Recipe Wednesday: Dinner Improv – Faux Risotto

I have to admit–one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is to poke through the fridge and cupboards and invent a dish from what I find.

In our house, lately, that’s meant a lot of tuna casserole, owing to a bit of an overstock of tuna and pasta.  Which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily.  But sometimes I want a bit…more.

I came home tonight just as the rain was turning into snow, big fat splats falling on my windshield.  It was the perfect night to come home to something one had thrown into the slow-cooker that morning.  Unfortunately, I’d lacked that degree of foresight.

Nevertheless, I was in the mood for some comfort food.  So I poked the garage freezer and found some salmon fillets, a bag of frozen cauliflower, and another of green beans.  Well, it was a start.  Hmmm.  Something like a risotto might be nice.

And it would have been, had my cupboards not been completely lacking in rice.  Though they did yield a jar of garlic alfredo sauce, and poking in the kitchen freezer got me the remainder of a bag of shrimp that really needed to get used up.

Faux Risotto

Not really risotto. But still tasty

But then I remembered a trick from my low-carb days, where I used to use cauliflower as a substitute for mashed potatoes and rice.  Hey, that could work.

After pondering for a few minutes, I came up with this:

Faux Risotto

1 12-oz. package frozen cauliflower (or equivalent fresh), cooked and drained
1/2 12-oz. package frozen green beans (or equivalent fresh), cooked and drained
1/2 lb. smallish shrimp, peeled and deveined (or use large shrimp and cut them into pieces)
1/2 lb. salmon, skinned
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 tablespoon white wine (I used moscato)
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
garlic powder or chopped garlic, to taste
pinch Italian seasoning blend
1/2 jar alfredo sauce
Grated Parmesan cheese

Place cooked cauliflower in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 4-5 times, until cauliflower is finely chopped but not pureed–about the consistency of rice.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet and add the chopped cauliflower, the green beans, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning.  Cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If the mixture starts to scorch, add a few tablespoons of water to moisten.

Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet over high heat until it just begins to brown.  Pat shrimp dry and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Place shrimp in skillet and cook, stirring frequently, for about a minute and a half, or just until shrimp curl up and turn pink.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In the same small skillet, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter.  Pat salmon dry and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Place in pan seasoning side down and cook for two minutes.  Add more seasonings and turn.  Cook for another 1.5-2 minutes.  Turn off heat and use a spatula or wooden spoon to break the cooked salmon into chunks.  It may still be slightly pink inside.  That’s okay; it’s going to get cooked more.

Gently fold the salmon and shrimp into the cauliflower mixture.  De-glaze the shrimp/salmon pan using the white wine; add to cauliflower mixture.  Cook until liquid disappears, about five minutes.

Fold in alfredo sauce and heat for another five minutes, until the mixture is heated through.  Be careful not to overstir, as this will break up the chunks of salmon.

Garnish with grated parmesan and serve.

Makes two servings.

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This turned out to be very tasty, and exactly the sort of comfort food I was looking for.  As an added bonus, the leftovers will become tomorrow’s lunch.

What sorts of fun dishes have you invented using just what’s in your cupboards?

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Recipe Wednesday: Apple Butter Of The Gods

People who know me probably know I’m not much of a fruit eater. My mom says I never was, even as a baby.

Bananas are the worst. I can’t even take a bite without triggering a gag reflex. I’m told I come by it legitimately: my maternal grandmother only ever ate one banana in her life, one that someone gave her just after her arrival from the Old Country. In her words, she took a bite, and the more she chewed, the bigger it got, and she had to fight to swallow it. So I can only assume that whatever the problem is, it’s genetic.

So on an “Ew! Ick!” scale of one to ten, where a banana’s about 100, apples fare a little better, but not a lot. When pressed, I’ll eat a bite or two of apple. I’ll even drink apple juice, and I love hard cider. But applesauce? No, thanks.

But a couple of years ago, when weather and chance graced us with more apples than Beloved Husband could possibly eat before they went bad, I had to do something.

I made and froze a couple of batches of applesauce. I’m told it was even pretty good applesauce. But there’s only so much applesauce a person needs.

Then I hit on the idea of making apple butter.

Apple butter had always sounded like such a good idea to me. I mean, even saying the words makes me think of warm quilts and snuggling in front of a fire. But I’d never made apple butter. I’d never even *had* apple butter. So where to start?

The internet, of course. A quick search for “apple butter recipe” yielded a plethora of information.

I picked out a couple of recipes, studied them carefully to see what they all had in common. I knew that apples had a lot of natural pectin, but I also knew that the recipe should still contain a certain amount of acid, to help with preservation.

I saw that I needed apples, sugar, spices, and some kind of liquid. Brown sugar, I decided, thinking about how the warm flavor would blend with the apples. For the liquid, I decided cider would help enhance and concentrate the apple flavor. Spices were easier. Cinnamon, naturally. Perhaps a bit of ginger, to pique the flavor a bit. Just a touch of cloves (being careful not to overdo it). And…I remembered how, when my grandmother used to feed us apple slices from the tree in her yard, she’d sprinkle just a touch of salt on them first. So a bit of salt might be good.

Then I looked at how to turn the apples into apple butter. Most of the recipes said to cook it on the stove for a couple of hours. Which is a fine idea, but my stove does not speak “simmer” well. Every time I’ve tried to simmer something slowly, I’ve always ended up scorching it, even on the lowest setting.

But if I was trying to cook something for a long time over low heat, a crock pot ought to do the job. Right?

So putting it all together, I came up with:
20 cups diced apples (measure after peeling, coring, and cutting)
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 cups apple cider
2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pinch cloves

Put apples into a large (5-6 quart) crock pot. They should just fill the crock pot.

In a bowl, mix remaining ingredients. Pour over apples.
Cover crock pot, but make sure to leave the lid partially open so that steam can escape. (I have an oval crock pot, so I simply turned the lid 90 degrees from where it’s supposed to sit.) Turn crock pot on high. Stir occasionally.

When the apples are soft (after 6-8 hours), use a stick blender to blend as smooth as possible. You may have to repeat this later, if there are still lumps.

Cook until reduced to half of the original volume or less (I let mine cook down to 1/3 the original volume).

Prepare jars as noted for hot-water bath canning (which I discussed in this entry). Ladle apple butter into prepared jars and process. (I gave mine 15 minutes at 5,000 ft. altitude.) If you use 20 4-oz jars, there will probably be a bit left over. Refrigerate this bit and use within the next few weeks. Or just get a spoon and start eating.

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Now, as I mentioned, I’d never even had apple butter, so I had no idea how to tell when it was done. I soon discovered that patience was essential. Because for a long time, what I had tasted like extra-sweet, extra-spicy applesauce. Which, I’m sure, is not the worst thing ever. But it wasn’t what I’d imagined apple butter would be like.

And then, about the time the mixture had cooked down to about half of its original volume, something happened. Something that was part chemistry, part alchemy, and part magic.  The apple butter changed from being grainy and mealy to being smooth, almost like melted caramel.

And at that point, the apple butter went from, “Ew! Applesauce!” to “Oh my God, I need a bigger spoon!” Like I said, I’m sure there was magic involved. It was so good that even a person who doesn’t like apples wanted more.

And that’s why, with all modesty, I call this recipe “Apple Butter of the Gods.”

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Recipe Wednesday: We’re Jammin’

Well, August has come and gone, and we’re into cooler weather now.  Which means that I feel more like cooking.  I’ve also been giving my kitchen a “deep cleaning”–down to scrubbing the cabinet faces and moving the microwave to clean underneath it–which also means I feel like spending more time in the kitchen.

Unfortunately, all of this comes about three weeks too late to really help with the late-summer canning.  We have peach trees in our yard, and some years they’re very prolific, while in others, they’re less so.

This year, because of the heat and drought, we only ended up with one branch full of peaches, and they were small at that.  It was just about enough (well, I had to supplement with a couple of Palisade peaches I picked up at the store) for a single batch of my peach-ginger jam.

I first made jam a couple of years ago, when–even after giving a couple of gallons’ worth away to my mom–we still had a bumper crop of peaches.  It was “can or die”.

That’s when I learned that canning isn’t really all that hard.  There’s a certain investment in equipment (a canning kettle, a rack, a jar lifter, a funnel, and that little magnet-on-a-stick for fishing the lids out of the hot water), and supplies (canning jars, lids, pectin, sugar), but once you’ve done that, and you have fruit trees in your yard, the rest is free.

