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This weekend was a ‘ween weekend, and so I made lots of treats!

I also finished a book this week and I’m starting a new one. I finished The Little Stranger and I’m starting The Spoils Poynton by Henry James. Unlike the Turn of the Screw by James, which is Gothic, Spoils is about the decline of the  English Country House, and a possible greed of that culture, which can be very destructive.

I can already tell this won’t be my favorite book to read, but I can also tell that it will be a book of detailed characterization and thought-provoking commentary, which is one of the reasons I think we should read novels; we should not only look to be entertained, but also to be taught, to gain insight.

Anyway, on to HALLOWEEN. On Friday, my roommate and I dressed up like Luke and Leia from Star War for a friend’s party.

On Saturday, we carved pumpkins and made treats. My roommate made pumpkin cupcakes, and I made ginger-spiced cashews and bacon-wrapped water chestnuts. Then we watched Baylor spank UT (which wasn’t really a neewollah activity, but it did inspire some moments of fright).

 

This is What My Roommate and I's Boyfriends do While We Cook.

 

My roommate's yummy cupcakes!

 

Spice Mixture

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Soup Party

This post has little to do with literature, but I will tell you that I’ve JUST started reading The Little Stranger, the second book in my Gothic novel kick. It’s quite good. The author, Sarah Waters, reminds me of Elizabeth Kostova, the author of the Historian.

Anyway, on to my unrelated post. Last weekend I had a soup dinner party. It was a potluck where everyone brought a soup and we ate soup for every course. I bought legit candlesticks and dressed like a 50s housewife — and was sadly, the only one inspired to dress up. I made an appetizer of Thai Coconut soup and a strawberry dessert soup. It was a quite a success! Thai Coconut soup is a favorite of mine because I concocted the recipe, and it came out so well!

Here’s the recipe:

Thai Coconut Soup (for 2 people)

 

Thai Coconut Soup

Ingredients
1-2 chicken breasts chopped
2 large sweet potatoes chopped
1 teaspoon of ginger
1 tablespoon Thai seasoning
Cooking spray
1 cup chopped red or orange bell pepper
1 can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth (You can add more broth or more water if necessary)
1 teaspoon fish sauce (If you don’t have any, just use soy sauce for both)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 (13.5-ounce) can light or regular coconut milk
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

I mixed together my own Thai spices
chili pepper, cardamom, coriander, red pepper flakes, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic, lemon peel, onion powder, jalapeno salt/seasoning, cayenne pepper, and sesame Seeds.

Note: I just eye-balled the amount of each, but I would recommend using larger portions of chili pepper, garlic, coriander and onion and then a little lesser of cumin, sesame, red pepper flakes, and jalapeno seasoning. Put the least amount of cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon peel, cayenne, and cardamom.

Instructions
Mix Thai spices in a bowl or bag with the chopped chicken
Spray the bottom of a large cooking pot and add chicken. Sauté until cooked through and then set aside.
In the same pot, add chopped sweet potatoes, ginger, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are soft and mushy and the broth is reduced slightly (about 10 minutes).
Transfer into a blender or magic bullet and puree mixture. Set aside.
Spray bottom of pan again and add chopped bell pepper. Sauté 2 minutes. Add puree, reserved chicken, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Simmer for several minutes and then add coconut milk. Cook about 2 minutes or until heated through.
Remove from heat and stir in lime juice and cilantro.

 

Happy (21-year-old) soup eaters

RECAP!

 

The Beast

 

I was finishing up books this week, so I thought I would do some recap photos (recap in the sense that I am holding books I have already read and posted about, but I am of course tackling new courageous situations).

Also, I want to talk about those previously-read books:

Ranking

1) The Turn of the Screw

2) The Go-Between

3) Mansfield Park

4) The Edwardians

 

Tackling the Beast with courageousness.

 

Recap

Turn of the Screw: The ending was very surprising to me – and quite confusing because it is left ambiguous. I can’t talk much about this book because I don’t want to give anything away. I will say that I think readers will be divided on whether the supernatural elements in the story are ghosts or the overblown imagination of the main character. I fall on the latter. I sincerely think the main character has repressed feelings and a theatrical imagination that make her paranoid and psychologically unstable; that being said, I totally ate the suspense with an English silver spoon.

