Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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On the subject of recipes —

I Made the Strangest Recipe in Vincent Price’s Cookbook

(No, no, not me personally; that is the title of this post. But I may follow suit and try this recipe myself.)

My first reaction: Vincent Price wrote a cookbook? Turns out he did. Several, in fact:

But he was more than just a king of creepy movies. Vincent Price was a foodie before the term even existed, a lover of the kitchen who authored several cookbooks, including A Treasury of Great Recipes and Cooking Price-Wise, which was based on his television show.

In this post, Lissa Townsend Rodgers writes:

Published in 1971, Cooking Price-Wise contains wisdom like, “In the thirteenth century cheese was used as a substitute for cement in England, when the cheese got stale, that is. I don’t advocate keeping your cheese that long just to find out if it works.” Chapters on bacon, potatoes, and fish contain recipes that seemed exotic at the time. “People always seem afraid of food from other countries,” Price writes. He attempts to shake them out of their comfort zone with Fish Fillets Nord Zee, Moroccan Tajine [sic], and Biffes de Lomo Rellenos.

Okay, but, COULD you use cheese as a substitute for cement? Turns out, maybe, sort of? Very little detail in the linked book.

Anyway! Rodgers gives one recipe in her post: bacon mousse. Her conclusion, after a certain number of kitchen adventures:

Very spicy, very creamy, very bacon-y: In others words, this is some good bacon mousse. While Price recommends eating it with a salad, I found it to be an outstanding breakfast spread. On a toasted baguette or sourdough, better even on a bagel, the horseradish supplies a nice little wake-up kick alongside the breakfast bacon. I could also see it as an ingredient in an omelet.

Offhand I was thinking this didn’t seem too promising — bacon yay, but in a mousse? However, Rodger’s description of the result has made me change my mind. I’m definitely up for bacon mousse. Copying the recipe now…

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Actually unimaginable

From Book Riot: The Appeal of the Hypnotically Dull Novel

…some novels are compelling not in spite of their tedium, but—in a perverse way—because of this tedium. The novels of Nicholson Baker are a good case in point. These have the flimsiest of premises: in The Mezzanine, an office worker sees that one shoelace is more frayed than another, and ruminates over this for the entire book. In Room Temperature, a father feeding his newborn daughter allows his mind to wander. That’s it. Nothing happens. The books take place almost entirely in the unexciting narrators’ heads…and that’s precisely what makes them interesting. Tracing a chain of thoughts, and appreciating the simple curiosity that to me is one of the most enlivening aspects of human existence, is what these books (quietly) revel in.

Does this make sense to any of you?

I am tempted to get a sample of Room Temperature just to see if this could actually work. (The shoelace one creates no such impulse to experiment.)

Monotony in a novel can also feel deliberate, if it’s capturing the monotony of real life in a way that unrealistic fiction glosses over.

I don’t care whether the monotony in a novel feels, or in fact is, deliberate or accidental. I don’t care whether it captures the feel of real life in a way that unrealistic fiction, quote, glosses over, unquote. I cannot imagine deliberately setting out to be bored, or deliberately deciding to go on with a novel even though I am bored for page after page after (yawn, sleepy now) page.

This is not to say that I don’t appreciate a quiet novel. Sometimes I do. There’s quiet and then there’s dull. The two words are not synonymous. For me, a hypnotically dull novel has no appeal whatsoever.

I suppose this is yet another reason literary novels appeal to some readers while others energetically run the other way.

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Good news from Down Under

Australian experiment wipes out over 80% of disease-carrying mosquitoes

Go, Australia!

Next, every country that actually shows signs of intelligent life will follow suit.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito carries dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika fever, Mayaro and yellow fever. Wiping this species out completely should be the goal. Birds and bats and so on can make do with the other 2999 species or so of mosquitoes that would be left.

Very impressed that Australia took such a decisive step.

Next: let’s target the Anopheles species that carry malaria.

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Other planets are unfriendly

Here is an interesting article from Astronomy.com: The Seven Best Travel Spots In Our Solar System – And How To Die There

The Moon — silicates are bad for you

Mars — chlorine salts are bad for you

Europa — Jupiter’s radiation is bad for you

Titan — actually not so bad, by comparison

Outer space — this is kind of a cop-out, isn’t it? Outer space, really? That doesn’t count. Come on, go back to real actual places.

