Monday, December 31, 2012

1920s Coal Camp Tyrolean Feast

Image by GenBug on Flickr Commons

Today it is hard for us to imagine the sheer amount of work involved in housekeeping and raising a family in a 1920s coal camp.  Early four-room houses were not even equipped with running water.  As well as constantly having to clean surfaces covered in coal dust from cooking and heating plus that saturating the miners’ clothes, there were meals to prepare without benefit of frozen vegetables or entrees, electric can openers and coffee makers, or bowls popped conveniently into microwave and dishwasher.

House and chicken house at Copenhagen, Superior, Wyoming c. 1950s
Food was prepared by hand with mixing bowls and spoons, and boiled or baked or fried in lard, often from recipes passed down through generations and arriving in the coal camps from the old country.  Recipes were not written down, but carried instead only in the cook’s memory.  Measurements were a handful of this and a pinch of that.  A recipe was successful if the meal didn’t cost too much and also tasted good.

In the mountain valleys of the Tyrol in the first decades of the twentieth century, meat was so scarce it might have graced a family's dining table once a year. By the standards of my ancestors in the years preceding, during, and immediately following World War I, we modern Americans are unimaginably wealthy.

To celebrate the New Year, I give you a typical Tyrolean feast.  Let us put on our aprons and roll up our sleeves in remembrance of those bygone days when life was hard and a meal of dumplings and stew meat much anticipated.  But be forewarned: these old recipes become lost is not just because they are not written down, with precise measurements.  They also require most of a day to cook and clean up the kitchen, for which most of us have neither the time nor the energy these days.   

Image of canederli by on Flickr Commons

CANEDERLI (Bread Dumplings)
day old bread, cubed into 3-4 cups
3 eggs
6 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup diced hard salami
1 cup diced fried bacon

Stir all ingredients together into semi-firm dough.  Form into balls about 3 tablespoons in size.  Drop test ball into boiling water to see if it holds together; if not, add small amount of flour to dough.  When fully cooked, about 40-45 minutes, dumplings will rise to surface.

Serve with cubed beef and garlic sausage gravy, and shredded cabbage slaw with vinaigrette.

1 ½ lbs. stew meat
1 package uncooked garlic sausage
 6 cups water
salt and pepper
2 tbs. cornstarch mixed with water

Cut sausage into 1-inch chunks. Brown stew meat and sausage, drain.  Add water, season with salt and pepper to taste, bring to simmer.  Thicken with cornstarch and water.

1 head cabbage
salt and pepper
vinegar and oil

Shred cabbage, season to taste with salt and pepper, vinegar and oil.


For more on the culture, genealogy, and history of the Trentino province of the Italian Alps, visit the always-interesting trentinoheritage blog.

For more Trentino recipes with pictures in a downloadable cookbook, see Alpine Adventure Agency's Tyrolean Cooking School.

While the traditional Tyrolean dish of polenta has made it on mainstream American restaurant menus, the more time-consuming canederli is rare to nonexistent. For more mouth-watering pictures of canederli, go to Flickr.  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Topaz Eyes by Nancy Jardine

Today we welcome back guest blogger Nancy Jardine, on the occasion of the publication of her brand-new novel, Topaz Eyes.  The page is all yours, Nancy!


My latest mystery novel is entitled, Topaz Eyes. You’d be forgiven for thinking it should be all about topaz, but actually it’s not. I’m going to give no spoilers, since you need to read the book to get the connections, but what actually feature a LOT are emeralds. Why did I choose to invent a collection that I’ve called the Tiru Salana emeralds, which my main characters, Keira Drummond and Teun Zeger, have to search the world for?

In Topaz Eyes, I decided to have a special and mysterious collection of antique jewels be the focus of an inheritance quest –whereabouts of the collection unknown at the beginning of the novel. At first I thought of diamonds, and trawled internet jewellery shops to find really nice pieces. During those searches diamonds were quickly ditched when I saw some beautiful jewellery featuring emeralds. My imagination was kick-started.

Emeralds are stunningly beautiful, and green is my favourite color- the contents of my wardrobe will attest to that. My novel would be all about bringing together a large collection of antique emeralds. Although the items I saw in those internet jewellery stores cannot be shown on blogs, they gave me ideas for description. The photographs of emeralds that I’m able to share here today are all taken from Wikimedia Commons.  When faced with this emerald who could deny its beauty? The hue is fantastic, earthy, and yet simultaneously ethereally dazzling.

This photo was taken by Robert Reisman- Emerald Unguentarium

Gold really enhances the deep colour of emeralds but silver can be equally effective. The ring in this picture has a surround of diamonds but it gives the idea of what a silver setting might look like.

