31 December 2011

Christmas Cooking - Crostini with honey, bleu cheese & pears

Another repeat favorite. It's probably again, one of the easiest things to make and I like it because, while I'm allergic to raw apples, I can still eat raw pears, a worthy substitute.

Crostini with Honey, Bleu Cheese & Pears

1 small pear
4 oz bleu cheese
1-2 Tbs milk
16 slices of french baguette, toasted
2 Tbs honey

Peel and core pear, and cut into 1/4 inch wedges. Combine bleu cheese and milk, stirring well. Spread baguette with cheese mixture, top with pear, and drizzle with honey. Serve.

Mixing Bleu Cheese & Cream
Bench Notes: I tend to use firm Bartlett pears, but Anjou works as well. Betting Seckel would work as well. Since I had heavy cream on hand, I used it instead of milk. I made this for our pre-wedding party too. The honey used was a gift from a student whose grandfather has an apairy near Blountstown, Florida.

30 December 2011

Christmas Cooking - Lawn Party Sandwiches

So what's on the menu for this weekend - well, as it is my favorite thing to do, there is no meal, just a menu of appetizers. We'll start with one of my favorites - Lawn Party Sandwiches - super simple ham/cheese sandwiches. I made these for the first time for our pre-wedding party at the Highland Lake Inn.
Here's the original recipe from Southern on Occasion: A Companion to Inspire Gracious Living by The Junior League of Cobb-Marietta, Inc. The recipe is in the "A Tisket,  A Tasket" section -  if that don't make you sick... and below are my adjustments.

Lawn Party Sandwiches
1 c butter, softened
3 Tbs poppy seeds
1 onion, grated
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
2 (12 oz) packages white party rolls
1/2 pounds cooked ham
5 oz shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix together butter, poppy seeds, onion, Worcestershire sauce and mustard.
Slice rolls in half horizontally and set aside tops. Spread bottoms with the butter mixture. Top with have and Swiss cheese. Replace tops. Arrange rolls in a single layer in a medium baking dish. Bake in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until rolls are lightly breowned and cheese is melted.

Bench Notes: July 2002, February 2006, April 2009, 23 Dec 11
Made half recipe; added 1/2 tsp of Bourbon smoked black pepper; used Bourbon smoked Worcestershire sauce, 6 slices each of ham and cheese, used a shallot instead of onion, no poppy seeds.

29 December 2011

Christmas Cooking - Hot Reuben Dip

This is a new recipe for me, but it's been in my stack for a good while. I was trying to have an appetizer dinner for us on Friday, so that I can continue cooking for Saturday and Sunday - jeez how Christmas snuck up on me. We like Reuben sandwiches, especially the recipe from America's Test Kitchen - it's a total winner.

Hot Reuben Dip
1 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
1/2 pound corned beef, chopped
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sour cream
2 Tbs ketchup
2 Tbs spicy brown mustard
1/2 cup sauerkraut, drained
1 pkg of rye cocktail bread squares

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, mix 1/2 cup of Swiss cheese with all the ingredients excepting the bread squares. Place the mixture in a baking dish and sprinkle the top with the rest of the Swiss cheese. Heat in the oven until bubbly, about 20 minutes. Turn on the broiler and brown top. Serve with bread squares.

Bench Notes: I substituted Chili sauce for the ketchup. I toasted very thin pumpernickel bread instead of using rye.

28 December 2011

Evolution of the buffet

This is how I roll on Christmas Eve... ever since I was about 11, I decided that Christmas Eve, which was a huge thing in my family, was to be an appetizer party. All finger food and snacks, no sit-down meal, just eat and mingle. Ergo, my life as an event planner fit well into this, but it's still at the heart of my Christmas Eve meal. Which also means there will be excellent left overs for Christmas day. Cool.
So here's how it goes (steady as she goes):

Christmas Cooking - Sweet Potato Biscuits

A perennial fall/winter favorite and popular everywhere I take them.  The biscuits themselves are great but then you make it into a true appetizer and/or breakfast treat. I got the idea of this from a caterer I worked with. He serves sweet potato biscuits with turkey and cranberry sauce that was sweet and hot. My twist, is probably not original, but very popular. Fill the sweet potato biscuits with salty ham and a horseradish mayo. It's fabulous.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
original from Emeril Lagasse

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
12 Tbs unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 cup mashed sweet potato
1 cup pecans, finely ground
1/3+ cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Mix the flour, baking powder , baking soda and salt together. Add the butter and work it into the flour mixture with your fingers or in a food processor, until the mixture looks like wet sand. Add sweet
potatoes and pecans. Add cream until a dough forms. Flour the working surface and press dough out until it's about 1/2 inch thick. Using any size biscuit cutter and cut biscuits. Place on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or so.

