Worldbuilding: Birth, Death, and Cake

Imagine the scene: You, face alight with a fiery glow. Light flickers across your face, eyes closed in concentration as you focus your will. Onlookers chant in cadence. A rhythmic beat of friends and family surrounds you. Sibilant syllables flow around you hissing out your name. You take in a breath– a single breath. The chant grows. You release your will and your breath together. Smoke curls up in soft coils in front of you. Finally, finally the chant fades away. Taken up into the void by swirling smoke. You dive forward, glistening knife held in your hand, to begin the yearly sacrifice. You devour what is before you. Your year begins anew.

Or, you know, a traditional American birthday.

Cheers.

Unless you are a celestial being spawned from of primordial ooze, you have a birthday. I suppose even if you are a celestial being spawned from primordial ooze, you have a spawned from ooze day. You have a reason to celebrate coming into this world.

I recently read Krystina Castella’s A World of Cake: 150 Recipes for Sweet Traditions From Cultures Near and Far. In addition to some delightful recipes, the book is peppered with anecdotes of cake and culture across the globe. It seems inevitable, almost, to devote some time to the inexorable link between cake and birthdays, birthdays and cake. I will just say: CAKE. Personally, I almost always have a chocolate cherry cake for my birthday. Although this year, I might shake it up a bit because this book is wonderful and try something new.  (Update: I made tiramisu.) There are all sort of connections between food and life– food as a wellspring of life crops up in the inevitable traditions linking food and celebrations together. Bounty. Harvest. Plenty. Life. All these words, ideas, reasons to celebrate, fold together into life events. The tradition of marking a birthday crosses borders across the world.

The bookend to life, I suppose then, would be death. Food continues into death as well. Let us return to cake. When all else fails, always return to cake. We have celebrations with birthday cakes, name day cakes, quinceanera cakes, but cakes and food are not contained only to birth and life, but to death as well. A Thai tradition is to create a cookbook to share the deceased favorite meals and recipes with family and loved ones after their passing. We cannot forget the pan de muerto, sweet anise and orange flavored breads, made in the time leading up to Dia de los Muertos. The bread of the dead is eaten by loved ones and shared with the dead.

There are few things we can say cross all borders.  Food is one of those few things that connect us all. There is a unity to the people standing around a cake waiting for someone to make that first slice. There is a unity in handing out a piece of a whole to everyone in a family, to everyone in a community. There is a unity in food.

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The Hater’s Guide to Tea

Yesterday I received a three line email from my sister: Can you write the hater’s guide to enjoying tea? I could really use that. THAT IS ALL.

This is me taking up the challenge.

First of all: Put down the coffee. (I know that it will take someone prying the black,  shade grown, organic, fair trade coffee from your cold, dead hands to actually stop you from drinking it. However, this is the first step to drinking something else.)

Ok. Now that your hands are empty of that, its time to pick your poison. Choose your own adventure style.

1. Are you the sort of person who wants their coffee straight and as darkly roasted as possible?

If yes, go to 2.

If no, go to 5.

2. Did you lie? Do you think you like black coffee but actually you always order a milky flavored latte?

If you lied, go to 3.

If you are as bitter as your coffee go to 4.

3. Go for a London Fog. Add a splash of milk and a shot of vanilla syrup to a cup of Earl Grey.

4. Go for a black tea straight up.

5. Perhaps you like a lighter roast of coffee for the “subtlety of flavor” and the “fruity notes” and the “pretension of wine tasting.”

If yes, go to 6.

If no, go to 8.

If you are irritated by the way I wrote that, go to 7.

6. Try out an herbal tea.

7. You’re the sort of person who leaves the bag in and overbrews it, then complains it’s too bitter aren’t you? Go to 9.

8. Try green tea.

9. Drink your coffee and be happy about it.

Now that we have that sorted, how do you actually brew a cup of tea without turning it into a disaster?

