Cornbread – by Isolde

Cornbread
Adapted from ATK Family Baking Book

This is a sweet and tender Northern cornbread – moist enough to eat plain, but even better with honey butter.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup yellow cornmeal (not stone-ground – the bread will be drier and less tender)
3/4 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed (not cooked)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
4 tbs butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 400F, with the rack in the middle position.  Grease an 8″ square baking pan (I used 3 small loaf pans – 6.5″ x 3.75″).

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda.  In a food processor, blend buttermilk, cornmeal, thawed corn and sugar until combined, about 5 seconds.  Add eggs and process until well combined, about 5-10 more seconds.

Fold buttermilk mixture into flour mixture with a rubber spatula.  Fold in melted butter until just combined (don’t overmix).

Pour batter into pan and smooth the top.  Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  For an 8″ pan, it’s 25-35 minutes; for the small loaf pans, it’s 15-20 minutes.

Let the bread cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

cornbread

Nature photography – by freemonkey

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The Auto-Pygmalion – by Eva Jones

The Auto-Pygmalion and the Christmas Creation

Last night I went with Greg to see his little niece in a Christmas play – secretly, I expect, he is hoping to show me how the wonder of the Christmas message, performed by the pretty children he would like us to one day have ourselves. The niece’s overdone joy at seeing me and the look that passed between Greg and his sister indicated a family plot.

I enjoyed the play, as much as one can when one can’t claim ownership of one of the performers, but the sister was not best pleased. The niece was playing Mary, and admittedly, she did look very lovely – at least until the fight between her and the child playing Joseph over who got to hold the baby when the Wise Men came to look at it. There was shrieking, over-excitement, and a beheading as the doll was smashed repeatedly into the ground until its head came off, to general wailing.

I loved every minute of it.

But apart from the humorous side of things, what struck me was that part of the reason I loved it was the change of story. Without meaning to, I’m sure, and to the dismay of the parent-teacher association, those children recreated the Christmas story their own way. It was still a story, just not the expected story.

What is it about Christmas that inspires creation? Not just in disastrous plays, but in decorations, music, art… Whether you believe in the religion behind it (I don’t) the mythology behind the birth of Christ has transformed into a yearly festival of story. Some call it the greatest story ever told (I don’t). And that story is essentially an act of creation, isn’t it?

451px-annunciationBut where is the human element in this creation? Did Mary contribute DNA, or was she merely an incubator? If the last, is there really any human part to the basis of this creation story at all? Where in the story do we fit?

If humanity has no part in this creation, the same cannot be said for the aftermath. Even if we believe that the story was divinely rather than humanly created we can still respond to it – elaborate upon it, mimic it, update it. To make it more our own? Is that why there is a tendency to alter it, to massage the imagined scene into something we can more easily relate to – something closer to us in the time-space of our imaginations?

There is no specific day in the Christian calendar for celebrating the act of Creation, where God supposedly thought to himself “Right, today is the day. Let’s start on the creation of light. Now what did I do with those photons?” In that sense, the celebration of that belief seems to have found an underlying place in the birth of Christ. The whole of nature responds to it – or so we imagine. Even the stars in the sky are not immune.

And neither am I. It’s a pretty story, and I respond to some aspects of it – most especially the old Christmas carols. But it’s the substitution of celebration that interests me most. The Auto-Pygmalion is interested in the question of creation; how can she not be? Not so much the question of outer world creation, as that is explainable by modern science, but the question of the creation of the inner world.

As a species we create, and as broad groups of cultures there are focal points for our creation. One of these focal points is mythology. We respond to traditional, scripted stories that speak to us in a mythological way, but we respond especially well when we can take part in them, recreate the original story. In a culture descended from the Christian mythic interpretation of world events, we instinctively recognise the story of creation. Perhaps that is why singing Christmas carols is so popular – even if we do not believe, it allows us to take part in the story, recognising it as a story. You do not have to believe in Christ to appreciate Come All Ye Faithful, just as you do not have to believe in flying, fire-breathing reptiles to sing along to Puff the Magic Dragon. But by doing so, non-believers can take part in a story that is not our own, and by taking part make it our own.

