Kage Baker liked to use the week between Christmas and New Year’s as a resting place. She played her new games or read her new book, or just sat happily watching telly and snacking. She could easily subsist for the entire week on the contents of her Christmas stocking – that was one of the things Christmas stockings are for, after all: to feed you during the black, cold heart of winter. You could wrap up in half a dozen comforters, watch the sea and old movies, and live on imported chocolates and cheese.
That’s largely what I’ve been doing these last several days, too. Leftovers, sweeties from my stocking (Violet Crumble! Marzipan pigs!) and filling in the corners with cranberry sauce, prime rib and breakfast pizza. I still feel like I am drowning most of the time; I tend to sneeze 18 times in a row, and I am quite sure that the rising fluid level in my skull is visible in my eyes. However, small, separate bits of me – my mouth, my warm feet – are feeling better. In celebration, I have a few found goodies to share with you.
Kage loved pirates. And chocolate. She loved them both to obsession, with the passion and heat of the proverbial thousand suns. I was therefore delighted when I found this strange little article about a botanist buccaneer, one of whose passions was the cultivation and exploitation of the cacao tree. So singular and peculiar was this man’s story, I figure he had to have recruited by the Company – as a sort of mortal gardening Janissary, if not as an actual Operative. If he was an Operative, he had to have been having the very best of all assignments: ploughing the briny wave under the black flag, all the while collecting plants and inventing European hot chocolate. A dream come true!
Kage was also much concerned with the questions of global food: the inequalities in its distribution, the stupid politics that leave a million children crying with hunger. The lack of any real attempt to improve the stable crops – hey, we had beer and bread and crudities, right? We had potatoes for crisps and vodka; barley for porridge and whiskey; oats for oatmeal and brose – are we seeing a general theme here, Dear Readers? If you could manage to eat some of the food and made booze of all the rest, that surely was enough?
Except it wasn’t, of course. And to Kage’s continued distress, no one ever seemed to get the really basic concept of making something that could easily feed the masses. Being an American of Brit descent, Kage fixed on corn to fuel her heroine Mendoza’s identical mania. Mendoza eventually wrought super maize to feed the world. It was insanely nutritious and would grow anywhere; it was pretty, too.
However, back in the real world, corn is not the grain that most of the world eats. Pride of place there goes to rice. I give you this interesting article on heirloom rice, and the fascinating varieties that have been winkled out of private rice paddies and uncultivated marshes, and mustered to feed the billions. Basudha is a rice conservation farm that grows 1,420 traditional rice varieties, including some that are no longer found anywhere else in the world. Here, one can find such rare cultivars as Garib-sal (“garib” meaning poor in Bengali), an ironically named folk rice with nano-particles of silver in each grain. Or Sateen, meaning “co-wife,” a rice that contains three grains in each hull.
And there is also the brand new cultivar, Golden Rice. It grows anywhere, is resistant to damn near anything rice-icidal, and grows like a weed. And it’s pretty, too. Naturally, though, the countries that need it the most are rejecting it as a GMO demon and its inventors have been reduced to literally lying about it just to get people to plant and eat it. Bangladesh, though, has recently agreed to try it; so the dream of a universal grain may yet be realized.
I haven’t sussed out the connection between Basudha and the Company yet, but I will. It’s bound to be a damp. convoluted trail, but the aesthetics should be marvellous.
In the meantime, Dear Readers, I leave you with these few little shining pictures to contemplate. Cough syrup and eucalyptus fumes are calling my name, and it’s about time for me to melt into goo in my armchair. The little black cat is eyeing me, and meowing little cat curses to try and get me to make a lap for her to sit on.
So it’s back to being a happy sickie and watching Dr. Who. May you all have a lovely quiet evening as well, Dear Readers, with all the purrs and liquors and chocolates and telly and books you will need for what remains of the 12 Days of Christmas.
Kathleen, I hope you feel better soon. Thank you so much for the lovely article about William Hughes, Pirate Chocolatier! I have forwarded it to my daughters.
Commodore Cerridwen (my pirate name)