Okay, here:

Enceladus — Saturn’s gravity is bad for you

Ceres — actually, semi-okay! The article concludes, tepidly, “Certainly less out to kill you than Mars or the Moon.” Well, that’s a start.

Offhand I would suggest that the sensible thing to do is build enclosed environments in big rocks and park the rocks wherever seems best. Gotta block gamma rays and so on, so building your habitat inside a big rock makes sense. And that way you ought to be able to seal in the environment you want and seal out the environment you don’t want.

But I will be sad if we never get to say high to the aliens living under the ice on Europa.

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Invented religions

At tor.com, a post by Ruthanna Emrys: Five Books About Invented Religions

Delve deep enough into linguistics, and eventually you’ll want to try constructed languages, with new vocabularies and grammars that illustrate the principles and limitations of those that occur naturally. Spend enough late nights arguing theology, and you start wanting to make up your own. My first-ever business card was for the half-joking Discount Deities: custom pantheon creation and appropriately biased origin myths….

Okay, so, which five books is she thinking of?

1. Stranger in a Strange Land — I have had no inclination to re-read this at any time in the past 30 years. I suspect it would not have worn well.

2. Cat’s Cradle (Vonnegut) — Nothing by Vonnegut ever worked for me.

3. Steerswoman (Kirstein) — Ah! This is an interesting choice. I would not have thought of this one AT ALL. Why is it on this list?

The Steerswomen may be thoroughly secular humanist, but they certainly seem like a monastic order, and treat their work and their vows as sacred.

Well, well, I don’t know. They seem too secular to me to look much like a monastic order. Yet the precepts by which the Steerswomen live do seem rather like religious precepts, like the thing about never telling a lie and never providing answers to anyone who lies to them. Maybe this is a better choice than I thought at first.

Other books on this list:

4. The Five Gods series (Bujold) — I was waiting to pounce if those weren’t on this list. But not to worry, here they are. One of the best fictional religions out there.

5. Parable of the Sower (Butler) — SAA; I also had this one in mind.

Well, now it’s hard to add more titles to this list. Emrys got the two that leaped immediately to the top of my list. Yet I’m sure there must be others.

Okay, how about:

6. The Bene Gesserit in Dune. If the Steerswomen count, then surely the Bene Gesserit must.

7. How about the healers in Dreamsnake (McIntyre)? Don’t they sort of treat their calling as a religion, especially their handling of the little dreamsnakes?

8. A Thousand Nights (Johnston) — the shrines to the little gods made by praying to recently deceased people, that whole thing feels like a real cultural tradition. Of course praying to a living person and making her into a living god was the pivotal item for the whole plot. Very neat.

9. The Killing Moon / The Shadowed Sun (Jemisin) — the religious aspects to the worldbuilding felt deep and more or less real in this duology.

10. What am I missing? There must be a hundred others, right?

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Recent Reading: Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew

So, whoever recently recommended this mystery to me, good call! I really liked it and will be going on with the second book shortly.

This is a cozy mystery, but not remotely a “cutesy.” It’s a mystery that involves a woman whose job has nothing to do with murder investigations, who nevertheless gets mixed up in a murder investigation. This is Tannie Maria, a woman from the Klein Karoo region of South Africa, who writes a recipe-and-advice column for a local newspaper. Not only are her recipes given at the end of the book, but also she falls in love with the detective in charge of the investigation. So you can see, it has every one of the typical hallmarks of a cozy mystery.

But there are no puns, food related or otherwise; the only comedy arises from the naturally crazy moments life provides; and the story deals seriously with serious topics. Recipes for Love and Murder is also longer and slower-paced than I would expect from the fluffier cutesy mysteries.

Here is the first page:

Isn’t life funny? You know, how one thing leads to another in a way you just don’t expect.

That Sunday morning, I was in my kitchen stirring my apricot jam in the cast-iron pot. It was another dry summer’s day in the Klein Karoo, and I was glad for the breeze coming in the window.

“You smell lovely,” I told the appelkooskonfyt.

When I call it “jam” it sounds like something in a jar from the Spar supermarket, but when it’s konfyt, you know it’s made in a kitchen. My mother was Afrikaans and my father was English and the two languages are mixed up inside me. I taste in Afrikaans and argue in English, but if I swear I go back to Afrikaans again.

