Wednesday, December 23, 2009

RAINIER CAKE

This is the SCA.And this is the SCA.
Okay, I lied. This is the SCA.
All the other photos are my pictures from my experiences with the SCA CLC Seattle Program. But this isn't important. What is important is that the SCA is amazingly fun to be in, rewarding, and plain awesome. It's an environmental service group, and one of the keystones of the program is its Summer Crews, the normal one of which is a two-week expedition to the nearby Mount Rainier. With this in mind, and the annual holiday party coming up, I figured I had to do something. I had to make a cake. An awesome cake.

To make a volcanic mountain cake, what better then a red velvet cake? Forget your usual reservations about putting two ounces of food coloring in a cake (if you're using paste or gel colors, it's less) and have fun with it. Everyone loves a red velvet cake.
To fill up two nine-inch square pans, I doubled this recipe. Don't worry about the 2 ounces of food coloring part if you don't have it all. Just dump in a whole bunch.
After baking, I filled the cakes with cream cheese icing, shaped it into a mountain shape, and then use a thinned version to do what the show Cake Boss calls "dirty icing"....For obvious reasons.mmmmmmmmmmm
Later, it's time to get some actual frosting down. White and chocolate flavored buttercream served the purpose well. The thing was, I wanted an accurate picture of Mt. Rainier. This required extensive Wikipedia-scoping, procurement of multiple maps, and, well...


This is how everyone cooks, right?
Closer-up shot of the cake.
Green-colored coconut shavings and icing, and Swedish pearl sugar add character...
Delicious. But it eeds some entirely gratuitous details.

Perfect. Map of Narada Falls, Paradise Visitor's Center (in pink) and Panorama Point. And the flag. It was accompanied with some cookies.Homemade royal icing. Beautiful. And tasty.
And though it was quite dry and needed more filling, I think everyone liked the cake too. :)
I'll finish up the post with a sonnet I wrote, "Song for the Mountain".

O, exalted mount of mine, I know you

Having run my hands along your face.

Each snow-anointed facet on the blue

And every climber climbing into space.

O frosty meadows high upon your sides

Pale grasses green that grow where no tree can

Yet higher, even they are brushed aside

To snow and other things unknown to man.

O holy mount, I've seen you waiting there,

Our human city streets point up to you.

Great queen of magma, ice, and high clear air:

A blessed land's bright gemstone, through and through.

O misty mount, I catch you in my gaze,

And I remember you and all those holy days.



Friday, December 11, 2009

ASTRONOMICAL

"Astronomical" is a short science fiction story I wrote this last August. More information on the Voyager Golden Record is here.

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Our planet was dying. There are many explanations I could give for this, countless stories of failures and failed ideas and the inability of one lonely species to see the truth, endless tales of ignorance and of the worst possible living sin, stupidity. But none of these reasons are excuses, and in any case I am not looking for sympathy. So suffice to say that our planet was dying, while we yearned to live.

I was in the Council of Sciences. Several years earlier, we had sat down the most formidable minds of our time, and broken down our situation, assessing the level of our threat- dire, indeed, very dire- and more importantly, discussing what we would need for a solution. It was called the Thirty Year Plan. The common people thought this referred to what we were going to do over the next thirty years to solve their problems. In actuality, it was the maximum calculated length of time we had until civilization broke down, and possibly methods of lengthening that time.

We would need land, and food, and fuel, and we didn't have the resources to attain any of it. We did, yes, have a prototype starship available to us, and enough energy to power it many light years, but the starship could not carry a city, and there was already talk of breaking it down and using the power source to produce heat or food or any of the supplies already in dire need. Our planet was dying. Our people were starving. We needed hope.

Then it came, out of the stars, like a gift from the gods we had officially denounced. We spotted it in the atmosphere long before it touched the surface of our planet, and a rocket was sent to retrieve it from orbit. It fell to earth in an unpopulated desert, and was removed by a single unmarked van. We couldn't afford to get anyone's hopes up.

I was fortunate to be chosen to help study the Artifact. The bulk of it was badly dented, stained, and entirely foreign to us. It was made by hands, and the hands were not ours.

There was some manner of electrical devices built into it, although they were all but melted and ashen ropes now. The only item we could recover was a single, beautiful, golden disk, covered in tiny circular ridges on one side and engraved all over on the other. We all stared at the markings. They were unlike anything we had ever seen.

