Tag Archives: community

Happy Australia Day! AKA Lamingtons Are Amazing

This is completely off-topic. It has nothing to do with writing, or fighting, or wrestling with inner demons or any of the usual fare.

What it does discuss, is motherfucking coconut.

Last year my work appeared in a dark fairy tale anthology, and I decided to reach out to some of the other authors in the book. As it turns out, one of them was my neighbor. She invited me to an Australia Day party, and we spent a delightful afternoon swilling yellow-tail and eating several kinds of meat-in-pastry with a bunch of ex-Pat ozzies. My family is all far away, and it was heartwarming to see several families coming together, feasting, watching their kids run and scream and spill crumbs everywhere, and generally having a marvelous time.

It’s fascinating to see the relief people experience when they’re finally among their own. Complete strangers can bond instantly once they’ve found a common context. Perth. Tony Abbot’s a bad man. Invasion Day. UWA. Oi oi oi.

And then there were Lamingtons — I’m pleasantly disposed toward the lamb-like because lambs are delicious. Also my truck is named Lammykins, because it’s a ram, har har.

It turns out that these are the #1 go-to fundraising bake-sale item down under. My hosts told stories of huge production lines where one group would bake, another frost, another roll in the coconut to produce five tons of cake.

Here I present the recipe so that I don’t lose it, and you don’t lose it. If anyone can figure out how to turn this into a mug cake, I will love you forever.

Lamingtons Recipe:
1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose  flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated white  sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure  vanilla extract
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk, at room temperature

Chocolate Frosting:
4 cups (1 pound) (450 grams) confectioners’ (powdered or icing) sugar, sifted
1/3 cup (35 grams) unsweetened natural or Dutch processed cocoa powder
3 tablespoons (42 grams) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk, at room temperature

2 1/2 cups (175 gramsl) unsweetened shredded dried coconut
(Note: Desiccated or dried coconut is different from the more common ‘sweetened’ coconut sold in plastic bags or cans in grocery stores. Desiccated (dried) unsweetened coconut has a sweet coconut flavor and dry (not sticky) texture. You can find it in some grocery stores, health food stores or specialty food stores. However, you can use dried and shredded sweetened coconut.)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Butter, or spray with a nonstick cooking spray, the bottom and sides of an 8 inch (20 cm) square cake pan. Then line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl  sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter until soft. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes). Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.  With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture (in three additions) and milk (in two additions), beginning and ending with the flour.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan and smooth the top with the back of a spoon or an offset spatula. Bake in preheated oven for about 20 – 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake just comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan, placed on a wire rack, for about 10 minutes. Then place a wire rack on top of the cake pan and invert, lifting off the pan. Remove the parchment paper and then turn the cake right side up. Once the cake has completely cooled cut into 16 – two-inch (5 cm) squares.

Chocolate Frosting: Place the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, butter and milk in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir the mixture until it becomes smooth and of pouring consistency.

To assemble Lamingtons:  Place the coconut on a large plate. One at a time, dip the squares of cake into the chocolate frosting and then roll the cakes in the coconut. Gently transfer the Lamingtons to a clean wire rack to set. (If the icing becomes too thick, simply place the frosting back over the simmering water and reheat until it is of pouring consistency. You may have to do this a few times as the frosting has a tendency to thicken over time. Add a little more milk to frosting if necessary.)

Once the Lamingtons have set, store in an airtight container for several days.

(Alternatively, you can place the squares of cake on a wire rack that is placed on a large baking sheet. Then pour the frosting over the top of each cake, letting it drip down the sides. Some of the frosting may drip onto the baking pan. Pour this frosting back in your bowl and reuse (strain if necessary).

Makes 16 2-inch (5 cm) Lamingtons.

Lammy Lammy Lammy, oi oi oi!

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If You Want It, Give It

I’m making good progress on my edits, there’s only one more item to line up and we’ll be golden. It’s funny how you think your manuscript is good and golden — then you leave it for a few months and keep reading others’ work — and you come back to some atrocious snarl. My critique groups constantly put me through my paces, and I’m really lucky to benefit from their example and specific lessons. But what if it isn’t luck; but rather something I had control over all along?

The words “awesome attracts awesome” came from the mouth of a cynic this morning. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. He asked me if I agreed. It’s true, I thought; but it’s true over time… and that’s the tricky part.

I’ve probably written about this before. Seeking out awesome people for friendship doesn’t make you awesome. Fixating on it, like a goal, is shooting yourself in the foot. That’s like inviting someone out for coffee solely to get them to promote your book in exchange. Compassion and good will can’t be offered or accepted in fixed amounts — they must flow naturally without obligation or expectation.

The best way to get someone to give you feedback on your work, is to ask for theirs. Read it with the support, care and rigor you’d want your own work to receive. Know, in your heart, that their success is your success.

Awesome cannot be negotiated, requested, or bartered for. The only way to be awesome is to recognize and honor the awesome in others.

Mitsuo Aida, a poet and calligrapher, wrote that if you can see beauty in the world, it’s because your heart is beautiful. I think the same is true of threats, ugliness, quality, sorrow, and of course, Awesome. If you recognize others as ugly, it’s because you have ugliness within you. If you recognize others as talented, it’s because you have talent within you. An encouraging message, to be sure, but utterly meaningless unless applied.

If you’ve visited me in meat-land or cyber-land, you already know the best ways to recognize and honor someone else’s Awesome Support each other. Celebrate each other’s successes. Commiserate over each other’s losses. The best way to grow — to learn — to achieve what you set out to do is to acknowledge those around you that have helped you to this point. By believing in each other, I demonstrate belief in myself. If I can see your truth and your talent, I’m that much closer to achieving it myself.


