Thursday, September 30, 2010

An Important PSA from WWII

I realized I have a ton of gems from researching December. So, for the next few weeks, until you're tired of it or I am, I'll be spicing up the blog with 1940s/World War II tidbits.

Like this one. It's been a favorite of mine since I first stumbled across it years ago--and it found its way into a conversation in December that one of my dear beta readers said had her laughing out loud.



Well, there is that, isn't there

Once we're done laughing...VD was a legitimate problem for the Armed Forces during WWII--and pretty much during every war prior to that, too. But WWII saw an aggressive campaign against the spread of venereal disease, first by trying to convince the fighting forces not to fraternize with the locals, and when that proved, unsurprisingly, futile, providing other preventative measures via prophylactic stations.

It's perhaps not surprising that the messages aimed at men put the blame on women--notice that the poster essentially says "women spread VD" which is, we all know, only half the truth. Another pamphlet from the time puts it even more bluntly, ironically after stating that "sex is important--it's what makes you a man." A bit of a catch-22--how to be a man when those dirty women will give you VD?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned

The ladies over at Let the Words Flow are celebrating banned books week with a series of posts on the topic. Today's post started the week off wonderfully with an appeal to let readers choose for themselves--don't take the choice away from everyone because a few people have an issue. And it's always just a few people, isn't it?

As a reader of historical fiction, it's not often that one of "our" books gets caught up in the banned-book melee. Maybe this is because historical fiction doesn't tend to market to the younger crowd, which is often where trouble starts--a young adult book or a book that appeals to young adults gets parents or educators in a tizzy. Maybe it's also that the themes are considered a bit safer--after all, this isn't sci-fi, fantasy, speculative--this stuff did happen, so maybe it feels less "touchable" by the morality police. Maybe it's just a smaller genre and there are so many hooplas that can make the big-time every year.

All that to say--I often don't feel the bite of book banning because my favorite authors are seldom in the crosshairs. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't care. If you love books, you should care. A quick glance at the ALA's list of banned books would make anyone stand up and pay attention. Some are absurd--Winnie the Pooh comes to mind. Some are likely politically-overcorrections--Gone with the Wind and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are probably hitting the list mainly for racist language. And some--some are just scary and ironic, like Farenheit 451 and Brave New World.

At the same time, I fully support those who want to speak out against a book, too. After all, we're granted freedom of speech in this country. So say whatever you like, exhort other parents to make sure their kids aren't reading Author XYZ, petition your kids' teachers to remove the book from the reading list. It's your right. Have fun. But teachers, administrators, and libraries should be, in my opinion, less willing to cave to the demands of one or two vocal parents.

But what I'd really like--most of all--is for the focus to turn away from whether or not a book should exist and to become a conversation about the book's merits and issues rather than an argument about whether to pull it from the shelves. We recognize the power of books if we want to uphold them or ban them. Wouldn't that energy be better spent talking about and promoting the books that we do think are contributing in a positive way?

What's your favorite banned book? Ever come across a book that you thought was deserving of restriction or banning?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fashion Don'ts from the Met Museum

I tend to post beautiful historic costumes that I would love to wear, would love to recreate, would adore just being in the same room with if I had the opportunity. But in my browsing, I occasionally find things that make me wonder....why? Why did you do that? Who the heck wore that?

So, just for fun, take a look--are these universally unappealing? Is it just me? Can you see it working for someone...who's not you?

This is listed as a mourning (not morning, early in the day, but mourning, sad) dress from th 1860s. The simple shape of the gown is nice, but...my first thought is JAILBREAK!. There's also something near-clownish about horizontal stripes, so I have a hard time believing that the person wearing this is sad. Unless she's an Emmett Kelly-esque sad clown.


Again, I love the shape of this dress (I'm even working on my own cocktail dress with a very similar square neckline and puffed sleeves) but that print! I think it's about 40 years ahead of its time...because I'm pretty sure this goofball squiggle design was on every motivational poster my middle school kept around from the 80s.

I'm torn on this 1880s gown. Clearly, it's torn, too. I like the dual nature of a lot of the dresses from this period. But this takes things, in my opinion, a step too far. The ornate peach brocade with the smooth lavender taffeta feels...awkward. Maybe it's the warm/cool thing--I usually don't like mixing warm and cool colors. The severity of the contrast doesn't help--the very stiff, heavy upper portion and the ice-cream like pouf of the lower half. I can't help but think of this as the Frankenstein dress.

