Spinach and Gruyere Quiche

Although there are limitations on keeping chickens in the city where I live, I have friends and family members who raise poultry in their country yards. I also have memories of caring for chickens growing up; although I didn’t like the fowl things much, my niece really has taken to them and is considered a bit of a chicken-whisperer, now. Sometimes, this means I am handed a dozen eggs to use up and often this scenario leads to making a quiche! Spinach quiches are my favorite. I usually make one with cheddar, but recently decided to get a little fancy and made this one with shallots and Gruyere.

Spinach and Gruyère Quiche
adapted from Once Upon a Chef
Serves 6

9-inch pie crust (below)
butter for sauteing
½ cup thinly sliced shallots
6 large eggs
1 cups heavy cream
Pinch ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 oz finely shredded Gruyère
10 ounces fresh spinach OR 10oz frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and wrung free of water
Pie Crust
1 cup flour
1/3 cup butter
½ tsp salt
3 Tablespoons ice water

Make the pie crust: Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter or 2 knives. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork after each addition. (You can add more water a teaspoon at a time if needed.) Bring the dough into a ball with your fingertips.
Par Bake the Pie Crust: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roll out the pie crust and place in the pie pan. Prick the bottom and sides all over with a fork, about an inch apart. Bake until fully cooked and lightly golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside and turn oven down to 325°F.
Pie crust problems: If it starts to puff up while par baking, prick it with a fork so it deflates. If your crust cracks, make a smooth paste by mixing 1 tablespoon of flour with 1 tablespoon of water. Use your fingers to patch up and fill any cracks, then place the crust back in the oven for a minute or so to set.
Prepare the spinach: Steam the spinach until wilted, place in a colander to drain, and squeeze out all the water. Chop the spinach on a cutting board and set aside for later.
Sauté the shallots: Heat the butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the shallots until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Do not brown. Set aside to cool.
Make the filling: In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, heavy cream, nutmeg, salt and cayenne pepper.
Fill the pie: Spread the shallots over the bottom of the cooked crust, then sprinkle the shredded Gruyere over top. Scatter the spinach evenly over cheese, breaking up the clumps as best you can.
Bake the pie: Bake at 325°F degrees for 50 to 55 minutes until the custard is set and top is lightly golden. Serve hot or warm.

Make ahead: This quiche can be made up to a day ahead of time and refrigerated. To reheat: Cover the quiche with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 300°F oven for 35 to 45 minutes, or until hot in the center.

Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The cooked quiche can be frozen for up to 3 months. Remove the quiche from the freezer about 24 hours prior to eating and reheat it, covered with foil, in a 300°F oven until hot in the center.

Simple Spiced Spinach and Tofu

I recently wrote about how I had been struggling with knowing what to feed my baby, now that she is old enough to start trying food. Despite having some problems with Baby Led Weaning by Gill Rapkey and Tracey Murkett, I checked out The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook from the same authors from the library because I needed ideas. I actually really liked this book! The theory and guidelines for feeding were presented in a much better way than their other book, and the recipe section gave me a lot of ideas. One recipe I have made a couple time is “Saag Paneer or Tofu”. Saag paneer or chicken is a delicious take out option from Joe and my favorite Indian restaurant. This recipe I make with tofu. It also tastes good wrapped up along with some crumbled chickpea patties in a tortilla the next day!

Simple Spiced Spinach and Tofu
adapted from The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook
Serves 2-3

10 ounces spinach
oil or butter (unsalted) for frying
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 teaspoons garam masala
1/4 mild fresh chili pepper (such as jalapeno) deseeded and pith removed, finely chopped OR a pinch of dried chili flakes
8 ounces firm tofu, cut to bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons heavy cream
a dash of lime juice

  1. Lightly steam the spinach and blend it into a paste with a blender, food processor, or fork.
  2. Heat the oil or butter in a large frying pan. Add the cumin seeds and fry for about 2 minutes until they start to become fragrant and make a popping sound. Add the onion and fry until soft. Add the garlic, ginger, garam masala, chili, and stir. Add the spinach paste with a little water to make a runny sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat.
  3. Add tofu and cream and simmer for about 3 minutes.
  4. Add a dash of lime juice and stir.
  5. Serve warm with rice or naan.

