Book Cookin’ Thursday #7 (Or Not): Regular Chocolate Pie

So, heres the thing. I had a plan for the last week to make a chocolate pie using a recipe LOOSELY derived from “Minnys’ Chocolate Pie” (also known as “Revenge Pie” and “Eat my Shit” Pie) from Kathryn Stocketts’ “The Help”. The recipe and the book sat on my desk for a week, I just could not get motivated to make this pie or write this post. For those of you not familiar with the book (shame on you!), it takes place in 1962 Mississippi, and is the story of a white, privileged, 22-year old who sets out to write the story of black Mississippi housemaids and the prejudice they endure. It is a fantastic book and everyone should read it. There is also a movie, which is actually very good if you’re not the reading sort (double shame!)

But about this pie. Minny, one of the maids, gets her revenge on her very cruel former boss by baking her a very special chocolate pie. I had intended to make a similar pie (without the special ingredient), but I just couldn’t do it. Even knowing that my pie would be a simple chocolate pie, my stomach churned at the very thought of a replica revenge pie. So not only is it not Thursday, this is NOT a recipe from a book.

This is my recipe for regular chocolate pie. Regular. Chocolate. Pie.

1 packaged pie dough crust, such as Pillsbury How much do I love when recipes call for something pre-made? A lot. That’s how much.
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
Whipped cream, for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Ease the pie crust into a 9-inch pie plate and crimp the edges decoratively Oh sure, “decorative”.

2. Prick the crust lightly with a fork. Line the crust with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes or until set. Remove the foil and weights and bake for about 5 minutes longer, just until the crust is dry but not browned. I have no pie weights. If you also have no pie-baking accessories from 1872, just bake it and squish it down if it starts to puff up.

3. Wine. From now on, step 3 will always be wine.

4. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the sugar with the cocoa powder, butter, eggs, evaporated milk, vanilla and salt until smooth.

5. Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake for about 45 minutes, until the filling is set around the edges but a little jiggly in the center.

6.Cover the crust with strips of foil halfway through baking.No

7. Transfer the pie to a rack and let cool completely (somewhat. Then realize that cooling is what keeps the pie from being liquid. Let it cool completely in the fridge, and cover your mistakes with whipped cream.) before cutting into wedges. Serve with whipped cream.

Verdict: Extremely sweet. See-through-time kind of sweet. But pretty tasty, especially with copious amounts of whipped cream!



Review Time: A Train in Winter

In the years following WW2, there was a surge of psychological papers published discussing the conditions in the Nazi Concentration camps and their impact on survivors. The concentration camps, although undeniably horrible, offer a unique opportunity to explore human behavior under the most desperate and deplorable of conditions.
One such paper by Elmer Luchterhand* determined that the basic unit of survival of the concentration camps is the pair. That is, people who came into the camp with a familiar person, or bonded with a person early on, tended to survive longer than the 1.5 month average. Pairs of prisoners can steal for each other, hold each other up during roll call or marches and keep each others’ spirits up. Having a ‘buddy’ to talk with about a better future and someone to be accountable to gave people a reason not to give up. Luchterhand found countless stories about people who were managing to survive until their buddy died, at which time they lost the will to live and deteriorated rapidly. At the end of the war, those who survived the longest in the camps were pairs.
Caroline Mooreheads’ “A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship and Resistance in Occupied France” is a story of such a social group. The 230 women who left Paris on a single train were bound together at first only by their devotion to the French resistance. This semi-political movement served to sabotage German military function, hide Jews and other political prisoners and aid the allies whenever possible. The women in the resistance were fearless in their actions and stoic in the face of their capture by the Germans. These women formed pairs and other small family-type units, becoming each others’ only hope for survival. Like the prisoners in Luchterhands’ study, they kept each other alive, through both physical and mental salvation.
On January 26th 1943, the women reached Birkenau, the primary womens’ camp at Auschwitz where they faced the most terrible of conditions. They were one of only a few groups of non-Jewish prisoners to be sent here, and it was here at their survival was most threatened, and their relationships were most essential. By the time of their release from the Raisko satellite camp in 1945, 49 of the women had survived. As Moorehead drives home in her book, the fact that 49 of the French women survived is an incredible feat, as this number is well above the odds with the survival statistics for incarcerations over 3 months. At the same time, the women in her book drive home the point that it was because they had each other that they did so. Story after story told in this book illustrate the power of camaraderie over terrible circumstance.

