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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Taking the Cake!

I know that Erin is our resident baker here at the Lady Scribes.  It's a well-deserved reputation, too.  I know, I've tasted her cupcakes!  Yum!

I do have a certain fascination with desserts myself, though.  I'm known in my family for my pies. (My Grandma taught me the tricks.)  My friends and neighbors start asking in December when they can expect some of my Christmas goodies.  I make a mean trifle and I have a couple of fabulous cookie recipes.  But there is one area I am fascinated with--but have no skill for.

Birthday cakes.

I love them.  They can be anything!  I love to have a great birthday cake serve as the centerpiece for a party theme.  When I first had kids I envisioned myself baking elaborate cakes that would elicit sighs of admiration.

Yeah, not so much.

For my Eldest's first birthday, my Mom made the cake, an adorable train made with different candies.  For his second birthday, I was determined to do the job.  I figured I'd start easy, with the tried and true molded pan and star tipped icing bag.  Here's the result:

Meh.

For my Youngest's first birthday I got ambitious.  This was in the day before you could buy rolled fondant.  I decided to make my own and decorate the cake to look like birthday gifts.  Not one of the guests understood that that was what it was supposed to be.



So, I finally got smart and found a wonderfully creative cake decorator to hire.  Cinda's Creative Cakes is fab--if you are in the Raleigh area, hire her!  Click on her name to check out her amazing work!



These days, though, as the kids get older and I get busier, our birthdays are more subdued.  We always mark the day with friends, a special meal and dessert, but my big party planning days are much fewer and far between now.

Not so with the heroine from Unbuttoning Miss Hardwick, my next release--due out in just 2 weeks!  Chloe Hardwick flees her position as assistant to Lord Marland, the Marauding Marquess.  Her organizational skills land her a place with the marquess's sister, helping to plan a party--the event of the Season.  I learned a lot researching the book and I wrote an article at my website about Regency Party Planning and the elaborate desserts that were such a big part of it.  You can read it here.


How about you guys?  Are you a baker?  Do watch Charm City Cakes and Cupcake Wars and dream? Can you make a better birthday cake than I can.  (I hope so!  :-) )  Tell me about your triumphs and disasters and I'll send an advanced copy of Unbuttoning Miss Hardwick to a randomly selected commenter! 

59 comments:

  1. Hey Deb- Let me say I try to be a baker. I made my daughters first birthday cake. It was alright, not great, but not bad. I got cake molds to make cakes. I ended up giving them away.

    However, it wasn't until we went back to Cali and I saw an episode of cupcake wars (by the way, LOVE that show). Anyways, I decided to work on cupcakes. I have to say cupcakes are little bit easier than cakes. So, I have made a mint frosting chocolate cupcake (not bad, but the batter needs a little work); a raspberry cream cheese frosting lemon cupcake (raspberry frosting was tad bit runny); the coconut cupcake (now that one is the best out of the bunch).

    When I lived in Cali my friend and I would make cupcake runs. I have even posted a couple of the pics on twitter of my cupcake runs. If any of you need a place to find in Cali I can tell you where to go in some areas. For instance there is Sprinkles in Beverly Hills (I know that there is other sprinkles else where). In Pasadena there is Dots (they have a coconut lime cupcake, tasty). In Poway (San Diego area) there is Cupcakes and Beyond (their salted carmel cupcake is to die for). The county I grew up in Santa Barbara there is Crush Cakes (if you go there on a Friday they have a margarita cupcake that is the best).

    Later on today I plan to attempt to make a marshmallow cupcake. We will see how that goes. Since moving to Montana I haven't found a cupcake place to die for. :(

    I hope to find some place soon. What a fun post this was and if the cupcake is not a disaster I might posted on Twitter.

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    1. Mmm...salted caramel cupcakes...

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    2. Ditto! Sprinkle's salty caramel is the best!!

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  2. Deb ~ You brave woman! You've probably heard me say before that I flunked HomeEc back in the day (Ok it was a "C" and that was generous!) No baking, no cooking, no sewing for me. I am AWFUL. I am the worst domestic goddess you'll ever meet.

