Posts Tagged ‘Chloe Ellefson’

Hardanger Fiddles

August 8, 2019

The 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery sends Chloe and her fiancé, Roelke McKenna, to Norway. Given the book’s title, it’s probably obvious that the plot involves Hardanger Fiddles.

Historians believe that violins arrived in Norway by the 1600s, probably from Germany and Italy. The first known Hardanger fiddle (the Jaastad fiddle) dates to 1651. The Hardanger region in SW Norway became famous for its fiddle makers—and fiddlers!

When Chloe arrives in Norway, the director of the Hardanger Folk Museum introduces her to the instrument:

“How much do you know about Hardanger fiddles?
“Not a lot,” Chloe allowed humbly.
“This region is, of course, the birthplace of the hardingfele—the Hardanger fiddle. They have understrings that resonate when the top four are played. That gives the instruments a unique sound.”
“Haunting, I’d call it,” Chloe offered.

Fiddler at the Norsk Folk Museum, Oslo

Later, a fiddler explains why the instrument was so important in rural Norway:

“Hardingfele tunes once measured everyday life. Music was deeply rooted in rituals and traditions. There were specific tunes for every aspect of a Hardanger wedding. There were tunes for planting, for harvesting, for celebrating a good yield.”

As beloved as the instruments were, there was a time when Hardanger fiddles were considered, by some, to be “the devil’s instrument.” They were associated with parties, heavy drinking, and casual sex.

(Adolph Tideman)

One particular tune, Fanitullen, was supposedly taught to a fiddler by the devil himself.

(Adolph Tideman)

Some zealots went so far as to destroy any fiddles they could find.

Such violence must have been wrenching to the fiddlers and fiddle makers, especially because Hardanger fiddles are gorgeous, decorated with intricate inked designs and mother-of-pearl inlay.

(Hardanger Folk Museum)

Many also feature an elaborately carved figure at the scroll on top of the instrument.

(Met Museum/Wikimedia)

Some fiddlers and makers emigrated, bringing their skills to the new world. The Helland brothers, who arrived in Wisconsin in 1901, became famous for their fiddles and violins.

Knut and Gunnar outside their fiddle workshop in Chippewa Falls. Picture taken before 1920. (Wikipedia)

And happily, the traditions continue today. I had the chance to learn more about Hardanger fiddle construction when Madison, WI resident Karen Rebholz made a presentation at Livsreise in Stoughton.

Karen Rebholz and several exquisite fiddles she made.
Fiddle by Karen Rebholz.
Fykerud’n Spelemannslag, which performed at Syttende May in Stoughton, WI, 2019.

I’m not a fiddle player, but I loved exploring the music and traditions while writing Fiddling With Fate!

To learn more, visit the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America. You can also find lots of performances on YouTube.

Fiddling With Fate Giveaway Winners!

July 30, 2019

Congratulations to  Megan Barry, Merry Chapman, Carol Pasbrig, Sue Wendt, Christine Witherill, and Moscato Zingler! Each won a signed Advance Review Copy of the 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, Fiddling With Fate.

Thanks to all who entered! Winners were chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page.

The official release date for Fiddling With Fate is September 8th. Happy reading!

Our Lady Of Good Help

February 22, 2019

Adele Brise was born in Belgium in 1831, and immigrated to Wisconsin with her family in 1855. The Brise family settled about 16 miles northeast of the city of Green Bay in Robinsonville, now Champion, Wisconsin.

Little is known of Adele’s early years, but she was remembered as a devout young woman.

Our Lady of Good Help
(Photo on display at Our Lady of Good Help)

In October, 1859, apparitions of the Virgin Mary occurred to Adele as she was walking through the woods. Mary instructed Adele to teach local children in the faith. Adele devoted the rest of her life to that charge.

AdeleBriseStudents
Adele Brise with students. (CatholicLane.com)

Many church leaders doubted the veracity of Adele’s story. Her friends and neighbors believed, however, and Adele’s father built a chapel nearby. In time it was replaced with a larger chapel, and facilities for students.

