“Ever since Mary’s hip replacement, it was Jack’s responsibility to get the mail.”
“The Card” by H. L. Fullerton, published by Flash Fiction Online.
“Ever since Mary’s hip replacement, it was Jack’s responsibility to get the mail.”
“The Card” by H. L. Fullerton, published by Flash Fiction Online.
Author: Atiq Rahimi
Rating: 3 stars
This book was received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Great literature transcends culture to say something universal about the human condition. But how individuals relate to literature has a lot to do with their cultural experiences. A Curse on Dostoevsky transplants Crime & Punishment to Afghanistan after the Soviet war, and raises the question, what happens when you live in a society where atonement and justice for an individual crime is considered at best a luxury, at worst a waste of time? What happens when murder is considered less consequential than denial of faith?
A Curse on Dostoevsky begins in media res as desperate Rassoul murders an old pawnbroker/madam who is prostituting his fiance and bleeding him dry of money. Immediately, the Russian scholar thinks of Crime & Punishment, and flees without accomplishing his supposed purpose of robbing her. In the aftermath of his crime, Rassoul wanders aimlessly, spends most of his time smoking hash, and struggles to come to terms with his guilt. Eventually he attempts to turn himself in to be punished for the murder, only to find that that the corrupt, war-torn government is more concerned with crimes of ideology than the murder of an inconsequential woman. As the philosophy goes, if God doesn’t exist, everything is permitted; therefore, if everything is permitted, does it mean that God doesn’t exist? It is this supposed radicalism that Rassoul is to be punished for, not the crime he actually committed.
This is not a novel that will appeal to everyone. It is unquestionably a work of translation–translations vary widely, but to me they often feel stilted and somewhat awkward in their language. It is unapologetically philosophical and mystical. And it has one of the strangest narrative voices I’ve encountered in a long time–part universal narrator, part internal dialogue within Rassoul.
But it is a fascinating piece of intertextual literature. This is the first piece I’ve read by an Afghani writer (though it was originally written in French). It uses Russian literature as a lens through which to examine Afghani culture, which provides an interesting access point for Western readers probably more familiar with the former than the latter.
Warning! Before you read further in this post, please be aware it is spoiler city, and not just for books. Cause we’re talking about death in fiction today. Tread with caution if you want to avoid spoilers about: A Song of Ice and Fire, Breaking Bad, I Shall Be Near to You, SLC Punk!, and other, smaller spoilers. And who knows what else might come up in the comments.
Got it? Good.
“Top ten reasons Cindy asked Brian for a divorce tonight:”
“Top Ten List” by D. Quentin Miller, published by Every Day Fiction.
As you may have surmised by now, I have a lot of cookbooks. Most of them I never use, even when I intend to. I’ve become somewhat of a collecter, and I’m not sure why. Maybe I just really like pictures of food?
Cookbooks, unfortunately, are expensive. So when I say I’m a collecter, what I really mean to say is that every time I go to a used bookstore or a Goodwill, I browse the shelves for the weirdest things I can find. I like practical cookbooks, sure, but I also like things like diet books from the 70s.
One of my earliest “weirdos” is A Fifteenth Century Cookry Boke, compiled in the 1960s. The recipes are written in Middle English, and of course contain no measurements as we know them. Here you can find such recipes as Pgge or Chiken in Sauge, Puddyng of Purpaysse, Garbage (I’m going to assume the meaning of the word has changed over the centuries), and A Goos in Hogepotte. Needless to say, I haven’t tried any of these recipes, but I love looking through them.
Another favorite, since I’m a Florida girl, is Jane Nickerson’s Florida Cookbook (published in 1973). There are soul food and Jewish recipes, Cuban recipes, and even Seminole recipes, and recipes for some things that even as a born and bred Floridian I missed growing up. Things like armadillo. Yum.
But my absolute favorite oddball is something I found in the sale room of my library on one of my first days of work. Here’s How: Mixed Drinks, published in 1941. It has wooden board for covers and is bound with leather ties, and tells you how to make pretty much every mixed drink you’ve ever heard of, and then some. There are a ton of whimsical illustrations (as well as some really awful, racist ones), and great-named concoctions such as the Hot Brick, the Knickerbocker, the Zombie, and Huckle-My-Butt. Seriously, what were our grandparents getting up to?
Well, that does it for my first ever foray into the world of cookbooks. If you guys enjoyed it, maybe I’ll try it again sometime. Cookbooks have really helped me stretch my boundaries with food, and become more confidant in my ability to feed myself and others. Its just another facet of the book industry that I really love.
