Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Tasty Spiced Sourdough Bread

Recently I made a sourdough starter (which is really not as scary as you might think!). While I used it a few times, I don't bake very regularly and I was finding that I was wasting a lot of flour just keeping my sourdough alive and well but not using it. So on Sunday I thought, I'll just use it all up now and then maybe I'll restart it another time if I decide to do more baking. Because there was so much starter I was a bit worried it would taste too sour, so I decided to get into the Easter spirit and make a spiced loaf - kind of like hot cross buns, but lazier. The resulting bread was so delicious that I'm kinda regretting using up all my starter!

Here's how I did it (I didn't use any measurements but I'll try to approximate).
  1. I used all my white flour starter, about two cups, and added the rest of my white flour, again about two cups. Then I added water to bring it to a nice consistency. 
  2. I mixed it all up and left it overnight with a sheet of baking paper over the top.
  3. The next day it was pretty pungent! I preheated my oven to 190 degrees Celsius (375 Farenheit). 
  4. Then I added approx. a capful of apple cider vinegar, a generous pinch of bicarbonate soda, and about a tablespoon of brown sugar and I mixed it in.
  5. Then it was time for the spices! I added lots of allspice (probably a couple of teaspoons), and a little ground cinnamon, ground cloves and ground ginger. I think it would have been nicer if I'd added a little more ginger - I only put in a tiny pinch. Nutmeg would probably be a nice addition as well.
  6. I mixed this all in until the dough had a nice stretchy consistency. Then I lined a small crockpot with baking paper (you might want to use grease if you don't want to eat little bits of paper stuck to your bread!) and whacked it all in!
  7. As I put it in the oven (this is one of the best breadbaking tips I've ever had, by the way) I tipped about a half cup of water into the tray so that there was steam everywhere. This gives the bread a really good crust.
  8. Then I just left it in there for about an hour. Then I had to go somewhere and it wasn't quite done, so I turned the heat up to maximum for ten minutes, then turned the oven off and left the house with the bread still in there. 
  9. When I got home it was still a bit warm, so I had some with butter and honey, and it was divine! If you want to keep it vegan, I'd suggest a coconut spread like Nuttelex with maple or agave syrup. Delicious! 

I think the things that really made this recipe amazing were: the rise/texture of the dough, which I attribute mostly to the  apple cider vinegar/baking soda addition; the flavour, which was a combination of the sourdough starter and the spices; and the crust, which was partly because of the steam in step 7 and I suspect partly because of the extra high temperature blast I gave it in step 8.

If you give this a go, please let me know! I'd love to hear all about it :)

P.S. Here are some more cool links about bread I found while googling around!


Sunday, 30 October 2016

Fantasy world building: Calendars and time.

I'm working on a fantasy type book set in an alternate earth. I thought I'd start documenting the things I have to develop and research with some questions that need to be answered. As I wrote this blog I actually found it clarified my thinking a lot. I hope it helps you too!

Today's topic is developing a system of time for your cultural group.

