Batwoman: Great Cheekbones Might Not Be Enough

Let me start by saying, I love Batman and most of Batman’s sidekicks. I like Batman better than Superman, partly because he is a regular human guy, and partly because at heart he is a traumatized child and most of us can relate to that. At the same time, I understand very well that Bruce Wayne is a wealthy psychopath whose money and technology protect him from his crimes. I can secretly admire him, but honestly, there is no way he’s a good role model.

The CW likes Batman too, so much so that they’ve given one on his (several) spinoffs her own show. Batwoman airs on Sunday nights. Please note that this is not “Batgirl,” but a completely different character, one who rises to fill the role and duties of Gotham City’s vigilante after Batman and Bruce Wayne (weird, huh?) both disappear. In the comic books, Batman either 1) retires along with Superman and Wonder Woman, and/or, 2) came back but was killed by Darkseid or 3) wasn’t killed by Darkseid but was sent back thru time to the age of the dinosaurs. Let’s hope Batwoman doesn’t decide to address any of that!

In the CW’s stylish new show, Batwoman is the alter ego of Kate Kane (Ruby Rose), the rebellious lesbian daughter of Joshua Kane, CEO of a private paramilitary security force called the Crows. Kate’s mother and sister were killed in a car accident (Batman failed to save them; Kate barely got out of the car in time), who idolized her wealthy, reckless cousin Bruce Wayne. When her ex-girlfriend-turned-Crow, Sophie (Meagan Tandy) is abducted by a new comicbook-crazy villain-in-training who calls herself Alice, Kate returns from where she’s been learning fighting and survival skills to rescue her. In the process she uncovers Bruce’s secret identity and the batcave, and manages to forgive the absent Batman in about a minute and a half for twenty years of resentment that the bat “cared more about catching the badguys than helping innocent people.”

With “Luke Fox,” (Camrus Johnson) a Wayne employee, helping her with the tech, Kate resurrects the bat, bringing joy and some concern to a terrified and basically lawless Gotham. Along the way she rescues Sophie.

Like any TV show, there are things I like and things I doubt. And like most of these posts, I’ll do the list.

Don’t make me send my cheekbones over there.

Things I like:

Visual Style: The first episode creates a good-looking Gotham City. It may just be that I know more about Gotham than I even did about DC’s other generically-named cities (Edge City, Central City, etc), but this town has character. Admittedly it’s a bad character, but still.

As always, pretty people are the order of the day and the CW didn’t skimp here. Ruby Rose, with her angular, high-fashion-model build and her assertive cheekbones, is the perfect physical specimen to support the batsuit and all the dramatic poses it requires. If the CW decides to do a spinoff called Batwoman’s Cheekbones, they will totally be up for it.

Stepsister Mary (Nicole Kang): Mary is my favorite character so far. She starts off as a shallow, self-centered society girl, and she’s a delight. She’s like a Kardashian only pleasant. Then we discover that social-ditz, med-student Mary secretly runs a street clinic in Gotham. Mary is brilliant, and her clinic and her medical training will come in handy for stepsis Kate when she has those flying-around-in-the-batsuit injuries that are virtually unavoidable.

The tech: I love Batman’s toys, and so does Kate. This could really be fun.

The Social Commentary: Kate is booted out of the ritzy military school she and Sophie attend, when they are caught smooching. Kate refuses to sign the “no homosexual conduct” pledge. Sophie signs it and breaks up with Kate.

“They don’t want you here,” wealthy, white Kate says to her girlfriend.

Sophie, a woman of color, checks Kate’s privilege. “I don’t have the luxury of being offended by that,” she says.

This actually could become a problem, casting Sophie as a craven, closeted woman with white one-percenter Kate as some kind of hero, but for right now, that sentence was priceless.

The voice-over narrative conceit: This worked for me only when I found out what it was. At first, Kate’s journal-entry narration really bugged me. Near the end, though, we find out that she is keeping a journal to show Bruce Wayne when he comes back (from the dead or the dinosaurs or whatever.) That made me think I liked it.

Rachel Maddow. Yes! The MSNBC commentator and writer does some voice work on the show, and I’m hoping for a cameo.

