Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Hazards of Research by Sandra Ardoin

How far will you go when conducting research for your book? Should you research a skydiving scene by jumping out of a plane? I don’t know about you, but…um…my answer to the last question is a resounding NO! Believe me, I’m all for experiencing life as long as it isn’t the last thing I experience in my life.

We do online research, visit museums, scour newspapers and books. All of these are good sources, but sometimes, they don’t provide those little tidbits of reality and description we want to include in our stories—the senses so important to giving the reader an “in the skin” familiarity. Who knows, maybe we’re just curious ourselves.

In my recently completed project, I included a dessert called Pavlova. It was new to me, and I wanted to be able to describe it in more detail than just writing the name. Pavlova is a meringue dessert, traditionally topped with fruit and whipped cream. It originates in Australia and/or New Zealand (they both take credit for its invention), and it is named for the ballet dancer from the early 1900s.

Anyway, I decided to make it, for the sake of adding detail to my story, of course. You may be thinking, “Seriously? You call that hazardous research?” Well, you have obviously never seen me around an oven.

One of my favorite websites is Allrecipes. While I found Pavlova on the American site, I went straight to the source. (Did you know they actually have an Australian site?) It looked easy enough and involved a fairly low-heat oven, which cut down on my personal risk.

It also called for caster sugar. I’m sure you ardent bakers know what I’m talking about, but I had never heard the term, so I looked it up. More research! Caster sugar is simply a finer grain of sugar than we generally use. It can be described as being between regular white sugar and powdered sugar. It can be purchased, but I made it in my food processor.

I converted the various measurements in the recipe to those we use in the United States—grams to cups, etc. (In truth, the computer did the converting. I plugged in the numbers. So much for all that math I never mastered.)

Spreading the whipped egg whites and sugar within the circular boundary marked on parchment paper,
revved my creativity. I used a spoon to add little peaks and flourishes in the meringue. Then I stuck the masterpiece in the preheated oven for the specified seventy-five minutes.

Mmm… I smell the sugary sweetness. I peek into the oven on occasion. Hmm…not quite as toasty tan as the photo. Seventy-three and a half minutes pass. Hubby asks a question about the oven temperature. I say, “It calls for 120—” Oops. “I forgot to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit.”

So, I did what any good researcher would do. I upped the temperature, added thirty minutes, and crossed my fingers. After adding whipped cream and kiwi, I cut into the thin crust of the meringue. Hubby and I chowed down, for the sake of research, of course.

I must say, like the story, the researcher experienced a happy-ever-after. 

What have you personally experienced for the sake of research? How did it turn out?


Besides being part of the fabulous Seriously Write Blog team, Sandra writes Christian romance, with her focus on Historical Romance. You'll find her children's short story, "Get a Clue," in Family Ties: Thirteen Short Stories.
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