Ironically, is this not what Mary did? She gave birth to Christ, brought the story of Christ into the world. But according to the mythology, she did not create him – Jesus was planted in her womb by God. Mary did not create the story, she was merely the page it was written on. But no doubt she felt he was partly her own, and her interpretations of his actions and words and story would have been influenced by the lens of motherhood.

nativity_smallSo when I think of Christmas, it is primarily Mary that I think of. You don’t always have a choice with stories – sometimes you get caught up in them all unwilling. One can’t honestly say that Mary chose to become pregnant by a supernatural power – the poor girl had little choice in the matter. The story steam-rolled over her in an act of creation in which she had no part.

As an artist it is this aspect of Christmas, and of Mary, that does not sit well with me. Who would want to be at the mercy of a story like that? I’ve said it before, and will say it again: the only stories you can trust are your own, the stories you create by will rather than reaction.

But when push comes to shove, if will is better than reaction, reaction is better than nothing. Better to have some control, some presence, some creativity within the story than none at all. Perhaps that is the reason that celebrating Christmas has caught on so over the millennia, whether the people who celebrate the story believe in its veracity or not.

And perhaps that is why Greg’s niece, not half an hour after her play ended in the most wonderful shambles, was able to say, in pleased satisfaction: “We did do well, didn’t we?”

Yes. Yes you did.

Read more of Eva’s posts at her blog.

Holiday Drinks – by Isolde

Mulled Squink

This punch, reminiscent of the festive color of squid ink, will be appreciated by Squidmas revelers of all ages.

64 oz (2 quarts) 100% grape juice
64 oz (2 quarts) 100% blueberry juice
3/4 cup sugar
3 tbs lemon juice (to taste)
4 cinnamon sticks (4″ each)
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp whole cardamom seeds

Mix everything together in a big pot and let it simmer for a couple of hours.  Taste it, and if it’s a little flat, add more lemon juice.  And if you like it sweeter, you can add more sugar.  Strain out the spices, and serve hot.

Hot Buttered Apple Rum
from “Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes”

For the Pastafarians, ye be needin’ rum!

4 inches long stick of cinnamon, broken (to break it, put it in a heavy plastic bag and hit with a meat mallet)
1 tsp whole allspice
1 tsp whole cloves
7 cups apple juice
1 1/2 – 3 cups rum
1/3 – 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
butter

Cut a 6-inch square from a double thickness of 100% cotton cheesecloth.  Places the spices in the center, bring up the corners of the cheesecloth and tie the bag closed with clean kitchen string.

In a 3 1/2 to 6 quart slow cooker, combine the spice bag, juice, rum and sugar.  Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours, or on high heat for 3-4 hours. Remove and discard spice bag.  To serve, ladle hot punch into cups, and float about 1/2 tsp of butter on each serving.

squink

Nexus Interview: Santa

Nexus is very pleased to be able to introduce to you the big red man from the North Pole, Santa! Welcome, Santa, and thank-you for taking time out of your busy schedule to be interviewed by us.

You’re welcome. I don’t usually do interviews, you know.

We do know. Why is that?

There’s only so many carols and religious readings I can sit through before I want to kill someone. And that’s just not very Christmassy. They’re nice enough if you believe in them I suppose. But I’ve got to much to do this time of year to be bothered with that.

You don’t believe in Christmas?

Fuck off. It’s an organised commercial holiday there to make money by commemorating the birth of some poor bastard who came to a sticky end. If he existed at all, that is. If you were me you’d want a bit less of it too.

Um. Well, I don’t quite know what to say.

If you had to haul around all the junk I do every year, you and your poor bloody back would know exactly what to say, I can tell you! It’s March before I can stand up straight again.

I suppose Christmas has become very commercialised…

santaYou’re not kidding. And most little darlings get more presents than they deserve. What poor kid actually needs Barbie’s Dream House with a lean-to dog kennel and spa for the homeless? You know what’s going to happen to little Sally when she gets that, don’t you? She’ll play with it for a week or two, break it, grow up to have ludicrously high expectations for her own life and, when she doesn’t turn out to be a seven foot tall peroxided freak with too much money and an angelic personality, adored by he-of-the-missing-genitals and the local destitute, she’ll top herself.

