CCCB: The Fall of Hyperion

I’ve done too many almond-based goods, so I thought I’d try my hand on some profiteroles with this recipe. Approx. Because I didn’t really want the chocolate part.

Most of the recipes stress how “simple” this recipe is… but it has the normal number of ingredients.

What’s simple, perhaps, is that it uses something as er usual as water as the ingredient that’s supposed to make the dough grow all fluffy in the oven. I mean, most things use either yeast, baking powder/soda or whipped egg whites, but the idea here is that it’s a quite wet dough, so the steam will make the dough puff up. We’ll see!

So you bring the water/butter mixture to a boil…

… and then dump the flour/salt/sugar mixture into it…

And then beat it around until it forms a dough. Then let it cool.

And then add the eggs, a bit at a time, until it reaches a properly semi-runny consistence.

The recipe said to pipe the dough unto a baking sheet, so I did that, but if I ever make this again, I’m not doing that. Because the dough is just so sticky! It pipes well, but I got dough everywhere when trying to get the tip out of the piping bag. Other recipes said to use a couple of spoons instead, and while that doesn’t give as regular-shaped puffs, I think that’s to be preferred.

Not that these are very regular, either.

And up they pop! It works!


Perhaps I over-baked them a bit.

But what do they look like on the inside?

Huh! That’s kinda weird. I didn’t think they were going to be that devoid of interiority (that’s a word).

Well, while they cool down I can pick out a book to read…

As usual, I’m choosing from among the oldest unread books I have. Eenie meenie oh who am I kidding.

I’m postponing that Ulysses as long as I can.

So this week it’s The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons, and I know exactly why I’ve avoided reading this book for more than two decades: I loathed Hyperion.

Why did I buy this one? Because I’m stupid.

I remember whinging and moaning about Hyperion on the interwebs somewhere… was is rec.arts.sf.books? Or somewhere? At the time Simmons was considered a pretty hot ticket, and I just couldn’t understand why everybody else didn’t realise that Hyperion was trash: It’s the Decameron written by a moron as a fixer-upper “novel” of dreary short stories.

I felt that Simmons tried to be Gene Wolfe, but without any of his intelligence or talent.

But I got into an argument with a person that didn’t seem like a moron, and somehow they talked me into buying the followup, because that’s an even better book, according to them.

And, moron that I am, I did. I mean, there’s a gazillion books by authors that I already love that I don’t have time to read, so that’s a very stupid thing to do.

And then I didn’t read it, of course, because .

But now I have to. Perhaps it’s an awesome book!!!!1! I now wipe my mind of all prejudices. This may well be a brilliant book. Perhaps I was mistaken back then or read the book with the wrong attitude.

Deep breath… no prejudices…


But let’s read the first two pages together.

Well, the first thing we notice is that it’s set using a font size that’s way too teensy for me, so I can barely read it.

The other is… that… it’s not horrible?

OK, I’ll try out my new Kobo e-Ink reader, and here’s a mini review: e-Ink is as horrifying as ever: The resolution isn’t high enough, so the typography is all janky, with stems disappearing and there’s an uneven greyness to the text. But I knew that e-Ink was horrible… but what about the Kobo? Well, it’s not very inspiring, either. As you can see, the side lighting is very, very uneven, with the left margin there being 2x lighter than the middle. And the page-turning buttons require way too much force: I’ve now got a permanent ridge on my right thumb from hitting it. And the battery life is pretty bad: I can’t read the entire book without recharging a couple of times.

Other than that, it’s got some nice features. Nice feature 1: I don’t have to shop from Amazon. 2: I can alter what buttons go next/prev and where to tap on the screen to proceed. If I had my druthers, I’d want to be able to tap anywhere to go forward, but it doesn’t allow that. (And then just use a physical button to go back, which I never do anyway.) 3: Err… I think that’s it…

Oh, yeah, Simmons. I find that I’m more forgiving now than I was twenty years ago. Or perhaps this isn’t as horrible a book as the first one.

Simmons’ writing style is a bit on the florid side, but it’s not upchuck inducing. It flows quite well, even if he has a tendency to repeat himself redundantly with repetitions that are repetitive and redundant. The structure of the book is straight-forward, and while I had forgotten the plot of the first book completely, Simmons filled me in gamely, and without resorting to too many As-You-Know-Bob scenes.

No, what’s annoying me this time around about Simmons is that all his characters are straight out of the time the book was written. Or perhaps a decade before. This is a society set, er, I guess a thousand years into the future or something, and it has fabulous technology like teleportation which allows humanity to spread throughout the galaxy, and fabulous AI, and fabulous everything… and all the characters behave, 100%, as they would in the 80s: From micro bits like the above, to all their conversations and concerns.

So we get characters making casual references to, say Lincoln, and nobody says “eh?” It’s like somebody today dropping Baldwin of Boulogne into conversation and people nodding sagely.

Also note: The cruelty in her eyes has now spread to her lips.


And he has a 35mm camera. Because of course he does.

This insistence that all these technologies don’t change society goes from annoying to eye-roll inducing: Here’s the backstory on one of the protagonists: He’s from a well-to-do family… but he was sent into service to pay off the family’s debts (!)… as a bonded manual labourer!

There are so many levels of not-making-even-slightly sense here that you have to wonder whether Simmons does shit like this just to piss even people with two functioning brain cells off, so that only complete morons will finish his books? I mean, this is a society with magnificent AIs and robots, but… to pay off debts? This guy’s sold off as a manual labourer slave?

If it’s a huge amount of money, how can you make that much money as a manual labourer? I mean, how can somebody else make that much money off of you being a manual labourer? If it’s a small amount, why not just become a waiter instead for a few years?


