The cutest no-knead bread you've ever seen. If you haven't tried it...well, now you'll want to.

There are many versions of this recipe, but this is my favorite--practical, delicious, and easily accomplished by a four-year-old.

Yes, you read that right.*

I suppose you could call this episode of GK's Kitchen: Are you a better baker than a four-year-old?

Steer your browsers to Steamy Kitchen, and get your bread ready to go down for its nap (yes, nap--hey, you try explaining bread to a small child!): http://steamykitchen.com/168-no-knead-bread-revisited.html

Don't get worried by the start-to-finish times. Most of that time is the bread sitting there while you do something else.

Happily, the bread can nap (and sleep) while you do. 

And yes, the bread really does turn out this wonderfully. Your friends will think you bought it from a bakery.

Would go very well with Nigella's soup, below.

In fact, I think I will make both for my mini dinner party tomorrow.

Thanks, Steamy Kitchen!

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*The lawyers at GK Enterprises do not assume any responsibility for loss or damage to bread or children. We recommend keeping children far away from ovens.

Soup for Writing

I don't know about you, but I like snacks while I write. And I'm always cold, so I like soups in the winter (and spring, and fall, and in overly air conditioned summer, too).

This one was a hit at my house. Note that there are two versions--the Food Network version, and the "I live on a writing budget"/"I like microwaves" version.

This is taken from Nigella's holiday book:

There is also a very powerful recipe for a "poinsettia" drink, which is dangerously delicious.  

There are several versions of the book's recipe online. Here are the closest I found. They involve ingredients like Marsala wine, buttermilk, Roquefort, and other things I do not have in my tiny kitchen.
http://www.eatlikeanactress.com/2011/02/butternut-squash-i-love-you.html 
http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/butternut-and-sweet-potato-soup-66 (oddly, not the closest to the book version)
http://eatlittlebird.com/2011/12/21/roast-pumpkin-sweet-potato-soup/#more-2451

GK version:
One normal-sized butternut squash
One sweet potato (a large one)
One large, sweet yellow onion, chopped
Olive oil or butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 cubes Knorr veggie bouillon (in your soup aisle!)
3.5 cups hot water
1/2 cup Marsala (if you have it) or white cooking wine (I used the $3 kind)
1 cup minus 1 tbs milk
1 tbs vinegar (white)
1/2 to 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese

It looks like this if you have a food stylist.
Step one: Preheat oven to 400. Cut squash into four chunks (half the long way and the wide way), scoop out seeds. Place cut side down on baking sheet. Bake until tender, around 20-30 minutes.

Step two: In the meantime, scrub, poke, and nuke your sweet potato on high for five or six minutes, until it is eating consistency. If a fork goes in easily, you're done. Set aside.

Step three: Also in the meantime, bring the three and a half cups of water to a boil on your stove. Add the bouillon. Cook until it's dissolved. Set this aside, too.

Step four: Brown the onion in olive oil in a large pot.

Step five: When the potato and squash are cooked, scoop out the cooked insides and add to the big pot with the browned onion. Add cinnamon and nutmeg. When everything has had a chance to combine over medium heat (around five minutes), add half to your blender with half of the broth. Blend. Repeat with other half. Return all soup to pan. Add in cooking wine. I used the $3 stuff. It was fine. Stir. Heat, but don't cook.

Step six: Now, to make fake buttermilk! Combine vinegar and milk. Stir. Let sit five minutes. Rinse out your blender, then combine buttermilk and cheese.

Step seven: Eat! Put soup into each bowl, and drizzle with buttermilk and cheese mixture. Et voila! Soup!

You Deserve Nothing

Not you, dear query writer. Not you.

I just finished Alexander Maksik's new novel, You Deserve Nothing, in almost one sitting--in a moral vacuum, I found it a delightful mix of highbrow sentences with lowbrow subject matter (rather like Zoe Heller's What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal--which is, by the way, far better than the movie). In this novel, Paris gives the reader just what the armchair traveler wishes for--cafes, croissants*, idealism, beauty, romance--and existentialism, moral ambiguity, disillusionment, and heartbreak.


I had a vague notion that people had claimed this story was true--after all, it'd be such a neat, fitting scandal, tied up a bow, if it were--so I didn't give it much weight.

And then I read this: How A Teacher’s Alleged Student Affair Became His Acclaimed ‘Novel’.

And now I feel ill.

Did any of you have the same reaction? Did you like the book? Do you believe the rumors? (I have a hard time imagining the real life Marie would make such a thing up--and can only imagine how she feels.)

