Saturday, January 30, 2010

February Book Drawing

We at The Uncrushable Jersey Dress, striving for excellence and uncrush-ability, are offering another book drawing for the month of February. Contestants (that would be you) have until February 14th to email Betty Keira or Betty Debbie your best line/paragraph/opening for your own faux Betty Neels novel. Knowing that most of you might not be as thoroughly read in the body of literature that is The Neels, I thought I would give you an example:

She didn't look anything like an ancient Brittonic queen, marauding through the hills with murderous rage and sweeping all of Londinium before her. Professor Woltje van Rijnder glanced down at the resume again just to be sure. And then he glanced up at the girl again. Twenty-three on the outside, a mass of mousy brown hair stuffed up under a hat he wouldn't let his cook wear, hands folded primly in her lap and a pair of large gray eyes with ridiculously curved lashes. Miss Boudicca Alexander, come to inquire about the receptionist job, was nothing like her name.
And then, to further upset him, she read his mind, saying with the friendliest smile, "Father was a British History professor. You might only ever have to call me Miss Alexander."

Let's see. Obscure/awful British name? Check. Personal description? Check. Authentic Friesian name? Check. Ill-fated interview? Check.

Yours could have a number of options ranging from nursing to car smash ups to purse snatchings. It can be short or long. Just remember to email your submissions before February 14th and we'll post the winner on the 15th along with all the submissions. Feel free to write more than one.

Creme Brulee. Yum.

It's such a shame that Creme Brulee is so easy to make...because if you ate it on a regular basis you would probably cut decades off your life. It is sooo good...and sooo bad. Let's talk about the good. It only has 4 ingredients...or 5 (depending on what sugar you use). Silky custard inside, crunchy sugar outside. Did I mention easy? Not only easy, but fun too - how many times do you get to use a blow torch in the kitchen? I shall be looking for more ways. While it might take hours from start to eating, the actual prep time is not that long. I based my recipe on Alton Brown's Creme Brulee (yes, he of the Cheese Souffle Disappointment). This time I wasn't disappointed:

Betty Debbie's Creme Brulee

1 pint whipping cream
1 teaspoon real vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup turbinado sugar (use granulated if you don't have this)

Preheat oven to 325'.

Scald the cream, then add the vanilla. Let sit for about 10 minutes. Whisk the 1/4 cup sugar with the egg yolks. Slowly temper the egg yolk mixture by adding the hot cream a little at a time, while stirring constantly. Pour the mixture into 4 (6 ounce) ramekins. Place the ramekins in a larger baking pan, then place in oven. As soon as you get it in the oven, pour very hot water into the larger pan, until the water comes at least half way up the sides of the ramekin. Bake until the creme brulee is just set - about 40 to 45 minutes. Carefully remove from the baking tray (I used a spatula to lift each one individually). Refrigerate for at least 2 hours (up to 3 days is fine, but it would never last that long at my house).

Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before browning the sugar on top. Divide the turbinado sugar equally and sprinkle evenly on the tops, then melt the sugar using a torch (FUN!). This forms a crispy top. You can repeat this last step if you would like a thicker topping. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then serve.

If you read the recipe, you can tell right off what is soooo bad about this. Yeah, each ramekin has 1/2 a cup of heavy cream. It's soooo good. And soooo bad.

Alex van der Stevejinck's opinion of Creme Brulee? "Caramelicious."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Seasoned to Perfection


I know we've been thinking it. Thirty-eight? Forty? Thirty-five? Isn't Jonkeer Professor Erich van der Truus-Lotzing a little on the old side to be contemplating his first marriage?

Betty Neels certainly had her opinions about what constituted a properly aged man. Heroines? They were all over the map--from twenty to thirty (but never, never older than 30), from plain to gorgeous, orphaned to many-siblinged, poor (usually) to well-off. Her heroes follow a stricter model--blond (usually) giants with a penchant for doctoring, expensive cars and the money to afford them.

They are also old. (You heard me.) Occasionally they will be just over thirty but more often they are on the shady side of thirty-five and once or twice over forty itself. Forty!

Possibly Brigham Young once possibly said (possibly), "Any young man who is unmarried at the age of twenty-one is a menace to the community." (which, even if he didn't say, is totally true, btw) Accordingly, Betty Keira wrangled her fella at the over-ripe age of 22 and Betty Debbie wrestled hers into submission around the same time (if memory serves). Granted we were poor starving college students in the first years of our married lives--basement bedsits rather than bow-fronted Regency.

Look, all these Jonkeer Professor Erich van der Truus-Lotzings are lovely gentlemen, having committed no infractions worthy of state justice or moral censure. But this is fiction here. If Serena Arabella Olivia Darling Dawson Fielding is going to get busy with that half-dozen assorted then they need to get cracking or get home help. Home help...um...nevermind.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Look what I got in the mail. Lily helped me open the package and the book got a whole hearted "Ohhh" from her.
Taking it to Elenvenies!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cheese Souffle

In Dearest Love, Arabella proves her cordon bleuishness by making a cheese souffle. I have never been to cooking school (unless you count 3 weeks worth of cooking in my 8th grade Home Economics class - wherein I learned to make tuna noodle casserole). Yesterday I made a cheese souffle - and it turned out looking just how I imagined a cheese souffle should look. If you take a look at my kitchen sink, you can see just how many dishes I dirtied to make this dish. A lot. A heck of a lot. Arabella must have had a remarkably large kitchen in her little flatlet to have been able to whip up one of these puppies. And a lot of pots and pans left over from the old homestead.

I found a recipe on Food Network for cheese souffle - made by Alton Brown. I usually like his stuff, he's pretty dependable, so I decided to give it a go. The difficulty level was: difficult. The recipe was a little finicky, but I didn't find it beyond my skill set...then again, I've been cooking for more than 40 years - it was bound to pay off sooner or later.

Structurally I think I did well - I followed the recipe, but I sort of wish I had felt confident enough to do a little more improvising with the seasonings. This cheese souffle recipe has basically the same ingredients as scrambled eggs with cheese on top. That was pretty much the flavor profile I ended up with - and for all that effort, I found it fairly bland. If I'm going to fill an entire sink with the pots, bowls, measuring cups, whisks, beaters, etc...I want more bang for my buck. Fortunately I had also cooked up some bacon from a package I had opened the day before. I found that the souffle, mixed with bacon, was not half bad.

