Athena Scalzi

Store-Bought VS Food Network Recipe: Butternut Squash Soup

I fucking love soup, man.

Soup is the greatest food known to mankind. There’s so many different types, so many different flavors and endless possibilities as to what can be created. Some soups have grains, some have meat, some have cheese, it all depends. Some are chunky, some are creamy, and others broth-y. Honestly, you can make any kind of soup, it’s truly magical!

One soup I really love is butternut squash. It’s creamy, flavorful, and reminds me of my favorite time of the year, fall. Also, it’s orange. How many foods do you eat that are orange?!

So I decided to try and make some butternut squash soup from scratch. I love Food Network, so I usually use them for most recipes, and I found one for butternut squash soup here. While I was at Kroger getting the ingredients, I decided to pick up a box of ready-to-eat butternut squash soup to compare it to the homemade version. So I bought Imagine Creamy Butternut Squash Soup. It was just the first box of butternut squash soup I saw, so I grabbed it, I didn’t realize it was organic or anything. When I went to their website, it says it’s also vegan, kosher, gluten free, soy free, and dairy free! So that’s interesting. The homemade version was made with chicken stock and butter, so it does not meet the same qualifications as the Imagine one. The homemade one is on the right, store-bought on the left.

Anyways, I made both, and had my dad and friend taste test them. They both liked the homemade version better. The homemade version was much thinner, not creamy at all, weirdly gritty (like orange juice pulp kind of), and had chunks of onion in it. The store-bought was pretty thick, really creamy, definitely on the sweeter side (like a lot of nutmeg or cinnamon flavor), and overall pretty good.

So, by majority vote, the Food Network version wins, but I didn’t really like it. It was far too thin. The flavor was fine (make sure to add a lot of salt), and I liked the onions, but it just wasn’t what I was looking for in butternut squash soup.

What’s your favorite kind of soup? What’s the best recipe you know for butternut squash soup? Let me know, and have a great day!


Keep Scott Pruitt Moist: The Dramatic Reading

I’ve been a fan of Alexandra Petri for a while now — she’s possibly the funniest person in newspapers today — but I think she went above and beyond with “Keep Scott Pruitt Moist,” a column that went up mere hours before the man resigned his position as head of the EPA, and which I think qualifies as an actual science fiction short story (one worth considering for awards, even). I liked it so much that I decided to make a dramatic reading of the column. With Alexandra Petri’s permission I am presenting it here. Enjoy.



New Books and ARCs, 7/6/18

I hope you like books, because this week we’ve got a very fine stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. What here would you be loving to read right now? Tell us all in the comments.


Nanette, Hannah Gadsby and Me

You don’t need me to tell you that Nanette, a new Netflix comedy special by Hannah Gadsby, is an unexpected landmark in stand-up performance, because so many others will tell you that. But I’m going to anyway (before I go on to make a tangential point): For the first fifteen minutes or so, Nanette is a pleasant enough show, with Gadsby talking, in a winningly self-deprecating fashion, about growing up “a little bit lesbian” in Tasmania in a time when being such was actually and literally illegal. And then, having established this winningly self-deprecating mode for making her audience comfortable with who and what she is, Gadsby spends the rest of the special angrily and righteously deconstructing those first few minutes, not sparing herself, her audience or the culture at large.

I had heard about the special from friends who were discussing it in detail, so I knew a little bit about the outlines of what I was going to see when I flicked it on. But hearing about it and watching it are two entirely different things. I hadn’t heard of Gadsby before literally five days ago, and at this point I have two thoughts about her: One, I’m not sure I can go back and watch anything she did before this without knowing what it cost her, as she describes it in Nanette; Two, if in fact she doesn’t do stand-up comedy again (as she suggest she might not in the special), she’s quite possibly already changed how stand-up gets done. It seems nearly impossible to me that anyone who does stand-up comedy, or wants to, won’t see this special and realize how much it changes the game.

Well, let me back up on that. People are human, they like jokes; comedians are human, they like the attention they get from jokes. People aren’t going to stop performing comedy, some of it easy and simple; people aren’t going to stop going to comedy shows, many of them pleasant and disposable. Comedy is mostly entertainment, and not all entertainment is challenging or meant to be, and not every entertainer will want to push their audience to the edge of their comfort zone (and of course there’s more than one “audience”). Stand up as we know it will survive Gadsby and Nanette, for better or worse.

But I think that practitioners and audiences who are interested in how the stand-up sausage gets made are going to realize that Gadsby has raised the bar for them with this special. She’s given the game away, and made the point that the self-deprecation of comedy, the easy comfortableness of it, isn’t harmless to comedians from the margins of society, which still is anyone who is not straight and white and male. You can make the same jokes if you want, but you can’t go back from that understanding. Gadsby may or may not want the responsibility for that; ultimately with Nanette, as she says, she wants to tell her own story from where the focus of the story is not harmful to her. It’s her story, and it’s personal. But I’m pretty sure it will have implications outside of her personal life, particularly with comedians. Gadsby and Nanette has given them all homework.

