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17 Mar Lucky January

Lucky St. Patrick’s Day news! NAL has moved the release date of The Second Duchess up by one month, so it will now make its debut in January 2011. Somehow that seems so much sooner than February 2011!

We readers all get book cards and book gift certificates for Christmas, right? So when you hit the bookstores in January with your Christmas book-buying booty, keep The Second Duchess in mind. And don’t worry—I’ll remind you again. Heh. Probably more than once.

And as for St. Patrick’s Day luck, well, I come from a long line of McConnells on my dear mother’s side. Sláinte!

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07 Mar Bean and Bacon Soup

Today is a dreary, rainy day, and what could be nicer on a rainy Sunday than homemade bean and bacon soup?

Read the other day in Cook’s Illustrated—one of my very favorite magazines—that rather than just soak beans, one should brine them. Yes, I know, our mothers all taught us not to salt beans before cooking them. But Cook’s did all kinds of tests and determined that soaking overnight in salted water (two teaspoons of salt per quart of water) yields better-seasoned and more evenly cooked beans in the end. So we shall see! I put my pound of great northern beans in brine last night and later today will make my soup.

As for the soup recipe itself, well, it’s never quite the same. Take some nice lean bacon and cook it crisp. Drain it and put it aside; discard most but not quite all of the bacon fat; in the remaining bacon fat sizzle up some chopped veggies, onions and celery and carrots and whatever else you like. Then add the brined beans (drained and rinsed), enough water or chicken or veggie stock to cover it all, and simmer for a couple of hours.

When the beans are tender, whizz the soup with an immersion blender (or puree about half of it in a regular blender), add more stock if it’s too thick, add some greens (I like spinach) and continue to simmer just long enough to wilt them down. Then add back in the crumbled crisp bacon, adjust the seasonings, and serve. Heavenly, and despite the bacon, very healthy. The trick is to use a smallish amount of bacon and discard most of the bacon fat. It only takes a teeny bit to produce wonderful bacon flavor.

Mmmmm, bacon.

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01 Mar Olympic Beagling

And the living room goes quiet as Boudin Loupas attempts—holy cow, ladies and gentlemen, this is a first—it’s the full Sphinx-Frog position—and he’s doing it while he’s half asleep! And he sticks the landing! <Audience goes wild.>

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11 Feb I Suppose This Means…

…we don’t get a walk today, Mama? I mean, it’s just a little snow. We like snow! Really! There are lots of good smells to smell under the snow. We won’t be cold. We have fur coats! Please, Mama? Please, just one little short walk? Pleeeeeeeaaseeeee….?

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01 Feb Ferrara Live

Am immersing myself in sixteenth-century Ferrara. So much of the old city has been preserved—the medieval city walls, the Castello with its four massive towers, the magnificent Romanesque cathedral, the many palaces of the Este including the Palazzo dei Diamante, which today houses the National Picture Gallery, and the Palazzo Schifanoia with its incredible fifteenth-century frescoes. My Barbara would have known them all, walked their floors, touched their walls, breathed their air. It’s a daunting and delightful thought.

Sometimes I watch the various webcams of modern-day Ferrara.

Città di Ferrara, various webcam views

Today, for example, it’s clearly sunny and cold—the sky is blue behind the clouds but there is snow on the roofs and here and there in the streets. Much of my story takes place in December, January and February of 1565 and 1566, and I imagine the weather to have been similar. I imagine Barbara’s breath as a visible cold mist when she goes out into the city to pursue her secret plan…

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29 Jan Vale, J.D. Salinger

“If only you’d remember before you ever sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself.” —From Seymour: An Introduction.

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27 Jan Intentionality

There aren’t really any unbreakable “rules” for writing—or for that matter, for life. But this is a good one:

Intend every word you write.

Its corollary for life-in-general, of course, would be intend every thing you do.

Harder than it sounds.

The blog post by Eric Cummings on intentionality (yes, there really is such a word) in writing that got me started thinking about this is here, on one of my favorite blogs, Write to Done.