When the book’s not pulling moronic crap like this on the reader, it’s stopping us in our tracks waving THERE”S FORESHADOWING HERE!!! HERE!!!! LOOK!!! Like in the conversation where the general poo-poos the idea that they don’t know where the Evil Attackers are, and I assume all readers went “oh, OK, they’ve already invaded the entire galaxy and are just lying in wait, sub-light-speed, even if that means they’ve been planning this for a few hundred years”.

And guess what happens a few chapters later.


Simmons is just so bad at world building and plotting. Basically everybody else who writes galaxy-spanning space opera has a better grip on the mechanics.

Simmons stresses how obscure christianity are in the days of the book, but it seems like half the characters are either christian or are deeply intimate with the entire mythos. And, as I suspected when I started this book, the plot slowly reveals itself to be all about religion, which, of course, I find to be a snoozefest.

Oh, well, back to finish the cream puffs…

I’m filling the puffs with whipped cream, but I’ve got various things to add different flavours to the cream. I’ve got cloudberry syrup, liquorice powder ans ammonium salts.

I got this piping tip today: It’s really meant for piping jam into Berliners, and I’m not sure it’s going to be a good idea to use that long spout for cream… takes a lot of pressure…

Whip it.

Well… that seems to work: The cream makes it through the spout.

It does work! Creamy!

But that long spout thing just took too much effort. I switched to using a regular tip, but used the long spout to tap the holes into the puffs.

I did one quarter with plain cream, and then one quarter with this cloudberry syrup I’ve never seen before. I love cloudberries, but using them in many ingredients is a pain: They’re 80% pits, and while those pits are crunchy and edible, that crunch is not something you want when you don’t want it. Which is almost always.

But this syrup had a full, sweet, intense cloudberry flavour, and went perfectly with the cream.

For the last two quarters, I did liquorice extract: One with salmiak and one without. I may have dumped slightly more of this stuff than is healthy, but it’s very yum.

There! All filled up! Piping them was a pain at first, because I didn’t know when they were full, so I burst a couple. But then after a while I got the hang of feeling when it felt full by how it expands slightly, and then it was OK.

So how do they go with the book?

Mmm… that’s a lot of liquorice. The shell is crispy and pretty tasty, but it’s definitely a bit on the overdone side. I should have baked them perhaps five minutes less, I think.

Oh, wow. The cloudberry cream is divoon. Incredibly tasty, especially in these puffs.

Back to the book: The christian sub-text to the book is pretty evident throughout, but when he goes into over exegesis mode you can but sigh.


I don’t really hate this book, I find. Sure, it’s painfully humourless, and sure, all the characters sound and act exactly the same (even if they’re described as being oh so different), and sure, the christian stuff is really grating.

But it also has some pretty good plot twists that I didn’t see coming, and I found myself eagerly wanting to know what’s going to happen next, even if I was pretty sure that whatever’s going to happen would be pretty stupid. If you just switch your brain off and let go of any expectations that this is going to be, like, smart, it’s a pretty entertaining read.

CCCB: Marya: A Life

Last week I did croissants to indifferent results, so why not try something that has almost as bad reputation for being tricky: Macarons.

And then I found this recipe for liquorice macarons. Yes! But then I started to study it, and it seems kinda odd. I mean 2 cups of chocolate chips for the filling? That’s (according to Google) 350g? That’s… a lot of filling for 20 little crackers.

So I googled on and found this one, which has 120g chocolate for 16 macarons.


I mostly went with the latter recipe, but I left out the cocoa and added liquorice powder.

The usual collection of ingredients…

I used 200g of white chocolate. The first recipe said to melt the chocolate in the micro and then stir into the hot cream/liquorice, which sounds reasonable to me, but the other said to just head the cream and then add the chocolate directly. Less work! So let’s go with that.

Cream and liquorice. Yum yum.

Add chocolate. And it melted straight away. Strangely enough, the mixture got a very heavy caramel flavour… was it too hot? Did the chocolate sugars caramelise? I mean, it’s not a bad flavour, but it’s unexpected. You can hardly taste the liquorice…

Anyway, into the fridge harden up for an hour or so.

For the macaron shells, I’m grinding up some almonds. I googled a lot to find out whether using unblanched almonds was acceptable for macarons, and google said… no! yes! no! yes!

So I gave it a go.

And sifted the almond flour to get rid of bigger chunks. I think about three quarter of the almonds made it through.

And then mix up the dry stuff…

Whip up egg whites and sugar…

Mix mix mix.

Pipe pipe pipe…

Pipe pipe… Oh, they float out a bit more than I thought. Those are perhaps on the big side.

And that’s the only silicone mat I have, so let’s go with baking paper for the second sheet. And these are somewhat smaller.

Let’s hope they don’t stick too much… or swell up so much that they join up…

Then they’re supposed to be out in the open for half an hour to dry out a bit and form a “skin” on the top. I guess that’s to… er… to… keep shape in the oven? To… er… it’d be nice if recipes explained stuff…

OK, they came out…


I forgot the food colouring! These were supposed to be black!


Well, too late now.

They look kinda like macaron shells, don’t they? What with the frothiness at the bottom and the smooth top.

I’m not all that impressed with this silicone mat: They stick quite a bit… I mean, nothing dramatic, but I had hoped that there’d be no stickingness. But I got all six of the large-macaron first batch off.

And then the second batch with more misshapen, but smaller ones. They didn’t all flow together into one macaron landscape! Yay!

Looks OK to me.

Hey! The baking paper is a lot better than the silicone mat… I think I’ll just ditch it.

And now they just have to chill before I can put them together with the ganache, so I can choose a book to read while eating them.

Well, there’s not much to choose between here, is there? Among the books I bought in the early 90s, but have avoided reading (so far) there’s only three left, and I choose Marya: A Life, by Joyce Carol Oates.

