Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Always Bee Cooking #6: Seared Sourdough Pikelets

 (Quick note: I'm still working on longer critical pieces on the pedagogy & politics of cooking media. The going is harder than expected, so instead of defaulting on it again I'm going to use December's Always Bee Cooking to talk about a recipe I've been developing.)

The Story

At the top of this month I got a care package from one of the loveliest people I know. It included two major things. First is the chef's knife pictured below. It's 1) incredible 2) the only piece of cookware I own other than a mortar & pestle (also a gift) and 3) engraved with the name of this series, which is overwhelming.

The other major thing was a cutting of sourdough starter named Reginald. I was convinced Reginald hadn't made it; at some point in transit the jar he was in broke and he leaked out. 90% was pooled up in a corner of a cardboard box. I've never really saved anything's life before, though, so I figured now might be a good time to start.

Per instructions, I put him in a covered container and fed him warm water and flour once every twelve hours. By the time of the third or fourth feeding I started seeing some genuine signs of life. A week and change later (having missed only one or two feedings), I'm still not seeing as much of a rise as I think you're supposed to, but he's getting closer.

If you're unfamiliar with sourdough starter (as I was only a couple weeks ago) here's how you feed it: you take out one part of the starter (say 1/2 cup) then add to that part one part flour (1 cup; it's by weight, not volume) and one part warm water (1/2 cup), stir to fully incorporate, and store. The rest is the Discard.

Two parts about this freaked me out. One is that I have to have flour on hand at all times (I am confident I can figure this out). The other is the implied action. I'm the kind of person who dries celery leaves in the oven to add to spice rubs. Throwing away two (or more) cups of starter a day seems intolerable. I don't particularly recommend being this kind of person.

Those two anxieties lead me to repeatedly turn to King Arthur Flour's recipe for Sourdough Crumpets. With it I don't have to discard and I don't have to use extra flour. I've kept the ingredients and proportions more or less the same, but after a good number of variations I've locked in a technique that I quite like.

The quick version is you cook them like a thick steak: a sear sets them and creates flavor and texture, then a quick bake cooks them through. The texture is almost closer to a crusty bread or English Muffin, with a crisp snap on the outside that gives way to a fluffy, doughy consistency. And the flavor, at least with Reginald, is kind of extraordinary. Tangy, buttery, and just a little bit sweet and salty. Even when you don't use butter anywhere.

My latest discovery? This recipe works, if not quite as well, with leftover Discard. I put the Discard in a bowl in the fridge (covered with plastic wrap) for three feedings, then on the fourth made this. The results weren't as robust as using fresh discard, but they were still quite good.

The Recipe

Seared Sourdough Pikelets

  • 1 cup Sourdough Discard (roughly; I just use whatever was produced)
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Salt (I'll go up to a heaping 1/2 tsp, depending on my mood; there's definitely a line you can cross though)
  • Butter/Neutral Oil
Yield: 3 hefty lil cakes in about 15-20 minutes; recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour's 

Preheat oven to 350F. Put a pan on the stove over medium. Add baking soda, sugar and salt to Discard and stir to incorporate. You now have Discard Mixture.

Add a very thin slice of butter (or a splash of oil) to the pan. If using butter, it should melt rapidly but not immediately blacken and begin to smoke - in my pan I have to cook on medium-low, because it gets really hot really fast. Dollop in enough of the Discard Mixture to stand about 1/2-inch tall.

Let cook until one or two bubbles appear on the interior, anywhere from :15 to 1:00. Flip carefully. Remember that you are not trying to cook the interior, just sear the outside. Repeat for the other side with roughly the same amount of time.

Remove to a baking sheet. Re-up on butter or oil when the pan is dry. In the same fashion, cook until you are out of Discard Mixture. From a single feeding I usually get three or four pikelets.

Once they're all done and the oven is preheated, place the sheet in the center of the oven and start a timer for five minutes. If the formerly-uncooked dough in the center looks fully set once the timer goes off, test the biggest one with a knife in the center. If it comes out clean, they're done. If not let them bake for another 2-3 minutes, then check again.

I personally tend to eat them with my hands. They carry a little jam or even a simple syrup (reduced just a minute or two past cocktail consistency) well. They also freeze well and are ideal for popping in a toaster.

Further Notes

I'm trying out this new section! This time, I'd like to suggest some possible toppings that I think might work with the recipe (with the note that I have tried none of them!):

  • Whipped Cream & Mint Chiffonade: ribbons of mint with a dollop of sweet whip cream would present beautifully and, I suspect, add a nice heady quality.
  • Butter: It's already there, and teasing it out would be nice. I might go for a heaping half teaspoon of salt on this one, especially if you're using unsalted butter.
  • Blueberries & Chorizo: I can imagine a version of this where drop some blueberries into each dollop as you're searing, then top it with some cooked, crumbly chorizo. The longer I think about it the more I'm convinced this would either be sublime or truly wretched.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Always Bee Cooking #5: The Herb Butter Pasta Photoessay

 The way I tend to blather on in these posts is definitely a product of my own insecurity. My cooking is fairly recent, my history of taste nonexistent. I've covered that before. Plus, I plan on blathering at length next month when I talk about the things I've found useful (and not so) in the learning process, specifically around shows and books. So this month I'm just going to do one recipe, accompanied by a photoessay.

This herb butter pasta is maybe the only recipe I feel like I really deserve to share. I've been tinkering with it for well over a year, evolving it as my understanding does and eating the results the whole time. I hope you enjoy.

I should note: this isn't dinner party food. It's "I couldn't be fucked to do more but I need to be full" food, and it's good at that.

What You Need:

  • 1 packet spaghetti
  • Dried Herbs (Sage, Thyme, Black Peppercorn, Basil)
  • Butter (~¾ of a stick or ~4 spoonfuls Earth Balance)
  • Salt
  • Mortar & Pestle (optional)

Bring a decent-sized pot to a boil, salting the water liberally. Seriously, it's all the salt we're going to use and a good amount of it is going to get dumped with the water. Don't skimp.

While the water is coming to a boil, grind up thyme, peppercorns, and basil in the mortar and pestle. You're going to want 12-15 full black peppercorns, and roughly a 2.5:1 ratio of thyme to basil. Be generous. If you're using fresh sage, pulverize it at the same time; if dried, add it to the mortar & pestle after grinding. Roughly 1:1 with the thyme - maybe as much as 1.5:1.

If you don't have a mortar and pestle, that's fine. It's just a slightly different texture. You might want to leave the butter on medium-low a little longer to let the unmuddled herbs incorporate. Likely just 3-4 minutes rather than 2-3.

Once the water is boiling, add the spaghetti. Cook according to package instructions (probably around 10 minutes, stirring occasionally).

Put a pan over medium-low heat. Once it has heated up (probably when you have about 5-7 minutes left on the spaghetti) add the butter/Earth Balance. When the butter is mostly melted, add the herbs. Stir to incorporate. When the butter is entirely melted and the herbs have had a couple minutes to infuse, turn the burner to low to keep everything melted.

Reserve about a half-bowl (the one you're going to eat out of works) worth of the spaghetti water and drain the rest. Add the drained spaghetti back to the pot and pour in the herb butter and reserved water. Stir to combine. Serve. You'll have roughly 6 bowls worth.

Refrigerate any leftovers in tupperware; I suspect they'll stay good for some time, but I've never had them last more than a week or so. Reheating in a pan (with just barely enough butter to coat the bottom) over medium heat is nice.


Grate some parmesan on it.

Boil some frozen peas while cooking and throw them in. It's not fancy, but I've done it a lot and it works (and at least feels healthier). Maybe go lighter on the sage with this version, since the peas are already earthy.

If you do want fancy (and more filling), toss sticked-carrots and broccoli florets in a little bit of oil, salt, pepper, garlic-, onion-, & celery leaf-powder, then roast at 400 degrees on a baking sheet. Halved brussel sprouts work well here too, as do cauliflower florets. Most veggies you can roast will, I think.

Check after about ten minutes, then every five until they reach desired doneness. I like to pull them when the carrots are just starting to lose their crunch, usually around minute 15-20. Add after the herb butter. The juice of half a lemon can really brighten everything up as well.


Photos of some of the alternatives (from a while back) (my phone camera sucks and always has sorry)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Always Bee Cooking #4: Making Weird, Making Useful

 This month, I’ve been experiencing a ton of new things. I baked (first Cloud Eggs, then three different attempts at bread, all of which turned out interesting in their ways, some even good) for the first time, after being terrified of the precision. I made a soup out of horseradish, because why not? I made homemade cheese and then put it on a spinach & pearled barley salad. I had never whipped anything to stiff peaks, separated curds from whey, kneaded something or waited for it to rise before August of 2019. Pretty presumptuous of me to start a cooking blog, right?

That previous sentence is a joke, but it’s also probably pretty sincere. Especially if I keep focusing on recipes. Because it feels a bit weird to say: I’ve baked bread thrice, here, you should do it this way. There really aren’t that many dishes I can say I’ve made enough times to know that I’m doing them about as right as I can.

I’ve also harped on my own lack of taste, for historical and other reasons. Which, if nothing else, leads to a tremendous amount of anxiety around food. Knowing that I’d be content eating 7-11 pizza six days out of seven (it’s not that long since I was doing just that) contributes. Which lead to me thinking through some of that, and what I value out of cooking, in this short Twitter thread.

