Author Archives: Laurel Leigh

About Laurel Leigh

Laurel Leigh, M.F.A., is a writer, teacher, and editor and freelances internationally. She is a co-founder of Dogpatch Writers Collective and author of the blog Dear Writers. She also loves looking at everyone else's gravatars. www.LaurelLeighWriter.com www.DogpatchWritersCollective.com http://DearWriters.com

It’s Simply Ramen Time

Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn

Monday: Teriyaki Beef-Wrapped Asparagus Ramen • Tuesday: Kabocha Ramen made with nutty winter squash and topped with mushrooms and arugula for a flavorful veges dish • Wednesday:  a trip to the sea with Southern Crawfish Ramen • Thursday: time to turn up the heat with spicy Chorizo Miso Ramen • Friday: Cheese Ramen, because cheese!

I consider cookbooks to be some of the most artistic books produced that also have a practical purpose. It’s terrific fun for me when I’m asked to review a cookbook. This week I’ve been having delicious fun with recipes from Amy Kimoto-Kahn’s debut cookbook SIMPLY RAMEN (Race Point Publishing 2016).

Cookbook author and blogger Amy Kimoto-Kahn

Cookbook author and blogger Amy Kimoto-Kahn

A cookbook that expertly focuses on one type of food—in this case, ramen—takes the home cook on a unique culinary journey. I often like such cookbooks because rather than being told to buy a bunch of ingredients to make one dish that I might cook once in a blue moon, I can learn how to prepare a type of food I like in lots of different ways. Being already acquainted with the originality and flair that Amy brings to a Japanese-American style of cooking, I was excited to learn that she was writing a ramen-centric cookbook.

I unabashedly confess to enjoying those ten-for-a-buck, salt-loaded packs of ramen I regularly bought as a college kid on a budget. Imagine my delight when I opened Amy’s beautifully written book and encountered the real deal: accessible ramen recipes, using healthful ingredients, that make it a pleasure to cook at home and feel better about what I’m eating or serving to family and friends. As a yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese-American), Amy merges contemporary and traditional foods and home cooking techniques and shows you how to make tasty ramen dishes prepared dozens of ways—from chicken to seafood, to spicy, to vegetable, to cold, to traditional recipes she learned in Japan.

She includes easy-to-learn recipes for soup bases and noodles that can be made ahead, dozens of flavorful toppings, and a bonus chapter of yummy sides, including tofu, rice, and even a Japanese rice cracker snack. Plus a ramen-yas tour of Tokyo at the end of the book offers a glimpse into the atmosphere and menu specialties of Japanese ramen shops. I’d tell you more, but it’s time to eat, and you can bet what’s for dinner. Here’s food for every night of the week and twice on Saturday! Simply Ramen is simply irresistible.

Amy Kimoto-Kahn is the creator of the website easypeasyjapanesey.com, which offers recipes, cooking tips, and stories. I can’t wait to see what she cooks up next!

XO Laurel Leigh

 

 

 

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Natalia & Sarah’s Unauthorized Adventure: a.k.a. The Quest for the Elusive Allegra Salamander

We at Dogpatch Writers Collective are dismayed to report an unprecedented hack-in, resulting in the following completely unauthorized post. If anyone catches sight of these two miscreants, please notify us immediately. It’s way past curfew and at least one of them didn’t finish her social studies homework.

 

Natalia and Sarah on wall

Security footage of the two miscreants still at large.

 

We also sincerely apologize to Mr. Allegra over at heylookawriterfellow for any feelings of undue peer pressure or actual guilt this post causes. Please be assured that it was not AT ALL pre-authorized by DWC management, although it does have us ROFL.

 

THE HACK IN.

NATALIA: Sssshhhh, we have to be really quiet so we don’t get caught by the SITE ADMINISTRATOR.

SARAH: I’m not afraid of some dumb ol’ SITE ADMINISTRATOR. What’s a SITE ADMINISTRATOR?

N: Not what, but who, and in this case it’s our Aunt Laurel.

S: The Aunt Laurel who is shamelessly exploiting our kid cuteness and personas in this post, albeit for a very worthy event designed to encourage children of all ages to write and read poety?

N: Yep.

S: Does Mom know about this?

N: Who do you think gave Aunt Laurel ridiculously adorable photos of us to unabashedly exploit in support of SpeakEasy 16, a unique reading series produced in Whatcom County, Washington? This particular event on April 12, 2015, at 2 p.m. will feature young poets ages 5 to 16 reading their original poems for an audience of children and adults who will gather at the gorgeous Mount Baker Theatre to celebrate these young poets.

S: Cool.

speakeasy-16-othermind

THE UNFINISHED POEM.

