Let’s blog a parade: 2014!

Thanksgiving: check. Snow: check. Pumpkin muffin: ate them already. Doh! Nevermind, let’s do this thing. This is a live-blog, so keep refreshing.

We start off with a musical number extolling New York. Which on Thanksgiving I think is appropriate, yet for all the dancing I’m… whelmed. This is kind of a low-energy opener. Oh well.

And now the line-up: Sting, Kiss (really?), Idina Menzel, Meghan Trainor (ack), Pentatonix (yay!). NBC is pimping out a number of its show stars today again. The Ninja Turtles will be here, but will they be the good ones from the ’90s or the crappy Bay version? Guess we’ll find out. If it’s the Bay version he’ll get to have crapped all over my childhood twice.

Sorry NBC, I’ll just never buy Katherine Heigl as a high-power adviser to the president. She has zero gravitas.

Next musical number: from Honeymoon in Vegas. With Tony Danza. Oh wow has he aged, but he looks like he fits this crooner role decently. This is low-energy too. Maybe I’m already missing the caffeine. The pornstache on this guy in white is creeping me the heck out.

I think I finally figured out that these Surface commercials are meant to be a parody of the old Mac vs. PC ads, but artless. The Christmas version is out now, with a crappy jingle done to the tune of “Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland”. I know it’s tongue-in-cheek, but it still sucks.

Now there’s a number from A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. You had me at the title. This isn’t a gigantic dance production but the old-timey style, rapid overlapping lyrics, and farce elements are brilliant. Actually it makes me want to see this. Not badly enough to travel to New York and pay Broadway prices, but still, it looks funny.

I still don’t have a pumpkin muffin, but my awesome wife went out into the snow and got me a McGriddle. Upgrade! There’s a special coming up called How Murray Saved Christmas. Looks goofy. I’m in. And now Al Roker is holding the Ronald McDonald balloon. How fitting.

The cast of Sideshow is performing now, but the dance style reminds me more of the routines from White Christmas. With all the beautiful snow outside, and that being my go-to movie while putting up the tree, I want to do that right now.

Oh boy. Another heartstring-tugger from Folgers. And the famously even-keeled Kate Gosselin is gonna be on the Celebrity Apprentice; yeah, that’ll go well.

There’s a broadway show called The Last Ship. Even though there’s a TV show by the same name. Confusing. Sting sold his role so well though I couldn’t even recognize him at first. This has a nice charm to it.

Al Roker has gotten goofy, but not in a good way. Either he’s weary of the series star interviews or he’s lost his mind. And about this live Peter Pan show coming up: Who made the law that said Peter Pan always has to be played by a woman? Having a grown woman, especially an attractive one, play a young boy is just friggin’ weird. Although Shakespeare used to be obliged to do the exact opposite, but that’s because the 16th century was broken.

I know it’s not snowing in New York, but I can’t imagine it’s very warm out right now because it’s 29° in Syracuse right now. My question is: How are the Rockettes not freezing their butts off? If it was me out there in bare shoulders and sheer hose, I’d have no motor control at all. Also they’d send out one of those comic Vaudeville hooks to drag me off the street.

Chase says “Your phone is now your wallet.” Sure. Nothing bad can come of that.

I do enjoy the sound of a good marching band. Would rather Western Carolina University’s crew had chosen something festive instead of Billy Joel, but whatever. And now we’re coming up on 10:00, with the official start of the parade proper. I can’t even describe how awesome it is to be a kid on the sidelines there, and I only got to do it once.

And Sandra Lee is leading the way on Tom Turkey. Kind of ironic for such a football-happy holiday, because she’s the chef who doesn’t know tailgating from a cocktail party.

Thomas the Tank Engine has made his way down the street, and now country singer (ugh) Lucy Hale is delivering a song. At least it’s not as twangy as most.

Ack, some cheerleaders are doing another country song when we come back from commercial? This one is twangy. Gah. The Madden Brothers are performing “We Are Done” next, and its chorus is so ’70s-tastic it makes me want to throw a rock. Gah!

But here comes Snoopy right behind them! All is forgiven!

Becky G now performs atop the Dora float. Never heard of Becky G before. I do enjoy bubblegum pop, but unfortunately this is bubblegum Latin.

Sesame Street has changed a lot since I was a kid, but it’s nice to see most of the classic characters are still around. I don’t recognize some of the new ones. It has to be really tough managing the puppetry on that float.

