In Which I Share A Solstice Recipe!

Dear Reader,

There are a lot of fascinating Christmas Traditions associated with the West Country of England, which is the region I write about in Midnight in Your Arms. As tonight is the Winter Solstice, I thought I would research traditions that are particularly pagan in their origins and share one with you. I thought it might get us all in the mood to make my recipe inspired by my character Tess, who is an old Dartmoor hedgwitch as well as a medium and a scullery maid. She is a very busy lady indeed!

Try to imagine with me a traditional Dartmoor Christmas rite known as Burning the Ash Faggot, which is a bundle of sticks bound together for the purposes of burning things like witches and also to celebrate the Solstice Season when executing heathens was out of vogue. The traditional wood used to construct the Midwinter faggot on Dartmoor was from the ash tree, and preferably all from the same tree rather than a bunch of different trees, because it made the magic that much more powerful. The Christianized reason for the use of ash over another type of tree is that it was supposedly the wood with which Mary lit the fire in order to wash Jesus. The Romany believed that Jesus was born in a field and was kept warm by the heat of an ash fire. The tradition of the ash faggot is said to date back to Saxon times, brought over by the invading Scandinavians who believe that the ash tree is the sacred, World Tree of Norse legend.

In England, the custom was to bind a bundle of ash sticks with nine green lengths of ash bands or ‘beams’. On Christmas Eve, the bundle of wood was put on a fire lit with the remnants of the previous year’s faggot. The householders would gather around the hearth and watch it burn. Any unmarried ladies would each chose one of the green bands, and it was believed that the woman who selected the first band to burst into flames and break would be the next to be married—rather like catching the bridal bouquet! With each breaking of a band, a quart of some festive beverage like cider was passed around and a toast made. It was believed that any household that did not burn the ashen faggot would be in for a year’s worth of bad luck.

I like to imagine the scrawny, secretly-pagan kitchen skivvy Tess fom my novel Midnight In Your Arms sneaking out after all the household was abed on a snowy, atmospheric Dartmoor Christmas Eve, and reveling with fellow villagers round the ash bundle, always knowing with her prescient eye which would be the first band to break, but never shouting it out, lest she should actually have to be married to one of the rawboned young farmhands. I like to think she was holding out for something a little more special than the fate decreed by the physics of combustion. Maybe I’ll have to write Tess’s love story one of these days.

When coming up with the recipe that best represents Tess, I thought I would go with something a little spicy and full of succulent fruit. Something a bit Elizabethan in flavor that might not seem decadent to us, with all of our tropical fruit and imported luxuries, but would have been a lovely, festive treat even for the posh inhabitants of Stonecross Hall for whom spices like cloves, mace, and cinnamon were readily available, and fruit like apples and pears were grown on their own estate, the currants scavenged by clever, chilblained fingers from village hedgerows.

This recipe is nothing fancy, but it tastes like it is! And actually, as I am a North American, I will be using cranberries instead of the currants I imagine Tess would have used. But adaption is the spice of life! Use whatever makes sense to you regionally, as Tess would have done. The decadence is in the liberal spicing. Working in a grand house like Stonecross Hall at Christmas must have been a mouthwatering experience. Just imagine all the pies, cakes, and puddings lined up in the larder, row upon row! My belly is rumbling just thinking about it. Oh, how I long to creep down the back stairs to a Victorian kitchen to raid the pantry on a distant Christmas Eve in 1866…I suppose I will have to make do with my own modern but very charming and kitschy kitchen, as long as some of this delicious dessert is left over! Santa had better leave me some!

Something I learned while researching this post is that fruit crumbles are a fairly recent culinary invention (late Victorian), but they were certainly a staple by the 1920s, so I feel I am vindicated in making this recipe in relation to my time travelling novel, part of which takes place in 1926. The first recipe for Apple Crisp appeared in Everybody’s Cook Book: A Comprehensive Manual of Home Cookery by Isabel Ely Lord—an American cookbook, but I have it on good authority that it is a popular dish across the pond as well! And dishes were often traditional long before they appeared as a recipe in print.

I think Tess would have helped make something very much like this…

Tess’s Secret Spiced Solstice Apple Pear Crumble

Ingredients:

Fruit Filling

5 large ripe red pears

5 medium Granny Smith apples

1 ½ cups cranberries, fresh or frozen (or currants, which is what I imagine Victorian or Edwardian English folk would use)

[Total fruit equals about 13.5 cups. This recipe is a large one, suitable for a dinner party. It can easily be cut in half to suit a smaller gathering or a family of 2-4]

¼ cup flour (I used organic spelt flour, but plain white or brown is what Tess would use!)

