Sunday, February 28, 2010

Betty Goes to Church

"She and Polly went for a walk that afternoon, and after tea accompanied their parents to church. Evensong was Mary's favourite service; she sang the hymns with pleasure in her clear voice and felt better - until she turned her head cautiously to see who was singing with equal enthusiasm only in a deep, rumbling voice. Professor van Rakesma, no less, with Pleane on one side of him and Ilsa on the other."

-Marrying Mary

When Dr. van der Stevejinck and I were in London a few years ago, we spent a day walking around on our own. With tourist map in hand we enjoyed the sights. One of the sights we didn't see was Westminster Abbey. The map we had was a little vague - and it sort of had a symbol for Westminster that took up the whole area around it. Yeah. We looked at the map, it said there was a church there - we looked at the church and said to ourselves, yup, there's a church...we made the erroneous assumption that it was THE church on the map. Nope. The church we snapped a picture of is actually St. Margarets. It is Westminster adjacent. At the time, I thought to myself that it seemed smaller in person than it did on tv (but you know what they say about the adds 10 pounds).

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Zuppa Toscana...

...or "Soup, Not from a Tin".

When Betty Keira mentioned how disgusting "soup with garlic" sounded (Sun and Candlelight) - I agreed (I think we were both trying to imagine garlic soup). But then I got to thinking - I actually love soup with garlic in it. I found this recipe for Zuppa Toscana online a couple of years ago. My son's wife liked it so much while eating at our house, she would always ask me to make I walked her through it once (she's a natural in the kitchen) and now she's made it her own. When I told her I was going to post the recipe, she begged me to let her post first (which I did, so that I could steal her picture).

Zuppa Toscana
like Olive Garden's®

1 lb. spicy Italian sausage - crumbled (I prefer mild Italian sausage)
1/2 lb. smoked bacon - chopped
1 qt. water(2)
14.5 oz. cans (about 3 2/3 cups) chicken broth (I usually make my own broth with Better than Bouillon chicken base)
2 lg. russet potatoes - scrubbed clean, cubed
2 garlic cloves - peeled, crushed
1 med. onion - peeled, chopped
2 cups chopped kale
1 cup heavy whipping cream
salt and pepper - to taste

-In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown sausage, breaking into small pieces as you fry it; drain, set aside.
-In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown bacon; drain, set aside.
-Place water, broth, potatoes, garlic, and onion in a pot; simmer over medium heat until potatoes are tender.
-Add sausage and bacon to pot; simmer for 10 minutes.
-Add kale and cream to pot; season with salt and pepper; heat through.

This is really an easy soup to make, and if you have a big enough pot, it's just about as easy to make a double batch - which means leftovers!! Zuppa Toscana freezes just fine - but don't make the mistake I made once. I put three bags in the door of my freezer and let it freeze. Later on, I opened up my freezer...there's the soup - but wait! I put it in unfrozen - and the liquid all settled into one mass. It took forever to get it thawed enough to unwedge it. Now I make sure to freeze it flat (on a cookie sheet), then I can move it to where I want it.

We discovered, quite by accident, that adding tortelloni (I get the Five Cheese Tortelloni in the refrigerated section at Costco) turns this delightful soup into a main dish. The uncooked tortelloni also freezes well - I don't put it in the Zuppa Toscana that I plan to freeze, I add the two together after thawing - otherwise I'm pretty sure the tortelloni would turn to mush.

You can find reference to "soup with garlic" in Sun and Candlelight.

Book Caption Winner(s)!

The Grand Poobah Arbiters of Everything had a confab this morning about our caption contest. After the arm wrestling and synchronized clogging, we sat down (well, virtually) and hammered out the You Bettys are too smart for words. (Which is why I posted a picture of unofficial Betty mascot Evan Lysacek winning his gold medal. My new motto is: "When words fail...Lysacek." You're welcome.)

We have three winners (You can't do that! To which I reply, which part of Grand Poobah Arbiter of Everything was unclear?) And here they are:

Betty JoDee for her use of adverbs and adjectives "magnificent", "sensibly" and "impersonal"-- "Ouch, I believe that your magnificent Alsatian just nipped me on my sensibly clad posterior!"
The professor, hiding quiet amusement behind heavily lidded eyes, examined the body part in question with an impersonal hand . . . .

Betty Maria (via email) threw her submission in under the wire. We like it because our penny-wise heroines would surely have their minds wander to a sensible jersey dress after their hearts had sufficiently returned to their normal rhythms upon meeting their future husbands. "Now that is a darling jersey dress, in a very tasteful shade of dove-grey...and I'll bet it's uncrushable, too!"

Betty Lynn for her deft hand with a Neels villainous. Our only question is whether or not Veronica had worn her fake fur jacket to her wedding with Larry the American. "Oh no! My sister has taken all the housekeeping money to buy herself a fake fur jacket with rhinestone buttons. Whatever shall I do, Dr. Wal der Walkarpitz?"

Please email us with mailing addresses. You might even make a request for a particular book with the clear understanding that we don't have duplicates for each and we might crush your pretensions more surely than a purple clad matron meeting a Vogue model in a trouser suit.
[Betty Debbie] We do have roughly 60 books in our current stash (plus another dozen or so at Betty Keira's) it is possible we might be able to fulfill requests.

And thanks to all our Bettys. Stay uncrushable.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Beach Blanket Betty

Whenever they get the chance, tall, lint-fair and handsome will drag his Araminta or Olivia off to the beach. Seldom is it sunny and warm. More than likely it will be "invigorating" which is code for: shiver me timbers, it's cold! Often it will be pouring rain. This is all well and good for our hero, but poor Araminta is wearing last year's suit (skirt and jacket), tights and sensible lace-ups. If she's lucky she also has a scarf and a threadbare but still serviceable coat. In Always and Forever, Oliver takes Amabel to the coast twice in November/December.

Details like that don't much bother the Founding Bettys. Nope. The unspoken motto for our family would go something like "If it's water, let's go swimming!" Never you mind about the weather - if it's cold outside, the water will feel warmer! (This is we know by our experience). No swimsuit? No problem! Just swim in your clothes and ride home soaking wet. (again, true stories). Our family has been known to pile into the family vehicle and drive to the coast at any time of year. Yes, we have been swimming at the Oregon coast in January and June. Sometimes the weather is actually better in winter...summer is no guarantee of balminess in the Pacific Northwest. The regular temperature of the ocean off the Oregon Coast is such that when you first step in, your feet cramp. It's not so much getting used to the water as it is just getting numb enough to not feel the cold.

Yes, our parents raised them some hardy lasses.

Since this is at least the second time we here at The Uncrushable Jersey Dress have referred to it, we're giving you a handy link to Hulu - where you can watch the entire feature film The Pirates of Penzance for free. (The founding Bettys have worn out more than one VHS tape of this piratical gem - and yes, we know nearly all the words by heart).


In the Beginning...

I know that I picked up my first Betty Neels book at the Hillsboro, Oregon Goodwill outlet. A Goodwill outlet is like where all the swanky Goodwills send their leavings and a better primordial ooze I cannot imagine. From those humble beginnings is the genesis of this blog.

Goodwill is a mad adventure and I have an inexplicable passion for it. Nothing on hangers, nothing with prices, nothing sorted or tagged. It is not for the faint of heart but Bettys are never that. Books are fixed prices and nearly everything else is priced by the pound. Everything is chucked into a bin with only these delineations:
Books, Glass, Fabric items, Shoes and Other (sweet, sweet, awesome Other).

It was maybe four or five years ago and I don't remember which book it was. It cost me 50 cents, I know. I'm sure I didn't keep it. I read so many Goodwill books that I would save a few and send the others back to Goodwill--the karmic wheel, the Circle of Life. I don't even know which book it was that made me want to start collecting them (maybe the one where she's getting on a bit and has worked for him forever but is engaged to another fella and then they get married and Scotland is involved--that should narrow it down) but that's what I did, digging through piles of Cooking the Microwave Way, A Comprehensive Guide to Needlework and Planning Your Perfect Wedding in Three Easy Steps--building my library one and two books at a time.

My biggest score: I walked past The Book People--semi-scary regulars that scan bar codes and re-sell on ebay or to used book stores--and saw a copy of Caroline's Waterloo in someone's cart. "Drat!" I thought to myself, 'I'm practically sure the author was Neels." (I was a collector now.) Resisting the impulse to snatch the novel from her neglected shopping cart (Which you agree would probably have been the wrong choice?), I turned dejectedly towards the bins--6 of them and that was likely the only Betty in the lot.

