"Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel & brioche french toast with fruit compote

"Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel & brioche french toast with fruit compote | www.paperplatesblog.com

Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is a thrillingly believable yet quirky take on a post-apocalyptic world. Her deft depiction of the climate of fear and panic that takes hold of people in the midst of a pandemic feels all too real in light of the disproportionate anxiety after SARS, swine flu, and most recently Ebola (among many others!).

The novel takes place in two distinct worlds before and after the Georgia Flu, a devastating, rapidly spreading, flu pandemic that kills most of the world’s population. The story begins in a Toronto theater, where Hollywood star Arthur Leander, playing the role of King Lear, has a fatal heart attack. Onstage, an audience member jumps forward to try and save him, as Kirsten, a child actress watches in tears.

Station Eleven jumps between the pre-flu world and Year Twenty after global collapse, when survivors have banded together into settlements. There are no countries or cities as we know them. It is then that we meet Kirsten again, in the world that emerges post Georgia Flu. She is part of the Traveling Symphony, a group of traveling musicians and actors who perform at each town they reach.

Mandel carefully develops connections between the two time frames as the novel progresses, from Jeevan, who jumps onstage to save Arthur Leander, to Kirsten, and Miranda, the creator behind a hand-drawn comic called Station Eleven which survives the catastrophic transformation of the universe, serving as a bridge between the new and old worlds. In the same way, Mandel’s Station Eleven is the dreamy and gripping link between her characters – from tales of Arthur’s life to Jeevan’s.

Through them, Mandel emphasizes the significance of individual rather than collective destiny in the wake of global disaster, in a way that simultaneously dampens the urgency and panic surrounding them.

Station Eleven is an exploration of memory and loss, nostalgia and yearning. Mandel recognizes the role of art in establishing our impressions of the world, and carefully uses it in her writing to evoke the feeling of life as it slips through our fingers, the memories simultaneously vivid and fleeting.

In Year Twenty, Kirsten, is interviewed about her memories of life before the pandemic, and says that the new reality is most difficult for those who can remember the world as it was. "The more you remember, the more you've lost," she explains with a hint of wisdom and sorrow – a fine balance that Station Eleven elicits effortlessly.

"Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel & brioche french toast with fruit compote | www.paperplatesblog.com

This brioche french toast and berry compote is sweet and tart, a twist on the traditional, much as Station Eleven is a twist on the all too familiar tale of a post-apocalyptic world. 

"Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel & brioche french toast with fruit compote | www.paperplatesblog.com
"Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel & brioche french toast with fruit compote | www.paperplatesblog.com

BRIOCHE FRENCH TOAST

Ingredients

For the compote (feel free to use other berries as desired):

  • 2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water

For the french toast:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 10-12 slices of brioche bread
  • Unsalted butter

Instructions

For the berry compote:

Combine the berries in a saucepan with ¼ cup sugar and water. Bring to a simmer. Cook over moderate heat until the berries are softened and the sugar is dissolved.

For the french toast:

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the heavy cream, 3 tablespoons of sugar, the cinnamon, and allspice. Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Heat a large cast-iron griddle and lightly butter it.

One at a time, dip each slice of brioche in the egg mixture until moist (not soggy).

Place the slice of bread on the griddle and cook over moderate heat, turning once, until golden and cooked through.

Transfer the french toast to a baking sheet, cover loosely with foil, and keep warm in oven at 225º as you continue cooking the other pieces of french toast.

Serve the french toast with the berry compote, and either crème fraiche or maple syrup if desired. 


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The TBR List: Swing

Chicago's mood swings

What are you up to this weekend? I haven't quite figured out all my plans. I was hoping to get some outdoor time but with Chicago's weather swinging around like it has been (60s last week, snow this past Monday, then back up to the 40s and rumors or more snow today) it seems that might be tough. We've got some dinner plans and brunch plans, but I'm also hoping to squeeze in some baking. Scones are sounding pretty good right about now...