The appelkooskonfyt was just coming right, getting thick and clear, when I heard the car. I added some apricot kernels and a stick of cinnamon to the jam; I did not know that the car was bringing the first ingredient in a recipe for love and murder.

But maybe life is like a river that can’t be stopped, always winding toward or away from death and love. Back and forth. Still, even though life moves like that river, lots of people go their whole lives without swimming. I thought I was one of those people.

Nice, eh? I knew this was a good purchase when I read this page. I guess I like dabs of philosophy in my murder mysteries, just as I like smooth metaphors and recipes. This novel delivers all of that. As a mystery . . . actually it was pretty good there as well. The author successfully hinted me off on a red herring, so I was quite surprised to find out who was actually killing people. She did provide a few clues that pointed in the right direction, but I missed them. So, yes, pretty good mystery – though I would have liked it anyway for the characters and setting.

Tannie (Auntie) Maria is an appealing protagonist. She’s middle aged – that makes a nice chance from all the twenty-something protagonists in cozies (and fiction in general). She was in a bad marriage for quite some time and is now a widow. When she writes her column, it’s plain that she feels good food solves most problems and advances most romances. She’s right, too.

She is not unbelievably competent. In fact, she is one of the more “real” protagonists I’ve met lately. She has a normal body, she wears normal clothes, she likes normal things, and she’s afraid of and worried about things like a normal person. She goes inarticulate when she’s scared or excited, which is quite endearing (I am pretty sure Detective Kannemeyer thinks so too). She also loves good food. I definitely appreciate Tannie Maria. I would love to live next door to her, seriously.

Also, her recipes look genuinely delicious. Here’s the first one given in the book:

* * *

Mutton Curry

1 T turmeric
½ T paprika
2 T coriander
1 T black pepper
1 tsp salt
4 T minced garlic
3 T minced fresh ginger
2-4 chilies, minced
2 lbs mutton or lamb shank meat, cubed
2 medium eggplants, cubed
5 T vegetable oil
1 ½ T cumin seeds
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 T mustard seeds
6 cardamom pods, cracked
½ stick cinnamon
2 onions, peeled and sliced
8 tomatoes, peeled and chopped. You may know already this, but in case you don’t: you can peel tomatoes by cutting an x on the bottom and adding to boiling water for a minute or two, than dumping them into cold water. The skins should come right off. Or cans of whole peeled tomatoes would be fine, I’m sure.
4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 T garam masala
1 C fresh cilantro, minced

Combine all the ground spices and the salt with the garlic, ginger, and chilies. Toss with the meat.

Salt the eggplant and set aside.

Heat the oil in a big ovenproof pot until very hot. Add the seeds and whole spices and stir until their smell fills the kitchen and the mustard seeds begin to pop. Add the onions and turn the heat down to med-high.

When the onions are soft, rinse the eggplant and add to the pot. Cook until they have a little color.

Add the lamb with all its spices and stir to keep the spices from sticking to the bottom of the pot. When the lamb is just brown, add 1 C water and cover the meat with the tomatoes. Simmer 15 minutes. Cook, covered, in the oven at 300 degrees for 2 hours. Leave to cool in the over. Then chill overnight.

The next day, about an hour before you want to eat, boil the potatoes in very salty water for 15-20 minutes, until they’re tender. Drain and add to the curry. Add the garam masala. Cook in the oven, uncovered, at 375 degrees, for 50 minutes or until the liquid has thickened. Serve with basmati rice and whatever condiments appeal to you (the book suggests cucumber and tomato sambals).

* * *

There, doesn’t that sound excellent? Plus I have everything necessary except the lamb, including the fenugreek seed, though I will need more of that soon.

Update: the supermarket didn’t have lamb, so I’m going to make this with beef. I’m sure it will be great.

I can tell you, I’m going to cook my way through lots of the recipes in this book (there are 16 recipes total).

So, Tannie Maria is a good protagonist, and she is surrounded by good supporting characters. Anna and Dirk are a little over the top as the bereaved significant others of the murder victim. They are lunatics, to put it plainly. But they’re fun. Jessie, the young sidekick type of secondary character, is perhaps a bit clichéd. Hattie, the owner of the newspaper, much less so. Detective Kannemeyer is a good male lead, but his role is actually rather small. The romance is important, but not really central to the story – which I often like.

