Stuff and Nonsense: May 2014


Plated: Seared Salmon Salad w/ Tomato Sherry Vinaigrette

I came home to my first Plated box last Friday after a long, crazy work week. I was low on energy and pretty much regretting my impulsive subscription ... until I opened the box and saw the recipe card for "Seared Salmon Salad with Tomato Sherry Vinaigrette" peaking out at me. Surely, I thought, I can sear some salmon and toss a salad. I am a capable human being, after all.

How it looks just out of the box.
Salad ingredients, unpacked.
The salad went together easily ... there was just a surprisingly large amount of it considering it was meant to serve two people! And I actually forgot to include the small head of butter lettuce! It was easily salad for three with just the arugula, frisee, and radicchio. Adding the butter lettuce would have made salad for five or six! Not that would have been terrible -- "free" meals -- but there really wasn't enough salmon to go with all that salad. Even I, who love big ass salads, ended up leaving a small pile behind because I was out of salmon and simply couldn't tolerate more bitter radicchio. The Husband, who likes his salads heavy on protein and light on greens, left a lot behind.

The tomato sherry vinaigrette was surprisingly zippy and might have benefited from cutting back on the acids or upping the amount of honey (I thought about whisking in some of my own honey, but decided I should try the recipe as provided). Also, a bigger tomato wouldn't have gone amiss as my shallot and tomato were about the same size and the shallot overwhelmed the tomato when they were mixed into the dressing. (I did think about using one of the tomatoes meant for the "Cheesy Quinoa Stuffed Tomatoes," but figured I'd regret trying to stuff a tiny tomato later).

The Husband and I both agreed that the seared salmon was totes delicious and I was very pleased to learn a new method for cooking salmon. Previously, I'd always avoided cooking salmon in a skillet (unless I was poaching it) because I couldn't figure out how to do so without overcooking the fish. Obviously, you cook the salmon flesh-side down.

Would I make this seared salmon salad again? Definitely ... but would definitely dial the bitter greens back a bit! And not forget the butter lettuce!


Wordless Wednesday: Stone Carvings

Just another random-around-town-architectural-wotsit


The Bar Sinister by Sheila Simonson

Presently revolted passersby in the vicinity of Cavendish Square could observe a plump, middle-aged gentleman and a woman old enough to know better embracing in a carriage in broad daylight, a clear instance of the decay of modern manners.

Emily Foster, a gently-bred widow, takes in the children of an army officer so that her child might not grow up alone. Emily and Captain Falk are not at their best when they meet and each makes a poor impression on the other. There is no doubt, however, that both care for the children deeply and, as the years pass, Emily and Richard form a tentative friendship through the letters they exchange about the children. That each thinks the friendship is one-sided is a bit of a problem, but they're separated by geographic and class boundaries anyway so it doesn't really signify ...

Richard Falk is the bastard son of the Duchess of Newsham and some dude she ran away with because her husband, the Duke, was an out-and-out bounder. The Duke is dead now and the inheritance neatly sorted out amongst the legitimate heirs ... and yet strange accidents befall Richard wherever he goes. He is quite certain at least one of the late Duke's children is out to kill him. But why? The Duke never recognized him. Falk even changed his name so there could be no connection. So why keep trying to kill him? And are the children endangered by their patrimony?

I kept waiting for Falk's mother or sister to turn out to be a Machiavellian mastermind so-innocently sitting in a vast web of conspiracy, but they turn out to be exactly as written -- the nice, if perhaps misguided, members of the family. Alas, the bad 'uns are also exactly as written. A trifle disappointing as Simonson has created so many engaging and dynamic characters that it doesn't seem right the wicked parties should so clearly be BAD MEN.

Bar Sinister serves as a prequel of sorts to Lady Elizabeth's Comet in that several of its secondary characters are significant to the plot of Lady Elizabeth's Comet. While Bar Sinister was published first, I read Lady Elizabeth's Comet first and found the novels worked fine read in that order. Indeed, it's probably better to read Lady Elizabeth's Comet first, because you approach it with no preconceived notions about how nice Tom Conway may be.

