Archives for posts with tag: Books

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As the festive season draws nearer I can sense that I am fast catching the baking bug, something which is somewhat of a challenge in my lilliputian kitchen! Nevertheless, for me there is always something therapeutic about baking, so long as I have the time and the right ingredients to hand. I’m not entirely sure why it is that I enjoy baking so much, but I think it might be that baking is a timeless tradition that goes down through the centuries. Although the instruments we use may change with the innovations of time, the overall process remains largely the same, as does the tradition of coming together to eat, celebrate, mourn or commemorate. Sometimes I dispense entirely with the trappings of a modern kitchen (I don’t yet own a food processor!) and simply blend/cream/chop/fold ingredients by hand. Although this extends the time taken to complete the task somewhat, I enjoy the prolonged process and the chance it gives me to retreat into my thoughts or to fully appreciate a good album, the company of others or even just the solitude of silence. I’ll never forget reading about Sadie in Mr Rosenblum’s List, who emigrates to Britain from Germany with her husband in 1937 and bakes layer upon layer of sadness and memories into a Baumtorte (a very tall German “Tree” cake with layers of almond pastry). Sadie’s loneliness is relieved somewhat when some women from the village smell her cake and invite her to the town meeting, to which she dutifully takes the Baumtorte:

The women ate, and it was the most remarkable cake they had ever tasted. It was sweet and perfectly moist with a hint of lemon but, as her mouth filled with deliciousness, each woman was overwhelmed with sadness. Each tasted Sadie’s memories, her loss and unhappiness and whilst they ate Sadie was, for once, not alone in her sorrow. 

I loved the way that in sharing the cake, the women were able to cross an emotional divide that helped them to understand one another better. On the one hand, Sadie was able to express her sorrow and the difference of her experience, while the women were able to see (and taste) another perspective that gave them an insight previously unseen of an outside and foreign member of their community.

Reflections aside, baking can also be really fun! As I have mentioned in a previous post, I am still in the midst of planning my European Odyssey next year. Given a significant bulk of my trip will be spent in Greece and the Greek Islands, I have all things Greek on my mind and decided to cook in theme with my future travels again. And what better way than with these delicious Greek Kourabiedes! It is a delicious almond shortbread made with a hint of brandy and orange rind which has a great texture and is perfect for a mid morning or afternoon treat. Also great for the gift giving season. Kalí̱ sas órexi̱!

Kourabiedes (Greek Almond Shortbread)

250 g butter, softened

60 g icing sugar

1 tspn orange zest

1 egg yolk

1 tbspn brandy

100 g almond meal

310 g plain flour

1½ tspn baking powder

60 g extra icing sugar, for dusting

Cream the butter, sugar and orange zest in a small bowl until pale and fluffy, then add the egg yolk and brandy and beat until thoroughly combined. Use a metal spoon to fold in the almond meal, flour and baking powder, and mix until well combined. Gather together and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1–2 hours, or until chilled.

Preheat the oven to 160°C and line two large baking trays with baking paper. Shape ½ tablespoons of the mixture into crescents, using lightly floured hands. Place on the prepared baking trays. Bake for 12–15 minutes, or until pale golden. Cool on the trays for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. While still warm, dust with the sifted icing sugar. The Kourabiedes can be stored in an airtight container for weeks..if it lasts that long 😉

*Mr Rosenblum’s List is the first novel of Natasha Solomons, published by Sceptre in 2010.

 

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Cities Are Good For You: The Genius of the Metropolis, Leo Hollis (Bloomsbury:London), 2013.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Leo Hollis is an urban enthusiast, as the title of his latest book suggests. In this book, Hollis embarks on a global city hop to investigate urban projects in sustainability, transport, agriculture, community development and more. Critics have suggested that Hollis presents a partisan and overly idealistic argument in favour of city living, and although this may be true I don’t think it takes away from the worth of the research. Hollis demonstrates that cities are best transformed from the inside out and provides an interesting perspective on what could be possible if everyday citizens took more responsibility for their environment and community. I don’t think that this book will revolutionise the world, nor was intended to. If it goes some small way to inspiring a few however, the benefits could be felt by many.

 

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The New Front Page: New Media and the Rise of the Audience, Tim Dunlop (Scribe:Melbourne), 2013.

Tim Dunlop’s The New Front Page is a thought provoking book about the changing face of journalism in Australia.  In this book, Dunlop uses his experience as a political blogger to begin a discussion about the need for mainstream media to better adapt to the rise of new-media and increasing levels of audience participation. As a newcomer to world of blogging, I found it a great insight into the broad scope of possibilities that blogging can create, as well as some of its limitations. Reading the book, I came to the conclusion that if you want news and analysis of a high quality, then you should be prepared to pay for it. I was also convinced that media agencies should also offer more flexible and user-friendly paywalls and subscription services. A proponent of new-media websites such as New Matilda and Crikey, Dunlop demonstrates that professional journalism could learn a lot by listening to and interacting with its audiences and adapting in inventive ways in order to keep the industry alive, relevant and vital to a healthy democracy.

 

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Burial Rites, Hannah Kent (Picador:Sydney), 2013.

