With a little help from author Anna Belfrage, our own expandthettable blogger, Susan drops through the veil to visit with Alex in her 17th century kitchen. Click highlighted items for the recipes!
She wants to do what?” Alex Graham sat down on one of her kitchen
benches and just stared at Anna. As always when Anna was close, the veil of time was fragile,
and Alex could clearly see the modern home in which Anna lived, complete with a state of the
art kitchen and a somewhat shadowy figure seated beside her.
“You heard me. She wants to come visit.”
“But…” Alex shook her head vehemently, glaring at her author. “You just can’t do that!”
“Well, as a matter of fact I can, right?” Anna said, but there was a deep crease between her brows.
“I’m more concerned with what will happen to her once she gets there. Maybe she just won’t want to
come back, if you know what I mean.”
Alex ducked her head to hide her little smile. She had never wanted to go back – not once she was over
that first initial shock. And the reason for that was Matthew Graham, tall handsome and stubborn
Scotsman that he was. From the outside came the steady sound of chopping, and she knew that should she choose to stand and walk over to the door, she’d find her man in only his breeches, his scarred back bared to the sun as he chopped his way through yet another huge pile of wood. He never rested, her Matthew. It made her sigh, wishing that life wasn’t always as hard as it was here in 17th century Maryland.
“Alex! I’m talking to you!” Anna’s voice recalled Alex to the on-going discussion. “This is Susan, our intrepid food-blogger.”
Food-blogger? Alex had no idea what that might mean, but vaguely recalled hearing Anna complain about the amount of time she had to expend on this blogging stuff. Some sort of internet thing, Alex gathered.
“So,” Anna continued, “you ready?” She smiled at the woman beside her.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Alex tried.
“No.” Anna handed Susan something small and flat. “But Susan does.” She looked at Alex. “Move back.”
Move back? Alex threw herself out of the kitchen, not wanting to be anywhere close when the time dimension was ripped apart.
The air shimmered in vibrant blues and greens. White light poured out of a miniature crack in the veil of time, and Alex clapped her hands over her head to mute the sounds, the terrible sounds of time past and time to come, human voices rising in a shrill cacophony of sounds. And then it was over, the veil firmly back in place again. In fact, Alex could no longer see Anna. Instead, there was an unknown woman in her kitchen who held out her hand and smiled.
“Hi,” Susan said. Alex nodded, no more, taking in a woman who had to be in her 50 or 60’s but looked amazingly fit and young. No grey in her hair, nicely cut clothes, neatly manicured hands. It made Alex fist her own hands. For all the care she expended on them, they bore the signs of her life: hours in the kitchen garden, just as many in the kitchen or, just this morning, in the laundry shed. Lye soap was not exactly kind to your skin, and so Alex’s hands were at present red and itchy.
Susan gave her a brilliant smile. “I’ve so looked forward to meeting you.”
“You have?” Alex tugged at the dark cotton of her skirts, adjusted the matching bodice. In her home, she was not expected to cover her hair, so it was simply tied into a heavy bun, even if Alex could feel wayward curls escaping every which way. Not like the unknown woman in front of her, who looked so polished, so…sophisticated. And she smelled of toothpaste. Alex ran her tongue over her teeth. Toothpaste and a toothbrush – luxuries she now and then day-dreamed about.
Susan did a slow walk round the kitchen, her gaze drifting from the iron pot hanging over the hearth to the small baking oven and over to the large table. As everything else in the house, it had been made by Matthew, yet another example of his considerable carpentry skills. Ten years in place, and the surface was scratched and dented – but impeccably clean. Alex might not have toothpaste, but she did have bristle brushes and hot water.
“I started the bread,” she said, pointing to the covered bowl that contained the rising dough. “I suppose it would be one of the things you’d like to taste, now that you’ve gone slumming in the 17th century.”
Susan raised a brow. “Is my visit inconvenient?”
Inconvenient? Well, beyond the fact that Matthew had been so livid at the thought of yet again having Alex involved with any tampering of time, it wasn’t as if Alex had time weighing heavily on her. She drowned in enough chores without taking on the role of historic food guide. But she didn’t say that – it would be rude.
“Just a bit frazzled,” she said.
“I can imagine.” Yet again, Susan studied the kitchen, all the way from the neatly hanging pots and skillets to the tallow candles on the table. “Anna said I wasn’t allowed to bring you stuff that might compromise the time line,” she added.
“No, she’s sort of big on historical purity – well, with me being the huge exception to the rule.” Alex grinned, Susan grinned back, and just like that the frosty atmosphere thawed.
