Jeff Mach Speaks: Musings on Steampunk

Jeff Mach, Himself

People keep asking me: What IS Steampunk? How do I do it? Am I dressing “correctly”? How do I make it a part of my music, my art, my life, or failing that, do you know a good Steampunk Halloween costume?

These are all great questions (yes, including the last one!) I’ve seen Steampunk go through a lot of evolution – there was a long time when people dismissed it by saying, “Steampunk is what happens when Goths discovered brown”, or diminished it by saying that it was only “Victorian Science Fiction” (oddly, people didn’t seem to notice that the people saying this were Victorian Science Fiction writers. But Steampunk is something much bigger.

Steampunk is gigantic, ever-unfolding playground which we can use for any sort of wondrous peculiarity associated with a 19th-century world that might-have-been. Even more, though, Steampunk is something we can use to help transform our 21st century lives into more enthralling, more fascinating, more splendidly unexpected places and things.

I’ll write about as much of it as I can possibly fit! Come on and read – I hope you enjoy it!

A Steampunk Holiday Word From Scrooge

It's Steampunk Santa!

I think I speak for all grumpy old men of Steampunk when I say: “BAH!  HUMBUG!”

I suspect that the next entry here will contain some kind of holiday cheer.  For everyone who’s up for that sort of poppycock, you should probably check tomorrow’s entry.  But for now, let me give you some of the benefits of using Steampunk to avoid the holiday season.

7 Some people are dreaming of a snowy white Christmas.  I dread that, my thought, which is precisely why I have my Steam-Powered Weather Alteration Device set to “Volcano.

6. Want to avoid awkward conversations at dinner?  Just show up in your full Steampunk garb, complete with an assortment of weaponry.  Everything becomes much more polite.

5. Don’t want to give presents?  Just do what I do… give everyone tickets to events that have already happened.  If they’re too lazy to own time machines, that’s on them.

4. Food coma from too much turkey and other festive food?  Just slip your goggles off your top hat and over your eyes, and nobody will know you’re asleep!

3.  Did Santa leave you a lump of coal?  That’s fine; you can just use it to stoke the boiler in your airship.  Then you can chase after his sleigh and get the GOOD presents.

2. Television wasn’t even invented in the Steampunk era, which is an excellent excuse not to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” for the millionth time.

1. Remember, if anyone asks…you’re not a mean, nasty cuss; you’re just reproducing a beloved figure of the Victorian era – the one and only Ebenezer Scrooge!

(As told to Jeff Mach of Jeff Mach Events.)

“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”

~Charles Dickens

“I happen to LIKE oysters, thank you.”

~Ebenezer Scrooge

 

 

 

Super Tricky Steampunk Absinthe Guacamole

Three glasses of green absinthe with fairyAbsinthe Secret Guacamole Rustico

It was pointed out to us that there are few things more Steampunk than guacamole.  Think of it: You take a rich, ripe thing which is a paradox in and of itself (for it’s technically a fruit, but we treat it as a vegetable – how can one thing be both?  And yet it is!) – and you pull off its outer shell, revealing something luscious inside.  You then take that lusciousness and transform it by simultaneously smashing it with heavy implements and adding spice.  Finally, you douse it in absinthe, set it on fire, and serve it.  PLEASE DON’T DO THAT LAST THING, WE’RE JUST KIDDING ABOUT THAT.

What you CAN do is this other amazing trick:

  • Take about a half a shot glass of Tequila – we recommend something of a higher quality, with a purer flavor.
  • Take a little bit of your preferred green food coloring.
  • Mix the two.  You’ll get something that LOOK rather like absinthe, as long as no-one sniffs it.  If you’re dining with serious absinthe experts, let them in on the secret in advance.
  • Right before you finish mashing up the guacamole, preferably in front of an audience, add the tequila. If you make the guacamole BEFORE serving it, try this trick: Fill the WHOLE shot glass with your pre-greened tequila, then, just before you invite people to consume your treat, carefully splash half into the dish, mix it up a bunch, and theatrically finish off the remainder of the shot.
  • This isn’t just for show! The tequila will REALLY bring out the lime and the salt and the contrasting flavors.  And people will think you’re some kind of genius who managed to make absinthe go with guacamole.  It’s up to you whether or not you let them in on the secret.

