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In Plain Sight

Some days—not often, but on the rare occasion—I get to feel really stupid.

Stupid. Dense. Unobservant. Positively dim.

Yesterday was such a day. Continue Reading »

It came in the mail today, and it might as well have come with an honorary AARP membership because now, without doubt, I am officially an old white guy.

I opened the package, and immediately started to doink around with it before reading the instructions (oh come on; you do that, too). I scrounged up six AAA batteries to put into its belly, turned it on, and then (finally) looked at the user’s leaflet that came with it.

When I brought it out into the living room, my wife cocked her head and asked, “What is that?”

I told her, and she laughed. She laughed because she knew, too. I am officially an old white guy. There’s no denying it, now.

Continue Reading »

It’s taken a year. Or as close as makes no difference.

Last year, I initiated a purge. As part of making the (involuntary) transition from office-jockey to a full-time work-from-home employee, I pulled my office apart, replacing the major furniture and culling the—there’s no other word for it—junk that had accreted over the years. Books, letters, electronics, avocational equipment, mementos, I put absolutely everything on the block, and a lot of it went out the door.

Out the office door, that is.

It didn’t quite make it out the front door.

Just to the garage. Continue Reading »

The glass still in hand, he knelt and shifted the harness so the fat lower section of the samovar swung around his hip.  Deftly, he crooked back an arm to open the spigot.

David expected either the syrupy, blazingly strong coffee of the Arabs and Turks, or the sweet minted tea that was sipped through a sugar cube held in the teeth.  Both were beverage staples for every Arab café and restaurant.  Instead, however, the man released from the spigot a stream of hot, thick, white liquid.  David immediately smelled a honeyed aroma that filled his mind with the image of pink and lavender flowers in a desert oasis.  It smelled absolutely luscious.

“What is that?” he asked bluntly.  The man looked up from his task, the thick stream still arcing into the glass.

“My friend has never tasted salep?  Ah, such a treat you are about to have.”  The glass was full, and the vendor closed the tap, catching the last drops in the glass with a move of long practice.  He shifted his position, the samovar swung back along the harness strap and settled once more into the middle of his back.  Still kneeling, he placed the glass of steaming liquid into a handled cradle of brass lacework and presented it to David as if it were a delicacy to a king.

David took the cup and ventured a sip.  Thick, hot, smooth, and milky, the concoction was a wonderful collection of taste and texture: a satiny sweetness unlike anything he had ever experienced.

Giambastiani, Dreams of the Desert Wind,
(Seattle, Fairwood Press, 2004), p24

When I lived in Jerusalem, on cool mornings I would go down to the shuk in the Old City where I’d buy two things: a semit and some salep. A semit (or simit) is a large bread ring topped with sesame and other seeds. Vendors would carry them stacked on a stick and I’d buy one, still warm from the oven. Salep (or sahlab) is a beverage made from wild orchid tubers dried and ground into a powder. The powder is a thickener, and when added to milk along with a bit of sugar, some flavorings, and topped with whatever your heart desires, it is a luscious treat. I loved this combo so much that it made its way into my novel, Dreams of the Desert Wind (excerpted above).

Finding true salep outside of the Levant is damned near impossible, and the only sources I’ve found for authentic salep powder run about $10 USD per 1oz/30g. Since it takes a tablespoon/15g of powder per cup of the beverage, that’s way too pricey for my taste, so for years I’ve been looking for an alternative. The mass-marketed “instant salep” powders cheat, using corn starch or potato flour as a thickener, and they are always too . . . something. Too bland, too thin, too insipid, too gummy.

But rice flour, specifically glutinous rice flour, this makes a thickened drink that is the closest approximation I have found. As a rule, I try to avoid posting recipes with uncommon ingredients (life’s hard enough), but in this case, glutinous rice flour and rose water are pretty easy to find, either in a higher-end grocery, a Mediterranean bodega, or online. They’re inexpensive, too, both costing less than an ounce of real salep powder.

Salep (or Sahlab)

Makes 1 serving

Hardware

  • A 1-quart saucier pan works best for this because of its rounded bottom, but any small pot or pan will work. Just get the whisk into the corners.

Ingredients

For the salep:

  • 1 tablespoon glutinous rice flour
  • 1 cup milk (whole is best)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon rose water

Optional toppings:

  • ground cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger
  • ground/chopped pistachios
  • raisins or sultanas
  • shredded coconut

Procedure

  • In a small pot, whisk the rice flour with a bit of the milk to dissolve, adding the rest of the milk when the flour is incorporated.
  • Put pot over a medium heat and warm the mixture, whisking frequently as it thickens.
  • When the salep starts to simmer, pull it from the heat. Stir in the sugar and rose water.
  • Pour into a mug or glass, and top with whatever strikes your fancy.

Notes

  • I devised this recipe is for a single serving, but it is easily scaled up for more.
  • You can replace the rice flour with corn starch or potato flour, but there’s a marked difference in consistency and umami. Not recommended.
  • Some recipes out there suggest using vanilla as well. I do not recommend this, as it cuts the flowery aroma of the rose water.

k

As regular readers know, I’m a Browncoat for life. However, I am not the sort of über-fan who will buy anything they slap a “Firefly” logo on. Yes, I have Firefly-related t-shirts, a couple of “behind the scenes” books, and on the back of my car there is an “I aim to misbehave” sticker, but I’ve passed on most of the comic books, the graphic novels, and other paraphernalia that’s out there vying for my Browncoat credits.

A series of novels, though? Sign me up.

The Magnificent Nine is the second installment in the new Firefly novel series, penned by James Lovegrove, who also gave us the first in the series (a review of which can be found here.) I was underwhelmed by Lovegrove’s first title, but I enjoyed the book despite its flaws.

