Monday, 6 January 2020

I think we invented a cocktail

I don't drink. Never have, and don't plan to in the future. I grew up in a teetotaler culture and now that I live somewhere that's known for its alcohol consumption (aka Australia), I discovered a social thread that says it's okay to not drink alcohol when out with the mates. The famous Australian Lemon, Lime & Bitters is the drink you drink when you don't want to drink. Everywhere makes it, everyone drinks it.

But sometimes you want something different. Mocktails are always served alongside alcoholic drinks, but they are often sweet, fruity and a little OTT.

Sometimes you want something subtle and sophisticated.

Enter the Cucumber Ginger Fizz.

I discovered this drink last year when I was asked to come up with some mocktail recipes for a High School Prom pre-party. A few of the students weren't into the sweetie-fruitie drinks, and asked if I could come up with something different.

A quick google gave me several different recipes for many fun things, but this recipe for a Cucumber Ginger syrup was the winner of the night.

I had a half-bottle left over from that night, and forgot to drink it.

Then came Boxing Day.

His Grace has a set of wonderful friends from his University days. One of their annual traditions is "The Box on Boxing Day" party.  During their school days, they had a Box, which contained everyone's alcohol. Each person would contribute something different. By pooling their poor student resources, they were able to enjoy a wide variety of adult beverages.

Over the years the collection grew, as it got added to and forgotten about, until it had a bar's worth of various liquors, cordials, etc. There's even a bottle of  'genuine' absinthe in there, and a bottle of grenadine, my personal favourite. (I'm a sucker for a good Shirley Temple, if made with ginger beer.)

This year, I remembered the half-bottle of Cucumber Ginger Syrup lying dormant in my fridge, and I brought it along, in hopes that someone would realise its potential.

Initially I made mocktails for people to try. "Hmm," said one mate. "This would go really well with gin."

I'll take your word for it. So, we mixed up a drink, garnished it with a cucumber slice, and the drinkers gave it a go.

Gin for the win!  Everyone loved it.  Did we just invent a cocktail?

Apparently, we did. I went home after the party and attempted to look up the actual name of this new-ish drink we discovered. Surely someone else had come across it before?

Yes and no.  While we came across similar drinks, like the Mule, no recipe I found duplicated its flavours exactly.  They either had lime or mint or both, which changes the aromatic profile enough to make them sibling drinks, but not the same.

So yeah. We invented the Boxing Day Special. You're welcome.

_______________________

RECIPE TIME!!


Cucumber Ginger Syrup

1 medium cucumber, grated
1 knob of fresh ginger, grated
2 c sugar
2 c water

Combine sugar and water together in a saucepan and bring to a boil until sugar is dissolved. (This is Simple Syrup, and is often used in cocktails to give a sweetness without the grittiness of granulated sugar.)

Place grated cucumber and ginger in a bowl. Pour the hot simple syrup over and let steep for 2-3 hours.

Strain and bottle until needed. Keeps in the fridge for several weeks.

This Cucumber Ginger Syrup is versatile ingredient for drinks. Combine it 1:3 with soda water for a sophisticated mocktail, or go fully adult with this recipe for a Boxing Day Special.


Boxing Day Special

In a highball glass, combine:

2 shots Cucumber Ginger Syrup
2 shots London Dry Gin
Top up with soda water (approx 2-4 shots). Garnish with a cucumber slice.

Sip sophisticatedly.

And that's it. It's a simple recipe that delivers a broad palate with a flavour journey of cool cuke, hot ginger and aromatic juniper.


* * *

Here's an interesting fact I learned on Boxing Day: garnishes aren't just to make the drink look pretty. Sometimes they're used to add an extra aromatic note to the drink. For example, the gang made Mint Juleps. The mint itself didn't get blended in. We blitzed up some ice, poured over a nice Honey Bourbon, then pushed in a long sprig of mint. Then to drink, you bruised the mint, inhaled and then sipped. The mint was scented, not tasted, and this apparently changed the nature of how a drinker experienced the bourbon without affecting the flavour.

The cucumber garnish in a Boxing Day Special gives you the initial scent of cucumber, which then lifts more cuke flavour from the drink, so you get the full experience.  

The things you learn.

