Pansies and Muscari in Golden Light

Pansies and muscari, in golden late afternoon light. It was an absolutely perfect day yesterday, and I was very aware of the privilege my family has, with a garden and a porch.

I hope we can safely keep the parks open — I know other countries, like my native Sri Lanka, have implemented more serious lockdown, with people confined to their homes. That must be incredibly difficult. Remembering what others are enduring helps me be a little less whiny about my own restlessness.

Ballerina Thrift

I pulled the landscape tulips that had finished out of the window boxes and tossed them in a bucket; need to replant them in the backyard today, and hopefully they’ll come back. Replaced with various things — lobelia and ivy at the corners of the window boxes, and ballerina thrift in the center, because I wanted something with a bit of height.

I don’t think I’ve planted thrift before, though I’ve liked it a long time — it’s a perennial, so when it’s done in the window boxes, I’ll try to pull it out and find it a spot in the garden where it might be happy to come back next year.

The grape hyacinths (muscari) I’ll also pull out when they finish and plant in the garden, with hopes that they’ll come back next year. The pansies will wither with summer heat, but I’ll probably just leave them in there, because they should come back and bloom again in the fall. (Sometimes they even survive over the winter.)

Lime, Rosewater, and Ginger Shortbread, Dipped in White Chocolate

Lime, Rosewater, and Ginger Shortbread, dipped in White Chocolate

When you find yourself going back into the kitchen to see if there are any crumbs left on the plate, you know you have a winning recipe; I think this is now my absolute favorite shortbread. Adding in some citric acid gives a seriously tangy punch to these buttery-rich bites, but they would still be tasty without. The white chocolate’s sweetness balances the tang beautifully, but they’re delicious straight up too, especially warm from the oven.

Note: I find that a pair of kitchen shears is much easier to work with than a knife for cutting up sticky crystallized ginger.

Ingredients:

3/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 scraped vanilla beans or 2 t. pure vanilla extract
3/4 t. salt
1 lime, zest and juice
1 t. citric acid (optional)
1 T rosewater
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 c. crystallized ginger, chopped fine
1 c. white chocolate chips (optional)
luster dust and a bit of vodka for decorating (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.

2. Cream together the butter and sugar; add the vanilla and salt, citric acid, lime juice, lime zest, and rosewater. Then add flour and mix on low until dough forms. Stir in ginger.

3. Turn out dough onto floured board. (If it’s not coming together into a dough, the heat of your hands will help.) Firmly pat flat (to desired cookie height, usually about 1/2 inch). If using cookie cutters, cut out shapes, place on parchment-covered baking sheet, and chill for 15 minutes (to help hold shape).

NOTE: Can be kept chilled at this point for several days, covered in plastic wrap, and then rolled, cut, and baked fresh.

Alternately, press into baking pan or shortbread mold, prick with fork. (For this batch, I simply pressed into an 8 x 8 baking pan.) You can also cut shapes out after baking — shortbread is very forgiving that way — but then the individual cookie edges won’t be browned.

3. Remove from fridge and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the edges begin to brown, then remove to wire rack to cool.

4. Optional decorating — once shortbread has cooled, melt white chocolate in microwave at half power for a few minutes, or in a double boiler. Dip shortbread pieces in chocolate, then set on rack to dry. Once dry, brush with luster dust mixed with a bit of vodka.

Sometimes You Need a Punch

My vanilla beans were a little dry, so I ended up rehydrating them in warm water for the weekend’s cookie baking (for the Mother’s Day treat packages, ordering deadline today for shipping, btw). Worked fine, and I do love the specks of actual vanilla bean in the dough. But I admit, I was pretty excited that my order of Penzey’s double-strength pure vanilla arrived on Saturday. Vanilla BOMB.  Sometimes you need a one-two punch, or even one-two-three.

For the lime shortbread cookies, I ended up using lime juice, lime zest, and citric acid to get the flavor I wanted. Most lemon / lime sweets aren’t tangy enough for my taste — investing in the bag of citric acid has been very helpful to my kitchen experiments!

Never Uniform Enough

Okay, I am never going to be able to produce desserts uniform enough for a French patisserie! Yet another reason why I won’t be applying to the GBBO or its offshoots.

(I was listening to the Milk Street podcast yesterday while gardening, and they interviewed someone who’d worked at The French Laundry, I think it was, and it sounded just brutal. When they say things like ‘you have to be in your mid-20s to start as a chef, or your body just physically won’t be able to handle it…oof.’)

But still, these white chocolate-dipped lime, rosewater, and ginger shortbreads are pretty darn cute. The sparkly green and gold accents make them look a little more Easter-y than I anticipated, but that’s just fine. 

Three Kings

Eep, I somehow managed to miss a book launch announcement. It’s a new book! Woot!

To be fair, it’s not available in the U.S. yet, only the U.K. But for those across the pond, or those who are happy to order from across the pond, I’m delighted to let you know that the newest Wild Cards book came out on May 1, THREE KINGS, from HarperCollins Voyager.

