Friday, July 25, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #4 (Part 2)

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #4 

Foreign Foods (Part 2)

The Challenge: Foreign Foods

The Recipe: German Pancakes No. 2
Note: makes 1 large pancake

The Date/Year and Region: The International Jewish Cookbook; 1919, New York

How Did You Make It: Exactly as the recipe says. I consulted a modern recipe to find out what a brisk oven meant. I heated the oven to 400 degrees initially and baked the pancake for a few minutes until the edges turned brown and pulled away from the pan. Then I reduced the heat to 350 and baked for about 20-25 more minutes until it didn't look wet. Just before removing from the oven, I stuck a plate in the stove to heat. When I took it out and removed from the pan, I sifted powdered sugar on top and added some sliced strawberries. 

Time to Complete: A few minutes to beat the eggs and mix the ingredients; 30 minutes baking time plus time to heat the skillet and oven.

Total Cost:
I had all the ingredients on hand at the time.

How Successful Was It?: 
Very! It tastes delicious, but a tiny bit salty so I would recommend reducing the amount of salt.  I've had Dutch pancakes at restaurants before and this one is similar but lighter. It was hard not to eat the whole thing myself. It got a thumbs up from the rest of the household but not rave reviews. I will definitely be making this one again, especially since I found the right pan later on.

How Accurate Is It?: Other than using a modern mixer and electric stove and oven, I substituted sweet strawberries for acidic lemons which I do not like at all! It made the pancake more of a dessert and that much more delicious. 

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #4

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #4 

Foreign Foods (Part 1)

The Challenge: Foreign Foods

By The First Presbyterian Church, Dayton, Ohio.
Dayton, Ohio: Oliver Crook, c1873

The Date/Year and Region: 1873, Ohio

How Did You Make It: 
I grated unsweetened chocolate and a bit of American Heritage Chocolate until I had about 2 T. While I was grating, I melted some sweet butter on the electric stove. Then added the flour, egg yolks, low fat milk (all I had on hand) and eggs. Then I realized I had added to many eggs to scrambled to add more of the other ingredients, which was probably a bigger mistake. Then I put it in the fridge to cool for half an hour. I beat the egg white until fluffy but couldn't get them stiff. I put the chocolate mixture back on the stove to warm it a bit and added the egg whites and sugar, buttered my mom's flan pan and poured it all in. The batter was lumpy and whisking didn't help. I didn't know what temperature to bake it at and a search for a modern recipe yielded nothing. I found a custard recipe that baked at 425 so I tried that. I baked for about an hour before removing from the oven. I refrigerated overnight and then tried to cook it again for about 40 more minutes the next day. The outside got crusty and the bottom stuck to the pan. The middle remained stubbornly wet but better than it was.

Time to Complete:

Total Cost:
I had all the ingredients on hand at the time.

How Successful Was It?: 
Not very successful. It didn't cook in the middle. After an hour, it finally puffed up but when I took it out of the oven it deflated. The middle was very soupy.  It tasted very eggy and not very sweet. I think my eggs cooked in the mixture on the stove. I should have used my heritage chocolate, but I don't have much left. My dad declared it was not the best thing I've made and no one has touched it since. It tastes much better with the raspberry sauce I made for challenge 2. 

How Accurate Is It?: (fess up to your modifications and make-dos here)
I used 1% milk and an electric oven. I also added more sugar and raspberry sauce.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What I Read in June Part VII

What I Read in June Part VII . . .

Dishing Up DeathDishing Up Death by Marie Celine -- Cozy Mystery

Kitty Karlyle is a celebrity chef, but not for humans, for their pets. She cooks and delivers gourmet meals to Los Angeles' most pampered pets. She thinks she's seen it all but when she discovers one of her clients, the former rock star Rich Evan, has been found face down in his puppy's food, she's shocked. She's even more shocked when she learns Rich has died and she's the chief suspect! She knows she didn't murder anyone on purpose, but what if she was accidentally responsible by cooking poisoned food? With her friend Velma as sidekick, she tries to find out what really happened. She tries to stay a step ahead of the annoying detective who keeps insisting he's going to marry her. Ironically, business is booming as Rich's best friend and ex-wife become clients and plan to recommend her. Can Kitty solve the mystery before she finds herself behind bars?

I really wanted to like this book. I loved the idea of a gourmet pet chef. I love animals just as much as Kitty and was excited to see her recipes, but she clearly doesn't love them as much as I do because she doesn't seem to know that many cats and dogs can't tolerate dairy and grapes and onions can cause liver damage. Kitty is the perky, perfect girl you love to hate. My feelings didn't go that far because she does love animals, but I found her a little too naive and a little too perky to be truly sympathetic. She wants to believe the best in everyone. The animals were much better characters, especially the puppy Benny. Her best friend Velma is an odd character. I couldn't quite like her either but I appreciated how she had her best friend's back. All of the secondary characters are stereotypes. All of the men are disgusting pigs, even the detective who I could not stand.

This book is a first novel and it reads like one. The writing is simplistic and not very good. The plot is downright dreadful. The story is full of dated 90s references. They're subtle but it's surprising how much technology has changed. (i.e. leaving a message on an answering machine). I liked the inclusion of a research librarian using microfilm instead of Google but that actually dates the story a bit too. The characters all seem to accept the sex, drugs and rock n' roll culture of LA. One character is a sexual predator who nearly rapes the heroine and it's glossed over! She didn't even think to tell the police and apparently it's OK for a male rock star to trick a girl into sleeping with him. He is a downright nasty character. The mystery is impossible to figure out. It goes somewhere random that I never expected. Plot points don't exactly come together and the end is very rushed. I filed this under clean romance because there's some weird random romantic plots tossed in at the end for no real reason.

