“Daddy, you’ve made a recipe again”: The Pizza from the End of Coraline


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Source: Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, a book a kid in the last few days of summer vacation, who’s not too excited about her family’s new apartment in a big old house, quirky neighbors who seem to keep telling the same stories, and parents who can’t seem to pay attention to her—

                Coraline’s father stopped working and made them all dinner.

                Coraline was disgusted. ‘Daddy,’ she said, ‘you’ve made a recipe again.’

                “It’s leek and potato stew, with a tarragon garnish and melted Gruyere cheese,” he admitted.

                Coraline sighed. Then she went to the freezer and got out some microwave chips and a microwave mini pizza.

                “You know I don’t like recipes,” She told her father […].

                “If you tried it, maybe you’d like it,” said Coraline’s father, but she shook her head. (18-19)

–and discovering an alternate home, family, neighbors, and life through a previously bricked-up door.

                “Yes,” said the other mother. “It wasn’t the same here without you. But we knew you’d arrive one day, and then we could be a proper family. Would you like some more chicken?”

                It was the best chicken that Coraline had ever eaten. Her mother sometimes made chicken, but it was always out of packets, or frozen, and was very dry, and it never tasted of anything. When Coraline’s father cooked chicken, he cooked real chicken, but he did stranges things ot it, like stewing it in wine, or stuffing it with prunes, or baking it in pastry, and Coraline would always refuse to touch it on principle.

                She took some more chicken. (40)

While everything in this new world, which isn’t very big, is designed to let Coraline have fun, feel adored, and eat the food she likes, there’s something off about it from the beginning. When she goes back to her real apartment to find her “old”, flawed, real parents are gone, Coraline must fight through an increasingly twisted “new” world to get back the life she’s just begun to appreciate.

Context: Coraline is a good analysis waiting to happen. I haven’t touched the meaning of apples or hot chocolate in this book. But the pizza from the end seemed best for the blog.

Also, since it’s founding, I’ve hardly been a devout observer of Pizza Week, and this was a way to atone.

Just before her final battle, Coraline is reunited with her parents, back in their real house.

               Dinner that night was pizza, and even though it was homemade by her father (so the crust was alternately thick and doughy and raw, or too thin and burnt), and even though he had put slices of green pepper on it, along with little meatballs and of all things, pineapple chunks, Coraline ate the entire slice she had been given.

                Well, she ate everything except the pineapple chunks. (162)

There’s a lot going here. First, Coraline’s showing some maturity and appreciation by eating her father’s pizza instead of beelining for the freezer again. She’s grown.

Second, the pizza itself is important. Its bad base and weird combination of toppings are physical proof that Coraline’s real father is truly back.  If he, Mr. Jones, had produced a perfectly baked, plain cheese pizza, that would be suspect.

But as it is, it shows that he’s here, in the flesh, still flawed and unchanged. Probably a little frazzled from his time away, and probably scrounging ingredients from the freezer and cabinets, but definitely himself. When she eats the pizza, Coraline knows for sure.

It’s kind of a spin on Jesus eating the fish on the beach.

Recipe: Coraline was published in 2002. It doesn’t specify a setting, but it’s pretty clearly Britain (and thank goodness it never pretends to be anywhere else.)  Both Mr. and Mrs. Jones work from home, on computers.

I’m sure they both still take breaks on the late 90s/early 2000 BBC site, but from what I can tell it’s a little too early yet for BBC Food to be online.

Still, it seems reasonable that Mr. Jones gets his “recipes” from magazines and TV aimed at the same audience as the BBC Food site. With that big assumption (for my convenience), I used this basic pizza recipe:


I’m linking it rather than copying it, because if you’re actually making pizza you’ll be better off following those steps than  mine.

Such as it is, the following is for entertainment purposes only.

After all, flawed pizza is the whole point.

Ingredients:  Flawed pizza and scrounged cupboards being the point,  I replaced the semolina with cornmeal. I’m in America and semolina is pricey and requires a special trip to the store that’s farther away.


I don’t recommend the substitute.

You could argue for using frozen meatballs here, but where’s the fun.

Equipment:  Mr. Jones probably has a pizza stone he’s used once or twice or never, hence the crust that’s alternately raw and burnt.

I used an upside down baking tray, which was just as likely to get the same results.


Mixing the dough is pretty straightforward.

Rather than have two lumps of dough that wouldn’t work, I halved the recipe.

7oz + 1 1/4 oz = ...

7oz + 1 1/4 oz = …

Stirred cornmeal and flour, plus yeast.

Stirred cornmeal and flour, plus yeast.

Yeast added, "well" made.

Yeast added, “well” made.

No liquid measuring cup? No problem!

No liquid measuring cup? No problem!

Mixed the oil and water to make a suspension before adding.

Mixed the oil and water to make a suspension before adding.











I left the dough to rise, with not much hope that it would.

I was concerned the yeast wouldn’t work, because it had nothing to eat.

Normally, in breadmaking, you’d mix yeast with a little warm water and sugar. The yeast particles “eat” the sugar, process it, and pass gas, which is where the bubbles and rising action comes from. I questioned how dry yeast mixed straight with these ingredients would activate.

Also, my kitchen was freezing. Eventually I had to turn the oven on and open it.

Still, this was the dough after an hour and a half:

Maybe the yeast could have eaten semolina.

Maybe the yeast could have eaten semolina.

I punched the air out anyway, ’cause it’s fun.   Press down with the heel of your hand. You get a feel for handling dough after a while.

Here’s where my summers working at a bakery/pizzeria really started to come back.


Note that while I handled and rolled bulbs of pizza dough, assembled pizzas, and prepped toppings (until they thankfully outsourced those job to the pizza pros and put me on the counter full time) I never made the dough itself.

While this dough “rose” more, I prepped these toppings.

I thought Mr. Jones might have had the notion to imitate homemade sausage meat. So I seasoned the ground beef with basic Italian seasonings: oregano, basil, parsley, garlic powder. Some thyme would’ve gone down well, too. I added a little egg white (what was in the fridge, again) to bind it together.

These seasonings are not enough. It also needed breadcrumbs, FYI

Needs more seasoning, and breadcrumbs. But Mr. Jones would’ve done the same.



Then, rather than get raw meat all up in my phone, I took a picture of the “after” meatballs.

Fridge these while other things are going on.

Fridge these while other things are being done.

