Monday, February 21, 2011

Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself by Judy Blume

This was my second audiobook this year and, although The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale is a touch act to follow, I thoroughly enjoyed this one too.

The best thing about it? The audio version of Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself was read by Judy Blume herself! It was great to listen to her read this to me, especially since she says that this is the most autobiographical of her books. I loved Judy Blume as a child and I loved re-discovering her now.

Sally is a great character for us bookworms. She loves stories and she's constantly making them up inside her head. She reads books, but she also watches movies and she wants to be a movie star. Or a detective. Or a ballerina. So basically she's a pretty typical pre-teen, except that she uses everything around her in the stories inside her head. A great character.

But what I enjoyed most about this book, which I would have no doubt missed if I'd read this as a child, was the social history. Sally and her family live in New Jersey, but move to Florida after her brother gets sick, to provide him with a better climate in which to recuperate. Sally's father stays in New Jersey and visits as often as he can afford to, which is not often enough. When Sally starts her new school in Miami, it turns out that there are loads of kids in the same situation. Loads of displaced families relying on the wonder of the Florida sun. Loads of families living without the father, who is back home where his job is and where they all want to be. Moving to Florida for at least part of the year was what one did if one could afford it.

The other social history aspect I found fascinating was the links to World World II and Hitler. The story takes place in the late 1940s and Sally's family was Jewish; they had relatives in Europe who died in the concetration camps. I don't suppose that any family would talk about Hitler all the time in front of their kids, but I guess some of it would be mentioned. Sally was obsessed with Hitler, to the extent that she was convinced that he was living in her building and she would be the one to turn him in. The whole concentration camp thing must have been a really strange part of kids' lives back then. I mean, they knew some facts, they overheard some stuff, parents probably didn't want to discuss it and they couldn't help but think about it. At one point in the book, Sally's preferred make-believe game was not Movie Star or Detective, but concentration camp, complete with fake showers and everything. What a topic to have to cope with at that age.

So - I really liked this short book. And it was very interesting to read it as an adult, just for the social history alone. Having Judy Blume herself read it to me was the icing on the cake.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A book and a head full of thoughts

I'm still here! And I'm still  reading! I just don't have the time (or sometimes the energy) to blog!

Book-wise, I'm continuing the Gallagher Girl series by Ally Carter and have now finished Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover. You'd think that the spy thing should be getting old by now, but no, it still entertains me. This series is the perfect antidote to my stressful days, I highly recommend it if you're in need of something light and fluffy. It's like watching Gossip Girl, clears the brain. :-)

I'm going through a lot at work. There's just so much to do and I'm struggling to fit everything into a workday that actually has to end because I need to pick up Shane. If I was still childless and my only problem for the evening was where to eat, I could manage a stressful month. As it is, I'm struggling.

I've also started rehearsals for a couple of projects which is a good thing because it gets me out of the house a couple of evenings a week, but a bad thing for the same reason.

I have so much on my mind that I think I can actually feel it getting crowded up there. Does that ever happen to you?

That's it for now. I'll be a better blogger in a couple of weeks, things should calm down by then.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Whip up something new - Faworki

Well. I can't believe how busy work has been! Between that and Shane and everything else I haven't had a single second to blog! So sad! But I have been cooking and I have been reading, so there are a few interesting things coming up on my side.

Today, I want to tell you about is a Polish carnival tradition, faworki. Carnival refers to the time right before Lent in Roman Catholic countries and is characterized by a lot of partying, eating and drinking. Which explains this Polish tradition - faworki are deep-fried pieces of dough with powdered sugar on top.

Making them is really easy - explaining might make the process sound more difficult than it is. :-)

Fill a glass with egg yolks. It doesn't matter what size the glass is, some sort of medium-sized variety. Measure out the same amount of beer. Put these in a bowl and add as much flour as is needed to make a dough. the dough shouldn't stick to your hands, but be careful not to put too much flour as then it'll be too tough. This part just takes practice.

Roll out the dough so that it's very thin. Cut into strips and then cut a line in the middle of each strip, like so:

Heat oil in deep-ish pan. It should be enough oil so that the strips of batter can be covered in it and the process can be called deep-frying.

