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Further appalling news from Chez Brenchley [18 Jun 2014|07:37pm]
I can't use my wok, on the two surviving rear burners; there simply isn't room.

Let me say that again. I CAN'T USE MY WOK.

A week without wokking; a wokless week, before the nice-but-slow men come back to fix things.

People should probably check in on Karen, every now and then. I may prove unlivable-with.
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Well holy cow I was not expecting that [18 Jun 2014|06:44pm]
I just spent an hour making a spicier apricot chutney for my own amusement, with the last of the apricots. I boiled it up and heated my jars in the oven, and was merrily filling the jars with a ladle and admiring how it hissed and bubbled against the glass - and there were suspicious cracking sounds, and a slumping of order into chaos, and both jars just came apart.

Fortunately they were in a deep oven dish, so the deluge of chutney had nowhere to go, but - well. I guess you can overheat jars?

And now of course the chutney alas has nowhere to go but the bin, because shards of glass. Internet, I am distress.
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Sorted! [18 Jun 2014|03:50pm]
[I find that Americans don't use "Sorted!" in the way that we Brits do these days: but nevertheless. The subject line may be taken literally, for all of me.]

I have been promising myself for a long time now that I really would make a list of everything that was in the freezer, and keep it on Evernote, so that I'd always know what I had.

Well, now I have. Or at least I half-have. I do now have two freezers; and I have initiated the original plan with an appendix, viz that all the cooked frozen foods are now to be found in the freezer above the fridge, while all the raw ingredients are to be found in the chesty part of the standalone freezer (and all the breads and butters in the drawer beneath*).

I haven't yet listed or organised the raw ingredients, but in my fridge freezer I have:


Herby pork

Beef stew
Ground lamb curry
Lamb curry
Chinese pork
Lamb artichoke stew
Beef bean chilli
Pulled pork
Moroccan pork & chickpea
Lamb kofta mix
Chicken kofta
Beef pot roast
Beef coconut curry
Chicken curry
Beef chickpea curry
Turkey curry
Mild chilli
Meat sauce
Asparagus puree
Shrimp curry sauce
Bean veg soup
Unknown x 4
Dumpling wrappers
Filo pastry

So, that'd keep us fed a while in any emergency that didn't involve the electricity going off.

Question of the day, though: what do I do with the unknowns? They are four separate containers with no labels and I have absolutely not a clue what is inside any of them. My inclination is to defrost them one by one and make an eat-or-chuck decision on the spur of the impulse, but...

(The other question of the day, of course, is "Karen, what do you want for dinner?" I was going to share my Evernote note with her, but apparently you can't do that within the system with individual notes, only separate notebooks...)

*I was hoping to keep the ice cream also in the drawer beneath, but it's not cold enough; it'll keep ice frozen, but not ice cream. Is that weird, or only-to-be-expected-you-dolt-Brenchley-because-science?
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Apricot boysenberry cake [17 Jun 2014|04:22pm]
Because Mindy asked: this is what I did, to make the cake. It's adapted from a Nigel Slater recipe for an apricot raspberry cake.

(I'm sorry, I can't put this into volumetric measurements; I have no idea how you measure apricots into cups, eg. Besides, measuring flour by cups can vary by 25% - I read - depending on your method of filling a cup. This is suboptimal, people. Buy a scale.)

250g ripe apricots, stoned and quartered
175g softened butter
175g raw sugar
175g self-raising flour
100g almond meal
2 eggs
2 tbs milk
a bowlful of fresh-picked boysenberries (sorry, I didn't come near weighing them; Nigel says 170g of raspberries. Which of course you could also use)

Butter a 9" springform cake tin, and line the bottom with baking parchment. Butter that too.

Cream the butter and sugar till pale and fluffy (this takes longer than you think, 'specially if you do it by hand; a food mixer makes it easier. Even when your food mixer is making very anxious-making noises). Beat the eggs one by one and add them to the mixture. Mix the flour and almond meal together and add that, little by little. Add the milk. Fold in the fruits, and scrape the batter into the cake tin (it'll be too thick to pour).

Bake in the middle of a preheated 350-degree oven for an hour and ten minutes, till a skewer comes out clean (or test it on your lip if it's metal, as I do: if it burns, it's ready). Cool ten minutes in the tin, then ease it out onto a rack. Once it's cool, dust with powdered sugar. I served it with apricot puree adapted from another Nigel recipe: 900g of stoned apricots, boiled down with 150g of raw sugar and a splash of water, whizzed in a food processor, brightened with lemon juice and left to cool.
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Apparently I have to think of everything [17 Jun 2014|01:42pm]
I'm fairly sure there's at least one Biggles story where his aeroplane won't take off because "the mixture is too rich". How else would that phrase mean anything to me, if I didn't pick it up from Biggles? (Unless it was Algy or Ginger or Flight Sergeant Smyth.)

