The Huge Giant Post-Thanksgiving Post

This post is going to be SUPER long. And about food. Lots and lots of food. Now, I’m also saying this up front, I’m reminding you I eat well. So where it says “turkey”, it’s a free range turkey that weighed nearly 40 pounds, and dined primarily on filtered water, whole grains and blueberries. And where it says “cheese tray”, there are selections from 3 European countries. And where it says “pound cake”, well, that’s just a pound cake I made.

I’ve done best to strip out the snob and given you recipes you can do yourself, whenever the next time is that you want to do an 8-course feast of a day.

Note: My brother and his dear girlfriend have far more refined booze palettes than I could ever hope to refine fast enough to blog about. So while I’m not able to go through the different flights of wines, brandies, and mixed drinks they did, you can google some good wine choices. 

Ready? Our first course is a crudité.

Crudité

This is a very fancy word that means “I cut up vegetables and had some kind of dip with them.”  So while you shouldn’t need a recipe for “cutting vegetables into pieces”, I will give you my recipe for a garden, non-tomato dip.

You’ll Need:

  1. 2 cups of watercress (you should be able to find it in most grocery stores, near all the leafy green things. It looks like someone shrunk lettuce and gave it long stems)
  2. 1/2 cup basil (as fresh as you can get it)
  3. 3 tablespoons chopped chives (yes, the things you put on baked potatoes)
  4. 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
  5. 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel (it’s called zest)
  6. 1/2 cup sour cream
  7. 1/4 cup creme fraîche (it’s usually sold near cheeses, if you can’t get it, use mayo)
  8.  1 and 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice (HINT: You’re going to want to do the 1 tablespoon first, then later go back for the half)
  9. 2 anchovies (seriously, yes, anchovies. Can’t get them? 3 pinches of salt and a 1/2 teaspoon of pickle juice instead)
  10. 1 teaspoon any mustard that isn’t French’s yellow out of a squeeze bottle. You want Dijon, so spend the extra sixty cents and get something grainy
  11. 1 clove of garlic, peeled.
  12. 1 food processor
  13. 1 sharp knife
  14. 1 cutting board

When I Dip, You Dip, We Dip:

  1. You’re going to take all the plant life in this recipe and “chiffonade” it. That’s an incredibly fancy term for “roll a joint with it then slice into itty bitty pieces”. I am confident that my readership will understand that a lot better if I say it that way. Once you’ve cut everything up, it goes into the food processor.
  2. All the liquids that ARE NOT lemon juice go into the processor next.
  3. Run the processor on high for 3 2-second pulses (or just one pulse where you count to 6)
  4. IF FOR SOME REASON YOU FORGET TO PUT THINGS IN THE PROCESSOR, THIS IS WHEN YOU DO IT.
  5. Add in that 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, the garlic and anchovies. Pulse for 3-9 seconds.
  6. Taste it, add salt and pepper, and add the 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice. Pulse the processor for another 3 seconds.
  7. Scrape contents into bowl.
  8. IF YOU ARE GOING TO REFRIGERATE THIS, IT WILL KEEP ABOUT A DAY OR …
  9. Eat.

More food you say? Onward!

Cheese and Olive Platter

What You’ll Need

  1. Between 6 and 9 possible cheeses. Yes, have cheddar, and swiss, and brie and american. And mozzarella. But what about manchego, drunken goat, gouda and braudostur? If you have the chance, go find your local cheese place (be it in a grocery store or a separate establishment) and sample cheeses until you know what you like.
  2. Olives. All different kinds and sizes. Sometimes your cheese place will sell them (mine does), but sometimes you just need to fill up a plastic container at your salad bar or olive bar in the grocery store. Again, find ones you like, and eat them.

What You Do

Lay the cheeses on a plate. Put the olives in a dish. Eat. Don’t forget to use napkins, or if you’re not a savage, that you’re offering crackers and a knife or two to help people get the cheese onto the crackers. DO NOT LET PEOPLE EAT STRAIGHT OFF THE KNIFE, THAT’S GROSS AND THAT’S WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS. EWW. NOW I NEED TO WASH MY HANDS.

Okay, I know what you’re saying: “John, where’s the really out there stuff?” Prepare your faces then.

Steak Tartare

Yes, this is raw beef. No, this is not beef I got from a package that was ever laying on styrofoam, and I didn’t buy it with a coupon or grocery store points. I do not recommend you attempt this with meat you get from anywhere other than straight from the butcher behind the counter, your local specialty butcher or your local meat-production farm. Shop-Rite meat is … well, do you really want that raw, in your stomach?

Yes, there’s also a raw egg. I used duck.  It’s totally not going to bother anyone if you skip this recipe and go on ahead.

What You’ll Need

2 anchovy fillets
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup minced shallots (you can find them near the onions)
1 tablespoon drained, chopped capers (they come in a little jar)
1 large egg
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 pound beef tenderloin, freshly ground (or you can leave it in strips if you don’t own a grinder)
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
8 slices crostini (NOTE: Crostini is an obnoxious word for “toast that you made and sprinkled olive oil and maybe rubbed with garlic” Just make toast, and put oil on it and while it’s still hot, rub a cut clove of garlic on it)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon white truffle oil (this might be in your specialty aisle) (I get mine from here)

You’ll also want to put your mixing bowl (use glass!) in the fridge, or if you want to be fancy, wrap in in wet paper towel and put it in your freezer for ten minutes).

Make Mine Tartare

1. In a chilled mixing bowl, mash the anchovies and garlic with a fork to make a paste. Add the shallots and capers and mash them into the paste. Add the egg and whisk it into the paste with the fork. Whisk in the mustard and orange zest. (NOTE: You can save the egg and crack it over the whole thing last, if you want, but hey, since you’re whisking things, go for it)
2. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking constantly until everything looks like a mutant runny paste from grade school. Whisk in the Worcestershire sauce.  Yes it’s going to smell, and be darker in color now.
3. Put the meat in the bowl, toss the meat all around so that it’s coated with the stuff you just made. (HINT: WEAR GLOVES!) Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Mound some tartare in the center of each crostini. Garnish with parsley and drizzle with truffle oil.

Still with me on this adventure? The next recipe is our halfway point. Well, at least in terms of courses. C’mon we’re getting closer to turkey.

The Belgian Waffle Sanction appetizer (waffles, oysters, horseradish and sesame sauce) is going in a different post. Because I’ll need to explain “Adventure Cooking” to you.

 

Melon and Proscuitto

What You’ll Need

  1. Melon (either cantaloupe or honeydew. I like honeydew more for this, but hey, why not use both?)
  2. Prosciutto ham (You should be able to buy this in packages in your deli section)

What You Do

  1. Cut the melon in eighths (so quarter it, then cut each quarter in half). Don’t forget to ditch the seeds.
  2. Wrap the slice melon in the ham, or if the piece won’t go all the way around, drape it over like a bad prom dress.
  3. Eat

I once dated a woman who told me she didn’t like soup, and that maybe, MAYBE I could get her to just try soup out of a can. I never made this next recipe for her. Her loss. Also, she kissed funny.

Onion Soup (called the “I Wanna Know What Love Is” soup, but I’m not sure why)

What You’ll Need

  1. 5 cups of onions sliced as thin as you can possibly get them.
  2. A stick of butter
  3. 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  4. 1 and 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  5. 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
  6. 3 tablespoons flour
  7. 8 cups of stock (I use beef, you can do chicken)
  8. 1/2 cup white wine that didn’t come out of a box
  9. salt and pepper (I’m still looking for a recipe that needs Spinderella)
  10. 1 large pot with a lid

How To Make This Soup

  1. Put the pot over medium-low heat. DO NOT TOUCH THE HEAT. Yes, it might smoke, yes, you might totally panic and think the house will burn down, but it won’t. Add the butter and the oil in. And in the onions. Stir them around and watch them cook for 10 minutes. No seriously, watch them. You can talk or tweet or do whatever, just spend those 10 minutes stirring the onions.
  2. Put the lid on pot. Set a timer for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, stir the onions. Set the timer again for 10 minutes, then (guess what) go stir the onions. Repeat this until you have spent 35-ish minutes stirring onions. You’re looking to make everything a very nice shade of brown (The note in my cookbook is “Beyonce” I can say that right, that’s not weird for anyone?).
  3. Add the flour slowly and stir as you do it.
  4. Add the stock slowly, 1 cup at a time, slowly, (I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW CAREFUL YOU WANT TO BE HERE, SINCE YOU ARE ADDING A LIQUID TO A HOT SURFACE) and stir as you go. Yes, use all the stock.
  5. Add in the wine.
  6. Put the lid sort of on the pot (I stick the spoon I’ve been stirring with across the pot’s diameter so the lid sorta hangs like a jaunty chapeau) and DO NOT TOUCH THIS FOR 50-55 minutes. I swear to you, if you have the patience, it will be rewarded.
  7. Skim any weird skin or “grossness” (not my term) off the it (this is usually fat from the stock or excess oil) and stir. Taste it. Does it need salt and pepper? Then they’re in effect.
  8. Eat

Note: This is an onion soup where YOU DO NOT NEED CHEESE OR BREAD. That’s a different recipe, and takes longer to make. This is the soup I make the day before I want to serve it and then reheat it on the stove. Yes, if you’re ever drunk at 2am or you can’t sleep because you’re anxious and afraid of being alone, you can totally have this soup cold with bread. I make no apologies for your breath.

Our next course was a Caesar salad, which I’m assuming I don’t need to tell you how to make, since you can buy lettuce, dressing and croutons in the store and quickly make this yourself.

THE GIANT TURKEY OF AWESOME

I really wish I took pictures of this. I’ll have to tweet a few pictures of the leftovers. We had a HUGE bird for 5 eaters (parents, me, my brother and his girlfriend), and donated half to the local homeless shelter. We were still left with over 20 pounds of bird. Basically, roast the turkey however you like, though I baste mine with pan drippings, liquid smoke, a little booze, fruit juices and herbs. I only eat organic free range turkeys, and lately I’ve gone so far as to pay my local farm extra to be able to specify their diet. But again, I’m a snob. You can totally go have a store-bought turkey.

