Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Historical Food Fortnightly: Challenge 4

Historical Food Fortnightly 2016  Challenge 3:

History Detective

The Challenge: Sweets to the Sweet
It’s sugar, and maybe spice, and definitely everything nice. Test out a historic recipe for sweets, sweetmeats and candies - but don’t let them spoil your appetite! 

The Recipe: Chocolate Biscuits and bonus challenge: Chocolate Cream

Chocolate Biscuits Batch 2

The date, year and region : 18th century England

Chocolate was introduced to Europe in 1502 when Christopher Columbus wrote about cocoa beans during his second voyage. In 1519 Hernán Cortés wrote about the Aztecs drinking chocolate and using it for currency. He brought cocoa beans and chocolate drink-making equipment back to Spain. Wealthy Spaniards enjoyed sipping hot chocolate sweetened with sugar and cinnamon. In 1615, the daughter of Spanish King Philip III wed French King Louis XIII in 1615, she brought her love of chocolate with her to France. The custom of drinking  chocolate spread across Europe and reached England in the 1650s and was popular in the court of Charles II. Europeans cacao plantations spread and chocolate houses, where nmen could go to socialize, eat and drink the special chocolate drink. Chocolate houses sold a pressed cake of chocolate for making the drink at home. 

Sources: History Channel. The Sweet History of Chocolate.
Cadbury. Discovering Chocolate.

The earliest recipe for chocolate cookies or biscuits as they were called, appears in John Nott's The cooks and confectioners dictionary in 1733.
I found several historic recipes for a chocolate meringue cookie and many for chocolate cream dating back to the Elizabethan era. Fellow Challenger Joyce White researched the history of chocolate biscuits, which you can read on her blog A Taste of History. Carolina from Historic Cookery also has an excellent history.

Chocolate Biscuits 

Scrape a little Chocolate upon the Whites of Eggs, so much as will give it the Taste and Colour of the Chocolate. Then mingle with it powder Sugar, till it becomes a pliable Paste. Then dress your Biskets upon Sheets of Paper in what Form you please and set them into the Oven to be bak'd with a gentle Fire both at top and underneath.

John Nott. The cooks and confectioners dictionary; or, The accomplish'd housewifes companion (1733) 

Chocolate Biscuits-

No 18 CHOCOLATE BISCUITS Take a quarter of a pound of chocolate and put it on a tin over a stove to make it warm, then put a pound of powdered sugar in a bason and when the chocolate is quite warm and soft put it in with the sugar and mix it well with about eight whites of eggs. If you find it too thin mix more powdered sugar with it just to bring it to a paste so that you can roll it in lumps as big as walnuts. Let your oven be moderate, put three papers under them. Let the oven just raise them and make them crisp and firm, let them be quite cold before you take them off the paper.
Frederick NuttThe Complete Confectioner, or, the Whole Art of Confectionary (1819)

Chocolate Puffs- 
Chocolate Puffs. Having beat and sifted half a pound of double refined sugar scrape into it an ounce of chocolate very fine and mix them together. Beat the white of an egg to a very high froth and strew in the sugar and chocolate. Keep beating it till it is as stiff as a paste. Then sugar the paper drop them on the size of a sixpence and bake them in a very slow oven.
 John Farley.  The London Art of Cookery and Domestic Housekeeper's Complete Assistant (1811).

Another old recipe and a modern adaptation  can be found at Baking History.
From the original recipe by Amelia Sulzbacher in: “The Good Housekeeping Woman’s Home Cook Book”, c1909—USA

Chocolate Cream
Chocolate Cream or egg cream is a type of custard dessert that dates back to Elizabethan times. It uses up the egg yolks left over from the chocolate biscuits.

Elizabethan Chocolate Cream 
Take a Quart of cream, 3 ounces of Chocolate grated, boyle it well together & let it stand till tis cold, & then put in ye whites of 6 Eggs beaten to a froth & sweeten it to your Taste, and then mill it up.
The Complete Receipt Book of Ladie Elynor Fetiplace. Vol. Three. Transcription. Stuart Press: 1999. p.38.

I found this version on the next page after the Chocolate Biscuits recipe in John Nott's cookbook.

Chocolate Cream

How did you make it:
I used modern adaptations as a guideline for oven temperature and consistency but pretty much followed the original recipes.

I preheated the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

First, I had to make refined sugar. I ground regular granulated sugar in a blender until soft and powdery. 

superfine sugar

For the first batch, I used American Heritage Chocolate I picked up in Colonial Williamsburg years ago. It is bittersweet chocolate with added spices to mimic the taste of 18th century chocolate that had been ground in a mortar and pestle.
The last of my Heritage Chocolate

I grated the chocolate into a bowl and melted it a bit over a double boiler. 

Then I followed the directions! I put my melted chocolate into the bowl of a modern stand mixer and added the sugar. 
Chocolate added to sugar

Next I separated my eggs and whipped the whites with an electric hand mixer until fluffy. 
fuffy egg whites
I added a tablespoon of egg whites into the chocolate mixture and blended it with the mixer on low speed. I added about 4-5 tablespoons of egg whites before my mix became too runny. 

I added too much egg white. I tried to add more sugar to stiffen it up a bit but that only made the mixture too gritty and sweet. I quickly dropped the soupy batter on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and baked for about 15 minutes. 

