RECIPE Make Your Own Twix Bars

I have a sweet tooth. I’ve had one since I was a child, it got worse as a teenager and worse still as an adult. One of the nice parts about being an adult though is that I have my own kitchen and can produce candy for myself in far larger batches and portion sizes without having to leave the house and deal with humans on the days when people are probably the last thing I want to navigate.

One of my great candy loves is the Twix bar. Eating one reminds me of coming home from seeing the pediatrician, because my mother would always get me one when there were antibiotics to pickup at the pharmacy. It was the “you can eat this when you’re feeling up to it” treat, and it always marked the end of one month or another of bronchitis or strep throat or whatever I had managed to acquire.

I made my first batch of Twix bars while drunk and slightly high on pills. They turned out more like a Twix sheetcake, but I didn’t complain. However, I didn’t take any notes as to how I made them. Those notes (which became this recipe) came later when I made them a third time.

The Ingredients

Shortbread Layer:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
½ teaspoon salt

Caramel Layer
2 cups caramel
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Chocolate Layer
3 cups chopped milk chocolate or dark chocolate, melted
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening (optional)

The Person Layer
1 beverage of choice

A Twix is a sandwich candy, so it’s a trio of layers. We’re going to start with the shortbread.

The How-To

  1. Get your oven to 300 degrees F. If you’re like any of my friends, take the pans out first. It’s an oven, not a second drying rack for the three pots you have, guys. C’mon.
  2. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. With a piece of parchment paper, line a 9″ x 13″ pan. If you’ve got a shitty pan, spray the parchment.
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla. Add the flour (GO SLOW AND MAKE SURE THE 2 CUP MEASUREMENT IS ACCURATE, THIS IS NOT A CASE WHERE ‘A LITTLE MORE WON’T HURT’) and salt. Mixture will be dry but will come together after mixing. The consistency you’re looking for is sort of between thick frosting and the good wet sand for sandcastles. It won’t start that way, but keep beating until it does.
  4. This is where you open your beverage of choice and have some. SOME, NOT ALL. We’re about to go do things with fire and sugar, so don’t go overboard. Just have a third. God, I can’t take you anywhere.
  5. Press the dough into the pan. This does not need to be super pressed tight because you still have to get this stuff out of the pan when it’s done, but try and get the dough in an even distribution across the pan. If you have lumps and ridges, call them artisanal.
  6. Take a fork and poke holes evenly spaced throughout the whole pressed-in dough. DO NOT SKIMP ON THIS. If you need to tell yourself that you’re doing this so that you have little divots for caramel and chocolate, do that. This is going to help the dough turn into the dough you expect in a Twix. I like to do this methodically and pretty uniformly, though I didn’t always and my previous Twix bars were awful for it.
  7. Get this pan in the oven about 37 to 42 minutes, until it’s a very pleasant golden brown color. In my old oven it was either 39 or 41 minutes, in my new oven it’s 37.  When the time’s up, take the pan out of the oven (it’s gonna be hot, use a potholder, don’t be a savage) and immediately take a sharp knife and trace the shortbread’s perimeter. This is going to make it easier later. Don’t worry about cutting the parchment paper, you’re not going to eat it (RIGHT, YOU KNOW NOT TO EAT THE PAPER, YES?). Get the bread away from the pan’s edges. Then let it cool. It can hang out on the counter or something. Let’s go play with fire and sugar.
  8. Take two bags of soft caramels (yes, you can use the kind you can impulse buy at the checkout line in CVS, I use the caramel bits from Kraft) and dump them into a decent pot you’d make soup in with the cream (SPRAY POT WITH NON-STICK PAM FIRST OTHERWISE YOU WILL HAVE TO CLEAN THE POT LATER). Start the temperature at low and work it up to almost medium (DO NOT GO TO MEDIUM), and using a nice silicon spatula, stir this together until it melts. Yes, you can make your caramels from scratch if you want to break out the sugar and karo, but dude I want some Twix bars sooner rather than later, and I don’t want to do that many dishes. You want to keep stirring until it’s sticky and all melted. DO NOT PUT YOUR FINGER IN TO TEST IT, IT’S HOT.Yes, you can also melt this in a microwave in 25-second bursts.
  9. When you’re satisfied with its melted state, pour the caramel over the shortbread. Use your spatula to get all the caramel out. Make sure the caramel is also evenly covering the shortbread, then get the whole thing in the fridge to firm up. This is gonna take about as long as 1 episode of any non-sitcom on Netflix (figure 43-48 minutes)
  10. Once firm, take it out of the fridge and using a sharp knife, cut the pieces into the Twix bar shape or whatever shape you . No, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Yes, you can take them out of the pan after you cut the bars but you don’t have to (see next step)
  11. In a method similar to when we made caramel, melt the chocolate. And then we have a choice to make:If you want to dip the bars, use tongs and dip each bar in the melted chocolate, then get it on a cookie sheet or back in the pan to freeze.

