Friday, February 26, 2010

consumerism wow: smelly stuff

At some point in my early 20s, I decided that some girly things -- such as the color pink (especially on Xbox controllers), glitter (especially on stickers that you put on Xbox controllers), and froofy bath products (entirely unrelated to Xbox controllers) -- actually are awesome. This decision extended to perfume once I discovered that some perfumes don't smell like old ladies and won't ever be forcibly applied to my eyeballs by helpful saleswomen in department stores. Soon after, I discovered that some perfumes are made by geeks, for geeks, and I was done for. Guys, I have a perfume stash. And I want more. Right now, specifically:

The limited edition perfume oil Smut 2010 by Elizabeth Barrial at the goth/dork-chic Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (BPAL). Beth puts out several sets of limited edition scents every year, in addition to the several hundred general catalog scents she sells at BPAL (and Twilight Alchemy Lab, Dark Delicacies, the CBLDF, and etc.). Smut is from her Lupercalia line, which will be available until March 31st this year. She does a Lupercalia line every year, but hasn't put out a version of Smut for the past two or three, and I was starting to panic that she'd gotten bored with it and wasn't going to bring it back. Because it smells like sugar & musk and everything nice naughty, and I need it for life. Though it's way too powerful for day wear, it's my favorite scent to wear at night with something slinky if I'm heading to a bar or out dancing. A 5 ml bottle runs $17.50 and should be used so, so sparingly that it'll last for years. (Though BPAL does offer samples -- imp's ears -- of its general catalog for $3.50 apiece or 6 for $19.50, no such thing is available for limited edition scents. But you can find fan-decanted samples on ebay & etc., and if you're in the Atlanta or LA/Burbank areas, you can sniff & sample everything at monthly Will Calls, on or near the full moon, of course. [Hint: The next full moon is this weekend, folks.]) Ordering from the website will garner a couple random imp's ears per bottle purchased, and shipping (via USPS) will run you a flat $6.50 and may take a few weeks, as they hand-blend everything fresh and always have orders in queue.

Okay, I sorta cheated the concept of Consumerism Wow with that last one 'cause I've sampled previous versions of Smut, but here's a thing I've been properly admiring from afar: the entire line of Brooke's Villainess scents, though perhaps particularly Blood, Villainess, Shanghaied, Ginger Snapped, Dulces en Fuego, Jai Mahal, Pearl Diver, and Silk & Cyanide. Also falling under the category of goth/dork-chic, the inspirations for the Villainess line are a wee bit less esoteric than BPAL's tend to be, but, y'know, I'm not always looking for my perfumes to challenge my vocabulary and reading level. And they offer a good bit of their general catalog not only as $16-a-pop perfume oils in holy-whoa-kickass apothecary bottles, but also as bars of soap (hiIhaveasoapfetish), and jars of soft soap, body scrub, lotion, and masque. They also do limited edition thingies, and offer samples of their scents in soap format for a buck apiece (and two come free with every order). Shipping (via USPS) should run you the actual cost of shipping an item of the weight of your order to the address where you want to receive it.

bottles of scent from CB I Hate PerfumeMy third, incongruously ungothy scent desire is a great deal of what Christopher Brosius creates for his CB I Hate Perfume line (mostly Russian Caravan Tea, Memory of Kindness, and November, but really I want to sniff them all). Brosius is also the dude responsible for my-favorite-person-ever-Alan Cumming's tongue-so-much-in-cheek-it-looks-like-a-rude-gesture scent line, Cumming [video link to hilarious adorable commercial], which is how I heard of CB I Hate Perfume a couple years back. (Cumming seems to be out of scent-print now, though is still available if you poke around for it.) And THAT is how I came to spend perhaps a few hours obsessively clicking through every scent note on the CB site. If I had a time-traveling pogo stick and whole moneypile sitting around that I had nothing in particular planned for, I'd so totally pogo up to New York and buy myself a custom-blended scent as of a couple years ago, and it'd smell like cookies baking + scotch + earl grey tea + sexylady. But lacking such a moneypile (and the skills necessary to pogo 878 miles and through time), I'll merely consider ordering one each (over the course of, say, the next 50 years) of his 2-ml "travel size" perfume samples, which run $12-$21 and ship via UPS.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Norman PhartEphant, Young Augustine's, and the Best Things Ever

The 2010 Toy Fair opened this Sunday, and my fancy New York momma friend Angela is hypothetically there promoting her creation, Norman PhartEphant. Yes. A plush elephant that will make one of eight different farting noises each time you squeeze his tail.