I found Nanette a remarkable piece of writing and performance, and tangentially, in watching it I found Gadsby illuminated something for me about my own recent writing and thinking. I write a lot of humor and I’m pretty good at it, and over the years I’ve written quite a bit of humor about current events. I find myself rather less inclined to write humor about current event these days, particularly in a format longer than a Tweet (I’m having no problem being tweet-length snarky). It can still be done, and brilliantly — look at Alexandra Petri in the Washington Post — but I have a harder time doing it right now.

In Nanette, Gadsby makes the point that a punchline is the end of a joke but not the end of a story; she argues it’s often in the middle of a story, and focusing on the punchline comes at the expense of what comes after, which is usually more important for the people living the story (she illustrates this in the special in a way I won’t tell you now but I imagine will affect you deeply when she recounts it). I think one can quibble with this formulation in all sorts of ways, but I think for me it’s well on point as to why I feel restless and dissatisfied merely cracking jokes about what’s going on in the US right now. I’m less concerned about the punchline and more concerned about what’s coming after that. I don’t get much joy out of writing humorously about what’s going on today, because after the punchline is a miserable state of affairs that’s going to need more than jokes to get clear of.

I say my own observation is tangential to what Gadsby is on about in Nanette because it is, not in the least because Gadsby and I are coming from different places when we write funny stuff. We are different people and one of us isn’t in fact in the cultural margin. And I don’t know that this will stop me entirely from writing humorously about current events; I’m me. But it does help me understand why it hasn’t been making me happy: Basically, because it feels incomplete to me. I think it’s all right to write humorously about what’s going on in the world right now. But it’s not sufficient in itself. There’s more to be done, and more to be done by me, and I’ve got some thinking to do on that.

In this respect, Gadsby and Nanette is giving me homework, too. I can’t say I’m 100 percent happy about this. I’m lazy and I don’t necessarily want to do the work. But I also can’t pretend that I don’t know this about myself now. That’s a real thing.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Mary Robinette Kowal

Elsewhere online I’ve been talking about how The Calculating Stars is one of my favorite science fiction novels of the year, and how I expect it’s likely to be remembered when “best of” lists and award nominations crop up. But here, today, author Mary Robinette Kowal is here to tell you about her book, and the Big Idea behind it… which may involve a very large rock.


The Big Idea for The Calculating Stars is pretty simple. Apollo-era science-fiction with women astronauts.

But the real Big Idea actually starts before I wrote the duology, with a story called “Lady Astronaut of Mars.” In that story, I wanted to capture the sheer wonder of what we accomplished during the Apollo era.  This is a time when Bradbury was putting civilizations on Mars, and my dad was programming with punch cards.  I mean, we put people on the moon in a craft that looked like a jiffy-pop container when the entire mechanical computing power of the world was less than in your cell phone.

The Calculating Stars is set in that world and begins about 30 seconds before a meteorite slams into the Earth in 1952.

This is before mechanical computers are prevalent or reliable. The word computer still meant “a person who computes” and those people were predominately women. Computers came up with equations, the algorithms, calculated trajectories, and shaped the early days of space travel. But…men with equivalent degrees and experience became engineers with higher rates of pay and status. The more things change, and all that….

My main character, Dr. Elma York, is a computer. She’s also a pilot, which isn’t a combination that I needed to make up.

You probably know about Hidden Figures, so let me tell you about the Mercury 13. These were a group of women who were put through the same tests as the original astronauts. All of them were pilots, and many were also computers, chemists, or business owners. The people running the program were interested in the fact that women were lighter than men.

At a time when weight factors were a big consideration in the space program, this was very appealing. After WW2 there were over a 1000 Women Airforce Service Pilots, who typically had more logged flight time than their male counterparts. So they called up some of the WASPs to see what they could withstand. When they got into the actual testing, they discovered that women could handle g-forces better, and generally performed better on stress testing. (Since one of them was a mother of eight, I imagine that stress testing was like a vacation.)

But, the testing was shut down by Lyndon B. Johnson because he didn’t think women should go into space. What would have happened if he hadn’t shut that down? What if, say, I dropped a giant rock on D.C.?

Now, if you’ll notice there are actually two big ideas in this book. The first is women astronauts. The second is an accelerated space program.

Here’s the thing… Wernher von Braun, widely regarded as the father of modern rocketry, had a plan to go to Mars in 1947. A viable plan. The principal barrier was funding. To be clear, if executed exactly as written, everyone would have died because he based it on a flawed understanding of Mars’s atmosphere. But if the plan had gone ahead, they would have sent orbiters and probes to the planet and revised it.

He wrote this plan in an era before we’d even gotten a satellite off the planet, much less a person. He wrote this before punchcards. He wrote it when all the math was done by hand.

What would have happened if we had continued to throw money at the space program at the rate we did during the space race? What could we have accomplished if it was an international cooperative effort? What if there was a strong imperative to get off the planet?

What if I dropped a giant rock on D.C.?

So that’s the big idea. Drop a giant rock and get off the planet in jiffy pop-container spaceships guided by smart women with sliderules.


The Calculating Stars: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

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