Writing or Querying? Try Road-tripping.

We all know that it’s a good idea to step away from the computer sometimes. But it’s so tempting when it’s right there, isn’t it? Especially when you’ve gotten in the habit of writing or revising every day, or when an agent might be tweeting something relevant. *coughs*

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I needed to physically step away (farther than across the room from my dear, darling laptop). Luckily for me, the timing was perfect to drive out to Wisconsin with my four-year-old twins to visit family, so we got the little Scion xA all gassed up and ready to go.

One of the best things about a road trip? Road trip food that’s different from what we get at home:

The trip couldn’t have been better. Not just the visit with family, which is always fun and doesn’t happen often enough, but the open road, the freedom, the time to think. (Yes, one can even think with two preschoolers in the back of a Very Small Car, having provided them with books, favorite stuffed animals, and the music of their choice.)

Of course I brought my laptop along (duh), but I used it sparingly. Instead, I read books (when not driving), scribbled outline notes on my next WIP in my notebook, and listened to my own music when it was my turn: Beethoven, Sigur Rós, Utada Hiraku. So peaceful, so free!

Now that I’m back, I’m digging back into drafting, but it sure seems like fun again after stepping away. Highly recommended!

Tagged!

The fabulous Jaye Robin Brown tagged me and some of the #wipmadness crew with a new set of questions in the latest question-asking tag game passing through the interwebs: http://jayerobinbrown.blogspot.com/2012/02/tag-youre-it.html

Her five evil questions aren’t actually all that evil:

1. What is the  best meal you’ve ever eaten – what, when, and where.

Not evil, but wow, this is a hard question for a foodie! I’ve had delicious meals here in Boston (most recently a five-course tasting menu at Upstairs on the Square in Harvard Square, drool), in Austria (bone marrow soup! Wienerschnitzel!), and Iceland (is it bad that we tried whale?), among other places. But hands down, some of the best foods I’ve ever tried were in Spain, and so here’s a photo of one of my favorite dishes we had last year, arroz a banda, a rice cooked in seafood broth and then served with the fish and of course aioli.

2. What is your earliest memory?

I was about three years old, and I’d wandered out into the tall weeds behind the house–well above my head–and before I knew it I was alone. I’d never been lost, and had never been completely alone. It both thrilled and terrified me, and I remember tingling with excitement. After reveling in my independence for a few minutes, I turned around and went home, feeling like I’d been forever changed.

3. If given your choice of a secret rendezvous with any fictional hottie – who would you choose?

Don’t laugh. But the love interest in my current WIP is about my favorite ever. I’d pick him over any fictional hottie right now.

4. What is your favorite joke?

OK, this question is a little evil. I guess I’m a fan of the oldie-but-goodie about the three strings who walk into a bar and end up with a frayed knot.

5. Pick three words to describe yourself (one is just too hard!)

Persistent, energetic, and open-minded

So! For the next part of the tagging, I have to hit up three other friends with five more questions. I’d love to hear answers from:

Kerri Maniscalco: http://kerrimaniscalco.com/

Elodie: http://commutinggirl.wordpress.com/

Ruth L. Steven: http://ruthlaurensteven.blogspot.com/

Without further ado, my questions:

1. Keeping with the foodie theme, what’s your signature dish? Something you make that blows people away and that you luuuuurve.

2. If you could be any fictional character, whose story would you want to live?

3.  If you won a magical trip to any destination and had to use the setting in your next novel, where would you go?

4. Your favorite five authors. Go!

5. What music are you listening to while working on your current WIP?

Writing Retreat of Dreams!

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.

This Week’s Topic:

Describe your dream writing retreat. Where would you go? Who and what would you bring?

This topic is something I think about a LOT. Like many others, I squeeze writing into my daily life, and the idea of a writing retreat conjures up all kinds of images of productivity. Who wouldn’t want a a honeymoon with a WIP instead of a quickie?

Thus a dream retreat for me would really be anywhere that provided stretches of alone-time, plenty of tasty food and caffeinated beverages, and the opportunity for literary discussion, all in an inspiring setting.

