Have a Great Weekend

Another busy weekend, what with the Third Anniversary Open House running on Saturday, but there’s always time for music.

Have a Great Weekend

For my palaeontologist friends, a documentary on Transylvanian dinosaurs.

The Great Texas Triffid Ranch Newsletter Subscription Drive

Two separate phenomena, seeking convergence:

One. Thirty years ago, I purchased an anthology written by one of my favorite authors at the time. The author was Harlan Ellison, the volume was Angry Candy, and the theme was death. Specifically, Ellison was 54 when I purchased my copy, and every story had been conceived and finished at a time when it seemed as if all of his friends and cohorts were dying. To look at the timeline he included with his introduction, he wasn’t kidding: childhood heroes, contemporaries, students…it was a horrendous chronicle of funerals and eulogies, and they seemed to concentrate within the previous three to four years. Three decades later, I understood the logic behind that pattern: when you’ve lived long enough to have a large assemblage of friends and acquaintances, you run into a convergence of demographics, mortality statistics, and confirmation bias that really appears to be an active effort to kill off everyone you know.

Again, it took me three decades to understand the feeling, especially after losing several people I knew and admired at the time I was reading Angry Candy. Harlan’s death this year just added to the sensation of feeling big chunks of your old life peeling off like old scabs, with twinges of pain and interesting new scars. One of the big messages the scars leave is that once you get to a certain age, if you’ve made an active effort to go in a different direction, you can look back and mark the exact year and month that your life diverges from Before to After. A lot of people never do: these are the people on Facebook desperately nagging about high school class reunions and how “you really need to be

there, because you’ll regret not getting back in touch.”

Two. For the most part, I love living in the future. The thought of going back to where things were in 1998 or 1988 (much less 1978) brings on waves of nausea instead of nostalgia. Every once in a while, though, reviving a nearly-dead concept has its merits. In the case of the eternal Port-o-John fire that is Facebook, it works less and less at what it was originally intended to do: stay in touch. Between the ever-changing algorithms determining what users may and may not see, the ever-increasing push for businesses to pay for willing subscribers to see posts (and then watching as those posts are buried in the main timeline under idiot memes and political diatribes), and Facebook’s lackadaisical attitude toward personal privacy, it’s once again time to back off and consider the brevity and efficiency of email newsletters. The reader opts in, the writer provides regular updates, and no interruption from that grade school classmate who sees messages to and from the reptile men from Arcturus in contrail patterns.

The phenomena converge:

About a decade ago, a big scab came free when I sold off the majority of my writing library on eBay. This was a matter of getting rid of reference materials, review copies (you’d be amazed at how many critics will hang onto advance reading copies of books because of that one neckbeard who claimed “you never actually read it!”, just to recite line and verse as to passages that justified a particular review), magazines containing published articles, and the innumerable books read, or that should be read, while building a voice. The vast majority went out early, only to discover that particular books are only valuable if someone is willing to pay the price, and that there’s a huge disconnect in perceived value between a book that can stay on a shelf or in a bookseller’s transport box until it finds a buyer, and a book that has to move within a week in an online auction.

In a subsequent evaluation of current library needs, though, I came across a cross-section of Harlan Ellison collections that escaped the original slaughter. It already was time to find them new homes, as I already know the stories by heart, and rereading them just doesn’t work when too much new reading keeps intruding. This came at a time when younger friends complained about the unavailability of much of Ellison’s work, both between earlier books being out of print and later books being snapped up from used bookstores and hoarded until the inevitable estate sale. That gave me an idea directly involving a much-needed relaunch of the Texas Triffid Ranch newsletter, and one where everyone wins.

In essence, here’s the deal. I’m looking for subscribers, and I have a big pile of Harlan Ellison books that need new homes. For the next nine weeks, this is the scenario that runs every week:

Numero Uno: Subscribe to the Texas Triffid Ranch email newsletter. It’s free, it’s going to come out once per month or so, you can unsubscribe at any time, and none of your personal information will be shared with ANYONE. (That’s why I’m putting out word about the subscriptions here. As easy as it would be to sign up friends and acquaintances, I refuse to do so without their permission and prior knowledge.)