I tried again with Mexican chocolate which has sugar added.  I reduced the amount of sugar added less egg whites until my mixture was a soft paste. I scraped some into my hands and rolled into a walnut sized ball. I rolled that into sugar, placed on a parchment lined cookie sheet and flattened with my hands. 
Unbaked cookies
I baked at 300 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. I let cool a bit on the cookie sheet before transferring to a wire rack.
Chocolate biscuits batch 1

Bonus challenge:
I had leftover egg yolk with bits of grated chocolate mixed in so I tried to make egg cream.
I warmed whole milk on the stove with sugar and a cinnamon stick until boiling. I then added 3 squares of Mexican chocolate and stirred until mixed and added a dash of real cassia cinnamon. Next I added the egg yolks and whisked. 
My milk/chocolate mixture was too hot and the egg yolks turned to scrambled egg. Yuck! 
Chocolate Cream meets scrambled eggs?

Since the original directions say to pour through a sieve, that's what I did. I poured the mixture through a strainer and into a mug. It made tasty hot chocolate. 

How Successful Was It?:
Contrary to what the adapted recipe says, the chocolate biscuit recipe did NOT fail! The cookies actually came out light and puffy with a glossy top. They crumbled when I took them off the baking sheet though. They taste good anyway - a cross between a cookie and a candy. 

The second batch was successful in so far as making a paste I could work with my hands but they didn't bake up as pretty. They taste really good - less sweet than the first batch and less crumbly. 

The egg cream was not successful. 

Time to Complete: Not too long after I made the sugar. About an hour or so.

Total Cost:    I had all ingredients on hand.

How Accurate Is It?: Almost 100%Except for using modern kitchen equipment I made both recipes as the original recipe said to and I even used chocolate that was close to the kind available in the 18th century.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Historical Food Fortnightly 2016 Challenge 3

Historical Food Fortnightly 2016  Challenge 3:

History Detective

The Challenge: History Detective
For this challenge, you get to be the detective! Either use clues from multiple recipes to make a composite recipe, or choose a very vague recipe and investigate how it was made. 

The Recipe: Waffles/Gaufres/Flemish Waffles

The History: 

I knew that I needed to look far back in time for a vague recipe. While browsing for inspiration, I came across a somewhat vague early recipe for one of my favorite foods - waffles!

The recipe from 1683 
"To Fry Waffles
For each pound [one English pound, or 454 grams] of Wheat-flour take a pint [about a half a litre] of sweet Milk, a little tin bow, of melted Butted with 3 or 4 Eggs, a spoonful of Yeast well stirred together."
---De Verstandige Kock (The Sensible Cook) [Netherlands, 1683?], Translated and Edited by Peter G. Rose [Syracuse University Press:Syracuse] 1989 (p. 76)

The earliest recipe for waffles I came across in English is from 1725

Court cookery: or, The compleat English cook

By Robert Smith 1725

"Take Flower, Cream, Sack, Nutmeg, Sugar, Eggs, Yeast, of what Quantity you will ; mix these to a Batter and let them stand to rise; then add a little melted Butter and bake one to try ; if they burn, add more Butter: Melt Butter with Sack refin'd Sugar and Orange Flower Water for the Sauce."

I then set about learning how to make yeast-raised waffles and the history of waffles.
The short history is :

Waffles were a thin yeast-leavened tea cake or dessert popular through the 19th century. As leavening agents (cream of tartar, baking soda and baking powder) and modern appliances were introduced, waffles became easier to make. I concluded from the rich ingredients in these early recipes that "ye olde" waffles weren't your typical diner Belgian waffle but something more like a European Belgian waffle known as Gaufres. They were baked in irons over an open fire. The two pieces of the waffle iron fit more closely together than a typical modern waffle iron. 

Waffle iron from Wikipedia
Français : Moule à gaufres, Musée Lorrain (Musée des Arts et Traditions populaires)
English: Waffle iron, Musée Lorrain (Popular Arts and Traditions Museum)

Jessup Whitehead in The American Pastry Cookbook (1894) explains:
"Goffers are gaufres, and they are wafers or thin cakes, whence waffles which are, or used to be, called also soft wafers. But thin cakes were of more than one sort. Almond gaufres and some others area kind of candy cakes thin and crisp. Flemish gaufres are our waffles but made so rich that they are used as a pastry dish for dinner with jellies and marmalades. They are also used in all their richness for breakfast, where expense is no object but can hardly come under the head of breakfast bread in ordinary.

Flemish Waffles or Gaufres Very rich and delicate when directions are followed. "

You can read more about the history of waffles at The Historic Foodie and Manuscript Cookbooks Survey and read a history in French or see more images of antique waffle irons at La Cuisine Francasie D'Antan

How did you make it:
I chose to combine the original English recipe and the original Dutch recipe. I used Chef Peter Rose's modern adaption as a guide for measurements and cut that in half.