I had two books by Oates in this series: The first one was a solid collection of horror stories. This one, I’m guessing, is more horrifying: Just based on the title (I’m neurotic about never reading the back cover of books), my guess is that this the tragic life story of somebody growing up poor, with abusive parents, and then sexually abused as a child, and then raped as an adult, and then marrying an abusive guy, before getting an abusive son and a cruel daughter.

I don’t mean to be dismissive! I bought it myself (on a sale, I think), and I’m pretty sure that Oates is a good author. I’ve read a bunch of her essays in the New York Review, for instance, and she’s smart and interesting.

But I’m honest here, and that’s why I haven’t read it yet: Every time my eyes have scanned the spine of this book, my own spine has gone jello and I’ve just “I can’t”.

But let’s see! Perhaps I’m all wet and this is about something fun!

Huh. There’s a couple of names on the inside front cover? Did I buy this used? It’s totally unread, anyway, so Rune & … Lina? didn’t read it either after buying it.

Huh. That’s odd. It’s copyrighted by The Ontario Review? Oh!

It’s Oates’ own publication:

Ontario Review, A North American Journal of the Arts, was published from 1974 to 2008 by Raymond J. Smith and Joyce Carol Oates.

More confusing is that portions of this book has previously been published all over the place, in ten different magazines. And there’s 11 chapters in this book. Is this really a short story collection that’s been novelified (that’s a word)?

Oh, well, let’s read the first two pages together:

OK, we’ve got a nice father, but an abusive mother. Semi-check on my prejudices.

And the sexual abuse starts when Marya is eight (an older cousin).


Oates, on a paragraph by paragraph basis, is a great writer. She drops these little details here and there that feel so true, and it all flows so easily. Even when being obscure, there’s she pulls the reader along.

But now the macarons should be all chill and stuff.

I got… ten and a half macarons. The recipe said 16, and with my four supersized ones, that sounds about right.

Mmm! That ganache sure looks… er… uhm…

OK, let’s pipe it.

That’s not so bad!

For half of the macarons, I wanted to add some ammonium chloride, because that’s what goes with liquorice.


And I added some black food colouring, too. It was supposed to go in the dough and not in the ganache, but whateves.

Well, that’s a… colour…

Look! How… well they… go… together…

Anyway, I pipe it onto the shells and…

That looks like a macaron!

So let’s read some Marya and see how they go with the book…

Mmmm! Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. And the ganache is really good. Especially after resting in the fridge for some hours, the brownish non-ammonia ganache surrenders some of its caramel flavour and gives you more liquorice action.

But the salmiak ganache is so much better. You can’t really taste the ammonium chloride that much, but the ammonium salt has elevated the liquorice flavour itself hugely. It really smacks you about with its total liquoriceness. (That’s a word.)

Oh, yeah, I forgot that the recipe called for edible silver dust, too. I’m really bad at remembering those aesthetic details, apparently…

Nom nom. These are really quite something.

Anyway, my predictions for this book seem to turn out to be wildly inaccurate. Instead of a catalogue of horrifying things Marya has to go through, instead we seem to be whiplashed between various random characters that Marya encounters. And the styles are pretty random, too… In the chapter about one of her high school teachers, we seem to get into an elegiac circling structure. (He’s introduced and then almost killed off within the chapter.)

In the next one, we get the story about when she wanted to become Catholic, so we’re introduced to a priest (who’s then killed off), and the style shifts to this rambling formless thing.

Which brings me back to my initial suspicion: Is this novel a fixer-upper? Oates has taken a series of short stories (about Marya, I’d guess) and then slightly moulded it into something resembling a novel? It’d also explain some of the repetition that creeps in here and there, as Oates familiarises us with some stuff we’ve just read a dozen pages earlier.

I wouldn’t really call it a short story collection, either. It’s a collection of anecdotes arranged chronologically. Some of these anecdotes feel very personal, which makes me wonder whether this is a semi-autobiographical book.

The most anecdotey of all these anecdotes is the one about the awful janitor.

To be fair, in the final… er… I don’t want to call them “chapters”… In the final section of the book, Oates ties some threads together, and almost successfully makes this into a… thing. Because as well-written as these anecdotes are, reading one after another in this way, where no anecdote leads to something more, something important, something that builds…

It’s not very exciting.

CCCB: The Edible Woman/Surfacing/Lady Oracle

If there’s one thing an amateur cook shouldn’t attempt (and there’s nobody more amateur than me), it’s croissants, apparently. So I wanted to give it a try.

It’s 3x more futzy than any other recipe I’ve attempted. It’s not that any single step is particularly daunting, but there’s just so many of them with hours between each step.

And reading a few recipes, I had no idea, really, what it all meant. The descriptions (“fold like an envelope”) I couldn’t really visualise, but then I found the youtube clip above.

It’s very nice and very clear: He describes each step very nicely, and even explains why they’re performed, and what to do if things don’t quite go as planned.


So let’s try it!

The ingredients are very basic.

And you just mix them a bit…

… and then you have the dough. Which you then let rest for an hour in the fridge.

The thing that almost made me ditch the project was the nerdy insistence on measuring stuff for each step, but that’s kinda fun, anyway.

At this point I did have some problems. The dough was just too wet and sticky for me to work with at all, so I added some more flour, and that seemed to fix the problem, but I didn’t realise at the time why the dough turned out that way, since the recipe was nerdily precise. But re-reading it now that I’m writing this, I realise that I made a boo-boo: I added a whole egg instead of an egg yolk to the dough, which made it too wet. And I hope the egg whites aren’t doing anything bad to the dough…

So you put it in a 18x18cm baking paper envelope and roll it until the dough conforms to the square. And then into the fridge for 12 hours. *sigh*

And then it’s the same thing with the butter. And, yes, he specified 138g of butter. 140g would probably be way too much!

