Monday, April 30, 2012

Notes From Sherringham: Naming Puppy

One look at this adorable little fellow, and it was love at first sight. He was barely six-weeks old and not even as tall as a soda can when he joined our family in 1995. You’d think we could quickly come up for a name for the pint-size Jack Russell but, alas, we all had differing opinions. “Oreo” seemed a perfect choice to me. Our youngest son insisted on “Milo” after the hilarious dog (also a JR) in the popular movie, Mask. Hubby declined to enter the fray as more names flew this way and that, with no decision in sight.  I threatened to stick with “Taco,” while our youngest dug in his heels all the further. He won out in the end, and by the time our energetic black-and-white ball of fur finally topped out the soda can, Milo finally had his name.
A similar scenario unfolds in Shades of the Past, consciously or unconsciously inspired from that time. When the Marrables take afternoon tea on the east terrace, young Geoffrey’s new puppy is still in need of a name. His mother, Cissy, prefers “Crumpet” while his father, Lord Henry, deems it silly to name a dog after food.
A fine fellow like him needs a more sensible name. Rutherford, for example.”

"I think a better name would be 'Henry,' Henry," Cissy countered, sending him a mischievous smile.

When Geoffrey next bites into a “Fat Rascal” – a plump, scone-like cookie – it breaks, half falling to the stone terrace.  The puppy gobbles it down and, voilá, he earns his name, Rascal – in reference to a scamp, not a cookie, Lord Henry insists. Cissy and Geoffrey think otherwise.

While developing the terrace scene, I scoured period cookbooks for an authentic Victorian cookie (“biscuit” in Brit-speak) that would fit my purposes.  Fat Rascals seemed perfect.  They are actually neither scone nor cookie but somewhat of a cross between the two. A Yorkshire creation, they date back to the mid-nineteenth century and, traditionally, are a simple currant-studded biscuit, delicately flavored and lightly sweet — delicious with a cup of tea and popular in the North country for elevenses. Over time, additions have been made to the basic recipe such as orange and/or lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.  Betty’s Tea Room in York is famous for their Fat Rascals which sport smiling little faces made with cherry eyes and slivered almonds.  No one seems to know when this practiced originated, however, its precisely the fun touch Cissy would have added to delight her children (and Henry too!).
Reflecting on all of this, “Rascal” would have been a perfect name for Milo. He was a bit of a scamp in his puppyhood to which my rocking chair still attests. His chew marks are quite visible on the front runners to this day.  Of course, I’ll never smooth them off.  Tomorrow, May 1st, our “puppy” will celebrate his seventeenth birthday!  In honor of his birthday, enjoy the recipe for traditional Fat Rascals below which “yours truly” has personally tested and now has a nice, if diminishing stash for the coming days.  Milo won’t be indulging in those but will be enjoying a little steak to be sure.

Happy Birthday, Milo!
Fat Rascals
Adapted from Good Old-fashioned Teatime Treats by Jane Pettigrew

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
Pinch salt
 ½ cup butter, softened
3 ½ Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup dried currants
Approximately ½ cup milk and water mixed (I used Skim Milk, 0%, and did not mix with water)
Additional granulated sugar for dusting
·    Combine flour and salt in bowl. 
·    Cut in butter, rubbing it into the flour until a fine crumb texture. 
·    Add sugar and currants. 
·    Add just enough milk/water mixture to make a firm dough.
·    Roll out dough on a floured surface until ½ inch thick.  Cut into circles with a 3-inch biscuit cutter. 
·    Dust with sugar and transfer to lightly greased tray.
Bake 400° F (200° C) 20 – 25 minutes until a light golden color.
Yield 7 – 8 Fat Rascals
My notes:  These are very delicate in flavor, not overly rich or sweet which is welcomed.  They would be delicious served with a bit of clotted cream and jam. On the other hand, I can see where a small amount of orange or lemon zest in the recipe would brighten the flavor and be lovely, possibly even with a touch of cinnamon — whatever you are in the mood for.   When rolling out dough, measure ½ thickness carefully to yield 7 to 8 three-inch wide Fat Rascals.  A smaller cutter can certainly be used if desired.
·    For British measurements and a host of beautiful photographs of the finished product visit Marie Rayner’s wonderful blog, “The English Kitchen.”
·    Elmwood Inn offers a recipe that includes using orange and lemon zest
·    Fat Rascals can be ordered from Betty’s Tea Room as well as other edibles. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Notes from Sherringham

