Unexpected Ingredients

When you’re constructing a piece of fiction, sometimes what you need to make an old standby memorable again is an unexpected ingredient, a theme or a place or a character that the reader isn’t expecting to find in combination with the other, more familiar elements in the story.  Time was, something as simple as switching in a female character for a male one in a particular role was enough to add the requisite element of strange; these days (and if we’re not all grateful for it, then we damned well should be), the entry into the narrative of a person of the female-presenting kind is not remarkable enough by itself to push the story off of center.

(Actually, these days it’s inadvisable to rely on the mere presence of any character type to provide your story with a hint of strange.  Well-drawn characters are going to have better things to do with their personal narratives than spending them being decoration for other characters’ plots – and if you aren’t going to create well-drawn characters, what are you doing in this game?)

But doing something unexpected like, say, using the story of a zombie apocalypse in order to examine philosophical issues such as the relationship of the individual to the larger group, and how to live a moral life in an imperfect world . . . that’ll provide you with more than enough strange to keep you going.

And as an extra, a recipe, also with an unexpected ingredient:

Beef Short Ribs Braised in Coca-Cola


  • At least 2 pounds boneless beef short ribs (if what you’ve got is bone-in ribs, make that at least 3 pounds)
  • 1 large or 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced (I also throw in some dried minced garlic partway through the cooking time, because we like our garlic around here)
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 can of Coca-Cola
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • fresh-ground black pepper, to taste (we also like our pepper around here, so I’m generous with it)



  • Put your short ribs into your crockpot.
  • Season with the salt and pepper.
  • Add the onions, garlic, and scallions.
  • Pour in the Coca-Cola.
  • Cook for 5-6 hours on high or 7-8 hours on low.
  • Serve over egg noodles.  (Actually, over whatever starch you prefer, but we like our short ribs with egg noodles around here.)

The amazing thing, once you’re done, is that this dish tastes nothing whatsoever like Coca-Cola.  But it doesn’t taste like short ribs braised in the usual red wine or beer or beef stock, either.


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