The Perfumed Void https://the-orbit.net/alyssa Research, Feelings, and Life with Alyssa Gonzalez Sun, 09 May 2021 20:02:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.3 https://i0.wp.com/the-orbit.net/alyssa/wp-content/uploads/sites/27/2018/03/cropped-Screen-Shot-2018-03-30-at-12.31.50-PM.png?fit=32%2C32&ssl=1 The Perfumed Void https://the-orbit.net/alyssa 32 32 134704142 The Satisfaction of a Good Optimization Problem, Or, That Time I Obsessed About Some Wires for A Week Straight https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/05/09/the-satisfaction-of-a-good-optimization-problem-or-that-time-i-obsessed-about-some-wires-for-a-week-straight/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/05/09/the-satisfaction-of-a-good-optimization-problem-or-that-time-i-obsessed-about-some-wires-for-a-week-straight/#respond Sun, 09 May 2021 20:02:20 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7267 The post The Satisfaction of a Good Optimization Problem, Or, That Time I Obsessed About Some Wires for A Week Straight appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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I’m a tidy autistic. Compared to most of my friends, my home is uncannily organized; my routines are rigid and often inflexible. When I last moved house, my new home was 90% unpacked within the first week and firmly lived-in by the end of the first month, thanks to packing my previous home with destination rooms in mind and having a new floor plan for my furniture worked out in PowerPoint a month before moving day. With tape measures, notes, and detailed pro/con analyses, I worked out the best places for my sofa, television, display cases, desk, aquaria, and each individual houseplant, along with which new items to order and where those would go. Waste is sorted immediately and removed on a schedule, and cups never accumulate away from the drying rack. Mess makes me anxious and staying on top of these things is both a gift for and the result of my executive function, not done for others but to keep my home liveable for me. I pride myself on that level of masterful order and accept the neuroticism that comes with it as the price of success.

And that makes the state my PC, aquarium, and entertainment center cables were in until recently a bit odd. Truth be told, they were a mess. I got them functional when I moved in and I moved on, to the rest of the tasks that needed far more doing. It was the seedy underbelly of my immaculate world, and unlike real seedy underbellies that are where a town’s magic happens, this one had no redeeming qualities. Whenever I had to interact with the wires, such as to keep my aquarium filter from malfunctioning during a water change or remove my headset for travel, I had to confront the Tangle, and it was exponentially worse whenever I had to replace a specific component that had stopped working.

It was time to tangle…with the Tangle.

Fish Froth

The mess behind my aquaria had one fundamental cause: timing. I keep my aquarium lights (two on the fish tank, plus my turtle’s basking lamp) on a timer, and connecting them all to that timer involved a chain of electrical cords that I wish could have been any other way. The timer could accept one electrical plug as the output it would control, which was non-grounded, preventing me from connecting most multi-outlet adapters or power bars to it safely. I had picked the position of my turtle’s basking lamp based on a convenient hook in the ceiling (meant for hanging plants) and an orientation that would keep its light out of my eyes while I was at my desk, and that meant it was far enough away from the two aquarium lights that connecting all three of them to the same anything would require at least one extension cord. The solution, at the time, ended up being connecting the basking lamp to an extension cord and connecting that extension cord and the two aquarium lights to a second extension cord, which then plugged into the timer. After all of that, connecting the other four aquarium-related devices (two filters, a heater, and an airstone) to a single power bar was positively tame.

So, what was to be done?

I tried a spare, higher-end timer, which boasted a grounded output that would let me use a multi-outlet plug or power bar. Unfortunately, the orientation of its output and the size and shape of the timer meant that my three-outlet splitter would not fit once the timer was plugged into the wall. I could instead use a standard power bar, of which I had several, but that seemed excessive for such a small number of lights, and later steps in this adventure would make it seem even more superfluous. But I had one other tool: a small ungrounded-to-grounded adapter. With it, I could use my old timer and the three-outlet splitter instead of one of the extension cords, immediately removing the primary source of cord chaos behind my aquaria. The wires for the other, untimed devices had little length to spare, keeping them straight and easy to manage even without binding them together. In this singular effort, the wire situation behind my aquaria was rescued. However, completing this task exposed a greater issue that took more effort to address.

A lot of my aquarium equipment is old, low-end items cobbled together over years, suboptimal even when it was working at its best, which it no longer is. The power supply to one of my aquarium light fixtures is fragile and malfunctions when I interact with any of the wires, near it, and my old filter needs to be unplugged during every water change to prevent it damaging itself. Both needed to be laboriously coaxed back into behaving correctly after any interruption, which grew ever more tiresome as both devices continued to age. That light’s counterpart on the other half of my tank has already died and been replaced with a less functional backup lamp with a different color temperature that is causing algae problems, and the filter’s noise when it malfunctions is loud enough to make my office hard to tolerate. Tidying the wires helped make clear that it is time for some upgrades.

I have now replaced my old hang-on-back external power filter with a higher-end external canister filter and both light fixtures with a single LED fixture that exceeds the output, color temperature, and performance of its two predecessors put together. Switching these devices also required replacing my old, mismatched plastic aquarium hoods with new glass covers that let in much more light. This new arrangement has one fewer device to plug in and is much quieter than the older devices. It did crowd items out of my aquarium cabinet that I was holding for when I set up a third tank for a new friend I have not made yet, but that is a temporary nuisance. I am excited for what the future holds for my fishy family. My scaly children, after all, deserve the best.

Schematic of the electrical connections in my aquarium wall.
So tidy.

Table Turnover

Another improvement came to me by chance. While cleaning my guest bedroom, I discovered one of the lengths of coaxial cable that the previous owners had left behind. There were many like it, attached to cable outlets in the walls and, presumably, used for televisions. Meanwhile, my router was connected via a short length of the very same kind of cable to the main outlet, on the wall opposite my desk. I had long wanted to have my router with all my other computer peripherals and accessories, near me at my desk, and its enforced position on the other side of the room was an ongoing nuisance. It meant getting up to attend to it when it malfunctioned, turning around to check its status, and keeping it on a table near that wall so that it wasn’t on my floor getting accidentally kicked. I had checked all of the coaxial cable in my possession when the router was first installed and a few times since, finding them all too short to address the problem, and had given up. The cable in the guest room had sat there, behind a dresser, ignored for over a year, before I rediscovered it and realized that it was long enough to let me move the router to my desk. I would still have a wire trailing across the floor, but it would be more durable coaxial instead of fragile ethernet and the router itself would be where I wanted it.

It was not an instant fix. I had to rearrange the plugs in my surge protector to make a little more space on my desk and adding a new power and data wire to the nest behind my PC was not especially welcome. Fortunately, I had an abundance of shorter ethernet cables I could use to minimize the excess additional wire, instead of the long one that had once draped across the entire room. The coaxial cable was stiffer than that ethernet cable, creating a minor tripping hazard, but time would address that. As a bonus, I could even use the previous long ethernet wire to connect a gaming console to the now more conveniently located router. But the most unexpected perk was that this change meant that I could repurpose the table that had once borne the router.

At the far end of my living room, I had a trio of houseplants in pots in a large, disused litter box on the floor. Interacting with them was always inconvenient, but not inconvenient enough to do anything about it, least of all anything that would cost money. It turned out that the table from the router fit in that space, and under that tray, perfectly. This elevated the houseplants and made them easier to reach, while also getting them better light. The space the table left behind was going to be emptied eventually as a home for my third and final aquarium, when that ambition can at last be realized, and now it is done well in advance. Watching success cascade through a series of problems is one of the most satisfying parts of organizing a space, and I got to enjoy it once again, right before one of the more high-effort fixes of this whole adventure.

Computer Kerfuffle

My PC was the next mess to resolve. Computers are notorious for the sheer number of wires connecting their various peripherals to both electrical sockets and to wherever their data must travel, and cable management is nigh-mandatory for making any sense of them. The nest of wires behind my computer formed when I set up my office and had served to snag various items falling down the back of my desk ever since, while also complicating interactions with those wires. After a particularly mortifying video from Linus’s Tech Tips, I set to work disentangling this morass.

This was harder than it sounded. The wires were not only unbound, but intersecting in chaotic arrangements that had more to do with when each one was connected than any sense of utility. Attempting to bind them while they were still in this state would turn a loose weave into a tight web, worse than useless. Disentangling the wires meant deciding not just which ones deserved to be bundled together, but what those paths should look like, and from there, which ones needed to be disconnected and reconnected on other paths instead. I ultimately decided that the power cables would travel below the data cables, because I needed to interact with the data cables (such as USB and HDMI) more often. Arranging the two categories of wire this way made them easier to bundle separately, dramatically reducing the complexity of the situation. It was not the end, however.

It was tempting to bind every place where cables still shared paths. Such a tight arrangement would have looked orderly, and even been orderly, but it would not have been practical. The more ties held various cables together, the less simple it would be to replace those cables or those devices if and when their time came, and the more rigid the whole arrangement would have become. There were limits to how many ties could be useful instead of over-engineered, and it took a little more thought to find those limits. Three additional ties ultimately proved worthwhile: one more to restrain the USB and power cables from my printer, a second to hold together the wires issuing from my HDMI splitter (which serves to duplicate my PC’s screen on my television when desired), and a third to collect the wires from my monitor and adjacent webcam. Others tempted me—binding my keyboard and mouse wires to the monitor bundle to turn it into a “these are on my desk instead of in the cabinet” bundle, or attaching my printer’s USB cable to the nearby power cable bundle, or doing more with my HDMI cables—but ultimately, this smaller set proved more than sufficient. It was not quite as tidy as I wanted, but it retained practical utility it would have lost if I had gone further. I had restrained the cable dragon of my computer, and it was on to bigger and thornier problems.

Schematic of peripheral connections of my PC.
I have a copy of this in a plastic sleeve taped to the wall behind my monitor. It is oriented as if projected from the PC so that I can use it to guide my hands, sight unseen.

