Miss Mina's Blog

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Friday Tip 

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Today’s tip is for teachers, but before we get to it, a related question:

If I were to teach at BurlyCon, what would you want to learn from me?

Here’s your tip!
Before teaching a new class for the first time, try it out on a test audience.

A small group of friends works well, especially if you have mix of people –some who know something about your topic and some who know nothing about it. You can get valuable feedback from both groups to improve and polish your class.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

In the Kitchen: Christmas Pudding 

Dear Constant Reader,

You may have seen the title of this missive and thought “Mina, Christmas pudding? Christmas is like a year away. Can’t you read a calendar?” Fear not, O Reader, for this pudding wants to be made well in advance and aged like a fine wine or cheese. The longer it sits, the better it tastes. The last pudding I served had been aging for about 16 months and was just amazing.

Now, one does not *have* to age a Christmas pudding — there are Victorian recipes for puddings to be made and eaten right away — nor does one even have to use alcohol for an unaged pudding (the temperance movement, you know), but those are not the kind of pudding we’re going to make.

This pudding is going to be steamed and will require some specialized equipment, which I shall discuss in another missive.

You need a vast array of ingredients (so many I couldn’t get them all in the shot), thusly:

Flour, bread crumbs, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, mace, various dried fruits, nuts, lemon, eggs, suet, and booze.

The most important ingredient is suet. Suet is a white fat from around beef kidneys and has a very neutral flavor. Any other beef fat (aka tallow) can have a kinda meatish taste. I’m told there is vegetarian suet out there and some people have used vegetable shortening in steamed puddings, but I don’t know how well it ages.

The suet should be grated. I find it’s easiest to freeze it and then grate it with a food processor. If you’re grating by hand, keep it cold, so it stays firm. If it starts to get mushy, put it back in the fridge for a bit. Once I’ve grated a batch of suet, I split it into 4-ounce portions and freeze them until I need them for pudding.

Equally important is the booze. I use rum, but you could also use brandy or bourbon, really whatever brown liquor you prefer. You need this for the aging process. Also for the flaming, but that’s quite a ways away.

Combine the flour, bread crumbs, sugar, salt, and spices in a big bowl. I make my own bread crumbs, but you could use purchased plain crumbs.

Add the fruit and nuts. I use a mix of raisins, golden raisins, currants, dried cranberries, dried sour cherries (from my tree), and candied citron. Sometimes I add candied orange peel, but I didn’t make any this Christmas, so I didn’t have any to hand. You could pretty much add any dried fruit you liked, as long as it was cut into little bits, about raisin-sized. You’ll want 5-ish cups of fruit. For the nuts, I use slivered almonds, but you could substitute your favorite nut, chopped into bits. Toast the nuts for better flavor.

Peel the lemon and chop the zest finely. Add to the batter. Hang on to the rest of the lemon.

Toss the fruit around in the dry ingredients until they’re coated. This will keep the fruit from clumping up and sticking together.

Add the suet and mix it in. Lightly beat the eggs and mix them in. Juice the lemon and add the juice and then the rum. At this point it’s going to be easiest to mix with your hands.

Your pudding batter is ready to be molded and steamed! Steaming is a bit of a process and deserves its own missive. I’ll cover that next week.

Here’s the recipe I use. It’s not based on a specific historic recipe, although I was inspired by Kathleen Curtin‘s workshop at Plimoth Plantation and the book Lobscouse and Spotted Dog.

Christmas Pudding
1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups bread crumbs
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon each ground mace, nutmeg, and ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup dried currants
1 cup rasins
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried sour cherries
1/2 dried cranberries
1/3 cup candied citron
1/3 cup candied orange peel
3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 oz. suet, finely grated
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup rum

Combine the flour, bread crumbs, sugar, salt, and spices in a big bowl.

Add the fruit, nuts, and lemon peel.

Toss the fruit with the dry ingredients so they’re coated. This will keep the fruit from clumping up and sticking together.

Add the suet and mix it in. Mix in the lightly beaten eggs. Add the lemon juice and then the rum. Mix with your hands.

Stay tuned for the next step!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Happy Birthday 

Dear Constant Reader,

It’s my birthday today! The big celebration was yesterday when Scratch stunned me with a surprise party at one of my favorite restaurants. I thought we were just going for a quiet brunch, but when I walked in a huge group of friends were already there. I had no idea!

I wanted to give you all a birthday present, dear readers! I love the backlighting on this and the Delsarte pose.