“So I did some smuggling,” Susan continued. She dug about in her rucksack, lining up lemons and chocolate – chocolate! Alex could kiss the woman! “Perishables only,” Susan pointed out. She laughed when Alex did a little happy dance, the chocolate hugged to her chest. “Save it for later. Let’s talk cooking instead. Anna has told me all about your fabulous saffron bread.”
“Not on the books today.” Alex produced a pot of soap and had Susan follow her outside to wash her hands.
“Why not?” Susan removed a black apron from her bag and put it on.
“No saffron, no raisins.” Alex dried her hands carefully. “Too expensive, so I only bake it once a year – for Christmas.”
“So what are you baking? And what do you do use for yeast?”
“This is a wheat dough, set with ale bram. Our neighbour keeps us supplied with beer and bram.”
“One hour away – on horseback. Anyway, most of the time I don’t use bram – or wheat flour only. We grow
wheat to sell it mainly, and Matthew prefers my rye bread.”
Susan nodded knowledgeably. “And for rye you use sourdough.”
“Done a lot of baking?” Alex teased.
“For like thirty years.” Susan scraped the dough out of its bowl. “This smells of…” She sniffed. “Cardamom?”
“Yes. And honey. It’s a sweet dough – a special treat for our special guest.”
Susan laughed. “And for your kids, right?”
“Mostly for them,” Alex admitted. “So ready to do some baking?”
“And cooking. You know, I really want to know how…”
Alex held up her hand. “First things first, okay?”
She’d fired the baking oven some hours ago, and by now the small space was nice and warm, the stones emanating a dry heat that was perfect for loaves and pies, not quite as great for cakes and buns. “It’s not exact enough,” Alex explained. “With loaves, it’s easier. You just knock on the crust to see if they’re done. With smaller baked goods, there’s a risk they’ll dry up on the outside before they’re properly done in the middle.”
Susan studied the oven with interest. “Must be great for pizza.”
“It is.” Alex grinned. “But I don’t call it that. Anachronisms, you know.”
Once the cardamom buns were in the oven, Susan sat down at the table with something Alex recognized
as a phone in her hand. There was a flash, Alex shielded her face, and Susan grinned.
“Camera?” Alex was fascinated. Susan beckoned her over, had her sit down beside her and took another
picture – a “selfie” she called it. Alex stared at her captured face. A photo! Bloody hell, a photo of her,
a 17th century woman – well, almost. Susan handed her the phone, explaining this was a smart phone.
Like a miniature laptop, Alex gathered.
A cough from the door interrupted her inspection of the little gadget.
“Matthew!” Alex flew to her feet. “This is Susan, and she’s…”
“Aye,” he cut her off, studying Susan intently. She fidgeted under his inspection. Alex stifled a little smile. Her man could be somewhat intimidating, what with being tall and broad and possessed of the most amazing eyes and…She broke of this little reverie, her hand smoothing for an instant over her belly. Yet another little Graham was on its way – and all because this man of hers had a smile that could ignite a glacier.
“Behave,” she murmured. “PR, remember?” Except, of course, Matthew couldn’t care less about PR – that, he said, was Anna’s headache.
“I’ll not pretend I’m happy to see you here,” Matthew said, bowing slightly. “But you are welcome nonetheless.” Susan smiled.
“When will you be leaving?” Matthew asked, and Alex elbowed him hard, embarrassed by his
rudeness. “No offense intended,” Matthew continued, “but I myself am not partial to meddling in magic.”
We’re actually talking food,” Susan said. “Like your wife’s potato, beef and beer stew.”
“Ah,” Matthew smiled. “Now that is also magic—but magic I approve of.” He left them to it.
“Cabbage?” Susan raised a brow.
“I add more or less everything. Waste not and all that.” Alex browned the cabbage on a skillet before
transferring it down to the pot in which she’d already placed carrots, thinly sliced parsnips, potatoes,
onions and parsley – masses of parsley. Susan handed her the pieces of meat and Alex nodded approvingly:
the lady knew how to cut brisket, each slice thin and neat.
“Will that be enough?” Susan eyed the large pot, now filled with layers of vegetables and meat.
“It has to be,” Alex replied drily, pouring beer over the ingredients. “If anyone’s hungry, there’s cold porridge.” She
put a lid on the pot and lifted it to hang from one of the large hooks, just over the hearth.
Susan made a face, making Alex laugh. “Actually, there isn’t, seeing as they cleaned it all out for breakfast.”
“And for dessert?” Susan asked.
“Ah.” Alex nodded at a basket of apples. “Cooked apples, I think. With a meringue topping."