Tag Archives: 2020

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Introduction

It’s inevitable after the holidays are over: holiday buyer’s remorse kicks in, and we all look back regretfully on the things we did and the things we didn’t over the past two months. Those nights of ordering pizza because the shift from Daylight Savings Time made you feel as if you were living in a cavern. Buying that supremely Ugly Christmas Sweater even though you’ve worked from home for the last nine months. Pretending to drunk-text former coworkers, just to see what they’re up to and if it’s more fun than what you’re doing. Subscribing to HBO Max. All of this is completely understandable, but eventually you’re going to climb bleary-eyed out of the clothes hamper, look at an apartment or house that looks as if Hunter S. Thompson camped in the bathtub for a month, look down at the wine stains down your front and look up at the spaghetti stalactites on the ceiling, and decide “Yeah, it’s time to clean up for the New Year.”

Now, as every year, you have all sorts of options. I’d recommend staying far away from the gym for a while, or at least until a significant proportion of fellow gymgoers look as if they’d stay home if they were sick. (I have a gym next to the Triffid Ranch mail drop, and with that crew, if they can’t end a list of symptoms with “We call it…’The Aristocrats’!”, then they don’t think they’re that bad off.) For domicile cleaning, you can go gently with Marie Kondo reruns playing in the background while you sweep and sort, or you can use demolition charges to take off an entire end of the building, shove everything into a dumpster below, and set the dumpster afire both as a symbol of 2020 and to keep from rescuing items inside because “They’re still good!” For cleaning your computer desktop, and files that really need to be backed up so they aren’t lost, nothing is as effective as the old “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit” strategy. For your carnivorous plants, though, things are going to be easy.

To be honest, this time of the year is perfect for giving all of your plants a once-over. With temperate carnivores such as Venus flytraps, North American pitcher plants, and temperate-climate sundews, they all should be well into winter dormancy by now, so they won’t mind a repotting and thorough cleanup. With tropical carnivores such as Asian pitcher plants, they’ll still be growing, but shorter daytime photoperiods mean that they’ll be growing much more slowly than they were six months ago. They also could stand a good tending to, but the actual process will be a bit different. Either way, it’s too late for standard gardening and too early for starting up tomatoes and peppers, so no better time than the present for essential carnivore maintenance.

Now, like working on a Volkswagen, you can put together a complete toolkit to take care of everything, or you can build multiple kits for specific functions, thereby avoiding losing essential tools when you pull out everything to work, say, alongside a pool full of Sarracenia. For the sake of this series, we’ll split everything up into separate kits of necessary tools, so if you focus on one group of plants, you don’t have to reserve tools you won’t necessarily need. (A very strong recommendation: get tools for your toolkit that will remain in that kit, and don’t swipe tools from other places in the house unless they’re no longer going to be used in those places. Spouses, parents, and roommates may not be as understanding about your using kitchen implements for repotting pitcher plants, especially if you brought them back but didn’t clean them properly before returning them.)

Essentials (in all kits):

  • Sharp gardening knife
  • Sharp kitchen scissors
  • Sharp trimming scissors (garden trimming scissors or ear/nose scissors)
  • Garden mat or towel
  • Hand towel
  • Long forceps
  • Whisk brush
  • Isopropyl alcohol, either bottle or sanitizing wipes
  • Spray bottle, filled with rainwater or distilled water
  • Spray bottle, filled with dilute neem oil (1/2 strength recommended by manufacturer)
  • Kitchen tub

In addition, a standard bonsai tool set can come in very handy. You may not need all of the tools all of the time, but many, such as bonsai shears and root rakes, are worth the cost.

One valuable tool for glass enclosures is a tamper, and you’ll have to make it yourself. This is a dowel rod or other stout rod (I cut a fiberglass driveway sign rod in half) with a wine cork at one end and a rounded tip at the other end. The idea is to use the tamper to tamp down and smooth out soil, moss, and other items in glass containers that won’t give enough room at their mouths to allow fingers, hands, and most tools to reach inside. Natural cork is fine, but artificial corks have the advantage of easy disinfection, and they tend to last longer.

Anyway, this is the starting point: now it’s a matter of seeing these tools in action. That comes next.

To be continued…

2020: The Year That Stretches

Among the more chronologically pedantic, December 31, 2020 isn’t just the end of a particular year in the Gregorian calendar, but also the end of a particular decade. Working on the idea that the calendar had no Year Zero, the Twenty-Teens didn’t end when the last few seconds of 2019 rolled through the clock. No, what we get is Year Zero at the end of each decade, where everything is in flux, neither caterpillar nor butterfly, and the actions in that year help determine what the next decade are going to be like. Think of it like a cloned cat: the reason why you can’t make an exact clone of a beloved cat is because so many of the factors that made that cat unique happened in the womb. Change the food, change the stressors the mother cat had during gestation, change any number of a multitude of factors that might cause a particular gene expression, and you have a clone that’s a genetic copy of the original, but otherwise looks and acts nothing like its progenitor.

With that concept in mind, the way 2020 went, we’re going to start out with a cat genome and get the cutest, cuddliest 40-foot Gila monster with bat wings and laser beam eyes that you’ve ever seen. For some of us, this is a feature, not a bug.

The last thing to be said about 2020, from the Triffid Ranch’s perspective? This was a year to change plans, to pivot away from video (kindasorta), and to get ready for new weirdness. If you think the gallery has changed from where it was five years ago, back in the old Valley View locale, that original gallery was such a huge jump from where things were at the end of 2010. The phrase “quantum leap” is horribly overused by half-bright marketing majors whose grasp of the concept is exceeded by the coliform bacteria in their guts, but that’s pretty much what happened over the last ten years, and now it’s a matter of seeing if this trend continues for the rest of the coming decade. Until we have a better idea of what to expect, and whether that involves blasting Harkun troop carriers out of the sky as they try to take back their former planet, take care of yourselves, and keep watching for new developments. There are still a lot of enclosures to build and stories to tell.

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn, the Anniversary Edition

It finally happened. This week marks 18 years since the lovely Caroline of Caroline Crawford Originals decided to throw away all decorum and common sense and marry a former science fiction essayist, meaning that I’ve been married to someone willing to put up with my shenanigans for a solid third of my life. We ascribe many things to that longevity, besides beating the deadpool bets that the marriage would last 1/36 of that duration. Separate work areas and home bathrooms, for instance. One of the biggest, though, is having traditions tied to goals, and that’s where the annual Anniversary Spare Change Road Race comes in.

