How is your writing going?

It’s our anniversary on Sunday! Jarrett and I are off to Richmond for the weekend, which is where we met and got engaged, and I’m crazy excited to stay at the new Quirk Hotel.

quirk hotel in richmond

Isn’t it pretty?

I may also be a complete lunatic and pack up my wedding dress to wear in the room…or around the lobby, if I’m brave enough. It’s just that I adore this dress, and it’s not fair that I’ve only gotten to wear it once.

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So I’m taking a cue from this smart chick and wearing it again. And yes, Jarrett’s wearing his suit again. We might even recreate a few of our wedding photos. And we will definitely be eating the Dexter Cider Mill donuts (our “cake”) that are stashed in our freezer.

Did I mention that I can’t wait?

But in the meantime, I wanted to ask you a quick question: is there anything in your writing life that has you completely stumped lately? We talked all about our reading lives a few weeks ago in our survey, but now I’m curious to know how you guys are feeling about your writing.

For me, I’m feeling stumped about how to balance it all—I adore working with authors, writing + editing proposals, writing here to you guys, coaching my authors through the publishing process, and writing for The Kitchn now and then. I just want more time. Someone package me up and send me a bundle of time. (There’s a cooking joke in there somewhere.)

So I’d love to hear: what’s your biggest obstacle in your writing life right now?

I’d love to hear all about it, and the more details you can give me, the more I can try to help you out!

No fancy survey today—just email me at maria @ cooksplusbooks . com and let me know what’s on your mind. I LOVE hearing from you guys, and you can bet I will read and respond to every single one of your notes.

Can’t wait to chat!


As a thank you…

I’d buy you a drink if I could, but let’s go for the next best thing: a cocktail recipe! Here’s a Cucumber Jalapeno Gimlet recipe Jarrett developed a few weeks ago. It was GOOD. Really good. And it’s exactly what you need for soaking up these last few weeks of summer.

Cucumber Jalapeno Gimlet Recipe

cucumber jalapeno gimlet recipe

Makes 1 cocktail

For cocktail:
  • 5 slices of cucumber + more for garnish
  • 1-2 slices of jalapeno, seeds removed (optional)
  • ¾ oz. lime juice
  • 2 oz. cucumber gin
  • ¾ oz. mint syrup
  • Club soda
For mint syrup:
  • 5-6 mint leaves
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
For cucumber gin:
  • 3-4 cucumber slices
  • 1 cup gin
For the mint syrup: Add 5-6 mint leaves to 1 cup of water in a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of sugar and heat over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Let steep until cool, then strain out mint leaves.

For the cucumber gin: Chop 3-4 slices of cucumbers and place them in a glass with 1 cup of gin. Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes, then strain out the cucumber.

For the cocktail: Pour the mint syrup into a shaker along with 5 slices of cucumbers and 2 slices of jalapeno (optional). Muddle, then add the lime juice and gin. Add ice up to level of liquid, and shake vigorously for 20-30 seconds. Double-strain into chilled coupe (or a Collins glass filled with ice, if you prefer); top with a splash of club soda. Add a cucumber or jalapeno slice for garnish.

Cheers!


What I’ve Been Reading This Week

Your Literary Twin, According to Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type (Carolyn Stanley for PureWow): Here’s a fun one for the weekend! I’m an INFJ, which means my literary twin is Jane Eyre. Who are you?

How to Write Your Book and Blog at The Same Time: 7 Strategies for Succeeding at Both (Chad R. Allen): I get asked about this all. The. Time. I’ll let Chad answer it this time–he has 7 great actionable steps you can take right away to get this issue sorted out. I think you’ll find this really helpful!

The Secret Life of a Book Manuscript (Thomas E. Ricks for The Atlantic): I love the subtitle for this piece: “A best-selling author submits a draft to his editor. Hijinks ensue.” I remember that feeling of getting a manuscript in from an author and realizing it was not the book you had signed up. It still makes me shudder. This is such a well-written and fascinating look at what happens when you need to take your manuscript apart and put it all back together, and how this can happen even to bestselling authors. So don’t stress if editing is tearing you up–you’re in great company.

How the Silent Book Club Gave Me Back My Reading Life (Maggie Downs for Literary Hub): Would you go to a public space to read silently with others? Here’s what Downs thought of it: “There aren’t enough words to convey how good this feels. I’m the mother of a toddler, and carving out reading time for myself has been a challenge. During the day, I’m either working or playing with my child. At night I can’t crack open a book without the crushing guilt of the dirty dishes or the overflowing laundry hamper or, hell, my actual professional work.” Me? I would totally do it.

The ‘New York Times’ Books Desk Will Make You Read Again (John Maher for Publisher’s Weekly): “Its chief critic took a buy-out. It’s consolidating like crazy. But the Gray Lady’s books team is neither flailing nor failing. Here’s what it is doing.”


