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book review, recipe

The Unbearable Lightness of Being + Raspberry Mousse

They say bad things come in threes, and maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but I’m really hoping this latest read is the end of my little streak of three books in a row I didn’t like. One of my book clubs recently met to discuss Milan Kundera’s best-known work The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I’m sorry to say I suggested. At least I only had myself to blame.

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To simplify it, Kundera’s novel is about two couples (in a loose sense of the word) in Prague in the sixties and seventies. Tomas is a surgeon who leaves his wife for a young woman named Tereza, even though he continues to sleep around. He literally cannot help himself. One of the women he sleeps with is Sabina, whom the story also follows, documenting her bohemian life and her sort-of relationship with a professor named Franz. My favorite character in the whole book was Tomas and Tereza’s dog Karenin, who was named after the male character in Anna Karenina, even though she’s a girl.

I suppose the simple description of the book makes it sound more juicy and interesting than it is. Don’t be fooled. To keep you away from the main plot points, Kundera tosses in several chapters on kitsch, his thoughts on politics, and his philosophies on life. He makes for an interesting narrator, repeatedly pointing out that his characters aren’t real, which as a reader really pulls you out of the story (if the random bits of philosophy and politics didn’t do that already).

People seem to love this book – it has over 4 stars on Goodreads and is considered by many to be a classic – but for me, and most of my book club, it was truly unbearable. On the “lighter” side of things, however, it led to some delicious raspberry mousse.

The novel didn’t have many mentions of food, so I decided to play off the theme of lightness and create what is traditionally a light, airy dessert. I found a recipe from Fearless Dining for Easy Fresh Raspberry Mousse that seemed to easy to make and looked delicious. (If you look at her page, she has many, many mousse varieties to try out.)

First, I began boiling my half cup of water in tiny saucepan. Meanwhile, in a slightly larger saucepan, I added 2 teaspoons of gelatin (about 1 envelope, but measure just in case) to the quarter cup of cold water and allowed that to sit.

I washed my raspberries, extracted my vanilla seeds and combined the rest of the ingredients while the gelatin/water combination was becoming more jelly-like and the water boiled. Once that was all ready, I combined everything into my larger saucepan (with the gelatin mixture) and brought it all to a boil for 5 minutes.

I transferred the mixture to my food processor and blended everything together, though I would recommend a blender if you have one. It will likely breakdown the raspberry seeds better than my food processor did.

Allow that mixture to cool for 10 minutes (or longer). I let mine sit for about 15 minutes while I made the whipped cream. To do so, add the 2 cups of heavy / whipping cream to a large bowl and use a hand mixer, mixing until stiff peaks form.

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Once the raspberry mixture is cooled enough, gently fold that into the whipped cream a little bit at a time. (Despite what the original recipe said, I tried folding the cream into the raspberry mixture, since typically technique says you should add the whipped cream into the denser/wetter mixture to avoid losing air. However, because the raspberry mixture was so soup-y, it mostly remained at the bottom and proved hard to combine.)

Once the cream and the raspberry mixture were well-combined – the entire mixture was a light pink – I placed the bowl in the fridge to set/cool. After almost 2 hours, it was mostly set, but I think could’ve stood to hang out in there a little longer. The consistency was perfect they next day when we finished it up. Two hours was perfectly fine, but if you have the time, I would recommend allowing it to remain in the fridge a bit longer.

We served it in my grandmother’s crystal cut dessert dishes, which I hadn’t used before, and garnished with the remainder of the fresh raspberries.

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Unbelievably Light Raspberry Mousse

  • Servings: 4-6
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Ingredients

  • ¼ cup cold water
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons gelatin
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries (a 6oz package should be plenty, including garnish)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • seeds of 1 vanilla bean (or 3 teaspoons vanilla extract)

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, add cold water.
  2. Mix in gelatin and allow to sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in boiling water, vanilla bean, sugar, lemon juice, and raspberries.
  4. Bring to boil on medium heat then turn down to low and boil for 5 minutes.
  5. Pour mixture into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. (This reduces the raspberry seeds.)
  6. Allow this mixture to cool for at least 10 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, add whipping cream and beat with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.
  8. Gently fold the raspberry mixture into the cream until well-combined.
  9. Allow the finished mousse to cool in the refrigerator for a minimum of 1 hour.
  10. Serve garnished with fresh strawberries, if desired.

From: Fearless Dining

A blender may provide better results than a food processor as far as reducing seeds. I would recommend allowing to cool for 2-4 hours if you have the time – ours was also delicious when we finished it the next day.

Number of servings will depend on size. This recipe yields 4 generous helpings.


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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