April 24, 2012

Book Giveaway!

Last week, I read Vodnik by Bryce Moore, no easy feat since I had to keep the book away from my husband.  It was the kind of book that turned off my critical, editing brain and caught me up in the fantasy story.  Slovakian fairy tale creatures, adventure, mystery, and doses of laugh-out-loud humor?  I loved it.

Then my husband started reading the book.  He'd only look up to ask a question or quote some deliciously funny bit.  It was like I got to read Vodnik all over again, watching his anxiety and delight.  As soon as he finished he asked me, "When's the next book come out?"

"Well, there'll only be a sequel if the first one does sells well," I replied.

And then we had a mind-meld moment.  Let's go grab another copy.

But while another copy on my shelf would be cool, giving away a copy of Vodnik on the blog seemed like an even better idea.  

Here's how to enter:

1. Have a U.S. mailing address.  Sorry, no international mail.
2. Leave a comment.  You can get an extra entry each for:
          A) Following the blog
          B) Sharing the contest! (Twitter, Facebook, a chalk drawing on your driveway -- whatever works for you).

So, if you leave a comment letting me know that you follow the blog and you shared this with someone else, you'll have three entries!

The contest will close on May 7th at 9:42pm, MDT.  I'll announce the winner here on May 8th.  If I'm unable to reach the winner, after a week, I'll draw a new one.  Random number will be provided by Random.org.


April 19, 2012

The Gruff Variations Book Bomb

Book Bomb today!

What's a book bomb?  The idea's to get a bunch of people to buy a book on Amazon on the same day and skyrocket the Amazon rating, making the book more visible to other people.  The Gruff Variations is a charity effort that helps get books into the hands of kids.  None of the contributors or the editor were paid.  Who's on the contributing list?  Well, me.  And then some amazing people, like Shannon Hale, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Nancy Fulda.  There's a great write-up of the details here.  But, in short, if you're interested in getting this book, today's a great day to do it!

April 16, 2012

Dung Cakes from Book of a Thousand Days

Dinner -- dung cakes.  That's what we muckers call them, though I don't use that crude term around my lady, of course.  They're made of salted meat (simmered long to soften) and onions, wrapped in dough and cooked on coals.  That's how we used to eat them with Mama, only here I get to add spices -- cinnamon and peppercorns!
--Book of a Thousand Days, Day 6, by Shannon Hale

 When I started creating recipes from fictional sources, I knew I'd have to go back and reread Book of a Thousand Days.  It's a fantastic fairytale-retelling set in a fictional Mongolia.  There's a number of things I could have cooked up from this book (stinging nettles are, after all, in season right now) but dung cakes seemed the most iconic.

Dung Cakes

For the Filling:
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 lb beef

For the Dough:
2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbs dry yeast
1 tsp canola oil
1 cup lukewarm water 

Combine the yogurt, onions, cinnamon, and black pepper.  No, the book doesn't specify simmering in yogurt, but yogurt's ubiquitous in this setting, and it's something they have in powdered form.  It made culinary sense to me.

Put the beef in a small crockpot and cover with the yogurt mixture.  Cook on high for three hours.  I used bottom round roast, but pretty much any cheap cut of beef will work.  Bone-in is fine, too; the meat will fall off by the time it's done cooking. 

Shred the meat and mix in the brown bits from the bottom of the crockpot.  I almost tossed out the yogurt version.  During the long cooking process, it turned to this brown crud.  Then I tasted said brown crud, and much like the brown bits on the bottom of a pan, it had a lot of flavor.  A tangy, salty flavor.  I thought that was really nice with the meat, and, oddly enough, it made the whole thing look a lot more like dung than creamy, white yogurt would.

Make the dough: put the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the oil and water.  Mix, let it rise for at least ten minutes, then cut it into eight equal parts.  This dough is just my family cookbook standard pizza dough.  Store-bought pizza dough would work just as well.

Roll out one of pieces of dough, place an 1/8 of the meat mixture on top, then pinch the edges together.  Repeat with remaining dough and meat.  This is a sticky enough dough that it should pinch together without any kind of problems.

Place the finished buns on a baking sheet.  Brush each one with a little milk.  Cook at 350 degrees for about twenty minutes, or until the dough is done.  The dough is fairly lean, so brushing it with milk helps ensure that the dough stays soft instead of crisping during the baking process.

I was pretty happy with the results -- and they were very filling.  A little yogurt-cucumber salad to go with, and we had a great dinner.

Also, Shannon Hale recently put up a bunch of international covers for Book of a Thousand Days.  If you're interested, the post is here.

April 12, 2012

Why I Buy Books

I actually had a recipe all ready to go, but what with the DOJ anti-trust lawsuit and a new wave of proclamations declaring the death of paper books, I've spent some time thinking about how, when, and why I buy books.

