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22 Jan Sixteenth-Century Chicken

Yesterday I posted a recipe I used to bake chicken in the here and now. Just for fun, here’s a recipe the cooks in Barbara’s kitchen might have used for a somewhat similar dish.

A Ferrarese court kitchen in the sixteenth century, from Libro Novo by Cristoforo di Messisbugo

Take parcelly, Sauge, Isoppe, Rose Mary, and tyme, and breke hit bitwen thi hondes, and stoppe the Capon there-with;
Colour hym with Safferon, and couche him in a erthen potte, or of brasse, and ley splentes underneth and al about the sides, that the Capon touche no thinge of the potte;
Strawe good herbes in the potte, and put thereto a pottel of the best wyn that thou may gete, and none other licour; hele the potte with a close led, and stoppe hit aboute with dogh or bater, that no eier come oute;
And set hit on the faire charcole, and lete it seeth easly and longe till hit be ynowe.
And if hit be an erthen potte, then set hit on the fire whan thou takest hit downe, and lete hit not touche the grounde for breking;
And whan the hete is ouer past, take oute the Capon with a prik;
Then make a sirippe of wyne, Reysons of corance, sugur and safferon, And boile hit a litull; medel pouder of Ginger with a litul of the same wyn, and do thereto;
Then do awey the fatte of the sewe of the Capon, And do the Siryppe to the sewe, and powre hit on the capon, and serue it forth.

I love the language. “Couch him in an earthen pot.” “The best wine that thou may get.” This actually sounds pretty good, once one puzzles out the directions.

Recipe for “Capons Stwed” courtesy Cariadoc’s Miscellany.

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21 Jan No-Soup Chicken Breasts

Last night for some reason I wanted to bake chicken breasts. Usually I sear them quickly on top of the stove and finish them in the oven, and very good they are, too, but variety is the spice of life. My challenge was a) I didn’t have any gloppy canned “cream of” soup, and b) I didn’t want to spoil my beautiful chicken breasts with gloppy canned “cream of” soup anyway. So I played a riff on a baked dip recipe I love and made these. They are just as easy as the canned soup variety and so much better. Really.

I don’t measure in a conventional sense unless I’m baking. So bear with me here.

Start by pre-heating your oven to 375.

Mix together:

Artichoke hearts. I used canned ones (drained, of course). Frozen would work, too. Maybe ten or twelve. Chopped up, not too finely.

Mayonnaise. It does have to be the real thing. Lowfat and fat-free mayonnaise separates in a particularly nasty way when you try to cook with it. I used about half a cup.

Parmesan cheese, grated or shredded, in about the same amount as the mayonnaise.

Canned chopped jalapenos. A couple of tablespoons. This is kind of a to-taste thing. You can leave them out entirely if you don’t like jalapenos.

This will look like cole slaw when you’re done with it.

Rub a baking dish with olive oil. Salt and pepper your chicken breasts (I had two, because there are two of us. You may have one, or four, or twelve. Adjust the sauce ingredients proportionally) and arrange them in the dish. Cover them with the artichoke-parmesan-mayonnaise mixture. Make sure all the meat surface is covered because that’s what keeps the meat beautifully moist. Sprinkle with a little hot Hungarian paprika if you’re feeling crazy. Bake for about thirty minutes. This may vary a bit depending on how many breasts you’ve got in there. They’re done when there’s no pink left in the middle.

Serve with egg noodles (what I used last night, because the Broadcasting Legend™ is particularly partial to noodles), rice, or pasta—farfalle would be good.

These were delicious, quick, and so much better than the canned-soup variety. Sorry, Campbell’s.

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19 Jan Beginning with One Step

Pedometer, January 19, 2008I have a new project: 10,000 steps. People who are supposed to know such things say it’s a Good Thing to walk 10,000 steps a day. So I bought a pedometer and tried it. Well, as you can see, so far today I’m a total washout. And this includes our regular walk with the doggies! Clearly I’m going to have to walk two or three times a day with the dogs (cue sound of two beagles baying with joy) or something.

As a side note, I made the Broadcasting Legend™’s day when he walked into my office and saw me shooting pictures of my own hip. He’s still laughing.

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18 Jan Solitude

I love Walden. When I had to read it for a high school class I hated it. The war between the ants? Oh, please. But later, at my own pace and for my own pleasure, I read it again—and again and again and again—and the intensity of Thoreau’s transcendentalism and love of solitude always delights and refreshes me.

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.

A (wo)man thinking or working is always alone.

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15 Jan Suicide (No, I’m Not Considering It)

One of the fascinating aspects of writing historical fiction is the never-ending struggle to keep your word choice consistent with your time period, while avoiding distracting “Olde Englysshe” constructions. My trusty sidekick in this battle is the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Take the word “suicide.” Two characters in my book are suspected suicides. However, the word “suicide” itself was not recorded until 1651, about a hundred years after the time of my story. For other words or phrases I could use, I read documents of the time, and mused over Hamlet and the discussions of Ophelia’s death—the Shakespeare Search Engine is another way of checking word usage (in English, anyway) in the second half of the sixteenth century.

