13 December 2013

Stefano Manfredi’s Italian Food - A gift for someone you love

I first started collecting my army of 'Italian' cookbooks while Antony was dallying in Alexandria. Over the years, the ranks have been decimated (in the military meaning of the word) but of 20-21st c. recruits, there are many sturdy regulars who are still popular: Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian Cookbook, Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy; The Silver Spoon (which features Stefano Manfredi in its Menus from Chefs section). There are also specialists such as Mira Sacerdoti's Italian Jewish Cooking. Newest in the lines, and one that will never be taken out, is Stefano Manfredi's Italian Food: Over 500 Italian recipes from the traditional to the modern and from the north to the south

I rank this book as highly as the Irish general I love so well (even though she isn’t sound on medlars), Forgotten Skills of Cooking, by Darina Allen—a book that if you don’t have, you must get, especially if you’re squeamish. D.A.: "They are delicate, tender, delicious and inexpensive." (sweetbreads, of course, and I don't mean little brioches)

Stefano Manfredi's Italian Food is truly a cookbook for people who not only take a good one to bed but tweak its ears in the kitchen. The book opens with an absorbing History by John Newton, a fine complement to the whole. This is followed by a chapter on Italian wines; then another on the Italian kitchen (equipment, essentials, techniques, , glossary of terms. basic recipes); and then we embark on our trip around Italy. Each of the 19 regions has a chapter. Manfredi not gives a description of each region’s characteristics, but adds more flavour to the history of the whole. (He is a fine historian himself, and indeed, lards the book with fascinating sidetrips into history as well as foods.)

The bulk of the book is of course, devoted to recipes, presented in the order of the meal: Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, Dolci. Manfredi migrated with his family to Australia as a child, and he values both languages, so his use of Italian here is not only fun but informative. Recipe titles are not only bilingual, but he tosses us other delightful tidbits (“saltimbocca: 'leap into the mouth'”—many other readers will know this, but it was news to this ignorant clod). Many of the italicised introductions to each recipe add immensely to the pleasure of the feast.
(on lattughe)“...Even though they’re basically the same article, the Italian desire for expression of the individual leads each pastry maker to respect the original tradition but at the same time confuse and confound it by changing it in every way possible. As if that were not enough, each version is passionately defended as being the authentic, the best-tasting and most genuine. Crostoli or lattughe, or whatever you call them, are traditionally eaten during the Christmas season. They are festive-looking with their snow-white dusting, and perfect accompanied by grappa and espresso.”

Best of all, there is a wonderfully diverse lot of recipes, truly both old and new. In common with Hazan's books in trying to impart a feeling of place, including ingredients from that place, Manfredi's descriptions of say, the fog enveloping the village outdoors while the smell of his mother's cooking wrapped around him inside the house is the stuff of the best memoirs.

Sometimes, even though he is trying always to be accommodating, a recipe is best read, by this reader in the countryside of Oz, as a vicarious eater—there is more likelihood of me being able to persuade a black swan in the nearby lake to submit to some slimming liposuction than there is for me obtaining duck fat to make that delectable polenta shortbread (swans can relax, because he does give an out with “or extra virgin olive oil”). And Manfredi’s urging to try to get gelatine leaves instead of powder makes me want to remind him of how hard it was to find the other-than-usual Australian standards in the big city—like back when his mother bought horsemeat from a pet store. Countryside Australia, for the most part, can only be couch potatoes when it comes to culinary choice. But then there are so few of us that it really doesn’t matter (as proven by our internet coverage).

But then this isn’t a book intent on telling us how to substitute something for something else, thank the gods. Those flourished in the age when Italian spaghetti directions read “pour on ketchup”. Where he can, Manfredi tells how make ingredients that really are special, from grape must to rose syrup—with typically simple steps. As to that favourite ingredient of his, “saba or vincotto” which he explains in his introductory Italian Pantry section is “boiled grape must”--recipe on page 431 of this 632-page book (listed in the index as “grape must condiment”), sometimes this reader with the colander memory could only use when encountering this “saba or vincotto” the one word in Italian in which she is fluent: Buh--meaning “Whah? You’ve totally lost me.” I recommend that in future editions, 1) the glossary is extended and put just before the index. And 2) there is a second index of recipes with their listings in Italian.

