Thursday, January 24, 2013

Polish Memories: Food and Fellowship

our table at the medieval restaurant.
It may be a truism, but Polish people love their food. :)  When I was going to marry my husband, everyone Polish warned me: to understand the culture, you have to understand the importance of food.  The Poles, as I joke my in-laws, are the original hobbits, with names for five proper meals a day, which my husband translates more or less: breakfast, second breakfast, dinner, small-something-to-tide-you-over (how small depending on your point of view), and supper.  So naturally, when Pippin asks about second breakfast, elevenses, and afternoon tea in Peter Jackson's version of The Fellowship of the Ring, he must have been paraphrasing my husband! 

In Kraków and later in Warszawa (I guess if I use Polish for Krakow I better use Polish for Warsaw!), I feasted on delectable meal after delectable meal.  We sampled all sorts of restaurants: my husband's best friend, Paweł, lives in Kraków and the two of them were incorrigible.  We might visit three restaurants in a single evening around town, by combination of pedestrian and bus travel.  (Many of the old narrow streets in old Kraków are closed to automobile traffic so it is extremely conducive to walking where you want to go.)

For hearty eating, no one can outdo Polish cookery.  In a way similar to "Southern hospitality", it has a somewhat familiar feel for me, but I have never been told to eat so often in my life as in a Polish home.  

I have tried to limit this post, but it just kept growing.  There is no cultural experience as authentic as the food experience in Poland.  One of the restaurants in Kraków that we visited I already mentioned in my previous post, a medieval restaurant straight out of a book.

 This medieval restaurant is located on the main market square.  It offers authentic medieval dining: my husband and Paweł shared a venison stew that came steaming in a cauldron suspended by three wooden poles, and they served themselves in rude shallow bowls.  Our drinks were served in goblets.  The tables were wooden and lined with heavy low benches; the rooms were lit with candles, both on the tables and in tall candlesticks.  Tapestries hung from walls, and downstairs the rooms were amazingly authentic owing to the wonderful stone walls.  And on the night we were there, a trio of wandering minstrels was also present, who entertained all and sundry with centuries-old songs, albeit on newer instruments.  It was like a step back in time, as people say, but farther back than you can step in the United States, certainly!

 I had the most delicious dessert in this place, too: a rich, decadent chocolate and raspberry mousse cake, with hot pepper and lemon sherbert.  I can't describe to you how conservative I tend to be regarding combining flavors, but this was exquisite. I finally understood the fuss about balance to the palate in really artistically flavored foods.  

The same evening, we also visited a little place in the shivering cold, over in Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter.  This spot was a fast-food reminiscence, frequented mostly by authentic Poles like our friend and host, with less to line their pockets and as much of an appetite.  You order at the stand and eat outside, something rather like a sub and rather like a pizza, and not altogether like either, called "zapiekanki".  They were delicious!!

The stand above would be difficult to find without a guide, but other good Polish delicacies are not hidden in so labyrinthine a manner.  In the malls, or "galleria" in Polish, which are more commonly filled with tourists and young natives (as they are here), there were also delicious dining experiences to be found, at Wedel Chocolates.  E. Wedel has been in business since 1851; they are considered a national brand, though unfortunately they have been sold two to three times since the nineties... the last time to a South Korean company, owing to demands from the EU.  

(-On which topic I could say much.  The EU makes ridiculous rules and demands on smaller countries, even on tiny farms and private property, which poor Poland concedes in exchange for a pittance which will never raise Poland from third-world status.  I was disgusted time and again with the hypocrisy of it, more visible from the inside.  But an American born and bred wouldn't stand for it... at least, not an Ozarkian!!  As Locke so cleverly explained, any government rules by consent of the governed.  In my language, that means you get the government you ask for and are willing to put up with.)
E. Wedel drinking chocolate
At any rate, Wedel still sells good chocolate.  They sell a thing translated "drinking chocolate," much, much thicker than hot cocoa, and too rich almost for even my prodigious sweet tooth!  But I had this twice, and it was quite yummy.  But Wedel makes my final cut of restaurants because of a slice of cake.  To wit, chocolate cake (again) and so heavenly in the opinions of many, that though we tried in multiple shops to get this again, it was always sold out!!!  

