Announcing a new serialized science fiction story: Troph

Hello reader!

Today I’m starting something a little different.  There’s a science fiction story I’ve been wanting to write for what I think is literally years at this point, but every time I give it a whirl, the vastness of the task stops me.  It began with a conversation with a friend of mine about how nice it would be if eating were purely recreational.  Then I began to wonder, how might that change society?  How might it be like or unlike what has happened (in part) with sex?  What would happen if both experiences became, in a sense, virtual, removed from their ancient consequences of sickness, obesity, and even impurity?  Quite a big question, I think.

So I’m going to try here an agile story development approach, and serialize it.  I’ll attempt to publish 500-1000 words of the story here each week until it’s done.  When will it be done?  Not sure, I’m terrible with plots.  I’m only interested in pretty turns of phrase and world-building.  This will definitely be a stretch for me in that sense.

Each installment will be posted and unchanged after posting, but I’ll collect the whole story into a single page and add to it as I go, possibly editing previous sections.  I welcome your feedback!


Troph, Installment 1

A sky full of plump gray clouds sagged down onto the green treetops.  It was hot and still and too quiet, with the tiniest tendril of cool air winding from heaven to earth, just beginning to ruffle feathers.  There was a faint taste of that glamorous chaos to come–even the most orderly of hearts thrilled a bit to feel the air change.  At 4 p.m. exactly, the storm would start.  It would rage deliciously in the southwest corner of New Corinth for an hour, then advance clockwise around the compass before concluding in the city center at 1 a.m.  Josep watched this predictable drama unfold, and he wanted to enjoy it, but his head was throbbing.  He was trying and failing for the third time to write an adequate review of the place he’d visited almost a week ago.  His deadline was tomorrow, and so far he had 37 words, and a mighty scraggly 37 words at that.  Then again, at least he’d get some sleep tonight if he did make adequate progress (and probably even if he didn’t).  He felt grateful to live in the city’s southern sector; the wind and the rain and the sweet fresh smell, when they came, soothed him to sleep far more reliably than the supplements did.  The exorbitant rent was well worth it.

Though, let it be known, Josep could afford it.  They (the eternal and exasperating They) had all laughed when he decided to double major in writing and engineering in college, but it was paying off now.  The holorestaurants were exploding in popularity, and magazines were desperate for writers with both the fine aesthetic sensibility and the technical expertise to write blistering and witty reviews of these peculiar places.  Fortunately for writers like Josep, atmosphere, gustatory pleasure, and unbroken verisimilitude were an odd combination of services to offer, so inevitably a restaurant would be weak in at least one area.  That made for the kind of compare-and-contrast, good-but-has-its weaknesses writing that so nicely suited the critique of both food and consumer technology.

The Cambodian-Irish fusion place that had produced this particular headache was very uneven.  It definitely had soul (of a reasonably convincing but inoffensive multi-ethnic nature), and the individual cuisines’ flavors and mouthfeels were spot on for those who’d actually eaten that kind of physical food; but there were some rather embarrassing glitches.  Mouthfuls that were supposed to be, you know, ineffably exquisitely blended would become jarringly discrete mid-bite.  This was a strange experience for the diner, who would one moment be enjoying how a Khmer red curry base could enliven an Irish stew, and the next tasting only onion.  Josep felt for the restaurateur, who was an old acquaintance of Josep’s and had suffered the many insults of the uncompromising artist in his long and non-monotonic career.  This Stephen had the soul of a chef but lacked the finances of one, so he hired a cut-rate engineer right out of school, and now he was truly paying for it.  Josep’s own art, not to mention his editor, would demand some kind of tongue-in-cheek remark about avant-garde cuisine going a bit too far, and that just because you could reassemble a tender pudding into a crisp fried banana in the diner’s mouth didn’t mean you should.  Josep cringed to think how critical Stephen was forcing him to be.

He recalled another restaurant he’d been to recently that did have the engineering know-how to control these experiences well, and the effect was splendid, almost hallucinatory.  He supposed that the younger crowd, who had probably never eaten a real oyster or other animal before, would find nothing unsettling about feeling its heart beat as they chewed it.  Those in the over-30 set, however, certainly would.  That place had been quite something, but it had absolutely no ambience of its own–rather, it had that awkward, earnest ugliness that newish technology often did during its transitional periods.

