April 2010

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27 Apr The Delights of Research

One does find the most peculiar things while doing research into historical periods:

Medieval Scottish Ecclesiastical Toilets

It’s good to know the monks at St. Andrews and the Isle of Iona had such, er, comforts.

Naturally I couldn’t help clicking around through the rest of the site (a Shakespearean chamber pot! the Ottoman Sultan’s toilet!).

Stop by Toilets of the World and you too can be privy to all the details.

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25 Apr Un Gentil Huteaudeau

I just love words.

At one point in The Silver Casket, the heroine Rinette faces off against Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, soon to be Mary Queen of Scots’ second husband. Now Darnley may have been tall, blond and good-looking, but Queen Mary’s own uncle the Cardinal of Lorraine described him scathingly as un gentil huteaudeau, which pretty much means “a pleasant nitwit.” Heh. The male Paris Hilton of the 1560s. Huteaudeau appears to have been an idiom along the lines of what today we might call “a dumb cluck,” because in the sixteenth century it also literally meant “young chicken” or “pullet.”

The word is preserved not only in the Cardinal’s disparagement of Darnley, but in a traditional Scottish dish called “Howtowdie,” a chicken stuffed with skirlie (savory sautéed oats with onions), roasted (or boiled) and served on a bed of spinach with “drappit eggs” (poached eggs). Intrigued? Here’s a link to a lovely authentic recipe:

Ishbel’s Traditional Scottish Howtowdie

I’m not sure about the poached eggs, but the skirlie sounds pretty yummy. I love cooking from the periods I write about and I think I will have to try this!

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23 Apr Stripes Ahoy!

Remember last January when I wrote about the two new rose bushes we’d ordered? Well, after some uncertain moments during our cold, wet spring, little “Scentimental” has come through with flying colors. Here’s its very first bloom:

Incredibly fragrant, as one would expect from its name. Heh. Of course I couldn’t help expecting the scent of peppermint, but what it is, for me at least, is an intense, classic old-fashioned “rose” scent. Heavenly.

And I will end this series of back-yard adventures with this:

…because whenever one is in our back yard, there’s always a beagle observing!

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19 Apr More Garden Adventures

It’s a good year for roses, it seems, in east Texas. Here are some more rose pictures from our back forty:

These are what we call the “Pink Peggies.” They were a wedding gift from my dear mother Miss Peggie, and meant to be white—but when the bare-root bushes were planted and nurtured and started to bloom that first year, lo and behold they were pink. Much correspondence with David Austin Roses ensued. The true identity of the pink roses was never ascertained, which is how they came to be called the Pink Peggies.

The following year we received a trio of replacement plants, and these were indeed the beautiful white “Winchester Cathedral” variety Miss Peggie had originally chosen. At the moment they are just quivering on the cusp of blossoming—look at those dozens and dozens of buds! Later on I’ll post some pictures of the actual blooms.

Now back to sixteenth-century Scotland, and the flowers there…

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17 Apr Anniversary Roses

Today is the Broadcasting Legend™’s and my anniversary. At our wedding ceremony I carried a glorious bouquet of Peace roses from the bush in our own back yard, and so of course every spring the new blooms seem to be saying, “Hello again! Happy anniversary!”

We described our wedding day as “Babies, Beagles and Roses.” Well, the babies have grown up and sadly one of the beagles, my dearest Raffles, is gone—but the roses continue to bloom. May that particular Peace bush thrive for many more years!

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15 Apr Thursday Book Quatrain

The Devil’s Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis:

Catherine de’ Medici always fascinates
As a Machiavellian queen and mother of three kings;
This tale follows the queen from i palazzi of Italy to les palais of France,
And suggests a startling reason for Catherine’s wickedness.

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12 Apr Arms and the Beagles

To whom do these lovely and mysterious arms belong? (No, not the Venus de Milo, silly.) Who is sitting on our couch playing with Cressie and Boo? Why, it’s Agent Diana, in town for a conference and here to spend some very intense time discussing The Silver Casket.

It was wonderful to meet Agent D. face-to-face for the first time. We devoured incredible prime steaks, exotic chocolates steeped in fruit and liqueurs; saganaki, spanokopita and tzatziki; and lovely cupcakes. Did we do anything but eat? Heh. Well, yes. We spent hours talking about The Silver Casket, books, The Second Duchess, books, the conference, books, promotion and bookstores, and oh yes—books.

Agent D. is now on her way back to New York after waving a sad goodbye to the beagle duo, and I’m on my way back to my hermitage to write up notes on everything we talked about…

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11 Apr Texas Mountain Laurel

What I saw on my walk today:

I would love to have some of this in our back yard. Trouble is, it has beautiful, shiny bright red seeds which are hallucinogenic (not surprisingly it’s also called the mescal bean tree) and very toxic. Not a good combination with two curious beagles who will eat anything!

But it’s so lovely. I’ll just have to appreciate it in other people’s yards.