Books and bakes #10: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 and blueberry crumb bars

The bake

Sometimes you just feel like baking. And since I have enough chocolate for now (I picked up some early Easter chocolate last weekend), this week I felt like making something fruity. Blueberries don’t come into season until the summer in Ontario, but something about the lemon-blueberry flavour combination always says “spring” to me. Thankfully frozen fruit makes it possible to bake with this combo at any time of year. I found this recipe for blueberry crumb bars from My Baking Addiction that have just a hint of lemon with the addition of lemon zest to the crust/crumble. The bars were easy to make, and had a tasty crumble on top, with a good balance of crumb to fruit. My only complaint is that in just 24 hours, some of the bars became quite soggy sitting in a sealed container. I’m not sure if there was a better way to store them, as the recipe didn’t include any notes. But it’s not a real bother. The bars still taste great. The soggier ones just have to be eaten with a fork rather than with fingers.

The book

I’ve had Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo on hold at the library since before it was released in Canada. I think it’s been over a year now. If my memory serves me right, it was released when everything first closed due to the pandemic. I couldn’t get anything from the library at that point, and I think they had paused on receiving books, too. There may have been some other reasons for the delay, but I am unaware of the details. Anyway, the fact that it was taking so long just made me want to read it more. And, a few days ago, I was finally able to pick it up.

Kim-Jiyoung, Born 1982 is a short novel (160 pages) that opens with 33-year-old Kim Jiyoung displaying increasingly unusual behaviour that concerns her husband. The book then goes back in time with a section devoted to a different period of Jiyoung’s life, starting with her childhood, then her adolescence, her early adulthood, and then her marriage (outlined in the table of contents). The opening of the book grabbed me. Right away I wanted to know what was happening with Jiyoung. I’ve just finished the adolescence section, and now I’m finding it fascinating going back to look at Jiyoung’s life, seeing how her family and culture have affected and shaped her. So far, this book is proving to have been worth the wait.

Books and bakes #9: The Dictionary of Lost Words and cream tea scones

The bake

Before the pandemic, I used to go for afternoon tea every few months with a group of friends. Since we haven’t been able to do that for the past year, I decided to bake my own scones to enjoy (I haven’t made any finger sandwiches yet, but I’ve had the occasional mimosa…and, well, I drink tea every day). I’ve made these cream tea scones from King Arthur Baking a few times during the pandemic, and they always satisfy my craving. I don’t have any clotted cream to serve with them, but I like to halve them and add a dollop of strawberry jam. And of course the scones are best served warm.

The book

When I was trying to decide what book to start this weekend, I had a bit of difficulty. I started a couple of books I’d taken out from the library, but I just couldn’t get into them. Then I picked up The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams. I’ve had an ARC for a few weeks and have wanted to get to it, but book club picks and library holds kept knocking its place down in the TBR pile. Now that I have started it, I am pleased to report that this novel has enraptured me. The story takes place in late-1800s and early 1900s in Oxford, England, where Esme, the daughter of a lexicographer, grows up spending her days in the Scriptorium, a room where her father and other dictionary editors sort through slips of submissions for the first Oxford English Dictionary. When Esme sees one of the editors drop one of the slips without noticing, she snatches it up. So begins her collection of words that she keeps hidden, locked away in a trunk. I’m about a quarter of the way through, so I guess things could change, but so far this is looking like a real gem of a book.

Books and bakes #8: We Run the Tides and monkey bread

The bake

A little while ago, my boyfriend saw a recipe for monkey bread in his copy of Bread Illustrated (edited by America’s Test Kitchen). This weekend, we gave the recipe a go. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten monkey bread before this; it was so delicious that I think I would have remembered it. As far as flavours and ingredients go, monkey bread is pretty similar to cinnamon rolls: the dough is made with yeast, and the filling is cinnamon, butter, and brown sugar. But, unlike cinnamon rolls, this dough is formed into a pull-apart bread. You do this by shaping the dough into balls, dipping them into butter and then a cinnamon-sugar mixture, and then placing them into a bundt pan before putting it in the oven. The book suggests serving the monkey bread warm, and I stand by this suggestion. The cinnamon-sugar filling was caramelized and gooey, and who doesn’t enjoy a warm bread? However, I also had some at room temperature, and it was still so very good. Will make again!

