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After learning rather recently that the spouse loves pineapple, and knowing that I only eat pineapple in jam form, preferably on jam tarts, I have resolved to make pineapple tarts at some point before the end of the year. Pineapple tarts are a staple festive biscuit in Malaysia during Aidilfitri. It's kind of like love letters for Chinese New Year and muruku for Deepavali. My mother makes amazing pineapple tarts, which she sometimes sold. The delicate, buttery biscuit dough goes amazingly well with a fruit that makes your tongue feel as scratchy as a cat's -- a trait magically tempered by cooking pineapple and blending it to a mush. (Just cooking cut pineapple pieces doesn't seem to help as much -- though it does make for painfully tart curry, which is great if you're say, cooking a particularly strong-tasting fish.)

Mom shaped her tarts two ways -- the traditional shape, which is a flat, round piece of dough with an indentation in the centre for the jam, and wrapping the jam in a circle of dough, snipping "scales" into its top side and painting on a crown so that it looks like a mini-pineapple. Suffice to say, the traditional tart shape is faster to make, especially if you have a tart tamper to knock out the dough en masse. When I was a kid, I remember my mother using a purpose-built tart stamp, which was a plastic tube with the stamp face on one end and a syringe handle on the other. The idea was that you stamped out individual tarts from a suitably rolled piece of dough. The problem is, I've not actually seen one of these devices since I was maybe nine. I wasn't even sure if it was something only available in Malaysia. A cursory search online, once I figured out the right keywords, brings back a cookie cutter with a similar idea. Unsurprisingly, most shops online ship it from Malaysia.

When I have made jam tarts before, it typically involved either cutting out circles of dough and pushing an indentation in the center with a smaller item, or just rolling the dough into balls and sticking my thumb into them. I much prefer the latter, seeing as how I am lazy and would like cookies faster. This is possibly the same reason I thought a gadget or mould would be nice.

So I wandered down to Sur la Table, because it has everything from plastic ice cream sandwich shapers to autumn leaf-shaped tart stamps no one could ever need, thinking someone out there must have invented something of a rough approximation. I knew they had tart tampers, which are basically a wooden tool handle without the tool head and flattened ends. I have resisted getting these before because it still involves cutting out circles of dough manually and seriously, why am I paying $12 for a wooden tool handle without the tool head?

Shop assistants are Sur la Table have their hearts in the right place -- they're always trying to help. The first person I asked about tart moulds led me to their shelf of fluted tart pans. This was simply a vocabulary error on my part. In American, tarts are firstly a sort of really flat pie. Once I explained that these were jam tarts, the nice lady then offered I could just use my thumb to make a dent in the dough. I carefully explained that I'd already tried this, and what I was looking for a gadget that would shape the dough. She then asked if I wanted a cookie cutter. I was about to explain it was a tart cutter, not a cookie cutter, and had to stop myself halfway because again, an American tart is a very flat pie, and all their biscuits and tarts are technically cookies. So, okay, a cookie cutter. Cookie cutters in America are honestly what they say they are, fancy pattern stamps and cutters shaped like Christmas trees. We tried, but there didn't seem anything that would fit. She did show me their autumn leaf tart stamps, which I admit I was tempted by because they're super pretty, but had to be honest with myself about how often I would actually use one of these guys.

Eventually, we flag a more senior assistant at the store, who first asked why didn't I just used my thumb to make an indentation. I was starting to feel slightly stupid, I mean, why didn't I just continue using my goddamn thumb? He did make a great suggestion of using the back of a measuring spoon, which I thanked him for because that's a smashing idea and I feel like I was dumb for wanting a fancy gadget. It's only a step up from rolling dough into balls and using my thumb, and I really got to respect these guys -- they didn't immediately recommend product, even though they could have, and tried to help me find a product when I insisted on one. Thumbs up! (I will now cease to use the word "thumb".)

Sur la Table is basically a sort of elaborate Afi trap. It's almost as effective an Afi trap as a random and unexpected cat belly in my path. They were having some sort of up to 75% sale. I'm lucky I only came out of it with a cake slice server for myself instead of something loony like a medium sized La Creuset dutch oven. What would I do with a dutch oven? Bake a chicken in the oven. Other than that, I don't exactly know. Maybe talk the spouse into making his treacly baked beans. I was genuinely tempted by the non-stick, dishwasher safe porcelain skillets, because I have always wanted a replacement skillet for our worn out non-stick pan I could roll omelets and crepes in. Moral of the story, question everything I want to buy at Sur la Table (that's most of the store), and think creatively about how to make stuff, because gadgets are mostly for the weak. As I type this out, I'm already seeing that cutting out squares or circles of dough, folding up the sides and fluting it all around with a fork could technically create something like what I'm after. Maybe someday, I will even have the patience to make those mini pineapples.
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Early this morning, Seth rolled me out of bed to see something, "disturbing but also adorable". When I trudged into the kitchen, a small grey creature was sitting above our kitchen cabinets (the world's most ignored dust trap) making angry noises at all and sundry. My perfect, beautiful cat had probably gone up there to check for breakfast. My perfect, beautiful husband had to grab a cat throwing a small tantrum while trying to avoid his reach (only Seth is tall or long-armed enough to get to the top of the kitchen cabinets).

We haven't yet figured out if a) Dorian hopped up there and got "stuck in a tree", which means both us humans didn't hear him crying for a bunch of hours or b) Dorian hopped up there and could get down perfectly fine on his own; he was yelling at us so we wouldn't bring him down.

I do know that previous to this, I've found treat bags I had safely stored on top of the fridge with its innards ripped out on the floor. Yesterday, he tried to supplement his diet by tearing a hole in a new bag of dry polenta I left on the dining table. A couple of weeks ago, he managed to pry our dried goods cupboard by jumping onto the counter and pushing out the cupboard door with his...paw? Head? Who knows? And we found a ravaged bag of dried anchovies, a broken bag of unpopped popcorn and cat sick probably as a result of trying to eat unpopped popcorn. He likes popcorn. Popcorn is the best, next to pizza, and whatever else I'm eating, because stuff I eat tastes good.

When [livejournal.com profile] cr0wgrrl and spouse showed up at our address with meat buns and strawberry sponge cake roll, Food Inspector Cat pattered right up, stood with his face on her knee and tried to nip the meat bun from her hands. He spent the next two or three hours trying to sneak away with a slice of strawberry sponge cake roll when we weren't looking. This is possibly more entertaining than it should be. The farthest he got was getting a slice close to the edge of the table while I was on my laptop.

