Flavor empowers. It energizes composition. Its absence renders things inert and yet, when well used, it’s the fulcrum on which everything pivots. Sarah Bird introduces the reader to the place and times of Okinawa, but it’s her infusion of the Okinawan sense of being, of their understanding of life, that completes her story.
Here’s my review from January 21, 2017.
Award winning Texas novelist, screenplay writer and columnist, Sarah Bird, bursts through her comedic chrysalis and takes flight in her newest fiction novel Above the East China Sea. The difficult trajectory of tragedy, both in historical wartime Okinawa intermingled with the present day Okinawan challenges as experienced via a United States military family stationed at the Kadena Air Force base, reveal her writing evolution.
The novel follows two first person narrators: Luz, present day and Tamiko, wartime. Luz, newly relocated teenager and Air Force military brat, lives with her sergeant mother while they both address the recent loss of their third family member, Codie, Luz’s older sister. Tamiko, Okinawa native whose high school education ceased when she became a battlefield nurse, worked in the Japanese Imperial Army’s cave hospitals.
The stories begin with Tamiko jumping to her death off the suicide cliffs located on the southern most tip of Okinawa Island. Flanked by Japanese soldiers pushed south by the oncoming American soldiers, she intentionally selects the exit for her and her unborn child, as to die a violent death at the hands of soldiers would condemn them to haunt the place forever and never reunite with their clan. In present day Luz is standing at the top of the cliff contemplating suicide. Overwhelmed by their new location, the first move made without her sister, Luz seeks escape while her mom is on a 2-day temporary duty assignment. A new friend checks on her, they are partying on the beach, and she reintegrates back into the group still reflecting upon options. Later that same evening, intoxicated, she walks alone on the beach, which turns into a swim, and a near drowning incident during which Luz sees Tamiko and her son imploring her to rescue them.
The brilliantly executed and sophisticated overlapping stories simultaneously educate and inspire as each narrator addresses coming of age, but it’s the setting, the exposé on grief, and the careful incorporation of the Obon festival and Okinawans beliefs make this novel a masterpiece. The conversations between Tamiko and her son, Luz’s escapades with the Quasis, the delicate presentation of wartime violence, and the Okinawan saying of “Nuchi du takara” (life is the treasure) are just a few of the key components Ms. Bird employs.
Okinawa was, is, and, due to long-lasting Japanese and American decisions, will remain a place contested. While the novel strikes a careful balance to avoid blame, it does highlight the ongoing powerlessness of Okinawans. At times the character narrative viewpoints border on victimization and some of the religious explanations become preachy. These infrequent descents may be off-putting. The skillfully wrought denouement however unites the community and cultural information providing the reader with understanding and an unexpected treasure: hope.
Above the East China Sea is an exceptional tale. Ms. Bird transforms the darkness into light without downplaying the difficulties of life.
Flavor empowers. It energizes composition. Its absence renders things inert and yet, when well used, it’s the fulcrum on which everything pivots. The Mediterranean Turkey Stir Fry recipe is simple to make with few ingredients; it’s the spices that generate greatness. People love to play the guessing game of which spices are used. Hint – few recognize the cilantro.
Here’s the recipe from July 16, 2016.
- 2 T olive oil
- Coarsely grated zucchini (from about 2 to 3 small zucchinis or one medium zucchini)
- 1/2 coarsely grated onion (medium or large) or 3 green onions, thinly sliced, with onion greens included
- 2 T Mint (or spearmint)
- 2 T Cilantro
- 2 t ground Cumin
- 1 t Salt
- 1/2 t Garlic Flakes
- 1/2 t Black Pepper
- 1/2 t Cayenne
- 1 pound ground Turkey
- Saute veggies with all seasonings.
- Once the veggies have cooked down add meat.
- Finish cooking and serve hot.
- Tip = Feta cheese is a delicious topping!
The above recipe is a variation of a SimplyRecipes recipe which was adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook. Desiring a “bowling” recipe, I took a stir fry approach rather than burgers and eliminated the sour cream sauce.
Fuel ignites. It excites. It’s a catalyst and propellant. Aaron Michael Ritchey’s first book in The Juniper War series is on fire. I can’t wait for book three!
Here’s my review from October 29, 2016.
