Wednesday, December 11, 2019

“Things Every Southern Woman Should Know How to Make”

Alice clicked on the headline, mildly curious about what yet another stranger thought should be in her kitchen repertoire. Pictures of China plates mounded with crispy fried chicken, greens, cobbler, and a pile of biscuits a mile high flooded the screen, all set off with a pitcher of sweet tea beaded with condensation. The table was set; an apron draped off to the side next to a box labeled “Gramma’s Recipes” in fine calligraphy. She closed the browser and put away her tablet. She was born a Georgia peach, but she couldn’t make a cobbler to save her life. Did that mean she wasn’t southern? Or maybe just not “Southern.”

For Alice, there was no recipe box full of family traditions. Her younger years were filled with rental homes in different states and her father’s voice coaxing her toward a text book rather than a cookbook. Metalworking and fabrication held more interest than learning to flambĂ© or sautĂ©.

Did it make her less of a woman that her cooking skills consisted of fresh salads and calling for takeout?

She’d visited her grandmother occasionally during the summers if they were close enough, and her vague memories were of hot evenings on the porch listening to the cicadas in the trees and her grandmother complaining that she couldn’t cook because it would heat up the house.

One year, though, they’d visited in the fall, when the air was cool and leaves crunched underfoot, and on her grandmother’s counter had set a fresh pan of biscuits and a jar of honey from the beekeeper down the road. Even now, Alice remembered the rich, golden sweetness and the soft warmth of the first bite.

Her grandmother died several years ago without passing on her knowledge, and Alice had grown up, gone to college, and had never thought of what she had lost until now.

She swept up her tablet and pulled up a recipe; maybe she could reclaim this one piece of her heritage. 

***






Alice surveyed the items spread across her counter and glanced at the recipe on her screen; she’d gathered everything on a shopping adventure that took three times as long as it normally did. She’d stared at the different brands of flour for ten minutes before a kind elderly woman took pity on her and suggested her favorite. Embarrassed but relieved, Alice had asked the woman for help with the others.

The woman had smiled. “It’s nice to see a young woman interested in cooking. I’m sure your beau will be happy.”

Alice fought the temptation to explain how a click-bait listicle had challenged her identity or that she didn't need someone else for a reason to cook. Instead, she smiled and said, "Thanks. I hope they come out okay."

“Oh, they’re the simplest thing! I’m sure they’ll come out fine.” 

With her tablet propped against the knife block, Alice laid out her tools: cutting board, bowl, measuring utensils, a whisk. She carefully measured her dry ingredients and mixed them with the whisk before cutting her butter into cubes. The cold butter was hard to cut, but the recipe had insisted it be chilled. Alice had her doubts, but she didn’t dare deviate from the instructions. Finally, the dough resembled the photo on her screen, and she confidently made her hollow in the center of the flour. In went her buttermilk; she hummed a song her grandmother used to sing as she mixed it in.

She kneaded it lightly--the recipe’s author had stressed the importance of not overdoing it--and turned the dough out onto her cutting board. 

Alice rolled and folded, and then checked her social media while it chilled in the fridge and the oven preheated. For a moment, she thought about posting her progress, but she hesitated. What if she missed a step? Or burned them? Would her friends tease her? She could imagine them asking, “Are you really from the south?”

She’d heard it before. Her drawl had faded over the years, traded instead for an accent so generic that it had become a game to bet people that they couldn’t guess where she was from. When they gave up, and she revealed her southern roots, most didn’t believe her. 

The oven beeped. Alice rolled her dough once again and cut it with a glass--her one sacrilege, and only because she hadn’t been able to find a biscuit cutter in the store.


                              


Her grandmother’s song played again in her head as she waited, eagerly watching the dough rise through the oven window. She froze; suddenly disappointed. She’d forgotten the honey.

But honey wouldn’t matter if the biscuits weren’t good. If this first batch was a success, she could find honey for the next.

