The value of a self-imposed writing retreat

The Value of a Self-Imposed Writing Retreat

Every year for the last couple of years, I’ve been sequestering myself for several days at a time, borrowing beautiful homes in beautiful places for self-imposed and self-directed writing retreats. I find myself checking off a huge number of tasks on my to-do list in just a few days, more than I’m usually able to do in a week in my own home.

And why is that?

Because there are no distractions. There are no husbands to cook for, animals to pick up after, dishes to load, laundry to fold, or errands to run. While I adore my home and see it as a sanctuary, the reality of being home is that there’s always something to do here… something other than work. It’s especially difficult considering I work from home, and every day as I’m typing away on my laptop, the garden or the kitchen or the ocean view always calls to me.

So, I am a big fan of self-imposed writing retreats. I love to get away, focus on my passions, and find inspiration in a new environment. I love to hunker down and tackle projects that would otherwise be near-impossible for me to start (or finish) at home. I retreat in order to move forward.

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6 ways to grow a steady relationship on your blog
The Business of Blogging, Work

6 Ways to Grow a Steady Readership on Your Blog

National Career Development Week kicks off today, and while I personally have no connection with the counseling association that celebrates it, I always feel it’s a great time to reexamine career goals and set a game plan for the coming year. Many people do this after the first of the year, but I like to have a clear vision come January, before all those other “fresh start” goals take away my focus (you know the ones… like cleaning the garage and working off a few pounds. Blech.).

When it comes to blogging as a career (or working your way up to that point), I’m often asked what the secret is to growing a blog audience.

And to that I answer…

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Volcanoes, lava flows, and lava tubes in Arizona
Hiking & Backpacking, Outdoor Adventures, Road Trips

Volcanoes, Lava Flows, and Lava Tubes in Arizona

Up until last week, when I spent a few days exploring north-central Arizona, I really had no idea that the forests around Flagstaff were so green and volcanic. Had it not been for red rock mesas rising in the distance and tumbleweeds rolling across the desert, I wouldn’t have thought we were in the state best known for the Grand Canyon. (Then again, Arizona has surprised me before with fantastic waterfalls I’ve never seen anywhere else.)

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Mitsuba: the Japanese parsley
Flowers & Herbs, Garden of Eatin'

Mitsuba: The Japanese Parsley

It looks like flat-leaf parsley, has a clean “green” flavor like parsley, belongs to the same family (Apiaceae) as parsley and is sometimes called wild Japanese parsley, but mitsuba (Cryptotaenia japonica) is a distinct herb that’s often used in Japanese and Chinese cooking.

Trefoil leaves on mitsuba

Mitsuba means “three leaves” in Japanese and refers to the way the leaves grow on tall, skinny stems — very similar to my Giant of Italy parsley. The trefoil leaves are large and tender, with a subtle flavor that I can only describe as a cross of parsley, celery, and maybe a hint of cilantro.

Intrigued? So was I when I first learned about it, so I seeded a few plants a few years ago and found the herb to be a light, refreshing garnish for non-Asian dishes as well.

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The CSA Cookbook made it into Amazon's Top 10!
Random Thoughts

Five Things Friday

The five little things that made my week…

1. Thanks to all of my amazing supporters, The CSA Cookbook made it to the Top 10 in Amazon’s “Whole Foods” category! Their bestseller rankings change hourly but it was so humbling to see my book up there, months before it officially comes out. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your preorders thus far! (And please continue to share it with friends and family who may find it interesting.)

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Fermented hot chile sauce
Fermenting & Pickling, Recipes

Fermented Hot Chile Sauce

Around this time of year, as our Indian summer is winding down, there’s always a big burst of chile peppers from the garden. It seems like they know they’re going to sleep soon, so they put their all into producing pods before retreating into dormancy. I wouldn’t say my pepper plants are at the end of their season just yet, but as we creep closer to winter and our weather is (finally) cooling down, I’ve noticed the flowers are fewer and farther in between.

