Guest Post: Time Travel Romance and Chocolate Chip Cookies with Cj Fosdick

Today I’m delighted to welcome Wild Rose sister Cj Fosdick to the blog.  Here she is to talk a bit about her heroine in her Accidental series, the first of which is  on sale now for 99 cents, and to share her favorite Victorian era recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Take it away, Cj!

Cookies as Poker Chips?

Authors often share a brain with their heroines.  My favorite heroine, Jessica Brewster, is taller and slimmer than me, but we both have the same red hair, brown eyes, penchant for drama and taste for cookies. When Jessica participates in a living history tea party at Old Ft. Laramie with her late grandmother’s mysterious teacup, she never imagined she would actually become living history—in the shoes of her look-alike great great grandmother.

Fending off her ancestor’s charismatic first husband and raising her nine year old great grandmother are only two of the challenges she faces in 1886 while learning to cook, launder, and survive the bias and dangers of homestead life in Wyoming.  Her charade in The Accidental Wife grows complicated when the transformative power of love takes hold, and her ancestor’s wayward brother shows up with dark secrets of his own. In a cabin poker game, Jessica offers her famous chocolate chip cookies as poker chips.  (Since chocolate chips were not invented until 1937, she finds a way to improvise.)

Baking anything in a cast iron woodstove is a challenge to a well-educated single woman of the 21st century who often relied on take-out or the convenience of popping frozen meals into a microwave. Woodstoves couldn’t regulate baking temperatures well enough to produce cookies, but creativity is also the mother of pre-invention in a time slip. Jessica’s version of our most famous cookie uses a pocket watch and broken bits of chocolate bars bought at the Ft. Laramie trading post. In the end, Jessica’s ingenuity wins love and legacy in the poker game of life.

 

Jessica’s 1886 Chocolate Chippers

Since chocolate chips were not invented until 1937, time-traveler Jessica Brewster in “The Accidental Wife”
improvises this recipe found in her ancestor’s 1886 cookbook!

1 c. butter                               
1 ½ c. sugar
3 eggs
½ t. baking soda dissolved in a little warm water
2 ½ c. flour                             
Few drops of vanilla
Pinch of salt, nutmeg
3 or more chocolate bars  (raisins optional )

Add ingredients in order,  creaming first two.
Break up chocolate bars into about half the size of a fingernail & fold in. Refrigerate  dough.   
Bake about 10 min. @350 on baking sheets lined with parchment paper until edges brown.

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The Accidental Wife began life as an award-winning short story. The Accidental Stranger is the sequel to Jessica’s timeless journey with “…a fanciful twist on its genre,” according to Kirkus Reviews. Until August 31, the eBook of The Accidental Wife will be on sale for the first time at $0.99 at most online bookstores.

Amazon
Wild Rose Press
Website   
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Connect with Cj in her monthly Newsletter  for other recipes & special offers!

 

 

 

Cooking Up a Book

I’ve been slacking on the blog lately, as all my words have been going into a prequel novella I’m writing, featuring the parents of the hero in Stirring Up the Viscount. I’ve also been trying not to be a total slacker in my critique group, which is a bit easier said than done. And since Top Chef and Chopped are now on Hulu, I’ve been binge watching (and cooking) like a madwoman.

This weekend my in-laws are in town and we had friends over for dinner last night. I made an insanely good cherry pie bar thingy that I will probably never be able to duplicate because I veered so far from the original recipe (although I’m working on writing down the recipe so I can come close). I’d show you a picture, but I didn’t think to take one, and since the entire 9″x 13″ pan was consumed last night, there’s nothing left to photograph.

As I sit here reflecting on what to make for breakfast (this cinnamon scone bread is a distinct possibility), it occurs to me that cooking is a bit like writing. Some cooks use recipes, others do not, just as some writers plot and others fly by the seat of their pants. Even if you start with a recipe, sometimes, as with my cherry pie thingy, your imagination (or a desire not to use a full pound of butter) takes you on another course and you end up with a different product. Sometimes it’s better than the original, and sometimes not.

 

Things can go anywhere from slightly wrong (my baked beans last night were slightly undercooked because there wasn’t enough liquid in the pot) to disastrous (I made gluten free English muffins once–my son refers to them as “those hockey pucks Mom made”), like stories that veer off course. There are times when you can fix them, but other times you need to admit defeat and chuck the entire steaming mess into the trash.

Cooking involves tweaks along the way–a little more salt here, a splash of liquid there–just as a book does–a few lines of description here, tightening up language there. And the finished product, even if it looks luscious and is the most amazing thing you’ve ever created, won’t be loved by everyone.

I used to get pissed when my family didn’t like something I slaved over in the kitchen–usually at myself, but occasionally at them when they were so obviously wrong. 🙂 A critique partner’s negative comment or a bad review can get under my skin. As I’ve gotten older, I’m learning to accept this. Not everyone will love what you do. Sometimes even you hate what you create. It doesn’t mean that it’s not good, or that it won’t provide nourishment for body or soul.

