Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stays Crunchy softcovers off the press!

Brief update: Adam & his publisher worked out the aforementioned printer problems, and the trade paperback run of Stays Crunchy is off the press! Adam's got the pre-order copies, and should be sending them out soon. He also sent me this photo:


The limited hardcover run should follow within the next week, and both should be available on and at select retail locations another week or so after that. You'll know when by the ludicrously high-pitched SQUEEEE noise coming in stereo from the general directions of NYC and Atlanta. Or, in case you're planning on buying earplugs, I'll just post about it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

recipe: red velvet cake

I realized last week, not quite simultaneously, that a) I had never baked anything for my roommate's birthday, b) I only had two kinds of flour in my cupboard (clearly not enough flours), and c) I wanted to make something rather more technically ambitious than chocolate chip cookies (even the kind that contain bacon. really they're simple, go make them.)

So I asked Josh what he wanted, and he mentioned red velvet cake. Which, chance had it, one of my friends had done a version of for a friend's wedding shower just a couple weeks back. Of course, Steph being Steph, she carved several layers of the cake into a rough semi-oblique and then colored and hot-knifed and cross-hatched some frosting to make the thing look perhaps uncannily like a ham:

I do not love my friends this much. Sorry, friends, but the only pork involved in my desserts will be internal.

But I'd never made a layer cake from scratch, so I manned up, bought some cake flour, and made it go. The process was a bit time consuming for me, personally, and overall I felt like the cakey result wasn't particularly better than a store-bought cake. (I suppose even matching store-bought is sort of a feat, though, so I'm proud of me.) The frosting I made, however -- a vanilla'd cream cheese deal -- was completely worth making from scratch. Next time I'll probably buy a box of cakemix, but from now on I might make from-scratch frosting all the time (regardless of whether there's a cake involved).

Now, okay, here's The Thing with the frosting recipe that I've just talked up. I got it from Cook's Illustrated, which puts enough time & effort into testing and writing their recipes that they (quite rightfully!) copyright them. And while I changed the ingredient ratios, I really can't say that I adapted it enough to let myself publish it here. So, I'll give you a link to the recipe and the directions for a very similar recipe from a free site, but if you want the exact thing, you'll have to go sign up at Cook's Illustrated Dot Com. You can sign up for a 14-day free trial -- for which you DO have to enter credit card information, but which you CAN cancel before the trial period ends, thus avoiding any charges. Though if you've got a spare $34.95 sitting around for a year's membership to the site, I'd say that'd be an excellent, well-spent $34.95. Really. The folks over there do brilliant, pertinent things with food and explain everything painstakingly, which you may have noticed is a schtick that I enjoy.

Red Velvet Cake with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
From 28 oz. Wine Glass and Joy of Baking, and then also Cook's Illustrated and Simply Recipes


2.5 c. cake flour (finer grain than all-purpose! very worthwhile)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 oz. red food coloring
1 oz. water/booze (rum, vodka, whisky, Kahlua, blackberry gin, etc.)

1.5 c. white sugar
1/2 c. (i.e., 1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. white vinegar (DUDE I KNOW)
1 tsp baking soda

1 c. (8 oz.) buttermilk

1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
8 oz. (1 package) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Scrapings from 1 or even 2 vanilla beans
2-3 c. powdered sugar


For the cake, set out your butter and eggs to let them warm to room temperature. Butter & flour either a 9x13" pan (what I used) or 2 9" round pans or even 3 8" rounds.

Measure your cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and whisk to combine. If you were very motivated/had a better sifter than me, you could sift them together instead.

In a small bowl/ramekin, measure out your cocoa powder and pour in the vanilla and the red food coloring. Then take the empty food coloring bottle and fill it up with either water or a clear/red/brown-colored liquor. (I used a blackberry gin that my friend Melissa made, pretty much entirely for the color, but I think whisky, Kahlua, rum, or plain ol' vodka would also do nicely. This'll get all the remaining food dye out of the bottle, and possibly will add a bit of bonus flavoring if you've used good booze.) Add the refilled bottle contents to the bowl and stir until smooth and lump-free.

