Poetry Review: Letters, To The Men I Have Loved (2014) by Mirtha Michelle Castro Mármol

“…who shall measure the heat and violence of a poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body?” – from A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

I am aware there is such a thing as narrative poetry, and I am not a fan of the narrative poetry form. However, who am I to say what a poetry form is? For example, what form defines a sonnet? Some 20th century sonnets are one letter per line so one word is spelled vertically. You know when you see it that the poem is a sonnet. Traditionalists will argue a sonnet must be iambic pentameter with exactly 14 lines ending with a heroic couplet. My “experimental” sonnets are not iambic but they do have 14 lines. Elizabeth Bishop’s posthumous published “Sonnet” (1979) is a reverse sonnet and is gorgeous. Back to narrative poetry, an essay can become a poem, maybe, while a poem can be an essay. Possibly the intended purpose of the poem or essay should dictate how it is pigeon-holed by its reader. But more often than not it is the form of the poem on the page that determines how it is perceived by the reader.

Letters, To The Men I Have Loved (2014) is a combination of letter/essays and poems written by Castro Mármol about and directed towards male family members and her former lovers. She admires and frets over her male relatives. She is very open with what happened between her and her lovers, and how that particular relationship ended messily. I have no idea how anyone can be that open about their relationships even when I, an absolute stranger, have no idea who these men are. I am originally from a small US Midwestern town where it is important to have everything about your life be private. There is a sharp divide between your public life and your private life. It is not about keeping secrets, but what happens between you and another person is not to be shared. So, reading about the relationships between Castro Mármol and her lovers was at first awkward. I can understand how this would be cathartic exercise and the artistic result is good. You don’t know anything about anything until you write about it. Some poets that I know would call the letter/essays poems in themselves, but I am not comfortable with that classification. The letter/essays convey something more than the poems. The letter/essays are better than the poems.

The poetry is the cathartic getting-over-the-relationship type that is universal among all humans even when they do not write poetry. The difference between the angst-wrung poetry most people write and throw in the trashcan and what Castro Mármol wrote is Castro Mármol’s poems are good. Some are breathtaking. If you have experienced a messy breakup, then you will empathize with her sentiments.

What I admire most about this collection is Castro Mármol writes as a woman and exclusively with a woman’s voice. The vast majority of Western women fiction, poets, and (especially) nonfiction writers write with a male slant even when the “voice” or “character” of the piece is female. I would argue it is an unconscious habit learned from equally unaware teachers. Historically a woman had to write, or imitate a “male” voice if she wanted a passing grade, to obtain a graduate degree, or to have her writing published. In A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf, Woolf discusses the necessity of a woman writing as a woman to be a complete human being and how, at the time she gave the lecture to a group of British, upper to middle class, women university students in 1928, writing as a woman was a precarious activity. Finding this collection by a woman poet writing as a woman on a national chain bookstore shelf as a new book makes me feel better about the world. I look forward to seeing what Castro Mármol does next.

Letters, To Men I Have Loved (ISBN: 978-1-4787-3590-8) can be found at bookstores, online through your favorite bookseller, and at your friendly public library. It was illustrated by Deanna First.

Castro Mármol’s website can be found at http://mirthamichelle.com/ .

The publisher Outskirts Press (http://www.outskirtspress.com) is a self-publishing company. The poetry and letter/essay collection can be ordered online at http://outskirtspress.com/mirthamichelle/ .


A discussion (2000) on Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Sonnet” in The Atlantic. “Sonnet” was first published in 1979 three weeks after Bishop’s death. http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/poetry/soundings/bishop.htm

Quotes from Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929) via GoodReads.  http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1315615-a-room-of-one-s-own

Recipe Review: Blackberry Muffins (2003) by Beth Hensperger

A summer berry muffin ready to eat.

A blackberry muffin.

“‘You’re out and about so much more these days,’ said Cecil. ‘Why don’t you join us on Blackberry Night?’

This was his great idea? ‘You’re mad!’

Good girls didn’t romp about on Blackberry Night. Father has strong opinions about it. His biggest, fattest sermon of the year is all about Blackberry Night, which is also Michaelmas, when is also when Archangel hurled the Devil from Heaven. Naturally, this annoyed the Devil considerably, and goes about on that night spoiling the blackberries.

‘I’ll protect you,’ said Cecil, laying his hand over mine.

I whipped my hand away. ‘Cecil!’

On Blackberry Night, the lads and lasses run barefoot through the swamp, pretending to try to catch the Devil; but it would appear the Devil catches them instead, for they consume quantities of beer and wine, and they shed their clothes, and there are always a number of surprise weddings come Advent.”

From Chapter 16 – The Party’s Always Over at Midnight, from Chime (2011) by Franny Billingsley

This is the legend as I understand it. At the end of the battle of who would rule Heaven, Archangel Michael pushed the then-angel Lucifer one final time and Lucifer fell all the way to Earth and landed in a bramble patch. The bramble patch was full of thorns and blackberries. Lucifer, already furious at losing his access to Heaven and God, thrashed his way out of the brambles, cursing the thorny vines and staining berries as he went. So, no one is to pick blackberries after Michaelmas, because the Devil cursed them. This victory by Archangel Michael and his band of angels is one of the events celebrated at Michaelmas, a traditional Roman Catholic Church holiday adapted by the British Isle Anglican Church. When Michaelmas is to occur seems to depend on who you are talking to or reading. Some would have it be September 29, the traditional “quarter day” when rents were due. Others would have you wait until October 10 or 11. I understand a more modern celebration of Michaelmas has been pushed up to the Autumn Equinox, September 21.

