TT: Favouring Curry

November 23, 2017

Alan and I would both like to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving…  Now, a discussion that may inspire you (as it already has Jim) as to a way to deal with your leftover turkey!

A Few Curries

JANE: Last time you promised to tell me about Terry Pratchett’s Jingo curries which were described as “Containing yellow curry powder, big lumps of swede, green peas, and soggy sultanas the… size of eggs.”

ALAN: So I did… But in order to do so, I’m going to need to give you some history about curry.

JANE: That’s great!  I know nothing about curry, except that I like it.

ALAN: Curry powder was invented by an anonymous employee of the East India Company sometime around 1747 (that’s when it was first advertised for sale). I imagine that it was designed to make the cooking of curries less complex for the average English cook who often found the idea of selecting a range of spices for adding different flavours to their dishes to be rather frightening. Many of the cheaper curry powders contained an over-abundance of turmeric and were therefore very yellow in appearance. If you didn’t like the taste of final dish that you cooked with it, you could use the meal to dye your underpants and socks a fetching shade of yellow instead. Very economical.

JANE: Indeed!  And now that turmeric is being touted as a health food, you could add medicinal value to your list of reasons for using yellow curry powder.

As a small aside, I’d say most American cooks also start with pre-blended yellow curry powder which is what you’d find in most grocery stores.  Specialty stores will carry other types.  Jim and I bought a book that contains recipes for various curry powders, and sometimes we blend our own.

But back to your discussion of British curry.   I can sense something ominous building.  Go on…

ALAN: The British took to curry powder with great enthusiasm and invented kedgeree and mulligatawny soup, both of which can actually be quite nice when properly prepared (though I make my kedgeree without eggs, for obvious reasons). But they also invented the dreaded British curry…

JANE: Oops…  I don’t know what kedgeree or mulligatawny soup are.  Remind me to ask you.

ALAN: There’s no time like the present – kedgeree consists of boiled rice cooked with curry powder. Flakes of fish (generally haddock and often smoked) which has been cooked in milk and hard boiled eggs are stirred in to the cooked rice. If you are feeling adventurous, you might sprinkle it with parsley. Kedgeree is only ever eaten at breakfast time.

JANE: Urrgh…  I’ve never been a fan of sweet breakfast foods, but maybe this tastes better than it sounds.  Do you like it?

ALAN: Yes I do – as long as it doesn’t have eggs, of course. Kedgeree is really a sort of risotto or biryani, so it’s quite a respectable dish with an impeccable pedigree. I have no idea why the British restrict its consumption to breakfast. I’d happily eat it at any meal.

JANE: Very well!  If I’m given the opportunity, I will try it!  Now, how about the soup with the long name?

ALAN: Mulligatawny soup is made by frying onions, garlic, carrot and celery in butter. When the vegetables are softened, add pieces of apple and a couple of teaspoons of curry powder. Stir, add stock, tomato puree and mango chutney. Simmer until the veges are cooked. Stir in a cup of cup cooked rice. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt or cream. If you aren’t a purist, you might want to add some cooked chicken.

JANE: This sounds better.  I might look up a recipe, and try it sometime.

ALAN: Now, getting back to curry… I don’t know how it happened, but generations of British housewives, none of whom had ever seen or tasted an authentic curry, somehow got it into their heads that all you had to do to make a curry was toss some curry powder into a stew and then boil it to bits.

And the stew had to have sultanas in it. The more the merrier. Presumably that made the dish more exotic (it certainly made the thing sweeter). Such a “curry” was a staple of school lunches and suburban dinner tables, probably until the late 1950s when Indian restaurants started to flourish and the British finally found out what a real curry tasted like and realised that they’d been doing it wrong for two hundred years.

JANE: Ah-hah!  Now I understand what sort of curry Pratchett was alluding to in Jingo.  I must ask, although I fear I will find the answer unsettling…  When you say “stew,” what do you mean?  To me (and I’d hazard to most Americans) a stew is usually built around chunks of beef, potatoes, carrots, onions.  This is slowly cooked until there’s a nice brown gravy, the meat is tender but has not cooked to shreds, nor have the vegetables become mush.

