Sunday, July 31, 2016

Night Writers Pool Party

One of the questions I'm almost invariably asked in interviews is: What advice do you have for those starting out?

My advice is always the same: Find a critique group, online or in real life if possible.

I'm told that can be easier said than done, that there are many reasons why critique groups fail, or don't work well, or aren't a good match.  I was lucky enough to walk into a great group--literally--on my first try.

In early November of 2005, I started writing Blue Bells of Scotland during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)  I finished it at the end of November with 53,000 words (I was a winner!)  About that time, I saw a sign posted in the glass case directly across from the studio where I taught (and still teach) on Wednesday nights, announcing the Night Writers who met in the same community center on Wednesday nights.  I called the number and never heard back.  (Judy, Judy, Judy!  Why didn't you return my call!)

About a year later, in September of 2006, after having looked at that sign every single Wednesday for the past year, knowing this group's meeting started at 6:30--exactly the time I was finishing that night--I decided it couldn't hurt to walk down the hall and say hello.

They invited me in, and asked my name.  When I told them, they all looked at each other and laughed.  Not what I expected!  But then they introduced themselves--Judy, Genny, Judd, Janet, Lyn, Linda.  And Ross.  I fit right in!

That night, I read to them from the early scenes of Blue Bells of Scotland.  They gave me great feedback, and as I listened to them read in turn, I knew I'd stumbled into a group of really talented writers.

I quickly learned their background.  Some of them--Genny, Ross, Lyn, and Judy--had been together for nearly 20 years at that point, starting as a writing class at North Hennepin Community College under Maureen LaJoy, who they all still regard as a great mentor who encouraged them and gave them great belief in themselves and their ability.  Thanks to her legacy and their own continued work together, thanks to years of experience (at least 200 collective years and many books among them), they could hone in on what worked in my writing and why; what didn't work, and why not; what could be changed, added, or deleted to fix what didn't work,  I have learned a great deal from them about the craft of writing, far more than can ever be learned from a single pair of eyes.

Her legacy has carried on in a group composed of talented writers who work tirelessly at their craft, and who come with great commitment every week to pass on their years of knowledge gleaned from study and work--more than 30 years of writing in many cases.  Among us, we have over 30 published books--with more coming--in non-fiction and fiction, in children's books, mainstream fiction, poetry, paranormal, adventure, mystery, historical fiction, and more.

Over the years, we've had a number of people come and go, all of whom I remember fondly.  Larry (he walked in introduced himself, we asked his name, and we all laughed....) wrote children's books that involved a kite.  Linda did editing and publishing and had a book out on counseling.  We had a poet for awhile.  And Brin, a high school student who wrote about a fantastical world of mice, spent about a year and a half with us. Another Linda wrote romance.

Jack joined several months after I did--they asked his name, we all laughed, and introduced ourselves--and we became a solid core group of 10.  At times we joked that we were a 10 person marriage.  Indeed, we are a group who has been together through each other's greatest joys and sorrows, through major life events, births, deaths, marriages, divorce.

Inna joined us for about a year.  Inna was from the Ukraine, and announced that year--maybe six years ago--that we must have a Christmas party!  Being that Inna had worked with the Russian military, we were certainly not going to argue!

Inna told me I would play harp at the Christmas party, and put on a fashion show with her.  I did as I was told!  We had a blast, Inna and I parading in a fashion show for the Nighr Writers.  Then I played harp while her Ukrainian friend danced a Cossack dance in full Cossack regalia!  I'm quite sure it's the only time a Cossack has danced to a harp playing a Christmas piece in 3-4!  Jack recited the Nativity story from Luke.

Inna started our tradition with the Christmas party.  Ross decided why not have a pool party in the summer.  So we did.  And both parties have continued every year since then.  So, Happy Summer, Night Writers!  Thanks for being a fantastic part of my life, both for the invaluable advice you consistently give me to help me improve my writing, but as my friends.  You are irreplaceable.

Our group today consists of Genny, Janet, Judd, Judy, Stephanie, Sue, Lyn, Laura, Catherine, Meredythe, and Ross.

For more pictures, see our Night Writers Blog.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Results of the Great Walleye and Wild Rice Egg Roll Experiment: A Musical and Culinary Journey Through My Day

First, the recipe as originally posted, with results to follow.

Because music is playing, I think it's important to offer a walleye and wild rice soundtrack of songs that have been stuck in my head all day.  So here's a song to get started:

Very good fish poaching music, because who doesn't love walleye?  And 'looks like I made it!' is in fact exactly what I said--or rather sang at the top of my lungs--when the egg rolls were complete!

4 walleye fillets
2 c. light chicken bouillon
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 c. butter (1/2 stick)
3 tbsp. chopped onion
3 c. cooked wild rice, about 2/3 c. uncooked
1/3 c. chopped fresh dill

  1. Poach the fillets in chicken broth and lemon juice, until the sides of fillets flake easily.
  2. Remove the walleye to a platter and keep warm. Save the fish broth!
  3. Saute the onion in melted butter and wild rice briefly, just enough to soften the onion and heat the rice. 
  4. Add 1/4 cup of the fish-chicken broth and dill weed to your wild rice.