Hey! We have a high school band from Baldwinsville representing in the parade! Go, local kids!

Meghan Trainor is up now. I was going to say I wanted to give her one more chance since I can’t stand her signature song, but she started off immediately on a Nicki Minaj-style rap. Since she’s not actually Nicki Minaj I only give it a 9.5 on the eponymous rage scale, but… ugh. And I just can’t get behind this retro style she does. Nothing against those who can, but this ain’t for me.

Okay, that whole dancing clown thing was weird. What the frell is wrong with New Orleans? Followed up by cabaret star William Blake singing on a float. I’m not familiar with him, but he’s really weirdly made up. He looks a lot like Ethan Suplee as a vampire. Behind that, Ronald McDonald and his balloon.

Here comes Mr. Peanut. 98 years old. It’s weird to think just how long some advertising mascots have been with us. American Authors are coming up behind on a baseball-themed float, singing their annoying song “Best Day of my Life”. I swear someday I will outlaw the use of banjos in pop music.

It appears Microsoft is behind this recurring ad thing they’re doing where the elves are lost on their way to the parade, because they’re following each one with that terrible new Surface spot. This is actually making me miss those ads with Justin Long and the guy in the bad suit. And those were stupid.

Hello, Kitty!

Huh. I didn’t know “Jealous” was a Nick Jonas song. It’s not bad at all. This is actually the first tolerable song performance that wasn’t from a Broadway show. The marching band from the Bahamas behind him is pretty good. The flamingo float coming up after, not so much.

The new Paddington balloon following up behind the Seaworld float, suitcase in hand, looks unfortunately like he’s a lawyer chasing them. And behind him, the Sino-American Friendship Performers with Chinese dragons and whatnot. Nothing spectacular, but pleasant. There’s a joke about Chinese consumer goods in there somewhere.

Sheesh, I spend 30 seconds in the bathroom and come back to find old ladies in clown getups dancing with walkers to Twisted Sister. I kid you not.

Ah, and here come “wildly popular British boy band, the Vamps”. This is literally my first time ever hearing of them or this song. It’s unoffensive, but it seems like if they were wildly popular on this side of the pond I’d have some awareness of the song.

Here comes the red Power Ranger balloon. Never got into them as a kid, because I was too old when they got big. It also looked way too silly.

Snack food Pirate’s Booty has a new float. Interesting. Sabrina Carpenter is singing on deck, and this is… bubblegum country. I’m distressed by how almost-likable this is. Gotta give country props for still having a sense of melody, I guess; pop has mostly lost it.

Toothless! Love that big guy.

Here’s a commercial for Into the Woods, and if you listen hard you can hear my sister’s head exploding. She didn’t make a cherry pie this year. Feh.

I always have to give mad respect to Cirque du Soleil. It’s amazing what they do. Right behind them, the new balloon for Eruptor from Skylanders. I’ve never played it, but that’s a cool balloon. And this next marching band is fantastic—wish I’d caught their name.

Here’s the Sprout float, with that weird squeaky chicken. I still don’t get it.

Oh gads. More country atop the Gibson float. This is Dan and Shay. It’s typical. I don’t mind that country is represented in the parade; it’d be weird if it wasn’t. But still… ugh. At least Spider-Man is a nice respite. But sadly I only mean respite. Country comes right back behind that with Needtobreathe. Yes it’s one word. I don’t get it either. Google says they’re a Christian rock band, but dude, that was country. Thank goodness for the Harlem Globetrotters and the blessed brain-cleanse of “Sweet Georgia Brown”.

Yay! It’s snowing in New York! And here! But not in front of the store itself, where the Varsity Spirit Cheerleaders are performing to a Kiss song. And right behind them is Kiss themselves. I missed out on the whole classic rock scene, so I have no connection to this band. My only real thought here is that someone needs to drag Gene Simmons and his ego kicking and screaming out of the public eye—with that big Vaudeville hook. And a flatbed with a winch. (Oh, quit gushing, Al. One for the ages? It wasn’t that good.)

Adventure Time! Okay, so I’ve only ever seen one episode, but it was amusing.

Now we have a marching band performing Bohemian Rhapsody. Finally, an awesome song from a marching band. I feel awful for that girl who just slipped though—looks like it’s slick out there. Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters.

Ah. The Ninja Turtles iteration we have here isn’t the live-action ’90s one or Bay’s abominations, but the modern CGI ones. I can live with that. MKTO is performing “Classic” on the same float. This song is kind of played out. The rap part annoys the crap out of me, though the rest I don’t mind.