The rundown is that I noticed that there were two heads of garlic that were actively rotting in our house, so I pulled them apart, discarded the rotten cloves, minced the ones that weren’t bad, and dehydrated them in the oven at 170°F (that might technically be toasting them, I guess?) to turn into garlic powder. I added this to the powders of celery leaves, carrot leaves, lemon zest, and onion (from freeze-dried) that I keep in little Tupperware containers alongside my store-bought spices. I tweeted about it because I realized doing that was about as gratifying to me as was baking my first genuinely good loaf of bread and managing to make a really excellent rub for pork tenderloin out of garlic, celery leaf, salt, pepper, cumin, thyme, and coriander in a mortar & pestle the same day.

It feels like, as a cook (or a chef or whatever), you’re supposed to be way into using good ingredients to make a distinct, filling, flavorful meal to share with others. At least more than you are about mincing some garlic and checking on it every forty-five minutes in a low oven. I’m not? Not more than, at least.

I think it was around 2006 that I released my first song. As I recall it was a short repetition of a few chords, played on my dorm roommate’s guitar, recorded into a laptop speaker. I made it because I was part of a crew that thought it would be fun to make bad (or weird or unpalatable) stuff and seed it onto to hopefully foul up their “tag radio” (radio stations that selected random songs from user-generated tags). We evolved from there.

I remember telling that crew that I wanted to create material more than songs. Weird, annoying shit that was also potentially useful. When I released my first album, An Emotional Guitar, sometime early in the next year, I think it was five songs long with a remix of each. That first song became this (featured in the video); I remixed this one and another friend made this. I’m not sure what happened with the rest.

You could boil me down to: Make weird shit. Make useful shit. Those are still the dual, often competing drives that define the things I make, most of the time.

Wait a second, I just realized I lied on accident at the top of this. I’m going to go make the video that appears at the top of this post.

I had baked before, and fairly often. Just potatoes. I also can’t believe I didn’t include a baked potato on the initial post on this blog, Potatoes and Transitions. Seems like an oversight that’s fairly easy to correct. Especially now that I have a bunch of homemade spices that I can use to great effect here. Make useful shit, you know?


What you need:

  • Oil (Olive probably preferred, I use Canola)
  • Salt, Pepper, other spices
  • A Potato

What to do:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F.
  • Wash your potato. Stab it with a fork 2-3 times per side, around four sides. Place in a bowl or over a plate. Pour some oil on it and rub it in. Wash your hands.
  • Add spices – at least salt and pepper, though some garlic powder, onion powder, and dehydrated celery leaf/carrot leaf powder can also be excellent. Lightly coat evenly.
  • Put your potato in the preheated oven. Check after 20 minutes, rotating if desired. It should take about 40-60 minutes, depending on your oven and the size of the potato.
  • Dress as desired – for the video I split it in half lengthwise using a fork and some pressure and used a mixture of sour cream, cream horseradish, and a drop of ghost pepper hot sauce. Sorry it ends up looking like shit by the way, it’s for eating though.


Camera Operator: ijkanada

The Rest Of The Stuff: Bee

Monday, August 26, 2019

Hieron and its Consequences

This essay was made possible by my Patreon supporters. Join and get access to early criticism, a cooking blog, or even commission me!

I should also note that there are things that might be considered spoilers for
Twilight Mirage and aspects of Hieron and Marielda. I’m a bad judge of what people think of as spoilers, though. It’s mostly in broad terms. Skip the sections that begin "Much later in the show we'll find out," "One example of consequences," and "An example: there is a moment in" (and the 3 following paragraphs) if you don't want later-season specifics; in general if you're very sensitive to that kind of thing, maybe come back to this.

Ignorance and Consequences

In episode 12 of Autumn in Hieron, the first season of Friends at the Table, a player does something I’m still in love with. In the decade and a half I’ve been playing tabletop roleplaying games it stands out as my favorite moment of tabletop roleplay of all time.

There are plenty of contenders. It’s hard not to give that to the time a Bard in the game I was running performed a song (in real life) for a potlatch festival for her character’s Sweet 16. Or when a player incapacitated another and then died falling off a building (three times) while trying to break back into the room to add their ear to a necklace. It’s hard to place it above inventing a gym bro to date a football bro in the middle of the tragic horror apocalypse game Ten Candles, or another Ten Candles game where Cathy (like, Ack! Cathy) rolled a half-dozen successes (and kept narrative control) on the last roll, or any moment when a player I’m GMing for lights up for the first time, suddenly understanding the appeal of what we’re doing.

There are even moments in other Actual Play podcasts, like Adventure.exe or The Adventure Zone or The Film Reroll or Interstitial, when character and world meet to bring about a decision that is inspired, surprising, and inevitable.

None of those, though, had the same impact on me as the decision to feed a Word Eater "ignorance."


Friends at the Table is an Actual Play podcast about critical worldbuilding, smart characterization, and fun interactions between good friends (at least that's what they say at the top of most episodes). It started in September of 2014, with episode 12 happening in December of that year.

At this point they've run three seasons (plus one mini-season) of Hieron, a post-post-apocalyptic, post-Fantasy world where orcs are archivists obsessed with patterns, the world is a palimpsest of the gods' failed experiments, and the cancerous nothing known as the Heat and the Dark looms.

Between those seasons they've also explored a science fiction universe inspired by cyberpunk, mecha anime, and labor called the Divine Universe. They create all of this fiction by playing tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeon World, Blades in the Dark, Follow, and a number of other systems where they "play to find out what happens" live in front of microphones, then edit and release it on a weekly basis.

I started listening sometime late in 2014 and have continued to since. Just as they are approaching their fifth anniversary, they are also wrapping up the world of Hieron. For both sentimental and topical reasons, then, I'm focusing on the Hieron seasons of the show for this essay. To that end, I've relistened to all of those seasons in the last month or so. It's all still incredibly compelling.


So: Word Eaters turn out to be what made goblins into what they are. You know goblins, probably. Little green humanoids, barely capable of language, fodder for adventurers, obsessed with trinkets. Loose anti-Semitic stereotypes, in the case of most Fantasy fiction. In Hieron, they howl in the distance. They also invite the players into a cozy home and let them read books, drink tea, and rest. They are people, some more dispossessed than others.

While resting with one of the friendlier goblins, the adventurers find out about Kindrali (also known as "He Who Remembers the Day," which becomes relevant two years later). They seek out Kindrali. They find him. He is a little off. Quick to resort to sarcasm and smirks. They find him again. Kindrali is a decayed corpse, who happens to be in the same room as the false Kindrali they are talking to. They put two and two together.

In a typical session of a tabletop roleplaying game, this is a very well put together fight. The GM has established an NPC that can give some color to the world while remaining unreliable. The players find him on good information, and then have something to go on after. A battle is had and won despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

Instead of that action, a single word is said.


My latest relisten helped me realize that there are two things that Friends at the Table does particularly well, especially when it comes to Seasons of Hieron. One of those I won't get into until after I finish the story of the Word Eater. The other, which I'll develop alongside that story, is what I think the GM and the players do best. They build critical worlds with aplomb, characterize themselves impeccably, and have genuinely funny social banter. One of the other things they focus on, though, is dramatic irony.

Regularly, the players will know things their characters don't. They play through this. The characters make choices that are against their own best interests, because the characters don't know any better (even though the players do).

Based on what they've produced, this seems to be an internal guideline - play into dramatic irony. But I appreciate it mostly as one aspect of a broader commitment. The stories they tell are deeply committed to consequences.


Much later in the show we'll find out that Word Eaters are something like incipient gods. Or, at least, that the gods were made in the same fashion. "Nothing flinched" and then there was Samol, or Hieron, the world and its avatar, one and the same. Samol’s desire to see the world full of life birthed Severea, and his desire to provide for people birthed Samothes.

The pantheon of five are rounded out by Galenica, who was birthed of the desires of people, and Samot, husband to Samothes, who stole Severea’s name when he was a Word Eater (emissaries or avatars of that same Nothing that flinched) and then apologized. Samothes and Samot then had a son, Maelgwyn, who became Samothes by murdering his father in attempt to birth a new god out of the experience of regret.

Whether Word Eater, desire, or absence of nothing, each of these gods are the speech act made material. Instead of simply doing by saying – as in an officiator declaring "I now pronounce you man and wife" effecting matrimony on two individuals – they are by saying. At the beginning of Spring in Hieron, the final season in this world, one of the players spends a few (in game) years hanging out with Samol. They develop an inside joke about how boring it was to be the first thing in the world. The refrain of that joke is simple: "There was no one to talk to."

Samol never says, to the best of my recollection, that he spoke Severea and Samothes into existence. But this is a podcast, where nothing happens unless it is said aloud. And it’s a tabletop roleplaying game, where the Lumpley Principle rules: "nothing happens, in the fiction of role-playing, unless someone says it and it's heard by others," to quote the gloss from The Big Model wiki. Hieron can’t be anything other than a speech act, because it’s a recorded conversation. And Samol is Hieron, and Samol made gods of his desires and of a Word Eater.

Whether a Word Eater or a God birthed of another’s desire, speech acts (“speech ontos” seems a little pretentious even for me) are fickle. They eat "regret" and become tyrants, obsessed only with reshaping a world-eating cancer into a productive force. They focus on the concept of a storm and blanket the world in ice. They steal the names of cities, causing civil war.

This Kindrali that the adventurers encounter is in some ways the most fickle of all. He stole the city’s name and was unsatisfied, consuming more and more words. Which is another reason it is poetic that he ends up being dispatched by just one word.


I wrote a very long version of the following argument about a half-decade ago. I present it in a truncated form here for two reasons. The first is that I want to make it clear what my convictions are when it comes to these sorts of games. The second comes at the end of this minor section.

Tabletop roleplaying games are at their best when there is a dialectical tension between the GM and the players. The GM rules the world. She sets up situations, guides the players through them, plays the people they encounter, and enforces the rules. The players take control of one person within the world, embodying them to the best of their abilities. When they press hard enough, the world breaks.

