May 31, 2012

"Blank Faces" is live at IGMS!

I've very happy to say that my story "Blank Faces," a Steampunk/Western, is now up at Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show.  You can check it out here.

May 30, 2012

Sour Cream and Onion Ice Cream from Searching for Dragons

     Near the end of the meal, Cimorene leaned over and whispered, "Don't take any dessert."
     "Why not?" Mendanbar asked.
     "Ballimore's using her Cauldron of Plenty," Cimorene said, "and it doesn't do desserts very well.  So unless you like burned mint custard or sour-cream-and-onion ice cream..."
-- from Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, Chapter Eight

When I was a kid, we used to play a game we called "two great tastes that don't go great together."  We were especially fond of coming up with things involving ketchup and Jell-O.  As it turns out, ketchup and Jell-O sound pretty gross together.  Sometimes we brainstormed on car trips.  More often we played at the dinner table, when people were trying to eat.  Extra points if you get someone else to gag.

I thought of this bit from Searching for Dragons right away when I first considered blogging recipes.  It's actually part of the reason I decided to press on with the idea.  I've seen some fiction-inspired recipes on the web, but I could bring my own tastes -- reading and culinary -- to the party.  And, to my knowledge, no one's ever made sour-cream-and-onion ice cream before.  I thought about doing burnt mint custard, but I'd end up making a mint creme brulee, and that felt like cheating.

But I also hoped I'd be able to make it taste good.  I'd made sour cream ice-cream before, and while it was a bit strong for my tastes, it was fantastic over apple crumble.  Perhaps if I lovingly caramelized the onions, I'd end up with something buttery and caramel-like.  I took a cue from this recipe and used brown sugar to enhance those flavors.

And here's the disclaimer.  It turned out smooth, luscious, and the tang of the sour cream was softened by the sweet onions.  But, true to what it's supposed to be, it tastes like onions -- lovely, caramelized onions to be sure, but still onions.  It's edible, but I'd much rather have Ibarra ice-cream.  But, sour cream isn't exactly my thing to begin with.  My husband, on the other hand, adores sour cream and onions.  He loves this recipe.  He's having dreams of opening an ice-cream parlor now.  So be warned: your mileage may vary.  But if you like sour-cream-and-onion ice cream...this is for you.

Sour Cream and Onion Ice Cream
1 cup diced onion
2 tbps butter
16 ounces sour cream
1 1/4 cups milk (I used 1/2 cup of whole and the rest 2%)
1 cup brown sugar

1. Put a wide, flat pan over medium-high heat and add the butter, then onions.  Cook for a few minutes, then turn the heat down to medium-low, add a pinch of salt and continue to cook for about half an hour, or until the onions are brown, slippery, and smell delicious.  Caramelized onions.  Yum.  I was tempted to just eat them all straight and skip making ice cream. 

2. Meanwhile, thoroughly blend the sour cream, milk, and brown sugar.  I used a stick blender, my favorite power tool.'s hard to convince the kids it isn't a toy when I'm so happy about it.

3.  Add the onions to the sour cream base.  Put this in the fridge and let it steep for at least four hours.  This is a necessary step in ice-cream making, even if onions aren't involved.  Putting the base in the fridge for a while allows it to get cold, and you want a cold base when you go to churn.

4. Strain out the onions.  I'm pretty sure little bits of onion would freeze up nasty, but by now, there's lots of onion flavor in the base.

5. Churn according to manufacturer's directions.  You can eat this right away -- it'll be soft-serve consistency --  or stick it in the freezer to "ripen" to regular ice-cream consistency.  It's stayed nicely hard, but still easy-to-scoop.  I always hold onto those plastic Blue Bunny ice cream containers, because they're the perfect thing to put home-made ice-cream in.

May 23, 2012

Princess of the Midnight Ball and Lost Cities: Book and Boardgame Match-up

The Book (by Jessica Day George):
Princess Rose and her sisters Lily, Jonquil, Hyacinth, Violet, Daisy, Poppy, Iris, Lilac, Orchid, Pansy, and Petunia are trapped in a curse. Every third night, they have to dance at the Midnight Ball with the twelve sons of the King Under Stone, who lives in a realm below the earth. The curse prevents them from speaking of it, and every prince who attempts to learn their secret in hopes of marrying one of them and inheriting the crown ends up dead by the next full moon.

Galen Werner is a soldier who is returning from the Westfalin-Analousia war. On his way to the city of Bruch to live with his mother's sister Liesel Orm, Galen meets an old woman. After he shares his food with her, the woman gives him white and black yarn and an invisibility cloak, saying that he would have to use them when "He" tries to get to the surface.

When Galen meets Rose, she knows that he can try to break the curse, but will he succeed despite the complications they come across? --from

The Game (from Rio Grande): In Lost Cities, a card game from the Kosmos two-player series, the object is to mount profitable expeditions to one or more of the five different lost cities. Card play is straightforward, with a few agonizing moments sprinkled through what is mostly a fast-moving game. If you start a given expedition, you'd better make some progress in it, or it'll score you negative points. If you can make a lot of progress, you'll score quite well. After three rounds, the highest total score takes the day. --from

It's been a while since I did one of these posts!  The book is my favorite of Jessica Day George's.  I'm a sucker for retold fairy tales, but there's always the trick of making them seem fresh while drawing from well-known material.  One of the things I love about Princess of the Midnight Ball is that the setting isn't generic fantasy; yes, it's set in a fantasy nation, but it's one with a distinct German flare.  The hero, a returning soldier, also knits, which always made me smile.  I learned that historically, knitting was a male-only occupation.  It was common to send skeins of yarn to a war front instead of pre-made socks; then there was no need to fuss about what sizes to send.  Reading this book was simply delightful.