What We’re Eating This Week

We were normal! Yes, we ate some pretty normal and home-cooked things this week, for a change. Nothing fancy–just the food, ma’m.

Monday: Mondo burrito bowls with charred corn and ground beef that Jarrett accidentally seasoned with thyme. (There HAS to be a cooking joke in there somewhere.)

Tuesday: Creamy Miso Fettucine with Brussels Sprouts from The Love & Lemons Cookbook, but with almonds instead of cashews, broccoli instead of brussels, and umami paste instead of miso, because apparently I never have the right ingredients for anything. It’s the thought that counts?

Wednesday: I am still crushing hard on these lentil bowls. My plan is to make them every week until I get tired of them and ruin a good thing. Hooray!

Thursday: Wine for dinner. I mean. We will order food, too. But we’ll be at Maxwell for a friend’s birthday, and you know how Thursdays go. #EntirelyMadeUpRationale

Friday: PIZZA NIGHT! I’m not excited except that I am, and it’s been months since we’ve had a shameless Friday pizza night. There will be plenty of salami and arugula on my pizza, plus my favorite roasted broccoli from Back Pocket Pasta. Yes and yes and yes.

Happy weekend!

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Snippets of life right now

Is it gorgeous by you yet? This week spring hit our neighborhood in full force—every tree is full of tiny baby leaves and the wind smells fresh and sweet. I was finally able to open up our living room windows for the first time in months, and it completely transformed the room. Isn’t it funny how a little bit of fresh air can make a room feel totally different?

Since we’re all breathing fresh and deep this week, I thought it’d be fun to do something a little different and play a game of Currently. Have you ever played Currently? You just jot down whatever pops in your head at the prompts. It’s fun to capture what you’re up to even if you don’t share it with anyone—think of it as a time capsule for the start of this year’s spring.

So without further ado, let’s play!

LOVING: Gin Rummy. We’re on a card-playing kick lately, and for some reason there’s nothing more relaxing to me after a long day of work than playing a card game together on the couch. Maybe it just feels so analog and old-fashioned when the rest of life is so digital? I don’t know. But I think Jarrett and I are ready for our retirement home.

Speaking of gin, we’ve also been loving these Cucumber and Basil Gimlets that Jarrett made for us a few days ago!

cookbook recipe blog

READING: I’m finishing up Unshakeable by Tony Robbins—it’s definitely the book to get if you felt intimidated by all 688 pages of Money: Master the Game. They both cover the key things you should know about investing, but Money definitely gives you both depth and detail. Up next: I have An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler waiting for me on my nightstand. I’ve heard such great things about it, so I can’t wait to dig in. And, because I’m almost always working through a new cookbook or two, I’m also reading recipe by recipe through SkinnyTaste: Fast and Slow. It’s perfect for some light and fresh spring cooking!

cookbook recipe blog

SHOPPING FOR: I really want a fresh pair of white cotton sheets for the spring and summer. We finally tucked away our flannel sheets (we adore these from L.L. Bean), but we ended up hating the cotton sheets we got from our wedding registry last year. (Never again will I buy sheets online without feeling them first!) I want a set of soft, breathable, but not too expensive 100% cotton sheets, but I don’t really want to go to a store to stand around stroking different sheets like a nutcase. So I guess you could say this is what I’m currently not shopping for—ha!

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EXCITED ABOUT: Our honeymoon to Greece next month! We’re off for two whole weeks to Athens, Meteora, Santorini, and Ios. We’re doing AirBnB abroad for the first time, and we’re hoping it’s pretty seamless. We’ll be doing hotels in Athens and Meteora, but I’m so excited to have more space (and a kitchen) when we’re on the Greek islands. I get so tired of eating out meal-after-meal when we’re on vacation. I just start to feel overly stuffed and sluggish, and I hate missing out on visiting the outdoor markets and being able to actually cook with new ingredients. So I cannot wait to have that last week in Santorini and Ios to lounge on the beach and cook fresh fish and eat feta. Mostly eat feta.

TRYING TO: Keep building our family gallery wall. One of my ongoing projects this year has been to print and frame our wedding guestbook print and a few of our other wedding photos. We’re building out a big family photo wall in our bedroom, and now that we have a few wedding photos up, I want to keep layering in photos of both of our families. I’m planning to have dinner with my Yaya this week and look through old photos together, so slowly but surely, we’ll keep this project going!

cookbook recipe blog

WORKING ON: Proposals, books in production, books fresh out in the world, books, books, books! By the way, have you seen my Spring 2017 books? They’re full of so much goodness and happiness for your home, your kitchen, and your day-to-day peace of mind. You can get organized in a sane way with Organized Enough, cook up some fresher, easier Southern fare with Add a Pinch, then clean up that kitchen with Simply Clean. If that’s not a nice little sequence to kick-off your spring, then I don’t know what is!

