Tuesday, April 29, 2014

This is a Post about My Writing Process

This is a post about my writing process - a little different from my stuff on lunchbox inspiration or food "rules," or favourite recipes for homemade skin care products or vegetarian mediterranean feasts. If you'd rather read about those things ... just come back next week, or have a browse through the archives. I won't be offended.

Nope, this is a post about writing. Because I'm a writer ... in addition to everything else I am on a daily basis - and I'm pretty sure that even if you don't write for pleasure you have something outside of the job that pays you that makes your heart sing. Writing is mine, and even though I'm back and forth and often confused about what I want to really DO with my life (when I grow up?), writing is always there. With eating. And coffee. And making baby basil plants. And marsupial carnivores that fuck themselves to death. Yes, you heard me.

writing and traveling
where I write - (Penang, 2014)

I was tagged in this Writing Process blog hop by Anna Leahy, an American poet, essayist, blogger and all-round excellent writer who I had the fortune to meet (along with her husband and co-blogger, Doug Dechow) at the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop last year. At the time, I was just starting my research fellowship and in the midst of a serious existential crisis ... to which I say - if you haven't burst into wracking sobs in your writing group, you haven't really been writing. Ha. 

Anyway, thank you to Anna for tagging me to talk about my writing process. Anna's book Constituents of Matter won the Wick Poetry Prize, and she's been published in Crab Orchard Review, Cream City Review, The Pinch, The Southern Review and others. Anna is the editor of Power and Identity in the Creative Writing Classroom, which launched the New Writing Viewpoints series. Anna teaches in the BFA and MFA programs at Chapman University in California, where she curates the Tabula Poetica reading series and edits TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics. You can also find Anna and her husband Doug blogging about all things SPACE at Lofty Ambitions

Phoenix Arizona travel writing
where I write - (Phoenix, 2013)

On to my writing process. Here are the questions I've been asked to address, and my answers to them: 

1. What am I working on?
I'm currently taking an online course in the Lyric Essay - which is a form of nonfiction that, well, garners inspiration from pretty much anywhere. Shopping lists, phone books, things in one's medicine cabinet, dreams, etc. The idea is poetic and creative nonfiction writing in whatever shape and form it takes. This course, along with a short fiction course I took late last year, have given me courage to write in ways I never did before. 

So currently, I'm working on essays about cancer, immigration, and sex (not all at once, people!) and a series of short stories based around my research on ageing ... or at least that's what I'm trying to write about. Often what comes out is well and truly different from what I'm expecting. 

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don't believe in picking genres, actually. In fact, I think the best writing out there - whether it's a blog  post or academic or literary or narrative nonfiction or poetry or science fiction or whatever - does 2 things: (1) it plants something  sticky in your brain and (2) it makes you see something in a different way. Still caught up on the sticky thing? Sorry about that. But you see what I mean, right? 

One of the things I'm really working on is bringing my experiences in science and as a scientist to new audiences. I want to finish up my fellowship in 4 years with a series of stories and essays (and Nature papers, of course) that inspire readers to think about ageing in a new way. I don't want to pick and choose, or define myself. I just want to explore. 

3. Why do I write what I do?
I guess I write what I care about, or what inspires me. For awhile earlier this year, I lost interest in writing about food or sustainability, so I dropped out of the blog sphere for awhile. It wasn't planned, or intentional, but I felt I had to go with what was clawing out of my heart at the time - which was short stories (and some lengthy research grants, ugh). The older I get, the more I realise I have to be true to what I'm feeling NOW. Underlying it all is a need to explore new ideas and infect readers with them, and to inspire people (including myself - I often need reminding) to live how they really REALLY want to live. 

4. How does my writing process work?
Technically, I do science 3 days a week and write the other 2 ... but science tends to bleed over into the other days. Research is really tough, and it takes a lot of time and brainpower. And it pays the bills. Currently, I try to make Wednesdays a full-on writing day, and do science or science writing the rest of the week. Eventually, I'd like to use more of my "academic" days to work on some of these other modes of scientific communication, too - the essays and fiction and still/video photography ideas percolating inside my head and heart. 

I write with my laptop and a strong coffee and - most often - the "Tranquil with a Beat" playlist on Spotify. The fast pace of house music without words (or with non-English words) makes my brain very happy. Some days I'm ok at my desk at home - or the kitchen bench, where I am now ... others, I need to get out. I'll work at coffee shops or wherever. For me, I need to be thinking about what I intend to write for awhile before it hits the screen, so walks are good, too. When the words are ready, they flow out really easily ... when they're not quite there, they're definitely NOT THERE. I'm working a lot on my efficiency lately, so when the words aren't there I tend to abandon them for the short-term and work on something else.

where I write - (Texas, Queensland, 2013)

That's it for the questions on the blog-tag, so now I'll pass you on to the next writers in the series. I've picked 3 people whose writing and philosophies I admire, from the 3 "facets" of my writing life (science + blogging + literary). 