Sometimes, this is how I feel about Mars. There is just too much, and I can never actually finish anything: too many ideas per cubic centimetre (of my brain, or else of the planet, either one), there's insufficient airiness to allow a plot to ignite.

Today - a propos of I remember not what - I was thinking about A J Raffles, for the first time in a while. And in fact I misremembered, I thought he had gone off to the Boer War when he made London too hot to hold him and faked his death there, but no: he faked a death by drowning, and then when his second life imploded he and Bunny both went off to the war, where Raffles is genuinely killed.


Of course this is not the case. Of course that second death is equally fake, and he and Bunny both assume new names and emigrate on an aethership from the Isle of Man to Mars.

Where - well. Adventures ensue. If there's enough oxygen to ignite them. At the moment I am engrossed by the notion of the Wabi-Sahib, who has imported Japanese potters and made a fortune out of Martian clay. This morning I thought I was going to draw something wholly different out of the wabi-sabi aesthetic, but apparently I can't get away from Mars. It might be nice if I could just stop thinking about it and get something actually, y'know, done.
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Wabi-sabi: or, That My Cooker Is Broken Speaks Well of the Impermanence of All Things [17 Jun 2014|11:53am]
The nice cooker-mendy men have been and gone. The cooker, alas, is not mended; parts must be ordered. They will return in a week. Hey-ho.

Meanwhile I have two working burners and many, many apricots. I think everything that happened last night was good: the chutney, the cake, the puree. And Dave bore off a significant poundage of excellent fruits to be dried in Katherine's dehydrator. And yet, and yet. A greater poundage still remains.

I think I may make more chutney, because I always incline towards spices; and the four jars I made yesterday were not spicy enough for me, so I totally have an excuse for a second round. Possibly with more ginger this time, as well as an excess of excellent chillies.

Meantime, I have a yen to write an SF story about the principles of wabi-sabi, that should begin:

Everything lasts forever.
Everything is finished.
Everything is perfect.

...and then goes on to prove it. Just because. This may be what fiction is for.
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Cover story [17 Jun 2014|10:18am]
I know I already bragged up the artwork, because beautiful; but here's the actual finished cover for my short story collection from Lethe Press, due out this fall. The artist is Elizabeth Leggett (and if you want a print of the original artwork - without text, that is - for your bathroom wall or wherever, they are available from her...).

new cover 2

Just sayin', but I do feel extraordinarily lucky.
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Dear Kitchen Diary... [16 Jun 2014|07:37pm]
We peeped under our cooker's outer clothing, and she's been sulking ever since. The front two burners refuse to burn. Oops...

And of course it's yogi night tonight, and the nice gas repairman can't get here until tomorrow. No matter! I have two functional burners, a barbecue grill and a working oven. Yogis can be catered datively, to and for. Also, we have a fuckton (this is a scientific measure, yes) of apricots, courtesy of Berry and Alene, who boast I think three mature apricot trees in their orchard. So I have baked an apricot and boysenberry cake, which I shall serve with apricot puree. Prior to that, there will be smoked pork from the barbecue, with warm broccoli salad and fresh sourdough bread and an apricot chutney, which blessedly turns out to be disappointingly mild for my taste. (Why is this blessed, you ask, bewildered? Why, because it means I can make another batch tomorrow with rather more chillies in it. And apricot jam. And apricot anything else I can think of or you suggest. I have just despatched a hefty load of the best of them to a friend with a dehydrator, because dried apricots are awesome.)
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Fandoms and/or Mr Brenchley [15 Jun 2014|03:50pm]
So this will almost certainly be a rambling autobiographical essay with no useful conclusion, but hey. That's more or less my definition of a life story.

So: andrewducker posted a thoughtful piece about football fans and geek fans and being mean about other people's enthusiasms, and a lot of people were thoughtful in response even when they didn't agree with him, and that was interesting; and it engaged me I think particularly because I have been on both sides fanwise, and I have been mean and snarky in my time, and mea culpa.

Look, I am now and I always have been - to nobody's surprise, I take it? - a bookish near-sighted unathletic geek. In part, that's genetic; in part it's cultural; in part it's personal choice. I have told too many times the story of How I Met Tolkien, but I was a dyed-in-the-wool SFF reader long and long before that, I already knew he was God. And I hated all sports and didn't see the point of them because that went with the territory: the sporty kids bullied and mocked us, we scorned them with our long words and cutting repartee.