I’m sorry to say that the US edition from Tor won’t be out until 2022 (George tries to get the schedules sync’d as much as possible, but there’s only so much he can do). It was a real pleasure co-writing this mosaic novel with Peter NewmanPeadar Ó GuilínMelinda M. Snodgrass and Caroline Spector.

(And George wasn’t *too* mean in the editing this time. He didn’t make me kill off anyone I didn’t want to kill, woot! 

I’m really proud of this particular book — I got to write an alternate history version of Alan Turing, a history in which he does NOT die tragically young. I worked really hard to try to do Turing justice, and I hope I did a respectable job. It follow Knaves Over Queens (which I didn’t write for), but works just fine as a stand-alone. If you read Knaves Over Queens first, though, you’ll get a deeper understanding of many of the characters, so I do recommend it.

Here’s a little promo info from the link, about the Wild Cards superhero universe, and this book in particular:

“In the aftermath of World War II, the Earth’s population was devastated by an alien virus. Those who survived were changed forever. Some, known as jokers, were cursed with bizarre mental and physical mutations; others, granted superhuman abilities, became the lucky few known as aces.

Queen Margaret, who came to the English throne after the death of her sister Elizabeth, now lies on her death-bed. Summoning the joker ace Alan Turing, she urges him to seek the true heir: Elizabeth’s lost son. He was rumoured to have died as a baby but, having been born a joker, was sent into hiding.

Margaret dies and her elder son Henry becomes king and at once declares he wants to make England an ‘Anglo-Saxon country’ and suggests jokers be sent ‘to the moon’. Dangerous tensions begin to tear the country apart. The Twisted Fists – an organization of jokers led by the Green Man – are becoming more militant. And Babh, goddess of war, sees opportunities to sow strife and reap blood…”

Previews and orders are found at https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/…/three-kings-edited-by-ge…/

Maintaining Community and Managing Work

I’m thinking a lot about maintaining community and managing work this morning, in various ways. For one, it’s been really hard keeping up with communication even with SLF folks and Serendib folks through normal channels — and I’m not sure it really worked all that well before either.

We were doing a mix of in-person meetings, e-mail, FB messaging, which sort of worked, but not as reliably as I’d like. And without the in-person meetings and with everyone hit with executive functioning challenges due to coronavirus, we mostly kind of went silent for six weeks or so.

But my semester is essentially over now — I have final papers coming in tomorrow, so there’s grading, and then I’m done. So I want to ramp up both the SLF and Serendib Press more actively again, which I think means figuring out how to help keep everyone active and engaged without in-person to help.

I know managers get a bad rep in labor conversations, and I do think managers often get paid more than is reasonable, but good management really is important. Part of what Stephanie does is assist me, but part of it is manage me, and also manage the rest of the Serendib staff (Heather and Darius and Emmanuel). We get a lot more done that way, but coordinating has gotten more challenging in pandemic times.

I think we may have to schedule more meetings, honestly. A weekly Zoom meeting + a time when we’re all working and all on Slack, maybe? Tips welcome; I’m a little lost here. Assume 4 people, each putting in about 10 hours / week.

As Benjamin Rosenbaum and I make plans to try launching our podcast (and oh, it was GREAT doing a 1.5 hr Zoom call with him yesterday, I miss that convention energy buzz, must find ways to bring it back into a socially-distanced life), the first thing I did was secure my just-graduated student Darius Vinesar to be our manager for that project. Because Ben and I will happily natter on in somewhat random fashion, but if we want this to be done professionally (or really, done at all), we need someone else to help the trains run on time.

I still think I could use someone for the SLF to do similar work, but I don’t have any budget to pay them for it right now. Karen is able to do tasks as I assign them, but she’s not actually a SF/F person; she doesn’t know the field or the people. She’s also not on Facebook, which is turning out to be kind of essential for communicating with me, at least right now. Back to the communication problem, sigh.

I should be able to find that kind of person to volunteer at the SLF for now (probably an early-or-mid-career writer, someone with experience going to conventions, who knows people and is personable would be ideal), who will get paid when we can, but it takes a level of management from me to find that person, and I haven’t had the capacity.

I have a large list of potential volunteers, actually, but I have to activate and train them first, and then also figure out who among them (or from elsewhere) might be able to take on more of a management role. (If that’s you, do talk to me.) The SLF should be able to offer a summer internship, which I imagine would be of interest to a lot of young people, even if it has to be unpaid for the moment — but someone has to organize and manage that too.

Cee Gee, thankfully, has taken ownership of the fundraising & development aspects and is doing a great job, so once she’s fully recovered from Covid-19, I’m hoping we’ll be able to start doing more to bring in money, which will make it possible to hire more people, which will make it possible to create more content, which will make people want to join us as members, and it should all be a beautiful growing cycle…

But right now, we’re just trying to get through, and figure out how to stay connected and start working again. Not easy. In theory, I think Slack would help with this, but I just haven’t been able to get myself to remember to even check it regularly. Maybe I just need to be more hard-core about that. An hour on Slack every morning for the various projects.

Okay, off to a Zoom meeting with Karen and Cee Gee. Maybe we can figure some of this stuff out.