The letters of people writing to Tannie Maria were wonderful; I would have been happy to see a few more. Maria’s answers were also wonderful. Every reader is certain to be charmed by the progression of the mechanic’s letters and the progression of his relationship with his girlfriend. Putting the mechanic’s wedding at the end of the novel – this is a really minor spoiler, so I hope you don’t mind – is a wonderful way to tie off the entire story.

I also want to emphasize that the setting is just wonderful. This is the Klein Karoo of South Africa in the year of Mandela’s death, and the author does a fabulous job evoking an arid landscape that is actually filled with life. She made me want to visit, or maybe live there. The novel is chock-full of Afrikaans words and phrases, which deepens the setting wonderfully. These are usually clear from context, and if the reader gets puzzled (every now and then, I did get puzzled), there’s a glossary in the back.

I liked the overall balance of mystery/romance/cooking/setting details pretty well, but I will say, I’m looking forward to seeing the relationship between Tannie Maria and Detective Kannemeyer develop further in the second book. This has basically been the year of the murder mystery for me so far, and I think I won’t fight that, so I will go on with this series very soon.

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Sudden cool weather means you should bake a cake

So, after weeks and weeks of temps in the low to mid nineties, with humidity also in the nineties, we finally got a break this past weekend. The humidity dropped sharply on Friday night and by dawn the temperature was lowish sixties, the humidity low eighties.

Well, of course it didn’t last; here we are back to sauna conditions. But it was nice while it lasted. If you’re going to have two days of unexpectedly nice weather, the weekend is certainly a good time for that to happen.

I have been walking the dogs on the road in the morning, the two boys and then the three older girls and then the three younger girls, half a mile each. This does not remotely count as exercise for any of the younger ones, but it does for the older girls and for me. I am supposed to walk; it’s supposed to help my back; and Kenya can’t see the point of exercise and never gets any except with me. Plus of course even the youngsters enjoy bouncing along at the edge of the woods, checking out the nightly traffic of bunnies and whatever other wildlife might have passed through.

But when it’s as cool as it was Saturday morning, letting the dogs run makes perfect sense, so I took them out to the Arboretum instead and let them go. The younger ones ran around madly, as they do. Pippa and Dora only meander gently unless they actually find a rabbit; then they forget their age. Kenya, of course, is not interested in bunnies. She followed me around hoping for treats while I check on the young trees. I watered the tiny baby American Yellowwood seedlings (not yet really taking off) and my precious baby magnolias (looking absolutely fantastic), and then I pulled waist-high grass out of one of the more casual flower beds, because casual is one thing, but when you can’t see the flowers for the weeds, time to take action.

Then we came in and it was still very nice and cool, so I turned on the oven and baked a cake I’ve been wanting to try. Here it is:

Chocolate-Coconut Bundt Cake
(Modified slightly from Kraft’s Food and Family magazine, which my mother must have picked up somewhere)

For the cake:
1½ C butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 pkg coconut cream-flavored instant pudding
2½ C sugar
6 eggs
3 C flour
¼ C flaked coconut
3 oz or so mini chocolate chips

For the topping:
¾ C heavy cream
1 generous C semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ C or so flaked coconut

The above list is correct. There is no baking powder in this cake. The butter and eggs are what give it lift.

So, spray and flour a normal-sized … what is that, 12 C? … bundt pan.

Beat the butter and cream cheese until creamy. Beat in the dry pudding mix. Beat two minutes. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Gradually blend in flour and coconut, just to combine.

Spoon in half the batter (a little more than half would be fine). Smooth out somewhat. Sprinkle on the mini chocolate chips. The original recipe called for grated chocolate, but really, that is more trouble than necessary; just use mini chocolate chips. That worked fine. I didn’t use quite enough, so I have upped the amount in the recipe above.

Spoon over the rest of the batter and smooth the top reasonably well. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or thereabouts. This was very nearly correct for me, but the cake was a tiny bit underbaked right under the chocolate chip layer. I would rather have a cake a tiny bit underbaked than overbaked at all, so I am not complaining, but you might consider maybe an hour and three minutes or something like that. Alternatively, a lighter pan might be better than a heavy bundt pan. Just something to keep in mind if you try it.

Anyway, let the cake stand in the pan on a rack for ten minutes. Loosen the sides and turn out onto a serving platter. I will say that this cake turned out of the pan perfectly, without putting up any kind of argument about it. Maybe it was all that butter, but it made a nice chance from the last bundt cake I made where the whole top tore off in chunks.

