Royal Beauty + Birgit’s True Elfins + Podcast: Gruen’s Ageless Passion

María del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva, 18th Duchess of Alba
María del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva, 18th Duchess of Alba

Passion at Any Age by Lee Gale Gruen Happiness Between Tails

#Authors #Books #Writing #Aging #Acting Do you worry that you're too old to accomplish something you 're passionate about? Lee Gale Gruen started acting, publishing books, and blogging after she retired from a career as a probation officer. Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions by recording them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee. buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Today’s topic and about today’s guest 1:05 “Passion at Any Age,” by Lee Gale Gruen My question for you HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Lee Gale Gruen's website. Original blog post for this episode at Happiness Between Tails. Lee Gale’s prior guest blog post at Happiness Between Tails. Lee Gale’s books are available at Amazon. Martha Graham, modern dance pioneer, bio at Wikipedia Epictetus, ancient Greek philosopher, bio at Wikipedia Photos available at the HBT post for this show: Photo of Lee Gale Gruen. Covers of Lee Gale Gruen’s two books: “Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement Years: Find Joy, Excitement, and Purpose After You Retire,” and “Adventures with Dad: A Father and Daughter’s Journey Through a Senior Acting Class” — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s episode is the audio version of  “Passion at Any Age: Writer/Actress Lee Gale Gruen” that you can read the text version of H-E-R-E.

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts, to Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts, along with RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and more, plus an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

You know how it goes when you’re doing research, maybe for something you’re writing? Google one thing, and end up in a totally different place. In my case, since my novel-in-progress is called “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” it started with looking up the Spanish iconic painter, Francisco de Goya. Coming across his 1700’s portrait of a prior Duchess of Alba sent me clicking.

Goya’s image, called “The Black Duchess,” portrays a young woman in mostly frilly black portrays a young woman in a mostly frilly black outfit that’s punctuated with a red sash, as well as a gold blouse, shoes, and accessories…

"The Black Duchess" by Francisco de Goya.
“The Black Duchess” by Francisco de Goya

More clicking led to a modern-day Duchess of Alba. María del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva, the eighteenth Duchess of Alba, remains the most titled of aristocrats. Much was made of her socialite “joie de vivre” (here’s a video of her dancing flamenco at her last wedding) and how she married three times. Husbands two and three were “commoners” — gasp! — and the last one was twenty-five years her junior. When her kids fussed about her love interests, she told them that as divorcees, they ought to mind their own business….

Black and white photo, probably from the 1960s or so, of the Duchess dancing with a guitarist.
Ever a flamenco aficionada: María del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva, 18th Duchess of Alba.

It’s no business of mine what others think of their looks, and if they care, I encourage people to do whatever allows them to love themselves more. The reason I’ve brought this present-time duchess to your attention is because I’d love for you to fill me in on anything you might know about her. Her in-your-face boldness is something I’d give anything to pull off. More to her credit, she didn’t seem to take herself too seriously and she had a great sense of humor. At that flamenco wedding, she handed out whimsical party favors that were little sculptures of her face, broad-lips, deep-set eyes, and whirl-wind hairstyle.

Seeing photographs from late in her life, though, compels me to wonder why men don’t change their appearances as frequently and dramatically as women do? Sure, one need look no further than our orange-haired embarrassment of a former U.S. president, but men still lag far behind women when it comes to the extensive remodeling that induces a double-take.

Maybe it has to do with how girls and women are culturally and commercially targeted nonstop about how they appear. There’s a cruel power play that never ends, no matter how old we get. It’s as insignificant as when a yoga classmate gives me lip for favoring a little make-up and heels, and as weighty as when an influential woman is marked as a crackpot because she doesn’t look Wall Street enough.

Today’s guest shows us how ugliness and cuteness can blend together, certainly when it comes to elfins!

Birgit hales from Germany and blogs from Denmark. At her Stella, oh, Stella site, there’s always something uplifting, educational, beautiful, and fun, including videos of her and her gentleman making music…

Before I turn you over to Birgit, here’s my first try at a new bread recipe that I mixed and baked in under two hours, thanks to Jenny Jones! Khashayar confirmed (since my long-term post-Covid probs limit my senses of taste and smell) that…

Love can mean pain… but this time it’s the French definition!

