Monthly Archives: February 2010

Homemade Masala Chai


Do I have a delicious masala chai recipe for you.  It’s simple, so simple, in fact, that you’re gonna wonder why you haven’t made it before. Once mastered from scratch, you can forget about chai concentrate or those weird powder mixes. Made fresh, it’s heavenly and fills your house with the delicate scent of warm spices. It’s also fragrances your garbage can for the day, which is an unexpected, but suprisingly wonderful bonus.

So what is chai exactly?

In South Asia, Chai is a generic term referring to any type of tea.  Masala chai is Hindi for literally “spiced tea”. Chai tea, as Americans so often say, is “tea tea”, but we dont’ speak Hindi so that’s just a funny linguistic thing. If you visit India (and you definately should!), you will come to one conclusion very quickly – Indians drink a lot of masala chai. It’s served like the English serve tea: during social calls, consumed at breakfast or after lunch. Also expect it whenever you visit a shopkeeper, that is, every shopkeeper.  They bring it out steaming on little trays, a friendly smile on their faces, and it’s lovely.

Originally an ayurvedic remedy, masala chai is now consumed with the same fervor with which Americans consume coffee. Everyone has their individual recipes and this one is handed down to me by my mother-in-law. She drinks it every morning before the sun rises, sharing it with her cleaning lady, Gulabi. I’ve made a few modifications of my own, but feel free to experiment with a variety of “warm” spices and quantities. Just make sure to add milk, and if you’re inclined, some type of sugar.

Masala Chai Recipe

  • Green Cardamom, about 6-10, crushed on countertop
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks, cracked in half
  • Whole Black Pepper, 2 heaping tbsp
  • Fennel or Anise, 1 heaping tbsp
  • Ginger, fresh, 1 tbsp or so peeled and grated/cut up  (I never grate – it’s a hassle with no great benefit.  Do not use powder!   Also, keeps in the fridge for a few weeks)
  • Whole Cloves, 15 (or one or two large pinches)
  • Nutmeg, a few shakes
  • Earl Grey Tea (or Black Tea Leaves)  – use two tea bags per conventional size sauce pan or if loose, 2 tbsp

Note concerning spice usage:  when in doubt about quantity, use more.  Before you add the Earl Grey Tea, the spice/water mixture should be darkish brown and very concentrated.  Although this chai recipe will taste different from the chai you get at a coffee shop, it should never be bland or watery.

Directions:  Fill sauce pan close to brim with water.  Boil spices without the tea until you get a thick concentrate, ususally 1/3 to 1/2 reduced.  You want the cinnamon sticks and cardamom to open.  Take off heat.  Steep Earl Grey tea or black tea in spice concentrate for a few minutes.  About using Earl Grey: I prefer the slight undertone of bergamot and also find that Earl Grey has a less astringent taste than other black teas.  It give the masala chai a smoother finish instead of overpowering the spice with a slightly bitter aftertaste.  Note: do not cheat and use powdered versions of the spices.  The only exception is nutmeg, if you don’t have the time nor inclination to grate it.

Add milk and sugar and enjoy!  Depending on how much milk you prefer, the chai should be a cappucinno type color or lighter, like this.

The Art of Fine Coffee

“He was my cream, and I was his coffee – And when you poured us together, it was something.”
– Josephine Baker

A list of coffee awesomeness

Steep & Brew

If you thirst for flavored coffee beyond the realm of hazelnut and french vanilla, you must try this brand.  Roasted from only the highest quality beans – the top 2 or 1 percent – they boast 25 delectable varieties including my faves Irish Whiskey & Cream, Highlander Grog, and Amaretto French Roast.  Select seaonsal roasts are available for when your in the mood for let’s say, Chestnuts by the Fire or Dark Chocolate Mint, and summer absolutely calls for Basket of Berries.  The aroma alone is happiness inducing.

Click about their site and you’ll also discover the unusual – orange cappucinno – and twists on some old standbys like Icing on the Cake (cinnamony-cakey delight) and Chocolate Nirvana (cocoa and spices, oh my!).  Another great thing about Steep & Brew? Shipping is $5, no matter how much you order.  And even without reasonable shipping, their coffee is a steal! A 12oz bag runs on average $6.50.  How’s that for frugal java?

