January 11th

I’ve had a lovely Occupation Therapist here for the last hour discussing my ME. I now get to partake in a seven week workshop on the issue (only 2 hours per week). That’s the most I’ve discussed my diagnosis since it was diagnosed in the middle of last year. The asperger part of me is dreading these group sessions, the writer part of me is excited.

Talking of writing, I’ve been doing some. There’s a flash piece for a CODEX competition, and a longer story I’m working on for a call by Afrocentric for their Afromyth anthology call. I submitted to the Afrofuture anthology and my story is on hold with them until the call is closed and final decisions on inclusion are made. I was also invited to submit to the Afromyth and Afrosteam calls.

This was most heartening. The story on hold is about a Nigerian-American woman in a round the world yacht race (time travel & whaling ships also appear). The anthologist is, coincidentally, a Nigerian-American woman. To have written a story she’s decided to hold for final consideration makes me immensely proud. It means I, to a worthwhile degree, have managed to write a character other than myself. I hope it wasn’t a one-time deal.

In other writing related news I’ve set up spreadsheets to track my writing and submissions for the year, and set myself goals for both. I’m currently tracking for submissions, and about 1700 words down on writing, though the ME has been bad and the concomitant brain fog has combined with self-doubt and starting-a-new-project fear to slow things down. I think I’m seeing a form for the Afromyth story, I’m currently trying to wrestle the idea into shape, and hopefully this will shift the logjam.

One of the ways I’m doing this is by using a writing formula. That sounds kind of dry and boring, but it seems to help. I first used it on a story that is currently finished, and being studiously ignored for a month or so. Under a provisional title of Stormville and the Coup (sword & sorcery in a Conanesque manner) the story started with an opening paragraph written about eighteen months ago, and then forgotten about. When I re-read the fragment I really liked it, but wasn’t sure what to do with it so on a piece of paper I wrote:

Introduction

1st reversal

small victory

2nd reversal

denouement

twist

Then in each section I wrote a rough idea for what should happen. The finished story does not follow that plan exactly, indeed the nature of the MC changed from the start of writing to the finish to the extent that I had to do a re-write to consolidate her. But the main thing is this gave the story a structure for me to follow and, I think, I’ll be using it more. One thing I found is this gave me a story of about 10k words, and could easily have been more. I think a 5-7k story will need a tweaked version.

Now, time to go make Cornish Pasties with my daughter.

November 12

#CoverForSix

Apart from writing I love cooking. I’ve done it as a job, at a low level, and several times thought about pursuing it as a career – I didn’t, thankfully.

I love watching cookery programs, and trying out recipes from them. But more than the recipes are the techniques I’ve learnt. My two favorite shows are The Great British Menu, and Masterchef: The Professionals. I’ve learnt loads from watching these shows (I’d put my raspberry & chocolate ganache tart in sweet almond pastry up against Michel Roux Jr’s).

Cooking in a home kitchen, without access to the tools, gadgets, and gizmos a pro chef has is a challenge, but it’s worth the effort to keep pushing.

When we moved, a year ago, one of the compromises made was on the kitchen. The current house has a narrow galley kitchen, without a lot of workspace. While we’ve had friends over for meals I haven’t had chance to stretch my chefy tendencies and prepare a proper extravaganza.

On one our friends has a suitable kitchen. I expressed my appreciation for the workspace, including a nice five ring gas hob and double oven at a raised level. My friend declared her lack of cooking prowess, and offered me free use anytime I wished. We came to an agreement where I’d cook, she’d host. Tonight was the night.

We coordinated to ensure the menu could be enjoyed by all six partaking which led to some changes. One guest has an allergy to dairy, so ice-cream was removed form the dessert. One hates bones, so I decided on scallops for the fish course to ensure bones would be no issue.

The final menu was:

Starter:  Satay Chicken, Peanut Sauce, Pickled Cucumber – Drink: Asahi lagermeal1starter

Fish Course: Scallops, Samphire, Pickled Heritage Carrot, Oyster Consommé. Drink: Chablis.

meal1fish

Main: Cocoa rolled Beef, Celeriac Puree, Parsnip, Carrot, Potato Fondant, & Pea Puree. Drink: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Meal1Main.jpg

Dessert: Filo wrapped Cookie Dough & Dark Chocolate Ganache with Cherry & Amaretto Sauce. Drink: Dessert wine my friend had.

Meal1Dessert.jpg

Having done this once, I’ll do it again. I may even do it as a paying sideline. But I will change some things. Mainly, I’ll use my own dinnerware, and cutlery, and serviettes. I also need to work on presentation, these were adequate, but clumsy and gauche.

For the menu I need to give due credit. The Satay Chicken recipe is almost entirely Sally Abé’s. The dessert is Ina Garten’s and comes from an old Barefoot Contessa episode so old, it’s not listed on the Food Network website. The idea of coating the beef in cocoa also came from a show, I just can’t remember which one.

But not all the ideas are filched. I pickled my own baby cucumbers, same with the heritage carrots – they are amazing, I used raspberry vinegar and it gives a really subtle sweetness.

My biggest brag is the oyster consommé. I looked for a recipe, but could not find one. Oyster soup recipes seemed to either contain cream, or be little more than oysters and a few veg in hot water. The first attempt, earlier in the week, gave a thin overly vegetable flavored water. In the end I diced heritage carrot and shallot and marinated them with mussels, prawns, and squid in rice wine, fish sauce, my secret special salt, and pepper. To make the consommé I used 9 fresh oysters and their liquor, the marinated mix, 3/4 a bottle of Pinot Grigio, and 1/4 a bottle of water. The gamble was cooking these together from the start, instead of cooking the main ingredients in a little oil. It worked. When drained, and put through a cloth, I was left with a richly flavored, clear consommé. The purple color from the heritage carrots adds a lovely extra visual element to the dish, and complements the pickled carrot.

Another winning element was the cherry and amaretto sauce. I added palm sugar, cream, and a spoonful of melted milk chocolate. This was reduced to a thick, sticky sauce which soaked into the filo pastry deliciously. Also I pan fried a couple of amaretto soaked cherries, they were most excellent.

And here’s the great thing. For six people these four courses, with an aperitif (prosecco, amaretto, & cherry brandy) to start, came in at about £15(US$19) per head. Obviously if I was charging I’d set it at something like £30 (US$38) per head, but that’s still massively cheaper than a restaurant, where your drinks would be more than £30(US$38).

You can see other things I cook at my twitter feed.

The upshot of all this cooking (and my brother being down for the weekend) is two days of zero writing, with limited opportunities for the next day or two. NaNoWriMo is suffering. It was so worth it.