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janusHappy New Year, everyone! I hope you’ve been enjoying the holidays, and found some time to relax, read, write, or at least spend some time with loved ones. It always feels refreshing to me when we start a new year. I like to do the Janus-thing –you know, the Roman god of new beginnings & reflection, who looked both forward and backward. Do you like to do that, too?

Looking forward, we are considering some changes here at the Riskies, and we would love to have your feedback. So, below I’m going to post some questions and hope you’ll take the time to consider them and share your thoughts with us. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on any changes we decide to make!

Before I post the questions, I’ll share a little of looking backwards over my holidays. First, I learned why it’s best to spoon the brandy already in the pan over the plum pudding after it’s alight. My family always has plum pudding (with hard sauce) at Christmas dinner, a nod to our English heritage. But you must understand the job of flaming the pudding is usually undertaken by my sister, who could not be with us this year. Here’s what happens if you light the pudding, then decide to pour more brandy on it after it’s flaming nicely –the blue flame travels up the stream of brandy to the receptacle you are pouring from, making you dump the rest quickly and without much grace, before your sleeve catches on fire. <g> Christmas Pudding-afireI must say that creates a really good blaze!! Good thing I was using a heat-proof glass measuring cup! Hmm, maybe that’s why the pudding package says to use just a teaspoon or two of brandy, but we have found that’s nowhere near enough! I might have to use this in a story…

Second, I learned a lot about foods that are considered to be lucky, or lead to prosperity and good health, if eaten on New Year’s Eve. We usually stay in and have friends over for dinner on New Year’s Eve, so this year I planned a menu made up almost entirely of these sorts of foods: shrimp (before dinner), lentil soup, butternut squash soup, roasted pork tenderloin, soba noodles (with water chestnuts, spinach, and curry sauce), salad of dark leafy greens with poppyseed dressing, sour cream & chive mashed potatoes colored gold, lemon poppyseed muffins. Explaining them all would be another whole blogpost! (Desserts were exempt from the theme.) Aside from the fact I prepared almost twice as much as we needed, we had a lovely evening, watched the 2006 movie Miss Potter (about Beatrix Potter) and all managed to stay awake to watch the NYC ball drop on TV and make a toast to the new year at midnight. Now we are all expecting great things from 2015.

I am sure I should be posting profound insights here, but after also having relatives over for dinner on New Year’s Day who couldn’t come on Christmas, I am still (or again) cleaning up my kitchen and am too tired to think that hard. I do love the holidays, but still, I can’t wait to get back to work on my Christmas novella (for release next fall), my rewrite of The Magnificent Marquess, my series and other writing projects. Do you feel a bit relieved when life starts to return to “normal” routines?

The normal routines here at the Risky Regencies are already a little changed with the departure of Megan and Myretta. We will miss them greatly! Thank goodness we can still visit with them in their other online homes. And we’ve invited some wonderful guests and may be expanding the ranks of the Riskies, as we have before. But we are taking a hard look at our blogging schedules, and wondering about making changes. So here are some questions we’d love to have you answer:

1) How often do you read the Risky Regencies blog? Daily, every few days, weekly, or less often?

2) Do you read several postings at a time, to catch up, if you don’t visit every day?

3) If we cut back the posting schedule so there were only three or four posts each week, would you still check in with us to read the posts?

4) Do you tune in to read only certain Risky authors, or do you read all/any of us? Do you pay attention to the schedule of who posts when?

5) Do you prefer one type of post over another? (i.e research posts, personal posts, writing related posts…)

6) Are you on Facebook? Do you think we should make the Riskies Facebook page a more active venue for discussions and posts?

We have tried to keep a schedule where there’s a new post almost every day. While we love the sharing with you, keeping to that schedule can really cut into writing time, and we are thinking a somewhat reduced schedule might be a help to all of us. What do you think?

Please, share your thoughts with us? We really would like to know. You can post in the comments here, or on the FB page, or in anyone else’s comment spaces in the next week.

In the meantime, I (and all my fellow Riskies, I’m certain) wish you all the very best in 2015, and look forward to many more conversations in this space!

Having finally finished the clean-up from Thanksgiving (the wedding crystal goblets I have to wash by hand tend to decorate the kitchen counter for days), I am now looking ahead to the next holidays, and more meals to be planned in celebration. Special occasions and special food always go together. Do you have a traditional holiday food you make or fondly remember? For Christians, this past Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, and in some parts of England, is also known as “stir-up day” –the day you are supposed to stir-up the batter for your Christmas cake or pudding so it will have enough time to age properly. (The day can also be the last Sunday before the start of Advent.) There’s a double meaning to the name, as one of the old texts used by the church for the start of Advent begins “Stir up , we beseech thee O Lord” and one site claims “this activity of stirring-up the ingredients symbolizes our hearts that must be stirred in preparation for Christ’s birth.” Christmas cakes (aka fruitcakes) have a pedigree as long as the technique of using rum or brandy to preserve food. “Plum Pudding” was also around long before the Victorians popularized it as “Christmas pudding”. Either one could include meat with the dried fruit in their early forms, but one is baked and the other was boiled –steamed in later times.

For someone who’s not a great cook, maybe it’s ironic that I’ve always been interested in period food, but it comes honestly from my interest in the daily life of other times. The Regency isn’t my only pet period –I’m a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and indulge in medieval interests, too. I collect cookbooks on period food, and recently added Dinner with Tom Jones: Eighteenth Century Cookery Adapted for the Modern Kitchen, by Lorna Sass (1977, the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Sass also wrote To the King’s Taste (Richard II) and To the Queen’s Taste (Elizabeth I).

Cover-Dinner with Tom Jones.jpgI can’t believe I found this treasure in my church yard sale!! I recommend it as a research gold-mine; it has notes about menus, how dishes should be arranged on the table, and all sorts of extra goodies besides the recipes, and while it covers a period slightly earlier than our beloved Regency, back then things did not change as rapidly as they do now. Casting about for what to feed our characters, a ragoo of asparagus or heavens, yes, a chocolate tart(!) might be just the thing we need to serve them. And the book is illustrated with delightful sketches of county life by Thomas Rowlandson (behaving properly for a change).

Cover-Dinner with Mr DarcyOn my Christmas list is another cookbook just released last month which should also be of great interest to us all —Dinner with Mr Darcy by Pen Vogler, a new addition to the existing canon related to food in Jane Austen’s books and life. Besides recipes inspired by Jane’s novels and letters, it also promises notes about table arrangements, kitchens and gardens, changing mealtimes, and servants and service, etc.

Both of these books use Hannah Glasse’s first cookbook, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747), as a chief source. A reviewer of Vogler’s book ( says this was “one of the first commercial cookbooks to capture the public imagination and was used by middle-class families like the Austens well into the 19th century.” Does food history interest you? Do you care about what our story characters eat? (The book I’m editing now for reissue, The Captain’s Dilemma, has a running joke about the family’s inventive but not very good cook.) What are some of your favorite resources?

I wish you all very happy holidays and some memorable meals with friends and family, whatever you celebrate!

P&P Dinner Scene

Mr Collins (Tom Hollander) distracts Elizabeth Bennett (Keira Knightley) from her meal in the 2005 ‘Pride and Prejudice’ -Photo Credit: Rex Features/Everett Collection

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