Mar 27

“Let My People Go!”

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Dear Friends,

This week we celebrate Pesach, or Passover: a time of liberation. Though it’s really a joyful holiday, because we’re Jewish we have to bring a little deprivation and suffering into it. We’re not allowed to eat leavened bread, a reminder of the Israelites’ passage through the desert on their flight toward freedom. Thus, the ubiquitous package of matzo makes its appearance, a foodstuff that, as Jon Stewart of The Daily Show puts it, tastes like the cardboard box it comes in.

Yet, we’ve come up with all kinds of way to bypass the suffering while sticking to the letter of the law. Case in point: Passover Puffs. Passover Puffs are little miracles. They are sweet and light and airy, with nary a leavening agent in sight. They are eggy and delicious, especially when you stuff them with your Passover dinner: a chuck roast stewed in oranges and dates, say, or chicken roasted with apples and onions. You could even pump them full of whipped cream (if you forego the meat dinner) and call them cream puffs.

I make Passover Puffs just once a year, at Passover of course, and they are what make the day particularly special. They are especially good just out of the oven, when you pull apart a test puff to release the steamy goodness. Sometimes you have to test two or three to make sure you’ve gotten them right. They disappear in your mouth.

You still have several days left of Passover to make these, even if you’re not Jewish. I think they’d be great with an Easter meal too. They remind us of how we can combine the right ingredients in just the right way to make for transcendence.


Passover Puffs
Preheat oven to 375.
In a medium saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil, then add 2 Tbsp. sugar and 1/2 cup of vegetable oil. Bring back to a boil and remove from heat.

Mix together 1 1/2 cups of Matzo meal, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and add this to the pot. Stir together to moisten and let sit for five minutes. Transfer dough to large mixing bowl, and let cool for five more minutes.

Beat in four eggs one at a time, using an electric mixer at medium speed. The mixer will clog up with the thick dough. You have to be patient. Think of your ancestors in the desert. Persevere.

Using two spoons, drop ball of dough on greased cookie sheets (it’s supposed to make 18, but I always only get 12.) Flatten each ball slightly and sprinkle liberally with cinnamon-sugar.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until balls are puffed up and golden. Eat a few right away to experience the miracle. Save the rest for your good friends.


What kind of food do you make this time of year that makes the season special? Please share with us in the comments!

Happy liberation,


Mar 16

Pen and the Bell comes home

Dear Friends,

The sun made a rare appearance on March 9 in Seattle—how could P & B possibly spend the day inside?  But P & B did, along with the 2500 participants who turned out for the Search for Meaning Book Festival 2013 hosted by Seattle University. It’s true that free admission helps, but so did the many stimulating authors, panels, discussions and beautiful gardens at Seattle University where we strolled between sessions.

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We had over 60 participants show up for the Pen and Bell session: Making Room for Creativity and Contemplation in a Crowded World—and a crowded room it was, indeed. Thanks to many who were willing to sit on the floor, we shared a brief contemplative practice, followed by writing practice, then read and discussed a short poem in the spirit of Lectia Divina. We concluded by affirming one strategy we’d each use to carve out space in our lives for contemplation or creativity, whether it’s not checking email until noon or meeting friends at a local café to write together each week.

We ran out of time to share our writing with each other, but I hope some who attended might be willing to post what you wrote here, especially if you responded to the writing prompt about balance as we approach the Spring Equinox next week:  What might balance look like for you as we head into a new season? Write a poem or a scene in which your life is in balance.  

Thanks again to all who joined me in that crowded room—I wish there’d been time to meet you all, but I hope you’ll continue to stay in touch through this blog—where we’ll be posting information on Pen & Bell workshops in the upcoming months.


And from the other coast: Here’s a great video interview our publicist, Ben Jackson, did with Brenda in the midst of the wonderful chaos that was AWP.


Mar 02

The Pen and the Bell Goes On the Road!


RoadTripDear Friends,
Usually,The Pen and The Bell likes to stay put. The Pen and the Bell is a homebody, likes puttering around and being quiet. You might say The Pen and the Bell is an introvert.

But occasionally, The Pen and the Bell likes to hit the road. Get up and see what’s out there. Visit with friends. Chat about the things that make us feel at home in the wider world.

This week, The Pen and the Bell is going bi-coastal. Brenda and Skinner House Books are escorting The Pen and the Bell to Boston, where they’ll be holding court at the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) Book Fair, at the Hynes Convention Center, March 6-9. The Book Fair is a wild, energetic festival of riches for book lovers, and it’s open to the public for free on Saturday, March 9.

Closer to home, Holly will be squiring The Pen and the Bell to Seattle University’s Search for Meaning Book Festival, Saturday March 9. Holly will be giving a talk based on The Pen and the Bell. Tickets are free, but required in advance.

The Pen and the Bell would love to see you. But if you can’t make it to either of these events, this week might be an excellent time to take a mini road trip of your own. It doesn’t have to be far. It could be around the block or to the next town. It might be to an art museum, or a shopping trip in the mall. You can make anything into a road trip by simply being present, aware, and excited about where you’re headed.

Safe travels!
Brenda and Holly