Courtesy Deposit Photos & Chiffa
Please visit each Monday when new “Notes from Sherringham” will appear, offering behind-the-scenes glimpses into the creation of Shades of the Past.  Topics will include: Vintage photography and the inspiration for Aunt Gwen (Julia Cameron); Gothic Revival Architecture and the real-life rooms, buildings and mausoleum that appear in Shades; Aunt Gwen’s will (Pompeii and the Cameo Factory); the Viscount’s favorite treat, Fat Rascals (recipe and adaptations culled from the “correspondence” between Vanessa and Cissy who became great friends); Victorian memory albums; riding side-saddle and more.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Making of "Shades of the Past"

The Story Behind The Story

Much of the voluminous research that goes into writing a novel never finds its way into the finished pages.  On the other hand, curious tidbits and other sundry things often do.  Here begins a small series of trivia and curiosities concerning the creation of Shades of the Past  in other words, the story behind the story.

A question often asked authors is “Where do you get your ideas?”  Let’s begin there.  The storyline for Shades sprang to life out of research I was pursuing for A Slip in Time.  At the opening of that book, the characters have been drifting from one English estate to another throughout the summer before moving on to a castle in the Scottish Highlands.  A wonderful, if pricey, volume came into my possession, The Golden Age of the Country House, by Christopher Simon Sykes.  Through that fascinating volume, a story stirred to life in my mind — a classic Victorian Gothic Romance, set in a lavish English country house, and utilizing nineteenth-century photography.
Thanks to my mother and her collection via the Book-of-the-Month Club, I have long loved this genre.  Favorites include Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting, and Victoria Holt’s Mistress of Mellyn and Bride of Pendorric (its final scene is forever emblazoned in my mind’s eye).
Hallmarks of a Victorian Gothic Romance include a dark brooding lord, often with dead wives in his past (I gave him two); a remote location where the castle or mansion looms as a character in its own right; a heroine in peril (do we really want her to fall prey to the clutches of the mysterious lord?); and, of course, ghosts (or, leastwise, a deliciously eerie atmosphere). 
As to a remote location, just as I began to develop and write Shades, hubby’s job moved and we relocated our family from Virginia to Colorado.  As fate would happily have it, our realtor proved to be English.  She suggested Hampshire for a location, saying that part of the country was especially beautiful.  Hence, after consulting a map and more ponderings, the English West Midlands, just outside of Hereford, became the ancient seat of the Viscounts Marrable.  My mother suggested “Sherringham” as a name for the Viscount’s castle.  This quickly morphed into “Royal Sherringham” as I spun out the fictional tale of Sherringham’s past and how it was lost to royal hands before the irrepressible and rather naughty Leonine Marrable regained it.  Where my mother drew the name from, I am unsure.  However, there is a coastal town in Norfolk, England, that bears the name of Sherringham. 
As to the ghostly aspect of my Gothic tale, specters abound at Royal Sherringham from many ages past — or shall I simply call them Shades of the Past?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tally for new covers

Many thanks to everyone who emailed me their choice and offered comments on the three potential covers for A SLIP IN TIME.  This has been a fascinating exercise to say the least.
First, a little background:  Hubby’s and my first efforts produced the “blue” cover featuring Edinburgh Castle.  It is hubby’s favorite and has been from the get go.  Lovely as it is, I felt it to be a bit conventional so I prodded hubby to work with a sunset photo of another Scottish castle, Eilean Donan.  This became the “red” cover.  It, too, captured my heart, but while trolling through more castle photos on royalty-free sites, I discovered the intriguing tower shot of Scaligers Castle in Italy which had been given a glowing gold “vintage” effect.  I fell in love with it, and as you might guess, once the newest cover was created, “gold” became my favorite.  I thought the matter to be decided, (hubby didn’t pout too much that I hadn’t chosen “blue”) but when we tested the covers with family and neighbors, blue won out over gold (slightly) and red didn’t make it out of the proverbial starting gate.  Hence, we floated out the covers to a wider audience online.
Again, thank you for your feedback.  It has given us a wholly fresh perspective and has been a learning tool.  Sixty-two people “voted” and here are the results — Drum roll, please:
Blue — 41 votes
Gold — 16 votes
Red — 5 votes
Comments for the blue cover included:  “most professional,” “most romantic,” “the cold appearance of the castle  is a good contrast to the lovers in the foreground,” “I like that you can see Scotland and its beauty in color,” “it establishes an older European feeling with the castle on the hill,” “the blue because of the clarity of the color. It is beautiful.”
Interestingly, those who chose blue as their 1st choice, chose gold as a close second 2nd and vice versa. 
Comments for the gold cover included: the gold one evokes a feeling of "A Slip In Time" because the gold castle gives more of a distant evocative feel,” “I think it has a classic look to it and stands out a bit more than the blue cover,” “The GOLD --- by a long shot --- it is dazzling and shows off the tans of the people in the picture better.”
Comments for the red cover included:  “The color makes it stand out as different,” “The castle is a mist in the background adding mystery, the lovers catch your attention, and it is the simplest drawing and stands out most. And of course we have the color of passion!”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Next Book Release, New Cover