Chile pepper plants are perennials and in my mild climate (zone 10b) they start fruiting in spring, go gangbusters all summer and fall, and overwinter easily outside. I’ve been harvesting heaping bowls of hot peppers all year long among the Chinese Five-Color, Filius Blue, fish pepper, jalapeño, serrano, and habanero plants I keep in pots all over the yard.

Homegrown chile peppers

Whatever wasn’t used fresh was laid out to dry, and with my last couple of pounds, I decided to preserve them a different way: by fermenting them into hot sauce.

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Calling all readers! Where are you based?
News & Events

Calling All Readers! Where Are You Based?

The book. It’s been on my brain (and in my belly) a lot… for the last 12 months. It’s like an extra long gestation period and come next February, I’ll finally be able to meet my book baby!

It still seems a long way off to everybody but me. And while it might appear that my journey will be “complete” by the time the book is released, the next part of the journey is really just beginning. This is the time when I start thinking about publicity, book parties (!) and book signings, and I am so, so excited to tour the country, spread the message of good food to good people, and put some faces to the names I’ve always seen online.

Friends, this is where I need your help!

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Sparkling apple cider sangria
Recipes, Sips & Syrups

Sparkling Apple Cider Sangria

Once you’ve had a sip of freshly pressed, unfiltered, unsweetened apple cider, the “apple juice” sold in stores just cannot compare. And luckily for those who’ve never tried it, fresh apple cider abounds this time of year.

What exactly is the difference between apple cider and apple juice? After all, cider is essentially the juice extracted from apples. But both names persist in the marketplace, and in the United States, only a handful of states actually regulate what can and can’t be labeled as cider. Massachusetts, for instance, clearly defines cider as unfiltered and unpasteurized juice, while other locales call their filtered and pasteurized juice as apple cider, simply because it might appeal more to their market area.

If you want the good stuff, look for a refrigerated, non-shelf stable juice that’s opaque in color with some sediment at the bottom of the jug. That’s your best clue that you’re buying raw apple juice without any filtration, pasteurization, preservatives, or sweeteners. I like to call this apple cider, a term that evokes old-fashioned apple juice for me and differentiates it from the juices that have been clarified, sweetened, and/or heat-treated for longer life.

When you buy it from an apple orchard or a local juicery, raw apple cider (also called sweet cider or soft cider) is unpasteurized, a natural state that allows beneficial bacteria from the fruit to ferment the cider over time.

Old-fashioned cider press

Wooden apple cider press

For the first week, it’s like drinking fresh, ripe apples — lightly fizzy and naturally sweet with a rich body that can only come from pressed fruit (and not a diluted juice concentrate). This is far from the apple cider of Martinelli’s fame (which actually only calls their product apple cider as a marketing gimmick; the company admits that their pasteurized apple cider and apple juice are one and the same).

By the second week, it’s on its way to becoming hard cider, a fermented alcoholic beverage that’s dry and complex in flavor. Hard cider has subtle apple notes, but tastes no more like apples than wine tastes like grapes. The longer you let it sit, the stronger (and more alcoholic) the brew becomes.

Let the cider ferment for another few weeks, and you’ll end up with apple cider vinegar — the prebiotic-filled and enzyme-rich kind with the mother in it. As hard cider continues to ferment, the alcohol transforms into acetic acid, giving it the characteristic pungent smell and sour taste of vinegar (and all the health benefits of raw cider vinegar).

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What is CSA? (And why I wrote a cookbook for it)

What Is CSA? (And Why I Wrote a Cookbook For It)

After announcing preorders of my book last week (shameless plug if you haven’t yet preordered!), I had a few readers ask what a CSA was and why I’d written a book about it.

According to the USDA:

CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.

CSA is a sustainable food system, and I wrote a book to support a system I truly believe in. It’s a local movement nearly thirty years in existence, still in the making, and found in all parts of the country. It brings people back to the roots of their food, literally.

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