Sunday, April 29, 2007

Cthulthu + cyberpunk. minus the punk. minus the cyber.

I’ve got no food to talk about today. If you want food tonight, go to food network, because I’m already over it. Sure, I could pour through my cookbooks to find something, but I’d rather just talk about some cool stuff I’ve been reading. Cuz it’s cooler than food.

I just finished reading Cory Doctorow’s collection of short stories Overclocked. It’s sort of cyberpunk, except without the punk. And without the cyber. Ever started reading a William Gibson or a Charlie Stross and wondered “wtf”? start with Doctorow. He’s the steps in between, the almost future, the tomorrow you can see on a horizon a few clicks before the cyberpunk. This volume has 5 short stories, most of which are prophetic and funny, and a little scary. Doctorow claims to know the future by knowing the present, and he’s right. We’re only a few steps away from his predictions of sentient computers who commit suicide, and already there with people in 3rd world countries being paid to play WoW and sell the winnings on E-bay. When you think about it, his predictions make perfect sense, because we have all the tools to make them a reality. When you think about it some more, you realize they make perfect sense because we’ve already been there before. Maybe not the same people, or the same countries, or the same technologies, but the same wars and the same bigotry. and his I Row-Boat story is just hilarious. I want the website for the Asimov Yeshiva!

it’s very sad how lacking I am in my scifi foundations. Embarrassing, in fact. You can’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve been.
Next in the reading pile is Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, a tomb of short stories by H.P. Lovecraft (duh), and other authors who took over his legacy after his death in the 1930s, such as Clark Aston Smith, Frank Long, Robert Bloch, and August Derleth. I’m only two stories into the tomb, and I’ve already scared the crap out of myself. Most of these short stories were written between 1920 and 1940, with a few written in the last 20 years (such as that one by Stephen King). Yes, the writing style is more formal than I am used to, but I’ll get over it. it’s very sad how lacking I am in my scifi foundations. Embarrassing, in fact. You can’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve been. Maybe one day I’ll have enough of a foundation of what the hell is going on to really understand what I’m reading.

I’m now signed up to be a reviewer with SFRevu, and I got my first book from them, called Splinter, by Adam Roberts. Not much on the back cover, but I’m immediately thinking Nickelodeon’s “Skyland”. SFRevu’s reviewing guidelines are on the vanilla side, but what can I say? I’m a whore for free ARCs.

What, this bookgasm isn’t enough food for thought?

Random thought for the day: the theme song to Kappa Mikey and Avril Lavigne’s new song “Girlfriend” are exactly the same. I’ve been watching Kappa Mikey just so I can sing the Avril lyrics, and everytime I hear that stupid bubblegum song on the radio, I sing the Kappa Mikey song.

I wonder what my life would be like if I watched a tv channel other than Nickelodeon?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Epic fantasy in 30 seconds, done by bunnies

I finally finished Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World. Finally. Will I read the next installment? And the next? And the next? Probably not. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun read. He’s a great author. A master.

My beef isn’t with Jordan. My problem, I think, is with hero-quest fantasy in general. I’ve read, maybe 10 or less traditional epic fantasy novels. Perhaps this is simply what hero-quest fantasy is, but they all seem to read the same.

Observe: a young man (or 2 or 3) are informed they have a magical power/object/anscenstor that the supreme bad guy will do anything to get his hands on. Assisted by a witch/wizard/healer said youngsters leave their village to go to the source of their magical whatever, which is not only as far as possible from where the live, but it’s probably also in the basement of the uber bad-guys house. The teenagers see their world, become men, meet girls, and find out their village really is a podunk shit-kicker pimple on the edge of the universe. They will be joined by other characters who will aid them in their quest, via hidden talents that the quest couldn’t be completed without. One of these characters must be of a race the humans think are ugly, stupid, scary, and shouldn’t be talked to, or about, but everyone will learn people of that race are normal, nice people. The band must include a healer, a master of magic, a warrior, someone who can talk to animals, a de-throned king/price, an archer, and a damsel in distress type chick who has a super awesome magical power she may not be aware of. The good guys will eventually win, and very few good guys will die. The de-throned king/prince will get the girl.

Sounds like the perfect team for any World of Warcraft quest, or whatever they call them in that game.

