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Aliette de Bodard

So… as part of my “Aliette goes learning new ways of cooking”, and after the baking experiments, I’m now into using a carbon steel wok (mostly, I confess, because our non-stick one died about a month ago and I was really sick of replacing it every few years). I read Grace Young’s Breath of a Wok and Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge cover to cover, bought a wok from our local Chinatown, and then proceeded to do my own experiments [1].

There’s surprisingly little that I could find about using a wok on a glass stovetop, and I thought that I would accordingly post about it, if only to share. A lot of the stuff in Grace Young’s books and online focuses on electric stoves (which means coils, I assume), and warn you that an electric stove isn’t powerful enough to do stir-frying and you need to crank up the heat to maximum.

On my stove at least, this results in disaster. Because woks (and the de Buyer steel pans that I have) don’t like being heated fast, and also don’t much like having the radiant element of the stove right under them. And as a result, they warp, which is a big pain in the neck (and not something you can remedy once it’s happened, at least not without a lot of work that I’m in no way ready for), and they “dance” on the stovetop, i.e. don’t lie perfectly flat. The Wok Shop in San Francisco has an FAQ which describes the problem, which makes me think I’m not the only one to have it.

A carbon steel wok would probably warp as well on an electric coil or gas stove (though I suspect the flames of gas are a less violent contact than the full heat of the radiant element), but the thing is you probably wouldn’t notice it. Glass stovetops, unfortunately, are really unforgiving in that regard: the bottom of pans has to be absolutely flat, whereas it’s not really a problem if your wok is slightly warped and you’re cooking with gas or coils.

It might be linked to the wok gauge, but I’ve got a thicker de Buyer steel pan which has the exact same problem, so I suspect a wok would have to be very thick (and very heavy, and kind of defeating the point of reacting fast to the heat), in order not to warp. Also, I’ve killed one wok not knowing this (the one I have is my second one), so for what it’s worth…

(you might have a less, er, eagerly destructive glass stovetop which doesn’t heat up fast. In which case you can safely ignore most of this advice)

So, accordingly, my new cooking rules with a carbon steel wok on a glass stovetop:

  • Find the right burner: on my stove the largest burner (which is actually larger than the wok base) is the friendliest and the least likely to warp the wok.
  • Heat it up gradually (every stove is different. Mine must heat up fast, because I need to do 5 minutes on low heat, 5 minutes on low-medium heat and 5 minutes on medium heat before the wok is at the right temperature)
  • If you have one of those powerboost things on the stovetop that make the stove heat up faster, for the love of God do NOT use it, it’ll kill the pan in the long run.
  • Watch for temperature (on my stove I go to 7-7.5/9, seldom to the maximum). You’ll notice that the de Buyer FAQ for their steel pans says never go above moderate heat. Trust me, even moderate heat on an efficient stove is good enough for stir-frying.
  • After you’re done, let the wok cool on the stove. Never EVER take it straight into the sink to pour some water into it.

(in the interest of full disclosure: my wok is the Ken Hom 31-cm carbon steel. My stove is made by Bosch but I have no idea which model it is, as it came with the house. Also, all of this applies to thin carbon steel pans like the de Buyer ones).


[1] If you want a quick book review: they’re great books because they focus on one technique and have inserts on how to do things, rather than being a compilation of recipes (I like compilations of recipes, but sometimes you need to pause and learn a bit about technique). The Breath of a Wok has a slightly better and slightly more expanded wok selection and wok care section (at least I found it more useful), and Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge is better on preparing ingredients for a stir-fry (cutting them, blanching them, etc.). Sky’s Edge is also more focused on the Chinese diaspora (mostly in North America and the Caribbean) and on how they adapted their dishes.
[ETA: edited some grumbly things which didn’t bring a lot to the review]
I’ve got some light peeves, but nothing serious: I thought both books were superb and well worth a read and/or add to your cooking library if you intend to go wokking.

