J. Arlene Culiner makes a return visit to my blog today. She tells us more about A ROOM IN BLAKE'S FOLLY and the characters who inhabit it, and also shares a recipe for the vegetarian dish Pecan Soup. Because, of course, many of her characters are vegetarian. Thanks for stopping by again, Jill. Great to have you!
Romance with Strange Characters
A Room in Blake’s Folly by J. Arlene Culiner
I love writing about people who are different. Some are forced to adapt to new circumstances in order to survive, others are originals, folks who have never really fit into mainstream society. But no one is humdrum, and all have dreams.
I adore people who challenge the status quo. They are often opinionated, sometimes obnoxiously so, but they are also entertaining, and stimulating, and they do make us question our own values.
In my latest release, A Room in Blake’s Folly, six linked stories take place in a former silver boomtown that, in time, becomes a semi-ghost town. The sort of people who choose to live in such a place can only be at odds with society. But that doesn’t make them unworthy of love.
In the second story, Evenings at Madam Lacey’s, Alexander Treemont is the son of a former silver baron. However, instead of stepping into his father’s shoes, he ran away to Paris to become an artist back in the 1880s. Now, forty years later, he is again in Blake’s Folly, and still willing to break taboos, he begins wooing Susanna Lacey, former prostitute, now a brothel owner. And when he invites Susanna to his home for dinner, she discovers he is a vegetarian—no surprise; in Paris Alexander frequented former anarchists and artists:
Their meal of old-fashioned American dishes was equally surprising, and very different from what she knew: a smoky soup of herbed pecans, a main course of braised squash, carrots, fennel, and herbs, served with the finest Canada rice, and a dessert of home-preserved summer fruits. There was no meat, neither was there fish.
“A hangover from anarchist days in Paris,” Alexander explained. “We were influenced by writers like Henry Salt who protested against the appalling treatment of work horses and dogs in England, and Tolstoy, who thought it immoral to slaughter innocent animals that were themselves vegetarian—deer, rabbits, sheep, horses, and trusting cows.”
That sort of meal sounds wonderful to me, too. Vegetables that are braised or oven roasted with a touch of olive oil are divine. As for pecan soup — you can use walnuts if pecans aren’t available—well…it’s a taste of heaven.
I’m a cook who never measures anything, so I can only give you a vague recipe. But do play around, give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.
Pecan Soup - Ingredients
1-2 cups of shelled, lightly oven roasted (about five minutes) pecans or walnuts
1 large chopped onion
1 medium to large potato cut into small pieces
4 cups of vegetable broth (can be from a cube)
1-2 chopped cloves of garlic
1-2 chopped celery stalks (optional)
1 chopped tomato (optional)
Pepper, chopped parsley, oregano (optional) rosemary (optional) thyme (optional)
Milk, cream or sour cream
Sauté all the ingredients (except the chives) in butter until the onion is soft. Add the broth and simmer until the potato is cooked. Put everything into a blender until smooth. Now add the milk, cream or sour cream until you decide it tastes perfect.
Pour into bowls and sprinkle with chives.
The Room Upstairs, the fifth story in A Room in Blake’s Folly, takes place in 2021. My heroine, Lucy Barnes, a woman who loves and protects spiders, is also a vegetarian. Here’s the moment when Lance Potter, veterinarian, asks her out for dinner:
Pushing open the door to Second Hand Rose, he stepped inside. Stopped dead, his heart plummeting lower still. No, Rose wasn’t here. The comforting thought of a flirtatious evening disappeared, slid outside to join the frigid desert air and glacial stars. Sitting at a small round wooden table over to the left, was the Valkyrie. She looked up from the book she was reading and stared at him with just about the same amount warmth he was feeling toward her.
“She’s not here.” No “hello,” no preamble of any sort.
“Yes, I can see that. I’ll come back another time.” He turned to go, return to the wintry evening, and begin the long drive home.
“Hey, wait.” She was staring at him. “Why not come and sit down. Make yourself comfortable. You want a coffee?”
“A coffee?” He gaped at the Valkyrie as if the word “coffee” were a new one he hadn’t yet tried out. “You’re offering me a coffee?” And hospitality?
She lowered her head and a certain amount of amiability disappeared. “That’s right, Buster. Real freshly-made coffee in a pot, no instant, no chemicals.”
“My name’s not Buster.”
A wicked grin appeared, one made more mischievous by her slightly crooked and uneven teeth. “Okay, Bud. But the offer for coffee still holds.”
“It’s not Bud either.”
That grin broadened. “Look, you can’t get around me. I know what you call me.”
“Yup. Just to let you know.”
“I’m the Valkyrie, right?”
He took a deep breath. Then, felt amusement pushing aside dark dreariness. “Yeah, that’s right.”
“But you’re wrong.” She got to her feet, as if preparing a devastating blow. “You wanna know why?”
Even he had started smiling. “If I don’t, you’re still going to tell me, right? Because that’s your style.”
“You got it, Bud.” Hands on her hips, she looked at him with what could only be called triumph. “Because the Valkyries were virgin warriors, and I’m way too old to be a virgin, that’s why.”
Impossible to suppress the chuckle bubbling up from deep in his belly, that turned into a roar of laughter. How had she managed to win him over in such a short time? Damn.
She was still grinning, still waiting for his answer about the coffee. He stared at her for a minute, then forced his own broad smile into something more serious. “Let’s forget about the coffee.”
“Okay.” The grin faded, and she shrugged as if she didn’t care one way or the other, which was probably true.
“Instead of coffee, how do you feel about going out to dinner with me?”
Now she was the one who stared as if the word “dinner” were a new one. “Me?”
“At the moment, you’re the only one in this room aside from some 2,000 tiny loyal spiders that probably follow you everywhere. But I’m not asking them if they’re hungry because I know what the answer would be.”
“As for dinner, I’m a vegetarian.”
“You would be.”
“You got something against people who refuse to kill animals for food?” She was back in Valkyrie mode.
“Absolutely nothing. I’m open as far as food goes.” He paused before adding, “And I’m open to new ideas, too, okay?”
Warily, she nodded.
A Room in Blake’s Folly
If only the walls could speak…
In one hundred and fifty years, Blake's Folly, a silver boomtown notorious for its brothels, scarlet ladies, silver barons, speakeasies, and divorce ranches, has become a semi-ghost town. Although the old Mizpah Saloon is still in business, its upper floor is sheathed in dust. But in a room at a long corridor's end, an adventurer, a beautiful dance girl, and a rejected wife were once caught in a love triangle, and their secret has touched three generations.
Writer, storyteller, photographer, and social critical artist, J. Arlene Culiner, was born in New York and raised in Toronto. She has crossed much of Europe on foot, has lived in a Hungarian mud house, a Bavarian castle, a Turkish cave dwelling, on a Dutch canal, and in a haunted house on the English moors. She now resides in a 400-year-old former inn in a French village of no interest and, much to local dismay, protects all creatures, especially spiders and snakes. She particularly enjoys incorporating into short stories, mysteries, narrative non-fiction, and romances, her experiences in out-of-the-way communities, and her conversations with strange characters.
Author Website: http://www.j-arleneculiner.com
Storytelling Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/j-arlene-culiner
Amazon Author Page : https://www.amazon.com/author/jarleneculiner-quirky-roma