Eliza Leslie offered a similar recipe to the early Dutch one: 

Put two pints of rich milk into separate pans. Cut up and melt in one of them a quarter of a pound of butter, warming it slightly; then, when it is melted, stir it about, and set it away to cool. Beat eight eggs till very light, and mix them gradually into the other pan of milk, alternately with half a pound of flour. The mix it by degrees the milk that has the butter in it. Lastly, stir in a large table-spoonfull of strong fresh yeast. Cover the pan and set it near the fire to rise. When the batter is quite light, heat your waffle-iron, by putting it among the coals of a clear bright fire; grease the inside with butter tied in a rag, and then put in some batter. Shut the iron closely, and when the waffle is done on one side, turn the iron on the other. Take the cake out by slipping a knife underneath; and then heat and grease the iron for another waffle. Send them to table quite hot, four or six on a plate; having buttered them and strewed over each a mixture of powdered cinnamon, and white sugar. Or you may send the sugar and cinnamon in a little glass bowl."
---Directions for Cookery in its Various Branches, Miss Leslie [Philadelphia, 1849]. (p. 359)

I was also inspired by Jessup Whitehead's recipes, cutting the recipe in half for a quarter the quantity of hotel waffles. I used dry yeast and electric appliances including a modern electric waffle iron. I also adjusted the flavors for taste and made a sauce inspired by colonial flavorings. 

French Sweet Waffles or Gaufres Made without yeast

1 pound  flour
6 ounces of sugar
 14 eggs separated 
1 pint of milk
1 pint of cream
1 ounce of butter melted
1 cup of brandy
Separate the eggs. Mix flour sugar and salt dry in a pan. Beat yolks and milk together pour them in the middle and stir to a batter smooth and without lumps. Then add the brandy and melted butter. When about to bake whip the pint of cream to a froth and mix it in and then beat the whites up firm and add likewise. Bake soon while the mixture is creamy and light When the batter must stand and wait during a long meal a little baking powder should be beaten in after the lightness of the cream and egg whites has evaporated. This makes fine pancakes as well.

I left out the brandy and added nutmeg and some orange juice to the batter of Whitehead's recipe for "Gaufres without yeast." I accidentally looked at the directions for waffles which say to beat the egg whites frothy instead of firm so I didn't beat my egg whites firm. That undoubtedly would change the texture of my pitiful waffle attempt. I ended up with something like pancake batter. I added some extra sugar to the batter to get the waffles to brown better at a lower temperature as recommended by Jessup Whitehead.

Guafres Without Yeast
My modern interpretation of the early yeast raised waffle recipes:

4 T+ butter
1/2 c. milk
2 large eggs
1 c. flour
1/8 tsp.salt
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. dry yeast

Melt  butter in one pan. Heat ½ c. whole milk on the stove until lukewarm. Add melted butter to the milk. Whip 2 large eggs in the mixer until fluffy. Add milk/butter mixture to eggs. Sift flour and add salt and sugar. Poured yeast into dry ingredients. Pour wet ingredients over dry and mix. This makes a very thin batter. Leave to rise until thicker and bubbly. Stir it down. Heat electric waffle iron and spray with cooking spray. Cook your waffles according to waffle iron directions. Turn once while baking. 

I then made a sauce of orange juice (instead of orange flower water), sugar and nutmeg, leaving out the sack/sherry. 

How Successful Was It?:
Making yeast raised gaufres/waffles was a disaster. I could NOT get the yeast to make my liquids all foamy. After two failed attempted, I used the remaining yeast in the package and added it to the DRY ingredients. This was not entirely successful. My yeast seized up into clumps but I left the batter in the sun for about an hour and a half and it became thicker and a little bit airy. I stirred that down and turned on my waffle iron.

Gaufre yeast batter 
My waffles baked quickly. The taste is a little unusual - more like a bread than a waffle. The sauce adds some flavor and improves the taste. My parents both liked the yeast waffles a lot. 

Whitehead's recipe makes a more traditional waffle taste with the added taste of nutmeg. I sprinkled the waffle with sugar and cinnamon as Eliza Leslie recommends for her waffles. These waffles tasted a little better to me and my parents couldn't tell the difference between the two. Both waffles tasted better the next day heated up with cinnamon and sugar sprinkles on top.

Time to Complete: The better part of two days (hours).

Total Cost:   $13.96 plus flour and sugar, orange juice and nutmeg I had on hand.

How Accurate Is It?: 
Mostly accurate. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What I Read in December 2015 Part VI

What I Read in December 2015 Part VI ...

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe -- Historical Mystery/Romance 

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc Wealthy socialite Anna Blanc is tired of living under the tyrannical thumb of her father. It's 1907 in Los Angeles not Europe in the Middle Ages. She's read unsuitable books and asked her father for things to make her happy but without success. Her only recourse is to run away. Enter Louis Taylor, her soon-to-be husband, if they can make it to Las Vegas without her father finding out. The elopement is semi-successful - Anna manages a wedding but unfortunately the marriage is annulled faster than she can discover the secrets of married life. Anna resolves to try again to do all she can to escape, but under strict chaperonage, it's difficult to do. She finally manages to take a job as a police matron. The job is difficult - Anna is hardly qualified- and the men are mostly rude and crude. When she discovers a vital clue in the deaths of a number of prostitutes and urges the police to take her seriously. It seems no one cares what happens to prostitutes. The police are focused on catching the Boyle Heights Rape Fiend with Anna's assistance. Anna is put on duty under cover with her antagonist, Joe Singer, the police chief's son. In the name of police duty, Anna pretends to be his sweetheart and kisses Joe. The kiss sends her body tingling in the nether regions and makes her head spin. She never knew kissing could be so delightful. If only her new fiance would kiss her now and again. She's certain she'll learn to love him once they're married and she'll even give up police work, but she does like Joe immensely. What's the difference between liking someone immensely and loving someone? Will she have the chance to find out? If her father and fiance find out about her job and Joe, they'll lock her up and throw away the key. There's also a murderer and a rape fiend on the loose. Can she solve the crimes before her wedding?