In 1871, during the Great Fire, some area residents fled to the grounds. They processed around the chapel carrying the statue of Mary. Conditions almost overwhelmed them, but Adele instructed them to pray. When the firestorm finally passed, everything around the chapel grounds had been destroyed. The outside of the fence was charred, but the grounds were undisturbed. 

Adele Brise, Our Lady of Good Help
Adele Brise was not a nun, but she adopted attire similar to a nun’s habit. (Photo on display at Our Lady of Good Help)

Adele’s vision was not accepted by the church before she died in 1896. Finally, over century later in 2010, the apparitions were formally approved. Today, The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is the only Marian shrine in the United States on the site of an approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I read about Adele while doing early research for The Lacemaker’s Secret, the 9th Chloe Ellefson mystery, which focuses on Belgian immigration to Northeast Wisconsin. I wanted to include Adele’s story. As a non-Catholic, I also wanted to be respectful.

Before making any final decisions, I visited the site itself.

Our Lady of Good Help

It includes a small museum that tells Adele’s story.

National Shrine Of Our Lady Of Good Help
The apparition appeared between a maple tree and a hemlock tree. These are pieces of the roots of those trees.
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The site includes a contemporary church, home to an active congregation. The sanctuary is beautiful.

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Around a corner and down some stairs is the Apparition Oratory.

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These crutches near the entrance are testament to reports of visitors being healed of illness or affliction after a visit.

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To me, even more powerful was the absolute, reverential beauty of the small chapel.

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I knew that if Chloe visited the chapel, she couldn’t help but be moved as well. I decided to have her visit at an emotionally low point, so she could find solace.

The grounds are also peaceful and inviting.

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This is Adele’s grave.

Version 2

The building below is a roadside chapel that was moved to the site and restored in 2003.

Our Lady of Good Help

Visitors are welcome to visit any day of the year, from 7 AM to 7 PM.

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To learn more about The Lacemaker’s Secret, or my other books, I invite you to visit my website.

Click here for a more detailed account of Adele’s story.

The Lacemaker’s Secret Giveaway!

January 29, 2019

I’m celebrating last fall’s successful launch of the ninth Chloe Ellefson Mystery with a Giveaway! Nine winners will receive a signed and personalized trade paperback copy of The Lacemaker’s Secret.

To enter the Giveaway, leave a comment here before 11:59 PM (Central US Time) on Wednesday, January 30, 2019. One entry per person, please.

Nine winners will be chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page. Winners will be announced here on Thursday, January 31. Good luck!

Libby’s Legendary Banana Bread Pudding

January 22, 2019

PrintSometimes you just need some comfort food—something steaming and fragrant and utterly delicious.

The 9th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret, begins at just such a moment.

   “Something is burdening you,” Libby told Roelke McKenna. “Spill it. Now.”

   “Nothing’s wrong.”

     Libby’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t believe you.”

   Roelke turned to the kitchen counter where an old-fashioned percolator burbled with promise. Trust his cousin to just know. He’d had another rough night, but he didn’t want to talk about it.

   . . . Libby turned and cracked the oven door. A rich wave of banana, vanilla, and cinnamon swirled into the room.

   “Please tell me that’s Libby’s Legendary Banana Bread Pudding.” Roelke’s favorite Sunday-morning treat at his cousin’s house.

I came up with this recipe for Banana Bread Pudding on a frigid Wisconsin morning. It pairs beautifully with the delectable maple sauce, so don’t skip that step! 

Pudding Ingredients
3-4 ripe bananas
4 c. 1-inch bread cubes (French, Italian, or any other sturdy type)  
3 large eggs
2 cups milk (soy or dairy)
2 t. vanilla extract
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/2 t. ground cardamom (optional)
1 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

Note: Because the sauce is sweet, I used no sugar in the bread pudding itself. If you prefer a sweeter version, add 1/4 c. or 1/2 c.

 Maple Sauce Ingredients
3 T. butter

2 T. sugar (raw or granulated)
1 T. cornstarch
3/4 c. milk
1/4 c. maple syrup
1-1/2 t. vanilla extract

Instructions
Grease a 2-quart casserole. Pre-heat oven to 375.  