The place that best fits the bill for me? Ronda, Spain:

Specifically, I’d choose the HOTEL REINA VICTORIA (http://www.hotelreinavictoria.es/es/hotel-ronda/main), a place that offered the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke the peace and inspiration he needed to write.

I’d bring my laptop of course, a stack of books, and a notebook and pencil for scribbling in the garden. I’d love to have a group of writerly friends along too, for those literary discussions after productive writing sessions. Anyone with me?

A Visit to the Hub

Bostonians can thank Oliver Wendell Holmes for a nickname that stuck. He dubbed the State House “the hub of the solar system” back in 1858, and people still call Boston “the hub of the universe” today.

So why is this relevant for tourists? Boston is an awesome place to live, but it’s also a great place to visit. Now that visiting season is gearing up–the three months it’s actually warm and pleasant here–it’s a good time to take a look at ten must-see highlights.

  1. Fenway Park. The oldest baseball park in the country, and the home of the Boston Red Sox. Tickets are hard to come by, but you can try www.stubhub.com or at least take a tour of the park and grab a beer at Boston Beer Works.
  2. Newberry Street. Perfect for people-watching and window-shopping. Set yourself up at a café  like Sonsie and watch the world go by.
  3. Public Garden. Especially if you’ve got kids along, you can’t miss a ride on the swan boats and a visit to the duckling statues made famous in Robert McCloskey’s MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS.
  4. Canoeing on the Charles River. Rent a canoe or kayak for an hour or more and paddle along the river between Boston and Cambridge: http://www.paddleboston.com/main.php
  5. Museums. Depending on what type of peeps you come with, consider hitting the Boston Children’s Museum, the Science Museum, the Museum of Fine Art, or the Aquarium.
  6. Freedom Trail. Don’t miss the trail marked in red paint that leads you to many of the historic sites from the American Revolution: http://www.thefreedomtrail.org/ Visit everything from the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown to the Paul Revere House and Old North Church in the North End, then treat yourself to a delicious cappuccino and tiramisu in Caffe Vittoria on Hanover Street or have a pizza at the famous Pizzerina Regina on Thatcher Street.
  7. Quincy Market. Tourists love Quincy Market with good reason. Fun shops and a whole hall full of tasty restaurants on one end, and the historical Fanueil Hall (also on the Freedom Trail) on the other.  Head around the corner for a fresh Guinness at the Purple Shamrock or raw oysters at the (likewise historical) Union Oyster House.
  8. Chinatown. Right beside the theater district you’ll find scores of authentic restaurants, bakeries and shops well worth a visit.
  9. The T. Boston is a very walkable city, but don’t miss a ride on our subways that also go above ground in places. One of the best views of Boston is when crossing the river to Cambridge on the salt-and-pepper bridge.
  10. Trolley tour or duck boat. A great way to get your bearings in the city when you first arrive, but make sure you get off it and into the streets yourself when you finish!
Have a great visit in the Hub!

Horchata: a Valencian specialty

Let’s face it: most tourists who visit Spain head for Barcelona, Madrid, or Seville. These three beautiful cities have a lot to offer, including a lot of great food and drink.

But Valencia, the third-largest city in Spain, is likewise a great place to visit. For starters, it’s now connected to Madrid with the high-speed AVE train, cutting the travel time down to well under two hours. It’s on the Mediterranean coast, with a compact “old city” downtown, surrounded by a huge ring of colorful neighborhoods and attractions such as the modern City of Arts and Sciences. Farther out of town you’ll find la albufera, a watery reserve where rice for the famous paella valenciana grows – and where you can spend several hours in one of the local restaurants enjoying one of the best rice dishes you’ll ever taste.