Is this better than what James Frey did--or worse?  How much of a work needs to change from the original (or real life) version for it to be considered, by the well-researched public, fiction--and to what extent does this need to be provable? Should we assume all first novels are, to some degree, autobiographical? And, if so, when do we assume they're harming others? Should he have taken a pen name--and would that have made it better?

See footnote about croissants in this novel.

This image is taken from Pastry Paris: In Paris, Everything Looks Like Dessert, which is a great gift book for the Francophiles in your life.

Regardless, if I were his agent or his editor (and he hadn't told me, or I hadn't noticed, the fact that he was fired from the same school as the one in the novel), I'd be very upset.

And would be somewhat annoyed with his way of describing the teacher (or, er, himself) as so charming, attractive, doted-upon, brilliant, sophisticated, talented, sexy--even if morally flawed. But that's a minor point.

What do you think?  Have you read the book? Did you like it? And can we enjoy fiction even while knowing that it is, likely, true?

________________________________
* There are at least twelve croissants in this book. I would count, but I'd rather spend my time eating them. Several were filled with chocolate.

January, submitting your book, Agent Yes Mode, surviving air travel, and truffles

Hello, readers and writers! I am back in the office (survived air travel! Foiled gravity yet again!) and have seen one question going around the internet quite a bit.

This doesn't strike me as a safe mode of transportation.

Now. As always, everyone will feel differently. I've seen the opposite advice given.

Once again, you'll see that agents are, in fact, people. We disagree often. And not just about which cookies are best. (I, for one, am partial to chocolate almond, formed into package-shaped cubes with icing ribbons.)

Here's the question:

Should I hold off on sending my query/manuscript--even if it's ready to go in January? I don't want it to get lost in the shuffle of New Year's resolutions.

First of all, I think most of us are resolving to do things like eat less sugar and exercise more--and, even if we decided that getting published is our goal for 2012, that requires a bit more time and prep work (one would hope) than the four weeks of January.

Even NaNo takes a full month, which would place the hopefuls squarely into February--even with a "type the last word, hit Forward to agents" approach.

Shudder.

That said, I have two periods of the year that yield more than the average number of excellent queries and manuscripts:

One is September.
The other is January.

What the two have in common is that they follow a period when it is traditionally a bad idea to send work.

Therefore, the less savvy writers have all sent their work last week and will send some this week. (Or they send their work in August, when most of publishing is very quiet and/or on vacation.) It's a self-selecting group.

So, in late December (and August), I get a lot of:

Dear Sirs, 
My book will sell a gazillion copies and you are a fool if you don't publish it and what's an agent? I think I'll self-publish, but if I have to have an agent, I guess you'll do, I suppose, but really, my book about my cat that kills agents is a bestseller even if...

And, starting the second week of January, I get a lot of:

Dear GK,
I am writing to you because [something that proves research here] with [excellent story idea here, usually described with varied sentence rhythm, a lively voice, and advanced punctuation used correctly]. 

As I've said before, the people who do research are almost always the better writers. Savvy is as savvy does.

Now.

Let's say I get more excellent work in a short period of time than usual.

Let's say that, of the 50 daily queries and the seven or so I normally request, I decided to request an additional seven--14 total. And the seven extras are things that I find myself chattering about to my interns, my boss, my friends, the super, the guy at the corner store, random people on the subway...

This puts me in Yes mode.

I'm more likely to say yes to a work if I've just said yes to another.

Then, in my mind, they start to build. I start to get bouncy with the prospect of all of the wonderful work I'll be reading. It starts to feel like, very possibly, I'll be falling in love with a work soon. The odds seem better, so I'm more hopeful (and probably eat more chocolate, never mind my New Year's resolutions). Because the odds for each work coming in seem higher, it's as if each one comes with a recommendation.

Therefore, January and September are, in my mind, excellent times to send work.

The opposite may be true of other agents--theoretically, more queries could mean less time spent on each, which could mean an "I just want to clear my desk" approach. It could also mean that, with all of the great queries floating around, an agent could have a mental quota--if s/he gets 50 queries a day, s/he will usually request about the same amount--so only the top (perhaps most agents request five or so) will get a Yes, and the top spots will have more competition.

Now, is there a handy pie chart for how many agents (and which ones) fall into each camp?