Place the bread cubes in a large bowl.

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I used half a small loaf of Italian bread. Bread that’s a day or two old will retain its texture better than soft bread.

In another bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Stir in milk, vanilla, and spices. Add sugar, if using.  

Set one banana aside, slice the others into this mix, and stir to coat. Add this mixture, and walnuts if using, to the bread cubes. Gently stir.

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Stir the pudding into the casserole dish. Slice the final banana over the top.

Banana Bread Pudding

Use banana that are ripe but firm if you want to retain their texture. Over-ripe bananas can be mashed and mixed with the bread mixture.

Bake for about 40 minutes. Towards the end of the bake start the maple sauce (directions below).

Remove the casserole when the pudding is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center emerges clean.  

Banana Bread Pudding

Fresh from the oven.

When the pudding is partly baked, begin the Maple Sauce by melting the butter in a small saucepan. Mix the sugar and cornstarch together and stir into the melted butter.

Add the milk and maple syrup, whisking continuously. Continue stirring until the mixture comes to a low boil. Let simmer until thickened, about a minute or so.

Banana Bread Pudding sauce.

The silky-smooth sauce just coming to a simmer.

 Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

Serve the pudding warm, topped with the warm maple sauce.

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I think Libby and Roelke would enjoy this version of Banana Bread Pudding. I hope you do as well!

Belgian Spice Cookies

January 8, 2019

The latest Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret, celebrates Belgian heritage, so of course my research included foodways. I quickly came across references to Belgian Spice Cookies, also called Speculoos.

These crisp spiced shortbread cookies are also popular in the Netherlands, where they’re called Speculaas. Children in both countries often receive the cookies on St. Nicholas Day in early December.

In North America the cookies are often known as Windmill cookies, because several bakeries produce them in that shape, or Biscoff cookies. (Delta Airlines has been handing out Biscoff cookies since 1986.)

Lotus

This company sells Speculoos as Biscoff cookies in the US. (Wikipedia)

Since Speculoos date back only to 1932, when a Belgian bakery started producing them, I included them in the mystery’s 1984 timeline. Chloe Ellefson enjoys a taste at a St. Nicholas celebration at Heritage Hill State Historical Park in Green Bay.  

Even though my maternal grandmother (who was famed for cookie-baking) had family roots in the Netherlands, I had never made Speculoos before.

None of the vintage Wisconsin/ethnic cookbooks on my shelf include a speculoos recipe. The Milwaukee Public Library’s wonderful Historic Recipe Collection turned up this recipe for Brussels Spice Cookies.

Belgian Spice Cookies

Milwaukee Journal, December 27, 1962.

A quick online search turned up lots of Speculoos/Speculaas recipes. The cookies themselves are pretty basic, but bakers use a lot of latitude with spices. The simplest use only cinnamon, while others call for various blends of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, coriander, and/or pepper. Some people simplify by using Pumpkin Pie Spice.

(WIkipedia)

Traditionally, bakers used shallow wooden molds to imprint elaborate designs in the cookies. The dough can also be cut into shapes or decorated with a cookie stamps. Most recipes call for rolling the dough to no more than 1/8 inch.

However, Wisconsin’s fabulous New Glarus Bakery sells delicious Speculaas that are thicker and unadorned. 

Speculaas cookies from New Glarus Bakery

Speculaas cookies from New Glarus Bakery

Some recipes call for sliced almonds to be sprinkled on top of (or even on the bottom of) the cookies; some mix sliced almonds into the dough, as the New Glarus bakers did. And some substitute almond flour for some of the regular flour.

When I put out a call for favorite recipes readers recommended several sources, including the New York TimesA Spruce Eats.and Cooks Illustrated. (The latter requires membership for web access; a free trial is available.) You can also find good information in the September, 2018 print edition of Cooks Illustrated. Belgian Foodie is another good source.

After some experimentation I came up with my own favorite:

Speculoos
1-1/2 c. all purpose flour (I use white whole wheat)
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. cardamom
1 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. cloves
1/2 c. softened butter
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
1/2 c. raw sugar or Turbinado sugar
1 egg

Mix flour, soda, and spices in a bowl and set aside.