"I don't want to jump to conclusions," said my good friend Professor Maddy, after some discussion, "But these drawings could, after some imagination, be a star map of sorts." He indicated a set of abstract dots and lines. "And these," gesturing to an outlined shape, "Could almost be life of some sort." He was saying what all of us were thinking, what we didn't want to think. I put my hand on his back. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves," I said gently.

"Yes," said the Head of the Council. "Absolutely. Research on this item must start immediately, but not a word of this is to be given to the public. Does everyone here understand? Not a word." He looked around, expression softening. "False hope is another commodity we cannot afford." Everyone understood what he meant.

The next day, I was assigned to speak at a protest in the city of Voss. This was the part of my job I hated most. Voss was impoverished, hungry, massive, and angry, perhaps rightfully so. I would have to smile, and try to address and support their concerns by feeding them lies, hopefully by mentioning the Thirty Year Plan as much as I could. That always seemed to reassure them.

I stood, later, in a crumbling and formerly-grand auditorium in Voss. The entire room was packed with filthy, hungry, extinguished souls, all of them staring at me, dead silent.

"I would like to c-commend you for your concern," I stammered. "But your g-government, and the Council of Sciences, have only your best interests in… In mind, and we are working on finding solutions to the most pressing issues we face, namely the food and water shortages, the economic sh-shortfalls, as well as pollution. We want to assure you that we are doing everything we can to deal with these. I will now f-field questions." I tugged at the collar of my shirt, as the room dissolved into angry muttering. A young reporter with a microphone stood up.

"Professor Rook," she addressed me, "You say you are addressing the poverty and the food and water shortages in communities around the planet. What exactly are you doing?"

I adjusted my hat normally. "We are developing new and improved filtration methods and agricultural practices," I said, "Which should drastically increase the amount of food raised. The… Uh, the production and implementation of these techniques will require a sub… substantial new workforce, thus increasing hiring. This, and more, is all covered in the Thirty Year Plan."

Another reporter stood up. "You know, all the officials I've heard have talked about the Thirty Year Plan, but I haven't heard any specifics yet. What is the Thirty Year Plan going to do about overpopulation? About our waning food populations? About the poverty? Professor, what is the Thirty Year Plan?"

"The Thirty Year Plan cannot be fully disclosed, because we believe that total disclosure will alter the intended results," I read off of my prompter. "Suffice to say that the Thirty Year Plan is being enacted as we speak, and is showing results." Deemphasize, deflect, reassure. Easy enough.
The crowd had begun shouting about the lack of results. I felt small.

Somewhere in the back, a well-dressed man stood up. He didn't have a microphone, and his loud voice carried his words.

"Professor Rook," he said smoothly. "I recently discovered an unrevealed government report- it my have been somewhat confidential, I apologize- but it stated that some sort of object- known as the Artifact, I believe- fell out of the sky several days ago, and, let me quote the report- 'It is certainly man-made, although it is engraved with multiple symbols not recognized, and is nearly positively non-terrestrial in design.' What can you tell us about the Artifact, professor?"

The room was silent. I felt as though I had been punched in the chest. I had written those words. The Artifact. They knew about the Artifact. I watched the man fade into the crowd again.

"Y-yes, the, uh, the anomaly- the Artifact, as it's known- does present some curiosity to us, but it's… Certainly not a definite symbol of anything. Research is… R-research is ongoing." The prompter was black. Silence.

"Why didn't you tell us?" A voice screamed. A civilian somewhere.

"We, uh, we didn't want to g-get anyone's hopes up…" The mass broke into screams and boiled like a pot of water. I felt sick. I felt like a monster. Security rushed in. The meeting ended shortly after that.

They had to change our hotel reservations. They put security in the lobby. Nobody found us. I called Maddy, asking about the Artifact.
They had found nothing. They had bounced light off of it, scanned it, studied it, measured the ridges, put them through our best codebreaking programs. Nothing at all. And news of it had encircled the planet by now.

I slept with my two mates that night, Jai and Adel. None of their comforting, their nuzzling, their reassurances helped. Eventually their soft words and contact degraded into the slow, heavy, silence. When I tried to sleep, I tossed and turned helplessly. I latched onto the thought that the Artifact, instead of being a greeting or a chance occurrence, was in fact a plea for help from another dying world, a planet similarly falling apart. Another world running out. It would be unbearable.

In the morning, I woke up early. I snuck into the security guard's break room between shifts, took a gun, and slipped back into my hotel room unnoticed. Jai and Adel slept peacefully, still holding my nonexistent form.

