We spent a few days in the Wiltshire countryside and I had to go to Blenheim Palace, which wasn't too far away in neighboring Oxfordshire. Yes, I've watched all twelve episodes of The First Churchills, but really I grew up with a Baroque-obsessed architect for a father. I spent weekends when I was small looking through coffee-table books bigger than I was with fantastic photographs of houses like Blenheim, Castle Howard, Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte. (Still haven't been to Castle Howard...)
Blenheim Palace is, of course, beautiful but is also fantastically well-kept. (Poor Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte were a bit shabby when I saw them in 2006.) I took a lot of photos; the best are below. We had lovely weather for our trip--right until we started to head back to the car park. The sky opened up and it started hailing. Good thing we'd already gotten in the habit of wearing our raincoats every day, no matter what.
(click to enlarge)
Blenheim Palace is awesome and all but, odd's fish m'dear, what does it have to do with The Scarlet Pimpernel? I was hoping you'd ask. The 1982 TV-movie version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, starring Anthony Andrews as Sir Percy and Jane Seymour as Marguerite, is one of my absolute favorite movies ever ever. Get this--the "Paris" scenes were filmed at Blenheim, which really doesn't look anything like Paris because the stone is all wrong. Oh, well. I still love the movie even if the producers didn't bother to find a limestone building to stand in for Paris.
Besides Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour, the rest of The Scarlet Pimpernel's fabulous cast includes Ian McKellen as revolutionary villain Chauvelin, Julian Fellowes as the Prince Regent and James Villiers as Austrian spy Baron de Batz. Based on the books The Scarlet Pimpernel and Eldorado by Baroness Orczy, this adaptation is actually better than the books (and the books are a lot of fun). As with anything I've ever seen him in, Anthony Andrews absolutely inhabits the role of Sir Percy--it's as though Sir Percy has leapt out of the book with a resounding "Odd's fish!" or "Sink me!" (Sir Percy goes around saying lots of ridiculous things while he's pretending to be an aristocratic idiot. The truth is that he's the brave and noble Scarlet Pimpernel who goes around rescuing French aristocrats from the guillotine.) There's adventure, romance, swashbuckling and fun to be had all around. Everyone I've introduced this movie to absolutely loves it. Paul only agreed to watch it because he thinks Ian McKellen is "a badass" but he ended up really liking it. My mom and I rented the VHS from Blockbuster many years ago (having seen the stage play years before that) and went on to rent it over and over while we waited for it to finally be released on DVD. The Scarlet Pimpernel never gets old! Go put it on your Netflix queue now. You can thank me later.
I have to tell you that originally I was going to do a recipe for some pan-fried quail, because, I ask you, what's more early-modern Europe than eating teeny little birds? It's not that the quail were a disaster, they weren't even bad, just disappointing. You know the feeling when you've done all this work and it's just all right? Yeah. It happens to food bloggers, too. So, I'm going to share a recipe that doesn't have a darn thing to do with The Scarlet Pimpernel or Blenheim Palace except that they would make an excellent treat for a viewing (of either--got to keep your energy up). Flapjacks are chewy with a delicious butterscotch/caramel taste. They have lots of fiber, too, if you're into that sort of thing.
3/4 cup salted butter
1/3 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
1/4 cup golden syrup
2 1/2 cups rolled or "old fashioned" oats
Preheat oven to 300˚ Fahrenheit. Grease an 8"-square cake tin with butter and set aside.
In a large pan, melt together the butter, sugar and syrup over low heat and stir to combine. When butter is completely melted, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the oats. Press the mixture into the prepared cake tin, trying to get it as even as possible. Bake 35-45 minutes until lightly browned and just set.
Cool on a wire rack in the tin for 10 minutes then score with a knife (16 servings). Continue cooling flapjacks in tin until fully cooled.
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