Alice inhaled deeply as her kitchen filled with the aroma of baking biscuits. And then, at last, it was time. She slipped her hands into oven mitts and moved the pan from oven to counter. They seemed fluffy, and the tops were nicely browned.  


                       


Humming, she transferred one to a plate to try. Steam curled from the soft middle as she split it open and placed a pat of butter in its center. When it had slightly cooled, she took a bite, and her eyes lit in excitement. She swiped away the recipe to video call her father.

His weathered face brightened with a smile. “Alice! How’s my girl?”

“I did it, Dad. Look!” She held the tablet’s camera towards the pan. “I didn’t think I could do it, but I made Grandma’s biscuits!”

“Those look tasty, but what do you mean your grandma’s biscuits?”

“It’s silly, really, but I was reading an article and realized I never learned to make any of Grandma’s recipes. So, I thought maybe I could recreate it.”

Her father rubbed a hand over his face. “Alice, you’re Grandma didn’t make those biscuits. She was a terrible cook; burned everything she tried to bake.”

“But, then who made them?”

He cleared his throat and his eyes shifted away from the camera.

“Dad?”

“You remember Mr. Johnson? The beekeeper neighbor?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, he used to bring your grandmother a pan of biscuits and a couple gallons of honey in trade for her homemade cough remedy.”

Alice studied the golden biscuits, her excitement slowly fading. Her grandmother had been as southern as sweet tea, and if she couldn’t cook, what did that mean? “What cough remedy?”

Her father sighed. “Grandma made moonshine. She was the biggest supplier in the region.”

“Oh.”

“Well, they look great, sweetheart.”

“Thanks, Dad. Want to get together for dinner this week?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll bring the biscuits. I have all this flour to use anyway.”

“Can’t wait to try them.”

“See you then. Bye.” Alice wrapped up the biscuits and cleaned up her mess. In a worn, cedar jewelry box was a slip of paper with a list of ingredients scrawled in her grandmother’s handwriting. She hadn’t known what to make of it before. A slow smile curled her lips as she thought about the copper sheeting in her shop, just waiting for a purpose. Maybe her grandmother had passed on a recipe, after all. 


                            


Author Note: My recipe is a modified version of Cristen Clark's, who writes the blog Food & Swine. The original recipe can be found here: https://foodandswine.com/fluffy-biscuits-fire-alarms/ 


… I may have watched too much Moonshiners while writing this.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Comic Recs: unOrdinary by Uru-chan

Hey all!

I'm here with another Webtoon recommendation! Today, I want to tell you about unOrdinary by Uru-chan! 

In the world of unOrdinary, most people have superpowers, which sounds great! But, of course, people found a way to ruin it. A hierarchy allows the strong to control the weak, and it's often enforced with brute force. And if you're powerless like John, it's no place to be at all. 

Except John isn't powerless, and he may just be the most dangerous one of all...

Uru-chan does a great job of turning the superpower trope on its head. The whole "with great power comes great responsibility" view gets an amazing twist in this comic. The elites dominate those with lesser abilities, and most accept that this is the way the world works. However, a few believe that the strong should protect the weak--a viewpoint in a book called unOrdinary, and one that is highly discouraged by society and the government. The authorities try to weed out the those who have read the book--which just happens to have been written by John's father--and reeducate them to society's norms. But people are still hitting the streets in costume, claiming to be superheroes, and dying. But are the authorities behind the deaths, or is someone else targeting these superhero elites?

Though the story takes place in a private high school, the issues of the surrounding world aren't ignored. Rather, the structure of the school makes it a reflection of their larger society and its problems. It's especially interesting to see how the characters handle the tumult when their status quo is disrupted.

Season one just wrapped up with a whopping 155 episodes, and season two will start in November. Even if you don't normally read comics about people with superpowers, I highly recommend unOrdinary because it's so much more than special abilities. It's about human nature and what it takes to change it.

