Hoydens & Firebrands

 

The Dutch East India Company

 

The Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the Dutch East India Company, was a trading company founded in 1602. Considered by some to be the first corporation in the world, the VOC was in any case the largest and most impressive trading company in Europe during the Early Modern Period. The Company ruled the trade zone between South Africa and Japan and was granted authority by the Dutch government to build forts, appoint a governing body and to form an army, as well as conducting trade and establishing colonies continue reading...

 
Painting: Willem van de Velde, The Cannon Shot (ca. 1670) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam





 
 

Hoydens & Firebrands

RECONSTRUCTING THE THIRTY YEARS WAR

 

Judging by the images and the books that are popular today, can you imagine how someone 400 years from now will view our society? How will they reconstruct our day in age based on the records we leave behind? That is, if they can even access our information. What impressions will they have of our culture? continue reading... 

 

 

 

Greetings from the Chaos Kitchen


The Most Awesome Raisin Bread


Bread baking is easy. All you need is flour, yeast, salt and water. And a baking apparatus. Bread dough can be wound around a stick and held over a fire. Bread dough can be placed in a clay form with a lid and buried in a fire pit. Or bread dough can be laid out nicely on a parchment-covered  baking tray and placed in a preheated electric oven for an hour.

Compared to other periods in history, the flour we buy today is of a high quality. For that matter, the bread we buy today is cheap and also of a very good quality. (Both points can be disputed and I invite you to dispute here in the comments.)

So why bother baking your own?

I like to bake bread because I can control the amount of salt going into it. I can decide what type of grain I want to use. The sweetish, yeasty, not-too-fermented smell of rising bread dough fills the room with a nostalgic, warm nuance.  The smell of baking bread is the heart-racing epitome of all baking experiences put together.

Have we forgotten chocolate chip cookies so quickly?

For the moment, yes. Another reason I bake: because in Germany I can’t buy some of the products I would like to have, like decent cookies. So I make them myself. Now in Germany, the bread is excellent. No doubt about that. But I can’t get a decent raisin bread.

And as easy as writing down the four ingredients for baking bread, I slammed together a raisin bread last night that knocked my socks off. And I actually wrote down the ingredients and their approximate measurements because I would like to do this again. So here’s my recipe in the Chaos Kitchen style. Minus the wine.

Raisin Bread

Soak in just enough hot water to cover and set aside:
1 c Raisins (more or less to taste)
2 T Crushed Linseed (optional--Omega-3 oils)

Mix together in a bowl:
4 c Flour of choice (Keep another cup or two in reserve)
Yeast (one packet dry yeast, ½ - 1 cake fresh yeast--mine are 42 g)
4 T Olive Oil
250 ml Buttermilk
½ c Dark Brown Sugar
2 T Cinnamon (more or less to taste--add nutmeg, allspice, ginger, anything you’d like)

Mix with a fork or get in there with your hands. Now, if you’re using fresh yeast, you might want to activate it. I mixed it with warmish water and a bit of sugar, put the flour on the top, then the oil and the buttermilk.

Add the raisins.

Now you have to get in there with your hands. Knead for about 10 minutes. The structure of the dough changes. If it’s too wet, add more flour. If it’s too dry, add warm water, oil or buttermilk, depending on how many calories you want to add to the bread.

Where’s the fun in this, you say?

Bread dough takes on the feel of flesh. The manner in which one kneads is entirely up to the kneader. Punching is a great way to release tension. Think of it as a physical workout! Takes some of the guilt away when we add more butter. And I quit smoking a few weeks back, so it gives my hands something to do.

Knead, knead knead, punch, Punch, PUNCH!  When the dough has that silky, smooth feel, place in a bowl, cover with a dish towel and put in a warm dry place to rise, about an hour. (I’ve read that the dough can turn too ‘beery’ and smell too fermented when left too long. Check this out: The Fresh Loaf)

Speaking of more butter: I melted one good tablespoon of butter and added some brown sugar and cinnamon. After the dough had risen, I wanted to roll it out, dribble the butter and sugar over it, then roll it up like a sort of swirl. Ha. That didn’t work. I ended up kneading the butter and the sugar into the dough. Which seemed to be ok. So I divided the dough into 3 loaves, put them on a parchment-lined baking tray and allowed them to rise again, like 20 minutes. Which didn’t happen in a cool room, so I put them in the oven at 150° C--no fan.  300° F, that is.

