Thirsty Thursdays & Hungry Hearts: Deep-Fried Party Treats


I’m trying to feature food from books I’m currently reading instead of resorting to paragraphs from old favourites. (I realise the best food passages, or at least, the ones I remember, are all from children’s books.)

I’m reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed at the moment and this description of party food stands out because it reminds me of parties from my student days, especially the greasy nibbles.

The night before he left for Abbenay his fellow students gave a party for him.
Parties were frequent, on slight pretexts, but Shevek was surprised by the
energy that went into this one, and wondered why it was such a fine one.
Uninfluenced by others, he never knew he influenced them; he had no idea
they liked him.

Many of them must have saved up daily allowances for the party for days
before. There were incredible amounts of food. The order for pastries was so
large that the refectory baker had let his fancy loose and produced hitherto
unknown delights: spiced wafers, little peppered squares to go with the
smoked fish, sweet fried cakes, succulently greasy. There were fruit drinks,
preserved fruit from the Keran Sea region, tiny salt shrimp, piles of crisp
sweet-potato chips. The rich plentiful food was intoxicating. Everybody got
very merry, and a few got sick.

Several paragraphs on there’s this passage and the last line really gets to me. I want to wipe her mouth and chin with a wet wipe. Actually, I want to wipe my mouth because I can feel the oily residue left by the greasy fried cakes!   

“Suffering is a misunderstanding,” Shevek said, leaning forward, his eyes
wide and light. He was still lanky, with big hands, protruding ears, and
angular joints, but in the perfect health and strength of early manhood he was
very beautiful. His dun-colored hair, like the others’, was fine and straight,
worn at its full length and kept off the forehead with a band. Only one of
them wore her hair differently, a girl with high cheekbones and a flat nose;
she had cut her dark hair to a shiny cap all around. She was watching Shevek
with a steady, serious gaze. Her lips were greasy from eating fried cakes, and
there was a crumb on her chin.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books/Authors I’ve Decided I’m No Longer Interested In Reading

The Artsy Reader Girl hosts this meme, and I join in if I think I have something to share.

I recently deleted a whole lot of books from my Kindle because I suspect I’ll never read them. In any case, some of these are there on Project Gutenberg and some on my shelves if I change my mind.

I’ll list the authors’names if there are several books by them that have been removed from my TBR list:

  1. Charlotte Yonge
  2. Edmund Crispin
  3. The Vampyre by John William Polidori
  4. Jose Saramago
  5. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
  6. Louisa May Alcott (I’d planned to read beyond the March family novels, and I did try, but I’m giving up. Just can’t seem to get on with her non-Little Women books. )
  7. Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
  8. Elizabeth Gaskell
  9. Keigo Higashino (I’ve made two attempts, the second time after I read Seicho Matsumoto, but I fear KH is not for me.)
  10. Kurt Vonnegut

You never know with books though. I might read them all eventually.




Interview: Stephani Soejono


Stephani Soejono is an Indonesian freelance illustrator and creator of comics. She has lived in Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as Canada where she went to university and majored in animation.

In her own words, ‘I am a little disappointed to have to come back [from Canada] for various reasons, but mainly [the lack of] Female Health Empowerment and Religious Freedom [in Indonesia]. On the other hand, Indonesian food, lol.’

Soejono recently published Tale of the Bidadari with Maple Comics. You can read my review here.

The following Q&A was done over email and Twitter. For more of Soejono, follow her on Twitter and on Tumblr.Read More »

Book Review: Tale of the Bidadari by Stephani Soejono


Author/artist: Stephani Soejono

Publisher: Maple Comics, 110 pages

Erlang visits a remote village with his father, a doctor, on a mercy mission. From the architecture and headdress worn by the womenfolk, this community seems to be Minangkabau. Furthermore, the village chief is a woman: the Minangkabau are largest matrilineal society in the world.

Drought has left the villagers hungry and sick, so Doctor Tanuwe’s skills, as well as the medicine and food he has brought with him is well received although there is some indication that there are those who are resentful of his ‘modern’ ways.

