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.

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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.

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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.

Plant Talk: Seeding the Future – by Octavia

“Give me half a tank of iron, and I’ll give you an ice age.” So said John Martin, the former director of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratory, in a famous off-the-cuff remark.

Whether or not this is an exaggeration, we live in a science fiction age. Our species – just by going about our daily lives, with no intent to do anything else – is capable of drastically altering our world in a sort of unintended terraforming programme. Some people find the thought of this upsetting, especially when we begin to talk about doing it deliberately. It is one thing to knock an entire ecosystem off-balance accidentally, but quite another to risk it in cold blood. It is one thing for the Industrial Revolution to trigger climate change, but quite another to try and deliberately reverse-engineer it in a global marine bio-geo-engineering scheme. It really is like something out of science fiction, and we all know what happens there when humanity gets too big for its boots.

But we shouldn’t let squeamishness blind us to the truth. Bloating the atmosphere with CO2 may have started off as an accidental result of industrialisation, but today we no longer have the excuse of ignorance. We damn well know what we’re doing when we drive the car to work instead of taking the bus, when we don’t bother to use our green supermarket bags. As a deeply interconnected society, we are already engaged upon a deliberate bio-geo-engineering programme. We were just dumb enough to pick the wrong one.

It’s hard for people to actually care that we’ve done so, to realise the effect our species is having on the climate – difficult because it doesn’t seem as if we are individually responsible. It’s the “Why should I if you won’t?” effect. Given human nature, it’s unrealistic to expect that people are going to deny themselves the right to take part in this global tragedy of the commons – except here we’re not destroying the village green by all grazing our individuals cows on it. We’re altering the climate so that we can live our individual lives to the extent that we see fit as individuals, rather than as a community holding our environment in trust for future use.

This attitude is going to lead – is already leading – to trouble in the Pacific region: migration due to ocean level rise in the islands and along the coast of South-East Asia, higher transport costs, water shortages in Australia, and food shortages as agricultural patterns change due to changes in climate. All these things will lead to conflict between communities that will further exacerbate the environmental problems. Many of the Pacific communities will be hardest hit by any climate change. Thus the responsibility and the incentive to lead the research on the application and – crucially – dissemination of technology that mitigates the causes and effects of climate change falls on us. An example of this is seeding iron through the world’s oceans – especially the Pacific – to sequester atmospheric CO2. Looking to strategies such as this is not a “quick fix”, nor is it indulging in science fiction fantasies. It is acknowledging that the will-power necessary to retrench standards of living in response to global climate change may be insufficient, and adjusting our responses accordingly.

There has been a 6% annual decline in Pacific plankton over the past 20 years (Gregg et al. 2003). Warmer oceans stratify more easily, and the reduced mixing that comes from increased surface temperature reduces the available nutrients needed for planktonic productivity to increase. There has also been a 25% fall in oceanic iron levels, resulting from a decrease in the amount of atmospheric iron deposited in the ocean by dust clouds – itself a result of anthropogenic changes in land use (Bettwy 2007). The inherent difficulty in effectively seeding social change ensures that we may not do enough to significantly cool the warming oceanic surface temperatures by limiting our output of CO2… but increasing the availability of iron in prime planktonic breeding grounds like the central Pacific Ocean may be something we can help.

We know that past changes in dust deposition have affected atmospheric carbon. Levels in atmospheric CO2 fluctuate strongly between glacial (CO2 decreases) and interglacial (CO2 increases) periods. Admittedly, the roughly 100ppm change in atmospheric CO2 found in Antarctic ice core samples from the last 420,000 years is not all explained by changes in dust deposition. In fact, decreased deposition accounted for a maximum increase of only 20ppm during the last glacial-interglacial transition period (Röthlisberger et al. 2004). Even if we assume that this remains constant in today’s environment, it is still a 20% increase – not the majority, but not to be sneezed at either. So should we be concentrating more strongly on mitigating this portion of the CO2 budget now, or do we wait until the effects of climate change become more apparent?