Art credit: Amanda “Shinga” Bussell

Back when we first married, our financial situation was somewhere around “grim.” The job that almost moved us to Tallahassee in 2002 (and inadvertently exposed me to the wonderful world of carnivorous plants) cratered, as my company decided that the massive software upgrade for which I was hired to write documentation just simply wasn’t going to happen. Three days before Christmas and six days before the wedding, I’m looking at moving back to Dallas and wondering what we were going to do next. At the end of 2003, I finally found gainful employ, and the next year meant finally getting ourselves back onto rather shaky financial feet. At the end of of 2004, we didn’t have enough in our bank accounts, after paying bills, to do anything for our anniversary, so we raided our respective collections of spare change, cashed them in, and bought dinner that night.

Since then, we’ve worked out a basic system that works extremely well. All through a calendar year, we collect change in one spot or another. Mine goes mostly into this ridiculously cheery Monoclonius bank purchased in the mid-1990s. At the end of the year, on our anniversary or as close to it as we can manage, we clear out our banks, head out to the nearest Coinstar machine, and cash in said change. Any coins that aren’t scanned, and a lot slip through that are perfectly good legal tender, go back into the pile for the next year. We then compare our totals, and the winner buys dinner. We then start it all over again over the next year. Just as with shows where we have adjoining booths, there’s no real rivalry here: nobody is trying to beat the other, which seriously confuses friends when they expect me to lose it when Caroline has a better show than I do. (There’s a very friendly rivalry in one case: in the last decade, Caroline has always made more than me at Texas Frightmare Weekend, and I’ve sworn that one day, I’ll beat her in gross sales. Considering that I not only need a big truck and two booth spaces to come close to the amount of inventory necessary to do so, this may be a loooooong while.)

(Yes, this bank is seriously obnoxious, but there’s a backstory. We Gen Xers remember all through the 1970s the emphasis on novelty banks of all sorts: combination vaults, Crayola crayons, and even Gum Grabbers. It says a lot about post-1980s sensibilities that by the early 1990s, toy stores were bereft of banks, even novelty ones, and this one turned up only after months of searching for something with a decent volume. Yes, it’s garish. Yes, it’s obnoxious. However, it still holds a ridiculous amount of coinage, and it’s still going strong after over a quarter-century.)

In retrospect, everything that happened in 2020 can probably be laid at our feet, because we got busy at the end of 2019. I was focused on turning the gallery into a fulltime venue and Caroline was focused on holiday shows, and we were so tired by our anniversary that we just looked at each other and said “We’ll cash in everything in January.” By mid-March, we figured that we’d just roll over everything for the next anniversary, and we know what happened mid-March 2020. I still kept collecting change, though: since the Triffid Ranch started up, the tradition was to give change in US dollar coins, and after a show or open house, loose coins went into the Monoclonius. Lunch at the gallery usually consisted of pasta or ramen, with the extra money going into the dinosaur. Even after the crash of the show circuit after state and county lockdowns, the popularity of last summer’s Porch Sales meant that the dinosaur kept getting heavier: by November, it was almost too heavy to lift with one hand, and emptying it on Tuesday took over 20 minutes. Carrying the Readercon bag that held that loot left me listing to one side, and I had only one thought: “Am I going to have to rent a handcart to move Caroline’s haul?”

Now, I understand that the fees on change machines such as CoinStar units is a bit ridiculous: in most years, even a 10 percent fee didn’t make that much of a difference, but this time would be different. The cost, though, was worth being able to watch the exact breakdown of individual coins as we waited for the final count. Caroline went first, and had an impressive final tally considering the rough year we had. Then it was mine, and I beat her total within the first big load of change in the hopper.

The final tally? I have to thank all of the Triffid Ranch regulars and new customers over 2019 and 2020, because without your assistance in the great change chase, Caroline wouldn’t have had as wonderful an anniversary dinner as she had. (For very special occasions, she asks for sushi from Hana in Garland, and being married to her for a third of my life qualified as a very special occasion.) The rest goes back into the gallery, mostly in stocking up on plants for the new year. Now the challenge is for Caroline to nearly beat me in 2021, if only because if she wins and has to buy dinner, she knows that I’ll ask for pizza.

Triffid Ranch Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours: December 27, 2020

And just like that, the holiday season is done. It’s been a long, unsure season within a very long, unsure year, but we’ve passed through to the other side, and now it’s time to get everything ready for the next one. And so it goes.

At this point, I would be remiss in not thanking everyone who came out to the gallery in 2020 for doing so: in a year as rough as this one, your coming by and validating the concept behind the Triffid Ranch is incredibly appreciated. Now it’s time to get back into the workshop and justify your returning.

As for new events, keep an eye open: right now, our main focus is going to be on taking care of some essential housekeeping before the end of the year, but we’ve also deliberated on what sort of events and when they’ll happen. Until then, stay well, stay safe, and we’ll see you in 2021.

The Aftermath: Christmas Carnivorous Plant Nightmares at the Texas Triffid Ranch 2020

After five years of trying to organize Christmas Eve events at the gallery and having everything fall through, things worked out. For a holiday eve in a pandemic, we had an enthusiastic audience, including a very dear old friend who finally got the chance to see the new gallery, and a very excited family toward the end of the night. For a town that pretty much shuts down on December 24 after 5:00 or so, it was a great way to finish off the season.

After this, it’s time to get back into the workshop for new enclosures. In particular, keep an eye open for a surprise involving a Nepenthes diabolica, a new species previously thought to be a color variation of the notorious Nepenthes hamata.

For those who missed out on this run, and for those who want a touch of post-Christmas green, the last of 2020’s Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours starts on Sunday, December 27 at 10:00 am, and shuts down at 4:00 pm. After that, we’re still trying to figure out plans for 2021, but we have ideas. Terrible, beautiful ideas.

Triffid Ranch Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours: December 20, 2020

Less than two weeks before the end of the most intense year in memory, and things continue to get interesting. The gallery debuted two new Nepenthes hybrids which will probably be very popular beginner plants over 2021, and it’s time to expand the diversity of bladderwort species in the gallery as well. If not for this pandemic thing, we’d probably do even more.

As a sidenote, the hope is to finish at least one more enclosure by the end of the year, thereby bringing the total constructed this year to at least 21. “20 in 2020” is just a little too weird.

And for those wanting one last dose for the year, the gallery will be open on Thursday, December 24 from 2:00 to 7:00 pm for last-minute shopping, and then again on Sunday, December 27 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm for post-holiday opportunities. Since we can’t have an anniversary party this year (and I’m pretty sure nobody bet on “18 years” in the Paul/Caroline marriage deadpool), this will have to do. See you then.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 7

Curious about what this is all about? Go back to the beginning.