Here’s the basic process:

  1. Start by washing canning jars and rings and canning tools, either by hand or in the dishwasher. (Do not put the lids in the dishwasher: the dry cycle will ruin the sealing compound on them).
  2. While your jam/jelly is cooking, fill canning kettle about 2/3 full with hot tap water and put it on the stove over high heat. Put the jar rack over the top and put washed jars, rings, and all other tools that will come into contact with the jam into the jar rack. Do not put the lids in yet. Lower the basket of goodies into the water, cover, and bring to a full rolling boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let cool for five minutes, then put the lids in the hot water with everything else. Let sit while the jam finishes cooking.
  3. Place a cutting board on the counter near the stove and cover with clean paper towels. Lift the jar rack out of the hot water and set it across the top of the canning kettle. Using the jar lifter, lift out just the jars, drain out as much water as possible, and set them on the towel-covered cutting board. Inspect the jars carefully for any cracks or chips. Set any cracked or chipped jars aside and do not use them.
  4. Using the sterilized funnel and ladle, fill each jar to the bottom of the threaded section. With a damp paper towel, wipe the rims of the jars. Using the nifty magnetic picker-upper thingy, pluck the lids out of the hot water and set them on top of the jars, being careful to touch only the outside of the lid. Fish out the rings and screw them lightly onto the jars. They should be barely finger-tight.
  5. Using the jar lifter, return the filled jars to the jar rack. Lower the basket into the water and turn the heat on high. (Note: there should be enough water in the kettle to cover the jars by at least an inch.) You will see bubbles escaping from the jars. That’s okay. Bring to a boil and boil for the proper amount of time. This will depend partly on the size of your jars and partly on your altitude. I live in Denver, so I boil 4- and 8-ounce jars for 15 minutes, pints and quarts for 20. (The chart telling you how long to process things is probably printed on the box your canning jars came in.)
  6. Turn off heat and raise the basket out of the water. Let cool for a few minutes before transferring the jars to your paper-towel-covered cutting board. During this time, most, if not all, of your jar lids will “pop” as they vacuum seal. This is A Good Thing.
  7. Leave jars to cool for at least 8 hours, preferably 12. Check to make sure the lids all sealed properly. If any jars did not seal, refrigerate and use within a couple of weeks. Label with the contents and date. At this point, you can remove the rings from the jars, unless you’re giving the jam away, in which case, keep the rings on them for the time being to help keep the lids from accidentally getting popped off in transit.

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Really, not all that difficult.  Just intimidating when you’ve never done it.  But once you’ve done it, you’ll feel like an old pro.

So now that you know how to can, here’s a suggestion for what to can:

Peach-Ginger Jam

6 cups diced peaches (measure after peeling, pitting, and cutting)
5 oranges
8 cups sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons ginger
1 package dry pectin
1/2 cup maraschino cherries, cut up (optional; I keep forgetting to put them in)
24 4-oz or 12 8-oz canning jars with lids and rings

If you haven’t already done so, peel and dice peaches and measure out 6 cups’ worth. Use a knife to cut the peel from the oranges, cutting off as much of the pith as possible. Remove the core and “navel” end and dice the rest. It will probably end up being about 2 cups’ worth. Mix all the diced fruit together in a big bowl. Process in a food processor until not quite smooth (I gave mine 8 pulses). Measure again to make sure you have 8 cups total fruit puree. (If not, add more peaches.)

Pour fruit into a non-reactive pan (not aluminum unless it’s anodized, and not cast iron unless it’s enameled). Mix sugar and ginger and stir into peaches. Sprinkle pectin over the top and wait until it starts to dissolve, then stir it in. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Watch it carefully near the end to make sure it doesn’t burn.  (It will try really hard to burn.)

About five minutes before the end of the cooking time, stir in the maraschino cherries (if you remember them–I haven’t yet).

Ladle into prepared jars and process per canning directions (15 minutes at 5,000 ft. altitude).

Makes 24 4-oz jars. You may have a little left over.  Gosh, darn, what a shame.  Someone’s going to have to eat that before it goes bad.  Might as well be you.

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So those are the basics.  Next week, I’ll talk a little about what happens when canning goes wrong.

What adventures in canning and preserving have other people had?

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Recipe Wednesday: Easy Cheesy

So last time, I mused on what to do if life gave you lemons.  Basically, you make lemonade.

This week, however, life handed me two half-gallons of about-to-expire organic whole milk for $1.29/each.

So naturally, I made cheese.

For the record, this isn’t an aged cheese.  This is a simple soft cheese. You can make it in a matter of minutes, from ingredients most people probably have in their kitchens anyway.  And people have been making cheese this way since at least Roman times.

Naturally, you start with milk.  Whole milk.  Because you want the solids and the fats.  Yes, you can make cheese from skim milk.  You’ll just get less of it, and it won’t be very creamy.  So just make it easy on yourself and start with whole milk.  (If you’re feeling really decadent, add some cream to it.)

Now, put the milk in a pot.  Wait, not just any pot.  It needs to be a non-metallic pot.  So something with a ceramic coating, for instance.

Why, you ask?  Because we’re going to turn our milk into cheese by adding something acidic to it.  And that acid’s going to react with a metal pot, leaching metal into your cheese.  Which will make it taste funny.  So use a ceramic (or non-stick) lined pot, please.

While you’re at it, throw in a teaspoon or so of salt.  You’ll thank me later.

Turn the burner on about medium, and wait.  Oh, while you’re waiting, you could get out a thermometer.  (I use the infrared thermometer Beloved Husband got me.)  You need to be able to measure the temperature of your milk as it heats.

Don’t have a thermometer?  That’s okay.  You can fake it.  See, you’re looking for a temperature of about 105F.  Which is about the same temperature as a nice hot tub.  Once it gets there, remove it from the heat.

Now that your milk is hot enough, you need to add a coagulating agent.  Which, as I mentioned above, is going to be some kind of acid. I generally use either vinegar or lemon juice, in a ratio of about 1/4 cup per each quart of milk.  Keep in mind that whatever you use will add at least a little flavor to the finished cheese, so don’t go for a strongly-flavored vinegar.  White wine vinegar is a good choice.

Stir this into your milk.  Almost instantly, you should see curds start to form.  They’ll look like, well, thick, lumpy clots of milk.  At the same time, your milk will start to look funny.  It’ll look thinner and slightly yellowish.  That’s because, with the milk solids separating out, all that’s left is the whey.  Yep, you’ve just made curds and whey.  If you want to try it, get a spoon and dip a little out.  The curds will be very soft at this point.  I rather like them that way.

At this point, you have options.  If you let your proto-cheese sit for a while, you’ll get firmer curds.  If not, your curds will be a little softer. (Romans used to let their cheese sit overnight.)

Now comes the trickiest part:  You need some cheesecloth.  Why yes, there is a reason it’s called that.  But if you can avoid it, don’t buy the really loosely woven stuff you find at the grocery store.  Go to one of those fancy kitchen stores, like Williams-Sonoma.  The cheesecloth will be well worth the $10 or so you’ll spend.  Because the cheap grocery-store stuff is pretty much use-it-once-and-throw-it-away.  But the good stuff can be washed and re-used.

(In a pinch, use a clean cotton or linen–NOT terrycloth–towel.)

Okay, now that you’ve got your cheesecloth, use it to line a colander.  A big one, just to be on the safe side.  Put the colander in the sink.  Now carefully — CAREFULLY — pour your curds and whey into the cheesecloth.

The whey will drain away, which is okay (unless you wanted it for something, in which case, put a bowl or pot under your colander).  After the majority of the whey is gone, take your cheesecloth by the corners, tie them together, and hang this improvised bag up to drip.  (Best if you can hang it over a sink or bowl.  Otherwise, things get messy.)

Now leave it there.  For at least four hours.  The longer you leave it, the firmer your cheese will be.  (I like to leave it overnight.)

And that’s it.  You’ve just made cheese.  It’s excellent served with crackers, or spread on bagels.  I like to season mine.  In this case, I divided the batch into thirds.  One third I left plain, one I seasoned with garlic and black pepper, and one got a liberal helping of dried herbs.  I’m looking forward to having some on my morning bagel tomorrow!

By the way, one gallon of milk makes about a pound and a half of cheese.

That was pretty easy, wasn’t it?

What are some other recipes you’ve tried that sounded hard, but ended up being easier than you expected?

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Recipe Wednesday: Lemonade, In The Shade, Made With A Rusty Spade?

“Lemonade,
In the shade,
Made with a rusty spade.”

My dad used to sing this in the summertime, when we were making or drinking lemonade.  I have a feeling, knowing my dad, that he didn’t have the words quite right.  We won’t even talk about the tune.

Still, I associate lemonade and limeade–served in tall glasses with lots of ice–with summertime.  I especially remember the taste of my aunt’s lemonade.  Now, my aunt was a pretty good cook–and made pie crusts that were to-die-for flaky.  But her lemonade…well, not so much.  It tended to be pretty weak and not very sweet at all.  I theorize a ratio of about 1 lemon and 1/2 cup of sugar to about a gallon of water.  Honestly, you can make lemonade that strong by ordering water with a slice of lemon and adding a sugar packet to it.  Thankfully, it didn’t turn me off of lemonade forever!

