Saturday, November 21, 2020

Always Bee Cooking #15: On Not Cooking

The Friday after my birthday, I was on a short break at work. A question came unbidden: am I spiraling? The answer, of course, was no: I had spent most of the last week in total freefall. It was a strange moment; I’m usually hyperaware of when I’m doing poorly. But there it was. A week had passed and I hadn’t so much as used the rice cooker. I decided, of course, to lean in. I pulled my shelf out of the fridge and tossed the already-going-bad vegetables I had last bought. For the entire month of October I ate takeout, ordered pizza, or simply didn’t eat. The most I did at home was microwave canned food. I fucking hated it.

One of the things I have brought up a number of times in these posts is that I didn’t really start cooking until around two (maybe nearly three, at this point) years ago. It happened when I moved to San Francisco for a year and, for the first time, lived within reasonable walking distance of a grocery store (and worked from home at a job I really disliked, but which paid well). Immediately prior to that I had lived in Los Angeles for a couple years. I lived off of Carl’s Jr., 7-Eleven pizza, and Maggie’s, a really excellent breakfast sandwich spot in the Rampart (I even occasionally splurged on IHOP). Prior to that I was in Oakland, where I lived off breakfast burritos from a food truck near my job in Pleasanton and Pizza Man in Oakland. This month has consisted of a lot of bagel sandwiches from Bagel Street Café near my job in Berkeley and dubious Hot Pockets from the corner store.

The decision not to cook was an impulsive one, made in a state of bad mental health. It has had a deleterious effect on my mental health and my already complicated, and not exactly ordered, relationship to food. It has, more than regularly being misgendered by customers or service workers or folks outside of my inner circle, exacerbated dysphoria by putting me in a headspace I associate with pre-transition times. It has been a reminder of how easy it would be, despite how miserable, to give up; on myself and what I love doing, on my responsibilities to the people I live with, on everything except maintaining a bare minimum of life by making money and spending it to be alone.

Like I said, I’ve hated it. Even the supposed convenience has been a burden. Every time I look at Postmates or whichever delivery app I’ve decided might be worth a shot, I freeze. It’s too much. I order Domino’s online or simply don’t eat that night, convinced that if I go to sleep early enough I can tough it out.

I’m afraid, though, too. That I will have forgotten. Not the techniques, necessarily. Not how to make weird or good. But the joy of it, the rhythm, the ability to find what’s there and make it new and filling and share. I know that’s unlikely, even maybe impossible. That I don’t need to remember those rhythms in order to build them; that even the rhythms I had were constantly shifting and changing as they were building. That, in a real way, you can’t forget something like that because it’s never a memory, only a performance. A thing one does. But knowing and fearing are not mutually exclusive. What was it that Marx said? Heretofore philosophers have sought to understand the world; the point is to change it? You can have all the ideas in the world. They don’t, in and of themselves, mean shit when faced with the realities of anxiety and dysphoria and a broken history with food.

But then, what is this space for if not some measure of holding myself accountable? It’s certainly not the Big Ideas, left wing cooking blog I wanted it to be. I’d like it to be more than a flimsy pretext for having a tip jar, but that’s what it is most months. When I’m being generous to myself I think of it as a way to think about and through food differently, from novice eyes, a dead palate, and a passion for experimentation, community, and a ruthless criticism of everything existing.

Which isn’t to say it is all dysphoria and disorder, of course. Or, at least, that there aren’t things to be learned from there.

Most of the lessons are personal, of course; that my body will still accept that diet, that I am terrible at reaching out of my comfort zone in certain areas, that I do, in fact, still kind of love eating like shit. Or that as much as I can enjoy cleaning, it can sure produce resentment. Or that the whole Lent-style abstention thing is not really my deal.


I wrote the above on October 30th, early to work to eat breakfast and find a space to type. My coworker never showed up, so I worked alone all day, listening to World's End Girlfriend's discography while people browsed books and I told them I couldn't buy the ones they brought in. It is now November first, before opening. I am reading myself try desperately to pull a broad lesson out of an act of self-flagellation. It's super not going to happen.

I became obsessed, a week or so ago, with breaking my cooking fast by making sour patch kids. I've let that go. I think I will go home, at the end of the day, and make a pot of rice. Maybe I'll throw a little butter and dried thyme in the rice cooker and get really uneven results. Maybe I'll toast the rice ahead of time, to try something new. Either way, I will eat food I've made again, and it will not be revelatory. I'm excited.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

32: A Birthday Poem


I turned 32 at the beginning of this month, and like every year I used that as an opportunity to make a gift for the internet. Since it's the tenth time I've done this, and my age is now the age I started doing it in reverse, I decided to respond to the poem I wrote in 2011 to get this tradition kicked off. Enjoy, if you wanna.

Bonus Thoughts:

The roughest part of this was revisiting the previous poem repeatedly, and how clear it seems to me that that poem was about desperately attempting to have a libidinal investment in masculinity (all while being the witchiest thing I've ever put together, or ever will, in all likelihood, weirdly enough) cloaked in a sort of preemptive mourning. It was anticipating 2012 (the end of the Mayan Calendar!) and testament to how much Shea & Anton Wilson's The Illuminatus! Trilogy affected me some three or four years before.

The central conceit actually comes from (my memory of) an appendix in that book. I have no particular interest in reading it again, so my memory will have to do. The Law of Fives comes up repeatedly throughout the novel, and is explained in the appendix (again, according to my memory at least) in a particularly material way: a human hand, more often than not (and culturally, certainly) has five fingers. Numerology finds fives in the world because we interact with the world through a thing that has five digits. In my memory, the book has a line about how if we were all born with six fingers, we would find sixes. It's a clever trick, and a false one, of course, but it stuck with me (and my understandings of it have certainly changed as my understandings of ableism and body normativity have).

Otherwise: thank you to Fergy for leading the life you did; to many friends for being there for me when I feel like I deserve it least; to my own fucked brain for putting in the work even when you're in total freefall; and to all of you out there on this cursed internet for accepting my gifts, sometimes.

Full text:


I turn 32 today.

An unimportant year.

Hope it kills me.

But who knows,

the revolution might work slow.

(This is ten years of birthday gifts, and a response

to whoever the fuck wrote a poem when they turned 23

that inverted into me.)

Do you remember the law of fives?

It's a fucking lens, but

the world does not want to be seen.

It's entirely too much, and it hurts to stare straight in the face...

But from 5 you can touch anything.


I lost a friend this year.

The one whose name I was called, once, while giving head.

We hadn't spoken in a few years. I never came out to him

I don't think. All the grief I've managed

is: a short eulogy, a compilation of his music,

and the occasional Denogginizer. Every time

I drink one it's in his honor, and every time

I drink one it's suspecting

that he probably didn't share my memory

of sharing one with him, many years ago,

on his recommendation. It was a small moment,

nothing special, but it serves now.

And I will never be able to confirm my suspicion.

[[[I wanted to quote Fergy here,

but in all our archives

it's just him sharing things

and me


to respond

to them.

No quotes.]]]


When I say "I" in a poem, does it mean five things?

It means, one, the body that typed this, that speaks it,

that exists in the world with a history and a projection toward

the (no) future.

It means you, too, the listener hearing me say it,

the reader being interpolated, the I in your head.

It means, three, the unholy, perhaps unwanted

trinity; the you and the I made one,

the apotheosis of us through language.

Does it mean four? If it means four, it means it

aspirationally. Striving. The I who has inverted.

The I that the first I cannot,

but has to, believe in. The I that the first I

is pleading the second I to believe in, to recognize.

The I that might return out of that trinity, that

third I.

But can it touch the world? Can it make five?

Can I touch anything?

[[[That other pronoun - the "they" - helps.]]]


If that 23 year old got anything right, it was

loving communities, and being unable

to conceptualize property.

I own more things today than I ever have.

Two handfuls of kitchen equipment,

a bed frame. No

assets, no car or home or

stock or career or stable drive

toward life, but still more. I wonder:

if I ever do own, will I learn to miss?

Or is that just the commodity fetish?

Do you remember the commodity fetish?

It's a consequence of the mode of production -

capitalism -

where relationships between people

are obfuscated into relationships between things.

A fun game:

take a look around, and guess how many people are hiding.

Take this handmade Hello Kitty. Oli is hiding in it

they made it and gave it to me. To make it

they needed fabric, lace, buttons, stitches, stuffing.

That's at least a couple factories. They needed to know

how to stitch, where to get these things.

At a rough estimate, I'd say this handmade Hello Kitty

hides at least a dozen people. Except.

That's only counting the people who immediately touched it in some way.

