Monthly Archives: August 2015

Carlos Ruiz Zafon – The Prisoner of Heaven (2011)

The-Prisoner-of-Heaven-UKAs I’ve already mentioned, The Shadow of the Wind, is one of my all time favourite books. It has all the elements of an amazing story and unfortunately for Zafon, is proving to be impossible to top.

After being somewhat disappointed by The Angel’s Game, I was looking for a bit of redemption from this book, but found myself even more disappointed. This story is a sequel to the Shadow of the Wind, in which you find out more about Ferimin’s sordid past and get the full picture regarding connections between characters in all three books. David Martin makes an appearance and leads to some interesting speculations about Daniel Sempere’s parentage. The story was interesting enough but it didn’t really go anywhere.

While The Angel’s Game was tied up quite hastily, The Prisoner of Heaven was not tied up at all. I have a feeling that we’ll see another sequel from Carlos Ruiz Zafon and this book was an attempt to set the stage, but I felt let down at the end of it. I highly recommend reading The Shadow of the Wind, but leaving the rest of the books in this series out.

Advertisements

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – Americanah (2013)

americanahI don’t think there are enough words to accurately describe how much I loved this book. I wasn’t familiar with Ngozi Adiche until I heard about this novel and now I cannot wait to read more of her work.

Essentially Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze who are young and in love when they leave their home in Nigeria and head west. While Ifemelu ends up in America, Obinze, finding post 9/11 America closed to him, takes up a dangerous life in London as an undocumented immigrant. While the story is about the relationship between these two characters, Ifemelu’s journey is by far the more compelling.

The story of Obinze sheds important light on racism and the danger that undocumented immigrants live in every day, but the plot involving Ifemelu, who is despite her academic success is forced to grapple with what it means to be black, is by far the most important part of this novel.

The title itself refers to Ifelemu’s journey from Nigeria, to the hallowed halls of Princeton, and back. Once back in Nigeria she looks at everything through the eyes of an American leading her friend to call her an Americanah.

Ngozi Adiche grapples with the issues of race, love, and identity in such a brilliant and beautifully written way, grasping the nuance often involved with tackling such issues. As an African Americna female herself, she is probably able to draw on her own experiences to make this novel as rich as it is. I really don’t have much else to say, this was definitely one the best books I’ve read all year.

Steve Almond – Candyfreak (2004)

CandyfreakAs someone who loves Candy, I was excited to read Steve Almond’s book about his journey to the chocolate underbelly of America. While I love chocolate and candy, I do not think that anyone is as much of a self proclaimed freak as Steve Almond.

In this book that is part autobiography, part inside look at the small-scale candy industry, Almond takes the reader on a journey to the lesser known candy factories throughout the United States, a part of American culture which is often forgotten. Almond tours factory after factory sampling regional candy bars such as the Clark Bar, the Caravelle, Haviland Thin Mints, the Twin Bing, Valomilks and the Idaho Spud to name a few, detailing each the history, manufacturing process, and taste of each bar for the reader.

I liked this book, but found that Almond was sometimes trying too hard to engage with the reader with his self-deprecating view of himself. I also often found myself bitter and jealous anytime Almond mentioned the cases of free candy he received after all his visits. One thing I did find interesting however is how the industry favours the big companies so much. This should not come as a surprise, but often time these smaller companies cannot pay the shelf fee to have a presence in grocery stores or national chains like wal-mart and thus are resigned to producing chocolate bars for regional/local consumers. If you’ve ever looked at the knock-off chocolate bars next to the cash register at Dollerama, chances are they were produced by one of these factories.

It’s and interesting book and definitely a must read for anyone interested in the industry, or obsessed with candy in general.

Lawrence Hill – Blood (2013)

bloodHaving read a number of Lawrence Hill’s works, it is clear to me that Blood plays a prominent role in all of them. When I saw that he had presented, and published a series of essays dealing with the theme of blood I was intrigued.