But enough philosophizing. Time to make breakfast!

 

 

Taking Tea

I apologize, my friends, for my sad neglect of this blog. I have no excuse, really, beyond being busy and inefficient, and, if truth be told, possessing a certain degree of laziness. But never mind, I am back, so I hope I am forgiven.

Sitting in the queen’s chair at Hampton Court Palace (I’d been awake for 36 hours)

Lately I have been thinking about tea and scones far more than is normal for your average American. This past week I returned from a visit to England, where I traveled hither and yon with my dear college friend Helen, talking and laughing and walking and drinking tea at every opportunity in which wine (or gin, in Helen’s case) was inappropriate.

On my first day there I did obtain a scone with jam and clotted cream at Hampton Court (as one does), but all additional efforts to secure afternoon tea were for naught. We arrived at the tea shop as it was closing (as happened at Hughenden Manor and across the street from Jane Austen’s house), there was no clotted cream (said in a rather rude “even if we did have cream I wouldn’t give you any” sort of tone at the cafe in Hyde Park), or on one occasion (at the 1657 Chocolate House in Kendal), I was in the mood for a cup of chocolate and a sandwich instead.

Lady Bedford, circa 1830

Lady Bedford, circa 1820

Spending so much time drinking tea and visiting historic sites last week, I started thinking about the history of afternoon tea. Although tea as a beverage has been common in England since the mid-17th century, it was not until the 7th Duchess of Bedford was feeling a bit peckish that the concept of afternoon tea as we know it today was born. The story goes that sometime in the 1840s Lady Bedford, a close friend of Queen Victoria, found herself desiring a snack around 4 o’clock, halfway between lunch and the fashionably late dinner. She asked for a tray of tea, bread, butter, and cake. This repast was so pleasant she made a habit of it, and then began inviting her friends round to enjoy it with her.

Afternoon Tea–not to be confused with High Tea, which is another animal altogether–consists of tea, small sandwiches, cake, and scones served with jam and clotted cream. It is not only the meal itself but the ritual that makes afternoon tea what it is. Ideally, the tea should be loose leaf, served from a tea pot. Milk is added after the tea is poured, not before. (Apparently there is much disagreement on this issue–I had no idea it mattered so much.) There is also great debate about whether jam should be slathered on the scone before the cream. In the spirit of research I tried it both ways, and admit I prefer jam then cream, which gives one the ability to add far more cream than is strictly healthy.

In an effort to make up for my lack of afternoon tea while in England, I shall be baking scones, brewing tea, and eating this afternoon. (Unless I have to go watch middle school boys play hockey, or take a nap.)

img_3981

Here’s my recipe for scones:

8 oz (approx. 1-3/4 c) all-purpose flour
1-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 oz (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 oz (2 T) sugar
4 fl oz (½ c) milk

*Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
*Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl. Using your fingertips, lightly rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and the milk and lightly mix with a wooden spoon until just combined.
*Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Spread the dough using your hands until it is about 3/4 inch thick. Cut out 8-12 scones using a 1-1/2 to 2 inch fluted biscuit cutter. Press straight down–do not twist, or the scones won’t rise properly. (Ask me how I know!)
*Place the scones on to the baking sheet and brush with milk or an egg wash.
*Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and place onto a wire rack until cool enough to handle.
*Serve the scones warm with clotted cream (or butter) and your favorite jam. If you can’t find fresh clotted cream in your local grocery store, or you object to paying $10 for a jar, you can find a number of recipes online. Here’s the one I’m planning to use, although it takes so long it will have to wait until next weekend’s afternoon tea: https://fearlessfresh.com/make-clotted-cream/. I’ll let you know how it goes!

For more information on the history of afternoon tea:
http://www.creamteasociety.co.uk/history-of-the-cream-tea
http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/afternoon-tea/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-mirza-grotts/the-history-and-etiquette_b_3751053.html?
https://www.fortnumandmason.com/fortnums/short-history-of-afternoon-tea

 

 

 

Victorian Food: Divided by a Common Language

One of the things I’ve encountered in British recipes–both old and new–is an entirely different vocabulary.  Spelling is also an issue: I just spent ten minutes looking for pudding molds in Mrs. Beeton before I remembered it’s spelled moulds in the UK. There are different terms for so many things in baking, and finding out what they mean takes a bit of effort.

Measurements and Oven Temperatures

In the US, modern baking recipes provide temperature in degrees Fahrenheit and measurements based on volume–a cup of flour, a tablespoon of butter.

British recipes provide temperature in either degrees Celsius or according to a gas mark. Older recipes use the terms gentle oven, moderate oven, or something similar. Ingredients are listed by weight–a pound of flour, 20 grams of butter.

I invested in a decent scale to help me with the weights, but a conversion chart for oven temperatures is essential in making these recipes. There’s a good one here, but basically, a slow oven is 275-300 degrees, a moderate oven 325-350, and a hot oven 425-450. I am still trying to figure out what a “gentle” oven is, but I’m going to assume it’s similar to “slow.” It remains to be seen whether I will burn the crap out of things with this theory–I’ll keep you posted.