Entertainment Extravaganza

The example of my PC proved instructive for my entertainment center. Like my PC, my entertainment center had two central hubs where cables came together, and like my PC, there was one main place from which those cables issued. My entertainment center has two large holes in its backing for cable passage, reducing a forbidding series of numerous cables from numerous devices to two exit points. Taking a page from my PC adventure, I decided to use the lower of these openings for all the power cords and the upper for data cords. I could bind the power cords for my various devices into a single large bundle right up to that lower opening and leave their excess length inside the cabinet where the devices themselves resided, a convenience that the varying cord lengths, varying AC adapter locations on my PC’s peripherals, and varying device locations relative to my surge protector did not allow.

The data cables were not so easy. I had two upgrades for my setup to install, an HDMI switch and an adapter that claimed to be able to turn a Nintendo 64’s output into an upscaled HDMI signal. With most of my entertainment devices using HDMI as their output mode, the HDMI switch would let me have them all plugged in at once instead of just two, solving one problem. However, this particular switch had its ports along two sides instead of in a single row, limiting the feasibility of a single-bundle strategy for the wires leading to it. What’s worse, most of my HDMI cords were of greatly excessive length for their application, leading to large amounts of cable to wrangle. That excess, in turn, was not the same between all the devices, making bundling them all together difficult.

While I investigated my options and did a belated dusting of my entertainment center’s exposed shelves, I decided to move my Nintendo 64 to the top, outside the shelving, where the television itself is. Although the shelf the N64 was on was deep enough to allow switching the top-loading device’s cartridges, clearing the shelf made the data cords from the other devices easier to visualize and created space for a future ambition. The fact that I already needed to fuss with the N64’s wires to install the HDMI adapter made this the perfect time to move it. Keeping it separate from the other HDMI devices also kept its much shorter HDMI cable from complicating the rest of this process.

The solution for the data wires, in the end, was as inelegant as it was simple. There was a hidden area in the bottom shelf of my entertainment center seemingly designed to help manage AC adapters and other cord-related mess, and it proved capable storage for all manner of excess cable. I had initially planned to attach plastic hooks to the back of my entertainment center and hang the looped HDMI cables there, but the improvements already achieved gave me an idea. By tightly binding the two longest HDMI cables together, I could conceal them inside that same hidden area, without getting them entangled with the power cords. It would then be a challenge to extricate either cable if one of them needed replacing in the future, but with both cables being the same age, quite new, and used infrequently, that seemed an unlikely and far-off problem. I could hide the other, smaller excesses—the smaller HDMI cable connecting the HDMI switch to the television, the component video cable for my Xbox, and the N64’s new HDMI cable—in the empty space within the entertainment center, keeping both the front and back wonderfully tidy.

The shelf vacated by the Nintendo 64 now holds its four controllers, waiting for when I can have a group again for some split-screen play. But it will eventually also hold a VCR sufficient to enjoy some childhood documentaries and add a charmingly retro touch to my whole setup. With that in mind, I have kept my composite video switch in place, a device otherwise rendered superfluous now that only one device, my original Xbox, is using it.

Table-of-contents-style listing of how to access each media device connected to my television.
I keep a version of this in a plastic sleeve on my entertainment center now. This version is held in reserve for when I add something.

Conclusion

I did an exemplary job optimizing the location of my furniture. Every now and then, I check whether certain tempting alternatives, such as switching the locations of my aquaria and my display cases, would work, and each time I find the same result: at best, the switch would be neutral, effort spent for no improvement. More often, it would create some problem that the current arrangement escaped, the exact reasoning that led me to set things up as I did the first time. I have known people who rearrange their furniture every few months just to jostle their minds with false newness, but from where I am, an arrangement so carefully optimal that any deviation from it is objectively worse feels like an achievement. From the locations of my electrical outlets to which circuit breakers they are on to which surfaces my cats can easily reach, I have checked and re-checked every relevant factor, making it easy to be arrogantly certain that there are no further improvements to be had.

Venturing into cable management, and with it the upgrades I decided to pursue along the way, was a pleasant reminder that, no matter how good I get at making sure things are already the best they can be, I can still find ways to make them better, ways that are not likely to be themselves supplanted anytime soon. And every one of these problems leads to another eruption of diagrams that I can pour joyous hours into, fussing with the situation digitally to make it understandable in the world of touch and smell and creating a record of what I have done that I can consult even when the work itself is hard to view and enjoy.

I am looking forward to the steps to come.

Flowchart depicting the connections between various devices in my entertainment center.
This is ASMR for the eyes.

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Building Your First World https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/04/25/building-your-first-world/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/04/25/building-your-first-world/#comments Sun, 25 Apr 2021 21:36:44 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7264 The post Building Your First World appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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“World-building” is a challenge that faces many people: novelists, RPG hosts, screenplay writers, and most other categories of storyteller. Settings are the literal and figurative background of tales large and small, and for all that they are rarely the focus of a narrative the way characters and plot rightfully are, they are critical to that narrative making sense. Worldbuilding can be a forbiddingly large task, but it can be both efficient and rewarding if one keeps a few pointers in mind.

What Is Worldbuilding?

Narrative worlds are not just places. A map can be an important (but is far from a critical) component of worldbuilding, but it is not the only one. A narrative world consists of al of the facts that distinguish it from our world, plus everything that makes each element within distinct from others of its kind. That means a narrative world can include:

  • A set of places
  • The cultures that inhabit those places
  • Crafts
  • Arts, whether the products thereof are enduring (painting) or ephemeral (dance)
  • Specific art objects
  • Technological achievements
  • Magical forces and practices
  • History
  • Languages
  • Religions
  • Ecology
  • Geology
  • Meteorology
  • Astronomy
  • Physics
  • Cosmic-scale phenomena, such as parallel dimensions, divine realms, and other places that don’t fit on conventional maps
  • And more.

A truly complete world would invite examination down to individual grains of sand, the etymologies of individual words in its most obscure languages, the careers of individual persons of note, different manufacturing practices in different points in space and time, and every other dimension someone could investigate. It would be as infinitely expansive as our own world, and it would take similar decades of study to become an expert on even a small fraction of it. Such a feat is impossible for even a team of writers working across generations to achieve, and it is also unnecessary for any conceivable purpose. The map is not the territory, and it never needed to be. But what does it need to be?

Two adults and two children in a blue-lit cave full of large yellow spiders.
This world has specific needs. So does yours.

What Is Your Goal?

What you want your world for informs a great deal about how it needs to work. A homegrown world is generally meant for a specific purpose: to be the setting of a novel series, to be the background of a short story, to be a world that players in a tabletop roleplaying game explore, to be instructions for a film set and costume designer, and so on. Each intended purpose has different implications for what parts of that world need to be defined, which questions the world must answer, and which ones can be safely ignored. Visual media, for example, needs to define strong visual identities for almost everything in a world: clothing, weapons, tools, flora, fauna, and anything else that might be even fleetingly visible to people interacting with the final product. A world meant for use with a roleplaying game needs to fulfill the assumptions of that game so that the world and the rules (in RPG designer parlance, the “fluff” and the “crunch”) fit together seamlessly. A world meant to undergird an entire series of novels likely needs more breadth and depth than one meant to live its entire life as the backdrop of a single short story. This question of purpose guides and informs all of the others, so it must be settled early in the worldbuilder’s mind. A world can be expanded for new purposes after it is created, but it cannot succeed at its original goal if that goal is not clear to the creator.

What Kinds of Story Do You Want to Tell?

One the medium is firm in your mind, the next step is the message. What kinds of stories is this world meant to facilitate?

Genres set broad expectations about what worlds look like, what sorts of things are found in them, and what sorts of events happen in them. These expectations can be wielded to advantage with one critical axiom: you do not need to define anything that works the way people assume it works. People’s assumptions will carry them to the correct conclusion, so it is wise to save one’s words and energy for those things that differ from genre patterns and especially things in modern settings that work the way they work in our world. In many cases, using a facsimile of the modern world, or a basic concept of genre conceits, as a starting point for one’s explanation of what makes one’s world special is an excellent way to deliver a lot of information quickly.

A dark-skinned man holding a sword in preparation for driving it into something below him.

Now, Go Deeper

World-building necessarily has a back end and a front end. The front end is the part that people interacting with the finished product get to see. Done well, it is a polished, unified product that conveys the desired impression, often of a world bigger than the one story immediately at hand and where the things on the surface, or that are not explained in detail in the main narrative, have an internal logic that could be explicated if someone wanted it to be. One example is the Star Wars universe, with its vast multiplicity of weapons manufacturing corporations, secretive mystical orders, histories of individual planets, and more, which only impinge on its main story in a few places but provide ample room for side stories in other media.

It can be tempting, as a world-builder, to overload on details. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and other large, detailed universes encourage an idea of worldbuilding as a massively granular endeavor, where every twitch of the narrative has dozens of pages of footnotes linking it to other events in the world’s past, present, and future. This can be both overwhelming and counterproductive. The front end does not need anything that does not facilitate the specific stories being told. Stories become clunky, unwieldy messes if every detail of their world is included and given equal prominence. This is where the back end comes in.

The back end is the Wookieepedia to the Star Wars film canon. It is reams of notes, as organized as they can be, tracking the inspirations, backstories, and more that do not or cannot fit in the front end. The contents of these notes may never take center stage, even if a world becomes the setting of more than one story, but they still hold value. These notes inform and inspire things in the front end, and even more importantly, they help enforce internal continuity and consistency. Which details belong in front or in back depends on the stories one is telling and what one has created. A well-orchestrated back end results in a front end and a narrative that feel more cohesive and which can more easily be taken in new directions via new narratives.

