Sunday, April 27, 2014

Another Edition of the Pink and Yellow Season and What I Am Thankful For

Bday roses

So, this will be the last of the Pink and Yellow Season posts for another year. For this week I am posting about making a Lemon Yogurt Pound Cake and my litany rosary of thankfuls.

To begin with, the litany rosary of thankfuls.
  • I'm thankful my parents are still around. I'm so fortunate that I can still pick up the phone and talk to them as if I were still a 20-something kid.
  • I'm thankful for my sister; I know she's got my back.
  • I'm thankful for aunts and uncles and cousins and other family members who share that quirky gene.
  • I'm thankful for friends who love me just the way I am.
  • I'm thankful for my impatient kitty who wants his lunch - now.
  • I'm thankful I have the wherewithal to spend time and resources exploring and experimenting with different lemony recipes for my pink and yellow birthday season.
I'm thankful for much more, but those are the biggies, so I'm just leaving them there to think on a while.

Now, for the Lemon Yogurt Pound Cake. Here is the link to the original recipe. But you know, there were a lot of things in this recipe that seemed a little overdone and pretentious, a little more expensive than I wanted to be, too. Maybe they weren't, but I chose to do things a little differently. Besides, the original recipe seemed a little light on the lemony flavoring for me, so I added lemon wherever I could easily (like substituting lemon juice instead of milk in the glaze). So here is what I did:

Cake ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon regular salt
1 cup lemon yogurt (regular old diet Yoplait. Takes 2 containers to make a cup. I did half Greek lemon and half diet Yoplait regular yogurt - they were on sale.)
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (Or thereabouts, depending on what you get from 2-3 lemons)
1/2 cup canola oil

Candied Lemons:
1 Lemon
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 x 5-inch or 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. I didn't flour or use parchment paper because  I wasn't worried about getting it out of the pan or presentation or anything.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another medium-sized bowl, whisk together the yogurt, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs and lemon zest.

3. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, and then with a rubber spatula, fold the oil into the batter, making sure it’s completely incorporated.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

lemon pound cake

5. Meanwhile, I candied the lemon slices, but if I were to do this again, I'd candy the lemon slices first to make sure they're set by the time the cake is ready. It's about 1 : 1 : 1 or 1 lemon to 1 cup water to 1 cup sugar. a) Clean off and slice lemons. b) Put water in a saucepan with lemon slices, bring to simmer for a minute or so (I actually let them simmer for a few minutes because I forgot about them). c) Carefully remove the slices with a pair of tongs and transfer to a plate or something.  d) Pour water into a container to measure how much you have and scoop out the seeds. e) Add the lemon water back to saucepan with an equal amount of sugar. f) Layer in lemon slices. Let simmer for a while, say 30- 45 minutes or an hour. The water/sugar mixture reduces a little. Lemons will be translucent. g) Remove the lemons from the mixture and transfer to a cooling rack or a parchment-lined baking sheet (I just used a plate - see what I mean about pretentious with this recipe?). h) After the lemon water/sugar mix has cooled a bit, then pour it through a cheesecloth or coffee filter or mesh filter into a container and put in the fridge. You now have lemony simple syrup for cocktails and such.
Candied lemon slices all pretty on their own.
Candied lemon slices all pretty on their own.
4. The glaze: Measure the powdered sugar into a medium bowl and run a fork through it a few times. Stir in a tablespoon of lemon juice. Stir well. Stir in a half tablespoon of lemon juice. Stir well. Then the last bit, only if you need it (depending on if you want runnier or thicker).

5. I like to put the glaze on the cake while it's still warm. And then I garnished with the lemons.
Pound cake with glaze. I made my glaze a little thicker.
Pound cake with glaze. I made my glaze a little thicker.
Completed pound cake
With glaze and candied lemon slices. I used to two lemons to come up with this many candied slices.

The result is a very moist loaf cake and it was just right lemony for me with all the additions of lemon I added (lemon yogurt instead of plain, lemon juice instead of milk, etc.). Careful not to over bake, though. I noticed on mine that at 40 minutes it still looked a little undone on top, so I put it in for another five minutes. It wasn't overbaked in the middle, but outside bottom and sides were a definite 16th inch of brown, not burned, but brown. So, maybe 42 minutes next time?

