Literary Food – Amish Friendship Bread

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As usual, I’m late. By nearly a month – which may, or may not, be a new record.

I read Friendship Bread by Darien Gee, and as you may have guessed friendship bread has been through my test kitchen. It’s quite a process, and it’s a little bit of a misnomer, as the first recipe you use makes a loaf style cake – like banana loaf, but not.

You may be sitting there, reading this, and wondering what in all that is tasty is ‘Friendship Bread’? In the book, it’s like a chain letter with no consequences for not sharing… and community encompassing consequences if you do – and that’s as much of a spoiler as you are getting out of me; you’ll have to read it if you want to know more.
As for what it really is… It’s a starter that you feed, and grow, and share, and – of course – bake with. It’s a little like a sourdough starter, except that it’s very sweet, not sour at all. It’s basic contents are flour, sugar, and milk; these are the things that you will need to have in large supply if you are going to take on the task of keeping an AFB starter.

I’m told that the best way to get started with making Amish Friendship Bread is to receive your starter from someone else, because then it carries a little bit of love from someone else’s kitchen to yours.
We all know that I live at the end of the world, (aka New Zealand) so I had to make my starter from scratch, and then nurse it through it’s 10 day cycle.

The instructions that you share with the eager recipients of starter are:

Day 1: Do nothing.

Day 2: Mash the bag.

Day 3: Mash the bag.

Day 4: Mash the bag.

Day 5: Mash the bag.

Day 6: Add 1 cup each of flour, sugar, and milk.

Day 7: Mash the bag.

Day 8: Mash the bag.

Day 9: Mash the bag.

Day 10: Add 1 cup each of flour, sugar, and milk. Divide into 1 cup portions to bake with, share, and cultivate.

It’s fairly low maintenance, and Bug (age 8) made the starter from scratch himself, with only supervision. And he has taken an active roll in looking after our little monster since then. Each cup of starter bakes two loaves, and they are really tasty.

I haven’t had much luck in giving away starters, but I have no trouble giving away baking. Bug has muffins in his lunch, so instead of making two loaves I make one loaf and one tray of muffins. We either eat the loaf or give it away, but the muffins go in the freezer and he can just lift one out and tuck it in his lunch box. My sister-in-law is also happy to take bags of muffins to tuck in her freezer to pack in her lunch box too.

The other thing to know is that there is a website which has endless recipes, and variations on the basic cinnamon cake. There are biscuits (American and British), cakes, breads, donuts, pancakes and waffles, and many more. Chances are if you can think of something that needs any leavening there is a recipe for it on the webpage.

Today I made the first variation, banana loaf. But we have also made biscuits, of both American and British. In so far as Snickadoodles are British (which they aren’t as far as I’m aware, but they are biscuits in the British fashion).

I have got to say, that the Snickadoodles were a total fail. But some of the problem was the limitation of my kitchen. I only have one oven tray, and the recipe makes 60 (yes, that many). But some of it was to do with not making American cookie/biscuit recipes. When I make a standard choc chip biscuit, I use the Edmonds recipe, which requires pressing on the tray. They don’t melt down from balls into biscuits, like the Snickadoodles. One tray full burned, because they set out of the oven and I didn’t know that at the time. And the second tray stuck to the baking paper, at which point we called it a fail.

If you’re wondering why it’s called Amish Friendship Bread, the answer is simply that Amish communities share a great deal. And the spirit of sharing is what it’s really all about. Especially as one of the key ingredients is instant pudding mix – for which there is a recipe on the website.

I had intended to use pictures, but the baking keeps getting eaten… So, for the most part it has been an ongoing win.

Literary Food Blog… How it Happens.

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You’ve probably never once wondered how the literary food blog comes to be. But I’m going to tell you anyway, you’ll see why further down the page.

  • So, I read a book.It mentions a food I’ve never had (or sometimes never heard of).
  • I Google it.
  • If if sounds good, I make it (or add it to the long list of books and dishes that are still waiting – often because they have an obscure or expensive ingredient. Sometimes though, I just forget).
  • I feed it to as many unwary people as I can con into my house (sometimes a full dinner party, sometimes just me and Bug).
  • We discuss it’s merits.
  • I write about it.
  • If it’s good I keep the recipe.

The_Scream_1893

This time though, I may have made a bit of a tactical booboo; for three reasons:

  1. It’s fun and simple, let’s make it with Bug.
  2. It’s alive.
  3. …The song that never ends…

Watch this space next weekend to find out what monster I’ve created.