I particularly love cardamom, so I only buy whole pods and grind them just prior to baking.

Cream softened butter with the sugars.

I use raw sugar (left), but because the crystals are larger than regular sugar, I buzz them in a spice grinder until fine (right). Belgian bakers used a special dark sugar (sometimes beet sugar) that is not readily available in the US.

When smooth, beat in the egg.  Gradually add the flour mixture and mix until dough is completely blended. Place dough in an airtight container (or wrap in plastic wrap) and store in the refrigerator for at least several hours to allow spices to blend.  Note:  It will be easier to roll the dough if you flatten it into a disc shape before chilling.

Preheat oven to 350 and grease baking sheets.  Roll dough approximately 1/8 inch thick.  Use cutters or stamps as desired to shape the cookies.

Bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until cookies are a light golden brown around the edges.  Remove pans from the oven and allow the cookies to sit for two minutes before removing them to a cooling rack.

For my first batch I used antique cutters passed down from my grandma; for the second, I tried using modern stamps.  

cutters

I like soft cookies, so I didn’t worry too much about getting the cookies as thin as 1/8 inch.

With so much variety, you can’t go wrong. Try mixing up a batch for your book discussion group or family. I think they’ll be a hit!

belgcookies

The Belgian Heritage Center

January 2, 2019

When I first started considering a setting for a Chloe Ellefson mystery about Wisconsin’s Belgian immigrants, I knew it would primarily feature the Belgian Farm restored at Heritage Hill State Park.

Then I discovered that a Belgian Heritage Center existed in southern Door County.  I made arrangements to meet with a Board member and learned about the excellent work being done at the Center. That visit changed the trajectory of the story, because I knew Chloe would enjoy a visit too!

Belgian Heritage Center

The building which now houses the Center, the former St. Mary of the Snows Catholic Church in Namur, WI, came very close to demolition.

Belgian Heritage Center

When a group of local residents (many of Belgian descent) learned that the church was slated to be razed, they organized around the idea of acquiring the building and creating a space that would celebrate Belgian heritage. They managed to purchase the church from the Catholic Diocese in 2010.

Today, the Belgian Heritage Center is a shining example of what a few dedicated volunteers can accomplish.  

The Center “tells the story of the Belgian settlement in Wisconsin and works to preserve unique elements of Belgian culture such as foods, beverages, customs, architecture and the Walloon language.”

Visitors will find some formal exhibit areas that tell a broad story.

Belgian Heritage Center

Other exhibits focus on individual photographs…

Belgian Heritage Center

…and artifacts.

Belgian Heritage Center

The panel below is one of my favorites. I’ve read several accounts of women carrying very heavy loads of grain to distant mills in order to provide bread for their children. The Belgian women had a unique way of carrying the sacks of grain, as illustrated. Visitors can now simulate the experience.

Belgian Heritage Center

The building also has space for programs.

Belgian Heritage Center
Historian Barb Englebert Chisholm reenacts the history of the Great Fire as experienced by her great-grandmother.

The Center hosts a variety of speakers and special events. Volunteers have produced a growing collection of videotaped interviews with local Belgian-Americans, and are involved with efforts to preserve the Walloon language.

For more information, visit the Belgian Heritage Center website.

And for more information about all the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, visit my website.  Happy reading!

The Belgian Farm

December 12, 2018

Every Chloe Ellefson Mystery is set at a real historic site or museum. This lets me celebrate special places, and allows readers to visit the scene of the crime.

When I planned the 9th book in the series, The Lacemaker’s Secret, I honed in on the Belgian Farm restored at Heritage Hill State Historical Park in Green Bay, WI.

The house, constructed in 1872, was originally located in Rosiere, Kewaunee County, WI. The farm belonged to John Baptist and Theresa Massart.  (To see photographs of the buildings before they were moved, visit the Belgian-American Research Collection at the UW-Green Bay Archives.)