I must have found 20 books that day. One of which is my own beloved copy of Caroline's Waterloo--a book with pages so loose that I handle it with all the care that a curator does the Gutenberg Bible. I feel sad that an old lady most likely had to die to let me have her windfall. But they're in a good home.
**Usually the books are willy-nilly but sometimes I get lucky and the Book Fairy will have come to magically sort them--spines up and faced properly. I wish he were as agreeable as the name I have given him but he is not. He is obsessive compulsive though and I'm pretty sure his wife kicks him out of the house when his cleaning becomes too much for her.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Say What? Contest....

Tomorrow is the last day of our "give the picture a caption" contest! You may be thinking to yourself:
"But Betty Debbie! I've already entered". That's fine - feel free to enter again. And again.
"But Betty Debbie! I'm just a humble lurker - A Betty wannabe." Join the crowd! If you don't want to leave your entry in the comments section, shoot us an email and we'll post for you.
"But Betty Debbie! I live so far away - how will I collect my prize?" Not to worry, young padawan, we Bettys know our way around a post office.

Here are our entries so far:

  1. "You know how to whistle, don't you, Dr. van der Stevejinck? Just put your lips together and blow."
  2. "Oooh, I am the Baroness Van der Heiden van Hottentot and have been since our marriage of convenience six weeks ago, and your entire family has conspired with you to keep this from me because I once said that I disliked wealthy, upper-crust individuals never figuring out that the mansion we live in and Jollys do not really belong to your never-seen but obviously generous aging uncle who prefers to live in the country?"
  3. "Oh no! I have just fallen in love with him and now I must hide it because he will never love me." she thought.
    A twinkle appeared in his eyes as he guessed the inner workings of her mind, but he would say nothing for now.
  4. "Hmmmm. Ooops. I am part of a Betty Neels novel of the dark, sorry Dark Lord oeuvre, and I am pursing my lips because I'm not sure if my ebil model younger sister has drugged her (our) niece/nevvie twin set so that she can go to town. Puzzled look: I didn't administer enuff to kill did I?"
  5. "Ooh, he's going to kiss me! Better have a Certs so my breath is nice and fresh!!"
  6. "Gertude dear, your lips are beautiful and all, but do you really need to do that all the time?"
  7. "Oh no! My sister has taken all the housekeeping money to buy herself a fake fur jacket with rhinestone buttons. Whatever shall I do, Dr. Wal der Walkarpitz?"
  8. "Would you like to check out my tonsils Dr. Svenerjink?
  9. "I thought we were playing a game of consequences!"
  10. "You have how many children that you want me to look after?"
  11. "Ouch, I believe that your magnificent Alsatian just nipped me on my sensibly clad posterior!"
    The professor, hiding quiet amusement behind heavily lidded eyes, examined the body part in question with an impersonal hand . . . .
  12. "Now that is a darling jersey dress, in a very tasteful shade of dove-grey...and I'll bet it's uncrushable, too!"

Compose more entries, or tell us which ones are your favorites! Results will be posted Saturday - whenever we, The Grand Poobah Arbiters of Everything, get around to it.

Always and Forever--Discussion Thread

So Amabel is in love with Oliver and, as Betty Debbie points out, this is a Neels prescription for hiding her love away. And sure, that gives the book another 50 pages but does it make any sense? Not so much. As The Dread Pirate Westley says in The Princess Bride, "This is true love. Think this happens everyday?" Amabel, girlfriend, it's time to slap on some lipstick, adjust the decolletage, and dig out the patent leather heels. Love is a battlefield. You are a warrior. See the hill, take the hill.

O, Canada. We love Canada. My husband draws his paycheck from Canadians. We say PRO-cess and PRO-gress around La Casa van Voorhees as a result of his close association with our fair neighbors to the North. Better, Mijneer Nathan van Voorhees' sister married a Canadian (who is glued to the Olympics night and day, btw). He has never, to my knowledge kicked a puppy or plowed under an orchard in order to make anything so crass as a financial profit.
Anyway, earlier this week we mentioned the euphemistic importance of Brighton ("Don't go to Brighton!"). Parents, sisters and brothers are to be found all over the globe and it might be fun to tease out the euphemistic importance of some of these.
  • In Sun and Candlelight his parents are in New Zealand ("I'm avoiding your wedding!.").
  • In Winter Wedding the heroine's sister is in "The Middle East" where her husband is unable to leave. ("Farewell life. Farewell beauty." The Middle East (including Israel) seems to be a geographical sink hole wherein are sucked mid-level British corporate operatives and VIPs or sons of VIPs in need of urgent medical attention.)
  • America ("Destroying souls since 1776." The tenth circle of perdition, America echos with the tortured screams of the souls of the damned and sparkles with brimstone and garishly large diamond jewelry. One brother (A Dream Comes True) gets a scientific internship in America (Boston) which seems harmless enough but he will doubtless return married to either the only British girl to be found in Boston or a Yankee hussy...but I repeat myself.)
  • Norway ("I'm in rehab.")
  • Canada ("Pushing papers for the Dominion.")
  • Ireland ("Beautiful Ireland: You might be shot!")
  • South America ("Lock up your wives and daughters!")
  • Africa("??? I do not know this place of which you speak.")
  • Poland ("We will harbor your aged, arthritic nannies in a police state!")
  • France ( "Oui, oui and ooh la la! send us your spoiled wards!")
  • [BettyKeira] ("Sunny Greece! Mind the earthquakes.")
  • Portugal ("I know a little place that makes a great un-tinned fish soup.")
Men and maps --"The doctor was a man who having looked at a map before starting the journey never needed to look at it again." I suppose that in the time before GPS ubiquity and mapquest that stalwart soldiers of the pre-internets age would roll their sleeves up each St. Crispin's Day and bare their scars of geographical navigation and say, "We few, we happy few! We band of brothers! They will hold their manhoods cheap who navigate the M11 by map!" [Betty Debbie] The line about the doctor never needing to look at a map again is obviously fiction. Although....Neels heroes do have a predilection for taking the "scenic route"...maybe this is code for: "We'll get there when we get there - ooh look! There is another stunning example of medieval architecture...No, no, it just looks incredibly like the last 3 stunning examples of medieval architecture we've gone past." Dr. van der Stevejinck wisely leaves the map-reading to me. That way, if we get lost it's not his fault...and he's gracious enough to drive where ever I tell him to go. Mijneer Nathan van Voorhees is like my concierge/gopher/travel facillitator when we go on trips as he has firmly memorized the first rule of Betty Keira: Keep the Betty hydrated and carry a snack.

"Nothing was going to make her abandon Cyril and Oscar." Okay pet lovers, I understand that we have a schism here. But can we all agree that nothing would make me drop a pet faster than the prospect of imminent starvation? It's time Amabel put up a Craigslist ad beginning, "Two well-trained animals looking for a good home. Immediate placement desirable..." This is only one of many Neels novels that link a heroines livelihood and possible survival with a four legged retinue.

"There is nothing about you to dislike." He actually says those words. I think that's a classic case of damning with faint praise. Hey Betty Debbie! Your explosive acne doesn't bother me. Hey Betty Suzanne, you are welcome to wear that skirt if you think it makes you look okay. Hey Betty Tia--no, no, she lives too close and could pop me in the nose.

**Clarification: Betty Debbie (happily) has no explosive acne, Betty Suzanne has yet to meet the skirt she doesn't turn transcendent in and Betty Tia could actually pop me in the nose...It's a good thing you put this disclaimer in, or I would have to make the trip down there to pop you in the nose myself. I'd have a three hour head start... ;0) Start running....

Always and Forever - 2001

Half-orphan child of widowed mother.
Widowed mother is rather weak.
Mother marries again.
Step-father is harsh and cruel.
Half-orphan runs away to Great-Aunt, traveling quite a distance in some duress.

No, this isn't a review of David Copperfield, but the above list does bear a striking similarity to the opening scenes of it.

Amabel Parsons ( close to amiable, and yet....yuck). Age 26ish, Araminta from top to bottom. Her widow mother has left her in charge of their B & B while she is in CANADA visiting Amabel's unnamed sister who has recently had an unnamed baby. Sooo. That leaves Amabel in a lonely, somewhat isolated farmhouse, welcoming strangers in to sleep in the bedrooms. During a brief break in the middle of a raging thunder and lightning storm, "The lull was shattered by a peal on the doorbell.". (cue scary slasher movie music). Enter....