The Sides Served:

  1. Roast baby carrots
  2. Roast Broccoli
  3. Sweet potatoes with 2 cups of Grand Marnier in them
  4. Pickled beets

Since I don’t “stuff” the bird (because hey that’s a germ factory), my dressing comes in two styles, wet (where I’ve added in gravy) and dry (where I’ve added less gravy and had it in a 350-degree oven. I’ll probably do a whole post on the dressing, since it’s a three-day prep.

I should note beverages here. There’s champagne served (I had ginger ale), then your choice of drink to go along with it. I usually have strong dark iced tea with no lemon. (To make “John” tea, use 25 to 30 teabags in slightly less-than-boiling water then dump into a pitcher full of ice and let it sit in the fridge for 2-4 hours) Bonus – make your own teabags.

And lastly, we come to desserts. You know, if you’re still hungry. There was caramel bacon fudge that I’ve talked about before as well as french vanilla ice cream. I will however take a second to talk about the berries and pound cake.

Berries and Pound Cake

What You’ll Need:

  1. Berries, your choice. I used strawberries, blueberries, black berries and raspberries.
  2. 2 cups of sugar
  3. 2 cups of dark rum or Grand Marnier or if you’re in a rush, half a bottle of Southern Comfort
  4. 2 whole sticks of butter
  5. 1 cup of sugar (separate from the other sugar)
  6. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  7. 5 eggs
  8. 2 cups cake flour (THIS IS NOT REGULAR FLOUR, SO READ THE PACKAGES WHEN YOU GO LOOKING FOR THIS IN THE BAKING AISLE. YOU NEED “CAKE” FLOUR.)
  9. One large bowl
  10. 1 standing mixer
  11. 1 loaf bread pan, buttered and lined with parchment paper

Rock My Face Off:

  1. 1 hour before you decide to start making the poundcake, combine the first three ingredients together in a large bowl. Let them sit in the fridge. Do you best not to eat or drink them. Give the bowl a swirl and a shake periodically, you need everything sugar covered and drunk to the gills.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325. Make sure you’ve got a rack in the middle position. Once you do that, leave it alone and keep making things.
  3. Put the butter and cup of sugar into the mixer and beat it until it’s really smooth and seems very light and fluffy. This should take about 5-7 minutes if your mixer is on medium to high, which is what normal people use to mix things.
  4. Add in the vanilla. Leave the mixer on when you do this.
  5. Here’s the tricky bit: You’re going to add in 3 of the eggs, but ONE AT A TIME, WHILE THE MIXER IS STILL MIXING. You want to add in an egg, count to 15, then add another egg, and repeat until THREE (AND ONLY 3) EGGS ARE IN YOUR MIX.
  6. Here’s the next tricky bit: Put your mixer on low. Shake in the flour SLOWLY and the remaining eggs SLOWLY while things are mixing. You’re doing this on low because if you don’t, then you’re going to spray eggs and flour all over the place like this is a horror movie and not dessert. Slow it down here while things go in the bowl. You can go back to medium when everything’s in.
  7. You’re going to want to keep an eye on this batter, and stop periodically to scrape down the sides of the bowl and scold this batter for its attempts to flee your mixer’s wrath.
  8. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Use the back of the spoon to smooth out the top, so that it doesn’t look like a mutant landscape. Imagine you’re making a sidewalk and get that thing smooth. Optionally, lift and drop the whole pan from a height of about an inch or so, then re-smooth it. This helps things settle, and you can feel pretty badass banging things around in your kitchen.
  9. Get the pan in the oven on that middle rack and let it bake for somewhere between 75 and 80 minutes, or until you take a piece of spaghetti and poke it into the cake, and it comes out clean.
  10. Once it’s cooked through, let the thing sit in the pan for 7 minutes (set a timer!) and then lift the cake right out of the pan (because you’ve lined it with parchment and buttered the sides before the parchment went down, right?) so you have nothing to worry about it sliding right out.
  11. Slice the cake and take your bowl of drunk berries from the fridge. In a large also possibly drunken spoonful, plop berries and sweet booze-juice on slices of cake and serve. If that’s still not enough, add whipped creme. If THAT’s still not enough, have another drink while you eat.

And that, my dear friends, is the menu for Thanksgiving. Happy gluttony. Enjoy your holiday shopping and/or days off from work.

Cooking: Recipe: Caramel Bacon Fudge

Thanksgiving is awesome.  To celebrate, let’s take bacon and cover it in sugar and chocolate.

Note: You can serve this with or without alcoholic beverages.

CARAMEL BACON FUDGE

What You’ll Need

  1. Bacon, at least 1 package if store bought, 1/2 to 3/4 pound if you’re getting it from a butcher (or like I did, cut it from the pig). More bacon is never a bad thing, since it means you can save it or share or hoard it like Smaug.
  2. Brown sugar (expect to use most of a box/package), excess can be used later
  3. 12 ounces (that’s about 341 grams for my metric friends) (or about half a bag of chocolate chips) of your favorite kind of chocolate that isn’t cereal-based or “baking” DO NOT USE BAKING CHOCOLATE. Use chocolate chocolate. Your choice. Here’s a chocolate I recommend. But go use Hershey bars or Nestle chips. It’s your chocolate, you eat what you like.
  4. 14 ounces (1 can) of condensed milk
  5. About a quarter of a stick of butter
  6. A bowl for dredging
  7. A wire rack
  8. Parchment paper – it’s in the baking aisle at the store, you use it when you bake sometimes and you don’t want to screw with aluminum foil. We’re not using aluminum foil here because I swear it makes this taste funny. Maybe it doesn’t. But you should have parchment paper anyway.
  9. A cookie tray
  10. A sauce pan to make fudge
  11. A spoon

Let’s Make Food Now

  1. Before we get started, I want you to build a bacon workstation. Get a giant cookie tray, and lay down a piece of parchment paper. Parchment paper is awesome here since it’s a quick clean up. Take a wire rack and place it over the paper, so you’ve got this cookie tray-paper-rack assembled sandwich. This is going to totally help you clean up, and keep a lot of the bacon fat (this is like the one time we don’t need to deal with it) out of the way.
  2. Set your oven to 400 degrees. Wait 5 minutes. While you’re waiting, pour yourself a drink. Sure, make a good one.
  3. Pour some of sugar into bowl. Not all of it, geez, don’t be a savage. Just layer the bottom of the bowl and a little extra on top of that. Keep the sugar handy, because you’re going to refill this level of sugar in this bowl throughout this process. This is also an awesome time to take the bacon out of the package (which sounds super dirty, but I think that’s because I’m lonely).
  4. You’re going to “dredge” the bacon, which is a fancy way of saying you’re going to dunk the bacon in the brown sugar so that it’s kinda mostly covered, but you don’t have to go all the way if you don’t want (also dirty sounding). Think of this like sand at the beach. You don’t get covered totally in it, but it does end up all over you. Make sure every piece takes a dry bath in the brown sugar
  5. Move the sugar covered bacon onto the rack, and give them just a little space, like maybe the width of a pen, between pieces. It’s going to be easier to get them off the rack if you have space around them.
  6. Once all the bacon is sugar covered and on the rack, if you’re feeling wild, sprinkle some extra sugar on top of all them. Get your fairy dust on. Like Kevin Garnett, anything is possible. There’s no wrong amount of brown sugar here. (Bonus points if you sing the Stones song)
  7. Get the bacon in the oven. Let it go at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes (I like my bacon a little crispier for the next step, so I aim for 22 minutes, the length of a half hour sitcom without commercials or credits) That smell you’re going to smell is bacon meeting sugar.
  8. Take the bacon out of the oven (warning: IT’S HOT) and let the whole thing cool for about 10 minutes. You can eat the pieces, sure, but the more you eat here, the less you have for fudge.
  9. It’s decision time, do you want to do this in little pieces (we call it bacon shrapnel) or giant messy decadence?  Little pieces are slightly more time intensive, a little less messy. Choose now, so that you can go straight to fudge prep and then onto step 11
  10. In a saucepan OVER MEDIUM HEAT (no seriously, do not go higher than that), melt the butter a little first, then add in the condensed milk, let that warm a little, then add in the chocolate. You’re going to need to stir this, and it’s going to be thick and require some muscle and you’re going to want to turn up the heat, BUT DO NOT TOUCH THE HEAT, just stir. Stir like the wind. Stir until everything is nice and smooth and blended together. DO NOT STOP STIRRING DURING THIS PROCESS. NOT STIRRING IS HOW BAD THINGS HAPPEN. Yes I know, it’s kinda shiny. That’s a good thing. Yes, I know it looks tasty, DO NOT EAT IT. Just stir it for another minute after you see everything melting and smooth and awesome.
  11. OPTIONAL: Do you have Jack Daniels, dark rum, Bacardi 151, a good whiskey, port, brandy or Southern Comfort? Add in three shots to the chocolate while stirring. Do you have chili powder? Two pinches in the mix, please.
  12. If you chose “bacon shrapnel” you’re going to turn the heat off under the sauce pan and crumble the bacon by hand into the chocolate goodness in the pan. If you chose “decadent mess” you’re going to want to take the wire rack out of the cookie tray assembly, and lay the bacon out on the sheet (you may want to replace the paper) AND THEN POUR THE CHOCOLATE ALL OVER THE the tray. Seriously, drown your bacon. If you need to make more chocolate, repeat step 10 if you’ve got the supplies.

    If we’re talking “bacon shrapnel” you’re going to pour the whole contents of the sauce pan on the tray. Spread it out. No, don’t use your fingers (it’ll be hot) use a spoon. Lick the spoon when you’re done.