For those loving the organic fair-trade coffee and chemical free decaf, you’ll find plenty of options too.  And if you think flavoring is a perversion in coffee, make sure to peruse their signature roasts and dark roasts.

Live in the Midwest?  Make sure you search their store locator!

Nespresso Aeroccino

Milk like whipped cream, frothed to perfection?  It is possible without a) an espresso machine and b) steam.  Push button, wait 50 seconds for the cold milk to both warm and froth, and voila!  Use it for lattes, cappucinnos, hot chocolate – the list is endless.  Best off all, the Aerocinno plugs into an outlet (so you don’t have to stand there and froth!), is simp to clean, and works like a charm for around $100. If you’re thinking “eek” about the price, keep reading.  It’s not a coffee accessory you want, believe me, it’s one you need.  Steamers fail, handheld wand frothers break, and stovetop ones are just a pain.  I can attest through experience, you’re better off just shelling out the dough in the beginning.

Interested? Watch the cheesiest promo for the Aeroccino. Not sure what they were thinking with the jazz and throaty vocals but hey, it’ll make you laugh about being gourmet!

Espresso Machine or French Press

My husband and I travel with our espresso machine, no joke.  It’s an addiction and one I wouldn’t trade for the world.  Well, maybe the world, but who’s offering anyway?

My number one advice with the espresso machine: one can always start small.  Our first machine was somewhere around $200 and we’ve upgraded from there based on our ever-pressing need for thicker crema.  But if you’re holding your guns to drip coffee, consider the French Press.  It’s portable – great for the office when everybody else is drinking burnt morning brew in the afternoon.  And since it captures coffee’s essential oils and depth of flavor, the French Press delivers a stronger, thicker coffee than the drip.

Organic Milk & Agave Nectar

Organic milk tastes richer, froths better, and well, it’s organic.  A must have for superior taste and natural sweetness.  As for Agave Nectar, the only reason this is worth mentioning is that processed white cane sugar not only has all the nutrients stripped from it, it also slightly alters the flavor.  While inessential to most American style coffee drinkers, agave nectar or demerara sugar (brown) will lend a subtle sweetness to espresso without disturbing the rich balance of acidic and bitter flavors.  Try it for a few days.  I’d wager you won’t go back to processed sugar.

Domestic Servants – Part 1 – Women

Ever wondered what it would have been like to be a domestic?  To slave over your mistress or master in the hopes of earning a few measly pounds a year?  You would have been one among many, that’s for sure.  Nearly every household who could afford the expense employed servants.  Their number was a symbol of social standing with the aristocracy employing as many as fifty while those of the middle class might employ three or four, or as was often the case, only one, most likely a maid of all work.

The Domestic Working Class

In 1806 the number of domestics numbered around 910,000, only 110, 000 of them men.  The first official census was enumerated in 1801, putting us a little off the mark for the 18th century, but the number of total population figures in at approximately 8,892,536 including Wales and England.   Greater London during that time had a population of about 900,000.

From estimates dated 1775 to 1801, servants accounted for anywhere between 1 in 10 persons to 1 in every 4.5.  But enough about the math!  The population was growing a great deal during the mid to latter part of the 18th century and suffice it to say, domestics accounted for a large class of workers.  Their living quarters were modest, their wages low, and the hours miserably long.  This especially applied to females because they filled positions modern-day women are familiar with today: unskilled house work.  Men were more commonly involved in cultivating and protecting land, husbandry, and attending to luxuries–that is to say, work that required apprenticeship.  Surprise, surprise, right?Curiously, there was a tax instituted in 1776, paid by employers, of one guinea per male servant (the tax slightly higher for bachelors, slightly lower from families).  The result?  Men were effectively prohibited from doing housework.

Henry Robert Morland – late 18th century

To launder, sew, empty chamber pots, dust, haul water for baths, light fires, and shop–all these duties fell within the realm of women’s work.  Although household positions came with wages, the domestic burden lay upon the female.  Girls, often aged 13-14 years old, sometimes as young as eleven, were employed as the lowest order of servants: maids.  A high turnover rate existed due to innumberable grievances and disputes between domestics and masters, but women could expect to continue working until marriage, typically around the age of 24 or later.  Married women, and even more seldomly, married couples were employed in households.  Many masters also imposed a strict dictate of celibacy, banning boyfriends and any others who might be interested in their female staff.  This rule, however, was broken by masters themselves.

