Retreat to Move Forward, and How to Make the Best Darned Cottage Pie in the World

A Rave

Last weekend, I went on a writing retreat. For those of you who are unsure what that means, I’ll tell you.

Dictionary.com (http://tinyurl.com/5ml53e) defines “retreat” this way:

re·treat [ri-treet]

noun

1.the forced or strategic withdrawal of an army or an armed force before an enemy, or the withdrawing of a naval force from action.

2.the act of withdrawing, as into safety or privacy; retirement; seclusion.

3.a place of refuge, seclusion, or privacy: The library was his retreat.

4.an asylum, as for the insane.

5.a retirement or a period of retirement for religious exercises and meditation.

A writing retreat normally fits into definitions two, three and five. However, our cabin neighbors could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking ours was the type in definition number four.

Let’s just say not many Indian Guide dads are treated to the vision – or should that be spectacle? – of three middle-aged women dancing around the Guide’s bonfire (left deserted for only a moment). Should those dancers be accompanied by a fourth middle-aged woman beating time on a soup pot, well that just adds to the fun. Stir in an appreciative audience of eight other cowardly – or should that be sensible? – ladies, and you have a sight not often seen on the average father/son campout.

Yes, friends, there was wine involved. There was also much laughter and more food than any twelve people could possibly consume in a weekend, though we gave it our best shot.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, Kym, but did anyone actually write? The answer is yes. But I wasn’t one of them.

Still, this retreat will spur me forward on both my current work in progress (WIP) and my writing career. This is partly because four of us spent Saturday afternoon reading and reviewing each other’s WIPs in an inaugural meeting of our critique group. By opening ourselves to this type of feedback, we can now revel in well-deserved praise while discovering previously unnoticed errors.

My crit buddies are so right. I do need to fix the point-of-view in that first scene, but thank God, they laughed in the right places.

And there was so much more. Watching Chris demonstrate the Yoga Warrior pose her dog must see before believing it’s safe to exit via the sliding door; learning – or, in my case, not – belly dancing moves from Nancy; and repeating after Renee as she taught us all how to say F— in Greek – these types of real-life experiences have a way of showing up in our books. One of us – who knows, maybe all of us – is bound to write a story that includes a neurotic dog who once ran through a screen and now requires a physical demonstration before he can believe the door is actually open.

Obviously, the most important part of writing is sitting down at our computer and working, or, as we like to call it, BICHOK (bum in chair, hands on keyboard). But writing also involves thinking about writing, talking about writing, and learning about writing – as we did in a Friday night session on polishing that first chapter. Furthermore, writers must occasionally break our daily routine, perhaps even shatter our comfort zones by dancing around a fire.

Friendships are born and deepened by these experiences. Knowledge is shared, creativity sparked, encouragement given. A writer’s retreat can do all of this, and if you manage to actually hit the keyboard, well, that’s even better.

P.S. Don’t worry, Renee. That Greek lesson is already forgotten.

P.P.S. Barb, I’ll pay good money for that video of our Saturday night dance.

Now, as promised, here’s how to make the best darned cottage pie in the world, or at least in Medina County, Ohio, my contribution to our Saturday evening feast.

Cottage Pie

(If you use ground lamb, it’s shepherd’s pie. I use ground turkey, so maybe I should call it Poulterer’s Pie.)

About 1 pound ground beef or turkey

1 large onion, chopped (I used leeks for ours because I had some.)

Olive oil

A cup or more frozen or canned peas (Frozen are better; use a lot if you really like peas, less if you don’t)

Chopped carrots (Fresh is better, frozen is okay; again amount can vary according to your taste. Are you sensing a theme in this recipe?)

I have also used zucchini, yellow squash, and parsnips for the vegetables.

Potatoes, peeled and chopped (I’m not even going to repeat myself except to say we like it with a lot of mashed potatoes so I use four or five, at least)

1 clove of garlic, peeled

Worcestershire sauce

Milk for potato mashing

Butter for potato mashing

Grated cheddar cheese, also for potatoes

Salt and pepper (optional)

Instant mashed potatoes (for thickening, not for topping, unless, of course, you’re in a real hurry).

Sauté onion in oil. When soft, add meat and brown. While meat browns, peel, chop, and boil potatoes with garlic clove until soft enough to mash. Also, grate the cheese. When meat is brown, drain fat. Add vegetables and Worcestershire sauce (we like a lot, several tablespoons at least). Add enough water to keep the veggies and meat from burning, also salt and pepper if you like. Simmer until vegetables are soft, adding water as needed. While these simmer, mash potatoes with butter and milk. Mix cheese in potatoes (you can sprinkle on top, but it’s really tastier if it’s mixed in). Once the vegetables are tender, sprinkle in enough instant mashed potatoes to thicken to your liking, adding water as needed. Place mixture in casserole or baking dish. Spoon on mashed potatoes, sealing the edges to completely cover the mixture. Rough up the surface with a fork to form peaks. Bake at 375 until potatoes begin to brown (30 minutes or so).

Easily frozen, so make two and freeze one for another night.

Please note, the photo below is not one of my pies. They never hang around long enough for a picture. I chose this photograph because the caption made me laugh — seemed appropriate for a post about a retreat where some were writing erotica.

Well Hung Meat Company cottage pie

Well Hung Meat Company cottage pie (Photo credit: jennylaujennylau)

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About kymlucas

"Taking care not to take love too seriously." Writer of smart, fresh, contemporary romance and women's fiction. Blogging about writing, reading, and more recently, dealing with the ins and outs of breast cancer.
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14 Responses to Retreat to Move Forward, and How to Make the Best Darned Cottage Pie in the World

  1. Marin says:

    A truly brilliant post, Kym. I laughed out loud at definition #4 (okay, and the well-hung meat) and cast my vote for sensible.

    Like

  2. LOL!! Sounds like you guys had a great time!

    Like

  3. It was my first retreat and not to be my last. What a fabulous group of new, creatively talented, interesting and fun new friends. I never drank so much wine and laughed so hard. I even managed to get a lot of writing done and was so inspired that I’m still writing. Thank you!!!!!!!

    Like

  4. dyanne conner says:

    Had a great time! Thanks for the recipe. I’m going to give it a try. As one of the sideliners I had a blast watching you guys dance by the blazing fire. Hope to do it again next year.

    Like

  5. Barb H says:

    Great post again Kym.Fun was had by all, even though I was one of the cowardly. Well I wouldn’t exactly say that. Someone had to get the evidence down for posterity. From the overhead power point presentation on Friday – when the diners from the next room picked the most inopportune time to leave, on through the laugh filled dinner on Saturday followed by the naked fire dance. Well, no – they didn’t go that far. I’d be rich if that were the case. Perfect weekend for brainstorming, writing and getting to know our chaptermates. See you next year.

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  6. Kym, your cottage pie was awesome. So was the laughter, food, and fun. Thx for the great recipe!

    Like

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