Food and Fandom: Medovik and Maslenitsa

I needed to get back into gear with the blogging, and what better time to do so especially when all I want to do is talk about food? I think it’s totally the right time, mostly because for me, Lent just began and it’s practically a countdown for me until Easter.

Why is this important to mention? Because of Maslenitsa!

“Maslenitsa was the three-day sun-feast, one of the oldest holidays in Muscovy. Older by far than the bells and crosses that marked its passing, though it had been given the trappings of religion to mask its pagan soul. This–the last day before the festival began–was the last day they could eat meat until Easter. Vladimir, Olga’s husband, was still in Serpukhov, but Olga had arranged a feast for his household–wild boar and stewed rabbit and cock-pheasants, and fish.” – The Girl in the Tower

I had honestly been waiting to get back into the swing of Food and Fandom-ness, especially when it comes to the fictional department, but I’d been so blah lately with books for the past two months that I couldn’t bring myself to be inspired. When I finally read my advanced copy of The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden, though, I started getting really enthusiastic about the story to warrant another visit to Russia for some delectable treats.

Also, I’d gone to visit The Russian Tea Room in New York City and was absolutely inspired.

Seriously, how lovely is this place?!

Suffice to say that when February came rolling along, and the fact that my mother’s birthday almost coincided with the beginnings of Lent, I had every opportunity to find something to make that was based off of what I’d read from The Girl in the Tower.

Medovik

“For a few more days, the people could still eat butter and lard and cheese and other rich things, and so in the kitchen they were making butter-cakes by the score, by the hundred, cakes enough for days of gluttony.” – The Girl in the Tower

I’m outright refusing to get into the word origin of this cake, because for the most part, I was finding the word “medovik” when it came to looking up Russian honey cakes. Even though at some point it might also be called a smetannik…but ANYWAY. Natasha’s Kitchen (where I got the recipe from) calls it a medovik, so I’m going to call it that.

I chose to do a Russian honey cake because it was the closest iteration I could find that would best fit Arden’s world. A lot of the ingredients sound like they’d be used commonly, especially when it comes to making cakes. I barely used butter, but sour cream came into play, as did flour, eggs, and honey.

And because I was kind of in an experimenting mood, I wound up using the strong wild flower honey that I got from England almost a year ago. You could definitely taste the flavor in the cake afterwards, which is GREAT, because I adore honey.

Anyway, I didn’t change much in the recipe, so I suggest heading over to Natasha’s Kitchen to get the ingredients and cooking method.

What I should have changed was the way I rolled out these effing layers. WHY DIDN’T I JUST FLOUR THE SURFACE? WHY DID I HAVE TO USE PARCHMENT PAPER?

My arms were sore by the end of it, and I couldn’t even roll it all the way to 9 inches.

So…8-inch diameter cake it is!

From there it was pretty much easy peasy lemon squeezy. I was half-expecting my frosting to collapse on me, but I think it actually held well! The sour cream with the frosting and the sugar stiffened enough to keep the shape of the cake, but it also moistened the cake layers themselves.

THOSE LAYERS THO.

Verdict: I honestly thought I’d be chomping on a layered frosted cookie. But that was not the case! It was delicious, and the sour cream and honey flavors came through. In the future, I might experiment with condensed milk or cream cheese, though I got no complaints with the sour cream. It’s mostly for me at this point, because after a day or two, the smell and flavor of the sour cream started to get a bit more overpowering than usual.

So all in all, being back to doing Food and Fandom things was so totally worth.

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The Girl in the Tower || A Review

Initial Thoughts:

Like its predecessor, this sequel is a slow-burning tale of characters in a fantasy, medieval Russia, where the world is churning out of the old ways and into the new. But there are still winter-kings and firebirds and men who cannot die. And it was so. friggin. GOOD.


THE GIRL IN THE TOWER

by Katherine Arden
Del Rey, December 2017
Historical fantasy
Rated: 4.5 / 5 cookies
provided by Del Rey and NetGalley (thank you!)

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

I do want to thank Jess Bonet and the wonderful people at Random House for the ARC of The Girl in the Tower and  a super lovely copy of The Bear and the Nightingale! I’ve been a little late with review copies lately, but I really did want to read this next book because I enjoyed TBatN so much and did want to get into what happened next with Vasya and her siblings.

I was definitely not disappointed. When I saw that The Girl in the Tower involved Sasha and Olga (two characters who disappeared near the beginning of TBatN and who I really wanted to get to know), I was so in. The fact that Vasya was dressed as a boy was also a plus, because when would I ever say no to a book with crossdressing women?

In any case, this book played out as a direct continuation of the events in The Bear in the Nightingale. Cast out by her village, Vasya pretty much runs away, finds Morozko, and gets trained by the frost-king to fend for herself. This would have been a problematic scene if not for the fact that not all of the “training” was practical, and some of it ended up being hijinks anyway, which I love, because why wouldn’t I love something like a possible romance between a witch’s daughter and an immortal death god? (Not that much happens, mind, this is going to be a slow-ass burn romance, isn’t it? DAMN YOU, ARDEN.)