Sweet Potato Biscuit w/ham and horseradish mayo

One batch of sweet potato biscuits
1/3 pound deli ham, any type, thinly sliced
2 Tbs horseradish
2 Tbs mayonnaise

Split the sweet potato biscuit, add desired about of ham on bottom of biscuit, In a small bowl, mix horseradish and mayonnaise, adjusting the taste to your liking. Spoon the horseradish/mayo mixture on top half of biscuit.Replace the top of the biscuit. Serve warm or room temperature.

Bench Notes: make sure baking powder is fresh. You can either bake or boil the potatoes. Boiling seems fast and I do that skin oon and peel after they have cooled. It's pretty easy. You can sub half and half for heavy cream, but I wouldn't. I use a smaller (two bite) size biscuit cutter for appetizers, and a larger one for breakfast biscuits.

27 December 2011

Christmas Cooking - M&M Cookies

This was a staple at Christmas growing up and though I am a strange bird and don't really care for chocolate, these are really good cookies. I don't make them every year, but decided to bake these this year for a change. This always makes me buy crisco - I don't use it for anything else. This recipe is from my mom and I have no idea where it originally came from, but didn't bother to look either because this just works. 

M&M Cookies

1 cup crisco
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups M&M, plain

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together, crisco and both sugars. Add eggs, one at a time, and incorporate. Add vanilla. Beat to combine.In a small bowl whisk flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the crisco mixture in two batches, incorporating completely. Add M&Ms, mix in by hand. Spoon onto baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes or until golden.

Bench Notes: These are colorful cookies that balance nicely with the chocolate, a soft cookie that is not too sweet. These are easy to put together as you do not need to wait for butter to become room temperature. Have never tried with peanut M&M.

If He's Wicked - Hannah Howell

Summary: She saves his life...For Chloe Wherlocke, it all begins with a vision - a glimpse into the future that foretells a terrible plot against Lord Julian Kenwood and his newborn son. Chloe's psychic gift allows her to save the child from certain death, but the earl remains in grave peril...But when he steals her heart...Julian Kenwood knows someone is trying to kill him and he suspects his scheming wife and her lover are behind the plot. But Julian is shocked when Chloe, a captivating, dark-haired stranger, warns him that sinister forces are indeed at hand - and exposes a devastating secret that changes his life forever...Will she resist - or surrender? As Chloe reveals her plan to save Julian, neither can deny the attraction that grows each moment they're together. Chloe knows the highborn earl could never love her as she loves him. But when danger strikes closer than ever, Chloe must risk everything - or lose Julian forever...  

Comments: First, I hate the title of this book and the three others that follow it. That said, it was an interesting story. The Wherlockes and their cousins the Vaughns have gifts. Chloe Wherelocke has visions, which come in handy to save Julian Kenwood's son. Julian's evil wife and crazed Uncle are out for his land, title, and money. They plot to get Julian removed from the picture in a variety of ways including leaving his newborn son to die. Lovely couple them. But Chloe Wherelocke has seen a vision and knows she must protect little Anthony.

I like that this story line includes something so different as someone having visions, but makes it unpredictable, and sometimes not helpful. My favorite part of the story is the entire Wherelocke/Vaughn clan. This generation, of Chloe and Lord Sir Leopold Wherelocke and Bened Vaughn, are connected to each other and take care of each other largely because their parents made bad marriages and left behind children to broken families. There is some romance of course, because who can resist a man that's spent the past year drinking himself into a stupor and rutting around like a goat because his beautiful, but evil wife, is cheating on him. This is also a mature readers only book, though not over the top in that way.

The story is interesting and different, the pacing is good, the characters are well developed. I appreciate the creation of strong, rational, thinking female characters - I'm thinking not only of Chloe, but also Julian's mother and aunt. I'm looking forward to the next book to see what else this family has to offer - to me they are the most intriguing part of the story.

26 December 2011

Christmas Cooking - The candy calendar

Winter, it is thought, is a good time to make candy - at least in my little part of the world. But apparently, that is not the case in the past few days. Winter, in north Florida is a blessed time of low humidity. Great for candy making (horrible for my hair which craves humidity to make it slightly wavy and not static electricity-driven nightmare). I will gladly suffer bad hair for some time making candy, but the gods of humidity do not agree with me. So, I can't make candy. The humidity is at a low point at present, but it's still 54% humidity and rising with a 100% chance of rain tonight and part of tomorrow. Hopefully, this will clear as the week goes on and I can get into vanilla taffy, toffee, and chocolate dipped pretzels (a total favorite). Damnation, I want vanilla taffy - aka crack, because, yes, if the police saw it, they would think it was crack - totally looks like it - and is easily as addictive. A recipe from my mom's mom. Outstanding. Not sure I'm going to share.