Photo of loaf of bread I baked.
Dinner was home-baked bread with fresh mild herbs, drizzles of extra virgin olive oil, and fancy cheeses.

A True Elfin Story by Birgit

That’s it, I cannot do anything else for now. I will have to continue in spring.

The beginning is done: the fireplace, the ladder, the tiled path, the area for gatherings … the rest will have to wait. A pile of firewood is also ready …

What I am talking about is, of course, the elfin dwelling place in the birch tree stump. I have marked the places for the entrance door and the windows, but it is getting too cold to accomplish artistic wood carvings.

Photo of blogger Birgit.
Blogger/author Birgit in one of her gardens, where she lived near the German border.

The following winter is comparatively mild, but grey, rainy, stormy, in short: not cosy at all! The spring bulbs are slowly coming our with their first green.

At the beginning of May, my husband enters the kitchen and says enthusiastically that the door, which I have carved into the birch stump looks incredibly real, the windows as well. I rush into the garden right away. It is true! Where I have marked the door last winter, is now an intricate carving looking like Yggdrasil, the world tree from the Nordic cosmology. Further up I can see two windows. They do not look real, no, they are real, with frames and panes and everything. This is not my handiwork! I have not hollowed the tree stump and put in windows and a door. I believe my husband is playing a joke on me. 

I take him to task, but he denies all knowledge of the matter. Very well then, I will let him have his fun!

The same night, around one o’clock in the morning, I take a last stroll in the garden, as I often do. There isn’t any wind for a change. I detect a light at the south end of the house. Has my husband lit the candles? 

On the birch stump I discover a little figure, swathed in bright light. It is dressed in green cloth from top to toe. Furthermore, one can clearly see four wings on its back. Am I going crazy? Is my imagination running wild? No, my husband must be playing a practical joke. Somehow he is projecting pictures. I go back into the house to tell him that he cannot fool me. I discover that he is already in bed and asleep. What am I to think?

I look out of the southern window. The little figure is still standing out there and is looking directly into my eyes. I go outside again and head towards the birch stump. The elfin, and such a one it is, is not moving an inch. 

This first night we only look at each other in silence. I do not remember, how long, but very long. During the following nights we start talking. The elfin understands me and speaks our language. Incredible! What did I expect?

Four elfins have moved into the tree stump, two couples. From my preparations they could see that they would be welcome here. They have embellished everything a lot. The door was too low, the gathering place too small, but then I did not know how tall an elfin was, did I?

It is wonderful to have the small creatures living in the garden. I could watch them for hours. But one day a devil is possessing me. I want to prove to other people that the elfins exist, that they are not purely spawn of my imagination. 

So I take my husband’s camera and secretly take some photos. Only one of them is really sharp. But … what is that? Those are not the creatures that I photographed! The figures on the photo look like brown Goldsmiths; still dressed in green, but looking more like insects and with ugly, wrinkly faces. One says that a camera does not lie. I don’t know what to believe. 

The next evening I confront the elfins with the photo that I have printed out. They are startled, and then sad, letting their shoulders sag. Slowly their appearance changes, until they resemble the creatures on the photo. But then they begin to whisper among each other, and I notice that their sadness turns into rage. They all look at me with very angry eyes. Can the small ones seriously harm me? I ask myself. 

“You know what?” I say. “I will burn the photo. Nobody will ever know anything about this.” I take a match and burn the photo on the spot. The faces are looking friendlier already. They come to me and tell me that the elfin faces I have seen so far are only projections, because they have only experienced rejection with their real appearance. People had thought that they were big insects and had tried to kill them. As they are magical creatures, they had thought up the deception with the projection. They had given themselves the cutest possible appearance, so that they would be generally accepted. “Although it does not really matter so much anymore. Hardly anybody can see us nowadays, not even the children”, I am told. I am glad that peace is restored and the elfins don’t bear a grudge. All four of them have already changed into their cute version again. I wish them good night and go back into the house.