Because each of those people was shaped

by people who took care of them when they were sick

laughed with them when they were sad

fed them;

each was shaped by people who exploited them,

turned their bodies into laboring abstractions

profited off of stolen time

preyed on moments of weakness.

It's not quite true that

everything is everyone



In tabletop roleplaying saying is doing,

doing is being, and being

is agreeing to a story, together.

A story, of course, is a collection of people

alchemizing the raw material of rules, lines,

randomness, and interpersonal histories

into models of relationships,

imaginary social structures,

expressions of joy or regret

and tests of the limits of plausibility.

[[[If this poem is testament

to a decade of doing,

it might run the risk of erasing

the fact that this has been a decade of personal failure.]]]

So I seized on one of the stories that tabletop roleplaying games tell.

"To do it, do it."

If you're in a fight, don't say

"I roll to attack."


"Backed into a corner I:

Swing my battle axe (or)

Release poisonous spores (or)

Fall in love (or)."

To do it, do it.

Tell the story together, with trust.

It's the only phrase that's ever managed

to orient me toward something resembling

a future. Because a told story

becomes a story remembered;

a clean kitchen one to cook in.

And because, like every other bit of this poem,

it is a way of being against atomization.

[[[A decade of personal failures can only be stomached

if you can abandon the personal.]]]


Five lies at the center of the mystical hub

not because it has any special properties of its own,

but because

of its relationships.

Any time you find the need to do some arcane pattern-finding

you convert everything according to numerological norms.

At first, the fives will be scarce.

But if you break it down just right

you'll always end up with a five.


This decade of hello kitty horror games

and albums and podcasts

and other gifts is a decade

of crises of capital producing

austerity and death, generalized precarity,

proletarianizing. It's a decade of

militancy repeatedly crushed by agents of the state

and their militias. It's a decade that

cuts off at the beginning of covid.

But we're avoiding the question.

Can I touch anything?

Is there a fifth I after

the author, the reader,

the apotheosis, and the aspiration?


"I" can't touch anything.

"You" can, though.

And we must.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Always Bee Cooking #14: RIP Gina, The Unkillable Sourdough Starter

Sourdough recipes haven't been the majority of the things I've written on this cooking blog, but they certainly sometimes seem like it. From the Seared Sourdough Pikelets to the irreplicable Freestyle Bread to the User's Guide to learning how to read recipes, Gina has been a pretty huge part of this. Which is why I'm excited to announce that near the beginning of September, a mere ten months after I received her as a gift, I am free. I found Gina full of literal maggots and decided there was no way to save her. Sorry, BW, and thanks. 

I say free because a lot of my relationship with sourdough, especially since becoming an essential worker again a couple months back, has been pretty ashamed. I never once left Gina in the refrigerator, so when I would accidentally go a week without feeding her it would feel pretty rough. She always bounced back, though, even if I had to take her outside to let some fruit flies free. I would make sure, at that point, to refresh her a few times before making anything for anyone other than myself. And then I would make something for my house or to give to people, and then I would forget for a week, and repeat.

Which, of course, lead to maggots.

For reasons beyond the end of my first sourdough experiment, I haven't spent a lot of time cooking - or even really thinking about food - in September of 2020. I deboned and broiled my first trout recently, have made a handful of the kinds of salads that mean "put mayonnaise and seasonings on meat/pasta," attempted vegan, soy-free milk bread rolls that turned out to be fine if you didn't know what they were supposed to be, and continued to try to develop proper technique (Jacques Pepin-style) for a classic French Omelette.

The truth of Gina is that she has been instrumental in allowing me to develop my baking skills these last nine months. Partially through the aforementioned guilt meaning that I had to do something at least once every few weeks or so; partially through my own stubbornness (that Freestyle Sourdough post linked above, for instance, where I insisted on making a recipe that couldn't be replicated to make it clear that baking isn't as "scientific" as people would have you believe); partially through carrying a consistent, buttery tang through all of my baking that didn't lessen even with neglect, and so allowed me to experiment and still know that the end result was likely to be good.

Among Gina's accomplishments: the Seared Sourdough Pikelets was, I believe, the first recipe I ever developed on my own. She was the source for what was argued to be the best cake a friend ever had; a Sourdough Chocolate cake that I somehow managed to fold together in just such a way as to complement the most chocolate interior with marbled veins of marshmallowy, buttery sourdough. She was transformed into a Friendship starter, briefly, which let me know that Friendship Starters kind of suck. She also was the centerpiece of perhaps my single biggest cooking feat to date, a day where I made three cakes for Family Dinner. I also passed her on to two friends, one of whom baked their first loaf of bread using her (I think that's true?) and became, as far as I know, the first person other than me to test the Seared Sourdough Pikelet recipe. 

So here's one for Gina, who arrived in a busted jar spilled out over a cardboard box, grew into a source of joy and learning, and left in a compost bin feeding the flies. Maybe someday (though likely not soon) I'll try to grow my own from scratch, and maybe after I do that I won't be so cavalier about how easy sourdough baking is.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Always Bee Cooking #13: On Recipe Writing, Or, A Review of Two King Arthur Flour Recipes for Sourdough English Muffins

When I began writing this, the goal was to review the Sourdough section of The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook. It’s about 30 pages long, or 5% of the whole book. I’ve cooked almost everything from it multiple times; breads, obviously, but also sticky buns and cakes. Breakfasts and desserts. It’s an impressive book that I have had almost nothing but excellent results from.

Which is frustrating, because I think the recipes are badly written. I knew that going into writing this review; what I didn’t realize is how precise I would need to be to articulate my problems with the recipe writing.

So that review is now this: a comparative review of two recipes for sourdough English muffins. One from the KAF Cookbook, and one from The goal, here, is closer to performing a close reading of a text than it is product analysis. I hope that, in pointing out issues with these recipes, I can help readers focus in on their own needs for recipe writing and to better imagine the results of recipes they read in the future.


Let me get ahead of myself.

The Sourdough section of the KAF Cookbook is positioned near the end of its 600 pages, followed only by crafts (like paste and papier-mâché  you can make from flour) and appendices. I note this because I suspect some of the problems I’m about to lay out are either addressed earlier (in the portions of the book I haven’t engaged with), or at least assumed based on layout.

That is: the sourdough baker is presumed to have the knowledge and experience of the bread baker, the dessert baker, the muffins & pastas & pancakes-maker. It is the final step in learning to bake, in other words.

I find this assumption suspect, given my own personal circumstances. Sourdough is not the simplest thing in the world, but its difficulty is no more reliant on expert technique than baking with Active Dry yeast is. Now let me stop getting ahead of myself.

My favorite example of the shortcomings of the KAF Cookbook come from comparing the recipe for English muffins in the book itself with the recipe for English muffins available on the website. Let’s go step by step. First, the introduction:

From the Cookbook:

The best English muffins are made with sourdough and their characteristic “holes” are created by adding baking soda just before they are cooked on a griddle.

From the

Who doesn't love English muffins? Homemade sourdough muffins seem even more scrumptious, and some of the taste-testers here had to admit that these crusty, chewy, tangy gems were some of the best they'd ever eaten.

I would honestly give the edge to the cookbook here. It’s a better sell that includes a guiding hand, letting you know that there is an important technical aspect to watch out for. “Some” testers calling these “the best they’d ever eaten” is pretty useless, honestly.

Onto ingredients.

From the Cookbook

  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • 1½ cups milk
  • 5½ to 6 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Cornmeal to sprinkle on baking sheet


  • 2 tablespoons (25g) sugar
  • 2 cups (454g) warm water (110°F-115°F)
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast or instant yeast
  • 1 cup (227g) sourdough starter, ripe (fed) or discard; ripe will give you a more vigorous rise
  • 7 cups (843g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • ½ cup (56g) Baker's Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
  • 4 tablespoons (57g) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon sour salt (citric acid), optional; for enhanced sour flavor
  • semolina or cornmeal, for coating

These are different English muffins, structurally speaking; which is why this isn’t a comparative review to find the “better” version.

The most obvious difference is that the website does entirely away with the baking soda that the Cookbook version prioritizes. There are no chemical leaveners at all. The characteristic “nooks and crannies” of these muffins are exclusively produced by the CO2 production by the dry/instant yeast and whatever is still active in the sourdough starter.

The website version also has more clear sources of flavor: sugar is doubled, salt trebled, butter and dry milk and citric acid added to add texture and intensity of already-existing flavors. All of that added moisture and they’ve only added a cup extra of flour, with no change in the amount of sourdough starter (except that its role is better explained).

