Food: Jazzing up my soup

Last Saturday I went to a mushroom festival in Pennsylvania. It was fantastic! Full of delicious treats and inexpensive and unusual varieties of mushrooms. I brought three pounds of ‘shrooms home and turned 1 lb into bisque, as well as 2 lb into Duxelles*.

When you’re one person having one bowl of soup for dinner, mushroom bisque lasts all week. I don’t know about you, but I need to jazz it up here and there so it doesn’t taste the same every night.

1. I had a bottle of marinated goat cheese balls that I got from a farmer’s market. It added more olive oil than I might have liked, but the sharpness of the goat cheese is divine!

2. If you have Duxelles* on hand, thaw one and use it to garnish your bowl of soup. Just mound it right in the middle. It’ll add some butter, but also a nice garnish of cooked-down mushrooms, which adds texture.

3. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil on your soup, especially if you have some that’s infused with herbs, spice, or garlic.

4. Drizzle a little bit of vinegar on your soup.

5. Chop some roasted peppers and mound into the middle. Other vegetables might work as well, such as marinated artichoke hearts.

6. Chop and cook down bacon; drain on towels and sprinkle that bacon on top of your soup! Pancetta is another option, or sausage.

7. Shred or crumble a good cheese on top. Something sharp or smoky would probably go very well with a mushroom bisque.

Obviously, most of these suggestions will work well for other soups as well.

*Duxelles are what you get when you cook down chopped mushrooms with butter and garlic (I know it’s supposed to be shallots, but I prefer garlic) until dry, then freeze in ice cube trays and empty the frozen cubes into freezer bags. They’re supposed to last for up to three months that way and can be used for all sorts of things.

P.S.: If you want to try that wonderful mushroom bisque, it’s from “Thanksgiving Table” (Review)

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Review: “Mad City,” Michael Arntfield

Pros: Fascinating and detailed
Cons: Rambling in places
Rating: 4 out of 5

Michael Arntfield’s Mad City: The True Story of the Campus Murders That America Forgot is the story of Linda, who spent most of her life trying to get justice for her murdered college friend. It’s also the story of the evolution of police procedures and understanding of serial killers, and an indictment of many of the actions taken (and not taken) by police past and present.

The beginning in particular rambles round and round quite a lot, and could have used a lot of trimming. Sections rocket back and forth in time and in focus. In general the book is wordy and tends to obscure its points rather than enlighten them. However, it is fascinating to read Arntfield’s take on things like victim-blaming, and how police tend to stick blame onto any convenient caught serial killer so that they can close cases. He does, however, do a good job of pointing out time periods when police really didn’t have the scientific understanding or resources to do what they can today.

It’s depressing that Linda almost certainly knew who killed her friend, and kept the police informed of each bit of progress she made, yet the man died of old age without ever having been looked at seriously by police.

[I]f the general public knew just how many murders are solved due to luck or silly mistakes and oversights made by offenders with respect to leaving physical evidence or not keeping their mouths shut–versus cracker jack sleuthing the way it’s done on TV–people generally would be horrified and never leave their homes.”

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Review: “Nine Goblins,” T. Kingfisher

Pros: An all-around wonderful story
Rating: 5 out of 5

T. Kingfisher’s Nine Goblins gives us a world in which goblins–who aren’t so bad, really–are at war with humans and elves. It’s what happens when you keep getting pushed out of your habitats until there’s nothing left to do but turn and take a stand. We find ourselves traveling along with the Whinin’ Niners, a particularly motley crew. They’re just trying to survive the war, but things take a turn for the magical when they charge a human wizard and he opens an escape hatch in the air–one they find themselves falling through as well. They’re left stranded 40 miles behind enemy lines with an unconscious and probably psychotic human mage (after all, everyone knows that mages are psychotic, suffering from Arcane Manifestation Disorder). Not wanting to be responsible for murder, they get a little water into him, put a blanket over him, and take off toward home. Along the way they meet Sings-to-Trees, a most unusual elf. Instead of being ultra-fashionable and unwilling to get his fingers dirty, he’s a veterinarian. In fact, we first see him up to the shoulder in an ungrateful unicorn, trying to help birth her breech baby. He’s used to all manner of foul and disgusting things–like goblins. He even knows some of their language. He teams up with the goblins to find out why the nearby human village seems to be mysteriously empty of people and animals alike, only to end up in an awful lot of danger.

