Sunday, June 26, 2016

Reading for the Hugo awards, part 3: novelettes

"And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead" by Brooke Bolander: I think I actually tried to read this during the nominating process. It's cyberpunk, so it should be right up my alley, but something about the story just wasn't speaking to me. I pushed myself through it this time. The language gets a lot cooler about 1/3 of the way in, and the ending wraps things up nicely. A very strong story.

"Folding Beijing" by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu: really cool concept. Story goes unexpected places. Ultimately, I found it really depressing, but that kind of emotional pull means it was a good tale.

"Obits" by Stephen King: it will surprise exactly nobody that Stephen King can write the heck out of a story. This is a nice little creepy tale, with the expected unexpected consequences to having power, and a surprisingly humane ending.

"What Price Humanity?" by David VanDyke (in There Will Be War Volume X): A nice slow burn for the first 3/4 of the story. The foreshadowing was too heavy and the last couple pages were a ridiculous let-down... there was definitely a better way to end this story than just chopping it off like that! I was impressed while I was reading it, but afterward, I realized that I was irresistibly reminded of  "The Cookie Monster" by Vernor Vinge, which did the same concept better and a dozen years ago.

"Flashpoint: Titan" by CHEAH Kai Wai (in There Will Be War Volume X): A huge space battle followed by a huge infodump followed by another huge space battle. There's absolutely no character development. There's more than a whiff of racism: it's Japanese + Americans vs. Chinese, with the latter as the bad guys. There's nothing very new here, either in terms of science or plot.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Reading for the Hugo Awards, part 2: short story category

"Cat Pictures Please" by Naomi Kritzer: not quite what I consider Hugo-quality (I didn't nominate it, which means that I found five stories I liked better), but a good short story and certainly one that will not embarrass the Hugo award process. Edited to add: this just won the Locus Award, so clearly many people like this story even more than I do.

"Asymetrical Warfare" by S. R. Algernon: great SF concept, but far too short. I really wish the author had gone for a longer take on this, because this was easily my favorite concept of the five. But there just isn't enough to the actual story for me to list it first.

"Space Raptor Butt Invasion" by Chuck Tingle: this started out as a cool idea (solo astronaut on a distant planet, watching over the terraforming machines) but then took a turn for the weird with the gay dinosaur dom showing up and seducing our hero.

"Seven Kill Tiger" by Charles Shao: wow, the sheer level of racism being described by various characters in this story is appalling. The execution of the story wasn't bad, but also wasn't particularly stunning. As a science fiction idea, this is neither original nor innovative. The story itself had almost no tension, and neither of the main characters was memorable nor compelling.

"If You Were an Award, my Love" by Juan Tabo and S. Harris, wasn't included in the voter package, but I found it online. It's pretty clearly a fanfic of the very lovely and famous (infamous?) short story by Rachel Swirsky. Another reviewer has pointed out that this might be the first time a piece of fanfic got nominated for the Hugo... no idea if that's actually correct. Unfortunately, the writing on this was clunky, and required so much back-story that I gave up trying to decipher it.

Stories listed in the order I plan to vote them, although I may change my mind with further thought.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Reading for the Hugo Awards, part 1

I finally got my Hugo voting packet in the mail, so it's time to start keeping track of what I like, what I hate, and what I still need to read/view.

Novels: I've already read (and nominated! go me!) three of the five: The Fifth Season, Uprooted, and Ancillary Mercy. My voting currently would also go in that order. I now have Seveneves and will try to get The Aeronauts Windlass from the library, although I would not balk at paying paperback prices for it if necessary. Updated to add: comes out in paperback on July 5th.

Novellas: Of the five, I have only read Penric's Demon. It was great and I nominated it. I own Binti and The Builders but haven't read them yet. I would love to read Slow Bullets but frankly balked at the price - I am NOT paying novel prices for a novella, no matter how good. If it goes on sale, I will acquire it. My husband has a copy of Perfect State, so I shall borrow his phone some evening and read it.

