Thursday, December 31, 2009

two announcements

The first one is bouncy-me business. My first pro sale, On the Transmontane Run with the Aerial Mail Express, is up on Beneath Ceaseless Skies. It has airships, monkeys, air-pirates and jellyfish--what more could you want? Go, read, donate to the zine!

Second is a public service announcement. The story could not have been written or sold if I had not attended the Viable Paradise writing workshop, applications to which open tomorrow, January 1st. If you aren't already an alumnus/a, and you have hopes or plans of becoming a published writer, you should seriously consider applying.
It is only a week long, so the time commitment is more manageable than Clarion or Odyssey, and it will put you in contact with publishing professionals in a much more low-key and satisfactory way than those speed-date writing conferences where you have to pitch in 5 or 10 minutes. You will get invaluable feedback on your writing, and straightforward advice on how the industry works.
The workshop fee is remarkably reasonable, and includes several meals. The hotel rooms make it easy to share space without stepping on each other, and splitting the room costs make that pretty reasonable as well (even speaking as someone who gets all twitchy at anything above a Motel 6).
And hey, maybe by fall the TSA insanity will be reduced to mere imbecility.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

last food post of the year


For Terri, the hot nuts recipe, courtesy of Kate (to whom much thanks). It may be Levantine, and is referred to as a mezzo:

3 tbsp sunflower oil
2 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds
1 generous cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili flakes
salt to taste
Heat oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add almonds, stirring with 3/4 of brown sugar. Toss nuts to coat, saute until caramelised. Remove nuts to bowl and toss with cumin, chili and salt. Spread on baking sheet to dry, sprinkle with remaining sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature. Will keep for a couple of weeks in a sealed container.

And in the What? dept., this dainty from Good Housekeeping's Christmas Cook Book 'selections to brighten the holiday season' (published 1958), from the Goody Greetings section:

Delightful Doughnuts
Old favorites presented in a new way. Stick a long skewer into a grapefruit; string doughnuts onto skewer. Wrap grapefruit in green cellophane, doughnuts in clear cellophane; top with a silver spray.
There follows a recipe for doughnuts rolled in sugar.

There are b/w photos on most pages, including 'Smoky Cocktail Spread' and 'Apricot-Confection Squares', but none of this construction. Anyone out there with expertise in '50s food: what is this supposed to look like, and why?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

to you, from a house full of shortbread and wrapping paper.

I bought myself a thriftshop cookie press ($4, missing only one of the nozzles, including all of the random discs) so I can try making spritz cookies, which I've never done. It has a camel disc. Does anyone make camel cookies? What flavour would be most appropriate?
The disc for the heart cookie of the bridge set (hearts, spades, diamonds, clubs) does not look like a heart. I suppose it must produce a heart, just as the squiggly cross must produce a diamond, but I'm taking it on faith so far.
It looks ... okay, it looks like a poppy-head.

Poppy-head is what that same shape is called when found carved on the pew-ends in an English church. Here, I'll show you a poppy-head bench-end from Fressingfield, church of St Peter & St Paul. See the resemblance?
Yes, medieval English churches are well-stocked with these, but Fressingfield must have the most blatant examples. I feel I must quote Simon (stolen from the link above) on Suffolk Churches:
"No, what makes Fressingfield's benches wonderful is the sheer quality of the whole piece; nowhere else in East Anglia is the 15th century so substantial, so full of confidence. Often quoted is Cox in Bench Ends in English Churches (but he is talking about the furnishings as a whole, not just their ends): Fressingfield church, he says, is better fitted throughout with excellent fifteenth-century benches than any other church in the kingdom."

And a happy NSFW Yule to all my pagan friends and readers!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

all in the mixing

Baking tally.
Yesterday: gingerbread (cake not cookies); candied grapefruit peel (the first time I've ever done candied peel); sugared walnuts.
Today: cappucino shortbread; honey cookies; two-layer fudge.
Tomorrow: visiting. Other activities uncertain.

The sugared walnuts are dead simple, so it's a sort of public service to share it. Take two cups, or three cups, or whatever amount you have of walnuts (most recently a 1 kg bag). Put them in a bowl. Pour enough boiling water over to just cover them. Leave for 3 minutes, then drain in colander. Tip them back into the bowl and toss with 1 cup of sugar (my observation is that one cup of sugar will do up to 6 cups of walnuts, and possibly more if I could afford more) until covered. Spread them on a baking sheet in a warm oven, and leave overnight. If you've been broiling or baking at 400 or so, just turn the oven off and leave it. If the oven is cold, turn it to 200 or so for a half-hour or so, or kick it up to 400 or broil, then turn it off, and leave the tray in overnight.