The characters are fantastic. From the goblin who only speaks for his teddy-bear to the elf who can’t help stopping to treat a big blubbery baby of a troll, from the goblin who makes machines that don’t blow up to the person responsible for much of the bad stuff going on, they each shine in their own way. They have unique and fantastic personalities that make them riveting to follow. Character interactions between the goblins made me laugh out loud, and the weird collection of characters truly brought the tale alive. I mean, did we need an elven veterinarian in here? Of course not, but he’s such an exceptional character that he slipped seamlessly into the tale and brought it to life. Kingfisher has a knack for going beyond what’s needed into what’s magical.

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Review: “Summer in Orcus,” T. Kingfisher

Pros: Beautiful, heartfelt alternate-world tale
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summer in Orcus, by T. Kingfisher, is about 11-year-old Summer, whose mother is overprotective and needy. One day Baba Yaga’s house struts into town and plops down near Summer’s house. Baba Yaga offers to give Summer her heart’s desire–but Summer has no idea what that is. It’s only once Baba Yaga has thrust Summer into another world with only a talking weasel for company that Summer realizes that any story featuring Baba Yaga is unlikely to end well. It doesn’t take her long to discover that there’s a cancer eating away at the heart of the world, and to realize that she’s no hero to go around saving entire worlds. How can she help on a scale that’s doable; how can she find her way back home; how can she escape the bad guys who immediately realize that something’s changed and there’s someone to be caught?

I absolutely love Summer in Orcus. It has a taste of Narnia, but it’s on a smaller scale. Summer isn’t a queen; she isn’t meant to save entire worlds. She’s lost and tired and scared. Her friends include a wolf (who turns into a house when night falls–he’s a were-house), a dandy of a hoopoe bird who owes people money, and a weasel who’s just as scared as she is. Early on she stumbles into a dying dryad and finds she feels a sense of need to help that dryad, but she has no idea how. The only hint she has as to her path is from a cheese-selling man who cuts a slice of a cheese that predicts the future, and this one says that her path will be marked with turquoise. A turquoise dragonfly, vivid blue eyes of a forester…the color isn’t always there to lead her, but it comes up often enough that she thinks she’s still on the right path.

She still has to avoid the bad guys, however, and the bad guys have no qualms about killing and burning to get what they want. Summer’s very presence puts some of her new friends and their allies in danger, and she has to realize that this doesn’t make it her fault.

Summer in Orcus is a smaller, folktale-sized version of something like Narnia, where young people have to go to another world and put it to rights. This one is cozier and very imaginative, and as an adult I love it.

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Review: “Jackalope Wives and Other Stories”, T. Kingfisher

Pros: Magical
Rating: 5 out of 5

T. Kingfisher’s Jackalope Wives And Other Stories is an absolutely magical collection of stories and poetry. I remember reading one of the stories online some time ago, and I loved it enough I read it twice… then read it all the way through again when I picked up this book. In this case there’s also a little bit of extra context to the story due to a preceding story in the book that’s connected. (Both involve the Jackalope wives of the title.)

There are a couple of poems in here, particularly regarding gardening, and they’re lovely. My favorite, though, is called “This Vote Is Legally Binding” on the topic of men who seem to think that women’s wearing headphones in public is somehow a plot to keep them from talking to women.

There’s also a story involving a man named Bob who decides to summon himself a unicorn, having “re-virginized” himself. The main character tries to explain that virginity is a cultural concept, but he just doesn’t get it. This is one of the best examples I’ve seen of how to introduce a ‘cool concept’ to an audience while making it also a really great story rather than an infodump. I wish I could force writing teachers to use this story to teach that concept to their students.

This collection definitely feels like folklore, and I love that magical touch that so few writers seem to have. There’s even a Cinderella variation that has the feel of folklore rather than a typical fairy tale and involves a wonderfully none-too-cooperative Cinderella.

After I finished reading this book I went through on my Kindle and bought every other T. Kingfisher book it offered to sell me.

