Friday, 31 December 2010

When thou from hence away art past

Whaddya know, I managed to find a YouTube version of the Mediæval Bæbes singing "The Lyke-Wake Dirge" that doesn't have screenshots of Rome: Total War plastered all over it. (Don't ask - that confuses me just as much as it does you.) So here it is, the unseelie alternative to "Auld Lang Syne". Happy New Year!

Update Feb 2017: that version got deleted, so here is the video with the Rome game footage (really, why?!) while above you've got Pentangle's rendition from the 1970s.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A rare bird

More music - not at all seasonal but as eerie as anything, here's the incomparable Lene Lovich with "Bird Song".

Monday, 27 December 2010

Eat, drink and be merry

So it’s the winter of 1901. You’re in the dining car of the Stamboul train and it’s broken down in the middle of an Eastern European forest. Fat snowflakes swirl ever more thickly outside as darkness comes on. The big question: what are you going to order?

Few dishes are as satisfying as tournedos Rossini, a real Edwardian classic with its rich madeira sauce, truffles, fois gras, and thick steaks on a bed of croutons. Cholesterol? Don’t be a ninny. Your blood could be drained by the strigoii tomorrow, and then you’ll thirst forever, your stomach numb and cold; you’ll never drink wine, nor gorge on steak and foie gras either. Enjoy yourself while the heart still beats, for cold and dark press closely enough outside the windows.

The madeira sauce is one of the most important elements of this dish. It is based on a brown sauce, which needs to simmer for three hours but can be prepared the day before. The rest of the dish is quite quick.

The quantities given here will serve two good appetites.

2 thick slices fillet of beef
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoons oil
salt, freshly milled pepper
2 slices baguette (par-baked is best)
two 40g slices of tinned foie gras
1 truffle, very thinly sliced, fresh if possible

madeira sauce:100g button mushrooms, very thinly sliced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 centiliters madeira (= 3.5 fluid ounces)
2 generous tablespoons double cream
1 tinned truffle, chopped, or truffle trimmings (plus juice from tin)
20 cl brown sauce (see below)

brown sauce:1/2 teaspoon lard
25g bacon, cut into thin strips
half an onion, cut into four
1/2 teaspoon flour
30 cl good dry white Burgundy, or red Burgundy or Beaujolais
30 cl good meat stock
a very little salt
1/4 teaspoon tomato puree
1/4 of a carrot, sliced
1/2 a clove of garlic, crushed
1 bouquet garni

1. First make the brown sauce - the quantities may seem very small but I have given the amount needed just for this recipe. In a small cast-iron pan melt the lard, and add the bacon and onion. Allow them to take color.

2. Remove the bacon and the onion, then stir the flour into the fat. Cook gently, allowing it to take a good all-over golden color.

3. Add the wine and leave to boil for 2 minutes.

4. Add all the other ingredients and put back the bacon and onion. Cook for a minimum of 2 hours on a very low heat, skimming occasionally, but 3 hours will give a better result. The sauce will reduce greatly, but you may need to add more water before the end of the cooking time.

5. Strain through a sieve.

Just before you cook the steaks:

1. Make the madeira sauce. Stew the mushrooms gently in the butter in a thick saucepan, and deglaze with half the madeira. Add 1 tablespoon of the cream and leave to boil for about 3 minutes.

2. Meanwhile melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a thick frying pan, and gently fry the bread on each side until golden brown. Sprinkle with salt and put aside in a warm place.

3. Back to the saucepan. Add the brown sauce, then the rest of the madeira, the chopped truffle and the truffle juice. Heat through to blend the flavors, then add the cream and keep warm.

To cook the steaks:Heat the butter and oil in the frying pan, then fry both sides of the steaks quickly over a high heat. They should ideally be served rare.

To serve:Place a piece of toasted bread on each plate. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the sauce over each. Place a steak on top, and on top of that a slice of foie gras, topped with a sliver of truffle. Cover with the rest of the sauce and serve very hot.

