No One’s Hero – Episode 1: Sleeping Through Life

As promised, here it the first installment of my anime-inspired series. The title is a work-in-progress, so don’t be surprised if I change it later. (I don’t know about other people, but I find coming up with titles hard; they’re often something I don’t choose until late in the writing process.)

On paper, Shiori Hideki was halfway to being nineteen years old. In reality, however, he wasn’t halfway to being a man. And some secret part of him knew it—and he resented himself for it.

A knock on his bedroom door woke him up. His room was in perpetual twilight thanks to room-darkening shades, but a narrow slit of light peeking around the edges indicated that it was sometime during daylight hours.

“Shiori, are you awake?” his mother asked.

“I am now, Ma,” he called back, not ashamed to let his irritation show in his voice. He tried to rub the sleep out of his eyes with the back of his fist, then he glanced at the clock beside his bed.

6:30

Fucking hell. He had only gone to bed 3 hours before.

“Shiori, I need you to take your brother to school. I have to go in early.”

He groaned. “Ma,” he said, with a plaintive whine, “I haven’t had much sleep. What did I tell you about needing to give me some advance notice?”

The door to his room was suddenly thrown open—at least as much as it could open, that is. A pile of dirty clothes behind it prevented it from opening more than halfway.

“Ma!” he cried out, jerking the covers up; he was wearing nothing but a pair of silk boxers. “Let me know you’re coming in! Geez! I could have been naked, you know.”

His mother ignored him, instead pressing her lips together in that way that mean an Asian mom lecture was about to be forthcoming. “I could have told you about this if you had come home before midnight. What were you doing out so late? Not working, I know,” she added with condescension.

“I was hanging with some friends.”

“You need to start hanging around school or hanging around a place of employment. What are you doing with your life, Shiori?”

He ran his hand over his hair; it was stiff from the gel he had put in it the day before and hadn’t bothered to wash out. His mother had given him the same line it felt like nearly every day since he had flunked out of the first semester of his freshman year of college.

“I’m . . . trying to figure out what I want to do,” he replied.

“You’re not going to figure it out lying in bed all day or staying out all night partying with your friends.”

“We weren’t partying,” he said petulantly. “We were just playing some games at Matt’s house.”

“Same thing—same waste of time,” she said with disgust.

“Ma, you don’t know what it’s like,” he said, his whine shifting into higher gear. “Things are different now—harder. There’s all this pressure to do everything, to have a perfect job and a perfect life, but you can’t actually get a job, or it doesn’t pay much, and then you can’t even live on your own, much less own your own house—”

“You’re not living on your own now!”

“Yeah, and a crappy job isn’t going to change that.”

“But at least you’ll be earning some money. And you’ll be getting experience.”

“Minimum wage jobs are a waste of time. I could make more money gaming on YouTube.”

“Are you doing that?”

“No. I don’t have the equipment I need.”

“You talk to your friends through the computer all the time. You can’t record that or something?”

He rolled his eyes. “That’s not the same thing, Ma. I need a good camera and a really good microphone and editing software and some acoustic board to soundproof my room so it doesn’t echo . . . None of that stuff is cheap.”

“People put videos up all the time that they make from their phones. Why can’t you do that?”

“Because it looks and sounds like shit. Gamers expect quality—at least if you want to make any money off of it.”

“Then get a job, make some money, buy your equipment, and then game for a living,” she said with a certain amount of finality.

“I’m thinking about going back to school,” he said, trying to deflect from her unassailable reasoning. He had thought about it, but since he didn’t know what he wanted to study, there didn’t seem to be much point in going.

His mother suddenly glanced at her watch. “I don’t have time to argue with you about this; I need to get to work. Take your brother to school and pick him up. And feed him dinner.”

“Pick him up too?!” he asked with indignation.

“Yes,” she said, before practically slamming his door shut. He could hear her high-heeled shoes clacking rather angrily across the hardwood floor and out the door.

Shiori groaned and flopped back on the bed. He beat the back of his head against his pillow a few times for good measure—not unlike a child kicking its feet during a tantrum.

He just couldn’t make his mother understand how hard things were for young people right now. All of his friends were in the same boat. Some were still in college, but some, like him, had flunked or dropped out. All of them felt the same general malaise and lack of direction in their lives. Even the ones in school didn’t know what they wanted to study, either, so they just took 100-level courses because they were easy.

Shiori fell back asleep without intending to—although, seeing how he had only gotten three hours of sleep, it shouldn’t have been surprising. The next thing he knew, Ryu was standing in his doorway, looking at him scornfully. “Are you taking me to school, or what?”