Numero Two-O: Every Sunday starting on August 12, five lucky subscribers will be picked from the general subscriber pool, contacted for a mailing address, and given a randomly selected book from the pile. Said book will come with various magazines, flyers, stickers, and other cultural detritus to be determined, and the recipient gets it all delivered for free. This will run every week while supplies last. (Incidentally, signing up early means a better chance of winning at the beginning of the giveaway, so jump in now while you have the chance.) This applies worldwide, so anyone reading this from Antarctica is in for a serious surprise.

Number Three-O: You get a new (to you) book, including the possibility of rare volumes, I get more bookshelf space, and everyone wins.

Now, as to what is involved, the photos list most of it, but I’d like to point out a few extras. Among others is an autographed copy of one of Ellison’s early novels, Spider Kiss, when it was first published under the title “Rockabilly!” There’s also a copy of Six Science Fiction Plays edited by Roger Elwood, containing what was the only publication of Ellison’s original screenplay for the Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever” for twenty years. Likewise, the paperback edition of Wandering Stars contains Ellison’s classic short story “I’m Looking For Kadak,” still one of my favorite stories. While Ellison’s recounting of the nightmare of being the story editor for the Canadian television series The Starlost is well-known, Ben Bova’s The Starcrossed was a barely fictionalized comedy about his involvement as the science advisor for The Starlost, with Ellison slightly fictionalized as “Ron Gabriel” and included on the front cover. A rare copy of From the Land of Fear contains what may be the cigarette ad that inspired his essay “Driving In the Spikes” on personal revenge. (For those unfamiliar with the situation, the ad was a violation of Ellison’s contract with the publisher, and when the publisher ignored the contract, things culminated with Ellison mailing the publishing company’s comptroller a dead gopher, sent Fourth Class Mail.) This includes several copies of The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat, including the first printing of The Other Glass Teat published only after Spiro Agnew left the White House. (And that was a story in itself.) Finally, the collection includes a limited-edition slipcased hardcover of A Lit Fuse, the Ellison biography published two years ago. What’s not to like about this?

So again, subscribe and get free stuff. Better, feel free to let friends and cohorts know, so they can get free stuff as well. Best of all, if I really hate you, if I really, really loathe you and want you to suffer, you could get the booby prize: one of two volumes from a notorious fourth-rate Harlan Ellison impersonator from the 1990s. If that doesn’t clean out your lower GI tract all at once, I don’t know what will.

State of the Gallery: August 2018

The days end the way they begin: covered with glue, paint, epoxy putty, and random bits of styrofoam. First comes the watering, and you don’t want to know how much water moves through the gallery on a weekly basis. The floor of the gallery is a concrete slab, and yet you’d swear that it listed back and forth like a sailing ship deck. Either the sundews have evolved speaking apparatus or the sleep deprivation has reached the point of no return, because their conversations are so BORING. And then there are the people wanting to come by at 3 in the morning, and I have to explain “I don’t care if you’re from D magazine! I don’t have any coca plants here! No, wait, I don’t have any at all! No flowers in this town: only carnivorous plants.” And that’s when I start screaming “The floor is LAVA!”, because I’ve wandered outside into the parking lot and lava isn’t anywhere near as hot. At what point will the heat break and my brain stop impersonating a toasted marshmallow?

Oh, hi. Um, never mind me. Just getting things ready for the next gallery open house. Just do me a favor and look behind you. Do you see my dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth? Cool: so it’s not just me.

A bit more seriously, the best analogy for August in Dallas comes from what the late author Harlan Ellison described as “the hour that stretches.” Apparently space-time is as bent and warped by overstressed air conditioners as by gravitic anomalies, because you wake up one morning and figure “Oh, I have five weeks to get everything done, and I’m not going to slack off, so I’m going to start now.” Look down for a second and then back to the clock,  and everything has to be finished in an hour before everyone arrives. You KNOW you’re working, and you KNOW you’re making better progress than ever before, and it’s still not fast enough to deal with that hour that stretches. Hence, after this gets published, it’s back to the workspace, because carnivorous plant enclosures don’t make themselves. I know this from experience.