Novelettes: I haven't read any of them yet. That will nicely fill up an afternoon.

Short Story: I read, and enjoyed, "Cat Pictures Please". I haven't read the other four, and they don't look very promising to me. Still, I don't feel right about not giving each one a chance. Fortunately... short story... not a huge time investment. I hope.

Best Related Work: I haven't read, or even heard about, any of these books. I gather that at least excerpts of all are available in the voter package, so I shall look at them and hope they do better than their titles imply.

Best Graphic Story: I read, and nominated, Sandman: Overture. I see that two others are in the packet, and two are not. Grrr.... I shall have to call around my friends to see if anyone has a copy and will let me borrow it.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): I've watched, and enjoyed, all five of these. Mad Max: Fury Road is definitely my first choice. I have to think about the other four.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): I've seen none of these. I'll have to see what's available on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Best Professional Editor (Short Form): I'm familiar with all the names, but will have to look over their included work to make a final ranking.

Best Professional Editor (Long Form): Once again, all the names are familiar. I have very little sense of how to judge an editor of a book, so I'll be doing some reading online to see how more experienced voters analyze these works. The lack of information from Toni Weisskopf probably means that she's going to get rated last, unless I'm willing to do some serious digging online.

Best Professional Artist: Not one of these names is ringing a bell, so I'll have to hope for included material, or a strong presence online.

Best Semiprozine: I regular read, and enjoy, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny Magazine, and Strange Horizons. I haven't read Daily Science Fiction or Sci Phi Journal  but both are available online, so I'm looking forward to catching up.

Best Fanzine: I regularly read File 770. I've heard bad things about Castalia House Blog but the first three entries I just read were quite entertaining. I shall have to read more. I used to read Tangent Online but drifted away from it; I no longer recall why and will gladly go look at it again. Lady Business and Subversive SF don't ring a bell, but once again... easily available... voting responsibilities... plenty of free time... will read.

Best Fancast: I don't generally do podcasts. I will try to remedy that situation.

Best Fan Writer: I'm a big fan of Mike Glyer and I sometimes read Jeffro Johnson. I've heard the other names go by before.

Best Fan Artist: I've got no familiarity with this category. Four of the five submitted sample work in the voter packet.

The John W. Campbell Award (not a Hugo): I nominated both Alyssa Wong and Andy Weir for this category, and I'm delighted to see that they made it. I've heard of Pierce Brown, author of the Red Rising trilogy, but haven't read his books. Neither Sebastien de Castell nor Brian Niemeier is ringing a bell right now, but I see that they both were kind enough to include samples.

Updated to add: I have carefully avoided discussion of the "Rapid Puppies/Sad Puppies" controversy. However, a good summary of nomination patterns is provided here

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ten on Tuesday: 10 things on this summer's bucket list

I'm a school teacher, so having a bucket list for the summer really means accomplishing all the things I don't have time to do during the school year. That involves a lot of reading, movie- and TV-watching, cooking, knitting, etc. I also plan to watch as many hours of the Olympics as humanly possible...

Books I want to read:
1) Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal
2) Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
3) The God Stalker Chronicles by P C Hodgell
4) The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
5) The Obelisk Gate by N K Jemisin
6) Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace
7) Fire Bound by Christine Feehan
8) The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
9) Lamentation by Ken Scholes
10) Black Wine by Candace Dorsey

Movies I want to see:
1) Star Trek Beyond
2) Independence Day: Resurgence
3) Southside with You
4) Cafe Society
5) Suicide Squad
6) Finding Dory
7) Now You See Me 2
8) Florence Foster Jenkins
9) Ice Age: Collision Course
10) Jason Bourne

