Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday!

Just a reminder that The Thalia‘s Kickstarter ends tomorrow.

And now your tip! This piece of wisdom comes from Mr. Scratch:

Know your roots, folks. You may not like where you came from, but they made you who you are today. For better or worse.

Nobody springs fully formed from the brow of Zeus. All your experiences and relationships, good and bad, made you the performer you are. Ignoring any of them is being untruthful with yourself.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

Published in: on 26 August 2016 at 1:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

In the Kitchen: Peach Ice Water

Dear Constant Reader,

It’s starting to cool off a bit, but we had some terribly muggy days this summer. I recommend this delightful Victorian ice recipe to counteract such misery. It’s made with (no surprise from the name) water rather than a cream base. I think it’s more refreshing than ice cream on a really hot & humid day.

From The Book of Ices by Agnes Marshall (1885):

Peach Ice Water
Peel 6 good peaches, and crack the stones, and remove the kernels, which must be pounded; put in a stewpan with 1 pint of water, 4 ounces of sugar, and juice of 1 lemon, cook the fruit for 15 minutes, then tammy, and add a wineglassful of noyeau and 1 glass of orange flower water, a little carmine. Freeze.


I assumed that Victorian peaches were smaller than modern ones and halved the amount. This turned out to make the right amount for my ice cream freezer, so hurrah for me. It was a bit of a challenge to acquire peaches in the first place as the crop in the northeast this year suffered badly from our weird winter and the farmers’ markets have been lacking.

The ground peach kernels are used to give the ice an almond flavor. Rather than playing games with cyanide (this small an amount is probably safe, but still…), I used a splash of almond extract instead.

I know the picture shows a fake plastic lemon, but that’s because I took it after the fact and I had used my stock of fresh lemons. Someday I’ll remember to take the ingredient picture first.

A tammy is a fine hair sieve that you would rub the cooked peaches through. Because I don’t have servants, I used an immersion blender and resigned myself to a less than perfectly silky smooth puree.

My research showed that a Victorian wineglass measure was about 2 fluid ounces. Noyeau is a almond-flavored liqueur; I used amaretto. Orange flower water, like its cousin rose water, is very potent. I recommend using very little.

Carmine is a red food coloring made from cochineal, an insect. I actually have some cochineal in its raw form, but that seemed excessively authentic. I considered adding a little red food coloring, but I was out (blue and green coloring, yes, but no red or yellow. Why?). Besides, the puree had a lovely peachy color in its natural state.

If you don’t have an ice cream freezer, there are ways to fake one. Or you can treat this like a granita and freeze for a couple of hours in a shallow pan, stirring every half hour to break up the ice crystals.

Peach Ice

Peach Ice Water
1 lb. peaches
2 cups water
1/2 heaping cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup amaretto
1 teaspoon orange flower water
A few drops of red food coloring (optional)

To peel the peaches, dunk them into boiling water for a few seconds and then into ice water. The skins will come right off. Halve the peaches and take out the pits.

Cook the peaches with the water, sugar, and lemon juice for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and puree.

Add almond extract, amaretto, and orange flower water. Let cool completely.

Pour into ice cream freezer and follow the instructions.


Published in: on 24 August 2016 at 12:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Costume in Search of an Act

Dear Constant Reader,

Before I was a performer, I was a costumer. Thus when I am creating an act, the first thing I think is “what will I wear?” and that often dictates the choreography.

Sometime I make or acquire costumes and I have no idea how they want to be presented on stage. Case in point, this beauty.


When I joined the costume presentation “Victorian Secret“, I told myself I’d have to reuse the corset in a burlesque costume (I decidedthe chemise and drawers were exempt). Since then I’ve added a bra, garter belt, and side-tie panties. A skirt is in the works. Possibly gloves. Maybe a headpiece. It’s going to be stunning, if I do say so myself.

Except I have no idea how to use it. Nothing is coming to mind. No concept, no music, no hook. Nothing.

Alas. I shall keep working on the costume in hopes that inspiration strikes. However, soon I am going to have to set it aside in favor of costumes for Wrathskellar Tales.