The biggest news, of course, is that the Triffid Ranch celebrates three years as a gallery this month, which means it’s time for another open house. Specifically, the Texas Triffid Ranch Third Anniversary Open House starts at 6:00 on Saturday, August 18, and ends pretty much when everyone goes home. Besides the novelty of the event itself (I look at pictures of the first ArtWalk at the old Valley View location and jawdrop as to how far everything has come since 2015), this open house includes the premieres of new enclosures, a custom cake designed and baked by the one and only Angela Nelson, and samples of that horsecrippler cactus ice cream mentioned last month. This is, of course, in addition to the opportunity to take home your own carnivorous plant enclosure or talk about commissioning a custom enclosure. As always, Triffid Ranch open houses are family-friendly events, too, so don’t feel obligated to leave kids at home.

As far as outside events and shows are concerned, one of the best things about living in North Texas is that autumn lasts until the end of the year, and as soon as the heat starts letting up in September, everyone rushes outside to breathe fresh air. (Every vendor familiar with outdoor Dallas shows can appreciate the Ray Bradbury novella Frost & Fire, because it hits all of the notes on show setup and teardown.) This means that everyone waits until the middle of August to get word on acceptance into big shows in late October. Since we’re not quite there yet, the wait for word from several local shows in October is almost painful. In the interim, though, the next three big shows in which you can expect to see the Triffid Ranch booth include:

Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 5: November 11 in Austin. It may be a one-day show, but the Horror For the Holidays events have three things going for them: the people running them, the people attending them, and Central Texas when the heat breaks. Not only is this a chance to say hello to a lot of Triffid Ranch regulars who can’t always get up to Dallas for every event, but it’s a perfect time to get out of town for a road trip without worrying about the plants cooking on the way down. (It also revives good memories of when the litcon Armadillocon used to run opposite Texas/OU Weekend, instead of just before fall classes started at UT-Austin, back when the convention actually encouraged attendees under the age of 60.) Of course, that’s not the only reason to come out: if you’d told most anybody of the untapped potential for dark and dire gifts before the release of The Nightmare Before Christmas 25 years ago, they’d have laughed and pointed. Horror For the Holidays just screams back “WHO’S LAUGHING NOW?”

Dallas Fantasy Fair: November 24 and 25 in Irving. A quarter-century ago, the autumn Dallas Fantasy Fairs served a very specific purpose for those of a certain bent: when the house was full of distant relations, the television full of either Christmas specials or football, and most public venues full of Dawn of the Dead cosplayers, it was a chance to get away from the house, talk to people who wanted to talk about something other than work or raising kids. Things have changed a lot since then, as the internet was just getting going when the last Fantasy Fair ran in April 1996. Sometimes you have to let something go fallow for a while in order for it to come back stronger and better, and nearly 23 years should be plenty of time.

Texas Frightmare Weekend: May 3 through 5 at DFW Airport. Every year, I look at the lineup of guests and events and figure “There is NO WAY that the Frightmare crew will be able to top what they’ve accomplished here. NO WAY.” Every year, the Frightmare crew comes by my table and laughs and points over my assumptions. That’s fair, because at the rate Frightmare exceeds the previous year, we may get a panel with special guest speakers Lon Chaney Sr., Mary Shelley, Clark Ashton Smith, and Lemmy in 2020. In the meantime, the 2019 Frightmare gets Tim Curry as its headliner guest, which means I have even more to accomplish over the next nine months than ever before. (For those unfamiliar with Tim Curry’s horticultural accomplishments, his hacienda garden in Los Angeles is world-famous, and he’s also a leading authority on agave cultivation and propagation, so I will NOT be caught flatfooted in 2019 if he decides to come by the Triffid Ranch booth to look around.) And this is just the first guest announcement after opening up ticket sales: the next nine months are going to be interesting.

In other developments, expect a much more enthusiastic schedule for the poor neglected newsletter, partly because of the ongoing Port-O-John fire that is Facebook. The other reason is that I’ve missed email newsletters, and I’ve missed the community that invariably sprouts up with them. Because of that, it’s time to do a proper relaunch, and that includes free surprises for randomly selected subscribers. Expect details within a few days, but trust me: it’ll be worth it.

