30 May 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Hydrangeas

Hydrangea Display

Hydrangea Display

Annual hydrangea display at the Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse featuring enormous displays of colorful hydrangeas.

28 May 2012

Easy Sautéed Chicken & Cherry Tomatoes

I had some iffy looking tomatoes and scallions left in the fridge at the end of the week and wanted to use them before they went from iffy to inedible. Since I was feeling tired and impatient, I couldn't be bothered looking for a recipe and just hacked something together.

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Of course, the dish turned out really well, so I've had to go back and think through what I did, writing down the recipe as best I can. I might actually have used a tablespoon of salt-free Italian seasoning blend, but that seems like too much. Also, my ¾ cup of white wine was more like a several glugs. Glugs, alas, is not a recognized or standardized form of measurement!
Sautéed Chicken with Tomatoes & Scallions

Ingredients
2 small boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 3 oz each)
sea salt and pepper, as desired
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
¾ cup whatever white wine you have open
4 scallions, chopped
2 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend

Directions
Pound chicken breasts until they are a more uniform thickness. Generously season the breasts with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the breasts and saute until beautifully brown and cooked through. Set aside in a shallow bowl (don't want to lose any chicken jucies).

Add tomatoes to hot skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until cherry tomatoes skins begin to char a little and burst. Add the wine and cook until liquid evaporates. Add the scallions and seasoning blend. Return any chicken juices to the pan. Serve over the chicken.
I served the chicken with garlicky green beans and a pasta packet. It was yummy.

26 May 2012

Easy, Cheesy Roasted Carrots

When I asked The Husband to add organic carrots to our Peapod order last week, I didn't realize he would add the five pound bag. That's a lot of carrots, you know. It takes us a month to get through a pound of carrots. Five pounds ... Blarg. Time to make many of carrot-y things!

Alas, since we're going on vacation, there isn't much time to make many carrot-y things. However, I did manage to make Food.com's "Roasted Carrots With Feta." Seriously good carrots. I mean, roasted carrots are always good carrots, but the addition of feta brought them to a whole new level.

Roasted Carrots

Toss a pound of thickly cut carrots with olive oil; season with sea salt and pepper. Roast in an 425°F oven for 25 minutes or until the carrots are all sweet, tender, and golden.

Feta Carrots

Remove from oven and toss with feta (I used garlic and herb seasoned feta) and parsley. Serve immediately.

These were so good -- I could have eaten the whole bowl for supper. But, I didn't. No, I ate them with a bunch of other things that needed eating up before vacation. Necessity is the mother of good meals?

A Little of Everything for Supper

Roast peppery pork tenderloin, garlicky cheesy pasta shells, sauteed mushrooms, and yummy carrots. A definite win for the ol' taste buds.

24 May 2012

VitaBun Sandwiches, I Made Some

Several months ago, in a burst of good intention, I ordered a case of Vitalicious VitaBuns -- nutritionally superior English muffins with low Weight Watchers Points Plus values. Unfortunately, 2 24-packs of VitaBuns is a lot of VitaBuns, delicious though they may be (and they are seriously good). My freezer, it overfloweth with them. So I've been making sandwiches ... omnomnom.

Faux Tuna VitaBun

Faux Tuna Melt

Ingredients
14 oz can organic garbanzos, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp light mayonnaise
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp minced sweet pickle
Salt and pepper, as desired
1 slice cheese
1 VitaBun, toasted

Directions
Mash garbanzo beans until you like the texture (I left mine pretty chunky). Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Serve on toasted VitaBun with a slice of cheese (I used soy cheese, because ... I dunno).


Egg Salad

Ingredients
3 large eggs, hard cooked
2 Tbsp light mayonnaise
2 tsp capers, drained and rinsed
2 tsp parsley
1 rib celery, minced
Salt and pepper, as desired
3 VitaBuns, toasted

Directions
Chop eggs until you like the texture. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Divide into thirds to make three sandwiches.

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Ham Sammich

Ingredients
1 (51 g) serving Oscar Mayer Deli Selects Honey Ham
1 slice cheese (soy, again)
2 tsp spicy stone ground mustard
Small handful Bibb lettuce leaves
1 VitaBun, toasted

Directions
Sandwichize. Seriously, we all know what to do ... right?