Listing holiday shopping options wouldn’t be complete without a shameless plug for the other half of the gallery, Caroline Crawford Originals. Many visitors to the gallery bypass the jewelry to get to the plants, but the wise ones take the time to stop and see what Caroline has to offer. Alternately, she has her own show and event schedule separate from Triffid Ranch events: last weekend was a little too cold for the plants at the Frightmare Collectibles Christmas Horror Market, but jewelry never sleeps.

For those wanting to see more, both the jewelry and plants will be open on December 24 from 2:00 pm to 7:00 Central time, and we’ll reopen for the post-holiday crowd for the last Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tour of 2020 on December 27 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is free and masks are mandatory. And yes, there will be a LOT more jewelry on display at both.

“It’s ours this time…”

The plan was to remain open by appointment all week, and then the phone blew up this morning. To take care of last-minute shopping needs, as well as offer a quiet space for those already done with shopping, the Texas Triffid Ranch, in conjunction with Caroline Crawford Originals, is hosting the Christmas Carnivorous Plant Nightmares tour on December 24, 2020, from 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Admission is free, masks are mandatory, and those who can’t make it are always welcome to come out on December 27 for the last of the 2020 Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours.

Please note: to be preemptive, while a large selection of beginner plants will be available, Venus flytraps are currently in winter dormancy and won’t be available until March. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 6

Curious about what this is all about? Go back to the beginning.

So now it’s down to the wire. Thanks to the previous year making every day a holiday shopping day as far as shipping volume is concerned, every online store worth its salt refuses to make any promises as to whether any purchase will arrive before December 25. Here in the States, the screaming in UPS and FedEx locations is positively deafening, because recent efforts to scuttle the US Post Office mean that both UPS and FedEx are trying to pick up the slack. If it’s not local, you’re probably not going to get it.

It’s at times like these where the default response is, indeed, “buy local.” That’s completely fair, but this also depends upon discovering what’s available. For the vast majority of the Twentieth Century, this would involve some heavily overworked Arts & Leisure section writer at the local newspaper deliberating between legitimate local treasures and what family friend of the editor or publisher needed a holiday bailout and didn’t want to have to pay for advertising. Today, the raw information is available, but the old “I didn’t know what I was looking for before I saw it” phenomenon is more pronounced than ever, and that section writer was laid off about four years ago to preserve the publisher’s holiday bonus. Thankfully, you have a terminally embittered former weekly newspaper writer turned carnivorous plant rancher more than willing to help carry some of the slack.

The only issue with “local” is “whose local?” Sadly, this means that this list is going to be horribly Dallas-centric, but this has two effects. The first is that for those already living in the vicinity of the Triffid Ranch, you have options for gift shopping that you might not have had before. The second is that for those who don’t live in the area, you now have additional pressure to do so. You’re welcome. Even if all you want to do is visit, when it’s safe to do so, now you have options on what to see besides South Fork (hopelessly dated), Jack Ruby’s nightclub (demolished decades ago), or the Texas School Book Depository (only interesting when a lone woman, answering to “Missy,” walks by once a year in November to look up wistfully at the sixth floor windows). I mean, don’t let that stop you from doing that anyway: if you go by the Book Depository, just tell Missy that her grandson says hello, okay?

Numero uno, as Dallas’s greatest superhero would put it, a little goes a long way, and Dallas’s restaurant scene is so much more vital and varied than it was, say, 20 years ago. It’s also in a particularly precarious situation because of COVID-19, and without eternal vigilance, it could be overrun with Applebee’s and Twin Peaks and the whole city becomes indistinguishable from Lewisville. Thanks to the wonders of modern point-of-sale processing, so many good restaurants offer both hard plastic and electronic gift cards, and you know at least one person who is going to NEED a dinner cooked by someone else in the next month. This means hopping on that phone and talking to the crews at Blu’s BBQ (Texas and Memphis barbecue), Flying Fish (Cajun seafood), Bistro B (Vietnamese), Tasty Tails (New Orleans seafood), Maple Leaf Diner (Canadian), Sababa (Middle Eastern), Chubby’s (classic comfort food, with the best strawberry cheesecake in the city), JC’s Burger House (burgers), or Del’s Burgers (more burgers, as well as excellent homemade root beer) about your efforts to spread the wealth.

Numero two-o, all that food means having something to read while eating, and while most people are perfectly happy to slog through Facebook, the idea is to amp up your experiences. The first, most obvious choice is Interabang Books, survivor of both bookstore wars and the tornadoes that hit North Dallas in 2019, as the best choice in the area for new books. Equally important for those looking for more graphic persuasions, I’ve been friends with Keith Colvin of Keith’s Comics for half of my life, and part of the reason why Keith’s Comics stores are going strong while other deeper-pocketed competitors blew up and scattered on the wind a decade ago is because of each store’s wide selection of graphic novels. (I highly recommend asking for a copy of Evan Dorkin’s Eltingville Club collection from Dark Horse Comics; for most, it’s a source of entertainment, but for others, it’s a source of never-ending self-aware horror.)

Numero three-o, you may or may not be surprised by the recommendation of the holistic health and wellness studio HeyyHealer, but there’s a specific reason. Namely, Triffid Ranch regulars may remember Christian “Doc” Cooper at various events, particularly the last Midtown ArtWalk at the old Valley View location before everybody in the mall got our eviction notices. Well, Doc has been busy with succulents, particularly red and yellow dragonfruit cactus, and his succulent arrangements are exclusively available through HeyyHealer. It’s all about taking care of your friends, coming and going, and if you’ve seen some of Doc’s arrangements, you’ll get that extra joy of having it all to yourself before you pass it on.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #21

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)

Installment #21: “The Saga of Simon”

With the end of November comes the end of the main growing season. The Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants are snug in their beds and going dormant, the lights in the gallery were just switched to the winter schedule so as to encourage blooming in the spring (that’s a surefire way to get blooming in Heliamphora, especially since the gallery has no outside light to interfere with their photoperiods), and with the approach of what Dallas calls winter weather (we might actually go below freezing this week), it’s time to rest for a minute. That is, if Simon will allow it.