Dearest Love--1995 Discussion Thread


This is a fun little book, written in the same year as The Bachelor's Wedding, so Betty Neels must have been having a little flowering Renaissance for herself. Here are some of the few, very few bits that Betty Debbie hasn't covered:

  • An excellent line from this book comes when she hears his proposal: "...you are not suggesting this out of pity. Because if you are I shall probably throw something at you." The Waterford jug perhaps?[Betty Debbie] I think part of the reason this book works so well for me is the relative lack of deception on the part of both parties. They may not love each other, but they aren't shy about complimenting each other either...hmmm. There may be a lesson there. Husbands, compliment your wives. Wives, compliment your husbands. There is a charming little scene just after the wedding where they pull the car into a lay-by (British word alert!) and brush the rice and confetti off of each other - they laugh about it together and congratulate each other on a very successful wedding and look forward to a very successful marriage.
  • I'm happy to know that Arabella had been proposed to before. And on the subject, it's interesting that she chooses to consult Titus (snigger). She says that he is the only person she knows...what about Dr. Marshall?
  • When she cooks for herself she is being very self-disciplined. My husband is gone this week on a business trip and even though I have the kids to feed it's been frozen things from Costco on plastic plates put on a table wherein the craftiness of Betty Keira has exploded. I think Arabella must have run a very tight ship. When my husband is gone it's every man, woman or child for him/herself. I love when I have driving age children and can give them money and say "go buy a pizza". It's truly a wonderful thing.
  • Grandmother Taverner's companion, Miss Welling, is a fun character. She is describes as someone who looks as though she is being regularly beaten. My jury is out on the subject of companions. There is a Latin quote (I lifted it out of Gaskell's Wives and Daughters so don't think I'm a reader of dead languages) : "Nunquam minus solus quam cum solus" (Never less alone than when alone). That's my view. A companion--and such a wet blanket too--would clutter up the landscape.
  • Implied conjugal relations--I'm sure I wasn't the only one doing the math. Nine months for pregnancy, eighteen months later, carry the one...They didn't waste any time, did they? Titus and Arabella certainly weren't getting any younger. Can you imagine starting a family at age 41 - which is how old Titus would have been? Arabella would have been 28ish...which isn't too bad. Especially considering they definitely have some sort of "mother's help. Still, Titus would be well into his fifties before the kids were teenagers. Trust me, it isn't only babies that keep you awake at night...teenagers can have a similar effect. Chaperoning dances for teenagers is not for the faint at heart.

Dearest Love - 1995

Starts with a letter, ends with a letter. Tea chest with treasures! Painting! Plumbing! Hoovering! Blown fuses! Net curtains! Rescued puppy! Luxury cars! Reclaimed pony AND donkey! Marriage of Convenience! Wedding hat! Harrods! Queen of Puddings! Evil woman doctor! Implied conjugal relations! Baby!

Everything and a bag of chips.

Arabella Lorimer, age 27... small, plain, with mousy hair, (the "Arimanta") recently orphaned. Her parents died in the #1 way Neels parents die. In a motor crash. Trust me, this is not the last time you'll hear of a heroine's parents dying in a motor crash. Left penniless (these parents never seem to have considered estate planning), she applies for a job as the "caretaker/housekeeper" (a janitor who also answers the door) for a couple of doctors. Her application letter is our first introduction. She's looking for a job where she can not only live in, but can also bring Percy. Her cat.

Titus Taverner...40 year old English Doctor. Drives a dark blue Jaguar. He also happens to be an orphan. In the words of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest: " to lose one parent...may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness". Unlike Arabella, he does happen to have a grandmother up his sleeve along with a few other assorted relatives that are only trotted out for Christmas. He shares a medical practice with the delightfully matchmaking Dr. Marshall - who is the one who actually hires Arabella.

The story: Dr. Marshall (genial matchmaker) is reading letters of application. He chuckles over Arabella's and decides to hire her. When Titus expresses doubts about her suitability, Dr. Marshall laughs and says, "Titus, I can only hope that one day before it's too late you will meet a woman who will turn you sides to middle and then tramp all over you." Sides to middle. Love it. Needless to say, Arabella gets the job. She goes about it in a very professional way, and after examining her work supplies, has one request. "I should like a plunger, sir.". . She had me there - one of the best lines penned by La Neels. During her off hours we are treated to a fairly thorough blow by blow of Arabella setting up housekeeping in her little basement bedsitter. Or is it a flatlet? She brings a few "bits and pieces" that she was allowed to keep from the foreclosure of the family home. My favorite thing that she brings with her is her tea chest full of treasures. She pulls out old damask curtains that she can rework to fit her new windows and make cushion covers out of, and a matching red chenille tablecloth. She also managed to salvage some of the family Coalport china, a Worcester teapot, a silver pepperpot and salt cellar, and the Waterford crystal jug. She is a cordon bleu cook, so I guess it would be important to have nice serving dishes. I do wonder why she didn't think to pack some sewing supplies - needles, thread and scissors wouldn't have taken up much room - and would have saved her a little money while she was setting up house. She makes some major purchases: a can of apricot colored paint, a paint brush, net curtains, and a large roll of thin matting to cover up the ugly floor. It all made an awkward bundle to carry with her on the bus. I'm wondering how she did it at all. Back at her flatlet she proceeds to paint over the ugly wallpaper. While I applaud her painting prowess (Betty Debbie has been known to wield a mean paintbrush), I shudder at the thought of painting over wallpaper - no matter how ugly. Meanwhile, Dr. Taverner is having issue with leaving her alone in the building at night. He stops by her flatlet a couple of times to check on her...lured there by the delicious aromas wafting upstairs (she is a cordon bleu chef). I nearly forgot, she also rescues an abused and abandoned puppy.

Dr. Taverner worries about Arabella being alone - he also thinks that the work is somewhat beneath her...he talks to the Matchmaking Dr. Marshall who says, "She would make a good wife and a handy one too - no need to call out the plumber or the electrician...she would suit you very well..."

One morning the electricity fails. Arabella, sensible as always, finds her torch, locates the blown fuse and gets down on her hands and knees to dig in the cupboard for a new one. Enter Dr. Taverner. (This is a common occurrence in Neeldom - the heroine in an awkward yet appealing position.) Then comes probably the most abrupt proposal ever..."There is something I wish to say to you. Unfortunately there is not time to explain fully but I should like to make you a proposal". Yes, THAT kind of proposal - marriage. He goes into his office, sits down and wonders if he had gone mad. "Arabella had no doubts about it - he had been overworking and had had a brainstorm...she would ignore the whole thing". He convinces her he likes her, misses her when she's not around, and thinks it will be to their mutual advantage - she will gain a home, he enjoys her company. She thinks about it for a few days, then agrees - after telling him that she is old-fashioned when it comes to divorce (me too).

He takes her down to his country house - where his grandmother and her companion live (in their own wing). During a tour of the grounds they head into the stables and find.....her old pony and donkey!!

