Eleanor Sullo

Eleanor Sullo
So it's 104 in the shade and you want me to smile?

Sunday, May 20, 2012


When we first moved to the country and had enough room in our garden, we decided to plant an asparagus patch. It tasted great, and after the first year, there was little work involved. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into—hours of digging deep into our garden soil, mud and muck all over our clothes, and necessary acrobatics to finish the job.

While the thirty foot patch fed us and our extended family for twenty years, from my list below you’ll get an idea of our asparagus adventure!


50 Great Things to Do with Asparagus

1-admire it (in seed catalogues)
2-research how to prepare, plant and grow it
3-taste it
4-select a variety
5-buy it
6-dig and prepare the ground for it
7-dig deeper
8-add spiritual note to digging: “Best place to find God is a garden—you can dig for Him there.” GBShaw
9-dig deeper
10-soak the roots
11-make mounds in bottom of trench
12-plant the roots on them
13-cover them up with tons of soil
14-water them
15-wait for three years—or did it just seem that long?
16-pick them
17-pick out recipes
18-roast ‘em
19-blanche ‘em
20-admire them
21-steam them
22-saute them
23-grill them
24 make sandwiches of them
25-to clean, snap off tough bottoms of spears, rinse under cool water and peel off lower scales
26-freeze them
27-make designs with them on potato salad
28-try any of the next ten recipes
29-Spread trimmed white bread with butter on both sides, lay on 4 half spears, piece of ham, dab
     of mustard, roll up and lay in flat casserole—cook 15 minutes until lightly browned
30-Brush cleaned spears with olive oil and roast in 400o oven 10-15 minutes. Drizzle with lemon  
31-Brush spears with olive oil and grill on outdoor grill until lightly browned. Serve with
32-Chop raw, cleaned asparagus into a mixed tossed salad
33-Steam until barely fork tender; serve with blender Hollandaise
34-Steam, trim to 3 inch lengths. Toss with buttered crumbs and angel hair pasta
35-Blanch 2 inch pieces briefly, then toss with crumbled, cooked bacon and blue cheese over
      baked potato halves
36-Roll blanched pieces into flounder filets, with sautéed shallot and garlic mixture and jack
     cheese—then bake for 20 minutes
37-Boil I lb. in cup chicken broth, cool and whiz in blender.For soup add light or heavy cream,
38-Cook in any way shape or form with chicken—always goes great
39-give them away
40-burn the ferns next spring
41-then feed them
42 hunt for new ones
43 admire them
44 take pictures of them
45 start picking them again
46 smoke them
47 cook them for breakfast-blanched and chopped into an omelet with soft cheese
48 cook them for lunch, using leftover spears in your grilled cheese sandwiches
49 cook them for dinner with real Hollandaise
50 thank God for them