No. But, as a consolation prize here's a great truffle recipe, perfect for belated holiday parties and for those of you who need a delicious, easy, impressive treat for under $8. Note that they'll take a few hours, start to finish. You can also freeze the ganache to hurry the process along.


http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/chocolate_truffles/

Note that you can substitute the liquor or liqueur of your choice for the vanilla. I've tried Peppermint Schnapps and Bailey's. Pretty much anything you have on hand will do.

And I prefer to, after step three, coat the spheres in tempered melted chocolate (nuke chips 30 seconds, stir, 30 seconds, stir--until melted) before rolling them in cocoa. Helps it stick, and makes a nice shell.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season.

What happens at the Vegas library...

...stays, it would seem, at the Vegas library.

Never mind that it would appear to involve missiles and women from the 1950s. That's some reading room!

It was very warm in the Vegas airport, where this ad resides--but probably not warm enough for these outfits.

I had a two hour layover on my treacherous journey (I did not ford the river; my oxen did not die) west and I did, it would seem, survive. While transfering terminals, going through three times the security as is in the JFK airport ("I would like to request the alternate screening," I said, so surprised by the presence of a body scanning machine I couldn't seem to sound like a human--and so tired from the journey I was not about to play along), I noted several odd things about Vegas:

1) There are videos all over the terminal of middle-aged women--presumably mothers--exclaiming excitedly about how "the women here are just so glamorous!"

2) It's very nearly impossible to find a beverage both diet and caffeine free, but if you ask someone in the Hudson News for help, he will take the time to list every store in the airport that may have one. (We're certainly not in New York anymore!) I eventually found a peach Snapple. Yum.

3) For a city so obsessed with sin, it sure seems to have a strong 1950s theme. One can't help but picture an otherwise well-behaved housewife spending her days drinking and gambling--but still coming home in time to make a perfect pot roast for dinner.

4) Guns! This ad very nearly made me stop in my tracks and ask the nearest person if it was really legal:

In other, probably less violent news, the house smells like pine tree and cookies and, as always, this is the winning recipe. There's been a failed attempt at salted, chocolate caramels (the candy thermometer was, we later found, off by ten degrees--and it has, I noted with some satisfaction, met an untimely death by filling with water in the sink), and later, there will be espresso profiteroles. This is mostly because we found a small coffee shop in a historic windmill--and, on the tables, there were adorable cookbooks. After reading about choux pastry--I'm charmed by the word, and the way that it puffs--well, that seemed a necessary addition.


Mine will probably look nothing like this.
Hope this finds you well, warm, and far away from semi-automatic weaponry.

Happy holidays.

Ryan Gosling Works in Publishing

Just in case you haven't seen it...


Ryan Gosling Works in Publishing is very amusing.

Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses, macarons, flying, and barely passing AP Physics

This, for me, is always a high pressure shopping time of year--not just because of presents (though there's that, too--everyone, this year, is getting a book and a sweet treat, ranging from macarons to the best caramel popcorn on the planet) but also because I know I'll need a book that I am in love with.

Pretty and delicious. Flavors include wonders such as honey lavender, cassis, rose, caramel fleur de sel, creme brulée... 

Why's that? Well. For those of you who, like me, forced your AP Physics teacher to explain how planes work--and because it didn't sound believable, asked again and again--and still remained unconvinced--well. You'll know how I, preparing for a cross-country flight, feel.*

I need an excellent book to take my mind off the seeming impossibility of my safely being 36,000 feet in the air, where even natural creatures of the air (birds, paper airplanes) dare not travel. Strapped to a too-small (and I'm short, so I can only imagine how a normal-sized person feels) seat. Perhaps with small children screaming and kicking. For. Five. Hours.

And I believe I've found it. I'm 96 pages in, but I rather doubt it's going to suddenly drop off in quality.



Enter Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses It has all my guilty reading pleasures wrapped up in one delicious package--vivid food descriptions, lines that spotlight meaningful moments in everyday life, delightfully quirky characters, beautiful settings, snappy dialogue--and an incredibly justified, occasionally violent, and seriously pissed off narrator.

It's difficult to find a book that is at once pretty, furious, effective, and elegant--and, while tackling some very serious subjects, the sort of thing that makes one grin inappropriately on the subway. It's also difficult to make the reader have far more fun than the protagonist--but it seems Ms. Mileti has accomplished just that.

The work feels dishy--like A Reliable Wife (also recommended), it feels, at times, like reading a literary, much more believable episode of Jerry Springer.** In the best way possible. And without the referees, because the protagonist manages an impressive attack on her enemy, which lands her--hilariously, in that "I shouldn't be laughing about this, but I can't help it" way--in anger management classes.