Did they add curry powder and sultanas to this?

ALAN: In a word, yes. In two words, yes but…

The stew you describe is an ideal stew and, properly prepared, is a gastronomic delight. British versions are often less than ideal and, particularly when prepared by indifferent cooks, are thin and watery. The mystery meat in them is generally tough and gristly, particularly when mass produced for serving to institutional hordes such as schoolchildren or prisoners. Curry powder and sultanas can only be an improvement to such a dish.

JANE: I agree!

ALAN: But not all British stews are necessarily bad. My friend Ian lived with a stew called Albert. Albert sat in a large pot on the back of the stove and grumbled away to himself day and night on a very low heat. When Ian was hungry he’d eat a bowl of Albert. When Albert started to get a bit low in the pot, Ian would throw in whatever was selling cheaply in the market and Albert would slowly assimilate it. He was one of the tastiest stews I’ve ever eaten. Adding curry powder to Albert would have been an insult.

JANE: Ian clearly knew what to feed Albert to maintain his health.

ALAN: Indeed he did.

Ian too was a curry fan and in 1976 he gave me The Complete Book of Curries by Harvey Day as a housewarming present. At the time, it was the definitive curry book, and had been since the mid-1960s. It has now been somewhat superseded by Madhur Jaffrey’s books and unfortunately it appears to have gone out of print. I think that’s a shame.

JANE: Thanks for the titles!

There’s an ominous aspect to cooking we haven’t addressed, but I’ll save asking you about it for next time.

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Thanks!

November 22, 2017

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays.  We’ll be having a few friends over for dinner.  Jim and I will provide the main course (including stuffing and potatoes and cranberries) and pies.  Our friends are bringing the side dishes.

Turkey Pot by Mary Weahkee

I love Thanksgiving because I celebrate it as an outgrowth of the traditional harvest festival, a time to pause and appreciate.  Thanksgiving is about being grateful for what I have – and I have a lot: a great husband, a home, and the chance to spend a lot of my time doing things I love, like writing.  I could keep listing, but I think you get the idea.

This time of year, I also try to look the things that I often view as stressful and negative from the “thankful” side.  Just one example…

We have two geriatric cats with kidney failure.  Taking care of them involves giving them subcutaneous fluids three times a week.  We’ve been doing this for well over a year for both of them.  Neither of them really likes getting fluids, so the sweatshirt I wear as my “armor” is beginning to be more holes than shirt.

But I’m grateful that Kwahe’e and Ogapgoe are responding well to treatment, that their kidney levels are more are less stable, and so they are enjoying their lives.  (As I write this, Ogapoge is bouncing back and forth between the kitchen table and the top of the microwave, apparently just for the fun of it.)

I’m grateful that I can afford the treatment – which in addition to the fluids involves regular bloodwork.  I’m grateful that I have Jim’s strong and steady participation in the process, because it’s definitely a job I couldn’t do solo.  Really, it’s worth the stress.

Being thankful is why I’ll be participating in “Indies First,” a sub-section of Small Business Saturday that focuses on independent bookstores.  Between 2:00 and 3:30 (maybe a bit later, depending), I’ll be at Page One Books here in Albuquerque acting as a Guest Bookseller.

Since this time I’ll not be focused on doing a reading or talking about a specific book, I’ll have time to chat with people, which will be really nice.  Page One will also be offering door prizes, a chance to sign up for drawings for free books, and lots of available staff to help you get a start on your Christmas shopping.

If you can’t make it, Page One now provides mail orders for signed books, both those in stock and special orders related to their many author events, so you may be able to find somethings special for the readers on your list, as well as supporting a small business.

I hope to see some of you there.  Now, off to make a pecan pie!