A Note on RPG Worlds

Role-playing game settings require special care. By their nature, they are meant to facilitate many different stories, and place themselves in the hands of many different storytellers. This is true even of homebrew settings whose creators do not share them, because the players who participate in games set in these worlds take part of the storytelling process for themselves. These worlds are also, almost invariably, tailored for specific role-playing games, with specific rules that become part of the world’s assumptions, canonical in their own right. Worldbuilding becomes entangled with game design in this kind of world, and the best RPG settings blend the two to the point of inseparability.

RPG worlds must address the assumptions of their rules, or they cannot work as RPG worlds. For example, the rules of Dungeons and Dragons assume that demons exist, are evil, and come from a realm distinct from that inhabited by mortals such as humans. A D&D setting where this is not true is one where this deviation from assumptions not only has to be explained so that people interacting with this world understand it, but that must be dealt with via setting-specific changes to the rules. Failing to address situations like these leads to characters summoning beings from nonexistent realms, becoming werewolves in worlds with no moon, and calling on divine favor in worlds with no gods.

Writing an RPG setting differs from writing a world for other media in another important way. RPG settings are full of hooks meant to set up stories that others will complete, rather than complete stories in their own right. This role in assisting other storytellers means that the back end / front end distinction applies differently to RPG worlds. While they are in use, they have a front end (what players have already interacted with) and a back end (everything else). When presented as settings for others’ use, however, the distinction collapses. Those who would use pre-written RPG worlds need the back end, and so, it must be presented intact.

The best RPG worlds guide the people interacting with them toward certain kinds of stories, just as the worlds created for other media do. That means populating settings meant for courtly intrigue with a hierarchy of nobility and court officials with agendas and relationships, settings meant for exploration with sites to explore and paths to walk, settings meant for combat with enemies to fight, and so on. The same world can be all of these things in an RPG, but providing some of this content in detail provides both the content itself and a signal that this is the kind of story that makes the best use of what this world has to offer.

Conclusion

A novel about unraveling a mystery in an alien culture’s art museum might benefit from a detailed history of its world’s art styles, biographical snippets about its artists, and some background about a feud between schools of art criticism, but most or all of this effort would be wasted in a story whose focus is a military campaign between this alien polity and its neighbor. Conversely, the art mystery probably does not need a detailed rundown of its home country’s armored and infantry divisions. Worldbuilding is, more than anything, an exercise in knowing what one’s goal is and working toward it. It is a creative endeavor and one that requires an organized, careful approach to fulfill its potential. I wish you luck in the attempt. Stay tuned for additional explorations of what it takes to write a detailed setting.

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Sancocho, Alyssa Style https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/04/11/sancocho-alyssa-style/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/04/11/sancocho-alyssa-style/#respond Sun, 11 Apr 2021 12:54:10 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7242 The post Sancocho, Alyssa Style appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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Every culture with relatively easy access to water has some variety of stew. Boiling provides an even heat with far less risk of burning food than other cooking methods and can extract additional nutrition from bones and other inedible matter. Stews provide an easy way to create a medley of flavor from many ingredients and to safely and effectively turn mismatched leftovers into a coherent meal. Stews are hearty staples that bring welcome heat to chilled bellies, and Latin America certainly has its share, many of which share the single name sancocho.

Sancocho has many regional variants, found throughout the Spanish-speaking countries surrounding the Caribbean Sea. The particulars and role in the overall gastronomy vary, but what they all have in common is a heterogenous mix of starchy vegetables and whatever meat is most handy. In Puerto Rico, the local sancocho hinges on an abundance of malanga/yautía, potatoes, plantains, and West Indian pumpkin, mostly native and all grown locally, making it a particular fixture of the agricultural interior of the island. This is the background my grandmother brought to my family, and the sancocho she served us remains a frequent, well-liked memory.

I have already introduced malanga/yautía to my readers and most will understand plantains and potatoes already, but West Indian pumpkin is likely less familiar to them. All large gourds are calabaza in Latin American Spanish and most of them are Curcubita moschata to botanists, cultivars of a single shared species native to the Caribbean. The cultivars common in the Caribbean islands themselves are generally round, have orange flesh, and have rinds that range from strongly keeled and green to smooth and orange. Their flavor is somewhere between a butternut squash and a cantaloupe, surprisingly sweet. Their presence in sancocho helps moderate the overtly starchy flavor of the other ingredients.

Dishes like sancocho tend not to have fixed recipes. Although Carmen Aboy Valldejuli’s recipe is often considered authoritative, there are as many sancocho recipes in any given region as there are people preparing sancocho. Mine is a compromise between my memories of my grandmother’s version, Valldejuli’s version, and the availability of ingredients here in Ottawa.

This recipe serves 15 and reheats well. Freeze what you do not consume within a few days just in case. It has a long prep and cooking time and should not be undertaken on short notice.

Equipment

You will need a large pot, a chef’s knife, a vegetable peeler, your favorite measuring tools, and a stove or other source of bottom-up heat.

Ingredients

  • Green bell pepper, 1
  • Sweet chili pepper, 1
  • Variants: If you are not worried about managing FODMAP risk, add 1 medium onion.
  • Malanga/yautía, 3 lbs (about five corms)
  • West Indian pumpkin, 1.5 lbs. Substitute American pumpkin or butternut squash.
  • Potatoes, 3 large
  • Green plantain, 1 large
  • Ripe plantain, 1 large
  • Water, 3 quarts
  • Sazón, 1 tablespoon. Substitute table salt.
  • Cuban oregano, fresh, 2 tablespoons
  • Frozen spinach, 150 g
  • Dried cilantro, 2 tablespoons
  • Canned whole-kernel corn, 1 341-mL can. An entire ear of corn cut into four crosswise sections is more traditional.
  • Canned whole tomatoes, 1 791-mL can, divided in two
  • Stewing beef in cubes, 750 g
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
A selection of vegetables for use in sancocho: green plantains, ripe plantains, potatoes, malanga, and West Indian pumpkin.
An auspicious start.

Common Food Restrictions

  • Gluten-Free: This recipe is naturally gluten-free.
  • Ketogenic / Low-Carb: This recipe is very high in carbohydrates by its nature.
  • Low-FODMAP: This recipe is already designed to reduce its potential FODMAP content. However, sources conflict on whether malanga/yautía is itself a high-FODMAP food and my reaction to eating large amounts of it suggests it should be consumed sparingly if one is avoiding FODMAPs.
  • Vegetarian/Vegan: Use your preferred meat substitute and adjust cooking times accordingly.
A pot of sancocho showing the vegetables and beef in the thick tomato-based broth.
Oh yes.

Preparation

  1. Dice the green bell pepper and sweet chili pepper and set aside. If using onion, peel, dice, and include with these two.
  2. Peel and dice the malanga, West Indian pumpkin, potatoes, green plantain, and ripe plantain and set aside. Keep in mind that peeled malanga is very slippery, so it can be useful to begin cutting peeled portions before the whole corm is peeled.
  3. Add the water, green bell pepper, sweet chili pepper, sazón, Cuban oregano, frozen spinach, onion (if included), cilantro, corn, and half of the canned tomato to the pot and bring rapidly to a boil.
  4. Add stewing beef to the pot, reduce heat to moderate, cover, and cook for one hour.
  5. Add the vegetables from Step 2 and the rest of the canned tomato to the pot. Boil uncovered for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure no ingredient dries out.
  6. Ladle into bowls and serve with ground black pepper to taste.

This recipe is a work in progress as I learn to cook around my difficulty with onion and garlic in particular, but it felt right to share it now. The firm earthiness of the malanga contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the pumpkin and the softness of the potato to give this hearty stew an impressive diversity of flavors. Each bite is a little different and the sum reminds me of my grandmother’s warmth. Enjoy.

A bowl of sancocho.

 

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Two Months Later: How Did the Surgery Go? https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/03/28/two-months-later-how-did-the-surgery-go/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/03/28/two-months-later-how-did-the-surgery-go/#respond Sun, 28 Mar 2021 13:55:32 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7237 The post Two Months Later: How Did the Surgery Go? appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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Two months ago, I undertook the last transition-related surgery I anticipate ever having. There are body modifications ahead of me, most importantly various forms of hair removal and more tattoos, but this step makes my medical transition feel complete in ways that previous steps did not. So how did it go?

In a word, swimmingly. I am deeply, deeply satisfied with my facial feminization and breast augmentation. But healing has come with some surprises that are worth laying out for other folks who are observing my journey and hope to follow it. So, here are some things I’m still dealing with as I round the end of my second month post-surgery.

  • Much of my scalp had extremely limited sensation from surgery day onward, and that remains true. Sensation has returned slowly, the near-dead zone both shrinking and becoming less insensate with each week, but I still have to be careful when brushing my hair to make sure I judge the amount of force I am using accurately. I have heard of people losing some sensation permanently and I do not yet know if I will be one of them.
  • The incision line from the forehead reconstruction is still scabrous in places and produces occasional shots of pain, usually in places where scabs have recently shed. However, the part of it at my hairline is mostly invisible and even has hair growing through it, obscuring it further. There are no signs of infection or other complications.
  • The sinus between my eyebrows occasionally feels sore and even pressurized now that I’m allowed to sneeze and blow my nose again. I am not sure what to make of this.
  • It will not be until sometime next week that the last of the blood that ended up in the sclera of my right eye is reabsorbed.
  • I received no instructions as to whether I should wear a bra consistently or have the option to go braless hereafter. Both are common post-augmentation recommendations. Once I crossed the six-week threshold in which wearing the provided medical compression bra was mandatory, I stopped to see what would happen. I had a few sore days, but now find being braless about as comfortable as it was before. I did, however, notice that I seemed to be descending a little more , toward a breast shape I’d rather not be mine, so I have taken to wearing an elastic bra most of the time just in case. Certainly, there can be no harm in it.
  • I have not had to discard as much clothing as I imagined I might, but the losses are nonzero. As is my custom, it is going in a bin that I will bring to the next clothing swap I attend. Slowly investigating the parts of my wardrobe with the greatest risk of no longer fitting will proceed apace each weekend.
  • My breasts are still a little sore when I push them closer to each other, as happens when I briefly sleep on my side. Other than this, the experience only occasional pain, but I am remaining vigilant for signs of capsular contracture and other complications.