My basic lemonade recipe goes something like this:

Head out the door to a picnic and realize you said you’d bring lemonade.  Stop at the store and get a quart of lemon juice, a pound of sugar, a gallon jug of water, and a bag of ice.  Combine it all in a cooler jug and shake well.  Serve.  Get home and discover that there’s still half an inch of undissolved sugar in the bottom of the cooler.

When I’m in a more premeditated mood, my planning goes something like this:

1 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
4 cups water
Ice to taste

While I like my lemonade stronger than my aunt made it, I still don’t like it too strong or too sweet, so this ends up being about the right ratio for me.  I’m told it mixes better if you take the time to boil the lemon juice and sugar together into a simple syrup first, something I’m always meaning to do and never quite managing.

Of course, sometimes I like to mix it up a bit.  So I make Strawberry Lemonade or Limeade:

1 can frozen lemonade or limeade concentrate, thawed
1 pint frozen strawberries, thawed
Cold water
Ice

Pour lemonade/limeade concentrate into a blender and puree until strawberries are completely pulverized.  Dump mixture into a 2-quart pitcher and add water per canned lemonade/limeade instructions (usually 4 1/3 cans).  Pour over ice.

Iced tea is good in the summer, too.  And even better is iced tea punch.  This is a recipe I originally got out of an old “Herbs and Spices” cookbook.  It’s called “Tea House Punch,” though I’m not sure why.

3-4 tea bags
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups ice water

In a 2-quart saucepan, pour boiling water over tea bags and steep for three minutes.  Remove tea bags and discard.  Blend sugar and spices, then pour into boiling water and stir until sugar is dissolved.  Add orange and lemon juices and stir to blend.  Add ice water and stir until mixture cools.

The beauty of this recipe is that it can be served either hot or cold.  Cold, it’s a refreshing, not-too-sweet spiced tea; hot, it’s pure comfort on a cold day.

Hmm.  Maybe I need to make some of that for this picnic I’ve got coming up in a couple of weeks’ time….

What’s your favorite cool summertime beverage?

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Recipe Wednesday: Cool Off With Lime Sherbet and Wine Spritzers

Wow, it’s been hot here.  Yesterday was the first day in almost a week where the night’s news headlines didn’t begin with “Record Breaking Temperatures Today…”  We’ve been over 100F/38C here for days.

So when it gets this hot, I start looking around for things I can eat or drink to cool down.  And that’s when I remember that my mom used to, on occasion, make homemade lime sherbet for us:

Lime Sherbet

3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 can (46 ounces) citrus punch
1/4 cup lime juice
3 egg whites
Sliced strawberries (optional)

Stir gelatin into 1 cup of the punch. Place over low heat and stir until gelatin is dissolved. Stir in lime juice and remaining punch. Stir well to blend so gelatin will not separate and sink to bottom. Chill until mixture is almost firm. Add unbeaten egg whites and beat with an electric mixer until mixture is soft and fluffy. Chill again until firm. Spoon into large glasses and layer strawberries.

It sounds great on a day like today, except for one problem:  The “citrus punch” mentioned in the ingredients list doesn’t seem to be available in supermarkets anymore.  (For those of you who don’t remember it, it came in a great big can in the fruit juice aisle, was sort of a poisonous, glo-stick green, and tasted vaguely of lime flavor.)

But I’m thinking frozen limeade could be substituted; I’d use two cans of limeade mix, with enough water to make 46 ounces (keeping in mind that freezing something de-intensifies the flavor).  Frankly, it’d probably taste better than the original mystery “punch” flavor, anyway.

Also, we never particularly worried about using raw egg whites in something like this, but if you prefer, pasteurized eggs or egg-whites-in-a-carton would probably work okay for this.  The mixture is supposed to be beaten until fluffy, but not to the extent of, say, meringues.

Of course, now that I’m an adult, I can enjoy a cool drink that contains alcohol.  My summertime favorite is a cool wine spritzer:

Wine Spritzer

2 1/4 cups diet clear lemon-lime soda (Sprite, 7-Up, etc.)
1 1/4 cups cheap white wine (the kind from a box)
1/2 cup lemon or lime juice
Ice cubes
Mint leaves (optional)

Mix soda, wine, and juice in a 1-quart carafe.  Pour over ice cubes in a chilled wine glass or tumbler and garnish with mint leaves.  Best enjoyed somewhere shady and cool.  4 servings.

And that’s it for this week.  Stay cool, everyone!

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Miscellaneous Monday: Steampunk Photoshoot Outfit–Complete!

I’ve spent the last two weeks in a frenzy of creating/sewing in order to prepare for a steampunk photoshoot last Friday.

I decided–somewhat foolishly–that I wanted an entire new outfit for the occasion.  So I started with the jacket.

Here’s the pattern I used:

Except I decided I wanted the top right jacket, but with the bottom right sleeves.  But that shouldn’t be too hard.  Right?

Actually, it wasn’t.  Except for the part where I didn’t test the sleeve pattern before I cut it out.  So the upper sleeves could stand to be a little longer.  I do have extra fabric, so I can re-do that piece.  Later.

Here’s how the jacket turned out:

The outer fabric is a lovely purple doesuede; the lining is a mauve linen.  Both fabrics are very soft and comfortable.  And except for the sleeves, I’m pleased with how the jacket fits.

Next, I needed a skirt.  Now I’ve been making skirts for {mumbledy} years without patterns, so I decided I didn’t need one this time, either.  My goal was to make a gored skirt, so it wouldn’t be just a gathered rectangle (like so many of mine are).  And I wanted a deep, pleated ruffle at the bottom.  Because I’m in the middle of changing sizes at the moment, I cheated and went with an elastic waistband; when I hit a final size, I’ll go back and put in a more permanent waistband.

The skirt turned out a little snugger than planned, but it looks fabulous (as long as I’m standing up, which I mostly did for the photoshoot anyway).  Pinning in the pleats took forever; pressing them in took about that long, too.

The main fabric for the skirt is a lightweight cotton; the ruffle is a slightly heavier cotton.

But since this was for a steampunk photoshoot, I decided to attempt an overbustle.  The logistics didn’t quite work out as I’d planned, so I ended up with more of a funky overskirt than an overbustle, but I think it worked.

Last but not least, I needed a shirt of some kind to wear underneath it all.  I’d originally planned a long-sleeved, high-necked, frilly blouse–and that may get made up someday–but when the forecast predicted high temperatures of 100F or more for the day of the photoshoot, I decided on more of a camisole kind of approach.

For inspiration, I went out online and found pictures of some camisoles.  Like this one:

Based on that, I put this together:

Which worked reasonably well, and fit very nicely for what’s basically a tube with shoulder straps.  Though I now understand the reason for the flared bit at the bottom of the original–I had a hard time keeping this one tucked into my skirt.  But I can fix that!

I talked about most of my accessories in my last Miscellaneous Monday entry, but I did work on a few more for the photoshoot.

I had a small gun that I’d purchased at WorldCon last summer.  But I thought it needed glitzing up just a tiny bit.  So I added a couple of small gears:

And then I made a quick and dirty holster for it:

And hung it off of my belt.

Except, sadly, that’s not the belt I ended up wearing.  This is the belt I ended up wearing:

Along with my fan, mirror, and reticule.

I had a great hat my mom had given me (someone gave it to her, but she didn’t want it!!), and some nice black boots.  So I was pretty much all set.

Here’s what the final ensemble looked like all together:

Photo by Bob Strle

Or for a better view of the skirt:

Photo by Peter Dunn

This shows off both the pleated ruffle and the overskirt.

And finally, a shot that shows off the belt accessories:

Photo by Debbie Gilliam

The opera glasses, alas, were merely on loan from the photographer.

(The rest of the pictures are available for viewing here.)

So that’s what I’ve been doing with myself for the past two weeks.

By the way?  I had a blast.

 

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Writing Thursday: Shifting Gears; or What To Do Next?

So.

I’ve recently finished writing a short (for me) story.  I need to go and work on something else for a week or two before I come back and give it the edit it needs (my critique group made some very helpful suggestions, but I need to figure out how best to implement some of them).

But what should I work on in the meantime?

I’m feeling torn by conflicting priorities.  Part of me really wants to get Winterbourne 3 finished up, so I have time to let the characters “rest” a little before charging into Winterbourne 4 in November (for NaNoWriMo).

Part of me really wants to finish at least writing the faerie story I started two summers ago.

And then, after seeing a Facebook post from one of the editors at ElectricSpec wondering “where are all the steampunk stories?”–part of me wants to see if I can come up with a steampunk short story.

(As an aside:  If you write sci-fi, fantasy, or horror stories in the 200-7,000 word range, you might want to check them out.  http://www.electricspec.com/)

What to do?

I may take a week and have another try at writing a short story.  If I still can’t get one to come in under 7,000 words, I’ll go back to work on Winterbourne 3 and try again once I’ve got that wrapped up.  And then I can work on the faerie story between then and NaNoWriMo.

So many ideas, so little free time….

How do you set your writing priorities?

