Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Classics Club: The Merchant of Venice

For January, Let's Read Plays gives free choice of a play.  Would I choose an easy, romantic, harmless play to read?  Of course not!  I chose The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare - a play that really troubled me and I still can't say whether I liked it or not...

While reading about the play, I have remarked that most comments focused on the anti-semitic element of the play.  That was the one thing that bothered me, the other being the ending itself of the play ...

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Y. Ogawa

What a great book... I will start by writing the end in this post, because I was so impressed with this work of literature.  I first heard of Ogawa through other bloggers participating in the Japanese Literature Challenge, as she's regarded as one of modern Japan's more renowned authors.  From her various works, I somehow saw something more in The Housekeeper and the Professor, so decided to read this for the challenge.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Recipe: apple crumb pie

I think I have multiple personalities.  While at day I am immersed in the harsh reality of the working environment, the minute I get home in the evening, I'm as soft as pie... apple pie, that is! There is no better scent than having an apple pie baking away in the house - whatever you may be stressed about, it will surrender to the beauty of the apple and magically disappear...
Note:  don't be afraid by the list of ingredients.  Most are staples, and once everything is in the counter, the assembly is a piece of cake (but this recipe is for pie - not cake!!!)

Apple crumb pie

For the cream cheese crust:
120g butter, cold
what a great pie!

185g flour
85g cream cheese, cold
1/8tsp baking powder
(a pinch of cinnamon, if you like)
1 1/5tbsp cold water
1 1/2tsp white vinegar
egg white, lightly beaten

For the filling:
6 medium apples, in chunks
1tbsp lemon juice
2tsp cornstarch
70g brown sugar
55g white sugar
(a pinch of cinnamon, if you like)
And the first piece... is for me!

For the topping:
75g brown sugar
25g white sugar
140g flour
110g butter, softened
100g chopped walnuts
(a pinch of cinnamon, if you like)
1 1/2tsp vanilla extract

Start with the crust.  In a food processor, blitz flour baking powder and salt.  Add cream cheese, blitz.  Add butter and blitz.  Add water and vinegar and blitz until it detaches from the sides.  Roll to a circle to line a 25cm (deepish) pie dish.  Put in refrigerator for about 20 minutes. 
In the meantime, preheat the oven at 200 degrees C.  In a bowl, peel, core and cut the apples in chunks.  Add the remaining ingredients, cover all pieces well, leave to rest.

Blind bake the crust:  line with aluminium foil, spread baking beans (in my case old dried beans) and bake for about 15 minutes.  Remove foil, brush crust with egg white. Now, you can pour the apples in the dish.  Cover it with a foil dome (so that the apples will not get black when baked), slit some holes with a knive.  Bake for about 50 minutes.

As you wait, make the topping:  put all ingredients in a bowl.  Lightly pinch with fingertips until all is crumble...
Get pie out of the oven, discard foil dome and spread topping evenly. Lower temperature to 180 degrees C.  Protect edges with foil (so that they don't overbrown)  and bake for a further 15 minutes.  Cool on a rack.

This post is my entry into Weekend Cooking, a weekly event hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Monday or Tuesday - Celebrating Virginia Woolf's Birthday

Today marks the birthday of Virginia Woolf.  Known for the diversity of literary works she penned, she is also considered one of the finest modernists of the 20th century.  A member of the Bloomsbury group, she would leave a legacy that includes Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orland and of course a Room of one's own (in which a universal truth still rings in my ears:  a woman needs money and a room of her own if she is to write...)

To mark her birthday, however, I will not read one of her more known works.  I will instead turn my attention to her short-story collection, Monday or Tuesday, which she published through The Hogarth Press, the company she established with her husband, Leonard Woolf.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Classics Club: In praise of shadows, by J. Tanizaki

I bought this particular book a while back, but never bothered to open it.  I left it sheltered among many other books that share this fate:  bought because of real interest, even after research, only to remain undiscovered for some time. 

What provoked the sudden re-discovery?  A film called "Le Hérisson" (The Hedgehog).  Great film, based on a great book, but the important point is that it describes a woman with a hidden room full of classic books, with one in plain sight:  In praise of shadows, by J. Tanizaki.  Was my book then considered a classic? 

I had bought it because I liked the subject and the fact that it describes the Japanese approach to it.  Excited to have such a find among my books without intention, I read it during the Classics Club's first readathon on the 5th January 2013.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Cheerful weather for the wedding, by J. Strachey

Simon wanted to start the year with a nice Persephone book, Cheerful weather for the wedding, by J. Stachey.  I'm a new convert to the Persephone books, so I immediately jumped at the opportunity and made my first order for these great-quality books.