For those who missed the news, Simon is the new cat. We adopted him a little over a year ago, shortly after Leiber died. With him in the household, we now have two black cats, which makes my wife Caroline exceedingly happy. Alexandria, our other cat, enjoys having someone to roughhouse with, as Leiber wasn’t up for much of anything besides sleeping in his last year, and she now has a partner with whom to explore the garage when we’re home for the night. He’s a perfect little companion, and would be even better if he were a cat. Instead, I’m certain we adopted a seriously mislabeled black Labrador.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Simon is dumb or anything. As much as I miss him, I was the first to acknowledge that Leiber was so unlike his namesake that if he got any dopier, I was going to rename him “Doctorow.” Simon doesn’t trip on the carpet pattern or forget which end goes into the food and which end goes into the litter box. No, the adjective that best describes Simon is “goofy.” “Fall off the scratching post” is typical for cats. Simon is “forgetting that he has retractile claws and falling off the side of the bed” goofy. “Beg for human food and then remember that he doesn’t like human food” goofy. “Run in front of his humans in the dark and then flop to be scritched in the dark” goofy. “Figure out how to get into the attic and then howl like a basset hound because he doesn’t want to have to go back down the way he came in, and then hide under the roof supports out of range when we go up to rescue him” goofy. Oh, and then there’s “going berserk when opossums wander up onto the back porch because he wants to chase them” goofy. He’s not dumb, but he doesn’t act like a cat. Acknowledge that he’s just a dog with a bad label, and suddenly his habit of being unable to be pet because he so desperately wants to lick the petter’s hand suddenly makes sense.

Now, Simon is in fine company. Janit Calvo of Two Green Thumbs Miniature Gardens is known just as much for her dog Kitty as for her miniature garden guides. Amanda Thomsen of Kiss My Aster has constant stories involving her multiple critters. The Sarracenia Northwest newsletter has regular updates on their Sarracenia Pup. Jeff VanderMeer‘s cat Neo has a larger fan base than he does, and will probably get a deal with Netflix sooner, too. Everyone who meets Simon loves him. It’s just that the people who know and love dogs particularly fall in love with him, and Caroline gets grumpy when they note that he’s the most doglike cat they’ve ever met.

Me, I just acknowledge that Simon is a dog and leave it at that. Whether he’s fetching or wanting to go for a run (he loves surfing rugs so much that our next house may have to have hardwood floors just for him), he’s typical Simon, so I just encourage him to be who he is. Caroline, though, has issues with my encouraging him with “good puppy.”

“Simon is not a dog. He’s a KITTY.”
“Sorry, but he’s a dog. He gets into the garage and climbs into the car because he wants to go for a drive.”
“HE’S A KITTY.”
“What’s so bad about his being a puppy? Are you trying to tell your son that he can’t be his own person, and he has to go with what you say he is?”
“Do you want to give him a neurosis? He’s a KITTY.”
“Okay, then.” (Look over at Simon.) Okay, Simon, what do have to say about this?”
“Woof.”

Other News

Other News

In barely related news, exactly a year and a day after the last one, your humble chronicler has a new day job. The particularly good news is that this shouldn’t affect the gallery in the slightest, and the gallery shouldn’t affect the day job, either. That said, expect a lot of new projects: it’s amazing how many ideas get doodled out during staff meetings.

Shameless Plugs

I’ve plugged the considerable talents and tastes of my Canadian little sister Tristan Riskseveral times, but for those looking for something whimsical with which to get the taste of 2020 out of their mouths, I’d like to recommend giving her new Nonesuch figure line a viewing. Caroline proudly displays her Nonesuch in her studio, and I suspect that she may need another, because.

Recommended Reading

I should be saving this for the ongoing Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions guides, but it’s no surprise that the late Ray Harryhausen was a major influence upon Triffid Ranch enclosures, and Ray was one of the many childhood heroes I accidentally and inadvertently scared the hell out of (a list that included Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan, Harlan Ellison, and Johnny Rotten) in my sordid youth. If you can get to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to view the Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema exhibition, do so, but if you can’t, the accompanying catalog of Harryhausen artifacts, full of anecdotes from his daughter Vanessa, is essential reading.

Music
Long nights in the gallery require lots of music, and due to an odd form of aphasia, I have a much better time concentrating on certain tasks with music with no lyrics whatsoever. That’s why the music of Peter Roe gets regular play on weeknights, and why his album Time Traveller hasn’t become the basis for a whole movie is beyond me. Go load up via your favorite streaming service, and thank him for me if you know him.

State of the Gallery: December 2020

Well. Two weeks out before the end of 2020, a year deserving of many descriptions, and a few of those not being profanities. Depending upon who’s asking, this is either the last year of the last decade or the first year of the new; based on hard experience, years in the Gregorian calendar ending with “0” are generally ones of transition, a chronal chrysalis where the old decade is digested in order to set the form for the next. What sort of strange butterfly bursts free is a good question, because we usually don’t get an idea of what escaped until about halfway through the decade, and by then it’s too late to shove it back into the cocoon and let it cook for a while longer or set the cocoon on fire.

As to what the shiny new 2020s is going to bring the gallery, we’re in strange seas. Ten years ago, the gallery didn’t exist, and even five years ago, it was going through its own strange birth pains. Nearly four years ago, the whole shabeen moved to its present location, and it’s still undergoing reorganization and reevaluation to best utilize the space. That continues: this last summer’s massive renovation was just one stage, and those who remember the gallery back when it was still part of the Galleries at Midtown wouldn’t recognize it. This, of course, is a good thing.

One of the biggest changes in the last month, of course, is that your humble gallery operator just started a new day job. This honestly made gallery work much more productive, and the time spent every evening in the gallery gives spice to the next day’s work. As 2021 progresses, that should continue, especially as temperatures warm and the temperate carnivores start waking up.

As far as special gallery events and functions are concerned, everything right now depends both on the current onslaught of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of the currently approved vaccines intended to get it under control. Both the porch sales of last summer and autumn and the recent Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours allowed safe and secure events to be an option, and while we’re not sure exactly when events start again in January, rest assured that the break after December 27’s tour will be short and succinct.

Otherwise, this sounds like broken vinyl considering circumstances over the last few years, but it’s time to gear up for the new year. If — IF — vaccine use breaks the back of COVID-19, the show and event schedule won’t be as packed as the original plan for 2020, but it will definitely be more active than 2019. To that end, besides bringing in a whole new series of beginner Nepenthes hybrids (including the delightful hybrids “St. Gaya” and “Rebecca Soper,” the latter being the absolute purplish Nepenthes since the “Bill Bailey”), it’s time to get back to offering hot pepper bonsai again, as well as expanding gallery space to a new collection of butterwort, bladderwort, and sundew enclosures. The real vaccine we all need is one for sleep, because that’s the one thing getting in the way of new projects.

And one last note: this installment is dedicated to the memory of my uncle Charles “Corky” Graham, a huge influence on my sordid youth and a quiet reminder of humility and peace in adulthood. If you want to respect his memory, get any kid in your life a Spirograph: my memories of practicing with one, with his help, are memories I’ll cherish for the rest of my days. Hail and farewell.