He jerked awake and looked at the clock.

7:30

Shit, Ryu was supposed to be at school ten-til-eight. If his teacher told Mom that Ryu was tardy—as she had done in the past—Shiori would get the you’re-the-man-of-the-house-set-a-good-example-for-your-brother lecture.

“Yeah, I’m taking you,” Shiori said, rubbing his face.

“We need to go right now, or I’ll be late.”

“Give me a minute.”

Ryu gave him the same disappointed—and faintly disgusted—look that his mother had so recently given him, then he started to turn away.

“Hey, have you eaten breakfast?” Shiori asked.

“Yeah, mom left me something.”

“Good.”

“She knows you won’t feed me,” he said, shutting the door behind him.

Ouch. That stung.

Shiori hung his head. He knew he ought to be a better big brother. Their father had left them and gone back to Japan before Ryu had turned one, so Shiori really was the man of the house—especially as he was ten years older than his little brother. And he wanted to be a better brother it was just . . . hard. He always seemed to be busy doing his own thing and Ryu was still such a little kid, he only wanted to do little kid stuff, like go to the playground or play soccer or something. Boring stuff.

Shiori sighed heavily, then jumped up and grabbed the first pair of jeans and t-shirt he found on the floor. He stuck his sockless feet into a pair of sneakers and shoved his door open. “Okay, let’s go,” he called out, before noticing his brother standing beside the front door, backpack on, lunchbox in hand, waiting on him.

And he still had that disappointed look on his face.

“You have a stain on your shirt,” Ryu said as Shiori walked past.

“Yeah, yeah. It’s dirty. I’m just taking you to school and coming right back.”

“What are you going to do today?” Ryu asked, as he slid into the passenger seat beside Shiroi. He had only recently gotten big enough to dispense with the booster seat and start riding up front. He was small for his age. For that matter, Shiori was barely of average height and a little on the scrawny side.

“I don’t know,” Shiori replied, starting the car. “Well, go back to bed for starters,” he corrected. “I didn’t go to bed until three this morning.”

“Why were you up so late?”

“I got into a good game.”

Ojisan says playing video games is bad for you. It makes you lazy.”

Their mother’s father was old-school Japanese: work long, hard hours, say little, and bring no shame to the family. It was he who had pressured his daughter into marrying the man who would become Shiori’s father. Even though she had been born and raised in America, he wanted her to marry a Japanese man. To marry anyone else would have been shameful in his eyes.

But he didn’t realize that Japan had changed since he had left and there was a new generation of young men who didn’t have the stoicism of their elders. Or maybe the world had just gotten worse to the point that no one could bear it anymore. Whatever the reason, Shiori’s father had avoided life almost as much as his son. When Shiori’s mother became unexpectedly pregnant with Ryu, the pressure to raise and provide for another child was too much and he had soon fled back to Japan. When Shiori occasionally talked to him, he was still drifting along like seaweed on the tide; he had no permanent job or permanent home or plans for the future.

“Yeah, I know Ojisan thinks I’m lazy,” Shiori said with a sigh.

Ryu gave him a look that said that’s because you are, you lazy bastard, then he turned and looked out the window.

Shirori drove as fast as he dared—cops seemed to be frickin’ everywhere—and got Ryu to school with a couple of minutes to spare.

Ryu jumped out of the car, then looked back in for a moment. “Your hair looks really stupid, you know.” Then he slammed the door shut and took off running down the sidewalk, trying to get into the building before the bell rang.

Shiori looked at his reflection in the mirror. He had a big flat spot on the side of his head frozen into place thanks to the hair gel he never washed out.

Ryu was right: it looked really stupid.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he muttered to himself, before he pulled away from the curb and headed back home.

Story Forge – The Anime Spread

While searching for a new anime to watch, I thought about the sort of anime I like the best. First off, I like it to have some element of fantasy—whether that’s a completely fantastical world, a medieval-esque fantasy world, or the real world with some fantasy elements thrown in (either openly or as a secret underworld that’s hidden from regular sight). Secondly, I like action-adventure. Or, to use a more intellectual term, I like the “hero’s journey” story arc. I want there to be a hero or team of heroes who are fighting for good and against evil and I want to see them become stronger and/or better people along the way. Thirdly, I like a romantic story arc that plays out alongside the hero arc. (Me and the rest of Japan, I think; there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of anime that doesn’t involve some level of romance.)

