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It's not all food and fussing, though it mostly is [18 Apr 2014|04:15pm]
For a wonder, I didn't cook at all yesterday, if we bar from counting a slice of toast for breakfast.

Instead Karen and Laurie and Katherine and I all drove up to San Francisco, to Andrew's house on Potrero Hill; then we dropped Karen in the FiDi for a business lunch while Andrew played tour guide to the rest of us, taking us for a tramp around parts of the city that had survived the firequake in '06. Also, he may have taken me to a cutlery store (NB: "cutlery" in the US means kitchen knives and the like: serious sharpware. What we Brits call cutlery is flatware or silverware over here) and we may have bought a boning knife each, because knives.

Then we collected Karen again and drove out to the coast, to see the remains of the Sutro Baths and sit in a window corner of the Cliff House and snack and drink and watch waves and windsurfers and pelicans and such. And at last we had to leave, so we set a placeholder there (because there is more of SF to see, and starting again with breakfast at the Cliff House seems not such a terrible idea to me, or to any of us) and went back to Andrew's. Where we schlepped up and down the stairs with stuff while he loaded his truck for camping; and then it was time to drink wine and eat a lovely baked paella and eventually alas come home.

This morning I went to the library to work, and came home to find m'wife and m'cat napping together in her chair, in an expression of ultimate cute. Alas, I woke her; so I made a shrimp'n'spinach salad where I rather brilliantly fried the shrimp in the orange-and-fennel-flavoured oil that I'd poached the fish in a couple of nights ago, and then squeezed in a lemon to deglaze the pan and poured off what resulted and beat it up with a fork and called it dressing for the salad, om nom.

And now I am trying to fuss my way through a final draft of Being Small, only I'm tired and losing weigh. But I do still love this little book, and it does keep surprising me with passages I don't remember, so here, have a darling of the day. Context is for the weak.

"Come and sit," he had said. He might have lost height and breadth, but he still had all the depth he needed. Not in his eyes, they were flat and shimmered only on the surface; not in his voice, which was reedy and hollowed out, sounding like a tracing of what it must have been, another intractable measurement of loss. Everything he had seemed stubbornly to define what he had been, how far he’d fallen and was falling still.

That should have been a weakness, a statement of defeat, and it was not. I didn’t know where it lay, the sense of strength abiding. I felt it, though, and responded in the simplest way, like a dog to a whistle, blindly trusting. Except that I wasn’t blind and I didn’t trust, excepting only that. The prince of darkness is a gentleman; Lucifer must still have had an angel’s air about him as he fell. He never could disguise or deny what he was made of, the very stuff of heaven. I would tread warily here, and commit myself to nothing.
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In which I have a day [15 Apr 2014|06:17pm]
To nobody's surprise (I am sure), I'm not sleeping so well at the moment. Which means I wake dreamsick, to a bad and scary world; which means I start every day very tense, very anxious, very depressed. I have a twitch in my fingers, and I'm scared of the mail and I'm scared of the phone and nothing I do is has any worth or value.

It does get better, though, in a regular progression through the day: as there is less ahead that I have to do, and the time of first alcohol grows closer. Alcohol makes everything better. Evenings are totally my favourite part of the day. Dinner done, wife beside me, TV and wine and chocolate and cats. What could be nicer?

My takeaway from this - obviously! - is that I should start earlier and drink more. *nods*

In other news, it is barely any time at all since I was boasting posting about the Le Creuset casserole that I've had for thirty years and brought over with me and expected to go on using for the rest of my etc. Sic transit glorious casserole: in the last week I've managed to burn food so solidly onto the enamel that I cannot shift it (without, curiously, having burned the dinner) and crack the lid by dropping it onto concrete. Standing much in need of both retail therapy and a large casserole dish, I have bought me a new one (in a one-day sale at Macy's, fifty bucks for a six-quart enamel cast-iron dish - which is probably more or less what I paid for the Le Creuset, come to think). I have brought it home on the firm understanding that its lifespan shall be measured in human generations, and not be less than one.

And as this is the third post I have made today with the firm intention of deleting it, I shall not do that. One last point, though: is it actually possible, reasonable or right to say "increasingly less"? I had an example from actual internal monologue of me, but that was hours ago and it has slipped my mind. But I thought it - not "increasingly less sophisticated" or "increasingly less subtle", but of that ilk - and then I thought "Wait, can I actually even think that, or do I need to rephrase my thinking?" And I don't know, so tell me, O internets.
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Metrics [13 Apr 2014|02:09pm]
It's Sunday morning, warm and lovely; Karen and I went for a walk down by the bay.

