So, Wiscon is over for another year (boo), but after hearing such wonderful feedback about this series, I decided to continue doing it throughout the year – that way by the time next year rolls around there’ll be a good backlog of recipes and book reviews to get you going!

Bites

Toffee-Coconut Rocky Road Bars

One thing a bakesale can always use is more brownies.  Chocolate.  Sugar.  Etc.  So when I saw this recipe over at Taste and Tell (an excellent site for recipe reviews, btw), I had to share it with you!

This one involves a little more prep time – you have to bake it in layers (and be sure to see Deborah’s notes about baking the first layer a little longer to make sure it’s not soggy) – but the results sure look worth it!
Toffee-Coconut Rocky Road Bars
from The Deen Family Cookbook

Makes sixteen 2-inch brownies

(Recipe and Directions Here)

Books

klages

Portable Childhoods, by Ellen Klages

Ellen was one of the Guests of Honor this year at Wiscon, and as part of my long-standing tradition, I only read her books after the convention was over (although I’d heard her read the short version of the Green Glass Sea at a previous Wiscon).  I’ve discovered some of my favorite authors this way  – Charles DeLint, after the Minicon where he was Guest of Honor (GoH), and Jo Walton (also Minicon); Peter S. Beagle and Tim Powers, after Capricons at which they were guests, and the list goes on.  I can definitely say that Ellen’s joined the company (and even that I have a serious case of Authorial Crush, but thankfully that won’t make me unable to speak to her ever again.  She’s just too friendly and welcoming for that to ever happen.).

As a genre author, she’s a bit of an odd duck.  She writes fiction about science (sometimes).  The main character of Green Glass Sea is a girl whose father is working on the secret project at Los Alamos during WWII.  Stories in the collection I’m writing about have characters who are scientists, who even do science – but the science isn’t the main part of the story – the people are.  Is it science fiction?  I think so, but I’ve had conversations with others who disagree.

Regardless of the label you’re willing to assign to it, the stories are just damned good writing.  The theme of childhood, and childhood dreams, is reflected and refracted throughout.  These aren’t the childhoods of rosy adult imaginings, though.  Ellen has the gift of writing about characters of all ages in a way that rings true for each character.  Reading the eponymous story, in which a mother writes about her relationship with her daughter at various points in time, I could simultaneously sympathize with both the narrator (close to my own age) and with her daughter, based on my memories of being a child at those ages.  Heck of a trick, and she pulls it off every time – there’s not a false note in the bunch.

Oh, and did I mention that she’s funny as all get-out?  The scene where the mom is trying to teach her daughter to gargle had me laughing so hard it was difficult to breathe.

I feel like this review is all over the place – which kind of fits, actually.  It’s like visiting the house of someone you’ve just met recently (and like a whole lot), who takes you around and shows you one really cool thing after another.  It’s too much to take in all at once – this is one of those collections I’m looking forward to re-reading.  A  lot.

There’s a really great review of this book (with quotes, even!) over at Amazon, if you’d like another point of view as to why this collection rocks.

True characters, laughter, love, heartbreak..  what are you waiting for?  Go read it!  Shoo.

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So last weekend was Wiscon, and Saturday of that weekend was the BakeSale.

My morning started at 7:30am with the fabulous Farmer’s Market at the capitol in Madison (no pictures) – which was stunningly empty, as the rain and early hour combined to convince people to stay indoors.  yay for me!  I could actually walk on the sidewalk, not shuffle past the vendors in a mad crush.  It was lovely, even if it was raining.  I scored much cheese and tasty things for the party that evening.

Back to the hotel, we started plating.  And plating.  And plating some more.

My fabulous assistant E did the lion’s share of this work, plating all morning and into the afternoon.

The fabulous E,  number-one minion!

The fabulous E, number-one minion!

The table looked something like this most of the morning:

Table full of goodies

Table full of goodies

We started up at 11:15am, and sold out around 4pm, with a total of something like 400+ plates (earning over $400 for the Tiptree Award – not bad, and similar to last year, but I think I’ll be shooting for more next year!)

A huge THANK YOU to everyone who donated your baking and your time! We literally could not have done this without you.

Someone even brought Cake Pops!  I was so excited.  So were these girls:

Girls eating Cake Pops

Girls eating Cake Pops

We had tons of other tasty treats:

Mmm.  Cake.

