Texas Wildflowers: A Cake

7 May

This weekend I made a cake, because my parents’ church was honoring a retiring missionary couple. I was just going to make some generic flowers, and then I thought ‘no! they’re coming from overseas to Texas! it should be a Texas cake!’ And then I spent an hour or so looking at pictures of flowers and cakes with flowers on them. I couldn’t find another cake with bluebonnets that seems satisfactory, and the more I looked at pictures of real bluebonnets the more baffled I was by the shape of their petals, so finally I winged them, because nothing is more Texan than a Texas Bluebonnet:

I made these decorations out of fondant, using just my hands and toothpicks and a knife. If you ever feel like you can’t use fondant because you don’t have special fancy tools, that’s nonsense! Flashback to your childhood Play-Doh experience and just jump in.

I also made a couple of Indian Blanket flowers, which are everywhere in Texas during the spring:

And just to drive the point home, I added Texas itself, with a heart. And this cake is also for all of you guys, because guess what?

Someone in Texas loves you!

(P.S. It is me. I love you)

DWG reads Entwined, part 2

2 May

This post is a full week later than I intended it to be! Life is like that, sometimes. But to make up for it I have some links for you! in addition to my further thoughts about Entwined.

Heather Dixon, the author of Entwined, is also an artist! And her art is awesome! You can see it on her blog, Story Monster, including this illustration for Entwined:

She also created three coloring pages featuring Princesses Azalea, Bramble, and Clover, which you can find here!

And, AND, she made Princess Azalea paper dolls that you can download! Paper dolls, guys! In case you didn’t know, I really really love paper dolls.

She even made Howl’s Moving Castle art. With a moving castle. I mean. Awesome.

And getting back to the subject of this month’s book discussion of Entwined, here is a post over at the Greenwillow Books blog in which Heather Dixon talks about her book! She touches on some of the elements of Entwined that are different from the familiar version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, such as the princesses being in mourning, and the royal household being poor.

My first post about Entwined only touched briefly on a few of the things about the book that I liked, and didn’t dig into the book itself very much, but now I’ve finished re-reading Entwined (and read the first four chapters a third time, because I was reading them out loud to my friend while we drove to the Renaissance faire. Because we know how to have fun)and a few of you have commented on the discussion with your own thoughts. By the way, thank you for participating! It makes me happy, you have no idea. And your comments have been interesting and great and I will totally be referencing them in this post as I discuss the second half of the book.

Before I get going, though, some housekeeping: I know of several people who are still waiting to get their hands on Entwined, or who haven’t quite finished it yet, so I’m going to extend discussion until May 15th. In the meantime I’ll open up the vote for the next discussion book, so give everyone more time to find and read it before the next round of discussion begins in May. If you have any recommendations for books that you’d like to discuss, please mention them in the comments!

And now, Charis has more thoughts about Entwined: Note — this post contains spoilers for the second half of the book!

In my last post I didn’t even mention someone with a huge presence in the book, someone at the very center of the plot, and that of course is the mysterious and sinister Keeper. As Sharon pointed out in her comments (one of the reasons it’s awesome to be friends with Sharon is that she’s brilliant, and it’s easy to reflect the glow of intelligence—all you have to do is wait for Sharon to say something and then nod sagely, saying ‘Yes, of course, I agree completely’), in some ways Keeper is the ‘anti-Edward Cullen’, a physically attractive, seductive, mysterious figure with a tendency to be controlling, possessive, and manipulative, but in this case instead of being a romantic figure Keeper is dangerous and insane. Which I think is how things should be. It’s not a secret that I’m not a fan of Twilight, and definitely not a fan of the type of romantic relationship it portrays (and absolutely not a fan of the prevalence of that kind of relationship in YA lit), so I was glad to see a book flouting that particular trope.

On the subject of tropes, another romantic trope that I really do not enjoy is the love triangle. I really dislike love triangles. Show me a book with a love triangle at the center of the plot and I will show you how many other things I have to read instead, unless you give me a really compelling reason to do otherwise (like The Hunger Games). When Dixon introduced two potential love interests—the mysterious Keeper and the adorable Lord Bradford—I winced and braced myself for the inevitable triangle…and it never happened. Dixon totally subverted that trope instead, which I really liked. Even though Keeper seemed at first to be a possible romantic interest for Azalea (or one of her sisters, I suppose) she was savvy enough to pay attention to the warning bells that Keeper’s behavior set off and back away from his influence as much as possible. Score for Princess Azalea.

Another common theme in romantic stories is one or both of the parties choosing their beloved object over their family, or neglecting their family in favor of the beloved object (or B.O. ;), and I thought it was lovely to see a book in which the romantic relationship stayed secondary to the family relationships—sure, Azalea is all giddy over Bradford (who can blame her he sounds so adorable), but her focus continues to remain on her family.

Anna and Sharon both mentioned being confused that Lord Bradford becomes Mr. Bradford, which made me go ‘eh? Did that happen? I don’t remember noticing’, so I watched for it while I was re-reading and it switches because he asks Azalea to call him Mr. Bradford instead of Lord Bradford, indicating that they’re on slightly more familiar terms, although when you’re zipping through a book it’s easy not to absorb. Much more confusing to me, when I stopped to think about it during my re-read, was the age gap between Prime-Minister Fairweller and Princess Clover. I mean, he’s a young Prime Minister, but surely we can assume he’s at least 25. And Clover turns 15 in the course of the book. I don’t know how your eyebrows responded, but when I worked this out mine shot straight up into my hairline. I don’t object to large age gaps in couples who are older—the difference between 25 and 35 seems pretty negligible to me, but the difference between 15 and 25 is enormous and a little awkward.