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Review: “All the Little Children,” Jo Furniss

Pros: Fantastic tale of hardship, loss, and survival
Rating: 5 out of 5

All the Little Children, by Jo Furniss, follows Marlene and her children, as well as a few relatives and friends, on a camping trip. As it happens, while they’re camping in the woods of England, the apocalypse more or less comes and they’re left adrift. Everything is called into question–the status of relatives and friends, how they’ll keep themselves fed, and what they’ll do when other sorts of tragedy strike. Even Marlene’s parenting is called into question, especially when a boy dies. Eventually the group ends up gaining additional children, and Marlene finds herself unable to rely upon the other parent present.

Marlene isn’t a perfect parent, and neither is her sister-in-law (the other parent present). I appreciated that. It makes this a story more about people than a plague. There are plenty of hardships for the group to endure, from life-threatening injuries to a kid who feeds all their food to the dog, and what makes this different from other post-apocalyptic books is the focus on adult/child relationships. It’s also a nice change of pace for those who primarily read American post-apocalyptic fiction; the setting does introduce some differences. Politics have a role to play as well, which additionally keeps things interesting.

Even the small children have personality and their own unique ways of helping and hurting the situation. And with all the children involved, it’s easy for Furniss to tug on our heart-strings when things go badly. She isn’t afraid to invoke tragedy, paranoia, and imminent danger to keep the reader on her toes.

Between the great characters, the threats to life and limb, the interesting setting, and the hard knocks, this is a fascinating book to read. I was glued to the pages, wanting to know what happened at every turn.

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Short Take: “No Easy Hope,” James N. Cook

Pros: Interesting characters
Cons: Somewhat slow
Rating: 3 out of 5

Unlike many recent zombie apocalypse novels, James N. Cook’s No Easy Hope (Surviving the Dead Volume 1) takes the time to give the characters some depth and originality. I wouldn’t say they sparkle, but at least they come alive. It’s interesting to be following a lead who was a financial analyst as opposed to a hunter/survivalist/etc. In this case he had a friend who taught him what he’d need to survive when the time came, and then he passed that on to others. I love that they basically have a survivor’s manual printed out from the information collected by someone who saw the whole thing coming.

Things are a little slow, but not too much. It’s about what you’d expect from a zombie tale that’s trying to give you a taste of the usual parts: survivalists, fighting the zombies, and fighting off some bad guys. It’s a decent balance.

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Writing Routines

I found a great article on various authors’ writing habits. Whether you’re talking music, silence, time of day, coffee, reading, ritual, or warming up, there’s something there for everyone. Take a look and see if you can find something that will help you dive into your work every morning.

Posted in Writing

Short Take: “Trudge,” Shawn Chesser

Pros: Some decent material
Cons: Bland, familiar ground; appropriate title
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Shawn Chesser’s Trudge: Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse (Volume 1) is an aptly-named book. It felt like trudging through the fairly standard zombie tale. The characters didn’t appeal to me. The action scenes were better than other parts, but otherwise felt standard at best. There was the introduction of IEDs to the mix, which was interesting. But nothing else set it apart from other books of its kind. It felt familiar and bland.

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Review: “Breakthrough the Block,” Allen C. Paul

Pros: Decent ideas
Cons: More like a blog post than a book
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Breakthrough the Block!: 5 Steps to Renewing your Inspiration, by Allen C. Paul, is more like a long blog post than a book. However, it does have some decent suggestions in it.

I have to admit, the idea of changing the thought of “what if?” to “so what if?” is a helpful one. We don’t always have to fear the things that might go wrong or the difficulties that we’re having.

Reconnecting with your feelings certainly can’t hurt. Emotion is at the heart of inspiration, after all.

Reactivating your appreciation for others: “a grateful artist is an inspired artist.” I do think that reading/listening to/etc. other wonderful artists is a great way to feel creative again.

Recommit to your daily creative time. Mr. Paul is certainly not the first person to say that one of the best ways to stay active in your art form is simply to do it every day, even when you don’t feel creative.

Reward yourself for each step forward. Hey, I’m all for rewards.


I think this book is simple and doesn’t present anything terribly new (except maybe for the appreciation tip–I’m not sure I’ve heard that one before). However, it’s also brief and, at the time I’m looking at it, quite cheap, so maybe it’s worth a read. It certainly can’t hurt, and when you’re feeling blocked you just never know what will get things moving again!

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Stuff for Gamers

Take a look at the shirts-n-things in our stuff for gamers store.