Christmas Cooking - Cheddar-Hot Pepper Jelly Thumbprints

This is a recipe I've made a couple of times because it is a cool vehicle for one of my favorite things in the world - hot pepper jelly. Every late summer / early fall, I make hot pepper jelly. It's just stupidly good and easy to make and to tweak as you go along, so rather than serving the hot pepper jelly and cream cheese with crackers, I use this recipe, especially for the holidays. I call mine hot pepper jelly as opposed to jalapeno jelly since I tend to use a combination of Tabasco and cayenne peppers with usually a jalapeno or two thrown in.

Cheddar-Hot Pepper Jelly Thumbprints
Yield: about 40
6 oz sharp or extra sharp white cheddar

1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese (2 oz)

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 egg yolk

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 egg white

1 Tbs water

1 1/4 cups pecans, chopped

1/3 - 1/2 cup hot pepper jelly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In food processor, mix cheese and butter until well combined. Add youk and 1/4 tsp black pepper and process until combined. Add flour, pulse several times until a dough forms, set aside.
In a small bowl combine egg white and water. Place pecans in a shallow dish. Shape dough into 3/4-inch balls. Roll balls in egg white, then in pecans. Place 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Use your thumb to dent the center. Bake 15 minutes or until the cookies are lightly brown in color. Press any puffed center down with a spoon. Transfer to a rack and cool. Just before serving, place a small bit of jelly in the centre of the thumbprints.

Bench notes: Unfilled cookies can be store in the fridge for three days and in the freezer for three months (just don't forget they are there).
I made them the first time for Thanksgiving 2005.

Christmas Cooking - 2011

My Initial List
Over the last few days and during the next few days, I'm going to be posting my Christmas Cooking for 2011. This is the easiest and best way for me to document what works and what doesn't and what people thought of everything. It will be helpful for 2012. Enjoy!

21 December 2011

Winter Solstice

Well, it's here - the shortest day of the year and that can only mean one thing. Tomorrow the days will FINALLY start getting longer. I, for one, cannot wait. I know it's not terribly rational, but even at one minute a day it means that in a few days, maybe a week or a little more I won't be coming home from the office in the dark. Hallelujah!

13 December 2011

What I'm learning...

About writing is that you don't have to be great at everything to get published. I've been reading quite a few varied and different types of stories and I think I must just be a born editor. I find all kinds of little things that just make me nuts. And I have to stop and go back
and reread things - it's making me nuts because it does take some of the fun out of reading. I wonder if this has something to do with the fact that I now read more on by (beloved) Kindle than a printed book. Books can be produced faster by going to an electronic format, so perhaps more slips by. Or maybe people need better editors. Or maybe I'm too picky and need to just relax and go with a story. I just can't seem to do it.
Case in point, use of groan worthy phrases such as, "this was a look he could die in." All together now - groan. Or an element in the story that never gets explained such as, a letter that someone steals but no reference is ever made of it again - why not - did you just forget while writing? That's what I'm thinking has happened.
I must just be too picky, or perhaps, I should change careers and become an editor. 

Caveat - this does not refer to any books I've written about on this blog (at the present time). 

08 December 2011

According to Jane - Marilyn Brant

Summary: It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett's teacher is assigning Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." From nowhere comes a quiet 'tsk' of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who's teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author's ghost has taken up residence in Ellie's mind, and seems determined to stay there. Jane's wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go - sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane's counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham. Still, everyone has something to learn about love - perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie's head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending. (source: Amazon)

Comments: Would I like to have Jane Austen's thoughts in my head? After reading this book, the answer is no. I can't keep up with my own thoughts, much less having another person's in there too. I'm glad I read the book, but it was a bit long and I wonder about a 30 something year old woman who still thinks about anything that happened in high school.  I bet she's on Facebook all the time too, but that's just my little prejudice - high school should be forgotten because, dear lord, we were stupid then. The list of boyfriends Ellie racks up is pretty impressive, especially her Russian musician (his sex drive was a character of its own) and somehow she, mostly, can remain friends with the guys, after a little time goes by. The secondary characters, if given enough page time, are pretty well drawn and believable. The music references were all spot on and I really enjoyed them. Perhaps a little long, but a interesting read. This book is for mature audiences. 

04 December 2011


I've been collecting recipes since about forever and I have lots of different ways that they are stored and I change those ways every few years. Right now, I have a folder on my computer where everything is saved and I print all my recipes and put them in plastic sleeves and into a binder - yes, it's geeky beyond repair. That said, I've noticed that when I go to make my paper copy of a recipe to print out, I do a lot of editing to them getting rid of extraneous words that just really don't seems necessary for anyone with any level of common sense and who has spent at least, I don't know, a couple of hours around the kitchen making dinner. And no, that does not include nuking something or as the MotH* thinks, reheating pizza.
What do I do my biggest hatchet job on? Descriptions of things that are on the recipe. Do I really need a header for "Ingredients?" I don't think so, I'm pretty aware that a list of things at the beginning of a recipe is the ingredients. Do I really need a header for "Directions" or for that matter, do said directions need to be numbered? Um, No.
I do usually add one thing to the recipe - the website that it came from. I think giving credit is a good thing, sometimes that's not possible, especially if it's a recipe that I've been making so long that I don't use a recipe anymore I just know how to do it - like my pasta sauce, but they all start somewhere. My new favorite recipe is from Mario Batali, but I'm already made
several changes and it will be up here soon. Alterations included.