Now might be a good time to get your oven preheating to 350 F.

In a large bowl, beat your butter and sugar until they're fluffy (about 3 minutes with an electric hand mixer on medium-high). Beat in one egg until completely incorporated, and then give your second egg the same treatment. (You're scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition, yes? Good.) Next, beat in the vanilla-cocoa-coloring mixture. Take a moment to cackle maniacally after all those beatings, if desired. (It'll be very appropriate 'cause the mixture will be bright, bloody red.)

Pour 1/3 of your dry ingredient mixture into the wet ingredient mixture and stir to combine. (I don't like using electric beaters once the flour is involved 'cause doing so can make the glutens get all stiff & yicky.) Then stir in half the buttermilk, then 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then the last of the buttermilk, then the last of the dry stuff.

In a small bowl/ramekin, pour the vinegar over the baking soda and stir. Will be fizzy. Quickly fold it into the cake batter.

Pour your batter into your pan(s) and bake for 25+ minutes... might take a bit less for 8-inch pans or a bit more for a 9x13-incher. When it's done, a wooden toothpick/skewer should come out clean but for a crumb or two. (I get nervous about sheet cake and let my 9x13 go a little too long, maybe 31 minutes. It ended up a little dry. For the larger pan sizes, toothpick check at 25 minutes and estimate from there!)

Once the cake(s) are out of the oven, let them cool in the pan(s) until said pan(s) are cool enough to touch. Then turn the cake(s) out onto a cooling rack. Cake needs to cool completely before you frost it, and will do even better if it's fridge-cold. I let mine sit until it was room temperature, then cut it in half the short way (producing 2 9x6.5" cakes), wrapped the halves in parchment paper, and let them chill in the fridge for maybe half an hour.

While you're waiting for them to cool, set out your frosting-recipe butter and cream cheese to allow them to soften.

When your cakes are about ready to frost, make the frosting. First, scrape your vanilla bean(s): take a bean, cut it in half the short way, and then slice each half open the long way. (It's even easier to scrape, though might require knife skill, if you don't bisect them the long way, but only slit them open.) Check out all those sticky little black pod/seed thingies! Now stop staring and use the dull/nonoperative edge of a knife blade to gently scrape the black stuff out of the pod. (Reserve the pod, it's made of delicious! Chop it coarsely and either put it in a bag of sugar for vanilla-flavored sugar, or in a small container with enough vodka to cover for vanilla extract.)

Put your butter, cream cheese, vanilla extract, and any vanilla bean scrapings you're using in a medium-sized bowl and use your electric beater to beat them smooth (2-3 minutes?). Add powdered sugar in small amounts (maybe stir a little before beating each time to avoid sugar explosions) until you've got a volume, consistency, and sweetness level that seems awesome.

To apply the frosting, okay I'm inexperienced with this so other tutorials will be more helpful. But basically, you want to do this in two steps.

First, apply a thin layer of frosting to each section of cake as you stack them. This layer will be messy and full of crumbs, and is called a crumb coat, and will prevent your outer layer of frosting from being messy and full of crumbs. Once the crumb coat is on there, sticking the whole cake in the freezer for awhile will help it set! It's ready for the next step when the frosting is no longer tacky to the touch (maybe 30 minutes).

Second, apply your outer layer of frosting. Whee!

As long as it's tightly covered, this cake seems to do okay without refrigeration for a few days, despite the dairy in the frosting. Covering tightly and refrigerating will let it keep for a week or so, assuming that you don't have people like me around who will pretend that red velvet cake is part of a nutritious breakfast. (With the cream cheese, it's like a bagel, right?? Wait those aren't healthy either, crap.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Girl Talk Thursday Friday: girltime

The topic for this week's Girl Talk is What You Do With Your Chick Friends. And it made me go, "....Oh, crap. I am possibly a terrible friend to my chick friends."

