Two Peeves and a Link

Yes – it’s grey and rainy outside today, which means that it’s peeve time here in blogland.

Peeve the first:  It isn’t “per say” (though that’s what it sounds like.)  It’s per se, because it’s Latin, meaning “by itself.”  Per is one of those useful prepositions that also shows up as a prefix, usually one that means “thoroughly” or “extremely” or “completely” – probably from one of the other meanings of per-as-a-preposition, which is “through.”  (If you think that’s a wide range of meanings to stuff into a single word, just consider for a minute some of our English prepositions, which let us say things like “He came by himself to the house by the river by car.”  Which is an awkward sentence – I’d flag it in a heartbeat if I ran across it during a revision or editing pass – but not an ungrammatical one.)

But seriously, people, if you’re going to throw in Latin phrases, at least spell them right.

Peeve the second:  Don’t say “this begs the question” when what you mean is “this raises the question.”

Nobody, but nobody, gets this one right, and it drives me batty.  “Begging the question” is the English term for one of the common logical fallacies, also known by its Latin name, petitio principii, in which the person making the argument assumes as true, and argues from, the very thing which he or she is seeking to prove.  (For a fuller explanation, with diagrams, you can look here.)

Finally, to sweeten things a bit after that outburst of peevishness, a link:

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America 50th Anniversary Cookbook, edited by Cat Rambo and Fran Wilde, is now available for pre-order.  It contains 175 recipes as well as interior illustrations, and is available in both print and e-book formats.

It Doesn’t Have to be Difficult to be Good

We – that’s both the artists-and-critics “we” and the people-in-general “we” – have a habit of conflating difficulty and quality.  If something is hard to do, or hard to understand, we tell ourselves that it must also be in some way better than a similar thing that is simple or clear.  This is a tendency that needs to be watched out for and kept on a tight leash, because for every complex and difficult thing that it encourages us to appreciate, there’s something plain and straightforward that it tempts us to pass by.

Herewith, by way of edible illustration, is a simple recipe that produces a better-than-store-bought enchilada sauce.  (This comes in especially handy if you happen to live, as we do, in a locale where the grocery store doesn’t carry any strength higher than Medium.)

Red Enchilada Sauce:

2 T oil (canola or vegetable)
2 T flour
2 T chili powder
1 T cayenne
1 T powdered chipotle pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. oregano
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

  • Mix up the seasonings – chili powder through oregano – in a small bowl.  (If the mix as given looks too hot for your taste, go with 4 T of mild chili powder instead of the chili powder/cayenne/chipotle mix.  If you want an even higher octane, go with a 2 T chili powder/2 T cayenne mix, or experiment with other powdered hot peppers until you’ve got a blend you like.)
  • In a saucepan, heat up the oil and add the flour.   Mix it up and cook it for a minute, stirring so it doesn’t burn.
  • Add the chili powder and other seasonings.  Stir it up some more – it’ll be a thick paste.
  • Add the chicken stock, and use a whisk to stir it up so that the mixture doesn’t clump up or stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Either use immediately or decant into a glass jar or similar container and use later.

This makes enough for one batch of enchiladas.

A Useful Thing Which I Have Discovered

(Which has nothing to do with writing, and which most other people have probably known about for ages):

If you’ve got a rice cooker that came with a steamer basket, the steamer basket is very handy for turning uncooked chicken breasts or tenders into cooked chicken suitable for shredding or dicing and incorporating into things like enchiladas or pot pies or any other recipe that calls for cooked chicken bits.

Well, okay . . . this is like writing in one respect:  Don’t automatically assume that the idea you’ve just had is old hat, or is no good because it is old hat.  Because you can always take that old idea and use it to make something new and tasty.

For Your Amusement

A trio of links:

These people have developed a blight-resistant American chestnut tree, and are now crowdfunding a project to plant 10,000 new trees and start the work of bringing the species back to American forests.

Here are some nifty pictures of spherical layer cakes frosted to look like planets – complete with proper planetary cores.  And here’s a link to a tutorial on how to make one yourself at home.

And finally, in honor of the upcoming holiday, a link to NASA’s cornbread dressing recipe.

Where I’m Going to be This Weekend

I’m going to be at the La Belle Winery in Amherst, New Hampshire, participating in a short fiction slam with other former students and instructors of the Odyssey Writer’s Workshop. (Jim Macdonald and I were guest instructors there, once upon a time.)

