Monthly Archives: November 2012

Friday Fictioneers: After

At first glance, I thought this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt was a cheery Christmas shopping photo…but the longer I looked, the more it seemed as if something just wasn’t right. So here you are – almost 100 words of a very bleak Christmas for someone who’s lost just about everything. Please let me know what you think!


Christmas used to be so much fun. I loved rushing around, looking in the store windows, picking out the perfect gifts. I loved the parties and the office pollyannas. And most of all I loved watching the family unwrap the presents I found for them. Big Jack. Jack Junior. Amanda.

I don’t need to do any of that any more. They’re gone. It feels like everybody’s gone. I walk past empty windows that ought to be full, down sidewalks where I see no people, nothing left but distant lights.

They’re gone. I’m alone. Christmas is over.

Thursday’s Window: Federal Fanlight

Back to Susan Conner’s Thursday’s Windows series, with a fanlight above the front door of one of the larger houses at Sturbridge Village, a reconstructed early nineteenth century town in Connecticut.

This building is in the “Federal style”, popular in the U.S. during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It copies ancient Greek architecture as much as possible – notice the columns framing the door – but the New England climate forces some compromises, like glass windows to try to keep a little heat inside during the winter!

186 Cookbooks: Revisiting with second and third thoughts

Some months ago, I finally noticed that I have a lot of cookbooks. (I think – no, I know – the count is actually higher than 186 of them, but that was the first number I came up with, and “186” is funnier than “around 200”.) So I decided to weed them out by testing one recipe from each; if the recipe was a success, the cookbook stays, and if not it has to find a new home.

What it’s supposed to look like…

Well, this post is about a followup. A while ago I tried a cookie recipe from one of my stranger cookbooks, and decided it was a keeper after all. I also decided I wanted one of its cakes for my birthday. That was two weeks ago, and for a series of boring reasons I never did get around to having a birthday cake – so I inflicted it on my husband for his birthday, yesterday.

What a project. First I had to make three layers worth of chocolate sponge cake from scratch. I also had to make a syrup flavored with orange juice and whiskey (!), and a chocolate ganache (chocolate melted with cream). One of the three layers of cake gets cut into cubes and mixed with some of the syrup and ganache, and that mess gets patted into a mound on top of a second layer.

Well, that’s the easy part. Next you take the third, thinner layer and make a “smooth dome shape”. Or, of course, you make a lot of sponge cake shards. Then you add the rest of the syrup and ganache, and chill.

While the cake chills, you make the next key part: a chocolate marzipan layer, rolled thin between sheets of wax paper. That was surprisingly hard work as the disc of marzipan got bigger and thinner; I wound up having to put my full weight on my forearms on the rolling pin to get it to spread out as far as it did. (Probably this part would have been easier if the top of the counter wasn’t above my waist. Ah, leverage.)

Then you remove the wax paper and creatively mold the marzipan into a deeply wrinkled mountainous shape.

And you take the cake out of the refrigerator and discover it’s falling to pieces. I scraped some ganache out of the bottom of the pan and did my best to stick it back together, then flopped the marzipan over everything.

Speaking of pans, here’s one of the big flaws of this recipe. These are only about half the resulting dirty dishes, waiting patiently for attention.

And we’re ready for the finishing touch: sieve plain cocoa over the cake to give it a velvety texture.

By the time I finished, I was expecting the cake to be a disaster – I was almost hoping it would be, considering how much work it was. I was also having second thoughts about whether the cookbook was worth keeping.

Except that everyone agreed it was delicious. So I guess I’ll keep this cookbook after all. Next time, I think I’ll just use orange juice in the syrup – you couldn’t taste the whiskey anyway – and maybe some grated orange rind in the cake, and cube two-thirds of the cake to make a mound on the base layer (that top layer was more trouble than it was worth). But next time won’t be any time soon.

NaNoWriMo: Winning and Losing Some

Well, it’s November 27. There are three and a half days left in November, and I’ve written about 36,000 words since the beginning of the month. (Not counting blog posts.)

NaNoWriMo, of course, is an orgy of typing with the goal of writing 50,000 words of new fiction during the thirty days that November hath. At this point, I’ll be doing very well to produce 43,000 words by midnight on the thirtieth. So, I guess I’m going to lose.


I actually like the way the story is going. The characters are branching out and showing me new facets of their personalities that tend to get them into (and out of) more complicated problems.* The plot is barreling along toward the end point I want it to reach. The setting grows more detailed the more I describe it. I like it.

And beyond that, I’ve learned a few helpful things about my own writing habits. Iff (that’s not a misspelling; it stands for ‘if-and-only-if’) I write for several hours every single day, I can expect to produce between one and two thousand words of pretty good prose most of the time.

Yay! Whoopee! Happy dance! Pause while I turn a dozen or so cartwheels!

Okay, I’m back. So, all I have to do is continue pounding away for two to four hours a day, and there’s a good chance I’ll have this story finished – not merely up to a word count of fifty thousand, but finished – by Christmas. And at that point, with perhaps a twelve-day pause, I can plunge into the revisions that it will definitely need; but the basic initial cliff will have been climbed, and I can stand on top of it looking over the landscape of my very own creation.

Well. Enough bragging. But I am very very pleased right at the moment.

