Sunday, June 29, 2008

All orchids great and small

Everything from Lepanthes calodictyon (above) and pleurothallids resembling moss, to great leafy Coelogyne dayanum (below) and massive Stanhopeas all under one roof, and that's why I love J&L Orchids.

I'm posting most of my visit photos on Flickr. The new jewel orchids and very pretty Phal schilleriana seedling -- practically a jewel orchid in its own right -- are settling in well with their neighbors.

I as usual drooled over the stunning Masdevallias but I was strong, I resisted, despite it looking like the yellow nameless hybrid might actually have survived the heatwave...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Invaders from Rigel, by Fletcher Pratt

I love love love this cover. It's got a moving rocketship, and it's fiery blast hasn't made any impact on the people right below. It's got a ray gun. It's got green guys in bubble-helmet space suits. What more can we ask?

1964 Airmont Books, NY paperback edition, #SF4.

From the back cover:
"Astronomers had observed the comet for some time, and had predicted its course. It would collide with Earth. There was no hysteria; scientists were apparently convinced that the results wouldn't be dangerous to life.
But Murray Lee woke up with a feeling of overpowering stiffness in every muscle...and received the shock of his life. The motion was attended by a creaking clang, and his elbow felt like a complex wheel.
Why -- he was metal all over!"

Author Fletcher Pratt knew how to play for laughs. Oh my yes.

The Bright Phoenix, by Harold Mead

I've got a thousand of these to get through, I ought to really get cracking. This cover, I think, exemplifies the mid-50s semi-abstract art from Ballantine Books. Not always easy to divine the contents from the design, but here I think art and text work rather well together.

1956 Ballantine Books paperback. An original novel, not reprint.

From the back cover:
"Bright Phoenix is the story of a "perfect" State, founded on worship of the spirit of Man and dedicated to the mission of resettling the devastated areas of the world. Officers, Workers, Colonists--everyone believed in the State.
Everyone but one man. This is his story--of the Colony he led to the Island...of the primitive race he found there...and of the desperate plan to escape from a Utopia that had become a living hell.
Richness of texture, really skillful and sympathetic writing and a talent for poignancy make Mr Mead's novel very good weight for your money."

Mm, weight about 7 ounces. The book is still in my eBay store, so go get it while it lasts.

From the inside teaser page:
"John Waterville was an explorer, part of the Leader Group for the new Colony. Every member of the party -- Officers, Colonists, Reconditioneds -- had been carefully selected and trained for survival on the Island. But the State had overlooked one fact:
The Island was already inhabited.
Deep in the forests lived a primitive race who worshiped savage gods -- and who would not surrender their land.
In the fierce conflict that developed, Waterville saw two things: that the Islanders were a free people fighting for survival, that the Colonists were arrogant slaves of a despotic State."

Arrogant slaves. That's pretty good.

Fresh air! Times Square!

Spouse and I had a lovely time in the big bad city last night, dinner at Chevy's and then Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Spouse I fear enjoyed even more than the play, the prominent error message adorning the computerized billboard on the Port Authority building.

The Roundabout Theatre Company does marvellous productions. This year we've seen 3 of their adaptations of London productions: The 39 Steps, Sunday in the Park with George, and now Liaisons, using Christopher Hampton's play upon which Dangerous Liaisons was based. (God I wish I'd seen Alan Rickman as Valmont...)

The sets for these three productions couldn't be more different. 39 Steps used 4 actors playing a giant game of Let's Pretend with stuff they might've found in the attic, and it was frantic absolute perfection. Sunday's set was bare slightly battered white walls decorated with ever-changing cgi paintings that moved and flowed and helped tell the story. And Liaisons has dark mirrors and glass panels, mixed with curtains and swags, that both reflect and hide the characters as they run about their business, so that sometimes a person who just exited remains shadowy, visible, just behind the glass watching the new scene. Wonderful stuff.

Oh how I miss my balcony sometimes

Didn't New Guinea impatiens all used to be much more colorful? I used to grow them in Brooklyn on my balcony. The leaves were beautiful even if the plants were a bit touchy. Every time I see plants for sale now, it's all green-leaved varieties. The Greenmarket vendors offer them in every flower color available but for example on Wednesday only this plant, out of hundreds, had the old variegated foliage I remember. Now and then I'm tempted to try one under lights, but I have The Fear of bringing garden-center plants amid my orchids, and besides there's just no room. Although maybe that kill-zone way in the back of my upper lights shelf might be perfect...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Greenmarkety Goodness

My visit to Union Square last week yielded all I hoped it would. Magnificent sweet, fragrant, luscious local strawberries. Tender kuta squash. Silky fresh sugar snap peas. Baby white turnips with crisp tasty tops. Pretty golden chard.