    Umm, so - no - I don't make better cakes than you. I've always found someone more talented than me to do that job. I can *eat* birthday cake with the best of them, however. ;)

    I'll have to go look at your Regency Party Planning post. That sounds exciting.

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  3. Good morning, Melody! Your cupcakes sound wonderful! I make a cream cheese/chocolate cupcake that is easy and delicious, but yours sound much more complicated.

    We've just started to see Cupcake shops springing up around here in the last year. I tried one of the chain stores, but found it to be lackluster. I think I'm alone, because it is certainly popular!

    Can't wait to hear how your marshmallow cupcake turns out!

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  4. LOL, that's okay Ava. I clearly flunked birthday cake. :-)

    Yes, do go check out the Regency Party Planning. I'm truly amazed at what they could accomplish with sugar!

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  5. I cook very well and I love to do it. But once you make it science and specific, as in baking, I'm toast.. or maybe crumb cake?

    I turned to cake professionals after my first birthday cake attempt that made poor Scooby Doo came out looking more like Snoopy. I don't even have photographic evidence. Yes. It was that bad.

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    1. Too bad, Mari! I'd love to see your Scooby! You could keep me company and make me feel better. :-)

      I'm a pretty decent cook with other stuff. It's just those danged birthday cakes! I read the Wilton catalogues and think, surely I could do that! But it's not my talent...

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    2. No wonder I like you. You're just like me with the whole "ew, baking is like science" thing.

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  6. Deb,

    I can manage to bake a cake, I just can't decorate it, unless simply getting frosting on the top counts. I get sucked into The Next Great Baker each time it is on. I am amazed at the three-feet tall cakes these bakers come up with especially when moving parts are involved. It is all beyond me. I do make cookies and candy, but this is pretty much limited Christmas time though.

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  7. I'm in the same boat, Jane. Thank goodness for the Erin and Cinda's of the world!

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  8. Let's just say my cakes have a sense of humor, but my kids never minded. I'm a horrible cake baker and decorator, and I even went to cake decorating classes! My favorite cake was for my son's 9th birthday party. He was obsessed with Star Wars, so I made a Darth Vader head out of an inverted Pampered Chef bowl and a mask. I carried his head in on a platter and we sang (?) the Darth Vader theme. Dun dun da dun dun da dun. He thought it was great, but I was glad the party consisted of kids only. :D

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    1. Aw, that sounds great! My kids are big Star Wars fans too and would have loved that! Really, all we can hope is that they remember how much we love them and how hard we tried to give them a special day--and not that the cake was lopsided and the fondant too thick! :-)

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  9. I've made about 3/4 of the cakes for my kids. I did individual Thomas the train engines from molds. I did a molded 3D baseball and used the star tip to decorate (took hours and my hand cramped). Then the next year I did the same mold and added a flat sheet cake that I turned into a baseball field.

    This year both kids wanted ice cream cakes from Cold Stone. Easy and quick for me.

    I did take the first level Wilton cake decorating class from Michael's. I can use the tips and make some flowers. I can do it but I don't like it. I watched the first few seasons of Charm City Cakes and I watched a Wedding Cake show on We but I can't remember the name now. I always wanted to try learning how to blow sugar or try to make gumpaste animals. Maybe one day.

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    1. I know, Beth! You look at the star tip cakes and think--that will be no problem. I was shocked at how long it took.

      My mom watches the cake contest shows, where they have to create something spectacular in a short amount of time. I like to watch it with her occasionally, but that is not my idea of fun!

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    2. I miss watching Duff and his guys from Charm City!

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    3. I liked that one too, Catherine. They are an interesting bunch. The prices of their stuff floored me, though!

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  10. Bake? Hahahahahaha!!

    My kids have had to suffer their whole lives with a mom who buys the slice and bake cookies. Who instead of making cupcakes for their class on their birthday would make Rice Krispy treats -- EASY! And who would NEVER contemplate baking a cake unless it comes from a box, and frosting from a can. The poor babes really just don't know any better. ;D

    The good side of my lack of cooking skills - my son is a fabulous cook! Born from necessity, of course!! He just likes to eat more than my girls!! ;D

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  11. Hee--glad I could tickle your funny bone, Cynthia! LOL.