Their wedding is nice, marriage is pleasant, she looks good in her new clothes (you knew there had to be some new clothes...from Harrods)They go dancing...
Him: "It's like dancing with a moonbeam! What a treasure I have married - not only a first rate plumber but a delightful dancer. We must do this more often before I get too middle-aged!"
Her: "Middle-aged? Of course you're not. Aren't you supposed to be in your prime?"
Him: "...thank you...you encourage me to fend off the encroaching years." (Hilarious! I too shall give a stab at fending off the encroaching years.)

They go to Holland and stay with old friends of his (and cross-over characters)Aldrik and Cressida van der Linus (from A Happy Meeting). Enter Dr. Geraldine Tulsma (evil woman doctor). Arabella gets jealous...and in a fit of pique invites Dr. Tulsma to visit if she's ever in London. Which she does. Titus doesn't like Dr. Tulsma - but she throws her opulent self at him. Arabella goes to spend a week at the country house, falls in a steep sided gully, in the freezing cold, is rescued by Titus, given some medicinal brandy, he tells her he loves her, kiss kiss.....

Then comes the final page - it's eighteen months later and Arabella is holding a little baby boy and reading a letter from her Dearest Love. (see, I told you there were implied conjugal relations...how else would Titus Junior be there?)The end.

Fashion: She wears a blue wool jacket and skirt with a matching velvet hat for their wedding. After they are married Titus tells her to go to Harrods and "buy anything and everything that takes your fancy". She buys a copper jersey dress.
Food: Cheese souffle, apple chutney, scones, Spanish omelet, cucumber sandwiches, potato puree, queen of puddings.
Rating: Good solid queen of puddings.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On the Subject of Fitted Carpets


You've bought your sweet little mews cottage for you indigent aunt, distempered the walls a mellow cream and ordered the net curtains. What's left? Why, measuring for the fitted carpets, of course.

Betty has always had a lot to say on the subject of flooring. Downstairs public rooms (especially in doctors' establishments) have an assortment of expensive silky area rugs. Upstairs bedrooms (especially in doctors' establishments) have fitted carpets in cream or pink (we never see more masculine rooms--this is not tarty book) wherein our heroine's feet sink luxuriously. [Betty Debbie] kitchens and sad bedsitters come in for "thin matting" - whatever that is.

And mews cottages never, but never, are refurbished without calling in the fitted carpet chappies (British word alert!). Indigent aunts prefer them in a soft mushroom color.My own fitted carpets (in America we call them "wall-to-wall" carpets) are a textured medium brown because Betty Debbie, who has five boys, told me to get carpet the color of dirt. We could be generous and call them the colour of sauteed mushrooms. The textured part really helps hides stains too. They have held up beautifully to the three filthy boys I'm shepherding into adulthood. The daughter doesn't cause us to fear staining. Heaven help us if they weren't fitted.

Non sequitur: There's a great film called Brittania Mews (1949) with Maureen O'Hara and Dana Andrews and some puppets--plucky and charming and set in a mews cottage.

The Betty and I

When Betty Keira and I were discussing the possibility of doing a blog about Betty Neels novels, we also talked about bringing in other topics that would relate. One of the topics that we brought up was talking about other authors that Betty might have liked. Sort of a "if you like reading Betty Neels, you might also like....". While I was making dinner tonight (twice baked potatoes...in their "jackets"), I had an epiphany.

Betty Macdonald.
There are so many reasons to choose her.
  • she's a Betty.
  • she lived in Washington State for most of her adult life. Me too.
  • she was only 2 years older than Betty Neels.
  • she loved to write about food and gardening. She waxes poetic when discussing food.
  • her classic The Egg and I.
  • her autobiographical book The Plague and I - about the nine months she spent in Firlands Sanatorium being treated for tuberculosis (our grandmother, Hellen Claire, also spent time in a sanatorium for TB).
  • She wrote the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Bachelor's Wedding - 1995 Discussion Thread

Jason Lister...surgeon. I wonder if he was related to Joseph Lister "the father of modern antisepsis" (after whom, Listerine was named). Lest The Uncrushable Jersey Dress be accused of frivolity we shall now include some historical perspective:

Joseph Lister came from a prosperous Quaker home in Upton, Essex, a son of Joseph Jackson Lister, the pioneer of the compound microscope.

At Quaker schools he became fluent in French and German, which were also the leading languages of medical research. He attended the University of London, one of only a few institutions which was open to Quakers at that time. He initially studied the Arts, but graduated with honours as Bachelor of Medicine and entered the Royal College of Surgeons at the age of 25. In 1854, Lister became both first assistant to and friend of surgeon James Syme at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. In 1867, Lister discovered the use of carbolic acid as an antiseptic, such that it became the first widely used antiseptic in surgery. He subsequently left the Quakers, joined the Scottish Episcopal Church and eventually married Syme's daughter Agnes. On their honeymoon, they spent 3 months visiting leading medical institutes (hospitals and universities) in France and Germany.[Betty Keira] I'm a believer in following your man but... By this time Agnes was enamoured of medical research, and was Lister's partner in the laboratory for the rest of her life. -
Wikipedia

I love Joseph Lister's idea of a honeymoon. Except for the length, it was very Betty Neels of him. Is it merely a coincidence that Joseph Lister was born in Essex and Jason (our hero) has a home there? Betty, you were deeper than we realized. Please note the Quaker connection. Jason should have been swooning over the nut brown crepe-de-Chine with the wide Quaker collar and cuffs. Nevertheless.

Araminta...this may be THE Araminta, but she's not the only one. La Neels was not averse to reusing names, this particular name was also used in the book Nanny By Chance (not to be confused with Cassandra By Chance).

Dread Pirate Alice...or Alice the Supposedly Anaemic. On the strength of some doctor a couple of years before informing Alice the Gigantic Pill that she needed to lead a quiet life, she made a career of it. No energy for cooking, cleaning or grocery shopping, but plenty for buying trashy clothes and going out with her friends. I love the idea of her marrying a fat American millionaire who showers her with lurex gowns and gaudy jewelery. [Betty Debbie] I can't see her marrying an American Millionaire. Alice is pure trailer trash. She's more the type to get knocked up and live on the dole, spending her days watching the telly and getting fat. Since the doctor's 2 year old recommendation, she hasn't been back. I'm in love with Jason for shooting her down at their first meeting. "I'm sure you must be relieved to know that...whatever it was your doctor diagnosed has apparently cured itself..." Jason must not believe that there's anything to DNA...
Mrs. Pretty. Best use of occasional household help in a Neels novel. "...a lady whose appearance had nothing to do with her name; she was a big bony woman, nudging sixty, with a craggy face and a disconcerting squint. She had a powerful voice, smoked like a chimney, and had an elaborate hair-do which was tinted an unsuitable chestnut with highlights." She was a treasure. I especially like that she calls Araminta "my lovely". No one had ever called her that before. How did they stand the smoke smell in their house?