Personally I'm not wild about chard, but it's leafy and green and unlike spinach or beets the stems are tasty when stringed and cut small and added to a pan of mixed vegs. I didn't get beets Friday as I didn't want to carry them and the turnips, but I'll get some Wednesday. Beet tops are tastiest in spring; we've found autumn beet roots are delicious but the tops can be unpleasantly metallic, even if parboiled with mixed greens southern-style.

Stir-fried random tonight will be a treat, as I'm still plowing through the bounty I brought home Friday. Jersey asparagus is just ending but Agata & Valentina's still has some, so that goes in the pan with the squash, peas, turnip tops and chard stems. Also sliced sweet onion.Then diagonally-sliced Chinese sausage, just 2 or 3. A handful of walnut halves. Garlic. Ponzu, sesame oil, sesame seeds to finish. Served over rice, or maybe I'll finish up the rice noodles I bought over the winter but keep forgetting to cook.

The strawberries are superb just as is. I'm finally making that coconut-streusel peach pie this afternoon and I might just toss in a few, along with some blueberries. Once that's gone I'll do a mixed berry pie with an oat-crumble topping. And muffins. O my yes.

Snow Fury, by Richard Holden

While we're at it, let's do this one too. Striking, yes? I was compelled to read this one before it went on eBay. The prose was much less striking than the artwork, alas, but not terrible.

1956 from Perma Books M-3034. 1st paperback edition.

"The snow had come early to New Hampshire. Nothing sinister about that. But a strange light, like moonshine, rose wherever it lay. People became uneasy. A young couple, whose car had been trapped in a drift, were found dead with their faces shrunken beyond recognition. What was there about the snow that brought death? Then David Storm discovered the most horrible fact of all..."

I could spoil it (the snow eats people!) (oh I just did, sorry) (it's infected with some chemical that of course isn't radioactivity it's something else entirely) (I think) (oh and did you catch that David Storm solves a weather mystery?) but how likely are most people to ever read this, never mind hold a copy themselves?

Outpost Mars, by Cyril Judd

Keeping up the lovely vintage SF paperback covers...this was another book from my father-in-law's collection, long ago since sold on ebay.

1952 1st paperback edition from Dell.

"Mars was no paradise...but to Dr. Tony Hellman, it meant a second chance for man -- and to Hugo Brenner it meant a world to plunder...whose vast wealth was based on Earthmen's tragic addiction to the vicious drug, marcaine...Brenner's success would mean the end of their better world. Could the struggling colony survive the assaults of entrenched greed and persecution?"

Sounds timely enough for me! Notable also for the Theodore Sturgeon thumbs-up at top.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

She prays like a Roman with her eyes on fire

Steely Dan, as seen at the Beacon Theatre Saturday June 21, is a bit odd. Songs and style trapped in amber, no surprises but a satisfying re-affirmation of why we like the music. Not quite a relic, not quite an oldies act -- o god are they? No, Motley Crue is an oldies act not unlike doo-wop package shows, and Vince Neil's had nearly as much cosmetic surgery as that Wildenstein catwoman, while Donald Fagen mans the keyboard looking like a nebbishy white version of Ray Charles. ahem. They expertly played the smooth funky jazz-pop you expect, you'd never mistake them for Paul Motian Trio at the Village Vanguard or John Zorn at Tonic, but I credit them for priming my ears for real jazz later in life. While I'm always happy to hear something that makes me say, Hey! Another way for music to sound! I'm not entirely sure I'd appreciate modern jazz and bebop as much as I now do without Messrs Fagen and Becker's guidance.

Show opened with "The Royal Scam" and chugged along from there through what I think of as a pleasant steady groove but to be honest it was a lot of those songs that all sorta sound the same at ten minutes "Babylon Sisters" and "Gaucho" (sung by Becker!!)...and "Hey Nineteen" thrown in with a little Becker patter. Sorry, not a fave song of mine. Yeah, I was 19 when the song came out...uh yeah I kinda dug older guys...o never mind.