It’s not a huge challenge to cut a green pepper semi-nicely. Here’s where my summers working at a bakery/pizzeria started to come back:


Cut out the core.


Get rid of that white stuff.

Get rid of that white stuff.

Try, really try not to get the seeds everywhere.

Try, really try not to get the seeds everywhere.



Dice, if needed for space.

Dice, if needed for space.

Those slices/dices would not have passed pizza place muster.

Then, I started with basic tomato sauce out of a can:



And added the same seasonings as in the meat, plus a little ground red pepper.






If I weren’t making *this* pizza from *this* scene of *this* book, I’d go for some onion powder, black pepper, and honey in here, too, which is all I remember of our store’s incredibly addictive sauce recipe.

When this was all done, I gave up on the dough rising:

Oiled bowl.

Oiled bowl.

Floured surface.

Floured surface.

Surprisingly, it rolled out and held its shape.

Roll back and forth with your rolling pin for a few strokes, then give the dough a quarter turn and roll again for an even stretch. Keep going until you have a rough circle.

Roll back and forth with your rolling pin for a few strokes, then give the dough a quarter turn and roll again for an even stretch. Keep going until you have a rough circle.

If you like, pick up the dough, drape it over your fists, and use your knuckles to rotate and gently stretch the center.

If you like, pick up the dough, drape it over your fists, and use your knuckles to rotate and gently stretch the center.

I shook cornmeal over the baking tray and placed the dough, now a base, on it.

About 2-3 tbs. of sauce will be enough. This is a little more than we would’ve been trained to put on saleable pizzas, but what amateurs like me and Mr. Jones tend to like:



Cheese should leave some red showing through:



Toppings go in a radial pattern:


Drained and rinsed pineapple:

As we'll see, I should have dried it, too, and cut the chunks smaller or bought a can of "pieces" instead of "chunks". But it's "chunks" that Coraline leaves on the plate.

As we’ll see, I should have dried it, too, and cut the chunks smaller or bought a can of “pieces” instead of “chunks”. But it’s “chunks” that Coraline leaves on the plate.

Raw meat goes on last, so you can wash your hands efficiently when it’s all done.


I was scared to put this in my oven on the highest heat, so I put my oven at 425. When the pizza still looked pale after 10-15 minutes (longer than the recipe gives), I turned it up to 450.

I think our oven at work was 500-something.

I think our oven at work was 500-something.

This is too wet.

Smaller pineapple chunks definitely needed! Also, maybe brown the meatballs briefly in a pan first to get some of the excess fat out.

Smaller pineapple chunks definitely needed! Also, maybe brown the meatballs briefly in a pan first to get some of the excess fat out.

But it looks less wet here.

Longtime readers know dramatic food shots have never been a strength of this blog.

Longtime readers know dramatic food shots have never been a strength of this blog.

I ate a slice (leaving the pineapple on), and it was okay.


I ate another sliver and then realized just how raw this was. Like, actual dough still in the center raw.

I put it back in the oven for a while. Sadly for authenticity’s sake, it baked more, but I still couldn’t achieve burnt patches. Though the weird, heavy texture produced by the cornmeal makes up for that in my opinion.

The meatballs were a little bland, too, but overall it actually wasn’t half bad. Especially cold, when the crust’s issues were less noticeable, the pineapple/meatball combination worked well and the peppers are pretty inoffensive.

A good thing, too, since this was a real investment in time, food, and effort and I had to eat it for 3.5 meals.

Still, if I was a picky eater my dad was a gourmet hobbyist who didn’t quite have his techniques down, I’d have total faith this came from the real him.

Next time: something Lenten. Suggestions welcome.

The Wednesday Woman/Coconut Lady

Cashing in on the Mockingbird Buzz: Pound Cake by Miss Maudie


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Source: To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s set in Depression-era small town Alabama, mostly in the genteel neighborhood where people can afford extra food. We all love it. We all have mixed feelings about the sequel.

Context: Miss Maudie is a family friend of the main child characters, who’s known for her cakes and gives the kids a adult perspective from time to time.

My friend at The Next Betz Thing actually suggested several weeks ago I try to recreate Maudie’s pound cake. The timing here isn’t completely cynical.

Betz has this to say about that:

For me, some of the most memorable moments in To Kill a Mockingbird were Scout’s interactions with Miss Maudie.  And while Miss Maudie had numerous wonderful qualities as a character, for some reason, the thing that always stuck with me most was the passion with which she guarded her cake recipes from the other neighborhood ladies. 

I like to think the reason it stuck with me most is due to the contrast of a Southern lady’s concern over her cake recipes with the darker backdrop of the Great Depression.  But considering I first read this book when I was in fifth grade, I’m pretty sure it’s more likely that I remember these scenes because I’m really into cake.

When I was a kid, I don’t think I could have imagined a better ending to a conversation with an adult than “How’d you like some fresh poundcake to take home?”  Really, it’s no wonder that Scout and Jem considered Miss Maudie to be a friend

At some point, I’ll also revisit this book for Miss Maudie’s Lane cake. But, just as in the book, she saves this for big-time company and thanking a neighbor who helped out with her burning house, I’ll save it for a major personal celebration, or Easter. Whichever comes later.

Meanwhile, I’ve got an okay grasp on pound cake. So, for everyday use/for the neighborhood kids with big new questions about society and life:

Recipe: Pound cake is pretty classic. It doesn’t vary a whole lot from recipe to recipe. Miss Maudie’s is probaby so good less because she has a secret ingredient and more because she’s got her technique down like that. 

I used a recipe from the 1920s, which wouldn’t be far off hers. A full-pound cake would of course have a full pound of everything, but this one stretches a long way with a little.


And if that marshmallow lemon cake below piques your interest…


I’ve always been scared to try that one myself.

But to the pound cake: look how simple the Ingredients are.


If you can afford to make any cake during the Depression, you can afford to make this.

Equipment: I cheated here in a couple of ways. First is the scale. Miss Maudie’s probably looked like this:

From the 1920s, saved during the leaner years for an appliance budget

From the 1920s, saved during the leaner years for an appliance budget

Mine, pictured with ingredients, does not look like that. It was a Christmas gift during the 2010s, used during the leaner years for an authentic vintage appliance budget. I think Miss Maudie would approve of the thrift

The other way is the pan. Non-stick cookware wasn’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye until 1938 and beyond, which is why our friend Ida C. the recipe writer uses oiled paper in hers. I will buy an  old non-non-stick pan when I find one and can determine it’s actually food safe by today’s standards.

