Between the Lines Book Club: 3 Chefs Who Changed the Game

between the lines book club logoWelcome to Between the Lines! If you are in the Sacramento area, please join us at Arden Dimick Library, at 10:30AM on Saturday Sept. 26th. This month we are reading The Third Plate, by Chef Dan Barber. Barber belies that chefs have an opportunity to change the way people think about food. Here are 3 other chefs who did just that!

Alexis Soyer (1810 – 1958)

Soyer was a French chef who moved to England during the French Revolution. He worked for a number of celebrated restaurants, but his most significant achievements were as an inventor and a humanitarian. Sober invented a portable stove for use in the home and later invented the first camp stove for military use. Sober was a tireless advocate during the Crimean War for nutrition and safe food for the troops. He also sold cookbooks for charity and advocated on behalf of the Irish who were suffering through the potato famine. Soyer institute changes in how the government thinks about feeding troops and changes in how kitchens are stocked and organized that are still significant today.

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Chef Ettore Boiardi, also known as Chef Boyardee (1897 – 1895)

Boiardi is the chef who brought us raviolis in a can. He came to America from Italy when he was sixteen years old and worked his way up to become head chef for the Plaza Hotel and a chef for President Woodrow Wilson.  When he opened his own restaurant in New York, customers begged to take home his sauces, so he started packaging them in clean used milk bottles. In 1927 he began a business of selling canned pasta products and sauces. He was commended for helping provide rations to troops in WWI.

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Alice Waters (1944 – present day)

Waters is the owner and founder of Californian restaurant Chez Panisse. Waters has been a hugely successful promoter of organic food and local food. Most recently, she’s been working to make school lunches more healthy and to encourage schools to incorporate gardening into their curriculum. Since the early 2000’s, she’s been active in the Slow Food movement as well. Modern chefs and food writers cite her as having a huge influence on the way people today think about food. She moved the phrase ‘organic’ into the mainstream.

Alice Waters - 08 Mar 2002

Wednesday Videos: Raising Dion

WednesdayVideoHere’s a trailer for a new comic book series by Dennis Liu about a single mom raising a kid with super powers. First it made me laugh my head off. “Dion! You better not be naked out there again!” Then it made me cry. Then I bought the first issue of the comic – which you can also download for free! No pressure, but if this trailer doesn’t make you laugh out loud, catch your breath, and tear up at least a little, you’re dead to me.

An Interview With Brad Beaulieu, author of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

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Brad Beaulieu is the author of a new epic fantasy series, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. This series follows a woman, Ceda, as she uncovers a secret about the kings that threatens their rule. In this interview, Brad talks about writing female characters, what interested him in desert, as opposed to European-based fantasy, and what we can read while we wait for the next book to come out!

Tell us about your setting. It is refreshing to read fantasy that is not set in a version of Europe. What drew you to a desert setting and a Persian fantasy style?

I’d long wanted to scratch the itch to write a desert story. I can attribute this in part to liking the tales of the Arabian Nights (or One Thousand and One Nights), particularly the milieu. In fact, as my last series, The Lays of Anuskaya, progresses, you can see more and more of the Persian-influenced Aramahn coming into the picture, culminating in long stretches of desert scenes in the final book, The Flames of Shadam Khoreh.

So the desert was something I really wanted to explore, and I knew I wanted to steep the history of the city in a nomadic, Bedouin-like culture, but I’d probably (letting my geek flag fly here a bit) give the most credit to the Thieves’ World anthologies for the inspiration for the setting. I loved the city of Sanctuary when I first started reading the anthologies in high school. I loved that it was the “armpit of the empire,” that it was a meeting point of old and new as the Rankan Empire drove into Ilsigi territory, that there were pantheons of gods vying for power, and in fact commingling even as they fought. Above all, I loved the vastness of Sanctuary and the hidden wonders it contained.

The feel of that is what I wanted to explore with Sharakhai. Sharakhai is in some ways a mere city state. But in effect it controls trade throughout a massive desert bordered by four powerful kingdoms, and because it controls trade, it has amassed incredible wealth and power. It hasn’t done so without making enemies along the way, however. The twelve immortal kings of Sharakhai are hated by many. And the roots of the story are buried deeply in that hatred.

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Why did you choose a woman as your protagonist? Was it challenging to write from her point of view? What advice would you give authors who struggle with writing characters of other genders and/or races?

It’s always difficult to pinpoint exactly why characters turned out like they did. But I can say this. I grew up in a somewhat female-dominated household. This not to minimize my dad’s influence. He has played and still plays a big part in my life. But he was the breadwinner in the family, and so it’s just a simple truth that I saw my mother and twin sisters (one year older than me) more. My mom was very caring and understanding and patient (perhaps more than I had a right to expect). I’m not afraid to admit that my sisters and I fought quite a bit, but we loved each other a lot too. So while it wasn’t a conscious thing on my part, I know that they played a role in the formation of Çeda’s character and her mother’s as well.