Finally, for those in the Dallas area or those sympathetic to the area, it’s time to vote in the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards. This isn’t a plea to enter the Triffid Ranch for any number of categories. I won an award last year, which was more of a surprise to me than anyone else, and that’s good enough. Instead, it’s a matter of letting everyone outside of Dallas know what we have going for us, and that the cliché of big hair and shopping malls is one we’re killing one inch at a time. Besides, the last five years drastically changed my view of the Observer: it’s not the smarmy entitlement farm that it was back at the turn of the century, and I bow to no one in my admiration for dining critic Beth Rankin‘s articles and essays. (As far as I’m concerned, the biggest and best example of the paper’s change was with her recent essay on why she wouldn’t and couldn’t take publicity freebies sent her by various restaurants for ethical reasons: those who remember the paper around 2000, especially with the film and music sections, can understand why this was such a big deal.) Now go vote.

Have a Great Weekend

Horsecrippler Ice Cream Project, Episode Two

(In Episode One, we discussed the horsecrippler cactus, Echinocactus texensis, the easternmost barrel cactus in North America, and its extremely visible fruit. The idea was to see how well horsecrippler cactus fruit juice worked as a flavoring for ice cream, based on earlier experiments. We return to the program, already in progress.)

Because of the uncharted territory of cactus fruit ice cream, the output of the juicing sat in deep freeze until plans could be made for a proper ice cream cranking. As every science fiction movie and novel involving deep freezing will tell you, lots of developments come up while the juice was sleeping. Among other things, researching the preparation of prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) fruit noted that gently roasting the fruit in an oven or over a fire brought out the flavor by converting the starches in the fruit into sugars. Experiments with a couple of late-ripening horsecrippler fruit confirmed that while the roasted fruits’ flavor was still awfully subtle, the character changed enough to justify more experiments next spring. Those experiments also gave ideas for prickly pear gelato when the prickly pears ripen in October. Onward.

Since the whole ice cream making process was new, the best option was to work from scratch, figuring that improvements could be made with more experience. With that in mind, I started with a good ice cream base recipe, dropping in the frozen juice during its reduction in order to sweeten it. To minimize the risks of losing the whole batch, everything was done in one-liter batches, in order to get a better feel for the process as it progressed. This turned out to be a wise decision, as the best mix required a lot less whole milk than the base recipe recommended.

Ice Cream Base

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

2/3 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

6 large egg yolks

Oh, yes, and a recommendation for any recipe using eggs: you may note that most of the recipes recommend reducing your base and then straining it through a sieve. There’s a reason for it, as no matter how well-blended the base may be, the egg yolk can and will congeal along the bottom, essentially making ice cream-flavored scrambled eggs. Those chunks can and will get into the final product, so take it as friendly advice. Another recommendation: some people may think that ice cream-flavored scrambled eggs are a great idea. Those people are perverts. For them, I’m making a batch of venison sorbet, and I’ll gleefully scream “HAPPY NOW?” while they’re eating a big bowl each.

Working on the second batch, it’s easy to see both how distinctively brilliantly colored the juice is, and how well the color spreads through the ice cream. Considering how pastel strawberry ice cream can be, if nothing else, horsecrippler fruit might make a good natural coloration for frozen confections of all sorts. Again, experimentation: seeing if the juice can be dried is a possibility for the future, but that depends both upon availability and timing. It’s not as if anyone is going to be growing fields of horsecripplers for food colorings any time soon.

And now it’s time to put everything in the ice cream maker. Normally, the final mix goes into the refrigerator and chills overnight before going into the ice cream maker. Because of day job commitments and general exhaustion, I cheated and gave the mix a good bath in dry ice while the machine was turning. That cut down on the time spent in the maker, improved the consistency by producing lots of tiny ice crystals instead of large ones that affect the palatability, and made lots of fog on the garage floor. When trying something this new, always go for the unquantifiables to make things fun. Just be glad I didn’t have access to a significant quantity of liquid nitrogen: there’s an Air Liquide facility just south of the gallery, though, and I may have to ask about bulk rates…

WE HAVE ICE CREAM. I REPEAT; WE HAVE ICE CREAM.

