write them down, maybe they’ll get out of my head and leave me alone… 
To visit the NaNoWriMo home page:  http://www.nanowrimo.org/   (If you set up your own account, you can look me up – I’m Mals86.) 
Top image is keyboard- blur by striatic at flickr.   NaNoWriMo web badge is available to participants and kindly provided by nanowrimo.org.
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Back in the Saddle

Or the desk chair. Yes, summer is over and school has started. (Yippee!) I’m shaking small people awake every weekday morning now, packing lunchboxes full of nutritious goodies like applesauce cups and peanut-butter sandwiches, and ferrying my children to school on my way to work. And my husband has gone back to his school-year job, teaching agriculture at the university down the road; he’ll be farming on weekends until next summer.

The house is empty in the afternoons after I come home from my part-time job, and there is time to write! Now I’ve only to go collect up the notes I made regarding perfume testing over the summer, which ought to be no help really, because my usual meticulous notes degenerated into 10-word descriptions. Oh, heck, I’ll just start over with the reviewing!

I hope to be back on a three-to-four posts a week basis as of now. Well, it’s Thursday, and we’ve got a family trip planned for the weekend, so if I get a review finished I’ll post tomorrow and that will hit the average – for this week, anyway.

While testing a vintage perfume today, I had a revelation. Those of you who know me know that I don’t like to wear my perfume so thickly that I can be smelled from ten feet away. I’m a delicate applier, and only people close enough to hug me are the ones to smell my perfume. In the past I have ranted about those who love loud perfumes and apply them heavily, forcing others to share their chosen scent to a degree that verges on invasion. But today – ah, today… I began to understand those people. At least to a degree…

Back tomorrow with a review of Balenciaga’s lovely, discontinued early-80’s Michelle.

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Dream, Create, Believe

I live in a newfangled farmhouse on the edge of a cattle farm in the mountains of Virginia. Like most farmhouses, it’s designed more for comfort than for impressing the neighbors, and contains more than its share of dirt and chaos. When we were building this house, my husband commented that he didn’t want a fancy-looking house. “It should be homey,” I said. “Yes,” he replied. “The house should appear to be saying, ‘Come in and have some soup.'”

Blogging is new to me. And since this is the inaugural post for Muses in Wooden Shoes, it would make sense to lay out my expectations for this blog — its floorplan, if you will. The plan is that I’ll post three blogs a week, with the possibility of more, on subjects that interest me: novels, poetry, perfume, memories, the senses, music, God… Comments will be welcome. (Please, come in and have some soup!) I just ask that you keep your language such that your mother could read the blog without embarrassment.

On the top floor of this Homey Farmhouse is my so-called Sewing Room. It’s a small room which contains a twin bed, a nightstand with a lamp, a table with a sewing machine on it, and a chair. It’s crowded. It’s messy. But on the walls are three plaques with vital messages:

Dream
Create
Believe

These vital messages are all expressed as verbs, and that fact in itself is a vital message. If one wants to BE, one must DO. That’s my hope for this blog: that as I Dream, Create, and Believe, I become more myself than I’ve ever been. Here’s to the journey.

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