You can check out season one here:  https://www.webtoons.com/en/fantasy/unordinary/list?title_no=679.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Ramblings of a Gamer: Open World Maps

I love the freedom of an open world map. I've spent endless hours traveling across Skyrim, climbing mountains and discovering hidden altars and caves, enjoying the scenery, and meeting other travelers on the road. Of course, there's danger; a dragon could swoop down and roast me, bandits could (attempt to) waylay me, or I could get caught in a magic battle between two random mages. Most of the time, though, I can go about my business, hunt a few bears, and take in the countryside.

Sure, there's a story line to follow, but the game doesn't demand it of me, and I can venture into it at any time.

FFXV allowed me to roam for the most part, too. I repeatedly left my car behind to enjoy a chocobo ride with the guys, visiting my favorite fishing spots and seeing how far I could get before night fell and the hordes of fiends came out. I spent a lot of time exploring the map, searching out hidden places until I reached the point of no return and was funneled to the ending.

Dragon Age: Inquisition wasn't quite open world, but it did have huge areas to explore. Unfortunately, it didn't feel like it was utilized to its full potential. For such an open area, there were few secrets to find.

I'd say my favorite part is the little things I stumble upon that might not be important for the story, but make the world so much richer. Like the books that tell tales about the histories of the lands, the forgotten altars, ruins, and signs that hint at stories lost to time that add depth and realism that makes me feel like I'm not just an observer, but a part of world.

So, give me open world games with tons of Easter eggs and hidden treasures that build up the lore of the land. I'll travel to the highest peaks and deepest valleys to find them and spend a ton of time on your game. Make me want to stay there, and I'm highly likely to buy the next one.


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Ramblings of a Gamer: FFXII: Zodiac Age II or I Sometimes Miss Random Battle

Life's been busy, so gaming's been slow, but I managed to get a little time on FFXII: Zodiac Age. I'm currently hanging out on the Phon Coast, woefully unprepared for the flying fiends and in need of better equipment.

There are way too many birds for me to not have found Telekinesis.

I'm, of course, out of gil from my last shopping spree in which I loaded up on some spells I'd neglected early on, so I decided to go hunting. Unfortunately, hunting means finding the monsters on the map, battling, and then moving on to another map area to locate more monsters until I've made a circle back to my starting point.

I kinda need a lot of dough.

It's moments like these when I miss random battle systems. Need money or to harvest a drop item? No problem! Just spin around in this spot until the screen does its flashy transition to a battle. Need to fill your pockets with the equivalent of the king's coffers? Go for it. The enemies won't run out here.

Oddly enough in FFXII: ZA, I have killed enough skeletons in one section of a dungeon that they actually did not respawn when I left the screen and came back. I haven't run into it on the Phon Coast yet, but it's early, so once I manage to get a third long range weapon--now that I've opened my second jobs--I'll see if I can clear an area like in the mines.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Anime Rambles: Forest of Piano

Forest of Piano is an anime presented for your viewing pleasure on Netflix. In the forest rests an abandoned piano, and Kai Ichinose, a poor boy from the nearby red light district, is the only one who can coax music from its keys. When his talent is discovered by his new friend Shuhei and his music teacher/former world-renowned pianist, Sosuke Ajino, Kai ventures out to hone his skills and share his piano with the world at the International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition.

Kai is this wonderful, bounce-back kid who doesn't let hardship slow him down. He has a natural talent for the piano, but he meets the challenges that Mr. Ajino sets before him with hard work and tenacity. It's about the love of the music for him, even when he's in a competition, and his enthusiasm lifts up his competitors so that they face their challenges head-on. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it as challenge to themselves. His childhood friend, Shuhei, whose dad is a professional pianist, creates this one-sided rivalry that later leads him to resent Kai.

I liked that each competitor had a backstory and we were shown how they were struggling and what playing in the Chopin Piano Competition meant to them, and how no one was particularly diabolical in their desire to win. There is, of course, some dubious machinations at work, but overall, the story is lighthearted and wraps up with a satisfying ending. So, if you like anime centered around classical music, particularly Chopin, then check out Forest of Piano.


