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desperance

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Ah, catastrophe [14 May 2016|01:21pm]
So I woke up this morning to an Ubuntu installation so badly broken it won't connect to the internet at all. And I had an earlier installation that was working, so I have been sourly upgrading that - and the upgrade has just stalled out halfway through, in a way that I think means that this installation too will be broken if I try to reboot it. And I am not geek enough to know what to do about this, because "just never reboot" is not exactly an option hereabouts.

This is where I think about invoking my long-term survival plan, in the form of a Whole New Machine. Starting fresh, starting clean is always so attractive when things get muddy and messy and tangled-up as badly as this one is. (It has four separate iterations of Linux on it, three of which don't work. Three about to become four, that is.) This one's four years old, after all, which used to be a decent lifespan for a PC back in the day. That day was twenty years ago, but hey: it's all about mindset, and mine is kinda calcified. But when I did upgrade I'd been meaning to buy a machine optimised for Ubuntu, rather than constantly fighting incompatible hardware; and that would mean delay, where I could just wander into Fry's this afternoon and buy something on the instant.

And, and, and. And I did not want to spend my weekend doing this, soddit. Any of this.

And now I am going to reboot this stalled install, and learn just how bad things are. I may be some time. This may be farewell. It's been fun, mostly...

[EtA: yup, totally fucked. I seem now to have no functional Linux on my desktop, or anywhere in my life. This update brought to you from Windows on the laptop. And the yard guys have just started up their machinery outside the windows, and I am in fact more miserable at this moment than it is actually possible to be, I am just sayin'.]
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A local habitation and a name [13 May 2016|11:45am]
So for a little while now I have had a book on the back burner, which means in the back of my head for the most part; up front there is really only half a chapter, a twist and a feeling. Also it is quite blatantly Iain (M) Banks fanfic. I do not apologise for this, neither resile from it; I don't believe that Iain would have cared, and I just wanna. Sometime, I'll just take some time and write the thing and show it to people and see.

Not right now, I have other stuff to do and this is not the time. Except that it dawned on me this morning when I was doing entirely other things that I really want to call it OVERSIGHT. Which, again, because I wanna and at this stage I can. It's not punchy, as titles go; but I always did like puns and double meanings, and when those two familiar meanings address two major themes within the work (and possibly three: I did say there's a twist), then hell yes.

Besides which, I really dislike writing without a title in situ - or you could put that the other way and say I always do like writing to a title, so that it gets embedded in the text, like words running all the way through the rock. Makes it much more likely that a thing will actually get written, once I know what to call it.
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A question! Of science, and navigation! [10 May 2016|11:19am]
So Mars no longer has an internal dynamo or a global magnetic field, though certainly it used to. I am taking it as read that the mere residue, the surface-scatter of magnetised rock is not enough to make a magnetic compass viable. So how would you navigate, on Old Mars in amongst all the canals and without benefit of satellites or GPS? By sun and stars and landmarks, sure - but what am I missing?

[EtA: assuming a 1920s British-Imperial level of tech and understanding...]

[EtA2; I suppose it's too much to hope that Mars' north pole also (currently) points towards Polaris...? *asks internet* Yup: much too much to hope. Sigh.]
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You say potato, I say nothing at all. Apparently. [09 May 2016|11:07pm]
Is it bitterly ironic, or just inordinately depressing, when your work doesn't even make the lists of the undeservedly disregarded?

Ach, whatevs. I finished the new Crater School quarter-day story, and it's a whole damn novella (which I am hoping will prove some compensation for the delay). It just needs a quick polish, and then we'll get it out to my Patreon subscribers as soon as possible. It's called "The Crater Girls in Camp", and features schoolgirls - of course! - and aliens (by special request) and a little bit more of the Mars that no one's seen yet. And Rowany de Vere, because she's awesome.
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Pareidolia [07 May 2016|11:49pm]
M'wife says I should post this here. I was tolerably certain that actually I did at the time, but hey.

M'friend the herbalist Paula Grainger took this fabulous photo of a cloud that looked like a bear; I wrote a poem about the way we see stuff and what we call things and yadda yadda.