One of my friends commented in her Goodreads review of Entwined that while she enjoyed it she was troubled by the amount of patriarchal thinking that kind of permeates the setting, and I thought it was an interesting observation and I wanted to bring it up. She was particularly troubled by the fact that Azalea was unwilling to propose to Lord Bradford, despite the fact that she outranked him, and in that I agree with her. I don’t love Azalea’s unwillingness to do the proposing because, while I can understand her apparent lack of interest in politics because her focus is extremely narrow and politics don’t really fit into the scope of the story being told, I do find it hard to believe that she would shy away from a royal responsibility like observing the rules of her status. It just seems rather silly and unnecessary. It can kind of be justified because Azalea doesn’t find it romantic to do the proposing, but that didn’t come across perfectly in my opinion.

Overall I thought that while yes, there’s definitely a strong thread of patriarchy in the book, it isn’t arbitrary and it’s appropriate to the time period that the book is loosely based on, and it is offset by female characters being strong and active and independent (although without completely rebelling against the rules of society. The sisters rebel by dancing, but not out of a desire to overthrow the system, rather as a coping mechanism for their grief).  In many ways Entwined is a very domestic story—it’s limited to Azalea’s view point, and she’s both confined from the world because of mourning, and her focus is on the more immediate problems of her family. And this doesn’t bother me—not every book needs to be a statement about women overthrowing the patriarchy, and if Dixon had tried to cover that angle I think she would have been writing a very different book, and some of the things that I like most about Entwined might have been sacrificed to make room for the new plot. But at the same time that Dixon lets the patriarchal system stand she also shows how strong women can be—Azalea may not be interested in challenging the political system, but she’s not afraid to throw punches to protect her family.

So I feel that really the issue is balanced, except for this one scene striking an odd note.

What do you think, readers? Are you satisfied with the book as it is, or would you have been more satisfied by the princesses being shown to be more active politically in some way? Do you think that Entwined subverted tropes, or that it played into them?

…..Are you busy playing with your new paper dolls? Yeah, I thought so ;)

Recipe: Pavlova Love

22 Apr

Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova. It is a meringue dessert with a crisp crust and soft, light inside.

The dessert is believed to have been created in honour of the dancer either during or after one of her tours to Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s. The nationality of its creator has been a source of argument between the two nations for many years, but formal research indicates New Zealand as the source.

–Wikipedia

Pavlova is naturally gluten free, and in fact if you left off the whipped cream it would be practically fat free as well (but, thanks to the sugar, definitely not calorie free!). It makes a great alternative to cake or pie if you (or someone you want to bake for) is allergic to gluten, or if you just want to feel like you’re eating a sweet, fluffy, marshmallowy cloud of goodness.

My friend Angela made one pavlova, and it quickly became her default dessert, and then I started making pavlova and it’s become one of my go-to desserts, and there’s just a lot of pavlova love going on here and I think you should definitely join in!

Pavlova is great for a variety of occasions!

New Year's Eve Pavlova!

PRO-TIP: Did you know that you can freeze egg whites? You can! Next time you make a pudding or a custard or anything that calls for egg yolks, save your egg whites and freeze them (in a plastic bag or, for 1 egg portions, in an ice cube tray) and just take them out and let them thaw overnight before using them. It’s awesome! You can also purchase egg whites in a carton, of course, which I have found to work just fine for pavlova (although not as well for white cake).

Birthday/Good Luck in Thailand Pavlova!

PRO-TIP #2: Did you know that you can make your own castor sugar? Just put regular ol’ granulated sugar in a food processor, cover it with a towel (to prevent sugar dust from coating your entire kitchen), and let ‘er rip. You want something finer than regular sugar, but not as fine as powdered sugar, so just keeping checking until it looks about right to you.

Just as there are many ways to skin a cat (…I hear, anyway. I’ve never tried it) there are many ways to make pavlova. I read a dozen or so recipes, and then made up my own amalgam with a little trial and error. Here’s my Frankenstein pavlova recipe:

Pavlova

  • 4-6 egg whites (room temperature)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup castor sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp cornstarch

Separate your eggs–this is easiest while they’re still cold–then let the egg whites come to room temperature (leave them covered for about half an hour). Beat egg whites and salt until peaks form. Continue beating, gradually adding vinegar, vanilla, and sugar until glossy, thick and stiff. Fold in cornstarch.

Pile the mixture on parchment paper, using a spatula shape it into a circle. To give your pavlova extra stability, use a small offset spatula, a knife, or a spoon to make vertical ridges around the sides of the pavlova. You can also make a depression into the center, to hold the topping. But don’t stress out about this too much–every pavlova I make looks different.

Heat oven to 300F, then turn down to 190F before putting in the pavlova. Bake for 1-2 hours, or until the pavlova is dry to the touch and a very, very pale beige. Turn off the heat, but leave the pavlova in the oven until it has cooled completely, to minimize cracks (some cracks are inevitable, though–don’t worry about them!)

Make the whipped cream just before serving:

Whipped cream

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 Tbs sugar (or substitute 4 Tbs honey)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Top the pavlova with the whipped cream and the fruit of your choice–anything goes! I like kiwi fruit and strawberries, personally, but any fruit will do, as will fruit curd or fruit jam or fruit compote–you get the idea. You can even do a drizzle of chocolate if you’re feeling really decadent.