Thursday, December 31, 2009

Once In a Blue Moon

I woke up to a bouquet of birthday wishes in my in-box--thank you so much dear friends and readers and fellow writers who make my life so rich! I've always had mixed feelings about having a birthday on December 31. As a child it meant I could never have an ordinary party with my school friends because they were all away visiting Grandma. But things have gotten much better as an adult. I think I'm more suited to adulthood in many ways, but anyway, a New Year's Eve birthday means Herr Doktor can always take off work, and every one toasts my day in some form or another, and also that it's easier to figure out how old I am (forty-eight as of six a.m.).

This year's birthday is special for a celestial reason. It's a blue moon, which hasn't happened since 1990 and won't again until 2028. Somehow it feels like this should mean something. Then again, I suppose I spend most of my conscious awareness searching for meaning of some sort. So, I'll just keep being myself today! Plans include pannetone for breakfast, lunch in a Chinatown restaurant that piqued my interest last January, and a bottle of Taittinger this evening while I force my guys to watch documentaries, like 49-Up. I love documentaries, so I'm taking advantage of my "queen for the day" status!

Please join me in a glass of bubbly or beer to toast a New Year of creative exploration and sensual delights for us all!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More About Intercourse (and Food, Too)

So, there are a few more memories of Amish Country that I'd like to share before I buckle down to my new project for 2010. (By the way, I'm inviting you all to give me a spanking if I don't keep my promise to make progress on my second novel in the coming year).

Let's start with the buffets at the Hershey Farm Inn, where I had an epiphany about my culinary past. I have mixed feelings about buffets, because the quality of food is never the best, but you do get to taste little dabs of things you otherwise wouldn't order. I hear Miller's is the place for the best food in Pennsylvania Dutch country--it's also a buffet as are most restaurants--but we didn't get there on this visit. Our own meals at the breakfast and dinner buffets of our motel was more than just sustenance for a hungry tourist. As I strolled up and down the steam table line at dinner and wandered over to the dessert bar, I saw many familiar foods from childhood: chicken pot pie, red beet eggs, slices of cantaloupe otherwise known as "lopes," vats of applesauce and rice pudding in the "real food" area, gravy of all kinds, green beans boiled to death in ham broth. Breakfast was even more of a time warp: scrapple (pork scraps molded into a loaf), creamed chipped beef, blueberry pancakes, very wet sticky buns, plus shoo-fly pie and apple dumplings, cause you have to have dessert at breakfast! I remembered then that my mother called herself a "Pennsylvania Dutch cook," which I didn't really believe at the time. I mean, she didn't wear an Amish cap in the kitchen or anything like that. But now I see she was right. For us, a freshly baked apple dumpling in a bowl with some milk poured over was considered a fine breakfast, almost scandalous in these days of oat bran and fat-free Greek yogurt.

As you see from my plate above, I indulged in a number of local dishes for breakfast, including baked oatmeal (a very sweet dish) and the house shoo-fly pie. I was a bit disappointed in the latter, wondering perhaps if I wasn't fondly remembering "dry" shoo-fly pie rather than the "wet" bottomed version. But more on this below.

After a morning at the Christmas Center, we took a leisurely path to Intercourse, the rhetorical high point of our vacation. My son noticed that the town boasted an "Edged Weaponry Museum," swords and other phallic symbols, which seemed eminently appropriate . I wandered down to the building to snap a photo, dressed in khaki shorts and big California shades, and as I returned to my family waiting at the pretzel shop, a buggy full of Amish children passed me. Every one of the small faces turned to stare at me in sick fascination, a strange creature baring her spindly, white legs, with insect-like brown plastic discs over her eyes. This struck me as appropriate, too, that the Amish should return the relentless touristic gaze with such naked curiosity.

But let's get back to food again. The fragrance wafting from Immergut Pretzels was irresistible to all four of us, inveterate soft pretzel lovers that we are. And Immergut (meaning, I believe "always good" in German) was really excellent! Herr Doktor and I ordered a whole wheat version to share, and it was baked fresh for us. Believe me, nothing is as yummy as a piping hot, slightly sour whole wheat soft pretzel. If you find yourself in Intercourse, do order this treat from one of the porcelain-skinned Amish lasses at the counter, who'll twist you up a fresh one with impressive skill.

