Pancakes

One weekend morning when my sons were in preschool, I thought it would be fun to make homemade pancakes. I did not realize that this would be one of those times, as happens with children, that I was Setting A Precedent. Thousands and thousands of pancakes later, my pancakes are pretty good. And so I share them with you.

Ingredients:
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 scant cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg

Begin by setting a large heavy pan over medium-low heat. You want to cook over a relatively gentle heat so the cakes don’t burn, but if the pan’s not hot when you begin cooking, the first couple rounds will be a sad anemic blonde.

In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. (The baking soda is optional, but it gives a little extra color and a little extra fluffiness. If you want something with more of a crepe vibe, leave it out.)

In a medium bowl, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Pour a scant cup of milk (for the unfamiliar, a scant cup is a cup but err on the side of less than a cup). Slowly whisk in a few tablespoons of milk; you want to cool the butter, but not so much that it starts to clump. Add one egg when the butter-milk mixture is cool enough to not scramble the egg, and whisk to combine. Whisk in the remainder of the milk.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk to combine until the batter is pourable and there are no large clumps.

Grease your pan, which should now be nice and hot. I use cooking spray; butter works, but sometimes the pancakes come out a little greasy. (Which has its own appeal.) Add batter to the pan in 1/4 cup pools. My pan holds three at a time, four if I’m feeling aggressive.

After the cakes have cooked a couple minutes, bubbles will form on the top surface. You want the top to be very bubbly before you flip; you want the batter to still be soft, but not runny. When it’s ready, the surface will look moist but no longer wet. Then you flip.

If everything has gone well, the cooked side will be a nice uniform brown like an IKEA bookcase. Cook on the other side for a minute or two, then peek under the edge. It will not be a nice uniform brown on account of all those bubbles we waited for, but when the color is about the same, the cake should be finished and you can move it to a plate.

Repeat until you have used all the batter; one recipe makes 9-10 pancakes. The batter will keep in the fridge overnight if you don’t want the whole batch at once, but the next day’s pancakes will not be as fluffy. On the other hand, when they’re not very fluffy you can roll them up with jam or Nutella or whatever filling you like and that’s pretty delicious in its own way.

Skelebear

It is weird how children’s media and horror so often run up in close proximity. This morning my younger son and I were playing with an alphabet puzzle where one picture is, I think, supposed to be a bear standing up and holding an X-ray, but actually looks like a bear pulling open its belly to display its bones.

The idea of a skeletal grizzly bear stalking about in an ill-fitting sack of its own pelt is one of the more horrific ideas that has graced my brain lately.

Originally published on Google Plus

Necromantic Checkers

Playing games with my son is always a bit of a Calvinball enterprise.  However, when he insisted this weekend on playing checkers, the result was actually kind of interesting.  (The following, like its predecessor the 94-penny pie, is edited for coherence.)

The game begins like an ordinary game of checkers.  However, once a player has captured any of her opponent’s men, she may use her turn to place a captured man on any light square of the row nearest her (assuming that square is presently empty).  A man captured on a light square is removed from the game permanently. The interesting thing about this variant is that you wind up playing two overlapping and interlaced games of checkers, playing both colors at once.  It becomes much more challenging simply because the state of play is much more difficult to evaluate.

Originally published on Google Plus

Irish stories

Lately my older son has been demanding “Irish stories”, which is where the whole salmon leap incident came from. This is, in itself, all well and good, but I had forgotten just how much of Irish folklore and mythology is extremely, extremely violent.

As a result, I’ve been doing sort of a on-the-fly bowdlerization of the Mythological Cycle, which is working out OK so far; we had a multi-night rendition of the Sons of Tuireann in which they found relatively peaceful ways of gathering all the random magic items, and Lugh was not in fact an enormous dick at the end. Of course, sugar-coating the violence doesn’t really work that well; the story I told was that the Sons of Tuireann had “hurt Lugh’s father really bad”, but in future installments my son was asking questions about how they killed him.

You can’t really get around Balor taking a spear to the eye, either; in the bedtime version Lugh used the spear that the Sons of Tuireann recovered which has to be immersed in water when not in use, because reincorporation is awesome.

