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The night of bad jokes

My sister tells me that telling jokes to earn one's treat for Halloween is a Des Moines thing. People in the DC area don't do it. Really?

Poll #2026710 What do they say on Halloween?

Do children/people tell a joke for a treat on Halloween, in the area you currently live in?

Always. Make them work for it (but not very hard).
No, they just say "Trick or treat".
No, they just expect a treat without saying anything.
No. No one here goes trick-or-treating.
I don't know - no one comes to my door.
I don't know - I never answer the doorbell on Halloween.
Other, to be explained in a comment.

Do children/people say "trick or treat" when they come to the door on Halloween, in the area where you currently live?


What's the best joke you've heard this Halloween (if any)?

Tasting chocolate

One of the highlights of going to the Chocolate Show today was a panel called "Judging the Judges".

The award winners of a raft of major chocolate awards were announced this weekend at the show; this panel was intended as a light-hearted way of letting some award-winning chocolatiers get their revenge by reviewing chocolate created by the people doing the judges. The confections were all created fairly last-minutely - not works of long love and labor the way the real competition's entries are.

I learned that chocolate competition judges
* recalibrate their palate periodically by tasting the same non-competition chocolate they started with and comparing their current tasting notes for it with what they noted at the start of the day
* they refresh their palate by eating little cubes of plain, unsalted polenta
* when judging the World Chocolate Awards, a jury has to taste and assess about 80 chocolates over about 8 hours, every day
* A judge I spoke with longed for salty foods at the end of a day of judging.

Particularly wonderful comments, by chocolatiers, assessing the real judges' creations:
* "This chocolate tastes like three things I put in my mouth by accident."
* "It's an idea. It should have stayed as an idea."
* Host: "What was your favorite part of this chocolate?" Chocolatier: "The polenta." (palate refresher afterward)
* Host: "What was your favorite chocolate from the tasting?" Chocolatier (likely the same one): "The breadstick."
* "This has a particular blandness which is hard to achieve." (an actual judge from the audience)
* An anti-Belgian chocolate chocolatier from Belgium: "We use Belgian chocolate for biscuits, not for production."

In an interesting moment of historicity, the session's host told us that Nutella originated as a Napoleonic war product. (Instead of the WWII product that it is.) There's a very long tradition of people assuming/arguing things are older than they actually are. It was nice to document one in the wild.

Theo Randall at the Intercontinental

For weeks, I'd been looking forward to eating at Dabbous, but they cancelled at the last minute, thanks to a gas leak. We already had childcare, so I did a quick search around for a different place to eat out. I was after something quite nice food-wise but not particularly formal; C was already out in London and dressed for a casual office day. And so we ended up at Theo Randall at the Intercontinental.

In no rush, we went along with the suggestion to start at the bar. The bar menu was an interesting one, but they were out of my first choice. My second choice was a fluffy marshmallow of a drink; on its own, that was fine, but alas, the dessert wine ended up being extremely similar.

Oh, the hazards of Italian food in Britain. Any menu which lists "primi" and "secondi" is one which raises my hopes that portions are thoughtfully small, enabling me to have lots of courses. The waitress cautioned that their portions were large. No antipasti for us, then. The little bits of bread which arrive are delicately soft and bode well for the rest of the meal.

I started with the linguine con aragosta, linguine with Dorset blue crab and chili. No, no parmesan for me, I am too inculturated into having no cheese with a pasta seafood dish. The crab meat is tender and tasty, a feat when paired with chili; but that's as high as the dish rises. The pasta is precisely al dente, which works for my linguine, but not for C's capelletti di vitello, which should be tender parcels without that bit of undercooked stiffness. They're fine. We've had better. By the standards of most of the meal, the pasta dishes were relatively pedestrian.

The secondi, on the other hand, are wonderful, delicate, rich, and intimidatingly enormous. My arrosta di faraone could easily have served both of us on its own. The best dish of the night, and I end up leaving a good half of the guinea fowl on my plate. ("Was something wrong?" is a painful query to receive for the evening's highlight!) C made slightly better inroads on his his costata di agnello. Even the side salad, a lovely array of colorful crunch, is quite substantial.