I’ve never participated in a slam before (group readings at conventions and the like, yes, but that was within the tribe, as it were) and certainly never one at a winery.

This should be fun.  If you’re in or around Amherst NH this weekend with $25 burning a hole in your pocket ($15 if you’re a student; $10 if you’re a teenager), you might think of stopping by.

More Mindless Cookery for Distracted Writers

Because there are some days when all you want to do is shove some ingredients into the crockpot and leave them alone for six or eight hours.

(I’ve been having a week like that, full of necessary but distracting things like purchasing a new car – well, to be more specific, a new-to-us car.  Now that we’re no longer transporting our offspring to and from college on a regular basis, there’s no need to continue nursing along the 18-mpg mini-van, so we’ve got a nice 27-mpg hatchback instead.)

Tonight’s dead-simple entrée is Crockpot Chicken Paprikash, which makes no claim to be authentically anything, other than dead simple.

Ingredients

  •     2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  •     1 teaspoon kosher salt
  •     1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  •     1 teaspoon hot paprika (or 1 T plus 1 tsp of whatever paprika you’ve got, plus a pinch of cayenne pepper)
  •    1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
  •   1.5 – 2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, cut up
  •   1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  •   1/2 cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  •   1/2 cup sour cream

Directions

In the slow cooker, stir together the sliced onions, the salt, the garlic, and the paprika. Spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of the crock.

Layer the chicken on top of the onion mixture.

Add the stock.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours or until chicken is tender.

Stir the sour cream into the sauce.  Serve over egg noodles.

Optionally, you can cut up and add some mushrooms to the paprika-onion mix.  Very few things are not improved by adding mushrooms.  (The things that aren’t improved by adding mushrooms are usually improved by adding chocolate.)

Another Simple Recipe for the Tired, Distracted, or Deadline-Beset

For years I didn’t have a crockpot, because all my previous encounters with the technology had been in the early days, before the invention of the removable stoneware crock, and doing cleanup on a piece of kitchen gear that couldn’t be fully immersed in water pretty much negated all of the time and labor saved on the prep and cooking end.

Then one day I looked around in the kitchen department of the local hardware store and saw that things had changed since I was an impecunious grad student, and I was, as they say, enlightened.

This particular recipe is about as mindless as they come, which is a blessing on those occasions when you’ve got a cold, or a deadline, or just a bad case of too much of the daily grind:

Chicken with Onions

Ingredients

  • 4 large onions, sliced thin
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more if you like)
  • 4 to 6 split chicken breasts, either bone-in or boneless
  • hot cooked rice (or orzo pasta, or whatever starchy substrate you prefer)

Directions

  • Put the sliced onions in the bottom of the crockpot.
  • Lay the chicken breasts on top of the onions.
  • Add the garlic, lemon juice, and cayenne.
  • Cook 4 to 6 hours on low.
  • Serve over rice or orzo or whatever you prefer

 

Because It’s Been a While

Here – have a recipe.

Monkey Bread

Ingredients

  • 3 cans of buttermilk biscuits
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Open up all three cans of biscuits and cut each biscuit into quarters.

Next, combine the white sugar and the cinnamon in a 1 gallon zip-lock bag and shake it to mix them up evenly.

Drop all of the biscuit quarters into the bag of cinnamon-sugar mix. Seal the bag and shake it until the biscuit quarters are evenly covered.

Fill up a bundt pan or similar baking pan (we use a panettone mold around here.)

Melt the two sticks of butter and the half cup of brown sugar together in the microwave, or in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Once the brown sugar/melted butter mix has become one color, pour it over the pan full of biscuit pieces.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes until the crust is a deep dark brown on top. Then remove it from the oven and allow it to cool on a wire rack for about 15-30 minutes.

Turn it out onto a plate; pull it apart with two forks to serve.

This is the quick and easy version.  You could get fancier, I suppose, by making up a batch of sweet yeast dough, either by hand or in a bread machine, cutting or tearing the risen dough into approximately 36 pieces, and forming the pieces into balls which you then coat in cinnamon sugar as above.  Then put them into the baking pan and allow them to rise a second time before going on to the melted butter and brown sugar step and proceeding with the recipe from there.

But in all honesty, the biscuit version tastes just fine, and is a whole lot faster and easier.

(Also:  I have no idea why it’s called “monkey bread.”  One theory is that the bread takes its name from a fancied resemblance between the pattern of the stacked lumps of dough and the pattern of the bark on the trunk of a monkey-puzzle tree . . . but I think that may be stretching it.)