Recipes I want to try:
1) Fish Cakes with Herbs and Chilies by the NYT
2) Lamb Wellington by Yotam Ottolenghi
3) Dal by Smitten Kitchen
4) Limeade by Serious Eats
5) Lasagna Soup by A Farm Girls Dabbles
6) Baked Chicken and Leek in Turmeric Coconut Sauce by She Simmers
7) Whole Wheat Milk Bread by Two Red Bowls
8) Fresh Rice Noodles by Grace Young
9) Shanghai Soup Dumplings by Epicurious
10) Ceremonial "Pigeon" Pie by Bon Appetit

TV shows I hope to watch:
1) the Olympics
2) Mentalist (yes, the TiVo has some old stuff on it)
3) Quantico
4) NCIS New Orleans
5) The Expanse
6) The Magicians
7) Crossing Lines
8) Scream Queens
9) Luther (late to the party and thank you Netflix)
10) Person of Interest

And, of course, I will spend tons of time with this little guy:

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Recipe Round-up (May and early June)

I made a few great things recently (and a bunch of mediocre things.) Being on summer hols really does help with giving me the time to tackle more complex recipes...

Shortcut Moussaka from the NYT: fairly easy and very delicious

Grilled Shrimp by Kenji from Serious Eats: a little extra work but an excellent outcome. These were also great stuffed into homemade sushi the next day

Lychee Martini from Food Network: delicious way to use up the juice in the can after you've used the lychees

Best Vegetarian Chili from Serious Eats: a huge hit with my guests but it's probably a good thing I only used half the chilies

Smokey Eggplant Dip from Smitten Kitchen: a little less intense than true baba ghanoush, and amazingly delicious

Almond Jello from Chew Out Loud: I've made it so often that I've now started to modify the recipe, including more milk. It's a childhood favorite that still delights.

Cheese Blintzes with Roasted Strawberries from King Arthur Flour: Time consuming but so good... so good...

Oatmeal with an Egg from the Lean Green Bean: a nice way to add protein to your breakfast

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Two visits to Vito's

Vito's has two branches in my part of CT: Vito's by the Park, in Hartford, and Vito's by the Water, in Windsor. I recently had the opportunity to eat at both places and I liked them enough to sit down and write a review.

Vito's by the Park is on a major street in Hartford, just a few blocks from The Bushnell. There's construction going on at a neighboring intersection, which makes parking a bit tricky. Fortunately my friend had been there before and guided us to convenient on-street parking at Pearl Street. Five of us went to dinner on a Tuesday night, before catching "Matilda" at the Bushnell. Nobody had an appetizer. The bread basket was really good: it had focaccia and plain rolls served with a sundried tomato spread.

I ordered the house special, which is a Chocolate Truffle Pappardelle Bolognese made with chocolate truffle pasta. The pasta was a dark brown and paired perfectly with a meaty red sauce. On top was a generous scoop of ricotta and a small heap of gremolata. I adored it and everyone else who tried it also though it was impressive.

My friends ordered the lobster ravioli (very good), the osso bucco (out of this world), the spaghetti carbonara (also very good), and a gluten-free pizza with shrimp and bacon (she said it was fabulous). We then had too much time before the show started, so we split a chocolate lava cake, a tiramisu, and a gluten-free chocolate cake, all of which were excellent.

Yesterday we took our family to Vito's by the Water. Recommendations are absolutely required for the weekend: the bar was heaving at 5pm and half the tables were already filled. By the time we left at 6:20, the place was nearly full. If you call early enough you can request a table with a view. We didn't get a table right by the window, but were still able to appreciate the water, the sunlight, and the pair of geese swimming past us.

They served the same bread basket with a similar but not quite identical spread: the waitress said that this one had anchovies, feta, and tomato paste. We got the Flatbread of the Day, which was described as "Caprese style" - in our opinion it had far too many onions and not enough mozzerella, but the frisee on the side was a big hit.

I had the same dish as last time. I thought the execution was slightly better the second time: the pasta was truly al dente and the ricotta scoop was more generous. The rest of the party had the hangar steak (very good), the haddock special over corn and sweet pea risotto (well executed but slightly too salty), the classic carbonara (a huge hit), and the porchetta (another huge hit). Service was a little slow but our waitress was a gem and offered a second bread basket to keep us going. We had to leave early - I had work - so we didn't linger for dessert.