And that's it for postings for the Pink and Yellow Season this year. Hope you've enjoyed the recipes I've shared.
Roses end

Friday, April 25, 2014

Farewell to Poetry Month

It's the last Friday of Poetry Month. I was thinking that this week I would share some of the poems that have inspired me over my life time.

A good place for me to start, always, is A.A. Milne. Now, some would think Dr. Seuss, and I do love his work - make no mistake. I often am asking myself if I would have green eggs and ham in a boat or with a goat. But the poetry book I grew up with, slept with and scrawled in as a child was The World of Christopher Robin, which was A.A. Milne's collection of poetry works (as opposed to The World of Pooh, which had the stories).
Not sure you can see it, but on the front, in pen, is a picture I drew of me, because I wanted to hang out with Christopher Robin. Back on the shelf, if you look closely, is a newer edition I use more now.
One of the many, MANY dog-eared pages of this book. "Independence" is still a poem I recite to myself - a lot, second only to "Disobedience", "Daffidowndilly", "Waterlily", "Buckingham Palace"..

It is very difficult to just choose one poem I like above all the others; whether it's about James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree, or King John, or Alice, or Mary Jane - they're all good friends.

Later, I fell in love with William Carlos Williams, Adrienne Rich, Emily Dickinson (She Dealt Her Pretty Words Like Blades) and Robert Frost (Blueberries – it's best to read it with Dr. Seuss's cadence in your head). And I still pick them up to read when I need to touch base with myself.

Most people are familiar with Williams' poem, Red Wheelbarrow, but one of the reasons I hunted down his collected works was The Dance (there's another one called the dance, but don't be fooled, this is the one you want to read), and then there is this one, This is Just to Say.

Adrienne Rich's Fact of a Doorframe, her collection of poetry, I bought my freshman year in college from the student body bookstore.  For the first time I read a poem where someone besides me had read the story of the Goose Girl. It's hard to find the poem itself online, so here it is for you to read:

The Fact of a Doorframe by Adrienne Rich

means there is something to hold
onto with both hands
while slowly thrusting my forehead against the wood
and taking it away
one of the oldest motions of suffering
as Makeba sings
a courage-song for warriors
music is suffering made powerful

I think of the story
of the goose-girl who passed through the high gate
where the head of her favorite mare
was nailed to the arch
and in a human voice
If she could see thee now, thy mother's heart would break
said the head
of Falada

Now, again, poetry,
violent, arcane, common,
hewn of the commonest living substance
into archway, portal, frame
I grasp for you, your bloodstained splinters, your
ancient and stubborn poise
—as the earth trembles—
burning out from the grain


And then there was the other Emily—Emily Warn. I took a poetry workshop from her back when I stilled lived up north (it was in Anacortes and I couldn't afford to go for both days and stay over night and I ended up driving back in a fog so thick and white I was wondering if I'd drive off the road, but it was worth it). I picked up her chapbook of poetry, The Book of Esther there. You can hear me reading her poem, Trouble, here.

Well, I could go on about other poets I enjoy reading and who influence me and help me with both my external and internal life, but that means pulling more books down from my shelves and opening more tabs on my computer and eventually, I've got to put it all away and get on with my day! But, I hope you've enjoyed some of these poems I've shared during poetry month.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Welcome back for another installment of cooking for the Pink and Yellow Season

So, this week, I tried a couple of different things, not all lemony and sugary. I was going to attempt more, but I was also making dessert for Easter dinner at a friend's house so I ran out of time. But there's always next week.

First up were these Tea Marbled Eggs or Marbled Tea Eggs, which I think is appropriate for the Passover/Easter season. But first a little story.

