Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category
December 12th, 2013
Actually, I think crystallized ginger is a year-round must-have. But I want to make these great dark chocolate ginger cookies this afternoon, so making crystallized ginger last night was important.
Of course, if you have a convenient place to buy crystallized ginger, that’s fine. But if you don’t, then this is very easy. Plus, as a perk, you also get about two cups of blazingly good ginger syrup, which you can stir into drinks or drizzle over gingerbread or apple cake or whatever you like. Pumpkin-pecan pancakes are pretty tasty with ginger syrup. Whatever.
So, crystallized ginger:
1 lb (or so) ginger roots
3 C (or so) sugar
3 C (or so) water
Peel the ginger. Slice about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. I suggest lengthwise slices, which lie better on wire racks later.
Place the ginger in a pan and add equal amounts of sugar and water until the ginger slices are covered. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and boil gently for, oh, about an hour and fifteen minutes, until the sugar syrup reaches 220 degrees. It seriously does take well over an hour for the temp to come up that last little bit, so there’s no point sitting there watching the candy thermometer. Just get a gentle boil going and set the timer for an hour and go do other things for a while.
Once the syrup reaches 220 degrees, remove the pan from the heat and let the ginger just sit there in the syrup until it is cool. I just left mine overnight.
When the syrup is cool, pour the ginger through a strainer, into a bowl so you keep the syrup. You will have about two cups of syrup. Pour this into a jar and stick it in the fridge, where it will last basically forever. Though if you wait long enough, it may start to crystallize.
Anyway, toss the ginger slices with sugar. Then lay the slices out in a single layer on wire racks and let them sit out all day or overnight. Then pack them into a container. I store these in the fridge because I once had a batch mold.
Now that you have plenty of crystallized ginger, you really should try these cookies, even if you are suspicious of the combination of dark chocolate and ginger. They are superb.
2 3/4 C all purpose flour
1/4 C cocoa
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 C butter, softened
3/4 C brown sugar
1/2 C molasses
2/3 C buttermilk
1/2 C chopped crystallized ginger
1 1/2 C semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and molasses. Beat in the buttermilk. Stir in the flour mixture. Fold in the crystallized ginger and chocolate chips.
Drop by rounded Tbsp on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Try not to overbake. Cool 2 minutes on the pans. Remove to racks to finish cooling.
If you like, make sandwich cookies with this filling:
6 oz cream cheese, softened
2 C powdered sugar
1/2 C minced crystallized ginger
Posted in: Blog, The Best Cookies In The World by Rachel on December 12th, 2013
December 11th, 2013
I knew RIVER OF STARS would be broad-scale and epic. But I was in the mood for something like that, after reading one or two short, fluffy books.
I also knew it would be really, really well-written and beautiful. Again, I was in the mood for that.
But I didn’t realize it would be a tragedy.
RIVER OF STARS is set in a land and era inspired by the Song Dynasty of China. Those of you who know one Chinese dynasty from another would no doubt have realized that RIVER OF STARS was going to be a tragedy. Me, I just know that there were a lot of Chinese dynasties, but I don’t know their order or main events, so I didn’t realize this.
Despite the beauty of the writing and the story’s excellent, sympathetic protagonists, I was forced to maintain an emotional distance through the whole novel, because the story of a great nation brought down by barbarians, unnecessarily, because of the sheer vanity and unbelievable incompetence of its leaders was just painful to read about. Kay does not do grimdark, so fortunately the reader is spared intimate, detailed descriptions of the pillage and destruction. But still.
I know that from time to time in the real world a great nation really does just step over the edge of a cliff, apparently voluntarily, and plummet down into ruins and flames. I know that the utter incompetence and vanity and greed and blind commitment to unbelievable stupidity of those at the top can shove a great nation right over the edge, even if the great mass of people are trying to claw their way back up. It happens. I know that. But it is still painful to watch those events unfolding. And to see that at the end, the new Emperor is just as bad as the old — ruled by fear, ready to throw his own people to the wolves and betray the one man who saved what’s left of the Kitai Empire . . . really. It’s painful.
I would gladly nominate RIVER OF STARS for 2013 awards. It is a brilliant novel. But I will also give it away, because there is no real chance I will ever want to re-read it.
Posted in: Blog by Rachel on December 11th, 2013
December 10th, 2013
Click through and watch this video over at Janet Reid’s blog.
It will take under a minute. There’s no soundtrack you need to mute. It’s just a short, silent little video of words, with different fonts and stuff.