FF: Better Late Than…

November 17, 2017

Sorry this is late!  Yesterday I was immersed in writing and forgot what day of the week it was.

A Howling Good Read

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony.  Continuing my ventures into humorous fantasy re-reads.

Not Quite Dead Enough by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  (Actually two novellas, linked by time.  The other is Booby Trap.

In Progress:

Gambit by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

Rock of Ages by Walter Jon Williams.

Also:

Not much.  When I can take time from anything else, I’ve been writing.

TT: Jane Bakes, Roasts, and…

November 16, 2017

ALAN: So tell me about the things you like to cook.

JANE: Oh, heavens!  As I said last week, I’ve been cooking since I was a small child.  Listing what sort of things I don’t cook would be easier than what I do.  Let’s see.  I don’t really like sweet entrees.  So if I cook yams, they won’t be doused in marshmallows.  If I make a ham, no pineapple rings and brown sugar glaze.  You get the picture…

Home Baked Apple Cake

ALAN: But, wait.  From other discussions, I’ve gathered you like to make baked goods.  How does that fit in with your distaste for sweets?

JANE: Easily.  Even though I’m not excited by sweet entrees, I do like a well-made cookie, pie, or cake.  The emphasis is on “well-made.”  I can easily pass by most cakes, for example, although if my sister, Ann, is doing the baking, all bets are off.  She is pure magic with cakes.  I’m more likely to make cookies, brownies, or pies.

When I make fruit pies, I incline toward slightly tart fillings.  I bought some quinces when Jim and I visited Silver City some weeks ago and combined them with Granny Smith apples for the best apple pie I’ve ever made.

ALAN: I prefer the tart tastes as well. There’s a pun in there somewhere since the word tart has at least three quite different meanings, one of which is slightly rude. But let’s not go there…

JANE: Hmm…  The tart tasted a tart tart?  Sounds like a piece of flash fiction.  But lest I tangent from our tangent…

Encouraging my liking for baking is that I seem to get into relationships with men who like sweets.  Roger was known to order more than one dessert – and this after having a milkshake with his meal.  Jim definitely has a sweet tooth, but over the years he has moderated his consumption.  Therefore, if I’m in the mood to bake, I usually do so when we’re expecting guests.

Oh!  And when I have a local book signing, if the venue will permit me to do so, I’ll often bring home-baked cookies or brownies.

ALAN: A friend of mine has a very sweet tooth. Once, as a special treat for his birthday, his wife took him to a restaurant where she bought him sticky chocolate pudding for starters, then he had a normal main course followed by sticky chocolate pudding again for dessert. He remembers that birthday very fondly, but he’s never been allowed to repeat the experience.

I must confess that I quite fail to understand why he enjoyed it so much – I seldom order desserts in restaurants. So because I’m really not very interested in eating the end result, I don’t do baking. It all seems a little pointless to me.

JANE: That’s a pity, really, because your kitchen chemistry would get a workout when baking.  When my mom taught us to bake, she cautioned us to be very careful with measuring the leavening agent (baking soda or baking powder or sometimes both) because that had to be precise in relation to the other ingredients.  To this day, when I alter a recipe that involves leavening, I’m very careful to keep that in mind.

Is there anything else you don’t make?

ALAN: Well, because of my egg intolerance I have absolutely no idea how to boil, poach, fry or scramble an egg. And I’ve never made an omelet in my life.

JANE: Well, that still leaves a lot.  What’s your favorite type of dish to build a menu around?

ALAN: My meals generally consist of stews of one sort or another – or at least, dishes that depend on gravies or sauces of some kind. I also use a lot of herbs and spices to vary the flavours.

My chronic hay fever has almost destroyed my sense of smell and as a result of that my sense of taste is now much duller than it used to be. Foods which I remember as having an overwhelming taste in my childhood now barely register at all on my taste buds. Celery is a particularly good example. I simply couldn’t eat it when I was young because the taste was so powerful, but now I find the taste quite mild…

So I tend to cook a lot of curries.