The first thing to think about is the basic physics and astronomy of the world: How much like Earth is your world? Is it the same, like mine? Or is it on another type of planet? How many suns are there? How many moons are there? How long are the night and day? How strong is the gravity of the world? What about of the sun and moons? How long are the seasons and how strong are they?
  • My story is set on Earth, so I am modelling my time system on our reality and how humans have done it which makes it easy for me!
  • If your world is substantially different from earth you will probably want to do some research about basic physics so that you can create a realistic system.
The next question is all about natural context: Where do your characters live? What natural phenomena define their lives? What would be important to them to recognise and track about the world?
  • My characters are perfectly adapted to living on the seashore and so I am creating a daily pattern of time based on the tides. 
  • I have decided to give them a lunisolar calendar with a period of uncounted time at the end of it to make up for the time gap between the lunar year and the solar year (the seasons).
  • I'm going to give them a natural ocean phenomenon that marks their new year and ends the uncounted time, but I haven't decided what yet. I know it will be the appearance of some kind of animal - I'm thinking maybe whales, or the mating/beaching of sea lions, or something like this.
  • I live in Western Australia, so I am probably going to model the seasons on the traditional seasons here, so they will have six seasons.
This naturally bleeds into cultural questions: How significant is the passage of time for your characters? Is day and night important to them? How precise do they need/want to be regarding time? What is the smallest unit of their time? Is it a second? Minute? Day? Do they have weeks? What is the most important for them - days, months, seasons, or something else? What special celebrations do they have? Do they have holy periods of time? (human examples are Ramadan, Easter, Diwali etc.). How long are these periods of time and how do they mark them? How will their basic beliefs about where they came from etc. (e.g. their religion) influence the way time is viewed?
  • My characters worship the Moon Mother and so their basic units are the tides, the phases of the moon (months), as well as the seasons (the year).
  • They have regular lunar based celebrations. At the moment I'm thinking every new moon they will stay up all night and keep a vigil - so basically a once a month all night party.
  • The above mentioned uncounted time before the annual (insert mass marine phenomenon here) will be another holy time for them.
  • My characters also have a well defined political system with an annual large gathering of representatives. This will feature in their calendar as well.
Next you will need to think about the character's level of technological advancement: On a spectrum from characters who haven't even got around to inventing fire yet, to characters who can harness dark energy and have space ships that go faster than light - where are yours? Given that, how will they measure time? You may need to rework some of your earlier decisions at this point. For example, have you decided that your characters measure time in seconds, but now you're thinking they might not have any clocks? Or maybe you decided on a very rough scale of time, but now you think they have technology that might require a keener sense of time?
  • My characters have a low level of technology. They measure time by what is happening in the natural world, not by time keeping devices. So their general sense of time will be very broad. That means they won't be able to say things like "I'll just be five minutes." I'll have to come up with some other expression to get that across.
  • Different seasons will be time for them to eat different food, migrate up or down the coast, or get things ready for a later time - maybe like ensuring they have warm clothes for a colder season.
 Lastly, you might want to think about names: If your characters basically have the same time system as you do, you can just stick with regular names if you want. This might make it easier for your readers to understand. If you want things to be substantially different, you might have to make up new terms. Then you will need to think about how you will explain those terms to your reader - will there be an appendix, or will you insert it into the text somehow? This can interfere with good story flow so it can be tricky! What about the names of the special or holy days? Month names? Season names?
  • I'm still deciding on this stuff. I will eventually come up with a full calendar for them to help me keep track of the timeline, but for now I am adding detail as I need to.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Book Review - Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb

I've just finished book one of the Soldier Son trilogy - coming a bit late to the party, I know - and I thought I'd share a few thoughts as I've read several negative reviews from people who have read other Hobb books before. I never have, so I came to this book without any expectations. And I really liked it! Here are some thoughts:

  • Admittedly I found this book a little slow in parts, but there were enough exciting scenes scattered throughout to well and truly hold my interest. I was reading it on the bus on the way home at one point, and when my stop came I didn't want to stop reading even long enough for the walk home, so I sat in a tree and finished the chapter. At the climax of the book I couldn't stop reading, it was so gripping.  
  • Many reviewers have pointed out that the setting of this book feels like 19th century America. As an Australian some of the scenery - the dusty arid plains and the small-leaved plants - feel quite familiar to me as well. It's definitely a refreshing setting when most magical fantasies are set in a medieval European type of world.
  • However, the class struggles felt very English to me. The systemetised school bullying reminded me of JK Rowling's  Harry Potter series, Roald Dahl's Boy, and even William Golding's Lord of the Flies. The class system Hobb set up for her world was fascinating and realistic - that the injustice of it infuriated me at times is a mark in favour of her fantastic writing.
  • The point of view character, Nevare, was well characterised and easy to root for. He has a drastically different worldview from me (apart from the monotheism, I suppose!), and many of his views are quite offensive - although entirely proper from the perspective of his society. He also makes some infuriatingly bad decisions. But for all that, you can see he has a great heart, and even in his bad decisions, he is mostly trying to follow his honour and do what is right. He allows himself to be wrong and doesn't hold any false illusions about himself, whether good or bad. He was very realistically drawn for someone in his world, with his background, and of his age.
  • Lovely long denouement which felt like a sigh of relief after the tension of the climax. I really enjoyed that all the loose ends were tied up and we got plenty of time to savour the victory of justice.
  • Some interesting themes around interaction between original inhabitants and invading forces - again, a struggle ingrained in the history of both the US and Australia. We see it mostly from the invaders perspective but we also catch glimpses of the other side, and hints that Nevare's opinion on things might slowly change. It was nicely ambiguous, as well - up until nearly the end, I didn't know whether Nevare's native friend, who part of his soul lives with in a spirit world, was meant to be someone I was rooting for or not. 
  • I felt a bit bashed over the head with some of the environmental and also feminist messages, but I think they're important so I can see why Hobb wanted to put them in there.
  • All in all, a fantastic book! Looking forward to the next one. 4/5 stars. :D