 

Struggling Artists

We often talk about artists struggling. Usually it’s said in a tone of financial struggle. That these struggling artists are trying to live off the proceeds of their art, possibly without the benefit of a ‘day job’.

We often take it for granted that some of the best artists have depression or some other illness. For a while, before I started writing, I used to think that because the artist had this illness that they worked harder, and produced better work, out of a fear that the illness would win.

The first piece that I ever wrote, came out of childhood bullying, and how that affected me up to that point, and where I saw myself heading in the future. Things have changed since then. It’s not a sad story, but it was born of that pain.
Now that I have immersed my art into my life (or the other way around, if you prefer), I know that it is true, and not true. I don’t work harder, and produce better work out of fear that the roller coaster is going to crash or explode one day. I think now that it is the illness which allows such artists a different way of looking at the world; but often it’s a realistic view – without the benefit of the proverbial rose-tinted glasses.

For me, it’s not a gift. So many people say about other artists, and one or two people have said that about me (often in conversation with me). In my own way I began studying words and literature as a child. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books, and how such simple words could be strung together to produce something so extraordinary. To evoke scenes so completely that I could lose myself in.

Before I decided to go to university, I had already started thinking about how to put words together to produce the desired effect. That first story that I wrote, it was for something like an assignment, for a women’s group that I was taking part in. And about the same time, I had discovered Wattpad.com, I was looking for books in the Android play store on my first smartphone. Some of the stories that I read, were incredible. Often, I still read wonderful stories there. But it is a website for sharing amateur writing, and some of the writing is pretty good – just needing some editing. Some is great ideas, but needing a different author. There were some that were terrible ideas but were beautifully written. (Please note that these are my opinions only.) And more than a few times I read something and said, “You know what? I could do that better.”
So I did. Or at least, tried. That was how it started, for me.

In the end, that was why I chose English to study when I made the decision to go to university, as a 25 year old single mother.

My struggles, with my own personal roller coaster, colour how I write on any given day. It colours how I look at what I want to write, which affects the perspective that I tackle it from, or the point of view that I use.

But, I think that the struggles of the artist (particularly with writing) are important, and that they do make for a better writer. And I think this because, if you’ve never had to take off the rose coloured glasses, you can’t possibly convey the emotions that allow for the suspension of disbelief.

It is quite possible that I have just rambled incoherently for an entire post. But maybe, just maybe, you see something that lets you understand the importance of some kind of struggle to an artist.

Motivation and Mental Health/Depression

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“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.”
Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

I see a lot of things like the above quote on the internet, I even heard them daily growing up. And I absolutely believe it, because I’ve seen it, and experienced it. But I’ve also seen a lot of ranty blogs, and articles complaining about this sentiment. The above sentiment is often spouted by people who’ve never had depression (or any related mental illness), in such a way as to suggest that if you choose to be happy then you won’t be depressed. So in those instances, I think that the ranters have it right.

But in reality, neither is so simple.

Having depression doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t be happy. Because depression isn’t about happiness. It’s more like a cross between a roller-coaster and quick sand. Depression has a natural life cycle of ups and downs (like the roller-coaster), but when it’s heading down it pulls you with it – whether you want to go or not (like the quick sand).

Every person who has depression finds that it manifests slightly differently. Things that helped one person, don’t help at all for another, and vice versa.

For me, when I’m on top of the roller-coaster I can bang out a chapter a day (if I work at it), in the troughs (the low points) I’ll watch TV for 8 hours a day, and mounting piles of dishes will instill in me a deeper apathy than any other I’ve known. Depression sucks the motivation right out of me. Suddenly, it’s like I don’t want to expend the energy to be happy.

Because that’s the bit that no one mentions, the choice to be happy isn’t enough. It’s a choice, that needs to be followed by action. And the other thing, choosing to be happy, even following through – it doesn’t make the depression go away, it makes it bearable. It gives you an inch of rope to hold onto, to keep you from sliding down into the chasm beneath the sand.

All that effort, in addition to what I like to think of as my first aid kit. A simple list of things that are my go to’s, which may or may not help me drag myself out of the darkness before professional help is required. And these are just mine, the list gets added to, and things get removed. And I have to be paying attention, because two years ago I wasn’t and I had a meltdown/breakdown (if you really want to read about it you can find Three posts about it – Academic Anxiety, Redemption part 1, and Redemption part 2); I was very lucky that Student Health had an excellent counselor, and that my lecturer was exceedingly forgiving.