    If you just want to pour the chocolate over the bars while they hang out in the pan THEN cut them, that works too. Either way, get the chocolate all over your bars.

  12. Here’s the tough part. Get this back in the fridge for AT LEAST 2-4 episodes of whatever you’re watching. Ideally it’s 3 hours minimum, and I’ve had good luck with 4.  Finish your beverage if you haven’t already.
  13. Eat them after they are nice and cold and Twix-y.

And that my good friends, is how John makes Twix bars.

Writing, Expectation and Excitement

About 5 minutes ago, I said this on Twitter:

todaystweet

I did it because it’s both true to some degree, and a challenge to myself.

 

It’s not a stretch to say you should be proud of what you work on. You’re in the middle of making a thing, you’ve finished it, you’re seeing what avenues are available for it. It can be a really exciting and simultaneously frustrating time. Maybe you’ll get disheartened by rejection. Maybe you’ll celebrate a book deal or some sales figures. Maybe you just make a thing and never share it, out of some fear that it’s not good enough. We’re going to come back to that last ‘maybe’ in a second.

When the authors in my Twitter feed talk about a book deal or a TV deal or some accomplishments, it’s not hard for me to feel really jealous – they’re the benchmark I’ve selected to measure myself against, and at times that feels somewhat like comparing a toddler to an astrophysicist. It’s also not hard for me to take that good news and retreat back to my workspace and for a few minutes really hate everything. The chair is stupid. My last page of text is crap. The idea I have on the legal pad is lame. Even the trackball is just dumb and sitting there taunting me. I feel like garbage about myself, and the bookshelf that holds the books that have my name it is nice and all, but it’s not like this piece of news I just heard. Those books are weeks or months or years old, what have I done lately?

This spiral of bullshit usually sits under the doubts I have that I’m any good at anything. I can write. I can edit. But when I’m feeling like I’m not measuring up to others, you might as well swap “write” and “edit” for “breathe” and “sneeze”. My own sense of worth and talent and value seem to pale in comparison to this person’s new accomplishment or that other person’s satisfaction.

I spend a lot of time thinking about this, since it’s a variation on a problem I tackle in therapy on a weekly basis  – internal versus external approval and validation.

It’s easier to understand if we start with the external, because we can all point to things that aren’t us. External approval is when someone else permits us to do a thing or agrees with us that the thing should be done. Like when your parents let you take the car out on that first date or when your roommate said you could borrow her hairdryer. External validation though, is more satisfying. It’s confirmation that whatever we did or are doing, we’re doing it “right” or for “good reasons” or that we “deserve” reward for it. This could be a positive review of something written, or someone telling you what a good job you did and that they’re proud of you.

We spend a lot of time looking for external validation. For some of us, it’s a big hole that we spend so much time filling either in healthy ways or unhealthy ways, because at times when we would have benefited from it, it wasn’t there. (This is different than needing it and getting a negative response, I’m talking about its absence.) For me, this was a parent who was (and is) incredibly cold and tepid at best about my life, my work and my decisions, who is quick to point out the numerous failures and shortcomings as evidence that good things don’t really happen to me, or if they do, that I screw them up and squander them. What this does for my life is make me work way too hard and spend too much time and energy trying to get that validation. It’s not coming. It’s been at least twenty-five years since I got legitimate validation and praise, and I’m certain that it’ll take a deathbed confession to get anymore.

What this also means is that I go hunting for external validation like a nomad in search of oases. Other people saying good things about me and my work? It’s like a free pass to Cloud 9. How can I keep getting more of it? I guess that means I gotta work harder and more often and push myself, because no one receives the same praise twice for the same thing. It might be good once, but not the tenth time.