You will probably like it even if you are not currently writing a book or thinking about writing a book or hoping someday to write a book. But if you ARE, then yeah, click through and watch the little tiny video.
Posted in: Blog by Rachel on December 10th, 2013
December 10th, 2013
Nice post here by Judith Tarr, who as you may know is seriously into horses.
About bloggers who write about their relationship with animals, but their post makes it clear that it’s all about them and they aren’t really seeing the animal as a unique individual.
Actually, I think that’s sometimes a legitimate way of looking at “animals” in the abstract — through the lens of literary allusions and as a mirror of the self. It’s only when someone tries to interact with an individual animal that way that everything falls apart, because yes of *course* an individual horse or dog or cat — or fox, whatever — is an actual individual and not a literary or mythic construct.
I really do know people who buy a burger for themselves and also one for their dog (a toy dog). They really must not be able to see the real animal, or they would notice it is a tenth or a sixth their size. I sometimes ask, Do you really want to eat six burgers right now? Do you think it would be good for you to eat that many?
Anyway, I just started teaching Honey about Sit and Down and Heel and all those things. It is so funny because I just didn’t quite ever do anything with her, and now here she is at nine months and she doesn’t know anything. Of course by now she has an adult attention span, and she’ll figure things out pretty briskly, I’m sure. But it’s so different working with my nine-year-old Pippa and then with Honey.
Of course I have to spend at least a few minutes with each of my girls because I can’t have anybody feeling left out, right? And each one is SO DIFFERENT from all the others.
Pippa is so intense and into it. She is the one I sometimes enter on the spur of the moment and show in Rally A/E at whatever show, with almost no practice. She loves to go with me and she LOVES to show off.
Adora has almost as many titles as Pippa, but she’s so different. She is very sensitive and needs to do everything right nearly all the time. She doesn’t like to be told she’s wrong — even my saying “Oops, sorry,” when she misses a jump or whatever, she doesn’t like that. I need to make sure she’s right at least 90% of the time and then she really, really loves showing. She was a wonderful dog in the breed ring, always showing with bounce and verve. (She lost two teeth and retired before finishing her championship).
Dora’s first Best of Breed win
Kenya is a total flibbertigibbet. She is so flighty and silly. And the promise of treats makes her even MORE silly! She is much more nervous by nature than Pippa or Adora, too. She only has two performance titles, and she is hard to show even in the breed ring because she does twenty things when a calmer Cavalier would just pose. She is fun to work with, but very demanding.
Folly, Adora’s daughter, is nervous, reactive, and intense. She notices absolutely everything, which means she is distractable. She is easy to show in some ways, and she loves to work with me, but I never, ever tell her she is wrong about anything. I just make sure she is nearly always set up to be right.
Giedre, Kenya’s older daughter, is calm, sweet, steady, and very, very easy to show in any venue. But, because of her underbite, she does not show in the breed ring. It’s too bad because her body is fabulous! There’s no limit to how far she could go in performance, except that I don’t have time to train everybody to the highest level they can go.
Honey, my baby, is just starting with real training. Naturally she thinks it’s a great idea! Treats! Fun! What is this thing called “sit”? (Actually I haven’t introduced verbal commands yet, I start puppies with hand signals.) She is cheerful and bouncy and I think not too sensitive, so I think she will be easy to work with. In the breed ring, right now, she is a little difficult because she wants to look at me all the time and I want her to look straight ahead — it messes up her front movement when she turns her head. That is the difference between gaiting in the show ring and heeling in the performance ring; when your puppy is heeling, you do want her to look at you.
Well, looking straight ahead is something else I will teach Honey this winter. You teach that, by the way, by giving the puppy a target to aim for — a treat way out in front that you are trotting toward. Then you use the different collars so the puppy knows whether you want her to gait or heel.
Anyway, fun for all! Training in the winter is one way to make up for not being able to go for a run. And working with six dogs one right after the other is a very effective way of making sure you really understand right down deep that each one is her own self and not like any other dog anywhere. And CERTAINLY not mythic or a reflection of you or anything of the kind.
Posted in: Blog by Rachel on December 10th, 2013
December 9th, 2013
Great post here by Lisa Bradley, and thanks to Sarah Prineas for the tip.
“If you don’t speak Spanish and your characters do, you absolutely need a fluent Spanish speaker to beta read your story. What’s more, you need a reader familiar with your character’s particular dialect. If you don’t have a real person who can do this for you, you are not equipped to write the story.”