    Can you send your son over to teach mine? I've been trying to teach mine some basic cooking, but he's lazy. I'm afraid he'll live on pop tarts when he's on his own...

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    1. necessities in our house for teen cooking -- flour tortilla shells, cheese, and refried beans. He also makes rice with corn and black beans in it all the time. We're pretty sure the boy has a tape worm. ;)

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  12. I've never made cakes for our kids. Hot Builder does that. He even has a special tackle box that he keeps his cake decorating supplies in. Seriously it looks something you'd take fishing, but it's meant for cakes.

    He's made a bunny, cinderella, a castle cake, thomas the tank engine, bikini bottom with all the characters, a record...can't think of what else. LOL

    I love planning parties thought. That's my specialty.

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  13. Hi Deb!

    Aww, I think your cakes look great. Better than my cooking disasters. My poor boys, some of their cakes are flat flops.

    Congrats on your upcoming release! I can't wait to read Unbuttoning Miss Hardwick, it sounds delicious. No pun intended of course. ;)

    Tam

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    1. Hi Tam! Thank you so much for your nice words. Those are two of my "okay" attempts. But they don't live up to the glamorous images I have in my mind! :-) Or the glossy pics in the catalogues.

      I'll stick to story telling, I think!

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  14. Deb, It's an art to decorate cakes (and cupcakes). It looks sooo easy, but what a frustrating endeavor! At the start of any baking, I always envision how it will turn out. Only it doesn't. My cakes look as though they were frosted by irate welders. And they used blow torches. Don't ask. Suffice it to say, they're not the pretty things I dream them to be.

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    1. Yes, that's exactly it, Andris. It is an art. And my efforts can't live up to the glorious plans I start out with! :-)

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  15. Hot Builder is one cool Dad! We've had a lot of fun themed parties.

    My two actually acceptable attempts at cake making were a Pokeball for a Pokemon party and individual fire truck cakes for a Fire Man party. We had the local fire company come and do a safety demo for the kids and they let them crawl all over the truck. One of the firemen was seriously impressed with the little cakes. My one triumph!

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    1. FIREMAN PARTY!!!!!!!!!!!!! Too cool. You are the bomb, Deb!

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  16. Deb,

    First off, curse you for talking about cake this early in the morning. Now I'll likely have a sweet tooth all day.

    Secondly, while I can cook with the best of them and am very experimental by nature in those terms, I run, run, as fast as I can away from baking more often than not. Well, I can do it if I follow a very specific recipe...one which I already know will come out great, as long as I don't deviate. And then I DON'T deviate. At all. Because it is a chemical experiment, and I don't know enough about chemistry to get out of a high school chem lab.

    My best baking achievements come from things that start in a box, but have extra bits thrown in (extra bits that someone else figured out, not be...because of the above chem lab comments). They're not pretty (ha!!!!), but they taste fabulous. Like my Coco Lopez cake. Huge. So heavy it would make you sink to the bottom of the ocean in 2.1 seconds flat. Soooooooo freaking good.

    My mom is actually a pretty accomplished baker. She can decorate cakes with the best of them (well, using old-school techniques, since she hasn't kept up). When we were kids, every birthday had a special cake that she made. She even got called upon to make a number of wedding cakes over the years, including as recently as my brother's wedding about six years ago. But not me. If it takes longer than three minutes to slather the icing on and then sprinkle something on top, it is not gonna happen.

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  17. Sorry, Catherine!

    I have one of those, 'throw it in with the mix' recipes! A friend gave it to me. She calls it "Better than S*x Chocolate Cake" I told her it was delicious, but she clearly hadn't been doing 'it' right. :-)

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    1. Haha! This cracked me up! I had a friend who had a recipe of the same name and I found it lacking in that dept.!

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  18. I would love to see the Pokeball cake, as my daughter loves Pokemon. This year we made a butterfly cake, and she did all the decorating on the wings. I think the cakes made with love, will be the ones your kids remember.

