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dystopia

book review, of interest, recipe

The Handmaid’s Tale + Strawberry Pie

Is everyone else looking forward to Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale as much as I am? The trailer gives me chills. I had read the Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel about three years ago, but anticipating the upcoming series, I was excited for the chance to re-read it with one of my book clubs.

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The first time I read The Handmaid’s Tale, I thought it was interesting, but I don’t think I fully appreciated it. This time around, I was able to read it through different eyes; it felt more relevant to me than it did a few years ago, and frankly, it was a little scary.

In Atwood’s imagined Republic of Gilead, Offred is one of the Handmaids placed with a Commander and his barren wife for the sole purpose of having his child and giving them a family. In her red dress, she is limited in who she’s allowed to communicate with, and even more so by the restrictions forbidding her to read or write. When Offred is not alone in her room, she runs errands with her partner Handmaid and occasionally attends birthings and special ceremonies designed to remind her and every woman of their place in this new totalitarian society.

Offred’s diet, and presumably that of all Handmaids in Gilead, is controlled in its amount and restricted to that which is nourishing. Though Offred is the one to pick up the household’s groceries, it seems she has no say in what she eats. When shopping one day, she muses on the smell of fresh strawberries and the memories of summers past they recall.

Living in a society so much like the one Offred used to live in – where women work outside of the home, have freedom of movement and choice, and can make their own decisions to have children or not – it was hard to see how easily it was all taken away. Many American women believe we have come a long way. And we have. But until we are truly equal and are equally represented in society, women are not in control of their own destinies. For me, the fact that these rollbacks are not inconceivable was the most eye-opening part of reading this book.

In the end, Offred’s story left me with more questions than answers, but it was one that sparked a lively conversation with my fellow book club members and one that I heartily recommend.

Capitalizing on their bright red color, strawberries seemed like an excellent choice to represent The Handmaid’s Tale. I found a recipe for Fresh Strawberry Pie that looked too good to resist.

Using a storebought crust proved to be a lifesaver for me as I had some issues and had to bake it three times before I got it right (don’t forget your pie weights!). While that was a bit frustrating, I was happy I didn’t have to re-make crust from scratch just as many times. Before it went into the oven each time, I made sure to scallop the edges to create a pretty design.

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While it baked, I washed, hulled and quartered the fresh strawberries – I used 4 cups in the end, though I had prepared 6 cups. It will ultimately depend on how deep and wide your pie dish is, but I don’t think it hurts to have some extra prepared strawberries around.

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When my successful crust was finally cooling, I got to work on the glaze. I combined 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar and some cornstarch in a small saucepan and brought it all to a boil. Then, I whisked until the glaze began to thicken, about 3 minutes. Last, I added the box of strawberry Jell-O and whisked that for another minute or so. The finished glaze also had to cool about 15 minutes before filling the pie.

When assembling the pie, I first added the prepared fresh strawberries to the cooled crust. I did my best to keep the top relatively even, but you could certainly create a thicker middle if you wanted to. (That option might require additional glaze to get good coverage.) Then it was time to pour on the delicious glaze, again doing my best to get even coverage over the strawberries.

The finished product was absolutely beautiful – and SO red. I couldn’t wait to dig in. This pie will definitely be making future appearances over the summer.

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Fresh Strawberry Pie

  • Servings: 8-12
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Ingredients

  • 9 inch pie crust (homemade or storebought)
  • 4 to 6 cups fresh strawberries, quartered and hulled
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 3oz. box of strawberry Jell-O
  • 3 tablespoons of cornstarch

Directions

  1. Bake pie crust in 9-inch deep pie dish and set aside to cool.
  2. Put the water, sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Whisk constantly until it becomes thick, about 3 minutes.
  3. Whisk in the Jell-O and cook for a minute longer. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 15 minutes.
  4. As the glaze cools, place strawberries straight into the pie crust.
  5. Pour the glaze over the strawberries.
  6. Refrigerate until set. Serve with whipped cream if desired.

From: Sugar Apron

When baking the pie crust, be sure to use pie weights or dry beans to ensure that the sides of your crust doesn’t fall. Poke holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork, add weights or beans and bake according to directions. After half the baking time, remove weights and allow to bake for the remaining time without them.

