Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What Could Have Been The World's Shortest E-Book ...

The day I published How to Bake a Better Cookie, a review appeared that ended with this: "Now I need one for breads!"

Yesterday, I was standing in front of the whiteboard in my office, jotting ideas for upcoming projects. I jotted: "Bread e-book? Do I have enough to say?"

Nope, I really don't.

I don't bake a lot of varieties of bread. (My one atttempt at rye was memorably leaden.)

I don't use starters.

I don't use a baking stone.

I don't mist my oven to encourage the crust.

I've made Greek bread in the past with reasonable success because Greek bread is really just white bread, pulled into a wreath shape and smothered with sesame seeds.

Mostly – almost exclusively – I make the bread you see at the top of this post. The Serbs in my family call it pogacha. It's a basic white bread but it only raises once, so it's slightly more dense than typical white bread. (The recipe's here.)

And it makes spectacular toast. I mean, it's good as bread, but it's sublime as toast.

A lot of people are scared to attempt bread, but it's not as daunting as people make it out to be.

Just before Christmas, one of my cousins mentioned that they tried making pogacha and it didn't rise. He presumed his yeast was bad.

Nope, probably not, I said.

And that brings me to the first – and possibly – only rule you need to know about baking bread:

Don't kill the yeast.

That's it. So long as you don't kill the yeast, odds are that you and your oven will produce something fairly edible.

See what I mean? It would have been a really short e-book. Even 99 cents would have been too much to charge.

If you proof your yeast in warm water, make sure it's warm. Not hot. Warm. Years ago, my Aunt Chick said, "Think of a baby's bath water."

The water needs to be warm enough to encourage the yeast but not so warm that it dies.

So hold the inside of your wrist under warm water and when it feels plesantly warm but not hot, you're good to go.

Likewise, if you're adding the yeast to an existing hot liquid, let it cool down to a pleasantly warm temperature first.

Don't be impatient. Swirl the bowl around to expose the mixture to more air to hasten the cooling process.

Or, as I often do, stick the bowl in the freezer for a minute or two or three.

Too-cool liquid will always be preferable to too-hot liquid.

Also, you can add a smidgen of sugar to your yeast to give it some food and make it happy from the get-go.

There you have it: the one piece of advice you need to get you started on your bread-baking way.

Baking bread is enormously gratifying.

And your family and friends will think you a genius.

Don't kill the yeast.

Friday, January 09, 2015

How Can I Help You Express Yourself? ...

I formally kicked off a book-coaching project with a new client yesterday. She's been working on a book for a long while. She's collaborated with a friend. She's shared a lot of material with me to review, including a table of contents so extensive, it's really an outline. She's rewritten the first chapter multiple times. And she's felt stuck.

So yesterday, with the hectic holidays behind us and a whole new year to explore, she was ready to get to work and figure out a new plan. She called at 8:30 a.m.

By 9:30 a.m., we had discovered that:

1. She's really writing two books.

and

2. The second book should probably happen first.

Book coaching, like all other coaching, looks different for every client.

For some, what I offer is really writing coaching, helping them to hone their writing skills.

For others, like my latest client, I join their projects already in process but early enough that I can help them shape their initial content, help them work through obstacles, or help them refine their approach to uncover what they truly want to say.

For yet others, I take on more of an editing role when they're further along in the process. Where I can offer insights, though, I do.

And for yet another segment of authors, I come on board at a point when they're almost ready to publish but seek one more set of eyes to review their work and I function as an editor's editor, if you will. In some cases, all that's really called for is proofreading. But, in some instances, I've been able to make suggestions that add another layer of polish to a project that the author didn't know was available.

For this latest project, our plan is to proceed session by session, as she's able to write. Our initial conversation yielded some good insights, but a creative process is just that, and she's open to letting this book – or these books – evolve.

But for the moment, she has a renewed sense of momentum. And I look forward to helping her see where it goes. My favorite part of our call yesterday was her pause after I made a suggestion, then the sound of her voice when she said, "Oh, I like that idea!"

Sometimes a project needs a fresh perspective and a bit of collaboration. Do you have a project you'd like to work on in the new year? Perhaps I can help you with that.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Holiday Giving ...

Pretty much everyone I know is in the process of shedding stuff. It is a delightful feeling, as I know from firsthand experience, having recently donated bags and bags and bags of books and an entire car and trunk full of stuff that, for years, I told myself I would sell at a garage sale.