Published in: on 23 August 2016 at 11:51 am  Leave a Comment  

Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Just a reminder that The Thalia could use your support. The zoning hearing, which decides if the theatre can actually open, is this Thursday. Please sign the petition, back the Kickstarter (just over a week left!), or spread the word!

Here’s your tip!

Choreography notes are good, but a reference video is even better.

After you have a number in the shape you like it, film it. This doesn’t mean pro-quality, festival-worthy, bells-and-whistles, performance video. Just grab a friend and your phone. This is for your future use, to jog your memory. When you start warming the act up again, you don’t wonder “what went here?” or “what did I mean by ‘tricky little step’?”. You can see exactly what you did.

The BeauTease are rehearsing an act we created almost four years ago and never performed. Betty created the choreography and has extensive notes, but we also took a video right before we shelved it. Being able to see what we did is so valuable, especially those little things that never made it into the notes.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

Published in: on 19 August 2016 at 10:16 am  Leave a Comment  

Review: Tales of Tammi True

Dear Constant Reader,

  The Wild and Wayward Tales of Tammi True by Nancy Myers & David Hopkins (2015).

Nancy Powell (now Myers) danced under the name of Tammi True in the Dallas area in the 1960s. She got her start when she was hired by a band to go-go dance, but the club that booked them wanted a stripper instead. After her successful debut, she performed in many of the area clubs, like the Theater Lounge and the Skyliner Ballroom.

Her infamy came when she was called to testify before the Warren Commission because she had worked at Jack Ruby’s Carousel. Before the newspapers published her personal information, she had successfully been keeping her burlesque career a secret from her neighbors. Although she continued performing after that, she retired before the decade was over.

The book isn’t very long and about one-third is about her burlesque years. The writing came out of interviews with Ms. Myers for a magazine article and it shows. My biggest quibble with the book is that the authors can’t seem to decide how to present her story. It’s predominantly a verbatim transcription of Tammi’s reminiscences, but there are sections in Q/A format and some third-person passages. I also wish that the section of photographs had been captioned.

I didn’t find her story particularly wild or wayward (especially compared to some I’ve heard from Legends), but my perceptions are probably a bit skewed compared to someone with no grounding in burlesque history. That’s not to dismiss her story; everything we can learn first-hand about burlesque back in the day is valuable.


Published in: on 18 August 2016 at 4:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

In the Kitchen: Jumbles

Dear Constant Reader,

In the previous historic recipe, I mentioned jumbles, a kind of Elizabethan cookie. Some think the name comes from the Latin word for “twin”, gemellus, which hints that they were shaped with two loops. Here’s how you make them.

From The second part of the good hus-wiues iewell by Thomas Dawson (1597).

To make Iombils a hundred
Take twenty Egges and put them in a pot, both the yolks & the white, beat them wel, then take a pound of beaten suger and put to them, and stirre them wel together, then put to it a quarter of a peck of flower, and make a hard paste thereof; and then with Aniseede moulde it well, and make it in little rowles, beeing long, and tye them in knots, and wet the ends in Rosewater, then put them in a pan of seething water, but euen in one waum, then take them out with a Skimmer and lay them in a cloth to drie, this being doon, lay them in a tart panne, the bottom beeing oyled, then put them into a temperat Ouen for one howre, turning them often in the Ouen.


I didn’t need a hundred jumbles, so I cut the recipe way down. The first thing to note is that until the 20th century eggs were on the small size, so a good rule of thumb is to cut the number of eggs in half if you’re using standard supermarket eggs. A quarter of a peck of flour is about 3 1/2 pounds. Despite the whole wheat flour in the picture, I used white flour — it was in a less photogenic container.

Beat the eggs very well — they’re the only leavening in the dough. Add the sugar, then the flour and the anise seed. When I first made these many years ago, I used anise, which a lot of people (like Scratch) really don’t like. This time I used caraway. Not as historically accurate, but more likely to be eaten.