Dr. Oliver Fforde (yes, two "f"'s and an "e" -which he would be required to drop if the Fforde Ffamily ever immigrates to America) and his mother. Thus begins our story. Amabel and Oliver (she doesn't have to call him Dr. Fforde) are Ffriends at once, they enjoy each other's company. He worries a bit about her being alone, he visits periodically. Then comes the day....Amabel gets a letter from CANADA....this does not bode well for our heroine. Her absentee mother gives her the Ffabulous news that she is going to stay a little longer in Canada and Get Married!!! and then Mommy dearest concludes with this lovely parting shot "You're such a sensible girl, and I'm sure you're enjoying your independence. Probably when we get back you will want to start a career on your own." This is code for: Since I now have a man in my life, I won't need you. Amabel sits down and assesses her accomplishments. "She could cook - not quite cordon bleu...she could housekeep, change plugs, cope with basic plumbing....tend a garden...Her pen faltered. There was nothing else." It goes on to say that she had her A levels. As far as I can tell, having her A levels would mean that she could go to University. Right? Why do Neels heroines never take advantage of that? I know, you're going to say..."But Betty Debbie, I read a Neels wherein the heroine has gone to university." To that, I say, "Yes, she may have started, but she dropped out...probably so her younger brother or sister could go instead, or to take care of her sick/aging a)mother, b) grandmother, c) aunt, d) second cousin once removed, e) all of the above...." Do they not have scholarships and college grants in the UK? This lack of education keeps coming back to haunt Amabel...

Mummy and new Step-Daddy Keith(why couldn't Betty have named him Edward as in Murdstone??? That would have been so much fun) come home. Step-Daddy immediately plows up the beautiful but old apple orchard so that he can build a big ugly greenhouse Ffor his profitable market garden. Amabel can stay and be unpaid labor, thus saving Step-Daddy a boatload of expense. That might have been okay...but Step-Daddy has an even darker side. In one sentence we Ffind him hitting the old dog Cyril and kicking the old cat Oscar. He then goes on to say that dear old Cyril and Oscar won't be alive much longer, if he has anything to say about it. That tears it. The very next day Amabel throws her bonnet over the windmill with a vengeance. She hauls herself, her luggage AND Cyril and Oscar cross-country to York. Oops, she Fforgot to call Aunt Betsey, I mean Thisbe. (I so identified the beginning of this book with David Copperfield that I thought Aunt Thisbe's name was Aunt Betsey - until I reread the book). Aunt Thisbe bears a striking resemblance, personality-wise to Betsey Trotwood. Aunt T is happy to welcome Amabel, and just as happy, later on, to welcome visiting Dr. Oliver Fforde. Amabel and Oliver have a lovely day together - taking their dogs for walks on the beach at Flamborough (in November or December...on the North Sea). Amabel confides to Oliver that she needs to get a job just as soon as she can, because she found out that Great Aunt Thisbe was supposed to go on holiday in Italy, and Amabel just has to find a job, where she can live in AND take Cyril and Oscar, her Ffurry millstones.

Oliver hears of a possible job through the evil villainess, Miriam Potter-Stokes, an elegant young widow who wants to get her fingers into the Fforde pie (I am sad to report that "Miriam" is also the name of my only granddaughter). Miriam has an old school chum, Delores who just so happens to own a little shoppe in The Shambles and needs a shop assistant. Oliver gives Amabel(that name just doesn't get any better) the heads up about the job, and Amabel is all set. A job (at sweatshop wages), a room behind the shop to live in with Cyril and Oscar, and a sink and a toilet. What?? No shower or bath? That's okay, once a week she goes back to Aunt Thisbe's and takes a bath. Whether she needs it or not. The scenes in York are actually my favorite part of Always and Fforever. Amabel and Oliver walk around town seeing the sights...(I love York - I spent a day there once), then head out to spend the next morning at the sea again. In December. Yeah. Dolores figures out that Amabel's Oliver is the same as Miriam's Oliver, and so gives Miriam a call. Miriam fakes tears and begs Dolores to give Amabel the sack. Which she does. This makes Amabel and her Ffurry millstones homeless. Aunt T is still in Italy, her household helpers are away for 10 Amabel uses up her money for lodging and finally takes sanctuary (great shades of Victor Hugo!) in a little church. Oliver just so happens to show up and takes her to his Great-Aunt Lady Haleford, who is recovering from a mild stroke and is a bit peevish and irascible. Aramintas are great at this sort of thing - companion to the elderlies (British word alert!). She realizes finally that she is in love with Oliver (Oh NO, I Must Not Let It Show). Miriam Potter-Stokes finds out that Oliver is still seeing her, so she sneaks up to Lady Haleford's and tells Amabel that Oliver is a great one for helping lame dogs over styles, but nevertheless, Oliver is Marrying Miriam. This, by the way, is completely and utterly Ffalse. Oliver has never particularly liked Miriam - they went on a few dates and saw each other at parties held by mutual acquaintances. Amabel of course does not know this and is somewhat relieved to be called home to nurse her mother through a bout of pneumonia. Turns out, her mother is practically well - it's just cheaper to have Amabel there than to pay a housekeeper. Oliver finds out what Miriam has done and sort of tells her off "I need a wife who loves me and whom I love", then, after a few days he goes to Ffetch her from her mother. But not without first collecting Great Aunt T (now returned from her Italian sojourn) and installing her at his home to act as chaperon...until the wedding because "Oliver is a stickler for conventions"(which I always think sounds like he hands out campaign buttons at political rallies).

Food: omelettes, egg custard, pork pies, mushrooms in garlic sauce, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, lemon mousse, hot buttered parkin, chicken a la king, lemon tart swimming in cream, prawns, ceasar salad, grilled sole.

Fashion: a jersey dress in a pleasing shade of cranberry red! When Amabel splashes out on a new dress for Christmas she buys....a silvery GREY dress.

Rating: Alas poor Yorick, I mean York, I wish I could rate you well. The best I can rate the names in Always and Forever - beans on toast. Evil Canadian dog-kicking stepfather named Keith - beans on toast. Mother...tinned soup. Great Aunt Thisbe - queen of puddings (she is kind of awesome), plot similarities to David Copperfield - boeuf en croute (I wish Betty had kept going in that vein), the arc of Amabel and Olivers friendship/love - boeuf en croute (like at first sight that turns to love). I suppose if you add it all together, divide by the common denominater, take the square root of Miriam Potter-Stokes, the answer would be somewhere in the neighborhood of treacle tart (with a little lashings of whipped cream for York).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Yorkshire Pudding

Sunday dinners for the Retro Hanna Bettys (or was it OWLS?) was most likely to consist of fried chicken and mashed potatoes (and since it was during 60's and 70's that I had Sunday dinners at the childhood home, the potatoes came dry, out of a tin). Our Mississippi born mother taught us to fry chicken at quite a young age, but before we could fry it, we had to first cut it up. Yeah, our mom only bought whole chickens...and we needed two or three for dinner. Betty Marcy and I were pretty darn fast at cutting up the chicken - but it was a toss-up which chore was worse...cutting the chicken or cooking the chicken. Cutting was grosser, but quicker. Frying the chicken involved lots of splattering grease - and the potential for getting burned.

In The Venerable Neels' England, Sunday dinners are often composed of either a "joint" (which makes me think of marijauna) or Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding. I remember reading about Yorkshire Puddings back in the early 1980's in James Herriot's books (I loved loved loved those books...and the BBC adaptations of them). I had no idea what Yorkshire pudding was...just that Sunday dinners in Yorkshire consisted of Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding. I knew it wasn't American style pudding...after all, I did grow up watching various versions of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" in which a pudding was steamed and usually ball shaped, but other than that - not a clue. Not having access to the inter-webs back in the day, I just let my curiosity about them dwindle.

