Month: January 2009

Food geekery: Bacony goodness.

You may or may not have heard, but there are five basic tastes (things you can sense with your tongue, not with your nose), not four: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami.*

Umami is a fifth taste, discovered either by Escoffier or Professor Kikunae Ikeda. Escoffier went on to invent French cuisine; Professor Ikeda, MSG. Turns out your tongue has receptors for a family of proteins called “glutimates.” Your body uses these things to help run your brain–but too much of it may cause seizures and other neurotransmitter-related problems.

Now, being a foodie, I knew this. But I didn’t really know this. If you handed me a plate of food and asked me whether it tasted umami or not, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. But the other day I was eating edamame (baby soybeans) with salt and realized…that buttery taste? It’s umami.

In fact, butter is umami. Milk products are all pretty much umami. Tomatoes? Mushrooms? Umami. Filet mignon? Umami. I’m pretty sure avocadoes are umami, but I can’t find any evidence to back it up. Pork is umami–and cured pork has about ten times the glutimates as uncured pork.

But it’s that buttery taste that runs through all of them–not, literally, butter, because tomatoes don’t taste like butter. But if you can imagine the difference between a supermarket roma tomato and perfectly red tomato out of a garden, that’s umami.

I think those of us in the Western world should stop calling this fifth flavor “umami.” I mean, how vague can you get? No. From now on, let’s get to the meat of the matter and start calling it what it really is–bacony goodness.

*Which translates as “yumminess.”

Writerly ramble.

The deadline for submitting Alien Blue to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is approaching ever closer.

I just figured out the Mimi has to narrate her POV – and suddenly the climax sings!

Why do I have my most brilliant moments of inspiration just before a deadline?

Don’t answer that.

Wish list:

  • Add three horrendous puns.
  • Rename the sections after brew stages and somehow work the explanation into the plot.
  • Clarify that, indeed, it is Jack who has doomed them all.
  • Bring the [hideyhidey] theme in with the Martie/Jack sequence and the early Dinah/Ben sequence.
  • Rewrite Mimi’s POV scenes.
  • Figure out WTF is writing the book itself. I have a nasssty suspicion….
  • Last runthrough and spellcheck!!!

Here’s the old Narrator version of Mimi’s memory:

Bill Trout had been talking to Nina Nesbitt all afternoon, all evening, gesturing with his hands, making faces, dropping his voice to a whisper, barking laughter out in a shout.

Mimi stood and watched with a wet bar towel over her shoulder and a couple of beers in her hands.

And in Mimi’s own words (although still in 3rd person; I’m not sure why yet, but it has to be that way):

Bill Trout had been talking to Nina Nesbitt all afternoon, all evening, all night, and he was just throwing his best at her, waving his hands, making faces, dropping his voice to a whisper, and suddenly barking laughter out in a shout, making her jump.

Mimi knew what was going to come next. But she took the memory and stuffed it into a little box, stuffed the box into a goose, and fed the goose to a king at a banquet, so she could stand with a wet bar towel over one shoulder and a couple of beers in her hands and watch Bill tell this stranger, whom she hated for being Bill’s daughter instead of just his friend, the story of everything important that had ever happened to them. And she had to miss it, had to, because Bill would never tell the story anywhere Mimi could hear him telling it.

Poor, jealous Mimi.

Pack it up!

We’re moving to Arizona! Wait…where am I going to get $2 million to buy the Cave House?

Eh. We’ll figure it out…

Query Letter: Draft

I’m not done yet – I’m on the Epilogue (which is, however, bigger than most, due to the nature of the story). But I woke up this morning and said, “You know, I think I miiiiight be able to write a query letter today.” A normally intimidating thought.

Let’s not talk about synopses, shall we?

People who want to save the world are dangerous. They hide Jews in their mother-in-laws’ basements because “it’s the right thing to do.” They perform scientific experiments on themselves–and others–and their subjects drop like flies until someone discovers radiation is bad for the complexion. They lead platoons into the jungle because it’s what Napoleon should have done at Waterloo.