I look just as cool in the motorcycle jacket as I do in the batsuit.

What I doubt:

Okay, honestly? Ruby Rose’s acting ability. I’m not sure any serious show about the Gotham vigilante can rely on the lead’s sheer good looks to carry such a complicated, dark character. Casting Kate/Batwoman as someone who is primarily a daredevil could lead to the problems that, well, Daredevil had. This show is going to have to count on Luke Fox, Mary and probably evil-nemisis Alice (played by Rachel Skarsten, formerly the Valkyrie Tamsin on Lost Girl) to carry the emotional weight of the show. But the show is not called Friends and Enemies of Batwoman.

The Universe. A dark, corrupt Gotham doesn’t worry me (although it does confuse me). No, what worries me that one positive review I read said that Batwoman has “everything we love about the Arrow-verse.” What were the things we loved? Unimaginatively corrupt cities? Mysterious invisible floating islands? Elastic timelines that never worked? The same plot recycled and recycled? Batwoman has already shorthanded “We’re Starling City/Star City lite over here,” with the idea that the municipal police are virtually nonexistent and the Crows, a corporate vigilante group, provide what security there is to a handful of the very rich. My problem with that is, far from giving a critique of it, Kate Kane thinks that’s cool. I mean, she says things like, “People aren’t afraid anymore, and that’s bad.” Note that she doesn’t say criminals, she says people. This is a bad start.

Alice: There is no question about who Alice is. Really, there is so little question that I wondered why people were acting like they didn’t know who she was. Then her identity was revealed at the end of Episode One. In one way, that’s good. Dragging out something that was headlights-in-the-dark obvious would have made Kate and her annoying father Joshua look even more stupid. In another way, it leaves less room for any real story about a person who shouldn’t be much of a villain. My desperate hope is that she is the puppet for a more plausible Big Bad, someone hiding in plain sight, who hopes to benefit (maybe politically?) from a fearful populace and a private army that can’t meet the deliverables in its contract.

Wimpy Heroes: The Crows are trained at the level of Delta Force or SEALS, at least allegedly, with top of the line technology (except for the stuff sitting pristine and unused at Wayne Enterprises, where it’s been for three years). They are soundly thrashed, not once but twice, by a giddy Lewis-Caroll-quoting demi-villain and a bunch of guys in rabbit masks. I mean, yes, Alice has a mole in the Crow organization, but still. Really?


The last show I tried to watch that took a new character from the title character’s universe was a dismal Krypton on Syfy. That show sank because it tried to do too many things. The difference here is that Kate Kane in an in-universe character and so is Batwoman. That may make a difference.

I like Mary, and the style of the show, and the toys. And Rachel Maddow! Those are all pluses. On the other hand, it celebrates being related to Arrow, a series with a main character who was contemptible and a storyline I found impenetrable. Batwoman espouses values that are bad; the wealthy individual over the community; privilege over service. Great cheekbones might not be enough to save it.

On the other hand, there is Mary. I think I’ll watch a few more episodes, and hope that the battle for Kate’s soul is interesting and authentic… and that Rachel Maddow shows up. (Oh, no! I am informed in this article that Maddow will not appear on camera.)

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Second Snippet of The New Prophet

Here’s a bit more of the desert story:

The plant men wore their bright green armor and their black face masks and carried short staffs that spat lightning. They lined up the workers, the elders, the young ones who hadn’t run fast enough. They left the young ones under three years old, because they didn’t need useless mouths to feed. They left Archon, who was Zev’s age, because he was too tall now to work in the plant. One man spoke through the smooth black mask and even though she was far away in the rocks Zeon could hear him.

“Your youth will serve The God. Onward and forward.”

The workers and the elders repeated, “Onward and forward.”

He waited for a moment or two. “Which is the one called Zill?”

Zev made a sound and Zeon quickly put a hand over her mouth. Elder Zill was their mother’s mother. She wore a figure around her neck, a dancing figure in red and black, and she talked about the little gods.

When she’d been a young one, Zeon had played with the red-and-black figure that Zill called the Dancer. Once, in the caravan circle, Zill said, “Life isn’t onward and forward. Life is a dance. A god that has power helps people be strong.” The workers and the elders hissed her to silence, even though they’d been out on the plains, far from the men of the plants.