Before I go to bed, I want to delete the electronic original of the photo. My finger hovers a long moment above the delete key. This photo is my only proof of what elfins really look like. But does it really matter? What do those, who do not believe in elfins, care whether they are cute or not? I press the key; the photo is deleted. I will take the secret with me into my grave.

Photo of Birgit's elfish abode under a tree in her garden, replete with small rocks to mark a path, and doll-sized pots, pans, and chairs.
You never know what you’ll find in Birgit’s garden — or at her blog!

Epilog…

Twenty years have gone by now. The elfins are very comfortable in our garden. The furry animals stay away from them. Their only irritation is the clumsy pheasant that upsets everything and often tears the pile of firewood apart. I wonder what he expects to find there?

They do not care so much anymore about their projected image. I don’t care. I have grown fond of them; they are my friends, no matter what they look like. My husband also started seeing them after a while. Sometimes they make themselves invisible and pull his beard to tease him. From one second to the other the “cute little creatures” become an “irritating gang of mosquitos”. When we are alone, to provoke me, he sometimes calls them my “tame goldsmiths”. But it is all in good humour; everybody respects each other.

When the elfins have children, they urge them quite soon to find their own dwelling, so that the birch stump is not over-populated. They are six now; one more couple has moved in. 

From under the roots of the birch stump they have dug a secret tunnel. Not even I was told where it surfaces. I do understand them!

How do you define beauty?

Recipe: Easy Panettone + Podcast: C Sterling’s Author Marketing + Icy Us

Photo of panettone and daffodil by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com
Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

My Wedding Henna + The Henna Artist's Bighearted Alka Joshi on Saris Happiness Between Tails

#Authors #Writing #India #Pro-Choice #WomensRights #DressCodes “The Henna Artist,” by Alka Joshi is as big-hearted as the novelist! Here Alka discusses how today’s professional women of India handle dress codes. Are dress codes unbiased where you work? Got questions, thoughts, and/or experiences to share about writing and publishing? Record them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee. buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Today’s topic and about today’s guest 1:05 Alka Joshi discusses the wearing of saris in India My question for you and episode outro HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Original blog post for this episode. Alka Joshi's website and Youtube channel. About the books I'm writing. Chris Miller, the super-talented photographer and her Instagram. Photos available at the HBT post for this show: Book cover of “The Henna Artist,” by Alka Joshi. Photos of me, da-AL, with henna tattoos for my wedding. Alka’s photos from Ansal University, just outside of New Delhi: Gurgaon's news bulletin board, students, architecture staff. Alka’s photo of an architect wearing a sari. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support
  1. My Wedding Henna + The Henna Artist's Bighearted Alka Joshi on Saris
  2. Sweet Potato Frittata Recipe by Khashayar Parsi

Click H-E-R-E for my new podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s episode is the audio version of “Author Reality + Charles Sterling on Marketing and Author Platform,” which you can read the text version of H-E-R-E.

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotifyand Apple Podcasts, to Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts, along with RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and more, plus an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is at LinkTree.

Panettone, or pan dulce as my Argentine mother calls it, is one of my family’s favorite desserts that I make. For anyone who has yet to become acquainted with panettone, it’s the queen of winter holiday fruit breads. Traditionally shaped like a chef’s hat (though mine are more freeform, same as my novels I’m working on and about them H-E-R-E), fragrant and puffy with yeast, it’s decadence comes from an abundance of eggs, butter, fruits and honey.

Whatever panettone success I’ve enjoyed is thanks to the melding of these two great no-knead bread baking books…

Combine…

Bread in 5 Minutes book coverThe panettone recipe H-E-R-E from “The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking,” by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoë François. I blogged a detailed review of the book H-E-R-E.

+

"My Bread" by Jim Lahey book coverThe technique of oven baking with a lidded pot like a dutch oven or the pot and heat resistant lid of a crock pot, (example of that is H-E-R-E in a video inspired by “My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method,” by Jim Lahey. I blogged about my bread making experience with Lahey’s book H-E-R-E.