Michaelmas was in some sense a traditional second harvest festival, or a thanksgiving celebration. The harvests were all in, whatever was required had been sold to pay the rent, and the first frost historically could be expected any day towards the end of September. Blackberries would have been in abundance, and hard to preserve outside of jellies or jams, so they would need to be used as picked. Stories about the food served at any holiday can define a culture, so blackberry dishes and associated stories around Michaelmas would help define the local traditions and culture.

Blackberry muffins are tasty year round thanks to freezers. I was reading about Michaelmas, a much mentioned calendar date in Regency and historical romance novels – Mr. Bingley of Austin’s Pride and Prejudice was to decide to keep or release his lease of Netherfield Park by Michalemas – and thought blackberry muffins sounded good. I went to my trusty cookbooks and did not find a recipe. So I went online and found a promising looking recipe on the Williams-Sonoma website. I have seen Williams-Sonoma ceramic mixing bowls, usually chipped, in junk stores. What told me this was the recipe to use was it was designed by Beth Hensperger for the Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Muffins (2003). I do not think Hensperger has ever developed a bad muffin recipe.

I used a frozen three-berry mix of blackberries, blueberries, and red raspberries. This worked fine. Following the recipe was simple. The recipe called for maintaining the structure of the berries. The berries only need to be stirred three times after adding to the batter. This keeps the white quick bread white. I prefer to mash part of the berries up and swirl within the batter. When I make this recipe again I will mash all the berries so there are no empty spaces within the muffin where the berry has cooked then collapsed. Mashing the berries is my preference for an everyday muffin. Keeping the berries whole looks pretty and would work for a holiday brunch or breakfast.

I like the pecan crumb top to the muffins. The crumb topping adds sweetness and finger-licking goodness to your breakfast. Even though the muffins do not need the crumb topping, I encourage you to keep it.

A close up of the topping on four berry muffins still in the pan.

A close up of the topping on four berry muffins still in the pan.

Another reason to incorporate mashed berries into the batter is it keeps the muffins from sticking to a well-greased and floured muffin tin. I was not expecting the problem of removing the muffins from the pans. I had to leave the muffins in pan until the next morning after the muffin pan spent the night in the refrigerator. I dislike using paper cups because I just do. For this recipe I would recommend silicon muffin baking dishes or decorative muffin paper cups, if you have them. The biggest problem was the muffins sticking to the pan.

The recipe said it made twelve muffins. Here are all the muffins still in the pan.

The recipe said it made twelve muffins. Here are all the muffins still in the pan they did not want to leave.

I will be making this recipe again. I will be using the crumb topping in recipes that do not call for it. This is a fun recipe to make for family because the finished muffin is pretty as well as tasty.

The recipe is located online at:


Chime by Franny Billingsley was a finalist for a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (US) in 2011. It is a beautifully written, if slow at times, “growing up” story. The protagonist “came of age” before the book started, I think. I cannot tell you the “coming of age” backstory without spoiling the a gorgeously written book. In the first scene she is presented at the train station by her village pastor father as a child, but she does not have a child’s “voice”. By the end of the story she has grown into that adult voice we met in the first chapter. Check Chime out from your favorite public library, or purchase it from a local bookstore, or from your favorite online retailor.

In Addition: Besides the story of the Devil falling into the bramble, stories also include Pan and other satyrs fouling the berry vines after Michaelmas.

Poetry Review: She of the Dreaming Sky (2005) by Diane C. Randall

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“She of the Dreaming Sky” (2005) took time to assimilate. Randall describes her poetry as “spiritual poetry” and that is true. The challenge when reading “spiritual poetry” is not to be intimidated or put off by the intimacy expressed by the poet. A spiritual expression, in my mind, is an effort to get at as direct as possible the point of entry where the artist makes first contact with the word, music, image, motion, or other creative endeavor without judgement as it enters his or her conscious awareness. Anyone who can do this well for an entire poetry collection is to be commended.

Western European art and poetry often desire to use the entire planet’s cultural treasure chest in its creative expression. Randall uses the entire North American cultural palette with a deft hand. Some individuals may find reflections of their own insecurities in her poetry, and criticize her for that perceived appropriation. My response to such complaints is two questions: Who are you to order the structure of image or sound or voice of the interaction of a soul and spirit at point of contact? What are you projecting onto what is in front of you?

The poems within “She of the Dreaming Sky” took time to unwrap. I selected it from the bookstore shelf because it was the first woman-authored poetry collection I pulled from the shelf. First read-through I was disappointed. The poems felt cliché and, as someone who has over the years hung out with Tai Chi practitioners and aging hippies, tired. Then, I would read a line or phrase whose clarity stunned me.

Reading the poems in “She of the Dreaming Sky” is like watching an autumn cloudy sky being cleared of gray clouds by a brisk north wind. The clouds are moving, going somewhere, and a patch of painfully blue sky appears above you. The brilliant blue sky is there existing behind the clouds all the time. You as reader must have patience to wait for the clouds to clear. One after another the poems became clear – or I became clear – with the passage of time.

The book comes with a compact disc sound recording of eight poems from “She of the Dreaming Sky” read with music in the background. This is a good multi-media presentation of the work. Artwork throughout the collection is by Randall. It all looks and sounds good.