When they push even harder, though, there is a synthesis. The players take over the vestigial roles of the GM. This is a relic of the history of these games that I don't need to get into. But they become, rather than co-authors in the creation of a story, its cooperative owners. The person who runs the game - usually the one with access to the books (the capital, so to speak) - is dispossessed of their control, becoming nothing more than someone who can adapt to the new norm, get reeducated according to it, or wither away. The stakes are a little lower than real life, so the players probably don’t have to literally take The Coup’s advice.

These games start in social interactions: friends come together to hang out and have an activity to participate in while doing so. They become commodified by way of rulebooks, social capital, and the simple fact of organizing time outside of wage labor. When they really work, though, the commodity is overthrown. People go from loose hangouts to structured, commodified hangouts, to hangouts they are truly equal in. And they hopefully learn to better relate to each other because of the game played.

That second thing? It’s the thing that Friends at the Table does so well – focusing on, embracing, and exploring consequences. That’s the way to play games into their own little revolutions.


Here's the story: after visiting the friendly goblin Mee Kosh, The Great Fantasmo (the Wizard, played by Nick Scratch), Throndir (the Ranger, played by Andrew Lee Swan), and Hadrian (the Paladin, played by Art Martinez-Tebbel) scout out some caves to find Kindrali. They do. He talks to them. They discover the corpse of Kindrali in the same room. The impostor Kindrali, a Word Eater, prepares to devour them. The Great Fantasmo leans into this false Kindrali and summons up his memories. He says one word.

In play and as a podcast, this involves Nick Scratch describing things his character is feeling, remembering, and projecting. Things like being a young academic, full of fear at his new surroundings and the impostor syndrome that develops from it. Worry at how people think of him. Misery at the prospect of failure. Horror at how he used to feel all these things.

In this same moment, Nick Scratch is actively characterizing The Great Fantasmo. The Wizard is cocky and self-assured to the point of absurdity, a miserable traveling partner. He is bookish in the most infuriating way possible, obsessed with learning what is right without doing anything. He is a small-minded man operating with all the tools to pretend he is as open-minded as they come. He is insufferable, and his player knows this. So his player calls upon all his small-mindedness, his pettiness, his jealousy, his insecurity, and banishes a potential god from existence.


An example of consequences being a driving principle of play in Friends at the Table is the situation being described. The GM set up an encounter. It’s a big fight that caps off a portion of the adventure. The GM almost certainly spent time drawing up a sheet full of hit points, moves, character motivations, and an imagined scenario in which the players eke out victory. This disappears once it becomes clear what The Great Fantasmo is doing.

The play is too compelling, the fiction too interesting, to revert to what was prepared. It is to Austin’s credit that he recognizes this; many GMs would not. The consequences are entirely too cool to dissolve back into a discussion of how much damage one person does, regardless of the lost hours spent preparing those hit points.

Other examples abound throughout the show. In the first season of the Divine Universe, COUNTER/Weight, a player gets a girlfriend by failing a bunch of rolls in a row, only to succeed at the one that matters. It’s important because she flirts through it. Autumn in Hieron also has a moment where a character dies in combat and can only come back to life if she promises to kill Death’s son, one of her only friends. She does. Three times – he is, after all, Death’s son.

There is also the way that Austin sometimes handles failed rolls, like the one Keith (who plays Fero, the Druid, and the character who hangs out with Samol during Spring) managed in Winter in Hieron when trying to convince Uklan Tel, an orc who might be the most accomplished academic in Hieron, to make a difference. The failure leads to Uklan Tel agreeing and throwing himself into field research. Two (real life) years down the line, that field research (in Spring, which is set over ten years later) ends up with him semi-inadvertently providing materials to help an apocalyptic cult give body to an undead god-dragon in order to hasten the end of the world.

Twilight Mirage, the second season in the Divine Universe, has as many examples as the rest (though I’m boiling each down to one apiece). One that might not seem like a consequence is the last fifteen (or so) minutes of the final episode of the season. The player characters check in with Gig Kephart (also played by Keith), a livestreamer in the post-Utopian titular universe. They answer a handful of canned interview questions in ways that are wholesome, humorous, and tear-inducing.

It’s not like the consequence of mechanical failure that lead to Uklan Tel, or the strength of roleplaying(/flirting) in mechanical failure that lead to a girlfriend, or the consequence of figuring out character alignment that lead to the death of Death’s Son. It’s more about how roleplaying can lead to a compelling world with fascinating people in it and how, left alone to do their thing, they can become consequential.


The moment The Great Fantasmo banishes the Word Eater comes out of two specific moves in Dungeon World. The first is Art Tebbel's. He asks "what here is Evil?" He has a quest, established in a much earlier episode; he cannot suffer an evil thing to live. The GM confirms that this Word Eater is evil. Because of that, he can't leave. His fellow adventurers must make a choice: split the party and leave, or support him. This move is used effectively throughout much of the rest of the Hieron seasons, especially in developing a complicated and beautiful relationship with another player's character.

The second is a Spout Lore roll by Nick Scratch, where he attempts to learn about the Word Eater. Scratch rolls a "mixed success," which means he learns something "interesting but not useful." The interesting fact is that the Word Eater is very old, the eater of the word that lead to the goblins becoming what they are. Before they became "goblins" they were citizens, co-creators of the city that Throndir is from. They were people, not monsters. And this Word Eater was one who ate that knowledge and continued to eat more and more.

Nick Scratch, the player of The Great Fantasmo, takes this "interesting but not useful" knowledge and runs with it. This specific Word Eater isn't content to consume regret and live forever instrumentalizing cancer. It wants more. So he gives it a new word, wrapped up in the context of himself, the character. In so doing, he establishes The Great Fantasmo. He turns subtext into text; the insufferable academic turns into a rounded-out human being (elf), with all the pettiness that involves. And he wins a fight in a tabletop roleplaying game without having to indulge in hours of rolling to hit, rolling damage, rolling to avoid damage, rolling to figure out how to do damage, and on and on.


If you’ve never played in or run a tabletop roleplaying game, the importance of establishing consequences might sound like a truism. Even if you have, it probably does. What I appreciate about Friends at the Table – among many other things – is how it clarifies that it isn’t something that just happens automatically. Like gender, it’s a choice you regularly make and perform.

Consequences are hard. They can be about rewarding good play, thinking beyond what the players are doing, punishing failure in interesting ways, or making the stakes of the world clear. All of these things help shape an interesting fiction. They can also be about how we relate to each other.

Because the most regular consequence, when playing roleplaying games, is alienating your friends. Things go great until they don’t, and then the group dissolves.

It might be in a moment that upsets or triggers another player and doesn’t get worked through, and so ends up contributing to a toxic environment. Or it might be the consequence of failing to properly organize the game in the first place, leading to its slow and (seemingly) inevitable dissolution. Which leads to lost friendships, which leads to lost opportunities to think through things or to collaborate on projects. Or, at a basic level, to enjoy the company of others.

Turning the reality of consequences into themes, as Friends at the Table does, is a helpful way of imagining (or remembering) what consequences actually are. They’re failed rolls, in the sense of fucking up a social situation. They’re roleplaying too well, in the sense of being who you are at that particular moment too insistently, for good or ill. They’re moments of social beauty, when you’ve set up social situations to include people who make you want to cry because they are so good at making and doing things in this terrible world.

Fictionalizing the broad reality of consequences won’t suddenly make a listener understand something that they refuse to. Especially if they have material reasons not to, which are too easy to imagine under white supremacist patriarchal capitalism. But sometimes fiction pushes you in new directions, whether you want it to or not.


The resolution to The Great Fantasmo whispering "ignorance" into the Word Eater's ear is both immediate and long-term. Immediately, the players and the GM have a moment of shock and appreciation. Long-term, Kindrali becomes a character in the mini-season of Marielda, the Word Eaters are recast as potential gods, and the whole religious structure is changed.

Around the same time as this is happening, the other group of players is on a boat. One jokes about undead pirates. A whole ontology is birthed out of that joke. Play is respected, whether it is in character (like Fantasmo's) or out of character (like the joke about zombie pirates). The whole point of an Actual Play podcast is that it isn't a story. It's a storytelling exercise that gets modified by randomization.

Which brings us to the end of this story and this analysis. Which means it’s time to talk about the other thing Friends at the Table does especially well.


Fiction, Produced by Deconstruction

Here are two questions: why should you listen to people playing tabletop roleplaying games, week by week? What is it about this method of telling stories that works?

For the first, I can’t exactly say that I do. I tend to take long breaks and then catch up. Following an Actual Play podcast week to week ends up being a chore for me, as I try to remember things over the play. I end up listening in big chunks – whole seasons or arcs, ideally – sporadically. I’m also not spoiler-averse and don’t have a tendency (or material requirement) to keep up with the conversation, which helps. (Thus this behemoth of an essay, primarily about something that happened on Friends at the Table five years ago.) The release schedule has more to do with the "podcast" element than it does the "actual play," given that podcasts are business as well as art.

To the question of why do it at all, there’s a fairly obvious answer. It’s fiction. Friends at the Table is very good fiction. Themes of labor and organization co-exist with a deep sadness and frustration with the world, are shot through with joy in victory and play, and shine through in a genuinely felt world full to brimming with people. Most of whom have very good names. Perhaps you enjoy fiction? This is one way to do so.