Besides paella, Valencia is known for another specialty: horchata. This sweet and milky drink is made from the chufa, or “tiger nut,” and is definitely worth trying. Tucked away in the Plaza Santa Catalina in the city center are a couple of establishments which specialize in the drink. My favorite – both for atmosphere and taste – is the Horchateria Santa Catalina. Small marble tables dot both the downstairs and upstairs, and colorful blue and white tiles decorate the walls, making it the perfect place to take a break from shopping and sightseeing.

Along with your horchata, be sure to order a plate of fartóns. Not only is the word a lot of fun to say, these soft bread sticks covered in powdered sugar are the perfect complement to your milky beverage.

¡Buen provecho!

Ensaladilla Rusa

I’d have a hard time picking a favorite tapa in Spain – so many delicious ones to choose from! But ensaladilla rusa – “little Russian salad” – is definitely up there on my list, especially because it’s slightly different in each bar you visit, but always delicious.

Another bonus: you can pretty easily get most of the ingredients in the US to prepare it at home. It’s also fun to prepare with kids. You can do all the prep work and chopping, and then each child can add in some of the prep bowls of ingredients and help with the mixing.

What you need:

  • 2-3 large potatoes
  • 2 small or 1 large can of tuna in olive oil (spring for the good stuff from Spain if you can)
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 cup of peas (frozen ones – defrosted obviously – hold their color well)
  • 1/2 of a small sweet onion
  • 1 can/jar of white asparagus
  • 1 can of anchovy-filled olives (you can usually find the Goya ones)
  • olive oil to taste
  • sherry vinegar to taste
  • salt to taste

1. First, get going on the prep work. Peel and slice the potatoes into small cubes, and the carrots into small slices.

2. Boil the potatoes, eggs, and carrots (in separate pots), and heat up the peas in the microwave. When the eggs are boiled, cut them in half, reserve the egg yolks, and finely chop the whites.

3. Finally, finely chop up the onion, and set aside in a small dish. Open the cans of tuna, olives, and asparagus, and finely chop half of the olives.

4. Ready to combine! Begin with the potatoes in a large bowl, and then add in the carrots, peas, tuna, onion, chopped egg whites, and chopped olives.

5. Add dressing and season. You’ll need a ratio of about 3/4 olive oil and 1/4 sherry vinegar. Pour it right into the bowl along with a couple of pinches of salt, and then continue to add whichever of these three you need to taste.

6. Spoon out the mixture into a serving dish or platter, then top with the remaining full olives, white asparagus, and crumbled egg yolks.

¡Delicioso!

a visit to dubai

A few months ago, I had the chance to hop over for Dubai for two weeks for work. Who was I to say no? I’m always up for going someplace new.

And now that I’ve been there, everyone’s been asking me, “Dubai! So what was it like?”

My reply is generally, “It was … interesting,” followed by any number of details, depending on the audience:

  • It was perfect weather in January – sunny and 85 degrees pretty much every day (in the summer, apparently not so nice, unless you like it hot-hot-hot).
  • Amaaaaazing souks, with just about any beautifully exotic trinkets you could want: scarves, spices, shirts, jasmine perfume (my favorite!), and tons of gold jewelry. You can definitely get some deals if you know how to bargain.
  • Delicious food, especially Indian, Pakistani, and Moroccan. Not exactly the best places for the squeamish as far as cleanliness of eating establishments goes, but you can test out your stomach of iron here.
  • No alcohol. No kidding.
  • My co-workers and I were pretty much the only women we saw out on the streets. And I couldn’t figure out where the kids go to play – didn’t see a single playground.
  • All that half-finished construction makes it feel a bit like a ghost town. Besides the Burj Dubai towering over the rest, there are dozens of other high-rises downtown, but it sure looks odd when you get up closer and see that so many of them aren’t close to done, and that they are surrounded by abandoned cranes. Will they ever be finished?

Let’s face it – it’s this last point that makes current-day Dubai so distinctive. Several articles have been written about the high level of bankruptcies and desertions, and the sad state some of the guest workers are in – who came there to work and are now stuck there, many without work. Seeing all those empty and unfinished buildings definitely hits it home, since these signs of the economy’s downturn here are too big to hide.