You can have everything you want if you ask for it in an unselfish way.
― Rob Brezsny


Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”
― Kahlil Gibran



Two Marilyns. (c) FreakingNews

Top ten reasons martial arts schools make your life better

I haven’t written about the katana side of katanapen in a while, so here’s a quick update in my martial arts life.

Yesterday I had to formally resign from my dojo due to inconvenient life-reasons. We parted on good terms; and I’m sure I’ll pick it up again when the situation is more conducive. It’s always painful losing a school, so instead of mourning I’m going to list the top ten ways being part of a dojo has made my life better. This is what I’ve learned from being in multiple schools, and multiple styles, over the past few decades.

1. Exercise – It’s healthy to be healthy. There’s a wide range of styles and dynamic movements, so even if you have chronic injuries you can work around them. If it isn’t fun, I don’t continue — and being able to train with my friends makes the most grueling workout bearable.

2. Self-discipline – You can accomplish anything you want to, if you put the work in. Being part of a dojo taught me how to adapt and problem-solve, no matter what I was trying to do.

3. Lasting Friendships – being part of a dojo has been the #1 best way for me to meet people I have something in common with. When you go through something intensely difficult, you bond with people who understand.

4. Second Family – The people you train with are your brothers and sisters. Period. if you need help, you have someone to go to. If someone needs help, you learn how to be there.

5. Community-building – you make friends, you perform at events. You participate in charities, marathons and fundraising. Some dojos can help you get things like first aid and CPR certifications, or host blood-donation events. The greatest teachers build relationships with other schools so we all learn from each other and promote good will outside the tournament circuit. There are dozens of ways good martial arts schools give back to their communities.

6. Hierarchy – You know where you stand, and where you want to go next. You constantly grow in mind, body and spirit.

7. Reciprocity – the key part of hierarchy. You defer to those above you so that they guide and help you on your path. You mentor those below you both to refine your own knowledge, and to help foster a community of upstanding citizens. That’s not just respect — that’s love.

8. Responsibility – I learned to own my mistakes, and also take pride in my accomplishments. I learned to help my brothers and sisters because their behavior reflects on me as much as mine reflects on them.

9. Identity – I’m always a martial artist, whether I’m wearing a uniform or not. I still see how I see, and move how I move. The lessons I learned in the dojo shape the way I live my life; with honor, justice and efficiency. I can be too serious at times; but when I do agree to something I do it whole-heartedly. It’s also great for kids and teens because you get a clear sense of how to be a good person in a secular context.

10. Outlet – I’ve always had a rotten temper, and when I don’t have a way to channel it, I lose my mind. The dojo was always a place to cut loose in a safe way — surrounded by other people who ‘got it.’ Training made me feel better. There’s always a sense of accomplishment; and the folks in your school are always there for you.

If your dojo isn’t giving you all the things I’ve mentioned; you’re in the wrong school.

You might notice that I said nothing about learning to harm human beings. I took that part out of the equation because learning to harm human beings has never helped me. What has helped are the peripheral skills — mental sharpness, preparedness and observation,  and most importantly, how to diffuse situations before they come to blows.

Anyone can learn to break things. It’s learning how to build ourselves up — build our community up — that makes being part of a dojo worthwhile.

For more information on how to choose a school and the benefits of martial arts practice, please check out Forrest E. Morgan’s book, Living the Martial Way. I had to write an essay on it a long time ago, and I find it’s still worth a re-read now and again.

Night training at Mt. Wudang

Night training at Mt. Wudang

The Unbreakable Strength of Humility

What would you like to do?

There are a million bazillion writers out there, it’s true. It’s an intimidating thought, but it doesn’t have to be. The reason for this fear is a sense that we won’t be able to distinguish ourselves. Fact is, there’s something you have to say, in a particular way, that no one else can. Your writing (like all your other life choices) are influenced by your experiences and perception. That’s entirely yours. One way to mitigate this fear is to think of your end game. What would you like to do?

In your wildest most whimsical fantasies, what would you like to do? What kind of stories do you want to tell, and what kind of reader would you like to reach?

This is a marketing question also, but that aspect is for another day over another beverage.

This is the time to consider what you’re immersing yourself in. What are you reading? What kind of feedback are you getting? Are you enjoying yourself? Most importantly, are you challenging yourself, learning and growing?

Echo-chambers, whether they’re full of encouragement or full of disdain, don’t really serve you. The truth and reality of your skill is as valuable as the “you are here” sticker on a map. It sucks at first, but the value is immeasurable. Look at yourself and your abilities. Look how far you’ve come. Now look where you want to go. The only way to get there is to keep an eye on the goal. To use the parlance of the earthy, holistic practitioners I’ve been hanging out with lately: The quality of what you consume affects the quality of crap you produce.

You consume your environment. Not just the location; but the weather, the people and the energy there.

The right environment and access to the tools you need are smack-dab at the intersection of luck and boldness. Sending out query letters isn’t the only brave thing you have to do. You have to seek out new stories, and other writers. Listen to short-story podcasts in your genre. Sign up for Duotrope and see what else is out there. Blog. Get on Google+. Look for those you want to emulate. You’ll find a lot of material that’s much better than yours.

That’s what you want. Seek it out with sincerity.

Read. Study. Ask. When you encounter something you like, find out how it was made. Ask to see more. Acknowledging the gulf between your talent and theirs is only the beginning. It doesn’t end there. Lift your eyes. It’s much easier to build a bridge across that span if you can see the other side – and even easier if you have a buddy over there to catch the first rope.


It is much more valuable to look for the strength in others. You can gain nothing by criticizing their imperfections.”

― Daisaku Ikeda


In the land where excellence is commended, not envied, where weakness is aided, not mocked, there is no question as to how its inhabitants are all superhuman.”

― Criss Jami