Every Day Bulgar Salad

Several months ago I walked into the kitchen to find my husband chopping a bunch of fresh herbs and juicing a lemon into a bowl of bulgar. “I found this recipe online and I wanted to try it out,” he told me. The internet rumour was that Jennifer Aniston ate this salad every day for lunch when she was on the set for “Friends”. Now, I don’t know much about the truth of that statement (…or about Jennifer Aniston …or “Friends”) but I quickly realized that I could probably also eat this salad every day and not get tired of it. It has a perfect balance of flavors from the brightness of lemon and herbs, to the salty pistachios and feta, to the more nutty flavors of the bulgar and chickpeas. In each spoonful, there is also a mixture of textures that keeps each bite satisfying. For a while, I made this salad once a week, just so I could always have some in the house. I also took a large container of it with me to the convention so I could have something good to eat in my hotel room every day.

Every Day Bulgar Salad
Adapted from Jordana Hart on Instagram
Serves 3-4

3.5 cups cooked bulgar wheat (from 1 cup uncooked)
1 large cucumber, chopped
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped mint
1/3 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped
2 cups chickpeas (or one 15oz can, drained and rinsed)
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup good olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup crumbled feta

Combine everything together and enjoy!

WorldCon Weekend and My Hugos Reactions

Now back from my first WorldCon, my sleep (somewhat) restored, I am finally able to sit down and reflect on the weekend and the Hugo winners. I did not get to do as many things as I usually get to during a convention, because I brought my 8 month old daughter to Chicago with me. (Am I crazy? Maybe.) A fair amount of time was spent in the hotel room so she could nap, but she did get a taste of the con as well. I was excited to get to go to the Hugo Awards Ceremony. Being a part of an award that I have followed for a number of years felt special.

Saturday morning, my friends and I all wanted to get to a panel titled “Midwest Gothic.” For the first part of the panel, Baby was quietly entertained, but then found that talking about local cryptids was very exciting and decided to screech her approval loudly. So she and I went into the empty hallway and danced together, instead.

Saturday afternoon, we spent a little time walking around the vendors’ room, I bought a book of Sarah Pinsker’s short stories and some themed chocolates and trinkets and got to see a display of former Hugo award statues with a model of this year’s award, which was actually very exciting for me.

The closest I’ll ever get to a Hugo

Saturday night was the Masquerade! Cosplayers of all levels crossed the stage or performed to music, followed by a performance by Raks Geek – a nerd-themed belly dancing group. Yep, you read that right. I had a lot of fun cheering for a belly-dancing Chewbacca. My favorite cosplay of the night – Post-Apocalyptic Plague Shaman (complete with 6-foot staff of social distancing!) received an award for workmanship and more awards went to other cosplays for workmanship, performance, and best in show at each of the levels.

Snail Scott, Post-Apocalyptic Plague Shaman credit: https://chicon.org/2022/09/04/masquerade-astounding-faces-on-parade/

Sunday morning I got to meet Joe Haldeman! He signed my copies of The Fovever War and Forever Peace. Gay (his wife) told me they were having a good time at the con and that they liked meeting people. After this I wandered around the Art Show for a while, then got in line to meet Catherynne M. Valente. At first I thought that I would rather check out another panel than stand in a line for an autograph, but I felt that I really wanted the chance to tell the author how much her book meant to me. I felt a little jittery in line (possibly a result of a sugary breakfast at The Doughnut Vault) and when I reached the table where she was sitting, the words came out in a rush: “I just wanted to tell you what this book means to me: I had a daughter recently, she’s 8 months old, and over the last year I have been scared about the future, and actually depressed at times wondering what kind of world she is going to grow up into. This book is the first time I’ve felt okay about the future – that I’ve realized there can still be beauty and love and hope even in a world that is falling apart.” She told me that she wrote the book when her son was a year old and she had been feeling much the same way. I started to tear up, which surprised me, and she came around the table to give me a hug while her assistant handed me a tissue. I asked her to sign my book to my daughter instead of to me, and she very sweetly did. I also asked her about how she felt about being nominated for the Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction – she told me about finding out that she was nominated and how it was amazing just to see her name on the same page as Le Guin’s! I was extremely happy with getting to meet Valente and continue to feel inspired by her.