No doubt the first song is done by now, so here's another for the rest of the ingredients:

  1. Mix all ingredients together
  2. Spray a pan and line up the egg roll wrappers (just like the Captain and his children--no need for a whistle, however)
  3. Brush egg white on top of the wrappers and fill with the mixture.
  4. Roll the wrappings, tuck in the corners
  5. Brush more egg white on top of each roll.
  6. Cook for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, turning once.  They should be slightly brown.
  7. Eat with a sumptuous smile, rolling of eyes, and cries of delight over how delicious they are.

Time for another song before I tell what I actually did with this recipe-conglomerate and how it turned out.  There's a backstory to this song--but be warned, it's a rather upsetting story.  I got home from all my errands to a child in my house (not mine!  This would never happen to one of MY children!) who had never heard Sweet Caroline!  I took immediate action to rectify this negligence on the part of whoever raised this feral child!  I played Sweet Caroline 23 times in a row, and sang it at the top of my lungs while dancing around the kitchen with yesterday's egg rolls smothered in sweet and sour sauce.

He claimed he doesn't like Sweet Caroline, but I know it was a lie, because he was laughing and not objecting to the doors being bolted until he knew the whole song by heart--especially BAH BAH BAH!!! and that part everyone whistles.

Even better, although none of my own feral children will try my walleye and wild rice egg rolls, this child did, thus endearing himself to me forever.  Even moreso because he asked for more!  Please, Sir, he said, I want some more!  I was so happy I didn't even object to being called Sir or ask how he happens to know lines from Oliver when he doesn't know Sweet Caroline.

Oh, but the recipe.  Well, it's really not a very exciting story after all that.  I substituted white wine for the chicken broth because...white wine.  Why have chicken broth when you can have wine?  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Plus, my kitchen is a bit of zone, with cabinets being refaced.  As a result, my spices, my dishes, my utensils, in fact everything that ever existed in the kitchen, is spread out among several rooms.  So either I didn't have dill, or couldn't find it.  Being a graduate of the Cooking with Shawn School of Culinary Creativity, I simply substituted something green: Italian seasoning.

Oh, boy, just thinking about it requires another song!  I took pity on this poor child begging for an end to Sweet Caroline--after all, he liked my egg rolls!!!!  But if you haven't heard Sweet Caroline, chances are high you've also missed out on another great American classic, so I turned on Piano Man which my feral children also belted out at the tops of their non-egg roll-eating lungs.

So the results of my slight alterations:

I think there's a reason to go with chicken broth.  I think it would have added some seasoning.  I found the egg rolls just a little bit on the bland side, although I liked them (and so does this neighbor kid, and that is going in the reviews--he just asked for two more!)

I have to admit, though, that as I ate my second one, I rather appreciated the 'mildness' of it, and the fact that I could really taste some things I might otherwise have buried under seasonings and flavors.

When I got ahold of some sweet and sour sauce, they were even better.

I will no doubt try this again, and the next time, keep the chicken broth and try dill, and compare.

Billy Joel, naturally, had to lead to another great:

And thus ends today's remarkable culinary tale.  The music, however, continues, as I head out to teach lessons tonight, knowing that tomorrow shall be another grand adventure!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Jedburgh: Ghosts and Orchards

Within days, the house was finished. His heart light with the prospect of the night’s feasting and entertainment, and heading home the next day to Allene, Niall entered the great hall with Lachlan and Owen. Serving boys poured in, setting out steaming platters of meat and bread. Douglas’s men flocked to wooden benches, pounded trestle tables, and shouted for ale. A man juggled small burlap balls stuffed with straw, until he tripped over one of Douglas’s shaggy hounds, and the balls showered down around him. He grinned at the laughter and ribbing showering down with them. The dog woofed, skittered in the rushes, and licked the man’s face. 
Amidst the laughter, the door crashed open. A messenger exploded into the ribaldry. “My Lord!” He paused, breathing hard, hands on knees, before looking up, in search of Douglas’s height and head of black hair. “Arundel is coming to take down Jedburgh forest,” he gasped.  

~Westering Home
Book Four, The Blue Bells Chronicles

Jedburgh Abbey: a beautiful structure that has stood for centuries on the Jed Water, just twelve miles north of the English border, its arched windows stretching toward the sky.  While some sites speak of its power, I found it a place of ethereal beauty and elegance.

It was here that Alexander III, after the death of his first wife and all three of his children, married Yolande De Dreux.  Standing amidst the soaring arches and windows, it is easy to imagine the ceremony, the pomp, and the king and his new bride processing down the aisle after the ceremony.  It is also easy to imagine a scene described in Walter Bower's 15th Century Scotichronicon.

Bringing up the tail of the wedding party, he reports, was a figure who might be man or apparition.  It seemed to glide rather than walk.  When it seemed to disappear before the eyes of the startled guests, the music stopped, and the dancers froze.

Was it a forewarning of Alexander's fate?  We'll never know, of course, but we do know that only months later, he died, as he tried to get home to his new bride on...

"...a dark and stormy night," Brother David said.
"You've got to be kidding," said Shawn.  

(~a paraphrase from Blue Bells of Scotland, in which Brother David explains Scotland's history to Shawn.)

What I had not learned of Jedburgh, until I visited myself, was that it was once famous for its apples and plums, and particularly for its pears, known as either Jethart or Jeddart pears, which grew in the abbey's gardens.  There were over twenty varieties, with such fanciful names as Fair Maid, Red Honey, Lady Lamont, and Goodwife of Glasgow.