Overall, The Bar Sinister is well-written Regency with a smattering of yearning and a dash of derring-do. If you like your Regencies slow to simmer, people with mature adults, full of Napoleonic detail, slightly gothick, and only tangentially related to London and the ton then The Bar Sinister is good pick.

The Bar Sinister: A Romance of Regency England by Sheila Simonson (Walker & Company, 1986)


Wordless Wednesday: First Lilacs

O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

-- Walt Whitman, When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd


Top 10 Tuesday: Books About Friendship

When I started drafting a list of books about friendship for this week's Top Ten Tuesday, my mind immediately went to all my favorite J/YA books and I actually had some difficulty coming up with adult books about friendship. Is it because so many of the adult novels I read focus much more on romantic love than friendship? Or do adults not experience friendship in the same intense, all-encompassing way children do? Or am I overthinking again?

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  2. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
  3. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
  4. Empress of the World by Sara Ryan
  5. How to Make an American Quilt by Whitney Otto
  6. The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
  7. Miss Clare Remembers by Miss Read
  8. Owly, Vol. 1: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer by Andy Runton
  9. The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas
  10. Tara Road by Maeve Binchy


Caroline and Julia by Clare Darcy

After Caroline's no-good wastrel of a father dies, leaving his family all but penniless, she and her mother try to make the best of it by closing up the estate and making their home in its kitchen. Unbothered by greater society, they spend a few relatively happy years together before Caroline's mother also dies. With no family or friends to aide her, Caroline determines to go to London to see her mother's dearest friend, now a famous actress, and find a way to get on in the world.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in England, Caroline's Uncle Chandos dies leaving his fortune not to his suspiciously charming nephew and grasping sister-in-law, but to fair Caroline. Clearly, something must be done about that.

Overall, Caroline and Julia is a delightful romp just as much about Caroline and Julia's deepening friendship as her blossoming love for a young lord (who pens the most dreadful poetry). I worried at first that Darcy would fling Caroline and Neville together as they are cousins and their marriage would make things very tidy, story-wise. And also very undramatic!

Happily, Caroline doesn't fall in love with her cousin and makes a much more age and temperament appropriate match. As does Julia, of course, because even thirtyish widows-turned-actress deserve a handsome, wealthy, self-aware, and age-appropriate husband.

Clare Darcy is the pseudonym of deceased American author, Mary Deasy, who published more than a dozen Regency novels under that name. Happily, my library owns three others and I shall give them a try. Unhappily, age and use have rendered them excessively unattractive-looking and rather icky-to-the-touch. As they are not particularly famous or “important” genre-wise, my best hope is someone like Uncial Press releases them as eBooks ...

Caroline and Julia: A Novel of Regency England by Clare Darcy (Walker & Company, 1982)


Improv Challenge: Lemon & Lime

I really had my heart set on making a beautiful lemon-lime gelatin mold for May's Improv Challenge, but time got away from me and suddenly it was the day of the Challenge and I had nothing! So I turned to my second choice recipe, "Creamy Lemon-Lime Sherbet," and I am so glad I did. The recipe is so very simple to throw together and yields sherbet that is just totally yum. Cool, creamy, and super citrusy. And, anyway, who doesn't want to be able to say they've made sherbet from scratch? Especially as we head into warmer weather and ice cream season?

This recipe is based on one I found in one of my grandmother's old recipe booklets, Cooling Dishes for Hot Weather, published by the Culinary Arts Institute in 1956. The original dish used lemon or lime and I, obviously, wanted to use both. Also, I was a little heavy-handed with the zest simply because the original amount didn't seem like nearly enough!
Creamy Lemon-Lime Sherbet
Makes about 1½ pints

1¼ cups sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup lime juice
[I used a mixture of fresh & bottled]
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp lime zest
⅛ tsp salt
2 cups heavy cream
2 drops green or yellow food coloring, if desired

If you have a stand mixer, put the bowl and beater in the freezer now. If you don't, put a whisk and large mixing bowl in the freezer instead.