ENJOYING: Midday walks with Pepper, aka Peppy. It’s such a great way to break up the workday when I’m working from home, and it forces me to step away from the screen and get outside to enjoy the open sky and warm weather. Isn’t it funny how hard it is to break away from the computer sometimes, but how very good it feels when we finally do? It’s my daily version of a deep breath. And it’s much easier to bring yourself to do it when you have this little face next to you pleading for walk-time.

cookbook recipe blog

USING: Lavender essential oil. I swear, I sleep better when I put a few drops on my pillowcase before bed. It’s magic.

WEARING: This new J.Crew tunic I bought a few weeks ago. Please don’t make me admit how many times I’m wearing it per week. It’s just so comfortable, and it feels like spring in fabric form to me. Maybe this just means I desperately need more spring-y crossover tops.

cookbook recipe blog

PLANNING: It’s on my to-do list to research and plan a trip at the end of the year for my 30th birthday. We both get the last two weeks of the year off, so I’m hoping we can spend 4-5 days around my birthday volunteering either abroad or in another part of the country, and then we’ll spend Christmastime at the farm in Michigan.

SINGING: I’m really into this song lately. Again, it just feels like spring to me! (Ignore the cheesy video!)

NEEDING: More time for yoga. I love my midday walks with Pepper, but it does leave me with less time to squeeze in a yoga class. Lately, I’m lucky if I get to yoga once a week. Can there be Doggy and Me classes somewhere, please?! Pepper is already pro level at Downward Dog.

LEARNING: How to relax. This is an ongoing thing for me, but I really love this little book for a quick dose of relaxing reading before bed. It’s great for tucking into a nightstand or purse, and it helps quiet down all the noisy thoughts that can keep us from focusing and staying in the moment.

LISTENING TO: I listened to this podcast of Linda Silverstein in conversation with Anne Lamott and Glennon Doyle Mellon last week and loved it to pieces. Is there a cooler lady alive than Anne Lamott? She’s another voice that helps me breathe deep when life gets crazy.

WISHING: We were in the mountains. I miss being surrounded by gorgeous green nature. Must mean it’s time to plan a camping trip!

cookbook recipe blog

DOING: Eating our way through the freezer. We got together with some friends this past weekend for a big freezer cooking day, and now our freezer is past capacity—as in, we have most of our food sitting in a friend’s deep chest freezer! Time to tighten (er, loosen) our belts and get to work.

DREAMING OF: Jarrett’s surprise birthday activities on Saturday. I have a whole day planned full of fun stuff for him, and I might be even more excited than he is!

So that’s what we’re up to! How about you?


What I’m Reading This Week:

This is a time of year that awakens our hibernating senses, so I thought it’d be fun to weave that springtime theme into the reads this week, too!

To Become a Better Cook, Sharpen Your Senses (Julia Moskin for The New York Times): “But recipes are inherently limited when it comes to sensory information. An instruction like ‘simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, until thickened’ can produce endlessly different results. The recipe doesn’t know what your stove considers ‘low’ heat. It doesn’t know what your pan is made of. It doesn’t know what ‘thickened’ looks like to you. That’s why the best cooks learn to work not just with their minds and their taste buds, but also with all their senses.” This is so true—there’s only so much we can convey in recipes. That’s why I love recipes that have a layer of touch or smell cues to them, both for the reading and eating pleasure they bring.

 10 Ways to Sharpen Your Kitchen Senses (Julia Moskin for The New York Times): And if you’re looking for some practical ways to bring the senses back to your cooking (and not just the sense of panic and rush!), here’s 10 experiments to try.

6 Mindfulness Practices for Busy Weeknight Cooking (The Kitchn): And since we’re on the theme, here’s a piece I wrote for The Kitchn on how to slow down and be more mindful and present when you’re cooking.

How to Produce an Emotional Response in Readers (Donald Maass on JaneFriedman.com): Just like with cooking, success in writing begins with being clued in to the senses and emotions. This matters just as much for nonfiction as it does for fiction. I always tell my authors that they have to make the reader feel something, no matter what they’re writing about, because that’s the only way on this earth to get people to care.


What We’re Eating This Week:

I’m off to NYC this week, so the pickin’s are slim. Here’s the real, unvarnished truth of what we’re eating for dinner:

Monday: Spaghetti with Bolognese we made during our freezer cooking day. I swear by this recipe.

Tuesday: Tortilla de patata and looking through old family photos at my grandma’s place.

Wednesday: Dinner out with my mom—sushi maybe?

Thursday: Soup from my favorite spot in the city. I can’t come to the NYC office without getting Kabilah’s split pea soup with fresh herbs! I need to hack this recipe.

Friday: White Chicken Taquitos from SkinnyTaste: Fast and Slow. And maybe definitely margs.

Cheers!

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