  • Eat my feelings
    • Eat the comfort food – do not focus on whether it meets health guidelines, is it what I want? does it make me feel better?
  • Journal
    • This one can be harder, how do you put the black hole into words? But even just venting helps. It’s not for other people to read, it’s more like when you’ve over filled a pot and it’s boiling over – so you pour off the excess.
  • Exercise
    • Enough said, the point is to get naturally occurring endorphins pumping through your body, they help – really.
  • Remembering who I am normally.
    • It’s a bit of a litmus test, as well as something to strive for. But the less I can remember who I am, and what I’m like outside of depression the deeper in the pit I am.
  • Laughing and laughter.
    • Patch Adams knew what he was talking about. Laughter makes things bearable, he never said that it could make the illness go away. Just that you don’t need to suffer with it. Genuine laughter also produces those all important endorphins.
  • Have a dinner party.
    • Just something informal, it’s not supposed to be stressful. But cooking for people is often how I show them that I care about them. But in this instance it’s about getting my friends (aka, my support) around me, when the thought of going out might be too stressful.
    • I could make mac and cheese and they would come.
    • If having all of them around at once stresses me out, I can have them over individually, or in small overlapping groups (also helpful when living in a small house).
    • Delegate the washing up!
  • Celebrate the little victories!
    • Cannot stress the importance of this enough, when the concept of getting out of bed (or staying out of bed) is mind boggling it needs to be celebrated when you do it. See Boring Self-Care for more ideas on this one.

 

There are others, but these are my go to’s. I’m not ashamed that my brain rides a roller-coaster. I shouldn’t have to be.

Flash Fiction Attempt

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Now don’t judge me if this sucks, I’m publishing it here regardless.

Before I begin, this is what happens when I watch some shows. An idea jumps out of what would otherwise have been a snide comment made about a moment, a mere second, of what I was watching. This one, has come from Doctor Who: The Family of Blood (David Tennant and Freema Agyeman).

And so it begins. Let me know what you think.

As I stared into the eyes of the monster that wanted to destroy everything I loved, I wondered how it had come to this. How it had come to pass that I would find myself standing here, prepared to walk into the black hole. Or rather staring it down, daring it to swallow me. And completely prepared to take that step.

“Just hand it over, no one needs to get hurt.”

“It’s a hard thing to take a human life. Something that never leaves you. Well, let me tell you everyday of my life, for as long as I can remember, I have stared into the black hole. Just waiting for it to finally pull me in. So, I will protect those I love; and I will stare into the abyss without fear.”

In hardly more time than it took me to blink, the monster was backing away at a run. I sighed as I lowered the rifle from my right shoulder. But it remained in my hands, loosely aimed at the monster’s retreating back. In times like these you can’t trust anyone.

Introspection

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Since my last post, instead of writing I have been indulging in some larger screen Netflix – larger than my smart phone – and more than a bit of theoretically professional introspection. Some of which was directly involved with my most recent Netflix addiction – Jane the Virgin. One of Jane’s subplots is that she’s a writer, in grad school, trying to find her center (figuratively speaking). Jane, like myself is a romance writer; and like myself, is struggling to find the balance between the cliched conceit of the genre and a truly good novel.

Introspection can be a very useful tool. With insight gained from a telenovela I have had a look into how I structure and plan my novels. What I discovered was that while I thought I had one main plot per book (which I did), that it was joined by a series of subplots. I did not. What I actually had was a series of plot devices. Sometimes, in the form of bad things happening to my characters, purely for the purpose of keeping my plot (singular) moving. Or to make them appreciate the meager happiness I afford them.

This introspection will allow me to plan my novels better. I’m not a super planner, I’ve always been a solid mix of planner and pantser. I need to know where my story is going, and to an extent how it is going to get there. But I like the journey itself to be as organic as possible. Rather like Jane Villanueva I have to deal with a head full of highly opinionated characters. TV land allows us to literally see Jane’s characters, mine just sit in my head and shout at me until I write what they want me to. After I’ve written it, I can do with it as I like. I can change and edit to my hearts content, on the condition that I write what they want in the first place.