Words. I do love words.

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14 Jan Six Things That Make Me Happy

Tagged again! This time, it’s Bryn Greenwood’s doing. I really have to learn to run faster. Heh.

All right. Six things that make me happy.

  1. My first cup of coffee in the morning. Strong strong coffee with milk. It’s not really lattè because the milk isn’t steamed or foamed, but I call it lattè anyway. So report me to the lattè police.
  2. Taking a siesta after lunch. Piling into bed with both doggies and the Broadcasting Legend™ if he’s not on the road and drowsing deliciously through Everyday Italian and Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network.
  3. Hugs from little children.
  4. Going to church. Singing For All the Saints or one of the other great processionals as the scrubbed acolytes (more little children) and the choir stream into the sanctuary, and almost crying as the sopranos launch into the high, soaring descant on the last verse of the hymn.
  5. Flower scents. Real flowers, not perfumes or oils. Lilies of the valley, lilacs, old-fashioned clove pinks. Our English roses—Jude the Obscure, Eglantyne, Winchester Cathedral.
  6. Standing in the back yard and looking up at the sky. Picking out the constellations I learned when I was a little girl at the lake. Trying to work my mind around the inconceivable distances.
  7. Opening a thick, tantalizing new book to the first page.
  8. Reading Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Oh wait. That’s eight. And I haven’t even gotten to chocolate.

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13 Jan Revisions

Revisions finished! O frabjous day, callooh callay! It’s fascinating how a few words, or a line, or a paragraph, can completely change the tone and meaning of a scene. So not huge amounts of rewriting. Just a little snicker-snack here and there with my vorpal blade of mimsiness. Or something.

I really like the changes. Now I need to let them rest for a few days, then re-read.

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12 Jan The Wolf Moon

The Wolf MoonLast night the moon was full—the Wolf Moon, as January’s full moon is called. The moon was also at its perigee, the point in its orbit when it is closest to the Earth, and therefore had good reason to look especially huge and majestic—the largest moon of 2009—as it rose over our back fence and the old-fashioned weathervane on our neighbor’s shed.

According to National Geographic, “Native Americans and medieval Europeans named January’s full moon after the howling of hungry wolves lamenting the midwinter paucity of food.” I wonder if there are moon names in Ferrarese history. Just what I need—another bit of lore to fascinate me. How I ever got a whole book done is a mystery, when there’s so much enticing research to follow. (Scribbles “names of full moons in Ferrara?” in research journal for later.)

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11 Jan Barbara’s Little Office

The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, once owned by Barbara of Austria, Duchess of Ferrara
This is a reproduction of a book that Barbara of Austria actually owned and used. It’s the Officium Beatae Mariae Virginis, or the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Isn’t it beautiful? The original would have been hand-lettered, with the illuminations hand-painted. I look at it and imagine her holding it, turning the pages, saying the prayers.

I want to find a way to work this book into Barbara’s story somehow. Perhaps in the second book. In the first book she’s more concerned with a copy of I Modi, which is a different sort of book entirely.

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10 Jan And Speaking of Seven, Seven Writing Tricks

Here are seven things that keep me going, day by day, hour by hour. It’s a tough world out there in Hopeful Publishing Land and we all need a little help sometimes.

  1. Writing about what I wish I were writing. I just start tip-tapping, stream-of-consciousness style, about what I wish I could write and all of a sudden I realize—surprise!—I can write it. I want to write it. I probably am writing it.
  2. Taking a shower. I always have great ideas in the shower. As a bonus, I get extra-clean. Sometimes I get wrinkly.
  3. Walking while talking to myself. Or maybe it’s talking to myself while walking. In either case I take one of the dogs so I can pretend I’m talking to the dog.
  4. Cleaning. The grittier, dirtier, and more mindless, the better. I think, “I could be writing instead of doing this.” Pretty soon I am.
  5. My writing talisman. It’s a chunk of llanite from the Llano Uplift. Yours could be a lucky hat, a statuette, special pen, a piece of jewelry, an artifact from a historical era. The more you associate it with your writing, the more it will encourage your writing. Really.
  6. Plants. Fill your writing space with as many plants as you can fit in. They clean the air, and cleaner air means a clearer head. You can talk to them, too, if you don’t have a dog. Even if you do have a dog.
  7. Laughter. Find something that will always make you laugh. I like Cute Overload. Laugh good and hard, until your belly hurts. It truly loosens up all those impacted words you’ve been wanting to write but haven’t been able to.

What are your writing tricks? Enquiring minds want to know!