Making Marzipan Pigs

This post was written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance.

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This experiment I am about to undertake is completely a labor of love for Eloise, and in turn her love of marzipan pigs. Because to Eloise, Paris and marzipan pigs are inseparable, and we are spending April in Paris with The Orchid Affair, so there must be marzipan pigs! Whenever I hear marzipan I think of two things simultaneously.  One is icky Turkish Delight, which for some reason I associate with marzipan, I seriously don’t know why, and all I end up doing is thinking of Narnia, or when Vyvyan accidentally found Narnia on The Young Ones. The second is my friend Huyen who would buy roles of plain marzipan from World Market and just eat it straight. So yes, in my mind marzipan is a little gross, despite the fact I don’t think I’ve ever eaten it, to my knowledge. Also, interesting fact, marzipan pigs are both a German and a Norwegian tradition, so I think my ancestry is also telling me this must be done.

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The first thing I did was find out if this was feasible. I mean, even if it was slightly hard I was still going to do it, I made up my mind to make Plum Pudding from scratch once and I surprisingly succeeded despite the horrid smell it made while cooking. The main problem to making marzipan pigs was the pig part. Did they use a mold? Did they loosely shape it by hand? Thankfully Amazon is where I go to answer all these questions and I found this delightful mold! It was well priced at $5.99 including shipping and handling! I know you want it to just to have novelty ice cubes or chocolate pig faces! Sadly, it’s only the pig’s face so I couldn’t eat them in the approved Eloise manner, tail first to prolong the pig’s agony. Personally I’m a head first girl, so this mold is for me.

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As for the recipe, it was deceptively simple, what with only three ingredients! Four if I decided to color it. I spent some time looking for a recipe without eggs, mainly because if, like me, you didn’t know that marzipan isn’t cooked, it’s just all mixed together and then done, well, raw eggs, no thank you. So I found this recipe by Emeril Lagasse that looked easy enough, 8 ounces of almond paste (of course it comes in 7 ounce tubes), 1 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar, 4 tablespoons of corn syrup and red food coloring for the pinky pig hue. Supposedly only twenty minutes to prep it… I was cursing Emeril and his twenty minutes for the next ninety plus minutes.

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Weird thing about almond paste, those aren’t handy twist ties, they are metal staples that have riveted the tubing shut, so I had to break them free of their prison with a knife. Also if you don’t use all the paste, well, then you end up wasting cling film trying to re-cover the remainder.

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Step one, throw almond past into mixer to “break up the almond paste some.” Beware, the almond paste is hard and shards of it will shoot out at you as your mixer bucks. Perhaps I shouldn’t have cranked it up to eleven. Or had it on the uneven part of the counter.

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Once the sugar has been added “the mixture will look like coarse bread crumbs.” Was it still supposed to look this crappy once I added the corn syrup? Emeril kept reassuring me that “the mixture will still be very crumbly.” Seriously, it was nothing BUT crumbs! I was in complete disbelief that this could turn into any kind of dough like substance. I tried a little, rolling it around in my hand and it did seem to slowly come together into dough… eventually. So I guessed I’d give it a go, what was there to lose?

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Ok, so after quite a while, let’s say in the ten to twenty minute range, perhaps more, I had this. It was like the driest dough you’d ever seen. Like biscuits gone to the bad. The very very bad. It didn’t taste nasty, it just looked it. At this point my hands were already tired, my counter had a layer of marzipan remains that I had to use a knife to remove, and it still wasn’t in a workable condition. I threw out half the dough as unusable, I found adding a little water to the surface of my hands helped a little with the lack of moisture issue. But I kept at this little bit that was starting to come together.

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And at it. Slowly it actually started to hold a shape, and oddly it also went from its kind of whitish color that it had in its “crumb” stage to a warmer more dough like tan. I was feeling slightly optimistic; slightly. Though I had noticed the marzipan had a strange greasy residue that it was leaving all over my counter and my hands; great, even more to clean up besides trying to find all the places the mixer had shot the almond paste to. Also, the faster I rolled it the more grease! What the heck?