Meanwhile, non-stick is what’s already in the cupboard. I greased it, but didn’t use paper.  I think Miss Maudie would have saved trees, too, if she’d had the option.


Cream butter and sugar. Do it properly.

I ran the beaters through it a few times to break it up for the sugar.

I ran the beaters through it a few times to break it up for the sugar.

Then added the sugar a little at a time, to be manageable:

And beat, stopping from time to time to scrape the sides of the bowl or get butter chunks out of the beaters.

And beat, stopping from time to time to scrape the sides of the bowl or get butter chunks out of the beaters.

Remember to beat this for a solid five minutes. Everything follows from well-creamed butter and sugar, which should be a nice, fluffy cohesive mass that’ll take a fourth of the flour with no problem.

Weigh the flour before sifting it with the salt:

Cheater.  Thrifty cheater.

Thrifty cheater.

Not cheating. This part hasn't advanced in centuries.

Not cheating. This part hasn’t advanced in centuries.

Be careful adding the flour, so you don’t tamp down the fluffy siftedness. It doesn’t hurt to sift a second time when adding it.

Added flour.

Added flour.

Beat gently, again to preserve the fluff.

Combined flour.

Combined flour.

This is probably the best time to add flavoring. I used vanilla, plain and simple, but I’d imagine Miss Maudie has a dynamite secret combo, akin to rose and almond, that makes her cake so special.

Speculations are welcome. That’s what this blog’s supposed to be about.

Here, this recipe always throws me. For space’s sake, the steps aren’t in chronological order: you have to read the whole thing to know how to start (like, how hot to preheat the oven).

I’m bad at reading recipes all the way through in the best of times, so if you’re anything like me, your eggs aren’t beaten until thick right now either.

Though I'm sure Miss Maudie's are.

Though I’m sure Miss Maudie’s are.

If you rinse your beaters now, this will take a minute or two. It’s about twice as long by hand, plus one or two sore biceps.

But hey, it's good for you. Notice how the volume's increased.

But hey, it’s good for you. Notice how the volume’s increased.

Slowly combine the eggs into the batter. Again, those bubbles are what makes your cake not an inedible brick, so be careful not to flatten them.

This can also be combined by hand.

This can also be combined by hand.

It doesn’t hurt to sift the flour/salt mixture again before adding it. It’s had time to settle by now, after all.

At least I think so, otherwise I'm not sure why I took this picture.

At least I think so, otherwise I’m not sure why I took this picture.

By now, folding the dry ingredients in with a rubber spatula is pretty easy, and the most fool-proof method.

Rubber spatulas, incidentally, would have been in use in an experienced cakemaker’s home in the 1930’s.  It took at least six Google searches to come to that conclusion. Soon I will get myself to the library and do this properly.

Though I doubt Miss Maudie's spatula came from the accessory room at Ikea.

Though I doubt Miss Maudie’s spatula came from the accessory room at Ikea.

Anyway, be strong but gentle. Scrape the sides of the bowl, lift the batter up from the bottom, and keep scraping, lifting, and swirling until you don’t see any more white.

Eventually, the batter should pull away from the sides of the bowl on its own. It should all hold together. I’ve learned that when you see this, you’ve done right, and you’re on your way to a nicely risen cake.

Almost there.

Almost there.

It should just fall into the pan in one big fall of pale gold goodness, and not leave much into the bowl to lick.

Not licked at all, FYI.

Not licked at all, FYI. That’s spatula smoothing there. Still working on getting that perfect. 

You need a free morning or afternoon for this cake. The good news is, once it’s in the oven for it’s hour and forty five minutes, you’re tied to the house with nothing to do but that project you’ve been putting off. Clean the bathroom, read a few chapters, sketch out the next blog post, reassure the kids on your porch who wondering why some people are so mad about what their dad’s been doing at work lately, etc.

I confess my oven was too hot to start with, and I didn’t have time to let it cool down. So this is a little dark and dense on top.


But it slid out of the pan nicely, even without oiled paper.


And has that singular pound cake glow inside.


Ready to serve.


Coming soon: for Pizza Week 2015, a post that’s not about cake.


The Wednesday Woman

That’s a Coconut Cake Part 2


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Continued from Part 1 . A reminder:

Lady Baltimore cake involves dried fruit somehow, right?

Mrs. Skinner: I collect pictures of cakes that I clip out of the magazines. It all started in 1941 when “Good Housekeeping” featured a photo of a lovely cake. [opens album]
Bart: You wouldn’t happen to have any real cakes around here, would you?
Mrs. Skinner: Oh, my, no. I don’t care for cake, too sweet. Now, this is called a Lady Baltimore cake. [points to a picture] At my age, I don’t have much saliva left, so you’ll have to lick my thumb before I can turn the page. [gives Bart the thumbs-up]
Bart: Oh, can’t I just turn the page for you? [reaches for the page]
Mrs. Skinner: [slaps Bart’s hand away] No! But you can pick out any picture you want to take home with you.
Bart: Okay … that one. [points]
Mrs. Skinner: [slaps Bart’s hand away] No! You can’t have that one! That’s a coconut cake!

Today, we’re making that coconut cake. And trying a standardized format for “food from fiction” posts.

Source: It’s The Simpsons. You can Google it. The reference comes from Season Eight, which people who think about The Simpsons a lot tend to see as a transitional stage. Around here the non-sequitors (more so than this one) and darker (or mean-spirited) humor that characterizes later seasons starts to creep in.

Some see this point  as the end of the real Simpsons, though I don’t notice a true drop in quality for another three or four seasons on.

After all, the coconut cake has always stuck with me.

Context: Mrs. Skinner (Agnes) helpfully names the year and publication her scrapbook started from. The coconut cake is only a few pages in, so it’s a safe bet the picture was published in 1941 or 2.

Conveniently, wartime rationing in the US began in 1942, so we can use as much butter and sugar here as we want.

Recipes: After Googling “1940s coconut cake”, following lots of awesome Pinterest boards, and either not finding what I was looking for or not wanting to plagiarize another blog, I went back to my own cookbook collection.

One ration-era recipe booklet has a “sugarless” white cake I could have adapted, but I balked at the cup of corn syrup involved (apparently the army didn’t want much of that.)