God, even the band's roadies are old. Um can I just see that MGMT video again, with the young half-naked guy doing stuff half-naked...?

They finished the first big chunk of show -- I refuse to call 5 songs an encore -- with more uptempo stuff, the crowd-pleasers, "Josie" and "FM" which wow, based on the studio record I just never envisioned as a number to get the crowd on its feet dancing. "Love is Like an Itching in My Heart" -- a great Supremes song -- helped showcase the backup singers and the band. Then "Peg" "Don't Take Me Alive" "Kid Charlemagne" (YES there's gas in the car).

Fannish devotion ran quite the gamut, from the fellows hollering "Cuervo Gold!!!!!!!" to the guy at the end who screamed SCUMBAAAAGS!!!! apparently because the band failed to play "Deacon Blues." Hey dude, you're a good argument in favor of allowing reefer in the theater. Like, chill. Seriously. It's Steely Dan. They have a lot of good songs. It's not like after 2 hours Skynyrd forgot to play "Free Bird."

Yeah, I would've liked to hear "Deacon Blues," yeah, also "King of the World," "Bodhisattva," "Black Friday," "Pretzel Logic" and definitely "Do It Again" but you enjoy the show in your mind after you enjoy the show you had a ticket for...

I don't think there was anything from "2 Against Nature" or "Everything Must Go." I haven't etched those albums into my brain, and I'm extremely unlikely to do so. The songs are catchy but I just can't care a whole lot about them. They're lacking that spark of genius, I guess, that I expect from a great SD track. They're also lacking subtlety. O well. Not that I always treasure subtlety, I still listen to the Ramones and the Buzzcocks too...

PS I love when my iPod on perpetual shuffle reads my mind, like the second song it played? after I left the show? like I got to the bus stop and it was totally "Josie" man!! (Okay so the first one was "Game of Love" by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. Get it, dude? The Mindbenders!)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Early Peaches

Early-season peaches from California usually disappoint, being woody and dry despite smelling great and passing the Gentle Pressure test, but early-season CA nectarines are often succulent. This year the early white peaches are fantastic, being ripe, tender and juicy to the point of brandy-headiness. The smaller nectarines are perfect, the larger ones blah. Four white peaches and four very large, slightly bi-lobed yellow peaches are scenting the entire living room far superior to any darn candle. The yellows are huge but irregular, and their skins are nearly mahogany in some places. Their flavor is deep and tongue-tingling rich, that perfect mix of sweet and tart only the finest fruit ever achieves.

Mingling cut juicy peach with ripe raspberries, strawberries and very thick Greek yogurt, plus a generous sprinkle of Stark Sisters almond granola...that's breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The early Carolina peaches are all green at my local supermarket, so I'm avoiding them. I've been so much happier with peach buying since I learned somewhere, no idea now where, that a peach showing green around the stem will never ripen off the tree. As I am utterly baffled by otherwise nice people who claim to dislike ripe juicy peaches and prefer them apple-like in texture, I've hardly bought a bad peach since.

Early Georgia peaches, smaller the better, are a bit over-sweet and not complex but good in pie. I think I heard this year's crop will be poor from bad weather. But our local New Jersey peaches are in the Greenmarket at the same time anyway.

If time permits I'm just going to have to revisit the store tomorrow and hope there are still enough ripe yellows to make a peach pie. My favorite recipe is from Cooking Light, and it's dead simple. The combo of peach and coconut seemed too bizarre for words but it works amazingly well. Ignore the b*s about refrigerated pie pastry, use good frozen pie shell pastry from Whole Foods (or in NYC from Fresh Direct or even, in a moment of sheer extravagance, Eli's/Zabars). Also, don't bother if the peaches are so under-ripe the potato-peeler is called for. They might be good for something - a softball game perhaps - but never pie.

Masdevallia Doomsday

The temperature right now is 58F, just after midnight. It rained today for a little while in Manhattan, though a friend in the East Bronx experienced a light hailstorm. Great weather. Glad there's no levees around here.

The coolth has come too late. The 2 big healthy masdevallias I bought in the spring are just about nearly completely dead. 4 days of near-100F heat crisped nearly every mature leaf, despite my efforts to keep the lights stand cool with plenty of air movement. Slightly different mode of demise than I experienced years ago with my once-great Brooklyn pleurothallid collection; the summer of doom that put an end to those poor plants was just as hot but because the plants were kept too wet the leaves did that amazing still-green-but-touch-it-PLUNK trick.

