Strawberry Fields and Military Sci-Fi

Aldis had freeze dried strawberries in the nut section last time I went in.

I have been curious about freeze-dried fruits, and, more specifically, how they would do in granola for about as long as I’ve been into making granola so naturally I bought a bag, combining a crushed handful of fragrant redness with (shelled) pumpkin seeds, almonds, candied ginger, vanilla extract, and honey syrup.

Conclusion: It does right well in granola, though more because the powder clung to the ginger than becasue the chunks are noticeable. Next time I will add less sugar, but for now the strawberries are pleasantly tart and smell heavenly; when topped with chunks of fresh peaches it is divine.


I’ve since used the strawberries, powdered, as a base for salad dressing and as an addition to candied walnuts. I have a little bit left in the bag . . . . maybe something traditional like scones? I haven’t really had time to think about it: for the last 2.5 day I’ve been slogging through the muggy jungles of Marduk in a 1,000 page crawl of the Empire of Man’s opening half. I’m recuperating while my hold requests for the last two books are fulfilled. I do have three other books on my table, all also courtesy of the library (one on loan from a completely different county, using the Marina system. Magic) but, in all honesty, I don’t think I could read another line right now. Not with enjoyment, anyway.

Part of that is becasue all the books I’m reading are just similar enough to start running together. I’ve been kind of on a military sci-fi kick lately – it’s my new whodunit, I guess. For years I loved reading Agatha Christie and Arthur Doyle during the summer but, now that I’ve read a fair number of those stories and sampled a few others in the genre, I’m rather mystery-ed out. Even with my love of formula, between the literally cookie cutter nature of some mystery books, and the inevitable ruins they makes of the characters’ lives, I’m a bit numb to them. I can get my seasonal dose of scandal from police dramas, thank you.

Military sci-fi fits in perfectly to the void thus created. The situations are equally convenient, the characters unimportant, and the plot merely a carriage for death, cunningly achieved. At times authors of either genre will wander into arm chair philosophy; the whodunit focusing on the psychological origins of human evil and the military covering honor and death and what the struggle to live means when that struggle includes being willing to lay down your life for an outside cause.

Not that the characters in military fiction are merely bits of wood for the bullets to hit. However, they do sometimes seem so in comparison to longer epics that don’t make battles their primary focus but instead are full of random character dialogue. The Belgariad comes to mind as the best example of this – the characters are the reason you read the book and, when you are done reading it, you feel you know them inside and out. The Belgariad is such a part of me that it’s difficult to not hold other long, drawn out sagas to the same standard of camaraderie, even when they are obviously in a completely different category. And military fiction is a completely different category than Fantasy or Sci-Fi. Instructional rather than inspirational, Military Fiction is for the quartermaster in all of us. It’s about logistics and order in the midst of lack and chaos. That is what I love about it the most: the orderly, detailed unfolding of battle.

But that is also why it occasionally comes across as, well, flat as a cartographer’s masterpiece. Take the Lost Fleet series, of which I’ve waded through three out of six books. The battles are delicately orchestrated to be daring and dangerous while at the same time letting the characters survive without outright cheating death. They are filled with exhaustively persistent reminders that something ten light-minutes away will take thirty minutes to reach you if you’re going at point one light speed.1 If, by the end of the first book, you are not mentally begging for a good ol’ warp drive you have not been reading it closely enough. The human drama element is there – but it is there becasue that is a part and parcel of war and you couldn’t really have one without the other. As such the characters are sometimes conscripted to speak or act in ways inconsistent to their personality2 but necessary for the moment, effectively killing off any chance of the audience relating to them. This is good, becasue there are only three categories for named characters in war: the doomed, the enemy, and the hero. All in all, it is a wonderful argument for the chain of command and the military mindset and will make you ponder deeply the complexities of waging war in a vast 3D plain. It will get you thinking, but it’s not going to leave tears streaming down your face.