* And a note on the great NaNo debate between “plotters” and “pantsers”. Some people – the plotters – like to work out all the details of their story ahead of time. Others – the pantsers – prefer to let things develop organically while they write by the seat of their pants. (I’m a pantser by instinct, though I’ve come to realize that it helps to start with an overall structure in mind.) We pantsers tend to suspect that too much advance planning results in a dull slog of uninspired typing and a lifeless final result. The plotters, on the other hand, tend to accuse us of being delusional and thinking that our made-up characters and places and situations have some sort of real, independent existence outside our own heads.

And we do often talk that way. I’d say that what we really mean – at least, it’s what I mean when I talk about my characters “deciding” to do something unexpected – is that the problem-solving part of my mind has gone off incommunicado for a while and returned with a way of continuing the story which takes the more accessible part by surprise.

But it’s a lot more economical to just say that my guy Wilm is running into some unexpected problems because he can’t keep his nose out of other people’s secrets and has found out things he wasn’t supposed to.

Jake’s Sunday Post: Natural Resources

This week, Jake at jakesprinter is asking us for pictures of “natural resources”. That’s kind of challenging at first glance! Finally I decided to go with the basics –

– and there aren’t many natural resources more basic than oxygen. Every moment of your life, you turn oxygen into carbon dioxide, and so does every other human being on earth, and every cat, dog, whale, chicken, snake, bee… Why haven’t we run out of oxygen by now? Because all day long, all the plants around us sit quietly turning carbon dioxide back into oxygen.




Thank you, plants.

(Yes, of course these are pictures of oxygen! Don’t you see all the oxygen in the air around the solid objects in my photos?? 😉 )

The Turduckening

So, several weeks ago my father-in-law phoned and said “Let’s have a turducken for Thanksgiving!” And he ordered one, had it delivered to our house, and for almost two weeks it sat patiently in our freezer, until I moved it to the fridge last Tuesday to start defrosting so we could eat it today. (We spend Thanksgiving Day – last Thursday, here in the U.S. – with my mother and have my father-in-law over for a second Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday.)

What is a turducken, you ask? Well, it’s a (deboned) chicken stuffed into a (deboned) duck stuffed into a (deboned) turkey. With odds and ends of stuffing stuffed into any available spaces.

It looks almost like a fresh turkey, a little squashed – much wider and flatter than normal. The one we had was about twelve inches (a bit over 30 cm) wide and nearly as long, but only about four and a half inches – roughly 11 cm – high. And it was sprinkled all over with something paprika-ish.

I don’t have a roaster that will hold something that size, so I bought the biggest disposable foil pan I could find. All the cooking instructions I could find said to give it six hours to roast and an hour to rest. Since we were going to have dinner at six this evening,  into the oven it went at 11 a.m.

By 2:20 in the afternoon, after almost three and a half hours of roasting, a meat thermometer said the temperature in the middle was 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). Not enough – it’s supposed to reach at least 165 degrees (about 74 degrees Celsius).

And by five o’clock, it was all cooked.

Getting it out of the pan onto a platter took two people with four spatulas. (With no bones to help hold its shape, it was pretty floppy.)

But carving was ridiculously easy. Just move the wings (not boned) out of the way and slice it like a loaf of bread.

The darker chunks of meat are duck, I believe, and the yellowish part is cornbread stuffing. We never did figure out where the chicken was. That’s all right – it was so much meat the four of us only managed to eat about a quarter of it. But it was pretty tasty, and after all leftovers are part of Thanksgiving dinner.

So our turducken was a success. I don’t think I would want to have one again, though, unless we could find a lot more guests to invite to help eat it.

Travel themes – Liquid

“Liquid” is Ailsa’s travel theme for this week. And here are some pictures I took about nine years ago in Yellowstone Park (which is really a very very large volcano, currently more or less quiet).

The Sapphire Pool – such a beautiful color.

Such a bad sulfury smell.

So deadly. Because the water’s dangerously hot,
and from time to time it boils up.
Prettily. Such a very lovely blue.
But you really wouldn’t want to be too close to it.

Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge – Colorful Monochrome

Cee’s at it again! This time, she wants us to stretch our photographic skills with color pictures that use various tones and shades of just one color. (It’s amazing how frustrating one little red flower can be when you’re trying to find shots that meet this requirement!)

Well, let’s see what I have. (Oddly, most of these photos were taken within a short time period in the same general part of the world.)

Tan: Caryatids, Acropolis, Athens

Blue: Adriatic Sea and sky

Brown: Wild donkeys at Custer State Park, South Dakota

Green: Krka Falls, Croatia

Things that don’t work exactly as planned

When you really, really want to make a strong impression – sometimes you don’t.

This is the throne of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, in St. Petersburg. Huge amounts of money and gilding and velvet and marble went into displaying awe-inspiring levels of power, all concentrated right here.

On this little chair, dwarfed by the pillars and the painting. On the woman who once sat in that little chair. Even if she was remarkably tall (and as far as I know, she wasn’t), this setting must have made her look insignificant.

Weekly photo challenge: Green

And this time, the Weekly Photo Challenge wants us to put together a gallery of pictures emphasizing “green”. It’s amazing how green the world was only four months ago…

(All these pictures were taken during our visit to “Grounds for Sculpture” near Trenton, New Jersey, last summer.)