Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fun Fact Saturday: Five Foods You (Probably) Didn't Know Were Being Eaten in the Middle Ages

Roast boars and flagons of wine might be what most of us conjure up when we think of medieval cookery. But contemporary sources suggest that our ancestors enjoyed a wide variety of cuisine, and were adventurous in their tastes, too. Freelance writer George Dobbs reveals five examples of commonplace courtly dishes that wouldn't look too out of place on your dinner table today.

Medieval Kebabs and Pasties

Outlander (2014)

Sweet and Sour

Sweet and sour rabbit is one of the more curious dishes included in Maggie Black's The Medieval Cookbook. Found in a collection of 14th century manuscripts called the Curye on Inglish, it includes sugar, red wine vinegar, currants, onions, ginger and cinnamon (along with plenty of "powdour of pepar") to produce a sticky sauce with  more than a hint of the modern Chinese takeaway.

The recipe probably dates as far back as the Norman Conquest, when the  most surprising ingredient for Saxons would have been rabbit, only recently introduced to England from continental Europe.


In the same manuscript we find instructions for pasta production, with fine flour used to "make therof thynne foyles as paper with a roller, drye it hard and seeth it in broth". This was known as losyns, and a typical dish involved layering the pasta with cheese sauce to make another English favorite: lasagne.

Sadly the lack of tomatoes meant there was no rich bolognese to go along with the béchamel, but it was still a much-loved dish, and was served at the end of meals to help soak up the large amount of alcohol you were expected to imbibe -- much as an oily kebab might today.

In Thomas Austin's edition of Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books, you can find several other pasta recipes, including ravioli and Lesenge Fries -- a sugar and saffron doughnut, similar to the modern Italian feast day treats such as frappe or castagnole.


Rice Dishes

Rice was grown in Europe as early as the 8th century by Spanish Moors. By the 15th century it was produced across Spain and Italy, and exported to all corners of Europe in vast quantities. shows the wide variety of ways in which rice was used, including three separate medieval references to a dish called blancmager. Rather than the pudding you might expect, blancmager was actually a soft rice dish, combining chicken or fish with sugar and spices. Due to its bland nature, it was possibly served to invalids as a restorative.

They were also sweet rice dishes, including rice drinks and a dish called prymerose, which combined honey, almonds, primroses and rice flour to make a thick rice pudding.

Game of Thrones (2011-)


Wrapping food in pastry was commonplace in medieval times. It meant that meat could be baked in stone ovens without being burnt or tarnished by soot, while also forming a rich, thick gravy. Pie crusts were elaborately decorated to show off the status of the host, and dinners would often discard it to get to the filling. However, there were also pastry dishes intended to be eaten as a whole.

In The Goodman of Paris, translated into English by Eileen Power, we find a recipe for cheese and and mushroom pasties, and we're even given instruction on how to pick our ingredients, with "mushrooms of one night...small, red inside and closed at the top" being the most suitable.


Subtleties are a famous medieval culinary feature. The term actually encompasses the notion of entertainment with food as well as elaborate savory dishes, but it's most often used to refer to lavish constructions of almond and sugar that were served at the end of the meal. These weren't the only way to indulge a sweet tooth, however.

Maggie Black describes a recipe in the Curye on Inglish that combines pine nuts with sugar, honey and breadcrumbs to give a chewy candy. And long before it was a health food, almond milk was a commonplace drink at medieval tables.

So what have we learned? From just a few examples it's easy to see that, despite technological restrictions, cookery of this period wasn't necessarily unskilled or unpalatable. It's true that a cursory  glance over recipe collections reveals odd dishes such as gruel and compost, which look about as appetizing as their names suggest. But for every grim oddity there were many more meals that still sound mouthwatering today. In fact, many of our modern favorites may have roots in medieval kitchens.

~ Courtesy of ~
Friday, September 19, 2014

My Friday Love

Things I loved this past week...

Finding Carter. The Finding Carter season one finale aired this Tuesday. And it was...WHAT THE WHAT?!?!

Don't worry, no spoilers here. All I will say is those massive twists and world-shattering shockers were like daggers in my heart.