One had to be there early to get even one slice.  It came with a bowl of raspberry sauce and was good enough to die for... definitely worth any price in złoty! (Polish currency still holds, for the present, though they may enter the euro game during this decade.)  But I recommend this to any traveler in Poland: it is easy to find Wedel shops, and one lovely taste of the country even if only passing through.  While you are waiting, look over their gorgeous gourmet chocolates, candies, and truffles, and buy a few of the black-currant kind... a flavor only beginning to gain popularity here, but one I couldn't get enough of Over-the-Water!!


In Warszawa, we finally visited a few cukiernias, which I would translate "sugar shops."  They are bakeries, which one can find in any city in Poland, but we visited more in Warsaw than other places.  These must be the places that the souls of baked goods junkies go to when they perish. 


And speaking of baked goods heaven, with our visits to my husband's native village, I had opportunities to sample the local cuisine in homes of family and friends.  It is every bit equal in presentation and quality to anything you will find in a restaurant or shop.  As a note of fond remembrance, I must relate one anecdote from the village.  My husband's cousin Gosia is known for her cheerfulness and her rapid tongue.  She is as newsy as Rachel Lynde! I learned that the most trivial detail related to Gosia is as good as a public announcement in a local paper, and I learned this in a rather amusing way.

One evening, Gosia announced that we were going to have cheesecake for dessert the next day (she had already discerned my weakness for sweet things).  I recognized enough of what she was saying, particularly the Polish word for cheesecake, sernik, and eagerly aired my affirmative.  Gosia could not speak English, and there was so little I could say in Polish, or comprehend anything either in the rapid deluge of words that is native speech, that in the chance to shine a bit I jumped excitedly onboard and told her that I love sernik and it is extremely good.  And oh, to what effects!!!

By the time my husband and I returned on the bus that night to Kraków and were met by his friend Paweł, Paweł could slyly comment, "So you like cheesecake, eh?"  This was amazing, for Paweł isn't even a relative.  But it was only the first sign of what was to follow.  The next day, I had sernik, as promised, from Gosia.  Then I was served sernik at every house in the village that we visited thereafter.  And my husband informed me the ladies had made it specially for me.  By the time we got to a party for Gosia's sister on a future evening, I had had enough sernik to sate my appetite, in measures "pressed down and running over."  

But lo and behold, of course they were serving sernik at the party!! And on this occasion, I was pressed into taking a box of the leftover sernik back to the hotel.  I was given enough sernik that though I ate and ate my way through it, by the time we left Kraków I woefully had to dispose of the last of it, and I did not relish the sight of it again for at least some months.  However, if I want a thing to be generally known back in the village among all my new acquaintances, I have learned I should get a message to Gosia!! :)

Finally, for I have saved the best for last, a return to Kraków, and a beautiful restaurant which became my absolute favorite.  This restaurant is not located on the market square, but is not far away: Jama Machałika, on Ulica Floriańska.  It is historical, unique, artistic, and of course, home to strikingly good food.  My journal entry from this place is as follows:

"We are ensconced in a high-backed corner booth, rather more like a 19th century breakfast nook, in a dimly lit, beautiful and rather famous cafe restaurant.

our "breakfast nook"
 Stained glass surroundings, warmly familiar classical music, and a sort of Victorian-style elegance (crocheted lace tablecloths, high-backed chairs, elaborate decoration, dark carved wood framing and highly stylized mirrors)... all this, with a slight Polish touch, makes for an aesthetic pleasure keenly exquisite and still affordable- that is, for American dollars, which means not so affordable for the Polish złoty." (Our currency has roughly 3-1 value in Poland.)  Technically, Victorian was not so accurate a descriptor; Art Nouveau is the actual style and dating of the place.

I remember we had three breakfasts in this place: the Polish-style, the Viennese-style, and the English-style.  All were delicious and plentiful (the Viennese won, in my estimation, though, by means of some lovely and delicately spiced poached eggs), served with a great variety of bread, meat, light vegetables, and beverages.  We sometimes try to recreate the breakfast at that restaurant here at home- never to full effect, but still very good.  I read online somewhere that the service is crabby, but never in my experience.  The waitresses were perfectly friendly; in Poland, if you try to use Polish as a non-native speaker, people take it as a compliment and are extremely encouraging.  Not even American presidents have bothered to be sure their Polish is correct in Poland (another anecdote for another day), so even a few words really are meaningful.  The waitresses at Jama Michalika were charming about my attempts, although the bulk of the conversation had to be carried on with my bilingual husband.

