Don’t Get Crabby With Me

dont-get-crabby-with-meI’m very excited to present today’s post for Edible Fiction in regards to my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Although I won’t be making this recipe because the main ingredient has yet to come in season, I couldn’t resist sharing. My research on blue crabs yielded a wealth of knowledge and an enthusiasm for the dish, so I decided to post for two reasons: 1) You’ll want to be prepared for the blue crab season, and 2) Depending on where you live and/or your finances, you may want to turn this into a vacation.

In June of 1925, John Welles and his Aunt Prudence were planning his high school graduation party. They did so over a dinner of blue crab. When I initially wrote this scene, I assumed because they were on the coast, Maryland specifically, they would have eaten crab legs, and I stated as much. Please forgive my inlander ignorance. I corrected my mistake because I am a stickler for details in writing (Who Is In Your Details?). Research on this subject prompted a quick edit from crab legs to blue crabs and a visit to my local fish market, Klein’s Seafood.

I visited Klein’s to see what a semi-landlocked gal like myself could do.  I say semi because my state borders one of the Great Lakes, but alas, there are no blue crabs coming from this water source.  Fear not, fellow Ohioans, Klein’s receives blue crabs from the coast.  Seafood shops can have the crabs shipped live, but as one shop employee explained, many die during the trip and no one wants to buy the dead crabs.  So, Klein’s orders their blue crabs already cooked and ready to go.  Since I couldn’t purchase blue crabs to prepare for you, I decided to offer the next best thing.  I also dined on a white perch sandwich with lettuce and tartar sauce and six of the tastiest hushpuppies I’ve ever had, but I digress.

I could write an essay on blue crabs and the preparation thereof based on the articles I researched, but it would be easier and more thorough to direct you there. Don’t think me lazy; I simply don’t want to miss a single important detail regarding blue crabs. Once you read the articles, you’ll see why I suggested a vacation to Maryland. Not only is Maryland a wonderful place to visit for the historical aspect, the seafood restaurants featuring blue crabs and other produce from the ocean are worthy of a visit, too.

dont-get-crabby-with-me-2The first article, Maryland Crabs: A Guide to the East Coast’s Essential Summer Feast by Eater DC contributor Jamie Liu from June 5, 2015, provides an in-depth explanation on blue crabs from the how to the where of the blue crab season. I found this one to be easily understood and good for a blue crab novice such as myself. The restaurants mentioned were a combination of old and new establishments and ownership, but all had history with the Maryland crabbing industry.

And because I’m a conscientious writer against the overharvesting of natural resources as well as someone who loves the science behind anything we eat, Brenda and Glenn Davis’s article on the Life History & Management of Blue Crabs is most beneficial.

Also from Eater is this post, Eight Maryland Crab Houses Worth the Drive, by Tim Ebner from August 19, 2016. Complete with restaurant names including a brief description and address, directions, and a map, you can’t go wrong with this tidbit of information for planning your tour of crab houses whether you’re a novice or expert in the knowledge and eating of blue crabs.

Perhaps you’re thinking this is overkill just for one mention of blue crabs in a novel. Maybe, but I’d rather be accurate with my information than make a glaring error. Besides, if it sends people to Maryland for a visit, or even more to my liking, encourages them to buy my novel, so much the better.

Enjoy!

 

The Music of Life

the-music-of-lifeSeveral years ago while shelving AV material at the library where I used to work, I came across a CD titled The Goat Rodeo Sessions. What caught my eye, besides the unusual title, was Yo-Yo Ma on the cover. I was familiar with Yo-Yo Ma as a classically trained musician, but here he was featured on a CD devoted to music of a completely different genre. Without hesitation, I checked out the CD and couldn’t wait to listen to it on the drive home. What I heard started a love affair with a type of music I’d previously tiptoed around.

Probably what kept me from exploring this genre earlier was the fact that much of it was labeled Bluegrass. My opinion of Bluegrass included all things twangy and hick-i-fied. Yes, that is a word. What I discovered that day was something called Classical Crossover. Classical Crossover is a genre that hovers between classical and popular music, and is usually targeted at fans of both types of music. In the most common type of crossover, classically trained performers sing or play popular songs, folk music, show tunes, or holiday songs.

Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, and Stuart Duncan also contributed to the CD’s eleven tracks of music based on English and Irish fiddle music that gave birth to what we know as Appalachian fiddle music. The closest I’d ever come to anything like it was the little bits of fiddle I’d heard in songs by Clannad and The Chieftains.

After listening to The Goat Rodeo Sessions, I went in search of other CDs by the same artists or those featuring similar music. I discovered Appalachian Waltz, Short Trip Home, Appalachian Journey, and Heartland: An Appalachian Anthology all of which are now in a playlist that became the soundtrack of my mind as I wrote my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. One song in particular, “Sliding Down” featuring Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer, and Mike Marshall, epitomized John Welles’s experience in the later years of his life.

By the time John lived in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, his life had taken so many downward turns that he believed he’d never dig himself out from under them. Yet through it all, he retained a shred of hope buried deep in his heart. “Sliding Down” is the musical representation of what John felt during those years:  melancholy with a touch of optimism on the horizon that he was too afraid to reach for.

Other tracks from the above-listed CDs also played perfectly to the scenarios I wrote whether it was John as a boy on the family farm, as a student at the University of Maryland, during his relationship with the beautiful, enigmatic Garland, or the months following the D-Day Invasion. I don’t doubt that the music shaped what I wrote as if the songs were indeed a custom-made soundtrack. However, I finished writing over a year ago, so I haven’t accessed my Appalachian playlist in some time.

Last week, I had the opportunity to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird. It had been over thirty years since I had done so as an Honors English student in high school, but thanks to one of my book clubs, we revisited the classic. During one scene, Scout mentioned that Atticus liked listening to fiddle music on the radio. Suddenly my forgotten playlist rushed back to my memory. A quick check on Google confirmed that the Appalachian Mountains extend as far south as northern Alabama. As I read, all my favorite pieces became the background music for Scout, Jem, Dill, and Atticus’s adventures, and I listened to my playlist for two days straight.

By the way, the term goat rodeo refers to a chaotic event where many things must go right for the situation to work, a reference to the unusual and challenging aspects of blending classical and bluegrass music. Yo-Yo Ma described a goat rodeo saying, “If there were forks in the road and each time there was a fork the right decision was made then you get to a goat rodeo.” In the case of The Secrets of Dr. John Welles and To Kill a Mockingbird, the right choices weren’t always made, but somehow life worked out for the majority of those involved. This fact further reinforces my belief that the music of Appalachia is truly the music of real life.

Getting Out of a Sticky Situation

getting-out-of-a-sticky-situationGladys Feldman, mother to Sam, is determined to make the holidays happy for one of her son’s best friends, Claude Willoughby. Sam and John are also trying to cheer up their friend who has been left in Maryland as punishment while his family returns home to Kentucky to celebrate Christmas.

What the trio comes up with is an after-the-fact Chanukkah party to lift Claude’s spirits. Gladys invites her son’s friends over for a meal of brisket and latkes. As delicious as the meal is, the real fun doesn’t begin until she guides them through the process of making sufganiyot, and all four end up in a friendly powdered sugar fight before settling down to play dreidel.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the scene above. Sufganiyot are traditionally served at Chanukkah, but they are so easy to make that you’ll probably want to sample them a couple times throughout the year.

Enjoy!

Sufganiyot

1 package active dry yeast

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup whole milk

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 large eggs

4 cups vegetable oil, for frying (I used canola)

1 cup seedless red raspberry jelly or other favorite jelly flavor

Powdered sugar for sprinkling

Mix the yeast, one teaspoon granulated sugar, and ¼ cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F) in a large bowl (preferably not metal). Let stand until yeast mixture foams, about five minutes.

With a wooden spoon, stir flour, milk, butter, salt, nutmeg, eggs, and remaining ¼ cup granulated sugar into yeast mixture until evenly blended. The dough will be very sticky. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth towel, and let the dough rise in warm place (80 to 85 degrees F) until doubled, about 1 ½ hours.

With floured hands, punch down the dough. Turn the dough onto a heavily floured surface, and let rest ten minutes. With floured hands, pat the dough ½-inch thick. With a floured, three-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as possible. Place the rounds, about two inches apart, on lightly floured cookie sheets. Gently press any trimmings together. Repeat steps above. Cover the rounds, and let them rise in a warm place until doubled, about one hour.

