Stuff & Nonsense

22 January 2018

Bryony & Roses

In Bryony & Roses, Bryony and her sisters have been forced to retire to a small cottage in the remote village of Lostfarthing on the outer edge of nowhere after the death of their father following a series of terrible investments. They have made friends in the village, found purpose in their new lives and are, at least for Bryony, more truly themselves than they ever were during their rich days in the city. (While they've definitely come down in the world, I saw them more as genteelly impoverished, like the Dashwood sisters, than truly poor).

Anyway, one day Bryony goes off to fetch some particularly hardy rutabaga seeds from a nearby village and she finds herself caught in a spring blizzard. Miles from home, disoriented and freezing, she stumbles upon an impossible manor house. In the manor house is ... well, you know. The Rose. The Beast. The Curse.

Bryony & Roses is a lovely, playful, and yet surprisingly dark retelling of the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. In the introduction, Kingfisher writes that she was inspired by Robin McKinley's Rose Daughter and, taken in its entirety, Mckinley's influence is clear. This is no bad thing -- McKinley’s Beauty and the Beast retellings, Beauty and Rose Daughter, remain two of my favorite fantasy novels. Indeed, Beauty was my very first fairy tale retelling and I’m always eager to find similar works.

The ending was, I thought, perfect and I loved the message it sent -- not that love conquers all or that love can turn a monster back into a prince, but simply: if you love someone, you love them for who they are not who they could be or were once upon a time.

Bryony & Roses by T. Kingfisher. Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2015.

18 January 2018

Exploring Food52 Vegan for Cookbook Club

January's library cookbook theme was veg*n -- vegetarian and/org vegan -- cooking. January is the time of year when many people embrace new lifestyle choices and I thought veg*n cooking might appeal as plant-based diets are very much on trend. Also, I wanted to push the boat out a bit and challenge my regular participants to venture (at least a little bit) outside their comfort zones.

In the lead-up to January's meeting, I made two recipes from Food52 Vegan: 60 Vegetable-Driven Recipes for Any Kitchen by Gena Hamshaw (Ten Speed Press, 2015). It's a beautifully-packaged introductory cookbook, full of tempting photos, uncomplicated recipes, and handy little "Vegan 101" tips. If you've used other Food52 cookbooks, you'll be familiar with the look and feel. As an omnivore who occasionally dabbles with veg*nism, I didn't find any of recipes "too weird" -- by which I mean I already owned the ingredients I needed or easily found them locally.

The first recipe I tried, "Banana Chia Pudding," was ... okay. It was an easy-to-assemble mixture of unsweetened almond milk, bananas, maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, and chia. The flavor was good -- creamy, maple-y, sweet-but-not-too. Consistency-wise, I found the pudding a bit runny. In all the photos I have seen of chia pudding, it always looks thick -- like tapioca pudding -- but that's not how mine ever comse out. Could my seeds be duds? Is it possible to have old/nonreactive chia seeds?? Anyway, as I said, good flavor. Just a bit soupy.

The second recipe I tried, "Mexican Chocolate Date Truffles," was the dish I ended up presenting at the club meeting. I actually made the truffles the morning of the meeting and then, as they did not require refrigeration, left the truffles out on my desk until it was time to serve them. It took, maybe, 20 minutes to make the truffles and most of that time was just me trying, obsessively, to shape perfect orbs and then settling for orbish truffles.

While mine did not look quite as nice as the ones in the book, they were so easy to make that I know I will make the recipe variations -- oatmeal raisin, key lime, and lemon coconut -- at some point, too, just to see what they're like. The "Mexican chocolate" variation was very date-y and nutty with just a faint bloom of heat and, surprisingly, very little chocolate flavor. I'd used Hershey's Special Dark unsweetened cocoa powder and I think I should have gone for something more robust, like King Arthur Flour's Double Dutch Dark Cocoa. However, the cookbook club participants all enjoyed the truffles just as they were and there wasn't much in the way of leftovers!