So wrap it in a square of baking paper…

And then roll until it’s even, and into the fridge again.

So now I have two cold squares…

And place them like this…

And wrap up into a letter shape.

And then roll. Oops! The dough has formed a bit of a skin from the 12 hours in the fridge? Perhaps I should have wrapped the baking paper in plastic cling foil to keep all air out? Eep. Hope it’ll work anyway…

And then wrap and into the fridge for an hour. *sigh*

And then roll again and then wrap again into a square and then into the fridge again for an hour. *sigh*

But then! We’re getting close to the finish! Roll it!

Then cut into triangles! The guy on youtube used a tape measure to figure out how to cut, but I just eyeballed it. I’m going to have a least a couple of mutant croissants.

And then I rolled three of the triangles (and wrapped the rest in cling foil and back into the fridge; according to the interweb they’ll keep for a day or two and I can bake them tomorrow).

That’s nice lamination, eh? Eh?

And then they’re supposed to proof for two hours on the bench. *sigh* I cleverly used a pot to keep them from drying out. I hope.

Meanwhile, I can pick a book to read!

We’re getting close to the end in my quest to read my collection of oldest bought-but-never-read books, so to avoid pooling up the biggest two at the end, I’m going with the three-novel collected edition by Margaret Atwood: The Edible Woman/Surfacing/Lady Oracle that I probably bought on sale in the late 80s.

And I know exactly why I haven’t read this book before: It’s a collected edition, and I have an irrational dislike of collected editions. It’s not just that they’re unwieldy physical to hold while reading, but once I’ve read a novel, it’s so pleasant to put it away on a bookshelf where I can look at it admiringly afterwards.

With a collected edition it’s “I”VE GOT MORE TO READ?!?” Which is incredibly stupid, because I presumably bought the book because I wanted to read everything in it.

So these days I go out of my way to buy uncollected editions, even if it makes no economical sense. But back in those days I was a poor student, and I probably saw this on sale and thought OH BOY!

And now, thirty years later, I’m going to read it.

*gasp* It’s falling apart! Tsk! Virago! Tsk!

Oh, right. It’s a collection of her earliest (published) novels? This was published in the UK in 1987 on the heels of Atwood’s blockbuster Handmaid’s Tale novel. Which was also the impetus for me buying this book: I’d read it and loved it.

Let’s read the first two pages together.

Well, that’s seems quite promising, doesn’t it? It’s as well-written as I remember Atwood being: It flows well, it’s witty and we already get some interesting character sketches.

And… it’s, like normal literature? I mean, it’s contemporary (in 1965); it’s not genre; it’s not experimental… It feels positively odd! Is this the first contemporary literary book in this blog series? Surely not!

Let’s see… we’ve got science fiction (Woman on the Edge of Time, The Two of Them, Larque on the Wing, Last and First Men), horror (Haunted), mysteries (Magic Hour), avant-garde/experimental (The Ticket That Exploded, Downriver, Miracle of the Rose, The Place of Dead Roads, El desorden de to nombre), essays (Mind as Passion, Composed on the Tongue), classics (Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist)…

Yes! This is the first book of the kind that’s, like, what normal people actually read. The ones that are on the New York Times bestseller lists.

How odd. Either I just don’t buy those books, or they’re books that I don’t avoid reading. I think it’s the latter.

It’s a young writer’s book, kinda? Whenever possible, it goes for the funnier options. It doesn’t have much structure, but just seems to veer off into odd directions as it goes along. Which is both good and bad: It’s completely unpredictable.

At the start, I was thinking this was going to be a totally “realistic” story, but at times it feels like we’re going into proto magic realism territory, although nothing overtly magical happens. Instead these unnerving stabs of irreality take over, and they feel important in a scary way.

In the second section of the book, Atwood shifts to third person for no particular reason: When authors do stuff like that, it’s either because they want to be able to stop focusing on one particular character, but we remain as closely bound to Marian as ever, and partake in her thoughts just like before.

The other reason authors do that sort of thing is that they grow tired of writing “I” so much.

[time passes]

Oh! There is a reason! It’s brilliant! And it made me laugh out loud!

I should have had faith in Atwood. I mean, I didn’t distrust her, really, but I totally didn’t see that coming.

That was a thoroughly enjoyable read. It’s got some problems, but it’s a very smart novel. But I wonder what other people think of it, because it’s so original.

Man, that’s way off base:

This book though would only appeal to those that truly enjoy reading good English and are not looking for a good ending because this is where it definitely falls short.

But the writing is excellent, that’s right…

Well, that was strange. Very, very strange. Probably the strangest book I’ve ever read.

I gave it two stars because this book did create strong emotions for me, even if it was strong annoyance, and not all books do that.

Boring! Disjointed! No saving grace! Only one person in our book club liked it at all.

Other enjoyed it but noted that it was a bit dated. It was written in the mid-60s, and to me it was very easy to forget that for long periods: It felt very fresh and modern.

Well, now I’m excited to read the other two novels in this book. The next one is Surfacing, which I suspect I once saw the movie adaptation of? Let’s read the first two pages:

Well, this is a very different novel. The first one was selfconsciously funny, but Atwood is going for a totally different effect here: It’s more mature and observant.

On the surface (heh heh) it’s a straightforward story of a group of people in a cabin in the woods where the protagonist is looking for her missing father. The way Atwood hints at a certain wrongness is masterful: She slowly unveils the past in a circular, oblique manner that’s riveting.

And you gotta love the undercurrent of Canadian hostility to the invading Americans.

It’s a more accomplished novel than the first one for sure. It’s got an interesting structure to it, and it’s just as well-written on the micro level. It’s just… well… more mature and smart.

But there’s less of a smart alec book, which is a shame.

But wait, there’s more!