Which is just My Hilarious Social Anxiety talking, mostly, I'm sure. It's not that I don't see my chick friends, or that I never talk to the ones who live out of town! Just, most of my chick friends Do Things. Like take care of their two babies and also do a lot of freelance writing. Or work full-time for an art gallery and also do crazy grad-level work for their Bachelor's degree. Or run around L.A. being awesome and filmmakery and in a different time zone. Or go on tour playing and promoting their music. They're a hard bunch to get ahold of!

Also, girls scare me. Seriously, they intimidate the extra X chromosome out of me. I care a lot more about what they think of me (no offense, guys), so I get all anxious about interacting with them and cope by ignoring them. Because I'm secretly a third grader? Le sigh.

When I do find my girl-nuts and work out scheduling issues and hang out with chick friends, I feel like mostly we do the same things I do with my dude friends? Except maybe gossip/perv about boys a little bit more while we're doing them? Here are some of my favorite girltime activities:

Ladies who brunch/lunch/dinner/booze: For some reason, food that's terrible for me seems like a better idea around chick friends. And adding tequila or sparkling wine to the mix equals more better giggling and boner stories. In college Don Pablo's was the best place for this, a few years ago I spent a lot of time at Flying Biscuit/Doc Bombay's and this Mexican place out in Tucker, and recently... I haven't done this recently!

Terrible late-night movies on someone's couch: Depending on the tastes of the exact chick friend in question, these will probably be musicals, movies featuring pretty boys who are probably French and/or cross-dressing, or Japanese sex & splatter flicks. Favorite titles include the goofy 2000 production of Jesus Christ Superstar (we usually skip the boring parts where Judas isn't crying or wearing vinyl pants), Transfixed, and Stacy. Recently, True Blood has been rad for this. Again, sparkling wine really only makes this awesomer.

Phone calls while driving: None of these would ever pass the Bechdel test but they're the best way for my nonlocal chick friends and I to catch up with each other. And are possibly the only chick activity I can think of that isn't improved by sparkling wine.

Have I mentioned sparkling wine? My favorite right now is Sofia 'cause you can get it in little Tab-sized cans. That are pink. And come with a pull-out bendy straw.

That's maybe all I can think of? mrr. I miss girltime.

In conclusion, if you're a lady and you've ever pinged me for hangouts/phone calls and I haven't gotten back to you, it's 'cause I'm eight and you seem nice. HOWEVER, I secretly want more hangouts/phone calls with you and am gonna try to put more effort into that soon like nowish. Perhaps I shall start today.

Hey, I wrote this entry for Mommy Melee's Girl Talk Thursday! Come join the conversation:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

a song each day

I've never been much of a music person -- not the way some people are. I mean, I own maybe 40-some CDs, and possibly a couple hundred extra songs on mp3. I enjoy going to concerts and hearing new things! I think singing is approximately the most fun thing ever, even though my talent there hovers somewhere amidst tolerable, trainable, and oh-god-aim-for-the-head. But instrumentally speaking, I've never played anything other than nursery rhymes on one of those white plastic recorders in elementary school, and one half of "Chopsticks" at a go on my grandparents' Lowrey electronic organ (possibly with the Polka accompaniment going 'cause I thought it was hilarious). My brain is just way, way more skewed towards written communication than auditory. And I'm kinda a spaz, coordinationally.

It's possible that I've got an inflated sense of being an oddity in this 'cause I can't seem to date anyone who plays fewer than 5 instruments, and 'cause I have a few friends who are aiming towards making a professional career out of playing music. One of these, a Mr. CJ Bargamian, is working on the sort of personal project that completely blows my non-auditory mind: A Song Each Day. As the name might imply, he's writing and recording a new song every day -- for 30 days.

As someone who's never had music in her head that didn't come from somewhere else, this is more or less incomprehensible -- but as a creator, it's fascinating. I'm possibly obsessed with other people's creative processes, and CJ's been blogging along with the project, explaining bits about where his concepts come from and how he develops them into finished pieces. The resulting music sounds understandably unpolished but is even more interesting for being a bit raw, because while not every song is to my taste, all of them contain little pieces and iterations of the songwriter that I've either heard before or hope I'll hear explored more fully in the future.