I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who likes good literature.

What I Read in June Part VI

What I Read in June Part VI . . .

Miss Quinn's QuandaryMiss Quinn's Quandary by Shirley Marks -- Regency Romance

Miss Larissa Quinn is traveling from the young ladies' seminary where she has spent most of her life to stay with her aunt in the wilds of Westmoreland. When she arrives at an over-booked inn, she declares she is married to ... a stranger, Lord Randall Trent, who was traveling up the Severn on the same boat. Lord Randall knows he's a gentleman and she's safe with him, but what if he wasn't? He can hardly resist the beautiful young woman as it is so when she seems eager for a kiss, he can hardly help himself. Larissa is afraid of living her life without experiences. She is unprepared for how the kiss makes her feel. She's determined to never forget it for it will likely be the only she she ever experiences. He travels on to his Uncle Cyrus, the Earl of Rushton, who decides to sweep Randall up into the world of the haut ton in order to find a new wife. He finds the woman of his dreams, but she needs someone to look out for her ward. Imagine Randall's shock when he discovers that the ward is none other than Miss Quinn! She's a forward little piece of baggage and Randall thinks someone should teach this chit how to go on but it won't be him. He's too busy trying to court the lovely Lady Dorothea Brookhurst. That's fine with Larissa because she is trying to win a kiss from Lord Fenton, who is very slow to come up to scratch. If only she could get the memory of that earth shattering kiss out of her mind. Then, some enemy seems determined to hurt Randall and he is sure to hang if Larissa can't come up with a scheme to save him and bring about a happily every after for all.

This story could have been a funny Heyeresque piece but it failed to meet expectations. The relationship is based purely on feelings and the narration doesn't dig deeply into the characters' heads. I don't really see anything honorable about the way Randall treats Larissa. Despite her forward behavior she is an innocent. The romance is slightly more sensual that I expected from Avalon. I didn't really get Randall and Larissa's relationship. Their story changes from hot to cold and back and forth. I didn't like them together. Larissa is an idiot who innocently breaks almost all the rules and Randall knowingly breaks some of them, yet no one seems to care. The older adults are silly and dim-witted. I figured out who one of the villains was but there were enough red herrings so that I couldn't be completely sure. I wasn't surprised but I was surprised that a certain minor character didn't play a larger role because so much was made about them. 

The Abandoned Rake (Signet Regency Romance, AE 8269)The Abandoned Rake by Emily Hendrickson -- Regency Romance

Joanna Winterton is in mourning for a fiance she didn't love. She feels the ton's sympathy is a little too stifling. The only one who isn't offering kindness and platitudes is the rakish Sir Lucas Montfort. He knows her fiance didn't deserve her. Joanna thinks he's one to talk, for he is engaged to a milk and water miss barely out of the schoolroom. She thinks he needs a bold wife who will stand up to him. Joanna decides to escape London until the gossip dies down. She rents a cottage in the Lakes District with her eccentric, spinster aunt Caroline. When Lucas is publicly humiliated, his pride is wounded and he can't stand the gossip. He decides to go rusticate in the Lakes District, where he hopes for a dalliance to take his mind off things. There he encounters the lovely Joanna. He can't help but tease her but he knows not to dally with a gently bred lady. Lucas's kisses are delicious and Joanna could easily become abandoned if she isn't careful. She knows he isn't serious so she must not refine too much on his actions. He just can't understand why she doesn't dote on him like every other woman he knows. He enjoys the cozy home Joanna and her aunt have made and are kind enough to include him. Then mysterious accidents begin to happen whenever Joanna and Lucas are together. Someone is out to kill one of them, but who would want to kill Joanna or Lucas and why? The pair work together to solve the mystery, coming closer by sharing an experience but Joanna may have to take matters into her own hands if this story is to have a happy ending.

I loved the unique setting for this story. The Lakes District is described so well that I really felt like I was there. It makes the typical plot into something different. The description makes me want to go there. I liked the way the hero and heroine get to know each other. It bothered me at first but as the plot goes on, the relationship develops nicely. The mystery was a bit obvious but kept me wondering why and how it would turn out. It was a little random though. The last third of the novel drags on too long and the ending is a little rushed.

What kept me from really enjoying this novel was the hero. He doesn't have a good opinion of women, which is understandable given his past experiences, but he continually thinks badly of Joanna and assumes things about her that are obviously untrue given what he knows of her. He can't bring himself to think anything different, yet he's constantly teasing her and kissing her and obviously falling in love. His negative thoughts are repetitive and last too long. I can see what Joanna sees in him but I think if she knew what he was thinking, she may not like him so much. 

I really liked Joanna. She's smart, witty, strong and brave. Though she's in constant need of rescuing, she doesn't have hysterics and she knows how to save herself if she needs to. I felt sympathy for her because of her father and she shows readers how difficult it was to be a woman at that time, even for a woman with a moderate fortune. Though I didn't really understand that part of the plot because it didn't seem plausible without some explanation like she's so desperate for attention and praise from her father or he'll withhold her fortune or something along those lines. 

The secondary characters are great. I especially loved Rex, the Border Terrier. Bonus points in my rating are due to him. He needed more scenes and more to do but I'm a sucker for an animal companion and I am obsessed with terriers, so I loved him. I also loved Aunt Caroline. She's a good influence on Joanna and a good role model. She has a disability but doesn't want or need sympathy or pity. I liked her subplot but I'm not sure that was the right direction to take her in. I could have done without Mary. She didn't serve much purpose unless Joanna was going to end up a copy of her aunt.