“She of the Dreaming Sky” made me cognizant of what I project onto the world. I had to work for that realization, and to appreciate the quality of these poems. This collection contains many more good to excellent poems than okay to “meh” poems that you see in other collections identifying themselves as “spiritual poetry”. It is easy for “spiritual poetry” to be cloyingly grocery store cake frosting sweet, extremely earnest, and downright icky in my opinion. Randall avoids those pitfalls by crafting her poems to get to as close as she can to that point of contact between the subconscious and that part of her that devises words.

I have not located a website for either Diane C. Randall or her publisher Pearl’s Book ‘em Publisher. “She of the Dreaming Sky” is available on online and through your favorite local bookstore or library.

If you are interested in “spiritual jazz” I would recommend Raven Wolf C. Felton Jennings II. He creates spiritual jazz of the St. Louis tradition and is phenomenal. Pug Dog Records is his own label. As Raven Wolf says, “Change your music, change your life”.    http://www.pugdogrecords.com/node/9

Recipe Review: Morning Glory Muffins by Pam McKinstry

“Merry Christmas, little daughters! I’m glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little new-born baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there; and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?”

They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke; only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously,—

“I’m so glad you came before we began!”

“May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?” asked Beth, eagerly.

I shall take the cream and the muffins,” added Amy, heroically giving up the articles she most liked.”

From “Little Women” (1868, 1869), Chapter II A Merry Christmas by Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)

“[European] Muffins. good, but indigestible…” from “Mark Twain’s Notebooks and Journals, Volume II: (1877-1883)”

For several years I was making muffins all the time. It was not the muffin fad that came and, for the most part went in the last ten years, but Beth Hensperger’s “The Best Quick Breads” (2000) cookbook I think I acquired through an art-and-craft book club. I enjoy quick breads, but storing and freezing muffins is an easier way of eating quick bread when you live on your own alone.

I found no mention of the word “muffin” or “crumpet” or any alternate spellings in Samuel Johnson’s 1785 Dictionary of the English Language. An English muffin, also called Yorkshire muffin, or rock bread is a yeast bread cooked on a griddle in the kitchen, or a flat rock over hot embers. Documentation of English muffins goes back the 13th century. According to etymonline.com the word “muffin” first made an appearance in 1703. “Crumpet” can be found in written use in the 1690s. Jane Austin would have known what a muffin or crumpet was, but it may not have been socially acceptable for her, or her characters, to consume such a working class food. I have not studied Austin’s letters or other writing to know either way. Muffin men were 17th century through early 20th century English street food vendors who cooked the bread on griddles fresh for their customers. So, the food trucks that specialize in modern muffins and oven-fresh cookies are continuing a culinary tradition possibly dating back to the time of England’s Elizabeth I.

Recipes for what Americans, coffee house, and muffin enthusiasts would recognize as a “muffin” possibly first appeared in the USA’s very first cookbook “American Cookery” (1796) by Amelia Simmons. Simmons’ “American Cookery” was the first to include as an ingredient a very refined potash or pearlash, a native-to-North America alkali leavening agent. Through the generation of carbon dioxide while baking, including pearlash caused the bread to rise as seen with modern baking powder. This was the birth of the modern quick bread. Identifiable muffin recipes appeared in US cookbooks in the early 19th century along with the entry of muffin pans into the marketplace and kitchen.

The recent muffin fad was not the first muffin fad. When I was little in the 1980s there was a muffin recipe that was all the rage. When we visited my aunt in the Kansas City area (Kansas side) she made Morning Glory Muffins which she loved. The recipe came from Nantucket Island which in the Midwestern imagination was the playground of the rich and famous. When I was ten years old I did not appreciate what a Morning Glory Muffin was or what it represented to the larger American culture.

From what I have been able to find, Morning Glory Muffins were first put together by Chef Pam McKinstry  in 1978 for her Morning Glory Café on Nantucket Island, a 3-by-15 mile long island about 30 miles off of the coast of Massachusetts. The original Morning Glory Muffin recipe appeared in Gourmet magazine in the reader submitted recipe section in 1981. Appearing in the reader submitted recipe section of Gourmet was like winning an Olympic gold medal. The muffin recipe ‘went viral’ by 1981 standards. In 1991 the recipe was selected by readers as one of Gourmet’s twenty-five favorite recipes published in the previous fifty years (1940-1990 or 1941-1991).

The Morning Glory Muffin is a catch-all recipe that uses lots of odds and ends that can be found in a busy bakery and café. The crushed pineapple, two cups grated carrots, grated apple, raisins, shredded coconut, and pecans are all in amounts that look like to me Chef McKinstry had enough to make something, but not enough of any one ingredient, except maybe carrots, to make anything in particular. The results are wonderful, rich, sweet, and freezes well muffins.

Morning Glory Muffins

Morning Glory Muffins

This is a very easy muffin recipe. You spend more time grating and chopping the ingredients than you do mixing. Use canola oil as directed or another flavorless cooking oil. A more forward flavor cooking oil will negatively interact with the oils in the nuts and other botanical compounds in all the fruit and vegetable ingredients.

