Saturday Storytime: FimbulDinner: The Last Supper

My friend Kelly McCullough has a new series launching this Tuesday with the book Broken Blade. (You can read the first chapter here, and if you’re in the Twin Cities, you can see the book launch events here.) Having just read the third book in this series, I can confidently say that I love how this series treats its gods. This doesn’t surprise me at all. Kelly’s always had an irreverent touch, as this story can attest.

“Excuse me sir,” said Slither, but do you have an invita–” Slither trailed off as the man turned his one eye on him. There was destiny in that gaze, or at least all the bad parts, and Slither changed his tack. “Er, that is… Um. We’d prefer it if no one brought pets.”

The eye held him for a moment longer and then the man bobbed his head once. “Hugin, Munin, wait with Sleipner.” The ravens leapt into the air and flew outside.

“Thank you,” gulped Slither.

He would have gone on, but just then he was distracted by the arrival of another guest. At least, Slither assumed she was another guest. He certainly wasn’t going to ask for her invitation. There was something menacing about her. He couldn’t really put his finger on what it was, but the necklace of skulls was high on the list. So was the feeling that she hadn’t got quite the right number of arms.

With the next arrival, Slither completely gave up on trying to screen the guests and fled to the kitchens. What, after all, do you say to a man wearing a jackal’s head. But the kitchen didn’t seem to be much of a refuge. Not with Eris dominating it. She was a beautiful woman with long golden hair and a very tight, very thin, white tunic. The bandage over her eyes was even thinner, and Slither would almost swear that she winked at him when he entered.

A few minutes of that sent him back out to the hall. He wanted to have a word with Thurible. It took a few minutes, but Slither eventually spotted the wizard. He was escorting an elderly bald man to a seat at the high table. The man was wearing a simple white robe, and his hands shook with a palsy of some kind. Slither pounced. The man was definitely not on the guest list. More importantly, he didn’t intimidate Slither in least.

“Here Thurible, what’s this. I want to have a word with you. There seems to be odd goings-on. But first, I’d like to see this fellow’s invite. I don’t remember-” Slither stopped in mid-sentence when the old man handed him a folded piece of paper. Slither opened it.

“Plato,” it said, “old dog of a philosopher. If you would see your thoughts embodied, come to my dinner. Eris.”

“What else did you want?” asked Thurible.

“Oh never mind,” said Slither. “I’ll be in the pantry. Send a page to fetch me when the meal is ready.”

Keep reading.

Have a More Colorful Friday

The Black Friday shopping ritual has always been ridiculous. People standing in the cold for hours. Fights over limited stock. People being trampled. It’s not a recipe for bringing out the best in humanity.

This year, it’s worse.

With a stagnating economy, stores started running Christmas ads before Thanksgiving, and are even pulling Black Friday openings earlier and earlier – into Thanksgiving itself – hoping to whip consumers into a spending frenzy. The LA Times reports stores like Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and Kmart will open at 10 p.m. this Thursday, while Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, and Kohl’s are opening at midnight on Friday.

The problem is, as stores push doors open, employees are pushing back. While some shoppers are excited to line up on Thanksgiving to snag deals, those having to work resent missing out on the holiday. At change.org, a petition protesting Target in particular has already gathered 198,246 out of 200,000 votes needed. Created by Target employee Anthony Hardwick, it calls out Target President and CEO Gregg Steinhafel with these words:

“A midnight opening robs the hourly and in-store salary workers of time off with their families on Thanksgiving Day.  By opening the doors at midnight, Target is requiring team members to be in the store by 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. A full holiday with family is not just for the elite of this nation – all Americans should be able to break bread with loved ones and get a good night’s rest on Thanksgiving!”

You don’t have to contribute to this disaster, and you don’t have to choose between that and contributing to the economy. If our recent crash course in practical economics has taught us anything, it should be that money that goes to big corporations doesn’t act the same way the same money would if pushed to individuals. So this year, why not do some or all of your Christmas shopping from individual artists and small family companies.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Howling Pig Ginger Lilly [Read more…]

Atheists Talk: Stephen Law on “Believing Bullshit”

Stephen Law (Oxford, England) is a senior lecturer in philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London; provost for the Centre for Inquiry UK; and the editor of Think: Philosophy for Everyone (a journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy). He is the author of numerous books for adults as well as children, including The Greatest Philosophers, Companion Guide to Philosophy, The War for Children’s Minds, and Really, Really Big Questions, among other works. His latest book, for adults, is Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole.

Wacky and ridiculous belief systems abound. Members of the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult believed they were taking a ride to heaven on board a UFO. Muslim suicide bombers expect to be greeted after death by 72 heavenly virgins. And many fundamentalist Christians insist the entire universe is just 6,000 years old.

Of course it’s not only cults and religions that promote bizarre beliefs. Significant numbers of people believe that aliens built the pyramids, that the Holocaust never happened, and that the World Trade Center was brought down by the US government.