As to the making, although I prefer Hazan's archaic preference for the sounds of cooking to not include electric xkkxxs, many other cooks would prefer Manfredi's pragmatic approach. As he said in a previous book, a collectors’ treasure that I also highly recommend, Fresh From Italy: Italian Cooking for the Australian Kitchen, “The kitchen is my studio and my workshop. It must be functional and attractive. It must be uncluttered and organised. It—and the tools it contains—are there to do my bidding. And, if I am to work there for days and nights on end, then it must also be easy on my soul ... You must be the master of technology, not its slave.” Amen!

But ultimately, what is a cookbook for? The food. The recipes themselves are utterly mouthwatering, and as the few full-colour photos show, pure soulfood. Most of the ingredients are easily obtained, and like the components of most Italian dishes, both humble and cheap. Some of his loves are mine, too--such as chickpeas, fennel (luckily this migrant still grows wild all over Australia, especially by railroad tracks), chestnuts, the humble turnip, quinces and lemons and vinegars galore. There are many recipes here that could be standards in your repertoire. Just as these recipes aren't fussy, the food is, not fussy stuff to impress, but for those you love or at least, genuinely respect. When my next lucky visitor stays the night, the cabin will be filled with the mixed scents of baked quince; and the equally heady Red Onion Soup followed by pg 90’s Chillies Stuffed with Eggplant, Garlic and Capers. The farts later that night will make the bogong moths curl up their pheremantlers. or die of unrequited lust.

The layout of the book is beautiful, both clean and elegant without those annoyingly fatuous huge white spaces that have come to infect too many cookbooks today. The double-spread pic of each region gives an intimate feeling to each. My favourite picture is the shot of an orchard in Basilicata, each tree bare of leaves but hosting a horde of flame-ripe persimmons. Oenologists should also be delighted with this book. Manfredi is a man to lift a glass with, and to.

Disclaimer: I’ve been a fan of Stefano Manfredi for years, ever since I started reading his history-rich columns in the Sydney Morning Herald, and subsequently found that he, like me, is besotted with medlars—and not only them, but cardoons! My story “Valley of the Sugars of Salt” is dedicated to him.

19 October 2013

Fire and flowers

Best wishes to Lewis P Morley (get his delightful False Childhood Memory Syndrome), Marilyn Pride, and everyone else who's going through fire stress now, and will over these next months. Australia is a tense place every spring/summer.

This is what our land looks like at the moment. The trees that were black sticks less than a year ago have now grown unsightly 'fur'; but this patch of Xanthorrhoea has now grown up to challenge their heights.

"[We] used to use them [flower stalks] as spears — just playing with them. The old people told us to leave them alone, even when they were green, because we'd make it rain." Jack Hampton
— from Geebungs and Snake Whistles: Koori People and Plants of Wreck Bay, by the Wreck Bay Community and Cath Renwick, first published in 2000 by Aboriginal Studies Press for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies

I highly recommend this fascinating book, not just for locals like me, but for people the world over. Crazily, it is no longer in print in Australia, but is printed in the UK, and available to Australians as an import. Get it.

14 October 2013

A donkey after a drink

This is a picture of satisfaction. Sometimes the tongue can stay out for minutes, like any other thinker's stick of red licorice.
Of course the beautiful eyes are half-shielded, full of intelligence but giving no secrets away. If, indeed, an interrogator forces the donkey to interrupt thoughts and look directly at the inquisitor, what the i sees is only a big-nosed self-reflection.