You'll find it here.
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In which I am scheduled for Adventure [06 May 2016|11:17am]
The second week in June, I will be heading up to Portland, to hang out with various other writerly types: that Ken Scholes fellow, and Shannon Page, and, y'know. Mark Ferrari. We are in hopes that some actual workstuff might arise from this. Also, legendary debauchery.

But! There's nothing so inherently mind-boggling about this; I have done it before, and it's barely worth announcing. Except that this time I'm not flying, because there is nothing fun about flying any more. I'm going up by train.

By Amtrak, indeed, with all its notorious delays. If all runs to schedule, it's a nineteen-hour journey through some tolerably awesome country. I expect to read and drink and watch the world unreel, and very possibly not sleep at all, because hullo.

[And in other news, as far as I can see this did not crosspost from DreamWidth, which is why I am manually doing that. Grr. If it shows up twice, then double-grr. Pull yourselves together, platforms. Take your time from me: one, two. In, out. Get it? Good...]
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A garden is a movable feast, God wot [02 May 2016|09:47am]
My fitness app tells me that I exercised for six and a half hours yesterday, though that doesn't seem enough; that I walked 30,000 steps; that I only covered twelve miles of ground.

Nothing really adds up, until you take another perspective on the day: that I worked - with breaks - from ten in the morning to ten-thirty in the evening, and those steps were entirely back-and-forth and up and down.

People, we moved a garden.

Happily, it was a garden already in pots; and happily we'd done an afternoon's groundwork the day before, clearing the alley beside the house and putting shelves and such into the truck. Still: it was a big truck, and a crowded garden. Between the shelves and the racks and the hanging rods, we filled that truck from floor to ceiling with biomass, and drove it half an hour and emptied it again (that's where the up-and-down came in, for there were fifteen steps down to the sunside patio, and half the garden loves the sun). Then we went back to the point of origin, and filled the truck again. Just at the point where a British party would have said "I could murder a curry," Karen came through with dim sum; and then we went back to the new house and unloaded the second half of the garden. In the dark.

I am tired today, and a little bit achey.
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Calves of the corn [15 Apr 2016|03:52pm]
Corned beef, people: it is two different things, depending. To the British, it comes in cans and is a kind of disintegratory beefy spam, also occasionally sliced and battered and fried into fritters. None of this is any good at all, but this was my only experience of corned beef prior to California.

Over here, it's a salted slow-cooked brisket, sliced at deli counters for sandwiches (of which the highest achievement may be the Reuben - corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and dressing) or else served hot, generally with cabbage, generally on St Patrick's day. Leftovers in a hash, thanks, topped with a fried egg, because what isn't better topped with a fried egg?*

Anyway: I mention this because I cooked corned beef yesterday for Thursday dinner (which was also our fourth anniversary, as it happens, which it was nice to have a gang of friends around to share). And contrary to my usual habit, I actually wrote down how I cooked it, which is kind of a prerequisite to posting a recipe, because I'll never remember else.

Typically, I then forgot to take any photos, which is the other prerequisite for anything that claims to be any kind of a food blog, hey-ho.

But just in case, this is a dead simple way to make a tableful of friends very happy:

Peel a couple of onions, divide them into six wedges each, and lay those on the bottom of a slow cooker (or a casserole dish/Dutch oven if you don't have a slow cooker, but this is what I did, because I do).

Rinse the corned beef, and set it atop the onions.

Whisk half a cup of ketchup (or a little more - I just used what was left in the bottle, which would be more than half a cup but less than a whole one, by US measurements) with a bottle of dark beer (I used Maltopia Wee Heavy Scotch, because that's what I had in the spare beer bacon fridge) and pour over the meat.

Add lots of pepper. You won't need salt.

Cook on low for ten hours (or in the bottom of a low oven for probably four or five, but I haven't tested that).

Slice, and pour over a little of the cooking-liquid. Serve with mashed potatoes and braised cabbage; completely forget to offer house-made kimchi alongside, although it's really not bad at all for a first attempt. Sigh.


*The question is rhetorical, except not really.
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Single spies [13 Apr 2016|09:56am]
So I'm reading Ken Liu's collection "The Paper Menagerie" over First Coffee in the morning. At first I thought there was something unexpectedly old-fashioned about the stories; they invoke memories of reading Bradbury or Sturgeon in the '70s. I think that's an expression of craft, a shared understanding of the shape a story takes. Another voice joining in the conversation.