RECIPE:

Yield: 2 cups
Skill Level: 1

  • 4 ripe avocados, halved, pitted and diced
  • 1 cup finely diced red onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 jalapenos, halved lengthwise, seeded and finely diced
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Coarse salt to taste
  • Tequila! (Masquerading as Absinthe)

Directions:

  • In a medium-sized bowl, combine the red onion, garlic, tomato, jalapeno, and cilantro. Stir to combine.
  • In a separate bowl, mash one portion of avocado. Add it to the medium-sized bowl and stir gently to combine.
  • Repeat with the rest of the avocado, and then add the lemon juice and salt.
  • Throw in the tequila!
  • Taste for seasoning and adjust as desired.

From The Steampunk Cookbook, by Jeff Mach

 

Creating a clockwork heart: Steampunk and heartbreak

I wish only for a clockwork heartHere is a Steampunk way of looking at love and loss:

Have you had your heart, not simply broken, but hurt so much you thought it was destroyed?

Good! Now you have Power.  Like a lightning bolt through Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, you can activate something incredible.

You are a creator.

You have the power to re-make your heart.

You have the power to re-make your heart, and you don’t have to choose to make it out of rage and fear.

Make it into what you want to become.  A clockwork man is not a parody of a human; it is animated potential, ready to try to be the best things a human can be.  A clockwork heart can be built as you want.  So want the things that will give you the possibilities you desire.

Remake your heart with joy.
Remake your heart with strength.
Remake your heart with force.
Remake your heart into an imdomitable, unending factory for creating a better life, a sweeter world, a better home for your mind, soul, and needs.

Remake your heart and become something stronger, better than anyone ever imagined.

And when you see that little smudge of red still pooled on the floor, just smile. That was the old you. That was the sad you. That was the you who was afraid.

You don’t need that you any more. You have a greater self to be.

-Jeff Mach

Jeff Mach Events

Neglected Steampunk Novels: The Other Log of Phileas Fogg

An alternative take on the H.G. Wells classic, "Around The World In 80 Days"I own a LOT of old science fiction books, almost all of them purchased ridiculously cheaply at library book sales, rummage sales, and used bookstores.  I can stroll through my library (by which I mean: my tiny, grimoire-crammed apartment) and peruse the shelves forever; actually, that’s about the only thing I CAN do in this apartment, as all the space is occupied by tomes of every conceivable size) – and sometimes, I run across something I acquired before I really knew what Steampunk was, and I say, “GOOD HEAVENS!  IT’S A LOST TREASURE OF STEAMPUNK!”

Which brings me to this new segment in my blog: “Neglected Steampunk Novels”.  And today’s book is The Other Log Of Phileas Fogg, by Philip José Farmer.

This is a Wold Newton book; and that, in and of itself, is fascinating.  Long before the Expanded Universe or other present world-spanning and genre-spending ideas, Wold Newton (a real-life fallen comet whose consequence, in this Universe, was to create extraordinary abilities in those near it) – was a genre about whose characters, Wikipedia asserts:

“As well as Tarzan and Doc Savage, both Lord Peter Wimsey and Sherlock Holmes are descendants of the original families. Other popular characters included by Farmer as members of the Wold Newton family are Solomon KaneCaptain BloodThe Scarlet Pimpernel; Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis Professor MoriartyPhileas FoggThe Time Traveller (main character of The Time Machine by H. G. Wells); Allan QuatermainA. J. RafflesProfessor ChallengerRichard HannayBulldog Drummond; the evil Fu Manchu and his adversary, Sir Denis Nayland SmithG-8The ShadowSam Spade; Doc Savage’s cousin Patricia Savage and one of his five assistants, Monk MayfairThe SpiderNero WolfeMr. MotoThe AvengerPhilip MarloweJames BondLew ArcherTravis McGeeMonsieur Lecoq; and Arsène Lupin.”

I won’t go too far into the plot for “The Other Log”–but Phileas Fogg is a fascinating Steampunk character.  In the original book, we know so little about him – he’s oddly wealthy, he has very specific habits, he has the aplomb of a stereotypical British Victorian gentleman, and he races ’round the world, theoretically in defense of the technological capabilities of modern life and on the odd theory that the world is predictable–and he essentially bets all of his means on doing so.

Philip José Farmer does something very Steampunk here:  He sees a story which has, not exactly plot loopholes, but deep gaps in who and what and why, and he invents them.  He builds hitherto unconsidered reasons for Fogg’s actions and movements, layers them perfectly with the original novel, and creates meaning out of what had been emptiness–essentially, thin air.

It’s a joy to watch, and a joy to read, and a thoroughly Steampunk tale.  It’s a fascinating book, and well-worth inclusion in your own library (or, in my case, my “giant mountain of tomes”.

Stay tuned to this blog for more neglected Steampunk ideas, thoughts about Steampunk in general, humor, inspiration, and, of course, tea.