Some food: parsnip soup, lots of good plain fair (casseroles and treacle tarts and bubble and squeak), orange and tomato soup, syllabub, cassoulet of duckling, fricassee of chicken, queen of puddings(!), peach pavlova, and garlic mushrooms

They travel to and from Tisbury a few time and each time stop to use "the ladies" and get a cup of coffee. First, coffee for teenagers? I disapprove. Second, a two and a half hour drive requires a trip to "the ladies"? Betty was not from the American West where we don't stop for anything less than four hours. [Betty Debbie] Which is, coincidentally, how long it takes me to get to Betty Keira's house.

Also, as long as we're on the obscure religious sect thing, here's Amish Paradise for contrast. ;0)

The Bachelor's Wedding--1995

Nothing like this ever happens in the book

The Bachelor's Wedding was a well-liked novel in my library but with this reading, and the attention to structure and character and the copious notes taken, I began to see more. Let's go, then:

Characters:
  • Surgeon Jason Lister lives in a Regency house in London, has a cottage in north Essex, two married sisters (who we get to know and everything), two golden Labs (Goldie and Neptune), spectacles (he must be half-blind when he reads because he wears them a lot), a dark gray Rolls Royce and reads Homer, Juvenal and Horace in the original...of course. I do not know his age but I guess mid-thirties.
  • Araminta Smith (yes Araminta of The Araminta fame) is twenty-three and, by his description, "Plain...nicely plump, large dark eyes, and a very direct manner." She is also saddled with the two most useless relations in all Neeldom. Alice (as in Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Alice) and her father who goes around in the background muttering things like, "I gave Alice the housekeeping to buy a faux-leather coat. You're hard, Araminta" and other similar guilt-inducing lines.
Plot:
Jason's sister's husband is sick in Chile (somewhere with something--we never know what) and she needs him to get a temporary nanny so that the 13-year-old Gloria and the 15-year-old Jimmy can come stay with him and his two trusted but old retainers. Hmmm...Two kids would upset a house that much? I would have said no, Araminta. Still, she's dispatched to Tisbury to collect the horrors, pour tea down everyone's throats and bring them to London.
They stay in London. The children don't do anything like light her braids on fire but that is probably only because they couldn't find the matches and she wears a bun. They are rude, disagreeable and constantly begin arguments about not picking up their clothes or unpacking or raising a finger by starting each sentence with, "Patty doesn't..." or "Patty always does it..." (Patty is their nursery-maid cum slave who is away with a dying mother.)

She also takes the children back to Tisbury after the week for another week or two. Jason sees her occasionally and reads the kids the riot act for treating Araminta like a servant (which she is, in a way, so I don't get why it's so outlandish that she should eat in the kitchen with the staff). He thinks to himself that it might be nice, having a wife like Araminta, being a buffer and a friend.

When she returns to London she gets to hear that her father and sister have been running up bills (never with a credit card...always just a tab...in London...in 1995). She gets a part-time job ("I hope you're strong.") tending a cranky geriatric woman whose only occupation in life is spoiling sheets and berating the help. But it's okay because Jason's shown up and whisks her off to lunch where he proposes, beginning with a line most calculated to have the butter dish upended over his head, "I have decided to take a wife...so I must settle for second-best." He then makes her quit her job which should offend my feminist sensibilities but never does.

Bloody Alice and Finkish Father react with typical selflessness and the upshot is that Araminta walks down the aisle on her father's arm (who was probably bribed to be there--her sister, receiving no incentive, fails to show up) in a new suit bought from proceeds that Jason secretly channeled through her father. And, as in the old game Telephone, funds were lost in the transfer. That's right. Jason is the U.N., Aramminta is a starving Serb and her father is a Balkan warlord.

She takes up tapestry work (you know what that means), goes through the linen closets (always the first order of business for a newly-wedded bride) and spends no time wondering why none of his family was invited to the wedding--and neither should you. It's not important.

And then they go shopping. Bless our Neels heroes for their stubborn adherence to the maxim that if some clothes are good, more clothes are better. But then he ruins it by failing to be properly bowled over by a nut brown crepe-de-Chine with a wide Quaker collar and cuffs in cream silk.To illustrate: A hot Quaker...well, Puritan

Hmmm. I too fail to understand why he would fail to be bowled over. Anyway, his inattention brings her attention to the fact that she would like his attention. To Harrods!

Some lipstick and powder applied with liberality and a soft rose-colored lamp finish the job. His eye is caught. Alice the Red and Finky Father have to be dispatched--which they are--to Bournemouth (a mere 86 miles away--which isn't as far as it needs to be) and their house is sold. Of course Jason did it. So, follow me here. The price for Araminta's happiness stands somewhere in the vicinity of a hundred thousand pounds. Have I mentioned I love Jason?

A storm comes, a nephew is saved, his leg is set (ew.) and a lot of Burberry is tossed about.

Enjoyable kissing!
The end.

Wrap Up:
  • Until the wedding (on page 144) this is Jason's book. His progression from uninterested employer to unwilling friend to convenient fiancee is plotted along an unbroken line. There are no great leaps in logic and, I suppose, if one were planning a marriage of convenience this would be the way it came about. I take issue with his last name, however. Lister. Fine enough on its own merits but her name is Araminta and those young relations of his are one freak brainwave away from calling her Auntie Listermint.
  • Araminta consults a vicar when she wants to know if she should marry Jason. Actual religious duties of this nature are not unheard of but on the rare side for Neeldom.
  • Gloria and Jerry go to their rooms and play loud music on their "record players" in 1995. In that year it might have been Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise. Just saying.
  • Most un-Betty line: "I must stop drooling."

Rating:
Queen of Puddings. There are some seriously charming bits and the best line ever delivered to an awful child:
"We always do what we want," declared Gloria.
"So do I."
The couple are likable from beginning to end and if Dread Pirate Alice and the Fink are a mite two-dimensional, I humbly submit that 220 pages is on the short side for nuance.
Araminta plots her attack on the heart of her husband with a touching faith in the power of Harrods but is borne out in the end so there must be something to it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cottage Pie

"Cottage pie refers to an English meat pie made with beef mince and with a crust made from mashed potato. A variation on this dish using Lamb mince is known as Shepherd's pie.