But then, despite a number of attempts, I’ve never been able to stick with fiction podcasts. I’ve listened to a hundred or so episodes of Welcome to Night Vale (it was a weird week), a dozen or two of Strange Horizons, a handful of episodes from various Escape Artists properties, and even some of The Writer's Voice from The New Yorker. Each had their merits (some more than others), but they ultimately ended up reminding me that my brain simply doesn’t work in that way. In a very specific environment I can enjoy audiobooks. There’s something about listening to someone clearly read something off a page that immediately blanks my mind.

It even happens in Actual Play podcasts, if I’m being honest. Friends at the Table will occasionally have intro speeches – generally by Austin, playing one of the NPCs – for instance. Or The Adventure Zone will have extended descriptive sequences that are pre-written. I have to struggle to pay attention when that happens, which is very unlike the rest of the listening experience for those podcasts.

Which leads us to the second question. What works, here? There are the specific answers we’ve already addressed: strong play that leads to compelling situations with interesting resonance; structural choices that emphasize the strengths of the genre. There are also the things we’ve touched lightly on, like critical worldbuilding that uses existing tropes in new ways that undermine their racist origins, enjoyable banter among friends, and more.

All of these are procedural. They’re points about the process of the fiction, rather than the content or its themes. This is important, because what Actual Play does – and what Friends at the Table does particularly well – is to collapse form into process. It is deconstructive, even deconstructionist. The creation is the act of creating.

So what works about this method of telling stories? It’s that they don’t just tell. They show. And not like the CIA-approved maxim. They show how the decisions are come to, what is left to chance or whim, what is painstakingly crafted ahead of time or after the fact. They tell a compelling story while showing how it is made compelling.

An example: there is a moment in Spring in Hieron when Hella Varal, Lem King, and Adaire Ducarte fight a bone dragon. It’s a bravura sequence. Adaire, the Thief (played by Janine Hawkins), comes with a plan to hogtie this animated dragon corpse. Lem, the Bard (played by Jack de Quidt), makes a beautiful mess of everything while still being helpful. Hella, the Dark Knight (fka the Fighter, played by Alicia Acampora), carries the combat. Until she dies. Almost.

Near the end of combat, there is another moment. The players have succeeded so many times, only to fail. They’re fighting a dragon. That failure has to mean something. Hella is given a choice: keep a ring and get killed, or let it go and live. The dragon has been fighting for this ring the whole sequence. It’s clearly important. Plus, Hella’s girlfriend is literally the god of Death. She’s come a long way since she killed the previous god of death’s son. And the rules say you roll when you get killed. You have, roughly, a 15% chance of being totally fine; a 40% chance of getting a bargain to stay alive; and a 40% chance that your character truly, irrevocably dies. There have been a handful of these rolls across the years, and no one has failed.

The act of listening to how that gets decided is very constructive. Alicia acts in seven different ways, despite only having two options – to roll or not to, to grab the ring or not to. She works through narrative framing (obviously the hero grabs the ring to spite the dragon), character framing (Hella has been carrying this ring on her person for over a decade without thinking about it), social framing (if the GM declares this ring important, the player should obviously protect it), fictional framing (Hella’s dating Death, getting stomped on can’t possibly be that bad!), more fictional framing (the cancerous nothing they know as the Heat and the Dark is almost certainly at play and far more powerful than the Queen of Death), and more. The rest of the people on the podcast talk her through these moments, offering their opinions, providing context where they can. It’s fraught.

As I recall, Austin Walker suggests the possibility of a break, Jack de Quidt reinforces it, and Austin ultimately enforces it. They break (for five minutes, according to the published audio; who knows what that means) and come back. Alicia makes the decision she makes, and it helps clarify who Hella is at this moment, what her priorities are, what the world will continue to look like, and what the endgame of this final season in Hieron is going to look like.

I feel like it is important to reiterate here: this is all part of the text. I’m not recounting what I think must have happened based on the fictional events that transpired. I’m recounting what I’ve listened to a couple of times now. This is the fiction.

The fiction is also the history of Samol, Samot, Samothese, Severea, and Galenica, and the adventures of The Great Fantasmo and Throndir and Hadrian and Hella and Adaire and Lem and Ephrim and Fero, and the lives of Red Jack and The Lardwulf and Uklan Tel and Lenny Lenova and the Sage of the Sands and Emmanuel and Walligan Upchurch and Hedy Braum and many more. It’s the reconfiguring of Marielda and the updating maps of the world as the apocalypses come and go, and it’s the story of the development of community in the Last University and Velas and Rosemerrow and The New Archives.

It’s a Fantasy world (post-Fantasy, post-post-apocalyptic), in other words. There are a profusion of proper nouns that gain resonance only once you’ve experienced the world in which they’re set. But unlike Tolkien or Martin or Brooks or Kingdom Hearts, the way this world is told isn’t as set in stone. Or more accurately, the way the world is told includes all the deliberation, the consequences, the ignorance of people figuring it out in real time.

There are things that are supposed to grab you in a narrative. The flow, the pacing, the excitement. Crafted things. Big fights. Consequential moments. And there are the things that tend to grab me: strange choices, awkward characterizations, moments of resistance. Actual Play podcasts at their best manage a synthesis of these two kinds of taste.

What happens at the end of that (alleged) five minute break is incidental. No matter how Alicia chooses, the fact of getting to hear the choice being proposed and then made is fascinating.

What’s important is how the discussion around that break, the break itself, and the consequences of it are all part of the recording. It’s all part of the text. Remember: playing into dramatic irony – things the players know that the characters don’t – is, as far as I (a fairly avid listener) can tell, a principle of the show. The actors are alienated from their characters. The listener is alienated, because of that, from the fiction. It’s all very Brechtian. Except that it ends up producing tear-jerking, laugh-inducing, cathartic moments, just like the best bourgeois fiction.

This is what it comes down to. Friends at the Table manages to straddle that line between being deeply critical of the stories we tell because they make us feel good under the particular, deeply immiserating, iteration of capitalism we currently live under, and telling those same stories very well. It does this by actively deconstructing the stories as it tells them. Other Actual Play podcasts engage in the same deconstruction, by the fact of their form, but don’t engage with consequence the same way.

So, to ask again: why should you listen to people playing tabletop roleplaying games, week by week? What is it about this method of telling stories that works?

For the first: you shouldn’t; as a recent Variety article makes clear, the podcasting business is currently being gentrified. A platform-capitalist takeover is happening, the same way it did the web a decade and change ago. Unless you’re committed to engaging with the fringes and opposing that gentrification.

And for the second: if you’re interested in good fiction, and you’re interested in one process by which it’s made at the same time, you have something to look forward to. If you have a familiarity with tabletop roleplaying games, even better. Hearing a story be actively deconstructed as it is produced continues to be a thrill. Even five years after I started listening.

PS: Lord Ephrim, the Baron (fka the Immolator, played by Sylvi) is also an incredible character and I regret not having space for him in this. So I just want to shout out Sylvi: like everyone else on this podcast she is an inspiring roleplayer, and if there’s one episode of Friends at the Table to listen to it’s episode 9 of COUNTER/Weight, where she drives some incredible scenes.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Always Bee Cooking #3: Pork and Reproductive Labor

I initially thought I wasn't going to put any recipes up this month. It's been like that. I changed my mind, though. There'll be one at the end. If you want to know how to make ham shank so tender even the fat cap will dissolve on your tongue, skip down to the bottom. If you want to get a better understanding of what I've been up to, including some considerations of why reproductive labor is such an important consideration for me, even (and especially) while cooking, come on this journey. And then make some excellent pork.

There's not going to be any real sense of cohesion to this post, other than me trying to convey just how bizarre this month has been for me in terms of cooking. It isn't that I haven't been cooking. I have. Maybe too much. It also isn't that I haven't been experimenting. A couple weeks ago I grabbed a hardboiled egg and dipped it into a mason jar I had juiced a lemon into. It was good; a little like a deviled egg, less the fat and spice. I'm still learning flavors slowly, after a lifetime of ignoring them.

As far as cooking: around three times every two weeks, I make a big meal of chicken, rice, and vegetables. It's meal prep. I think I do a good job. I can't really be sure, though. I eat it the night of and never again. It's not for me. I don't eat it in the conditions that I cook it for. That looks like: it's been refrigerated for a few days and then reheated in the style that suits the person I'm making it for. They don't have any criticisms, other than that they are sick of it sometimes. They also don't have any thoughts (that they share with me) about any of it when they aren't. This is something it's taken me a little time to come to terms with, as someone who has basically only ever either cooked for myself or for a big, supportive group.

Some other things I've tried: peanut butter & wine marinated chicken - it turned out great. With none of the flavors of the two main aspects (I added too many spices and too much oil). Another round of Doenjang Guk, the first I've made in a few months. It came out flavorless (again, I did too much and all the flavor was sucked out). A half dozen different varieties of smoothie. Almost all serviceable, none particularly good. Continued variations on my original post's Home Base Home Fries, with and without the scramble. They let me live. I've kept working on my roasted veggies, and on my herb butter pasta. Both continue to work for me, in that I keep eating them. The latter continues to fail for me, in that I can never push it past a thing that I will eat, regardless of quality.

There's been another factor, too. I spent the first two weeks of July with one of the worst colds I've had in years. It wouldn't go away, and while it migrated around my head and face, it consistently stayed wrecking my sinuses. The minute that cold ended, I hit a depressive spiral that dragged me out of communication with the world. I'm barely crawling out of it right now. It's been a shitty month for my cooking for material reasons - being unable to inhale through your nose means smelling is pretty hard, and when you're already working with a child's palate that's not great for tasting what you make - and being caught in bad brain territory means not having anyone to talk to or share with, and so not being able to get feedback or even just feel good about helping someone.

