Book Review: The Golden Compass Graphic Novel, Volume 1, Stéphane Melchior-Durand (2015)

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Not really feeling the artwork…

four out of five stars

Let me preface this review by saying that I’m a huge (HUGE!) fan of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Not the World’s Biggest Fan, because that honor obviously goes to Laurie Frost (author of The Elements of His Dark Materials, an exhaustive, 560-page HDM reference book endorsed by the man himself). But big enough that I own more than a dozen non-fiction titles about the franchise, including a quiz book, and have been planning a HDM-themed menu for the Vegan Month of Food (google it!) for years. (The pressure! I want everyone to love the series as much as I do, you know?) In times of grief, I turn to certain passages from The Subtle Knife for comfort. I know I tend to throw around the word “favorite” in book reviews, but His Dark Materials is my all-time favorite book. (And yes, I count the omnibus as a single entity.) So, pretty big.

When I saw that the series would receive the graphic novel treatment, I was predictably psyched. I instantly pre-ordered a copy – but by the time it arrived, months later, life had gotten pretty chaotic. I had barely enough time to flip through it before I was forced to relinquish it to ye ole TBR pile. What I saw was not encouraging: the artwork put me off right away. Having already been burned once by the film adaptation, excitement gave way to dread.

But you know what? Now that I’ve read it, I’m actually pleasantly surprised. Granted, I’m still less than thrilled with the illustrations. Everything is hard lines and sharp angles. Lyra in particular is scrappy, and not in a good way; her hair seems to have fought a losing battle with a weed whacker, and in some panels the twelve-year-old girl looks more like a thirty-year-old smoker. (Hard living, man.)

To be fair, though, the daemons are as lovely as the humans are unattractive. The golden monkey, in particular, is just as I imagined him: gorgeous and fierce and full of hate and evil. Likewise, the cover art is simply stunning. I wish the inside was even just half as colorful and vibrant.

(More below the fold…)

This Week in Pictures: Telling Peedee’s Story to Its End

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

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Oh, man. I’ve been putting off writing this post for so long that I’m not quite sure where to start. I guess the beginning is as good a place as any?

Many of you know that my oldest furkid, Peedee, passed away right before Thanksgiving due to complications from cancer. He was first diagnosed in March 2014; a few weeks later, he underwent surgery to remove a tumor, along with a sizable portion of one lung. Nine months later, the cancer returned and he started chemo. It worked swimmingly until it didn’t. (That was always the case: we got bad news when we were expecting good, and good when we expected bad.) On May 20th – the two-year anniversary of Kaylee’s death, as it just so happened – the oncologist gave him 2-3 months to live. Probably closer to two. She was doubtful that he’d still be around to celebrate his 13th birthday at the end of August.

We immediately put him on CBD oil. I would have done it a year+ sooner, if only I’d known that you can buy it online, legally (or semi-legally) in all 50 states. It’s not quite as potent as the stuff you can get in medical or recreational marijuana states, but I still think it helped. Scratch that: I’m positive it helped. He outlasted the oncologist’s best-case scenario by three months, and had a really good quality of life right up until the last few days. In any case, it was better than doing nothing; just sitting back and watching him die. This topic deserves its own series of posts, but suffice it to say: this ordeal only strengthened my stance on legalization. It’s like my main beef with Hillary Clinton at this point. But I digress.

About the same time that Peedee was waging his 20-month battle with cancer, I discovered Cane’s Bucket List on facebook. Cane was a 6-year-old pibble whose people planned a whole “bucket list journey” for him after he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Simple goals like “pictures in front of the Dallas skyline” and “paw print art projects” soon gave way to some really amazing experiences when Cane checked off item #14, “be featured on NBC DFW.” Not only did he get to sit on Santa’s lap – Cane’s caregivers threw him his own damn Christmas party. Talk about shiny!

I wanted to do something similar for Peedee, but … by this time, he was old and a little fussy and set in his ways. Also, the phobia he’d developed of the car – thanks in no small part to all those unpleasant vet appointments – didn’t really help. So I came up with a slightly less ambitious bucket list (called the Peedee-Do List) and resolved to share pictures of our progress each week. Enter: This Week in Pictures. (I still don’t love the series title, but it’ll have to do.)

Our last post was on November 3rd. Peedee was still doing reasonably well then, but symptoms of his illness (labored breathing, a decline in endurance) had begun popping up and just couldn’t be ignored. I knew Peedee didn’t have much time left, and I wanted to spend as much of it as I could spoiling him. So I put the bucket list blogging on hold.

This week, I’ve spent a lot of time looking back on those old posts. It’s a bittersweet thing. We created so many happy memories together, but now they’re all I have of him. I wish I could go back and do it all over again. All the stress and worry and anticipatory grief? I’d relive it in a never-ending cycle, just to see him again.

After Peedee died, I was lost. I didn’t know what to do with myself. When Peedee relapsed, he became the center of our lives. Everything we did, we did with him in mind. Fostering, doctor’s appointments, traveling: we put it all on hold. Peedee went everywhere with us…and if he couldn’t come, we didn’t go. I don’t think I ever left him home alone, not once. Now that he’s gone, I’m adrift. Unmoored. Directionless.

