Sunday, May 20, 2018

Summer treat: corn relish

HALLIE EPHRON: Recently I discovered a recipe on Epicurious for corn relish spiked with bacon, a perfect side dish now that fresh corn is back in the supermarket. My version of the recipe is made with fresh corn cut from the cob (so much sweeter than frozen) and adds sweet red pepper and fresh cilantro. I've been serving it warm with pan-roasted or grilled fish.

Or turn it into a main dish on its own by adding lots of crumbled feta cheese.

Corn relish (for 4)
(Note the pictures are me cooking for 2)


- 4 strips of bacon
- 1 medium sweet onion (Vidalia) finely chopped
- Corn from 4 ears of corn: cut kernels from the cob and then scrape the ‘milk’ (juicy pulp) left on the cob off with the tip of a spoon and add it to the kernels (See video below)
- 1 red pepper, seeded and chopped into smallish pieces
- 2 T brown sugar
- 3 T fresh lime juice
- Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

1. Cook the bacon strips until crispy; remove, drain, and chop into pieces. SAVE THE FAT.2. In the bacon fat sautee the onion 4 minutes over low/medium heat. Add red pepper. Continue to sautee 3 MORE minutes.
3. Add corn, brown sugar, ¼ tsp salt, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring. Turn off the heat.
4. Add lime juice, bacon. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix.
5. Serve warm, topped with cilantro.

In case you've never 'milked' a corn cob after cutting off the kernels, here's how:

What are you eating now that 'it's' in the market?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Field notes from Penn Writers

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm reporting in from Pennwriters 31st Annual Conference in scenic Lancaster, PA. I've been here since Thursday and I'm leaving tomorrow, and it's simply one of the most terrific writing conferences on the planet. 

One of the pleasures of blogging on Jungle Red is meeting far flung writers, and then you go to a distant conference and get to meet them in person! First day, first table I sat down at, there was Jim Collins. Here's Jim a few years ago at Malice (I think), taking one for the team for our Jungle Red Writers panel. 

And here he is this weekend at Pennwriters--Jim is working on his first novel, and we'll be thrilled when it comes time for him to talk about it as a guest on Jungle Red.

Here's the conference's amazing bookseller, Jilann Burnett of Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, VA.... where I will have to pay a visit, and not just for the bookstore. A well kept secret (up to now) is how many celebrities have second homes there.  Shhh.

Then there are all the talented writers you meet. That's Donna Galanti on the left (who's guested here on Jungle Red) with her second novel, THE HUMAN ELEMENT. And Kathryn Craft in the middle. Her novel is women's suspense (up my alley) set in the world of dance, THE ART OF FALLING.

Gayle Lynds gave a brilliant keynote that earned a standing ovation. She started out by saying, "I'm Gayle Lynds, and I'm a writer." To thundrous applause. She talked about her new spy thriller, THE ASSASSINS, which sounds irresistible. She's giving a workshop today on plotting which I wouldn't miss for the world. 

And here's  J. L. Delozier (I'm holding her book TYPE & CROSS which was a finalist for the Thriller Award for best first.

And here's Ramona DeFelice Long and Kimberly Kurth Grey with their anthology of essays and poems and stories, INTO THE WOODS, by Mindful Writers Retreat authors. All of its proceeds will go to benefit the Children's Heart Foundation. It's going to be my train ride reading back to Boston on Sunday. Yay Amtrak!

 I know this has been a busy weekend for writers. Anyone reporting in from RT? Elsewhere? Has the sun come out?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Did you learn QWERTY without looking?

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm of the generation that took typing (and stenography, heaven help me) in high school because with that in my resume, I'd never be unemployed. According to my mother.

Back then: Ladies typed. Gents dictated.

My summer school typing class was packed. Anyone else remember learning on a typewriter with blank keys?

Do schools teach touch-typing any more, or do kids just arrive in
the world with their umbilicus attached to a keyboard? Does anyone give 'thumbing' classes, because I could use one instead of stabbing my index finger at my cell phone's virtual keyboard.

"Touch type" anyone? How did you learn? And do the men in your family do it?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: My parents had their own business and my mom did the typing and the bookkeeping, but I do remember
my dad typing his own letters sometimes. I doubt he was a touch typist, though. I managed to finagle my mom into typing papers for me all the way through high school and my first year of college.

Then my parents sent me to secretarial school so that, regardless of future education, I'd have the skills to support myself. For this I am forever grateful!! (Can you imagine writing and editing a manuscript in longhand???)
But I suspect that "secretarial schools" have fallen by the wayside. (Do people even use the term "touch typing" anymore?) So where do people learn all of those skills, because there are certainly still a lot of jobs that require them?