Photo by George Ross. Robe by Catherine D’Lish.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Friday Tip 

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Here’s your tip:

Creating the order of acts for a show is an art and a science.

When creating a show’s running order, there are artistic decisions and practical ones.

On the artistic side: Creating a show that flows smoothly and is interesting. Spacing out acts of a similar mood or tempo. Also, spacing out variety acts. Placing particularly strong/exciting/crowd-pleasing acts to start and end the show. If there’s a story line, making sure the acts tell the story clearly.

On the practical side: Making sure everyone doing multiple numbers has time to change costumes. Keeping acts with a lot of set up and/or clean up separated. Trying to accommodate performer’s preferences about the order of their acts (e.g. the one with the complicated costume goes first). If there’s a story line, making sure the acts tell the story clearly.

Scratch tends to use spreadsheets, like the one above, for a clear picture of the show.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Small Kindnesses 

Dear Constant Reader,

It’s been a couple of lousy months, dear reader, and I’ve been feeling a bit down. I try to be positive in public fora, like here, but there’s been a lot of self-doubt in my life. Am I just shouting into the void? Does what I do make any difference?

Yesterday, I posted a picture for Valentine’s Day on various social media and received this comment on Instagram from one of my former B.A.B.E. students:

Awesome. Absolutely awesome. Much love. It’s been 7 years since I’ve seen you, but will never forget how empowered I felt– and still do every time I hear Peggy Lee’s version of “Fever.”❤

I was touched. Moved to tears, in fact. It was exactly what I needed to remind me that yes, what I do does make a difference. Thank you so much.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Valentine’s Day Treat 

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Valentine’s Day to those who celebrate it and happy Wednesday to those who don’t. And for those who were celebrating Mardi Gras yesterday, I hope your hangover has eased by now.

Whatever you celebrate or not, here’s a sweet treat for you from me.

Mina curtain
Photo by George Ross

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

In the Kitchen: Blini 

Dear Constant Reader,

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras! And Shrove Tuesday! And Maslenitsa*!

At The Manor that means pancakes. Actually it means blini. Blini are Slavic yeast-raised buckwheat pancakes that are fairly involved to make. Usually we made quick blini, which are easy and good, but don’t have the flavor you only get with a yeast batter. Then I found Ruth Reichl’s recipe, which is much simpler than traditional blini and still so delicious.

1/4 cup buckwheat flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill, my go-to for unusual grains)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon yeast
4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 cup milk
2 eggs

Mix together flours, sugar, salt, and yeast. The sugar is just there to give the yeast something to eat. These pancakes aren’t going to be very sweet.

Melt the butter into the milk in a small saucepan. Cool until it’s just warm. If you put a drop of milk on the inside of your wrist and it doesn’t feel hot, it’s about the right temperature for the yeast. Whisk the milk mixture into the dry ingredients.

Cover the bowl — plastic wrap is fine — and put it someplace warm to rise until doubled. My fancy new oven has a bread proof setting, but I used to set the bowl next to one of our cast-iron radiators. Rising will probably take about an hour and a half. Once it’s doubled, whisk in the eggs.

Now stash the batter in the fridge until the next day (that’s why I’m giving you the recipe today instead of tomorrow). You could make your blini right away, but they’re better if the batter rests overnight. Stir the batter well before using and let it sit at room temperature just a bit to get the chill off.

To cook, generously butter a frying pan or griddle. Really be generous with the butter. Maslenitsa means “Butter Week”. Pour out some batter into the hot pan. You can make huge blini the size of the pan or little bitty ones. Totally up to you, but they should be thin. The blini only need to cook for about a minute on a side. The first couple are going to be terrible looking, so eat them right away before anyone can see the evidence.

As the blini come out of the pan, put them into a low oven (about 200F) to stay warm.

Serve with melted butter, sour cream, jam, and/or caviar. If your blini are thin enough, you can roll them around the fillings for an elegant presentation. I usually don’t bother.

I served the ones in the photo with sour cream and homemade sour cherry jam.

Enjoy!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

*which actually starts today, but it lasts a week.

Friday Tip 

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Sometimes we perform in spaces that aren’t exactly theatres and the dressing room is nowhere near the stage. Today’s tip is a simple way to make sure you don’t miss your cue.

A baby monitor lets you hear what’s happening on stage.