Since I’ve been wanting to write a new story, I decided to go for something in the style of this type of fantasy-adventure-romance anime. But since I didn’t have any idea for a storyline, I pulled out my Story Forge cards (more about plot cards here) and tried a couple of different spreads—neither of which spoke to me.

Then I decided that I needed a new spread. The Hero’s Journey spread suggested in the booklet seemed too long and complicated; it’s more for writing a Lord of the Rings sort of story. And The Love Story spread was too simplistic, since I wanted an action story arc as well as the romantic one. So I devised a new spread.

The Classic Anime Spread

  1. Protagonist at the beginning of the story.
  2. Love interest at the beginning of the story.
  3. The antagonist and/or the problem which must be overcome and/or how the quest begins.
  4. How they meet. (You can move 3 & 4 up if you prefer them to meet before the trouble begins.)
  5. Their initial relationship (i.e. how they interact with one another when they first meet or, if they’ve known each other for a while, where their relationship currently stands).
  6. Their early encounter(s) with the antagonist/quest.
  7. (Optional) What happens to one or both of them after the early encounter.
  8. How the protagonist overcomes his failings and/or changes.
  9. How the love interest overcomes her failings and/or changes (this card optional, depending on how large a roll the love interest plays in the quest).
  10. The wedge in their budding relationship.
  11. How the protagonist and/or love interest saves the day.
  12. How they fix or strengthen their relationship. (You can swap 9 and 10 if you prefer to resolve their relationship issues before finishing the quest, or you can do them at the same time, which is not uncommon in anime plots.)

If you want to draw it out more, you can add additional cards before #11 to detail additional battles or confrontations with the antagonist.

The Spread in Action

Here are the cards I got when I drew for the basic spread:

Boy: The Anithero: The Protagonist may be someone whose goals and values are noble and good, but whose methods for achieving them are questionable.

Girl: The Relative: Whether making soup for the ill or providing a shoulder to cry on, nobody understands or cares like family.

The trouble: The Manipulator: Some do not need a gun to get others to do their bidding. This person’s weapons are flattery, lies, guilt, blackmail, or bullying.

How they meet: Gnosis: A firm understanding of the difference between good and evil allows one to choose with certainty, but one must still make that choice.

Their initial relationship: Madness: Clear thinking breaks down and gives way to hysteria. Can be indicative of either mental illness or damage from psychological trauma.

(I skipped #6 here; it was an addition I came up with after I had already done this spread.)

How the boy changes: Cruelty: Someone is deliberately causing physical or mental suffering. Can represent an act of cruelty, the effect of such abuse, or a person with a sadistic nature.

How the girl changes: The Outcast: Someone who had been previously admired by others is suddenly shunned and must come to terms with being cast out.

The wedge that threatens their relationship: Desire: A fire burns inside, filling one with a deep passion to possess someone or something, even if he or she must surmount substantial obstacles to acquire it.

Relationship Fix: The Crossroads: The path ahead can be chosen with some degree of confidence. At least one of the choices leads to a desired goal. The path which should be taken may be indicated or even obvious.

Quest Resolution: Death: Death by accident or natural causes. This might be an immediate death or current events may be shaped by a death in the past.

The Tentative Plot

After thinking about the cards for a couple of days, a story started to take shape in my mind. I may or may not end up using all the aspects of the cards, or use them quite in the order intended, but that’s okay; they are there to get you inspired, not to chain you down to a formula.

Here is how I have tentatively interpreted what I’ve been given:

Boy: The Anithero. I’m seeing a young man who is less an anti-hero and more of a reluctant hero (at least to start; his decisions later on may turn him into a more classic anti-hero). He is a millennial stuck in the post-modern malaise that grips so many in our society these days. He wouldn’t be adverse to being a hero . . . one day . . . but first he has to motivate to get out of bed.

Girl: The Relative: I could have made her some sort of relative, but for a love story, even distant cousins hooking up are a little icky to most people. So, rather than making her an actual relative, I’m thinking her personality can be be like that of a relative: sympathetic and quick to take care of the protagonist. (This seems to be a common archetype for girls in anime anyway.)

The antagonist: The Manipulator: This is going to be the bad guy. He’s going to be a vampire who uses his supernatural skills to get people to do his bidding.

How they meet: Gnosis: The protagonist and love interest are both going to figure out that something weird is going on and they are going to unite to try and do something about it.