Sunday afternoon my friends and I went to a panel called “One Hero to Save Them All” which broke down the tendency for our beloved main characters to do everything on their own, their friends reduced to sidekicks which doesn’t reflect the importance of collective action in defeating the evil that we encounter in our everyday lives. This may even have a negative effect on how people expect they should be facing problems in real life – via disappointment for “preppers” when a stockpile of guns is no use against a virus; or via the tendency of some people to feel they “showed up” that one time to a protest and now their job is done. The panel also noted how often evil is portrayed as a single monolithic entity that is easily defeated simply by taking out the Big Bad Guy or the Deathstar but again, the evil we actually face is often more cancerous than that. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could punch global warming and defeat it once and for all?” someone joked. It was good food for thought.

Sunday evening was the big event! We went down to the ballroom for the Hugo Awards Ceremony. There are plenty of awards for best editor, best podcast, best graphic story, best dramatic presentation, etc, but I had only voted in the prose fiction categories. Some of the winners I predicted while others surprised me.

Short Story – “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker
Story I wanted to win: “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker
Story I thought would win: “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker
Thoughts on the winner: This story was just so well done, so interesting, captivating, creepy, creative, I had a hard time picturing any other story winning, even though there were some very good stories in the mix. It also won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story this year.

Novelette – “Bots of the Lost Ark” by Suzanne Palmer
Story I wanted to win: this was actually tough for me, I went back and forth so many times and I honestly don’t even remember what my final ballot looked like.
Story I thought would win: “That Story Isn’t the Story” by John Wiswell
Thoughts on the winner: I’m actually a little surprised the Bot story won; although it was fun, it was also a bit light and fluffy. That being said, it also probably had the least for other voters to find objectionable since some of the stories were a bit heavy which can sometimes be polarizing.

Novella – A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers
Book I wanted to win: The Past Is Red, by Catherynne M. Valente
Book I thought would win: A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers
Thoughts on the winner: In her acceptance speech (which was written ahead of time since she was unable to be present due to lasting fatigue while recovering from illness) Chambers acknowledged that over the last couple years we have all been seeking permission to care for ourselves, permission to relax, permission to love ourselves – and the fact that Hugo voters chose this particular book is a sign of how much we all need that. She also said, firmly, you don’t need permission!

Novel – A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine
Book I wanted to win: This was also hard for me – many of the books had things I really liked about them, but each also were balanced by flaws such that they all were more or less tied in my mind. I ended up voting for The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers, but to be honest this was more based on the fact that I loved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in the same series even more.
Book I thought would win: I did not have a good prediction for this for the same reasons as above.
Thoughts on the winner: Well, it’s a space opera. Hugo voters love a good space opera. (And, apparently, Hugo voters love lesbians. Nine of twelve nominees in the novel and novella categories featured lesbian and/or nonbinary main characters. I don’t want to speculate on why, but I’m here for it.)

Overall, this was a great experience. I’m not sure I will want to read all the nominees for an award in one year again – I felt like my reading choices were too limited by needing to get through all of the books and stories. But we will see, maybe the temptation to be a part of the Hugo Awards will sway me…

Travel Food: Easy No-Bake Oatmeal Bars

There are two ways of approaching eating at a convention: 1) enjoying food trucks parked outside the convention center, restaurants in a new city, and pizza delivered to your hotel room, or 2) packing lots of cheap and easy to eat meals. Five years ago, packing food for a convention weekend for me meant “yeah, I brought the snacks and beer!” This year, it means: “OK, breakfasts are hard boiled eggs, yogurt, fresh fruit, and oatmeal bars. Lunches are sandwiches and bulgar salad. Do you think the hotel fridge will have room for me to pack some meal-prepped dinners?” (It does not. I guess pizza to the hotel room is still on the menu!) The night before heading out for Worldcon saw me in the kitchen preparing a bunch of food. Luckily, these oatmeal bars are very easy to make, and highly customizable! I made them with almond butter, dried cranberries, and dark chocolate chunks. So far, my friends are enjoying eating them too!