We continued on to the T-shirt shop, as I mentioned yesterday, plopped down a wad of cash for a huge bag of suggestive souvenirs, and then found ourselves hungry again for some more carbohydrates, because, hey, they do carbs very, very well in this part of the world. Shoo-fly pie bakeries abound, but I was intrigued by the description of the Bird-in-Hand Bake Shop in my guidebook. Perhaps the name "Bird-in-Hand" would seem perfectly innocent in another context, but after stops in Blue Ball and Intercourse, it inspired equally obscene images for me. I'm sure I don't have to elaborate for readers of this blog....

Anyway, this bake shop is off the beaten track a bit, a few minutes drive along winding country roads from the highway. In fact, you really feel like you've gone back in time--to my own childhood and beyond. The presentation of the baked goods was marred a bit by all the Saran Wrap, but our libidinous appetite for sweets helped us overlook all that and we gathered an impressive selection of local specialties: a slice of shoo-fly pie, a huge apple dumpling, and a bag of snickerdoodles.

My younger son focused on the cookies, which were very authentic, and I felt a special bond to the apple dumpling, but the real star of the show was the shoo-fly pie. I realized that this was what I'd been looking for, and what the gloppy version at the Hershey Farm Inn buffet had not offered my nostalgic taste buds. The Bird-in-Hand Bake Shop version (warning: there's a "Bird-in-Hand Bakery" on the main road I did not try) is simply a dream: flaky crust, seductive struesel and a miraculously light and flavorful molasses filling. This pie would rival any of the world's great desserts--or at least that's how I felt as I savored each heavenly bite. And it's delicious even when you eat it with a plastic fork! This is the shoo-fly pie to try.

You'll be relieved to know we had a saintly salad for dinner, but we still managed a stop at The Springerle House in nearby Strasburg. (As I mentioned before, the scene in Witness where Harrison Ford punches out the taunting tourist was filmed near where we parked.)

Springerle are molded German Christmas cookies, and I went to the shop more to appreciate the artful molds than to sample the fairly bland anise or vanilla flavored sugar cookies--although I did that, too. The shop also sells Christmas decorations shaped from Springerle molds and painted in pretty colors, and indeed a souvenir hangs on my tree as I write this.

That evening, we decided to drive past the hospital where I was born, forty-eight years ago tomorrow. In just a few minutes, the scenery slipped from our nation's rural nineteenth-century past, fragrant with manure, to all-t00-contemporary neon-lit strip malls, then back again to the early-twentieth-century charm of the city of Lancaster itself. Lancaster General Hospital had obviously been renovated since I made my way out of the womb and into the world--named by the doctor who preferred "Donna" to my mother's other choice, "Yvonne." By the way, the guy also admired my pink butt. Fortunately times have changed in the delivery room and newborn girls are spared premature sexualization. But I made a strange and fascinating discovery on this trip--my birthplace is situated on a street which shares a name with my husband! Makes you believe in fate, doesn't it? I mean, who would have ever thought I'd marry a guy named "Lime"? Or is it "Main"? Honey, what was your name again?

Anyway, my main man also pointed out that the hospital is conveniently located across the street from a cemetery, for easy disposal of any mistakes. Yes, it's a "harsh" world, even in charming Lancaster.

Next time--spying and eating in our nation's capital!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Pleasures of Intercourse...PA, that is!

My travelblog continues with a brief stop at the T-shirt shop in the tourist mall in Intercourse, Pennsylvania. There we stocked up on some of the jolliest souvenirs you can buy--all but guaranteed to make you smile.

As I gear up for my blue-moon birthday on Thursday, I'd like to offer you a selection of mottos to live by from Pennsylvania Dutch country, a place inhabited by folks who are, as my son put it, "either totally sick or totally clueless." What do you think? And which T-shirt would you pick to wear to bed? Come on, don't be shy!

Do you like collegiate?

Or a little geography lesson?

How about a nod to Vegas, Amish-style?

Or a little inter-state rivalry?

