Tag Archives: Historical fiction

Diviners Killer Cocktail


Evie O’Neill is way too big-time for small-town Zenith Ohio. She likes gin, and despite the Prohibition, has no trouble finding it. She likes flapper fashion and boys and dancing. Only, her parents, along with most of the town, are not impressed. When her punishment for a drunken accusation is to go stay with an uncle in New York City, well, Evie thinks this is the beginning of a swell new adventure.

Libba Bray’s The Diviners is chock full of adventure. From her very first mugging to her friendship with a real live Ziegfeld girl to getting her name in the newspaper, Evie is really living! It’s not all giggle water and the Charleston, though. Turns out Uncle Will owns a decaying museum of the occult and supernatural. He is called in to help solve a murder, and Evie tags along.

When she sees the dead girl, Evie realizes her secret gift of psychically “reading” objects could help solve the crime. Except Evie isn’t the only one in New York with special powers. And not everyone uses their powers for good.

The Killer’s Cocktail is swilled at fashionable parties as a way of thumbing one’s nose at the policy’s warnings about a murderer at large. I used a Canadian whiskey, as many New Yorkers would have during prohibition. You are welcome to use any sparkling wine as a topper, from Champagne to Prosecco. I used canned tart pie cherries in water as to not over sweeten the drink. If you prefer maraschinos, have at it.

Diviners Killer Cocktail

1 shot whiskey
1/2 shot triple sec
Splash orange juice
6 canned cherries
Sparkling wine

In a shaker, combine the first four ingredients and shake it like crazy. Alternatively, you could muddle them in your glass, but it will be cloudy. Strain into the stemware of your choice, and top with sparkling wine.

I didn’t think of it in time, but this would be a perfect drink to add a sugar rim to your glass.

Serves one, if you can stop with one!

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Posted by on November 16, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Soufflé of Fortune


Clearly I don’t know as much I ought to about the Borgia’s, because Michael Ennis’s Malice of Fortune just blew my mind. The real history of a mysterious death is entwined with a rash of horrific murders of women.

Naturally, the only people who can solve crimes of this magnitude are Machiavelli and Da Vinci, accompanied by a blackmailed courtesan. That makes this sound a little silly, but Ennis pulls it off. Damiana, the courtesan, was sleeping with the Duke of Gandia, the Pope’s favorite son. She is suspected of the murder, and hopes to clear her name with the help of Machiavelli, who is acting as the Florentine ambassador to Rome.

Still with me? Da Vinci in this case acts as a forensic scientist of sorts. In the mix there is also plenty of witchcraft and statecraft, war and rape and pillage. In short, it’s everything you’d want in historical fiction.

There wasn’t quite as much lavish papal feasting as I’d hoped, but Italian food is as sexy during the Renaissance as it is now. There’s an excellent scene involving Damiata sensually eating Parmesan and salami. If I’d recommended a deli plate to go with this book, though, I’d lose every follower but my husband. So even though no one in Pope Alexander VI’s Rome was eating soufflés, enjoy! Damiata describes the candied pine nuts early on in the book. They provide a crunchy-sweet counterpoint to the rich egg-and-cheese mixture.

The Soufflé of Fortune

1/4 c pine nuts
1 Tb sugar (white, not brown)

2 Tb butter (more for ramekins)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tb flour
1 1/3 c milk
3/4 c Parmesan, grated
4 eggs, separated

In a small skillet, heat the nuts and sugar together until a caramel forms. Watch it carefully, those damn nuts are too expensive to burn! Remove to a small plate to cool.

Heat the oven to 400, and butter 4 small ramekins. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the garlic. When the butter is sizzley, add the flour and whisk like crazy. After about 1 minute, add the milk and turn up the heat. Whisk, still crazily, until the milk boils and everything thickens. Take the pan off the heat, whisk in the Parmesan, and transfer to a large bowl to cool down.