JANE: What sort of curries?  Green?  Yellow?  Red?  Chinese style?  Thai?  Indian?

ALAN: Oh, Indian, of course. In my opinion, other types of curry are just a pale imitation of the real thing. After all, Indian curries are the British national dish. The recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala was developed in Glasgow, and many people claim that the Balti style of cooking curries was actually invented in Birmingham! The movie Victoria & Abdul suggests that Queen Victoria’s friendship with the young Indian Abdul Karim was what made curry fashionable in the first place…

JANE: What’s a Balti style curry?

ALAN: Most Indian curries are rather stew-like, and the long, slow simmering contributes greatly to the flavour. Balti curries are cooked quickly, rather like a stir fry, with the minimum of simmering, just enough to ensure that the meat (generally chicken) is cooked all the way through.

JANE:  Both sound great.  Are the curries you cook anything like the ones described in Terry Pratchett’s Jingo?

Let’s see, they’re described as “Containing yellow curry powder, big lumps of swede, green peas, and soggy sultanas the… size of eggs.”

I believe a sultana is what we’d call a golden raisin, but what’s a swede?

ALAN: That’s two questions – the question about the identity of a swede is quite easy to answer. A swede, believe it or not, is the bastard offspring of a turnip and a cabbage. It’s rather yellow (unlike turnips which are white). Some people call a swede a neep, others call it a rutabaga.

JANE: Urrgh…

ALAN: But the question about the curries in Jingo is far too complex to answer without going off on a tangent, so I think we should talk about it next time. For the moment, let’s just say that my curries are nothing at all like those described in Jingo.

JANE: Whew!  That really didn’t sound very appetizing.

Change(r) of Approach

November 15, 2017

Some of you may remember that a while back I invited feedback regarding new cover approaches for my novels Changer and Changer’s Daughter.  Everyone agreed that these books would be hard to represent in a simple picture, so I received few suggestions.  Nonetheless, perversely encouraged, I decided to forge ahead.

Changer E-Book

If you’re familiar with Changer and Changer’s Daughter (aka Legend’s Walking), feel free to skip the next two paragraphs.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the novels, I’ll offer a short description.

Changer and Changer’s Daughter are classic urban fantasy.  By this I mean that they have more in common with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or the mythic fiction of Charles de Lint and Terri Windling than with the paranormal romance novels for which marketers have appropriated the term “urban fantasy.”

You won’t find vampires, werewolves, or Faerie Folk in these novels.  You will find the athanor: deities and creatures whose tales are told in myths and legends from all over the world.  The athanor are neither static nor fixed in their roles, but pursue rivalries and goals old and new, even as they struggle to adjust to the modern world where they find hiding in plain sight much, much more difficult than it once had been.

Changer’s Daughter E-Book

When, at the request of readers who were eager to share the now out-of-print novels with friends, I decided to bring the books back into print as both e-books and trade paperbacks, I was in a dilemma as to what approach to use for cover art.

The original covers from Avon were interesting, even lovely, but they didn’t really suggest anything about the content of the novels.  When I was doing bookstore signings for Changer, the most common comment I received from people who wandered into the bookstore was “Oh, I love Tony Hillerman’s novels.”  This was not encouraging since (while I love Hillerman’s work) it’s a stretch to find anything in common between these books except that they share (in part) settings in the American Southwest.

The friend with whom I was working on the reprint project suggested we use coyotes.  This approach fit one aspect of the novel.  The Changer begins the novel as a coyote.  His daughter Shahrazad is a coyote pup throughout.  You can see these covers on my website and on-line.   They still adorn the trade paperback edition.

However, with the recent resurgence of interest in urban fantasy of the “mythic” sort, I felt a yearning to try for cover art that would get across the idea of urban fantasy.   I started by searching the stock art sites where I had successfully found art for the covers of the e-book editions of When the Gods Are Silent and Smoke and Mirrors.