Or perhaps you are the type who sees the glass half-full? Intercourse was indeed more or less what we thought it would be. Food report coming soon!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Come to My House....

Yes, I can finally retire my cookie sheets for the season. My last holiday baking project was completed on Christmas Eve, with some decorating by the boys on Christmas Day (including Grant's message and Owen's yard design). Projected demolition date--New Year's Day--and the boys can hardly wait. Until then, come join us for some seasonal glow from those butterscotch windows and a few more cookies from the buffet. I also made a batch of my mother's coconut macaroons, a simple recipe with coconut, condensed milk, vanilla and salt. Hope you're all eating fun things and enjoying this lazy in-between year-end week!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Journeys in Paradise: My Travelblog Continues

Sometimes putting things off for a looong time can have fortunate results. For example, I stopped my travelblog about my summer vacation right before I got to the part about the National Christmas Center in Paradise, PA. If I'd been a dutiful girl, I would have shown you my pictures of this Christmas museum back in September. But because I was "bad" and took a lengthy break, I can show you my pictures on Little Christmas, just on the brink of Christmas Eve, when everyone is really in the mood. By the way, "Little Christmas" is the Swiss name for December 23 and apparently you are supposed to invite friends over and eat lots of Christmas cookies on this day. I plan to eat a few extra tonight in honor of that venerable Swiss custom.

I'd read about the National Christmas Center in the December issue of Victoria magazine a few years ago, and when we decided to go to Amish Country, I knew I'd have to drag my family there. I'm sure the place is crowded at this time of year, but back in August, we were pretty much the only people there. The outside is unassuming, a bland, white rectangle of a building. Inside, however, the lights of Christmas blaze their magic into a perpetual wintry twilight. The Christmas museum is the sort of place I dreamed of having in my basement as a child, Aladdin's cave filled with every Christmas present I wanted but never got. Sure, it's a bit more Disneyland than museum, while at the same time it also has that Germanic (over)abundance of carefully catalogued evidence displayed everywhere. (The Santa-themed tobacco ads were especially creepy). But I really enjoyed it, and now, as real Christmas draws near, I still remember wandering its paths and yielding to its charms with a hush of wonder.

The first tableau to greet the visitor is a Christmas parlor where Virginia of "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" pens her famous letter. The reply of the editor of the New York Sun from 1897 is reprinted, and I copied down this part which spoke to my fiction writer's heart: "The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see." Or women either. That, Charlie Brown, is really what the solstice festivals are all about.

The next highlight was the 1950's Woolworth's Christmas display, which was a whole room full of vintage Christmas decorations and gift wrap set up in a mock store you can walk right into. Many of it was still familiar to my eyes from my 1960s childhood, the candle figurines and toys, the styles of Christmas ornaments. There may have been a surveillance camera hidden among the stuff, but it felt like I was all alone and able to get intimate with these things, that I could actually browse and buy them once the ghostly clerk returned to man his ancient cash register. However, I settled for second best--a few irreverent photos to preserve my memories!

For some reason this crowd of Josephs and Marys made me laugh, perpetually posed in adoration of something that isn't there. Or maybe they're shocked by a spider or something?

I also liked the Kiss-L-Toe and would have bought some for my home and both cars, if I could have.

This magical tape claims to make gifts gay. Might it make you gay, too, if you wrap it around certain body parts? It might be an experiment worth trying....

I lingered at Woolworth's, so long my family went on far ahead, so I traveled the rest of the museum alone, indulging myself in my own return to childhood. There was a section on Christmas around the world, a visit to a lush, toy-crammed North Pole, and a trip through Tasha Tudor's story about Christmas critters waiting for Santa Claus, which took you along a winding path through a forest of glittering Christmas trees. Perhaps it was because I was all by myself, but I really felt I was on a mysterious journey into the darkness. Maybe that's what childhood is all about?

After the fanciful magic comes more serious, if no less pretty displays on the history of Christmas in Pennsylvania. Of course, I was drawn to the Christmas baking exhibit.

And did you know that Lancaster County has the earliest documented Christmas tree in the US? 1821 was when the county where I was born enjoyed this custom. I liked this local Christmas wish: "I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, a pretzel as big as a barn door and a sausage as thick as a stovepipe." In fact pretzels were a popular Christmas ornament in these parts. And sausages, well, erotica writers definitely need especially thick ones to sustain themselves through a long year of tale-spinning.

