Follow by Email

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Savory Scones

Savory Scones

Simple question:  Do scones have to be sweet?

Complicated answer:  No.   Complicated because not everyone is willing to take ‘no’ for an answer.  These folks probably don’t know what savory means, or they’re contemplating dipping a corner of the scone in a morning’s Irish coffee.  I empathize and confess I have done that myself.  You need to put the brakes on that freight train after finishing off the whiskey at your local pub at four in the morning.

Give up?  Ok, savory comes from the French saveur, to savor.  It can mean flavored with several herbs, such as summer or winter savory, but these days it has come to mean tasty, but not sweet.

Another question: When were scones first made?

Answer:  Well, no one knows, but they were first mentioned by the Scottish poet Gavin Douglas in his 1513 translation of Virgil’s epic poem The Aenaid.

Yet another question:  In the middle ages, how did they make scones without an oven? 

Answer:  The traditional Irish and Welsh way! 

In days of old, when Knights were bold and ovens weren’t invented,
they baked on stones or sharpened bones and ate until contented.

But, of course as you sit there, stirring your Irish coffee with your tongue, sweet or savory doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that the recipe requires few moving parts.

Next question:  Where does the word scone come from?

Short answer:  Storks deliver them.  No, wait, I mean they were originally baked in Scotland, Ireland, England, Germany, and Dutchland.   Some believe the word is based on the German word Scönbrot (beautiful bread) and others think it’s from the Dutch word Schoonbrot.  Still other people don’t seem to care.  They just want to eat.

The Brits can’t even make up their minds how to pronounce the word.  In the south they’re pronounced scone, to rhyme with tone, as in the U.S.  But, in the north they’re pronounced scon to rhyme with gone.

Here’s the happy news for you inebriates. This joyous warm-from-the-oven delight requires only one moving part, your index finger to push the button on your food processor.  Ok, ok, you caught me.  You also have to turn on the oven.  But, if you and your three drinking companions can put one level head together, the oven should be no sweat.

Look, do you want to make savory scones or not?

Savory Scones

Suggestion:  Mix these before you head out to the pub; put them on a cookie sheet and stash them in the refrig.  When you come home, just turn on the oven and slide them in.

Dry ingredients:

2 ½ Cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon dry mustard powder

Throw one stick of butter in the freezer.

Now for the rest:

4 ounces goat cheese
2 Tablespoons chopped, sun dried tomatoes
2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary

Wet ingredient:

1 ½ Cups heavy cream

Turn on the oven to 425ºF or 220ºC

Put the dry ingredients in the food processor and pulse it a couple of times. Chop the frozen butter into medium bits.  Toss the butter in the food processor and process until the butter bits are tiny.

Toss in the goat cheese, sun dried tomatoes and fresh rosemary and pulse a
few times.  Do not over process.  You want the bits to be clearly distinguishable, even with your bloodshot, beady eyes.

Add the wet ingredients and pulse to make a dough.

Form the dough into a rectangle, press down to about one inch thickness. Cut the rectangle in two inch or larger squares.

Put on an ungreased baking sheet (see, I’m doing my best to keep it simple for you.) and bake for 12 minutes.  The scones should be a toasty golden brown on top.

So, here’s to ya, lads and lassies! Savory scones!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

1066, Here Come the Normans, Part I

Harold, the Earl of Wessex's land prior to being crowned King of England

King Harold II of England

1066, Here Come the Normans, Part I

If you can only remember one date in all the fascinating history of Britain.  Remember 1066!  A reminder:  Against my better judgment and through nearly faultless research and painstaking scribbles that led my faithful readers through thousands of years of British history, I bring you to the year that everything changed.

Yes, of course, in the relentless march of time, whether we’re speaking of changes in climate, or the miraculous splitting of continents, or the decline and fall of bellbottom trousers, changes occur.  But some changes are more immediate and dramatic than others.  1066 was both.

In the case of Britain, I’ve taken you from Pre-Roman times, to Roman times, the exit of Romans, the rise of the Vikings to the fall of the Vikings.  But, those were petty and temporary changes in Britain compared to what happened next.  For those unfortunates who have not read my previous scintillating prose portrayals of the formation of Britain, I’ve listed the links below.