What I Listened to in June

What I Listened To In June . . .

One Came HomeOne Came Home by Amy Timberlake, read by Tara Sands -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Thirteen-year-old Georgie Burkhart can shoot as straight as can be without missing, do anything else her grandfather taught her like tracking and hiding, and tend the family store account books. She wants nothing more than to run with family store with her older sister Agatha by her side. In 1871 Wisconsin, that's about all a woman can expect to do with her life if she doesn't marry, and Georgie is NEVER getting married. Agatha, however, has other ideas. She is passionate about natural and would love to go to college and study natural science. She's fascinated by the hoards of passenger pigeons who flock to Placid, Wisconsin to roost. So, when Agatha disappears with some pigeon hunters, everyone assumes she's run off to university. Then the sheriff returns home with bits of a body with auburn hair wearing a blue/green dress - a ball gown Agatha's Mama made. Everyone assumes Agatha is dead, except for Georgie. The one thing she can not do is accept her sister's fate. So she sets off on a journey to find her sister accompanied by the onerous Billy McCabe, Agatha's former beau. Georgie experiences many adventures along the way and lives an entire lifetime in only a few days. will the truth remain buried or will Georgie find out what happened to Agatha?

This is a gripping mystery novel that I had a hard time putting down. At first I kept falling asleep in the car while listening, but I was interested enough in the story to rewind and start again a few times. Once I got into the story, I had to know what happened to Agatha! I thought I knew but the clues kept pointing in so many other directions, I wasn't sure. The last third of the book, after the journey, drags on too long. It's all telling and not much action. It seems kind of tacked on. It takes too long to wrap up the loose ends. There is a lot of humor in the story to balance out the sadness. The violence is a little bit graphic but nothing that really bothered me too much.

The setting is interesting but Wisconsin wasn't exactly the wild west in 1871. I could picture Georgie and her journey easily from the descriptions. I thought there was a bit too much history tossed in randomly. The pigeons are fine but the author's note contains too much about the pigeons. The history tossed in at the end doesn't fit with the story. I know what the author was trying to do but it seemed forced and made the message heavy handed. I also found lengthy passages with metaphysical and philosophical pondering too long and too heavy for the novel. Otherwise, the plot was great.

Tara Sands does an excellent job reading this book. She uses a country twang sort of voice of Georgie, not quite Annie Get Your Gun but close. She sounds like a young teenager. She pitches her voice lower for Billy and uses different voices for the adults Georgie encounters. She's not as diverse as Jim dale but I really enjoyed the voices.

The characters are very memorable, especially the hoydenish Georgie. I can't help but love Georgie. She's so earnest and innocent in the beginning. I didn't understand why she didn't do what she did at the end in the first place but she needed the journey to grow as a character. I really liked her character development. She changes a lot as a result of all she's been through. I liked her best when she was acting stubborn and hoydenish. She was very mean to Billy but I can understand her feelings. She's still a child and thinks like a child at times. I don't know how I feel about Billy. He's a difficult character. In some ways, he's as childish as Georgie and not as smart, but in other ways, he's a responsible adult. Agatha is selfish. I can relate to her dreams and desires and the ambition to go after what she wants, but she didn't behave very well by running off without word to her family. They would have worried even without the body.

I really enjoyed this book that I downloaded from the library without even reading reviews. I definitely recommend this book for people 12+. I think young boys would like this as much as girls. Georgie is a tomboy and there's plenty of action to keep boys interested. Though there's a bit of secondary romance but Georgie isn't interested in boys yet. She does admire Billy's figure as he strips down to his union suit but it's very innocent.

What I Read in June Part V

What I Read in June Part V . . .

Althea's Grand TourAlthea's Grand Tour by Emily Hendrickson -- Regency Romance

I was traveling and downloaded this book from the library. There are a number of typos, including exclamation points for I and sometimes no spaces between the words. Terrible e-book!

The Honorable Miss Althea Ingram is too tall and hearty to attract a suitable husband. She wishes she were delicate and small like her companion Cecily. When she overhears the rude comments of the London gentlemen, she decides to leave London. She plans a grand tour of Europe with her companion to see the sights her Papa remembers so fondly, but everything that could possibly go wrong does. First, her stepmama's odious cousin Jemima Greenwood invites herself along though she doesn't approve of Althea or her itinerary; next they run into a spot of trouble and are rescued by the one man Althea hopes never to see again, John Maitland, Earl of Montmorcy, who once called Althea an Amazon to her face. John can't believe his eyes when he comes across the one woman who drove him away from London. He can't understand why he gets to flustered and tongue tied around her and what this strange feeling is he experiences whenever he sees her. Althea has no choice but to rely on John's wisdom and connections, but that doesn't mean she has to like him. In fact, he would make a good husband for her friend Cecily, much better than the Italian Comte who insists on following them. Why does that idea not fully appeal to Althea? It's not that she liked the Earl, for he is so infuriating!

I liked the idea of this book but the plot was pretty stupid. All manner of crazy things happen to Althea and she is ALWAYS being rescued by a man. She's strong and capable but she can't see what's obvious. She doesn't confide her feelings and wishes to her good friend/companion, so how is the hero supposed to know what she wants? She's downright rude to him, despite how kind he is to her. He's a perfect paragon except for calling her an Amazon once or twice. I can see how that would wound her pride, it would mine, but she holds a grudge and continues to misinterpret his intentions. Some of the secondary characters are more appealing than the major characters. The story would have been a lot better without the obvious villain plot. It was a bit too out there and silly. I suspected a totally different villain at first and thought of a different but better plot for the villain. The story could have been a good opportunity to showcase how difficult it was for women at that time. I did like the travel narrative though felt there could have been more description of the scenery and less of fashion.