As far as ingredients go, the KAF Cookbook is clearly superior if you’re impulsively starting some English Muffins; fewer ingredients, more focus on pantry staples. And I can say from experience that they are delicious. The website, on the other hand, is almost certainly going to leave you with more tender, flavorful muffins. As long as you have dry milk on hand (I, personally, never have). It’s also more thorough about what those ingredients are for and what slight variations are okay.

Onto the directions.

From the Cookbook

Making the Sponge: In a ceramic bowl, mix together the starter, milk and about 3 cups of flour. Cover this with plastic wrap and leave it to work for anywhere from 2 to 24 hours. You might mix this up just before you go to bed so you can have fresh English muffins for breakfast the next morning.
Making the Dough: When the sponge has developed, mix the sugar, salt, baking soda and 2½ cups flour together in a separate bowl. Stir these into the sponge as thoroughly as you can and cover the resulting dough with plastic wrap and let it work for anywhere up to an hour. This allows the gluten in the flour you’ve just added to absorb some moisture and relax.
Kneading and Shaping: Flour your kneading board and hands well as this dough will be soft when you turn it out. Knead for only 2 to 3 minutes until the dough is smooth and no longer lumpy. With a floured rolling pin, roll it out, like a pie dough, from the center to the outside, until it is between ¼ and ½ inch thick.
Cut out circles between 3 and 4 inches in diameter (the muffins will shrink in diameter as they cook). A large tuna-sized can with both ends removed works well, or you can even throw tradition to the wind and cut squares.
Place the muffins on a cookie sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal and let them rest for at least 15 minutes.
Cooking: Place 4 or 5 circles on a lightly greased skillet on low, low heat with the cornmeal side down first. Cook slowly for 10 minutes, gently flip the muffins over and continue cooking for a further 10 minutes.
Serving: Cool your muffins, split with a fork to make the most of their wonderful open texture, toast and enjoy right away, or store the cooled muffins in a plastic bag to use at your leisure. English muffins also keep well in the freezer.


1. Combine all of the dough ingredients, except the cornmeal/semolina, in a large bowl.
2. Mix and knead — by hand, electric mixer, or bread machine — to form a smooth dough. The dough should be soft and elastic, but not particularly sticky; add additional flour if necessary.
3. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and set it aside to rise for about 1 1/2 hours, or until it's noticeably puffy. For most pronounced sour flavor, cover the bowl, and immediately place it in the refrigerator (without rising first). Let the dough chill for 24 hours; this will develop its flavor.
4. Gently deflate the dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface, cover it, and let it sit for a few minutes, to relax the gluten. Divide the dough in half. Working with one piece at a time, roll ½" thick, and cut in 3" rounds. Re-roll and cut any remaining scraps. Repeat with the remaining half of dough.
5. Alternatively, divide the dough into 24 pieces (total). Shape each piece into a round ball, then flatten each ball into a 3" round. For a somewhat more even rise as the muffins cook, flatten each ball slightly larger than 3", and trim edges with a 3" cutter (or trim all around the edge with a pair of scissors). Muffins with cut (rather than flattened) sides will rise more evenly.
6. Place the rounds, evenly spaced, onto cornmeal- or semolina-sprinkled baking sheets (12 per sheet). Sprinkle them with additional cornmeal or semolina, cover with plastic wrap, and let them rise until light and puffy, about 45 to 60 minutes. If the dough has been refrigerated overnight, the rise time will be about 2 hours.
7. Carefully transfer the rounds (as many as a time that will fit without crowding) right-side up to a large electric griddle preheated to 350°F, or to an ungreased frying pan that has been preheated over medium-low heat.
8. Cook the muffins for about 10 to 12 minutes on each side, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of a muffin registers 190°F. The edges may feel a bit soft; that's OK.
9. Remove the muffins from the griddle, and cool on a rack. Store tightly wrapped at room temperature for 4 or 5 days; freeze for longer storage.

It’s here, I think, that the differences really show themselves. I’ll try to unpack how, because it’s my central issue with the cookbook itself: the sourdough recipes are really, really excellent. As long as you bring enough knowledge to fill in the gaps. When you’re trying to cook “by the book” they are incredibly frustrating.

Before that, though, I should acknowledge that the KAF Cookbook was initially published in 1990. There are reasons for the different approaches here; thirty years, for example. But also the book is a tome, and costs money (unlike the website), and has more explicit limits on space (page layouts) than the website does, and so has a different presumed audience. Those thirty years also saw massive shifts in the discourses around home cooking, which maybe one day I’ll properly be able to get into. I bring that up here to make it clear I’m not discounting these historical and material differences when getting into the comparison.

Let me get ahead of myself again. The first problem will come second. Here is the second problem: look at the cook times. The KAF Cookbook calls for 3-4 inch rounds flattened to between ¼ and ½ inch thick, while the website specifies 3-inch rounds at ½ inch thickness. So the cookbook version is a little wider and a little thinner, on average, with more space for variation.

The KAF Cookbook calls for “low, low heat” for 10 minutes per side. The website asks for 10-12 minutes per side on “medium-low heat.” Can I tell you something, from experience? Low, low heat for ten minutes per side is nowhere near long enough to cook through the English muffins you get from the cookbook. Keeping it low meant my first batch had to be cooked for something closer to thirty minutes per side. Which is annoying.

This isn’t a problem because it’s wrong. Most recipes are wrong, because it is impossible to figure out variables in things like burner strength, pan availability, personal patience, and on and on. It’s a problem because of what it chooses to prioritize difference within.

The cookbook wants to be generous with the size and shape but not the cooking time. The website calls for specific dimensions with variation in the cooking time. The latter is generally more useful, in my experience, because it signals that even if you make things perfectly even there are variables at play that you should anticipate. The former simply says: do what you like, and here is when it will be done.

The first problem, then. It is one that plagues so many of KAF Cookbook’s recipes, and it shows up in the first line: “In a ceramic bowl, mix together the starter, milk and about 3 cups of flour.” Then you cover this, whatever it is. Is it a batter? A shaggy dough? A smooth dough? A fucking rock with loose flour everywhere? Who cares! Cover it!

If there is one thing I’ve found deeply annoying when reading recipes to try to learn baking, it’s the use of vague terms to refer to the consistency of a dough. What is a “shaggy” versus a “smooth” dough? How stiff is a “stiff peak?” What does “silky” feel like in any context?

The most frustrating thing about this is that the answer usually ends up being fairly obvious. But it’s only obvious in the doing, rather than the reading. You can (and will) overshoot it or undershoot it. But even though they use vague descriptors, a lot of the standard terminology of baking is actually incredibly useful, at least in terms of helping you identify when you’re ready to move to the next step.

The KAF Cookbook is lacking these descriptors in almost every important area. You have no opportunity to be annoyed by the vagueness of a “silky” knead, because you are expected to knead for the prescribed amount of time and pray.

A side note: the vague way dough consistency is described is both the funniest and most liberating thing, for me. I had long bought into the idea of baking as the “scientific” (which is to say math-oriented) side of cooking. It turns out to be the place with some of the most flowery (flour-y? yes.) language in the whole recipe world, even as they insist on precise percentages. C’est la vie. Or, more precisely: bake weird shit, fuck ‘em.

Compare that total lack of an indication of what you will be covering with plastic wrap to the website’s version: “Mix and knead — by hand, electric mixer, or bread machine — to form a smooth dough. The dough should be soft and elastic, but not particularly sticky; add additional flour if necessary.” What a wild difference.

For instance: the website’s version anticipates the question of tools. This is a problem with baking recipes; it’s not uncommon to find recipes that reveal much too late that they can only be done with a stand mixer unless you are prepared to hand-mix for an hour, at which point the timing of everything else will fall to pieces. This reflects the assumption that the KAF Cookbook makes that I discussed above, where using “advanced” ingredients assumes you have a certain grasp on technique.

Finding decent baking recipes that don’t assume that you know advanced technique just because they include a slightly involved (or “advanced”) ingredient often feels impossible. Ingredients and technique are different things. What the “by hand, electric mixer, or bread machine” does is to say: We are not going to tell you how long it takes to get where you need to go, because it doesn’t matter. We are going to tell you where you need to end up, because that does.

And where you need to go is a “smooth” dough. “Soft and elastic, but not particularly sticky.” That is going to feel different to every pair of hands connected to every of brain that tries this recipe. But it’s at least a guideline.

An important point: if you try this recipe and fuck it up, you have a potential point of failure here. If you try it again, you can remember: maybe I didn’t add additional flour when it was necessary, maybe it was stickier than intended (or less soft, or whatever). If you fuck up the KAF Cookbook version, there’s no reference. You simply did what was asked and it didn’t work; it therefore must be a bad recipe.