I hope this rundown helps others who are considering facial feminization surgery and breast augmentation know what to expect from their recovery process.

I’ve come a long way.

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Talking to a Past Self https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/03/15/talking-to-a-past-self/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/03/15/talking-to-a-past-self/#respond Mon, 15 Mar 2021 19:15:44 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7235 The post Talking to a Past Self appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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I wouldn’t tell her, “you think you’re a boy, but you grow up to be a woman.”

So many trans people fantasize about the lives they might have had if they had recognized themselves earlier. It is difficult not to be wistful about fewer years spent in denial, wasting the potential of youth for a more expensive later transition that cannot match that potential. The unreal version of myself who did not have to endure a testosterone puberty at all…she is happier than I am. But that’s not the version I would have been if I had known myself better at 5 or 10 or 15 or even 20. My denial, back then, was protective. Being dissociated into oblivion back then kept me from feeling the pain and impatience that a hostile world would have imposed on the version of me who saw all of this coming. It kept me from being sent to religious leaders and “therapists” who would have tried to convince me otherwise, it kept my parents from trying more overtly abusive methods to try to make me into the “man” they imagined I needed to be, and it let me endure ordinary depressed-teenage-boy levels of violence instead of the far greater amounts I might have received as an out trans lesbian in a locale defined in large part by bourgeois Cuban-American social conservatism. I do not regret my denial. The fantasy of breaking it early must come with the far less realistic fantasy of also being able to act on that knowledge right away to hold any appeal at all. Without that addition, the idea of telling my younger self that I felt the way I did because I was wrong about my gender is a curse, not a blessing. I was better off not knowing.

So, what might I have said instead?

To my middle-school self, thrust into a new social environment a thousand miles away from the one she had known in the midst of a puberty she would later recognize as violently unwanted, I might offer:

Allow yourself more closeness with those two friends in those two groups you found. They’re less charismatic and nerdier than the ones you originally latched onto, and the noise of this chunk of your life hasn’t let you appreciate how much better a fit for your mind they are than the others. They certainly don’t deserve the casual, playfully mean derision you added to the heap your other friends placed on them.

You take high-school physical education the summer before entering high school out of a wild misapprehension of the requirements of your program, but it ends up being a useful experience, especially the part about weight training. Leave that girl alone, though. Seriously, leave her alone. Don’t look at her, don’t talk to her more than circumstances force, forget her as much as you can. If you didn’t think that reappearing in her life would at best be confusing and at worst a re-traumatization, you would be apologizing to her now. Leave her alone. You will have better memories of that semester if she isn’t in them.

Keeping in touch with the people from elementary school will feel important at first, but it will rapidly fade into irrelevance. They’re your past, and your future is ahead of you. Something is afoot that will bring some of them back into contact with you later. And you really don’t have to memorize that that girl’s birthday is 1 May.

To my high-school self, lonely, socially inept, and ever reaching for intimacy she would take decades more to know, I might offer:

Don’t get back with her. You’re both damaged in ways that do not so much complement as resonate. I don’t know whether the butterfly effect of you not spending that year with her, neglecting your friends and your own emotional health, will work out for you, but it’s a bad scene. Ending things with her early was a good move and getting back with her so soon thereafter was violence against your own boundaries. You’ll know what that phrase means in the future. She’s not worth it. Stay broken up. Focus on the other one. You know the one. You won’t forget her, and I’m very curious what might have been.

That one very good female friend you have? It never works out with her the way you want it to. You will make peace with that idea, eventually, and come to recognize that it would never have worked. She will marry someone neither of you has met yet. She will have children with him. You have an intuition that she’s patiently indulging you instead of truly thriving on some of the things you say and do to her, and you’re righter than you can imagine. This friendship is real, but so much of how it works at your end is just at your end, imagined into existence because she doesn’t stop you or tell you that you’re not as funny as you think you are, because acknowledging that reality yourself feels like giving up. Life will be better for you if you can tone down the static of wishful thinking in your mind and listen, really listen, to what her words and body language and everything else are saying.

The worst decisions you make in this part of your life are all because you are desperately lonely, and you are desperately lonely because you can tell that people don’t, indeed can’t, see any version of you that feels real. You can’t even see that version, and you won’t, for many years to come. But you do find that version. Things do get better for you. I won’t tell you to hang in there, because you were going to do that anyway. That’s one of your defining features, and a trait that will serve you well for the rest of your life: the emotional null where others’ despair response would reside.

And you do, eventually, get the resolution you need on those feelings and actions related to feminine clothing. Great things are ahead of you. Great, beautiful things.

To my bachelor’s-degree self, finally in an environment that feels right, stretched taut between adolescence and adulthood in a way her peers mostly started experiencing earlier than she did, unable to reconcile the present and the past, I can say:

Don’t pursue her. Which one am I talking about? Yes.

In many ways, this part of your life feels like a realization of all the promises your high-school experience didn’t keep. With that freedom comes responsibility that you take time to appreciate, and decisions you come to regard as lessons for your future self. You have a pattern of letting your wants cloud your ability to read other people. You sense this in yourself already, and it is a thought you fight because there is such incredible darkness behind it. Without that presumptuousness, you feel like you might never have intimate, affectionate touch of the sort you crave, let alone resolution of your various urges. You feel trapped between the lonesome chasm of your terror that this one will be the only one who can ever truly see you and your urgent wish to not be the kind of monster you know people see in you, and you feel helpless to resolve that contradiction. In my timeline, you don’t truly begin the work of undoing this flaw in yourself until graduate school. You can start earlier. You can grant yourself the grace required to imagine that more than one person could ever love you, and with that self-directed largesse, help them find you.

With all of that in mind, don’t call that girl 20 times in the 15 minutes that she was late for your walk through the FIU grounds. Don’t have that brief, ill-conceived dalliance with that woman ten years your senior who just broke up with a friend. Don’t repeatedly sext with that monogamous friend whose relationship you’re hoping will end in your favor. Don’t hit on your tutoring clients after sessions with such consistency that you’re mystified it didn’t lead to you being called into an office. Don’t hit on your sister’s friends, ever. That voice in your head that asks every time if this next move is a good idea? It is right to doubt you at this point in your life. You have so much growing to do, and I would enjoy my memories of this time more if so many of them did not involve this.

But it’s not all mistakes. You have cultivated a mastery of keeping secrets from your parents that will keep being protective for a decade to come. You have been collecting evidence of what happens when that instinct fails, or when you choose not to use it, and that evidence reinforces the solidity of this decision. You have found coping mechanisms that dull the pain of existence without imposing toxic costs you can’t pay, granting you a sense of control in your free time that you cannot access elsewhere. Some of the friends you’ve made or maintained here will last for years to come.

To my early grad-school self, claiming a first true taste of independence:

Listen to yourself. You’ve lived so long doing everything you could to not really hear what goes on inside your mind, but it’s time to start listening. Because this is when you’re finally in a position to start recognizing what you’ve been hiding from yourself and take the steps to come out into the light.

Learn to cook. Your parents gave you a start, but you are lacking some basic skills and the humility to even see what the problem is. You will eat better once you figure that out. You tried, but the internet of those days was not yet as easy to navigate as it is now. Keep trying.

You have more control over how you live this part of your life than you think you do. You will have a better time if you insist on using it, and on choosing your company with that autonomy in mind. I would be more specific, but you wouldn’t listen to me anyway. You’ll understand what I mean when you’re me.

And for my elementary-age self, whose struggles were beginning to show but would not yet have names for years to come, there is no story I could tell that would change anything. For that child, already aware of her impenetrable weirdness but with no knowledge of what it would ultimately mean, I can offer only the most soul-encompassing hug my decades of empathy can present, and the promise that the life ahead of this moment will come to contain the understanding she so craves.

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Laura Jane Grace’s Memoir: A Review https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/02/27/laura-jane-graces-memoir-a-review/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/02/27/laura-jane-graces-memoir-a-review/#respond Sat, 27 Feb 2021 22:21:58 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7223 The post Laura Jane Grace’s Memoir: A Review appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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I remember my first and, so far, only Against Me! concert. It was in Montreal, and the day got a rough start when I narrowly missed my train and had to rebook for the next one, taking six hours out of the time I could spend with my girlfriend and a mutual friend in the city before the show. Punk rock isn’t a genre that has held much appeal for me in the past, but knowing that Against Me!’s frontwoman, Laura Jane Grace, was transgender and that the band was among my girlfriend’s favorites inclined me to give it a chance. It was also hard to pass up a trip to Montreal, even if it ultimately did not involve much sightseeing between my arrival and the show.

I enjoyed the experience far more than I thought I would. Against Me! is every bit as shouty as all the punk rock I never learned how to like, but comes with an emotional, personal current that I did not find in encounters with other artists in this genre. Grace and I, it turned out, acted on our desire to transition at roughly the same time, and followed broadly similar gender journeys. So, her music was speaking directly to the version of me that was listening, a handful of years into our respective embraces of womanhood, when everything was still new and raw and exciting and scary, when the old things had not finished falling apart and the new ones were still being built to replace them. I left that concert with a copy of Transgender Dysphoria Blues, some of whose songs featured in the set list, and which she had written just a few years earlier, when everything was immediate for both of us. I won’t say I was smitten—that word belongs to the slow, euphonious pop and electronic music that generally holds me—but I was impressed, and my horizons broadened. So, I was not as nonplussed as I would normally have been when I received Laura Jane Grace’s memoir as a gift.

