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Halloween Treats

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

Witches and skeletons, pumpkins, and zombies…

This year, they are all here.

At a quarter to six, I stopped my manic re-write (my first story bounced off Interzone yesterday, and I have one day left—today—to push it back out before the NaNoWriMo madness starts) and rushed down to the kitchen to put the pigs’ tails on the simmer.

At the stroke of six, the doorbell rang.

Last year, I filled up a big bowl with chewits, lollies, skittles and malthesers in anticipation of the onslaught, and not a single child came. We sucked on Halloween sweets all year. Now, I was out of treats.

No, that’s not strictly true. If I wanted to get into the spirit of the thing, I could dress up in my Dementor-costume and hand out salty liquorice. But I may be arrested for child poisoning, and my liqs are precious.

I shoo-ed the first crowd of half-a-dozen or so away with two packs of skittles and a jaw-breaker which were left in the bowl from last year and retreated back into the kitchen. The pigs’ tails need an hour or so on the simmer, and I had to get a move on to get dinner ready and finish the story rewrite.

The doorbell rang again. A mother and her two offspring looked at me expectedly. I hopped on one leg while trying to put a shoe on the other: “So sorry! Is that the time? I plain forgot. I’m off to buy some sweeties, come by on your way back!”

I pulled on a jacket and jogged to the shop across the road, narrowly avoiding a collision with a witch.

The shop had a bewildering choice of sweets, and I had no idea what to grab. Then I spotted an offer on two multi-packs of mini chocolate bars. I rushed home, tore them open with my teeth, upended the contents into the Halloween bowl and got rid of my jacket.


John and I don’t like chocolate bars, but we may treat ourselves to a pint later on.


Follow the writing madness on my Life Journal!

Australia Flights booked!

Friday, October 27th, 2006

With one day to go before the October 31st deadline, I stopped comparing prices and ditched the idea of flying China Eastern—with its rather mixed reviews and rock-bottom prices—and urged John to book us on the JAL special offer.

Availability was limited, and our stay is cut short, with departure on January 9th, but this is what John prefers anyhow. And despite the short stay, there’s good reason for us to go (more about this later). On the upside: a shorter stay means a more generous daily budget. And flying JAL promises to be a great experience for fans of Japanese food, green tea and computer games, such as us 🙂

Blog Housekeeping

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

It turns out that I can have more than 15 categories (why 15? Well, Yahoo allows 15 folders, so I thought a similar limit exists on BNA Travelblogs—it doesn’t). In fact, I can have one category for each country, as well as various for rants, such as computing. I’m therefore going to reorganise the blog a bit. Yes, I’m bored 🙂

I love the new blogs, BTW, but they do take a bit of getting used to. Ever tried changing the ‘time stamp’ to move older posts into sequence? Sheesh…

Australia Visas Secured

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

It only takes a few seconds on the official website:

But I reckon we are now committed to Australia after all that vacillating.

Now we just have to book the flights. A number of good deals are book-by-24th October, so we may miss out. I don’t happen to have a couple of thousand quid in my account, and John is busy at work.

The best online site for Australia deals I’ve found is:

But because we want to stop over (at least on the outward leg), it may still be worthwile to go to the bucket-flight job in Reading, which also gave John a very good deal on London-Denpasar.

Anyway, I’m feeling the travel bug again! At least until November, when I have to put nose to the grindstone and write that novel…

Giant Puffball

Monday, October 16th, 2006

Something white flashed among the tufts of grass and shrivelled brown thistles which grew on patches of horse manure in the field we were driving past. The thing was round, not irregular like a crunched-up plastic bag. I was almost sure—

“Stop the car!”

Bemused, John let his old Vauxhall roll to a stop. I squinted.

“It’s a giant puffball! A little one.”

With these words, I climbed over the gate.

On the far side of the field, two piebald horses looked on curiously as I approached the spot. I was right.

My heart was hammering. Finding a giant puffball is a mushroomer’s dream, but even as I lifted it off the ground, I imagined the sight of the farmer’s air-rifle trained on me, prickling in my neck.

I hurried back to the car and we high-fived and laughed like schoolchildren.

Giant Puffball

The mushroom weighed over 800 grams—considering that giant puffballs can grow up to 20kg, it was indeed a baby. But the younger the better: when I cut it, the flesh was firm and creamy white. It was in perfect condition. Saying that, even though it rates 3 knives-and-forks in my edible mushroom guide, it tasted of—nothing.