I had mixed feelings about this book. The plot was compelling and I never guessed who the rape field or murderer was. I suspected the same thing as Anna did towards the end but the author threw in a delightful twist that turned what I/Anna thought on it's head. I thought the rape fiend plot was too much of an aside and the novel could have been trimmed a bit. There's a bit too much of dead bodies, visiting brothels and passionate kissing scenes that pad the novel. I also really wanted to know what happened to one of the villains and what the law actually was for that sort of thing. Yes it's a terrible terrible thing to do but I wonder whether that person would be hanged or get off with a jail sentence. I'm not marking this book as clean or kisses only though technically it is. There's a lot of racy dialogue, passionate kissing scenes, a rape fiend, a frank sentence describing treatment for hysteria, visits to brothels, and violence. I can nitpick a few things that weren't around yet in 1907 but the author does acknowledge this in the beginning of her book so she's forgiven. The author did an amazing job researching 1907 Los Angeles and wove the details seamlessly into the story. However, I have no frame of reference for Los Angeles and would have liked to see a map or have the story set in New York, Boston or London but that's because I've been to those cities and am familiar with the geography.

My main beef with this story is Anna! She is TSTL (too stupid to live). I cringed as I turned the pages anticipating her next madcap scheme. She's a sheltered innocent longing to break free from her gilded cage. She acts very immature for her age. Her innocence and longing for adventure don't make her a very appealing heroine. I felt like locking her up myself. I find it a bit hard to believe she could connect the dots to solve the mystery of the murdered prostitutes. I couldn't have put the clues together. I did admire her pluck and determination to solve her problems on her on. I didn't like her relationship with Joe. She strung him along and played with his emotions. He was the only central character I remotely liked but I wish more of the story had been from his point-of-view so the reader got to know him better and know what he was thinking, especially in the beginning. The rest of the male characters were so stereotypical. I find it shocking that men would be so rude and crude to women in the West as late as 1907. The West was more liberal than the East Coast in attitudes towards women. I especially hated Wolf and Snow. The only male who isn't crude is Edgar and I wondered if his refusal to kiss Anna meant something about his sexuality but that never came up. Anna longs for a Heathcliff type lover and I don't think Edgar fits the bill. He's way more like Edgar Linton.

There's a lot going on in this book and it's worth reading if you like gaslight mysteries and crime novels. Marquise and anyone who despises ditzy young heroines, you will NOT like Anna so unless you really love crime novels, skip this one.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What I Read in December 2015 Part V

What I Read in December 2015 Part V ...

Rachel's Secret (Rachel Trilogy #1) by Shelly Sanders --Young Adult Historical fiction

Rachel's Secret (The Rachel Trilogy #1) For Rachel, the village of Kishinev in Russia is not big enough to hold her dreams. While her friends are thinking of romance and marriage, she's more interested in reading and writing. Now Rachel's friend Mikhail is also thinking of romance - with her! She likes Mikhail as a friend but not as a lover and besides, Jews and gentiles can't be together. When Rachel witnesses Mikhail's murder, she believes it was all her fault because someone saw him kiss her. She keeps her secret to herself. Mikhail's friend Sergei wants to get to know Rachel better but he always acts like an idiot whenever she's around. As Mikhail's murder kicks off a wave of anti-Semitic fights, Sergei takes a stand to fight injustice. When something terrible happens, he feels powerless, a feeling Rachel also feels trapped in the middle of it all. After an unspeakable tragedy, Rachel knows the time for telling her secret has finally come. Will anyone believe her, a girl and a Jew? Sergei does and he will fight for her and for justice all he can.

I started this ages ago and put it down. I felt the writing style was too juvenile for the subject matter, the motive for murder was completely stupid and the author let the reader see the murder so who did it and why is never a mystery. After reading the final volume in the trilogy, I was curious enough to return to this book. I found myself interested in Sergei. There's not a lot of plot involving Rachel until the middle of the book. I was surprised the big event happened in the middle and not at the end. The rest was resolution. I found the tragic event absolutely terrible. I have heard about pogroms but I had never actually read one as it happened before. It was completely awful. The writing style is young enough for middle grades but the violence bumps it to young adult level. I especially liked the aftermath and learning how everyone coped and what happened to the various characters.

I didn't really connect with Rachel in this story. She's just beginning to dream of her future but I can identify with the longing to leave her small town and explore the wider world. I also identified with Sergei and his hot temper and fight for justice. I didn't buy the budding romance at all though. Sergei is wrong for Rachel, religion not withstanding. He's too hot tempered and quick to shoot his mouth off. She's a writer and knows to choose her words carefully. There's no real romance in this story, just a quick kiss.