In the end, I split the difference with a pretty basic 1920s cake, and a 1960s frosting (which lines up with many of the older coconut frosting recipes I found online).

So cake, from Mrs. Allen on Cooking, 1924:


And frosting, from The Modern Family Cookbook, Meta Given, 1964


Notes on Ingredients: I used period brands when available (Swan Cake Flour, Argo Cornstarch).  It also hit me, after buying a carton of egg whites, that I should probably separate my own eggs.

This is a two-handed job, so no step-by-step photos available, but I’m sure some blogger out there has a great tutorial if you don’t know how to do it. Speaking of,

Eggs: it also hit me that Mrs. Allan might use so many eggs in most of her cake recipes because in her day eggs were smaller. But buying smaller eggs meant buying eggs in styrofoam, and in the end the environment won out over authenticity.

Besides, if anything, this cake could use more egg.

Coco(a)nut: I couldn’t find “moist-packed” (canned or frozen) coconut, and it’s not a good time of life to break open and grate a fresh one. So for the frosting, I soaked dried coconut (from the baking aisle) in coconut milk.

Presumably, coconut milk’s been available in the US since not long after the Bakers started importing packaged coconut meat in the 1890s.  Again, the war(s) might have disrupted this, but we’re safe in 1941 now. Which means,

Butter/Shortening: We’re free to use butter as a shortening substitute. Shortening makes good cake, and might make a better cake than butter in this case, but I wasn’t willing to buy a full package and use an eighth of it.  Those who are should.


An egg separator would have been helpful. I don’t own one, so it was the shell-to-shell method for me.

Electric mixer: The first hand-operated rotary mixer was patented in 1856. Electric mixers became common for home use in the 1920s. Production of home appliances in the US stopped during World War II, but even if you’d made this cake post-1942 you’d probably have your old mixer to use. So I’m using mine.

Oven/stove: In all these projects, my oven will be the oven. Even when I get into Dickens-era stuff, I’m not going to rent out a coal stove. Unless my SCA buddy can hook me up, we’ll have to concede this one.

Double boiler, sifter, bowls, pans: Can’t have changed much, apart from materials. My two 9-inch layer pans are not in this location, so I used a single 8-incher, which turned out to be a good size. For two layers, I’d double this recipe.

Process: To start, here’s 4 tablespoons of butter in a bowl.

FYI, 4 tbs of shortening will look different.

FYI, 4 tbs of shortening will look different.

Here’s the butter after it’s creamed and scraped out of the beaters:

I like to break it up a little before adding the sugar.

I like to break it up a little before adding the sugar.

Starting to add sugar...

Starting to add sugar…

One thing I’ve learned about cake making is that you have absolutely got to cream that butter and sugar properly. For the cover photo cake above, I creamed it for five full minutes, timed.  I didn’t time this one, but did keep going until the lumps of butter were gone and it all came together in one whole, fluffy mass.

Thank the Food Network site for the five minutes tip.

Thank the Food Network site for the five minutes tip.

To avoid washing the beaters, I beat the egg in a separate bowl with a fork:

Hello yellow.

Hello yellow.

For flavoring, I used vanilla extract, but almond or citrus would also be good:

You could also blend the flavoring with the egg before adding.

You could also blend the flavoring with the egg before adding.

I then failed to take a picture of the egg combined with the butter/sugar, but you want that to be pretty smooth, too.

Next step. When you’re sifting a flour mixture, it’s a good idea to put the sifter in the bowl, then add the ingredients to the sifter.

Like this. Cornstarch and baking powder are a different shade than the flour.

Like this. Cornstarch and baking powder are a different shade than the flour.

After the first sift, I put the sifter on a plate, then poured the mixer back into the sifter from the bowl. You could also get two bowls going here.

First sift.

First sift.

Second sift.

Second sift. Isn’t this exciting?

From there, I sifted right into the main mixture.

It can get messy.

It can get messy.

Mrs. Allan doesn’t specify how many times we should alternate adding the milk and flour mixture, so I went for the standard three, beating “vigorously” after each dry and wet ingredient. The pictures show the batter through each step.

This could get boring quickly.



At least you can see it grow?

At least you can see it grow?



Cooking spray was invented until 1961, so I cheated by using PAM on the pan. On the other hand, it was that or olive oil.


I started to pour the batter in before I remembered the point of the whole exercise.

You can see the coco(a)nut!


And this picture:


While it was baking, I did frosting.

I discovered in the planning stage that I couldn’t use a mixer for this, because the kitchen outlets are all too far from the stove. I proceeded anyway, figuring I could attempt to beat by hand.

The ingredients made this look pretty daunting.

How much beating doe it take before someone wants to eat this?

How much beating doe it take before someone wants to eat this?

Eventually I came up with a work-around. I’d beat the frosting by hand over the double boiler for a minute or two, then take the whole system–

Careful, you do not want this on your floor.

Which looked like this, only filled with sticky/boiling stuff you don’t want on your floor, at all.

–Over to the counter, where I electric mixed for a few more minutes over the still-hot water.

After several sessions of this, I decided it was done.

Twelve minute frosting.

Twelve minute frosting.

And unpanned the cake.



Since you’ve invested so much hard work in making this frosting, it’s only fair that it spoons over the cake without much fuss.


Meanwhile, about 3/4ths of a bag of coconut had been soaking in coconut milk in the fridge.

Incidentally, this is what coconut milk looks like sitrred and poured out of the can:

Guess I better make some Thai.

Guess I better make some Thai.

And here’s what coconut milk looks like mixed with coconut:

This stuff is a fat bomb.

Thanks to the milk, every spoonful’s a fat bomb.

And, pressed over the cake:

*fanfare notes*

*fanfare notes*

It won’t be featured in Ladies Home Journal any time soon, but maybe it’s what readers came up with when they followed the recipe in the ad/article.

Here’s a close up:


And the inside:


Before I cut into it, I thought the cake needed one more touch to remind us what this post was all about in the first place.

There we go.

There we go.

And there’s a picture of the coconut you can’t have.

Until next time,

The Wednesday Woman

PS: Requests are accepted.

That’s a Coconut Cake! Part 1


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(Update: see the finished cake here)

What happened was, I’d been in the mood to attempt a coconut cake.

I will never not associate coconut cake with one of my favorite moments ever in The Simpsons, from Season 8: 

Lady Baltimore cake involves dried fruit somehow, right?