I have an electric oven with a fan. I have arrived.

After maybe 20 minutes or so, I turned the fan on. I may even have turned the temperature up to 350°. After only having a wood-powered oven for so long, I am so used to keeping my eye the goods, that I don’t pay a lot of attention to the temperature or the time. At some point I took the loaves out when the tops were lightly browned.

I allowed them to cool as long as I could contain myself. The loaves felt soft and I was worried I hadn’t left them in long enough. But after they had cooled, the knife slid through the cakey texture and the aroma of cinnamon and brown sugar almost moved me to tears.



Flash Fiction: Just Shy of 800 Words

Twenty Years

by Laura Libricz

 

A light snow fell and covered the street with a hush. The sky was the same dirty grey and darkened so early on this December afternoon. His muffled footsteps crunched along the unshoveled sidewalk, droning on, a labored repetitive action. He watched the fine flakes drift past and settle on the frozen mounds, an accumulation of these last few stormy days.

His foot slid and he caught his breath. A muscle strained in his bad hip. Something caught his boot and he heard metal scrape. He steadied himself and bent down as far as his hip would allow him. A chain-like thing, snagged in the wooden fence, had a hold on his boot’s shoelace hook.  

He untangled the silver chain from the fence and his boot and held it up, away from his face. He padded his pockets for his glasses but he had left them at home. The chain was easy a meter long. A swan-shaped pendant swung; a much-too-heavy thing to be dangling from such a fine chain. The swan had its wings spread and its beak pointed towards the sky. From its belly hung a tear-drop opel surrounded by silver-colored filgaree.

He pulled at the swan’s beak with his gloved finger. If this was silver, it would bend. But this was solid and heavy. He knew nothing about precious metals, but something told him this was no ordinary ladies’ costume jewelry. He wound the chain around his wrist, shoved his hand in his pocket and made his way home.

Fire crackling in the open hearth and the smell of pitch reminded him of coming back to this house as a child after trekking home from school. Even after multiple rental apartments in foreign countries, this would be his only real home. It was quiet now, one of the downfalls of living alone. Downfall and upfall. He hung his black woolen coat on the back of a chair in front of the fire, sat on the chair, undid his boots and set them next to the woodpile. He threw two logs onto the fire and sparks rose up the flue.

He held his hand up and the silver chain unraveled once. The swan pendant glittered in the firelight and the opel took on the glow like a smouldering ember, almost as if it had swallowed the warmth.

He had only seen such an opel once. He bought it for Lena. Spent a whole week’s wages. An opel on a silver chain but nowhere as costly and fine as the one he held in his hand. He never saw Lena again. That afternoon he had to flee the city.

He stood and slid his feet into his felt pantoffels. He opened the drawer of his writing table, pulled out a silver cigarette case, flipped it open and stuck a cigarette between his lips. He flicked a flame from the silver butane lighter and lit the cigarette. He laid the lighter back in the drawer and reached way back inside, like he was opening a secret compartment. His eyes squinted against the plume of smoke that rose about his head.

He produced a purple velvet pouch the size of his fist. He opened the drawstring and slowly pulled on a fine silver chain. An opel plopped into his hand. He set the pouch aside and held the two opels up like he was displaying metals he had won for running a race.  The opel hanging from the flying swan was smooth and refined; the links of the chain looped in and out like sixes and nines. Nimble fingers were needed to create a chain of this complexity. The roughly-cut opel he had bought for Lena hung from a chain of simple links. This diminished its beauty not in the least.

It was a snowy December day like this one, twenty-two years ago. Lena had given him her portfolio to safekeep, a leather folder tied with a leather cord, full of drawings and photographs. They had arranged to meet by the train station and together they would escape the madness. But he had stopped at the jewelers to pick up the opal and approached the train station from the back. He saw the throng. Police were arresting bystanders at random. In the confusion, he boarded the train before anyone saw him.

