Thursday, June 25, 2020

Lost and Found

Yesterday I did something fun involving the outdoors, plants, lots of walking and lunch in a restaurant with a real human being. WOWZA!

It was great. There are photos.



Gorgeous pond with many colors of water lilies, and lotus to come.

 Anthurium, as red as it gets

More pond. It's huge. See all the colors?

 The orange thing in the middle is a cacao fruit. The cocoa beans are inside the orange fruit.

 This is just plain pretty, an orchid.

And this, charmingly, is a Mickey Mouse tree. No, that's not an ornament. I thought it was at first, but this is the flower!

This was all at the conservatory at Shinjuku Gyoen, a gigantic park used for many wonderful things, established in the Meiji Era. They breed butterflies! They have rare plants! They tell you what's there, like pepper, coffee, bananas, cacao, and then you get to find those plants. Clever of them, because then you see everything. Vanilla. Pitcher Plants. The environment has different zones and includes bugs. The roof moves to control the temperature and the humidity. Fascinating place, changing with the seasons.

Suitably and fashionably masked Tokyo-ites were out and about, but not getting too close. The rest of the enormous park is open, too, and people distanced themselves on the grass and various benches. It's worth more than a day to explore. The Imperial Rest House is now closed to visitors as is the restaurant, but the snack bars are open and you can even get veg food!  Hurray!

But on my way home, I somehow dropped my Suica (train) card not into the pocket where it belongs, but somewhere else. I had to have done this once I'd exited the last station because I couldn't have exited otherwise.

Today was supposed to be, and accurately is, very hot and very humid. I got the laundry out where it is drying v-e-r-y slowly and headed for the store. I needed a few things to make a couple of recipes I have been eyeing. I walked more than five miles yesterday, according to my helpful watch, so I didn't plan on long excursions given the weather predicted for today. I went to the store early.

I couldn't find my Suica card case, which also contains a business card and my grocery-store point cards, which may have some kind of utility I have yet to discover, though I know I sometimes get discounts. I looked. No luck. I got back from the store and looked again. No luck. I figured I'd ask at the station office next time I went and started cooking. Too hot to walk. Then the phone rang. I had music on and didn't get to it in time. When I called back, I found it was the number for the Toyoko line, but it was a recording. Wow! Did they find my card?

I hiked to the station I used last night, Yaguchi no Watashi (Tamagawa Line, part of the Toyoko Line). I live midway between that one, Hasunuma (Ikegami Line, also part of the Toyoko Line)  and Kamata, at which the Tamagawa Line and Ikegami Line terminate, but also serves JR lines, including the Kehin-Tohoku line that goes to Shinagawa and other points north and south. Kamata is the BIG station with department stores, government offices and much, much more.

At the Yaguchi no Watashi station office, I found that they DID have my Suica card and case, but it was at Lost and Found at Kamata Station. OK, I'm happy to go get it. My Suica card has over 6000 yen on it -- well worth it. I asked how much the ticket to Kamata was, but instead he handed me a freebie! At Kamata, I happily recovered my card. I could have gone back to Yaguchi no Watashi on the Tamagawa line freebie or paid to ride the Ikegama Line to Hasunuma, but I decided to walk instead. It's no farther. So my watch helpfully tells me I have walked nearly three miles today.

Cooking in Japan can be an adventure. This recipe called for garbanzo beans in cans. Nope, no cans. Only dried beans that would take me two days of intermittent effort to cook. I decided to substitute fu, which is the Japanese version of seitan.  The recipe wanted sweet potatoes. Things are seasonal here, and there was only ONE sweet potato in the store, roasted. I did have some pumpkin in the freezer, and now that I don't have to worry about maybe not finding food, I'm clearing that out. Tastes pretty close, right? Peanut butter costs the earth, and celery, when you can find it, is almost a dollar a stalk. Tamarind paste, however, is easy to find and there are at least half a dozen nearly identical kinds of garlic and chili paste.