A Train in Winter is a historical non-fiction book, not an easy read by an means. Moorehead wrote this book after what was obviously extensive and exhaustive historical research, as well as interviews with the surviving women and their families. The book is thorough and detailed, at times almost difficult to read because of the detail given surrounding the cruelty in concentration camps. If you are looking to learn about this incredible group of women, and how they managed to overcome the odds and survive, this is a truly wonderful book.
If I had one criticism of this book, it would be that because Moorehead focuses on the lives of so many women, I found it difficult to connect to any one character. I’m not great with names, and she tends to jump from woman to woman rather rapidly,and so that opportunity to connect on a personal level with this book was missed. I believe that focusing on the experience of one or two women would have made this book much easier to read, but then the story about the group as a whole would be lost.

Overall, I would recommend this book, but with the warning that this is not a beach read. The book is rather dense and full of names, dates and history. It gives perspectives of lives during WW2 that are not normally featured in Remembrance Day ceremonies and is certainly a worthwhile read.

*Luchterhand, Elmer (1967). Prisoner Behavior and Social System in the Nazi Camp, Int. J of Psychiatry 13, 245-64

10 Terrible Truths About Spring Cleaning

I love spring cleaning. It means that summer is around the corner, it’s usually the first weekend we break out the BBQ and I just really love cleaning and organizing on an occasional basis (like when it’s an event…day to day I don’t care to pick up my things).

However, as with everything in this great and terrifying thing we call life, spring cleaning is not without its problems. And so, in another bookworm post having very little to do about books:
10 terrible truths about spring cleaning.

1. You you have a pet, particularly an asshole cat, they will suddenly discover an affinity for clean, wet surfaces. They’ll wake from a dead slumber just to roll about on a mopped floor, decide to track litter or muddy paw prints on a dusted table. It’s just how they roll.

2. As you go through each room of the house, you will remove items to another room, either to clean underneath them or because they need a new home. Unfortunately, this will result in the last room you clean becoming an unholy hell hole of rag-tag items from which there is no escape.

3. It’s a great day to open the windows and let in some spring air. The neighbors thought that it also might be a good day to their spring cleaning…and burn their garbage for some reason.

4. Size 6 jeans. “Rosetta Stone:Beginners Italian” CD-ROMs. As yet-unused colour-coordinated recipe cards. What a fabulous person last-year-you thought you were going to become!

5. Arguments that go a little something like this:
“Why do you have a box of human tissue specimen slides?”
“Because I’m a scientist. Why do YOU have a Wendel Clark bobble head doll? At least Science tends to win once in a while.”

6. Finding items you borrowed from other people, lost, forgot that you had, and then swore you never borrowed in the first place.

7. Pinterest Fails. Maybe some houses can be cleaned using nothing but lemon juice, peroxide and baking soda, but mine is not one of them. Bring on the corrosives!

8. Accidental creation of mustard gas by using two different corrosive bathroom cleansers. Also 3rd degree chemical burns by oven cleaner.

9. Finding last years’ “Items to donate” box.

10. At the end of it all, sitting down on the couch, enjoying the imitation-lemon smell of your nice, clean, home…as a newly shed cat-hair tumbleweed drifts slowly past your feet.

Happy Spring Cleaning!

Calling all Feminists: Whey “The Year of Reading Women” is more important than you think.

yearofreadingwomenAs a woman, I’m a little bit tired of being pandered to. We get sold moisturizer, vodka and high-heeled shoes in the name of empowerment. We’re made to feel like the worst women ever if we don’t buy the special “breast cancer pink” post-it notes/stand mixer/blow dryer. “Red Alerts” about our fertility rates dropping, chances at marriage plummeting and the pitfalls of every life decision we make are splashed on the cover of every newspaper and magazine.  Values like feminism, equality, charity, awareness and sensitivity are exploited for commercial gain so often that sometimes we don’t even pick up on when there’s a real issue that deserves our attention. When I first heard about 2014 being the “Year of Reading Women”, it didn’t even register. But then while writing the pen name post I came across an article that explained the very real issues that prompted this declaration.
Let’s start at the beginning. Every year VIDA, an American organization supporting women in the literary arts (whose name apparently doesn’t mean anything, nor is it an acronym), sorts through a years’ worth of the most influential literary magazines and journals in the world. They tally up, by gender, writers whose books are reviewed, reviewers, bylines and average review length. The complete 2013 findings can be found here.
Spoiler alert: They weren’t good.