It took months before I was able to go through those last batches of pictures. Nearly three, apparently, before I could bring myself to write this last This Week in Pictures post. Even if it’s really just for me, I feel like I have to. Tell the story to its end, that is. (Yes, I totally lifted that title from a book in my TBR pile.)

Peedee was a devoted friend, a loving older (and younger) brother, and a crazy smart dog with a big, mushy heart to match. If I needed comforting, I could always count on Peedee to give it, and generously. He felt timeless, as though he’d always been with me, and always would be. And he will, in a way: in pictures and memories and blog posts like this one. He lives in my heart, and in the tubes, and in the stars. In bubbles in a glass of champagne.

On his last night, we told him stories.

(More below the fold…)

A Very Canine Christmas, Redux

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

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I had a blast spoiling the dogs last x-mas, so I decided to carry the tradition over to another year, even though they’re not exactly hurting for toys. Ditto: crates, bedding, games, clothing, costumes, or treats. (Even if they’d rather do without some of these items.) As my mom would happily point out, my dogs have more toys than she did as a kid. But seeing as I tend to send all our fosters home with a toy or two or three, we have enough turnover to justify at least a small pile of goodies under the tree.

Our current foster, Tiny Terror, threw a wrench into the plans on Christmas Day, just as I knew she would. (See: her nickname.) She tends to rush, bark, and sometimes nip at the other dogs whenever they do anything that so much as hints at signs of life: bark, whine, chase toys, run from one room to another, jump down from the couch, and/or attempt to enter or leave the house. Or make noise of any sort, whether intentionally or not. This behavior represents a huge improvement over her first days with us, when she’d try to pick fights constantly, and at random. (I use the term “fight” liberally; they resemble Peedee and Finnick’s slap and tickle fights more than anything else.)

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As per usual, Mags is not amused.
——————————

Anyway, the gift giving went just as I predicted: Tiny Terror was completely disinterested in the shiny presents, preferring instead to bum rush the dogs who were excited about it (so basically Rennie and Peedee; Jayne and Mags are only interested in eating the paper, and Finnick just wants to be with his dad). Eventually it got so bad that I put her in the bedroom for a little time out. But by this point everyone was so exhausted that we only got to half the presents. So I guess we get to do it again…tonight? (Yay?) In any case, it won’t be the first time we’ve carried a few presents over to a second holiday.

(More below the fold…)

VeganMoFo 2013!

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Have you all heard the news? VeganMoFo (7th annual!) is going down in September this year. That’s just 42 days away!

I’m actually kind of bummed at the scheduling change – I had wanted to do a His Dark Materials theme this year, but I don’t think I’ll be up to the challenge so soon after Ralphie and Kaylee’s deaths. My heart’s just not in it, and it’s pretty much impossible to spread enthusiasm when you’re totally lacking it yourself. That’s one of my goals – bring more fellow vegans into the Sraffie fold – and it requires a lot more than just cooking tasty meals. Like, relating them to characters and plot points and major themes. Brainy stuff. And sadly my mind feels like a giant bowl of mashed potatoes as of late. Delicious, cheesy cheddar mashed potatoes (eating my feelings over here!), but mashed potatoes just the same.

Still, I hate to miss it entirely – to date I’ve participated all but the first year – so I’ll probably do something less intellectual. I’m thinking an alphabet theme? That shouldn’t be too tough to pull off. Or if I’m feeling especially lazy, maybe I’ll just do a daily food diary. But I’m afraid that theme will bore everyone to tears: breakfast, bran flakes with apples slices; lunch: last night’s leftovers; dinner: pasta or pizza. Rinse, repeat. Not terribly exciting.

How about you guys? Anyone planning on mofo’ing in 2013? Themes? Menus? Miscellany? (Don’t worry, I’m not looking to crib – just curious!)

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Because he didn’t make it into the last post, here’s a photo of Peedee howling.
He feels my pain, yo.
——————————

(Just to be clear – and in case any of the VMF goddesses are reading this – I understand why they decided to try on a different month this time around: better light, more inclusive, different seasonal foods, etc. – and normally I’d love it. This year, though…this year just kicked my ass. Truth is, I was having doubts about my ability to write a month’s worth of HDM posts even when I thought VMF would be in October or even November. So probably it doesn’t even matter. Pity party for one!)

Book Review: The Elements of His Dark Materials: The Guide to Philip Pullman’s Trilogy, Laurie Frost (2006)

Monday, February 18th, 2013

No Sraffie’s library is complete without it!

five out of five stars

When the author of the source material readily admits to using someone else’s reference book to help write the sequel(s), you know it’s got to be good! Laurie Frost’s The Elements of His Dark Materials: The Guide to Philip Pullman’s Trilogy is an epic encyclopedia worthy of this most epic of series. (It’s my absolute favorite, in case you couldn’t tell.) Exhaustively researched and referenced, Elements covers everything you want/need to know about His Dark Materials.