He had waited twenty years to return the portfolio. An address found in a phone book, belonging to a name that was close enough to hers, was enough to still the nagging guilt he nourished over the years. He received no reply. He would never contact the name or address again.

He dropped his cigarette in the remains of this morning’s coffee. He put both chains into the purple pouch and shoved them to the back of the drawer. 



I used the random first line generator but I didn't use it as a first line: He had waited twenty years to return it. 

 

The Soldier's Return Introduction

Chapter 1 from The Soldier's Return 
by Laura Libricz

To be realeased in October 2015  

Excerpts from the Journal of Sebald Tucher XI von Simmelsdorf und Sichardtshof


March 1626--This is the last page in my journal. This could well be a reflection of the amount of time I have left. This last chapter comes to a close and I am no longer guaranteed another one. With this entry I mark the end of a decade here at Sichardtshof. I have allowed the last ten years to race by light-heartedly. The fear that my life here is about to be violently and abruptly terminated haunts me with every echo of war that reaches my ears. Rumors of mercenary movement and of the villages they reduce to ash-piles are delivered with every message we receive from any fleeing source that passes through.
Simmering under the surface for years, the animosities between the Catholics and the Protestants has turned into an excuse to destroy much of the landscape here in the ununited German territories situated between France, Italy and Denmark. The obvious fact that the ruthless greed and charred egos of the princes and the warlords is fueling this fire tends to be overlooked as the underlying evil. And having no centralized government, the German cities and villages are left to not only fund this savage war, but they are also reduced to wring an existence from muddy, trampled, burned or ravished homelands, often destroyed by the troops that are supposedly freeing them.
And naturally, other stronger powers sense an opportunity to gorge themselves, taking everything, leaving us broken and scarred behind, if we are lucky to be alive. What better way to do this than with underpaid, starving, sick, desperate mercenary soldiers? In my opinion, we could be building ships, bridges, transportation for trade routes. But the rights to these channels, routes, means and ends are exactly what the powers are fighting about.
Now, after much deliberation and endless discussions with my mother, advisement from my uncle, I have come to the conclusion that I have no choice but to collect my wife and two boys from the walled city of Nuremberg and bring them here to Sichardtshof to live. But is country life the lesser of two evils?
I am willing to stay here and wait for the devil to come stake his claim. But the decision to bring my children here is difficult. In Nuremberg they are protected behind the city walls. There is enough money and ammunition and weapons to keep them safe. But others have this impression too, and the city steadily fills with all sorts: refugees seeking religious sanction, homeless who have lost everything because of the fighting, fortune seekers and undesirables who want to earn from others’ sufferings. And with the masses comes the plague. Rats, sickness, hunger, fever, dysentery. More dwellers of the city are dying from these problems as from the effects of the fighting. My opinion, it’s quite a waste of manpower.
Why not send the wife and the boys away to the parts of the countryside that remain unscathed? My Uncle Paul suggested to the wife that she may seek solace in a convent but even there young women find no refuge. Defiling God’s houses in search of booty is the normal course of things and the women are not safe there either. And then I still have the two boys.
Here at the Sichardtshof farm, my muse, my elation, my pearl in the Aisch River Valley, my paradise on earth, here we are free. But freedom comes with a high price. Troops are moving along the river valley in regular intervals. We have erected fences of spiked logs, we are armed and we have secured the animals as best we could. We’ve hidden our valuables—buried many things in the forest or in the fields. Much of our food is hidden or buried. I must say, honestly, and no one knows this except Uncle Paul, I am so badly in debt that there is no money to bribe the regiments to continue on their way and leave us in peace.
So, with having nothing to appease these brutes with, I am afraid these desperate soldiers will relive us of all our belongings, maybe take the men and myself as necessary manpower for their march, abuse our women into insanity, burn the buildings to the ground and then just kill us all to be done with it. So, my choice is not an easy one. Do I allow my wife and children to rot in the rancid city? Or do I subject them to their worst nightmares at the hands of roguish soldiers? I haven’t even mentioned the responsibility I have towards my loyal counterparts here on the farm.
Last of all, not to mention my responsibility to my one and only love, to the woman who owns my heart, my dearest Katarina.