What I Read in June Part IV

What I Read in June Part IV . . .

Service With a SmileService With a Smile by P.G. Wodehouse -- Historical Fiction/Romantic Comedy

Poor Lord Emsworth is beset with problems: he has a new horrid secretary Miss Biggs who makes Baxter look nice; the castle grounds are full of camping boys causing noise and mischief and the Duke of Dunstable has invited himself to Blandings and still thinks the Empress is making Lord Emsworth potty. The Duke has a buyer interested in the Empress and he's willing to do whatever it takes to get his hands on that money and rid Lord Emsworth of his problem. There's the usual pair of star-crossed lovers, this time Myra Schoonmaker (the real one this time) and her penniless suitor plus the third party in the love triangle, Archie Gillpin (brother of Ricky, nephew of the Duke). Fred, the Earl of Ickenham discovers his friends' problems and aims to deliver service with a smile. In order to do that he has to use some underhanded methods to make things come out right.

This book was too long on thwarted lovers and too light on pigs. It lacked a serious screwball scene and a glorious scene with the Empress that made some of the earlier books so delightful. I'm tired of the star-crossed lovers. They're all the same. There's nothing to distinguish this pair from any other pair. Their circumstances are the same, even if the details are different. There is an unexpected plot twist I didn't see coming. I still don't like Fred. He's not like Gally, he's much crazier. I don't like how he lies and manipulates people into doing what he wants, even if it is for good. His nephew Pongo was smart to stay out of it this time. It's amazing Lady Constance didn't press charges. The new secretary is unlikeable and supposed to be. I wanted to like her because she's a strong female character. She knows what she wants and goes after it, but her methods are devious and she's a frightful snob. Another new character is Emsworth's grandson George. He's an annoying little kid who thinks adults are his friends and the more they rebuff him, the more he clings to them. (Much like my oldest niece). He's a minor character but has an important role in the story. I found he complicated things unnecessarily. 

Galahad At Blandings: A Blandings StoryGalahad At Blandings: A Blandings Story by P.G. Wodehouse -- Historical Fiction/Romantic Comedy

Wow there's a lot going on in this book - more than usual. Tipton Plimsoll, fiance of Lord Emsworth's niece Veronica, finds himself locked up with Wilfred Allsop who just so happens to be in love with Monica Simmons, Lord Emsworth's pig girl. Tipton rings up Lord E for bail money, causing a misunderstanding. Poor Lord Emsworth goes to New York for Constance's wedding and is woken up in the middle of the night; then he returns home to enjoy his peace and freedom from meddling sisters when his brother reveals Lady Hermione is currently in residence. Hermione makes Constance seem kind. Not only is there one annoying woman in residence, there are three: Hermione, her widowed friend Dame Daphne (who brought her horrid son) and Sandy Callender, Lord E's new secretary. Dame Daphne has set her sights on marriage to Lord Emsworth and Sandy is crossed in love by her fiance Sam Galahad Bagshott, the son of Galahad Threepwood's old buddy. Lord Emsworth accidentally causes a misunderstanding causing another pair of lovers to be star-crossed. Leave it to Galahad to set everything right. 

Old characters return and a few new ones are introduced. There are several pairs of star-crossed lovers but none of them show any personality. Tippy can be charming when he's not drunk but he's a bit of an idiot. He does provide a lot of the humor though. Wilfred doesn't have much personality. He's rather boring. Sam seemed like an interesting character but when he was faced with difficult situations, a bad side of his personality came out. I didn't like the way he dealt with his problems. Sandy is supposed to be more efficient than Baxter, but she isn't idiotic which doesn't make for an appealing character in terms of comedy. I don't like how the girls are attracted to caveman like behavior. Veronica manages to not be so annoying in this novel, mainly because she isn't in it directly that much. Rounding out the characters is Lady Hermione, frightful as always, and her husband Edgar, who manages to grow a personality. I actually liked him. 

P.G. Wodehouse ramped up the comedy/drama in this novel. Galahad was amazing - getting up to his old tricks and then some. He veers into Uncle Fred territory with lots of deception, law-breaking and lying, which I didn't quite like, but it was pretty funny. the Empress back in full form. Fans of the series will never believe what she imbibes this time. It's truly outrageous! This is one of my favorite Blandings Castle novels. I'm sad I'm almost done with the series but looking forward to reading more Wodehouse soon.

What I Read in June Part III

What I Read in June Part III . . .

Major Lord David (Regency Trilogy, #2)Major Lord David by Sherry Lynn Ferguson -- Regency Romance

Major Lord David Trent is the younger son of the Duke of Broughton. Newly returned home from the wars, David and his father do not see eye to eye about his future. David wants to relax and settle down into a peaceful, bachelor existence, but the Duke wants to marry David off to the Squire's daughter. David doesn't even remember the Squire HAS a daughter! He is enchanted with a chestnut haired beauty at his family's New Year's masquerade ball. He longs to be alone with her and touch her glossy curls. One moment of slight indiscretion finds David in a bit of a pickle; it seems the chestnut haired beauty is none other than Miss Wilhelmina Caswell, the squire's daughter. David is outraged! How could this enchanting creature be Billie Caswell - one of the neighbor's pack of unruly BOYS?! Billie Caswell has had a crush on David as long as she can remember. She used to run after him with her brothers and she has worshiped him from afar all these years even after several years of finishing school have made her more ladylike. She would jump at the chance to marry him - if only he'd give her his heart. David really doesn't want to marry this hoyden but his grandmere counsels him to wait out Billie's puppy love and so he agrees to go forward with whatever the young lady wants to do. Are they engaged or not? David is confused by Billie's reaction. It's up to her whether he stays or rejoins his Wellington in Vienna. The Season brings unexpected changes and David must return to Brussels and await Napoleon's return while Billie is left in London to worry about her love. In addition, her beloved but wayward brother Kit is giving her Billie when or if he returns to London.