Now for some odds and ends to prepare you for the most important year in English History!  The dates are all in 1066, and the months are just to help you remember the chronological order of things.  The test consists of keeping track of how many beers you drink while you read this superb encapsulation of “Here Come the Normans.”

5 January – Edward the Confessor, the King of England dies with no heirs and promises William the Duke of Normandy that he will be king. Harold Godwinson another claimant to the throne, but without blood ties to Edward, swears to abide by the King’s decision.  But on his deathbed, the King apparently changed his mind and told Harold that he would be King. There are lots of ends and outs here, but I'm giving you the bare framework.

So what was the connection between Edward the Confessor (King of England) and William the Duke of Normandy?  They shared a bloodline.  Edward’s grandfather was William the Conqueror’s great grandfather.

6 January – Harold Godwinson (Harold II) is proclaimed King

18 September – Norwegian King Harald Hadrada (yet another claimant to the throne of England) invades England from Norway.

20  September – King Hadrada defeats the northern English earls and King Harold’s brother, Tosig Godwinson joins the Norwegian King’s victorious army.  King Harold had exiled his brother previously, so Tosig had a bone to pick.  But he picked the wrong bone.

Harold II rides his army north to meet the invaders.

25 September – Harold II wins the battle of Stamford Bridge.  Both Tosig and the Norwegian King are killed during the battle.

Hooray!  Hooray!  But, wait a second and not so fast, King Harold!

26 September – William, Duke of Normandy has a blood tie claim to the throne of England.  He and his army set sail for the English coast.  Edward the Confessor told me I would be king and Harold swore an oath to support my claim.  Went back on his oath?  Them’s fightin’ words!

Harold, no doubt sensing a problem as big and nasty as a boil on the part of the body that meets the saddle, hurries his army south.

On William’s part there had been many fits and starts before the voyage began.  Troubles were many, including winds and weather and desertions. The number of vessels in the fleet is estimated at between 776 and 1000.
William the Duke of Normandy
28 September 1066 - William’s army lands at Pevensey Bay, about 50 miles south-southeast of London. 

Pevensey Bay today

14 October - The Battle of Hastings, which evidently took place nearer the town of Battle, rather than Hastings, will change the direction of Anglo-Saxon England, as well as English life.  The Norman army is victorious.  English King Harold II is killed, reportedly by an arrow in the eye.  However, an arrow through the eye was the customary death for someone who broke his oath, so the report may have been changed to conform with custom. Some historians believe he was clubbed to death. No one knows where he is buried.

Ok, you’ve got the date and the name of the battle, but let’s examine what the battle was like.

First some interesting facts from Britain Magazine.  If you’re an anglophile, as I am, can’t recommend this magazine highly enough!

The first man killed in the battle was Taillefer, William’s jester.  Here’s how it happened.  Taillefer ran out in front and taunted the English by singing the Chanson de Roland and juggling with his sword.  An English soldier ran out to confront him and was slain.  Taillefer then charged the English line and was overwhelmed.  Guess the jester didn’t get the last laugh.

During the battle, both sides took a break for lunch.  On the French side, lunch included much wine and carnal satisfaction, hence the name, William the Conqueror.   (Ok, I made that part up, but they did take a lunch break.)

It wasn’t a fair fight.  Really?  What commander wants a fair fight? The English army was a few thousand men short, numbering about 5,000, mostly on foot, with a few archers.  The larger French army, about 15,000 men. was supported by archers and about one fourth of the army was cavalry.

In truth, the sizes of the armys are estimates.  For Harold, 5000 to 7000 troops.  For William, 10,000 to 15,000 troops.
The layout of the Battle of Hastings, with the English Army in Red.