Friday, March 30, 2012


When I talk about editing I mean self-editing. The other kind, where smart people get an opportunity to hash over our words, phrases, sentences, grammar, syntax, chapters and big, whole messy books and get paid for it, goes without saying. It's a gift and a given. But the more we polish up our writing before it goes off to the poor overworked, trying-to-be-kind hard working editor, the happier we make her, and ourselves. Who wants to start practically from scratch after another human being has been witness to our mental chaos??
I’ve been fortunate to have some extremely talented and kind editors from several different publishers, and I’ve learned from them. So much so, I can now struggle through lots of self-editing before making a fool of myself on the up-and-down route to being published.
            I think of editing as three basic steps, such as the steps needed when  polishing a car, the family heirloom silver, or grandma’s hand-me-down buffet. If those metaphors are too antiquated for these modern times, think of it as applying facial cream or a special hair tonic you’ve needed for a long time and have finally gotten around to.
            Step One—Apply the gobs of polish. For me, this means reading through the entire manuscript—short story, novel, non-fiction piece or whatever-- and seeing if your narrative makes sense. (You don’t want gobs of unclear action or dialogue or whatever to impede progress as others read your masterpiece.) Wherever it doesn’t make sense, highlight the offending lines on your paper copy or add a colorful bit of highlighted underlining from your “Inert” tab on your computer screen, and keep reading on.
            When you’ve gone back and “fixed” those blobby elements with some basic clean-up, e.g., making the ends of your sentences the important or dramatic parts of the sentence, or being sure to leave a hook at the bottom of the page, the chapter, and wherever else it will keep people reading. Make sure to read over these corrections, including the previous paragraphs leading up to them, and the following paragraphs as well.
            Step Two—Smooth on the polish so it covers the whole item, i.e., the manuscript being edited. This is your basic, almost-everybody-needs-it kind of editing. Here’s where you replace your lazy verbs with stronger ones, delete most of your adverbs, minimize your adjectives but use plenty of sensory descriptors, especially hearing, smelling, taste, touch. I get so involved in my story sometimes I mistakenly assume the reader can picture the taste and feel of that crunchy apple without me mentioning it. Or see the hero’s cute but craggy profile, or smell the stink of a poor, half-abandoned neighborhood on a hot summer’s day.
            Step Three—Now that the overall polish is covering the whole work, it’s time to check the details, as you take a clean buffing cloth in hand, and start to shine that baby, while you check: your spelling and grammar, an easy thing to do if you’re using a computer; capitalizing uniformly; being doubly sure you’ve used the correct accent marks over any foreign words; calling your characters by the correct names—(I once changed Gerard’s name to Claude halfway through a novel and was shocked to find the error when I edited); check your timeline, in the case of fiction, and your research facts, in every case.. For a final touch of spit and polish, check for typos, enlisting a loyal but hard-hearted friend to do the job for you.
            Think you’re done? Is your manuscript shining now? Does it follow the guidelines spelled out by your publisher? Good. Give it a few days rest if deadlines allow, then go back for a final buff—and watch that writing sparkle!

Next Friday: Writing with Fork--Some Travel Dreams

Friday, March 9, 2012

HOW TO EAT IN ITALY--Writing with Forks

            A few years back, when a big anniversary faced us, my mojo and I knew a fancy pants party in a sleek and shiny commercial venue was not for us. Instead, we rented a villa (fancy word for a house with more than one bathroom!) on a beautiful hilltop in Umbria, Italy and invited the gang to come along, including our entire immediate family, our children, teen-aged grandchildren and a few of their significant others.
            We couldn’t afford to take all fifteen of us to supper every night, though, and we sure weren’t prepared to cook for the gang like we sometimes did on Sundays back home. How would we handle the food angle? Well, those Sunday dinners gave us the clue: here at home our son and his wife, our daughter and her husband, and we ourselves take turns each Sunday to open up the tables and let the plain and fancy food rip. Why not do the same thing overseas, giving every generation a chance to get in on the challenge by providing one nightly meal?
            Each couple picked a day and planned their menus, and every young person cooked, too, sometimes joining up with a cousin or a significant other on their chosen day. The menus came together beautifully: one couple made a rich, fragrant minestrone soup with the trimmings, including wine, another made lasagna, another a roast, potatoes and salad, and another, perhaps feeling a little homesick, hotdogs and hamburgers on the outdoor grill around the swimming pool.
On and on went the variety, and the excellent local meats, produce and pastas that went into it, and we were well-fed for weeks. Only once or twice did we pool our money and hire a local catering Grandma to come in and cook us a typically Umbrian meal that couldn’t be beat. Once we all dined out in a restaurant together. Overall, we couldn’t have asked for better or more delicious or more varied food.
And oh, yes, there was always dessert—homemade, bought, prepared by others—whatever, including tiramisu, Italian cookies, and gelato by the ton. Not to mention the infamously scrumptious bread, eg., asiago stuffed loaves I can still taste, from a nearby little known bakery we discovered by luck. And wine pumped into our own gallons at the local wineries. Bravissimo!
Planning a trip with a group, or an extended family? Try our take-a-turn-cooking method to relieve stress, share the wealth, and have memories to talk about from here to home again. Everything tastes better when someone else cooks. And handles the clean-up. And no one ever gets chopped.
Try it; you’ll like it.