We're hoping to do this often, so we kept track: we walked a measured distance of two benches.

This is what is called a benchmark.




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"A pan full of gristle, a fly full of face" [13 Apr 2014|09:15am]
So I was unsurprisingly troubled by bad dreams last night, with which I will not trouble you; only to note that as I woke the background music resolved into lyrics as they do, as visuals resolve into text - for I am after all a conscious creature of words - and the lyrics make the subject line.
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It's hard to make me laugh right now, but this one did [12 Apr 2014|12:06pm]

(My Sophie-cat used to sleep like this, but I never caught a decent photo of her.)
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Candied or crystallised, orange they certainly are [11 Apr 2014|06:50pm]
We were on holiday in Provence some years ago, a bunch of us in a gite at the end of the scariest track in the world; and one of the local industries was candied or crystallised fruit (I find I have no idea which is correct, or whether it's a UK/US split, or what), so there were these whole baby oranges shiny with sugar, and I thought, "Oh. Is that a thing? Can you do that? Is it allowed?"

And now I am here, and a friend of ours has a small bitter-orange tree, which produces a small crop of teeny-tiny bitter oranges; and she gave me a little bagful, so.


(Some of them collapsed, and survive only to be spread on toast in the morning, because the syrup they were shimmered in is like an utterly delicious bitter-orange marmalade jelly, and can only be enhanced by a little substance; but some as you see at least look like whole-fruit candy-crystallisation triumphs. Tomorrow we will learn the truth, for tonight they are hot.)
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Cover quotes [11 Apr 2014|06:32pm]
We used to call them puffs, when I was English. My first American publisher and I confused each other utterly, when she asked me about blurbs and I sent her cover copy, which was what that word meant to me and not what she meant at all.

But anyway: call them what you like, little sentences of advance excitement about a new book are a powerful marketing tool, and a splendid boost to the writer's poor suffering ego also. (It is in the typing of this that I realise that calling them "cover quotes", which has become my default, is not really useful either, in these days when so many releases do not have that kind of cover, and most of these quotes are never actually physically attached to a book any more. I have no solution to offer, except that we need another word.)

As I may have mentioned once or twice, I have two new books coming out later this year. The first is Being Small, a short mainstream novel with a genre sensibility (is how I have taken to describing it): it is, inter alia, about coming-of-age with a dead twin and a mad mother among Aids carers in Oxford. A ghost story without a ghost is my other favourite way of saying what it is. And the second is Bitter Waters, it of the recently-gorgeous cover: and that is a collection of spec-fic short stories with some degree of gay content to them. It includes a number of the Quin stories, and all of the Sailor Martin tales (thus far), plus some of my other favourites.

So: whom should I invite to read either one of these and supply blurb, puff, quotes? Who's influential, willing, friendly? Who do I know? Help me out here, people. My mind's a mess, if a total blank can be messy. I was brought up too long ago and far away to be comfy with any of this. These are not the customs of my people.
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Prints! Of a boy, a boat, a bathtub...! [11 Apr 2014|05:12pm]
In the first place: I should like everyone to note how very much I did not title this post "Some day your prints will come", or anything like it. We duck these puns so you don't have to.

And in the second place, my new equal-favourite* cover artist Elizabeth has sent in an order for ten prints of this year's most fabulous cover, and they should be ready to ship by Thursday.

What I say is, c'mon, people - let's have her realise before the day is done that ten is a hopelessly inadequate order, 'k?

If you want one of these -

bitter waters

- on your bathroom wall (or elsewhere, I s'pose, but honestly it looks like bathroom art to me), 12" by 18", for thirty bucks plus shipping, please contact Elizabeth Leggett: either through Facebook or else via her business email, archway_portico at hotmail dot com. That's what I've done; go ye, and do likewise...

*Hi, Mark!
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The Pedant's Revolt [11 Apr 2014|02:24pm]

Just sayin'.
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A boy, a boat, a bath and thirty bucks... [11 Apr 2014|01:38pm]
People! I have been communing with Elizabeth Leggett, in the matter of the gorgeous cover art she's made for Bitter Waters (forthcoming from Lethe Press in October) -

bitter waters

- and she says she is indeed planning to offer prints, 12" by 18", for $30 plus shipping. So y'all will be able to decorate your bathrooms with loveliness. I'll let you know as soon as the prints are actually available; meantime, drop the odd dollar into a jar, and you'll have the cash before you know it.
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Art! [10 Apr 2014|04:53pm]
I may have mentioned that Lethe Press is doing a collection of my short stories, due out in October?

