Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I tend to not be much of a resolution-er--not that I can't think of multitudnous ways in which I ought to reform myself, but I know that most resolutions last until the groundhog sees his shadow (he always sees it, doesn't he?). In the spirit of self-reformation, I try to keep things simple. Last year my resolution was to floss every day. Yes, oral hygeine took precedence over making the world a better place or cultivating my soul. It sort of worked. I don't floss every day, but the days I don't are an exception. This year...
Remembering birthdays. Or, rather more specifically, sending birthday cards when appropriate. My mother's family all sends each other cards, and as a proper grown-up, I really ought to do this, too. So, easy does it...send mail like a proper adult. Can handle this. And go.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
I recognize that the concept of mincemeat might sound a little (or a lot) nasty--it's a sweet pie made with beef. Yes, beef. In pie. And it's delicious. It's probably very much out of fashion to make mincemeat, but it's my father's favorite, so as a Christmas gift to him, I'm making a few pies' worth of filling to freeze, so my mom can make him pies later in the winter. He's a chiropractor, with a good old country doctor philosophy about his practice, so he has the sort of patients that make him fudge and cookies and pies at Christmas, and several have caught wind of his love for mincemeat. He'll be well stocked for a few weeks, anyway. But by February, who couldn't use a reminder of warm holidays?
I cobbled together a recipe based on several "Old Time Mincemeat" recipes collected online. Some were meant to be used right away, or frozen; others were canning recipes. Since many mincemeat recipes are canning recipes, vinegar figures into the ingredients for canning safety purposes, and of course then figures into the flavor as well. Even though I'm not canning this batch (I don't a pot big enough for canning...gift idea, anyone reading) I added a little vinegar to replicate the flavor.
1 1/2 lb beef--I used round steak
at least 3 cups apple cider, divided
4 cups chopped apples (I used Gala...any firmish sweet-tart apple would probably be fine)
2 cups each golden raisins and dried cranberries
1 cup brandy, extra optional
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup vinegar
1 T cinnamon
1 t each ground ginger and clove
Hack beef into big pieces. Cook in about 1 cup of cider (more may be necessary depending on size of pot). Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, place cranberries and raisins in bowl, and pour 1 cup of brandy over the bowl to plump and flavor dried fruit.
Remove beef; discard cooked cider (the first recipe I read said to keep this and cook everything else in it, which is a nice idea, except that the liquid was watery and had a bit too much beefyness in it after cooking. It looked icky. I discarded and used fresh cider). Chop beef coarsly into bite-sized pieces.
Dump beef back into pot, along with apples, brandied raisin/cranberry mix, 1 cup sugar, and at least 2 cups of apple cider (shouldn't cover, but shouldn't be skimpy, either.) Add butter, vinegar, and spices. Simmer about an hour and half, until thick. If desired, add another 1/2 cup to cup of brandy toward the end of cooking.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
This may, first of all, be a sign that I've been reenacting too long and the minutaie thereof has completed its takeover of the workings of my brain. It may also be that, though I've never woken up to a snowstorm or single-digit temperatures, I've dragged myself out of a bedroll into an automatic shiver enough times to have a taste of what it feels like. Finally, it's most likely because I had just read the short story "Valley Forge" by Van Wyck Mason in my Christmas anthology.
I make reading my favorites from this tome an annual tradition, and "Valley Forge" is one of those favorites. Set, unsurprisingly, in Valley Forge during the winter encampment of 1777, it recounts a cold Christmas Eve that ought, from the want of fuel and food, to have been lacking entirely in cheer. It's the sort of old-timey patriotic story that would be laughed off the shelves now, but its earnestness keeps it fresh even today. As his soldiers shiver and lie through their chattering teeth writing good tidings home to their families, General Washington is writing his resignation to the Continental Congress. Yet, after he tours the camp, thoroughly impressed each time he stops at a weak campfire with his men's steadfastness, he returns and burns the letter.
It's a very simple story, and one that the historian in me could pick apart. I could also, in a moment of uncharitable speech, call it "corny." Even "corndog." But I choose not to, because it's really about what we choose to believe about other people--that they have good in them. And isn't that one of the best parts of Christmas--believing?