He is also fully cognizant that items like pizzas and sandwiches require both hands and my mouth to eat. I don't have to pinch off a piece for him, even, he can just nibble the other end of whatever it is I have. My mouth is occupied, so I can't warn him off. I need both hands to operate the average American pizza slice, so I can't shove him away. Naturally, if Seth happens to walk by while this is occurring, Dorian switches back to being a perfectly gentlemanly loaf next to my plate. Such a perfectly gentlemanly loaf is fully capable of looking up at us with loving eyes and wait until we are done with our portion of the food before nibbling the leftovers. He doesn't even mind if he has to lick our bowls clean. This is one of his free services, apart from intense kitten masseuse sessions. He loves us so much. And my Rice Krispies too.
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A long, long time ago, I read about steppe nomad sky burials and was entranced. I was particularly fascinated by the idea of a body, once deceased, being seen as a resource to feed something else. Carrion birds in this case -- Strangers in a Strange Land this is not. Tibetan Buddhism considers the deceased body at face value, in that the person is gone and what is left is empty flesh. Steppe geography, with its flat, generally treeless landscape and undiggable bedrock, makes sky burials a practical choice. While in some places the burial may have been no more than simply leaving a body exposed to the elements in a high place, Tibetan burials take a more involved approach. Designated undertakers dismembered and prepare the flesh for waiting vultures, a job that from my understanding is undertaken with the same practicality and spirit as a seasonal butchering. This idea fascinated me most of all. The occupation of undertaking in every culture is intimately preparing the dead for the afterlife, spiritual and physical. How we prepare the dead, in other words, says a lot about how we grieve.

In the Taoist and Christian funerals I saw growing up, the body was preserved so that it could lie in state and be remembered. I understood this as a part of the grieving process. The body was chilled and/or embalmed to give the family time to issue an obituary in the newspapers, which allowed for distant mourners to pay their respects. Islamic funerals are markedly briefer affairs, as the body is ideally buried the dawn after death. This is most likely a holdover from the religion's desert origins and emphasis on private cleanliness. That always seemed eminently sensible to me as it saved on the expense of prolonging a funeral while being resource efficient. Before burial, the corpse would usually be washed by relatives (women for female dead, men for male dead) or an elder designated with this task, and forms the most intimate part of the grieving process.

Unlike Taoist and Christian funerals, Muslim corpses are buried usually wrapped in a simple cloth and not coffins. A coffin or similar item might be used to transport the corpse to the grave site (which seemed particularly true if the deceased was someone wealthy or important), but the general idea was that the flesh had to touch the earth. When you think about it, this makes the decomposition process cleaner, as there is no preservative element between spaces. In all these cultures, remembering the dead was an involved process with vigils, prayer sessions and large family gatherings. Once it was time for the experts to finish the cycle, i.e. gravediggers or crematoriums, the family washes its hands of the body. A funny thing about having official burial grounds, a staple of urban planning, is that by concentrating bodies in otherwise unused land, we are also concentrating a vital source of soil revitalisation in a place where it is most underused. Death in the natural landscape, placed randomly, redistributes what is left of us to continue the cycle of life. A dead body isn't technically dead. Part of the reason we consider the hygienic disposal of our dead at all is because corpses teem with life, from the bacteria that eats us from the inside to the illnesses that may spread from improper disposal. Some modern cemeteries try to balance this as part of their marketing, turning grave sites into a tree grove for example. Victorian cemeteries were designed to be used as parks in broad daylight, so fearing the cemetery or even considering it a bleak place clearly is more about our current social mores than it is based on the reality of death. Butchering bodies for carrion takes the reality of steppe geography and its most prominent recyclers, carrion birds, as a means to an end.

For The Bone Beathers, I wanted to play with the idea of the lonely gatekeeper to the afterlife at the top. It combines a longstanding interest in ancient step archaeology and the idea, the 'honour', of being that designated person, the elder whose job it is to care for the dead. People don't always choose their occupations. What if someone was compelled upon to join a family of undertakers? Division of labour in nomad herding cultures tends to be clear cut, with men travelling and trading, women milking and responsible for food production, while children, unmarried or childless singles tend the livestock. A certain egalitarianism existed in ancient societies like the Scythians (themselves a collection of various steppe peoples the Greek lumped together), where women led tribes in peace and war, and fought alongside their men. The Greeks rather hilariously assumed Scythians were all-female because men and women dressed alike. The bow, the great equaliser, meant that women and children could take up the defense of a camp, or shoot at oncoming armies from horseback. Modern horse-herding peoples, such as the Mongols, still retain some of these values. Yak and sheep-herding nomads appeared to have different norms (being more pastoral than war-like), although all share a natural independence and loyalty to family arising from mutual dependence in a harsh environment. I tried to get a sense of that across, the sense of smallness in an incredibly vast landscape, but paradoxically, the freedom to be lost in that landscape. Ultimately, the story ends on one of my favourite subjects, which is how removing a cog from an assumed social system collapses the tower. And murder. Because murder makes everything better.

The Bone Beaters is slated to appear in the May 2017 issue of The Dark.

Robo-woes

Nov. 2nd, 2016 12:27 am
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So, Robomaid, our Neato XV-11, seems to have finally coughed up its last hairball. Over the past year, it was giving out more frequent and more difficult to diagnose "My brush is stuck," error messages. Usually, this means cleaning under the ball bearings on either side of its brush, as well as the brush itself. About 3 months ago, no amount of cleaning would help. I finally managed to see that the shaft attached to the drive belt seemed to have accumulated hair around one end. The shaft itself is a solid piece of forged metal with no open ends, so I tried using tweezers to reach through the narrow opening and pinch hair out. This was a good idea in theory, but the tweezers weren't strong enough to pry open four years of twisted hair.

I then figured that if I could remove the bottom casing, I might have a chance of cutting away the hair completely. But even after taking out what I thought were all the screws, there was no conceivable way I could see to remove the top and bottom casing from each other. I tried this twice, once on my own and another following a video to figure out which screws I missed. Even then I was doubtful I could remove the top casing without actually breaking something. Plus, it wasn't obvious to me that the bottom casing would come free the way I thought it would, with an obvious entry to the shaft for cleaning.

An online search gave some suggestions. Among them, I tried using WD-40 to melt the hair (this seemed chemically implausible), or loosen it. This totally didn't work, although WD-40 is good to help clean out dust that might be blocking you from seeing straight down under the drive belt. I tried Nair on a cotton bud for the same purpose -- which sort of worked. Unfortunately, Nair is an opaque cream that is more trouble than help. One of the suggestions was to use a Havel's Ultra Pro Seam Ripper, which is basically a thin scalpel with a hooked end (like a very tiny halberd). Apart from the sheer fun of wielding a small scalpel, it wasn't entirely obvious to me at first how I was supposed to apply it to the shaft. What you have to do is essentially run the hooked end facing downwards to catch on and rip into the ring of hair. Any hair that comes loose needs to be tweezed out. About 2 hours of sawing later, I finally saw the glint of metal in the darkness. A test drive of Robomaid suggested she was cured.

Then I tried running it for real to vacuum our bedroom. Five minutes later, Robomaid stopped with "My brush is stuck." In a house with two cats and two people, I can sympathise if a wee robot vacuum decides to face down the dust under our bed and get a heart attack. I tried cleaning the brushes, pulling out a little ring of suspiciously beige fur from under one of the ball bearings. No dice.