How do such ridiculous views succeed in entrenching themselves in the minds of sane, intelligent, college-educated people and turn them into the willing slaves of claptrap? How, in particular, do the true believers manage to convince themselves that they are the rational, reasonable ones and that everyone else is deluded?

Believing Bullshit identifies eight key mechanisms that can transform a set of ideas into a psychological flytrap. Philosopher Stephen Law suggests that, like the black holes of outer space, from which nothing, not even light, can escape, our contemporary cultural landscape contains numerous intellectual black-holes—belief systems constructed in such a way that unwary passers-by can similarly find themselves drawn in. While such self-sealing bubbles of belief will most easily trap the gullible or poorly educated, even the most intelligent and educated of us are potentially vulnerable. Some of the world’s greatest thinkers have fallen in, never to escape.

Listen on Sunday as we discuss the book with Professor Law and try to avoid being bleeped by the engineer.

Related Links

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Thanksgiving Recipe: Turkey Stock

Some people are done with their Thanksgiving cooking when the bird makes it to the table. Not here.

We cook two turkeys on the grill each Thanksgiving. The smaller birds are a little leaner (and, I think, more tasty), and we can flavor them differently. As I write this, we have one turkey sitting in a Moroccan-spice brine, and I’m about to go downstairs to shove minced garlic and rosemary under the skin of another bird.

When the birds come off the grill–always a little earlier than we expect–they get set aside to rest before being carved. Carving is most decidedly not done at the table. There just isn’t room on a platter to remove both breasts; joint the wings, thighs, and drums; and pull off the remaining small bits of dark meat.

Besides, carving turkey breast at the table generally means cutting along the grain instead of against it, which produces longer fibers. Our turkeys aren’t dry, but even for them, shorter muscle fibers make for more pleasant chewing. Our way, the breast is cut off whole, then cut into slices the short way. It hold the gravy better that way too.

A little skin is set aside for those who like it. Grilling, by the way, makes for very tasty, crisp skin. Then the rest of the skin, the necks, and the main part of the carcasses (plus any chicken, duck, and turkey bones that have accumulated in the freezer) are thrown in a stock pot with water to just cover them on low heat.

By the end of dinner (dessert comes a couple of hours later), the water in the stock pot should be near to simmering. While waiting for it to get there, we add a couple of onions, quartered, and some big chunks of carrot and celery. Bay leaves and peppercorns go in now too, as well as the additional bones from the meal and any wings and skin that people didn’t want to eat.

The stock never gets above a low simmer. We check the heat when it’s time to serve pie and when everyone packs up their stuff to leave. About an hour before bedtime, the heat is turned off. Last thing to happen before bed, along with another load of dishes, is that the stock is poured through a large colander into another, smaller pot, leaving behind all the bones and now very squishy vegetables.

Voila. We have stock, with next to no work aside from already cooking the turkeys. It may need to be boiled down a little before being turned into turkey wild rice soup, but that doesn’t take much more time and attention than making the stock itself did.

Let’s Thank the Right People

A couple of my friends have been doing the month of thanks meme on Facebook, posting something for which they are grateful each day of November instead of limiting it to today. I’ve been enjoying it far more than I do most memes, which probably has a lot to do with the kinds of thanks they’re giving.

When you’re doing 30 days of thanks, you can only spend so much time thanking God for, well, you know, everything. You have to get more specific about what you’re thankful for. In turn, that has made them be more specific about regarding to whom they owe that thanks. I’ve enjoyed it not just because it’s non-religious, but also because it seems to have inspired them to stop and thank people who wouldn’t normally be thanked–the people closest to them.

In that spirit, I have a few people to thank today.

[Read more…]

Thanksgiving Recipe: Apple and Caramel

So you liked the idea of cheesecake for Thanksgiving yesterday, but you want your pumpkin pie more traditional. That’s fine. I can live with that (as long as you use plenty of good spices in your pie; bland pie is bleah). You can also do an apple cheesecake and be just as tasty.

This recipe was modified from Emeril’s Caramelized Apple Cheesecake to use some caramel sauce we’d made, add more spice, and…well, because I mess with recipes.

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
5-1/2 ounces of ginger snaps, reduced to fine crumbs

2 tart, crisp apples (I prefer Haralson) peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1.5 cups apple cider

1-1/2 pounds cream cheese
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg or 1/2 teaspoon
dash cloves

Mix butter and crumbs. Press into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Chill while you make the filling.

Preheat the oven to 325F.

Poach the apple slices in the cider until flexible, just a few minutes. Set aside to cool.

Using a mixer, beat the cream cheese and brown sugar. Add eggs one at a time and fully incorporate before adding the next. Add the spices and beat well. (I like a little air in my cheesecake for added fluffiness.)

Take the crust out of the refrigerator and build a layer of apple slices on the bottom. Drizzle with caramel sauce. Add half the cream cheese mixture. Build a second layer of apple slices and caramel, and add the remaining cream cheese mixture.

