SUNSHINE Ask Robins
Blast and curdle it, how did it get this late? I only got home from bell ringing . . . uh . . . well, four hours ago, now that you mention it. The wretched days are drawing in so frelling fast—you can only hurtle hellhounds after tower practise in daylight for a few weeks in high summer, and that’s already over.* The sun sets fabulously across a field from the South Desuetude church, which means (as I said to Niall as we strolled toward the bell tower this evening) that you can see it getting later and later every week. Which is how it feels.
And now I’m sitting here eating scrambled eggs** and reading through some of the suggested bakery items from the SUNSHINE drawing just past*** . . . and feeling increasingly hungry, scrambled eggs or no scrambled eggs. Okay, gang, there has got to be another drawing in this somehow, for those of you willing to share your actual recipes. Black Bear and I are working on this†. There are two immediate problems: a lot of people are not going to want to hang their favourite recipes on line, and there are even—brace yourselves, I know this comes as a shock—people who don’t bake at all. But . . . but . . .
Meanwhile, without moving away from the topic at all, let’s have an Ask Robin question.
Did you base the baked goods in Sunshine off actual recipes? And if so, would you be willing to share them?
(I did see all the lovely recipes you’ve already posted on your blog, but nothing Sunshine-specific. As a pastry cook, the absence of “Death of Marat” in this world makes me very sad!)
Some version of this question is probably the second-commonest I get about SUNSHINE.†† To anyone who is a baker/cook, the answer has to be yes, doesn’t it? Of course they come from actual recipes. But after that the answer gets a little gnarlier. I’m always a little surprised when the question is put like this, but it’s probably just a way of trying to be polite, rather than, Yo, Dumbface, you gonna give us some of these recipes or what? My editor and agent—both themselves serious cooks and bakers—attempted to discuss with me the possibility of publishing some of the recipes in the back of the book but didn’t get too far with me screaming, No no no NO NO NO NO NO THIS IS NOT A COZY BOOK!!!! I DO NOT WANT TO BE REVIEWED IN THE DOMESTIC SECTION OF YUMMY MUMMIES MONTHLY!!!, so after a while they gave up. I still think I’m right about this—recipes do not belong in SUNSHINE—but I’ve been surprised at how persistent the requests for recipes continue to be.
And I do toy with the idea of a SUNSHINE cookbook. But . . . Sunshine bakes rather like I do (ahem) plus she’s a professional, which means her hands and eyes know what they want and how to get it, and her brain, let alone her measuring spoons, are frequently left in the cupboard. One of the reasons I’ve never got round to posting my How to Make Yeast Bread (which I’ve been promising off and on now for almost three years) is because so much of it is based on feel—on experience. Every frelling bag of frelling flour is a little different, and what makes cooking fun and interesting and dangerous is learning to respond to your ingredients and when to ignore the recipe. There’s a reason why so many of us old, experienced, not to say self-willed and cantankerous, cooks say of ourselves ‘I can’t follow a recipe’. This is pretty hard to quantify. And—however you feel about the relationship between author and character—the idea of Sunshine and me, who are both self-willed and cantankerous, sitting down together, and you can define ‘sit’ and ‘together’ any way you please, and creating a book’s worth of clear, precise, works-every-time recipes is . . . pretty dranglefabbing funny.
Okay, it’s also true that because Sunshine is a professional, she has a lot of her recipes down pat, in her head if not on paper, and could probably be wheedled into writing them out—she lives to feed people, after all. So Sunshine’s recipes are still an open question . . . which I’m doing precious little to answer. Feh. Unh. Well. What I need to do in my copious free time is go through SUNSHINE again and write down the names of every decadent foodstuff she mentions, and match up the ones I know to the recipes out here in this world. A lot of the stuff I’ve posted, which you can find in Playing with Your Food, is unalloyed Sunshine however—Three Chocolate Truffle Brownies? She totally makes these, and she doesn’t swear at her white chocolate either. Oh, and Death of Marat exists—but even Sunshine admits it’s a ratbag. Back in the days when I still made stuff like this, it came out about one time in three—it always tasted good, but sometimes it was a puddle and sometimes it was a pudding.
First, what do mik-bars taste like?
For those of you still intent on SUNSHINE, mik-bars are from HERO. And they’re a chewy-crunchy, brown-sugar-fruit-nut-and-the-Damarian-version-of-oatmeal cookie bar. I’ve always meant to investigate what out of that category in this world you could safely feed your horse—I’m mostly an apple and carrot girl myself—since Talat gets through quite a lot of them. But it’s one of the things I still haven’t got round to.
And second (and probably more important), are there actual recipes for any/all of those baked goods from SUNSHINE (Killer Zebras, Bitter Chocolate Death, etc)?