He's a little bit embarrassed about it. (But it's not his fault! He's an African elephant that was adopted by a U.S. zoo, and the change in diet has lead to gastrointestinal difficulties.)

Angela's also writing a series of picture books about Norman, which I've been copy editing in exchange for dinners and purses. It's a good gig, and Norman's a toy that I highly recommend for anyone who likes soft, cuddly elephants and/or who has a sense of humor that frequently involves flatulence. Say hi to Angela for me if you happen to find her at the Fair! She'll probably be registered under the name of her company, Fierce Fun Toys.

Best restaurant news of the week is that chef Andy Gonzalez from Steinbeck's, aka Lauren's Favorite Restaurant in Atlanta That Is Very Very Small, is helping revamp The Standard space into what shall be known as Young Augustine's. They've started posting news snippets on Facebook, including an opening menu that sounds very much in the style of (though happily more extensive than) Steinbeck's: gastropubized comfort food from multiple cultural components of Atlanta's cuisine, including Southern, Mexican, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, and Indian concepts. I'm actually looking forward to driving all the way down there when it opens.

Also, a thing I've been anticipating ever since I graduated from UF's undergrad creative writing program has finally happened. No, That Prof isn't dead yet. That'd be rad, but this is radder: One of my writing workshop classmates has gotten a book of short fiction published, and it's getting the kind of reviews that make me feel like a total writing slacker. If it were anyone less talented or friendly than Justin D. Taylor, I might be upset. (While I was busy angsting about class deadlines and being a proportionally compact spaz, he was turning in consistently good work and inviting me to parties that I never attended 'cause, yeah, spaz.) I haven't read Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever yet 'cause my copy's in the mail, so I can't recommend it personally or with extreme accuracy, but I suspect I'll be able to do so soon. In the meanwhile, you can read a story from the collection and form your own opinions.

Friday, February 12, 2010

review: Dead Men's Boots

cover of the US version of Mike Carey's novel Dead Men's BootsJust finished Dead Men's Boots, which is the third book in Mike Carey's Felix Castor series, which is turning out to be an upstanding addition to the supernatural noir thriller trend. I was a little dubious about the first book, The Devil You Know -- although I'd enjoyed most of Carey's run of Hellblazer, upon discovering that he'd written a novel set in London about a hard-boiled blue-collar magician-for-hire who hailed from Liverpool, wore a trenchcoat, chain smoked, had a tragic history of getting his friends well and truly fucked, was so rakish that he still got along well with The Ladies despite maybe not laundering his clothes ever, and was not supposed to be John Constantine, well. Like I said, dubious.

It turned out that I enjoy portrayals of John Constantine so much (he's my inappropriate comic book boyfriend) that I don't mind when he's not called John Constantine. Castor is everything you want in an antihero -- cocky and fallible, the sort of too-clever-for-his-own-good that gets him both into trouble and out of it again. And Carey's non-Hellblazer-related, alternate-reality setting of a modern world in which the undead are widely rising and exorcists are part of the workforce struck me as deliciously uncomfortable and unpleasant. (I think that I like supernatural noir so much because it's so unpleasant. It's a sort of escapism in which you get to set down the book and think, "Well, sure my life sucks, but I haven't had any extensive bodily damage, death threats, or demon uprisings to cope with today. Win!")

I found the first two books (with Vicious Circle following The Devil You Know) fun but a bit clumsy, as though Carey hadn't quite gained his novel-legs yet. Dead Men's Boots is better (oh I didn't mean for this to be a pun) executed. The plotline has more frays but a tighter wind -- it kept me guessing but drew everything in neatly (if messily, entrails-wise) at the end. The sex & violence are more purposeful -- sleaze and shock value are important elements in noir, but I didn't find those elements to be exploitive in Dead Men's Boots. (That is, the violence is graphic but not lovingly detailed, and I think Castor, as the first-person narrator, has grown up a bit since the first book and become more self-aware about sex & sexuality. Importantly for sometimes-angry-feminist-me, Carey portrays the male and female rapes that occur as violent acts rather than sexual ones.) And the characters in the book, both men and women, are more sympathetic and whole. The language in Dead Men's Boots is well-wrought, intelligent, extensively British (kudos to the US publisher for not noticeably Americanizing Castor's vocabulary), and dense with pop culture references both modern and classic, literary and musical, dorky and mainstream. It's campy and silly, but it does what it sets out to do -- entertain, darkly -- very well.

What I'm really hoping is that someone turns Dead Men's Boots into a film or premium cable series -- as dark, sexy, funny, and thrilling as it is, it seems made for motion picture. With the right person working the musical score (Castor's method of doing magic constitutes playing a tin whistle), a creature/effects department with the requisite amount of latex and unwillingness to pull punches, and a lead actor who is in no way Keanu Reeves, it could be glorious.