Here are some of the most interesting links I read this week.

- A graphical look at which books have been banned over history — and why.

- L.A.'s fast food ban didn't work because it didn't go far enough.

- I always wonder why ingredient substitutions guides feature ingredients I would never have on hand. Macadamia nut butter??

- This tweet made me snicker.

- Chicago's getting a cat café. Yes, some people are already calling it a catfé.

- Books to read in your thirties. Seems I'm ahead of the game.

- How can so many people care about one woman's hair? (No, I'm not talking about Kim K.)

Photo by Brian Koprowski via Flickr/Creative Commons


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"The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah & Pan-Roasted Potatoes and Caramelized Onions

"The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah & Pan-Roasted Potatoes and Caramelized Onions | www.paperplatesblog.com

As a graduate student with little opportunity to read for pleasure, I know to allot myself plenty of time to finish a book. The number of books I have stopped mid-read — ones that now lie forgotten on a shelf somewhere — amount to dozens.

But once in a while, I find myself reading a book I cannot seem to put down, a book that deserves my unwarranted attention and one I can read through the night and into the early morning hours, and so it was with The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah.

In The Nightingale, Hannah tells of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, whose lives are turned upside down when the Nazis invade France. Vianne Mauriac lives a charmed life in the quiet French countryside town of Carriveau with her husband, Antoine, and daughter, Sophie.

Isabelle Rossignol, ten years her junior, has been expelled from the latest in a series of boarding schools for her outspoken, impulsive nature. The two share little in common save for a mother who died while they were young and a father who returns home from World War I broken and unable to care for his daughters.

When the Nazis penetrate the Maginot Line and invade France, Vianne must say goodbye to all that she holds dear and make a series of heartbreaking sacrifices as food and resources become scarce. For her part, Isabelle, unable to quietly bear the brutal and terrifying reality of the Nazi regime, joins the French Resistance, earning herself the titular namesake as a result.

Based on a true story, The Nightingale is a heartrending tale of the heroic sacrifices of the women of war in the face of unspeakable horrors. While Vianne and Isabelle could not be more different in their ways of fighting back against Nazi rule, their unspeakable bravery is a true testament to the strength of the human spirit in even the worst of times.

The Nightingale often uses food, or the lack thereof, as a means to differentiate between the good times and the bad. In times of abundance, Vianne takes pride in her cooking, taking time to mull over combinations and bask in the aromas, while as food becomes scarce, increasing desperation forces her to make terrible sacrifices to ensure that her daughter does not go hungry.

"The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah & Pan-Roasted Potatoes and Caramelized Onions | www.paperplatesblog.com

The following meal of pan-roasted potatoes and caramelized onions is an adaptation of one Vianne prepares when the German captain stationed in her home returns with a fresh catch of fish. The tantalizing aromas of this hearty dish and the combination of sweet onions and savory potatoes do well to capture the constant tug of war Vianne feels as she makes one sacrifice after another for the good of those closest to her.


PAN-ROASTED POTATOES AND CARAMELIZED ONIONS

Serves 3 to 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ - 2 pounds potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold

  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly

  • Olive oil

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Place sliced onions in large heavy skillet with 1-tablespoon oil. Cook the onions on medium heat until soft. Lower heat and continue to cook, stirring constantly until onions are a dark golden brown. Remove from heat and drain.

Dice potatoes into ¼-½ inch pieces. In a cast iron skillet, add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan 1/8 inch deep. Sprinkle a layer of salt to taste into the oil all over the bottom of the pan. Add the diced potatoes and cook until browned, about 10-12 minutes. Add more oil and continue to cook for a few more minutes if needed.

When the potatoes are browned, turn the heat to the lowest setting and cover the pan. Cook about 20 minutes covered.

Add the reserved caramelized onions and toss well together. Cook for another minute or two, flipping the potatoes over to mix and thoroughly heat the onions.

Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Adapted from Cuisinart and Food52.


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