No worries!  The result tastes delicious, I got a LOT of exercise, got my Suica card back, and the laundry's almost dry. Just another adventure in Tokyo.

Tomorrow, I return to The Lotus-Foot Assassin Meets the Dragon King. I finished the draft late Tuesday night and it's resting, by design, so I can see what needs to be done. Tomorrow.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Granola and Writing

Some writers sit down and craft outlines in excruciating detail, or character sketches going back to birth for minor characters who appear once, or do all sorts of on-line things to "engage" their audiences. "Engaging" things are torture for me. Not only am I the World's Most Boring Person, when I have something to say, I write. For me, outlining and characters appear in my head, bubbling up from the bottom of my subconscious or somewhere else in the universe. Sitting in front of a computer or trying to handwrite in a beautiful notebook with an expensive fountain pen, and inevitably coffee, at some $6 a cup swank and bustling coffee shop just are not productive for me.  Although I love fountain pens, I hate coffee. 

What I do is get outside, garden and cook. These all feed my head, rather than drain it.

I'd planned to head just outside of Tokyo proper yesterday and take an interesting walk up a small mountain involving a Shugendo Temple and a couple of museums. This is the kind of thing that energizes my creative process. It's intake, not output.

But it was raining, soon to be pouring, and I had been thinking about granola.

It's possible to make oil-free granola, I determined through a quick Web search. But all the recipes I found required an oven. I do not have an oven. I do, however, have an air fryer.

My brain leapt into gear and formulated a plan to hustle to the nearest large supermarket between downpours and spring into culinary action. 

People seem to love it when I post recipes. That can be a problem because I cook rather free-hand, by method more than recipe. I also lack not only an oven but a measuring cup. I tried to measure boiling water in mine (being creative, I was) and cracked it. But I am pretty good at measuring by eye, and the granola turned out very well.

4 cups rolled oats. The expensive non-instant organic kind.
2.5  packages freeze-dried fruit from The Rotten Food Box Company -- say, 1 - 1.25 cups.
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

All mixed in a big bowl. You could add cinnamon and/or nutmeg and maybe some cloves if you like.

In what I think is a 12 oz jar, I mixed:

1/4 cup maple syrup. The real thing.
1/4 cup very dark, kind of bitter, brown sugar from Okinawa, to finish the bag
1/2 t "bitter almond extract" which is Japanese, and not quite like US almond extract, but good.
Filled the jar with water and shook madly.

Added this to the dry ingredients. Stirred.

Too much for my little air fryer to do at once, so I took 1/3 and cooked at 375F about ten minutes. Still too wet. Did it again. STILL too wet, and a little too brown. Turned the temperature down to 250F, set the timer for 15 minutes. Got bored. Stuck the rest in the microwave, thinking that might help. It did. After about 7 minutes, the microwave was all steamy and the mix was much drier. Wiped down the microwave and did it again.
When Batch 1 was probably going to cool down to crunchy, I dumped it into bowl 2, exhausting my stock of big bowls.
Batch 2, now hot and significantly drier, went into the air fryer at 250F for ten minutes, got stirred and went again. Still kind of soft, but Batch 1 had dried crunchy. Success!
Did the same with Batch 3.
It worked! It all cooled down into lovely, crunchy granola, and my granola cravings are satisfied.

What I'll do differently next time:

I will use far less water, maybe 1/4 to 1/3 cup, max.  I will NOT add the fruits initially. I will cook the oats and nuts part in the air fryer at 250 for maybe 7 minutes, stir and probably go for another 5-7 for crunch. I might just add the freeze-dried fruit to the oat mixture then and be done with it. But I might stir the dried fruits with some maple syrup and water (that was the end of the brown sugar, so I'll use all maple) and let them sit while the grains are cooking.  I will check the consistency and will probably air-fry those for about 7 minutes so they'll get kind of crunchy, too. 