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients until the sugar is dissolved. Add a few drops of food coloring, if desired.

Put bowl in freezer and freeze until "mushy" (about two hours in my fridge).

Pour mixture into chilled bowl and beat with chilled beater until smooth. Immediately return mixture to freezer and freeze until firm.

When making this dish, I recommend freezing the first stage in a shallow square or rectangular metal pan for greater surface area and a more consistent freeze. The large ceramic bowl I used was great for mixing, but froze unevenly -- edges faster than middle, etc -- making it hard to guess what "mushy" was. In the end I decided mushy meant "jiggly in the center, but the edges are firm and indentations, while easily made with a finger, don't fill back in."

I have no idea how long the sherbet took to firm in the final stage of freezing, because I made this before work and then just left it the freezer for nine hours. I worried about it more or less constantly while I was at work -- had it been the right kind of mushy when I beat it? would use of lime concentrate make a difference to how it froze? -- but it was fine. And now I'm thinking "Sherbet all the citrus fruits!!!"

Thanks to this recipe, I've learned I've spelled sherbet wrong my entire life. There's only one r -- it's not sherbert -- but everyone I know pronounces in sureBERT so I am thoroughly confused. (Sorbet's not the same thing, imho, but more like Italian ice and we pronounce it soreBAY).


Wordless Wednesday: Violets

A while since the croaking of the pond-frogs and the first white of the dog-wood blossoms. Now the golden dandelions in endless profusion, spotting the ground everywhere. The white cherry and pear-blows—the wild violets, with their blue eyes looking up and saluting my feet, as I saunter the wood-edge—the rosy blush of budding apple-trees—the light-clear emerald hue of the wheat-fields—the darker green of the rye—a warm elasticity pervading the air—the cedar-bushes profusely deck’d with their little brown apples—the summer fully awakening—the convocation of black birds, garrulous flocks of them, gathering on some tree, and making the hour and place noisy as I sit near.
-- Walt Whitman, Specimen Days


Reading Rambo’s Splendorous Lady Audley’s Secret Readalong: Chapters V-IX

Helen Talboys is dead! Oh, no! Poor George! &etc. George and Robert head to Ventnor to see the grave of poor dead Helen Talboys and meet up with her father, Captain Maldon, and the child. He receives a lock of hair from his father-in-law’s landlady and (quelle surprise) the hair is like-but-not-quite-like his dear dead wife’s hair (“It changes in illness.” Seriously? We believe that?) and a moving account of her death. George decides to run away to Australia, but first he’ll draw up a document appointing Robert Audley as guardian to little George Talboys. Then he finds he can’t leave (that ship has literally sailed) and eventually ends spending the winter in St. Petersburg with Robert (Russia in the winter -- best cure for depression, ever).

A year later, George is looking a bit better and Robert decides they’ll visit his uncle’s house, Figtree Court (randomly want to point out that fig is a biblical contender for the forbidden fruit … no idea if it matters to the story or not but FACTOID), but then Lady Audley won’t have them (great hulking brutes that they are) and they stay in a local inn. They fish and loll about and dine … and they keep not seeing Lady Audley. Finally, Robert sees his family passing in their carriage and is quite smitten (because love among cousins is not enough for this novel) with his aunt’s beauty.

Back at Figtree Court, Lady Audley remarks on Phoebe’s similar looks (time to find a new job, Phoebe!) and sends her to London to run “a little errand.” Coincidentally (?), Lady Audley receives a telegraph from an old friend who is dying … in London! (Yes, I googled West Brompton). So Lady Audley and husband are off to London to see her poor dear sick friend and, once again, George doesn’t get to meet *cough* his dead wife *cough* Lady Audley.