While I found some interesting art, I failed to find two pieces by the same artist – or even featuring similar approaches – that would meet the challenge of representing the individual works, while indicating that the books belonged to a series.  I solicited opinions, but none of the many suggestions worked out.  Finally, my friends Rowan Derrick and Cale Mims (both of whom had read the books) suggested that perhaps a magic circle done in a street art fashion would provide an appropriate mood and tone.

Although a magic circle isn’t featured in either of the books, the idea of urban magic is an important element in both.  Since the art was going to be on an e-book – and therefore had to be effective on a relatively small “thumbnail” scale – I decided against a circle as too constraining.  Instead, I went with a fragment of a spell scrawled in colored chalk on a cinderblock wall.   I deliberately chose colors that would echo the southwestern setting of portions of both novels. The crackle of lightning suggests the spell coming to life.

The design was a laborious process but, in the end, we arrived at something that I felt said both “magic” and “urban” – and maybe even “mythic.”

For now, the coyotes will remain on the paperback, the new art on the e-book.  Why not?  In the world of the athanor, gods and monsters wear many faces.  Why shouldn’t the books that tell their story have different faces as well?

FF: Next Event

November 10, 2017

This Saturday, I’ll be at the Albuquerque Museum participating in their second Author Fest.  The Fest is between 10:00 and 4:00, and is free and open to the public.  In addition to me, SF/F will be represented by Betsy James (whose Roadsouls was among this year’s World Fantasy Award finalists) and Robert Vardeman).   Other genres, from mysteries to westerns, romance and thrillers will be represented.

Starlight Reads (and munches)

This event is a great way to get a jump on your holiday shopping, while supporting both the museum and local authors.  All those participating are donating a portion of their sales to the museum.  For more information about the event and talks associated with it, you can look here.

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Myth Directions by Robert Asprin.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.

In Progress:

A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony.  Continuing my ventures into humorous fantasy re-reads.

Not Quite Dead Enough by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

 Also:

Last week I forgot to note the audiobooks Jim and I listed to on our drive to and from Denver.

Notorious Nineteen and Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich.

TT: Hot Stuff!

November 9, 2017

ALAN: Last time you promised to tell me how you learned to cook.

JANE: Unlike you and Jim, who had to learn to cook when you were adults, I learned to cook when I was a kid – all of us did, including my brother, so this wasn’t part of preparing a girl to function as a future wife and mother.

Well Used but Very Useful

To be completely honest, both my parents enjoyed cooking, so cooking was a routine part of life.

ALAN: Last time I mentioned that I learned to cook by reading recipe books and following them step by step, using practical skills that I’d picked up from my studies of chemistry.  But I would imagine that your learning experience was quite different from mine.

JANE: Not as different as you might imagine.  Mom taught us a lot of the basics, but she was determined to have us learn how to follow recipes.  I remember a slim cookbook of recipes for kids that we used.

ALAN: What sort of recipes did this include?

JANE: It’s been a long, long time, but I still remember two.  One was for cinnamon toast, and the other was for hotdogs stuffed with cheese.  Both of these involved multiple steps, as well as using the broiler setting on the oven, so they were real cooking.

Later on, my sister and I learned to make cookies and such.  We also made candy and donuts.  I can’t remember if my brother got into this, beyond the eating part.

ALAN: That’s the best part… Were you expected to help with preparing family meals as well?

JANE: Absolutely.  Each of us started with basics like making the salad, then graduated to more complicated things.  My mom wanted to go back to work and school when she had us all in school full-time, and she started planning in advance to make it possible for us to prepare some of the meals.

The first step was basic spaghetti and meat balls.  She would make the sauce in advance, but we’d make the meatballs ourselves.  This meant seasoning the meat, shaping it, browning the meatballs to the sauce, cooking the pasta, making a salad and having everything ready on time.

It says something about my mom that she thought of this as a “simple and easy” cooking job, since she’d already made the sauce (from scratch, of course).