Now to finish up. We may have ice cream, but it’s still at about the consistency of soft-serve, so it needs firming up. Into the freezer it goes, waiting for someone to be one of the first individuals on the planet to try horsecrippler cactus ice cream. And so it goes.

As for what’s going to happen to it? Well, that depends. The plan is to serve up samples to everyone coming out for this month’s Triffid Ranch third anniversary open house on August 18, so you can try for yourself. Alternately, I was serious about the prickly pear gelato: cactus isn’t common in Dallas proper, but I know of several bushes in neglected areas  throughout the city, and going on a fruit-collecting expedition in October is a good excuse for a trip to either Glen Rose or Mineral Wells. I was also serious about the liquid nitrogen, too: how many art galleries in the Dallas area can brag about having ice cream tastings, too?

Have a Great Weekend

Because about the only place you won’t hear Dallas music is on Dallas radio (and then the geniuses running Dallas radio stations can’t understand why they’ve been replaced so rapidly):

Have a Great Weekend

Have a Great Friday the 13th Weekend

For a friend whose fascination for Kylo Ren escapes me. Not because I would have been accused of Kylo Ren cosplay half my life ago (black hair doesn’t go well with my skintone), but because she could do so much better with Kylo Stimpy, Kylo Beavis, Kylo GIR, Kylo Dale Gribble, Kylo Jay Sherman…

The Aftermath: Late Canada Day at the Texas Triffid Ranch

Ever have one of those parties where you’re so tied up in getting everything ready that you don’t notice that it’s time to open the door until you’re in the middle of vacuuming? Where so many people you’re glad to see are waiting at the door, and that they keep piling in for hours? Where the only reason you don’t do this every single week is because the gathering requires a week to prepare and a week to recuperate? Where you look at the calendar for the next event, calculate “I have six weeks to get everything done,” and automatically cut off anything that gets in the way of that deadline, like sleep? Yeah, that pretty much sums up a Triffid Ranch gallery show, at least from this side of the display table. The July 7 Late Canada Day show was our largest one yet, not just in general attendance but in enthusiasm, and it was worth the sleep deprivation.

Just as a friendly reminder, since we don’t have any outside shows scheduled for August, the next Triffid Ranch gallery opening is on August 18, from 6:00 to whenever everyone stops coming through the door. This one is an accumulation of special occasions, all stemming from it being the third anniversary of the very first gallery show at our old Galleries at Midtown location. Among many other things, it’s time to celebrate the birthday of Caroline of Tawanda! Jewelry, the hottie holding court in the front of the gallery space, and it’s also a matter of celebrating two old and dear friends who first formally met and got together at that first show. Watching them after three years makes most people fall to the ground clutching their guts and screaming “Ow! My pancreas!”, so they deserve a party as well. And don’t even get me going about the new enclosures on display for this one.

Enclosures: Novi (2018)

An ongoing human compulsion is to update and mark existing testaments left behind by others: some call it “vandalism” and others call it “embellishment,” and for as long as hominins have been building permanent edifices and monuments, others step in and leave their own mark. The bare wall, the lone boulder, the thin sod atop a chalk cliff…some rework, others augment. The motivations may be different but the end result identical: when faced with an industrial structure that sets off pareidolia, was it reworked out of a sense of removing a reminder that the current people in an area weren’t the first people? Did it have religious significance, either as the center of a new faith or a way to hide an old forbidden faith in plain sight? Or did the artist simply hate the idea of something remaining completely utilitarian and want to give a reason for others to visit a long-forgotten artifact?

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes burkei x hamata

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, resin, tumbled glass, epoxy putty, garnets.

Price: $ 200US

Shirt Price: $ 150US

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn

“20 percent chance of rain,” I said. “Weather radar shows nothing,” I said. “Clouds coming up, but they’ll burn off before they get to me,” I said. “If it starts raining, it’ll be over right away,” I said. “The gutters are overflowing, but the water won’t get above my bicycle’s axles,” I said.

And it keeps coming. Want to get an idea of how intense one of Dallas’s admittedly rare summer rainstorms can be? This isn’t a fire hydrant. This is the downspout for a strip mall rain gutter, about 15 minutes after the rain started, and about an hour before the rain ended.