Let cool an hour or so.

Make the ganache: microwave the cream and chocolate chips and stir until smooth. Pour over the cake. Sprinkle with the coconut. Let stand until completely cool, or, you know, until you can’t stand waiting another second, whichever comes first. Slice, serve, and enjoy.

I liked this a lot. As you’d expect from the ingredients, it is a rather heavy, very moist cake. I would definitely serve this to company, if I thought they would like coconut. It is not very coconut-y, so anybody on the fence about coconut would probably like this cake.

I expect this cake probably holds pretty well at room temp, but I wouldn’t know, because after I tried it and gave some to my parents, I froze the rest. Otherwise I would just eat it all this weekend, and there’s no amount of walking that would make up for that.

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The City and the City tv show

I happened to check to see if the television miniseries of The City and the City had ever been made.

Turns out yes: The City and the City review – sci-fi meets crime fiction in parallel worlds

Where we are is not locatable on any map. Although two maps, one placed on top of the other, then held up to the light, might be of some help. This is The City and the City, a four-part adaptation of China Miéville’s award-winning, sci-fi/detective-fiction hybrid that began on BBC Two last night. It’s about the murder investigation that ensues when a foreign exchange student turns up dead in the fictional European city of Besźel. Or is that the fictional European city of Ul Qoma? Or perhaps both at the same time? … In this shadowy, chimeric place, the square-shouldered David Morrissey is an almost comically solid presence as Inspector Tyador Borlú. He has a weakness for the company of his wife (Sherlock’s Lara Pulver playing another mysterious woman), but is an otherwise gruff, by-the-book cop, dogged in his pursuit of justice. Borlú? Get caught breaching in the disputed zone? Don’t be so bloody daft!

This review gives the series, which came out this past spring, three stars. Well, I would like to see it. But it is so far available only from Amazon UK, not Amazon US.

That sort of thing does puzzle me. Wouldn’t the producer or whomever make a ton more money selling the DVDs more widely? Why restrict your profits that way?

Anyway, I am considering ordering the DVD from Amazon UK. It would be a little more pricey, I expect, but I checked and my laptop is actually set to play DVDs from Region 2 already, so I think I could watch the show without having to fiddle around with laptop settings.

I really did like this book a lot, and I really am interested in seeing how it was translated to visual media, so even though I never seem to get around to watching DVDs, maybe I’ll pick this up.

I don’t suppose any of you have already seen this series?

Here is another review in case you are interested.

Here is another that I found helpful for the additional detail it provided:

The first ten minutes or so are a bit rough, especially for readers of the novel who may be surprised by how incredibly faithful it is to the novel one moment and how it goes off on its own tangent the next: there are major additions to the cast of characters and story. This makes sense: the episode was longer than the standard hour (I didn’t get the exact runtime but it seemed to be around 65-70 minutes) and there are four of them, which means the TV show is in the unusual position of having more time to tell the story than the relatively short novel has (which barely scrapes 300 pages). The new material is, for the most part, well-judged and intelligently deployed. Giving Tyador a wife seemed an unnecessary change, but by having her vanish in a suspected act of Breach immediately personalises the strange situation in the city: rather than the split (and Breach) being remote forces Tyador is aware of, they are instead deeply personal affronts that frustrate him. It gives the premise an immediacy not present in the novel but which works wonderfully on screen.

A wife, eh? Well, hmm.

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I was just wondering about this upcoming title and here it is

For no particular reason, I was just thinking this morning about Archivist Wasp and wondering how the second book was coming alone.

And now I know, because here is a post about the second book, Latchkey, over at tor.com.

Isabel, once known as Wasp, has become leader of the fearsome upstarts, the teen girl acolytes who are adjusting to a new way of life after the overthrow of the sadistic Catchkeep-priest. They live in an uneasy alliance with the town of Sweetwater—an alliance that will be tested to its limits by the dual threats of ruthless raiders from the Waste and a deadly force from the Before-time that awaits in long-hidden tunnels….

Excerpt at the link. I never read excerpts, especially not from the middle of the book like this one. I always wait for the actual book to hit the shelves. But if you are interested in reading a tidbit from this upcoming title, click through. You won’t have to wait long to go on with the book: its release date is next week.

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