Then divide the dough up — I split it into 8 parts — and make it into long snakes. Tie them into knot-like shapes. I’ve done actual knots, but this time I twisted them into circles. Pretzel shapes would be okay too. The recipe says to wet the ends with rosewater and I’ve done that. I find it adds no discernible flavor, so I skipped it this time.

Now the fun part. Drop your jumbles into a pot of simmering water, a couple at a time. You don’t want to crowd them. They’ll sink to the bottom. After a couple of minutes, poke them with a spoon, so they don’t stick to the bottom. When they float, they’re done. Scoop them out of the water with a slotted spoon or similar and place the jumbles on a clean towel on top of a cooling rack.

After they’ve dried for a few minutes, put them on a greased cookie sheet (I use a silicone baking mat — I love those things) and bake at 350F for 30 minutes, turning them over half way through.

Why not bake for an hour, like the recipe says? Elizabethan ovens worked with retained heat — you’d build a fire in the oven and when the bricks were hot enough, you’d pull all the coals and stuff out, swab the oven floor all down with water (you don’t want ash on your bread plus it makes steam which contributes to a really nice crust), and put in the stuff that baked at the highest heat first and as the oven cooled you’d swap in the things that needed a lower temperature. Trying to mimic the gradually falling temperatures is a pain, so I bake for less time at a constant temperature.

Let the jumbles cool on a rack. They will be hard on the outside (good for dipping!) and chewy on the inside, kind of like a tiny sweet bagel.

2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon anise (or caraway) seed
2 cups flour

Beat eggs very well. Blend in sugar. Add seeds and flour. You should have a stiff dough. Divide into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a rope and tie into knots or twist into rings.

Carefully place each jumble in a pot of simmering water. After a moment or two, nudge them with a spoon so they don’t stick to the bottom. When they float, remove with a slotted spoon and allow to dry on a towel.

Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 30 minutes, turning each jumble over after 15 minutes. Let cool on a rack.


Published in: on 16 August 2016 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip!

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Before I get to your tip, I just wanted to remind you all that The Thalia has 2 weeks left to raise $8,500 on their Kickstarter campaign. Please support them. If you can’t financially, then by spreading the word!

Here’s your tip!

Every once in a while, take a risk.

You may fail, but then again, you may not. You’ll never know unless you do it.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

Published in: on 12 August 2016 at 2:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

In the Kitchen: Wine Chocolate (1726)

Dear Constant Reader,

For this foray into historic cooking, here’s something with ingredients most of you love — chocolate and booze!

This recipe comes from The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary: or, the Accomplish’d Housewives Companion by John Nott (1726).

To make Wine Chocolate
Take a pint of Sherry, or a pint and half of red Port, four Ounces and a half of Chocolate, six Ounces of fine Sugar, and half an Ounce of white Starch, or fine Flour; mix, dissolve, and boil all these as before [previous recipe for “To Make Chocolate with Water” which “will be done in ten or twelve Minutes”]. But, if your Chocolate be with Sugar, take double the Quantity of Chocolate, and half the Quantity of Sugar; and so in all.


After years of working with medieval recipes which are vague, to say the least, on quantities and cooking times, this recipe was positively simple! I cut all the ingredients down to one-third, which made two generous servings.

Just melt together port (or sherry, but I haven’t tried that version), unsweetened chocolate (you want a high-quality bar chocolate; cocoa powder is not the same thing), sugar, and rice flour (it incorporates better than wheat flour).

Reproduction chocolate pot from Colonial Williamsburg

In the 18th century, this drink would have been served in a special chocolate pot with a hole in the lid. A “mill” or wooden whisk would fit in the hole and the chocolate would be frothed before serving it by rubbing the mill between your palms. I don’t have a chocolate pot, but I do have a molinillo, which is used for making Mexican hot chocolate and is basically the same as a mill, just fancier. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get the mixture to froth at all. Oh well.

The wine chocolate is very rich, but not terribly sweet, and the starch makes it very thick. I couldn’t finish my cup, so I stashed the leftovers in the fridge and had it a couple of days later over ice cream. So decadent!

And here’s my version.