OK, you know the drill… let’s read the first two pages together…

Well, that’s a way to start a novel:

I planned my death carefully; unlike my life, which meandered along from one thing to another, despite my feeble attempts to control it.

There’s a saying that if you hook the reader with the first sentence, you’ll land them. Or something. I think. And I’m totes hooked.

The first bit of the novel is fascinating and original. It’s not surprising that Atwood continues to grow as an author, and that’s what she does: This feels even more true and honest than the previous book.

But once we get to the flashbacks to the protagonist’s childhood, I felt the book lost something. It’s not that these are bad flashbacks or anything, but it feels like something I’ve read so many times before, while the stuff that happens “in the present” felt very fresh and exciting.

Oh, but I have to bake the croissants. Splash some egg wash over them…

Hm… they’re… bigger than I thought they would be.

Oops. Is that going to be raw on the inside?

Let’s eat some while reading Lady Oracle.

Well, it’s not actually raw, but it doesn’t look quite right. Some of the butter leaked out while baking, and the flavour isn’t better than “eh”. I’ve got some more dough, so I think I’ll make some smaller ones…

A lot of Lady Oracle deals with the author being fat as a child and a teenager, and it’s put in a way I think would make some people wince these days.

It’s a somewhat meta novel: The protagonist writes a book called Lady Oracle, but also writes a whole bunch of Gothic Romances, and we get some excerpts from them. They’re hilarious: Atwood gets them down to a T, what with the extraneous descriptions of… everything, and the overwrought drama.

OK, next day and smaller croissants.

Hey, that’s better! Fluffy on the inside; flaky on the outside. But I have to admit: These just aren’t the best croissants of the world. I think I fucked up the recipe.

Oh, well.

Back to the novel again: It’s the longest one in the book, and it seemed so well-structured at first. You’ve got the protagonist in Italy, “dead”, thinking about her past and writing more Gothic Romances. But as things progressed, they, er, didn’t. Progress, that is. Instead it reads like if Atwood was just winging it, adding one funny scene and one preposterous character after another.

It’s not that it’s not ever not unfunny (is that the correct number of negations?). Atwood always write well, and when she wants to be witty, she’s witty. And she wants that here. But two thirds in I found myself going “oh no, not more. NOT MORE!” It just doesn’t hold structurally.

I admire the way she’s able to swerve in one direction and then another, surprising the reader totally, but at the end there, it was just too abrupt. I was like “eh? eh? Was this whole book just a joke? A long improvisation over some funny themes?”

It’s the least satisfying of the three novels that way, although it’s a fun read.

CCCB: The Ticket That Exploded

For this week’s cake I’m making something called “tropical aroma”. I know you’re thinking “pineapple and mango?” now, but this is an old-school chocolate cake, and the tropical ingredients are cinnamon, nutmeg and coffee.

And possibly the chocolate. That’s tropical too, right?

I’m not a coffee drinker (I guzzle tea by the gallons), but I bought this coffee grinder for a cocktail project the other year and never used it, so I thought I’d give it a grind. I mean, go. It’s… a workout?

And then I used a press can. As I don’t really make coffee otherwise, I figured that was a safe option.

That’s… a very strong coffee? I think? It tasted OK, though, and the recipe called for strong coffee, so I think that should be fine. Possibly.

The cake batter is the normal stuff… Butter and sugar…

And then whisk in some eggs and flour and stuff.

The recipe calls for a teaspoon of nutmeg, and I started grinding away manually until I remembered that I have a Kenwood.

So I ground up a nut, and that was a teaspoon. I thought that was an insane amount of nutmeg, but I checked five different recipes and they all said to use that much.

After mixing everything together, I separate into two bowls, and add cocoa powder to half the batter.

Then… layer.

But very roughly and poke at it with a spoon to allegedly get fun patterns. I don’t quite understand why, but let’s go with it.

It has arisen!

The icing is just the normal stuff: Powdered sugar, butter, cocoa powder. And coffee.

Hm, it’s sunk a bit in the middle? Tsk.

Oh. That’s not very… patterney. Looks like the chocolate batter has just blended with the non-chocolate batter pretty thoroughly while baking.

Decoration time! I should get a job in a pastry shop, eh? Eh? As a scullery maid, you say? What? Rude!

OK, when you cut the cake, it’s less undifferentiated.

Quite moist-looking.

But now I have to pick a book! Quick! I want to taste the cake!

It’s slim pickings among the oldest, unread books now… and, man, what a lot of dust.

So I choose The Ticket That Exploded by William Burroughs, the second in this blog series.

I think this may be the oldest book in the collection: From the indicia, it may have been printed in 1986 (or sometime later), and the price tag has a somewhat oldee fashionee look.

I think the reason I’ve avoided reading it for over 30 years shouldn’t need an extensive explanation: I’d read Naked Lunch and enjoyed it, which is why I’d bought this book, probably, but Burroughs is… you know… a bit difficult. The Place of Dead Roads was pretty straightforward, as it turned out, but this is classic Burroughs. Let’s read the first two pages together:

Yup, that’s Burroughs in high mettle.

But you can’t not enjoy sentences like “He had been meaning Sexexcellency Sally Rand cunning Navy pilot Alan B. Weld two acts for three saints in outer space proudly registered in Phoenix was it are you sure that’s right infectious night biter Mo. 18 I’m going to answer the doorbell definitely definitely the first time in thirty years Houston’s outbreak the first time in who said Atlantic City?”

The introduction by John Calder says that Burroughs’ cut-up technique (started in Naked Lunch and developed in The Soft Machine) here was used more extensively. But I wonder whether sections like this is Burroughs just transcribing, verbatim, overheard conversations or snippets from TV, intermingled with the narrative (FSVO) he’s going for.

It’s not all like that, of course, because Burroughs isn’t Gertrude Stein. He’s more easy going.