Nostalgia Lane, in Need of Repaving

The Fairlee Drive-In movie theatre in Fairlee, Vermont,  is holding a Kickstarter to raise the funds necessary to upgrade from 35mm to digital – a vital move if they hope to continue in business, given that the movie industry is rapidly going all-digital.  (Paramount has already made the switch.)

This is a drive-in movie theatre that’s been in almost continuous operation since it opened in 1950, and is one of only two drive-ins left in the USA with its own attached motel.  Furthermore, their snack stand features hamburgers made from Black Angus cattle raised on the family farm of the theatre owners, as well as other locally-sourced items.

They’ve got some really great rewards for their backers, too: a $200 donation gets a room for two on a Friday night at the drive-in’s motel, plus 2 movie admissions and free burgers and fries and popcorn from the concession stand.  For the “go big or stay home” crowd, a $5K donation lets you own the drive in for a night, along with as many of your guests as can fit on their 400-car field, and a $10K or more donation gets the drive-in’s original carbon-arc projector and related equipment, as purchased in 1950 and used at the theatre until 2003.

I have fond memories of going with my parents to the drive-in when I was a kid in Florida, back when vast herds of them covered the plains like the buffalo, and I’d hate to see another one vanish.

Then I’ll Write it Myself, Said the Little Red Hen

There are all sorts of different reasons for writing, some of them more refined and elevated than others.  Sometimes the impetus comes in the form of a book laid aside (perhaps vigorously) in disgust, as the writer says, “Dammit, I  could write a better book than than one!” and then goes and does just that.

At other times, the book begins with a hunger for something – a plot twist, a story element, a certain flavor to the prose, a particular slantwise way of looking at the subject matter – that none of the books in the reader’s chosen genre has been able to provide.  Lots of readers experience this hunger; a few of them go on to address it by telling their own stories to satisfy the desire.  “I wrote the book I wanted to read that nobody else was writing” is a sentiment often found in authorial memoirs and interviews.

Which reminds me of the time when I decided I wanted a pork pie like the one that sometimes showed up as a lunchtime special down at Howard’s Restaurant.  This was a pork pie of the French Canadian, not the English, variety, because the small New Hampshire town I live in is about fifteen minutes south of Quebec and the local foodways reflect this sometimes.  Because this is the twenty-first century, I turned to the internet for help – and discovered (to nobody’s surprise, I’m sure) not just one, but dozens of recipes, all slightly different.  I ended up conflating several different recipes, and tweaking the result – much as a writer tweaks story elements and plot lines – until I got the dish and the flavor I wanted.

French-Canadian Pork Pie

Ingredients:

  • Pie crust sufficient for a two-crust pie (I used pre-made, but if you’ve got a light hand for pastry and the patience to go with it, you could make your own.  Sources I’ve read say that for the ultra-traditional, a lard-based pastry is the way to go; I’ve never bothered.)
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped fine (I ran mine through the food processor)
  • 1.5 pounds ground pork
  • 3 medium-to-large white potatoes, cooked (you could boil them; I steamed them) and coarsely mashed
  • 1 cup beef stock (I used stock base from a jar and made it up double strength)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
  • dash of nutmeg
  • dash of cinnamon
  • two or three grindings of black pepper (the stock was sufficiently salty that I didn’t bother with adding more salt.)

Directions

Cook the ground pork and the chopped onions together in a frying pan until the pork isn’t pink any longer.  Drain off the fat.

Add the pork and onion mixture to the mashed cooked potatoes and mix them up.

Then add the beef stock, the beaten egg, and the spices, and mix them up some more.

Have your pie pan ready with the bottom crust in place.  Put in the filling.  If you’ve got a pie bird, this is a good time to get it into place.  Put on the top crust, and crimp it down.  Cut slits in the top to facilitate the escape of steam.  (At this point, I suppose one could do one or another of the various things one does with egg or milk to put a glaze onto the crust; again, I didn’t bother.)

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 and bake 45 minutes more.  (It’s probably a good idea to put a foil-lined baking sheet on the rack below, in case of spillover.)

When it’s done, remove from the oven, let cool for 10-15 minutes, then serve.

Given that Howard’s Restaurant is now closed, and also is in danger of collapsing into the river, it’s a good thing I worked out the recipe for myself.