I think that every songwriter should do this. Erm, not just for my entertainment (DANCE, MONKEYS) -- well okay largely for my entertainment. But also to promote cross-media creative understanding and community motivation towards discussion and productivity?


CJ is on day 17 today -- you can go through the library of songs past (my favorites so far are from days 2, 3, 6, 8, and 14, for varying musical/entertainment reasons), or tune in each day for a new one! If you listen in, let him know what you think. And hey, if you'd like to hear some of his more polished & collaborative pieces, check out A Fight To The Death – on hiatus right now while its drummer, the fabulous and fresh-scented Mark Carbone, mends a few bicycle-broken bones, but coming back to Atlanta-area stages within the next couple weeks. Along with Mark & CJ, George Wallace, Nathan Green, and Daniel Winn produce what I can completely objectively say is the best gypsy-lounge-Americana rock I've heard in our fair city.

Monday, August 17, 2009

restaurant: Abattoir

I eat mostly vegetarian food -- I feel healthier when I do, I think it's more environmentally responsible, and having worked for a nutrition textbook publisher for a year or two means that I know too much about how the human body handles animal fat versus plant fat. If I'm cooking for myself, it's always vegetarian (at least half 'cause it's just easier) and I'm more likely than not to buy meatless meals in restaurants and from the frozen section.

But I also love food -- and all kinds of food, including animal products. Bacon, cured meats, a good rare steak, sausage, everything that lives in the ocean preferably still raw, gamey things like venison and duck and goose.... I don't consider meat an everyday consumable, but well-prepared and on occasion, it's a wonderful treat.

For my friend Darrell's birthday, a few of us went to Abattoir -- a trendy newish Atlanta restaurant from the schmancy Star Provisions people that focuses on locally, responsibly sourced meats and whole-animal use.

We basically ordered the left (small plates) side of the menu. Or, okay not quite. But we shared around:

  • The chicharrones (which are Spanish-style pork rinds, and were airy & melty. Yes this is where we started. I wish I could say it was nutritionally uphill from here, but then):

  • The lardo crouton (their version has thick grilled bread and heavy spreadings of melty fat -- like the best bread & butter you've ever had except even less healthy. It came topped with pickled onions, which really made the dish).

  • The steak tartare (which had such lovely seasoning that it seemed refreshing instead of rich. Was terrific with the crisp garlicy toast it was served with).

  • The charcuterie (which came with 4 cured meats and was possibly my least favorite dish of the evening -- not bad at all, just not particuparly impressive. Skippable, I'd say, though the venison one was delicious).

  • The 3 terrines (pig feet, lamb, and pork -- the simple pork was the best of the 3 and the one I'd order again. The lamb was also nicely seasoned if a bit mild in flavor, and had pistachios in it for a bit of textural fun. The pig feet one was sort of dull, honestly).

  • The potted chicken livers & foie gras (so, so rich and very slightly sweet. Counted as dessert).

  • The potted lamb rillette (lighter than the foie gras, which was quite nice -- I'd recommend this one to people who want to try a jar spread but don't want anything too heavy).

  • The watermelon fennel salad (I am maybe obsessed with savory watermelon dishes right now and this was excellent, LOTS of fennel, very refreshing).

  • The beet ricotta salad (which made me love beets -- or at least learn that I don't hate them like I thought I did. Though I suspect that lovely homemade lemon-mint-flavored cheese would make anything more tolerable).

  • And of course, what with all the spreadable things, all the table bread ever (so fresh from the oven I burned my fingers twice, but it was crusty-tender and made me want to work on bread-baking projects).

  • Oh and lots of little pickled green beans for contrast & palate freshening.