At one time, pears made up a substantial part of the burgh's income.  Pears at the time were considered more a dessert than a fruit, so today, I offer a medieval recipe with pears.

Rysshews of Fruyt

From The Forme of Curry

Or, in language more familiar to us:

Take figs and raisins.  Pick them and wash them in wine.  Grind them with apples and pears pared and picked clean.  Do there good powders and whole spices, make balls thereof.  Fry in oil and serve forth

In still more concrete terms, try this:

First--no concrete!   That was only a turn of phrase.  Now then....
  1. Soak the fruit in sweet red wine until it begins to plump.
  2. Mix in spices--try a teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and ginger*--and work into a dough.
  3. Roll the dough into balls.
  4. Fry in hot oil.

[Edited to add: On a reader's suggestion, try less: 1/4 teaspoon of each spice, except the cloves--use only 1/8 teaspoon for that.]

Be aware I have not tried this.  The spices suggested in Gode Cookery include mace, ginger, anise, and grains of paradise.  This seems to me to be a bit much, so I chose the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves used in Hildegard von Bingen's Cookies of Joy.  I chose ginger because my research tells me this was a very common spice to use with pears.  So when I have the time to cook, this is what I'll do.

Tomorrow, Wardens in Syrup, or Wardonys in syrup.  Wardens were a type of English pear, and the syrup included more red wine.  Now who can argue with red wine?

SOURCES/Further Reading:

Bees First Appearance
The Hazel Tree
Hay Family Genealogy
Gode Cookery
Chatel Portes du Soleil

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Medieval Culinary Art of Engastration

Yes, engastration.  If this were a medieval version of Hamilton, I think this would be a perfect time for the chorus to break into a song about engastration.  Fortunately for the musical world, I have to teach lessons in less than three hours, and in that time research engastration, and write up the next segment of my Food of the Blue Bells Chronicles (tentatively titled) which focuses on the multi-bird roast, and so have no time to write a parody and film it.  Ah, and the world has lost what could have been a humorous moment.  

Engastration: the art of cooking one animal within another.  This culinary practice goes back at least to ancient Rome and arising again in the modern turducken--a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey--which was briefly popularized by football commentator John Madden.

Going back to Roman times, we know of the 5th Century 'Trojan Boar' of a pig 'made pregnant' with other animals, as the Trojan horse was 'pregnant with men.'  A recipe from roughly the same time speaks of stuffing a cow with a pig, goose, duck, and chicken.  

The Tudors had a Christmas pie which consisted of a pigeon inside a partridge inside a pigeon inside a chicken inside a goose inside a turkey--all baked in a very large pie crust!

The 1747 Art of Cookery leaves us a recipe for a similar pie.  I'm thinking I better try making an apple pie before I embark on such a project!  

Engastration is not uniquely European.  A Bedouin tradition goes big with a camel stuffed with a lamb stuffed with a chicken stuffed with rice and hard-boiled eggs.  And among Greenland's Inuits, there is the Kiviak--a seal stuffed with several hundred auks and fermented (uncooked, in case you're interested) under rocks for three to eighteen months.

Among the more famous engastrations was the rĂ´ti  sans pareil--the roast without equal--made by Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimond de la Reyniere, and documented in his 1807 cookbook, L’almanach des gourmands.  This 20-layer gargantuan gastronomic gala contained, in order: a bustard, turkey, goose, pheasant, chicken, duck, guinea fowl, teal, woodcock, partridge, plover, lapwing, quail, thrush, lark, ortolan bunting, and a garden warbler--which was stuffed with an olive which was stuffed with an anchovy which was stuffed with a single caper.

Between each layer were Lucca chestnuts, force meat, and bread stuffing.  The whole thing was slow cooked for 24 hours in a sealed pot in a stew of vegetables and spices.

Tomorrow: more detail on how to create the bird within a bird.


Monday, July 18, 2016

The Making of a Medieval Book (This is Your Great....Great....Grandfather's Amazon!)

In 1315, the modern classical musician, Shawn Kleiner, insists on staying with the Monks of Monadhliath for a month, until Niall returns.  He is assigned, among other things, the job of re-copying music that has become old and worn.
 “You’ll practice daily, in addition to copying.”  Brother William led him to a cavernous stone chamber, filled with rows of tall, spindly stools before desks on tall, spindly legs.  Tall windows let in rosy dawn.  He stopped before a particularly battered desk piled high with old, worn music.  “You may start.”  With a curt bow, Brother William turned on his stern heel and departed. 
With a sigh, Shawn took up his quill, grateful for Allene’s insistence on learning to use one.  A template to lay out staves would have been nice, but he managed to create a passing resemblance, on fresh, new parchment, to what was on the old.

The Water is Wide
Book Three, The Blue Bells Chronicles

One of the joys of writing is that we enter into the real lives, the hearts, and emotions, of those who lived before us, in part through experiencing their daily lives.  What was Shawn really doing in that scriptorium with those monks?  Where did his parchment, ink, and quill come from?

Below is the best video I've ever seen on the making of a medieval manuscript, from the process of creating the parchment itself from animal skins, to the process of lining each page in preparation for writing, the ability to erase, the addition of decoration, including in gold leaf, and the binding of the book.