Easy No-Bake Oatmeal Bars
Adapted from Cookie + Kate
Makes 16

1 ¾ cups old-fashioned oats or quick-cooking oats
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon coarse salt (or less if using fine salt)
2 cups mix-ins (nuts, seeds, chocolate, shredded coconut or dried fruit)
1 cup creamy peanut butter or almond butter
½ cup honey or maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1) Line a 9-inch square baking dish with parchment paper.
2) Place the oats in a large mixing bowl. Add the cinnamon and salt, and whisk to combine.
3) Chop your mix-ins into small pieces – about a centimeter. Then add the mix-ins to the oats.
4) In 2 cup liquid measuring cup, measure the nut butter and on top of this add ½ cup honey/maple syrup and vanilla. Whisk until well blended.
5) Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Using a big spoon, mix them together until the two are evenly combined and no dry oats remain. (I did the last bit of mixing with my hands, the same way you would for a meatloaf!)
6) Transfer the mixture to the lined baking dish. Using a spoon, or the bottom of a glass cup, or your hands again, arrange your mixture evenly then pack it down as firmly and evenly as possible.
7) Cover the dish and refrigerate for at least one hour, or preferably overnight. (The oats need time to soak up some of the moisture so they aren’t sticky.) When you’re ready to slice, lift the bars out of the baker by grabbing the parchment paper. Use a sharp knife to slice the bars into 4 even columns and 4 even rows.
8) Wrap the bars in or parchment paper (if you store them all together, they will stick to one another). Bars keep well for several days at room temperature, a couple of weeks in the fridge, or several months in a freezer-safe bag in the freezer for best flavor.

Two Books On Loving Our Relationship With Food

“I often think about where food begins and ends.” So begins Eat Up! Ruby Tandoh’s book on food, appetite, and eating what you want. There is the dirt and the grass that you walk through, barefoot, to pick blackberries. There is the whole life cycle of the cattle, the people who raise it, transport it, slaughter it, butcher it, and hand you the meat for your dinner. And – the primary focus of this book – there is the feel of a donut meeting your fingers as you pick it up, and the way the icing sticks to your hand and melts a little from your body heat and the way you anticipate your first bite. It is your experience of food. And yet, although food is both a necessity and a primal joy, many of us have a tense, stressful relationship with our food. Tandoh advocates for reconnecting with our relationship with food. She warns against so-called “clean eating” and about its history of religious tyranny and white-washed classism. This book is part essay, part memoir, part recipe collection, part screed against food fads and colonialism. The recipes include directions like “Stir immediately, keeping the garlic moving and taking in great lungfuls of that garlicky hit as it sharpens from sharp and astringent to mellow, sweet and rich. Listen as it sizzles.”

She also digs into food in movies, tv, and art – the role it plays in our connection to the characters, as a symbol, as a language all its own. Then she switches subjects suddenly to describe boiling an egg, its proteins folding to become something new for us, and the amazing versatility of the humble egg to feed us in so many ways. …She tells about the sensation of hunger, the desire we feel for food, and the time she and her partner coped with a terrible cold by eating way too much Indian food. As I was reading this book, I too caught some nasty cold and had a similar experience. I had Tandoh’s book in mind, so when my sick body told me nothing but a rich, buttery tuna melt with a side of fries would do, I listened to my body. After a day of being unable to eat, the grease of the sandwich felt nourishing in a way that few things have, and with each bite of the salty fries I began to talk and breathe somewhat normally again. (A big mug of steaming mint tea has still been necessary most mornings since, however.)

Although food is nourishing and, in some cases, nigh-medicinal, Tandoh acknowledges how eating disorders can affect people’s relationship with food and their body. She addresses the history of “clean eating,” the idea of “good” food as a path to godliness, and how “you are what you eat” can lead to horrific prejudices against people based on nothing other than their cuisine. Many of these assumptions have roots in racism, classism, ablism. The assumption that eating healthy is close to a moral imperative breaks down and becomes toxic when we recognize how that affects people who live in food deserts, or people whose finances don’t allow for the latest trends in organic produce or super foods. Even those people who do have the resources for such a diet may experience adverse health from severe fad diets, crash dieting etc. …The fact is, junk food is still fuel for the body, and that food which is necessary for survival is beautiful regardless of the wrapper it comes in. This made me think a lot of the pressure I felt to keep breastfeeding my baby after she was born, even though it was clear she was not able to do so effectively. “Breast is best,” said every baby book, but the strain put on my body was extreme, and the stress I felt and she felt about feeding time was not healthy, either. When it came down to it, *fed* is best, and so I am grateful for the formula that allowed my daughter to survive and grow when my body was not capable of supporting her, even though there are some who will think it is the equivalent of junk food.