Giant Puffball section

According to the guide, coating the thing in spicy or herby breadcrumbs and frying it in butter is a vegetarian delight, but the crumbs have to be flavoured strongly to impact on the mushroom’s bland taste, and cutting the steaks 1 cm thick meant they needed plenty of time to steam. In the end—after a less than stellar result—we cut the remaining steaks into thinner strips and fried them with bacon, majoram and garlic, followed by marinating in an orange and Dijon mustard vinaigrette.

That still left over a pound of mushroom.

I turned to one of my all-time favourites: the White Dog Café Cookbook for inspiration. Among the many pointers there, I adapted the recipe for ‘meaty mushroom’. Uncooked giant puffballs will not absorb liquid, no matter how long you soak them for, so I reduced the quantities as follows:

80ml each of balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and soy sauce; 1 crushed garlic clove; 1 tsp dried rosemary; 1 minced shallot; salt & pepper.

Cut the mushroom into potato-sized chunks and soak in the liquid for a few hours, turning occasionally to coat all sides evenly.

Stick into a hot oven (with the Sunday roast) for about ½ h.

A delicious dark glaze coats a marshmallow-like interior.

Day 3, and we are about to polish off the last of the mushroom…

Friday the 13th

Friday, October 13th, 2006

I’m not superstitious. It goes against my worldview, which is cold, hard science. No gods, no demons, and no providence.

So why did I have two domestic accidents before breakfast this morning?

I’d blame sleepiness for the first: wobbling into thedownstairs kitchen to start up the coffee machine, I was looking for a juice glass and found one by the sink under a glass bowl. I took the bowl and put it back on the shelf—and the whole thing came down with an almighty crash. Before anything even registered, I stood ankle-deep in glass shards.

Then, when I eventually got out of bed, I went to grab my husband’s coffee cup which he hadn’t taken downstairs, as per usual. Only this time, he left it on the far side of the bed on the cabinet, so I had to reach across—and the thing slipped and landed with a thud on top of the Zaurus microcomputer which he had placed on the floor beside the bed.

It’s about the first time that I have broken anything since we moved into this house.


Well, yes. Not very likely perhaps, but well within the realm of statistical probability.


Well, no. Look at it this way: the shelf with the glass bowls was at knee-height, not above my head which could have lead to a bad injury. I also know that these shelfs are held up by dodgy pins. And: most of the chinese bowls and spoons which I usually keep there had been washed up and were still drying by the sink. The clamshell computer was closed. There are visible dents in the shell, but the screen is intact. It still works. The cup was empty.

So, Friday the 13th. Is it bad luck—or good luck?

I hope I’ll live to find out.

Pets in Pubs

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Just look what walked into the pub the other night:

I may be a hillbilly, but I have never seen a ferret on a leash before. Saying that, here in Tadley, it doesn’t surprise me at all.

Apparently, ferrets were domesticated around the time of the Romans to protect grain stores and hunt rabbits (in Germany, we have sausage dogs for that, although they go mainly after bigger prey, such as badgers and foxes).

This ferret, the owner assured me, was a working animal, which goes after rabbits. I flinched when I considered its potential ferociousness, but as you can see, it does not inflict any harm on people. It kept looking down at Bramble the dog, who kept sniffing up at our legs, but I wasn’t sure whether the ferret was worried or getting ready for a tussle.

Whatever the case, it was great company.

Shame that I never found out its name.

Ferret at the Bar

And now for something completely different

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

This is a brief announcement by way of explaining why I may not post much until the beginning of December. An excerpt from my Lifejournal (writing blog) follows:

NaNoWriMo is about trying to write a novel—in a month. Actually, it is more about starting a new project and seeing it through to 50k words. I think that is great, and with the momentum gained during NaNo, the project should sail all the way to novel-length.

Alas, that hasn’t happened. After editing my last year’s effort, ‘Echoes of Creation’, it now stands at 58k words, and I’m through with it. Not enough depth and the characters are milling around aimlessly.

So, this year I’m entering with a work in progress which I want to turn into a saleable novel. In fact, I want the first draft ready for workshopping by spring and I want the whole thing ready for shopping around agents at Nipponcon!

To this purpose, I envoke The Zokutou Clause!

And until the start, on November 1st, this is the state of affairs:

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
13,861 / 85,000

The NaNo total is actually 63,861 words. 85k is the novel total—the minimum wordcount required for an SF novel by most publishers.

Follow my progress on my LJ