I have big Ziplock Bags, so that's what I put it in. 

With this Science Project, I have learned I can make tasty granola without an oven and without oil, too.

I have also learned that The Lotus-Foot Assassin Meets the Dragon King is going to be fast-paced, violent, short and may contain x-rated material.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Finally Finding My Genre

I'm often asked what "genre" I write in.

It's not that easy. 

There used to be only a few: mystery, thriller, romance, science fiction, fantasy, Western, "literary". But then each started developing roots and branches and twigs and flowers, until now it's easy to find a full page just under, say, "mystery."  Romance, being the most popular of genres, can probably fill up several. 

I've never been able to find a good fit for The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy books or for me as a writer.

"Kids' books," I have had people say to me knowingly. Well, no. Coming Home, the first one, was deliberately written so that middle-grade readers could read it independently, maybe with assistance from a dictionary, because that coincided with the ages of the principle characters. But murder, international politics, war and social commentary somehow don't quite fit into that. The succeeding books have grown up both in theme and in complexity. By Uncle Yuta Has An Adventure, Book 4, we have an adult protagonist addressing clearly grown-up issues.

"Historical fiction" isn't quite right because, though the series is set in the genuine history of Meiji-era Japan, there are dual-natured and other folkloric beings, in addition to the deaths, wars, social change, political upheaval and general mayhem attendant to that time, and while there is love, there isn't exactly romance of the kind your average Westerner would understand.

"Historical fantasy" is better, and I kind of parked there for a while because the folkloric elements and characters would definitely be considered fantasy, I guess.  Those elements explicate and criticize the society with which they interact, of course, but I'm not sure they change it.

At last, though, I think I've finally hit it. I'm not sure I fall in with the "literary" likes of Isabelle Allende, Franz Kafka, Toni Morrison, Haruki Murakami, Laura Esquivel and Salman Rushdie. Zenna Henderson, Anne McCaffrey, Neil Gaiman, Mercedes Lackey and Julian May, with their light, often humorous, touches, come closer, though their works are considered to fall more into the popular realm of "science fiction/fantasy". They are more accessible, something I try very hard to be.  Either way, this is where I belong. The shoe fits. I've put it on and I like it.

This genre has a name, and I am thrilled to write it: Magical Realism. I didn't even know it existed until a couple of days ago, though I have read every single author I have listed above. But is seems I have found my spiritual home among them. 

Magical realism is a genre of literature that depicts the real world as having an undercurrent of magic or fantasy. Magical realism is a part of the realism genre of fiction. Within a work of magical realism, the world is still grounded in the real world, but fantastical elements are considered normal in this world. (From: The Masterclass)

Every magical realism novel is different, but there are certain things they all include, such as:
·       Realistic setting. All magical realism novels take place in a setting in this world that’s familiar to the reader. 
·     Magical elements. From talking objects to dead characters to telepathy, every magical realism story has fantastical elements that do not occur in our world. However, they’re presented as normal within the novel.
·   Limited information. Magical realism authors deliberately leave the magic in their stories unexplained in order to normalize it as much as possible and reinforce that it is part of everyday life. 
·     Critique. Authors often use magical realism to offer an implicit critique of society, most notably politics and the elite. The genre grew in popularity in parts of the world like Latin America that were economically oppressed and exploited by Western countries. Magic realist writers used the genre to express their distaste and critique American Imperialism. 
·   Unique plot structure. Magical realism does not follow a typical narrative arc with a clear beginning, middle, and end like other literary genres. This makes for a more intense reading experience, as the reader does not know when the plot will advance or when the conflict will take place. (From: Wikipedia.)

I've busily gone back to all the places where one is supposed to list "genre" and added Magical Realism to the mix. As usual, I blunder around like the proverbial bull in a china shop, hoping to hit something important. As usual, finally and at last I do.

I'm welcoming me, and The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, to Magical Realism.