Seven Holiday Gifts: Week Four

The Bluestocking Belles bring you a  gift, a bit of holiday fiction, a recipe, and some holiday information every week until January. Today I’m pleased to write about the hero and heroine from An Open Heart, my own contribution to the Belles’ anthology, Holly and Hopeful Hearts. Adam and Esther celebrate Hanukkah with friends.

Don’t forget,  Holly and Hopeful Hearts is 99 cents for this month only, and you might want to check the stories and gifts for the last three weeks as well.

The Festival of Lights

December 21, 1813

Esther-239x300 Author's Blog Bluestocking Belles Esther Halevy went to check on the candles while her husband showed their guests to the door. Five candles burned brightly, one for each of the first four nights of Hanukkah and the shamash, the one used to light the others. They would let them burn the rest of the way down, shining their light in the window for passers by, but she liked to be cautious about fire. The menorah, a silver treasure that had been a gift from her parents the first night of the festival, delighted her. God willing it would light their life for many years.

Standing with both hands on the sill behind the menorah she looked out at the darkened streets of Bishopsgate, while she listened to the men in the foyer, still deep in conversation about the state of the war in the Peninsula and Lord Castlereagh’s pending drip to Germany to deal with their allies. She couldn’t help wishing they might hurry along so she could have her husband to herself.

Still, she didn’t begrudge Adam his friendship with these men. After all, she had insisted he expand his circle of acquaintances and challenged him to attend the Duchess of Haverford’s house party. A year ago he would not have considered inviting a gentile to dinner, and would never have expected one to accept so close to his own holiday celebration. The newly elevated Earl of Chadbourn, Adam’s friend Will, had accepted with alacrity. Still in mourning for his father, Esther suspected he had been glad for something different to do this midwinter. Having Hebrew friends definitely counted as “different” for a member of the ton. That his comrade, the Marquess of Glenaire had come as well surprised her, but he had been very welcome.

The dinner had been delicious—both men professed to enjoy the traditional latkes she had used as a side dish—and the conversation lively. Lively but going on much too long, she thought, becoming impatient. She blushed at her own eagerness. In the months since they married, Esther had come to welcome the evening darkness that brought Adam home from his work, and even more the night when they retired to their marital bed. The pleasure she found there more than fulfilled the promises he made.

A rustle of sound arose while the men took their hats and coats from Jacov, the Halevy butler. With one adam-244x300 Author's Blog Bluestocking Belles last burst of laughter and good will, the soft click of the door sent them on their way. Esther watched the two of them leave from her place by the window, and her heart sped up. As she watched, the earl turned and waved to her, smiling at the candlelight.

“Wishing they stayed longer?” Adam asked against her ear. He had come up behind her and circled her waist with his arms.

“They were perfect guests, but no I don’t wish for them to linger,” she answered turning to face him. “I would rather have my husband to myself.” His kiss in response, one that heated rapidly, told her he agreed with that thought.

When at last he lifted his head, the Hanukkah candles, the only light in the room, reflected off the chiseled plains of his face. “Shall we blow out these candles and go up, my love?”

“Let Jacov watch the candles. Let’s just go up,” she replied.

His smile warmed her heart. “Enlightened couple that we are, we are in perfect agreement.” He led her to the stairs.



Hanukkah_18th_century-300x255 Author's Blog Bluestocking Belles This holiday celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Syrian Greeks in 139 BCE. More specifically it celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after the victory. The word Hanukkah means dedication. Tradition surrounding the event includes the story of a miraculous jar of oil that enabled them to keep the lamps let for the eight days of the dedication festival. Describing the holiday 250 years later, Josephus called it “The Festival of Lights.”

It appears the celebration does indeed date to the Maccabees, although it may have been based on an earlier folk festival celebrated around the time winter solstice, like those of many places and cultures. A relatively minor festival in the Jewish calendar, rabbis have a various time times tried to suppress or minimize it due to its roots being more military and nationalistic than religious, and its relationship to folk religion.

It has always been celebrated, primarily in the home. Lasting eight days, traditional celebration includes the lighting of the menorah, food fried in oil—particularly latkes—and the dreidel, a game involving a spinning top. The origins of latkes and dreidels are lost to history, but both were used in antiquity. The lighting of the menorah emphatically involves fire from candles or oil lamps; electric lights are frowned upon. It would most definitely have been celebrated in a Jewish home in the early 1800s. Family dinners and small gifts have always been a part of it.

