Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Peek Into Mrs. Patmore’s Kitchen – Downton Downtime recipes

With Season 3 of Downton Abbey completed, the countdown until next January begins again. I’m secretly hoping to be in the UK to see Downton in September, but it’s doubtful that will happen. J A girl can dream though....

While we wait for Season 4, I thought it might be fun to prepare some Downton recipes. We made these for our Season 3 Downton parties every Sunday night and they were all very fun and surprisingly easy to recreate. Carson would be proud!

Recipe One – Raspberry Meringue – Otherwise Known as the Infamous Salty Pudding


  • 16 fluid ounces of milk
  • 1 vanilla pod, split or 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 ounces caster sugar (super fine sugar or sugar substitute)
  • 4 egg yolks (freeze the whites if you aren’t making your own meringues)
  • 5 ounces fresh breadcrumbs
  • zests from 2 lemons
  • 7 ounces raspberry jam
  • 4 ounces caster sugar (super fine sugar or sugar substitute)
  • 1 tbsp. icing sugar
  • 1 pint fresh raspberries
  • 2 tbsp. caster sugar for garnish (not salt!)
  • meringue cookies, or make your own (we made our own and it was pretty easy)


  1. Preheat the oven to 300F.
  2. For the pudding base, pour the milk into a pan and add the split vanilla pod. Bring slowly to the boil over a medium heat.
  3. Separate the eggs, and reserve the whites to make the meringues.
  4. Place the sugar into a large bowl with the egg yolks and whisk until the mixture is light and creamy.
  5. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the hot milk, whisking all the time, then add the breadcrumbs and lemon zest.
  6. Half-fill a roasting tin with boiling water to make a bain-marie (water bath). Pour the pudding mixture into 4 x 4 oz individual ramekins, or one large oven-proof baking dish and place them into the bain-marie.
  7. Place the bain-marie in the center of the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes for the individual molds, 30 – 40 minutes for the larger version, or until the pudding or puddings are almost set, but still slightly wobbly in the center.
  8. Place the jam into a small pan over a low heat and gently melt. Spread the jam over the top of the pudding when it has finished baking and cooled.
  9. To serve, gently remove the pudding from the molds, and transfer to a serving platter(s), garnish with raspberries and meringues, and sprinkle with some extra caster sugar. Or salt. J
Everyone was pretty impressed with how this looked. (See picture above)

Recipe Two – Crepes Suzette – Ethel (and Isis’s) Favorite


For the crêpes

·         110g/4oz plain flour, sifted
·         pinch of salt

·         2 eggs
·         200ml/7fl oz milk mixed with 75ml/3fl oz water
·         50g/2oz butter
·         1 medium orange, grated zest only
·         1 tbsp caster (fine) sugar

For the sauce

·         150ml/5fl oz orange juice (from 3-4 medium oranges)
·         1 medium orange, grated zest only
·         1 small lemon, grated rind and juice
·         1 tbsp caster sugar
·         3 tbsp Grand Marnier, Cointreau or brandy (we used rum flavoring)
·         50g/2oz unsalted butter
·         a little extra Grand Marnier, for flaming (if you feel bold)

To make the pancakes

  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl with a sieve held high above the bowl so the flour gets an airing.
  2. Now make a well in the centre of the flour and break the eggs into it.
  3. Then begin whisking the eggs – any sort of whisk or even a fork will do – incorporating any bits of flour from around the edge of the bowl as you do so.
  4. Next gradually add small quantities of the milk and water mixture, still whisking (don’t worry about any lumps as they will eventually disappear as you whisk). When all the liquid has been added, use a rubber spatula to scrape any elusive bits of flour from around the edge into the centre, then whisk once more until the batter is smooth, with the consistency of thin cream.
  5. Now melt the 50g/2oz of butter in a large pan. Spoon 2 tbsp of it into the batter and whisk it in, then pour the rest into a bowl and use it to lubricate the pan, using a wodge of kitchen paper to smear it round before you make each pancake. Stir the orange zest and caster sugar into the batter.
  6. Now get the pan really hot, then turn the heat down to medium and, to start with, do a test pancake to see if you’re using the correct amount of batter. These little crêpes should be thinner than the basic pancakes, so when you’re making them, use ½ tbsp of batter at a time in a 18cm/7in pan.
  7. It’s also helpful if you spoon the batter into a ladle so it can be poured into the hot pan in one go. As soon as the batter hits the hot pan, tip it around from side to side to get the base evenly coated with batter. It should take only half a minute or so to cook; you can lift the edge with a palette knife to see if it’s tinged gold as it should be.
  8. Flip the pancake over with a pan slice or palette knife – the other side will need a few seconds only – then simply slide it out of the pan onto a plate. If the pancakes look a little bit ragged in the pan, no matter because they are going to be folded anyway. You should end up with 15-16 crêpes.
  9. Stack the pancakes as you make them between sheets of greaseproof paper on a plate fitted over simmering water, to keep them warm while you make the rest.