Cappucino Shortbread
Cream 1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
6 tbsp instant coffee, ground fine
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
Form into coffee bean shape, indent tops. Bake at 325 for 15 minutes. When cool, dip into melted semi-sweet chocolate.
I only dip them halfway (this time I used fondue 70% dark chocolate mixed with 2 tbsp butter) because dipping the whole thing tends to obscure the indentation, and lose the coffee bean resemblance. And the half-dipping gives them a classy sort of Florentine look.
And evidently I'm on the spectrum, because it bothers me that in a real coffee bean the indentation is on the flat side, which would be the bottom of the cookie.

I'm kind of excited over having done candied peel, which has always seemed to me one of those dainty high-end things, even though the grapefruit rinds ordinarily go into the compost. The recipe came from a Culinary Arts Institute pamphlet called 500 Delicious Dishes From Leftovers, which is fascinating reading. I kept asking myself where all these leftovers came from, or rather, where they've gone.
Sour milk and cream are still with us, but I'm not at all sure I'd use a cup of maple syrup to avoid wasting a cup of sour cream (though the gingerbread recipe is tempting) instead of something cheap like cornmeal muffins. On the other hand, leftover coffee can nowadays just be microwaved. And what the heck is leftover jam? Why not just have toast and jam for breakfast for a couple of days? As Peg Bracken pointed out in her I Hate to Cook Book, there is no such thing as 'leftover cake'. Inspired by the ethos, though, I did take the water that the grapefruit peel was boiled in, and use it for the hot water in the gingerbread. It makes the gingerbread a little sharper, but still good.

All of which does have a writing application of sorts. My friend Joanna (retired bookshop owner) and I have been bookswapping, mostly fantasy and mystery. She follows a number of mystery series, and I think it would be fair to say that it is far more important to her that the characters be interesting and sympathetic than that the mystery be tightly plotted and challenging. So we've both liked the Jill Churchill suburban mystery series, until the last entry which was ... dreadful. And we both decided that one sampling of Mary Jane Maffini's home organiser mystery series was enough, because the main character is a self-absorbed shrew.
The current favourite for both of us is the Home Repair is Homicide series by Sarah Graves. Looking at it from about book 8, I'm deeply impressed by how the author has woven together so many strands of continuing interest.
First, of course, there are the characters. The soap-opera aspect, if you want. This may have started with Dorothy Sayers and the long courtship of Peter and Harriet. Here we have Jacobia (Jake) Tiptree, leaving a bad marriage and high-pressure career, taking her troubled teenage son and starting a new life in a small fishing town. So right there you have the ex-husband entanglement, the new boyfriend possibilities, and the responsibility for her son, all situations that keep on providing complications.
Graves doesn't stop there, but gives us a townful of continuing characters (some of whom are going to die violently) who have ongoing stories, most particularly Jacobia's best friend and confederate in crime-solving, Ellie, and Jacobia's son Sam, struggling with dyslexia and falling in and out of love.
Then there's setting. Eastport has a wild history and economically-strapped present, and can be cut off by bad weather. Setup for tense situations whether there's a crime in progress or not. Plus, colourful as all-get-out.
Most impressive is the nonfiction aspect. Sure, infodumps are a bad thing, but an awful lot of people either read fiction for information, or justify their fiction reading by claiming that it's educational. That's one reason why romances are so often set in exotic places--not just the wish-fulfilment of being able to travel, but the excuse of learning about those places. Half (possibly more) of the appeal of technothrillers is the stats-laden infodump about some weapon or piece of hardware.
Churchill's suburban series used to regularly send her heroine off to nightschool classes or weekend retreats to learn something or other and incidentally run across a murder. The classes and the quirky fellow-students were at least as much fun as the mystery itself.
Now, Graves has this absolutely knocked. First, Jacobia was a financial whiz back in the big city, so she can explain all sorts of high finance quirks and slang (the first couple of books had finance slang titles) as well as having useful and not-entirely-respectable contacts that she can call in favours from. Second, Jacobia has settled herself and son in a tumbledown early 1800s mansion, which is in continual need of repair. So, in between checking out crime sites and interviewing suspects, she repairs plumbing, puts up rain gutters, sands shutters, and so on and so on, all in detail explained to the reader. It's like This Old House with murder. You only have to look at how long This Old House ran to see that this is a subject with legs.
And because the books are first person, Jake can just pull us aside and explain how to sand a hardwood floor or cover your windows with plastic, without having to justify the digression.
I'm not sure how much space the actual mystery takes up in any one of these, but I suspect half the pages at most. When they were handing out hobbies and professions to murder-mystery sleuths, I think Jacobia grabbed one (or two) of the best. Much stronger and longer potential than the scrapbooking mystery series.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