At this point, you can add any additional apple slices to the top of the cheesecake, but they will result in cracking. It’s decorative, but it may not suit your cheesecake esthetic.

Bake for 80 to 90 minutes, turning a quarter turn every 30 minutes. When done, it should be only slightly jiggly in the center. The top may get quite brown.

Cool on the counter, then refrigerate. Serve with the caramel sauce.

Remembering Anne McCaffrey

From Anne McCaffrey’s son Todd:

At about 5 p.m. Monday November 21st, 2011, Anne McCaffrey passed away.

Mum was getting ready to go back to the hospital because she was feeling “puny” and collapsed while she was moving into her wheelchair. Her daughter, Georgeanne Kennedy, and son-in-law, Geoffrey Kennedy were with her. She was in no pain and it was over in an instant.

She first had a heart attack in late 2000 and a stroke in 2001, so we were well-prepared and knew that we were on “golden time” with Mum these past ten years and more.

She leaves behind an incredible legacy of marvelous books and a huge legion of fans. She won practically every major award in available to authors of science fiction and fantasy, including both Hugo and Nebula Awards, the American Library Association’s Margaret A. Edwards award for Lifetime Literary achievement in Young Adult fiction, was an inductee into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and was a SFWA Nebula Grandmaster.

She was also a great cook, magnificent mother, doting grandmother, ardent quilter, knitter, bridge player, horsewoman, fencer, actress, singer, and all-around nice person.

We are blessed to have known her, just as we are blessed with the knowledge that she has touched so many lives and made such huge changes in them.

Mum always said, “Don’t just pay back a favor — pass it on!” In light of that spirit, we ask that, instead of condolences or flowers, that commemorators make a donation to their favorite charity.

We know that we haven’t lost Mum — that she has truly passed on her legacy of love and honor to all those who were touched by her — and that we have only to open one of her books to find her again.

Rest well, Mum, you’ve earned it!

I never wanted to ride a dragon, as so many McCaffrey fans did. [Read more…]

Thanksgiving Recipe: Pie and Ginger

The fall housecleaning is done. Our houseguests are here. That means it’s time to turn our attention to the Thanksgiving food. It’s time to repost a few of my favorite harvest festival recipes.

Since I improvised this with only a partial recipe and it won a contest (tied for first, anyway), I suppose I should capture it for posterity.

Spicy Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie
1 9-inch pie crust (I recommend my husband’s, but do what you can)
16 oz. cream cheese
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1# pie pumpkin
3 t Ceylon cinnamon
1-1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t ground cardamom
1/4 t ground clove
1/3 of a nutmeg, freshly grated
2 T chopped candied ginger (see below)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream the cream cheese and sugar. Incorporate the eggs one at a time. Mix in the pumpkin and ground spices. Pour into pie crust and sprinkle with the candied ginger. Bake for 50–60 minutes.

What I would change next time: The cheesecake was not as solid as it could have been, despite cracking around the edges. Next time, I’d lightly blind bake the crust, then bake the whole pie in a shallow pan of water to keep the edges from cooking so thoroughly before the center is firm.

[Read more…]

Preacher at the Funeral

Let me start by saying that I understand the role of religion at a funeral. I understand that believing death isn’t real and permanent comforts a great many people. I’m not one of them, but I won’t begrudge solace to those who are.

That said, I despise, with all I am, the time at a funeral that is spent on advertising Jesus instead of on the dead and the survivors.

My grandfather’s service was Friday. He received one of the lovelier eulogies I’ve heard, delivered by my mother and my uncle. They talked about his childhood and theirs. They told the skunk story and about the frustrations of deer hunting with a man who loved the woods but apparently didn’t want to ever have to dress another deer in his lifetime. They talked about his courtship and marriage of 67 years and how he still thought my grandmother was the most beautiful woman he’d met when she died at age 90.

Before and after the people who actually knew my grandfather, a Lutheran pastor spoke. [Read more…]

Thanksgiving Recipe: Grandma Lylah’s Cranberry Relish

The fall housecleaning is done. Our houseguests are here. That means it’s time to turn our attention to the Thanksgiving food. It’s time to repost a few of my favorite harvest festival recipes.

Or, how to make all the kids eat their cranberries while still entertaining adult palates. Seriously.

3 12-oz. bags fresh cranberries
2/3 c. granulated sugar
1 large can crushed pineapple
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 lb. mini-marshmallows

Wash and drain the cranberries. Grind using a medium die.

Mix in sugar and let sit overnight in the refrigerator.

Drain the crushed pineapple thoroughly. Mix the juice with some rum. This is for you, not the kids.

Whip the cream to very stiff peaks, just shy of butter.

In a bigger bowl than you think you’ll need, mix the pineapple and marshmallows into the cranberries. Fold in the whipped cream just until you have no large red streaks.

The end result is fluffy, unthreateningly pink and has distinct sweet and tart elements. Serves dozens and freezes remarkably well.