If there's one constant in all the work I do, whether reviews or essays or organizing or making weird noise pop mashups or whatever else, it's that I'm constantly thinking through some aspect of reproductive labor. That's the Marxist term for the work that goes in to, well, reproducing labor. As a class, that means biological reproduction (new babies that will become workers), education (teaching people the skills, social and practical, to do the work society will need them to), and so on. As an individual, that means taking care of biological necessities like eating, but it also means addressing psychological needs. We do that by watching movies or TV or playing videogames, having a partner or friends or family who can do care work for us as we do so for them, going to therapy, getting fucked up.

In the broader discourse, this is generally swept up into the category of emotional labor, which is in turn swept up into the general notion of unpaid or underpaid women's work. It's also wrapped up in the idea of the feminization of labor (via Nina Power's One Dimensional Woman), which understands that term to mean both that the workforce is more feminine and that work itself is becoming dominated by jobs that are traditionally feminized - the bulk of jobs created since the 2008 recession are in the service industry and in precarious industries - because they require emotional (or affective) labor. I think Malcolm Harris puts it pretty succinctly when he says that "Any job it's impossible to do while sobbing probably includes some affective labor" (Kids These Days, 76).

And there is good reason for that. These terms end up covering much of the same territory. But reproductive labor is the one that continues to resonate for me. Because it feels more holistic, more material, and more true to my experience, for example, to say that there is something fundamentally connected about cooking, eating, shooting the shit with friends, processing serious emotional harm, sinking three dozen hours into Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep (again), making art, organizing shows and compilations and rituals and hangouts, sleeping, going to the gym, getting wasted, having pets and bearing children and sharing skills and teaching and so many other things. And not because they are all secretly work either. And especially not because they should be valorized as self care. 

Reproductive labor is crucial to capitalism because people are crucial to capitalism, and people need things. They need to eat and fuck and sleep and shit, and they need to socialize and learn and rest and feel. Capitalism is built up around this, providing shelter and dating apps and groceries and toilets and bars and beds and media at a price manipulated to produce as much surplus value for the owners as they can manage to strangle out of the workers. And so workers become the product of their consumption, that they themselves might be consumed in production. I come back to section 2a of Appendix 1 of the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy twice a year to brush up on that, and every time it feels at least as correct as before.

If there's an intellectual seed that my politics grew out of, it's this concept. My own communism comes from a place of understanding that the things we do with our time, when our time is ostensibly our own, are deeply meaningful and deeply implicated within the oppressive mode of production. These things are not contradictory except in the ways that they are contradictions inherent to capital, and so show a way forward out of this world and into another, attenuated as it must be by the lessons learned in revolution.

And cooking has already helped me sharpen my thoughts and feelings on that. Because it is barely a metaphor to say, for instance, that cooking is one of the few examples workers can experience where they directly reap the fruits of their own labor. You purchase capital in cookware, consume materials in groceries to create a product, and then consume the product, reproducing yourself. And then you do so with others, building community. If you can imagine a world without the initial investments and the ultimate consequences (you go back to work), you can imagine a world built differently than the one we have. If you can understand that the ultimate consequence is both a real end and an unnecessary one, we have some common ground, at least.

Which is why I'd like to share this recipe for Braised Ham Shank with you.

What You Need

  • Dry Rub
  • Dutch Oven
  • Tecate Tall Can
  • ~2 1/3rds lb Ham Shank

Start by mixing together a dry rub. I threw salt, pepper, coriander, sage, and some of that dried celery leaf into a mortar and pestle & crushed them up. That's not absolutely necessary. Whatever's to your taste and you have available will probably work. Rub that into the pork. Let it sit in the fridge for at least a couple hours, possibly overnight if you're feeling feisty.

Once you're about to start cooking, preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Heat the dutch oven over a medium flame and add oil once hot. Sear all six sides of the cut. Each side should take between one and three minutes, would be my guess. You could also go medium low here for a little longer if you're worried about burning the spices. Remove from heat.

Pour that tall can of Tecate into the dutch oven and get it all mixed up with the oil and the spices. Cover and put it in the preheated oven. Go do something else. This is going to take somewhere between two and three hours. I checked in after one hour to flip the meat, another to check, and then every fifteen or twenty minutes until it looked good. I also used a knife to cut the meat at the fleshiest part, near the bone, to see if it looked uncooked. I definitely didn't need to do that; at about two and a half hours in, the bones literally fell out as I lifted the meat and I could have checked with a fork. Cut up and serve; I also roasted some carrots and broccoli alongside it, which turned out great.

For next time, I think I'm going to try a Mirepoix before adding the beer (onions, celery, carrot, and maybe lemon zest?), letting the rub rest for longer, and actually using the leftover liquid. I've never made a gravy before - I suspect I could let the beer & meat juices reduce some, cook some mashed potatoes alongside it, and have something there.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Always Bee Cooking #2: Farmer's Markets & Friendships

 The Story

The summer of 2006 ended up being pretty instrumental for me. It was between high school and college, and it was when I formed two relationships that ended up shaping me for the rest of my life so far.

The first one, which isn't all that important here, was my first girlfriend. She was a lot of firsts, from kiss on, and was the person who taught me that there could be joy in looking forward to the future. I still haven't internalized that.

The second was a group of girls. They taught me, among other things, that friendships didn't have to be mediated. They were the first folks that I ever hung out with in any real way where our friendship wasn't defined by some shared interest - music or games or whatever. We did share interests, but could also be in each other's company without pretense. It's a lesson that fundamentally changed me into a better person, although it took some time.

One of those examples, of simply being in each other's company, was experiencing things I had no affinity for. Not because I was branching out, but because I was interested in being together with them. The archetypal example (and the one that brings me to today's topic) was going to the Farmer's Market.

I've been going to Farmer's Markets, first with them and then with others, for over a decade. Prior to about two weeks ago, I'm fairly certain I hadn't ever bought anything from one aside from prepared food. The big change is that I am now, however briefly, on SNAP. Food stamps. I'm also doing meal prep and living off the generosity of others as I look for work. So I needed a way to translate that into food and ameliorating the burden I'm placing on friends and family. Part of that was finding out that the closest Farmer's Market has a program where not only do they accept SNAP, they match up to $5 for fruit and vegetable purchases. Which is lucky, because that's what I was planning on buying anyway.

Instead of a grip of themed recipes, I decided to shake it up a little this week. I recorded a Grocery Haul video (which you can find above), where I go through what I bought with $20 and how I plan on using some of it. In lieu of the Recipes section, I'm going to go over some of those preparations below.

The reason I hadn't ever really bought food from a Farmer's Market before is twofold. The first is that for maybe ten of the thirteen years since I started going with those friends, I just straight up didn't cook. The second is that I have hella social anxiety. Having people attempt to be pleasant at me when I'm barely aware of what I'm doing is brain-shattering. Doing so in a crowd of people who are trying to get their shit and go, or even just get past me, is often unbearable. But you do have to just go ahead and do it sometimes.

The story of my learning to cook so far, at least as I have often told it, is one of letting go of the Right Way to Do Things and doing them the way that I can. I just started using herbs a few months ago because I said fuck it and got some dried, after years of not using them because everyone said to use fresh. I never bought vegetables because I was afraid they would go bad - until I was told you could roast frozen broccoli and cauliflower. Getting my hands dirty with that did more for me than any amount of being told How to Do It ever could. I hope this column gives off that same energy. Because I also believe that I'm pretty good at this, and that comes from learning to trust myself more than anything else. That and material conditions, of course

Recipes (kinda)

Caramelized Plum

Use a serrated knife to cut a plum in half. Twist until it pulls apart. Cut around the pit and remove.

Put a cast iron skillet on the range over medium-low heat. Let it heat for a minute or two. Now, choose your own adventure:

For purely sweet, simply place the halved plums on the skillet and let cook for 3-5 minutes. When the meat is browned, serve.

For a more complex preparation, sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon on the pan and drop 5 or 6 grains of kosher salt on it. Then place the plums on the cast iron, smushing around to coat. Let cook about five minutes (for some reason this usually takes me a little longer?) until browned (as best you can tell). It's delicious. I suspect you can do the same for nectarines and peaches and other pitted fruits, but I haven't tried it yet!

Use Those Greens

Celery is ideal for this, but I've also done carrots. They're both useful.

For celery, cut off where the stalk pinches (where the leaves start). For carrots, cut off right above the top of the carrot. Wash thoroughly.

Strip the leaves from the stems. The less stem the better. Set stems aside.

Preheat oven to the lowest setting (170F for me).

Lay out leaves on a baking sheet. Ideally single layer, but you know. If you can't get everything onto one layer, just be more conscientious about shifting things around.

Put the baking sheet in the oven, and set a timer for half an hour.

Check back every thirty minutes, rotating the sheet and testing how dry things are. Probably after one hour you should start checking every fifteen minutes or so, depending on how dry things are getting.

At 170F, they should be done in an hour or two. They're done when you can easily crumble a leaf between two fingers; make sure there aren't idlers who aren't dry though.

Mash up the dried leaves in your hands and place in a container with an airtight lid. Use like a seasoning (probably most similar to parsley?). I like dried celery and carrot greens on meat, especially chicken. Place the set-aside stems in a ziplock bag in the freezer. Add vegetable scraps as you cook. Once you have enough, throw the mess in a pot of water, bring to a boil and then down to a simmer, and simmer covered for about an hour. Now you have vegetable stock*!

*Make sure there's celery, carrot & onion scraps in it. Avoid too much brussel sprouts, broccoli, and potato scraps to avoid bitterness.

PS: Zest lemons. Just peel those bad boys before you use them, and then set the peels out for 3-5 days. It's great lemon flavor that you're just wasting otherwise!

