Pie.

I made a pie. It looked like this:

2013-04-12 22.21.21

Maybe not quite so yellow.

In any case, being a person who is allergic to many important and delicious food items, it takes a bit of finagling to find a good pie recipe. To make this one, I mutated about seven different ones. The result? Gluten-free, dairy-free bourbon apple pie with a candied bacon lattice top.

And yes, ye few readers salivating at such a prospect… I will provide a recipe.

This pie was enjoyed by glutentards and non-glutentards alike. Personally, I’m still on the hunt for a good, flaky, non-crumbly pie crust. This one totally disintegrated as I put it in the pan, so I had to manually smash it down, rather than elegantly roll it out. Nevertheless.  If you enjoy complicated, allergen-free desserts, with bacon, I give you this:

Slapdash, Seat-of-the-Pants Gluten-and-dairy-free Bourbon Apple Pie with Candied Bacon Lattice Top

First things first: The crust.

Take with a grain of salt here — I’m not impressed with my crust. But it worked, and it tasted decent, and every damn person out there says their GF crust is the best, but they’re LYING.

1 1/4 c. Bob’s Red Mill Multipurpose GF flour
1 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt
4ish T. frozen Earth Balance butter-ish thing
3ish T. vegetable shortening (probably I should have frozen it first. Learn from my mistakes)
3 T. ice water
2 T. vodka (chill this too. I forgot.)

Probably best to use a food processor if you’ve got it. Mix up the dry stuff, then add the butter and shortening and mix that up til you’ve got a coarse mix of pea-sized butter balls. Slowly add the ice water and vodka til you have a dough that adheres fairly well. Not too smushy. Alcohol burns off in the cooking and (at least theoretically) doesn’t make the dough quite so crumbly. Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for at least two hours, preferably longer.

Next, apples.

3-4 Granny Smith apples
3-4 non-Granny Smith apples (I like Fuji, but you know, ladies’ choice)
3/4 c. sugar
2 T. Bob’s Red Mill GF Multipurpose Flour (or whatever you got)
2+ T. Bourbon
1 t. cinnamon
Coupla healthy shakes of Garam Masala
Pinch of salt

Peel the apples and slice them up into thin slices (say 1/4 inch thick). Mix all this shit together, let it sit. I used 2 T of bourbon, but I bet you could get away with a little more.

Next next, bacon lattice.

8 strips of bacon should do it
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
Coupla pinches of cayenne pepper

Set oven to 350. Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, and cayenne. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Dredge bacon strips through sugar mixture, and set them on the cookie sheet in a lattice formation (4×4, probably). Check on this diagram from Smitten Kitchen for help on that. Sprinkle any remaining sugar mixture on the bacon. Put another sheet of foil on top of lattice, and another (ideally matching) cookie sheet on top of that, to keep the glorious structure flat. Cook for about 15 minutes. Not til it’s 100% done, but just so you can get some of the greasy greasiness out of the bacon. If you can manage it without disturbing your lattice, after the 15 minutes is up, transpose the lattice onto another, non-hot surface (I found that two spatulas, a set of tongs, and another pair of hands was mighty helpful).

Put it all together.

Set the oven for 425 and put a cookie sheet in it. Take your pie crust out of the oven. Line the counter with plastic wrap topped with some kind of starch (I used corn because I’m cheap). Put crust ball on top. Put more starch on top of crust. Put more plastic wrap on top of starch. Attempt to roll out crust without catastrophic cracks. You may need to use your hands, or maybe you’re a better man than I.  When it’s rolled out to pie pan size, attempt to transplant the crust into the pan, removing plastic wrap of course. I have no bits of wisdom to help with this. As I said, mine fell apart, and I ended up just smashing it manually into the pan. It tasted fine. So whatever works for you. Or maybe you have a better crust recipe altogether! In which case, good for you.

Pour apple mix into that bitch.

Top, as delicately as possible, with semi-baked bacon lattice. Probably the bacon is undercooked enough that you can straighten it out with your fingers, if you don’t mind the sticky greasiness. It should lay across the whole pie, more or less.

Put pie on pre-heated cookie sheet. Bake at 425 for about 10-15 minutes.  The bacon shouldn’t burn at this point, but keep an eye on it just in case. After 15 minutes, lower the oven to 350. Cook for about 40-45 minutes. Bacon might be  dark in points, but that’s okay. It’s still delicious.