I have a number of things that I want to experiment with as a result of this introspection. Types of narrators, the fourth wall, time and place – which raises the topic of my family’s oral history, my family (whether they will admit it or not – mostly not) are wonderful storytellers, at least in oral short-story form. While you don’t have to believe me, it was something of a shock to me that some of my memories aren’t even mine – they were stories of my family members that I heard as a child and they stuck with me.

In the mean time, I hope that you are all working on your own NaNo prep. Or, if you’re not a writer, that you are reading books which capture your imagination and refuse to let go. I’m settling into winter, but I don’t think I would go so far as to suggest that it is a transition I am willing to make.

When Properly Armed…

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When properly armed there isn’t much that I can’t do.

If any of my Wrimos are reading, just know that this year’s Word of the Day will be much more user friendly than last.

I have just spent six hours Dictionary Diving, and carefully hand-selecting 30 functional words. But… I feel like I may need a bigger dictionary, I felt limited by the enormous quantity of words that are medical or science jargon. The point of hand-selecting the 30 magical words is to have words that everyone can use… if they put their minds to it.

As for being properly armed, I am now in possession of a functioning laptop. The upshot of which is that I got to type thirty words, and their definitions, rather than handwriting them. Armed with a laptop I work exponentially faster, and my work is guaranteed legible. Which is not always my thing. And sure I journal, by hand, but that’s not about legibility – it’s about getting what’s shouting inside my head, out. Don’t get me wrong, I will be paying this laptop off for the rest of my natural life.

So, now that I’m properly armed with a list of 30 awesome words, and a functioning laptop, I am ready for NaNoWriMo to roll around.

See you down the track a ways.

I Hates It!

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Like all starving, hungry artists my work is seldom ever really complete to the point where I can walk away singing about how much it love it now that it’s done.Typically, I reach the point where I am satisfied with it. No more. 

Well, three years after publication I am finally stripping back the one I hate and fixing all the things that are wrong with it. And I’m doing it in a two-fold process, I’m actually mapping out the story and keeping the bits that are satisfactory, while discarding the rest. I’m going to make it a little bit truer to life, a little bit less of a farce. I’m going to be calling in a few favours over the next while. And it’ll take a while, I’m doing it on my phone until I get a laptop. I don’t know if I can fully explain how much I hate typing on my phone screen, but my lack of blog posts recently may give it away. Or perhaps the uncorrected typing errors in my recent posts… because fixing them is actually more trouble than it’s worth.

You get the drift.

We Need to Talk.

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Apparently the four most terrifying words in a relationship. Except that our relationship is ALL about me talking. So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to continue that trend in our fantastically one-sided conversations.

First of all it’s more like: WE NEED to talk. The collective, infinitely plural we. People. Humans. We need to talk. Sometimes just getting together and shooting the shit (figuratively speaking) is a good thing. It’s a good thing, because it lets us know that we have people that we can talk to. But we also need to be talking to our kids, and it can’t be a one sided interrogation. This is important for me right now, Bug is having a hard time at school, and it’s not bullying. He doesn’t feel as though he is being seen for who he is. At 8, this is fairly normal. They have finally got a real grasp on this school thing we force them to go to, and they are starting to realise that they can change how they behave socially, and that it will cause ripples on the surface of the pond, which interact with someone else’s ripples. Popularity, and being cool are now important. 

It is important that he knows I understand. So I tell him true stories about when I was his age. About the bullying I suffered, about the bullying I’m responsible for. It’s insanely important in this endeavor not to lie. And not to explain things too long term, sure I had to put up with the same crap. But he can’t understand that none of it will matter in ten years.

He thinks that Alvin the Chipmunk is the height of cool, and we had a talk about how Alvin treats his friends. Which is not great, I asked Bug if he would want to be friends with Alvin. He said no. Then we decided that we need to remake cool. We need to make it something we can be proud to be real friends with. 

Our current thing is RAK. Random Acts of Kindness. Just little things, to make people smile. Saying something nice about someone’s style, or paying for someone on the bus. Smiling at a stranger on the bus. All of this in addition to simple manners. 

It is interesting that we come to this point as I watch 13 Reasons Why. It reminded me that people under 25 feel everything amplified, always and forever… and that’s just in the moment. I’m in no way minimising the bad things that happened to the characters, nor am I defending any of their behaviour. I’m saying that it reminded me how they feel things. Because we adults do forget. It also reminded me that we need to talk. There’s that collective, infinitely plural again. 

But we also need to listen.