I have mixed feelings about this story. It's sweet but it's complicated. I don't usually like stories about girls who loved their neighbors and suddenly the man wakes up and sees his neighbor as a woman and not a girl. This one is a bit different because David didn't even know Billie WAS a girl. It's also the same because I feel like she never really gets to know him. He knows her but as he continually reminds himself, she's very young. Billie knows who she is and doesn't want to lose herself. David understands this so I think he would be a good husband, but I don't know if he's necessarily her true love. David is a complicated character. He falls in love when he's not even in the story. I'm not really sure why or how. When he's told no, he still persists, at the urging of his friends who can see the true picture. I am conflicted in my feelings about that. I want true love to prevail but I didn't get much of a sense of true love in this story. I'm really curious about the enigmatic Myles. I think he's more shrewd and not as lazy as he appears. I think he's had his heart broken a few times. I want to read his story.

Billie's family are a bunch of stereotypes. I'm not sure what's wrong with her mother or why she indulges Kit, but I think maybe they're the most alike and they both suffer from depression. It's not stated that Billie's mother is melancholy, just ill, but they never say what's wrong with her except the last time she went visiting was 8 years ago. What happened? I need to know these kinds of details. The other big problem with the story is that the Waterloo scenes are too dull. They're not as bad as An Infamous Army but there's a lot of telling going on. I skimmed for David's name to see where he was in the action and that's it. The conclusion comes way too close to the end of the book and I feared it would be rushed, but it wasn't too bad. 

Merely A Mister (Regency Trilogy, #3)Merely A Mister by Sherry Lynn Ferguson -- Regency Romance

Myles Trent, Lord Hayden, eldest son of the Duke of Braughton is traveling in Italy when he feels an old lung malady coming on. Rather than be ill and at the mercy of his friends, Myles feels the overwhelming need to return home, and settle down. He knows he'll probably end up marrying someone his father picks out for him though he'd rather not marry at all. He knows his duty and it's always weighed heavily upon him. Rather than return to Braughton, he takes a detour and heads north to Cumberland where his father wanted him to check on something. What, he can't remember in his fevered state. He's taken to the home of a Mr. E. Whyte whose daughter Anne is an herbalist and healer. Anne's potions do wonders for his health and he begins to fall a bit in love with the beautiful woman, but she believes him to be "merely a mister" and is on the verge of being engaged to his father's problematic tenant. What a coil! Can Myles choose to follow his heart and please his father or will he give up his desires for duty? Anne Whyte is a local heroine: she heals the sick and once rescued a lad from being hit by a carriage. At 24 she is unwed and devoted to keeping house for her father and healing the sick. She has no thoughts of marriage despite what her most persistent suitor Perry Wenfield thinks. If she's honest with herself, she's falling in love with her patient Mr. Myles, but he's a grand London gentleman and she's merely a country girl. She must endeavor to think of Mr. Myles as merely another patient.

At last Myles meets his match! I was intrigued by the enigmatic Myles in Quiet Meg and Major Lord David and wondered about his thoughts and what makes him tick. This story doesn't quite go into a lot of depth but it was enough to get to know Myles. At heart, he's kind and generous but on the surface he appears a rake and a dandy. No one really knows the true Myles, not even his brother. He feels the burden of expectation on him and doesn't like it. He's torn between duty and desire. This endeared me to him very much. I didn't quite fall in love with him but I did like him best of all the three heroes, even better than his brother. I felt for Myles and I wanted him to be happy without compromising the family name. Anne has the potential to be a Mary Sue character but she has a bit more personality than that. She trades witty banter with Myles and even shows fits of pique. She is a strong woman who knows her own mind and doesn't let convention sway her, yet she's also very proper and mindful of convention so she's not too modern for the period. I really liked her.

The plot moves along nicely. It gets a tiny bit bogged down 3/4 of the way through which makes the ending a bit rushed, but not too bad. I wanted a bit more in the end though. It also needed an epilogue or something. Most importantly, I learned a lot from this novel. I loved learning about the herbal remedies and how they were used. I also liked learning about the politics of the period. Most authors don't write about the political issues from the standpoint of the common folk so this was unique. I liked learning how the politics affected the farmers and how people could deal with the situation. It was a nice change to have that directly in the story rather than told in passing. The intrigue also made the story different from the usual Florence Nightingale plot. I stayed up too late reading this book because I really liked it.

What I Read in June Part II

What I Read in June Part II . . .

Dragons of Silk (Golden Mountain Chronicles, #10)Dragons of Silk by Laurence Yep -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

This book tells the story of several generations of formidable Chinese and Chinese-American women as they struggle to keep their families safe and happy. Their stories are bound together with the tale of the Weaver Maiden who abandoned her loom to be with her cowboy. But Heaven would not allow this, and put the Milky Way in between them. Silk is in their blood from the early days of growing the worms and weaving the cloth in China to the present day, the women of the story have to find a way to honor their past and look to the future.

