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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...


...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:


...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 -


- 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.

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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:


and then I did this:


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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Il faut cultiver notre jardin, oui? [29 Jan 2016|11:27am]
As reported elseweb, this day (while Karen is up in the city meeting her boss, learning why her company is hatching into two, what this means ongoingly) I have raked & planted up my late winter vegetable garden, quick like a bunny before the next rains move in. Yes, of course there are photographs.


I am tolerably certain - if experience is anything to go by, which, y'know: traditionally in gardening it kind of is - that the cabbages won't cabbage and the sprouts won't sprout, but hey. It looks worthwhile just at the moment.

And now it is time for more coffee and ibuprofen, yes?

[EtA: in other gardening-related news, does anybody know what happens if you plant a sprouting onion that has entirely sprouted too far to actually eat? I have four. Are they an incipient onion bed, or will they just rot, or what?]
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Linguistic musings, et al [24 Jan 2016|05:12pm]
Is it even remotely possible that I like cooking so much, and invite people around to eat so often, because of the inherent opportunities to catastrophise* the evening?

Viz and to wit, tonight is Burns Night Observ'd, and the haggis is boiling in its pot, and there is now nothing I can do for three hours. At that point, we will find out if it's a triumph or disaster (and yes, those are the only two options; anything not the first is by definition the second, haven't you met me?). And the recipe I used last year, which was a triumph, is no longer available on the internet; so this year is kind of a hodge-podge, a bit of this and a bit of that and see how it turns out. Which is my common approach to things I'm comfortable with, oh and books, but this is only my second haggis ever and people are coming and I am far from comfortable, so I was working myself up into a lovely state over the thing.

Only then when I actually mixed everything together - no suet, so I'm doing without suet, it's a low-cal haggis; and herbs, just because I have herbs in the garden if not in the recipe; and total guesswork about proportion-of-oatmeal, because variation in recipes was monstrous; and like that, on and on - it really smelled gorgeous, so. It's kind of hard to see how it could be the catastrophe I none the less envision (unless it expands beyond the capacity of the pudding-basin and bursts out into the water, that's always a possibility). I am trying to tell myself that acquired kitchen-skills will mostly allow most meals to turn out okay, especially this kind of slow low use-up-the-bits cooking, which is the most forgiving of approaches. Not sure I'm actually convincing myself, but hey. I should go and put the potatoes in to bake before mashing...

*Note for the bewildered: "to catastrophise" is a lot like "to apostrophise", except that rather than "O table!" one begins "O bloody hell!"
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Blue Monday [18 Jan 2016|06:44pm]
According not to actual actuaries but to marketing idiots, to whom of course we pay no heed, today is the most depressing day of the year.

Nope, no heed at all.

Nevertheless, it is true that I have been somewhat downcast this last week or so. As witness, no post in eleven days. Truth to tell, I have also been sick, or sick-ish; the one thing may play upon the other, who can say? But the fever broke last night, if fevers do still break in this day and age, if they ever did; and so today I have run four loads of laundry from beginning to end, and walked to the hardware store and back without buying anything, and edited Chapter Nine of the Crater School project and started Chapter Ten (funiculi funicula), and and and.

One of the nice things about last week was the being able to think "Oh bloody hell, I'm really depressed, I'm going to write the next Crater School chapters to cheer myself up," and being absolutely right about that. It's nice to have something that's undeniably work that I find uncomplicatedly happy to work on. (Also, of course, I have been lying on the sofa reading the Chalet School, because that is Research as well as What I Do When I Am Sick: and I do have to say that Joey Goes to the Oberland is the most extraordinarily empty novel I have ever read. From the time she falls into a packing-crate at the start, to the time she falls off a ladder at the finish, pretty much absolutely bloody nothing happens: and this is comparative, in a series of which it has been rightly said - by shewhomust inter alia - that nothing ever happens anyway. This is just the unexciting travel journal of Joey and her eight kids and their hangers-on moving from Wales to Switzerland, in a comfortably middle-class kind of 1950s way. It didn't need to be like that, and I have to confess that this book disappoints me. I'd rather read the Crater School, frankly. Funiculi Funicula!)

In other newses, I wish they had invented Smellernet, because this thing happened where I overtoasted some almonds in the oven and they were totally too dark to serve atop the brussels sprouts as planned, but not exactly quite burned; so I eyed them askance for a couple of days, then tossed them into my grindy-machine and grinded them. And now I have this dark toasted almond flour which smells just amazing, and I can only share with you in pictures:


Also, bread: I am loving this thing of having dough slowly souring in the fridge, ready to bake at any time through the week. Today's loaf was eight days on; it may have lost a little lift, but oh, it makes up for that in yum. And holes. It has excellent holes.

Also I made a kind of Hoppin' John I was happy with, four years on from learning that one should. Heirloom rice and peas, people, and everything cooked separately, and I should've taken a photo of the plate. Also the chicken roasted with tangerines and carrots and basil, which baked down into a kind of succotash beneath. The fooding has been good hereabouts, regardless of the world and gloom and such.

And now I must get on with work and dinner and so forth. We are eating leftovers - but "leftovers" in this case means the beans from the Hoppin' John mixed with the beef from Saturday's pot roast and made into a chilli, with the rice and collard greens surviving from that same Hoppin' John fried up together, and sprouts and mushrooms and and and...

And Chapter Ten, funiculi, funicula.

[EtA: never brag upon the internets about how you're feeling better. You will obviously and immediately die. Shouldn't I have learned this by now? I feel dreadful...]
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Chaz & Paula Go To Biit.Space [07 Jan 2016|04:12pm]
So the true story behind yesterday's poem: the day before, m'friend Paula Grainger had posted a photo of a cloud, and declared it bear. So I said "Pareidolia!" because that is one of my favourite words. So we had a little chat about that, and that-all was still with me next morning in the shower, and hence poem.

And Paula's husband Mike has this space where creative types go to play together, and it is called biit.space for reasons inherent; and Paula's photo and my poem are now up there together, as they should be. Which is cool, I think.
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