A while ago I came to the realization that I had not made pannukakku, a traditional Finnish oven-baked pancake, ever. Why was that? I remember my mom and aunts making it all the time when I was a kid, and it was never not awesome eating hot pancake with strawberry jam and a glass of cold milk. Back then, I was pretty sure I could eat pancakes every day. So then, why haven’t I ever made it? I fact, why am I not making pancakes every day? This surely would the end zone of enjoying food.
So I decided that because I could eat pancakes every day, I certainly should eat pancakes every day. I scrounged different pancake recipes from the net and for one week, every day I made a light salad for dinner, and then a different kind of pancakes. It was awesome. Until Wednesday, at least, when I got sick of eating pancakes because I had eaten them for breakfast AND “dinner” for two days in a row.
That was when I became sad about being an adult.
1. Whisk the eggs lightly in a bowl, then add the rest of the ingredients. Mix, and let the batter rest for 30 minutes.
2. Fry paper-thin crepes in butter on a hot frying pan on both sides. Don’t do the flipping thing unless you’re a master. Serve with raspberry jam and caster sugar.
Scottish Drop Scones
1. Mix the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Add the eggs and milk, mix into a smooth batter. Add the butter and let rest for 30 minutes.
2. Heat a frying pan, grease it with butter. Drop tablespoons of the batter and fry on both sides until golden in colour. Serve with blueberries and whipped cream flavoured with whiskey.
1. Crack the eggs in a bowl and whisk them a bit. Add the liquids and mix, then the dry ingredients. Mix into a batter and let rest for 30 minutes.
2. Heat a frying pan, grease it with butter. Pour 1-2 tablespoons of the batter on the pan and fry on both sides until golden in colour. Serve with exotic fruit and coconut caramel (boil brown sugar and coconut milk into a caramel)
1. Crack the eggs in a bowl and whisk a little to break the structure. Add the milk. Mix all the dry ingredients and add into the egg and milk mixture. Let rest for 30 minutes.
2. Melt the butter and add into the batter. Pour the batter on a ~30x40cm pan covered with baking sheet and bake in 225C oven for about 25-30 minutes. Let cool and rest 5-10 minutes. Serve with ice cream, depression and alcoholism.
Canadian Sourdough pancakes
1. Mix the ingredients. Leave in a warm, draftless place overnight. The starter should bubble and smell slightly sour. Let the starter ferment for as long as you want, occasionally feeding it a couple of tablespoons of flour and water. You can store it in the fridge as well.
2. You should have about 4dl of the starter. Add the rest of the ingredients and work into a batter. The amount of flour needed varies. The batter should be thicker than crepe batter. Let rest for 10 minutes
3. Heat a cast iron pan and grease it with butter. Fry large pancakes on both sides. Serve with maple syrup, maply syrup and maple syrup.
1. Mix all the ingredients well, put to fridge to rest for at least 20 minutes.
2. Fry small-ish pancakes in butter, serve hot with lemon flavoured sour cream, apple jam and chilled vodka.
1. Heat the milk to 40C, dissolve the yeast, sugar and salt in it. Add the oil and then the flours. Work into a sticky dough. Cover and leave in a warm place to rise for about 45 minutes, until double volume.
2. Mince the nuts finely, mix with the brown sugar and cinnamon. Add a little oil, water or both to bind the mixture together.
3. Knead the air out of the dough and let rest for another 5 minutes. Tear small pieces off and flatten them on the palm of your hand. Put about a tablespoon of the filling in the center and close the dough over it into a rough ball shape.
4. Heat a frying pan and grease it with butter or oil. Place hotteok balls on the pan and flatten them with something heavy and flat, like the bottom of a bowl. Fry on both sides until nice golden colour. Serve hot while playing Starcraft.
Another month, another menu. Inspired by one of my favourite restaurants in Helsinki, Farang, I made some sort of modernist Southeast Asian food. I feel like I’m getting a better touch in this kind of cooking than I have on Indian or Pakistani cuisine. These flavours make way more sense to me than the insane array of masalas and spices I can’t wrap my palate around. Learning this stuff can be dangerous though. Yesterday I was making the chili jam that goes in the appetizers, you know just casually toasting dried chili peppers on my wok. Suddenly my throat starts feeling tight and I get awful coughing fits. I can’t breathe in properly anymore. The feeling just gets more and more intense over a few minutes and I seriously think I’m going to choke or something. I had to go outside in the cold air for a few minutes to get my bearings. And all I did was stand in the vicinity of the toasting chilis, inhaling some tiny amount of whatever chili fumes rose from the wok. Don’t screw around with hot peppers, kids.
I had made the appetizers before for another dinner party (where nobody remembered to take a camera so I never documented it on the blog), so I had pretty high confidence in them. The main was a great success even if I did it completely cold. The almond-pineapple-green tea theme of the dessert tasted great, but the textures of the elements could’ve used some tuning.
