Google Search Q&A 6

Spuggies! (By Daniel Marchese on Flickr, CC-BY-2.0)

It’s been a long time since we did this, and the boring reason why is that Google now encrypts its search engine referrals (officially for privacy reasons, but it will still show you search terms for paid search adverts…)

But not every search engine does, and the “Search terms” box in our stats page has been very slowly filling up…

  • dove mixed with sparrow
  • pattern of sparrow for embroidery
  • sparrow in cross sticking
  • difference between mocking jay and sparrow
  • small brown garden bird
  • small speckaled uk sparrow like bird
  • what would the difference be when reffering a person as a dove rather than a sparrow
  • cayenne pepper and sparrows

…with sparrows.

Today, we’re going to answer one (non)Google Search with the help of another.

  • nom of sparrow graph
  • sparrow energy drink

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Chai masala recipe

It’s November, which means several things. First of all, it means everything has suddenly got very cold and the evenings have got very dark. Second of all, it means it’s NaNoWriMo time again and we need writing fuel. Finally, the shops are all selling mulled wine spices. And that means… CHAI MASALA.

I recently got a spice grinder (well, a coffee grinder, but it’s not like you can’t put spices in it) and to try it out I’ve been making chai masala every night, trying to fine-tune the recipe to my taste. This is what I have. Just to stress, this is based solely on my tastes, so it’s pepperier and anisier than a Starbucks chai latte. However, I think it’s too good not to share, so here it is. This makes a potful, or about three mugsworth.

  • 1 star anise
  • 6 cloves
  • 8 green cardamom pods
  • Half a stick of cinnamon
  • A teaspoon of aniseed
  • A bit of a nutmeg (about 10 seconds of grating)
  • 6 peppercorns
  • A smallish (say, 1 cm x 1 cm x 2cm) of fresh root ginger
  • About 5 teaspoons of sugar (to taste)
  • 700 ml water
  • 400 ml milk

Now, you can replace these spices with their powdered equivalent – you don’t have to be a pretentious nob like me! The only thing is that if you use powder, you can’t strain it out and your tea gets a bit gritty. The spice grinder makes the spices a bit rougher, so a decent tea strainer or fine sieve can catch them.

1 star anise, 8 cardamom pods, 6 peppercorns, half a cinnamon stick, a teaspoon of aniseed and six cloves in a spice grinder

The basic spice mix. You can scale this up to make a jar of masala that you can use any time

Grind together all the spices except the fresh ginger until you have something with roughly the appearance of ground coffee. Everything should be finely chopped, but don’t worry about the fibrous cardamom pods. The finished product should look a little bit like…

A fine reddish-brown powder, with some pale brown strands from the cardamoms

The masala!

Put the masala in a fine tea strainer (ideally, one that you can close) together with the finely chopped ginger (you don’t want to add the ginger before cooking because a) it’s a fresh vegetable, and will go off if you try to store it, and b) it makes the masala moist and clogs up your grinder). In a saucepan, mix the milk and water, add the spices in their strainer, and then heat on a very low temperature. The ideal temperature would be one that simmers the milk/water without quite boiling it, but my electric hob doesn’t give me that much control. A bit of a burnt milk taste is actually quite nice, but as the milk cooks, it gets stickier, and that can clog the strainer. (You can add the spices loose, and strain them at the end, but I find that most of the spices get stuck in the froth of the milk and you don’t get the flavour out)

Let it cook for about 15 minutes, and then add sugar. Keep tasting until the sweetness and the bitterness balance nicely. If it’s spicy enough, plonk in a teabag (Yorkshire Tea works well) and simmer for about 2 minutes. Because the milk has probably thickened a bit, you might need to squeeze the teabag to get the tea out. Taste it, and if all is well then take out the teabag and the tea strainer and pour into a pot.

A mug of chai


And that’s my chai.

A True Story Poem

I’m finally doing my last bit of typing up before NaNoWriMo begins, and I came across a poem I wrote ages ago, or in August or something.

Nothing in particular to recommend – if you want to know my unsolicited rambling thoughts on every book I read, please check out my Twitter – but I am currently reading The Young and Prodigious TS Spivet, by Reif Larsen, which has delighted me by not being tryhard twee, but by being real and genuine and wonderful. I’m not finished yet, and I guess there’s always a chance that it’s going to end with “AND THEN IT WAS ALL A DREAM” or “IT WAS ACTUALLY ALL THE COMA DREAM OF A LITTLE BOY OOOOOOH SPOOOOKY AMIRITE” but so far it is looking rather good. Also, illustrations are class.

OK here’s my poem, based on a true thing that happened when I was getting off the tram after reading too hard.

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Poem about how hot it is #3

It’s finally got hot and muggy again, so it doesn’t feel weird to be writing about the heat. Conflicted hurray!

I haven’t been reading any poetry recently, alas, so no recommendations or opinions. Only prose. So much prose.

When I was writing down the germ of the idea for this poem, I texted Spuggy to ask if he thought it was too pretentious. He said he liked it, but he did also quote this song* at me, so the jury is still out on that one. YOU DECIDE.

I think I might play with this one a lot more, but I also think it’s an easy thing to make too clever-clever. Honestly, sometimes I like it and sometimes I think it’s quite juvenile, but I’m going to post it anyway because I should probably get used to this kind of thing.

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Poem about how hot it is #2

Hello friends.

Not a huge amount of poetry recommendation today, partly because I’m still stuck in the flytrap-sticky, rabbit hole world of Alan Turing and partly because the only other poetry I have read recently is by Adrienne Rich, and it’s not really my thing. In poetry as in prose fiction, I need a bit more of the surreal. I like a blurring of lines. There were lines I liked (“Your silence today is a pond where drowned things live/I want to see raised and brought dripping into the sun.” from IX of her Twenty One Love Poems) but in general it felt like captured moments played straight, rather than tampered with the way Tomas Tranströmer does it.

