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A Productive January

The month of January is a crucial time for writers; the new year sets the stage for new goals and new habits, and the first few weeks can set the tone for momentum moving on through the rest of the year.


Since one of the common struggles amongst writers is coming up with ideas, we launched the Idea Generator at the beginning of the year, and have been dedicating our Daily Writer’s Fix time this month to helping you build a pool of writing ideas to last you well into 2013.

Blue Bottle Line

We have also been excited to share with you some of our favorite San Francisco writing and brainstorming spots with a special Destination Inspiration series based in that city. From Blue Bottle Coffee to La Boulange and Samovar, we had a great time discovering new creative spots to help you drum up inspiration and creativity if you visit San Francisco.

2013 Writing Goals

We talked about some of our own writing goals and created a worksheet to help you develop a strategy for setting and keeping your 2013 goals. We shared thoughts on the writing life with writing as an excuse to explore and the experience of working with divided attention.

A savory cup

We shared a favorite tea that was the result of a delightful accident, and an overnight coffee cake that’s easy to whip together even when you’re on deadline.

Salted Rye Cookies

And, of course, we talked about the writing ritual and shared a recipe for a delightful cookie that would be just right for pairing with your writing tea when you sit down to work.

It’s been a good month for us here at Nooks & Cranberries, and I hope it’s been good for you too. We’d love to hear what you’ve been working on this month!

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Writer’s Kitchen: Weeknight Pasta with Kale, Zucchini, and Tomatoes

Weeknight Pasta with Tomatoes, Zucchini, and Kale

What are you eating for lunch today? Or dinner? I’m serious–tell me. I don’t want to hear that you’re skipping the meal because you’re on deadline and don’t have time. We all have time, even if just a few minutes while waiting for the computer to restart or while giving ourselves a 15- or 30-minute brain break.

I still remember the old days of working on the newscast at the TV station I used to work for. Whether I was writing or producing the show, there was seldom a moment from the early part of my shift until the later hours when I felt like I could even leave my desk for a moment. When I needed to fortify myself with a little food before heading up to the booth to produce the show, I’d literally run or jog from my desk to the lunchroom to get my food. And guess what? I’d run back to my desk where I would eat it, hurriedly, not even stealing a moment in which to notice the flavors right there waiting for my tastebuds to notice. That’s a sad story for a food-lover like me.

These days as a freelance writer I still work on deadlines, but I’m dealing with stories due on a given day versus needing to have a show ready to produce by a certain minute and a story ready by a specific second in order for it to be ready for an anchor to read. That doesn’t make the pressure of deadlines any less real, however, and taking the time to stop and get something to eat can sometimes feel like a chore.

Thankfully I have a lot of excuses throughout the day to cook, from having a son who depends on me for his meal preparation to being a food writer who often has to cook as part of the gig. There’s usually something in the fridge to make a quick meal out of when the child is napping and the husband is away at work. But in those times when leftovers are scarce and tight deadlines are looming, it’s good to have a repertoire of quick meals at the ready.

One of my quick meals involves canned chickpeas and other pantry staples, with a handful of fresh herbs tossed in at the end–I’ll have to share that recipe with you soon. Another is canned salmon mixed with some mayonnaise, capers, and herbs, and eaten as a salad on a bed of salad greens or on top of baguette slices. Come to think of it, I’ll have to share that recipe with you too. Do you notice a trend? These recipes involve nutritious items found in a well-stocked pantry.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today comes together quickly and makes several lunch or dinner portions, leaving you with leftovers to reheat the next day. Even if you can’t always personally justify spending a lot of time preparing a meal for yourself when you’re on deadline, I’d like to encourage you to give yourself 30 minutes sometime this week to put something delicious together. I’m speaking to myself as much as you here when I tell you that it is possible. And I’d like to share with you a simple pasta that you can put together in little more time than you need for your brain break.

