Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Booktrekker Is on the Road

I'm currently traveling, which means I have lots of time to read, but no facilities for cooking. Blog posts will resume after November 28th.

Saturday, November 12, 2016



The book I selected for my Australia blog post, Cloudstreet, is apparently much beloved among Australian readers. In fact, when the Australian Book Review asked readers to nominate their favorite Australian novels in 2009, Cloudstreet not only won, it crushed the competition:

"Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, a perennial favourite since its publication in 1991, was the overwhelming favourite – by a margin of three to one to its nearest rival, Henry Handel Richardson’s The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, which was closely followed by Patrick White’s Voss and Winton’s most recent novel, Breath."

This saga follows the fortunes and misfortunes of two families who, due to life-altering circumstances, leave their respective homes in rural Australia. Chance brings them together in Perth, where they share the same house on Cloud Street for the next twenty years. The Pickles family, which owns the house, is headed by a gambling father and an alcoholic mother. Their daughter Rose is studious and withdrawn, resentful of her family's circumstances. She has two brothers who also live in the house, but she has little to do with them.

The Lamb family, which rents half the house, is as industrious as the Pickles are indolent. The driving force in the Lamb household is Oriel, the mother, who decides to open a small market in the house. It becomes a vital part of the neighborhood, where it is soon known simply as Cloudstreet. Oriel's husband Lester does the baking and makes the ice cream, and five of the six Lamb children -- three boys and three girls -- have their own duties as well. The sixth child has no role in the running of the store, having suffered severe brain damage in a childhood accident.

Family relationships are at the heart of this novel, especially the problems in those relationships. Resentments between husbands and wives and between children and their parents drive the characters' actions and reactions. These family dramas shine a light on the challenges of working-class Australians in the mid-20th century.

The author uses some interesting literary devices in the telling of this story. The narrator shifts throughout the book, and there were times when I had trouble figuring out exactly who the narrator was. Was it the pig? The river? There is also a mysterious black man, possibly imaginary, who would appear suddenly to one or another of the male characters, and it wasn't always apparent to me what purpose he served. Still, those small distractions didn't take away from the overall narrative.

In the end, loyalty and forgiveness are the saving grace of the characters in Cloudstreet, as they finally learn to understand and appreciate one another.


Most of the food the characters eat in Cloudstreet is decidedly not vegan, although I appreciate that the Lamb family decided to let their pig live, rather than turning him into bacon and ham. One item caught my eye, however. It was something Oriel was making when her son told her he was leaving home:

"It was at the Anzac Club one night that Quick came into the kitchen and told her he was leaving.

"Go over to the sink and wash your mouth out with soap, Mason Lamb, she said, not pausing from kneading the oatmeal mixture for her next batch of Anzacs."

The term Anzac is an acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, which came into being during World War I. According to Wikipedia, Anzacs were sweet, hard tack cookies that women sent to "soldiers abroad because the ingredients do not spoil easily and the biscuits kept well during naval transportation." The ingredients included rolled oats, flour, sugar, butter, golden syrup, baking soda, boiling water, and desiccated coconut.

Hard tack biscuits didn't sound very appealing, but I looked online to see what I could find. As luck would have it, PETA Australia had a vegan recipe. I wasn't able to find golden syrup and desiccated coconut, so I used blue agave nectar and flaked coconut instead. For the margarine measurement, 125 grams is a little more than half a cup. And for the oven temperature, 180 degrees centigrade works out to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

The cookies were delicious and very easy to make. They are chock-full of sugar and fat, though, so be forewarned!


Since I have PETA Australia to thank for this week's recipe, I decided to give them this week's donation. They work to end animal cruelty in a number of ways, including campaigns to stop Melbourne restaurants from selling foie gras, end the practice of dissection in Australia universities, and persuade Australian fashion designers to stop using fur.


Saturday, November 5, 2016



It was harder to find a novel by an Armenian author than I expected. When I googled "Armenian novelists," tons of authors popped up. The problem was that practically none of them had actually been born in Armenia -- most of them seemed to be Americans of Armenian descent. The novels by Armenian-born authors often hadn't been translated into English. So I was relieved to finally discover Yenok's Eye, by Gurgen Khanjyan, who was born in Yerevan, Armenia.

Yenok's Eye follows a short period of time in the lives of two half-brothers, Gor and Grofo, unknown to one another until their father goes missing. Their father, Jivan, is a wandering musician with a wandering eye. He hasn't been heard from by either Grofo's mother or Gor's, and his current mistress in Russia has filed a missing person's report. Grofo, living in the neighboring country of Georgia, learns of Gor's existence in Armenia and travels there to meet him and his family.

Gor's family accepts Grofo into their home, in spite of the fact that Grofo turns out to be an unrepentant troublemaker. As he says towards the end of the book, "I'm a creator of problems, not a solver, that much is true."

The heart of the family is Yenok, Gor's maternal grandfather. Having lost his eye in a childhood accident, he has a glass eye to replace it. Grofo asks him to leave him the glass eye when he dies, which Yenok agrees to do, and he also gives Grofo a spare glass eye that's the wrong color. Grofo carries the spare eye with him everywhere and brings it out at various times throughout the book.

Yenok's Eye is driven more by its characters, especially the irrepressible Grofo, than its plot. In his short time with his half-brother's family, he manages to change not only their perceptions of themselves, but their relationships with each other.


Copious amounts of vodka are consumed by the characters throughout the book, especially the men. Fortunately, there's a fair amount of cooking and eating going on as well. In one scene, Gor's mother is in the kitchen cooking, kept company by a young neighbor who is secretly in love with Gor.

"On one occasion, Mrs. Arus was busy stirring a pot of yoghurt soup spas and asked Nare to take a cup of coffee to Gor. 'Why don't I stir instead?' Nare muttered, but the housewife did not trust her. 'The bottom will stick to the pot,' she said."

I'd never heard of yogurt soup, so I decided to give it a try. I used a recipe from a website called "The Armenian Kitchen." The recipe required several changes to make it vegan, but they were easy changes: I used vegan yogurt instead of regular yogurt, vegetable broth in place of chicken broth, olive oil instead of butter, and I omitted the egg. It wasn't bad, but I suspect yogurt soup is an acquired taste.


In searching for an Armenian organization to receive this week's donation, I found a website called, which is a crowdfunding platform for nonprofits all over the world. This site listed nine different projects in Armenia, which made choosing very difficult! I finally decided to send my donation to support a project that provides basic education to working children. I was happy to discover the GlobalGiving website, and will certainly return to it again and again as I continue with my global reading project.