In a ten-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until the temperature reaches 375 ° F on a deep-fry thermometer. With a wide metal spatula, carefully place two or three doughnuts in the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, about 1 ½ minutes, turning over once. With a large slotted spoon, transfer doughnuts to wire racks lined with paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining dough rounds.

When the doughnuts are cool enough to handle, using a small sharp knife, pierce the doughnuts from one side almost to the opposite side. Place the jelly in a decorating bag fitted with ¼-inch round tip. Squeeze a small amount of jelly into each doughnut through the slit. Cool the doughnuts completely on a wire rack. Sprinkle doughnuts with powdered sugar to serve.

A Streetcar Named Opportunity

a-streetcar-named-opportunity-2John Welles began his pre-med studies at the University of Maryland in October 1925. As excitement and anxiety competed for supremacy in the young man’s mind, his Aunt Prudence came to the rescue with a country-style breakfast guaranteed to calm her nephew’s fears. Yet John could not dismiss the troubling events of the past summer that marred his first day of school. Further adding to John’s frustration was Prudence’s insistence that her chauffeur drive him to school, an offer he declined in favor of taking the streetcar.

A fortuitous meeting during the ride brightened John’s day considerably. Seated next to him was an elderly gentleman who discerned John’s apprehensions and encouraged the young man to speak openly about them by quickly earning his trust. Little did John know that the chance encounter would positively influence the rest of his life.

a-streetcar-named-opportunityI’ll direct you to the Baltimore Streetcar Museum website as the source of information I used when preparing the scene above. Also useful is the post, A Brief History of Baltimore’s Electric Streetcars, on the Monument City Blog. In addition to the pictures I found for streetcars from this era, both sites were helpful in creating the location for one of the most important meetings of John’s life.

 

Spin to Win

spin-to-winIn December of 1927, Claude Willoughby has been left behind in Maryland as his father, sister, and step-mother return to Kentucky for Christmas. The cruel abandonment is Claude’s punishment for disobeying his father’s directive. Sam Feldman comes to Claude’s rescue by inviting him and their friend, John Welles, over for an after-the-fact Hanukkah celebration. After a meal of brisket and latkes, the boys play dreidel with Sam’s mother, Gladys.

Although the game is meant for children, I know quite a few adults, myself included, who get caught up in playing dreidel every Hanukkah. In fact, we have a tradition that last year’s winner must return to defend his or her title the following year.

The Hebrew word sevivon or s’vivon means to turn around. Dreidel is the Yiddish word for a spinning top. All dreidels have four Hebrew letters on them which stand for the saying Nes gadol haya sham, meaning a great miracle occurred there. In Israel, instead of the fourth letter shin, there is a peh which changes the saying to Nes gadol haya po, a great miracle occurred here.

Playing with the dreidel is a traditional Hanukkah game played in Jewish homes all over the world, and rules may vary. Here’s how to play the basic dreidel game:

  1. Any number of people can take part.
  2. Each player begins the game with an equal number of game pieces (about 10-15) such as pennies, nuts, chocolate chips, raisins, matchsticks, etc. (Our family uses Hershey’s Nuggets which makes winning or losing fun as many of the playing pieces are enjoyed during the game.)
  3. At the beginning of each round, every participant puts one game piece into the center pot. In addition, every time the pot is empty or has only one game piece left, every player should put one in the pot.
  4. Every time it’s your turn, spin the dreidel once. Depending on the outcome, you give or get game pieces from the pot:
  5. Nun means nisht or nothing. The player does nothing.
  6. Gimmel means gantz or everything. The player gets everything in the pot.
  7. Hey means halb or half. The player gets half of the pot. (If there is an odd number of pieces in the pot, the player takes half of the total plus one.)
  8. Shin (outside of Israel) means shtel or put in.  Peh (in Israel) also means put in. The player adds a game piece to the pot. (Our family puts two pieces in.)
  9. If you find that you have no game pieces left, you are either out or may ask a fellow player for a loan. (We’re pretty ruthless for the Dreidel Champion title; once you’re out, you’re out!)
  10. When one person has won everything, that round of the game is over!

For non-Jewish players, we came up with a way to remember what do to for each Hebrew letter:

Nun you get none – don’t do anything

Gimme gimmel – you get the entire pot

Hey means half – you get half the pot plus one if there’s an odd number of pieces

Shin two in – put two game pieces in the pot

Hammin’ It Up

Lyla Welles had one mission in life: protect her children from the hard hand of their father. So when her youngest child, John, was born on a cold December morning in 1907, the delivery-weakened mother worried that she wouldn’t have the strength to see her goal through.

