the writing life
What is it that keeps us from writing?
Dinner engagements, e-mails, a kitchenful of food needing preservation, a garden needing weeding, classes, chaplaincy, life.
Writer’s block has always seemed to me an affliction that strikes those trying to write. How can something be an obstacle if you’re not trying to move ahead?
A couple weeks back, a friend checked in on my writing life. “What have you been writing lately?”
Oh, a paper here and there. A sermon last month. A blog post. Not much.
He told me I sounded apologetic.
I told him he sounded reproachful.
I told him I was content with my writing lately. Sure, it’s not much, but I’ve been happy. (Happier, it seems, than I was at this time last year, when the darkness was swallowing me whole.)
It’s true, I haven’t been writing apart from what’s required of me. I’ve been slow-roasting tomatoes, sampling goat cheese and meeting the goats, finishing The Remains of the Day (thanks, Mary!) and starting Refuge, cheering for my brother- and sister-in-law as they kick the Chicago Marathon’s butt, trying to like rutabaga by slathering it in mustard and roasting it, coaxing new fronds out of a fern past its prime, going to bed at a reasonable hour.
And I’ve been content.
But when my friend asked and I sounded apologetic and he told me not to, that he just wanted to encourage me to keep writing, I started to feel conflicted. I had thought I was satisfied, but then I thought maybe I ought to be writing. Maybe I owe it to the world. That’s more or less what my friend said: if I don’t write, the world will be less than it could be.
Well, see now why I was feeling apologetic? Forgive me, world.
I haven’t been blocked from writing; I’ve just not been writing. Even though that’s been okay with me, maybe that right there is the problem. I’ve become comfortable with not writing. I’ve let the part of me that doesn’t want to write absorb the part that does. The part that doesn’t didn’t even put up a fight.
So I’m writing, and registering its effect on my soul: writing this brought delight. Maybe I’ll do it again.
In the meantime—here, world. Go make these delicious stuffed peppers.
If you know me, you’ll know I stick pree-tty closely to recipes. I’m terrible at seasoning things, so if the recipe doesn’t provide adequate seasoning instructions, prepare yourself for a bland meal. But I MADE THIS MYSELF! Please just rejoice with me for a minute. I had made the tomatoes a few nights before, and from there, everything called out to each other and fell together themselves. I’m still bad at seasoning, but slow-roasted tomatoes and olives and roasted garlic are pretty good at it.
lots of tomatoes, but not enough to make sauce-making worth your while
Turn the oven to 200ºF. Cover two baking sheets with foil.
Slice all the tomatoes you have in half and set them, cut side up, on the baking sheets. Drizzle them generously with olive oil and sprinkle with plenty of kosher salt.
Leave them in the oven for 8 to 10 hours or more, checking periodically. I find that smaller tomatoes (romas) are done between 8 and 10 hours, and big heirlooms can take up to 24. You can remove ones that finish earlier and keep the others in.
While you’re at it, cut the top off a bulb of garlic, douse it with olive oil, and wrap it up in foil. Stick that on the corner of a pan. I’ve only done this at high heat (400ºF), but you could try it with the tomatoes to make the most of your oven’s heat.
When the tomatoes have collapsed into themselves and look chewy and dark, let them cool. Then put the whole pan into the freezer. Once they’re frozen, drop them into freezer bags for storage.
1.5 cups quinoa
3 cups liquid (any combination of tomato sauce, vegetable broth, olive brine, water)
1 can green olives, pitted but not stuffed
6 slow-roasted tomato halves (can also use sun-dried tomatoes)
few cloves roasted garlic
good pinch of salt
1-2 cups fontina and parmesan
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Strain the olives and save their brine to cook the quinoa in. Finely dice the tomatoes and throw them, along with the brine and the rest of the cooking liquid, into a pot. Rinse the quinoa, drain, and stir it into the pot. Season with salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down to medium-low and let simmer for 20 or so minutes, until the quinoa is translucent and the liquid is absorbed.
Meanwhile, slice the peppers in half lengthwise (stem to bottom), remove the seeds, and steam or boil for a few minutes, just to make them tender. Place them on a cutting board to cool.
Dice the olives and grate the cheese.
When the quinoa is finished cooking, toss it with the diced olives and squeeze a few cloves of roasted garlic over the top. Stir together and add salt to taste.
Lightly grease a 9×13 pan. Pack each half-pepper with about 1/12 of the mixture and lay them in the pan. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over each pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese has melted and begun to bubble and bronze. Serve immediately.