__________________________________
Her teetolling Grace will trust that this truly is a nice drink, and not her friends being nice to her. After all, they were not afraid to completely pan her attempts at a home-brewed apple cider a few years prior.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Buck the system; I want chocolate milk

It came from this tin.
A friend of mine shared a story how she had horrible childhood memories of school milk. To this day, she cannot drink milk, no matter how fresh and cold, because of her enforced experience.

I, too, received milk every day at school. Unlike my friend's, ours was safely refrigerated. Still, plain milk was never my favourite. It was an all-or-nothing kind of situation. If we chose to open our half-pint carton of milk, we had to drink the whole thing. We couldn't just open it, have a few sips and be done. We had the option to not drink, but that meant we had nothing at all to drink.

Once a week we got chocolate milk. We didn't know what day of the week it would be, but guaranteed that it would happen. Oh, how I loved chocolate milk! I would have cheerfully drunk all my milk every day if it was chocolate.

Then one day in Fifth Grade, I got an idea. What if I brought in my own chocolate milk powder? So I did. I got an old empty McCormick's spice tin, disguised it with a cover so it wasn't obvious, and filled it with chocolate milk powder. It was small enough to fit in my pocket. I brought this to school with me every day. Whenever it was a plain milk day, this tin would come with me to lunch and I'd tip a few spoonfuls in my milk carton, shake it up, and enjoy chocolate milk every single day.


Sunday, 11 August 2019

Greetings from Melbs

And what a fabulous Romance Writers of Australia Conference 2019 that was!  I am so glad I went. The conference has been officially over for an hour now, and we are all exhausted.

I totally got my extrovert on, and boy, the extrovert spends sooo much energy. I couldn't maintain it for the whole weekend.

I am tired, so I shall have to post later. I will do a complete rundown of the Conference in September's newsletter. Sign up now so you don't miss out.

Quick shortlist of things I learned:

  • This is my tribe.
  • I need to up my marketing.
  • If you don't know something, someone there does. Find them.
  • It's great to simply listen to others.
  • Be bold.
  • Business cards serve you well.
  • Grab opportunities.
Yeah. More later. My hotel bed is looking nicer and nicer.

RWAus 2020 is in Freo next year.  We welcome you to Western Australia.

What would you like me to tell you about the Conference this year?



Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Go Hard-Core with Science!

By the time you read this, I'll be at the Romance Writers of Australia Conference 2019 in frigid Melbourne, AU. For the past month or so I have been so focused on getting my writing career together for this, that I haven't had any chance to science at all. AT ALL.

So, while I'm off being an author, you can get your science on.

Science is this beautiful, wonderful pursuit by the human race as they explore their world and the universe, from the smallest known particle to the largest mega-structure their marvelous minds can conceive.

Because you are a human being, do not be afraid to go hard-core when it comes to science. You don't need a fancy degree or even a knowledge of the vocabulary to dip in your toe.

But you must dip in your toe. Follow it with your foot, and then plunge right in. Do not make the mistake that oh-so-many online denizens do of learning one little factlet from some meme someone posted to their Facebook timeline and running with it, never more choosing to research deeper. That's just irresponsible and leads to issues like Flat Earthers, Anti-Vaxxers and the "Mobile Phones Cause Cancer" crowd.

There's a lot of hard-working, dedicated scientists out there who are doing the hard research. When they do, they publish their results so everyone can have access to them and see what their work is on.

And yes, you can read these papers as well (or their abstracts at least).  Abstracts are free. Sometimes the papers are behind paywalls. Sometimes they're free-and-easy access on arXiv.org.

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO LOOK AT THESE PAPERS! Do not think that they are limited to just scientists. You can read them too. If you come across a word you are unfamiliar with, the Dictionary is your friend. Consider it leveling up by learning new vocabulary. It's not that scientists are being deliberately obtuse; quite the opposite--they are aiming for precision. English is one of those beautiful languages with hundreds of thousands of words (okay, most of them obscure) that precisely define something. When a scientist chooses a particular word, it defines and constrains the  meaning to an exact definition.

So, how do you find these papers?  For astronomers and astrophysicists, we use a database called...

The SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System


Say you wanted to see what's been published regarding Water on Mars in the past few years?

I put in a range of dates from 2016 up to next month. My keywords were "water on Mars".  I hit the search button.

These were my results. It pulled up 1,605 papers that had anything to do with water and Mars. Now, some of the titles make even my eyes glaze over, but I trawled through until I found something interesting.