Kool-Aid Man! Oh yeah!

Okay, this Coke commercial is cute. I do wish we didn’t need hashtags in all of them, though. NBC is letting us know about a new series called A.D. based on the story of Jesus, possibly with a greater focus on events after his resurrection. I’m not sure. I’m not sure NBC can pull it off, either.

These dancers doing a bunch of video game themes, including the classic Sonic theme (the only one that counts), are making me smile. The pity is, not one of these kids knows the visceral joy brought by the music they’re dancing to. Now I feel old.

There’s a new Pikachu balloon. I hate anime like most people hate getting punched in the throat, but I have to admit this little guy is cute. And the snowman he’s holding is adorable.

Welcome to the NYPD marching band. And a Big Apple float, where Romeo Santos is performing a Latin hit of his. Latin music just doesn’t connect with me; more so when I can’t understand the lyrics. Where does it fare on the Nicki Minaj rage scale? Well, on a bad day it may as well be country.

The Virginia balloon is up now. I still have not seen the animated special for that. Is it any good?

I could probably stand to watch the live Peter Pan for Christopher Walken alone. More so if they really let him let loose and bring his weird sense of beats into it. And hey, props to Jennifer Aniston for pushing so hard every year for St. Jude’s. Good work those people do there.

The new Annie is performing on a float. I saw the movie with Carol Burnett when I was little, but I was so young I don’t think I fully connected with it. The new movie looks kind of cute, but nothing that’s gonna get me into the theater. Heck, I still need to see Big Hero 6; I heard it’s fantastic.

Another marching band performs in front of Macy’s, and now comes the Poppin’ Fresh balloon. Also known as the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Kind of a weird mascot, but he’s grown on me. Domino’s has a float with a cookie-making theme. Country singer Cole Swindell is aboard, twanging it up. Guh.

Huh. Random Barbie commercial out of nowhere. I guess they figure the kids are paying more attention the closer it gets to noon. That reminds me of a video I saw recently about that new Lammily doll. I have no interest in the whole doll equality warrior agenda, but I will say she looks adorable. And Barbie’s always been much too freakily slim.

A group called Before You Exit is performing aboard the Smurfs float. This is my first time hearing of them, but this song is decent. A marching band after them performs Taylor Swift’s annoyingly overplayed “Shake It Off”. I wanted to like that song, honestly; I just find it way too repetitive, and that “players gonna play/haters gonna hate” lyric is so, so stupid. Come on, Taylor, you can do better.

Renée Fleming brings us “Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland” (not the stupid Microsoft version) aboard the Central Park bridge float. I was hoping to like this. But between something she’s doing with her voice and the treatment of the song… no. This is surprisingly terrible.

The Aflac duck is on a float now instead of a free-flying balloon. Every time I see him though, I always wish they’d have that one guy who’s always surprised to see him show up holding the balloon, or in this case maybe just waving from a balcony or something.

We now have Lewis the duck and his wife Lois, with his kids Lance and Lisa. Theme naming just annoys me. But hey, Pentatonix is performing on this float. They’re awesome. I do enjoy a killer a cappella group.

The super-creepy Elf on the Shelf is right behind that. Seriously, I don’t get the Elf on the Shelf. He freaks me out. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s a dead ringer for a skinny version of Big Boy, but he reminds me way too much of a cheesy mascot from yesteryear that now comes off as super-kitschy.

Foothill High School band from Nevada is performing “Nutcracker a la Vegas”. I appreciate that they brought something Christmasy into the mix here.

Idina Menzel is performing Mariah Carey’s classic “All I Want for Christmas Is You” from the Lindt float. I expected her song to be one of the best performances of the day, and she does not disappoint. This is either the first time I’ve heard this song covered, or the first time I’ve heard it covered that I didn’t block out, but it works.

Spongebob Squarepants follows Idina like he’s chasing all that chocolate on the float.

And there’s the third and last of Microsoft’s lame commercial breaks. That whole “Let’s help Santa and the elves get to the parade” thing was so dumb. The really sad thing is, I can picture the room full of execs who were all really excited over this idea. It would have needed a lot more cleverness and about seven more spots to really sell the story.

Feh. Of course we had to have a marching band play “Happy”. Can we be done with that now?

