Saturday, August 18, 2018

Yes, I'd Time Travel Here

Why don’t we lighten things up this week, and read about teenagers in 1907? Specifically, let’s read about Betsy Ray, the heroine of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy In Spite of Herself.

Actually, my copy was a two-fer. It included Heaven to Betsy, which starts the summer before she enters high school. She returns home from a lonely week at a family friends’ farm to an event that pushes her straight out of childhood.

Betsy may cast a wistful glance backward. But she has plenty to look forward to. Her crowd of friends frequently meet around the piano in her family’s parlor, or outside for some skating on the frozen pond. Bonfires, fudge, her father’s famous Sunday night onion sandwiches—this is what kids did before social media, before color television.

Anybody want to time travel back to those days? Anybody up for a world where nearly every kid had two kind parents, the only crimes were Halloween pranks or an openly-smoked cigarette, and going to the dance meant boys filling out your dance card?

Heck, I’m raising my hand! I’m genuinely sorry I missed that whole dance card business, though there was always the worry that my card might not fill up. But I won’t fret about that. Betsy’s older sister Julia, a boy magnet if there ever was one, offers up a hint about how to handle that empty slot.

Betsy’s one of the smart kids in the school, though the constant round of parties could derail her most challenging projects.

Then again, Betsy nearly derails herself with a makeover project designed to add mystery and excitement to her all-too-ordinary life. This is a major attempt at change, going far beyond the cream she’s been rubbing on to her hated freckles.

Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself are two books from an entire series by Lovelace, all of it drawn from her own youth in Mankato, Minnesota. The only downside for me was a visit to
Betsy’s friend in Milwaukee, which felt like a thrown-in display stuff-I-know.

Otherwise, I coasted along with a smile on my face, just like Betsy riding the Minnesota backroads with her beau “at a thrilling twenty miles an hour.”

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Painless History Lesson

You may know that I post a music blog on Sundays, an attempt to familiarize my church friends with a broad range of hymns imported from other faiths. Mining YouTube for examples of these songs, performed in church services, concerts and tutorials, I frequently run across Britain’s royal family, standing in their Westminster Abbey places, singing hymns from their printed programs.

There’s always Queen Elizabeth, dressed in her matching dress, coat and hat, scanning the crowd before she peeks at the words again.

Who knew that her genealogy stretched back to an orphan girl plucked out of France? Aren’t the royals supposed to descend from the small club of cousins raised in the various capitals of Europe?

Well, maybe you did know about Katherine Swynford. But if you didn’t, Anya Seaton’s historical novel, Katherine, would be a painless way to catch up on your royal genealogy.

Katherine’s mother died after childbirth. Her father, a faithful soldier of the king, took an arrow to the heart. Katherine and her older sister, Philippa, shipped off to the grandparents. Things were fine until the Plague showed up, killing off grandma, grandpa, the servants, etc. 

The Queen of England, Flemish like Katherine’s kin, reached out to rescue these two girls. She took Philippa into her own court as a lady-in-waiting. She sent Katherine to an English convent, “delivered from a cart, along with a side of beef and a half a ton of wine.”

Seton starts the story just after Philippa summons her sister out of the convent. Katherine enters the palace on the night of a royal banquet. The waiting ladies strip off her traveling clothes, burn them, button her into somebody’s 3rd-best dress and usher her off to dinner where, wide-eyed, she takes her first look at the VIPs “in their golds and scarlets, their ermines and coronets, their gauzy veils and jewels.”

Oh Katherine, you have no idea what lies ahead.

The only thing that could have made the read more rewarding was stopping (quite often) to look up unfamiliar words. But I just wanted to keep reading, so I bumbled through, guessing as I flipped the e-pages. “Solar” is a bedroom, I think. “Cochineal paste” is some kind of cosmetic. “Flagons”?  “Coffers”? Oh, let’s just get on with it. I want to know if the monk dies.

Photo credit:  nancepants on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Sunday, June 10, 2018

She Flipped That Omelet And . . . .: Seafood Edition

I don't know why it has taken me so long to attempt crab cakes. I mean, I've eaten them. I've visited Maryland, the state where they're common as pork tenderloins are in Indiana.

I even wrote a book set in Maryland, so presumably my heroine and her best friend know how to eat whatever comes out of the sea.

Why haven't I gotten around to this yet? Wouldn't it be nice to not depend on Red Lobster or pricey coastal vacations to get these subtly sweet little treats?

Well, tonight was the night. I gathered up the panko crumbs and the lemon juice and the Old Bay seasoning (or a fake substitute), the crabmeat (also a fake substitute).

And when I flipped those cakes in the pan . . .

Behold: Crab Cake Hash

The world was never the same after that guy at the St. Louis World's Fair scooped ice cream into a folded-up waffle, nor after that lady in the Toll House tossed chocolate morsels into her butter cookies. I'm sure I've made the same leap in food history tonight.

If you'd like to try your hand at this classic, here's the recipe.

Myself, I think I'm owed a beach vacation, so I'll just head on over to Air B&B now. 'Bye.