Weeknight Pasta with Kale, Zucchini, and Tomato Sauce
A Nooks & Cranberries original

1/2 pound rigatoni
extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into ¼-inch slices
1 small bunch kale, ribs removed and discarded and leaves cut into thin slices
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
Dried chili flakes

Bring a pot of water to a boil while you do the dishes, start a load of laundry, and work on prepping the ingredients. When the water has come to a boil, add a little olive oil and generously salt the water. Add pasta and cook according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan until it shimmers, then add garlic and sauté until fragrant and tender (but not so long that it starts to turn golden), about 1 minute. Add zucchini and stir for a minute or two. Add diced tomatoes, juices included, and stir to combine, giving it a minute for the tomatoes to start heating up. Stir in the kale and cover, and cook until the kale is softened and tomatoes are hot.

Drain the pasta, discarding the water, and add to the pan. Stir until combined and serve with a generous sprinkling of dried chili flakes. Eat while sitting at a proper place setting–not at your computer–and then put the leftovers in the fridge and leave all the dishes and cooking equipment in the sink to soak until your next brain break.

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Destination Inspiration: Samovar Tea Lounge

Samovar Entrance

After coffee at Blue Bottle and lunch at La Boulange during our afternoon in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley a few weeks ago, we didn’t think things could get any better–until we walked into Samovar Tea Lounge.

With its Zen Valley location just half a mile from the other Hayes Valley places we had just visited, we set out on foot to walk off our pastries and lunch and experience a little bit of the neighborhood. What we discovered when we arrived was a tea shop–actually a tea restaurant–that was just up our alley.

Samovar Teas

Food and Beverages

The only thing we regret about our visit to Samovar is that we arrived with full stomachs. Our time in San Francisco was limited, so we packed in as much fun as we could. But that meant not leaving enough room to sit and have a meal at Samovar. If we had, Daytona might have ordered the Russian Service with tagarraon-marined beets, smoked salmon and horseradish, devilled egg with caviar, and other foods served with Samovar’s smokey Tolstoy’s Sip black tea ($24). Then again, perhaps she would have chosen the Japanese Service or Moorish Service–they all sounded delightful. Sarah might have chosen the English service with a 3-tiered platter of goodies and the Breakfast Blend black tea ($24).

Though we couldn’t stay to eat, we did make a point to get to know the teas, spending some time with the servers to pinpoint the perfect ones for us to bring home as memories of our trip.

Samovar Tea

Location and Atmosphere

Located at the corner of Page and Laguna in a micro-neighobhood they call “Zen Valley,” and near the San Francisco Zen Center.

Across the street from some lovely classic San Francisco homes, including one that sold in 2006 for $2.3 million.

Samovar Building

Samovar Neighborhood

Writeability and Purchased Presence

Discreet is best if you’re coming here with writing in mind. Leave the laptop behind, and use your time for contemplation while sipping your tea or to celebrate successes with your writing partner.

Samovar Interior

Price: $$$

The various services, with food and tea, range from $19-24.


You’ll need to find street parking, which, on the day we were there, seemed like it would have been easy enough. However, even if you have to walk a little, enjoy the classic San Francisco architecture you’re sure to see on your way.

Samovar Sign

Writer’s Tip

Word on the street is that some of the Bay Area’s greatest minds have gathered at Samovar to brainstorm or share a cup of tea with comrades. Consider sitting a while with friends, soaking in the zen and do a little brainstorming of your own. Bring pieces to critique, or simply enjoy a meal together after a long day of writing.

Find It

Samovar Tea Lounge – Zen Valley location
297 Page Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Samovar Californian Persian

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Daily Writer’s Fix: January 28-February 1 (Idea Generator Wrap-Up)


With January coming to a close this week, we’re wrapping up a month of Idea Generator posts with a recap of exercises and prompts to get the creative juices flowing. Whether you’ve followed along since the first post a month ago or came in late, these exercises will be helpful to do again and again whenever you’re looking for ideas for what to write about.

We’d love to hear some of the ideas you’ve come up with–and read the resulting stories! Always feel free to leave a comment or drop us an e-mail–we love hearing from you. And in the meantime, keep checking back each weekday for more writing inspiration, resources, and perspectives on the writing life!

