Tuesday, December 10, 2019

From My Collection, Part 2

I’ve been an inveterate haunter of antique stores and junk shops since my teens, because...well...old stuff! I love antique china and glassware and jewelry as well as fashion prints and dance cards, and make time at least once a month to check out my local consignment shops.

Last month, I hit the jackpot.

This delightful miniature of a young man (what do you think? I put him at about age 18 or 20) measures 2 ½ inches inches long by 2 inches wide. It looks to be painted on ivory; there’s a bit of damaged paint around the edges and on on his shirtfront. The craftsmanship is good but the style to me feels perhaps a little naive; it’s possible to see in he close-up at right where the lower contours of the face were corrected, evidently having initially been painted in too full. Notice the delicate points of his shirt just peeping above his stock; no dandy, this lad!

The case appears to be brass, well made with a fine rope detail around the face. What is interesting is the back of the case: there’s another smaller framed opening, in which there’s a scrap of black cloth; of course, I immediately started speculating on why it’s there (was it from the young man’s coat, maybe? Snipped off by a sweetheart, or saved by a doting mother or sister?)

Alas, there is no identification accompanying the piece. Based on the clothing (the high lapels and sloping shoulders of his coat, the black stock rather than a cravat) and hairstyle, my guess is that this miniature is from some time later in the 1820s to perhaps a year or two into the 1830s. Again, stories begin to well up as I look at it: was this perhaps a young man about to leave for university to study for the church (those modest shirt points again) painted for a doting parent? Was it (sorry to be a downer) painted after his untimely death, as his image has a certain air of fragility about it (plus that scrap of cloth...was that white stain left by tears?)

What do you think?

Friday, December 6, 2019

Nineteenth Century Wish List, 2019 Edition

I’m getting close to finishing my Christmas shopping, but I’m hoping those shopping for me are thinking about gifts for lovers of the nineteenth century. Here’s a few that might make your list too:

Some wonderful Pride and Peppermint tea, complete with bookmark.

Just how foxy do you prefer your Regency dandy? Perhaps this foxy.

Or perhaps a Regency alphabet book: A is for Almack’s. Why yes, yes, it is.

A lovely necklace reminiscent of the Regency period, and at Kohl’s no less.

Proud to show your love of Jane Austen even on chilly days? Try this sweatshirt.

And, until December 12, you will find the first book in my Marvelous Munroes series for free at major retailers. Not an e-book fan? My True Love Gave to Me is also back in print for the first time in 20 years. You might mention that to your library.

Genevieve Munroe is determined to give her newly impoverished family one last happy Christmas, including making peace with their long-time rivals, the Pentercasts. Then the handsome oldest son Alan proposes a wager: if he can give her all the gifts from the Twelve Days of Christmas song, she must marry him.

Alan’s wild gambit is intended to win Gen’s heart. After all, no Munroe would ever marry a Pentercast. But perhaps the joy of Christmas can open her eyes to the man behind the wager, a man determined to turn the twelve days of Christmas into a lifetime of love.

Best wishes on your holiday shopping success!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Retro Blast: Let There Be Light

Life, alas, has not been easy this week; those of you who have elderly parents and are involved in their care know that sometimes everything else needs to be laid aside. All I can do is offer my apologies, beg your indulgence, and promise to return next week with more of the usual. In the meanwhile, may I offer a blast from the past, appropriate in these days of early evening-fall?

- - - 
It’s early evening as I write this and getting a little dim in my office...so just now I leaned forward and with a small movement of my hand turned on the lamp on my desk. Lovely, clear light now floods this part of the room, strong enough to read by several feet away. Electricity—it’s a beautiful thing. Had this been 1813 rather than 2013, I would have had to do a great deal more to achieve this amount of light.

 In the early 19th century, light came from fire. Period. That fire might flicker and bounce at the end of a candle—perhaps a tallow candle made from sheep or beef fat, which tended to smoke and sputter, could lend an odor of eau de barnyard to a room, and not give forth very much light. Tallow candles required snuffing—that is, their wicks had to periodically be trimmed as the candles burned in order for the candle to burn properly—with snuffers, which looked like an odd pair of scissors (see image above).

Or it might shine from a more expensive beeswax candle and provide a much steadier, longer-lasting light that didn’t require snuffing and smelled much more pleasant than a sheepy tallow candle.

Candles might sit in holders on a table or desk, singly or in many-branched candelabras. Or they might be in sconces attached to the wall, perhaps with a plate of polished metal or a mirror to reflect and increase the light they gave. Or they might perch in a chandelier (from the French word for candle) and give light from above...but alas, also drip on people and objects below them.

However, candles were expensive and heavily taxed—one pence a pound for tallow candles, 3 ½ pence a pound for beeswax. So for the very poorest, their light might come from rushlights—basically a rush (a marsh plant) dipped in drippings or some other greasy substance—that could be made for free, but didn’t provide much illumination.