I would also like to return to the “ceramic bowl,” briefly. I could say that it’s an indication of the bizarre, broken priorities of the KAF Cookbook to insist on specific equipment rather than conveying useful information. I just did, in fact. More importantly: it’s not important. Whatever bowl you have is fine. Maybe some will serve you better than others, which is a journey worth taking. Prescribing the bowl rather than telling you what you should be striving for is terrible recipe writing.

This is the meat of the issue, and what I’m hoping most strongly to convey. Recipe writing is about producing good food in clear ways. It’s about choosing optimal ratios of ingredients and developing them with explicable techniques. It’s a product-oriented writing: the goal is to end up with something delicious and/or healthy and/or novel, but always edible.

An aspect of this that can get lost, though, is that recipe writing is also about teaching process as well as product. Whether the writer intends it or not. Because recipes are product-oriented, they will inevitably cut out explanations of why they suggest a certain method of cooking or include a specific ingredient. This lack of explanation can lead to an incurious relationship toward food. You simply plug in the recommended variables and receive something delicious at the end. Voila.

This is especially a problem when a recipe works out well. If you don’t need to know what stage to knead dough to, then you’ll never know you need to ask. And so when you try to introduce variations, you have no way of knowing which questions to ask. And if you don’t know which questions to ask, you have no way of knowing why things work or don’t.

A good recipe will end in good food. A great recipe will help you learn how to make good food.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Linkout(s): Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, FINNA interview with Nino Cipri for Spectology, and More

I've been bad about sharing my critical work on this [defunct patreon] platform, so let me reassure that the help I'm getting over here is keeping me busy. The big critical post I had planned for this month - a ten(ish) episode podcast series that I'll be calling Island Demeter and features a rotating cast of friends playing tabletop roleplaying games - hasn't quite come together yet. I'm really hoping for August. In the meantime, the thing I'm proudest of is the above review of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I read the novel back in February and immediately started calling it my favorite book of the year (I've read a surprising amount of new fiction this year too!) and possibly my favorite haunted house novel ever (that's counting House of Leaves, which is still my go-to answer for "favorite book ever?" questions that I never actually get). I can't call it an important read or whatever, but it's so fucking good. The review has some spoilery stuff, but it's telegraphed.

 I also had an interview with the author of my second favorite book of 2020 so far go up on the Spectology feed. The book's called FINNA and it's about wormholes in an IKEA that lead to multiverses and transitioning from lovers to friends and it is very gay and makes my heart feel whole. The author's Nino Cipri and they were genuinely the best person to talk to. I've had folks ask how long we had known each other after listening to the interview. The answer, of course, is that we met on the call and talked for about two full hours, one of which ended up as that podcast episode.

And I've got stuff incoming, as well. There's the 10+ hours of recorded gaming that I'm working on. We're sitting on three more book tours for Spectology - one with Nick Mamatas, one with WM Akers, and one with Kathleen Jennings. I'm still making moves in that direction. I have a review of the anthology Women's Weird forthcoming at some point in Strange Horizons, and I think of it as a sort of companion to my Mexican Gothic review, diving into the implications of Weird Fiction, revisiting the politics of collections and (anti-)canons and, you know, maybe talking extensively about Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated.

I've also been doing organizing-adjacent work that I'll be sharing at some point. One thing with (former and current) coworkers might be one of the most important things I've ever worked on, depending on how it goes. And even the novel coronavirus can't keep Playdate down; we've got some really exciting things planned for the next iteration that could genuinely provide a much-needed model, if we're able to pull it off (and I'm confident we are because my co-organizers are fucking monsters).

So yeah. A little bit of appreciation for my patrons. Y'all have been an incredible resource for me. The support has meant that even in really brutal times for my mental health I've known that there's some folks out there who want to show material support for me to continue doing this jumbled whirlwind of critique and creativity that I do. And to do it in the way I want to, which is the only way I really can. It's huge, to me; thank you. And also don't feel any pressure to continue, haha.

Always Bee Cooking #12: Kitchen Roles - Scavenger

We are, all of us, many people. Across time, certainly, but also in any given moment. Often contradictory, as often complementary. I am, in the kitchen - as this column, I hope, can attest - primarily a student. Of technique and of popular (read: often pseudo-) science, of flavor and ingredients and patience. I am many things, though. One of these is a scavenger.

If I were to break down my cooking in purely quantitative terms I suspect a plurality of it would be to feed myself. A late night omelette or a chicken roasted for eating over a week or two. Herb butter pasta that I would be embarrassed to share, but sustains.

A plurality, but not even a majority. Even in strictly audience-oriented terms I am nearly as likely to be cooking for others - or, frankly, for no one - as I am for myself. Whoever ends up eating that polenta casserole or that chicken fried rice is immaterial. I cooked it for an audience of refrigerator space and carrots just before they are overcome by mold. I cook because I need to scavenge, to clear out, to make use.

I scavenge in part because of how long I spent not cooking. My early memories of kitchens aren't at a grandmother's knee, stirring red sauce for sixteen hours. They are trips to the pantry at two in the morning, thinking I am sneaking because I have no sense that everything here is here by design, by labor exploited for a wage that is spent at the supermarket in time allotted for the reproduction of the self, bagged transported and unbagged in precise places. That is only counting the work of the consumer (my mom in this memory), not the producers, the shippers, the logisticians.

I think, in this memory, that I am sneaking when in reality stored food is only forgettable in its presence. The second it is gone it becomes unforgettable. "Do we have chips? check the pantry!" becomes "I just bought a variety pack on Wednesday! You can't have possibly eaten all of them!" the second there are no chips in the pantry.

I scavenge because I have hated grocery stores since long before the novel coronavirus turned each trip into a desire to hoard. Partially from lack of knowledge, which I am slowly overcoming. Partially from social anxiety, from the pressure of being around bodies, each with a mind as full as yours, each with stresses or joys radiating off them. Partially from the analysis paralysis that accompanies a shelf full of identical products, packaged differently, sold at price points that only don't seem arbitrary if you've spent years working in supply chains. Partially because until two days ago I hadn't driven a car in six years and had lived in a variety of food deserts, where grocery stores meant liquor stores or a minimum round trip of an hour, walking. So when everyone started complaining that they couldn't just pop by the store to grab a couple things when making dinner, once shelter-in-place began, a small part of me thought: hello. Welcome.

I scavenge because I have often lived with others who have full time jobs when I didn't. With people who buy things to use and then don't get around to them. Through no fault of their own. We are each of us many, and each of those selves need to be reproduced in order to labor under capitalism. That means eating and sleeping, but also dedicating time to read or play games or socialize. Which is all time spent not cooking. And it's necessary time, every fucking day. So the time I save shopping is the time I spend eyeing what's about to go bad, considering how to flip it into something edible, researching technique and trying to feed myself and my comrades.

I scavenge because I have a hard time getting rid of things, and seeing how others lose them helps me let go. I scavenge because I have a hard time getting attached to things, and seeing someone else's food getting moldy gives me a sense of what it might be like to care.

I scavenge because I'm fucking broke all the time. Even when I'm not, I can't help it. I don't buy things for myself. Except, well. I did just buy this thing. It's a 10" nonstick skillet, and it's the absolute best purchase I've made in the kitchen (because my chef's knife was a gift).

The only pot or pan I had ever bought was BC. You know. Before Cooking. Okay that's really bad. Take two:

The only pot or pan that I ever bought, prior to this skillet, was a cast iron wok that I used all of a half-dozen times over the course of four years. I gave it away as a gift just before I moved back to San Francisco. As in, immediately prior to starting to take cooking seriously. Since then I've scavenged, cooking on really nice cast iron, really shitty aluminum; in pots that are tiny or enormous. The things that others have bought themselves or been gifted and I've "accidentally" ended up using as much, or more, than the people who will take (or gift!) them when they move.

If I'd been asked a year ago what piece of stovetop cookware I would purchase first, a nonstick skillet would have been my last answer. They were what were in the kitchens I never used, scratched up and barely functional. When I started learning about them, they seemed like a scam: here is a surface that cracks under the slightest pressure of a fork or even the abrasive side of a sponge, and when it fails it becomes the worst possible pan. They don't get as hot as aluminum or carry heat as evenly as cast iron; they don't have the magical bullshit people attribute to copper or even the aesthetics of steel. It's just planned obsolescence: the pan. But then I started watching a lot of Jacques Pepin, which is annoying of me, to me. That fucking classic omelette.