Roasted Roots

1 bunch of carrots

1 large daikon

1 large zucchini

Cut roots into sticks. This is actually not as hard as I was worried it would be - basically just keep cutting things lengthwise until they are about the desired thickness, then cut horizontally so they're somewhere between one and two inches. Uniformity is desirable but I've never managed it.

You can also separate the daikon & zucchini from the carrots if you want to follow another step soon.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Toss in oil, salt, pepper, garlic and onion (a small pinch of dried celery leaves can also add freshness, using the recipe above). I'd go light on the oil personally, since the goal here is to make something summery out of roots. Or at least mine was.

Place on baking sheet, evenly distributed. Let cook for 15 minutes. Check daikon and zucchini; they should be crisp but with a little bit of chew. If you check with a fork, you hopefully get a puncture and then a bit of slide. If they're good, pull them out. Let carrots cook for another five minutes or so. The desired texture is the same. Serve.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Friendship Without A Self: Kingdom Hearts

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A name defines an object. Describes the span of it. Gives it purpose. We embarked upon the Replica Program to ensure our new power stays ours. Now, our shadow puppet, "No. i," lives. It needs a name. Something to define it. To give the hollow vessel purpose. (Secret Report Day 7: Meaning, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days)
Xion (No. i) was essentially indistinguishable from a natural human, though she became unstable due to the influence of others. (Secret Report 7: On the Replica Program and Reanimation, Kingdom Hearts 3)

Kingdom Hearts is a series of roughly 10 videogames released over 17 years. For the most part, those games are action RPGs; games with a third-person perspective in which you largely control one person and interaction is either context-sensitive or combat, which happens in real time.

Each individual game in the series is relatively easy to break down: a young man embarks on a journey to fix something that has gone wrong. After trials and tribulations, he succeeds. The twist to this hero's journey is that this success is, inevitably, because of the help of his friends.

If Kingdom Hearts is about any one thing, it's about friendship. Which makes sense: it's a collaboration between the videogame publisher and developer Square Enix, and the media behemoth Disney. It's a series of games where original characters team up with Final Fantasy's Cloud and Yuffie and Squall/Leon to go on adventures with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Goofy and Pluto. They meet Sephiroth and Pinocchio and Hercules and Ariel and Aladdin. Disney films about True Love and fantasy videogames about Killing God met in the middle, and thematized the process by which this series came to be.

What these games are about and how they are about it are two different things entirely, though. Stories about friendship are a way to reflect on how we are social outside of strict reproduction. They can point to ways in which being with one another can be beautiful or harmful regardless of our intention. They can even identify moments or possibilities of solidarity that we might otherwise have remained totally unaware of. At my most sentimental (or revolutionary, depending on your perspective), I even think they can point us towards modes of engaging with - and disengaging from - intimacy in a world beyond capitalism.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. That "easy breakdown?" It's a lie. Not the part that's more or less The Odyssey or the Hero's Journey. The lie is the phrase "a young man." Because that implies a stable, consistent identity. And the stories these games tell have none of that.

Which is a bit rough, right? Because without that "young man," who is there to have friends?

Put more concisely: Kingdom Hearts is a series of games about friendship. It is also a series in which identity is never not compromised, multiple, fractured, incomplete, and overdetermined. Kingdom Hearts is about friendship without selfhood.


What follows is a short summary of all relevant information in each entry in the Kingdom Hearts series.

Near the end of Kingdom Hearts, Sora turns his Keyblade on himself. He does so to unlock his heart, because he has just learned that his best friend, Kairi, has hidden her heart away inside of his own for the bulk of the game. He wants to let her free. He does. In doing so, he becomes a Heartless. For a brief period, you control this Heartless, wandering through a massive castle. You find your friends; Kairi recognizes you even though you look like a random enemy. She hugs you, and you become yourself again.

At the beginning of Kingdom Hearts 2, you spend two hours doing chores as some boy named Roxas who you, the player, have never heard of before. He turns out to be the consequence of that earlier action; Sora's Nobody, his body-without-a-heart. He also turns out to be trapped in a simulation, living out a fantasy life programmed by Ansem so that Sora can return to himself whole.

Except that Nobodies are people's bodies, and Roxas looks nothing like Sora, not really. He actually looks like Ventus, a boy of Sora's age who we don't meet until Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep (set ten years before the events of Kingdom Hearts). There we find out that when Ventus failed to stop Xehanort, his heart wandered into the void and found Sora's, who was like five or something. So Ventus has been in Sora for over a decade.

In Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, we learn that Roxas spent his time in Organization XIII prior to getting trapped in that simulation. There he became friends with Axel, another Nobody. Nobodies, lacking hearts, are not supposed to be capable of feeling, which is what hearts do. He also became friends with Organization XIII's 14th member, Xion, who turns out to be a clone of Sora (or, to be more specific, a replica implanted with Sora's memories of Kairi who is becoming her own person). She's been manufactured to siphon off Sora's memories so he can never be completed again, even if Roxas is somehow trapped in a simulation and funnelled back into Sora, for instance. Oh, and Xion's name (before anagramed and an X added, as Organization members must) is "No. i," which is about as on the nose as it gets.

Sora is trying to regain his memories because in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories he wandered into this place called Castle Oblivion. There, a witch named Naminé (and the structure itself) distorted his memories, causing him to forget Kairi and convince him that he was actually friends with Naminé his whole life. When they meet, Sora inveighs Naminé to wipe him of his memories so that an Organization XIII member won't hurt her. He cares more about a promise to her - one that he knows he didn't really make - than his own selfhood. She does and he stays true to his word. Except that it was never his word, because he is not himself. Because he is a always already others, and his memory is being actively modified by a place and a person, and because he even knows that this was never his word. And still he stays true to it, because it is his word.

In the end he is given another choice. He can remember what happened in this castle, and the time he had with Naminé. Or he can forget it and regain the memories he has last over this time. He chooses the latter, forsaking this person he stayed true to even though he knew that truth was a lie. he chooses to forget his experiences in Castle Oblivion in order to have his previous memories restored, necessitating the destruction of Roxas and Xion, who (re)become part of him.

In Kingdom Hearts Re:coded, Mickey, Donald and Goofy want to investigate what happened to Jiminy's journal. Jiminy Cricket chronicles your exploits throughout most of the games. They digitize it and find it full of bugs, so the three appeal directly to the data version of Sora from the very beginning of the journal to act as an internal antivirus. Data Sora is super down. He wanders through the journal fixing bugs. He thanks Naminé and saves Riku, who is actually the journal embodied. He learns about hurt, and how it can be important as a reminder of loss. He is not Sora, and so Sora remembers none of this; except that he does, because Sora isn't really, or just, Sora either.

Time travel isn't introduced until Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, where the player splits time equally between Riku and Sora as they embark on a quest to become Keyblade Masters, only to get suckered into another plot from Organization XIII. Not only is this the game where they learn about people's constituent parts (Nobodies, Heartless) being able to be reconfigured into their "whole," "original" self, they learn that time is a function of selfhood. See, you can only travel in time by abandoning your body and becoming a Heartless. And even then you can only travel to where you have already been. This is how time travel works: you can only go whenever you've already been, and you cannot be you.

And then it all comes to a head. Xehanort (he's been the actual baddie behind everything) produces thirteen versions of himself to populate The Real Organization XIII. That corresponds to the 13 pieces of darkness that the χ-blade broke into (alongside seven pieces of light). Sora is, of course, both. He is meant to be the 13th piece of darkness, but assembles the seven bearers of light to engage in a final battle. Kingdom Hearts 3 is the ending of a trilogy of ten games, and so it is meant to be a synthesis, where it all comes together. The loose ends are tied up, the victory of light over dark is assured. And it happens, kind of. Except what it really reveals is that no one is anyone, and that everyone is everyone, and that the saying they try to shoehorn in repeatedly - "may your heart be your guiding key" - is irrelevant. Friends are what it comes down to, on both sides.


If Sora is the protagonist of Kingdom Hearts and is never himself, then the antagonist - Xehanort - is a funhouse mirror. In Kingdom Hearts, the villain is Ansem. He's a Heartless (the embodied darkness of a heart shorn of its mind/body). In Kingdom Hearts 2, the villain is Xemnas - an anagram of Ansem with an X added, if you hadn't already got it memorized. He's not the guy who digitized Roxas; that's actual Ansem. See, Ansem (from Kingdom Hearts) and Xemnas are actually the Heartless and Nobody of Xehanort, a disciple of Ansem who stole his master's name. The Ansem who digitized Roxas is the original, and he's a good guy/friend of Mickey. Ansem is also an enormous dick, but that's not entirely relevant right now.

Xehanort's goal, revealed slowly over the course of the whole series, is to push the world into an apocalyptic conflict. He wants to lift the veil of the world, ending the current one and creating a new one where things can be better. He's a revolutionary who has no social bonds. And his friends are various hims. Which isn't necessarily solipsistic, given the fractured selfhood at this series' core.

The funhouse mirror is that Sora is only ever presented as Sora, mostly; this character design houses Kairi and Ventus and Roxas and Xion's hearts. Xehanort is almost never Xehanort. He's three people - Xemnas and Ansem and Xehanort - whose ultimate, apocalyptic plan involves him becoming 13 people. Even when Xehanort is on screen, he's equally likely to be Young Xehanort and Master Xehanort standing next to each other. Time travel. Sora is the body without a self; Xehanort the self without body. You might say, equally truly, that Sora is the body full to brimming with selves while Xehanort is a self stretched thin through bodies. Either way, the question remains: who are these people friends with?