Hmm, which one to choose?  Best way is to read the abstract.

An abstract is kind of like a back-cover blurb that gives away the ending of the story. Most useful if you're trawling through looking for a paper about a particular topic.

After reading both abstracts, I chose to have a closer look at Follow the Oxygen.

Here's the abstract: 
Aerobic respiration—the reduction of molecular oxygen (O2) coupled to the oxidation of reduced compounds such as organic carbon, ferrous iron, reduced sulfur compounds, or molecular hydrogen while conserving energy to drive cellular processes—is the most widespread and bioenergetically favorable metabolism on Earth today. Aerobic respiration is essential for the development of complex multicellular life; thus the presence of abundant O2 is an important metric for planetary habitability. O2 on Earth is supplied by oxygenic photosynthesis, but it is becoming more widely understood that abiotic processes may supply meaningful amounts of O2on other worlds. The modern atmosphere and rock record of Mars suggest a history of relatively high O2 as a result of photochemical processes, potentially overlapping with the range of O2concentrations used by biology. Europa may have accumulated high O2 concentrations in its subsurface ocean due to the radiolysis of water ice at its surface. Recent modeling efforts suggest that coexisting water and O2 may be common on exoplanets, with confirmation from measurements of exoplanet atmospheres potentially coming soon. In all these cases, O2accumulates through abiotic processes—independent of water-oxidizing photosynthesis. We hypothesize that abiogenic O2 may enhance the habitability of some planetary environments, allowing highly energetic aerobic respiration and potentially even the development of complex multicellular life which depends on it, without the need to first evolve oxygenic photosynthesis. This hypothesis is testable with further exploration and life-detection efforts on O2-rich worlds such as Mars and Europa, and comparison to O2-poor worlds such as Enceladus. This hypothesis further suggests a new dimension to planetary habitability: "Follow the Oxygen," in which environments with opportunities for energy-rich metabolisms such as aerobic respiration are preferentially targeted for investigation and life detection.

Oh-kay... lots of big scary words if you're not an astrobiologist. But once you look them up, you'll see that Lewis, Vlada, Kevin and Woodward were being rather precise when they wrote the abstract.

Let's take bits of this apart and see what it really means:

"Aerobic Respiration..." - essentially, breathing oxygen, specifically, life forms breathing oxygen. While they gave a very detailed definition (and they had their reasons for it), essentially, the whole sentence is about how breathing oxygen is the preferred method of using oxygen in our metabolisms here on Earth.

"Aerobic respiration is essential..."  Advanced lifeforms like us and the cats in our laps need to breathe oxygen. Lots of oxygen on our planet means lots of life.  

"O2 on Earth is supplied by..."  photosynthesis. We all know that from Third Grade science. Plants make the oxygen we breathe.

But what if we could manufacture oxygen a different way? Do we need plants? Do we even need life, or can we source plentiful oxygen from a non-living method--an abiotic one that doesn't require a life's metabolism?  "...that abiotic processes may supply meaningful amounts of O2 on other worlds."  

The big question is, which came first? Oxygen or photosynthesis? If there's plenty of oxygen on another world produced abiotically (by a method not dependent on life, like a tree), could it be that this is what could allow multi-cellular life (like amoebae and rats and elephants) to be developed on other worlds? This is what the authors are thinking.

Until recently, space exploration has been dancing to the tune of "Follow the Water". Maybe it should be "Follow the Oxygen".

"This hypothesis is testable..." is music to every scientist's ears. Everyone loves a good idea, especially if it can be proven or disproven. Someone came up with an idea, and a way of proving it (or disproving). This is what makes science so groovy.  [end abstract]

Reference
Ward LM, Stamenković V, Hand K, Fischer WW (2019) Astrobiology, 19, 6   (Yeah, that's ApJ referencing style.)

Now, if only the article wasn't behind a paywall (or you are a university student whose library has e-subscriptions to Astrobiology magazine (Vol. 19, No. 6 is the issue this appears in). Maybe I should have gone for "Paleo-Rock-Hosted Life on Earth and the Search on Mars: a Review and Strategy for Exploration" instead. Here's a link to the full article. It's about rock-eating life bigger than a single cell. It happened on Earth a long time ago. Maybe it's also happened on Mars. "These findings suggest that rock-hosted life would have been both more likely to emerge and be preserved in a martian context," the authors say.