Wine Chocolate a deux
1 cup ruby port (or about 2/3 cup of sherry)
1 1/2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, broken into pieces
2 oz. white sugar (about 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons rice flour

Heat the port gently in a saucepan and add the chocolate and sugar. Stir until they dissolve. Stir in the rice flour and let the mixture simmer (not boil, despite what the original recipe says) for about 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Froth with a mill, molinillo or whisk and then quickly pour into cups.

Serves 2 generously.

The item on the saucer is an Elizabethan Jumble. Perhaps that will be the next historic cookery post.


Published in: on 10 August 2016 at 10:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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New Feature (sort of)

Dear Constant Reader,

You’ve probably figured out that I like making historic recipes. I’ve confined myself to writing about a select few early 20th century recipes here because I didn’t want to derail the whole burlesque/retro thing. However, I also explore recipes from other eras. In the past I’ve cooked from the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, with a particular love for the reign of Elizabeth I. Recently I took an on-line course (what I quaintly like to think of as a “correspondence course”) on British royal palaces and the cooking done there under various monarchs. Part of the coursework was cooking recipes from five reigns.

As a lark, I’d post pictures of the results to various social media. I noticed the pictures would get a lot of attention. I toyed with the idea of a separate blog for my historic cooking, but I didn’t want my loyal readers to have to split their attention, and besides, it’s all part & parcel of me.

So, I’ll be posting more recipes here from all different centuries. I promise this won’t become a food blog. I’ll still be writing about my burlesque adventures and reviewing books (I owe you so many reviews!) and posting Friday Tips. But there might be more content more often. And pictures. Everybody loves the pictures.

Just look for the tag #historiccookery. I’ll also be tagging posts with the decade, century, or era, as appropriate.



Published in: on 9 August 2016 at 10:09 am  Leave a Comment  

Well, That Was Exciting!

Dear Constant Reader,

On Friday The Boston BeauTease were hired to performing at a convention-like event. As is our wont, we arrived two hours before showtime, which was 6pm. This is important.

By about 4:30 we had unpacked, set up all the props and set pieces, and were starting to get ourselves ready to warm up the show, when Scratch said “Places in 25 minutes”. Despite having been contracted to go on at 6pm, we were on the schedule for 5pm and there was nothing anyone could do to change it. Yikes!

We frantically did hair & makeup while Scratch frantically tried to find the tech guy. That took awhile (I guess he also thought we were on at 6) and bought us a little time. Then they discovered the power to the outlets was out in the ballroom. I believe there was a little magic involving extension cords from the lighting and sound gear to another room.

Scratch insisted that we needed time to each run one number on the stage, so Betty, D.D. and I ran our opening trio and Pearl did the first half of her Nina Simone medley. And it was a damn good thing we had the chance. The stage had an… interesting… surface and it was the only warm-up any of us got.

Because of the tech issues, I think we started at 5:15 and still had to be done at 6 sharp.

It wasn’t the worst show we’ve ever done, but it was far from the best.

Changes backstage were very tight and there were a lot of shaky hands from all the adrenaline. We helped each other as much as possible. And it was hot in the function room and we were all rather sweaty, which made dressing quickly even more difficult. Pearl experienced her first ever pastie pop during Mistress and Maid, probably because of sweaty skin. I’m amazed we didn’t have more problems.

Scratch had to cut a number on the fly [EDIT: Scratch reminds me it was actually two numbers. I was so frazzled I didn’t even realize the other one never happened], so we could finish on schedule. Everyone took it in stride, even though it meant losing a few precious minutes to change costumes.

This was the first show for Carla, our stage kitten. She handled the craziness with grace, did her job, helped where she could, and otherwise stayed out of our way. We couldn’t have asked for more.

Remember I mentioned the issue with the power? At the climax of Betty’s new fire-themed act, her bench bursts into flame, a la Blaze Starr. Scratch plugged the effect in backstage at the climactic moment and… nothing happened. Because all the outlets were dead. *face palm*

We managed to finish the show on time (or close to it) and I think the audience enjoyed it. Whew! Not an experience I’m eager to repeat any time soon.


Published in: on 8 August 2016 at 11:27 am  Comments (2)  

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