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard
09 July 2015 @ 04:00 pm

Welcome back to Shattered Wings Thursdays, the weekly feature of art related to The House of Shattered Wings. 40 days to release of the Roc hardcover edition (and 42 days to the Gollancz trade paperback). Getting closer and closer!

So I promised something about other magical beings: here’s one set. The Immortals (tiên) live in the Far East, in Annam. Unlike Fallen, they’re humans who have ascended through meditation, knowledge and merit, and joined the court of the Jade Emperor. Their powers derive from manipulating the khi currents, the manifestations of the five elements (fire, earth, wood, water and metal).

Being an Immortal doesn’t mean, however, being safe–people have been cast out of the court of the Jade Emperor for various offences (mostly breaches of order). One such former Immortal is Philippe, one of the main characters in the book…

Previous iterations of this:
1. Meet nuked Paris
2. The Fallen
3. The Houses

Read Chapter One!

Pre-order now

Full Pinterest board:
Follow Aliette de Bodard’s board House of Shattered Wings on Pinterest.

Today’s surprise mention of The House of Shattered Wings: was very flattered to hear Justin Landon mention the book as restoring his faith in Science Fiction and Fantasy on his awesome podcast Rocket Talk!

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard

Just a quick heads-up I’ve posted a (quick) recipe for a stir-fry with pork belly and shrimp. If you haven’t seen it already, check it out!

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard
02 July 2015 @ 05:00 pm

Welcome aboard for another episode of Shattered Wings Thursdays, the time of the week where I pick a particularly nice or evocative picture from the Pinterest board for the novel, and provide some teasers on plot, worldbuilding and characters. 47 days until the release of the Roc edition of The House of Shattered Wings in the US, and 49 days until the Gollancz edition in the UK/Commonwealth!

Today is this picture:

Spire of Notre Dame

In the world of The House of Shattered Wings, life revolves around the Great Houses: once safe havens built to protect the Fallen in their infancy from those who would prey on them, the Houses in post-war Paris have become fortresses, hoarding their wealth and dependents and fighting each other for scraps of power.
A House actually encompasses a small area of Paris: it’s not a building, but generally a series of streets and associated buildings. For instance, House Silverspires, the setting of much of the novel, covers the entirety of Ile de la Cité. Each House has a formal uniform with different colours, a coat of arms (and a motto etc.), as well as a … slightly different philosophy in its dealings with others, which is mainly due to the policy pursued by the head of the House. House Silverspires’s colours are red and silver, and its motto is “Look to the risen sun” (yeah, House founder Morningstar wrote the motto. You can rely on him not to be subtle in the least).

More next week!
Previous installments of this:
1. Meet nuked Paris
2. The Fallen

Read Chapter One!

Pre-order now

Full Pinterest board:
Follow Aliette de Bodard’s board House of Shattered Wings on Pinterest.

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard

Just a quick heads-up that I put chapter one of my upcoming Gollancz/Roc release The House of Shattered Wings online for your reading pleasure :)

It is almost pleasant, at first, to be Falling.

The harsh, unwavering light of the City recedes, leaving you in shadow, leaving only memories of relief, of a blessed coolness seizing your limbs. Nothing has turned yet into longing, into bitterness, into the cold that will never cease, not even in the heat of summer.

Read more here!

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard
25 June 2015 @ 04:45 pm

Welcome back to Shattered Wings Thursdays: your weekly picture and teaser text about The House of Shattered Wings, excerpted from the Pinterest board I’m running for the novel. We are now 55 days away from the release of the Roc edition (and just a teensy bit more away from the Gollancz edition).