A cousin in Italy says it’s the best she’s tasted!

My loaves aren’t cookbook photo-perfect, and I use recipes loosely, yet the above two books guarantee you’ll end up with something wonderful.

Extra tips…

  • The recipe is very flexible. For instance, if you don’t like nuts or dried fruit, you can double up on one or the other, or leave them out, or substitute things like chocolate chips.
  • For the first half of the baking, leave the lid on. For the remainder, take the lid off. That shaves some of the baking time and gives a browner crust.
  • Lining the pot with parchment paper makes things easier.
  • Halving the recipe turns out well, too.
  • Leftover  panettone freezes nicely.
  • Whole wheat flour is a good, hearty alternative for the white flour.
  • More fruit and/or nuts, less fruit and/or nuts, or none at all — it comes out delicious!

By the way, my honey and I just got back from visiting family in Austin, Texas.

Khashayar and da-AL in freezing water after doing the Polar Plunge into Barton Springs.
Here we are freezing after doing the Polar Plunge into Barton Springs.
What food tastes most celebratory to you?

Recipe: My No-Knead Bread + My Bread by Jim Lahey

"My Bread" by Jim Lahey book cover

Are you baking anything lately?

Surely there’s a place in heaven for bakers who have worked out the kinks of no-knead bread baking and share their secrets. No-knead recipes are yeasty home-baked goodness — but take a fraction of the usual time and effort. For me, less time baking means more time to work on my novels.

Bread genius and angel to home bakers that Jim Lahey, with his book, “My Bread” is, he does the other no-knead cookbooks one better. Forget any need for pizza stones and steam via his simple solution: baking in covered pots.

Recipes are starting points to be fiddled with after my first try, not instructions to be rigorously followed. Lahey encourages experimentation. All his recipes are all easy and all of them accommodate deviations.

2 loaves of no-knead bread

These two loaves are loose interpretations of his “Pane Integrale/Whole Wheat Bread,” that I baked for last Sunday’s brunch. The smaller was a whole recipe. The larger, a double recipe that needed a few extra minutes to bake thoroughly.

Lahey recommends two hours minimum for the dough to rise. Longer produces more patience fermentation, which all the tastier. I’ve let my dough sit for 24 hours. Longer-rise loaves steam with tangy sourdough excellence.

Crock Pots

It’s great to be able to experiment with ingredients (I added oatmeal to the smaller loaf, more whole wheat flour and less white flour to both of them), and still end up with something scrumptious.

Rather than the pots and Dutch ovens Lahey uses, I use crock pots. Of course, not the electric part. That way, I don’t ruining yet another non-heat-resistant handle.

Lining the pot with parchment paper makes for easier extraction. Moreover, the paper gives the loaves intriguing creases.

Parchment paper makes things easier
Parchment paper makes loaves slide out easier, plus it lends fun creases.
How to cut no-knead loaves
Scissors help with the last bit of slicing.

These loaves are dense and crusty. In the interest of not squashing them when I slice them, I often use an electric carving knife, then use scissors for the final bit of cutting.

Dough, same as baked bread, can be refrigerated for at least a week. Allow it to thaw to room temperature before baking.

Non-book note: Initially, when baked at Lahey’s recommended 475º, my oven emitted a metallic odor. An appliance repairman set my worries to rest. He advised running the oven at 500º for a couple of hours. Ever since, there’s been no problem.

This was from a review I wrote for Jeyran’s blog.

Happy bread-day! Notes on a fave baking book

Happy bread day! Today I baked a fabulous loaf for my family that was as simple to make as it was delicious!

Bread in 5 Minutes book cover

Tango gatherings are social in the best way, including food-wise. When a dance mate brought a yeast-raised loaf still warm from her home oven and described how easily she’d baked it, I ran to get the book she’d gotten the recipe from.

“The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking,” by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoë François, lives up to its subtitle.

The authors provide gourmet recipes and lots of glossy food porn. Their panettone is now a family favorite!

