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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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Unexpectedly [06 Jan 2016|11:01am]
I seem to have begun the day with a poem. Blame Paula Grainger.


This perished ground has long forgotten rain.
The petrichor is buried deep,
So deep we would need storms and floods to find it.

You point at a cloud and say bear.
Or was it hare or here? Were?
The were-cloud encompasses the lot.
Each shapeless shifty thing becomes a metaphor
For mind, for mindfulness,
For change and time and art and words and us.

Forgotten rains seep out of sodden turf
Beneath a sky that’s clearing.
Whatever words we use, the storm’s the same:
Portentous, overbearing, long-delayed.

Never mind that rising smell; we’ll say it’s drains,
Or damp. Decay is universal.
Point at clouds. Say things.
Before we’ve all forgotten how to speak.
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Mighty publishing deeds, how we leave them like footprints in the sand [02 Jan 2016|07:48pm]
While I wait for the brussels sprouts to catch up with the chicken cobbler (which is ready) and the roasties (ditto) and the toasted almonds (ditto ditto), I just thought I might as well mention that I have this day posted epub and mobi versions of the Crater-School-so-far (that is, eight chapters and a novelette) for my Patreon subscribers, to be handier for their devices; if this interests you at all, the Patreon page is here, so do take a look.

Oh, and also, I have finally remembered to publish my miracle-healing-and-urban-crime novel PARADISE on Amazon, so you'll find that available here, for a mere $4.99.
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On the fifth day of Chazmas... [29 Dec 2015|11:29am]
We are well within Chazmas now, those days between Christmas and my birthday wherein I am popularly supposed (by myself, that is) not to do any work.


I just finished the slightly belated Quarter-Day story for my Patreon subscribers to the Crater School project (I have an excuse for the belatedness, people: it turned into a novelette. 10.5K. That was not the plan.)

And now I am going for a walk to think about A E Housman on Mars, because a cheerful exchange of dialogue does not a story make.
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Ho, Ho, meta-Ho [27 Dec 2015|12:37pm]
Mac, in camera, in camera box, in camera:


In the meantime, I have had occasion to observe that here in the western US, mostly what we have is mountains. We flew from Pocatello Idaho to San Jose and home, via Salt Lake City, on a splendidly clear cold day, and pretty much everything underneath us all the way was mountains. I suspect many of them may have been the Rockies. (There was also the Great Salt Lake, which is enormous and was apparently frozen in its shallows despite the salt, but that also has whole mountains sticking up out of it, so it still counts.)

I may never have been in a colder place than Pocatello. Our last night there, my phone said the temperature outside at 4am was 6 degrees Fahrenheit, which we old folk would I think describe as twenty-six degrees of frost. If I've ever been anywhere colder (not counting planes, that is), I don't remember it. But we were lovely and warm in our hotel room, so that's fine.

Traditional view out of hotel window:


Meanwhile, being home, I am making onion soup. I had caramelised onions in the freezer (slow cookers, people; totally the way to caramelise onions in quantity) and also a couple of pints of something labelled "beef soupstock". I have no idea what this is, how I made it, of what it was a byproduct; it'll be completely unreproduceable; but I think I was right in my labelling. It's going to make lovely soup for a cold California Sunday.
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Hogspic [21 Dec 2015|10:26am]
It is not impossible that Karen has grown soooo bored with my endlessly repeating how very much I need a better camera, that she petitioned the Hogfather to pleeeease see to that.

I must have been very good this year, ho ho ho. I has a Nikon. With an extra lens and everything.

Now I simply have to learn to use it. Happily it's entry-level, so all things shall be made easy for me. (The instruction manual warns me at least twice in the first few pages not to stick my finger in my eye; I find this level of instruction consoling.)

Anyway, First Photo: Barry's formal Hogspic.

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Happy Hogswatch, one and all! [20 Dec 2015|12:14pm]
Technically it is Hogswatch Eve, but who wants to party on a Monday?

It is possible at this stage - twenty minutes into Hogswatch Party Observ'd - that there will be no party but us, because all we have is an otherwise empty house and the first can't-come-after-all regrets queueing up in our inboxes. But if nobody comes? I will not care. For it is Hogswatch, and K and I have heaped each other with prezzies, and the boys have new catnip mousies, and I have cooked a fuckton of porks, which makes me happy. Even if nobody eats it.

And I have a Mars passport, a passport to Mars, which m'wife and the rather brilliant Elizabeth Leggett have concocted with visas and all sorts. It is an act of genius, about which I will post more later.