It doesn’t start with Vasya, though. In fact, it starts with Olga and then Sasha and what they’ve been up to while the events in Bear took place. At this point, because of the way information traveled in medieval Russia, Olga and Sasha don’t find out about their siblings until they encounter Father Konstantin, who’s not quite done with causing trouble with his crazy-talk. Olga is a political game-player in her own right, a princess of Moscow, and Sasha is the right hand man (and monk) of Rus’ Grand Prince. While Olga is satisfied in her tower, Sasha is dissatisfied with staying in a monastery, and finds himself traveling with the Grand Prince in order to find out what’s been burning nearby villages. This is when Sasha meets up with Vasya, only…she’s dressed as a boy and that’s a scandalous thing. A very scandalous thing!

Like Bear, the book has a fairy tale feel to it, the kind of feel you get when you’re sitting near a fireplace–or, in my case, bundled up in a warm blanket and cozying up in bed–and sipping some hot cocoa. It is not meant to be a fast, action-paced read, and for the most part, Arden spends most of her time building up to the climax. When all the pieces are put in play, though, it becomes awesome and I admit I practically squeed a few times when she paid even more homage to Russian fairy tales by adding even more well-known figures in. (I won’t mention which ones, because SPOILERS.)

The characters were fun to read, even Father Konstantin had a storyline that gets tied into the narrative. I would love to see more of Midnight’s role in the story, and I feel like things are soon going to come to a head with what happens at the end of the story. Winter is waning, and with that said, so are Morozko’s powers. This means the Sleeper is waking, and I. Cannot. Wait.

4.5 out of 5 cookies! I actually liked this a bit more than the first book, mostly because HIJINKS ❤

This counts as Book #1 of my NetGalley and Edelweiss Challenge.


Have you read this book? What did you think?

Wrap Up: December 2017

You know, holidays aren’t really holidays for me. I feel like I get really unproductive when I get super busy on the holidays. But hey, at least there are pictures! Lots and lots of pictures. And it was fun, if not too relaxing…

Books Read

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler || The Richest Woman in America: The Life and Times of Hetty Green by Janet Wallach || The Immortal Nicholas by Glenn Beck

Currently Reading

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch || The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling || Ghost Slayer by Majanka Verstraete || Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

Writing

Well. So a couple of authors and I are actually going to be promoting our stories at a bookstore in Massachusetts. This’ll be happening late January, which is pretty cool. Which reminds me…I probably need to send info down to the bookstore…

Movies and TV

Lots of period dramas in December! I think once I started bingeing the second season of The Crown, I just wanted to watch even more stuff on the British royalty. So that happened.

Also, The Last Jedi rocked. And now I want a porg, a BB-8, and a Skywalker. Either twin will do.

The Young Victoria || Star Wars: The Last Jedi || Ghostbusters || 8 Mile || The Office || The Crown, Season 2 || The White Princess || Zumbo’s Just Desserts

Video Games

Horizon Zero Dawn – So I started playing this and didn’t get very far, mostly because I got the Nintendo Switch for Christmas. So…

Super Mario Odyssey – This game happened. And ohhhh boy. It’s very addicting, and I actually love it lots. I managed to finish it the week after Christmas. And even then I’m still trying to collect the rest of the moons.

Overcooked – This game requires a shitton of teamwork. But it does get addicting when you have three other people playing with you, and you just want to keep acing all the levels. We must have played a good three or four hours before we realized we needed to stop and do other things.

Mario Kart Racing – The breaker of friendships and the spiking of high blood pressure. And yet it’s still a family favorite.

Fooding

I actually didn’t do much cooking/baking in December. I mean, there were the standard baking goodies and the toffee, but that wasn’t too much to handle. Oh, and I suppose I also made apple cookies, but those were part of an order, which seems to be a hit, because I’ve got another batch to make this week. To be honest, I did more drink-mixing over the month than anything else!

Turon || White wine sangria || Raisin bread || Bioshock “Plasmid” cocktail || Brenner burger || Peppermint bark || Mojito || Churro waffle

I do have plans for book-inspired baking, but it’ll be a while yet! I cannot wait for the summer, really.

I hope you guys had a great holiday too!

Reading Challenges 2018

I’m actually surprised I surpassed any reading challenges in 2017, considering how very little time I’ve had to actually sit down and read through a book. This isn’t to say that I spent all my days working, but a lot of distraction happened, and many of them I welcomed with open arms. Plus, there is also work. Anyway, a few fun stats, and some planned reading challenges to try to get myself back on track as far as reading and blogging goes!

Fun stats first:

For a full run-down of my year, head on over to Goodreads!