Their initial relationship: Madness: They are not going to experience madness themselves, but they will be pulled together as everyone around them begins to think they are crazy for taking a stand against the vampires. Also, the love interest does have a bit of past trauma (although not to the point that it makes her crazy) that has her keeping the protagonist in a platonic relationship for a while.

How the boy changes: Cruelty: Something is going to happen to him to turn him from a passive beta male into an ass-kicking alpha male. This may also be where he becomes more of a traditional anti-hero by doing the right thing, but in a way that’s not approved of by society.

How the girl changes: The Outcast: The girl speaks out against vampires and finds herself un-personed and de-platformed for having an opinion that goes against the mainstream.

The wedge that threatens their relationship: Desire: I’m not sure how this will play out. It might be that the protagonist desires to take violent action against the vampires, which the girl doesn’t approve of, or it might be that he desires her in a way that scares him and/or her.

Relationship Fix: The Crossroads: Something will happen where both the boy and the girl have to make a choice about whether they are going to pursue their relationship (and under what terms) or go their separate ways. (This may or may not blend into the quest resolution.)

Quest Resolution: Death: This may be an actual death, or it may be the death of the protagonist’s end-goal–as in he gives up on a certain course of action that he has been doggedly pursuing.

So It Begins . . .

I plan on sharing this new story here in installments/episodes. We’ll see what comes of it.

Putting a Toe Back in the Writing Pond

I’ve been thinking lately about doing some writing. I hate to admit it, but it’s been several years now since I have written anything. I do a lot of reading and writing at work and have to keep my brain really engaged all day, so I’ve found that either my brain is tired at the end of the day and I don’t feel like writing, or I’m afraid that if I get involved in a storyline, it will occupy my brain while I’m at work and need to be applying it to complicated legal matters. (Because when I’m in writing mode, the story is all I ever think about.)

But it’s been 3 months since my husband passed away and I think I’m starting to enter a depression phase. I’m not depressed to the point I can’t get out of bed and go to work—in fact, I prefer to go to work than stay home because I want some social interaction—but I do find myself completely unmotivated to do anything outside what’s necessary for basic survival. So yes to bathing and eating and going to work, but no to cleaning and cooking and gardening. And my house seriously needs some cleaning. Before my trip to Gulf Wars a few weeks ago, my dog found the paper towels I had laid out to pack and she tore them up.

Four rolls of them.

So, yeah, you can imagine what the state of my floors is like. I didn’t have time to clean up the mess while I was in the middle of packing, but I haven’t motivated to clean it up since, either.

I’ve been watching some new anime on Netflix the past few weeks, and whether it’s while reading a book or watching anime, I like getting immersed in another world. And right now, I really feel the need to be in another world for a while.

J. K. Rowling is someone who has obviously experienced the death of someone close to her, because she always describes it so well when Harry experiences a loss. After the death of Sirius, Harry doesn’t know what to do with himself; he doesn’t want to be alone, but neither does he want to be with his friends. It’s Luna he ends up making a connection with when he finds out that she too witnessed the death of someone she loved. Later, during the battle for Hogwarts, Harry goes into the Pensieve because he wanted to be somewhere else—anywhere else—but in his own mind and his own reality.

That’s kind of what I’m feeling now.

So I’ve been thinking about doing some writing. Yeah, I can read a book or watch more anime, but those never last very long—or, at least, long enough. Then I’m left with that disjointed feeling of being back in the real world and sad that the world that I was in is gone, and then I have to try and find something else that will give me another world.

Writing, by the fact that it takes longer to do than reading or watching something, and the fact that I can make something go on for as long as I want, is a world I can get into for longer. So I think I’m going to write something new.

Now, I know some people are going to ask why start something new instead of finishing something I’ve already started? Well, everything I’ve started has a sequel lying in pieces like a stolen car in a chop shop. The idea of going through the editing process to put all of the pieces back together and polish them up and proofread and get ready for publication . . . that’s more than I can handle at the moment. I want to write for fun, but editing is work. Hence why I’m seeking something new. I just want something to take my mind off things for a while. And then, maybe once I feel like I’m back in the groove, I will feel like tackling editing one of my sequels (and also maybe picking up all the paper towel fluff in the floor).

Making a (Adult) Playhouse – Part 1

I’ve been watching videos for some time on people camping in non-traditional tents and building everything from simple overnight survival shelters to semi-permanent shelters (or even entire compounds) for weekend camping.

Having done medieval reenacting for 16 years now, I am well acquainted with living in a tent without electricity, running water, etc. (although never as completely off-the-grid as the people in the videos). Provided the weather’s not too God-awful, it’s even fun.