He is freaking fascinated by Irish mythological spears; we had to talk at extreme length about the episode where Sreng of the Firbolg and Bres of the Tuatha de Danann meet on the field of potential battle, size each other up, and say, “Dang, son, where’d you get those sweet spears?”

I already used up the bits of the Ulster Cycle which are not tragic tales of honor and revenge, which turns out to be not very much of it. A 4-year-old with a younger brother does not need to know the tale of Cu Chulainn and Ferdiad at the ford.

Originally published on Google Plus

A very small flu

This morning, my older son pulled one of his stock shenanigans by deciding that he no longer wanted to eat his carefully planned and negotiated toast sticks with butter and jam because I was also going to make some for his brother, and indeed that he was no longer going to eat anything at all for breakfast. I told him that it is extremely frustrating when he launches his impromptu breakfast boycotts, and I wish he wouldn’t do it. He looked pensive for a moment, and then explained that during the night, a “very small flu” gets into his brain, and makes him act that way, but that after some exercise, he would be all right. He then did a few rounds of calisthenics, proclaimed the flu defeated, and agreed to eat his toast.

I assume that pleading the insanity defense is some kind of development milestone, but I can’t imagine where it would be listed.

Originally published on Google Plus

Jack and the Mountain and the Stinky Cheese

One of my angsts over the last year or so is that my son demands a story before bed every night, and I dread it, and this is deeply at odds with my sense of myself.

I discovered today, however, that this is because he demands stories “of when you were a little boy”, and I went through all my good stories long, long ago.  Also, life stories from memory are not that fun for me; I have an unreasonably good memory, but the indexing is crap, and trying to call stuff up from thirty years ago is difficult at the end of a long day.

Tonight, however, he wanted a story about “monsters”, and so I got to improv a story on the fly for the first time in many, many moons, and that was a lot of fun.  And so I record it here, because why not.

–Once upon a time there lived a young boy, and let’s say his name was Jack, because boys in fairy tales generally are called Jack, it’s a thing.  He lived in a village, and it was extremely boring, because the thing about living in a village is that like twenty people live there, and you’re related to half of them, and nothing ever happens.  So Jack said to himself, “I will See The World!”

–Jack looked out from his village and he saw a far-off mountain at the edge of the world, and he decided that he would climb that mountain.  So he walked and he walked and walked through the woods, and he crossed a river, and more woods, and he came to a town, and it was HUGE, there must have been like a hundred people living there.  And they had an inn, and Jack had lunch there.

–Do you know what his lunch was?  It was a bowl of soup, and the soup was made out of goat, and he had a big chunk of brown bread, and a lump of cheese, which was very good but also very stinky, and finally an onion.  And he ate his lunch, and then he kept on walking.  And he crossed more forest, and then a big wide grassy place, and then into the hills, and then the grass stopped and he was just climbing rocks and then he FELL
.
..

but he landed in a pile of straw, so that was all right.  He thought to himself, “What’s a pile of straw doing here in the mountains, that’s odd.”  And then he thought to himself that he felt like someone was watching him, so he decided to start climbing again.

–Jack kept climbing up the side of the mountain, and he thought again that he felt someone watching him, and so he turned to his right, and several yards away he saw
a Big Pair of Eyes
and a Long, Long Nose with Greasy Nostrils
and Whiskers
and a Big Mouth with Sharp Teeth
and a Big Long Tongue going Aaarhhlllaaughhlllh!

–And Jack thought to himself, “OK, that’s a monster, I think maybe I’ll go over here,” and he turned to his right, but right there in front of him was
another Big Pair of Eyes
and a Long, Long Nose with Greasy Nostrils
and Whiskers
and a Big Mouth with Sharp Teeth
and a Big Long Tongue going Aaarhhlllaaughhlllh!
and the Monster said RRRAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

–Jack did not know what to do.  He did not have a sword or a shield or a bow or a suit of armor or an airplane or a giant fighting robot that he could use to defend himself from the terrible Monster, so he did the only thing he could think of.  He roared right back RRRAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!

–And do you know what happened next?