Enter Betty. Enter Google. Nowadays if I wonder about something, like, say, Yorkshire pudding, I'm only a Google Search away from an answer. And a selection of recipes. The one I chose to try was found on

Yorkshire Puddings

Cook Time: 25 minutes
•4 large, fresh eggs, measured in a jug
•Equal quantity of milk to eggs
•Equal quantity of all purpose/plain flour to eggs
•Pinch of salt
•2 tbsp lard, beef dripping or vegetable oil
Serves 6
•Heat the oven to the highest temperature possible, however, do not exceed 450F/230C or the fat may burn.
•Pour the eggs and milk into a large mixing bowl and add the pinch of salt. Whisk thoroughly with an electric hand beater or hand whisk. Leave to stand for 10 minutes.
•Gradually sieve the same volume of flour (as the eggs) into the milk and egg mixture, again using an electric hand beater or hand-whisk to create a lump free batter resembling thick cream, if there are any lumps pass the batter through a fine sieve.
•Leave the batter to rest in the kitchen for a minimum of 30 minutes, longer if possible - up to several hours.
•Place a pea-sized piece of lard, dripping or ½tsp vegetable oil in a Yorkshire pudding tin (4 x 2"/5cm hole tin) or 12-hole muffin tin and heat in the oven until the fat is smoking. Give the batter another good whisk adding 2 tbsps of cold water and fill a third of each section of the tin with batter and return quickly to the oven.
•Leave to cook until golden brown approx 20 minutes. Repeat the last step again until all the batter is used up.

Serving Yorkshire Pudding
•In Yorkshire serving the pudding is traditionally with gravy as a starter dish followed by the meat and vegetables. More often smaller puddings cooked in muffin tins are served alongside meat and vegetables.
•Yorkshire pudding isn’t reserved only for Sunday lunch. A large pudding filled with a meaty stew or chili is a dish in its own right.
•Cold left-over Yorkshire Puddings make a lovely snack with a little jam or honey.
•Yorkshire Puddings do not reheat well, becoming brittle and dry.

I just followed the recipe - and they turned out fine (as far as I know...). I used a muffin tin, and this recipe was just right for a dozen puddings. Everyone in my family ate them (even my picky eater) - and we like them. I don't think I would serve them with gravy again...not that they were bad that way, it's just that they remind me an awful lot of Dutch Babies...which are usually served with a sweet topping (powdered sugar, syrup, fruit, etc...) in my house. If I was to serve the Yorkshire puddings as a savoury dish, I might stuff them with some kind of filling like the recipes suggests.

You can find reference to Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding in Fate is Remarkable and Always and Forever.

Betty Neels on the subject of Parenting

Much has been brought up recently on Neels treatment of child - adult relations. We feel it incumbent upon ourselves to discuss the realities of child-rearing with our readership. We are Mothers who Know, because we're lousy (choose your definition: a)amply supplied, b)full of lice or c)terrible...) with children.
Anyone can raise perfect children! Just follow The Betty Neels Method! Here are a few examples of her brilliant guidelines for childrearing:
  1. Bedtime is 7:00pm. Or earlier.
  2. Always have a live-in nanny. Always. Nanny will be in charge of the children - making sure they do their homework and eat their vegetables. Nanny will also take care of your children's clothes - keeping them clean and mended. Age is not an issue. The older the better.
  3. Nanny can't do everything. You will also need a cook, a housekeeper (these may be combined in a pinch), a strapping young woman or two who come in "daily" and an older woman who will come in two or three times a week to do the "rough". A curmudgeonly gardener is also a must, as is a chauffeur, but only if you meet a down on his luck Cockney or someone who spent WWII hiding beneath someone's floorboards.
  4. For family fun, a Monopoly set, Scrabble, and playing cards so that you can play fun games such as "Happy Families" and "Racing Demon".
  5. Must have at least 2 pets. More is better. Preferably pets that have been rescued from a filthy canal, or from the knacker.
  6. Children are like vegetables, best grown in the country. Commute if you must.
  7. Boats. You must own and operate either a yacht or a botter. If you don't know what a botter is, you may not have children.
  8. Potty-training. See #2.
  9. Never question your children. They will come to you when they are ready to confess. I mean, own up.
  10. If you are divorced, tell your children their other parent is dead, it's just easier.
  11. Have twins whenever possible. Especially if you are getting long in the tooth.
  12. Make sure you are fabulously wealthy - but please, whatever you do, be tasteful.
  13. Never discuss your children with your spouse. This might be construed as "snitching" or "telling tales". Do not tell tales...go to your grave rather than reveal casually mentioned indiscretions.

Question of the Week

Sun and Candlelight famously quotes Barrett Browning. In The Course of True Love, our heroine is stuck atop The Oldehove Tower and is reciting Tennyson to keep her British stiff upper lip up. “'Tis the little rift within the lute - That by and by will make the music mute, And, ever widening, slowly silence all”.

But the Pantheon of Literary Greats are divided on the ability of poetry to do...well, anything.

"I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love," said Darcy. "Of a fine, stout healthy love it may. Every thing nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away." --Jane Austen

I once had a juvenile admirer write out the lyrics to Guns and Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine and pass it to me in German class--which is rather retrospectively charming since his Deutsch name was Axel. I never spoke to him again.

Librettist Gilbert involves the satirical veneration of poetry in his classic, Pirates of Penzance (you haven't seen it?! Silly Betty.):
KING: Although our dark career
Sometimes involves the crime of stealing,
We rather think that we're
Not altogether void of feeling.
Although we live by strife,
We're always sorry to begin it,
For what, we ask, is life
Without a touch of Poetry in it?
(all kneel)
ALL: Hail, Poetry, thou heav'n-born maid!
Thou gildest e'en the pirate's trade.
Hail, flowing fount of sentiment!
All hail, all hail, divine emollient!

Question to The Bettys: Have you ever been quoted poetry at? Did it kill off a relationship?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Upcoming Reviews

"If you are a student you should always get a good nights sleep unless you have come to the good part of your book, and then you should stay up all night and let your schoolwork fall by the wayside, a phrase which means 'flunk'."
— Lemony Snicket

March 1st - Monday review: Tabitha by Moonlight - 1972. White Bikinis, Awesome cover art and a step-sister named Lilith (that can't be good...and she isn't).

March 4th - Thursday review: Henrietta's Own Castle - 1975. Jonkheers, a semi-tragic platonic love affair, carnage on a massive scale.

British Word of the Day

narked also nark‧y [not before noun] British English informal
angry about something:
There's no need to get narked about it!

In Sun and Candlelight, Tommy, a young child on sister's orthopaedic ward, says, "'Ere sister, wot's got inter yer? Yer look real narked."

I imagine that Napoleon was narked about the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo.

In America to 'narc' (same sound) is to align yourself with a narcotics officer by snitching on someone using illegal narcotics.
  • "Ricky became a narc when he told the cops about those suspicious brownies his friends were making."
  • "Don't let the narc know why we are so interested in cannabis habitats"
'Narc' is particularly employed in 1980s era After-school Specials where a young girl narcs on her drug-fueled friends and is ostracized thereafter until an unkind fate leads one to have his younger sibling drown in a pool as a result of discovering his drug paraphernalia hidden in a hollowed out edition of Great Expectations.

I like the British narked better.

**Nurse Ratched, in the above picture, is from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The Founding Bettys' small Oregon hometown has only a few claims to fame. The other two are murders and one is that the author Ken Kesey, graduated from our high school. When I attended in the early 90s he came to deliver a profanity laced egotistic tirade about...hmm...not sure. I was 15. Swearing in a public school distracted me. Anyway, he looked narked about something.

Sun and Candlelight -1979 Discussion Thread

Although there is a lot of fun to be had in Sun and Candlelight (not least of which is the hero on the cover of my edition) I do have a couple of problems with it. A few leaps that I'm not willing to take. The biggie, the Evel Knievel jumping the Snake River Canyon leap has to do with "Nanny". Nanny should be sent away at the very least, possibly to a mental home. Maybe a State Run Correctional Institution. She should have a restraining order slapped on her faster than you can say "Dundee Cakes". Instead Alethea says "we trust you" !!?? Really???? [Betty Keira] Yes, I agree. The thing is that she doesn't even seem like a beloved family retainer of long-standing. She's just criminally insane and I wouldn't volunteer my children for the outreach program. My other leap from a tall building is finding those kids lovable or charming. But you have to admit that they are rather fabulous after the alien abduction...Those little thugs can be pardoned a few hi-jinks though....considering they have been lied to their entire lives. Their dearly departed mummy is not dead (as they have been told) but is instead living it up in South America ("...[she] lives in Brazil - or is it Peru?). They will be told about this "when they're older". Not really the kind of trauma you want to spring on a teenager as it will only encourage further thuggish behaviour. I notice your British-correct spelling of the word behaviour and doff my hat to you, madam.

