The Bride and the Beast by Teresa Medeiros is one of those books that despite some issues, I really loved. It doesn’t hurt that beauty and the beast is pretty much my favorite trope, or that the dialogue is witty and hilarious or that it has all the charm of old skool kidnapping romance without any of the problematic consent issues. Less good are a difficult relationship with female sexuality and a healthy helping of fat-shaming. But even those downsides are mild and ameliorated by the book’s charm, fairy tale framing and 14-year-old publication date.
It’s a fascinating book for sure. It was published in 2001 and seems to fall somewhere between the slightly uncomfortable for a contemporary reader 1990s Highland romances and today’s carefully feminist historicals. There’s a ton of subtext here for lovers of romance and fairy tales, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t. The heroine is pretty judgmental of her pretty, selfish, sexualized sisters. She slut-shames the youngest one for having sex outside of marriage. And the oldest, who has had several marriages, still isn’t good enough because it appears that she married for material considerations rather than for love. If we forgive Gwen for her judgment, it’s because her sisters are generally pretty terrible to her, which fits within the fairy tale aspect of the story.
Then there’s the fact that Gwen muses fairly consistently on how sad and terrible it is that she’s fat. She does get a bit of a makeover via some lovely dresses, but she never loses the weight and is even shown doing some emotional eating. It’s a realistic portrayal of many women’s complex relationships with their bodies. Gwen has clearly internalized a negative perception of her eating habits and fuller figure. But a lot of this bad messaging and internal script comes from her not-quite-evil, but not nice either sisters. And both her sexual desires and her shape ARE validated by the hero, which is a good thing. But the (likely unintended) message seems to be that if a man says it’s okay, then it’s really okay. But ONLY if a man thinks so.
In a current romance, I might have been less forgiving than I was with this one. The problem is that it’s just so darn charming. The heroine is abused by herself and her sisters, but not by the hero. He wars with his desire the same as she does. And his thirst for revenge makes for a creative take on the beast archetype. The reason I mention the publication date is that in the mid-1990s I read an awful lot of romance featuring semi-barbaric Highlanders. Those heroines were generally kidnapped English mewling misses (with the requisite flashing eyes) who tame their savage beasts. And I had resigned myself to that being the narrative in this book. After all, that arc’s still somewhat nostalgic fun, even if I’ve kinda grown out of it. But that’s not what happens. Or well, it is, but it’s not as heavy-handed, sexual or physical as what I remembered from this sort of story. The hero might be a beast, but he’s a beast primarily concerned with the heroine’s comfort, confidence and pleasure. Where he’s most beastly is in his dealings with the admittedly not very likeable villagers who were complicit in his father’s death. It makes for a much more subtle transformation.
The thing is, despite the issues, this book really worked for me. While some of the details weren’t all I would have hoped for, my overall impression was positive. All the banter between hero and heroine and the hero and his friend is witty and clever and fast-paced. The action keeps the plot moving, but doesn’t overshadow the characters’ emotional journeys. It’s just an interesting moment in historical romance–after pirates and barbarians and before The Dukes. If you can overlook some of its old-fashioned ideas, it’s really quite a perfect historical.
I don’t know how much I really need to say about these cookies. They’re dense and oaty and not too sweet and full of bacon. When I posted them to Twitter, I got several requests for the recipe, which obviously didn’t exist yet. And then I had to find a book for them. The book is admittedly sort of a stretch, but who cares. When the Dragon gets pissed at the villagers for sending him a virgin instead of the thousand pounds he asked for, he punishes them by sending Gwen’s ridiculous list of all the food she can think of, including oatmeal.
I made these cookies one night when I was, well, craving cookies. And though I salted them, there was still something missing. Turns out that something was candied bacon.
I pretty much always bake my bacon in the oven. Weird, right? But there’s no hissing, spitting bacon grease or splattered cooktop. And if I’m making it for breakfast, I can use my large skillet for pancakes or eggs instead. It just works for me. So that’s what I did here, adding a little bit of maple syrup, brown sugar and cinnamon in the final few minutes.
I like cookies the size of my head (or well, my palm I suppose) so this recipe makes about a dozen and a half BIG cookies, which is good because these don’t keep. I’d make them for a crowd or a potluck or some time when they’ll all get eaten within a day or two. After that they’ll get chewy and stale.
I suspect it won’t be a problem though. They’re pretty delicious.
Candied Bacon Salted Oatmeal Cookies
Makes: 18 large cookies
Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes (30 minutes hands-on time)
6 slices thick-cut or country bacon
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon course sea salt
16 tablespoons butter (2 sticks), softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon reserved bacon grease
2 large eggs
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not the quick cooking kind and DEFINITELY not instant)
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lay out 6 slices of bacon on a cookie tray covered in aluminum foil. Bake for 10 minutes and flip. Bake and additional 5 minutes and check for crispness.
2. In the meantime, mix 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a small mixing bowl until combined. When the bacon is almost done, drain off bacon grease and reserve. Brush the mixture over one side, flip and brush over the other side. Continue to bake for 3 minutes, making sure not to scorch the sugar.
3. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sea salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.
4. In the a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter, sugar, brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon grease. Add eggs one at a time, mixing to combine after each addition. Add flour mixture and and mix until almost combined. Add oats [and crumbled bacon] and mix.
5. On three cookie trays covered with parchment paper, scoop out dough into balls approximately 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches across. Refrigerate trays for 15 minutes.
6. Bake for 22-25 minutes until golden on the edges and set in the middle, rotating and switching halfway through baking. Allow to cook on trays for 10 minutes, then move to wire racks to cool completely.
7. Consume immediately. Recommend refrigeration for any leftovers to be extra cautious. These do have meat in them, after all.[edited to add: when to add the bacon in step 4–thanks to commenter Kelly for catching that missing instruction!]