The Go-Between: I feel this book like I feel a particularly piercing piece of music, poetry, movie line. The heartbreaking picture of innocence lost is something we all can relate to; it’s very human.

Mansfield Park: Instead of talking of the book, I would like to say something short about buying used books off of EBay: they come with comments. In my copy of Mansfield Park, the previous owner liked to write rather pointless, un-insightful phrases in the margins.  For example, she would underline something a character was saying and then write their name out to the side, which in a novel is unnecessary. I mean is it that hard to distinguish who said what?  My favorite comment however was on a right-sided page near the end. She simply underlined a passage concerning the character Mary Crawford and wrote, “Mary is bitch.” Really previous reader? Thank you so much for letting me know.

 

The Beast wins.

 

The Edwardians: Very small print in this book—although I enjoyed the theme of dichotomy and duplicity in the book. I enjoyed the lavish descriptions and insight into Edwardian culture; I admit it couldn’t quite draw me in.

 

Tree-reading. It's something the Lariat would photograph.

 

How many Goths does it take to change a light bulb?

 

 

In ghost stories, sometimes things turn up in unexpected places -- like me in an athletic tub in the Mars McLean Gym.

 

I just started the Turn of the Screw by Henry James, which is a famous ghost story or Gothic novel. Gothic literature famously incorporates terror (both psychological and physical), mystery, the supernatural, ghosts, haunted houses and Gothic architecture, castles, darkness, death, decay, doubles, madness, secrets, and hereditary curses.

 

 

Or the Bear Pit.

 

In the 1800s, when James was writing, the genre was sometimes tied to the Decadent movement with which Oscar Wilde was associated, and was also used to put into literature the social fears of the time about moral degradation and societal problems. Poet and literary critic Craig Raine would especially espouse the theme of moral degradation in James’s novel. Raine’s essay on Sex in nineteenth-century literature states that Victorian audiences would have readily identified the two ghosts in The Turn of the Screw as child-molesters.

Now as you might of guessed from that last sentence, there are two ghosts in the this story. I hope that wasn’t too much a spoiler.

I am about a fourth of the way through right now, and I am already creeped out and oddly fascinated. This quite old book is perfect for audiences today who appreciate the subtlety of suspense. It brings to mind the tone and storytelling of The Others as well.

The obsession every generation has had with the supernatural is fascinating. We all pricked by the idea of unexplained instances. Yet, James’s novel is not just about ghosts. The novel is ambiguous to make the reader wonder: are the characters really dealing with the supernatural, or are they facing their own psychological demons? Regardless if James’s supernatural occurrences in the novel are ghosts or simply human fears and secrets, they is undoubtedly evil—perhaps making them more mystifying and provocative.

 


Or on top of buildings

 

 

Or falling off of buildings...

 

 

If you’re wondering what to read for a Halloween scare that will tantalize your literary taste buds, begin reading The Turn of the Screw. I’ll let you know how my experience with Gothic horror it turns out.

Pie Night

I didn’t read anything new this week, so I am just going to post recipes and photos.
I bought a box of pie shells from HEB for under $2 and made a dinner and a dessert with them on Monday night.
The first was Beef Pot Pie, which is kind of a made-up recipe that combines something like Shepherd’s Pie with something like pot pie. 🙂

Beef Pot Pie:

Ingredients
1/2 package ground beef
1/2 cup chopped carrots
3/4 cup chopped celery
3 red potatoes diced
1/2 can corn
2 cups beef broth
1/3 cup cornstrach (more to make thicker)
1 tsp thyme
black pepper and salt
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp worchestershire sauce
2 tbsp tomato sauce/paste (I only had sauce, so I went with that)

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the diced potatoes in a pot of water and boil for 3-4 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Spray deep saute pan or dutch oven with cooking spray and brown the beef with garlic, salt, and pepper.
Add carrots, celery, corn. and thyme and cook for 4-5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce/paste and worchestershire sauce stirring well then deglaze pan with 1/2 cup of broth, scraping up pieces of sides.
Add potatoes along with another cup of broth.
While the mixture is simmering, whisk the corn starch and the remaining 1/2 cup of beef broth; stir into the beef mixture until thickened– about 2 minutes.
Take off heat and taste, putting more salt, pepper, or thyme is necessary.
Ladle into baking dish or deep pie pan.
Roll out the pie crust from the package and place on top of the filling. Crimp the edges with your fingers or a fork. Make 2 small incisions with a fork in the center. Place the pie on top of a baking sheet and cook for 30-35 minutes or until crust is flaky and brown.