Rachel's Hope (Rachel Trilogy #3) by Shelly Sanders --Young Adult Historical fiction

Rachel's Hope Rachel and her family have finally made it to San Francisco after escaping Russia and staying in Shanghai. Rachel is excited to be in America where she can pursue her dream of becoming a writer. She discovers that life in America is easier for Jews in some ways but more difficult in others. They must work hard and barely seem to get ahead but things begin to look up when Rachel meets Anna, a modern, feminist Jewish-American writer who helps Rachel learn to read and write better in English in exchange for Russian lessons. Anna is going to Russia to cover the plight of the people for American papers and she promises to look up Rachel's friend Sergei. Then the San Francisco earthquake and fire threaten everything Rachel and her family have worked towards. Will she ever get to University and become a writer? Sergei meanwhile has become involved with Russian politics and the socialist workers party. He's friends with Maxim Gorky, the great writer and Revolutionary and the Czar promises liberal reforms. Sergei and his friends know that nothing much has changed and if they don't do something about it, nothing will ever change. His life will never be the same again but hope of seeing Rachel again keeps him going.

The plot of this story was very compelling. I stayed up very very late reading the book to see what would happen. I skimmed a lot of Sergei's sections because I know a bit about what happened in Russia at that time and how it led to the 1917 Revolution and frankly, anarchists and communists don't interest me much. I learned a lot about Jews in San Francisco and I especially liked Rachel's article on the pressures of assimilation. I know a lot about Jews in New York but not much about San Franscisco so I enjoyed the different setting. There is way too much going on in this story though. It could have been split into two or three other books. Sergei's story is a book in and of itself. If the author had based Anna on a real person instead of making her an actual real person, she would also deserve her own novel.

I really identified with Rachel very strongly. I'm not Jewish and I never experienced anything like she did but I do understand her desire and focus on education and her dream of becoming a writer. I also identified strongly with her fears and her feelings of failure. She's a very honest and sympathetic heroine. My favorite character was Anna. She sounds like my kind of woman and I have a new hero. All the other characters were very well done and memorable. Rachel's sister is a bit of a stereotype as far as sister character goes and Menaham/Marty was also a bit cookie cutter for a young boy but he had some depth to him that made him a little different from the usual little brother character. Rachel's brother-in-law Jacob and her friend Alexander round out the characters as men who embrace all America has to offer but still keep their faith in their hearts. They're drawn to strong women who know what they want and go after it. I'm not sure how realistic that is for 1907 but I liked them.

If you're looking for a book for a girl in her early-mid teens with strong female characters, this fits the bill.


What I Read in December 2015 Part IV

What I Read in December 2015 Part IV ...

The Further Adventures of Ebeeezer Scrooge by Charlie Lovett--Historical fiction

The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge Twenty years after being visited by spirits, Scrooge is exactly the opposite as he was before the nocturnal Christmas visit 20 years before. In fact, Scrooge is so filled with the spirit of Christmas he walks around wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year every day, even in the middle of a sweltering London summer. His seasons' greetings are enough to make everyone cringe and his bankers wince as they study his declining bank balance. They try to reason with Scrooge but he is insistent that he must be responsible for helping the poor. While Scrooge makes merry, Bob Cratchitt is busy working and has little time for his family. Scrooge's nephew Fred, a clerk in Whitehall, also has little time or inclination for anything but his job. When Marley next visits Scrooge he reveals that his future is nearly as bleak was it was 20 years ago. It's up to Scrooge to propose a plan that will free Marley from his chains and allow him to rest in peace.

This book is something of a parody of A Christmas Story. It also borrows heavily from Dickens's own life and other writings (Scrooge even reads David Copperfield). It takes the characters and the reader on a journey through the seedy side of 19th century London life, much like the original. A Christmas Carol is my family's favorite Christmas story so I was skeptical going into this, but I enjoyed it for the most part. Charlie Lovett's writing is pretty good. He mimics the tone of the original, borrowing phrases from the novella and twisting or changing the words around. It's a bit more light in the beginning and very heavy on the message. If you like A Christmas Carol, you will probably enjoy this take on the story.

A Grosvenor Square Christmas
Grosvenor Square Christmas Bakery by Anna Campbell, Shana Galen, Vanessa Kelly, Kate Noble- Regency romance short stories

Warning! If you search Smashwords with adult content off this book comes up but it is NOT clean.
Also, each story is very short - about 22 digital pages long and a good chunk of the book is taken up with excerpts from the authors' novels.

Lady Winterson’s Christmas balls are legendary. One happy couple finds true love at the gray townhouse in Grosvenor Square.

The first story "The Seduction of a Duchess" by Shana Galen is about second chances. A dowager emigre has a second chance at love. I didn't like or understand this story. Though the characters were intriguing and I liked the idea of an older heroine, I do NOT enjoy stories about seduction. It's just a polite way of saying harassment - at least at first. I didn't understand why now, why there was only one night to seduce the Duchess. Why couldn't he make her acquaintance and get to know her properly despite their differences in station. This story features sensual kissing.

