Friday, September 28, 2012

Kitchen Cupboard Meme

I've seen this one everywhere lately. I wasn't going to do it but the avalanche of 'everyone else is doing it' got me.

Kitchen Cupboard Meme: Bold the ones you have and use at least once a year, italicize the ones you have and don't use, strike through the ones you had but got rid of. Oh, and I added [?] if I don't have the least idea what the thing is.

pasta machine, breadmaker, juicer, blender, deep fat fryer, egg boiler, melon baller, sandwich maker, pastry brushes, cheese board, cheese knives, electric wok, salad spinner, griddle pan [?], jam funnel [?], meat thermometer, filleting knives, egg poacher, cake stand, garlic crusher, martini glasses, tea strainer, bamboo steamer, pizza stone, coffee grinder, milk frother, piping bags, banana stand, fluted pastry wheels, tagine dishes [?], conical strainer, rice cooker, steam cooker, pressure cooker, slow cooker, spaetzle maker [?], cookie presses, gravy strainer, double boiler, sukiyaki stove [?], ice cream maker, fondue set, healthy-grill [?], home smoker, tempura set, tortilla press, electric whisk [I'm assuming this is a mixer], cherry stoner, sugar thermometer, food processor, bacon press [?], bacon slicer, mouli mill [?], cake testers, pestle-and-mortar, and kebab skewers

My juicer is one of those old glass things that you use by cutting an orange (or whatever) in half and screwing it down over the middle part so that the juice flows down into the little gutter, where you can pour it (and seeds, and pulp) into a jug or glass. I don't know if that's what the list means.

I almost bought a melon baller last week, actually, because they're so cool. But then I realized that I've lived my whole life without needing to ball a melon, why should I start now? Also, it sounds dirty.

If a "steam cooker" is the same thing as a basket steamer, I have one and use it. But I suspect it's yet another gadget you have to plug in.

Because I've moved so often in my life, I've pared down the kitchen stuff I need. It's easy to improvise if you have a decent selection of pots and pans, knives and spoons. I just bought the blender this summer and immediately thought, "Why did I get that?" It's in the back of a cupboard now and will probably only get used a few times a year, mostly for zucchini destined for zucchini bread. I only ever use my electric mixer for whipping cream (and occasionally egg whites). Otherwise I mix and chop and everything by hand. When I need to grate something, I have a metal cheese grater (that sometimes also grates knuckles).

AHA: The list came from this article. Now I can feel smug that I don't have most of those things. Also, that explains why I'd never heard of so many of the list items. The British terms are different from American. (I'm still going to look up tagine dishes, because what the hell?)

Another edit: I looked it up and I still don't know. I believe I can safely say that I have never owned and will never need tagine dishes.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cooking with Spirits

I got a new cookbook last week, Small-Batch Baking by Debby Maugans Nakos. It's AWESOME. The recipes make little bitty cakes or two scones or mini loaves of bread. I've made five or six recipes out of the book already and on the whole they're very good. I've been hitting the bread pudding hard, partly because I like bread pudding, partly because I like using my ramekins.

One of the recipes I wanted to try, and finally did, is the Butterscotch Bread Pudding with Tennessee Butterscotch Sauce (pictured, above, still puffed from the oven), which calls for Jack Daniel's whiskey. I've never gotten into the habit of drinking much, so I had to go out and buy a bottle of Jack just for this recipe. Which calls for 2 Tablespoons of whiskey.

Well, it was worth it. That's what I had for supper tonight (the bread pudding, I mean, not the Jack Daniel's), and I'm stuffed but it was sooooo good. And I have some of the sauce left over, which means I'll just have to make it again in a day or two.

I drew this on the COMPUTER using my MOUSE:

Saturday afternoon I made Cranberry Orange Oatmeal Scones. They turned out a bit dry and salty--I'm not sure if I measured something wrong or if I should try again and adjust the recipe a bit--but not bad. I made tea and set the table with my mother's beloved Royal Doulton china. You know how when you make tea you add one scoop for the pot and one for each cup to be drunk? Well, I added one for the pot, one for me, and one for my absent homies.

Mom, I wish you could have come to my equinoctal tea. We could have sat outside in the gusty, cool afternoon and picked leaves out of our plates.

A quick reminder!

My short story "Blood Oranges" will be sent out tomorrow to Daily Science Fiction's subscribers. It's free to sign up so if you haven't already, this would be a great time to do so!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Short Stories

I hate writing short stories. I find them way, way harder to write than novels, although I have no idea why. I also don't particularly like reading them. What's the point, when there's not really enough room to get to know the characters or to develop a decent plot? I like novels.