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Recipe Wednesday: Chicken Soup For The Body

Been a little under the weather this week, with an upset tummy.  Which got me to thinking about the sorts of comfort foods one eats when sick.

My all-time favorite, of course, is Mom’s Chicken Soup.  Everybody’s mom makes it a little differently, and I don’t even make it exactly the same way my mom does.  But here’s what my current version of my mom’s Chicken Soup looks like:

Mom’s Chicken Soup

1 chicken, cut up; or 4-6 chicken breasts, bone-in (or equivalent other chicken parts, bone-in)
4 bouillon cubes
3-4 stalks celery, sliced
1 small onion, chopped
5-6 carrots, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup barley
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Salt to taste (check before salting, since the bouillon cubes add lots of salt)
1 package egg noodles

Fill an 8-quart stockpot about halfway with water. Add chicken parts, bouillon cubes, celery, onions, carrots, barley, and seasonings. Cook for about an hour. Remove chicken parts from pot and allow to cool enough to handle. De-bone chicken, cutting up meat into 1/2″ cubes. Return meat to pot and continue cooking for about half an hour. Skim off any fat.

While soup is cooking, cook egg noodles according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water.

To serve soup, place a serving of noodles in the bottom of a bowl and ladle soup over it.

————————-

Cooking the noodles separately allows you to store, freeze, and re-heat the soup without the noodles disintegrating.  Which is helpful if you want to make up a big batch and freeze some so you have it on hand the next time you get sick.  (Which I’m going to do as soon as I have a freezer again.)

I also like a good egg-drop soup when I’m sick:

Egg Drop Soup

4 cans (13 ounces) clear chicken broth
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup chopped green onions
1/2 package tofu, cubed (optional)

Heat broth to boiling point in large saucepan. Meanwhile, in small bowl, make a smooth paste of cornstarch and 1/4 cup cold water. Into hot broth, slowly stir cornstarch mixture, with sugar, salt, and pepper. Heat to boiling point, stirring constantly—mixture should be slightly thickened and translucent. Reduce heat. Add eggs, a small amount at a time, stirring to separate them into shreds. Add tofu, if desired. Remove from heat; add green onions. Serve at once.

(When making it for an upset tummy, try adding a pinch or two of powdered ginger.)

————————-

I find other foods comforting when I’m sick, too.  Rice is a big one for me.  I’ve recently come up with a quick, easy way to turn leftover rice into a light meal, perfect when you’re recovering from a tummy bug:

Eggy Rice

3/4 cup leftover rice
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons egg white OR 1-2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon grated cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Place the leftover rice in a small bowl.  Drizzle water over it.  Microwave on HIGH for one minute.  (This re-steams the rice.)

Pour egg whites or beaten egg over rice.  Sprinkle with cheese, salt, and pepper.  Return to microwave for an additional 40 seconds on HIGH.

The result is hearty without being heavy.  I sometimes have this for breakfast even when I’m not sick.  Works well with fried rice, too.  And if you’re in a pinch and don’t have any leftover rice, those “rice-in-a-bag” packets work, too.

What foods do other people find comforting when they’re sick?

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Miscellaneous Monday: Steampunk Creations and Finds

I’ve decided that, on Mondays, I’m going to post about various other creative endeavors.  So you might see sewing projects here, or jewelry, or photography, or who knows what.

Today, I’m going to share the results of a weekend spent shopping for and making things to go with my steampunk outfit.

Saturday morning, bright and early, we (my friends Rivka, Melanie, and I) were off to the Baker Neighborhood Yard Sale.  We love yard sales in older, established neighborhoods like this; you get such a wide range of stuff at them (unlike sales in newer suburban neighborhoods, which are often mostly baby clothes and toys).

I’m going to start with one of the two best things I got all weekend. It was at one of the first sales we stopped at:

Antique Reticule and Hand Mirror

That’s it there on the left. It’s a little reticule-ish purse, about 6″ long, hanging from a cord. My rough guesstimate puts it at possibly 1920’s or ’30’s, but that’s only based on a gut feeling. Still, it’ll look smashing hanging from my steampunk “utility belt”.

Here’s what it looks like open:

The Reticule, Opened

The mirror makes me think it might have been a make-up case of some kind. It’s still really cool.

The other “big find” of the day came from a sale that was tucked away in a back-alley:

Best Buck Spent All Weekend

Just look at all that brass, and all those gears! Yes, it’s the guts of a clock, and it’s broken, so I don’t need to feel any guilt if I decide to take it apart for pieces. I paid $1 for it. Well worth it. It’s about 5″ square, and heavy.

Here’s a shot of the back side:

Clockworks & Vest Fabric

Aren’t those gears great?

Of course, I may not be able to take it apart. Beloved Husband is fascinated with it, and wants to tinker with it a bit to see if he can figure out how to make it work again.

We found other treasures as well. Behind the clock in the above shot is a chunk of fabric that will make a nice vest for Beloved Husband. Next to it is a lovely canvas messenger bag that’s perfect for a steampunk adventurer’s outfit. (I’ll post a better shot of that later.)

I also picked up some grab bags of broken/junk jewelry, some copper mugs, a really pretty lace insert, and some less steampunky things, like a battery charger and a Tupperware lunch set.

I took all my stuff home and started to go through it. The junk jewelry yielded a lot of good bits and pieces that can be used for various projects later. There was also a sparkly green choker that just needed a couple of jump rings to be wearable again, so I fixed that up and gave it to Rivka (since she wears chokers and I don’t). I glued new pin-backs onto a couple of broken pins, and took some other pieces apart with a view to making a new necklace or two.

Then yesterday, I got to looking around and realized that I had some other recent finds that just needed a little fixing up in order to be useful. For instance, this little chest:

Games chest

I picked this up at a yard sale for $1. It had originally had a strip of coppery metallic trim down the center, but the glue had started to come loose, and the–very sharp!–corners were sticking out and had the potential to cause injury. The former owners had started to peel the trim off, but got stuck when they couldn’t figure out how to get it out from under the latch.

I quickly figured out that the latch could easily be unscrewed, and if I was careful, I could screw it back on again later. So I did that, and off came the metal trim. A quick rummage through my scraps of fabric trim yielded a piece that was the perfect length and width to replace the metal trim, so I glued that in place and put the latch back on. Voila!

My intention is to use this to carry various small games around, so I can take it to picnics and such. So far, I have sets of balls-and-jacks (with actual metal jacks!) some pick-up sticks, a folding cribbage board, some decks of cards, and some small dice games to put in it.

Next, I got to tinkering around with the jewelry bits, and came up with a fun, Egyptian-themed necklace (shown here with a close-up of the lace insert):

"King Tut" necklace and lace insert

There were actually three of the “King Tut” medallions in the grab bags, but after I played with it a bit, I decided the necklace looked better with just one of them. The metallic side medallions also came in the grab bag, but the red beads and belly-dance bells came from my bead stash. I’m actually quite pleased with how it came out.

Then I’d been wanting to make up some “airship captain” medals for quite a while, so since I had all of my stuff out, I put together a few of those:

Another view

The medals are on the left. The top two were essentially Michael’s finds. One only needed a pin-back glued onto it. The other needed a little “remodeling” and the addition of some ribbon for it to dangle from (and a pin-back sewn on). The yellow ribbon came from the jewelry grab bag (wrapped around a belt buckle I’ll use for something sooner or later).

The two bottom medals were put together from scraps of junk jewelry from an earlier yard sale find. I especially like the way the green one came out.

On the right are four watch fobs I put together from various jewelry scraps. They have lobster-claw clasps so they can be attached/detached easily, and changed at whim. The chains were broken bits that came from various yard sale finds–this is a great way to use up little bits of chain!

I also made a sheath for a little pearl-handled penknife that I’ve had for a while, and which I wanted to be able to wear on a belt:

Knife sheath

I think it’ll look good with my “western steam” outfit.

In the upper right corner, you can see the back of a small round mirror, to which I glued some fabric to make it prettier. I also tied it to a ribbon with some beads, so it can also hang off of my belt.  (The front is pictured above, alongside the reticule.)

So here’s the sum-total of the weekend’s activity, pictured on top of an improbably-pink side of leather, which I found in my stash with a tag on it that said “50 cents”:

Recent finds and creations

I’m really looking forward to wearing/using some of this stuff!

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Recipe Wednesday: Still More Tea Sandwiches

Some friends of mine and I recently held a little steampunk tea party at the Denver Botanic Gardens.  It’s becoming an annual tradition for us, and one we enjoy greatly.

This time out, I once again prepared Curried Egg Salad and Cucumber with Mint Butter sandwiches.  In addition, this time I did Chicken with Mandarin Orange, Brie with Prosciutto, and–at last!–Watercress sandwiches.

Brie with Prosciutto are one of my favorite easy tea sandwiches.  Just layer Prosciutto on bread, and arrange thin slices of Brie on top of it.