N: Look, here’s the poem Aunt Laurel is writing for SpeakEasy 16.

The salamander went out last night.

As usual, it ended in a back-room fight.

S: She has no conception at all of what is age appropriate.

N: What do you expect from a prose writer whose characters enjoy a tenuous existence at best on the gritty fringes of mainstream society and are frequently undone by their inherent flaws?

S: She might do a much better job at this venture outside of her tawdry writing comfort zone into the wonderful world of children’s poetry if aided by an appropriately delightful and original doodle of a salamander, such as one that only that heylookawriterfellow could draw.

Mike Allegra, a.k.a. heylookawriterfellow: Will the famous children’s book author wield his doodling prowess to help the children of Whatcom County WA write poetry? We’re not even sure he’s ever going to read this post, but it could happen.

N: The right illustration fully brings the text to life and allows a poem to speak to its audience on multiple levels.

S: Should Aunt Laurel be forced to resort to stock art, the overall effect would clearly be diminished and lack artistic authenticity.

N: We better do something so our peers in Whatcom County aren’t subjected to an age-inappropriate and potentially emotionally scarring disaster of a poem. Continue reading

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Through a Distant Lens: Travel Poems

Hello from the Dogpatch!

My friend and mentor Dr. Alex Kuo (author of My Private China and the forthcoming shanghai.shanghai.shanghai) pointed me toward this poetry collection, and I’m so glad he did! Through a Distant Lens is one of those indie titles that launches with modest fanfare yet quietly and gracefully along the way promises to pick up more and more readers—this reader one of them—for its relatable, artful yet unpretentious poetry. Beautifully curated and arrayed, this assortment of travel poems is further enhanced by a sprinkling of gorgeous photography.

 

Through a Distant Lens

 

An invitation to “Depart” guides one into this eclectic collection of poetical musings, each piece navigating around the theme of travel, and with each of the four main sections prefaced by a striking black-and-white photograph evocative of the chapter’s overarching theme: A Buddhist Temple in the Himalayas opens the section entitled “Continental Drift; “Borders Less Defined,” the third of the quartet, is coupled with an approach view of Kells Priory in Ireland.

The book’s editor and publisher is Sheryl Clough, herself a well-published poet and essayist and founder of the Whidbey Island, Washington–based Write Wing Publishing. For this endeavor, Clough gathered the work of forty-six poets—the myriad voices offering singular definitions and experiences of journeys, from a memory of a boat trip on wind-blown Hawaiian waters to scatter the ashes of one’s brother to the hilarity of trying to maneuver the simple task of doing laundry in Dublin, Ireland. The layout of the book is accessible, letting the reader plot a straight course from cover to cover or simply thumb through and meander over land, on water, through the air and through time—en route finding beauty, surprises, angst, challenges, pain, and even joy in pain as in Sheila Nickerson’s “On Transplanting the Poppies,” commemorating both loss and gain of life.

Poet and Editor Sheryl Clough

Poet and Editor Sheryl Clough

“Funny how your mind takes you somewhere else,” Ann Curran’s “There, Not Here” [p. 5] comments at the opening, coaxing the reader to come willingly aboard this vessel of poem-stories to be carried away. The chapter “Continental Drift” drops the reader at India’s majestic Taj Mahal on one page, in the heart of an ancient Chinese dynasty on the next, then has one gazing off the Cape of Good Hope beholding a conspiring of life off the rocky headland. The poems filling this section gleefully dance among the continents, each most decidedly to its own tune while not only moving from place to place but between styles and perspectives. Diane Stone’s “Last Night’s Chicken Curry” [p. 14] delivers a vision of Nepal, distant and landlocked but easily reachable via the pleasing flavors and aromas of the recipe contained within this poem. Whereas Debra Marquart’s “Wild Thyme” [p. 24] is laugh-out-loud funny depicting the less-adventurous tourist compensating alongside her fellow intrepid explorers.

“In my rearview mirror Dallas fades. . . . Phoenix, where I am bound, materializes – / less like Brigadoon from Scottish mists, / than Petra carved from red sand” opines Ann Howells in “Moving On” [p. 28], the poem that opens the second main section, aptly christened “Snapshots from the Road.” Like “Odysseans, drunk on bliss,” to cull a line from Teddy Norris’s “Barging in Burgundy” [p. 43], the poems in this chapter invite the reader into a panoply of images and memories taken from the road. One encounters Marianne Patty’s touching image of “Our Lady of the Street” climbing “up the stairs of her broken world” [p. 29], jettisons back in time with Lois Parker Edstrom’s “Yellowstone Park, 1948” [p. 30], and then meets Gail Denham, who offers up a mix of memories married to that (in)famous war:

 

We had tea and succulent pastries at Betty’s

Café in York, a refuge for WWII airmen, where

they came to dance and forget war for an evening.

