It is New Year's Eve as I write this. Last year at this time, I was on my 10th round of chemo and anxiously taking my temperature every fifteen minutes. I was running a temperature and did not want to spend the evening in the ER. Well, there was no such luck. I had a fever of 102 and was watching the count down to the new year in an exam room while a bed was being prepped for me on the cancer isolation floor. I spent several days there while they fought the fever. I left the hospital with nerve damage in my feet from the chemo. The numbness from that persists to this day though it isn't as bad as it first was. 2011 did not begin well at all. But I learned a great deal about perspective since my diagnosis. As bad as that New Year was, it was far better than the one before when I still faced a major operation just months after the first one. Chemo loomed after that. I began 2011 damaged but cancer free. I've tried to treat each day of this past year as a gift to be appreciated as much as possible. On the whole, I believe I have succeeded. I still have a lot of hurdles to overcome physically, and the spectre of the disease is always lurking in the background. But I feel I've turned a corner and am looking forward to an even better year to come.
Since I still spend a lot of time at home and still have a lot of stress related to recovery, I have the opportunity and motivation to work on my culinary skills. I took on some really crazy things this year. For the most part, the results were good. Some were even great. The baguette still eludes me though on the last pass, the flavor and texture were there. I'm still having trouble getting it to rise properly. There is something I'm missing somewhere. I plan to look at more videos and recipes. Strangely, I thought that either puff pastry or croissants would be more difficult. They are time consuming recipes for sure, but the results were just sublime! The upside to both the croissant and puff pastry is that it freezes perfectly, so there are baked goods for quite some time after whipping up a batch. The other interesting dish that was good though I couldn't call it successful was tiramisu. Incidentally, after searching high and low for lady fingers and ending up at a specialty shop to find them, we've been finding them everywhere. Last week, we found them in a drug store. Jon believes the lady fingers are now mocking us. That could be true. I'm not sure when we'll try the recipe again. It makes such a big tray. We'll need to have an event with lots of people to eat it before making it again. In fact, there is a challenge I'd like to beat next year. There are recipes for souffles and tiramisu that make many servings and do not freeze. I'm searching high and low for recipes that work well for individual servings or that freeze well. I'm open to any suggestions.
Aside from enjoying the food my obsession is producing, I got some recognition that was really exciting. My tiramisu effort was recognized by the authors of the recipe, Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar of The Cooking Channel's Extra Virgin. My Sugar Plums – a new treat I made at the last minute this year – was praised via Twitter by Alton Brown himself! But strangely, it's been the interaction with some Japanese chefs that has most jazzed me. I think it's because I had never cooked anything in that cuisine before. I was very thrilled that my first effort at sushi got a thumbs up viaTwitter from a host of a major cooking show in Japan, Your Japanese Kitchen. That was really cool, but I've been as jazzed by interactions with Japanese chefs who have shows on Youtube. They are widely followed there. I've tried many dishes by Ochikeron . She's been very encouraging, and she's been recognized by the original Iron Chefs! And I was beyond thrilled when the wildly popular host of Cooking with Dog deemed my version of her pumpkin soup delicious.
2011 was a good year in the kitchen for me. In 2012, I see some inevitable things happening. I will try to make my own pasta from scratch. I've had fresh pasta over the years. There was one spot in Philly's Reading Terminal Market that sold astonishing ravioli and tortellini. But it hasn't been until recently that I've been convinced that it's a recipe I can pull off. And I can see myself grinding my own meats for burgers and sausages. I was on my way to that practice anyway, because it's difficult to find the kinds of coarse grinds in beef that I like for chili. And I have been profoundly influenced by Michael Pollan's FoodRules . He advocates eating foods that are as little commercially processed as possible. Beyond that, I'm exploring two new cookbooks (Micahel Symon's Live to Cook and Anne Burrell's Cook Like a Rock Star ) that strongly recommend making both homemade pasta sausages for their recipes. I can't wait to report back with all that I am learning!