I would strongly recommend hand mixing in a large glass mixing bowl. The batter is thick and heavy. A hand-held electric mixer would be overwhelmed by the heaviness of the batter. A hand-held electric mixer works great to mix and aerate the liquid ingredients, mixing the eggs and oil until almost double in volume. With a stand mixer it would be very easy to overmix the combined dry ingredients and wet ingredients. Overmixing is a danger when making quick breads. Overmixed quick bread is heavy because the gluten in the flour activated while mixing and the bread does not raise while baking. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and hand stir until the mixture is just combined, and the flour only just moist. Gently spoon the batter into paper-lined or well-greased muffin pan cups. Place in hot 350°F (176.7°C) oven and leave the door closed for thirty minutes. No Peaking (Mother!Jamie!Dad!Sam!). The muffins are done when the tester comes out clean after being inserted into the baked muffin.

Morning Glory Muffins made from the original recipe by Chef Pam McKinstry.

Morning Glory Muffins made from the original recipe by Chef Pam McKinstry.

The muffins would be good for a Sunday or holiday brunch. They really do need to sit for at least overnight to reach their best flavor and texture. Make the evening before the brunch or breakfast and allow to sit overnight in a storage container. Butter spreads well with the muffins as well as plain cream cheese. These muffins freeze extremely well for up to two months. A muffin reheated after frozen for longer than two months is not as tasty.

The Morning Glory Muffin recipe has been around almost forty years. It has become a dependable recipe for me. For a little bit of work you can get a great result.

Below is a link to Pam McKinstry’s original Morning Glory Muffin recipe, via Earthbound Farms’ website. I have, yet, to find a copy of the original 1981 Gourmet magazine. I will keep looking.


Below is more information about “American Cookery” (1796) by Amelia Simmons. I have read repeatedly that “American Cookery” was the first American cookbook written by an American for Americans. The Spanish settlers arrived in the Western North America as early as the 1530s so I am not comfortable making that claim until I have proof the Spanish settlers and Catholic missionaries were not writing cookbooks for their American mission settlements on how to use local ingredients, too.


If you like “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott or have not read it before, you can download a free e-book. Please, feel free to leave a donation for the Gutanburg.org efforts. There are other free copies of “Little Women” available online. Or, you can support your favorite local bookstore and purchase a hard copy. Or, you can visit your public library and practice your social skills with the librarian behind the circulation desk.


Mark Twain’s Notebooks and Journals are available through Google Books.

www.etymonline.com provides a quick glance at the evolution of words we use every day

Recipe Review: Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake by Alison Roman (Bon Appétit, March 2014)

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake with vanilla ice cream.

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake with vanilla ice cream.

“I could be hit by a Sara Lee truck tomorrow. Which is not a bad way of going: ‘Richard Simmons Found in a Freeway in a Pound Cake and Fudge, With a Smile on His Face.’ Let’s face it. We don’t know anything” Richard Simmons (b. 1948), enthusiastic exercise leader

My father purchased a coconut at the grocery store. When my father was a child in the 1950s as a treat my grandmother would buy a coconut, drain the coconut liquid out for the family to drink, and make things from the raw, unsweetened coconut. I have in my memory the story she would take the coconut out to my grandfather’s wood shop, put the coconut in a vice, and use a hand drill to make a hole. Dad used a screwdriver and clawed hammer to pound an opening. He poured off the coconut liquid which mom used in her smoothies, and pried the rich, white meat from the shell.

What was he to do with all that coconut meat? He has images of heavenly coconut cream pies with fluffy, sky-high meringue like his mother used to make. I will get the pies made, eventually, but I wanted to try a cake first. This is a cake recipe I had put back and waited to make.

I had no idea how much of the raw coconut would be required for the 1/4th cup (by volume) as called for in the recipe. This is partially why I did not tackle the coconut cream pie because I had no idea how much coconut would be required. I hand-grated frozen coconut pieces. I did not make a dent in the sum total of all the coconut by removing a grated 1/4th cup. We have enough coconut for several pies. I need to find a better way to grate the coconut meat.

Following the directions, I buttered the loaf pan and lined it with parchment paper. You need to leave the “generous overhang”. The browned paper edging looks classy, I think, and that overhang keeps the batter when poured into the loaf pan inside the parchment paper and away from the pan walls. I would recommend cutting the parchment paper into a circle before placing it into the loaf pan. The square ends of the parchment paper burn and smolder, while a circle shape browns without catching fire. I did not think of this until the paper had been placed inside the loaf pan and cut the edges of the overhand into an overall circle shape.

The cake batter went together well. Make sure to use a stand mixer with an very open bowl because you need to aerate (add air) to the batter. Beat at medium-high speed for the entire time period, 5 to 7 minutes before eggs, and 5 to 8 minutes after eggs until the batter volume has doubled. You want a light batter. With a slow speed, add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk as directed. As soon as the dry ingredients are moistened and just incorporated, stop the mixer. Cease, halt, and discontinue the electric mixer. You may want to take a couple of turns with a spatula to clean off the sides of the mixing bowl, but that is it. Gently pour the batter into the cake pan, and run spatula down the center of the full loaf pan. Sprinkle with the tablespoon sugar and all the coconut.

Pound cake batter topped with white sugar and grated coconut before it has been placed in the oven.

Pound cake batter topped with white sugar and grated coconut before it has been placed in the oven.

