I sliced strawberries with all my attention. They were particularly fine ones, large and white clear through without a hint of pink. Wild Borderland strawberries are one of the Border's little jokes. They form bright red, and fade as they ripen. No strawberry has ever been so sweet... -- Orient, in Emma Bull's Finder -- A Novel of the Borderland
Iain Nicholas Mackenzie at your service. Let me fill you in on our recent Strawberry Festival, as I know you're the culinary reviewer at Oak, Ash, and Thorn and will be writing it up as a featured article. Oh, do be warned that your camera won't work 'ere as being on the Border raises hob with technology. I know from your Editor that you sketch well, so that'll work nicely. It worked for Rackham when he did a winter-long residency 'ere and it'll do for you.
Well, you know how some things just go together like bacon and eggs and coffee and buttered toast with strawberry jam made at High Summer on a cold winter's day when a lingering breakfast is a v'good idea before journeying out. (In case you’re wondering, yes, I missed breakfast today as I was rather busy.) Other things go together but are such strange combinations you really wonder who managed to come up with them (and how) in the first place, like bacon-infused whiskey (which is a lot better than it sounds like it should be).
Another combination that is a winning one that no one finds strange is strawberries and damn near anything -- or strawberries all by themselves.
We recently did a strawberry festival here at our offices on a bright, just warm enough day when the crop was at its peak. Well, the crops were at their peak is more correct to say. Strawberry varieties from this side of the Border all came from the extensive beds that our Master Gardener Gus maintains back of the lawn area -- there were Diamantes, a large, flavourful, firm fruit with a bright red sheen; the ever popular Everbearers, large and bright scarlet-red berries that have a really firm flesh, plenty of tasty juice, and a delightful sweet flavour; the smaller Fragaria virginiana, more commonly known simply as wild strawberries, juicy, delicious red fruits that are indeed much richer in flavour than the commercial varieties found in stores today; and there were the huge berries from far across the Border that we doused in a truly fine brandy as suggested by attendee Emma Bull!
Of course, no festival here would be complete without music (provided by our superb in-house Huddled Masses classical music ensemble on the greensward and also The Neverending Session, the latter playing al fresco in Oberon's Wood), places to dance lively and snog even more lively, lots of libations (all from Bjorn, our in- house Brew master, ranging from a refreshing summer ale to a cider that apparently is strong enough to stun one of the Norns), and food far beyond the strawberries themselves including [no, I'm not going to fill this in for you]
What did we do with them you ask? Salsa, made with these lovely, scorch-your-tongue-in-a-really-nice-way peppers, courtesy of one of the Several Annies from New Mexico was an unexpected treat, as was Strawberry Fool, which is berries and luscious whipped cream -- a simple yet elegant classic English dessert; the very popular strawberry shortcake with real cream and light-as-air shortcake; daiquiris with lots of ice were popular, which was hardly a surprise; pleasantly tart rhubarb and strawberry ice lollies; strawberries served with hand-cranked vanilla ice cream made with superb Madagascar vanilla; strawberries dipped in the finest dark chocolate; pies and tarts, fancy and plain but all v'tasty from a dozen bakers; strawberries eaten plain; a surpassingly good cottage cheese salad with just strawberries and very appreciated early cucumbers from our garden; cheesecake, plain and some with more excellent evil dark chocolate; waffles with strawberry jam blended in served with either whipped cream or the aforementioned vanilla ice cream... Well, you get the idea.
And we asked our guests how they best liked to eat these tasty treats. Some such as writer Elizabeth Hand had long answers --
Strawberry rhubarb crisp! Also, just eating them fresh from the farm. Our little church across the road here in the Center has an Annual Strawberry Festival, and I'll get strawberry shortcake there next Saturday. Many years ago, my former partner Richard Grant made May wine using sweet woodruff we'd grown, white wine (or was it champagne?) and fresh strawberries. That was great. I should do it again someday . . .
And some, such as Tobias Buckell, had simple answers ('Pie!') and all of their charming answers are preserved (pun fully intended) here in an article in The Sleeping Hedgehog, our in-house newsletter for staff and friends.
Well, it seems that the GMR staff, when not finding ways to eat strawberries, have been hiding from the heat across the Border, where the weather is much more moderate and -- alas! -- our computer network isn't so reliable. But we have books for you.
Our Featured Review is an in-house venture -- Robert M. Tilendis' enthusiastic review of Leona Wisoker's debut novel, Secrets of the Sands, brought him an Excellence in Writing Award. Says Robert -- 'There's much more I could say -- it's a work that doesn't beat you over the head with itself, but allows you to put pieces together, to have a role in building a fascinating world . . . This is Book One of Children of the Desert. I am waiting impatiently for Book Two.'