And then I was a teenager and really nothing changed. I was ferociously sarcastic about flannelled fools and muddied oafs and so forth, and did everything I could to avoid playing sports of any kind, and would never dream of spending an hour watching any; why would I, when there was always another book?

Only my best friend at the time was from Guyana (which we still rather quaintly called British Guiana, at least in my household, tho' it had been an independent country for a while by then), and one thing about Guyana, it may not be an island but it has close cultural links with the Caribbean nations, which are not limited to but very much include the West Indies cricket team.

So: it was 1973, and m'friend Shiv made it very clear to me that he was very happy to spend the summer holidays hanging out with me, but this would have to include listening to the cricket on the radio. As the only real alternative was spending time with my sisters (I was at boarding school by then, and had lost touch with most of my local friends), I made the sacrifice. And so spent much of that summer listening to Test Match Special, which is a cultural artefact in its own right - and before the end of the series, I was totally a fan. Initially of the broadcasters and the programme itself, rather than the sport that they described; the contributors in those years had created a magical combination of poetry*, clowning and expertise that might have been designed to snare the heart of a teenage boy.

Was it inevitable that my love of listening should develop into a love of the sport I listened to? Perhaps: they were the first commentary team (of my acquaintance, at least) to have their own statistician, in the late but immortal Bill Frindall, and the geekery of numbers infests cricket** as it did me, as does the love of language and the fascination of what's difficult. So yes, cricket became my new fandom, to the point of my actually going out with friends to the park and sorta kinda playing the damn game from choice.

So there I was, a bookish geeky glasses-wearing teenage boy who had found a geeky sport to love (where some of the players even wore glasses, yet), and I thought I was done with discovery, I'd stop there. And go on mocking football fans and resenting tennis fans (Wimbledon coverage cut into and sometimes even replaced cricket coverage on the TV: aaaargh!) and so on, because hey. There are limits, y'know. The flannelled fools may have turned out to be my fools after all, but never those muddied oafs...

Except that then I moved out on my own, to the other end of the country and a whole different kind of life; and I shared a house with students, who were very happy to watch other sports than mine. And had teams they supported, and so forth: and enthusiasm can be as infectious as expertise, especially when accompanied by alcohol and friendship. So I learned to watch football and rugby, and to care who won; and sometimes if we were very drunk when we got in from the pub we'd watch late-night golf beamed in from America, because hey. Sports! Into the early hours! How could that not be better than going to bed...?

We will not mention the afternoon indoor bowls. Snooker we need to mention, though, because snooker got us out of the house and down the club two or three nights a week, for years on end. It's a sport! And we played it! And we were very bad, and I particularly was terrible and always would be, but actually it's good to have something that you're passionate about and really bad at. It's good to allow yourself to fail at something, over and over and over again.

And now I am in America, and if there is saturation football coverage worldwide I have not actually noticed that, because America***; and if there has been saturation snark on Twitter and so forth I have not actually noticed that either, because Twitter and so forth; and as it happens I don't watch a lot of sports TV any more because wife, but I have just spent the evening at chilly rinkside watching a friend play (ice) hockey, because I just may have a whole new fandom; and I promised you a post without conclusion, and this is it.

*"Poetry?" you repeat, a little dubiously? Yes, certainly poetry. John Arlott was a published and respected poet, as well as a cricket commentator. I have spent twenty minutes listening to him describe a rainstorm, where ordinarily the BBC would have cut away to classical music until the rain stopped and play resumed, but he was hypnotic: they left his mike on and he kept on talking and there was beauty and power and mystery in his words, and I call that poetry.

**I even wrote a clerihew about it, which those of you who know Bradman's Test average ought to appreciate, by God:

Sir Donald Bradman
Would have been a glad man
If his average Test score
Had been 0.06 more.

***Oh, and I forgot to mention the American football, didn't I? From the early eighties, when Channel 4 started piping it to the UK, that was another passion of ours. With Superbowl parties and everything, tho' we had to stay up all night to watch the actual game...
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If that oliphaunt won't charge, Daddy's going to buy you a funeral barge [14 Jun 2014|07:38am]
That's the trouble with having mockingbirds in the back yard: there's a constant progressive lyric unwinding in my head, and it always wants another rhyme. You can end up in some strange places, and then find it still not to be an ending after all.

In other news, it's World Gin Day! WGD! Who knew?

