The author of the Maggie Hope Mystery series
writes about KBO, cocktails, code-breaking, and red lipstick.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mr. (and Mrs.) Churchill's Christmas Card

It's that most wonderful time of year again, but with everything going on, we probably won't get our cards out by Christmas — and so we're doing a New Year's "Happy 2010!" card.

However, I'm sure Mrs. Clementine Churchill was never late with her holiday cards. Above is one that Mr. and Mrs. Churchill sent, featuring one of Sir Winston's paintings.

It's now on exhibit at the Redbridge Museum, located in Ilford, just outside London. Their description reads as follows:

This Christmas card was donated to Redbridge Museum by Vera Wilson, who was for many years the Secretary of the Wanstead and Woodford Conservative Association. The card's cover is a reproduction of one Churchill's paintings. Churchill was an accomplished artist and took great pleasure in painting. It often helped to relieve the depression he suffered from, or as he termed it, the 'Black Dog'. He is best known for his impressionist scenes of landscape, many of which were painted on holiday in the South of France of Morocco. He continued throughout his life and there are around 500 paintings in existence, most of which belong to his family or at his home at Chartwell, Kent.

Production Date:

1945 - 1964

ID no:

REBMR_1997.1349 a-c

Object size:

W 12.5cms (a), L 17cms (a)


Churchill, Winston (paintings)


Redbridge Museum

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mr. Churchill's 2010 Golden Globe Nominations!

Congratulations, HBO/BBC's Into the Storm !

Nominees for the 67th Golden Globe Awards include HBO's Into the Storm for Best Television Miniseries or movie, Brenden Gleeson (Winston Churchill) for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, and Janet McTeer (Clementine Churchill) for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or movie.

The movie takes look at not only Winston Churchill's leadership during World War II, but why, after leading his country to victory, he was voted out of office in 1945 (losing the position of Prime Minister to the Labour Party's Clement Attlee).

Read the Washington Post's review here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mr. Churchill's Brandy

Hello kittens! One of my birthday presents to myself this year was the gorgeous book, MixShakeStir: Recipes from Danny Meyer's Acclaimed New York City Restaurants. It's the gift that keeps on giving, believe me.

I was looking for a good brandy to use in their recipe for a classic Brandy Crusta, when I came across Astor Wines & Spirits's  Eniseli Georgian Brandy. Their copy says it was a favorite of Winston Churchill's.


I was not convinced. First off, Churchill was a known Francophile — why would he favor a Russian brandy? And it's a clever marketing tactic, of course, linking a luxury good, such as a brandy, to Winston Churchill. But after a bit of research (all right, googling. But still....), it turns out to have a bit of evidence on its side. From Russian Cigar Clan Magazine:


The history has it that the first brandy distillery appeared in
Armenia in 1887. Then first-guildmerchant Nerses
Tairyan built on the territory of the ancient castle Sardar
Khana a smalldistillery and equipped it with devices for
creating brandy under classical French technology.

However, the enterprise reached its hey-day in 1898,
when it was acquired by Nikolay Shustov, well-known
in Russia vodka and liqueur producer and seller. Soon
“Shustov and Sons” partnership became appointed
supplier of His Imperial Majesty’s court. Although,
Shustov’s brandy was officially acknowledged not
only in Russia, but in France, too, when at the
International Exhibition in Paris in 1900 after a blind
tasting it got the Grand-Prix and the legal tight to be
called ‘cognac’, not ‘brandy’.

The brandy glory did not diminish in the Soviet time.
It was incredibly popular with statesmen. Winston
Churchill was known to be a great admirer of the
‘Armenian cognac’, he first tasted the drink at the
Yalta conference. The British Prime-Minister ordered
up to 400 bottles of brandy per year, stubbornly calling
it “Shustov’s”, which made Stalin hit the roof. Agatha
Christie and Frank Sinatra loved this brandy, too.

Love the image of Churchill calling it "Shustov's" — just to tick off Stalin.

P.S. Here's the recipe for Brandy Crusta:

1.5 oz Brandy
0.25 oz Maraschino liqueur
0.5 oz Cointreau
0.25 oz lemon juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
Lemon peel spiral and sugared rim for garnish

Cut a lemon in half and moisten the rim of the glass with the lemon. Then heavily coat the rim with sugar. Completely peel one of the lemon halfs in a ½ inch wide piece of lemon peel. Fill glass with ice leaving enough room to place the peel in glass. Cut one of the lemon halfs in half again in order to get a quarter of the lemon. Juice the lemon quarter and add the juice to the brandy, maraschino, Cointreau, and bitters. Shake with ice for 10 seconds and then strain into prepared glass.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Creed's Windsor

Recently we chatted about Lord Randolph and Sir Winston's fragrance, Bleinheim Bouquet (1902). This year, the venerable 250-year-old French perfume house, Creed, has introduced a new fragrance, albeit inspired by Great Britain of the past, called Windsor.

