December 1, 2019 • No Comments
This is cross-posted from the Corsair’s Cove blog:
Our companion short stories are like chats with a friend, in a cafe or at a kitchen table, with a delicious beverage. Naturally, news of a popular new winter treat caught our attention!
A recipe for a chocolate and red wine combo has been making the rounds of Facebook. The original came from Shape Magazine’s article How to Make Red Wine Hot Chocolate. Although doubtful, I like the magazine and was curious enough to give the recipe a spin. Twice.
Try number one followed the recipe using a good cabernet sauvignon on the plummy side, figuring that would be a good compliment to the chocolate. I used semi-sweet dark chocolate wafers that were supposed to be better quality than regular chocolate chips. The wafers melted but then the wax and other un-chocolately elements clumped when the wine was added to leave floaty residue in the drink. Maybe heating the wine first would have helped the texture, but that wasn’t the only drawback. The flavour was sweet and sour, but not in the best way. Sort of like heartburn with cake. Adding cinnamon helped. Adding marshmallows did not.
Try number two was better. I used a good instant unsweetened spiced dark chocolate that dissolved and stayed that way. This gave a much better mouth feel and, since I could limit the sugar, the wine didn’t crash the party like an awkward uncle. I’m still not a fan of the flavour combo, but this version had more potential. If I was very cold from, say, shoveling the walks after a foot of snow, I might even appreciate it.
I didn’t persevere to a third attempt. Super high quality grated European drinking chocolate might be worth a try to give a heavier body to the drink, but it might also be a waste of expensive ingredients. Rum, brandy or liqueur are classic adds to hot chocolate for a reason. In my humble opinion, grab the Bailey’s for winter night tipples and leave the reds for the dinner course.
October 25, 2019 • No Comments
I’m fascinated by cosmetics from past ages and cultures. Since the Georgian Age is one of my particular interests, I’m naturally intrigued by their makeup. The sensibility is so distinct, it’s impossible to mistake for anything else. It’s not that I want to replicate the look. To me, it seems an uncomfortable mix of Goth and Barbie.
Rather, the attraction lies in the conflict between beauty and corruption. In the eighteenth century, painting one’s face was an artifice that only the wealthy could indulge in. The major exception was the demimonde, who catered to the appetites of the monied class. Needless to say, most of their careers burned bright and brief, until drink, pox and hard living had their way.
The white and pink face was meant to capture the unspoiled looks of youth. Sadly, the cosmetics of the day were poisonous. The more a person painted, the more their natural good looks would be damaged. Some of the ingredients in common use were lead, mercury, and arsenic. Eventually, that stuff could kill you.
Here’s a thankfully toxin-free version of “the look” from a respected source:
October 18, 2019 • No Comments
Almost every historical novel has a scene set around the local coaching inn. Because people came and went there, it was a natural place to meet an exciting stranger. Like a train station or a harbor, it’s filled with the possibility of far-away places.
Similarly, important characters drive signature vehicles, whether they’re rakes or rectors. No Jane Austen dowager is complete without her smart carriage.
It’s important to get vehicles right when creating a historical novel, so I was very happy to find this video about old coaches:
October 11, 2019 • No Comments
Recently, I had a delightful discussion about the fashions of the early twentieth century. The seamstress of the day often had to work with lighter-than-air fabrics and then embellish the garment with stitchery and bead work. I remember family photos from this era where one could see the pleats, tucks, smocking, and drawn thread work. That must have taken hours even with the aid of machinery. The aesthetic was all about simple lines and lush textures.
Here’s an interesting video I found on 1914 fashion showing all the layers of a lady’s outfit from the time.
October 8, 2019 • No Comments
Break out your saucepans, drill bits, and knitting needles—the latest trend is to do-it-yourself like our grandparents did. With so much information online, it’s easier than ever to find instructions on everything from dollmaking to drywall. Or for those seeking to connect with actual humans, knitting circles and crafting afternoons are trending. Still others may not dive into fray themselves, but appreciate the individual craftspeople and small businesses in their local community. And then there are those—like Ren Faire and Steampunk enthusiasts—who take the entire business to extraordinary lengths. The reasons for embracing DIY vary, but there are common themes: environmental concerns, stretching a dollar, and personal creative expression.
Ever heard of a repair café? This is a growing trend where, for a few hours, the public can bring everything from wonky toasters to ripped shirts to a room full of volunteers. There, crafters will teach the skills needed to make their wounded possessions whole again. Besides providing a boost in confidence, learning basic repair skills is good for the pocketbook and the landfill.
The DIY philosophy doesn’t stop with repairing zippers. These days, “artisan” or “craft” products are in vogue, along with farmer’s markets, pottery shows, and fancy micro-brews. As with all trends, results vary from delightful to silly, but the movement speaks to a need. Consumers want options beside the anonymous experience offered by the big box store.
Why? For some, the pull is purely emotional. With the move toward mass production, we lost the experience of having a unique item made just for us. There’s a world of difference in a custom-knit sweater versus something bought at a warehouse store. On the flip side, there’s the creative experience of making something for another person—every stitch or stroke of the brush is an expression of pride, affection, and the personality of the giver and receiver. Family recipes and workshop war stories are made of this.