I didn’t find it particularly difficult to write about Çeda. And I think the reason why is linked to the advice I would give young authors struggling with writing certain characters (whether it’s because they’re a different race, sex, religion, or what have you). To me it boils down to knowing them well enough to make them real. We all have stereotypes in our heads for how a segment of our society acts. It’s inevitable. It’s how humans work. But it’s up to you as the writer to do the hard work of understanding the social strata of your world more deeply, and then to make individuals out of the characters that inhabit it. It’s only by knowing the world and the characters intimately that they move beyond stereotypes and start to become real people with a life and breath of their own.

I often find that when a character feels dull to me, it’s because I haven’t dug deep enough, explored enough. That’s when I stop and flesh things out. I figure out who they really are by giving them real experiences (backstory), which in turn answers some key questions. It tells me about their hopes, their desires, their fears. Inevitably I find that doing that work brightens the character for me, and I can then return and inhabit them more fully, which in turn lets me (one hopes) tell their true tale.

This is the first book in an epic fantasy series. Do you know how many book will be in the series? Do you know how it ends? Can your fans bribe you to reveal the ending on a person-by-person basis, and if so, do you prefer food, precious stones, or rare books as currency?

I’m planning on it being a six-book series. As for how the story goes, I can say this: I don’t know all of the details, but I know the main purpose of each book.

I was on a panel at Gen Con a few years back and Scott Lynch was talking about series that tell larger tales, but where each book in the series takes on a different aspect of it. Scott used the example of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, but I’ll use Scott’s own Gentlemen Bastards series, which explores different aspects of thievery. In The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott has the eponymous Locke crafting a grand heist, a scam to top all scams. In the second book, Red Seas Under Red Skies, he explores piracy. In the third book, he explores politics and the cheating and scamming that therein lies. In his forthcoming fourth book, The Thorn of Emberlain, it looks to be espionage.

I really loved that take on a series when I heard him talk about it, and it was timely, because I was in the middle of writing Twelve Kings. I decided that I was going to do the same thing, tackle a different aspect of life in the desert with each book. In the first, we see much of what life is like on the streets of the Amber City. In the second book (without getting too spoilery), things move closer to the Kings. In the third book, things may drift toward the desert. In this way, I hope to keep the story fresh, and to reinvent Çeda to a degree from one book to the next.

I’m nearing the end of the second book now, and things are going mostly to plan. As for how much I’ll reveal? Hmm. I could be coerced, but it would take some mighty fine chocolate to do it…

What other works of fantasy would you recommend for readers who love your book and need something to read between installments? 

I enjoyed my time in the pages of Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed. It was a very interesting take in this age of, ahem, doorstop fantasies to go with a more svelte, sword-and-sorcery approach. The interplay between the old, cantankerous Doctor Adoulla Makhslood and his younger, more energetic companions, Raseed and Zamia, was great. And I loved the way he painted the city of Dhamsawaat. It was a rich place, and one brimming with a history and culture all its own.

By the way, if any of your readers are curious to learn more about Saladin and his work, I run a podcast with my partner in crime, Gregory A. Wilson, called Speculate! We do short series of shows called triptychs, in which we review a work in one episode, interview the author in a second, and discuss writing technique based on the work in a third. You can find Saladin’s episodes here: Review of Throne of the Crescent MoonInterview with SaladinWriting Technique show.

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If readers want another Arab-esque tale, I can also recommend Howard Andrew Jones’ The Desert of Souls. The thing that attracted to Howard’s debut novel was the setting (8th century Baghdad). But I also loved the notion of having a mash-up of sorts with a Sherlock Holmes sort of character in Dabir, along with his trusty comrade, Captain Asim, the Watson to Dabir’s Holmes. It was a fun combination of ideas, but don’t think that this semi-historical fantasy is not its own tale. It is. And Howard really brings Baghdad to life through his meticulous research of the period.

One last set of books I’ll mention is C.J. Cherryh’s The Faded Sun trilogy. It was my first exposure to a spec-fictional world based on our own Arabic cultures, and I loved it. I devoured these books, a science fictional tale that spoke to cultural identity, individuality, sacrificing for the common good. It’s one of the tales that spurred me, at least in part, to tackle a story set in a vast desert with a massive city at its center.

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As a small aside, there are some books where the artwork really nails the feel of the book. That was true for the gorgeous pieces of art that went with the individual books, especially the one by Michael Whelan for Kutath (re-used for the trilogy as pictured above). I remember flipping to that cover often, just imagining the world, what it would be like to live there, to meet those people.