This dish goes well with the plainest of vegetables: peas, French beans, and plenty of mashed potatoes to mop up the sauce.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

This aye night

Actually it's not "This Ay Nicht", which I really like because it's all doomy winter and has that line in it about fire and sleet and candlelight. (The real line is "and fleet", ie floor-space, which makes more sense - but we like "sleet" and so do the Baebes.) But this song is "Tam Lin", which is equally faerie-dusted and comes from the Mediæval Bæbes' album Mirabilis. So that's why.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Happy Christmas from frozen London

There's no denying that England has been uncharacteristically icy of late. I look out of the window and the only tracks in the snow are those left by the local fox, who comes mooching round hoping we're going to give him some of our turkey. But if you think this is Fimbulwinter weather, see what John Evelyn wrote in his diary for the year 1684:

January 1st: The weather continuing intolerably severe, booths were set up on the Thames. The air is very cold and thick.

January 9th: I went cross the Thames on the ice, now so thick as to bear not only streets of booths, in which they roast meat and sell goods, but coaches, carts, and horses are able to pass over. After dinner, Sir George Wheeler and I walked over the ice from Lambeth Stairs to the Horseferry.

January 16th: The Thames was filled with people and tents, selling all sorts of wares as on any street in the city.

January 24th: The frost continuing more and more severe, the Thames is still covered with booths laid out in formal avenues. There are all sorts of trades and shops full of commodities, even including a printing press where the people and ladies can have their names printed, and the day and year set down when they stood on the Thames. I have one of these cards now before me. It reads: "Printed on the river of Thames being frozen. In the 36th year of King Charles II. February the 5th, 1683." I estimate the printer is making £5 a day, for printing a line only, at sixpence a name.

There are coaches, sleds, skating, bull-baiting, horse races, puppet plays, food and drink, so that it seems to be a carnival on the water. But the weather has taken its toll on the land, the trees not only splitting with frost as if lightning-struck, but men and cattle perishing, and the very ports so locked up with ice that no vessels can enter or leave. Fowls (fish), birds and all our exotic plants and greenery are universally suffering. Many herds of deer have been died, and all sorts of fuel now so expensive that a charitable contribution has been raised to keep the poor alive.

Nor is this weather much less severe in most parts of Europe, even as far as Spain and the most southern tracts. London, by reason of the excessive coldness of the air hindering the ascent of the smoke, is so filled with fog that one can hardly see from one side of a street to the other. This sooty vapor fills the lungs with its gross particles, so as one can scarcely breathe. There is no water to be had from the pipes, which are all frozen, nor can the brewers work. In the heavy snow, every hour brings news of disastrous accidents.

February 4th: I went out to see how the frost had dealt with my garden, where I found many of the greens and rare plants utterly destroyed. The oranges are very sick, the rosemary and laurels dead to all appearance, but the cypress seems likely to endure.

February 5th: It began to thaw, but froze again. My coach crossed from Lambeth to the Horseferry at Millbank. The booths have almost all been taken down. Various maps and pictures have been made in both copperplate and wood engravings of this curious scene, representing the camp set out on the ice and all the sports and pastimes that took place thereon, in order to have a record of so singular a frost.

Happy Christmas from me, Leo, Nikos and Martin. Wrap up warm!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Mirabilis graphic novel app in Top 100 grossing books

Mirabilis - Year of Wonders has been in the App Store for four days now, which is pretty exciting as it is. But the really great news is that we just nudged into the Top 100 grossing ibooks at #99!

You can get the first instalment of the story completely free, then other chapters cost $1.99 each. So it was fabulous when we rose to #13 in iTunes books, but to actually be in the top-grossing charts too shows that new readers are following through with the story after they've been astounded by the fluid interface, easy in-app issue management, eye-popping zoom and page flip, magical colors and dramatic art.

Next stop: the Kindle. And in the meantime, if you haven't got the Mirabilis iPad app yet, you can find it here in the USA and here in the UK.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Mirabilis graphic novel hits No.15 in App Store book charts - just 24 hours after release

Yesterday the Mirabilis graphic novel iPad app finally made it into the light and onto iTunes.