Members of the Massart Family standing in front of their home. (Photo displayed at Heritage Hill)

The buildings were moved to Heritage Hill in 1984, and restored to show a farm typical for Belgian-American farmers in northeast Wisconsin. The timing was almost perfect; The Lacemaker’s Secret is set in late 1983, so I only needed to make a slight adjustment.

The house was built of logs and covered with a brick veneer—a practice common after the Great Fire of 1871. The low building  to the right is the limestone summer kitchen.

The Massart Farmhouse, restored at Heritage Hill State Historical Park.

When restoring any home, curators choose artifacts that help tell stories about the people who once owned, made, or used them. In the mystery, Chloe accepts a consultant job tasking her to create a furnishings plan for the farm.

The furnished kitchen—what Chloe imagined as she toured the empty farmhouse.

Some of the artifacts currently on display in the farmhouse made their way into my story.

The next lady brought two round crocheted pieces with beads added along the fringe. “Do you know what these are?”

“Doilies?” Chloe hazarded. “Maybe to put under a candlestick or vase?”

“No!” The old woman was clearly tickled to stump the curator. “My mother made these to keep insects out of beer mugs and water glasses.”

“Ah!” Chloe imagined the pieces draped in place, stymieing inquisitive hornets. “Beautiful and practical.”

Glass protectors.

Religious artifacts reflect the strong faith that saw many Belgian immigrants through difficult times.

The skirt and shoes below became Seraphine’s in the book, special attire brought from Belgian and worn to celebrate the first Kermiss.

Seraphine felt festive in her full brown skirt with green and purple stripes near the hem and the Sunday sabots Jean-Paul had carved with flowers for her.

The large log barn at the Belgian Farm, also featured in the book, came from the Lampereur family in Brussels.

Animal stalls were built into each side bay. The center bay of was used as a drive-through when unloading hay. 

 

Inside the center bay.  Note the ladder leading to the loft, and the hay fork hanging from the ceiling.

 

After the Great Fire, a few trees were damaged but standing. Farmers harvested them quickly, before disease could render them unusable for building. One log here shows a large knot left in place, and charred scars.

Incongruously, another structure mentioned in the book is visible from the Belgian Farm:  the Green Bay Correctional Institution. A plotline that involved police business at the prison let me bring cop Roelke McKenna to Green Bay for the final chapters.

One scene in The Lacemaker’s Secret is set at another historic building at Heritage Hill, the Cotton House, which dates to the 1840s.

Mr. Ernst and I had a great time exploring Heritage Hill. I hope you can plan a visit too!

Chloe Tours at Vesterheim!

October 21, 2018

Exciting news!  Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum has scheduled two special tours based on the fourth Chloe Ellefson mystery, Heritage of Darkness.

Here’s the scoop on both tours:

November 10, 2018 | 1:00-4:00 p.m.

Location: Begin at Vesterheim’s main building lobby

Join us for mystery and intrigue at the museum!

This tour is for fans of Kathleen Ernst’s Chloe Ellefson Mystery Series. Kathleen’s fourth book in the series Heritage of Darkness, is set at Vesterheim Museum.

The special tour includes:
• Vesterheim Museum admission
• Guided tour to see Vesterheim artifacts and buildings featured in the mystery
• Special presentation Norwegian Courtship & Betrothal Gifts by woodworker Rebecca Hanna  (Note from Kathleen – Rebecca is wonderful. You’ll love her!)
• Treat break with Norwegian sweets mentioned in the book.

$20 per person

Spoiler alert: Read the book in advance—the ending will be revealed during the tour!

Reservations are due November 3, 2018
To sign up, contact Karla Brown at 563-382-9681 x107, or kbrown@vesterheim.org.

 

Heritage of Darkness Tour

November 30 | 2:00-5:00 p.m.

Location: Begin at Vesterheim’s main building lobby

Join writer Kathleen Ernst for mystery and intrigue at the museum!

This tour is for fans of Kathleen Ernst’s Chloe Ellefson Mystery Series. Kathleen’s fourth book in the series Heritage of Darkness, is set at Vesterheim Museum.

