31 December 2007

May you be infected in 2008 and beyond

(if you aren't already)
with insatiable curiosity.

Profile of an inexotic

And best wishes for being highly infectious.

Forest trash collection, December 2007

"The same tradition as every year", and a wish

Let's begin with dinner
A wonderful and spreading tradition of internationalism, that same tradition as every year that is 'Dinner for One'. We'll see it here in Australia tonight.

If you think this means opening up a pre-packed meal and reaching for a spoon, see the BBC's explanatory article.
Next, Wikipedia fills in the blanks.

Dinner is Served
Generously, NDR
presents not only the curious Dinner, but a feast to go with it, including recipes for the menu and 'Der Text Zum Sketch' – in English, of course.

And now, a Wish
"With the wish that the lives that are tangent to each other fully touch, and the ones that don't, do. And that those who are far away come back into our lives, and to feel the closeness of those who are near."
– the ending of today's New Year's greetings by an extraordinarily fine human (and incidentally, a poet who makes poetry live) Nurduran Duman

27 December 2007

White-banked billabong: The leptospermum flowers

The burnished brown seed cases are, to my taste, the most elegant buttons, both in their closed state and when they have opened, having dropped their numerous seeds.

Leptospermum blossoms, nectar, wood (and presumably seeds) feed many creatures, many of whom make the air hum.

Also called tea tree, these fragrant bushes smell like scorched candy canes.

A wonderful place for learning and seeing is Colin Cornford's Leptospermum, part of the encyclopedic site of the Society for Growing Australian Plants.

Also highly recommended, and part of the same site is R.H. Donaghey's Associations Among Plants, Birds and Insects.

26 December 2007

Read and give: "All the Way Home: Stories from an African Wildlife Sanctuary"

Beautiful, deep, tragic, funny, and tremendously brave and inspiring,
All the Way Home: Stories from an African Wildlife Sanctuary by Bookey Peek
gets my
Audaciousnessness of Courage Award,
for 2007

(STATUTORY DECLARATION: I have not been bribed by a warthog to bestow this honour.)

23 December 2007

Pseason's psillinesses: Best chat-up lines, worst presents, and unwanted guests

Learn from the experts in romantic chat-up lines at New Scientist's Flirt With Science Competition

The laminated hankies with nursery rhymes are treasures, I would think, but not to the then teenager who now tosses them in the pile of the The Independent's Worst Christmas Presents You've Ever Had

The Publisher's Post (delightfully URL'd as www.dogearsetc.com) has so much to explore in every edition, but try Dec 1 for a thoroughly gleeful time. See mention of a magazine called Tinkle, read a throw-away line about the challenge of bringing out an anthology of Dalit poetry (has anyone noticed the droves of poetry anthologies in English bursting the shelves of bookstores?) and boggle at news of a (surprising) book that not only must win the world record for the longest title, but for the number of characters without a space. Definitely a stocking stuffer for that special someone who's already got a wand.

But are you perhaps preoccupied, groaning already about Uncle B_____, his perpetual drip and the habit he has of wiping his nose on his sleeve, or your furniture and towels? "These pests are the harbinger of disease-causing bacteria and virus, contaminating food and home," says a story that also gives insight into what children really think of their mother's cooking.
Web India 123's Keep unwanted guests out of your house this festive season

And now from me to you, greetings at this time of year when down here, relatives of our species drop in constantly, but since they don't show boring photographs of their travels and don't talk about their latest writings planned to write, they're worth a glance in their direction, and you know – they really make the season beautiful.

Phestive Ply Pheasting

22 December 2007

See Aqueduct's series: The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2007

L. Timmel Duchamp's invitation in the Aqueduct Press blog has inspired responses as different as chalk and knees.

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2007

Today the series is up to Part 7, so I'm posting the links so far here:

Part 1: Nicola Griffith and Cat Rambo

Part 2: Eleanor Arnason, Carolyn Ives Gilman, and Rebecca Ore

Part 3: Cheryl Morgan and Cynthia Ward

Part 4: Lesley Hall, Kristin Livdahl, and Wendy Walker

Part 5: Oyceter and Nancy Jane Moore

Part 6: Anna Tambour and Susanna J. Sturgis

Part 7: Kelley Eskridge and Therese Littleton

Nasr-ed-Din Khoja for Arms-Control Advisor

There's a lot of reconstructing going on, of former experts, advisors and policy-makers like Paul Wolfowitz ( "he needed somewhere to rebuild his career" - Reporton Business) – so that they can do such good again.