I suspect this is true. Since I don’t speak any Spanish at all, I am fortunately not the least bit tempted to skip this step. If I hadn’t had a friend who speaks colloquial Mexican Spanish, I would probably not have written BLACK DOG with Hispanic protagonists. I tried hard never to touch any word or phrase or sentence after Abi fixed it for me, but for the first time I really get that standard “Any errors are totally my fault” disclaimer you always see. Because they are!
I use online translators, too. But those are to put sort of symbolic Spanish into the text so it “reads right” to my eye. I sure wouldn’t dare want to send the manuscript to my actual editor until a real person fixed it up!
My favorite paragraph from this post:
“Likewise, I don’t translate the Spanish words I choose to use, especially not in dialog. We only use that sort of repetition when we’re consciously trying to accommodate for language differences, as when we’re teaching a child a new language. I am trying to depict, authentically, my characters. I’m not teaching Spanish. When I was growing up, I read plenty of books with French, Latin, and Greek sprinkled throughout the text, with the unwritten understanding that an educated person would know multiple languages or be able to figure it out.”
I used to love and admire untranslated snippets in other books. I do translate some of my Spanish, but lots of it I don’t. I’m going to remember that I’m not teaching Spanish phrase in case someone asks me why not.
Posted in: Blog by Rachel on December 9th, 2013
December 8th, 2013
– The weekend went like this:
Friday: Freezing rain. Sleet. Snow. Snow. Snow. SNOW. (We wound up with a foot, which is more than anyone else in the immediate area.)
Friday night: Call Deb and ask if Laura and Shawn made it out of Springfield. Is there still going to be a major at the show outside of St. Louis? Would I be breaking the major if I don’t make it? How is the weather up there? The answers were Yes, Yes, Yes, and Not Bad.
Breaking a major when your friends are showing counts as Letting Down The Team. Deb volunteers to bring her big all-weather SUV out to get me if I can’t get my car out — a four-hour round trip for her.
Saturday predawn: Bathe Honey.
Saturday at dawn: Sweeping 200 square feet of snow away from in front my parents’ garage (I park there in bad weather, which this certainly qualifies as) in the hope that I would be able to get the car backed out and started forward with enough oomph to get all the way out of the driveway, which has a very slight but noticeable upward slope.
Saturday at 7:30 AM: I succeed in getting the car out, impressing my Dad, who didn’t think I could do it. I call Deb and tell her she doesn’t need to come but I am not totally, absolutely sure I can get my car the last little bit out of the driveway, where the snowplow kicked up a noticeable barrier.
Saturday at 8:00 AM: Bathe Kenya. Load car.
Saturday at 9:00 AM: Get the car out of the driveway, after a 40 minute struggle involving shovels, cat litter, and a hefty shove from behind.
Saturday at 9:30 AM: Succeed in creeping down Highway B without skidding off the curvy, steep, shoulder-less road. Succeed in getting down Highway 32, which shows no signs anybody salted it and is a sheet of packed ice, but at least a flatter, straighter, wider sheet of ice than Highway B.
Saturday at 11:00 AM: Arrive at the show site. The rest of the drive was without incident, all the bigger highways being nearly normal.
Saturday at 12:50 PM: Kenya gets second in her class (Laura’s girl wins the class, Deb’s Natalie gets third). Honey wins Winners Bitch, Best of Winners, Best of Opposite Sex. Her second major! Yay!
All of the Cavalier people at this show are friends, so we all go to dinner together. Then out to walk dogs in the eight-degree weather. I go to bed very early. The dogs and I are really tired.
Sunday at 5:00 AM: Going to bed early means we’re up early. Walk dogs. Notice it has snowed again during the night, but not too much.
Sunday at 8:00 AM: Touch up Honey’s ears. Then Kenya’s ears. Mist Kenya’s coat and put the drying coat back on her to flatten her coat. Pack up car.
Sunday at 9:15 AM: At show. It’s way early (Cavaliers go in the ring at 10:20 AM). I watch Akitas, Cardigan Welsh Corgis, Norwich Terriers, Whippets, etc.
Sunday at 10:00 AM: I get the girls ready.
Sunday at 10:35 AM: Kenya gets third in her class (sigh). Laura’s girl gets second, Deb’s Natalie wins the class. Honey then gets Winners Bitch and Best of Opposite Sex. A third major! She now has nine points and is almost caught up to her mother. Yay!
Sunday at 1:00 PM: I arrive home, having found that there’s no sign that anybody ever treated Highway 32, much less Highway B. You have to take Highway B at nearly twenty miles an hour to make it up the hills. Whew! Glad to be home.