Idea Generator #1: What you want to learn more about

Idea Generator #2: Drawing inspiration from your life

Idea Generator #3: Your topics of interest

Idea Generator #4: Do something you love to do

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Friday Forum: 1/25

Telecom rack

When I look at the photo above…I’ll be honest, I have no idea what I’m looking at. My husband, however, sees a telecom rack. I’m not entirely sure what a telecom rack is, but maybe not knowing can be beneficial.  Perhaps a writer’s imagination can cook up something a little more interesting. Try this exercise for fun, swap photos with a friend or find an image that you are unfamiliar with and create a story to go with it. Then share that story with your friend and compare it with the truth behind the photo.

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Goal Setting Guide

The beginning

Our mission with Nooks & Cranberries has always been to provide inspiration and tools to help you along your writing journey. Sometimes our support comes in the form of photos or destinations, and sometimes in the form of writing gossip and recipes. This time we’d like to share a worksheet put together to help you organize your writing goals.

This guide can be useful for setting goals in all genres and areas of writing, be it a book that’s been brewing in your head for a while, or beginning work as a freelance writer and building your platform. Regardless of where you’d like to take your writing, we’d like to be there to support you all the way in accomplishing your goals. So grab a cup of your favorite coffee or tea and take a peek at this guide. Let the journey begin!

Nooks & Cranberries Goal Setting Guide

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Writer’s Kitchen: Tea & Cookies for Your Writing Ritual

Salted Rye Cookies

When it comes to getting in the mood to write, the process isn’t a lot different, at its core, than getting ready to go to sleep. Consider the bedtime ritual: changing into pajamas, washing your face, dimming the lights, and crawling into bed to read can cue your body that it’s almost time to sleep. Similarly, clearing clutter from your workspace, responding to a couple of nagging e-mails, and finally settling in with a cup of your favorite tea and a cookie can help your brain transition to the creative task of writing.

Of course, every writer’s ritual will differ, and yours may even vary a little from day to day or change considerably from one year to the next. The important thing is consciously eliminating mental distractions and optimizing creative power. For both Sarah and me, tea is a staple in our writing ritual. Whether we’re retreating to our home office spaces or cozying up on the sofa with a blanket and laptop, having something pleasant like tea helps to set the mood.

The truth is, writing is work, no matter how fun it may be at times. So we as writers deserve a little something special to indulge in while we work. And that brings me to what I’ve been wanting to share with you: salted rye cookies. I baked a batch of these cookies a couple of weeks ago and was stunned by the range of flavors dancing in my mouth in one bite. At once, the bright flavor of citrus exploded on my tongue, accentuated somehow by the crystals of salt on the rim. As the initial flavor subsided, it morphed into a warm, soft orange and the foundation of rye gently came through.

Salted Rye Cookies

These cookies are not for the faint of heart. But if your palate appreciates cookies and pastries with a savory touch, you may find that your first bite leads to another and then another and another. As I kept coming back to these cookies it occurred to me that they would be a perfect pairing for lapsang souchong, an ancient Chinese tea imbued with the aroma and flavors of the smoking pine fire it is dried upon. Lapsang souchong is bold and serious, and not for everyone, however. If your tastes lean more toward floral or citrus teas, the bergamot streaming through a cup of Earl Grey would also complement the cookies.

Salted Rye Cookies
Adapted from Epicurious and Liana Krissoff (Whole Grains for a New Generation)

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus a pinch
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 1/2 cups whole (dark) rye flour
3 tablespoons demerara sugar

Cream the butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy, using an electric mixer. Add the egg, a pinch of salt, and the orange zest, and continue to beat until combined. Mix in the flour, a little at a time, and then turn out the dough and shape it into two logs about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill for about an hour until firm.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare your baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper. Combine the remaining kosher salt and the demerara sugar and spread it on a clean workspace. Unwrap the cookie dough and roll each log in the sugar and salt mixture to coat. Slice the logs into cookies approximately 1/8-inch thick and place them on the cookie sheets about 1 inch apart.

Bake for about 16 minutes until the cookies start to turn light brown around the edges, rotating the pan midway through baking if necessary. Remove the cookies from the pan immediately and allow to cool on a wire rack.