In our own century, the Zionist movement found in Hanukkah a potent celebration of nation. In the U.S., the persistence of commercial Christmas has impacted gift giving, and the importance of Hanukkah as a tool for Jewish identity in the broader culture. It is important to remember, however, that it is not and never has been some sort of Jewish Christmas.


Recipe For Latkes

512px-LatkeFry-300x161 Author's Blog Bluestocking Belles

By Jonathunder (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Growing up in a Catholic home, I had no idea that what my mother called “potato pancakes” were similar, if not identical, to latkes. Descriptions of the difference sound like splitting hairs. There are dozens of recipes. One key difference among various versions is the amount of starch in the form of flower or crushed crackers that you add. Some recipes call for none. The other is how finely you grate or shred the potatoes. I prefer little flower and coarsely shredded potatoes. Here is a rough approximation of my mother’s method with some input from several I found on the Web.


2 cups peeled and grated potatoes

1/8-1/4 cup grated onion (to taste)

2 eggs beaten

2-3 tbsp. flour (just enough to hold it together)

1 tsp. salt

1/4 cup peanut, olive, or canola oil

Grate or shred the potatoes as finely as you wish. Wrap them in a piece of cheesecloth or kitchen towel and roll it up. Twist the towel tightly to remove as much moisture as possible. (Some recipes call for soaking the potatoes for an hour first, but most recipes skip that step, and I never do it.) In a bowl combine the potates, eggs, onion, flour, and salt thoroughly.

In a heavy skillet heat the oil until hot but not smoking. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the potato mixture into the oil, frying as many latkes as will fit at one time. When one side is fully brown, 3-5 minutes or more, turn and brown on the other side.

Drain on paper towels

Serve with sour cream and applesauce.

My Gift To You

My gift to my readers this holiday season, is a preview copy of Lady Charlotte’s Christmas Vigil, an as yet-unpublished holiday novella. It will disappear after December and be published later in 2017. You can save your copy now in my secret cave of treasures.

Adam’s friend Will finds his own love in A Dangerous Nativity, a free holiday novella.


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An Excerpt from An Open Heart

(Hanukkah being in November in 1812, it wasn’t celebrated during the Duchess’s house party. The Duchess, however, went out of her way to be inclusive.)

“Indulge me before we go up to dress for dinner,” Her Grace began. “By happy coincidence, today is not only Christmas, but very shortly, it will also be the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath.” She gestured toward a window through which the sun could clearly be seen dipping below the horizon. “As you know, this time is sacred to some of our guests. Since they have been gracious enough to share our celebration, it behooves us to share theirs, no?” She raised a hand in a graceful gesture, and liveried servant wheeled a teacart with silver candlesticks, a decanter of wine, and a loaf of bread laid out upon it.

The duchess spoke directly to Adam, who stood several feet away. “Mr. Halevy, would you be so kind as to lead us in your blessing?”

Adam looked back with an inscrutable expression. Esther feared he would refuse. Can he bear to be singled out this way? She glanced frantically around the room, fearing she might see disdain. She found none, except perhaps on Lady Stanton’s perpetually sour expression. She appeared to grumble to someone beside her. For the rest, Esther saw nothing but interest. Can Adam feel their good will?

He bowed before the duchess moments later. “I would be happy to oblige you, Your Grace, but it is customarily the lady of the house who says the Sabbath blessing. Might I suggest instead that Miss Baumann lead us?” He turned and looked directly at Esther.

Every eye in the room followed his, and her heart dropped to her belly. Felicity clapped her hands; Cedrica Grenford smiled approvingly; the Weasel seemed merely curious. Hythe’s habitual expression of good cheer restored her composure.

“Well, my dear?” the duchess asked.

Esther forced her feet forward and curtseyed. “Of course, Your Grace. It would be my honor.” She stepped to the teacart, made sure all was in place, and pulled her shawl, all silvery lace, up over her head before she smiled around the room at large. “For the sake of the company, I’ll use English, I think.”

Her hands didn’t shake when she lit the candles or when she waved them over the flames with infinite care once, twice, three times. She covered her face with steady fingers and prayed silently for a moment. Then she raised her voice:

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe

Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us

To light the lights of Shabbat.

“Amen.” She heard Adam murmur it quietly but firmly and lowered her hands, opening them to look down on the Sabbath lights, memories of home, her grandmother, and other Sabbaths filling her.