[“Treasured Journeys, A Memory Jumble, ” p. 38] Continue reading

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Leave No Character Behind

You know that thing about not putting characters by themselves too often because then it’s harder to have an antag in that protag v. antag equation?

Yeah, that’s not what this is really about, but I was thinking about how people always say that. Don’t put that character in that room by themself unless there’s a Bengal tiger in there for them to tame. That would be cool, having a friend who’s a Bengal tiger, but in the wild, where it could run free and maybe bring you a present of a fish now and then since there probably isn’t a Safeway.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThen there’s that thing about wanting to know more about the mother, or knowing too much about the mother. If it’s my mother, then god love her, you would have a dilemma, or I would have the dilemma, not to project this onto you. The point is that you could talk to her for a while and you’d know a lot about her but you wouldn’t really know anything about her. Interesting to try to capture that on the page. That’s also not really what this is about.

MeOr that one about how good fiction should read like it’s true. That’s always been a harder one for me to get my head around. I can be gullible, but I knew that Lilliput was a made-up place. And Tom and Becky in the cave? Come on! But there are those stories where we think, yeah, that could be true. I never related that question of the reader wondering about true-ness or lie-ness to my own work so much until I recited part of a story I wrote at an open mic. The story’s about this kid who’s trying to earn money to visit her dead mother’s grave site. She’s afraid of this mysterious guy in town, and she can bake. I know, good luck with that.

Anyway, at this open mic, my recitation went well, and despite being slightly older than my character, I successfully projected eleven-ish and people were touched. Afterward, this woman said how much she liked the story, and that she was from Minnesota and familiar with the setting. Cool. Then she asked if the story was true.

“Oh, no,” I said. “It’s made up.”

Her face fell. If I was writing this into a story, I’d write it that way without embellishment: Her face fell. She looked seriously disappointed, like she wanted to take back everything good she said about the story. Continue reading

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Living in the Great State of Lynch

There’s a conversation that’s been heard a lot over the years in these parts—that being upper Western Washington, near the Canadian border:

“Did you like Border Songs or The Highest Tide best?”

Note that there are built-in assumptions hard-wired into the DNA of any denizen of this rainy realm:

  • The listener has read both books by Jim Lynch.
  • The listener absolutely has an opinion.
  • If the listener agrees with the asker, both will nod smugly at their mutual rightness.
  • If the listener disagrees with the asker, it will be even more fun to argue the merits of each story, just like Norm and the professor hollering at each other across the ditch.

Truth Like the SunSince the publication of Jim’s third novel—yep, we call him “Jim,” because we feel like he is our author, in the sense that we live spittin’ distance from Border Songs’ setting on the Washington-Canadian border—the conversation widened to “Did you read/like/love Truth Like the Sun yet?” (There’s an awesome interview of Jim atop the Space Needle in Seattle.)

Again, some built-in assumptions:

  • The listener, like everyone around here, preordered book three and started reading it standing at the mailbox.
  • That Miles, Brandon, and Roger should probably have monuments built in the center of town (or the center of each town; arguably Roger does).
  • That having to choose a favorite among the books might be like admitting to loving one son/daughter more than his/her brothers/sisters—completely inappropriate yet sometimes done in secret.

Occasionally, some unfortunate soul admits in the barest of whispers to not having read one of the trio, or, god simply forbid, any of them. Far less often, someone blurts out awkwardly that they haven’t actually heard of Western Washington’s equivalent of a duke, at which point we refrain from scolding them outright because our mother taught us to be polite, but someone won’t be able to resist saying something like, “Were you kept underneath the stairs until recently, like those people in that creepy Wes Craven movie?”

Setting foot inside these borders—above or below the “ditch”—and remaining uneducated about the life and times of Brandon Vanderkool or Mr. Seattle is akin to living in San Francisco and never having been to MoMo’s. Some things just can’t and shouldn’t be forgiven. Picking up on the below stairs theme, and to help break any awkward silence, someone will then say that Jim Lynch has been known to write in his basement, at which everyone will nod knowingly, regardless of whether they knew that or believed it, but it just seems right. That will lead to fragments of knowledge and/or myth people presume to know:

  • His agent sold The Highest Tide when it was only half-written.
  • He wrote two other novels that he never bothered to publish; how cool would it be to read those, we say, reverently.
  • His next book (Before the Wind) involves sailing.
  • Oh yeah, he sails a lot, we say, as if we know exactly how much a lot is, but we know it’s enough that it’s gonna turn out to be another killer story.
  • (Read more about Jim on his website.)