Pick up a strip of dough, out one end through the whole in the middle, to get a shape like this:

Deep fry, turning once, until golden. Once the oil is hot, this goes really fast so it's best to have all your faworki ready to be fried before you start frying. 

Dust generously with sifted powdered sugar.

These are seriously, seriously yummy and they're not as complicated as I make them sound. The most difficult thing about them, I find, is getting the amount of flour right so that the dough doesn't get too touch. Oh and also having the patience to roll the dough out to be really thin, I almost never do.

I don't know why I forgot to take a photo of the finished faworki, but I did, so here is a photo of what they should look like, taken from the web:

And what to do with all the egg whites, you ask? Why, make meringues of course! Beat the egg whites on their own for a while, then add the same amount of sugar, slowly and still beating. Then add the same amount of sugar again, slowly and still beating. And a teaspoon of potato starch (but I've omitted this and the meringues have been fine).  Let them dry in an oven preheated to about 100C for a couple of hours. I always take mine out slightly early because I like them all gooey! Yum!

Go check out the other entries over at Trish's, she's the host in February. And it's actually already high time to find a host for March. Any takers?

Also, don't forget to regularly visit Beth at Beth Fish Reads - she has a great Weekend Cooking event each week!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

I finished this beautiful audiobook some time ago, but put off writing about it because I just don't know how I'm going to do it justice.

There are two parts to my love for this book. The first is the book itself, as written by Shannon Hale. The story of Dashti, a lady's maid, and her lady Saren, locked up in a tower because Seran won't marry who has been chosen for her, an evil lord of a neighboring realm. They break out of the tower eventually, but a find a world that is completely changed, destroyed by Khasar, the man Saren refused. Only one realm is still left standing and free from Khasar and that's where the two girls head for. They live, they grow, they change and they discover and they become mature women with difficult choices to make. They survive.

Shannon Hale's language is captivating, as is the story itself. But what I loved most was the character of Dashti -  brave, smart, scarred, overlooked, incredible Dashti, who is one of my favorite heroines ever. This great site has lots of extra information about The Book of a Thousand Days and explains that the story is based on an old Grimm fairy tale called "Maid Maleen" - but the original completely ignores the side of the maid, her feelings, her predicament. What Shannon Hale did with Dashti to rectify that is amazing.  Aside from her character and thought process in general, I love the backdrop of the serving culture, the division between nobility and muckers. Dashti understands that she was created to serve her Lady but questions it too, at some point. She is an intelligent character and I am certainly not doing her justice here so you'll just have to go meet her yourself.

Another thing I loved about the characters was the development of Dashti and Saren. The way they both evolve, the way all their experiences shape them, Hale describes is so, so well. The women they become really show all they've been through, everything they'be learned. So amazing.

And I loved the role of Gods in the story. That the eight realms of the world were named after Gods, that the Gods influenced so much that went on. They didn't make appearances like in the Greek myths, but they were really a strong presence.

Apparently the setting was inspired by Mongolia, how cool is that??
Which bring me to the second part of my love of this book. I can't imagine that a better audio recording could ever be created. The Book of a Thousand Days was narrated by Chelsey Nixon as Dashti and she was absolutely amazing. She had the perfect voice for this part and her acting was superb. Plus, the whole thing is a Full Cast Audio recording, meaning that different people play different parts. Like in a theatre play. It adds SO much to the experience, the cast really made the book come alive for me. Special mention has to go to Chelsey Nixon's singing - Dashti knows the healing songs and uses them to help those around her. So whenever the text goes: "I sang the song for sadness, which goes :" Chelsey Nixon actually sang the excerpt. Incredible. I'd add more 'incredibles', I want to, but that would be just plain silly. :-)

There's so much more I want to say about this wonderful story, but I'll stop now and let you go discover it for yourself. The only other Shannon Hale book I've read was The Goose Girl and I thought it was only ok. The Book of a Thousand Days makes me want to read everything she's ever written.

Challenges: Seconds Challenge, What's in a Name 4

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Over to Trish!

I don't have time to post anything today (or in the last few days) but just wanted to say that I'll have a round-up post for January's Whip up something new! ready soon. And now that it's February, head on over to Trish's place - she's your February hostess. Go on, you know you want to! :-)