I really liked the first section of the story set in 1835. I couldn't put it down. Though I found there was entirely too much description of caring for silk worms, I found the culture fascinating. The story is compelling and I stayed up too late wondering what would happen next. It's a bit predictable but something shocking happens. I didn't like that when the time period changed, characters dropped out of the story. I kept wondering what happened to one character and that isn't resolved until the end. The second section is also compelling and I found the culture of the girls' house very interesting. Again there was too much description of factory life and the silk industry. The story gets sped up and comes to a rushed, predictable conclusion. I loved the women in these sections. Their struggles and their feelings seemed so real. They're very strong and courageous women. The writing is also very beautiful and descriptive. I liked how the tale of the Weaver Maiden was woven through the story.

The next several sections are really short and rushed. I didn't like them as much. They were dark and depressing without any of the light-hearted moments or the cultural ties that made the first two parts so interesting. I found it difficult to believe that Little Swallow could have such an annoying daughter and I wanted to slap that woman. Lily/Little Swallow was a bit too serious for my tastes. I didn't really understand her or Rosie at all because her story was glossed over. One minute they're children and the next they're adults. What happened in between? I felt bad for both girls and wanted to see them happy but I felt the sections needed to be longer and they needed something to balance them out. It also made me sad that the family stories and traditions pretty much got lost through the generations. The final section deserved a lot more attention. It sort of brings the story full-circle to a conclusion but it isn't given enough attention. I didn't read any of the other books in the series and I'm unsure how all of the characters are connected but I enjoyed this one a lot despite all the serious subject matters. I recommend it for older teens and young adults. 

The Serpent's Children (Golden Mountain Chronicles, #1)The Serpent's Children by Laurence Yep -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Cassia and Foxfire are two children belonging to the Young clan of Three Willows village in nineteenth century China. Their father is a revolutionary who fought the Manchus and now fights the Demons (British). Cassia is a firebrand like her father and Firefox is an idle dreamer. Like the children of the white serpent in Cassia's favorite legend, she'll fight and fight again, while Foxfire dreams of going to the Golden Mountain to free his family from poverty. The siblings do not get along but they must learn to stick together and fight to save their family during a time of poverty caused by bandit raids, drought, rainstorms and politics.

This book needs some explanation to make the plot really work. There's a lot about Chinese history that I didn't know and the author's note doesn't really explain it. If I hadn't read the last book in the series first, I would have been more confused. The plot is interesting but takes awhile to get going. The story took too long to conclude, yet I couldn't put it down. It's very heavy and depressing for a children's novel. Some of the subject matter is quite mature for the younger end of the age group (12). I really liked the fiery Cassia, yet I felt like she was not a very nice person for all she tried to be like her mother. She struggled to find herself and after she did, the plot dropped and turned into a basic summary of what was happening. I felt sorry for Foxfire. He was the most sympathetic of the main characters. My favorite character is Aster, a "stranger" who befriends Cassia's family. She's spunky, loyal and brave while still managing to be a kind person. She should have been the main character.

Does anyone know how all the characters in the series are connected? I need a family tree!

What I Read in June Part I

What I Read in June Part I . . .

The Actress and the RakeThe Actress and the Rake by Carola Dunn -- Regency Romance

Nerisaa Wingate is a seamstress for a Shakespearean theater company in York. Her parents are actors who have carefully shielded her from anything improper. The theater is badly in need of money, as are the actors, so when Nerissa receives a letter from her grandfather's lawyer, she takes a chance that there might be an inheritance and travels to Dorset to her mother's family home for the reading of the will. Miles Courtenay is one of London's most notorious rakes. He lives by his wits and his skill at cards. He's usually lucky enough to support an opera dancer or two but not enough to pay his tailor or a valet to trick him out in style. When he discovers a summons from his late godfather, he dashes off to Dorset to discover whether he is left anything in the will. The cantankerous Sir Barnabas hated his sponging relatives and so left the bulk of his estate, including the fortune and property, to the only two people who never asked him for anything: his godson Miles and his estranged daughter's daughter. However, there are conditions attached. Convinced the young people are wastrels up to no good, Sir Barnabas determines that Miles should neither go to bed with a woman nor gamble for six months and Nerissa must not act like a hussy and be accepted by the local gentry. The rest of the family are also convinced the heirs will fail. If they don't, the relatives are on hand to make sure they do. If the living relatives fail, Sir Barnabas has a few tricks up his ghostly sleeve.

The plot sounds cute and had some slightly amusing moments, but I had a huge problem with how Nerissa was perceived solely because she grew up in the theater. Yes many actresses did sell themselves to wealthy protectors but with good reason and I'm sure that they weren't wild wanton creatures without any self-control. Sir Barnabas' persistent prejudice really really disgusted me. The plot moves a little slowly. The story felt long and repetitive at times. The romance actually develops nicely and didn't go in the direction I expected. There's a tiny bit of sensuality but it's kisses only clean. I liked how Nerissa realized her feelings for Miles and why. She's physically attracted to him at first but as she gets to know him, she grows to love him for the person he is. The ending is way too abrupt and lacking in romance.