Killer Zebras certainly exist. I’m also bemused that this, with Death of Marat, are probably the two that get asked for the most often. Death of Marat, as above, is vexed. But I can absolutely give you Killer Zebras, with perhaps some head-scratching and furrowedness of brow, because they’re really only slightly dressed-up what-you-call-’em, I think I first met them in an old Betty Crocker cookbook under the name Harlequin Cookies. You make a basic cookie dough, divide it in half, add chocolate to one, and then roll each out and squidge ’em together. But I’ll post that recipe. One of these days.
Frell. I’m doing it again. Okay, I was going to answer another SUNSHINE question, but I’ll save it. Because I want to show you the following, which came in today, while we’re talking about SUNSHINE. I know I’ve posted other book mail recently, but partly because I know I’m a crank and partly because if this blog is supposed to be the public manifestation of me as a writer-person, it should include book mail as well as bell ringing and hellhounds and roses and Dido’s Lament††† . . . because book mail really does get me out of bed in the morning and opening the work-in-progress file. I’ve said this many times elsewhere: I’d be a storyteller whether anyone was listening or not, because I can’t help it, it’s the way I’m built. But I have had this huge, huge, HUGE stroke of luck that I can write the kind of stories that strangers are willing to pay me to read‡ . . . and a storyteller really only exists if she has an audience. Otherwise she’s a poor sad lost shadow of herself. And the thing that any storyteller wants most of all is to matter to her listeners/readers. You can’t help it; it’s part of the storyteller make up. And here’s an email that tells me that my stories matter.
I first read Sunshine in the spring of 200-. That spring had been enormously difficult. . . . Books were one of the few bright spots . . . and Sunshine was nothing short of a beacon. It is a wonderful book for all of the usual reasons: it is well-written, beautifully developed, and has a distinct narrator who is easy to relate to, especially in her flaws. It is vivid to the point where you want to crawl inside the book and live there for a while. It features vampires as they ought to be–as dangerous predators, NOT as swoon-worthy dreamboats. The relationship between Sunshine and Con is a rare kind of perfect–an awkward bond/sort-of friendship that is constantly developing. I loved it and recommended it to anyone who expressed even a remote interest in fantasy.
Recently, I had to [revisit the situation of the spring of 200-]. I put ‘Sunshine’ in my overnight bag because I’d been meaning to reread it. All of its good points were still valid, but what struck me this time was Sunshine’s journey as a character. She was handed a whole lot of baggage that she thought she couldn’t handle, baggage that made her question her identity as a person. And maybe this sounds silly, but this is what got me through the past couple of weeks . . . Having someone, even a fictional someone, who was also unsure of her ability to handle the cards she’d been dealt made the past couple of weeks a little less lonely and a lot less dreary. There is much inspiration to be found in someone who can have doubts about herself and still manage to kill a vampire with a kitchen knife.
‘Thank you’ seems rather inadequate, but it’s the best I can do. . . .
Trust me: ‘thank you’ is never inadequate to a storyteller about her stories.
* * *
* And despite what I wrote last night I’m not sure it is such a good thing that it’s easier to get to bed before dawn than it was a few weeks ago. I’ve always been inclined to press my luck.
** Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely fond of buttery, gooey scrambled eggs. They are a Staple of My Existence. Like chocolate.
*** These are random pulls from the first Facebook column. I’m going into sugar shock just from reading: I’d bake a souffle with fresh summer peaches ready to explode in the center. A lava fruit surprise. . . . I’d bake my soon-to-be-notorious, Cranberry/Coffee/Choc Chip Just-Can’t-Stop Organic Cookies. . . . I would bake Extra-special Chocolate Porcupine Cake (with lashings of buttercream icing) and Chocolate Brownies of Extreme Temptation. . . . I would bake chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache filling and chocolate chocolate chip icing. . . . I’d bake beautifully light cupcakes made with butter, free range eggs and Earl Grey tea, topped with pastel coloured buttercream and decorated with lavender flowers, crystallised rose petals or violets. . . . I’d bake Descent into Oatmeal Madness Cookies. . . . I’d bake Bloody Doomsday Chocolate Raspberry Swirl Muffins. . . . I’d bake Persephone’s Peril – a dark chocolate torte with a secret layer of white chocolate and pomegranate mousse, smothered with dark chocolate ganache, drizzled with pomegranate syrup. . . . I’d bake a braid of lemon curd bread. AAAAAAAUGH. WANT. WANT.
† To the extent that either of us can focus. We both have a slight weakness in the Baked Goods direction.
†† The commonest, as regular blog readers know, involves the s-word. Has anyone noticed the mysterious disappearance of any noisy, obnoxious neighbours who go on too much about books needing to have sequels? Do you really want to know why so many of my roses are twice their normal size?
††† Which is playing right now, as I weep despairingly into my keyboard.
‡ Or at least post recipe suggestions
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