Back when I was in college *mumble* years ago, I spent a summer in Shanghai, China and fell in love with the culture, but mostly the food. When I came home one of my aunts gave me a set of Sunset cookbooks, one covering a selection of dishes from Asia in general and the other focusing on Chinese fare. I remember going to a friend's house for lunch when I was in Shanghai and being overwhelmed at the food. Now, you may scoff that Sunset cookbooks may not have the genuine article as far as recipes are concerned, but I've used them for years and they help me get my fix when I need it.

Among my favorite recipes is this one for Marbled Tea Eggs that's in the 1979 edition of the Sunset Chinese cookbook. It's a savory and distinctive flavor. Not everyone likes it (as I have learned), but I love them. I like them best either alone or with olives and pickles, but I've also chopped them up into salads.

Usually these eggs are cut into quarters and served as part of a cold appetizer selection (like serving them with pickled things and olives as mentioned above). But they are so pretty-with the marbling of fine dark lines-that if you serve them for hors d’oeuvres you may want to present the whole shelled eggs nestled in shredded lettuce and slice them to order, or just the whole eggs period. They make a fine addition to picnic fare, too.

8 eggs (I usually just do a dozen and expand the recipe accordingly)
3 black tea bags or 3 tsp. loose black tea (I add an extra tea bag for a dozen)
2 Tb. Soy sauce (about 2 1/2 Tb. for a dozen)
1 Tb. Salt (about 1 1/2 Tb. for a dozen)
1 whole star anise or 1 tsp. anise seeds and a 2 inch stick of cinnamon
(maybe toss in an extra one for a dozen)

Place eggs in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring water to simmering and cook for 20 min. Drain; rinse eggs with cold water until cool enough to handle. Gently crack shells of eggs with back of spoon (but don’t take shells off, just crack them) until there is a find network of cracks.

Return eggs to pan. Add 4 cups of water (or whatever you need to cover the eggs), the tea, soy sauce, salt and star anise. Heat to simmering and cook, on low heat, for 1 hour. Cool and chill eggs in the liquid for at least 8 hours or up to 2 days. Shell eggs before serving.
Tea Marbled Eggs

Next up, after whipping together more of last week's lemon bars (turned out well) and the week before that's lemon fudge (not so well), I decided to try these things I saw online called Lemon Brownies. Yes, you saw that correctly, Lemon Brownies. No, they don't have chocolate in them; they are a form of lemon bar, but the way one would make a lemon bar if one were making brownies. Instead of cocoa in the recipe, you have lemon juice and lemon zest.

The "Brownie" Batter:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Tart Lemon Glaze:
1 rounded cup powdered sugar
4 tablespoon lemon juice
8 teaspoons lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease/Spray an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with butter/cooking spray and set aside.

Zest and juice two small/large lemons; set aside. {whatever you have}
In the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the flour, sugar, salt, and softened butter until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice until combined. Pour into the flour mixture and beat at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes.

Pour into baking dish and bake for 23-25 minutes, or until just starting to turn golden around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out clean.

Now, by the time I got to this part, I was all out of white sugar and I only had a tiny bit of powdered sugar (I didn't plan well) and was down to brown sugar, so my lemon brownies have a darker hue than the Becky Charms' brownies do.
lemon brownies 1
Batter before it went into the oven.
Allow the brownies to cool completely before glazing. Do not overbake, or the bars will be dry.
Becky Charms 1
Becky Charms' lemon brownies.
lemon brownies 2
My lemon brownies.
When brownies are cooled completely, make the glaze...sift the powdered sugar, add lemon zest and juice, and whisk together all three ingredients.

Spread 1/2 the glaze over the brownies with a rubber spatula. Let glaze set.
lemon brownies 3
My brownies and glaze.
Becky Charms 2
Becky Charms brownies and glaze.
 Spread the remaining glaze over the bars, and let it set again. This glaze does not harden like most. Cut into bars, and serve!

For the record, I haven't tried these yet. I covered them and put them in the fridge for another time, or to take to work on Monday. But, they're supposed to look like this.
Becky Charms 3
Becky Charms finished lemon brownies.
I will report back and let you know how these turned out for me.

Next weekend, I'm going to try the Lemon Yogurt Pound Cake that I didn't have time to tackle this weekend.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Happy Poetry Friday!