While that’s cooling, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. When the bechamel is cool-ish, whisk in the egg YOLKS. Then use a spatula to fold in 1/3 of the whites. Once that’s done, it should be pretty easy to fold the rest in while keeping things fluffy.

Divide the mixture between the ramekins. Put the ramekins on a cookie sheet, they will pouf like crazy and some might overflow. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until they are golden.

Divide pine nuts between soufflés. Serve 4 with salami, olives, and plenty of Sangiovese.

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Posted by on October 19, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Dovekeepers Stew


There is no surprise to the ending of Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers. For one thing, it’s a fictional portrayal of the all-too-true events at Masada. Even if you, like me, were unfamiliar with the setting, the first line of the jacket copy gives fair warning- juuuuust about everybody dies at the end.

The story is told in four parts, each from the point of view of a different woman as she makes her way towards the Jewish stronghold of Masada in hopes of escaping the Romans. Yael is a lioness, the despised daughter of a famed Sicarii assassin. Revka was a baker’s wife, before she discovered what she was capable of alone. Aziza is a warrior princess, and Shirah, her mother, is a renowned sorceress.

Each of their stories intertwine, as the women all end up working together to care for the doves of Masada. The fates that have been written in the Book of Life unfold in Hoffman’s beautiful prose. You would think, with the foreshadowing- can you even call it foreshadowing? It’s more like… Well, I haven’t invented a word yet. Anyways, despite the grim subject matter, the book somehow manages not to be sad.

Rather, this is an extraordinary story of female strength in a time we don’t tend to think of encouraging that. There is also a lot of really neat stuff about magic in ancient Judaism. But best of all- oh my Lord, the food. Almonds and lentils, wild onions and asparagus, olives and honey. If it weren’t for all the goat milk, I could have been such a happy ancient Isrealite.

This dish is based on one of the first described in the book. It manages the difficult feat of being both light and hearty at once. Leave out the game hen for a vegan meal- no one will miss the meat. And whatever you do, use good olives!

The Dovekeeper’s Stew

1 Cornish game hen
1 tsp sage

1/2 c olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 c chopped olives
5 dried figs, chopped
1 Tb mint
2 bay leaves
2 c lentils
1/4 c barley
2 quarts water

An hour before you start the stew, sprinkle the game hen with the sage, salt, and pepper. Roast it at 375 for an hour. Let it cool while you start the onions.

Combine the onions, olives, and olive oil in a heavy soup pot, and let them slowly cook down over medium heat for 30 minutes. Pull the meat of the game hen, and set aside. Add the bones to the pot. Add the rest of the the ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes. Add reserved meat and simmer for another 15 minutes. Season liberally.

Serve with sliced cold cucumber and feta cheese. Serves a stronghold.

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Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Caleb’s Pudding

Geraldine Brooks is a Pulitzer Prize winner living on Martha’s Vineyard. In her latest offering, “Caleb’s Crossing”, you can tell. Her research into the history of her adopted hometown uncovered a fascinating, though sparse, account of an Indian boy who graduated from Harvard in the year 1665. Although his first name, Caleb, was Anglicized, he retained his native last name. Inspired by the myriad questions this account raised, Brooks writes an account of his life as told by the spunky daughter of a Puritan preacher on the island. Bethia and Caleb grow up together, influencing each other’s lives in untold ways. She faithfully records the details, both historically earth-shattering and completely mundane. Bethia, though a rarity as a literate female, is also a very typical Puritan girl. She cooks, she cleans, she sews, she raises her sister, she is a faithful Christian. She also loves her native island-mates in a time where it is very unpopular. Caleb and Bethia share many meals together, one of which is “Indian Pudding”, or “Hasty Pudding”. As he taught her to find nuts and berries all over the island, it is only fitting to top your dish with both.

Caleb’s Pudding

4 cups whole milk
1/2 c cornmeal
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
1 Tb butter
1 Tb cinnamon
1/2 c brown sugar
1/3 c molasses
2 eggs
Slivered almonds
Any fruit or berry in season- I used dark, sweet, Colorado cherries.