But I keep looking at people building survival shelters and I think to myself, “That looks like fun.” I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I was constantly building houses for myself from grass clippings (more of a floor plan than a house, really) or making them under trees or bushes.

I have also hit a crossroads in that I want to continue to do reenacting (at least I think I do), but not in the SCA. Watching shows like Tudor Monastery Farm make me Jones for a place to do really immersive reenacting, but there aren’t any medieval living history museums like that anywhere near me.

So I’ve been thinking about combining those two things and making myself some sort of medievalish shelter that I could camp in on the weekends–maybe even invite some friends over to also camp and/or build their own house.

Building even one semi-permanent structure, however, is no small task. And I admit I haven’t decided how I want to make it yet. I’ve thought about everything from a lazy man’s log cabin (simple and relatively fast to build, but not terribly medieval unless you’re in early-period Scandinavia) . . .

to a wattle and daub structure (very period) . . .

to a pallet shed that I could cover in daub (would look the same as a proper one, but much less time-consuming to make; probably would last longer, too).

But, before I can build anything, I have to have a place to build. I have woods surrounding my house. On one side, they are either quite open (which means you can see the house and garage easily when you are in them), or they’re a tangled mess of undergrowth, meaning a lot of work to prep them. On the other side, however, once you get through the undergrowth that grows on the transition line between the yard and the woods, the woods are generally cleaner and easier to get through–i.e. less to have to clean up to make usable spots.

I had one spot picked out as a likely place to put a small shelter; it was near the house, but the woods were thick enough that you could barely see the house in the wintertime and not at all in the summer. Then, the other day, I took a walk down the property line almost all the way to the creek at the other end and I found a different location that had interesting trees and a bit more space (also, the ground was a bit more level). A deer trail from there popped me out just above the lower pond. You can partially see the neighbor’s house from the new location, but won’t be able to see it once the trees leaf out.

Soon mosquito season will be here, and if it continues to be wet like it has been all winter (and like it was the last two summers), I will not be able to do anything outside during the summer. I have flood zones in the yard that I affectionately call the “upper pond” and the “lower pond.” I am hoping to get them dug out and turned into proper ponds this summer so that I can control the mosquitoes, but right now, both areas are just a mosquito-breeding swamp. And those feckers are numerous and aggressive. You can coat yourself with Deep Woods Off! and you will still get accosted by two types of mosquitoes: the ones who say “You didn’t spray your eyeballs or inside your ears!” and the ones who land where you just sprayed and say, “Ooh, I like ’em spicy!” So, unless we have a dry summer that keeps my yard from becoming a mosquito-breeding haven, I can’t really work on this project until fall comes around and kills off the mosquitoes. At that point, I will have the fall and winter (weather permitting) to work on building my shelter-house.

In the meantime, though, I’ve decided that I can at least make a good trail to the camp site. Personally, I don’t like getting eat-up by briars all the time, and I need a clear path for bringing in building materials, too (which I will have to do regardless of what style I choose; not everything I need is right there in reach).

The weather here has been fairly pleasantly cool (highs in the 60’s) and sunny all week. We have had so much rain this winter that I feel starved for sunlight. (I know now why Seattle has such a high suicide rate; the constant rain and gloom is beyond miserable.) So yesterday evening, after I got home from work, I walked down to the spot where I had come out of the woods on my previous trip and I started to clear a path in.

This is where I started.

I feel like I made good progress in the 45-60 minutes I worked on it before I started to lose the light (and get hungry).

If you are wondering what that white thing is, it’s a water spigot. There are random water spigots all over the property, probably from back when it was a day lily farm. This one is in an advanced state of deterioration; I think I could just break it off with my bare hands. I am unsure where the water main to these is located, but all of them seem to be cut off at the source. Still, I’m leery of messing with them.

I had three main things I had to contend with: briars (both blackberry and cat/saw briars), honeysuckle vines, and privet. When I was cutting out the edge, where the undergrowth meets the yard, I had a lot of material, but no good place to put it because everything around me was just a tangled mess. So I took advantage of some privet trees that I was leaving in place and I made myself a little living hedge fence.

I feel like that gives it a bit of a medieval feel. Come right this way; a medieval experience awaits you down this wooded lane.

Black Girl in a Big Dress

The Struggle is Real

Reenactor types (and people who just think the concept of reenacting is interesting or weird in a fascinating way), you need to make sure you watch the original series Black Girl in a Big Dress, an independent production on YouTube.