I had to turn away. I was a coward. I held the gun to my head. Straight through the upper eye, that would do it. The people were angry, furious, and they had every right to be. Their water sources had failed them. Their food sources had failed them. Their ecosystem had failed them. We had failed them. They wanted to see the Thirty Year Plan? This was the Thirty Year Plan. I closed my eyes. The phone rang.

I jumped, and turned to see if Jai or Adel had noticed. They hadn't. I shoved the gun into a drawer, and stepped into the hall. "Yes?" I asked tiredly.
"Rook, this is Maddy. The artifact."
"…What about it?"
"We made it work. Look, you know the side with the ridges? We had to balance a pin over it, attach a speaker, and spin it at a very precise rate."
"Almost like a code."
"Maybe. But you have to get over here right now. It's making noise. It's singing."

I was there in under an hour.

By that time, they had reached the apparent end of the recording, and had to reposition the device to make it play again. We sat surrounding the little makeshift player, as the disc spun, absolutely silent.

I heard sounds, the likes of which I had never heard before. Short, organic, staccato beeps and clicks. A low buzzing that rose and fell. Vibrant, voice-like vocalizations from the throats of strange animals, showing anger and joy. Hundreds of sharp, short, airy, melodious whistles, that fell into wondrous natural tunes and songs. A long, low, howl that seemed to swell out of silence, like a mountain out of water, like the sun out of night. Then there was the music.

All different styles, all different sounds. Some like water falling over rocks, some like heartbeats, like screaming, like falling, like love. Unintelligible singing voices wove in and out of them. It was rhythmic and beautiful.

"It's not all," Maddy explained excitedly. "We translated the star maps. We found our star. If we're right, this came from a planet in a solar system 7.7 light years away." Well within reach of the starcraft. I could feel the Thirty Year Plan, and all of my doubts, wither away.

The music ended soon, replaced by tuneful, punctuated voices, all diverse in their influences, all saying things we couldn't interpret, but understood precisely. The music had ended, but I was listening to the most glorious song I would ever hear.

Hello.
Hola.
Bonjour.
Jambo.
Ni hao.

I could barely give the muttered instructions to prep the starcraft. This was the song of salvation, of hope, of deliverance. A song of plenty, of a land of space and air and animals and voices. We thank our otherworldly saviours like tribal ancients, showing gratitude for the lives of the animals they were about to hunt.

So this message is to you, to your planet, to your world that howls and speaks and sings. Thank you for your for your expressions of welcome and invitation, and for your offerings of hope and life.

We hear you.

And we're coming as soon as we can.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Not my Poem: The Little Girl That Lost a Finger

This poem, man, this poem.

The Little Girl That Lost a Finger
Gabriela Mistral

And a clam caught my little finger,
and the clam fell into the sand,
and the sand was swallowed by the sea,
and the whaler caught it in the sea,
and the whaler arrived at Gibraltar,
and in Gibraltar the fishermen sing:
"News of the earth we drag up from the sea,
news of a little girl's finger:
Let her who lost it come get it!"

Give me a boat to go fetch it,
and for the boat give me a captain,
for the captain give me wages,
and for his wages let him ask for the city:
Merseilles with towers and squares and boats,
in all the world the finest city,
which won't be lovely with a little girl
that the sea robbed of her finger,
and that the whalers chant for like town criers,
and that they're waiting for in Gibraltar...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

[Old] HALLOWEEN CAKE

I like to cook, a lot. And normally when I post a recipe or a desert I've created, I'll show you some making-of pictures, or share some techniques, or be looking for ideas, but this time I don't have any other pictures, and I just want to show off.
This is a Halloween cake for a friend's Halloween party. The base is a couple layers of the "Ultra-Orange Cake" featured in Joy of Cooking, stuck together with a spiced chocolate ganache, frosted with Chocolate Fudge Frosting, and decorated with white chocolate, a powdered sugar/milk glaze when that didn't work, and piped chocolate figures.
...One more picture, because I love you.

A SHAKESPEAREAN SONNET


The Necessity of Color

This is no place for dainty tempered forms
The time is short, the world below my pen.
The artist is an inky lightning storm:
Monsooning thoughts and lead- you know this, then
Creation's a strange process from the heart
As the artist heaves her pencils and her paints
Breathing life into her people and her art
A god of canvas prophets, paper saints.
What's god but he who paints the skies in blue?
And leaves us, till the end of days, controlled
By urgency that guides the artist's tools,
That draws mankind to paint our painted world.
The truth makes godless painters work all night:
They know the world will end in black and white.


[Written for a school assignment. Picture is of Grand Prismatic Springs in Yellowstone, taken from Wikipedia.]