We also had a bottle or two of Domaine la Garrigue '06, a red from the Côtes du Rhône region. Excellent, interesting wine -- cherry-fruity without being sweet, and with an herbal sort of undertone like licorice. It was one of the cheaper bottles on the menu at $20, seems to retail for $10 to $15, and I'd definitely recommend trying it if you can find it -- maybe not for sippin' on, but definitely with meals. Tartly acidic & dry, it paired really well against all the fatty, rich things we were eating. Hooray for the birthday guy being an excellent bartender who knows how the wine works.

We also tried a glass of the Oberon Wheat Ale, which had such a huge orangey scent and was so clean & light on the tongue that it was just what I needed to cut the fat towards the end of our meal, when even the perky wine started feeling a bit heavy. If you're not a wine person but want a little booze with your meal, this beer would be a more than acceptable alternative.

For all of that, our celebration only ended up costing some $35/person -- which isn't an amount that I would generally spend on a meal, but for a special occasion and with all that booze was actually reasonable. I've easily spent more than that at other schmancy restaurants in Atlanta and walked away hungry/otherwise unsatisfied. Aside from wanting to eat nothing but salad for five days afterward in compensation/benediction, there was nothing unsatisfying about our experience at Abattoir.

Other notes: Free parking in the White Provision deck. The staff was very pleasant, helpful, friendly, and attentive-yet-unobtrusive. Reservations recommended. Dress code is trendy/preppy-casual. You should go here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

proofreaders vs printer: FIGHT

Just a quick mid-breakfast heads-up to all of you lovely, clever readers who pre-ordered Stays Crunchy in Milk and/or were breathlessly awaiting the listing on Amazon:

We've unfortunately hit a snag with the printer, so we're going to be delaying the release by a couple of weeks. We're hoping to have them to you during the first week of September, but I'll post just as soon as we've got the finalized information. Thanks so much for your patience (send a little our way if you've got some to spare).

In the meanwhile, hey check out this restaurant I'm going to for a friend's birthday tonight: Abattoir! So many kinds of meat = so exciting and/or terrifying. Did you know that abattoir is the French word for slaughterhouse? Oh Atlanta restaurant scene, I love you.

Monday, August 10, 2009

live apartment fire

Due warning, Atlanta: Doug Richards, formerly of Fox 5 News, recently of Live Apartment Fire Dot Com, and currently of NBC 11Alive, is back on the streets this week. Asking the hard-hitting questions! Finding the real story! Making judicious use of the company ROFLcopter! Dodging "accidental" nutpunches from the peers he's lambasted! Improving his ping-pong game on slow news days?

If you see him out there doing his thang, be nice to him for me, yeah? Don't steal his lunch money or wave at the camera like a maniac in the background of his shot (if you really need to make a spectacle of yourself, flash the Vulcan salute).

And check out LAF -- it's going to be morphing along with Doug's role in the news media, but I'm betting it'll still be the best local evidence that at least a few people in the industry are cognizant, introspective, and possesed of dual senses of humor and responsibility about the whole mass media mess.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

recipe: orange-chocolate-raspberry yogurt cake

The whole thing where the word "cake" doubles as a synonym for "simple" makes me feel like a complete lamer sometimes. 'Cause folks, sometimes cake is hard. There are electric beaters involved, and patience and delicacy are as necessary as those eggs that oh-hell-you-didn't-beat-enough, and after it comes out of the oven people expect you to do something fancy with it. I secretly despise complicated recipes and making things pretty -- my favorite desserts are hearthy, homey things that look a mess and taste ethereal, like the music nibblins of the spheres.

This loaf cake comes together in two bowls, no electric gadgets necessary, and the "decoration" involves stirring and then pouring. And having leftovers means that you don't have to fix breakfast.