When I sat down to read the recipe before preparing the batter, my first thought was there was no way this cake would be done in a 325 °F (163 °C) oven in 70 minutes. Experience told me this cake, with or without foil to protect the coconut from scorching, would take 90 minutes to bake. I was correct. I gently placed the cake in the oven and set the timer for 60 minutes. I did not open the oven once in those 60 minutes. When the timer beeped, I opened the oven and surmised the cake had a long ways to go to be done. There was still liquid on top of the cake. I set the timer for another fifteen minutes (75 minutes total baking time) and waited. When the timer beeped, I tried, again, and the toothpick tester was wet with cake batter. I set the timer for another fifteen minutes (90 minutes total baking time). After 90 minutes, the cake was done, but could have been removed five minutes sooner. The bottom corners of the cake were slightly overdone, but the cake was cooked through. Next time I will allow 85 minutes total baking time.

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake fresh from the oven.

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake fresh from the oven.

I planned to serve the cake for dessert for our family Sunday afternoon dinner. The additional baking time pushed allowing the cake to cool in pan to fifteen minutes before I sliced it. This did not hurt the cake.

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake after it has been sliced.

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake after it has been sliced.

Next time I go to a community meal or supper get-together, I will seriously consider preparing this cake. It looks so charming presented in the parchment-lined loaf pan. It is an easy recipe to make, it just takes time to mix in the electric mixer and bakes for an hour and a half.

Richard Simmons is correct. You do not know what is going to happen next. Make your cake and eat it, with ice cream, and chocolate syrup, and excellent coffee. Savor what you have when it is in front of you. Enjoy.

Here is a link to the recipe:


Here, too, is Epicurious’ instructions on how to open a coconut.


Book Review: My Lady, My Lord (2014) by Katherine Ashe

A 4th century BC sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty, procreation, and sexuality. It is one of the most famous works by the Attic sculptor Praxiteles.

A restored 4th century BC sculpture of Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty, procreation, and sexuality. It is by the Attic sculptor Praxiteles.

I saw the self-published title My Lady, My Lord (2014) by Katherine Ashe (Martha Trachtenberg, editor) on the 2015 RITA paranormal romance finalist list and purchased it as an e-book without reading the synopsis. The cover image provided no hint about the story. I had no idea what the story was about, and I did not care. If the book made a RITA finalist list, it had a good chance at being really good.

The first chapter establishes the hero, Ian Chance, eighth Earl of Chance, is not a nice person, but he respects his mother. Chance likes liquor, lonely widows, and stewing in rakish environments. When I finished the first chapter I thought “What have I got myself into?” I checked with RT Book Reviews and they assigned a “hot” rating to the book, which the first chapter alone earns. In the scheme of things the first chapter is not that “hot”, but it is explicit. Chance is comfortable with his body. The rest of the book is pretty tame once you get past the “hot” and important first chapter.

I would describe My Lady, My Lord as a cross between the movies Freaky Friday and You’ve Got Mail. Our hapless heroes, life-long neighbors and antagonists Chance and bluestocking Lady Corinna Mowbray have the bad luck of arguing in front of a statue of Aphrodite who happens to be hanging around the museum incognito. The next morning Chance and Corinna wake up, and the fun begins. Both must learn important lessons, and humble themselves. Chance learns how difficult it is for Corinna, an intelligent and enterprising young women in 1822 to get anything, including starting her own business, accomplished. Corinna learns Chance’s life as a rake and eighth Earl of Chance is not as easy as she would have assumed. They both botch some encounters, and step away from debasing the other and doing irreparable damage to the other’s future when they realize they cannot commit to ruining the other no matter how much they despise the other.

I thought this book was very funny. The banter between characters was wonderful. The book flows well. The book is set in 1822, which Katherine Ashe call’s “Regency-era” but RT Book Reviews calls “Victorian” and “Historical”. I would identify the book as a “Regency” era story. Yes, the story is completely improbable, but who cares. The story is entertaining. The “paranormal” listing is only because of what happens to Chance and Corinna, but otherwise it is a solid Regency romance. I read straight through in one night, and laughed the whole time. This is a fun story with a stubborn couple. I have not encountered anything like it before.

Please, note the Aphrodite sculpture image I used is not what is described in My Lady, My Lord. I could not find an image as described by Katherine Ashe. The images I found of a reclining Aphrodite were unusable for various reasons.

Below is Katherine Ashe’s website for My Lady, My Lord.


A complete list of 2015 RITA finalists in all categories is here


Recipe Review: Mixed-Greens and Sausage Soup with Cornmeal Dumplings by Melissa Clark in Bon Appétit (January 2011)

turnip leaves in the garden

turnip leaves in the garden

“The [two Knightley] brothers talked of their own concerns and pursuits, but principally of those of the elder [George], whose temper was by much the most communicative, and who was always the greater talker. As a magistrate, he [George] had generally some point of law to consult John about, or, at least, some curious anecdote to give; and as a farmer, as keeping in hand the home-farm at Donwell, he had to tell what every field was to bear next year, and to give all such local information as could not fail of being interesting to a brother whose home it had equally been the longest part of his life, and whose attachments were strong. The plan of a drain, the change of a fence, the felling of a tree, and the destination of every acre for wheat, turnips, or spring corn, was entered into with as much equality of interest by John, as his cooler manners rendered possible; and if his willing brother ever left him any thing to inquire about, his inquiries even approached a tone of eagerness.” —  from Emma (1815), Chapter 12, Jane Austen

Turnips discussed in Jane Austen’s Emma (1815) were planted as a forage crop for cattle and swine. In the early 19th century when Austen published, the Knightley brothers would have been recognized as progressive, gentlemen farmers who fretted over then modern agricultural practices of field and pasture drainage and crop rotation. Perhaps several turnip roots were harvested as a tenet farmer and his cousin living in gentile poverty left the field for family dinner. Historically, cornmeal, turnips, and their greens were understood to be what you fed livestock, and the foodstuff of people living in poverty. Depending on where and what Western subculture you lived in, you would eat the greens and feed the roots to the hogs, or eat the roots and feed the greens to the livestock. I grew up with stories of my small town Kansas hometown where the only crop that kept people from starving in the early 1930s were the turnips and handfuls of other root vegetables that survived the early 1930s drought by the hand watering of anxious gardeners.