DSCF5182

The trick to getting nice, thin, even slices of Brie is to make sure the cheese is well-chilled to start with.  (On hot days, I’ll usually pop it into the freezer for about half an hour before slicing.)  Then I use one of those cheese slicers, with the roller and the little wire, to make the slices thin and even.  Once the sandwiches are assembled, I often press them down a little using a rolling pin.

Next, Chicken with Mandarin Oranges, one of my Beloved Husband’s favorites:

DSCF4574

I always start by cooking the chicken up fresh.  It tastes much better than the canned stuff!  Here’s the recipe:

Chicken and Mandarin Orange Salad Sandwiches

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 pound chicken tenderloins
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
1/8 teaspoon rosemary, crushed
2 pinches ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1 stalk celery, finely minced
1/2 cup mandarin orange, drained and finely minced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
Twelve slices bread

In a large skillet, heat olive oil. Place tenderloins in pan and sprinkle with half of the spices. Cook for five minutes over medium-high heat. Turn and sprinkle with remaining spices and cook for an additional five minutes, or just until done. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Shred chicken finely, removing any fat, skin, or gristle. Add celery, oranges, mayonnaise, and remaining ground ginger. Mix well. Spread on white or wheat bread. Makes approximately six sandwiches.

———-

Technically, this recipe calls for chicken tenderloins; I think that’s because I’d bought some whole chicken breasts and had used the rest of the meat for something else. You could use meat from any part of the chicken, really; the important thing is that the chicken should be fresh, not canned.

Finally, as long promised, this time around, I actually managed to acquire some watercress and make Watercress sandwiches.

DSCF4582

They were really yummy–definitely worth the wait!

Watercress Sandwiches

1/2 cup watercress
1/4 cup parsley leaves, chopped
1/4 cup butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons chives, chopped
8 slices bread

Layer watercress on half of the bread slices. Chop the parsley until fine. Blend with butter, cream cheese and chives. Spread on the other half of the bread slices, and make into sandwiches. Remove crusts and slice diagonally into quarters.

———-

The original version of this recipe called for chopping the watercress up and mixing it with the cream cheese and butter. But for me, the joy of a watercress sandwich is biting into layers of watercress leaves. So I’ve modified the recipe slightly. (The original also neglected to list bread in the ingredients. I suppose they thought it was obvious?)

It was a beautiful day in the gardens, though it started out cool and a little damp.  There was a lovely mist rising off of one of the fountains, making the surrounding gardens look all moody and atmospheric:

DSCF4541

Later, after tea, we took lots of lovely pictures of flowers.  And, of course, we’re usually there when the iris are in full bloom:

DSCF5272

Later (after a brief rain shower sent us running back to the gazebo to pack away the lunch leftovers), we wandered around the gardens some more and came across Mama Goose and her babies:

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The babies were fuzzy and yellow and adorable!

As always, we ended up in the Japanese Garden.  The late afternoon sun picked out this tree for me:

DSCF4777

For lots more pictures of the Botanic Gardens and our tea party, check out my Flicker account.  (The set contains pictures taken by both me and my Beloved Husband.)

And that’s all for this week.  Next week, I’ll be back with…something yummy.  I’m just not sure what, yet!

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Writing Thursday: Finishing What I Started, June 2012 Edition

So.  Here it is, the beginning of June, and so far, I’ve met three of my writing goals for the year:

  1. Completed deep edits on Book 1 of The Daughters of August Winterbourne.
  2. Submitted same to a publisher (still waiting to hear back).
  3. Wrote a short (well, shorter than novel-length, anyway) story.  (13,500 words; I’d classify it as horror, but I’m not sure that’s really where it fits.)

So maybe this is a good time to see how I’m doing with other writing goals:

  • Compile a list of agents and send Winterbourne 1  to some of them as well.  I’d really like to see if I can sell this story (and the rest of the series, while I’m at it).
  • Compile a list of magazines/anthologies/e-zines that might be looking for stories in the 13,000-word range (the above-mentioned “short” story).  Edit story and submit to same.
  • Finish Winterbourne 3 (started last November; currently at about 65,000 words).
  • Finish Faerie novel (started Summer 2010; currently at about 50,000 words).  That one’s been kind of on hold, given that I haven’t yet figured out how to incorporate the feedback I got on it at Renovation.
  • Write Weird Western story.  (I’ve had one niggling at me for over a year now.)
  • And, oh, yeah, continue writing the Dragon Friday story (sorry for getting off-track with that one…)
  • [NaNoWriMo] Write Winterbourne 4 (hopefully concluding the series).

Obviously, I really need to finish Winterbourne 3 prior to November, when I’ll be starting work on Winterbourne 4.  So perhaps I’ll try to prioritize that in the month of June.

Another writing-related goal is to do some work on my front porch–mostly sweeping and de-spidering it–and get a table and chairs to put out there so I can sit out there and work on nice days.  The front porch is well-shaded and has a handy electrical outlet, which would make it a nice place to sit and work.

All of that ought to keep me plenty busy for the rest of the year.  And then some.

What writing goals do other people have?

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Recipe Wednesday: Meat Dishes From The Middle Ages

Sorry, guys. Looks like I fell off the blogcycle again. Let’s see if we can get ‘er going again with this:

Still posting recipes and pictures from the SCA Known World Cooks and Bards event near Woodland Park, CO, last month. This time, meat dishes!

First up, homemade sausages:

Beef Sausages

I was always intimidated by the idea of making homemade sausages, until I did it once.  Then I realized that it wasn’t really all that hard.  The important thing is to keep everything clean and cold.  (I’ll do a more thorough posting on the sausage-making process at some point, but those are the most important details.)

These particular sausages are made from beef rather than pork, although they still use pork casings.  (We saved some of the meat out to fry up without casings for diners who don’t eat pork.)

The recipe comes from Platina , by way of Master Robin Vinehall, who is responsible for the modern version of the recipe below.

Master Robin Vinehall’s Beef Sausages

20. Meat Sausages
Take meat from a veal haunch, and cut it up small with its own fat or with lard. Grind marjoram and parsley together, and beat egg yolk and grated cheese with a paddle, sprinkle on spices, make a single mass and mix everything with the meat itself. Then wrap this mixture with pork or veal casing, after it has been cut off in pieces to the size of an egg. Cook on a spit at the hearth on a slow fire. The common people call this sausage mortadella because it is surely more pleasant a little raw than overcooked. For this reason it is digested slowly, makes obstructions, creates stone, but nevertheless helps the heart and liver.
–Platina, On Right Pleasure and Good Health, c. 1475

5 pounds ground beef (high-fat – not more than 78% lean!)
8 egg yolks
1 1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sage
2/3 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoon marjoram
2 tablespoons salt (Note: If you make this sausage without the casing, cut the salt in half.)
2/3 teaspoon thyme
sausage casings

Grind all the spices and mix together. Then mix them thoroughly with the ground beef, egg yolks and cheese. Finally, stuff the sausage casing with the mixture; putting the sausage and cheese mixture through the meat grinder a second time gives a more finely textured sausage.

The spices and cheese make this a wonderfully tasty sausage.

Next, a chicken dish:  Mosy for Soper in Somer

Mosy for Soper in Somer

I don’t know what it is about this dish that makes it especially good for supper in summer, because I think it’s good all year ’round.

Mosy for Soper in Somer
(Chicken and Pine Nuts)

Mosy for Soper in Somer.
Take ſmale chekyns and chop hom, and ſethe hom in brothe of beef, and wyne; and caſt therto clowes, maces, pynes, and hew parſel and ſauge and caſt therto, and colour hit with ſaffron; and take pouder of pepur, or of greynes de paris, and put therto, and take eyren broken, and drawe thurgh a ſtreynour zolk and al, and bete hit with a pot ſtik, and put therto an unce of ginger, and ſhote al into the ſame pot to the chekeneſſe, and ſtur hit well, and when hit begyunes to boyle ſet hit from the fire; and ſerve hit forthe.
–Arundel MS. 344 (early 15th c.), quoted in Ancient Cookery

5 pounds boneless chicken, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cans beef broth (or equivalent fresh)
2 cups white wine
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon mace
1 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup parsley, washed and plucked
1/2 teaspoon dried sage, or 1 tablespoon fresh
3-5 threads saffron
1/2 teaspoon pepper or ground grains of paradise, or a combination
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon ginger

Mix broth, wine, cloves, mace, pine nuts, parsley, sage, saffron, and pepper/grains in a medium stockpot. Bring to a boil. Add chicken and simmer for 45 minutes, or until chicken is stewed and tender. Draw out 1 cup of the hot broth. Add the eggs to this, a little at a time, stirring constantly; then add this mixture back to the simmering stockpot a little at a time, stirring constantly. Add ginger and bring to a boil.

The eggs thicken the broth; or at least, they’re supposed to.  Quite often, they just curdle (at least in my experience).  But they still add nice body to the broth.

There were other meat dishes as well, and while I don’t have the recipes handy for sharing, I’ll still share the pretty pictures!