A lot of doomsayers make the assumption that people buy books to see what's inside.  I don't.  Most of the books I own, I read at a library first.  Then if I love it, I buy a copy.  Why?  If I love it, I'll want to reread it later.  If I love it, I'll want people who come over to see it and say, "Hey, what's that about?", giving me a polite opportunity to gush and loan the book out (or direct them to the library).

As I've become a parent, I love having a massive visual statement that Books Are Awesome for my kids.  They even got to "help" build our bookshelves.  I love knowing that when they're old enough to read, there will always be an amazing book nearby, waiting for them.  They won't have to charge batteries or wait for their brother to be done with the reading device or ask me.  They can just come to a shelf, grab a book, and dive in.

That said, I do buy some books before I've read them.  Often, that's because I've read the author before and I know I'm going to love it (Alloy of Law).  Other times, I'm so stinkin' excited about a book I break down and risk disappointment to enjoy that fresh-book smell while I read it for the first time (Vodnik -- which my husband keeps trying to steal).  But even then, I'm buying because the author's convinced me that I need this book on my shelf after I've turned the last page.

I don't want to spend $2.99 to consume something, then let it hide on a hard drive: e-books are, presently, a last resort for a book I can't get any other way.  I want to show books I love to other people.  I like waking up and seeing crammed bookshelves. I brought my copies of Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and The Prydain Chronicles to college with me, despite the fact the dorms were the size of a shoebox.  Sure, I could have checked them out from the massive campus library.  But that shoebox wouldn't have been home without them.  And I would have lost a lot of opportunities to start conversations about books and discover friends who loved these titles, too.

Am I an average consumer of books?  I have no idea.  But the market's a complicated place.  It includes libraries.  It includes people who prefer e-books.  And it includes people like me, who buy hardcover, even when mass-market paperback or e-books are cheaper.

April 3, 2012

Defying Fairy Tale Conventions

 I read a lot of fairy tales, myths, and folklore as a kid -- everything from A Thousand and One Nights to the Popol Vuh to Norse mythology, with a heap of Hans Christen Anderson for good measure.  I still have and enjoy these books.  They're full of all kinds of people, from clever slave girls who win their freedom to burly gods who have to cross dress to get their Mj√∂lnir back.

So, when someone says a book "defies fairy tale conventions," I usually end up biting my lip.  I adore retold fairy tales.  But from the way people talk about them, fairy tales only contain princesses who sit, sigh, and wait for someone else to solve their problems.  I'm not sure if I simply struck upon a lot of good stuff as a kid or if I should blame watered-down retellings.  Fairy tales were, after all, once considered adult fare and continue to change as they're adapted for kids (I love Starfall, but this is still my favorite example of a story so sanitized the original meaning is lost).

I'm not a fairy tale scholar, though, so instead of rambling, I'm just going to post a handful fairy tales that "defy fairy tale conventions" by featuring proactive women (I left off myths; maybe I'll make another list sometime).

Scheherazade: One of the oldest and bravest examples of women in literature.  Her story frames all of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.  By risking her life and telling amazing tales, she saves a city.

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves: Ali Baba stumbled upon great wealth quite by accident.  Then his slave girl, the clever Morgiana, saves his life from the revenge of thieves a number of times by her wits -- as she goes about her daily tasks.  She doesn't even bother to mention what she's done until she kills the head of the thieves in front of her master.  She's granted her freedom and Ali Baba offers his son for her husband.  The son meekly accepts.

The Rain Maiden: This is a German fairy tale that unfortunately I can't find a web copy of -- apparently it's a more recently, literary fairy tale, like those of Hans Christian Andersen.  If anyone's from Germany, I'd be interested to hear if it's well-known there; I've been reading this one since I was four.  In short, the Rain Maiden's fallen asleep and a young woman braves a dangerous journey to wake her, stop the drought, and win a bet so she can marry the guy she loves.


Princess Furball: This is a lot like Cinderella, except there's no fairy godmother.  The king promises his daughter to marry an ogre.  She objects, of course, and says she'll only agree if he'll provide her a bunch of nifty dresses and a coat made of fur from each of the animals in the kingdom.  To her horror, the king manages to deliver.  She flees, ends up working as a scullery maid in another kingdom, then uses her wits and superior cooking skills to attract the eligible king.

The Little Mermaid: Which is nothing like the movie.  In the original, the unnamed mermaid's greatest desire is to gain an immortal soul: merepeople live for three hundred years, then turn to ocean foam.  The only way for her to gain an immortal soul like a human is to marry one...or so she thinks.  This story doesn't end in a wedding.

Anyone else have a favorite fairytale to add?