Here's who's coming up next week:

Vincent Cannataro holds a B.S. in biochemistry from SUNY Geneseo and is working towards his Ph.D. in biology at the University of Florida. Sometime during his graduate studies he caught the science communication bug- resulting in an NSF national public choice award for a science outreach video and a "best graduate student teacher" award from his department. His love for chatting about the world around him, and the process we use to discover this world, can spill over to the internet at his (relatively new and still-getting-the-hang-of-this-thing) blog. Here's Vince's post on his writing process.

Steph Bond-Hutkin writes about Australian design for Mum, Kids and Home on her award-winning blog, Bondville, and is a regular contributor of articles on food, home and life at Ebay's Mum's Business. Steph organises abcd networking meet-ups for art, craft and design bloggers in Sydney, Australia, to inspire (mostly) work from home women to get out from behind their computers and meet in real life. 

Chris White writes science fiction, horror, dark fantasy, and/or steampunk. He should have just said he writes speculative fiction, that's what umbrella terms are for. He lives in Brisbane, Australia, and his words have appeared in both 1's and 0's and in dead-tree form. Some free words at http://chriswhitewrites.com

So there you have it! My writing process. I hope you've enjoyed this post, and I'll see you soon for the next one ... on Bathroom Yoga. Yep, you can't wait :)
Amanda xx

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How to Make Zucchini Pasta - Julienner vs. Box Grater

Zucchini is NOT pasta. 

But if you'd like to use it instead of pasta, go for it. It's good for you, it carries sauces and dressing well, it's less filling and calorific than pasta, and it's bloody easy to make. 

vegetarian lunchraw food

How do you make zucchini pasta? I've seen it made with a special veggie spiralizer, a julienner and a box grater, and here's what I think about each.

Veggie spiralizer: this is probably what the restaurants use, because it makes a lovely, rounded noodle. BUT. Do you need another device in your cupboard? Do you need to spend $40 to make the occasional zucchini noodle? Probably not. 

Box grater: simple, and you're likely to have one in your cupboard already. BUT. This is more like shredded zucchini than long, lean, smooth noodles. You can see what I mean in the photo below. My opinion? (So glad you asked :) ) Save graters for grating. 

Julienner: I've waxed lyrical about these before, and I'm going to do so again now. LOVE LOVE LOVE my julienner. I use it all the time to make raw veggies interesting - carrots, beets, and - yep - zucchini. Long strokes along the squash, avoiding the seedy middle, gives you decent zucchini noodles with minimal effort, cost and storage space. Spend $7-10 on a quality julienner and you will not regret it.

zucchini noodles 101 : julienner (left) vs. box grater (right)

And what are you going to do with your zucchini noodles? Try them in this persimmon salad (substitute zucchini for the cucumber) or smothered in pesto (courtesy of Julie and Sarah) or warmed and tossed with brussels sprouts and hazelnuts and *butter* (courtesy of Carrie) or marinated in mint and mango (courtesy of David, Luise and Elsa).

Basically, use your noodles as a gluten-free and raw (if you don't cook them) alternative to spaghetti any way you like, salad-wise or pasta-wise. Zucchini LOVES tomatoes or sesame or mayonnaise or butter (and who doesn't?) so play around with flavour genres depending on what's in season, and what you feel like.

Zucchini's not pasta. But who cares? Go for it.
Amanda xx

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Naturally Clean Microwave

citrus - a key ingredient for all-natural cleaning

One day, you'll open up your microwave - the machine you always wonder, every time, is this bad for me?? before setting your gone-cool cup of tea inside and pressing start - and you'll KNOW it's bad for you. 

Because the entire inside surface will be covered in a prehistoric splatter crust. I spare you that photo.
Here's what you can do when this happens: 

1. Close the door and back away. If you haven't seen it, it hasn't happened. (or)

2. If you see the crust moving, catch it on video and youtube the fucker. It may be disgusting, it may be a new species, it may make you millions. (or)

3Clean it. Now.

You know how I am about cleaning (Mom, I know you're reading this). I'm not a fan, and I'd rather be rich and pay someone else do it for me if I could. But given we spend about 40% of our income on travel, and another 40% on coffee, that's (sadly) not an option. Yet. 

So if you're like me with cleaning - you have to do it yourself, NOW. In your underwear, in a loose towel, in your best dress, NOW. And if the cleaning involves your microwave, try citrus.

This is nice cleaning. It smells good, and it makes you feel like one of those paper towel commercials we all know are a complete set-up. Ooh, look how this stuff just wipes off! For REAL. 

Slice 1/2 - 1 lemon or lime - even kinda old ones will work here, but use a greater proportion of the fruit if it's old and dry - and place into a small bowl with 1 cup of water. Microwave the bowl of water + lime (uncovered) on high for 3-5 minutes, until boiling. Then leave the door of the microwave closed for another 2 minutes so the citrusy steam can work its magic. If you're like me, you might even forget about the whole thing until 2 hours later, when you return to warm up a cup of tea. Oops. That's ok. Just carefully remove the dish (it might still be HOT! though not 2 hours later ... ) and use a warm, wet cloth to wipe down the microwave. Easy peasy. 

And I hope you eventually enjoy that tea. :)
Amanda xx