Now, Zill stepped out from the row of elders, facing the men. Two of them went to her, one taking each arm. They marched her forward. Zeon watched the vagrant breeze tug at Zill’s veil-cloak, rippling it.

The man who had spoken reached up and yanked the necklace from Zill’s neck. He crushed the figure under his boot, grinding it into the earth. They led Zill away, her head high, her gray curls tousled in the wind. As they neared the vehicles, the man who had spoken marched up behind her and struck her in the middle of her back with the lightning staff. Zill thrashed, and fell to the ground, twitching. He picked her up and draped her over the back of two two-wheels. With the young ones on behind, the riders took off.

Three riders remained behind.

Gradually, the caravan packed up and moved on. Zeon knew that the men from the plant were waiting for any young ones who had hidden to come back. She gripped Zev’s shoulder and held her still. They waited. They waited until deep into night, before stood up and started after the caravan.

The dust storm came up quickly. They barely found cover, robes and cloaks pulled over their heads, huddled together, while the dust piled onto them like blanket after blanket. Zeon kept them there during the heat of the day. The vessel her mother had given her held eight swallows of water, and they drank that while they waited out the storm.

She led them out at twilight, but the storm had wiped away all signs of the caravan. The place to go was Three Rocks, a common meeting place, so Zeon started that way. Now she knew they would not make it. They would die here. The God would mock their husks.

One rock in the middle distance caught her attention. It was shaped like one of the chimneys in the plant; shorter, squatter, rounded like a water gourd at its base. Her dry throat stung as she swallowed. She started toward the rock. Perhaps it was the shape that called her, as if the shape of a water gourd meant water. She knew this was foolishness, but with no idea which direction to go, this was no worse than any other. Her eyes were dry and she blinked rapidly. Once she stumbled over one of the gashes in the earth. She caught herself. The second time she didn’t and hurtled to her knees and hands. She lowered her head and breathed in, closing her eyes. Her eyelids felt gritty. She thought of lying down. She thought of Zev. She made herself get up.

A buzzing filled the air, deepening to a growl. She crouched down. That was the sound the two-wheels made. She cowered, unclasped her veil-cloak and draped it over herself, mimicking the color of the rocks. The sound grew deeper, and her heart pounded. They’d have water, she thought, and for a mad moment thought of standing up and casting off the veil-cloak, begging them to take her to the plant. They would help Zev.

The image of the red-and-black figure flickered against her eyelids.

The growl got higher pitched and fainter, fading. Had those been the three who had stayed with the caravan? Was it nearby after all? But their two-wheels could cover more ground, and faster, than a young one walking could. She peered about, saw nothing on the horizon, and stood up.

The rock was more than a strange shape. It had a regularity to it. The chimney shape was perfectly circular. Facing her was a rectangular block that rose in two curves at the top to a point. It wasn’t just a rock. It was a tiny building.

She watched her footing, dodging a chasm, and looked up again at the rock, the building. The rectangular part jutted out of a curving wall. It would provide shelter from the sun, and she could bring Zev here, into shade, while she searched.

Before The God had been the little gods, Zill said once. They would help, sometimes. People built little houses to the gods, not like the plant, but small places. Maybe this was the house of a little god.

The little house was made of squared rocks, red and pale, pale gray. The triangular roof shaded an opening. She hesitated outside, listening for animals. It might be a lair. Although most desert predators would be sleeping now, it wouldn’t do to wake one.

Zeon wished she were sleeping.

She went closer.

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A Snippet

Here is the opening of short story I wrote at our writers retreat in September. This story came from two writing prompts. One was given to us by Marta, but the other one had stuck in my head earlier in the morning when I was walking about the Mendocino village. Thanksgiving Coffee’s slogan is “Not just a cup, but a just cup.” You can see the influence of that in the opening line. Marta’s prompt was an image of an abandoned chapel in Estonia.

Often, my stories end up being about faith, various kinds of faith. As for miracles, I don’t know if I do believe in them, I want to, and this is basically a miracle story. I don’t think it will find a home out in the world (except maybe here) but I can see it being part of another work — say, a miracle tale the true believers of one religion tell each other.