I’ve gotten more comfortable with dropping books when I’m not enjoying them. I am a bit of a completionist, and it takes me a while, but there are way too many books on my backlist that I shouldn’t be spending too much time contemplating on whether or not I want to continue with a book. I’ve also done a few more rereads than I usually do, mostly because of the podcast my friend and I run together.

That being said, this post is also my customary sign-up post for a few reading challenges. This is probably not my only post regarding reading challenges, because I’m still contemplating on whether or not I want to sign up for a few more, but I don’t want to overburden myself, considering I’ve completed just the ONE challenge last year, and nothing else besides. (Technically, I may have completed Flights of Fantasy again and the Graphic Novel reading challenge, but I haven’t updated in a while, so who knows.) So, just playing it with a cautionary outlook, for now, I’ve got two challenges in my sights:

 

I really need this challenge in my life, because I really need to polish through books that have been on my TBR list for the longest time. ALSO, they have a Bookstagram challenge that I’m also very keen on participating, because let’s be honest, I’ve been craving some of these since I had a taste of bookstagramming challenges last year. So watch out for those, too!

I’m going for 15 books off my list, which pretty much covers all of the books that have been on my 25 Reads list since forever. That’s just my starting lineup for now. I’ll probably change it later on if I can get through more than the 15.

1. Snow White, Blood Red, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
2. Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
3. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
4. The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities edited by Ann VanderMeer
5. Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas
6. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
7. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time by Yasutaka Tsutsui
8. Kings and Assassins by Lane Robins
9. Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
10. Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara
11. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard, Henry Popkin
12. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
13. Warcross by Marie Lu
14. City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster
15. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Note: I’m also now a Novel Knight, which suits me just fine, because the logo is PURPLE! 😀

I have been seriously neglecting my NetGalley requests, and it’s making me feel bad. SO. I’m going to try to do better. I’ve got quite a number of really good requests in and I want to get through a number of them this year. That said, I don’t want to go crazy, so I’ll start at the Bronze Level with 10 books first.

TTT: New-To-Me Authors of 2017

For more information on Top Ten Tuesday, click here.

Happy New Year! Last year I experimented a lot on different authors, especially because of the amount of audiobooks I borrowed and listened to. I also didn’t stray too far from my favorites, and ended up reading a fair share of familiar authors as well. What I did like is that regardless of what I’d read earlier on in the year, a number of authors wrote their stories so lovely that I wanted more. Here are just a lovely few!

Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read in 2017

Sabaa Tahir (An Ember in the Ashes) – Admittedly, I was very dry on high fantasies in 2017, which is sad, because some really epic stories are going on in the high fantasy/epic fantasy genre that I really need to pick up more on that front. I may have yelled at Sabaa a bit in my mind (and maybe once or twice on Twitter…), but AEitA was SO GOOD.

Samantha Shannon (The Bone Season) – Not sure why I enjoyed her debut book so much, because strip the worldbuilding away and it’s almost a typical YA story. That said, clairvoyant magic system. Yaaaaspls.

Katherine Arden (The Bear and the Nightingale) – Arden has certainly built up my kind of historical fairy-tale setting! Arden’s TBatN and its sequel The Girl in the Tower remind me of something Juliet Marillier would write about if Marillier wrote about Russian fairy tales. All the same, I love both authors now, so yay!

Raina Telgemeier (Sisters) – Telgemeier is my new Satrapi, except I actually related more to Sisters, which is, as its moniker would have it, a story that is exactly about sisters. I’m pretty keen on reading the rest of Telgemeier’s graphic novel series, because she really did make me laugh.

Carrie Fisher (Wishful Drinking) – HERE COMES THE GENERAL (RISE UP!). Been meaning to read through her work, and her passing early in 2017 propelled me into getting a copy of at least one of her biographies. Loved the voice, loved her humor.

Kieron Gillen (The Wicked + The Divine) – I was mostly on the fence for some of the volumes of this series, but I will admit that the writing is absolute crack and altogether ingenious. Loved the illustration as well in his TW+TD series, but when it came down to writing in so many different voices, Gillen has many beat.

Vikas Swarup (Q&A) – Loved the perspective in this book. I read this as an audiobook, so it was easier to imagine the setting (though to be honest, imagining the setting wasn’t hard when most of your head was ingrained in Slumdog Millionaire…). I really liked the story, though.

Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See) – All the Light We Cannot See is Doerr’s highest-rated book on Goodreads, but I might have to try his other books. That said, I had a love-hate relationship with his ending in AtLWCS, so if his other books end in a similar manner, I might just nope out of it. He writes beautifully, in any case.

Vic James (Gilded Cage) – This was one of the NetGalley ARCs that I thoroughly enjoyed reading in 2017. I will definitely be interested in reading more from this author, and I really should get myself a copy of the second book somehow!

Margaret C. Sullivan (The Jane Austen Handbook) – Enjoyed this book! I also realized I actually did read another book of hers, so she’s technically not new to me, but we won’t really count the other Jane Austen book, since it was mainly one about covers! So there.

How about you? Which authors would you like to read more of that you read in 2017?