Edible Steampunk Dessert Decorations for Beginners

cake in steampunk style isolated on a white

Or, if I’m honest, also for the lazy and the artistically-deficient.  And by that, I mean dead simple, and still looks fantastic! I used to think that not everyone has the time, inclination, or (eh hem, like me) the talent to make jaw-dropping Steampunk desserts. Or maybe we do! Here’s a quick list of decoration tools and products you can get to turn that every-day cupcake into a clockwork cupcake masterpiece:

Gears, Cogs, & Clockwork

Gears are probably the most universally-recognized Steampunk shape, so we’ll start with those.  The easiest way to make soft food items like fondant, cookie dough, and sandwich bread look like a gear is to use a cutter of some sort. I have a few you can take a peak at below:

This cutter is 3D printed and technically made for fondant cutting, but works well for any soft food.  They are made to order for a very good price and currently on sale at JB Cookie Cutters.  They offer a couple styles of gears which you can see at the bottom of the page as well, and you can order them in whichever diameter you wish.
Another great place to find cutters with Steampunk flare is Etsy!  Just check out this one by TheCookieCutterLady, which has sharp edges and comes in a variety of sizes.  (She also sells cutters in the shape of swords, plaques, and vintage keys, so check her store out!)

 

Edible Art

Edible paper (called wafer paper) is a great way to make your iced cookies and cakes look literally hand-painted and come in an incredible array of styles (including custom!)  I’ve found a couple excellent examples for your next Steampunk tea party:

Alice in Wonder Wonderland Wafer Paper Which of us could ever say “No!” to a Mad Hatter Tea Party?  None, I dare say!  These edible wafer paper designs are not just for children and come in 8.5 x 11″ sheets with 25 assorted images.  They’re available from Fancy Flours, who also carries hundreds of other designs as well.
Hot Air Balloon Wafer Paper Here comes Etsy to the rescue again!  QueenofTartsWafers has a delightful array of edible art suitable for your splendiferous needs.  The best part?  They’re made with potato starch, water, vegetable oil, and food coloring, so they won’t taste strange, but they will certainly look it, in a good way!

 

Breaking the Mold

Feeling a bit more daring?  Check out these extremely cost-effective and awesome-looking molds for icing, fondant, chocolate, and more!  These mold kits are all available on Amazon from Anyana:

 

Finishing Touches

Those are some good basic design shapes, but what about that last touch of class you want?  If you have a local crafting store, chances are they sell Wilton brand cake decorations, which can help you through that last mile to the delicious finish line!  Just look at some of these:

Bronze Pearl Dust

Stick-n-Stay Scroll Stencils

Gold Color-Mist Icing Spray

Pearlized Silver & Black Sprinkle Mix

Edible Mustache Candies

 

And that, dear readers, should get you off and decorating on the right foot.  Though, if you need inspiration, I highly suggest you check out the Steam Cakes Steampunk Collaboration gallery on Facebook – some of the pieces there are truly awe-inspiring and incredible to behold.

~ A guest blog by Evalynn

Chocolate Absinthe Bundt Cake: a Steampunk Holiday Recipe

The holidays, as wonderful as they are, can also be, well…a bit challenging. Okay, maybe a lot challenging.

My normal remedy for handling the headaches, stress, and drama brought on by exceptionally busy days, loud in-laws, rampaging children, and endless renditions of Jingle Bells is usually to drink.  A lot.  However, that isn’t always feasible nor acceptable, so let me present to you an excellent alternative: the Holiday Chocolate Absinthe Bundt Cake (or Steambundt cake, if you will.)  This is virtually guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser and help you get to the new year in one piece.

Chocolate Absinthe Bundt Cake

Recipe makes 1 9-inch bundt cake, assuming you don’t drink all the absinthe before you begin.

Tools

  • An electric mixer, strong arms, or an unwitting volunteer with strong arms.
  • One 9-inch bundt cake pan
  • Wire cooling rack

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup absinthe
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground anise
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Beat the butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Gradually add sugar, continuing to beat well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until fully blended after each addition.
  2. Add the absinthe of your choice (if it’s not a brand you’d drink, don’t use it); beat until blended.
  3. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and anise in a separate bowl and mix well to disperse ingredients.
  4. Add the dry ingredients from step 3 to the sugar mixture alternately with hot water, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed until blended after each addition.  Mix in  the extracts last.
  5. Pour batter into a greased and floured 9-inch Bundt cake pan.
  6. Bake at 300° for 60 minutes.
  7. Cool while in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool completely on the wire rack.