Old beliefs and practices are still a feature in the village, and there is even (rather mysterious) talk of ‘sacrifice’ to address the drought.

Meanwhile, big city boy Erlang, is not enjoying himself. Not only does he find rural living and the villager’s traditions alienating and boring, he can’t even have something as simple as a bath because the water sources are dry as a result of the drought. Luckily, he meets Upik, a precocious little girl who proves to be a welcome distraction.

Erlang and the doctor are staying with a villager named Aminah and Upik is her daughter. There are hints that Aminah is supposed to keep an eye on the father and son, and that this is something that she needs to do to keep Upik safe: what is going on? Has it to do with Mayang, a young girl who is kept prisoner by the village chief and whom Upik sets free?

The chief tells Erlang that he should keep out of the village temple and the forest, but while playing with Upik, the boy finds himself led into the woods. There, they are met by Mayang, who opens Erlang’s eyes to the beauty of nature.

Who is Mayang? Well, the title of the comic hints at her supernatural nature. Bidadari are fae and, in Indonesian and Malaysian folklore, they are also known as Bunian. However, despite its title, the story does not really focus on the character, does not delve into what she is, where she’s from, nor the complexities of her relationship with the village and villagers.

I see this story as an account of the experiences of a city boy in a small Indonesian village rather than the tale of a fairy. I admit that the title’s focus on the ‘bidadari’ is potentially more intriguing to readers, but I feel that it is less Mayang’s nature that is interesting than the villagers’ beliefs, including the practice of blood sacrifice to ensure favourable weather for a good harvest. I am curious if this is based on historical fact, or if it’s pure fiction.

As a reader I found this a charming, engagingly illustrated story, but as an editor, I wanted more character development, more exploration of subject matter and themes, and more details in both the illustration and text. I was left with many questions about the nature of Mayang; the village’s past, including the reasons for Aminah’s apprehension; and even a suggestion of what the future has in store for her and Upik, bearing in mind the decision they make at the end of the book.

Finally, I was pulled up short on several occasions because of distracting typos so I hope Maple Comics gets their publications thoroughly proofread in future.

Apparently, Indonesian author/artist Soejono will be publishing another comic with Maple soon. Looking forward to it.





Thirsty Thursday & Hungry Hearts: Poick vs Serbat


Descriptions of food aren’t always enticing although I have to admit that my favourite literary depictions of food tend to be. For instance, when Elizabeth David writes about mayonnaise, I long to slather my sandwiches with it, even though I actually really, really dislike the taste.

I am fascinated by this scene, from Provenance by Ann Leckie. The food and drink isn’t described in detail and this underlines how basic it is, but Ambassador Tibanvori’s reactions are hilarious and extreme, revealing her prejudices and her reluctance to adapt to the culture of the species to whose world she has been assigned.

These paragraphs demonstrate how one civilisation’s gastronomic delights may seem disgusting to another. When you taste some foreign flavours you may decide that they need to be acquired over long periods of time, practically from the cradle even. Perhaps you need Geck DNA to enjoy ‘poick’, and Malaysian DNA to love durian — I’m thinking how so many people from the West are disgusted by the taste and smell of durian, yet love the taste and smell of blue cheese, which I liken to unwashed feet.)

“There’s food here now,” said Garal. “Everything will be going on whether we eat or not. And it’s easier to think things through when you’re not hungry and thirsty.”

Ingray frowned, and opened her mouth to argue, but then she remembered Garal on the trip to Hwae, saving food. Talking about how difficult it could be to get something to eat in Compassionate Removal.

“You haven’t eaten in way too long,” Garal said.

She didn’t trust herself to answer but went to the back of the room, in the direction the spider mech had indicated. She found a niche in the wall with a basin of body-warm water in it. Gingerly, she scooped up a small handful and tasted it.

“It’s plain warm water.” Ambassador Tibanvori’s voice. Ingray turned to see her come into the room. “They won’t make anything hotter, even if you ask.”

“What do they eat, then?” asked Garal, sitting down on an extrusion beside the table.