Despite years of research into medieval times, I learned a great deal from this video.  (In my defense, 'medieval times' is about as small an area of research as 'modern times!')  For instance: In our time, when we see a clasp on a book, it's usually a girl's diary with a locking clasp.  (And those locks would, naturally, stop an entire Mongolian horde in its tracks!  Defeated!  We'll never know the secret now!)  But in medieval times, the clasp was there to hold the book tightly together to prevent the tendency of the parchment to swell.

For sheer ability to pack a lot of great information in in only 6 minutes, this video is outstanding.

I offer two more videos.  How to make an illuminated letter:


It is truly amazing to watch the artistry that went into the making of these books.  I wonder how many people today would have the patience to work with gold leaf to create these works of art!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Monks of Monadhliath Mushroom Soup

Hildegard of Bingen had very definite ideas about mushrooms.  As have many other people throughout history, from ancient Egypt to the 1960s and beyond.  Readers of The Blue Bells Chronicles may remember the incident of the blessed knife.

“They’re very ascetic.” She jumped back into the topic. “Small and private, even today. They copy manuscripts by hand, pray, and farm everything they need. They’re strict vegetarians, probably as a result of the blessed knife.
“Which was what?” Amy asked.

“Columba blessed a knife, somewhat absent-mindedly, while he wrote.” Helen’s piercing clicked on her teeth as she spoke, drawing Amy’s attention with its rhythm. “Only later did he ask if it would harm man or beast. When the monks said it was for slaughtering animals, he put a blessing on it, that it would never harm men or cattle. They found the poor butcher boy outside, struggling with all his might to kill a cow for the monks’ dinner. Columba’s blessing prevented him doing so. “So they melted it down and used the metal to coat farm tools, so no one would be harmed by them. And believe it or not, this relates to the crucifix.”

The Water is Wide
Book Three of The Blue Bells Chronicles

The incident of the blessed knife is as reported in the life of Columba.  For this reason, the Monks of Monadhliath eat only fruits, vegetables, and grains to this day.  In searching for something they might serve to Simon--who I can assure you was not very pleased with their fare--I came across this mushroom soup, which I can't wait to try. 

First, make gnocchi.

  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese (after draining)—the more expensive kind, with only milk and salt as ingredients, at most an acid or natural culture.
  • 1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 4 ounces all purpose flour
  • a pinch of salt
  1. Drain the ricotta by pressing it between paper towels
  2. Mix in cheese, eggs, flour, and salt
  3. On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough into a rectangle and divide it into four quadrants.
  4. Roll each of these quadrants into very long thin rolls
  5. Cut the rolls into sections about an inch long each
  6. Dust the gnocchi with semolina flour
  7. Drop into boiling water
  8. Stir and let them boil for about 2 to 3 minutes, until they’ve been floating for about a minute
  9. Remove them and put them in ice water to make them firm
Now that you have fresh gnocchi, here's the soup:
  • 9 ounces fresh chanterelle mushrooms
  • 9 ounces fresh crimini mushrooms
  • 18 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
  • 6-1/4 cups vegetable stock
  • 8 sprigs of thyme
  • 10 ounces  fresh gnocchi
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons of oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 leek
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup  red wine
  • shavings of truffles
  • salt
  • pepper
  • parsley
  • 1 scallion
Note that the modern recipe calls for port wine and truffle oil.  Truffle oil is a modern, synthetic concoction designed to give the flavor of truffles.  And port wine as we know it did not exist (to our knowledge) in medieval Scotland. 

Therefore, I have given the Monks red wine for their mushroom soup and changed the truffle oil to a sprinkling of truffle shavings.  Note, however, that I am a graduate of the Cooking with Shawn Academy and firmly believe in making things up as I go.  You may want to wait until I make this at home and report on it--and that I'm still living and in good health!  (Really, though, how can you go wrong with red wine?)

Here's what you do with all of that:
  1. Soak porcini mushrooms in water for 1 hour.
  2. Clean chanterelle and crimini mushrooms and put into pot with vegetable stock and thyme.
  3. Cook until the mushrooms soften (approx. 10 minutes).
  4. Remove the mushrooms from the pot and slice them (Set the stock aside.).
  5. Saute diced onion and leek in the butter and oil.
  6. Drain porcini mushrooms, saving the water in which they soaked.
  7. Squeeze fluid from the porcini mushrooms and slice them.
  8. Add all mushrooms to the onion saute; simmer for 15 minutes.
  9. Add crushed garlic cloves, porcini mushroom liquid, and red wine; simmer 5 more minutes.
  10. Pull thyme sprigs from the vegetable stock and add to the saute.
  11. Simmer until stock is hot; season with salt and pepper
  12. Strain the gnocchi, divide it into bowls and ladle the hot soup over them.
  13. Top with truffle shavings, finely sliced scallion, and parsley.
This is my somewhat altered version of a recipe found at Eat Like a Teutonic Knight.  But the truth is, the Monks of Monadhliath would likely have served this with whatever vegetables the cook had available, or needed to use up, or felt like adding.  