Not sure if MAC will be closed tomorrow or not. Even if MAC has classes, I may not go. Risking an embarrassing slide into a ditch or death on the highway is one thing for a dog show, but quite another if it’s just a question of making it to work. Right?
Posted in: Blog by Rachel on December 8th, 2013
December 6th, 2013
I rather like the Deborah Knott mysteries, which I just started reading this year. Or last year, whatever, it all starts to blur together a bit by December.
BOOTLEGGER’S DAUGHTER is the first in the series, but actually, I started with SLOW DOLLAR and have gradually made my way forward in the series; hence I’m on WINTER’S CHILD, my fourth foray into this series.
I like the characters, including the vast extended family of our protagonist, Deborah Knott. Especially her father, who, yes, used to be an infamous bootlegger and, I gather, never got caught. (I like him a LOT.) I also like the somewhat unusual romance that started in SLOW DOLLAR and took a couple of books to work itself out, where the marriage was proposed as a marriage of convenience but actually he was always in love with her but she never knew and then she develops true feelings for him and . . . okay, probably you don’t need the whole relationship arc. But it is very different from the Instant Realization That (He) She Is THE ONE that we find in, say, Laura Florand’s romances. Obviously I’m not knocking those, I’m sure you know that, but I definitely enjoy a relationship that is slower to develop.
I like the setting for these mysteries, too. Bootlegger country (or it used to be); small-town. I like that Judge Deborah Knott is a minor court judge, whatever that is called, I mean the kind of judge who hears DUI cases and cases involving teenage vandalism and whatever. Little stuff, low-profile stuff, nothing involving celebrity lawyers and flashy crimes. I like the everyday feel to the stories, the ordinary people who move through them.
And until now, I believe I’ve sort of liked the mysteries themselves, though to me the mystery is always definitely secondary to character and setting. Which is a good thing, because I did find myself sort of rolling my eyes a bit at the mystery in WINTER’S CHILD.
Let me see, when someone kidnaps an eight-year-old, and that person
a) is mistaken at a distance for the kid’s mother,
b) the kid is seen to go with the kidnapper a bit reluctantly, but more or less willingly,
c) the dog does not bark and alert the household when the kidnapper comes back to fetch the kid’s teddy bear (!),
d) the kidnapper appears to enter the house easily and repeatedly, and seems to probably wear gardenia perfume, known to be favored by the women in the family,
Then naturally you would immediately suspect:
a) a random completely unknown stranger with an unguessable but no-doubt scary motive
b) the mother’s sister, known to be emotionally or mentally disturbed
c) the mother’s tottery old mother who barely leaves her house, though she has no motive whatsoever for kidnapping the kid
d) the mother’s sister, known to be emotionally or mentally disturbed
e) oh, maybe the mother was blackmailing someone, maybe that is the guy who took the kid?
f) the mother’s sister, known to be emotionally or mentally disturbed
h) the mother’s sister, known to be emotionally or mentally disturbed
If you’re guessing b, d, f, and h you win a prize! I thought, Maybe this is too super-obvious and it will turn out not to be the sister? It will turn out I wasn’t reading very carefully and missed some obvious reason it can’t be the sister?
But, no. It was the sister, who turns out to be actually schizophrenic and delusional. She thought she was protecting the kid. I feel just fine revealing this to you all BECAUSE IT IS COMPLETELY OBVIOUS.
The possibility does not even dawn on the protagonists until p. 220. (I made a note.) They have to almost literally be whapped over the head with a two-by-four to figure this out.
Sigh. It’s a good thing I don’t primarily read mysteries for the actual mystery. Or the suspense. It never crossed my mind that the kid might be harmed. I’ll just go on with the spoilers and let you all know that indeed, the kid is just fine.
This is the last Deborah Knott mystery I have, and certainly the least impressive I’ve read to date, though I did enjoy it. Now I have to decide whether to go back to the beginning, or go on. I’m leaning toward trying the first book. It probably has a bigger role for the father, who is a fabulous secondary character.
Posted in: Blog by Rachel on December 6th, 2013
December 6th, 2013
Here’s an interesting post about alternate history, over at Fantasy Faction.
The post points out that creating a point of divergence is easy, but developing a rounded story from that point is difficult.
Let me just mention that if you want to see a set of fully-developed worlds based on alternate histories, you could do worse than to look up the GURPS Alternate Earths supplements.
These are fun to read even if, like me, you are neither a gamer nor actually planning to write an alternate history. I mean, I guess BLACK DOG is an alternate history in a way, because supernatural stuff has been influencing history all along, but really it’s not — there’s no point of divergence or anything.