So it was with his own apartment building, which was desperately sought after despite its dreary exterior and common spaces.  (They had all the warm charm and elegance of Soviet cinderblock housing.)  People leapt at the opportunity because the things they were doing with the surfaces and supplements were nothing short of astonishing.  To Josep, they verged on creepy, but he was a slave to fashion and now a technical reviewer of some repute, so he felt it incumbent upon him to live there.  Even some of the older set, typically technophobic of course, were overcoming their discomfort to live at GoldenBough because of its rumored anti-aging capabilities.  After all, nothing brought more discomfort than getting old, and breaking, and being put away for good.

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The best (and only?) sourdough cornmeal waffle recipe ever

Dear reader,

Do you wish for a breakfast dish that is cheap and easy to prepare, makes your kitchen smell like Heaven’s own galley, and will make your guests’ jaws drop when they see it?  Then you are in luck!  Below, I give you my greatest culinary discovery to date.

As a bit of background, I’ve been making sourdough buckwheat waffles for a few years now, because they far surpass standard non-yeasty waffles in every way.  They have such a delicate, lacy, ethereal crispness on the outside, and an incredibly light yet moist interior, with a complex, nutty flavor throughout.  My mother describes them as “crispy air”.

Last night, I thought about how much I wanted some for breakfast this morning, but going out and getting buckwheat flour at the dreadful hour of 9 p.m. or something?  No way.  But I did happen to have some cornmeal, which I get from time to time in vain attempts to replicate my mother’s cornbread.  So I thought, okay, I’ll give that a shot.  Behold the (slightly blurry) result:

cornwaffle

WOW.  I mean WOW.  Reader, I nearly wept.  The overnight sponge process made the cornmeal more tender and better hydrated than a standard cornbread or other quickbread preparation would have been, but it still had a wonderfully pleasing cragginess, and all the eggy, delicate, tender scrumptiousness of the interior was there from the buckwheat version.  Indeed, it was even better.  Cornmeal, as you no doubt know, has more sugar than buckwheat flour, so it caramelized even more handsomely and had a slightly roasty flavor.  And I find, perhaps because I grew up with buttermilk cornbread, I find that cornmeal has a particular affinity for tangy flavor profiles, which of course comes with the sourdough treatment.

Plus of course, it had that guileless, sunny corn quality that makes my peasant heart sing.

If you do have buckwheat flour and want to try that, just use buckwheat flour instead of the cornmeal and add a pinch of ginger.  You can do everything else the same, and you’ll end up with extreme deliciousness either way.  The corn-based batter tends to be a little thinner, but they both perform well.

Makes about three large Belgian waffles

  • 1/3 cup starter, straight from the fridge is ok
  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup cornmeal (medium grind, not corn flour)
  • 1 1/3 cup water

  • 1 to 2 Tbsp brown sugar, honey, etc. (not white sugar, it’s too bland)
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp neutral oil, such as canola oil
  • 1 large egg
  • Scant 1/2 tsp salt
  • Tbsp hot water
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda

___
Stir together first four ingredients in a large bowl, cover lightly (like with a plate), and let set out overnight (6 to 10 hrs). It should puff up a little and smell yeasty.

Next morning, whisk together the next four ingredients in a small bowl, then lightly whisk them into the starter mixture. Turn on the waffle iron. Dissolve the baking soda in the hot water and fold it in to the batter. It should froth a bit, making it even lighter. Then, the waffles to your liking and eat right away, or at least right after you add some butter and syrup–much like the pentaquark, their crispness is too special and rare to last very long.  On my waffle maker, they take about 4.5 minutes to cook and use a scant cup of batter per waffle.  If you can’t eat them immediately, you can recrisp them in a toaster oven, and it will still be nice, but not quite as wondrous.

Let me know if you make them, and what you think of them!

P.S.  I know it’s been ages since I’ve written anything.  Thank you Andy Wright for pressuring me to get back in gear.

It happens

This is a sequel, of sorts, to Hyper-haiku.

Somehow, it happens.

The snow melts.

[First, of course, you feel it yield a little too readily

To the tip of your questing toe.]

You saw the great masses of white, towers, mountains.

You thought, “How can there even be this much water in the world?”

But it happens:

Gleaming white quiet world, gone to brown ugly mush.

Later, when you are not looking:

With an unhappy sigh, it surrenders its solid form entirely.

A torrent, everywhere, messy and cold,

Breaking and nourishing the somnolent earth.

Then, somehow, invisible again.

You can almost smell it all,

The violence of spring’s accession

On that first day that the sun feels real again.

The snow melts.

It happens.