April 26, 2021 • No Comments
Queen of Hungary’s Water aka Hungary Water has been one of my favourite scents for as long as I’ve been wearing perfume. It’s herbal rather than sweet, with a clean, bright finish. Though no two blends are exactly the same, lemon and rosemary are usually the dominant notes. As I was making this up, the scent of the herbs was almost dizzying. It’s like a herb garden in a jar.
Some sources claim Queen of Hungary’s Water is the first alcohol-based perfume, or at least the first European one, and dates from the beginning of the fourteenth century. It’s also used as a skin tonic, the herbal ingredients effective against acne and eczema, among other issues. In addition, it can be used to bathe the temples to cure a headache. It is for external use only. Do not drink it or take it as a tincture.
Ingredients are important
There are a lot of different recipes for Hungary Water, but be careful. Beware of recipes that use lemon verbena as a main ingredient as the essential oil of that plant has been linked to sun sensitivity, which can increase the likelihood of sunburn. Lemon balm does not have the same problem.
Try to get organic herbs and essential oils if you can. Good quality dried herbs will store in a cool, dry place until it’s time to make another batch.
Layer the herbs in a wide mouth jar. A mason jar is ideal (bigger is better – the herbs swell once the liquid goes in).
2 tablespoons of lemon balm
2 tablespoons of lavender
2 tablespoons of calendula
2 tablespoons of rose petals
2 tablespoons of chamomile
1.5 tablespoons of comfrey
1 tablespoon of sage
1 tablespoon of rosemary
1 tablespoon of peppermint
1 tablespoon of elderflowers
12 drops of helichrysum oil
Top with chopped lemon peel (1/3 of a lemon rind, pith removed)
Cover the herbs with apple cider vinegar, witch hazel, or vodka. Allow for a couple inches of liquid above the herbs. Store for several weeks, shaking a couple of times a day.
As this is my first time making this, I’ve done one each using the vinegar, witch hazel, and vodka to see which turns out best. I will add the results to this post when I’m done. I based this recipe on several existing sources both in books and online, including this one, this one, and this one. I’ll adjust the ingredients as time goes on until I create my own preferred combination. For now, I’m sharing my experiment with you!
Yes, I am a writer of vampiric fiction, but before you get excited, dear reader, the Hungarian noble in question is not Elizabeth Bathory of “bathing in the blood of virgins” fame, nor does this post describe a bracing post-blood tonic or solution for that awful bathtub ring. I suggest a foaming cleanser with plenty of bleach for that.
• No Comments
Funeral biscuits played a part the Victorian tradition of death and mourning. I cover their history in my previous post on the topic, and now we come to the recipe.
Sadly, it’s hard to know exactly what the biscuits tasted like. Even if they were available in a museum somewhere, I’m not like the Eating History guys and willing to nosh on decades-old treats. To make things more difficult, I could not find funeral biscuits in a cookbook I trusted. One recipe included modern ingredients and others were vague to the point of uselessness. So, I set out to invent something from those items that appeared in the majority of texts.
Consistent ingredients were flour, sugar, and caraway seed. I tested various combinations of other things, including icing sugar, milk, and cornstarch. Results varied from interesting charcoal to hard as a brick. When I did finally achieve a good result, I understood why rationing during wartime finally finished off the production of these biscuits–they’re no good without lashings of butter.
Victorian Funeral Biscuits
Preheat oven to 350 F
Cream: 1.5 cups of sugar with 1 cup of soft butter
Add: 1 tsp vanilla and 2 extra-large beaten eggs (or 3 smaller ones). Mix until smooth
Sift: 2.5 cups of flour, 2 tsp of cardamon, and 1/2 tsp salt. Add to wet ingredients a bit at a time along with a tablespoon of whole caraway seeds (some recipes recommend toasting these before adding them to the dough).