  13. Stick the whole tray in your fridge or freezer. Occupy yourself for about 3 hours. Once it’s been three hours, remove the tray from the cold place you put it and then using a sharp knife, cut the fudge into squares or strips or whatever shape rocks your boat.
  14. Eat. Just be sure to peel off the parchment paper before you start inhaling food like Galactus.

Happy eating. Enjoy your Holiday.

Cooking: Recipe: 2 Breakfasts

Apparently, no one freaked out when I talked about cooking. Awesome. Let’s talk more. Here’s some breakfast items. One you can eat that day, the other you can make and then ration out all week.

Eggs, Beurre Noir

Okay, time out. Yeah it’s a fancy name. It’s eggs in a sauce. But the name makes it sound a little sexy and fancy, and you can totally make this for your significant other or associates in the morning. Bonus points if you serve this with bacon, taylor ham, hash browns and/or fruit.

This is for FOUR eggs, and I’m figuring it’s two eggs to a person. Cut this recipe in half for a single-serving, then use that single-serving as a base if you’re cooking for like five or seven people.

What You’ll Need:

  1. 6 tablespoons of butter. (That’s nearly half a stick. but you going to want to cut the half a stick into individual chunks) Okay, wait, here’s a pro-tip. Take two thirds of a stick of butter, and cut it into chunks about as wide as your thumb.
  2. 4 eggs. Large eggs. Chicken eggs. Nice, not broken eggs. Yes, you can use other eggs in this. (I do, but remember, I’m a snob)
  3. 2 teaspoons dry sherry. (Sherry is regularly used in meal prep. You might see it listed as “cooking sherry” or “dry sherry“) If you can’t find sherry, you can use apple cider, a combination of one shot of white wine with one shot of red wine, or a combination of shots of orange juice with pineapple or mango juice and a few drips of vanilla extract mixed in. But seriously, take the time to get a bottle of sherry. It’s worth it. No don’t drink it (they have drinking sherry which you can also use). WARNING: Do not use a liqueur or flavored alcoholic mixed drink. That’s a whole different recipe and needs more ingredients. Also, that’s more of a brunch thing.
  4. Either saucers or ramekins or egg cups. Or at least plates you can use with your broiler.
  5. One pan/not cast-iron skillet for cooking
  6. One saucepan
  7. OPTIONAL (a strainer) if you’re rushed and want to score points with people, but you also want to kick them out of your house after that one night stand. I may have said too much.

To The Cooking!

  1. Pre-heat your broiler. Yes, you really do need to broil these. No broiler or it freaks you out? Then whenever I say “broiler” you substitute “I keep them in the pan an extra sixty seconds”, but it’s not going to taste or look the same. Still totally edible, still good, just not the same.
  2. Melt one chunk of butter per egg (TWO). Yes go ahead, use the microwave. Or just do it in the pan you’re about to use and pour it off into a shotglass or dish
  3. Crack two eggs onto the pan (or into the ramekin or cup or whatever) and let them sit over medium-high heat for about a minute. You want everything to be sort of set, not super raw runny. Maybe this takes 2 minutes, depends on a lot of things. Just make eggs until everything is set but the middle is still super runny if you were to touch it. NO DO NOT TOUCH IT, I AM JUST SAYING.
  4. Pour the melted butter over these eggs.
  5. Stick the now butter-covered eggs under the broiler for a minute. MAYBE 90 seconds if you want to live dangerously.
  6. Move those eggs to plates, keep them warm. Prepare to amaze people, because you’re about to clarify butter. (Sounds tough, it isn’t)
  7. Melt the rest of the butter over medium heat. DO NOT monkey around with the heat, set it on medium and leave it alone. The butter, once melted is going to separate, because butter is actually a blend of fats and oils, and if you’re using that crap in the plastic tub, there’s also several fantastic chemicals. You’re going to stand there over this butter like it’s a child who needs to brush their teeth, because you’re waiting for the white waxy particles that look sort of like flecks of oily dandruff to settle to the bottom of the mixture and the clear liquid that smells good sits on top of them (because that’s how suspensions work).
  8. Pour the not waxy liquid into a separate bowl. Get rid of the other stuff.
  9. Put the clear liquid (clarified butter) back in the pan and keep cook it (at MEDIUM HEAT) until it gets that nice golden brown color of attractive people at the beach. IF YOU ARE SMELLING SOMETHING LIKE WARM NUTS, YOU HAVE BURNT IT. AT THE FIRST HINT OF A FRAGRANCE. ADD IN THE SHERRY AND STIR FOR TWENTY SECONDS AND/OR ONE RENDITION OF HAPPY BIRTHDAY (because that’s about the right amount of time)
  10. IF YOU ARE ADDING MORE THINGS TO BREAKFAST (bacon, hash browns, etc) this is where you go make those things. Just keep the eggs and sauce warm.
  11. When you’re ready to eat, pour the sauce over the eggs (and oh man, if you happen to spill some on the bacon and toast you’ve made, drat, I  guess you’ll just have to endure eating it, whatever will you do)

Congratulations you just clarified butter and made a fancy French breakfast. And clarified butter. Remember that skill. We’ll talk about it often.

Want more? Sure you do.

Blueberry Muffins (also called “Mmphm mar gumd” because you want to say how tasty they are while you eat them)

What You’ll Need

  1. 1 stick of butter. You’re going to want to melt it in the microwave 9 seconds, or used whipped butter or let it sit out and get room temperature soft.  Softer is better, but you don’t really have to super liquefy it.
  2. 2/3 cup sugar. Yep, sugar. Stevia and Splenda give me migraines. I guess if you had to, you can mix 1/3 cup sugar with 1/3 cup not-sugar product. But that’s not my jam.
  3. 2 large eggs (doesn’t have to be chicken, but any egg works)
  4. 2 cups flour (whatever flour you want to go with)
  5. 4 teaspoons baking POWDER (this is critical. do not mess that part up. Not the Arm and Hammer stuff you use to make the fridge not stink. BAKING POWDER. Usually comes in a tube with giant letters on it.)
  6. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  7. 1 cup milk (I use whole cow’s milk for this and most of my cooking, you can use any kind)
  8. 1 cup of blueberries, washed, drained and ready to go. (NOTE: you can go as high as 2 cups, just remember that you might get it on your fingers and clothes) (NOTE: You can substitute other fruit if you don’t have or can’t do blueberries. Berries work best, but feel free to cut up citrus fruit or berries)
  9. 1 muffin tin or loaf pan, to make the stuff in. If you’re going portable, go muffin tin. Which means you also need muffin cup wrapper things. Or just grease the tin. Up to you
  10. Two bowls for mixing. Yes, two different bowls. Call them A and B. Yes, if you don’t have multiple bowls you can use one, but it may get messier and you may get a little freaked out by how much you’re doing. Two bowls works for this.
  11. A sifter. If you don’t have a sifter, prepare for a great arm workout.

It’s Cooking Time

  1. Five minutes before you want to start cooking, set your oven to 375
  2. In Bowl A,  dump the butter and the sugar together. Take your whisk or a strong fork and “cream” them together. Basically mix the two together until it looks kinda like glittery toothpaste. Once it looks like toothpaste, keep mixing it for another minute.
  3. Add the eggs. Keep mixing this together. It will turn from glittery toothpaste into sort of runny yellow mustard goo. That’s okay. No, don’t eat it. Mix another minute or so (I say 2, other people say less, but hey, it’s your arm, so keep an eye on your strength).
  4. In Bowl B, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. No sifter? Then use a dry whisk or fork to blend this stuff together, and I’m really sorry but it’s so going to make a cloud and get everywhere and you’re going to have to clean it up later, because invariably you’re going to dive into this like it’s not a bunch of powders and granules, so just go get a sifter, please?
  5. Once you’re happy with the sifting (and/or cleaned up the mess), put Bowl B in front of you. Pick up the milk in one hand and Bowl A in the other. You’re now going to be a mad scientist and alternate pouring milk and the contents of Bowl A into Bowl B. No, it doesn’t need to be even, no, you can just totally dump everything together and gently blend together, but hey, I thought you might like to have a little fun. Go put the now empty Bowl A in the sink.
  6. Let Bowl B sit while you grease, butter or prep your muffin tin or bread loaf pan.
  7. Take your blueberries or fruit and mix them into Bowl B in a Pour Some-Stir Some-Pour-Stir-Pour-Stir method. If you’re saying to yourself, “That’s not enough berries.” Add more.
  8. Once you’re out of fruit and everything is mixed together (nope, still don’t eat it) spoon the batter (yes, you made a batter) into the muffin tin or the loaf pan.
  9. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, which is just the right amount of time to wash the stuff you just used to cook.
  10. Serve these hot initially, though you can also eat them cold as you’re running out the door to do whatever you do professionally.

This recipe makes about a dozen muffins, so that’s like 2 a day if you ration them.

 

Happy eating

Cooking: Recipe: Turkey Mondor

Okay, it’s recipe time. And this one goes out to all my friends and followers on a budget, without big family obligations and who just want something simple but tasty. (Okay wait, that’s one of those dumb cliches like “I play as hard as I work” Let’s just gloss over it.)

I’m going to try and present to you a recipe for prepping a small turkey breast that shouldn’t tax you financially or timewise. Though, it’s a holiday, so what else do you have going on? You’re not going to watch that canned, scripted parade nonsense are you? Listening to the vapid dreck “Here comes Snoopy” is a great way to murder the brain cells that managed to avoid the alcohol poisoning.