17 September 2013

It could be a sign

but is just a small detail on a washed-up fish — a pectoral fin of the Longhorn Cowfish Lactoria cornuta

Here's the whole fish:
Cowfish are both beautiful and intelligent. Unlike humans, they release ostracitoxin when stressed. Their method of locomotion, limited by the rigidity of body and their lack of pelvic fins, resembles that of a hummingbird crossed with a coracle--they can hover like a hummingbird, their fins moving too fast for the human eye to see, but they can't dart any more than a teacup's saucer. Read about them and see a picture of how they should look—colourful and alive—on the superb MarineBio site, which reveals another fascinating fact about their ability to utter complaints.

27 July 2013

High Noon for a point of punctuation

“I say, the position of the full stop in relation to the closing quote mark depends on—”

“And I say the dang period always goes inside.”

"Whether the reader actually notices the position of the final full stop is rather dubious. Editors shed blood, sweat and tears over the issue, wrestling with anomalies not covered by the various rules; and the wastage of editorial time suggests there’s a lot to be said for a simple system. The American system (put it inside) is still easiest to apply in texts with a lot of dialogue . . . But for nonfiction writing, the practice of treating final punctuation for quote marks the same way as for parentheses has much to recommend it."
- Pam Peters, The Cambridge Australian English Style Guide, Cambridge University Press, 1995

I highly recommend this worldly guide as a reference for writers, editors, and an eye-opening tour of English's Babel, It is much more useful than a provincial tome like the Oxford Guide to or Chicago Manual of Style.

However, Peters would be useless at a shootout. I see her at High Noon sitting on the fence, yelling “Arbitrate!”.

24 June 2013

Mushrooms past their peak

Often the older fungi get, the more interesting they are. Others think so too, especially slime moulds.

This fungus is in the genus Ramaria, and here the slime mould looks like rime.

I have no idea what this mushroom is, but it felt like a warm mouse.

25 May 2013

The next big celebrity hair look

The black to the roots look should have run its course, though from the latest Eurovision song contest, you wouldn't know it. But then only the great Cezar was worth watching this year. What a voice, and what a ballsy choice!

He has too much class to go for this new look, but I propose it for the normal performer celeb sensation now.

Stepping back:

06 May 2013

Goose barnacles and fate-makers

Goose barnacles seem born to be metaphors. They attach themselves before they are old enough to think (not that they are known for existentialism at even their most mature state) to a randomness of flotsam and in this case, the jetsam of an undersea volcano.

Yet unlike people who could pry themselves free from an opinion or loyalty with a bit of thought, goose barnacles have no choice. Once left high and dry, they die with their mouths agape.

11 April 2013

A portrait of two beauties - quince and persimmon

and they know how to wear their perfumes

This year the orchard has been generous to all. A family of crows has enjoyed many persimmons, the wallabies have had parties under the trees, eating what they can reach and what the crows during the day, and the fruit bats at night, drop. This year the true complexity of the quince comes out best when the fruit is eaten out of hand, raw, cut with a fruit knife. Quince is quite ergonomic, too, which is one way to say that it feels as if its curvy heft with that slight down, is meant to be fondled. The persimmons are also sensuality plus. One counterpoint to their passionate hue is the slight stink of their beautiful veined leaves.

01 March 2013

What is art, but noticing what is

More hairy mushrooms

As with yesterday's mystery fungus, also growing now in the (at last, wet) forest in Narrawallee, NSW (SE Australia), these could be described as having a fibrillose-scaly cap surface. Are all three Cuphocybe species?

28 February 2013

I hope I have a name as witty as 'lawyer's wig'

If you know what I am called, please advise. And how do I react to people eating me?

Note from the observer: There is nothing that can make a human feel as undeveloped as a walk in the forest. We want to name everything and if we don't know the names, feel stupid. But why does knowing the name make us any the wiser if that is all we know? Anyway, I'll say rashly here that I think this might be labelled: Cuphocybe spp.

