Monthly Archives: February 2010

A brush with fame

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I am pleased to report that Stephanie O’Dea, author of Make It Fast, Cook It Slow, has had a brush with a famous person, i.e., me.  If you look at my book review of her cookbook, you will see in the comments that she responded to me.

This news, while exciting for Stephanie, is not actually surprising; astute readers will recall that celebrities regularly seek to bask in my glory. And of course there was that time that Neil Gaiman shook my hand. And also the time I was on a plane with Cokie Roberts. Oh, and once I was at a concert of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and this one dude in the audience (who had plastic dinosaurs in his pocket, or else he was just happy to see me), after grooving along for a few charts, hopped up on stage, took out a trumpet, and jammed with the band for  a while. (I discovered later that he was the trumpet player with the Squirrel Nut Zippers.)

Astute readers will futher recall how I mentioned my award-winning chai recently. (It was a subtle aside, which is why readers of the non-astute variety have no idea what I’m talking about.) The award-winning chai is derived from a recipe in Make It Fast, Cook It Slow. As of this writing it has 68 reviews on Amazon and is selling at #288 in books. This is impressive, especially when compared with— oh, let me pick a title out of thin air—um…. here’s one: Women’s Nonfiction: A Guide to Reading Interests, which has zero reviews and is selling at #1.3 million in books.  Whichever poor sap wrote that book will not even be able to cover two weeks’ rent with her royalty check when she finally gets it in December.

On Saturday somebody up the street decided to attack an electricity pole with a car. The use of a car as a weapon was a very effective choice, because the power went out for several blocks for most of the day. Good thing I didn’t have anything going in the slow cookers! With computers, cooking devices, and vaccuum cleaners out of the picture, I curled up with one of my favorite novels, The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis.

Connie Willis is my favorite science fiction writer. I’ve liked all her books, but I am most especially fond of the time-traveling universe she’s created, of which The Doomsday Book is the first. Somewhere in the later part of the twenty-first century, the study of history has been transformed by the introduction of time travel. Our hero, the Oxford student Kivrin, is making the world’s debut trip back to the fourteenth century, a cozy little era in which people routinely died of violence, childbirth, plagues, and infection. And being burned at the stake.

The story is just brilliant, and on top of that the characters are wonderful, the humor is wonderful, the plotting is wonderful, and everything else you could possibly look for in a book is wonderful. Re-reading it has been… what’s a good descriptive word, um… has been wonderful, and also necessary, because I need to refresh myself on the details in anticipation of the just-released book Blackout, set in the same time-traveling universe.

And now, with the electricity safely back,  I need to go vacuum, or else I need to finish up the last two hundred pages of my re-read. Anyone care to place bets on which option I’m going with?


Hail to the victor

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So here I am sitting with my award-winning chai with nothing much to say. I have been considering whether—

–what’s that? What? Oh, I see, you want my to clarify what I mean by “award-winning.” Well, that’s easy enough to do: my chai won an award.

As I was saying, I have been considering whether I should talk about—

–I’m sorry, what’s the matter? You want to know what award my chai won? Fair enough: my award-winning chai won second place at the library’s slow cooker competition. The first place contestant later confessed to me that all she’d done was dump some frozen meatballs and a bottle of teriyaki sauce in her crock pot. Not that I am sore.

Where was I? Right: I have been considering whether I should talk about the books I’ve been reading lately, because—

–Can’t a woman write in peace? What is it this time? Okay, fine, I will give you the recipe for my award-winning chai:

  • Eight tea bags of a black tea such as darjeeling, or oolong if you’re feeling wild. Or use loose tea.
  • Five slices of fresh ginger
  • Five cinnamon sticks
  • Lots and lots of cardamom seeds. I use about ten pods’ worth
  • Sixteen whole cloves
  • one cup, maybe a touch less, of sugar. Except I use Splenda. Or sometimes Brown Sugar Splenda.
  • Eight cups water
  • Optional: a dash of vanilla extract; a dash of black pepper; ten or so allspice berries

Put everything in a 4-quart slow cooker. If you have a 6-quart cooker, you can also add the milk at this point—up to eight cups (a half-gallon), though I usually do about six cups. I use skim. You can use whatever you like; I suspect almond milk* would be good.

Cook on high for 2.5 hours. Strain out the solids. If you’ve already added the milk, it’s ready to drink. Otherwise add milk to taste and heat on the stove. Or don’t heat. It’s very good cold, too.