But how does it pair with the cake?

Hm! That’s… quite a lot of nutmeg. On the first bite I went “this is way way too much”, and then either my taste buds were knocked out, or the coffee icing started complementing the nutmeg, because after getting halfway through the first piece, I thought it was jolly good. Nice and moist and lots of chocolate and coffee flavours.

If I’m making it again, I’m cutting back on the nutmeg, though, and perhaps making the coffee a bit weaker, to allow the chocolate flavour to shine more through.

And it’s perfect for reading Burroughs: Strong and weird.

I think this may be the most abstruse Burroughs book I’ve read… but it’s a fast read nonetheless. It has a certain flow, especially if you read it in Burroughs’ voice, and there’s not really much there to puzzle out. It says what it says.

And you get some footnotes.

Yes. Science. Pure science.

And we get a little essay about cut ups.

The thing is — it’s a miasma of words and scenes, but then you get these sudden flashes of narrative that almost make sense. It’s… pleasant.

Oh, “Miranda Sex Garden”? Is that where the band took their name from? Burroughs also inspired other band names, like Soft Machine… and… er… that’s all I can remember… Uhm… Oh, Spooky, That Subliminal Kid? Is that from here, too? I don’t know.

And then it ends on this note, which makes sense.

And then we get an almost verbatim repeat of that previous chapter where Burroughs was talking about cut-ups, but this time without punctuation and capital letters. And the notes on the last page says that this is by Bryon Gysin?

Oh, well, it makes as much sense as anything.

That Burroughs guy can write, dude. But my eyes did glaze over on some of the more cut-up pages.

CCCB: Magic Hour

I’ve never made a pie before, which isn’t surprising, I guess, because I’ve basically never baked in my life before starting this blog series. So I was just thinking about what to make, and the words Lemon Meringue Pie just popped into my head.

So I’m going to make that, even though I’ve never tasted one and have no idea whether it’s even good. But it’s sugar and lemons, so how bad can it be?

There’s fewer ingredients than I expected from a dish with several separate parts… I especially like that there’s exactly the same number of egg yolks and egg whites needed (yolks in the stuffing and base and whites in the meringue).

I got new stuff! I non-stick silicone mat to use when rolling out dough. Seems more hygienic, too.

And a pie tin.

For the pastry, I’m supposed to pulse the ingredients “until the mix starts to bind”.

I guess this is what they mean? There should be more pictures in recipes.

After rolling it out… how to get in into the pie tin? It rips easily…

Oh! I’m a genius! The bottom of the pie tin is detachable, so I can just slide it under the dough…

… and then sorta get it all into the tin! I bet nobody else has thought of that before!

I mean, except for everybody else.

And then trim and push and poke a bit. That looks awrite, dunnit?

Then into the fridge for an hour and a half to… er… get colder? One thing I miss from virtually any recipe is an explanation for why certain steps are done…

Meanwhile I’m making the lemon filling, which has a lot of lemon zest in it. I’ve made cocktails with lemon zest, but not a foodstuff, and I was surprised that the recipe didn’t say “simmer and then strain”, because I didn’t think the actual zest was supposed to end up in the pie.

But also a lot of citrus juice, so I finally got to use my squeezer thing that I haven’t used in a year.

And then it all turns into a custard with three egg yolks and one whole egg. It tastes very lemoney: very tart, and I was tempted to dump more sugar into it, but I resisted. I mean, there’s gonna be meringue, so I’m hoping that’ll even things ou.

Meanwhile, the pie shell is out of the fridge…

.. and lined with alu foil and with some ceramic balls to weigh stuff down. (Never used them before.) This is apparently called “blind baking”… because… you can’t see what the crust looks like?

It comes out of the 15m/200C oven very pale, of course.

But then I bake it for 8 more minutes without the foil, and it get kinda crispy and a nicer colour.

And I picked up the pie form wrong: It’s almost impossible to pick it up with one hand, because if you put any force on the bottom, it’ll just pop up. See? I ruined the crust on one side because of that.

They really should come up with a better way to grip those things. Perhaps handles would have been good?

And then the custard goes into the shell…

And then the egg whites and sugar (prepared concurrently; man there was a lot of bowls and implements used for this recipe) on top of the custard.

And then into the oven for 20 minutes.

Wow! I hadn’t expected the egg whites to expand when doing the meringue, so I was worried that there wouldn’t be a sufficient amount…

Getting the pie out of the tin was quite easy: Just push on the bottom, and the outer ring dropped down toot sweet. But getting the bottom out from underneath it seems impossible to me: There’s nowhere to grip on the pie. The shell is very crispy and I’ve carefully angled the pie here so the least broken bits are pointing towards the camera.

Such a cheat!

Let the pie sit in the tin for 30 mins, then remove and leave for at least another 1⁄2-1 hr before slicing. Eat the same day.

*looks at watch*

EEeek! It’ll have to wait over an hour before I can start eating, and I have to eat it all tonight? It’s 20 already!

Only six books to go! As usual on Thursdays, I have to pick a book I acquired in the early 90s, but have avoided reading since then.

I choose… Magic Hour by Susan Isaacs, in Norwegian translation.

My reasons for not reading this are pretty straightforward: As I went on at length here, I try to avoid reading books in translation if I understand the language they were originally written in. Which is the case here.

The other reason is that I got this book from the “free book” stash supplied by my sister who worked at a Norwegian publisher at the time. Somehow reading those never seemed as pressing.

And I know absolutely nothing about the author or what genre the book is, but from the cover design I’m assuming “literature”.

Hang on… Is that blood on those pool tiles on the drawing? Is this a murder mystery book of some kind?

Let’s find out!

Yes! After all this literature, this looks like entertainment. Already in the first page we have a murder, and the protagonist is a police detective or something.