Orange-Chocolate-Raspberry [aka Anything] Yogurt Cake
Adapted from smitten kitchen, who adapted it loosely from Ina Garten


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (coarse/kosher/sea salt always preferred)

1 c. plain yogurt (I used nonfat, lowfat might be better)
3/4 c. white sugar
3 eggs (extra-large preferred)
2 teaspoons grated orange zest (~1 orange)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/2 c. fresh raspberries
1 tbsp additional flour
1 c. chocolate chips

1 orange-worth of fresh-squeezed juice (~1/3 c.)
1 tbsp sugar


Grease and flour a loaf pan (8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch if you've got it) -- yes even if it's nonstick. (The way I do this is: Take stick of butter. Rub across bottom and sides of pan to coat lightly. Put down stick of butter. Use fingers to spread the applied butter evenly around the surfaces and into the corners. Wipe off hands. Get a good couple pinches of flour and sprinkle them around the pan, probably working over the sink. Tap & turn the pan to coat the butter evenly with the flour, and then tip extra flour out of the pan. Then: TADA, your loaf will release, well, like buttah.)

Get your oven preheating to 350°F!

Measure your flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and whisk to combine. You could also sift them together if you were feeling less lazy than me.

In a second, larger bowl, whisk your yogurt, sugar, eggs, orange zest, vanilla, and oil together until smooth.

Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in maybe 4 small batches. Once smooth, stir in the chocolate chips.

Toss the raspberries with the extra tablespoon of flour (so they'll bleed less!) and then gently-gently fold them into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for ~50 minutes... this cake will dry out fairly easily, especially if you've used nonfat yogurt, and it won't brown very much, so start checking at ~45 minutes and probably don't let it go longer than 60. A toothpick or skewer inserted into the middle should come out pretty clean when it's done, but if you bake by sight like I do, you're looking for a light golden color, nothing deeper.

Meanwhile, just barely simmer the orange juice and extra tablespoon of sugar in the smallest saucepan you ever did own, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

Let the cake cool off for 10 minutes after it comes out of the oven, and then turn it out onto a cooling rack. If you want to make your cleanup process easier, set the rack on top of a cutting board, baking sheet, or strip of wax paper/tin foil/plastic wrap. Slowly spoon the warm glaze over the top of the cake -- it'll be runny, so a gentle drizzle is about the right speed. (If you're feeling industrious, you can use a toothpick/skewer to poke a few dozen holes in the top of the cake to give the glaze places to go.) You could alternatively reserve the glaze and drizzle it over individual servings of cake just before passing them around.

I think this cake is terrific warm, but it's just as nice once it's cool, and possibly even better once it's been chilled. Which you should always do with baked goods that contain fruit if you want to store them for more than a day.

You could put just about anything into this cake... next time, I'm thinking I'll try chopped strawberries instead of the chocolate chips & raspberries, and lime zest & juice instead of orange. But yes. Just use 1.5 cups of Delicious Stuff, and some kind of citrus zest & juice. And up to an extra 1/4 cup of sugar if your Delicious Stuff is a sorta tart fruit. Tell me what you do and how it came out! And if you take pictures, send them to me and I'll link and/or post them.

Friday, August 7, 2009

fiction: machine of death

I believe I've mentioned that Ryan North does things that are intellectually and shirtily pleasing. One such thing that's in the works is the Machine of Death anthology -- for which you can find a convenient and brief history here, but in summary for lazy bastards:

The Internet at large was asked to write short stories based on this concept: What If a machine was invented that could tell you, through a simple blood test, how you were going to die? And the Internet responded! And, recently, a whole lot of faboo illustrators jumped on the project like long-haired cats on clean laundry.

Like besugared children on a trampoline? Like. Uh. An unwary Spartan on a shiny blue plasma grenade? Like an Internets on a short-lived catchphrase?

With astounding powers of words like this, perhaps you can see why my Machine submission was politely declined for publication. Perhaps they simply received a large influx of very high-quality work. Perhaps we shall stick with this theory.

There's no pub date set, but I'll let y'all know when they announce it... I'm excited to see what all everybody came up with. In the meanwhile, you can read my submission! Just think, the stories in the anthology will be better than this!

[p.s. -- Many thanks to BlogBulk for teaching me how to make this jump cut happen. Mwah!]