And even if you don’t have any interest in history or reenacting, you should still watch it because it’s funny. If you don’t relate to Adrienne because you are some type of nerd who doesn’t fit in with “normal” (aka “mundane”) people, then you are probably someone who knows someone like this.

Show the series some love. It deserves way more view and subscribers than it currently has; it should be viral by now.

Also, Season Two is imminent!

 

Medieval Fruit Chutney

The Tale of the Apples

Stuart bought a bag of small apples sometime before he went into the hospital (so over 2 months ago), and they stayed in the fridge until the compressor went out. (That’s a saga for another day.) They were dutifully moved into the cooler on the porch, where they lived, sometimes partially submerged in water, for 2 weeks until some coworkers came over and got my new fridge pushed through the sunroom window. (I told you it was quite a saga.)

While putting things into the new fridge, I gave them a look over and decided that either they needed to be used immediately, or the whole bag thrown out.

I hated the idea of wasting an entire bag (3 lbs, I think) of apples, but the reason why I hadn’t touched them in the past two months is, although I like apples, apples in their raw form don’t like me back. And with my stomach in a fairly perpetual state of upset over the last month or so from stress, I didn’t need to add to the problem.

My mother–who stayed with me lat week–suggested cooking and freezing them to use as topping for pancakes, waffles, toast, etc. But she went back home before we had a chance to process them and I didn’t know what she did to them as far as flavoring went.

So I started going through our historical cookbooks, looking for something to do with 3 pounds of apples.

Improve at the Kitchen

Most people want to turn apples into pies or fritters or something else that involves making pastry dough (which I had no interest in doing). Or they call for an apple to be used in a meat dish or something similar. (I had way too many apples for that.) Finally, though, I found a recipe for a medieval fruit chutney that called for apples.

Or, rather, an apple. But it also called for a pear, 2 cups of cherries, and 1/2 cup of currants.

That’s totally the same as 3 pounds of apples.

When I first met Stuart, I was very much a cooking novice. “Cooking” involved following the instructions on the back of a box or bagged frozen meal. The first time I was in his kitchen, helping with food prep, I had to ask him how to dice an onion.

That was nearly 16 years ago. Since then, I’ve not only helped process 30 pounds of onions–including 5 pounds finely minced–by hand in a single morning, but I’ve learned how to venture off script when it comes to cooking.

Mind you, I’m not at Stuart’s level (yet). He had quite a talent for going to the pantry, picking out a handful of seemingly-random ingredients, and turning them into a meal. Unless it’s something I’ve cooked enough times to remember it off the top of my head, I have to start with a recipe. I need that to point me in the right direction when it comes to spices and what ratio those spices should be in.

But the rest of the recipe is more like a guideline. Occasionally I follow them exactly, but most of the time I don’t. First off, if there’s anything I don’t like, it gets tossed. So we can just skip any lines calling for things like mushrooms or capers. (Although, to be honest, I don’t know if I do or don’t like capers; Stuart never liked them, so we never used them.)

Secondly, it’s usually inevitable that I don’t have a necessary ingredient. Depending on what it is, it either gets skipped or substituted. Some substitutions I make on intuition (I have watered down sour cream to substitute for milk before and it worked fine), but others I look up online.

Ad Libbing the Chutney

First up was dicing all the apples. The cores and any bad spots were cut out and went into my worm bin. (More on the worms another day.)

Sour Grapes Over a Lack of Vinegar

The recipe called for using a white wine or champagne vinegar. I don’t drink and Stuart drank very rarely, so booze is usually not available at our house. (Or, if it is, it’s scotch, which isn’t exactly a cooking alcohol.) When I was the one staying home and doing the cooking while Stuart worked, I built up a collection of booze alternatives. I had a variety of vinegars, plus fruit juice in single-serving containers. (A large jug of fruit juice would go bad long before I used it all; the single-serve drinks kept for much, much longer.) So, if something called for red wine, I could use a red wine vinegar or grape juice, depending on whether I thought the dish would be better tarter or sweeter. White wine vinegar or white grape juice substituted for white wine. And apple juice substituted for liquors, like brandy.

But when I went to the cabinet to get some white wine vinegar, I found we didn’t have any. In fact, we were practically out of all vinegars and were definitely out of all fruit juices.

This is why I keep a shopping list on the fridge door, and as things get low or run out, I write it down on the list immediately. Because otherwise, you never remember to replace weird stuff like wine vinegars the next time you go to the grocery store. (I have since put them on my shopping list and have restocked the collection.)