When my kitchen is better (it's in the process of some much-needed fixing-up right now), I'll probably try this both with strictly medieval foods--trying a variety of vegetables which may have grown in the gardens of Monadhliath--and also with the more modern port wine.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Giveaway and Silent Auction Donation

In other news....I have a giveaway going for a Scotland mug.  As before, just leave a comment!  While the mug is in's a view of the pictures, as they will wrap around it.  The large picture is Urquhart Castle on the shore of Loch Ness.  This is my model for Glenmirril, with Grant Tower being the tower in which the mysterious switch in time happens.

On the other side of the mug are Beuly Priory, the famous statue of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn Field, the river near Killin, and, of course, a Highland cu!

Just leave a comment here to be entered!

I have also donated my first book, Blue Bells of Scotland, to a silent auction, as have several of my friends at Night Writers.

Included in the gift basket are:

  • Dancers of the Third Age by Judith Granahan.  Four elderly women make a cross country trip when an old secret comes to light.
  • Bait Store Angel and Other Stories by Genny Zak Kieley, memoirs
  • Heart and Hard Work by Genny Zak Kieley, stories and history of Northeast Minneapolis
  • Roots and Ties by Genny Zak Kieley, more stories and history of Northeast Minneapolis
  • A Jesuit in Belize, by John Stanton. A re-print of the original biography of Father Buck Stanton in 19th Century central America.
  • An EAT SLEEP READ mug and several bookmarks

The silent auction is this weekend at St. Alphonsus Parish: 
7025 Halifax Avenue N, Brooklyn Center, MN 55429; 763-561-5100

Monday, July 11, 2016

Happy Birthday, Bruce!

You are hereby commanded by royal decree to enjoy cake and ice cream in honor of the birth of Robert, future King of Scots!  Today I give you a very short photo and video view of his birthplace.

Last April's trip to Scotland focused on the lands of Dumfries and Galloway, which include both the birthplace of Robert the Bruce--Turnberry Castle--and the site of his last pilgrimage--Whithorn and St. Ninian's Cave.

Here is what's left of Turnberry Castle

Standing by the Last Remains of Turnberry Castle, birthplace of Robert the Bruce
Below is a slightly different view that shows more of the expansiveness of the sea.  It was a thrill to stand here, to think of how the young Robert and his brothers must have played, run, perhaps fought (Brothers fight?  Never!) on these very rocks.  Maybe they swamp out in these waters, or learned to sail here.

Photography by Emmanuel's Light

Below is a view from on the shore on the other side of the castle from the previous picture.  Here, you can hear the water lapping--a sound Bruce himself would have heard every day of his childhood.

In 1307, after Bruce's Very Bad Year of 1306, after a winter spent in retreat, or hiding, as you like, presumably on the Isle of Arran, it is Turnberry to which Bruce returned in the early months of 1307, taking the English garrison here by surprise.  While I do not know the exact location of the landing, it may have been in a spot exactly like this, and very close to his castle.  

Saturday, July 9, 2016

For a change of pace, we're going to jump 700 years, an ocean, and half a continent.  I woke up with walleye and wild rice egg rolls on my mind.  I suppose it's not surprising, considering I first tasted them just a few days after the Fourth of July.  They don't sound that good--but they're delicious!

What is surprising (or maybe it isn't?) is that I can't find a recipe for walleye and wild rice egg rolls online.  Maybe if I had more time, but I've spent the morning hauling wood (preparation for dealing with tree damage in a storm) and sanding cupboards (preparation for new veneer) and now have to go teach.

This recipe, however, fits quite well with The Blue Bells Chronicles because wild rice is a big thing in Minnesota.  If Shawn and Amy come back to Minnesota for a bit in Book Five, they will without a doubt have some wild rice--and in fact, they will go to the North Shore and have these egg rolls.  More on wild rice and Minnesota in another post.

Now, with no further ado (because we do not want ado in their egg rolls!), here's the closest thing I found, which I assume can be stuffed into egg rolls and fried.

4 walleye fillets
2 c. light chicken bouillon
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 c. butter (1/2 stick)
3 tbsp. chopped onion
3 c. cooked wild rice, about 2/3 c. uncooked
1/3 c. chopped fresh dill

  1. Poach the fillets in chicken broth and lemon juice, until the sides of fillets flake easily.
  2. Remove the walleye to a platter and keep warm. Save the fish broth!
  3. Saute the onion in melted butter and wild rice briefly, just enough to soften the onion and heat the rice. 
  4. Add 1/4 cup of the fish-chicken broth and dill weed to your wild rice.
If I were to try this at home (which I will), I would then flake the walleye, mix it with the wild rice, and follow these directions from a completely different (chicken and wild rice egg roll--totally different) recipe:

  1. Mix all ingredients together
  2. Spray a pan and line up the egg roll wrappers (just like the Captain and his children--no need for a whistle, however)
  3. Brush egg white on top of the wrappers and fill with the mixture.
  4. Roll the wrappings, tuck in the corners
  5. Brush more egg white on top of each roll.
  6. Cook for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, turning once.  They should be slightly brown.
  7. Eat with a sumptuous smile, rolling of eyes, and cries of delight over how delicious they are.
This last is a vital step.  DO NOT SKIP IT!!!


Friday, July 8, 2016

Eating Medieval: Apple Tart

The Scene:

Harclay waited in the castle courtyard to meet MacDougall personally. There were rumors he was in a black mood these days—something about a prisoner escaping his gallows, and a false accusation against the young Niall Campbell, resulting in public humiliation. The Scots would be at Carlisle sooner or later, and he’d as soon not have to deal with MacDougall’s moods, as they discussed the anticipated attack.