Maybe there isn’t such a thing as poems I like or dislike, only poems read at the right or wrong times. Who knows.

All I know is that you shouldn’t hold me to any of my lofty opinions when you read part 2 of It’s So Hot, So Very Very Hot.

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Poem about how hot it is #1

It’s been a while. It’s been so long, in fact, that it’s no longer particularly hot in Frankfurt (though it will return to your regularly scheduled 28 degrees this weekend, apparently).

Let’s start with a recommendation of actual good poetry, as I think all these posts should. This is kind of a repeat of a stream of Twitter-consciousness, so bear with me and skip this if you’ve heard it before.

Tomas Tranströmer!

One of the few poets of whom I can say I’ve read pretty much everything he published. It started with a kindly soul lending me The Sorrow Gondola, which I read through in two mad sittings (one standing on a tram). I think I’ve said before how I’m not sure how you’re supposed to read poetry volumes – in binges or savouring each offering like a fine, limited edition truffle. Tranströmer, however, I like to binge on. A while after reading The Sorrow Gondola and being totally mystified (and intrigued) by it, I came to Tranströmer’s New Collected Poems on my much-vaunted reading list. This was while I was in the UK visiting home, after having left my phone in Germany, and the poems which had once been so opaque and weird suddenly became everything. The poems of The Sorrow Gondola are also in New Collected Poems, and when I got to them I read them as though it was for the first time. I was finally in the zone. It all made, if not sense, then feelings and images so vivid they were almost concrete. I was almost in dream-Sweden. I was almost between time. I was almost between dreams and reality, slipped down that crack where so many of Tranströmer’s poems take place (if you can say they have a place).

He has a poem about drawing a piano keyboard on his kitchen table and playing for the neighbours which is so weird it becomes universal. Surreally relateable. Don’t ask me how, but it is.

Highly recommend. Here are ten poems of his to get a feel for him, though you might need more to recalibrate yourself to his wavelength.

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Five curry recipes

Thanks to a series of other things, I only just got round to having my birthday party, and you know what that means: curry buffet!

Wow, don’t sound too excited.

But anyway, a couple of people have asked me for the recipes, so here they are. They’re adapted because a) it turned out that the party-day was the hottest day in the history of the state, so I tried to make the recipes as light as possible (no thick sauces, small juicy vegetables) and b) the gamut of guests’ tastes ran from “Even a homeopathic chilli pill would set my mouth on fire” to “I want experience true pain”, so the spiciness of these varies quite a bit. Enjoy!

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Surprise Poem! and unsurprising recc

So, I finished Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer last night. My initial impressions were unchanged – it’s a great, nuanced, complex story about identity. About how our upbringings shape who we are and who we want to be and who we don’t want to be. It’s about South Africa and how bad things can get, and how hard it is to shake off rotten institutions even with justice and rightness and the best will in the world. it’s about the blame we deserve and the blame we don’t deserve but which belongs to us nevertheless. I’m honestly surprised that I’ve never had this book recommended to me, so I’m recommending it now. I saw a reviewer had said it was a worthy book but with no joy or pleasure in the reading. I have to disagree with that. The writing is beautiful and Rosa Burger’s life is compelling and rich. Though the context in which it is lived is pretty bleak, I wouldn’t say it was a joyless book at all.

And now indulge me in another spontaneous poem, which is infinitely less serious than seminal South African literature.

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Poem – no recc

I only have one more poem to share from this session. After this I’ll no doubt start moving some other old stuff over here though.

No recommendations today, as I just finished Grey and although I appreciated the closure on the series, you can just imagine a terrible stalking experience except the stalker is a billionaire and there you have it: you have experienced Grey. Congratulations.

I have, however, begun reading Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer. It’s dense and intense and a very focused read. The difficulty of the language – or rather the obscurity of the sentences – draws you in with that focus, to a world which I believe is (thankfully) unthinkable to most white, Western people of my age, and it makes you think about it. Crazy uncomfortable, but you can’t – mustn’t – look away. More as I progress.

And now for a poem.

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Penultimate Poem and Review

Time to post the second-last of my poetry binge. Try not to be too sad.

Before that though, I have this much-vaunted reading list which is like my actual child right now. I’m never going to get to the end of it. On it go books of films I watch (so Sneak is a reading list KILLER) and the best-known, most prizewinning, or first book by any deceased author I haven’t read yet. That last one is in real time, or else I really would never get to the end of this list. Of course there are exceptions – any book recommended by a friend or anything that just really catches my eye goes down as well.

I mean right now I’m reading EL James’s Grey, so I’m not that much of a book snob, I promise.

But I just wanted to recommend more poetry, because honestly with poetry I just don’t know where to start, and it’s nice to keep a record of the things that I’ve liked. So, through my book list (and haunting the Guardian’s Books section at the slightest hint of boredom) I put down a book by Dermot Healy, called A Fool’s Errand. It’s a book-length poem split into “chapters”, and the theme is a flock of geese migrating from near his Irish home to Greenland and back. I’m glad I started reading it after I came to the end of my poetry-writing spree, because it is good.

The geese scene from TH White’s The Once and Future King was my favourite part of the whole book, and A Fool’s Errand just tapped right back into that scenery for me. Right back into that wet, cold, windy place, and the mysterious ritual of migration. The rising restlessness, the false alarm flights and finally the big lift-off, the amazing journey. Around this you see the geese from all angles, above and below, and Healy was a master of imagery. Birds as orchestra – or orchestra as birds? Simple things like a wind through a house slamming an open door become beautiful things, but always still simple, always just what they are. It’s gorgeous and you should read it.

My own feeble attempt is below, as always. Continue reading


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