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Duplicity

So this week I started reading The Edwardians by Vita Sacksville-West, who interestingly enough, was one of the lovers of Virginia Woolfe.

I think reading can be a thrill.

The Edwardians takes place in the early 1900s in the Duchess of Chevron’s large country house and chronicles the decadent last years of decorative aristocracy. Sebastian, the young and impulsive heir to dukedom, lives in splendid luxury and emptiness—until he meets the brilliant explorer, Anquetil. Anquetil’s distaste for wealth affects both Sebastian and his sister Viola in ways that will change them and give them a new perspective on their Edwardian lifestyle.

As the drama of love, wealth, and social rules plays out, one main theme prevails.

The theme of dichotomy. Sebastian both loves and hates his wealth; he is never of one opinion or mood. The Edwardian lifestyle is even described both positively and negatively by the author. It has some sense of equality because both upper class people with titles and lower class individuals who have done interesting and famous things are allowed to mix. Yet the lines of society are very strict and meant to keep people who are “interesting” or “well bred” out.

Especially at great heights.

This theme of dichotomy in the book is perhaps a representation of Vita’s life.  She and her husband, Harold Nicolson, were both bisexuals, preferring to marry inside their class and have affairs with both sexes. Vita was also very critical of the society she lived in, yet she still profited from it.

Also, she mixed her characters with reality. She didn’t write anything all-imagined or all-reality; she had both. At the beginning of The Edwardians, she has an author’s note stating that none of the characters are wholly fictitious; she based them off her family and people she knew in society. The house Chevron is almost an exact replica of the house she grew up in, Knole.  It seems her life–like her characters, her books, and her companion preferences–was one of duplicity.

Tomato Soup and Flashers

I am now reading The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley, which contains the famous first line, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” Curiously, although this line has been used before in movies and essays, not many Americans have read its origin, this 1950s British book. Out of popular print, the only way to get it is on sites like Amazon, or in the Baylor Bookstore (Bless them, they can do one thing right).

This book is a moral tale about the loss of innocence. The main character, Leo, goes to stay with a rich friend in his family’s country house in the year 1900 when he is thirteen years old. Leo is naïve and terribly innocent and ends up being caught up—unbeknownst by him—in a secret love affair between two of the older characters.

I was courageously offering my neighbor soup, but I got a surprise.

One of the things that struck me about this book was the author’s use of the plant Atropa Belladonna as the metaphor for deadly obsession.  Leo sees the Belladonna or the deadly nightshade as it is commonly known, crawling up the back buildings behind the country house—the same back buildings that become the meeting places for the older couple’s trysts.  Leo finds the plant evil, but seductive, and doesn’t say anything to anyone because he doesn’t want the poisonous shrub to be cut down. He says, “I couldn’t bear to think of those lusty limbs withering on a rubbish heap or crackling in a fire: all that beauty being destroyed. Besides, I wanted to look at it again” (pg. 52).

Leo shares these same feelings about the plant with the two characters locked in the love affair. He cares about both of them, is intrigued by the mystery of sex, and in his own way, finds both beautiful. Because of his feelings about the people, regardless of their sinful actions, he doesn’t want anyone to find out about their affair; he doesn’t want their obsession to destroy them.

The plant Atropa Belladonna has an interesting history. It has been used to make poison-tipped arrows and medicine for headaches, but I think it’s most intriguing use is cosmetic. Bella Donna, which means “pretty lady” in Italian, was once used to make drops that would dilate women’s eyes, an effect considered very beautiful because of the large, dark pupils it enhanced.

The nightshade family or Solanaceae, includes the tomato, so it only seemed fitting that I make my tomato soup as a companion to this great book.

Easy Tomato Basil Soup:


Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 can condensed tomato soup
  • 2 tbsp canned diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • A dash cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning (or just basil)
  • Fresh chopped cilantro

Instructions

In a medium pot, saute butter with garlic, canned tomatoes, and onion until tender. Add soup, milk, and all spices except cilantro. Bring to a simmer stirring constantly. Simmer 3 minutes, then add as much cilantro as desired. Take off heat and serve.