Mrs. Skinner: I collect pictures of cakes that I clip out of the magazines. It all started in 1941 when “Good Housekeeping” featured a photo of a lovely cake. [opens album]
Bart: You wouldn’t happen to have any real cakes around here, would you?
Mrs. Skinner: Oh, my, no. I don’t care for cake, too sweet. Now, this is called a Lady Baltimore cake. [points to a picture] At my age, I don’t have much saliva left, so you’ll have to lick my thumb before I can turn the page. [gives Bart the thumbs-up]
Bart: Oh, can’t I just turn the page for you? [reaches for the page]
Mrs. Skinner: [slaps Bart’s hand away] No! But you can pick out any picture you want to take home with you.
Bart: Okay … that one. [points]
Mrs. Skinner: [slaps Bart’s hand away] No! You can’t have that one! That’s a coconut cake!

I planned to blog about the coconut cake and use this quote as a title.

Turns out someone already did it (and do I ever admire her no. 3 round tip skills), but there’s got to be plenty of Simpsons/cake crossover love to go around online.

That said, why not take it a step further?

Why not try to recreate a cake as near as possible to the one in Mrs. Skinner’s (Agnes’) scrapbook?

I mean, why bother compulsively buying cookbooks from antique stores if you can’t use them as a reference base in constructing an elaborate late-nineties pop culture reference?

And while you’re at it, why not read up a little on period food availability and kitchen technology so you can replicate the coconut cake Bart can’t have a picture of using the same ingredients and equipment available to the average reader of a ladies’ magazine in 1940s Anytown USA?

(We’re assuming the cake isn’t only a lie put forth by magazine artists for egg-and-sugar-strapped wartime consumers to slobber over.)

As silly as this idea is, it set a fair number of my dork nerves all a-tingle, and then I thought–

Why stop with coconut cake?

I’d already planned to turn this into a food blog. While I may have other things or say or post sometimes, food makes for the snappiest posts with the strongest readership. And focusing on one subject would give this blog a much needed sense of direction.

To that end, I’ve weeded out the archives, keeping most of the old food posts and a few others. I’ve given The Wednesday Woman a new title, which as a bonus could snag unsuspecting Googlers looking for the Simpsons Wiki.

And also–

It’s a good title for a new theme, of “Making food from books or shows or movies I like (or don’t)”.

I’m not the first person to have this idea. I’m pretty sure someone’s doing it for George R. R. Martin.  Still, there’s got to be enough love or tolerance for the food/fiction to go around.

Plus I’d love doing it. I’d get to rant or rave a tiny bit, do a little contextual research and analysis, then go nuts in the kitchen.  And if the process is inherently interesting, to me at least, the pressure’s off somewhat for making something edible (i.e Extreme Baking Fundamentals Challenge: Jack’s birthday cake, from the first few pages of Room. Then I can shut up about the book forever.)

If the idea goes over well, I’ll keep it up. Of course the entries will be pretty work intensive and won’t happen every week, or even every two. Some weeks I’ll write about lunch and some I won’t write at all. Sometimes I might still try for something completely different. 

But for now, I’ll be looking up illustrated cake recipes from Ladies Home Journal in the early forties.

A final thanks to my many coworkers who eat things for me. Hope some of you like coconut.


Still The Wednesday Woman

A Post about Sticky Nuts

After a couple months focused on fiction projects, travel, and unpredictable work schedules, I finally had a chance to bake something and post about it. The holiday theme may seem a little behind the times, but keep in mind on this blog we celebrate Christmas for 12 days.

(We also take time out of our 12 days to post if we’ve been really, really lax in posting.)

Normally fudge making/packing is a big part of my Christmas prep, but this I decided to try something a bit different for office gifts. The recipe inspired me back in August or so, when I bought a new old cookbook.

Here's your recipe. I won't rewrite it, because Amy VanderBilt says it better than me and I have something besides this to finish today.

Here’s your recipe. I won’t rewrite it, because Amy VanderBilt says it better than me and I have something besides this to finish today.

And here's said book. Read more about Amy Vanderbilt here.

And here’s said book. Read more about Amy Vanderbilt here.

My coworkers may not have everything, but I thought they’d still like something delicious for Christmas. I figured on about 1/4th a pound of glazed nuts per person, so doubled the recipe.

That said, there's now a mixing bowl of leftover nut syrup gelling in my fridge. A big mixing bowl.

That said, there’s now a mixing bowl of leftover nut syrup gelling in my fridge. Any ideas on what to do with roughly five cups of cooked processed sugar are appreciated.

Combining the sugar, molasses, and corn syrup was easy enough. It struck me then that this wasn’t the most photogenic food I’ve ever made.

Even if it hadn't been a few weeks I wouldn't know which of these photos was which.

Even if it hadn’t been a few weeks I wouldn’t know which of these photos was which.

I think the spoon in that pan is meant to represent the initial mixing, so believe me when I say there’s a delightful sludge being swirled in the bottom of that molasses.

Speaking of molasses, a tablespoonful of blackstrap molasses provides about 70% of your daily iron needs. Add some to a mug of hot water for a non-caffeinated-coffee-tasting afternoon pick-me-up. You can even add a little milk or lemon.

Enjoy while waiting for your syrup to boil.

Enjoy while waiting for your syrup to boil.

At this stage, I was at a loss for syrup cooking. I didn’t have a candy thermometer, and hadn’t bought one since I expected one for Christmas. Google and Amy Vanderbilt told me only that the “hard crack stage” was about 300 degrees F. Try Googling “how many minutes to hard crack stage” and tell me how much helpful advice you can find about getting there without the thermometer.

From the pictures' order, I'm guessing this happened for a while.

Early, reflective syrup. If you look closely you’ll see a lovely view of my stove vent.

The only choice was to drop some syrup in a cup of cool water every few minutes, hoping eventually it’d form a hard, cracked ball.

Instead the syrup kept spreading into pale gold spots in the water, photos of which are useful to no one.

Something did seem to progress after ten or fifteen minutes:

Foamy action.

Foamy action.

More distinctive foamy action.

More distinctive foamy action.

Coke-like action.

Coke-like action.

At about 18 or 19 minutes, the syrup bubbled up to twice its size. A few rounds with the wooden spoon brought it back down. I tested a drop in the water again, and with no hard cracks to be found, thought this would be a good time to line some Seinfeld up on the Roku and finally get to work on decorating the tree.