Here's another picture, one that annoys me greatly because I botched the focus so badly and the cap is overexposed, but this view does eliminate some possibilities. The stem shows best here..

18 February 2013

Review of Starting with Ingredients: Baking: Quintessential Recipes for the Way We Really Bake by Aliza Green

Ambitious, informative (though take with a pinch of salt); and flawed or helpful, according to your wont

Hours earlier you could be heard baking in the kitchen. In fact, who could avoid it? That’s not you screaming as your arm is munched by the garbage disposal, but the food processor working, doing time. That thunk wha-thunk thunk isn’t zombies at the door, but the dough hook making its rounds. Now the guests are here, and the conversation at the table is, naturally, all about the food. “And the flour for this pizza came from Italy,” you say. “I bought it online from…” If this is you, then this book is perfect for you, with its “Quintessential Recipes For the Way We Really Bake”.

If you, on the other hand, like nothing better than a lie-down with a good cookbook and a cuppa, then this book could also be for you; it’s also thick as a bestselling trilogy’s Book 1.

“Butter & Other Animal Fats” is a typically well-written and informative chapter, wide in its scope, and accompanied by a global take on cornerstone recipes. Of particular interest to this reader are the recipes throughout the book that are from a region, such as borekas, gianduia, torta boscaiola, and the variations of my favourite cookie, maamoul. Green has tried in every case to allow the reader to make something that tastes authentic, using ingredients that might be exotic but are, supposedly, obtainable (her suggested substitutes, like using Asian spring roll wrappers instead of kufta, are reasonably priced, more internationally obtainable, and pragmatic). But she has most importantly to all of us who enjoy the people part of cooking, brought the history and movement of that recipe to the fore, up to the present day and the kitchens of people who carry on the tradition today, sharing her experiences with people who cooked as she watched. Textbox glosses with further historic details are often fascinating.

She has also included her own variations on traditional recipes, which will seem like travesties or deliciously fresh inventiveness, depending on your mindset and taste. And there are certain likes that Green has that can be annoying. Sometimes a pedantic peccadillo comes to the fore. For instance, zante currants (note: zante, not just any currants) come up time and again, including in two of the few recipes using chestnut flour (another exotic that can be made yourself from cheap dried chestnuts available in Asian groceries, instead of mail-ordering expensive chestnut flour).

If the book were only above, it would be a four-star treasure.

This reader found three drawbacks that greatly decreased the value as a cookbook that I would use; however, two of these drawbacks to me might be attractions to other cooks.

First, most recipes make full use of food processors / blenders / mixers. A great part of the cooking experience, to me, is the sensual process of turning disparate ingredients into something else. And this means I like to use my muscles, love wooden spoons and the like. I’m not a Luddite, but that wonderful cookbook that I recommend unreservedly, Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen, manages to keep all the romance of baking, complete with the instruction to get your hands in at times, and still has a “food mixer” waiting in the kitchen for the times when it must be heard.

And also, I don’t have the water to waste here, to clean up a food processor that’s just stirred, “for smoother texture” (it’s never anything less than smooth), the dulce de leche (caramel) made from boiling a can of condensed milk. This recipe was also infected with another modern overkill: silly over-cautious instructions (to punch the lid and then cover the tin with tinfoil—instead of just putting the unopened tin in its simmering bath) that made a classic, elegantly simple recipe messy.