There is a great deal of history in this particular cafe; it has endured through two world wars, times when Poland was not even a country, Soviet and Nazi occupation, and so much more. It harbored any number of famous Polish writers and composers; but this article is about food and is quite finished. :)  Stay tuned!  Next we're off to the park.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Polish Memories: Wawel Castle, Part 2

depiction of historic Wawel in Krakow which hangs in a medieval restaurant on the central square.

What century does Wawel date from? That, like all questions of Polish history, is a complicated matter.  There have been settlements, stone and wooden, time out of mind on Wawel hill, and a matter of historic discussion as to who built what, when.  But the current buildings are variously dated, with the oldest going back to roughly the tenth century AD.  So what sort of period would you ascribe to a place that has been built onto for centuries?  It's sort of a Roman-Gothic-Renaissance style of castle?

Of course there must needs be a cathedral at a royal residence, and there must needs be tombs of princes, curiosities, and heads of state on grounds.  But I can't say as I much care for looking at sarcophagi (can you imagine, that is really a word!), or pondering the bitter grudges or worldly pomp that accompanies such folk even in their graves.  My favorite by far was the bell tower.
  There are several bells housed in this tower (baptized, no less: with usual perfunctory Polish Catholicity, all sorts of things are baptized and thereafter commissioned to ward off evil spirits, including bells.)  The largest of these is the Bell of Sigismund, or Zygmunt Dzwon.  

My husband is royally afraid of heights, and the narrow, steep flights of steps, in a tower with plenty of opportunities of staring out over the city or feeling the wind blow through, made him feel rather ill... he and his childhood friend who was hosting us clung to the skimpy wooden rails as to life and grimaced frequently.  But I by the odd turn of fate, who happen to have so many irrational fears (beginning and ending with dentists and large toothy fish), was born almost entirely without a proper regard for heights.  I love them.  The higher the better.  It has always made me fancy all sorts of wild things to feel myself swaying in the wind above the ground... I used to frighten my mother by climbing to the tops of trees on very windy days and feel the branches moving and tossing below and above and around me... and never yet have I given over climbing.

Consequently I found the tower exhilarating rather than otherwise.  The views from all the landings were simply breathtaking!!   And chief of the sights was one that is near and dear to my husband's heart: the sweet, red roofs one sees everywhere in Poland.  For him, they signify all he loves and misses from that land, and when he sighs for Poland it is often in the form of sighs for those red roofs... red roofs and hay fields full of poppies.

The bell of Sigismund takes its common name from one of Poland's famous kings, Sigismund I, who commissioned the bell in 1520, and dedicated it to God, Mary, and himself in that order.  Unlike our American Liberty Bell, which has seldom been rung, the bell of Sigismund is routinely rung on many occasions throughout each year.  It requires twelve men to ring the bell, which weighs thirteen tons, and the bell ringers are often lifted by the ropes.  There has been at least one death associated with ringing Zygmunt Dzwon, when one of the ringers was flung out of the tower by the bell.  -Perhaps not so enviable a post, but one could do worse than to have died ringing a bell.

View of Kraków from the Wawel Bell Tower.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Polish Memories: Wawel Castle and Its Dragon

"Krakow in Winter,"
A friend emailed me this afternoon with a wonderful link to a weather site, which was featuring a series of pictures entitled "Snowy Castles."  And I was looking at them with great enjoyment, when I realized I had seen some lovely European sights in wintertime myself, not much more than a year ago.  My husband and I traveled to Poland to see the country where he is a dual citizen and the place where he spent many years growing up, near the city of Kraków.  We stayed in Kraków for one week, visited the village where he lived and still has family by bus, and then traveled by train to Warsaw and stayed on there another week.

I thought it was a very nice idea, as the season begins to wear the nerves a little thin, to contemplate some other place for a while.  I'll confine myself to the parameters of places and things I have actually seen myself, since there are so many beauty spots all over Poland.  I will commence on this journey with Wawel Castle, in Kraków.

"Wawel-winter 2,"

Wawel Castle is the royal castle in Kraków, which was for centuries the capital city and the residence of royal figures.  It is a beautiful old castle, as one can see.
Most of the nice pictures of Wawel, like the ones above, are taken from across the river which runs just down the hill from Wawel, the Vistuła River.  Wawel, like any good fortress, is situated on decidedly high ground, and overlooks a body of water: a wide bend of the Vistula, as I said previously.  This high place is of limestone and karst geology, to which fact it owes the many caves that lie beneath it.  According to legend, the founding of Wawel was on this wise:

Now it happened that in bygone days of yore, a loathsome dragon of terrible aspect lived for centuries below this hill in a cave.  He would terrorize villagers, farmers, yeomen, all alike with his propensity to pillage and burn... poor thing, a dragon can't help his nature, can he?  