Overall the essays are not groundbreaking, but they are presented in a very accessible and highly engaging way. The five essays are organized roughly by theme. The first is a general overview and personal account about Hill’s fascination with blood, the second looks at the connection between blood, truth, and honour; the third is about blood ties and belonging; the fourth deals with blood as power; and the last looks at the secrets that can be found in blood.

In each essay Hill brings together a wealth of knowledge with references to popular culture acknowledging wide held beliefs about blood. Overall I liked Hill’s treatment of the subject, and I liked his nonfiction much better than any of his novels that I have read. Blood is indeed a fascinating thing, and Hill does a good job treating it as such.

Recipes – No Machine Vanilla Ice Cream

Everyone who knows me knows I love ice cream. I always keep my freezer well stocked and often find myself taking walks down the street to the Baskin Robbins on summer evenings.

I’ve always wanted to try to make my own ice cream, but this has proven to be difficult, as I don’t have an ice cream maker. While working as a camp counsellor we made outside in plastic bags with rock salt, but as I live in an apartment downtown this didn’t seem like a realistic method either. I found this recipe and decided to give it a try.

2015-07-19 14.06.45

Whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks. An electric mixer would have been helpful.

Overall it wasn’t terrible, it was actually quite good, but it just didn’t taste like ice cream. It was much denser and not quite as creamy, but lacking an ice cream maker I think this is to expected. I’m also a huge fan of frozen banana ice cream. The kind where you mash up bananas, mix with nutella, and freeze the mixture, which turns into the consistency of ice cream. There are definitely ways to stay cool during the summer and ways to make ice cream without an ice cream maker, but for now I think I’ll stick to my Ben and Jerry’s or my nightly walks to Baskin Robbins.

2015-07-19 14.12.14

Pour mixture into a frozen loaf pan and cover with saran wrap before putting back into the freezer.

While I was reading Susan Gilman’s The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, I found myself craving ice cream reading all her descriptions of different flavors and the processes in which ice cream is made. As I have already written, Gilman’s novel was fantastic and she also provides a brief insight into the history of ice cream. Anyone looking for more information about the history of ice cream should check out a this podcast episode put out by Stuff You Should Know. A relatively new food pocast, Gastropod, also just did an episode about ice cream which also focuses on the history and science of ice cream. Anyone interested in whats new and trendy in ice cream should check out this episode from The Table Set, and while you’re listening to podcasts you should absolutely check out this episode from my favourite podcasters over at Spilled Milk where they teamed up with Dan Pashman from the Sporkful to taste vanilla ice cream.

Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream Without A Machine (From ZoomyYummy)

1 1/4 cups Heavy Whipping Cream
2/3 Cup Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

  1. Whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form
  2. Add the condensed milk and the vanilla extract, gently fold to combine.
  3. Pour the mixture into a container (I used a loaf pan, which I had put in the freezer for 20 minutes prior to filling)
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in freezer for at least 6 hours.

Kyla Wazana Tompkins – Racial Indigestion (2012)

RacialIndigestionMuch like Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs, this book was much more race/gender/queer theory than food history. This should not be surprising given that the central argument of the book is that eating is central to the performative production of raced and gendered bodies in the 19th century, but I still would have liked to see a bit more discussion about the role of food.

The 19th century is an area that I have a specific interest in so reading this book was still enjoyable, although it was dense at times. I especially enjoyed her discussions surrounding the Alcott family and the different ideas that sprung up surrounding diet that I have discussed earlier. One of the strongest points she made was in looking at how the Americans linked the omnivores diet, which embodies a republican virtue of balance not found among the British, to racial and imperial superiority.

Bread, as it played a central role in American’s diets, also played a central role in this books. She discussed the role of bread in households as well as the impact of the change from open hearth cooking to stovetop cooking had on the family.

While she touches briefly on Sidney Mintz’s work on sugar, I wished she dealt more with it, especially since he is one of the preeminent scholars on the links between food and race. Overall however this was an interesting read.