Without Further Ado:

The New Prophet

Just one cup. Just one cup of water.

They didn’t pray to The God for water. The God loved the strong. The God loved those who found what they needed, who took what they needed. Zeon would have taken water if she had found some.

Zev lay in a swoon in the thin shadow of a great red rock, where, the night before, Zeon had dug a shallow hole to lay her in. It had been slightly cooler, but that wouldn’t matter if Zeon didn’t find water for them soon. Already Zev’s breath was shallow, with a catch in the throat at the start of each exhalation.

Zeon pulled the edge of her veil-cloak higher across the bridge of her nose. The ground, the red rock, the air around her pulsed with each heartbeat.

She skirted the gashes in the earth, the remains of the mining projects, where the last of the ore had been torn out of the ground, pale metals and black juice squeezed from the chunks. That had happened before she’d been born, but they’d heard the stories; great men, great machines, great cities, great wealth, all bestowed by The God. And water.

She needed some now; enough to fill the dry gourd that banged against her hip, even just enough to fill her cupped hands, that she could carry back to her sister’s side. She scanned the horizon, seeing only rocks and the rents in the red earth.

Her blood pounded against her skin, which already stung from the heat every time she moved. She searched the horizon again, for a plume of dust that might be a sign of their caravan. The sky, yellowish where it touched the earth, was unbroken except for the rocks.

They would have weathered the dust storm. They would even have survived raiders; they’d done that before. But they couldn’t stand against men from the plant. They’d gone to the town on the outskirts of the plant to trade, as they had every year as long as Zeon could remember. But that first night a dozen men had ridden out on their two-wheeled vehicles.

Her mother said, “Hide and don’t come out until we’re gone.”

“We have no water,” Zeon said.

Her mother handed her the water vessel and they ran, hiding deep in the rocks. Other young ones saw them and tried to follow, but the men from the plant surrounded the caravan and caught them before they made it out of the oval of wagons.


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Harvest Time at the Farmers Market

The best time of year at the market?

It’s harvest season; late summer, early fall, when squash, pumpkins, apples, pears and tomatoes are in. Leafy greens still abound, and the market is a festival of bright autumnal colors. Even the spindly trees in the plaza join in, turning from green to bright yellow and vivid red.

Kuri Pumpkins. For a long time I thought this was spelled “curry.”

Squash and gourds have come onto the stage now. They’re all good eating — well, maybe not gourds. Many are good carving too, if you are already planning for Halloween.

And peppers.

Peppers are in! Sweet, tangy, spicy and eyeball-melting.

These grapes are locally grown and picked by the growers.

Grapes, apples and pears filled out the fruit/dessert contingent, even though there was one vendor who still had strawberries.

(By the way, an apple with a couple of slices of Joe Matos’s San Giorgio 3-month-aged cheese is a delicious snack.)

Didgeridoo? Alpenhorn? I dunno. Let’s just call it a drone pipe.

September 22nd’s music was provided by this guy, and, yes, he did play the drone pipe and the stringed thing at the same time. He played some Beetle’s tunes — While My Guitar Gently Weeps was my favorite — and the Harry Potter movie theme song.

‘Tis the season for potatoes.

I’m already leaning toward those hearty, slow-cooked meals that go with fall; like pot-roast. I got everything except the roast and the red wine at the market. Go check it out!

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The Wand That Rocks the Cradle is Available

The Wand That Rocks the Cradle is available on Amazon. The eight-story anthology features tales of the fantastical — and families, two things that can bring you strength, or make you nuts, or both.

Our editor picked a variety of tales, set in different times and worlds (although many of them take place in worlds that look, at first glance, like ours). Mine tries for humor and I hope it succeeds.

As with any anthology, I have some favorites. The story that follows mine, “Legacy,” is based on actual historical events. The power of the main character’s belief in the face of cruelty and injustice won me over, as did the writing. “The Lake Cabin” takes a tried-and-true horror trope (the clue is in the title) and goes in a very different direction. I liked it very much. And while I’m not a fan of grimdark, Frank Saverio’s “To Find a Peach” won me over with the world-weary POV character and the deep bond between him and his young squire. Cail is a character trying to do the right thing in the face of an unstoppable catastrophe; there is something deeply appealing about his dogged commitment.