Pork sausages:

Pork Sausages

Chicken Pie:

Chicken Pie

Venison Stew:

Venison Stew

And last, some lovely Garlic-Crusted Lamb:

Lamb

And that’s all for this time!

Next week, I’ll be back with some additional tea sandwiches.

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Writing Thursday: Out Of The Nest; or, I Submitted My Story!

Sorry for the long absence on the writing front.  Things got a little busy around here.

So when we last talked, I was getting ready to submit my novel, The Daughters of August Winterbourne, to the Strange Chemistry Open Door (note: not sure how long the page will remain up, but it’s still there for now).  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, and “open door” is when a publisher that usually only accepts agented submissions invites everyone and anyone to submit.

Well, in this case, they weren’t looking for just anyone.  They were looking for Young Adult books that are sci-fi, fantasy, or horror.  And while The Daughters of August Winterbourne wasn’t specifically written to be a YA novel, it certainly could work for that market (and in fact, one fourteen-year-old who has read it seems to have enjoyed it), and it definitely qualifies as sci-fi/fantasy.  So I decided to give it a shot.

This involved writing a cover letter, a synopsis, and a summary of my inspirations/aspirations regarding the book, the latter two of which were supposed to fit on two pages (no more, no less).

Now, writing a back-cover blurb of a paragraph or two isn’t hard; I’ve done it for this story, in fact.  But coming up with a synopsis that includes all of the major characters and plot points, including how the story ends, in under two pages–and for a novel of 125,000 words–is much harder.

Oddly, the table of contents I created a few weeks ago (and blogged about) helped a lot.  Because when I finished, I scanned over the table of contents, and that helped remind me of plot points I needed to include–and helped me weed out what didn’t really need to be included in the synopsis.

In the end, I managed to pare the story down to an 1,100-word synopsis.  I’m not going to post it here, because a) it’s a bit long for a blog entry, and b) reading it would spoil the book for everyone, and I have hopes that at least some of you might be interested in reading it someday.

It’ll more than likely be a couple of months before I hear anything back on that, of course.  I haven’t seen any stats on how many submissions they received, but it’ll still probably take them a while to work their way through that pile. But if/when I hear something back from them, I’ll let everyone know.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to edit Book 2 and write Book 3.  I’m also currently working on a short story (not my preferred format, but I’m giving it a try!).  I’ll probably also try submitting the story to some agents, to see if anyone’s interested.

But for everyone who’s been asking when I was finally going to getting around to submitting one of my stories to a publisher, well, now I have.  (And it’s a pretty good feeling, I’ve got to admit.)

Has anyone else ever submitted work directly to a publisher, or through an “open door” event like this one?  What were your experiences?

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Recipe Wednesday: Ancient Vegetables

Hi!  Back with more pictures of food prepared from recipes from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, at the recent SCA Known World Cooks and Bards event held in Woodland Park, CO.

This week, I’m going to feature vegetable dishes, and in fact, I’m going to start with a dish from ancient Rome: Carotae and Pastinacae.  Or to put it more simply:  Carrots and Parsnips.

Carrots and Parsnips in Wine Sauce

Carotae et Pastinacae (Carrots and Parsnips in Wine Sauce)

 Carotæ and Pastinacæ
(Carrots and Parsnips in Wine Sauce)

(Parsnips) Another way:
Boil the parsnips hard, put them in a sauce pan and stew with oil, stock, pepper, raisin wine, strain, and bind with roux (starch).
–Apicius 119 (in Vehling)

Carrots and parsnips are fried with a wine sauce.
–Apicius 122 (in Vehling)

6 carrots
2 parsnips
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 cup sweet wine or sherry
rice flour or bread crumbs

Peel and slice carrots and parsnips.  Place in a skillet with remaining ingredients except rice flour.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until carrots and parsnips are done, about 20-25 minutes.  If needed, thicken with rice flour or bread crumbs before serving.

Notes:  I combined two similar recipes to come up with this one.  Apicius 119 seems to think that the sauce would need a starch to bind it, but I’ve never found that there was enough sauce to need it.

Next, another Roman recipe, this one for gourds (squash):

Squash in Cumin Sauce

Cucurbitas Elixatas et Frictas
(Squash in Cumin Sauce)

Cucurbitas Elixatas et Frictas
(Squash in Cumin Sauce)

Aliter cucurbitas elixatas et frictas:
In patina conpones; cuminatum superfundes; modico oleo super adiecto feruere facies et inferes.

Alternatively for boiled and fried gourd:
Put the gourd in a dish and pour on a cumin sauce, add a little oil, bring to the heat and serve.
–Apicius 3.4.6 (Grocock & Grainger)

1 pound squash (yellow or zucchini)
1/2 cup white wine, boiled to reduce by half
1 tablespoon garum (Thai fish sauce)
2 teaspoons cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil

Wash squash and cut into chunks.  Bring two quarts of water to a boil and add squash.  Boil for five minutes, just until squash begins to become tender.  Drain well, squeezing water from squash.
Mix reduced wine, garum, and cumin and bring to a boil.  Pour olive oil into a large skillet and bring to medium heat.  Add drained squash, spreading to make an even layer across the bottom of the pan.  Pour cumin sauce over squash and let cook without stirring until squash is lightly browned on the bottom.  Turn squash and cook, again without stirring, until the other side is also browned, adding more oil if needed.

Notes:  It’s not clear exactly what kind of squash is meant by “cucurbitas”, but it almost certainly isn’t either zucchini or acorn squash.  Nor is it likely that it’s “pumpkins”, as one translator has it.  There is a goose-necked gourd native to the Mediterranean that seems a likely candidate, but those are not readily available on this side of the Atlantic.  I’m told that zucchini is a reasonable substitute; in this case, we used zucchini and yellow squash.

And finally, a recipe from England in the 1650’s:  Savoury Toasted Cheese and Asparagus

Savory Toasted Cheese with Asparagus

Savory Toasted Cheese with Asparagus

Savoury Toasted Cheese
by Mary Morman (Elaina de Sinistre)

Savoury toſted or melted Cheeſe:
Cut pieces of quick, fat, rich, well taſted cheeſe, (as the beſt of Brye, Cheſhire, &c. or ſharp thick Cream-Cheeſe) into a diſh of thick beaten melted Butter, that hath ſerved for Sparages or the like, or peaſe, or other boiled Sallet, or ragout of meat, or gravy of Mutton: and, if you will Chop ſome of the Aſparages among it, or ſlices of Gambon of Bacon, or freſh-collops, or Onions, or Sibboulets, or Anchovis, and ſet all this to melt upon a Chafingdiſh of Coals, and ſtir all well together, to Incorporate them; and when all is of an equal conſiſtence, ſtrew ſome groſs White-Pepper on it, and eat it with toſts or cruſts of White-bread.  You may ſcorch it at the top with a hot Fire-Shovel.
–From The Closet of Sir Kenelme Digbie Opened, published in 1669

1 pound brie
1 pound cream cheese
1/4 pound butter, or a little more
1 pound bacon, sliced
5 cups asparagus, lightly cooked
5 slices toast, well-dried, crusts removed

Put the brie, cream cheese, and butter in a bowl, and set the bowl in warm water to soften the ingredients (or nuke them in the microwave for about two minutes).  Mix the butter and cheeses together thoroughly until you have a thick, smooth paste.  Cut the bacon strips in half, and fry them until crisp.  Line the bottom of a shallow baking pan (13″ x 9″ or larger) with the slices of toast.  Add the asparagus over it.  Crumble the bacon on top.  Cover with the cheese mixture and spread it to seal from edge to edge of the pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the cheese begins to brown nicely.  (Or pull our your handy fire shovel, heat it red hot, and hold it over the dish.  Careful!  Don’t burn yourself, now!)  Let set five to ten minutes before serving.  This makes enough Savory Toasted to serve two tables of feasters (16 to 20 servings).

Notes:  This is the best way to eat asparagus, bar none, that exists in the universe.

And that’s all for this week.  Next week, perhaps I’ll discuss meat dishes.

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Recipe Wednesday: Tarts and More Tarts

(Sorry this is late.  Last night, I got hijacked by a sudden and inexplicable urge to deep-clean my fridge.  Three hours later….)

So a couple of weekends ago, I went to–essentially–a medieval food symposium.  Friends of mine were cooking the various meals for the event, and I helped with the evening feast on Saturday.

Since I provided some of the recipes used for three of the meals, I wanted to take pictures of the finished products so I could add them to my cookbook.  In other words, I created more food porn.

There were a lot of dishes, and a lot of pictures, and I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out how to organize them.  I finally decided to order them by type of dish, and to start with the tarts (since they were very photogenic).