I’ve done my duty by talking about healthy foods, but now it’s time for the really fun stuff: baked goods. I have a massive sweet tooth, and baking is what started me collecting cookbooks. It really relaxes me to bake, and then my coworkers like me because they get lots of yummy stuff to eat. While I suffer from a Cookie Curse (I rarely if ever get cookies to come out remotely right), I really enjoy making cupcakes, full-size cakes, and pies (as long as I don’t have to bake a crust, I’m fairly sure the aforementioned Curse would result). And I love looking at cookbooks of more complicated, pretty treats that I’m too chicken to try. Maybe one day I’ll get over my fear of complicated deserts. But for now, the pictures are just as good.
My absolute favorite cupcake cookbook is Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Now, I’m not a vegan, but I rarely if ever have dairy around (I’m an almond milk girl all the way), and whenever I want to bake a traditional recipe I seem to be fresh out of eggs. So, these are the cupcakes I’ve gotten used to making. The recipes are ridiculously easy, and they are truly the softest, fluffiest cakes I’ve ever had. No dense cake monsters here. I sub almond milk for soy milk in almost all of the recipes and that works fine for me. I’ve gotten in a bit of a baking rut where I almost always make the basic vanilla or chocolate cupcakes, but my true favorites are the apple cider cupcakes. Also good: mint chocolate and oreo. And now, looking over the book again, I see all kinds of recipes I haven’t tried yet and will have to add to my repertoire.
The newest addition to my cookbook library is The Petit Four Cookbook by Brooks Coulson Nguyen. Like I’m sure many girls of the 80s and 90s, petit fours take me straight back to Samantha (who happened to be my favorite American Girl), so I pretty much had to have this book.
I haven’t made anything–yet. There’s some equipment I don’t have in my kitchen, and I don’t have things like marzipan handy at my local grocery store. But the pictures in this book are absolutely beautiful, and are inspiring me to try. The recipes and assembly instructions are laid out clearly enough that, even though it’s an involved process, I think it should be a fairly simple one. So someday soon, maybe petit fours will be as second nature to me as cupcakes are.
Like many people, I’m at risk for Diabetes and other nutrition-related diseases. Changing my habits hasn’t necessarily been easy, but I’m working every day to be healthier. I’m eating less processed foods, and trying to cook more for myself (one thing that’s been a revolutionary help has been getting rid of my microwave). And once a week, I try to make either a gluten-free recipe or a vegetarian one.
One recipe a week may not sound like a lot, but considering I live alone and always get tons of leftovers even when I halve recipes, it stretches pretty far.
When it comes to eating gluten-free, my advice (worth nothing, probably. but given to you for free), is to avoid the gluten-free products you find on the shelves. It’s just as processed or more as the crap you were eating before, and a substitution will ALWAYS taste like a substitution. When I first started out with recipes, I tried to make a lot of gluten-free “breads,” and the like, and they tasted like sawdust. You spend a ton more money on products that taste worse, and that is just depressing.
So, I look for recipes that make well-rounded meals without needing anything with wheat or gluten included. I read a bunch of books on the advice of my doctor, and the best so far for me has been William Davis’s Wheat Belly. I don’t agree with everything he says or think it holds true in my case, but then again I do not actually have gluten intolerence issues, and some of the recipes are amazing. My favorites are the Mexican Tortilla Soup, Three-Cheese Eggplant Bake, and the Parmesan Breaded Pork Chops with Balsamic-Roasted Vegetables. I’d like to try out the accompanying full-length cookbook one of these days. Not everything is good–the aforementioned gluten-free “bread” was gag-inducing–but there are some interesting flavors and new dishes.
As for eating vegetarian, this is a huge challenge for me. I grew up eating meat-veggie-starch at almost every dinner, and it’s still hard for me to see vegetables as the basis for a meal. Plus, I have this weird thing where I can’t stand raw foods, so eating salads is really a challenge for me. One thing I’m trying to do is pick one completely new ingredient that I’ve never tried before every time I go to the grocery store, and then find a recipe to go around it. It doesn’t always work well (rhubarb and I are not friends), but in just the past year I’ve added all kinds of ingredients I’d never even tried before to my regular repertoire.
There are a ton of great vegetarian cookbooks out there. One of my favorites is–you may have guessed it–Betty Crocker’s Vegetarian Cooking. This was another purchase I made during Nook’s big cookbook sale. It’s really accessible and easy to follow, and the recipes are delicious. The Quinoa and Corn Salad (it was a lettuce-less salad. I basically had to try it.) was fresh and filling, and adaptable too. I had a ton of leftovers, and so I used them as a base for stuffed peppers (adding a bit of tomato sauce and some herbs), which were fantastic.
The book also has good sections on how to stock a vegetarian pantry and what to use as vegetarian and vegan substitutions.