Tandoh even praises a practice we’ve all done, but often hate ourselves for later: emotional eating. She describes the practice in terms of glory, so at odds with how we’re expected to feel about it. And yet, I found myself thinking, maybe she was right – comfort food is called that for a reason – because on a physiological level we are comforted by food. And there is no point in feeling bad about something that, in some way, ties us to every person everywhere; we’ve all done it, and so we’ve shared at least one point on that spectrum of human experience – and that’s beautiful, too. Food brings us together in other ways – around a table, or in line at a food truck… or sometimes divides us when food practices clash.

So this book is in praise of the human aspect of food and eating and encourages us to revel in that, in all its messy glory.

At the same time I was reading this, I also found myself struggling with trying to figure out how to start table food with my daughter. The first few forays into purees were exciting for her, but it quickly became clear to me that she did not like the experience of having a spoon coming at her with some variation of either orange or green mush. She wanted to experience food, but she did not want to deal with being spoon-fed. I started to worry that, like our breastfeeding experience, spoon-feeding was going to become stressful for her. Force-feeding was (of course) out of the question, but I worried that she wasn’t getting enough food. I started trying to give her more solid foods in shapes and sizes that she could handle herself, but I felt out of depth – how could I safely present healthy food to her in a way that she would eat it? So I picked up Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murken. They described a lot of the same concerns that I had, and their solution is so simple: just put a bit of whatever you are eating at every mealtime in front of baby (who is safely sitting upright and supported) and let them play with it. In time, they will come to feed themselves better than a baby who is spoon-fed.

I did have a few problems with this book, primarily that it felt like they were trying to sell me something and really, they were – they were trying to sell their idea, whole and entire without substitutions. Although the book praises letting kids eat what they want (Tandoh would approve), it takes a hard line that if you ever spoon feed your baby it is not truly Baby Led Weaning, and implies that spoon feeding will lead to poor eating habits and even eating disorders as your child grows older. Such dire warnings and encouragement of a strict adherence to a specific system sends alarm bells off in my head. I am reminded of a woman I know who follows the Baby-Led Weaning practice, looking down at a container of pre-packed baby food with an expression of disgust, as though it would poison her kids if she let them get too close.

Certainly, eating a nutritious, balanced diet is good thing, but sometimes convenience is a good thing, too. There are moms who don’t have the time or resources to prepare meals with fresh produce nightly; there are parents who are so busy that relying on pre-packed food means they actually get to spend time with their kid… instead of ignoring them for the endless tasks of housekeeping and cooking in addition to the 2 jobs they are working just to buy that baby food. Sometimes that baby food is the only assurance a parent has that their kid will be fed appropriately as they are growing. As Tandoh might argue, the conflation of “good” food with being a good parent or a good person is not only false, but also damaging. I likely will start doing a lot more meal-sharing of whole foods with my daughter, but I know I have the ability to do this because I am fortunate enough to be able to work part time and still be able to have bills paid, lights shining, and food on the table.

Overall, I really enjoyed Eat Up! and I would rate Baby Led Weaning as middling – although it’s not the concept that I disagree with, so much as the presentation. Both books made me eager to get in the kitchen and do more cooking – and to eat the food I make! I’m also ready to dig into some more nonfiction books coming up.

Ready for World Con: Hugo Nominated Novels

Here it is, after going through the short stories, novelettes, and novellas, the moment you’ve been waiting for: the novels. Full length and bursting with the prestige and excitement! When I was growing up, the word “novel” had a sort of mystique to it. I read lots of books, but I thought of a “novel” was something impressive, like The Scarlet Letter or Crime and Punishment (or maybe one of the other “_ and _” books like Pride and Prejudice.) They carry more prestige; you are a more “real” writer if you have a novel under your belt than if you only write short stories. (If you write both, surely the novel is more of an accomplishment than those piddling short stories…) Nothing has reinforced the opinion that all of what I just said is bunk like reading over a dozen novels so far this year. There is so much art and craft that goes into writing, and it is now my opinion that short fiction takes a much more honed set of skills to be truly great than a novel does. I was blown away by some of the novellas and short stories, but many of the novels that I read were solidly middling. Perhaps its because there is more room for bloat, that taking too long to explain a point may be seen as a perk rather than a bug, (especially with the trend in SFF to treat doorstoppers like masterpiece icons.) I am so glad I got to read all of these, and yet… after several month of nothing but SFF I am about to embark on a long binge of non-fiction.