Things You’ll Need:

  1. 1 turkey breast (it’s thawed out, right?)
  2. 2 celery stalks, sliced into sticks
  3. 2 large onions, sliced into either itty bitty pieces (diced) or into bits of rings, you pick
  4. 2 medium (fist-sized) apples, peeled and sliced into sections (please try not to eat these while cooking)
  5. 1 whole lemon
  6. 2 tablespoons butter (look at the stick of butter, cut one-third of it off,  then cut that third in half, that’s about enough butter, more is always better, so be generous)
  7. 2 tablespoons your choice of flour (all-purpose or whatever)
  8. 1 cup of dry white wine (you can use really any not dark booze)
  9. 2 egg yolks (here’s a video on how to take just the yolk from an egg. Save the egg white for breakfast)
  10. 1 cup heavy cream (no, you can’t skimp on this part, sorry, you need the fat from the cream)
  11. 1 ounce cognac (or brandy or dark rum, whatever you pick, it’s gotta be dark and strong)
  12. 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  13. 8 ounces grated Gruyere (You can use one of those Gruyere-asiago blends of cheese in pouches, or you can substitute any hard cheese that isn’t parmesan, but it’s gonna change the taste)
  14. salt and pepper to taste
  15. Tin foil, aluminum foil, a big towel – something you can cover the turkey breast with
  16. OPTIONAL crushed nuts (usually pistachio, but you can use anything that isn’t a peanut) (Put the nuts in a ziploc, hit it with a heavy can, hammer or step on it)

Let’s cook this:

  1. 10 minutes before you want to start cooking, set your oven to 350 degrees
  2. If you haven’t already, wash the turkey. It’s gotta be thawed. If it isn’t, go thaw it out and come back (turn the oven off if you do)
  3. In a huge oven-capable dish or pan or platter (the thing you’re going to cook the turkey breast in) lay the breast down and spill the celery, onions and apples all over it. Try to keep it all in one dish or pan.
  4. Slice the lemon in half, then rub the turkey breast with 1/2 of a lemon. Feel free to squeeze the lemon (a little!) while you do this. Save the other half of the lemon (we’ll use it soon)
  5. Take your paring knife and lightly stab the skin. No knife? Use a fork. No, you can’t stick it in your mouth in between or after stabbing. You just want to poke some holes in it, not treat it like Caesar.
  6. Bake this thing in the oven for 1 hour, 45 minutes. Do not baste the breast, don’t goof with it, don’t do anything to it for that time. Just let it sit in the oven and bake. Go write something while this happens.
  7. When the time’s up, take the whole thing out of the oven, and move the breast to somewhere you can cut it. You can toss the celery, onions and apples. No, really, they’re done. Keep the pan though.
  8. Cut the breast into slices or serving pieces. If you’ve never sliced a turkey breast, face the pretty part away from you, slice down and away. Use a big fork in one hand, a knife in the other. Use a sharp knife, and sort of saw through the meat. Yeah, it takes practice. Here you go.
  9. Arrange your now sliced turkey back in the pan or dish or platter you just used and cover it to keep it warm.
  10. Crank your oven up to 450
  11. Go get a sauce pan. (something with not too big a diameter and high sides). Put it over medium heat.
  12. Melt the butter. Once it’s melted add the flour. Mix together. (This is called a “roux” and is frequently used in cooking, also it’s a great thing to tell someone to impress them). Your mixture may darken and thicken a little. That’s okay. I’m assuming you’re using a whisk or a fork to mix this stuff together and not your finger. Don’t use your finger. Stir this for three minutes. Seriously. The whole three minutes. Don’t stop.
  13. Add the dry white wine or whatever light alcohol you’re using. Keep stirring, it should thicken a little. Totally okay when that happens
  14. Take the pan OFF THE HEAT. (like move it to another not in use part of the stove) Get a friend or at least a third hand to help you. Keep stirring. While stirring, add in ONE egg yolk. Keep stirring. Stir a little faster and a little harder (eggs are down for it, yes you can totally talk dirty to them). Add in the second egg yolk. Make sure that when you’re stirring, you’re breaking up the yolk like you’re scrambling them. No, you’re not really scrambling, just use that motion.
  15. Put the saucepan BACK ON THE HEAT. Add the cream. DO NOT LET THIS BOIL. Just let it warm up. This may take somewhere between 45 seconds and 2 minutes. You DO NOT WANT THIS TO BUBBLE. Bubbles are bad (and if you see them, turn the heat off for thirty seconds and go to the next step ASAP)
  16. Add the other booze element (the cognac, brandy the whatever dark). Add the nutmeg. Stir. Stir more than that.
  17. Okay, taste it. No seriously, get in there and taste it. Be careful, it’s hot. Add salt and pepper until it tastes “best” to you. You’re looking for something creamy and a little fragrant.
  18. Turn down the heat (it should be on low by now) and let this simmer (that means quit touching it) for 3 minutes. Go get the turkey in the pan that’s been hanging out. Squeeze that other half of the lemon all over it.
  19. Add the cheese to the turkey in the pan. You cannot go wrong with the cheese, so more is better than less.
  20. Pour this sauce all the hell over the turkey. It’s absolutely okay to think this looks dirty.
  21. Put it in the oven for FIVE minutes. Maybe six, you’re looking for things to brown.
  22. Take out of the oven and take those crushed nuts and sprinkle them all over like it’s glitter at summer camp.
  23. Eat while it’s still warm. Yes, you’re going to have leftovers.

Happy eating.

Cooking: The Utensils I Forgot To Mention

Okay, so like a dozen people who I didn’t know even read the words I write on the internet, all mentioned things I forgot in my post about kitchen gear.

Have another post.

Things That Are Pretty Essential But Can Wait Until You Have Some Money or Gift Cards To Use

Anything thicker than scrambled eggs is going to tremendously benefit from your using tongs on it. Sure, you can use a fork to turn things, but forks puncture and leave holes, which are nice spots where juices can escape your food. Also, tongs mean you get some distance between your combustible hands and the hot pieces of metal you’re using. I would probably tell you to get a pair in different sizes, since you can use the bigger ones on your backyard grill and the smaller one around the kitchen. Also, when you get bored, tongs are great in a crab fight.

We talked pots and pans yesterday. Let’s suppose you’re either on a super tight budget or you’re living in a tiny little NY apartment. Or anywhere I guess, but seriously, NY is notorious for its tinier-than-a-Volvo apartments. If money is super hella mega tight and you can only get one pan to start with, get a cast iron skillet. They come in different sizes, and different prices, but rather than just get the monstrous big one, get the one that’s slightly bigger than the burner on the stove you’re about to use. 12-inch is a nice “I don’t know what else to get” size. Now, they’re going to tell you it’s “preseasoned”, which means you can pretty much use it out of the package (wash it first, you heathen), and that you don’t have to season it, which is a fancy way of saying “heat it up in the oven and expose it to some oils and fats to help it get used to cooking your stuff”.  You can use this skillet for a lot of things. Meat, simple breads, toasting tortillas, slight frying in oil, clubbing your enemies, that sort of thing. Delicate things generally don’t do well in a skillet because the whole thing is metal, and metal gets hot. Like real hot. Like Anakin on Mustafar hot, not attractive human hot (note – was totally going to link to something NSFW there, just imagine something good). If you need to put a lid on it for some reason, use a cookie tray. Just not in the oven, because that’s crazy.

For all the handling of pots and pans and things that are hot but aren’t food, you’re going to want either some pot holders or some kitchen/oven gloves (not dishwashing gloves). A pot holder is nice because you can also toss it on the counter and put the hot dish on it, like an emergency trivet (fancy word for thing you put dishes on, it’s like a coaster for food service). Do not believe the hype on the mitten kind of pot holders, you’re going to want to wrap your hand around the pot handle far more than you realize (like when you’re taking the pasta to the sink to drain it). Also, they look way lame.

Kitchen/oven gloves (not the rubber things used to scrub dishes) are wonderful pot holder alternatives, because you can  use all your fingers then to hold things. And not burn. Watch out though, since while you might not burn, you will still feel heat (because, heat) so don’t freak out when you realize that hot skillet is hot. You want as many gloves as you have hands. If you want to be a little more nerdy, try a pair like this.

Sometimes you have delicate things or things you don’t want to use tongs on. This is why we have spatulas. Let’s sidebar a second. A spatula is a flat piece of metal with a handle that you can slip under a thing (like an egg, a pancake or that piece of fish) and flip over or press down on (like a grilled cheese). That thing with the silicone fin on the end? That’s NOT a spatula. That’s a paddle, and you use that for mixing batters and doughs and omelet goo and anything you need stirred and you don’t want to use a spoon. You can also use it as an icing spreader, either for cake or kink. (So I’ve heard. Allegedly.) Now if you’re going to email me to tell me that you can totally make three eggs twice over and turn them with that paddle, I demand video proof. Sidebar over.

Let’s talk cleaning up, because you’re going to make a mess. You’re going to spill stuff. You’re going to curse about it. You might yell at the dog not to eat it. You might make the floor sticky. You might suddenly get really frustrated that your sturgeon fume a la moscovite didn’t come together the way you wanted it, and you throw it across the kitchen in a fit of pique (allegedly). This is best done in a list.

  1. For high-priority cleaning up, paper towels work. High priority is anything that is super sticky, any raw juices from not yet cooked food, or anything that might cause you injury in the kitchen (water spilled on the floor that you might slip on, etc). If you use a paper towel to clean it up, follow that with a wipe of some kind. Clorox makes some nice ones, but if you want to go pro, try these. Technically, the blood of anything in the kitchen (yours too) should be dealt with this way.
  2. For liquids and dry goods that aren’t a super critical priority (or your own blood if the wound is superficial) or any product that you’d sweep up with your hand, try a huck towel. Okay, look, they used to be thicker back in the day, but that’s super expensive now. The “cheap” ones are fine, because yes just like any rag you use, they’ll fall apart. And it’s your kitchen, so no one’s going to bitch about the piece of fabric you use to clean the excess flour and spilled soup.
  3. Stop using that sponge. Seriously, it’s like you’re just tossing around a bacteria factory and calling it clean. No, stop, really. Explain to me how the thing you use to scrub pots and then wipe down surfaces (!!) is supposed to just be nice and clean and okay because you ran it under the tap and gave it a squirt of dish soap? See? Ditch it. Try a spaghetti scrub instead.  It looks goofy, but it totally works.