Robert and George visit the house, anyway, and Alicia shows them the secret way (presume the same one alluded to in the first chapter, but sounds much bigger so idk) to get into her ladyship’s locked boudoir. Because that’s what genteel guests do? Crawl on their hands and knees along secret passages to see her lady-ship’s gowns and hairbrushes?

And the portrait! The portrait that, when paired with rustling ivy and “last cold flicker of twilight,” seems positively ominous. The lurid brightness, the sinister light, the almost wicked look, the raging furnace of color and the folds of the gown that look like flame – they all suggest damnation and hellfire to me. Certainly, the Lady Audley of this painting sounds nothing like the fair, childlike and innocent beauty the novel has thus far presented us with. Masks and metaphors and Dorian Gray-esque shizzle. SO MUCH FUN. (But maybe that’s because I’m 100% Team Not-Dead-Yet Helen Talboys?).

Anyway, George reacts strangely to the portrait and, later that evening, seems to go off his nut during a thunderstorm. Robert’s all “don’t be afraid of a little lighting, old chap” (in my head, Robert always sounds like Bertie Wooster as played by Hugh Laurie), but George is almost violent in his behavior, stomping out of the inn, and walking around in the rain like some moody Byronic hero. But the storm (and George’s mood), passes with the night and the two go fishing. Except, once Robert falls asleep on the river bank, George goes off in the direction of Figtree Court.

No-one sees George but a servant who mentions m’lady is in the lime-walk and yet when m’lady comes back, she comes from the meadow behind the house (THE WELL!) and behaves as if George Talboys' visit is completely unknown to her. And then, later when Lady Audley asks whether she's been idle that afternoon, Phoebe is all:
"No, my lady, I have been altering the blue dress. It is rather dark on this side of the house, so I took it up to my own room, and worked at the window."
Oh, Phoebe, you are so dead! Because what does Phoebe's bedroom overlook? The well,"only visible from the garret windows at the back of the west wing."


Lady Elizabeth’s Comet by Sheila Simonson

Lady Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of a recently deceased earl of Clanross, is quite infatuated with astronomy. While she knows she should marry at some point (she's nearly thirty!) and assume her ordained place in society, Elizabeth really would much rather discover a comet. Besides, any man who marries her would surely expect her to give up her astronomical-leanings and blue-stocking ways.

And then the new Lord Clanross arrives to take over the family estate and their personalities clash rather terribly. Total surprise there, I'm sure. Fortunately, the new Lord Clanross requires Elizabeth's help and the more time they spend in each other's company the more sympathetic they become toward one another. And that's all pretty fine, because maybe Elizabeth has found a man who wants an astronomer as much as he wants a wife.

Really, Lady Elizabeth's Comet is quite modern in its treatment of marriage and womanhood. Elizabeth, while not particularly feminine or maternal and in so many ways completely unorthodox in her behaviors, completely buys into the idea she cannot be the "right kind of woman" and an astronomer ... and so, well, she's decided she'll simply never marry. It's Clanross, who never had any expectation of the earldom, who is the feminist and proponent of personal freedom within the structure of Regency marriage. It's rather delightful. Reader, I would have married him.

(I know! After all that talk about not reading historical romances anymore, what have I been doing? Reading them! Enjoying them! Egg on my face, yes? I've also been reading "serious" nonfiction like Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness ... I just find them much harder to talk about).

Lady Elizabeth's Comet: A Romance of Regency England by Sheila Simonson (Walker & Company, 1985)


Around Connecticut: Bozrah Farmers Market's French Country Market

In the Spring this middle-aged woman's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of farmers markets. Saturday, we drove waylongfar across the state to the Bozrah Farmers Market's French Country Market -- "a unique and chic Farm & Flea event with food, farms, vintage goods and antique wares" at Maples Farm Park.

The weather was perfect for such an event -- brilliant blue skies, gentle breezes, and warm enough that most of the muddy bits had (finally!) dried up. We bought macarons and other delicious pastries, sampled several fine cheeses, and saw the most adorable kid goats (no pics of the wee goats, alas, as they were completely surrounded by cute human kids).

