Kuchen

April 12, 2022

In the first chapter of Lies of Omission, protagonist Hanneke Bauer parts company with a traveling companion when their ship docks in Milwaukee. Her friend says, You must promise to accompany your husband if he brings crops to sell in the city. We’ll have coffee and kuchen while you tell me all about the farm.

Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) is a German tradition of long standing. The term suggests not just tasty food, but conversation and camaraderie as well.

There are, of course, many kinds of German cake. The first kuchen I learned to make called for a slightly-sweet yeasted dough with fresh fruit on top, formed in a skillet and baked in an antique cookstove.

Chopping rhubarb for kuchen at the Schottler house, Old World Wisconsin, 1981.

I recently baked a kuchen in Hanneke’s honor, using peaches and raspberries I had in the freezer.

I don’t have a copy of the recipe I used way back when, so I turned to the cookbook pictured below, compiled by the Pommerscher Verein Friestadt of Mequon, WI. (The Pomeranian Society of Friestadt is dedicated to preserving Pomeranian culture and history.)

Happily, I’m able to share the recipe with you!

Apple or Raspberry Kuchen

1/2 c. shortening
1-1/4 c. flour
1 T. sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
2 T. milk
3-4 cups of apples or raspberries
For Streusel: 1 c. sugar, 2 T. flour, 1 T butter, a little cinnamon (omit if using raspberries)
1/4 c. cream or evaporated milk

Mix the first five ingredients like pie crust, then add the beaten egg and milk. Pat in pan. Spread apples or raspberries over crust and spread streusel over the fruit.

Bake 375 for 30 to 45 minutes or until crust is light brown. About 10 minutes before it is done, pour the cream or evaporated milk over the top.

(Note: I omitted the cream and went very easy on the streusel.)

In Lies of Omission, Hanneke is offered a piece of kuchen at a very low moment:

Hanneke accepted it gratefully. Kuchen. She broke off a chunk, careful to catch the crumbs, and popped it into her mouth. The pastry was light with wheat flour, topped with crunchy crystals of sugar that perfectly complemented the tart goodness of diced rhubarb. She was poised to gobble the slice whole, but at the last moment she paused, broke what was left in two, and handed half back. “Why don’t we share.”

If you bake and perhaps share a kuchen, I hope the experience is equally satisfying!

Special Tour Announcement!

April 6, 2022

If you’ve read my latest mystery, Lies of Omission, you’ve met protagonist Hanneke Bauer, a newly arrived Pomeranian immigrant. Her story is set in 1855.

Hanneke’s new home is a fictionalized version of a real historic building once occupied by the Schulz family. The house, which has been restored at Old World Wisconsin, is a rare and fascinating example of an Old World architectural style.

Would you like to learn more? I have partnered with historian Alan Pape, and with Old World Wisconsin, to offer a special tour.

Participants will get a glimpse of Hanneke’s world, and see the spots where some of the action took place.

As a special treat, Alan Pape will share his knowledge of Pomeranian architecture in Wisconsin, including half-timbered houses, black kitchens, and other outbuildings. Alan served as restoration chief at Old World Wisconsin from 1971-1983, and oversaw the development of “Hanneke’s farm” at the historic site.

The tour will take place on Sunday, May 22, 2022, from 9 AM – 11AM.

Space for this unique experience is limited. The Wisconsin Historical Society is handling registration. Click HERE for more information and to book tickets.

I hope you can join us. I’m excited!

Belgian Sites Tour

March 4, 2022

I’m delighted to announce that the Belgian Sites Tour inspired by the 9th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret, is a go! The special event will take place—live and in-person—on Saturday, July 9, 2022.

A full day of programming by the amazing folks at the Belgian Heritage Center in Door County, Wisconsin will provide exclusive insights into the world Chloe explored in the the book.

Highlights include a Great Fire Presentation, a lunch featuring traditional Belgian food, and a guided bus tour of the Namur National Landmark Historic District. I’ll also provide a behind-the-scenes program about The Lacemaker’s Secret.

Space for this unique experience is limited. Click HERE for more information, and to register. I’m excited!

Winter Worship

February 13, 2022

Studying and imagining the past often helps keep my own life in perspective. In that spirit, since many are experiencing frigid weather, I share this poem:

Winter Worship

They arrived in November and found
no preachers in the settlement
of crabbed cabins, towering oaks, prairie.
Time dragged, full of cracked lips, frozen toes,
brittle sunshine, looming shadows.
Logs groaned, ice fractured, men cursed.
children burrowed hollow and dull beneath quilts.

Cora paid her tithes at the woodpile,
perched on a board in the snow,
ax clothed in mittened, frost-bit hands.
Chop and haul, chop and haul, bless
the warming muscles, curse the freezing sweat.
Then into the cabin to worship
at the cast iron altar, source of life yet
insatiable, glowing red as brimstone.

This selection is from my collection Balancing: Poems of the Female Immigrant Experience in the Upper Midwest, 1830-1930 (Little Creek Press, 2021).

(Top images courtesy Pixabay)

Creating Compelling Fiction

February 7, 2022

Have you ever wanted to write fiction? I’d love to share with you some tips and insights about the genre that has brought me so much happiness.