According to Creed, the Windsor fragrance was:

... created in 1936 for King Edward VIII of England from ingredients grown in the British Empire. Edward was the first air pilot to be king, and Windsor is presented in a shatterproof 1.7 oz. leather wrapped bottle ideal for aircraft carry-on (or in an 8.4 oz. flacon numbered by laser and signed by sixth-generation master perfumer Olivier CREED).

Edward made headlines when he quit the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. He wore Windsor as king and later when he and his wife began a new life in Paris as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, superstars of international society.

Classification: Citrus / Green. Windsor is as subtle as the Duke of Windsor’s hand-tailored suits, shirts and ties, following his philosophy, "Royalty need not shout"

  • Top Note: Windsor is a tour of the British Empire Edward once ruled. Its top note is British gin, Jamaican lime and a touch of Scottish highland pine.
  • Middle Note: "Duke of Windsor" roses, those he preferred in his own garden, the Nuits de Young variety.
  • Bottom Note: Bahamian orange, Canadian cedar and a dab of Australian eucalyptus.

So, now for my own snarky take.... First off, King Edward VIII, who was renamed the Duke of Windsor after he abdicated the throne (and his wife, Mrs. Simpson, for that matter), are on record as being admirers of Nazi Germany in the 1930s — note the lack of reference to that or any "German" fragrance notes. (Edelweiss? No, wait — that's Austrian.)

Second, Edward and Mrs. Simpson were ultimately banished to the Bahamas during World War II (the Duke of Windsor was the British Ambassador to the Bahamas), which makes the note of "Bahamian orange" all the more amusing. (The Bahamas post was considered to be a punishment for the couple's German involvement and a way to remove them from Europe.)

Third, "Royalty need not shout"? Oh, for pity's sake...

Still, I'd give it a sniff, maybe next time I'm at Aedes. The notes sound promising (gin, lime, pine and rose). However, at over $400 per bottle, it's a bit rich for my blood....

Personally, I like Demeter's Gin & Tonic — and for $20 per bottle, it's a steal.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon

Hello kittens! Today's post is a bit of a cheat, since I haven't actually read the novel.

Let me explain. Recently I had an editor question one of the codes I used in Mr. Churchill's Secretary. So I took said question to a group of "wicked smaaaat" friends, who happen to be MIT graduates. Many have a long-standing interest in codes and cryptography, including the multi-talented and all-around amazing Wes Carroll.

Thanks to their collective expertise, I solved the issue in the manuscript. They also (collectively!) recommended a book, Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. I'm a little busy with my own book at the moment, but I bought Cryptonomicon and am looking forward to reading it. (Until then, I'm using it as a doorstop, since it's — gasp! — 1168 pages.)

Here's Cryptonomicon's description (from HarperCollins):

With this extraordinary first volume in what promises to be an epoch-making masterpiece, Neal Stephenson hacks into the secret histories of nations and the private obsessions of men, decrypting with dazzling virtuosity the forces that shaped this century.

In 1942, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse - mathematical genius and young Captain in the U.S. Navy - is assigned to detachment 2702. It is an outfit so secret that only a handful of people know it exists, and some of those people have names like Churchill and Roosevelt. The mission of Watrehouse and Detatchment 2702-commanded by Marine Raider Bobby Shaftoe-is to keep the Nazis ignorant of the fact that Allied Intelligence has cracked the enemy's fabled Enigma code. It is a game, a cryptographic chess match between Waterhouse and his German counterpart, translated into action by the gung-ho Shaftoe and his forces.

Fast-forward to the present, where Waterhouse's crypto-hacker grandson, Randy, is attempting to create a "data haven" in Southeast Asia - a place where encrypted data can be stored and exchanged free of repression and scrutiny. As governments and multinationals attack the endeavor, Randy joins forces with Shaftoe's tough-as-nails granddaughter, Amy, to secretly salvage a sunken Nazi submarine that holds the key to keeping the dream of a data haven afloat. But soon their scheme brings to light a massive conspiracy with its roots in Detachment 2702 linked to an unbreakable Nazi code called Arethusa. And it will represent the path to unimaginable riches and a future of personal and digital liberty...or to universal totalitarianism reborn.