And besides, I'm full of good cheer of the season--I didn't wake up in a tent this morning.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard (Response to Historical Tapestry's Alphabet Challenge)
Just in time for Christmas, a novel inspired by Dickens' classic Carol in Prose. This was a gift at a White Elephant exchange a couple of years ago, and I think I perhaps made out the best (though the covetted gift of the night, a reindeer-poo candy dispenser, would have been an amusing addition to my holiday display, I couldn't write a review of it here).
Enjoying this book was a bit of a surprise--I generally don't enjoy the seedy Victorian underbelly scene (overdone, often overkill, often stereotypical) and I generally don't get into mysteries. This was a mystery set in the seedy underbelly of Victorian London, with the full cast of stereotypically seedy Victorian characters (the prostitutes, the charming youthful pickpocket, the crusty river boatsman, the corrupt aristocracy). But the plot pranced along at a pleasant gait, and the characters were complex enough to invite both sympathy and interest. And of course, a good part of the fun was seeing where the characters of the original story would come in.
Fair warning--the plot does center around prostitution and includes a ring that attempts child prostitution, so while the book itself does not contain explicit sex, the suggestion of upsetting themes is certainly there. At certain points there's a bit of lag on the story, particularly up front--the novelty does not last quite long enough to sustain the reader until the plot really commences. I would have appreciated the addition of a subplot or two, but as I said--I'm not much of a mystery reader, so that was probably the reason I wanted more out of the story. And of course, Tiny Tim as the main character aside, the basic plot has certainly been done before. Yet Bayerd's writing keeps the book fresh, as do a few turns he takes with the characters and the allusions to Dickens' Christmas Carol. A worthwhile winter read.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Before heading off, I realized that I needed to remedy a deficiency in my gown. The late eighteenth-century polonaise puts a lot of emphasis on the, ahem, derriere, and even with the draped fabric, mine was looking a bit puny. So I did what any lady would do--I made myself a false rump. Yes, I just typed the words "false rump." What an eighteenth-century lady wouldn't have done, that I chose to do, was to create the thing out of old towels. But, rolled and stitched, they have the right combination of firmness and maleability. The effect is quite charming, if you're into that sort of thing:
A friend posted this photo on Facebook, and the first thing I did when I saw it was make my husband come look at how great my butt looked. Yeah, he thought it was weird, too.
We also danced, sticking with English country dances. A friend asked before I went to the party if we were going to dance the minuet--to my understanding, this is much more difficult, and given the hilarity of attempting these country dances, I don't think I'd have much success at the minuet! Most were done in lines or circles of six--there were more willing ladies than gentlemen, so many thanks to the good sports who provided partners to all of us ladies who wanted a turn on the floor. My favorite started in a circle instead of a line (as the one at right does) and involved turning your partner into the center of the circle and back out. It also involved skipping. Very fun.
And, of course, we all had so much fun that we decided we must have a spring masquerade ball. It will be a late Carnivale. Or something. As though we needed an excuse! But, of course, we can't wear the same gowns again, can we? So we all conspired to make appropriately spring-ish gowns. Perhaps the perfect reason to attempt the modified saqcue-back that I'm currently coveting.
Friday, December 4, 2009
2) Looking at Christmas lights. Again, rather stereotypical, but I love driving around and looking at neighborhood Christmas lights. Date night!
3) Eighteenth-century Christmas party tomorrow. I finally finished my polonaise gown (it's more of a day, or "undress" gown, but we'll let that slide) and can't wait to play dress up! I've been working on this gown for ages--and have been wearing it for a couple of years, but with the engagés missing from the sleeves and the neckline fitting poorly. Everything is ship-shape now, and hopefully wearing it will inspire me to get moving on the block-printed caraco (long jacket) I have planned as a winter project.
I hope to post pics from the party...but in the meantime, an shot of Milton in action:
Monday, November 23, 2009
I'm shocked at myself, that this didn't pop into my head after first ponder of the "A" challenge. Atonement is one of my absolute, all-time favorite books, yet it didn't come to mind as a response to the Alphabet Challenge until I saw it on my shelf tonight. I think this is because Atonement doesn't fall neatly into my categorization of historical fiction, in two ways. One, it is also literary fiction. Literary on a level that meshes beautifully with the historical setting (one might even say becomes a part of it), but still not strictly, solely a historical. Second, for part four, which does take place in the present.