1. Deep fry the prawn crackers until they puff up and float to the surface of the oil. Drain excess oil. Toast the coconut quickly in the oven.
2. Put a teaspoonful or so of chili jam on each cracker and a nice pile of salad on top. Garnish with coconut. I’ve also made versions of these with added prawns or deep fried tempeh between the jam and salad.
1. Peel and slice the onions and garlic thinly. Remove seeds from the chilis. Heat a frying pan or wok and toast the dried chili for about 30 seconds, remove from pan. Heat the oil and quickly fry the onions, fresh chili and garlic. Blend all the ingredients in a blender into a smooth jam. Cool down.
1. Blend everything into a dressing a food processor.
1. Peel the shallots and ginger, slice all the vegetables into very thin julienne, mix with the herbs. Add 0.5dl of the dressing and a tablespoon or so of chili jam.
Grilled eggplant and mushrooms
1. Grill the eggplants whole in oven or a grill until soft. You can wrap them in aluminum foil halfway through if they shrink too much or explode. Remove the peel when they have cooled down a bit, but still warm.
2. Cut the oyster mushrooms, split any big shitake in half. Saute all the mushrooms in a fairly hot pan in a generous amount of 50-50 mix of sesame and vegetable oil, until golden brown and lost most of the moisture. Add the vinegar sauce and simmer.
3. Before serving add the eggplants and a bit more sauce, turn over carefully so you don’t break the eggplants.
4. Garnish with coriander leaves, finely sliced spring onion, ginger julienne and crushed toasted peanuts. Serve with rice.
1. Grate the ginger finely, crush the chili in a mortar. Saute them in the sesame oil on low heat for about 5-10 minutes.
2. Add the other ingredients and simmer for about 5 minutes. Let cool.
Matcha almond cake
1. Whisk the butter and sugar into a foam. Add the eggs one by one, constantly whisking.
2. Combine the dry ingredients and sift into the egg mixture. Mix carefully.
3. Cover a cake pan with baking sheet and pour the batter in. Bake in 170C oven for about 25 minutes.
1. Cut the pineapple into smallish cubes. Combine all the other ingredients except the tea in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Let it coold down and add the tea. Marinate the pineapple cubes in the mixture.
Almond ice cream
1. Toast the almond flakes in a 175C oven until golden brown, be very careful you don’t burn then, the bitter taste will be awful in the ice cream.
2. Bring the cream to a boil in a sauce pan, add the almond flakes straight out of the oven. Split the vanilla pod in half, scoop the seeds into the cream and throw the pod halves in too. Let the cream infuse for at least half an hour, but you can leave it in the fridge overnight if you want.
3. Whisk the yolks and sugar into a thick foam. Strain the cream through a sieve in, mixing. Discard the almonds and vanilla pod halves.
4. Carefully heat the custard on low heat, constantly mixing. It will become thicker. The final temperature should be around 76-83C. Absolutely do not let it get to boiling point. Cool down.
5. Work the custard into ice cream in a machine.
1. Grease a baking sheet with melted butter. Mix all the ingredients and let the batter rest for about 10 minutes.
2. Drop a teaspoon of batter on the baking sheet. Press and spread it as thinly as you can with a wet fork (keep it wet all the time).
3. Bake the tuiles in 175C oven for about 7-10 minutes, until golden in colour. Cool down. The tuiles should be so thin and fragile that if you drop one it’ll shatter like glass.
Telling a story tends to be a pretty one-directional affair. The author, or person telling the story wants to communicate something, and the audience takes what he has to offer in and understands it however they will. The interaction is very indirect and mostly stays on the meta-level. Breaking the mold by allowing the audience to directly influence the story seems like a really attractive idea, but in practice I’ve found that in almost every case it totally fucks up the story.
One of the key requirements of a good story is that it’s internally consistent. Changing even small details might have large effects on the plot, the characters, or anything, like a narratological butterfly effect. If you allow this possibility of changing something in the story through direct interaction, like making a choice in a visual novel, you have to account for the effect throughout the story. 99% of the time, 99% of writers can’t. I’ve read quite a bit of interactive fiction and haven’t come across with a single work that would not be weaker because the reader can interact with it. Effectively, the possibility to directly interact with the story makes the reader fuck it up.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a trade-off. The author hopefully engages the reader more by giving him the power to push his agenda on the story, but in trade the integrity of the story or characters will suffer. A weaker story doesn’t necessarily mean a worse story either, it’ just doesn’t hold up as well to certain kind of examining. What’s better then? From what I’ve seen, it looks like most people prefer to have stronger influence on the story, and it’s something to think about when writing in media that allow the option. People like being in control, they like being active, all that stuff makes choices attractive even if the story is wobbling around a little because of it. Just don’t poke it too much.