Praise the saints there will be a season the summer of 2015! I really don't think I can wait that long. Six really's...kill me now. *sobs*

Divergent. So I'm finally reading Divergent by Veronica Roth. Yeah, I know I'm a bit behind the times when it comes to reading popular YA novels. #toomanybookstoolittletime.

Anyway, I'm a few chapters in and I love it. I intend to watch the movie when I finish the book. I wanted to see it when it came out (even though I hadn't read the book) because...

Yowza! *drools*

When Inspiration Strikes. That moment when you think you'll never figure out an important plot point for your future story, and then inspiration strikes. Yeah, that happened.

What are you loving this week? Do share!
Monday, September 15, 2014

Of Corset Matters

As Napoleon began to consolidate his might, he grew preoccupied with building a dynasty. To do so, he needed a male heir to assure his throne and lots of male infants to swell the future armies. So, in 1800, he issued a denunciation of corsets -- they interfered with pregnancy, he declared.

Jean Simmons in Désirée (1954)

Of course, the dictum fell on deaf ears. Fashion conscious French women, including his two wives, continued to wear corsets.

Jacqueline Bissett in Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story (1987)

Corsets gave pain a new meaning in the nineteenth century as women laced up whalebone garments to achieve an ideal eighteen-inch waist. Anna Pavlova wore a pink corset to dance her "dying swan".

Costume designed for Anna Pavlova for Dying Swan.
Sarah Bernhardt wore hers in the bath.

Sarah Bernhardt
And even in the heat of darkest Africa, missionary Mary Livingston wouldn't dream of discarding her corset.

The word comes from the French corps, or "body". Some sort of corset or lacing to make the body appear slimmer was worn as far back as the Golden Age, when Greek lovelies strapped leather bands around their breasts and hips under their chitons.

Lucy Lawless in Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001)

The modern corset, which shaped the bosom and hips while accentuating the waist, evolved during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. While this was far from the time of equality between the sexes, they did share some vanities: the corset was worn by men as well as women.

The shape of corsets changed continually with the changing ideal of what the body silhouette should look like. Sometimes women wore corsets which accentuated or raised their bosoms. Sometimes corsets diminished or emphasized the hips.

Abbie Cornish in Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

The Effigy Corset of Queen Elizabeth I

In the sixteenth century the corset, stiffened with stays of metal, wood, or whalebone, formed a sort of armor around a woman's body. Her hips were enlarged and supported with the farthingale and her décolletage emphasized.

French Iron Corset 1580-1600 collection
Kyoto Costume Institute

17th Century Wooden Corset

Short-waisted in the seventeenth century, corsets became longer, more pointed, and cone-shaped in the eighteenth century.

Tight corset, circa 1770

Marie Antoinette's corset
Image: Pinterest
The nineteenth century vogue for Scarlett O'Hara-like waists meant that women had trouble breathing as corsets were more and more tightly laced.

Gone With the Wind (1939)

In fact, corsets were so tightly laced by the mid-1800's that they restricted breathing, causing ribs to overlap, and were a general pain in whatever they happened to be constricting.

Half-boned Stays, 1770-80's, French.
Image: Pinterest
Stays, 1765
Image: Pinterest

Corset, 1830-40's
Image: Pinterest

Circa 1902
Image: Pinterest
Rachel McAdams and Robert Downey Jr in Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Victorian Corset
Image: Pinterest
Doctors, philosophers, and reformers railed against the confounded contraptions. But fashion is fashion, and no matter how uncomfortable, women weren't willing to throw them out until styles changed. That happened around the turn of the century, when designer Paul Poiret created the corsetless chemise.

Finally, women could breath easier for a while -- at least, that is, until the invention of the girdle.

-- Courtesy of Let There Be Clothes by Lynn Schnurnberger --
Friday, September 5, 2014

My Friday Love

Things I loved this past week...

Historical Fiction. I love historical fiction, even novels that feature an alternate history. I'm currently reading Margot by Jillian Cantor, which tells the "what-if" story of the survival of Anne Frank's sister and her hidden identity in a new country. 
This story is a beautiful, suspenseful, and very moving re-imagining of Margot's life. I simply cannot put it down. I have a feeling the book is going to haunt me long after I finish reading it. I love when that happens.