The characters were my main problem with the story. I loathed the villains. They weren't supposed to be likeable but they just made me so mad. I thought they were rather perverted. They didn't just want Nerissa and Miles to fail, they wanted to CATCH the pair. That to me implies a nasty mind. The minor villains develop really nicely. They start off as cardboard characters but their character growth is pretty good. I especially liked Sophie. She's very sweet and I felt sorry for her. Nerissa is a nice character. Her background makes a more unique story than the usual impoverished and/or orphaned/poor relation heroine. Her parents love each other and raised her with love which is also different from the usual poor heroine. Her character growth is good. I liked how she grew.I did not like Miles. I usually like rakes but I don't like to know about their exploits and he was especially disgusting. In between his first and last scenes, he's lovable for the most part because fundamentally he's a good person, but he just didn't appeal to me much. This isn't Carola Dunn's best story and doesn't make my recommended list.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #3

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #3 

On This Day in History

Throughout the summer of 1893 the World's Columbian Exposition rolled on, attracting numerous guests from around the globe. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition was held in St. Louis in 1904. July 10, 1914 also happens to be the day that Babe Ruth made his major league baseball debut with the Boston Red Sox. The Sox won, kicking off the legendary career for the Bambino. Boston sports fans know that when the Sox traded Ruth to the Yankees, the Sox never won another World Series title for 86 years. The World's Colombian Exposition was famous for introducing (or at least popularizing) new foods. One of the new foods that supposedly debuted at the fair was Cracker Jack! What else could I make for both a ball game anniversary and a world fair?

According to The Food Timeline,  during the 1870s the German immigrants Frederick and Louis Rueckheim sold popcorn on the streets of Chicago. They began to experiment with combining popcorn with several other products. When the Columbian Exposition opened in Chicago in 1893, they sold a confection composed of popcorn, molasses, and peanuts, which they prepared in a small factory. After the exposition, orders for the confection rose. The Rueckheims increased production, repackaged the product so that it would stay fresh, named it Cracker Jack, and promoted it nationwide. . . . By 1913 Cracker Jack was the world's largest-selling commercial confection.

 In 1908, the lyricist Jack Norworth and the composer Albert von Tilzer immortalized Cracker Jack in their song, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" . . .

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win, it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.

I was inspired to make homemade Cracker Jack in honor of Babe Ruth's debut.

Rooting for the Home Team
This was actually my third attempt at making an historical recipe. My first choice was honey biscuits in honor of the Battle of Britain which began on July 10, 1940. You can read about British wartime rationing and the importance of honey at One Hundred Days of Honey. I found a recipe in a Ministry of Food pamphlet. My cookies did not turn out well. The recipe needed more fat and I burned my cookies. 

I then turned to the St. Louis World's Fair to look for something refreshing. The fair had a no stimulants policy so I decided on an orange frappe. I thought I bookmarked the recipe but now I can't find it! I made my own recipe based on memory so since that was cheating, I moved on to Cracker Jack.

The Recipe:
Orange Frappe
Popcorn Balls from The Neighborhood Cookbook, Council of Jewish Women, Portland, Or.: 1914

The Date/Year and Region:
1914 USA

How Did You Make It: 

Orange Frappe
I combined 1 c. Tropicana Florida Natural orange juice with 1 c. water and 1. sugar and the juice of half a lemon in a blender with a bit of vanilla. I then added ice and blended again to get the cracked ice the recipe calls for. 

Cracker Jack
There's very little in the way of instructions for making molasses popcorn. What does "Butter the size of an egg" mean? What size egg? I took out an egg and concluded 3 T. of butter equals one regular egg.

I consulted a 1940s cookbook and a modern recipe for Cracker Jack. First I cooked the popcorn in a pot on the stove since I don't have a popcorn popper. I added peanuts and sprinkled on some Kosher salt. Modern Cracker Jack is caramel made with molasses and corn syrup but I couldn't find a period correct recipe that included corn syrup and I didn't have any light corn syrup on hand anyway. Then I boiled the butter, sugar and molasses to the soft ball stage, poured it over the popcorn and mixed with a well-greased spoon and my hands. Once the popcorn was coated, I spread it onto a greased baking sheet to cool. Once it cooled, I broke it into pieces.


Time to Complete:
Several hours start to finish.

Total Cost:
Under $10

How Successful Was It?: 
 The frappe is surprisingly good. It tastes like an Orange Julius but with a stronger orange flavor. 

Cracker Jack c 1893 is molasses popcorn with peanut. It doesn't really taste like Cracker Jack but it's not bad. It's very sticky and hard on the teeth. I think I killed my pan.

Comments from my parents:
Dad: "This is the best thing I've ever tasted! You should market this?" (Um yes, someone beat me to it in 1893 - it's called Cracker Jack)
Mom: "It tastes just like the real thing. It's soo good! The salt makes it good.  I have to stop eating this!"

How Accurate Is It?: 

Orange frappe made in the blender with commercially available orange juice is not very accurate for 1904.
Cracker Jack - almost 100%. I added peanuts and Kosher salt to the recipe for popcorn balls and just didn't roll them.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What I Read in May Part V

What I Read in May Part V . . .

Quiet Meg (Regency Trilogy, #1)Quiet Meg by Sherry Lynn Ferguson -- Regency Romance

Charles Cabot is a landscape architect. He has more commissions than he has time for, but he couldn't help but accept one from his old school friend Bertram Lawrence. The Lawrence's estate is going to be a bit of a challenge because everyone wants something different. Sir Eustance, Bertram's father, is confined to a wheeled chair and Charles has grand plans to make the grounds more accessible, which pleases the old man. He manages to convince Bertram to accept the changes and Bertram's little sister Lucy, about to have her come-out, appears to be infatuated with him. Charles wants nothing to do with the spoiled beauty. He is, however, intrigued by the one member of the family he has never met: Miss Margaret Lawrence. She seems to share his passion for landscape design for the kitchen garden she designed for Cook is incredible. When he learns that Meg has been the victim of harassment by the wealthy and powerful Earl of Sutcliffe, her plight brings out his protective instincts. Then he finally sees Margaret and tumbles head first into love. He knows he shouldn't, for the last man who dared to love Meg paid dearly for it. At last Meg returns home from living in seclusion with her elderly aunt. She's disconcerted by having a stranger in the house, especially one so handsome and clever. She can't help being attracted to him, though she's terrified of what will happen if Mr. Cabot returns her feelings. She can only hope that Lord Sutcliffe has forgotten her. Alas, it seems that he has not and is still determined to possess her at any cost.

