library tagged posts

The Strange: People and Places

 

Hopefully you read the One-Hour Review of The Strange so you’re all caught up on the player side of things. If not, we’ll give you a chance to get it together. Caught up? Alright!

This time, we’re looking at things from the GM perspective: the latter parts of The Strange core book that deal with the stuff you need to run a game of The Strange. In my experience with Numenera, it’s hard with this system to get players to take on the role of “sole determiners of rolls” in the game (being the only ones rolling dice) so I’m hoping for some information included in that. Also, creatures in Numenera are often pretty focused in their abilities and maneuvers. This is great when those maneuvers are evocative and not so much when they are repetitive.

Lastly, the setting of The Strange is dominated by three worlds: Earth, Ardeyn, and Ruk. They seem cool and interesting, but I’ve been promised “Worlds teeming with life, with discovery, with incredible treasures, and with sudden death.” I want to make sure there’s enough in these three worlds to keep my players occupied and, more importantly, that these aren’t the only kids on the block to contend with or it’ll be more Forgotten Realms than Sliders.

And with that, we’re off!

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Library Review: Sous Chef : 24 Hours on the Line by Michael Gibney

If you ever had grand ideas about working in a kitchen or becoming a chef you should probably abandon them. Though many books have exposed the arduous process of becoming a chef, rarely have we seen the sheer weight of the obligations, routine and pressure to perform laid so bare before us.

Such is the accomplishment of Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line, the first book by Michael Gibney. Gibney is the former executive chef at Tavern on the Green. He’s worked for a who’s who of prestigeous restaurants including: Per Se, Le Bernardin, Bouley, Ducasse, wd~50, and Momofuku.

That accumulated wealth of top level culinary experience lends itself to the exacting tone and beat of his walk through a day in the life of a sous chef. Events others might simply omit or gloss over are meticulously retold, and at times you almost assume that he had videotaped his time in the kitchen with his near perfect recall. This book will probably leave you  to conclude – as I did – the following: the job of being a chef is impossible. It can’t be done and to harbor any dreams or delusions about becoming a rockstar chef is a fool’s errand. And yet, people do it.

It is that exacting detail that is the true brilliance of this book. The intricate, painstaking, sensual anecdotes that Gibney gives us to place us firmly in the “you” role of the sous chef. The book is written in 2nd person, forcing the reader to inhabit the character of a sous chef working the line on a 300 hundred cover (300 guest) night at a 90 seat Manhattan restaurant.

The book begins with a map displaying the layout of the restaurant kitchen. Though Gibney later explains that each restaurant kitchen is unique in terms of size, shape, and overall design; that many factors and stations are universal. From studying the map we learn about “the pass” – the area all food travels through between cooking and plating for service, the various food stations and prep areas, as well as walk ins, loading docks, offices and locker rooms.

The crucial factor is that we learn more than just that these places exist. We learn both their importance and their physical location, how one relates to the other to create the unique eco-system that allows a kitchen staff to thrive. Gibney isn’t satisfied to simply give us an annotated map. The book begins with “you”, the sous chef, arriving at an empty restaurant and walking his way through the entire kitchen, preparing for the day: checking the inventory, cleanliness, and state of his world; while pondering the physical and mental strain that is to come. This kind of exposition might seem…odd…boring even, but Gibney’s lively prose and description makes the journey through a deserted restaurant absolutely sing.

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Library Review: Relish: My Life in the Kitchen


If you think back to your strongest memories, how many of them are connected to food? That’s the essential question behind Lucy Knisley’s memoir Relish: My Life in the Kitchen. The book chronicles Knisley’s life and travels, with food and cooking interwoven at every step along the way. Whether it is remembrances of her mother’s amazing cooking and the experiences of being around professional kitchens, farmers markets and catering jobs, or discovering amazing cuisine  while traveling with her dad.

The stories themselves would be enough for a tremendous food memoir, but what really elevates the text is that it is presented in a graphic novel format, with Knisley herself providing the artwork. She has a wonderful simple style that exudes warmth, perfectly complements the wit and welcome of her prose and allows her to create wonderful caricatures. If you want to know how good, be sure to check the final few pages of the book, where Knisley has included a few real photographs from growing up and you can see just how closely her drawings match the people in her life.

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One Hour Library Review: Shadowrun Fifth Edition

In our One Hour Reviews, we set a clock for sixty minutes and analyze the book. When time is up, we stop. The goal is to try and look over as much of the book as possible, without getting bogged down in any one section. Similar to how you might leaf through a book in the store, with some specific granularity, but mainly to focus on gaining a high level understanding of everything the RPG has to offer. Set the clock and let’s go!

Out of the big-name, long-running roleplaying games, Shadowrun has had an impressive and persistent run considering the many different banners it’s been published under. It started in 1989 (not as far back as Dungeons & Dragons but farther than Vampire: The Masquerade or Rifts) under the FASA Corporation. It was sold in 2001 to WizKids which was then bought by Topps which then licensed the rights to the RPG to Catalyst Game Labs, the current producers.

Recently, the latest edition of the game – Fifth Edition – was published and I quickly bought myself a copy to see what new mechanics they had, what strangeness of the digital and Astral realms awaited, and what craziness was in store for the Sixth World. Considering the tumult of Shadowrun‘s history, you might expect and even forgive a little choppiness in the book. To my delight, the book is anything but choppy and has some great changes. Check out what I found during my first hour with the new book.

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Library Review: Ice Sabers 30 Chilled Treats Using the Force of Your Freezer

We can find recipes anywhere. In fact, given the unbelievable access to information that we share, a book might be the last place any of us going looking nowadays. With that being the case, a cookbook really needs to have something special to grab my attention – like lightsaber Popsicle molds. Let’s just say “[they] had me at hello.”

Chronicle Books and author Lara Starr return to a kitchen far far away with Ice Sabers, the latest entry in their Star Wars cookbook series. Like Wookie Pies, Clone Scones, and other Galactic Goodies which focused on pastries and baked treats,  Ice Sabers narrows its focus to frozen desserts and refreshing beverages.

Ice Sabers continues the series goal of trying to encourage more young people to participate in the kitchen and the entire construction of the book emphasizes that. The introduction is directed at young Force users and explains all sorts of tips about being safe in the kitchen, handling equipment with care, and having fun.

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Library Review: The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook

Cookbooks are a weird business. How can you tell when one is good? Is it because the recipes are new and innovative or because the directions actually make sense? It gets even weirder when cookbooks are inspired by works of fantasy. But that didn’t stop The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook from seeing print.

Long time readers of Castles and Cooks know we’ve dabbled in our own Harry Potter inspired recipes, like Pumpkin Juice and Butterbeer. So when I received this book as a gift, I was quite excited to open it up and discover what secrets it held – especially in comparison to my own recipes! Would their Butterbeer be similar to mine or a completely different take?

That’s when the first realization of this book sunk in: this book takes almost every mention of food from the Harry Potter series and has recipes for them. But that includes the most mundane and muggle recipes, like mashed parsnips, buttered peas and fried eggs with bacon. These aren’t the recipes I’m after – how would you cook a blast-ended skrewet? Or what about all those fantastical ice cream flavors at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour? Hell, one of the recipes is just crispy fried bacon. While another recipe is a gammon of bacon and another is scrambled eggs with bacon. I love bacon, but how many different times do I need to see it?

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