*Man of the House

02 December 2011

Forever and a Day - Delilah Marvelle

Summary: Roderick Gideon Tremayne, the recently appointed Duke of Wentworth, never expected to find himself in New York City, tracking down a mysterious map important to his late mother. And he certainly never expected to be injured, only to wake up with no memory of who he is. But when he sees the fiery-haired beauty who's taken it upon herself to rescue him, suddenly his memory is the last thing on his mind.
Georgia Milton, the young head of New York's notorious Forty Thieves, feels responsible for the man who was trying to save her bag from a thief. But she's not prepared for the fierce passion he ignites within her. When his memory begins to return, her whole world is threatened, and Roderick must choose between the life he forgot and the life he never knew existed… (source: Netgalley)

Comments: Lovely lovely story. Granted, this is for mature audiences, it is a great story of overcoming adversity and not giving in or giving up on someone you love. Georgia is bright, hard working and tenacious. Robinson, as Tremayne is known through most of the book, is
honest, steadfast, and true. One of my favorite parts of the story is Tremaye's relationship with his father and via that - Georgia's relationship with him too. While dictated by the control of English society, his father does care about Tremaye's future life and happiness - that was very refreshing. Georgia's family, the Forty Thieves, at least the ones we meet seem sincere, esp.her adopted son Matthew. It's a bleak picture of slum life for Irish immigrants in the 1830s, but a fun read. This is the first book I've read by this author. 

01 December 2011

The Mischief of the Mistletoe - Lauren Willig

Summary: Arabella Dempsey's dear friend Jane Austen warned her against teaching. But Miss Climpson's Select Seminary for Young Ladies seems the perfect place for Arabella to claim her independence while keeping an eye on her younger sisters nearby. Just before Christmas, she
accepts a position at the girls' school in Bath. She hardly imagines coming face-to-face with French aristocrats and international spies...
Reginald "Turnip" Fitzhugh - often mistaken for the elusive spy know as the Pink Carnation - has blundered into danger before. When Turnip and Arabella find a beautifully wrapped Christmas pudding with a cryptic message, they are launched on a Yuletide adventure that ranges from the Austens' modest drawing room to the awe-inspiring estate of the Duke of Dovedale and an elaborate Christmas celebration.
Will they find poinsettias or peril, dancing or danger? Is it possible that the fate of the British Empire rests in Arabella's and Turnip's hands in the form of a festive Christmas pudding?

Comments: Perfect for a winter read (even though it's not terribly cold here now). The story of the unassuming, but practical Arabella Dempsey and the handsome, rich, but slight quirky Turnip Fitzhugh is a lovely addition to the Pink Carnation pantheon. It's very interesting how this story folds into the Temptation of the Night Jasmine which of course, leads to The Betrayal of the Blood Lily. The back cover quotes "Pride and Prejudice lives on" and while I agree there is a classic quality to them, but it is not the best analogy I think. These have more mystery, more romance (read: almost sex), and are quite funny. Austen has a dry wit. It's just not quite a fair way to describe the books. I do tend to like the female characters, but Turnip is downright adorable. We all know some guy like him, blessed in the looks department which is good because he's a few tools short in the shed. Lovely story and a quick read for the holidays.

18 November 2011

Austenland - Shannon Hale

Summary: Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined. 
Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen—or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

Comment: I had heard of this book before, but the premiss seemed a bit far fetched (where did that phrase come from?). Who would want to spend real time in Regency England? I like reading about it - at least Miss Austen's version of it, but I sure the heck wouldn't want to live it. Plus just the stigma of being lame enough to go to Austenland? I'm just not there. That said, I enjoyed the book. It was quirky and fun and had all the important parts necessary; scheming mother, brooding handsome stranger, competitive women, plus a normal nice guy.  While the premiss did seem a bit out there, it's written in a believable manner so I got over that part. Jane  - let's see - she's a strange girl, but in the best possible way - I liked her. 

Further Comment: In looking for a picture of the book cover, I have just discovered what, I'm sure, the rest of the Jane Austen world knows - that this is being made into a movie - and even better JJ Feild will be in it.  Ah, Mr. Tilney. 

17 November 2011

Love at Absolute Zero - Christopher Meeks

Summary: Gunnar Gunderson is a physicist who teaches at University of Wisconsin who work relates to getting to absolute zero - it's his holy grail. As he earns tenure, he decides he needs to take control of his person life -  which means finding a wife in three days. That's all the time he can spare away from his research. 