At this point, even though a tiny part of my soul goes, "You cannot win overly-sensitive precision tool!", I am leaning on just getting the pros to pry the damn thing open and figure out what I couldn't. Mind you, this is cautious optimism. Robomaid has served us well for the past four or five years. But if the problem is hair, and I can't remove it, we could be looking at something that will repeat itself later. I mean, I just replaced the batteries with new ones! So a part of me wants to spend the night sawing at the drive shaft some more, and a part of me is like, "I'll just pay someone $95 shipping included to fix that in the morning." Seth leans in favour of the latter. He also suggested three months ago that I should get one of the newer Neatos, which comes complete with Wi-Fi, a mobile phone app, telescopic brushing arms (those make me go oooh!) and a better battery. Given that Black Friday is coming up, it seems a good idea to save up for that. Honestly, a second robot vacuum isn't a terrible idea. Owning one has been a real quality of life improvement. It's near impossible for me to reach into the places Robomaid could with a normal vacuum, and a normal vacuum is great for specific narrow places, but gives me tinnitus in the process. Also, cats. One of my cats is the fur of three cats. The other one seems to like rolling in dirt. And leaves. And bits of cardboard. I can see Robomaid just scanning our carpets and blaming us for all the injustice in the world from the crumbs. The crumbs!

We should just assume I come from that generation of people where electronics don't go tits up on you after five years.
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For my birthday this year, we decided to head to Vegas for the FFXIV Fan Fest -- an incredibly impromptu decision that was all the more amazing in that we actually got tickets (all the tickets apparently sold out in 2 hours). I hadn't been to Vegas before, so for me it was a kind of sociological experiment. I also hadn't been to a gaming convention before, being that for the vast majority of my game-playing life, they were either a) too far or b) too expensive. That I had a buddy with me honestly helped.

Some back story here: Seth and I have been playing FFXIV 2.0 since beta, or roughly around the last 3 years. It's been the keeper MMO for us, and we've been playing a lot of different MMOs. The primary draw is the system (you can play every class/job (specialisation) you want on the same character) and in particular, the crafting. Three years in, my end-game goals are still primarily making furniture (more on that later). It's also an amazingly tight game in terms of writing consistency and bugs (or the remarkable lack of them per patch). The graphics and soundtrack are on par with the current Final Fantasy games in general, which is to say they're gorgeous. I believe the "Yoshitaka Amano designed the title graphic" thing is still alive. Again three years in, I still catch myself wandering around some zone and suddenly realising the horizon or the plants are breathtaking, even if I've passed that place hundreds of times before. Yes, it's kind of a resource hog, but it's also worth the good graphics card.

So the game is something close to both of us, and we never thought we'd ever make it to the Fan Fest, but we did.

Read more... )
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 Yesterday I decided to strap Dorian into a backpack-type cat carrier and carry him to the SPCA hospital for his shots. He howled sadly for three blocks and anxiously piped down. Dor was quick to realise that shifting his weight in any one direction would cause me to tilt, so he tried to stretch out and balance his weight as much as possible. Good job, cat!

This kitten papoose thing is really neat. Technically it has a telescopic handle and wheels, but I don't trust our pavements with it. I also think that having the cat against my back goes some way towards calming him down. It is pretty big though. It's built tall enough for cats to sit up in, and in theory it's large enough for a cat to curl up rather than constantly sit in a loaf. I felt really tiny carrying this thing uphill. If it were an emergency, we could probably chuck both cats in here and go... slowly.

I don't consider carrying my cat eight blocks a terrible hardship. And it's much cheaper in the long run than maintaining a Zipcar account for those three times a year we drag the cats kicking and screaming to the vet. It also saves the amount of times I need to apologise to cabbies for my sad kitten. Mind you, I have large cats and they aren't light -- I haven't had to carry a backpack this large or heavy since secondary school, but I need the exercise. It will be... interesting when Sif's turn in this comes up. Dorian is a champion vet visitor. Sif we've heard trained technicians yell for spare hands to hold down the wailing beastie with for routine shots. 

Either way, I like the walk to the SPCA. It's nice broad sidewalks through the industrial edge of the Mission, which reminds me I have always wanted to catch a show at the local theatre companies in the area and put my name down for the Charles Chocolate hot cocoa high tea. I kept maneuvering around to keep the sun out of Dorian's face, but the weather was nice. Seth met me at the vet's to help carry Dorian home, which made it easier to share the load. 

It was the worst day ever for Dorian. But I think the seven consecutive treats went some way towards atoning for my sins...
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So, Melbourne CBD. It's a weird place. Within the span of a four block radius, we've found more game, comic and anime stores than either of us could have guessed would exist in one city. The laneway shops and upper storey stores that stack haphazardly upon themselves sometimes rely on the smallest of signage -- if such a thing is even visible at street level, so more often than not, we literally walk past a store before we know it's there. Once, I spotted a guy carrying what was clearly a fresh comic store-labelled bag. A few doors down, we spot the signboard that lead us up the narrow stairwell that went totally not into a small comic store in the wall. The shop was gigantic and alphabetical, with a Previously Owned/Discounted bin bigger than the stock in some of the (what I previously thought were) large stores would have. You just wouldn't see it past the narrow stairwell from street level unless you were looking for it.

Seth found a place called Dungeon of Magic on Google Maps, which turned out to be literally a dungeon store of Magic: TG. We wandered down another basement to Minotaur, which is what I can only describe as a Tower Records of all the merch there ever was. They had sections for novels, models (anime, TV and random game franchises), DVDs, manga, a large shop in itself of comics (excellent indie section) and the best part was that it was all patronised. Like, not by a bunch of old guys people our age poking around the corners, although we were clearly represented, but also schoolgirls shopping in groups for the latest anime, families with kids buying cards and other women just picking up models to put on their shelves at home. In the span of the next 3 hours, we walked out of a Hungry Jack's and up the decrepit lift to a tiny anime store whose dusty signboard was smushed between ads for beauty parlours, and passed by what we thought was a closed board game store on the way to dinner. By our reckoning, the tiny anime store was probably surviving on mail orders, but even that store was patronised, albeit by a much more specialised breed of Idolmaster fandom than the average bear.

The closed game store, Mind Games, which we visited during business hours the next day, was definitely worth the look. a) What we thought was just another board game store was really a board and card game store, role-playing bookstore (with models) and tabletop wargame specialist (with everything); b) The wargame stuff took up a whole separate floor we once again didn't immediately spot at street level; c) Never before have I seen all the Citadel paint colours together in one store, alongside at least four other brands of model paint and equipment. I picked up two Gloom add-ons (Nightmare on Cthulthu Street! Something to do with vampires!) and Seth picked up a Warhammer40K novel, and both of us tried not to bring home 24 colours of unusual pastels or something. Yes, we could and should just mail order the paint, but they're right there in a jar if we wanted.

I think at some point, we might want to pick up souvenirs for friends. I'm told the proper way of things is to get people Tim-Tams.

Note: On the way home from dinner, a giant pink signboard happened across the street that read: "Nekocards -- Trading Cards". I now feel like there are roaming armies of M:TG and Future Card Buddyfight players all around us seekritly prepared to pull out their spell circles at the drop of a hat.
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Ah, Masseuse Cat. By day, he is a fearsome predator and guard cat, killer of vermin, eater of bugs. At night, I am to be scolded to sit still so he can knead up my arms with all four feet while climbing backwards then stick his bum in my face. And then we repeat that for each arm, until he is convinced I am suitably macerated, based on his vast knowledge of Traditional Cat Medicine. Interestingly, if I have a sick belly, Masseuse Cat will make sure my stomach is carefully kneaded of its ills. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but Masseuse Cat knows best.