22 May 2012

Simple & Delicious Dessert

Kiwi & Strawberries

Strawberries and kiwi tossed together with a smidge of sugar (or Splenda, if that's how you roll). That's it. Delicious.

18 May 2012

Manga: Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Volume 2

Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Volume 2 by Svetlana Chmakova (Yen Press, 2009)

Alex, after some misadventure with a vampire and his girlfriend, manages to enroll in Nightschool. There she meets new students, annoys a teacher, and receives a mysterious missal while searching for her missing supposedly-never-existed-sister, Sarah, who used to be the Night Keeper. Meanwhile, the Hunters are getting into trouble over the Prophet and no-one knows what to do about their three comatose allies -- except find the witch who did it.

Nightschool is a definite win. A compelling series with interesting characters, a story than manages to be complex without being complicated, and fantastic art. Seriously, fantastic art.   The illustrations are well-rendered, with lots of detail, but no excess clutter. The scenes where Alex “grows wings” are my favorites and I really wish those pages, at least, had been done in color.


However, as each volume is so very brief, the story moves frustratingly slowly. There are only two volumes left and it seems impossible everything will be explained and all the little plotlines tied together with any neatness. I don’t usually go for chunksters anymore, but Nightschool could definitely benefit from more pages.  Pages that build Nightschool's world up with a bit more detail or flesh out what a Hunter or a Weirn is/does.  Need. More. Book.

17 May 2012

Improv Challenge: Strawberries & Cream

After all the grilled cheese sandwiches we ate for May's Crazy Cooking Challenge, I wanted something light for this month's Improv Challenge hosted by Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker. Feeling a little guilty over my complete lack of sticktoitiveness vis-à-vis Weight Watchers, I modified their recipe for "Spring Berries with Whipped Ricotta Cream" and found it good.
Spring Berries with Whipped Ricotta Cream
Based on a Weight Watchers' recipe

Ingredients
2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
1 cup raspberries
¼ cup Sprite Zero (or a sparkling white wine?!)
1 Tbsp fresh mint leaves, rolled and sliced à la chiffonade
½ cup light ricotta cheese
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest + more for garnish
2 Tbsp light sour cream

(The original Weight Watchers' recipe uses all fat-free dairy, but I'm not a fan and stuck with the light versions).

Instructions
Toss the berries with 2 tablespoons of soda or wine and mint; set aside for 10 minutes.


Berries for Dessert

Combine ricotta, lemon zest and remaining soda or wine; whip until light and fluffy. Gently fold in sour cream. Divide berry mixture evenly between 4 small bowls and top each a dollop of cream. Garnish with mint leaves and extra zest, if desired.


Berries for Dessert
You could, of course, use any combination of berries -- a mixture of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blue berries, and red currants might be nice. Regardless, you want to use good, ripe berries as the whipped ricotta cream is creamy and lemony, but not at all sweet so the sweetness (or tartness) of the berries really shines through.



16 May 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Not-So-Wild Turkeys

Wild turkeys at our bird feeders

Wild turkeys at our bird feeders

Wild turkeys at our bird feeders

We moved our bird feeding station last Friday and these lovelies came to visit Tuesday morning! Hope they come back (and bring friends). Used to see wild turkeys quite often where we lived before, but not so much here on the outskirts of a small city. Miss the wildlife. Someday, I will live in the woods again.

15 May 2012

Eating the Alphabet: H is for Hearts of Palm

For May's Eating the Alphabet Challenge, we were to cook with ingredients starting with the letter G or H. I looked at several interesting grape recipes, before deciding now would be an excellent time to finally use the can of hearts of palm that has been rattling around in my cupboard since last year's ill-fated South Beach Diet Adventure.

I looked at a bunch of salad recipes (including SBD's hearts of palm "potato" salad) before finally settling on "Greek Salad Bowl" from Cooking Light Fresh Food Fast (Oxmoor House, 2009). I figured there would be enough going on in this salad that, if I didn't like the hearts of palm, I could pick them out and still not need a second lunch!

