Saturday, January 30, 2010
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.
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
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.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
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.
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.
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
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.
- 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
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
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)
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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."
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
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
Proper English Cottage Pie (allrecipes.com)
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
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
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.
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
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
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"?)
Why you should read this book (even though Samantha is less than enchanting):
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
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".
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
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
- 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)
- fashion description
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.