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Usually at the end of the year, I blog about my reading life. Last year, my friend John challenged me to read 50 books during 2013, and I accepted his challenge. Now, normally, I'm not a goal setter, and when I do set New Years resolutions, it's rare that I see them through. For some reason, this challenge stuck. Probably in part because it had a social aspect, but also because I felt it was doable. I was staying more or less on track until September.

What happened in September, you may be thinking? Well, I had to create a binder documenting all my work for the last 8-9 years in order to apply to become a full professor. Basically, that binder took over my life (and my home!) for both September and October--I had piles of papers everywhere and spent a lot of time writing about how wonderful I am. 😉 My reading took a back seat, and I only managed to complete one book during each of those months.

Once I handed the binder in, I tried to catch up. I thought I was going to be forced to count picture books on my reading list . . . but I went on a reading frenzy during December and completed 10 books! I ended up reading 52 "real" books in 2013. I did choose which books to read by length and, now that I've completed that goal, my new goal is . . . to NEVER set a reading goal again. I'm excited to read longer and more complex books this coming year.

Here's a list of my ten favorite books from my 2013 reading list (in the order that I read them).

  1. Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith.
  2. Matt De La Pena, Mexican White Boy.
  3. John Green, The Fault in Our Stars.
  4. Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings.
  5. Margaret Atwood, MaddAddam.
  6. Sherman Alexie, Reservation Blues.
  7. Tom Perotta, The Abstinence Teacher.
  8. Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor and Park.
  9. Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook.
  10. Elizabeth Strout, Amy and Isabelle.

You'll notice a lot of Young Adult literature on this list--I taught a YA lit class last spring, but it also helped me keep up on my reading since they are usually easier to read. Like I said, I'm eager to read more complex books in the coming year.

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So . . . I clearly haven't been blogging much over the last few months. Well, really over the last year. Here's the thing: I've been writing a lot, just not here.

Blogging was important to me for a number of years. It was a way for me to develop a positive relationship to writing after really not being a confident writer for a number of years. It was a first step towards a surprising progression to where I am now. First of all, I have embraced an identity as a writer. I really enjoy writing, not all the time, not every day, but when I feel like it. . . . and I feel like it more and more . . . I've come to realize that I write for me--and if it gets published, that's just a bonus. A bonus I love, but a bonus nonetheless.

So this summer, I've been researching a project that I'm deeply interested in. I traveled to Baltimore and New York to RESEARCH, of all things. Yeah, I loved seeing friends and two cities I love, but it was a trip devoted to deeply satisfying work. I discovered things that I don't think many people today know. It was exhilarating and exciting, and I wish I could go to Annapolis tomorrow and Boston too (though I'll be there in November).

Last week, I went to Lake Tahoe to meet a friend for a Writing Retreat. She was really dedicated--wrote for most of the day compared to my few hours a day. But, wow, I loved what I was doing. I'm working on a more personal essay, not what I really do generally, but it's been a good challenge to try to articulate why something is really important to me. I hope it gets published (and I think it will), but if it doesn't, I've so enjoyed the process.

Today, I was talking to a friend on the phone. He told me that he envisions me as a writer, that he feels like that's my next step. Interesting since that totally fits how I've been feeling for the last few months.

I'm grateful for writing, for friends who encourage me to write, for progress, for not giving up, for having enough time to write, for so many things. As I move towards the school year, I hope I can continue to carve out writing time.

(Just an aside. My deep thanks go to Janet Stevens who drove me all over Baltimore. I owe you.)

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My nephew Sam sent his friend Flat Stanley for a visit. We've been having fun hanging out in Fresno and also driving to other parts of California. You can check out our adventures at tumblr.

My spring break is going by way too fast. I'm writing, reading, cooking, and enjoying the beauty of Fresno in the spring. My wisteria is just about to burst into bloom, the seeds I planted are starting to sprout, and all is right in my world.

Last Sunday, I had a perfect day. I wrote all morning--7 pages of an article I hope to finish by early May. I was in a city that I love doing things that I love; I ate good food, shopped, walked forever, saw a movie, and ate more good food. In the movie, Ginger and Rosa, there's a line that describes how I felt. A young girl, Ginger, returns home late and her mother asks angrily where she's been. Ginger replies dreamily, "We were just roving about, being free." Of course, the movie complicates that line, but I'll save the serious for another post.