Notable failings included the New York Review of Books, who review books by male authors 79.5% of the time*. Harpers came in at 74% male authors reviewed and the London Review of Books at 91.3% male.
Well, damn.
*in 2012, that number was 79.8%, and the company vowed to improve. Which they did. By one more female author *insert slow clap here*
So, starting with Joanna Walshs’ #readwomen2014 campaign, various people of influence started to declare 2014 the Year of Reading Women. Some people are vowing to read solely female authors, or simply just to take a look at their reading habits, notice any imbalances* and make a concerted effort to seek out female authors. Most of the literary journals have made some sort of (likely empty) promise to do better next year. But one argument that has been put forward is that publishers aren’t publishing books written by women. And journals certainly can’t review books that aren’t being published. This is a fairly good point (although the New York Times Book Review is coming in at only 55% male so…they managed to find a few). But we can’t deny that publishers, in general, are publishing fewer books by women, and spending less money on promoting them.
*and then be incredibly ashamed and wait for the feminist police to come to your door and take away your feminist card.
So, what I’m hearing is that publishers hesitate to publish books by authors who haven’t sold well in the past, or garnered any positive attention and public demand. Critics can’t review books unless they are published, and rarely review books that have not been promoted heavily. We don’t hear about these books unless they are published, promoted and reviewed. If we don’t hear about these books, we can’t increase the public demand for more of the same. If you ask me, it’s a vicious cycle and no one wants to be the one to break it. One of the following (or all of the following) need to occur:
a) Publishers need to take a chance on some female authors who may not have yet gained notoriety.
b) Critics need to dig a little deeper and write some reviews for some books that have not been mailed to them by a big-name publisher as the next “it” book (I’m as guilty as anyone of this, I had no idea so many of my book reviews were of male-written books).
c) Readers need to create a demand for books by female authors by reading books by currently under-appreciated female authors.
As editor of the Literary magazine Critical Flame, Daniel Pritchard said in regards to this issue “Nothing will change if people do not act morally within their sphere of control”. So, in whatever way you feel is right, and in whatever capacity you can, please support the Year of Reading Women. Personally, I am not going so far as to exclusively read women, but it is something that is now on my radar. When I choose books on a whim or books to review, I’ll think twice.
But I’m still not buying the breast-cancer pink mittens*.
*I donate lots of money to many charities, including Canadian Cancer Society. Please don’t send me angry emails about how I should support the fight. I do. I just already have mittens.

What’s in a Name?

Just a little bit of fun to liven up this Wednesday morning. I’m sure that everyone is familiar with the concept of pen names or pseudonyms. Writers have been using pen names for centuries for any number of reasons; to avoid prejudice due to feminine* or ethnic names, for popular authors to avoid over-exposure, for group writing efforts, because of a hard to pronounce name or simply because their name is too similar to an already-popular writer.

*Women writers benefit especially from pen names, even now, as recent studies show that many major book review outlets are still reviewing books written by men up to four times more than ones written by women. A sad state of affairs and the subject of an upcoming post.

But how do people choose their pen names? It turns out these names are chosen any number of ways:

  • Use of initials to represent names (J.K. Rowling, whose publishers feared young boys wouldn’t read action books written by a woman)
  • Homage to a role model (Pablo Neruda chose this name as a nod to Czech poet Jan Neruda. He had a pen name so his dad wouldn’t find out he was “wasting his life” writing poems)
  • Strictly business. Apparently you should avoid your pen name surname starting with a W, Y or A due to book store shelf placement and buying patterns.
  • A combination of names that are meaningful to the author. George Orwell chose his name for the Patron saint of England (George) and the river Orwell in the English countryside.

But in this age of “Theres an app for that”…Theres an app for that! Check out the Huffington Posts’ Pen Name Generator! They have a typewriter inset in the article, where you type in your first and last name and your pen name is created for you!

Kingsley Ashdown…that has a nice ring to it!

You can use it to write your mystery novels or as your getaway name should the need to flee the country arise! Have fun!