Meanwhile, Sif rolls luxuriously into old age, being quite happy with four meals and a nap. And belly rubs. And chin rests. And treats. And love. More love. All the love.

I plot many things I do not quite get to. I think I have frozen enough berries to last us a year. But most days I lack the energy to cook, much less make mythical cherry pies. Trying to keep us in home cooked meals is going to take rather more effort than I'm putting into this right now.

I am hoping to make a pie this week. Or brownies. I have a diabolical plan of garnishing the brownies with a small amount of shaved hard cheese and sugar. I can attest to the fact cream cheese tastes awesome in brownies. So, salted caramel cheese topping isn't that far fetched. When I do make this thing, and if it turns out good, I should bring some to the cheese guy at the farmer's market. His cheeses are magical, he chats much about cheese pairings and won't stop feeding people samples. Someday, he intends to bring out his bottle of chocolate syrup to prove that cheese really does go well with fudge sauce. Don't hate the chocolate-cheese. I convinced Seth sliced pears and cheese go well together by making a pear and cheese sandwich for dinner once. I wonder where the really bored Chinese dude who sells pears at the farmer's market went to? He's the most bored pear seller ever, but if you ignore that, the pears themselves are amazing.

You know those organic cherries in fancy bags you get from the greengrocer's? The stone fruit guy makes cherries that, pound for pound, make any cherry organic or otherwise look like green peas. Seriously humongous cherries. I could not pass those cherries and not buy them. They're twice the size of the average cherry and I swear they're just normal Rainiers and Bings. Also, he sells very nice peaches and apricots, and plums close to summer. I'm not a big fan of plums (well, in puddings and meat sauce maybe), but I do really like cooking with peaches and apricots. A long time ago, my friend [livejournal.com profile] desertwolf coined me up to stir frying peaches with chicken. Garlic, peaches and chicken really work. Actually, I can't think of any meat at this point that tastes bad with peaches.

Someday, I will buy a whole duck from the local organic market. Those darn things mock me from the chiller case behind the butcher every time I visit. Also, store-made bottarga. They sell duck fat by the tub. It is utter deliciousness. I bought a tub to make pie with, but I actually haven't made pie crust with it yet because I get distracted and use it in other foods. Hopefully, I make the pie before I go buy another tub. This could be a challenge.

Also, dulce de leche is caramel sauce in a can. I consider this a form of genius. Instead of butterscotch nibs, I can mix it into chocolate chip cookies, replace the sugar and satisfy my poor husband's love of caramels (they're too sweet for pure burned sugar!) all at the same time.

Did you know it is remarkably easy to write ramblings about food? It is.

Now, I must go sit on a couch and become limp, because Masseuse Cat is bored and if he gets any more bored, he'll knock things off shelves.
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Two men came to my door today. They were bearded, wore cotton kaftans, one even came complete with skullcap, asked for me by my first name and wanted to let me know there was a mosque round the other side of Bernal Heights. I should feel free to visit sometime.

Here's where it gets odd. I don't have a land line, so I don't think I'm listed in the phone book. My contact info is listed on translation networks online, but none of it would be available to the public. The only place I can really think of that might list me is the business register, but you'd have to be scraping the barrel if you needed to look for Muslim-sounding names in City Hall's records. SF is diverse enough I know just looking for "Muslim-sounding" wouldn't help. People with Arab names out here don't have to be Muslim. People who look Arab don't have to be Muslims. 

Where is this Muslim informant mailing list I'm not subscribed to? More importantly, why would I even be on it? Who would cite me by first name and give my exact address? 

I'm not creeped out yet, but I am worried. There are more than enough reasons why I would never expect to open my front door to the friendly neighborhood Muslims in San Francisco, never mind ones who know and would call me by my first name. I didn't come here for this. And I shouldn't have to deal with this here-- a city I genuinely love and where I feel I am weird enough. I am not something to 'save'. I am not a lapsed  project. So what am I still doing wrong? 
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Well, Internet, I have finally joined the ranks of the smart phone people. There's been a few hurdles getting here. First was the cost: How do I justify paying for data and voice per month vs. what I was paying per use before? That finally changed earlier this year, when the sheer volume of texting I do finally made that cost somewhat equal -- in fact, cheaper over time, if I paid a set plan. Let's call this the effect of two writers being married to each other.

I grew up being heavily influenced by my father's love of computers (and computer games). When I was a teenager, I scoured the annual PC Gamer bumper issue for next year's hottest video card (and video games), much to the growing horror of my mother, who realised somewhere when I was 13 that she was never going to have the daughter she'd get to dress for parties. To put it lightly, I enjoy building my desktop so it can play ever-newer games with ever-fancier graphics with ever-more lags-in-the-middle-of-a-castle-siege, with lots of explosions on top. This is in direct conflict with my responsibilities as a green citizen. How do I reconcile a love of fancy video cards with the fact that every new gadget I buy uses up more potentially illegal, exploitative or dangerous underlying metals?

Most of my daily work is for the ad industry. It's given me a healthy cynicism for most corporate green initiatives. However, over the years I've read enough, from different perspectives, to understand the kinds of opportunities our increasing dependence on electronics brings to developing countries. I was born and bred in a country that owed its boom years to this industry. It does, it has and it will continue to raise the standard of living for more people than we could ever know. I was particularly impressed, earlier this year, after reading Leslie T. Chang's Factory Girls, which apart from being a riveting set of narratives, goes into some of the life-affirming aspects of rapid industrialisation for its workforce. The part that struck me most was how each migrant worker nearly always first purchases a new cell phone upon reaching their new town, and the ownership of a smart phone, with all its camera functions, dramatically changes their self-esteem. Making high-end tech products in the developing world, and slowly building the middle classes there that can afford to purchase these same products, is simply part of raising a society's standard of living. That would be the "push progress" message I've seen and heard growing up among the so-called Tiger Economies of Asia from the 90s. The message is so overwhelming, especially if you have lived in any big Asian city in the past three decades, people get kind of defensive when you raise some of the fallouts. Ruining the environment? Exploiting desperate migrant workers? But the developed world enjoys all these spoils, and how can they say we can't too?

One of the other things I keep in mind with this impasse is that for most of Asia, the environmental and social fallouts of all this industrialisation is still new. It makes sense, industrialisation, particularly as pertains the high-tech sector, for us is largely still new, take or give a few decades. The developed world warns about future losses because it's had the gains and reaped what it sowed. The developing world hasn't gone that far yet. This doesn't mean Asia is doomed to be a septic smog pit in the next century. It just means that catching up between the, "Wow, we have shopping malls!" and "Hey, our rivers have gone black!" is going to take time. Imagine if you will that my generation is possibly the first middle-classed and educated enough to indulge in 'organic', 'eco-friendly' and 'energy-saving'. Our parents did not want to live like their parents. Reconciling the genteel pastoral life with healthier living is a new concept. Now, are these ideas moving fast enough? That's hard to tell. It's clear we've already lost a significant amount of our natural resources to propel progress. That may never be recovered. I'm a hopeful person. I don't think we will lose everything. The developed world hasn't lost everything, and its countries were the guinea pigs of the Industrial Age. People adapt to their changing circumstances, it's what they do.

