Chicken Jambalaya

Like any good regional favorite food and/or the beholder monsters of D&D, jambalaya has at least a dozen preparations which are each the one true way, and within those golden standards lie thousands of minor variations. For me, jambalaya is chicken, trinity, tomatoes, rice, and spices. This time I added kidney beans for variety, but I felt a little guilty for straying off course and decided to cook the rice in the pot to add a little authenticity back to the balance. My awesome rice cooker will understand.

The other, more unusual alteration I made to the dish was to pulse the tomatoes in the blender before adding them to the pot. I love the flavor, but I don’t like biting into tomato flesh. I was surprised to find that it really enhanced the texture of the dish, thickening the broth and keeping the rice from swelling too quickly.

My issue with jambalaya made with the rice in the pot that it’s only a brothy dish when it’s just been cooked. In the fridge overnight the rice sucks the moisture out of everything else, like Bunnicula locked in a Whole Foods overnight. The result is pasty rice and dry chicken. I think I’ll apologize to the rice cooker after all.

I’ve cooked so much creole cuisine in the past few years that more than half of my repertoire now begins with celery, bell pepper, and onion. Creole has invaded my chili recipe. So long as I have at least one member of the trinity in my fridge, I’m cursed to restock the others on my next grocery trip. I’m having the hot dogs and buns problem with my trinity. Basically the only way I can run out of all three ingredients together is if the power goes out for a couple days and I have to empty the fridge. Sure, I can use dangling ingredients in other dishes – stuffed bell peppers, chicken soup – but when I finally break out of a creole streak, the family asks for red beans and rice and the whole cycle starts over again. Of course, I love red beans and rice about the same as I love my children, so I guess I can’t complain.

Six days of leftover jambalaya, though? Next time, I’m halving the recipe.

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Daily Word Counts

About seven months ago, I started working through a couple years’ worth of Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing podcast. I started with her NaNoWriMo specials for 2014. It was coming up on November, and I wanted to know what I was in for if I took the plunge. While I didn’t attempt NaNoWriMo – a bout of pneumonia put that right out the window – I’ve spent a lot of time since then thinking about Mur’s firmness on achieving a daily word count, even in the other eleven months of the year.

It wasn’t just the idea that writing daily was important. That’s the baseline advice that every writer gives, to the point that “butt in chair, hands on keyboard” is idiomatic. What caught me was that Mur said that her current goal was 250 words a day, though she would consider 100 words a success if pressed.

250 words seemed ridiculously short. That’s about a single manuscript page and 70-85% of a mass market paperback page. At the time, my writing sessions usually yielded 1500 words at minimum, and in light of many authors I’d read about, that seemed miniscule. Stephen King’s 2000-word daily target was the lowest I’d heard of.

The thing is, I was writing 1500 words or more per session, but I didn’t manage a writing session every day. And sure enough, the days where I didn’t write began to outnumber the days where I did. By the time I started listening to ISBW, my word count averaged to about 250 per day, but it was on a serious downward trend. The quality of my writing was suffering as well. I was beginning to consider giving up altogether.

I challenged myself to try it Mur’s way. I’d write daily and shoot for 250 words. If I could swing it for three weeks, maybe it would become a habit.

What I found was that not only was it habit-forming, it made me a more flexible writer. I discovered that I’m not someone who can plug away at the same thing day after day. I can drill down hard on one project for a while, but then it has to get put aside to ferment while I switch tracks to something else. I keep the number of irons I have in the fire low – three stories at most, plus blogging or journaling – so that I’m not spreading myself too thin.

Writing daily also pushed my word count much higher. 250 words often turns into 1000, sometimes more. I usually end the day wanting to keep writing. Now I’m reorganizing my schedule and environment to make sure I have more space to focus on writing, including on vacations or while visiting family. I’m eager to get to the keyboard these days, whereas before it sometimes felt like homework. That’s not to say it’s always easy or fun, but rather that I feel accomplished and energized by it even when it’s difficult.

I’m less anxious about writing. If I miss a day’s target once in a while, I can forgive myself. I used to feel constant self-imposed pressure and guilt because I wasn’t writing enough, but now I’ve found a bit of chill. Who knows, maybe I’ll find a way to apply that to the rest of my life.

My daily word count has stayed pretty high lately. If I can hold it at 500 words a day for a while, I’ll make that my new floor and see if it pushes me to write even more. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Vertical

Full-mouthed in roaring tumult, wondrous scarp
Recesses and protrusions ‘neath a sheet
Alighting, leaping, to alight again
Cold cataract beneath a pine-rimmed sky
Ten thousand mist-motes swirling in the sun
Abluvion at end of calmer flow
Less fall than ekstasis of ruptured form.