Now this particular dragon had a flaw deeper than pillaging and burning... he developed the strange delicacy of appetite many such mythical monsters often seem to develop- a sweet tooth for delectable young girls.  And this appetite must be appeased or he would pillage and burn some more.  So from time to time one was left for him outside his cave.

Now there was a king even in those times, one king Krakus (whose name and fate both curiously resemble, maybe by a trick of language, another story about another monster, the Kraken).  Krakus was the founder of the city, and it was for him Kraków was named.  He was a laid-back, forgiving sort of fellow, willing to live and let live provided it was on the daughters of other men, but when it came to his daughter, the princess Wanda's turn, enough was enough.  It was really too much to ask that a king lay down the life of his darling, a beauty beyond her peers (and this says much, for Polish people pride themselves on the beauty of their women).  Should she die that mere farmers might live? No, a thousand times, no!!!  Did not the great Greek poet write the veriest truth who said, "Beauty is its own defense"?

So the handsome reward was offered, which is traditionally offered on such desperate occasions, to wit the hand of one princess in marriage and one kingdom after death.  To inherit, viz. and so forth.  And naturally we know the princess secretly looked upon each potential suitor with the discerning eye of youth, to determine for herself whether this or that man for life was better than being eaten by a dragon.  And the breath of this one, and the rude manners of that one, and the way that other one ate his asparagus, made her shudder and think: I shall have to face the dragon, and take what comes, for I am the daughter of a king, and beautiful beyond compare... and that man has the worst-looking teeth I have ever seen.  Meanwhile she would smile, and wave as they went off to fight the dragon, and sagaciously wait to see if they survived before she proceeded to do anything rash.

But no one came back, which was in some ways a relief... until one day, a handsome young devil with snapping eyes and the resourcefulness of the lower classes applied for the job of taking Lady Wanda to wife, not to mention the kingdom, by assailing and disposing of the dragon.  Wanda sighed and smiled and nodded as heretofore, but took an extra glance out her bower window at the smooth, easy gait and cheerful walk (not to mention the ignobly burly biceps) of the cobbler's apprentice (for such is the fairy tale tradition, and this young plebeian was quite traditional).  His shoes were very fine, at least, for was he not a cobbler by trade?

However, the young man had thought his life over pretty thoroughly, and although he was brave, he was economical.  It would be foolish to throw away a good, steady living at a respectable business establishment for some pie-in-the-sky American dream of a personal kingdom and princess to wife... why die for foolishness? And he had really no intention of conversing with a dragon up close, and anyway, he had to finish six pairs of boots that day and couldn't miss work, for he was saving his vacation days for something really special.  So he thought, if he could kill the dragon long-distance, well and good, and if it didn't work, he always had his old fall-back.  
Therefore, since missiles had not been invented yet, and he was not quite that resourceful, he must needs use a sheep stuffed with sulfur.  Which naturally, left baa-ing sadly outside the dragon's front door that morning before work, was  the perfect before-breakfast snack for a hungry dragon, despite the fact that it was really craving princess.  So poor dragon and poor sheep!! Done to death by the resourceful young man for his own profit!  The dragon naturally ate the sheep, bones, sulfur, and all, and got so thirsty he drank up half the river Vistula in desperation and burst his insides... and was still thirsty too!

So our cobbler became a prince, and married the princess Wanda, and built a castle over the dragon's lair, to commemorate his great success, and also to frighten the children into behaving themselves.  And the story was so convenient at keeping unruly little half-royal urchins in order, that even after the country left off the habit of kings altogether, they keep a dragon in the caves below Wawel to this very day.