If I had the heart I'd buy yet another of these generic yellow or orange plants and try putting it by the bedroom air conditioner during a hot spell. In the interest of horticultural science.

But this Zygoneria shall be my last, even if it does pull through. It has hardly any leaves left, and the new growth has rotted, despite being right by the mega-fan and open window.

Nearly every other orchid has come through OK. The mature phals with empty spikes did fine leafwise, but every spent spike that was still green turned brown during the heatwave. Onc. Twinkle, which showed very sudden leaf-tip spotting in the heat, shows no further distress and the new growths continue to mature. The Coelogyne didn't so much as develop a spot. Amazing.

And Neofinetia falcata flowered magnificently, all buds opened despite the heat. I wish I weren't afraid to repot it, as all the roots are a-wandering. And Mystery GNYOS Raffle Mini-catt, that I nearly forgot about in the back row of the middle shelf, has several buds visible in a nice fat sheath on its still-maturing growth. I've no idea what it is but the old price sticker still on one leaf says $45 so it must be pretty good. Right?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

More orchidy goodness

I've seen these around lately. Oncidium Lambaba "Cutie" seems to be the right name a hybrid of Beallara Vashon and Oncidium ornithorhyncum, only one half of which seems rather obvious just from looking at the flower. I'm a bit confused how the labels say one thing but vendors call it this the first sign of fallout from revising Oncidium Alliance hybrids to all be called Oncidium?

The flowers seem very variable despite being clones. Some have bigger lips than others, or shorter spikes, so I'm guessing either the meristem tissue was wonky or the plants are extremely susceptible to cultural practicies. I hope I have a chance to find out. As I love O. ornithorhyncum -- come on, same scientific name as the platypus! -- I couldn't resist a plant that looks like that species on steroids. It even has a faintly pleasant scent. Supposedly warmth-tolerant, we'll see if that holds up.

97 degrees. Oy. I'm seeing signs of heat stress on the 2 masdevallias, the Oncidium Twinkle, the Zygoneria and even the Phal amablis. The large paphiopedilums, minicatts, jewel orchids and other phals seem fine. Even Coelogyne mooreana (which isn't) is doing alright, probably due to being in the window right behind the big living room fan and beside the open window; last year it grew magnificently but then again we had a very cool summer.

Ga ga ga ga ga

I love being able to hear Spoon on the radio. I only feel a little bit smug over having discovered them three years ago, along with Interpol and Franz Ferdinand. The whole GGGGG album is great. "Don't You Evah" is a great track. How can you not love a band with song names like "Believing is Art" and "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" and "The Ghost of You Lingers." Okay, so their album titles suck. Big deal.

Hot town, summer in the city

Oops, it's not summer yet. 97 frickin' degrees, three days in a row, and one of the weirdest windstorms I've ever seen finally ended it. Last night around 9:30 the calm still night outside my window suddenly went SLAM and the street trees were bending over eastward! Stuff started rattling down the street, the curtains blew in, dust and crud came blowing in the open window, and this kept up for at least ten minutes before the lightning, thunder and rain started. The temperature dropped from 87 to 70 in the next hour -- effectively a 30 degree drop from the midday high. Well. Tornado Alley this ain't but that might've been a taste...

Knitting baby trousseau items to keep babies warm while the temperature is in the 90s became too bizarre. I ordered a batch of Essentials sock yarn from KnitPicks last week, to make cute warm wee sweaters for my friend's future kids who will need them this winter, and somehow gosh darn it 11 skeins of Key Lime CotLin yarn found their way into the box too.

CotLin might be my new favorite yarn. I have some Classic Elite Cotton Bamboo in the knit queue and making the swatch was pure pleasure, but the CotLin goes just a bit quicker and oh is it ever light and supple. Bamboo needles suit it perfectly; I started knitting it on bamboo straights but I don't have circular #5 or #6 in bamboo, and the Inox circular needle I've put the project onto is only...okay. The yarn is so light the aluminum needles feel clumsy. On the other hand, the wool-blend sock yarn feels just fine on aluminum #2s. I suppose I'll just have to force myself to buy a full kit of bamboo straights and circulars now...I have to find a Japanese junk store, they usually have the straights pretty cheap...

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Rose Rioja #1: Aradon Rosado

A pleasant discovery! The label was plastered with 2005 silver medals, the 2004 vintage bottle was less than $12, it's summer, I love Spanish rosado wines, I chilled it tonight to eat with leftover Indian food. What a good idea that was.

