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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Night Circus - a book review

This was supposed to be a food blog. Years ago. But I do like breaking rules and this is only the second post after all, so it's not like we've established anything or the theme is firmly set in stone.

So here is a book review on a food blog, because Lina likes to drive Lulu a little crazy every once in a while ;)
P.S.: This is spoiler-free (aside from what you can guess from the book jacket), so feel free to pick up a copy after reading this review and tell us in the comments what you thought!

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THE NIGHT CIRCUS - ERIN MORGENSTERN (2011)


The circus arrives without warning
No announcements precede it...
It is simply there, when yesterday it was not

Mystery, magic and a dreamlike playfulness surround the „Cirque de Rêves of Erin Morgenstern’s imagination. Two magicians challenge each other to a duel-by-proxy. Young students are chosen. Preparations take years. The venue is a travelling circus, only open from nightfall til dawn.

The book’s strengths lie in the atmosphere.The world-building is clear-cut but elusive, utterly mystifying but believable, and filled to the brim with imagery and scents. Its meticulous descriptions evoke memories of forgotten realities and wishful dreams all the same.
The circus is simply marvelous. Its black-and-white tents fill the reader’s mind from the first page, and every tent that is added fits perfectly into the already established illusion. Gravity-defying acrobats and tattooed contortionists stand alongside wild cat tamers and Tarot card readers. For daydreamers and “American Horror Story” fans alike, Morgenstern’s fiction is a perfectly built playground.

Even outside of the "Circus of Dreams", the descriptions of rainy days in Victorian era London, private "Midnight Dinners" with retired ballet teachers, or a boy's simple struggles on an American apple farm manage to paint such a beautiful picture that I couldn't put the book down. (I even forgot to eat, on the second day that I was binge-reading, and only noticed when my growling stomach grew louder than the voices in my head.)

But while the "Night Circus" characters are colourful and imaginative - and the author even manages to include queer and diverse characters without seeming forced or "filling a quota" - they are also somewhat... plain.

They are strong and full of willpower and defiance only in “tell”, not in “show”. The author wishes us to believe that her main characters are strong, but gives no evidence of their strength until very late in the book.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but… a person can only endure certain things for so long.

This applies largely to the main characters, Celia and Marco. For some reason, side characters like Tsukiko (the japanese contortionist), Poppet (the red-haired twin), and Bailey (the farm boy) accumulate more meaningful backstory and character development than the mains. To me, they were the ones who brought the book together and kept me going.(It is quite telling that, if you try to find fanfiction on the matter, most are focussed on the side characters just mentioned, instead of Celia and Marco.) 

What bothers me the most about the book is the love story. This is hard to explain without spoiling parts of the story lines, so it might sound elusive and weird to most of you, but love in this book is turned on and off like a light switch. While the author takes great care in establishing a somewhat believable, romantic young love story between two characters, they seem to fall out of love for no reason in particular, other than, you know, "the main is supposed to end up with someone else, as you can already guess from the book jacket, so I guess these two have to split up now."

And when it comes to actually making the main characters fall in love with each other, it is as if one day they just wake up and decide to have been in love all along. The timing is all wrong, and while the rest of the writing is so good that I easily believe in levitating objects and magicians banned inside trees, I don't buy the simple fact that these two people are supposed to be in love.

And that's kind of a bummer.

In many reviews and ads that I have read, the book is described as "dark" or "dramatic". I cannot attest to that, finding it more like a fairytale or a vintage fantasy. The dramatic parts are thoroughly expectable (except maybe for one minor incident) and in my opinion fail to deliver the same sort of imagination and flair that the circus landscape itself possesses. The other negative point that I found prominent was the passing of time, which seems to stretch the wrong (boring) parts of the plot and glances over important highlights (like, um, the climax, which makes all of the subplots tie perfectly and easily together in about 2 pages - but I guess that could also be a sign of quality and good planning?)

It's quite possible that I over-analyzed one part or skipped over another, so please read the (very good despite any and all criticism!) book for yourself and tell me what you thought. If it doesn't make you want to go to a circus, I don't know what will!

Your Lina.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

chicken roulade, a.k.a. first post

This is Lulu speaking!

First of all, a disclaimer: I'm not a serious cook. I'm not a chef and my knowledge of food does not go beyond (some) traditional Portuguese food and that acquired through the binge watching of six seasons of Masterchef Australia in around one year. So don't expect me to be an expert about sous vide times or how to emulsify stuff and do fancy sauces; I do this for fun and by instinct, and nothing else.

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Daqui fala a Lulu!