Crossposted on blogetary:

This week, sort of in honor of Good Friday, I wanted to share some poetry with a little more meat on its bones. Neither of the two poems here have been published anywhere except my poetry collection, Rae’s Bar & Bistro.

The first poem here I wrote after taking a train trip from LA Union Station to Santa Barbara with some girlfriends. I had come down from San Francisco to visit friends and it was a whim, last minute, as we all wanted to snatch some good fun out of life, share wine and hopes and dreams before we had to go back home and deal with real things.

In the Company of Women
As the train clackety-clacks over tracks
passing from L.A. to Santa Barbara,
light filters past clouds, through windows
and lands on our table;
blessing us with its

Accompanying our communion of
paper cup wine and fresh fruit
is talk muted with the wholeness of us;
the holiness of delight in our own company.

Confiding hopes, discovering goals,
passing on dreams and desires,
we weave a rope of fearlessness;
a rosary of faith to hold onto
when we lose our way.

And the clackety-clack of the train on the tracks
plays to our sacred litany;
a liturgy we repeat as we
work out our own salvation
in the company of our selves.

Union Station

Los Angeles’ Union Station – major stop for Amtrak and the Red Line.

This poem is a sestina, which I is a form of poetry I have not always been a fan of. But a friend of mine challenged me to tackle it anyway, so I did. And now I have to say I am a fan. If you’re interested in checking out more sestinas, the University of New England Press has just published a collection that looks to be 40% in honor of poetry month. (The paperback looks like the best deal.)

The Message It’s gone.
I wanted to save it – the message.
Something to hold onto during those times –
you know – those times when trouble comes to visit.
Leaves us both huddled and hurt in our corners.
Funny thing about trouble is it comes out of nowhere.

Sometimes it feels as if I am nowhere.
If I sit in this one spot long enough I will just. be. gone.
Disappeared forever, but for one part of my soul – the corner.
Raggedy edge left behind like a note in a bottle. A floating message –
adrift on the sea. If it just keeps bobbing along it might visit
exotic places, see all sorts of things, given enough time.

Better, though, to simply exist outside of time.
Angling out over eternity in an everywhere and nowhere
of being. Watching, seeing, understanding and able to visit
and then leave. Is that where the hurt goes when it’s gone?
Fragment of self haunting our plane like a ghost with a message.
Nothing left in this 3-D world but dust in the corners.

I wonder about the specters glimpsed from the corner
of my eyes. Did they know when it was time?
Or was it sudden and unexpected? Or was it a message
from a loved one that it was time for them to be nowhere
and everywhere? When all is said and done and they are gone,
do they ever wish they could visit?

They always come in threes in the fairy tales – the visits:
Wise men, fairies, ghosts of various Christmases. They wait in the
corners –
off stage – for their cue to enter, present their magic before they’re gone.
Trodding the boards like old pros, they know their times.
Stand outside and watch the smoke from their cigarettes drift nowhere –
while Hamlet’s stand-in recites the playwright’s message.

But, back to the lost message,
left on my voicemail after your last visit.
The one that said we were okay, that you were going nowhere.
The one where your voice reached into the dark corners
of my heart, assuring me it was all okay – this time.
I checked today, after our fight. Now it’s gone.

Words stored nowhere on a chip, message lost in the ether.
Gone, only to haunt me now like a ghostly visitation,
lurking in a corner until time for it to return, maybe, someday.

Bottle with message in sand at beach

So, what poetry have you been sharing or writing or reading this past week? What poetry are you working on now?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

More Fun in the Kitchen for the Pink and Yellow Season

Today I'll share my fun with apple chips, lemon curd and lemon bars.
First off, apple chips. I heard about these on a PBS cooking show but didn't get all the details so make them going off what I heard and what I researched. They aren't an "official" food of my Pink and Yellow Season, but I've been doing them a lot lately. A way to snack and appease my sweet tooth and not feel too guilty. Easy and fun.