If you're an unsqueamish fan of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files books or Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series but think you'd appreciate something a little bit chewier in the supernatural noir genre, you should pick up something from the Felix Castor series. Start at the beginning for maximum backstory or dive right into the third book -- Carey catches you up quick. Or try a volume of Hellblazer -- Original Sins is the beginning of the series, but my favorite bits are the ones written by Garth Ennis, starting with Dangerous Habits.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

the writing process as it relates to interdimensional kittens and moneyhats

One terrific thing about knowing Adam P. Knave is that sometimes, during the course of normal conversation, perhaps after discussing ReBoot but before anyone brings up the business you're actually supposed to be talking about, some word or phrase will Happen. And it'll Happen in the way that it expands with incredible speed and mass, Universe-style, until it's a whole idea. And you'll bat this huge idea-thing back and forth with Adam like the interdimensional kittens that both of you are, and then drop it suddenly and pervasively and get down to the business at hand.

But that idea-thing will still be floating around out there, and Adam's way of reminding you of its continued existence involves contacting people who can draw, asking them if they'd like to work on a new comic book involving the idea-thing, and getting those people to say "yes". So, though a bit mystified about what's happening to your life, you'll find yourself writing and editing bits of comic book script in your spare time, and then using those bits along with Adam's to form a complete script, and then emailing the script to whatever agreeable drawing person he's found. And then, following the artist's recovery from rickets as appropriate, you'll receive mere sketches -- simple layouts -- from that artist, based on the script that you and Adam wrote, that will make you all at once (A) unspeakably excited about this project-thing, as you began to think of it while you were writing the script, and (B) unalterably certain that you're unable to say anything about to anyone yet because, really, it's still just an idea-thing, even if it has the mass and size and brain it needs to convince you it's a project-thing.

So all you can do is write obtuse and roundabout things regarding the creative process on your blog, and hope that soon, sooner than soon, the wonderful drawing person will send you & Adam whole complete pages that you'll be able to submit to a publisher who will say, "How terrific! I was just hoping that I would receive a comic book just like this! Fred, wasn't I just hoping that? Oh, don’t mind Fred, his iguana ate his neighbor's cat this morning and he's very distraught, even though the cat was a mean-spirited creature and absolutely deserved what it got, and Fred's neighbor has gone on record with the Times saying that she was going to have the cat put down tomorrow for biting her so repeatedly. Fred's just sensitive. But yes! Your comic book! Thank you for submitting it. I'm going to publish it and we shall make such fabulous amounts of money that we shall all pay off our debts and have enough cash left over to fold up and wear as hats! And so we will be loved and celebrated for not only our artistic endeavors, but also for our extremely sharp and modern moneyhats."

I'll tell you when I get that call.

While you're waiting, breath held or otherwise, you should maybe go read some comics and things by Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade, without whom I might not have thought to write about moneyhats.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

review: siggi's orange & ginger skyr yogurt

A yogurt I've been coveting for years went on sale last week -- siggi's Icelandic-style skyr (strained nonfat yogurt). It usually costs ~3 bucks for a 6-ounce cup, which is why I'd never tried it before, but comes in flavors like pomegranate & passion fruit and orange & ginger, which is why I've been wanting to. I picked up a cup each of the above, and had the latter for breakfast today.

Flavorwise, it's got just a tiny twinge of orange, right there in the front, that gets absolutely eaten by the flavors of the sharp minced ginger and sour yogurt. The ginger bits feel raw (with a crisp texture like tiny pieces of water chestnuts, if you've never chewed raw ginger). I think they'd do better on my palate if they'd been candied just a tad, for that texture as much as for the sweetness.

Re: The sweetness: I'm a huge proponent of low-sugar yogurt -- I think the stuff has a lovely flavor with very little doctoring, and get angry when something that's pitched as a healthy breakfast food has as much sugar as a serving of Coke (or a load of nasty-tasting artificial sweeteners). But the sourness to this yogurt was just on the wrong side of mouth-puckering for me. If I were going to eat this regularly, I might add a teaspoon of honey to it to take the edge off.

a cup of siggi's Icelandic-style skyr strained yogurt, so thick that it won't fall off a spoonThis yogurt is very, very thick -- the sort of thick that's heavy, the sort that you usually only get in something like ice cream. (This picture was not the oh-holy-quick-snap-the-photo sort of thing, but rather the take-several-shots-leisurely-and-consider-the-framing sort. The only reason that the spoonful stopped standing like that was that I ate it.) It's so thick that it's not very smooth -- the best way I can think to describe the texture is powerful. This is a yogurt that has some things to do. It will not suffer nonsense. It will nourish you. It's the Juggernaut of yogurts. And, I mean, it's got 10 grams of sugar (most of that'll be lactose -- unsweetened yogurt has ~9+ grams of sugar per serving) and 16 grams of protein per 6-ounce serving, and is fat free. It can walk the walk.

