Their Eyes Were Watching God: Tea Cakes

I love food and I love to read. As a result, each month, I combine these two interests in a post about food from literature. I'll mostly be sticking with books from classic literature, so you're likely to know the storylines anyway, but just in case you don't: warning: there may be spoilers ahead.


Today marks the start of the American Library Association's Banned Books Week. I wrote about my feelings on banning books in last year's Banned Books Week entry, so I'll spare you a second diatribe, but if you care about intellectual freedom, first-amendment rights, or just about being able to read some really good books, I strongly recommend you participate. There are lots of ways to show your support for not banning books. The easiest, and in my opinion, the best, is simply to find out which books are most often banned, and borrow or request them from your library. Libraries can use records of how often a book is checked out to help support the argument against banning that particular book, so not only do you get to read a good book, but you support intellectual freedom! If you're handy with a camera, and have always wanted to read, say, the opening passage from Nabokov's Lolita to an audience, another way to show your support is with the Banned Books Week virtual read-out. You can upload yourself reading passages of your favorite banned books on their YouTube channel! Finally, your local library may be having Banned Books Week events, and I'm always a fan of supporting local libraries. Get involved!

Every time I look at a list of banned books, I'm startled by the titles I see: with some, I can't even begin to imagine how they're controversial; with others, I can't believe parents want to deny their existence to their children. Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God is in the latter category. That is, I get why some people find it controversial: not only is there racism, but the book admits the existence of sex. But there's nothing graphic, and both those themes get the serious treatment they deserve. Their Eyes Were Watching God is a beautifully written, moving book about the importance of being true to yourself, to your feelings, and to your goals and desires. It's about working for what makes you happy, and it's about how love can change and transcend any situation.
Granted, I'm a little biased--I love this book. When I first found it, I read the line "There are years that ask questions, and years that answer" and I was a goner. (I was in the middle of a year that asked questions, and the next time I read it was a year that answered.) Even beyond its well-composed plot and interesting characters, this book resonates with anyone who has longed or searched for something. Janie, the main character, is a black woman who wants to find love. She wants a relationship in which she's treated as an equal, in which she desires and is desired, in which she is able to be herself and is appreciated for that self. Apparently, if you're a pretty black Floridian woman in the early 20th century, that's asking too much. Other characters try to point out to her that she should be happy as long as she has safety or stability or money or anything good at all, but for Janie, that's not good enough. And we understand through Janie that when we long for something--anything, not just love--nothing else will come close. We can't settle, and we shouldn't have to. The book emphasizes how important it is to our psyches to pursue our dreams, even if they can't last.

Also, there's a lot of food in this book, and I'm down with any book where food matters. When picking something to make for this entry, I had quite a few recipes to choose from, but I settled on the most obvious choice: Tea Cakes.

Tea Cake is the man whom Janie loves. His real name is Verigible, but Tea Cake is a nickname, one we can presume the ladies gave him for, well, how sweet he is. "Are you as sweet as all that?" Janie asks, upon meeting him, and with that comment starts up their whole romance. Non-human Tea Cakes are basically sugar cookies, but southern. There seems to be some controversy over whether they should be flat and crisp or puffy with soft insides. The recipe below is for the flatter and crisper variety, but you can roll them thicker than 1/4 inch if you want them softer. You can glaze them, ice them, or create sandwich cookies with them by spreading jam in the middle, but their real raison d'etre is to be eaten plain alongside a nice cup of tea, whose flavor they won't overpower (hence the name).

Confession! Because I am a yankee and didn't know about tea cakes before this, I wanted to turn to an expert for a proper recipe. The following is an adaptation (and veganization) of Paula Deen's Southern Tea Cakes.
As Sweet As All That Tea Cakes

Makes 1.5-2 dozen, depending on how thick you roll it and how big your cookie cutter is. This recipe can scale up if you want to make a lot, in which case I recommend using a mixer.

1/2 Cup sugar
4 Tbsp (1/2 a stick) margarine, at room temperature
2 Tbsp soy yogurt
2 Tbsp soymilk
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 Cup flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder

Cream together the sugar and butter with a fork (for those of you who don't know what "cream" means, mix them until creamy or well-combined). Mix in the soy yogurt, soymilk, and vanilla. Add the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Mix until it forms a soft dough.

Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30-60 mins. You can skip this step if you want, but you'll have to use a lot more flour rolling it out, since it's such a sticky dough.