The book is organized around eleven primary subjects, many of which are further divided into subsections (reproduced here since Amazon’s listing doesn’t include the table of contents):

I. Characters
* Cross-Reference of Characters

II. Places and Peoples
* The Words of the Worlds
* The Worlds
* Cities, Countries, Regions, Continents, and Elements of Topography
* Structures and Streets
* The Oxfords
* Peoples

III. Creatures, Beings and Extraordinary Humans

IV. The Alethiometer, the Subtle Knife, the Amber Spyglass
* The Alethiometer and associated entries
* The Subtle Knife and associated entries
* The Amber Spyglass and associated entries

V. Philosophy, Psychology, and Theology
* Multiple worlds, Prophecy, Stories
* Dust, Rusakov particles, Shadows/Shadow-particles, Sraf

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version, Philip Pullman (2012)

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Come for the fairy tales, stay for the waggish commentary.

four out of five stars

When I first heard that Philip Pullman was to release a collection of Grimm’s fairy tales, I was super-excited. Not Book of Dust excited, but pretty stoked nonetheless. His Dark Materials is easily my favorite series of all time, and I’ll eagerly devour anything by or about Philip Pullman. Plus, fairy tales!

Alas, while I was hoping for a book of fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm as reimagined by Philip Pullman (e.g., along the lines of My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me; the rampant sexism found in so many fairy tales is just screaming out for feminist retellings, don’t you think?), the resulting collection is mostly faithful to the originals. Pullman has tweaked the tales here and there – borrowing pieces from one version to improve upon another, for example, and occasionally correcting inconsistencies and mistakes, such as in “The Three Snake Leaves” (with three whacks, the prince cuts the snake into three pieces, rather than the four dictated by simple math) – but aside from some light housekeeping, the stories are highly reminiscent of those I enjoyed as a child.

Of course, I can’t fault Pullman for failing to live up to my misplaced expectations – and, for what it is, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version is an engaging and nostalgic collection of classic Grimm fairy tales. While you’ll recognize many of the standards – Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rumplestiltskin, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretal, and the especially lovely “The Juniper Tree” all make appearances – you may also discover a few new favorites.

I absolutely fell in love with one of the last entries, “The Moon,” a sort of fairy tale-cum-creation myth that tells how the moon came into being. First belonging to a town, then purchased by four brothers who each insisted that their share be buried with them upon death, St. Peter finally retrieved it from the underworld and hung it in the sky where it could shine over all the world’s creatures. Every day, he removes a piece of it to remind humans of their folly, finally restoring it at the end of each month. Hello lunar cycle!

Each of the fifty tales is followed by information about the tale type and source, as well as a paragraph or two – or, if we’re especially lucky, an entire page – of commentary about the preceding fairy tale. Fans of Pullman will love this last bit, as it’s here where his personality and humor shine through. Take, for example, this notation on “The Girl with No Hands”:

“However, the tale itself is disgusting. The most repellent aspect is the cowardice of the miller, which goes quite unpunished. The tone of never-shaken piety is nauseating, and the restoration of the poor woman’s hands is simply preposterous.

“‘But aren’t fairy tales supposed to be full of preposterous things?’

“No. The resurrection of the little boy in ‘The Juniper Tree’, for example, feels truthful and right. This feels merely silly: instead of being struck with wonder, here we laugh. It’s ridiculous. This tale and others like it must have spoken so deeply to many audiences, though, for it to spread so widely, or perhaps a great many people like stories of maiming, cruelty and sentimental piety.”

Ouch!

Whether you’re a fan of fairy tales or just plain love Philip Pullman, most likely you’ll find something to savor in this collection.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so.)

Banned Books Week starts today!

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

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Don’t pay attention to the flier – Banned Books Week starts today and runs through October 6th this year! I used an older graphic because, hello!, His Dark Materials. MY FAVORITE!

From the ALA’s website:

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship. Check out the frequently challenged books section to explore the issues and controversies around book challenges and book banning.

Banned Books Week 2012 marks its 30th anniversary (see timeline). Thousands of individuals and institutions across the United States participate in Banned Books Week each year, and it has grown into a premier literary event and a national awareness and advocacy campaign around censorship. In honor of the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, the Office for Intellectual Freedom delivers the 50 State Salute to Banned Books Week in coordination with ALA Chapters. The 50 State Salute consists of videos on how each state celebrates the freedom to read. For more information on how your organization can participate, please visit the 50 State Salute page. And for the second year in a row, we are cosponsoring the Banned Books Virtual Read-Out, where readers can declare their freedom to read by uploading videos of themselves reading from their favorite banned/challenged books. The critieria and video submission information has been updated. Please check out the Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out page for more information.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools. While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.

Don’t be shy, people! Take a quick (no more than two minutes) video of you or your BFF reading from your favorite banned or challenged book to be a part of the virtual read-out.

I’ll show you my book pile if you show me yours.

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral.*

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.

– Aaron Freeman, “You want a physicist to speak at your funeral.” (via NPR)

(More below the fold…)

tweets for 2012-05-17

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

"…quietly turning to rust."

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

“Dinosauria, We (blue man)”: CC image via flickr user danielofredorota.
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Father Gomez

I.

He came out at sunset on a little headland beside a shallow bay. If they had tides in this sea, the tide was high, because there was only a narrow fringe of soft white sand above the water.

And floating in the calm bay were a dozen or more. Father Gomez had to stop and think carefully. A dozen or more enormous snow-white birds, each the size of a rowboat, with long, straight wings that trailed on the water behind them: very long wings, at least two yards in length. Were they birds? They had feathers, and heads and beaks not unlike swans’, but those wings were situated one in front of the other, surely…

Suddenly they saw him. Heads turned with a snap, and at once all those wings were raised high, exactly like the sails of a yacht, and they all leaned in with the breeze, making for the shore.