I'm glad I tried it, but honestly I'd never pay full price for this stuff. It's very interesting, but not quite pleasant, and I'm not looking for so much challenge from my yogurt. But personal taste is personal -- if you love the sharp flavor of plain yogurt and have the dollars to spend, you should try Siggi's. (I'll let you know if the pomegranate & passion fruit flavor changes my mind about the brand.)

For the record, my go-to yogurt of choice right now is Stonyfield Farm's Oikos Greek-style yogurt, vanilla flavor. It's creamy-thick and just a bit sour, with only 11 grams of sugar and a nice 15 grams of protein per serving, and is fat free. Sometimes I sugar-splurge on flavored yogurts, too -- my favorites for texture (thick), flavor (sweet-tart), sugar/protein ratio (low), and price (~$1 per serving) are Cascade Fresh's key lime flavor (16/7 g sugar/protein, nonfat) and, for soy yogurt, WholeSoy's apricot-mango flavor (19/6 g sugar/protein, with 3.5 g fat [0 saturated]). If I'm going for yogurt-as-dessert, nothing I've had compares to Brown Cow's cream top line, and specifically their maple flavor. It tastes and feels like maple custard pie filling (I engage in evasive spoon tactics to save the tongue-coatingly rich cream top for last), and has about as much nutritional value (21/5 g sugar/protein, with 7 g fat [4 saturated]).

What's your favorite yogurt -- food-shaped, dessert-shaped, frozen, or otherwise?

[p.s. -- I've written up a review of siggi's pomegranate & passion fruit yogurt, available for consumption here.]

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

recipe updates, the lack thereof, and ingredient fangirlery

Citrus season! It's my favorite. Last week I bought a box of clementines and revisited this clementine cake recipe -- except, just to experiment, I subbed half the almond meal for white flour, and added two tablespoons of butter, and coated it in a thick ganache (double the recipe) instead of just a sprinkle. Came out better than the original, I thought, if you don't mind it not being gluten-free. (Though you could, instead of white wheat flour, use an equal amount of sifted rice flour). Next time I'm thinking I'll add maybe a quarter teaspoon of ground cloves to the batter to make it taste just a little like Christmas.

Having yet more clementines to use before they went all squishy, I boiled another one for a couple hours and pureed it like I would've for the cake, but then added the puree to this oatmeal cookie recipe (instead of the tangerine zest). Completely awesome. Also, instead of the drunken raisins, I made a half batch (half a bag) of sugared cranberries, except I just drained them (instead of draining and coating with sugar) after they were done cooking, and then stirred/mashed the cooled cranberries into the oatmeal cookie batter. They were a tiny bit tart, but played really well with the clementine flavor. Just add a minute or two to your bake time -- the cranberries contain a lot more moisture than raisins, so these cookies will need it.

In not-changing-recipes news, I made these cocoa-only brownies that momma Deb of smitten kitchen posted a recipe for, and I never missed the melted chocolate. At all. Best fudgey brownies ever. Wouldn't change a thing. (Though if you can find some and don't mind shelling out a few cash dollars, I absolutely recommend Droste cocoa powder. My local Whole Foods carries it, and it's available on Amazon, and it's dark and rich and so deep that it has a tinge of berry flavor. And the box doesn't have a scary nurse on it anymore, but apparently that design is where the term Droste effect came from, so I thought I'd show you the picture anyway.) But yeah, go make these.

Also, guys, a word about whole wheat flour. (This is partially a note to self, 'cause I keep forgetting.) You can safely substitute a quarter of the white flour in a recipe for whole wheat flour, and it'll add a bit of a nutty flavor (and nutrition) but won't really impact the texture or taste. Substituting out a third of your white flour for whole wheat is pushing it, texturewise. More than that, and you'll have a grainy yucky thing on your hands.

Anyone know of any good resources for recipes that are meant to use whole wheat flour? Also, has anyone tried any of the "white whole wheat" flours that're on the market? King Arthur makes one, and I trust them (and their geeky baking & management ethics) utterly, but haven't tried it. (p.s. -- If you aren't following their blog, you should go do that. 'Cause sometimes they put pudding on top of cake and then brulée the pudding. You heard me.)