Step 1. Own a kettle.

Step 2. Water in said kettle.

Step 3. Flame on.

Step 4. Place a tea bag into a cup, because if you are reading this you probably aren’t bothering with loose leaf. I accept that. You do you.

Step 5. Wait impatiently as the water comes to a boil whilst contemplating why you aren’t drinking coffee.

Step 6. Pour hot water into cup over tea bag.

Step 7. Wait while staring at your cup as the water darkens. Ask yourself why it isn’t the soul-darkening shade of black coffee.

Step 8. Fiddle on your phone for three minutes if drinking green tea, five minutes if drinking black tea, or seven minutes if drinking herbal.

Step 9. Take out the tea bag.

Step 10 (Optional). Add a splash of milk, sugar, honey, or lemon juice. Don’t forget your middle school science: milk and lemon juice together is a bad idea.

Step 11. Drink your tea.

Step 12. Don’t complain when it’s not coffee.

Cheers everybody.

Note: Everyone should be very proud of me for not riddling this post with gifs of Uncle Iroh every other sentence. I will just quote: “Sick of tea? That’s like being sick of breathing!”

Dungeons, Dragons, and Dinner

Every year for Christmas Eve dinner we pick a theme to craft dinner around. This probably comes from at least three of us considering cooking a creative challenge. Some of our notable themes over the years have been: Meals from Hobbiton, Feast of Valhalla, and Holiday Hogwarts. Rosie’s meat pies, mead, and pumpkin pasties were central in years past.

Honoring our holiday Dungeons and Dragons game we chose to theme this year around our characters. Each person came up with a recipe that somehow represented their character. Our dishes ranged from hearty halfing fare to fortifying dragonborn provisions.

Thus our feast was held in a halfling tavern bordering a misty forest.

Now we must begin the planning for the spectacle that will be Star Wars Christmas. The cantina music has already begun…

10 Bookish Cupcakes – Genre Edition

When every other plan in my life fails dramatically Authorial Furies will become a bakery. Some notes on my future endeavor’s cupcakes:

1. Mystery

Crumbs dust an otherwise empty cupcake liner. A stray fingerprint, brushed in powdered sugar, presses the intricately folded paper down.

2. Horror

It was just like every other cupcake in the case— perfectly frosted, perfectly baked. Nothing could go wrong. Nothing was wrong. Certainly nothing was wrong with the reddish filling slowly seeping from the base…

3. Fantasy ***

A tiny sword adorned with a faintly glowing pommel stone erupts from the center of a roughly frosted cupcake. The cake itself is rather hard. It might be best served in a lake of sauce.

4. Metafiction

A frosted cupcake baked within a cupcake. Which is then frosted itself in the selfsame frosting initially frosted within. Indubitably.

5. Historical

Mix one pound flour, one pound butter, one pound sugar, and one pound eggs. No leaveners needed in the 1700s— just a strong mixing arm.

6. Romance

Despite no discernible draft, the paper liner ensconcing the rich chocolate sponge flutters like a butterfly’s wings. A bright red rose spun of sugar blossoms atop a swirl of rich chocolate frosting.

7. Science Fiction

Freeze Dried – Check

Nutrient Fortified – Check

Bright Green – Check

8. Western

Baked in a heavily oiled cast iron pan, a scorched corn cake needs no liner. It’s held together by grit and lard and gunmetal.

9. Fairy Tale

A delicate cupcake baked in a glistening glass goblet. A shimmering glaze decorously covers the cake. A singular fondant pearl punctuates the apex of the desert. With the first bite, you realize… that cupcake was a muffin all along!

10. The Movie Makeover

After one of the cupcakes is completely done, scoop off the frosting. Then have a passerby randomly choose a new flavor to slap onto it. Some consumers will love the change others will hate it. No matter what everyone will be very vocal about it.

***Many will try to buy this, but only sell it to the person who retrieves the sword. For they are The One.