Hallie, I didn't learn to type on blank keys, but my secretarial school used IBM Selectrics (yes, that's how long ago it was) in their classes, and I was permanently bonded to the IBM keyboard. My laptops have for many years been Lenovo Thinkpads--which used to be made by IBM and have keypads that are famous for duplicating the same touch as the IBM Selectric.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I took typing in high school--the keyboards DID have letters. And I am pretty sure there were no electric typewriters.  We had manual ones, Underwood, I think.
Anyway.  Sisters, I was TERRIBLE. I never learned to touch type, like we were supposed to, because I was too impatient, and realized I could just memorize the paragraph and then look at the keys and type it, and that was faster.  Also ridiculous.

So, weirdly, now I am a really fast typist, and can touch type amazingly well--as long as I am not trying to. If I try to, disaster. If I just go with it, and Zen it, I'm a whiz.

Now, usually I look at the keys, but I am still so impatient that my brain goes faster than the keys can work, so my work is fraught with typos. FRAUGHT.   And I wind up typing everything twice, essentially, to fix all the mistakes. SO DUMB.

LUCY BURDETTE:  I’m pretty sure I learned in high school, though there was the secretarial track and the academic track, and I definitely was not secretary material. In college, where I majored in French literature, I had a little manual typewriter with all the French accents on it to write my thesis. I am so sorry that I got rid
of that little machine now!

By the time I got to graduate school, I was a pretty good typist. Never will be as fast as Hallie, though, I’ve seen her type and it’s like a wildfire! Now I have a special ergonomic keyboard so I had to relearn where the keys are. They gave you a little booklet with all these exercises to do. And boy did I hate dedicating the time. But it was worth it and now I use it easily.

RHYS BOWEN: The typewriter was my enemy! I never learned
typing at my highly academic girls school. I was given a portable typewriter for my 17 th birthday and cursed that the ideas flowed more quickly than my fingers moved.

I finally took a typing course in my twenties but I was never very good and actually sent my early manuscripts out to be typed, thus cutting considerably into my profits! Then computers were invented... Happiest day of my life! At last I could type as fast as I could think, and never had to make spelling errors.

INGRID THOFT: I have one name for you:  Mavis Beacon

Typing was not on the curriculum at school, but shortly after college graduation when I was job searching, I devoted time each day to learning to type with Mavis Beacon.  Mavis is a fabulous software program—yes, it’s still available!—that makes learning to type a breeze. 

I remember sitting at the kitchen table playing Mavis’ fun games, the result of which is I type like a speed racer today.  I can’t imagine writing without being able to type, and I urge all the young people I know to spend some time with Mavis.  Regardless of the path they may take in life, stellar typing skills will always be an asset.

JENN McKINLAY: I did take typing in high school. It was
mandatory for boys and girls. I didn't much care for it. I could never figure out why the letters didn't just go in alphabetical order and it was not intuitive at all, plus I had to sit next to Kevin Smith, football player, who used to get frustrated and punch the keys...with his fist. I'm a better typist now but I still glance at the keyboard occasionally.

I may have to visit Ingrid's Mavis B because if I could type even faster, well, LOOK OUT!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: In high school, when they offered typing, my mother suggested I NOT take it, since then I'd get stuck doing the secretarial work in whatever job I was in. Which was great advice from an ambitious feminist, right up until the computer revolution, when suddenly everyone was expected to type their own stuff. Well, and I became an author. (Side note: my mom herself is a really good typist, and used to do all my papers in high school. Thanks, Mom!)

For high school graduation, I got a fancy Selectric with the white
tape that enabled you to erase without using Wite-Out(TM). I became a fast enough four-fingered typist that I would regularly snarl the elements (for the youth reading this, the letters were on actual, physical slugs of metal, and if you got too many of them near one another at the same time, they would catch on each other.) I tended to use Hank's technique: I would remember the sentence or paragraph in the draft and just reproduce it while looking at the keys. This means that now, as I draft on my laptop, I still look at the keys and not the page as I go along. Not the best form, but I seem to get it done.

BTW - and Jenn may back me up with the Hooligans experience - but none of my kids took formal typing in high school. Instead, they learned playing keyboard games when they were very young, and are all natural touch typists now. And thumb-typists on their phones, but that's a different conversation...

HALLIE: 'Fess up. Do you need to look at the keys? Do you type with all your fingers or just stab the keyboard with your index finger? And how can I learn to thumb?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The hardest job...

HALLIE EPHRON: We all like to complain about how hard writing is. And don't get me wrong. It IS! 

Howevah... it's not the hardest job I've ever had.

Lately I've been watching in admiration as teachers in West Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona, Utah, and Ohio stand up for themselves and demand not only a reasonable wage, but books and supplies and decent classrooms and buildings in which to work. Their struggle brings back my own memories of when I taught elementary school in the early 70's. 

