Friday, June 25, 2010

romance, knives, and one particular parasol

Two books I've managed to cross off my reading list lately:

If you read Ellen Kushner's Privilege of the Sword like I told you to, I just wanted to remind you that you might want to go back and read Swordspoint if you haven't done that -- or jump ahead and order a copy of Kushner's short followup story to Privilege, "The Man with the Knives". It's being sold, via mailed request only, as a limited-edition paperback chapbook sort of thing for $20 including shipping, is printed on paper that's gorgeous to the touch, and comes with a folded bit of artwork by Thomas Canty. Kushner's use of the language in this short is just as decadent as its presentation, making the story, altogether, a pleasure to read. However, if Privilege was double chocolate chip cookies? "The Man with the Knives" is lemonade that no one's told you is being served add-your-own-sweetener style. The sugar bowl is right there, but you might find yourself cursing at the cook after your first big glug.

A book which I didn't curse at even once is Gail Carriger's Soulless, the first in her Parasol Protectorate series. But I did giggle at it a lot. Or with it, rather, because although it’s a book about people who take themselves Victorian levels of seriously (i.e., Seriously with a capital “S” and, probably, multiple layers of undergarments), Soulless is in it for the romp. And it's a wondermous romp, featuring all the nude werewolves, gay vampires, daring escapes, and canoodling that I've come to expect & adore in urban fantasy/romance -- just, the "urban" is an alternate-history 19th century London. Which is really just an excuse for added hilarity and fabulousity, assuming that you're as amused and impressed by comedies of errors, bustles, and dirigibles as I am. The plot and characters tend to be a bit predictable in this book, but that's not preventing me from craving the second one in the series. (It doesn't hurt that someone or something in the book is at least as obsessed with cephalopods as I am. Go Team Cephalopod!)

Loosely relatedly (erm, to urban fantasy, not cephalopods), and not to criticize Soulless for what it is but as an open question to all authors & consumers of supernatural romance at large: Why is it that there aren’t any books in popular circulation in which the female lead is the ancient beastie and the male lead is the human ingénue who catches her interest?

If such books do exist and I just don’t know about them, please enlighten me! But, assuming there aren't, I figure it’s a combination of it being more simple/fun to tell a story through the eyes of the person who'll be most like the readers -- a human and a n00b who’ll need the supernatural parts explained -- and of age and gender stereotypes indicating that the man should be the older, more powerful party in the relationship.

But I wanna hear your opinion! Would you want to read a story about Civil War-era vampire Sookie moving back to her hometown and falling for the psychic boy next door? Or, say, assuming that Darla and Angel were interesting characters, about Darla’s decision that Liam was a person she wanted to chat up eternally?

Thursday, June 17, 2010


So I get this e-mail from a nice lady claiming to have read my review of siggi's yogurt (an unverified claim, but likely) and to be from the Associated Press (which she actually is, I checked. On Google). And she asks if I'd like to talk with her about yogurt. I like yogurt and I like talking, and that's how I came to be quoted in an AP article with a doubleplusgood pun in its title: Yogurt crosses cultures with new styles, imports.

I feel like I should provide you with some new yogurt news now as so to uphold my status as public yogurt expert, but really most of my yogurt opinions these days orbit around my finding everything from StonyField Farms awesomely inexpensive & worthwhile and everything from everywhere else shades of acceptable to inedible. My current obsession is with StonyField's Lowfat Plain yogurt. Very lowfat (2g fat, 1.5 saturated) and yet very tasty plain! No honey or other additions necessary! (Though it sure is berry season, and fresh berries are most excellent in yogurt.) I just wish that more (read: any) of my local stores carried Lowfat Plain more regularly.

Have you made any yogurt discoveries since the last time we talked about my favorite breakfast quick-breakfast-so-I-don't-eat-anyone's-face food?

Friday, June 11, 2010

review: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

One of the members of the organization that I work for sends our staff the most excellent foodpresent ever twice a year: several pints of ice cream from Jeni's, a company out of Columbus, Ohio (his hometown) that ships their treats throughout the US for those of us unlucky enough to be out of range of their Ohio shops or the few schmancy markets they sell pints through.*

With a focus on local, seasonal, whimsical, and responsibly-raised ingredients, Jeni's makes 15 signature (standard catalog) flavors and also has an ever rotating, ever dreamy line of seasonal flavors. Which are so seasonal that in the past week that it's taken me to pull this post together, one has vanished from their sales list and the other is going to be switched out this Friday. So if those seasonal flavors interest you, consider ordering nowish! Some of Jeni's flavors seem more like experiments in oddity than earnest desserts, but I've never, ever had one that I regretted trying -- or one that I didn't go back for a second helping of.

Seasonal flavors, available for a limited time:

Savannah Buttermint is so creamily rich that it's more like a custard than an ice cream. But the sharp, perfect mint makes it refreshing and light on the tongue. Tiny flecks of frozen white chocolate provide that bit of crunch that I love in mint ice cream. For me, having liked mint chocolate chip best when I was a kid, this one is comforting, homey -- like iced tea sipped under fans on the front porch. I'd want to serve this one plain, in little glass ice cream dishes with sprigs of fresh-picked mint topping each perfect scoop. This one is possibly only available through today, 6/11/10, so make the ordering happen if you need to try it!

Meyer Lemon Blueberry Yogurt is as tart as a sorbet -- so tart that the creaminess doesn't even register as anything except smooth. The small, dense, near-gummilike blueberries provide a sweet respite from the lemon. I'll be craving this one the next time I'm hot. I feel like anything sweet it was paired with would be overpowered by the tartness, but I might try a bit with something simple like angel food cake, pound cake, or shortbread.