The earliest laboratory experiments indicate that seeding the entire Southern Ocean might counter-act up to 25% of the global carbon emissions each year, and that every ton of iron could remove anywhere from 30,000 to 110,000 tons of CO2 from the air (FOI). Recent experiments are much more conservative – a 2004 research expedition in the Southern Ocean found that seeding 1.26 tonnes of iron sequestered about 900 tons of CO2 (Buesseler et al. 2004). A 2007 study on the naturally-occurring blooms about the Kerguelen plateau proved to be ten times more efficient at sequestration than induced blooms (Blain et al. 2007). This suggests that iron availability may not be the only limiting factor, and that other contributing nutrients – such as silicon – may be needed to increase the efficiency of seeded blooms.

There are downsides even past the sequestration efficiencies. The possibility of seeding toxic algal blooms is distinctly unattractive, especially when they may gut the fishing industry that so many Pacific Islands depend upon. There may be ecological outcomes that we just can’t see right now, and ethical considerations in continuing our habit of bio-geo-engineering without enough thought for the consequences. The perception of over-reliance on technology at the expense of common sense solutions such as consuming less and consuming smarter also seems counter-intuitive – especially when we forget about the tragedy of the commons.

But it’s foolish to rely on any one solution, and to ignore alternative options because there might be reasons against them. Combating climate change – both globally and in the Pacific – is going to need a hybrid effort: changes in consumption habits linked with cleaner and more restorative technologies. We live in a world where the science fiction, think-big solution is a way of life. John Martin could see this. It’s time for us to do the same.

The Pacific marine and geological research communities have an extraordinary opportunity to continue to work, right on their doorstep, on the flaws in the seeded sequestration process. Longer observations, larger scales, deeper measurements, and different types of iron additions (multiple versus singular, and with other added nutrients) are desperately needed. Conflicting results – some giving much more efficient sequestrations than others – are a fact, so further research from the Pacific community on the climatic and ecological effects of seeding the Pacific Ocean with iron is absolutely crucial.
Bettwy, M., 2007. Ocean Plant Life Slows Down. 1 May 2008. http://www.nasa.gov/ vision/earth/environment/ocean_plants_21.html

Blain, S., Quéguiner, B., Armand, L., Belviso, S., Bombled, B., Bopp, L., Bowie, A., Brunet, C., Brussaard, C., Carlotti, F., Christaki, U., Corbière, A., Durand, I., Ebersbach, F., Fuda, J-L., Garcia, N., Gerringa, L., Griffiths, B., Guigue, C., Guillerm, C., Jacquet, S., Jeandel, C., Laan, P., Lefèvre, D., Lo Monaco, C., Malits, A., Mosseri1, J., Obernosterer, I., Park, Y-H., Picheral, M., Pondaven, P., Remenyi, T., Sandroni, V., Sarthou, G., Savoye, N., Scouarnec, L., Souhaut, M., Thuiller, D., Timmermans, K., Trull, T., Uitz, J., van Beek, P., Veldhuis, M., Vincent, D., Viollier, E., Vong, L., and Wagener, T., 2007. Effect of natural iron fertilization on carbon sequestration in the Southern Ocean. Nature. 446: 1070-1074. doi:10.1038/nature05700

Buesseler, K.O., Andrews, J.E., Pike, S.M., and Charette, M.A., 2004. The effects of iron fertilization on carbon sequestration in the southern ocean. Science. 304.5669: 414-417.

Fertilising the Ocean with Iron. Oceanus. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. 1 May 2008. http://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/viewArticle.do?id=34167

Gregg, W.W., Conkwright, M.E., Ginoux, P., O’Reilley, J.E., and Casey, N.W., 2003. Ocean primary productivity and climate: global decadal changes. Geophysical Research Letters. 30.15: 1809, doi:10.1029/2003GL016889.

Ocean Iron Fertilization – Why Dump Iron into the Ocean. Café Thorium. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. 1 May 2008. http://www.whoi.edu/science/ MCG/cafethorium/website/projects/iron.html

Röthlisberger, R., Bigler, M., Wolff, E.W., Joos, F., Monnin, E. and Hutterli, M.A., 2004. Ice core evidence for the extent of past atmospheric CO2 change due to iron fertilisation. Geophysical Research Letters. 31: L16207, doi:10.1029/ 2004GL020338.

Cappadocia and Petra – by gimbol

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