The term cottage pie is known to have been in use in 1791,when potato was being introduced as an edible crop affordable for the poor (cf. "cottage" meaning a modest dwelling for rural -workers)." -Wikipedia

Cottage pie. I've come across it a few times in Neeldom. Sounds like it has something to do with cottage cheese. Nope. It doesn't. It's just shepherds pie...made with beef mince (British word alert! It's ground beef). I found a recipe on allrecipes.com called "Proper English Cottage Pie" - Alex and I gave it a whirl today. Most of the ingredients were pretty straightforward - except the half teaspoon of ground cinnamon. That was different. I wasn't sure that I would like it - but I did. It gave it almost a Moroccan flavor - so it didn't taste quite so much like ground beef. I might cut down the cinnamon just a little next time. And there will be a next time (just so I can use my little cast iron pots...that I've had for 2 years and never used).

Dr. van der Stevejinck and Alex liked it quite well. Daniel van der Stevejinck loved the mashed potatoes and cheese...but not so much the filling. I enjoyed it. Definitely a cold weather food - or possibly a Dutch oven meal for camping.

Proper English Cottage Pie (allrecipes.com)
Ingredients
1 pound lean ground beef
1 onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
4 potatoes, peeled and diced
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 pound shredded Cheddar cheese
Directions
1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
2.To Make Meat Filling: Place a large skillet over medium heat. Crumble in ground beef and saute 1 minute. Add onion and carrot, then continue to saute until meat is no longer pink and onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Mix in flour, cinnamon, mixed herbs, and parsley.
3.In a small bowl, combine beef broth and tomato paste. Mix together, then add to beef mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Lower heat and simmer mixture for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until almost all of liquid has been absorbed. Spoon mixture into a 9 inch pie plate. 4.To Make Potato Topping: Place diced potatoes in a medium saucepan. Cover with water and place over high heat. Allow to come to a boil. Boil for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Drain.
5.Mash potatoes until smooth, then add butter or margarine, followed by milk. Whip until fluffy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread potatoes over beef filling. Sprinkle with grated Cheddar cheese.
6.Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes, until top is browned and cheese is bubbly.

[Betty Debbie] I added salt to the filling - the recipe was unclear about that - but I felt it needed a little. Also, don't add all that milk to the potatoes unless they need it. I was in a hurry and just dumped it all in...the mashed potatoes were a little runny.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Let's talk about hats.

Wedding hats. Nearly every Betty Neels heroine wears one. Unless she is that rarity in white satin and a veil. Usually the bride walks down the aisle at St. Ethelbertha's in a wool suit with a hat that "does something for her".

I was recently reading Dearest Love (to be reviewed next week), and did a mental *hmph*. "Another wedding hat. What's up with all these wedding hats?!"

Then it occurred to me... I wore a wedding hat. I handstitched some leftover lace from my wedding dress to the brim, then added a trailing satin ribbon. It was very 1980. Trust me. Besides, I had fairly short hair - it was easier to put a hat on than it would have been to make my hair look bridal.

I'm not sure whether the hat "did something for me", but it was a solution to a problem. Not only was it a solution, it was a cheap solution. As I remember it, the hat cost me $10, I already had the lace, and the ribbon probably set me back a buck or two.

I shall now endeavor not to snort at the details that Betty put into her wedding hats. After all, I put a little effort into mine.

On another note...you should be very impressed with our decision to have Dr. van der Stevejinck wear his new, pale grey, pin-striped, polyester three piece suit...instead of a tuxedo. The typical 1980 wedding tuxedo was powder blue polyester with a ruffled shirt - a shirt that was embroidered with blue to match and had a matching blue bow tie. I'd much rather look at a dated wedding hat in these pictures than have to see ruffled embroidery and a blue bow tie on my husband.

Bonus! Besides Betty Debbie (in the hat), can you find the 5 other Bettys, in this picture, that have contributed or commented on The Uncrushable Jersey Dress?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cheese Board?!


I was feeling particularly melancholy the other day. I've just finished nursing my latest/last kid and there's a certain Tevye Effect going on at my house. "Wasn't it yesterday when they were small? Sunrise, sunset..." Okay, pass the tissue--or in Betty's case, fine lawn monogrammed handkerchiefs.

So, I sought solace in my dairy product of choice. Costco brand vanilla ice cream with lashings of Hershey's chocolate syrup and mixed nut sprinkles. Each bite dropped into my soul like manna from heaven. I defy Professor Minjeer Jonkeer van der Rijk ter Sene's cheese board to do the same.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Enchanting Samantha--1973 Discussion Thread


Okay, I know this isn't one of our Betty's best efforts but, Betty Debbie, how could you have failed to mention rhubarb jam!
  • Rhubarb! I am a low-maintenance freezer jam maker myself and can only imagine the effort that goes into rhubarb (with the boiling and the slicing and...whatever) only to be ruined there at the last minute (and yes, Betty allows some shocking inconsistencies--either the jam is on the burner or it isn't and all the rest hinges on that fact!)
  • British slang award for use of the word "grotty"(British word alert!)--meaning unpleasant, nasty or unattractive. Silly Samantha maintains her coldness and rudeness much longer than is warranted but you have to admit that when they met she had been having a grotty night. ;"[Betty Debbie] That doesn't really excuse her rudeness. She was irritated at him for coming while she was busy...near the end of her shift. She's watching the clock, good heavens. When she first meets him, she won't let him get a word in edgewise. And then she takes affront at everything he says? And has the gall to think of him as rude and arrogant? I'd like to Smack You Upside the Head, Samantha.
  • When a nurse comes in to tell Samantha that our hero is waiting for her and that he is "romantic looking", she responds with a line that makes the whole book worth it: "No one is romantic looking at this hour of the morning." My baby woke me up at 4am, have I mentioned? He feels grotty. I feel grotty. Grotty, grotty, grotty.
  • And on the subject of vastness. I figure my husband is around 12 stone. That's quite vast enough for my purposes. It doesn't prevent me from having 9 pound babies though...
  • I would like to say a word about cars. Handsome Dutch Doctor That Samantha is a Git to, Giles ter Ossel, supposedly drives a "Rolls Royce Merlin" (named after the falcon, not the magician). After somewhat due diligence (Google), I have come to the conclusion that there was no such car. During the late 1930's Rolls Royce developed an engine called the Merlin. Evidently that engine was used for aircraft, not automobiles."The first operational aircraft powered by the Merlin to enter service were the Fairey Battle, Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire. Although the engine is most closely associated with the Spitfire, the four-engined Avro Lancaster was the most numerous application, followed by the twin-engined de Havilland Mosquito." (wikipedia). "Fairey Battle"?!? (What British flyboy wanted to admit to flying something called the "Fairey Battle"?)