Well, that's all for Christmas in Paradise. My plan is to finish up the last few installments of my travel report this year, and my next topic is a seamless segway into pretzels and the food of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Now I'm off to assemble this year's gingerbread house, a new recipe made with anise, cardamom and honey that fills my dining room with the most luscious fragrance.

Happy Little Christmas and eat lots of cookies--it's required!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Did I Ever Show You....? dinosaur night shirt? I bought this at a department store in Nuremberg, Germany, about sixteen years ago. It was on sale, and I couldn't resist. It just seemed so perverse. All these years later, it's more "me" than ever! Gotta trust those instincts.

More photos to come--I'm doing my year-end cleaning!

Monday, December 21, 2009

More Donna Stories....

Now that my eight hundred cookies are baked and gifted, except for those in the "cookie buffet" tins in my dining room--come on over for dessert tonight and help yourself!--I wanted to mention a few places where you can hear/read some of my work that has not been available to the public before.

The first is a video of my reading at Good Vibrations on Sunday, October 18. Rachel Kramer Bussel took this footage on her phone! Just think of how cell phone cameras and video recorders have changed the way we enjoy our erotica.... Anyway, if you couldn't be there, this is definitely the next best thing. You can check out my "reader's theatre" style of looking in different directions to distinguish different speakers. Dumb or effective? You be the judge!

The other news is the publication of my story, "Spider" at the Erotic Woman. This story originally appeared in Alison Tyler's E is for Exotic and was reprinted in the Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 8. But this is the first time it's available online, so be there or be... all tied up in a sticky web naked. Actually, I was just reading a book about Christmas in Ukraine and spiders are considered to be good luck because they wove their webs over the baby Jesus' manger and when he awoke, the first thing he saw was the light glistening on the drops of dew on the elaborate webs, so he smiled. Which ordinary babies do at six weeks or so, but what's another miracle or two in the Christmas story?

Speaking of Christmas, because I am a "finish up the job" type of person, I'm planning to post abridged entries for my summer vacation this week, including my trip to the Christmas Museum in Paradise, PA. Better late than never, eh? In the meantime, come on over to the buffet and have a cookie or eight!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cookie Madness!

Whew, I survived another year of my week-long cookie baking orgy and all involved seem exhausted, if well satisfied with the experience. I thought I'd share a few photos of my creations for your calorie-free voyeuristic pleasure.

Here's a photo of my dining room table on Tuesday night, the height of the frenzy. The chocolate-covered slab will soon be cut into tiny, jewel-like squares to make the Venetians, everyone's favorite cookie. Only a crazy person would labor over the almond-paste dough lightened with whipped egg white, divide it carefully into thirds, tint two, bake the thin layers for 12 minutes each, agonize over whether they'd fall apart, layer them with apricot jam, let them rest in the refrigerator over night and finally ice them with melted semisweet chocolate. This year they turned out well because I took them out of the fridge well before I poured the chocolate and was too busy to attend to them sooner. That meant the cookies were room temperature and the chocolate took longer to harder, so the icing didn't crack as much as usual and they were much easier to cut. So, crazy overscheduled busyness can lead to fruitful discoveries. Next time, I'll make the same "mistake"!

This year I tried two new recipes for the boxes and rehearsed one other for possible future inclusion. The latter was a recipe for "Nutmeg Logs" which were quite nice--a rum and nutmeg-flavored sugar cookie rope, rolled in sugar for crunch and frosted with an eggnog buttercream. The big hit, though, were my "Night Before Christmas Mice" cookies, seen here cooling on the rack. Herr Doktor entitled this photo "many blind mice." I like that.

Because a number of my son's teachers have kids, I thought the mice would be a nice whimsical addition this year. They turned out to be quite a headache, too. To get the string licorice tail in there, I had to shove a wooden skewer in each of the fifty mouse bottoms, which felt rather like something I should be describing in an erotica story. The eyes and nose were a challenge, too, because the recipe recommended melted semisweet chocolate, but that was leaving a weird point of melted chocolate and made the mice look crazed. So I whipped up some buttercream, which also didn't work until I used a smaller tip on the pastry bag.