And his name (that is, the dragon's) if you would like to know it, is Smok Wawelski, the Dragon of Wawel Hill.

from Cosmographiae Universalis, Sebastian Munster.
wawel dragon sculpture,
Note: This story, like most legends, has a plethora of different versions, featuring variations that eliminate the clever young man and attribute the dragon's defeat to King Krakus himself, or eliminate the dragon and discuss the princess Wanda as having saved the country and refused to marry a man she didn't want, or else having committed suicide in order to avoid marriage with said gentleman.  In all the stories however, run the common threads of good old -fashioned storytelling, and many common ploys of fairy tale conflict and tragic or happy resolution.  I have not attempted a particularly scholarly version, because it is a well enough known story that one can trace it pretty easily if desired, and also because it is not a particularly unusual example of a common legend.  My telling is more or less, just for fun. :)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Squirrel Musings

Click, click, click- the voices lightly pressed from keys;
The house half-dark, the day half-dark, with winter’s gloom
With winter’s gray and graying afternoon,
Drizzling cold but yet it will not freeze-

Stubborn.  Squirrels are at the bulbs, out in the yard.
The wretched beasts will always take what isn’t theirs,
Fat and waddling from the trash can, in the city, dare
Accost MY bulbs… would have to keep a constant guard

To save the poor flowers.  The animal lovers never
Consider the wasted, ruined, slaughtered flowers.
To squelch my wrath takes all my latent powers-
If we were in the country they would quiver,

Quailed from the gardener’s righteous wrath,
The Fear of Man a lesson soonest learned,
When outraged woman stands her ground full-armed-
Treading out the winepress up the garden path.

Poor beasts.  Not meant to live on garbage, or concrete;
No more am I.  Both creatures out of place,
Out of the land that knows the hunt, the honest fight for food, the chase.
Here,  Nature does not sing and neighbors don’t eat meat.
"Squirrel Pie,"

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sandwiches and Sledding

I didn't want the peanut butter and jelly sandwich so much as it wanted me.  It was calling my name most insistently: so insistently I must brave the cold basement to pull the rye bread from the freezer and bring it up, toast it, and slather it with the blackberry jelly that was just begging to be eaten.  The kitchen is and was a riot of muck like something from a story by D.H. Lawrence... hideous writer.  And hideous kitchen.  I duck and run for cover every time I enter in this state.  Of course the charge will have to be made, but not until the offensive unit is sufficiently prepared.

Somersault? I haven't done a somersault in some years, thank you very much.  Not willfully, at any rate... and to go flying backwards, heels over head, careening wildly and shrieking like an uncivilized banshee over a jump made by bolder sledders than I (and probably younger), adventure-seekers who must needs add an obstacle course to a perfectly beautiful, tall and entertaining enough slope.  And I forget how I landed.  Or would have landed if I had done a somersault in the snow today.  Which I didn't.  Willfully.  

Hot cocoa does wonders for the nerves... such wild palpitations Mrs. Bennett never dreamed of, that make one do all sorts of things, (never mind alcohol or other hallucinogens, just a little snow and imagination are enough and too much for most steady adults to keep their heads), and probably would have finished her... Mrs. Bennett, I mean.  Anyway, fancy her, bonnet, ribbons, and all, go flying down a slope on a sled, only to go sweeping over a jump fairly like a ski jump, and what might be left of her when she landed flop! in the snow on the other side.  Makes one think, doesn't it? One of those deep, literary images...

Anyway... hot cocoa. Homemade. With fresh whipped cream, real and rich and ridiculously fat... mmm.... wish I ever retained any fat but unfortunately I am and it seems always will be mostly skin and bones. Lots of bones... shins, and ankles, and spine, and all that... lots of hard bones, to ache after ignominious thuds.  Bones that creak when one tries to rise after landing flat on one's back and backside, attempting to rise with little or no wind left, like Rome after its fall; pitiful attempts one is embarrassed to write about, at least until one is fortified by peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on toasted bread.  And the hot cocoa with the whipped cream, never forgetting the cream for with such  luxuries empires are built and wasted.  

Bah; I was going to write more educatedly about the Victorians.  Research and all that.  But after brandishing an icicle a couple of feet long like a sword and balancing on a rail outside the house, I feel a little too brash to handle the Victorians.  Of course, I'd better be suited to horse-back riding at a gallop right now, but I have had enough falls for one day.  As I was saying though, the icicle.  My very dear friend has always had a fetish with the Snow Queen.  Don't care for her much, myself; my taste in villains feminine runs more toward Lady Macbeth and Queen Jadis (before the hundred years winter and all that).  But then you know what Robert Frost says... or perhaps you don't.
"Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice."

Anyway, for the benefit of my friend I thought I'd just strike a pose as the Snow Queen and send her an evil-looking picture with my love.  She will be jealous, I know; she likes the Snow Queen because secretly she wants to BE the Snow Queen.  At least, that's my theory.  But now!