Next Friday: Editing, Writing's Super-Duper Polish

Friday, March 2, 2012


Anne Burrell is one Food Channel Chef who makes me laugh while teaching me new techniques and flavor blends. So when I was planning the menu for over thirty guests for a party at my house, I checked out Anne’s new cookbook Cook like a Rock Star, from the library. I experimented with a couple of recipes of her “piccolini,” snacks or pre-appetizer-appetizers,  knew I had found just what I needed, and ordered the cookbook from Amazon.com.
These yummy sounding, easy recipes provided several dishes which would place the burden for serving on the eaters, and not so much on me—a winning quality to be sure. Fussy appetizers have never been my forté and even Anne’s fussiest ones could easily be adapted to bulk, where the eaters could put on the finishing touches, such as spreading the goat cheese and pepperonata on the crisped bruschetta.
A total of five recipes did me well when planning, and some of them could be partly prepared in the days leading up to the party, then assembled on the final afternoon. Here’s what we made: Said goat cheese spread on a large bowl, with a good sized batch of sautéed peppers, onions, herbs and spices mounded in the middle, and French bread toasts around the edges; olives, first marinated in olive oil,, spices and herbs then heated to the bubbling HOT stage and served with warnings; mortadella processed into a paté
and again surrounded with toasts; a corn-bacon-and chili mixture cooked up quickly and laid in a bowl with heated tortilla halves and bread chunks, and, the one that did require some individual attention, devilled eggs, seasoned with a bit of truffle oil, mayo and half of a chopped (canned) black truffle. (The local favorite.)
There were a few other treats at my party but Anne Burrell’s creations were easy to cook up while still drawing plenty of ooh’s and aah’s. This adventure from Cook like a Rock Star  reminded me that: a cook is only as good as her favorite recipes—and Anne’s are uncategorically among mine now, for sure.
If you’re a cookbook lover with a partiality for Italian food, try this book and its delights, and treat your family and friends!

Next week: Another “fork” presentation, about how to eat in Italy!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

More about The Writer’s Vortex and the Writer’s Craft

In analyzing the writing of Louise May Alcott, and from her own experience as a novelist, biographist and memoirist, Susan Cheever writes that:
“Writing is a craft like anything else. Much of it can be taught; practicing writing makes writing better. There are rules for good writing and ways of reading that foster good writing.”
Those of us who write, or try to will most likely resonate with Cheever’s words. Rules for good writing pop into our minds, starting with the basics: effective vocabulary; acceptable grammar, eg., “He doesn’t listen well,” not “He don’t listen well” (except as appropriate dialogue);  good rhetoric, such as putting the most important, flashiest word or words at the end of a sentence, not the beginning (try it); strong verbs and fewer adverbs and adjectives make for stronger narrative; the effective use of hooks (grabbing the reader at the end of chapters, pages, paragraphs) and twenty-five other techniques we try to improve on. Knowing our characters, and our own voices, laying out a sharp plot with timely pacing, and creating effective settings and moods go without saying into our writers’ grab bag of tricks and necessities.
But what Cheever goes on to say in the paragraph started above adds an important kick to today’s commentary:
            “At heart, though, there is a mystery to what brings sparkle and power to something as simple as a line of words on a page. Writers often write their best when they are feeling their worst. Sometimes subjects they would rather avoid elicit their finest prose. Writers rarely know what alchemy of time, place and mood will find their truest voice. If they write every day, it’s because they do not know which days are the ones that count. Louise May Alcott was no exception.”
Alcott didn’t write what might be considered her best book, the blockbuster of its time, “Little Women,” until she was in her mid-thirties. Yet it was a book she fought putting her hand to, for years.
Remember to read seriously if you seriously want to write and write well. You could do worse than starting with “Louise May Alcott: A Personal Biography.”

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Writer's Vortex

In her admirable biography of Louisa May Alcott, Susan Cheever, daughter of renowned author John Cheever, and herself an author of multiple and successful memoirs, biographies and novels, talks about the writer’s craft, and the writer’s source of great fiction—two different things. Her discussion of the writer’s trance, or vortex, seems to a writer like me to have the touch of genius in it, and I for one will verify its presence and its power in the writer’s life.

