It is a fact of literary life that journal publication is sometimes delayed. So it is with the soon-to-be-revived journal scheduled to publish one of my essays. Both essay and journal are “forthcoming.”

But look over here — cake! There are certainly ways that baking a cake is like writing an essay: both depend on confidence, practice, chemistry and a little bit of magic. Good cakes and good writing both boast fine flavor, enough lift to avoid being dense but enough substance to avoid being too light. Like a writing an excellent essay, cake baking balances tradition and innovation, experiment with combinations and proportions and ideas, but stay within some general bounds dictated by common sense and physical limits. Both are best layered, and feature some contrast. Also, if it flops or collapses or just plain sucks, it’s relatively painless to trash the failed experiment. But here are three ways baking a cake is not like writing an essay:  cake baking is linear, low-stakes, and makes your house smell good.

Cake is a good consolation prize for receiving rejections, a real reward for sitting and writing, and productive procrastination for whiling away the time this writer spends waiting for her work to see print. What can’t cake do?

Oil and Water… don’t mix, but we did.

I had such a good time on Sunday reading — and spending time — with Oil and Water…And Other Things That Don’t Mix Editor Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson-Brown and contributors Laura B. Gschwandtner, Ginger McKnight-Chavers, and Maureen Doallas, who graciously coordinated us. (The book is available from Amazon and benefits Mobile, AL charities. Read well and do good at the same time.)

It could have been supremely awkward — meetings of writers often are. And these are not just any writers. These are writers I’m already intimate with, people whose work snuggled up next to mine between the covers of our anthology. I’ve already spent lots of time with their words, so of course I wondered, what would they be like in real life? Would I like them, really like them? Could the be as fab as their poems/stories/essays?

Not to worry — they were.

We did have a friendly lovefest, listening to these ladies’ poems/stories/essays in their own strong voices. I get so much from hearing writers speak their words aloud, from hearing the inflection, the additions and the contractions, the humor — an increased intimacy.

Oil and Water may not mix, but Oil and Water contributors definitely do, and I hope we will again soon!

Thanks to Judith HeartSong for the photo (from her blog) and for hosting us at her lovely gallery. 

Cupcake City

How would you represent your hometown with a specific cupcake and flavor of frosting?

For the first-ever Restaurant Worker Olympics, eight teams from across the US took the challenge — but only one could snatch the gold. Read my piece in the current Brooklyn Rail to find out who won, and how ROC activists are working to win restaurant worker justice in cities across the US.


A secret between a man and a woman from the time of a catastrophe shadows a young relationship in our time of a secret war. (Excerpted in the Brooklyn Rail.)

June 7th 2011,

Asia Society Presents a reading of Modest Productions

by Rehan Ansari

A Reflection On The 10th Anniversary of 9/11

The calamity. How will you know it?
That day when men will be scattered like moth.
And mountains will fly like wool.
Only he will thrive thereafter who is burdened by good deeds.

Al-Quran, Sura Al Qariah (The Calamity, 101:1-11)

Modest Productions
Performed by
Sa’ad Shah, Hirsh Sawney, Bina Sharif, Dania Rajendra & Saniya AnsariJune 7th, 2011; 7:00-9:00pm
Asia Society
725 Park Ave.
New York, NY

Got orange?

Yesterday, I presented my orange sensory and symbolism workshop for the writers at the Suffolk County Community College Literary Festival. My students came up with amazing stuff — and some new analysis of the primary text, Gary Soto’s Oranges — and bright and sometimes hilarious ideas for their own orange-inspired work. I invited them to send in their resulting pieces, I hope they do.

I was also super pleased that the teacher in the room liked it enough to borrow it for his own class. You’re welcome to use it, too. Just drop me and email and I’ll send you the handouts and the outline.

Do you have a poem, story, essay, scene that you admire that includes oranges? Please put it in the comments.