It’s only available on Amazon. With Kindle Unlimited it’s free; otherwise, $3.99, or $11.99 for the paperback.

If you read it and like, please do take a few moments to leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. I’ve been told that helps sales. Thank you.

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A Bestseller List

It’s a real “Top 10 Books Sold” List, just not a national one

I’m on one. It’s from the Petaluma (population, 60,000) Argus-Courier, for Thursday, September 26. Here’s a link to the actual article.

I think this may say more about the book-buying habits of people in the month of September than it does about the popularity of my book, but it still gave me a thrill. And, I mean, I’m on a list with Margaret Atwood and Madeline Miller! Whoo-hoo!

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Raven Black by Ann Cleeves

I recently posted a review of a book by Quentin Bates in which I lamented the fact that the writer did not choose to immerse us in his setting (Iceland). At the other end of the immersion continuum is Ann Cleeves, who has two ongoing mystery series, the Shetland mysteries and the Vera Stanhope series.

Both rely on distant parts of Great Britain. The Shetland mysteries, as you might have concluded, are set on the remote Shetland Islands, a northern point of Scotland. I recently read a later entry in the Shetland series and then sought out the first one, Raven Black. Cleeve’s writing serves as an instruction in how to create atmosphere.

In this passage from Raven Black, one of the viewpoint characters discovers the body of a murdered woman. I chose this passage less for how it reveals landscape than for what it tells us about this viewpoint character.

“She stopped there to look down at the water again, hoping to recreate the image she’d seen on the way to school. It was the colors which had caught her attention. Often the colors of the island were subtle, olive green, mud brown, sea grey and all softened by the mist. In the full sunlight of early morning, this picture was stark and vibrant. The harsh white of the snow. Three shapes, silhouetted. Ravens. In her painting they would be angular shapes, cubist almost. Birds roughly carved from hard black wood. And then that splash of color. Red, reflecting the scarlet ball of the sun.

“She left the sledge at the edge of the track and crossed the field to see the scene more closely.”

This character, Fran, is a painter. As the scene progresses, she goes closer, still seeing everything in terms of shapes, relationships and colors, and it’s a few minutes before she processes what that “splash of color” is, and what the ravens are doing.

In this scene, Cleeves tells us about the usual colors of the islands, and the mist. We get a little sense of the life; Fran has walked her daughter to school on a narrow track on a sledge, because she lives in a village where everything is walking distance and there are no school buses. As the story continues, Cleeves uses bits of Shetlander language and culture to deepen the sense of a remote community, one that has evolved from a mix of other cultures; Norman, Scottish, Norwegian. She does it mostly through showing, letting people speak bits of Shetland colloquialisms while using context to let us intuit the meaning, by describing the food, the ferry system, and, importantly, the weather. I believed I was in the Shetland islands while I read this book.

This is one way to do setting and Cleeves is a master.

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Television Tuesday: Country Music

Ken Burns turned his detail-oriented documentarian’s eye to American music for his latest PBS documentary, Country Music. The show runs four sixteen hours, in eight two-hour segments airing on KQED Sunday nights. Burns start before the turn of the 20th century and by the third episode, he is discussing the music of the 1950s.

The show headlines male performers like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, but women are not erased from the genre here. Singer-songwriters like Roseanne Cash, Dolly Parton, Rhiannon Giddens and Brenda Lee all contribute to the commentary; and the show does not skimp on the contributions of performers like the Carter Sisters and their mother, Maybelle Carter, who wrote hit after hit and whose guitar style influenced and inspired generations of performers.

I also learned from the documentary that it was the Carters who discovered Chet Atkins, that they went to the wall to bring him to Nashville when their studio thought his style wasn’t “country,” so that basically they started his country career.

I also learned a lot more about radio stations in the first half of the 20th century, and what a huge, direct influence they had on music.