Female servants were deemed sexually available to males of the house: masters, their sons, guests, and other servants.  These girls, often arriving in London in hordes, were typically farmer’s daugthers, more often than not from northern England.  They were naive, quite young, and desperate for wages.  And lucky for them, there were endless ways to offend their employers, including inciting the envy of a wife or mistress.

Domestic Servants and Abuse

While domestics were responsible for their fair share of thievery and dishonety, they lived at the mercy of their masters.  Pregnancy was often cause for immediate dismissal.  Since gaining employment in another house required a character reference, unresolved disputes resulted in much misery.  Those who were fired might face months of unemployment.    Worse yet, while those fired were owed wages up to date of dismissal, a servant who quit was owed nothing.

It was an untenable situation for many as their financial outlook was already poor.  Wages could be deducted for breaking a household item, making a mistake, forgoing church, or other offenses such as drunkenness.  Grounds for dismissal were many: insubordiance, dishonesty, theft (guilty or suspected), or merely for the master’s convenience when he and his household traveled abroad.

A Little Frosting on that Cake?

All was not awful, though, as perks did exist.  Housekeepers received the leftovers from meals.  Ladies maids enjoyed the castoffs from their mistresses.  Tips, or vails, were a happy occassion.  Upon departure of guests, domestics would line up in the foyer, eagerly waiting their 1 shilling.  These vails sometimes accounted for half their yearly income, which was rather a lot when most maids rarely made over £10, but the occurrence of these perks dwindled by the end of the century.  A fortunate domestic might be included in an inheritance but this windfall was very rare.  As such, domestics were always on the lookout for the slightest economic opportunity, whether through fair means or foul.  Another popular way to supplement income?  Selling used tea leaves.

While domestics were supplied with room and board, allowances also padded income.  These included a predetermined allotment of tea, clothes, and let’s not forget, the benefits of class.   A strict, social hierarchy, much like the ones their employers ascribed to, existed among domestics.  Working for a lord was better than working for a merchant, and even within a household there were superiors and subordinates.  The upper eschelons of domestics enjoyed better wages, sat at a serperate dining table than their lower peers, and experienced greater privileges than their lower ordered peers.

Hierarchy of Domestic Servants

Upper Order

Companions: addressed as “Mrs” for the sake of courtesy, these women accompanied their mistresses on whatever excursions the day might require.  They were like 24 hour on-call friends.  Shopping, playing cards, aiding their mistresses’ comfort–companions came from genteel upbringings and possessed a “polite education”, were versed in music, languange, conversation and the arts.

Waiting Women & Ladies Maids:  also known as abigails, a ladies maid was preferably French, but more commonly, English.  She was responsible for dressing her mistress, caring for her mistress’ clothes, carrying messages, encouraging or discourings her lovers, and accompanying her mistress on errands.

Housekeepers:  Of a certain age, housekeepers were typically mature and had either ran her own household or possessed extensive experience in household affairs.  She worked alongside a house steward (a male domestic), buying provisions, dispensing funds as needed, and keeping household accounts.  In addition, she was responsible for managing the lower order servants (the maids).  One woman would often perform this position in conjunction with another.  The most common combination was housekeeper and cook, or housekeeper and ladies maid.  Paid: £10-20 by the late 1700’s.

Cook:  Performed the same duties as the man cook, her male counterpart, but was considered his inferior.  Paid: £7-15.

Lower Order

Chambermaids:  Attended to the chambers or rooms.  Dusted, swept, made beds, warmed beds, took care of fires, attended dressing room, and cared for windows.

Housemaids: also know as “spider brushers” from all the dusting they did.  They mended garments, made beds, opened windows, tidied, served tea (they were the ones to sell it) washed windows and stairs, polished fireplace fixtures and door looks, and emptied chamber pots.

Nurserymaids:  Wet nurses, cared for children

Kitchenmaids: Assisted in kitchen activities.  Through experience, she might become an assistant cook.