Mix until all wet ingredients are absorbed. The dough will be slightly sticky. If you wish to use a cookie stamp, chill for a few hours before going further. Otherwise, make a small ball and press with a fork to form the cookie. Keep rinsing the fork in cold water to keep it from sticking in the dough.
Bake on a greased cookie sheet for 12 minutes or until the bottom just begins to turn brown. (Do not overbake!) Cool slightly before moving to a wire rack. The result should be a crisp, slightly caramelized bottom with a softer top.
As noted above, this recipe is only an estimation of what the original Victorian funeral biscuits might have been like. The quality of ingredients today is very different, as those of us who experienced “Buttergate” can attest. However, I think this is a reasonable approximation of the buttery, slightly spicy biscuit that’s perfect with tea after a brisk seaside stroll.
February 5, 2021 • 2 Comments
Not all gluten-free products belong on a diet plan. Some recipes are shamelessly loaded with sugar and butter, like this one. Needless to say, it’s so yummy even the most ardent junk food addict will enjoy it.
Gluten-Free Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies
Preheat oven to 350F
3/4 cup of sugar (try ½ cup brown to ¼ white)
2/3 cup soft butter
I used a food processor with a mixer blade for this—thoroughly creaming the butter makes a better cookie.
½ tablespoon vanilla
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
3 cups of almond flour
1 cup milk chocolate chips
Spoon onto greased cookie sheets. These cookies spread quite a bit, so make them small and give them lots of room. In my oven, 12 minutes was the perfect time to get a golden-brown cookie with a crispy outside and soft inside. When the cookie sheet comes out of the oven, allow it to cool slightly before transferring the cookies to a cooling rack.
January 24, 2021 • 2 Comments
While tea is essential in all months, winter highlights its restorative properties. And with tea comes biscuits—spirits and stomachs need a boost in the twilight hours of the afternoon.
This is a savory shortbread recipe that’s been in my family for at least three generations–I don’t know its origins, but it was a frequent flyer at my grandmother’s table. It typically appeared at Christmas, but it’s good all year around. I made it recently and was reminded why I liked it so much—it pairs well with a strong English Breakfast style tea without being lost or overwhelming the flavor of the tea. In other words, this shortbread has personality.
A note on the cheese: MacLaren’s Imperial Sharp Cheddar is an iconic Canadian grocery item. In fact, there is an early version of the container in the Canadian Museum of History. For substitutions, keep in mind that it’s very sharp and stiffer than a true cream-cheese style product. The internet recommends Black Creek Sharp Cheddar Cold Pack Cheese as an alternative, but I’ve never tried it myself. If you do, please let me know how it turns out.
- ½ pound McLaren’s Imperial Cheese
- ½ pound butter
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
Mix ingredients either by hand or in a food processor and knead slightly until it can be formed into a roll and sliced. Make a ball from each slice and press with a fork. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 250 F for an hour (or until the bottom browns a bit). Cool on a rack before storing in a tin.
June 21, 2020 • No Comments
For those days when life requires comfort food, I give you this recipe for the best cheese scones ever. It’s light and tasty and goes with soup, salad, or a ploughman’s lunch.
Heat oven to 425 F and grease a baking tray or two (I usually double the batch).
. 2 cups flour
. 1 tsp baking powder
. 1 tsp cream of tartar
. 1/2 tsp sea salt
. 1 tsp dried chervil (oregano would probably work, too)
Work in so it’s not clumpy:
. 1/3 cup minced parsley
. 1/3 cup minced fresh dill
Cut in 1/4 cup of soft butter until it’s like fine breadcrumbs. Then add:
. 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Make a well in the center and pour in:
. 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup heavy cream.
Start with a half cup of liquid and mix with a wooden spoon until all the dry ingredients are absorbed. Add more liquid if it seems too dry. Turn onto a floured board and knead just enough to make the dough elastic. Pat into a round about an inch thick and cut into rounds with a cookie cutter until all the dough is used up. If you prefer, rolling the dough into snakes will make pretty good bread sticks for dipping into hummus or tzatziki.