After about 10 years of telling myself that story – and losing plenty of stuff to a flooded basement some years ago – I decided that it wasn't true. I could make it true, but not until spring, which, 'round these parts, doesn't often show up until June.

And I didn't want the clutter in the house any longer. I didn't want to walk past my guest bedroom and think, "I really have to deal with that."

So I dealt with it. Done.

Just in time for the arrival of the mac daddy of gift-giving holidays.

I already had a couple of gifts on hand that I knew were the right things but the balance of my list loomed.

On Thanksgiving, my father had announced that he had pored over all the sales papers and had found nothing he needed.

"The holidays aren't just about need," I reminded him. "Sometimes they're about want, too."

"Well, there's nothing I want, either."

All righty, then.

Dad got cookies and scratch-off lottery tickets. Seriously. He was delighted.

I talked with my oldest brother about gift ideas for the parents. He asked what I wanted. "Nothing," I said, and I meant it. "You pick up the tab all year when we go out for pizza and movies. That's more than enough. What would you like?"

"Nothing," he said. And I knew he meant it. He's spent the past couple years getting rid of stuff – the man is The craigslist Whisperer – and organizing the rest.

But I also know that he loves the white chocolate macadamia cookies at Subway, so I bought Ghirardelli white chips and half a pound of raw macadamia nuts, figuring I could do better than a fast-food chain.

He wrote the other day to let me know he had recovered from his cold and therefore could taste things again so he broke into the cookies at last. "They're great!" Take that, Subway!

Two of my nephews and my niece received afghans from their great-grandmother. I had two stashed in the guest-room closet, never used. They're navy and cream, rugby-stripe-ish, very graphic, rather nautical, and very cool. Each of the boys got one. And my niece received the afghan my grandmother had made for me when I was a baby. I included a pair of fluffy socks for her. The afghan is not big.

My grandmother was not a warm and fuzzy woman. But I was pleased to share her yarn talents with the kids. You can never have too many afghans.

I don't exchange gifts with their mom and dad, my brother and sister-in-law, other than stocking-stuffer treats. My brother always receives his favorite gummi bears from me. This year, my sister-in-law received a Toblerone. "I've never had one of these before," she said. "They're good!"

Of course they're good. A Toblerone played a supporting role in an episode of "Friends." It was cited in an episode of "Gilmore Girls." Toblerone rock.

My other nephew received a stash of cookies and a note that he shall begin receiving cookies as part of his college care packages.

It was a rather homemade Christmas, most of all for my mom.

She, too, got fluffy socks, which I did not make.

But her main gift was a wreath for her front door, which I did.

I was at their house one day, waiting for her to get home, lacking my keys for their house so I couldn't let myself in. I stood on the front porch considering the front door, knowing she was tired of the wreath she had, pondering what might work better instead, both based on her aesthetic and the style of the house.

My brain said, "Leather!"

Leather lacing would have been too fine though, the wrong scale, too busy.

"Old belts!" said my brain.

Yes, old belts!

And so I headed out to Goodwill a couple of days later to find old belts. Or new belts. Or any belts that would work with my vision.

And then I went to a second Goodwill store because I needed a larger stash.

And then I deconstructed the belts, removing most of the hardware. (I kept one belt intact to use at the top, as the "bow," as it were.)

And then I set out to find a wreath form.

Why in the hell are pieces of Styrofoam so expensive relative to what they are?!

That concern was moot, however, as the craft store I was in lacked the size I wanted. So I wandered the floral department. Surely something else would work. Maybe I could cannibalize a holiday wreath.

Or maybe I could use the straw wreath form staring me in the face.

Why, yes. Yes, I could.

I came home and wrapped that sucker in electrical tape to create a black base for any instances where the wreath form might peek through behind the belts.

And then I attempted to complete my project.

And then I attempted to complete my project.

And then, once again, I attempted to complete my project.

I finally finished on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, seriously just under the wire.

But I was pleased with the final result. Although, as I wrote to Angelo, who knew that this was in the works:

"DO NOT MAKE ONE OF THESE."

It was way more effort than I expected.

I shall not be getting into the bespoke leather-belt wreath business. One of these is all I feel the need to make in my lifetime and this is that one.

But we hung it up yesterday and Mom is very pleased.