Fiction writing, writ large, can be approached a number of ways. Some writing says: here is the truth of this world. Described, enacted, and organized. Other writing says: here is truth of these characters, discussed, conveyed, and organized. Still other writing says: here is the truth of this world, but it was actually the truth of the characters. We call this an unreliable narrator. And there's the inverse, writing which says that it is the truth of the characters but is actually the truth of its world. We tend to call this literature.

In any story, it's difficult to tell whether what we know is epistemologically or ontologically true. You might shorthand that to "subjectively" or "objectively;" the former has to do with knowledge, the latter with being. Stories are made of people talking and interacting, and they are made by people writing and drawing and animating and devising mechanics. The unreliable narrator weaponizes that difficulty; we only know what is in the text (and what we bring to it and what we assume about it). Fiction is untrue, after all, but read (or played or watched or heard) by real people.

All of which is to say: it's difficult to say what is precisely "true" in Kingdom Hearts. Or more specifically, how this world actually functions versus how the framing and the storytelling conveys that functioning, and whether there is a difference there (spoilers: as with all fiction, there isn't, objectively speaking, and of course there is, it's the most important thing). Doubly so when the closest thing we have to a point of view character is actually half a dozen hearts in a singular body, absolutely reliant on the bonds of friendship to function.

With that in mind, it's hard to make claims about the ontology of Kingdom Hearts. But there's one I'm fairly confident in: it is a universe in which triads are a fundamental principle. Kingdom Hearts has, as far as I can tell, precisely one binary: light and dark. Otherwise everything is in threes.

Some examples: In every game but Kingdom Hearts 3, your party is three characters full. In Kingdom Hearts, there are interactable elements called Trinities, even. Friends tend to come in threes: Sora, Riku and Kairi; Mickey, Donald, and Goofy; Roxas, Axel, and Xion; Ventus, Terra, and Aqua. But also Sora, Donald, and Goofy and Mickey, Riku and Sora. These threes aren't exclusive. Humans are thirds, even. Heart, mind, and body. This can be experimented on and reproduced. A Somebody (that is, a whole person) consumed by darkness becomes a Heartless (a heart without a body) and a Nobody (a body without a heart), as long as they have a strong enough will (which is to say soul or mind).

From systems to story, the world is carved up into threes. It's a world, in other words, where a statement like "us vs them" wouldn't make sense. Or at least it wouldn't be as compelling as, say, "us vs them vs the rest." Where a phrase like "here and there and everywhere" would have to translate to "here and there and there and everywhere." Because unless you're talking specifically about the war that underlies reality, most things only make sense if there are two other things that complement them. True love isn't a Sora/Riku ship, it's the truth of the matter: that when they grow up, assuming things don't come between them, Sora and Riku and Kairi might well establish a triad. Kingdom Hearts is ontologically against the couple form, is what I'm saying.


There's this other videogame called NieR:Automata that came out in 2017 (this is the part where I spoil bits of both NieR:Automata and Kingdom Hearts 3, if that's something you're worried about). It's one of the most affecting things I've ever played; full of small moments that showcase the world and how it is materially constructed. To beat it, you have to play through it around three times. Each time rolls credits, and then the game changes.

At the beginning of the second playthrough (route B), you control a robot. It's one of the mundane enemies you have already defeated hundreds of. You try to revive your brother by bringing them oil, tripping over wires on the way there and back. If it isn't inspired by that moment in Kingdom Hearts where Sora turns into a Heartless (when freeing Kairi's heart from his own), I'll eat my hat.

At the very end of NieR:Automata, you get a final credits sequence. You play a hacking minigame that you've played many times before, and shoot them. Getting through it becomes impossible. You have to acknowledge that things are worth doing, that life is worth living, that games are worth playing. It becomes more impossible. You are finally asked to accept help. When you do, the minigame becomes playable again. Beatable. Even easy. At the end, you're asked to make a decision. You can keep your save files, making it easy to revisit the game. Or you can delete them, meaning if you want to experience things again you will have to invest another 20+ hours, but you will be one of those people that helped you. A real person in the world will be able to pass that final trial because of your sacrifice.

In the lead up to Kingdom Hearts 3's final battle, Sora is reunited with all of his friends and they are wading their way through an army of Heartless. They're over-overwhelmed. You play through a huge boss fight. The enemy only regroups, consolidating their forces into a literal tornado. Sora decides to defeat them on his own. He jumps in, and a brief cutscene happens. A character from the past offers help. You regain control, and are surfing on a wave of Keyblades. The screen instructs you to press the Triangle button. Whenever you do, a bloom of light emerges from Sora, and a name on the left side of the screen disappears. Each of these names is someone who has spent time in Union χ, the Kingdom Hearts mobile game. You are, presumably, expending their life to help Sora get to the final confrontation with Xehanort. The reference point references.

The best aspect of NieR:Automata is how everything in the game feeds into the greater thematic considerations. The biggest, most explanatory cutscene does as much work as a bit of optional side dialogue or a shitty sidequest where you race a robot around a map. The game, in other words, is incredibly tightly wound around specific thematic concerns that leaves many other things - the gameplay, the pacing - to feel baggy or awkward for many players. It is also a work in translation in an industry that systematically devalues storytelling. Kingdom Hearts is much baggier.


Kingdom Hearts begins in "the age of fairy tales." This is its prehistory, when the Worlds were one World, and everything was light. That's fairly standard Fantasy fare, as is the fact that the world became rift by darkness. We never actually play in that prehistory, because storytellers and their audiences are told that conflict drives narrative. But the way that they narrativize that transition is important. From the mouth of Yen Sid in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance:

[I]n time, the World was overrun by legions who wanted the light all for themselves, and the first shadows were cast upon the land. These warriors crafted "Keyblades" in the image of the original χ-blade, and waged a great war over Kingdom Hearts. We call this the "Keyblade War." But though the war extinguished all light from the World, the darkness could not reach the brightness inside every child's heart. With that light, the World was remade as we know it today, with countless smaller worlds shining like stars in the sky. …  After all, light begets darkness, and darkness is drawn to light.
There's a lot to unpack here. The first thing: the placement of the phrase "light begets darkness." The fact that it falls near the end of this quote is telling. It is a truism, one that could itself do the work of explaining all this lore away. The world is full of light, and light begets darkness, therefore some dark elements arose and attacked the light. Instead it is almost an afterthought; the light was coveted - presumably by the light, or people filled with light, because darkness is only introduced by this action.

One of the stories we tell about the birth of capitalism takes place in England in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, all the way through the 19th century. It's a long, slow process known as the Enclosure of the Commons. Under feudalism (hardly a world filled with light), there was significant arable land that was held in common. Peasants used it for subsistence farming, primarily. The emergence of a bourgeois class, people who owned capital, or the means by which to produce goods, necessitated a different kind of labor than the peasant provided the lord, even in agriculture. They pressured this system and it pushed back, but in the process laws were enacted, violence done, and land taken. Peasants were pushed off the common land and turned into wage laborers, people who could not feed themselves except by producing value for someone who had capital. This class, the bourgeoisie, slowly gained more and more power - socially, economically, politically. Then, from the late 17th to the late 18th century, they caused wars. Revolutions in England, France, and America overthrew feudal society, making capitalism the logic and practice by which the world was structured.

It's not a one-to-one translation, obviously. But there's a core similarity there which absolutely does not need to be similar. The world has this good in it. It's a resource; it is how people feed themselves or literal motes of goodness. People see an opportunity to exploit that goodness toward their own ends. They take it. Wars, and the world is changed. Specifically, it is fractured, becomes alienated. People no longer live together in the light, but scattered across worlds. People no longer reap the fruit of their labor, but sell it to the market in order to be able to purchase food and rest from others.

The inciting incident behind the sole binary in this series is an act of enclosure and dispossession. The motivating action behind nearly every game in this series is driven by this war, whether that's the reclamation of Kingdom Hearts or the production of a new Kingdom Hearts or the χ-blade. That motivation might underpin the action, but the people in it are an entirely different story. They're a human shape filled to bursting with selves or a self stretched among a baker's dozen bodies, after all. Or they're replicas filled with one person's memory of another, or bodies without hearts that shouldn't exist and definitely shouldn't have feelings and definitely love each other deeply as friends. And so much in between.


Stories can do a lot. They can model behavior that we might want to see in the world, or might want to struggle against. They can help our brains make connections that might not have occurred to us otherwise. They can explain phenomena we aren't equipped to deal with, or they can obfuscate complicated relations and make them seem simple. They can provide comfort, soothing you during a frightening period or letting your brain rest enough to return to work in ideal shape the next day. They tend to be about something, or some things, and so they can accumulate on top of our previous understandings of a concept or a relation, making it more robust or hiding something crucial.

They always do certain things. They exist in relation to the dominant ideology of the time, and in relation to the position of the author(s) and their own social and ideological commitments. They transform ideology, the way a person understands how the world works and how they move through it - even if unconsciously - into fiction, a discrete thing that can be analyzed, understood, and thought about. And they are products of labor, whether written or designed or curated or told.

Stories about friendship can teach us how to be in the world with others, or how not to be. They can teach us how other people are, or how they want to project having been, in relation to others. They can even suggest glimmers of how we might be under a different regime, one where the profit motive is gone, or where meaning is a product of trinary, rather than binary opposition. These lessons can be muddled, useless, or unproductive just as often (or even more) than they are clarifying.

Stories about friendship in a world of trinary opposition, where people are not themselves and everyone is everyone, are bound to be muddled. They can't model behavior, and when they do it must almost necessarily be a failing. But they can spark possibility. They are still fiction, after all, something worked on, something with a concrete relation to the illusions that cause the world to function the way it does, something that provides us a framework by which to better understand those illusions and bring that understanding to the work we have ahead of us. That work is not going to involve wielding a massive key like a sword, beating the embodied darkness of people's hearts into submission and locking and unlocking discrete worlds from each other.

