Skip to main content


Crazy Rich Asians argue about satay

Then it was time for the satay. Rachel bit into the succulent grilled chicken, savoring its smoky sweetness carefully. The rest of them watched her intently. "Okay, Nick, you were right. I've never had decent satay until now.  – Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians, chapter 14 I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did, perhaps because I felt rather lukewarm about the film a couple of years ago. The book's Hollywood-isation stripped it largely of its satire, turning it into a mushy, dramatic romance on the screen. It's the same mis-adapting that has led to the wide belief that Jane Austen wrote "love stories", when what she actually exposed were the nuances of stratification and relationships through humour and irony. I bring up Austen because more than one critic compared Crazy Rich Asians  to one of her works, but probably for different reasons, the comparisons actually make sense to me. Kwan's narrative is heady, but there's a disdain through

A chocolate cake from Hagrid's coat pocket

From an inside pocket of his black overcoat he pulled a slightly squashed box. Harry opened it with trembling fingers. Inside was a large, sticky chocolate cake with Happy Birthday Harry written on it in green icing. – J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, chapter 4 This scene, occuring immediately after Hagrid's arrival and the Dursleys' comeuppance (which included phrases such as "yeh great lump" and "yeh great prune", hmm), marks the first nice thing that anyone has ever done for Harry's birthday since his parents died. Stunned and confused though he is, Harry is still able to see this gesture for what it is: someone made an effort especially for him, to make him happy, because they care. The feeling is so unfamiliar that it confuses him, and he isn't even able to formulate a "thank you". Well, that, and a giant just broke down the door. I started reading the Harry Potter books when I was 13, immediately after the

Alma Whittaker craves wentelteefjes

He looked at her for a while longer, then took a leisurely sip of coffee and helped himself to a bite of wentelteefje from the small plate before him. Clearly, she had interrupted an evening snack. She would have given almost anything for a taste of that wentelteefje. It looked and smelled wonderful. When was the last time she'd had cinnamon toast? Probably the last time Hanneke had made it for her. The aroma made her weak with nostalgia. But uncle Dees did not offer her any coffee, and he certainly did not offer her a share of his beautiful, golden, buttery wentelteefjes.   – Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things,  chapter 28 From the blurb, I expected this book to be about a female Newt Scamander-type character  (see, I can't even think of a woman equivalent) who travelled the world and went on adventures far ahead of her time, in a male-dominated profession, in search of fantastic botanical specimens. And though this would have been a super cool story, I'm even

#FlashbackFriday: Favourites from the attic

I've just realised that today marks 14 years since I first started blogging.   It wasn't quite here; I had a different blog then, but parts of it have found room in this new home. In those early years, I used to mark every "bloggiversary" with a post , but that is a practice long forgotten. So it's a sweet coincidence, then, that I happened to be doing some blog calendar planning, looked at the date, and a shadowy memory came to the forefront. I've got a million things to be doing right now, but I think this deserves some of my time.  I've already written about how my blogging has evolved, reviving this blog and creating an archive. There are more tweaks coming, but enough of that for now. Instead, we're going down memory lane with one(ish) post for each year that I've been blogging. This wasn't easy; there aren't many posts I feel happy sharing from those early years, and not all years were created equal (I'm looking at you, 2012). Un

Jing-Mei Woo inspires a ginger tofu dish

 Trigger warning: death    My father hasn't eaten well since my mother died. So I am here, in the kitchen, to cook him dinner. I'm slicing tofu. I've decided to make him a spicy bean-curd dish. My mother used to tell me how hot things restore the spirit and health. – Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club, chapter 12  At the tail end of a chapter primarily devoted to an elaborate meal involving eleven crabs, the simplicity of the dish that Jing-Mei chooses to share with her father and the reader is interesting. In this novel about mothers and daughters, and friction between generations and cultures, we don't see the daughters in the kitchen too often. Jing-Mei's cooking is nurturing, and nostalgic, but she explains the act with humility. Throughout the book, I got the feeling that she wasn't particularly culinarily inclined  – perhaps it was her lack of interest in (and knowledge about) the differences between black sesame seed soup and red bean soup; or the way she admired

Thirty-one going on thirty-two

Last March I bought liquid foundation for the first time (the shop was all wrong) to conceal the forever-shadows under my eyes but sometimes I wonder which cosmetic chases away the less-than-hopeful feeling that this is all there will ever be or less maybe pandemics do this to a person or maybe it's just thirty-one where adventures do lie ahead but cautiously.