I don’t usually read books about music, as it is a relatively small part of my life and the lives of its artists are not generally paths I find relatable. The book sat on my bookshelves for four years before I picked it up. Honestly, I was put off by the title. In keeping with her punk values and with the general edginess that comes with the territory, Grace titled her book Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, with the former word in sizable print on the cover. As one of the people against whom this slur is aimed, she has every right to reclaim it and I do not begrudge her decision to do so, but with most of my reading happening in waiting rooms and while traveling, I was not eager to hold that word where onlookers could see it and get entirely the opposite idea about my sympathies. Its presence here speaks to a fundamental difference between Grace and myself, one that I enjoyed experiencing through this book.

Laura Jane Grace and a bandmate on stage. Laura is singing into a closely held microphone while holding her guitar.
Confessions follows Grace from her childhood through to shortly after the release of Transgender Dysphoria Blues, and the path it describes is intense. Grace was a troubled child, as one might expect, and that extended into a young life filled with drug use, petty crimes, and involvement with punk and anarchist scenes. Her tone is disarmingly matter-of-fact, presenting situations from her parents’ failing marriage to the grungy shenanigans of her first anarchist circle to her teenage self snorting lines of cocaine in school bathrooms with the straightforward ease of someone who does not see her own path as an oddity. It is a deadpan technique I know exceedingly well from my own writing, wielding that dissonance like a droll stiletto to capably sets up the gut-punches to come.

Grace is not subtle about how her vices provided outlets, sometimes unwitting and sometimes not, for her gender dysphoria. There are a lot of reasons why an Army brat stuck in a city like Naples, Florida might fall in with a rebellious crowd and try to numb the suburban tedium with every substance she could find, and none of them hang as heavy or as immanently as living in a body and a gender identity that do not fit. Her processing is familiar even as her methods are not: bafflement at her combination of attraction to women and desire to be one; sampling feminine clothing as a secret, shameful indulgence; repeatedly collecting and disposing of a small feminine wardrobe; confusion as to what could make her feel this way; effort to uphold masculinity despite how awful it feels. It is an omnipresent distress that becomes the background radiation of being alive, and just as with regular radiation, one of the most effective forms of temporary protection is to drown it.

But it is not her only struggle. Laura Jane Grace is also trying to find love, build her band, navigate the politics of the anarchist-punk scene, and survive the toll her substance use is taking on her, all at the same time that her gender seethes in the back of her mind. A recurring theme is the anarchist-punk scene’s seeming resentment of anything resembling success, heaving the invective of “sellout” onto Against Me! and onto Grace specifically with every step they take toward financial solvency or mainstream appeal. It is a testament to her and her co-writer Dan Ozzi’s craft that she does not have to directly call out this self-defeating spiral for its sad reality; her encounters with hostile “fans” speak for themselves.

For all that Confessions is a story that places Laura Jane Grace at the center of its action and is, fundamentally, about her decisions, she is rarely in control of the events that unfold. This is a story about the steps she takes to navigate her life from childhood to where it was in 2015 or so, but more than that, it is the story of every situation she felt cornered into, non-decision that happened around her, and coping mechanism as automatic as it was chosen. There is a recurring tension in Confessions, regardless of the specific situation: Grace is cornered into a choice between what others want from her and what she wants, or what would be best for her versus what would fulfill others’ visions of what she should be. She vacillates between combative defiance and detached resignation, she numbs entire months with miscellaneous intoxicants, she treats her gender identity like an addiction, and all of it is a lurching quest for agency. The narrative becomes a rollercoaster between these poles, mirroring her own struggle with the various substances her life will not let her avoid even when she has the willpower to fight them. When she is fulfilled, in the story’s beautiful final section, it is because she has at last gained the freedom to exist as herself, not just in gender, but in the rest of her life, too, however much it cost her.

The true strength of Confessions is that it is liberally interspersed with Grace’s journal entries. Grace journaled meticulously throughout her life, and these texts both provided source material for the rest of the narrative and provide beautiful, emotional windows directly into her mind. Where the rest of the prose is spare and careful, Grace’s letters are vivid and raw, sentence fragments and half-finished thoughts taking on extra poignancy because they fill in the emotional gaps. Her feelings are not hard to discern in the rest of the narrative, but here, they are inescapable. It is in these letters that we first encounter her gender dysphoria, before she herself knows the term. Toward the end of Confessions, I began catching unremarked snatches of lyrics and titles from the songs in Transgender Dysphoria Blues in these letters, and this context makes the album’s sometimes-cryptic lyrics stand out as poetic triumphs in their own right.

So, here’s to Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, a wild, beautiful ride. When there’s rough surf on the coast, one could do worse than spending a day alone with this book. Just don’t forget the tissues, and maybe a discreet paper cover.

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That Time I Fixed My Front in Guadalajara https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/02/14/that-time-i-fixed-my-front-in-guadalajara/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/02/14/that-time-i-fixed-my-front-in-guadalajara/#respond Sun, 14 Feb 2021 14:59:40 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7226 The post That Time I Fixed My Front in Guadalajara appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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For the handful of people in my life who do not know, I recently had facial feminization surgery (FFS) and breast augmentation (BA) in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, provided by the expert hands of Dr. Lázaro Cárdenas Camarena. This adventure was the culmination of years of careful saving and exhaustive research and represents the last significant transition-related body modification I anticipate ever pursuing. As I heal from this sizable achievement, I also reflect on it.

What Does it Mean?

Facial and breast surgery are as affirming and lifesaving as reconstructing one’s genitals can be, for those of us who experience relevant dysphoria. Testosterone complicates both regions of the body for transfeminine people who did not have the gift of blockers to suppress their androgenic puberty, and correcting that damage is as much an expression of gender transition as changing one’s wardrobe or name. It is a similar level of inexcusable that these surgeries are so rarely included in insurance packages and otherwise made inexpensively available to people who desire them. With the far greater visibility of faces and busts relative to genitals in one’s day-to-day life, it is arguably even more inexcusable. For many of us, these visually obvious corrections make more difference in our lives than the much more secret fix of vaginoplasty ever could.

It is this visibility that adds an additional wrinkle to these procedures, however. Facial and breast surgery are inextricably entangled in vanity. They do not just undo what testosterone did to bone structure or the lack of a cisfeminine puberty did to breast development, but also come with aesthetic considerations. Transfeminine people, by and large, do not just want to approach the ideal of What We Might Have Looked Like, but also hope to be beautiful afterward, just as our cisfeminine peers desire beauty. Much more so than when I pursued vaginoplasty, FFS and BA put me in a position to evaluate not just my dysphoria, but my relationship to my own appearance more broadly.

Decisions, Decisions

In August 2019, I wrote about how comparing my features to those of a selection of famous, beautiful Hispanic women provided some perspective that helped me disentangle my sense of my own beauty from the often narrow, Eurocentric model that many plastic surgery practices take as a given. I emphasized brows in that article, even in its title, and convinced myself that the somewhat more rugose brows of women like América Ferrera and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could make me feel better about mine. For a while, they did. But my true feelings would not be so easily set aside. Ultimately, parts of that article showed themselves to be a fit of the-lady-doth-protest-too-much, me attempting to assert a more defiant and more financially convenient reality over the one I truly lived. I was indeed dysphoric about my forehead, and the thought of fixing it ultimately proved too thrilling not to pursue. My forehead would become the single largest line item on my surgery quote rather than something I could reclaim as it was. Going over my photos with Dr. Cárdenas led to the suggestion of a Type III forehead bone reconstruction.

A second tipping point was my nose. I have never had negative feelings about my nose, but I budgeted for the often-standard rhinoplasty anyway on the off-chance that revising my forehead and jawline might make my old nose not work on my new face. During my Skype consultation with Dr. Cárdenas, he first asked me about my active desires, and acknowledged them. I followed up with a request for his thoughts on what else it might make sense for me to change while I was working with him. It came as little surprise when he suggested I add rhinoplasty to my list. At my request and contrary to how he usually operates, he provided a mock-up of what I might expect from a feminizing rhinoplasty, so that I could decide whether this intervention truly made sense for me. This image provided a few days of food for thought. That version of me, nose concave and upturned instead of arched, did not look unattractive, but I could not reconcile her with me. I ultimately decided that my lack of dysphoria, or any other negative feelings, about my nose, or immediate positive feelings about the proposed new one, made this procedure dispensable. My old nose’s shape is at least as indigenous American as it is Mediterranean, and it remains. So, the thesis of “Their Brows Look Like Mine,” in the end, still has something to it.

My breast augmentation came with a few decisions of its own. While the specifics of most of the other procedures could be left to Dr. Cárdenas’s expert eyes and hands, breast augmentation is a highly customizable procedure, with many options to consider. Dr. Cárdenas’s practice has defaults that removed some possible decisions from the process—my implants would be EuroSilicone and the incision would be inframammary regardless—while leaving others. He and I looked at a selection of goal photos I had prepared and settled on round implants with a 12.1 cm radius and to check several volume options, with a maximum of 500 ccs, to figure out what my body could safely hold in its current shape. Dr. Cárdenas considered my desires to be almost weirdly large, which came as a surprise to me, given that they are far from the largest I have seen even first-time breast augmentation patients pursuing in support groups and among my friends, but I trusted his expertise.

Dr. Cárdenas also reviewed my most recent CT scan results to gather information related to my jaw and chin work, which helped determine which lower-face procedures I would ultimately receive.