I'm here to tell you teaching was the most challenging, most exhausting, and ultimately the most satisfying job I've ever had. And to all those people who think all we have to do is test our way to educational excellence, I say: spend a semester in the classroom and then tell me it's that easy.

Here’s me in 1974 teaching elementary school at PS 189 in Manhattan’s Washington Heights. By this time, four years into the job, I was starting to feel as if I knew what I was doing.

I remember arriving at PS 189, fresh out of graduate school, two days before school started. I'd just been hired. The old brick building was north of Harlem where I’d done my student teaching--so far north that it overlooked the East River from a West side address.

Its double front doors opened onto a lobby with a center staircase. Its brass doorknobs, embossed with NYC PUBLIC SCHOOLS, were worn smooth. The main office door had a knobless-socket where there should have been one of those knobs. Someone had pilfered it over the summer.

My classroom was three flights up. I remember looking around Room 405 in dismay. On that hot September day, half of the windows wouldn’t open. Thirty desks, lined up in rows of six, were nailed to the floor. There was no chalk in the chalk rail. The sliding doors of a long narrow coat closet on the side of the room were stuck half closed. A supply closet was locked and, when I eventually managed to get it open, turned out to be empty. The only contents in the massive oak desk at the front of the room were love notes from kids to a teacher named Miss Silverman.

I was probably making a list of tools to bring in from home to break into the supply closet and unbolt the desks when a woman came into the room. A pretty brunette in her thirties was my guess. She introduced herself as Susan Silverman. Ah, the previous tenant. She told me that the custodian would be up shortly to unscrew the pencil sharpener and move it to her new room, a floor down.

Pencil sharpener! I hadn’t noticed that there actually was that single useful item in the room. And I cursed myself for not having noticed it and removed it for safekeeping. 

I was already learning to think like a teacher.

All I can say it, thank goodness for the kids. That year I had a sixth-grade class of non-English speaking students, a mix of Dominican, Cuban, Greek, and a lone Albanian, most of them "fresh off the boat." Though I eventually discovered that there was a supply closet in the basement with chalk and construction paper and other basic supplies, there was no curriculum for sixth grade (or if there was, it was a well-kept secret). There were no textbooks in the building appropriate for nearly-adolescents learning English. I flew by the seat of my pants and the kids flew with me.

In my mind's eye, I can still see very one of those kids from my first class: Arturo, Roxanne, Evaristo, Eduardo, Maria, Janet, Ana, Angela, Roberto, Ephigenia, Xiomara, Frankie...

What's the hardest job you've ever had?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Familiar faces in unfamiliar places from the Brits

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm terrible at recognizing people, out of context.

I was once at a reception sponsored by People Magazine at BookExpo, chatting with a man who looked so familiar. “Haven’t I met you somewhere before,” I asked him.

“You might have seen me on television,” he said.


“On The Office?" he says.

Doink. It was B.J. Novak, a very distinctive looking actor who played Ryan Howard, one of the misfits at Dunder Mifflin. And I am mortified. But really, who expects to end up chatting with a TV star at a book event, even if it is sponsored by People.

I have that same experience watching British TV shows. I see an actor and I think, You look familiar. Don’t I know you? And in a way, I do.

It's disconcerting when James Norton, who plays the human/saintly detective/vicar Sidney Cambers in Grantchester turns up as psychopathic, ex-con, drug dealer Tommy Lee Royce in Happy Valley

I got very attached to Honeysuckle Weeks as Foyle’s driver and assistant on Foyle’s War. Now she turns up on Midsomer Murders, Inspector Lewis, and Death in Paradise playing characters who bear no resemblance to plucky Sam.

Amanda Abbington, who plays Watson’s wife, Mary Morstan, in Sherlock (I'm still getting over her death) turns up in Case Histories as Jackson Brody’s former boss, DCI Louise Munroe. Now she's one of the leads in a new series on Netflix, Safe. (Did you know she's married... now getting divorced from Martin Freeman (who by the way played Bilbo Baggins in the movie of The Hobbit) who played Watson?)

Sometimes it seems as if the BBC has about fourteen actors that get recycled in their programs. It’s like subscribing to an ensemble company. And by the way, whenever you see one of those actors whom you recognize turn up on a whodunit like Midsummer Murders or Father Brown or Death in Paradise, you can be pretty sure shedunnit.

Last Tango in Halifax is a good example of a cast who pop up in multiple other programs. I'm a particular fan of Nicola Walker who's now one of the leads on Unforgotten.

Do you find yourself watching British TV shows, pointing to one of the actors and asking, "Don't I know you from somewhere?"