"One Kiss for Christmas" by Vanessa Kelly features a hero, Nigel Dash, who is everyone's best buddy but no one's idea of a romantic hero. With the urging of his friend the Marquess of Silverton, he sets out to change that but finds it difficult to escape the role he's always played. When Amelia Easton, the lovely niece of Lady Winterston needs his help, Nigel steps in and finds that the comfortable role of knight errant suits him just well. This is my favorite story! It's very cute and sweet. I love Nigel. He's a beta hero, not one to inspire fits of passion, but he's a solid, dependable, kind man. He's intelligent enough to know how to stop his rival with a well-placed witticism and please his true love by just being himself. This story is clean with one little sensual kiss at the end.

"His Christmas Cinderella" by Anna Campbell is a different story. The heroine is a poor relation made to work for her aunt and cousin during the Season. She's found true love but he is far above his station. Though she's been his mistress for a wonderful 6 weeks, she dreams of more. Marriage between them is not meant to be. Not only is he above her station but she is being sent back to the country tomorrow and her idyllic tryst will come to an end. I have mixed feelings about this story. It's wildly improbable but I kind of liked it. If you like Cinderella, you'll enjoy this story. This story features adult content. The reader is right in the heroine's head in bed with the hero. (Despite Smashwords adult content filter)

In "The Last First Kiss" by Kate Noble, a tomboyish girl must find a way to make her neighbor realize she's his true love. If only they can share a kiss. Lady Winterson also might find her dreams coming true after many long years and a string of broken-hearted lovers. I'm not a big fan of the girl next door stories. If the hero can't love the heroine for her own sake without her dressing to the nines and being courted by other men, then they don't deserve a happily ever after. Those stories are all the same and this is no exception. Snooze. This one is lightly sensual.


What I Read in December 2015 Part III

What I Read in December 2015 Part III ...

Bloody Lessons (A Victorian San Francisco Mystery #3) by M. Louisa Locke--Historical mystery

Bloody Lessons (A Victorian San Francisco Mystery, #3) Annie Fuller and Nate Dawson have spent the last few months getting to know each other better. Now Nate's sister Laura is staying in Annie's boarding house while she works as a teacher at the local high school. Laura has big dreams to go on to university and become a lawyer like her big brother. She shares those dreams with her dear friend Hattie from Normal School. When Laura is attacked in the alley behind the house, her confidence is shaken. She is too proud to tell her new friends and her brother what has spooked her. Dandy the dog senses something is wrong and will protect his friends at any cost. When Laura finally meets with Hattie, the other woman has new hopes and dreams and Laura is perplexed and hurt that her friend has abandoned everything for a MAN and not just any man, an teacher and administrator at the school where Laura works. Then Laura learns that someone has been sending threatening and accusatory letters about some of the teachers and Hattie has a terrible accident, it seems like Laura's nightmares are coming true. She must trust Annie and Nate enough to let them help her get to the bottom of the mystery. Annie is secretly thrilled to be investigating with Nate again but it's not enough for her. She wants more from their relationship but isn't sure that's what Nate still wants. Will she allow herself to trust him enough to tell him her fears and her dreams?

On the mystery side, this book is nowhere near as compelling as the last volume. The murder happens a couple of chapters in and at first I was in doubt as to whether there even was going to be a murder. I didn't care about the notes at all and it just took too long to put it all together. I knew who it was almost right away but I didn't know how to connect the dots. I also guessed who it was that attacked Laura though how that played out was a bit of a surprise. The writing style isn't very good in this book. As a former professor, the author should know some basic rules of grammar, like never start a sentence with "And" or "But." However, she seems to ignore that rule even though most of the book is all about teaching and the curriculum at a San Francisco High School in 1879! There was rather too much of that. I could tell the author was an educator and passionate about the subject but as someone who absolutely does not want to teach, I could care less. It was somewhat interesting to learn what women were studying at that time and the gains women in the west were making towards women's rights but other than that I was completely uninterested. On the romance side, I had wished for more kissing. I got my wish and then some. With kissing comes Annie's dreams of someday having children with Nate and his fantasy of watching her undress at night. There was a bit too much of that and not enough talking. I had hoped that by now Annie would have opened up to him or at least this book would have her trusting Nate and opening up and the next one would proceed to full on courting mode.

I really did not like Annie in this novel. Not EVERY woman dreams of having a husband and family. I could relate much more to Laura, at least at first. It seems like her plot was going to change a bit though and that disappointed me. My education, with the goal of supporting myself has always been my main focus. I have zero interest in children - can't stand babies at all and could relate to Laura's feelings about Hattie's future. Probably I would have acted the same way at her age if my friends had started getting married that young. I hope Laura stays strong and accomplishes her goals without any silly complications like romance, marriage and children. I share Laura's opinion of Hattie's new dreams and I also jumped to the same conclusions Laura did about a certain man. He didn't seem like a romantic figure or a killer. I don't see what Hattie saw in him. I didn't like any of the other new characters and had a hard time keeping them and their schools straight. There was just too much going on to remember. The introduction of Seth was stupid and pointless except to complicate Laura's plot and the whole thing with Buck kind of fizzled out with him being a stereotypical character.

This is the worst entry in the series so far. I can't get the 4th volume or short stories at this time but I would like to read them anyway.