–Do you remember how back in the town Jack ate the onion and the goat stew and the stinky stinky cheese?  Well, all of that gave him stinky, stinky breath, and so when he roared RRRAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!! the Monster said ACK-KOFF-KKKKKK-thppth-thppth-wubba-wubba-wubba-koff-koff-koff-WHEEZE – <<two thumbs up>>

–Jack’s breath was so stinky that all the Monsters of the mountain had to pay him respect as a stinker after their own hearts, and they left him alone while he climbed the rest of the mountain.  So Jack climbed to the top of the mountain, and he Saw The World, and then he went home.

–And no one believed him.

–Well, because they didn’t have Monsters in his village.

–And also his breath wasn’t so stinky any more, because it had been a while.

–Now go to sleep.

Originally published on Google Plus

Not ink you want to get from a four-year-old

This evening, my older son approached and asked, without provocation, whether I wanted a tattoo. Being a game sort of dad, I said OK, and he promptly went to town making tattoo noises on my forearm. I asked what the tattoo was of, and he immediately said, “People with wolves.”

“People with wolves?”

“Yeah. They are fighting a MILLION trolls.”

“Really.”

“And they have spears, and shields, and the trolls fall into the river. See, here’s the river, it goes all the way down to here.” <points to second knuckle of my pinky>

Frankly, that would be a pretty bitchen tattoo, if somewhat unprofessional. (And also not ink you want to get from a four-year-old.)

In retrospect it occurs to me that his vision is basically a mashup of Elfquest and 300, which is staggering in its ill-advisedness.

Originally published on Google Plus

The Problematic Ethnic Stereotypes Are Coming

I’ve been reading Where the Sidewalk Ends to my son, and I noticed a change in the poem about people coming to town to buy various sorts of children at various rates. It is called “The Googies Are Coming.” I’m fairly certain it was called “The Gypsies Are Coming” when I was a tot.

I can understand why one would want to change it, but the publishers kept the original illustration of a hook-nosed babushka with a big sack full of children. The net effect is that now the poem slanders some indeterminate Eastern European ethnicity. Possibly the good people of Guzhe, Lithuania.

I mean, what, “goblin” was too fantastical for a Shel Silverstein book?

Originally published on Google Plus

System flexibility and the first generation of RPGs

This morning I’m thinking about the eternal debate about whether the earliest RPGs were crude and primitive messes which only enabled mindless hack and slash or whether they were clean and simple open-ended toolkits which permitted far more creativity than the hand-holding megatomes gamers expect today.

As is the obnoxious and predictable wont of screeds like this, I’m going to suggest that the truth lies somewhere in between. It’s true that people have done some amazing things with those early, thin books; I think there’s a great truth to the maxim that any supposedly ground-breaking innovation in roleplaying was being done by somebody back in 1979 with either D&D or Traveller. (For some reason, Tunnels & Trolls doesn’t seem to have drawn the avant-garde crowd). It is indeed possible to do all sorts of wacky stuff that isn’t remotely suggested by the core rules of those early games.

The point where the cognitive split happens, I think, is the great preteen D&D boom of the early and mid-80s. From that point, a vast influence on the gaming hobby and industry is groups of preteens with poorly disciplined imaginations and a slavish devotion to the Revealed Wisdom of the Book. This is where we get those horrible and legendary rape-fests; this is where we get people who learned most of their advanced vocabulary from the Dungeon Masters Guide. (This is where a generation of children got very confused about the distinction between aestheticism and asceticism). For many of these kids, thinking inside the box was sort of the point — that’s why you bought the box (there’s a different musing there about developmental needs, but I need to do some reading and thinking for that).

And it’s that stream of the hobby that many later games attempt to deal with. When the mainstream of the hobby is, in fact, playing the games as a killemall, and constraining their play to the letter of the rules, publishing games which more strongly encourage a different sort of gaming makes sense. And that impulse is what has motivated a great deal of development ever since — the desire to encourage play styles not encouraged by existing rulesets. They can’t be as open as the earliest games, because they explicitly seek to channel players into play styles which, in theory, they might not be able to find on their own.

There’s another musing in there about the terms “enable”, “encourage”, and “permit”, I think, but that had better percolate a bit.

Originally published on LiveJournal