Second, this the first networking cookbook I’ve ever seen. In the first pages Green talks about her travels to write the book and thanks hosts and helpers, nothing wrong with that. But (instead of a Supply appendix) the book is larded with an awful lot of product placement (complete with p.r. blurb), that I resented forking out the money to be subjected to. However, other readers might like these leads to people and businesses and goods.
A whole page is devoted to a quarter-page textbox titled ABOUT NEIL STEIN. (He’s a Philadelphia restaurateur.) 
There are many more text boxes that read like advertorials (complete with their online addresses), such as those for a brand of cane syrup, mail-order pears, an emporium in Philadelphia, a grater, and that pizza flour from Naples. In the case of hard-to-find ingredients in which an online seller is mentioned (such as for malted milk powder) this reader thought that another ingredient/recipe might have been preferable as a quintessential instead of something that must be mail-ordered and isn’t some rare essence you use as sparingly as you would, asafoetida. Quite different are the instances where Green mentions suppliers for kitchen equipment, which Americans at least, could find useful (this book is for Americans, both in measurements and the consumer mentality).
Thirdly, editing should have been a bit more thorough, and in such an ambitious book, there is bound to be some information that pedantic readers will cry foul to. Examples: the instructions for cooking empanadas are garbled (do prick or slash them to let the steam out if they are to be baked; but if you are going to fry them, do not make any holes in the pastry); confectionary should be spelled confectionery.

And the box devoted to Mrs Beeton could make Eliza Acton turn in her coffin. Mrs Beeton is indeed the most famous name now for cookbooks of her time; but one point Ms Green does not mention is the name of the book:  Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management. This 1112-page whopper was not just a cookbook, but a voluminous guidebook to everything from breeding chickens to how to deal with smelly drains. These encyclopaedic tracts were a feature of her Age. when a rising middle class wanted clear instructions about how to run a household with the look of lots of help. There was also a yearning for specificity and admiration for regularity that fit the industrial age. Isabella Beeton was not a cook, let alone a cookbook writer as much as she was what in polite society would be labeled a compiler (read wholesale plagiarist) of recipes from real cooks who wrote valuable cookbooks such as Eliza Action, and all the rest of that wealth of information, from many other authors’ guidebooks; so this reader bristled at the textbox devoted to Mrs Beeton’s recipe for seed cake, which most certainly isn’t Mrs Beeton’s. (I highly recommend the meticulously researched and utterly engrossing The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton by Kathryn Hughes.)

Another example of what I’d call misinformation is the shocking (to this reader) statement in an otherwise superb chapter, that gooseberries “must be cooked before eating”. Although early gooseberries and some varieties can be too hard and tart to eat out of hand, just as some apples are bitter and hard, but grown for cider, it would be a crime not to at least try any gooseberries you are lucky enough to get your hands on, as they are. Smell that perfume! Hold up a fresh gooseberry—that translucent striped balloon of jade green or blood-in-the-water red—then pop it in your mouth, hearing that crunch as your teeth break that fresh skin that tastes slightly like Italian-plum skin spritzed with lime; and feeling those seeds clothed with tart-sweet flesh explode in taste and texture. There is nothing like it. A hint of green apples, such as green applies used to be. Tart and sweet, slippery and as crunchy as a good grape with seeds. A gooseberry is a quintessential berry to one who appreciate tart flavours and unusual textures, to one who loves, say, a sunwarmed slightly hairy peach, a crisp kosher pickle, a stinky cheese, an ear of corn that tastes like corn should, not more supersweet candy. Anyway, this reader found that instruction to cook before eating quite offensive to this most magnificent treat, though many readers would agree with Aliza Green.

One aspect that readers might like is Green’s mention of the gluten content. There are many gluten-free recipes here. This leads to this reader’s surprise at the omission of that most delicious, versatile, and internationally popular flour made from chickpeas (garbanzo beans) also known as gram flour and besan and channa ka aata (available cheaply in any store with Asian and Middle Eastern ingredients as well as from ‘health stores’ and easy enough to make yourself from dried chickpeas). From those simple and popular streetfoods, the socca of Provence, and panissa or farinata of Liguria, the tortillitas de camarones of Cadiz, to the Moroccan quiche known as Kalinti, to the sweet and savoury favourites that make Indian food so moreish: chilas, bhajis, pakora, and those melt-in-the-mouth halvas ‘fudge’, and shortbreads, besan burfi and besan ka laddoo, this flour is a quintessential ingredient that would have fit perfectly in this book. Indeed, it is even much easier to find than the chestnut flour that was included, let alone those zante currants.