But how does any of this have to do with me getting a new telephone? I wanted to put my money where my mouth is. First, I looked for the most "cruelty free" smart phone out there. There's a neat company out there called Fairphone that's trying to make better, safer, greener and socially-conscious phones from the supply chain up. I'd love to get one of their phones when they hit the US, but right now, it looks like they're only catering to the European market. Samsung, it turns out, has a pretty good environmental record according to review sites. Its phones are widely available on US networks, and I have always liked Samsung's monitors. The Samsung Galaxy S4 just came out, and it has the functions I need, namely, a nice camera to post cat photos on the Internet, an intuitive keyboard and GoogleMaps with GPS tracking so I don't get lost everywhere.

Then came the problem of a carrier. Poking around brought up Credo Mobile, which openly donates part of its customers' charges to different progressive social causes as part of its business plan. Most of the causes are things I would support, they offered the phone I wanted and had the coverage I needed. My experience with them has actually been off to a fantastic start. I sent in my purchase order on a weekend, and my phone showed up on the next Tuesday. They worked with me to transfer my old phone number, from a prepaid account at a different carrier, on to my Credo account. I didn't even have to call my old carrier for all the convoluted details when we ran into a hitch, their customer representative did, I supplied some added info, and we were good. I haven't taken any life-affirming selfies yet, and I'm working on those cat photos. But I look forward to walking into Chinatown on Monday and not somehow emerging in North Beach. I might even get not lost enough to come home with tea eggs.
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My first pizza is baking in the oven, along with mini plum and sage pot pies. I am resisting the urge to bake cookies. But you know, the oven is hot, and I might as well not waste heat. The problem is that I can't decide which cookies to make, or make first: Kampar chicken biscuits or chocolate chip?

As the title to this post suggests, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn goes live tonight. The game honestly grew on us, and took a damn long time to at that. MMOs-that-both-us-like-going-live-night is a big deal in our house. Celebration food big deal, and leftovers big deal, because, uh, we won't be able to leave our desks for a few days.

Me and Seth both got into beta (I didn't even know there was a beta till he told me), and we've kind of realised how much we like playing MMOs together, that, and we are both kind of excited about the crafting (and the classes in general). Blame it on our tragic nostalgia for Vanguard's crafting system, which is our gold standard for this sort of thing. FFXIV's crafting is somewhere between Vanguard and the assembly-line stuff that permeates the market. The classy stuff is:

a) Crafting and gathering professions are each a character class, just like all the battle classes. Mastering a crafting/gathering profession is as big a deal as mastering say, being an Archer, or a Summoner. Hitting certain levels of crafting professions opens up areas, just like it would with all the battle classes.
b) There's no limit on what classes you can take, after picking at least one to level up to 10. Cook-Fisher-Botanist-Weaver-Alchemist-Pugilist? Sure!
c) They have player housing. That means we can obsessively craft furniture, tapestries and ikebana till we drop.
d) There's crafting and gathering and battling armour -- that's a lot of crafting and exploring new areas for new ingredients to do. Also, dyes. Seth and I have an obsessive relationship with dyes. We blame it on Warhammer.
e) There are individual skills that level up with you for crafting and gathering. How cool is that?

But wait! Wouldn't it be easier for you to buy a book on crocheting and some yarn?
What. And then how do I add +1 to everything?

Also, also! Moogles! Cactuars! Tonberries...somewhere. There must be.
vampyrichamster: (Default)
Dear World,

I have done a terrible thing. I accidentally stepped on a basement mouse. Now, it is lame. I don't know what the right thing to do is. I feel like I should keep it in a shoebox and make a little splint for it until it hopefully gets better. Or let it back out into the wild. Or snap its neck and end its misery. Seth forbade me from keeping it in a shoebox. I let it go near our back fence, where there are trees and not too good shrubbery. Maybe I should have let it go near our porch, so it could hide under our deck. Then I went back inside, and I heard one of the neighbour's cats crying somewhere above our fence. Then I went back outside, and moved the mouse -- who frankly can't walk very far -- behind a tree, where I know Dorian usually hears mices.

For all I know, I have doomed it in territorial combat with some other mouse.

I am filled with terrible feelings.

The End.
vampyrichamster: (Default)
Made baked beignets again yesterday. This time, the yeast sponge, bread dough and cut dough all rose well, but something was off in the final product. You know how health foods try to taste like normal food but don't? Not even in the way some alternative foods taste good in their own right, but things like health-food crackers, which look similar to crackers yet have the brittleness of shale and a flavour not too far distant. Beignets should taste like Paula Deen food. They should be like little squares of suicide notes that you can't stop eating. Think of funnel cakes. Beignets are the bread versions of funnel cakes.

My baked beignets tasted like leavened bread squares, lacking in any richness and which powdered sugar could not save. I think that baked beignets are still possible, but only if we reverse engineer them to make up for the fat that goes into deep frying. I'll be frank here -- I like deep fried foods, but I don't have a kitchen that would fare well with deep frying. Too much wood flooring and 100-year-old plaster than I care to wipe down. This would be seriously beyond the capacity of any spatter-proof lid to hold back as well. So a reverse engineered baked beignet would require a few modifications. Heavy cream and evaporated milk instead of just 'milk'. Lots of butter. Eggs. Enough eggs to make challah. Really, I imagine the ideal baked beignet to be closer to mini-brioches with sugar on top. Like so.

The recipe I linked to, above, calls for shortening. I can't abide Crisco -- it just smells and taste weird. So we're looking at either beef tallow (time to collect broth fats...) or butter. Given how I felt the beignets didn't rise enough both times I baked, we're looking at tallow. Or combination tallow and schmaltz? Oooooh.
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So, the 'chicory' I was growing turned into tomatoes. I thought something was suspicious when the adult leaves grew into no chicory I'd ever seen. I mean, with a stalk and leaves, rather than a lettuce-esque radial of leaves coming out of a suitably turnip-like root. This is remarkably disappointing, since it means my entire packet of seeds was probably mislabeled. I've kept the three tomato plants around. They've begun to flower. While I am deeply dubious I will get tomatoes, my garden experiments have been odd in general.

As the tomatoes wait to become what they are, I've lined the boxes with spring onions and the mustard greens I am now trying to get rid of the seeds for. The mustards never grow to full size on my porch, making them effectively slow salad greens. More importantly, we were visited by the polite raccoon again last night, resulting in many slightly crushed and bruised mustard plantlings. Polite, mind you, not because it's ever tipped its hat to me -- though that would make me like it more -- but because it manages to carefully dig in my boxes without spilling any crumbs. I am beyond an ability to be angry here. It's just thinking of the raccoon as a sort of Dorian with opposable thumbs.

I think the irony of this is that just the other day, I was looking at Coles Hardware's raccoon repellent rack and wondering if I should get some pellets, given that I'd not been foraged by a raccoon for about two months straight.