All in all, considering how badly we needed the rain, every last drop counted. Best of all, the nearly 10 centimeters we got will roil up the Trinity River, stirring up the anoxic muds responsible for the hydrogen sulfide fug that distinguishes downtown Dallas most summers. For a couple of days at least, Dallas is going to smell PURTY.

Have a Great Weekend

For those coming out for this weekend’s Late Canada Day gallery show, we’ll see you there. If not:

State of the Gallery: July 2018

It’s dry. Not standard “Dallas in July” dry: that still implies a touch of atmospheric humidity. We’re talking “the grass along the highway is a grassfire waiting to happen” dry. It’s “sweat bees want to be your bestest friend” dry. It’s “are you washing your clothes or debrining them?” dry. These sorts of dry summers happen very rarely out here, even in the worst brutal heat: even when the temperatures hit “cook your brain like an egg,” there’s usually enough moisture in the air that sweat is visible for at least a few seconds. Not this week. This is the week where getting out during the day leads to salt crusts on clothes and at the corners of your eyes, and where an evening shower isn’t an extravagance but a necessary removal of the day’s mineral carapace. Combine that with an equally dry south wind running day and night, and you can almost hear trees and bushes shrivel. I know this firsthand, as do my poor Sarracenia, because just one day led from “happy and hydrated” to “almost too dehydrated to save”. And so it goes.

Not that this is going to last: with the exception of 2011, where we went from April to Christmas Day with no rain except one fifteen-minute cloudburst in September, we can get sudden thunderstorms without warning. The National Weather Service is making promises of severe thunderstorms through the week, and we don’t blame the weatherfolk for rain predictions that don’t pass. You can bring up weather radar showing a gigantic bank of brutal storms around Fort Worth, and watch them shrivel and evaporate in real time the closer they get to Dallas. After a while, it gets to be a game, where everyone has to take a shot if the storms are deflected north or south. In some years, you’d swear that your neighborhood had a giant glass dome over it, where you can drive through rain coming down so hard that visibility is next to zero to a destination that didn’t get a drop.

Well, that’s Texas for you, where you can either sit and suffer until October, or you can find a good reason to get out, preferably after dark, to keep from growing roots into the couch. Let’s help out with that.

Since the urge to stay inside works for the gallery as well, the next couple of months will involve new enclosures and new commissions, and that’s why we’re having gallery showings. The first is the Late Canada Day show on July 7, with an emphasis on the legacy of Michel Sarrazin. If that’s not enough advance notice, the Triffid Ranch’s third anniversary gallery show is scheduled for Saturday, August 18, from 6:00 until whenever everyone goes home. At this point, the Triffid Ranch has been in its new location exactly as long as it was in its old space, so we have more reasons to celebrate than usual.

In other developments, the carnivorous plant workshop at Curious Garden was enough of a hit that it led to an interview in Richardson Living magazine, now on stands everywhere in the city. With luck, this might tie in to other events in the Richardson/Garland area: keep an eye open for particulars as they happen.

And other news? The trip to the International Carnivorous Plant Society show in August had to be cancelled due to finances (I could do it or pay the booth fees for next year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend show but not both, and next year’s Frightmare is the Triffid Ranch’s tenth anniversary out there), but a slew of carnivorous plant growers and enthusiasts are talking right now about a Texas meetup to share notes and cuttings. As soon as I have more details, I’ll pass them along, because a Texas carnivore conference would be the greatest thing to happen to me since the invention of the casual dresscode workplace. Again, check back for details, because this will be GLORIOUS.

Have a Great Canada Day Weekend

Because you can’t remind people enough that the Sounds of the Nineties would have been immeasurably better had this crew been used as inspiration:

Harlan Ellison (1934-2018)

A lot of people already have their eulogies and anti-eulogies in print and online right now, so I’ll just add a small sheaf of commentary to Harlan Ellison‘s funeral pyre. During my writing days, he was a friend and inspiration, but his greatest influence came after I’d quit pro writing. Ellison had a reputation for taking one piece of artwork and writing whole stories based upon that piece, sometimes in bookstore windows where people could watch him work. My whole purpose with the gallery, and pretty much everything I did with the plants before that, was to create something with enough mystery and enough wonder that he’d take a look and want to fill in the rest of the tale. That’s why, when people want to know the stories behind the enclosures at the gallery, I ask “What story do you want there to be?” And so it goes.

