Book Review: AD ASTRA: the 50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook

AdAstraCookbookI do not like to cook but I sure do love reading cookbooks. My latest treasure is the quirky, funny, delightfully weird AD ASTRA cookbook from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), edited by Cat Rambo and Fran Wilde. This book of recipes by speculative fiction authors is hilarious in several senses and has some recipes I might just use.

Here’s what I find so wonderfully funny about this cookbook – there are no “What to make for your family during the week” type recipes (although most of the potluck dishes would work for that). Apparently, writers do the following things:

  1. We eat the fastest food we can possibly come up with, often while weeping into our keyboards, while trying to meet a deadline – hence an entire section called “Tight on Time or Budget?”
  2. We drink, hence the chapter “Beverages”.
  3. We go to parties, hence all the rest of the book (“Savory Snacks”, “Sweet Snacks and Desserts”, “Brunches,” and “Potluck Dinners”).

I cannot argue with this assessment of a writer’s dietary needs (I’m particularly intrigues by Doom Cookies, submitted by Steven Straus, which combines graham cracker crumbs, chocolate, condensed milk, and coffee grounds). Writers are subject to sudden attacks of joy and despair as the writing ebbs and flows and pieces get picked up or rejected, so there’s a remarkable number of recipes for things like an individual serving of cake in a coffee mug (“Celebrations for One: Writer’s Break Sweets in a Mug” by Ricia Mainhardt). The masterpiece here might be “Toasted Cake” from Tina Connolly, who suggests that you bake a cake, frost one piece, eat it, and each day pop a new, individual piece in the toaster oven for a couple of minutes and then frost it – you get gooey drippy warm frosted cake that doesn’t taste stale.

I’m not sure how many things I’ll actually make from this cookbook but I sure had fun reading it. I got a kick from Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s faintly bitter recipe for tuna salad (“If you’re on a diet, it’s healthy, filling, and painless – and if’s you’re not on a diet, why are you eating tuna salad?”). Connie Willis offers a recipe for Mars Colony Cake, also called Bash Cake. Jane Yolen, who is also a fan of Bash Cake, offers a partial list of occasions in which she had to make it, plus a limerick:

As SFWA president for two years, I had plenty of times to need to bake this cake. There was the John Shirley/Scott Card bash cake. There was the Blue Jay books bash cake. There was the Nebula controversies (redux) bash cake. There was the who-hung-up-on-me-this-time bash cake.

And here’s the limerick:

There once was a writer of trash

Whose insides were knots, kinks, and mash.

So I taught him to make

A Delectable cake

Now instead of an ulcer, there’s Bash!

This cookbook also features cartoons by Ursula Vernon.

As general, all-purpose cookbooks go, this one is not the best, but as a cookbook for writers it’s a hoot and also quite useful since I do go to a lot of potlucks and there’s only so many times I can bring my crockpot Butternut Squash Winter Stew before they are on to me. I loved seeing recipes from all over the world and hearing the stories about how people got the recipe from a friend or from many generations of family members. For instance, Elaine Issak’s “Alien Scones”, so very aptly named, got their name by accident because her mother made a cookbook for the family, ran it through spellcheck, and didn’t notice that spellcheck replaced “Elaine” with “Alien”. It’s also a fun cookbook if you are familiar with any of the authors – whether you admire the work or whether you are lucky enough to have met them in person. It’s a bit of an in-joke cookbook, but I had a good time reading it and I am planning to make David Levine and Kate Yule’s “Country Pumpkin Chicken Chowder” just as soon as we get fall weather in California (so…not soon).

A final note, I fear the cookbook may deeply offend members of the alien and elf community. A section at the back gives directions on how to cook elf (step one is “Kill an elf”) and how to stew an alien “Do not, under any circumstances, use broccoli…brocoli is just awful in stew.” So there you go – no broccoli for you.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: AD ASTRA: the 50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook

  1. shsilver says:

    I tested several of the recipes before publication (including Elaine’s scone recipe, which is how my daughter learned that she liked scones). I highly recommend Bud Sparhawk’s contribution.

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