He greeted the lord as he rode in from the orchards. Reaching a hand on his reins, he said, “Welcome, My Lord! There’s a fine meal being laid even now for you and your men, and I’ve a wonderful lutar for you, only recently arrived!”

As he dismounted, MacDougall smiled.

A good start, Harclay thought irritably. He disliked having to soothe grown men’s tempers.

“A lutar and an orchard full of comely young lasses,” MacDougall said. “It seems my stay will be pleasant indeed.” “My Lord?” Harclay questioned. “Lasses in my orchard?”

The Water is Wide
Book Three of The Blue Bells Chronicles

Hildegard of Bingen on Apples:

Hildegard is referenced in several other posts.  She was a visionary, saint, physician, author, diplomat, preacher, and composer, who lived about 250 to 300 years before Niall's time. I suspect her life and writings may have been known in Scotland in the 1300s, and her ideas would likely have still held sway, at least with some.

Hildegard saw the apple tree as hot and moist--so moist that it would flow forth if not held back by the heat. The leaves of the apple tree, taken in springtime before the tree produces its annual fruit, were helpful to fogginess in the eyes.  The leaves must be pounded to express sap and add to an equal measure of drops from a grapevine, and kept in a metal jar.  At night, these drops were to be used to moisten the eyelids with a feather.

For headache or pain from illnesses of liver, or bad humors of the belly: Hildegard recommended taking the first shoots of the apple tree and placing them in olive oil in a jar that would then be warmed in the sun. Drinking this potion often before going to bed would help relieve the headache.

For pains in the shoulders, loins, or stomach, she took earth from around the root of the apple tree, when the blossoms first came out in the spring.  This dirt was heated over fire, and the warmed dirt, placed on the aching place.

The Recipe, from The Form of Curye:

2 apples
2 pears
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup dried figs
2 tablespoons butter (or margarine)
1 teaspoon of powder douce *
a pinch of saffron
a pie crust

* To make powder douce, which is called for in many medieval recipes, simply mix together

3 tablespoons ginger
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Bonus points if you remember what other recipe used cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg!

Cut all fruits into small pieces, Mix fruit, spices, and butter well.  Place them in a pie crust and bake 45 to 50 minutes until done.

The Results:

Delicious! I wasn't too excited about a pie with dried figs. In fact, I'm not a huge fan of pies to begin with, although I do like apple pie well enough.  But neither had I ever had pie with pears in it.  

Further, this pie contains very little sugar compared to what many recipes today call for.  Not that I would know, having never baked a pie in my life (sticking a pre-made in the oven doesn't count), but I was so informed by my helper in this project.  

(Okay, another side note, the DO-er in this project.  I really just sat around looking up recipes and working on the cookbook, and e-mailing a list of ingredients, ignoring the activity going on around me while I sipped wine and worked hard, and low and behold, an hour or so later, Apple Muse and Apple Tart appeared next to my laptop!  It was kind of magical!)

But back to the point about sugar--I think I liked this 'tart' far better than our modern pies, despite (or because of?) the significantly less sugar in it.  I highly recommend it, although if you can make only one of the apple recipes, I recommend the apple muse.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Liver Haggis in a Cod's Head

My daughter was very much not amused when I read the name of this recipe out loud.  She didn't much care for the sound of Hairy Tatties, either.  I take it she does not want either of these meals tonight, tomorrow night, or, really, ever, in the course of her natural existence.

I, however, find the name fascinating.  I found it in an old book discovered by luck at Half Price Books (the place to which my paycheck is automatically diverted, because let's be honest, it's going there anyway), while searching for a recipe for fish pie.  The book was published in 1972, a collection of the author's grandmother's traditional Scottish recipes.

And so, I present to you, liver haggis in a cod's head.

You will need:
2 cods' livers
1 cod's head

We interrupt this recipe to ask a vital question: Does a single cod have two livers?  An attempt to find out brings up a thousand sites on the benefits of cod liver oil, but no information as to how many livers a cod has.  I'm assuming only one like me, but that's probably because my subconscious is regurgitating that great line from Freshmen Studies at good ole Larry U: My mother is a fish.  Throw in some mathematical equations, and it becomes obvious that a fish must have one liver, just like people do.

So I suppose you need two cod...or cods.  (Another google search on my history, which also pulled up information on cod pieces.  I swear I was looking up fish recipes and fish information!)  But I did find out that the plural of cod is cod or cods.

Now that these important points are settled, you will also need:
a large onion
a pound of oatmeal
pepper and salt

These ingredients are not nearly as interesting, but apparently necessary.  Now that you have them:

  1. Wash the head thoroughly in cold salted water
  2. Boil the onion and chop it into small pieces
  3. Remove strings from livers and beat them with a fork
  4. Mix together oatmeal, onion, pepper, salt, and creamed livers
  5. Stuff this mixture into the cod's head
  6. Butter strong grease-proof paper and tie the head securely into it
  7. Tie this in a pudding cloth*
  8. Steam or boil for 90 minutes
* a pudding cloth is similar to a cheesecloth or muslin, and was an alternative to cooking food in skins made of animal intestines--as haggis traditionally is.