So this is a perfect time to promote that wise-man of wise-men: Nasr-ed Din Khoja.

Nasr-ed Din Khoja's advice

20 December 2007

Life in an un-lawn, part 2

Cicada wings under and over growth.

Fruitcake surprises and other surprising recipes

In New York, many women who bake (Caribbean) black cake are also churchgoers who avoid alcohol; some make an exception for black cake and use rum, but others use lower-alcohol Manischewitz Concord grape wine. Some said they now prefer the way it works with the fruits.

“The Passover wine is the best,” Ms. Barnes said. “I like it so much I send it to my mother in Jamaica for her cake.”

– Julia Moskin, A Fruitcake Soaked in Tropical Sun, (with Black Cake Recipe), the New York Times, Dec 19, 2007

Substitutions! It's a fine cook who thinks past tradition. Here's a recipe that's a good combination of ingredients that you'll need to find substitutions for and that you'll want to find substitutions for, including the recipe itself. Listed on a menu, it's sure to provide much Holiday Surprise.


Put a cut-up chicken into a stewpan with a quart of water, a cabbage-lettuce, a small bunch of balm and burrage, a small handful of chervil, three ounces of prepared Iceland moss, half an ounce of picked gum-arabic, and a little salt ; stir over the fire until it boils, and then remove it to the side to continue gently boiling for an hour. It must then be strained into a basin for use.
This broth, when cold, becomes gelatinized ; it may be given warm, or eaten as a jelly.

The balm, burrage, and chervil are sweet herbs, and may be obtained at Covent Garden, or in any gentleman's garden. The prepared moss is to be had only at Savory and Moore's Bond Street. Note. — The use of this pectoral is efficacious in pulmonary diseases.
Francatelli's Cook's Guide, 1869

But perhaps you prefer something more modern, Inquire Within Upon Everything's 1920s-ish


Take three pounds of knuckle of veal, one cow-heel, a large onion stuck with cloves, some sweet herbs, two blades of mace, six peppercorns, eighteen forcemeat balls, a little lemon juice, and a small glass of sherry (ed. note — enter the Manischewitz?). Put everything, except the forcemeat balls and the lemon juice, into an earthen jar and stew for six hours ; when cold skim off the fat and strain the liquor. Add the forcemeat balls and lemon juice, cut up the meat into small squares and warm up the soup.

Or perhaps you prefer something more modern yet, and are willing to take a chance.


Dried apricots
Dried pitted prunes
Sultanas or raisins
Almonds or other nuts (optional)

Take an equal amount of all three dried fruits, such as a handful of each, to one lemon. Slice lemon into very thin slices, removing seeds. Strew lemon slices in bottom of casserole dish or big glass jar. Cover with dried fruits. Cover with water, and then some. Leave for three days at least, making sure that the liquid covers the fruit completely. The longer you leave it, the more syrupy and rich the liquid will be. Don't add any sugar or other sweeteners, regardless of what other recipes say about this classic compote. Don't cook it or fuss with it. Don't stew over it but let it be. Add almonds (or pistachios or pine nuts, or no nuts at all, if you don't want them) at the beginning or at the end, depending upon your taste. If soaked from the beginning, nuts become turgidly delicious. If added at the end, they add texture and more taste contrast, so one rule might be that if they're soaked from the beginning, then serve this with a crunchy shortbread. Serve whichever way, with real yoghurt on the side.

This is comfort food that is beautiful and fragrant, and it's for any time of the year– at room temperature, hot, or cold. The combination of dried fruits is entirely up to you. Chinese dates and and figs are perfect in this. A small amount of currants is good, but they can overwhelm, so it must be only a small amount. Add no candied fruits, and no fruits that are really candied but don't admit it (such as "sweetened" cranberries). The lusciousness of this stew comes from what leaches out of the natural sugars in the dried fruits, contrasted with what's not naturally sweet.

The only absolute is the lemon, and there, the amount, just as the amount of water you add is up to you. The liquor of this is addictive, and its strength is entirely up to your taste and patience.

For people who love lemon (and all the best people do), the lemon slices are the best part.

And finally, here is my recipe for a truly


Pitted dates

Put the dates in a pie dish. Pour the cream over the dates to cover. The cream can be as rich as you like (it's your funeral, or better yet, your guests'!) but the dates must be covered by the cream. Wrap the dish well and put in the fridge for twenty-four hours at least, so that the dates soak up the cream. Depending upon the cream and dates, you might need to add more cream after twelve hours.