Of course there are military books that have relatable characters as well – L. E. Modestt’s scholar portfolio in the imager universe comes immediately to mind. But even here it is not all the characters. It couldn’t be – too many people die to keep track or care about all of them. And, let’s be brutally honest, no matter how much people are willing to follow a military leader there is something so tragic about them that it is almost impossible for them not to be somewhat isolated in the midst of their troops. They may know the name and backstory of every soldier, but at the end of the day the knowledge that they are sending these men to their deaths will wall their hearts round with guilt. Truly, MF can be almost as emo as a vampire love story. Which, of course, is just another reason to love it, becasue military fiction reminds us, again, that sometimes the hardest of us are also the softest, that it’s rare to have hate without love, and that numbness can only exist where feeling is possible.

I think it’s the juxtaposition of these two concepts – the obsessive attention to niggling detail and the yearning to serve and protect what you hold dear – that really makes military sci-fi. As a culture, we tend to divide things to their basest elements, putting the brain here and the heart there, but this one genre welds them together with spit, wire, and pure grit. This is the-needs-of-the-many level philosophy, where you must constantly weigh the worth of lives today against the uncertainty of victory tomorrow. In a strange way, it is a place in fiction where the hero will always survive but will never truly win, because every time a life is lost he fails. In a world that continually invites you to fall, how can we not relate to the relentlessly battered warrior, who sees his actions time and time again take the life of friend and innocent alike? Perhaps it is as much for the hope they lend – the encouragement to press on despite our despair –  and not just for the ingenuity of war that we continue to write and read them.

 obligatory ending photo

Incongruous Tart

Socks Off    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Or whatever the actual figures are. I’ll admit, my love for a logical world was not strong enough to figure out how soon two ships would come together if they were five light minutes apart and one was moving at 1.4LS and the other at .9LS. The answer was, invariably, “not as quickly as it takes to tell it.”
  2. Assuming they were lucky enough to merit a personality in the first place

Tid-Bit

I have long known that the best way to defeat temptation is to not place oneself in tempting situations, so we can assume I was hoping to be lead astray when I purposed to go to Whole Foods. The excuse was yogurt cultures, because I had killed mine. Again. And then I wanted buttermilk cultures, so I could try my hand at eradicating propagating that as well. And since they were both cheaper than I expected I wandered the tempting aisles of wondrous, semi-exotic sounding foods, looking for a little something to splurge on.
Only, readers, I found nothing.

Self-control exercised, I was just about to leave without anything extraneous when I strolled past the cheese counter. Cheese, of course, is too expensive for a mere whim. If you’re sharing with someone then yes, but by yourself . . . not so much. Yet, recently I had tried to tell someone about a very special kind of cheese with a name so impossible I had never bothered to learn it. Idly I looked for it, and then intently, and then insistently. Until finally I asked the nice cheese jerker if they had any “brown cheese that tasted somewhat like peanut butter.” And lo and behold they did. And so I did.

All in all a successful day: I have my first attempt at buttermilk on the counter, almost two quarts of yogurt in the incubator, and a cube of delightfully different cheese to nibble on. Perfection is an oddity.

Plain Gain

I had plantains for the first time.

 

Okay, maybe I have had them before, cooked by some other hands, but this was the first time they were prepared with curious anticipation by my own. I was surprised how hard the skin was to remove – an attribute related to ripeness, perhaps? – and how yellow they were on the inside. Bananas are, let us admit it, quite white. Plantains, browned a bit with some jalapeno, cumin, coriander, and a splash of sesame oil, are yellow. They have a different flavour too, although I admit that might have been born as the result of the other things in the pot. Some how they reminded me, just faintly, of jack fruit.
A successful experiment all around, and one I will have to repeat again. I had some of the leftovers for lunch one day as odds-and-ends burritos – plantains as the main flavor, with a layer of unfinished miso oatmeal from that day’s breakfast and a final layer of jalapeno-ed lentils, cooked to a nice re-fried texture. The combination was spot on, except for the places where I put too much oatmeal and too little fruit. The ‘tains tame the jalapeno wonderfully – though it helped that I remembered this time and removed the seeds before chopping. I still wasn’t quite mindful enough not to lick my fingers after scraping the green rings into the pot.

Tingly.