I admit, I'm curious how the 'haggis' portion of this tastes if simply made on its own.  I'm guessing that flavor seeps in front the fish head.  However, not having access to a fish head, cod or otherwise, at 10:30 at night--and not sure I have any plans to procure one, anyway--for now I'm settling for merely passing this along, and if someone else makes it, I hope you'll stop by and tell us how it tastes.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Eating Medieval: Apple Muse

It would be far too easy a pun to say, "Thanks to a perfect storm...."

But, in fact, it has been a perfect storm this evening, both literally and figuratively.  I left home to make the drive to my farthest-flung teaching location on an almost clear day, and within 15 minutes was driving on a highway with traffic barrels--you know those big orange ones used to mark off lanes during construction season in Minnesota--blowing around the highway.

In addition, the cord on my sander had broken (while sanding my kitchen cupboards in preparation for veneer), my washing machine latch broke just an hour before I left, and one of Emmanuel's Light's pictures needed screws added to the back of its frame.  For all these reasons--a perfect storm of stuff happening--I had to go to a friend's house after work even apart from the actual storm around that left me not feeling quite safe driving the long distance home.

So here I am, laundry going, frame set up for hanging, sander repaired--and can't go anywhere until the laundry is done and the standing water on the highway hopefully goes down a bit (some of it was dangerously high, and at times it was like being on a log flume, with the spray of other cars shooting up over the top of my minivan).

Naturally, I'm using the time to work on medieval recipes linked to scenes in my writing, and so we have decided to make an apple recipe or two tonight.

The Scene(s):

He jogged to the single gate leaving the castle compound. He had to get out before MacDougall came through. He had only to get past the orchards beyond, and through the next gate, and he’d be in the town’s narrow, twisting streets, with plenty of places to hide. 
A flurry of light, feminine voices stopped him. He picked up the collective note of agitation. Past experience told him he might well be the target. He glanced behind—back inside the castle walls—and before—across the bridge where he’d be exposed. He couldn’t see them. 
He ran for it, the lute thumping on his back, and just as they emerged from the twilight, at the far end of the orchard, he threw himself to the right, into the shadows of the west orchard. 
Their voices came to him. “It seems he’s met every one of us here!” That was Emeline. 
Shawn pressed a hand to his eyes, stifling a groan. Not now, Emeline! 
“He’ll be playing at the castle for the commander’s dinner.” 
That was Duraina. 
The voices came closer. “There’s only one way in and out,” said the carpenter’s daughter. “He’s met all of you here. He’ll be back to meet me. Let’s wait. 
~ ~ ~ 
Harclay waited in the castle courtyard to meet MacDougall personally. There were rumors he was in a black mood these days—something about a prisoner escaping his gallows, and a false accusation against the young Niall Campbell, resulting in public humiliation. The Scots would be at Carlisle sooner or later, and he’d as soon not have to deal with MacDougall’s moods, as they discussed the anticipated attack. 
He greeted the lord as he rode in from the orchards. Reaching a hand on his reins, he said, “Welcome, My Lord! There’s a fine meal being laid even now for you and your men, and I’ve a wonderful lutar for you, only recently arrived!” 
As he dismounted, MacDougall smiled. 
A good start, Harclay thought irritably. He disliked having to soothe grown men’s tempers. 
“A lutar and an orchard full of comely young lasses,” MacDougall said. “It seems my stay will be pleasant indeed.” 
“My Lord?” Harclay questioned. “Lasses in my orchard?”

The Water is Wide
Book Three of The Blue Bells Chronicles

I don't believe I ever specified, but as plenty of medieval recipes call for pears, it seems quite reasonable that the orchards at Carlisle contained both apples and pears.  For tonight, however, as we have time on our hands, we have settled on a few potential apple recipes.

The Recipe:

The simplest is Apple Muse, or what we would call applesauce, found in several early cookbooks.

Take Appleys an sethe hem, an Serge hem thorwe a Sefe in-to a potte; thanne take Almaunde Mylke and Hony an caste ther-to, an gratide Brede, Safroun, Saunderys, and Salt a lytil, & caste all in the potte & lete hem sethe; & loke that thou stere it wyl, and serue it forth.

We are going to do this, in more modern English:
2 apples
2 cups of almond milk (a recipe for that will be forthcoming)
4 tbsp honey
2 slices of bread crumbled into crumbs
A pinch of saffron (Thank goodness only a pinch!  This stuff is expensive!)
A dash of salt

[The recipe calls for sandalwood, but we are forgoing that as it is simply not available in the Twin Cities at 9 pm.]
  1. Peel, core, and slice apples, and press them through a sieve.
  1. Add everything else and simmer
Did I mention that medieval recipes are not into specificities?  They're sort of the forerunners of Cooking with Shawn.  So we simmered for a bit and then decided to eat.

The results were great!  One blog described it as like a pudding.  I would say it's more like lumpy applesauce, but better, thicker, more filling.  This could have been either a breakfast or a desert.  Just for fun, we tried added half a shot of Glayva to one bowl and half a shot of Highland Park Scotch whiskey to another.  (I have my friend Elaine, who lived under Castle Campbell in the Ochill Hills to thank for the Glayva!)  If I had to leave my house early to take care of the cows on a chilly Highland morning, I can't think of a better way to start the day than with Apple Muse with half a shot of Glayva!  The scotch whiskey was also quite good, but in a different way.