1) Heat oven to 225 degrees. One of the websites I looked at in getting a feel for doing this says she makes them every time she's been baking. She just leaves the oven on when she's done but turns it down to 225. For me it's a perfect Sunday thing to do where I can set things up and walk away without thinking about it.

2) Take a cookie sheet and put parchment down on it.

3) Slice apples thinly, or use a mandolin if you have one, but then maybe it's best to core the apple first. I don't have one, so I just do what I can with my knife and then I keep the star in the middle and pick out the seeds as I go. You might get thick slices, but it's still good, just more like dehydrated apple than apple chips. On my cookie sheets I get one big apple per sheet or 1.5 or 2 small apples per sheet.
Apple slices before 2

4) If you feel like it, sprinkle with something - sugar and cinnamon, or just cinnamon maybe or lemon juice or salt. I was sprinkling the slices with a sugar, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, which was good. But you don't really need it with Gala apples (the ones I use). I don't do sprinkle anything on them anymore.
5) Put in the oven for an hour (or so - I've noticed if I forget and leave them in too long it's not a tragedy).
6) At the end of the hour, take out and flip slices and put back in for another hour.

Apple slices after
7) Pull out and put sheets on stove top to cool for a bit. Helps crisp up the chips.

8) Put in a not-so air tight container and don't put it in the fridge to store. This seems anti-intuitive. But if you put these in an air tight container in the fridge then they just get soggy. They still taste okay, but they're soggy. And they don't crisp up again. So, since I have mostly air tight tupperware, I've saved a take out container to hold the chips. But, they still go limp. They're just best and crispy fresh out of the oven.
Apple slices finished

 They're tasty and I recommend them. I'd even call them a little addictive.
Next, lemon curd. You can use lemon curd for so much. There's a lovely lemon mousse pie I'm thinking of making sometime that uses lemon curd, but you can also use it on toast, pancakes, waffles, stirred into your yogurt, over your fruit, or anything else you want a fresh bright taste. The recipes I used say you can make up to a week ahead of time, but I have made it and used it over the course of a month or more. Just keep refrigerated.

This recipe I got off of and they say it's from the December 2000 of Gourmet magazine and makes 1 2/3 cups. There's another recipe from the January 2001 Gourmet that's slightly different, but it's all the same ingredients, just makes a little less.
Lemon curd
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

Whisk together lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, and eggs in a 2-quart saucepan. Cut butter into bits and add to mixture. Cook mixture, stirring constantly, over moderately low heat until curd is thick enough to hold marks of whisk and first bubble appears on surface, about 6 minutes. I have a gas stove so I kept it on low heat so I wouldn't have the boil over I had last weekend, so it took about 10 minutes or so.

I used the whisk attachment on my handmixer and kept it on the highest setting until around the end when I switched to a lower setting so I could see whether or not the mixture was thickening. It happens fast. One minute it's watery, the next it's beginning to thicken. I also kept stirring a little longer after I turned off the burner. Don't cook too long.

You can add an egg yoke or some cornstarch to thicken it if it's not firming up, but I didn't need to. Another note is that you can use a double boiler set up to avoid the scrambled egg effect that may happen. I think keeping the burner at low and constantly stirring helps avoid that.

I happened to have a preserve container from some marmalade I had used up, so used that jar to store some of the curd because it's pretty, but Tupperware work just as well, or probably better as far as keeping it fresh is concerned. The recipes on Epicurious suggest covering the surface with plastic wrap.
lemon curd 3

Finally, lemon bars. I got this recipe from a friend of mine who got it from her mother. It also reminds me of a recipe my mom used to make when I was a kid, but that I've lost track of since. If you haven't had these before, there's a soft dough base with a lemon custard/curd "filling" and then a sprinkle of powdered sugar on top.

Base ingredients:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 cups all purpose flour

Custard ingredients:
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
5 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour

Topping: Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend butter, salt, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 2 cups sifted flour to make a soft dough. Press evenly into a greased 9x13 inch glass dish. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until golden.

Meanwhile, combine eggs, lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar and 1/4 cup sifted flour and blend until smooth. Pour over baked crust. Reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake 25 minutes until firm.