My options for this dish were rice vinegar (what I use if an Asian recipe calls for sake), malt vinegar (what I would probably use to substitute for beer), and apple cider vinegar.

Apple cider vinegar seemed like the most logical choice to pair with apples.

What Happened to My Stash???

I put the apple cider vinegar in a bowl and, as I cut up apples, I tossed them in the vinegar. Apples brown when exposed to air, and I knew that lemon juice (specifically the acid in it) is used to keep them from turning, so I figured vinegar would work the same. It did; my apples didn’t brown.

. . . At least right up to the point that I cooked them in honey and spices.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The actual name of the recipe I was loosely using is “Last of the Harvest Chutney.” Its intent is to use up whatever odd and end pieces of fruit you have. This works either in the spring, when you have a small selection of last year’s fruits still available in storage–not enough of any one thing to be useful, but enough in the aggregate–or you can use it in the fall when you have some leftover pieces that are too bruised to go into storage or weren’t quite enough to make one more batch of jelly.

That being said, I didn’t want this to be nothing but an apple chutney. So I decided to use up whatever dried fruits we have in the cabinet.

. . . We were out of dried fruit. No figs. No raisins. No cherries. No apple rings. (Not that I needed any more apples, but I still expected to find some.)

This is something else I usually kept stocked because you never know when you want to make some medieval meat, and medieval meat almost always calls for fruit.

Finally, in the top of the cabinet, I found a bag of prunes. I have no need to eat prunes out of hand, so this seemed like a good place to use some.

Then I remembered the fruit tray someone had brought over a few days previously. That definitely needed to be used before it went bad (I don’t usually eat fruit medleys, mainly for the same reason I don’t eat raw apples). So I pulled it out of the fridge and started sorting it. All the melons and pineapple stayed in the tray (they’re not complimentary tastes to a medieval fruit chutney, in my opinion), but the strawberries and blueberries went in with the apples. (The few remaining grapes, however, went into me; they were good and sweet.)

Lastly, I tossed in a bag of cashew pieces. The recipe didn’t call for nuts, but chutneys can have nuts in them, I like the crunch, and I’m not going to eat a bag of nothing but cashews, so why not use them?

The thing that really makes this chutney a medieval recipe isn’t the flavor profile (although that’s certainly a part of it), but rather the fact that it’s cobbled together from a bunch of semi-random leftover things salvaged before they go bad. Be they pies, pottages, or frumenties, medieval dishes were all about using what you had on hand and wasting nothing.

The Shortages Continue

Once my fruits were assembled, I started in on the spices. I had ginger, cloves, and cinnamon–no problem.

I can’t tell you how many years I waited for this setup, which allows me to store all the spices alphabetically.

But when I went to the cupboard for brown sugar . . . no brown sugar. Stuart must have used up the last of it making brine when he smoked meat last.

You can “make” brown sugar by combining regular sugar with molasses. Which I had. . . . Two days previously. But when I was migrating things from the cooler into the new fridge, I got rid of the jar, thinking I had no use for a small amount of super-hard molasses.

Yeah, that one was all on me.

But, I soldiered on with regular sugar.

Old Honey Renewed

The recipe actually starts on the stove with 1/2 cup of honey. (Which I doubled, since I guesstimated that I had twice the amount of fruit the original called for.)

Honey was one of the few things I had. But it was not as easy as just dumping some in. No, we couldn’t have that.

We had a honey bear that was old and the honey in it had gone hard. But hard honey can be liquefied again if you just heat it up. So, while I was still cutting up fruit, I put the container in a pot of water and let it warm up.

Even if you don’t have hard honey, you should strongly consider heating up honey first if you need more than a spoonful or two of it; warm honey pours like olive oil, which makes it a lot easier (and faster) to fill a cup.

Now We’re Cooking With (Electric) Gas

Once my myriad of substitutions were completed, the actual cooking went really fast. I added all the fruit to the simmering honey and let it cook on medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring it occasionally.

As you can see, my careful vinegaring of the apples was all for nought; the combination of honey and spices and cooking turned them brown anyway. (After the mixture cooled, it became even darker, turning rather purple.)

Despite all of the sugar and honey and fruit, it came out surprisingly tart. But it’s tart like a dried cherry; there’s an underlying sweetness that you taste after the initial tartness.

A friend of mine who is an excellent medieval cook tried a bite and declared it to be very good. So I have that as a bragging right.

Conclusion

Now that I have a large pot of medieval fruit chutney, you might well ask, “What are you going to do with it?”