If I have been quiet lately, it's partly because it's hard being a hikkikomori with social obligations, and also because the spouse and I developed a damaging relationship with classic ironman XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Oh, XCOM, I hear you go. That old game. No, not quite. You see, they remade the original XCOM so that everything you once had to imagine in 256 colour is now brilliantly smoked and shot through with light in HD. Also features streamlined commands (no 100-page manual!) and all the fiendishness of setting up cover only to have it grenaded away by the next passing Muton. It even has troop-killing, game ending-fail bugs, which makes it extra charming, and like, old school. But don't mind me. Playing 58 games (that's 'game' as in campaign, not 58 maps) of ironman (read: no saves), watching people miss shots on 98% hit chance for aliens as big as a wall makes one... a little bitter. I highly recommend XCOM. Because it's awesome.

My two most recent quests are to somehow make ten minutes of walking a part of each day, and baking bread. Yesterday, we walked to Sun Fatt Seafood where the really nice Fish Uncle (he's the one with the moustache) actually remembered I hadn't been there in a while. That made me a little guilty. I love Sun Fatt Seafood. They recently upgraded their store to have sushi-grade fish, about 20 different kinds of oyster and uni. So it's totally rad. I am experimenting with buying whole fishes instead of fillets. No, I don't know what I'm doing with all that fish stock yet. I walked out of Sun Fatt with a Fish Uncle-recommended snapper for steaming and a whole mackerel to grill in salt. The snapper was lovely! Tender, sweet flesh, not too many pin bones. Bringing home a nice fish for dinner makes me smile. After carefully scraping off every bit of meat I could from the bones, I gave the cheeks to me and the eyeballs to the cats. They seemed pleased.

Baking, unfortunately enough, is not one of my crafting skills. My mother, an excellent baker, might be ashamed. I finally caved and got new yeast. I had this yeast, see, that had been living in my freezer for four years, and stuff doesn't rise with it because yeast is not eternal. I was partly motivated to try this bread-baking stuff after watching the fascinating history of bread according to Humanity has Declined (a show that shares both an Afi-like title and an Afi sense of humour -- you were warned). Thanks to my new yeast, I got four mini loaves of the closest thing I've ever made to bread yet. The crumb was a bit dense, close to rye bread, but it was bread. Bread in my mind should be fluffy, puffy clouds of yeasty dough slathered with butter and sprinkled with sugar on top. Thanks to my mother's macrobiotic phase, I know that bread can also taste too healthy. Bread that is too healthy is not really bread, it is a health food. The local bakeries make a lovely challah, so I don't know if I want to even try going down the cloud bread route (although...fluffy buns shaped like Sif...) But I would like to make pretzels, maybe, or the baked beignets that failed last time because of not-eternal yeast.

My ten minute walk for today should be to the supermarket for bread flour...
vampyrichamster: (Default)
Made cheesecake for the first time on Friday. The process was remarkably easy, something [livejournal.com profile] mokie mentioned a long, long time ago. Unpacking the butter and cheese was a fascinating process for Dorian.

Butter! Let me lick the stick of butter! I wish to gnaw it and run away with it and lick it like the stick of butter that it is!

Comparatively speaking, crushing up crackers for the base got far less attention, until I brought out the melted butter.

Butter! It has a liquid form! Does it still taste like butter? I need to find out!

I used purely honey instead of sugar in the cake, resulting in a smooth, delicate sweetness. Not too sugary. I also substituted half the cream cheese for yoghurt and extra lemon juice, so there's a good taste of actual cheese and dairy, without being too rich. My first slice was served with a cherry-sake reduction, and fresh Rainier cherries. That drove up the sweetness quotient somewhat, although there was honey in the reduction. I might try straight up cherry juice and sake next time, or just the fresh cherries. This was the first time I've had Rainier cherries -- found them at our local grocerer, and they are delicious. Like wee peaches, softly sweet and quite gentle, not nearly as robust as Bings. When eaten alone, my cheesecake is everything I miss about cheesecake.

I do have to work on my cake crust. I buttered together some leftover ginger snap crumbs and unbaked crumbly bits I'd frozen off a very dry cookie dough. The crust is nice, but a little hard on the knives to cut through. I don't have a cake knife, and since all the cakes I've made before are very soft cakes, I've never needed one. My solution thus far has been to run my cake with a pizza cutter (needs to be sharpened), then carefully try to lift whole pieces by nudging and slightly cracking the pieces of crust away from each other. I also overbaked the cheesecake, not trusting my instincts to take it out when I thought it was done about 10 minutes before my timer went off.

Dorian got cream cheese and butter wrappers to lick, and bonus mac and cheese from my dinner plate. A little bribery goes a long way with Dorian. After an evening of helping me bake (and eat things), he spent an age kneading my arms into a soft, velvety purr. Sif, oddly enough, has not yet figured out I have cheesecake. She's usually very fond of the pastries and cakes. I wouldn't wave it around under her nose, but I wonder.
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Yesterday, we bleached my hair. For about 24 hours, I looked like Ichi the Killer. It made me feel a bit odd, like I was an extra stylish Asian trying to look blonde. More or less, I was a little terrified of catching myself in a mirror. That was corrected this afternoon, when we got everything on my head purple, maybe many shades of purple, depending on how well the light and dark bits take. It's all still freshly washed, so we can't really tell how everything looks yet. My fringe seems to be a brighter eggplant than the rest, at least. The spouse has been an absolute treasure throughout this process, volunteering and dabbing my head with bleach, after carefully slathering my ears with Vaseline. The cats supervised. Dorian wanted to help, but I think there might be laws against turning my cat purple. I resisted the urge to uncover my shower cap and smother Sif in my purple-soaked hair all afternoon.

For the longest while, I was quite happy with standard Asian black hair. When turning one's hair brown was popular, I refused to go with it. My mother got into it to cover her greys, and would often berate me for being out of touch with fashion in every way, including my hair. I just couldn't see myself in the scarlet-amber shades. I have long liked nice dark blues and purples, and silvers and whites. Unfortunately, I couldn't see that going well with me walking down the streets of Kuala Lumpur. I get enough trouble from over-eager cab drivers there about my ethnicity. That, and I'm very honestly not sure about how I look with light hair in general. My skin tone is way too brown.

I thought about baking cookies while the bleach was working. Seth talked me against it, something about poisons in my hair. I suspect there will be much baking over the next few days. Or, I will walk into Knead and just buy enough pastries to last me through the weekend, in a gluttonous smorgasbord of custard tarts and orange madeleines. It will be a treat if that happens. I may just not leave the house from sheer inertia. They gave away miniature wedding cakes for Pride, which I missed. The gesture sounded awesome though.

At my last weighing, I am apparently 109 pounds. I have never been over 100 pounds in my life. Four years ago, I was sticking to around 89. I would have thought, since I eat very little on normal work days, often forgetting meals entirely, my weight wouldn't have risen particularly widely. On most days, I get about one full meal in, usually dinner. Not on purpose, mind you -- there's often too much to do, so meals are late. Over the course of our week-long holiday for July 4th, I've done a little better. Not great, but better. I even managed to make a nice dinner for us on Tuesday, with bribery gristle from our steaks for Food Inspector Cat. Both cats seem to actually be calmer when I am barefoot and in the kitchen. Sif is generally calm when I am calm. Dorian just likes me in the kitchen, provided I am cooking. It amuses me greatly to watch him follow Seth's chopsticks while he eats, a compliment to my food.
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I have discovered my brand of disheveled, nomad Asian rocker chic. It is called Alicegohome. It has the requisite amount of confounding layers, completely unreasonable zippers and straps (What! What do you mean they are two separate things?), an intense love of fabrics, deliciously complex constructions and has a name that sounds like a band I'd listen to.