FYI, this happens multiple times.

FYI, unattended, this will keep on going.

(Not pictured: brown puddles on stove top. Non-picture’s caption: “If you thought you had fruit fly problems before…)

Before long I found an answer to my earlier question: it takes syrup 20-25 minutes to reach 300 degrees. Unfortunately by then I’d taken my syrup off the heat and moved it to another ring. Rather than call this one a loss and try again tomorrow, I went for the reheat.

25 minutes went by. I stirred attentively. At the end, with work looming, the nuts were very hastily spooned into the glaze.

Actually, I dumped them in one bag at a time, plastic then paper, stirred them around, and lifted them out by the slotted spoonful.

Nuts in syrup. Note that it's nice and glossy, but real hard crack glaze will likely be clearer and glossier. It's still a nice view of some cabinets, though.

Nuts in syrup. Note that it’s nice and glossy, but real hard crack glaze will likely be clearer and glossier. This is still a nice view of some cabinets, though.

Per Amy, I spread the nuts on sheets of wax paper to dry, insomuch as they would

The spoon is glazed, so there's that.

The spoon is glazed, so there’s that.

When I went to box them the next morning, I found the glaze on the nuts hadn’t hardened. They were tasty, but incredibly sticky.

Like, snacking on these nuts is its own intensive project, or else your fingers will stick to your puzzle pieces or keyboard or his shirt buttons or whatever.

I lined my gift boxes with wax paper instead of tissue.

Or, I tried one with tissue, took the picture, then switched the paper out.

Or, I tried one with tissue, took the picture, then switched the paper out.

Later I realized I'd left a coworker out of the count. If she's reading this, I'm so sorry and I'll make you something else nice ASAP.

Later I realized I’d left a new coworker out of the count. If she’s reading this, I’m so sorry and I’ll make you something else nice ASAP.

I told the ladies at the office that these were “sticky nuts” and I recommended they eat them at home. When I put the leftovers out in the breakroom, I left a post-it to warn about the stickiness. The leftovers did not all go.

I’ll try again with a thermometer sometime. For Valentine’s Day, I’ll make fudge.

Wash your hands,

The Wednesday Woman

Nine Ways to Enjoy Your Haunt Experience (While Spoiling it For Others)


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Credit where credit is due: http://www.amazon.com/ANUMAN-INTERACTIVE-Haunted-House-Mysteries/dp/B00FXVIPAS

It’s that time of the year again! (It has been for a month). If you’re hitting a haunted attraction for Halloween, here are some ways to make it great. For yourself.

1. If entering with a fearful child, SO, spouse, or friend, position him/her in such a way s/he can be easily used as a shield or decoy.

For instance, the around-the-waist, front-facing hug works especially well for girlfriends. Reassure her of her safety if she mentions how close this is to a hold abductors use.

2. If on entering, you are the fearful one, sublimate your fears by making a joyful noise. Use any praise songs you remember from VBS (i.e here ). Bonus points if you whap a ghoul across the head while doing the motions. Double bonus points if the devil is involved (30-second sample here here, starting :28ish.)

3. You can also sublimate your fears by putting on a tough persona. Remember, nothing’s more courageous than telling
heavily made-up non-mainstream drama geeks they suck and look lame.

4. On the other hand, if you belong to the Be Nice campaign, Be Nice. When the pale, hollow-eyed girl in the rust splattered cage groans about being hungry, offer to buy her Taco Bell. She will love you. You will not be the 52nd person to make the offer tonight.

5. If you remain fearless, sneak behind a monologuing actor and put the fear in him. You’ll be surprised what one little “Boo” can do.

6. If you have any haunt savvy, now is the time to verbalize it. Now means all of now:

“That’s an actor pocket…that’s an actor pocket…someone’s gonna jump out of that shower…there’s a drop panel…that picture’s a drop panel…one of these corpses is real, yep…nope, this is a fakeout, this is not the real ending, this is totally not the end…that’s a pocket, but it’s empty, they must be really understaffed tonight…Hey! We used that Demonic Dino-dog back in ’08! Oh, memories,” etc.
Carefully point everything out as you speak, to be sure other paying customers are relieved of all tension.

7. When needed, verbalize loudly.


This is so the group behind you will not be surprised when the scared couple in UofM sweatshirts they see up ahead get throttled by a wall dweller.

8. If your fear gets the better of you and you’re escorted backwards through the show by an actress who does a bang-up job staying in character, to preserve the other patrons’ experience, balance her performance (and preserve your dignity) by doing the chicken dance as she shows your wuss ass the exit.

9. On exiting, don’t wait until you reach the car the comment on how unfortunate it is that they cast all the black kids in that voodoo section. It’s unlikely that said kids, who are still in earshot, have noticed this themselves.
I don’t plan to say which of these I’m guilty of.

Happy Halloween from

The Wednesday Woman

Yesterday’s Lunch: Broccoli and Soup


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(Welcome to Yesterday’s Lunch, the feature for when I’m seriously strapped for time and/or ideas. This week it’s a time strap, in more ways than one.)

I’m on a revision/rewriting kick.  For the past few days I’ve actually looked forward to opening my giant scary Word Document and diving in.

This was not an easy place to get to: starting  a rewrite, after no matter how many, is harder than starting a draft. I also enjoy it more once I’m there, but that’s tough to remember from session to session.

I want to keep up this streak until I finish, with minimal interruption. So yesterday, I needed both a quick lunch and a quick post.

I also felt a little pre-fall-congestion coming on, so I finally broke out this soup.

With scenic old-fashioned percolator in the back.

With scenic old-fashioned percolator in the back.

Here’s the  all-important side panel.

That’s 4 Points Plus, for those of you counting.

That’s 4 Points Plus, for those of you counting.

I like to think that  everything before the sugar makes up the bulk of it, and the rest was lightly sprinkled in for flavor.

When I bought this soup, I had ambitions of filling it out with lots of fresh veggies and maybe some chicken.  But as well as time, I was low on appropriate/cookable veggies this week, so I finished off the last of the broccoli.

It's on the brink of being a bit sad.

It’s on the brink of being a bit sad.

I cut it up.

The part in the upper left corner is edible, but your organs won't like it.

The part in the upper left corner is edible, but your organs won’t like it.

We read Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear once in elementary school. It made a lasting impression on me in that I feel all I’m expressing cultural sensitivity when I use as much of the broccoli as possible.