(Incidentally, the photo above comes to us from 1999, when Harlan and I were both guests at Readercon, a literary science fiction convention in Massachusetts. He turned 65 that year, and people much closer to him than I knew how he credited reading Golden Age Green Lantern comics for part of his fascination with the fantastic. Hence, with the help of several people, Harlan had his very own Alan Scott ring. It won’t make any sense to anyone not familiar with DC comics, but after posing with this ring, he looked at the GL ring my ex-wife had commissioned a few years before, grabbed my hand, and pulled the ring to his wife Susan, yelling “Look! He’s got a Hal Jordan ring!” When I explained “Well, more Guy Gardner,” he sat back and scoffed “Oh, of COURSE.” I miss precious little of my writing days, but I don’t regret the circumstances of that conversation, ever.)

Have a Great Weekend

Horsecrippler Ice Cream Project, Episode One

Backstory: a few years ago, the big Triffid Ranch project, before the gallery, was attempting s culinary project involving Echinocactus texensis, the barrel cactus commonly known in West Texas as “devil’s pincushions” or “horsecripplers.” After confirming that their other name, “candy cactus,” was due to the bright color and shape of their fruit, and not because the fruit was used to make candy as commonly claimed, the grand experiment involved using horsecrippler fruit as a base for homemade ice cream. The experiment was inconclusive, but intriguing enough that the intention was to try again. The setup and opening of the gallery intruded on future plans to try again, and the project remained fallow. We now go to the next part of the tale, already in progress.

By the beginning of 2018, all the signs of a potential bumper crop of horsecrippler cactus fruit were all there. The previous summer had been hot but not brutal, and winter temperatures were cold enough to encourage dormancy but not so cold as to stunt or kill the cactus. All of that went out the window in mid-March, when a series of cold fronts brought temperatures down to about freezing, throwing off schedules for blooming and fruit set. A trip to the area around the town of Mineral Wells confirmed the absolute worst: normally, one of the only times when horsecripplers were easy to spot in situ was around the end of May, when the fruit ripened and those little neon red bombs made the rest of the plant visible. An extensive search through the area turned up nothing: when horsecripplers don’t want birds to find their fruit, they don’t want to be found at all. The only ones found were right next to residences where they were a potential threat to people and animals, and the fruit were tiny and green. The same situation was true of the horsecripplers in cultivation by the greenhouse, and it looked as if that late cold killed the crop for the season. Plans for horsecrippler ice cream were dashed for 2018.

Echinocactus texensis

Well, that was the idea. Horsecrippler season was just delayed this year, by about two weeks. Suddenly, every last cultivated horsecrippler that flowered earlier in spring looked up, checked the clock, and screamed “We’re late!” A week before, a couple of green fruit the size of raisins were all that could be found. Now, big, fat, juicy ripe fruit, easily removed from the cactus. The first stage of the Ice Cream Project could begin.

Items needed:

Horsecrippler cactus fruit

Kitchen tongs

Cutting board and sharp knife

Smoothie maker or blender

Cheesecloth

Freezer containers

The two things to remember about gathering cactus fruit are that the purpose of that fruit is to transport seeds, and that the bright colors of most cactus fruit aren’t necessarily there to entice humans. The descriptive name “candy cactus” probably referred to the look of the fruit, not the taste, as fruit on the plant looks like a cluster of wrapped candies. The wrapper, officially known as the corolla, is the remnant of the bloom, and it has a definitive purpose here. Horsecrippler seeds are best spread by birds as they eat the fruit and spread the seeds in their dung, so the idea is to attract birds with bright coloration while dissuading everything else. The corolla does a masterful job of dissuading, as it has all of the softness and mouth feel of a dried thistle bloom. The fruit doesn’t have actual thorns or hairs the way prickly pear fruit does, but that corolla is still too sharp and spiky to grab with bare hands. That’s where kitchen tongs come in handy: a slight twist and ripe fruit just pulls free.