I can't get the image of an elaborate bathrobe out of my head when I look at this 1860s dress. Maybe it's the plaid--it evokes images of pajama-bedecked families on Christmas morning to me. The bodice draping doesn't help to get rid of the image, either. And my current bathtime kimono has sleeves pretty much identical to these--including wide band at the sleeve hem.
So, is it just me? Show me the beautiful details I missed, or reaffirm that they're just....not quite right. Check out the Met's Costume Institute database for about a gazillion more--most of which are simply stunning, no questions askes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Accurate Fiction

Fellow historical fiction fan Caroline blogged about this article from the Independent, and rather than dash off the world's longest comment, I thought I'd share a few thoughts here.

The article discusses professional historians turned historical fiction writers, and the growing trend for these primarily non-fiction writers to dip into fiction. The author admits that, for a writer used to nonfiction or academic writing, fiction is a horse of a different color, and he was surprised the depth to which he had to research his topic to make it come alive. I imagine any writer or reader of historical fiction would agree with that fact.

What I had a bit of trouble stomaching was this quote:

"Many readers of historical fiction like to be entertained and educated, and the only authors they can entirely trust to do both are historians."

Now, the author doesn't explicitly say that historians make better authors, or more accurate authors, but rather implies it by saying that these are the writers many readers trust. If that is indeed the case (and I have my doubts that it is--I tend not to check a writer's CV before picking up a book, and given the preponderance of historical errors I've found in popular books, I doubt most readers are, either), it is a poorly made assumption. First, there is no gaurantee that a historian can entertain at all, let alone better than anyone else.

But second, and perhaps more importantly, there is no reason that a person with credentials behind their name in the form of a few letters has done more or better research than a so-called amateur. I expect that a writer developping a story set in the past will spend the hours necessary in the library researching the era, answering the questions that make the time and place seem real to the reader. You have to become an expert on your area before you can relay it in an accurate and entertaining way. So I agree--you need to be an expert to be a trustworthy and entertaining writer. Does that involve a university appointment or a PhD? Absolutely not.

Another revealing quote:

Sebag-Montefiore's central character Sashenka is, he says, "totally invented but the history, the details, the background, the real historical characters that all appear as minor characters are all accurate historically".

Well...of course. Yes, that is the point, isn't it? It disturbs me that these concepts are presented as though they are unique to historians-turned-novelists, rather than the anticipated norm across all writers of historical fiction. I have a high expecation of my own accuracy in writing, and extend the same expectation to anyone aiming at getting published. The imagined contract I envision between the writer and reader is that the writer will display the past as accurately as possible, knowing that his or her interpretation may be the only exposure the reader has. I take that seriously--I cannot assume that a reader is going to take a college-level history course or read a nonfiction book to correct the errors I made in writing. I have, by the way, the same outlook on reenacting--it's a place that may be the only exposure outside of required 8th grade history that my spectators get. So it better be not only engaging, but spot-on accurate.

The trouble, as the author of the article put it, is that "We've all faced the charge that our novels are history lite, and to some extent that's true. Yet for some, historical fiction is a way into reading history proper. (Allison) Weir was 14 when she devoured Katherine by Anna Seton in two days and then "had to rush off to the history books in my school library to find out what really happened"."

I don't want a reader to run to the history books to "find out what really happened." If they're inspired to learn more, to find out other perspectives, to form their own opinions, that is wonderful. Historical fiction can be a wonderful gateway into learning more about the past. But it shouldn't be a perspective riddled with errors that we must look to professionals to fix. The answer isn't more historians writing novels--it's a higher expectation and appreciation from all of us, from reader to publishing house executive, of the importance of accuracy as well as a great story.

Stepping off soapbox now--what do you think? Do you trust a professional more than an amateur? What expectations do you have of accuracy in fiction--or is that an oxymoron?

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Rather Funny Character Happenstance

Someday I will write a long post about my favorite character I've created, Marjory Dawson Hastings. I adore her. However, today, I am posting about her dull, duty-bound, uninspiring (or is he, really?) husband, Lieutenant Hastings.

When I first wrote Linden Hall, Lt. Hastings was a means to an end--someone to enter Marjory's life and have some ill effect. He also did a dashing fine job of being an arrogant prick whom others could react to, and for showing a general high-born disdain of those beneath him and the colonial rebellion. Now that I've plucked her from that book and given her a story of her own (delicious fun writing, it is!), Hastings has a much larger role. Also, way back when, I did a quick research of English people with the last name Hastings so that if there were some wretched politician or famous thief or treasonous murderer named Hastings I could drop that name like a hot potato and find a less loaded surname.