ALAN: You said “first step.”  What about the second and subsequent steps? What were some of the other meals you learned to make?

JANE: Mom’s idea was that she would teach each of us three older kids to cook one meal.  That way, we could cover three nights if she couldn’t be home.

I was assigned pot roast.

ALAN: I use a crockpot to cook pot roasts. They take about 7 hours but boy are they yummy.

JANE: Honestly, I hate pot roast.  I like my meat at least medium rare and with texture.  Apparently, I made a great pot roast, but I always wanted to pull my share of the meat out early, before it got “ruined.”

My sister, Ann, was assigned chicken pot pie.

ALAN: I just went and looked that up because I wasn’t familiar with the term “pot pie.” I’d just call it a chicken pie… Did you make the pastry from scratch?

JANE: A while back we discussed how Brits think of pie as a savory, Americans as a sweet.  I’d guess the varied terms reflect that.

To answer your questions, yep!  Pie crust from scratch.  My mom’s idea of basic, easy cooking for kids did not involve pre-made short cuts.  But you need to understand, all of this was going on in the context of us already knowing a lot about cooking.  I made my first roast by myself when I was seven.

ALAN: A proper roast as opposed to a pot roast? At only seven years old? I’m impressed, particularly if you did all the trimmings as well.

JANE: Yep, I did.  My uncle was in town on business and my mom had invited him to dinner.  Then she twisted her ankle and needed to lie down with it elevated.  So I was directed to cook dinner.  I still remember trotting up and down the stairs to Mom’s room, to get each stage of the directions for seasoning, preparing the potatoes, and all the rest.

I liked that dinner!  Roast beef has rare parts.

ALAN: I regard roasts as simply an excuse to make lots of stock (I never buy stock, I always make my own) so I tend only to cook them when my stock of stock runs low. So to speak…

JANE: Ouch…  I make my own stock, too, and soups.   No matter how demanding her expectations were, I think Mom did things right.  All four of her kids enjoy cooking – including my brother, who is quite a good cook.  Jim and I have gone out of our way to learn a bunch of Mom’s recipes, including my great-grandmother’s spaghetti sauce, two kinds of sausage, ravioli, stuffed squid, clam and lobster sauce, and green tomato relish (my grandmother’s recipe).  And whenever we get together, we always end up cooking – sometimes traditional stuff, sometimes experiments.

ALAN: What about styles of cooking? What kind of things do you like to cook? Are there any dishes that you won’t touch with a bargepole?

JANE: Oh…  That could get complicated.  How about we leave it for next time?

Iron Hack

November 8, 2017

It probably says something about modern life that the last two conventions I’ve attended have included panels focused around encouraging would-be writers to examine how much writing can be done in a very short period of time.

Twenty Minutes Tick Down!

The panel I was on at MileHiCon took its inspiration from the “Iron Chef” cooking show.  In this case, the three secret ingredients were supplied by the audience moments before the writing started.  They were asked to give us a profession, an item, and a setting, all of which should be included in the story.  Our audience gave us a chef, a ray gun (specifically a toy ray gun), and a lunar colony.

Stace Johnson, the moderator, announced that we would have twenty minutes to write.  So the audience wouldn’t get bored watching us scribble and grimace, they were encouraged to take part as well.  Three of the panelists had some electronic writing device – a laptop or a tablet with keyboard.  I had a notebook and pen.  The fellow to my left did his writing on an unlined hotel notepad with a hotel pen.

Unlike most panels I’ve been on, the format of this one didn’t give me a chance to firmly set in my mind which names went with which panelists, but I want to assure you all four all dove into the challenge with enthusiasm.

Stace Johnson set his timer and we were off!  For your amusement, I’ll transcribe what I wrote in those twenty minutes.  (I’ll leave out the cross-outs and creative spelling.)

Gran Prix was scrambling eggs when Gordon Garb, the sheriff of Lunar West, came racing in, ray guns drawn.

 “Did you see him?”