Father Gomez was impressed by the beauty of those wing-sails, by how they were flexed and trimmed so perfectly, and by the speed of the birds. Then he saw that they were paddling, too: they had legs under the water, placed not fore and aft like the wings but side by side, and with the wings and the legs together, they had an extraordinary speed and grace in the water.

As the first one reached the shore, it lumbered up through the dry sand, making directly for the priest. It was hissing with malice, stabbing its head forward as it waddled heavily up the shore, and the beak snapped and clacked. There were teeth in the beak, too, like a series of sharp incurved hooks.

Father Gomez was about a hundred yards from the edge of the water, on a low grassy promontory, and he had plenty of time to put down his rucksack, take out the rifle, load, aim, and fire.

The bird’s head exploded in a mist of red and white, and the creature blundered on clumsily for several steps before sinking onto its breast. It didn’t die for a minute or more; the legs kicked, the wings rose and fell, and the great bird beat itself around and around in a bloody circle, kicking up the rough grass, until a long, bubbling expiration from its lungs ended with a coughing spray of red, and it fell still.

The other birds had stopped as soon as the first one fell, and stood watching it, and watching the man, too. There was a quick, ferocious intelligence in their eyes. They looked from him to the dead bird, from that to the rifle, from the rifle to his face.

He raised the rifle to his shoulder again and saw them react, shifting backward clumsily, crowding together. They understood.

They were fine, strong creatures, large and broad-backed, like living boats, in fact. If they knew what death was, thought Father Gomez, and if they could see the connection between death and himself, then there was the basis of a fruitful understanding between them. Once they had truly learned to fear him, they would do exactly as he said. […]

(More below the fold…)

Frozen Chocolatl (with variations for S’mores Ice Cream & S’mores Ice Cream Sammies!)

Monday, October 24th, 2011

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Readers of His Dark Materials get their first taste of chocolatl when, in The Golden Compass, Marisa Coulter uses the sweet, hot drink to lure unsuspecting children into the hands of the Gobblers – more commonly known as the General Oblation Board, a research arm of the church which conducts unthinkable experiments on children and their daemons. (See the excerpt below. Yes, I included an excerpt! ALWAYS QUOTE PHILIP PULLMAN.) A favorite of children and adults alike, “chocolatl” is what people in Lyra’s world call hot chocolate or, more generally, chocolate.

Since I experimented with marzipan ice cream earlier this month, I decided that it’d only be fair to give chocolatl the frozen treatment too. (“Chocolatl.” “Chocolatl.” It just rolls off the tongue, no?) Plus, Chicago Soydairy is totally running a veganmofo contest: create “something amazing” with Dandies, enter to win a year’s supply of the white, puffy stuff. How could I resist? (Answer: I could not. I WAS POWERLESS.)

idk if double chocolate marshmallow ice cream, topped with crumbled graham crackers and even more marshmallows counts as “something amazing” – but given this dessert’s backstory, I’d like to think that it’s “something charming,” at the very least. I hope you agree!

(…and then go pick up a copy of His Dark Materials, stat. I need some fellow heathen vegans to geek out with over Lyra & Will and Mary & the mulefa and the witches and Iorek & Lee and Baruch & Balthamos and dust and the deaths and Xaphania SO BAD IT HURTS! ON A PHYSICAL LEVEL, for reals.)

If not, perhaps the variations for S’mores Ice Cream and S’mores Ice Cream Sammies will do the trick? (I know, bury the lede much?) Three desserts in one!
 

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Frozen Chocolatl (i.e., “Chocolate Marshmallow Ice Cream” in Will’s world)

Ingredients

1 cup soy milk (plain or vanilla), divided
2 cups soy creamer (plain or vanilla)
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup vegan chocolate chips
30 Dandies marshmallows, divided
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup vegan chocolate bark or chocolate chips (optional)
Chocolate sprinkles, chocolate chips, Dandies and/or crumbled graham crackers to garnish (optional)

Directions

1. In a small bowl or mug, combine 1/4 cup of the soy milk with the arrowroot powder. Whisk briskly and set aside.

2. In a saucepan, combine the remaining 3/4 cup of the soy milk with all of the soy creamer and sugar. Whisk briskly over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until blended. Add the chocolate chips and one half of the marshmallows and stir until they’re melted. Increasing the heat, bring to a slow boil, stirring constantly.

3. Once the mix begins to boil, remove from heat and add the arrowroot “slurry.” This will cause the batter to thicken noticeably. Add the vanilla extract and mix well. Chill in the fridge for four to six hours or more prior to processing in an ice cream machine. (Usually I prefer to let the batter chill overnight.)

4. Process the batter according to your ice cream machine’s directions. Add the remainder of the Dandies to the batter while it’s processing – earlier in the cycle for smaller bits, later for larger chunks. Ditto: the chocolate bark (or chips). (If you’re afraid of gumming up your machine, you can add them after the batter’s done processing, as you’re dispensing the ice cream. In this case, you’ll need to dice the Dandies by hand.) When done processing, transfer to an airtight container.