The language looks to be very florid (no verb without adverb and no noun without an attending adjective) and witty, if not actually funny.

I’ll read some more and report back to you.

The translation is bizarre. There’s a lot of words here I’m sure I’ve never seen before. Just one at random: “Kamgarnsdress”. It’s a suit, apparently, but what kind?

Oh, right! A worsted suit. I know what that is.

But is that really a word in Norwegian?

Not really: There’s a whopping 172 hits, and the vast majority are from dictionaries.

There’s just so many of these that it makes me wonder whether the translator didn’t know Norwegian well and is just looking up words in dictionaries. If it had been a modern translation, I would have guessed that it was a machine translation, but it’s old, so I guess not.

And the incomprehensibilities just keep coming. “Klikk-klakker”? It’s an unknown term to me, but according to somebody on google, they’re clogs? Why would anybody be using clogs here? Does she mean flip flops?

At this point my curiosity about what the book really said just got the best of me and I bought it on Kindle.

Oh, yeah. Flip flops. Or “rubber thongs” as the character calls it… (Is he from Australia?)

“Borte i teltet svinset mennene” which means “in the tent the men were swishing”, and that’s about a bunch of cops…

Oh, “swarming”.

If I back-translate that last sentence in the first paragraph, it goes “perhaps Lindsay was just a rude, scornful, cold, emotional bitch”. Which makes no sense. Is she cold or emotional?

“maybe Lindsay was just an insolent, contemptuous, emotionally defective twat”.


At this point I decided to just give up: Reading the Norwegian version, there’s just so much that doesn’t makes sense. I find myself having finished a paragraph, lost, not quite knowing what just happened. I wonder whether the translator was just transliterating English into Norwegian and that’s why everything seemed so… abstract… But she’s not: She rearranges words into proper Norwegian.

It’s just that it’s so bad. From the antiquated choice of words, to neologisms that convey nothing or the wrong thing. For instance, our protagonist has fun names for everybody: There’s a woman he just refers to as Freckled Cleavage. The word the translator settles on, “Fregnesprekken”, is best reverse-translated into “Freckled Slit”, which, er, implies something quite different about their relationship.

ANYWAY! By switching to the English version, perhaps the book’ll make more sense.

OK, the pie has cooled off now… Hm… it’s certainly very moist… Or rather, wet. I had expected something more cake-like, but what do I know.

The pie crust is quite nice. Not soggy at all, but not desiccated either. The filling is very tart. Even combined with the meringue, it’s too sour for me. And the meringue itself should have been crispier, really. So should it have baked longer? Is this what it’s supposed to be?

Not one of the more successful baked goods in this blog series, but it was fun to make.

How does it pair with the book?

The book is about the murder of a rich movie exec. Which is so refreshing after having read a handful of modern thrillers last year. Perhaps they could just rename the genre How To Horribly Dismember Women instead to make things line up better with reality, because there’s nothing thrilling about reading yet another book about some psycho hacking away at a bunch of poor women. I’m now officially boycotting any mysteries where that’s the main plot, which means that I’m choosing to read zero mysteries written after 1995.

The protagonist here is a police detective, and I guess you could call this a police procedural? It’s well written and has a pretty intelligent plot, but the protagonist (who falls in love with one of the suspects, of course) is just so over-the-top sometimes that I wondered whether Isaacs was going to subvert the genre by having the book turn into a psychodrama about him really being totally loopy. For instance, in the sequence above, he’s apparently taken to calling her from random pay phones and hanging up after she says hello.

Because he wants to hear her voice.


But Isaacs doesn’t do anything with this, really. I get the feeling that she thinks this is kinda cute behaviour? Somehow?

But, no, they get together and find true love (OOPS SPOILERS) and spend chapter after chapter hiding out from the other cops (!) and talking and talking and (of course) solve the mystery.

Those chapters were really boring.

But well written, I guess. Isaacs has a nice way with words. Her sentences don’t always go the way you’re expecting: They have a zing to them. She’s not funny, per se, but she’s witty.

It’s an entertaining read.

However, the surprise reveal of the killer literally gave me cancer, because I’d figured it out two hundred pages earlier (it was the only one that made logistical sense, emotional sense, dramatic sense and structural sense for it to be the murderer) and was hoping for a surprise, and I’m now dead.

CCCB: Woman on the Edge of Time

Thursday is baking day, and I chose a cake I haven’t tasted in decades: The Tosca Cake.

It’s apparently named after that most jumpingest of all opera heroines. Perhaps it’s named after her because it’s a pretty heavy cake and Tosca fell like a rock into the river?

The comment on that page, however, claims that the inventor of the cake was Tosca Pladsec, an Italian/Yoguslav woman who won a Norwegian magazine competition on the 50s. However, Swedish wikipedia claims that it’s a recipe that has existed since at least the 1930s, and nobody else on the entire interweb has heard of Tosca Pladsec, so… You make up your own mind!

Anyway, the thing that makes the cake unique is that is has a caramellish (that’s a word) top which makes it kinda juicy and interesting.

If I remember correctly.

Let’s give it a try.

There aren’t many ingredients here: Just sugar, flour, butter, eggs, almonds and a teensy dash of milk.

I destroyed the ring to this Kenwood drum chopping attachment by putting it in the dishwasher (made of… pewter or something?), so I had to wait a few weeks while the replacement part wound its way to me from the UK. It’s a nice thing about Kenwoods: They sell replacement parts for everything.

So the almonds are supposed to be sliced (what’s called “flarn” in most Scandinavian languages), so I’m using this drum thing…

Look! It fits! I’ve never used this drum thing at all, and half the fun of baking is using new attachments…

Urr… that’s not very sliced… More like ground…

Oh! There’s several different drums with different er aperture openings (I’m sure that’s the right terminology).