Rhubarb Rosé carries a whiff of booze up front and a full-mouthed winey funk at the back, sandwiching a bite of sweet cream & tangy rhubarb. Tiny bits of frozen rhubarb provide occasional, near-crunchy texture. The total effect is relatively mild and subtle -- I'm pretty sure this flavor could pass for strawberry if you weren't paying much attention. Probably best eaten on its own as so to appreciate the flavors -- unless you were going to serve it over a rhubarb crumble or pie. It's not one of my favorite flavors, but it'd be lovely as the finish to a summer back-porch picnic. Erm, next year... this flavor has disappeared already!

Standard catalog flavors, available year-round:

Salty Caramel tastes simply like the perfect bite of rich, roasty, lightly salted caramel -- just in colder, melty-er, creamier form. Though it's too plain for me on its own, a scoop of it would make a warm, chewy brownie (or a thick pour of hot fudge) pretty much the best thing ever.

Mackenzie Creamery Goat Cheese with Roasted Red Cherries is sophisticated with its deep twinge of savory goaty flavor -- like cherry cheesecake all grown up. The cherries are dense and chewy, bright and tart. This one feels like a cheese course in a pint, or like something you'd find at a gastropub. I'd serve this on its own, or possibly in a glass of Guinness as a float.

Thai Chili (newly renamed Bangkok Peanut) is a divisive flavor -- though roasty peanut & fruity coconut are definitely dessertlike, their combination with the sharp chili heat that hits way at the back of each bite of this ice cream is so unusual for a sweet that it's either loved or hated. I love it. If you can forgive that it replicates Thai entrée sauces a little too closely, you'll love the custardy creaminess and fine texture from bits of coconut, too, and might become just a little addicted to cooling the tongue-burning aftertaste of this ice cream with another spoonful in a vicious delicious circle.

[I've tried a bunch of their other flavors in the past, but wanted to report only on what I've had recently -- if you're particularly curious about anything, just ask!]

A note about ordering: These ice creams aren't cheap, and shipping ice cream near midsummer is similarly not inexpensive. Prices start at $48 for your choice of 4 flavors, and shipping starts at $10 on top of that. (That works out to $14.50 per pint, assuming you're not in a more expensive shipping area. Cheaper-in-the-long-run options include $68 for your choice of 6 flavors plus shipping [$13 per pint] or $85 for 9 set flavors [$10.55 per pint].) So, this stuff is kind of a crazy treat. But crazy-wonderful.

* I almost forgot to mention! Here in Atlanta, Star Provisions is supposedly selling several of Jeni's standard-catalog flavors now -- if you go and look, let me know what you find!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

reading list: summer '10

I have this problem where I can't help buying discounted books that look really interesting. It's a combination of wanting to read everything, having a secret hope of one day possessing a library with tall rolling ladders and padded leather armchairs to contrast with all my tattered paperback SF, not having all that much disposable income but feeling like it's okay to spend a little if I'm getting a deal, and thinking of discounted books like they're discounted puppies -- oh they are so cute I know I can't save all of them but can't I take just a few?? Books need love too.

Which is how I end up like this:

My reading list. Holding me hostage.

But of course, that's not enough books. I'm also embroiled in no less than 4 pop urban (or, in one case, rural) fantasy series, which I alternately beg from the library, borrow from friends, or order from the UK 'cause it takes how long?? for them to be published here and I need them sooner than that.

So, yes. In addition to the books pictured above and a few stray issues of comics that I at some point purchased and promptly forgot about, I've also got on my list: Turn Coat, from the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher (who, in addition to the great humor he's always given the series, learns to write by the fifth or sixth book, and is a rare SF author who doesn't look down on geeks 'cause he is one), The Naming of the Beasts, from the Felix Castor series by Mike Carey (much grittier wizard noir than the Dresden series, reviewed here), and The Lunatic Café, from the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton (don't judge me, I like vampire pr0n and earning the right to be indignant about poor writing). Usually there'd also be a book from the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris on that list, but I just this past Saturday read Dead in the Family, and the next one hasn't been announced yet. (Harris is the Paula Dean of modern fantasy -- an unabashedly Southern-voiced & pervy-minded purveyor of things you know are bad for you that you'll devour anyway.)

Um, also? Every time I read an issue of Publishers Weekly (i.e., once a week), I'm moved to add a few new or old books to my Amazon booklist.

What I'm actually reading right now is... well, I'm between books, so technically nothing. But my copy of The Man with the Knives by Ellen Kushner just came in last week, so I think I'm gonna go for that.

So! What're you reading right now -- and do you have a backlog of books? Also, because I'm a reading-list masochist, you should give me recommendations for anything you think I'd dig.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

congratuations, Ian and Cheri

I spent my birthday weekend in Leesburg, Virginia. A friend from DC took me out in Arlington for beer & chili samples, and then got half a restaurant worth of otherwise respectable, upstanding citizens to sing Happy Birthday to me all impromptu.

But mostly I was there to hug my family and help my li'l cousin Ian celebrate:

My brain is convinced that Ian is still a scrawny 9 year old who swings a wicked pillow. So it was strange, just a little, watching his expression melt from nervous expectation into only mildly terrified joy when he saw his bride step into the setting sunlight on the garden path that would lead her to him, to hold his hands and vow her commitment and dab away his tears when he vowed his own.

Congratulations, Ian & Cheri. May you find such joy and comfort in each other every day.