Oblivious to his wife’s concerns, John Welles the elder saw the birth of his fourth child, third son, as cause for celebration. He indulged his appetite by breakfasting on the good food prepared by the midwife, Collie Mercer.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. While many people enjoy ham, redeye gravy is somewhat of an acquired taste. The salty flavor is enhanced by the strong coffee, and although redeye is thinner than other breakfast gravy, it’s quite rich.

Enjoy!

Ham Steak and Redeye Gravy

1 bone-in, fully cooked ham steak, approximately 1 lb.

½ c strong black coffee

¼ c water

2 T unsalted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a 12-inch, cast iron skillet on high heat until it is hot. Carefully test for degree of warmth with your hand above the skillet. Place the ham steak in the skillet once it is heated all the way across. Brown the ham steak on both sides. There should be a nice quantity of drippings and ham tidbits in the bottom of the skillet. Don’t burn this or the meat.

Once the ham steak is heated through, remove it to a platter and place in a warm oven. Add the butter, coffee, and water to the skillet and gently scrape the skillet to loosen any browned pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently until the gravy is reduced by at least one-third. A gentle boil is acceptable, but take care not to scorch the gravy, or it will taste burnt.

Pour the gravy over the ham steak on the platter and serve.

Hammin' It Up

Juicy and Delicious

A Matter of Classes

A Matter of ClassesOne of the jewels in the crown of the research for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, is a class schedule from the University of Maryland for 1922. I could not have been more pleased with the delivery of this item into my possession than if I had asked what the Queen of England ate for dinner on May 28, 1997, and been told not only what she consumed but how well she like it.

Let this exaggeration serve to convey exactly how pleased I am. When I began my research, I had absolutely no idea how I was going to discover what classes and labs doctors in the 1920s were required to pursue or for how long. I only had my knowledge of modern day medicine to fall back on, and that simply wouldn’t do.

Douglas Skeen, who at the time of my research was employed at the Maryland Department of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland, and hopefully still is, is responsible for locating the bulletin and sending it to me as a PDF. I sincerely thank Mr. Skeen yet again for performing his role as a Reference Librarian above and beyond my expectations.

I created the Research Road portion of my blog with the express purpose of sharing what I discovered with other writers. I don’t know how many others may need similar information, but I will allow you to stand on my shoulders as you search for it, and I’ll hold your ankles to balance you as you do. With that being said, please enjoy the attached PDF of the Bulletin of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and College of Physicians and Surgeons, Vol. VII, from July 1922. At the very least, I hope you enjoy the walk through history.

UM Bulletin Vol 7 July 1922

Nothing Minor About These Birds

Minor League Logo for Baltimore Orioles

Minor League Logo for Baltimore Orioles

You can’t live in Baltimore, Maryland, and not be an Orioles fan, right? My protagonist, John Welles, and his two best friends, Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby, certainly didn’t think so. Of course, in 1928, the Baltimore Orioles were in the International League, one of the top minor leagues of the time, but that fact didn’t deter John, Sam, and Claude from cheering on their favorite players.

Researching the Baltimore Orioles for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, proved to be interesting for a woman who never followed baseball in her life. I admit I took the easy road out when I chose a team located in the same city where my boys lived. The Orioles had been on my mind ever since I decided to set my story in Maryland, but I wasn’t sure how to work them in. The solution presented itself after writing a scene where the three friends had a major falling out.

During the first year of medical school, the situation between Claude and his father, J.D., truly began to unravel. Two years of pre-med bonded the boys, but their friendship was pushed to the limits by the stress at school as well as Claude’s unwillingness to admit what was happening at home. John and Sam were helpless as they watched Claude drift away.

While neither John nor Sam was aware of the truth, Sam assumed John knew more than he was letting on. The accusation was born of Sam’s frustration at not knowing how to help Claude. Strong words turned into a shoving match and then a full blown fist fight.

Without giving away the interesting details, I will tell you that the three friends eventually worked out their differences. Taking in an Orioles game was their first post-fight activity. Unfortunately, it was a small patch on a bigger problem that had yet to be resolved.

