Real beer barm bread

Making medieval bread using barm:

Bread, Cakes And Ale

Beer barm bread

Once Upon A Time
Once upon a time, breweries and bakeries lived side-by-side harmoniously. Brewers merrily went about their noble work, mashing, sparging, fermenting. One blessed by-product of the process was a foam that frothily formed on top of the fermenting liquor. The dusty baker from next door would welcome consignments of this malty foam – barm – and use its natural yeastiness to leaven his dough.

And so it went for long ages.

Until some learned men in the late 18th and 19th centuries improved humankind’s understanding of bacteria and yeasts. By the late 19th century, yeast specifically cultivated for bread-making had become commercially available in block, then in dry, granulated form. And slowly, sadly, the close bond between breweries and bakeries faded away.

This idea of bread being made with brewery by-products has intrigued me for ages, but not having had a ready supply of barm, I’ve never…

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The Naughty Heart

Have you ever looked at the heart shape properly? I mean, really looked at it?

It’s naughty.

It’s sexy.

It’s romantic.

It’s everything it’s supposed to be for representing love.

Look at it this way:

heart photo

We can imagine the female anatomy – breasts leading down to the vulva – the bottom is even in a V shape, and if you turn the heart on its side, the top looks like a B!

Yet if we turn it the other way up:

– lo and behold we have a pair of testicles, and the suggestion of a man’s love member (since it’s February, I’m not going to use the word ‘penis’ because it’s not a particularly lovely word…).

So what’s the history of the heart-shape as we know it?

Some scholars argue that the shape originates from artists trying to depict the heart with three chambers, according to ancient medical texts from Aristotle and Galen.

In medieval times, the heart-shape was used on heraldic objects, but was not symbolic of love; rather the shape depicted a lily-pad:

lily pad photo

A lily pad symbolised eloquence and persuasion. I actually find this interesting, because these two elements are present in every romantic relationship, aren’t they…think of the First Date. The Proposal. One is supposed to be both eloquent and persuasive.

Heraldry also used the symbol inverted, to symbolise a pair of testicles. The Colleoni family of Milan use this in their Canting arms. Canting arms are those who depict the bearer’s name in a visual pun. Testicles, in Italian, is coglioni. Colleoni, coglioni.

So when was this shape first used to depict love? Nobody really knows the answer, although there are clues. In the Empress Zoe mosaic of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, dated 1239, there are heart symbols on the bible Jesus holds.

Heart symbols have also been seen on Persian excavations (circa 90 BC – 637 AD). Tantalizing!

The heart shape became popular in religious art during the Renaissance, and began to be used as a suit in playing cards at this time.

Since the 1900s, the heart has been used to represent love on Valentine’s Day cards, and chocolate boxes.

heart chocolates photo

Aw. It’s a pretty awesome shape, isn’t it!

Writing And Emotional Resonance

Interesting post from Lizzie Hermanson today. Emotional Resonance! Remember this phrase…

Happy Authors Guild

So you’ve mastered show not tell, motivational reaction units and kicked the passive voice to the kerb. You understand structure, have an interesting protagonist and strong conflict, but still it all feels – meh. With this in mind, I have recently been thinking about emotional resonance, what it is and how to accomplish it.

Editor, Jessica Morrell, says resonance takes place when a story evokes a ‘responsive chord’ in a reader and that writers must place ‘stimuli’ in the story to trigger this response. The key to achieving this is creating characters readers can identify with and care about.

The other week I watched Sleepless In Seattle, a film I have always enjoyed. But this time around I was watching as an aspiring writer with a more critical eye and a plot issue with the story immediately jumped out at me. When 8-year-old Jonah takes a flight to New York by…

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Why I Love Books

kindle photo

Last year my hubs bought me a kindle for my birthday – a fab gift since I can’t access an English library or find English books at a decent price in Switzerland. So I merrily downloaded a load of classics because they are free, and I haven’t read Dickens in a while. Then I toured the freebie kindle downloads, and generally explored the world of reading on a small screen.

I didn’t like it.