Lastly, I want to talk about some trays. Good cookie trays (also called sheet pans, cookie pans, and cookie sheets)  are amazing, because you can use them for cookies, to collect the fat that drips off things, to hold a raised rack of french toast or have a place to lay vegetables for roasting. They’re also awesome lids. Get them in a set, and ideally, get multiple sets. Now for things you need to elevate, either to cool or to expedite cooking, you’re going to want some mesh cooling racks. Look for the ones either with foldable legs (they can be a pain to store, but they’re super helpful) or the ones with decent raised legs.  Avoid the ones with the rubber tipped legs because once that rubber comes off, for some reason, the legs lose integrity, and the rubber seems to always want to come off. Don’t put the rubber ones in the oven either.

What’s that you say? Why didn’t I mention baking pads? Because I don’t think they’re critical items, and I’ve never had any luck with them. A baking pad is a sheet of silicone you can lay out (say on a sheet pan) and things won’t stick to it. But, if you’re prudent in your prep, you won’t have to worry about sticking, because you’ve sprayed your surfaces and you haven’t overcooked things so there’s nothing to stick. Also, I find them a consumer trap – like you have to have one, but you never use it (see: the microwave omelet maker or that other weird thing grandma bought you when you moved in).

Prepare yourselves, recipes are coming.

Cooking: The Basics (What You Should Have In Your Kitchen)

Note: When I say “should have” I mean, what I would expect to find in a kitchen, based on my experiences and the recipes I know how to make off the top of my head. You may find these suggestions useful.

So let’s talk about what kinds of equipment should be in a kitchen so that it functions like a kitchen and not just the room-that-isn’t-the-bathroom-but-no-one-likes-cleaning-either. I’m going to divide this into a few sections, and provide links and explanations as we go. I’m also going to try and keep the price down.

The Essentials

There’s no getting around the necessity of these items. Yes, they’re expensive, but once you buy them, you’ll have them, and the maintenance is just a matter of washing and drying and sharpening, as opposed to replacing regularly. These items aren’t in any particular order.

You’re going to need a set of pots and pans, preferably with lids. You don’t need to go crazy, and you don’t need to worry about the construction of these pans, you need vessels you can cook in. You’re going to need things in various sizes (because you can use one size to cook pasta and another size to make eggs, that sort of thing), and they’ll need lids because sometimes you want to hold steam in or expedite the cooking process. Also, sometimes lids look really cool. Here’s a set that’s not too bad. It’s expensive, but if you wash them well and don’t let the crud accumulate in them for days on end in a crowded sink, they’ll last you years. I have no idea what color they are, if color is important to you, but you can at least take this info and go to a store to buy them just as easily.

You’re going to need a set of knives, or at least 3 particular knives. A good knife is valuable in the kitchen, because it can make any prep work easier AND you can use to defend yourself from attackers, you know, if that ever happens to you. (I might be the only person who thinks about that regularly).

Knives come in blocks, which always look cool, but can eat up a lot of counter space, more than you expect, so if you’ve got a kitchen with a minimum of it, skip the big block and go for the three specific knives below. Now, having said that, and you want to go with a set of knives, I would say you can’t go wrong with a set like this.  Or if you want to go down in price and size, and ease back a little on quality, try this one. What to look for in a knife? Always go for something that lists a “full tang”, which is not a reference to east coast rap or astronaut beverages, but instead is the nice way of saying the metal part that is sharp on the other end extends through at least part of the handle. Cheap knives can just be handles with metal attached at one end, which can lead to a weak blade that can snap or fall apart over time. Also, it may not feel as strong in your hand, and you may not feel as comfortable using it, which can lead to you putting the knife into your hand more often than you putting the knife into the carrots you’ve been trying to cut. You also want to look to see if there are scissors and a sharpening steel (also called a honing steel or just a steel). The scissors are pretty universal, (they’re scissors) and I use mine to cut coupons just as often as I cut through things I’m cooking. Also, my kitchen shears (fancy name for scissors) are the only thing I own that can cut through that shitty plastic packaging so many things get sealed in. The steel is there for two reasons: to tell you that you’re going to need to sharpen your knives from time to time, and that you can do so.  Knowing both of those things makes a difference, since dull knives can really be more trouble than they’re worth, and sharpening a knife also looks and sounds really badass.

If a block of knives isn’t for you, then you’ll need individual knives. You’re going to need a knife that can slice bread, tomatoes, and anything that you could squish if you push too hard, or anything that you need to get a firm hold of. I prefer my serrated blades be offset, because I’m clumsy and want to keep my knuckles intact. I know you can save a few bucks if you go with something with a wood handle, but don’t give in – you’re going to want to wash the knife from time to time, and wood will soak up all the liquid stuff in comes into contact with – dish soap, chicken juices, etc – and you’re just asking for some kind of petri dish.

You’re going to also need a knife (I’d say probably two, so you have a spare) to do most of your kitchen grunt work like cutting, slicing and chopping. These are most often called “chef’s knives“, and because the culture of knives can be pretty phallic, there’s a great deal of talk about the size of the knife you need. Get whatever size feels appropriate for you. They all do the same jobs, there’s no prize for using a bigger one. Sometimes you can find a set, but I like them as individuals like this one or this one.

Sometimes though, you’re going to have to do work where a bigger blade isn’t going to give you the same dexterity. Sure, you can use that huge knife to cut leftovers, but sometimes you just need to cut up chicken nuggets for a hungry kid. These are paring knives, and they’re for more delicate work. I also like to think that if I had to throw a knife to take out a ninja, I’d throw a paring knife. I prefer to buy them in sets like this one or this one, and yes you want a lethal short knife that you would never dream of giving a child. The more it looks like you could kill a Templar with it, the better. Also, they can double as impromptu steak knives.

Past the knives and the pots and pans, there are two more essential items for your kitchen: a set of measuring devices, and a grater. Measuring devices come in a set, and they help you … measure things. Recipes live and die by their measurements, and while yeah, you can reduce the whole world down to glugs and pinches and guesswork, at some point, you’re going to need several-eighths of something, and these will make life easier. Get the spoons and little cups for the easy stuff (and the dry stuff), get the big cups for the liquids. That box grater is going to help you speed up how you shred things that aren’t your fingers, hopefully.

OH! Right, almost forgot these. Get some cutting boards. Get more than one, get a few different sizes. Get one that you only use for chicken. Get one you only use for fish. You can get a set of foldable ones or you can go for something like bamboo. Yeah, you can go for the plastic ones, just be careful about putting hot things on them, because they’ll melt. Also, in a super hot dishwasher, they’ll melt too. If you go bamboo, get some oil to protect them. (I oil mine yearly) Somehow, I have like a dozen in various shapes and sizes. They sort of breed, like those tags on keychains. Note: the nicer cutting boards can double as emergency serving platters.

Essential Reading Material

You would not believe the amount of fervent discussion there is about what is or isn’t a “good” cookbook. Seriously, you can fall down a lot of wormholes on the Internet about “the best” books. I don’t know what books are best, but I know what books have taught me the most. On the whole, they’re older editions of books still in publication, but I like the older ones. Maybe that’s nostalgia, maybe that’s because I prefer a little less glitz when I’m learning a thing, whatever.

The Joy of Cooking deserves space on your shelf. Yes, there are new versions, but they get pricey and they lack detail in some places. I like my old version.

I also give a lot of Julia Child’s books as gifts for housewarmings. Many of her books, like this one, this one and this one, actually make cooking feel like something you can do, so long as you stand there and do the work. Her TV show was always interesting, because when I didn’t like what she was cooking, I got to watch an old lady drink and carry on in the kitchen. It felt very endearing.

Essential Watching

I recommend watching a lot of Good Eats on Youtube.

A Note About Food

Armed with the above items, you can put together a pretty kickass kitchen. But, all the equipment in the world isn’t going to help you if you forget the following:

  1. Things need to be cooked to certain temperatures. Eating things that are undercooked might make you sick. Overcooked things just taste like shit. Get a thermometer. Practice until you learn how you like your food. And don’t forget that the cooking doesn’t stop after you take away the heating source. Pots and pans (and food) retain heat, so there’s some cooking going on you might not see. Don’t mistake that for “I can let this sit for five minutes not in the oven, right?” I’m just saying that your quiche might be firming up while it’s still sitting there and while you’re pouring the wine.
  2. Seasonings are your friend. I put salt and pepper on things. I put hot sauce on other things. I put green bits on others. Seasonings shouldn’t hide the thing you’re cooking (unless you’re hiding something that didn’t go so well), they should be amplifiers and cheerleaders for how awesome the food is.
  3. If it’s meat, let it rest. You know how after you get home from work, or the gym or after you get off the phone from a fight, you just want to sit for a minute and compose yourself? So does the meat you’ve just cooked. Three to five minutes, probably covered with a nice piece of foil (or a pot lid) gives it a chance to destress after you just put it through a cooking process. No, it’s not going to get cold, because you’re covering it.
  4. If you absolutely have to put leftovers in the microwave, get a cover and/or add a glass of water. Microwaves excite molecules, which makes things warm up. This can also lead to dried out things and more chewing and less savoring. You can offset this with a lid and/or by putting a little water in a dish (finally, a use for that shotglass!) next to the plate as it goes round and round. The water will get all agitated and steam up and help moisten the food. A lot like how moist you get in a sauna, except tasty and not gross.
  5. You can be “smart” about your food without engaging in healthy/unhealthy or good/bad debates. I am not a dietitian. I am not a trained nutritionist. I am not a vegan. I am not even vegetarian. I cook things that used to be alive (sometimes even the same day), and I cook things with butter and fat. I like foie gras. I do not like tofu. I like caviar. These things do not make me a bad person, just like you being however you are does not make you a better person than me. I don’t like to engage in the debate that the animal lives in squalor or filth, that they’re raised blind and crippled, or whatever. I know these things happen. But you don’t have to buy those particular products. You can buy meat from animals that were raised in better conditions, for the express purpose of you eating them, not for the sake of a corporate profit margin. I understand that a lot of fat in your diet can kill you. I understand that a lot of anything in your diet can kill you. I’m not saying go overboard. I’m saying eat what you want, in portions that work for you. There’s a place for proteins and fats and carbs and legumes and meats and cheeses and olives and ice creams and pretzels and butterscotch and salts and butters. My place for it might not be your place, and that’s totally okay. This isn’t a call for extremism or soapboxing. I want to talk about food that tastes good and is a joy to produce. I want to talk about lunch you like, not just lunch that meets some arbitrary calorie count.