Cool for about 15, and eat. If you’re really smart, you’ll buy yourself some vanilla coconut milk ice cream ahead of time, thaw it out, add cinnamon, and then refreeze it. A la mode to the max!

Meme-bligations

Oh hey guys. So, I’m back in Chicago, slowly and arduously unpacking all seven circles of cardboard box hell (only seven, you ask? No no, I’m just trying to be literary here. In reality, the circles are endless; they are circles upon circles upon circles. Circles all the way down.)

Anyway, I took a break from unpacking for this blog meme thingie that fellow writer and weirdie Caren Gussoff tasked me to do. You should read hers and then you should read her book when it comes out because it’s awesome.

But for now, hold on to your damn hats because this is going to be the thrill ride of a lifetime.

What is the working title of your book?

It’s called The Grand Adventure of Aught-Nine. Originally because I started the book in 2009, but luckily for me it ended up making sense with the actual story too!

Oh, I also just started writing a new book which is tentatively titled As Big as the West. It’s a weird western involving Jews and magical Teddy Roosevelt, and I just wanted to briefly mention it because I’m super-excited to be writing it, and seeing the title written down makes me even exciteder.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The idea for The Grand Adventure started out as an epistolary war story, told from the perspective of two tiny brothers who were stationed on the bodies of two regular-sized humans who were fighting on opposite sides of some war. Then I realized I hate war stories and epistolary novels, so.

I wrote it first as a short story for a terrible contest I used to have with my Clarion West ’08 buddies, where we would write as many stories as we possibly could for about a month and then end up hating each other at the end.

What genre does your book fall under?
I pitched it as literary fantasy. Whatever genre George Saunders is. Saunders-ary fantasy.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I love this game! Here’s what I’m thinking at the moment for a few of the characters:

Christoph Waltz as Teeny

William H Macy as Boston

Anjelica Huston as Fiona

Richard Jenkins as Walter

Julianne Moore or Meryl Streep as Penelope

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Teeny, who was once the world’s finest Gentleman Adventurer — and who, like the rest of his kinsmen, stands no taller than a cocktail fork — is given the opportunity to go one final adventure to save his good name, find his lost love, and discover the true nature of his people’s origins, but finds instead that in this new world, dangers lurk in places that he could have never anticipated, and proving his own relevance is the very least of his problems.

(I’ll admit I cobbled this together from a two paragraph synopsis. My apologies for its clunkiness and many commas.)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m represented by Cameron McClure of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. And when I say that, it makes me feel like I’m introducing a British lord, which maybe I am. Trumpets and trilled R’s!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
First draft? I want to say it took about 8 months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Indiana Jones meets Gulliver’s Travels? Can I do that?

George Saunders’ books. Kelly Link’s stuff.  Sherlock Holmes for sure, and some of the older adventure books like Around the World in 80 Days. I’m also going to say Kurt Vonnegut, though that might be wishful thinking.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I was in an awful rut at the time and was just dying to have some kind of wild adventure, so I figured I’d write one. Plus I wanted to learn how to write a novel without putting too much pressure on myself, and this story seemed as good a starting point as any.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I want to BE these characters.  I’m jealous of them. If you’ve ever wanted to go to Morocco or Cuba or Paris, ride in a hot air balloon over the Atlantic, outwit an assassin, or search for priceless artifacts with your very best friend, then this story is your jam.

Now, I tag these authors to answer these same questions next Wednesday:
Oh let’s see.  I know these guys are working on stuff and I want to know what it is:

Kira Walsh: Multidisciplinary genius and baker of elaborate matryoska desserts.

Shane Hoversten: Neuroscientist, cat lover, champion eater.

Pamela Rentz: Organizational whiz, grower of impressive vegetables, charmingly grumpy Karuk

Is this thing on…?

I’ve been avoiding this website like I avoid my voicemail…

But there are a few pieces of housekeeping (I imagine mostly for my own benefit, at this point, which is silly because being me, I already know these things):

1. I’m traveling! Check out my travel photos and commentary on my Tumblr page (which I actually do update regularly, unlike certain blogs I know).

2. I plan to reconfigure this website so that it’s less blog-focused at some point in the next year or so! Hopefully someday I will have writerly news to post on it, and perhaps something else interesting TBD.

3. Speaking of writerly news, I have an agent! Cameron McClure of the Donald Maass Literary Agency has graciously offered to be the front lines of my novel-selling army, though I could have probably come up with a better metaphor. Hopefully our super-duo will have yet more news in the coming months.