I did find a Hastings--a Warren Hastings, first governor of the "Company Raj" in India. Pish-posh, I thought, how much more unrelated to my potential storyline could he be!

Ahem. Quite a bit of my impetus for this new project was that Marjory, at the end of Linden Hall, was left in a rather rough place. And thinking of ways to get her out of it included her conniving her husband into promotions. Ah, I thought, he served with Cornwallis on the Southern Campaign in the Revolution! He could follow Cornwallis to India when he goes to serve as governor!

And you see where Mr. Warren Hastings comes in now--adding a whole new wrinkle if Mr. Hastings were to be some sort of relative. You see, Mr. Hastings didn't leave his post unscathed--he was accused of all sorts of financial misdealings (of which he was eventually acquitted).

Something to ponder--I've never included a real person, no matter how obscure, in my writing before. But it seems a fun challenge--and I've grown to like Mr. Warren Hastings. An orphan and a widower, he eventually had his moment of romantic intrigue when he began an affair with a German noblewoman--and lived with her before her husband divorced her, whereupon he married her. I would love to include the scandalous couple--though I've a feeling from their biographies and, even, portraits that they were rather less scandalous in person.

Have you ever included real people in your writing? What about people inspired from real life--alive or in the past?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Just for Fun Q&A

Mesmered tagged me in a fun Q&A, and, given that it's Sunday, I'm the midst of studying for the GRE and doing loads of reading, and have a ton of laundry to do to boot, I figured it would be a fun distraction.

I also have to admit--I love questions like this. Funny, because I work with a student group on campus and helped them with their annual campout on Friday night. First off, I needed--really, desperately needed--to be out in the woods for awhile. Second--how did I manage to get stung by a yellow jacket within fifteen minutes of getting there? And third, prime--one of the students brought a book of questions, some of which were very similar to these. It was fun to see how people answered--and how my answers are probably changing and evolving in the five years or so that separate me in age from the undergrads I was with.

1. If you could have any superpower, what would you have? Why?

I know which one I wouldn't want--invisibility. I can never understand why a person would want to be a fly on the wall. I wouldn't--I know I'd hear something either hurtful or dangerous, and I'd really rather not know. Ignorance, in this case, is bliss. After reading, perhaps, too many fairy tales and fantasy books in my youth, I would love to be able to transform into an animal. It would be a blast to be a squirrel...or a seal...or a falcon. And I'm sure it would come in handy once in a while, too. Might even be able to help someone...but mostly would be fun to scale a tree with my squirrely claws or turn backflips in the water.

2. Who is your style icon?

This would indicate that I have some sort of style. Ha! No, I like clothes, but I don't set out to master any one sense of style. I would describe my style as one part ladylike classic, one part comfortable, and a dash of rustic romance. Kind of like Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth in The Queen. Yes, I wanted most of that wardrobe even if she was more than twice my age.

My eighteenth-century style icon is Georgianna, Duchess of Devonshire. Not because, mind you, I would be imitating her--no, I see myself as the Duchess of Philadelphia (my eighteenth century persona's hometown) in my reenacting clothes. Fashion-forward and a little fearless. No ostrich plumes in the hair yet, though. The City of Brotherly Love can imitate me.

3. What is your favorite quote?

I'll break this one into three categories, because I have too many favorite quotes:

History: Great things have been effected by a few men well conducted--George Rogers Clark. This was Clark's summing up of how 200 men took the Northwest Territory for the United States during the American Revolution. It inspires a certain courageous patriotism in me--that even the greatest challenges, with duty and good conduct, can be overcome.

Writing: If you want a happy ending, that all depends on where you stop the story--attributed to Oscar Wilde. So true--I always think of a story, whether it's a short story or a tome of a novel, as a snapshot, a polished off piece of a life. It can be comedic or tragic depending on what slice is taken and how it's presented.

4. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

I don't tend to file these away...but I suppose I shall pick a terribly shallow one. When I was in high school, a rather romantically inclined young man of my acquantiance declared that a woman's eyes were the most important feature he looked for. And he really did date only women with beautiful eyes. And the two of us dated briefly before college. So I've thought of my eyes as my best feature ever since.