Saturday’s lunch included two tarts I’ve made in the past, but which were made by my friend Gwen Cat (M. Cat Grasse) this time around.  They turned out very pretty:

Mushroom Cheese Tart

Mushroom Cheese Tart

 This used to be one of my favorite mushroom recipes ever, back when I could still eat mushrooms.  Here’s the recipe:

Mushroom Tarts

Mushrooms of one night are the best, and are small and red inside, closed above: and they should be peeled, then wash in hot water and parboil; if you wish to put them in pastry, add oil, cheese and powdered spices.

Item, put them between two dishes over the coals, and add a little salt, cheese and powdered spices. You can find them at the end of May and in June.
–Le Menagier de Paris, 1393

2 pounds fresh mushrooms
1 pound grated soft white cheese, such as muenster, mozzarella, or provolone
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Poudre Fort (or a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and black pepper)
Pinch of salt
Pastry for two pies

Wash and de-stem mushrooms.  Chop them coarsely and put them in a microwave-safe bowl.  Cook for 3 – 4 minutes on high.  Drain liquid.  (The original recipe says to parboil them, but I find this to be an easier method of slightly cooking the mushrooms.)

Stir in cheese, olive oil, and seasonings.  Set aside.

Place pie crust in 8” or 9” pie pans and flute edges.  Fill crusts with mushroom mixture, but do not overfill.  This mixture doesn’t cook down much.  Cook in a 400 degree F oven for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned on top.

Can be served hot or cold.  Makes two pies.

Notes:  These are always popular with mushroom lovers.  They freeze well and taste good either hot or cold (though I prefer them hot).

————————-

Next, there were Brie Tarts:

Brie Tart

Brie Tart

These turned out extraordinarily well, cooked just right.  Here’s the recipe:

Tart de Bry (Brie Tart)

TART DE BRY. XX.VIII. VI.
Take a Crust ynche depe in a trape. take zolkes of Ayren rawe & chese ruayn & medle it & þe zolkes togyder. and do þerto powdour gyngur. sugur. safroun. and salt. do it in a trape, bake it and serue it forth.
–Forme of Cury

Or in modern English:

Take a crust inch deep in a trap, take raw yolks of eggs and cheese ruayn and mix it and the yolks together, and do thereto powder ginger, sugar, safffron and salt, do it in a trap, bake it and serve it forth.

I’ve seen a number of possible definitions of the word “ruayn,” in reference to the cheese used in the recipe.  The recipe is clearly called “Tart de bry,” but the word ruayn (according to goodcookery.com) refers to a cheese made in the autumn, which would be more solid than Brie.  But I’ve always just used Brie.

1/2 pound Brie cheese (bring to room temperature)
8-10 egg yolks , lightly beaten
1/8 teaspoon ginger, powdered
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pinch saffron
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pie crust, 8-inch, uncooked

Cut or tear cheese into pieces about an inch square and combine with remaining ingredients (except pie crust).  Pour into pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until set and lightly browned on top.

Notes:  In order to keep costs down, I usually substitute 3-4 whole eggs for egg yolks in this recipe.  Using just the yolks yields a richer-tasting pie.

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Finally, from the Saturday night feast, as prepared by my friend John Newton, we have Spinach Tarts:

Spinach Tarts

Tarte of Spennedge

Tarte of Spennedge

Tarte of Spennedge
Boyle your Egges and your Creame togither, and then put them into a bowle, and then boyle your Spinnedge, and when they are boyled, take them out of the water and straine them into your stuffe before you strain your Creame, boyle your stuffe and then straine them all againe, and season them with suger and salt.

Good Huswife’s Jewell, Thomas Dawson, 1597

3 eggs
3/4 cup cream
1 1/2 cups spinach, cooked
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pie shell, 8-inch, uncooked

Mix the eggs and cream together in a small saucepan.  Heat gently over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to thicken.  Remove from heat.  Rinse the cooked spinach and drain, squeezing out as much liquid as possible.  Chop the spinach small and add to the custard mixture.  Beat together, stirring in salt and sugar.  Pour into prepared pie shell and bake at 425 degrees F for 25-30 minutes, or until set.

Note that the only seasonings called for are sugar and salt.  These freeze well and re-heat well.

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Next week, I think I’ll showcase some vegetable dishes.  Stay tuned!

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Manic Monday: An Apology and Some Link Salad

Dear Blog,

I’m sorry.  I neglected you shamefully last week.  It was my fault for planning poorly.  But I was also working to get the first seven chapters of my manuscript, The Daughters of August Winterbourne, edited and spiffed up, and a synopsis for the entire volume written, so I could submit it to the Strange Chemistry Open Door (which closes today).  I managed to get that done last night, so now I have some time available for you.

So I’ll be back this week with more medieval food porn (pictures from the feast at Known World Cooks and Bards), as well as some blathering about creating a synopsis.

But to tide y’all over until then, here’s a small serving of link salad (links for writers, this time out):

The Rejection Generator
Advice to the “Significant Other” of a Writer
How to Write Tight – Self-Editing Tips to Make Your Manuscript Ready For Publication
Ten Commandments for Editing Someone’s Work
25 Lies Writers Tell (And Start To Believe)

Toss and enjoy. See you Wednesday!

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Writing Thursday: Descriptions; or, A Sense Of Place

A beta reader of my WIP, The Daughters of August Winterbourne (Book 1) pointed out to me that my description of my main character Celia Winterbourne’s arrival in Oxford was…a little thin.

Well, let’s see:

 Their carriage wended its way through Oxford’s maze of narrow cobblestoned streets. Celia gaped at the hallowed halls – or at least, the grey stone walls – of Trinity, Exeter, and Jesus Colleges as they passed. It was all just as she’d imagined it.

The Academy lay just off Longwall Street, tucked behind Magdalen College. Like Oxford’s other colleges, a wall screened most of the campus from view, but as they paused in front of the main gate, Celia saw stone buildings that looked new and orderly compared to the older colleges.

Yeah, okay.  Probably not my strongest use of description ever.

So what could I do to liven it up, short of a quick research trip to England?

Well, Google StreetView has been useful at times.  So let’s take a quick peek at the streets of Oxford:

Oxford1

George Street to Broad Street to Holywell would be Celia’s approximate route to from the train station to the Academy of Science…as long as the train station is more-or-less in the same location now as it was in 1873. And according to this map of Oxford from 1870, it appears that it was. Yay!

So what do the streets of Oxford look like now?  Well, here’s a screen shot from StreetView:

Oxford3

Well, that looks atmospheric. But how close is it to Oxford of 1870? A quick search found this picture of Broad Street, a few blocks west of the above screen shot, taken in 1870 (link to photo now fixed):

Broad street from balliol tower circa 1870-english-heritage org uk

Broad Street, 1870. From viewfinder.english-heritage.org.uk

And if we line up on the cupola on the top of the Sheldonian Theater, we can compare that to the current street view of the same location:

Oxford2

Oxford4

Which shows us that while the storefronts have changed a bit, most of the same buildings are in the same locations. So a street view of modern Oxford is at least a good place to start.

So after pondering the historical pictures and the modern street view, I revised my description as follows:

As their carriage wended its way through Oxford’s maze of cobblestoned streets, Celia pressed her nose to the window, eager to get a glimpse of her new home.  She saw buildings crammed cheek-by-jowl along the very edges of the streets, honey-colored stone alternating with red brick and whitewashed plaster.  They towered three, four, or even five stories high over streets that were sometimes barely wide enough for two carriages to pass.  In contrast, the aptly-named Broad Street teemed with both carriage and foot traffic, the latter mostly male, students on their way to various colleges around the town.

Mrs. Chattisworth pointed out Balliol and New College as they passed.  To Celia’s disappointment, their buildings didn’t look all that different from the shops, inns, and houses that surrounded them.  Just older.  She resolved to go back for a better look later.

The Academy lay just off Longwall Street, tucked behind Magdalen College.  The wall for which the street was named screened most of the buildings from view, but as they paused in front of the main gate, Celia saw stone structures that echoed the medieval style of the older colleges, save that they looked newer, cleaner and crisper.

Which I think is something of an improvement.  Now if I can just remember to include more extensive descriptions throughout my work!

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Recipe Wednesday: Medieval Food Porn

One of the skills I’ve been trying to practice has been photographing food.  So since I’ll be at the SCA’s Known World Cooks and Bards event this weekend, and since a good friend of mine is cooking the feast, I hope to get some good shots of the dishes to add to my album of food porn.  I’ll be posting those next week.

(For those not familiar, the Society for Creative Anachronism is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to the study and re-creation of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.)

But I won’t have those pictures until next week.  In the meantime, I thought I’d post a few shots from a Pas d’Armes a few years ago:

Readstan Pas d'Armes 2006

This was our little picnic lunch. In front, L-to-R, we have Mushroom Cheese Tarts, braised asparagus, cheese, and Daryoles.  Next row back, looks like roasted chicken, apples, more cheeses, and dried apricots.  Behind that, some nuts and some Excellent Small Cakes.  Oh, and some bread in the back.

Note that we’ve done our best to make the dishes, plates, pitchers, etc. look as authentic as possible.  I think it looks pretty good.