4. Oh and! Stay tuned for the publication of my short story “Camouflage” in some 2013 edition of Kaleidotrope.

 

So much news! I should go on a six month vacation more often.

Keeping up with carnivores.

This started as something else entirely.

Not really sure what to do with these. Use as pot holders? Stuff in strangers’ pockets? Hide them in plastic easter eggs?

Right now they’re on the coffee table, next to my feet and a neglected guitar tuner.

Improv Embroide-poetry

Today I bought one of those embroidery hoop thingies, some thread,  cut up an old shirt, and decided to write a poem.

At first I thought I’d write it first and then sew it, but then I decided just to make it up as I went along. Hence the “improv.”

The inspiration was an article that the ever-inspiring An Owomoyela linked to. I was particularly drawn to this section:

4. Use your hands

…I think the more that writing is made into a physical process, the better it is. You can feel the ink on paper. You can spread writing all over your desk and sort through it. You can lay it all out where you can look at it.

Oh and also this one:

5. Side projects and hobbies are important

…By side projects I mean the stuff that you thought was just messing around. Stuff that’s just play. That’s actually the good stuff. That’s when the magic happens.

So? Well… my embroidery is terrible (never done it before) and my poetry is worse (though not as bad as that diary filled with poems from high school) but it felt good. Really good. Can’t wait to do another one.

...punctuation-less

Where’s it going to get you?

I went to see Lynda Barry speak last night. She was amazing. I’m a particular fan of her book One! Hundred! Demons!, which was the first time I thought — hey, maybe I should learn how to draw.  Last night she talked about working on something arty and how sooner or later, that asshole guy in your head — you know the one — starts saying “This is stupid. Why are you working on this? Where’s this going to get you? What a waste of time.” She said she imagines him as a literal asshole, like some drunk dude at a bar peering over her shoulder and saying this stuff to her. And how, in that case, she’d toss her beer on him and make him buy her another one. Or maybe I made up that last part because that’s what I’d do. Not that I drink beer. Scotch, then. Anyway, check her out.

I’ve been a lot of talk lately. Waaaay back in July, I wrote this blog at Jeff Vandermeer’s website, thinking it would shame me into actually doing what I set out to do. Basically, I want to learn to draw, by drawing comic strips featuring whatever new thing I’m learning at the time.

Funny thing about shame — it’s pretty much the worst motivator. Even when it works, it takes the joy out of the thing you’re trying to motivate to do… making it so you never want to do that thing again.

So I made up every excuse I could not to post this comic. I drew it in pencil, saying that when I inked it, I’d post it. I’ve been working on a novel, so I said… when I finish the novel, I’ll post the comic. I have a new job, so I said, when the job gets easier, I’ll go back to drawing. Then I stated to convince myself it wasn’t really all that important anyway. I’m not an artist… what’s the point? Why spend energy drawing?

Then I remembered this thing Lynda Barry said — something something joy of creating… something something fear holding you back, something something where’s it going to get you? What would you say if someone asked you that about a nice bike ride? Where’s that going to get you? What’s the point?

So. I sat down with my favorite Papermate blue pen and scribbled this out. Just to get it out there. Just to have the joy and satisfaction of finishing it, of having it be something I did — however amateurishly. I’m posting it here. My first comic strip.  I thought I’d learn to draw anthropomorphic frogs. See if you can identify the characters. I hope you can read my chicken scratch.

See… “Where’s it going to get you?” is a trick question. It gets you here, just like every other damn thing.

Rereading

I was a voracious reader long, long before I ever wrote stories of my own. I was hooked from my first encounter with Go Dog, Go. I used to win public library summer reading contests (the prizes for which were always more books) and classroom contests designed to get non-readers to read (I was never very popular). Writing a good story always seemed so impossibly mystical that it never even occurred to me to try it until my early 20s. Those first stories were wretched — let us never speak of them again.

But the point is, the more I started to write, the less and less I read.  Not because I didn’t want to or because I was worried about copying, but because I became a jaded, hard-to-please reader. I’m not entirely clear on when this happened or how, or even what I can do to make it stop, but I’m ashamed to say it has become very very difficult for me to get through a novel. The reason I started writing is because I love reading, so what does this mean? I shudder to think.