“Who?”

“Ostrich Al!  He just swiped a load of diamonds from the shipping dock and headed this way.”

“Nope.  Sorry.  What would he have been doing here?

“No idea.  We figure he probably was meeting a confederate.  Anyone here but you?”

“No one.”  Gran Prix placidly pulled his mixer attachment out of the egg froth and extruded his griddle.  Then he poured the eggs onto the surface and started gently turning them with his whisk.

“Sorry for bothering you, Gran,” Sherriff Garb said.  “May I go out back?  Al might have circled around to the loading dock.”

“Sure.  Watch out for the chickens.”

Gran Prix slid the scrambled eggs onto a serving tray, activated the anti-grav boost, and sent it out into the dining room.  Out back he could hear that Gordon Garb hadn’t paid any attention to his warning about the chickens.

On the Moon, chickens ceased being the squat, slightly ridiculous creatures they were on Earth, and became the ferocious aerial warriors they had always imagined themselves as being.  When Sherriff Garb returned, he looked as if the sky – well, at least as if something – had been falling.

Grab Prix was now busy stir-frying chunks of fresh meat.

“Smells good, Gran,” Gordon Garb said as he availed himself of the spray mist washer attachment more usually used for cleaning veggies from the hydroponic gardens.

That’s where time was called, but if I’d had another twenty or thirty minutes, I could have finished the story.  I still might.  I’m happy to say the audience seemed to like my venture, although (and I completely agree) the “win” went to the fellow on my right who had written the tale of an alien chef and his very difficult to please client.  Unlike my piece, he managed to come up with more of an ending.

What was interesting was what the writers chose to seize on.  For me, setting combined with chef were the inspiration.  The ray gun (and an interesting chat I’d had with Eric Flint, Dave Boop, and Jim) gave me the “Wild West” note.  For Stace Johnson “toy ray gun” was the inspiration around which he centered his story.  The fellow to my left completely forgot the ray gun in his original draft, but worked it in at the last minute as he was reading his piece aloud.

So, what did I get out of this other than 250 words of prose?  Well, if I finish this, I’ll have a short story – possibly only a bit of “flash fiction,” but still, better than staring at the wall and brooding.

I also got a window into how the same topic can create wildly different stories.  At least four people from the audience read their selections, and not a single one of the nine pieces read aloud were the same.

I think this activity could be a great way of getting out of a dry spell.  Even if a writer doesn’t have an audience to supply the three ingredients, items like Rory’s Story Cubes which I wrote about a while back, or decks of image cards (which Artist GOH Carrie Ann Baade said she uses in some of her classes) would supply the prompt.  SnackWrites provides free writing exercises that might provide the seeds from which a story could grow.

I also learned how what’s going on in my day-to-day life fills in the gaps.  If I hadn’t had that discussion about Westerns, would I have made my setting Lunar West?  If I hadn’t been on a panel the day before in which chickens came up for discussion, would I have included the chickens?  This exercise was a good reminder that writers need to keep stimulating their imaginations by doing more than just staring at the screen.

On that note, I’m off to do some more stimulating things…  And definitely to do more writing!

FF: Not Quite Killing

November 3, 2017

Last week a killing frost was announced.  When Jim and I returned home from Denver and MileHiCon, we discovered that there had been frost, but not quite killing.  And that a rogue pomegranate evaded being picked…

Persephone In Mythic Mode

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Fairy Tail, manga, volume 12 by Hiro Mashima.

Another Fine Myth by Robert Asprin. 

Myth Directions by Robert Asprin.

Fer-de-lance by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  Interesting not only as a story, but to see how the characters of Nero, Archie, Fritz, and Theodore started out before Stout solidified their personalities.

In Progress:

Myth Directions by Robert Asprin.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.

 Also:

Much background reading as I ease myself back into the Firekeeper universe after ten years away.