But several things lately have made me decide to write some short stories:
1. It kept coming up during Worldcon and I decided there was a reason I kept catching that message.
2. The Daily Science Fiction September lineup was published last week and my short story "Blood Oranges" will run on Sept. 25.
3. That Daily SF story is my second of three pro sales required for me to be eligible to join SFWA, and if I don't write anymore short stories, that third sale will never happen.
4. I've been on the treadmill of writing a novel, trying to find an agent, failing to find an agent, writing another novel for several years and it's worn me down badly; I need a few short story sales to regain some confidence in my writing.
5. I suspect if I start to sell to pro magazines regularly, I'll get more interest from agents.
6. Some relatively quick money would be nice too.

So once I decided to write short stories--and focus on writing for the pro markets, not the smaller magazines--I also decided I needed to read what's being published these days. I went to the book store and bought copies of Analog, Asimov's, and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine--EQMM because I like mysteries, not because I expect to write any.

I read EQMM first and loved all but one story in it. I mean seriously loved them, to the point where I may subscribe. In fact, I went back to the book store yesterday and bought Aflred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, because I wanted more. I haven't read it yet, though. I was floored that I reacted that way to short stories and picked up Analog expecting I'd react the same way.

I didn't. The stories were pretty well written but I found most of them dull, pointless, and thought they were trying awfully hard to sound important. In short, the magazine was everything I remembered from trying to read SF stories years ago, and the reason why I don't like reading them now. Asimov's was better; I enjoyed maybe half the stories. I also bought The Magazine of Fantasy & SF yesterday and read the first story today, and liked it. Hopefully I'll like some of the other stories too.

After reading these short stories, I've come to a major conclusion: a huge percentage of stories in all these magazines--including mystery stories--take place in evocative, exotic settings, which I suspect is an effective way to hook a reader into a story that might otherwise come across as bland. Foreign settings usually have a white man as the main character; "normal" settings frequently have an "unusual" main character (native American, Chinese-American, woman, etc.).

My writing has improved considerably (I think) since I stopped writing short stories a few years ago. Now I know the secret to setting, I think I can start selling to pro markets. If only I can finish some wretched shorts.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Late last night I got home from Worldcon in Chicago. I had a lot of fun but I must say I've very glad to be home. I only had a few days between returning from my trip to Alaska and leaving for Chicago (at 4am on Friday, incidentally), so I don't plan to go anywhere for many months if I can avoid it.

I kept a travel journal, of course, but it rambles more than the Alaska journal and descends into cranky mode a bit too often for me to want to post the whole thing. I'll just post some excerpts, mostly about the panels I attended (but not all panels since I didn't made notes for some of them). I really really really love the panels at cons. That's why I go. I was planning to meet up with a few online friends who attended, but I don't have a smartphone and OF COURSE the super expensive Hyatt didn't have free wifi, so I couldn't get in touch with them.

Anyway, here's what I did this weekend. I know it's long but I swear I cut a lot of what I wrote.

Above: Night view out the window of my hotel. I was on the 31st floor!

Friday, August 31, 2012 8:50 am

I'm at my first panel. I wanted to attend "Writing Gender Roles in SF" but I can't find the room--or rather, I found the room and no one is in it. So I think I'm in the panel "Creating Plots," but the posted schedule is still showing Thursday night's panels, so who knows where I am? Way to go, Chicon!

Compared to DragonCon, Chicon is lightly attended and terribly mundane. Then again, it's 9am. Also, at breakfast I sat at the next table over from a SF writer whose name escapes me--and it will drive me crazy until I can get home and check my bookshelves [Allen Steele, I believe]--talking to a younger writer about his career. It was pretty interesting to overhear, and I couldn't avoid eavesdropping.

10:15 am

The last panel, about plotting, was pretty good although not really useful in my case. They talked about outlining and pacing mostly. There was one woman who said she hated writing short stories and as a result always outlined them although she didn't always outline her novels. I wonder if that would work for me. I too hate writing short stories....

Friday, August 31, 2012 11:45 am

The Violence in Fantasy panel was excellent, and I'm following it up with the "Female Villains" panel. The violence panel was all men--including two authors I've read and liked [Scott Lynch and Douglas Hulick], which is always a plus--so I hope to get a more female perspective on similar issues in this one. It looks like the panel members are fairly evenly split male/female, although they're not all here yet.

12:30 pm

Note to self: buy David Boop's book. He's the only one on this panel who's trying to keep on topic and respond to the moderator's topics, and he's getting dumped on. Why would anyone agree to be on a Female Villains panel and then refuse to address the difference between male and female characters? I'm on the verge of leaving the panel out of boredom.