Before reading the book, however, I reverted to my old tactics, and watched the movie version.  What a delightful, Downton Abbey-ish production, slightly on the romantic side... I was looking forward to see how the written form would be like.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Recipe: Reisfleisch

Confession:  I'm not a multiple-pan person.  When I cook, I don't want to have a pan for the protein, a pan for the vegetables and a pan for the starch, all bubbling away to make the one dish I want to eat - I don't enjoy the experience.  I'd rather have a huge pot, where I can cook all the ingredients, the one after the other, and have a warm, comforting, delightful dish as a result.  This is my recipe for a typical wintery German dish that shelters me from all evil (cold, work, traffic) like nothing else...

Friday, 18 January 2013

The Classics Club: my favourite Classic read (so far...)

For January, the Classics Club's question came at a time when I was making a review of my first year as a blogger:  the challenges I had participated in, the readalongs I had followed and anniversaries of great personalities that I celebrated with a book.  Whatever the occasion, there was always a reason to read.  And I did fairly well - 80 books read in 2012!!!  And yes, the majority was for the Classics Club - to such an extent that I'm already half-way my 5-year plan (Hint:  I'll just add more classics to the list...).  

Though I enjoy every single book I read (otherwise, I toss it away), I am particularly keen on my Classics.  So, rather than reply what THE favourite Classic read to-date is,  I'll try to see which Classics have left a stamp on me and which I would recommend everyone reads at some point in their lives:

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Flight Behavior, by B. Kingsolver

The new year starts with a powerful book for my book club, Flight Behavior by B. Kingsolver.  I had not read any of her books, and was very interested in the plot.  The majority of my book club had read other books by the author, namely the Poisonwood Bible, so I got to be the sole neutral reader of the book.  This helped in many ways my reading as I did not know what to expect - although in many ways, it simply confirmed the views discussed during our meeting.

Monday, 14 January 2013

This is not fiction challenge

This is the year that I'll really get out of my comfort zone - I'll tackle non-fiction (I've always read it, but not to this extent) and I'll have a go at religious texts.

For the first adventure, I'll subscribe to Birgit's This isn't Fiction challenge, and opt for the Kindergarten level (...) - 5 books:

Charles Darwin - On the origin of species

Adam Hochschild:  King Leopold's Ghost

Edmund de Waal:  The Hare with the Amber Eyes

Simon Sebag Montefiore - Jerusalem

Mark Mazower:  Salonica, City of Ghosts

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Recipe: ultimate fish pie

There are recipes that evolve - I start making one recipe, but as I make it over and over again, I realise that I've moved away from the original ingredients and have ended up with a basically new recipe.  
Not this one.  While I tried to move away from my original fish pie recipe, it's never tasted as good as the first one, so at some point I stopped trying to vary it and just stuck with the good old ingredients.  A fish pie, by nature, is one of the more comforting foods available and this one has been a staple in my diet for many, many years!

My favourite Fish pie
inspired from Jamie Oliver

700gr firm white fish, cooked
3 handfuls spinach,  cooked
2 boiled eggs, cut in quarters
2 large potatoes, boiled and mashed with milk

for the sauce:
1 carrot
1 onion
500ml single cream
2 handfuls shredded cheese
1 tsp grainy mustard
juice from 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven at 210 C.  Make the sauce:  finely chop carrot and onion, fry over medium heat in a tsp of olive oil.  Add cream, let it cook for about 1 minute.  Remove from heat, add remaining ingredients.  In a large dish, start layering in this order:  fish, spinach, eggs.  Cover with sauce and top everything with the mashed potatoes.  Bake for about 25 minutes.  Leave to cool slightly and try not to eat the whole dish!

This post is my entry into Weekend Cooking, a weekly event hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Συγχώρεση (Forgiveness) by S. Triantafyllou

Again a novel in a non-English language to prove that there is plenty of good material outside the English-speaking world!  I received this as a birthday present from my sister and I read it in one evening.  Pity there is no translation in the market because it deals with a subject that is extremely delicate with a manner that is equally so...