Or the fire that was giving you light might come from an oil lamp, in its most basic form consisting of a chamber to hold some type of oil and a wick that served to draw up the oil and burn...but by the 19th century had grown fairly sophisticated, with special holders to lengthen and shorten the wick and so provide more or less light. Plant oils like olive oil and palm oil might be used, but whale oil was probably the most popular oil for lighting—not only in houses, but in businesses, theaters, and on the streets, where lamplighters made their rounds every evening and morning to light and then extinguish streetlamps.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Mange, of Various Sorts

Many Regency novels talk about blancmange, either as part of a dinner or as a comparison to someone’s complexion, character, or personality. But beloved author Gail Eastwood recently made me realize there are more than one type of mange. Who knew? 

Blancmange is pale and quivering, so you can see why being compared to it might not be a good thing. It’s a milk-based pudding (in the sense we use pudding today in America), hence the blanc or white name. It’s also often flavored with almonds, though the Incomparable Mrs. Beeton, in her Book of Household Management (1861, after the Regency), recommends arrowroot or laurel leaves to season it. Think of it as rather bland panna cotta. Regency folk were quite fond of pouring it into molds and putting it on the table during the dessert course, though Mrs. Beeton seems to think it could be your supper. (Dessert for supper—my kind of lady!)

Jaunemange is yellow but almost as quivering. It’s still a pudding, but the base is egg yolks and it’s flavored with lemon or orange juice, hence the name jaune or golden, yellow. Another key ingredient was isinglass, a gelatin-like substance made from the bladders of sturgeon or other fish. It too was poured into a mold, but it was placed on the table at an earlier course to go with meats like lamb, veal, or prawns.

So, if you are seeking another dish to consider at your next feast, Thanksgiving or otherwise, you might consider adding a little mange. There are a number of contemporary recipes out there like this one and this one

And speaking of Thanksgiving, Marissa and I will be off celebrating next week. Come back in December for more tidbits about history and writing. And presents. ;-)

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Making My List, Checking It Twice...

My shopping list for Thanksgiving dinner, that is. I can’t even begin to think about that holiday beginning with “C” that is rolling toward us like a freight train with no brakes...

But I digress.

Of course I’m planning on the usual turkey and gravy. Green beans with almonds are a must. We do chopped potatoes tossed in oil and herbs and garlic and roasted in a pan on the grill rather than mashed potatoes, a very small dish of squash cooked with butter and onion salt rather than anything sweet, and always a Waldorf salad because we loooves us some Waldorf Salad. I may experiment with a savory bread pudding (Parmesan/garlic) instead of stuffing this year, just because it sounds like a neat idea. Desserts are variable; we’re not a big sweets-eating family, and are usually happy with peppermint stick ice cream with hot fudge sauce and a pie or two (apple or pumpkin with coffee ice cream because this is New England and we eat coffee ice cream by the half-gallon.)

But there’s one dessert I simply must have every year. It’s light and just sweet enough to be satisfying without being cloying. It doesn’t even have a name; I adapted it from a recipe my favorite aunt used to make when she was the family’s Designated Thanksgiving Hostess. She made hers in a pie shell; I’ve ditched the shell and serve it instead in a pretty crystal bowl. I’ve fiddled with the proportions of ingredients and added the ginger because ginger and pineapple go really well together. And every year, I look forward to making (and eating) it.

Pineapple Floof

·        2 eight-ounce packages of Neufchatel (reduced fat cream cheese)
·        ¼ cup sugar
·        2 cups heavy cream, whipped
·        2  large (not the soup-can size) cans crushed pineapple
·        At least ½ teaspoon ground ginger (I usually use more, because I lurve me some ginger, but you might not be so enamored of it)

Leave Neufchatel out on the counter an hour or so to soften;  at the same time, put the (preferably steel) bowl you’ll be whipping the cream in into the freezer to chill, along with the beaters—a chilled bowl helps the cream whip up better and keeps it from turning into butter. Dump the pineapple into a colander to drain.

When the Neufchatel is softened, beat the sugar into it till well blended. Blend the drained pineapple and ginger into the cheese mixture. Beat the heavy cream in your chilled bowl till it looks like huge fluffy cumulus clouds on a summer day, then fold it into the pineapple gloop till all is blended together. Pour it into a serving bowl or into individual dishes, dust the top with more ginger because it’s pretty, and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving.

Just lovely.

So what Thanksgiving dish can’t you live without? Want to share the recipe?

Friday, November 15, 2019

Never Doubt a Duke, Out Loud

Audio books are an exciting frontier for literature these days. In an industry where flat is the new up when it comes to sales, audio books continue to see double digit increases. I admit I was not much of a connoisseur. The few I listened to never seemed to capture the story for me. And then Jannie Meisberger approached me about producing an audio book of Never Doubt a Duke, and I fell in love.