Preheat oven to 325. Bring milk to a simmer over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add cornmeal, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, sugar, and molasses. Whisk constantly until thickened. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and temper them: while beating vigorously, add a big spoonful of the hot mixture. Then add another. Keep beating! Now you can add the eggs to your hot cornmeal without scrambling them. Pour the whole mess into a sprayed or buttered casserole dish (mine was 1 quart) and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Scoop and top with nuts and berries. I served mine with fried eggs and bacon.

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Posted by on July 9, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Oyster Cure

Moth is 12 when her mother sells her into servitude in Ami McKay’s The Virgin Cure.For girls from the tenements of 1871 Manhattan, it’s the kindest choice available. When the abuse of her new mistress becomes too much, Moth runs away to live on the streets. Now she has a choice: stay on the street and risk becoming a “virgin cure” for a syphilitic man, or auctioning her virginity through a brothel known as the Infant School. On her journey, she encounters a colorful cast of unhappy servants, circus freaks, whores, and an unlikely female doctor.
When a girl from the brothel is wooing Moth, they eat oyster stew at a local shack called Graff’s. This recipe is in no way authentic to the time, but it’s still delicious!

The Oyster Cure

4 strips bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 russet potato, diced
1/4 oyster mushrooms (optional, but so cute)
4 Tb butter
1/2 lb oyster meat (jarred is fine)
1/4 c flour
2 c whole milk
1 c beer, lager or ale, no stouts here!
1/4 soy sauce

Render the bacon in a large saucepan until it’s crispy. Remove, and add the butter to your pan. Cook the onion, celery, potato, and mushrooms in the bacon fat/ butter mixture. When the vegetables are soft, add the flour. Stir while cooking for one minute before adding the milk, beer, and soy. Let the stew simmer for a few minutes before adding the oysters in their juices. Cook just until they start to curl and serve immediately. I garnished mine with canned smoked oysters, scallions, and plenty of hot sauce.

Serves 4.


Posted by on June 11, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Pasta Betrayal

I picked up (downloaded) Sara Poole’s The Borgia Betrayal purely because I was in the mood for some high-drama historical fiction, which I felt the title promised. And it did deliver! It turns out this was her second book starring Francesca the Poisoner, but I didn’t feel I had missed anything by not reading the original. As one may deduce from the title, Francesca is Pope Rodrigo Borgia’s pet poisoner. Although she is more than capable of offing his many, many enemies, most of her work involves the detection of poisons aimed at the Borgia family. Now, with his daughter’s wedding fast approaching, the discovery of the New World setting off political bombs, and the rise of an ultra-conservative fanatic group, Francesca finds both herself and La Famiglia targeted by unseen enemies. Francesca loves good simple food, which is rather more decadent in Italy than it is here in the States. Her caretaker Portia makes this simple pasta for her the night before it all goes down. If you can’t find good canned sardines, feel free to substitute anchovies or tuna.
The Pasta Betrayal
8 oz fettucini
4 oz can smoked sardines in olive oil
2 fennel bulbs, fronds attached
1 Tb fennel seeds
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 lemon

Put water on to boil for the pasta. While it heats, open the can of sardines. Drain the oil into a saucepan, than add more olive oil until the bottom of the pan is liberally covered. Add red pepper and fennel seeds, and heat over medium. While it warms, core and slice the fennel, fronds and all. Once the oil is hot, add the fennel. Stir frequently. Once it begins to look caramelized, add the garlic and sardines. Break them up as you stir. After about a minute, add the wine. At this point, your pasta should be about ready to cook. Turn the fennel mix down to the lowest heat while the fettucini cooks. When it’s ready, use tongs to add pasta to the saucepan and toss well. Add a splash or two of pasta water if needed.

Serve with the rest of the bottle of wine, crusty bread, and a salad.

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Posted by on June 8, 2012 in Uncategorized


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