For those who don't know: Jacques Pepin is one of the original celebrity chefs. He had a show with Julia Child. He's probably best known at this point for the "classic" French omelette, a creamy, simple omelette, often without filling, that involves no browning at all. It tastes good - it's eggs and butter - but it's mostly a test.

Pepin prefaces the many tutorials for it available on YouTube in precisely this way. It's the way he can tell if a new chef has good technique. It's kind of a pain in the ass, and you kind of need a nonstick for it to even be possible (or a really, really, really well-seasoned cast iron). It's the opposite of scavenging: using only the highest quality ingredients in a very simple way that requires a ton of practice to do right, much less consistently. I may be a scavenger, but like all of us I am also many, and one of that many can't turn down a challenge. Maybe especially when it involves eggs. And, I think, the first one many people learn to cook. Or at least one of the first ones I did. You can't exactly scavenge three-egg and toast breakfast, after all.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Audrey Horne & the City: Katy Keene's Alright

Most of the time, I watch Riverdale when I catch a particularly bad cold. Knowing that I'll be laid up in bed for a couple days I will queue up whatever I haven't yet seen (whether that's Riverdale or The Good Place or Pretty Little Liars or Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated or...) and spend a day or two just plowing through it. Strangely, I actually followed Riverdale's fourth season week-to-week for the first eight or so episodes, and then fell off. A few days ago I wrapped it up, and the day after I spent in a strange haze of the first seasons of its first spinoff.

I doubt I'll ever write much about the fourth season in particular so I'll say here: I think it's my favorite season since the first. Season one of Riverdale is one of the best examples of A Group Of Friends I've watched on television. It's a masterclass in pacing out how to propel viewers through watching four people care about each other. Season two is the one that took off, where Archie turns into a near-fascist vigilante and there is a massive riot outside of a prison. Season three is anchored by a Dungeons & Dragons analog called Griffins & Gargoyles and continues the second season's plot/mystery-heavy structure. Season four scales that back, structuring itself by flash forwards to the death of Jughead.

Those flash forwards allow for way more quiet moments. The season doesn't have to fill blank spaces with side plots; it can focus on what is important to the characters at any moment (whether that's a big mystery or a small character moment) since there is a promise of excitement in the future. That lead to at least one of my favorite character moments in recent history: that second, emphatic yes is so clutch. It's a little riot of excitement in a snowstorm, an expression of the tiny joy of trusting someone deeply and having that trust rewarded, an act of selfless self-deception that rewrites the self. I fucking love it. Season four peppers these moments throughout in a way that seasons two and three often missed, and then it gets to the big reveal and that part's kind of boring but who cares, the joy was the framing, not the execution.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. Between watching seasons two and three of Riverdale, I took a break to watch the entire run of Pretty Little Liars, a show that I had heard good things about and was clearly an antecedent. Even that managed to pay off* in season four, when Lucy Hale (who plays Aria in Pretty Little Liars) showed up as Katy Keene. I expected that was the whole of it and was satisfied. I then found out that it was actually a crossover episode for Katy Keene, Riverdale's first spinoff series, starring Hale as well as Ashleigh Murray (Josie McCoy of Josie and the Pussycats).

Katy Keene keeps some core elements of the Riverdale formula but ends up being more Sex & the City than Twin Peaks. Katy Keene is an aspiring fashion desire in New York City who lives in an apartment with Jorge, a drag queen and aspiring Broadway star, the aforementioned aspiring singer Josie, and frequent guest Pepper, an aspiring Andy Warhol, I guess? She's rich (but is she really??) and maybe a con artist and maybe just needs a little help from her friends. Their incompatible sexual preferences remove most of the possibilities that they will hook up or couple off within the foursome (so no Betty/Jughead Archie/Veronica equivalent, as it were), but otherwise the dynamics are broadly similar. One of the characters even gets to do voice over to narrate the episodes! Except that's actually one of the biggest differences.

Riverdale is, decidedly, not called Jughead. It is also not called Archie per the comics that spawned it. Katy Keene being called Katy Keene strikes, at first, like an imagined 90s spinoff of Twin Peaks called Donna Hayward. Or, perhaps more accurately, a Twin Peaks spinoff called Lana Budding Milford. Although if you wanted to argue that Donna was never a central character in Twin Peaks I don't know that I'd have strong enough feelings to push back particularly hard. The influence of Twin Peaks on Riverdale isn't just that it took the idea of "dead girl rocks town; secrets revealed" and replaced the girl with a boy. It's the primacy of the town itself, the way it chews through people and yet those people stay and destroy themselves and each other. Which is not untrod territory for shows set in New York City (...probably? obligatory mention that I'm certainly no TV expert &, in fact, am barely a viewer). But.

So: Katy Keene imports some of the structure of Riverdale, but guides our focus to the individual rather than the environment via the name. This is not a neutral action, but it's also not a determining one; only a frame. And it's a frame the first season clearly struggles with, given how much time it clearly wants to spend with Katy Keene and how much time it wants to spend with Josie McCoy. The editing feels choppy not in individual moments so much as in pacing, like the showrunners couldn't decide who or if there was a strict point of view character. Ultimately I think this ends up benefiting the show, but we'll get there. Because it's sometimes a bit of a rough watch.

One influential aspect of Twin Peaks I haven't yet mentioned on Riverdale shows up in the latter more as suggestion than actual fact. Riverdale, especially in the first season, often gestures toward the languid pace punctuated by extreme action characteristic of Lynch's filmography - including Twin Peaks. The way shots holding a beat too long leads to plot beats lingering two beats too long leads to mysteries dissolving into an aether of Lore in Twin Peaks is gestured at, as well as the way sometimes those extra beats are suddenly interrupted by an eruption of violence or bliss (Amanda Seyfried high on cocaine in a convertible in season 3, for instance) or inexplicable. In Riverdale those techniques of alienation are just subsumed back into the soap opera structure out of which they were born, but the mark of that alienating use still lingers.

And that mark remains in Katy Keene, at least as far as the show is self-consciously of a piece with (or a piece of) Riverdale. Which is fascinating because, as the show grows into its own, the clear reference points that it enjoys playing with are much more similar to sitcoms and Sex & the City. To that point: Katy Keene really doesn't find itself until episode 5.

"Song for a Winter's Night" becomes sort of prototypical for the rest of the season; it takes place during a polar vortex, so after some setup the main cast is trapped inside with a series of escalating tensions rapidly unveiling themselves. Katy has 24 hours to make a dress for her boss and fashion-industry gatekeeper Gloria; Jorge has a run-in with his mother while in drag and needs a new dress; Josie's boyfriend/manager has been outed in the tabloids as having been intimate with his stepsister, and suspects Pepper is to blame; and Pepper's cons are slowly coming unraveled as Josie does some digging. Between a musical number, some serious accusations of selfishness, the reveal of $60,000 of debt, a broken radiator, a couple ruined dresses, a broken sewing machine and a reconciliation, the episode pushes the group dynamic into "madcap hijinks" territory - editing and all - and comes out the other side with genuinely new dynamics.

That's the show at its best. Hale brings an interpersonal emotional bigness that she was capable of on Pretty Little Liars but rarely got to exhibit (because she ended up tied up with her teacher boyfriend way, way too fucking often) that puts a point on the stakes. Murray keeps the Riverdale energy alive and palpable and can genuinely sing. The show leans into the (cinematic) glamour of New York City's "struggling" artists and does so in a particularly millennial(ly coded, at least**) way. Up to and including weird valorizations of the Chelsea Hotel and Warhol's Factory while meeting billionaires in Washington Square Park (...and having a cable bill be a point of contention, which I guess shows just how far television has fallen given that it has to thematize its own existence to remind the viewer). This is the best stuff not because it enraptures but because it manages to pull off the highwire act of something like a screwball comedy while synthesizing its influences into its own thing.

The Sex & the City influence isn't all bad, but it's most prominent when the show is at its worst. There are moments where it drags its feet and can only get its message across by having Hale do a bad Carrie Bradshaw-style voiceover to explain how she's feeling (even though half the time Hale's acting and the scripting and shooting are strong enough to make the voiceover extraordinarily redundant) about a particular pickle. Or when a subplot extends way beyond its lifespan because the sex is (allegedly) hot, like how much of Josie's screentime is eaten up by the on-again off-again relationship with her manager, aforementioned billionaire Alexander Cabot, or Pepper's with her assistant/lover/former doorperson(?) Didi.