On a lightly-floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness. Using a cookie cutter, biscuit cutter, or an inverted drinking glass, cut into even circles. Gather up the scraps, reroll and cut, until you're out of dough. (Like Janie when Tea Cake went gambling with her money!)

Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, until the edges are very lightly browned.

If you want to enjoy these in the style of the characters in the book, eat with tea while telling your life story to a neighbor on her porch.
Or move to the Everglades with them. Whatever you like to do with your Tea Cake is none of my business.

What are your favorite banned books?


more end-of-summer stuff... and vegan mofo!

October is coming quickly! This is a little stressful for me, but also really great, because we're getting married next month! And going on a honeymoon! And I'm still signing on for the Vegan Month of Food, aka Vegan MoFo!
For those of you who are new to the idea of Vegan MoFo, bloggers sign up to post as much as they can throughout the designated month. For a lot of us, that means we're going to try to post every day! I'm already a little overwhelmed at the thought, but I've been a slacker with blogging since the start of summer, so it'll be good to have a reason to force myself to update more.

Summer got away without me ever doing a hot-weather-snacks post. I was obsessed with popsicles this year, and have a few to write about. I guess popsicles can be an any-time-of-year food, right, as long as you eat them indoors? Another thing I think of as a warm-weather snack, but something that could really be enjoyed year-round is bubble tea!
I've already written about Dado, our favorite Boston (Cambridge) bubble tea place, in my post on vegan eating in Boston. It's our favorite bubble tea place! They have soy milk available instead of milk, or you can have it with no "milk," and they let you specify no sugar. The fiance likes Thai tea (on the right) or black tea; I usually mix it up. Their matcha-mint tea is good, as is jasmine (which will ALWAYS be my favorite tea flavor), and Earl Grey seems well-suited for bubble tea. Yum!

Annnnd since summer's really over, I'm almost out of flower pictures to show you, especially with the first frost on its way. But I still have a couple bouquets left to report on from my flower share! This is one big bouquet:
There were too many flowers to fit in my vase, so like last week, I had to divide it up.
Those gladioli were SO gorgeous. And long-lasting, too!
Whatever that red flower is, it is NOT long-lasting. Or maybe it just didn't last long because the cats kept trying to attack it?
Sigh. I'll miss you around the house, fresh flowers.


salted caramel sauce (from design sponge)

As you may know from my links page, I love home design blogs. I usually read them for decorating and DIY ideas for around the house, but often design blogs also delve into food. Apartment Therapy, for example, has the Kitchn section, where I've gotten plenty of recipes. Their vegan ones are often uninspired, but maybe that's only because I already read so many vegan blogs and own so many vegan cookbooks that I feel like I've seen it all. However, since I don't read many non-vegan food blogs, nor do I read many non-vegan cookbooks, I find them useful when it comes to finding new things to veganize.

This Salted Caramel recipe is an example of that. I found it on Design Sponge, a design/DIY/occasional recipe site.
The original recipes calls for lots of butter and cream. I used Earth Balance and some Mimicreme instead. It turned out great!

This caramel is thin at room temperature, but thickens to a sort of paste-y texture once stored in the fridge, so it should really be called Salted Caramel Sauce or Spread. Mine was a bit grainier than the one in the recipe, but that was entirely due to me allowing the sugar to crystalize (oops) while it was cooking, not due to veganizing.

One note about stirring melted sugar: the recipe warns not to overmix, or the sugar could crystalize. I have never had sugar crystalize on me until I read this warning and tried not to "overmix." By not stirring often, I found it crystalized much more than when I do my normal amount of (frequent) stirring. So if you are a beginner, ignore when it says not to overmix.
I served it with fruit slices to my omnivorous book club and they gobbled it up. I also drizzled it over chocolate cupcakes as a glaze, which was a wild success with my omnivorous coworkers--it doesn't taste like a veganized version of caramel--it just tastes like caramel. It would be delicious over ice cream, or spread over some dessert bread, maybe? Ohhhh man like a chocolate bread. I'm making myself hungry just thinking about it.

In other news, I know summer is really over... because my flower CSA share is coming to an end. But I still have some flower pictures to share with you!
The gladioli are always so gorgeous! But really hard to carry home with me on the T; I keep worrying I'll smack someone in the face with a flower.
Sometimes there are too many flowers to keep in one vase, which means I get to scatter them throughout our apartment! I love this delicate-looking (but long-lasting) purple flower. I don't know what kind it is though--anyone know?
I also love THESE expressive flowers! They remind me of brains, so I think of them as "brain flowers," though I'd love to know their real names.