Neels on Mind Reading. Pretty much every Neels hero can read minds. One glance at a girl, and he knows what she had for breakfast, the state of her shaky finances, how often she is thinking of ex-boyfriends, and whether she knows that she is in love with him yet. This is obviously a fictional device, because in real life, men are much more often clueless. For example, Dr. van der Stevejinck would rather that I tell him what's what, than have to hazard a guess. Plus, this gives me a reason to post yet another picture of a turban. You're setting a whole new bar on awesomeness here. Also, I love that Sarre can see all that yet fail to notice that the kids are evil geniuses and that Alethea is in love with him.

And now for some fun stuff:

Sun and Candlelight starts right off, in the very first sentence with a good ol' Neels staple. The pink lampshade. This particular one is at a restaurant. Which begs the many restaurants have pink lampshades on the table? I need a Food Lovers Guide to London complete with a section on pink lampshades. This may require a personal visit...

"Don't go to Brighton!" My new favorite euphemism. It reminds me of something our dad used to say when boys came to pick up my younger sisters for a date...knowing him, he hollered it as they were heading for the door. "Have a good time, don't BE a good time!" He was still hollering that when I was dating. Remind me to tell you about the talk we had about the birds and bees sometime. Hi-larious. I admit to saying these very words to my kids as they go out on dates. At first they were a little mortified, but really, it's best to be clear about things like that right from the get go. It's especially fun to say it in front of their date. Yes, I am my father.

Jaguars. What can I say? They have a super-cool hood ornament. They are also as heavy as sin. I don't mean that in a good way. I drove Betty Marcy's aging Jaguar to Jackson Hole, Wyoming about 10 years ago. First and last time. As I was driving down the steep, winding two lane road, I came up behind a pick-up truck that was loaded down with a vast amount of chopped firewood. The driver of the truck was, understandably, creeping down the mountain. I stepped on the brakes. Ummm....I STOOD on the brakes....the Jaguar barely slowed. We were in the outside lane, with a sheer precipice next to us and oncoming traffic on the other side. I don't remember how we survived, I've totally repressed that memory, but I did have a few choice words with Betty Marcy about vehicle maintenance. Betty Tia was in the back seat with her first (and nearly last) born son. Maybe she remembers. ANYWAY, I guess Jags would be fine in England and Holland...which are not known for their steep mountains, but I don't have a hankering for one.

Hairdryers. This might possibly be the only Betty Neels book to have an actual hairdryer. Mind you, it's not used to dry hair, it's used to dry a lavender (or is it lilac?) silk dress. The poor heroines in Neeldom are usually to be found sitting by their electric fire, filling it with 50p coins, drying their hair with a towel. Dr. van der Stevejinck and I had a circa 1979 blow dryer...and it just died last year. Thirty years of drying hair. They don't make them like that anymore.

Hamburg. I have eaten a hamburger in Hamburg. Because I could. Sarre and Alethea did not.

  • She learns to drive from the village blacksmith. "For all your horse-shoeing and ambulatory needs"
  • Her granny is entirely unfazed with Alethea's consideration of a marriage of convenience. I think she was a bit of a mind-reader herself.
  • The Children of the Corn have a dog named "Rough". Curses! If only I had a dog!
  • Alethea offers to take the kids to a "Disneytime movie". In 1979, this might easily have been The Black Hole which leads me to ponder the endless layers of Neels.

Monday, February 22, 2010

I'll take one Aston Martin, to go.

When I connected to the internet a couple of days ago, this article popped up on my Yahoo homepage and caught my eye.

"After his dramatic victory in men's figure skating on Thursday night, Evan Lysacek is the man with the golden medal. Lysacek's Olympic glory has given him the perfect excuse to indulge two of his favorite interests — cars and James Bond. ...he plans to reward himself for his Vancouver exploits with a top-of-the-range Aston Martin DBS sports car, the vehicle of choice for the last two Bond films starring Daniel Craig as Agent 007.

Lysacek currently drives a Range Rover and considered switching to a Bentley Coupe before eventually deciding on the Aston Martin, which starts at $269,000.... Gary Briggs, executive salesman of Aston Martin ... "The DBS has typical understated elegance and is very much the gentleman's sports car. It is a fine choice for an Olympic champion."

Lysacek can live the Bond lifestyle better than most. After all, he even has a villainous Russian nemesis in Evgeni Plushenko, the deposed Olympic champion who tried to belittle Lysacek for his refusal to perform a quad jump."
He was considering a Bentley Coupe, and now wants an Aston Martin? Those are Betty Neels' favorite cars! I'm so glad he didn't say he wanted something vulgar like a Mercedes Benz with lots of chrome (which is the car that vulgar rich people drive, in Neeldom). When I talked to Betty Keira about this, she told me to put as many pictures of him as I wanted to on this post because "he's a total babe."


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Betty Goes to Church

At the porch the vicar was waiting and over his shoulder Alethea saw that her grandmother had been quite right; the church was full.

-Sun and Candlelight

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mischief Managed

I really felt like a character in a Betty Neels novel today. No, not the heroine. I was the crotchety ancillary staff person who has to make alterations on the nurses uniforms. By 8:00am the following day. Muttering sourly.

I made seven nurses aprons today...for my nine year old niece Lauren's school play. What play calls for seven nurses? I'm just wondering. I'll feel much better about the whole project once I get it in the mail on Monday. When it's not looming over my head like a glacier ready to calve.

Castle Pudding

This sounded sooo good. Alas and alack, it was "meh" at best. To be fair, that was at least partly my fault...for following the recipe.

I found a recipe for Golden Castle Pudding on It does have the advantage of using readily available ingredients. The only "special" ingredient was golden syrup - but I had some leftover from the treacle tart recipe (many recipes for castle pudding didn't use golden syrup, instead they put jam on top). If you choose to make it, you may need to adjust the cooking time. Mine were very obviously undercooked - but I didn't know it until they started cooling. And collapsed. Oh well, the sides were edible and with the custard and a little golden syrup we were able to get an idea of taste and texture. Our opinion is that the same affect could be achieved much easier by making cupcakes with a Pillsbury or Duncan Heinz Butter Cake Mix - because that's pretty much what the castle puddings tasted like. I think the cupcake size would be better too(a little smaller). If I did it that way, I would use my silicone cupcake cups for baking, then just turn them out onto a saucer, tart them up with a bit of custard or a dollop of jam, and hey! presto! Faux Castle Puddings.

You can find a reference to Castle Puddings in Dearest Mary Jane.

Sun and Candlelight--1979

I love thee to the level of everyday's most quiet need, by sun and candle light...I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears of all my life. --Elizabeth Barrett Browning ..........Well, Mijneer Doctor van Dutch-stein, I don't mind if you do.

So that's where the name comes from and from a woman who wrote books titled, A Dream Came True, The Course of True Love, and Marrying Mary, this is a stretch and a welcome one.

Alethea Thomas (Do we say it Uh-lee-thee-uh or Al-thee-uh?) is 27 dark, lovely (she can't be old and plain, can she?), and a cracking good nurse as Theobald's Orthopaedic Ward Sister. She has a penchant for shady characters and oily housemen and that's really a shame because...

Sarre van Diederijk is neither. He's 39 and divorced. Divorced. Divorced. Divorced. His ex-wife is not dead either which is the only instance I can think of where a Neels hero is so encumbered. She (the ex!) was happy to abandon her one-year-old children though and sail off into the Peruvian sunset with a man who is doubtless named Armando and wears solid gold pinky rings. So Sarre has two kids, a orthopaedic practice in Groningen and a Cockney houseman named Al who drops his 'aitches and was collected in much the same way as a canal puppy or an abandoned kitten. (It is surprising that he doesn't just call him Moses or Flotsam.)