It was not until college it ever occurred to me to eat the greens of a turnip. Turnip greens were bitter but when mixed with other “greens” and cooked to the point they had just wilted, then prepared with a light but spicy sauce the turnip greens and its cousins were tasty. Eating turnip greens also satisfies the “waste not, want not” paradigm I drag behind me like an albatross I have not yet released to the universe.  For some, “greens” are a comfort food, and for others eating “greens” is a political statement. Last week I needed to thin the turnip row in the garden, and hated to see the turnip leaves compost when we could eat the green leafy foliage.

The Mixed-Greens and Sausage Soup with Cornmeal Dumplings was an easy recipe to prepare. I prepared the exactly 18 measuring tablespoon (15 mL) sized dumplings and allowed to sit in the refrigerator for about 2.5 hours. The green onions were the green tops from three onions I pulled from the garden. The onion used in the soup was fresh from the garden. Everything about the soup was straight forward. I did not salt or pepper the soup because I thought the sausage would provide enough salt and pepper to flavor the soup. I used a smoked beef sausage instead of the called for andouille sausage because the grocery store and meat market did not have any that day. I used ½ teaspoon (2.5 mL) hot pepper sauce instead of the called for 1 teaspoon (5 mL) with the idea if I wanted the soup more spicy, I could add a drop or five later at the table. I weighed out 6 oz. (168 g) of washed turnip greens fresh from the garden, which is all I had after thinning the turnip row, and 6 oz. (168 g) kale from the grocery store. The visual different of the seaweed-like turnip greens and curly, tight kale leaves provided a visual and textural interest to the soup. I cooked the dumplings for 25 minutes in the large soup pot containing the soup. It is important to not lift the lid while the dumplings steam cook; let the dumplings steam in peace. The recipe produced 10 cups of hearty soup.

I liked the cornmeal dumplings. The dumpling texture was light and resembled a fluffy pastry, not the doughy gunk I have encountered in previous dumpling recipe attempts. The dumplings almost dissolved when the soup was reheated, which was disappointing. I do not expect the dumplings to survive freezing intact. The dumplings thickened the soup to the point I had to add the leftover 2 cups (500 mL) chicken broth to keep the soup in soup form. Next time, I will store the dumplings separate from the soup. Perhaps storing separately will maintain the integrity of the delightful little bread.

This is a tasty, garden-fresh, summer soup I will make again.

Here is the link to the recipe:


Book Review: Many Lonely Lords, or Douglas: Lord of Heartache and Worth: Lord of Reckoning, both by Grace Burrowes

When the Romance Writers of America (RWA) 2015 RITA finalists, the premier U.S. awards for the romance genre, were announced in late March I thought I would read and then review finalists for several categories. I decided to start the reviews with the self-published finalists. I have nothing but respect, and am in awe, of writers who self-publish and do it so well their work is nominated for an annual industry award. The RITA award is a way to acknowledge excellence in the romance genre by recognizing quality published romance novels and novellas. The award is named to honor RWA’s first president Rita Clay Estrada. Since I discovered the RITA finalist lists several years ago, I reliably find a good read and unknown to me authors.

The first books I downloaded from this year’s finalist list were Grace Burrowes’ finalists. Grace Burrowes has three, count them three, published works nominated for the 2015 awards. The two Historical Romances: Long, Douglas: Lord of Heartache (traditionally published, Sourcebooks, Casablanca, Deb Werksman, editor) and Worth: Lord of Reckoning (self-published) are part of the Lonely Lords Series, which is up to twelve published books. The third nomination is a contemporary novella, Kiss and Tell, which I have not read, yet.

There lies the problem…the Lonely Lord Series. So far most of the romance novels I have read since March have been about Lonely Lords. While each book is able to “stand alone” it helps to know the others for background because all of the characters interact throughout the, so-far, twelve book series. Full novels are happening while other separate novels are happening. For example, in Trenton (Book 10 of the series) events are simultaneously, but independently, happening in Darius (Book 1 and also a 2014 RITA Historical Romance: Long finalist). I now fully appreciate the duress Darius was under while he was emotionally doing the best he could in his story while dealing with all the family drama and tragedy we discover in his brother Trenton’s story. While certain events that happen in one book may be described differently in another, the difference serves the needs of that particular novel, and that is a good thing.

If you expect a linear time sequence moving from one book to the next, you will not find one. Burrowes is proving herself to be a master at plot and organization. Over the 12 book sequencing, it is best to think of how the stories are position in time as seen in Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant (2015) or Doerr’s award-winning All the Light We Cannot See (2014), but I am not sure that was Burrowes intention with the Lonely Lord Series even though that is the best description I can make among the series’ novels.