Back to my sandwich...
File:Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth with frame.jpg
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, by John Singer Sargent. Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Vindicating Victorians

I must say, I was taken aback by what seemed a personal vendetta against the Victorians recently.  I've heard most of it before, but finally I wanted to make my own comments on the subject.

I am a huge lover of the Victorian period in literature and art, and also of the periods preceding it, the romantic and neoclassical.  However times changed and however different these periods were from each other, they were more like each other than what was to follow with modernism, existentialism, postmodernism... the century of flappers and prohibition, world wars and the Great Depression; and I for one like the old better.

Too easily I could be drawn into a fifteen page paper rather than a brief blog post on some of my favorite topics, so I will confine myself to one particular point in the commentary I was reading: female sexuality.  Now I have heard the Victorians reproved darkly for every sexual aberration under the sun... which is odd for we live in the days of gruesome "liberation" and nothing is too libertine for the insatiable palate of modern lusts.

In this particular article the author was writing bitterly about women and their place in Victorian society, and she put several points which I think are widespread and deserve to be more carefully reconsidered.  One is   that Victorians loved pictures of women being punished for sensuality or loose conduct, and that this pointed to that society's prejudicial tendencies with regards to women.  Now this assertion was made as part of a commentary on a few Victorian-era paintings of women doing penance and presumably for sins of a sensual nature.  

But such art criticism has its flaws of reasoning.  Suppose there exists a strong stereotype about a particular period or group of people, as there does concerning the Victorians and sexuality.  Now then, suppose you take a painting, or choose three paintings loosely similar in subject, and interpret the feelings or thoughts of said period on the paintings through the lens of your stereotype.  In other words, you immediately imagine what the Victorians would have said or done according to how you already picture the Victorians.  But this cannot then become an argument for the stereotype!  It would be circular reasoning.  Victorians condemned women's sexuality; I see these paintings which can be interpreted through that lens; therefore these paintings prove that Victorians condemned women's sexuality? Nonsense.  It doesn't mean your conclusion is wrong; it simply means you haven't demonstrated it adequately, one way or the other.  There are other possible ideas which the Victorians might have entertained when viewing these paintings, and one conjecture is as good as another without further evidence.  Except that, as with all stereotypes, the case in point is most likely to present itself to the contemporary mind most easily in terms of the existing stereotype rather than any other possibilities, however reasonable.

My second point is to do with the author's assertion that Victorians obviously condemned "women having too much fun."  This gets rather tangled with my next thought, because the author did not distinguish between monogamous sexuality and sexuality altogether.  All the portraits she alluded to were to do with women outside the bounds of an exclusive marital relationship, and by the "fun" being "too much," she meant the multiplicity or type of the women's partners.  By contrast, however, the Victorians were also fond (and judging by quantity, fonder by far) of depictions of domestic bliss: mothers by the hearth with a host of happy children at their knees, fathers arriving cheerfully home from work and enthusiastically greeted, happily married couples... whether or not these depictions were a reality, they were evidently a cherished ideal.  This ideal very much involves the sexuality of women, even though it is not centrally focused on it.

The Roman Venus was not exclusively the goddess of erotic love but also of motherhood and to some extent therefore the home.  Many cultures and time periods have clearly tied portrayals of female fertility with motherhood.  The depiction of happy mothers with children, particularly prior to contemporary means of contraception, was an acceptance of and endorsement of appropriate sexuality... in the case of the Victorians, a Christianized Western culture, that appropriate sexuality was found only within the context of a single loving marriage.

That their sexuality is not the focus of such paintings is not demeaning toward femininity.  On the contrary, the author in question has pointed out the more plain and public sexuality in the "bad girl" portrayals she was criticizing... that a woman's sexuality should be focal rather than one aspect among many of the personhood a woman has, indicates smallness and prejudice.  To dwell on the sexuality of the "fallen woman" is to suggest that this is the aspect of her character that she herself or someone else has made most prominent and all-important.  So then one cannot be looking for positive portrayals of female sexuality solely in an erotic context.  To see the happy family is to see a happy sexuality in the background, a fine harmony but too delicate for the melody... the Victorians ought sometimes simply to be accused of being private rather than prejudiced. 
De Scott Evans, Grandfather's Clock,

Sir Edwin Landseer,
File:DeScott Evans Winter evening at Lawnfield.jpg
De Scott Evans, Winter Evening at Lawnfield and victorian valentine,