Readstan Pas d'Armes 2006

Here’s a close-up of the Daryoles.  These are yummy custard tarts that come from a late fourteenth-century English cookbook:

Daryoles

Take creme of cowe mylke, oÞer of almaundes; do Þerto ayren with sugur, safroun and salt.  Medle it yfere.  Do it in a coffyn of ii ynche depe; bake it wel and serue it forth.
–Forme of Curye 191 (in Pleyn Delit)

(Or in translation:  Take cream of cow milk, or of almonds; do thereto eggs with sugar, saffron, and salt.  Mix it over fire.  Put it in a coffin [pie crust] two inches deep.  Bake it well and serve it forth.)

Pastry to make 10-20 (depending on size) tart shells, or one pie crust (if baking as a whole pie)
5 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups light cream, milk, or half-and-half (but I recommend cream)
pinch ground saffron
pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Beat eggs and sugar together, then beat in cream, saffron, salt, and cinnamon (if used).  Stir over low heat, being careful not to let the mixture boil, until it begins to thicken; then pour into prepared pastry shells.  Bake in a 400 degree oven about 20 minutes.

Notes:  Something about the combination of flavors makes this custard taste as though it were sweetened with honey rather than sugar, which is why I like to add a little cinnamon, even though the original recipe doesn’t call for it.  It will take a long time for the custard to thicken properly; be patient and keep stirring.  I find that heavy cream yields the best results.

Readstan Pas d'Armes 2006

And here’s another shot showing the other end of the table, where we can see that we also served sausages and wafers that day.

So I’ll be back next week with some fresh food porn–and a few recipes–for you.  Enjoy!

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Dragon Friday #16

Shifting to a different POV for the next few installments….

The Dragon, The Wench, and Her Wardrobe
(working title)
© 2012 Sheila McClune
Part 16

~~~~~~~~~~Lucinda~~~~~~~~~~

“Cinders!  Hey, Cinders!”

Lucinda Anderson hunched lower in her seat, leaning down to slurp the last of her margarita through her straw.  Maybe if she ignored them, they’d go away.

No such luck.  Brandon squeezed into the booth next to her, and Dayton across the way.  Brandon slapped a brown recycled-paper envelope onto the table in front of her.  “Where’ve you been?  We’ve been looking all over for you.  Why haven’t you paid the power bill?”

Lucinda glanced at the envelope.  Sure enough, there was the power company logo in the corner, and the words “Open Immediately!” stamped in red letters.  She rolled her eyes and shoved the envelope back toward Brandon.  “I paid it last month.  It’s Ashley’s turn.”

“Nuh-uh.”  Brandon shoved the envelope back.  “She says she paid it last month.”

And of course, Brandon would always take Ashley’s side.  Lucinda grabbed her purse, plopped it onto the table, and began digging through it.

“Can I get you gentlemen anything to drink?”  The waitress, who’d been missing so long Lucinda thought she must’ve left for the night, hustled over and positioned cocktail napkins in front of Brandon and Dayton.

“I’ll take a Bud.”  Dayton gave the waitress a wink.

“Make it two.”  Brandon, not to be outdone, flashed his trademark smile.

The waitress smiled back.  “And are we all on one tab, here?”  She included Lucinda in her gesture.

“Yes,” Brandon and Dayton said in chorus.

“No!”  Lucinda sat up straight.  “They’re on their own tab.  Mine’s separate.”  They’d stiffed her far too often for her to fall for that again.

The waitress gave her an incredulous look.  “Are you sure?”

Lucinda bit out her answer before either of the men could open his mouth.  “Absolutely.”

“Then I’ll need a credit card from one of you gents, so I can start a tab.”

Brandon looked at Dayton.  Dayton looked at Brandon.  They both turned to Lucinda.  “Aw, c’mon, Cinders,” said Brandon.  “We’ll pay you back.”

“Not a chance in hell.”  She smiled sweetly.  “Buy your own damned drinks, or go thirsty.  I don’t care.  But you are not putting your drinks on my tab.  In fact,” she turned to the waitress, “I’m finished for the night.  Will you please close out my tab?”

“Of course, ma’am.”  The waitress’ eyes were arctic.

Brandon and Dayton looked at each other again, and finally Dayton pulled out his wallet and flopped a credit card out on the table.  “There.  Happy, you stingy bitch?”  He turned to the waitress.  “In fact, since our friend seems to be a little short on funds this month, why don’t you go ahead and put her drinks on that, too.”  He smiled smarmily.

“No.  I’ll pay for my own, thanks.”  The last thing Lucinda wanted was to be indebted to any of her roommates.

The waitress shook her head.  “Suit yourself.”  Scooping Dayton’s card up from the table, she sashayed back to the bar.

If she shakes that ass any harder, it’s gonna fall off.  Lucinda turned her attention back to the purse in front of her.  Pulling out her checkbook, she flipped it open to show a carbon copy of a check.  “See?  January 8th.  I paid the power bill last month.  It’s Ashley’s turn.”  She shoved the envelope back in front of Brandon.

“Told you,” said Dayton.

Brandon sighed.  “Look, Cinders, Ash can’t pay this month.  You’re going to have to take care of it this month, and then she can take it twice in a row.”

“Why?  She spend too much at the hairdresser’s again?  Or did she get another speeding ticket?”

Brandon squirmed.  “Look, it’s not like that.  She’s just….”  He ran his hand through his close-cropped sandy hair, making it stand on end.  “I might as well tell you, since you’ll find out anyway.  Ash is preggers.”

“Oh, gawd.”  It was Lucinda’s turn to run her hand through her hair.  “But she’s on the pill.  Isn’t she?”

“Yeah, but, she had that sore throat around Thanksgiving, and her doctor put her on antibiotics, and….”

“And I warned her about that at the time.  But you wouldn’t dream of using condoms for a week or two, would you?”  She shook her head.  “So why does that mean she can’t pay her share of the bills?”

“Well, she has to get it taken care of, and if she puts the charges for that on her card, her parents’ll see ’em.  And you know how her dad is.”

Yes, Lucinda did know.  She was just glad Ashley’s ultra-conservative parents didn’t visit often, since she had to share a room with Ash when they were in town, to keep up the fiction that Brandon and Ash weren’t sleeping together.  “Wait.  You’re making her pay to take care of it?”

“We’re splitting the cost.”  Brandon’s chin jutted out.  “C’mon, Cinders.  We’d help you out.”

Lucinda didn’t even need to think about it.  “What, like you did in September when I had to put a new fuel pump in my car?  Or last summer, when my grandma died, and I needed plane fare for the funeral?  I got zero consideration from any of you then.  I lived on ramen for months, while you guys were out drinking and partying as usual.  Sorry.  It’s up to you and Ash to figure out how to cover that bill, not me.  Now, move.”  She shoved at Brandon.

“But Cinders….”

“Let me out.  Now.”

Brandon climbed out of the booth long enough for Lucinda to scoot out the end.  “Fine.  But don’t forget, it’s your turn to take the trash out tomorrow morning.”

“No, it’s his turn.”  She pointed at Dayton.  “Remember?  We traded last week.  I’m house-sitting for my sister starting tonight.”

The waitress returned, thrusting a bill tray at Lucinda.

“Here.”

Lucinda started to sign, then glanced at the total.  It was more than she’d anticipated.  She looked, but all she had was her card and the credit card charge slip.  “I’d like to see an itemized receipt, please.”

“I’m sorry.  That information gets wiped out of the computer when the charge gets processed.”  The waitress gave her a smile full of saccharine.

“Bullshit.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me.  That’s a load of crap.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to speak to your manager–”

The waitress snatched the charge slip out of Lucinda’s fingers so quickly it nearly burned them.  “I’ll be right back.”

Left standing awkwardly beside the booth, Lucinda pretended interest in the four television screens that hung over the bar.  One showed trivia questions, while the others showed endless sports recaps.  She didn’t really give a damn about college basketball, but she pretended to, just so she didn’t have to converse with her roommates.

Eventually, the waitress returned.  Lucinda scanned down the items.  “This isn’t the same total as before.”

“Yes it is.”

“No, it’s not.  This one’s about…seven dollars less.  About, say, the cost of two domestic drafts.  I’d like to see proof that the original charge was cancelled, please.”

“Your total didn’t change.”  The waitress put her hands on her hips.

“The hell it–”  Lucinda jumped as a hand touched her arm.

“Is there a problem, miss?”  The manager reached to take the ticket from her hand.

“I just wanted to make sure an incorrect charge was removed from my card,” said Lucinda.

She saw a muscle work in the manager’s jaw as he shot the waitress a glance.  “I see.  Why don’t you come over to the bar, and I’ll take care of you myself.”

But as Lucinda followed him, she overheard the waitress ask, “God, is she always such a bitch?” and Dayton answering, “This is one of her good days.”

Cheeks flaming, she thrust her chin in the air and pretended not to hear.

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