The book

Earlier today, I finished reading We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida. I am such a sucker for coming-of-age stories! This one is set in San Francisco in the 1980s and centres around 13-year-old Eulabee and her best friend, Maria Fabiola. The novel explores both the fickleness of young friendship as well as the significance that early relationships have on the formation of self. I enjoyed Eulabee’s voice, her sense of humour, and the breeziness of Vida’s writing that made it very easy to convince myself I had time to read “just one more chapter.”

Books and bakes #7: Klara and the Sun and oatmeal cookie bars

The bake

I’ve been craving oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies. On Friday, I decided to do something about that, although it was Friday, which meant I had basically run out of energy for the week. This may make me sound like the laziest baker, but even though drop cookies are one of the simplest things to bake, sometimes I just can’t be bothered to divide the dough into tablespoon-sized balls and place them on multiple pans that will require me move them between racks. It’s much easier to put everything in one pan and pop it in and out of the oven in one go. I remembered seeing a recipe for oatmeal cookie bars from Baker by Nature recently, and it seemed like it would satisfy both my craving and my desire to do as little work as possible. The bars turned out chewy and yummy, but I should have just made cookies. That’s what I really wanted: a cookie, not a bar. Even though I don’t have anything bad to say about this recipe, it didn’t satisfy my oatmeal cookie craving.

The book

Taking a chance with my cravings this weekend turned out to be somewhat disappointing, but stepping out of my comfort zone with my reading has been rewarding. It may be hard to believe, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, Klara and the Sun. You see, as much as I try not to dismiss entire genres, science fiction and speculative fiction aren’t the types of books I tend to gravitate toward. I’ve read two of Ishiguro’s celebrated novels, The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. While I enjoyed both books, it was the science fiction elements of Never Let Me Go that kept me from loving it. So when I heard that Klara and the Sun was about an “Artificial Friend” named Klara, I wasn’t sure this was a book for me. However, several readers I trust read an advance reading copy and loved it, and I was curious to give it a try. I’m only 50 pages in–too early to give a final verdict–but the character of Klara and her observations of the world have pulled me in. I guess this weekend has shown me that while sometimes taking a chance doesn’t work out the way you hoped, sometimes it can turn out even better than you expected.

Books and bakes #6: The Divines and chocolate pudding

The bake

Okay, this isn’t a bake, since it was made on the stovetop, but this pudding turned out so well–and I’m so pleased with my presentation–I couldn’t resist posting about it. I had been thinking of making a chocolate mousse for Valentine’s Day, but I just didn’t feel comfortable serving something made with raw eggs. It’s one thing to give myself salmonella, but I would have felt terrible if my Valentine’s Day gift to my boyfriend was food poisoning. That’s why I decided to look into chocolate pudding.

I have never made any kind of pudding before, and all my memories of eating pudding are of the Jell-O brand variety (that never actually tasted all that good and definitely weren’t very chocolatey). But I trust the recipes on the Smitten Kitchen website. If this was called “best chocolate pudding,” I knew it would have to be pretty good at the very least. Well, that proved to be true. This pudding was chocolatey, smooth, and not too sweet. I served the pudding in antique teacups along with a dollop of whipped cream on top and chocolate-covered strawberries on the side. It was a perfectly delicious special-occasion dessert, and it was so simple, I think I will make it on not-so-special occasions, too.

The book

I’m reading The Divines by Ellie Eaton, a book I have been anticipating for a little while. This novel is about a clique of girls who attend an all-girls boarding school (St. John of the Divine) in England in the 1990s. The story opens with a scandal surrounding the death of one of the students and then moves to the present day, as newlywed Josephine is coaxed by her husband to tell her about her past. I love a good dark academia novel, and the ’90s references in this one add a bit of nostalgia for me. I’m only 60 pages in, but I can’t wait to see where the story goes.