Kitchen Maid – Johannes Vermeer – 1658

Maids of all work:  see Day in the Life of a Maid of all Work.  These maids were employed in even the most impoverished families.

Scullery maids:  Lowest of all the servants and typically very young, she assisted the kitchen maids.  She also scoured pots, stoves, pans; cleaned vegetables, scrubbed scales off fish, and plucked poultry; provided hot water to the house, lit fires to heat water; cleaned away garbage and debris on floors.  She might have cleaned and emptied chamber pots and/or also assisted in watching the cooking of food.  She would never touch any luxuries like china or glass.

Scullery Maid – Guiseppe Crespi – 1710-1715

I hope you enjoyed learning about domestic female servants.  They were absolutely essential to running a house and since most of us take care of our own household affairs, I think we can sympathize.  Though not about the master, unless, perhaps, you’re into S&M.

So what kind of servant do you feel like most days? 

And remember to come back later this week for my post on male domestic servants!

Of Hearts and Cupids

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Kiss your dog

doggies need love too!

Hug your gal friends

Call your mom

Wear your heart on your sleeve

Show a blogger love by leaving a comment

And remember, everyday is v-day for lovers!

Reinventing the Pantry

Watching “Julie and Julia” has put me in the mood to cook, or at least write about cooking.  I think a lot about what I’m going to make for dinner and yet I have an aversion to recipes.  I find my greatest creativity occurs when I’m low on ingredients.  You know the scenario – your fridge is nearly empty, your pantry is filled with the regular goodies (or not so goodies!) and you’re feeling uninspired but you still have to make dinner.  The frozen pizza is looking pretty appetizing by now.  But wait!  Stock your pantry right and these days of quick unhealthy bites become part of your murky past in non-cooking.  Instead of the frozen standbys, you start whipping up a tasty dish like Tangy Tuna Pasta or Sundried Tomato Frittata.  Dinner is suddenly delicious.

My Fridge

So I’m all about making life easier in the kitchen and while fresh ingredients are undoubtedly the way to go, cooking straight from the pantry now and then is a refreshing change from the daily grind of take-out or healthy choice.

The Pantry Essentials

Part I: Oils

Everybody stocks olive oil nowadays, right?  Its rich, goes well with fish, meat, and poultry, not to mention pasta and salads, and cooks at high heat.  But sometimes its, well, common.  Using one oil all the time deadens the palate so why not try something more unusual?  I find that toasted sesame oil is an amazing addition to salads and pasta.   I’ve blogged about it before, but La Tourangelle is amazing.  TJ Maxx regularly stocks it, but you can also find it on amazon.  Just be prepared to pay a higher price at the latter (TJ Maxx is usually at least half that price).  Keep in mind that oils are used sparingly so the $7-$20 you spend on a container will last a very long time.  Consider these:

  • Roasted Hazelnut Oil – seriously yum.  Use it on salads, lettuce and bean; pastas, fish.  It smells exquisite.
  • Grapeseed – has virtually no distinctive taste.  Perfect when you don’t want to add flavor to a dish
  • Also roasted walnut oil, pumpkin oil, and white truffle (awesome on pasta and not just for gourmands!).

Part II – Canned & Bottled

I reguarly buy frozen veggies for those nights when I’m running low on fresh.  They work in a pinch, but there are some canned veggies that far outperform frozen.  And while I’m not talking Spam, consider seafood for protein.  Tuna has come up in the world.

  • Artichokes
  • Black Olives
  • Corn – try this in saute pan with lime juice and chili pepper.  I salivate just thinking about this simple recipe.
  • Tomato sauce, plain – add italian seasoning, a pinch of sugar, and red pepper flakes for super easy spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce.  If you’re cooking the sauce for longer than 10-20 mins, consider carrots instead of sugar.  It’s not as acidic and as such, does not leave a bitter aftertaste.
  • Veggie Broth – or chicken, if that’s what you prefer.
  • Canned Oysters – Oyster soup (milk, worcestershire sauce, pepper, and butter – what could be easier?)
  • Tuna in Olive oil (if possible) – think outside the box here.  Try googling “tuna baguette”.  I’ve even convinced my husband, a staunch canned tuna hater, that tuna can be edible and delish.
  • Anchovy Paste – trust me; caesar salads almost always require these, as well as certain pistous, tapenades, and some pasta sauces.
  • Beans
  • Capers – pickled bud of the perrenial caper bush – you need to stock this.  They’re handy for pasta, meat, salads, sauces.  Just try it!
  • Hot Sauce – I love Frank’s for pasta and as an addition to meatballs.  Makes all the difference.
  • Jam – not just good for toast.   Mix into plain yogurt, add to baking, oatmeal, etc.  Try it on a grilled cheese sandwich, especially fig jam.