Incidentally, if you Google “Yang the Youngest,” the third or fourth suggested search is “Yang the Youngest Lesson Plan.” Most of its Amazon reviews are written by people who taught it  and the kids they taught.

One standout is by a now-nine-year-old who’s still discussing with his/her friends how much they hated the book when they were assigned it last year.  Maybe he/she will also grow up to not waste broccoli.

I always cook the center part of the broccoli. This time, I threw in a few of the florets, but put the rest in with some carrots to snack on at work.

We have a couple new office mates. I wouldn't  blame them for having some concerns about my excessive crunching.

We have a couple new office mates. I wouldn’t blame them for having some concerns about my excessive crunching.

Also, for my last-stretch-of-the-shift snack, I put some fresh strawberries on  part-skim ricotta.


I actually used more strawberries. This picture is just so you can see the ricotta.

I actually used more strawberries. This picture is just so you can see the ricotta.



Finally, while we’re on the tangent, this was yesterday’s dinner.

We're not looking at the ingredients here.

We’re not looking at the ingredients here.

Back to lunch: I splashed a little turkey stock in a saucepan and added the broccoli. This is how you can steam, BTW. You can use any liquid. Any liquid you want to consume, anyway. That includes alcohol.

Remember how my stove's not terribly well lit?

Remember how my stove’s not terribly well lit?

I turned the heat to medium and let the broccoli sit. I held off on heating the soup, because it wouldn’t take as long.

Later, I decided to add some pepper and lemon pepper. I’d have tossed in some lemon juice, but I’m out, and lime would’ve been pretty gross.

The broccoli steamed for about ten minutes, so it came out al dente. Normally I’d prefer it softer, but remember we’re in a time crunch here.

That was a pun. Huh.

That was a pun. Huh.

The soup was hot before long. I dished everything out.


I felt I’d reached my carb quota for the day, otherwise multigrain crackers would have rounded this off nicely.

I felt I’d reached my carb quota for the day, otherwise multigrain crackers would have rounded this off nicely.

I also had some milk and an apple.

And that was yesterday’s lunch.

Happy heating,

The Wednesday Woman



I Just Bought Peanut Butter That Has Dried Cane Syrup In It

I’m trying here.  

I’m trying to eat less sugar. I think I’ve consumed at least one major sugar bomb once a day for the past week. Every morning I get up and think, “I’ve gotta stop that,” but then evening comes around and that Ben and Jerry’s blueberry graham froyo seems like a fast and tasty and reasonable source of the protein I’m still craving for some reason. 

I’m getting there now, thinking, “I’m still hungry–and there’s room for sugar today!”, before I remember that Jimmy John’s oatmeal raisin from after lunch. 

I think that cookie has been my only source of carbs today. Then I remember those little multigrain crackers I scarfed when I got home. 

I got home and I went to the grocery store to put off blogging. Then I ran, despite my butt being sore from going to that first power-flex class yesterday.  I feel like I didn’t exercise enough last week.

I’m trying. 

Now I’m doing this. 

I’m trying. 

I’m trying to finish a story that I thought I’d have finished last week. I’m trying to finish it so I can go through the massive amount of editing I know it’ll need when the planned ending comes around. Meanwhile I can’t stop thinking of that other story I started almost a year ago.

I’m trying to set aside enough time to go through and revise that Big, Scary Story that’s not a scary story as such but scary to me when I consider all that dithering I’m more and more convinced is lying in wait in the middle and turning off prospective agents. Meanwhile I want to do more than chip away at that other Big, Scary Story that’s still so scarily unwritten. 

(Big, Scary Story = Novel, btw.) 

I’m also trying to blog.


Next week, I’ll be back on the work schedule I was used to before this summer. Hopefully that routine will help get me on track, if only for a few key pushes writing wise.


I have a few ideas for this site knocking around. Some have been knocking around for quite some time. Like, that full review of a book about a little boy born into an eleven-by-seven foot space that I was working on when a non-fictional little boy who happens to be my nephew and is also my soon-to-be-godson decided to be born, which threw a lot of things off and made said review harder to write than it was going to be. Plus others.

I’ve written things.

I’m trying.

This evening, I bought the kind of peanut butter I might actually want to eat. In a little bit, I’m going to eat some. I mention this because it seems likely this title will bring page clicks, and hey, no lie, there is food on this blog. 

I’m trying. 

Then I’m going to bake cookies. Nothing special, just to prove to a friend/coworker that oatmeal cookies with dried cranberries and white chocolate are a thing that exists and that she should try. Maybe I will blog about them as well, sugar aside. 

You know cookie dough will not go uneaten. 

I’m still trying here, folks. Thanks so much for your patience. 


The Wednesday Woman


Non-exhaustive List of Non-Americanisms in Room (novel)


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Room cover

A more comprehensive review of this book is in the works, but life intervened and this section outgrew itself. So.

Is “Anglo-American” still a legit label? I read it in a very old-school YA novel and thought it was pretty nifty.

Would it be totally pretentious to use it for myself? Aside from being nifty, “Anglo-American” just sounds a lot cleaner than “I have an American parent and an English parent and was born in the US but spent a lot of time in England and around English people growing up and I’ve lived in England for a year. (Plus Ireland for eight months if that’s relevant, which it is right now.)”

Anyway, whatever I call it, that’s the way it is. This hardly makes me an expert, but it means I recognize some words as common to one culture’s English vs. the other.

Like how all our recess group said “bangs”, except for our Australian friend and I, who said “fringe.”

Or things like, “Yes, Mummy calls them ladybugs, Daddy calls them ladybirds.”

That was actually a family my siblings and I overheard on a plane once—our parents are the other way around—but we’re talking stuff on that level.

This in turn means when I read fiction, I read characters’ accents in what they say. Sometimes I also read an accent in the narrative voice. It plays a big role in grounding me in a setting.

Nothing special here, by the way. I suspect this works for loads-and-loads*/lots-and-lots** of readers (*UK/**US).

Last week I finally read Room. In case you missed the buzz back in 2010, this novel’s the story of a heinous crime told through a child’s voice. It was kind of a big deal.

I knew going in that the author, Emma Donaghue, was Irish (Irish-Canadian, it turns out). For the first few pages, I assumed the characters were also Irish. Later I decided they could just as easily be English, though I wondered why the kid was watching only American cartoons. Then the latter part of the book makes clear the whole thing is meant to*/supposed to** take place in the States.