Here come the elf balloons, which means Santa Claus isn’t far back. Hard to believe it’s been three hours already. Not as much Christmas music today as I would’ve liked, but it’s snowing, so there’s that. Santa comes along with one of the weirder songs of the day.

It’s been a fun ride as usual. Al Roker signs off with a shout out to the troops who are away from home today keeping the rest of us safe. God bless all of you, and thank you for your service.

And now, I have cooking to do!

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Subtitle blues

The first book of Merchantman Halflight needs a subtitle. I’m finding this tremendously difficult.

When I originally envisioned the series as a Webcomic, I planned each printed book (they all do that, so why shouldn’t I?) to cover about 150 issues. I was fortunate enough to nail exactly the pace I wanted in the novelization. The comic’s first book I originally thought should be subtitled Five Stars as it literally takes place in five star systems; the second book’s subtitle I’ve had in mind for just about as long, and I think it will work perfectly as-is. The third and fourth books, and a prospective fifth (I don’t have the scripts to fully cover it yet) are also easy to subtitle.

But for the novel, I don’t know if Five Stars will cut it; it’s too cheeky. My current working concept is Get a Crew, which effectively is how the book opens and works on a lot of levels—but the level it doesn’t work on is punch. I just don’t feel moved by it, and if I don’t feel moved, will readers?

Titles are the absolute worst. There are people who say that about blurbs, but they’re wrong; titles are way harder. Not that this series is going to be easy to blog anyway. This, minus the fact line, is what I’m looking at (first draft) for the first book’s blurb:

Best friends Cole Brinnet-Gur, captain and legendary cheapskate, and Vince Jozig, ever searching for his fourth concurrent girlfriend, are ready to expand their interstellar shipping business. After clawing their way out of debt and parting ways with an insane cook, they need a proper crew for Halflight. What they get instead are a trigger-happy ex-mercenary who once blasted a city into orbit, a young pilot named Mishap, and a hard-pranking, hard-partying engineer with purple eyes.

With the jury-rigged old cruiser long overdue for repairs, Cole is beset by constant demands for parts and supplies. Vince’s decisions about cargo, relationships, and cuisine are as questionable as his grasp of ethics. But their worst headache of all is security specialist Ryxissa and her best friend Old Jack, a monstrous gun she’s happy to introduce to any pirate, thief, or petty annoyance standing between her and the end of a three-year quest.

Surviving the pirate-infested trade routes of the Fringe is enough adventure for anyone. Halflight’s new crew has to survive each other first.

What should be patently obvious here is how far I had to deviate from my normal “formula”. There’s no act structure nor even a real possibility of one, so temporal focus is much looser and aims for about the 1/3 point. This is an ensemble cast and there’s no way to focus on one character very easily. It’s heavy on detail to the point of kitchen-sinking, but it’s a deliberate choice for comedic impact; I do think it plays better in humor blurbs than in others.

But none of that helps me pick the best subtitle. These books would be pretty unblurbable if I didn’t already have a lot of practice writing blurbs. I have far less practice picking effective titles and subtitles. (My first book’s title was sort of a “best I can do” choice after the first two choices fell through.) There’s an art to it. I’m happy with the choices I have in mind for the later books, but this one is tricky.

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Halflight Lives!

I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo this year, but I had a darn good excuse: I was already frantically working on adapting my long-dormant comic into a novel. This past weekend I finally finished the first draft, and managed to fly through a rough edit of the first draft.

The effort started in July, but it didn’t really get rolling hard until much later, so all things considered this book came together really fast, at very much a NaNoWriMo kind of pace. That’s the benefit of having it all scripted out, I suppose. The hardest thing I ran into was the adaptation barrier, trying to figure out what scenes couldn’t work, what could, and what of the former could be saved.

A few jokes fell out along the way and, honestly, I’m fine seeing some of them go. But a few new ones unexpectedly fell in, so the trade-off was worth it. Another benefit of the scripts is that I was able to insert foreshadowing or simply fill in details that don’t come up till much later, so that everything feels more connected.

The first book finished exactly where I wanted it to. Word count is slightly higher than expected, but not by so much that it’s far out of line with my original goal. I wanted around 80K, and got about 82K.

Now the hunt begins to settle on a subtitle, and I’m going to start looking into cover options. I think this is the kind of book where I could composite a cover with stock photos myself (except, of course, if I wanted to include the ship on the cover), but there’s one major problem: I’d want a cover that said it was both sci-fi and humor, and that’s a hard pairing to achieve.