A mother discovers her only child, a teenage daughter, is murdered.  Already this is enough to cause a lot of emotions.  Yet, the author describes the process of the mother rejecting this at first, her memories of the various phases with the child, the clash and ultimate break-up of the family to the final acceptance of the fact in such a dense, yet calm manner that I (childless) felt fully in character.  This situation is so difficult to describe without resorting to over-the-top hysterics and screams, that I appreciated this dead calm I'm sure goes on in the midst of a truly horrible situation.  I was immersed in a world I don't know, yet am pretty sure would apply to me too.  This was also the place where a first shock was presented:  while the mother suffers in silence, the father decides that the child is no longer reality, so the mother is no longer reality, so he wants to live in reality - he walks out, gets married, has child.  This was so infuriating to read (and I know that it would apply to any person) that I spent a good amount of time trying to find a logical explanation as to why some can simply walk over their ordeals and start fresh, while others will carry their cross for the rest of their lives...

The twist in the story is the title of the book, and refers to the mother getting to know her daughter's murderer.  The story continues with the mother writing to him and insisting to know why he killed her daughter, to her visiting him in prison as he awaits execution.  She comes to forgive him and actually feel sorry for him.  When he calls (he regards her as his only friend), she accepts the charges and little by little they form a bond - to the point that, when  he's dead, she arranges his burial and receives all his personal belongings.  What struck me though, was the author's courage to raise a very delicate subject - even when a murderer is dead, a parent will not get their child back, they will not "get even" - there will just be another dead body in their lives.  The mother has to keep her thoughts to herself because everyone expects her to be vengeful - but she's not.  We are all here on Earth to do good to people - there are just so many reasons why things can go wrong...

A very disturbing story, but really well worth reading.

Monday, 7 January 2013

The Classics Club: Rebecca

I read Rebecca for the Gothic event hosted by O of Délaissé last October, but started in an unusual manner:  I first watched Hitchcock's film version (with Joan Fontaine et Laurence Olivier), so that I would get into the mood, before I read the book...

A classic film-noir, it was all I needed to get over a nasty cold that bugged me for a week!  On a serious note, though, I knew Hitchcock would more or less keep the storyline intact, and I really enjoyed the twists to the story, but what about the ending?  Would that be totally different in the book?  

On to the reading, then...

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Classics Club Readathon - finished!

I've been looking forward to this readathon since last year!  A chance to read a good chunk of classic literature is always very welcome to me - I can get distracted very easily...

The Classics Club blog has organised a little starting point and finishing point questionnaire, and I'll try to update from time to time my progress towards my reading:

  1. Name and Blog: Patty at A Tale of Three Cities
  2. Snacks and Beverages of Choice: Fast food, I'm afraid - some very nice cheeseballs and chickenballs from the Greek deli, downed with some detox smoothies!
  3. Where are you reading from today? constantly changing depending on mood...
  4. What are your goals for the Readathon? Get a good chunk of reading done!
  5. What book(s) are you planning on reading? I'm starting with Sophie's World by     J. Gaarder.  If I manage to finish, I'll continue with In praise of shadows by J. Tanizaki and then I'll see what else!!!
  6. Are you excited? oh yes!

so, ok - I did get everything set from early on on Saturday (I'm supposed to be starting at 14.00 Brussels time) and I may have read a couple of chapters from Sophie's world just to get an idea of the book...

14.00 - Start of the Readathon - very chilly today! it's really a good time to stay under covers and read!

17.30 - One third of the book done, I've noticed that my speed is getting slower as the day progresses... I'll have a tiny break now and get some tidying done in the house (I'm just back from the holidays)

22.00 - I've stopped at page 401 of 611.  I'm just too tired to understand what I'm reading.  I may look at another, lighter book from my list for the remainder of the day.  I'll read the rest of Sophie's world tomorrow!

00.15 - Finished book #1, In Praise of Shadows by J. Tanizaki - that's it for day one. See you all tomorrow!

06.30 - Good morning!  The order of the day is a huge pot of coffee and the remainder of Sophie's world...

10.05 (to be exact) - Finished with book #2, Sophie's World by J. Gaarder.  This is the end of my first Classics Club readathon!

A big thank you goes to the moderators who kept everyone motivated even at odd hours (I was barely awake when I saw Allie's and Adam's tweets, making it past midnight their time...) but also to the fellow bloggers who have provided me with YET more books on my TBR list!

For my part, I'm amazed that I managed a 600+ book in two half days - which is a good thing, as there are another 3 such books waiting in line...

See you all in the pages of the Classics Club!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Challenges: My progress in 2012

It's a whole new year!  Start on a clean slate, you say?  Yes, indeed - that is, with regard to my reading challenges.  While I'm very happy with the overall progress in 2012, I can now, without fear, admit that I may have had too much on my plate.  Still, reading so much more intensely has made me more selective about what I want to read and which challenges to subscribe to this year (I hope...)

Without further ado, this is what happened in the last twelve months:



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