In (un)short:
I don’t recommend this impressively thick tome as a basic cookbook for anyone any more than I would, a piping bag in a snowstorm. I do recommend this book as being most useful for Americans who like using their time-saving devices (to typically, cream for 6 minutes) and are fervent mail-order shoppers. people who think the Slow Foods / Eat Local scene is for hair-shirt wearers who gorge on raw broccoli (in season).

For people who like the sensuality of cooking in a more hands-on way, who prefer the sound and look of a whisk to a food processor, who prefer to knead by hand than to use a dough hook, I would recommend first, Darina Allen’s aforementioned gem (you can deal with the British measurements, yes you can! even if you can’t get to forage in those rich hedgerows) and that you also get, if you have basic cooking skills, the beautifully written, modestly presented treasure, The Lost Art of Real Cooking: Rediscovering the Pleasures of Traditional Food One Recipe at a Time by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger Henderson.

For internationals who love exploring recipes and history, especially from the Mediterranean, I do most heartily recommend Starting with Ingredients: Baking: Quintessential Recipes For the Way We Really Bake if you have many cookbooks including at least two of Claudia Roden’s and the superb Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen by Sonia Uvezian. In that case you can also thoroughly enjoy this history- and culture-enriched collection as you use this cookbook for ideas, adapting its recipes to suit the way you really bake.

31 January 2013

Do spiders fear other spiders?

This young huntsman was no match for the insignificant-looking daddy-long-legs who was busy wrapping by my desk, and from whom I stole this prize. To me, a home is not a home without a huntsman on the wall. They are particularly helpful keeping down the black house spiders that prefer the great indoors to those of out-. And we cheer when they bag a daddy.

A dare
Say "Who fears a Pholcus phalangioides" 3 times really phast.

28 January 2013

Darlings, you're choking me! Chouchous and chokos gone wild

In French, chouchou is a term of endearment, and this vegetable is also so loved by the French that when they claimed the idyllic Indian Ocean island of Réunion, this versatile cucurbit Sechium edule, known by many names including chayote (squash), christophine (or -ene), merliton (or -leton), chu-chu, (and choko in Australia) was one of several winners that have since, transformed the steep and verdant mountains of the spectacularly up-and-down Réunion. The story goes that the first plants were shipped from Rio de Janeiro to what we now call Réunion Island (it's gone through many names) in 1834. Like the English when they came to Australia, the French thought nothing of keeping the virginity of this new land sacred. And chouchou grows like a weed, even on the steepest slopes, so it made marvelously cheap slave food. Chouchou au gratin is a favourite dish there in both restaurants and at home, and is considered a classic in the Réunion Creole repertoire. But you could gratin cardboard and it would taste divine.

Like the slaves on the island, chouchous escaped.
Feral chouchous looking down on Hell-Bourg, Salazie, Réunion Island

Chouchou is an important agricultural crop, one which was hurt by Cyclone Dumile earlier this month. From the Google translation of the report:
"...The agricultural economy has also been hit hard. In the east, many producers reported losing virtually all of their harvest. Dumile and ended the season of mangoes and farms darlings Salazie are also devastated. Agricultural Chamber of Reunion laments 40 million loss for farmers Reunion."
Chokos, although never exactly popular in Australia, were nevertheless, widely used, mostly to make choko jam but also to boil to grim death. Choko vines were a common lounger on innercity paling fences, dropping their fruits right beside the dunny (outhouse).They are much more expensive now, now that that type of neighbourhood is history. But chokos have never lost their fascination to me. I like to eat them raw, but often leave them to age because they have such personality. That inclination to go wild when no one is looking ...

Old chokos never die. They just go draconic.