The special tour includes:

• Vesterheim Museum admission
• Guided tour to see Vesterheim artifacts and buildings featured in the mystery
• Special presentation given by Kathleen Ernst “The Chloe Ellefson Mysteries: Behind The Scenes!”
• Treat break with Norwegian sweets mentioned in the book.

 

$25 per person

Spoiler alert: Read the book in advance—the ending will be revealed during the tour!

Reservations are due November 23, 2018
To sign up, contact Karla Brown at 563-382-9681 x107, or kbrown@vesterheim.org.

# # #

I hope you can enjoy one of these special tours. Vesterheim is an amazing museum! I’ll also be signing Chloe books in the gift shop on December 1, from 1-4 PM during Vesterheim’s Norwegian Christmas celebration.

Belgian Pies

October 15, 2018

There are lots of fun things about writing a mystery series that celebrates ethnic heritage. One of those is the chance to explore food traditions.

When I started researching The Lacemaker’s Secret, which focuses on Belgian immigrants in northeast Wisconsin, I quickly discovered the importance of Belgian pies.

Belgian pies are a staple of Kermiss, the annual celebration of thanks for a good harvest:

“Then came the baking, which in the early days could only be done in outdoor ovens. …The Belgian pie! What would the Kermiss be without the famous delicacy, the crust of which was made of dough, spread over with prunes or apples and topped with homemade cottage cheese. So tasty it was that one bite invited another.”  (Math S. TlachacThe History of the Belgian Settlements.)

The outdoor bake ovens could hold as many as three dozen pies. Children were charged with the huge jobs of pitting and grinding prunes, peeling apples, washing dishes.  It wasn’t uncommon for several women working together to produce hundreds of pies. In fact, Belgian pie-making dwindled in recent years because many of the recipes handed down were for enormous proportions.

Photo on display at the Belgian Heritage Center, Namur, WI.

My husband and I first sampled Belgian pie while attending the Kermiss held at the Belgian Heritage Center.

Belgian Pies

An efficient storage system. They were going through the pies fast.

 

An enthusiastic thumbs-up from Mr. Ernst.

Belgian pies are smaller than American pies. Most consist of a yeast-raised dough, a fruit filling, and a top layer of cheese. Traditional flavors are apple and prune. Rice pies are also traditional. Those are topped with whipped cream instead of the cheese.

To learn more, I signed up for a class taught by Gina Guth in Door County. Gina has deep Belgian roots on her mother’s side, and has been making pies for years.  In addition to baking for Kermiss, her mom made thousands of pies for customers at the family tavern.  Gina has adapted recipes for home use.

This wonderful photo of Gina’s mother appeared in the Appleton, WI’s Post-Crescent newspaper, 1969.

During class, Gina provided four types of pie for us to try:  apple, prune, Door County cherry, and rice.

The cheese topping is made with cottage cheese sweetened with butter, sugar, and egg yolks.

Gina demonstrates squeezing excess liquid from the cottage cheese.

The dry curds.

Each student got to make two pies. I chose to make cherry and rice. The dough is pressed into the bottom of pie pans, then almost covered with the topping.

If you live within driving distance of Sturgeon Bay, WI, I recommend Gina’s class at The Flour Pot bakery.  Individuals can also register through the St. Norbert College Outreach/Cooking Class program.


As is true in any community, local bakers don’t always agree on the elements of a traditional Belgian pie. For another take, with recipes, see Edible Door County.

Ethnic Cooking Wisconsin Style (American Cancer Society, 1982) includes several Belgian Pie recipes.

Ethnic

This cookbook includes directions for making the more traditional dry cottage cheese topping.  It calls for blending 1 pound of cottage cheese, 1-1/2 T. sugar, 1 egg, 1 T. whipping cream, a dash of cinnamon, and 1/4 t. salt.  Force the mixture through a sieve, and spread onto pies (this amount covers 4 pies) before baking.

If your book group is reading A Lacemaker’s Secret, why not make a Belgian Pie?

You can also find them, fresh or frozen, at Marchant’s Foods in Brussels, Wisconsin.

piesign

frozenpies

Happy reading, and happy baking!