*To make almond milk at home, instead of spending a week’s salary on the stuff at the grocery store, soak a cup of almonds in water overnight. The next day, blend the almonds with up to five cups of water. Strain out the pulp (not very tasty by itself, but decent when mixed with yogurt) and you’re left with a rather bland beverage, good for cooking, not so exciting for drinking straight. If you want a yummy almond milk, you can go crazy blending it with bananas or dates or figs or chocolate or cinnamon powder or what have you.

So that is how you make my award-winning chai. If you try this yourself, I’d like to hear back. It’s my own recipe (!), initially based on a one found in Make It Fast, Cook It Slow, which is the best cookbook ever, which is to say it is a cookbook with recipes that even a dimwit such as myself can follow. I’ve deviated a bit from the recipe, and borrowed extensively from other recipes I found online, but there are just enough tweaks that I can call it my own.

As you’ve probably realized by now, I did not actually have anything else to discuss and, basically, I just wanted to announce that I had developed an award-winning chai. My usual standby, talking about books I’ve been reading, is not so useful at the moment because my reading time lately has been consumed by a writing project for NoveList. Don’t worry, it’s not too awfully stressful and it pays decently and it’ll be finished by Friday. And then I’m going to respond to a hand-written letter I received from a friend a few days ago. A hand-written letter, for you youngsters who don’t recall, is a sort of antecedent to email. It takes more effort to compose but is curiously more satisfying.

So unless anyone wants to hear about my trials with a vacuum cleaner that refused to pick up kitty litter today, or about my video game character (she recently joined the Assassain’s Guild), you will have to wait till I’ve come up with some new material to discuss, most likely in the form of books I’ve read. I promise to get to that right away; I’m about to crack open The Hunger Games, and I won’t have to get up or anything because, see, I have everything I need right here, that is, I have my award-winning chai.

Blank verse

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I just made a crème brûlée. It is yummy and smooth and it has all the proper diacritic marks. It is supposed to have a crusty brown top but I couldn’t get the dish close enough to the broiler thingie. (Note to self: look up definition of “broil.”) So I suppose what I really made is a fancy custard that tastes really good and will add about three inches to my waistline. If you notice me looking pudgier, try not to remark on it, thanks.

The crème brûlée was made in my slow cooker, using one of the recipes from my new cookbook, to date the only cookbook that does not surpass my reading comprehension. Right now am sipping a gingerbread latte that I prepared last night (no diacritic mark necessary), and in another six hours I’ll have some gumbo to eat.

This is perfect. Why is this perfect? Because, in addition to the gumbo, the diacritic-free latte, and the pants-shrinking custard, it is snowing, for the second weekend in a row. I have two cats in bed with me and a third one actually used the second litter box I purchased expressly for his use.

I am going to go play in the snow now. For me it is a biological imperative, similar to the instinct that drives people in the south to mob the grocery store if rumor of a possible flurry shows up in the forecast. Here is something to entertain you while I’m gone.

[Commercial break sponsored by Tom Waits: Women’s Nonfiction: A Guide to Reading Interests is on sale now! You can drive it away today! One size fits all! No muss, no fuss, no spills! Lasts a lifetime! Don’t be fooled by cheap imitations! It’s a friend and it’s a companion and it’s the only product you will ever need! It never needs ironing! Batteries not included. Act now!

And, we’re back! I can report that we’re at five inches of snow and still going.

At the library the other day a guy came up to the desk and asked how to get on the computer. Upon seeing the temporary login numbers we hand to folks who, inexplicably, do not have a library card, he pointed out that the word “internet” ought to be capitalized in the sentence “Type this number to login to the internet.”

Isn’t it annoying when people point our your flaws? Unless it’s me doing the pointing. My criticisms are always helpful and informative. It’s obnoxious when anybody else does it. I feel sorry for the guy, though. He hadn’t realized he was tangling with the wrong grammar snob.

“Actually,” I explained, “unless a style guide specifically indicates otherwise, the word ‘internet’ is no longer capitalized. Several years ago Wired magazine announced that it would stop capitalizing it. The word is ubiquitous; no one needs the capital letter to clarify its meaning.”

Do. Not. Fuck with me. On grammar. You won’t win.


(Irony: the above moral is riddled with grammatical errors, but corrections would leech it of its power. Let’s sidestep the issue by turning it into a poem.)

Do not
Fuck with me
On grammar
You won’t win.


Oh hey, that’s almost haiku! Here, let’s try this:


Do not fuck with me
On grammar. You won’t win. I
Am a grammar snob.


And now, because my poetry coffers are empty, I am going to foolishly post this without proofreading it. I am a glutton for irony. If it happens that there are some problems present, please refrain from pointing them out (remember, that sort of behavior is annoying and obnoxious) and instead understand that this post is simply an extended poem.