In the meantime I’m still moving forward trying to get Below out of post-production hell. I still have a goal of getting that out before the end of the year.

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Cheddar apple cheese ball, Mark II

A quick update: I attempted to make my cheddar apple cheese ball again, following my exact recipe from last time but with the addition of ¼ tsp. xanthan gum. Instead of taking 36 hours to firm up enough to work with, it took only six and firmed up enough to be handled easily. It still needed a little more time (another 12 hours) for the flavor to develop a bit more, but the cheese was plenty spreadable, just as before. I bought dried apple but didn’t bother to dress this one; it was just an experiment.

Now I’m starting to wonder if, for presentation, rolling it in light green food-grade wax after shaping would be a cool way to go.

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Chicken soup with potatoes

Having come down with a cold recently, I decided the time had come to try a hand at making chicken soup. It’s something I always wanted to try, and while the canned stuff gets the job done it’s nowhere near as good as homemade. Fortunately, between my wife and me I’ve had a lesser case of this, and felt okay on and off to shop for what I needed—and then later to cook.

My mother often likes to make, as a winter meal or when people in the house are sick, a light form of chicken soup that she throws together in a crock pot with chicken, potatoes, and carrots. I wanted to do something very similar, but in a bigger batch than my small crock pot can manage—and quicker. Adding to the challenge was that because my wife eats low-carb, potatoes and carrots weren’t an option for her so I wanted to make a second soup with mostly just chicken.

Oddly, I couldn’t find any recipes for chicken soup with potatoes, but what I did discover was that chicken soup is apparently hard to screw up. My first go at it was a huge success, so I want to share my recipe.

Chicken soup with potatoes

  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 12 oz. potatoes, cut in small chunks
  • 12 oz. fresh boneless chicken pieces
  • 6 oz. baby carrots
  • 3 oz. celery
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
  • Parsley
  • Salt (preferably kosher or sea)
  • Black pepper

Clean and cut potatoes. Chop celery into small pieces. Add potatoes, carrots, and celery to pot (4 qts. or more). Add chicken broth, bay leaf, and a little salt (about 1 tsp.) stir, and cover. Bring to a boil. After boiling, add Parmesan, stir, and reduce to simmer for about 10-15 minutes depending on desired doneness of potatoes and carrots. Re-cover. During simmer, cut chicken into small chunks: about an inch across. When potatoes and carrots are close to done, remove pot lid. Check broth for seasoning and add salt, pepper, parsley, etc. to taste. Remove bay leaf. Add chicken and return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer again. Cook for about 4 minutes, until chicken reaches internal temperature of 165°.

The potatoes I used were baby whites, the kind I buy when I make salt potatoes. Because the skin is thin on them, I didn’t bother peeling the potatoes. I like my potatoes and carrots very soft, and ended up simmering for 15 minutes to get there. The celery also came out soft; I wouldn’t have minded adding it a little later, but I was just as happy with the way they were.

What I liked most about this soup, hands down, was the broth. Everything else was great, but the broth was awesome. I remembered from an episode of Chopped that Geoffrey Zakarian likes to use Parmesan rinds in his soups to bring out amazing flavors. Also, I was aware that Parmesan is packed with glutamates for a rich, savory flavor. The quarter cup was an absolute wild guess, but it was right on the money.

It’s hard to say how many portions this makes. For my purposes, about three: I took about a third of it in a fairly large bowl, and got plenty of everything, and I’m just taking a wild guess that it was about a pint. I put the leftovers in a Pyrex 7-cup container, which it fills a little over halfway, so I think the math works out.

Since my wife can’t stand celery (except if it’s mush, like mine was—but why risk it), and shouldn’t be eating cooked carrots or potatoes, I went with something more basic for her. For the same amount of chicken I used three cups of broth, still the one bay leaf, same amount of Parmesan, and only salt as a seasoning. I tasted that broth during cooking and was quite happy with it as well. That made probably two portions, because it’s just meat and broth.

Unusually for me, I have no tweaks in mind for next time. I’m entirely satisfied with how this soup turned out, and would gladly make it the same way again. If you’ve never tried Parmesan in a soup, it’s time to take that delicious leap. I would at least suggest using actual cheese rather than the pre-grated stuff you shake on spaghetti. Probably high-quality cheese would be amazing, but the Wegmans brand shredded stuff was plenty good enough for me. I still had some on hand from the stuffed shells I made a while back.