For others, DIY is a simple way to protect the environment. Our throw-away culture has generated mountains of waste, so whatever can be repaired, reused, or created without tons of packaging is better for the planet. Along the same lines, whatever food we grow or make from scratch is tastier and more nutritious than a frozen meal shipped across the planet in a plastic tray.
And while DIY saves money by extending the life of a toaster, that’s not the only economic impact. Buying from other local independent crafters means supporting the economy close to home. We can stretch our dollars by learning to do things ourselves, but when we do shop, we can vote for quality, creativity, and our home community—so go ahead and buy the delicious cinnamon rolls at the farmer’s market. You’re preserving someone’s job.
Then there’s independence. It’s one thing to opt for convenience, and quite another to be helpless because we don’t know how to sew on a button or hang a picture. Surprisingly—or maybe not—there have been a number of recent reports about a loss of manual dexterity in young people who don’t grow up measuring ingredients, sewing, or building things in their dad’s workshop. This is causing problems for those entering the trades or even medical school.
So call up Grandpa and ask about learning to tie flies, or get some bread-baking lessons at the local community center. We don’t just want to learn how to DIY—apparently, it’s good for us.
September 29, 2019 • No Comments
Food is as much part of popular culture as movies, games, and fashion trends. We wax nostalgic (or not) about black licorice bubble gum and Frankenberry cereal. We identify with gumbo or Nanaimo bars or kale. We are, in terms of identity, what we eat. So, it’s hardly a surprise that trend-watchers predict upcoming menu choices. A scan of culinary blogs reveals an interesting split—diners seem to be galloping toward (sometimes very odd) healthy choices or are in an equal and opposite rush to a heart attack.
The Good – or at least good for you
Kale was one thing. Broccoli coffee, in my opinion, is just wrong. Invented in Australia, this brew involves adding dried broccoli powder to latté-type beverages. While I cheerfully eat the green stuff raw, steamed, and hopefully smothered in cheese, I can’t see the flavor blending with my fave mocha java. Others apparently thought so as well, since this concoction doesn’t seem to have gained any traction—but watch for beverages made from moringa, coming soon to a barista near you.
Another big trend is meat that isn’t. While veggie burgers have traditionally been patties made of vegetables, period, those days are done. The past year has seen an uprising of plant-based proteins masquerading as something else. Check out Good Catch’s seafood substitutes, including faux tuna and don’t forget Beyond Meat and its burgers, a surprisingly successful contender in the beef-happy fast food arena.
The Bad – but your tastebuds are in heaven
Fries, fries and more fries—anything remotely starchy, from yucca to snap peas, is trending as long as it’s drowned in grease. Traditional potato, however, is still king of the fryer. Better still if said tots are smothered in bacony goodness. While we might have reached peak poutine, pork and carbs are a combo that’s still going strong.
For added variety, find a way to add a donut. We all know how delectable sweet/salty combinations can be, so how about a donut burger? If you’re inspired to try one, check out this video. I think my cholesterol went up just watching:
The Ugly – and thankfully on its way out
Describing something as poop–even unicorn poop–doesn’t make me want to eat it. But I think I’m in the minority, because multi-colored (aka unicorn-styled) food has been invading everywhere from lifestyle magazines to fast-food joints these last few years. The trend reached a notable moment when the Starbucks Unicorn Frappucino galloped past (and was thankfully turned out to pasture!).
The trend was brilliant parodied in this video for Squatty Potty. And that’s my final word on the rainbow trend.
September 26, 2019 • No Comments
We think of clothing as a means of self-expression—fleeting or classic, occasionally silly, and frequently entertaining. Rarely do we think of adornment as dangerous, but history is filled with literal fashion victims.
Rewind to the beginning of the nineteenth century. Clothing was dyed by natural sources, so unless one’s wardrobe was exotic and very expensive, color choices were dull compared to what we have today. Then when the whale oil used in domestic lighting was slowly replaced by coal gas, the gas industry produced coal tar, and industrialists began experimenting to find a use for this by-product. The result was gorgeous aniline dyes, which created an explosion of bright, clear hues of every description that were affordable to everyone. Predictably, the fashion pages became giddy rainbows of choice.
There was only one hiccup—there were no rules about testing these new products for consumer safety. With chromium, mercury and arsenic in the mix, this rapidly became an issue. While the solutions in some fabrics were relatively harmless—perhaps because they were not worn next to the skin—others, like the gaily striped stockings in vague during the 1860s, were activated by heat and perspiration. Consuming alcohol could also speed the action of these toxins. Blisters, rashes, and even death followed, particularly among the factory workers who handled these materials without protective gear.
These new shades were also used in home décor, candy manufacture, and artificial flowers. Green had a particularly nasty reputation, since its key ingredient was arsenic. The pigment Sheele’s Green was a particular favorite of Napoleon Bonaparte. There is some suggestion the arsenical paint on his walls was a contributor to his eventual death.
