Sunday, October 24, 2010

Vignette: Thrift Shop Duel

"How much?"

The salesgirl blinked up, mouth full of tuna salad. She offered a questioning "Mmf?" and put her sandwich down as a sign of good faith.

Uninterested in good faith, the matron waggled a sad-looking rhinestone necklace and repeated, with pointedly clear syllables, "How. Much?"

Swallow accomplished. "Ma'am, we're closed on Sundays; I'm just here doing inventory. That necklace hasn't been priced yet."

With even more emphatic clarity, "Yes. That is why I was forced to ask."

Anticipating battle, the salesgirl moved the sandwich under the counter. "No, I'm sorry, I meant that the price hasn't been set."

"Then set it."

"I'm sorry, Ma'am, but the owner does that. She'll be here tomorrow morning, when we open for the week. I'd be happy to tell her that you're interested in -- "

Further words were drowned in the matron's exasperated puff of breath. "You can't have paid more than eight dollars for it. I'll give you ten." The matron fished a bill out of her beaded purse, placed it gingerly on the counter, then lowered the necklace into the same purse as she proceeded to the door.

"Ma'am! No, Ma'am, I'm sorry, I can't sell that to you until the owner prices it. Ma'am!"

The only response was the ringing of the shop-bell as the door slammed.

Image: By Richard Masoner. Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Vignette: Coriolis Effect

Emily knew she was in trouble when she saw the marzipan dog.

She'd sent the dog as a joking gift for Aunt Clara's birthday. Year before last.

Clara always denied being a hoarder. She denied it when she was sorting the newspapers by date, and organizing credit card solicitations by color and size, and scraping bits of sugar out of chocolate boxes and filing them in gold and silver stacks. The word was not to be spoken around Clara.

That marzipan dog should have been filed in the second shelf of the third refrigerator in the garage, along with the cherry cordials that Clara received every year from her accountant, and other items in the category Food:Candy:Types Clara Doesn't Eat. But it was on the hall table, in the center of the silver tray that was supposed to contain bent paper clips and pennies issued before 1950.

Food with pennies. Clara had abandoned organization.

Trouble. Big, big trouble.

Emily picked up the dog and examined it. It was as adorable as it had looked in the catalog--too much so, no doubt. Clara normally ate marzipan, though she saved the box and the paper cups. Apparently the dog had crossed over into "too good to use", and was doomed to live in Clara's house forever.

It was impossible to imagine Clara's possessions being disposed of, even after her death. Even moving them or packing them away was absurd. The 1968 cans of peas could end up in the same box as the 2007 cans of apricots--violation of fruit versus vegetable, expired versus unexpired, crossing of decades. No. Clara would surely rise out of her grave. Or perhaps time itself would stop, to enforce Clara's rules of order.

Emily grimaced and reached to put the marzipan dog down. Then she paused. Then she did it.

She carried the marzipan dog to the kitchen. She moved one of the flower vases filed in the left-hand side of the sink. She adjusted the faucet so that its stream would fall directly into the drain.

She turned on the garbage disposal, and she dropped the marzipan dog into the drain.

The grinding was brittle. Then it was gummy. Then it faded into the normal roaring of the disposal motor.

The dog was gone, its sugary remains draining away toward the sewer. Away from Clara's house.

Away. From Clara's house. One of Clara's possessions had left. And there was no thundercrack, no opening of the sky, no roaring of God's voice.

Emily smiled.

Image: By Frank Kovalchek. Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Writing: Fiction. Vignettes. Maybe. It could happen.

So, NaNoWriMo is coming up. And every time NaNoWriMo comes up, I find myself realizing that I've barely written a single word of fiction since last year's NaNoWriMo. This is not a good thing, because I would like to find out whether I'm capable of writing fiction, and that's a little hard to do if I don't actually, y'know, write some. I may find that I write lousy fiction, but I can't be sure until I've written lots and lots of it and concluded that I'm not getting any better.

So I'm forming the tentative (ever so tentative) plan of starting to post short fictional vignettes in this blog. I'll start with ones that I wrote a while ago, so that if they're awful, I can blame my past self. But over time, I may actually (gulp) post something in the same month that I wrote it. Who knows - in the word-drunk state that NaNoWriMo brings on, I may even post something the same day that I write it.

We'll see. We'll just see. Yep.

I need to go drink some milk now.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Writing: Finding The Drive

I've been thinking lately that I need to write longer, deeper, more complicated, er, stuff. On the blog or off the blog. And I've been wondering why I seem to write mostly little short things - by which I mean, just a few paragraphs or even just a few lines, especially on the perfume blog. But I tell myself that short is the way I write, and I should embrace my own preferences, and blah blah blah.

But wait a minute.

I just started reading The Forest For The Trees, by Betsy Lerner, and read a bit about having to write - something like if you don't have to write, feel the need and drive to write, maybe that means you should wait for the drive. Something like that. And I thought, well, no, I like to write, but I'm rarely driven to write a blog post or story or some such thing. I rarely feel the words trying to escape, wanting to be written whether I like it or not.

But wait a minute.