This story is vastly different from any other Regency I've ever read. It more closely resembles Phantom of the Opera. (Yes, girls, the Phantom is a psycho maniac murderer determined to have Christine). The plot takes many different turns which differ from Phantom. Phantom is of course a crime novel with a Gothic plot but the basic idea is the same. I stayed up long past my usual cut off time finishing this book. This story is also unique because the story opens with the hero's point-of-view and the heroine is discussed, but doesn't appear, for a couple chapters. The story is truly unpredictable. The plot moves in a different direction than the one I thought it should go in but I think my way would not have solved the problem. I didn't like the romance so much. It begins with love at first sight, which I don't like. The love between the hero and heroine grows as they get to know each other, but they spend a lot of time misunderstanding each other and arguing for no reason. I didn't really feel that they shared enough of a connection but of course I rooted for them because of the wicked villain determined to destroy their lives.

I wasn't crazy about Meg. She's a regular Helen of Troy. Men fall in love with her as soon as they see her. She's a little meek but that's due to her circumstances. She's terrified and wants to keep a low profile. I certainly empathized with her and felt she deserved happiness, but I didn't exactly relate to her or love her. Charles is actually similar to Meg. He's handsome and a bit quiet. He's passionate about what he does and seems to enjoy it. He's also not so secretly related to half the nobility in Europe. I don't really get why he has to protect someone he doesn't know. He's a little too noble for my liking.

The secondary characters are wonderful. I liked the Lawrence family, with the exception of Lucy. Lucy's fault is being young and silly. She talks too much too. Sir Lawrence is a doting father. He adores his children and wants to protect his eldest daughter. He doesn't wallow in pity for being an invalid. He doesn't have a tyrannical temper because of his condition either. He cares about his estate and is a moral man. I'd want him for my father! Louisa is a realistic big sister. Instead of being social climbing and snobby like most older sisters, she married for love and she has a good relationship with her siblings. Bertram is a bit of an idiot but he cares about his sister very much. They tease each other as siblings often do but it's never mean or malicious. Charles' Grandmere is delightful! She's very wise and knows what her grandsons are thinking before they do. She's a bit spirited and not a haughty grande dame. Charles' cousins, Hayden and David, add some humor to the story. Hayden is an atypical dandy and I liked that about him. David is very clever and must have been an excellent soldier. I'd like to know how the Marquis became such an expert on women and David needs a bit more backstory too. The villain is particularly nasty. He's well beyond the typical villain who wishes to possess the heroine as an object. Unlike Erik in Phantom of the Opera, he doesn't have a backstory. We don't know why he's the way he is. He just likes toying with Meg and doesn't like to be thwarted. he enjoys the hunt and playing with his prey. He must not be right in the head to be so cruel. He's truly a maniac who doesn't deserve any sympathy.

An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency EnglandAn Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England by Venetia Murray -- Non-Fiction

This book provides a look into the lives of the haunt ton (upper ten thousand) in the Regency era. There are chapters on "An Impolite Society," "Bucks, Beaux and 'Pinks of the Ton'", "'The Seventh Heaven of the Fashionable World'," "Relative Values: The Cost of Living," "London: The Most Prosperous City in Europe," "From the Seaside Resorts to the Northern Meeting," "'The Mistress Had a Better Deal Than a Wife'," "Clubs and Taverns: Gambling and Gluttony," "The Age of Indulgence," "The Pursuit of Pleasure," "Charades and Epigrams: The Country House," "Fashion, Manners and Mores: The New Liberalism," and "On the Eve of Reform." The author quotes extensively from primary sources of the period which is great. I always want to know the source and if something is accurate. Ever wondered where Georgette Heyer found all that slang? In a book called The True History of Tom and Jerry; or the Day and Night Scenes of Life in London first published in 1820. The author also differentiates between the late Georgian, the Regency and the late Regency periods. Each one had their own set of rules or lack thereof. Some of the entertainments in London in the Georgian era sound like fun but the Regency society was too hedonistic for me. There was a whole lot of shocking behavior going on until middle class religious morality caught up with everyone.

Georgette Heyer could have and should have written this book. It's a source book for many Regency romance authors. I would caution against making it the only source, however, because the focus is on the ton. You will find a bit about the Corn Laws, the recession following the end of the Napoleonic wars and a mention of the Peterloo Massacre. There's also not much in the way of critical thinking about the primary sources. The author does acknowledge that a source is biased once in awhile and she does state that the mistresses she talks about weren't ordinary prostitutes but middle and upper class women who chose that life. She also never mentions Beau Brummel's syphilis and how it affected his life in exile. She writes about his life as if he were perfectly normal, which was not the case. (No mention of disease in general). If you're looking for a light read to understanding the history behind the novels, then definitely read it. I learned a few things and I've been reading Regency novels and blogs for several years now. I would also read What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew From Fox Hunting to Whist the Facts of Daily Life in 19th-Century England by Daniel Pool, Jane Austen's England by Lesley Adkins and (if you are an adult and not squeamish about disease) Beau Brummell The Ultimate Man of Style by Ian Kelly