½ cup sugar (I used raw, organic sugar—I am sure Tess would use regular granulated or you could use brown for an even richer caramelized flavour)

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp nutmeg

½ tsp ground cloves

½ tsp mace

1 tsp sea salt

Crumble Topping

1 cup flour (Again, I used organic spelt)

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup butter (I used Earth Balance Vegan buttery Spread)

1 cup quick oats (introduced by Quaker in the 1920s!)

¾ cup sugar (Again, I used raw organic sugar)

1 ½ tsp baking powder

Method:

1)     Quarter and slice apples and pears into 1/8 of an inch segments, leaving the skin on if you like, to reduce waste and add a festive flair with the pretty green and red rinds. That’s what I did, and it looks really nice!

2)     Put the sliced fruit into the baking dish you’re planning to use, and add the cranberries or currants.

3)     Combine the flour, sugar, salt and spices and then add the mixture to the fruit in the baking dish and toss it together with a spoon until the fruit is completely coated. Press the fruit down evenly into the pan and set aside to let the juices seep into the dry ingredients and start to thicken while you make the crumble topping.

4)     Make sure your oven rack is in the middle slot and set the oven to preheat to 350 degrees.

5)     Start the butter melting on medium heat in a small saucepan as you prepare the dry ingredients.

6)     Combine the flour, both kinds of oats, sugar, and baking powder in a mixing bowl.

7)     When the butter is completely melted, pour it over the dry ingredients and stir vigorously (I like to use a whisk!) until the rolled oat mixture is completely saturated with butter and sticky.

8)     Spread the crumble mixture evenly over the pan of fruit and press it down gently.

9)     Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. The topping should be beautifully golden and crisp and the caramelized liquid should be starting to rise up, bubbling and sticky, at the edges of the pan.

10)     Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream to your guests, and be sure to save some for Santa with a nice cold glass of eggnog on the side!

Merry Yuletide, Dear Readers! I hope your holiday season is a festive and joyful one, filled with loved ones, laughter, and of course, FOOD! Not to mention a really good book or two to read by the fire.

As an extra Yuletide treat, leave a comment on this post with your contact info and I will randomly pick one reader to receive a paperback copy of Midnight In Your Arms as a special Christmas gift from me to you.

Love, Morgan.

In Which I Wish You The Happiest of Halloweens!

Here are some very mischievous looking little 1950s kids out for a night on the town! I hope you all are having a marvelous Samhain Night. Merry Meet and Blessed Be!

Dear Reader,

It’s been a whirlwind few days since Midnight In Your Arms came out yesterday, and I’m ready to kick back and relax for the evening, handing out candy to little ghosts and ghouls from the neighbourhood. I just wanted to wish you a Happy Fright Night, and let you know that the Blog Tour is still going on strong, and there are still chances to win free copies of my new book for the rest of the week!

Here is today’s guest post at Novel Reflections.

Yesterday’s was with Book Reviews and More by Kathy.

Monday’s post was with Delighted Reader.

Be sure to stop by and join in on the conversation for a chance to win!

Have a wonderful night, and eat way too much candy!

Love,  Morgan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Which There are 7 Days Left Til Halloween!

Dear Reader,

Guess what, ghouls and ghosties? The One Week Halloween Countdown has begun! In only seven days, the veils between the world of the living and the land of the dead will have grown so thin that everyone will have to dress up in costumes to fool the roaming spirits into thinking the rest of us are one of them! And so strangers will give us all candy, of course! After all, inappropriately sexy costumes and mass amounts of sugar are what the Halloween season is all about. And T.Ping your neighbour’s house. We can’t forget that.

Last night, Mr. Kelly and I bought our pumpkins for carving Jack O’Lanterns, and as usual, we were quite the grocery aisle spectacle. Maybe it had something to do with the way we piled pumpkins so precariously in our pushcart that we looked in serious danger of causing a Halloween-related mishap in the baking supply aisle—I don’t know! But people sure were staring, commenting, and laughing! We didn’t mind, though. Anything we can do to entertain bored, late-night shoppers is our pleasure. And hopefully  the sight of two bespectacled redheads pushing a cart full of pumpkins made our fellow shoppers really feel the spirit of the Great Pumpkin, and will be inspired to start their own Jack O’Lantern factory in their kitchens this weekend.

Exhibit A: The Cartload of Pumpkins Mr. Kelly and I Will be Carving This Weekend!

What have you got planned to celebrate this spooktacular season? Are you going to any parties, planning any shenanigans? Are you going to visit haunted corn mazes, eat too many caramel apples, and watch scary movies until you won’t be able to sleep?

As for Mr. Kelly and I, we’ve already been watching our fair share of scary movies. We like to watch them all year round, but at this special time of year, we concentrate on: A) Beloved classics, B) Movies we’ve always meant to see but never have, and C) Horror flicks that came out over the past year so that they will have particular 2012 Halloween context. Tonight, we’re planning on watching the second episode of the new season of American Horror while we cuddle on the sofa and drink hot chocolate to the dulcet sounds of people screaming bloody murder and gallons of fake blood splashing the screen.