5. Serve immediately for soft serve or pop in the freezer for an hour+ for a more solid dessert.

6. Along with vegan sprinkles, chocolate chips, and/or graham crackers, use those extra Dandies for topping. Assuming you didn’t scarf them while waiting for the ice cream to freeze, that is!

(More below the fold…)

"Playing the Serpent" Marzipan Ice Cream

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

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For a brief moment, I considered making my veganmofo theme a His Dark Materials one this year. But after several days of wracking my brain and only coming up with a few scattered foodstuffs – namely, marzipan, chocolatl, Tokay, tea crackers and vegan seal blubber (!) – I gave up on the idea, with not a small twinge of regret. But! We can still have marzipan and chocolate, can’t we? I don’t know about y’all, but I fancy some sweet almond paste today! Plus, I did promise you a marzipan recipe earlier this month, did I not?

Since marzipan ice cream is a more unusual flavor, I decided to try my hand at making my own concoction. Plan A was to use a standard vanilla ice cream recipe as a base, and then mix marzipan blended with (vegan) heavy cream (for a creamy effect) in with the ice cream after it was processed through an ice cream machine, à la this recipe for Marzipan Swirl Ice Cream (veganized, of course). For the marzipan, I used this recipe (also veganized!) for Almond Paste at food.com. Epic disaster!

I’m not sure what (if anything) I did wrong, but the end result was less like paste and more like soup. Even after I doubled the dry ingredients, the almond “paste” had at best the consistency of caramel sauce – not even close to paste-like. Just as I was on the brink of despair, it hit me: I was planning on liquefying the marzipan anyhow, so what’s the diff? If anything, this saved me the extra steps of making vegan heavy cream and then heating it with the marzipan to make the “cream” for the swirl. Score!

So here’s Plan B, the result of a happy accident which saved me at least a half hour of extra work and a quarter sink of dirty dishes. May this little taste of the sweet stuff bring you a fraction of the wisdom and fortune that it did to Mary Malone – and, by extension, Lyra, Will, and all the animals of all the worlds, human and non.

Go forth and play the serpent, my friends.

 

365 Days – Day 037 “For the Adam and Eve in all of Us”

FIND THE GIRL AND THE BOY. WASTE NO MORE TIME.
But why?
YOU MUST PLAY THE SERPENT.

– Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials (The Subtle Knife)
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“Playing the Serpent” Marzipan Ice Cream

Ingredients

for the marzipan:

1 1/3 cups dried blanched almonds or almond meal
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup sugar
1/8 cup agave nectar
1 tablespoon almond extract
1/2 cup water

for the ice cream batter:

1 cup soy or almond milk, divided
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
2 cups soy creamer
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract

(More below the fold…)

Marchpane

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

This passage from Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass is one of my most favorite fictional food stories, like, ever. And given that a) I’m on a huge His Dark Materials kick right now (ginormous!); and today is both b) the end of Banned Books Week (a list on which HDM is often included) and c) the first day of veganmofo, it seems a rather opportune time to share, don’t you think? (The stars, they’ve aligned!) In this chapter, scientist Mary Malone plays the figurative serpent to Lyra and Will’s Eve and Adam by telling them stories: specifically, the story of how she lost her religion. Two words: marzipan and China! I’ll never look at that sweet paste the same way again.

Got a favorite marzipan recipe? Share it in the comments! I’ll show you mine later on in the month!

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“When did you stop being a nun?” said Lyra.

“I remember it exactly,” Mary said, “even to the time of day. Because I was good at physics, they let me keep up my university career, you see, and I finished my doctorate and I was going to teach. It wasn’t one of those orders where they shut you away from the world. In fact, we didn’t even wear the habit; we just had to dress soberly and wear a crucifix. So I was going into university to teach and do research into particle physics.

“And there was a conference on my subject and they asked me to come and read a paper. The conference was in Lisbon, and I’d never been there before; in fact, I’d never been out of England. The whole business, the plane flight, the hotel, the bright sunlight, the foreign languages all around me, the well-known people who were going to speak, and the thought of my own paper and wondering whether anyone would turn up to listen and whether I’d be too nervous to get the words out… Oh, I was keyed up with excitement, I can’t tell you.

“And I was so innocent, you have to remember that. I’d been such a good little girl, I’d gone to Mass regularly, I’d thought I had a vocation for the spiritual life. I wanted to serve God with all my heart. I wanted to take my whole life and offer it up like this,” she said, holding up her hands together, “and place it in front of Jesus to do as he liked with. And I suppose I was pleased with myself. Too much. I was holy and I was clever. Ha! That lasted until, oh, half past nine on the evening of August the tenth, seven years ago.”

Lyra sat up and hugged her knees, listening closely.

“It was the evening after I’d given my paper,” Mary went on, “and it had gone well, and there’d been some well-known people listening, and I’d dealt with the questions without making a mess of it, and altogether I was full of relief and pleasure… And pride, too, no doubt.

“Anyway, some of my colleagues were going to a restaurant a little way down the coast, and they asked if I’d like to go. Normally I’d have made some excuse, but this time I thought, Well, I’m a grown woman, I’ve presented a paper on an important subject and it was well received and I’m among good friends… And it was so warm, and the talk was about all the things I was most interested in, and we were all in high spirits, so I thought I’d loosen up a bit. I was discovering another side of myself, you know, one that liked the taste of wine and grilled sardines and the feeling of warm air on my skin and the beat of music in the background. I relished it.

