Dec 19

Viking Cheese w/ Guest Author Gina Conkle

Please join me in welcoming Gina Conkle, author of Georgian and Viking romance (with a foray into contemporary romance with WAITING FOR A GIRL LIKE YOU releasing just last week)! Gina, so glad to have you visit today. 

Thank you, Alyssa, for hosting me on your blog. I’m sharing one of my adventures—eating like a Viking. Last summer my family took a dip back in time with my Viking garden and Viking recipes.*

We learned a lot. One point of interest: Vikings ate a lot of kale. Another interesting point: Reading about seasonal foods and how the Vikings solved those problems.

The Cheese Alternative

Dairy products were the midsummer answer to food shortages. By spring, regular Viking folk would’ve plowed and planted their fields. Winter stores of dried and pickled veggies and whey treated meat would’ve dwindled. Fresh fish would be the answer in some places, but even large schools of herring don’t pass through southern Scandinavian waters until summer’s end.

Enter Cheese Lovers

Milk products from goats or cows would’ve been the protein mainstay, but the wise farmer made sure the kid goat and calf gets their fill first. People got leftover milk to drink and make into cheese. Yes, even hearty Viking warriors guzzled milk. Here’s a snippet from the Sagas:

Tables were brought forth and they were given food: bread and butter. Large boxes with skyr** were also placed on the table. Bard said: “I regret much that I have no ale to offer you, though I would  have liked to.” You will have to suffice with that which is here. Olvi and his followers were very thirsty and drank the skyr.  At that Bard brought out some buttermilk and that they drank as well.

~Egil’s Saga

Viking Cheese

The process is like making mead: a little labor intensive at first with well-timed follow ups. This is how I made my Viking cheese.

 

~ 10 cups whole milk in a pan and cook on medium heat (stirring it often) until the milk reaches 39 degrees Celsius (102.2 deg. F)

~Stir in 1 tbsp. of rennett, cover the pan, and let this mixture sit for 30-40 minutes.

~When you lift the lid, you’ll see a lumpy white-ish, yellow-y mass with watery edges. That watery liquid under the coagulated mass is whey.*** Grab your ladle and remove all the whey into a separate container. Nothing’s wasted. Vikings used everything.

 

 

 

~Now here’s the interesting part. You keep pressing the curds (even punching them!) to get the last of the whey out and to form your cheese. I tried punching my cheese, but a flat wooden spoon worked better.

~ Cover your cheese with a plate, a pan lid, whatever works, and let it sit for 6 hours.

~For 3 days you’ll turn your cheese over once in the morning and once in the evening, patting it with a little salt and wrapping it in fresh cloth. Keep the cheese at 17 degrees Celsius (62 degrees F).

 

 

~Days 4-28 turn your cheese twice a day like before, wrap it in a clean cloth, but NO salting. At the end of the month, you’ll have fresh Viking cheese. My cheese turned out like a crumbly version of mozzarella. I’ll have to keep practicing to perfect a firmer block cheese.

 

*This “Eat Like a Viking” adventure started when a history writer sent me a link to this book, An Early Meal. Two historians studied seven Viking archaeological sites for clues to what Vikings ate and how they prepared their foods. It was nerd-vana for me.

** Skyr (pronounced skeer) is a type of Icelandic yogurt that seems to be catching on worldwide now. Cattle and goats were scant in Iceland’s early days. The prized animals were a sign of wealth, thus, consuming their milk was preferred. By the late tenth century, horse was actually a favored Viking meat.

***Whey is the thin watery part of milk. Vikings used it for meat preservation among other things. Vats big enough to hide a man were commonplace on Viking farms. In fact, there’s one saga tale of a Viking warrior on the run. He’s being chased and ends up on a farm. One of the women agrees to help by hiding him in a vat of whey.

 

 

 

And now a bit about one of Gina’s Viking romances, To Find a Viking Treasure.