Lost Cities is a two-player card game that likewise takes the familiar and makes it exciting again.  The mechanics are simple -- you're trying to place numbers from low to high -- but there are a few interesting tweaks that keep it fresh.  There's the lovely artwork.  Five suits.  And a risky bidding option that keeps things interesting.  This is an easy one for non-gamers to pick up because the mechanics are simple, but it still holds enough challenging decisions to make it a quick, fast game for someone who's played a hundred card games.

May 16, 2012

Twitter Thoughts

Some folks from my writing group just joined Twitter.  I'm not an expert by any means, but I'm still new enough that I remember having no followers and wondering what I was doing.  Here's some cool stuff I wish I knew.

Hashtags.  These are everything that's immediately followed by a # sign (like the popular #amwriting).  They're kind of like labels -- you can search for them and find other people talking about what you're interested in.  Often writing conferences have their own hashtag, making it easy to find others who attended.  I didn't realize it until I was on Twitter for a while, but using hashtags makes it easier for people to find me, too.  I've made friends because of hashtags -- at least one of which I've now met in person.

Twitter Chats. People often host interviews or Q&A's on Twitter.  The first time I tried to follow one, I failed.  I couldn't refresh the screen in an easy-to-follow manner.  Then magic struck: there's a really handy site called Tweet Chat.  Type in the chat's hashtag, then follow along.  When I can, I join the #sffwrtcht, which is Wednesday nights at 7:00 MDT.

Find Friends on Twitter.  Twitter's awesome in that I can follow industry professionals.  But, it's also pretty lonely if I'm just using it as a news feed.  Search hashtags.  Look through the "following" lists of people you follow.  Ask people you meet at conferences if they're on Twitter.  I love seeing what Alton Brown's up to, but it's even better to be able to send a congrats to a friends who's just accomplished something.

I think I've just exhausted my Twitter knowledge.  Any one else have thoughts?

May 8, 2012

And the Winner Is...

...Hannah Elisabeth!

I've already sent you an e-mail; let me know if it doesn't make it to your inbox.  Thanks to everyone for entering!

May 2, 2012

Simberry Jam from The Way of Kings

     "According to Palates of Personality -- and before you object, yes, it is a real book, and that is its title -- a fondness for simberries indicates a spontaneous, impulsive personality.  And also a preference for -- "  He cut off as a wadded-up piece of paper bounced off his forehead.  He blinked.
     "Sorry," Shallan said.  "It just kind of happened.  Must be all that impulsiveness and spontaneity I have."
 --The Way of Kings, Chapter 33, by Brandon Sanderson

First, a reminder!  I'm giving away a copy of Vodnik, by Bryce Moore.  Brandon Sanderson gave the cover quote for this book, so if you enjoyed The Way of Kings, go enter!

And, as promised, here's another recipe from The Way of Kings.  Further on in the chapter, it's noted that simberry jam also supposedly indicates a love of the outdoors.  The beloved red simberry, of course, isn't found on Earth.  But all this talk of jam made me think of how it would taste.  Different than anything we have.  Sweet, of course.  Luscious.  Reminiscent of being outside.  Here's what I came up with.

Simberry Jam

1/3 cup cranberry juice
1 lime
1 teaspoon dried hibiscus flowers
5 egg yolks
3/4 cups sugar
1 stick of butter

Add the cranberry juice, the zest and juice of the lime, and the hibiscus flowers to a tall, microwave-safe container.  Microwave on high for one minute, or until the mixture begins to steam.  Let it steep for half an hour.  Here, we're just trying to get that lovely floral, outdoor flavor from the flowers.  If you want to toss this in the fridge for a day, feel free.  I found hibiscus flowers in the bulk section of a health food store.

Put an inch of water in the bottom of a pan and bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer.  Find another pot or stainless-steel bowl that fits inside this pot without touching the water.  Yup.  Double-boiler time.

Strain the cranberry mixture into the aforementioned pot or bowl.  Whisk it with the egg yolks and 3/4 cups of sugar.  This makes a pretty sweet jam, so if you're more partial to tart, reduce the sugar to 1/2 cup.

Put the pot/bowl over the simmering water.  Whisk constantly for about eight minutes, or until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.  If you're not familiar with this method, we've trying to very, very slowly cook the egg yolks so we end up with a custard instead of sweet scrambled eggs.  Yes, this "jam" has a custard base, a lot like you'd use to make lemon curd.  It gave me the lovely jam mouth-feel I was hoping for.  The "coats the back of a spoon" thing is a doneness test.  Here's a great explanation.

Remove the mixture from heat.  Dice the butter, adding one piece at a time and whisk until melted.  You may need to periodically return the mixture to the double-boiler situation to melt this.

Place the mixture in a container.  Cover and refrigerate for several hours.  After it's cooled, it will set up into a nice, jam-like spreadable substance.  There's a nice floral aftertaste and it's red, sweet, and luscious without tasting like anything we have here.  Enjoy!