Alethea is having the single worst night of her life. There she is in her fine black voile patterned with flowers, expecting a ring and a declaration of undying love from a man named Nick. Instead of wedded bliss she is asked to contemplate the age-old human question: But will you love me tomorrow? If she were any judge of character she would have watched Nick doing his round at the hospital as Seducer of young ladies/orthopaedic houseman, taken one look at his name tag and made an about face. Nicks are not to be trusted.
They'd been dating for months and this was not enough time to uncover the fact that Nick was only softening her up for "a weekend in Brighton"--which, while one step up from a proposition for "tea at a friend's flat", still amounts to the same thing.
Editorial note: Months? It took this couple months to discover that she was "the most unsporting girl for miles around" and that he was a lout of elephantine proportions? As I might be tempted to say, "That's a lotta curry dinners."
If Nick was not firmly established as a worm already, he makes some intensely lame excuse about not being able to afford a wife yet (Mijneer Nathan van Voorhees and I first set up housekeeping in a palatial basement apartment with a gusty shower and half an oven. Too poor to marry? Please. Sell it somewhere else. ) Anyway, he takes her ladylike refusal poorly. And by 'poorly' I mean that he stands up from his table at the 'nice enough to convince Alethea that seduction is a highbrow affair' restaurant and beats it. So there she is, stuck with the check, a dwindling cup of coffee and the mortification of knowing that her patterned voile was all for naught.
But Sarre comes to the rescue, paying the bill and speaking loudly enough for the patrons to understand that He. Is. Not. Picking. Her. Up. He's not the kind to make invitations to Brighton, we see. In these less romantic times, Alethea would have had a debit card with her and then taken Nick to small claims court for the balance of the bill. So, for the sake of the story, we can be thankful that the banks are closed and she was only carrying small change.
Of course she bursts into tears when they finally get out the door and I could kiss The Venerable Neels and dance around her like a maypole for allowing Dastardly Nick to catch a glimpse of his unwilling maiden and a tall stranger headed to the Nurses' Home at the end of the night. "Yes!" shouts the Neels, spiking her ball and celebrating in the end zone, "Take that, you Defiler of Innocents!"
Sarre ends up being a consultant for Alethea's ward and saves her from several nasty cracks that the Dastardly Nick is willing to let fall. (who is already dating an only child of a successful grocer! Which reminds me of Margaret Thatcher, btw.) So, though Nick would like to make Alethea suffer for being so unsporting, he can't quite land a blow.
Sarre is quick to seize an opening, whisking a half-hearted Alethea off for dinners in outfits she manages to look gorgeous in even though she is a bit of a drip. ("Nick, Nick. Nick, moan, moan, infinitum). Still, she makes a rather deep observation that if Nick wanted her back she would probably go and would never forgive herself for it. I, on the other hand, am willing to forgive a girl a good deal for such honest dealings with herself.
Sarre proposes. It comes a touch out of nowhere but the juicy bit is that he hasn't bothered to prepare her for the fact that he has 11-year-old twins until he's popped the question. In my limited (married at 21) experience there are several things a couple gets out of the way on the first date:
  1. Will you ever, never, or possibly go to Brighton? Under what circumstances? How many curry dinners will it take?
  2. Do you have small humans living under your care that I shall have to care for, arrange visitation with, or support? Will we be required to be on a first name basis and will I have to teach him to pee in a potty?
She is given a few days to mull step-motherhood. Fully intending to say "no", she says "yes". (Isn't that just like a woman.) But Sarre is a babe so I will overlook her spinelessness.
They offer him sandwiches and beer.
Editorial note: Okay, so in the land of Neels, lady's don't drink beer and Alethea is at her grandmother's house with a female housekeeper as well. That's three ladies and they happen to have a beer. Do they keep it in food storage? Is it beer they keep in the fall-out bunker? Is it Dharma Initiative beer? Does beer even keep? "Namaste, Sarre. Have a beer."And now I will post a picture of Sawyer because it seems to be a moral imperative.
The engagement goes like this:
  • Hey, since I'm divorced you don't get a church wedding. Crossing my fingers that that doesn't matter to you!
  • Hey, let me slow down the gunmetal grey Jaguar XJ-5 with pearl grey leather upholstery on the M11 and chuck you the ring box filled with Standard Dutch Issue Family Heirloom Sapphire and Diamond Engagement Ring. I'm chucking it at you instead of turning into a lay by because my ex-wife killed me inside. Oh look. It fits!
  • Hey, come meet my kids. No, no, Sarel and Jacomina always look like that...
  • We'll be in Holland and I'll refuse to show you around the awesome house not once, but twice, because I know that showing someone around your ancestral home is code for "I *heart* you--and I wouldn't want you to get that idea.
  • Hey, meet my totally intimidating semi-hot co-worker.

They get married in a registrar's office and are able to arrange a Service of Blessing. One Church of England parish website says this:
The Service of Blessing after a Civil Marriage has no restrictions around it. It is used by those who may not qualify for marriage in [the church] reasons, or who prefer to keep the religious and legal parts separate. Both are profound and beautiful services and enable you to enter into your marriage in the church.
To skip the bother of having to explain this detail ever again, The Great Neels cheerfully killed off straying brides of our long-suffering heroes for the next twenty years, leaving behind her a bloody path of destruction littered with car accidents and plane crashes. Many South American men were casualties of this policy as well.
They get to Groningen and Sarel and Jacomina look at her with "hate". She is "frightened" that they will never like her. She should have been frightened that they would put strychnine in the Earl Grey but her imagination was sadly lacking. Unforgivable things they do to her:
  • Pet mouse in the bed.
  • Ruination of a smashing lavender evening gown by intentionally upending a vase of flowers on it. The Soulless Nanny stares on unmoved.
  • Verbal insubordination. The Soulless Nanny stares on...
  • Vandalism of personal objects
  • Potential man-slaughter (but let's save that for later)
Nanny (who is middle-aged and not some old person who might be excused for thinking she will get tossed out on her ear) is like some malevolent Iago and Sarel and Jacomina look like something from Children of the Corn. The plagues of Egypt are raining down on Alethea and Sarre remains oblivious. It doesn't help that she thinks snitching is a no-no. But life with Sarre is nice ("If only it were Nick...") and when she is taken to see the marriage settlements (like a post-nup?) she feels a warm glow. Sarre is loaded. I'd feel a warm glow too...
Not long after this she has her moment of realization. "It's Sarre not what's-his-name!" There follows one of the nicest moments of realization in any Neels novel. She thinks (for no reason other than his haggard and sad expression) that he loves Anna. It does not, however, lead to kissing so let us not pursue it.
Sarre takes her to Romantic Hamburg! (I'm trying here to cast a pink lamp glow on Hamburg. No snickering from the peanut gallery.) There he buys her a really expensive antique music box because he forgot the cardinal rule of kids. (In unison now!) "Children Ruin Everything." (Seriously, I'm going to cross-stitch that into a sampler.)
When she gets back on it several times on purpose. Her distress is obvious and Sarre is heartened that she cares so much about something he bought for her. A magician restores it perfectly--in one day.
They have a spat about Anna (who doesn't matter and never matters) and then her grandmother comes to visit. Grandma listens to her story about her nice little life and then cuts to the chase, "Yes, dear, now supposing you tell me all about it." Granny wins.
Sarel and Jacomina stretch their credibility by being able to sustain such a long and sustained loathing of Alethea. (Real children don't have the attention span for this.) They lure her to an abandoned house and hope to lock her inside for a bit. Instead, they finally get their just desserts by falling down a hole. Alethea shows her devotion to them by hopping in after them and playing "Three down a hole!"
Sarre rescues them by making her lift two 11-year-olds above her head (ouch!) and then sends everyone off for a hot bath which leaves me in slack-jawed admiration of his water heater.
But they're not done mis-communicating and he gives her tickets to go back home.
Meanwhile the Children of the Corn have been replaced with The. Best. Kids. Ever. No, really. It's as though there was an alien abduction down in the hole. As bad as they were they are that good now. I'm a sucker for their contrition so it sort of works for me. Nanny, however, gets a pass on all the subversive, frowny-faced behavior. I would trust the woman to hoover the ground floor of my house and I'd still shake her down for the family silver at the end of the day. But they're going to trust her with the kiddos again. (I'd set up a teddy bear-cam. Just saying.)
Sarre is sending Alethea away so she gets ready to go but not before having a go at the brandy bottle and running Sarre to ground. "He must be told," she thinks to herself tipsily. She bursts into the board room as only an Olivia can and has her say in his office.
Public kissing!

The End

Food: Soup with garlic (why does this sound awful?), zabaglione (?), Rice Crispies (I'll make those!), rhubarb pie (well sugared), pork pie, Dundee cakes, apple pie and ginger cake

Fashion: Sarre's brother's first girlfriend wears frizzed hair and a dress that looks like a silver tissue tent so of course they break up.