 

Survival’s in his blood

Rough-souled Brandr’s ready for a new life far from Uppsala, but the Viking has one final task —protect the slave, Sestra. Her life’s been full of hardship…until she learns the location of a treasure.

Saving others is her purpose

With war coming, stealing the enemy’s riches will save lives, but only one man can watch over Sestra —the fierce Viking scout, Brandr. The two have always traded taunts, now they must share trust. Passions flare as secrets unfold, leading one to make a daring sacrifice that changes everything on their quest To Find a Viking Treasure

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Gina Conkle writes Viking and Georgian romance, with a recent foray into contemporary romance. She grew up in southern California and despite all that sunshine, Gina loves books over beaches and stone castles over sand castles. Now she lives in Michigan with her favorite alpha male, Brian, and their two sons where she’s known to occasionally garden and cook.

 

 

Find Gina online!

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Nov 16

Family Traditions…And #Bacon.

I’m not big into holiday traditions, particularly. We have a few–a special Christmas Tree Adventure when we cut down our tree with friends, Christmas morning pancakes. But there is one tradition we do every year. Sometimes with friends, sometimes just as a family.

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Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good

Seriously. This is a fall tradition, and we usually invite a house full of friends and make two or three pumpkins.

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I first heard about this on an NPR story back in 2010. (Link to the original program here. It’s fantastic!) We made it a couple of days later, and we’ve made it every year since. The fun part is hollowing out the pumpkin!

First, cut off the tops.

Naturally, make sure you know how to put them back on again.

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Oh, my Biscuit was a cutie back in 2010.

BACON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

BACON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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All the goodies…

 

 

 

I modified a few things (more bacon, no nutmeg).

 

 

 

 

But I don’t play around with the recipe otherwise. You could add all sorts of things in there–different meats or spices, dried fruits or nuts. Maybe some sweet foodstuffs–but we like it just the way it is. And, as it’s a once a year fall tradition, we like to keep it the same each year.

 

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I over stuffed this year…

IMG_20161113_155119[1]You can follow the original recipe by Dorie Greenspan (who is amazing), or you can follow my modified version. But if you ever get a hankering, shove that thing full of crusty bread, Gruyere cheese, chives, a titch of salt-n-pepper, and minced garlic, then pour in about a 1/2 cup of heavy cream.

Make sure you salt and pepper the inside of the pumpkin before stuffing.

Season the pumpkin with salt and pepper

Bake it for about an hour and a half at 350, until a knife slides all the way through the pumpkin skin.

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 Don’t put in too much cream, or it bubbles out and burns.

Do put down tin foil, in case you put in too much cream.

(Not that I’ve EVER done that.)

Enjoy! And ohhhhhhhh was it yummy.....

No, it’s not good for you. Yes, it’s delicious.

That’s why we only do it once a year!

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Oct 10

Adventures: On The Underground and About Town

For those of us growing up in the Midwest of the US, subways, undergrounds and mass transportation are just not a part of life. Sure, the downtown areas might have buses, and if you go to Chicago or Detroit, there are trains or subways. But where I live, everyone still has a car. If I didn’t have a car, I would have no way to get to work. Mass transportation just doesn’t come out to the rolling fields of farm country.

So imagine my terror of using the London Underground. Sure, everyone in London does. Sure, it’s clean, safe, easy—well, mostly. If you don’t have any idea where in the city you are, it’s a bit tricky to figure out the different lines. I can’t tell you how often I stood in a tube station for a good fifteen minutes staring at the map on the wall.

Or using this one:

 

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Which made me really look like a tourist (as if the camera hanging around my neck didn’t do the trick), so sometimes I would surreptitiously used this one:

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Which, as you can see, was well-loved and ended up in multiple pieces.

Still, navigating the Underground made me feel very independent. I got lost repeatedly, but I always found my way to my destination. Eventually I was competent enough switching lines at the stations that I fancied myself indeterminable from the locals.

Ha. The camera. And, really, I’m very American-ish. They picked me out without me having to say a word!