The Sauce

  1. Mix all the ingredients – with the exception of the butter – in a bowl.
  2. At the same time warm the plates on which the crêpes are going to be served.
  3. Now melt the butter in the frying pan, pour in the sauce and allow it to heat very gently.
  4. Then place the first crêpes in the pan and give it time to warm through before folding it in half and then in half again to make a triangular shape.
  5. Slide this onto the very edge of the pan, tilt the pan slightly so the sauce runs back into the centre, then add the next crêpe. Continue like this until they’re all re-heated, folded and well soaked with the sauce.
  6. You can flame them at this point if you like. Heat a metal ladle by holding it over a gas flame or by resting it on the edge of a hotplate, then, away from the heat, pour a little liqueur or brandy into it, return it to the heat to warm the spirit, then set light to it. Carry the flaming ladle to the table over the pan and pour the flames over the crêpes before serving on the warmed plates.



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How Long Should Scenes Be?

The length of scenes is a varied thing, differing from author to author and genre to genre. The more you read the more you will notice the similarities and differences. Yet there are some general guidelines that are helpful to follow and as I am working on edits and deciding scene lengths for my own WIP, I thought I’d share these tips.

Jordan Rosenfeld in her book Make A Scene writes “the ending of a scene provides a place for a reader to comfortably take a pause.” Keep this in mind while writing scenes. You want an ending that lingers in the reader’s mind even while they go about whatever else they’re doing, enticing them to come back for more. Try to end each scene with some kind of bang or cliffhanger line. Although every scene doesn’t have to end with “A scream sounded through the night air” neither should they end with something as dull as “She stood and went to wash the dishes.” It’s okay to have a few endings that are a little mundane, but the more times you end with a cliffhanger, the more your reader will want to keep turning pages.

So what’s too long and what’s too short?
For a historical family saga, women’s fiction, literary fiction, romance, etc, scenes shouldn’t be under 1,000 words. This makes the book feel choppy and rushed. The above genres are character driven and in short scenes it’s more difficult to connect with your characters. I confess though, that although I write historical romance, I have several scenes that are 1,000 words long or slightly under. I like reading a faster paced book and tend to write that way as well.

If you’re writing suspense, thrillers, or any genre that is plot driven, you can have shorter scenes and the readers of these genre’s prefer them. These books are more about the action and plot than the characters, thus there’s less internal monologue and higher pacing.

Most chapters in character driven fiction (historical romance, women’s fiction, etc) range from 2,500 to 5,000 words. And most chapters are one or two scenes. This being said, I wouldn’t write a scene that was longer than 4,500 to 5,000 words. It’s just too long. You don’t want your reader putting a book down in the middle of a scene and not picking it up again.

On average, most scenes should range from 1,000 to 2,500 words. You can throw in a few longer ones and a few shorter ones here and there, but this is a good length to try and stay within  for the majority of your book.

Your Turn – How long are the last two scenes you’ve written? Do you prefer longer scenes or shorter ones? How about what you read? Does long or short scenes hold your interest?

