Pounce! Blog

Time travel cookbook

Dear Tyler (writes Dan The Man Williamson III of Duluth MN),

I recently inherited a time machine, and I’d like to use it to indulge my passion for novel gourmet cookery. I have access to a range of now extinct ingredients, but my problem is that I don’t know which things are edible, how to prepare them, or what they combine well with. Can you help? Is there a cookbook?

Dan,

First, congratulations on obtaining a time machine. They’re worlds of fun and very useful. I don’t know of any time travel cookbooks offhand, and of course we’re talking such a wide range of ingredients that you’d need a whole shelf of books, at least. I’m not a chrononaut myself, but one does pick up some things by eavesdropping at science fiction conventions. So there’s lore, but nobody has codified it. This might be a good project for you to undertake, given your interest in the subject.

The field of intertemporal gourmet cooking is so vast it’s hard to know where to start. There are so many ingredients available in different times and places, and such a tiny percentage have been tried, that it’s a daunting project. I do think it’s time to make a start, though. Anything you come out with will probably be eagerly snapped up by other time-traveling gourmands. So, again, not an expert, but here’s what I’ve heard.

If you’re talking historical times, the ground is already pretty well covered, since you just have to find a book of the traditional cuisine of the region you’re visiting. These abound, so you’ll probably want to concentrate on prehistory.

There are some recipes already being passed around in the time-traveling community, so if you get the word out, people will probably send you some (feel free to comment here, folks!). Also, you might let folks know that you want ingredients to try out. There’s not much of an established market yet for this stuff, which of course is part of what makes it exciting. You’re not going to kill a whole woolly mammoth just for yourself, but if someone’s planning to bring one down you could sign up to buy parts (which is mostly how they finance those expeditions) — but you have to hear about it first. I’ve found people are usually glad to bring things back if you can tell them exactly what you want, preferably with a picture, and they don’t have to go out of their way for it, and it’s not too heavy (if it’s more than 10 kg or so, you might offer to help pay for the electricity to transport it). Keep a list of the times and places you’re interested in, so that when you find out someone’s planned coordinates, you’ll know what to ask them to bring back. Oh, and be prepared to return the favor!

One problem: unless you find a specialist in a particular milieu, it’s hard to get enough information about the local ingredients to assemble a whole meal from what’s available locally, that goes well together. And, many recipes have been refined through centuries of experiment; even if you know the local ingredients well, it takes a genius chef to take a bunch of new flavors and make them work together as anything but a novelty dish.

That’s why, if you have a prehistoric ingredient, it’s much easier to find a pleasing combination of it with modern ingredients. Many existing chicken, duck or pheasant recipes adapt nicely to some of the smaller dinosaurs, for instance. I haven’t had it myself, but I hear Thescelosaurus a l’orange is a treat.

So, I suggest you focus on recipes that mix conventional foodstuffs with just one or two prehistoric ingredients. If you’ve actually done any time traveling you’ve probably heard of some of the better known ones, e.g.:

  • Eoraptor eggs: Some people like the yolk, some find it kind of rank. In either case, the white makes a wonderful stiff meringue.
    Get them as fresh as you can — older than three days, forget it, might as well use chicken eggs.
  • Leptocycas leaves: Flavorful but tough — steam until wilty, serve with pork or eohippus (if you can find some that’s not too gamy).
  • Palaeostachya cones: Boil 30 minutes, discard the outside and eat the soft center, like an artichoke. Slightly sweet. With lemon butter.
  • And the cuts of meat, megatherium flank steaks and so on, which mostly work well in recipes that involve their modern relatives.

Extinct spices are also a good area for culinary exploration. Sap from some old varieties of maple tree (I forget which but someone will know) makes a very nice sugar with tangy-resinous undertones (that might not sound particularly appetizing but you just have to try it). Dried ground Pachytheca has a sharp flavor that goes well with garlic and red meat (perhaps those Megatherium steaks).