Enchanting Samantha - 1973

Last week I reviewed the book "Cassandra by Chance", 1973 vintage Betty Neels. It was a fun, imaginative book. We here at The Uncrushable Jersey Dress, in an effort to portray all sides of the Betty equation, are now going to review...."Enchanting Samantha"...a dud. Not a complete dud, not a bottom of the barrel dud, but a somewhere in the bottom half of the barrel dud. A dud that was published the very same year.

Samantha Fielding, small, plain and "plump" (the Araminta), age 24, is a staff nurse at Clements Hospital. She shares a flat with 3 other nurses. That is unusual in Neeldom - usually heroines either live-in or have a ghastly bedsitter that has a balcony overlooking the dustbins. We don't see too much of the flatmates, but they do play a role in creating a misunderstanding. Samantha doesn't have any family except for a set of aging grandparents that live way the heck outside of London, in Langton Herring, near Chesil Beach. Chesil Beach? Southwest of London by nearly 150 miles.

Enter Giles ter Ossel, Handsome Dutch Doctor. He is described as "large" (he weighs in at 15 stone...that's 210lbs. to us Yanks). At this point I begin to doubt that my definition of "vast" or "large" is the same as Betty Neels. Dr. van der Stevejinck just so happens to weigh in pretty close to 15 stone. He is right at 6 foot tall...that puts him (in my book) "tall", not "exceedingly tall". Those of you who know Dr. van der Stevejinck, I think, would agree with me that he is in no way "vast". Maybe Mr. Neels was a shrimpy stringbean.

Story: Klara Boot, Giles Dutch housekeeper is admitted to St. Clement's with burned hands. Klara has come in alone and only speaks Dutch - so no one knows who she is at first. Giles comes to check on her
"Samantha felt inclined to take umbrage at his tone, but perhaps he had been up all night like she had and wasn't feeling very amiable. She got up and led the way to the ward, ...'You'll come again? Day Sister will want to see you - have you a telephone number?' He grinned, 'Now we are making strides - we might even arrange a date.' She lost her breath and caught it again with an angry snort."
Giles is pleasant and a little flirty..and Samantha gives him an angry snort? She spends most of the book being rude to Giles, who keeps coming back for more. This does not add up to "enchanting" in my book. She realizes she's in love with him on page 68, and then there are another 117 pages of rudeness and misunderstandings to wade through. Enough about Shrewish Samantha.

Why you should read this book
(even though Samantha is less than enchanting):

Giles. He's awesome. If I wasn't already married to the world's greatest husband, I might have a go. He helps wash dishes at the hospital when the ancillary staff goes on strike. He takes Samantha out for breakfast (she works the night shift) at the Waldorf. He irons her uniform for her. He's unrelentingly nice to her...the only time he gets out of sorts with her is when he thinks she is engaged to the mythical "Jack" - a fiancee that her flatmates made up so that sweet little Shrewish Samantha won't get hurt. *Snort*.
A Bomb. In Piccadilly Circus. Betty did like to use bombs as plot devices. London seemed to be rife with bombings and riots...even Holland comes in for the occasional bomb.
Crossover Characters. Rolph and Sappha from Tangled Autumn, and Rolph's mother and younger sister, the beautiful Antonia. Stupid Samantha is asked to be a private nurse to Antonia, who has hepatitis, and on the strength of Antonia being friendly with Giles, decides that the two MUST be going to get married. Never mind that nobody ever says that they are. Never mind that Antonia is a friendly girl. We shall call this plot device, "The Antonia Effect", wherein the heroine decides the hero is going to marry someone else.
Brazil. Brazil??? In a Betty Neels? Sort of. Snorting Samantha decides that she needs to get away. Far away. She applies for a nursing job in a mine in Brazil. As she is contemplating her interview she tries to talk herself into it "...a job at a super salary. The slight drawback represented by her reluctance to go down a mine and her dislike of high mountains were details she would deal with once the job was secured." I don't suppose tropical diseases and deadly animals would have fazed her.
Food: cauliflower cheese? porridge, cottage pie, soup laced with brandy, beef bourguignonne, Blini au saumon, Entrecote Minute Odessa, strawberries Romanoff.
Fashion: A couple of jersey dresses, a wooly dressing gown that won't wear out (I own one just like that!), a nurses cape with a quaint little bonnet.


Most Dated Quote, Ever: "She was aware that men kissed girls, even plain ones if there were no pretty ones around, if they happened to be feeling like it." *Snort*.

Rating: I'll give it a "cheese board"...mostly on the strength of the hero washing dishes and ironing a dress. Oh, and that Brazilian mine.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wherein I open my first package of lard.

In the words of the van der Stevejinck family "much better than it sounds", "very tasty", "I like the cranberries in it".

I did not have high hopes with this recipe. One word. Lard. I've never purchased lard before, I've never opened a package of lard before, I've never cooked with lard before. The word "lard" just doesn't sound healthy (which I'm pretty sure it's not) or appetizing. It's really rather a shame that we like it so much...because I strongly suspect that there is no such thing as "The Lardy Cake Diet".

I found a recipe for Wiltshire Lardy Cake on a site called The Great British Kitchen. I changed a couple of things about the recipe...because you will not find sultanas, mixed peel or currants in anything that I bake. Yuk. I substituted Craisins (dried cranberries) for the whole lot of that stuff. I also made the basic bread dough in my bread machine.

Betty Debbie's Wiltshire Lardy Cake

Dump in your bread machine:
1 cup warm water
1 1/2 tsp. yeast
1 heaping teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 ounce lard
1 teaspoon salt.

Let this mixture run through the "Dough Cycle".

Filling:
2 1/2 ounces lard
3 ounces butter
1 cup Craisins
2 ounces sugar

Grease an 8x10"pan.
Dump dough out of the bread machine onto a well floured surface. Roll out to a rectangle that's about 1/4 inch thick. Dot 1/3 of the lard and butter evenly(ish) over the surface, sprinkle with 1/3 of the sugar and 1/3 of the Craisins. Fold the dough in three, folding the bottom third up and the top third down. Give it a quarter turn, then repeat the process...roll out, dot, sprinkle, fold, turn. Repeat the process one more time then place the dough in the prepared pan. Cover and leave in a warm place for about 30 minutes at - until puffy. Score the top with a criss-cross pattern with a knife, then bake for 30 minutes at 400', until well risen and brown. Turn out and serve immediately or leave to cool on a wire rack.

I thought this recipe would be heavy and dense, but it's more like a cross between croissants and rolls. The cranberries add a nice touch -I highly recommend these. For occasional use only.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Convenient Wife - 1990 Discussion Thread

There have been moments in my nearly 30 years of marriage to Dr. van der Stevejinck that I have felt like "the convenient wife". Especially around dinner time...or when the laundry needs to be subdued. I don't worry about it too much...there are many times that I've felt that Dr. van der Stevejinck was "the convenient husband" - particularly in the wee small hours of the morning when one of the little van der Stevejincks has just rolfed all over the carpet in their bedroom. Venetia may be the convenient wife...but Duert has possibilities too.