In addition to being a brilliant instrumentalist and vocalist, Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, is a historian with a concentration on American music. Giddens, who played blues and bluegrass, can also sing Welsh folksongs (Welsh!) and traditional ballads like Renardine and Barb’ry Allen. Giddens celebrates the confluence of Appalachian folk music in the late 1800s/early 1900s and black spirituals and blues. The banjo, for instance, an instrument almost completely associated with “country and western” music, came from Africa with the people who were abducted and enslaved. White musicians often “borrowed” songs from black churches and black musicians, and recorded those songs and made more money, but Giddens points out at the level of the musicians themselves, the flow went in both directions. Black players borrowed British-Isle folk tunes and jigs to add to their traditional music.

This is rabbit hole, but I just want you to hear her voice (and I highly recommend Full Screen.)

(As for appropriation, June Carter’s uncle AJ Carter made a tidy living traveling around the southeast, Kentucky and Tennessee going into each individual “holler” and talking to people, tracking down folk tunes. He’d get people to sing their songs for him. Then he’d go back, write them down, copyright them, and have Sarah and Maybelle Carter record them and have huge hits.)

Another thing that stood out in the first three episodes was how many of country’s big stars; Williams, Cash, Lynn as examples, grew up in grinding poverty. Even after the rest of the country moved out of the Great Depression, the southeast was mired in poverty. Did this background fuel the drive of some of these pickers and yodelers? I have to think it did.

We’re less than halfway through the documentary as I’m writing this; I’m still recommending it. There is one problem with it; it’s hard for me to listen to the speakers or the text, because I want to sing along with many of the old-time folk songs!

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Meeting and Greeting

(Standing) Amber from Copperfields Petaluma and me, with the book
(Standing) Amber and me, with the book.

I did my first Author Meet and Greet.

Copperfields in Petaluma was welcoming! The table and a book-stand was already in place when I got there a few minutes after 1:00 PM. Amber and Ray greeted me. (Amber told me she was going to buy a copy at the end of the event for me to personalize. She did and I did.)

I brought water for me, chocolate leaves, extra copies — it’s good that I did — several pens and a notebook. I assumed I would have stretches of time with no one coming by, so I was prepared to do some writing. Several friends showed up, though, not just to buy books (in fact most of them already had the book) but to provide support.

One of these was Terry, who drove from Hayward — from Hayward!– to spend some time. There was a bonus for her. Terry is putting together a book of writing prompts and Ray directed her to the Writing How-To section, where she found a couple of decent comp-titles. She bought a couple of books for her grandchildren and briefly checked out Petaluma Underground, the used bookstore.

Lillian Lee was there when I got there. Lillian bought me a pen! Greg and Mary Varley showed up, as planned, because the four of us were going to to out later as a mass-birthday celebration before they leave on a trip to Disneyland.

To my surprise, my across-the-street neighbor Carol appeared! She came with her daughter, ate a couple more chocolate leaves — she likes them — and bought a book.

While traffic to my table was light, I was happy to see that the store itself was pretty busy, and that many of the groups were families. Lots of kids were already inspecting the Scary Story display, preparing for Halloween, and several had Star Wars related books.
A man named Peter bought a book from me, after an interesting conversation and a lot of thought on his part. He is a regular at Copperfields, apparently, which is odd, because the second thing he told me about himself was that he doesn’t read. That seemed strange. He’s a boomer, and we usually read. He said he’d gone to New York to visit a friend, and in the course of a conversation she revealed that she doesn’t read either. I asked him, magazines, papers, newsites? Nope. He watches the news on TV. He likes the radio. I asked about audio books and podcasts — nope. He said he thought books needed to be shorter, like one sentence long, and then shared a “one-sentence novel,” he had “written.” I suggested he explore micro-fiction, a concept that was new to him.

And after all that he bought a book and wanted me to sign it, so… there’s a mystery.

Traffic was light, but I got down to one book from the original consigned inventory. I left another five books with them. In the two hours I was there I sold six books; a friend bought two. Brandy, who owns Second Chances, said six books in a meet and greet is pretty good. I was happy.

I hope to schedule one at the Sebastopol Copperfields once I get some more books.

Balinese Dragon Kite
Balinese Dragon Kite Over Margaret Atwood’s New Book
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Making Chocolate Leaves

The finished product, with copper and silver luster

Betsy Miller brought aluminum-colored chocolate leaves to the launch party, and Brian Fies said, “Marion, take these to every book event. They are your secret weapon.”