Border Songs birdsAt any point, someone will inevitably yell, “Nineteen!” sending us all into peals of laughter, and god help the poor soul who doesn’t know and earns more pitying glances. There are inevitably a few showoffs in the party, who try to impress everyone by comparing Tom Robbins and Jim Lynch stylistically—well, we could compare snowflakes, too. It’s at least fair to say that both gentlemen dwell in the Pacific Northwest and have their own cult followings. Nonetheless, the comparisons often make for an extremely fun detour that can deteriorate to a lot of creative thumb waving and comparing to see who has the longest thumb—and there are also some overachievers who can name or have been to every locale used in the stories, sort of like this one woman I used to work with at the mental health center in Spokane who was an encyclopedia of Days of Our Lives and who could fill us all in on the lineage of relationships and feuds for the past decades of the show. This would occur during lunch in the quiet room, where we brought our lunch to eat and watched Days of Our Lives, and you guys don’t even begin to start laughing, because there were plenty of guys in that room who cared deeply about Bo and Hope.

“Speaking of which, do you think you know who and you know who will make it?” someone might ask.

The after story of Lynch’s characters is something we care about deeply. In a place where educated folks drop their g’s because they do, and socks and sandals make a weird kind of sense in the climate (having moved here from the SF Bay Area, I confidently double-dog dare you to resist more than three seasons), the zany ensemble of Lynch’s gives voice to the sort of experiences and issues that characterize us near-the-border dwellers and our frenemies to the north. Continue reading

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Guilty until Proven Innocent

anthony inmate pic

Anthony’s mugshot from 2006

My essay titled WE SHOULD DO SOMETHING was just published in the July 2014 issue of The Sun.

It’s about my nephew, Anthony Shaw, who was arrested and charged with the murder of his girlfriend’s two-year-old son.

This is a story about guilt and innocence and trying to live with the difference.

Some readers have asked me if this is a true story.

It is.

Read an excerpt or subscribe to The Sun.

 

The Sun July 2014 Issue 463

The Sun
July 2014
Issue 463

 

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Coen-Esque, You Betcha!

“A little less Fargo and a little more Raising Arizona,” an editor wrote to me once about a story in which I’d killed off one of the characters.

The old church I used as a model for the "old Lutheran Church" in the story "Dearest" was torn down long ago. This is the Catholic Church in Bruneau I grew up attending, although I also went to Sunday School at the Protestant Church up the street, since they had way better music and cookies.

The old church I used as a model for the “old Lutheran Church” in the story “Dearest” was torn down long ago. This is the Catholic Church in Bruneau, Idaho, I grew up attending, although I also went to Sunday School at the Protestant Church up the street, since they had way better music and cookies. It was fun to conceive this story in Bruneau and then pick it up and move it to Moorhead, Minnesota. I moved it back and forth a couple times and finally decided that Moorhead in Clay County worked the best for the story purpose.

First the editor buttered me up by saying that my story reminded him a bit of the Coen Brothers.

I was ready to put on hot pink lipstick just at the thought of my work reminding anyone of those guys, whose work I highly admire.

The film analogy was an especially apt one in this case, where I’d veered the story in too dark a direction for its overall tone. That comment stuck with me and has been a reminder of my tendency to write dark endings, whether or not they’re the right one for the story. The dead character was brought back to life in the aforementioned story, and the story was better for it.

But I keep having to learn the lesson over and over again with each new story. Recently, the Dogpatch reviewed a story of mine, which is due out this month in Clover: A Literary Rag, the gorgeous letterpress magazine published by the Independent Writers’ Studio.

In the small town in which I grew up, there was a guy we kids were afraid of for no justifiable reason I’ve ever known. My friend Cynda and I would ride our bikes really fast past his house on the way to school. That became the seed of the story “Dearest,” which started as my way to understand why we kids needed a monster to be afraid of, and why it was also fun to be afraid.

The Bruneau Canal in Idaho, where I originally imagined the character in the story would walk. I swapped it for the Red River that separates North Dakota and Minnesota, as a more believable place for the character to lose her money in the wind.

The Bruneau Canal in Idaho, where I originally imagined the character in the story “Dearest” would walk singing a tune about two cowboys who meet the devil. I swapped it for the Red River that separates North Dakota and Minnesota, as a more believable place for the character to lose something she couldn’t retrieve by jumping into the water. It was hard to lose the Bruneau Canal, since I grew up playing alongside it and swimming in it, but the expanse of water needed to be wider and faster moving for the scene to work.

Continue reading

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