I guess the nicest part of working on a book like that is having an excuse to try out all the recipes. Otherwise it’s hard to justify the expense of getting some of the ingredients.

Good luck, and don’t forget to always leave a note telling when and where you’ve gone to! Safety first!

 

My MarsCon schedule

Friday, March 6:
3:00-3:50 pm. The Curmudgeon Panel. VII White Pelican
5:00-5:50 pm. Marketing Your eBook. Room 419 (Krushenko’s)

Saturday, March 7:
12:00-12:50 p.m. When Robots do Everything, What Will People do? III Eagle’s Nest (Re(a)d Mars)
9:00-9:50 pm. Hero Support: Sidekicks and Minions. III Eagle’s Nest (Re(a)d Mars)

Honeywell gas valve six flashes

A couple of people have written in to ask what to do if the Honeywell gas valve on their home hot water heater starts giving a six-blink signal. Apparently my post on the four-blinks situation has fooled them into thinking I’m some sort of authority on the subject, and they failed to notice my disclaimer that any answers given will be made up on the spot and are unlikely to be of any practical use.
However, since multiple people have asked: from what I’ve been able to find, the meaning of the six-flash signal varies depending on your exact model. Consult the manual that came with your water heater. Generally, unlike the four-flash signal, the six-flash seems likely to indicate an actual problem, such as a failing sensor or a flood of water on the floor. So you might want to get that looked at.
Meanwhile, signals of any number of flashes can be stopped by immersing the circuit board of the gas valve for a few minutes in concentrated sulfuric acid. This is the solution to many of life’s problems, and is a good backup for those 25% or so of situations that can’t be dealt with by high explosives.

The 45 rules for being an asshole, annotated

There’s a list going around of the 45 pieces of advice men wish Dad had told them. While there were a few good pieces of advice on it, many are stupid, some are bewildering, and the piece as a whole seems to deserve serious mockery. Here, then, is my copy with marginalia.

If you have further improvements to suggest, please feel free to comment. Unless you specify otherwise, I might steal your idea and update the graphic. Click to open in its own window.

45rules

Two pilot lights are better than one

From Deep in the Heart of Texas, we got this question from “So Frustrated”:

I have 2 pilot lights after replacing the thermopile assembly.

I know there is only suppose to be one small blue pilot light but my water heater died last week and Reliance told me it was the thermopile. Got a new one and now I have 2 pilots and they are both over an inch long and orange in color. Just frustrated and need some advice as I have broke it down a couple of times to check and recheck the orifice. Help!

Dear So,

Please do not be alarmed. This is not a problem with your water heater, and is not related to your replacing the thermopile. Rather, the water heater is probably attempting to comply with a new federal regulation from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In a typical example of federal regulatory overreach, the CPSC has decreed that all appliances containing a pilot light, must have a co-pilot light for backup. This ruling actually only applies to new appliances, but your water heater must have heard about it somehow — maybe you left the radio on to a news station while you were working on it? And it’s doing its best to carry out the government’s recommendations.

The Meaning of Life

Fetch?

Fetch?

Jer of various places asks,

What is the meaning of life?

When I was growing up, we lived way out in the country. It was a convenient spot for people to drop off unwanted pets, so that was how we got all our pets who weren’t born on the premises.

One of these was a large Golden Retriever named John Denver — JD to company. He was about six months old when we got him. He was a moody dog — I think he’d suffered some early trauma — and I was a serious and solitary child, so we got along well.

When he was about two years old, JD learned to speak. He was shy (ref probable trauma mentioned earlier) and would only speak to me, my sister, and one of my brothers, which is why you’ve never heard of him. It didn’t change him as much as you might expect. Even though he was more thoughtful and articulate than most of my classmates, he still liked to roll in anything smelly, for instance. But he and I had some nice chats while walking in the woods.