Yes, for beaches and holidays they are invaluable – and for reading and editing my own work I love the kindle. But; I love books. I love the smell of ink and paper, I love the feel of a smooth, or embossed cover, I love the heft in my hands of a decent-sized tome.

Something else I find when reading on a kindle is that my eyes skip over the page and I skim so much faster, thereby missing a great deal. Or not really missing anything, in some cases. I don’t get pulled into a story on kindle the way I do with a real book. When I open a real book, I open a world. When I open the kindle I skim words.

Last week I went to the UK and spent a very happy hour browsing a bookstore and purchasing another Kate Morton book. I could read her on kindle, but I won’t. I tried. It doesn’t work. For some reason, my attention span on a screen is significantly less than it is for the printed page.

So I have decided my kindle is great for beach reads and zippy stories, and for those books, or authors, I like to spend time with, nothing less than the printed page will do.

books photo

What about you? E-reader or book?

Unpretty, but cool

What happens when a woman who wants to be loved for who she is, not what she looks like, falls for a guy who only looks at the exterior?

When Amy’s boyfriend dumps her for not being willing to sleep with him, she decides to try speed dating, but the first guy who comes in takes one look at her and disappears out the door.

Bruised, and wondering if a guy will ever look past her large chest, Amy then discovers her company is relocating so she’s out of a job. She starts a new job at a ranch, looking after guests and a small boy, only to discover the owner’s son is none other than the guy who walked out on her at speed dating.

Set in the mountains and valleys of the Eastern Sierra Nevada, ‘Unpretty, but Cool’ should be available by summer.


Setting a Scene

scenes photo

I discovered the other day that many of my scenes end up being set in the same places in my current novel. My characters seem to eat a lot. Well, that’s not too bad, is it? I mean, we all eat several times a day, right?

Except this means I have several scenes set in the dining hall. Two or three scattered through the novel might be ok, four, five, six or seven? Um.

The thing is, it not only gets repetitive, it gets boring and samey for the reader. They feel like they’ve already read this scene, so I took my characters out of the dining hall and into a market place instead. With a few tweaks and extra description added, the scene improved vastly. I have a scene set in the buttery (not the place for churning butter:

store photo

a place where the ‘butts’ of ale were stored), one in a barn and another in a hayloft. I even have one (okay, two) in a graveyard.

The trick is in thinking about your character’s daily lives and where they have to go. Anywhere can make an interesting scene – front doorstep of a house, library, beach, bathroom, skilift, lighthouse – and if it’s somewhere the main character shouldn’t be, so much the better!

Some scenes need to take place in an enclosed space; this builds tension between the characters because they can’t easily get away from each other.

Other scenes are better suited to wider spaces. This can build pace and tension. Have the scene in the opposite setting your characters need. So, for example, if you have your hero desperately trying to find your heroine and they need to be together – then choose a wide open setting. They need to be together, and if they are far apart it creates tension.

If your heroine needs to escape a killer, have the scene in a tight space, thus building tension.

If a couple are have a fullblown argument, confine them to a

ski lift photo

and see what happens.

Most Used Words

words photo

My goodness. I am shocked. Seriously shocked.

Having finished this novel (first in a series), I thought I might run it through an online word counting tool. This one. I was curious to see which words I used the most, and if I needed to tweak my prose.


Yes, I needed to tweak it.

Apart from various important words used for grammar constructs (and, the, etc), and names and pronouns (very high, so high I will probably have to tweak that), I found my most common words were:

Up (!)





Ugh. In one paragraph I had the word ‘now’ three times. Three! How had I never seen this? In some chapters I have a higher than normal usage of certain words like table (lol, table!) and, nerd that I am, I have written down for every single chapter the most used words. I have spent the last three days rooting through and eliminating these words where they are unnecessary, and getting the thesaurus out when they are.

It’s been a fascinating eye-opener to how my subconscious strings sentences together. If you have a novel that is ‘finished’ I highly recommend using this tool. It’s free, and fun, if you like analysing stuff. DO NOT use this if you haven’t finished the novel, else you will never stop editing. Seriously.