Would we go back? Absolutely! I was impressed by how well the staff handled our party and another party that had very small children. The food was done well and reasonably priced. (Most entrees $18-28, specials slightly more.)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Millwrights: a review in 2 parts

Millwrights is rated "the best restaurant in CT" and is within an hour's drive of us. We first went there in early September, and again last week.

The September visit was on a Friday night and the place was packed. Reservations definitely required! We went for the tasting menu + wine pairing (about $75 per person for the food and $45 per person for the wine; we split a single serving of wine.) The whole experience was almost 3 hours long, but so beautifully coordinated that it didn't feel like a drag. The food ranged from really good to amazing, and of course I took discreet notes...

1) Oyster on the half-shell, with some kind of flavored vinegar, and gougeres (little puffed buns) on the side

2) Crostini with marinated heirloom tomatoes over house-made ricotta

3) Fluke ceviche

4a) Cornbread with herb butter

4b) Tapioca pudding with the flavors of clam chowder

5) Seared scallops

6) Seared foie gras over toasted brown bread with plum sauce

7) Stuffed quail with thyme cream sauce and roast carrots

8) A pair of desserts that I neglected to write down, although I believe one was akin to a brownie and the other was some sort of pastry with fruit.

The March visit was mid-week. We had a reservation, but at 6pm only one other table was filled. By 8pm, when we left, it was well on the way to being full, but still wasn't packed. We also noticed that many of the other tables were having the tasting menu, just like us! We didn't do the wine pairing on this visit but did share a really good mixed drink (the Fig Ole Biddies) and then had cappuccino with dessert. The whole experience was a bit under 2 hours, probably because the place wasn't as crowded.

1) Oyster with ginger and pink peppercorn mignonette: I love raw oysters but this combo wasn't quite doing it for me. Probably my least favorite course of the evening. The gougeres that accompanied them were great!

2) Roasted heirloom carrot with farro, "farro milk", and mint yogurt sauce: this dish was a revelation. We nearly licked our plates in our efforts to get every last bit of flavor. Definitely one of my favorite courses. It's on the regular menu and I would certainly order this if I wasn't doing the tasting menu.

3) Scallop crudo with lemon oil and watercress: another revelation. DH doesn't even like seafood and he enjoyed this one. I adored it. Another favorite. It's not on their regular menu at the moment and I really hope it makes an appearance there; I would order this again.

4a) Cornbread (or sourdough bread, for me) with black sesame butter: fantastic! The butter had black sesame seeds, honey, and sea salt all worked into it.

4b) Tapioca pudding with all the flavors of clam chowder: we'd had this last time and thus knew what to expect. I thought it was delicious but lacked the charm of novelty this time.

5) Grilled foie gras over toasted brown bread with lightly pickled vegetables: I'm not a huge fan of foie gras but this was perfectly cooked. The vegetables were a nice contrast to the richness of the meat.

6) Duck breast with sunchokes, celery, peanuts, and a rice dumpling: I don't know how they got the duck that perfectly moist and tender, but it was amazing. The accompaniments sound odd, but they actually worked really well with the duck.

7) Grilled fish (I think it was swordfish, but I'm no longer certain... a thin filet with the skin on) with grilled fennel and parsnip puree. This was my second-least-favorite dish, because the fish seemed overcooked. The vegetables were great, as always.

8a) Blood orange sorbet: a lovely palette cleanser while they made our coffee.

8b) Hazelnut Bombe: a chocolate shell resting on a flourless chocolate cake, filled with hazelnut mousse. Absolutely amazing and another one of my favorites.

(I hated the cappuccino. The less said, the better.)

So would we go back? Absolutely! The food and the service were both top-notch. Reservations recommended at any time, and required for weekends.