There is a saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Be careful what you’re getting into! If you were in old Venice, those shoes might be chopines. These platform shoes proved disco had nothing on the Renaissance. Originally arriving from Turkey in the 1400s, they were invented to lift the wearer out of the mud of the streets. The style lasted in Europe until the mid-1600s. The height of the heel also became linked to the status of the wearer, and both noblewomen and concubines wanting to make a statement had them. While many examples of chopines are around seven or eight inches high, other examples reach twenty inches. Women requires canes and servants to move around, and there is more than one story about women falling to their death. Laws were passed to limit the height of the shoes, but to little effect.Cosmetics were another pretty way to die. Queen Elizabeth I was reported to use Venetian Ceruse as a skin whitener. The paste was a mix of vinegar and white lead and was apparently applied quite thickly. A popular companion to this white base was cinnabar or vermilion rouge, derived from mercury and Sulphur. This duo, while the height of Tudor fashion, caused skin eruptions, hair loss, and bleeding gums.
To complete the look, women used Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade) to enhance their eyes. Bella donna means beautiful woman, and a drop or two dilated the pupils to enhance a dark, enticing gaze—right up until increased heart rate, visual distortion, and eventual blindness took over.
The list of potentially fatal fashions goes on and on, from combustible crinolines to young girls removing ribs so their corsets could be cinched that much tighter. Lest one think women alone were subject to dangerous dress, the mercury used in felting men’s hats was well-known to produce “mad” or at least very sick hat makers. Even setting aside the hazards of sweat shops, it was a dangerous time to be in the clothing trade.
Have we escaped such madness in the twenty-first century? I’m not so sure—we have our own version of fashion madness, though hopefully nothing quite so drastic. All the same, if someone tells me they’ve discovered a trend to die for, I’m running the other way!
September 23, 2019 • No Comments
Most of us experience procrastination at some point in our lives. I’m guilty of some very late night submissions, study blitzes, and (ahem) blog posts that barely slide under the wire. But rather than focus on the less attractive aspects of dilly-dallying, why not embrace the creative potential? Don’t settle for any old delay—go for the procrastination gold!
September 5, 2019 • No Comments
The members of the Rogue Skies box set were asked to provide a dream cast for their books. This is always tricky because actors are by nature chameleons and they may match the character in one role but not in the next. I therefore put a disclaimer on this assembly–these folks match the characters in this photo. That being said, here we go for Scorpion Dawn and the series that follows:
Clockwise from top left:
- Emily Blunt as Miranda Fletcher – a rebel just finding her feet
- Natalie Dormer as Sidonie Fletcher – pretty but with a generous helping of mischief
- Jude Law as Detective Palmer (because Jude Law appears in every movie ever)
- Aidan Turner as Gideon Fletcher. It was the disgruntled eyebrows that sold me.
September 2, 2019 • No Comments
It’s that time of year again! The pressure is on for parents to outfit their kids for success. For first-timers, it’s a bewildering season, and for non-humans there are extra considerations most parenting columns ignore. So, because we care, here are 5 tips for sending your monster back to school.
New clothes are part of the back-to-school ritual. Advertisers remind us of this emergency approximately thirty minutes after the last bell of the previous school year.
For non-human students who wear their fur or scales to the first day of classes, missing out on new stuff will seem unfair. Few clothing manufacturers make rompers for a first-grade dragon. And who can blame werewolf moms from shopping at second-hand stores when junior will trash his new duds on the first full moon? As always, parents will have to do their best. A little nail polish on the claws or temporary color in the fur might do to make your little monster feel special. And what could be
more fetching than a baby Cthulhu in a sparkly tutu?
Thankfully, school supplies are far more species-agnostic, assuming your progeny has opposable thumbs. But if your offspring are heading to a specialized school, it might be wise to
consult with other parents who have young ones a grade or two ahead. Magical academies are all the rage these days, but no one talks about the cost of spell ingredients or rare grimoires. Consider sharing some items, such as rare enchanted skulls, among students in the same class. Moreover, be sure your student has a sturdy locker equipped with appropriate wards.
Werewolf, witch, or troll, kids are kids and homework is drudgery. Set scheduled times for after-school study and stay in touch with your child’s teacher. It’s easier to catch poor study habits and correct them early in the year. If your student hangs out with friends after school, consider a summoning circle for the home. It’s a no-fuss method to ensure junior returns in time for dinner.
Meet the teacher
Parent-teacher interviews are an important ritual for all concerned. At the same time, the first meeting with your child’s instructors is never completely comfortable, especially if your student is struggling. Be open-minded if your child describes his or her teacher as an absolute demon. You never know.
School isn’t just about academics. Band, sports, and debate club are time honored ways for children to socialize and broaden their horizons. So is Brownies (please check the rules before giving them new uniforms), candy-stripers, and all manner of volunteer activities. Given new digital technology, vampires are now able to appear in the yearbook, so that might be of interest to your baby fangster. Unfortunately, due to complaints from parents and organizers, the 4-H Club still withholds membership from most predatory shifters.