Next time, I think we should cover some basic meals you can make yourself. Or whatever you want to talk about.

Food and Eating, an explanation first

If you follow me on Twitter, or have conversations with me at all, chances are I’ve talked about food at some point. Maybe I’ve asked you if you’ve eaten recently or maybe I’ve talked about what I’m having for dinner. And to some people, given the specifics of what and how well I eat, I guess that comes across as bragging or showing off. I don’t mean it to, this is certainly not said in that sort of “Let them eat cake!” tone of royalty to peasantry (okay, a few times, I admit I’ve done it just so people will stop talking about ramen noodles or freeze-dried whatevers), but it’s because food means something to me.

First and foremost, food has never broken my heart, hurt my feelings, betrayed my trust, manipulated my feelings or misunderstood me. Food has never said it has hated me, food has never left me for better relationships, jobs or living arrangements. Food has never told me that it ‘didn’t feel about me the same way’ or that it just wanted to be friends. Food never judged me for needing medication, staying in instead of going out, or talking to myself over the company of others. Food has never rejected me, teased me or been rude to me.

Secondly, food is something I can produce with confidence. When I was in various treatment facilities and programs, they always urged us to find a hobby or skill. Maybe that was pottery or painting. I knew a man who got into woodworking. I always connected with food. The production of it, the pageantry, the preparation and the consumption. It was skill and art, and didn’t really require some talent I never thought I could foster or develop. Anyone, with practice and discipline and knowledge can prepare good food, at least for themselves. I could be good enough to make food for myself and others.

Food also is an expression of how I feel. I may work with words for a living, but I struggle with them in terms of quantifying or qualifying my feelings. They get stuck in my head, mutate when they hit my throat and leave my lips as X when I mean Y. If I take you to a meal, if I cook for you, I care about you. I want you to feel good. I want you to be happy. I want you to know the same joy and love I do when I eat.

The preparation and consumption of food is as holy as I get. Not in that Judeo-Christian sense of transfiguration, I mean in terms of ritual and craft. To prepare a thick steak, sizzling and crusted brown with just the right vegetables in a beautiful array of colors and tastes is divine, second only to the momentary joys of orgasm, and sometimes it lasts longer and is more satisfying. To know that you can mix a few things in a bowl, apply heat and then be able a short time later to be able to provide the people you care about with sustenance is enormously gratifying to me. It makes me feel like I matter. It makes me feel like I have a way to compensate for being the sick madman who spends days thinking and writing and listening to music at all hours.

I eat well now. By many accounts, I am a foodie’s foodie. I don’t hide from this. I don’t deny it either. Yes, I eat well, and enjoy going to the best places on the planet for the best meals. I love feeling stuffed and double love the idea that I do enough good work to be able not to flinch when the check arrives. One of my great sentences is, “Don’t ever look at the price of a thing.” because I live well enough now so that it’s not a problem.

See, it used to be a problem. I grew up eating meals that came in boxes, and things that amounted to just chicken breasts with maybe salt and pepper on them, and maybe a salad that came out of a bag. The steaks were thin, and lower grade cuts. Salads were dominated by lettuce, not greens or dressing. Luxury items were pizzas with more than one topping. And my great indulgence was ice cream out of a container, maybe with a sauce on it. I grew up eating middle class food. It wasn’t bad. I still like a lot of those things and I still snack that way. But I knew there were other tiers.

I had friends who lived on canned goods and powdered things that had neon colors, or things that you reheated in the microwave. I had friends who used those deli containers you get pre-fab potato salad and coleslaw in as drinking cups. They drank water you had to boil first, and there weren’t very many second portions. I would go to their houses, be at their tables, and know that because I was the guest, whatever meal we were having would be a big deal, maybe even stretching their budget a little thin. It didn’t humble me, it embarrassed me. I was sorry to be taking their time and money over something like a roasted chicken.

Money and food have always been tied together. I spent years as a “starving artist”, living on maybe a hundred dollars a week, stealing utilities and sneaking produce out of stores. I thought that’s what made you have the “right” kind of artistic talent. I thought that’s what made you a “better” writer. When I did get money, I spent it on alcohol or something harder. I wished I could have the big meals, but made due with peanut butter and jelly on white bread. I pretended it was duck or steak or fish. It was Arnold’s white bread, Skippy and Welch’s (it’s still a favorite). I remember being in middle school and thinking that the bill at the grocery store being $104 was astronomical, and that we should be eating multi-course meals, when in fact it was just a food budget for two weeks growing up. I used to frequently hear, “Enjoy this, because it’s cold pasta for a while.” I hated when my father would say it. It wasn’t funny. It was a hurtful reminder that the good things in life come at too high a cost, and that you always have to sacrifice so much to get even a meal, so really, you’re not eating food, you’re just counting the minutes until you shit away the money.

That’s how I grew up. Partner that with regular “discussions” about how I was a fat ass, how I was lazy or getting heavy, or needed to lose weight or “work on my gut” or “put on some muscle” and you may come to understand that I learned to get by on one meal a day as a teenager, and that I avoided cameras because I used to sneak food, or “you can’t fit all of you in the frame, can you John?” When I got sick, and ate and ate, thanks to a combination of anxiety, depression and a crushed metabolism, and ballooned my weight to over three hundred pounds, I didn’t feel like I was harming myself (I wanted to die so often back then), I felt more like I was making the outside-me look like the inside-me. I kept hearing how fat I was, how worthless I was, how I could never afford to eat well, so I believed it. Every meal. Every day. For years.

I’m an adult now. I just turned 35. I have reached a point in my mental health where I am in charge of my faculties, and have reached a point in my professional career where, when the money comes in, it’s large sums and it can be consistent. I’ve also learned the value of budgeting, so that helps. But I remember my old relationship with food: as secret lover, as indulgence, as rare occasion and want to spend every lucid and stable second of my life never feeling like that again.

Every meal I eat or prepare is a rebellion against those old ways. Every old recipe that calls for exotic ingredients isn’t just a luxury, it’s a testament to my hard work. I’m going to eat this ostrich quesadilla because dammit, I can afford ostrich. I’m going to make french vanilla ice cream from scratch because it brings me joy to do so. And if you seriously are going to tell me to check my food privilege, then come to my house, sit at my table, and share a meal with me, if you’re not a jerk about it. I would cook for you ahead of cooking for myself, but since you’re not here, this meal is for me. Ask anyone who’s been out to eat with me, or anyone I’ve cooked for, anyone with me is my guest, and I will be the greatest host they’ve ever had. The smile and blissful sounds you make of enjoying your meal tell me “I love you.”  “I accept you for who you are.” “You are good enough John.” more than you realize. So, please, take your expectations of privilege and choke on them. I eat good food because food is life and love and this is how I share my experience with others.

At times on this blog, I’m going to share recipes. I can’t promise they’ll be the NSFW recipes that other people share,  but I’m going to effort to show you that you can eat what I eat, without needing “a fish guy” “a butcher” “a meat guy” (no of course they’re not the same thing), four different markets within 5 miles and regular food deliveries to your house because it’s more appealing to stay in that go outside and possibly get your heart hurt again. I will always speak plainly about cooking equipment and terms, and I will always do my best to suggest alternatives. Though I might not know your budget, I will assume you’re trying to spend less than $50 a meal.

If this sounds agreeable to you, awesome, I hope you enjoy what I’m going to do. If this irritates or discomfits you, all the posts will be tagged “cooking” and you can just skip them.

Ready? Let’s talk about the basics in the next post.

Grammar 101: Why We Diagram Things

Guess what? This post talks about grammar. I apologize, but it’s time we talk about it, rather than just pretend that we’re all okay with you thinking you suck at it and that you could never get better at it. Let’s see what we can do to change that.

Take a second to re-read the previous posts on grammar and sentence diagramming. Now let’s talk color basics:

  1. Subjects of sentences are red.
  2. Verbs are blue.
  3. Adjectives and modifiers are green.
  4. Any word that you can’t define as any of those stays black.

So, okay, we can all apply colors (or highlights) to words in our various writing programs. That’s lovely. But what’s the point? Why do it?

Because there’s not a lot of better ways to determine how someone writes. Understanding what the words are (what part of speech, what affiliation, what their function in the sentence is) is as important as understanding what the word is trying to do in the context of the paragraph. If you paint all the verbs red, then you should be able to go back and look at all the red text in your paragraph and look at each word and see if it’s the best verb for that part of the particular sentence, or if it’s a verb at all.

Also, understanding what words are what parts of speech can help you see how often someone (or you) sticks them into writing, which can often be a sign of boring construction or repetition, or a general sense of vagueness if a word get used again and again. Most often, that sort of abuse leads me to comment “This word isn’t doing what you think it does” because often a writer gets fixated on one word being the “perfect” word rather than a word of ideal utility – what you write is never going to be perfect, you can only write things that are clearest and accomplish the things you want them to.

Let’s look at a sample paragraph and color it so that we can draw some conclusions about the writer. I’m tempted to pull a famous paragraph from something, but that’s probably too on the nose. Let’s grab something from literature.

Here’s the first big  paragraph of Huxley’s Brave New World.

