Tag Archives: 1930s

Wayne Grady – Emancipation Day (2013)

EmancipationDayThis book has been getting a lot of buzz in the past year from Canadian book reviewers, mostly for the style of writing. I will agree that Wayne Grady has written this book in a rhythmic way that evokes the jazz music that appears throughout the story. The music is not the driving force as it is in Half Blood Blues however, but rather belongs in the background, providing ambiance music to set the scene. As much as I enjoyed Grady’s writing, for me the story was about 60% there.

Essentially Grady is telling the story of Jack, an African American boy who is born with white skin. He grows up in Windsor Ontario during the 30s and 40s before the outbreak of the Second World War. During the war, while stationed in Newfoundland Jack meets Vivian and marries her but tries to keep his family a secret. Things get complicated however when the pair travel to Windsor to meet his family and Vivian finds out she is expecting a child.

It’s a good story, but I feel like it either should have been a lot longer, or much shorter focusing in on Jack’s refusal to acknowledge, and even hatred of, his own race. There is so much interesting emotional stuff to dissect with his character which wasn’t really done. There is no real climax or conclusion to the novel, and the characters do not really develop. I still liked the book but I’m not so sure if it deserves all the immense praise it has received.

Tilar J. Mazzeo – The Hotel on the Place Vendome (2014)

HotelOnPlaceVendomeIn general, if a book is written about Paris during the Second World War, there is a very good chance that I am going to love it. With this book however, I started out loving it, then I didn’t like it, then I liked it, then I didn’t again, before finally deciding that I couldn’t decide if I liked it or hated it.

This is mostly because Mazzeo tries to present a history of the Ritz during the Second World War without actually talking about the Ritz during the Second World War. She starts off with the founding of the Ritz, then the German invasion of Paris, before jumping immediately to D-day in the third chapter. I assumed that maybe she wasn’t going in chronological order, which turned out to be only half true. The events going on at the Ritz are alluded to, but are not explored fully, which is crazy because you had high ranking German officers living in the same hotel that became a hub for clandestine activities for the French resistance.

Where Mazzeo does exel in in her profiles of the rich and famous people who lived at the Ritz either before or during the war including, but not limited to Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, and her favourite, Coco Chanel. Because her focus is on these personalities, she writes at length about the press battle that waged with covering D-Day and the Allied invasions. I’ve seen all the famous photographs, but never really stopped to think about the process reporters, like Ernest Hemingway and Robert Capa, went through to get them. I also learned that Ho Chi Mihn worked in the kitchens at the Ritz, and interesting factoid that Mazzeo threw in during the last chapter.

It was interesting, and I liked parts of it, I just wish that Mazzeo had done more on the events that took place at the Ritz during the war, especially regarding the resistance movement that so many of the staff were involved in. She captures the spirit of the Ritz during the war, the eternal glamour that the hotel sought to maintain, but I wanted more regarding life “behind the scenes.”

This seems to be a period of time that is of interest to Tilar J. Mazzeo and she has written another book solely on Coco Chanel’s dubious life during the war. Because the chapter regarding Coco Chanel was one of my favourites, I think I will add it to my TBR list.

Maria Duenas – The Time in Between (2011)

TheTimeinBetweenThis book falls somewhere in between for me. I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t dying to pick up and read it either. It wasn’t compelling for me, although some will probably disagree.

The Time in Between follows, Sira a quaint Spanish dressmaker who gets caught up, first with a conman, and then in the word of high espionage, in the years leading up to the Second World War. Sira travels from Madrid, to Spanish Morocco, to Lisbon, and then back again all while never sure of whom she is. Throughout the novel Sira struggles with her own identity, first as a shy seamstress working with her mother in a workshop, then as “fallen women” considered to be a criminal, working a dressmaker to pay off the debts incurred by her conman lover. She amasses some important clientele and fashions herself as a high class courtier catering to the wives of important government officials when the English secret service decides to make use of her talents and insider connections.

Duenas paints beautiful scenes of Spanish Morocco and Tangiers during the 1930s, but I’m afraid that something has been lost in translation. Because the book is originally written in Spanish, I fear that some of it’s magic may have been lost in the English version. Translating a book is a difficult thing to accomplish, and something that it is almost impossible to perfect. Still the book moves at a good pace and was a pleasant read, although not a terribly thrilling one.

I did not realize the book was based on real characters until reading the authors note at the end. It changed the book for me a bit and I wish I had done a bit more research before reading. I still might go back and read it again if I have the time.

Recipes – Adventures in Crisco

A few weeks ago I posted about a great vintage cookbook I found published by Proctor & Gable from the 1930s. It featured Crisco as a prominent and versatile ingredient and I promised to try out some recipes. I keep a separate blog for my food related adventures so if you’d like to check out my attempts at making Crisco Biscuits as well as Crisco Sandwich Spread you can on that site.

Overall cooking with Crisco was similar to cooking with margarine, only slightly more greasy and messy. I really had to soak everything to get it clean. Taste-wise there’s a bit of a difference. The biscuits were flaky and tender but lacked that buttery-taste. While it makes sense to use Crisco for pastries when flakiness is a desired trait, but I don’t see Crisco Sandwich Spread becoming a household staple any time soon.

Friday Finds – 12 Dozen Time-Saving Recipes from Proctor & Gamble

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Happy Friday Everyone. I wanted to share this fun little cookbook I recently purchased from the Culinary Historians of Canada. It contains 144 recipes and “a great many time-saving kitchen suggestions,” and was published by Proctor and Gamble in 1932.

It should not be surprising that this little book is targeted at women and is designed to make their life at home easier by providing recipes for meals that are simple and easy to prepare, “For today, activities outside the home are demanding more and more of women’s time.” The role of women was certainly in flux during this time, and with the Economic Depression of the 1930s, this booklet is aimed at saving not only time but also money.

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“Crisco is a Modern, Trouble-Saving Ingredient.”

Enter Crisco. Being published by Proctor and Gamble means that many of the recipes contained push P&G products, most notably this Pure Vegetable Shortening. Crisco was introduced by Proctor and Gamble in 1911, and every single recipe in this booklet calls for it. It’s easy to see why Crisco was so appealing, made out of vegetables, Crisco was promoted as being a healthier alternative to lard or butter. In addition, Crisco stays fresh and solid for a long time and does not need to be refrigerated. In the midst of an economic depression, many families relied on food that had longevity.

Crisco is something that we still use today and its popularity is actually credited to the publication of free cookbooks that feature the ingredient. My mom, for one, still uses Crisco to ensure her pie crusts are flaky and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. In fact the recipes for pastry and pies in this book look similar to the recipes we would use today. A recipe for a flaky pie crust contains 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 2/3 cups of Crisco, and Cold Water.

The Benefits of Crisco

The Benefits of Crisco

Being the 1930s however, some recipes seem totally revolting. The recipe for “Crisco Sandwich Spread,” “Sardine Paste,” or “Fried Ham Cake” for example. While I cannot fathom using Crisco as a sandwich spread the recipe contained in this book is intriguing. I think next week I might make it my mission to try some of these recipes. Stay tuned!