Enclosures: “Bat God” (2020)

Of all of the mammals, the bats are the most egalitarian when it comes to their government. Dogs are too tempted by autocrats. Cats are too averse to leaders. The elephants live so long that they constantly second-guess longterm plans, and the shrews live such short lives that they reinvent their entire society over a summer. The whales and dolphins constantly reinforce their society by turning abstracts into instantly identifiable memes disseminated by sonar and long-distance call; rodents are lucky to hold family groups together with pheromones. The ungulates mistake individual reaction to stimuli for decisive collective action, and the primates are too busy shrieking for attention to pay attention to anything else. Only the chiropterans, one of the oldest mammal families and certainly the most prolific, have the time and the wherewithal to create their own gods at their own pace.

Insects, fish, fruit, blood, nectar. The bats continued their ancestors’ war against the dinosaurs, both based on total numbers and on their diets. They migrated to better feeding grounds and hibernated to wait for better feeding, hiding from the daystar in caves, tree hollows, primate shelters, under leaves, in pitcher plant traps. They never conquered the land or the ocean, and why should they? What was the point of conquest when the wind was free?

Even so, all thinking beings make gods when administrative tasks become too onerous, and bats make theirs for their purposes. The difference between them and all other mammals is that instead of creating a noble template of what they could accomplish, they elevate one of their own with the understanding that this is transitory. For one full year, one bat becomes the archetype for all chiropterans: that year counts not against the bat’s average lifespan, and it neither feeds nor needs to fear predators. Instead, it bathes in the collective wants and needs of bats across the world, gliding on now-invisible wings to every enclave of its order, examining changes in the world and plotting strategy to allow the bats to utilize those changes. At the end of the year, it spreads its observations and solutions across all batkind before reentering the world as just one among many. That bat’s successor as the one Bat God had no advance warning that it would be chosen, and no previous Bat God would ever be chosen again. Nothing could improve an individual bat’s chances, and so no bat strove to do so. The chosen Bat God also could not retain its memories of that experience, which was probably for the best for all. Power, ambition, the desire for conquest or control: this was alien to bats, and each Bat God made certain during their tenure that this continued.

This was a system that worked for millions of years, as other mammal groups rose and fell forever, and the Bat God took the lessons from those others and memorialized them. In millions more years, their world would be consumed as the daystar expanded and swallowed everything within its range, and the bats would look to their god and murmur “Good job. We did well.”

Original vampire bat design by Monica “Monarobot” Robles Corso.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 36″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes hemsleyana

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, acrylic sheet, fancy stone.

Price: $400

Shirt Price: $350

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 5

Considering that 2020 for so many people has been less about “I wish I’d lived in a cave all this time” than “that nuclear waste dump is seeping into my perfectly pristine prehistoric cavern and poisoning all of my dinosaurs,” the constant requests to help others outside of immediate family can be rough when you don’t know if you’re going to need assistance yourself in a few weeks. It’s even harder when we’re watching cultural anchors such as restaurants and nightspaces collapsing through no fault of their own other than “it’s dangerous to gather in large groups and socialize,” especially with those where video streams and takeout simply aren’t an option. If you’re in that situation or bumped up against it, no pressure whatsoever: I’ve been there so many times that all anyone has to do is mention the years 1986, 1991, or 2001 and watch me twitch. This week’s Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions guide is for those with the means to help out, big or small, and who want additional options.

Firstly, if you want to go big to tackle the biggest need, contributing money to your local food bank is a great place to start. Right off the bat, considering the number of people unemployed or underemployed since last March for whom food security is a real issue, even a tiny amount makes a huge difference to an individual or a family that otherwise would go hungry. Dedicated newsfeed doomscrollers might have caught the coverage of the tremendous lines in Dallas waiting for their individual turns for help from the North Texas Food Bank, and many of us immediately turned around and donated what we could. With the likelihood that anything approximating a downturn in COVID-19 cases may not happen until next March, and that so many businesses can’t even consider reopening until after those cases are under control, that’s where Triffid Ranch money left over from paying bills has been going. Having been there, I want to make sure that anybody needing a hand up has it now.

Feeding our own is a priority, but then there are others. Donations to local animal shelters are just as important, even with the increased numbers of adoptions from stay-at-home workers, because the bills have to be paid after the adoptees leave. That goes double for zoos and aquariums where animals can’t go home with the keepers to save on maintenance costs. From Dallas, consider a contribution to the Dallas Zoo Annual Fund, especially to assist with animal care and keeper pay at the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park. (On a personal note, the plan back in January was to make a contribution to the Annual Fund to cover food costs for the Dallas Zoo’s crocodile monitor. Now, though, with the Children’s Aquarium shut down for the duration, caring for the Aquarium’s albino alligator, Australian lungfish, and one of the largest alligator snapping turtles in captivity is just as important.)

For the last decade, Triffid Ranch shows and events have flyers from Bat World Sanctuary to highlight one of Texas’s gems, and things are getting tight for the sanctuary crew, too. With the impending release of a new Nepenthes enclosure intended to highlight bats’ contributions to carnivorous plant lore, it’s time to up the contributions there, too. We’re all in this together.

One of the things that’s hurt the most about 2020 wasn’t just the collapse of Triffid Ranch shows, but also the opportunity to bring plants to schools and museums to share with folks whose sole exposure to carnivores is online. Skype a Scientist is a new organization intending to take advantage of technology: it connects virtual classrooms with a serious need for new stimulation with scientists happy to lecture on their specialties, with an emphasis on classrooms where the funding might not be available otherwise. If any one organization makes me giggle “I love living in the future,” Skype a Scientist is it, because I would have done just about anything to have had access to this sort of resource when I was in school.

Finally, while it may be obvious, the International Carnivorous Plant Society not only keeps members of the carnivorous plant community connected and informed, but its efforts to protect carnivorous plant habitat and genetic diversity are needed especially now. (As an extra for those of us having to make lots of PayPal payments, the ICPS may be chosen as a preferred PayPal charity, with 1% of sales going to the ICPS for its education programs. Considering how much glassware I purchase annually, I’m hoping that this helps, and there’s no reason why more people can’t do it, too.)

As always, if it’s just not possible to contribute to these or any other charity, don’t sweat it: times are rough for everybody, and this is not about guilt. The important part is that we’re all in this together.

Next week: Buying (Dallas) Local

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 4

Now that the holiday season is running in earnest, it’s time to talk about books. 2020 has been a kidney stone of a year, and my wife regularly tells an anecdote related to her about how the best way to dislodge a kidney stone is by riding rollercoasters. While I’m suspect of the medical accuracy, there’s something to be said about giving unorthodox treatments a try.