Hearts of palm are pretty much exactly what they sound like -- they are the tender inner core of the stem of certain kinds of palm trees. They're sold canned or in jars at most grocery stores and they don't seem terribly expensive at $3.49 for a 14 ounce can. Out of the can, they look a bit like trimmed leeks but are tender like boiled potato. They don't seem to taste like much -- bland and smooth like potato with a slight artichoke-y tang.

That makes them sound a little weird and, frankly, I think they are a little weird. But also strangely compelling. Rather like Earl Grey tea, I kept consuming them in a mad attempt to nail down their exact taste ... and still the best I could come up with was "bland and smooth like potato with a slight artichoke-y tang!"

Greek Salad w/ Hearts of Palm

Ingredients: romaine lettuce, hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, cooked chicken breast, cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, red onion, Greek vinaigrette.

Just drain and rinse the hearts of palm and artichokes, chop all the vegetables, and toss everything in a big bowl. Dress with vinaigrette and nom. It's that easy. The recipe says it serves 6, but I'd say it's more like 4.

Greek Salad w/ Hearts of Palm

14 May 2012

Staying at Daisy’s by Jill Mansell


'I like this hotel.' Dev was openly grinning at her now. 'You're handy for the motorway. Although I'd prefer it if your chambermaid didn't seduce my guests.'

'I'll make a special note of it. Nooo sed...uct...ions.' Daisy slowly repeated as she wrote it down. 'How's your friend Dominic, by the way?' She raised her eyebrows, feigning interest. 'Still married?'

Daisy MacLean very capably runs her father’s country hotel, Colworth Manor, while he boozes up with the quests and generally carries on. Matters start to slip from Daisy’s control when her best friend, Tara the Chambermaid, is discovered in a compromising position with one of her exes on his wedding day at the hotel and Daisy locks horns with his dangerously sexy Best Man …

And I really can’t say much more about the actual story, because there’s too much going on and I would spoil your fun. Seriously, there’s a lot going on in this book. Most of the characters -- even the secondary and tertiary ones -- are quite colorful and nearly all have their own storylines, so the action never stops. And, yes, sometimes the storyline gets a little over the top (the transplant-baby mama-fire arc, for example), but it’s all good fun. Buckets of fun.

(I do feel I should warn you that reading Staying at Daisy's will make you want to rush to the nearest animal shelter and adopt a Clarissa or Clive of your own. I'm not inordinately fond of dogs, but I'd like a Clarissa).

Staying at Daisy’s by Jill Mansell (Sourcebooks, 2011)

12 May 2012

Grilled Cheese, It's (Still) What's For Breakfast

I have made Fo's Reals Mom's Egg-in-the-hole Grilled Cheese Sandwich for breakfast two days running and, if there's time, I might make it again on Sunday to fortify us for the long drive down to Mom Land. It's delicious, darlings. Seriously delicious. Crunchy, buttery bread encasing hot, melty cheese and yolky goodness ... it's grilled cheese gone platinum.

Breakfast Grilled Cheese

My first attempt. Look at that hot, melty rivulet of Cabot Seriously Sharp cheddar! *Swoon* Yolk's a little hard, though.

Breakfast Grilled Cheese

My second attempt. Lots of hot, runny, golden yolk! A bit too much, really, but that's what the toasted holes are for.

It's been years since I ate egg-in-the-hole. My mom would occasionally make me eggie-in-the-hole when I was small and I would "help" her by buttering the bread and (carefully) cutting the hole with a butter knife. Egg-in-the-hole production has not changed a lot in the last thirty-odd years, but the use of a round cookie or biscuit cutter to make the hole is a welcome improvement. Perfectly round holes every time:

11 May 2012

Sweet, not Savory, Grilled Cheese

When searching for the perfect grilled cheese recipes for May's Crazy Cooking Challenge, I considered making a sweet rather than savory grilled cheese. I looked at a several different temptingly-sweet grilled cheese recipes, but decided to demo Chocolate, Chocolate, and More Chocolate's "Grilled Nutella and Cream Cheese," because who can resist chocolate and strawberries? Not I.