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Destination Inspiration: La Boulange, Hayes Valley

La Boulange Quinoa Salad

We happened upon La Boulange in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley after getting coffee at Blue Bottle on New Year’s Eve. With an eagle eye for anything resembling a French boulangerie or patisserie, Daytona spotted the corner restaurant from our bench in Patricia’s Green, and we made a beeline over to see if La Boulange would serve as an appropriate lunch spot for four hungry adults and two toddlers.

With 20 locations, this Bay Area bakery prides itself in making authentic and delicious French food and strives to provide the French neighborhood cafe experience for its customers. The founder, in fact, has a background in working in presigious bakeries in Paris and near Bordeaux.

La Boulange Interior

Food and Beverages

On a sunny winter afternoon after enjoying coffee and pastries at the nearby Blue Bottle, we all needed a real meal but didn’t want anything too heavy. The fresh sandwiches and salads on the menu at Boulange sounded like just the thing; little did we know that the portions would be twice as large as our appeties could handle. The flank steak sandwich, served open-faced, was flavored with roasted onion, tomato, arugula, and aioli. Served with a quinoa salad on the side, it was a hearty yet fresh option, that would have been perfect to split with a friend. As for the salade niçoise, we’ve had some incredible versions in our time, including the one at Brasserie Four in Walla Walla, which is one of the best we’ve ever had, so unfortunately the one at La Boulange, had high standards to meet, and while it was tasty, there was nothing notable about it.

La Boulange Bread

Location and Atmosphere

La Boulange is on the corner of Hayes Street and Octavia Street across the street from Patricia’s Green park. The cafe was crowded, despite the spacious dining room – a good sign in our book! We managed to snag a cozy corner able that was just big enough for the six of us, with toddlers on our laps and the umbrella strollers folded up and tucked away. The atmosphere was upbeat, bustling and overall charming.

Writeability and Purchased Presence

If it’s crowded, you’ll want to be mindful of the other people waiting for tables. If not, feel free to take your time as you enjoy your sandwich and sip your beverage.

La Boulange Steak Sandwich

Price: $$

Pricing is reasonable especially for the hearty portions. Sandwiches (including an option of sides) start at $8.00. And don’t forget to bring a little extra for pastries!


If you’re coming from Blue Bottle, as we did, you don’t have to worry about parking as the two locations are an easy stroll away from each other. If not, expect to seek out street parking.

La Boulange Interior

Writer’s Tip

After a successful writing or brainstorming session, treat yourself to a trip to Miette, the beloved pastry shop that’s located nearby.

Find It

500 Hayes St
San Francisco, CA 94102

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Daily Writer’s Fix: January 21-25 (Idea Generator, Round 4)


When it comes to unleashing creative power as a writer, sometimes branching out and trying a new genre or even a different form of art or a completely separate activity can get the ball rolling. As real as writer’s block can feel, we believe that there is always a way out of a writing rut. Sometimes it just takes tricking the brain into forgetting that it’s feeling stuck.

Today’s Idea Generator will be a real treat–both for your inner writer and for your overall self. In fact, you might even feel guilty at first about not being productive, even though you really are.

What do you love to do? Think about things that you truly take joy in–playing your favorite Chopin waltz on the piano, painting a still life, baking an elaborate cake, taking a long and leisurely stroll, birding, nature photography, practicing your golf swing, etc. Now, narrow that list down to five, and do one of them each day this week through Friday. Whatever you’re doing, keep a small notebook and a pen accessible for jotting down ideas that might come to you, but otherwise try to focus on the activity at hand. Notice the whole experience of engaging in that activity–from the sound of the birds mingling with the hum of highway traffic at the driving center to the way your fingers glide across the keys effortlessly when you let your mind just focus on the music. Run what you’re feeling through each of the five senses and fully enjoy the activity.

As soon as you’re done, spend 10-15 minutes freewriting, starting with how you felt during the activity and then seeing where it goes. Stop while you’re still going strong. Now, with your creative juices flowing, spend five more minutes actively trying to come up with story ideas. They might be related to the activity or to something you wrote while freewriting. Or they might be totally different. Now add your list of ideas to the ones you’ve collected in our previous Idea Generators.