  • In this day and age I probably shouldn't like the part of the story so much where Duert steps in to take care of business for Venetia when her granny dies. I think that's where I start to cut him some slack. He helps her over a rough patch.
  • I do wonder at the advisability of asking a 23 year old shrinking violet (okay, she's a little too outspoken to be called a shrinking violet, but I wanted to work in a violet reference)to take charge of a fast living nearly 18 year old. Who speaks a different language. I'm pretty sure Anneta the Ward could teach Venetia more than a thing or two.
  • Anneta the Ward is a very handy plot device...even if not quite always believable. At one point Duert takes Venetia for a day trip to the Cotswolds "a good hunting-ground for the kind of thing she likes - small antiques, jewellery perhaps." Sorry, but upon getting to know Anneta the Ward I'm not buying her liking of anything antique. A 17 year old that loves the latest fashions in ultra-modern clothes is not likely to be enamored of antiques. Just saying. [Betty Keira] This picture here is dead on for the 'suitable' frock Venetia steered Anneta towards. It's even worse than I imagined. [Betty Debbie]A sad commentary on fashion...even though this book was penned in 1990 (20 years ago!) I saw this dress on a magazine cover, at the grocery store, this very morning! Some things should never return, and this dress is one of those things.
  • Anneta the Ward is the ostensible reason for Duert proposing marriage "Anneta needs a secure, affectionate family background... - an example of a contented, harmonious marriage.." Umm....so let me get this straight...we're going to pretend that we love each other so that my ward, who will be leaving in 8 months will get to see a happy marriage..?? I know, I'm not really buying it either. Easier than anything to fly the American aunt out for 8 months, I say. Also, as soon as we learn that Anneta is half American we can see she will be up to no good. I'm not sure why all Americans aren't stamped at birth: !Auchtung Amerikaner!
  • His request also is that Venetia be a Level Headed Parent, Confidant, AND a Guiding Light to Annetta...because Anneta ..."was proving to be a problem which was beyond the powers of even the most brilliant of surgeons..." Just wait until Duert has teenage girls of his own.
  • Love, love, love the Miss Marpleish Aunt Millicent.
  • While walking on the beach Duert kisses Venetia...she was..."still devoid of a conversational gambit". I shall try and work that phrase into a conversation.
  • 4 months!!! For 4 months Venetia loves Duert and he loves her (we must infer)...but he doesn't plan on saying anything until Anneta the Ward leaves!!?? Why?He's clearing the decks, as it were. She and her malignant evil do rather litter up the landscape.

One final plot device that Betty works in...the idea that "friends don't tell tales". Anneta worries at one point whether Venetia will snitch on her. Of course not! This is Neeldom. It is vitally important that friends don't tell tales - otherwise we could avoid some huge misunderstandings that keep the hero and heroine apart. La Neels uses this particular plot device on numerous occasions. Often she is shielding a naughty child or (as in this case), a naughty ward. I'm not sure of her rationale here. Here it works for me because I see it coupled with Venetia's white-hot anger at being labeled a cheat (even if her neglectful husband deserved what was coming) and her disappointment. I think she'd be willing to snitch if he hadn't been so unfair.

I do like this book - in spite of my rantings. The matter-of-factness of the heroine is refreshing. She's not soppy or shrewish. Thank you Betty Neels.

Food is a serious consideration in this book. Highlights include: Stilton pate with pears, braised turkey pie, lemon and lime souffle, pheasant in red wine stuffed with chestnuts, smoked salmon and prawns salad, meringue gateau with fresh apricots and lashings of whipped cream. And that's just lunch and dinner in one day! Also mentioned are roast parridge with crunchy stuffing balls (?!), ice cream pudding (??), Italian food (Him: Do you like Italian food? Her: Pizza? Um, no. Him: Oh never pizza. Lasagna. Her: Saints be praised.) and treacle tart. You left off the carrot and coriander soup that she had before the lasagna. Carrot and coriander?? Betty Debbie does not think she dares to try THAT out on her boys.

Also, the newlyweds are always being given two rooms wherever they stay as a matter of course--a room (hers) and a dressing room (his). This allows Betty Neels to sidestep vexing questions of sleeping arrangements. She's not going to tart it up even if they are married.

Finally, more often than you might imagine to be coincidence, our heroines are offered engagement rings of a large sapphire surrounded by diamonds--which always makes me think of Princess Diana's. Not only are sapphire engagement rings a dime a dozen, they ALWAYS fit. No matter how many generations of women have already worn it. Which is taken as a "good omen".

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Convenient Wife--1990

Second year student nurse Venetia Forbes has had a very nasty accident in the woolies section of Woolworths. The old lady with the missing shoes sitting next to her keeps on patting the glass (embedded in her arm) further into her skin. She faints and then tosses her biscuits while being stitched up by a senior consultant brain surgeon...that's right. We're not even on page 10 and our heroine has committed relationship suicide. I love this book.

Our principles:
  • She's a plucky and plain (The Araminta) heroine who lives with her granny whenever she manages to escape the nurses' home. Twenty-three (ish) with a handful of A-levels and broken dreams behind her, she is only a second-year student nurse at St. Jude's (in the East End which is code for run-down and bleak). She is actually called a jolie laide and has beautiful gray eyes.
  • Professor Duert ter Laan-Luitinga is 35 and has a 17-year-old plot device...er...ward. (Beware the Neels ward. They bode ill.) He alternates between his home in Hampstead and another outside of Delft. He is loaded.
Plot:
This book really stretches out over a good deal of time He stitches her up. He drives her home. Her granny dies (leaving her utterly without family which begs a demographic question). He helps her out in his cold and aloof way. She visits with the professor's registrar's pregnant wife (which was quite fun to type) which leads to him taking her out a bit. They come across a piece of antique jewelry that she likes, made of amethysts. The store owner tells them a lovely, possibly fabricated--he is a capitalist--story about the original owners and some violets. Violets. This is called foreshadowing.
Her life on the ward is un-fun due to a hectoring staff nurse and when Duert proposes in the ward office we, along with our heroine, are allowed to savor a lovely petty feeling of payback. (Stick that in your sluice room and smoke it!)
He needs a babysitter for his plot device until she turns 18 and goes to America. In return she will get a home and family and security in her old age. (Did no one ever hear of IRAs?!)