Anywhoodles, I was utterly terrified the first time I stepped onto the Underground. I kept reading signs that said “Mind The Gap”, and I thought for sure I would be the one to fall into the gap and get run over by a subway car.

Headline: Stupid American Author Didn’t Mind The Gap!

Newspaper headlines and overactive imagination notwithstanding, it was lovely to ride the tube and then change my mind regarding destination partway through the trip. Traveling alone means that if you decide to take a detour, there is no one to consult but yourself.

 

April 15, 2016
8:30 am
Breakfast

.               .               .

For now, it is time to put my big girl panties on and brave the Underground!

.               .               .

9:25 am
On the Underground

Apparently going the right direction.

I love the signs. “Mind the Gap” on the door. Also, there is an advert that says “Love Your Ladyparts. Text Ladyparts 2 to #####”.

What would happen if I texted Ladyparts 1?

.               .               .

4:00 pm
Chandos Pub
Trafalgar Square

The Underground—no idea why I was so scared! Easy-Peasy-1-2-3sy! Minus the fact that I switched trains and went the wrong direction. Oops. So it took me 3 stops to figure that out, at which point I got off, hemmed and hawed, then found my route.

But partway to Charring Cross for the National Portrait Gallery, I suddenly decided to go to Westminster. I mean, I was so close. [According to the very small map. Turns out when you shrink the city onto a 5¾ x 11½ inch piece of paper, things are not as close as they seem!] So I got off at the station, pulled out my map to figure out where I was.

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DSC_0206I step out, and there was the bleepity-bleep Big Ben. OMG. It’s BIG. So I start to take pictures, walk around and Holy. Hell.

Westminster this moning was utterly divine. It was mostly cloudy, just shy of rain, in fact. The building was utterly amazing. The architecture was so detailed, so exquisite, it was nearly impossible to believe it was real. It was like looking at a fairytale building. Gargoyles, saints, crazy-pretty carvings.

First, who dreams this? Second, who builds it?

Gargoyles

Gargoyles

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Crazy Pretty

Saints

Saints

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That, my lovelies, was one of the thoughts that ran over and over in mind that morning. I thought not of the architect so much as the builders. The stonemasons. The carpenters. The laborers. The men who shifted stone into place, who fell from the highest heights—because you can’t tell me they were tied and buckled to the building. Someone had to have fallen to their death. For as many people who have trod the stones of Westminster, so, too, has blood been spilled there in the name of beauty.

I felt sort of like I was at the Beast’s castle in Beauty and the Beast—minus the police and men with machine guns.

Selfies

Selfies!

A bit off-putting, to say the least. [But as the first bombing in Brussels occurred just a few weeks before, Europe was on high alert.] And I’m sure they all thought I was nutty, snapping a selfie or otherwise taking pictures all across the building.

But there I was, totally nutters, wandering at a snail’s pace, zooming in on every bit of architecture I could. God, it was divine. Utterly, utterly divine. I can’t wait to look at the pictures.

Anyway, I wandered, snapped, wandered. Then I saw a building in the middle of Westminster that was clearly Middle Ages. Clearly. And the sign in front said “Open Daily.” Naturally, as it was a day, and I was here, and it was Medieval, I went. But more later on that.

First, I walked in a little park south of Westminster, took some selfies, met some pigeons.

DSC_0260 DSC_0261And I found some little white and yellow flowers. I took a picture. Why? Aside from the fact that they were pretty, in Hyde Park [the day before] I came across an Arabic woman probably about my age. She was taking a picture just as I passed. She said to me, a little sheepish, “They are pretty flowers.” And I said, “I thought the same thing this morning!” I had. I’d looked at them during my initial walk through the park and thought how pretty and cheerful they were.

So there we were, she and I. Me in my Old Navy clothes, windblown and sweaty, she in her traditional garb and with an English accent, both of us marveling over pretty yellow and white wildflowers. That’s a moment I’m not likely to forget soon. Continents apart, and yet human in the same way—we stopped to smell the flowers. Or take a picture, anyway.