Regardless: In short, Atonement is the story of coming of age during WWII, learning the ramifications of the consequences of one's actions. Part one jumps from perspective to perspective, slowly fleshing out the story of what happened one day and one night at the Tallis family house in the late 1930s. Somehow, McEwan makes over a hundred pages of the same day completely engrossing. Part two focuses on the experiences of Robbie, the love interest of the older Tallis sister, as he struggles across the French countryside to reach the evacuation point known to history as Dunkirk. Part three shadows Briony, the younger Tallis sister, as she trains as a nurse, is tested in the days following Dunkirk, and decides to face the past and the unintended consequences of her actions (a rather fitting theme, given the time period--who wasn't thinking of how long the echoes of a single action could sound with WWII coming to a breathtaking climax?). And then part four turns the whole story on its end, effectively examining how we create stories, how we tell them, and why.
This might be one reason I like the book so much--at its core, it's a story about stories, and how sometimes the story is more impactful than the truth. Fascinating...
On a personal level, Atonement serves as one of the texts I study when it comes to my own writing. Not in terms of imitation (I coudn't) or in concept (clearly, this one can only be done once), but more in the way a novice watches a magician turn a scarf into a bird--"How did he DO that?" And so I find myself rereading paragraphs over themselves, and opening to a random page and drinking in the language, for the joy of it.
This was also one of those in which the movie managed to capture a good deal of the essence of the book, particularly by repeating the same scenes from different perspectives and timings and with the haunting score, heavy on the typewriter keys. Of course, Keira Knightley was nothing as I imagined Cecilia to be (McEwan calls her horsey--erm, yes, well, casting had a different interpretation of that one). Strange, too, how the film painted it as a love story, when I found the novel to have an entirely different flavor (though still with the bittersweet of a love story tucked in there, too).
Friday, November 20, 2009
I'm having some trouble thinking of an "A" book on the fly...but this could be because I'm having Friday brain frizzle. The only thing I can currently think of is the name of a girl who was in a ballet class a friend of mine taught. Abelind Peach. Is that not the best name you can think of for a sassy Southern character?
Looking forward to posting more...and consider joining the challenge if you enjoy historicals :)
Friday, November 13, 2009
Lately, we've been wanting to explore other dance styles. I know lindy, but it really isn't my preference. We've found that we love earlier-era music--twenties and thirties pieces--so thought Charleston would be a fun avenue to explore.
It's not currently being taught anywhere in our town, so we turned to the internet...only to find that the dance called "Charleston" as shown in films like It's a Wonderful Life, is not the dance called "Charleston" by modern dance instructors. We were hoping to pick up basic steps, but it seems that most people are looking at the single Charleston, not the partnered dance shown here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wH2Hobj-7N8 (yes, the best version of this on youtube is apparently in Russian).
Then we stumbled across this littl beauty--an original instruction film from the twenties. Clearly, there's more to Charleston than this step. But it's a start--and we're hitting up the kitchen floor to practice!
Monday, November 9, 2009
List this gown as "project I really want to start this winter but probably won't given the more pressing needs of new shifts and a new pair of stays." The robe a la francaise, or sacque-back gown, is probably one of the more evocative images of the eighteenth century--people see this style and see Marie Antionette and royal balls and start hearing chamber music. But this one is different--and that's why I love it. Most robes a la francaises have very wide pleats--from the back, you cannot see the wearer's waist. The pleats in most gowns like this originate at the shoulders very much like an undersized, structured cape. These pleats are, by comparison, practically in miniature, and I love that the waistline is still visible. Plus, the fullness is pushed toward the back of the gown, rather than to the sides, dating this piece to later in the eighteenth century. Images of the eighteenth century are usually synonymous with the wide hips achieved by paniers, but later in the era, the fullness began to reorient itself toward the back of the gown rather than the sides, particularly for daywear. Because I reenact the mid 1770s through 1780, this "false rump" style is the height of fashion--I'd look horribly outdated in wide paniers. We couldn't have that.