When I was fifteen — a typical age to wonder about such things — I happened to ask JD what gave his life meaning. It was clear that he’d given the matter some thought, because after only a moment, he began to answer at length. He had a theory about the cosmic importance of things being in their right places, and being brought to those who needed them, and of his role in making that happen. There was some cosmological aspect of this that he started to explain, but, “Hold up,” said I. “You’re aware, right, that your breed of dog is called ‘retriever’?”

He gave me a squinty-eyed look. “What’s your point?”

“Could it be that you’ve used your powers of reason to ennoble something you just like to do because you were bred for it?”

Dog looked at boy. Boy looked at dog. There was a longish pause. “Shut up and just throw the damn stick,” JD said.

Believability and the Reader’s Representative

(cross-posted from wordsfromtheherd.com)

I’m at 4th Street Fantasy Convention this weekend. In a panel last night, there was a discussion about suspension of disbelief. One technique mentioned (by Scott Lynch) was “lampshading,” in which the author, knowing that they’re taking extreme liberties with the laws of physics, or medicine, or whatever, has a character point out the discrepancy so that someone else can confess that they also have no clue how it works, or say, “oh yeah, we found a way around that.” Or in some other way indicate that the author is aware of the problem, and that it’s part of the fantastic premise, not a mistake.

This, it seems to me, is a subset of a more general technique for addressing issues of plausibility – communicate to the reader that you haven’t dropped the ball, by having someone in the story raise the reader’s objection. Then dismiss it, as in the lampshading technique, or deal with it.

For instance, someone else asked about elements which readers will disbelieve even though they’re factual. TV and movies have trained people into unrealistic expectations of the effectiveness of gun silencers, crime labs, and the ease of opening electronic locks. Ancient Roman statuary was brightly painted. And so on. You have to decide whether you want to take time out from your story to fight this battle. Do we include something we know is inaccurate but that people will believe, or just omit that element so as to not have to deal with it? Or do we plunge in and try to correct the misconception? Or hope we’ve established enough authority that the reader will believe?

I think there’s another way. Use the silencer, but have someone else there (besides the shooter, who already knew, and the shootee, who has other concerns) to comment, “Wow, I thought silencers worked a lot better than that.” To which the shooter might reply, “Yeah, you watch too much TV.” No further explanation needed. If the reader’s really curious they can look it up, and meanwhile, it doesn’t look like the author made a mistake. The reader isn’t broken out of the narrative (unless they choose to go consult wikipedia immediately) and their confidence in the author is increased rather than damaged.

Or, if someone behaves totally out of character, you have to decide whether you’ve established sufficient trust as an author to say nothing about it and explain it later (and you’d better do that), or whether you need to show that you realize there’s a problem. Sam, always polite to everyone, is terribly rude to the jeweler. You know why; the reader doesn’t. So maybe someone else on the scene who knows Sam, remarks on it. “Wow, what was that about?”

Of course, you have to be careful not to make matters worse by having a character whose obvious purpose is to shill for the author. To make this work, the situation has to be such that there can naturally be a character who would be puzzled by whatever puzzled the reader.

We also don’t want an “As you know, Bob,” moment. That’s why I think immediately explaining the inconsistency, as opposed to just noting it, is usually a mistake.

So to summarize, the “Reader’s Representative” technique (my term) has three variants, at least:

  1. Lampshading, in which you signal that you know there’s a problem, which you claim as part of your allowed quota of pretend play.

  2. The Promissory Note, in which you signal that you know there’s a problem and you mean to explain later — then you’d better not forget to do that.

  3. The Gentle Correction, in which you show that you know the reader might take issue with what just happened, but they’re wrong and they should look it up if it’s going to bother them.

But don’t do this unless you need it. If you’ve done your homework and shown that you really know weapons, then describe one that works in a way the reader didn’t expect, they’ll likely go along with it. It’s hard to know when you’ve established that credibility, but that’s where beta readers come in.