It has things even my mum might approve of, stuff she probably won't (I am 100% not a jegging person, or a legging person, but something has to be said of combining denim swatches and stockings), and stuff that look like unique perversions of the girly clothes she would make me wear.

Naturally, being something that I like, it's primarily in a foreign language, has nearly no international shipping and is hardly ever distributed abroad. Yesstyle actually has a fraction of the current season's collection. Which includes about two of the pieces I'd actually get. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that means I save money. Maybe.

Yesstyle finally mailed out my order from three weeks ago. One of the items somehow fell out of stock, got back in stock, fell out of stock again. On the bright side, the short hop from their Hong Kong headquarters took all of three days. My clothes are technically now in southern California, with potential delivery possibly by Monday. Also broke down and got a sock garter band, because my classic sock garter isn't very good with thigh highs, and I find sock glue dubious. Sock glue works -- it works great actually, when your socks have lacy tops and you are terrified you might damage the lacy tops by pulling. I just like generally more permanent-looking solutions.

Meanwhile, the spouse and I are planning to make turning my hair purple a weekend event, we hope. He has dyeing experience enough for the both of us. Theoretically, I get this idea that if I ever developed a penchant for putting eyeliner on myself, he could help with that too.

My Gentle Souls boots arrived last week. They are gorgeously soft and decadent. I think at 5.5, I got the right size to hold thicker socks while still being tight enough to need breaking in. I still can't help but think I am wearing the gentle souls of docile deer. Not in a bad way. I'd wear the deer and eat it too -- alas, vegetarian I am not. But hey, deer. I still have no idea where my camera went, so no photos yet, [livejournal.com profile] countlibras.

Speaking of [livejournal.com profile] countlibras, I nearly lost the crop of shiso she sent me too. I think I overwatered the seedlings way back, and I watched in terror as one half-inch high seedling after another withered and died. In great desperation, and also because my other vegetables looked thin and weak, I ordered some liquified carp. My mother used liquified carp on her garden, and I think it has made the soil in every pot and planter I have a lot healthier. The EarthBoxes actually have very good compost in them, and thriving worm colonies, which get fed all the time with my kitchen scraps. It just was lacking decent fertiliser. The shiso pot was erring on the side of dry and dessicated. I essentially repotted the three seedlings that were left, added plenty of diluted carp and watched how, in a week, the plants seem to be growing. It has been now long enough it's probably not my imagination saying the leaves are bigger. My catnip in a catnip jar is shooting up, enough that I'm considering trying to transplant a couple of the seedlines onto my barren window planter. I fancied my idea of planting catnip in an ex-catnip jar (even has a smiley cat on it) was clever, but Dorian, the cat most liable to taste things, has shown more interest in the lemongrass growing practically feral out of its pot than the catnip. I wonder if I should be worried.

The daikon top I tried to grow got nowhere once it was transplanted into the box. My theory is that there were enough rotting bits on it the compost creatures just ate it from within. In its place will go a resurrected celery heart, whose miraculous properties are not quite a joke. This was a wilted, yellowed celery heart my husband dug out from our onion cabinet in the fridge and stuck in water. Not only did it double in size overnight (I had to ask Seth where we got this new celery bit from), it's now green with splendid tops.

Unfortunately, try as I might, I think the purple mustards I grew back in April have probably stagnated. The maturity period on the seed packet says 45 to 75 days, but given that these guys are supposed to also grow about 18" high, I think the lack of early fertilisation meant they're stuck dwarves at 3", even after thinning and transplanting. The good news is that more mustard seedlings have already started to shoot up underneath the biggest plants. The new seeds I bought are kind of awesome that way. Chicory is putting out lots of greenery. Keep staring at the stems hoping the bottoms are also fattening up. One step closer to growing food (that lives).
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Dorian, our cat with the telescopic neck and an uncanny ability to manifest over our shoulders when fish is on the plate, has recently developed an untenable habit of zipping in when Sif pauses mid-meal, and running off with as much of her meal as he can stuff in his cheek pouches. His other mutant ability, as it turns out, is food inhalation. You may laugh, but I have heard him eat raw steak with sounds of, "Schluuuuuurp! Schluuuuuuurp!" I do not know how you eat steak by inhaling it.

Sif, meanwhile, is tragically defenseless against Dorian's food ninja speed and surprising telescopic qualities. You think you've scooped him off the floor in time. No! In that split second it takes to cuddle him to your chest, he has hoovered up a quarter can of tuna mix off the tiles and will be chomping it down as quickly as possible in mid-air. Mid. Air. We have tried serving him his food separately outside (the most effective means), holding him while Sif eats (results in a lot of grumbling) and watching him while she eats (thoroughly ineffective -- he's too fast). Even with four small meals a day, I worry one or the other cat is not receiving enough food.

Sometimes I wonder if we were the right family for Dorian. He's so full of energy and curiosity. We like to sit in front of screens and read things. My lazy parenting is thankful that we recently received a Booda Ball (I believe this is somehow related to the igloo-shaped litter box manufacturers), essentially a ball with a snuff compartment on one side and a space for treats in the other. Filling the Booda Ball with treats and having him roll it round gives us respite. He is a good little ball kicker. Sif stops at being confused by the whole treat ball principle. She may have understood treats are in the ball, but lacking any will to hunt down the treats, is more apt to accidentally run into one of the treats Dorian has kicked out. I actually think she finds taking out treats and not feeding them directly to her is some form of punishment. Well, now she's asleep from watching him kick around a ball. (Spouse: "Supervision is exhausting.")

Inspired by [livejournal.com profile] mokie, I decided to give Coffee & Tea Exchange's Sassafras Delight Black tea a go. Now, Mokes did a rather informative review of this tea way back (I kind of used her as my test hamster, however well-meaningfully). I had forgotten she said the smell of sassafras in this was strong. I bought a ¼ lbs. bag of sassafras tea, and 1 lbs. bags of normal black tea, including the hearthfired bottom-of-a-wok smoky Russian Caravan. The box smelled like sassafras from the moment I opened it to the time the rest of my kitchen smelled like root beer before bed.

Smelling of root beer is great. I spent all afternoon running back and forth between the study (whose litter box smelled like death and taxes) and snuffing the sassafras. I'd forgotten I loved the smell of root beer. It's wonderful.

Mokes also warned about the tea being cinnamony and a little spicy. I was looking forward to it. (I like my chai heavier towards the cardamom and black peppers.) Topped my standard 2-teaspoon measure with hot water and half and half. No sugar. I was hoping I'd get the flavour of root beer float once the vanilla ice cream had melted in. It doesn't taste quite like that. But it does taste like root beer. There was no bite, just a pleasant nip of cinnamon in the back of the tongue. The milk and cream really rounded out that floaty sassafras flavour. Without sugar, it actually had a hint of natural sweetness, which is tempered by the natural bitterness of black tea. On a scale of 5, I would give the caffeine in this a 2, after a regular 2 minute steep. I might try it steeped a bit longer next time, to see if makes everything else more robust.