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Good News!

So I've just recently come to a deeper understanding of the gospel after reading Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd, and after reading Mark 1:1-14 at church this morning. 
We all had questions and comments about it, and the one that struck me was in verse 15, Jesus says "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent, and the believe in the good news." (btw, the bolding is mine in all the bible quotes in this post - I think that's the done thing to say it, even though it seems obvious).
Why did I bold those bits? Well, 1.) Note the present tense; and 2.) Jesus was bringing good news.

This might not strike you as odd, after all Christians are always banging on about the good news. But what do we usually say the good news is? Well, it's that Jesus died and rose again for our sins. But the thing that struck me today is that Jesus is already talking about the good news and saying that Kingdom is already here at the start of His ministry.

Think about that. He hadn't actually done any of that stuff yet. He hadn't even really started preaching. He hadn't done any miracles, let alone dying and rising.

So what's the good news?

Obviously, Jesus death and resurrection is a huge part of the good news. But there must be more! Otherwise Jesus couldn't have been preaching it yet. And I think a clue is in this passage from Luke:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus later admitted (rather obliquely, it's true) to being the Messiah of God. The Emmanuel - the God-With-Us.
So perhaps THAT was His good news from the start. The Messiah is here - God is finally right here with you, and I'm instituting my reign among you. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

What does that mean? That's where the Isaiah passage comes in. The Kingdom of God means liberty for those who are oppressed, sight for the blind (or full inclusion into the community, which is really what it's about, I suspect), the favour of the Lord, the releif of the poor. Mary's song upon her conception Jesus fleshes this out more as well - the hungry receive food, the naked are clothed, and wicked despots are deposed.

In other words, the Kingdom of God is here now and it's AWESOME. This is a Kingdom totally opposite to the world's power structures. It's a kingdom of peace, justice, inclusion, love and righteousness.

If this really is the good news, then the death and resurrection of Jesus is kind of the logical extension. Since Jesus, rather than joining with the world's power structures, opposed them, His death is not a huge surprise. In His death, he did two remarkable things (most likely more, but these are what I'm thinking about today):
1.) He defied the world's power structures, hierarchies and social constructs that lead to suffering (i.e. sin); and
2.) He joined with us fully in our humanity by experiencing the fullness of a human life.

When He rose again, He was vindicated as the Messiah, and He also:
1.) Defeated the world's structures and overcame them with his more powerful way of self-sacrifical love; and
2.) Brought us into His divinity so that we might share in the mutually loving relationship between the members of the Godhead (indwelling).

And then He left the church on earth to be His body. That means that God's Kingdom is still here because it's working through His church, via the Holy Spirit. We are God's temple (we also talked about how the temple in Revelation is actually the church, and it's a revelation about the spiritual reality of what is happening right now on earth). Since God's Kingdom is here now, when we preach the good news, we are telling people that God's justice, righteousness, peace, inclusion is available right now. Further more, this is now the new reality.

Terrible structures that keep minority groups down are now vestiges of a past that must crumble. I heard on the radio that 40 percent of disabled people in Australia live in poverty. The systems that cause this and other systemic oppression (like racism or sexism) are not a part of God's Kingdom. Since God's Kingdom is here now, they cannot last forever. The King has come and He will put them to rest.

Dictatorships, murder, war and systemic oppression are an outdated mode of living and governing. God's Kingdom is here now. The King has come, and His way will prevail.

Good News, everyone!