Okay…

That’s when her parents will say, “We should have gotten her a nice book.” I don’t mind delivering books.

Aren’t they heavy, though? What about your back?

Eh. If it’s for a good cause… And you know, if it’s just one small present each, I can send an elf down the chimney with that. I only have to go because their puny little bones generally collapse under the weight of all the crap in the sack.

You know this by experience, then?

Oh, yes. They’re annoyingly fragile. It’s so hard to get good help these days.

At least it would give you some exercise…

Are you calling me fat, missy? What’s your name again… where’s my list. Can I borrow your pen?

No! I suppose it’s not your fault. All those mince pies, cookies, sherry and milk-

Can I just interrupt you for a minute?

Public announcement please, folks: listen up. I have to cater to your greedy children over the longest night of the year. You’ve no idea what it does to the body to have to shift between time zones all night long, plus the dilation effect of squeezing it all in. And all of this on a freezing night, with icy blasts coming straight at me. Not to mention the endless hours of staring at reindeer arse. I DO NOT WANT FUCKING MILK!

After all I do for you lot every year, alcohol is the least you can give me. Okay? Carry on, then. What were you saying?

I was just going to suggest that maybe if the elves ate some of the goodies, then maybe, um, maybe you wouldn’t be liable to keel over from a heart attack next time you drag hefty little Timmy onto your knee at the local shop?

Don’t remind me. I remember him! Put in an order for more video games. He’s getting a ball, and he better bloody use it.

Does he want a ball?

Who the hell cares? It’s not like he’s been the perfect kid. Screams at his sister, pulls wings off flies, bullies kids who don’t believe in God… try to tell me you feel sorry for him now, ha!

Can you make it an exploding ball, Santa?

I don’t know… have you been good this year.

Yes!

Are you lying to me?

Yes. But honesty should be rewarded. Go on… it can be my present.

Go on, then. Don’t say I never gave you anything, though. I hate that.

Okay. Thanks, Santa. So, one could say that you’re not blind to the difficulties of the job? It must be tiring…

True. But it’s only once a year so I can cope. A lot of people don’t know this, but Mrs Claus does most of the work during the year. She’s a lawyer, see. Spends her time arguing with the elves about how good is good enough.

So if the kiddies don’t like what they get, and it’s because they weren’t good, don’t take it up with me. I think the missus has a form you can fill out somewhere, apply for a hearing to change their legal status.

Do many people do that?

Not that many, no. She bills those that lose for time wasted, you see. And they all lose.

So while she sorts out who gets what, you make the toys?

The elves make the toys. Do I like like a handyman to you?

So during the year, you do what, precisely?

Eat, mostly. What? It’s cold up there, you know! I need a good layer of blubber. And the reindeer stew doesn’t make itself.

reindeerI guess not. Hang on, what?! YOU EAT THE REINDEER?

We don’t have the climate for tropical fruits now, do we? Reindeer get old, you know. What d’you want me to do, chuck ’em out in the snow to starve after all their years of service? This way they get a good quick end and a nice long soak in wine sauce.

Wine… wine sauce?

All that running about, they can get pretty tough. And it’s not as though they don’t have an easy life the rest of the year. Build up a nice layer of fat, especially if you get them half-way through the year, before they go into training.

But, but… Dasher? Prancer? Vixen?

My dear. How long do you think reindeer live? They were lovely beasties, but they were born in the early 18th century. But don’t worry, their descendents live on, even if they are a little inbred. Let’s see, we’ve got a Bilbo, a Britney… and I think little Barack is having his first trot this Christmas.

Screw them. What about Rudolph…?

A little later than Dasher et al., but still dearly departed, I’m afraid. Had a lovely nose. Bright, shiny… always had a good run with him. That nose… it went down well sliced and grilled on toast, as I recall. With just a little onion.

I think I want to go home.

You do look a little green about the gills. Perhaps you’d better go lie down. It was a pleasure meeting you.

Be good, now.