Camille Alexa starts us off with a look at 'editor extrordinaire Lou Anders' second science-fiction anthology. Says Camille, 'Fast Forward 2 sets stories by some of SF's most venerable authors alongside tales by virtual unknowns, the pieces 'as different,' says Anders in his introduction, 'as the seventeen writers who penned them.' Of the stories themselves, he adds that 'the only constant in them is the reality and the inevitability of change.'
The next book in Camille's view sounds like a hoot -- 'If there was a shelf in your local library for Alternate American History Weird West Steampunk Romance Adventure Fantasy, The Native Star would be there. There's no other novel quite like it . . . ' See Camille's review to get the full Excellence in Writing Award-winning story.
Donna Bird takes us to an alternate universe, in which 'the 1944 Allied liberation of Europe failed completely. Instead, the German army successfully launched a full-scale invasion and occupation of England . . . London was under siege, Prime Minister Churchill and King George escaped to Canada, Dewey won the 1944 US Presidential election and began to seek détente with the Reich and to redeploy American troops to the Pacific theater right after his inauguration.' See how this works out in Donna's review of Owen Sheers' Resistance.
Via Faith J. Cormier, we get a quick look at a new biography of the creator of Oz. 'Rather than being one of those ghastly concoctions that look at their subjects' public lives in total isolation from the private influences on them, Finding Oz painstakingly catalogues Baum's private and public worlds from infancy on up.' Get Faith's reaction here.
Denise Dutton starts off her review of Herri Browning Erwin's 'update' of Charlotte Brontë's classic Jane Eyre briskly enough -- 'When you first picked up a copy of Jane Eyre did you expect Gothic Horror instead of Gothic Romance? Was the madness of Bertha Mason not enough for you after hearing about the 'shocking secret' Mr. Rochester kept? Well, if you always wanted more ghoulies, ghosties and long-legged beasties from this piece of classic lit, Jane Slayre is just what you've been looking for.'
Imagine being a human being -- and a specialist in the criminally insane -- in a world dominated by vampires, werewolves, golems, and the like. That's the premise of D. D. Barant's new series, Bloodhound Files. Says Michael M. Jones, who reviewed the first two installments, 'Both books thus far start off as murder mysteries, but there's so much more going on, including Cthuluesque monstrosities, comic book cults, golem bounty hunters, vampire superheroes, werewolf gangs and perky undead teenagers.' Sounds like fun.
Michael continues his comments this issue with a look at Rachel Caine's Unknown, a continuation of her Outcast Season series. Michael puts it pretty succinctly -- 'Can one badass ex-djinn win against an army of corrupted children, a pack of renegade bikers, and a near-omnipotent enemy, with the fate of the world resting on her choices?' Now you have to read his review.
And another look from Michael at another ongoing series. 'Hellhounds, politics, corpses that won't stay dead, ex-girlfriends, current girlfriends, and much more all tie together, with a dangerous conspiracy providing the thread which connects them. And of course, it all comes down to Connor Gray to save the day.' See what else he has to say about Marc del Franco's Unperfect Souls.
Michael wasn't quite so taken with the adventures of Shiarra Waynest -- 'If you're in the mood for something quick, easy, and relatively harmless, you could do far worse than to pick up this satisfactory series opener. I'll most likely be back for the sequel, and hopefully it'll make more of an impression on me than this one did.' If you want to know the 'why' of his reaction, read his review of Jess Haines' Hunted By Others.
The road from comic to novel can be full of pitfalls, but Jones gives us a heads-up on a success story. 'Complex and intricately-plotted, filled with quiet moments of characterization and loud moments of superhuman battles, this is definitely one of the better attempts to translate the four color action of the comic books into prose form.' See what else he has to say about Kessler and Kittredge's Shades of Gray here.
Robert M. Tilendis continues his enthusiasm for the Secret Six, this time in the newest compilation, the appropriately titled Depths. Says Robert, 'Gail Simone has come up with a series of strong scripts for the Secret Six, that intrepid band of anti-heroes whose exploits rapidly became one of my favorite series. She's confronted some fundamental issues in previous installments, but in Depths she heads straight into some pretty scary territory.' Sounds -- well, scary.
Gary Whitehouse takes a look at a new alternate history adventure by Ian McDonald. 'Although it deals in djinni and green men (!) and miraculous-seeming nano-tech, The Dervish House is more grounded in a reality Westerners will recognize than were McDonald's two India books... Surely, though, one can wish for more books of this caliber from Ian McDonald.' To find out more about this reality, see Gary's Excellence in Writing Award-winning review.