The protagonist is a chef who runs a successful, innovative Italian restaurant in the Village. She's flawed, but in a way that is perfectly understandable--and there are not many furious (and eminently lovable) female protagonists out there, so this is new, impressive terrain. Her business partner and co-owner, her soon-to-be-ex husband, has taken up with the seductive (and infuriating) maître d' just months after the birth of her daughter, Chloe. From a beautiful Italian olive oil supplier with lessons on love and life, to a gay man from her past with a thing for butter rolls, to a very clever divorce lawyer, the cast of characters is varied, enjoyable, believable, and--overall--quite wonderful.

So far.

But I like the first 96 pages so much, I had to tell you.

Hope this finds you well and happy, that your holiday season is pleasant and relatively stress-free, and that all of your flights are smooth.
__________________________________
* Then again, I also managed only a C+. Eh. I still got into college.
** Is that show even still on?

Was Jane Austen murdered?

Goodness, I hope not.

See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/15/jane-austen-death-murder_n_1095160.html?ref=authors


But I'm certainly interested in the new novel on the subject: The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen.

Should any of you feel like killing off famous historical figures in your novels, note that it wasn't until 1836 that human bodies could be tested to see whether they contained arsenic.

Lots of opportunity. Now you just need a motive.

___________________________________
Disclaimer: Just to be clear, GK does not approve of murder, unless it is fictional.

If you had my crazy slushpile, you'd use these disclaimers, too.

Yes, I am judging you on your "here's my manuscript" note.

And, in all fairness, you can totally judge me for not posting in forever. Bad GK.

So.

As a general rule, every line of communication between you and an agent can affect how that agent thinks of you. Last week, I was very much enjoying a manuscript--but then got a check-in with more than three excruciating abuses of the English language (the writer didn't even bother to capitalize his name). I haven't yet returned to that MS. I will--but not until the effects of that note wear off.

So if I get your manuscript with a grudging, feet-dragging, "I hate publishing but I guess I might as well send this" and/or "Here goes nothing" note, you're not going to get bumped to the head of the pile. In fact, your lack of enthusiasm usually translates to a lack of enthusiasm on my part, too.

Other possible outcomes from lackluster notes: I assume you have a huge group of agents clamoring for your work already, and they work in skyscrapers and have already promised you a column ad in the NY Times; you only submitted to me on a whim because my business card says "agent"; you don't actually know who I am.

It's like the pop psychologists say: smiles are contagious (except in New York at rush hour). Enthusiasm is, too.

That said, all of these are better than no note, and/or just putting all of the materials into an email and hitting Send.

So, here we go (and, as always, keep in mind that there are many kinds of agents out there, and some prefer a more stoic response--you'll probably be able to make an educated guess based on their interviews and online presence):

You say potato, I say meh: 
Dear GK,
Here is the manuscript you requested.
Signed,
[Author]


Better:
Dear GK,
Thank you for your interest. Here is the manuscript you requested.
Signed,
[Author]


Best:
Dear GK,
I'm so glad to get your request! Here's my manuscript, with synopsis attached.


I look forward to hearing from you!


All best,
[Author]


Bestest (not a word, but hey, I work in publishing; I'll stretch rules):
Dear GK,
So glad to hear from you. I [something personal that proves you know who I am here].


I look forward to hearing from you!
All best,
[Author]


Now, the six-figure question: where's the line between enthusiasm and sucking up?

I think that usually boils down to two factors: genuine feeling (it's always better to only say things that are unstretched truth, even if it puts you into "best" versus "bestest" territory) and quirkiness. I still remember one of my favorite responses, which involved a happy dance in a grocery store.

And I believe that was more than a year ago.

So, no. You do not have to drive yourself to the grocery store (or, since it's been taken already, the pet store, Chuck E. Cheese's, the movie theatre, or your local amusement park), embarrass yourself in front of strangers (or if, like me, you're from a small town--friends of friends and their mothers), and burn a few great story-earning calories, all in the interest of a really neat "here's my manuscript."

But if you did--and if you put it on YouTube--I'd bake you a gold star cake and send it to you.*

Cake stolen from myrecipes.com.
It looks a little like it's made of cheese, doesn't it? That could be delicious.

Hope this finds you well and enjoying your holiday season.

___________________________________
* First person to do this only. And if you live in the US, leave the video up on YouTube, and let me post it.
** As always, other agents may feel differently