Jannie was born in England. She attended a British boarding school, where she studied elocution. She has university degrees are in Modern Languages (French and German) and Communication & Theatre Arts. How perfect for a narrator! I was just as delighted to discover that she now lives across Puget Sound from me. I thought you’d enjoy learning more about her and the audio book process.

What made you decide to become a narrator? I had studied music and acting in school in England and worked for an international organization in Europe before moving to America and raising a family. I inherited my mother’s ability to pick up accents and dialects and had great fun ‘performing’ bedtime stories to my children as they were growing up! 

After a career in international education, I decided to get back in acting, this time voice acting. I completed a number of projects, including children’s concert narration and recording public domain poems and short stories for LibriVox, before deciding that my passion was audiobook narration. I recorded my first audiobook in 2014 and have now recorded 36 audiobooks with number 37 in production.

What do you love best about being an audiobook narrator?  I get to travel through time, journey into different worlds, real and imagined, voice a myriad of characters, and bring all these wonderful stories to the world of audiobook listeners. It is also a joy to collaborate with a group of creative authors that I am honored to call friends.

What drew you to Never Doubt a Duke and the Fortune’s Brides series? As a schoolgirl in Bath, England, I fell in love with Regency period novels, notably Georgette Heyer, as well as the classic Regency authors including Jane Austen. I have narrated a number of Pride and Prejudice variations, so you can imagine how delighted I was to come upon Never Doubt a Duke and the Fortune’s Brides series and discover that they had not yet been made into audiobooks. I was even happier to discover that Regina lived not far from me, so I had the opportunity to meet and chat with her about her writing career in general and Never Doubt a Duke in particular.

What’s your secret for creating an audiobook that captures the characters and the story?  Lots of careful preparation! The average time a narrator spends per finished hour of the audiobook is between 4-8 hours preparation, sometimes more. This includes requesting character descriptions and pronunciations of names from the author, as well as reading the manuscript several times through, listing all the characters and voices for each. I make short recordings of each voice for reference and check various online resources for pronunciations of certain words. Being English, this means checking both the English and American pronunciations of many common words, to ensure whichever pronunciation I choose remains consistent throughout the book!

What was the most challenging about recording Never Doubt a Duke? I always keep in mind that the author has spent many months, even years crafting each book, and it takes a leap of faith to trust a narrator to give just the right voice to the story. I truly believe we are a team. The author’s words are the stars, and I hope my voice allows the listeners to be enthralled by the story. When Regina and I met, she shared her concerns about an audiobook version of her book, and I am so happy she trusted me to record this first book in the Fortune’s Brides series. It has been a true pleasure to narrate, and I’m looking forward to narrating the continuing journey of Miss Thorn and dear Fortune through the peerage!

So, stay tuned! Jannie is currently recording Never Borrow a Baronet too!

You can learn more about Jannie at https://www.voicebyjannie.com.

And you can find her marvelous recording of Never Doubt a Duke at

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A History Geek Moment

You all know by now (I should hope!) that I collect early nineteenth century fashion plates. As items to collect, these are pretty harmless.  They aren’t expensive, don't take up vast amounts of space in my house, are easy to care for...and they're fun. The best part is when they come with text—not only the descriptions of the plates themselves, but other articles and features and commentary on what was happening in the world. To us, those pages in old magazines are history. To the people of the past, it was what was happening in the moment. 
I was reading through the text that came with one of my prints, from the April 1813 Ackermann's Repository. It included part of an article about Napoleon's having given one of his generals the title of Prince of Moscow, and an article about the agricultural outlook for the spring.  And then there was this brief item, which I'll quote in full:


It is with feelings of more than the keenest grief, we have to pollute our pages with the record of another victory of the Americans over the proud, the hitherto invincible navy of Great Britain.  By American journals recently arrived, we learn, that, on the 29th Dec. last, at about ten leagues from the coast of the Brazils, our frigate the Java, Captain Lambert, in her way to the East Indies, was met by the American frigate Constitution, Commodore Bainbridge.  An action of nearly two hours duration ensued, in which the British frigate lost 60 killed and 101 wounded; had her bowsprit and every mast and spar shot away; was altogether reduced to an unmanageable wreck, and compelled to strike to the enemy, whose loss is stated not to have exceeded nine killed and twenty-five wounded.  The British commander, Captain Lambert, is reported mortally wounded, and among the prisoners who were released on parole, is Lieutenant-General Hislop and his staff, who were proceeding to Bombay in the Java.”
File:USS Constitution edit.jpgSounds pretty boring apart from the hyperbolic language in the first sentence.  But were you paying close attention?  The American ship mentioned in this two hundred and six-year-old article was the Constitution...which this very day is still a commissioned ship in the United States Navy, her home berth being Boston Harbor, about twenty miles from where I sit typing this. You might also know her by her nick-name “Old Ironsides.”  She was one of the newly-independent United States’s first naval vessels.  Think about that. It’s not often that a two hundred year old news item still resonates so materially through the intervening centuries, is it?

Just had to share.