The enormous room on the ground floor faced towards the north. Cold for all the summer beyond the panes, for all the tropical heat of the room itself, a harsh thin light glared through the windows, hungrily seeking some draped lay figure, some pallid shape of academic goose-flesh, but finding only the glass and nickel and bleakly shining porcelain of a laboratory. Wintriness responded to wintriness. The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber. The light was frozen, dead, a ghost. Only from the yellow barrels of the microscopes did it borrow a certain rich and living substance, lying along the polished tubes like butter, streak after luscious streak in long recession down the work tables.

Now, this isn’t a perfect breakdown, because I highlighted the adjective/adverb phrases rather than the specific adjectives or adverbs, but you see my point, even in this simple breakdown, right?

  1. Aldous Huxley LOVES adjectives.
  2. The verbs are few and far between.
  3. The subject(s) of each sentence tries its best to be near a verb, but often, descriptors get between them.

Does this mean that Huxley is a bad writer, or that this is a bad paragraph? Nope. Don’t confuse “diagramming” as “proof of poor quality”. Diagramming doesn’t reveal quality, it reveals the components, then we have to take that additional step to determine what the words are doing in whatever place they’re in within each sentence.

Rather than call out every adjective, let’s grab just a couple:

  1. Why do we need to know the room is enormous? Because having that detail come before the others means that we can picture a big space, then fill it in with whatever’s talked about next.
  2. Does the light have to be harsh? Giving the light a descriptor helps us picture the shape of the light, and the way it’s falling all around the room.
  3. What’s up with the “academic”? By suggesting that the room COULD have an academic in it, we bring to our mental pictures whatever we think of when we talk about academics. The fact that we later find out that this is just an empty laboratory with metal and porcelain shifts the picture in our head, but doesn’t change it so radically that we’re now confused.
  4. Do the microscopes really need that much detail? The detail is about the light on the microscopes, because this paragraph is talking more about light and what light finds/falls on in the area. It’s sort of like describing a room based on what we see when we turn the lights on. By talking about what the light hits and how those things get hit by light, we can move that mental camera around this created room and get a sense of where things are.

All that, from a dude who LOVES adjectives.

Adjectives give us anchors to HOW we picture whatever’s getting described. They can move the psychic distance (that mental camera) by the order in which they are placed in the sentence, so that we can look at the order and see what’s important.

Verbs give us a sense of motion in text, carrying us from event to event because as one thing ends, the verb is our cue that another is beginning, and we should be taken there, along with the characters involved.  The order of the verbs is so often the order in which actions happen, and our sense of “rightness” can be easily upset by activities coming in an order we don’t expect (wait, why did he reload the gun before taking cover? and why did she just kick that guy in the face THEN talk to him?)

Put simply: We diagram so that we can check our own roadmap for our ideas. Don’t diagram for other people, they won’t benefit from it, unless this is school and this is an assignment. But breaking down your own work, even if you’re not wholly sure you’ve colored all the right words appropriately, can give you a sense even in the roughest of drafts of your writing habits. Maybe that kind of reflection will be good for you, and you’ll become aware that you skimp on adjectives, or you’re not clear on your verbs. Maybe though, that examination will go the other way, and you’ll freak yourself out and think your writing is worse, and then give up.

Know what to do when that happens? Get rid of the diagramming, not the writing. Whatever doesn’t serve you while you’re producing your work and honing your craft, jettison or hold off until a later stage. Edit after writing. Have people put eyes on things when you’ve got some ideas on the page, not just when they’re four bullet points on a napkin at Starbucks. If diagramming freaks you out, AFTER YOU’VE TRIED IT, don’t do it again. Yes, this is totally a case for “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it”.

So, try it. Diagram the hell out of things. Your favorite stories. Blog posts. Youtube comments. Captions on dirty photos on Tumblr. See if you can sharpen your sense of how you use the language to convey your imagination and ideas. It’s a tool, so practice with it. Then kick some ass with it.

Happy writing.

Where The Writer Talks About A Game He Played

I am a member of several gaming groups, some professional, some not. I guess there’s sort of this expectation that if you work in gaming, that you must play a lot of games, and while no one’s ever asked me, I guess I do spend a great deal of my time in the company of not-in-the-industry gamers playing a variety of things.

Now, the local-est of my groups, well they’re a different sort of people. For starters, it’s a two hour drive into the most Deliverance-and-meth parts of wild northwestern New Jersey. Many of them rather passionately believe that “Nobama” is “gonna take their guns any minute” but “not ’cause he’s black, just cause he’s a goddamned Socialist and we need to take back our government.” So yeah, you know, I hang out with that once a week.

They’re not a “flexible” gaming bunch. They prefer the traditional GM-ed experience, and enjoy a fantasy or sci fi game over a modern one. It took me a long time to move them out of the D&D to Dresden to Trail of Cthulhu to Night’s Black Agents to Fate Core. They’re still completely uncomfortable with a game of Fiasco, Dread, or Fate Accelerated. But we’ll get there.

So last night we played Timewatch, the forth-coming game from Kevin Kulp. I have a soft spot for Kevin, since he was my gateway into Night’s Black Agents, and sort of tangentially through that experience I’ve been lucky enough to do some writing for Pelgrane Press and he was kind enough to introduce me to the world’s most amazing character, Mace Hunter. Seriously, that’s an actual human’s actual name. Ask him sometime to tell the story, it’s great. Of course I love the character deeply, and have put him in nearly every system that isn’t Fate that I’ve ever worked on. He even has a hashtag #macehunterdoeseverything because Mace knows no fear and will embrace a challenge … and the ladies.

Right, so Kevin wrote Timewatch, a Gumshoe game where agents can travel through time and space and restore history and fight a variety of time-destroying enemies. It’s got all the action of Night’s Black Agents (the immediacy, the in-your-faceness) and the whodunit-whats-going-on of Trail of Cthulhu, only with time travel and paradoxes. I was super lucky to play it at Metatopia, and knew then I wanted to run it for my local group.

Confession: I like to think I’m a pretty good GM. I’m flexible, adaptable and crafty.

Confession #2: Timewatch tested me. For serious. Timewatch made me a better GM because it made my players step up and be better players.

See, my players come from a realm of competition and reward, where there’s an expectation that “if I killed the monster and she didn’t, I should get the reward and she shouldn’t” (and holy hell, you should hear our arguments about alignment). They don’t naturally work together, save for the couples: husbands work great with their spouses, and siblings work together, but crossing those lines barely happens. This is great when you need to turn players against one another, and less so when you need to get eight people to strategize together.

Timewatch’s primary conceit is that time travel is a thing, you can do it, you can go nearly anywhen and anywhere so long as you can justify it, and survive the stress of leaping around in time. Yes, you can go back in time to help yourself. Yes, you can go forward in time too.

My players are sharp, so immediately I expected them to say, “Well I go back in time and kill the antagonist when he’s young.” (We call this the Baby Hitler maneuver – they’ve done it before).  To avoid this, I stole from Doctor Who and created “Fixed Points In Time” where there are some moments that are so popular (Hitler’s life, apes walking upright, the Big Bang) that Timewatch has frozen them as is, meaning you cannot screw around with them. Thankfully, my players liked this idea, and I didn’t have to worry about them really colossally screwing with time. But I should have, because they did in spots where there were no Fixed Points.

I am a history nerd, and knowing that yesterday was historically significant, I didn’t want to be obvious and do anything Kennedy related. So after more research, I also found out that several centuries ago, Pope Urban II started the Crusades (more or less) on that date. So the Pope became at least one of my antagonists. Quick research on the Pope led me to general research on the Papacy and that lead to more research throughout the day. Eventually I had my plot pretty firm in my head, and brought the game to my players.

Timewatch is a game that, to my mind, rewards player knowledge and technology. I don’t mean player knowledge in the meta- sense of the word, I mean knowledge like what the player has learned outside of gaming. History. Dates. Relationships. Trivia. Timewatch is the chance to actually make use of the fact that people thought tomatoes were poisonous, that milkshakes first appeared in 1885 and had whiskey in them, and that FDR might be a balding white man in a wheelchair but he is not Professor X. I’ll recap some game highlights at the end of the post, but game specifics aside, this was the game where everyone put their phones, tablets and laptops on the table, and looked things up. This is the game where they did work together, at least to figure out who had to jump to what time to do what things to come back to the past and use them. Any game that equally rewards the 19 year old girl and her 52 year old father for figuring out that they could go back in time and each invent oil drilling technology AND Doctor Pepper is a game where you should be spending your time.

Sure, yes, my Night’s Black Agents campaign had a huge conspiracy in it, but the facts it drew upon only had about a century of time to manage, and even then it was only two or three time periods about a specific place. So, yeah, you can google what happened to place X in 1915 and then google what happened to it last week, but that’s not really taxing.  When you open the player to “you can do anything whenever”, you run the risk of paralysis, because freedom freaks people out, but here, because we had a goal (stop the badguys), they at least focused their plans on how to stop them.

We played for about 6 hours, and every single player asked where they could buy the game. This has only ever happened four other times: Technoir, Night’s Black Agents, Fate Core and Marvel Heroic. Timewatch is a game we’ll absolutely be playing more of.

Some highlights:

  • In order to persuade colonial soldiers to take her seriously, a character “invented” Doctor Pepper, in the mid-1700s. So that she could marry into the tribe and then years later be a legend and prophecy they could reference later when she had to return to the area two centuries later. Like you do.
  • Realizing that the plan involved building a clockwork and DC-current Death Star weapons platform out of the Moon (spoiler: Thomas Edison is a dick and there’s an Edison crater on the moon), one player went back in time to ask the Apollo 11 astronauts to bury a device on the Moon that would encase it in a forcefield …
  • Realizing that they needed to invent a forcefield, they went forward in time to ask someone how they’re made, then went back in time to ask that same guy to invent the process.
  • They accidentally introduced Edison to time travel, and then they were surprised that he used time travel to try and create the world to his liking.
  • Edison traveled back in time to kill Pope Urban II (the real guy) and replace him with a clockwork cyborg. The Pope-Borg later created The Papal Bull, a giant robotic bull. With flamethrowers.
  • Edison built a giant Jaeger-sized version of the Pope and demolished part of the Vatican. Because he’s a dick.
  • Rather than go into the future to get a “Jaeger deactivator”, the party decided they would also build their own Jaeger, and did: the giant robotic form of George Westinghouse. With shoulder missiles.
  • Edison narrowly escaped but not before coming back in time to rescue himself from capture and screaming, “I’ll get you next time, Timewatch!” before leaping into the timestream and vanishing …until next week.