I am driven to write. Long (comparatively) bits of writing, written eagerly, with a strong desire to express and persuade, and often with fascination with the structure of the writing, and eagerly edited and tightened and rearranged and re-read and re-read. I often write these several times a day - or, really, several times an evening. But I don't count them, because I'm writing them for forums, of all places. Internet forums. So for me, the urge and inspiration and the flood of words determined to escape comes on Internet forums, and apparently not anywhere else. What's with that?

I think that part of it is interactivity. I'll get back to that.

And part of it is the extent to which I feel that the writing represents me. Or, to put it another way, stage fright. The blogs have my name on them, and the presumption that I'm trying, at least a little, to write coherently and to write something that's interesting to someone other than myself. I think that I feel that coming to my blog has a "price of admission" aspect, and as such I owe people more. And so I end up giving people less, out of self-censorship. On the forums, I can contentedly write long, potentially self-indulgent, potentially overwrought, posts, and if I feel doubts as I press the submit button, I can quite easily shrug, "If they don't like it, well, too bad."

There's also anonymity, either real(ish) or imagined. On many of my forums, I've left (I hope) no link between my forum identity and my real life self. And on the others, my posts are buried in the forum clutter - it's not as if there are any secrets there, or even any guaranteed secrets on the forums where I hope I'm anonymous, but what I write doesn't feel nearly as "published." So if I want to ramble on and theorize about a problem with a toxic person, or my fears about something, or an attitude that I fear might be condemned, I feel more relaxed about expressing that.

So, back to interactivity. Forums hand me subjects, and people already prepared to disagree with me, or already eager for input on an issue. Like a recent NaNoWriMo debate about whether words unacceptable in everyday speech are acceptable in fiction. Or the ongoing debate on a blogging forum where I participate, over whether blogging is about money or not. Or someone asking for advice on what to do about a problematic family member. Stuff like that.

Do I have a conclusion? Not yet. But if you find that I start posting long, self-indulgent, overwrought posts, well, that'll be part of the experiment.

Image: By Ziko-C. Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gardening: The Craving For Empty Spaces

Years ago, I remember reading an article by someone who successfully grew a "meadow in a can". Unsurprisingly, the idea of just scattering the seeds and waiting for flowers didn't work out. As I recall, she planted, and weeded, and hoed, and transplanted, and did the same thing the following year, and eventually she had a space filled with tough wildflowers, all set and ready to self-maintain.

Then she plowed it under and planted something else.

It often seems to me that the pleasure of a garden is in the planning, and an empty space can give the gardener more pleasure than all the flowers or foliage in the world.  I never used to understand annuals; you have to chose and buy and plant them every year, often more than once a year. Now I'm realizing that that may be the whole point.

See that photo up there of our side gate, with all that foliage and all those red roses? I admire it, but when I look at it part of my mind is saying, "Hmph. Ground's full."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cooking: Onion/Pastry Project

I have a list of Long Lost Foods that I mourn. Examples that have been floating in and out of my hungry consciousness lately include:
  • The eggy-bread buns that they used to sell at a bakery at the Fancy Mall, the ones that they slashed across the top and doused with greasy onions cooked to a near-caramelized state and mixed with ittybitty bits of something hamlike.
  • The gloriously fatty shallow onion tart with a fine, flaky crust and ittybitty bits of something baconlike that they used to sell at a nearby pseudo-French restaurant. It was also served with a few random sprouts, some cornichons, and some really good olives.
  • The gigantic deep onion tart, with a little bit of bacon, that they used to sell at a French restaurant in Vancouver. Well, no, they still sell it, but Vancouver is, well, Vancouver. I can't just run down there for lunch. Also, last time I tried it it didn't seem quite greasy enough, and they warned me about the bacon. Now, I appreciate that a restaurant might warn a patron about an apparently-vegetarian dish that emphatically isn't, but I worry that they might be developing qualms about saturated fat. And that would just be wrong.
You're seeing the theme here, right? Fat, caramelized onions, pastry, and bits of pig. The bits of pig are optional - the more I read about the high intelligence of pigs, the closer I get to finding ways to get along without bacon. But nobody ever made friends with an onion, so I've decided that it's time to lay off the helpless longing thing and take control of my greasy onion pastry supply. The eggy buns demonstrate a level of breadmaking talent that I'm unlikely to achieve, so I'm hunting for tart recipes.

Recipes with a halfhearted attitude toward onion caramelization are scored down in my book - anyone that tells me to cook the onions for a paltry twenty minutes, or tells me to add sugar, or refers to "pale golden" onions, isn't getting my point. Caramelized onions should be cooked slowly until neither you or the onion can take any more waiting - forty minutes, an hour, maybe a little more. They should be brown and shriveled - no "golden" or "translucent" or "starting to soften" about it.

And Walla Walla and Vidalia onions are right out, though I won't throw out the recipe, I'll just ignore the onion recommendation. In my book, "sweet" onions don't just have less heat, they have less flavor - a shortage of the volatile stuff and the sugar. I want rock-hard, sugar-filled onions that make me cry when I slice them. If I ever get my hands on those Copra onions that I keep dreaming about, I'll use them for this.