Optional Glaze:

If you’re like me and you like glaze on your cakes, here’s an excellent quick glaze to go on top of this cake:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon absinthe
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon water
  • Zest of one lime
  1. Once the cake has cooled completely, whisk together the glaze ingredients above until smooth. Please note: Only use the lime zest in the glaze if you plan to eat the cake the same day it’s made.
  2. With the cake still on a wire rack, place it over a cookie sheet or other pan. Pour the glaze over the cake, letting it run down the sides. Scoop up the excess glaze that has fallen on the cookie sheet, and continue to pour it over the top of the cake. Make sure to get an even coating on every surface of the cake.

~ A guest post by Evalynn

Steampunk For World Domination: An introduction

Steampunk: Let's take over the world!“I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.” 
― Neil Gaiman, “The Kindly Ones”

Steampunk: Exactly what the hell are we creating here, anyway?

I’m going to let you in on a huge secret here: Steampunk is imaginary. But just because it’s imaginary doesn’t mean that it’s not real.

Consider how odd our ideas of “reality” are.  Does a locked door stop you from going through?  Not if there’s an emergency fire axe. Does a door marked quote “authorized personnel only” keep you out? Not if you are authorized – or rude – or have a mission – or are fearless.

So many barriers are of the mind, not the physical world. Hell, even barriers of the physical world are overrated; ask the athlete or the survivor who  “can’t go another step”–and then puts one foot in front of the other until they get there.

Steampunk is a product of thought, inspiration, dream, and spirit. Without those intangible things, it we would never create anything “real”–that is, tangible things, things which everyone perceives as being “real”. Humans would never make, transcend, build, invest, or dream. They would, in short, not be human.

So how about we break some barriers of Reality together?

We’re going to offer you some pathways and portals  into the glorious alternative realities, the rich places in the mind, heart, and passion, which are Steampunk.  It’s my hope that you can use them for any world of the imagination with which you might care to work or play.

The unreal world awaits your royal pleasure, O Majesty of the Mind.

Let’s jump in!

-Jeff Mach

Jeff Mach Events

Some Ideas For Creating A Sweet Steampunk Cocktail

Tuxedo cocktail, consisting of Old Tom Gin, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur, absinthe and orange bitters, garnished with a maraschino cherry and a lemon twist

If you’re like me, you spend a great deal of time thinking about the important things in life: Steampunk, and cocktails.  If you’re a LOT like me, you spend as much time as possible combining the two.

What are some ways to make a truly great Steampunk cocktail?  Here are a few pointers that I’ve picked up over the years.

First off, if you’re thinking of something sweet, did you know that it is entirely possible to get tiny edible top hats?  It is!  I’ll admit a secret: I have always wanted to purchase some of them and place them atop a cocktail, but I haven’t yet.  I’m giving this secret away to you in case you want to try it first.  Please let me know how it turns out!

For sweet drinks, consider this simple combination of flavor and color: take dark rum, pour it halfway into the glass, and add some grenadine.  You’ll get a splash of deep red which looks a little like a heart, and it will give you bit of a candied flavor.  Then be extra Steampunk and go overboard by putting in some actual candy!  (You can even make your own Steampunk candy molds, if you want to.)

In general, if you want to theme your drink, you could use bourbon for something with a Wild Wild West Steampunk; Gin for something British; and Absinthe for something that will make you see airships and possibly travel through time.  (Do NOT try combining all three into one drink.  Trust me on this one.  I’ve heard it can be done, but I believe it involves some sort of dark magic.)

That being said, combining gin and green absinthe will give you something with a lovely light green tinge, and a powerful kick, as well.  Absinthes vary tremendously, of course; but choosing something with a strong anise flavour will give you a nice bite, which will compliment the kick of the gin.  And you can always add to the verdant look with another sweet alcohol – Midori.  Midori doesn’t have a Steampunk tradition, but I find it quite tasty.

(You can get the same color possibilities with vodka, but vodka has a bit less Steampunk history; also, vodka is best consumed neat, preferably while standing atop a snow-covered Russian steppe while grimly awaiting the approach of Napoleon’s army).

I could – and likely will – write whole articles on Absinthe.  But if we’re looking for a sweet cocktail with bourbon, let me give this simple advice: bitters!  As you might know, despite their name, these drink spices come in a variety of flavors.  I’d recommend picking one which really suits your own tastes – this, of course, has the added bonus which comes with all cocktail experimentation: It means you get to try out lots of lovely beverages while you’re figuring out what you like best!