Part III – Spices & Herbs

If there’s a spice regularly available at grocery stores, I’ve tried it.  I’ve even been known to buy spices I couldn’t pronounce just because my curiosity is unsatiable.  I want to sample everything.  Despite these forays into the unusual, though, I have a few absolute staples.  My general take on spices and herbs is the more the merrier.  You never know what you’re gonna need.

  • Basil – fabulous in scrambled eggs
  • Chili Powder – heats up practically anything: soups, mexican, eggs, meat . . .
  • Garlic Powder – when I’m too lazy to cut up garlic
  • Lemon Pepper – I cannot say this enough, high quality or none at all.  I use The Gourmet Collection.  Try this on roasted veggies.  It’s divine on roasted potatoes.
  • Saigon Cinnamon – when you want sweetness without sugar – great for diabetics too.
  • Italian Seasoning – a mix of basil, oregano, marjoram, and rosemary.
  • Red Pepper Flakes – a must for pasta sauces, pizza, soup.  The list is almost endless.
  • Sea Salt and Grindable Pepper – the best dishes are often seasoned with the simplest of seasonings.  Try chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic powder sauted in olive oil.  It’s perfect!
  • Herbes de Provence – savory, basil, thyme, fennel, bay leaf, marjoram, and lavender.  Great if you don’t want to buy these spices seperately.

Another note about spices: cook them first instead of adding to a dish that’s already cooking.  Sprinkling them in the pan with the oil before the rest of the dish really pulls out the flavor.  I think it’s the only way to make indian curries with the proper flavor.

Part IV – Condiments and Vinegars

Condiments are essentially what accessories are to your wardrobe.  They make it.

  • Dijon Mustard
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Sherry
  • Worcestershire Sauce – great in soups and obviously with meats.  Try it on veggies too.
  • Garlic Teryaki – marinade steak in this to really please your man.
  • Soy Sauce
  • Boxed Red or White Wine – whichever you prefer.  By buying a box instead of a bottle, you have the opportunity to both drink and cook with it.  Boxed wine stays fresher longer and is better for the environment.  Suprisingly, some are pretty darned good!

Part V – Dry

I think some of these are pretty obvious but I’ll take a go at it!

  • Whole Wheat Pasta
  • Unsweetened Cocoa – a wonderful addition to breakfast oatmeals, cereals; make hot chocolate with real cocoa taste, add to smoothies.  As a plus, unsweetened cocoa is super healthy due to its plentious amounts of antioxidants.
  • Steel Cut Oats – retains the nutrition of whole oats.  Try adding in baked goods like scones, eat for breakfast with fruit, and get a good amount of fiber to start your day.
  • Agave Nectar – does not ruin the taste of coffee or tea and is also great with baking.  Cane sugar and beet sugar are more acidic.
  • Basmati Rice – a preference of mine for stir-fry and east indian cuisine.  Could also use brown rice or jasmine and if you find it easily available, try wild rice.  I love it as the base for Indian porridge for breakfast or as a substitue for wheat pasta with chicken.
  • Dried Breadcrumbs – experiment with adding spices.
  • Baking Soda and powder – if you bake
  • Coffee and/or Tea – add tea to smoothies, add coffee to baking and desserts, or best of all, just drink it!

There are, of course, always other useful pantry essentials but I find them less essential than those above.  In addition, it’s always a good idea to have the original basics: milk, eggs, and flour, or their respective substitutes.

So what about you?  What are a few of your pantry essentials, or even better, super easy recipes?