If I highlighted "that second, emphatic yes" of Betty's during Riverdale's snow day episode from season 4, it's because I like it as metonym as much as anything else. The power in these shows - for me, specifically, at this point in my life, specifically - is, in large part, in their modeling of friendship. You may have noticed that's a bit of a theme around here. It's a theme I've been actively thinking through at least since I watched I Know What You Did Last Summer and was kind of blown away by Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jennifer Love Hewitt's performances, having not long before taken a class on John Carpenter that focused at least partially on the way he portrayed homosocial relationships after the style of John Ford. So, you know. A good chunk of a decade before I realized that I might be interested in the modeling of femme*** friendships for very personal reasons. Like that I myself might occupy that space, for instance, and might have been denied the possibility of actualizing it in early life.

By that very personal, historically-specific metric, for instance, Pretty Little Liars is another important text that, like seasons 2 and 3 of Riverdale, is far too often too interested in the Mystery to allow itself time to stretch out into who these people are and why they react to and interact with each other in the ways that they do. Katy Keene, from its first season, seems like its something that might hit a sweet spot at some point in the future. A season two and three would be nice, I guess is what I'm saying. Even just the one, though, is alright.

*I mean, it paid itself off, obviously. Pretty Little Liars is also excellent for a shockingly high percent of its run, spinoffs... excluded. Ravenswood is such a bummer.

** The other way to say this is "woke" I guess, but I think I'm trying to get that word out of my regular use since it seems less and less demonstrative of anything aside from, maybe, performatively progressive on social issues. Millennial, on the other hand...

***This is an awkward use of femme; "female friendships" doesn't exactly include me even if it's probably more accurate in describing the actual media, and at least at this point "friendships between women" wouldn't either as I continue to develop my own understanding of myself as an enby femme who is trans, &c &c.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Linkout: Melissa Caruso Interview for Spectology's Digital Book Tour

My third interview for Spectology is with Melissa Caruso, author of the forthcoming fantasy novel The Obsidian Tower. It, like Veronica Roth's book, has a very early twist that made having a more detailed discussion... kind of a pain. That, coupled with my less-than-cooperative brain, lead to a bit of a (lets call it) meandering conversation (on my part).

We did get some good conversations about craft - how drafting can help, recycling old characters to good effect, overwriting conversations to develop characters - and tabletop/live action roleplaying, so I'd count it as a win. Plus the book was a pretty fascinating look at obligation (did I say obedience in the episode when I meant obligation? i did!) through the lens of fantasy, which in my book makes it well worth a read.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Linkout: Spectology Digital Book Tour with Veronica Roth

My second interview for the Quarantine Digital Book Tour is with Veronica Roth, who wrote the Divergent books. I've interviewed two authors and one of them has sold 30+ million copies of one book. It was intimidating!

A little behind the scenes: Roth's team reached out to the Spectology folks (which includes me I guess!), and I agreed to take on the interview. We talked with at least a half dozen people to set up the interview, and at no point until the call started was I in contact with Roth. Luckily I found enough in the book that I really enjoyed, and have spent a lifetime learning how to overcome social anxiety. And, luckily, Roth was genuinely engaged in the conversation and happy to answer my "questions." 

I think we hit on some interesting questions about her new book, Chosen Ones, and what it's like to write a visually-oriented novel that tackles mental health questions around "chosen one" narratives. I'd love it if folks who listened would give feedback (up to and including that I talked way too much, which I'm incredibly aware of).

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Always Bee Cooking #9: Working Through What This Is

Since my last Always Bee Cooking post at the end of February, there's an argument that I've been embodying the title. In that time I baked my first cake, baked my second and third cakes, baked my fourth and fifth cakes in one day, and baked my sixth, seventh, and eighth cakes on one other day, all with nothing more than about three mixing bowls, a couple of whisks, and some dollar store pans.

I made a sweet offshoot of Sourdough starter, fed and kept it, recipe tested it against my Seared Sourdough Pikelets, and abandoned it. I tested out some pan sauces, spent a week making scrambled eggs and thinking seriously about how to make them better (or the differences between cooking methods, at least). I collaborated with a friend on genuinely great pastas, spent three hours making tater tots from scratch, made my first pizza, stuffed mushrooms, buttermilk-marinated chicken. And those are just the things I remembered to post about on Instagram.

So the lack of posts here haven't been because I don't have "potential content," I guess. It's been for two main reasons. The first are a series of brick walls I've been running up against. You know the ones. They're labeled things like Mental Health, Global Pandemic, Financial Insecurity, Defense Mechanisms Developed Out Of Childhood Trauma And Damn Near 30 Years Of Unacknowledged Dysphoria, Impostor Syndrome From Having No Formal Training And A Garbage Palate. Just normal stuff.

The other is that there's a pretty big gap between what I want this series to be and what I'm able to produce for it right now. What I'm able to produce is this sort of thing. Blog posts with heavy Personal Stories hooks. Text dumps that put people off reading them. Acknowledgments of my limitations that hopefully punch through to something interesting or useful, especially to people who don't have a ton of cooking experience. I can see some theoretical value in that. It's not what I want to be doing, though.

Basically every other post since I started this series, I've been threatening to do a longer theoretical post. I've been threatening that because what I actually want to develop within this space is a genuinely left wing way to write about cooking, from the perspective of someone who is deeply inexpert. Not because people who have gone to culinary school or worked their way up in restaurants are less left wing or some bullshit, but because these are the two perspectives I have and they are two perspectives that feel deeply, miserably lacking from the Culinary Discourse, at least as I'm aware of it. Please feel free to point me toward folks who embody these things, if you know of them. If you point me to some liberal I will judge you, just a little bit. Not that much, though, if it dissuades you. The problem is that I've learned a lot from them, because cooking media is overwhelmingly, exhaustingly, and too often deliriously usefully, liberal.

I would like to clarify that last sentence, but that's precisely the problem. The clarification requires a significant amount of clear background, and the brick walls aren't avoidable. Not even by reference to the framework of reproductive labor. Theory is theory; praxis is praxis; those walls can be fungible, but sometimes you cook theoretically and write actively. And sometimes the structural analysis is right and the individual circumstance is fucking broken.

Is this another empty promise, then, that I'll have a full dissection up, soon, of the pedagogy & ideology of cooking media, especially around how it interacts with learning to cook for the first time in your late twenties/early thirties? I guess that's to be found out. As a comrade says, we can only hold space to allow others to hold themselves accountable. I hope to hold myself to account.

Linkout/Announcement: Quarantine Digital Book Tour with Spectology

I've joined with the inestimable folks at Spectology to edit & sometimes(/mostly?) host a series of "Digital Book Tours," to provide a space for speculative fiction authors whose book tours have been interrupted by COVID-19. You might remember Spectology from when I talked about Samuel R. Delany's Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand with them in December, or when I called them my 8th favorite podcast of 2018.

The first episode came out on Tuesday, where I interviewed El Lam about their book Goldilocks, which came out in the UK today and is coming out in the US May 5th. The book was a really neat read - it features five women who steal a spaceship in a climate-ravaged, fascistic near future in order to found a utopian society on a new planet, and does a great job of being both thriller-paced and pausing for character development & striking images. And it does a phenomenal job of drawing characters whose class position defines them against their desires, which is a phenomenal achievement, imo. That's a reductionist reading, but I'm trying to be brief, okay.

Anyway, support Goldilocks when it comes out & subscribe to Spectology, because there's a grip of good conversations about SF novels there already &, yknow, you probably miss my irrepressible giggle. It's terrible podcast audio, but it's irrepressible, so.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Occupy C(OL)A: A Decade of UC Struggle