Mmm. Cake.

This was a Grand Marnier cake with cranberries and pecans; next to it was one of the vegan offerings, peanut-butter cereal thingies.  Those were popular.

more tasties

more tasties

Here you can see some brownies, an award-winning recipe of Mandelbrot, Nutty Millionnaire’s shortbread, cocoa rice-krispie treats, and a blueberry muffin cake.  Yum!

OMG Pie

OMG Pie

This is a horrible picture of what was some EXTREMELY TASTY Rhubarb-Ginger pie.  The person dropped them off still warm.  Those flew out the door, let me tell you!

cake pops!

cake pops!

One of the cake pops, another mandelbrot, and some of the tasty, tasty chocolate and chocolate-peanut-butter fudge.

even gluten-free!

even gluten-free!

We even had two gluten-free desserts – one (pictured above) was a fruit-nut ball, presumably with dates/figs and walnuts (both vegan and gluten-free), the other were some darned tasty coconut-lime bars.  Both were raved over, and the people who needed gluten-free or vegan desserts were tremendously happy (and often threw extra money at us – win!)

I learned a lot from doing it this year that will definitely help next year’s sale go more smoothly (like arranging for volunteers in advance, oops).

I’ve been asked to continue the series of Books and Bites posts by the Tiptree Board (!!!), so you’ll be seeing more of those come down the pike as I get unpacked and settled back in at home (and start baking again).  I’m really excited about that!

For the second entry in the Tiptree Bake Sale series (where we explore the age old questions of: What do I make for a bake sale?  And where do I go to find good speculative fiction that’s doing interesting things with gender roles?), I’m presenting a roundup of useful bakesale recipe sites out there on the Web.

Recipe Roundup

First, and possibly most obvious: Bake Sale Recipes. Not only is there a recipe index organized by level of effort as well as type of item (win!), there is advice on running your own bake sale.

Land O’Lakes (the butter people) have organized a page of their Bake Sale Bestsellers, with some really tempting-looking recipes.

Recipezaar (which always gives my popup-blocker a workout, but can be a source for some good recipes) had a discussion on Your Favorite Bake Sale Ideas that has some really tasty-looking things in it.

The Thrifty Fun site had a discussion on Bakeless Bake Sale Recipes that contains links to a number of useful sites, as well as some really creative (and thrifty!) ideas.

The folks over at Eagle Brand (condensed milk) have collected a huge number of recipes (selecting ‘bars and cookies’ and ‘fudge and candies’ will be most applicable), and you can’t go wrong with sweetened condensed milk, yum.

Also, for the Tiptree bake sale, we admire creativity almost as much as tastiness – and combining the both really gets you somewhere!  We’ve had people make cookies in the shape of breast-cancer ribbons (glazed pink, of course); cookies with pictures printed on them; all sorts of interesting things!

I’ll admit that one of my new addictions is Cake Pops (look for a post on that, soon!).  Madison is awfully close to Minnesota, you know..  things on a stick are a food group in those parts.

Any other sites you’ve found that you really love?  Post ’em in comments!

Book Review

Today’s book is The Shadow Speaker, by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu.  I’d heard Nnedi read at Wiscon last year, so eagerly sought out this book to read recently while at the library.

The protagonist is a fourteen-year old girl named Ejii who lives in a future Saharan Africa (year 2070 or thereabouts).  As a result of a worldwide catastrophe some years before she was born (I’m a sucker for apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic stories, although this one is set far past the ‘surviving the cataclysm’ stage), some people are born with talents.  Ejii’s is that sometimes, shadows speak to her (although she can’t always understand what they say).

Ejii has grown up in a society where the roles of women and girls are strictly curtailed (her father was a stridently dogmatic man who declared himself chief and set about creating a ‘safe’ environment).  After her father’s death, she has a hard time coming to terms with the new possibilities available to her and with her abilities, as well as with her conflicting feelings about her father.

She ends up leaving her village (and her safety net) and becoming involved in a series of events that will drastically affect not only her village, but her entire world, and comes of age along the way.  (Vague, I know, but so many spoilers!)

