18 December 2009

The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

I admit that I bought this book because I was intrigued: the author graduated from the University of Alabama and majored in English. Sound familiar?

But, I was not disappointed. The book tells the story of three women, one white and two black, during 1960s, small-town Mississippi. Although it would be very easy for the author to rely on the same old formula here, and although she does take some liberties with her historical timeline, Stockett does a wonderful job of narrating a compelling, moving story through various first-and third-person voices. It's not a fast-paced book, and I think it's one that would lend itself to either a quick read or a more slow, lingering one.

Having grown up in a small Southern town, I can attest to the accuracy of how the town is portrayed, along with its biases and attitudes. It's fair and respectful where it should be, but doesn't hesitate to draw a distinction between acknowledging the reason for prejudice and accepting it. No, no. Though Stockett may help explain to us where the various characters' prejudices lie, and their origins, she never seeks to justify them, nor does she expect her reader to adopt them.

I loved this book; I actually feel affection for it. Perhaps it's because it's been so long since I've been home. That will be remedied, come next Thursday!

06 December 2009

Young Hearts Crying

by Richard Yates

Some of you may recognize Mr Yates as the author of Revolutionary Road, which was recently made into a film starring Kate Winslet (love her) and Leonardo di Caprio (love him too now that Titanic and Gisele aren't the only topics that spring to mind whenever I think of him). I read RR ages ago and have now picked it up to reread; I saw the film back when it was still in theaters, and I was so impressed with the screenplay and the acting (and the set, and the clothes: wow, the 1950s were fabulous for fashion).

The setting of YHC is fairly similar to RR, and there's a similar theme in that it's basically a story of a young, hopeful couple who eventually come to face that reality isn't as romantic as they might have hoped. What Yates does very well is use the contrast of the city and the suburbs to make his points about people, and their nature, and their behavior.

This is not a page-turner. It's not a book that's meant to be read in a single sitting, I don't think, and I believe, actually, that it wouldn't be as good if you did read it quickly. The story develops over about 3 decades, so a slow reading allows you to know the characters and live with them for a while, and thus appreciate the book more. Even while you're reading, you know that this isn't going to be a book with a neat and tidy ending, but you know that it will be satisfying nonetheless.

I enjoyed reading YHC, and I'm enjoying rereading RR. Richard Yates is pretty amazing.

02 December 2009

Blood Orange Olive Oil Brownies

I've posted before about visiting the Queen Creek Olive Mill, and about their Blood Orange Olive Oil. When Mama was in town for Thanksgiving, we went again, and the one item I had decided I would not leave without was this orange oil. I was so excited that I tried out one of the Mill's recipes tonight!

4 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 oz bittersweet chocolate
1 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
4 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 c butter
2 c sugar
1 c walnuts, coarsely chopped (I used pecans.)
1/2 c blood orange olive oil (You can order this from the website.)

I love this recipe for two reasons: 1) I love the combination of chocolate and orange; and 2) I automatically am intrigued by any baker who wants me to use an entire tablespoon of vanilla. I love vanilla, and I almost always add more than a recipe calls for. With this one, I imagined that the recipe's creator and I were kindred spirits.

The batter looks like nothing so much as fudge. So here's what you do to make it:

Preheat oven to 350. Line a 9 x 12 baking pan with parchment paper (I skipped this and sprayed the pan with Baker's Joy instead). On low heat, melt chocolate in saucepan, stirring constantly (I used the microwave). Set aside to cool. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Melt butter, and add oil. Add one egg at a time. Add in vanilla. Add the chocolate. Fold in the dry ingredients and nuts. Do not overmix the batter. Pour into a pan, and smoothe off the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the brownies pull away from the sides of the pan.