Antes de mais, um esclarecimento: eu não sou cozinheira a sério. Não sou chef de cozinha e o meu conhecimento sobre comida só chega a (alguma) cozinha tradicional Portuguesa e ao conhecimento que se adquire quando se vêem seis temporadas do Masterchef Australia em menos de um ano. Por isso, não esperem que eu vos saiba dizer tempos para o sous vide ou como fazer emulsões e molhos chiques; eu faço isto pela piada e por puro instinto, e o resto é treta.


[EN]

(serves two — three small roulades)

Ingredients:

# chicken fillets or breasts (if you choose the fillets, make sure they're large enough to go around themselves with the filling; if not, you can use two small fillets for each roll);
# 150g of mozzarella cheese (a packet);
# 4 prunes;
# 1 tablespoon of pesto sauce (just be hardcore and buy it in a jar, I forgive you);
# 1 teaspoon of minced garlic (also comes in jars, just saying!);
# basil leaves to taste;
# lemon juice;
# salt and pepper;
# olive oil.


Preparation: 

Chop the mozzarella ball into small cubes and set it aside in a medium bowl. Chop the prunes finely and add to the cheese, together with the pesto and the garlic. Add the (also chopped) basil leaves and sprinkle with lemon juice (to taste). Mix it all while dancing through the kitchen (it doesn’t work as well if you don’t dance).

Cover your board (or whatever surface tickles your fancy) with plastic wrap and place the chicken fillet on it. If it’s too thick, you can get some free therapy and smash it a bit with a hammer. Don’t be too violent — it’s just enough to make it even, so that it can cook like it’s supposed to. Season lightly with salt and pepper (remember the filling, and how it’ll add a burst of flavor). 

Place the filling in the middle of the steak, in a way that allows you to roll the meat over. When you’re satisfied with the amount, use the plastic wrap to roll the fillet over itself and close it by wrapping so much plastic around it that you’ll feel like Spider Man on steroids. In the end, you should be able to roll the sides and have the meat wrapped very tightly, almost like a sausage. Tie knots on the sides to make sure the roulade doesn’t fall apart while it’s in the water. 

Bring a small pot of water to the boil and when it’s on a light simmer, put the roulades in. Boil for 18-20 minutes (make sure all of them are covered) and take them out. If you’re going to serve them right away, just make sure they’re dry before you put them in an oiled pan to brown on all sides. 

Serve with a salad. Or with rice. Or potatoes. Whatever makes you happy. 

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[PT]

(serve duas pessoas — três roulades pequenas)

Ingredientes:

# bifes ou peitos de frango (se escolherem os bifes, tenham atenção ao tamanho e vejam se permite enrolar sobre si, mesmo com o recheio. Se não der, podem optar por usar dois bifes, ligeiramente sobrepostos);
# 150g (um pacote) de mozzarella;
# 4 ameixas secas;
# 1 colher de sopa de molho pesto (sejam hardcore e comprem em frasco, eu perdoo-vos);
# 1 colher de chá de alho esmagado (também há em frasco, só para que fique dito!);
# folhas de manjericão a gosto;
# sumo de limão (a gosto, também);
# sal e pimenta;
# azeite. 

Preparação: 

Cortem a mozzarella em cubos pequenos e reservem numa tigela ou taça média. Cortem as ameixas às tirinhas e depois aos quadradinhos e juntem ao queijo, assim como as colheres de pesto e de alho. Desfaçam as folhas de manjericão com as mãos e juntem à mistura, finalizando com umas gotas de sumo de limão. Misturem tudo enquanto dançam pela cozinha (não funciona se não dançarem). 

Cubram a tábua (ou a superfície que vos der na gana) com película aderente e ponham o bife de frango sobre a mesma. Se for demasiado grosso, podem aproveitar um bocadinho de terapia grátis e dar-lhe umas marteladas. Não sejam violentos — é só para garantir que o bife tem uma grossura mais ou menos igual por todo, de forma a que cozinhe como deve ser. Temperem levemente com sal e pimenta (lembrem-se do recheio e do sabor que traz por aí)!

Coloquem o recheio no meio do bife, de forma a que seja possível enrolá-lo. Quando estiverem satisfeitos com a quantidade, usem a folha de película aderente para enrolar o bife sobre si mesmo e fechá-lo, a usar tanto plástico que se vão sentir como o Homem-Aranha com esteróides. No final, devem conseguir enrolar os lados e ter a carne apertada e tensa, quase como uma salsicha. apertem os lados do plástico com nós, para evitar que a roulade se desfaça na água da cozedura. 

Ponham uma panela pequena no lume e quando ferver, coloquem as roulades no interior. Deixem cozer por 18-20 minutos (sempre a ver se elas estão cobertas com água). Retirem da água e do plástico quando o tempo acabar, e caso desejem servir imediatamente, passem para uma sertã com azeite para dourar a carne de todos os lados. 

Sirvam com salada. Ou arroz. Ou batatas. O que quer que vos ponha contentes, sim?