Friday, November 6, 2009
The trouble with being involved at the administrative level of a reenacting organization, as I now am, is that you realize just how difficult it is to put any of these fabulous thoughts into practice from a "top down" approach. For example, I often hear that camp appearance--making sure that modern items remain out of sight at encampments and that camp furniture and personal mess kits are appropriate to the period--should be a higher priority. I've read embarassing accounts of events with which I've been invovled of participants eating out of plastic containers--definitely a no-no in terms of maintaining an authentic atmosphere. The problem comes in in asking the organization to do something about it.
For one, many of these requests are not universal. Though 99% of our organization would agree that eating out of a plastic containter shouldn't happen at events (99% because, as one learns at a board meeting, there is always dissent), there are other objects--like non-period eyeglasses or shoes--that aren't universally shunned because of the cost or discomfort involved in keeping it correct. Other disagreements are over the culture participants feel we should foster--some want 24 hour authentic events, while others want to break out the tennis shoes, modern camp chairs, and historically incorrect guitars and songs after the public leaves. Each side has its points--and though I'm apt to be a hardass and insist that our camp be 100% right during public hours at least, cost or discomfort be damned (after all, I'm already wearing shoes with no arch support and a pair of stays that leave a mark--who cares if I sit on the ground, too?) not everyone agrees.
And that's the crux--it's a volunteer organization. We can't afford to lose members, in my view, over whether they can wear their modern glasses or bring out their CampBuddy chair after hours. Even on things we agree about, implementing rules is as effective as herding cats. Which is why, in the end, I'm grateful for those not in board-member-roles who are putting ideas and even the occasional (justified) chastisement out there--they're the ones actually in a position to change things. So thanks.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
In case you can't quite read the image, it's an ad for whiskey. I think Dean's Company needs to get a bottle of this for the Christmas party, don't you think? "A Heritage to Remember" indeed.
Monday, November 2, 2009
That said--I realized that my good friend Danni is also in the same wagon situation as me in terms of blogging, and her first post back was a list of things she was thankful for. Nice, Danni. So I'm going to start with "I'm thankful for Danni being a smart and beautiful woman who comes up with fabulous ideas and is my friend, and lets me copy her."
Other things, limited to last week only or this could go waaay too long:
*Locust Grove. This place is beautiful and lets us reenactors come and immerse ourselves twice a year--and thinks that we're doing them the favor.
*Pumpkin spice latte is back in season, and there is soy milk that lets lactards like me enjoy them. Yes, and a fabulous chat with a good friend over aforementioned latte.
*Actually getting requests for my manuscript from queries I sent out. This is miraculous to me. But not as miraculous as--
*Most gorgeous weather ever yesterday. I confess--I skipped church to go for a three-hour long hike with my husband. But the leaves were all golden and russet and the sky was brighter blue that it has been all fall--and probably clearer than it will be for a long time. Opportunity not to be missed--I still claim that my cathedral is a stand of birch, anyway.
Rounding things out with a pic of my "little sister" and I at Locust Grove last weekend in full retreat mode--we should have known we were in trouble when an entire company's muskets misfired at once. Err, I mean--that was planned. In the scenario script.
And the action shot--I like this one because I'm holding my back like I have lumbar problems. I'm getting too old for this.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
First, I noticed that the trees are starting to bud. This may not have the same significance to you as it carries for me, but one of my earliest signals that spring is approaching, albiet still at a fair distance, is when the tiny buds that form on the trees and remain there, hard little knots all winter, begin to swell and soften. The tree in front of our townhouse has full-fledged, fuzzy buds.
Then, I went for a lovely traipse. The best traipses, I find, include a fair bit of trespassing. It's no coincidence that the words sound so similar, to my mind, for you really oughtn't to have one without the other. The only slightly dangerous adventure that trespassing adds to traipsing rounds out the experience, and I can think of no legitimate reason to trespass excepting a nice walk that happens to lead through a neighbor's property. I was raised on trespassing; my father, lacing into his snowshoes and criss-crossing deer paths across the back acres of several neighbors, summed our communal acceptance of the practice up quite nicely. "If they can't take a joke, screw 'em." I came home with shoes soaked by snowmelt puddles and increasing optimism that winter is not, in fact, endless.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Therefore, I got to sleep in (only a little, I was already up), and do whatever I wanted all day long. It's kind of sad that I cleaned the bathroom, because, as I said, I only did things I wanted to do. Randy went to campus (even though class was cancelled) to finish homework, and when he got home we dug the car out. This winter had convinced me that I never want a wide, low-lying sedan again. Our Altima is a lovely, reliable vehicle, but it not only slides on a dusting of snow, it gets stuck on a couple of inches. We dug ourselves out, what with rocking the car and backing up and pushing and all sorts of maneuvers, then went to Menard's and bought a shovel. We then came home and started really digging out a parking spot.