A hazy setting isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It works for the right story. At least one reviewer believes it works for this one, that it adds to the unsettling quality of the whole book, which is after all all about being dislocated.

I don’t disagree. What bugs me is how unlikely it seems that this was the author’s intention.

By its nature, the story relies on key details (like rhythmically creaking bed springs) whose significance the narrator misses but the reader can catch. A few of these (like an up-close view of a nickel, a brand new sight for the viewer seem designed for Donaghue to let the reader know where we’re supposed to be, nation-wise. 

Also, Donoghue tries for American speech a few times, (“sucker”, “Mom”, and at least once, “butt”)– it just doesn’t go far. And a Irish character turns up at one point (and very welcome she is too), and her dialogue shows an attempt at contrast.

But these details are as far as the authenticity of the American setting gets. This leads me to believe that it was chosen because this is where one of the high profile cases that inspired the book took place.

The language/diction/word choice/minor cultural details were a big part of why the setting didn’t feel natural, or worse, too natural, like the book was written in the author’s default setting.

In her defense, she had the five-year-old’s voice to focus on, which is certainly a project in itself. But if you’re taking on the task of writing a five-year-old American’s perspective, why not take the extra step to make sound American as well as five?

If that won’t work out, there’s no shame in making all these folks Irish or Canadian. No one’s going to complain something like this story would never happen in one of those countries.

Finally, this could be oversensitive, but it seems a little disrespectful to just assume Jaycee Dugard says “fringe” when she means “bangs”.

These are nitpicks. But nitpicks are easy fixes, which is why it gets to me so much when they’re not fixed. It got to me enough that near the end of the book, I started writing down words Americans wouldn’t say or concepts that don’t quite fit the culture, both as I remembered and as they came up.

I;m due at the bar** in a few minutes, so without further ado, here’s a non-exhaustive list of non-Americanisms in Room. (**Like, “bar” as the American. equivalent to “pub”. An American “pub” is what this place is trying to be.)


-“Fringe” (vs. “bangs”, though in this context, “cut in a fringe”.)

-“meant to” (vs. “should” or “supposed to”)

-Construction: “Will you go play”? (vs. “Do you want to go play?”. Like, “Will you build a snowman?” doesn’t have quite the same metre.)

-“bits of”/”bit of” (vs. “parts of”/”pieces of”)

-“a bit modifier” (vs. “little”/”kind of”)

-“beside” (vs. “next to”)

-“Duvet” (That’s what it says on our duvet packages, but “quilt” or “comforter” are more likely to be used casually. I think?)

-Construction: “Sentence sentence sentence, yeah?” (vs. “sentence sentence sentence, right?”)

-“Any joy?” (“Any luck?” is the best translation I’ve got.)

-“partner” (vs, in this case, “wife”/”girlfriend”/”woman with whom he’s had a child and still lives.” When I first moved to England, I was used to hearing “partner” to refer, euphemistically, as someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend of the same sex. It took time adjusting to the broader meaning in England. Meanwhile the middle class in my part of this country is still in the habit of getting married before they have kids. Otherwise why bother with marriage equality?)

-Cheap veggie curry in a can (Someone want to hook me up with an American source of cheap veggie curry in a can?)

-“LEGO”, i.e “box of LEGO”, “play with LEGO”, “life without LEGO”  (vs. “legos.” This brings back repressed memories of English Cousin possibly saying “LEGO” as plural. I’m all for lingual diversity but without “legos” how do you distinguish a single “lego”, such as the one you just stepped on?)

(FYI the original Legoland is in England DENMARK, the home of LEGO/what we call legos. Thank you vRob in comments! The Windsor Legoland is pretty cool, and the real original Legoland has gotta be pretty cool too.)

-“Safe as houses” (If you’re American and didn’t just go “Bwuh?” let me know so I can buy you a Guinness.)

-Canberra (As a place a stressed out fifty-something American man would retire to for a fresh start. Guy that adventuresome is not going to play the stock uptight family member who can’t accept the reality of the situation.)

-“Stabilizers” (vs. “training wheels.” I did not know this before. Thanks, Goodreads reviewers!)

-Bronwyn (as toddler name) (an American toddler named Bronwyn would raise a few burning questions, such as “Should we be adding an “Anglo-” or “Irish-” on there?”)


Basically, if you have a manuscript you’d like read for stray British/Americanisms that fall where they don’t belong, hit me up. This needs to be a standard editing position, outside early Harry Potter (and that was different).


The Wednesday Woman


Born: 1 small male relative

Still Grateful He Was Born “Outside”: One blogger, who was kept awake by Room all last week. Hey, if it weren’t worth it, this post wouldn’t exist.

Things I Wish I’d Learned Before I Started College


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It’s that time of year again.


In case she needs to fill a space on her wall, I made a frameable version of this, with thoughtfully varied fonts and text in the school colors. But I figured a plain version would make an okay blog post.

Note that these are all things I wish I’d learned before I started college, not necessarily things I learned *in* college. Some didn’t get through to me until well into grad school (thanks, guy who brought that punch with the grapes for the party I came to hungry.)  “Drama’s gonna drama” didn’t truly click until, like, March (when I realized I was an adult who was free to leave a dramatic situation and did.)

Additions are appreciated.

It’d be nice growing up was as fast as reading a list.


Things I Wish I’d Learned Before I Started College

Don’t go to class hungry

Eat lots of vegetables

There is no good reason to put things off

If you have to choose between staying  in and going out, go out

If you choose to stay in and work, actually work

Sometimes, professors will contradict each other. Your job is to figure out who’s right

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Think through big choices

Get sleep

Drama’s gonna drama

The world extends beyond this

House parties are more fun

Don’t go to parties hungry

Don’t eat fruit from the punch

Use the buddy system

Time won’t go by this slowly again

Act as though you’re confident

Surround yourself with people you like

Most women don’t look like women on TV

Make your bed and fold your clothes

Have fun

Be smart

Stay hydrated


The Wednesday Woman

PS: Sad things have happened this week. In case you wondered how I feel about sad things, I feel sad. I doubt you wondered–correct me if needed. 

I’d go into more depth on the subject of social media and sharing feelings and why we would or wouldn’t, but that could be a few volumes of essays and I have dinner plans so I’m only taking a half hour lunch.

Also, in my world, sorting out tough stuff is what fiction is for.


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