Berwick and the Bruce

First things first for my American readers--BARE-ick.  Not BURR-wick!  There, I have saved you from my fate of being laughed at in Scotland when I badly mispronounced the name of the town!

Berwick went back and forth between the English and Scots a whopping thirteen times in medieval days.  It has a long and sometimes dark history, in regards to Scotland.  Perhaps the darkest and ugliest was the Sack of Berwick, on March 30, 1296.  Bruce, at the time, was a young man of 21.  The town had been in Scottish hands in the days of the Scottish king John Baliol--a man chosen by Edward I of England, with the expectation that he would be easily manipulated.

However, King John made a stand, allying with the French against Edward in 1295.  Edward stormed north (he excelled, in fact, at storming north, and made a habit of it) with 30,000 men to remind the Scots who was really in charge of their king.  Berwick being where it was, it was besieged by the angry Edward.  The town fell on March 30, 1296.  The slaughter of the town, of men, women, and children, was ruthless, lasting three days with every possible person hunted down and killed.

Estimates of the death toll range wildly, though some modern figures are much lower, based on the known population of the time.  I think, however, that it's easy to get wrapped up in numbers.  The total number, whether it was 2,000 or 15,000 is less relevant than the fact of such total decimation of an entire town, and with such brutality.  Had there been 15,000 living in the town, that would have been close to the number killed.

Among the most horrific stories are that of an English knight murdering a woman (and her child) in the very act of giving birth.  In my novels, I 'identify' this man as Simon Beaumont, Butcher of Berwick.  In truth, history has protected the guilty and not told us his name.

Edward followed up this display of inhumanity by forcing the Scottish nobles--including the young Bruce--to come to see him in Berwick, and to walk through the streets of rotting, dismembered bodies.

Berwick became the place where one of Bruce's brothers would be hanged and quartered by the English, and where one of his fervent supporters, Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, would be forced to live in a cage, on display, for four years.

In the years following Bruce's great victory at Bannockburn, Berwick, however, seemed at first destined to remain in English hands.  On the night of January 14, 1316, James Douglas, Bruce's foremost friend and right-hand man in the war for freedom, led a surprise attack on the town, by land and sea.  A bright moon gave them away, and the attack was called off, although James left behind a body of men to watch the town and cut the supply lines to it.

This led to one of Douglas's hardest fought (by his own estimation) battles: the battle at Coldstream, or Skaithmuir, on February 14, 1316, when the starving Gascons left Berwick to try to find food.

In the early months of 1318, Bruce and Douglas led a joint siege against Berwick.  Accounts and names vary slightly, but it seems a Peter (or Syme) of Spalding, an Englishman, approached the Scots, offering to let them in.  One story says he asked for a bribe of 800 pounds--a story that David R. Ross finds implausible.  Another story, and the one I use in my books, is that Spalding's wife was a Scottish woman, kin to the Scottish Sir William Keith.  This woman was being harassed, and possibly abused, by the English soldiers in Bewick.  For this reason, Spalding was quite happy to turn the town over to his wife's countrymen.

It was on this attempt that Bruce finally regained the town.  In The Battle is O'er, Book Five of The Blue Bells Chronicles, (due out in late 2017) we will see Niall at that siege:

The men on the ponies exchanged looks and shrugged. “We know naught of the people there,” said the first. 
“MacDonald seemed in good spirits?” 
“Niall! The trebuchet!” 
A hail of arrows and rocks erupted from behind Berwick’s walls. The travelers wheeled their ponies and spurred them hard out of shot of the enemy. Niall threw his shield up over his head, ducking under it. A few arrows scattered around him, piercing the earth muddy with March rains. Somewhere, a man screamed. The arrows quivered like flowers, their feathers like a garden of death. He shouted for his men at the trebuchet. They’d already put up a wall of shields, guarding those who rolled another boulder into the machine’s giant palm. A dozen men jumped back, letting the arm fling the rock through the drizzle just starting. It struck the wall too low, doing little damage, and slid into the moat. A shower of smaller stones and a second flurry of arrows came flying back. Men shouted and ducked. 
“Another one!” Niall yelled. “Keep the shields up!” Already, Lachlan and Owen had a massive stone rolling down the slight incline, and Taran and a half dozen others were hauling on the ropes, pulling the arm down against the massive counterweight. In his weeks with the army, Taran had gained bulk. He shouted in a voice deepening into a man’s. “Pull harder, lads!” 
A spray of arrows spattered around them, piercing shields and the soft mud. “Let fly!” Hugh roared, and the second boulder spun out against the gray sky. They backed up as the archers on the wall took aim again. Their stone struck the wall, digging out chunks of masonry. His men cheered, even as they dragged the mangonel back, just beyond reach of the arrows.

Berwick continues in Scottish history beyond this point, but for now, I leave this as part one of the story of Berwick, as regards the Bruce.  Of further interest, you might like another brief overview of medieval Berwick, or Eating Not Quite Medieval: Wrong Century, Wrong Continent, which touches on the question of what may have been eaten during sieges, or the story of the Unfortunate Adam Newton, who had a connection to Berwick.

Information Britain
Berwick Times Tumblr
Wikipedia--James Douglas
Education Scotland
James the Good: The Black Douglas by David R. Ross