Rusk Shampoo. A while ago I was in dire need of some new shampoo. What's a girl to do? 
Take a poll, of course. ;) 
I asked my family and friends what their favorite shampoo was, and why. My CP highly recommended her shampoo: Rusk: Deepshine Smooth. I finally bought myself a bottle.

OMGILOVEIT! My hair has never felt or looked so soft and shiny.

Okay, I don't have messy red curls...I wish!

Finding Carter. I'm totally hooked on Finding Carter.

The MTV drama tells the story of a sixteen year old girl who discovers that her seemingly perfect mother actually abducted her as a toddler, and that her real family, including a mother, a father, a twin sister, and a little brother, lives about two hours away. When her kidnapper goes on the run, Carter has to adjust to life with the family she never knew.

I really like Teen Wolf (which also airs on MTV), so I figured I'd give Finding Carter too. I'm glad I did. It's very compelling. There are lots of dramatic moments. The characters are complex. I like all the characters, especially Max. He's adorable and sweet and cool.

I can't to find out what happens in the penultimate episode of season one this Tuesday night.

What are you loving this week?
Thursday, September 4, 2014

Tips on Surviving Revision Hell

Are you deep in Revision Hell? Don't despair. You can tackle those revisions and still keep your sanity. Just jot down the following tips from author Lydia Kang, then put them into practice. You're bound to have success.

1. Character Arc Sheet. Your main characters must go through a transformation through the book. Make a list of what these are, and the events that herald those changes for each character.

2. Relationship Arc Sheet
. Like the notes above, this one is specific to relationships between characters.

3. The Fix-It List
. As you revise and re-draft, you can't get everything perfect. You'll lose a ton of time fixing every last bit with every single sentence, so make lists of things you need to go back and fix later. That way, you keep the flow of your work going forward. This is mostly about keeping certain details consistent. ("make sure this all happens within a one week period" or "make map so location makes sense"). Stuff like that.

4. The Theme List
. If you use a lot of themes in your story--such as foreshadowing, motifs/symbols, or underlying mysteries-- they need to be revisited frequently enough that they're not forgotten by the reader. Eyeball this list as you revise every chapter.

5. Major Revisions. Every chapter has to reveal something important that propels the story forward, opens up new questions, or changes the dynamics of the plot or relationships. If one of your chapters is mostly filler, ax it.

6. Pretty Up the Prose. The prose in your first draft can be simple and not elegant. Take the time during your second or third pass to really work on making a turn of phrase more beautiful where it's needed, without overwriting.

7. Trim the Excess. Slash and burn the redundant and purple prose. It may hurt to do so, but it's a great way to tidy things up.

8. Pay Attention to the Acts. The three-act plot structure of storytelling works well. Revisit the structure of your story to keep it on target.

9. Pay Attention to the Highs and Lows
. It's important that the stakes increase as the story progresses, and that the interval lows worsen. 

10. Be Willing to Make Sacrifices. You've probably heard the term "kill your darlings". Well, it's not just about letting go of certain characters, but certain scenes and even huge chunks of your plot that simply aren't working. Be open minded about how your story could improve if you learn to let go. Remember you can always recycle what you've lost for other stories.

11. Take Breaks
. Eat. Drink. Sleep. Exercise occasionally. Take breaks! If you don't take care of your body, your brain won't be able to revise.

And there you have 'em. Helpful tips, eh? That Lydia Kang is a smart woman. =)

My main characters must go through a transformation through the book. I make lists of what these are, and the events that herald those changes for each character. Since CODE is a sequel, I'm often referencing the arcs in the first book. They have to be different but build on what the characters have already achieved in book one. - See more at:

-- Image and text courtesy of author Lydia Kang via The League of Extraordinary Writers blog--

My main characters must go through a transformation through the book. I make lists of what these are, and the events that herald those changes for each character. Since CODE is a sequel, I'm often referencing the arcs in the first book. They have to be different but build on what the characters have already achieved in book one. - See more at:
Monday, September 1, 2014

September Releases

I heart Fall. The air is brisk. The nights are cool. Fingerless gloves are in fashion. It's not even the first official day of Fall, and I already have the urge to eat soup, drink hot apple cider, watch football, wear a cardigan, carve a pumpkin, crunch dried leaves under my booted feet.