Comments: There was just something so hopeless naive about Gunnar that I had to read the book. It's not just romance, it's not all science, but it certainly is about life and how we, mostly, stumble our way through it. I could say more on this, but I don't want to give up too much of the story. It is a bit of an unusual pick for me, but I really enjoyed it. Gunnar is dense, brilliant, goofy and hopeless all at the same time - that why you need to read the book. 

06 November 2011

I'm prepared to be annoyed

until the time changes back. I hate the time change in winter, though it's still fall here. It's just so depressing.  Sigh. 

30 October 2011

A Poisoned Season - Tasha Alexander

Summary: London's social season is in full swing and Victorian aristocracy can't stop whispering about a certain gentleman who claims to be the direct descendant of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. But he's not the only topic of wagging tongues. Drawing rooms, boudoirs, and ballrooms are abuzz with the latest news of an audacious cat burglar who has been systematically stealing valuable items that once belonged to the ill-fated queen.
Light gossip turns serious when the owner of one of the pilfered treasures is found murdered, and the mysterious thief develops a twisted obsession with Lady Emily Ashton. It will take all of Emily's wit and perseverance to unmask her stalker and ferret out the murderer, while faced with a brewing scandal that threatens both her reputation and her romance with her late husband's best friend, the dashing Colin Hargreaves.

Comment: Lady Emily Ashton is smart, modern, maybe too much so. She has a gift for sorting out problems, but that gift gets her involved in all sorts of trouble that cause notice among the ton. She's independent and encourages her female friends to be so too, which means certain families avoid her altogether. Ms. Alexander has created a real character with Emily Ashton, but her secondary characters are good as well. Charles Berry, the pretender to the non-existant French throne, is despicable, Ivy, remains her innocent self, and Margaret plans a deception to get her parents to allow her to go to Oxford. Emily's friend Cecile, along w/Brutus and Caesar, is an instigator in the best possible ways for Emily. Of course, there is Colin Hargreaves, handsome, an operative for the home office, and Emily's love interest - but will she finally agree to marry him?
There is a largely looming character over the whole novel - the season. What it means to women and, to some degree, to men. How gossip can change your status, how an innocent misstep can too. And if you have a conniving mother, how you could end up marrying some one you hardly know and don't like instead of the one man you truly love.

29 October 2011

The Convenient Marriage - Georgette Heyer

Summary: Horatia Winwood is simply helping her family - When the Earl of Rule proposed marriage to her sister Lizzie, Horatia offers herself instead. Her sister is already in love with someone else, and Horatia is willing to sacrifice herself for her family's happiness. Everyone knows she's no beauty, but she'll do her best to keep out of the Earl's way and make him a good wife. And then the Earl's archenemy, Sir Robert, sets out to ruin her reputation ...
The Earl of Rule has found just the wife he wants - Unbeknownst to Horatia, the Earl is enchanted by her. There's simply no way he's going to let her get into trouble. Overcoming some misguided help from Horatia's harebrained brother and a hired highwayman, the Earl routs his old enemy, and wins over his young wife, gifting her with a love that she never thought she could expect.

Comments: I have an intrinsic problem with this story. Why would Rule accept Horatia as a substitute for her sister Lizzie. Lizzie is the eldest, she's beautiful, and has a lovely personality. Charlotte, the middle daughter, reminded me of Mary Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. Horatia is not beautiful and not rich and she stutters - quite a bit, so what the heck is the appeal? I guess the idea that she will leave Rule to run his live as he sees fit without an interference from Horry (hate the nickname by the way), but really having the Massey (ie. his mistress) is enough to let him over look a seventeen year-old with a stutter? I just can't buy this part of the story.
That said, Horatia, now married has a grand time for herself - basically she's become a club girl - out all night with all sorts of people, gambling, drinking and living it up. Rule seems not to mind until she strikes up a friendship with his enemy Sir Robert Lethbridge. Lethbridge, at one time, was interested in Rule's sister Louisa. The surrounding characters, including Horatia's brother Pelham, Captain Edward Heron, Lizzie's eventual husband and Pelham's friend Pomeroy are well written and quite hysterical in the search for a missing piece of jewelery that could indite Horatia. If you can suspend reality to get past why Rule would want to marry Horatia, this is a very interesting and fun story.

21 October 2011

Caroline Bingley by Jennifer Becton

Summary: When Charles Bingley and Mr. Darcy made proposals of marriage to the Bennet sisters at the end of Jane Austen's Pride and PrejudiceCaroline Bingley was both distressed by her brother's choice of bride and humiliated by Mr. Darcy's rejection of her. And she made her objections known.
Now banished from her brother's household, Caroline must return to her mother's home in the north of England until she can make amends with both Bennet sisters. Desperate though Caroline may be to return to polite company, she absolutely refuses to apologize to Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and instead, she seeks an alternative route back into society in the form of Mr. William Charlton, heir to a barony.
Through her connections with Mr. Charlton's sister Lavinia, Caroline begins to infiltrate the household in the hopes of securing the gentleman and his title for herself. However, she must also contend with her vexing emotions regarding Mr. Patrick Rushton, a once-wealthy
landowner, and the meddlesome opinions of Mrs. Rosemary Pickersgill, the companion sent by her brother.