The decision that most surprised me waited until the in-person consultation. Forehead bone reconstruction comes with the conditions needed for two related procedures—brow lift and hairline advancement—and Dr. Cárdenas offers these at no additional cost to people who seek forehead reconstruction with him. I was initially enthusiastic about both addenda, but my interest in hairline advancement faded in the interim. My hairline had never in fact receded, as far as I could tell, which made advancement seem like a solution to a non-problem. I was not exactly thrilled with my specific forehead proportions, but they seemed not worth addressing, or likely to come with complications that were not worth the trouble. But when Dr. Cárdenas produced a set of calipers and explained the same math that artists use to draw idealized faces to show that my forehead was indeed a bit larger than would best serve my beauty and that addressing this would be trivial while he was already in there working on my brows, the thought of capturing that additional beauty for myself became much more appealing. The scientist in me found the calipers reassuring and the student of history in me found it deeply unsettling, and in between those two feelings, I found the strength to accept a little overt vanity into this whole process. I hope Dr. Cárdenas does not have this specific conversation with his black patients and others from ethnic groups whose forehead proportions do not line up consistently with the metric he used.

Thus did my surgery package emerge:

  • Type III forehead reconstruction
  • Brow lift
  • Hairline advancement
  • Jaw contouring
  • Chin contouring
  • Tracheal shave
  • Breast augmentation
  • Ancillary costs, including testing, medication, and accommodations.

The Pandemic in the Room

The moment that my finances finally lined up was emotionally intense. Feelings could be held at bay by the impossibility of doing anything about them while I was still building the necessary savings, but once that process was done, it became harder to be patient. Unfortunately, that meant that I was ready to take the plunge at a truly inopportune moment in world history: the covid19 pandemic.

The necessary conversations with Dr. Cárdenas and his team took up a lot of time, during which I vainly hoped that world disease conditions would improve. I made the most decisive arrangements during brief stretches in which things looked positive in Canada and Mexico, but those bright weeks did not last. My local partner and some friends provided various tools I could use to keep contagion at bay, such as better masks than I had been using, to aid my journey and I researched the legalities of my travel. As a Canadian permanent resident, I would be allowed to return home with few obstacles; as the holder of a US passport, I could fly into Mexico and, for connections, the United States without incident despite widespread travel restrictions. There were many layers of privilege in being able to do this at all, and this process highlighted one more.

The wait between when I scheduled my surgery (late November) and when it would take place (late January) was a frenetic trial of flight rearrangements, new testing rules, and terror that I might be ensnared in Canada’s unfolding quarantine scheme. The closer the day came, the more convoluted the transit path became, and its final form included a hot, humid, airsick stay in a sleep pod in the Mexico City airport to endure a short but very inconveniently timed layover. The difficulty that rankled the most, ultimately, was how different travel sites’ different ways of handling the time zone difference between Guadalajara and Ottawa led to me sleeping through the last leg of my journey to Guadalajara and needing to buy a whole new flight a few hours later with 1/3 of my souvenir money. But I arrived, and Dr. Cárdenas’s staff retrieved me from the airport in Guadalajara and brought me to the residence where I would stay for the next twelve or so days.

The Stay

Dr. Cárdenas’s patients stay in a well-appointed boarding house about 15 minutes away from the hospital where he and his colleagues perform surgery. This residence is full of magnificent art and cozy seating, making it a pleasant place to spend time before and after surgery. It also has cooking and care staff to keep patients and their companions fed and comfortable. The exact relationship between the residence staff and Dr. Cárdenas’s practice is and remains fuzzy to me, as some of them seemed to be associated with the building itself and others served as liaisons with Dr. Cárdenas and possibly other surgeons at the hospital. I was disappointed to learn that the jacuzzi in my bathroom was not functional, but the sizable smart TV and excellent food made up for that small deficiency.

Although Dr. Cárdenas bills his practice as taking place in the large city of Guadalajara, the residence is in the adjacent exurb Zapopan, which has far less tourist traffic and less going on in general. The path between the hospital and the residence, and between the airport and the residence, illuminated two things very clearly: I was not in Ottawa, and I was not in Miami. The Spanish tile roofs and various architectural flourishes I found familiar were interspersed with street layouts and geology that I had not seen before, and signs and marquees referred to unfamiliar brands, laws, and locales. The people I overheard, or spent time around in the residence, spoke Spanish with a level, musical accent I knew mostly from television, which I grew to love and find soothing compared to the slurred harshness of the ones I grew up with, and their beauty added to my sense that I was in good hands. Dr. Cárdenas, after all, was not just a lower-cost provider than the local surgeons I had dismissed, but legitimately one of the best in the world. It was unlikely that the staff and random strangers in the area were his former patients, but experience with this sort of beauty could only be instructive.

I spent a large chunk of the first day exploring the shopping mall a short walk away from the residence. This mall, Andares, did not deliver what I hoped for. I was shopping for gifts for the various people helping me during and after my return, and this mall did not cater to those people’s nerdy, Gothic interests at all, nor did its offerings include the tourist-oriented art objects I would also have liked. It was a beautiful walk, with large goldfish ponds and other scenery interspersed between stalls, storefronts, art installations, and sitting areas, but it felt divorced from place, with little to mark it as truly different from malls I had visited in Miami or Ottawa. The gifts I brought home, ultimately, did not come with the “this was definitely brought home by someone who went to Mexico” impression I wanted, but so far, they are well received anyway. Ironically, if I had had more time in the Guadalajara airport in either direction, I would have found what I was looking for right there.

In the remaining day and a half between then and surgery, I endured a preliminary covid19 test, a blood test, and a cardiological exam, while video-logging a bit to keep my friends aware of where I was and what things were like here. I also spent this time getting acquainted with Guadalajara’s climate, which differs from that of most places where I have spent any time. Although technically a humid tropical climate, this part of Mexico is drier than most places I have spent much time, so the night air loses heat rapidly to the sky and mornings and evenings are surprisingly chilly. Daytime, likewise, has little protection from the beating sun, especially with the place’s altitude. Before long, it was surgery day, and a frenetic morning turned into an anaesthetized slumber and a bandaged waking.

Healing

Very little can prepare a person for the experience of waking up from such extensive surgery…other than having done it before. This was my fourth surgical procedure and the second one related to my transition, so I was familiar with the experience of losing consciousness in the busy, sterile confines of an operating room and waking up in a recovery room. I was also familiar with the experience of my body being firmly 100% unready to have food or water in it for many hours to come, and of the mess that came from testing that unreadiness.

There was not much to see on my face in those early moments. I was swollen beyond recognition, with only the pressure band on my reconstructed forehead allowing the results there to be even a little apparent. The bruising would migrate down my face over the coming days, fading as it went. My new breasts, however, were immediately and starkly apparent.

Dr. Cárdenas had made a few executive decisions while I was unconscious. As we had discussed, he tried more than one size of implant, with an eye toward finding the largest size my body would comfortably hold and heal around, and that size turned out to be 450 ccs. This was the extreme upper limit of what my selection of goal photos suggested I consider, and even with how misshapen freshly implanted breasts generally look, I liked what I saw. Dr. Cárdenas had also positioned the incision for my forehead work at an angle, which allowed him to improve the thickness of my hairline near the site of a childhood injury to my temple, a decision I appreciated.

The most frustrating reality of that day was a miscommunication between me and the pre-op staff. I thought I was told to put all of the possessions I had brought with me, other than my masks, in a locker, but it turned out there were some items I was meant to have with me when I awoke. The fact that I had put everything in the locker, which only I was authorized to open, proved to be a major headache for the day and a half that I was in the hospital, which they ultimately resolved by allowing hospital staff to retrieve my things from the locker for me. This miscommunication meant that my loved ones got post-surgery updates via calls from the staff to my emergency contact number, who relayed the news more broadly, rather than via messages or posts from me. It was a relief to be sent back to the recovery residence, even if it felt a bit premature.

I was delicate in the days that followed. Swelling had my eyelids working less well than they had before and the reality of breast augmentation is that one’s ability to lift weight over one’s head, flex well enough to get into and out of bed, and so on is compromised for several days thereafter. Recovery is energetically expensive, so I ate well, and that dovetails neatly with another tricky aspect of the days following surgery: the intestines are one of the last organs to wake after anaesthesia. The medical team gifted me with higher-strength painkillers to complement the ones they had had me purchase before surgery when I complained that the pain, heat, and general discomfort made sleeping difficult, which proved very, very welcome. The haze of those first few nights led me to accidentally knock over a glass I had finished imbibing, to my disappointment in myself, but the staff were gracious about it. I had little appetite for activity more involved than watching Netflix and managed to watch the entirety of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Legend of Korra, and several movies during my stay.

This fragile state lasted only a few days. As the one-week mark approached, I found myself closer and closer to normal, my strength returning and energy rejuvenated. I was not at full capacity yet, and still am not, but getting out of bed stopped being a painful trial and several days of Metamucil, stool softeners, and ignoring my dietary restrictions to counter the constipation with diarrhea eventually cleared my bowels. This resumption of my old, invincible self proved especially welcome when an incoming patient turned out to be a fellow Canadian kinkster with whom I had long, pleasant conversations and who was eager to receive the gift of my massage.

Yes, dear readers: I found a Canadian play partner in Mexico while recovering from surgery. I am unstoppable. I am immanent. I am, in a word, me. The staff were just a touch scandalized.

Return

One hassle I had to navigate surrounding my return was arranging a second covid19 test, to comply with new US and Canadian rules about having a recent negative test result as a condition of travel. The newness of this rule meant that the arrangements that Dr. Cárdenas’s team had with his hospital proved insufficient and they scrambled to find an alternative source. They succeeded, but the trial was harrowing. Just a few days later, it was time for me to head home. Around the same time, they also removed my various stitches and staples and prescribed some additional medication to help with my still-excessive swelling.

The airport in Guadalajara was a mess of frenetic, tense energy, as a long, long line and more involved processing due to new pandemic regulations devoured my two-hour head start. Airport staff offered me a wheelchair, cued by my forehead compress to my medically compromised state, and if it were not for them, I would have missed my flight. It was this assistant’s swift feet, wheeling me through security and then to my gate, that got me there just in time. I had hoped to have lunch in the airport, but that processing delay forced me to settle for eating the complimentary snacks from the incoming planes instead. Dinner at my connection was also a bust, as the airport eateries were mostly closed and were not accepting cash, but my ride back to my home in Ottawa kindly stopped for drive-through food.