When visitors to the gallery ask “where did you come up with this?”, I can’t really point to any one thing and say “This one thing caused this one thing to pop out of my head and make a big mess on the floor.” The advantage of starting the gallery this late in life means that I had 40-odd years to pick up little things and roll them around before starting. The influences on the backstories behind each new enclosure? That’s easy: that’s what a sordid youth spent reading everything I could find from Harlan Ellison, John Shirley, Ernest Hogan, and Saladin Ahmed will get you. Everything else, though, comes from dribs and drabs from any number of sources, some of which has been rattling around in the old brainmeats since the early 1970s. The enclosure One Giant Leap, pictured above? That came from a dream right after watching the landing of Apollo 17, which is the only lunar I still remember. And that’s the one where I can point out the specific inspiration.

If any particular good has come from 2020, it’s been the opportunity to read, and a lot of really good volumes collecting past inspirations and influences hit bookstores this year. Among many others:

Just about 30 years ago, at the beginning of my dubious writing career, I came across a singular book on a much more realistic exploration of an alien world than had been presented in most fiction. No capture, no bringing back, no killing and stuffing of alien life forms; no beaming down a ship’s entire command staff and one lone hapless organ donor. Instead, we all got a singular look at an alien ecosystem with essential rules (none of the animals ever evolved eyes, so their main senses were sonar and heat sensors across their bodies) and a backstory that the exploration of that world by humans would take nothing but paintings and leave nothing but perceptions. Nearly three decades later, Wayne Barlowe’s book Expedition ” is finally back in print, with a glorious cover (the painting in the original edition was printed so the painting in question was split by the binding) and a very high-quality reproduction of the original 1990 edition. Even better, this one comes in both hardcover and paperback, meaning that those searching for a copy for decades can snag a hardcover for considerably less than collectors and speculators were offering on eBay.

It’s hard to state how much of an influence Ray Harryhausen was on so many aspects of the fantastic these days: so artists, writers, filmmakers, and academics point to at least one of his films, and sometimes many, as saving them from the life of a meth dealer or weekly newspaper music critic. (To this day, Valley of Gwangi is one of the two films that makes me unapologetically weep at the end, the other being Alien.) The National Galleries of Scotland definitely felt that his filmography was worthy of a full exhibition, and the catalog for Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema, full of anecdotes from his daughter Vanessa, is available for perusal even for those who can’t consider travel these days. For those who can, the exhibition runs until next September, and a boy can dream.

It’s been a very long strange trip over the last 25 years, when a chance encounter with the first issue of a comic titled Johnny the Homicidal Maniac introduced the general public, or at least the public unfamiliar with the late, lamented goth magazine Carpe Noctem, to Jhonen Vasquez. His most famous creation, the Nickelodeon cartoon series Invader Zim, came out six years later, and the Chris McDonnell book The Art of Invader Zim goes into detail on what probably qualified as simultaneously the oddest series ever released by Nickelodeon and by far one of the most long-lived as far as popular support is concerned. This one has particular personal appeal: friends describe my marriage as especially disturbing Delenn/GIR fan fiction, as my poor long-suffering wife acknowledges every time she asks “So what do you want for dinner?” and I give her the only appropriate answer.

In one aspect of life, kids today really DO have one thing easy: the number of television shows with movie-quality special effects is nothing short of incredible, as fans of The Mandalorian and The Expanse can attest. When I was your age, laser effects were done in-camera, planets were paintings, and spacecraft were built one bit at a time. Martin Bower was and is one of those spacecraft builders, getting notice with such shows as Thunderbirds and Space: 1999 and then moving to film projects such as Alien and Outland. The volume Martin Bower’s World of Models is an essential reference for those looking to return to the retro world of practical effects: because when the server farm seizes up and the software crashes, sometimes the best way to get something to shoot is to build it, one piece of polystyrene at a time.

Finally, it may seem odd to include a coloring book in this collection, but Coloring Space 1 is by the artist Christopher Doll, a longtime friend and fellow troublemaker whose live painting Twitch stream has been a source of great peace through this foul year 2020. Chris continues in a space art tradition with a very long history, and it might behoove a few book editors to look at some of his space and fantastic art, because breweries sure like it.

Next week: reasons to shop in Dallas.

The Aftermath: Triffid Ranch Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours, November 28 & 29, 2020

And now we’re in the thick of the holiday season. The good news is that the gallery is no longer in a shopping mall, and the better news is that a combination of considerate patrons and a vastly updated air circulation system means that the current gallery is much safer for indoor events than the old one was. (Well, that and the decided lack of asbestos.) The original plan was for one Plant Tour on Saturday the 28th, where upon finishing, I’d catch a plane for Philadelphia for training for a new day job, and then come back on December 11 for the next show. For obvious reasons, the flight has been delayed and I’m staying in Dallas, so we performed a rarity: being in Dallas and open on both Small Business Saturday and Artist Sunday. It worked out well.

In between Sunday plant tours, things are going to get awfully interesting this month. December will debut several new enclosures, including one that has been on the back burner for years, and expect to see Triffid Ranch enclosures in places you wouldn’t otherwise have guessed. There may even be an outside event in December: the details will be shared as they’re available. Just know that as opposed to most Dallas holiday events, this one will be free of Christmas music, aside from the obvious anthem.

Due to the gallery being reserved for a private function, the Carnivorous Plant Tours are taking a break on December 6, but will return for December 13, 20, and 27. (You need to find something to fill the gap left by the tree, right?) Now time to get back to work and make more.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 3

Curious about what this is all about? Go back to the beginning.

If anyone had cared enough to ask me back in January about the essential fashion accessory of 2020, “facemasks” probably would have rated somewhere below “glow-in-the-dark codpieces” and slightly above “a revival of bellbottoms.” (Honestly, my fear was “Panama Jack T-shirts, the Next Generation” would be the definitive fashion statement of the new decade, and so my inherent cynicism once again torpedoes fame, fortune, and that honorary degree from the University of Phoenix.) To be fair, those of us who inhaled the Misha Nogha novel Red Spider, White Web 30 years ago had our suspicions, but when we weren’t running around in cloned sharkskin armor, either, it was easy to assume that this was a future that wasn’t going to happen. Until it was.

Back in March, masks were purely a matter of survival: something to block off particles and aerosols of yecch from making contact with your respiratory system. In the first few days of the pandemic, we were too busy screaming “CORAL!” to worry about making a statement, but by the end of 2020, face masks were a previously inaccessible surface for expression, advertising, and letting your fellow humans know that backing off was a really good idea. Even with impending COVID-19 vaccines, facemasks may be the fashion statement of the decade, as they also do wonders for fending off flu and air pollution, hiding silent comments, and adding to headphones and books the notice to public transit users that the wearer isn’t interested in a conversation. All of these are laudable uses.