Book Review: 5 Ways That the Skyrider Series Blew My Mind

51ECW7DPS8L._AC_UL320_SR190,320_The Skyrider series is a series by Melisa Michaels. Prior to writing this review, I was convinced that the only two people ever to have read the series are myself and the friend who loaned my the books back in high school. Imagine my delight to learn that Michaels has her own TV Tropes page and won a Locus Award in 1986. I’m not the only fan out there! To me, my sisters!

Michael has written several series and stand-alone books, but the one that won my heart was the Skyrider series, which consists of Skirmish, First Battle, Last War, Pirate Prince, and Floater Factor. In the future, Earth has colonies in the Asteroid Belt. Most people in the Belt are miners or pilots. Melacha, AKA Skyrider, is the most famous pilot of them all. I avoids close attachments to people ever since her lover died, but she can’t avoid flying with  hot-shot pilot Jamin and getting to know his kid, Colin. As the books progress, Melacha gets drawn deeper and deeper into the conflict between Earth and the Colonies and deeper into the problems of Jamin and Colin.

I discovered these books in ninth grade and they had a huge influence on me. Here’s how these books blew my mind:

The Heroine Is Not Your Sex Toy

All the books except Pirate Prince are told from the point of view of Melacha. Melacha is, essentially, Han Solo. She was the first female character I encountered who could even come close to that description. I adored the fact that she enjoyed sex but did not crave romance, was decent with kids but did not want any herself, the fact that she is not presented in a romantic or sexual light, and the fact that she is absolutely the protagonist – not a stand-in, not a trophy, not a side kick, not a sexual object.

The Heroine is Always Competent

She’s a famously amazing pilot. She’s good at fighting hand-to-hand. She’s also a good planner, although she sometimes fails to consider subtle plans if she thinks she can just blast her way out of something. She likes to save face, which can be incredibly irritating yet totally consistent with her character. Oh, and by the way – Melacha is mistrusted because in a time rife with conflict between the settlers of the asteroid belt and the people who still live on Earth, Melacha has ties to both sides. She’s not mistrusted because she’s female. Nobody cares.

The Snark is Strong With This One.

Melacha is the Queen of Snark but she’s not alone in her snarkdom. Everybody in this series is snarky. Even the sweet, innocent kid has moments of snark. I love snark, and I’m especially fond of Melacha’s go-to response to award questions: “‘Shut up,’ I explained,” or, alternatively, “‘Never mind,’ I explained.”

The Flight Scenes are So Shiny and Chrome

Gorgeous fight scenes. Incredible. The cover art is great, too. You’ve no idea how desperately this series made me long for a Sunfish of my very own.

Melacha Gets Paid.

Melacha drives Jamin crazy because she won’t do anything for free – but with her money she tends to buy things like medication and supplies for colonists. She insists that she’s not a do-gooder, and she certainly keep a lot of money around for herself – but it’s amazing how much gets spread around to people who really need it. Meanwhile, it’s nice to see a female character who isn’t afraid to talk about money or to demand to be paid what’s she’s worth, which is a lot.

A final note: I also love the world-building and the build-up of conflict in the series. The colonies are made of people from all over Earth. They speak Company English, their native languages, a kind of grammatically mangled Company English, and pidgin, also known simply as ‘Rock’. When people use one of these variants, it’s clear that this is a cultural and contextual choice, not a sign of illiteracy or ignorance. Most of the story is told in standard English, which is too bad, because I’d love to read a whole book written in this mangled Company English, as laid out by a minor but memorable character of Romany and Asian descent:

He looked prim. “Usually what people do, what polite people do, when for some reason if they want to talk about those so-called racial characteristics such as what you call slant-eyes, usually what they say is they say ‘Oriental.'”

And I’d love more pidgin dialogue, as in this conversation between Melacha and an older miner:

“W’at you t’ink? Eaters make war already?”

“Da kine wen take all our rocks, hey, risen, maybe? All Belters down Home Base come, t’row one party, so des ka? Maybe say who knees rock, yeah? Who knees? I one rock need, ‘ass who. All my family knees one rock already. Da kine wen take, you be one war!”

My Schedule for Con-Volution!

So excited to be returning to Con-volution this year! This convention has become a home away from home for me. I made os many friends the first year I attended that now I can’t imagine missing it, whether I attend as a guest or as a visitor!