When all that Caroline has ever dreamed of attaining--an ancient family name, a title, and a home of her own--is finally within her reach, will she grasp for it even if it means disregarding the workings of her own heart? Or will she cast off the trappings of society and give herself to true love?

Comments: Ever wondered what happened to Caroline Bingley after the end of Pride & Prejudice? Yeah, right, me either. I felt the same way about Charlotte Lucas, and Jennifer Becton changed my mind about that. I purchased this book three days ago and planned to read it as soon as I finished the three others I had going at the time. After the first few pages of Ms. Becton's story, those other books - including a Georgette Heyer - were set aside for Caroline Bingley.
She's haughty, snide, ugly and has been dismissed from Charles' favor and sent to the far north and her mother's home. She has been disappointed by Darcy, and Charles is furious with her over her treatment of Jane and Elizabeth Bennet. She's embarrassed and tries to hide this all from her mother, her traveling companion Rosemary Pickersgill, and her old friend Lavinia Winton. She quickly forms designs on Lavinia's brother, Mr. Charlton, despite rumors of his reputation, because one day he will be a baron and it would be a fine thing for Caroline to be his baroness.
While there are a few characters from Pride & Prejudice, Ms. Becton created a world of her own with Mr. Rushton, Rosemary Pickersgill and Mr and Mrs. Newton, Caroline's mother and her new husband the bridge-building engineer. The characters are smart and engaging and it's fun to watch Caroline realize that those around her are possibly more shrewd than she ever thought. The plot is intriguing and moves quickly, but not so fast that you don't get to know the characters. I've read Ms. Becton's other novel, Charlotte Collins and short story, Maria Lucas. In a very different vain, I've read Ms. Becton's Absolute Liability and and looking forward to future works in her Southern Fraud Thriller Series. I can't wait to see what Ms. Becton does next.

10 October 2011

Jane Austen Made Me Do It - Edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

Summary: If you just heaved a contented sigh at Mr. Darcy's heartfelt words, then you, dear reader, are in good company. Here is a delightful collection of never-before-published stories inspired by Jane Austen - her novels, her life, her wit, her world. Regency or contemporary, romantic or fantastical, each of these marvelous stories reaffirms the incomparable influence of one of history's most cherished authors. (Source: Cover)

Comments: This was a delightful set of short stories that were inspired, by some way or another, by Jane Austen. I would love to comment on each story, but I shall limit myself to the ones that caught my attention and piqued my interest. All the stories were enjoyable, but some had that little quirk that really made me think or laugh. Laurel Ann Nattress has created a volume that will have something (more than one something, of that I'm sure) for everyone.
I'd say I've read texts by half of these authors before, so it was the comfort of the familiar with the interest in the authors unknown, until now, to me. One, now, to the stories.

What would Austen do? by Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway is one of the funnest stories I've read in a while. Parents being brought to school because their child is too good? I guess Miss Austen has that effect on people. It's contemporary, it's funny, it's irreverent. I
loved it and they are new authors to me.

Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss by Jo Beverly Can a widow find love? Will she be willing to try again. This one just might because one of her neighbors is none other than Miss Austen. A lovely story with a lovely family that I would like to see expanded into a full book. Again, a new author to me. 
Nothing less than a Fairy-land by Monica Fairview is the lovely continuation of Emma in which Mr. Knightly moves into Hartfield, much to the consternation of Mr. Woodhouse. How can Emma reconcile her father to the situation. It's one of the most unexpected turns. 
It's really really hard not to just keep adding books, but I'll suffice with just a few more.
The Love Letter by Brenna Aubrey The author who until now was unpublished. She's the contest winner and gave a great modern Persuasion rendition that I particularly enjoyed as I work with a number of physicians. 
A Night at Northanger by Lauren Willig. An author I have read many many times and have enjoyed greatly takes on modern ghost hunting in Northanger Abbey. It's an hysterical take on modern television and modern society. Great fun. 
Heard of You by Margaret C. Sullivan (aka Mags) An author and blogger that I adore has written a back story of the meeting of Admiral Croft and Sophy Wentworth. It's charming, but I am shocked that Mags didn't write about Henry Tilney - that said, a lovely story that I wouldn't mind seeing more of. 
Okay, I have to stop at some point. So many great stories - which will all be available tomorrow. If you like Jane Austen you will enjoy these stories. 