In defense of dessert polyamory

It’s Spring. Well, here in Baltimore, it’s almost Spring-like. The blooming trees and occasional warm day have me contemplating spring cleaning. (Contemplating allows me to put off completing it.) You can wash your windows, winnow your facebook friends list to people you actually know, purge those piles of paper. And you can toss last year’s recipes and food ideas to make way for this year’s trends.

For example, NPR claimed that this year, cupcakes would be dethroned by pie. Pie is the new trophy dessert. Cupcakes, well, thanks for your service. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

I find this ungrateful. Shouldn’t we have some residual loyalty to cupcakes?  Cupcakes got me through ugly breakups, cupcakes were there the night my husband and I had our first kiss. They were there at our wedding. They got us through law school.

But I understand. Sometimes you get an urge for something, well, a little different. Maybe even a little fruitier. And, oh, I do love pie. I baked a pie a week in an unairconditioned New York City apartment last summer. That’s a lot of love.

Luckily, there is a Big Love solution to this problem. There’s no need to be monogamous with dessert. We don’t need to divorce cupcakes to declare our devotion to pie. And then we can embrace whichever crazy food fad comes next. With toast having its moment, I think ambrosia is due for a comeback.

These cupcakes were made to celebrate an old friend’s new baby. Cupcakes might be soooo last year, but only cupcakes, we thought, would do. The menu wasn’t all stale and dated — we had plenty of vegetables, too, and NPR also says that veggies are the new pork. We kept the veggies to the party theme — baby potatoes, baby zucchini, tiny tomatoes, spring asparagus. I even put my culinary training to work and hand-made the hollandaise.  But the cupcakes, drama queens that they are, stole the show.

Photo by Marie Zemler Wu

Happy (or whatever) Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day. Hope it brings you some sugar, however you like it best. I like it best raw, and I do adore a boozy application. Inspired by my travels (I’m in India), my upcoming reading, and my post today about my true story on the blog for the charity anthology Oil and Water…And Other Things That Don’t Mix, here’s a recipe, of sorts:

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Go to an Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani store. Buy a good chunk of jaggery and those pretty, candy-coated fennel seeds. Gouge off a 1/4” or so chunk of jaggery for each portion. (Optional: drip a drop or two of Angostura bitters, or orange flower water, on the sugar. Or top with citrus zest. You want a little bitter, it is Valentine’s Day after all.) Place one chunk at the bottom of each flute, jelly jar, flower vase, dixie cup or whatever it is you drink your bubbly from. Drop in a couple of candy-coated fennel seeds, for color, for fun. Top with whatever bubbly you’ve got in the fridge – I’m partial to ten-dollar Prosecco or Cava. Or, if you’re not drinking alcohol, you can use sparkling apple cider but it will be sweeter, so up the bitters or zest. Clink glasses with a good friend. (Optional: Make eye contact and a toast!)

Note: pairs well with sugar cookies (either these with cardamom or these made with oil). What can I say? I do love a theme.


This post made possible by Martha (inspiration) and Cole (consult on bubbly). Cheers!

I’m reading on March 1 in Manhattan

Spirits writer Kara Newman hosts the second drink.think, readings all about beverages, on March 1 at Jimmy’s 43 (43 E 7th St., at 2nd Ave., NYC).

Kara kindly calls me a “bright young thing” here. Come by for a drink at 6:30. Readings begin at 7. Don’t forget to RSVP. (It’s free but space is limited; email Kara DOT Newman AT yahoo DOT com to save yourself a spot.) Cheers, slainte, salud, l’chaim!

Oil and Water… is out!

Oil and Water…And Other Things That Don’t Mix, an anthology of conflict, includes my essay “Loving Lola” and it’s out today! Proceeds from the book benefit the Bay Area Food Bank and Mobile Bay Keeper. (Buy the book here or, better yet, request it at your local bookstore.)

I’m thrilled that my piece is in the good company of work by Angela Elson, Kelly Martineau and sister She Writers. Continue reading “Oil and Water… is out!”