Friday, 2 August 2019

Finally deciding what I want to do

Over the past few months I've been busy working on audiobooks (and I taught a class on the same in June).

Finally, a job that uses my bachelor degree!

After spending quite a bit of time recording, editing, and mastering audiobooks, I realised something very important.

I want to do this. I really want to do this. Like, permanently. I know what my career change needs to be. I want to work on audiobooks.

What I Like About It


  • The Solitude. Really, I love working in isolation, which is why writing books has suited me so well for so long. But with audiobooks, I also get the cone of silence I crave. I shut myself away in the home theatre with its soundproofing and comfy chair and muted walls and I can shut away the world. I can't begin to tell you how much this pleased me. I got to sit alone for hours and Get Stuff Done. Interruption were rare, and feline (or occasionally canine--not my own).
  • The Performance. I get to perform. I get to be dramatic. I get to read a book aloud and make it come alive. And if I make a mistake? Pshaw! Do-over, and any issues like coughs or pauses get edited out of the final product.
  • Focus Time. One of the things I hate about my current day job is the interruptions. It's my job to solve problems, but it's also my job to answer the phone. When I'm in the middle of doing something and then the phone rings, I must pause what I'm doing to pick up the phone. I can't ignore the phone and finish what I'm doing.
    But with audiobooks, I can ignore everything and focus on my work. I was able to work for hours without interruptions. It was great!
  • My Own Pace. Sometimes I can work for hours on end. Other times I'm good for about thirty minutes and then I've got to take a break. This pace varies depending on what else is happening in my life. That Time of the Month, a bad night's sleep, digestive issues, A Better Offer, can all take up the energy I might have devoted to work. At least I can proceed at my own pace and therefore ensure that the performance I deliver is top-notch. I am not so experienced an actor that I can turn it on 100% if I'm not feeling 50%. (Believe me, that's a real skill, and one well-admir'd.)
  • Living Wage.  When you've got work, you make more than minimum wage per work hour. SAG-AFTRA members make even more.
  • Music Composition. I can compose my own lead-in music. 
  • Mad Skillz. It's not enough to be a good narrator. Many of us have to be producers as well. Lucky me, I've got lots of experience in sound editing and I regularly upskill.

Downside

Every job has a downside.
  • Irregularity.  Jobs come when they do, and you can't always get work all the time. While I'd love to be working on audiobooks every week, sometimes it just doesn't happen.  With irregular work comes irregular pay, and that can make budgeting require more spoons.
  • The Sound of my Voice.  Yeah, I do get sick of it, from time to time.
  • Isolation?  While it hasn't gotten to me yet, I can see the potential to feel isolated in my work. However, with the advantages of the Internet and being able to set my own pace, I can manage to get the socialisation in that my mental health requires. Fortunately, I don't need much to maintain good mental health.

The big challenge is getting regular, steady work. It is doable. I've seen other narrators get it.

I can has my turnz, pls?

______________________________
Her Grace is happy to contract with you to deliver ACX-ready high-quality audiobook recordings.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Luck in its various forms

A while back, a bit of luck blew my way, literally.  It fled someone else and came to me. I would have returned it, if only I knew who it belonged to.

Once upon a time, so long ago that by the time you see this post I will most likely have forgotten about this, I was walking through a parking lot. A breeze was blowing gently when it wafted something leaf-coloured in my direction. I didn't think anything of it initially, as there were quite a few leaves blowing about the ground.

But this one was square-ish.

I recognised a $20 note. Immediately I trapped it with my foot. Looking about, I scanned the parking lot to see if there was any lost soul chasing after their truant money.

This happens sometimes. You go into the shops, buy something for cash, get change, shove it in your pocket and head out to the car. Once there, you pull your car keys out of your pocket, along with everything else, sending receipts, tissues and spare cash flying.

But the parking lot was barren of life. No person chasing flying notes, nobody standing by a car, ignorant of the money fallen out of their pocket. No one.

I had a good, solid look about. Surely someone would miss this $20. It needed to go back to its owner.

Alas, they were long gone. Nobody was about.

So I gave the note a new home in my wallet, climbed into my car and left on my errand. I had to go pick up something, then return to this parking lot for something else.

Fifteen minutes, I had returned. As I walked through the parking lot, something yellow fluttered along the ground. Square-ish.