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Comic Rec: DAYS OF HANA by Seokwoo


Today’s recommendation is the webcomic, DAYS OF HANA, by Indonesian artist Seokwoo, whose romances are far more than a love story. They deal with social perceptions of minority groups, in the case of DAYS OF HANA, werewolves, what happens when the world views begin to change.


In the world of this story, humans keep werewolves as pets, but Hana and Haru were raised together like siblings, and the line between owner and pet is blurry. Hana’s family took Haru in when they found him injured and alone one winter. There's an adorable montage of photos of Hana and Haru growing up, ending with a family photo. But as the two get older, the hazy boundaries between human and werewolf become a problem. Werewolves are given limited rights—education, right to work for wages, etc.—with the hopes they they’ll be able to live independently and on equal footing with humans. However, as the werewolves explore their newfound freedoms, there’s pushback from the humans who have owned them. Tensions grow as prejudices are aired for the world to see, and social taboos strain Hana and Haru’s family. And under all of that is a brutal world where werewolves are pitted against each other for the amusement of the human elite.


DAYS OF HANA does have romance, a sweet budding relationship between two people who have known each other their entire lives, but it's tangled in the social taboos, prejudices, and growing resentment of the werewolves against the humans who refuse to accept them as equals.


This is a complex story, and while excellent and brilliantly told, it gets very dark and often heartbreaking.


If you'd like to check out more about DAYS OF HANA, check it out here: https://www.webtoons.com/en/romance/days-of-hana/list?title_no=1246&page=1


And if you like it, be sure to check out Seokwoo's completed comic, ORANGE MARMALADE, featuring a sweet vampire girl trying to blend with the human crowd, the human boy she falls for, and the struggle of hiding her true self. https://www.webtoons.com/en/romance/orange-marmalade/list?title_no=97&page=1


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Ramblings of a Gamer: Final Fantasy XII: Zodiac Age

I played the original FFXII way back in the day, and I didn't love it. The graphics were great, but Vaan annoyed the crap out of me, no one really stood out, the game battle mechanics were meh, and--a personal pet peeve--Ifrit and Shiva and my other favorite summons had been relegated to airships in favor of a new crop of espers.

When Zodiac Age came out, I decided to give it a second shot--and it fell into my queue because my game TBP list is greater than my free time.

But, at last, I found a moment, and I'm once again exploring Ivalice. And I still have mixed opinions.

Vaan is still grating, though he doesn't seem as bad after he finally understands Basch didn't kill his brother. I didn't find much use for him in my original go-around, but this time, with the job system, I've been using him in battle a lot. As a shikari, so far he's fairly well-rounded when it comes to health/speed/strength, though I'm struggling with what I want his second job to be. The gambit system still lets me set the controller down and walk to the kitchen for the average fight, but I've wandered into a few places that demanded my attention.

I've only acquired the first two storyline espers, Belias and Mateus. I've used Belias a bit, but usually not for long. I haven't had a chance to check out Mateus. In my last playthrough, I didn't find them very useful, but maybe with the job system limiting what each character learns, having an esper in my pocket will come in handy. However, they use the same gauge as the quickenings, which I can chain together for heavy damage, so I don't know what might be the better option at this point.

I started my replay with the goal of paying attention to the things I'd forgotten/glossed over in my previous playthrough, and sadly, that includes the plot of the game. I remembered the basics, but I think somewhere around the middle, the political powerplays lost me. Of course, part of that may have been the hinky sound quality where the vocals drop to whisper levels--which still occasionally proves a problem in this version.

Aside from that, the conversations often feel lackluster, and we get a lot of backstory in dialogue info dumps, which sometimes makes it hard to follow--especially if real life interrupts. I'm keeping up so far, but I have found myself tuning out during some of the longer scenes.

I'm not far into the game at the moment, so I'll reserve my final opinion for now. Overall, I'm enjoying it more, but some of the issues I had before weren't really resolved in this version.