Serve with plain unsweetened Scottish oat biscuits or on hot oatmeal as puds. Or in small amounts (this is very rich) in little fancy-wancy chocolate pots or egg cups (or, if you're like me, an assortment of: shot glass, medicine measure, eyewash glass, with the guest of honour getting the eyewash glass) and small spoons, wooden paddles, or what-have-you's to scoop it up.

The Ugly Delicious Sweet is great with stinky cheese.

Or surround a little mound of it with peeled slices of orange that you serve with nothing sprinkled on them, or with a scattering of crushed pistachios. The contrasts are delicious to the tongue and the eye.

19 December 2007

16 December 2007

Christmas depression: Look down and see the stars

It's that time of year again. Fresh in my mailbox this rainy grey morning:
. . . I fret over so many things, just one thing after another. I am scared of losing touch with my emotions, with my ability to feel the emotional effects of the experience of living. I fear the possibility that this is what's happening now. But surely these are only fears which are projected on the imagination only and which have no basis in the reality of how I actually feel. I know that these are typical symptoms of anxiety but I just want them to stop so that I can live without the mental blur of fear. I try and rouse myself into being the way I have been before, a person driven by passions with the utter conviction of abiding by them, like a machine equipped with a capacity for feeling. But it is hard to sustain the will to make this happen as a constant state . . .
"There's nothing like the festive season" says the BBC's Depression at Christmas site. There's do-gooders' advice here aplenty, including this delight:
Invite those who seem isolated to join in social events and keep inviting them even if they refuse, which they may well do - people with depression often don't feel like socialising, or feel their contribution won't be of value.
If there's one thing that's bound to take the stress out of the season for a depressed person (DP), it's that insistent invitation to come and have fun with a bunch of other people who are sure to keep asking how you're feeling while you're supposed to be having fun, so you have to pretend to have fun or feel guilty for not looking happy. There are probably many studies showing how drunken (or sober - which is worse?) parties with lots of relatives or work associates stopped a DP from doing that illegal deed of which we cannot speak. Speaking for myself, even when I'm not depressed, this type of invitation will cause me to be diagnosable. I'm sure that much better therapy for a DP, upon the third cheery insistence to come to some 'social event', would be to give the insister a nose like the famous reindeer.

Or, as the site says, take legal drugs. The BBC helpfully gives the link to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Psychiatrists!

There's other advice here, too, and while some of it can be very helpful, even the dubious linking of depressed people with each other, the main benefit of the site is the information that many people feel like crud stuck to the sole of a shoe now. It's natural, and pretty normal.

I wrote back to my friend with everything helpful that I could think of, and was just ending the letter when I thought to try to find an article that would be really helpful (by someone more professional than myself), and though the following is unsigned, it is better than I could ever have imagined, for in the punchline, it provided the best remedy of all.

From Carlsbad, New Mexico's Current Argus:

Christmas depression during the season to be jolly' can be difficult

"Tis the season to be jolly!" At least, that is what we are supposed to believe. For some people, however, Christmas is anything but merry. It is amazing how a time of such joy and blessing is so painfully difficult for so many people.

Spiritually, the time before Christmas is a time of preparation and anticipation. We are preparing for the glorious celebration of the birth and anticipating that triumphant day when Christ returns in full glory. Yet, it can also be a time of heightened stress, anxiety and pressure as we get ready for the secular side of Christmas.

One of the things we can do to make this a blessed Holiday Season is to be realistic with ourselves during this time of the year. When it really comes down to it, there is a lot of negative pressure associated with the season and dealing with it in a healthy manner can make the difference between Christmas joy and Christmas depression.

One of the big ones is expectations. At Christmas, we place a lot of incredibly burdensomeexpectations on ourselves and others. We want to purchase just the right gift. We want to attend and host so many social functions. We want to travel the miles to visit family. We want to be the perfect host when family comes to us. We want this Christmas to be perfect. We want to look right in that Christmas outfit. We want The list is endless. Yet the message remains the same. At Christmas we frequently want things that are not realistic. Failure to achieve those goals results in disgorgement, and potentially debilitating depression.

Wants and desires are also reflected in our purchasing patterns. We live in a culture that frequently equates love with giving. The mass-marketed message of the season is that the more you spend on a person the more that person is loved. Therefore, guilted into accepting this lie, people are prone to spend beyond their means so that special person will know they are loved. The anxiety and tension the resulting financial strain places on us is incredible.

We can also stress our bodies in terms of what we eat and drink. Diets tend to go out the window this time of the year (at least until New Year's and then guilt takes over and we resolve to but that's a different article). Increased consumption of food, candy, holiday treats and alcohol during the season can have disastrous affects on the immune system, body image, digestion and one's ability to handle stress.

Compounding all these issues is the fact that when one feels even the slightest bit stressed, depressed or discouraged this time of the year, there is a whole host of competing forces that scream out the message, "There is something wrong with you!" Unfortunately, it is not only the proverbial "straw that breaks the camel's back" but it is also a lie. It is normal to feel down at times and, considering the immense social, economic and emotional pressures the secular observances of Christmas entails such feelings may be normal.

There is no simple fix to these problems, but there are ways to help yourself and others. One of the best is to take a page from scripture to heart. Luke 10:38-42 compares two women — Mary and Martha.

Martha was stressed because she allowed herself to become distracted by too many little things. This Christmas, let us all be a bit more like Mary and focus our energy on Jesus. It is the first step toward avoiding the holiday blues!

I had to wipe my eyes after that. But apart from laughter, there is something else Dr Anna would prescribe. I call it:

Look down and see the stars

I have this game I play, from a day when I was in a really bad mood and happened to see while looking down and mumbling, an earth star. This one was lurid pink, and so unearthly in both looks and feel that it took me out of myself and into the wonders of what everything around us is, regardless of whether our species lives or dies, and certainly regardless of the state of this particular bag of cells writing to you now.

Since then, I've played this game at critical times, and it has never failed me. You don't have to look down. You can just reach out, and examine, and it doesn't have to be with your hands but any part of your body or senses. One day, it was another earth star that I happened to touch. Or you can look on a tree's trunk, and if you look closer,
there's always something that has a life that you can never know about, but you could spend the rest of your life studying, like Asher E. Treat did, with moth ear mites.

And it doesn't need to be a physical looking down or close, or touching something intimately. This rainy grey day is punctuated by birdsong. The light brings out natural colours better than any sunny day, and the very earth smells divine.

It's summer here now, a time of fruitfulness in the South – but for those in the North, the various smells and feels and looks of cold weather (including the clouds coming from mouths) are so romantic. So are the sounds of air when there are no songs or music. It doesn't need to be filled with something added any more than a life needs to be filled with social engagements to be happy in its own way. So it doesn't matter where you are. Whenever you bother to look down, you will see stars as soon as you stop looking at your own reflection.

Even if you look at a dirty window.

Another reason to be far from godliness.

So best wishes from me to you, you sorry sad-faced creeps. I felt the same as you a couple of hours ago, but it's a wonder what a little superiority will do!

14 December 2007

It's the season for cicadas!

Australia has the best cicada names, says "Dan", who runs the perfectly named Cicada Mania. He's right!

So here are two who are making the season beautiful, fattening, and musical here now.

and mine?
another view 0f me, or possibly you

Many cicadas become food for other insects, animals, and birds who often turn up their beaks at cicada wings and heads.

Fallen cicadas, dead and dying, are banquets to ants, but ants don't reach all the dead before a person can pick them up. Here are some of this year's finds.

Cicadas with deformed or incomplete wings are surprisingly common.

See the Australian Museum's Cicada site for life stories of cicadas.

And yes, those things that look like glowing diodes or movie jewels with magic powers fade when a cicada dies, but they take longer than you might expect, and certainly longer than a fantasy robot's.

Learn how many eyes a cicada has, and how they work in Jim Conrad's Backyard Nature: Insect Design.

And who's the world-record holder for sound? Find out in ABC Science's The Summer of Singing Cicadas.

Many people on the east coast of Australia have grown up collecting the colourful cicadas known as Green Grocers, Yellow Mondays, Chocolate Soldiers, Blue Moons and Masked Devils. But how many people realise that these are all different colour forms of the same species, Cyclochila australasiae?
Max Moulds, Australian Cicadas, New South Wales University Press, 1990

12 December 2007

Snakes and Ladders - A Neeti way to approach disasters

"Snakes and Ladders arming children against disasters" is such a fascinating article in India Together (motto: The news in proportion.) that I'm not going to quote anything from it.

But I will say that Neeti Solutions' Dr Parag Mankeekar is not only someone I admire very much, but a personal friend. His goals in life are so old-fashioned, though. Very 1990, he actually wants to "make the world a better place". And there's another word that describes him. I can hardly remember it, the word's so archaic, but I think its spelling is m-o-d-e-s-t.

This is from a letter he wrote to me a couple of years ago (quoted with his permission):
I always used to get angry over my father's inability to cater to my childhood demands, but when I look back, I start respecting him more and more.

Now he is almost 79, and every time I achieve something, he looks at me with great pride. Sometimes I wonder if he might be feeling a little sad as I know that he always had greater capacities than what I possess as a person and he could not utilise them because of the situation around. The things which I could never dream as a child are happening all around.

07 December 2007

Art postcard to Violet

If you didn't get any of those "original" art postcards sold to help fund a certain marketing, er, Art school, you might enjoy (free!) this charming card below, from a book of wonders called Priceless Pictures from the remarkable NSW Government Printing Office Collection 1870-1950, published by Stateprint, (Sydney), New South Wales (Australia), 1988.

The words say
Top left: "How to tell the animals from wild flowers."
Bottom left: A DANDY LION.
Top right: 12 - 10 - 03
Mid right: "Down in a green and shady street, A Modest Violet lived."
Bottom right: I've forgotten the rest.

This postcard, like the ones sold in that fundraiser, isn't doing what postcards were originally meant to do – communicate something in words to the addressee, with a little something extra in the way of a picture thrown in.

The fundraiser postcards, certified and classified, aren't communication. They're Art. Miniatures for collectors, and way too valuable to be sent to someone else.

This subversive postcard, on the other hand, is way too delightful to have been solely a joy to the addressee. One can only imagine the numbers of hands this passed through on its way to lucky Violet.

As for its artist, although it is unsigned, that IS its signature, the invisible stamp of the immortal: Anonymous

And that leads to another irresistible from the Priceless Pictures collection:

This is also by Anonymous. Yes, I know the style is different, but Anonymous is as versatile as a conman.

06 December 2007

VanderMeer takes "Logorrhea" to another dimension

In Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories (which I recommend to the selfish and generous alike) edited by John Klima, every story BUT ONE involves its own particular word.

Jeff VanderMeer's more-than-a-story "Appoggiatura" uses the words of all of the other stories, each word having its own mini-chapter. And now "Appoggiatura" has leapt from the page to another dimension.

Please your ears
Jeff * has made a podcast of each part of his multi-part story, and it's not just a reading.

Listen to podcast #13, titled "Pococurante", which is also the title of my own story in the anthology. (John Klima has asked us authors to say something about the words we chose. If my word had been porwiggle, there might be a need to fully develop something. If proficious, I could even see the usefulness of a story by me about my story. But saying anything about pococurante is, don't you think, a say too much?)

Here is an excerpt from Jeff VanderMeer's "Appoggiatura", which just happens to be Part 13:

From the Book of Smaragdine, 212th Edition:

A careless person has no cure, unlike a careless thought or animal. Calling a careless person a pococurante or other fancy name will not, by the precision of the term, suddenly make the careless careful. Once, a careless farmer living outside of Smaragdine lost his own name and had to take the name of his ox, Baff, much to the delight of the villagers (one of whom found the farmers name and used it as his own). A woman once lost her vagina and by the time she found it she had twelve children. Losing ones shadow is perhaps the most common affliction of the careless, which explains why, on a hot afternoon day, you will find so many little dribbles of shadow in every lonesome crack and crevice. A lost shadow has no wish to be found, because, inevitably, it will just be lost again.

But the truly carelessthe person who has descended into a place that not many can understandwill lose much more than that. These truly cursed people can lose even a love so strong that it radiates like heat. The kind of love that creates laughter around even the simplest act. When enough love is lost to this kind of indifference or carelessness, wars beginsometimes in lands far distant from the occurrence, but always these wars come home. Such effects are magnified depending on the status of the individual. Thus, when statesmen, when queens, when caliphs, become careless, they lose whole armies and people die on vast scales in foreign lands. The innocent taste sand in their mouths, not the green spring air of their native country. Their bones line the roads of places so far away and exotic that not even the wind through their skulls can say the names. A careless commoner often loses hate as well, even though such hate will replace itself indefinitely and the person therefore never realizes their own carelessness. But for this reason, many careful kings and queens find the hate of others and use it as if it were their own.

Alas, a careless person has no cure, unlike a careless thought or animal. It is just the way of the world.

Read what John Klima has to say in "Logorrhea as told by Appoggiatura", and see the links to all the podcasts for "Appoggiatura".

The VanderMeer "Appoggiatura" podcasts were produced and recorded by Jason Erik Lundberg.

Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories

Hal Duncan - “The Chiaroscurist
Liz Williams - “Lyceum”
David Prill - “Vivisepulture”
Clare Dudman - “Eczema”
Alex Irvine - “Semaphore”
Marly Youmans - “The Smaragdine Knot”
Michael Moorcock - “A Portrait in Ivory”
Daniel Abraham - “The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics”
Michelle Richmond - “Logorrhea”
Anna Tambour - “Pococurante”
Tim Pratt - “From Around Here”
Elizabeth Hand - “Vignette”
Alan DeNiro - “Plight of the Sycophant”
Matthew Cheney - “The Last Elegy”
Jay Caselberg - “Eudaemonic”
Paolo Bacigalupi - “Softer”
Jay Lake - “Crossing the Seven”
Leslie What - “Tsuris”
Neil Williamson - “The Euonymist
Theodora Goss - “Singing of Mount Abora”
Jeff VanderMeer - “Appoggiatura”

02 December 2007

Flowering now in southern New South Wales

Milkmaids in the coral fern:

Milkmaids (Burcharia umbellata) are lilies that live in heath and open forest. Coral ferns are widespread wherever there is enough constant moisture. This is the Pouched Coral Fern (Gleichenia dicarpa).

A current scene in southern New South Wales coastal heath, this mixture of textures and shapes is so much like scenes in the sea itself.

Those reaching stalks are from a shrub, a variety of Allocasuarina of which there are many species in Australia's south. Commonly called she-oaks, Casuarina can be tall trees that bear no resemblance to oaks, but can fool a Northern Hemispherian as pines, though they have no smell.

This is a Flannel Flower (Actinotus) of which there are 18 known species in Australia. The petals of these flannel flowers feel finer than the finest flannel. The velvety leaves of this species remind me powerfully of a sponge that often washes up on beaches here. I don't know the name of the sponge but when it's fresh, it's green and floppy and alive and moist as a nightmare dead man's hand.

01 December 2007

My favourite haiku spot

Sometimes it seems that if all the words of the moment were weighed, the sense in them wouldn't be enough to cover a butterfly's spit, but the anger in them could drown the world.

That's the time (this is the time) to go find some haiku, and to think in haiku ways.

In a very few words, a world
Haiku is a deceptively light observation, just as a drink of water is deceptively light refreshment.

My favourite place for haiku is
The Heron's Nest.

30 November 2007

Type in "useless expensive presents" and save on that carbon guilt trip

Have yourself some fun this merry buying season, and have it awfully cheap. Type, for instance, "useless expensive presents" into the Great Google, and be struck with awe at its wisdom. Top at the moment, are these two ads (from which I've removed the hypertext):
Golf Gifts 4 Fathers Day
www.in2golf.com.au Great Gifts, Optional Wrapping Fast Delivery For Australian OrdersGolf Ball Gift
www.Golfsmith.com/Gifts Golf Gifts that Impress for Less. Huge Selection at Low Prices!

But there are presents for other serious hobbyists on column right, such as the:
shirt with bottle opener rubber opener sewn into t-shirt Easily open twist top bottles www.tanked.com.au.
Or go straight to a feature article in this month's issue of Australia's (usually useful) CHOICE Computer Magazine: "Christmas gadgets: Geeky gadgets to stuff in your stockings"

If you know anyone who fits their definition of geek, and who's got desk space and a USB with nothing plugged into it: "Deck the halls with USB gadgets" with these "geeky tech tools."

The first four items ("Price paid ... from Mr Gadget" – $23, 16, 15, 19):
  • Christmas tree that has a "long USB cord" and "Christmas feel!" as "The Good", but is "not very bright under normal indoor lighting".
  • Snowman also boasts a long cord. Also "not very bright . . ." but "add it to your USB Christmas tree for a little more colour and holiday charm." See to believe.
  • Car Charger Adapter. "Use this nifty car charger adapter to power your USB Christmas tree or USB Snowman while you drive."
  • LED Ice Rocket: "Not very . . ." But "Much like the USB Snowman but not as seasonal. Has more style though."
Mr Gadget says, "Yes, these USB Christmas trees were featured on Channel Nine's Today show! Everyone's talking about these!"

Or for the same tackiness but in a whole different class, look wherever upmarket goods are sold. At the dentist yesterday, I pawed through a new Australian venture, Elevator, "for people who've grown up", an aspirational glossy as opposed to that magazine for the actual going ups, Elevator World.

From the ads to the promos, the themes in Elevator are as seamless as upmarket periodicals always are. The newest Prada handbag doesn't come in the same green tone as the tree, but is raved over in an article – and stylewise, is not only remarkably similar as the tree, but would look just as much in place at the local $2 shop.

Is this all a message from Scrooge?
Hell, no. I know that the best things in life are free, if you can afford them.

I'm all for spending money and having fun (remembering that there's no cause and effect about this), but on something like a magnifying glass or electron microscope, books to read more than once, mental fishing tackle, access to a place where you can breathe clean air – all stuff that's not half-a-warranty-period from the tip, or a reason to use electricity and dig up resources and fill up spare valleys with garbage and fulfil the definition of 'consumer' as Consume, because it's for sale.

And I'm certainly not saying, "Go out and lash your back with feel-good, topical post-consuming guilt. Scratch deeply into every Hummer you can find. Eat only raw vegetables that you grow." or (horrors!) "Buy carbon credits." Especially, don't buy carbon credits! Better to spend your last credit-limited virtual cent or zillions on chocolate to bathe in than buying carbon credits, those virtue-stinking falsies.

Instead, visit the Corner House for a treat as refreshing as cold herring – which I know isn't to everyone's taste, but that just shows who really has good taste!

The Carbon Neutral Myth: Offset Indulgences for your Climate Sins, by Kevin Smith, Carbon Trade Watch

Note: I confess, only to you, that I am a sinner along with the worst of 'em. I lust in my heart for these gloriously offensive firecrackers. But no. That's wrong. What I really want is to walk on the street where they live. To be in the thick of them being bought, then being set off – to live the moment in all its multi-polluted fun. And to fly there, not in Qantas' Oppressed Class, but First all the way. And why not? There's an international boom in luxury travel.

A hoot of a cover for The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy

Editor Ellen Datlow has just revealed the cover, and it's dangerous!

I've already tripped over my mind, mulling what could come pouring out of either end, and hoping it does. But it's what's between the covers that counts, and it's quite a lineup.

Table of Contents:

  1. "The Elephant Ironclads" by Jason Stoddard
  2. "Ardent Clouds" by Lucy Sussex
  3. "Gather" by Christopher Rowe
  4. "Sonny Liston Takes the Fall" by Elizabeth Bear
  5. "North American Lake Monsters" by Nathan Ballingrud
  6. "All Washed Up While Looking for a Better World" by Carol Emshwiller
  7. "Special Economics" by Maureen McHugh
  8. "Aka Saint Marks Place" by Richard Bowes
  9. "The Goosle" by Margo Lanagan
  10. "Shira" by Lavie Tidhar
  11. "The Passion of Azazel" by Barry N. Malzberg
  12. "The Lagerstätte" by Laird Barron
  13. "Gladiolus Exposed" by Anna Tambour
  14. "Daltharee" by Jeffrey Ford
  15. "Jimmy" by Pat Cadigan
  16. "Prisoners of the Action" by Paul McAuley and Kim Newman
When can you get it?

Set your alarm for April 2008.

Spore, spoor, scat

There are over 250,ooo species of fungi in Australia so I'm not going to guess which this is, but I'll hazard that the scat is an Eastern Grey Kangaroo's.

15 hours later:

and two days after that, the spore-maker and its spoor:
This happened because I couldn't bring myself to throw something out, so there's no design to the print.
You can, however, make your fungus dance to your tune.
See Heino Lepp's Spore Prints in the voluminous Fungi Web Site sponsored by the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

By the way, fungi gardens are an uncelebrated joy. I recommend cup fungi on dung. I've kept one on donkey dung going for over twelve years on my kitchen windowsill. Cup fungi on cattle dung is just as good and long-lasting, and as it's more varietal as to shape, if you don't want to water it, the dung with its fungi makes marvelous sculpture. You only need to water it to make more cup fungi sprout. These are, sadly, scentless gardens.

As to the hard yakka of establishing these gardens, there isn't any. After a bit of rain, you only need to look wherever donkeys and cattle roam, and ye will find cup fungi sprouting from their dung (as well as the earth itself). Looking at dung is always rewarding, anyway. And if you're lucky enough to get there while dung beetles are perforating a pat of cattle dung, put your ear down close, and you'll hear the sound of rice crispies in milk.

26 November 2007

Medlars, yum! Medlar comfits and more

Fear of sharing a recipe with you
For ages, I've wanted to tell you recipes, but have always been too shy. What if you hate them? After all, we don't all have the same taste, and the first principle I would teach, for any cook, is to tear off labels on spices and herbs, thereby freeing the cook to smell and taste without prejudice.

Yet, now that medlars are bletting this very moment in the northern hemisphere, perfuming the air with their luscious rottenness, duty to them calls.

If you want to make your medlars into something historic, you can't go better than to hurry off to Ivan Day's splendid Historic Food site, where you will find Theodore Garrett's Medlar Cheese recipe and see it made into gorgeous animal shapes using Victorian-style moulds.

I have previously urged you not to cook your medlars because they have too much character and are far more rewarding sucked than smooshed. And I also told you about their character and urged you not to add adulterants because a bletted medlar is hardly insipid.

I mean, if you were a vampire and you had a crack at the neck of a virgin or a roué, which would be the richer experience for you, and better for your health? Fresh, as we're told so it must be true, is best!

So I am a medlar purist, which is why it is time to tell you HOW NOT TO BE CONFINED TO MEDLAR PURISTISM.

My recipe for Medlar Comfits

Bletted medlars (when you pinch them, their insides ooze out)
Black Pepper

Squish your medlars, as many as you have or have patience to squish.

(As for that stuff that's left after you smoosh your medlars: Pour boiling water over it, and leave to cool. Strain through a sieve and you have medlar nectar.)

Put the pulp in a pan with a like amount of honey. (By like amount, I mean that as roughly as the inaccuracy of using a cup for a measure instead of a scale.) In the case of this batch pictured, the pulp of ten medlars made a metric 1/2 cup. I used a metric 1/2 cup of honey.

To that, put what seems like a ridiculous amount of spice. In this case, I used 1/2 teaspoon each of coriander, cardamom, and ginger, and three freshly smashed peppercorns. To this, add your butter (I used a walnut-sized blob).

Cook over medium heat, stirring all the while with a wooden spoon. It should seethe nicely in no time, and thicken faster than it should, considering anything exotic should take several hours and need specialised equipment imported from Youxsiytihia. Consider it done when it parts to your spoon like the Red Sea to the Israelites, falling back before you can say a two-syllable word. It will be satiny and pourable but not runny. Cooking this batch took 15 minutes.

Pour into an oiled tray or dish to a depth that is as thick as you have patience for, because it needs to dry. Put aside till it sets firm enough to do what you will with it, which in this case, was two days later, when it was rubbery enough to come away in one piece when lifted with a knife, but still pliable enough to be rolled up without cracking.

Now wreak your will upon it.

To make these medlar comfits:
Cut into strips and roll up, put them on waxed paper in a cardboard box. Leave for several weeks at least, not only for the consistency to be firmer and chewier, but for the spices and honey to properly mellow.

These comfits are spectacularly good eaten with an accompaniment of walnuts. Serve also with cheese, wine, and with coffee instead of chocolate.

Cure whole on waxed paper and use uncut, topping a plain New York cheesecake. Make the crust of the cheesecake, not with anything spiced, but adding crushed walnuts to the mix.

The secret of this recipe is that it is so simple and unfussy. It is a liberator, if you are someone like Julian Barnes, whose Pedant in the Kitchen tells how recipes intimidate. Faugh on that! Food is to enjoy, and making food should be joyful. When your medlar comfits sludge is furiosing in the pan, you should be smiling at the colour, smell, anticipation of licking the pot soon; and eventually, in good time, enjoying the comfits themselves with human friends, the companionship of a good book, or whatever moves you, without tasting any liverish worry of did I do it right?

It doesn't really matter how much honey you use, because you will cook the mixture to your taste, and cure the comfits to your temperament. If you use no spice, then that's fine, too. Or add to those spices 1/4 teaspoon of cloves (I did, and loved the spicy result), or substitute 1/4 teaspoon of dry powdered mustard for the pepper. Or leave out spices and instead, sprinkle the top with chopped pistachios just after you pour it out, and when dry enough cut into diamonds. Use your imagination. Just don't substitute honey with corn syrup, or every medlar that ever lived will haunt your dreams till you are so well bletted that you can't hold your bones.

You might also enjoy these posts about medlars in Medlar Comfits:

Medlars: Their innies and outies
Medlars in spring, and their companions
The first Onuspedia entry: 'Skwandro'

And I'm ashamed to say that Ellen Datlow took much better portraits of medlars I know and who grew up with me, than I have. Here they are:

Medlars presented for our medieval feast