1:15 pm

The panel picked up, but not by a whole lot. The panel members hardly referenced any book at all, just movies and TV shows, even when an audience member asked specifically about well-written villains. And Gene Wolfe hardly got a chance to speak until the very end, when an audience member asked him a question directly. His reply was measured and intelligent, so I wish the panel had stayed on topic so he could have said more.

Above: daytime view from my hotel room. Foggy, windy day.

Friday, August 31, 2012 7:15 pm

Wow, am I slowing down. I've been up since 4am. After this next panel on YA books translated to film, I'm heading back to my room. I can take a bath and read my ghost book, then go to bed. There are a lot of panels tomorrow that I want to attend....

I just had a wonderful thought. The first panels start at 9am tomorrow, which is 10am my time. So I can sleep as late as I like and I won't miss them, because I couldn't sleep until 10am unless I was terribly ill.

Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012 8:15 am

Hey, it's September!

I slept until 6:45, which isn't bad. The YA books into movies panel last night was excellent, a small, relaxed group, a good moderator, and clever, interesting panelists. Since it was the last panel in that room we ran right up until 9pm.

I went to a nearby bagel place for breakfast and now I'm sitting outside the hotel. It's overcast and feels like rain. I wanted fresh air, but there's nowhere to sit except the 'smoker's garden,' so the air is nasty. I guess I'll go in and find a stretch of hallway to perch in while I wait [for the 9am panels].

10:15 am

I ended up going to the Men Writing Women panel, which had four male writers and one female librarian/academic on the panel. The discussion strayed pretty widely instead of focusing on, you know, men writing women characters. The men were very careful [to not say anything that could be perceived as sexist], which I think hampered their spontaneity. Of course, they were right to be so careful since the woman panelist got very sharp with a guy who made a comment (and an entirely appropriate and correct one) but used the word "femininity." She demanded he explain what he meant by that, and suggested he meant sexually available. My God, can we not have one single conversation on gender where someone doesn't derail over semantics? And you'd think she would know better. She acted like she was teaching a class, not participating on a panel.

Anyway, I'm following up with what should be a fun panel, The Art of the Cover Pose. Since Jim C. Hines is on the panel I hope it covers (ha) the unrealistic female poses that he spoofed on his blog a few months ago.

Above: Author Jim C. Hines and a lightsaber, demonstrating a particularly difficult cover pose. Hines also won his first Hugo at Worldcon this year.

Saturday, September 1, 2012 11:40 am

The covers panel was a lot of fun, especially the first part where Jim Hines did cover poses. Now I'm at a panel on worldbuilding. It should be good. I have no idea who's on the panel, but even if it's awful at least it's in a room with windows.

1:05 pm

I was waiting for the worldbuilding panel to start when I heard one of the panelists talking to a guy who'd asked him a question. His response was so ponderous and condescending that I started to worry about whether I'd enjoy the panel at all. Then I realized hey, this isn't a class. It's not required. So I left.

I went down to the dealer's room and looked around. I hadn't gone far when I found the Angry Robot booth, and recognized Wes Chu from his online icon pic (which is sort of creepy, but it's not like we aren't in the same little writing support group). I said hi, but he obviously didn't have a clue who I was, and probably couldn't hear me over all the noise. My voice gets really soft when I'm nervous. I asked if Laura Lam was there, thinking OMG, at least she'll know who I am, I betaed her book, but Wes said she wasn't around but might be by in another hour.

After that I went to find somewhere to eat. For a while I just walked, looking for a decent-looking restaurant. I went down a staircase in the middle of the sidewalk and found myself on a street beneath the street, which was cool, and right in front of me was the Billy Goat Bar and Grill. I wouldn't have gone in because it looked like such a tourist trap, but it was fantastically busy so I thought it might actually be good food. Well, it turned out to be cash only and the food was bland. It tasted like cafeteria hamburgers. I didn't even finish my burger.

Above: If you eat at the Billy Goat Tavern, make sure to bring cash and then go spend it elsewhere.

Saturday, September 1, 2012 4:30 pm

I meant to catch up but took a while to find an ATM so now the Writing Realistic Women panel is starting.

4:45 pm

Stop talking about your own books.

4:55 pm

It feels like I've attended this same panel over and over. They all reinvent the wheel. Yes, let's start with the realization that all people are people regardless of gender, and writing a rounded character no matter the gender is the important thing. Now let's discuss specifics. Or not. Let's go get pizza instead.

Also, if you only reference your own books in a panel, I start to assume that you haven't ever read any other books.