Dressing the English Lady

Mid to late 18th Century Women’s Fashions (1750-1795) – Dressing the English Lady

This period of Georgian history saw a remarkable array of fashions.  From the replendence of flowing ruffles and gleaming embrodiery to the simple, white muslin chemise a la Reine, the evolution was stark, often influenced by the French fashions at the Court of Versailles.


Top:  Marie Antoinette in her own design, the Robe a la Reine .

Bottom:  Robe a la francaise.

Two types of gowns dominated the scene, the robe a la francaise and the robe a l’anglaise, each quite distinct, down to the very structures that styled their shape.   An English lady might have either at the ready, the latter “English dress” suitable to the everyday country life outside London town while the “French dress” often graced formal occasions.  The fabric of the “English Dress” also tends toward painted cotton versus the lustrous fabrics of the Robe a la francaise.  All gowns consisted of a petticoat (the layer revealed by the cutaway in the front of the skirt) and some sort of stays.


Let’s look at the main differences . . .

The Robe a la Francaise

  • Also known as the “sack back” gown, box pleats fell like a waterfall from the shoulder, descending into a train.
  • Emphasis is placed on an extreme width to the hips, with panniers providing the structure.  The pannier was worn under the petticoat, the layer peeking out from the gown.

  • Sleeves most commonly ended near the elbow with a froth of lace ruffles cascading down the arm (engageants).
  • The stomacher, a triangular panel, was conical in shape, emphasizing a broad bosom and a tiny waist.  However, the stays beneath actually increased the waist’s natural narrowness, hence the stomacher as an illusion.  As part of the corset, the stomacher was boned, but sometimes it was merely decorative – torso jewelry if you will.  As ornamentation, the  stomachers were often pinned or stitched into place.  They also be secured by the bodice’s lacings.   Talk about extra work getting dressed!

This is the gown most of us would associate with Versailles: curvaceous in the hips to the extreme.   I can just imagine how crowded a ballroom might’ve been!


Robe a L’Anglaise

  • A false rump or bustle raised the back of the skirts, essentially lifting and empasizing the rear.  Unlike the Robe a la Francaise, the width of the hips had a slimmer silhoutte while the rear – dare I say it? – was bootylicious.

Bustle attached to the hips so the padded fabric flared out

The waistline dips in both front and back center.

  • Also note the shortening of the gown.  The train starts diminishing until, in the later part of the century, the skirt lifts off the ground, no doubt easier to keep clean in those dirty streets!

Beginning around the late 1770’s the Robe a la Polonaise, aka the milkmaid, gained in popularity.  This style mimicked how women of the countryside would hike up their external gowns to keep them out of the mud.  The rear is hiked up at the sides and back.

All pictures taken from the Costume Institute at the Met – an amazing collection extending far before and after the mid to late 18th century!

Curious about what English lords wore?  Check out this post on Stripping the 18th Century Male.

Tangy Lemon Tuna Pasta

I love meals made with pantry staples.  They take the work out of cooking and the best part is, I don’t have to go shopping!  I created this Tangy Lemon Tuna after my friend, Abby, raved about a pasta at her fav Italian restaurant.  It’s easy, satisfying, and very cheap.  If you wanted to make it extra special, you could always upgrade the ingredients to include ahi tuna and kalamata olives.  Everything else stays the same!  

The Recipe

1 can tuna in water (olive oil if possible)

La Tourangelle Toasted Sesame oil (the best in my opinion!)

The Gourmet Collection Lemon Pepper  (also the best; I buy this and the sesame oil at TJ Maxx)

1 can of artichoke hearts, small

1 can black olives

2 tbsp capers

Egg Noodles (these cook in about 5 mins)

Lemon Juice

Lemon Peel

In cooking pan, saute artichokes in olive oil (the sesame is not suitable for high heat), add lemon pepper.  Cook for 5 mins.  Add olives, tuna, cook for 3 mins.  Meanwhile boil noodles.  About 2 mins before the noodles are ready, add capers to the tuna artichoke mix.  Right before you stir together the cooked noodles with the tuna artichokes mix, add lemon juice.

In large serving bowl mix sesame oil and lemon pepper.  Add grated lemon peel and about 1/4 of a lemon, juiced. 