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Spread one slice of bread with cream cheese and the other with Nutella. I used Weight Watchers cream cheese and Trader Joe's dark chocolate almond spread.

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Top one slice of bread with sliced strawberries.

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Smoosh bread together and cook until a beautiful golden brown on both sides. I didn't butter my bread, but sprayed it with a little Pam. Seemed to toast just fine.

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Look at that sexy grilled cheese, oozing with chocolate and strawberry juices. Mmm.

This grilled cheese was pretty good and I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes chocolate and strawberries (and who doesn't?) but it would have been better on thickly sliced challah or brioche rather than the country-style white I used. Also, a dusting of powdered sugar wouldn't have gone amiss.

(I feel I must confess we shared this grilled cheese for breakfast. Yes, another grilled cheese for breakfast! What do we eat for lunch? Scrambled eggs and toast? Pancakes and sausage? Well, yes).

09 May 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Pavement Pansies

Wild pansies beautify the pavement.

Fast Greek-Style Dip & Salad

We threw a little shindig at work last week to celebrate our volunteers and, as always, I panicked when I saw the sign-up sheet going 'round. I never know what to bring to these things -- especially since this year, it was a "social hour" instead of a meal, which meant lots of nibble-y things instead of "sit down" food.

I knew I wanted a recipe I could throw together in the morning before work with minimal fuss that would still look good on a plate -- as if I had actually made an effort. A quick search on the Internet at lunch turned up Kraft's recipe for "10-Minute Appetizer Spread" and that seemed pretty perfect. I could make it right before work with minimal fuss, it would keep well until the "social hour," and it was savory rather than sweet (there was already a preponderance of sweets on the offing).

I modified what I thought of as the "Mediterranean" version of the recipe and it turned out really well! So well, in fact, that three people asked me for the recipe!

Creamy Mediterranean Spread

Combine 1 8 oz. package softened neufchatel cream cheese, ½ cup light mayonnaise, and 1 tablespoon Penzeys Greek seasoning blend.

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Plop into a serving dish -- I used a shallow soup bowl -- and top with ½ cup chopped seeded Campari tomatoes, ½ cup chopped unpeeled seeded English cucumber, ¼ cup chopped black olives, and ½ cup crumbled feta with garlic and herbs.

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I lay the diced seeded tomatoes and cucumbers on paper towels for about an hour before assembling the dish, hoping to get some of the water out of them. I also drained and blotted the olives very well.

As my amounts turned out differently from Kraft's (I did't want to bury the cream cheese mix in a mound of vegetables), I ended up with leftover chopped vegetables. I tossed the excess vegetables and cheese with cold diced beef leftover from Sunday dinner and a little Greek vinaigrette to make a lettuceless salad.
Easy Greek(ish) Chopped Salad

¼ cup diced seeded tomatoes
¼ cup diced seeded cucumbers
2 Tbsp black olives
2 Tbsp crumbled garlic and herb feta
4 oz diced cold roast beef
2 Tbsp Marie's Greek vinaigrette

Combine all. Toss well. Eat.

07 May 2012

Crazy Cooking Challenge: Grilled Cheese

PhotobucketI tried out many of grilled cheese recipes for May's Crazy Cooking Challenge. There was grilled cheese with bacon. And pickles. And a fried egg. And crab. They were all good and I'm sure I'll blog about them all at one point or another, but only two recipes made sandwiches I would want to eat again and again and again. In the end, I went with "Sriracha-Mayo Grilled Cheese" from Ashley Dalle Eats Food, Too, Sometimes because it was less fiddly than "Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Grilled Cheese Sandwich" from Lynn's Kitchen Adventures. Still, that grilled cheese was excellent and I really do recommend it. You can read about my experience making it here.

I must admit I used slightly different cheeses than Dalle's recipe called for, based on what I had on hand at the time, and the sandwich came out really well. Crunchy, creamy, and spicy with lots of good tomato-y tang ... it made my taste buds and tummy quite happy.
Sriracha, you are a delicious blessing flavored with the incandescent glow of a thousand dying suns. I love you.
                     -- "Dear Sriracha Rooster Sauce," The Oatmeal.