We loitered for a while and agreed to consider the dessert menu. I *want* to try out more of their offerings, but the secondo has made it difficult. We go with sorbet and ice cream. My peach sorbet is overly sweet. It's peach season, but this is a year-round dish, the richness of preserved fruit, not the refreshing juiciness of fresh peaches. It's heavy, and the accompanying marshmallow of the moscao d'asti adds more freshness than the peaches themselves have. C polishes off his chocolate-hazelnut ice cream, so it can't have been that bad.

I came away wistful. Should we have done the tasting menu after all? Is there any place in the UK which allows for consumption of both primi and secondi without food overdose? Should I never try another upscale Italian restaurant in the UK again, because I have spent too much time in Italy? For better or worse, I already have provisional plans to check out one of the Polpo family.

If I ever have reason to go back to Theo Randall's restaurant, I'd be inclined to gamble on the tasting menu, or just have meat and salad.

Wicked witch

I was reading an article in Restaurant magazine the other week about "lesser eaten fish", and it profiled one called a "witch".

That gives a whole new spin to stories about witches if you imagine the antagonist (or protagonist, of course) as a fish. Fish need to live in water, so presumably it takes a bubble of water with it wherever it goes. Or it lives in a water-heavy cloud, so it rains heavily wherever it flies to.

The witch is also known as a lefteye flounder; perhaps suffering from entrenched prejudice against lefties?

The Arnoglossus scapha (or lamb-tongue) is native to China and New Zealand (and presumably lots of smaller countries in between...). No wonder witch-hunts didn't take off in Europe until contact with the far east was starting to be slightly better established. Long-distance sailing would have exacerbated the problem more than overland routes, I presume.

I had initially assumed it might be partial to exotic lettuce in the neighbor's garden, but given the righteye flounder eats worms and crustaceans, perhaps not. Although side salads are often a nice accompaniment to a heartier main.


This article on How the ballpoint pen killed cursive (via andrewducker) reminds me of something.

I did a single year in London pre-tertiary education, in first year secondary school. One of the many differences between that and my otherwise mostly US-based early formal education was that the school required us to have a fountain pen. My parents bought me a cheap basic school model, refilled with cartridges like everyone else. It was meant for more formal writing situations (with ballpoints allowed in less formal situations), but I found it awkward since I hadn't ever used one before that. As I know from later usage, better-quality fountain pens can be lovely to write with; this one wasn't.

But that's not the point. I haven't heard anyone discuss fountain pens outside the realm of specialist love and practice since then.

Are fountain pens still used in the UK educational system anywhere, or have they fallen by the wayside in the intervening decades?

(My own pen-love has largely settled on superfine felt-tips these days.)
2002 SFF: M. John Harrison, BSFA: Gwyneth Jones
2003 SFF: Kim Newman, BSFA: Ian Watson
2004 SFF: Alastair Reynolds, BSFA: Paul McAuley. Also, Liz Williams.
2005 SFF: Karen Traviss, BSFA: Ian McDonald
2006 SFF: Steven Baxter, BSFA: Juliet McKenna. Also, Bruce Sterling.
2007 SFF: Francis Spufford, BSFA: Jon Courtenay Grimwood
2008 SFF: Geoff Ryman, BSFA: Peter Weston
2009 SFF: Paul Kincaid, BSFA: Nick Harkaway
2010 SFF: Rob Shearman, BSFA: Malcolm Edwards
2011 SFF: Mike Ashley, BSFA: Tricia Sullivan
2012 SFF: Aliette de Bodard, BSFA: Marek Kukula
2013 SFF: Gaie Sebold, BSFA: Ben Aaronovitch
2014 SFF: Jo Fletcher, BSFA: Frances Hardinge
2015 Brian Aldiss, Pat Cadigan (joint SFF-BSFA guests)

The erasure of older female characters

Older women rarely get to be protagonists, or otherwise portray as complex and interesting characters. That's a reason why there was a moderate amount of buzz around Harry Connelly's A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark. Its aging protagonist had adult nephews, and a long career in her past. It's sad that's worthy of remark.

Worse than not being the star of a tale is the opposite: being entirely erased from the narrative.