The color is beautiful, a rich pale scarlet. Chilled, the bouquet is rich and fruity rather than floral, worthy of a full red Rioja. Spouse's first sip made him think, "Hemp???" and then "Hops???" Fuggles hops, not Cascade. Mine made me think plum, raisin, white pepper, with sharpness appropriate to a rosado. It's spicy on the tongue, and lingers well with berry overtones.

Loved it with our Indian meal. As Uber Queen of leftovers, I have set ways of handling certain ones. Our favorite takeout makes combo meals of appetizer/entree. We ate the ka-choris and all the Malai koftas and one carton of rice and most of the saag panir Friday. An hour ago the 2 potato samosas and their spicy chickpea sauce were chopped up and heated in the same pan as the second carton of rice; a roll-cut zucchini and handful of frozen haricots vert were heated with the remaining saag. Thick fresh-made Greek yogurt (from the neighborhood Greek grocers) mixed with honey, salt, black pepper and cumin makes terrific quick raita.

It was 93 freakin' degrees outside today but never got warmer than 81 in the house, even without using the a/c. We braved the heat and brought towels & sheets to a cat rescue team, found wonderful vintage porcelain cups and some wacky Time-Life books at a church street fair, went home to recover, then did Street Fair Safari on First Avenue to bag Copa soaps for both of us, a non-fruity carry bag for Spouse's cell phone and Moleskin notebook, black socks for Spouse (born and bred in NYC, he cannot imagine buying socks in a normal store), and a couple of bargain phalaenopsis orchids for me. Lunched at the Barking Dog, where truly excellent french fries are just an everyday pleasure. Came home and vigorously attacked the sloppy bagfuls of yarn stash lurking by the bedroom a/c...wrestled it into submission, forced into the large wood cabinet! Discarded several battered shopping bags, uncovered a few skeins I'd been hunting to no avail, returned missing knitting needles to the jar. Knitted more stuff for a friend's baby trousseau. A good day. A good day.

Nature's perfect breakfast

My poor spouse had a tooth pulled this week -- the oral surgeon jocularly called it "the tooth from hell" -- and so soft items of diet have ruled our roost. Fortunately I've been able to recall how I survived after having my lower impacted wisdom tooth strip-mined ten years ago, and while he's now heartily sick of hummus my poor spouse at least hasn't gone hungry.

Banana milkshakes are just the best thing ever. I first saw them made on a Food Network show about an ice cream parlor or maybe a diner somewhere in the midwest. Ultra simple recipe: take 1 ripe banana, a couple spoonfuls of vanilla ice cream, some malted milk powder, fill the glass with milk, blend! Of course I've had to build on that. Spouse loves Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup added. If we have chocolate ice cream, that subs for the vanilla. My Elvis version adds peanut butter -- either Skippy Creamy or PB & Co Dark Chocolate Dreams -- and that's practically a complete meal with all that healthy peanut protein. (Malted powder and peanut butter however are not happily compatible, to my taste buds.) This morning's version used up what was left of a pint of Haagen Dazs Triple Chocolate...mmmmmm.

Polystachia paniculata

Another pleasant under-lights surprise success. I got this flowering plant last April, and this spring it flowered on the first of two new growths to mature. The second growth is showing signs of spiking now. Neither growth is quite the size of the original, but hey, considering I never quite got around to repotting it and fed it only sporadically and my lights setup ain't exactly Waimalano, I'm fairly pleased.

Still debating what to repot it in...fine roots, top heavy, I'm tempted to put it back into sphagnum moss in a clay pot and then put the clay pot inside a plastic pot -- this system has worked well for a few other plants -- but I dunno. Fine bark mix like everything else is still most likely.
I wish more Polystachia species were easy to find. I remember seeing half a dozen different ones at Sea Breeze Orchids in the 1980s, and here and there in species specialist catalogs, but I reckon demand isn't sufficient to give growers incentive to pop seedpods or make clones. Pity. If you google the species a source of plants isn't even in the first three pages! I wish more Hawaiian growers would propagate the smaller, funkier speices. The Polys on Eric Hunt's pages are inspiring.

This explains a lot about troubles with outsourcing

CNN and the Onion intersect. Personally I think I'd want Ganesh as chairman of any US government venture into universal health care, as he is the god of expediting.