Alien Blue is an 85,000-word contemporary science fiction novel set in small-town New Mexico just over an hour away from Roswell. Bill Trout, the owner of the Caveman Brewery, lets himself get hornswaggled into helping his best friend, Mayor Jack Stout, hide an interstellar fugitive out in the desert. Bill knows it’s dangerous, but arguing with Jack is like putting your head in a jet engine: loud and disorientating, to say the least. Will Bill get rid of their pathetic alien before his pursuers find them and kill them all? Or before their flawed savior can save humanity from invasion? It all depends on Bill’s latest brew, a suspiciously blue beer he calls “Alien Blue.”

I’m a technical writer and editor for the Air Force; unfortunately, my clearance isn’t high enough to know any secrets about what really happened in the desert in 1947. Or so I tell people. I’ve written murder mystery podcasts (project never produced), magazine articles (went out of business before the first issue), catalogue descriptions, newsletters, short-short stories (at Toasted Cheese, Verbiage, and Clever Magazine, all online), poetry (in Darkwaves and Larkwings, Vol. 1; and iMPS iN THe iNKWeLL, from a gleeful press!), and murder mystery party games (the best of which are at Freeform Games, online). I also ghost-wrote a young adult novel, a sequel to a book that was never published and was my favorite project to date. You win some, you lose some. I’m a member of and volunteer for the Pikes Peak Writers, and I’m part of an offshoot, smaller critique group in which we discover how not to do all kinds of things.

Thank you for your time. I am sending this query to multiple agents, but only the wonderful, insightful ones who might keep Spider Robinson or Kurt Vonnegut on a back shelf. Of course, the manuscript is complete and ready to send at a moment’s notice.

Questions – do I go off too much about my credentials? And was the way I handled the multiple submissions okay? Was it funny?!?

Musical Interlude: Jose Gonzales and Spinnerette

Two entirely different impulses.

Spanish-style guitar and sad folk vocals (Jose Gonzales, Hints and, incredibly, Love Will Tear Us Apart).

Post-punk love child of Hole and Queens of the Stone Age (Spinnerette, Ghetto Love, led by the former frontbitch of The Distillers).

Recipe: Updated Red Sauce & Lasagna

After making the Lee Chili of Doom based on a co-worker’s recipe, I applied the same technique to red (spaghetti) sauce for a batch of lasagna.

Mwah! My best red sauce yet.

For the laziest lasagna method: Day 1: Make red sauce.
Day 2: Assemble, bake, and serve lasagna.

Red Sauce:
Makes about 8 lb. sauce; you’ll need half the batch for lasagna. Freeze the rest.

  • 3 lb. mild italian sausage (do NOT use ground beef)
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. baby portabellos, sliced and allowed to dry off
  • 5 14.5-ounce cans of chopped tomatoes and their juice (the kind with as few ingredients as possible–tomatoes, salt, citric acid) Note: all but one can may be “crushed” tomatoes.
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 1/2 c. pesto (or: 1 small bunch basil, chopped; another 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/2 cup, not packed, of fresh-grated hard cheese like parmesan or romano)
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Olive oil (or bacon grease)

You’ll need 2 largish skillets and 1 stock pot, and about five hours (most of which is just sitting around, absorbing calories through your nose every time you lift the lid).

Remove the sausage from its casings, if applicable, and brown in the skillets, breaking into bite-sized chunks. Add the minced garlic and brown for a few more minutes. Scrape the sausage into the stock pot and return the skillets to sizzling temperature. Deglaze the pans with red wine vinegar, adding more as necessary to loosen the crunchy bits off the pan and create 1/4 c. or less of pan sauce. Dump the pan sauce into the stock pot.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil in the skillets and bring to a fairly high heat, hotter than you used for the sausage. Add 1/4 of the mushrooms to each pan. (You want the mushrooms to develop their own crunchy bits, not to sit in a bunch of mushroom juice, so take the extra time to do this.) Saute the mushrooms (the drier they are before you dump them in the pan, the happier you’ll be) until they are shrunken, wrinkly, brown, and smell a bit like meat. Scrape them into the stock pot and repeat with the other half of the mushrooms. Deglaze the pans with the red wine vinegar, as above.

Add 4 cans of the tomatoes, the can of tomato sauce, the pesto, the bay leaves, and 2c. water to the stock pot. Cover and bring to a simmer. Keep at a simmer for about 4 hours, or until the whole thing has turned into a mouth-watering mush and there’s a little oil on the top. Pull out the bay leaves, if possible. I wouldn’t let the thing go overnight unless you were using a crock pot, and even then, leave it on low.