Cool. Dust with sifted powdered sugar.
Powder sugar

Slice into bars when cooled.
lemon bars

lemon bars 2 lemon bars 3

Nice and not too sweet. Excellent with coffee or tea. Just beware of the powdered sugar flying everywhere.

And that's all for today for our continuation with the Pink and Yellow Season.

Have a great week!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry is Good for the Soul

It’s that time again! It’s a Friday in April! Do you have your poetry on? Below are some poems that I’d like to share on this Friday. Thought I’d concentrate on some scifi/fantasy poetry.

This first one appeared online on Everyday Weirdness January 17, 2010, which is now no more.


Locked in silent struggle –
A prison of his own design;
He stares out in wonder
At all that he has lost.

Stars burn brightly,
Reflected in his eyes;
Retreating into darkness.
A cold and silent night.

This one also appeared on Everyday Weirdness, but on August 3, 2009:

where better to cry…

where better to cry
than the cold vacuum of space.
only the stars to hear you

And finally, a poem that appeared in the June 2008 issue of Aoife’s Kiss. You may be able to find a copy of it here.

Learning Alchemy

One night I dreamt.
I strung each of my stories
on a silken cord.

Shining in a perfect moment of opaque beauty –
transcendent –
before collapsing in a heap of dust.

One lone pearl remained.
I have been studying Alchemy.
I haven’t quite got it down

I wish I could say that
I could spin straw into gold;
turn a bushel of leaves
into a basket of coins;

or that I could take water from your well,
a pumpkin from your garden,
a rat from your cellar,
and your neighborhood paperboy –

and give you back fine wine in a golden chalice,
a royal carriage,
a fine steed,
and a man fit to be King.

Yet, I haven’t quite figured out
how to take the light that pours through me
and bend it into a rainbow.

You can find these poems and others in my poetry collection.
What poetry have you been reading or writing this month?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Suspension of Disbelief in Speculative Fiction

This article was originally published in the April 2008 issue of Illuminata, a newsletter of Tyrannosaurus Press. It has been slightly edited and updated.

Suspension of Disbelief in Speculative Fiction
Rachel V. Olivier

I hate to admit this as a fellow Science Fiction/Fantasy geek, but I’ve only ever been to one science fiction convention. It was August 27, 2006 and the last day of LA Con IV, the 64th annual World Science Fiction Convention.  I was broke (what’s new) and could barely afford the $50 day pass, but I scraped it together and borrowed a car to drive down to Anaheim from Los Angeles.  I didn’t attend very many panels, but one I did attend left me this nugget of information: Readers and viewers of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, cyber punk, scifantasy, etc) have a greater ability to suspend their disbelief and wait for the story to unfold than the average reader or television/movie viewer.  This is why some people enjoy fantasy and science fiction tales while others seem to not have time for them.

Recent experience has jogged that bit of information loose to make me wonder, what is it in some of us that allows the storyteller greater latitude in their stories? How come some of us have no problem seeing Mr. and Mrs. Beaver having tea and toast with the Pevensies in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, while others just roll their eyes? Why do some of us not care about whether or not all the creatures and humans in 10,000 BC would be realistically seen together in the same time and place, while others will spend their valuable time researching and writing complete essays on how these beings would never be seen together in reality?

According to Wikipedia, our mostly accurate go-to source on the web, Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the phrase “willing suspension of disbelief” to describe the willingness of an audience to accept a premises of a work of fiction as true even if it seems impossible, and even if this means overlooking the limitations of a medium in order to accept those premises. In exchange, in a sort of quid pro quo, the storyteller promises that the reader or viewer will be entertained by that work of fiction. In other words, your friends at the bar are willing to believe the yarn you’re telling about your most recent fishing trip as long as it’s entertaining to them.