I read Douglas: Lord of Heartache first because it is Book 8 of the Series, and it was the first book in the award category listing. In synopsis, an unwed woman born a lady but with an out-of-wedlock child is the steward of one of her rich, titled cousin’s estates, and is asked to advise a Viscount Amery if a particular estate he might purchase would be profitable farm investment. To say more would be to give away the story’s intrigue. The twists and turns of this book were not expected; this is not your usual historical romance novel. Burrowes chases the female protagonist, Gwen, up a tree and throws all sorts of rocks and smelly, rotten vegetables at her. Douglas, the male lead, is also put through trials and tribulations before earning Gwen’s hand in marriage. The Windham family play a prominent role to the story, if you are familiar with in Burrowes’ Windham Series. The overall story starts out as a “seduction” narrativebut Burrowes turns that plotline/device on its head. Douglas: Lord of Heartache is a “happily ever after” story where that ending description is undisputable.

Worth: Lord of Reckoning is Book 11 of the Series. This is the better book of Burrowes’ two 2015 RITA historical long fiction finalists.  In synopsis, Worth Kettering, solicitor/man-of-business for normally ignored/underserved individuals in late Regency-era London and “rake at large” visits his country estate for the first time in five years, where he meets his housekeeper, Jacaranda, and their lives become entangled, everyone has their secrets, and everyone must decide what is more important, money, family or love. Burrowes puts all her characters, primary and secondary, through hoops of fire and Jacaranda and Worth are no different. It is a true “happily-ever-after” story. Worth’s financial wellbeing is not settled until the very end, and I did not know if his finances would be successfully resolved. I think what I like about Burrowes writing, and why I am willing to read all twelve books is that she leaves you questioning if some aspect of the character’s life is going to work out for the best for the male and female heroes. Worth is better written than Douglas. Worth has better dialogue, a smoother flow, and a better first third. The Douglas story is more unconventional and daring, but not as daring as Darius (Book 1) which I think is a better book. Worth is my favorite of all twelve books.

The RITA awards will be announced July 25, 2015. Worth is an e-book, though a print copy is available through Amazon. Douglas looks to be available as a print copy or e-book pretty much everywhere. I am including links to Burrowes’ website and the RITA awards information.

Douglas: Lord of Heartache


Worth: Lord of Reckoning


For more information on 2015 RITA finalists, past winners, and the Romance Writers of America


Recipe Review: Oat Scones with Apple-Pear Butter in The Best Quick Breads (2000) by Beth Hensperger

oat scones fresh from the oven

oat scones fresh from the oven

Oats: “A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” — Dr. Samuel Johnson’s (1709-1784) ‘Dictionary of the English Language’ (1755)

Rolled oats as oatmeal drizzled with real maple syrup is my breakfast food of choice when it is not 90°F (32.2°C) at 7 AM. Steel-cut oats is my first choice for cooked oatmeal, when I have access to it. Doctor Johnson is correct as he defines oats in the first important dictionary of Modern English. Until the Oxford English Dictionary (starting in 1884) came along, Johnson’s Dictionary literally defined use and spelling of the English language. I have fed oats to horses, cattle, goats, sheep, and songbirds. Some people I have met over the years refuse to eat oatmeal or any oat product because they see it as livestock feed. I have met Germans who feel the same way about corn (maize). Oats and maize are the foods of folks living in poverty. Oats is a high fiber food and good for your physical heart, and I would argue, too, your soul on cold winter mornings.

The Oat Scone recipe is one I have wanted to try but was daunted by the instructions for incorporating the oat flour. Whole wheat flour is not something I keep on hand, either. My parents have a Vita-mix® and grind their own whole wheat flour for bread. While my father processed the wheat berries one evening, I thought “Hey, he could grind whole oats into flour, too.” So, he did. We processed rolled oats with the whole wheat flour, as called for in the recipe. I used freshly ground whole wheat and oat flour for the scones.

This scone recipe went together quickly. This recipe is probably the simplest of the scone recipes in this cookbook. I mixed the ingredients in order and made no changes to the ingredients. I did not cut in the butter into the flour until it resembled coarse crumbs but stopped when the butter was still what I would call chunky and thinking “Oh, that’s to big.” While watching a Julia Child episode with a bread baker from California, the baker guest convinced me you don’t want to cut the butter into small pieces or what I usually stop at garden pea size. Keep the butter pieces larger for lighter bread, if I remember correctly.

The wetness of the dough surprised me. Adding additional flour would have made a heavier dough and scone. The need to pat into a round and use a cookie cutter as directed was easy to understand once you handled the dough. Cutting into triangles would not work. The scones would not bake well as a triangle, you need a round structure and not one with corners (chemistry and physics at work). The dough was wetter than, and not as adhesive as I would have liked. The seemingly not adhesive quality to the rounds concerned me, but the scones baked well.

The scones baked to a pretty, golden color. They were light in texture, and not at all heavy and hard like I feared when I placed the wet, firm, cement-consistency rounds on the baking tray. When I put them in the over I predicted the outcome to be golden hockey pucks. They were sweeter than I expected with only three tablespoons light brown sugar.

The recipe includes an apple-pear butter which I also made. The apple-pear butter was very good. Apples and pears dehydrated or dried for this recipe were sweet with no added sugar and tasted good on toast and in peanut butter sandwiches. I could taste the pear which I was not expecting because pear to me has a very faint flavor except if you pick the past-ripe pears off the ground as the wind is blowing the pears off the tree. Beware of the falling pears if you should do that.