Happy Writing,


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Will You Be My Valentine? – Victorian Style

With the day of romance nearly upon us, I thought it might be fun to see how Valentine’s Day was celebrated in the 19th century. What things have changed and what has stayed the same? Let’s find out!
Cards – Valentine’s cards were probably the most popular way to show affection on that day. These missives become even more popular than the Christmas card. The Valentine’s card business became a highly competitive market, with varieties from fun and comic, to truly sentimental. In the Edwardian era they reached new height, and lavish became the norm. Cards featuring dried flowers, real lace, spun glass hearts, and even real gemstones, were common. Some of these were so thick with embellishments they came in presentation boxes, and some unfolded like fans. Since they didn’t have any way of recording, I doubt any of them played music. J  For the poetically challenged, there were books full of verses and poetry to add to the valentine, although many often wrote their own messages.

One of the oldest Valentines in existence is owned by the British Royal Mail and dates from 1790. The inscription reads,

My dear the Heart which you behold,
Will break when you the same unfold,
Even so my heart with lovesick pain,
Sure wounded is and breaks in twain

I wonder what the lady thought when she received such a missive? Hopefully, she didn’t respond with a popular rhyme,

With proverbs, sir, I see you play;
With proverbs, sir, I answer nay.

Flowers – Flowers were also a popular gift in the Victorian era, and they especially utilized the language of flowers, which had different meanings for each flower. A red rose meant love (probably this is why red roses are still so popular today), but a yellow carnation meant ‘you disappoint me.’ A common practice was to send secret messages through a bouquet. A bouquet with white and red roses meant unity and other  combinations were common.

As you can see, Victorian traditions differ little from our modern celebrations, cards with ready-made messages are still sent and flowers still given. I enjoyed learning about these traditions and I hope you did too.

Happy Valentine’s Day,



Sunday, February 3, 2013

36 Dramatic Situations! Will one of them work for you?

While in the midst of writing a novel, I'll often stop halfway through and think, ‘I’ve used up all my material and have nothing left to add to the story'. What typically follows is two or three days of scrambling to come up with another plot twist worthy of Downton Abbey.

But after discovering a very interesting list, I won’t have to look as far.  George Polti, a french writer, has done all the work for me. He made a list of 36 different situations that can occur in a novel or play. Because let’s face it, everything has been done or used before. All we can do as writers is add a different slant on it.

It’s a very well-done list and, after going through it, you’ll be sure to have ideas for dramatic situations in your own novels.

1. Supplication: A persecutor, a supplicant, or power in authority who struggles to make a decision whether or not to do something. Usually, an unfortunate person appeals to an authority figure for help. The authority figure is the protagonist. Ex: The Rock; The Untouchables; Three Amigos.

Deliverance: The unfortunate, threatener, rescuer. Here the rescuer helps the unfortunate person without being asked. Ex: The Terminator; Speed.

3. Crime Pursued by Vengeance: An avenger, a criminal. This is your basic mystery or detective story. The protagonist is out to find the truth. Ex: Lethal Weapon; Die Hard; James Bond.

4. Vengeance for Kin Upon Kin: Avenging relative(s), a guilty relative(s), relative(s) of victim. Ex: The Lion King.

5. Pursuit: A punished person, a fugitive. The protagonist is the fugitive, often wrongfully accused. Ex: Les Miserables; The Fugitive.

6. Disaster: A vanquished power, a victorious enemy, or a messenger. The powerful are overthrown by the weak. Ex: Armageddon; Sydney White.

7. Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune: An unfortunate, a master, or a misfortune. Ex: Schindler’s List; The Color Purple.

8. Revolt: A tyrant, a conspirator. Ex: Swing Kids; The Matrix.

9. Daring Enterprise: A bold leader, an object to be won, an adversary to be beaten. Ex: Saving Private Ryan; Men in Black.

Abduction: An abductor, the abducted, a guardian. The protagonist can be the abducted or the abductor. Ex: Ransom; A Life Less Ordinary.

11. The Enigma: An interrogator, a seeker, a problem. The protagonist could be seeking a person or thing. Ex: Seven; National Treasure.

12. Obtaining: A solicitor and an adversary who is refusing, or an arbitrator and opposing parties. At what cost and by what means will the protagonist act in trying to obtain his goal? Ex: Green Eggs and Ham; Outbreak.

13. Enmity of Kin: A malevolent kinsman, a hated or a reciprocally hating kinsman. The closer the relationship, the greater the conflict that divides them, the greater the resulting hate. Example: Kramer vs. Kramer; Corky Romano.

