Anything But the Book Week: Cold

January 26, 2009 at 8:23 am (Anything But the Book Week)

So I missed yesterday’s post.  I have an elaborate excuse involving rogue nuclear weapons, a batch of muffin batter gone horribly wrong, and Sean Penn’s forehead, but honestly I just spent the morning taking it slow and having a nice cup of coffee (still on the caffeine, yes).  And the muffin batter hadn’t gone that horribly wrong, so it all turned out just fine.

On to the next distraction. Because it’s Monday, and because I’ve been cranky all week, this is likely to be more of a complaint than an actual discussion topic, but seeing as it’s 17 degrees out, I’m going to stick with the complaint: It’s goddamn cold out.

Granted, this is not Moscow cold, nor is it even Indiana-winter cold (and it’s certainly well above “spit goes clink” cold), but damn, I’m tired of winter.  I’d rather not have a sheet of ice on our front steps or a muddle of uneven ice for a sidewalk, and while the snow is beautiful, there’s been quite enough of it.  And there are months to go.  Months!

I’ve often found myself writing about warm times when I’m cold, just to remember the way it feels to be warm again.  That helps, but stepping back from the writing when I’m done is then a little colder.

Are there any books that warm you up — stories of the tropics, desert planets, and so on?  Any books that are best read under a comforter with a cup of cocoa?  Or should I just move straight to the hot toddy and brandy method of warming up?

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Anything But the Book Week: MEAT

January 24, 2009 at 1:30 pm (Anything But the Book Week)

Vegetarians, I suggest you avert your eyes.  Today’s post is for the carnivores.  Specifically, the carnivores who happen to be good cooks.

The resident organist and I, along with another household, subscribe to a meat share project.  This is related to community-sponsored agriculture in that we pay a set amount, and once a month we get a lot of meat.  

There are a number of advantages to this: locally-farmed meat, for a decent price, and in a variety of kinds ranging from ground chuck to prime cuts.  However, that variety is sometimes a little puzzling, partly because I’m not a very experienced chef.   I know what to do with sausage or ground beef, and I can put most of the simpler cuts to good use.  But I’m also having to search for new recipes to use the meat that we have.  I don’t want to ruin a good piece of meat by treating it like something it isn’t (e.g., braising when I should grill, or vice versa).  So over the last year, I’ve learned how to roast a whole chicken (and turn it into stock), prepare a decent pan sauce, and determine what cuts are best for the stick-it-in-the-slow-cooker-and-forget-about-it school of cookery.

All that is a lead-up to saying this: We have a large ham.  Not a BRIAN BLESSED type Large Ham, but a slab of smoked ham in the freezer.  It’s smoked but uncooked — says so on the label — so I don’t think I can just chop it up and, say, toss it with some fettucini and peas.  It’s not a large spiral-cut ham or anything like that, but just an inch-thick slab of ham with a nice layer of fat around the edge.

I have no idea what to do with it.  (Apart from carrying it around so that I can leap into conversations demanding “Did somebody order a LARGE HAM???”)  Does anyone know what to do with uncooked smoked ham?  I don’t even know where to start looking, since I’m not entirely sure what I have.

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Anything But the Book Week: Feed the addiction

January 23, 2009 at 8:59 am (Anything But the Book Week)

The Middleman: Caffeine is a drug, Dubbie.
Wendy: I’m holding a molecular stun cannon.
The Middleman, “The Accidental Occidental Conception”

I’ve discovered something about this “Anything But the Book Week”: Because I can’t post from my day job, I’m writing these posts first thing in the morning.  Often before I’ve had my coffee.  This doesn’t excuse the incoherence, but it may explain some of it.

I started drinking coffee soon after I got out of college.  For some reason, I’d stayed away from it all through college, even when I pulled all-nighters (usually for Williams Trivia).  And it took me some time to move from mocha-flavor-mixer-with-half-a-dozen-packets-of-creamer-dumped-in to basic coffee with milk and sugar.  But these days I have enough coffee during the week that if I go without it on the weekends, I really regret it by Sunday night. 

Do you have caffeine issues?  What’s your delivery method of choice — soda (or pop), coffee, cocoa, tea?  (I still remember some fizzy vileness called Kick that had so much caffeine in it it made my skull feel like it was contracting.)  And is it worthwhile, in the long run, for me to try to cut down on coffee given that I’ll undoubtedly come back to it the next time I have to wake up at stupid o’clock in the morning?

(Also, regarding the quote at the top of this post: if you haven’t seen The Middleman, then you ought to check it out.  Gorillas with tommy-guns!  Intergalactic boy-bands!  Trout zombies!  The Wu-Han Thumb of Death!  It’s gleefully, unselfconsciously silly, and it’s worth downloading from iTunes.)

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Anything But the Book Week: Plot

January 22, 2009 at 7:54 am (Anything But the Book Week)

I’ve described myself as a plot junkie before, and it still holds true, particularly when I’m watching a movie or TV show. While I can enjoy a plot that consists mainly of “shit blows up real good” (yes, I liked Shoot ‘Em Up; I’m not proud of that), I really love when a story turns draws together the separate threads of plot and turns them into something entirely new, subverting my expectations and revealing that what I’d thought was the central story wasn’t even a scrap of the larger plot. That’s what will hook me on a show and will keep me with it long past the point where I’d have gotten sick of it.

Why yes, I did watch the season premiere of Lost last night. Why do you ask?

Anyway, there are times when this can backfire. There’s a certain point where not knowing what the show or story is going to do turns into not trusting the story. At that point, even when the I’m told me something straight out, I have trouble believing it. Even if the author or the show’s creators back this up. (I’m looking at you here, Battlestar Galactica.)

I’m not sure what the tipping point is. I just finished The Somnambulist, which has a plot that turns itself practically inside out, and I still don’t know what was going on at the end. (It also made me yell and slam the book shut at one point, then stare at it until I was sure I could read further without getting more creeped out. That’s a good thing.) So why do I trust the author there, when I’m having trouble with BSG and, even though I liked last night’s episode, Lost?

What about you? Does a knotty plot draw you in or put you off? What makes you trust an author or team of writers, and what can break that trust?

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Anything But the Book Week: Distraction

January 21, 2009 at 8:13 am (Anything But the Book Week, Spiral Hunt)

First things first: If you’re interested in taking a look at Spiral Hunt, or if you’re planning on getting a copy but just can’t wait till next week, then check out the widget below:

Browse Inside this book

Get this for your site

The first fifty-some pages are available for you to read. Enjoy! (I’ll be adding this to the sidebar as soon as I can bully WordPress into doing what I want it to do.)

In the meantime, however, I’ve realized that if I keep thinking about Spiral Hunt over the next week, then my head will probably pop. So for the next week, I’ll be blogging once a day on anything but Spiral Hunt. Anything.

Today’s topic, predictably enough, is distraction. How do you distract yourself when you need to keep your mind off something?

It used to be that working with my hands would be enough – needlework, for example, kept me nicely distracted over a summer. But once I learn a skill well enough that I can do it without concentrating on it, the advantage is gone, and I get caught up in my own thoughts again. Cooking or baking something works, cleaning doesn’t. Writing only works if I’m writing something totally different from the matter in question. And while going for a long walk does wonders when I’m trying to work out a plot point, it’s no good when I’m trying to distract myself.

What are your favorite techniques for training your own thoughts in the right direction? Meditation? Conversation? Goofy TV shows?

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