There has been bourbon in my final coffee of the morning, but that may not be enough alcohol. Rain's over the yardarm. Perhaps I should open a bottle? The sound of a popping cork is sure to bring guests hurrying, hurrying...
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Looming. Sans warp or weft. [19 Dec 2015|03:53pm]
We have shopped, twice, and fed Jeannie's cat. I have made mustard and cranberry sauce (twice), because condiments matter; and I have boiled the ham and mixed up the filling for the pork pies. I need to shop for a third time, but I'll set the first bread-dough to rise before I go.

I have also made a proclamation: it is close enough to Hogswatch (Observ'd) that proper observations may commence. The wine is in the glass, and heading mewards.
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It's beginning to smell a lot like Hogswatch [19 Dec 2015|12:43pm]
Tomorrow as ever was, we hold our Hogswatch Eve party. If it turns into a remembrance of Terry, well, hey. I'm hoping it won't, because too many people have died this year - hell, too many people have died this week - and I don't really want to slide into that spiral, but the thing is there to do if it seems needful.

If not, then for me - of course! - it's all about the food.

Next year, I swear, I'm going to be so much better about recording what I cook, both visually and recipe-wise, so that when Karen says "I really like that thing you did," I'll know what it was and how to do it again.

Meanwhile, well. This is all I have.

It's Hogswatch; there must be pork pies. Which you cannot buy for love nor money hereabouts, so it is finally essential that I learn to make them well. I tried a couple of times in the UK, and made them poorly; but I had a practice run on Thursday, and I am glad to tell you that (a) I have perfected the pastry; and (b) I have an immaculate jelly. Thursday's problems were that the pastry was too thick and the filling too dry (there being no room for jelly, what with the overthick pastry crowding the muffin tin; there was hardly room for filling, to be honest), but I think I can crack both of those today.

I used to have a couple of pork pie moulds, because raising a pie without a mould is still not within my skillset; but they didn't make it across the pond, and I have been improvising with this and that. But this morning? A package came from England, a month before I expected it. One 4" pork pie mould. K says it's an omen. Wish me luck: I'm going in.

And I'm boiling a ham to glaze, and making Chaz'z Chinese Pork, and roasting a loin to slice cold alongside the ham. And there will be cranberry jelly and mustard, for the better making of sammiches, for which I will bake sesame buns. And I have vindaloo and goulash in the freezer, and I can do bacon-wrapped sossidges because it's a party. That may be enough pork?

[EtA: hee. I was just standing at the stove, and into my left nostril came the steam from the barely-blipping hamwater, with all its savoury aromatics of bay and pepper and stock-veggies; and into my right nostril came the steam from the simmering cranberries with their sweet aromatics of tree-orange juice and port and allspice and cloves and cinnamon. That was a lovely moment. And God bless Allah, who gave me two separate sides to my head...]
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Getting ready... [18 Dec 2015|08:27am]
While swineherds watched their pigs by night
All wallowing in mud
The Hogfather's great porker came
A-reek of flesh and blood

"Fear not," said he, "for few of us
Eat people, by and large
Glad tidings of great feast I bring
And this shall be your charge..."
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I may be a genius of stock. Or broth, perhaps. Whichever. [15 Dec 2015|05:19pm]
So last week I bought a giant hunk o' pork and made a vindaloo for my people. I purposely left quite a lot of meat on the bone - there was a lot of meat - and roasted that off separately. Yesterday that went in the slow cooker with a couple of split trotters, standard stock herbs & veggies, a scatter of aromatic spices and half a cup each of port and soy.

Low & slow overnight, and today I have a brothy stock or stocky broth which is deep and dark and rich and clear, and utterly delicious. Tomorrow I suspect there will be soup noodles for lunch, with the meat & skin from the bone & trotters added back because delicious.
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Happy (re)publication day! To me! [15 Dec 2015|04:13pm]
It's my book, the book of my heart; and now it can be the book of your e-shelves also.

My novel Paradise - which treats with miracle healing and religious revival and local crime and council corruption and intentional community in unnamed-city-somewhere-perilously-adjacent-to-Newcastle in the 1990s - is reissued this day in mobi and epub formats, via the wonderful Book View Cafe. A mere $4.99 lays this precious burden in the device of your delight, nicely ready for holiday reading, he suggested optimistically.

(And furthermore, it has a cover by Hugo-Award-winning Elizabeth Leggett, so.)


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