14. Rivalry of Kin: The preferred kinsman, the rejected kinsman, the object of their rivalry. Ex: Legends of the Fall; A League of Their Own.

15. Murderous Adultery: Two adulterers, a betrayed spouse. Ex: Dangerous Liaisons; Diabolique.

16. Madness: A madman, a victim. Ex: The Shining; Psycho.

17. Fatal Imprudence: The imprudent or rash. The protagonist causes his own misfortune (or the misfortune of those he cares about) through his rash behavior, often to seek someone or something lost, or to settle his curiosity about something. Ex: Meet the Parents; Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

18. Involuntary Crimes of Love: A lover, a beloved, a revealer. The protagonist may fall in love with a relative, a relative’s spouse, a teacher/student, his employer, someone who is planning to rip him off but he
doesn't know it, or maybe just an adulterous relationship. He may walk into the relationship willingly, knowing that it is wrong, or he may not know. Sometimes the reader may know the truth when the hero doesn't.

19. Slaying of Unrecognized Kinsman: The slayer, an unrecognized victim. The plot focuses on the protagonist planning to kill his kinsman without knowing his enemy is related to him.

20. Self-Sacrificing for an ideal: A hero, an ideal, or a thing sacrificed. Here the protagonist gives up everything for his ideal. Ex: The Messenger.

21. Self-Sacrifice for Kindred: A hero, a kinsman, a person, or a thing sacrificed. Here the protagonist gives up everything for a kinsman. Ex: Cyrano de Bergerac; The Passion of the Christ.

22. All Sacrificed for a Passion: A lover, an object of fatal passion, a person, a thing sacrificed. The protagonist sacrifices everything for his passion. This could be an addiction, a lover, or money. Ex: Leaving Las Vegas, Anna Karenina

23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones: A hero, a beloved victim, the necessity for sacrifice. The protagonist is forced by necessity to sacrifice a loved one.

24. Rivalry of Superior and Inferior: A superior rival, an inferior rival, the object of rivalry. Ex: Rocky; Karate Kid.

25. Adultery: A deceived husband or wife, two adulterers. Ex: Bridges of Madison County, Anna Karenina

26. Crimes of Love: The lover, the beloved. The protagonist commits a crime because of his love. Ex: Chinatown (incest), The Apostle (murder), Saving Grace (incest & murder).

27. Discovery of a Loved One’s Dishonor: A discoverer, the guilty one. The protagonist is caught in a sin toward their loved one or they catch their loved one in a dishonorable act. Shame is key. Ex: The novel Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

28. Obstacles to Love: Two lovers, an obstacle. Some great obstacle stands in the way of two lovers being together. Ex: Kate & Leopold; Ever After.

29. An Enemy Loved: A lover, the beloved enemy, the hater. The protagonist falls in love with an enemy. Ex: Twilight; Romeo and Juliet.

30. Ambition: An ambitious person, a thing coveted, an adversary. Ex: Jerry McGuire; That Thing You Do.

31. Conflict with a God: A mortal, an immortal. Most Greek myths focus on this plot. Ex: Hercules; Rosemary’s Baby, Bruce Almighty.

32. Mistaken Jealousy: A jealous one, an object of jealousy, a supposed accomplice, a cause or author of the mistake, a traitor. Ex: Othello; The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.

33. Erroneous Judgment: a mistaken one, a victim of the mistake, a cause or author of the mistake, a guilty person. The protagonist may be falsely accused or accuse another without proof or be guilty and try to frame another. Ex: The Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption.

34. Remorse: A culprit, a victim, the sin, an interrogator. Also false guilt.

35. Recovery of a Lost One: The seeker, the one found. The protagonist may find a lost loved one, a lost child. Ex: The Man in the Iron Mask, The Deep End of the Ocean.
36. Loss of Loved Ones: A kinsman slain, a kinsman spectator, an executioner. Ex: Love Story, Return to Me.

So there you have it! Generally my books have at least two or more of these different conflicts and I’m sure yours do too. If not, you have all this for inspiration.

Happy Dramatizing,


The above explanation of the 36 situations by George Polti was created by Jill Williamson and posted on the blog She did an amazing job dissecting each dramatic situation and I was so excited to get the permission to share it with you all!!