5. What playlist/cd is in your CD player/iPod right now?

Literally--nothing at the moment. Figuratively--I have a steady rotation of Django Reinhardt (great for housecleaning and cooking), Loreena McKennitt (great for reflective moments), Thomas Tallis and Eric Satie (great for editing) and Fleet Foxes and Jethro Tull (don't laugh! great for car trips).

6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?

Neither, really--I don't like getting up early, and I seldom stay up late. But I will say this--when I'm awake, I'm awake. I'm not a groggy, grumpy bear type in the morning. And once I am up early, I'm happy I am--sunrises and early morning mist is beautiful. And if I'm up late carousing with friends I'm happy to stay up until the wee hours. To connect to writing--some people having a writingly time of day, but I don't--I can get up and go straight to it, can come to it in the middle of the day, or can stay up past my bedtime with it.

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?

I have three cats, but this is more for necessity's sake than preference--I'm gone a lot and have a small townhouse, so the high-energy kinds of dogs I love would be terribly unhappy with me. I've recently found that I adore Italian Greyhounds, and am thinking about getting a rescue someday as they would be more amenable to my style than, say, huskies or cattle dogs. But I do love my three cats--they're all very lovable and very stupid.

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?

Hyaline means clear, like crystal, and prosaic means either ordinary or in the style of writing known as prose. So--clear ordinary, crystal prose. It's just for fun, really. And because I happen to love the word hyaline and it's not used nearly enough.

Consider yourself tagged if you enjoy answering questions for a bit of fun :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cookfire Week : Final Day, Just Desserts

As mentioned earlier in the week, one can bake over a fire quite handily with the involvement of a Dutch oven. One can build an oven, as well, with bricks or a wire frame and piled earth. But it's awfully disappointing when it collapses midway through baking the custard. Been there, done that.

As promised--the easiest cobbler ever. It's only five ingredients:

Butter
Milk
Sugar
Self-Rising Flour
Pie filling of your choice--homemade or canned

No, I didn't include quantities--because it's all in proportion. So--the batter is: 1 part milk to 1 part sugar to 1 part self-rising flour. You'll need 1 stick of butter for each "part" above, and roughtly 1 can of pie filling (this part can be less precise).

Mix together the milk, sugar, and flour. Melt the butter in the Dutch oven, set over the coals you will be using to bake. (Or, you know, on your stove.) When the butter is melted, pour in the batter. The butter will form a natural "shell" around it. Dollop the pie filling over the top. Pop the lid on the Dutch, pile on the coals, and bake. Until it's done. With the fire, exact numbers are hard to come by, but give yourself at least an hour.

We didn't make this last weekend--instead, we made apple pie turnovers. We peeled apples, added sugar, flour, and spices to make pie filling, and then, instead of using a pie plate and making a pie, we put the filling inside pastry and folded it up. Then it was baked on a tin plate in the Dutch oven. Easy enough, and no need for "special" equipment like a pie pan. And it was crazy tasty.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Writerly Conundrum--Sink or Swim?

Cookfire Week to finish with dessert over the weekend with the world's easiest campfire cobbler and my apple pie reimagining.

But first--a writerly update and musing. I have a date with the coffee shop tomorrow morning to start the next project (and to eat something pumpkin-y, I think--can one hurry the arrival of fall by eating more pumpkin items?). I'm excited, I'm so happy to return to this character (I'll admit--she's my favorite of any character I've created), and I'm a mite trepidatious, too. You see, I have a rule that I don't have more than one project going at a time. If I do that, I've a tendency to never finish anything. So, I imagined myself with a strict, one-project-at-a-go policy. I wasn't "allowed" to start December until I was querying Linden Hall--and when it became clear to me that Linden (at least as I imagined her--and I liked how I imagined her--and that's another post on another topic) wouldn't get off the ground, well, December was over halfway done. Seems a good system.

So--by starting a new project, I'm saying it's time to throw December into the pool and see if she can get by without an inner tube. That's kind of scary. And I started to wonder--does one come to a place that the manuscript is at the edge of a precipice, and it doesn't matter how many grammar glitches you catch, or scenes you cut, or polishes you make (and, oh, I have--how many purple pens must one go through?)--it either has wings, or it doesn't? It is, or it isn't? Linden wasn't--not without a huge reimagining of what I wanted the finished piece to be. And, aside from the publishing bit, I had done everything I wanted to with that piece. I was willing to leave it rather than tear it apart and turn it into something else. (And that favorite character? Gleaned from Linden Hall.)