-Jeff Mach

Jeff Mach Events

 

 

Support Your Local Dreamer

Open door tattoo. Symbol of imagination creative idea motivation new life. Open door in universe t-shirt design. Surreal tattoo

Did you know that there is a million bucks hidden in the house next door?”
“But there is no house next door.” 
“No? Then let’s go build one!”
-Groucho Marx

There is a lie of omission which has fucked up the lives of many a creator and entrepreneur, and it’s a very popular lie. It happens whenever anyone says, “Follow your dreams!” and doesn’t add “…repeatedly, because the first several attempts are very likely to fail”.

It’s absolutely true that most people with dreams need encouragement – lots of encouragement. It’s scary and difficult to try to break out of where you are, and do something new, especially if it’s something that few people, or no people, have ever done before. And you should absolutely support your local dreamer, but–

But frequently, a large part of that support comes in a “certificate of attendance”-style – “Hey, that’s great, you have dreams! Definitely follow them! Go for it!” Because that’s what we get told – “Tell people to follow their dreams”. Because we love that tale – we love the story of the person who has the courage and vision to dream big, and who tries to make those dreams real, and who finally succeeds against all odds.

Do you actually know anyone who’s had that experience? I don’t. Having the skills, and the knowledge, and the infrastructure to create something successful your first time – is rare. And most of the time, some of it is something not easily distinguishable from luck – the right idea at the wrong time seldom succeeds. And sure, there’s something in knowing when the time for something is right. But there’s also the good fortune of being around at a moment when your idea can find acceptance.

How do you assure that your dream will come true, then, if you don’t have tons and tons of experience, knowledge, and resources?

You don’t.. At least, not to start.. Not the first iteration of that dream.

What you can do is be ready. Not “ready to fail” – don’t defeat yourself before you start. But “ready for what happens”. If what you have is success, fantastic! If what you have isn’t success – then, tell me, what will you do to succeed next time?

Don’t Make Your Steampunk World Too Small

Computer generated 3D illustration with a fantasy airship above the cloudsIn steampunk, as with any world of fantasy, when someone asks me for a definition, I tend to get the broadest definition possible.

Why would I want to do that?

Because inclusivity is part of the power of worlds of the imagination.  Yes, obviously, we need to have a framework from which to start.  But that framework can very much be open to interpretation–hell, geeks have been debating the interpretations of scifi, fantasy, and fandom classics for over 50 years now.  But the power isn’t precisely in how strongly someone has defined the boundaries of a world; it’s in how much that world impacts us.

I could take a lot of examples from Steampunk – the simplest being that if you go to any Steampunk event and find two people who both have chosen Steampunk personae, I’ll guarantee that their personae will come from slightly different Steampunk “worlds”.  That’s because there IS no one Steampunk world.

But I’d rather use an outside framework for our sample – say, Harry Potter, wherein J.K. Rowling makes magic absolutely magical by essentially giving us very little of the metaphysics behind it.  We get lots of pieces of magical ideas and theories and spells–but no coherent magical system; “Magic happens when you do magic things, and it produces magic effects which are sometimes predictable and sometimes otherwise”.  And it works – because the world is so deep and rich that we want to get lost in it, and we don’t worry that JKR didn’t tell us how it happened – we spend our time creating our own ideas of what was going on in the cosmology of that Universe.

(Here’s a fascinating article which discusses the effects of Harry Potter books on measured neurological response.  I’d argue that Steampunk does the same thing.

Sure, you could theoretically invent a definition of Steampunk which makes no sense; “Steampunk is wearing an elephant on your head” for example. But you know what? If you do it to create something funny or interesting or interestingly surreal, people just smile and enjoy it. If you d it tot mess with people in a mean, unkind way, they’re just going to ignore you, and possibly ask you to leave. You’re not going to break Steampunk, or any other genre, by messing with its “logic”.  This is a world of imagination; it’s everyone’s imagination, not just yours!

And that means that, with every action you take inside the genre, the community will tend to seek things which will make the community better and happier, and tend to reject things which are like the make you less happy. (There are of course examples of politics, drama, and people acting quite badly. I don’t mean to suggest that every scene is idyllic. But I do genuinely both believe that worlds of the imagination, given the choice, will go positive; and that if there’s negative and pain, our response should be to fight the causes of that pain–not to give up and just say, “Well, it’s drama, so I don’t want to be a part of it”.)

More simply:

 If I was the imagination are not yet as free and open accepting as they could be, then let’s focus on getting them to that place!)

What kind of Steampunk do you want to be a part of? What kind of Steampunk community do you want to see? That choice rests, not on some unknown mass of people or even on local politics. Ultimately, in the age of information and the Internet, that choice rests solely with you.