“So we sat down to eat in the garden. I was at the end of a long table under a lemon tree, and there was a sort of bower next to me with passionflowers, and my neighbor was talking to the person on the other side, and… Well, sitting opposite was a man I’d seen once or twice around the conference. I didn’t know him to speak to; he was Italian, and he’d done some work that people were talking about, and I thought it would be interesting to hear about it.

“Anyway. He was only a little older than me, and he had soft black hair and beautiful olive-colored skin and dark, dark eyes. His hair kept falling across his forehead and he kept pushing it back like that, slowly…”

She showed them. Will thought she looked as if she remembered it very well.

“He wasn’t handsome,” she went on. “He wasn’t a ladies’ man or a charmer. If he had been, I’d have been shy, I wouldn’t have known how to talk to him. But he was nice and clever and funny and it was the easiest thing in the world to sit there in the lantern light under the lemon tree with the scent of the flowers and the grilled food and the wine, and talk and laugh and feel myself hoping that he thought I was pretty. Sister Mary Malone, flirting! What about my vows? What about dedicating my life to Jesus and all that?

“Well, I don’t know if it was the wine or my own silliness or the warm air or the lemon tree, or whatever…But it gradually seemed to me that I’d made myself believe something that wasn’t true. I’d made myself believe that I was fine and happy and fulfilled on my own without the love of anyone else. Being in love was like China: you knew it was there, and no doubt it was very interesting, and some people went there, but I never would. I’d spend all my life without ever going to China, but it wouldn’t matter, because there was all the rest of the world to visit.

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“And then someone passed me a bit of some sweet stuff and I suddenly realized I had been to China. So to speak. And I’d forgotten it. It was the taste of the sweet stuff that brought it back, I think it was marzipan. Sweet almond paste,” she explained to Lyra, who was looking confused.

Lyra said, “Ah! Marchpane!” and settled back comfortably to hear what happened next.

“Anyway,” Mary went on. “I remembered the taste, and all at once I was back tasting it for the first time as a young girl.

“I was twelve years old. I was at a party at the house of one of my friends, a birthday party, and there was a disco, that’s where they play music on a kind of recording machine and people dance,” she explained, seeing Lyra’s puzzlement. “Usually girls dance together because the boys are too shy to ask them. But this boy, I didn’t know him, he asked me to dance, and so we had the first dance and then the next, and by that time we were talking… And you know what it is when you like someone, you know it at once; well, I liked him such a lot. And we kept on talking and then there was a birthday cake. And he took a bit of marzipan and he just gently put it in my mouth, I remember trying to smile, and blushing, and feeling so foolish, and I fell in love with him just for that, for the gentle way he touched my lips with the marzipan.”

As Mary said that, Lyra felt something strange happen to her body. She found a stirring at the roots of her hair: she found herself breathing faster. She had never been on a roller-coaster, or anything like one, but if she had, she would have recognized the sensations in her breast: they were exciting and frightening at the same time, and she had not the slightest idea why. The sensation continued, and deepened, and changed, as more parts of her body found themselves affected too. She felt as if she had been handed the key to a great house she hadn’t known was there, a house that was somehow inside her, and as she turned the key, deep in the darkness of the building she felt other doors opening too, and lights coming on.* She sat trembling, hugging her knees, hardly daring to breathe, as Mary went on:

“And I think it was at that party, or it might have been at another one, that we kissed each other for the first time. It was in a garden, and there was the sound of music from inside, and the quiet and the cool among the trees, and I was aching, all my body was aching for him, and I could tell he felt the same, and we were both almost too shy to move. Almost. But one of us did and then without any interval between, it was like a quantum leap, suddenly, we were kissing each other, and oh, it was more than China, it was paradise.

“We saw each other about half a dozen times, no more. And then his parents moved away and I never saw him again. It was such a sweet time, so short… But there it was. I’d known it. I had been to China.”

It was the strangest thing: Lyra knew exactly what she meant, and half an hour earlier she would have had no idea at all. And inside her, that rich house with all its doors open and all its rooms lit stood waiting, quiet, expectant.

“And at half past nine in the evening at that restaurant table in Portugal,” Mary continued, “someone gave me a piece of marzipan and it all came back. And I thought: am I really going to spend the rest of my life without ever feeling that again? I thought: I want to go to China. It’s full of treasures and strangeness and mystery and joy. I thought, Will anyone be better off if I go straight back to the hotel and say my prayers and confess to the priest and promise never to fall into temptation again? Will anyone be the better for making me miserable?

“And the answer came back, no. No one will. There’s no one to fret, no one to condemn, no one to bless me for being a good girl, no one to punish me for being wicked. Heaven was empty. I didn’t know whether God had died, or whether there never had been a God at all. Either way I felt free and lonely and I didn’t know whether I was happy or unhappy, but something very strange had happened. And all that huge change came about as I had the marzipan in my mouth, before I’d even swallowed it. A taste, a memory, a landslide…

“When I did swallow it and looked at the man across the table, I could tell he knew something had happened. I couldn’t tell him there and then; it was still too strange and private almost for me. But later on we went for a walk along the beach in the dark, and the warm night breeze kept stirring my hair about, and the Atlantic was being very well-behaved, little quiet waves around our feet…

“And I took the crucifix from around my neck and I threw it in the sea. That was it. All over. Gone.