Brush the tops of the scones with a little milk, then bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the tops are golden. Cool on a wire rack.
Don’t be shy about doubling or tripling the recipe – these are perfect for taking to the office, making care packages for friends, or freezing in smaller amounts. They can also be split and toasted in a toaster oven. I like them with avocado and sliced tomato with a pinch of carrot and beet sauerkraut. In another mood, they’re great with a tart currant jelly.
December 30, 2019 • No Comments
Holidays are all about indulgence, and much of that involves food. In the spirit of pre-New Year’s resolution abandon, here is a recipe for Eggnog Ice Cream.
Cold, light and creamy, this is ideal after a rich meal. I use a fancy ice cream maker I got with Airmile points (Ariete Espressione Gran Gelato), but I think any churn-type maker would do the trick. This recipe makes a generous batch, so depending on your equipment it might require splitting into two churning sessions. I set the machine for about 40 minutes.
- 2 cups of eggnog
- 2 cups of heavy cream
- 1 10-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tsp of vanilla
- 1/2 tsp of nutmeg
I don’t put rum in this because that acts like an antifreeze, which cancels the whole frozen dessert factor.
All you need to do is mix thoroughly (no cooking) and pour into the churn until it’s about two-thirds full. Leaving room allows for a fluffier result. Once the ice cream is done (I look for a solid but not frozen-to-a-brick consistency) transfer to a container and put it in the freezer. Pro-tip: if you’re aiming for a dainty presentation, try using a very small scoop to dish it out. I actually use a melon baller so I can arrange it just so.
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.
June 2, 2019 • No Comments
Nothing quite says modern hustle like burger joints, food trucks, and grabbing junk food for that night’s Netflix binge. Fast food answers the problem of our hectic lives, where there’s places to be and work to be done and absolutely no time to spend crafting artisan eats in the kitchen. Plus, many so-called kitchen nooks in new apartments are barely big enough to comfortably butter toast, much less mess around with stock pots and canning jars. Picking up something to go is the obvious answer.
This need isn’t new. As long as there have been hungry people, there’s been food for sale in easy-to-eat forms. Ancient Roman thermopolia provided affordable take-out. Street vendors have been around as long as hungry urbanites have existed. Pretty much every culture has the “stuff wrapped in bread product,” whether that’s samosas, Cornish pasties, or the Czech klobasnek/kolaches. In the old days, if you were out harvesting in the fields or heading down a mine shaft, you wanted food that can be stuffed in a pocket to eat later. We might have better health regulations, but the principles behind fast food remain the same.
The pedigree of some current favorites is fun to look at. Hamburgers and hot dogs immediately come to mind, since they follow the meat-in-bread pattern. Speculation has it the essential ground meat that makes up the hamburger patty was introduced to Europe by invading hordes in the thirteenth century. Tartar horseman stashed raw meat beneath their saddles to tenderize it, a practice that was happily abandoned by later chefs. In the seventh century, Russians brought their version of the dish, steak tartare, to Hamburg, Germany, where it morphed into the cooked version we know now. In the early 1800s, the “Hamburg steak” was well-enough established to be included in the Oxford English Dictionary. The dish emigrated to America in the mid-1900s and eventually appeared with a bun at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The first burger chains appeared in the 1920s and the cheeseburger debuted a decade later.
Hot dogs followed a similar path. Sausages have been around since the ancient world, ultimately establishing themselves in the German cuisine that came to America in the mid-1800s. Around 1870, a German immigrant named Charles Feltman set up a food cart on Coney Island and did a brisk business selling sausages in a bun. From there they were introduced at ball parks as a snack to go with beer.
What about sides? The history of French fries is contested, with origin stories dating back to the seventeenth century. Belgium is petitioning UNESCO to endorse the fry as an icon of Belgian heritage. The story goes that in 1680 the River Meuse froze over, preventing citizens of Namur from catching and frying the small fish they were used to, so they fried potatoes instead. American soldiers, evidently confusing French-speaking Belgians with their neighbors, encountered the fried treat during WWI, taking so-called French fries back to the US.