Is it possible to have your cake and eat it too? In theory, why not? You can work around the weakening story by literally writing a number of complete, strong stories equal to the number of branching points you have and bind them together. It’s just that nobody really is willing to go that far. The levels of complexity and divergence even with a fairly low amount of branching points become unfeasible very fast if you want to keep everything internally consistent. Writers have to compromise by having the branches fold back into each other and tolerate varying amounts of reduced integrity resulting in every choice. The more complex your structure is, the weaker your story becomes.
A good example of this effect is Mass Effect. The developers bragged they were tracking hundreds of variables across the trilogy that would drive the story towards wildly varying endings where “every choice counts”. In the end, not much made a difference. Two good examples: In the first game you’re given the ethically tough choice to either exterminate or save an ancient alien race of disgusting singing insect monsters, the Rachni. In the third game, if you saved them, it turns out the great evil Reapers enslaved them and you have to fight the Rachni. If they are extinct? The Reapers build mecha-Rachni to fill that hole and you have to fight them anyway. Seriously? What was the point of the choice in the first game if there’s no appreciable difference resulting in it? The other example is of course the notorious ending of the trilogy. Absolutely none of the choices matter in the end, not even the BIG CHOICE OF ULTIMATE GALACTIC DESTINY you make right before the ending. The three endings are so similar that it parodies itself.
The lesson learned? Making a branching story is immensely difficult, so much so that even a team with Bioware’s resources fumbled a lot and ultimately failed hard when it mattered the most. It’s hard even if your story structure is less insanely megalomaniac than the ME trilogy’s. I’ve been thinking about ways to pull off a satisfactory branching story in an efficient way, but the problems to tackle are not easy ones. In the end it’s probably best to aim a little lower, for an illusion of integrity that passes through a superficial examination.
Speaking of which, I recently played through the much-lauded The Walking Dead, a story-focused adventure game with a zombie apocalypse survival theme. It got a lot of acclaim for its excellent writing and deeply involving choices. TWD employs the doctrine of illusion of integrity well, most of the time. None of the choices you make matter in the big picture, but if you don’t think about it too hard, it kind of works. However, when put under the spotlight, TWD’s weaknesses are revealed. There’s a scene early in the game where the group meets a girl at a motel. She’s been bitten by a zombie and is about to turn into one herself. She begs for a gun to end herself rather than turn, and the player is given the choice to allow or decline this. This kind of a choice appeals nicely in the deep emotions in us. She’s doomed anyway, but there is something that goes against our nature to allow her to kill herself. It’s a good example of the kind of choices TWD uses, a good example of choices we should make the audience to make. However, if you choose to deny the gun from the girl, the setup falls apart. She forcibly wrestles it from the hands of a survivor group member and offs herself anyway. Even though the choice still has the point that you had to solve the moral conflict, the end result makes it ring hollow. Absolute blunder from the writers of TWD. Some other choices dealing with character deaths are equally futile, leading me to think that the writers just didn’t want to deal with the immense complexity of the possible absence/presence of a character further down the road.
That’s right, the complexity issue raises its ugly head in TWD too. The writers were not able to account for the different choices well enough, despite their best efforts to “cheat” to reduce the complexity. The inability to hold all the balls in the air lead to massive problems in characterization too. Because the choices were so polarizing I was able to make Lee, the main character, appear kind of insane by choosing conflicting things for him to say. Didn’t matter much though, because in the end, the poorly characterized mystery antagonist sits down with you and drives in the point of The Walking Dead with the subtlety of a sledgehammer: PEOPLE ARE THE REAL MONSTERS. No matter what choices you’ve made, they’re ruthlessly turned against you, because you never had a choice on this matter. In the end, the philosophy of TWD is that you only get to choose the toppings for the crap that’s being shoved down your throat, and yes, it works quite well as long as you don’t pay too much attention.
Both ME and TWD are strong examples of the fact that the fastest way to give a reader hard choices is to force some moral reflection on him. Mass Effect trilogy had maybe three or four really memorable choices that did this, especially shining against the atrocious design choices like colour coding “good”/”bad” results and such. TWD’s entire schtick is to force the player to choose between two horrifying choices over and over again. Using the choices to psychoanalyze the player is really made a point of, even going as far as giving the player statistics of what choices the playerbase made and whether you sided with the majority or not. Are you a bad person for siding with a significant minority? This is the kind of question is something the Katawa Shoujo fandom asks itself too. I’ve seen people get really anxious because they acted “like they would in Hisao’s situation” and ended up with a bad end, or worse, with a girl they didn’t like (just kidding, everyone loves every KS girl). Are they horrible human beings for getting a bad end in a romance visual novel? Some even refuse to replay KS and make different choices, because it would feel like “cheating” on the “real” choices they made and the girl whose path they ended up with. This kind of thing is really some of the most powerful stuff you can make happen by allowing reader agenda into your story.
In the end, as a creator (if you are one) you should ask yourself if the tradeoff is worth it. Do you want to sacrifice some of your story’s strength to engage the audience more through a secondary mechanism? Or is the cost too high?