What I'm Reading, Canadian Graphic Novelists Edition

I can’t remember when I first encountered Marian Churchland‘s work — I think a friend maybe linked me to her posts about The Crossing, an unimplemented MMORPG idea she sketched out (quite literally) in a series of posts on her blog?  Her writing and drawing and sartorial sense appealed to me, so I started following her, and when I found out, months later, that she had written a graphic novel, I knew I wanted to read it.  (Artists, bad at self-promotion what?)

Beast is a retelling of the “Beauty and the Beast” story, of course, but our Beauty is a cranky down-on-her-luck sculptor and our Beast is an enigmatic centuries-old man who seems to be made out of swirling shadows.  It’s also about the relationship between artist and patron, artist and muse, and the question of what the artist will sacrifice for her art.

The story is gorgeously told — all fluid linework in her distinctive understated style, and the book uses the color of that linework to indicate time of day in a way that I found effective and subtle.  (If I ever finish…  but I get ahead of myself.)

I identified a lot with the main character’s habits, which the author depicts with loving (and I presume somewhat autobiographical) care — boiling water in a kettle on the stove, leaving cups of tea to cool in odd places and forgetting them, working mostly at night, making and needing few connections with other people.  An ascetic, obsessive lifestyle; one that I fall into sometimes when I don’t have other things to pull me out.  One that I miss, sometimes.

I loved how the story grounded its fantastic in the mundane, how it neither questioned the fantasy nor bothered to explain it.  It didn’t need to.  Each heightened the effect of the other.

It’s a book I want to come back to in a week, a month, a year, to see how it changes, the more I write.  To see if it grows on me.

(Amazon)

Sriracha Squash Soup

I didn’t think to take a picture before most of it was eaten already. Oops?  It looks like squash soup always looks.

Here in New England, fall is getting its coat and hat preparing to go, and winter is standing on the doorstep looking expectantly — and a little creepily — through the glass waiting to come in, so our meal planning turns to hot and filling foods in an attempt to make everyone comfortable.  This is something I cooked up a few days ago in that vein.  It’s also an antidote to what I consider the too-sweet trend in squash soups.

Purchase a small kambocha squash (also called buttercup squash).  Other squash varieties will also work, but kambocha is what I used.  Its floury texture and deep flavor make for good soups, I’ve found.

Take a quart of any flavorful and preferably high-fat stock, and put it in a medium pot on the stove to heat up.  (I used a pint of beef marrow stock I had left over, thinned 1:1 out to a quart with plain water.  I’m currently working through a former housemate’s meat CSA stockpile, so I have somewhat odd leftovers.)

Cut open the squash, scoop out the seeds, and begin peeling and dicing it.  When you have half of the squash diced, put it in the now-simmering stock.  Turn up the heat a little to compensate for the increased thermal mass.  Wonder if the pot is big enough for the whole squash, and pour everything into a bigger pot if necessary.  Be thankful you didn’t buy a larger squash.  (Or you can put only half of the squash in, which is possibly what I should have done, but I was already trying to solve a nacho problem with the stock and didn’t want a half squash lying around.  So — excelsior!)

You could cook the squash in the oven ahead of time, but I find that takes far longer, and means I often burn my hands trying to peel it while still hot.  Simmering the squash is much faster and doesn’t affect the flavor as far as I can determine.

Be thankful you got a larger pot once the whole squash has been diced and added.  Hope there’s still enough space for the onion.  What onion?  The large onion you’re about to chop up and cook with a good tablespoon of olive oil in a small frying pan.  (Or you can sauté up a small onion plus some leek bits left over from the other thing you’re making simultaneously, which is what I did.)   Mince the last four cloves of garlic and cook them up too.  Wish you had a full head of garlic.  Possibly add some chili powder or smoked paprika to the oil.  Cook everything until the onion is translucent, then dump everything into the pot with the squash.

Cover and simmer the squash until it’s practically mush.

Take your immersion blender and blend it to a nice orange paste.  Thin it out with half a cup of milk, so it’s not quite so stiff.  (Seriously, a full squash in this comes out pasty and mounding.)

Add a half teaspoon of salt, or to taste.

Taste it.  Taste it again.  Wonder why the second taste is so much blander than the first.

In a fit of pique, add a tablespoon of sriracha sauce (or to taste).  Taste again.  Wonder why everything is gorgeous and wonderful.  Taste again.  Marvel at how everything is still gorgeous and wonderful.

Ladle yourself a bowl.  Eat.  Refrigerate the remaining portion.  Congratulate yourself on your culinary inventiveness.

Garnish with sour cream and chopped scallions if you like.

 

Failure modes:

The soup is too grainy after blending:  You didn’t cook the squash long enough.  Put the soup back on heat for a bit.

The squash particles precipitate out when the soup stands for a bit:  You didn’t use enough fat.  Add more fat, preferably somewhat saturated, in the form of heavy cream, butter, or lard.

Everything is still too bland after the sriracha:  Use better stock.  Use another onion or a larger onion.  Carmelize the onions.  Add more garlic.  Add more spices.  Add more sriracha.

You can’t taste the dried spices:  You added them dry into the soup rather than working them into the oil, didn’t you?  Add more, but work them into some good olive oil first over moderate heat.  (This was one of my failure modes.)

 

Seriously, I had not expected the sriracha to add anything but spice, but something about it brought out the flavor of the squash in a way I was really happy with.  The soup didn’t even end up that spicy by my standards, the spice just prevented my tastebuds from getting tired of the other flavors or something.  Clearly more investigation will be required.

In particular I want to try adding some scotch bonnet sauce my house has, which has a nice buttery flavor, to the next batch, but it has whole seeds in it so it will need to go in before the blending or followed by an additional blending step.

Fiction: "She meets an angel" (NSFW)

I continue to feel that the web site of a fiction writer should have, well, some fiction on it.

After coming back from Viable Paradise, I had occasion to dig through my (relatively small) pile of older work looking for things to submit.  I pulled this story out and, reading it, decided that it didn’t suck.  I couldn’t figure out where to submit it, though, so I offer it to you here.

This is an erotic short story (2200 words or so) I wrote building off the title, which came to me out of the ether at some point.  It has the distinction of being the first thing I ever wrote and finished for myself rather than a class, the first story I ever submitted anywhere, and the first (and so far only) story of mine to ever be short-listed.  It’s also, oddly enough, heterosexual.

Being erotica, this story is Not Safe For Work.  No trigger warnings, though.

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