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book review, recipe

1984 + Artisan Dinner Rolls

I never read George Orwell’s 1984 in high school. I also never read Animal Farm until my boss recommended it to me as an adult, and while it was fine, I wasn’t particularly moved to seek out other Orwellian novels. But, like many Americans, once Trump was elected and “alternative facts” became a thing, I got interested. Suddenly, it was selling out everywhere – even Amazon – and I had to backorder my copy.

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For those of you who don’t know, 1984 is a dystopian novel that imagines a world where Big Brother watches over your every move, the Thought Police have jurisdiction and the news is altered on a regular basis to better correspond to reality and/or change the past. It was written 35 years prior to 1984, and now, another almost 35 years later, it is more relevant than ever.

In the bleak world Orwell paints, the main character Winston Smith is a member of the Outer Party, and since he actively participates in spreading propaganda and revising history, he lives a decently comfortable life – even if it’s under constant scrutiny. While we primarily follow his journey for the truth, I found the “Proles” to be the most interesting, and Winston too, thinks of them as the best chance to overthrow the ruling Inner Party. Though they are roughly 85% of the population, they exist only to supply labor and grow the population.

I’m not sure I would’ve fully understood this book, let alone appreciated it had I read it in high school. It’s not a book that I like even now, as alarming as it was, but it certainly respect its message. I think everyone should read it once, and it was certainly worth it for me.

I could’ve made something decadent to represent the Inner Party, who always seem to be enjoying chocolate and wine while the rest of the country is told there’s a shortage, but I felt like a rustic bread was more representative of those who struggle beneath them – the Outer Party and the Proles. Outside of culinary school, I haven’t attempted bread, so I found a recipe for Unbelievably Easy Artisan Rolls and set to work.

As promised, the rolls were unbelievably easy to make. Just before going to bed one night, I whisked together the flour, salt and yeast before adding 2 cups of room temperature water. I mixed it all together with a rubber spatula, covered it with plastic wrap and set the bowl on the stove to hang out while I slept.

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In the morning, I removed the plastic wrap to see how much the dough had risen. It wasn’t a crazy amount, but it definitely had expanded and there were bubbles on top.

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With the oven coming up to 425-degrees F, I began coating the large ball of dough with flour and then used a bench scraper to divide it into a dozen smaller pieces. With each well-coated with more flour, I formed them into balls and placed them on the parchment paper with the pinched side down (to make a smooth top). They rested for another 20 minutes before going in the oven.

I baked them for 15 minutes, rotated the pan, and baked for an additional 5 minutes. Mine probably could’ve spent another few minutes in the oven to get some more color, but I pulled them and allowed them to cool at that point – mostly because I’m impatient and they looked done enough to me.

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More importantly, they tasted delicious! They were great alongside soup, salad and pasta – all of our meals for the rest of the week. With rolls this easy, I probably don’t have any excuse for not making my own ever again.

Artisan Rolls

  • Servings: 10-16
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Ingredients

  • 4 cups bread flour, plus extra for shaping [I used all-purpose flour because it’s what I had at home and the rolls still tasted delightful.]
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry yeast
  • 2 cups room temperature tap water

Directions

  1. In a medium-large bowl, whisk together the bread flour, salt, and yeast. Make a well in the center and add the water. Mix with a sturdy rubber spatula until all flour is incorporated. Don’t worry, the dough will be wet and sticky, that’s how it should be. Cover bowl with a plastic wrap and leave to rise at room temperature overnight or for up to 12 hours.
  2. The following morning (or after 8-12 hours), the dough will have risen, but it may still look shaggy and it’s surface will be covered with bubbles.
  3. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper*. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
  4. Spread a generous ¼ cup of flour on a work surface. Dump the dough out onto the floured surface and turn it several times to coat with flour. I like to use a bench scraper for this.
  5. Divide the dough into 12-16 equal portions, turning each piece in the flour to coat. (The bench scraper is also great for cutting the dough). Shape each piece into a ball, pulling edges under and pinching together to make a smooth top. Invert balls and place on prepared pan, pinched side up. This will give you craggy, rustic textured rolls. If the dough is sticky as you’re shaping, just roll the piece in more of the flour. Let shaped rolls rise for 20 minutes.
  6. Transfer pan to the oven. Bake 15 minutes. Rotate pan. Bake 5 minutes more or until nicely golden. Transfer rolls to cooling rack to cool completely.
  7. If making in advance, remove from oven when pale golden brown (about 3-4 minutes less). Cool completely, then freeze on a baking sheet. Once frozen, transfer rolls to a large zip lock bag and store in the freezer. To serve, allow rolls to thaw, then heat for 8-10 minutes at 350˚F.