At the beginning of the 2009-2010 academic year a coalition of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty occupy the Graduate Student Commons of the University of California, Santa Cruz. They splinter off of a demonstration at the base of campus against an egregious tuition hike. A prepared statement declares the situation untenable, the space liberated, and demands outmoded. Barricades go up as an attempted occupation at UC Berkeley is thwarted.
The Grad Student Commons holds for a week before voluntarily then dissolving. Over the course of the next four months there are something like twenty actions, primarily occupations and sit-ins, across the University of California system. In 2010 the escalation continues as electrocommunist dance parties are added to the mix to disrupt business and cover for other militant actions. Students also begin to join non-university actions like the riots against the verdict in the murder of Oscar Grant.
In 2011 the escalations spike. Students continue to struggle against the hollowing of the university by the state and the administration and continue to cross over with militant struggle against police brutality. When the Occupy Wall Street movement hits, it is in part due to the veterans and comrades of the Occupy California struggle (in New York and Oakland especially, but also elsewhere) who help transform the idea from an Adbusters photo-op to the seeds of a USian mass movement with a class analysis.
The continuity of national struggle over the past decade is full of ruptures. The police repression of Occupy eventually snuffed it out. Black Lives Matter developed its own momentum and path with, at best, assists from participants and organizers of Occupy. A number of sites of struggle also pop up, from Standing Rock to the Muslim Ban to street fights against alt right and neo-Nazi goons. Electorally, Bernie Sanders’ 2016 primary candidacy blew open the doors of the DSA, who seem primarily to have educated and agitated in order to position him better for his 2020 run (and surprisingly successfully, it seems, even if he does not take the nomination).
I begin in 2009 not because it is the origin (though it can sometimes feel that way, given the massive ruptures that Obama and the Great Recession constituted) or because it was my own point of radicalization, but because we seem to have looped back around. Graduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz are engaging in a wildcat strike for a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) right now which started in December of 2019.
They are striking even though it is against the terms set by their union (the United Auto Workers) in the last rounds of negotiation. The strike has quickly been held up by a coalition – of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty – and has faced barely-veiled threats of deportation from former Department of Homeland Security head and current UC President Janet Napolitano. 
The first four years of Trump’s presidency have seen inspiring actions but little in the way of engaged, mass movement building (and no, the liberal #Resistance does not count). COLA4All is reminiscent of that pre-Occupy occupy, spreading quickly across the UC system and, hopefully, into broader movement building opportunities. Hell, they even got a nod from Sanders, and Napolitano backed down quickly thereafter.
Reclaim UC put it well, arguing that the material conditions behind the COLA wildcat strike are consistent with those that inspired the initial wave of Occupy California – “[D]uring the California student movement of 2009-10, everyone understood how the UC administration used its police forces to enable and enforce tuition hikes: ‘Behind every fee increase, a line of riot cops.’ 10 years later, tuition increases have slowed down and, with few options for revenue growth, administrators have turned to ‘cost-cutting,’ esp[ecially] regarding labor costs, as a key component of their strategy. UCSC police are still on the front lines of UC’s financial strategy.” 
The conversion of the public university system into a de facto private entity, run like a business with minimal state support, lends continuity to the administrative and repressive apparatus. At a more systemic level, the struggle for COLA is linked to Occupy California by way of the Great Recession. The wave of immiseration that hit low- and middle-income households (with a wildly disproportionate impact on people of color) was a kind of creative destruction. From developers’ perspectives, neighborhoods that had been subject to the slow beat of "Urban Renewal" and tax breakdown were suddenly freed of the one barrier to successful gentrification – the fact that they were lived in by poor people of color who couldn’t be arrested (or murdered by police) for being homeless. Even better when those neighborhoods were adjacent to the booming tech industry. Silicon Valley’s radiating wealth coupled with scarcity artificially created by developers buying up foreclosed houses meant the second half of the 2010s blossomed into rent hikes that left even unionized graduate student workers in a position that they have once again described as untenable.
It would be ridiculous to claim that as goes the UC system, so goes the nation. What is clear, I hope, is that the material conditions facing university workers are not at all disconnected from the material conditions we all face. Graduate students too are being immiserated by the private control of the means of production, by the neoliberal state’s disinvestment from every social service except the military and police, from being propertyless wage workers in proximity to the fluid exchange of venture capital, IPOs, and land developers.
There has been a spark of life in the labor movement over the last half decade, although most of it has been talk. Bernie Sanders and Sarah Nelson have been among the most identifiable spokespeople, but everyone from graduate students to Kickstarter Employees to Game Workers Unite (and even SAG-AFTRA, in striking against the videogame industry a few years back) have been making moves unprecedented since Reaganomics. If that spark is to catch fire, COLA is one of the necessary models.
UAW leadership is facing corruption charges. Unions for Iron Workers and Firefighters have endorsed Joe “Medicare for all is bad for unions” Biden in the Democratic Primary. Even more recently, leadership of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW, a union known for at least a handful of militant locals) endorsed Biden as well to immediate backlash from a sizable group of members. A reborn labor movement without the capacity for actions like the COLA wildcat strike is, at best, only marginally better than the shambling zombie of a labor movement we have seen under neoliberalism.
Like Occupy California before it, the COLA wildcat strike represents a possible path forward in response to the same prevailing conditions, mutated as they have been over the last dozen years. It will require material support, generalization, and escalation. But we’ve done it before. This time we’ll just have to do it better.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Always Bee Cooking #8: Finishing My First Molasses

This morning I finished off the first jar of molasses I ever bought, something like two years ago. I don't remember what compelled the purchase, but over that time (and despite its somewhat infrequent use) it became one of my favorite pantry staples. Not for its versatility, but for its targeted use.

I used it for basically three things, exclusively. Two of them I will include basic recipes for below. The third was oatmeal, which I have still yet to learn to love (or like). Before that, though: as I understand it, molasses is the byproduct of refining sugar. Blackstrap (what I was using) is the dregs of the most refined; lighter molasses are less refined and contain more sugar. The opposite goes for sugar; the darker brown, the more molasses is contained in the sugar itself.

This is useful information! For instance: it leads you to the conclusion of the first recipe below. And once you've made that, it makes it clear what utility certain kinds of sweeteners on the sugar-molasses spectrum provide to a specific recipe. Making cookies? Molasses is wet, so you could up the ratio of brown sugar to white if you want to make them more moist. The caramely, bitter byproduct is the best way to bring a level of sweetness without tipping the scales into saccharine.

The two recipes below hit the two major staples of my cooking: one is a preparation for other cooking, the other a staple that I have when I forget to eat for way too long. Neither are baking or (strictly) barbeque, which are probably what most people associate with molasses; I have no problem with either pursuit, but I haven't found myself working it into those (or, really, barbequing at all). Maybe on the second bottle.


Homemade Brown Sugar

This is hardly a recipe, but every time I've looked it up online I've seen people say wild shit about making brown sugar at home. Like, in a blender and shit. No one wants powdered brown sugar. That's absurd. Here's what I've done when I'm trying to bake and realizing I don't buy brown sugar or when I need to give a gift to some friends I'm crashing with for a week.

Place a small saucepan over low heat and add one part molasses. When it barely starts to bubble, add two parts white sugar. A rubber spatula works great to combine the two, but a spoon will do fine. Once they're incorporated you're going to keep needing to add sugar. The moment it breaks from just lightening up the liquid molasses to becoming distinct clumps you could theoretically stop, if you wanted really, really dark, clumpy brown sugar. The more sugar you add the lighter the color will be and the less clumpy.

Things to note: add sugar in stages. It will give you more accurate control over the results and won't lead to a giant mess. Don't be afraid to move the pot off the heat if things start to simmer too steadily or if the sugar starts to caramelize. You just want the heat to facilitate mixing, not cook. Also: enjoy the weird transformation, it's really fun. Plus you can make the brown sugar you want, which is chill.

Fake Baked Beans and Rice

Place a pan over medium heat. Open a can of pinto beans and decant some of the liquid. Pour the beans and the remaining liquid into the pan. Add enough molasses to come halfway up the beans, salt, pepper, a good amount of hot sauce. Stir to coat, then cover until the molasses bubbles vigorously. Drop heat to medium-low and let reduce, stirring occasionally to re-coat. Add dried thyme and sage a minute or so before serving and stir one last time.

For the rice: just before you pour the beans into the can, wash a couple cups of rice and then add your preferred amount of water (for my rice cooker that means a 1:1 ratio plus a little extra water). Add any flavoring you want - I find even a little bit of canola oil goes a long way, but butter or rosemary or black garlic oil are all excellent options. It should be done right around the same time. Serve beans over rice (and if you need something a little more nutritious throw some frozen veggies in the oven at 425 and top with those).

Things to note: I don't provide measurements here because I have no idea what the size or shape of your pan is. The goal is to get a good shellac of flavor on the dang beans. I trust that you can do it. The only real concern is to not torch the sugar, so using low heat and taking a little longer is always preferable. That's also why I recommend canned beans: you kind of can't fuck them up. I assume liquid smoke would be a great addition to this, but I've never actually seen or used that before I don't think.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Always Bee Cooking #7: Freestyle Sourdough

I finally read Salt Fat Acid Heat it is, in many ways, a really excellent book. A thing that bothered me: Samin Nosrat repeats the idea that baking is quantitatively different from cooking. Like: cooking is a thing you can experiment with, while baking is something that requires precision. This is probably true in a commercial kitchen. Other things that are true in commercial kitchens: pervasive sexism, sexual harassment, drug overdoses. At home? Fuck off.