Now the real fun begins. While the corolla makes a handy pull-tab when removing the fruit, you definitely don’t want chunks of it in the next stage. To the cutting board all of it goes, to cut off corollas and any squishy or bruised parts and wash what’s left. A handy tip: when disposing of the corollas, don’t add them to your garden unless you really like pain. They tend to survive months in the garden, just as spiky as they were when dumped there, so try to bury them either deep enough or enough out of the way that they won’t turn up with a random raking. Your feet, knees, and hands will thank you later.

With access to a cutting board and sharp objects, now is a perfect time for a bit of botanical anatomy. Horsecrippler fruit really don’t have enough pulp to make it worth the effort to skin the fruit the way you would with prickly pear, and the peel actually adds what subtle flavor it has. In addition, the pulp is full of small but very tough seeds, the better to pass through a bird’s gizzard, and helping yourself to the pulp now is very much like chewing a spoonful of very sticky aquarium gravel. To continue requires removing those seeds, and that requires…

(*in Red Green voice*)…the cactus preparator’s secret weapon: a smoothie machine!  In actuality, any blender will work well, but aside from sentimental reasons (I picked this up in Tallahassee the same exact weekend I encountered my first carnivorous plant in the wild), having a stirring stick that can push down and stir fruit without opening the top is awfully handy. After the fruit is washed and dried, just drop everything in here and blend away. A little warning though…

THIS is why you don’t want to use the spout on a smoothie maker. Prickly pear seeds are large enough that they’re filtered out by the spout opening, allowing the resultant juice to drain out through the spigot. Prickly pear fruit also produces a lot more juice: horsecrippler fruit have proportionately more peel and pulp, so capillary action keeps the juice bound up with the rest of the pureed pulp. A little juice will escape, with enough seeds going along with it that closing the spout is nearly impossible.

Likewise, don’t bother putting the pulp into a colander or strainer. Even if adding additional water or other fruit juice, the pulp will just suck it up and refuse to drain. The best option is to pour the pulp into cheesecloth, and squeeze out the juice into a freezer container. The temptation will be strong to taste that juice, and that’s when you discover why prickly pear and dragonfruit are the only cactus fruit commercially raised for food. “Subtle” is a nice way of describing the flavor, with a touch of starchiness. The main attraction is the neon color, which is one of the reasons we’re doing this. Just pour that juice into freezer containers if you aren’t going to use it right away and freeze it: from previous experience, it freezes well and keeps for months. As for the remaining pulp, you can attempt to grow new horsecrippler cactus from the seeds (a longterm venture, as horsecrippler cactus are VERY slow-growing), or you can set out the pulp and seeds to delight the local songbirds. Set up a platform near your cat’s favorite window, and get double satisfaction from watching happy birds and listening to anxious and nearly incontinent cats. Win/win.

As for what to do next, well, that’s a reason to check back for Episode Two. It’s going to be a busy weekend.

The Aftermath: Carnivorous Plant Workshop at Curious Garden

Waking up on a summer Saturday morning in North Texas is hard. It’s bad enough that this time of the year, the big yellow hurty thing in the sky races to emerge before you can finish your coffee (or, in my case, Dr. Pepper) and blast your reason for living to ash. It’s not just that the local air quality moves from “sultry” to “too thick to breathe, too thin to plow,” or that the filth in  the air conditioner’s air filter makes you wonder if the cats took multiple dumps in it. By the first weekend in June, the only willing people up with the sun on a Saturday are farmer’s market vendors, air conditioner mechanics, and masochists whose gimp suits are at the cleaners. The rest of us are smart and get everything done under soothing moonlight, draw the blinds, and sleep until the worst of the heat passes. Yes, it’s that much harder to readjust come Monday morning when the day job calls, but the people fussing about this aren’t the ones who have to live with it.

That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise to see the crowd already lined up for the first carnivorous plant workshop at the newly relaunched Curious Garden on June 9. After the success of its recent taxidermy workshop, Curious Garden was a perfect locale for discussing the vagaries of carnivores and helping the participants go home with a carnivore of their very own.

As to new workshops, that depends upon upcoming schedules, but they’re very likely. Keep an eye open for updates, and register quickly when they appear: this one was large enough that we almost needed a larger space to hold everyone.

Have a Great Weekend