So here I am on a chilly October Friday in Chicago, working away on revisions to my 1872-era police procedural and juggling that with my latest novel-in-progress, the stolen-baby one (yes, my mind works in these paths; over time I’ve come to embrace it). Completed a major chunk of revisions, plus I finished what should be the final chapter in the middle section of the new book. All before noon, no less. A good day for a writer, no?
No. Because, having finished (?) the messy middle of my stolen-child story, I now face the worst case of writer’s block ever. Because I have no idea how to pull off the final piece of the book. No. Idea. At. All. Dang it.
I know where I want to go. It’s getting there that’s the problem. Every idea I come up with seems lamer than a barn full of three-legged horses about five seconds after it crawls out of my brain. What to do? It’s hard to get your subconscious to be brilliant when you’ve spent the past few weeks waking up at 5 a.m. instead of 6 just to squeeze in another hour of writing time amid editing projects, this blog, marketing and promotion stuff, household chores that have to be done, and looking after two boys and a mother in recovery from knee surgery. (Luckily, my husband can pretty much look after himself.) So, naturally, I turn to the one thing I can always count on (aside from my spouse) to be there for me when I’m stressed.
Food. Not eating it, though I’ll get to that eventually. I mean making it. So far, today’s big winners are my thrice-weekly batch of challah, Chinese vegetable soup with miniature chicken-and-cilantro dumplings, and roasted beets for borscht. And, oh yes, tonight’s dessert: apple pie.
I cheat, I admit. I don’t make my own pie crust, not with so many perfectly fine roll-out doughs available. (I cheated on the Chinese soup, too; the bok choy and napa cabbage and carrots and bell pepper came from my CSA, not my own garden, and the dumplings came from Costco. Clearly, I can only claim to be a quasi-Serious Foodie.) But the apples… ah, now those are perfection. We picked them ourselves, my sweetheart and our almost-ten year old and our hulking teenager and I, on Columbus Day—which was just about the last truly beautiful fall day around here. Since then, it’s been cold, cold, cold and rain, rain, rain. I hate it when November weather comes early.
Anyway, back to the apples. Fujis and Suncrisps, a nice combo of sweet and tart. Quartered and then sliced thin as I can get them, tossed with cinnamon and vanilla and allspice and just enough flour for thickening the juice as they cook, then piled thick across the bottom crust in my deep-dish glass pie pan. Sometimes I add a splash of brandy just for fun, but today I’d be more inclined to drink it. Which does NOT help with the writer’s block, Dylan Thomas to the contrary.
Atop the apples goes a drizzle of honey, the last of the jar we got through the Rosh Hashanah fundraiser at our temple. It comes from a local apiary that provides work for ex-convicts; they raise their own bees, harvest and bottle and distribute the honey, and it’s a hundred times sweeter and more flavorful than the stuff you find in the little plastic bears on grocery-store shelves. Then a few flakes of shaved fresh ginger, some dots of butter, and the top crust laid over the whole thing. Crimp the edges, make four well-placed slits in the dough for steam to escape through, and I’m good to go.
It’s remarkable how making food unlocks other forms of creativity. I don’t know if it’s the same for other writers, or other foodies for that matter, but something unlocks in my brain when my hands are busy concocting some gustatory delight. Suddenly ideas bound to the fore, and only some of them look lame on closer inspection. Quite a few are even worth writing about, just to see where they go. Like this blog post, for one. I had an empty brain for this when I sat down at my laptop—but after getting up and playing with food awhile, the words finally began to come.
Food is magic. Especially apple pie, most especially in October when the chill creeps in through the walls and all you want is warmth plus comfort food. The pie will go in the oven later this afternoon, warming my house and my heart with its scent. Not to mention my tastebuds when it’s finally time to savor a slice.
Who knows, by then maybe I’ll have another whole chapter done.