So whose fault are these stereotypes? Or is stereotype simply part of what fantasy (or at least hero-quest fantasy) is all about? Tolkien? Jordan? Fiest? I don’t think it’s any of their faults. A friend told me I thought hero quest fantasy all read the same because I didn’t have a good enough imagination to appreciate it. That’s fine. I didn’t argue with that, and I’m not going to, either. I do wish more fantasy authors would have a good enough imagination to get away from the stereotypes. I know some of them do it (Martin, Lovecraft, Moorcock, anyone?), why can’t more? But I guess those guys don’t really write the traditional epic hero quest fantasy, do they?

Now that I’m foaming at the mouth about fantasy, it’s time for some good french style food. Something that makes me drool at the mouth, not foam at it. The english name of this dish is “chicken chaser”, which sounds pretty uninspiring. You might know it as chicken catchettore, or the provincial french name, Poulet Chasseur. Whatever the name, how could chicken simmered in wine and butter be anything but incredible?

You’ll need:
Big skillet or large heavy saucepan
Olive oil
3 tbsp butter, divided
about 3 lbs chicken peices
3-4 shallots, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp flour
5-6 oz sliced mushrooms
1 cup white wine
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
tarragon and parsley
salt & pepper
crusty bread

heat some oil and 2 tbsp butter in the skillet. Add chicken pieces and brown them on all sizes. Remove the chicken from the pan. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook until soft. Stir in flour and mushrooms. Keep stirring, the flour will brown slightly. Stir in tomatoes and wine. Bring to a boil, and keep stirring it! Return chicken to pan, season with herbs and salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat for 50 minutes. Remove chicken, and bring the sauce to a boil to thicken it somewhat. Reduce heat and stir in remaining butter. Pour sauce over chicken and serve hot, with plenty of crusty bread to sop up all that amazing sauce

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Jordan vs Tolkein vs the world!

I'm currently about 2/3 way through Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World. if that doesn't ring a bell to you, that is the first book in his never ending, detail laden, time-space continuum tearing "Wheel of Time" series. here are some of my thoughts as i was reading the book:

page 100: damn this guy is good!

page 200: so this is what would happen if the Bene Gesserit ran wild in Middle Earth. . .

page 300: damn, this guy is still good! not sure if i give him much points for originality, but still decent. (high king Artur? is it so bloody hard to find a name for your high king that doesn't sound like "Arthur?" come on!)

page 400: wolfman dude rocks. are we there yet?

page 500: no seriously. life is too short. are we there yet?

as soon as i come to terms with the fact that this series is something to be enjoyed over a lifetime (or five), as opposed to being enjoyed over a summer, i will start enjoying it much more. it's not like i can't wait 2-3 years between reading the next books in the series. i'm sure Jordan will fill in any and all possible details i might have forgotten from the previous installment. the biggest complaint i've heard about him is his obsession with detail - telling us what everyone ate for dinner, telling us what everyone is wearing, what their horses look like. . . but i like the way he does it. it flows smoothly. you know you're getting insane amounts of detail, but it isn't painful. you don't even know what's happening until you've read 200 pages, and only 2 hours have passed in the story.

so i shall finish this volume, i shall enjoy it, and this time next year i'll get the 2nd book. it's like Chess: it only takes a few hours to learn the rules, but it takes a lifetime to master.

for something completely different, i feel this primal urge to read my Kurt Vonnegut collection, and find more of his stuff around town. One day i will own all his books. Too bad i can't get past this fetish of having to buy them used. new books just don't smell right. they smell dead.

now for food. you didn't think i'd post without talking about food, did you? i looked through my previous entries, and it looks like i haven't yet tortured anyone with Coq au Vin. the what-what? Coq = Cock, au Vin = in wine. What did the french farmer do when the rooster stopped, roostering? slaughtered it and ate it for dinner! and the only way to get that nasty rooster meat tender enough to eat was to simmer it in wine for an hour with onions, bacon, and whatever vegetables were handy. This is the epitome of french provincial-ness, so of course, i consider it a special treat!

serves 6, usually with some leftovers for lunch the next day.

you'll need:
1 tbsp butter
olive oil
2-ish lbs chicken parts. doesn't matter if they have bones, doesn't matter if they have skin. you don't really have to eat a nasty 12 year old rooster.
2-3 slices bacon
small package pearl onions (about 16 onions)
8oz fresh button mushrooms
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp flour
2 1/2 cups red burgundy wine
3/4 cup chicken stock
mix of herbs - rosemary, thyme, savory, lavender, sage
salt & pepper
chopped fresh parsley
french bread (for serving with)

how to get the skin off pearl onions: submerge the onions in boiling water for about 5 minutes. drain them. on a cutting board, chop the bottom off, then with your other hand, push the insides out through the bottom. sounds odd, but it really works!