The question, as always, though, is “which one?” Not all masks are created equal, but we’ve definitely gone beyond the early stagest of throwing ideas up against the wall and hoping something sticks. Now with minimum standards for quality and coverage, it’s all about longterm comfort, allowing the focus to go next on art. Because of that, and because I share sympathies with lionfish and blue-ringed octopi on warning passersby as what they should expect, the pile of new masks to rotate through keeps growing.

(And on a sidenote, a little extra on washing masks that’s only obvious in retrospect. While washing them in a standard laundry load works for a lot of them, handwashing usually increases their effective lifespan. In addition, for those of us of the male persuasion with particularly slow-growing facial hair, shaving takes on a particular focus when wearing a mask because of hair follicles catching on the inside and pilling the fabric. That’s why I wash masks every day after use, with a bit of shampoo to degrease and disinfect, then hang them up to dry over the rest of the day. It’s easy, efficient, and much gentler on fabrics than tossing them in a washing machine. But that’s just me.)

As mentioned, the pile of masks keeps growing, because the selection keeps growing as well. I’m hoping to be able to turn everybody onto Triffid Ranch poster masks soon, but until that happens, here are several designs that will both help keep you safe and surprise your neighbors at the same time. This also gives me an opportunity to return to my modeling days of the early 1990s and do selfies that don’t scare children and small animals. (The model background, by the way, is an absolutely true story, but it’s been published elsewhere if you want the details.)

To start, old friend and paleoartist Scott Elyard is back to his usual hijinx, and that includes introducing unsuspecting passersby to the Devonian arthrodire Dunkleosteus.

You may be most familiar with Dr. Lisa Buckley for her Bird Glamour postings on Twitter (which are essential viewing for anyone interested in both stage makeup and bird plumage coloration, and she has an extensive collection of masks on Redbubble dedicated to ornithological ostentation. Her main research is on ichnology (the study of tracks, trackways, and other trace fossils), and who could resist having a map of Bellatoripes fredlundi tracks across one’s face?

Chelsea Connor already has my heart due to her unrelenting love of anoles, but her mask design is the best answer to the question “is that snake venomous?” ever made. (I have a great appreciation for the venomous snakes of North Texas, and spotting a big cottonmouth basking alongside drainage ditches near downtown Dallas is always a highlight of the day. I also agree without reservation that the best way not to be bitten by a snake, venomous or not, is not to do anything dumb enough to allow a bite to happen in the first place.)

In addition to creating comics (Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, I Feel Sick, Fillerbunny) and TV shows (Invader Zim), Jhonen Vasquez creates masks. So many masks. In particular, the Space Jerk design was essential for starting my new day job, so I can blend in among all of you other filthy human bloatlings until the day I finally escape this horrible planet long enough to blow it up. But perhaps I’ve said too much.

Finally, Mónica “Monarobot” Robles Corzo is already justifiably renowned for her frankly stunning Mesoamerican interpretations of kaiju and other monsters, and you’ll have to wait only a short time to see one of her works incorporated into a new Nepenthes hemsleyana enclosure out at the gallery. (If you know anything about N. hemsleyana, you’ll have a hint as to what to expect, and I guarantee that you’ll still be wrong.) She’s taken her distinctive style to mask design, and both the Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc designs are personal favorites around the gallery during both porch sales and weekend plant tours. And if the Shin Godzilla print is more up your alley, who can complain?

Next week: books. Lots of books. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, December is going to be rough enough, but January is going to be a month for staying home and reading.

New Triffid Ranch Plant Tours: The Holiday 2020 Edition

Okay, so it’s the beginning of the holiday season. Travel out of town is right out this year, and let’s face it: if Die Hard is a Christmas movie, the only movie that sums up Thanksgiving weekend 2020 is Alien. For those for whom the holiday season is problematic or unbearably painful, we’re looking for something reasonably safe in the year of COVID-19, with not a trace of tinsel. Far too many of us working retail have wanted to be in a position where the manager who insists upon running Christmas songs all day starting November 1 gets tied up, eyes propped open like Malcolm McDowall’s in A Clockwork Orange, and forced to watch The Polar Express until his ears bleed. Things aren’t as bad as they were 40 years ago, where television, radio, and theater gave no other options, but it would be nice to take a break once in a while.

That’s why we’re proud to announce the upcoming Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours, starting on Saturday, November 28 at 10:00. The idea is to open the gallery on Small Business Saturday to allow new visitors to view the entirety of the gallery and returning visitors to see the new enclosures made since their last visit. (For many, they understandably haven’t seen the inside of the gallery since our Lunar New Year open house back at the beginning of February.) After that, we’ll open again on November 29, take a short break for a private event on December 6, and then resume on December 13, 20, and 27. After that, well, that’s what 2021 is for. As always, masks are mandatory and their proper wear is vital, with the gallery sanitized between visitors. (Due to Dallas County ordinances, no more than 10 visitors can enter at any given time: we apologize for the inconvenience, but this is for everybody’s health.)

The best part of all of this is having the opportunity to debut new enclosures every week: including commissions, 2020 has been exceedingly busy, and the plan is to average out at one new enclosure every two weeks since the beginning of the year. Will we do it? CAN we do it? Well, you’ll have to come out to the gallery every week to find out.

Otherwise, the gallery is as always open by appointment through the end of the year for those wishing to view or purchase an enclosure outside of the Plant Tour schedule: unfortunately, a new day job prevents keeping the gallery open every day through the season, so appointments will be vital. Anyone with questions is free to ask: otherwise, we’ll see everyone starting November 28.

Enclosures: “Innovator” (2020)

Assumption: when cataloguing examples of advanced technology throughout the known universe, most students attribute the developments to a specific species or civilization, and further attribute those developments to some sort of racial will to forge and refine it. Reality: with far too many of the really esoteric discoveries throughout the Five Realities, everything comes from one individual or one small group, and the rest of said species or civilization wouldn’t have recognized it if they had been beaten over their nervous system with it. This can sometimes be dangerous, as the people of what is now catalogued as Devenport’s Rotating Holiday (SCC918/256/AMCHH4) discovered the hard way. It can be far more dangerous to those left behind to stumble across isolated innovations, as subsequent visitors keep discovering the hard way.

The specifics on exactly who created what is now called The Innovator are forever lost, but what remains in archaeological sites on Devenport’s Rotating Holiday suggest a random developer with a combination of absolute hubris and an unlimited fountain of resources. Built in an isolated area to take advantage of geothermal power, the Innovator also tapped into a series of radio, gravitic, and synthotelepathic telescopes built into surrounding mountain valleys, thus allowing it access to information streams from surrounding worlds to a distance of as much as 70 million light-years in every direction. The collating and processing system used by the Innovator is still completely unknown, and researchers soon learn why if they get too close.