You can serve it now, or refrigerate overnight. I suggest refrigerating overnight. To serve, add the last can of tomatoes and bring back to a simmer. You don’t need to do this for the lasagna.

Makes one 9 by 11 pan. Preheat to 350F.

1 container of frozen chopped spinach or 2 small bunches of spinach, rinsed and chopped
1 small container of whole-milk ricotta cheese (6 ounces, I think) (Don’t get low-fat for any milk product you intend to cook, other than milk. The product will probably separate.)
1 c. freshly-grated parmesan or other hard cheese, like romano
1 lb. mozzarella, fresh if you can get it (grate it if it’s firm cheese; slice it if it’s fresh)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 batch of red sauce (about two quarts, I think)
1 9-ounce box of no-bake lasagna noodles (I use Barilla; they’re flat, which is handy if you’re not going to boil the noodles first)

Thaw or heat the spinach on the stovetop or in the microwave. Allow to cool as necessary, then squish the excess water from the spinach, in small handfuls. Mix the spinach, ricotta, egg, and 1/4 t. salt and set aside.

In a 9 by 11 pan–I recommend a clear pyrex pan–spread 1/3 of the red sauce in the bottom of the pan. Add a layer of noodles, about 1/3 of the box, breaking up noodles to fill the empty spaces as necessary. Add another 1/3 of the sauce. Add about half of the mozzarella in a layer. Add another layer of noodles. Spread the entire spinach mixture over the noodles. Add another layer of noodles. Add the rest of the red sauce on top, then cover with the rest of the mozzarella.

Brace yourself. Take a few deep breaths. Now pour about a cup of water down the side of the pan, between the noodles and the pan. This is where the clear pyrex pan becomes useful: if you can’t see about a 1/4-inch of water at the bottom, you need to add more water, but not more than two cups of water, total.

To noodles, water is life. But you don’t want to spend the time cooking the noodles and trying to keep them from oozing out of your tongs as you assemble the lasagna, and you don’t want to make your red sauce so wet you can’t use it for anything else. IT WILL TURN OUT OKAY. Use regular lasagna noodles if you just can’t stand the thought of not having crunchy noodle bits in the final product.

Cover the pan with tinfoil and put in the oven for about 1 hour, or until bubbly. Uncover the lasagna and turn on the broiler. (You can add more parmesan on top at this point, if you like.) Broil the lasagna for about a minute, or until the cheese on top is brown.

Let the lasagna cool for a few minutes (like, five or ten) to firm up before serving, because otherwise you will want to cry when you see that first piece slide around like mush on your plate. Delicious mush, though.

Recipe: Wilted Bacon Salad

Don’t make this recipe on purpose, that is, don’t fry bacon just so you can have wilted bacon salad. This is a leftover recipe, a dish designed to squeeze the very last possible amount of bacony goodness out of a pan of bacon. Restaurants present this dish as though it were something sophisticated. Nope. It’s a back-of-the-house secret cook treat, meant to be shared only with people you really like. Like burnt cheese.

First, make bacon for another recipe. Save out a few bacon strips, hiding well inside a container of yogurt or other “healthful” container as camouflage.

Pour off the bacon grease and reserve for another purpose. (Do not scoff at using bacon grease instead of fake butter spray or whatever. Do not fake a heart attack. Just use a little bit. After all, if you have leftover bacon grease, it means you ate the bacon in the first place, so don’t have a cow knee-jerk reaction, okay?)

Heat the bacon pan back up to sizzling temperature. Add enough red wine vinegar to produce about 1/4 c. of dressing. If too much evaporates, add more. Deglaze (i.e., scrape the crunchies off) the pan and pour the dressing into a heatproof container. Refrigerate, because you’ve just made a pan of bacon for another reason entirely, and that’s what you’re eating. This is for later.

At salad time, put about four somewhat-packed cups of dry salad greens or spinach in two large serving bowls. Heat the dressing, either on the stovetop or in the microwave, until the bacon grease is entirely melted. Pour it into a small, deep cup or dish. Pour or spoon off whatever bacon grease you don’t want. Note: don’t scrape out the grease before you heat it. The crunchy bits will get away. Again with the knee-jerk reaction.