After getting the car back into aforesaid spot with a bit more maneuvering, Randy broke aforementioned shovel. He's gone back to Menard's for another one. I never did trust Menard's.
Friday, January 23, 2009
I don't know about anyone else, but winter has pulled a number on my skin. It's dry. I mean, really itchy, bothersome patchy dry. Especially my hands. They're peeling. It's disgusting. But I think I found a good home remedy, and I thought I'd share it in case any of my friends are also itchy-patchy-peeling hand types. I mixed equal parts olive oil and cane sugar (that "Raw" sugar stuff that's super coarse). It looks like soupy mud and smells kind of like baklava (you might want to mix some essential oils or perfume oil in with it, like I did, but don't dye it green, as I also did--it now looks like algae), but it works. Scrub it into the dry patches, rinse with warm water, and then slather on hand cream--or Badger Balm.
I could spend about three paragraphs describing how amazing Badger Balm is, and how if you coat your hands in it before washing dishes they won't dry out at all, but I'll just say I really like Badger Balm and leave it at that.
I'm heading up to my parent's house for the weekend, as sort of an escape from all responsibility, work, housekeeping, or volunteer related. I realize it seems a little juvenile to escape to the parents' house for this purpose, but, lacking vacation funds, it's a pretty decent option. Plus, I'm driving up with a friend like we used to in college, so there's some nostalgic road-trip action happening, too. Offline 'til Monday :)
Monday, January 19, 2009
I prefer grocery shopping alone. This is partially because shopping with anyone else--a roommate, a husband--inevitably conjures the relationship between a parent and a child, and I don't like playing either part. "Can we get the tomatoes?" "No, the tomatoes are really overpriced this week."
Plus, when shopping alone, I can't get talked out of purchases like mustard greens and turnips. I fought hard and won the turnip greens today (Husband thought they were spinach) but lost on the turnips and the parsnips. Turnips and parsnips, though they sound like Victorian poorhouse food, actually taste a lot like potatoes, but cost about half as much, as they have that poorhouse connotation. And even if I didn't need to watch the budget at the grocery store, I kind of like to. It makes the project a challenge instead of a classic chore. Think about how many things you've never actually eaten from the produce section. I recommend the turnip greens.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Post-New-Year's I've started to feel a little bored--the holiday excitement is over, so with nothing else to do, and it being way too cold out to really enjoy working out my energy outside, I've been going into overdrive on decorating. I think winter brings out some sort of weird nesting instict, because I've rearranged furniture, bought a curtain rod, started making drapes, and decided on how to rearrange the stuff on the walls to form new, exciting arrangements of stuff on the walls. Banal? Yes. Better than reruns? Also yes.
Plus, it's much easier to feel legitimate about cozy indoor nesting and bundling up on the couch sorts of activities when it's cold and snowy out. The sun is out, it's a crisp, optimistic kind of cold...unusual compared to Btown's normal grey, icy, pessimistic winter cold. I could get used to this, given the option of staying a few minutes longer in my warm bed before facing the day.
Friday, January 2, 2009
The cabin is also very quaint when the power goes out, as it did shortly after getting the car unstuck and going to second service at church. Logs, fortunately, insulate fairly well, but it doesn't hold forever. We built a fire in the fireplace and passed the Scotch when it started to get too nippy. That, and decorated Christmas cookies by candlelight. Quaint and prosaic? Yes. Always attractive? Not exactly. Especially the gingerbread man Randy created with "red mittens." Red icing mittens on gingerbread hands look uncommonly like little gingerbread arms ending in bloody stumps.
And now the festivities are over, the tree will go the recycle center tomorrow, and things go back to normal. Normal is such a dull word...I wonder, which is better: Normal and warm or quaint, prosaic, festive and freezing?