09 October 2011

The Hanover Square Affair - Ashley Gardner

Summary: Meet Captain Gabriel Lacey-in an extraordinary series of Regency-set mysteries. Cavalry captain Gabriel Lacey returns to Regency London from the Napoleonic wars, burned out, fighting melancholia, his career ended. His interest is piqued when he learns of a missing girl, possibly kidnapped by a prominent member of Parliament. Lacey's search for the girl leads to the discovery of murder, corruption, and dealings with a leader of the underworld. Lacey faces his own disorientation upon transitioning from a soldier's life to the civilian world, redefining his role with his former commanding officer, and making new friends--from the top of society to the street girls of Covent Garden.  (Source: Amazon)

Comment: I cannot remember how I stumbled into this book, but I'm certainly glad that I did. I'm pleased to see that there are several more in the series. I'm looking forward to reading them all. Captain Gabriel Lacey is my kind of guy. So let's proceed to why I liked this story. It was intriguing, with fully developed characters and in a time period I enjoy. Lacey is honest, has integrity, and isn't afraid to help the helpless. He's been wounded, both physically and psychologically, but uses neither as a crutch. He's also got the evil of a temper... not one I would want to be on the wrong side of, to be honest.
There are strong secondary characters, some of whom, I'm still not sure of their intentions. Lucius Grenville is a charming man-about-town, a trend leader, and a good friend to Lacey. Marianne Simmons, Lacey's slightly needy and slightly tart-ish, upstairs neighbor, is an actress who is constantly stealing from him and attempting to find protectors to keep her company. Louisa Brandon, wife of his former Colonel Aloysius Brandon, who is Lacey's very close friend and sometime confidant. The three have known each other for more than twenty years. Mr. Denis, is a strange person who has the ability to acquire things for others. But why does he want Lacey?I look forward to the next story, A Regimental Murder.

08 October 2011

Jane Austen in under a minute

Okay, some might find they sacrilege, but I find it hysterical. Jane in under a minute. Here.

26 September 2011

Powder and Patch - Georgette Heyer

Summary: For her, he would do anything...
Plainspoken country Philip Jettan won't bother with a powdered wig, high heels, and  fashionable lace cuffs, until he discovers that his lovely neighbor is enamored with a sophisticated man-about-town.
But what is it that she really wants?
Cleone Charteris sends her suitor Philip away to get some town polish, and he comes back with powder, patches, and all the manners of a seasoned rake. Does Cleone now have exactly the kind of man she's always wanted or was her insistence on Phillip's remarkable transformation a terrible mistake?
Comments: This is an interesting premiss and give Heyer a great amount of opportunity to show off her skills of language and her use of details in both person and place. Heyer's writing is always amusing. "A while back I spoke of the three gentlemen who built their homes round Little Fittledean. Of one I said but little, of the second I spoke at length and to the tune of one whole chapter. It now behooves me to mention
the third gentleman, who chose his site on the outskirts of the village, some two miles from Jettan's Pride and to the east." There is an interesting dynamic better Sir Maurice and his son Phillip, it was rather a good one and I enjoyed it. It was also nice to see that Sir Maurice cared so much for Cleone as well. I enjoyed this book, with the exception of the sappy ending which is predictable, but just a click over the top for me. Perhaps this is because I just read The Toll Gate, which is not sappy in the least.

25 September 2011

Two of my favorite writers ... together

news from the Guardian newspaper...
"Like deft, elegant, Golden Age-ish detective fiction? Like Pride and Prejudice? Then have I got news for you. On November 3, Faber is publishing Death Comes to Pemberley: a crime novel set in Jane Austen's universe by none other than PD James.
"The year," runs the press release, "is 1803, and Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for six years. There are now two handsome and healthy sons in the Pemberley nursery, Elizabeth's beloved sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live within seventeen miles, the ordered and
secure life of Pemberley seems unassailable, and Elizabeth's happiness in her marriage is complete. But their peace is threatened and old sins and misunderstandings are rekindled on the eve of the annual autumn ball. The Darcys and their guests are preparing to retire for the night when a chaise appears, rocking down the path from Pemberley's wild woodland, and as it pulls up, Lydia Wickham, an uninvited guest, tumbles out, screaming that her husband has been murdered." How about that? "

21 September 2011

The Toll Gate - Georgette Heyer

Summary: It takes a lot to unnerve Captain John Staple, a man with a reputation for audacious exploits and whimsical nonsense. But when he finds himself mired on the moors on a dark and stormy night no less - John hardly expects to find a young frightened boy who's been left alone to tend a toll gate house. 
Never one to pass up an adventure, John decides to take up residence in Derbyshire as a gatekeeper until he can find the lad's father. But as John investigates the suspicious disappearance, he begins to unravel a far more complex mystery. And at its center is a woman ... the very one to tame John's reckless spirit.