Thank you to Mr. Bill Stetka, Director, Orioles Alumni, for providing the names of players for my characters to follow. Mr. Stetka’s information led me to shortstop, Joe Boley, who became John’s favorite player. Sam followed the career of third baseman, Frederic ‘Fritz’ Maisel, and Claude’s favorite player was pitcher George Earnshaw. In addition to player information, Mr. Stetka supplied a brief but interesting history on the Orioles.

Thank you, also, to Bruce Markusen, senior researcher of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, for supplying information on the Orioles compiled from author James H. Bready’s book, The Home Team, as well as research conducted by the Orioles Public Relations Department.

Peas, Glorious Peas!

My Great Aunt Edie, a classy lady who never ceases to amaze me, once told me a story about a trip she and my Great Uncle Bud took to Maryland to attend the Butler Family Reunion. The most interesting part of the story included her description of the breakfast menu.

1422562899611One morning, Aunt Edie, Uncle Bud, and the relatives with whom they were staying ate breakfast with close family friends. Their hosts served the usual breakfast fare, but my aunt was surprised to see pork chops, creamed peas, and bowls of other vegetables on the table. She mentioned this to my uncle.

He explained that the men had been up early and already completed a full day of work before she and my uncle woke up. After breakfast, the men would return to work, break for lunch, return to work again, and finally eat dinner well after dark when all the barn chores had been completed.

I recalled this story as I wrote the scene in which the family of John Welles celebrated his arrival with a huge breakfast. Although the birth of a new baby was exciting, it didn’t take precedence over the work that had to be done. Those not involved with bringing young John Welles into the world still had chores to complete.

Once my novel has been published, I’ll be interested to see if anyone comments on creamed peas for breakfast. Will readers find it odd or familiar? The following recipe is the one I had in mind as I wrote the celebration scene in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.

Enjoy!

Creamed Peas

2 cups of frozen peas

1 T butter

1 T flour

½ cup of whole milk

black pepper, I use a mixture of black, white, green, and pink peppercorns

sea salt

1 t sugar, I use raw sugar

2 green onions (white and green portion), diced

Bring water to a boil in a three quart saucepan. Add the peas, reduce heat, and stir. Cook/defrost the peas for three to five minutes, until they begin to float. Drain the peas.

Melt the butter in the hot pan. Whisk in the flour until smooth, be sure to not burn the mixture. Add several grinds of cracked black pepper, salt to taste, and the sugar. Slowly pour in the milk and whisk over medium heat until thickened. Stir in the cooked, drained peas. Toss lightly and stir in the onions.

Before CK One, There Was Tabac Blond

Vintage Tabac Blond

Vintage Tabac Blond

The year is 1927. John Welles and his two best friends, Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby, are planning a clandestine night on the town. Their destination is a speakeasy hidden on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland. For the young medical students, the night will be both thrilling and disastrous.

Before John slips out for the night, he sneaks a dab of his Aunt Prudence’s perfume. This might seem like an extremely feminine thing to do until you become familiar with the scent he chooses to borrow.

One of my favorite subjects researched for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, was perfume from the early 1900s. It is how I discovered Tabac Blond. The perfume was perfect for Prudence, a rebel-before-her-time class of woman who smokes, and John, by the simple fact that he’s male. Let me explain.

Ernest Daltroff

Ernest Daltroff

Tabac Blond was created in 1919 by perfumer and founder of the house of Caron, Ernest Daltroff. The fragrance was intended for women who smoke cigarettes, the symbol of women’s liberation and Parisian chic. What made Tabac Blond appealing were the leathery top notes, usually found in men’s fragrances, blended with a feminine floral bouquet. The added scents of undried (blond) tobacco leaves and vanilla made it desirable to both men and women.

Many reviewers insist upon a decanting of vintage Tabac Blond complaining that the new version doesn’t present as well. I’ll have to take their word for it as I do not own either and have yet to experience them in real life. It is, however, my goal to do both.

Artwork inspired by Tabac Blond

Artwork inspired by Tabac Blond

If you’re a lover of rich, exotic, glamorous perfume, Tabac Blond may be for you. Don’t let the price tag deter you from your passion. Whether you purchase the new version or a vintage decanting, there will be a small investment. I believe this is testimony to the allure of the fragrance. Be warned, however: wearing Tabac Blond may encourage behavior such as wild dancing, excessive drinking, and dressing like a flapper or F. Scott himself.

Yesterday’s Perfume

Perfume Projects

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