    Congratulations on,the upcoming release of, Unbuttoning Miss Hardwick.

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    1. I looked for a pic, Gayle, but couldn't find one that didn't have other people's kids in it! :-)
      I think you are right, hopefully they just remember the love!

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  19. I love to cook, but I'm the worst baker in history! I've gotten icing on the ceiling, had more than my share of cakes fall in the middle and even managed to mess up chocolate souffle. I'm in awe of anyone who can bake. My dad is coming to visit for a week this summer and he is an excellent baker. He swears he's going to teach me the tricks of the trade!

    Your book sounds great! I can't wait to read it.

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    1. Thanks, Julie!

      We've had baby food on the ceiling--I hope the icing was easier to get cleaned off! I'm in awe that you even tried a soufflé!

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  20. Ooh, I love cakes. It is so much fun to watch those cake shows on tv! Some of their creations are amazing!
    Thanks for the giveaway!
    Jakki36 at yahoo dot com

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  21. I am the current cake maker in our family. It has been passed down through my Grandmother, then my Aunt and now me. Whenever someone has a party they call to see if I can make one, most of the time I do but sometimes not. My son is graduating from 8th grade this year (small town thing) and we're having a party, but I am not making the cake. I said I've got enough going on, with having to clean, decorate and make food..let alone just enjoy the festivities! Best cake I ever made was a Blue's Clues cake for a family friend, it turned out great and I had 5 mom's come up to me at the party asking if I could make their kids' cakes! ;)

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    1. Hi Rhi!

      You have the talent! How wonderful!

      You are right, planning a party is a lot of work! And we don't have cooks and maids to assist us, like the hostesses in the Regency..

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  22. Hi Jakki! What those bakers/confectioners can accomplish in just a few hours is amazing, isn't it?

    Check out the link to the Regency desserts too. I can scarcely believe that some of those things are made of sugar!

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  23. Well, thanks for the shout out, Deb! I do so adore baking (though these days my deadlines tend to get in the way). I can still remember the moment shortly after I married that I learned you could actually MAKE icing! Honestly, it changed my whole perception of baking, and that's when I started researching making cake from scratch too. Now, its still so rewarding to bake and know that others enjoy it. Also, I make sure to share all my recipes - they are on my website if anyone is looking for them! www.ErinKnightley.com

    And for the record - I thought your Poo cake was great looking!

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    1. Ah, I felt the very same way when I figured out you could make your own salad dressing. Scads better than the bottled stuff and healthier, too.

      I've only had your cupcakes, but I'm betting anything you make is wonderful!

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  24. I think your Pooh looks great!
    I'm an ok baker of certain cake recipes. Make a pretty good orange icing I put on an applesauce cake. The most decorative thing I do to it is swirl the frosting with an offset spatula. Once in a while I put some sprinkles on top. And, if appropriate, birthday candles.

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    1. Thanks Di!

      That's just exactly how I decorate these days, too!

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  25. I'm not only the cook but also the baker for all holidays and celebrations in my extended family. The ironic thing is that I'm a Juvenielle Type I diabetic so I can't eat most of what I cook and bake!

    Growing up my favorite place to be was in my Grandmother's kitchen and her teaching me all her secrets. She had an had an old black cast iron cook top wood stove from the 20's and everything she baked tasted like heaven. She passed down to me her handwriten receipes but after over 40's years of trying I'm still trying to get the right amounts on some of the ingredients because her receipes call for things like a handfull and a pinch and to "cook in a hot oven until done"!

    I think the most important reason everything tasted so good was because everything was cooked with love with a little wisdom thrown in!

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  26. I liked the photos of your innovative cakes. I am a good cook but I make a better pie than cupcakes or cake. I used to teach a Foods class and some days I would demonstrate 5-6 pies. my favorite is a wonderful old.-time recipe for Pineapple Pie. I am willing to share the recipe I'd anyone wants to get in touch with me.
    Joy Isley
    JWIsley@aol.com

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    1. So nice to see you here, Joy!

      I'd love to have that recipe. My mom loves pineapple and I would love to make it for her sometime.