It’s that “to them” that is the key phrase.  Different people are entertained by different types of stories and are willing to give a storyteller leeway for different reasons. For example, I’m perfectly willing to believe that a black Arabian horse born on the English countryside is able to tell a story from a human point of view, or that a badger, a beaver, and a rat can all sit down to tea and toast in a nice cozy hole, whilst speaking the Queen’s English, or that robots can roam all over New York or Los Angeles or wherever, cracking sarcastic jokes and transforming into gas guzzling vehicles.  There are other people, however, who are not willing to suspend their disbelief for such stories, but they are willing to believe that a millionaire and a hooker can fall in love and get married, or that someone will take a partner back after being repeatedly hurt by them and they will both go on to live happily ever after. We all have our own ideas of the perfect tale.

The problem is in making sure that the right storytellers match up with the right audience, or no one is happy. A writer is not only always trying to write a better tale, but is also trying to find a willing audience, this is why s/he sends their work out to friends, family and then writers groups and then magazines, online zines, podcasts and publishers, or even publish it themselves. There’s a drive, when you’re telling a tale, to have others enjoy it with you.

And readers, for their part, are constantly on the lookout for storytellers that hit what I like to call their “disbelief sweet spot”. They want to find those stories where they find they’re willing to go where the storyteller says s/he is going to take them.

For my part, I’m usually willing to suspend my disbelief – let it stretch a while – in exchange for a good fantastic tale.

There’s this quote at the very end of “200”, a 10th season episode of Stargate SG-1. It’s one of the reasons I am willing to suspend my disbelief, I think:

“Science fiction is an existential metaphor that allows us to tell stories about the human condition. Isaac Asimov once said, ‘Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinded critics and philosophers of today, but the core of science fiction, its essence, has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all.’”

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Pink and Yellow Season Kick Off

Around this time of year I go into my own private Pink and Yellow Season. For me, it's usually about bright sunny days, bright flavors, shiny newness and fun just for me. Not quite feeling it yet this year, but I have about some time to get into it.

One of the things I like to do during this season is experiment with lemon dishes in the kitchen. I love that burst of flavor lemon gives you. Most years I just get a box or two of lemon cake mix and a couple of tubs of lemon frosting and experiment with what to do with that (use lemon juice or limoncello instead of water, toss in yogurt or white chocolate chips or coconut, etc.). It may or may not turn out anything edible, but that's not the point. The point is to have fun and experiment. (I think I need a chemistry set.)

This year, I decided to up the ante a little and I kicked off the Pink and Yellow Season by baking a couple of different types of lemon fudge.

The recipe for the first batch I got here. It's the easier of the two I found - no need to check for candy status. It uses marshmallow cream, condensed milk, white chocolate chips and lemon extract. I grated some lemon rind and tossed that in, too. And had some of it set in a mini-tart pan, which was fun, but not as cute as I was imagining.
Lemon Fudge 1st recipe Though it doesn't taste like good fudge, it is "melt in your mouth". Very rich. It's something you can whip up quickly and take somewhere if you need to. And it does taste good, but not quite what I imagined it should be.

I had some chocolate and butterscotch chips, enough to make a half a batch with what was left of the condensed milk and marshmallow cream. I've packaged it and put it in the freezer to save for bad days. Again, it was good, but it didn't have that burst of flavor on the tongue that good candy/fudge rewards you with.
chocolate butterscotch fudge recipe 1

The second recipe I got from here. It was more complicated but it does reward you with that burst of flavor you're expecting.  Years ago a friend of mine sent me her grandmother's praline recipe. And I remember her telling me that once I started making the pralines to be prepared to keep at it until it was finished. Making this fudge is a bit like that. Once you begin you can't stop until you've poured the fudge into the containers. So have everything set out, pans prepped, ingredients measured out before you begin and be prepared to do a lot of stirring.

For me, it took longer for it to reach boiling than the recipe said it would. And also took longer for evaporated milk and sugar to reach 234 degrees than the 5-6 minutes the recipe said it would. There was at least one time when the milk and sugar mixture grew up on me and made a little mess around the burner, but otherwise, it was just a long haul of stirring.

A couple of tiny things I did differently is that I was a titch short on the lemon extract so added a squeeze or so of lemon juice. Not too much. I used white chocolate chips and not a white chocolate bar broken up. Also, I used foil and butter for the pans instead of parchment. I can never get parchment to fold and stay put. But I think next time I'd use parchment. I also added the optional yellow food coloring.

