Monthly Archives: May 2015

Recipe – Kiev-Style Raspberry Jam

I will just say this, it took me forever to get through. In Gilmore Girls, Dean complains to Rory about this book (teasingly) blaming her for wasting his time with it. I don’t really blame Dean at all. The book is long, dense and the names confused me more often than not. The characters are also not that likeable.

However it is easy to see why this book is widely regarded as the “best novel ever written.” It deals with important themes, especially those of fidelity, family, marriage and society. Anna is a tragic character and is a reflection of her time; after falling in love with another man and leaving her husband Anna loses everything else so dear to her, her son, her friends, and her social standing. Despite the fact that I found Anna unlikeable, I was still able to sympathize with her and see her as a woman trapped.

The book also depicts Russian high society prior to the Revolution. My favourite parts of the book were when we saw Kitty and Levin in their country estate. I loved the scene where while making jam, all the women involved had different opinions on how “properly” to make jam. Out of the whole book, I felt that this was the most relatable scene, mothers, grandmothers and daughter all with different opinions on the “proper” way to do something.

So I decided to try my hand at making a Russian, or Kiev-style, jam. Essentially the defining characteristic is that it is made without water. This is the method that Kitty introduces to her new mother-in-law who is skeptical.

Fresh Raspberries

Fresh Raspberries

On the terrace were assembled all the ladies of the party. They always liked sitting there after dinner, and that day they had work to do there too. Besides the sewing and knitting of baby-clothes, with which all of them were busy, that afternoon jam was being made on the terrace by a method new to Agafea Mihalovna, without the addition of water. Kitty had introduced this new method, which had been in use in her home. Agafea Mihalovna, to whom the task of jam-making had always been intrusted, considering that what had been done in the Levin household could not be amiss, had nevertheless put water with the strawberries, maintaining that the jam could not be made without it. She had been caught in the act, and was now making jam before everyone, and it was to be proved to her conclusively that jam could be very well made without water.” (Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, Part VI, Chapter II)

2015-05-18 12.02.09

Cover with sugar, lemon juice, and vodka and refrigerate for at least three hours

I don’t blame poor Agafea Mihalovna, I too was skeptical, but it turns out that jam can indeed be made without water. This method produces a jam that is much more like fruit preserves, as the structural integrity of the fruit is maintained.

Stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved

Stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved

2015-05-18 15.51.39The jam is perfect spread on a scone or roll of bread served with some good Russian tea. The Russia tea ceremony is quite intricate and involves a special brewing pot called a Samovar. Lacking in resources I settled for a cup of Four Red Fruit tea from Kusmi, a tea company originating from St. Petersburg.

Recipe
3 cups raspberries
2 ½ cups sugar
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
¼ cup of vodka

  1. Place raspberries in a pot and cover with vodka, sugar, and lemon juice. Refrigerate overnight or for at least three hours
  2. Prior to cooking jam sterilize your jars either by boiling them or placing them in a 250-degree oven for 20 minutes.
  3. Place pot on stove and cook over medium heat. Stir occasionally until sugar has dissolved.
  4. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that rises to the surface. The raspberries with give off a heavy fragrance and the liquid in the pot will darken
  5. Simmer for 15-20 stirring the mixture occasionally.
  6. Remove from heat and jar your jam
  7. Remember to place the full jars into a pot of boiling water in order to seal them properly.

Julie Klausner – I Don’t Care About Your Band (2010)

IDontCareAboutYourBandAnyone who reads this blog knows that I am a huge fan of funny books written by funny women. In her memoir, Julie Klausner shares what she has learned from dating her fair share of Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, Felons, and Other Guys.

My favourite chapter of hers is about how to handle dating a musician. I pulled two quotes that I thought were so brilliant.They show just how bitter and cynical she is, while also passing on some much needed wisdom.

“Your man will always love his bandmates in a way you can’t touch because they are the guys who help him create music. You can only help him create a living human being with your dumb uterus”

“Don’t you know that a musician who writes a song for you is like a baker your dating making you a cake? Aim higher” 

Klausner writes a bit like Chelsea Handler in detailing her outrageous escapades, but there is something a bit more subtle in her writing compared to Handler’s. Klausner is far more open and honest about her true feelings, she was genuinely hurt and heartbroken by a number of the guys she was involved with and lets the reader know it. It’s great, and there were so many times throughout this book where I identified with her. We’ve all been there, had our hearts broken by people who didn’t always deserve us, and its just always so reassuring to know that now matter what you’re feeling at the time, it will get better. Julie Klausner got through it and went on to write a fantastic book about it.

Rory Gilmore Update Number Four

Doing the Rory Gilmore reading challenge means reading works that are almost impossible to read, or works that you may not have a great deal to write about. So here I have three short reviews of my experiences with children’s books from the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge.

babeDick King Smith – Babe (1983)
The actual title of the book is The Sheep-Pig in the UK or Babe the Gallant Pig, in the US. Another children’s book featuring a pig that will always bring me back to my own childhood. Babe the pig is brought to a sheep farm and quickly picks up the talent of herding sheep. His owner enters him in a sheep herding trial (yes its a real thing), and the pair score full marks. The book ends with those famous words, “That’ll do pig.”

Also if you’re at all intrigued by sheepherding watching this video about a bunch of sheepherders in New Zealand who clearly have too much time on their hands.