you will need a pan large enough to hold all of the ingredients at once. trust me, it's no fun learning half way through the cooking process that not everything will fit in your pan.

in a very large non-stick skillet or large non-stick sauce pan, melt the butter and fry the bacon. when the bacon is cooked, remove and drain it. then chop it. add a little olive oil, and the onions. fry them until they start to turn brown. remove w/slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels. follow the same steps with the mushrooms. turn the heat up to medium, add a bit more oil, and add the chicken peices, turning them so they brown on all sides. they don't need to be close to cooked, but we want some brown bits. when they are at that step, remove and drain on paper towels. add chopped onion and carrot to the pan, when they start to brown a bit, add the chopped garlic. add flour, and stir continously for 2 minutes. now add the wine, and stock, and bring to a boil. allow to boil for a minute or two. this will boil off some of the alcohol, but trust, me not all of it.

return all ingredients to pan, add salt and pepper and herbs. stir well. cover and simmer on low heat for 50-60 minutes, or until chicken is tender. when done, remove all meat and vegetables, and boil the sauce to thicken. return all meat and vegetables to pan, garnish with chopped parsley, and serve in bowls with crusty french bread.

you will dirty every knife and bowl in your kitchen, and once you eat this, you won't mind.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

the worst book i've ever read.

it's April somethinth, and it's freakin' snowing. i do NOT live in Marquette, so why the hell is it snowing? learn how to make this delish potato gratin, or scroll all the way down to read my real thoughts on what has to be the worst book i've ever read.

Gratin Savoyard. this dish will cost you about $15, and $10 of that will be just the cheese.
you'll need:
2 lbs new potatoes
1 1/2 cups grated Grueyere cheese (i just buy a block & grate it myself)
2 tbsp butter
salt & pepper

preheat oven to 400.

scrub and peel the potatoes, keeping them in a large bowl of cool water until you are read to slice them.

grease a shallow caserole dish. layer the ingredients in the following manner: slices potatoes, sprinkle of salt/pepper, cheese, sprinkle of nutmeg, dots of butter. go light on the salt, as this is a rather salty cheese. you should end up with 2 or 3 layers of this, depending on the size of your dish. make sure the top layer is cheese- nutmeg - dots of butter.

bake at 400 for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. let sit 5 minutes before serving.

that was easy! you survived the suspense!

i recently wrote a book review of Anthony William's Scales. This was the hardest review i've ever written because it was the worst book i've ever read. i needed to be honest, yet tactful in my review, but i don't have to be tactful in my own damn blog, do i? go read the review, tell me if it is tactful or not.

it annoys me to no end when reviewers are "nice", or "polite", because they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. not every author is going to be the next Robert Jordan, or the next Wil McCarthy, or whomever. This isn't a bad thing.

if every other sentence in the book start with "I", and the characters are flatter than pancakes, and there is no central plot line just unfinished episodes, and characters have the long term memory of a fruit fly, and it just gets worse from there, why should i say "this book isn't for me, but maybe others would like it?" That would be dishonest to everyone involved. i had fears my article would start some kind of shitstorm, but all's been quiet on the western front. and don't even get me started on the fact that this book was "self published". meaning the author paid to have it printed. barf.

note to any and all authors who request i read and review their books: i will be honest. promise.

luckily, i've moved onto bigger (and smaller) and better things. on the plate at the moment is Jennifer Caress's Perverted Realities. what a bizarre title! this 100-page novella is short and sweet. Story lines are reminiscent of old school Stephen King, where his short stories were somewhat open ended, to force the reader to wonder if the good guys won or not. i like that. her two main characters are a little on the freaky side. they think they are normal, so the reader has an easy time thinking they are normal. So some cheers to Caress. I think she's got potential to be a quality story teller, as some funky grammatical problems are easy fixes. Review to be posted. . . soon.

complete opposite of that 100-pager would be the first book in Robert Jordan's wheel of time The Eye of the World. I don't plan to turn into an obsessive WOT-er, but Jordan's characterization is some of the best, if not the best i've ever read. and sure, it's got that Tolkien feel, and the foreshadowing smacks you over the head like a ton of bricks, but it is very enjoyable. a healthy escape. and it is SO nice to read fantasy where the chicks aren't just damsels in distress, waiting for their boytoys to come of age and save them.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

not much doing in 2 weeks.