Happily, I am a guest again this year and that means PANELS. My light schedule means I’ll also be attending the Diplomat’s Ball and the Masquerade, and I’m pretty sure I heard a rumor about karaoke. Here’s my list of panels:

Legacy of Lovecraft

Friday 14:00 – 15:15, Harbor B (Hyatt Regency SFO)

Usher in October with this panel discussion of the legacy of H.P. Lovecraft. Can Cthulhu really be cuddly? Will we ever get that Mountains of Madness movie we keep waiting for? Why has Lovecraft stayed so compelling through the years? Come for scary stories and great conversation!
Carrie Sessarego (M), AE Marling, Matt Marovich, Chuck Serface

Women of Marvel

Friday 15:30 – 16:45, Oak (Hyatt Regency SFO)

From Sue Storm to Gamora, the women of Marvel have been complex and controversial. Whether they are in the lead or supporting characters, Marvel women have a range of personalities and goals that defy simple categorization. Let’s talk about our favorite Marvel women and why we love them!
Carrie Sessarego (M), Tyler Hayes, Sumiko Saulson, Linda Kay Silva, Ms Brianna Wu

Secret Panel

Saturday 11:30 – 12:45, Harbor B (Hyatt Regency SFO

)If we told you, it wouldn’t be a secret, now would it?
Steve Libbey, Matt Marovich, Steven Mix, M Christian, Jennifer Nestojko, Emerian Rich, Sumiko Saulson, Linda Kay Silva, Frank Wu, Carrie Sessarego

Non-Super Hero Comics

Comics and graphic novels that go beyond the superhero.

Saturday 13:00 – 14:15, Pine (Hyatt Regency SFO)Christopher Erickson (M), Branwyn Bigglestone, Carrie Sessarego, Ms. Amy Sterling Casil, Landry Walker

Liar’s Panel

Saturday 21:30 – 22:45, SandPebble C (Hyatt Regency SFO)”I know you know that I’m not telling the truth…” Our panelists will tell you anything! Anything at all! Believing it is at your own peril.

Jon Del Arroz (M), M. Todd Gallowglas, Tyler King, Steven Mix, Susie Rodriguez, Carrie Sessarego

Women Who Rarely Make History

Sunday 14:30 – 15:45, Sumac (Hyatt Regency SF)
Sumiko Saulson (M), Kyle Aisteach, Carrie Sessarego, Ms. Amy Sterling Casil
Con-volution is at the Hyatt SFO in Burlingame, California, Oct 2 – 4, 2015. See you there!

Between the Lines Book Club: Dan Barber talks about Sustainable Eating

Tbetween the lines book club logohis month in Book Club we are talking about The Third Plate by Dan Barber. Barber is an upscale chef in New York, and he believes that the trends set in more fashionable cuisine trickle down to set the food trends in grocery stores and on people’s tables. Barber is fascinated with the idea that sustainable food is also often tastier and healthier.

Barber is the chef and owner of the Michelin Star Rated restaurant Blue Hill. There are actually two Blue Hills, both owned by Barber – one in Manhattan and one at Stone Farms. People wanting a more casual experience can stop by Stone Hill’s ‘Cafe and Grain Bar’. This blogger feels that we have reached peak hipster-ism with the phrases “Cafe and Grain Bar” and “Farm fresh lattes.” But it can’t be denied that the jam looks fantastic. He was appointed by President Obama to work on the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition. He’s received multiple awards from the James Beard Foundation, including Top Chef in America in 2009.

Two of Barber’s passion projects are his book, The Third Plate, which took him ten years to write, and his pop-up restaurant, which took over Blue Hill in Spring 2015. The pop-up was called WastED, and it served food that would normally be thrown out in a high-end restaurant for reasons of style and appearance (not food that was rotten). In this mini-restaurant, Barber wanted to make a point the chefs and home cooks have always used things like bruised fruits and broken clams, but they might not tell you so. Barber wants to make reducing food waste (and resource waste as he is interested in sustainable gardening and animal husbandry) as stylish as anything else in a restaurant. Dishes included fried skate ray cartilage with a dipping sauce infused with whitefish heads and charred pineapple core with lime ice cream. Want to see the menu?

Barber has done tons of interviews. Here’s one where he talks about WastED, writing the book, and that time he got fired because he couldn’t make decent bread, from eater.com

Here’s his TED talk about how to raise sustainable seafood:

And here his is talking about the possibility of cruelty-free foie gras:

Wednesday Videos: Stephen Colbert and Neil DeGrasse Talk Pluto

WednesdayVideoMy husband and I had a super romantic date and we spent a large percentage of it having a passionate debate about Pluto. I just don’t know about us. Anyway, here’s Stephen Colbert and Neil DeGrasse Tyson talking Pluto. These guys are just the best. But Neil is wrong – I know he’s brilliant but PLUTO IS A PLANET. You can’t take the sky from me, dude!