Here are my quick thoughts on the novels that were nominated for this year’s Hugo Award:

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine – sequel to A Memory Called Empire. Mahit is recruited to talk with aliens.
I wanted to like this a lot, but just couldn’t get into it. The book deals with poetry a lot, but I never felt like writing displayed anything but the most mechanical prose. The characters have passionate loyalties and love affairs, but I never felt any emotion relating to them. The cultures Martin describes are full of subtlety and complexity, and yet the story, characters, and writing all seem to lack the depth that is hinted at. Overall, a bit of a letdown from the first book which deserved a better follow up.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers – five aliens are trapped in an interstellar rest stop and have to learn to work together.
I read the first book in the Wayfarers series to prepare for this one. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet wasn’t necessary to understand this book, but I’m so glad I did because I loved it! In fact, I loved it so much, I want to save every other book Chambers has written to slowly dole out like chocolates that I am savoring. At first I thought this book felt a little too feel-good and not very interesting, but by the end I had been moved to tears at least 3 times. How does Chambers do it? Reading her books makes me want to really do some good self-care and appreciate everyone around me more deeply.

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki – A trans girl learns to play the violin from a master who has already sold 6 young violinists to Hell. Meanwhile, the matriarch of an alien family who runs a donut shop is falling in love with the violin master.
Beautifully written, made me want to listen to violin music and eat a ton of Asian food. But I felt like most of the characters were a little… lacking something. Like donuts from a replicator instead of a frier. And so many big themes and subplots started and then just felt incomplete… perhaps a bit like a half-eaten Alaska donut?

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark – Fatma has to find a charlatan pretending to be the great Al-Jahiz in order to stop the destruction of the world.
There is so much going on in this Steampunk/Arabian Nights/Detective/Alt History/Sapphic story.
There was a lot I liked about this – the characters were fun and interesting, the setting was GREAT – so brilliant and exciting to explore and it felt so real. The themes were integrated pretty well by the characters’ backgrounds and personalities. However the writing occasionally did not click for me – it felt a little too tell-y or exposition-y at times, and I felt the pacing was a little off at the end. I don’t anticipate this will stick with me a long time, but I did end up eagerly reading all the other stories published so far in the Dean Djinn universe, and will read more as Clark publishes them. This book won the Nebula for best novel this year.

Project Hail Mary by Andy WeirA schoolteacher is sent on a mission to find out how to stop the sun from going out.
A lot of fun. Rocky is hands-down the best part of the book. Can easily be summed up by the same line that sums up The Martian: “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.” I think people who like “competence porn” will like this. Most of the characters feel very cartoonish and interactions seem clunky and awkward – so I suppose it’s a good thing Grace is alone in space for most of it. The ending felt predetermined – not necessarily a bad thing. Weir may have some weaknesses as a writer, but he knows his strengths and sticks to them.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan – A gender bent/alt-history/fantasy retelling of the Hongwu Emperor’s rise to power during the fall of the Mongol Empire and the beginning of the Ming Dynasty.
I actually was a little hesitant to read this, perhaps because I didn’t like The Poppy War as much as I hoped and this seemed like it was going to be very similar. In some ways it is – a historical retelling with fantasy elements, a main character who does terrible things in their reach for power, an Asian setting, female main character who abolishes her relationship with her own sex in order to move up in the world… But She Who Became the Sun does all of it so much better. The writing is better, the characters and their relationships are better, the story is better, and the magic is more magical. I feel like this book was just as determined to live and to be great as Zhu herself was. I will likely read the sequel when it comes out.

Cook It In Cast Iron: Chicken Pot Pie

I recently started using my library much more frequently than I have in many years. The first time I decided to request a book from the library I had a flood of memories of how exciting it was to wait for a book. (A new book is coming for me! Will it arrive today? I am so eager to pick it up!) Stopping into the library regularly also reminded me how fun it is to browse and pick up random books to check out. Maybe I’ll like it, maybe I won’t. No pressure, I can always return it. One book I picked up recently was Cook It In Cast Iron, from Cooks Country. The first recipe I made from it was this chicken pot pie. Last winter I repeatedly tried to make a chicken pot pie recipe that I liked; while pot pie always is good comfort food, none of them really hit the spot until this one. This recipe is destined to become my new go-to.