Add cooked tuna artichoke mix.  Drain noodles and add them to bowl.  Stir and add more sesame oil and lemon pepper to taste.


Note:  In case you’re wondering, why I’m not too specific about measurments, it’s mostly cause I never measure anything, but also because I find them pretty useless (the exception is baking).  For this recipe,use enough sesame oil so the pasta is coated but no heavily saturated.  The lemon pepper is very subject to taste.  Add enough to make the pasta tangy, but not overpowering.  I usually add a bit of plain pepper too.

Think my pantry staples are unusual?  I’ll have a post later this week about making the highest quality food within easy reach of your kitchen.  No grocery shopping necessary on those busy work days!

Tell me what you think about this recipe.  Was it a success?  Did you make any improvements?  I’d love to hear about it!

The Hero, Part 1: The Highwayman

The gallant figure of the highwayman has seduced women for ages.  He is the lone anti-hero on a dark road, the dashing gentleman turned rogue by ill-fortune.  Sometimes, more tantalizingly, his thieving is done by choice, by the sheer predatory pleasure of taking what he wants.  He thrives off the hunt, stripping ladies of their jewels and weaker lords of their pride.   An archetype for the forbidden, flipping laws for his own amusement and livelihood, he represents a desire many women cannot even name – the total escape from society’s rules.  A highwayman is the ultimate bad boy, tempting a heroine to run away from the trappings of her sex – the dull husband, the incessant drone of shopping and babies and gossip – and the best part about it, a part of her wants to.  Really wants to.

This man whose cocksure grin causes a lady to surrender her material pleasures for just one glimpse of the forbidden is one of the heroes of the ages –  think the medieval outlaw, Robin Hood; the 17th century Claude Du Vall; the Irish Captain Gallagher.   And in fiction, he is undeniably sexy.  Why?  That question is the very reason.  A highwayman has a dark, hidden history that led him to rob stagecoaches.  He is an enigma, perhaps a gentleman, dispossessed of his wealth or title, or maybe a benevolent rogue who steals in contempt of the rich.  He joins the ranks of pirates and smugglers and we just have to believe, underneath it all, he is honorable.

And what about the highwaywoman?  That reversal might be fun, shocking lords and gentlemen everywhere!

Want to know more about this kind of rogue?

Outlaws and Highwaymen (awesome links too)

Robin Hood History  (There’s a series of fantasy romance-ish books that are worth checking out by Jennifer Roberson)

Dangerous Hero Addict Support Group (for those books to read!)

Also, listen to Loreena McKennitt sing “The Highwayman” by poet Alfred Noyes.  It’s a beautiful poem.

The Highwayman

The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding–
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door.

He’d a French cocked hat on his forehead, and a bunch of lace at his chin;
He’d a coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of fine doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle; his boots were up to his thigh!
And he rode with a jeweled twinkle–
His rapier hilt a-twinkle–
His pistol butts a-twinkle, under the jeweled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred,
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter–
Bess, the landlord’s daughter–
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

Dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim, the ostler listened–his face was white and peaked–
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter–
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter;
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say:

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart; I’m after a prize tonight,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light.
Yet if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

He stood upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the sweet black waves of perfume came tumbling o’er his breast,
Then he kissed its waves in the moonlight
(O sweet black waves in the moonlight!),
And he tugged at his reins in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.

He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon.
And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon over the purple moor,
The redcoat troops came marching–
King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

They said no word to the landlord; they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed.
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets by their side;
There was Death at every window,
And Hell at one dark window,
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

They had bound her up at attention, with many a sniggering jest!
They had tied a rifle beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
“Now keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She heard the dead man say,
“Look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though Hell should bar the way.”

She twisted her hands behind her, but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

The tip of one finger touched it, she strove no more for the rest;
Up, she stood up at attention, with the barrel beneath her breast.
She would not risk their hearing, she would not strive again,
For the road lay bare in the moonlight,
Blank and bare in the moonlight,
And the blood in her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.

Tlot tlot, tlot tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hooves, ringing clear;
Tlot tlot, tlot tlot, in the distance! Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding–
The redcoats looked to their priming! She stood up straight and still.