“Raw things,” Tibanvori said, with utter disgust. “Or rotted ones.” She gestured at the packets on the table. “This is your kind of food, though. We took it on board at Tyr Siilas. I have no idea what any of it is.”

“Nutrient blocks,” said Ingray. “Those are mostly yeast with flavors.”

Ambassador Tibanvori wrinkled her nose.

“Noodles,” Garal added. “You add hot water to them. I guess warm water will do.”

“It won’t,” said Tibanvori with disdain, sitting down next to Garal.

“And there’s serbat.” Garal looked over at Ingray. “Instant serbat.”

“I could do with some serbat,” Ingray said. “Are there any cups or bowls or …” She trailed off, unable to quite complete the thought.

“Touch the wall above the basin,” said Tibanvori. Ingray did, and the surface of the wall contracted away from her fingers, exposing a cavity underneath that held a stack of shallow bowls, some small cups, and a few large, deep spoons.

“It’s disgusting, isn’t it,” said Tibanvori, behind her, and she had to agree at the very least that there was something disturbing about the way the wall had reacted, how it felt. Like a muscle, or at least something biological, not a nice, solid, dependable wall.

Tibanvori continued. “Those spoons are only for scooping up water. They eat with their fingers.” She shuddered. “What’s serbat?”

“It’s a hot drink,” Garal said. “It’s serbat.”

Ambassador Tibanvori gave em a sideways, disapproving look and then sighed, rose, and came over to where Ingray stood. “Here.” She took a stack of bowls and cups out of the cavity and handed them to Ingray, then scooped a few cupfuls of warm water out of the basin. “Whatever serbat is, it can’t be worse than poick. The salt water I was telling you about before,” she added, to Ingray and Garal’s exhausted incomprehension. “The noodles you just have to let sit longer. I don’t know about the sort you’re used to, the ones I’ve had are generally not very good cold, but it’s better than live sea worms or
algae paste.”

“I like algae paste,” said Ingray, following Tibanvori back to the table. “And I like fish, cooked or not. I don’t know about worms, though.”

“Trust me, they’re horrible.” Tibanvori took the dishes out of Ingray’s hands. “Sit down.” Brusquely, but, Ingray realized, she had been standing there clutching the stack of bowls, unable to form any idea of what to do with them.“I’m sorry,” Ingray said. “I’m very tired.”

“Apparently,” Tibanvori agreed, tearing open a serbat packet and peering at the contents. “You mix this with water, I take it?”

“Yes,” Garal agreed, as Ingray sat. And stared as Tibanvori poured lukewarm water onto noodles, and into cups of serbat powder.

“And I need to know what’s happening on the station,” said Ingray.

“Not bad,” the Radchaai ambassador said, after a sip of warmish serbat. She sat at the table. “Not tea, but not bad. I wonder if I can get some of this shipped back to the Geck homeworld. Tea is hopeless when you can’t get hot water. Real tea, the way it should be drunk, I mean.”

“I need to know what’s happening on the station,” said Ingray again. She blinked open her messages, but she was too tired to make much sense out of what she saw. Nothing from Netano at any rate, and nothing from Nuncle Lak. She sent them both a brief, barely coherent message asking for whatever information either of them had.

“Whatever’s happening on the station doesn’t concern us,” Tibanvori said. “Your friend is right, you should eat something. And then see if you can find some news, I suppose. And get some sleep. Though I’m sorry to say there’s nothing like civilized sleeping quarters here. These people, the ones who live in orbit, they generally just lie down on the ground wherever they are. This room”—she gestured around with the cup of serbat still in her hand—“is a concession to foreign habits. Even the Geck humans on the station generally
eat squatting or standing. Though I guess you don’t need anything like comfort or manners when you’re just shoveling slimy animals into your mouth with your bare hands.”

“I can’t imagine why the Geck ambassador doesn’t like you,” Garal said.

Tibanvori made a sharp, sardonic hah. “Well, I don’t much like her, if it comes to that.”

N.B. That contracting wall!