This photo was taken by Mark Somma - Description 18kt yellow gold ring set with one pear shape emerald and 12 diamonds.

And another lighter, more blue-green emerald is named the Chalk Emerald” 37.8 carats, ColombiaThe emerald is set within a cluster of 60 pear-shaped diamonds weighing a total of approximately 15 carats.

The royal rulers of Baroda, a state in India, once owned the emerald, set in a necklace. In the 20th century, the emerald was set in a ring designed by Harry Winston. It was donated to the National Gem and Mineral Collection by Mr. and Mrs. O. Roy Chalk, and may now be in the National Museum of Natural History — Gem Gallery (U.S.).

Perhaps these stones will give an idea of why my invented collection, originally belonging to an invented Mughal emperor I’ve called Tiru Salana, is the focus of the search in Topaz Eyes. The big question then is how my main characters, Keira Drummond and Teun Zeger, manage to find the collection? How do they manage to survive desperate attempts to prevent this from happening?  How is it eventually mounted as a fantastic exhibition? And what is the mystery item they do not expect to find but which turns out to have the most value? A reading of Topaz Eyes is the only answer! 

Thank you, Alethea, for letting me share a little about Topaz Eyes today with your readers.

What details can you add about emeralds? It can be anything, so long as your answer includes the word emeralds!

Please leave your answer in the comment box, and your email address, to be entered into the draw for an e-copy of TOPAZ EYES.  (Draw will take place on 12th December)

(My mini blog tour posts also feature details about the stone TOPAZ, and the cities in the US and Europe that Keira and Teun visit to unearth the collection. If you’re interested please check my blog for the tour URLs.

Topaz Eyes Blurb:
A peculiar invitation to Heidelberg embroils Keira Drummond in the search for a mysterious collection of extraordinary jewels once owned by a Mughal Emperor; a hoard that was last known to be in the possession of Amsterdam resident, Geertje Hoogeveen, in 1910.

Who among the progeny of Geertje – hitherto unfamiliar third cousins brought together for the quest – can Keira rely on? Distrust and suspicion among them is rife.

Which one is greedy, and determined enough, to hire thugs to tail her… and worse… as she travels to Vienna and Minnesota?  Can Keira even trust Teun Zeger - a Californian she is becoming very drawn to – as they pair up to unearth the jewellery?

As they follow a trail of clues, will they uncover the full collection before the hired gun kills them? Details remain furtive and undisclosed until danger and death forces their exposure. And who harbours the ultimate mystery item that is even more precious than the Mughal jewels?

Greed, suspicion and murder are balanced by growing family loyalty, trust, and love.

“Would you ditch the mystery, Jensen, and just enlighten me as to what you think I have that interests you? And tell me why you couldn’t have asked for it in the letter you sent to me? I came here of my own free will – granted – but I’m not hanging around any longer if you’re going to drag this out, for I’m damned sure I’ve no idea what you’re referring to.”
            Jensen’s reply lacked emotion, his face a blank screen, his gaze focused on Teun as Keira regarded the by-play.
            “Teun. It may come as a surprise to you, but you actually know more about this invitation than Keira. At least you knew from my letter I had something of family interest you might be glad to take back to the USA with you. Keira had no such suggestion made to her.”
            Tension rose in the room, which didn’t only radiate from Teun.
            Keira sat uneasy, also unwilling to be in the dark any longer. “Would you please explain why you think I may have something you want, Herr Amsel?” She found herself reluctant to use his first name, considering the antagonism now mounting.
            “All in good time, Keira. And please call me Jensen. I don’t set out to be anyone’s enemy. I believe each of you can provide access to items belonging to the collection. All the pieces are likely to vary in monetary value but, viewed as a complete entity, it will make an impressive display. It’s a historic set… and unique.”

Author bio:
An ex-primary teacher, Nancy Jardine, lives in the fabulous castle country of Aberdeenshire – Scotland. Her husband mans the kitchen, her offspring only an hour’s drive away. When time permits, ancestry research is an intermittent hobby. Neglecting her large garden in favour of writing, she now grows spectacularly giant thistles. Activity weekends with her extended family are prized since they give her great fodder for new writing.

A lover of history, it sneaks into most of her writing along with many of the fantastic world locations she has been fortunate to visit. Her published work to date has been two non fiction history related projects; two contemporary ancestral mysteries; one light-hearted contemporary romance mystery and a historical novel. She has been published by The Wild Rose Press and Crooked Cat Publishing.

Topaz Eyes is available in e-book formats and print from  and e-book formats from
Book trailer Youtube video for Topaz Eyes can be viewed at

Other books by Nancy Jardine can be seen on