book review, recipe

The Age of Miracles + Pineapple Salsa

The Age of Miracles is the first book I’ve reread in a long while, and I’m really glad that I did. There is only so much time in a day, and with an ever-growing to-read list, I’m normally not much of a re-reader. As time is something this book calls into question, it seems a fitting choice.

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When I originally read Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel three years ago, I truly enjoyed it. I suggested it to friends, and I bought a copy of my very own. (I tend to buy books pretty selectively, preferring instead to borrow from the local library.) Its place on my bookshelf brought it top of mind when my book club was looking for suggestions, and so we chose it as our most recent selection.

In The Age of Miracles, the world changes suddenly and inexplicably – the earth experiences a “slowing” and time as we know it begins to shift. Normal begins to look very different. Narrated by Julia, an insightful preteen living in California with her parents, we experience the smaller struggles of her family and her community and witness the larger struggles of society as everyone tries to adjust to this new concept of time, and ultimately, the impending end of the world.

I first read this novel in the winter, when days were short and nights were long. This time, in the height of summer, the opposite is true – the sun rises early and sets late, days are hot and bright and stretched out. None of this compares to the lengths of the days and nights within Walker’s novel, of course. She does an excellent job of taking an overwhelming concept and keeping it simple and human.

For a book with very little plot – something that tends to be a negative for me – I found it a pleasure to read because Walker’s prose paints a vivid picture of the characters as they figure out their new world. So many of her lines had me reaching for a pen.

As I was thinking of what to bring to our book club potluck, one such line struck me: “They were the last pineapples we’d ever eat in our lives.” If my memory serves, it’s the first time Julia mentions a specific food that they never have again.

I ultimately decided to make pineapple salsa because it was something I could prepare the night before, but mostly because it didn’t require turning on my oven in the middle of a heat wave. I went with a recipe from Barefeet in the Kitchen for The BEST Pineapple Salsa and didn’t alter it at all. I was nervous enough about tackling a pineapple for the first time.

Due to that worry, I almost didn’t even buy a real pineapple and went up to the cashier with two cans of them pre-sliced. I had glanced around the produce section, saw none, and thought, “Well, this will be easier than I thought.” But, as I stood in line, I noticed a tuft of pineapple leaves sticking out of the bag of the man in front of me. I was stuck – they had real pineapples and I knew I had to suck it up and figure it out.

Here is a picture of us (I’m trying to hide my terror with confidence):

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Thankfully, I thought to ask my friend and fellow foodie Scott who texted me some simple directions and encouragement to set me on the right path. It wasn’t as hard as it seemed! I ate some to celebrate before dicing the rest (perhaps a little less “finely” than suggested). I followed suit with the jalapeno, cilantro and green onion, making sure those dices were more appropriately sized. (I’m a little obsessed with cilantro, see below.)

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After adding the salt, pepper and lime juice, I tossed it all together and taste-tested. It was delicious! And here it is:

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The BEST Pineapple Jalapeno Salsa

  • Servings: yields about 3 cups
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Ingredients

  • 1 small pineapple, peeled cored and very finely diced, about 2 1/2 cups
  • 1 large jalapeno, seeded and finely minced, about 2 tablespoons, add more for a spicier bite
  • 1 small lime, juiced, about 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 handful cilantro (leaves only), finely chopped, about 2 tablespoons
  • 3 green onions, very thinly sliced, about 2 tablespoons
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, adjust to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, adjust to taste

Directions


Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Cover with lid or transfer to an airtight container. Chill until ready to serve. This will keep well in the refrigerator for about a week. Enjoy!


Excellent with tortilla chips or as a topping for tacos.

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.