Gooey-Good Grilled Cheese
Behold! Yumptious cheesy goodness!

So happy, in fact, that I could eat this grilled cheese two or three times a week. Seriously, I would happily keep a little bowl of sriracha-mayo in the fridge so that, in the morning, I could just slap the sammich together and pop it in my waffle iron (if I ever find my waffle iron). In the morning, you say? Yes, I ate (and will eat) this grilled cheese for breakfast.

Sriracha-Mayo Sauce

Combine light mayonnaise with sriracha to taste. Smear all over both sides of two slices of bread.

Bread, Sriracha-Mayo, Pepper Jack, Salsa ...

Top one slice of bread with two slices of Boar's Head Monterey Jack with jalapeno, a glop of Green Mountain Gringo roasted garlic salsa, and two slices of Cabot sharp cheddar. Top with remaining bread.

Toasty-Gold Grilled Cheese

Fry in a hot nonstick pan until the bread turns a lovely brown, carefully flip over, press, and fry until brown (about 5 minutes each side for me on medium). I created an impromptu sandwich press with a plate, a mug, and a tin of refried beans. I don't usually press grilled cheese, but this sandwich was so thick that it seemed like a good idea.

Improv Sandwich Press

Important: As this grilled cheese is quite thick, you don't want to cook it too fast, because then the bread will brown faster than the cheese melts and that makes for an Unfortunate Grilled Cheese. I ate a lot of Unfortunate Grilled Cheese in my impatient teen years and have since learned better. Cook 'em low and slow.

04 May 2012

My First Cauliflower

I bought a cauliflower to make the "Quick Giardinera" I saw in March/April 2012's EatingWell, but then I wussed out and was left with a very large organic cauliflower occupying too much of my fridge. As always, I turned to the internetz for help and the internetz did not disappoint. I found tried a recipe for "Slow Cooker Curry Cauliflower Soup" and, having made it, I now want to cook all things cauliflower.

Cauliflower

I didn't really know how to break down my cauliflower, but decided tackling it from the bottom up was probably the best route. I cut the leaves away and then, using a paring knife, carefully cut the head into florets by basically cutting the little cauliflower "trees" free of the main stalk. "Trees" that seemed too big were cut in half so I ended up with a pound of (mostly) similarly sized florets.

I used two 14.5 oz cans Muir Glen fire-roasted diced tomatoes and two cups of low-sodium chicken broth as well as 4 cloves of pressed garlic instead of the powdered stuff.

The instructions don't say to, but I used an immersion blender to turn my soup into a smooth bisque and it was very pretty. Also tasted good, which is probably more important, but I wouldn't want to eat an ugly soup.

There are no photos of this soup, because I ate it all up, yum! Really, it was a good soup. I fed some to my parents, who say they don't like curry, and they liked it a whole lot. However, if curry and cumin aren't your thing, you could probably substitute a liberal amount of your favorite salt-free Italian seasoning blend.

Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell


"Oh God, I'm so ashamed. How could I have gone out with someone for six months and not known they were a secret bell-ringer?"

"Come on." Erin's tone was consoling as she put the empty pudding bowls on the coffee table and stood up. "It's stopped raining. Let's go to the pub."

One fine day, Tilly Cole comes home to find that Gavin, her live-in boyfriend, has done a runner. Hurt, she visits her friend Erin in the tiny town of Roxborough for much needed cheering up. While there, she ends up applying for a job as a "Girl Friday" for a interior designer and his teenage daughter. Of course, Tilly gets the job and suddenly she has a new home and new life. Maybe even a new romantic interest in the form of Jack Lucas. Except Jack's a player with a tragically romantic (romantically tragic?) past. Will Tilly give her heart to a man who will break it or can she fix Jack's own broken heart?

Oh, I think we all know how this will end -- wedding bells and whatnot -- but, I promise, it's fun getting there! It's impossible not to like Tilly or root for her happiness and the abundance of secondary characters/subplots means the novel just roars along with never a dull moment. Some of it, especially the ending, borders on the ridiculous, but you just have to suspend your disbelief and say "I do believe in Romance! I do!"

Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell (Sourcebooks, 2010)

02 May 2012

Another Cookery Catch-up, Or, "Food, We Ate Some"

It's not been all cupcakes and grilled cheese sandwiches here at Chez Savory Tart, you know. There have been proper meals at proper times. There have been vegetables and the counting of Weight Watchers Points+. Oh, yes. Not that anyone in their right mind should calculate out the Points+ values of grilled cheese sandwiches. Particularly not on a day where you've eaten two of those delicious darlings, plus some stray bacon that just happened to be loitering in the kitchen.

Anyway, proper meals:

Stroganoff-ish Mushrooms Over Pasta

Sliced mushrooms cooked with garlic and minced shallots in olive oil until tender and all liquid evaporated. Then splashed with a bit of red wine vinegar and cooked until vinegar evaporated. Tossed in some goat cheese crumbles, salt-free Italian seasoning, parsley, and black pepper. Stirred until cheese was thoroughly worked in. Served over whole grain pasta with garlicky green beans.

Supper

Caesar Salad -- chopped romaine hearts, grated Parmesan, garlicky croutons, black pepper, Newman's Own Creamy Caesar Dressing.

Cheesy Artichoke Chicken -- Freebird fully-cooked breaded chicken patties spread with a mixture of Newman's Own Creamy Caesar Dressing and diced artichoke hearts, topped with a slice of provolone, and reheated as directed.

Supper

Fish -- frozen tilapia fillets, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt-free lemon pepper seasoning blend, and roasted with asparagus.

Asparagus -- trimmed asparagus stalks tossed with olive oil, salt-free lemon pepper seasoning blend, garlic cloves, and cherry tomatoes and roasted at 42°F about 15 minutes. Served with rice.

Sunday Breakfast

Alton Brown's scrambled eggs with sauteed halved cherry tomatoes, Heinz baked beans ("The British Bean"), and buttered toast. Just needed some mushrooms and orange marmalade to be The Perfect Sunday Breakfast.

01 May 2012

Some Brief Folly: Intrigue, Romance, & Derring-do

When she saw the group gathered in the bedchamber, she gave a scandalized gasp. "Hawkhurst! Are you run mad? And the girl in her nightrail!"
"No, is she?" He turned his quizzing glass interestedly upon Euphemia as if seeing her for the first time. "So she is, by Jove! And I, alas, thwarted by the presence of her admirable brother." He sighed and, allowing the glass to swing from its black velvet riband, shook his head reproachfully at Buchanan.
One of my co-workers, rereading her way through Patricia Veryan's Regencies, kept prodding me to read one. She thought I would like them because I liked Georgette Heyer and am a fan of what she called "old-style Regencies" (I think she means no sex and more authentic dialogue/behavior). Bowing to pressure, I borrowed Veryan's Some Brief Folly and, wow, what a great read!

Euphemia Buchanan, "The Unattainable," travels with her brother, a lieutenant injured on the Continent, and her page to visit their aunt for Christmas. Euphemia persuades her brother to detour their route a little to admire a passing estate, Dominer, that is famous for its beauty. There they suffer a terrible accident and find themselves at the mercy of Sir Garret Hawkhurst who, it is said, caused the death of his wife and only child ...

Oh, this was fun! The central characters were mostly dashing and witty types and the well-fleshed secondary characters were, if not entirely sympathetic, then dashed colorful. While there were many trials to be overcome and dramatic situations resolved before any characters could find happiness, these were dealt with in ways which seemed appropriate for the time period and the characters seemed like real Regency people (or, at least, how I imagine Regency people would be) and not like modern people in fancy dress. The language, too, seemed very correct and reminded me, during the best bits, of Heyer.

I did think Veryan's decision to have the protagonists' siblings run away together even though one was already married (and cuckolded) was de trop, but the situation was well-handled and resolved in a satisfactory manner. Not every Regency marriage would have been a happy one and I imagine Buchanan wouldn't have been the only soldier, returned home to an unfaithful wife, to have found his happiness elsewhere.

Anyway, Some Brief Folly has loads of intrigue, romance, feuds, and derring-do. Definitely recommended.

Some Brief Folly by Patricia Veryan (St. Martin's, 1981)