I realized, as I was tearing my hair out over these damned mice, that my cookie-baking orgy is very much like writing for me. I have to face down my fears and my perfectionism with every recipe. Disaster lurks at every corner, even though I've been doing cookie boxes for five years and baking some of the recipes for many more. And yet the compliments and enjoyment of those select appreciative recipients (the very appreciative ones get boxes year after year--no dieters or people who "forget" and still have some left over weeks later, please--plus my family is very well-trained in expressing ecstatic delight) makes all the suffering worthwhile.

Here is a squad of mice destined for my son's class holiday party. Each one has its own personality, doesn't it? Unfortunately, none returned to tell the tale. I'm not sure if I'll do the mice next year. They've gotten good reviews, but several people have said they're too cute to eat. What do you think? I mean now that I have the butt-skewering and the eye/nose recipe down, maybe it won't be so trying next year?

This pair did escape the jaws of the fifth graders and seems to be sniffing at the other new recipe--filled German Lebkuchen (gingerbread) squares. The filling of apricot jam with chopped almonds and candied European orange and lemon peel moistens the gingerbread nicely and I will definitely be making these again next year. Especially since I can make them in November and have one recipe out of the way.

I wish I could send a box to all of my blog reading friends (fewer of you now, I suspect, but those of you who are dropping by anyway are friends indeed), but perhaps you'll be satisfied with a voyeur's look at the cookie porn.

The photo above is of the bottom layer of the teachers' boxes, including classic Ribbon Cookies and Cranberry-White Chocolate Drop Cookies.

The top layer includes the heavy hitters: Pecan Caramel Cookies (a pecan pie like topping on shortbread crust), the aforementioned Lebkuchen, Venetians and Spoon Cookies (made with browned butter and Tahitian vanilla for a melting texture and sandwiched around raspberry jam).

If you have children or are a child at heart, you also get a couple of the frisky little mice.

Still left on the schedule--the gingerbread house which I'll make with a new recipe, an attempt at my mother's classic coconut macaroons and some Cranberry Pistachio Mexican Wedding Cookies for a friend who is receiving a late box. I wouldn't feel right if the gift didn't have at least one cookie fresh from the oven!

Perfectionism. Nutty, yes, but where would I be without it?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Winter Break

Maybe you've noticed--and good for you, if you haven't--but I've been on a break from blogging for the past few weeks. Initially, I thought it was because I was busy with Thanksgiving preparations, story writing, and other things involved in my day job as family manager. But gradually I began to realize my reluctance to surf the waves of blogland is coming from within.

In my final installment for my "Shameless Self-Promotion" column over at ERWA, I talk about when is the right time to stop promoting. For a long time I suspected on an intellectual level it was time to let Amorous Woman go, but I couldn't do it. Now my body and mind are making that decision for me. I physically cannot make myself do the things I spent most of two years doing as a fake eager book promoter, so yep, it's clearly time to wiggle out of those "buy my book" leopard panties and put on some sober white cotton briefs. Last year at this time, I hoped to make good progress on my next novel in 2009. One year later, I realize I've done next to nothing. I have blogged a lot, though, and it's become obvious to me that I'm using the same energy I need for my own fiction here instead.

Now, I have to say that being part of the erotica bloggers' community has brought wonderful rewards. I've connected with other generous and talented writers all over the country and the world who've supported me and inspired me with their thoughtful and lovely blog posts. I'm not saying I'll give up blogging forever, but I do plan to cut way down and focus on my fiction in the coming year. In the meantime, I may finish up my posts about my summer vacation, just 'cause I'm the type who likes to finish things I start sooner or later (then again, maybe I won't and that's okay, because who's grading me on this, right?). Beyond that, I think I need the rest of December to step back and take stock of where I focus my creative efforts. This is actually rather painful for me to give up being part of this wonderful community even for a month, but I think it's necessary to step back and get a fresh perspective on my writing life.

No need to say good-bye, though, just bon voyage until the new year. Feel free to keep in touch by email, and have a fun winter solstice holiday season!