I've spent the last couple weeks making Russian food, Eastern European food, in my spare time. The other night, around eleven, I started making a little loaf cake that was mostly eggs and cheese curds, studded with cherries and candied orange peel. It tasted like somewhere between an egg tart and cheesecake, like tea time by grandmothers in a faraway place.
In a moment of weakness, also late at night, I bought a pelmeni press. Pelmeni are like tortellini, but they are the Italian dumpling's tastier, more rustic cousin. Pelmeni are made from a simple, soft dough. Packed with meat. Then, they are frozen. They were food carried in sacks in Siberia on long trips and the dumplings naturally froze. Because I do not live in the frozen wilderness, I scattered the dumplings on cake pans and placed them in the freezer.
There's something wonderfully comforting about pelmeni. After pouring the little dumplings into boiling water, you simply wait until they rise to the surface. Dress them with sour cream and dill. Cracked pepper. The meat juices pop in the mouth and the sour cream is a sauce onto itself.
Borscht is wonderful. I've only had it at restaurants where it is a special thing. I feel a special kinship with the soup if only because it begins with cooking onions and celery in butter. Only recently I've realized that is the comforting food smell of my childhood. Browning celery and butter. Borscht involves beets, can have carrots and potatoes too. And it's ready in about an hour with no fuss. A soup after my heart.
It's been an eventful couple weeks, full of book festivals and work deadlines. There was the LA Times Festival of Books, which I like to attend every year, as well as Yallwest.
Yallwest this year was special, mainly because a group of writers that I'm a part of had arranged a meetup at the festival. I have met Samantha Chaffin in person, but never Kristin Yuki or Lydia Albano. Welcome to 2018, where it's not a big deal to meet people who only know online. My security measure was that if Lydia had turned out to be a beer-bellied ax-murderer, Samantha would have found out first. Anyway, Lydia turned out to be a lovely person and Kristin too, so we did all the things one does at book festivals.
It was interesting also because the website that subsumed and erased Figment, where we all got our online start, was at Yallwest. Without coordinating, some of us came with our Figment totes won from contests years ago. It was a miniature protest.
I refused to do any signings, except to press Lydia's book, Finding You, into her hands and insist that she sign it. I essentially wandered from panel-to-panel depending on who I was with and what they wanted to see. I ended up at panels on comics, LGBT, a keynote highjacked by a moderator, strolling through the ARC and giveaway tents but needing nothing. I got to talk and listen. I stumbled across a girl I met on a program in Japan years ago, and we re-connected over Yuzuru Hanyu and stories. Having a new job.
This was the first year I did not attend a panel on agents or getting published. Lydia and I walked up to that panel, but the room was full. It was a beautiful day with a Santa Monica sky so blue and cloud-streaked that it could have been the walls of a baby's room. It was warm. We shrugged and walked away.
Oh, fuck that. Like I need some to tell me to personalize a cover letter for the millionth time. Or look me in the eyes and tell me, a stranger, that my ideas matter.
We got grilled cheese sandwiches and crispy tater tots, and we ate in the shade. It's tradition.
We're all getting older, of course. I remember those Figment days when I came home from classes and banged out stories like I would never have another idea. Nowadays, I am comfortable with the idea that I'll always have ideas, but I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the reality that no one particularly cares. On some days, maybe most days, I'm comfortable with it.
Anyway, there was the LA Times Festival of Books too, which is a much more chill affair for me despite being spread over a whole weekend. I enjoyed just browsing the booths and books for sale. A good friend is working on an illustrated children's book, so we read and flipped through tons of picture books in the name of research.
In my usual fashion, I did not properly plan the book festival. But in a stroke of luck, I did stumble across the signing for Diana Galbaldon, author of the Outlander series. It was an epic signing line, and I was in it for two hours. We, the people of the signing line, didn't know each other, but we knew the books, and we clustered in shady patches, waiting as the line inched forward.
She was nice. She must have been tired.
I ate pitas stuffed with meat and grape leaves stuffed with rice, and it was a pretty nice weekend.
Thinking about all this makes me ready to keep working. We'll see how it all comes out.