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  27. That hardly seems fair, Jeanne! I know what you mean though. I'm the main planner/cook for our holidays too. Sometimes it would be nice to just go to someone else's house. :-)

    I was the same way with my Grandma! She taught me the pinch and dash, until-it-tastes-right method. I have her melamine bowl from the 50s and every time I use it I think of her.

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  28. Well I am a cake decorator and I think your cakes were great. As a matter of fact I am about to do my son's wedding cake. His wedding is on May 19th. . I am excited, but kind of sad too. I made my daughter's wedding cake 4 years ago too. I don't do a lot of cakes anymore, because it is just more work then I want to do at the age of 49. I do my grandchildren's and great niece's and nephew's birthday cakes still, but that's about it. My granddaughter turns 3 on June 19th and she keeps going back and forth with a dora cake (which she had last year) and a princess birthday cake.

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  29. I like to bake; probably because I have a sweet tooth & like to eat the results! I'm not very good though with as many disasters as success. I tend to stick to easy, non iced cakes. Always on the look out for good recipes; can I blame the recipe if the cake doesn't turn out quite as I anticipated.....?

    thumbelinda03@yahoo.com

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    1. I like the results too, Linda, too much! :-)

      And yes, you can *always* blame the recipe!

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  30. Thank you, Mary D! That's a compliment coming from an expert!

    It must be so special for your children--to have their mom make their wedding cake...so sweet.

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  31. I think your cakes are darling, Yankee Lady! I think everyone knows I manage a bakery for Walmart as my DDJ (dreaded day job.) However, I have been decorating cakes much longer than I've been working for Walmart. I made grocery money when I was in grad school decorating cakes for tailgate parties and frat parties (you do NOT want to know some of the cakes I made for those!)

    We have definitely had some disasters in the bakery. We did a five-tier wedding cake. The parents of the bride picked it up and took it to the church. We get a call twenty minutes after they leave. A screaming phone call.

    Mother of Bride "He dropped the cake!"

    Me "Excuse me?"

    Mother of Bride "He dropped the middle layer of the cake upside down in the parking lot!"

    Me "Does the bride know?"

    Mother of Bride "Are you kidding me?? She'll kill him!"

    We redid the layer and asked them to send someone for it in twenty minutes.

    Me "Do NOT send Daddy."

    Another time we did a cupcake cake. You know those cute cakes made of cupcakes in cute shapes. We did a ladybug for a child's first birthday. The customer arrived just as we finished it. The decorator picked it up to put it in the box and splat. The ladybug slid right off the cake board. Always remember each individual cupcake must be secured to the cake board with a dot of icing on the bottom. Thank God for customers with a sense of humor!

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    1. Hi Louisa! I thought of you when I posted this! :-)

      I think I know what you mean when you mention the frat party cakes. When I was little, like in elementary school, my uncles went through a phase where they kept buying each other naughty cakes for their birthdays. I got quite a shock once opening the fridge and confronting a 'boob' cake. Luckily, the phase was short. :-)

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  32. Heh we all know that I leave the baking to you guys. I couldn't bake a cake if my life depended on it. Although, Erin has offered to teach me the next time I come up to Raleigh and I'll be taking her up on that. My kids will thank her, I'm sure lol.

    I loved the pooh bear cake and my 4yr old saw it and had a fit. So I know that I'm going to have find someone who can make one like it this year. Thanks Deb. ;) It's adorable btw. I really wish I had taken the time in my younger years to learn but it just wasn't meant to be. Love the new cover, Deb. It is positively delicious!

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  33. I don't really bake. Your cakes look amazing. I like those cupcake and baking shows. It's nice to see creative cakes.

    bn100candg(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  34. Thanks, bn100! Cinda's cakes are really the fabulous ones!

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  35. Hi deb , wOwww that is amazing I wish I could bake a cake too so this month on my birthday I could bake my own birthday cake:), arethazhenATrocketmailDOTCOM

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  36. Many thanks to all the commenters. The winner of the signed, advanced copy of Unbuttoning Miss Hardwick is Linda! Linda, contact me with your snail mail address and I'll send it right out!

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  37. Keep on writing, great job!
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