AWAAM's Godless Christmas: a How To

The Christmas Tree Cluster
We decorated my parents’ house and their Christmas tree yesterday. And it was while I was twining tinsel around every object in the house that I realised something: I really like Christmas. Not just the tinsel, but everything else. The lights and the shopping and the wrapping of presents. The food, the family, the fights. The deep breath before the start of a new year.
For an atheist, it was a small revelation. Ever since I was a child, and I lost my belief in Santa and God in rapid succession, I’ve always enjoyed the time off, the presents and the togetherness, but never the trappings. I’ve merely tolerated the festive season. This year, however, something changed.
I’ve decided that Christmas – or the summer solstice, or the winter solstice, or what have you – is, as the religious believe, a fantastic opportunity to celebrate and be thankful. To enjoy tradition and ritual, and to honour something larger than ourselves. So this year, I’m celebrating something pretty special: the birth of the universe.
And I’m doing it the traditional AWAAM way: with food and music.
Stars are already a symbol of Christmas - why not co-opt them in the same way that Christianity did from the pagans? It was, after all, in the furnace of the earliest, dying stars that the heavy elements of the universe were forged, from which all life eventuated. We are all star stuff. Celebrate that by busting out these delicious looking Star Cookies, found at the ever wonderful Souvlaki for the Soul.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wonderful and hilarious ode to a godless universe. This gorgeous cake is a recreation of one of my favourite scenes from the series. Nothing says ‘let’s celebrate our brief existence’ like a whale and a bowl of petunias, recently come into being and plummeting towards the earth. You can find detailed instructions on Geek Mom.

My recommended listening this Christmas is something a bit different. Gather your family, find yourself a radio, and tune into a dead station. Listen to the static. Most of it is caused by random electromagnetic interference, but about 1 or 2 percent of it is 13 billion year old radiation left over from the Big Bang, expressed in microwaves that can be picked up by your radio. What you are hearing is the birth of our universe.
And if you’re still in any doubt that the universe and our place in it is worth honouring, watch this extraordinary video.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Bits and Pieces of 2010

Good afternoon bloggers, and welcome to perhaps the most overdue post of A Whistle and A Milkshake’s life. I must admit I’ve neglected this blog recently... but I have excuses! In fact several infuriating factors have precluded me from logging on. Exploding laptops, shaped internet, and that ever present guilty feeling that keeps me from blogging at work. Nonetheless, this post is just disgustingly overdue. I've got a long list of recipes and tunes to catch up on, so please bear with me, this could be a bit of a mess...

So what have I been up to lately? Well, the last month or so has seen me busily preparing Christmas hampers for my friends and family. I think hampers make a great alternative to the usual Christmas gift giving. Personal, equitable (everybody gets the same thing!) and a pleasure to prepare. Oh, and I haven't had to set foot in a shopping centre this December, an added bonus given that inner city Melbourne is an orgy of gift-grabbing craziness at this time of year. This year I've made lime jelly, turkish delight, chocolate truffles and incredibly delicious but hard-to-master macarons. Rather a lot of work has gone into preparing and packaging these little bits and pieces, but with the help of my partner and a couple of charitable friends, it's all coming together quite nicely. Expect a couple more posts on the specifics of hamper making soon, including a post about macarons and the importance of reading the recipe.

What else have the last few months meant for me? In light of my recent transition back to vegetarianism, I've been trying to wrap my head around as many new vegetarian and vegan recipes as is humanly possible. I've memorised so many uses for the humble chick pea that I fear I may be pushing important names and dates from my memory, but exploring vegan cooking in particular has been hugely rewarding. Messy Vegetarian Cook is an excellent veg and vegan blog, with recipes for everything from sweet potato pie to japanese inspired tapioca rice balls - vastly more delicious than they sound. I'm also loving Vegan Yum Yum for the great salads, and I finally tracked down my very own copy of the inestimably wonderful Veganomicon. A great addition to any kitchen, whether one is vegan or not. But I'm not just reading recipes, I've also read a great number of books on all things vegetarian: Johathan Safran-Foer's Eating Animals is a deeply affecting read from one of my favourite authors. I've also read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, Peter Singer's Practical Ethics (quite the heavy going tome) and perhaps my favourite non-fiction book of the year The Face on Your Plate by Jeffrey Moussaieff Mason: a psycho-analyst, and a strict vegan. The man is sixty eight years old and looks younger than my fifty year old father. His spritely looks and way with words have me inching ever closer to a completely vegan diet.

Oh! and music! What have I been listening to? Glenn Richards released his new solo effort Glimjack, and I've played the thing so much that every note is now committed to memory. The album is wonderful. Dark, full of self-deprecating complaint and bitterness, and yet occasionally so breathtakingly lovely as to cover me in goosebumps. "I'm the soldier who in his dead hours, took the flesh of the horse and made only joy, then to faint in the flowers, to dream of his woman's kiss and of the April showers of home" - the man still has it people.

Joanna Newsom's epic Have One On Me has also received several thousand plays this year. It's just about as good as everyone has been saying. I don't have the words to do the thing justice, so you should probably listen to it for yourself. Try this for starters:

Other bands that have featured prominently include The Jezabels, who have released three EP's to date and put on perhaps the most impressive live show I have seen this year. Jรณnsi's debut solo effort Go Do worked it's way to the top of my scrobbling list and induced the odd sneaky tram cry on my morning commutes (it's just beautiful). I've also been listening to Seabellies, Firekites, and the debut EP from Brisbane band Pensive Penguin. Three lovely Australian bands whose tunes suggest car rides with the windows down despite the fact that summer still seems very far away indeed. More on these guys soon, I hope!

So there you have it. A long, rambling brain dump of everything that I have been intending to blog about over the last few months. I have three complete blog posts sitting on my old laptop. They appear to be written entirely in something like windings, so if any of you know how to repair a corrupt word file please let me know? In the meantime I'll try to muster the energy to write the things again. I don't believe in New Year's Resolutions, but I promise to bore you all with long, confused blog posts throughout 2011. Xx.