The rest of the rest of the mole and xTx's Normally Special Reviewed

Everytime I come back to the blog I realize I haven't finished something. So: the rest of the mole. When I last wrote about this I had talked about tossing raisins and other dried fruits into the onion, garlic, and tomato sautee that's going on in the skillet, or large saucepan or dutch over that you're using to make this mole. So you want to stir that concoction up and let the heat get into the dried fruits. They'll suck up some of the moisture, and the raisins--or whatever else you end up using--will swell a little, the little wrinkles of their skins evening out just slightly. Next you'll add your spices: salt and pepper, cumin, cinnamon, cloves. To be honest, I simply eye how much I'm putting in, as I've gotten used to how much a tablespoon or teaspoon looks like when it's dumped out, but if you're making a mole from 5-6 tomatoes, you'll want to add a 2 teaspoons each of the spices, and add salt and pepper to taste. You can probably get away without adding any salt at all. It would be great if everyone didn't have fucking jobs ad we all had mortars and pestles and raw spices, but I don't have that fucking time so I use the pre-ground jarred stuff. Stir the spices in with everything else that's sauteeing. While this is going on, in another frying pan set on a burner on high heat, you'll want to toast a couple corn tortillas. Toast them just like you would if you're having tacos. They should char up a little on each side. That slight charred flavor is what you're going for. Alternatively, you could toast a slice of bread. I've used both and the result is about the same. The masa from the corn tortilla, or the bread, is used as a thickener and smoother (I just made that word up, but you'll see what I mean), plus you get the flavor from whatever you choose to use. Corn tortillas add just a little sweetness. Once your tortillas have toasted, the raisins have swelled and softened, the sautee is good and liquidy, you chiles should be softened from the boiling water you submerged them in. What you do now is take all of this and scrape it out into a blender or food processor. So, use a rubber spatula and sweep out everything in your sautee pan or dutch oven or whathaveyou into the food processor. In order to fit them, tear up your toasted tortillas and toss them in. And uncover your steeped chiles and toss them in along with the water you used to steep them, water which should be brown and earthy smelling now from the dried chiles. You'll blend--or process--the whole of this to a fine sauce. While it's blending, peel a banana and toss that fucker in there, too. This is when you'll see how that tortilla acts as a smoother and thickener. They should soak up a lot of the excess liquid and blend the rest of the ingredients together nicely so that end result is a very smooth sauce. If you've ever made a romesco sauce the effect is similar. I think the effect is somewhat similar if you've ever made a gravy or a roux, but the flavor profile is different, as you're using cooked bread, or in this case tortilla, as opposed to toasted flour. But that smooth thickness is what you're going for. Once you've achieved that, return the mole to saucepan large enough to hold it. You'll get the mole to boiling, then reduce the heat to let it simmer. You may need to add water to keep the mole saucy enough so do so as needed. But you don't want the mole to be runny. After the mole has simmered for ten minutes or so you'll add the chocolate. Take 2 ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate and cut them up into small chunks. Really, to get the tastiest mole you should use the best Mexican chocolate you can get, but I've used plain old Baker's brand baking chocolate and I've made some pretty darn good moles. Just make sure that the chocolate is unsweetened. Watch out for some chocolate brands--like Ghirardelli--that will put "Baking Chocolate" on their packaging, but what they're selling is a chocolate candy bar that's full of sugar. I once made that mistake when trying to make a "white mole," ad all the time and everything I'd put into the mole was ruined by the sweet white chocolate I added to it at the end. No amount of spice could cover it up, they put so much sugar into that candy chocolate. When you add your chocolate to your simmering mole it should melt quickly. Stir to infuse it all, and let your mole simmer for another ten minutes, adding water if necessary. The end result should be a velvety smooth reddish-brown sauce that is rich (you won't need but a ladlefull to cover a piece of chicken, pork, or beef (or enchiladas or tamales)), and complex in its flavors. Here's the amazing thing: you should literally be able to taste each of the ingredients you've added. You should get a hint of the toasted nutty pepitas, the cinnamon and cloves ad cumin, the chiles, the earthy bitterness of the chocolate, the sweetness of the banana, raisins, ad tortilla. It's pretty much a meal in itself, which is why you won't need much of it with whatever you're serving. But goddamn if it isn't  sabroso.

So, the other thing I wanted to talk about was xTx's book, Normally Special, which was published by Roxane Gay's micropress, Tiny Hardcore, in 2011. I'd been reading xTx's stories in online literary magazines for over a year and--I gotta be honest with you--I was reticent before my first read of one of those stories. I don't know why, but it bothered me at first that this writer referred to him/herself as xTx. It felt so gimmicky. But after a while I got over that because that's a really stupid reason for not reading someone's stories. The first one I read, I think, was "Vegas Blood Themed Three Day," and I was like, all right, so why was I waiting to read these stories? What I liked about this one was how weird it seemed at first, with these vague, almost surreal details about blood. And then of course being a Nevada kid, I liked the Vegas details. Anyway, I liked it. I liked how this flash rounded up. Then I read this on Thought Catalog. Finally, I read "She Who Subjected the Sun," at Emprise Review, and that's the story that really kind of sealed the "buy the book" deal. That story's about some sort of weird vampiric sadomasochist escort agency or something. I'm not really sure, but I liked it. I've taught that story to creative writing classes. It's atmosphere, everything you want in something so short. I also liked that it wasn't readily realistic. I'm so sick of realism. So I bought the book. In fact I've bought almost all the books from Tiny Hardcore Press. I guess Roxane Gay's taste and mine line up like lines on a highway or something. Before going on I must also admit upfront that I've gotten a little tired of flash fiction. I say this because a lot of Normally Special is flash. In fact 88% of the book is flash. I'm weird when it comes to figuring such things out. A lot of flash when I read it I go, okay, cool, and that's about it. I know it's hypocritical of me to say this having been and continuing to be an off-and-on flash writer myself. Flash fiction just feels exercise-y to me. It's like a writer's working on exercises for conciseness, impact of images, pretty language, etc. Then, of course, some flash rises above this and is fantastic--amazing, even--that a writer could achieve this in such a short space. xTx has some stories like these latter in Normally Special. "Father's Day" is fucked up dark and sad and funny weird. It has everything you want in flash: "Whenever he calls me princess I smell him on me even when I hold the phone at arm's length." I could quote more from this story, but, you know, it's flash and quoting more would kind of ruin your reading experience of it, and you should read it. Other flash I really loved: "The Honking Was Deafening," "Fireflies," "I Love My Dad. My Dad Loves Me,"  and "There Was No Mother in that House." I liked all of xTx's longer-length fiction. There are five, maybe six, stories that are stories you can live in for a while. My favorites of these were "The Mill Pond"--because I was, am, a fat kid--and "An Unsteady Place," a story in which a beach vacationing family is--in only one of many great details--overrun by advancing sand dunes. Really, I loved the entire book. The flash that was not as powerful for me still worked quite well within the context of the book as a whole, with a number of rhyming or echoing images (like melting witches). The book feels like a piece, an art object in itself, and that is, I think, the hallmark of a good collection. It was weird to have already read this book and have this mental image of who xTx might be before I met her at AWP in Chicago. She was really nice, and didn't look anything like I imagined she might. I don't really know what I expected. But meeting her was a pleasant surprise, just like my choice to read her stories in the first place, and my choice to buy and read this book.