It’s more or less the same thing when you think about how few people ever stop.

Later that day I toured the Medieval building, St. Margaret’s Cathedral, and the National Portrait Gallery (more later on all that, of course, as I’ve loads of history to share). When I left the NPG, I went to Chandos Pub on Trafalgar Square for a pint and to journal. I met a very nice man there at the counter next to me, who directed me to the Charring Cross subway station. It was, apparently, right on Trafalgar Square (which was actually a roundabout). If I just went counter-clockwise, I would find it.

Yeah. I went around the roundabout three times. In the pouring rain.

If I just went counter-clockwise… Pshaw.

Still, soaking wet or not, I will always remember the woman in Hyde Park. Have you ever met a kindred spirit? One that you just knew you’d met in another life? (Assuming there is such a thing, which I have yet to rule out). She and I looked down at those flowers and I knew we were kindred spirits, 3,700 miles apart.

Oct 05

News!!!

Me, trying to show you I'm excited. Scatter-Cat got in the way.

Me, trying to show you I’m excited. Scatter-Cat got in the way.

I’m pleased as punch to report you’ll be able to read the remaining two books in the Spy In The Ton series! Last week Entangled Historical Select bought both manuscripts. (Squeal!) You will soon find Maximilian and Vivienne’s story (Book #3) available on your e-reader of choice, and not long after that, Jones and Cat’s story (Book #4). Both books will also be available as print-on-demand, should that be your reading preference.

Seriously, my lovelies, I cannot wait to share them with you. Maximilian and Vivienne are very dear to my heart, and as I write Jones and Cat’s story (working on them now!) I’m falling in love with Jones all over again and getting to know Cat.

You can meet Vivienne, Maximilian and Jones in IN BED WITH A SPY, and you might be seeing Julian, Grace and Lilias again as well, so do be sure to reread THE SMUGGLER WORE SILK for a little brush up on their history.

I’ll post more on release dates as soon as I know. In the meantime, be happy, laugh much and read well!

 

 

The Smuggler Wore Silk

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He went looking for a traitor. He found a wife.

After he is betrayed by one of his own, British spy Julian Travers, Earl of Langford, refuses to retire without a fight, vowing to find the traitor. But when the trail leads to his childhood home, Julian is forced to return to a place he swore he’d never see again, and meet a woman who may be his quarry—in more ways than one.

Though she may appear a poor young woman dependent on charity, Grace Hannah’s private life is far more interesting. By night, she finds friendship and freedom as a member of a smuggling ring. But when the handsome Julian arrives, she finds her façade slipping, and she is soon compromised, as well as intrigued.

As she and Julian continue the hunt, Grace finds herself falling in love with the man behind the spy. Yet Julian’s past holds a dark secret. And when he must make a choice between love and espionage, that secret may tear them apart.

 

\

In Bed With A Spy

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Revenge has never been so seductive.

When her husband is killed at Waterloo, Lilias Fairchild takes up his cavalry sword and boldly storms the front, earning herself the nickname Angel of Vengeance. But there is another angel on the battlefield who is just as single-minded, and just as ruthless…

Alistair Whitmore, the Marquess of Angelstone, is a British spy. Code name: Angel. Still haunted by a first love felled by assassins, his mission draws him to Waterloo, where he is captivated by a beautiful and mysterious woman fighting amongst the men—a woman who becomes his most intoxicating memory of war.

Passion has never been so dangerous.

Two years later, Lilias and Angelstone lock eyes in a crowded ballroom and the memory returns in an exhilarating rush. The history they share, and hide from the world, is as impossible to ignore as the heat of their attraction. But it’s that very connection that spells doom for their scandalous affair. When someone from the shadows of their past proves a dire threat to their lives, passion might not be enough to save them.

 

 

 

Aug 22

Adventures: There are some that make me cry

Remember that trip to Europe? It wasn’t all fun and games. I laughed at myself, cried a bit, got in trouble with security guards, got lost—and was overwhelmed to the point of tears.