A Machine of Death story, ~1300 words

Any other greeting cards that were this particular shade of pastel blue and embossed with ducks would've read, “It's a Boy!” The Croftworth's, inevitably, read, “It's a Brian!” It was a family name three generations running, and another three back before the first and foolhardy Brain Croftworth III named his only son Jonathan. On the day that the cards arrived, all 80 of them fresh from the printer, shrink-wrapped neatly in stacks of 16 along with matching duck-embossed envelopes, it took Mrs. Cynthia Wellers-Croftworth every ounce of what willpower she possessed to resist her urge to burn them.

She'd had enough of the name “Brian” already for one day - for one lifetime, probably - without the additional 80 instances. Her husband, Brian the third, was sitting opposite her on their tan leather couch, his expression tight and worried. Her father-in-law, Brian the second, was in her kitchen along with her mother-in-law, giving the younger generation enough privacy to talk without actually impeding eavesdropping. And the little printout slip that she'd received from a Machine in her ObGyn's office that morning, now sitting on the coffee table between her and her husband, read, in neat block letters, “BRIAN”.

“It must be a mistake,” Brian said for the fifth time that day.

“The Machine doesn't make mistakes,” Cynthia replied for the fifth time, wearily.

“Okay, but does it ever make typos? Maybe it meant that you'll be killed by BRAIN. Or,” he floundered, “y'know, BRAN.”

“I bet lots of people are killed by bran.”

He stood up to pace again, arms crossed. “Yeah, that attitude's going to help.”

“Fine, I bet it did mean BRAN. What do we really know about bran, anyway? It could very well be the evil what lurks in the hearts of our colons.”

“Would you please be serious about this?” said Brian loudly.

“I am serious about this,” Cynthia said, even more loudly. “I'm the one who's going to be killed by you, or our baby, or your father, or your granddad come back as a zombie, or one of the other million Brians out there. Unless, of course, the Machine was picking up the baby's reading, though him being murdered by one of you isn't my idea of a lark either.”

Brian sat down again, staring at Cynthia's belly, which Cynthia was holding protectively with the hand that wasn't pressed to her temple as if something in her skull were trying to break out.

“You didn't tell me it might be the baby's reading,” he said.

“Dr. Naylor said that happens sometimes.”

What Dr. Naylor had actually said was that fetal blood cells are often found in maternal circulation during pregnancy -- and for years afterward, in fact -- thereby engendering some doubt in the gynecologic community about whether a woman who'd never had a Machine reading before pregnancy could ever receive an accurate reading, but Cynthia, at that stage in the appointment, had been finding it difficult to pay attention to details.

Just thinking about the conversation made Cynthia's headache worse. “God, I wish I'd never had it done,” she said.

“How can you say that? Our--our baby could be in danger. You could be in danger! At least now we know.”

“A fat lot of good knowing has done! Panicked the whole family, my mother's probably having hysterics on her cruise ship--”

“Knowing has to be better. At least we can prepare.”

“Prepare?! We--” Cynthia stopped suddenly. “Brian, we could change his name.”

“Change his—oh, no we couldn't. His name is Brian.”

“He's not born yet! He's the size of a sweet potato, why couldn't we change his name?”

“Don't you mean, the size of a ‘jumbo prawn’?”

“That was weeks ago, and don't make fun of Dr. Naylor's fetus size comparisons, they're very practical. And don't sidetrack! We can still change his name.”

“No, we can't. He's a Croftworth, his name was Brian before he was conceived.”

“That's ridiculous!”

“Why do you think we got announcement cards so early? My mother was having it embossed on things while we were on our honeymoon!”

A cough that managed to sound both indignant and a little self-righteous came from just beyond the kitchen door.

Cynthia ignored it. “What if he'd been a girl?” she demanded.

“She would've gotten hell in school.”

Cynthia didn't smile.

“Look,” Brian sighed, “even if we change his name, nothing's saying it'd change your fate. Or his fate, whichever it is. We could decide to call him – I don’t know, Crustacean, and your next reading might say that instead.”