Postscript: 30 January
This portrait I made is for 'Nora, because of her comments below, but to the rest of you, I highly recommend you sidestep over to one of her typically fascinating and intriguingly titled posts, "Spilled coin purse and a flower"—about black-eyed peas and rice, and more.

The Judgement of Pears

27 January 2013

The next small thing

"curry punk" (Piptoporus australiensis)
Of the many Australian bracket fungi, this one intrigues me the most. It does have a smell that lingers, and that is very pleasant.
The view above is what I'd call the plantar side, the dorsal side looking like a case of Epidermodysplasia verruciformis.

21 January 2013

For the pun of it

(The 'artwork' is mine. The model was Rosie)


For those wondering where they put their toe clippers, this creature was roaming around the other night on the balcony. I'd say he or she is a longicorn beetle, the longi- referring to the corns, as in uni-.

And after they kiss etc., they make little banovados

"why an avocado ripens when you give it the company of a banana in a bag (it's the pheromones)"

That is part of the selling spiel on the back and online for the highly touted and very worthwhile What a Plant Knows: a Field Guide to the Senses, by Daniel Chamovitz, a Scientific American book published in 2012.

from the blurbs
"...scientifically accurate..." - Professor Stephen D. Hopper, director, Royal Botanical Gardens

Hormones, pheromones, what does the difference matter?
Dr Chamovitz does explain inside the book that the ripening secret is of course, ethylene, which has been called the 'aging hormone in plants' and 'the ripening hormone' in the pages of Scientific American. But if one learns the pheromone factoid and mashes it with other information, as we tend to, one can end up then adding up both to Learn the Secret of Secrets. Age+=IrresistibleAttractiveness+. Pile on those years!

The book itself is well written, the concentration on plants' reactions quite fascinating. The wide praise that What a Plant Knows has garnered is well deserved. So either it's a shame that this factoid is sitting in pride of place to no good end, or I'm just making a fool of myself, displaying my ignorance. I'm no scientist. So my question to Dr Chamovitz is: Is this a factoid you wish to stand by: "it's the pheromones"?

If not, what's going on?

Pop trends in pop sci books
The reason I ask this question is that I see a trend in popular science books, to churn them out and damn the facts, instead, filling the minds of innocents with factoids that are sensational, but wrong, not that anyone's complaining. One example of this is the text of the book Fifty Animals That Changed the Course of History by Eric Chaline, who has also written in this series, Fifty Minerals... and Fifty Machines....

This is an ambitious and growing series from Firefly Books, every one looking like a book to trust, use as a reference, and above all, to have around for children to learn from. Filled with pictures that illustrate the topics excellently, and very attractively designed. However, the information itself is where the series fails. Here's an excerpt from Fifty Animals... by Chaline, about the Camel:

"In the nineteenth century...the US Army had its own camel corps for transportation in the Southwest during its war against the Native Americans in Florida." 

Because most nonfiction books are packaging exercises as this series is, the going cheap on the actual text here could be forgiven, if it weren't a series that otherwise looks so good that, as my local library did, buying this series is as much a no-brainer must-have to a public library as encyclopedias once were. But encyclopedias were like beehives, buzzing with many authors, in a time when time meant time, and not no time. What bugs me most is that sloppiness of information when presented so attractively and sensationally, corrupts young minds (old ones tend to forget it, so I'm not so worried about the wrinkled browed). And it's odd, too. Books that are supposed to be definitive sources are most reliable when they're written for the wrinkle-browed, who love nothing better than waving their sticks at false factoids, so there's more care put into books for those who are no longer young and supple.

Ah well, I think I must be showing my pheromones.

18 January 2013

King parrot's pic on a broiling day

Noon. 42°C (over 100 Funnyheight)
Parrots hold their wings out and pant like dogs. This mature gent is sheltering under the balcony's eaves, but getting no joy from the shade.

I've never had much confidence in my skill with a camera, but this photo places me finally, into the ranks of professionals! Need an ID pic?