This sets up an idea in my head where other people telling me good things far outweighs anything I can tell myself. In fact, it goes so far to say that what I tell myself is almost comical in terms of its ability to instill confidence. This is heinously wrong thinking.

Why? Because we birthed the idea, hopefully because at some point it excited us. We wanted to tell that story. Maybe we got giddy. Maybe we eagerly put down a few words, then a few more before the first fires of excitement cooled. Now, yes, time passes and the idea that we were wild about might not spark the same feelings later, but if we apply discipline and make an effort to keep stoking that fire and excitement, we can develop a depth of satisfaction because rather just being an initial gust of work, this is something we’ve stuck with through thick and thin and see it pay off.

Both of my therapists tell me that the internal approval (the permission you give yourself to do something) and the internal validation (that satisfaction derived from doing something as well as the confidence from doing and/or completing it) is supposed to outweigh whatever other people tell us.

On some days, this is true. On some days, I have no fucks to give about how other people judge me or what they expect from me. I do the work I’ve been asked and paid to do, I do things that make me pleased and things that I enjoy.

On other days, like, say days where one of my main sources of external cheerleading and validation is busy, when my resolve is a little low, I let the doubt creep in and try to counteract it with more words from outside myself. This makes for a complicated and often unrewarding cycle of “doubt self, look to others to fix it, not get it from others, doubt self more, look even harder, rinse repeat” where ultimately I’ve spent time not working and instead looking for someone to tell me I’m good or okay or safe or loved or talented or sexy or capable or whatever. That’s not going to magically make the work finished, it’s just trying to band-aid the hole in me so that I can remember I’m competent and qualified to do the work in the first place.

I know there’s a saying about loving yourself before you can love others, which is sort of true and sort of not, because I can love others and still hate myself. I can also love to tell stories and hate my stories because they don’t measure up to others. But there’s a kernel of good in there somewhere, because WHEN I’m cool with myself, I don’t think about grading the work on some scale of “Is this okay”, or “Am I good at it”, there’s a confidence that comes from believing in yourself, which for me, is easier to do when I cut myself some slack.

Back to the quote, I believe that the excitement for your work is instrumental in marketing it and generating interest in it. I believe that being passionate about wanting to make art is not the ONLY reason to make art (as many people say to me in response, mistaking my enthusiasm for passion for some statement that passion by itself is sufficient to succeed), but I believe without passion, the art won’t propagate. You’ll peter out. The interesting idea will cool off too quickly. You’ll slow down, you won’t push through, you’ll let doubt seep into the cracks and you’ll stall. Granted, this is what happens to me at least half a year when I lose myself to depression. It might not happen to you.

It’s not wrong to be proud of your work. It’s not a crime to be excited that you’re working and not yet done. It’s not a lack of professionalism to have doubts or be scared. I believe that pride in your work (and I mean an appropriate level, not some delusion or arrogance) can act like a springboard to take you to new challenges or new opportunities. I believe that excitement over a job done can grow an audience, encourage other people to try or prove to yourself that you’re capable when you think otherwise.

I still don’t have any answers to this on-going concept. It ties me in enough knots and frustrating holes as it is, since I try quite hard to both clarify my answer and have it somehow feel legitimate in the face of doubters, detractors or other points of view.

I’m putting this post up, though I believe it incomplete. I’ll do a Part 2 on it when my head isn’t swimming with tangled thoughts about it.

The ‘Welcome To Writer Fight Club’ Sale

The road to publication is a tough one. Putting aside for the moment the fact that you actually have to write a book, the expense of getting it looked at, edited, and published can be far more than a simple “this is just something I wrote on the weekends” budget can bear. It’s not uncommon for edits to cost hundreds of dollars or more. And those might be hundreds of dollars you don’t have.

So what can I do to help you, writer?

How about a deal for the next 30 days?

The Welcome To Writer Fight Club Sale

If you’re writing and come to me for editing or developmental advice**, your first 9000 words WILL COST YOU A PENNY EACH.

(** “editing and developmental advice” is defined as ANY kind of edit, from copyediting to developmental)

What Happens After 9000 words?

Starting with word 9001, the rate returns to its variable amount, based on whatever kind of editing you need (so anywhere from .02 to .11 on average) – but that’s something we work out. You’ll know well in advance.