Rating: This is a bit of a Curate's Egg--excellent in parts. I'll give it a mince pie even though sections of it are really quite good and original because Nanny and the kids get off waaaaaaay to easily for my peace of mind and for the health of the republic.
Point of order: The Betty doesn't usually bring up the sexual revolution. In her later novels she just skated over any question of that and this is among the reasons her books are called anachronistic and old fashioned. A girl wandering around in clothing from the 1940s is old fashioned. Owning a collection of Neil Diamond records (ahem...whistling) is old fashioned. Drying your clothes on a clothesline is old fashioned. Ladies that choose not to go to Brighton should never be called old fashioned. Also, you've got to admire Betty for not succumbing to an icky double standard where her heroes are concerned. They weren't having any visits to Brighton either.
Okay, now I'll get off the soapbox.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Question of the Week

The last two Neels books have both featured wicked sisters--vapid, soul-destroying, Gucci-scarf-stealing sisters whose final fate is to embroil themselves with shifty American husbands. Surely they are on the gilded path to eventual infamy. The slithery Larrys will be caught embezzling funds from their oil drilling companies or they will be named as co-respondant in the divorce proceedings of an Italian count and his film star wife or they will merely grow increasingly bionic as they chase their fleeting youth through plastic surgery...

And I love it. I love all of it. I roll around in it and splash. The moment an evil sister enters the stage and twirls her (sadly metaphorical) mustache, I do a little jig of anticipation. Evil sisters rule.

But, (and I don't know if you've noticed) I totally love my sisters. Betty Debbie and Betty Tia and Betty Suzanne and Betty Marcy and Betty Sherri...and all the others who are not yet Bettys but might be persuaded to the Dark Side. Sisters, in my vast experience of them, can be awe-some. And I have some of the awe-some-est.

Which begs the question: What do you find you love within the world of Neels that would utterly fail to charm in reality?

Say What?

I scored some books on ebay a week or two ago - the package arrived today! I picked up six books that I didn't previously own, there are three that Betty Keira didn't have, but the rest are going to be up for grabs! I may swap out some that I already own for ones that have fun covers. How could I resist this one?
I know we have some very creative Bettys out there, so here's the challenge: Make up a fun caption to go with the picture. The reward? Your very own Neels book - from our treasure trove.

I'll start.

"Oops! I forgot to set the parking brake on your AC 428 Fastback!"

Your turn. We'll judge the entries next Friday. Enter early, enter often.

(you may post it here in the comments section, or email it and I'll post it for you)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gentle Readers

We here at The Uncrushable Jersey Dress have had a very fun month. First, Betty Magdalen stumbled across our humble blog and then in a blink we had all these other Bettys sprout up. (But you were our first, Betty Magdalen. And Bettys never forget.)

Our very first goal was to have someone--anyone--who wasn't related to us and whom we hadn't press-ganged into it, comment on the blog. Before, we wondered if we were the only ones who knew and loved The Betty. And now we have lively comment threads from several of our more loyal Bettys. (Is there anywhere in the inter-webs discussing turbans more passionately than we?) Our little spinning globe is collecting dots like a pubescent fry cook. And today someone from South America popped by (accidentally? with a Google search of sausage rolls?) so that makes us read (however briefly and accidentally) on all the continents except Africa and Antarctica--so if you know anyone going... We couldn't be more tickled.

Keeping this in mind, we (The Grand High Poobah Arbiters of Everything) decided to add links at the bottom of each of our primary book reviews to the Amazon page that carries them. We may also at some point join the dark side and add Adsense (still undecided at this point) to help defray the small costs of conquering the world one Betty Neels at a time.

Being hyper cheap Aramintas we still encourage you to pick up your Bettys at libraries and library sales and used book stores and Goodwills but, if we've just reviewed one you just have to have, feel free to hop on our link and ride on over to Amazon. Our modest goal is that it someday generate enough to purchase an ink cartridge.

Again, I thank you, our Army of Bettys. When I am really the Grand High Poobah Arbiter of Everything, I will remember you fondly.

The Return of the Turban!

We recieved another submission on the subject of turbans from Betty JoDee (yea!! the crowd goes wild!!!)....I had totally forgotten Liz Taylor's headwear in that movie! I think it looks more like a huge bouquet of's freakin' awesome and snorting milk from your nose hilarious.

I finally found what I've been looking for: the turban worn by Elizabeth Taylor in The Mirror Crack'd (1980). Taylor and Kim Novak play aging, *itchy movie stars while murder's afoot. Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, and Angela Lansbury (Miss Marple) are along for the ride. By the way, the lines that are being muttered at the time of this shot are:

Marina (Taylor): "Lola, dear, you know, there are really only two things I dislike about you."
Lola (Novak): "Really? What are they?"
Marina (Taylor): "Your face."

(I think that might be Jolly in the background.) (well spotted!)

Betty JoDee
(Is it okay for me to be a Betty, too? I didn't ask ahead of time.) Betty JoDee, of course it's okay for you to be a Betty - we are equal opportunity Bettys here at The Uncrushable Jersey Dress.

Dearest Mary Jane--Discussion Thread

I too like Dearest Mary Jane. She's an utter failure at business modeling but seems to be propping up the village spinsters single-handedly. [Betty Debbie] They reciprocate by buying a cup of tea. " Thank you Mary Jane for closing your business for the entire day so that you can accompany us to the doctor and thus lose much needed income, can I have a cup of tea?"

Lard. Lest we lose sight of what the difference is between a book that rates, say, a mince pie and another that rates a lashings of whipped cream. Lard. She chucks lard at her cousin. One of the Venerable Neels' weakest points is in the ritual punishment of the villain. A lifetime spent with a horn-rimmed American millionaire seems a fate worse than death but a sufficiently shallow character (which our villainesses are) would let the thoughts of his millions soothe their platinum heads while staring across the luncheon table each day at a pair of horned-rims. But this villain gets lard. In the kisser--after which he is allowed to recede into tacky opulence...

Didums. One of the dogs (Miss Potter's) is named Didums. Call the ASPCA.

At one point, Miss Mabel Potter is asked to bring a nightie to the hospital for her surgery and recovery. And further, in the Land of Neels, whenever anyone accidentally lands in the hospital the list of must-haves is, in descending order: a nightie, some lip stick, some fashion magazines. Having given birth four times and spending more than a week at the hospital in the course of my life, I can heartily approve the lip stick (I'm a very low maintenance Betty, but when you're feeling grotty (British word alert!) any little tarting up helps) and the reading material but the nightie is always a bit of a head scratcher. Sure, hospital gowns are unattractive with an abysmally low thread count but they have undeniably handy gaps. My favorite part of hospital gowns (especially post-partum) is the fact that I don't have to wash them.

Of Mary Jane's sister it is said, "Very few people took Vogue or Harpers and Queen but those who visited their dentist or doctor and read the magazines in the waiting-room were well aware of her fame." I wish for Vogue at my doctor's. Here are some magazines I find at the medical professional's office: Treacle-y earnest Parenting (That has nothing to tell me about parenting that I haven't already learned the hard way), Sports Illustrated (an obvious sop to the men but I doubt my Mijneer has ever picked up one in his life), People (the neutral catch-all of fashion, celebrity gossip, au courant scare mongering (Toxic mold!) and profiles of obscure cults (They wear fish on their heads!)), and a so-bland-as-to-be-offensive political magazine like Newsweek or Time. Maybe I need to shell out higher premiums to rate the places that have Architectural Digest and British Vogue. Alas, our recently retired dentist had the most comprehensive magazine collection ever. Not only did he have a great variety, but they were also current!

Fabric mice. Betty Kylene, our most crafty Betty could get on with this. She's done some things with felting that would Blow. Your. Mind. She'd have to re-work the price point though as I'm pretty sure the time spent by Mary Jane making them, divided by the money got would be sweat shop compensation...I love when one of the village spinsters buys one of Mary Jane's mice and says that "it was just the thing for a birthday present for her niece. Mary Jane thought it rather a poor sort of present but perhaps she didn't like the niece very much."

The flu. This last year I'm fairly sure I contracted The Fashionable much nicer than saying, the swine flu, don't you agree? I had four kids home with me, one of whom was a nursing baby who had just discovered how to crawl up the stairs (and not safely crawl down them). Mijneer was off being a code monkey when it struck with speed and ferocity. As I lay there praying for death I would have been transported with joy to know that the only charge in my charge was a cat named Brimble. I'm not saying that Mary Jane should suck it up...where are those village spinsters when you really need them?

I didn't bring up the biker sounds a bit like the lead up to an off colour joke: Three leather clad bikers walk into a tea room......after refusing to pay their bill, they proceed to trash the Tea Shoppe. Enter heroic Orthopaedist. He then proceeds to soundly thrash all three. I'm not sure but what he didn't drum up a little business for himself.