In my Iran-born husband’s family, one is either “noon-ee” or “polo-ee,” meaning either bread loving or rice loving. Bread lover that I am, before this book, I tried yeast breads and always failed to produce anything better than bricks.

Not so with these recipes!

Jeff and Zoë's panettone
Jeff and Zoë’s panettone

For the panettone, instead of the fancy wrapper on this photo here, I line the ceramic pot from my electric crock pot with parchment paper, add the dough, and bake (without the electronic mechanism) in a conventional oven. For the first half of the baking, I leave it covered, and for the remainder, I remove the lid.

Crock Pots I use for bread and panettone
Crock Pots I use for bread and for panettone

The yeasty fragrance of baking perfumes the entire house. What a marvel to hear a loaf hum, whistle, and crackle a steamy tune as it cools, and then to bite into crunchy, chewy goodness!

Jacques Pepín put it best when, on one of his cooking shows, he said nothing can compete with fine artisan bread slathered with pure butter.

Here Jacques bakes his own no-knead bread…

Caveat: “…Bread in Five Minutes…” might mislead — actually, the dough takes five to ten minutes to mix. Then it must rise for a couple of hours. Baking times varies according to recipes.

Note: This is from a book review I wrote for Jeyran Main’s book reviewing blog.

What’s your fave cookbook?

Recipe: Double Pop-Over by Khashayar Parsi (inspired by Jacques Pépin)

Double Pop-Over on handmade Persian embroidery
Handmade Persian embroidery given to da-AL enhances this colorful delight!

There’s no better way to end a sumptuous dinner with something lovely and just a little decadent. Get some tea steeping and reignite your guests’ appetites with buttery sweet baking aromas. The striking layers and fruity colors of this confection are sure to please most palates. (Find more of my dear husband’s recipes here and here and here and here and here and here.)

Double Pop-Over by Khashayar Parsi (inspired by Jacques Pépin)

(serves 8-12, depending on how hungry your guests are)

Note 1 : this party-friendly batter can be made in advance and refrigerated for several hours.

Note 2: As mouth-watering as this is fresh from the oven, it’s just as good later. Refrigerate leftovers, which are equally wonderful hot or cold.

Nuts can be served on the side, in a pretty bowl, if any guests don't prefer them.
Nuts can be served on the side, in a pretty bowl, if any of your guests might prefer their dessert without them.

Ingredients:

2 eggs

3/4 cup flour

3 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sour cream

3/4 cups milk

4 tablespoons melted butter

2 cups cream cheese

1 cup honey

1 cup mixed berries

3 sliced bananas

1 cup orange marmalade

1/2 cup crushed roasted walnuts

1 cup crushed or shredded chocolate

Baking

  1. Preheat oven to 420°F.
  2. Whisk eggs, flour, sugar, salt, sour cream, and milk in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly until smooth.
  3. Slowly whisk in half of the melted butter.
  4. Heat two non-stick pans: an 8” and a 6”. Divide the remaining butter onto both warmed pans.
  5. Pour about 2/3 of the batter into the 8” pan, and the other 1/3 into the 6” pan.
  6. Cook over medium-high for five minutes, or until crepes take shape.
  7. Put the pans into oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until popover cakes are fluffy and golden.
  8. Remove pans from oven, and let them cool to room temperature.
  9. In a separate bowl, stir honey into sour cream.

Plating

  1. Transfer the larger cake onto a serving plate.
  2. Sprinkle about 2/3 of the chocolate onto it.
  3. Spread about 2/3 of sweetened sour cream over it.
  4. Remove the smaller cake from the pan and gently place it over the center of the larger one.
  5. Add the remaining chocolate and sweetened sour cream to the smaller cake in the same way.
  6. Decorate the outer edge of the larger cake with berries.
  7. Cover the smaller one with bananas.
  8. Spoon the jam over bananas.
  9. Sprinkle the nuts over jam.
  10. Serve in pie-shaped wedges.

Jacques says that food is best when made with love and eaten with loved ones. That said, eating alone can be wonderful too, so long as you treat yourself with love.

Happy eating!