The scones I did not eat within a couple of days I froze and forgot about them. Mom pulled the sealed plastic bag out one morning when looking for a frozen orange juice can and asked: “What’s this?”

To thaw and heat from frozen I place a scone wrapped in aluminum foil in a cold oven and set the temperature to 400°F (204.4°C). Heat the scone for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes is long enough the scone to be hot and moist in the center but not dried out or over-brown.

I would describe this as an excellent autumn or winter recipe for breakfast, brunch, or with a hearty soup. The dehydrating or drying of fresh apples and pears for immediate use in the apple-pear butter intensified the flavors and sugars and compliments the sweet nuttiness of the whole grains. The scones freeze well, but freezer burn might set in if left in the freezer for more than 6 months.

The cookbook is available through your local library, an independent books store, or online through the publisher. You can also publish through your favorite online retailer. The cookbook ‘The Best Quick Breads: 150 Recipes for muffins, scones, shortcakes, gingerbreads, cornbreads, coffeecakes, and more’ by Beth Hensperger is full of recipes for every season and appetite.


The Oat Scone and Apple-Pear Butter recipe reviewed is from an edition published by The Harvard Commons Press in 2000. The edition the publisher sells on their website has a May 2012 date.

I am also including a link to Johnson’s Dictionary with his definition of oats which is great. In the Johnson’s Dictionary, he defines, with the 1755 spelling, oats as:

“A grain, which in England is generally given to horfes, but in Scotland fupports the people.”


Recipe Review of Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread, in The Best Quick Breads (2000) by Beth Henspergen

Apricots are important icons to several cultures around the world. The stone fruit is as important as olives to other cultures. Like olives in some places in the Middle and Near East, intentionally destroying an apricot tree is such an extreme insult over which people that are willing to kill. The apricot we know today may have been developed in Armenia up to 8,000 years ago. Apricots have been identified as cultivated in India 5,000 years ago. Spanish Missionaries carried apricot seedlings west across North America as they carried the Gospel and sought golden salvation in the Mediterranean-climate of California. The pale orange fruit dries into a golden bronze coin when not treated with preservatives. Apricots were an important commodity in along the Persian and Silk Road trade routes. Today, Turkey is the largest producer of dried apricots.

Two loaves of Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread from The Best Quick Breads (2000) by Beth Hensperger

Two loaves of Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread from The Best Quick Breads (2000) by Beth Hensperger

The recipe for Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread is one of my favorite quick bread recipes. I shared it at work several times a year. My English and Irish co-workers called it a wonderful tea bread. I considered this the best critique available. It is best served cool and sliced thin with a very sharp knife. Sweetened butter is best.

I need to first say I love this cookbook, but that does not mean the recipes do not need to be tweaked to bake the best bread.  I have been using the cookbook for over ten years and each recipe has its own adjustments.

I recommend the Turkey apricots over the California apricots. I use kitchen scissors to cut the dried fruit into not quite match stick size, but maybe two match sticks wide pieces. When you hydrate the 12 oz chopped, dried apricots, you can use 8 oz water, or orange juice, or orange liqueur.

There is nothing special to the mixing of the dry ingredients. Use the best flour you can afford. It really does make a difference in the finished bread. The 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour which the recipe called for and I used in the photographed loaves here was ground by my father from wheat berries he purchased from King Arthur Flour at their office in Atchison, Kansas in a Vitamix food processor. My family takes flour quality very seriously.

The recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar which is included in the first step when you marinate the apricots. I used a half cup of finely granulated sugar and in this batch I think that was to much. The surface of the bread was much to brown, in my opinion. That said, I had a nice center crack on one loaf, which indicated good expansion during baking. The recipe calls to allow the dough to rest 15 minutes before placing in the pre-heated oven. I allowed the dough to rest 20 minutes before baking.

It has been suggested if I want to avoid the quick bread from cracking on its top surface I need to allow the dough to rest before baking. I think this is important especially when dealing with quick bread recipes that rely on baking soda for expansion, such as this recipe. The 4 oz plus a little orange juice added at the end provides the acidity to trigger the baking soda and any expansion that occurs before and during baking.

When combining liquids, mix the two eggs with the 4 oz orange juice, then add to the rest of the ingredients. I do not recommend substituting orange liqueur. You need the orange juice acidity to interact with the baking soda.

My main complaint about the recipes in the cook book is that they consistently do not call for enough liquid to adequately combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. I have had the best results in hand mixing this recipe. It is very important to not over-mix but the dry ingredients do need to be evenly moistened. Add more liquid, here orange juice, a tablespoon at a time until the flour does not stick to the mixing bowl. The recipe calls for 60 minutes baking time, but this recipe is done, provides a clean toothpick when inserted into the top of each loaf, right at 50 minutes.

Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread is wonderful at a brunch, on a picnic served with paper-thin slices of honey ham and a small amount of marmalade, or as a mid-afternoon snack with cream cheese. This quick bread can be as sophisticated or as simple as you desire.

The recipe book I use is The Best Quick Breads: 150 Recipes for Muffins, Scones, Shortcakes, Gingerbreads, Cornbreads, Coffeecakes, and More published in 2000 by The Harvard Common Press. ISBN: 1-55832-171-3  It appears the book was republished in 2012.