New Cover(s) for my next release, A SLIP IN TIME – would love your opinion!
One of the fun things my husband and I are currently working on is the new cover for the next release from my backlist, A SLIP IN TIME. We welcome your opinion as we have come up with three different designs and are having difficulty making a final decision. 
You can find a description of the book on my website, Basically, this book is set in the Scottish Highlands at Dunraven Castle. There, in the most ancient part of the castle — a bedroom in the tower keep — time “slips” and a door temporarily opens and closes (both ways) between the 14th and 19th centuries.
Email me at and let me know which cover you like best — “gold," "red,” or “blue” — and, briefly, what appealed to you most about the covers (color, background picture, etc.). Click an image to see a larger version in your browser.
Here they are … and thanks for your feedback!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Fig Preserves

Ah, spring is here. The yard is fragrant with blossoms and alive with happy, busy little bees.  Although our desert property does not boast a single blade of grass, my husband and I do maintain a grove of dwarf citrus trees and one very prolific fig tree.  They all have names — the trees, that is, not the figs — and, yes, I do talk to them — the trees again.  Each season we do battle with the birds for the fresh figs, but there is always enough fruit to make up a batch of my grandmother’s wonderful Fig preserves.

The recipe originated on my grandfather’s side of the family in Norcross, Georgia, and likely dates back to the 19th century.  His people were farmers and among many other things had fig trees in their orchard.  When my grandparents moved back to the homestead in their retirement, many of the trees were still there including fig trees.  So here it is, as originally written by my grandmother, Marie Jackson.  Enjoy!

Courtesy Depositphotos & Pauliene Wessel


  • 1 quart fresh figs
  • 1 lemon (or sliced preserved ginger, or a little ground ginger) (You can use sliced lemon or just lemon juice: I used lemon and ginger to suit my taste)
  • 2 cups sugar

Cover figs with 1 quart boiling water.  Let stand 15 minutes, then drain and rinse in cold water.  They may be peeled or not.  (You can leave about 1/8 inch stem on them.  Aunt Frank caught hold of stem and peeled it down as far as it would peel with fingers – no knife.  Just catch hold of stem and carry as much peel back with it as you can.)  Place figs in alternate layers with sugar in an enamel or aluminum kettle.  Let stand overnight.  Next morning lift figs out of syrup which formed during the night.  Bring syrup to boil.  Drop figs into boiling syrup a few at a time.  Cook until tender, transparent, and amber colored.  Add lemon juice or lemons sliced and a little ginger, and cook 5 or 10 minutes more.  Pack while hot into hot, clean jars and seal.

If you don’t want to let them stand over night, use about a cup of hot water and add sugar and bring to boil:  add figs, a few at a time, and follow rest of above recipe.

If figs are watery or figs are clear before syrup is thick, just remove figs when done and place in shallow pans (don’t heap so as to mash fruit) and boil syrup longer until it is thick; add figs again and let all come to a boil.  Place in hot, sterilized jars and seal.

I gave you directions for 1 quart in case you don’t have many at a time.  You can double or triple recipe as you wish.  If you use lemon juice instead of sliced lemon, you probably would need just a half lemon, according to size and degree of tartness desired.

My own notes:  12-20-2008 — used figs & Meyer’s lemons from our trees, half tsp ground ginger and juice of one lemon per batch.  Delicious.  (2009 — upped the amount of lemon and ginger by taste, and added bits of crystallized ginger for a little extra zip.) 

Suggestion:  Break up figs into smaller chunks before boiling.  The preserves freeze well.  Small freezer-jam containers can found with the canning goods in the grocery store.