All writing, she says, is an act of obsession, but fiction writing requires a higher level of intensity. To write fiction, a writer must let the subconscious bubble up into full view and then tame and shape the images into some kind of coherent theme. The descent into the subconscious can be terrifying and time consuming

For a novelist, the real world falls away and the world of the novel takes on a vividness and fascination hat can’t be matched by people or happenings in the pale, ordinary, slow-moving world. The characters of the imagination seem to have a mysterious claim on the writer’s time and attention. In this kind of trance (or vortex)” Cheever writes, “ it is extremely hard to perform as a good wife, (husband), daughter, (son), or mother (or father).(Parentheses mine).

If you’re a writer, you have most likely experienced this “claim on…(your) time and attention” that Cheever calls, in many places in the biography, the writer’s vortex.
How do you deal with your vortex? Are you there today? Or did you pass it up to shop,
play in Facebook, or write in your blog or just plain be?

Responses welcome.

More on the Vortex and the Writer’s Craft next Friday on my blog..

Friday, February 3, 2012


Being in Florida on vacation, and camping out right next to the Inter Coastal Waterway, makes me drool for fish and seafood of every kind. Some sea-borne meals I’ve had in the last few weeks have been both different (for a Northerner like me) and delicious. While I don’t have specific recipes, I do have the general make-it-yourself ideas I’d like to share.
First is Branzino, a sea bass-type Mediterranean fish I’ve heard about on the Food Network many times but never had access to in New England. Branzino is generally smaller than Chilean sea bass, and a bit more delicate to the taste. When we found some down here in a favorite Italian market, we bought a whole fish, about two pounds, and had the fishmonger take off the head.
We rinsed the fish, salt and peppered the inside and lined it with lemon slices and a pinch of chopped garlic and fresh thyme, then closed it up. We heated the outdoor grill, then prepared the outside of the fish with more salt and pepper and brushed it with olive oil. Since cooking pans are in short supply in our home away from home, I doubled a large sheet of aluminum foil, crimping up the edges all around, dotted the bottom with a few more drops of olive oil and placed the fish on the foil.
We grilled the fish about 8-9 minutes, then gingerly turned it over to get the other side as crispy as the first side. After 3-4 minutes the fish seemed done. Linguine with pesto made a great side dish, and the reviews were in the rave category. I’ve begun to realize that whole fish keeps its flavor and moistness better than filets, and I’m keeping on that path for now. The two of us knocked off the entire branzino and have been watching the markets to find more before we leave the Sunshine State.
Last night’s dinner at Calypso, one of the top but not fancy “Caribbean” restaurants in our town, rates a positive comment, too. My choice was a good chunk of dolphin fish, a dense, delicious white fish stuffed with a crabmeat dressing perfectly seasoned and baked to perfect doneness. Sometimes baked fish can become dry in the oven, but this one had an unctuous, juicy quality in every bite. If I can get dolphin fish back home, I’ll definitely try making it in my own kitchen. Bluefish most likely would make a good substitute, and maybe Red Snapper, too.
Finally a delectable seafood-pasta dish we enjoyed at le Bistro, one of Gordon Ramsay’s well-known do-overs on the Kitchen Nightmare tv show, deserves mention. First of all, I don’t how this new-French style bistro could have needed improvement when it’s so good as it is. The “Seafood Decadence” dish is unforgettable: a lobster tail, mussels and several huge shrimp composed over a heap of cappelini pasta in a creamy, chopped tomato sauce.
Fortunately, I was served a small soup spoon with my meal, because I needed it to scoop up every drop of that superb sauce. That sauce was in fact my dessert, and I can taste it still, in the recesses of my sensory mind. I’ll try to recreate it at home, but doubt I can compare to the English, French-trained chef back in his miraculous kitchen.
Florida has delighted me in the seafood department this year--good news for a Pisces like me.
Eat your fish, get smarter.

Next Week: Some thoughts on writing and writers, and why we are the way we are.