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Adding the food coloring is when I really got grossed out by this process. To not dye my hands and my counter red I put on latex gloves and worked on wax paper. This just made it look even more like an abattoir. My first impression of adding the red food coloring to the marzipan was that it looked just like that scene in the movie The Golden Child where the blood seeps up through the oatmeal, otherwise known as why I didn’t eat oatmeal for about a decade. Once the dye got a little more worked in it started to look like meat and I felt a bit as if I was making set dressing for Hannibal. And yes, I actually did form it into a human heart, but I was too freaked out to even take a picture of that experiment.

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Finally after about thirty minutes of just working the dye into the marzipan I had an even color that looked freakishly like really vibrant bubblegum.

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The molding of the pigs started out challenging but quickly became easy. At first I was worried I’d have to spray the mold, but it was springy enough that the marzipan didn’t stick so long as you didn’t leave it in more than a few minutes (if you left it in more than a few minutes, well, ears and snouts got damaged). I was also worried that the marzipan would be too soft and might have to be thrown in the freezer before being popped out of the mold so that the piggies wouldn’t have smooshed faces, but again, this wasn’t a problem. The main problem was that the mold is soft silicon and it would go wonky if I wasn’t paying attention. I found that a small amount of marzipan pushed only into the four center pigs worked best, popping them out immediately and doing the next group. This quickly got me a piggy army.

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My porcine army in all its glory! If I hadn’t tossed some of the dough I probably could have gotten another five or so more pigs. They really are so stinking cute, I almost didn’t want to eat them. Almost.

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As for my first “official” taste of marzipan? Kind of tastes like bubblegum, not sure if that’s its normal taste, or if the food coloring added the flavoring. The main thing this whole process taught me was that I shall never make marzipan again. It takes far longer and is far harder than you’d think, just buy yourself some already made at World Market or do what Eloise does and just buy a pre-made pig, preferably in Paris with your hunky boyfriend. But my arms got a really good work out and I did something incredibly bookish and nerdtastic, and that is a win in my book any day.

Happy Release Day, Simone St. James!

Back in January, Simone St. James was kind enough to stop by the blog for an interview and to give away an ARC of her upcoming release, The Other Side of Midnight.  Well, I am so pleased to say that TODAY is her release day.

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I can’t wait to start this book, y’all.  I discovered Simone’s books through the “If You Like” posts on Lauren’s website, and I am so glad I did!  I’ve read all three of her other books (The Haunting of Maddy Clare, An Inquiry into Love and Death, and Silence for the Dead).  Simone writes a creepy ghost story, but fortunately for me, it’s the kind I can still read – her writing is atmospheric and suspenseful without being gory.  I appreciate that!

Here is what Penguin has to say about The Other Side of Midnight:

London, 1925. Glamorous medium Gloria Sutter made her fortune helping the bereaved contact loved ones killed during the Great War. Now she’s been murdered at one of her own seances, after leaving a final message requesting the help of her former friend and sole rival, Ellie Winter.

Ellie doesn’t contact the dead – at least, not anymore. She specializes in miraculously finding lost items. Still, she can’t refuse the final request of the only other true psychic she has known. Now Ellie must delve into Gloria’s secrets and plunge back into the world of hucksters, lowlifes, and fakes. Worse, she cannot shake the attentions of handsome James Hawley, a damaged war veteran who has dedicated himself to debunking psychics.

As Ellie and James uncover the sinister mysteries of Gloria’s life and death, Ellie is tormented by nightmarish visions that herald the grisly murders of those in Gloria’s circle. And as Ellie’s uneasy partnership with James turns dangerously intimate, an insidious evil force begins to undermine their quest for clues, a force determined to bury the truth, and whoever seeks to expose it…

I’ll be heading to the bookstore after work.  In the meantime, I’ll be browsing Simone’s Pinterest boards.  If you like early 1900s fashion, or you are looking for some spooky scene inspiration, or you want to see Simone’s book recommendations, check them out!

Pink VIII Giveaway

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It’s time for our monthly Pink for All Seasons giveaway!  Today, I’m putting a signed copy of The Orchid Affair up for grabs.  But let’s switch it up a bit this time, shall we?

I will give you two opportunities to enter your name in the drawing.  First, as usual, comment below to enter.  For a second entry, in honor of Laura Grey and Rachel Woodley (the heroine of Lauren’s upcoming release The Other Daughter), share your favorite governess books!