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan- contemporary romance

Little Beach Street Bakery After Polly Waterford's business and relationship failed she needed to be by herself for awhile. The only way she could afford to do that was move to a crumbling flat in Palberne, a tiny place in Cornwall 50 miles from her native Plymouth and connected to the mainland by a causeway that floods at high tide. At first her only friend is her adopted Puffin, Neil. Polly is dismayed to discover the only sandwiches available in town are made with awful commercial bread. She starts baking bread as a therapeutic exercise to alleviate tension and loneliness. When she starts feeding the local fishermen, they soon become good friends and news of Polly's skill at bread baking soon spreads through the village. Polly also befriends the local beekeeper, an American man named Huckle who seems oblivious to her charm. Unfortunately for Polly, her bread also earns her the enmity of the local bakery owner, Gillian Manse. Gillian is convinced Polly will ruin Palberne and then leave but Polly believes deep down inside, Gillian has a softer side. As weeks n into months, Polly is no closer to winning over Gillian until a near tragedy brings them together. When Polly's best friend comes to bring her back to civilization, will Polly be ready to go?

The book cover and description were rather misleading. Polly only bakes bread and savory bread at that. I am not sure I would have picked up this book without the enticing cupcake on the cover. The plot bears a strong resemblance to Rosie Hopkins' Sweetshop of Dreams with a seaside setting and bread baking. I would have rated the plot a little higher if the story had been more original. The emotional part comes a little late to make the story very compelling. I loved the setting. I hate the beach but I grew up spending summers on Cape Cod, which I imagine was once like Palberne before the canal was built. Even the more populated place where my grandparents had their house has gotten more built up over the years. I could identify with the locals and felt torn about which side I was on. I was kept guessing which of the two men Polly would end up with until it became clear which one she wouldn't end up with. The romance is technically clean though there's a lot of dialogue about sex, one implied love scene that went right past me until Polly mentioned it. There's another more sensual love scene later on but it fades to black. There's more implied love making towards the end. As a result I am not rating this kisses only. My biggest complaint was the shift in point-of-view mid-paragraph. It switches between Polly and other characters without warning and is very jarring.

I didn't feel super connected to most of the characters the way I did in some of the author's other novels. My favorite character was Neil, the Puffin. I love animal sidekicks and he was so cute. I liked Polly a lot and could identify strongly with her feelings of failure and difficult job search. I also love to bake and this book made me go bake some sweet yeast bread! I also liked Jayden, the young fisherman who was so enthusiastic about Polly's bread and always stuck his foot in his mouth. He was sweet and endearing, like a puppy. I really liked the fishing fleet and how they helped Polly feel at home. Tarnie was the only other one with a fleshed out personality and plot. I had a hard time keeping them all straight in my head. The love interest comes across as brooding and a bit immature. The BIG misunderstanding was very silly and immature, at least on his part. He managed to save himself in my eyes and become more appealing a little later on but I was actually rooting for Polly to stay single. She needed a little more time alone to figure out her life.

I liked this novel for the most part. I needed something light and breezy and this fit the bill.

What I Read in December 2015 Part II

What I Read in December 2015 Part II ...

Death Comes to Kurland St. Mary (Kurland St. Mary Mystery #3) by Beverly Butler--Regency mystery/romance

Death Comes To Kurland Hall (Kurland St. Mary Mystery, #3)
Lucy has returned home to Kurland St. Mary to assist with her friend Sophia's wedding. It should be a joyful time but Lucy can't help but feel down. She's not speaking to Robert after his appalling proposal and she's tired of managing everything in her father's home. She'd gladly hand over the reins to someone else. When Lucy's wish is about to come true, she knows in her heart her father has made a dreadful mistake. How could he marry Mrs. Chingsford, a nosy, nasty, gossiping woman and former future mother-in-law to Robert. Robert fails to see where he went wrong with Lucy and he misses her. He has his hands full preparing for his best friend's wedding breakfast and housing guests in addition to trying to get the estate up and running again. Thankfully his new estate manager, Mr. Fairfax, is highly competent. Despite being in the midst of wedding preparations, Robert graciously allows Mr. Fairfax's feather's widow to come visit. It seems Mrs. Fairfax isn't unknown to at least one of the guests and Mrs. Chingsford is on the verge of revealing a scandal when Lucy discovers the woman in a heap at he womanthe bottom of the stairs - dead. The doctor can't tell if Mrs. C died from the fall or if someone assisted her in death after the fall. Her younger daughter seems frightened of something or someone but won't tell anyone what she saw. While Dorothea's sister tries to work on her, Lucy and Robert once again team up to find out who killed Mrs. Chingsford. When someone else ends up dead, Lucy and Robert have their work cut out for them to fit together the pieces of the puzzle and solve the mystery before someone else ends up dead.

I thought I guessed who the murderer was right away. The author has a pattern I noticed in the previous two books and based on that, I was so certain I was right - until the investigation. There were so many suspects, so many complications that I was positive I was wrong. Every time I suspected the person I initially believed to be the murderer, nothing bad happened so I guessed again... and again. I thought perhaps there might be two killers - one accidental and one on purpose. Naturally I had to stay up late to see where the plot went! I didn't finish before I was ready to fall asleep and woke up early to read the last 40 pages or so. I was certainly surprised at some of the secrets that were revealed but not entirely. The author's downfall is in reusing tropes that are commonly found in period novels. I was a little surprised by how it all came together and what they chose to do about it.