I trapped it and rescued a $50 note from under my shoe. Fifty dollars.  Further along, another $20 note came skittering along and I rescued that as well.

I looked about. Surely there was someone who was losing money. Someone? Anyone?

For a parking lot full of cars, it sure was devoid of human life.

So there I was with $90, and no way of finding the original owner.

While I am happy to be a few dollars richer (for it did buy some needful medicine for one of the family), my heart aches for the poor soul who had lost it.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

The Plot behind Cats the Musical

Apparently, there's a movie coming out based on this musical, and the interwebs are of mixed opinion.

One of those opinions is that Cats the Musical has no plot.

Not true. It does have a plot. It's an uberplot, and therefore may be a bit difficult for some people to grok, if they're not used to analysing uberplots.


Quick analysis:


  • Exposition:  The cats gather together at the Jellicle Ball to determine who gets to ascend to the Heavyside Layer. Those cats who believe they have a chance put forth their cases for their candidacy to Old Deuteronomy, who knows what it takes to succeed.
  • Inciting Incident: Grizabella shows up to share her story, but she's rebuffed and isn't allowed to raise her candidacy. But Old Deuteronomy has noticed her.
  • Plot Point I:  Old Deuteronomy is kidnapped. Without him, the choice can't be made.
  • Rising Action: the cats set out to find out what happened to him and get him back.
  • Midpoint: Grizabella dwells on her life. She's got memories, and they remind her that she once knew what happiness was. She yearns for it again.
  • Plot Point II: They learn that it was Macavity who kidnapped Old Deuteronomy.
  • Pre-Climax: They put their faith in Mister Mistoffolees to find and returns Old Deuteronomy
  • Climax: Old Deuteronomy is rescued. Now a cat can be chosen.
  • Denouement:  Old Deuteronomy chooses Grizabella to rise to the Heavyside Layer.




In the world of the Jellicle Cats, there comes a time when a cat has an opportunity to be reborn into a new life during a brief window of opportunity.  This is called "ascending to the Heaviside Layer."  Turns out, the Heaviside Layer is an actual place in Earth's ionosphere. It's known for its ability to bounce radio waves back to earth. This is a metaphor for a cat who's died, returning to earth for a new life. Nicely poetic, once you know.

Who is the lucky feline? That is determined by the patriarch of the kindle, Old Deuteronomy. Why him?  Maybe he was the last one to be reincarnated, and has that extra layer of wisdom to choose the best candidate. One thing's for sure, he's been reincarnated many times, maybe the most times, and thus, has seniority. He probably knows the qualities that make for the best reincarnation candidates.

One by one, certain cats present their cases as to why they should be reincarnated.  Some present their good deeds (Jennyanydots), or their high standing in society (Bustopher Jones) as reasons for their candidacy. But not all cats are worthy. Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser are quite mischievous, whereas Macavity is downright evil.

Some cats are supported by others in their candidacy, but not all cats are welcome. Grizabella, who was once a beautiful and glamorous cat, is now old and ugly. The "virtue" that had set her apart in her younger life is now gone, and for that she is scorned. But underneath, Grizabella is not bitter and ugly about the loss of her beauty. Along the way, she discovered the true meaning of happiness, and has never forgotten. As she aged, she never treated the other cats with spite or scorn or shallow judgements. Even when they drive her off, she does not bear them any ill will.

Not all the cats are happy to see one of their ascend.  To prevent the choice from happening, Old Deuteronomy is kidnapped. Without him, the choice can't be made. What does that mean? Is it that no cat gets a chance to ascend, or that the cat who could have ascended, doesn't, and dies forever instead? Dire thoughts indeed.  Much could be read into the reasons behind O.D.'s kidnapping (it was by Macavity). Did Macavity do it to take O.D's place and choose his own candidate, possibly himself, knowing he wasn't worthy, and this could be the only way?

Regardless, the best needs be chosen. Overall, the cats agree that O.D is the best one to choose, and a rescue is mounted. Yay for the good guys.

Old Deuteronomy knows Grizabella, and that her beauty is more than skin-deep. Thus, he chooses her as the candidate to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and thus, come back to earth in the next incarnation of cats.

And that's the plot.

___________________________
Her Grace has fond memories of the time she was in an am-dram production of Cats in the early 1990's  She's got some proof somewhere.