When it comes to a healthy lifestyle, its the big, dramatic changes that get all the attention. But for some people, like me, its the little changes that add up. And if you are hesitant about new foods or cooking styles that you’ve never tried before, cookbooks can really help with the transition. You just have to have a little willingness to try new things.
I love “basic” cookbooks for beginning cooks, because I think they offer the most bang for your buck. You can get a lot of different types of recipes in one book, usually with common ingredients and fairly simple instructions. When Barnes & Noble had a sale on Nook books recently, I picked up Aida Mollenkamp’s The Keys to the Kitchen. This was my first time using a cookbook on my ereader. While ultimately I like using real cookbooks better, it was a deal I couldn’t pass up, and it turned out to be a fantastic cookbook.
The Keys to the Kitchen covers a lot of ground. There are basic instructions on how to do everything from blooming spices to shucking oysters. There are a ton of recipes. And there’s an entire section on “riffs,” teaching you how to balance flavors, use unfamiliar ingredients, stock and cook from a pantry, and even how to make homemade cleaners. It’s an absolutely huge resource, with clear writing and gorgeous photographs.
I used the basic instructions to learn how to cut up a whole chicken. This is something that’s always intimidated me, but the pictures were a great guide, and the instructions were simple and easy to follow. When it came to the recipes, I tried the Quinoa-Stuffed Bell Peppers and Roasted Smoked Bratwurst with Chutney Style Apples, and am eager to try the Tomato-Orange Soup, the Rosemary-Lemon Fried Chicken, and many, many more.
The thing about ebooks is, you can’t get them dirty. Also, I really missed having spreads. Having to turn the page after every page instead of every two made the cookbook a little awkward to use. So I’d love to see what Keys to the Kitchen looks like in hard copy.
But regardless of format difficulties, the recipes here were spot-on and delicious. The advice was great for those new to the kitchen, and those more familiar with it. I’d venture to guess that almost anyone would come away with some new knowledge from this book.
It’s Cookbook Week here at The Bastard Title! Over the next few days, I’m going to be posting about some of my favorite cookbooks, from those that include basic and classic recipes, to sweet treats, to weird cookbooks I like to collect but have never used (yet).
But first: a confession. When I initially conceived of this idea back in January, I planned to go all food blogger on you guys and have gorgeous pictures. But you know what? Photographing food is hard. I honestly don’t know how all those gorgeous food bloggers out there do it, but I suspect I was hampered by a) a crummy camera b) no natural light in my kitchen and c) my basic inability to make food pretty. I watch Chopped all the time, but I still can’t get presentation skills down :). So anyway, no food pictures, alas. I hope you’ll enjoy this little diversion from your regularly scheduled programming anyway.
So let’s start things off with the classic of all classics: Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook.
The first thing my mother gave me when I moved into my own apartment was the facsimile edition of the Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook. I have to say, I was surprised. While I love my mom’s food, she isn’t exactly a gourmet chef, and when we were growing up she mostly served a rotating stable of basic recipes (meatloaf, mac & cheese & kielbasa, pasta, something we called Sloppy Chicken). I didn’t remember her ever so much as looking at a cookbook for those.
But considering the first thing I did in that apartment was accidentally summon the fire department with a bad burger cooking experience, I figured I should give this whole cookbook thing a try.
The reason my mom gave me the Betty Crocker was that it was the one her mother owned, and what her mother gave her when she married. She still has my Nana’s tattered and loved copy, along with her own, a newer addition that was published in the seventies. The one she gave me was the facsimile, which means it is an exact copy of what was printed in 1950.
That’s right. This thing is 64 years old. If you’re looking for basic, classic American recipes, there’s basically nowhere else worth looking.
This is the cookbook where I learned how to make my own bread. It’s where I go every Christmas for cookie recipes, and what I open every time I have to make a birthday cake. In fact, I still use it mostly to bake, because baking, far more than cooking, is my comfort zone. But one day I’m totally gonna have to make a molded gelatin salad or “Emergency Steak” with Wheaties (no, really, that’s a thing, a steak made with ground beef and cereal.)
Despite it’s age, the Betty Crocker still provides relevant and easy-to-follow advice about how to pick seasonal produce, how to cook different cuts of meat and vegetables, and how to plan meals for a family.
There’s some not-so-relevant advice for the homemaker as well. It’s easy to romanticize and oversimplify the postwar era, but living in 2014 it’s hard to look at such “short-cuts” as “Notice humorous and interesting incidents to relate at dinnertime” and “If you are tired, lie down on the floor on your back, put your hands above your head, close your eyes, and relax for 3 to 5 mins” as anything but hysterically quaint. There’s even an illustration of a poor 50s housewife napping on her kitchen floor. God forbid she sully the bed.
But if you can make it past the sometimes condescending tone and dated advice, Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook is a great general resource, especially for kitchen novices. It’s simply a classic.