Here’s today’s picture:

Aka, pretty close to my mental image of Lucifer Morningstar, pre-Fall…

One of the key differentiators in The House of Shattered Wings is the presence of Fallen angels. Fallen are immortal, ageless, and sterile: they have no memory of anything before their Fall. When they Fall, they lose their wings and manifest as human; and for a brief moment until their innate magic heals them, they are at their most vulnerable: amnesiac and wounded and struggling to understand what they are doing in the mortal world. Needless to say, in a world where Paris is a devastated city where everyone struggles to survive, this makes newly Fallen particularly sought after–and generally not to give them hugs or flowers…

The firstborn and foremost of Fallen is Lucifer Morningstar, the founder of House Silverspires on Ile de la Cité; his power, invested in wards and other protective spells, kept the House at the top of the hierarchy of power, even in a devastated city. However, Morningstar has been missing for twenty years, and Silverspires has slowly declined in importance and strength…

There are other magical beings besides the Fallen, but this is a topic for another blog post ^^

More next week!

Read Chapter One!

Pre-order now

Previous iterations of this:
1. Meet nuked Paris

Full Pinterest board:
Follow Aliette de Bodard’s board House of Shattered Wings on Pinterest.

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard
24 June 2015 @ 08:42 pm

The RT review of The House of Shattered Wings is online here. I’m just going to excerpt the relevant bits: the book is a Top Pick for August, and the review contains, among many awesome things, this, “It’s a whirlwind, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s one of the best fantasy novels of 2015.”

*squee*

Also, it’s subscriber-only, but I’m reliably told that Publisher’s Weekly lists The House of Shattered Wings as one of the top ten books for Fall (alongside Laura Anne Gilman’s Silver on the Road, a book that sounds fantastic, Fran Wilde’s Updraft which I have on my ereader and am looking forward to, and Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown, which is a delight).

Here’s what they say: “This intense novel depicts warring factions in a magical alternate version of 20th-century Paris, where decadence mingles with fear.”
Intense. With Decadence and fear. Yeah, sounds about right :)

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard
22 June 2015 @ 05:00 pm

From the book log (crossposted to amazon and goodreads, because reviews are important to authors and I reckon I should start making an effort to review consistently):

The Scar, Sergey and Marina Dyachenko: I came to this cold, more or less (it came heavily recommended by a couple of friends, and I’d enjoyed Sergey and Marina Dyachenko’s fantastic Vita Nostra”, but I had no idea what to expect).
This is the story of Ergert Soll, a braggart and bully who goes one step too far and accidentally kills Dinar, the fiancé of student Toria. Egert finds himself cursed by the Wanderer to be a coward–so swamped by fear he’s totally unable to function. Meanwhile, Toria struggles with the loss of her fiancé; and with the appearance in Egert in her life when the latter comes to the city where her father is the Dean of the University. But all is not well: in the background, fanatics known as the Order of Lash seek to bring about the end of the world; and are ready to do anything for this..
This is a tight, character-driven study of two people and how they cope with loss and fear and the rising madness brought by the Order of Lash. I loved the intimate scenes at the university and how they opened up on a larger world, while remaining intimately focused on Toria/Egert. The theme of redemption is one I’m personally always happy to read, and here I thought it was well done if not 100% surprising (but the catharsis at the climax is wonderful done and had me on the edge of my seat). I expected this to be larger-scale and to deal with the brotherhood of Lash; but I’m really it didn’t–part of why it works is the tight focus, and Egert and Toria both having to make stands. I wish we’d seen more from Toria at the climax; the narrative ends up feeling a little unbalanced. But it’s well worth a read, and it’s quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read. Recommended.

Uprooted, Naomi Novik: Agnieszka lives on the edge of the Wood, a dark and angry power that always seeks to expand, and twists and corrupts everything it touches. Her village (and others) survive because they are protected but the Dragon, a long-lived wizard who has dedicated his life to fighting the Wood. Every ten years the Dragon chooses a girl to serve him; and the girls he picks come back fey, unwilling to settle down in their home villages again. Agnieszka has always thought that her best friend Kasia would be the chosen girl, the one picked by the Dragon to serve him; but she hasn’t counted with her innate talent for magic…