How Do I Know What Kind of Edit I Need?

Here’s a quick guideline:

  1. If you need the sort of grammar/punctuation/continuity edit that you’d receive from an English teacher (commas, periods, quotations, sentence fragments, vague sentences, etc), that’s a copy edit.
  2. If you need a deeper edit that looks at dialogue, pacing, and just a little plot and all of the above, that’s a line edit.
  3. If you need a deeper edit than that, one that looks at character development, plot development, actions, genre appropriate material, mood, tone, POV, and all of the above, that’s a developmental edit.

To give you a frame of reference, without this sale, these edits would normally cost you:

  1. Copy Edit of 9000 words = $180
  2. Line Edit of 9000 words = $360
  3. Developmental Edit of 9000 words = $540
  4. 9000 words edited during this sale = $90

BUT FOR THE NEXT 30 DAYS (until May 22, 2014) YOU CAN GET ANY OF THESE EDITS FOR $90.

$90 to get your novel off the ground isn’t a bad deal.

How Do I Get Started?

If you’re interested, send me an email (thewriternextdoor@gmail.com) and let’s talk. Don’t let budget be the obstacle keeping you from telling your story and making art.

Welcome to Writer Fight Club.

The Simple Art Of The Impossible

This is later than when I normally write, usually by now I’m playing Mario Kart on the DS, or having a lovely chat with a lovely person or I’m impatiently waiting for something to download so I can watch it later. Usually when I sit down to write it’s morning, and it’s grey and I bang the keys to birdsong and I do my best to get it done in an hour, because I like to have my own writing done before I sit down to edit someone else’s – I can’t stand splitting my attention like that, it feels like I’m shorting the client.

A lot of talk has popped up on my Twitter feed and my G+ whatever-the-hell-you-call the full media assault of Google Plus’ opening page about writing, more the act of it and the effort behind it than any intricacies of particular plots or characters, and I see a lot of workshops popping up that promise to teach how to make a psychopath on paper in two hours or how, if you buy the accompanying book, you too can build a plot that doesn’t have holes in it. A lot of this talk comes from people I respect, and a lot of this talk comes from people who I don’t know, so I can’t say their worth my respect or not. It’s not something I dish out, like rose petals before a bride, it’s more something I hold in reserve, a good cognac in fancy tumblers for members of a little club that John hosts in his headspace.

The truth of it all is that writing is hard. Making a book might as damned well be sorcery for all the conjuring of will and discipline and the alchemy of taking snippets of ideas and concepts and weaving a spell that results in pages being turned and people wanting more. The truth is that there’s a lot of ways to do that, and a lot of teachers, good and bad, who can act as signposts or speed bumps when a writer wants to get from Point A to finished novel B. The truth is, it comes down to you expressing your ideas.

There’s no Coltrane-esque nuanced jazz there, there’s no deeper meaning that you’re supposed to divine or decode – just put your ideas on paper. Write your guts out. Bleed in every paragraph, chapter and scene. If your character’s going nowhere? Burn something down, blow something up, send someone through the door, spoil the milk in their fridge. Make something happen.

You know why your book keeps getting rejected? Because your writing is soft and unclear, you’re bringing cake batter to the neighborhood bake sale, but not everyone wants to lick the beaters. (Seriously, I tried a cookie dough metaphor there too – and have realized that both dough and batter are tasty, but I hope you see what I’m saying) Maybe it’s worse than soft, maybe it just plain isn’t any good. Maybe you need some fresh eyes, or harsh eyes or eyes that aren’t attached to a mouth puffing sunshine up your blowhole to take a good hard look at it. What makes it better? More writing. More reading. Not so you can ape the style of someone else, but so that you can dissect and see examples of how things work. See how Gaiman writes a beat. Look how King phrases dialogue. Don’t copy them, you’re not a Xerox. But learn from them. And that means you might have to loosen your chokehold on your assumptions, even the ones that tell you how precious a snowflake you are.

POV, point of view, stop trying to innovate it. Stop trying to put feathers on a zebra. Stop hopping from head to head in your characters and tell the story. There’s a reason why first and third person are popular. It’s not defeat if you use them anymore than you’re a bad human if you use matches or a lighter to start a fire.