Chicken Pot Pie (adapted from Cook It In Cast Iron by The Editors at America’s Test Kitchen)
serves 4-6

1 recipe single crust pie dough (below)
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 carrots, peeled and sliced ¼ inch thick
2 celery ribs, cut into ¼ inch pieces
1 onion, chopped fine
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or ¼ teaspoon dried
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed*
½ cup frozen peas
¼ cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (or 1 T dried)
1 tablespoon dry sherry or white wine

  1. Prepare the dough: Roll dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper into an 11 inch circle. Remove top parchment sheet. Fold in outer 1/2 inch of dough and, using your fingers, crimp the edge of the dough to make a fluted rim. Using a paring knife, cut a few vents in the top of the dough. Transfer dough, still on parchment, to a baking sheet and refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
  2. Parbake the crust: Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400°F. Then brush dough with egg wash and bake until golden brown, 10-12 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through baking. Transfer the crust (still on sheet) to a wire rack to cool.
  3. Start the sauce: Heat cast iron skillet in the warm oven for 3-4 minutes, then set on the stove over medium heat. Melt butter in skillet. Add carrots, celery, onion, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook until vegetables are soft and slightly browned, 5-7 minutes. Stir in thyme and cook about 30 seconds. Then stir in flour and cook for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in broth, scraping up any browned bits and smoothing out any lumps. Bring to a simmer.
  4. Cook the chicken: Pound the thicker ends of the chicken breasts as needed to ensure the entire breast is of even thickness (this is important to make sure the chicken cooks evenly.) Nestle the chicken into the skillet, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook, flipping the chicken halfway through, until the meat reaches 160°F and the sauce has thickened, about 10-15 minutes. *I think you could also use left over roast chicken or rotisserie chicken and skip this step to go right to the next one.
  5. Finish the filling: Transfer chicken to a carving board, let it cool slightly, then shred into bite-size pieces using 2 forks. Stir shredded chicken, peas, cream, parsley, and sherry into the skillet. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Bake the pie: Place parbaked pie crust on top of filling, transfer skillet to oven, and bake until crust is deep golden brown and filling is bubbling, about 10 minutes (I needed more time – closer to 20!). Let pot pie cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Simplified Dough Recipe: (adapted from addapinch.com)
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup vegetable shortening
¼ cup butter
4-5 tablespoons ice water

  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour and the salt. Cut in the shortening and butter with a pastry cutter or 2 forks until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  2. Gradually add enough ice water to the mixture while mixing with a wooden spoon until dough is formed.
  3. Roll out the pie dough as in step 1 of pie instructions.

The Year of the Short Novel: Hugo Nominated Novellas

I am dubbing 2022 the year of the short novel. Earlier this year, utterly sleep deprived with a newborn, I knew I did not have the attention span for a full-length novel and asked a friend for recommendations for shorter works. I had given her This Is How You Lose the Time War for Christmas, and she had given me The Empress of Salt and Fortune. She further recommended Convenience Store Woman and Roadside Picnic, which I read in addition to Masquerade in Lodi and The Word for World is Forest. And then there were all the Hugo nominees!

I very much looked forward to reading all six, but when looking at the list, I saw one thing that gave me pause – every single novella nominated this year was published by Tordotcom! Tor is well-known science fiction publisher, and they have a great website that makes it easy to promote works that are coming out, but I certainly found myself wondering if Hugo voters had a Tor bias and it made me curious about branching out to read some novellas put out by different publishers. The Nebulas this year similarly saw a large Tordotcom presence among the novellas, although two were from Neon Hemlock, and one was published in Uncanny Magazine.

Here are my quick thoughts on the novellas that were nominated for this year’s Hugo Award:

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire – A young intersex girl finds her way into a world of centaurs and unicorns. This is a standalone book in the Wayward Children series.
Seanan McGuire’s name seems to pop up on my radar often. The first book in the Wayward Children series, Every Heart a Doorway, won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, which usually is an automatic recommendation for me. I read both of these books, but found that I was utterly disappointed. EHaD was a little bit of a letdown – I felt the writing was flashy but empty, the premise frustrating and overdone, the characters just okay, and the plot pointless. AtGGF has all of the same flaws as the first book, but worse. None of the themes are fleshed out, none of them seem to belong, every aspect of the book just felt “tacked on” so to speak. I had no idea how this ended up among the nominees until I realized that McGuire has a dedicated fanbase who will nominate anything she writes. This realization had the unfortunate side effect of retroactively making me like the short story “Tangles” less.

Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky – A scientist tries to navigate among a “primitive” group of people on the planet he is studying… A princess has to find a way to save her people from a demon.
Adrian Tchaikovsky is another author I have been looking forward to checking out, and I’m so glad this nomination was the prompt I needed to get started! I usually don’t like the premise of “sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” but in this case it worked very well! The story alternates effectively between perspectives and it is easy to see both the scientist’s and the princess’s point of view. I found this to be satisfying on both an intellectual and an emotional level.

Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard – A princess is torn between her love for the magnetic foreign princess trying to take over her country, and her own freedom.
I don’t know what to say about this one except I thought it was poorly written. Character actions and motivations jumped all over the place, and I found myself skimming it just to get through.

The Past Is Red by Catherynne M. Valente – Tetley lives on a floating garbage patch in the middle of the ocean, she is hated by everyone for sabotaging and attempt to find dry land, but she still manages to find a friend.
I need to start my review of this by talking about how scared I am of the future. Sometimes, I look at the world and I see heatwaves and droughts and blackouts causing massive death and famine, I see waste poisoning our air and water and causing disease, I see healthcare failing and governments sliding further into… you know, you know. For several years, I have wondered what kind of suffering I will see as I get older. Now, I wonder what might be in store for my daughter. It’s not an idle worry, and it actually makes me depressed at times.
The world in The Past Is Red is a mess. It is awful and disgusting. And Tetley loves it. People are terrible to her, but Tetley sees good in the sort of things that no one has ever called beautiful. The Past Is Red is not a hopeful book, and yet it gave me hope because it reminded me that humanity has been through some awful times, and we still find a way to keep loving and dreaming. And that is beautiful. For all these reasons and more, The Past Is Red is my absolute favorite of the novellas this year.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers – A monk is dissatisfied with their life, so decides to travel and meets a robot who wants to learn about life.
This review also needs to start with a little personal aside: June was terrible for me. There was health stuff, family stuff, and political stuff going on; our house was broken into and robbed; it was just one thing after another. I thought it couldn’t get worse and then it did.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built is dedicated “For anybody who could use a break.” I needed a break badly and this book came at just the right time. It’s beautiful, it’s calming, it’s optimistic but not saccharine. This book was balm for my bitter soul. I may buy a copy for everyone I know.

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow – A girl with a terminal disease falls into a world where sleeping beauty is just about to prick her finger and decides to save a life even as she is dying.
This is better portal fantasy than Wayward Children. It’s not bad, but was not nearly as impactful as the last two novellas. Also, I have an aversion to modern pop-culture references, and this book did not shy away from them.

Meal Prep: Easy Chicken Teriyaki

I don’t remember what prompted me to want to start meal prepping for Joe’s work week – something about the knowledge that he was eating out at restaurants nearly every day (the money! the calories!)… or maybe it’s the fact that he packs my work lunch each night (all finger food I can eat in my car, since I drive around all day for work)… or maybe jealousy that he sits in a office downtown (in my head, very glamorous) and I sit in my dirty car… regardless, last winter I found this recipe for chicken teriyaki which he has repeatedly asked for since that time. This is simple and good to eat and is going to become part of our regular rotation.

Sheet Pan Chicken Teriyaki (adapted from Tasty)
Serves 4

½ cup low sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons water
½ tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 tablespoons honey
3 skinless chicken breasts
½ bell pepper, sliced
1 cup broccoli floret
1 cup baby carrot
1 cup green beans, trimmed
salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups cooked brown rice, for serving
sesame seed, for garnish
green onion, for garnish

  1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
  2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the soy sauce, water, garlic, cornstarch, and honey. Allow the sauce to begin bubbling, then stir until sauce thickens. Remove from the heat.
  3. Spoon a little of the teriyaki sauce onto the center of a large parchment-lined baking sheet. Lay the chicken on top of the sauce. Arrange the bell pepper, broccoli, green beans, and carrots around the chicken.
  4. Season the vegetables and chicken with salt and pepper. Coat everything well with teriyaki sauce, reserving a little for later.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and juices run clear. (White meat chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165ºF!)
  6. Remove the pan from oven and let cool. Slice the chicken into strips.
  7. Distribute the chicken and vegetables evenly between 4 resealable containers filled with brown rice.
  8. Drizzle the remaining sauce over chicken and garnish with sesame seeds and green onion.
  9. Refrigerate up to 4 days.