Craig says that you can make absolutely any alternate history seem inevitable if you do it right. The scenarios presented in these GURPS supplements totally establish the truth of that claim.
Craig, the author of the linked post argues that JONATHON STRANGE AND MR NORRIL by Suzanna Clarke is the best-ever alternate history. Since you’ve basically read all alternate history stories ever, which one would you vote for?
Posted in: Blog by Rachel on December 6th, 2013
December 6th, 2013
Or at least one recipe, because here is what I am making this morning, since schools are closed in this area. (Snow! Very beautiful. Not often we get ten inches or so before Christmas. I’m just guessing about the final amount because it’s still coming down.)
Anyway, here is an appropriate recipe for a snowy winter day:
Scandinavian Brown-Butter Cardamom Cookies
2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 C sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 to 2 C flour
1 egg white
64 pecan halves
Okay, brown the butter first. Browning changes both the flavor and how the butter behaves in the cookie (it gives the cookies a sandier texture than you may be used to). You can skip this step, but it will dramatically alter the cookie. Plus, browning butter is perfectly simple.
Put the butter in a small saucepan, melt over med-low heat, and simmer until butter solids have browned, about 15 minutes or so. Pour the clarified butter through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl and chill until firm.
Add the sugar, egg yolk, vanilla and cardamom to the clarified butter and beat until light and fluffy. Gradually add enough flour to make a smooth dough. For me this is close to 2 C. of flour.
Divide the dough into fourths and then eights. Shape each portion into eight smooth balls. Obviously you will have 64 cookies. Place the balls on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Beat the egg whites in a small bowl until frothy. Dip the pecan halves in the egg whites and press one pecan half onto each ball, flattening the balls slightly.
Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, until set but not brown. Cool on racks. Dust lightly with powdered sugar.
In my opinion, these are at their very, very best the same day they are made. However, I will certainly freeze most of them and they will be fine when thawed. If you freeze them, they will be at their prettiest if you wait with the powdered sugar dusting till right before you serve them.
Posted in: Blog, The Best Cookies In The World by Rachel on December 6th, 2013
December 5th, 2013
You know what’s starting to appear here and there around the book portion of the blogosphere? Exciting titles coming out in 2014. (Like we’re caught up for 2013, right?)
For example, here’s Chachic’s list. And here’s Maureen’s list. I expect I would probably like all the titles on either list, so that does give me a lot of titles to keep track of. Especially since these two lists intersect only on the third RAVEN BOYS title from Maggie Stiefvater.
Well, and they also intersect on BLACK DOG. There’s a reason I’m particularly sure I share both Chachic’s and Maureen’s taste in books, eh?
I’m personally really longing for MAGIC BREAKS by Ilona Andrews — you know, there is a problem with titles that are all so similar; I will never, ever be able to keep this series straight without looking at the dates of publication. Anyway, LOST LAKE by Sarah Addison Allen. THE CHOCOLATE TEMPTATION by Laura Florand. I’m there on the RAVEN BOYS series, but honestly I think for me it can wait till the series is all the way complete. It’s not like I don’t have anything else to read in the meantime. All those are from Chachic’s list.
Then, Maureen mentions that Elizabeth Wein may have another book coming out — SWORD DANCER. I’m all over that, even knowing nothing at all about the title. Plus, Maureen reminds me of something I knew perfectly well, which is that Merrie Haskell’s CASTLE BEHIND THORNS is also due out soon. I’m longing to read that, not only because I loved it the first time I read it, but because I’m really interested to see how the final version differs from the version I read.
Okay, a few other titles are on my personal list, even though I hardly know what all might be due out in 2014. But one I do know about:
CJ Cherryh’s next Foreigner novel is supposed to be out next year: PEACEMAKER. I’m sure I’ll read that as soon as it’s available. Well, almost sure. If I’m deep in a project of my own, maybe it’ll have to wait. But still.
Also, STELES OF THE SKY is coming out — the third Eternal Sky book by Elizabeth Bear. I loved the first book and really look forward to reading the second and third. I’ll have to read the first again by then, I expect, but that’s hardly a problem.
Naturally I’ll also be doing my best just to get through some of the fantastic books published this year, or earlier, that have been sitting for months and years on my TBR pile. Chief among those will be ROSE UNDER FIRE and CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein. After that, seriously, I have no idea.
So many books already on my TBR pile. So many can’t-resist-it titles coming along to add. Anything anyone else is especially looking forward to?
Posted in: Blog by Rachel on December 5th, 2013