I like this; but I think I need something else to read with Second Coffee. I really only want to read one Liu at a time, and then dwell upon it for a while. And I want something robust, something rambunctious, to set against that perfect crystalline quality, the stillness of the rose. I want battalions.
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Tidying up [02 Apr 2016|06:04pm]
It can't actually be the loveliest, but one of the lovely things about making chicken curry is that most recipes call for removal of the skin; which means that you're left with lots of lovely chicken skin in the fridge, begging to be crisped up into salty nibbly snacks...

20160402_180311

...And of course baking and eating these is a virtue, as it avoids both waste and storage options. Eating is tidying, people; I have always said so.

In recognition of which, we shall be eating all Thursday's leftovers for dinner tonight. And drinking up lots of cluttery bottles of wine, also. We're practically glowing with goodness and the right.

Also, I have done good and useful things all day, including apologising to all my Patreon subscribers, because the Crater School project has fallen behind. I knew it would, if I didn't get ahead of myself last month. Those two weeks in England were filled with good intentions and poor achievement; I would blame the virus, but honestly, it's mostly just me. I left undone those things I ought to have done, and I'm now two chapters and a quarter-story short. But I'm tackling that - one chapter done, a second started - and I have tried to mollify my subscribers by posting the whole story-so-far in epub and mobi formats. That's the first half of the first book, more or less. If you wanted to see what I'm up to over there, here's the link that will take you.

And I'm trying to relaunch my newsletter, because hullo. If you felt like subscribing to that, there's a sign-up on the front page of my website, and this is the link that will take you there.

And I'm copyedit/proofreading a new Book View Cafe anthology, a collection of essays with the clearly ironic title The Usual Path to Publication, and I need to type up my notes & queries about that, so yay for not having to cook tonight, because leftovers...
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The first Thursday of the rest of our lives [31 Mar 2016|04:47pm]
So various things have happened, personal and travel-related and such, and relatedly or otherwise, I have been neglecting this journal shamefully.

But now we are home again, and I am fully resolved to mend my ways: in pursuit of which mending, one thing I want to do is talk more about food. Especially Thursday food. As you know, Thursday is when friends come around to dine: sometimes half a dozen of 'em, sometimes twice that. It's never a dinner party as such, it's just a chance for them to hang out and for me to show off, or to experiment, or just to stretch myself. It is, in fact, all about me. Unsurprisingly.

Anyway: we've been away, and now we're back, and this is the first Thursday since the interregnum. And as we just spent two weeks in England and I somehow managed not to eat a single curry, guess what I'm cooking tonight?

Specifically, I am cooking the dish I most despise, the dish most laughed at among the soi-disant cognoscenti of the English curry cuisine: I am making chicken korma. And I mean for it to be awesome.

Thing is, chicken korma as served in every British takeaway is essentially curry for people who hate curry: cooked with boneless chicken breast so mildly spiced it might as well have none at all, thick with cream, padded with banana and pineapple and I know not what more. It's what they sell to the old folk who've never crossed the threshold of a curry house before, and to kids who've never so much as put pepper on their eggs.

But it doesn't need to be like that. My chicken korma is going to be redolent with onion cooked sweet and slow, heavy on the ginger and the garlic, flavoured with fennel and coriander. There will be serrano chillies, left whole for those who don't like 'em to pass 'em on to me. The chicken will be dark meat, thighs, and cooked on the bone for better savour. That'll cook with its yogurt marinade and not a hint of dairy more. No cream, no fruit. Ground cashews to thicken the sauce. And there'll be a vegetable curry on the side, and a channa dal, and lemon-rice-without-the-lemon, as is traditional around here.

I'll let you know if anyone storms out.

[EtA: in other news, I had dentistry today. I just wanted to say that, so's you'd understand how radically awesome I am being.]
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You said you take what you want, I said you get what you need [09 Mar 2016|10:54am]
So Karen lost her job again, and things is all colleywest hereabouts. Melancholia triumphs, and the struggle naught availeth. Even Mac's been a little gloomy and off his feed.

Also, I have a temporary filling in a freshly root-canal'd tooth (why is there no verb for root canalling? Verbing weirds English, etc), which our darling dentist struggled with mightily and concluded by saying "that's going to hurt; keep the Advil handy." He was not wrong.