Essentially: Is there a point at which revision won't get a work anywhere? That the concept is either good or not workable? Sink or swim?

We read about agents requesting revise and resubmits, and about the editorial letters authors receive when their work is picked up by a publisher. So, clearly, there are pieces out there that aren't there yet, but have the potential to be turned into something remarkable through revision. And the opposite, too, is likely true--that there are manuscripts that, for what they are, are revised to perfection, but that perfection isn't going anywhere. The work has no wings. It's going to fall off that precipice, not fly.

All this to say--I'm at the point of sink-or-swim with December. Do you feel like a work hits a sink-or-swim point? Or is there always room for improvement? For some works, but not others?

And where are you at with your projects, writerly or otherwise? Starting anything new with the arrival of fall? Most importantly, are you drinking or eating pumpkin-y things? I've decided we can hurry the arrival of autumn by doing so, but we'll all need work together!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cookfire Day Three : Easy Side Dishes

If you can boil water, you can make these side dishes. And if you can stick a pot over the fire, you can boil water.

First--Garlic Smashed Potatoes. I love using tasty red potatoes, because they don't need to be peeled. And when you're using a knife rather thtan a handy vegetable peeler, this means even more. Let's not even go into the times when it's very cold out and peeling wet, frigid potatoes makes ones hands feel like they're on fire--until they go totally numb. Easy stuff: Wash the potatoes, then boil. This is one of those time you can put the whole pot right into the fire. Meanwhile, mince a few cloves of garlic--to taste. Apparently my taste is too garlicky for most--so don't take my advice of half a head of garlic. Once the potatoes are what I've heard termed "fork tender," drain the water. Then add liberal doses of butter, some salt and pepper, and the garlic, and smash with a large fork or a masher. The raw garlic cooks a little in the hot potatoes, but not too much, so it keeps some bite, just mellower.

Second--Bacon-Almond Green Beans. I missed most of the cooking on these because I had to go run powder for a cannon crew. Figures--the eighteenth-century double-shift, work all day on the battlefield, then home to cook dinner. I digress. Again, easy. Prep the fresh green beans (I break the ends off and break larger beans in half). Then, cook the bacon in the pot you'll cook the beans in. Remove the cooked bacon and reserve; drain most of the grease (leave a touch for taste). Fill the pot with the beans and either cover with water and boil or add just a little water and steam them (I prefer steaming, but they were boiled while I was away and this worked fine). Drain any remaining water off, crumble in the bacon, and sprinkle with slivered almonds. Divine.

My favorite comment of the meal--an incredulous, happy male member of our unit: "Whose idea was it to put bacon in the green beans?!?"

And a belated photo of the roast, swiped from a friend with a camera. Also shows the nice coals in the fire pit:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cookfire Day Two : Roast Beast and Coq au Vin

We had two sorts of meat this weekend--roast beef and coq au vin, a stewed chicken. Contrary to how they might sound, the roast is actually rather easy. Just as one does a roast in an oven, you set the thing up, then just let it cook. Skewering it on the spit is a bit tricky, and sometimes a two person job (though taking out some aggression on a hunk of meat can be worthwhile if the day has been a bit rough). Then I usually give it a few turns close to the fire, to sear the outside, then put it on a higher notch to slow-roast. All your heat control with a fire is mainly how far you place your cooking from the fire--so a quick sear and a slow roast is acheived by moving the roast first next to the fire, then further away. My favorite spices are slivers of garlic stuffed into slits in the meat, then salt, pepper, and rosemary lightly coated over the whole thing.

Easier to share is the recipe for coq au vin. It wasn't a 100% traditional coq au vin, as I just did stewed chicken instead of adding veggies, and left the sauce thin instead of making gravy. Here's the good for the fire, good for the modern kitchen recipe:

You need:

Chicken (I just used drumsticks)

Oil for cooking

Salt and Pepper

Red Wine

Vegetable Stock (nice, rich brown stuff)

First, season the chicken with salt and pepper. You can add more spices to taste if you like, but basic salt and pepper did the trick. Then heat the oil in a cast-iron pot (or an ordinary pot on the stovetop) and brown the chicken. Once the chicken is browned, add equal parts stock and wine to quite nearly cover the chicken (for about a dozen drumsticks in a larger pot, this worked out to around 1 1/2-2 cups each). Then just let it cook until the meat is falling off the bone. This was over the fire, so exact timing is hard to tell--but less than an hour.