The New Normal

I was back to work within a day of my arrival in my home. Returning to active duty was not the smoothest process, but it proceeds apace. I continue to settle into my new shape. As the swelling in my face subsides, I am finally beginning to see what Dr. Cárdenas has done for me, and I am impressed. My new features are undeniably more feminine than my old ones, and they will take some getting used to. My breasts in particular will be healing into their final shape for a long time yet, as the famous “drop and fluff” process works itself out, and I look forward to what they will look like a year from now. Before too long, I will have to redo various forms of identification to match my new features as those features finalize, including finding a new professional headshot to use for company web sites and so on, and I look forward to some very excited clothes-shopping as well.

It is relaxing verging on disorienting to have this whole adventure behind me. I arranged so much of my finances around saving for this goal that the gap where it used to be is cloying in its emptiness. I have other goals to accomplish, but for now, I can rest on this one.

I finally did my last transition surgeries.

And all it took was three years of saving and navigating international air travel during a pandemic.

Advice for Would-Be Cárdenas Patients

  • It takes at least 15 minutes longer get between the airport in Guadalajara and the residence in Zapopan than you think it does. Covid19-related processing delays add an additional 30 to 60 minutes to how early you should be on your way back. Add more if you are interested in souvenirs or food.
  • The woman selling Corso jewelry from a kiosk in Andares is lovely and you should buy her jewelry if you like jewelry.
  • When the hospital staff tells you to put everything in the locker, they are lying. Keep with you, right out to the operating room, anything you want to have with you in your recovery room, such as your phone, medication, deodorant, and hairbrush. The only things you should put in the locker are the clothes you will wear out of the hospital the day you return to the residence.
  • Cárdenas’s team will quote a price for your post-op meds in US dollars. You pay for them in a pharmacy near the residence in Mexican pesos. Do not conclude from the USD price that you pay for the prescriptions in USD. This is also true for the second covid19 test for the trip home, if relevant. Staff members were willing to exchange money with me to deal with these difficulties, but I would rather not have had to rely on their kindness.
  • Trust Lázaro. Trust the process. Trust the results that will emerge as you heal. He is very, very good at what he does.

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Croquetas de Jamón, Alyssa Style https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/01/31/croquetas-de-jamon-alyssa-style/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/01/31/croquetas-de-jamon-alyssa-style/#comments Sun, 31 Jan 2021 21:31:58 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7212 The post Croquetas de Jamón, Alyssa Style appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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One does not go far in Miami without encountering croquetas de jamón, or ham croquettes. These fried morsels are ubiquitous on catering trays and party platters, a hit on breakfast menus, and surprisingly absent from most home kitchens. I have encountered platters of croquetas at funeral receptions, at house parties, as treats for school classes in lieu of pizza parties, and more. To visit Miami without having at least one croqueta de jamón (alongside pastelitos de guayaba, the other party-platter staple) is to misunderstand the nature of this place and the culinary influences that define it.

Essentially a filled fritter or fried dumpling, croquettes are a cross-cultural phenomenon. The name is French and the most influential examples are French and Dutch, but versions are found from Russia to Brazil, each offering a different interpretation of the concept. One Latin American implementation is the papa rellena, which stretches the concept to the point that calling it a croquette feels wrong. The croqueta de jamón, from Cuba and Puerto Rico, is a much more classic croquette, consisting of a ham-based filling, breaded and fried. Often served cold or room-temperature, these crunchy, creamy appetizers rarely disappoint.

This recipe provides a more decadent version of the croqueta de jamón than is typical, using pancetta instead of ordinary diced ham as its base, helping to justify the labor involved in producing them at home. Because it involves a long rest and extensive prep time, it is best done well in advance of when it is needed, ideally on a previous day. It produces 18-20 croquettes, with 3-4 providing lunch for one person.

Equipment

You will need a food processor, a medium saucepan, a whisk, a wooden spoon, a bowl, wax paper, a bowl for beating eggs, and a plate for breading. You will need a stove or other preferred source of bottom-up heat. Finally, you will need a deep fryer or a large pot filled with hot oil.

Ingredients

  • Butter, ¼ cup
  • Milk, 1 cup. 2% milk worked for me.
  • Eggs, 2
  • Diced pancetta, 1 pound or 450 grams
  • Badía sazón (or another seasoning mix of similar composition) with annatto or saffron, 1 tablespoon
  • Corn masa, 1/3 cup. Substitute your preferred flour.
  • Nutmeg, ¼ teaspoon
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Dry cooking wine, 1 tablespoon
  • Breadcrumbs, 1 cup or as needed
  • Oil for frying

Common Food Restrictions

  • Gluten-Free: This recipe is naturally gluten-free if the breadcrumbs, flour, and pancetta used with it are gluten-free.
  • Ketogenic / Low-Carb: This recipe is relatively low carbohydrates and high in protein and fat.
  • Low-FODMAP: This recipe is optimized to reduce FODMAP content. Lactose-free milk can be used in this recipe without incident.
  • Vegetarian/Vegan: Use your preferred meat substitute, vegetable fat, and water instead of milk and adjust cooking times accordingly. Because this recipe is meat-heavy, the resulting adjustments may be substantial.

Preparation

  1. Bring the butter, milk, and eggs to room temperature. This takes about 20 minutes.
  2. Grind the pancetta into a fine paste in the food processor.
  3. Melt the butter in the saucepan at medium-low heat and add the sazón.
  4. Slowly whisk in the milk, corn masa, nutmeg, and black pepper. The result will be a thick roux.
  5. Add the cooking wine and ground pancetta to the sauce and mix slowly until all ingredients are uniformly combined. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for five minutes.
  6. Transfer the results to a bowl, let it rest until it reaches room temperature, and refrigerate for two hours. This is necessary to firm and harden the mixture so that it holds its shape during subsequent steps.
  7. Lay out a sheet of wax paper. This will be where you will form the croquetas from the filling.
  8. Pour the breadcrumbs onto a plate and set aside. It can be helpful to do so in stages as they get spent rather than all at once. Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat until uniformly mixed.
  9. Remove the filling from the refrigerator and form it into log or cigar shapes approximately 7 cm long and a little over 1 cm wide. It is helpful not to make them too large in either dimension to help them hold together when handled.

    Croqueta filling taking shape.
    Some of mine are thicker than is ideal.

  10. Dip each croqueta in egg and then roll it in the breadcrumbs until it is uniformly covered and no more wet egg is visible. Set aside on the wax paper until all are completed.
  11. Heat the fryer oil to 170°C / 338 °F.
  12. Fry the croquetas for three to four minutes, turning if necessary. Do not overload your fryer or the temperature will drop, impeding frying.
  13. Drain on a paper towel and allow to cool before serving.
Croquetas fresh from the fryer. These are lighter than normal due to using rice-based bread crumbs.
Done with rice-based breadcrumbs for gluten-free success.

Always a hit and always treasured, croquetas are a party favor your guests will not soon forget.

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Speaking Fandom, Or How I Keep Convincing People I’m Into Stuff I’m Not https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/01/17/speaking-fandom-or-how-i-keep-convincing-people-im-into-stuff-im-not/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/01/17/speaking-fandom-or-how-i-keep-convincing-people-im-into-stuff-im-not/#respond Sun, 17 Jan 2021 22:16:28 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7219 The post Speaking Fandom, Or How I Keep Convincing People I’m Into Stuff I’m Not appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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All the world’s a stage, and autistic people are better actors than our detractors will ever know. The allistic majority operates by alien rules that most of us do not truly understand until we are nearing adulthood, and which seem arbitrary and pointless even then. In the meantime, our traits are unwelcome in their spaces and they respond to them with vitriol, ostracism, and violence. To exist in public and maybe even have friends, most of us learn one pivotal skill: masking. We master hiding many of the traits that define us, restraining stims, concealing enthusiasm, and imitating social niceties that do not come naturally. The mask becomes instinctive, unwanted and unnatural but nevertheless automatic.

And sometimes, that has me looking pretty sus.

People’s speech patterns are integrated into those same social rules, and they are easy to identify and imitate. Jokes, fandom lingo, and references are especially easy to incorporate into social scripts, even if one otherwise has no experience with a franchise, has not participated in a fandom, or doesn’t even speak the language of the joke. Relating to friends means mastering how to speak in the terms they understand, even when the references are not personal and one cannot riff on them for too long before the limits of one’s knowledge start to show.

My friends, among us is an IMPOSTER.

And I have been called into multiple emergency meetings over this outrage.

I have laughed at images in languages I do not speak because they had the visual structure of puns and that was enough for me to recognize them. I have asked friends to show their love for The Child and specified that this is the way despite never watching a single episode of The Mandalorian. I have taken what is mine with fire and blood while knowing Game of Thrones only from cultural osmosis. Being this echolalic and this aware is an act of love as well as a reflex, sharing in things my friends enjoy because they enjoy them. It is also, after a lifetime spent learning when and how to respond to neurotypical social cues, sometimes a thing that happens before I’m even aware of it.

So, I have not experienced Welcome to Night Vale, but I own some merch.

I do not practice witchcraft, despite my writing style.

I am not sexually interested in being consumed body and soul by Lovecraftian immanences from beyond time and space or achieving erotic congress with household objects, despite playing that person on TV.

And I have never played Among Us.

There's an imposter Among Us - Royal Purple
It’s me.

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Alcapurrias, Alyssa Style https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/01/01/alcapurrias-alyssa-style/ https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/2021/01/01/alcapurrias-alyssa-style/#respond Fri, 01 Jan 2021 20:05:23 +0000 https://the-orbit.net/alyssa/?p=7204 The post Alcapurrias, Alyssa Style appeared first on The Perfumed Void.

