Moving Shop

Ben and Thomas seduced me into this; after spending some time musing about WordPress, I've migrated Raven Swallows the Sun to a new address, http://njyar.thesmerf.com/blog/. See you there.


....design flash

What happens if I take that wuxia thing and stir it up with Snow From Korea?

Conversations with Jonathan have cleared up my understanding of low-impact design and gotten some wheels turning in both our heads, I think. This is a good day to be a designer.


Introspection ~ Epiphany

So, there are a lot of playstyles that I find incomprehensible. There was a time when I considered them pathological, but I think I'm over that now. I think I figured out my mental block! But they still make me nervous.

See, the way I see it, roleplaying games consist of three important components, in a strict hierarchy. There is a game system which induces roleplay, which consists of tiny stories which describe imaginary experiences. Importantly, each layer controls and constrains the layer inside it; the system shapes the stories shape the imaginary situation.

I strongly feel that the best play, for me, is play where this structure is acknowledged, understood, and used. That means that all play begins and ends at system; if I primarily want to play with an interesting system, then the stories and imagined events take a backseat. If I want to tell stories of a particular form, then I obtain a system that induces that form. If I want to imagine particular experiences, then I get a system that induces stories that evoke those experiences.

Styles of play where upper layers get thrown out of balance severely disorient me. Jonathan's recent discussions of low system-impact play and the related discussions of immersion set me floundering, because this is play that, by its very nature, cannot adhere to the hierarchy as I have set it out; as I understand it, these playstyles ultimately seek to discard overt system, in favor of either stories or experiences (which, I might add, are doubly disorienting because they are fictional and it appears to be a related goal of immersion to ignore this).

Because of the design potential of highly covert system, I still find design for these styles intriguing; I can steal from them to serve my own ends.

But that's not going to make me less nervous around them.


Self-Serving Cupcakes

When I was younger, chocolate cake was my festival food of choice. There were some weirdos I knew who liked yellow cake or shudder carrot cake, but for me it was always chocolate. Those other things, they weren't cakes; they were barely acceptable vehicles for icing. (If I wanted a carrot sweet, then I could have gajar ka halwa, which is about a billion times better than carrot cake.) I still feel this way about angel food—it seems like a rubbery, spongy thing that you might use as a structural element in one of those layered pudding-and-fruit affairs, but not serve as a dessert in its own right.

When I discovered custard and cannoli, I forgot cake for a time. For years, delicate almond-flour confections held my heart.

But, like a forgotten tulip patch, it comes back. I made chocolate cupcakes today.

These are from Nigella Lawson's recipe for chocolate birthday cake, in How to Eat; the chocolate flavor is not as intense as I would have liked, and so next time I do this I will make chibi-brownies.

But the texture is not bad at all, and the deep, bitter coffee ganache (I cheated, Nigella does not specify this) balances the slightly excessive sweetness of the cake; it saves me from thinking I am eating kiddie food.

And it feels good, baking cake for no reason whatever.


The Wonders of Modern Technology

"I am not sure about these thing," says Birds-of-Trinity.

"Then perhaps you should consider this model! It is powered by the uncertain nature of things." The salesman smiles, but his eyes are full of fear.

Birds-of-Trinity examines the fingernail laser katanas critically. "Well, these are certainly adequately sharp." There is a noise, like a knife being drawn across a whetstone. Backward. "Hm. Well, it appears that they are acceptably long." There is a sound, like a snail retreating into its shell. "Mister Gingerbread, this does not appear to be well-suited to my disposition."

"No," he replies, shaking his head. "It is a weapon for the tentative."

"Birds-of-Trinity is not tentative! Show me the other ones again, the ones powered by nameless dread."

Some time later...

"What impertinence is this?!" Birds-of-Trinity's fingers flare with violet light. It slashes the reciept she is holding into four ribbons. The light brightens. "They didn't tell me about the installation fee for the irritation module!" The light turns blue. "And now I can't return them!" Green-gold. She checks herself, about to make a fist. She slaps her palm on the table. There is a smell of smoke and a clattering, and she falls.

Far away, a salesman chuckles. They all seem to think the irritation module is such a good idea.


So I Wanted Madeleines...

...or like financiers or mignardises or something. There is nothing like the creamy, moist texture of almond cakes. The contrast of the firm crown of the cakes and the melting pedestal holding them up is irresistible.

It's a good thing Clotilde knows how to make those, and I had mini baking cups, because otherwise I'd have had to go to the bakery.

1c sugar
1 1/4c almond meal
zest of 1 lemon
4 eggs
2/3c butter
1/4c flour

So, I didn't have almond meal. Who has time to go to the gourmet market in the middle of the week? Well, yes, I do. I didn't, though. Just blanched some almonds and ground them up in the processor. I think I could have gotten a more elegantly delicate texture from professionally ground almonds, which I will try next time. As it was, they had tiny, rustic but not unpleasant, toothy fragments of almond floating about inside. The real kicker was the smell: a heavenly, floral fragrance, like perfume from many years ago.

Stir together the sugar, almonds, and zest; break up lumps with a fork. Add the eggs, and the butter, melted. I beat this all together with one of those stick blenders, which probably incorporated some air into the batter as well. Last, add the flour and stir in well.

Pour into your moulds of choice—ideally, financier pans, but you can get adorable tiny cupcake foils at the supermarket—and bake in a preheated 400°F oven for ten to twenty minutes, depending on the size of your mould. Take them out immediately when they start to take on visible colour. They're done. They'll still be sticky on top until they have had some time to cool, and the centres should remain moist and spongy.

Contemplate a single rose while peeling these one-by-one and devouring them all in one piece, or more daintily, in bites, spreading a marmalade with a proper bitter streak.