This virtual, two-part workshop will take place on February 23 & March 2, 7 – 8:30 PM (CST).

Sessions will include discussion and brief writing activities. Topics will include specific strategies for:

  • creating intriguing, complex characters
  • crafting a plot that keeps tension rising
  • instilling a sense of place, and using it to propel the story

Winter is the perfect time to sink into a creative project. Whether a beginner or a more experienced writer, I hope you’ll gift yourself the chance to grow!

For more information, and to register, click HERE.

Something For Everyone

February 1, 2022

I’ve scheduled some fun events for the coming weeks, including writing workshops (both live and virtual) and free virtual programs. I also have an important update on the Chloe Ellefson-themed trip to Norway.

To see all the news, follow this link to my newsletter. I hope to see you soon!

Norway Trip Update

January 17, 2022

After much discussion, both practical and emotional, the planning team for the Fiddling With Fate-themed tour to Norway has decided to postpone “Folk Art, Fjords, and Fiddles” until spring 2023. The same mid-May Syttende Mai timeframe will be in place.

We are so proud of the itinerary and protective of this carefully curated, once-in-a-lifetime experience that we don’t want COVID-19 concerns hampering the trip. Norway implements strict protocols, and we imagined time-wasting, forced quarantines, last minute destination reservation reversals—or even a trip cancellation.

Please join me and my friends at the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society, who are sponsoring the trip, in taking this extra year to dream even more about what’s to come!

Happy November

November 6, 2021

My newsletter is out! Click HERE to get the latest updates.

The top item is about the virtual launch party for the first book in my Hanneke Bauer mystery series. You can also go directly to the pre-registration page. Hope to see you there!

Mr. Ernst and I wish you and yours a peaceful Thanksgiving.

Writer-In-Residence, Week 4

November 5, 2021

My final week at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park was bittersweet. I was excited by how much I accomplished, but sad to see the experience come to an end.

The urge to dig deeper into my research while I had the chance conflicted with an equal urge to start capturing ideas on paper. The latter won.

Writing spot view from the window of the 1824 building where I stayed.

On most days during October I spent some time working in a public spot. I enjoyed answering questions and chatting about the Artist-In-Residence program with visitors.

Enjoying the autumn sunshine on the former Storer College campus, a lesser-known part of the park.

My dwindling days also compelled me to revisit favorite spots.

Harper Cemetery.

One of the best things about spending a month in Harpers Ferry was the opportunity to see the park in different moods.

I’m grateful to the park staff and volunteers who so generously shared their knowledge and skills.

Ranger Creighton doing what he does so well.

Integrating a writer/volunteer into the National Park Service system for a month is no small task. Ranger Samantha, Volunteer Coordinator, ensured that I was warmly welcomed, and that all needs were met.

Best volunteer coordinator imaginable!

I’m especially grateful to these two wonderful women. Cathy Baldeau (left) is the Executive Director of the Harpers Ferry Park Association, a position formerly held by Debbie Piscitelli (right). These dynamos made my visit possible.

I went to Harpers Ferry to research lesser-known stories and teach writing workshops. My residency was also about encouraging visitors to consider that wandering such special places can be inspirational as well as informative.

I was certainly inspired anew!

Writer-In-Residence, Week 3

October 25, 2021

I can’t develop any historical novel without digging into the type of library and archival work I discussed last week. Other research approaches, however, are equally essential.

If you’re familiar with the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, you know I’m often inspired by artifacts. While exploring lesser-known events in Harpers Ferry and the vicinity, the search for material culture took me to the Jefferson County Museum in Charles Town, WV.

This writing chair was one of my favorite pieces. Don’t you think I need a character who would treasure this?
Perhaps I shouldn’t use the word “beautiful” to describe these irons, but…I do think they are.

Most of my time, though, is spent right in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Living here during my month-long residency enables what I love most: walking the ground. There are layers upon layers of events and stories here. Being physically present helps me tune in.

The historic structures preserved in the Lower Town represent perhaps a third of what was here during the town’s industrial heyday. The landscape reveals plenty of clues about what’s been lost to time and floods.

When I started visiting the park in the 1960s, there was little to see. Today you’ll find beautiful structures restored by the National Park Service. Some are furnished to depict their original function,

and others contain formal exhibits.

Excavated treasures.

While the Lower Town is by far the best known area, the park includes much more. I’ve spent time wandering Camp Hill a mile away.

In 1867, the Freedman’s Bureau established a school, open to all, in this building.

The Lockwood House was badly damaged during the Civil War, but became a haven.

Tensions were still high from the Civil War, and many local citizens were hostile to the plan. The educators and students persevered, and the school grew to become Storer College, which didn’t close until the 1950s.

The National Park Service has repurposed this college building as a training center.

Thanks to the Harpers Ferry-Bolivar Historic Town Foundation, I spent a fascinating afternoon learning more about black history on Camp Hill. (The brochure was nice to have, but the Foundation also has the information and maps on their website.)

This superb guide revealed the backstory of many privately-held buildings. The house below, which “symbolizes how important education was to the local African American community,” was home to three generations of Storer College students. It also once held an informal school.

I’ve learned a lot about Harpers Ferry that I hadn’t known before…and there’s a lot more to discover!

Sunset in Lower Town.