You will have until midnight EST on April 9 to comment below to enter.  I will let the Random Number Generator work its magic and announce a winner on Friday.  Good luck, everyone!

What’s in a Cover?

This post was written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance.

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When I was younger I wasn’t much of a reader, though I did love books. I’d spend hours just gazing at covers and making up what stories the book could tell. I was convinced that the book would be nowhere near my imaginings so I rarely looked between the covers, unless there were more pictures inside. Is it any wonder I grew up to be an artist, illustrator, and graphic designer (at least that’s what it says on my business cards)? I think not, if my early years are any indication of the forming of my life. To this day I have very strong opinions about book covers, as I know my fellow readers probably do. Though my opinions are now more informed on design principles then previously on my gut reaction. I also have developed designer quirks wherein a book cover can offend me because I hate a font or I’m seeing certain stock images reused, yet again. In fact spot the stock imagery is actually a game I play when I’m bored and it inadvertently led me to find out Deanna Raybourn and Lauren Willig’s cover photography is from the same photographer! The more you know.

What this all leads to is the truth of the matter, that a book is judged by its cover. I don’t know if I would have picked up Lauren’s first book way back in 2007 if it didn’t have the cover it did. Which is why, when the cover design changed in 2010 with The Orchid Affair, it was such a furor on her blog. Before tackling the cover change I need to first vent my rage about continuity in a series. If you’re a fan of a series you want it to look really nice on your bookshelf. You want it to declare loud and clear that it’s a series, and a series you love. There is nothing that I hate more as a designer and book addict then publishers switching things up so that I don’t have my complete set! The look can be ruined by format change, just look to Charlaine Harris, I have first editions of all her books in all four different sizes they were released in from paperback to hardcover. Or, as I will be discussing with The Orchid Affair, cover art change! Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy Series has ushered in a new look for each of the three volumes, from beautiful art to photography and now to “Disney” Princess. Therefore, for me personally, this change in Lauren’s books wasn’t going to be easily accepted.

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The reason I love Lauren’s old covers is because they captured that combination of history and romance that I love in her books. The initial blue cover of The Orchid Affair was something you would picture on a standard romance novel, maybe a slightly trashy one at that, I mean seriously, look at that model. While Lauren’s books have romantic leanings, I would never categorize them as romance. Also, the cover falls victim to the headless heroine problem that has spread like a plague through romance and urban fantasy books in the last few years and incited the ire of many women as to how they are depicted on books. If we take the least inflammatory theory, that by removing the woman’s head she is able to act as an avatar where we can see ourselves in the books I call foul! Art has the same avatar qualities. Paintings were never meant to be realistic, but more an ideal of what the artist or the subject wanted their lasting image to be. We, I think, as readers can all agree it’s just as easy to picture yourself a painting as it is a headless corpse. Plus does anyone else just think of Hannibal and the Chesapeake Ripper when limbs start getting removed? Or perhaps zombie films?

Cover_3Lauren’s fans quickly stated their displeasure, over eighty posts declaring their dislike on the cover reveal alone. We, because yes, I was one of them, started harassing her publishers and Lauren held a little cover art contest on her blog to see if we could sway the publishers that the fans knew what they wanted. I submitted three entries into the contest, and I have to say, even if my pieces didn’t get that many votes, it was cathartic showing why I thought the change was wrong in a tangible way. Yes, the graphic designer in me felt a little release, like a cat stretching. While this outcry didn’t get the art based covers reinstated, at least Lauren’s publishers listened to the readers and we got a cover that was a happy medium. But, the lesson in this for true fans is, we are the constant, we are the guaranteed sale, and the point of new covers and new art and different formats is to capture and entice new readers. So when all is said and done, if this cover change is what enabled us to have twelve books in the Pink Carnation series, can we really complain? No we can’t. The art department was doing their job and we got another book, everything else just falls away… even if I still occasionally grumble about it to myself… and don’t get me started on the format change with The Passion of the Purple Plumeria!

Greetings from Miss Eliza

This post was (as the title suggests) written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance.