It sounds basic. But when someone tried the chicken, hovering over the pot, he said with a full mouth, "This is like heaven!" and another friend asked, "What did you do to the chicken?". Be warned--the red wine mayimpart a purply color to the very top layer of the meat. It's ok. It's cooked. And it doesn't taste like sour wine.

Here's a similar modern recipe. Image taken from that recipe--we were in such a flurry to finish and eat that I didn't take any photos (bad me!).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cookfire Week--The Basics

There are a few things an intrepid open-fire cook needs.

One of them is a fire. Eighteenth century cooks would have cooked at home in either stoves (common in England and the Continent) or a hearth (common in the colonies and among the lower sort overseas). Though the colonists were looked down on a bit for their insistence on sticking with the hearth long after it went out of fashion overseas, they had their reasons--plenty of available firewood, so why switch?

Out on campaign, however, you don't have the niceties of stoves, hearths, or chimneys. You have a fire pit.

A good fire pit should be a nice, easy six inches deep at the least, more to cultivate good coals. I prefer an L shape, so that there's a main cooking area and a baking area, but that's my personal taste. Regardless, you get a hole dug in the ground large enough to build a fire in. This weekend I had to deal with a shallow scraping of maybe three inches as we were camped on what used to be a gravel road, whereas a friend of mind dug a trench that you could have easily buried someone in.

Then you need some irons. There has to be some way to set your cooking surfaces over the fire without putting them, actually, in the fire (though once in a while that's not the worst idea--boiling water, anyone?). This can be a pair of upright metal poles with a spit suspended over the fire from which you can hang pots from metal hooks. It can also be a series of spiders and trivets, little metal stands on which you can place your frying pans. I prefer a grate, something akin to the top of a modern grill on little legs that's placed across the fire. You'll also want a poker--to move the logs around in the fire (proper log-spacing is vital to a good cookfire--fires need to breathe!) and a blow tube or bellows, to force air at the fire to get it going.

And what to cook in? Cast iron pots and pans, not so disimilar to the modern ones many people still use in their kitchens today. One name might sound familiar--a Dutch oven. Today Dutch ovens are essentially casseroles, but in the eighteenth century they were large flat-bottomed pots on legs with rimmed lids. You place items to be baked--such as breads, pies, delicious if not entirely eighteenth-century authentic cobblers with canned pie filling (YUM)--in the pot, set the pot over a pile of coals, and pile more coals on the lid. The trick for cast iron is keeping it well-seasoned--properly maintained cast iron actually has a non-stick surface. Non-properly maintained cast iron acts like some sort of insane Gorilla-Glue-esque bonding device and is impossible to clean. An ounce of prevention, people--oil the inside and bake it for an hour or two once in a while. I try to season my iron after every event.

And finally--a fire. Though most people would identify the ability to start a fire as a necessary eighteenth-century skill, keeping a fire going is also important. Starting a fire is not only a pain, you can't do much with it cooking-wise right away, besides slowly boil water. We start the fire at night when we arrive on site Friday and hope to bank it well enough at night that we still have some live coals in the morning--it makes starting the fire up again much easier. And, if you're cooking, you want to cultivate coals--not just flames. Better, more even cooking, and the necessary coals for your Dutch oven.

So--the basics. Yummy food to come.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Announcing--Eighteenth-Century Cookfire Week!

Back to the eighteenth-century again this weekend. It's our busy season--fall, when it's not stifling hot, not snowing, and the kiddos are in school so we can host school days.

Once or twice a season, we decide to go all out on the food. Hearth and open fire cooking is a fun sideline hobby for many of us, so planning an extensive menu and somewhat complicated food is fun--once in a while. If I did this every time we had a reenactment, I'd go nuts--but most of my girlfriends will be there this weekend, and many hands make light work.

There are challenges of open-fire cooking--mainly, temperature control is not terribly accurate. You can't do dishes that require picky temperature settings or, God forbid, increases and reductions at a fast rate. All your temperature control is done by lowering or raising your cookware, or by stoking or spreading out the fire. It's not precisely scientific.

It also tends to be a bit slower, and you have to keep a constant eye on the fire. I rely on the men in our group to keep me in good supply of split wood to add to the fire.