I loved this–easily and effortlessly my favorite read of 2015. I gobbled it up in a day and found myself rereading choice passages. I love the budding relationship between Agnieszka and the Dragon, but also the fact that her friendship with Kasia remains the anchor of the story–and the Wood is such a creepy creation, the stuff of nightmares! I was only 99% sold on the ending (trying not to be spoilery there–I get the idea and love it, but wasn’t quite convinced that Agnieszka could turn aside centuries of hatred). But that doesn’t deter much from the fantastic-ness of this book. Awesome

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard

So… apparently it’s two months until the release of The House of Shattered Wings (eep!!) With that in mind, I thought we’d start doing a little related content on the blog; and what better way to whet your appetite than evocative images? I’m already running a pinterest board for the novel here: over the next two months I’ll excerpt the images I prefer and provide some commentary that will hopefully make you want to read the book :)

Paris burning

From ufunk, by John Walters and Peter Baustdaeter

Ok, so let’s start with basics: this is Paris in the novel. Your basic nuked city setting: following the Great Houses War (aka magical factions tearing Europe apart from 1914-1918 [1]), Paris is now a devastated city, its monuments scorched ruins (with the occasional magical trap), its streets covered in soot; and the Seine… the Seine not only runs black with ashes, but has become the place you really don’t want to get close to: the accumulated spells have turned dark, and people who walk too close to the river banks get snatched and dragged underwater; or strangled by tendrils they can’t see… Even bending over a bridge can rapidly turn lethal.

Nice place to live in, isn’t it? :p

Also, yes. If you’re holding an island like Ile Saint-Louis, Ile de la Cité, or Ile aux Cygnes, (Paris’s three islands), you now have a virtually impregnable fortress, if you don’t mind the fact that your river banks are totally off limits lest you lose your own people. The major setting for the novel is Ile de la Cité, which is the location of House Silverspires, sixty years after the end of the war: the city is still devastated because the damage was extensive and the infighting between Houses has never really stopped, but people are doing their best to live among the ruins.

Broadly speaking, the technology and clothing are a distorted version of the Belle Epoque: there have been some changes since then, but the Belle Epoque is understandably seen as halcyon days, a Golden Age everyone more or less overtly longs for, or regrets.

More next week!

Read Chapter One!

Pre-order now

Full Pinterest board:
Follow Aliette de Bodard’s board House of Shattered Wings on Pinterest.

[1] No connection at all to real-world events ^-^

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard
15 June 2015 @ 05:00 pm

(Picture: Fran Wilde, Navah Wolfe, Alyssa Wong and me)

Just a quick note that I’m still around but completely completely buried in explody real life (aka “not serious, but time consuming” events).

I had a lovely time at the Nebulas; and finally got to see Mad Max: Fury Road with Navah Wolfe, Fran Wilde, Alyssa Wong and her boyfriend Don (and it was great, OMG. First off, the last movie I saw was Interstellar, which a. wasn’t *very* good from my point of view, and b. was a long time ago! *sigh* toddlers). Now I feel like I’m all caught up with what everyone was saying on the internet! Also, it’s a fantastic 2-hour chase movie with a couple great leads (Charlize Theron is badass awesome, and Tom Hardy too, in a different way!).

And then there was this:

(Kat Tanaka Opoknik, Alyssa Wong, Ken Liu, Liu Cixin, and me)

Yes, there was tailcoat goodness :) (for those who haven’t been following the adventures of the tailcoat: I basically got it for my book launch, aka “cosplaying my own characters”, in this case Selene, the head of House Silverspires and a dab hand with tailcoats, men’s clothes and general bad-assness. This was my first serious spin with it, and it went very well. Except I had to google how to tie a cravat because it’s been so long since I last did it ^^)

Didn’t actually win a Nebula, but had a great time at the banquet (Sheila Williams organises awesome table seating!) and was very happy for the winners.

Now I’m back in Paris, looking with apprehension at the mass of things I’m supposed to be doing (do not overcommit do not overcommit etc.), and gearing up for the summer before book release (*gulp*). More when my head is above water (hahaha who am I kidding).

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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