TT: Men in the Kitchen

November 2, 2017

ALAN: The other night Robin said that one of the reasons she stays with me is because I feed her. I pointed out that feeding her was merely a side effect of feeding me, and she had to admit the justice of that statement. As I’ve proved times without number, when she’s away visiting her mum, I still cook tasty meals for myself. It just so happens that when she’s here, she can share them with me.

Let’s Get Cooking!

JANE: Robin’s comment is interesting.  I’ve been known to say that one of the advantages of being married to Jim is that he can cook.  Now, mind you, I can cook and I enjoy cooking, but I also enjoy living with someone who can and will take over.

ALAN: I am continually surprised by the number of people I know who can’t cook for themselves. I know far too many people who appear to live on nothing but microwave meals and takeaways. Personally speaking, I can imagine nothing worse.

JANE: So how did you learn to cook?  Especially for a man of your generation, cooking isn’t a usual skill.

ALAN: That’s an interesting question. Certainly I didn’t learn as I was growing up. My mum was a traditional English cook who started boiling the vegetables round about the time she put the roast in the oven. Her meals were bland and soggy – typical English fare of that era. She guarded her kitchen fiercely and wouldn’t allow me anywhere near it, so I got no cooking practice at all as a child.

But when I left home and was thrown on my own resources, I had to sink or swim. Cook or starve. Or eat takeaways…

JANE: Jim also didn’t learn to cook from his mother.  He started cooking when he was in college, and then continued after.  I suspect that the fact that he wanted to eat healthy played a part in his acquiring the skill.

Nonetheless, because he was a bachelor when I met him, apparently some of his friends assumed he couldn’t cook.  I recall one woman saying that she hosted regular potlucks (to which Jim was asked to bring salsa or something else he could pick up pre-made) because “This way I can be sure the Jim and Chip get at least one decent meal every week.”

I was quite startled because she had known Jim for ages, but never had gotten beyond this sexist stereotype.

ALAN: Yes, I’ve come across that attitude as well. It seems to be quite common.

JANE: In fact, even now that more men routinely cook, Jim and I still encounter such stereotypes.  We like to grill, and Jim has become very good at it.  However, he never gets the praise he deserves because – at least here in the U.S. – grilling is considered “man cooking.”

What makes us both laugh is that I was the one who taught him how to grill.  He really had no idea how to handle the finer points.

But I went off on a tangent, didn’t I?  Sorry.  You said you didn’t learn to cook from your mother.  How did you learn to cook?  Who were your teachers?

ALAN: Well, as you know, I studied chemistry at university. So I’ve always been very comfortable with the idea of mixing stuff together and applying heat to make interesting things happen. It’s what you do in chemistry labs and it’s what you do in kitchens – in both places you concentrate on making bangs, smells and pretty colours. Hopefully not too many bangs though…

So I just bought recipe books and followed the instructions. What could possibly go wrong?

JANE: Oh, dear…  I can think of lots of things!

ALAN: I may have phrased what I said flippantly, but I really did mean it seriously – the techniques of the laboratory work very well in the kitchen. And vice-versa of course.

To begin with I followed the recipes in my books religiously, but as I got more experienced I relaxed a bit. I digressed and substituted ingredients, experimenting with this and that, learning what things went well together and what things didn’t. So my cookery is largely self-taught. However most people seem to enjoy eating the food I prepare, so perhaps I’m a good teacher…

JANE: What made you decide to start cooking in the first place?

ALAN: Partly the fact that I enjoy eating tasty food, and partly a vague desire to eat healthily. But the main motivation was economic. It’s very expensive to live on takeaways, and it’s comparatively cheap to cook for yourself using fresh ingredients. For example, last night I cooked a large curry which will provide Robin and me with three substantial and tasty meals. The ingredients cost about $25 in total so each meal works out to approximately $4 per person. I don’t think you could get a takeaway meal for that price.

JANE: I agree!

ALAN: But what about you? How did you gain your culinary skills?

JANE: Ah…  There hangs a tale.  How about I tell it next time?