The basic theme behind The Innovator is improvement: physical, electronic, metallurgic, mental, social, and/or theological, sometimes several at once. In its simplest use, an item is brought to within range of a series of sensory arms, and the item is transformed into an incrementally improved form, with the being bearing the item given powerful synthotelepathic instructions on one possible use. For instance, a lump of chert would be modified via nanosmoothing into a knife with a three-molecule-wide edge, with those molecules artificially strengthened to resist wear and damage, and the individual delivering it informed on its used for advanced tree grafting techniques. Bringing a chunk of hematite may, with three different bearers, present complete plans for a Bessemer steel forge, a detector for near-planet asteroids, or a single-use device for boosting the hemoglobin in oxygen-breathing life forms to offer immunity to hydrogen sulfide poisoning. The ultimate benefit of any improvement is up to The Innovator: a famous example was a Carrik warlord who presented a nuclear device in the hope of creating an ultimate weapon: when detonated, the improved device removed all of the Carrik from both space and time, and knowledge of them today comes from cataloging traces of their absence, like breath on a mirror.

The Innovator’s effect isn’t limited to nonliving forms, either. While most attempts to affect research animals are mostly inoffensive (a noted exception was the use of Earth golden hamsters for a test; the innovation was the ability to digest lignin and other complex polymers without the need for symbiotic bacteria, leading to an even more foul-tempered rodent able to thrive on most plastics), any attempts to access the Innovator’s operating system or physically interfere with its functions are met with massive retaliation AND upgrading. This may be physical, with tools and computers innovated to destroy any functionality that could threaten the Innovator. Sometimes it is electronic, with software and firmware left with widened capabilities but without any way to focus on the Innovator. The most insidious, though, are the social upgrades, ranging from individual morality to that of an entire civilization. This almost definitely led to the extinction of the inventor’s people, but whether this was due to the creator attempting to shut down the Innovator or someone else attempting to improve it is still ambiguous.

Today, anyone can visit the Innovator: any attempts to prevent access, including a six-species fleet attempting to saturation-bomb Devenport’s Rotating Holiday with fusion planetbusters, fail within moments. Some of them return with massive leaps in knowledge. Some don’t return, and arguments persist as to whether the Innovator improves them by making them a part of its network, or if it simply improves them beyond the need to live in three-dimensional space. As always, mileage may vary.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 15 1/2″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 39.37 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $150

Shirt Price: $125

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 2

Curious about what this is all about? Go back to the beginning.

This week in Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions, we’re going to talk about food. Now, for Dallas folks, I could bring up local joys such as The Maple Leaf Diner, Tasty Tails, Sababa, and Blu’s Barbeque, but that’s not fair to everyone else, and the idea of these gift options is that they’re open to everyone, regardless of travel options and lockdowns. Instead, we’re going to talk about heat.

Texas cuisine has a reputation for revving the Scoville scale, but what makes it work is an understanding of the flavor that the heat complements and compliments. That’s an overriding concern with most vendors at ZestFest, the largest spicy foods show in the US: any idiot can dump a kilo of ground Carolina Reaper pepper atop an otherwise perfectly good hamburger and post video of the subsequent prolapse on YouTube, but the artist knows when just a little gets the job done and when the chef needs to take the controls of the Titanic and yell “Full speed ahead! Let’s turn that chunk of ice into margaritas!” Therefore, some suggestions on all aspects of that joy, starting with where to start when you don’t know where to start.

When starting with good and hot food, it’s often best to go with someone who knows what they’re doing and trust their assessments. Just like following a film critic with whom you may not always agree but who makes you contemplate going into new cinematic territory, you may have to poke around and find someone with a similar appreciation of heat, and my personal guru in that regard is Mike Hultquist of Chili Pepper Madness. Recently, he’s been expanding into reminding people of Cajun remoulade and horseradish sauces, and his recipes are never boring. Best of all, if going through online listings doesn’t work for you, his cookbooks are dangerous to read in bed unless you look forward to drowning in a pool of your own drool. May I recommend his recipe for peri peri sauce?

In a lot of circumstances, you may just want something easy: you’re not in the mood to or not able to make a full fiery dish, or you want to kick up something that everyone else in the family wants to keep bland. (Speaking from experience, New England-style clam chowder is always improved with a good dose of Tabasco or sriarcha sauce, but I don’t dare spice it to my preference for guests.) That’s why keeping tabs on a good shaker bottle for your own augmentation comes in handy, and Defcon SaucesMalum Allium spicy garlic powder is an excellent addition to roasted vegetables, particularly broccoli and Brussels sprouts. My beloved wife Caroline, who admits that she can’t handle much heat, has a love for Malum Allium, but also for the Feisty Fish Rub from Mom’s Gourmet. We go through a lot of spices (mostly because we eat a LOT of roasted vegetables these days), but we keep coming back to each of these, and we’ll probably have a more extensive list for 2021.

And for those who want to go past merely eating hot and want to grow hot, there’s really good news on that front, too. Specifically, while a lot of really good seed suppliers offer excellent pepper species and hybrids, you can’t go wrong with the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University and its wide range of pepper seeds. Personal recommendation: my favorite variety from the Institute is its Numex Halloween: not only does the foliage go deep purple-black with sufficient sun, but the peppers go from black to orange as they ripen, and they’re now an essential part of my notorious goth salsa recipe. But don’t pay attention to me: go wild and try something that surprises you, because that range of seeds includes some doozies.

Well, that’s it for this week: things are going to get interesting, what with American Thanksgiving and all. Feel free to expand upon this list in the comments, too: half of the fun is in the sharing.

Sunday Carnivorous Plant Tour: November 15, 2020

After a very long hiatus, regular events in the gallery, as opposed to out on the front porch, started up again on November 15, with full mask and cleaning protocols in place. It’s been a long strange trip, but the Triffid Ranch is back and open for business.

As for the future, we’re taking a cue from our friends at Frightmare Collectibles and planning a much more regular schedule for Sunday events. Keep an eye on the schedule for the rest of November and all of December: the gallery will be closed on December 6 for a private event, but we’re also planning post-Christmas events for those who need a touch of green after the winter solstice.

Anyway, the next Carnivorous Plant Gallery Tour (that’ll work for a name) starts at 10:00 am on November 22, and runs until 5:00 pm that evening. If you can’t make it then, we’re shifting the schedule slightly for Small Business Saturday on November 28, and will be open on November 27 by appointment. See you then.