Nevertheless, we shall be at FogCon this weekend, and in England for Mancunicon thereafter. People should buy us drinks. Many, many drinks.

Alternatively, of course, now would be a good time to drop a few coins in the tip-jar by signing up for my Patreon. Schoolgirls! Aliens! Mars! You'd get half a book immediately, and the rest over the coming six months or so. I have no idea how you've resisted so long. *eyes you sidelong*
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Everybody loves an astrakhan (unless it's the hat) [22 Feb 2016|05:43pm]
So my Oscar-Wilde-on-Mars story, "The Astrakhan, the Hombug and the Red Red Coal", will - rather fittingly, I think - be appearing in Wilde Stories 2016, aka the year's best gay specfic antho.

That makes the third year's-best antho that this story has been picked for. Which is by way of being a record for me, and I am chuffed.
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A minor fall, a major lift [20 Feb 2016|11:07am]
There was a guy singing Cohen's Hallelujah down at the farmers' market this morning, so now of course I am earwormed beyond recovery - but then I don't really care for music, do I?

I see that the Nebula awards shortlist is out, and that I am once again not quite good enough. It is ... ongoingly depressing, I find, to lack the affirmation of one's peers. But this has been the story of my life, and I am used to it - and to write well is the best ... let's say recovery. If I miss both the glittering prizes and the fat purses, at least I can leave some bloody good stories behind me.

In pursuit of which, the Housman-on-Mars story is now definitively titled "Home is the Hunter, Home from Sea, and the Sailor Home from the Hill". The only question is quite how that should be capitalised; titles are awkward sometimes.
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There shall be marmalade-making, darker than treacle-spells [17 Feb 2016|04:21pm]
And the house shall be filled with the scent of the orange, as the waters cover the sea.

[Q: if waters don't cover the sea, in what sense is it actually, y'know, sea? My own feeling is that waters are integral, at least on this planet.]

In other news, thank you, I am feeling better than yesterday. I have been mooching about the house and garden, doing stuff that should have been done before: making marmalade #1, yes, and planning marmalade #2. And mixing dough for refrigerator bread (yes, yes, all right, the recipe is coming, I swear it) and laying out a border at one edge of the lawn (where actually I had far rather the flowers just tumbled into the grass with no hint of demarcation, but we have yard guys with machines, and we learned last year that they will ruthlessly mow anything not actually fenced off from the grass, O my California poppies, O my heart's delight...).

And, intermediately, getting back to A E Housman on Mars. This one's hard. Hell, they're all hard, but this one's harder. Though it does throw up lines I love:

And now here he was, this boy, leggy as an apple-ladder, tender as apple-blossom

And now there it is, that line, bobbing about like an apple in a barrel of water, only waiting for me to sink narrative teeth in to anchor it somewhere.
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Duck duck dinner [15 Feb 2016|10:43am]
Apparently the boys like duck. Who knew?* They were very keen to help me break it down this morning.

This is what it looked like last night, for Karen and me, for Valentine's dinner:

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...and now the residues are in the fridge and the stockpot and not the cats' stomachs, alas, and there may very well be duck-and-mushroom risotto for dinner tonight.

Around the duck, you will observe fingerlings and turnips braised alongside, cabbage with salt pork that braised separately; not shown, the sweet-and-sour herby orange sauce I concocted, made with the sour oranges from Laina & Cathyn's little treelet. Which it should hurry to grow into a vast and productive tree, because oy yummy. Those are marmalade-bearing branches, I tell you. Or will be.


*Well, they did, obviously. They would have shared this info yesterday, if we had shared the duck. Apparently.
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Oh Friday, didn't you use to be more fun than this? [12 Feb 2016|03:43pm]
So yesterday the usual gang descended locust-like on the Debauched Sloth, and I fed them onion soup and then this -

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- which is a Tuscan salad featuring a whole hot roast chicken torn apart* with my bare hands, cubed bread toasted beneath the chicken, and leaves of many varieties: dressed largely with the chicken's juices, and accessorised with toasted pine nuts and raisins plumped in champagne vinegar.

Cathyn brought a mincemeat pie for pudding, with actual meat in the mincemeat. Nom.