Those achingly dull subplots, why are they there? Are you just padding space because you saw other people do them? Put down your membership card to the Lemming League and just tell your story. YOUR story. YOUR story. Tell it.

Did you just make up a new genre? Why? Okay, so lean a little closer to the monitor. STOP IT. I get it, you don’t want to be pigeon-holed, man, your work is so out there you’re on the bleeding edge of the bleeding edge, you’re a pioneer, a loner Dottie, a rebel. Maybe you are, and maybe seventy years from now kids are going to be gathered around their holo-trons to watch the robots enact your stories. But that would require your stuff to get published first, wouldn’t it? A genre is not a straightjacket, it’s a homeroom on the first day of high school. It groups you together with other people, and gives you a starting point. You’re not prisoner 24601, you’re you. Stop making paper shackles.

There’s a variety of words I can use to tell you what I think of the current resurgence in people who espouse “platforms” and “brands”, most of them I reserve for driving in traffic and instructions to lovers. Platforms are for diving. Brands mark cows. You’re an author, communicate with people. And let them communicate with you. Oh for Pete’s sake, it’s 2014, don’t give me that Fox News your identity might get stolen crap if you have an email address or even a single page with some links to write you an email or places you’re gonna be signing or speaking or dicking around or whatever. Get on some form of social media. LEARN, don’t play Excuse Roulette. You want to know where the agents, editors and writers are? Twitter, Google-Plus. Yeah I know there’s a whole lot of people out in the world who prop themselves up as little gurus (I know, I used to do it), but there comes a point where you can either sit on the plastic folding throne and treat people like peons or you can go out and be an asset to yourself, your efforts and other people. In short, communicate with other people about what you’re doing.

And while we’re talking about communication, can we just knock off this whole “I don’t want anyone to steal my idea” garbage? I’m not saying that hasn’t or doesn’t happen, but I liken it to this: You can go to a mechanic or dealership to get your oil changed or your car checked out, and it’s what bazillions of people do. Or you can go talk to that guy missing teeth who smells like mold, cat urine and burning plastic who is drinking the oil he says he can put in your car. It’s a damned shame that in this day and age, the fearful panicked and stupid decisions of people have spread like a bad case of head lice to infest others, giving the impression that there are more thieves than helpers in this industry. That’s the same poisonous impression that would tell you me and my site are suspect because I don’t have a whole sidebar of splashy graphics or busloads of commenters (who I always have to scratch my head at – because for all the commenting, they could be writing). I don’t have those things because instead I have a Dropbox full of clients’ work. I’ll take the work over splashy graphics any day. This is the judging a book by its cover portion of the post, by the way.

Writing is the art of the impossible. It’s using a common set of tools to plant subjective pictures and feelings into the heads of others. It’s tough to do well, and simple to do poorly. Get a bank account and fill out some forms and you too can be part of the drek that bloats websites and confounds people who want to exchange monies for entertainment. It can be done, but there’s discipline and effort and will and practice and failure and stress and joy and ache and love and anger and not-knowing to navigate as you hit those keys, pick up that pen or dictate into the mic.

I pause here a second to look at my fingers, knuckles pre-arthritic, hands dry, wrists scarred and forearms more like chicken legs. I’m not Raymond Chandler. I’m not Chuck Wendig. I’m not Dashiell Hammett, Seanan McGuire, Stephen King, Gail Simone, Jim Butcher, or Delilah Dawson. I’m not Janet Reid, Colleen Lindsay, Stacia Decker or that guy who’s name escapes me at 11pm, but you know who I’m talking about, that agent. I’m a freelance editor, a word ninja and book ronin, walking the landscape to help people make art. I’m not in many indices, I’m not asked to play reindeer games. I don’t live in New York or Los Angeles. I am a guy with talent and 20 years of writing, editing, game making, filmmaking, scriptwriting, radio producing and puppet making experience. I’m a guy who talks openly and passionately about mental health, about anxiety, about depression, about addiction, about love and loss and art and failure and dating and cooking. I do all those things AND talk about making books and games and art. Because I believe that you, reader, you, writer, you, maker of art, deserve a shot at your dreams.

I don’t know if you’ll make it. I know there’s loads of people, myself included, who can help, if you’re willing. And I know that being willing and taking your best shot is great way to find success.

 

Happy writing.