Look! Sliced! It works! Nice Kenwood!

So you just whip up the eggs and the sugar, and then add flour and melted butter (and perhaps some baking powder, even if the recipe doesn’t call for it).

Baking powder a spring form…

Bake for 25 minutes, which seems a bit on the long side? Because we’re gonna be baking more…

… after we’ve make the topping, which is more butter (melted)…

Add sugar, a dash of milk and a dash of flour.

And then the sliced almonds.

Wow! That tastes really nice already! It looks a mess, but it has a wonderfully fresh, slightly caramelley flavour going on.

Then take the cake out of the oven.

Slather the goop over the cake and pop it back in the oven for 20 minutes more.

And this is what it looks like. Hm… I think I was right: I should have baked it less before adding the goop, and more after, to get a darker caramel look and flavour to the “lid”.

Let’s taste!

And now I have to pick a book from among those I bought in the early 90s but have somehow avoided reading for mumble years. Not that many to go…

I pick… Should I do Ulysses after doing Downriver last week? No, let’s go in the opposite direction! Yes! I pick:

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy.

I’ve had pretty clear reasons for not reading the other books in this blog series before, but I don’t really know why I’ve skipped this one for so long. It’s just become a habit. Every time I’m looking at my bookcase for something to read I’m going “oh, there’s that sf book” and then I choose something else.

I have read two other books by Marge Piercy: He, She and It and The High Cost of Living, and I liked them enough to buy this one, apparently? But then I never read it.

Oh, wow: It’s from 1976, and it was a selection of The Woman Today Book Club. And this is the twenty-second printing!? So it’s a very commercially successful book, especially for a science fiction book. Or, at least I’m assuming it’s a science fiction book: As usual, I haven’t read the back cover or the blurbs or anything.

Let’s read the first two pages together and see what it’s like.

Well, OK, I can’t really say that I’m responding to the writing enormously. We seem to be starting off with a woman that’s been beat up by some guy, but the descriptions of what the protagonist is doing is sprinkled with things like “the satin of the blouse” and “the good Dominican coffee”, which seems kinda pedestrian.

And, by Emacs, what a relief reading something written in this style on the heels of the Ian Sinclair book! This is going to breeze right on by.


Let’s taste the cake with the book.

Uhm, yum. It has a deep and nice caramel flavour, especially out at the edges. The sponge is, as I feared, a bit on the dry side because it’s been in the oven too long, but it’s pretty good.

There’s a lot of good rage towards our society in general and the health industry in particular. Reading this, I sometimes found myself going “but they’re not that bad”, what with all the doctors and their insane experiments, but then I remember the Tuskegee “experiment” and I go “oh yeah”.

But this is, indeed, a science fiction novel, as I guessed from the title (and the author being Marge Piercy). We follow a woman locked up in a mental institution who can project into the future, which is all utopia and stuff. There’s pages and pages of the future people (who are kinda androgynous, live in harmony with nature, and are, like, you know, good people) explain their lives to her.

I think I understand what Piercy is trying to do: To present utopia as a real possibility. This is literature as a rallying cry; a call to revolution: A better future is possible.

But I don’t think it works storytelling wise. They say they don’t want to change the past, so they don’t help her much with her predicament, but they’re not shy about telling her everything about how society should be. And perhaps I just found the utopia presented to be a bit undercooked; it’s random musings on any subject of our lives about how they should be done to be better.

More plot is hinted at, but not really resolved.

We make one brief foray into an alternate future where things have gone very wrong: Everything is hyper-gendered, brutal, and the Earth is basically dead. And that does seem more real, doesn’t it?

Especially the listing of what’s on TV that day.

I found the book to be somewhat frustrating. I really felt for the protagonist, and there were exciting bits in there. The rage against the helpless situation she found herself in is effective. But I didn’t find the long protracted explanations about the future world to be compelling, although it certainly sounds like a nice place to live.

No Fuss No Knead Yes Bread

No-knead breads have become very popular lately, but the recipes all seem to have some incomprehensibly complicated steps (involving folding the dough and a pre-heated pot) in the middle.

So I thought I would try to just bypass those and see what happened, and the results were just as good. And a lot less work.

I don’t think it gets much simpler than this recipe.

There’s just four ingredients:

  • 500g (4 cups) wheat flour
  • 4dl (1.7 cups) water
  • 1/4 tsp dry yeast
  • 2 tsp salt

Put the flour into a bowl.

Add the yeast.

Add the salt.

Stir a bit.

Add water.

Stir until it’s formed a dough, which should take long. You’ll get a moist, sticky dough if the flour/water proportions are right.

Let the dough stand in the bowl for about 18 hours on the bench, covered by plastic wrap or something.

It’ll have risen substantially after 18 hours…

… so beat it down a bit.

And then transfer…

… into a lidded pot that’s lined with baking paper. It should be a pot that can survive being in a 250C (480F) oven for a while, so all-steel or iron is great.

Put the lid on and let it proof for another 90 minutes on the bench. Removing excess baking paper might be a good idea, because they’re usually not rated for that high a temperature and will brown up and become very flaky.

After 90 minutes, the dough will have a-risen again.

Pop it into the lowest rack at 250C (480F) and let it bake for 25 minutes with the lid on.

After 25 minutes, it’ll look like this: Completely pale.

Take the lid off and move the pot higher up and bake for about another 25 minutes; until it’s how brown you want it to be. Lower the temperature to 210C (410F).

Oops! I forgot to take it out in time, so it’s a bit on the burnt side.

But not seriously. It’s still moist and very wheaty and glutinous: Gluten makes bread nice.

That’s the basic recipe. If you want more fibre, replace some of the wheat with dark rye, for instance, or grind up some nuts and add those: It’s difficult to fail completely with this method. The bread will always come out fluffy but satisfying, and with a nice crust.