This is a fantastic article, by the by, which talks about oven temperatures and how even though we have temperature  settings on ovens now, they don’t always mean what we think they do.

Mrs. Beeton notes the following about the mysterious spoonful measurements you can find in Victorian recipes:

A TABLE-SPOONFUL is frequently mentioned in a recipe, in the prescriptions of medical men, and also in medical, chemical, and gastronomical works. By it is generally meant and understood a measure or bulk equal to that which would be
produced by half an ounce of water.
A DESSERT-SPOONFUL is the half of a table-spoonful; that is to say, by it is meant a measure or bulk equal to a quarter of an ounce of water.
A TEA-SPOONFUL is equal in quantity to a drachm of water.
A DROP.—This is the name of a vague kind of measure, and is so called on account of the liquid being dropped from the mouth of a bottle. Its quantity, however, will vary, either from the consistency of the liquid or the size and shape of the mouth of the bottle. The College of Physicians determined the quantity of a drop to be one grain, 60 drops making one fluid drachm. Their drop, or sixtieth part of a fluid
drachm, is called a minim.

(A drachm is pronounced dram, and is about 1/8 of a fluid ounce.)

Ingredients

Another curiosity is the various names for standard ingredients. In the U.S. we have all-purpose flour, cake flour, whole wheat flour, and bread flour, among others. British recipes call for strong flour, hard flour, self-raising flour, soft flour, and plain flour. Essentially, plain flour is roughly the same as cake or soft flour (although there are some who say it’s equivalent to our all-purpose flour). Hard or strong flour is equivalent to bread flour. Self-raising flour is roughly the same as our self-rising flour, which is all-purpose flour to which baking powder and salt have been added. I have heard, however, that UK self-raising flour doesn’t have salt in it, so it might be better to make your own. Google “self-rising flour substitute” and you’ll find plenty of options. This is a great discussion of flour equivalents between the US and the UK.

Sugar is also different. In addition to granulated sugar, which is the same on both sides of the pond, UK baking recipes use caster sugar and icing sugar. Our US equivalents are superfine sugar and powdered sugar.

Below is a nice conversion chart for some of these items, which I found at http://www.sweet2eatbaking.com/. She has some other conversion charts and some fun recipes too.

New Blog Series! Victorian Food

So lately I have been watching the early seasons of The Great British Bake-Off.  Of the five seasons aired so far, only the last three made it to network TV in the US, but the first two are available on YouTube, and they are so worth the watch. Each episode contains historical snippets about particular foods. Several of the classic items featured on the show have Victorian roots, and it gave me an idea.

I am a reasonably competent cook, but my baking efforts have been hit or miss at best. Baking is far less forgiving of the “oh, just throw in some extra [insert food item here–usually garlic]” method I typically employ in my cooking. Nevertheless, the show has inspired me to learn to be a better baker, and since Victorian food plays a part in every one of my books, I thought I might share that journey with you. So once a month (give or take), I’ll feature a Victorian era recipe and my efforts to recreate it. My husband thinks I’m a lunatic for even trying this (probably because he’s been forced to sample a hockey puck biscuit or two), but what the hell.

So I am off to gather recipes from various sources–primarily websites and Victorian era cookbooks–and to wait for the summer heat to die down so I can fire up the oven.

In the meantime, I will leave you with this picture of the glorious Victoria Sandwich I made for the launch party for my first book.  IMG_2374The recipe appeared in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management in 1861, and was reportedly named after Queen Victoria because it was one of her favorite cakes.

Queen Victoria, 1856

VICTORIA SANDWICHES.
INGREDIENTS.– 4 eggs; their weight in pounded sugar, butter, and flour; ¼ saltspoonful of salt, a layer of any kind of jam or marmalade.
Mode.– Beat the butter to a cream; dredge in the flour and pounded sugar; stir these ingredients well together, and add the eggs, which should be previously thoroughly whisked. When the mixture has been well beaten for about 10 minutes, butter a Yorkshire-pudding tin, pour in the batter, and bake it in a moderate oven for 20 minutes. Let it cool, spread one half of the cake with a layer of nice preserve, place over it the other half of the cake, press the pieces slightly together, and then cut it into long finger-pieces; pile them in crossbars on a glass dish, and serve.
Time.– 20 minutes.
Average cost, 1s. 3d.
Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.
Seasonable at any time.

You can find a more modern recipe, which is the one I used, here.

I’ll delve more into other recipes, as well as terms that make an American baker scratch her head (what is a moderate oven anyway?) in later posts. If you have a recipe you’d like to share in a guest post, or you have a burning curiosity about a particular topic, email me at marin@marinmcginnis.com.

Sources:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/8753182/The-great-Victoria-sandwich.html
http://www.lavenderandlovage.com/2011/08/queen-victoria-womans-institute-famous.html
http://teainengland.com/2012/12/the-victoria-sponge-its-history-and-a-recipe/
http://www.picturebritain.com/2012/05/cake-fit-for-queen-victoria-sponge.html

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