E.B White – Charlotte’s Web (1952)charlottesweb
No matter how old I get I will always cry at the end of this book. It’s such a classic story, but is so touching and just reminds me of childhood summers spent reading on the back porch. It is also one of those rare books that is as enjoyable to children as it is to adults. If I ever have children I will read to them and cry alongside them when Charlotte dies and Wilbur guards her eggs. I’m tearing up just writing this right now.

Encyclopedia_Brown,_Boy_Detective_(1963)Donald J. Sobol – Encyclopedia Brown (1963)
The male counterpart to Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown was the boy detective who could crack any case in the neighbourhood. Interestingly enough, I never read Nancy Drew growing up, but my dad would read an Encyclopedia Brown mystery to me every night. After the story we would debate how exactly Encyclopedia Brown was able to crack the case before checking the solutions at the back of the book. I was a little shit as a kid though and would often cheat, looking at the solution before my Dad came into read and would put on a whole show about how smart I was for cracking the case. Pretty sure he knew I was cheating all along, but I’ve never asked him about it.

Tom Robbins – Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976)

evencowgirlsgetthebluesProbably the most absurd book I’ve read in a while, which speaks volumes about the time that it was written (1976).

The novel follows the life of Sissy Hankshaw, a white trash woman born with enormously large thumbs who considers her mutation to be a gift as it aids with her hitchhiking, her preferred mode of travel. Living as a hitchhiker, Sissy soon becomes a model for The Countess, a male homosexual tycoon of feminine hygiene products. The Countess also owns a ranch, operated by sexually open and promiscuous cowgirls. Through her travels Sissy meets the cowgirls and many other interesting characters including “The Chink,” an escapee from a Japanese internment camp who becomes hailed as a hermetic mystic. Through her travels Sissy explores her own sexuality through her interactions with various characters.

This is definitely a “hippie” novel exploring themes such as free love, drug use, political rebellion, animal rights, feminism, and religion, in a strange yet wonderful way. The chapters are short and are often filled with philosophical diatribes and short quips in which Robbins inserts himself as a character. It’s not really the type of book that I normally enjoy reading, but I had a good time. The movie was considered to be an overwhelming failure, but I think I’d still like to watch it, the trailer looks just as insane as the book was to read.

Charlotte Gray – The Massey Murder (2013)

massey-murderI was expecting this book to be simply about the murder of Albert, “Bert,” Massey at the hands of his maid, Carrie Davis, who shot him in cold blood after he made a sexual pass at her. The book however unravels to tell a story of Toronto in 1915, a rapidly changing city at the height of the First World War.

Gray moves carefully through each chapter providing details of the case and trying them to larger trends in Toronto. The first half of her book deals largely with Victorian sensibilities regarding women, something that I have always found interesting. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a rise of reform movements, most notably for suffragettes, women campaigning for the vote. Upper and Middle Class white women also campaigned for a number of different causes, including prison reform. Gray deals popular practices in criminology at the time including craniology, as well as the idea that while men committed crimes, women committed sins and could therefore be rehabilitated.

The most shocking thing about this case is while even though Carrie Davis admitted to killing Bert Massey, the jury voted her not guilty. Gray details the brilliance of her lawyer, Hartley Dewart, and how he tied Carrie’s case to the War overseas. Carrie as a virgin girl was protecting herself from the advances of her employer, much like British soldiers overseas were defending themselves against the advances of the Germans. He essentially made Carrie an allegory for British values and it worked.

Gray talks a lot about the popular opinions surrounding the trial and the ways that the different newspapers in Toronto treated the case. I wish she spent a bit more time tracing the fall out, but she does mention that the case against Carrie Davis did not set a precedent. This book was still great, it’s always interesting to read about places that you are familiar with and reading about Toronto in 1915 as well as seeing pictures was enjoyable.

David Sedaris – Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004)

DressYourFamilyInCorduroyAndDenimCoverI love David Sedaris so much, but I just don’t think any collection will ever be able to top Me Talk Pretty One Day. I’m moving chronologically through his publications, and so far, that one is such a stand out collection. These stories however are still hilarious and I especially love when he talks about his relationship with his sisters. I wish he wrote more about Amy, I’d love to know more about what she was like growing up and as a teenager. My favourite story in this collection was definitely when David Sedaris is working as a house cleaner and is accidentally hired by someone looking for an “erotic housekeeping” service. His stories are funny, but he also exposes the frailty of emotional connections and has some poignant moments, especially when he writes about his partner Hugh. Overall, it’s a collection of short stories by David Sedaris. If you like his other works you’ll like this one also.

Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch (2013)

GoldfinchThis book got such rave reviews when it first came out, and while I can understand why, I personally didn’t love it that much. I thought it was a good book, and it has all the makings of a best seller, a tragic hero who gets himself involved in all sorts of criminal dealings, intrigue involving a stolen painting, and it’s long, very very long.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for long books, the longer the better in some cases. But with the Goldfinch, it felt like it could have been at least 200 pages less. There’s a lot of unnecessary detail, which detracts from the main plot. At points I actually found myself forgetting the important details about Theo; his mother died, he stole a painting.

There’s also a lot of broken dialogue that made this difficult to get through at times. A lot of “yes um – “ “Oh-“ “But-“ and while I understand the purpose of it in terms of Theo’s character, it drove me crazy.

The book is far from being terrible though, and Donna Tartt is a great writer. She manages to give a lot of detail, but does not use flourishing or unnecessary language, and aside from the dialogue, everything flowed relatively well. I think that people unfamiliar with Donna Tartt will like this, but for those who have read her other novels, The Goldfinch will come as a huge disappointment.