  

 

Miso and Mondays

  It was inevitable, once I saw them, that I would make them. After all, I always have miso on hand – though I sometimes wonder why, when I only use it maybe once a month and sometimes not even then. In fact, it was an attempt to find an excuse for the miso that brought me to it, for I had seen a recipe for savory oatmeal, flavored with miso and butter, and when I went to make it couldn’t discover it in my bookmarks.2 Googling miso oatmeal brought up these miso oatmeal cookies, and how could I resist opening the link and taking just a little peep? And after pepping how could I not squirrel the idea away for later?

 

They are fairly good, but their true merit lies in potential, the flavor being a little too subtle once baked for my boorish tongue. The dough, however, is without peer.  I reduced the sugar slightly, putting in just a leetle less than a whole cup of the brown, and only half of the called for white. They are still slightly over sweet when warm. Cooled they might be just right, except they are missing something. Sometimes sugar covers other flavors, so if I were to make these again I would start by reducing that further. I also might add a dash of vanilla, or sub in some maple syrup, to highlight the miso a bit, a la Makiko-san’s idiosyntric pumpkin muffins.

One thing I did, which I rather liked, was use 1/4 cup of coconut oil and one stick of butter. This was of necessity, for I only had one stick of butter, but I think the small addition actually aids the flavor, at least in the dough. In fact, I’d be tempted to go all in just to try it out and see. I’m also wondering if changing to the more aggressive red miso would help, or if that would just make the cookies taste, well, gamey for lack of an existing descriptor.1

Basically, I don’t think sugar and miso alone are enough. Nuts would definitely help, but I’m afraid they might overwhelm the miso instead of emphasizing it. Maybe sunflower or pumpkin seeds instead? The green pumpkin seeds sold at my local shopper would look lovely against the delicate champagne of these cookies, but I honestly can’t associate them with a specific flavour of their own.

 

I think I’ll have to go try another while I think about it.

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  1. I did find it eventually and it was delish, especially with a fried egg and a drizzle of siracha. I wonder if you could add miso to a savory granola?
  2. Although, my dictionary suggests I might try racy. “Off” might be a safer, if vaguer, bet

Through Beet-Colored Glasses

The best part was the freckles,

the dash of magenta splotches across my right forearm. They were quite fetching, to my mind. But what made me laugh was taking off my glasses later that night and finding the dots well represented there as well, right in front of my eyes and yet invisible.

I made a salad of beets on Friday night, peeling them into strips and then modifying them into something thinner and easier to manage with a fork. I’m fairly incapable of being consistent in my sizing, but I think this was a nice compromise between “rustic” and meticulous. The salad was a hair brained thing, beets and carrots and apple, with a little coconut on top, drowned in ginger and lime. I saw half the idea in one place,  muddled it together in my mind, and googled it to make sure I wasn’t completely off my rocker. Sure enough, it had been done before – minus the coconut.

  

It was fun to put together, though it left my hands looking angry and swollen and decorated my walls with bright flecks of beet juice.  It was also surprisingly well received at the brunch I went to, a relief for my fragile pride. I honestly prefer baking when in the kitchen, with stews and soups as a close second, and visions of biscotti taunted me all while planning, shopping, and creating this dish. But really, everyone brings a baked thing. A baked thing, an egg thing, a bit of fruit and a bit of cheese: these are the well-loved guests of the pot-luck breakfast. And they are lovely – I would truly miss them if they failed to appear. But they do appear, without fail, and there’s little incentive to bring yet another of their number. Somehow it’s much harder to bring something truly different, something fresh and perky, especially in winter.

In the process of defying this fact I’ve come to realize that, though I love vegetables in general, I don’t really know what to do with them. Therefore one of my personal challenges this year is to stop bringing desserts to gatherings and start bringing salads. Interesting, quirky, mad-capped salads that might not waken the appetite but at least excite the imagination. This is naturally selfish, becasue I’m more likely to make a Thing for an Event than just for my self at home and I have no intention of trialing these dishes beforehand. The unsuspecting guinea pigs will be observed with discreet care and their responses tallied in secret until I have a nice little repertoire of non-baked, non-egg, non-fruit-and-cheese recipes that aren’t too strange to be inviting.

 

For now I am eating the lime-scented leftovers of my first sally and imagining myself on a tropical island. Vive La Bagatelle.