Our menu for our grand dinner Saturday night:

Starter: Baked Brie with raspberry-rosemary sauce

The Main Attraction: A haunch of roast beef (a friend of mine is taking care of this)

The Supporting Players: Coq au Vin, Garlic Mashed Red Potatoes, Green Beans with Toasted Almonds and Bacon

The Finish: Apple Pie and Pumpkin Bread (the bread was baked beforehand, but we'll be baking the apple pie onsite).

So--next week, a run-down on how we made each of these delicious delicacies, with recipes, when applicable. A forewarning--these would have been unusual tasties to see on the menu in a military camp, which usually would have been less pleasantly provisioned. And we may not always use 100% authentic techniques (for ease and for safety). Still, I hope this will give you an insight into the past and into how we attempt to recreate it.

Join me next week for more on cooking over a fire, individual recipes, and probably some hilarious stories on what didn't go as planned.

Very Nifty Giveaway

Just a shameless plug here--I stumbled across this contest in webworld and am not only entering, I'm passing it along. Ms. Cassandra Marshall, freelance editor and agency intern extraordinaire, is offering a free edit to one lucky blog reader.

Plus her blog is fun to read. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Finally Discovered--the Worst Part of Writing

I've seen a lot of great posts and discussions around web world lately about the process of writing, the various stages, and which parts people like--and don't like. There are those who love drafting but editing makes them want to commit hari-kari with a paper clip. Some find drafting akin to pushing a VW bus through the eye of a needle but hit their stride when it comes to revision. For some, the brainstorming is the best; others say brainstorming is the bane of their writing existance.

And to each of these discussions, I added the overly cheerful, pert answer that I liked all the stages of writing. I love ideas, I love the first draft, I love revising, I love combing the manuscript with a purple pen and transcribing the changes. Love it all. Merrily I tripped on through more revisions and edits and created a nice, crisp manuscript. I was a happy prancing elf the whole way through.

And then.

I forgot about one, single, critical, terrible part of the process. Sitting. The part where you send your MS off to beta readers, and shove it in a (mental or physical) drawer, and promise yourself not to fiddle with it or even look at it until you've gained perspective.

I hate sitting. I'm itching to open my document, read it again, play with a few things, decide if it's ready. But the thing is--I'm not ready. I don't have enough distance yet to really appreciate or criticize it. It needs time to ferment, for the ideas to bubble up.

I can't wait for this stage to be over...but at least I found my least favorite part of writing. And thank goodness it's a pretty small part.

What about you--favorite and least favorite parts of writing? Does anyone--gasp!--actually enjoy the sitting-on-it part of the process?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

1778 or 1943...

Of course I forgot my camera this weekend. Fortunately, I have friends who are more camera-conscientious than I am. A few choice shots:

Before the battle--the British line troops venture out from their position behind the fence. Notice how they left their packs behind.

Little did they expect the Congressional forces to deploy from a narrow path in the woods--aha! The company below is an amalgamation of the sad remnants of three units--I suppose the rest have been lost in battle, or perhaps are ill. Or perhaps didn't manage to show up this weekend. Regardless, below, we have the French Lauzan's Legion (light blue), the First Dragoons(dark blue and red), and the Continental Marines (green). Which makes them, we decided, the First Continental Allied Legion of Seahorses.


And they put up quite an impressive rate of fire. And see? I'm in the picture, too. I'm the straw hat on the far right-hand side.



A slight distraction emerges from the undergrowth--Loyalist rangers.


No worries, supporters of the Cause of Liberty (and terribly sorry, Loyalists)--the Congressional forces took the day.

And we had enough energy at the end of the day to slip forward a couple hundred years to take a spin on the dance floor.


How--and when--was your Labor Day Weekend?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bring on the Wool!

We're taking off for Wisconsin for a reenactment this weekend--and surprise of all surprises, I checked the weather and it's looking to be cool and windy! I can't wait to break out the wool--my favorite little wool jacket, a wool coat to cut the chill at night, wool blankets piled on the bed.

It's going to be in the 40s at night--in more than one way, in fact! Yes, the temperatures are set to dip that low, but we're also time-travelling from the eighteenth century to World War II on Saturday evening for a USO dance. As I'm sure you can imagine, many of us are history nuts in more than one era, and at this event we celebrate that by holding a swing dance. Many of the guys do WWII reenactment as well, as show up in their Class A's--and we ladies love an excuse to wear stockings and a nice hat.

Hopefully I'll remember to actually take pictures this year--usually I fail at that.