Still the English put up a good fight and Harold II had a great plan.  First, he took the high ground and a defensive position, and set up a shield wall. Harold warned his troops, who were both outnumbered and weary from the long march south, to simply hold the line and not to waiver. He expected a northern army to arrive with fresh troops.
The English view of the battlefield looking down the hill.
The Norman view of the battlefield looking up the hill

The battle began about 9 a.m. The Normans attacked with cavalry and were repulsed. Several more attacks met with the same result.  About 1 p.m., while attacking the English right flank (Norman left flank) the Normans took heavy losses and apparently instead of withdrawing in an orderly fashion, they ran.  Thinking the Normans were close to defeat, the English right flank pursued rapidly. There was also a rumor that William had been killed.  Not so!  William mounted a second house and rode down his line with his helmet shield raised to prove he was alive.

Seeing the English racing after his fleeing troops, William sent his cavalry to cut the English off, and trapped them in the open.  With the English right flank decimated, William took advantage, attacking all across the English front.  In the end, he did something very clever.  With few arrows left, he told his archers to wait until the Norman troops were almost at the English line, then to fire high in the air. 

The English shield line could not use shields to defend against both on-coming foot soldiers and arrows raining down from on high.  In the end, the Saxon army was crushed.

By dusk the battle was over. The northern army Harold counted on never arrived.  The days of Anglo-Saxon hegemony were over.  England belonged to the Normans.

On Christmas Day 1066, William was crowned King of England in the newly built Westminster Abby, London.

A Map showing the whole sequence of events up to the crowning of William the Conquerer

King William's holdings after the conquest of England

Next we’ll look at life under the Normans and the new direction of English history.

Meanwhile:  Want to know about the weapons at the Battle of Hastings and the Shield Wall?  

Friday, March 23, 2018

Invisible, by James Patterson and David Ellis

Invisible, by James Patterson and David Ellis

If you ever, ever want a page turning thriller, grab a James Patterson novel.  My only caveat is:  Give yourself plenty of uninterrupted time. Be willing to give up some sleep and a few meals.

Did you realize Patterson has had 114 best sellers?  Seems impossible.  How does he do it?  Ever noticed that Patterson almost always has a co-writer?  The long and short of it is, he comes up with a fifty to sixty page outline and turns it over to another author for the writing.  But, it isn’t cruise control.  He edits and collaborates and maintains control of details, such as the cover and publicity.

Unless you’re blind, you can see he maintains more control than he admits to.  The stories are always fast paced, with short sentences, short chapters, and always, always entertaining, with twisting plots.  To loosely paraphrase his intent, he always wants anyone who picks up one of his books to be in for a good, intense page-turner that never slows down.

He’s been quoted as saying, he’s not trying to write War and Peace, but trying to entertain millions of people.  Boy, has he done that!

With Invisible, he and David Ellis do that again!

Emmy Dockery is a somewhat disgraced FBI Research Analyst, who’s been put on a leave of absence. 

I admit to a great prejudice. As soon as I see a female name in a novel, in many cases I’m ready to put the book down.  In my opinion, too many female protagonists are angst filled, self-analyzing characters with a penchant for comparing sunsets to soft satin and apologists for every character flaw known to man.

I like strong female characters.  Take Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice.   Elizabeth can hold her own in anybody’s company and makes no apologies, nor does the author have to result to ridiculous pandering.

Emmy Dockery is in the same mold.  No false modesty.  No dreamy-eyed fixation on her male counterpart, Harrison ‘Books’ Bookman.  More professional respect than anything else.

Here’s the riveting plot:  There’s a serial killer on the loose and as a disgraced, but intelligent and professional research analyst, Emmy keeps analyzing.  But, who else but her can see the trail, when everyone else only sees the forest?  Who can blame them? It’s not as if the FBI, although their resources are indeed mighty, can keep track of every puff of smoke, from the thousands of fires and fire related deaths that occur each and every year.

This killer leaves no trail and his viciousness is literally covered in smoke. So what evidence does Emmy have?  A little of ‘I suppose’ and a lot of ‘it only makes sense.’  That’s all ya got?  Well, get the hell outta my office and keep a low profile while you’re on suspension, unless you never want to work here again.

But, talking to Emmy about giving up the trail, is like trying to explain to a bulldog that he really should let go of a well-gnawed bone.

Gritty characters all round.  Plenty to admire and hate.  The plot is breathtaking and nail biting.  The killer is remarkable.

Invisible?  There’s a lot here that’s invisible and it not just the killer.