I was highly satisfied with the relationship aspect of this novel. FINALLY we get some action! Robert and Lucy have danced around their feelings way too long and Robert's abysmal handling of their partnership in London didn't help matters much. I was beginning to despair that these two would ever get together. I could have used a bit more romance at the end but I liked it well enough.

If I talk about the new characters, it may or may not spoil the story so I'll try to be brief. There are several new characters in this book and some returning characters. Sophia and her new husband appear briefly and don't really add to the story. Sophia's sister acts like a silly teenager. She may be a spinster with one last chance at marriage but at her age she should know better. Her beau is a stereotypical bad boy with a surprise identity. Also new here is Mr. Fairfax, a very kind and conscientious man who I liked very much. His father's wife, Mrs. Fairfax, is a young, grieving widow. I felt bad for her. Dorothea Chingsford appears in this novel, I believe, for the first time. She's very different from Penelope, very young and I was kept guessing as to her role in the plot. Penelope here is more confident and mature than she was previously. Away from her mother she's actually somewhat likable. Mrs. Chingsford is a dreadful, awful woman but at the same time I felt sorry that she had to stoop to gossip in order to support her family. The underlying message of this novel is that life was extraordinarily difficult for women at this time, which is something we tend to forget when reading Austen and Heyer. This novel is set in a more realistic world where women without money and without homes of their own have to make do the best they can.

I really enjoyed this trilogy and hope the author has more Regency mysteries in store.

Uneasy Spirits (A Victorian San Francisco Mystery #2) by M. Louisa Locke-- Historical mystery

Uneasy Spirits (A Victorian San Francisco Mystery, #2) When Annie Fuller is approached by one of her boarders, Miss Pinehurst, to investigate the doings of a spiritualist couple, Simon and Arabella Frampton because surely Annie being in a similar professional will know all the tricks. Annie bristles at the idea of being like those fraudulent mediums but Miss Pinehurst is worried about the sanity of her beloved younger sister and the bank balance of her brother-in-law. Following the death of her young son Charlie, Miss Pinehurst's sister became involved in spiritualism and is convinced she speaks to the spirit of her son who resides and grows in "Summerland." Annie thinks the investigation will be quick and easy but the Framptons are really good at hiding their tricks. Then Annie's maid, Kathleen, tells the Framptons associates a story about how Annie lost a 2 year old son, Johnny and is secretly weeping every night and not sleeping. This story earns Annie a trip to the cabinet to meet the eerie child medium Evie May. What Annie discovers in the cabinet shocks and surprises her. She isn't sure what to think. Annie feels protective of Evie May and is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery for the sake of the poor child and the deluded people who believe Evie May is the spirit of their departed family members. She enlists the aid of Nate Dawson to investigate the backgrounds of some of the other attendees of the Framptons' seances. Nate hopes his new connections will give him the in he needs to earn enough money to support a wife. He's certain about his feelings for Annie and doesn't like her messing around with potentially dangerous criminals. He longs to protect her - if only she'd let him.

Wow this plot was a lot different than I expected it to be. Like Annie I figured it would be easy to figure out what was going on but the story opens with a murder and early on introduces the reader to the strange child Evie May. I never would have guessed who the "bad man" was if I hadn't skipped ahead and read the end first. I NEVER do that but I was so curious about Evie May that I had to know what was going on. In some ways I was frustrated because I didn't get the answers I was hoping for but in other ways I feel like the author handled the situation well leaving it ambiguous. I was thinking dissociative identity disorder, but it could have been that she was channeling spirits. It seemed like she was being mesmerized into portraying the deceased, but that doesn't explain Eddie/Edmund, Maybelle and Miss Evelyn. Like Annie, I was worried about the child and hoped everything would turn out well for her.

The mystery kept me guessing as to who murdered the old lady and who the bad man was. I never would have guessed either. The first I had narrowed down to two suspects when it was revealed. I wouldn't have guessed at all what the connection was and why until Annie discovered the final piece of the puzzle. I was completely surprised by what was revealed.

The relationship plot was great. I like the tenderness Nate shows towards Annie and how she lights up when she's with him. I appreciated the realistic aspects of their relationships. They don't know each other well outside of their investigations and the conclusions Annie comes to are very valid and realistic. I hope for a little more kissing in the next volume though!

The characters of the people who inhabit the boarding house are wonderful. I especially like Beatrice and the Boston Terrier Dandy. Kathleen is a lot of fun and it's nice to see her mature. The new characters include Kathleen's friend Biddy who is maid to the Framptons. I liked her but thought she talked too much for her own safety. The Framptons are awful people yet they have good points too. They're not two-dimensional typical spiritualists. Simon seems weak. I think Arabella is the dominant partner. Aside from the strange girl Evie May, there's also her mother who is a terrible mother to allow her daughter to be subjected to whatever it is she's been though and is going through. Then there's Anthony Pierce, an ambitious newspaper reporter who once did a story exposing fraudulent mediums. I read ahead so I knew his story already. I'm not sure I would have trusted him if I were Nate, at least not once he introduced me to a bunch of sleazy politicians. I liked how he served to introduce some history into the plot without stepping out of the story and how he had the potential to advance the romance.

In this story there are hints of sexual abuse and child neglect. If you are sensitive about children having gone through trauma, don't read this story.

I really enjoyed it and hope to read the next 2 volumes in the series.