And we have to go to a party, oh noes. I went to a party once, and I was barely in the door before mine host was handing me a glass of gin. Um, that would've been a pint glass. It had a slice of lemon and everything! Tonic not so much, p'raps. Everybody else went away in the end, and we sat listening to Tom Waits records until I fell asleep.

Gin good. We have gin. Good.
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It's all go on Murphy Avenue [11 Jun 2014|06:12pm]
I have seen crows mobbing a hawk overhead; I have seen mockingbirds mobbing a crow on the telegraph wires.

There must, I guess, be a mockingbird nest real close to us, because I've just seen a brave little mockingbird mobbing Leo the neighbour's cat as he strolled across our front yard. Poor Leo was brave too, and did most firmly stick to strolling, even though he was obviously unnerved by the vicious little thing.

Meanwhile, best idea of the day: oregano flowers in the lunchtime salad.

Worst idea of the day: a thrifty version of a walnut/parsley pesto, utilising parsley stalks and parmesan rind. That just totally did not work. So much for thrift, say I; give me luxury or give me something else. No substitutions.
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In other news, reversals [08 Jun 2014|07:12pm]
This has been going on so long, I may even have posted about it before: but you would think, after more than two years of living here and nearly-five of visiting for increasing periods of time, I would by now have learned which knobs on the cooker control which gas-rings.

Trouble is, to an English-trained sensibility, the knobs are exactly the wrong way around. Four burners in a square, front and back; four knobs in a line, left to right. In every cooker I have ever met, the outside knobs control the rear burners, and the inside control the front. It's been absolutely standard, all my life.

Apparently five years of exposure to a different mind-set is not enough to burn that default out of my hindbrain. I use these knobs every day, many times a day; and I still have to check every time, because if I just trust my fingers, every now and then I still light the wrong burner. Even when I'm thinking about it. It is too hard for me, this learning of new rules.
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Heart and soul [08 Jun 2014|06:45pm]
This is certainly not true of every writer, and it may not even be true of me, or not of every book I write - but right now I do feel as though I spend a lot more time fixing books than actually writing them. The writing-draft takes longer, in calendar-time: but between the rewrites and the edits and the copy-edits and the proofs, I swear more actual skull-time goes into the fixes than into the original.

Sometimes it frustrates me inordinately, but I always have been a malcontent: essentially, when I'm writing a draft I'd far rather be editing, and when I'm editing I'd far rather be writing original copy. Just call me the Rum Tum Tugger, and be done. It's just that if it's true that the time invested is disproportionate, then I spend a disproportionate amount of time wishing I was writing rather than editing.

Still: there is accomplishment to be sensed, even at this end. Today I fixed a very broken timeline in Being Small, and yay for a charming editor who actually noticed that Thursday was explicitly and textually followed by Sunday, hey-ho; and I proofed three stories and Geoff Ryman's introduction to my new collection Bitter Waters. You know, the one with the covetable - and attainable - cover art...
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Okay, now I'm really depressed [07 Jun 2014|02:06pm]
I burned the sodding buns. Am I always, always to fuck everything up, O universe?
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Everything I need to know, I learned from my cat [07 Jun 2014|01:21pm]
When you're just sliding the frittata into the oven to fritt, and you remember that when you were sizzling the green garlic with the grated courgette zucchini summer squash, you decided not to put too much salt in because you'd salt the eggs when you beat them and you could taste the mixture once it was agglomerated? And when you were in fact beating the eggs you decided not to salt them until the mixture was agglomerated, just in case? And now when it's too late you're remembering how you did in fact forget to taste the agglomerated mixture, and you have no idea whether or not there's enough salt in the thing?

"I meant to do that." It is a splendid cry. In this instance obviously I meant to do that because there was feta in the mix too and that's salty, and it'll probably be plenty, and and and.

*nods, in a cat-like manner*

In other news, my doctor isn't at all concerned about my alcohol intake, but really thinks I should drink less coffee. In tribute to which, I'm opening the first beer of the day. I've actually been wanting to do it since eleven this morning, so this betrays remarkable abstemiousness and willpower, say I, that I've held off till one-thirty. And soon now people will arrive, and this afternoon we will troop down to the Art and Wine festival and festivate in sunshine, before trailing home to face the grim realities of grilling supper. Hey-ho.
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One foot in front of the other [05 Jun 2014|02:59pm]
Mum should be going home today. She has some impairment on the left side, and she'll have to use a walker for a while at least (which will infuriate her: she is tiny but indomitable, my mother), but 'twas only a mild stroke. And she tried to get home yesterday, because Mum.