But it all manages to make sense and before the week is out she's Mervrouw ter Laan-Luitinga. The registrar observes that she will probably run rings around Duert. Her wedding bouquet has violets in it (Foreshadowing!). Duert begins beautifully by dismissing her clothes, is off-hand about the wedding and suggests a stop in Leiden (to visit a patient!) on the way home on what should be their honeymoon. She wisely lets him dig his grave.

Outside of Delft we meet Anneta the Ward (not to be confused with Jabba the Hutt)--a lovely girl that practically has a neon sign situated above her head reading, "I am a plot device and will portend doom." Duert proceeds to neglect his wife terribly as evidenced by her taking up the art of tapestry. Whenever a Neels heroine stitches tapestries I am put in mind of Homer's Penelope--stitching twenty years while her idiot husband wanders back home. So, yeah, Venetia's tapestry is symbolic.

Why is my husband lamely neglecting me?

Anneta takes our heroine on a lot of shopping trips (This is not symbolic.) and she "repays dressing". But a fat lot of good it does her as Duert only takes her to parties full of crowds. He had obviously never spoken to our father on the subject of 'date night'. Venetia learns Dutch and how to drive a car without anyone bothering to notice. Anneta makes up a lot of suspicious dental appointments and the like which clearly point to trouble but Venetia would have to actually see a crack pipe and roll of dollar bills to become truly alarmed.

Duert, briefly coming out of his stupor enough to aid his wife, sends Anneta to Paris (no one good ever visits Paris) for a week and takes his wife off to visit Aunt Millicent on the coast in Salcombe. She looks like Miss Marple.
I detect with my Marple-vision that you are perfectly suited.

All is going swimmingly in Salcombe but on the return trip he stops in Leiden again for another patient and she gets forgotten! Passive-aggressive behavior and a row ensue! A row!

Four months later (yes, four! they potter along like that for four months!), Anneta is getting ready to go to off to America when Venetia discovers Jan the Rat (not to be confused with Jabba the Hutt) in the professor's garden meeting illicitly with the serial liar Anneta the Ward. In walks the professor. Anneta insinuates that Jan the Rat and Venetia the Patient have been "meeting".
Coldness.
Threats of suicide. (And you really wish Anneta would just do it already.)
Flight to Salcombe.
Anneta the Rat...er...Ward confesses her moral bankruptcy...from America.
Violet jewelry is produced.
Kissing!

Themes:
This was published in 1990, when Betty Neels was 80, and she has the cheek to say of the granny, "...she was way behind with modern ways and habits." At one point the professor asks Venetia if she is euphemistically (and I mean euphemistically) living with someone. Also, Venetia is being called upon to curb Anneta for her "wayward lifestyle"--which as far as I can tell includes wearing tight clothes and kissing cads on the street. Conclusion: I love Betty.

Rating:
You get to hear a lot about driving tours through England (take the exit at Oxford, skirt the city, drive toward Buford-upon Tyne...), menus (I'll cover that later) and shopping expeditions (only one of which puzzled me (when Venetia talks Anneta out of a tight black short dress and into a ruched electric blue "suitable" short dress...)). All this would be tedious except that Betty Debbie will be making all the food eventually.
The pacing is flawless and, happily, the emotions make sense. She's mad when she's supposed to be mad, resolute when she's supposed to be...etc., etc. Which all hearkens back to that vomiting in the Casualty room. Venetia is a heroine that makes sense. I love her. She makes this a boeuf en croute. The hero, for all my calling him an idiot, digs his way out of the hole he made quite nicely.

A Cream Puff, by any other name...

would be called "profiteroles". Neeldom is sprinkled with these dainty little morsels.

Betty Debbie has been making cream puffs since, well, let's just say - it's been a long time. Decades. I never knew they were basically the same thing as profiteroles. I have usually filled my cream puffs with pudding - chocolate or vanilla, even butterscotch. The recipes for profiteroles that I found all had ice cream in them - and most had a chocolate glaze on top. Okay, I can do that.

Here's the basic cream puff recipe. I like it because it doesn't take any fancy ingredients. The only tricky thing is to make sure to add the eggs one at a time, and to beat thoroughly after each one. NEVER make a double batch - your arms will fall off.

1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup boiling water
1 cup sifted flour
1/4 tsp. salt
4 eggs

Melt butter in boiling water. Add flour and salt all at once; stir vigorously. Cook and stir until mixture forms a ball that doesn't separate. Remove from heat; cool slightly (I usually wait 5 minutes...or a little more). Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each until smooth and glossy - NOT shiny.
Drop by heaping teaspoon or tablespoon on greased cookie sheet. (leave a couple of inches between them). Bake at 400' till golden brown and puffy - about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, make a small opening for the steam to escape. Cool on rack. Makes 10 to 20 (depending on size).

For the profiteroles, add a small scoop of ice cream (I used my cookie dough scoop). Dip the top in chocolate frosting (soften a couple of tablespoons at a time in the microwave). Serve.

I made these ahead, then put them back into the freezer until after dinner. The boys gobbled them up. I still prefer pudding in the middle - I don't like biting into ice cream. I would definitely make these again - once you know how to make cream puffs, the rest is easy.

In the words of Alex van der Stevejinck: "tasty."

P.S. these are much better fresh. When you freeze the cream puffs, the butter inside also freezes...they become quite hard.

Book Drawing.



And the winner is.....Betty Suzanne.

January was easy...all you had to do was comment to have a chance at winning. In the coming months we're going to make you work for it. Betty Keira and I are doing a lot of reading and writing on your behalf...to help humanity...now it will be your turn to help. Here is a sample of some of the possible upcoming categories for book drawing:
  • best book opening (up to one paragraph, in your own words)
  • best book ending (ditto)
  • best book title
  • best hero/heroine names
  • best "dawning realization" (when the heroine/hero realize they are in love)
  • meal menu?
  • village name (English or Dutch)
  • setting
  • situation
  • villain/villainess
  • fashion description
  • cars

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. Sharpen your pencils, brush up your computer skills...on February 1st we'll start taking entries for the best book opening.

The drawing for February may very well have to be on Valentines Day. You may enter as many times as you want.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Book Drawing - Tomorrow!


Just a little reminder that tomorrow will be our first book drawing, here on The Uncrushable Jersey Dress.

Betty Debbie will be using a random number generator program that will do the final pick. Here's how it works (this month). Each comment and post will count separately - so, if you have commented 8 times and written one post this month - you will have 9 chances. If you have commented once - you have one chance. Betty Keira and Betty Debbie will not be entered - but everyone else will be. Soooo....you have until 2pm Pacific Time to make comments. Betty Debbie will tot them up then and post the winner as soon as I can. The winner will get to chose a book - from 5 different titles. Good luck!