There are other contenders for title of fry inventor. Spain has a claim. After all, they introduced the potato to Europe in the late 1500s after learning about it in the New World. France maintains an eighteenth-century street peddler on Paris’s Pont-Neuf bridge introduced French fries to the world. Canada has a special affinity since fries are an integral ingredient in poutine (invented in Quebec the 1950s). Without argument, America eats the most per capita.
The first recipe for onion rings is more certain. It’s generally agreed to have been published in John Mollard’s 1802 cookbook, “The Art of Cookery Made Easy and Refined.” Mollard was a cook and proprietor of the Freemasons’ Tavern at Lincoln Inn Fields in London. However, the dish did not become popular until it emerged in its full cholesterolific glory in twentieth century America.
Speaking of fried food, the potato chip was invented by the appropriately-named George Crumb in 1853, a chef in Saratoga Springs, New York. Originally called Saratoga Chips, they were eventually made and marketed by a company in Cleveland, Ohio. Herman Lay introduced potato chips to many customers from Atlanta to Nashville by selling them from the trunk of his Ford Model A. He eventually founded H.W. Lay & Company, which merged with the Frito Company in 1961, which eventually merged with Pepsi-Cola.
Naturally, we want something to drink after eating all these salty foods. Mineral waters have been consumed since Roman times, as they were believed to have curative powers. Readers of Regency novels will be familiar with invalids “taking the waters” at various spas. A man-made version of carbonated beverages was first produced in the 1760s by adding chalk and acid to regular drinking water. Initially, wine was added as flavoring, but various sweet syrups followed and by the 1840s, soda fountains began appearing in pharmacies.
In 1876, Philadelphia pharmacist Charles Hires concocted a mixture of herbs, roots and berries and added it carbonated soda water to produce the first root beer. In 1886, another formulation containing coca leaves and the caffeine-rich kola nut became Coca-Cola. Marketed as a tonic, the original formula contained extracts of cocaine, which wasn’t illegal at the time. In 1893, Pepsi-Cola was introduced as a digestive aid. Soon bottling facilities replaced soda fountains and, by the 1920s, soft drinks were available via vending machines. The medicinal claims surrounding such beverages were dropped and as early as 1942, the American Medical Association was specifically mentioning soft drinks as it recommended consumers limit their intake of sugar. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Slow Food movement aims to recover the joys of delicious home cooked cuisine, along with traditional methods of preparation. However, as the hipsters rush to rediscover bone broth and artisan sauerkraut, it’s worth remembering that food is as variable as the people who eat it. Our cuisine has a complex family tree, along with a few crumpled food wrappers tucked in the branches. Fast food—despite the overwhelming corporatization involved—is equally traditional, with a centuries-long story of its own.
February 4, 2019 • No Comments
Sometimes the most important things in life are comfort food and a house that smells like baking. In honor of those moments, I give you a new recipe I adapted.
3 mashed ripe bananas
½ cup yogurt
2/3 cup melted butter
4 beaten eggs
2/3 cup sugar
juice of 2 limes
In a separate bowl, sift:
1 and ½ cup flour
2/3 cup oats
1 cup shredded coconut
1.5 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Slowly fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture. Spoon into greased muffin tins and sprinkle extra coconut on top. (Makes about 20 muffins). Bake at 325 F until golden on top.
Note: these freeze well
December 4, 2018 • No Comments
Every so often a nifty toy comes my way, and this very simple video maker (Lumen 5) thrills me to bits. Some of the photos in this are mine, too, which adds to the fun. The content is self-explanatory–nothing profound here, just an applesauce recipe in pictures rather than a boring old index card. Visit https://lumen5.com/ a try for yourself! I bet it would make a great virtual greeting card, too!