It will involve standing with one another, regardless of whether or not we are at one with ourselves. And it will involve conflict as we struggle against those who pursue, single-mindedly, their own apocalyptic (profit) motive in order to continue to reshape the world in their own image.

Kingdom Hearts' story can't be explained. In the same way that no other story can, not without fundamentally telling a different story. Because what is important isn't that time travel is the abnegation of the self that is tied to the self, or that darkness is impassable by everything except Gummi Ships, those in control of darkness, Keyblade Armor, and also maybe Monstro and Captain Hook's ship, for some reason. It's the experience of learning this young man is young men and women and no one at all, and the way that breaks against your own ideological presuppositions or melds with them immediately. It's whether you play Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and get mad because everything ends up forgotten, canonically, because that feels like cheating to you, or whether you embrace it because of the beats along the way and the fact that it is true in this world, regardless of any character's memory. It's the moments of skepticism followed by joy you get in starting a new game and finding out that, hey, this terribly-named thing called "flowmotion" in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance seemed overwhelming and useless and gimmicky but it actually makes moving around this dense, bizarre world a joy in itself.

And some of us - all of us, I think - have complicated relationships to the self. We aren't just who we are. We're conditioned by the world, and by each other. And having this joyful, messy way of reflecting back on that can be helpful. It's partially a coincidence that Kingdom Hearts finally grabbed me when I was coming to terms with my gender identity issues. For you it might be something else. But being able to reflect on the world with the help of Sora and Xion and Naminé has taught me about myself, and about how people interact with the world. Especially when that world's common goods are enclosed on and alienated.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Always Bee Cooking #1: Potatoes and Transitions

This is the first post on my new Patreon page! To support further writing, sign up; I will be posting at least one new piece of critical writing once a month here (early for patrons), and this cooking blog will appear most months exclusively for $10+ patrons.

The Story

One thing I didn't expect from transitioning was a fundamental shift in my relationship to potatoes.

I grew up in a household that wasn't exactly conducive to loving food. Sitting around the dinner table was a masterclass in the kinds of manipulation (CW) that was constantly at play in my mom & stepfather's relationship. He would perform appreciation for her in a way that seemed to be transparently about bargaining for sex. Coupling that with my own intense reaction to certain textures – I have only recently been able to eat oatmeal or lettuce without involuntarily gagging – meant the situation was almost always unpleasant.

I dealt with that by becoming a 'picky' eater. And a large part of being picky is being performative about it, whether you intend to or not.

As late as 2017, everyone who knew me (and cared enough about my food preferences to file them away) knew that I hated potatoes. Hashbrowns were the exception, and I could deal with french fries. That was it.

In 2019, potatoes have been referred to as "[my] favorite food" by multiple, unrelated parties.

Coincidentally: in 2017, I was still of the mindset that any gender questions I had (including wanting, occasionally, to wear nail polish) were probably just white boy privilege and appropriation. In 2019, I'm out to friends, some family, and the internet now I guess?

I started cooking seriously when I moved to a place with a grocery store in walking distance (I haven't been behind the wheel of a car in almost 7 years at this point). My big goal at the time was to make breakfast burritos. To do that, I had to turn a corner on potatoes.

Getting there meant having more potatoes than I could use in just breakfast burritos. So I needed to find out other ways to use them. Once I had a serviceable, repeatable way to make breakfast burritos (check the recipes section!), I started branching out. I didn't want my food to go bad.

The story isn't that clean, of course. Potatoes aren't #transgirlculture. I started cooking them (and at all) because of a mix of material needs. I was having a difficult time working  – due in part to figuring out dysphoria, but also to having a remote job with no dedicated space in which to do it. I've continued because I've just become progressively more broke over the intervening years, had less work, and learned to really enjoy it. Plus Family Dinners. Lifesavers, those.

In the future, we'll get to stories about Family Dinner. Maybe that time I made mint eggs. It'll be nice. For now, though, let's get to some potato recipes that are fairly easy to do.

Some Quick Notes

Since this is the first one of these, I feel like I should say a few things before we get to the recipes.

First off, I'm one of those insufferable people who never measures. I'm sure whenever I start baking, that will change. I'll do my best to include them here, but recognize that these are guidelines.

Even growing up strongly disliking food, I've found that you can kind of guess at what you will have a tolerance for. I want to say err on the side of caution, because a bland breakfast scramble is a light disappointment while a salt mess might lead to wasting food. But you should also go a little hard sometimes, to test your limits. Do what feels right, and when it's wrong, take that knowledge forward (and don't let it get you down on yourself). Don't test your limits with meat though. Meat is terrifying.

Speaking of meat: most months, my recipes are probably going to be functionally vegan. That's how I'm most comfortable cooking. Earth Balance instead of butter, and all that. I'm not vegan, but I mostly eat that way.

I also tend to make more than a single meal's worth, so if you follow me to a T then expect to feed company or have leftovers. Leftovers are great.

All of the recipes below (and likely most of the ones in the future) are going to contain some variation on garlic and onions. I've said here to use the powder; things like dried, salt, or fresh also work, just adjust accordingly. Powder is the most concentrated, so use more of it; dried and fresh need to be cooked, so consider adding it earlier (or later if you're afraid it will burn, though little chunks of burnt garlic are fine imo); and onion salt can take the place of some or all of the salt that you would otherwise use.

I'll also try to have more photos in future. People seem to like those? I didn't have money to buy potatoes while writing this o:).

Oh and: holy shit, thank you. If you get a chance to make one of these recipes, please do let me know. Especially if it comes out messy. I'm trying this new thing, you know?


Home Base Home Fries
2-3 medium russet potatoes (or 1-2 large ones)
Neutral oil (canola, grapeseed)
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder (see notes above if you don't have either powder)
Black Pepper
Smoked Paprika

Wash potatoes and start chopping. You'll want pieces that are rough cubes, big enough to maybe fit two on a fork/in your mouth. Around halfway through chopping set a pan over medium-high heat to warm.

Once you're done chopping, add oil to the pan. Let it heat for a few seconds, then add chopped potatoes. Add all spices to taste, toss in the pan. Cover the pan and peace out for about five minutes.

Check and stir/flip potatoes, replace cover for another five minutes. Poke larger chunks with a fork or spatula to determine if they're cooked through. If not return cover and cook for another five minutes. Repeat until done. Once done, go to the next step.

Once potatoes are easily able to be pierced by a fork or spatula, remove cover and cook, flipping every few minutes until potatoes are crisp on the outside. Remove to a plate.

Optional: about a minute before potatoes are done, add spinach to the pan and cook until slightly wilted. Voila, healthy breakfast?

Potato & Egg Scramble
Home Base Home Fries Recipe (above)
3 eggs
2-3 handfuls of spinach (or another leafy green)

Follow home fries instructions up to paragraph 3. While cooking, break eggs into a bowl, add a dash of water or milk, and whisk until scrambled.

Once you remove the cover (when potatoes are easily pierced), get potatoes to a well-crisped state (but not quite finished). Pour eggs into the same pan, reducing heat slightly.

Let cook for a couple minutes, until eggs start to coagulate. Begin adding spinach. Cook eggs until done, and spinach until slightly wilted. This can be done in a different pan if you need more space, which will also allow them to be covered so they cook slightly faster. Combine and serve.

Simple Breakfast Burrito
Home Base Home Fries Recipe (above)
4 Eggs
~4 Tortillas
1 handful Kale (or another leafy green)
Fresh Cilantro

Follow instructions for Home Base Home Fries (less optional spinach). Alternatively, get fancy and follow recipe for Crispy Cheesy Hashbrowns below. I can't guarantee that one, but I bet it's good. Once finished, move to a burner on the lowest heat and only occasionally stir to keep warm.

Add chorizo to a new pan on medium-high heat. Cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring, until chorizo starts to evenly brown. Add kale or other green, and cook until it begins to wilt (a couple minutes should suffice. Add eggs, and cook until done.

Turn a burner with no pan on it on to low. Place tortilla directly on the burner. Once a light smoke starts curling up from under the tortilla, flip and repeat. Lightly toast each side of each tortilla to add some warmth and crunch.

Assemble burritos, adding optional cilantro/avocado if desired. Fold them better than I do, add hot sauce of choice (Cholula or Crystal are personal favorites) or salsa per bite, and enjoy. Refrigerate leftovers for up to a week, if you really want to push it.

Crispy Cheesy Hashbrowns
3-5 medium potatoes (idk what medium means either)
1-2 small handfuls shredded mozzarella (other cheeses should work as well)
A cheese grater and plenty of time
Garlic Powder

Start by washing and then grating the potatoes into a bowl large enough to hold all of them. Fill bowl with cold water, and lightly massage potatoes (similar to washing rice). Drain into a colander, then repeat until water runs clear. If you are planning on making a soup simultaneously, reserve the starchy water.

Lay out grated, washed potatoes on a couple of paper towels. Place more on top. Let sit until dry, probably 30 minutes to an hour. Heat up a pan over medium heat. Return to bowl and toss with pepper, garlic powder, salt, and cheese.

Put a generous dash of oil and a half tablespoon of butter into the pan. Pull between 1/2 and 3/4 cup of mixed potatoes (depending on how hungry you and/or your guests appear to be) out of the bowl and place in the pan. Flatten. These should not have a fluffy center. Cook over medium heat for too long (or turn the heat up a little bit if you are in a rush or easily bored), until bottom is crispy. Flip and repeat. Plate. Repeat this whole paragraph until all potatoes are cooked. Serve.

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