After some toing and froing, it's called Bitter Waters (which I think marries well with my earlier collection, Blood Waters - which I still have copies of if anyone should want one: real-world crime stories, written in conjunction with the sculpture project in Sunderland where I had a residency), and as of today we have cover art.

It's by Elizabeth Leggett, and I think it is just fabulous:

bitter waters
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Just as much water as clings to the leaves [09 Apr 2014|07:43pm]
If I were actually writing a cookery memoir - which I'm not: the occasional blog post does not a book make, nor the occasional meal a life in food - I think this might be its new subject line title.

The last couple of days, I have been mostly upgrading Linux, through three different flavours of Ubuntu to bring everything up to date, just in time for the new release next week. Last night we ate leftovers; tonight I am cooking andouille sausage (which I did not make), with white beans in rosemary and olive oil, and ginger-buttered cabbage. The cabbage is sauteed with [plz see subject line]: it has become my fixed opinion that no brassica ever needs more liquid than that.
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Consumables [08 Apr 2014|10:57am]
Last night the yogis had to come home unyog'd, due to evil cancellation of class: so they spread their mats in the back yard and performed their routines 'neath the orange tree. Which is at that lovely stage where it still has perfumed blossoms, while it already has teeny-tiny baby oranges, while it still has adult oranges from last year pendulous among its boughs.

So they stretched and bent and so forth out there, while the cats gazed at them yearningly through the insect-screens (for all the windows were open), while I curried chicken and okra (which I am starting to pronounce oh-kra as they do here, rather than the ock-ra of my native tongue: this is alarming to me) and kale from the garden, with my notorious lemon-rice-without-the-lemon. Oh, and I made a lovely mint raita (with a green onion from the garden) and then forgot to serve it. Welcome to the world of me.

This morning I went to coffee club as ever, and came home to packages: there were salt and tea and books. I'm still not sure about this internet shopping thing: it is monstrously convenient not to have to take the train to Burlingame for my favourite sel gris, but there is little satisfaction in shopping by the clicking of buttons and the ding of the doorbell. I actively like handing over money and receiving goods in exchange. As we know, it is the first rule of the nursery that presents are to be carried home from the shop and never delivered. Also, one of my books is not as described: when a front cover is entirely torn from its binding, this is not what I would call "good condition". Bah humbug.

Also, I am gloomy and there is small therapeutical value in this kind of retail. I am in hopes that gloom too will prove to be consumable, and possibly susceptible to sunshine.

(Oh, and speaking of consumables, the BBC tells me that a woman accused of murdering her boyfriend in Spain has been arrested on suspicion of a "consumed intentional homicide". I have no idea, none, what use or meaning they ascribe to the word "consumed" in that sentence.)
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Well, damn [05 Apr 2014|06:38pm]
History can be very disappointing. The term "vexillologist" was not coined until 1957, which rather militates against its use in a story about nineteenth-century flagwaving. Tho' I suppose one proto-vexillologist could coin it in the fiction, and another could laugh him out of the idea, for it is a very stupid word (and does that hybrid thing of mixing Greek and Latin roots, which the purists amongst us* have been known to frown upon).

*including, obviously, me
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Foodstuffs [05 Apr 2014|02:19pm]
We had guests for dinner last night: Ann Cleeves (author of the books behind Shetland, for those of you watching along in the UK) and her husband Tim ("the best birdwatcher in Britain", for those of you watching along at the feeding-stations). And I had all these onions, so I made French onion soup as hitherto discussed; and I had access to good lamb leg-steaks (I am still surprised by how hard it is to find lamb hereabouts, and how much it costs) and baby artichokes, and I found a recipe for a Jewish-Italian dish of lamb and artichokes in a lemon egg sauce - but then I found a recipe for a roast leg of lamb with artichokes and wine, so I sort of chopped and interchanged among 'em. And we ate it with saffron rice and sugar snap peas and the first fava beans from the garden - which were teeny-tiny and sweet and delicious - and there was sourdough and garlic breads on the side. And then there was a chocolate sour cream bundt cake for dessert, which was one of those occasions where I used different quantities of different ingredients but I was still following the recipe, honest...