“At least that'd narrow it down… and introduce the possibility of my being offed by a lobster. God, never mind, I don't even want even want to know. I want to forget that I ever even saw this prediction.”

Brain leaned back on the couch, his arms crossed again. “It's still better to know.”

“Oh, easy for you to say, yours is straightforward!”

Brian had gone and gotten his reading done at their pharmacy as soon as it had received a Machine. His slip read “HEART ATTACK,” which had earned him a clap on the back from his father (“That's my boy! Likes a good steak and something hot and rich for dessert, eh? Always knew you'd go out with a bang!”), an admonition from his mother to drink more red wine and eat more salad (and she’d made a point since then of always having a big bowl of Caesar on the table when Brian and Cynthia came for dinner), and a birthday treadmill from Cynthia (who’d informed him that a heart attack was just fine - in another 70 years).

“Well, at least it won't be a surprise, will it?”

“Yes,” said Cynthia, “knowing about it is going to let me be positively serene while I'm--while I'm dying in childbirth, or when you go all Jack Nicholson on us, or when the copy boy at my office finally loses it and staples me to death, or when your father finishes going senile and mistakes me for a stag.”

A distinct “Well, really!” came from the kitchen, and Mrs. Croftworth chose that moment to come bustling into the sitting room with a heavily-laden tea tray. She deftly swept both announcements and Machine slip to the far end of the coffee table, set the tray down, and poured steaming water out over the contents of a cup.

“Here you go, dear, with lemon,” she said, handing the cup to Cynthia. “Decaffeinated, of course. And you still take sugar, don't you, Brian?”

Brian nodded, and received his own cup a moment later. “Thanks, Mum,” he muttered.

Cynthia glared at the carpet and didn't say anything, but she did take a sip.

Mrs. Croftworth stood looking at them for a moment that dragged itself out into a minute. “Have some sandwiches, dear, you'll feel better,” she said finally, and with as much sympathy as the human voice can inject into a statement about sandwiches. She bustled back to the kitchen, leaving her son and daughter-in-law to their tea.

“Do you think at least she'll leave off inviting me to special Machine-themed scrapbooking classes?” Cynthia said, almost managing a smile.

“Finally, something to look forward to,” said Brian. “Look, I'm sorry if I was short--”

“No, I'm sorry, I'm just--” she stared into her tea. “It's stressful enough, you know?”

And, as anyone might, regardless of whether they'd received a potentially dismal prediction about their death mere hours before, Cynthia took a sandwich.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

last day for Stays Crunchy pre-orders!

Briefly, because other deadlines of my own loom:

Today is the last day EVER to pre-order Stays Crunchy in Milk, which is that book that I edited last year! Y'know, the one that's my first full-novel edity gig to ever be published legitimately and not by a vanity press. (It has an ISBN and everything!) It's also the book that I proofread basically last Friday, which I consider myself a grammatical rockstar for pulling off.

If you watched too many Saturday morning cartoons in the '80s and ALSO have a bit of angst about the kinds of paradigm shifts that brought you into (arguable) adulthood, then you are a person who should consider reading this book. You'd probably dig it.

Pre-orders are rad for you because the author will sign your copy, include an art print from the jacket/interior plate artist, and enter you to win a few prizes. Pre-orders are rad for us because the more we get, the less Adam will cry into his beard as he falls asleep each night.

Preorder choices!

Hey also, I was serious about my prize incentive for finding typos: If you email me about a funny-ha-ha typographical or grammatical error that you find in the book, I will totally buy you an awesome t-shirt. If I agree that it's funny. This is not an excuse for me to not buy anyone t-shirts, it's an excuse for me to judge your sense of humor have a good time poking fun at the fallibility of the writing & editing process. For example, "you left off the E in the word 'the'" is not funny. "Dude there shouldn't've been a comma there" is probably not funny but could be, depending on the exact placement of the errant comma. Writing "mutated pastel" instead of "muted pastel" is hilarious.