And this morning I was all gung-ho about all sorts of things, and I finished Chapter Eleven of the Crater School project, and all was well -

- except, apparently, me. This afternoon I have a koff and a sore chest, and I feel dizzy and a little strange. I am ... quite tired of this. Either I am subject to a constant succession of not-quite-negligible ailments, or this is just the Bug That Wouldn't Leave. Either way, I've had enough of not feeling quite the thing. Hell, I've even had enough of the sofa.

Having said which, I think I'm taking the rest of today off. I was going to do all manner of stuff in the kitchen, in the garden, at my desk. Right now none of them seem likely, so pffft.


*mightily
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One does not simply caramelise onions... [11 Feb 2016|05:08pm]
...except that these days, actually, one does.

It was one of those stray thoughts I had, as I stood for ever over the stove, stirring and stirring as the onions slowly darkened in the pan - "Is there no way to do this in the slow cooker, bethinks I...?"

Yes, of course there is. Slice onions, put in slow cooker. Add a glug of oil and a shake of salt, toss 'em about a bit, start the cooker on low. Stir every now and then, as you pass by. Ten hours later? Caramelised onions, yup.

Which makes onion-soup-for-the-masses a far simpler proposition. Do that, with five or six pounds of sweet onions; then proceed through the portals of your favourite recipe. I default as by nature to "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", but actually this one's more by way of being Californian Onion Soup. I looked at the amount of delicious oniony liquid that still lingered with the onions, because slow cooker; and was opposed to stirring flour straight into that, because that way lies lumpiness, which is deprecated hereabouts. So I made a separate roux with half a stick of butter and three heaped tablespoons of flour, and stirred that in. And then I had a litre of something in the freezer that was labelled "Beef Soup Stock", in my own hand, and I have no idea. So I defrosted that and gazed at it in bafflement, and stirred it in anyway; and there was half a litre of something else called "Beef Onion Soup Stock", which ditto ditto. And then there was half a bottle of abandoned sweet red wine in the fridge, which nobody was going to drink, but hadn't spoiled, so. In it went.

And now the result of all that is back in the slow cooker and simmering slowly, and I think it'll be grand.

And I'll bake a loaf of refrigerator bread (yes, I know, I promised you a recipe: it'll come, it will) and then I'll roast a chicken; which I will tear apart with my bare hands and toss with toasted bread and leaves and a lemony garlicky dressing, and call that salad. I have a mustardy potato salad too. And Cathyn's bringing a pie, which I am training my Americans to call pudding as all desserts should be. (Yes, I know there is a more specific meaning of "pudding" in English, and a way more specific and deeply wrong meaning in American, and nevertheless: this is the tradition I was raised in, that the sweet course was not called "sweet" nor "dessert" but pudding. Baby steps, people, baby steps. I shall reclaim this land for the Empire yet. Little do they realise how insidious I am, mwahaha.)
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I may be a genius, it's very hard to tell [04 Feb 2016|02:42pm]
It's Thursday, and that means dinner. Our house will fill with folk who all want feeding. What's a man to do?

Obviously, in my case, I go to Lucky's and come home with pork. It's almost perverse, how much I like cooking pork.

Anyway, I have two big hunks of shoulder, and I am Making Stuff Up. (Some people think that perverse too, that I have twelve hundred cookbooks and mostly Make Stuff Up. But then some people think having twelve hundred cookbooks is perverse on its own account, when my computer is full of internet and the internet, as we know, is full of recipes. But then we do also have cats, and ditto ditto.)

First I did this:

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and then I did this:

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and then I sloshed half a bottle of mead over the top and stuck a lid on and hoyed it in a middling-low oven. I may take the oven lower yet; we've got four or five hours till dinner. But that is a metric fuckton* of meat, so I thought I'd give it a decent start, at least.

I was thinking maybe a gremolata over the top once it's done, because how could lemon and garlic and parsley not be gorgeous atop braised pork?

Among other great questions of our time: how can it only be three o'clock when I want to start drinking now?


*I'm sorry, is that a metric fucktonne?
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I may be a genius of food [29 Jan 2016|02:26pm]
Forgot to mention, last night I slow-baked a ham I'd dry-cured, and that was yummy - but O people my people, the other thing I did.

Burns Supper Sliders. Aka haggis neeps & tatties patties.

So very, very good.
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