Tlot tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment, she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight–
Her musket shattered the moonlight–
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him–with her death.

He turned, he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the casement, drenched in her own red blood!
Not till the dawn did he hear it, and his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs in the golden noon, wine-red was his velvet coat
When they shot him down in the highway,
Down like a dog in the highway,
And he lay in his blood in the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

And still on a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a gypsy’s ribbon looping the purple moor,
The highwayman comes riding–
The highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard,
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred,
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter–
Bess, the landlord’s daughter–
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

Check back in for more dangerous hero profiles.  I’d love to hear about your favorite type!

Stripping the 18th Century English Male

How To Undress Your Hero

The basics:

Everyday Coat, Waistcoat, and Breeches on the 2nd Lord Vernon, 1767.  Note the stockings and the buckled shoes.

It was quite fashionable in the early 18th century to contruct the three piece suit out of monochromatics colors and one type of cloth.  Later on, each piece would be diffferent (and perhaps dandy) with the waistcoat made of the most expensive fabric, ususally velvet, silk, or satin.

Formal Coat & Waistcoat

The lavish embroidery on this three piece suit suggests court wear, although day wear for the rich would also include painstaking detail and the use of lush fabrics.   As a rule, the more extravagent the suit, the more costly, and the more likely to be worn by the aristocracy.   With great affluency came an abundance of ruffles and a freshly laundered state of dress not seen in the lower classes.

However, in a nod toward the simpler fashion plates produced during the French revolution (1789-1799)–not to mention the revolution’s ideals of equality–a pared down style was adopted by the gentlemen of England.  The jabot gave way to the cravat, the ruffled sleeves disappeared.  By 1785 wigs were already losing their popularity.  In 1795, the heavy tax on powders all but killed the trend that had lingered for the past 135 years.  The full bottomed wig of the early 1700’s at first gave way to a shorter style before disappearing completely in society (they were still, however, worn in the courts).

Men eventually started wearing their hair natural and shorter, which one can imagine was a godsend for the itchy scalp associated with the cumbersome hair-pieces  By the regency period (1810-ish to 1820, although some say it extends to 1790’s despite the fact that Mad George was still on the throne), short hair a la the handsome George Fiztroy, the 4th Duke of Grafton, became the norm.

The 18th century was an era of great upheaval, politically and fashion-wise.  Note the main changes in style:  the coat cuts more and more away from the waist until by the late 1780’s, men no longer button their coats.  The breeches get tighter, the hair becomes shorter, natural instead of powdered.  The waistcoat’s arms disappear entirely, the frock skirt shortens, the collar becomes more defined.  Near the late 1790’s, the jackboots we see in the Regency period are preffered over buckled shoes.  Overall, the trend leans toward streamlined cuts as seen on Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.  Notice the lack of ornamentation, the abundance of black, the absence of lush fabrics.

Got the basics down?  Now for the fun part.  Let’s get on with stripping the 18th century man!

 Undressing the Neck:

Men during this period either wore a jabot, a ruffled neck piece, as below . . .

Or a cravat like this one shown on Ralph Fiennes in The Duchess.

Coats are collarless in the first half of 1700’s; revers abound in the second half.  During this period, fashion also saw the cut of the coat change, curving away from the midline until eventually we have the evolved Regency style, which is cut very high upon the waist.  Then we have the waistcoast, sleeveless or with sleeves. . .

followed by the simple linen shirt, worn by the masses, and breeches (no fly before 1730’s; after we find a drop front where the center flap buttonned near the waistband).  Later in the 18th century, the fit became tighter so as to seem completely fitted against the thighs, a second skin if you will.  Popular fabrics were nankeen and leather.

Lastly,  the stockings (we’ve already kicked off those dreadful buckled shoes, perhaps heels of red or black, perhaps not!) and the linen drawers similar to modern day boxers but longer.  The stockings would be gartered at the knee.

And then finally, voila!

(Attribution: By After Polykleitos (Ophelia2) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Or at least one can hope.

More on Men’s Fashions:  Wigs & Wig Curlers

Interested in Ladies’ Fashions?  Look at my post on Dressing the English Lady