Betsy showed me how to make them, and lent me the chocolate mold and the brushes with which to brush on the edible luster dust. In the meantime, I ordered a mold online. These candies are about 2/3 the size of Betsy’s.

Since I want to bring some to the Petaluma Copperfield’s event, I have made a couple of practice batches. I’ve used these opportunities to experiment with different types of chocolate.

The easiest and most foolproof kind to use is called melting chocolate or covering chocolate. I found it at two places: The Baker’s Boutique on Farmer’s Lane, and at Nancy’s Fancy’s on Industrial Drive, both in Santa Rosa. I don’t know, call it a hunch or a feeling, but I bet you would find it on the internet.

For this batch I experimented with “gourmet” chocolate chips.

I’m a big fan of dark chocolate so that’s what I used.

The easiest, and again, most foolproof way to melt chocolate is in a microwave; the 30-seconds-and-stir, 30-seconds-and-stir method. Take it out and stir it even if the disks or chips haven’t lost their shape, because the chocolate will have softened. The 30-second intervals keep you from over-cooking the chocolate. Cooked too long, chocolate “breaks,” which means the solids separate out, leaving you with a dull, chalky texture.

I used a classic heating tool, the bain-marie, which is French for “I don’t have a microwave.” A bain-marie is a double boiler.

The helpful proprietor at Baker’s Boutique gave me some tips and some warnings about how to use one:

  • in a pot, heat water to a boil
  • remove from heat
  • set a heatproof bowl over the pot.
  • make sure the bowl fits tight; steam will affect your chocolate
  • make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water.
This is 2/3 of a cup of chips
Bain-marie in action

Neither the melting chocolate disks nor chocolate chips require tempering. Tempering is a process that makes chocolate creamier and more shiny. It is laborious and precise; you heat the chocolate to Temperature Point A, let it cool to Temperature Point B, reheat to no hotter than Temperature Point A, let it cool to Point B… for a few more iterations. Imagine a fine sword maker heating up their steel blade, sticking it into water (Steam! Hiss! Crackle!), heating it up again, plunging in into water again,and so on. If they fail, a blade is destroyed. If you fail, you have ruined chocolate. I think we all know which of those is the true catastrophe.

I skipped that step.

Untempered yet shiny. Those tools are: one chopstick and a fancy cavier spoon.

With the chocolate ready I filled the mold.

As you can see, I am pretty sloppy when it comes to filling the mold.

I am not good, yet, at filling each mold. I alternated between the fancy caviar spoon (which has never, to my knowledge, touched cavair) and the chopstick. It isn’t a huge deal; once the chocolate has set and hardened, you can cut off any rough edges with a small sharp knife. Periodically, I tapped the mold firmly against the counter to get the molten chocolate to settle evenly into the mold.

Silver luster and copper luster. For scale, the length of the brush head is the diameter of a dime.

I put the filled mold in the freeze for 3 minutes to flash chill, then into the refrigerator for one hour. That was probably longer than they needed.

As in life, a little luster goes a long way. I popped the candies out of the mold onto a white plate. (They mostly pop out easily. There were a couple of stubborn ones.) The luster dust will fall off the brush, but you can sweep it back up off the plate. Betsy used silver to get the aluminum quality, which was perfect, and she was unable to locate copper. Nancy’s Fancy’s had copper, and I experimented with both.

Spouse taste-tested them. To be thorough, he ate several. He said they were good, but I had to test for bias, for so I took a plateful to my across-the-street neighbor. She ate three while we were visiting, so I decided that was a positive review. Her suggestion (since they’re small) “Just put it in your mouth and let it melt.” I pass that along.

While I like the flavor of the fancy chocolate chips, the texture did seem softer and more melty than that the “melting chocolate.” It’s late summer, temps in the high 80’s, and I’m transporting, so that is a real consideration. I also have not experimented with other flavorings, like vanilla, maple or mint, yet. I want to go cautiously, and will probably stick to the tried-and-true for Saturday.

I plan to make a three batches today. I store them in an airtight jar in the refrigerator, with waxed paper between each layer.

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