Pour the dressing over the greens. They will wilt a little but not become mushy. Toss the salad a little bit to ensure maximum dressing coverage.* Warm the reserved bacon strips a little and crumble them over the salad. Add whatever else sounds good. A diced, slightly underripe pear was marvelous when I used it. Serve immediately.

If you do this at work, other people will rush out to buy salads, any salads, from the nearest cafeteria or grocer. But they will be sadly disappointed; feel free to mock them.

*People who dump dressing on top of a salad and just eat it that way are the same people who think salads are bland. Coincidence? I think not.

Musical Interlude: Joy Division

Working on Alien Blue, I’m at a spot where the main character has dug himself a hole. He’s starting to come out of it–but manages to screw things up again (big surprise), driving another character to a desperate action.

I was trying to find a song to put me into his frame of mind:

This is a crisis I knew had to come,
Destroying the balance I’d kept.
Doubting, unsettling and turning around,
Wondering what will come next.
Is this the role that you wanted to live?
I was foolish to ask for so much.
Without the protection and infancy’s guard,
It all falls apart at first touch.

Watching the reel as it comes to a close,
Brutally taking its time,
People who change for no reason at all,
It’s happening all of the time.
Can I go on with this train of events?
Disturbing and purging my mind,
Back out of my duties, when all’s said and done,
I know that I’ll lose every time.

Moving along in our God given ways,
Safety is sat by the fire,
Sanctuary from these feverish smiles,
Left with a mark on the door,
Is this the gift that I wanted to give?
Forgive and forget’s what they teach,
Or pass through the deserts and wastelands once more,
And watch as they drop by the beach.

This is the crisis I knew had to come,
Destroying the balance I’d kept,
Turning around to the next set of lives,
Wondering what will come next.

(Joy Division – Passover.)

Eerily prescient.

Alien Blue: Updated Pitch/Log Line

I’m trying to get ready to submit Alien Blue to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Submissions are from February 2-8, which means I’m probably not going to have time to have people read the whole thing before I submit, because I’m still working on it. (I think I’m through the worst of it, although I’m sure I’ll run into other problems.) I started worrying about what I needed besides a finished manuscript this morning, so I did some research: I’m going to have to do a bio and a pitch.

I hate bios.

DeAnna grew up on a farm in the poorest county in the U.S. and didn’t realize that a lack of indoor bathrooms and running water at school was in any way unusual. Fortunately, she landed in the hands of subversive librarians and read a lot of Theodore Sturgeon, Piers Anthony, and Robert Heinlein as a child. Ever since then, she’s lived in a surreal world of stoplights, cars not held together with wire and baling twine, rows of identical houses where you can’t open the garage for more than ten minutes, and places where you can’t see the Milky Way or feel the earth rotating underneath you at night. You probably live there, too.

Here’s the pitch (300 words or fewer):

So a few years ago, Kurt Vonnegut and Spider Robinson got together over a beer and decided to write a book about aliens.* They got into an argument over the ending–Spider wanted the hero to save the town by the skin of his teeth; Kurt wanted the hero to blow up the planet (accidentally).

Fortunately for me, I was tending bar that night and got to hear the whole story, with both endings. I laughed so hard my gut ached; I cried so bad the town drunk asked me if my dog died.

By closing time, they still hadn’t agreed on an ending and decided not to write the book, which I thought was a damned shame. “You figure out how to end it, then,” they said, and left arm in arm, singing a song about a beautiful woman with green skin and six breasts.

It’s taken me a while, but I think it got it down like I remember it. To tell the truth, I didn’t care for either ending, so I made up my own. The book’s about 85,000 words of science fiction, mostly fiction and not so much science. I’m just a bartender, you know? But I’d be real happy if you took a look at the book. It’d be a pity if I was the only one to ever hear the story.

*Not really. I wrote the story all by myself. But I missed reading books like theirs, full of humor and the human condition. The story’s about an ornery bar owner who, against his better judgment, hides an fugitive in his small New Mexico town. It’s a race between the invading aliens and finding a way to fight them–and a fight to stay human, as aliens, undetectable, replace their loved ones with strangers.

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