And I might just have made a terrible mistake, because I thought I'd heat up leftover soup for lunch, and I did, but then I didn't remember its being quite so peppery, not to say downright chilli-hot when I knew I hadn't put any chillies in it because it's French onion soup and I followed the recipe I always do, as previously discussed - and then I worked it out on my fingers. That saucepan I used to heat it up? Was not the clean saucepan I took it for, but the saucepan I'd used to boil up the sriracha sauce before bottling it. Uh-oh. (The soup is now about the heat-level of a truly hot hot-and-sour soup, which I think is delicious, but I'm not quite sure how Karen's going to take it. If she does.)
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I'm not sure how much I like this game [04 Apr 2014|12:03pm]
Good news: Karen doesn't have to endure her godawful commute up to the city any more.

Bad news: she got laid off this morning.
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Another life-lesson [03 Apr 2014|06:08pm]
When a recipe calls for a measured quantity of boiling water, and measuring involves filling the jug to the brim, twice over? It would definitely be wiser to measure into the kettle, from cold, rather than out of the kettle, boiling hot...

Again, we do these things so you don't have to.
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Tea and the Englishman equip't [03 Apr 2014|04:26pm]
Four o'clock, Englishman abroad, kettle, tea, yadda yadda. My empire-building grandfather would thoroughly have approved. I'm just not sure he would have recognised my process. This particular Englishman measures his water, takes its temperature, weighs his tealeaves and times the infusion. All of it electronically. And only because he can. It amuses me, for this little time, to be precise.

I really really need a gaiwan now.

(Not now, but sometime you should ask me about tea ceremonies I have known, Japanese and Taiwanese. I will tell you - because I always do - that it seems to me that the Japanese ceremony is all about the ceremony, while the Taiwanese is all about the tea.)

In other news, I have a large sack of onions, a carton of much-reduced beef stock, and guests tomorrow. I am making French onion soup, for the first time in a very long time indeed. It was one of those things we did in the eighties, possibly to prove to each other that we could actually cook serious food. We knew it was serious food, because it came from Mastering the Art of French Cooking (which over here always seems to be "Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking", as though Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle had nothing to do with it; I have seen editions that don't even carry their names). Maybe our devotion was because you got to slosh cognac in at the end? We were very young. I am older now, though, and this is apparently still the recipe I follow.

*goes back to browning onions slowly, slowly*

[EtA: because one must do something else while browning onions slowly, slowly, I decided to sweep the living-room floor. If anyone out there has plans to enter a knit-your-own-Barry competition, I have your raw materials right here.]
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An eternal verity, with variations [02 Apr 2014|04:10pm]
Because it is four in the afternoon and I am an Englishman abroad, of course I am brewing tea.

Because I am also what the people I am writing about would undoubtedly have called an Orientalist (eww, I know - but make allowances for me, I am engaged in an Edwardian imperialist mindset*), this is not your classic Anglo-Indian black tea with milk or lemon. I really only like Chinese teas these days. This is Imperial White, and I wish I had a pot and cup good enough to live up to it.

Because I have a new Thermapen, I note that the water went in at 187°F, rather than the 175° that would be ideal.

Isn't this interesting...?

*It's really interesting, actually. I am kind of pretending to be my grandfather.
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Good news, bad news [02 Apr 2014|02:30pm]
Good news: my Thermapen is here! It is red! It says the temperature of my fingertip is 86°F at the surface! (I suppose I could dig the tip of the probe into one of my open cuts to learn the temperature further down, but - nah.)

Bad news: the seasoning on my* cast-iron skillet seems to have broken down, suddenly and inexplicably, after two years of busy care. Internet, I am distress.

Good news: this is the perfect excuse reason to buy some pork backfat and render it down for lard; nothing seasons cast iron better than a long slow rendering.

Bad news: to no one's surprise except perhaps my doctor's**, I have "significantly elevated" levels of the bad cholesterol. I am supposed to be avoiding animal fats. That is ... not going so well, thus far (he murmured, eyeing the homemade pork scratchings on his desk). The rendering of lard would probably not help. (Lardy cake! I could bake lardy cake! With my new Thermapen to help!)

Ahem. Giving up smoking was easy; giving up drink would be easy, compared to this. Those are one decision, that the mind can interlock with. Changing my diet would be a dozen decisions a day every day, always going against what I want. And I don't wanna.

*All right, it was Karen's first, and CA is a community-property state so I guess technically at best it is ours; but some rights develop like seasoning with usage. And husband and wife is one batterie de cuisine, it says so right here in my bible, so.

**He doesn't know me very well yet.
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