“So that was how I stopped being a nun,” she said.

– Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials (The Amber Spyglass)

* Not-so-fun fact: the sexier bits of this paragraph were cut out of the US edition. Quick, to the fainting couch!

Green Tea Cupcakes with Marzipan Flowers by hoveringdog on Flickr

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Book Review: Discovering the Golden Compass, George Beahm (2007)

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

four out of five stars

Dust, Daemons and Disappointment

Discovering the Golden Compass is a charming little book (“little” in comparison to other HDM guides, that is!) that deals with everything His Dark Materials. Author – and fellow fan – George Beahm introduces readers to the trilogy (of course!), as well as:

– its sequel novella, Lyra’s Oxford (the prequel Once Upon a Time in a North was published a year after Discovering the Golden Compass, so it doesn’t make an appearance here);

– the unabridged audiobook (brilliant! you should definitely give it a listen if you haven’t already!) and BBC radio adaptations;

– the six-hour play staged by the National Theatre in London;

– the upcoming (eventually!) Book of Dust; and

– (groan!) the 2007 film The Golden Compass.

Also included are brief overviews of HDM-related books, collectibles, documentaries and websites, as well as copious quotes from the principals in and critics of each.

The design and artwork are the highlights of Discovering the Golden Compass. The book is primarily printed in black and white, with red and gold details throughout. A 16-page full-color insert chock full of photographs by Emma Raynaud provides a gorgeous (if all too short) tour through Philip Pullman’s Oxford, and the illustrations by Tim Kirk are both lovely and informative. This is one good-looking guide!

But the true gem of this collection is a 10,000-word autobiographical essay by Philip Pullman himself; originally published on Philip Pullman’s website (http://www.philip-pullman.com), as of this writing “I Have a Feeling This All Belongs to Me” appears to be unavailable online. Even if you read nothing else, the essay alone is worth the purchase price of the book.

On the downside, the sections concerning the film are terribly depressing. The Golden Compass was still in production while Beahm was writing Discovering the Golden Compass, and the book was published three months before the release of the film. Beahm’s outlook concerning the film adaptation is hopeful, even gushing, despite the early warning signs (for example, the filmmakers’ eschewing of His Dark Materials’ more subversive elements, such as at the 2007 Oxford Literary Festival – the panel discussion for which Beahm provides a transcript). While I can’t begrudge him his optimism, in hindsight these passages are difficult – painful, even – to read.

As someone who’d rather pretend that the film never happened, I think (some of) the precious space occupied by The Golden Compass would have been better spent looking at His Dark Materials: the plot, the setting, the characters, the curiosities. Dust and daemons, witches and armored bears, Svalbard and Bolvanger – all the details to delight a fangirl. Since Beahm aims to covers so much ground in so few pages, his discussion of the HDM trilogy is necessarily brief: Discovering the Golden Compass is a little bit of everything. Die-hard fans probably won’t gain any significant insights here, but it’s a fun romp through Philip Pullman’s worlds in any case.

Curiously, Beahm also keeps it (mostly) spoiler-free, which seems an odd choice to me; if you happen to find yourself intrigued by His Dark Materials, why not just read the source material? Picking up a book about a book you want to read, but haven’t yet, seems … silly. The primary audience for this type of tome – nonfiction written about a piece of fiction, be it literature, film, television, etc. – seems to me to be existing fans … so why not converse with one another using the language and shared knowledge of a fandom? It’s so much more fun that way!

Marzipan!

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(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

vegan nomz roundup: ice cream by the gallon!

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Sure, so this morning’s thunderstorm brought water gushing (alright, leaking) into the bathroom! And maybe my kitchen appliances are all dying at the same time! And don’t even get me started on these dogs, who I love to death but nevertheless won’t stfu long enough for me to heart myself think! But that’s okay, cause I’ve got a freezer full of ice cream! (Incidentally, the freezer is one of our many ailing appliances, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.) And ice cream makes everything better!

… right?

Vanilla So Delicious & His Dark Materials

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Reading the end of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and sobbing into a vat of vanilla So Delicious ice cream. DEAR DOG WILL THE TEARS EVER STOP?!?

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No. They will never stop. Ever.

Blueberry Sauce & Vanilla Ice Cream Swirl

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Vanilla So Delicious smothered in homemade blueberry sauce!

For the sauce, combine two cups of fresh or frozen blueberries, 3/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan and cook on medium heat, stirring vigilantly, until the blueberries have burst and the sauce is think and almost jam-like (about 15 minutes). If you’re serving this over ice cream, chill in the freezer for +/- 30 minutes so that it doesn’t melt the ice cream on impact!

This is a great way to use up “borderline” fresh blueberries, fyi. (Frugal vegans don’t waste food!)

Lemonade Ice Cream

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Like a party in your mouth! A SEX PARTY. Yeah, I said it.

(More below the fold…)

Goodbye, but not forever.