A Quick note on kitchen disasters. I will try the mango pitting device suggested by a kind reader though I've seen Bobby Flay nearly lose some fingers with one. I am still deeply suspicious of mangoes. And I have yet to poach an egg successfully. I've tried so many 'fool proof' tips. Obviously these chefs have never met me! Still, I will continue to try. There are so many dishes I like which include poached eggs.
The year did not begin that well creatively. I found that doing even the shortest of shoots was beyond my reach physically. Some of the difficulty simply comes from being older. Wearing that many hats in a production was a lot harder in 2011 than it was in 1998. I'm also missing my most trusty production coordinators, Randy and Phil. Not that I'm heaping guilt upon them. Even if they were available, there is the second reason that I have slowed down. In the wake of the two surgeries and ten rounds of chemo, I have changed. My 'new normal' leaves me far slower at many things than I used to be. And I can never predict when I will tire easily or have other, more unpleasant problems. Thus, I had to shelve plans to shoot the web series I had planned. That was a tad depressing. But there was a yin to that yang. I was suddenly writing fiction again. The guys came alive for me in two story lines. I'm still working on one, but the other – Ensnared Volumes 1&2 – is out and well received. My Soldier boys are giving my Vampire a hard time. It's fun to write though a bit odd for me. More on that on http://sybpressyaoi.com . Oh, and a special shout out to my talented cover artist, Adrianna Ferguson. You were the find of the year!
Aside from the books going well, I was challenged creatively by a solicitation for stories by one the edgiest genre writers I've run across in a very long time. He is best known as Made in DNA. His content is way out on the fringe most of the time. Many of the titles are Not Safe For Work. His work seems offensive at first blush. But there is so much more going on than cybersex. Brent has a way of using the sparest of prose to speak volumes. His worlds are often as dark and scary as they are sex-charged. But his fiction is always smart, and it can be wickedly funny. To write for him was quite a challenge as I am not prone toward darkness. I pushed myself in directions I had never gone with my work while adhering to a rigid word count. The results were pieces that I would not have thought of were it not for the challenge in Brent's guidelines. It was an exasperating and exhilarating experience that left me in a different space as a writer. I look forward to pushing myself like that again sometime soon. I'm also very pleased to have found an inspiring and thought provoking writer like Brent.
I found that an awful lot of my creative experiences and opportunities came from the copious amount of times I spent online in 2011. While I was laying the groundwork for networking my next books and indulging in my geeky past times, I was making some important connections. My late night on line discussions and diatribes lead to speaking at two really cool conventions. And those events lead to the suggestion that I try for a freelance position at Digital Manga as an editor. This was a huge step for me, and it is an endlessly fascinating challenge to take someone's work and make it sound like natural English yet still have the author's voice and intent clear in the dialogue. This is done without being able to read Japanese fluently – thus I must rely on the translator – and without ever interacting with the author. Strangely, I am enjoying the process. The conventions also allowed me to meet and have protracted conversations with writers I have long admired like Jane Espenson, Wendy Pini and HamletMachine. Who knows where all these connections will take me creatively, but I can't wait to find out.
The web series (Demon Under Glass and Blood Oath) remain on hold as far as new shoots. Aside from the physical problems I've already mentioned, Jon's availability is now very limited. I haven't figured out how to make that work. I am hoping that the short for Blood Oath will be finished this year. It requires new artwork and a lot of focus. With Jon's limited availability, I'm not sure how that will work either. In far better news, there are four films from our catalog that have become active in recent months. One may actually move to pre-production in January. Our partners in Dragoncor/EarthDraggon have had a year of extraordinary connections as well. Some of them may bear fruit very soon. I can't give details, because we all had to sign agreements to not talk about anything. That's quite exciting,
In the book arena, Ensnared Volume Two will be out in January. There will finally be a third Soldier's book and a third Surrender book. Both of those series will feature a relaunch of the first two in each series and a big advertising and social network push. We will see some new authors in the latest Demonspawn collection along with some favorites. And Sybpress will be launching a new author in the red hot romantica (romance/erotica) genre. Our very own Marguerite Lliteras will debut the very naughty The Intern very soon. You can read all about her history as a writer and the enticing origins of The Intern at http://sybpressromantica.com.
2012 is going to be fantastic in many areas.