Some theatres have an intercom system so the performers can hear the stage while they’re in the dressing rooms. This is our low-budget version. We stick the transmitter somewhere unobtrusive near the stage and set up the receiver in our dressing room/green room/backstage area. We even have two receivers, just in case we’re spit up.

It was really useful at our show at Deacon Giles last week (where I took the blurry photo). Our backstage (the distillery) is separated from the stage (in the tasting room) by a soundproof glass door. We could see Scratch introducing us, but not hear a word he said! The monitor was a show saver.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

The Boston BeauTease Do It Again 2/2/18 

Dear Constant Reader,

This past Friday we were performing at Deacon Giles Speakeasy Lab in Salem. It’s a small space, so we do two shows, an early and a late. As usual for us, there aren’t any performance photos or video, alas.

Since it was Groundhog Day, Scratch had a fun idea for the show. Every act ended with a snippet of “I Got You Babe” and then Scratch went into his introduction. The same introduction every time. Perhaps a bit more frantic or frustrated or bored, as the evening went on. That was the obvious reference. I’ll see if you can figure out the more subtle one.

  • Betty Blaize: “Harlem Nocturne” (Les Brown)
  • Artemisia Vulgaris: “Love Potion No. 9” (Artemisia singing)
  • Mina Murray: “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” (Ute Lemper)
  • Brigitte Bisoux: “Night Train” (Harry Zimmerman)
  • Devastasia: “Tombstone Blues” (Johnny Staccato)
  • Scratch: Magic
  • Mina Murray: “Harlem Nocturne” (Sam Taylor and His All-Stars)
  • Devastasia: “Love Potion No. 9” (Herb Alpert and His Tijuana Brass)
  • Artemisia Vulgaris: “Mack the Knife” (Bobby Darren)
  • Betty Blaize: “Night Train” (Alvino Rey)
  • Brigitte Bisoux: “Tombstone Blues” (Ronnie Magri and His New Orleans Jazz Band)
  • Did you get it? Do you see what we did there? Each half of the show was the exact same set of songs, only different arrangements and very different styles of acts. We’re so clever.

    We’re also so clever in that the plan was that everyone would use one existing act and create one new one. It turned out that I used two existing numbers, because Artemisia was so in love with “Mack the Knife” (I use the German version), while she created one new act and learned a song.

    We had some fun and excitement backstage. Just before the doors opened, Brigitte was getting out her pasties for “Tombstone Blues” and being a little smug that she only had to put on one pair for the whole evening, since “Night Train” was a tap dance with no stripping. Then one of the tassels just exploded into it’s component strands. Yikes! What to do?

    First we realized that Betty had a pair of tasseled pasties that would match Brigitte’s outfit, but she was wearing them for one of her numbers. However, since Betty was wearing them for the first act and Brigitte would need them to close the show, there would be plenty of time for a hand-off. Then Betty asked if I had black thread in my emergency kit (yes) and said she had repaired tassels before. Before the second show, that tassel was good as new and ready to be twirled!

    In Betty’s version of “Night Train”, she’s a computer geek who gets super excited about technology. At the climax, she rips off her t-shirt. She forgot to pack a second shirt for the later show, but Deacon Giles provided her (and the rest of us) with shirts.

    Guilted Lily, our favorite stage kitten, came all the way from RI to help out and insisted on wearing the torn shirt *and* having Betty sign it and then her boobs. You can see it happen right here:

    And here’s a bonus picture of Lily wearing Scratch’s hat & jacket. I think it’s no contest — she wore it better!

    After the show we hung out and had marvelous cocktails with the staff. Mine was a simple mulled cider with spiced rum.

    We’ll probably be back in a couple of months. If you want to see us sooner than that, we’ll be at the Mardi Gras Ball on Saturday with a brand-new group number and I’ll be reprising my fan dance from this show.

    M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

    Friday Tip 

    Dear Constant Reader,

    Happy Friday! Tonight I’ll be at Deacon Giles in Salem for The Boston BeauTease Do It Again, our tribute to Grounhog Day. It’s a clever premise, which I’m not going to spoil for you. Come to the show and see if you can figure it out!

    Also Universal will be at the early show giving away goodies and tickets for Fifty Shades Free! And of course there will be creative cocktails made with Deacon Giles’ very own spirits, distilled right behind our stage!

    And here’s your tip:
    In a pinch, conditioner can be used as shaving cream.

    Conditioner is particularly good for shaving areas of coarse hair because its purpose is to soften, which makes for an easier shave.

    M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

    These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.