To me, medieval fruit begs to be put on meat.

Normally, I would pair apples with pork, but 1) I don’t eat pork any more and 2) this is much tarter than apples normally are. Like I said, it tastes more like a cherry than apples. Cherries pair well with beef (sweet and sour also goes well with venison and, I assume, any other red meat), but chicken was to hand, so it’s what I used.

The one thing you don’t want to do is put too many things together that are just alike. So, to contrast with the sweetish flavor of the fruit, I decided to make the meat savory.

I thawed a package of chicken breasts and butterflied them and then flattened them with a mallet because it was 8:00 PM by that point and I didn’t have all night to wait for them to cook.

I put some vegetable oil in the bottom of a baking pan (I meant to use olive oil, but forgot and just used the first thing I got out of the cabinet) and dredged the chicken in it as I tetrised all the pieces in. Then I sprinkled them with thyme, basil, and savory until they looked sufficiently coated and popped them into the oven for 30 minutes. I had no recipe for the chicken at all, so I was totally guessing about the time. But after 30 minutes, I cut into the chicken and found it done.

I heated up a can of potatoes, added butter and sour cream to them, and cut a chunk of cheddar cheese. I put everything on the plate, added the chutney on top of the chicken and devoured it so quickly, I didn’t get a picture of it. Suffice to say, it was really, really good.

Stuart would be proud of me cooking so far off script.

Now, to learn to cook over an open fire.

Post-Script

When I ate leftovers the following day, I found that the chutney had mellowed somewhat and was not as tart. It still, however, tastes more like cherries than apples.

Next up: Using it on steaks.

Bringing Back the Blogging

I know I’ve said it before, then immediately fell off the bandwagon, but I’m going to start blogging again.

Most of the reason why I haven’t been blogging is because I haven’t been writing anything at all. That’s partly due to the fact that I’m busy with other things when I get home, and partly due–I think–to the fact that I have a very mentally-taxing job. When I get home in the evening, I honestly feel like my brain is tired. Not only that, but when I’m excited about writing (or anything, for that matter), it’s all I think about; I can’t seem to turn off my thoughts. And that makes it hard for me to focus on my work, which requires a lot of concentration. Unfortunately for me, I can’t compartmentalize my life and just do certain things at certain times of the day; if I turn on writing mode, I’m writing in my head all day long. So, even if unconsciously, I’ve been avoiding turning on writing mode just so I can get work done at work.

But I am at the point now where I have to bring the blogging back. I started a while back extracting myself from Facebook. Personally, I don’t like the idea that they have a dossier on me and they not only keep a record of everything I post on Facebook, but they also use algorithms to guess at what type of person I am and what I’m likely to do based on what I’ve posted. Then there’s the tracking you around the rest of the internet and adding all of that information to your dossier and using that information to get an even clearer picture about who you are. I mean, it’s getting to the point that Facebook, Google, and Amazon will know what you are going to do before you do. And I just find that creepy.

While I’m still posting (some) personal information here, obviously, I don’t think that WordPress keeps a secret dossier on me or tracks me around the internet or sells every scrap of information or conjecture about me to a third party for marketing (or other) purposes. I feel like I have a bit better control over what people know about me.

Also, my blog and the comments on it are not full of politics like damn-near every post on Facebook these days. Even before all of Facebook’s creepy data compiling/selling secrets got leaked, I had pretty well quit using it because the posts that didn’t bore me made me angry and I had trouble keeping myself from not commenting on them. Because I know no matter how nicely and logically you point out the flaws in someone’s political stance, you are not going to change their mind. But you will wind up with one less friend. I just find it easier to ignore everyone’s political leanings so I don’t think less of them and not share mine publicly so they don’t think less of me.

Oddly enough, that’s the historical way of interacting socially. The #1 rule of polite conversation used to be to never bring up politics, sex, or religion. You can talk about anything else, but not those three things.

Wish we would go back to that.

Anyway, I plan on using my blog as a way of staying in touch with friends and family who otherwise might not know what’s going on with me since I no longer post to Facebook.

And that’s even more important now than ever. My husband passed away the 28th of December. While I don’t live a really long way from friends and family, I’m not right around the corner, either. For most of my local friends and family, I’m an hour to an hour and half away. So I’m going to be on my own a lot and people are going to want to know that I’m doing okay.

And “doing” is the operative word. I have to keep busy all day, every day. I have to have plans and goals. It’s a form of swimming. To stop being busy is to sink and drown.