July 2010

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Name a book or author that you truly wanted to love but left you disappointed. (And, of course, explain why.)

This would absolutely have to be Charles Dickens. Try as I might to appreciate his books, I can’t help falling asleep after a couple of pages. The heavily¬†annotated version of Great Expectations was among my worst reading experiences in high school. I hear that Dickens is gifted at characterization, setting, and plot. I would agree with the first two, but not with the last – I find his stories incredibly dull and slower than molasses. My English teacher recommended Bleak House to me in high school, but to no avail. Dickens isn’t in the cards for me.

This week I was reading Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger’s newest novel. At first I was skeptical because the book involves ghosts and paranormal activity, but after the first 100 pages I found myself becoming more absorbed. The characters that Niffenegger created were wonderfully eccentric and believable despite the supernatural twist. The book centers on 20-year-old twins from Chicago, Julia and Valentina, who abruptly inherit their Aunt Elspeth’s flat in London after she dies from leukemia. The flat overlooks the historic Highgate Cemetery. The twins go to live in the flat for a year, where they encounter two very quirky neighbors. One is Robert Fanshaw, Elspeth’s former lover and Highgate tour guide, who is incredibly distraught by her death. The other is Martin, who is obsessive compulsive and unable to leave his flat, and whose wife Marijke has left him due to his illness.

Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger.

Upon arriving in London, the twins, who were previously inseparable, begin to drift apart after discovering their Aunt Elspeth’s ghost co-inhabiting the flat; Valentina befriends Elspeth while Julia has little patience for her. Valentina, who was always the more submissive twin, begins to have her own dreams and aspirations that do not coincide with Julia’s. The tension between them culminates at the conclusion of the book. This novel touches on the themes of sisterhood, family, and broken relationships. It celebrates imperfections and individuality; my favorite character is Martin, whose intelligence, sense of humor, and love for his wife shine through his debilitating disease.

While reading this book over the weekend, I suddenly craved something sweet. I had picked up some deliciously sweet blueberries from the farmers market, so I decided to make blueberry muffins before they went bad. These weren’t just any blueberry muffins – they were vegan, with no milk or eggs. And honestly, I didn’t miss the animal products at all. They were a snap to make and simply delicious.

Right out of the oven.

VEGAN BLUEBERRY MUFFINS (adapted from RecipeZaar.com)

1/4 cup margarine
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup almond milk (soy milk or rice milk works as well)
1 box fresh blueberries (around 1 and 1/2 cups), or 2 cups frozen blueberries

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line muffin tray with liners or spray.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. If using fresh blueberries, dust with 2 tbsp. of flour before adding them to the mixture to prevent them from sinking into the batter.
  4. Spoon mixture into cups and bake for 35 minutes.
  5. Cool for 10-15 minutes.

Mmm… these didn’t last too long after I made them. (: