29 June 2007

The joys of bad housekeeping: The slattern and the lantern fly

Will a 'self-cleaning' oven save you mindless hours spent scrubbing, scourer in hand and cleaning fumes up your nose? asked the April issue of Australia's Choice Magazine.

Why pay more for a needless labour-saving device?
The consumer organization that publishes Choice performs a needed service, advocating for consumers on many important issues such as healthy-food labelling as opposed to healthy food, but on this question, I must ask you

about those mindless hours:
Do you spend them cleaning your oven? If so, then may I suggest that you don't need a self-cleaning oven, but counselling?

Or better yet, spend your first freed hours reading Florence King's Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady, one of my all-time favourite books.
Beating Beeton in every way, including originality, this joyous bible for bad housekeeping and attitude has been a tower of temporary props that has served me perfectly well ever since I first read it, to hold up my views on the relativity of impeccable properness.

Burning sterilises
And the inside of an oven is too dark to see, and you're not eating the walls and floor of it anyway, are you? But what do you look like and smell like after a session spent with your head and arms in an oven's maw?

Worth above rubies
Cleaning an oven is only the most egregious of badly used mindless hours, but what joys can be found if you reach the level of the Proper Slattern!

Night view of a properly cared for window casing:

The next day, after a proper cleaning:

Lantern fly - Eurinopsyche arborea (I think), Fulgoridae

26 June 2007

Portraits of muck in a rainbarrel's lid: The Invertebrates of Illawarra

It's been so wet, finally, that the lid of a water barrel has filled with rain and the inevitable muck.

It's been windy, too, so the water was moving in a slow swirl, and some of the muck was fidgeting.

The group floated away. Did Dutch burghers give as much trouble?

All of the above portraits are free of artifice, but in the one below, I commanded the darkness and the light.

24 June 2007

Medicating the food supply so some can get a partial dose

"Eat 11 slices a day to get the necessary amount."
Mandatory fortification would deliver pregnant women half the dose of folic acid needed to avoid the neural tube defects, which affect 350 newborns a year.
- Bakers may be forced to add folate, Sydney Morning Herald
How does the decision to make folic acid mandatory in bread so that some pregnant women can get the benefit of a partial recommended dose (excluding the rest of the population, especially children and the aged, from concerning themselves with the adverse effects of folic acid intake) add up to "a triumph for humanity and common sense " ?
Mark Lawrence, an expert on folate fortification, believes a proposal by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to add folic acid to all bread-making flour, is premature and constitutes a "population-wide experiment".

Dr Lawrence, a senior lecturer in the School of Exercise and Nutrition Science at Deakin University, said it was well documented that folic acid supplementation reduced the rate of birth defects such as spina bifida. But the level of fortification proposed by the food regulator (approximately 200 micrograms of folic acid per 100 grams of flour) would reduce neural tube defects by an average of only 8 per cent - or 26 conceptions - a year.

Meanwhile, an entire population, not just women of child-bearing age who were the target of the proposal, could be exposed to potential health risks, he said.

- Health Risk Fears as fortified flour faces acid test, Sydney Morning Herald
The "common sense" is revealed later in the article:
However, the regulator's chief scientist, Marion Healy, said the benefits of adding folic acid to bread far outweighed any potential risks . . . Nevertheless, the food regulator had taken a cautious approach and proposed a very low level of fortification, she said. Women planning a pregnancy would still need to take a folic acid supplement.
What if you want to make your own bread?
Britain's Food Standards Agency board on Thursday gave the go-ahead for plans to add folic acid to foods . . . The FSA, a government body designed to protect the public's health and consumer interests in relation to food, voted to back mandatory flour fortification last month.At its board meeting on Thursday, the FSA said the voluntary addition of folic acid to products such as breakfast cereals and spreads should be controlled to prevent over-consumption.
- UK's FSA backs folic acid in flour, curbs on food, Reuters, June 14, 2007
Following a trend
Lessons from other countries
In recent years the US, Canada, Chile and the Czech Republic have all introduced mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid to ensure that all pregnant women are receiving adequate amounts of the nutrient. Despite the fact that the amount of folic acid added into the food supply does not provide enough to fully protect unborn children, recent reports from Canada and the USA indicate fortification of cereal grains has been very effective, with reduction in neural tube defects of between 27% and 50% (SACN 2005). Rates of cardiovascular disease also appears to have fallen. Unfortunately, there are as yet no data from these countries on population trends in the incidence of B12 deficiency or any related neurological damage that can help to clarify the risks involved.
- Folic Acid: Time to fortify?
EuroFIR (European Food Information Resource Network)
And what are the implications for bread and flour makers, if they wish to advertise?

On so many grounds (balanced diet, obesity epidemicising, health risk to the a much larger population than that targetted, and substance abuse), I can't see how they can get away with it, compared to the zealous banning due to false fears regulators have of anyone pushing "an egg a day". But then, what has regulation to do with science any more than common sense?

The Lancet asks: Fortified Europe?

23 June 2007

The Mindless Materialism T-shirt & the AWM

New! The Mindless Materialism T-shirt is the second in my new designer line of items that you can enjoy not having.

Did you miss the AWM?
Today, hundreds of thousands of children released yellow balloons that said: The death of millions is a statistic.

Just kidding on what the balloons said. If you missed the first item in my line: the stainless steel and hubrimium, waterproof at 300 metres, AllTogether World Maudlinometer , the world's first lachrymograph, a precision instrument engineered to work in all atmospheres, that's terrible. I'm really sorry.

The next model will be able to measure 150% higher levels than the AWM-M1. At present, I can't even send you a free balloon in consolation, as all the balloons have been bought up, despite best efforts. But don't despair.

Soon, you too can enjoy not having have your very own AWM-M2, Supplies have been banned in the UK for possibly resembling an egg.

Can an offended doorjamb ever be placated? Read "So Sorry"

Funny and so very true: So sorry on Binky's delightful blog about She who she calls The Boss,
24/7 A Mother's Work is Never Done

Reminds me of when I was a judo student. On the rare occasions I successfully threw someone, I always blew the moment with the S- word.

21 June 2007

Eoin O'Dell's smorgasbord of critic issues

For those who aren't sated yet (and who could be, whose sense of taste has ever been assaulted by something of purported quality?) Unpalatable - defamatory restaurant reviews is the article to read.

So hyperlinked that it should carry an overindulgence warning (NOT TO BE TAKEN IN ONE DOSE) it is the work of Eoin O’Dell in Cearta.ie: the Irish for rights, a blog that champions so much that I believe in that one of these days, I'll have to question O'Dell's integrity.

What makes Unpalatable so delicious? In one encyclopaedic (and sure to be updated) entry, expertise and fancy mix. Dr O'Dell is a Fellow and Senior Lecturer at Trinity College's School of Law, yet he not only writes lucidly and in the fewest words, but:

I’ve always quite fancied the idea of being a food critic: I like food, and I can be critical (just like the guy in the cartoon on the left . . .); what's not to like? Well, a flurry of litigation in various jurisdictions over the last few months has made me reconsider.

The cartoon's hilarious, and linked to a Book That Needed to Be Written.

19 June 2007

Cocoon, by day and night

On a eucalypt now, in a sandstone forest in southern New South Wales.

The texture and cut of the fibres might make anyone who's made a fibreglass kayak itch with remembered irritation. The spider is dead.

17 June 2007

Restaurants & critics & peppermills & bling

If you don't already know about the case of the reviewed restaurant, The Guardian headline's take is typically journocentric: Critics up in arms as restaurant review judged defamatory.

Why just critics?
Of course the write-up was defamatory. If after two visits, he came to the same conclusion, he should hang up his fingers and his tongue if he doesn't do precisely what defame means: attack the good reputation (of in this case, another overpriced, and if the pattern persists, overpraised restaurant, over here, in the land where the typical restaurant goer acts like a lamb with its brains removed, and the reviewers, like touts).

Awarding the restaurant only nine points out of 20, he concluded that "more than half the dishes I've tried at Coco Roco are simply unpalatable", and that the food was overpriced.

(read the whole review here: "Coco Roco" by Matthew Evans)

Australia has come a long way from the time I had to host two elderly guests at a Sydney restaurant for a business lunch. It was supposed to be special for them, so we went to the place my boss picked out. The Grape Escape it was called (it was where he took his mistress, just around the corner from work). It was one of those French restaurants where the scallops are cut from shark fillets, but the waiters, authentically rude. The sliced French bread in its little basket came before the mains, and when my female guest, a nice, old-fashioned lady who was embarrassed about being given this free lunch, picked up a slice of bread, she disturbed a cockroach, and if you don't know Sydney cockroaches, they are nimble as roaches the world over, but the Sydney ones are the size of cruise ships. My male guest, a gentleman of the old school, crashed his hand down on the roach just before it leapt into the lady's lap. I picked up the basket and left briefly to have a quiet word with the waiter. He returned with another basket of bread, but there was not a lot of interest in it until the last minutes of the meal, when the man began to eat bread out of nervousness. As he reached for the second to last slice, he and I looked into the basket at the same time, and he quietly replaced the slice over what we saw: another cockroach, this one on its back, its legs folded over its breast. When it was time to pay, I told the waiter about this in a lowered voice so that the now green-tinged lady would not know. The waiter was incensed. "Whad'you complaining about?" he yelled. "It's dead, isn't it?"

That was not an expensive restaurant, but Coco Roco was. Restaurants are too often in Australia, reverenced. There's a kind of cultural cringe that Australians have toward eateries in general. This is a country where, for instance, if you think of having breakfast in the increasing number of places that serve breakfast and you order, say, a coffee and toast, you can easily wait 20 minutes for the coffee and another 15 for the toast. If you order from your table, add on another 10 minutes in many places, minimum. But again, I haven't approached the topic of expensive restaurants. Let's not dally any more! The only reason I haven't talked about this previously is because I've been stewing about it so much, that I was worried that if I ever did dish up my feelings, they'd come out acrid, when I really want to be constructive, just as that reviewer above was. Even if no one should feel sorry for anyone with the kind of money Coco Roco charged, he prevented many innocents from wasting their money on something that was good for theatre only, and if economic theory is true for critical theory, there must be a trickle-down effect.

On my last trip to Sydney, it was my turn to take out a friend I rarely get a chance to see. We always go to some place different, and since I'm out of touch with Sydney now, every place is chosen at her suggestion. On a previous trip, we had gone to Neil Perry's XO, and I must say that, though Perry gets slagged for being a brown-noser to the R & F, I had the best meal I've ever had at a restaurant with pretensions (though XO was slumming it for Perry compared to his high-end joints).

The service was as brisk, cheery and non-intrusive as at an American diner. And the food was – magic, that personal magic that very rarely occurs, but when it does, is unforgettable – an exact recreation of something wonderful and thought to be lost, remembered from childhood. In this case, the food in the very un-upmarket Railroad Hotel, Tainan, Taiwan. Not everything, but enough of it to flood my mouth with nostalgia. And what didn't do that was a pleasure in other ways. The sticky rice dessert was almost as perfect as the top dessert I've ever had in a restaurant, the incomparable ma'amoul* in the Lebanese House Restaurant in Russell Street, Melbourne. This little cake or big cookie was served warm and fragrant as it should be, and the cup of coffee with it was exactly right, down to (to my taste) the perfect amount of cardamom. And with both, the glass of cold water, not any of your bottled mineral waters, but a glass of cold water, unasked for. This ma'amoul was made in the restaurant, and would have been excellent cold, but the serving of it warm, the coffee with it and the water with them both makes a mockery of the most famed and expensive restaurants in the world. Service and quality can always beat them when someone cares, as at a place like the Lebanese H0use, you are more valued, and when someone cares in the kitchen, the ambience beats those swankeries, too. A great restaurant makes you feel relaxed.

Places like Lebanese House and XO are places where eating is fun, where you can take your truest friends. And desserts like the ma'amoul at the Lebanese House and the sticky rice at XO should be a lesson to all the execrably over-sweetened puds that are the majority of what Australia's desserts still are. The balances of flavours at XO were perfect in everything that came, and the green beans were the best vegetables that I have ever had in an upmarket restaurant. Sure, Neil was schmoozing, and sure he's an international star, and he's made so much money and exported himself so much that knives are sharpening at this very moment. Many would love to smear his liver on toast! But he ran XO right. It wasn't however, expensive. And it didn't have the upmarket schlockiness that Rockpool and his other, more theatrical ventures do, so it closed, and closed again.

By comparison, the ingredients are all in place for a Melbourne success story. Rockpool Bar & Grill is serving something for everybody willing to pay the price. It's in the casino, where customers already queue for over an hour to eat lobster mornay at Waterfront.

RIP a great little place – closed because it wasn't crassly pretentious enough?

Where giant peppermills still roam
But I promised that I would write about expensive restaurants, so here goes. On my last trip to Sydney, XO had already closed so we went to another place that my friend warned would be 'expensive'. That's okay, I said. I was staying at her place, and besides, who cuts corners with friends they almost never have a chance to see? When we drove up, I had a twinge of worry. It's on the waterfront, actually over the water. I don't know about you, but I have found that unless the place is a shack and the workers barefoot, a seafront eatery is something to take people to who are into sales - people of no intrinsic taste but lots of need to be seen.

I have one friend who adds to that list: anything that revolves, and double doors. He has suffered many dinners at places that bear these features, as he has had to meet sales types around the world and pay for their meals. He tells me that they always pick these places, tops.

Sydney harbour is beautiful, so I prepared to grin and bear it. Though my friend had booked an unfashionably early hour, we were seated in the middle of the room, not by the windows.

The hospitality professional who met us first had a Star Wars/Nazi uniform on similar to that worn in Sydney's Hilton. Nice smile, though. One review of this restaurant mentions in particular the nice smile.

We also like the fact that when you enter the restaurant, the first thing you are greeted with is a smile. The staff seem pleased to see you.

Why shouldn't they seem pleased? At the prices here, and the wages the staff get, why shouldn't they be any less than pleasant? Why, indeed, wouldn't you walk right out if you meet anything else? Smarmy though, is something else. Our second hospitality professional gave us our menus and my friend asked about the specials. They were explained in that way they are in all chichi places now, with a kind of reverence for the 'chef', and an ode to the more ingredients the better, but of course, with no mention of prices. My friend was interested in two fish specials, both featuring truffles, and this at a fish restaurant known for the freshness of its fish. "The catch is really frighteningly fresh . . . There's no better place to enjoy the fruits of our seas," says Gourmet Traveller. "I've never had truffles," my friend said. I'm not putting her down. I hadn't either, not that I wanted to there. Frighteningly fresh fish, really good fresh fish with character, needs truffles, in my opinion, like chocolate ice cream does chocolate sauce. You can't, however, have an impressive menu nor charge an arm and a leg for grilled fish with a twist of lime, and you certainly can't impress the kind of diner who needs to know, "I ate truffles."

A fool without gooseberries
We ordered every course without looking at the menu again, and in one of those stupid decisions that I make when I don't know how to get out of something I really don't want to do, I got one of the truffle specials so that she felt free to get the other. Otherwise, she wouldn't have ordered it as she was too shy, and I would have felt guilty if I'd shown my prejudices. I don't know about you, but I have always had a vision thing about truffles, and a pretty snobby one it is: only to be eaten for the first time in the same kitchen that I see the cook prepare them from the gloriously dirty globs themselves, and to be eaten in a simple omelette of eggs laid by chickens that I can see, scratching out the window. Somehow I've never gotten around to it, but eating truffles in Sydney on frighteningly fresh fish isn't what my virgin tongue wanted as its first truffle experience (and in my opinion, unless it be bland and characterless shark, is a waste of the taste of frighteningly fresh fish). However, I won't pan it, nor any of the food. I would be the first to condemn me for going into a place like this. We suited each other as well as a clove of garlic in a chocolate cake. And I admit to my own snobbery. As for the food, it was forgettable (not horrific like the crunchy lentils in another high-end waterfront eatery in Sydney that I got roped into on another insane occasion, and the ignorant way many restaurants still treat vegetables) but what I do condemn is:

1) The giant peppermill. $100 should have been dropped from the bill for that alone, and at least one star from the rating. For anyone with tables so expensively dressed to impress, and a menu so supposedly sophisticated, whaaaah? "Would you like pepper with that" is a question that no self-respecting H.P. should have to ask anyone, as it's so tempting to be rude back. And have you ever thought of the age of the peppercorns in a giant peppermill? Are these giants used because the owners think we'll steal a normal pepper mill, or that they would have to replenish the peppercorns more than once a century if they put, for instance, a little dish with a few on the table (just as restaurants do with salt now, that have too much pretension to put a salt shaker there but not as much yet as the restaurants that ban salt from the table altogether on the basis that the chef has prepared everything to perfection). On my next foray to Sydney I'm carrying my own fresh peppercorns (of my selection). One handwhack on the butterknife's flat blade, and, voila! A lovely mess of cracked peppercorns on that white tablecloth. But that's only for when they're needed, and how many times is that? **
(That reminds me. Aren't the best meals and the best times you've ever had always in places with no tablecloths, let alone white ones?)

2) The amuse-gueule, that little shotglass sized taster of corn soup. I admit that both my friend and I did the usual thing. Ooohed (though I couldn't tell the difference between the corn in the soup and the canned corn soup that I grew up with) because, you see, it's free! I condemn us. It's like people jumping up with glee when the car ad says, "Free air!"

2) The white gloves on the hospitality professional #3, apparently hired to do nothing more than hover around our table and smile at us. When she wasn't hovering she was asking "And how is everything?" At one point when my dinner companion left the table, H.P3 rushed over and folded her napkin into a mitre again and stood the napkin upright. Then she smiled at me, bowed, and left.

3) The bill was gulpingly high when it finally came, but I expected the bill to be high, so it would be wrong to whinge about that. But, we'd been watched for so long that it was remarkable that I had to go to the front counter to ask for the bill, after waiting almost a half hour past our last coffee. I paid the tip in the modern Australian way, regardless of the fact that restaurant staff get good wages and do not need to work for tips any more than a person in any other service job. The staff didn't do anything more than the minimum, except where they annoyed. In this case, I condemn me. Tipping used to be un-Australian. Now we're sophisticated and international, so we tip. Why? There is a sense of, I think, pride, that we have become so much a part of the international scene that we can forget: the pride in being paid a fair amount for a job, and not having to smarm to anyone, is one of the great achievements of Australia's working class.

Bling for food
Places like this are as common as people who fork out huge amounts of money for clothes that make them look cheap – and getting commoner. This quote says more about this type of restaurant and the people who push them, than any review called 'defamatory'.

Our only minor criticism was that the asparagus had been halved lengthwise which we think reduces the 'mouth-feel' and hence reduces the eating experience somewhat.

Fresh fish
I'm sure the fish was fresh as they say, but in a city like Sydney, there is no excuse for fish not to be flippingly fresh – especially in a fish restaurant. The time when fresh fish is something to be remarked upon is when it's served in a little place that is not a fish restaurant, has small custom and cheap prices. This is the case with the best fish meals I've ever eaten in Australia – at a little Italian restaurant on Parramatta Road, Lilyfield, right near the cinema. You might recognise the restaurant if it's still there, though it looks like a zillion others: brick façade with curved windows. Inside, bricks go halfway up the wall and wine bottles hang from fishing nets, and the wall above the bricks is aflutter with hundreds of tradesmen's business cards. I don't know if it's still there (I last ate there before the next-door suburb, Annandale, got culture).

Upstairs, it was rumoured that the owner ran a gambling house. It could have been true, because I never saw more than one table occupied. The food was nothing short of divine. Our mother in heaven, that woman (the owner's wife) should have been called. Her fried sardines with a salad of fennel that she probably picked by the railroad tracks was what I hope to have after I die. I think the menu listing was: Fried sardines. Sometimes she would come out from the kitchen, and we would smile at each other, in bliss. She deserved to be bowed to.

Where do you go for the real thing?
The court case that I started this diatribe with, and others, put the emphasis on what's said by professional critics in mainstream media, but the internet has made criticism a game anyone can play, and many do. I think this can be only a good thing. This comment (indeed, the whole thread) in ChowHound can refresh more than a breath mint.

(about Tetsuya's) When we were there they ONLY did their 'special menu prepared just for you'. There wasn't even a printed menu. We tried to order different items but struck out - best we could do was feign allergies so as to at least get separate ingredients.
Then when we checked other peoples reviews, we found that our specially prepared menu was almost identical to theirs - even 6 months later (or earlier).
He's coasting and it shows. Food is competent, some dishes good but absolutely not worth the money.
The emperors clothes are getting shabby.
But the service was excellent.
I probably won't talk you out of going there as it's so 'famous' but we had FAR better meals at Bécasse (in Surry Hills and quite formal) and Seans Panaroma [note spelling] in Bondi Beach (less formal).
And Rockpool wasn't even trying. Passable food and arrogant service. Just awful.

Criticism in all creative arts and entertainment has become democratic. Of course this free-for-all can be malicious and corrupt and downright ignorant of 'good taste', and when a reviewer bags a dish for having too much butter, and the dish had in fact, no butter at all, then there's a question of competence, but that's no different than a book reviewer who gives a book a stinging review and furthermore, spills the end (an apt term: spoiler) but the end is wrong because the reviewer didn't read the book to the end – and we could go on and on about this cruel world, but I still think that the job of the creator is to create and to cop the criticism. If it's ridiculous, in the chaos that is now the world of media – where everyone can be a commentator and there is no One Whose Word is God – good might triumph in the end.

But back to restaurants. There are some pretty savvy critics out there, and if they're harsh at times, excuse my hash, but caveat restaurateur! Sites like eGullet can make the scene better for everyone. Take, for instance, some further comments there about Tetsuya's (arguably, Sydney's top and one of the world's top restaurants). Tetsuya Wakuda, known as "one of the world's great chefs" could, if he'd a mind to, sue for defamation, at "I wasn't too endeared with the overly sweet floating island dessert", but then he might be laughing too much at the same amateur critic's final statement, as it mirrors the private taste of most professional chefs, the fancier, the more so:

Isn’t it ridiculous? Amongst all the joy of the food served at Tetsuya’s, my favourite was the bread and butter.

* See Mahanandi's excellent posting on Ma'amoul.

** Further on the question: "Would you like pepper with that?"
For me, there are two times I crave pepper, sloppily broken Piper nigrum to be exact: on eggs and with strawberries. Otherwise, it's just one of many choices, and nothing to pedestalise. I think that the reason pepper is chosen to ask this question about is that it goes stale so quickly that it gives diners a cheap false impression that they have adjusted the taste to suit a discriminating palate when in fact, they have changed nothing. But pepper has a long history of being used more to impress the mind than the mouth.

To dine, if we're going to get the taste just right in every place we pay, maybe we should carry little bureaus filled with whatever's needed because the kitchen didn't finish the dish correctly. Depending upon the person and the time in history, this bureau would be heavy with cinnamon bark, ginger root, dried sumac fruits, seeds of caraway, cumin, cardamom, sesame, fenugreek and fennel, fresh almonds, nutmeg of course, flower waters and sugar of various kinds . . . and the equipment to pound and grind and grate. And oops! I forgot that this is for a special eating place, so, if they haven't asked you already if you'd like any, you'll need to carry your own pearls.

It is surprising, though, that in so many places that ask That Question, there is no thought any more, of a diner dressing a salad. Thus, the diner's portable bureau would also include a selection of oils and vinegars and citruses and leaf herbs (fresh, of course) and flower petals, at which point the diner needs a porter service, and may decide instead, to dine at home.

16 June 2007

Towards reading "Electric Velocipede" on Mars

Subscribe to Electric Velocipede. This should be taken as an order, dear readers. Why? There are many reasons. Great stories and poetry, and great taste in graphics, Thom Davidson's covers alone being worth the price. You can frame the bloody things!

Electric Velocipede has been a work of madness by editor / publisher John Klima now for some years. Another of his recent projects is Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories, "This book is a logophile's dream—a left-field collection of stories inspired by winning words from the Scripps National Spelling Bee."

I've blogged about this book already but the good reviews keep coming, for stories by the likes of Hal Duncan, Michelle Richmond, Tim Pratt, Jeff VanderMeer, and more – just the sort you run into, in the pages of Electric Velocipede.

Keeping a small excellent magazine going is hard, and continuing to improve it is most unusual. Most don't make it. Klima's done all that, and expanded his Spilt Milk Press to now publish chapbooks, so it's inevitable that this dynamo has hit that "does anyone care" time, and needs some oil in the joints.

Klima has come out and said that subscriptions to Electric Velocipede would help the magazine. Well, duh. That's what every magazine editor / publisher would like, but who bothers to subscribe?

But he's come up with what I think is a much better deal for us consumers than a mere subscription that if you're like me, you mean to get around to taking out to support blah blah blah, but never do: the "Benefactor Patronage Subscription" "Benefactor Patronages start with the current issue and continue with everything that Spilt Milk Press publishes (i.e., zines, chapbooks, etc.). This subscription includes shipping all over the world." I presume this means that he includes Australia, and if you live there, Mars.

This is a bargain. John Klima is still young. I've just subscribed and urge you to, too. Together, we can keep him to his word and us supplied with the good stuff, for eternity, at least.

15 June 2007

Unpacific seas

What would the world be like if people were addicted to pacific relations between each other, and holidayed from that to visit stormy beaches? I imagine that I would complain mightily, because there would be so many other treasure-seekers, competing. – but no!

They wouldn't compete, would they? I wouldn't either, unless I could manage to be unreformed to person (why hog?) the treasures as mine, all mine!

Spiny Pipehorse Solegnathus spinosissimus (Family: Syngnathidae)

This was found in Berrara, southern New South Wales this wild-weathered week. The photo cryptically cuts off the face because it has lost its lovely snout.

Read the Australian Museum's page on this creature.

See Dr Paddy Ryan's site for spectacular pictures of male and female Solegnathus spinosissimuses, and other Syngnathidae - Seahorses, pipefishes, seadragons
His pictures of the above species were taken in New Zealand, where they are called Spiny seadragons.

A must-have book, especially for people who don't live near the sea:

I'm neither a diver nor a fisherman, but find Rudie H. Kuiter's The Complete Divers' & Fishermen's Guide to Coastal Fishes of South-Eastern Australia an essential guide and an utterly enthralling treasure-trove.

I can say without reservation that this book is as good as a cookbook for escapist reading, and as good as the best science fiction for inspiration. Not only are the pictures of fishes stranger than fictive, but the information about their lives is both fascinating and written with just the right balance: a know-nothing like me can learn without being drowned by technical terms. And if you don't want to learn but just have fun, the names of fishes are delightful. The 'Pictorial Guide to Families' at the front is also a model of elegant simplicity.

I reached for Coastal Fishes to learn about that strange creature with the prehensile tail just as I did, this:

Pufferfish (Family: Tetraodontidae)

11 June 2007

Love letters from D_____s

In this blog wherein I have told you time and again how much I revile all the narcissism masquerading as news about one's private life, and have promised time and again never to tell you about mine, I present once again some of my most intimate thoughts and display some of my most treasured possessions – this time, from my collection of love letters, not just any love letters, but ones addressed to me.

I don't know about you, but I save most every letter I've ever received, no matter how rashly writ, and this means that in the case of love letters from men, the pile has reached what some people might think an indecent height. I have often wanted to publish them because they make all those famous love letters, insipid. I'll quote from one that I received the other day:

With the recent arrival of summer there have been sunburns to collect, water sprinklers to run through, and birthday cakes to eat (Hannah turned 4 on Friday... my little girl is growing up way, way too fast. I tuck her into bed at night and do a little puppet show with Captain Nemo, her teddy bear, and before I turn her light out she hugs me and says "You're the best Daddy I ever had" and I get an apple caught in my throat. And my son is no better! I was out of town on business for three days last week and when I got back I went for a walk with him holding his hand, and I said "Hudson, I missed you" and he says "Oh, Daddy" and presses my hand against his cheek. A guy's heart can't take it...).

I asked the besotted one if I could publish that paragraph here, and promised that I would not tell the children's names, but he recklessly said he didn't care if the world knew his love. Furthermore, he wrote:

Regarding the paragraph - by all means you may publish it in your blog, and I would be absolutely delighted and honoured, and I will show it to the family to boot. You don't need to change the names. It made me laugh to think of it... there are a lot of things I do that I don't even realize consciously anymore... in the morning before the kids get up I take a huge handful of Cheerios and make them each a little picture on the table where they sit for breakfast... Hannah kicking a soccer ball or dancing or riding Chico the horse... and a helicopter or a rocketship flying past the moon, or a big slice of chocolate cake (candle optional) for Hudson. Sometimes a few dried cranberries for colour. Art you can eat. I get more work done before 8 a.m. than the whole rest of the day sometimes...

There is, in my estimation, no finer nor more joyful and surprised love that I have ever read expressed than that of a father about his children, and my love letter collection is just that. I have never asked why but consider myself luckier than any lottery winner to be the recipient of letters like these, the stream-of-consciousness admissions of fathers who tell me about this love and joy.

There are recurring themes. It would be wrong for me to list them here, as this could make the writers self-conscious, but the cord that runs through every one of these letters is two-ply. One strand is that of surprise –"how did I get so lucky?" Not having had to go through the pain of motherhood, they often feel like accessories to the fact of a child's life, not an intrinsic part of it. The other strand in the two-ply cord is the joy of touch. I can't count how many letters I have from daddies who express this wonder that a child even wants to hold his hand, and the incomparable throat-clogged feeling from that touch. This is almost always accompanied by a "how soon this will end" mention of time having to pass, and the child growing out of it.

I have never written this to any of these daddies, but I will say this now, to you. I can still feel a hand around mine, 37 years after his last heartbeat.

08 June 2007

"More than ..." Heliotrope Magazine & Jay Tomio, pinned

If you haven't yet read Heliotrope Magazine (co-founders: Jay Tomio, Dave Comery, and Damon Caporaso) you are at one with the majority of people on this planet, and that would be reason enough to change your status quo. This ambitious Speculative Fiction E-Zine is sure to provide not just reading pleasure, but the controversy that is the lifeblood of the living creature that is a story worth telling or an observation worth having been made.

The Rise and Autumn of Rome
Issue #3 of this international magazine (though you wouldn't know it from the Fall 2007. It's winter 2007 here already, you Northern Hemisphere slowpokes!) will be out in a few months, and a gobstopper of delights it will be.
How's Gabe Chouinard, Jeffrey Ford, and Theodora Goss for a chewy centre?

Issues #1 and #2:

Issue #1: Short Fiction by Samantha Henderson, Edward Morris, Michael Colangelo, Articles by Jeff VanderMeer, R. Scott Bakker, and Heidi Wessman Kneale, Poetry by Catherynne M. Valente, Reviews by Robert Bee, John Turing, Scott Andrews, Victoria Hoyle, and Kimberly Fujioka, Artwork by Liezl A. Buenaventura

Issue #2: Short Fiction by Gerard Houarner, Vylar Kaftan, January Mortimer, Poetry by Sonya Taaffe, Artwork by Liz Clarke

At a future time:
Since Jay Tomio surprised me by asking me for a poem which will appear (if the End of Days doesn't intervene) in Issue #4, this posting is to perform the awkward job of announcing this stirring news, and now that that awkward moment has passed, I wasn't going to let Jay get away unscathed. I pinned him down and forced him to answer some questions. I'm happy to report that he squirmed.

Jay Tomio, editor-in-chief of Heliotrope Magazine answers some Questions

Q: Why the name 'Heliotrope'?

JT: The title of the publication was actually the subject of some pretty lengthy discussion between the three owners of Fantasybookspot.com – Dave, Damon and myself. To say we weren't on the same page would be an understatement. That shouldn't be viewed as a statement reflecting angst as we keep each other honest in not only this but all our dealings and it's the strength of this triumvirate. I see so many projects initiated by like-minded partners and after awhile a flatness is achieved that is a product of 'No' – and forgive the sixth grade Government/Eco class term – checks and balances, too much bathing in each other's shared glory. The discussion itself went on all kinds of tangents, from us commenting on other SF/F site administrators we think are lame, to poker, to finances. I was really throwing out some strange combinations because I had just read Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary, and Dave was clearly influenced by reading the Hal Duncan interview we did trying to fit 'Vellum' and Damon was approaching it from an alchemical angle. I don't even want to admit how much of a last minute decision it was, but I want to say it was Dave who finally came up with Heliotrope.

I think if you ask each of us why we went with or liked it we would each give a different answer. It hit home for me for a couple of reasons – and not because it was simply kewl as some random illiterate on a random board mentioned. For myself, it worked on so many levels and as even as recent as last week as we have been discussing ideas for the design of our site I always took the idea of Heliotropism and envisioned marching flowers leaving some tranquil state and diving into a sun, or the individual eyes of a flowers being scorched able to resist and look away. I always envisioned a real Fantasia type trippiness; a room made of windows that leads your mind no where via every where, vivid, startling, strangely horrific – but always present, whether drawn to, enveloped by, or retreating from – is beauty.

Why the magazine?
JT: The idea was brought up by me but took life as plausible reality by the talents and enthusiasm of Dave and Damon. Fantasybookspot.com is a step in-progress to a bigger plan and Heliotrope is the second step to that goal. I want to get this out of the way: we do have a rather self-serving plan and goals with our projects. What it came down to is a desire to be a part of the Speculative Fiction culture, not just on the outside looking in – sometimes sheering, sometimes jeering, but otherwise nothing more than leeches; random webmasters getting much fatter off of google ads and other sources of revenue than I think some would imagine. In some form you could call it guilt. Fantasybookspot.com has enjoyed unbelievable support form the community, be it writers, publishers or fans and this just seemed like obvious next step both from the stand point of what we wanted to accomplish to get to our end game. When I was younger, me and my friends always made the comment (regarding another hobby) that everyone who has a Civic wants an Accord, everyone who has an Accord wants an Integra, everyone who has an Integra wants a BMW. We have a site, we have an E-zine, we are starting to accumulate stories to print with issue#4 – now we are looking for a Beamer.

I started reading short fiction heavily in the last couple of years, and as I made my rounds I began to think it quite absurd that people could publish stories from such talented writers for basically nothing. One could literally make dozens of anthologies out of stories that were bought for $25-$50 a piece that content-wise would be vastly superior to the last crazy successful anthology I remember – Legends. I think some of the best writers in these fields write short fiction. I'll take Ligotti, Link, and Chiang against any novelists you want to bring. We are on that not always fun path trying to transcend our personal hobby into something more.

The fun part is finding out exactly what that is.

In the end I simply miss a hell of a lot my old haunts. I miss Ellen Datlow's SciFiction, I miss Cheryl Morgan's Emerald City, I miss
Gabriel Chouinard's Dislocated Fictions column, I miss Fantastic Metropolis. If the locales are gone it's time to bring the old ghosts a new place to rattle chains.

What question would you wish I would ask you?
JT: I would never intrude on your interview in such a fashion. I promise I'm quite uninteresting.

What question are you really glad I didn't ask?
JT: About my high point regarding this hobby of ours or some question like it. It's rather fanboyish.

Now answer that question, please.
JT: To be pointed out – among other online fans – by R. Scott Bakker in his The Thousandfold Thought. I think he's one of the great voices in Fantasy, and from a person who just goes bonkers when an author's book comes in the mail that I'm dying to read – and to flip a page and see mention – well it was kind of like being in middle school and finding out a note the teacher caught in transit from the hot blond to (circumventing the competing busty brunette) her tag-along best friend was about you. I wish he would write a mediocre book so I can prove I'm not swayed by sentiment in offering opinion of his work, but I'm not really convinced he is capable of it. I think whenever his Neuropath hits stands he will blow enough people away to give his Fantasy a well deserved look. I thought it was rather refreshing. We often see authors thanking their family their dog, their gardener, editor, publicist, their second grade teacher etc – but this dude took the time to point out fans. That's awesome and better than being the source of any blurb which is purely merc decision. I'd like to think I'm beyond blushing, but yet quite pleased I'm not. Bakker wrote a rather kickass essay for our first issue – and that's how I'm making my reply on topic! Aside from that how many people we owe for supporting Heliotrope and FBS – that would take a rather long time.

Jay's blog: The Bodhisattva

The interviewer predicts:
Jay Tomio will break his promise.

03 June 2007

Read "A Day in Creationland" by Spencer Pate

These teeth were made for vegies,
and that's all that they chew.

One of these days, if you're a vegetable,

they're gonna punch you through and through.

- song pre-The Fall

A Day at Creationland by Spencer Pate— a story that anticipated today's reality. This story should be published in a mainstream science fiction anthology.

World's First Creation Museum Opens in Kentucky

"Dinosaur Adventure Land: Where Dinosaurs and the Bible Meet!"

"T. Rex was originally a herbivore!"

- Kangaroos, Dinosaurs, and Eden, by Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum and Answers in Genesis

another vegetarian's tooth

01 June 2007

Fungi on a mushroom


Your shaved face
is rough pastry, unovened.
I'd like to open your lips
and fill your mouth
with mint leaves, bruised
and sugar
and almonds
and my tongue, and
bake us well.