The Lady of Shalott


The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse



The Lady of Shalott (1832)


Part I
On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
       To many-tower'd Camelot;
The yellow-leaved waterlily
The green-sheathed daffodilly
Tremble in the water chilly
       Round about Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens shiver.
The sunbeam showers break and quiver
In the stream that runneth ever
By the island in the river
       Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
       The Lady of Shalott.

Underneath the bearded barley,
The reaper, reaping late and early,
Hears her ever chanting cheerly,
Like an angel, singing clearly,
       O'er the stream of Camelot.
Piling the sheaves in furrows airy,
Beneath the moon, the reaper weary
Listening whispers, ' 'Tis the fairy,
       Lady of Shalott.'

The little isle is all inrail'd
With a rose-fence, and overtrail'd
With roses: by the marge unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken sail'd,
       Skimming down to Camelot.
A pearl garland winds her head:
She leaneth on a velvet bed,
Full royally apparelled,
       The Lady of Shalott.

Part II
No time hath she to sport and play:
A charmed web she weaves alway.
A curse is on her, if she stay
Her weaving, either night or day,
       To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be;
Therefore she weaveth steadily,
Therefore no other care hath she,
       The Lady of Shalott.

She lives with little joy or fear.
Over the water, running near,
The sheepbell tinkles in her ear.
Before her hangs a mirror clear,
       Reflecting tower'd Camelot.
And as the mazy web she whirls,
She sees the surly village churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls
       Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad,
       Goes by to tower'd Camelot:
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
       The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
       And music, came from Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead
Came two young lovers lately wed;
I am half sick of shadows,' said
       The Lady of Shalott.

Part III
A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flam'd upon the brazen greaves
       Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
       Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
       As he rode down from Camelot:
And from his blazon'd baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
       Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
       As he rode down from Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
       Moves over green Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
       As he rode down from Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash'd into the crystal mirror,
'Tirra lirra, tirra lirra:'
       Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom
She made three paces thro' the room
She saw the water-flower bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
       She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
'The curse is come upon me,' cried
       The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV
In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
       Over tower'd Camelot;
Outside the isle a shallow boat
Beneath a willow lay afloat,
Below the carven stern she wrote,
       The Lady of Shalott.

A cloudwhite crown of pearl she dight,
All raimented in snowy white
That loosely flew (her zone in sight
Clasp'd with one blinding diamond bright)
       Her wide eyes fix'd on Camelot,
Though the squally east-wind keenly
Blew, with folded arms serenely
By the water stood the queenly
       Lady of Shalott.

With a steady stony glance—
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Beholding all his own mischance,
Mute, with a glassy countenance—
       She look'd down to Camelot.
It was the closing of the day:
She loos'd the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
       The Lady of Shalott.

As when to sailors while they roam,
By creeks and outfalls far from home,
Rising and dropping with the foam,
From dying swans wild warblings come,
       Blown shoreward; so to Camelot
Still as the boathead wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her chanting her deathsong,
       The Lady of Shalott.

A longdrawn carol, mournful, holy,
She chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her eyes were darken'd wholly,
And her smooth face sharpen'd slowly,
       Turn'd to tower'd Camelot:
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
       The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden wall and gallery,
A pale, pale corpse she floated by,
Deadcold, between the houses high,
       Dead into tower'd Camelot.
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
To the planked wharfage came:
Below the stern they read her name,
       The Lady of Shalott.

They cross'd themselves, their stars they blest,
Knight, minstrel, abbot, squire, and guest.
There lay a parchment on her breast,
That puzzled more than all the rest,
       The wellfed wits at Camelot.
'The web was woven curiously,
The charm is broken utterly,
Draw near and fear not,—this is I,
       The Lady of Shalott.'