Comments: John Staple is a unique man. Finding a poor child being a gate keep for his disappeared father, he stops, stays, and tries to sort out what is going on. Just because it needs to be done. This book is unlike any Georgette Heyer I've read before. It's way more of a
mystery than a romance. The couple in question get married with no real conflict about three quarters of the way through the book, but don't get to be together immediately. The mystery is what are Henry Stornaaway, cousin of Nell Stornaway and grandson of Sir Peter, and Mr. Coate up to - because it must be something to be at Kellands when it's dead boring - which it is most of the time.
The heroine is logical, the hero is, well, a rare breed of man and the secondary characters, from highwayman to Bow Street Runner to 7 year-old boy are well drawn and believable.
Great read - Up next Powder and Patch.

15 September 2011

Happy Birthday Agatha Christie!

I am in the process of reading all of Agatha Christie's mysteries. The goal was to do it in order, but I've already messed that up, so I'm keeping to the published date order as much as possible. 

Who is your favorite - Poirot or Miss Marple? Poirot, and a nod to Inspector Battle.

Favorite Book (so far)? Chimneys

Thoughts on Hastings... Love him. He keeps Poirot's overlarge ego in check.

Agatha Christie and the Doctor
Favorite reference to Agatha Christie..."The Unicorn and the Wasp"episode of Dr. Who that explains what happens in those 11 missing days. Great stuff that. 

13 September 2011

Joanna Trollope to rewrite Jane Austen

From the Guardian Book Section
"From Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy to Emma Woodhouse and Mr Knightley, Jane Austen created some of the most enduring romances in literary history. Now, publisher HarperCollins is hoping it has dreamed up another marriage made in heaven, commissioning Joanna Trollope to write a contemporary reworking of Austen's novel, Sense and Sensibility.

The pairing is the first in a what the publisher has dubbed a "major" new series, in which it will team modern authors with Austen's six novels, asking them to reimagine the books in a contemporary setting. The project is the latest addition to the current vogue for Austen
remixes, which have ranged over recent years from the unexpected  success of Seth Grahame-Smith's zombie mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to erotic fiction author Mitzi Szereto's X-rated Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts."

Must say that being a contemporary writer, I had no idea who Joanna Trollope was... go figure. I can't wait to see who HarperCollins contracts with to rework Persuasion.

Coffee Cake

I tend to enjoy recipes by Alex Guarnaschelli. She seems relatively normal for someone on Food Network and I've had good success with the things I've tried before that she has created (or I assume she's created). I've been needing something good for breakfast, and since I still have this fear (unrealistic, I realize) of yeast, I've avoided breakfast breads so coffee cake seems to be a decent alternative. So here goes.

You can get the recipe here.

11 September 2011

September 11, 2001

It is difficult - this tenth anniversary of the tragic murder of innocent Americans and other nationalities that were either in the Pentagon, in the Trade Center or on one of the planes used as weapons. Everyone remembers where they were, when it seemed like just one horrific thing after another kept happening, and it's doubtful those memories will ever fade.
I was immediately very busy. My chancellor wanted an event for the next day to honor the victims and responders, and to mourn those we had lost at our university. It was my first real event in a job I had been on less than two weeks. Hell of an initiation, but it kept my mind off things going on in the world. We had deliveries of tables, chairs, podiums, speakers to engage, oh, and a capital campaign gala to cancel. It sounds superficial and it was, but it helped to be busy.
I don't think I really had a good idea of how much of an impact this had on me until late in the night. The Boy and I had gone to a restaurant that we were already quite the frequent customers because I knew there were no TVs in the restaurant. Later, I noticed how quite it all seemed. No flights over head, few cars. It was eerie. It was a very sad time. And it made me very very angry. Ten years doesn't make it any less sad, but hopefully, we, as a people and as a country, have learned something about ourselves and what we hold dear.

10 September 2011

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy - Abigail Reynolds

Summary: Elizabeth marries Darcy despite her dislike of him because she's caught in a kiss that she didn't expect at Rosings Park. 

Comments: Boy, I had a hard time with this book. In the end, I liked it a lot and I'm not an easy person to convience, but it took a a little time. The whole idea that Elizabeth Bennett would marry Darcy when she didn't even like him seems such a strange premiss to me, but I guess the social conventions of the time dictated it. The fact that Darcy wouldn't realize that she was marrying him under durress - is he really that blind, but then again, men are dense - I mean even today.  That said, I let those things go and still had one other issue with the story. The miscommunication and mistakes and bad feelings of the characters take the majority of the book. I kept thinking, stop already with the troubles between Darcy and Elizabeth. This is mostly my personality because I like happy endings (and this one was), but it took some work to get there. I'm a sap, I realize it. But there it is.
I enjoyed some of the minor characters quite a bit. Bingley and Georgianna, were delightful. Bingley actually gets angry at Darcy, which is something I never thought I would see. But it was justified and refreshing. I have to admit, I could do without the detailed description of sex, but I don't care for that in any book. Just not my thing. While elements of the story, for example Elizabeth learning to ride, were engaging and believable, I think ultimately I never was able to divest myself of the idea of the marriage being wrong that caused real disquiet while reading.