Colorado Novelist, Aaron Michael Ritchey, breaks the mold with his new novel Dandelion Iron. This clever, well-thought and startling story defies standard characterization. It’s an epic journey with an impossible task, Lord of the Rings; a rural western family drama, Little House on the Prairie, it’s post Sino-American War, Firefly; with a post-apocalyptic sans electricity section of the United States, Revolution; abandoned by the wealthy, technologically advanced sections of the U.S.; Hunger Games; populated with few men and a fighting female remnant, Y: The Last Man; dealing with fertility issues, The Handmaid’s Tale; which furthers questionable genetic research, Dark Angel. Plus there are serious Steampunk elements, young love “romance”, coming of age issues amidst strict moral guidelines, and action scenes that read like Braveheart meets Die Hard. It’s not a mash-up, nor a witches’ brew of trending topics, instead this crafted world where the evolved science and changing political structures provides a plausible possible future and a remarkable background for sincere character growth in the midst of chaos.
In 2029, the second year of the seventeen year Sino-American war, the Chinese nuked Yellowstone which resulted in a massive electromagnetic field covering five states: Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and Montana. This new area, later forced by the United States to revert back to territories, became known as the Juniper, and it’s the most dangerous place on Earth. The war cut the U.S. population in half and decimated several generations of men. In tandem a Sterility Epidemic made ninety percent of the surviving males sterile.
The novel starts in the year 2058, just three years after the remaining final combatants return home and thirteen years since the war concluded, Cavatica Weller retrieved from her boarding school in the United States returns to her home in Juniper for her mother’s funeral. Upon arrival she’s informed of her family’s debt and her mother’s plan to save the ranch: a cattle drive though the most dangerous parts of Juniper. With no other option, she, her sisters, farmhands and three thousand headcount start a thirteen hundred kilometer journey west. Twelve days into their journey, they witness an attack, which thrusts them into a fight against Juniper’s notorious outlaws. They save the attacked boy, whom the outlaws attempted to apprehend and sell to the highest bidder. The three sisters are torn. They know he’ll be hunted: one wants to send him away, another wants to sell him and Cavatica falls in love.
This rich story narrated in the first person by Cavatica benefits from the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. They provide back-stories on the war, ideological beliefs, various views of Juniper, and the United States, which continues to advance technologically throughout Juniper’s devolution. The tension between each sister, Cavatica age sixteen, Wren age twenty and Sharlotte age twenty-four, deftly portrays family hate, love and female strength. Father Pilate’s actions and decisions over the past thirty years add an honest, adult vantage point for he’s not a product of this time like the sisters. The updated, anachronistic Zeppelins add needed transportation in Juniper and are a source of delightful steampunk fantasy. The post-war East Indian immigration and ensuing Hindu flavorings of language, food and people throughout the novel add a true-to-life layer of rebuilding and moving past war. The television show dramatizing the real Juniper life is brilliant. Lastly, the literary references throughout the story ground this apocalypse back to our time, furthering the “believability” of it all.
There are some challenges. The language is jarring and, at times, unapproachable. It’s red-neck-ish, country-ish, new world techy-ish, Hindu slang-ish, Chinese slang-ish, but Mr. Ritchey anticipated a baffled reader. A helpful 3-page “Glossary of Historical Figures, Slang and Technology” reference list follows the last chapter. The language does grow on you and with his glossary you’re reading and comprehending at full speed in no time. Also, without revealing key scenes, many of them are a serious adrenaline rush. It’s always life or death and conflict can’t be avoided. To the reader it’s somewhat difficult to understand why people would choose to move to Juniper or remain there when the former states lost electricity. Overall, my biggest objection is the cliffhanger ending. Ugh!
Beyond these few quibbles, the larger story is that Juniper girls, like dandelions, can grow (and perhaps even thrive) anywhere, are tough, and pretty in their own unique way. It’s a charming and empowering young adult testament to true strength in the midst of difficulty. Dandelion Iron creates an intriguing world well worth the read.
Fuel ignites. It excites. It’s a catalyst and propellant. The Almond Bread recipe pushed me to start this website and it’s taken on a life of its own. Always a favorite, I’ve watched people eat an entire loaf straight out of the oven. I make double and triple batches, as one loaf isn’t ever enough.
Here’s the recipe from June 5, 2016.