We played it semi-serious until the third act when the giant robots showed up. It never got silly, but it was always lighter than other “get the clues, solve the puzzle” games. My players want more, so they’ll get more.

Timewatch will be out on Kickstarter soon, so expect me to say more about it then. For now, you can follow Timewatch and Kevin on Twitter.

Have a great weekend.

How To Build A Pitch: 1WHAT 1WHY 1WHO 1HOW Construction

So earlier today on Twitter, I played a round of “Dick Move/Good Move” about pitches, having heard many horror stories about people giving pitches and what (if any) response they got. To summarize:

GOODMOVE01 GOODMOVE02

 

This led to a huge response from people about how this has often gone terribly wrong for them, and that Company X or Company Y, specifically helmed by Persons A and B, respectively need to do things ranging from “die in a fire” to “quit thinking they’re the best and get over themselves” to “stop fucking around and do something meaningful” – which sort of tells you how passionate people get when they’re trying to get feet into any doors they see in front of them.

But then this happened.

GOODMOVE03

 

See, people who pitch things, you might not be doing it right, AND the people taking your pitch might not be doing their part right either. Let’s focus on that first part – pitch construction – today.

This is the 3W/1H method of pitch construction, and I’m not sure where I learned it, but I’ve been teaching for the last five years, and it seems to be doing people pretty well.

Specfically it’s 1 What 1Why 1 Who 1 How, and the order is variable.

But can we talk about Chris’ tweet a second? It’s aimed at games, because he’s a game biz guy, but you can easily swap “rules” for “plot” and then we’re talking fiction. Too quickly that can verge into “let me tell you about my character/plot/action scene and that’s not a pitch, that’s just you talking about what’s on paper. Pitches aren’t summaries or even just capsules of excitement. A pitch is a vehicle for DELIVERING  YOUR IDEA TO ANOTHER PERSON’S BRAIN OFTEN FOR THE INTENTION OF HAVING THAT PERSON BUY YOUR IDEA OR PRODUCT. So when you’re practicing your pitches, be they verbal or written, any detail that you cannot directly tie to the above bold concept LIKELY DOES NOT NEED TO STAY IN THE PITCH.

After I say something like that, people say, “Well then what do I put in a pitch?” We’ll get there. But lets hit a few main things we need to agree on first.

  1. Not every pitch is going to be a home run, slam dunk, (other sports metaphor), sure thing that will skyrocket you to success.
  2. The right pitch (not the “best” pitch) should be delivered to the right audience. You have to know that what you’re saying, you’re saying to the proper receptive audience.
  3. Pitches take practice.

Okay, onto constructing a pitch. I’m going to do my best to frame this pretty broadly, so the lines between book pitches and game pitches may end up a little blurred, but a lot of the skills and elements cross over.

Your pitch should be concise, and fit the length asked for. When people accept pitches, they usually provide a written word cap. Don’t exceed it. You also don’t always have to hit it on the nose either, but most definitely, don’t go over the boundaries stated. A lot of pitch-making is about how well you follow rules (even if sometimes that seems like you’re just jumping through bullshit hoops), so think of this an exercise in concision. When speaking, try and find the most evocative and clear words, because I usually tell people they have about forty-five seconds to catch my interest and hold my attention before I start thinking about other things.

Pitches aren’t summaries. A pitch is a lure, not a re-hash. A pitch should prompt me to want to take the time/energy to find more, not just nod a lot and say, “That’s nice, I’m really happy for you.” This is not to say you can’t have some elements of the thing you’re pitching IN the pitch, but I don’t need and frankly don’t want to hear you go through everything – that’s what the product is for.

A pitch should be what they ask for, to some extent. When you’re pitching, you’re going to get better results when you match what you’re saying with people who want to hear about it. If you’ve written a cookbook, does it makes sense to pitch it to a company that doesn’t do cookbooks? If you’ve made a game, why wouldn’t you take it to a designer? Yes, sure, okay, you can stretch and rationalize and say something like “Oh they’ll want to take a chance on me and my thing.” but hey, I’m sorry, they probably don’t, unless you’ve really pushed that .0001% of new and original take on a topic and they can’t easily name another product or book that already does what you’re proposing.

A pitch isn’t flattery, a pitch is about YOUR product. Yes, you might be nervous, starstruck, excited and eager to tell Big-Deal-Lady and her Big-Deal-Company about your project-you-want-to-make-into-your-0wn-big-deal because you really dig her work and love what she’s done with her hair, and you think she’s really kicking a lot of ass. She knows these things already. Not because she’s vain, but because she knows that people dig her work and that she changed her hair and that she’s kicking ass, that’s her job. She knows her job. What she doesn’t know is about your product. Tell her.

1 What

What’s The Product About? What Vibe Does It Give Off?  What Vibe Do YOU Give Off (As You Talk About The Product)?

The pitch should say, express or be intriguing about “What”, as in “What’s the product about?” So your book, the pitch shouldn’t tell me what goes on in each chapter or section specifically (“In chapter 3, Ashley buys eggs! In chapter 4 omelets abound!”) but should tell me what the product’s vibe is, what I can expect to see or feel when I read it and what is interesting in how you’ve elected to express these things. Rather than hear about Ashley’s egg buying and omelet making, I would want to hear about Ashley’s domestic struggles due to the fact that there’s a terrible ninja and pirate civil war that’s gripped her town and all she can do to maintain her sanity is produce omelets, since her brother died harvesting eggs. Or something. The What is the greatest point of contact between pitch giver and audience, since it’s this content that the audience presumably asked for.

But the What isn’t the only element, nor the dominant element (that’s why there’s only 1 serving in this recipe).

1 Why

Okay, there are two types of Why here. Each only gets one serving, but you only need one Why.

Why Should I Care About This Character/Her Experience? (The Fiction Why)

Interesting characters and their compelling possible arcs they may travel through your book are going to be far more enjoyable to read about than the boring dull characters who just seem to be doing stuff because they need stuff to do on paper. (This is also called filler or chuffah). If you start me with a good hook, something evocative and action-centric that will not just hold my attention but ask for more of it, I’ll want to invest the time/energy/emotion into seeing this character deliver on the promise of your pitch.

Why Should I Care About Your Product When/If Other Products Do The Same Thing? (The Game Why)

You’re making a ________ game? What’s different about yours, since I presume it’ll have _______________ and _____________ before you even detail it. Are you taking an existing trope or idea, and either invigorating it with new dimensions or exploiting it in a way where others are only perpetuating it? There’s a lot of games I could put on my shelf, why do I need yours? This is also your two-part reminder that your game doesn’t need to do EVERYTHING to answer these questions, nor do I need/want to hear about ALL the rules you’ve hacked/tweaked/lifted to help answer these questions – give me one or two and lure me in so that I want to read the rest. Note: If you’re new at this, falling back on your team approach or any strategies you have in place to expedite later steps in the production process are huge assets here.

1 Who

Who’s This Character On Whatever Arc They’re On?

(For Games, swap “This Character” for “The Player(s)”) A pitch needs to present the axis upon which everything else in your pitch and subsequent product revolves around. If you’re selling an alternative to duct tape, you better help relate this product to the lives of people who do or can use duct tape. If you’re pitching the novel, who’s your protagonist? If it’s a game, what kind of player are you appealing towards, and who can the players expect to inhabit as characters? There should be a sense of arc progression here as well, at least giving us some sense of a starting point (“Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world.”) as well as where they’re going, but not every step (“She took the midnight train going en-ee-where.”). Can you make it compelling? Serve me something carbonated, not flat. Serve me something with a palette of concepts, not just one heavily drenched idea.

1 How

Again there are two How possibilities, you only need one.

How Are You Going To Get This Product Off The Ground? (The Game Way)

It’s not enough to just write a game anymore. What do you plan to do with it once you’ve written all the words? Are you getting it edited? (By whom?) Will there be layout? (By whom?) Are you going to crowfund it, if so, what’s your plan like? What’s your expectation on audience engagement? Do you even have an audience? Are they built-in or is this a groundswell, and if this is a groundswell, how are you regularly stoking this fire? Is there art? (By whom?) Can any part of this be tagged as any “-ist” or “phobic”? Are you prepared for the time/energy investment and stress level of crowfunding management? Do you have stretch goals? What happens if you don’t fund?

How Are You Getting This Book Into Peoples’ Hands? (The Book Way)

It’s not enough to just write a book anymore and then the publisher fairies swoop in to handle the marketing and the book tour and all the bells and whistles. The money is gone. The fairies evaporated into glitter and rainbow sprinkles (jimmies). You, author, are going to need to handle and navigate social media. There’s no way around it if you want to have the audience you claim you do. Are you just lobbing text onto Amazon and hoping people get a whiff of your genius? Is it edited? How’s the cover looking? What’s the price point like? Are there print options? No Amazon or Smashwords? Okay, is this serialized on your blog? Is this a subscription model? Are you taking emails and shipping the books yourself? Are you selling them out of the back of your car in bowling alley parking lots next to the toothless lady who needs meth? Are you accessible on social media? Are you a jerk? How many paths have you built for people to travel to get your words in front of them?

Pitches are tough, but doable. A good method, a good strategy, can go a long way to making this easier.

PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE.

Happy writing.