This is an impressive debut novel by Hannah Kent about a woman on death row in Iceland in 1829. It is a moving and compelling tale made even more poignant by the fact that it is based on true events. The writing is highly evocative and reading the book I felt more that I was watching events unfold before my eyes rather than hunched over the page with a furrowed brow. In a world in which only 51% of United Nations member states have completely abolished the use of capital punishment I think that this book is highly relevant to present-day society as it highlights some important issues of crime and punishment that continue to have currency today. I think this book will translate nicely to cinema, and the guardian reports that plans are currently underway for a movie adaptation, with Jennifer Lawrence to play the role of the protagonist Agnes Magnúsdóttir. Great Choice!

 

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Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Anthony Bourdain (Bloomsbury:London), 2000.

I really loved this book. It’s written in 6 parts, covering a five course meal with a coffee and cigarette afterwards, and is the tale of Bourdain’s journey from a not-so-humble dishwasher to world-renowned chef, writer and traveller. It is a revealing tell-all about the kitchen underworld of restaurants in New York, Tokyo, Paris and beyond, and although I suspect that Anthony Bourdain is a great story teller, I get the sense that he really hasn’t embellished the story all that much. Bourdain depicts a world that is gritty, male dominated, competitive, character-building and fascinating all at once. I really grew to like Anthony Bourdain as I was reading the book, and he strikes me as someone who is down to earth, highly discerning and open to the world in a way that has helped him steer the highs and lows of his successful career.

 

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Capital, John Lancaster (Faber and Faber:London), 2012.

Set on the cusp of the global financial crisis in 2008, John Lancaster’s Capital is an intriguing, insightful and thoughtful novel centred around the everyday lives of the ordinary citizens of Pepys Road, London. Each of the street’s occupants receive a card in the post in December 2007 with a simple message ‘We Want What You Have’. As events unfold, you realise that there’s more to this novel than meets the eye, and it’s one of those books that touches on a multitude of issues in a subtle and thought provoking way. Lancaster points to the ways in which money, power and greed affect the lives of everyday people in varying degrees and with varying outcomes. A great read.

Since my kitchen is also my living/dining/bedroom, I thought it might be nice to share some thoughts on some of my other interests, most of which revolve around arts and culture in various ways. Here’s a quick review of some of the books I’ve been reading in the Balmain Kitchen recently.

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Jacob’s Folly by Rebecca Miller. Having first encountered Rebecca Miller’s work when I read her first novel The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, I was excited to see her second novel on the shelves in my local bookstore recently and bought it straight away, even though it wasn’t in the budget. Some books are worth cutting back on the grocery bill for though and this is definitely one of them! The story is a parallel tale of two Jewish people who take a wayward turn from their faith at different points in time. It’s told through the eyes of a fly who we discover is the later incarnation of one of the two characters in question, an eighteenth century Parisian Jew. The fly gives us insight into the travails and mishaps of his own life whilst also looking on over the life of the modern day heroine Masha, an enigmatic beauty gifted with grace and talents that set her apart from her conservative but deeply loving family. Miller’s prose is skilfully crafted in a way that is beautiful but not contrived, and she shows a depth of human understanding in her writing that is thought provoking and moving. As with Private Lives, Jacob’s Folly emphasises the beauty in human frailty and the lessons that can only be learned by life’s journeys.

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The Reader by Bernard Schlink. I read this book in two sittings as it’s not a long one and has a natural, easy rhythm that lends itself to prolonged sittings. What it lacks in length it makes up for in substance, and is another thought provoking and challenging work that examines truth, fear, love and justice in post war German society. It’s the story of a fifteen year old who has a brief affair with an older woman in the years just after World War Two, who then goes on to witness her on trial for a Nazi crime years later as a law student. The Reader raises some interesting moral and ethical questions, most especially surrounding culpability and absolution in the post-war period. It’s an intricately developed novel that follows a story of love and personal pride on one level, and also speaks to the generational conflict between the children of Nazi Germany and their parents. More than anything, The Reader brought home to me the fact that ‘the truth of what one says lies in what one does.’

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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book was educational and enjoyable at the same time. It’s the story of a Nigerian couple who part ways early in their university days to study abroad and who both return home after years of immersion in a foreign society. Much of the story revolves around Ifemelu, whose career develops from struggling student to famed and successful blogger on race relations in the US. Her counterpart Obinze spends a brief amount of time in the UK, unable to gain entry to the US on account of heightened security measures post 9/11. Obinze suffers the degradation of having to borrow somebody else’s national insurance number to work, for which he pays a hefty weekly commission and for which he is also finally, humiliatingly, deported home. Americanah traces the experiences of Ifemelu and Obinze on their respective continents and draws some interesting comparisons between race relations in the US and the UK. It’s definitely a political novel but there is also a strong element of humanism to Ifemelu, which perhaps helps to highlight the underlying themes within the book. One of the things which stood out the most to me whilst reading Americanah was the fact that it’s easy to take a politically correct position when you come from a position of political privilege. I was also especially drawn to Ifemelu’s  personal strength and willingness to embrace her own individuality. Adichie manages to write in an insightful and intelligent way that is sharp and direct without being judgemental, and I felt that I had much to learn from all of the characters portrayed within the novel.

That’s the wrap of my latest reads, please feel free to share your thoughts with me, and offer any recommendations for future reads. I’m currently delving into Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour, and it’s shaping up to be another great read..I love a good run of books!

Until next time,

Trini xo