Mirabilis, with its beautiful, rich colours by Nikos Koutsis, looks fantastic on iPad. Was Mirabilis made for iPad, or iPad for Mirabilis? Neither, but it's a marriage made in heaven! We are really thrilled and excited to find it being downloaded so quickly. It doesn't stop there. It's also climbing the Top Grossing iPad Book charts at 125 which shows that the in-app issues for sale are selling! Dave and I are doing all the marketing ourselves so would appreciate any help you can give to spread the word. If you have an iPad (they are fab), or you know someone with one, please download Mirabilis and leave a review and some lucky stars.

You get the first 25 page issue free, with the next 7 issues, totalling a whopping 200 pages, available to buy from within the app.

And why is Leo posting here? Dave usually posts on this blog but just now he's been banished into an internet black hole by his useless ISP, so I've stepped in. Please excuse the uneducated English!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Mirabilis trade paperbacks now available

And, as promised, here it is (just) in time for Christmas: the trade paperback edition of Mirabilis: Winter. The first book was so long that we had to split it into two 112-page volumes that between them collect the entire first season. The perfect stocking filler if you have two oblong stockings measuring 7" x 10" - which, by the way, is a little bit bigger and more deluxe than regular tp format. The production is very nice, with sharp colors on good quality paper stock with a silky finish. If you're used to the glossy, highly reflective pages of something like Buffy or Hellboy, it's nothing like that. It's more of a matt feel, but on somewhat better grade of paper than a typical comic book. All in all, a pretty classy item if I do have to say it myself.

Join Jack and Estelle on a sweeping adventure across Europe from London to Istanbul. On the way you'll meet mind-controlling cabbages, bottled witches, babies thirty storeys tall, saints in plate armour, genie caretakers, Shakespeare-loving vampires, airships, magicians, demon kings, mad horticulturists, chess-playing robots, crime-fighting apes, sinister plans and debonair derring-do. And we're still just in the first month of the Year of Wonders! There's duelling, love, betrayal and leaps of faith and trust, all wrapped in elegant Edwardian style with a dash of English fantasy. It's the ideal family entertainment, and if you can think of a better way to spend a couple of hours after the turkey and crackers, I'd like to hear it.

If you're in the USA, here's where to order Volume One on Amazon, and you can also get it on Barnes & Noble. Only $19.99. Canadian comics fans can get Volume One on Amazon Canada for the ridiculously low price of $14.75 - a whopping 27% discount. That's because there's a green comet in the sky, hence lots of miracles like that coming up.

European readers can get the books for around 15.99 euros in France, in Germany and they should be available in Spain, Italy and other territories too, as well as Australia by the middle of next year. I'll let you know the links when I have them - and also the links for Volume Two, which should be published in the next couple of days. (Incidentally, don't be put off if Amazon's product info says the books are not available. They are printed to order, so as soon as you buy, a personal copy will roll off the presses and be sent to you.)

British readers can get Volume One right now for £12.99. (Again, ignore what it says about unavailability; Amazon will ship within days, and they don't bill you till they ship anyway.) However, as soon as the contract for the UK hardback editions is signed, be warned that we'll be pulling the trade paperbacks - so you Brits, if you can stand waiting another few months, you might want to hold out for those beautiful big hardback editions. Or buy both - we won't complain.

Monday, 6 December 2010

UK hardback editions due early next year

As if the news about the upcoming Mirabilis graphic novel on iPad wasn't exciting enough, we are just about to put ink on a deal that will see Mirabilis: Winter, the first 200-page instalment in our fantasy saga, released in early 2011 as two glorious album-sized hardbacks by PrintMedia Productions.

PMP are the guys behind Strip Magazine, one of Europe's leading anthology comics. The first of their planned slate of graphic novels is the rip-roaring steampunk adventure The Iron Moon, by Stephen Walsh and Keith Page, previewed here and available for pre-order on Amazon here.

These books are really going to be something to cherish, not least because the format is a jaw-dropping 9" x 12". Have you seen the Charley's War books? Yep, that big. And hardbacks. In full color. There's got to be a catch, right? And there is, if you live outside the UK, because these two volumes will only be available in Great Britain. However, US readers can get the trade paperback editions from and the monthly Mirabilis comic book will be available in the USA from January. So really, everybody wins.