March 23, 2012

The Gruff Variations

When I heard that the theme for Writing for Charity Anthology centered on the tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, I knew I had to submit something.  I have, after all, stewed a goat's neck for dinner (it's a long story -- but it was a tasty meal). 

All the proceeds here go towards buying school supplies for underprivileged children.  I'm happy that my efforts get to be a part of it.

March 21, 2012

Oat Cakes & Steampunk

Full disclosure: Kindal Debenham, author of The True Adventures of Hector Kingsley, is in my writing group.  We're friends.  I read this book before it was out.  But I genuinely love this book.  Steampunk magic, a detective story, and an improper American woman with a carbine over her shoulders?  Yes.  Yes please.

The True Adventures of Hector Kinglsey does not have a lot of description of food.  Hector Kingsley is anything but flush, and between chasing clues, pretending he doesn't care about a certain improper American, and keeping up on rent, food is usually the first thing to go.  So I pondered Victorian cuisine.  No crumpets or trifles or treacles for Hector.  I'd made oatcakes before, though.  Oatcakes, I learned, have a long history and variable form, but today I experimented by making some from oat flour.  I think they turned out pretty well -- enjoy!

Poor Detective's Oatcakes

1 1/2 cup oat flour (plus extra for dusting)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons chilled butter, cubed
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup water

Preheat the oven to 375.  Mix together the oat flour, baking soda, and salt.  Confession: I made my oat flour by putting oat groats through a grinder on the bread setting.  But I believe oat flours are available commercially.  You could also just toss some rolled oats into a food processor and sift the results.

Cut in the cubed butter.  The mixture should have some lumps.  Little bits of butter are good for flakiness!  I just use my fingers, and crumble everything until it looks like the picture.

Add the water and rolled oats.  You may need a little more, or a little less, water.  Start with 1/4 cup, then see how the dough's doing.  I highly recommend doing this with your hands.  The dough won't get over mixed, you won't destroy those nice bits of butter, and it really does come together fast.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface.  Roll out about 1/8inch thick, then cut out circles with a biscuit cutter or a cup.  The 1/8 inch thick may sound intimidating, but this isn't a tight, gluten dough.  If I hadn't cared about smoothness, I could have patted it out with my hands.

Place on a greased cookie sheet, shoulders just touching, and bake for 10 minutes.  Okay, we're huge Good Eats fans over here.  When Alton Brown makes biscuits, at least, he puts them shoulder to shoulder for a better rise.  I figured...why not with oat cakes?  You can see I tried two different heights of oak cakes here, and I actually liked the thicker ones, better.  The thin ones didn't really get that flakiness I was looking for.

Set on a cooling rack.  Top & enjoy.  Cheese would be classic here, but jam, a piece of meat...whatever is laying around the house would work great, too!

March 14, 2012

Bohnanza & Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians: Book & Boardgame Match-Up

The Game (from Rio Grande Games): As card games go, this one is quite revolutionary. Perhaps its oddest feature is that you cannot rearrange your hand, as you need to play the cards in the order that you draw them. The cards are colorful depictions of beans in various descriptive poses, and the object is to make coins by planting fields (sets) of these beans and then harvesting them. To help players match their cards up, the game features extensive trading and deal making. --Board Game Geek Description

The Book (by Brandon Sanderson): A hero with an incredible talent...for breaking things. A life-or-death rescue a bag of sand. A fearsome threat from a powerful secret network...the evil Librarians.

Alcatraz Smedry doesn't seem destined for anything but disaster. On his 13th birthday he receives a bag of sand, which is quickly stolen by the cult of evil Librarians plotting to take over the world. The sand will give the Librarians the edge they need to achieve world domination. Alcatraz must stop them! infiltrating the local library, armed with nothing but eyeglasses and a talent for klutziness. --Amazon Book Description

I've played a lot of Bohnanza.  It's wild.  There's last minute trading, tight negotiations, and plenty of giving stuff away for free, depending on the circumstance (I wouldn't want to harvest my soy beans early, after all, to plant a lame wax bean).  The art's all bright and funny.  This game doesn't take itself too seriously.  It is, after all, about beans.

And yet, there's a surprising depth of strategy to this simple game.  There are trade-offs.  Alliances.  Opportunity costs.  All wrapped up in pictures of soy beans wearing peace signs and coffee beans jumped up on java.  It's also deceptively simple to learn.

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, is likewise wild.  I mean, the first line kind of says it all: "So, there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians."

I probably don't need to say more, but despite the hilarity in these books, there's also a fascinating and complex magic system and a lot of depth of character.  And teddy bear grenades, but they don't show up for a few books.  In short -- it's a lot like Bohnanza.  Lots of delightful levity wrapped around something with surprising depth.  These two could only be more alike if you were farming rutabagas instead of beans.

March 5, 2012

Bookshop Talk: Variant

My review of Robison Well's Variant is up on Bookshop Talk!  I've already matched it up with a board game (here), but the review gives more complete thoughts on just the book.