Love was in the air this week – I read The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan…
A diamond is forever – a slogan that changed the way we view diamonds. The Engagements opens with the story of Frances Gerety – the copywriter who coined that infamous slogan and convinced the world that diamonds were ubiquitous with love and marriage. Her story forms the backbone to the novel and interspersed between it, the novel spans four very different relationships over a period of seventy years.
There is Evelyn, married to Gerald – the best friend of her first husband who was killed in a tragic accident. It’s now the 1970’s and the couple are struggling to come to terms with the fact that their only son is divorcing, for Evelyn it’s absolutely heartbreaking.
It’s the 80’s and paramedic James is working the Christmas eve shift so he can earn double time, despite his wife’s protestations. His house is falling apart and he is heavily in debt – all he wants to do is make his wife and kids proud. Will he get the break he deserves?
2003 and Delphine is exacting revenge on the young American musician she left her life in France for. She betrayed her husband Henri, only to discover what goes around comes around.
And finally it’s 2013 and marriage skeptic Kate is watching her gay cousin Jeffrey tie the knot, now that gay marriage is legal in the States.
Four very different relationships which we come to learn are linked…
This book reminded me a lot of one of those films like Valentine’s Day in the way it switches between all the different characters and we gradually see the links between each story. Frances’ story ties it all together as we see how she struggled in her heyday to be a woman in a man’s world, how she never wanted romance and didn’t marry yet built myths around diamonds and love that still pervade today. Because of the bitty nature of this book, I really struggled to get into it and the connection between all the parts is not obvious from the start and so at first I was really wondering what the whole point of it was! I think it’s a book that you can appreciate better once you’ve finished and can step back and look at the book as a whole – despite struggling through it and saying I didn’t really enjoy it, I still got that little rush of emotion I sometimes get when finishing a book! It’s a slow starter, but I do think The Engagements achieves a lot. It’s not all sappy romance and there are definitely some ambiguous characters in there, so I suppose, despite the facade and glitter of the diamonds, there is something very real in there. I loved Frances’ story the most and that was the one that was real – her story is very mad men-esque and has definitely made me think twice about all the mythology that exists around diamonds… are they really a girl’s best friend?!
So, with all that love in the air, I decided this week to cook something love themed. I quite fancied baking a cake too, so with the help of google, I stumbled upon this recipe for Sri Lankan Love Cake. This really appealed to me, with it’s flavours of cinnamon, cardamon and rose. Some of my favourites!
Sri Lankan Love Cake
- 150 g unsalted butter
- 350 g caster sugar
- 6 medium eggs
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons rose water
- Grated zest of 1 orange
- Grated zest 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 250 g coarse semolina
- 50 g of glacé cherries [can be replaced with wine gums of jelly babies]
- 25 g of mixed peel
- 25 g of crystallized stem ginger
- Icing sugar to dust
– To start, cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the eggs, one at a time and beat.
– Then add the rose water, grated zest, honey and spices (you will probably need to grind the cardamom seeds first unless you have some already ground. You can just do this in a pestle and mortar if you have one). Mix through.
– Finally add the semolina (you could also use polenta if you wanted to make this gluten free), the glace cherries, peel and ginger. Give it all a good mix and then pour into a greased baking tin – the recipe suggests 25×30, but I think just use whatever you have got and then bake for about an hour at 150C.
– Leave cake to cool in the tin before removing. Once it’s completely cool then sprinkle with a dusting of icing sugar.
I had really high hopes for this cake because I love all the flavours but in reality it is just too sweet!! The flavour of rose is actually quite overpowering so if you make this I would reduce the amount you use a lot! If I were to make this again I’d just use half a tbsp of rose water, skip out the honey altogether and use more spices so you get those flavours coming through. I’d also be tempted to leave out the stem ginger and use ground ginger instead. Bit of a shame really, you need a VERY sweet tooth to enjoy this… or just have a little bit at a time with a cup of tea I suppose! Despite the over-sweetness, the texture of the cake is really good. It’s perfectly moist! The original recipe suggested adding in cashew nuts which I left out, but actually it might be nice to add in some crunch. What I should really do is make this cake again with all the corrections I want to make and then post it… but I just don’t have time!! Got another book to read and another recipe to make!
I did originally think that making this cake was a bit of a cop out, because it’s only really linked to the book by name. The book has absolutely nothing to do with Sri Lanka and I probably should have got a bit creative and tried to make some edible diamonds or something else ridiculous… but having tasted the cake and finished the book, I think they actually complement each other rather well!
See you next week!!