And I'm skipping the tarts with a quiche/custard base - I haven't mastered those skills yet. And the ones with a top crust. And the ones with things like clams, figs, or apples. On the other hand, olives, cheese, anchovies, and crispy bits of pig are just fine. Even if I perhaps decide to skip the pig.

I'm looking at the following candidates:
That looks like plenty to start with.

Image: By Flik R. Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Gardening: Vegetable Excuses and Shady Onions


I want onions in my garden.

This would seem to be a perfectly reasonable goal for someone with a vegetable garden, if it weren't for the lack of sun mentioned in my previous post. I've tried, two years in a row, to grow shallots - really, potato onions - without success. The sensible thing would be to give up on growing my own onions and buy them from the grocery.

The problem is that groceries peel the papery skin off of onions, and as a result the onions go bad, quickly and unpredictably. I don't know why they do this. It's not as if they have the produce folks peeling potatoes or bananas or apples and putting them in stacks to rot and attract fruit flies. They add wax or even plastic to cucumbers, in spite of the cucumber's nice protective skin. But they're apparently under the illusion that the average grocery customer lives in terror of papery outer onion skin.

I've seen onions that appear to be the victims of frantic personnel _clawing_ off the last bit of loose skin that could possibly be separated from the bulb. I've seen gouges. I've seen almost entirely unprotected white or yellow union flesh. I've seen onions so naked that they attract fruit flies. Why, oh, why, can you tell me why they do this?!

Ahem. Anyway. Whatever the nefarious reason, the result is that onions from the grocery far, far too frequently turn up moldy when cut open. I'm tired of unreliable onions, so I want to grow my own - if not for all of my onion needs, at least for backup. What I grow doesn't have to be onion bulbs, it just has to taste of onion.

There are chives, of course - those are already growing. But they're a little too mellow and well-behaved for general onion purposes.

The Idiot Gardener tells me that leeks can grow in cool shade, so that's the first strategy.

And that makes me think of the mythical (to me) perennial bunching onion, an onion that's supposed to grow in stalks like scallions, bunching together and reproducing like chives. I've never successfully grown these, but that may be because I started the tiny seedlings in the same shady place where I planned to grow the onions on. If I instead start a patch in blazing sunlight (perhaps in a pot) maybe nice stocky divisions from a season or two later would consent to grow in less sun? It's worth a try.

The third strategy is onion sets grown to scallions. I've always vaguely disapproved of onion sets - such a big "seed" for such a small onion. But I find myself wondering if a set will consent to produce a decent scallion with limited sunlight, like a tulip is almost guaranteed to produce a flower the first year? And could I store a supply of sets in the fridge and plant a fresh handful every week or so, to keep the onions moving? If so, that could be a fine plan.

The last strategy is Egyptian walking onions. These are the onions that first put out normal green onion  stalks, then produce little bitty onions on top of the stalks, as if the onion failed to pay attention in onion class. These aerial onions, I'm told, can then be planted as if they were onion sets, and will produce scallions. So perhaps I could keep a small patch of walking onions in a sunny spot, producing enough sets to make scallions in the partial shade? I suspect that the answer is, no, I can't, but it's also worth a try.

Meanwhile, I will continue to complain about nude onions, and grocery personnel will continue to give me that good-natured confused look when I do so.

Image: By Hedwig Storch. Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Gardening: Leaves and Sun Denial

There's an area toward the back and side of the house that we've designated the vegetable garden. It's convenient to the back door, nestled into the fence, with a nice newish crazypaved path. We even added a light to enable evening herb-snipping. There's just one problem: It doesn't get full sun. Vegetables are supposed to have full sun. I know this. I believe this. But I continue to try to grow edibles in this space. They don't all fail - raspberries and herbs grow there, we had a couple of decent crops of snap beans, and rainbow chard put out a few leaves. And the shade is deciduous, so there will be a lot more sun from late fall to early spring.

So I thought, greens. Cold-weather greens while it's cold and sunny, and lettuce and other heat-sensitive greens while it's hot and shaded. This could give me a chance to use some of the information in various garden books that make me hungry. Joy Larkcom's The Salad Garden, for example, and her even more interesting Oriental Vegetables. And The Harrowsmith Salad Garden, by Turid Forsyth and Marilyn Simonds Mohr, always makes me feel as if I'm already tasting garlic and vineger and olive oil. And Rosalind Creasy's Edible Landscaping books - I have a battered old original, I believe from before they were broken up into many smaller books, and the pictures of the French and German gardens in particular always make me want to plant something.

The problem is that even greens tend to fail for me, a fact that I find inexplicable given the success of the bush beans, which I could have sworn were more sun-demanding than lettuce. So I plan to take a proper geek experimental approach, choosing several, or maybe more like a dozen, different leafy plants and planting examples of each in all of the different sunny or shady areas of the vegetable garden, plus perhaps a few more spots around the yard. I'll plant them at an inappropriately close spacing, because the goal of this experiment is to see if the plants thrive at all - if a plant crowds out of its four-inch spacing, it's already doing better than the average lettuce plant that I put in.

So. That's the plan. There will be updates.

Image: By Forest & Kim Starr. Wikimedia Commons.