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Some memories demand to be remade.

One of the few culinary memories I have been completely unable to experience outside of a home kitchen is alcapurrias. This classic Puerto Rican fritter features prominently in my childhood as an occasional treat, especially around holidays, and made for exciting lunches because of their rarity. On occasion, the whole family would get together to make an especially large batch, a rustic experience wonderfully out of place in our big-city home. Posted recipes posit that the alcapurria is a variety of croquette and usually recommend the familiar croquette log or cigar shape, but the ones I knew were round, more like hand-pies or empanadas in size and presentation. Once I left Miami, those memories became more and more distant, and more and more treasured. As a matter of my Puerto Rican pride, I needed to take control of those memories and make them more firmly mine, and that meant learning how to make alcapurrias. And today, I succeeded.

Alcapurrias were not a staple food in my childhood in part because they are a decidedly high-effort dish. Unlike the croquettes of which they are sometimes considered a variety, they are not widely available already made, meaning each encounter involved my family’s personal effort. Large quantities of the alcapurria’s component starches must be grated to a fine paste to make its dough, which is hard on the wrists, takes a long time, and comes with a risk of injury. Because of this difficulty, alcapurrias are traditionally made in large batches, reducing the time per alcapurria. This recipe reflects that tradition. I faced an additional challenge in mastering this dish, in that I was doing so from Ottawa, and a critical ingredient in alcapurrias is a tropical root vegetable I grew up calling malanga.

What’s a Malanga?

“Malanga” is the traditional Cuban name of the corm (semi-underground storage stem) of Xanthosoma sagittifolium, a plant in the arum family. This family also contains wildflowers like jack-in-the-pulpit, ornamental plants like pothos vine and calla lilies, and a variety of other edible corms. Native to lowland regions of South America, X. sagittifolium has been an indigenous food plant for thousands of years. Following humans in their migrations, it spread to Central America and to the Caribbean islands much as yuca did, becoming a staple crop throughout the region. After European contact, colonizers and other migrants spread it farther, bringing this crop to the attention of cultures who had never seen it in Africa and Asia. Along the way, to my chagrin, X. sagittifolium acquired a deeply frustrating relationship with names.

My searches for malanga pointed me at several other plants, and even now, searching the name “malanga” can point a person in several directions. Wikipedia flags this name as pertaining to Colocasia antiquorum, an East Asian arum otherwise known as the “eddo.” Google’s default search results can instead connect the name “malanga” to taro (Colocasia esculenta), the staple crop of the South Pacific, as a result of X. sagittifolium getting spread there and being confused for the original taro. Both taro and eddo are relatively close cousins of X. sagittifolium, but their flavors are distinct and cannot replicate the classic alcapurria experience. Searching for the Puerto Rican name for this plant, yautía, offered little help, with sources still attributing this name to any of the three plants in various combinations—usually different from the attributions made for the name malanga. The internet, seemingly, was in denial that X. sagittifolium even existed, and seemed convinced that eddoes and/or taro filled this role in people’s kitchens. But abortive tries with these proposed substitutes proved that neither was the malanga/yautía I sought. Meanwhile, tropical foliage enthusiasts know X. sagittifolium and a few of its cousins as the “elephant ear plant,” grown for its large, attractive leaves without knowing that they, too, are apparently edible. It was not until this article that I could untangle my confusion and aim my searches more productively.

So armed, I persevered. At last, I found Xanthosoma sagittifolium, the plant I had known as “malanga” in my youth, sold under the name “lila malanga” in one specialty grocery store in Ottawa, after so many other vendors had only eddo and/or taro in stock.

“Lila malanga,” as Ottawa’s grocery calls it, is a long, thin, purple-brown root, visually distinct from the much thicker taro and the short, round eddo, but also clearly related to them. Like its Colocasia kin, X. sagittifolium has a hairy, almost elephantine appearance, but the long hairs are often rubbed off much of its length by the time it reaches distant shores. Under its thin skin, X. sagittifolium flesh is exceptionally slippery, making the experience of working with it quite different from more common root vegetables such as potatoes or carrots.

Three malanga corms on my kitchen counter, with one end showing the natural hairiness.

The more I think about it, the more interesting I find it that my family used the Cuban name “malanga” rather than the Puerto Rican name “yautía” when talking about this plant, given that the Puerto Rican side of the family did the cooking.

Back to the Recipe

Making alcapurrias by oneself is an all-day affair. One should anticipate that this process takes about five hours, including a break after the arm workout of grating the dough components. The result is 15-16 fritters in classic hand-pie size, one or two of which provides a filling meal. With a stand mixer with a grater attachment or some other powered aid, or with one or more assistants, the time commitment is correspondingly reduced. I did mine by hand, partly from lack of other options, partly for the communion with my memories of grating malanga by hand.

Equipment

You will need a deep fryer or a pot capable of holding enough oil for frying, a shallower pot, two large bowls, a vegetable peeler, a cheese grater, your favorite measuring tools, a paring knife, a chef’s knife, a blender, a metal spatula, metal tongs (optional), wax or parchment paper, and a surface lined with paper towels. You will also need a stove or other source of bottom-up heat.

Ingredients

Filling

  • Green bell pepper, ½
  • Cuban oregano, fresh, ¼ cup
  • Small Roma tomato, 1
  • Dried hot pepper, 1
  • Chorizo, 2 ounces
  • Ground beef, ½ lb
  • Dried oregano, ½ teaspoon
  • Salt, ½ teaspoon
  • Vegetable oil, 2 teaspoons
  • Water, 1 cup
  • Pimento-stuffed Manzanilla olives, ¼ cup
  • Raisins, 2 teaspoons
  • Capers, ½ teaspoon
  • Variants: If you are not worried about managing FODMAP risk, add 1 clove of garlic and ½ of a small onion.

Dough

  • Green bananas (guineos), 8. These are ordinary bananas that are sold deliberately underripe. Using ripe bananas will result in an unusually sweet batch of alcapurrias. Using plantains will confuse the ratio of guineo to malanga.
  • Water, 8 cups
  • Salt, various quantities (see below)
  • Malanga/yautía (X. sagittofolium), 2 lbs (about three corms)
  • Vinegar, 2 teaspoons
  • Vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons
  • Oil for frying

Common Food Restrictions

  • Gluten-Free: This recipe is naturally gluten-free.
  • Ketogenic / Low-Carb: This recipe is very high in carbohydrates by its nature.
  • Low-FODMAP: This recipe is already designed to reduce its potential FODMAP content. However, sources conflict on whether malanga/yautía is itself a high-FODMAP food and my reaction to eating large amounts of it suggests it should be consumed sparingly if one is avoiding FODMAPs.
  • Vegetarian/Vegan: Use your preferred meat substitute and adjust cooking times accordingly.

Preparation

Filling

  1. Blenderize the green bell pepper, Cuban oregano, dried hot pepper, Roma tomato, and (if present) the garlic and onion. For a more convenient texture later, you can include the olives here as well, but I prefer to leave them whole.
  2. Cut the chorizo into small pieces.
  3. Put the ground beef and the ingredients from Step 1 and Step 2 in the pot and set heat to medium-high. Add the dried oregano, salt, vegetable oil, and water. The water serves to help the other ingredients mix.
  4. As the water reduces, add the olives, capers, and raisins.
  5. Continue heating until the water is mostly gone. Set aside to cool.

Dough

  1. Peel the green bananas. Green bananas do not separate from their skins the way ripe bananas do. I recommend cutting a slit along the curve of the banana and using a thumb to separate the peel from the flesh on the inside, going around the banana and along this slit to complete the separation. Remove any remaining flecks of skin from the bananas. Place the peeled green bananas in a bowl with the water and 2 tablespoons of salt.
  2. Peel and grate the malanga using the fine option on the grater. The goal is a paste, not ribbons.
    1. Because malanga is so slippery, I recommend peeling about 10 centimeters of the pointed end, grating the peeled portion, and peeling another 10-centimeter segment, repeated until one reaches the scaly (top) end of the malanga. This enables the chef to hold onto the much less slippery skin rather than the flesh underneath.
    2. Because malanga is relatively floppy, it is important to keep it from flopping too much during grating. If it snaps, grating it becomes more dangerous.
  3. Once the malanga is grated, drain the bananas. Grate the bananas into the same container as the malanga.
  4. If you can create alcapurria dough by hand without leaving flecks of blood and skin in it due to contact with the grater, consider that you may be either a food-processing robot from the future or the platonic form of the Boricua abuela waiting for when she is once again needed to bring love into this world.
  5. Add the vinegar, vegetable oil, and 4 teaspoons of salt to the banana/malanga mixture and mix well. Hands work best.

Assembly and Frying

  1. Make 15 to 16 palm-sized discs of dough on parchment or wax paper. This should use up a bit more than half the dough.
    15 raw alcapurrias on parchment paper.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of filling to each disc.
  3. Use the remaining dough to cover the discs so that none of the filling is visible and there are no holes. You will likely have excess filling.
  4. Heat your fryer oil to 170 °C (338 °F). Carmen Aboy Valldejuli recommends a somewhat hotter temperature, but I fry with coconut oil and this temperature avoids smoke without negatively impacting the results.
  5. Introduce an alcapurria to the fryer using a metal spatula. This tool helps remove the sticky fritter from the wax or parchment paper and bring it to the fryer without it disintegrating.
  6. Unless your fryer is unusually large, fry the alcapurrias individually until they are golden brown and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes each. Drain on paper towels and serve.

It is a triumphant moment that finds me able to make these traditional Puerto Rican treats myself, and to share them with friends who have no experience with anything like them. It has also earned me a jolt of my grandmother’s delight, as she sees her skills passed on to another generation, and that makes me happy. I hope this recipe enables you to provide a similar joy to the people in your life.

Alcapurrias fried and ready to eat.

 

 

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