About Holly and Hopeful Hearts 

Holly-and-Hopeful-Hearts-200x300 Author's Blog Bluestocking Belles When the Duchess of Haverford sends out invitations to a Yuletide house party and a New Year’s Eve ball at her country estate, Hollystone Hall, those who respond know that Her Grace intends to raise money for her favorite cause and promote whatever marriages she can. Eight assorted heroes and heroines set out with their pocketbooks firmly clutched and hearts in protective custody. Or are they?

$2.99 normally for 570+ pages, eight all-new novellas. 25% of proceeds go to the Malala Fund for girl’s education, the duchess’s favorite sort of charity.


About the Novellas:

A Suitable Husband, by Jude Knight

As the Duchess of Haverford’s companion, Cedrica Grenford is not treated as a poor relation and is encouraged to mingle with Her Grace’s guests. Perhaps among the gentlemen gathered for the duchess’s house party, she will find a suitable husband?

Marcel Fournier has only one ambition: to save enough from his fees serving in as chef in the houses of the ton to become the proprietor of his own fine restaurant. An affair with the duchess’s dependent would be dangerous. Anything else is impossible. Isn’t it?

Valuing Vanessa, by Susana Ellis

Facing a dim future as a spinster under her mother’s thumb, Vanessa Sedgely makes a practical decision to attach an amiable gentleman who will not try to rule her life.

The last thing widower George Durand thinks he wants is another wife, but his difficult daughter is proving difficult to handle. In any case, the admirable Miss Sedgely is far too young for him.

A love match is not even a remote consideration for these two. Or is it?

A Kiss for Charity, by Sherry Ewing

Young widow Grace, Lady de Courtenay, has no idea how a close encounter with a rake at a masquerade ball would make her yearn for love again. Lord Nicholas Lacey is captivated by a lovely young woman he encounters at a masquerade. Considering the company she keeps, she might be interested in becoming his mistress. From the darkened paths of Vauxhall Gardens to a countryside estate called Hollystone Hall, Nicholas and Grace must set aside their differences in order to let love into their hearts.

Artemis, by Jessica Cale

Actress Charlotte Halfpenny is in trouble. Pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and out of a job, Charlotte faces eviction two weeks before Christmas. When the reclusive Earl of Somerton makes her an outrageous offer, she has no choice but to accept. Could he be the man of her dreams, or is the nightmare just beginning?

The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, by Jude Knight

James must marry to please his grandfather, the duke, and to win social acceptance for himself and his father’s other foreign-born children. But only Lady Sophia Belvoir makes his heart sing, and to win her he must invite himself to spend Christmas at the home of his father’s greatest enemy.

Sophia keeps secret her tendre for James, Lord Elfingham. After all, the whole of Society knows he is pursuing the younger Belvoir sister, not the older one left on the shelf after two failed betrothals.

Christmas Kisses, by Nicole Zoltack

Louisa Wycliff, Dowager Countess of Exeter wants only for her darling daughter, Anna, to find a man she can love and marry. Appallingly, Anna has her sights on a scoundrel of a duke who chases after every skirt he sees. Anna truly thinks the dashing duke cares for her, but her mother has her doubts.

When Lady Exeter insists on Anna befriending a marquis’s son, a man Anna thinks is far too crude, Anna learns all about the trials her mother went through to find love herself. Only time will tell if Anna can find true love this Christmas season.

An Open Heart, by Caroline Warfield

Esther Baumann longs for a loving husband who will help her create a home where they will teach their children to value the traditions of their people, but she wants a man who is also open to new ideas and happy to make friends outside their narrow circle. Is it so unreasonable to ask for toe curling passion as well?

Adam Halevy prospered under the tutelage of his distant cousin, powerful banker Nathaniel Baumann. He’s ready to find a suitable wife, someone who understands a woman’s role, and will make a traditional home. Why is Baumann’s outspoken, independent daughter the one woman who haunts his nights?

Dashing Through the Snow, by Amy Rose Bennett

Miss Kate Woodville, teacher and bluestocking, enjoys her independence, thank you very much. But when a very determined viscount insists she accompany him on a mad dash through the snow to Gretna Green to stop his younger sister, Violet, eloping with Kate’s own brother, she has little choice but to go. She’ll risk the ruin of her own pristine reputation if it means she can save Freddie from Lord Stanton’s wrath.

As they race along the road north and then back to Hollystone Hall in Buckinghamshire for a New Year’s Eve charity ball, hearts and wills are certain to collide. But will anyone—Freddie and Violet, or Kate and Lord Stanton—find the path to everlasting love?

Buy Links for Holly and Hopeful Hearts 

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