duelling geekdoms

In minutes I am off to Vancouver (Abbotsford) for a laurels meeting--assuming the ferries are running, because it is howling wind outside.
Anyway...No Potlatch for me. It's the same weekend as the An Tir Arts & Sciences Championship, which I usually judge at, and which I plan to enter this year so that the next time some Kinglike Entity whines about how laurels never enter it and dismisses my 6 hrs of judging & feedback as pfah not the same, I can get up and walk out of the damn meeting.
Okay, not a noble motivation, but a fairly strong one.
I'm kind of bummed otherwise, because Potlatch is in Seattle this year, and I'd have a chance to visit with friends and go to bookstores and fun stuff like that. And have incentive to finish a story for the writing workshop.
But there you go, this is what it is to be in more than one fandom.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

the bag, it is mixed

The bad: I failed at Nanowrimo. Better than last year, not as good as the year before, only just beat 20k. I had much fun with what I did write, but getting myself sitting at the keyboard and typing was like shoveling mud. Why, I do not know.
I don't want to let the story go, because I still love the concept (unpublishable though it is) and the character names, and writing in that ornate, wordy, 18th c. voice. So I may be a Nano Rebel next year, and pick the story up where I left it.

The good: Christmas cards are signed & mailed. Christmas letters (personalised & newsletter) are sent. Donations are sent (Oxfam, Operation Eyesight, Amnesty International, Red Cross, Unicef, Save the Children, SOS Children's Villages, Covenant House, etc.). Most presents are bought, and mailed as required. Approx 1/3 of home-based presents are wrapped. Freezer is stuffed full of pastry, butter tart mix, cheese pastry, roll cookie dough, shortbread dough, choc shortbread dough, cheese shortbread dough, checker cookie dough, sugar cookie dough, honey cookie dough, coffee spice cookie dough, icing, choc icing, caramel icing, gingerbread dough, half-dozen pies (berry & apple).
New curtains on two of the kitchen windows (I did not make these. One I sewed a lining to, and the other pair I hemmed up). So there will be less heat loss this winter. Finally found an arbour to hold up the garage roses (there's a story to go with that, but maybe later) and stained it. Haven't put it up yet.
It's kind of impressive how much I can get done by not doing something else. I need to keep some particularly difficult task in reserve at all times, to goad me into getting everything else done.

A particular mixed bag, for those who haven't heard elsewise--agent comments on revision arrived, and more revision is required, which I did expect, but she very much likes the changes and expansions made to the latter half of the book, with words like 'perfect' and 'loved'. The first half needs condensing and tightening still, but I can add some scenes from Midame's pov, which I'd rather wanted to do earlier but was afraid of losing focus. And consider making Nomency a duchy, which is another thing I'd considered before and held off as something I could change at any point. It would move closer to the reality of the Small States and away from the fairytale-standard-kingdom, which wouldn't harm the story.

Good writey stuff: I wrote a flashfic!! I honestly didn't think I could do this, but I turned out an 88-word story. I may have to look into flash markets. So that is something positive coming from the local group, which seems to be developing into a real writing group.
Willow Knot has been hacked up again on Scrivener, and spaces cut into it for scenes with Midame, the four chapters that need to be cut by half (faint screams of manuscript heard off stage) have been isolated and prepped for surgery (More ether, nurse!), and notes made throughout for what needs to be enhanced our emphasised or cut.
My chimps story will be going up on Beneath Ceaseless Skies #33 on December 31, with the airship cover art still up (yay!). December 31 is apparently a blue moon, which amuses me mightily.
December 2 is a blue moon as well--two in one month! and ferociously bright it has been the last couple of nights.

Why does this cat insist on resting its head on the crook of my arm?