And you thought Halloween wasn’t romantic.

Leave me a comment and let me know what you have planned for this week leading up to Halloween. Stay tuned for more All Hallows themed posts, including pictures of our Jack O’Lanterns, secret recipes I will share only with you, Canadian superstitions about things arcane and spooky, and lots more!

Love, Morgan.

In Which Midnight In Your Arms Packs Its Bags For The Official Blog Tour!

Dear Reader,

In one week exactly, the Official Blog Tour for Midnight In Your Arms begins! I wanted to let you know the itinerary, so you can visit each of these marvelous blogs on the day of my guest appearance, and show your support for the amazing people who read and review romance novels simply because they love them. Where would we be without people like them? I shudder to think! Also, visiting the blog stops will give you an opportunity to win an e-book copy of Midnight In Your Arms for your very own! I’ll be giving one away for each day of the tour.

The blog tour schedule goes a little something like this:

October 29th, the day before Midnight In Your Arms is officially released, I will be visiting Delighted Reader with a guest post and giveaway.

October 30th, the actual release day of Midnight In Your Arms, I hang out on Book Reviews and More By Kathy, where I will also be doing a giveaway in between bouts of celebratory dancing.

October 31st, AKA The Best Day of the Year, my favourite holiday, HALLOWEEN, I will fly by Novel Reflections, and one reader will be treated to a copy of Midnight In Your Arms.

November 1st, The Day of the Dead and Witches New Year, I will haunt United By Books, and bestow a copy of the book on one reader.

November 2nd I will pay a call to Books-n-Kisses, where I will answer a set of questions and give another book away.

November 5th, the final day of my blog tour, I will be resting up at Novel Niche, and one final copy of Midnight In Your Arms will be up for grabs.

In November, Midnight In Your Arms will be released in paperback, and I will also be celebrating by giving copies away to my adored readers, so please visit me on this blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads for details on how to win!

I hope I see you at one of the stops along my blog tour, and that your Halloween plans are SPOOKTACULAR! <Queue Maniacal Laughter Here>

Love, Morgan.

In Which I Make a Few Announcements

Pre-order Midnight In Your Arms in Paperback!

Dear Reader–

I’m excited to announce that for those of you who have no plans to jump on the digital bandwagon just yet, the paperback edition of Midnight In Your arms will follow the digital release by less than a month! That’s right–MIYA will come out in print on November 27th 2012, hot on the heels of the initial e-book release date of October 30th, so there are two exciting months in a row for me! It’s kind of nice, splitting it up like that–it gives me to things to which I can look forward!

That means that I will to do some giveaways in both digital and print formats, along with a few other seasonal/themed goodies, so watch out for that on Twitter, Facebook, my HarperCollins Microsite, Goodreads, and right here on the official website! What else will I be giving away? Good question! I was thinking I would give away some little luxuries that, for me, always make the dreary stretch of time between Halloween and Christmas just a little more glamourous and luxuriant. I want to give my fans some little gifts that make them feel pampered–like gourmet tea in seasonal flavours, themed nail polish sets, decadent chocolate made right here in the Purdy’s factory. Little things that go hand in hand with romance! What do you think?

In other news, it’s time to submit this year’s crop of novels and novellas to the RWA Rita and Golden Heart Awards. Will you be submitting? I know I will–this is my very first time, and I’m a little nervous! I wish all of you the very best with your submissions, and I hope you win! You deserve it.

Love,

Morgan

In Which The Countdown Officially Begins!

I can’t wait for JAL’s new masterpiece!

What a fun and sexy romp this will be!

Will my new Halloween historical be able to stack up?

Dear Reader,

I don’t know if you know this, but October is my favourite month. The air has turned fresh and crisp, and smells of smoke and dying wood. The leaves crunch under my wellies when I take my dog for long walks around Silvermere Lake and along the Stave River on which I live. I start wearing the sweaters I knitted over the summer, and instead of donning just a thin t-shirt and a summer skirt, my clothing piles up in layers on top of me, so that I look like a young Mrs. Weasley—or a tea cozy, as the case may be. My husband and I make up our bed with the heavier blankets, a cozy nest of organic bamboo, wool, and down comforters. My mum’s birthday is in October, as is Canadian Thanksgiving—both of which will be celebrated next weekend. I will make so much food, we won’t be able to fit inside the house! Especially not after we eat it.