Dearest Mary Jane - 1994

Dearest Mary Jane doesn't qualify as my favorite favorite...but it's definitely in my top ten. Or twenty. It's a fairly gentle big drama, just a series of scenes that make up a charming story.

Mary Jane Seymour...a thin Ariminta about 25 years old. With violet eyes, natch. Parents dead, natch. She has inherited a small cottage in a small village and is trying to make a living running a tea room. Mary Jane is one of the few examples of entrepreneurship in Neeldom. Sure one or two girls briefly work in shops...but I don't think any of them actually own their own business... there is a book with a failed attempt at a knitting shop, and another one who wants to start her own catering business...but doesn't. Mary Jane will never make it big in the Tea Shoppe business. You know what they say, "location, location, location"...evidently her small village is not the perfect location - it's a bit off the beaten track. She ekes out a fairly grim existence. She dreams of a new winter coat and boots. It would seem like she would be a bit of a wet rag...but she's not shy about speaking her mind plus she's got a good pitching arm. I forgot, she's got a cat named Brimble.

Enter Sir Thomas Latimer. Dr. Sir Thomas Latimer. An orthopaedist. My favorite kind of specialist. Orthopaedists fairly litter the Neels landscape. He starts out being an unlikely friend. He likes being with Mary Jane. We occasionally get a glimpse into his thoughts. He drives a dark blue Rolls and has a dog named Watson.

The Story: Mary Jane is closing up the Tea Shoppe, when in walks.....wait for it....Dr. Sir Thomas Latimer, plus one. The "plus one" is a petulant beauty (in her 30's). She would like her Earl Grey right now. Frankly, we can forget about her - she never makes another appearance. She has served her achieve First Contact between the protagonists. Their next contact comes just a week later. Mary Jane is accompanying timid Miss Potter to the see the specialist in Cheltenham about some hip surgery. Yes, the specialist is Dr. Sir. Second Contact. Mary Jane gets "a look from icy blue eyes in which there was no hint of recollection." But now that he's seen her, he will see more of her. Miss Potter gets a letter informing her of her surgery date, with a request that "in view of Miss Mabel's nervous disposition, that the young lady who had accompanied her," blah, blah, blah...yes, Mary Jane will have to close the Tea Shoppe and possibly lose a chance to make a little much needed money. Third Contact - checking Miss Potter into hospital. Fourth Contact...Dr. Sir engineers a "chance meeting" while MJ is visiting Miss Potter, then he proceeds to give her a lift home. He begins to be intrigued...she is not like any girl that he's known. Duh. She runs a Tea Shoppe. Enter Evil Cousin Oliver. He wants MJ to take his wife, Margaret, to London, to see a specialist (he is wealthy...and yet he wants Mary Jane to close up shop and lose revenue...clearly not plugged into the financial realities of her life)...yeah, it's Dr. Sir again. It seems that fate just keeps throwing them together. Dr. Sir comes to the Tea Shoppe to tell MJ something, when in walks (cue dark sinister music)....Older Evil Sister Felicity...who is not felicitous. She is a successful model. In Neels terms that is tantamount to being a Spawn of Satan. She sees Dr. Sir and immediately asks him to come see her at A Dress Show in Cheltenham and then dinner...he graciously declines, but ..... ""The fool", thought Mary Jane fiercely. She had seen the [Spawn of Satan] capture a man's attention a dozen times....for some reason she had thought that HE was different." Spawn of Satan not so subtly pumps Dr. Sir to find out if he's making millions. MJ sends him away...without hearing him out. We never find out what he wanted to talk to Mary Jane about. Ever. Cousin Oliver drops by to ask for an undeserved favor. "...go away, Oliver, before I hit you over the head with my rolling pin." That's a lovely bit of spunk. Dr. Sir happens to be driving by, and comes in - not to her rescue - Mary Jane is no Damsel in Distress. She doesn't need any rescuing from Cousin Oliver. Dr. Sir begs some breakfast, then invites MJ to spend the day with him in Oxford. Dr. Sir enjoys the day...but feels a vague pity for Mary Jane..."He must remember to mention her funny little tea room to his family and friends, drum up some customers for her so that she would have some money to spend on herself. A new hat for a start. No rain hat was becoming but at least it need not be quite as awful as the one she had been wearing all day." Let's take a moment here. This is a recurring theme in this book - wherein the Doctor is more concerned with the girl looking better than the girl herself is. Not that he looks down on her, it's just that she doesn't seem to even try. We'll get back to this...

Thomas stops by to visit MJ at the Tea Shoppe and finds it locked up tight - but faithful cat Brimble is looking only a cat with no litter box and a raging gale outside can. Thomas breaks in the kitchen window with the aid of his handy penknife and finds that MJ is delirious with the flu. He bundles her up and takes her to his mother's house. At mum's house he proceeds to play doctor, I mean, give her an exam. Don't worry, the housekeeper is there to keep things kosher. Thomas then proceeds to give Mary Jane a the backside. As a person that has had more than my fair share of backside shots I can sympathize with Mary Jane's startled yelp. I'd yelp too. Spawn of Satan uses MJ's illness to visit...she dresses in a sheath of vivid green (only evil women in Neeldom wear vivid colors on purpose, the hussies). The dress is short as to skirt, and low as to neckline. Mrs. Latimer considers it immodest.

Back in the Tea Shoppe after her bout with the flu, Mrs. Latimer stops by, with an old family friend...hmmm. Dr. Sir in a delightful bit of strategem, manages to get an old family friend who happens to be a mutual aquaintance to invite them both to a party. This party is the money scene. But I have a tough time with Mary Jane's outfit. That she puts together ON PURPOSE. Not only ON PURPOSE, but she sews the dress herself. The dress is dove-gray silk "a simple dress with a full skirt, a modest neckline and elbow length sleeves." She then adds insult to injury and purchases matching stocking AND shoes. This is her idea of a party outfit???I can't conjure up any flattering image...the whole concept seems very off-putting to me. Quite bleak. As Mame said "how bleak was my puberty in Buffalo" or, in Mary Jane's case, "how bleak were my twenties in an unnamed village close to Stow-on-the-Wold." And she did this ON PURPOSE. (I could see her on a future episode of What Not to Wear)Nevermind, here's the good stuff. Sir Thomas...considered her dress suited her very well, although he surprised himself by wondering what she would look like in something pink and cut to show rather more of her person....a pearl choker would look exactly right around her little neck... Sounds like Thomas is more than a bit smitten. The best part is from his mother. "How pretty you look, my dear, and what a charming dress - I have never seen so many exposed bosoms in all my life and many of them need covering....I don't think your bosom needs to be concealed; you have a pretty figure, my dear." Oh dear! Sir Thomas stifles a laugh. "His mother, a gentle soul by nature, could at times be quite outrageous." I'm wondering how old you need to be to get away with statements like that.

Misunderstandings ensue, Spawn of Satan implies that Thomas is spending time with her - which is only partly true...she kind of stalks him. Cousin Oliver muddies the waters further, Mary Jane is told point blank by him that Sir Thomas is marrying Felicity (in return, Mary Jane throws a handful of LARD at him), Felicity also says she's getting married. What's a girl to think? MJ reads Sir Thomas the riot act, he gives her a look of icy rage....and then they both figure it out. Spawn of Satan is getting her just desserts by marrying a rich American...who wears horn-rimmed glasses and a wide-brimmed hat. Thomas comes in, they kiss while the scones almost burn.

Why I like this book:
The girls in this book rock. Mary Jane is not only able to speak her mind and threatens her cousin with a rolling pin, she also kicks a biker who is part of a gang trashing her Tea Shoppe. You just know that Mrs. Latimer will be the perfect mother-in-law. After all she has her own place and seems more than capable of baby-sitting the brats when they come along. Evil Older Sister Felicity swans around in very outre couture fashion AND marries an American. The boys (few though there are) are fun too. Dr. Sir Thomas isn't smitten at first sight, there is a fairly natural progression here for both parties...Cousin Oliver is not a one scene character - Mary Jane gets three or four scenes in which to verbally and lardily spar with him.

Food: tea cakes, sausage rolls, beans on toast, shepherd's pie, "something fishy on a lettuce leaf", castle pudding, "cheese is good for the digestion" (really? I didn't know that.)

Fashion: Jersey dress, grim grey party dress, old winter coat, hideous rain hat.

Rating: Despite the grim grey party dress, I give this dress a queen of puddings...on the strength of Mary Jane's handy arm with the lard.