She's still 93, and 5000 miles away. But my sister's there, and my nephew and his partner have gone down to help out, and it's all as good as it could be.

Which puts me - well. Back at work, among other things. An odd thing happened today: it occurred to me that I may just have finished the last of the Quin stories. After, what, ten years or so? Maybe longer. I've been tolerably and unintentionally chronological about this: I used to write about his being sick and our nursing him. Then I wrote about his dying and the funeral and the wake. Now I've written a story about packing up the house and moving on. So, yeah: that might be it. Dunno. The other thing I'm doing at the moment, I'm checking proofs for Being Small, and that turned out to be a Quin story though I didn't know it at the start. Maybe that big all-encompassing novel is still out there in the world somewhere, waiting for me. Maybe I'll never be done with Quin.

(For those who haven't met the Quin stories yet, I'm not sure any of them is available online - but a selection will be included in Bitter Waters, the collection coming from Lethe Press later in the year.)
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Well, that has rearranged my day [03 Jun 2014|10:21am]
I was supposed to be finishing a story today, for an anthology that closed to subs two days ago (I got an extension) - but I was out early with the coffee club when Karen texted to say my sister had messaged to say my mum was in hospital. They're calling it a small stroke, and they say she should be good to go home in a couple of days, but... Yeah. She's ninety-three. And five thousand miles away.


I think I'm going for a walk.
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Self-praise: this is no recommendation, 'k? [03 Jun 2014|12:14am]
So there has been for some indeterminate time a tupperware container in the freezer, conveniently labelled. Its label said "Salty lamb curry - for pilaff?"

It was indisputably in my handwriting. I didn't at all remember the dish, or the occasion, or why I would have made a curry so salty that my only recommendation was that I use it in a whole lot of rice.

But: yay me, for the recommendation. I translated "pilaff" into "biryani", and parboiled some rice without salt, and mixed that with the contents of the tupperware and gave it an hour in a low oven, and y'know what?

Om nom nom, is what. I did make some dal and some raita and curried mushrooms and garlicky broccoli on the side, but nevertheless: om nom nom, I tell 'ee. Om nom nom.

I should continue to trust myself, when I make scribbled suggestions on freezer tape. Even when I can't remember the origin story.
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Required writing [01 Jun 2014|01:33pm]
I think we are renaming our little patch of internet today. This, obviously, is LJay; that over there is Jay'sbook. The effect probably reaches further.

Waking to the news of Jay's death was utterly unsurprising and entirely expected, and yet. And yet.

I met Jay on my first trip to the US, just a day or two after I met Karen at SFO. That made him not quite but nearly my first friend in America. Also he was my second friend-called-Jay-with-cancer. Now they're both dead, and apparently loss is cumulative; I feel doubly bereft.

Some clown in New York has trademarked pi (aka "some clown in the bureaucracy has allowed this to go through") and his attorney is sending cease-and-desist letters to people selling T-shirts with pi on them. I had been planning a post about that, with defiant links through to my pi story (obviously) - but fuck that. Today's been given over.

Otherwise, I am writing a story this weekend, with a deadline of today. Because that is the way the universe likes to weave these things together, it's all about dealing with death and the stuff that gets left behind. That's contextual and legitimate, so that's what I'm going to do with the rest of the day. In between reading through our little patch of internet, because people are talking about my friend.
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Our daily bread [27 May 2014|05:11pm]
Tragically, I don't in fact bake every day; but I'm aiming at twice a week. One regular sourdough country loaf, the one I love, and one batch of Something Else, because otherwise I'll only ever bake the same thing and it's a shame to be a rut.

Today's new thing is purely because yesterday was yogi day, and people came, and I made pork stewed in cider with mushrooms and shallots, and braised savoy cabbage, and champ; and there was just exactly enough champ left over to build a bread around, because I have been reading for years about how a dollop of mashed potato will soften a loaf but I've never had a dollop spare when I've been baking, and I wasn't going to make mash just for the sake of a dollop. Other recipes speak of potato flour, which I do not have; and we will not speak of those that advocate for instant granules.

But anyway: potato achievement unlocked; let baking begin. I am making (up) a sourdough potato rosemary bread, where the sourdough starter is more for flavour than lift, because I've used regular yeast as well. At the moment it is rising into two boules, which I shall shortly slash and bake. I thought I'd report in now, in case it all goes horribly wrong at the last minute...

In other news, dinner tonight will be giant mushrooms stuffed with devilled pork. Spicy kale and potatoes on the side. And, hopefully, rosemary potato bread.
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