And, of course, the best part of October is that the countdown to Halloween officially begins. I start to imagine my outdoor decorations, take stock of what candy we have left over from last year, and buy much more Emergency Back-Up Candy than I really need— hence the leftovers every year. I make Halloween greeting cards for my friends and start collecting pumpkin recipes for using up the future Jack O’ Lanterns after they start to sag, but are still yummy enough to eat! Does anyone else eat their Jack O’ Lanterns? It strikes me as a particularly pagan ritual akin to burning a Wicker Man—which entirely appeals to my bloodthirsty All Hallows sensibilities X^D

This year, there is even more reason to celebrate my favourite season, an event that has never before made Halloween even more fantastic than it already is! The day before the fateful night, on October 30th, my very first romance novel comes out with Avon/HarperCollins. This time last year, I had no idea that in nine short months I would sell my first historical romance to Avon, and make one of my dreams come true. I had no idea that the book would come out so fast that my head would still be spinning and my heart palpitating as the countdown began! It’s been such a whirlwind, not unlike a romance, and with what I hope will be equally life-changing results. Once you become a romance author, Dear Reader, you never want to go back.

I am extremely excited about October 30th, and not only because my own book comes out. I’m thrilled to report that Midnight In Your Arms and I, its humble author, will be in very grand company indeed! For that very same day, Julie Anne Long’s new book A Notorious Countess Confesses and Eloisa James’ new novella Seduced By A Pirate both come out as well. There is a wonderful reassurance there, as if my shy debutant of a novel is taking courage and strength from more experienced and renowned compatriots. I am humbled to be in such illustrious company, and can only hope to live up to Ms. Long’s and Ms. James’ shining examples of what can happen when aspirations become reality. I feel like they will be my good luck charms. I can only hope to live up, even in part, to their achievements! Congratulations to them both, and to Avon, on their upcoming releases.

As for you, Dearest of Readers, please check back with me on any social media platform you like best this month, as I have some fun little giveaways planned, to thank you in advance for being so kind to me and my little book to be. I hope you will enjoy your beautiful, crisp October as much as I plan to do. If you take any pictures of your decorations, please leave me a link so that I can oooooh and ahhhhhh over your creations! I need all the inspiration I can get, and it can’t all come from Martha Stewart, now, can it?

Happy Halloween To Come!

Love,

Morgan.

In Which Midnight In Your Arms Receives Critical Pre-Release Praise!

I’m absurdly pleased to see that this cover featuring the inimitable Waldo is the one in which the review for Midnight In Your Arms is wrapped!

Dear Reader–

There is no better feeling than finding out that someone other than a dear friend, relative, or editor has read one’s book and really liked it. There is something about unbiased praise that makes the author’s heart beat just a little bit faster as the reality of critical acceptance seeps in. Hopefully the initial praise will make the bad reviews easier to bear, because every writer has to face them eventually! For me, I can at least say to myself–Not Yet!

My first unbiased reader was the lovely and talented (not to mention ridiculously handsome) writer Michael Boccacino, the author of the eerie and evocative historical novel Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling. Just knowing that he had read it and liked it was wonderful enough–but he was also kind enough to write the following concerning my debut book: “A lush Gothic romance nested within a time-traveling ghost story, Midnight in Your Arms is the very best kind of fairytale, an inventive tapestry of the nostalgic and the new that begs to be read into the early hours of the morning. A marvelous debut!

Then, whilst I was away on a mini-vacation this past week, my editor sent me an email with an attached scan of a page from this week’s Publishers Weekly–and guess what?! They had published a review! A POSITIVE one! I was deeply thrilled, as you can imagine, Reader. I’m still glowing.

This is what Publishers Weekly had to say: “Kelly’s thoughtful debut novella sensitively evokes the horrors of war and the emotional difficulties facing veterans in peacetime, and the atmospheric descriptions of 1920s London and Victorian high society illuminate the temporal and social differences separating the lovers.”

Any positive or even just slightly lukewarm review from PW would have made me happy–but this review really made me feel like a bajillion dollars, because it took note of the very things I most wanted to get right. One thing was the historical impact of war, not only on a country, but on the individual psyche. I wanted to write about two people who didn’t know if they were still human, or if they even had it in them to love–and have those two people find themselves in each other. I also wanted to get right the mood of the two eras–for you, Dear Reader, to feel like you are really there with Alaric, a prisoner encased in Victorian Gothic splendour. I wanted you to follow Laura through the ennui of her days as a kitchen medium and her nights as a dance club refugee trying to escape her generation’s memories.

I can only hope that when you read it at the end of October, Midnight In You Arms will prove Publishers Weekly and Mr. Boccacino right, and that you will like it as much as they did. Drop me a line then, and let me know how you feel, one way or the other. You can always tell me the truth–I’m banking on it. I write these stories for you–they are yours as much as mine, and I want us to be honest with each other!

Love,

Morgan.