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

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But before they could begin, a voice cried out, as loudly as a whisper could cry. It was the ghost of a thin man with an angry, passionate face, and he cried:

“What will happen? When we leave the world of the dead, will we live again? Or will we vanish as our daemons did? Brothers, sisters, we shouldn’t follow this child anywhere till we know what’s going to happen to us!”

Others took up the question: “Yes, tell us where we’re going! Tell us what to expect! We won’t go unless we know what’ll happen to us!”

Lyra turned to Will in despair, but he said, “Tell them the truth. Ask the alethiometer, and tell them what it says.”

“All right,” she said.

She took out the golden instrument. The answer came at once. She put it away and stood up.

“This is what’ll happen,” she said, “and it’s true, perfectly true. When you go out of here, all the particles that make you up will loosen and float apart, just like your daemons did. If you’ve seen people dying, you know what that looks like. But your daemons en’t just nothing now; they’re part of everything. All the atoms that were them, they’ve gone into the air and the wind and the trees and the earth and all the living things. They’ll never vanish. They’re just part of everything. And that’s exactly what’ll happen to you, I swear to you, I promise on my honor. You’ll drift apart, it’s true, but you’ll be out in the open, part of everything alive again.”

No one spoke. Those who had seen how daemons dissolved were remembering it, and those who hadn’t were imagining it, and no one spoke until a young woman came forward. She had died as a martyr centuries before. She looked around and said to the other ghosts:

“When we were alive, they told us that when we died we’d go to Heaven. And they said that Heaven was a place of joy and glory and we would spend eternity in the company of saints and angels praising the Almighty, in a state of bliss. That’s what they said. And that’s what led some of us to give our lives, and others to spend years in solitary prayer, while all the joy of life was going to waste around us and we never knew.

“Because the land of the dead isn’t a place of reward or a place of punishment. It’s a place of nothing. The good come here as well as the wicked, and all of us languish in this gloom forever, with no hope of freedom, or joy, or sleep, or rest, or peace.

“But now this child has come offering us a way out and I’m going to follow her. Even if it means oblivion, friends, I’ll welcome it, because it won’t be nothing. We’ll be alive again in a thousand blades of grass, and a million leaves; we’ll be falling in the raindrops and blowing in the fresh breeze; we’ll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world, which is our true home and always was.

“So I urge you: come with the child out to the sky!”

But her ghost was thrust aside by the ghost of a man who looked like a monk: thin and pale, with dark, zealous eyes even in his death. He crossed himself and murmured a prayer, and then he said:

“This is a bitter message, a sad and cruel joke. Can’t you see the truth? This is not a child. This is an agent of the Evil One himself! The world we lived in was a vale of corruption and tears. Nothing there could satisfy us. But the Almighty has granted us this blessed place for all eternity, this paradise, which to the fallen soul seems bleak and barren, but which the eyes of faith see as it is, overflowing with milk and honey and resounding with the sweet hymns of the angels. This is Heaven, truly! What this evil girl promises is nothing but lies. She wants to lead you to Hell! Go with her at your peril. My companions and I of the true faith will remain here in our blessed paradise, and spend eternity singing the praises of the Almighty, who has given us the judgment to tell the false from the true.”

Once again he crossed himself, and then he and his companions turned away in horror and loathing.

Lyra felt bewildered. Was she wrong? Was she making some great mistake? She looked around: gloom and desolation on every side. But she’d been wrong before about the appearance of things, trusting Mrs. Coulter because of her beautiful smile and her sweet-scented glamour. It was so easy to get things wrong; and without her daemon to guide her, maybe she was wrong about this, too.

But Will was shaking her arm. Then he put his hands to her face and held it roughly.

“You know that’s not true,” he said, “just as well as you can feel this. Take no notice! They can all see he’s lying, too. And they’re depending on us. Come on, let’s make a start.”

She nodded. She had to trust her body and the truth of what her senses told her; she knew Pan would have.

So they set off, and the numberless millions of ghosts began to follow them. Behind them, too far back for the children to see, other inhabitants of the world of the dead had heard what was happening and were coming to join the great march. Tialys and Salmakia flew back to look and were overjoyed to see their own people there, and every other kind of conscious being who had ever been punished by the Authority with exile and death. Among them were beings who didn’t look human at all, beings like the mulefa, whom Mary Malone would have recognized, and stranger ghosts as well. But Will and Lyra had no strength to look back; all they could do was move on after the harpies, and hope.

…..

Will and Lyra exchanged a look. Then he cut a window, and it was the sweetest thing they had ever seen.

The night air filled their lungs, fresh and clean and cool; their eyes took in a canopy of dazzling stars, and the shine of water somewhere below, and here and there groves of great trees, as high as castles, dotting the wide savanna.

Will enlarged the window as wide as he could, moving across the grass to left and right, making it big enough for six, seven, eight to walk through abreast, out of the land of the dead.

The first ghosts trembled with hope, and their excitement passed back like a ripple over the long line behind them, young children and aged parents alike looking up and ahead with delight and wonder as the first stars they had seen for centuries shone through into their poor starved eyes.

The first ghost to leave the world of the dead was Roger. He took a step forward, and turned to look back at Lyra, and laughed in surprise as he found himself turning into the night, the starlight, the air…and then he was gone, leaving behind such a vivid little burst of happiness that Will was reminded of the bubbles in a glass of champagne.

(More below the fold…)