[After lunch] I had an hour to kill and tried to find a quiet corner where I could rest and read or write. Then I realized that duh, I have a room in this hotel. So I went up to my room and got some rest and quiet time. Like a toddler, I get cranky when I'm tired. Then just before 3pm I came back down to attend a panel. It was just a group of five prestigious authors telling funny anecdotes about previous conventions, mostly from the 1950s through 1970s. It was the fandom version of listening to aunts and uncles tell funny family stories. It was packed and everyone was laughing like crazy.

After that I felt much better, but unfortunately I came to this panel, which is endless. Now they are talking about men vs. women and they are not even discussing writing anymore. At least that means they're no longer talking about their own books. The only panelist who is trying to keep it on track is the self-published author, who isn't even the moderator.

Saturday, September 1, 2012 8:00 pm

The [minorities in SF] panel was very good and I have several new books I want to find now. It was almost 7:30 when it was over and I was starving, so I decided to blow off the 7:30 panels after all and went to find somewhere to eat.

It's a cool, blowy evening and every restaurant I found was packed. I wanted pizza, but the only pizza place I saw had a wait of an hour and a half just to get in. Finally, out of desperation I came back to the hotel and am in their uber-expensive restaurant. I am embarrassed to say how much I'm paying for a sirloin and a salad. I almost ordered the lamb, but it would have almost cost as much as my water bill this month. [Note to the worried: filling the tank of my car also costs almost as much as my water bill. So it's not all that much money.]

9 pm

[rant about the terrible service in the restaurant mercifully snipped] Grouchy cat is grouchy. Oh, damn, I meant to stop by the bar to see if any of my writing group are there. Never mind. I'm way too tired and not in a good mood. Besides, I walked down to Fannie May Candies after eating and got an assortment of extremely expensive chocolates, which I will proceed to enjoy in the bath.

[I forgot to include this in the journal, but right before I stepped into the bath I heard booming outside, and when I looked out the window I could just see the reflection of fireworks on a nearby building. I pulled on some clothes and went to watch fireworks over the lake from a window at the end of the hotel hallway, then when it was done I came back in and took my bath. It was a nice little surreal interlude.]
Above: Yet another view from my hotel window.

Sunday, September 2, 2012 8:40 am

I got breakfast at the bagel place, and had to fight to get online. [My laptop does not play well with others.] I finally got online via Starbucks wifi, of all places. But by then it was getting late so I only stayed long enough to check my email (nothing) and Twitter, where I found that Laura had tweeted me ten hours ago asking where I was. You know, the next con I go to, I am not staying in a hotel that doesn't have free wifi. [Or maybe I should get a smartphone, huh?]

I'm at a panel for Perseverance, for authors like me who can't see success in the foreseeable future. They didn't put it that way but that's what it is.

Sunday, September 2, 2012 10:25 am

The perseverance panel turned out to be excellent! The moderator kept it on track and the responses were brisk and interesting. It made me feel good about where I am right now instead of worse. I really appreciated that the panelists assumed the audience members weren't all raw beginners. They treated us professionally, which right away made me feel better.

Now I've checked out of the hotel and I'm at the "Committing Series" panel. One of the panelists is giving out cookies, and I have candy left over from last night. I'm set.

11:45 am

The series panel was pretty good, although whether I actually learned anything I hadn't already discovered by trial and error I don't know. Now I'm at a "Medical Myths and Errors" panel, which is in a room with actual tables. This is awesome because I can lean on a table instead of fidgeting around trying to get comfortable....

Of course, the last panel was in a big room with windows, so I spent most of the panel staring out at the trees tossing in the rainy wind and two crows who kept flapping around the courtyard. Maybe that's why I didn't get much out of the panel.

Above: View from the hotel window down the hall from my room. That's where the fireworks were on Saturday night.

Sunday, September 2, 2012 1:20 pm

The last panel was interesting and I've decided to charge right into the next and skip lunch. This one's about modern pseudoscience and should be very good. It's in another room with windows and I'm glad to see the sun's trying to come out.

4:35 pm

So, that last panel. My God, where to start? It would have been brilliant with any other moderator. A yeti would have made a better moderator; he could just grunt and point. He would not play devil's advocate so strenuously that he comes across as an obstructionist crackpot, he would not derail the topic, he would not interrupt the panelists, and he would not overtake the conversation with his own views. I only stayed because the panelists were well worth listening to, even if they didn't get much of a chance to talk. And they were all unfailingly polite to the moderator no matter how hysterical and off the wall she got.

And thus endeth Worldcon for me.