- 2 T chia seeds in 4 oz of water – chia slurry
- 2 C almond meal
- 3/4 C arrowroot
- 1 1/2 t baking soda
- 1/2 t salt
- 2 T apple cider vinegar
- 2 eggs
- Make chia slurry by soaking chia seeds in water. Mix well to avoid clumps.
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Lightly oil pan (I use coconut or olive oil).
- Mix, using a whisk, the almond meal, arrowroot, baking soda and salt.
- In a separate bowl mix the eggs, apple cider vinegar and chia slurry.
- Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Mix until there are no lumps for about 1 minute. The mixture is thick; no extra liquid is required.
- Pour mix into the pan.
- Bake for 40 minutes until the bread has a nice, firm golden top and the edges are pulling away from the pan.
- Let bread cool in the pan and remove once totally cooled.
- Tip = if you double the recipe, which I often do, you will need to add more baking time. Expect to add about 10-15 more minutes. Watching the color and firmness is beneficial as cooking times may vary.
Makes one well rounded magic pan (7.5 by 3.5) loaf.
The above recipe was inspired by a Tania Hubbard recipe. When posting this I found the original link broken, however with more searching I discovered she also modified her original recipe and has since reposted it here. Now the recipes are quite similar.
My goal was to create a clean, uncluttered website, not use a blogging platform, and generate unique content one time a week. Thus far I’ve written twenty-six book reviews and twenty-seven recipes, plus I’ve learned how to build and maintain a website. Phew! I can’t believe it.
I’ve also focused on the craft of writing. While I’ve not produced as much as I’d hoped, I’m on the path. This next year I will work more on my creative writing, so I’ll post every other week.
To celebrate F&F’s anniversary, I’ll highlight some of the best recipes and reading this week, but for today let’s just celebrate!
Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers
Edited By Patricia Flaherty Pagan
Spider Road Press, 112 pp., $7.00
Patricia Flaherty Pagan curated a masterful anthology of flash fiction in Up, Do. Ms. Pagan, an award winning author herself, distressed by the 2012 VIDA Count Report which revealed that American literary journals were publishing more written by men than by women, created a space to promote the equal treatment of women’s words. Up, Do does more than that; it is great fiction, period.
The four-part anthology is segmented by “Our Hearts,” “Our Bodies,” “Our Possible Futures,” and “Our Dreams; Our Nightmares.” Thirty-eight authors and artists are highlighted in the thirty-three stories and six images. Each piece is magnificent. Ms. Pagan located phenomenal works. Some of my favorites, and this is the narrowed down list, include: “To the Israeli Who Danced with Me on my Twenty-First Birthday” by Jessica Lynne Henkle, a tale of anonymity and wondering; “We Decided” by Kathryn Kulpa, a story of out-growing a youthful friendship due to a unique antagonist; “Perfection (‘This One’) by MaryEllen Baizley, a re-visioning of perfection; “Time Machine” by Melissa Webster, a chance to take back an unwelcome decision made on your behalf; “Orange Sky Preparation” by Marda Sikora, showcasing the demands of clairvoyant vision; and “The Dead Letters” by Diane Arrelle, a complicated situation that begets health and healing.
These are premier stories, in fact, I’ve read Up, Do twice as each is well executed and interesting. The helpful contributor section at the conclusion provides more information and often links. Ms. Pagan hit her target; she showcased talented women writers who deserved publication and I appreciate the thirty-eight introductions.
Twice baked cookies are a treat with coffee and tea. This gluten free recipe doesn’t crumble in your drink and it stays true to its Italian origins. The orange peel and almonds smell and taste heavenly, but, if you are so inclined, adding a snick of chocolate further enhances both flavors.
- 1 c coconut palm sugar
- 1/2 c sliced almonds
- finely grated orange peel from a medium-sized orange
- 2 eggs
- 2 t vanilla
- 1/2 t salt
- 3 c Pam’s Baking & Pancake Mix flour
- 1 well beaten egg – optional
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Mix the first six ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.
- Slowly add in the flour, mixing as you go. The mixture will be thick, sticky and dense. I used two hard spatulas to blend everything. The mixture is ready when it forms a sticky ball like cookie dough and all the flour has been well blended.
- On a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper, form two parallelograms. They should be about 1/2-inch thick and as wide as you prefer; this will be the length of the biscotti once it’s cut. Some prefer around 3 inches. You may need to wet your hands to shape the dough. Optional – Once the dough is shaped, brush the surface with a well beaten egg.
- Bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove from oven and let cool for 5 – 10 minutes.
- Slice each loaf, at the angle of the parallelogram, into 1/2-inch sections. (With parallelograms you don’t lose the ends, as you do when the loaf is a rectangle.)
- Place the pieces about 1-inch apart back onto the baking sheet in the same standing up position, not on their side. Then bake another 5-10 minutes until they are toasted.
- Remove from the oven to cool; they will get crispier as they dry.
- Fun option – melt some chocolate and paint, drizzle or dip the biscotti for an added treat!
It’s Sunday morning deliciousness! Simple to make and it uses whatever ingredients you’ve got on hand. Plus they look so gorgeous, despite their easy preparation, that guests gush with delight.
- 2 T olive oil
- 3-4 c veggies – spinach, peppers, onions, mushrooms, etc. (They cook down!)
- 4 oz protein – sausage, bacon, ground beef, ground lamb, ground turkey, etc.
- 6 eggs
- 1/2 c milk, optional
- 2 oz most any cheese, optional
- Salt to taste, keep in mind the salt in cheese and protein
- Pepper to taste
- TIP = if you choose not to use milk and cheese, then the frittata is denser and less flavorful, but it will still taste and look great.
What I used today, as shown in the photo
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 large white onion
- 1 small zucchini
- 4 oz grape tomatoes
- 2 oz chopped baby spinach
- 4 oz smoked, shredded pork butt
- 6 eggs
- 1/2 c milk
- 2 oz grated parmesan and fontina cheese
- 1/4 t salt
- 1/4 t pepper
- In a 9 inch oven-safe skillet, on medium heat, sauté veggies. Don’t worry if the skillet seems to full, they cook down.
- Once the veggies are about half to a third of their original size, and they are browning, add in cooked meat to warm up. (If starting with raw meat, you’ll need to cook it before the veggies.)
- In a bowl, beat the eggs, milk, cheese, salt, and pepper together.
- When the veggies start to blacken a bit, think fajitas, and the meat is warmed, increase the heat to medium high and pour in the egg mixture.
- Set the oven to broil at 500 degrees.
- Cook on the stove top until air bubbles start to appear and you can easily run a spatular around the edges without runny egg mixture.
- Broil for about 2-5 minutes; keep careful watch! You’re looking for a gently rounded, risen and lightly browned top. (Browning does vary per cheese; you’ll notice this one got a snicker browner than I intended.)
- Remove from oven. Run a spatula around the edges for easy transfer to a cutting board.
- Serve warm.
Here’s a photo of the 9-inch frittata pre-slicing:
The Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey
By Joanna Penn
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 164 pp., $6.99
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Joanna Penn’s The Successful Author Mindset aids writers on their creative journey. Ms. Penn writes fiction, non-fiction, runs her own award winning website, TheCreativePenn.com, and considers herself an entrepreneur, as should all authors as we create value from ideas. Her prior business consulting experience makes her approach unique in the writing community.
This three-part book covers Mindset Aspects of Creativity and Writing, Mindset Aspects after Publishing, and Tips for Success on the Author Journey. Each part is comprised of short sections based upon a possible issue with her suggested antidote.
**Confession time – I’ve read Part I only, because she begins Part II with a warning, “Don’t read this chapter if you haven’t published yet!” Based on what I’d already read, I believed her and obeyed. I’ll resume once I’m published.
The seventeen sections in Part I cover familiar topics, like self doubt, fear of failure, your inner critic, perfectionism, writer’s block, failure to be original, lack of time to write, creativity issues, etc., but Ms. Penn adds new insights and consideration points. The bibliography runs three pages and includes many well-known and referenced books on writing, but it goes beyond the writing genre as well as includes podcasts.
The common writing challenges are re-presented and then tackled with atypical antidotes. Rather than just be yourself, writers write, relax, journaling solves all, and other unhelpful mantras, she offers concrete suggestions and reasons for each challenge that address the deeper cause and not a surface level symptom. Often at least two apropos quotes drive home her topic. Two examples: “The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress” Philip Roth, “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies” Nelson Mandela.
The Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey offers concrete suggestions for dealing with the emotional rollercoaster of writing. I look forward to Parts II and III.