Ejii is a really sympathetic character – she’s not drawn as some sort of adult in a teenager’s body – as an adult reader, and an adult woman, there were plenty of places where I wanted her to do or say different things, or saw how her choices were going to end up causing trouble. While she’s young and somewhat naive, she’s not stupid. I think she would ring true to teenaged readers – although the world is a fantastical setting, her dilemmas are those that every teenager faces: what is my relationship with my parents?  How do I come to terms with my own desires?  How do I even figure out what those are?  How do I figure out what my place in the world is, and how do I go about making it once I do figure it out?  She also learns about the meaning of friendship, and of responsibility.

The world Okorafor has built is really interesting, especially to this european-descended, US-born person.  Ejii’s culture is rich and fascinating, and the context of speculative fiction allows Okorafor to present aspects of a world that most spec-fic readers would find rather alien (a predominantly Muslim Saharan Africa) using tools of the genre we’re already familiar with (learning new worlds is part of the package, after all).  It’s not just ‘oh, aren’t these people and these cultures Interesting?’, though.  The culture and the land shape Ejii and her behaviors and thoughts, so that when she herself is in an alien land and interacting with an alien culture, we learn as much about where she is from by the way she interacts while there as we do from anything Okorafor directly tells or shows us about it.

A truly wonderful book, by a writer worth watching.

Tiptree Honor Book logo

Tiptree Honor Book logo

That’s the slogan of the fund-raising arm of the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award, ie., the bakesale.

The Tiptree is a literary prize awarded annually for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender. It was created in 1991 by authors Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler, and announced at Wiscon, the world’s premiere feminist science-fiction convention (held in Madison, Wisconsin each Memorial Day weekend). Every year, a panel of judges reads hundreds of books that explore the theme of gender in a speculative context, and compiles an honor list (some really great reads, here) as well as choosing whom to honor with the award itself.

So why am I writing about it?

I’ve recently taken over the administration of the Tiptree Bake Sale at Wiscon, and wanted to do a few things with it.

First, I wanted to increase the visibility of the award among one of my favorite non-fannish communities (ie., foodies).

Second, I wanted to kick off a series of articles that will explore the greater question that we all occasionally face:  What to bake for a Bakesale?

I’ll be doing a series of combination posts – recipes (or links to recipes) for items that would be fantastic at a bake sale, plus short reviews of former Tiptree Award/Honor books.  Hopefully, one or the other (or both!) of these things will appeal to you – and I’d love to hear your suggestions for future features, either food- or book-related!

Today, I’m going to start with a link to one of the bake sale classics:

The Dream Bar, aka Magic Bar.

Usually a layer of shortbread crust, some gooey milk-based confection layer, chocolate, coconut, maybe some nuts…  Nicole over at Baking Bites recently made a batch, and they look yummy!  I’d certainly be happy to see those cross my desk come next month.  (Cut ahead of time into nice bite-sized pieces, please – these are best cut when cold, perhaps even frozen, as they tend to be a bit gooey).

And your book for today?

1996 Tiptree Winner The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell.

Russell grew up in Lombard, Illinois – right next to where I lived for almost ten years.  She is an anthropologist by training, and this expertise really informs her world-building and alien characters.

Our viewpoint character is Emilio, a Jesuit priest who is among the group of responders sent to make first contact with aliens after their signals are detected on Earth.  The book takes place in two alternating timelines simultaneously.  In one, we meet an older, traumatized Emilio who has returned from the expedition as the sole survivor, having obviously experienced something truly horrible.  In the other timeline, we follow the group as they journey to the alien planet and make first contact.  There is tremendous narrative tension, as you the reader know that somewhere along the line it all goes horribly wrong, but don’t know how or why.  Young Emilio and his companions are a really likeable bunch, and their developing friendships and relationships with each other ring really true and lifelike.

The religious elements of the book (Emilio has a crisis of faith as a result of his experiences, and this informs much of the narrative) are done really well.  There aren’t any black or white illustrations here – the characters and their beliefs are drawn realistically, wholly..  with complexity and nuance.  It is not a book you need to be religious to enjoy (I certainly am not, and I consider this one of my favorite books of all time) – but you will walk away from it with a more personal understanding of the intersection of faith and science.

This is an incredible book, and is very well written.  I often recommend it to people who think that they hate science fiction, that it’s all “rayguns and bug-eyed monsters”.  I hope that you enjoy it, as well.