On the way back, we stopped in Colchester for comics (Free Comic Book Day!) at AJ's Comics and a late lunch at Harry's Place. The Husband enjoyed a juicy burger topped with a runny fried egg and I inhaled a plate of fried whole-bellied clams that were as exqusitely delicious as they were costly. I can't get full-bellied clams locally and, as these were some of the best I've ever eaten, they worth every penny (and calorie).

And then, of course, we stopped for cupcakes at Crafty Cakes and Cupcakes in East Hampton ... because what is an excursion without cupcakes? That's just ... driving around in a car. The ratio of frosting to cake was pretty much perfect and the cake was moist and fluffy with good crumb. Indeed, they were tasty enough that we couldn't be bothered to take pics and just ate them up, yum!

Wordless Wednesday: Tulip Magnolia

Tulip magnolia blossoms. Playing with HDR settings & can't decide if pic ended up "artistic" ... or just "weird."


Reading Rambo’s Splendorous Lady Audley’s Secret Readalong: Chapters I-IV

Reading Rambo is hosting a readalong of Lady Audley's Secret, which I signed up for largely because the Wilkie Collins The Moonstone readalong was ridiculous fun. Also, I've had a yen to read Lady Audley's Secret ever since I saw it mentioned in Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. Oh, I was aware of it long before then – presume it was mentioned in one or more of the pseudo-historical romance novels I gobbled up in my preteens – but Betsy and Tacy made it sound desirable. What can I say? I want to read what my literary crushes read.

Anyway, the first week covers Chapters I-IV which can be summarized (rather ominously) thus:

A charming lady.
A May-December marriage.
An embittered daughter.
A husband returned from abroad.
A barrister.
A servant on the make.
A baby's shoe.
An old well.
A secretive lady.

Hurrah! What fun! Lady Audley is such an annoyingly perfect paragon of Victorian womanhood that I rather want her to be guilty of something terrible. And yet, at the same time, I don't. Because it's a Victorian Man's World and I'd like to see a woman, even if she is a flaxen-curled china doll, get one over on the establishment.

Also, who can really blame Helen Talboys for committing bigamy? Her husband skived off to parts unknown and the entire time he was gone (three and a half years!) he never bothered to drop Helen a line to tell her he was alive or send send any money home. How long should she have waited? Penniless? Just her, the baby, and her drunken dad? No surprise Helen'd go looking for work. And, as a married woman with a baby, she couldn't go out for well-paying genteel position! It just wasn't done. So Helen Talboys became Lucy Graham, governess in a surgeon's household.

And what if her employer's rich neighbor takes a shine to Miss Lucy Graham? So long as he understands she cannot love him, why not marry him? It's a risk, but odds are Helen Talboys' husband is never coming back. I don't know that I'd have had the guts to do it and I Helen/Lucy for chancing it.

But we all know the big issue isn't Helen Talboys faking her death or assuming the false identity of Lucy Graham or marrying someone whilst already married ... the big issue is the old well, just how weak and doll-like Helen/Lucy really is, and how much she wants to stay Lady Audley.

So who do we think we end up in the well? George Talboys? Phoebe Marks? Luke Marks? Robert Audley? All of them? I admit I've read ahead so I am pretty darn certain one of them is in the well, but there's no reason more bodies can't fit ...

Reading Lady Audley's Secret, I frequently get the sense that Helen Talboys/Lucy Graham/Lady Audley is just a Russian nesting doll of false identity and I find myself wondering who she really is at her heart. Will we be introduced to Helen before she was Mrs. Talboys? Before she was George Talboys' "gentle, innocent, loving little wife" and just "a penniless little girl, the daughter of a tipsy old half-pay lieutenant?"

On a totally random note, I hope the pale governess from the Argus has a happy future, because thirty-three year old Victorian governesses deserve happiness.

Also, I apologize for the lack of gifs, but I am old and the ways of awesome-gif-finding are beyond my ken.