 

For those of us in the US who—like me—have never traveled beyond our own country (not including a couple of vacations in Caribbean resorts, which totally don’t count), you cannot possibly imagine the sheer enormity of standing in a spot others stood on 2,000 years ago. More, even. You can’t imagine what it is like to walk on the stone floor of a church that is 1,000 years old. How many other feet have touched those stones? Kings, princes, paupers, lepers. The Bubonic plague, the cholera epidemic. Wars, famine, the Middle Ages. THE MIDDLE AGES. Like, with swords and knights and fealty. Death, starvation, persecution.

 

All and more have happened in churches of every religion in every part of the world. It is simply that, for me, no church in my own country has existed more than 400-500 years. And those that did—Native American structures—are not plentiful.

 

So. This post is not about religion. I don’t care what religion anyone is, and any comment that strikes me as bigotry will be deleted.

 

What this post is about is history. Tradition. Connection. It’s sitting in silence beneath soaring stone ceilings, knowing that you are sitting in the same place another woman sat a thousand years ago. A woman who lived, died, bore children. Who made her own soap, slaughtered her own feed. One who probably buried one or more children, and possibly one or more husbands. A woman who got up at dawn to feed the fire and mended her children’s clothes by the light of a candle late at night. A woman who didn’t have aspirin or band-aids, skinny jeans or margaritas. (Because let’s get real about the important things in life.)

 

I left the V&A Museum on my first day in London, passed by a beautiful church with a gate standing open. Beyond that were heavy, carved, wooden doors.

 

I went in.

 

And I cried, sitting there in the silence of the church, basking in a single ray of light through a stained glass window while I contemplated an altar made of gilt and gold and marble.

 

Brampton Oratory Wikipedia Commons - Public Domain Credit: dcaster

Brampton Oratory
Wikipedia Commons – Public Domain
Credit: dcaster

April 14, 2016
4:30ish
The Oratory

 

I’m sitting in almost utter silence.

 

I’m in the Oratory, in a ray of light.

 

The only ray of light.

 

To my right is the most stunning depiction of Mary & Christ. Gilt and gold, marble and huge and carved. I have never seen anything like it. I cannot take a photo [per the rules]—but even if I could, I’m not sure I would. It’s somehow too beautiful to be photographed. It shall have to stay in my memory.

 

There are others wandering here, all quiet. It is like every one of us is holding our breath.

 

 A man just bought a candle, using another to light it. He is praying, as so many thousands have done before. And so many have died for that right. So many have died because of it.

 

Yet, as I sit here in my sunlight, watching it fade away, I cannot help but think about all the souls that have walked these floors, breathed this air, felt this silence.

 

There is something peaceful and precious in these walls, whatever religion it is.

 

Tradition. Love. Respect. History. Whatever else might be part of religion, there are also those four things.

 

The ceilings here simply soar, domed, high, painted and mosaicked. There is a loveliness that defies the imagination—and a beauty as well, that shocks the soul and draws it in. The corners with saints to pray to, for confessions, for quiet reflection. Each is as interesting and detailed as the last. The memorial to fallen soldiers 1914-1919 features a pieta-type statue that holds so much sadness—and yet grace and peace. I hope those soldiers found grace and peace.

 

 

Peace and reflection can only happen in certain places, when the soul is open and ready for it. I was ready for it, as I was again a few days later on Hampstead Heath. (A later post, my dears).

 

When you travel somewhere alone, somewhere unknown and without friends, you are so much more open to new experiences and new feelings than you are at home while in the familiar. I sat in the church for a half hour, doing nothing but looking. Respecting. Feeling. I can understand the magnitude of faith, of dying for faith. I can almost hear the voices of the thousands of people who have sat there before me. Of those that have come before. Of those that have gone before me.

 

Almost as if they were still there.

 

 

I’ve stepped outside now into noise and bustle again. Cars, people, buses—so much life.

 

Yet I find myself wanting to step back inside and think about those I’ve lost.

 

May all of you find peace and grace.

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