And read a new book or two, of course. ;)

Highland Spies, Book One
By Victoria Roberts
September 2, 2014

Laird Ruairi Sutherland refuses to send his only son away to be educated by the English. And he most definitely will not appear in Edinburgh to pay homage to a liege who has no respect for Scotland. So he does what any laird would do-he lies to the king. The last thing Ruairi expects is a beautiful English governess to appear on his doorstep.

Lady Ravenna Walsingham is a seasoned spy who is sent to the savage Highlands to uncover a nefarious plot against the Crown. Playing the part of an English governess-a job easier said than done-she infiltrates the home of Laird Sutherland, a suspected conspirator.

Ravenna soon discovers that the only real threat Sutherland poses is to her heart. But will the proud Highland laird ever forgive her when he discovers the woman he loves in an English spy?

Gosh, this cover is gorgeous. I love all that purple. *slobbers*

By Kiersten White
September 9, 2014

Jessamin has been an outcast since she moved from her island home of Melei to the dreary country of Albion. Everything changes when she meets the gorgeous, enigmatic Finn, who introduces her to the secret world of Albion's nobility, a world that has everything Jessamin doesn't -- power, money, status...and magic.

But Finn has secrets of his own, and the vicious Lord Downpike will do anything to possess them. Unless Jessamin, armed only with her wits, can stop him.

I love a hero named Finn -- especially a gorgeous, enigmatic one from a secret world. ;)

By Claire Legrand
September 30, 2014

The clock chimes midnight, a curse breaks, and a girl meets a prince . . . but what follows is not all sweetness and sugarplums.

New York City, 1899. Clara Stole, the mayor’s ever-proper daughter, leads a double life. Since her mother’s murder, she has secretly trained in self-defense with the mysterious Drosselmeyer.

Then, on Christmas Eve, disaster strikes.

Her home is destroyed, her father abducted–by beings distinctly not human. To find him, Clara journeys to the war-ravaged land of Cane. Her only companion is the dethroned prince Nicholas, bound by a wicked curse. If they’re to survive, Clara has no choice but to trust him, but his haunted eyes burn with secrets–and a need she can’t define. With the dangerous, seductive faery queen Anise hunting them, Clara soon realizes she won’t leave Cane unscathed–if she leaves at all.

OMG. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this book, inspired by
The Nutcracker.


By Jessica Verday
September 9, 2014

Summoned to Philadelphia after her mother's death, seventeen-year old Annabel Lee hopes this new start will be her chance to make her dream of  becoming a surgeon a reality.

But there are dark secrets in Annabel's new home: whispers of strange activity, unsavory characters making deliveries in the dead of night, and a wave of murders sweeping the city. And when her father deems her interest in medicine unseemly and forbids her from practicing, she's determined to prove him wrong.

With the help of handsome laboratory assistant Allan Poe and his unsettling cousin, Edgar, Annabel probes into her father's research. But the links she discovers between the experiments being conducted, the stories Allan writes late into the night, and her new city's gruesome crimes can be no coincidence. And she'll sacrifice everything to stop them.

Ooo. So dark and gothic. Yes, please!

By Kiki Sullivan
September 2, 2014

Eveny Cheval has just moved back to Louisiana after spending her childhood in New York with her aunt Bea. Eveny hasn’t seen her hometown since her mother’s suicide fourteen years ago, and her memories couldn’t have prepared her for what she encounters. Because pristine, perfectly manicured Carrefour has a dark side full of intrigue, betrayal, and lies—and Eveny quickly finds herself at the center of it all.
Enter Peregrine Marceau, Chloe St. Pierre, and their group of rich, sexy friends collectively known as the Dolls. From sipping champagne at lunch to hooking up with the hottest guys, Peregrine and Chloe have everything—including an explanation for what’s going on in this town. They want to bring Eveny into their circle, share their darkest truths with her, introduce her to handsome, enigmatic Caleb Shaw. And Eveny doesn’t trust them one bit.

But after murder strikes in Carrefour and Eveny discovers that everything she believes about herself, her family, and her life is a lie, she’s forced to turn to the Dolls for answers. Something’s wrong in paradise, and it’s up to Eveny, Chloe, and Peregrine to save Carrefour and make it right.

Pretty Little Liars meets Beautiful Creatures. Cool.

What's on your must-read list? 

Book blurbs from authors' websites.