Greeting_1Ashley and I met because of our mutual love of Lauren Willig. Sometime last year she asked me what I thought of a yearlong Pink Carnation re-read leading up to the final book’s release. Seeing as I’ve been doing the monthly dream casting, the mugs, as well as the side banner design, I think you can guess my answer to her question. As soon as I was on board and throwing my design skills at her, she asked which book I would like to moderate. I said without hesitation, The Orchid Affair. Ashley was well pleased because that meant she got to do my other favorite book, The Mischief of the Mistletoe. The reason I chose this volume in the series is because I love how it brings Napoleon and the ramifications of the French Revolution back to the forefront. For five books the narrative hasn’t stepped on the shores of that benighted country. We have grown accustomed to flowery monikered spies in English drawing rooms. We have been removed from the reason these spies exist. This volume brings it all back, and in fact I would say more comprehensively covers what happened to France during this turbulent time period than any of the previous volumes.

Plus, there’s the whole fact that I really connect to this book on multiple levels. Let’s look to my background, I was raised in a publishing family, so there are the books, I have a BS in Art, hence loving the salons, and I have a minor in Theatre, covering the commedia dell’arte. What part of this book wasn’t written for me? Oh, and my last name, Lefebvre, French (kind of)! Plus I’m related, not in a direct line, to François Joseph Lefebvre, who happened to be the Duc de Dantzig and was one of the original eighteen Marshals of the Empire created by Napoleon and whose portrait at Versailles looks eerily like my Dad. This book touches every aspect of me, from genetics to interests to my very livelihood. Then there’s the fact that this takes the series in a new direction, it breaks the mold of what we have come to expect but still has the wit and humor that we’ve come to demand of Lauren’s books, and yes, we are a demanding fanbase.

And in a roundabout way it’s all because of Lauren that I have become a book blogger, Strange and Random Happenstance, check it out! The reason I started book blogging was quite literally to get Advance Reader Copies of books. Because, there is something so fun and more than a little bit gloat worthy of reading a book months before it’s out. Also, seriously, ARCs are pricey to buy on eBay, not that I’ve done that or anything she says with shifty eyes. But the ARCs I coveted above all else were Lauren’s. So yes, I made a blog to get ARCs from Dutton, but it has evolved and taken on a life of its own. I have been able to forge connections with some of my favorite authors, many of whom I now consider my friends, and help get the word out about their awesomeness. Because, seriously folks, it’s our jobs as readers to support our favorite authors, and that’s why Ashley and I (to bring it full circle) are more than willing to take a year out of our lives to celebrate Lauren. Everyone should know of this awesomeness and I hope to spend the next month sharing it with you.

The Orchid Affair

This post was written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance, who will be our fearless leader through the month of April and Pink VIII.  Give her a warm welcome, y’all – and happy reading!

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Bonjour je m’appelle Mademoiselle Eliza! Ahem, I mean, hello, it is I Miss Eliza! I got carried away with the fact that we’ll be spending April in France… I love Paris in the spring time… ok, no singing either, I shan’t sing; and I shall leave the formal introduction till tomorrow and do some bookkeeping today, though you shan’t get the story of why I am forbidden to sing, and yes, I am forbidden to sing, law established and passed in 1997. Today might be April 1st, but I kid you not that this shall be an awesome April! We shall be having a fine old time re-reading, or perhaps reading for the first time, The Orchid Affair, the book Lauren calls her “Sound of Music meets James Bond” book.

First, what the author has to say, Lauren’s recap of Pink VIII! Though Hortense Bonaparte is sitting in a corner and sending evil daggers at Lauren for forgetting her under historical cameos…

Who: Laura Grey and André Jaouen

Where: France

When: Winter and Spring, 1804

What: When Laura Grey goes undercover in the home of Napoleonic operative Andre Jaouen as a governess, she soon discovers there’s more to her elusive employer than meets the eye…

Historical Cameos: Joseph Fouche, the Duc de Berry, Joachim Murat (see, no Hortense!)

Reading Schedule (AKA notice you don’t have to plow through the first 7 chapters by this Friday):
Friday, April 10th: Prologue and Chapters 1-7
Friday, April 17th: Chapters 8-17
Friday, April 24th: Chapters 18-26
Wednesday, April 29th: Chapters 27-35

Now let’s start reading!