Alas, this title also has its flaws, some of them serious.

But first, what’s good . . . Continue Reading »

Pass it On

A number of years ago, my neighbor expressed an interest in my books. Being the  new-author-hungry-for-any-attention sort of guy, I gave her a copy of the first three books in my Fallen Cloud Saga. (No, I wasn’t being stingy; it’s all that had been published at the time.)

My neighbor never mentioned the books again—not a good sign—so, as per my usual practice, I never brought up the subject again.

Fast-forward a dozen years. Continue Reading »

(If you’re late to the party, no worries.
Here’s where you can find the posts on the Southbound leg,
and the Northbound legs Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3.)

We were on the last few legs of our road trip, but this one was where we would say farewell to California and to Highway 1. It had been a wonderful road, filled with beauty, expanse, clear skies, wildlife, ocean vistas, wonderful towns, great cities, and a feeling that we were really, truly, quite far away from our everyday lives and the thousand natural shocks that they are heir to. However, before we could say goodbye to that old road, CA-1 had one last trick up its sleeve.

Online maps will tell you that the drive from Gualala to Crescent City will take you five hours and forty-five minutes.

This. Is. A. Lie.

It is 276 miles from Gualala to Crescent City, taking Highway 1 to Leggett and US-101 from there. In five and three-quarter hours, that’s an average of forty-eight miles per hour.

This. Is. A. Damnable. Lie.

You might be able to do it in seven hours, maybe six and a half if you pee into a bottle and don’t even stop for petrol, but the only way you’re going to make it from Gualala to Crescent City in 5.75 hours is if you’re a rally driver on a perfectly dry day with all traffic blocked off and you have a co-driver in the next seat calling out “Right 5 over crest, then Left 2 Tightens 1. Don’t cut. DON’T CUT!”

As with most things Highway 1, time along this road is fluid, but unlike in other areas, where time flies by as your eyes take in the wonderful conjunction of ocean and shore, here it expands, eating up the hours in tick-tock fashion, making you work for every mile.

The last section of CA-1, an inland cut between Rockport and Leggett, is an especially harrying bit of road. You will have to use every lesson CA-1 has taught you up to this point. It will take concentration on the driver’s part, and fortitude for any passengers you’ve cajoled into traveling with you. For my wife, whose superpower is sleeping in any moving vehicle, that section of road proved to be her Kryptonite. Unhappily awake, breathing through gritted teeth, right hand white-knuckling the Jesus bar, left hand clenched and ready, she battled centripetal force and nausea as we ascended, descended, twisted, banked, sped up, braked, and wondered how long this damned bit of road actually was.

And yet, as was every other mile along CA-1, it was gorgeous.

Before we hit that section, though, Highway 1 gave us one last spin along the coast. It took us through Point Arena, with its classic lighthouse and keeper’s domicile out on a cliff-sided outcrop, and then through the town of Elk where—would you believe it?—a herd of elk was grazing in the field just past the community church.

We stopped in Fort Bragg, where there is a famous bit of shoreline called Glass Beach. It is where, from 1949 to 1967, the residents of Fort Bragg dumped their solid scrap: appliances, vehicles, and famously, glass. The metal was carted away, but the glass, broken and shattered, remained, to be washed and polished by the waves of decades. Now, the beach is a curiosity, a mixture of sand, shingle, and myriad bits of glass, all rounded and polished.

If you want to visit Glass Beach, your online map will show you a trail—the Glass Beach Trail—out at the end of Elm Street.

This. Is. Another. Lie.

Technically, there is a “Glass Beach Trail” from the end of Elm Street to the shoreline, but it does not take you to the Glass Beach. It just takes you out to the shoreline somewhere north of Glass Beach.

While my wife rested in the car, I walked the Glass Beach Trail three times, sure I was missing something crucial. I walked it once, hit the shoreline, saw no Glass Beach, searched for some—any—signage, and finding none, returned to the trailhead. I tried a second time, wandering a bit north of the trail’s end, looking for a clue. Back at the trailhead, I found the “You Are Here” map and checked it. Glass Beach was a dot a tiny bit south of the trail end, with a staircase to descend the cliffside to the shore. I walked it again and wandered south. Still, no signs, no staircase, no Glass Beach. It was a beautiful walk, and a stunning section of coastline, but if you go, know that the actual Glass Beach is a quarter mile south of the end of the quarter-mile long Glass Beach Trail, and there are no signs directing you to your goal. After my third failed attempt, I’d burned too much daylight walking and head-scratching to allow for another mile’s walk, round trip, on sandy bluffs, so I abandoned the effort and we pressed on.

I wish we’d planned more time on this last section of the trip. Even one more day would have made it much more enjoyable, much less “under the gun.” However, I’d been duped by Google’s 5.75 hour drive-time “estimate,” which I took at face value, and we were committed to our itinerary (and our now non-refundable reservations).

We survived our last battle with CA-1 and connected with US-101 at Leggett. Wider, smoother, straighter, US-101 took us inland along the Eel River, through the majesty of the ancient redwood forests, and past natural wonders like Avenue of the Giants, the Drive-Thru Tree, and Trees of Mystery (actually, worth the visit), as well as more gimmicky roadside attractions selling evidence of Bigfoot and touting encounters with some sort of mysterious “vortex.”

We did make it to Crescent City before the sun set, albeit barely. We had a few more days on the road, but those were more to visit friends than to enjoy the scenery, so this was, in essence, the end of our road trip. From here, we’d go to Lincoln City and Portland before heading home to Seattle.

By the end, we would have traveled over two thousand miles. My online map tells me it is a forty-hour drive.

This. Is. A. Lie.

k

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