The Garage Girl and Maureen Fry's apricot flapjacks

Over tea and several apricot flapjacks, the girl told her she was the one who had given Harold the burger all those weeks ago. He had sent her many lovely postcards; although due to his sudden rise to fame there had been an inconvenient number of fans and journalists hanging about the garage. – Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, chapter 28 In the second chapter of this poignant story, sixty-five-year-old Harold walks into a garage a couple of post boxes away from his street, seeking a snack. He's feeling something , but doesn't quite have a mission just yet.  Although we never learn her name, the girl in the garage is the catalyst that starts everything.  You have to keep positive, though." Harold stopped eating his burger and mopped his mouth with a paper serviette. "Positive?" "You have to believe. That's what I think. It's not about medicine and all that stuff. You have to believe a person can get better. There is so much in the

Vianne Rocher's dark chocolate mendiants

Anouk reads a book of nursery rhymes behind the counter and keeps an eye on the door for me as I prepare a batch of mendiants in the kitchen. These are my own favourites – thus named because they were sold by beggars and gypsies years ago – biscuit-sized discs of dark, milk or white chocolate upon which have been scattered lemon-rind, almonds and plump Malaga raisins.  – Joanne Harris, Chocolat , chapter 7 There is no overt magic in this novel about a chocolatier who wanders into a small French village with her daughter and an imaginary rabbit on a Shrove Tuesday, the day of pancakes. I re-read this book after years, mostly because I'd forgotten large chunks of it and wanted to revisit Lansquenet-sous-Tannes before I read the rest of the series. This was my second "buddy read", which has been great for keeping my reading on track (case in point: the book I'm currently reading is taking far too long.) Vianne's mother was a witch, we are told, but she prefers to not

Wild iris

We first saw you as children when we first tasted starry nights and dewy greens on our palms, and drank the shades, so many shades, of purple that had sprung in feathery wisps and flakes and striped petals near nettles and firewood and cow dung cakes. We learned how to make ladders from your leaves as tall as dreams. As I sit here staring at four white walls in a dark city claustrophobic I remember you and the tingle of the open sky under my skin, the smell of wood shavings; the sound of cattle herders calling the cows home; the fluffy white clouds of smoke from a chimney and a few cigarettes between steady fingers. I do have a few photographs of you purple and green; pale imitations for I smell nothing, hear nothing. There are only  white walls in dark cities. Written in 2013, first published in Miracle magazine, issue 7, October 2013. Himachal Pradesh, 2011

Anne Shirley's teatime biscuits

Mrs. Rachel and Marilla sat comfortably in the parlour while Anne got the tea and made hot biscuits that were light and white enough to defy even Mrs. Rachel's criticism. – L. M. Montgomery,  Anne of Green Gables, chapter 30 This year, I've got a new project up my sleeve, one that combines books and food and photography. Each month, I plan to cook or bake one dish mentioned in a book I enjoy, and hopefully discover something new about the characters, try new recipes, and hunt for new ways to make images of food on the one table in our apartment that is exposed to good lighting. In honour of new beginnings, I thought I'd start with my favourite series , and I have a good reason for choosing these biscuits in the first book from among all the cakes, pies and preserves on offer. ( A shout-out here to  36 Eggs  for compiling an exhaustive list of every food item ever mentioned in the  Anne  books!) As unassuming  as biscuits may seem  –  indeed, I didn't remember them at al