If you could live your life again, what would you change? Trying not to die would likely go on the list. And you’d probably try to fix a mistake or five. And fix a World Series, if’n you were feeling greedy. But what if fixing mistakes was sometimes cause for behavior that seems destructive, but isn’t? This is just one of the things our protagonist Ursula, the focus of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, deals with.
From birth to death(s) we see Ursula living and reliving her life over and over again, with only the dim awareness of her attempts. This hazy awareness, manifesting itself as déjà vu and intuition, sometimes leads Ursula to erratic behavior. For instance, after dying of a deadly flu a couple of times, Ursula injures one of the house servants. That seems like a mean thing for Ursula to do, but unknown to everyone else, the injury prevents the servant from going on the trip upon which they would catch a killer flu. The servant’s being injured saves lives, a blessing in disguise.
This book leads me to contemplate how all of our littlest actions actually lead to the biggest of things. You can never know how the tiniest decision can impact you. Decide to take a different route walking home today? You may save time, or you may get kidnapped and killed. Or you may meet the love of your life. Or you may just have a change of scenery. I used to think about this a lot when I was a kid and find that thinking about it too much was paralyzing. On the other hand, it can also be liberating. It reminds you all your “mistakes” may not actually be so terrible. At least that is the perky, sunny spin I like to put on it, now that I am semi-retired from being Goth with a capital G. Only a lowercase g goth now. I gave up black lipstick.
Although the plot of Life After Life and all it makes me think about are is fascinating, those factors are not what makes this book tick. For me it is the delicious character paintings, the dry sense of humor, and, let’s face it, the British food that makes it compelling. Can I be totally honest? This week I want to cut to the food. Actually, in life I usually want to cut to the food. It’s a good thing Life After Life mentions food ALOT. The book settings are British and German, and the food follows suit. I fancy myself a food expert, yet even I had to read next to my laptop so I could google all the different British dishes referenced. I could really use an iPad, laptops are so 2005. However, my efforts are your reward. I’ll give you a sample of what I learned. Mmmm, samples. This will be just like going to Costco but more educational and less artery-clogging.
Piccalli– I always thought of this as an American thing but apparently it is a classic British preserve that usually uses cauliflower and cucumbers. Or maybe technically it is a pickle? A conserve? It is a greenish goo, either way.
Bakewell Tart– this involves a pie shell filled with jam and an cake-y almond filling.
Iced Fancy– essentially a cupcake
Toad in a Hole– I always thought of this as an egg fried in a hole cut in a slice of bread, but that is the American version. Apparently in England, it is a dish of Yorkshire Pudding (made of an eggy batter similar to popovers) with sausages baked into it.
Queen of Puddings– this is a custard involving eggs and breadcrumbs, topped with jam, topped with a meringue.
As for what to make for you, dear HelloGiggles readers, I like a recipe mystery. At one point, the family’s cook makes a cake that is “an ingenious confection that, naturally, relied mainly on eggs.” I think the reason it was ingenious was that it was tasty, and the reason it naturally used a lot of eggs was because Ursula’s family was rationing for the war, and keeping chickens at home was how they kept themselves fed. Ergo I needed a World War Two-era cake recipe using lots of eggs that was British. I scored two out of three on this one. I have a 1935 cookbook and it had a recipe for a “meringue cake.” I suppose the yolks could be used for a custard if you get ambitious. This recipe is not British, but I decided since it was chocolate I’d let that fact slide. A multitude of sins are overcome with chocolate. And if your sins are too great for chocolate, perhaps you can correct your ways in your next life.
Wartime Cake adapted form The Household Searchlight Recipe Book published in 1935 by The Household Magazine
- 5 egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- raspberry jam, raspberries, and mint, to serve
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9 by 9 inch pan. Sift the sugar, cocoa, cream of tartar, and flour into a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until holding peaks, but still glossy and not completely stiff. Stir in the flour mixture and when it is about halfway mixed, add the vanilla and stir just until mixed. Pour into the pan. Bake about 20-30 minutes, until it isn’t totally squishy in the middle. Allow to cool, then slice and serve with jam, berries, and mint.