Historically, I have had a couple of emergency books I could go to when the non-reading got really bad. Books I know I love and that inspire me. But — I don’t know. My reading ennui is turning into one of those antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. Sometimes, even the books I love can’t keep me interested. Which is why, when I started today to reread The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (by John Barth), I was relieved. Because this book is amazing, and inspiring, and I’m getting to enjoy it again… I may be a little more jaded this time, but I’m going to think of it as an ability to read with a slightly different perspective. I love this book. You should read it. And, now that I’m back on the reading wagon, I want to know what you (if there are any yous out there anymore) reread when you need inspiration. I need more books to add to this pitifully short list.

Coming down the pipeline

Both metaphoric and… hyperbolic?

First, metaphoric: lots of things have been going on. The biggest (and most nerve-wracking) being a new job that I’m starting a week from today. No more dildo-slinging for me, unfortunately, though once a dildo-slinger, always a dildo-slinger, I think.  I hope to still be a presence at the store in some capacity, but we’ll have to see how the new schedule works out. More on that soon. I’m also working on several projects; none of them finished.

Basically, I’m trying to justify these months of not blogging. Particularly since it was one of my New Years Resolutions. Why is this so hard for me?

Second: Hyperbolic. For your entertainment, a conversation I overheard at the coffee shop today:

A lady is talking to her friend about how dolphins are higher beings and how after the BP oil spill they committed suicide on purpose (porpoise? ba dum bum), washing up on shore to make a point to humans that we’re too attached to oil.

The other lady says: “You’ve never heard of that?”

First lady says: “I’ve heard of it, just never thought of it like that. Maybe I was just unawakened or unenlightened that it never appeared to me that way.”

Dolphins as martyrs to teach humans a lesson about energy consumption? Discuss.

Adventures in gluten-free breadmaking

When it came to light that I am allergic to approximately all delicious foods, I figured I might as well cut my losses and just be done with bread for good. I mean, you can get gluten-free bread at the supermarket, but I hesitate to even call it bread. The “loaves” are about the size of my fist, about as heavy as my head, and cost about ten dollars. It’s okay, I thought. I can handle it. I like eating meat and vegetables… FOREVER.

I perked up a little at the discovery of frozen gluten-free waffles, which can, in a pinch, substitute for bread… quite deliciously in fact.

But then, glory of glories, I learned of a magical breadmaker that has a dedicated gluten-free setting. What does this mean, you ask? Well, to be honest I’m not 100% sure. But I think it has to do with a) the fact that you have to mix and knead the shit out of gluten-free breads to make them even moderately elastic and bread-like, which is something that regular breadmakers don’t do. b) the paddle has to be really sturdy to support those super-dense gluten-free flours without cracking. c) there’s maybe one less rising cycle? Gluten-free baking is a finicky art. Some things work out really well (ie my now-famous gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free bacon chocolate chip cookies) and other things are total failures.

Then for my birthday this year, some of my friends, no doubt tired of listening to me complain, chipped in to buy it for me! So far, I’ve made 4 loaves of bread with my magic breadmaker. The first one was mediocre because I got too impatient and didn’t wait for all the ingredients to become room temperature. The second one was transcendent. It had the taste and consistency of real bread. I used it for a SANDWICH. I don’t know if you realize how amazing that is. The third loaf was a total flop because again, I got impatient and didn’t use the right ingredients. However! I did use the bread-like product to make croutons. The fourth loaf was good. Not great, but good.

But the point is, even GOOD bread is a revelation to me. I can dip it in things! I can put things on it! Toast! This breadmaker is amazing. I’ve only used the GF setting, but it has several regular bread settings, as well as a “dough” setting for if you want to mix and rise dough but then cook it in the oven (for, say, rolls or bagels), it has a “pasta” setting for, I can only assume, making pasta. AND it has a “jam/jelly” setting for making jelly. I find this last setting a little inscrutable, but I trust my Breadman implicitly. I know he wouldn’t let me down, not even for jelly.

I may not be able to blithely toss bags of bread into my shopping cart like the rest of you, but now I can make delicious alchemy out of sorghum, teff, and a whole bunch of other weird grains you’ve never even heard of!

Happy Valentine’s Day

In honor of this most milquetoast of imaginary holidays, I give you my celebratory feast:

Gluten-free vegan red velvet cookies with vegan cream cheese icing. Roughly pilfered from this recipe.

Pan-fried chicken hearts with a side of golf sauce.

Feels good to eat the heart of another animal and wash it down with a crapload of sugar. Mmm. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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