Is it a good bedtime tea? Well, I'll see if I'm still up at four.
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After much hemming, hawing and measuring my calf, I finally caved and got myself some Gentle Souls boots (in black). The big push was that because I'd taken so long to decide, Frye's official site took down the Veronica back zip boots in the specific type of leather I wanted. (That took all of 48 hours, proving to me that when I like something and think I'll come back to it later, the opportunity withers at the roots and disappears into the dust from whence it came.) This is the tall version of the boot I wanted. Frye's has an amazing range of leathers, and even when something wasn't to my taste, I could appreciate the colouration and distressing. What drew me to the Veronica tumbled leather boots was how soft the tumbled leather looked. There are similar versions of Veronica, but in pull up form. I knew from trying on boots in store that pulling up boots, especially tall boots, was something of a struggle for me. A zipper, or even some form of button system, would be a real game changer. (Strings are nice to look at, tying them was never my best skill.) I was also genuinely worried, that at 5", 15' shafts with a habit of running long would be virtually unwalkable. For the price, I kind of wanted what I bought to be as perfect as possible. An 11.5' shaft makes a good compromise.

My father, you understand, helped instil a love of boots in me. He's a petroleum engineer by trade, if that helps. From a young age, it was sort of inadvertently ingrained into me that boots were best when they had a) protective steel toes and b) good rubber soles with lots of traction. Dad also really likes leather, which as we can imagine, beyond the realm of Texan oil companies and working on rigs, is not the most convenient material to wear in tropical Malaysia. But when boots were all the rage in the '90s, it was Dad who encouraged me to try wearing them. Prior to that, the most comfortable pair of shoes I'd ever worn were these lovely suede ballerina slippers I wore to death. I was quickly won over to the school of traction and protected toes.

Back in Asia, boots are largely fashion items. The heels are absolutely ridiculous. Oh, they are on fashion boots here too. Many boots have soles more appropriate for oxfords or work shoes. Some look downright slippery on a flat surface, others are narrow or peculiarly-shaped. One of my almost-purchases was perfectly stylish, with more straps and buckles in different configurations than is reasonable, but the sole was more of what I'd expect on a pair of office-bound leathers.

Here in San Francisco, I have the pleasure of wearing my boots every day, in rain or shine. My last pair of boots, a nice pair of Snowfly (a Malaysian brand) ankle boots, have lasted me at least 7 years. I found a nice store downtown that resoled them even better than before, with strong stitching down the front. Because the insole had deteriorated over the years, I tucked in some good gel pads, and these snug boots continue to do what they do best, but better.

A major selling point of Gentle Souls was in fact the flaxseed cushions in the gel soles. I know breaking in boots is part of their worth, but I wasn't sure torturing my feet while I walked made walking more pleasurable. Walking around in worn-down soles is painful. I look forward to trying out the cushioning system in my new boots. The absorbent deerskin lining in every shoe must be a bad insider pun. I will be wearing boots made of gentle souls, and I should add, I am quite fond of venison. Soon-ish, more talk about food, I think.
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The weather has just gotten warmer, which in the sense of this being San Francisco, meant we were warmer than other wintry locales to begin with, yet trapped in what felt like a permanent autumn. Sprouting seeds in this environment, I have found, is difficult and prone to tragedy. It doesn't help how little backyard sun we get. It keeps my unit snug and chill in summer, and not too badly off in winter. But it also means my hardworking sprouts grow to little dwarf vegetables, not liable to seed unless they bolt. The tomatoes I grew last year went up to at least 6 ft., but didn't get enough sun to turn flowers into fruits.

I'm not giving up -- yet. Leek cuttings from my kitchen scraps are turning into real leeks. Leeks are pricey but delicious. I'm going to dig out a particularly splayed leek tonight for chicken. I want it to grow more, but the splayed leaves are hiding way too many slugs. Some mysterious sprouts have shown up in both boxes. They are mysterious and strong. Since my EarthBoxes double up compost bins, the most likely candidate for these sprouts are bell peppers. I don't harbour any illusions that bell peppers will fruit on my porch, but I am collecting ideas on delicious stir fries and poaches for pepper shoots.

The Parisien carrot seeds I got free from a seed supplier last year have produced nothing. The shoots come up, look pretty for about 4 months, then they die, with no rooty goodness underneath. I might sow the remaining seeds in a shallow dish and harvest them for salad or something. They're tasty greens. Kind of bummed about the roots. Maybe the next time I get a bunch of organic carrots with tops, I'll save the tops to try and root.

The mizuna, of which only one plant survived, is starting to bolt. I'm waiting for the flower head to mature a bit more before I pull it out, because flower heads on mustard greens are the tastiest bits. This will probably also be the fate of the snow vegetables in the other box. They've not grown beyond 4-inch by 2-inch clusters since December. That seems like enough time to determine they're stunted. Or maybe they're just slow. I know that last year, I had the same issue with these inexplicable dwarves.

I was perusing Nichols Garden Nursery's website the other day, and they have all these cool exotic things I want to grow. Wolfberries! Pepper leaf bushes! Amaranth! Quinoa! TEA! I'm guessing I have way not enough sun for quinoa (but...but...high yield Andes grain plant...), and I'm all wobbly about the amaranth, though there are spinaches that can grow under semi-cover. Anything bush-like requires more pottery than I have, as they will be somewhat permanent. Tea is plausible, given our cool, permanently shady weather (see pottery issues), but tempting (see pottery issues). Tea takes a while to grow though, unless I'm using fresh shoots as a salad dressing. I did get chicory (Madgeburg), which yields both an edible green and roots that add chocolatey-malt flavours to coffee. The roots may also be cooked like similar root veggies. I know my luck with carrots have been dismal, but I'm hoping chicory will provide some kind of tasty root bulb. I also got a purple mustard (you're probably noticing a theme in my desperation to grow interesting mustards - it is all about how much I like them pickled and saladed), and cat mint, for my cats, obviously, but it's still a mint, and will still be dishable to humans.

The real improvement to my gardening will be EarthBox struts, to lift the boxes 2 ft. off the ground. I'm hoping this will not only give the boxes more sun, but aerate the soil more thoroughly for composting purposes (though things do disintegrate really fast in there already), and keep away slugs. I'm summarily executing slugs with a good crush and toss, but there seems to be more than last year. Frequent cinnamon and diatomaceous earth dustings only help so much when it's rainy.

Finally, in a burst of self-sufficiency (hah!), I planted the last of my leftover shiso seeds from last year, shiso seeds the ever-wonderful [personal profile] countlibras sent me at Christmas, and random basil seeds both leftover and found in the basement (from some long-ago resident who lived in my unit). The leftover shiso were the first to sprout, tiny, helpless looking sprouts in my window box in the airwell. We shall see. Rubbing my paws while staring at shoots to grow faster doesn't actually work.
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