Yesterday: different city, activities, circumstances--but still that same feeling of freedom. I rode my bike to a friend's house--and then we biked downtown and met another friend to talk all afternoon. Our conversation moved from books, to music, to writing. And my friends gave me ideas about where to move next with a project that has been teasing at me since last summer. I want my summer to be like these past few days, full of the freedom of exploring ideas in many different forms.

And then I went home and made recipe #2 of my cooking with Janet week: french onion soup. It took 90 minutes for the onions to cook down, so I stirred and listened to my friend's radio show before finally eating a fantastic bowl of soup.

Ah, spring.

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Awhile back, my friend Janet took up a challenge to make a recipe each Tuesday from a cookbook by Dorie Greenspan. A month or two ago I was out of town and had an evening to myself. I sat in a bookstore poring over Greenspan's newest cookbook, Around My French Table and was quite smitten with the book. I couldn't afford to buy it that weekend, but recently acquired a copy. There were so many recipes I wanted to make and, because I miss Janet who lives across the country in Baltimore, because Janet is an excellent cook, and because I knew that Janet loved Dorie Greenspan, too, I wrote her an email suggesting that we bake (and blog) together over Spring Break. If you know my fascination with cookbooks (not cooking), you know that was quite the commitment for me. This is installment #1 of 4, if all goes as planned.

I sit typing this with a loaf of Savory Cheese and Chive Bread (a quick bread) in the oven--the lovely smell of baking bread wafts into the living room where I'm sitting. I can't wait to try a piece for lunch.

As it turns out, I didn't quite have the right ingredients, so here's my adaptation of the recipe.

1 3/4 c. flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2-1 t. salt
1/4 teaspoon black powder (Dorie suggests white)
3 large eggs
1/3 c. 1% milk (Dorie suggests whole)
1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 c. grated Gruyere (the original recipe calls for an additional 2 oz. of Gruyere cubed, but I didn't have enough)
1/2. c. minced fresh chives

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a bread pan with Pam.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and milk for about a minute. Then add the olive oil. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently stir in . . . just enough for the batter to come together. Stir in the cheese and chives to make a thick dough. Spread in the bread pan and bake for about 35 minutes. Let the bread cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides and turn onto cooling rack.

I suppose you could wait for it to cool, but I ate a slice right away.

By the way, in checking Dorie's blog in preparation to write this entry, I found that one can sign up for "French Fridays with Dorie," a community of home cooks making one of her recipes every Friday.

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Julia Pastrana (1834-1860) once performed in the U.S. and all over Europe. Although she sang, the majority of people came to see her because of her physical appearance. Her body was covered with hair and she suffered from hypertrichosis. She was sometimes labeled "The Ape Woman" or "The Ugliest Woman in the World." After her death during childbirth, her husband had her body, and that of their son, who inherited his mother's condition and who also died, embalmed and stuffed. Their bodies were on display until the 1970's. After being stored in a basement of a hospital in Oslo, her body was finally returned to her homeland, Sinaloa Mexico, due to the efforts of artist Laura Anderson Barbata. She was buried February 12, 2013. Her son's remains were lost in the 1970s and have never been recovered. In this podcast, you will hear a poem about Julia written by poet Wendy Rose (Hopi/Miwok).

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Scene: the Mission District in San Francisco.

Location: the counter at Pizzeria Delfina.

Rationale: all the SF food bloggers rave about this place.

Ambience: great view of fresh ingredients and the line cooks working. Charming details like thin bread sticks and a plate from which I could pinch parmesan cheese, dried oregano on the stem, and red pepper flakes. Economical use of the small space made the restaurant feel cozy rather than crowded.

Cast of characters: me, kind waitress, friendly counter neighbors to talk with throughout the meal.

Food: broccoli raab pizza plus a slice of the salsiccia pizza and part of the insalata tricolore that my new friends shared with me.

Review: my broccoli raab pizza was good, just a little soggy I assume from the veggie's steam. Fortunately, it didn't permeate the crust--only the top part of the pizza was a little too damp. The flavors were interesting, though: nice cheesiness, yummy thin crust, and great to have a pizza with green vegetables. And it was beautiful to look at.

The sausage pizza, though, was so delicious. I loved the spiciness of the sausage and the great balance of onion, red pepper and tomato. This pizza guaranteed that I would return to Pizzeria Delfina.

And it was really delightful to go to a restaurant alone and end up meeting two interesting people who were so generous with their food and conversation.

Pizzeria Delfina

3611 18th Street

San Francisco, CA 94110

415/437-6800