Bonus benefit: If you cook your own soup, the steam in the kitchen is kind of a nice break for inflamed sinuses.

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A goal in sight

I mentioned a while back that I had started novelizing my long-languishing sci-fi comic, Merchantman Halflight, with the intent to develop it into a series of humorous books. At this point I’m pleased to say the project is coming along very nicely.

Something weird has happened along the way, in the course of transitioning the story from comic scripts into a novel format. Gags that worked before have had to be completely repositioned, or some jettisoned outright, for the story to come together. Wherever possible, I’ve tried to save the most important jokes I could. And in some cases, I’ve even had the opportunity to add new interstitial content. Oftentimes, dialogue that spanned several issues is combined into a single scene, but not necessarily in the same order. (I call it the Peter Jackson effect.)

Adaptation is a weird, weird thing. I wonder if this is anything like what Douglas Adams went through, taking his original radio scripts and making them into his seminal novel (and sequels). Gads the world is a worse place for the loss of his talent.

My goal all along for the first book was to stop at around 80,000 words. That’s a good length for something relatively breezy in sci-fi, but I was concerned it might be hard to wrap that up at a good place. With the comic format, I originally had an idea all along that I’d do print versions about every 150 issues, and conveniently the first major story arc ends right about there. Unlike Rich Burlew, I never approached any of this with anything like long-term planning.

Fortuitously though, the need to rearrange major parts of the story and combine several issues into one scene, skipping others entirely, has brought me to a good place numerically. I’m currently sitting at about 45K words, just past issue 89. The story arc I wanted for this book all along would end after issue 152 or 153. According to the math, at my current pace that means I can expect the book to wrap up exactly where I wanted, with about the word count I wanted. For the first draft, anyway; it will need tinkering.

I couldn’t be more thrilled, though. I’m going to make it! Now I’m shopping subtitles, hoping to come up with something good. Back in the day, I used to think I’d call the first book “Five Stars” because the story arc I intended takes place at, literally, five different star systems; it always did seem a bit cheeky though. I’m playing with the idea of “Get a Crew”. It would fit in a number of ways. For the second book, the subtitle has been long locked-in and I only ever considered changing it when I was concerned the first book wouldn’t cover the whole arc.

After that comes branding a series and coming up with good typography and iconography to tie everything together. As the wise man said: Those are good problems.

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Time to revisit the cheddar apple ball?

Another writer on kboards recently floated the idea of some kind of group cookbook, which got me to thinking if there’s anything I could contribute. Most of my recipes are simply copies of other recipes that I’ve tweaked, but I can’t say they’re very original. That’s not to say I couldn’t write a cookbook of my own anyway; I’m given to understand the ingredients themselves aren’t subject to copyright, just the actual text.

But the most truly original recipe I’ve come up with has to be the cheddar apple cheese ball. Working from nothing more than a basic technique, I played around until I found something I liked. I’m very proud of it, and it’s darn tasty.

However, in hindsight I realize the recipe was never perfected. The cheddar apple cheese ball takes 36 hours in the fridge before it even thinks of holding a shape. It’s far too loose, even after the extended chill. This is a logistical problem that makes it very hard to work with. It comes about because there is a lot of liquid in the cheese ball, which takes several tablespoons of cider as well as 3/8 of a Granny Smith apple (to 6 oz. of sharp cheddar).

The solution, I believe, is probably xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is not only an emulsifier, but can give things a creamy texture. I’ve never worked with it, but I have to imagine this is the magic bullet. The only trouble is, I don’t know how much to include. My gut says I’m going to have to play around and try to get to what I think is a good consistency during the mixing process; if the end result is resistant to falling back into a mush, that’s a really good sign.

The outer coating is something else I’d like to improve. I used dried apple pieces, which took a while to cut up into tiny bits, and were all but impossible to work with without corn starch. But all my other ideas are terrible. Thin candy coating: unworkable. Pieces of hard candy: sharp shards. Chopped nuts: texturally repellant. Chocolate: inappropriate. And the list of bad choices goes on. I may have to resign myself to cutting up more dried apple bits when I try this again; it’s the best thing I can find.

If the xanthan gum thing works out, I really want to revisit my other cheese balls. The cheddar bacon ball was a smidge too firm and could have benefited from more water; xanthan gum would help balance that out. Likewise I thought the savory ball was too crumbly, so adding more water and something that would stabilize the result into a creamier finish would be best.

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