To prove my impulsive "fuck off" to myself, I decided to develop a recipe for sourdough bread that I could never replicate. I wanted to use as a base something I had never seen anyone do (and couldn't find a recipe for on the internet) and bring in the knowledge I gained from having baked bread maybe a half-dozen times, and sourdough only once.

What I decided on was to bake bread where roughly 75% of the volume of the dough came from discard. I had a grip of it sitting in the refrigerator, collected over about a month of uneven feedings, covered. I wanted to use it all.

Anyone reading: good luck. It baked off two loaves.


  • 1 month's worth sourdough Discard, unevenly distributed
  • 1 1/2 heaping pinch salt
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1-2 heaping pinches sugar
  • a grip of flour, whole wheat & all purpose
  • water, hot enough to register on the inside of your wrist but not Hot
  • Olive oil (whatever feels right)

Remove the Discard from the fridge (where you've been storing it, covered).

Bloom yeast - drop a packet in the hot enough water, add a little bit of sugar, and wait 5-10 minutes.

Add bloomed yeast, salt, oil and sugar to discard. Lightly mix together.

Add 3 cups whole wheat flour. Mix with a wooden spoon, greased. Add 1 cup All Purpose Flour. Mix for a fucking minute. It should be gross sticky, but no flour should be left.

Keep adding All Purpose Flour, about 1/2 cup at a time. Keep mixing. Go from sticky wet mess to weird messy sticky wet. To "is this right?" when it falls apart and recombines. Push through, continually adding flour, until it feels like bread dough. You're going to have some dough loss, and you're probably going to have to switch to your hands at some point. Be near a sink.

Cover with kitchen towel (or whatever), go to a friend's house, play Case 2 Day 1 of Detective. See the second Jumanji movie with Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black. Go home.

It's been, idk, 9 hours? and this is way goopier than you meant it to be. Which means all that time you spent setting up a kneading station is worthless. That's fine. Add one heaping spoon (I mean literally a spoon you would eat with, not the measurement) at a time of All Purpose Flour and work it in. Get almost to dough, but it should be still sticky if you have to hold it while you talk or walk briefly. Bring it over the finish line by kneading it on a floured surface - I prefer the "fold in half, turn, shove with the palm of your hand, repeat" method.

Grease a bowl (drop some oil in & smear with your fingers), drop the dough in upside down, flip over, cover and put in fridge.

Wake up six hours later and fuck around for half an hour. Get up, pull dough out of fridge, divide. Shape two loaves. There are ways you've probably learned to shape dough for baking. Do those, or do some other shit.

Put the two loaves (rounds, baguettes, boules, whatever) on the tray you'll be baking them on. Set a timer for an hour.

Once the timer goes off, go in. Start preheating oven to 450F. Start boiling water in an electric kettle. Grab your cast iron & your oven mitts. This is going to take a half hour. More or less based on your setup.

Once the shaped loaves look good to you score them lightly with a knife then throw them in the oven, middle rack. Throw the cast iron in the bottom of the oven. Fill it with the boiling contents of the kettle. Do this carefully and with oven mitts on. Shut the door on the 450F oven. Wait 30 minutes. Your cast iron has probably given up the moisture it is going to at this point (or at 40 minutes), so pull it out when it does. Alternatively try an even more dangerous refill with boiling water, which might get you done a little faster and with a little less crusty crust.

Check in every ten minutes from that 30 minute mark. I have no idea how your oven works. I have no idea how mine works. If you have a digital thermometer, poke it in until it hits 190F (or a few degrees below). If not, poke a knife in until it comes out clean. Pull the bread out, place on a rack (or whatever you have; ideally it has airflow above and below, less than ideally it is on another solid surface - it's also fine if it's still on the baking sheet but the bottom may burn a little) and let cool for at least 10 minutes.

Serve this weird garbage bread. It's wildly tangy, even with a starter that is actively not aggressively sour. It's good as fuck.

Further Notes

  • In the post on Seared Sourdough Crumpets, I referred to the starter as Reginald. She's Gina now.
  • Butter, allegedly, complements this bread exceptionally well
  • I've alluded to some longer, more theoretical posts in this series for a while now. I'm still piecing them together. They're frankly a bit farther out than I expected. I still want to do an overview of what media to look for when you're learning to cook, and the ideological underpinnings of food media. But I think I'm going to have to frame it more like a Freshman Year of Autodidact's Culinary School term paper. Even without having a ton of words down it's been influencing how and what I write about in these posts (and is partially to blame for why I've not been so good at keeping up with them month-to-month). Hopefully more from me soon on that front, though!
  • I really wanted to bake some macadamia nuts into this bread but forgot to. I bet you could do some real weird shit with it. You could double down on the tartness with cranberries or cut it with nuts or blow it out into a whole other direction with pickled jalapeños.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Valentine's Day Compilation #5: Smash

Since 2016, we here at Fuck the Polis! have been organizing a compilation released on Valentine's Day. You can find them here: 2016 (Pop), 2017 (Solidarity), 2018 (Extra), 2019 (Digging In). For 2020, we've settled on the theme Smash. Kind of.

Before that, though, logistics. The only hard rule is that it needs to be audio. These compilations have been home experimental, noise, plunderphonics, bedroom pop, poetry, folk, punk, country, darkwave, and a whole lot more. The artists range from pros to amateurs to genuine first timers. The theme is a suggestion, not a requirement. All you have to do is email me (uninterpretative [at] gmail) an audio file (preferably .wav or .aiff, but I can make anything work) before February 14th and I can probably include it. There is a limited amount of curation, but I've never had to enforce it. If you have any questions, hit up that email or @benladen or wherever you talk to me. I'm happy to support, whether with words or sounds or whatever.

So, why "kind of?" The A theme (and compilation title) for 2020 is Smash. As in: Fuck, fuck them, fuck it let's go. That brick? That molotov? That elbow? Throw it.That awkward interaction? Move on, or fuck it, give it one more go.

The B theme is Pushing Through. Give birth to that new idea, that organization, that way of being with comrades. Push past the hangups. We dug in last year. Don't let that get comfortable, don't let fortifications become death traps. Take new ground. Live outward.

If either of these things is inspiring, throw together some chords, some beats, some found sounds or blasts of pitch, some lyrics or a monologue. Whatever you're working with. Pass them along to me. If neither does but you need an excuse to make something, do it. Let's come for these fuckers, double entendres intended.

Oh, and I'll probably do a different thing for the actual album art so here's a goofy mockup I made:

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Top 33 of 2019: The List

For full reviews of each entry, go here. Or use the linked title to jump directly to the entry you're reading about, right after we get through a short preamble. Also it's ordered first to last here and last to first there, so look away quick if you want some anticipation or whatever

Here's an objective ranked list of all 33 2019-published media properties I experienced.

More seriously: these are the things from 2019 I listened to, played, watched, and read. There are probably some oversights, which I apologize for. It's a fairly light list compared to other years, so I just combined everything into one. I also did that because it seemed like fun to try to rank albums against movies against TV against games against books.

As the list took shape, it ended up with a weirdly even split. Everything ranked from roughly 32 to 17 was something I could take or leave. Everything 16 or above I really fucking liked. Which might be a thing to keep in mind when reading; if something is in the top half and it seems like I'm just criticizing it, I'm criticizing out of love. If something's in the bottom half and I'm just criticizing it it's probably because I think it's critically fucked or boring. And there's only one thing I actively disliked experiencing, which is at the bottom of this list.

Top 33 of 2019

  1. Taylor Swift - Lover
  2. Hexarchate Stories (Yoon Ha Lee)
  3. Kingdom Hearts III
  4. 100 gecs - 1000 gecs
  5. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  6. Destiny 2: Shadowkeep
  7. Good Eats (season 15)
  8. Miranda Lambert - Wildcard
  9. Riverdale (seasons 3 & 4)
  10. Ceschi - Sad, Fat Luck
  11. The Forest of Love
  12. The Bedroom Witch - Diaspora
  13. Wolfenstein: Youngbloods
  14. Sole & DJ Pain 1 - No God Nor Country
  15. The Ascent to Godhood (JY Yang)
  16. Ceschi - Sans Soleil
  17. Maren Morris - Girl
  18. The Good Place (seasons 3 & 4)
  19. Death Stranding
  20. Hanna
  21. Outer Wilds
  22. Baba Is You
  23. Scream (season 3)
  24. Super Mario Maker 2
  25. The Highwomen - The Highwomen
  26. Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists
  27. No More Heroes: Travis Strikes Back
  28. Sayonara Wild Hearts
  29. Us
  30. Apex Legends
  31. Stalker: Solstice
  32. The Cactus Blossoms - Easy Way
  33. Untitled Goose Game

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