A breathtaking tour de force, and Neal Stephenson's most accomplished and affecting work to date, CRYPTONOMICON is profound and prophetic, hypnotic and hyper-driven, as it leaps forward and back between World War II and the World Wide Web, hinting all the while at a dark day-after-tomorrow. It is a work of great art, thought, and creative daring; the product of a truly icon

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Clover Club

So it was yet another birthday (they just keep coming, don't they?) and The Husband took me, as a surprise, to the swanky bar The Clover Club, for a little party.

The Clover Club is a Victorian-styled bar in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, and makes some of the best, most sophisticated, most delicious cocktails in the city. Really superlative. (It's another cocktail joint from Julie Steiner, who also owns art-deco-themed Flatiron Lounge in Manhattan.) The food was excellent, too. And, best of all, there was live music! A group, performing mostly Cole Porter and Gershwin and the like was playing — wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Cheers to great friends, great cocktails and great music! What more could a birthday girl want?

The Clover Club's Creed:

“Who enters here leaves care behind, leaves sorrow behind, leaves petty envies and jealousies behind.”

So went the motto of the original Clover Club, a select group of Philadelphia journalists who, from 1882 until the 1920’s met once a month at the Bellevue Hotel to eat and drink and talk. The only people the above words didn’t necessarily apply to were their guests, celebrities of the day who were invited to address the club and were heckled relentlessly once they did—the more pretentious or self-important they were, the worse they got it. But they came anyway. Maybe it was because “Major” Moses P. Handy, the club’s president, knew everyone who was anyone and was liked by them all. Or maybe it was the challenge—if you could get over with the Clover Club, you could get over anywhere. Probably, though, they came and took their lumps because of George Boldt. Boldt, you see, was the Bellevue’s manager, and—in all matters pertaining to food and drink, anyway—he was a perfectionist.

To sit at his table was worth a little ribbing. Throw in a couple of the club’s famous cocktails, and you’d be singing along with the best of ‘em: “While we live we live in clover; When we die we die all over!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Blenheim Bouquet

Established in 1870, Penhaligon's is one of London's traditional perfumers, with a long-standing and august lineage.

In the late 1860's, William Henry Penhaligon left Cornwall and moved to London to establish himself as a barber. By 1870, he had a thriving business supplying perfume to the aristocracy, including Queen Victoria.

Hammam Bouquet was the brand's first offering, in 1872. Bleinheim Bouquet came next, in 1902. It was made for Lord Randolph, Winston Churchill's father, whose residence was Bleinheim Palace.

Sir Winston is reputed to have worn Bleinheim Bouquet as well, a lemon-scented men's cologne with a good dose of pine and some woody and lavender notes. It's really pretty darn fantastic, I have to say, and just as refreshing on a woman as a man.

Although the original Penhaligan's shop, on Jermyn Street in Mayfair, was destroyed in the Blitz, the line lives on after a renaissance in the 1970s. Today there's a flagship Penhaligon's in Covent Garden, plus all sorts of ritzy department stores and posh perfume boutiques carry the line as well.

A definitely different spin on the "celebrity fragrance" idea, indeed!

Foyle's War

Hello, Friends! Well, it's going to be a short post today (because of endless novel revisions...), but I hope it's still a good one.

One of the shows I'm currently obsessed with is Foyle's War. It was a British television series now available on disk. The acting and directing are first-rate and the attention to historical detail, of the south coast of England during the spring of 1940, is fantastic. Here's a description:

In early World War II Britain, as British soldiers and pilots valiantly resist the German forces on land and in the air, their kinsmen at home face head-on the effects of the awful war that has engulfed their nation. Food rationing, black-outs, German bombing raids, all these and more are daily reminders that no one is to be spared.

For Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle of the Hastings police department, a man who served his country in World War I and then rose through the ranks of the police force to his current position, sitting on the sidelines during this war is frustrating. Requesting more direct involvement but continually rebuffed by his superior officer, DCS Foyle is further frustrated by a shortage of manpower that impedes his powers of policing.

As Foyle quickly learns, however, the role he plays is in no way a small one, for the war has certainly not brought a cessation of crime. If anything, it has intensified the heinous nature of domestic crime when carried out against innocent people already suffering, sacrificing, and struggling to persevere in such a brutal time.

Each episode of Foyle's War, created by Anthony Horowitz (Midsomer Murders), blends real-life war stories with tales of treachery and suspense. Whether investigating sabotage, looting, stolen food or fuel supplies, police brutality of conscientious objectors, treason, or murder, Foyle and his colleagues must wage their own personal war amidst the tumult of a larger one. But more than a period whodunnit, Foyle's War is redolent with rich human drama subtly revealed through the lives of these main characters who make up the heart of the series. Steadfast and loyal to each other, they strive to uphold the values for which they and their countrymen - their loved ones - are fighting and dying.