it's spring, which means 1) mad planning for passover (starts tomorrow, and the cooking marathon starts today), 2) it's warm enough to finally go outside and prep my lame porch garden and 3)springtime means job is kicking my ass for the next 2 months. ahh, the joys of spring!

you'd think i'd gotten a lot of reading done in the last 2 weeks. tons of reviews up, tons of reading. . . yummy brains to eat. you'd think wrongly, because what mostly happened was me picking up a book, reading 30 pages, losing interest, then doing it again. wash, rinse, repeat. i am starving for intellectual intercourse. and lunch. i'm also hungry for lunch.

but i did finally finish Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow. holy crap. read this. go buy a copy right now. and mix yourself a strong drink when you get to the end. when i got to the end, i was sitting on the sofa, and Mike was on the 'puter. i had to tell him "don't look over here, cuz i'm at the end of this book, and i'm crying. so don't look over here". Basics of the book: we pick up a radio transmission from an alien planet, the mission borrows some spiffy asteroid mining technology to get a group of humans there at near light speed. we get there, we meet the aliens, and most of them die. parts of the story are told as a flashback by the sole survivor, a Jesuit priest. and did i mention the mission was organized and paid for by the Church? if i ever meet Mrs Russell, i'm going to ask her how many nights she couldn't sleep because of the pain and shock her characters went through. She must have gone through a lot of that with them. All authors are given the opportunity to play God - to help their characters, hurt them, answer thier prayers, or not. even if you're not into scifi or fiction, read this book just for the dialogue. it's got the best damn dialogue i have ever come across. ever. We're trying to discuss this as our reading club book over at Sci Fi Haven by the way. Stop over there, otherwise i'm going to write another 20 paragraphs about this book.

also just finished Anthony William's Scales. hhmmm.... how to put this? i will be polite and tactful in my official online reviews. after those reviews have been put submitted and possibly published at my haunts, i will then post my real thoughts here. if i can't be honest on my own blog, what is the point of having one? i am under NO requirements to be polite in my own god damn backyard. but on the other hand, i don't want the give the author a heart attack.

i've got myself so psyched up, i'm actually excited for the responses. i'm sure they won't all be positive. to be continined.

mmmm...... fooooodddd..... and i've had nothing but coffee so far this morning, so i'm starving. so many yummy passover recipes, what to choose?

this is the big turkey i make when i host a seder. i think i stole it from one of Giada's thanksgiving cooking shows. she's such a babe. and this is easy.

again, so easy, you'll laugh.

you'll need:
a big turkey or chicken, or one of those stuffable turkey breasts.
1 large onion
1 lemon
2 oranges
1/2 tsp of black pepper
1/4 tsp of salt
1/4 thyme
1 - 2 tsp of the following, depending on your tastes, and how big the turkey is: rosemary, basil, parsley, herbs de provence, paprika. can be dried or freshly chopped/ground.
a few fresh sprigs of rosemary, a few fresh basil leaves.
3-4 cloves garlic, 2 should be minced, the other(s) cut in half.
3-4 tbsp olive oil

for the onion and lemon, cut them in half. cut one half into wedges, and the other slice thinly. cut one orange into wedges, and slice the other one. the skin should stay on the lemon and orange.

on your turkey, roll the skin back as far as possible. you don't want to tear it, but your going to be seasoning between the skin at the flesh, so just carefully roll it back.

in a bowl, blend the olive oil with the dried/chopped herbs, salt and pepper, and minced garlic. using your hands, or a brush, brush this all over the flesh of the turkey. in places where you didn't pull skin back, like legs, brush it over the skin. leave a little left in the bowl. put the sliced orange onion and lemon on the flesh, then roll the skin back, covering the herbs, citrus, and onion. any remaining herbs and oil should be brushed over the skin. the more oil thats on the skin, the browner and crunchier it will be later.

stuff the cavity with the wedges of citrus and onion, and any fresh sprigs and herb leaves you have. you'll have to use toothpicks to keep the cavity closed. cover with tinfoil, and follow your mom's turkey cooking directions, or the ones on the packaging for the turkey you bought (you did read it before you pitched it, right?).

3 or so hours later, you'll have a juicy delish main course. perfect for Passover, Thanskgiving, and probably Easter too.

alright, i'm off to find lunch and write reviews.