Again, this second recipe takes more work, but you are rewarded with that candy flavor that you can't mistake. I tasted a couple of broken pieces as I was packing the fudge away for later and I felt like I'd gone to heaven and back.
Lemon fudge recipe 2

I have a few more lemony recipes planned throughout the Pink and Yellow Season. I'll report back and let you know how they turned out.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Childhood: The Gateway Drug to the Fantastic

Crossposted in Blogetary:

This article was originally published in the July 2010 issue of Illuminata, a newsletter of Tyrannosaurus Press. It has been slightly edited and updated.

Childhood: The Gateway Drug to the Fantastic
By Rachel Olivier

When I was in high school and college Nancy Reagan had just begun her “Just Say No” to drugs campaign and much was made of “gateway drugs” such as marijuana or gateway alcohol, like beer. Girls were warned about gateway behavior down “that” road – the road to slut-hood, shame and who knows what else.

I remember that also around this time a friend of mine was persuaded by me and a few other friends to read the Tolkien trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Those of us who had read it had also cut our speculative teeth on series such as The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and books like The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. We didn’t know anyone who had read those books who didn’t like them. And we didn’t want to know people who had read them and didn’t like them.

It was a huge shock, then, when that friend showed up one day to say he’d read the trilogy finally and would never read it or anything like it ever again. Why? Because it was too good. Too tempting for him to read the books, get involved in the world and not want to do anything else or read anything else. I didn’t see anything wrong with that, but apparently, for him, it was a “gateway drug”.
That was a long time ago and I hadn’t thought about that incident again until recently. I’ve been watching movies like UP (2009) and The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and rewatching movies such as Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) and Flash Gordon (1980). While two are animated films and two are live action, they are all similar in that they are basically movies for “kids” that adults enjoy as well. In fact, much of the subject matter is very adult, despite the fact that kids are the target audience.

In UP, for example, a young boy grows up, falls in love, gets married and then watches his wife grow old, fade and die. And that’s just the first 15 minutes of the movie. The Fantastic Mr. Fox is basically about a con artist with big dreams trying to make a life for his family. Something Wicked This Way Comes deals with a handful of temptations that adults have a difficult time with, but two ten-year-old boys are expected to resist. Flash Gordon is basic Good versus Evil, with a football player leading the Good Guys, but it also explores some adult themes (torture and sex being but two).

In many ways these stories are not much different from straightforward “children’s” stories such as The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham or any other fairy tale or myth or legend shared with children when they are young. They use an imagined world with imagined characters to explore themes such as Good versus Evil, resisting temptation, fighting for what you believe in, love, loyalty and friendship. These are stories children read or have read to them. Somewhere along the line, many children abandon the fairy tales for “real” stories that take place in contemporary society.

For many of us, however, one of those many fairy tales or “children’s” books like Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll or Robin Hood by Howard Pyle, or even Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling became our “gateway drug” to the world of the fantastic. Because we fell in love with these stories, we learned we could joyously suspend our disbelief for other stories about exploring outer space or traveling to the center of the earth or being able to change into an animal.

We love the fantastic and suppositions of what the world may become in the far future on a distant planet, or what it might plunge into in a dystopian future. In the parlance of current 21st century speak (leaving Nancy Reagan far behind) it is our “drug of choice”. Some of us are lucky enough to be born into families where many members are also lovers of the fantastic. Some of us have to seek out others who love it as much as we do. I still end up defending science fiction and fantasy to my mom and dad who think of vampires, werewolves and zombies as “weird”. (“Why don’t you write stories about real things?” is a common question.)

I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re part of this speculative fiction “fad” that “all the kids are raving about” (psst – remind your friends and family that it’s not a fad and not going away any time soon), you aren’t alone. You’re part of a group of people who enjoy your imagination and enjoy the endorphins that wake up when you explore planets and realities outside of your own. Be proud. Hold your head up, look people in the eye and say: “Hello. My name is _______  and I love science fiction and fantasy.”