So last week we took Grouting to Peppa Pig World. It was vaguely en route to where we were spending most of the week, and other parents whose judgement I trust had told me it was worth going. It was, indeed, a decent day out and we didn't run out of things to do, Grouting crashing before we made it through all seven toddler-friendly rides plus other things and people to browse and meet respectively. She played in the small water park and was hugged by Susie Sheep. The weather wasn't too bad.

What was increasingly obvious to me, however, was that Granny Pig was nowhere to be seen. Peppa is a young anthropomorphized pig, with a younger brother George, parents, and grandparents on her mother's side, all of whom play major roles in the television series. Her grandmother has a pet parrot, raises chickens, has an orchard, cooks, and creates games for her grandchild. She is, following entrenched gender norms, nurturing. Her grandfather takes them on adventures in their boat and on his miniature train. He is, to be clichéd, a man of action. He also tends the garden.

In the themepark, right next to the entrance, is "Grandpa Pig's House", with Grandpa standing outside. There's "Grandpa Pig's Train" to ride on and "Grandpa Pig's Boats" to ride in. In the dinosaur ride, there's Grandpa Pig again, looking after the garden and telling the riders about seed packets. Two of the seven rides are named after, and sculpturally manned by him, and he appears in a third.

There is not a single Granny Pig to be found outside of the gift shop. She's even been erased from her own house.

In this version of Peppa's world, has Granny died? Was Grandpa divorced much earlier? Is Granny lurking inside house, her name not on the deed to the property?

Or, mostly likely, is it that Granny is categorized as so much background noise, nurturing and supporting, but not leading adventures?

Except for that, I had an unexpectedly decent time there.

A bun-worry

The phrase "bunfight" has been in avid use today, apropos of UK university Clearing, the process by which would-be university students go shopping for last-minute university paces, this year run on an unprecedented scale. (For example, in this THE article.)

I've assumed from long-casual reading that it meant "a conflict over something relatively trivial." But today's ubiquity prompted me to go digging a bit further.

The OED fails to mention this meaning, which briefly made me wonder if I had it all wrong.
bun-fight n. a jocular expression for a tea-party (cf. tea-fight n. at tea n. Compounds 3).
1928 R. Campbell Wayzgoose 7 It [the wayzgoose] combines the functions of a bun-fight, an Eisteddfod and an Olympic contest.

But it was baffling to think my friends were calling Clearing an expression of civility.

Collins does better with meaning #2 being "a petty squabble or argument".

More historical synonyms for bunfight in the tea party sense...Collapse )

A bun-fight Ngram: the rise of "bunfight", although without distinguishing between its senses.

Another person to briefly look at the subject observed the nineteenth-century terms "crumpet-scamble" and "muffin-worry" as synonyms for "bunfight", in the sense of "tea party".

It's not clear than anyone has bothered digging back to exactly where the argument meaning was first documented, but presumably it was post-'20s.


Have your cake

The first few times Grouting was sent forth from a child's birthday party with a slice of cake wrapped up in a paper napkin, I assumed it was an oversight. They'd forgotten to bring wax paper or tin foil or whatever for wrapping the slice of decorated sponge cake.

But no. Clearly this is ensconced tradition. With a single exception where the grandmother made sure we were all offered cake to eat at the birthday party itself, Grouting has consistently been sent away from her cohort's parties with cake wrapped in a paper napkin.

I knew about being sent off with slices of fruit cake from weddings, but fruit cake lasts in a way that sponge - especially iced sponge which sticks to paper napkins - does not. Marzipan holds up better than the frequently-encountered buttercream on birthday cakes.

This is a baffling tradition to someone who'd rather just eat the cake at the party when it's fresh. Unless a gift bag with bonus paper+cake is excavated promptly, it goes rapidly stale, and is already sticky. And it's really easy to forgot to do it promptly if, for whatever reason, one's offspring is not inclined to lead the way on doing so that particular day.

How long as this been a tradition in England or further afield? And WHY?

Eurovision Semi-Final #2 2015

There were fewer pieces I felt strongly about in the second semi-final, even if one more country was competing for the same number of places as on Tuesday.

Second semi-final comments...Collapse )

Voting: You'll be glad to know the BBC saved money by re-using the existing recordings of Graham Norton saying the names of all the countries. Even though he's not hosting this year. (Or at least hasn't been co-hosting the semis.)