So, full disclosure ya’ll. I feel pretty #swag in the kitchen, I’ve worked really hard and honed my cooking skills over the last 14 or so years. It’s been something I’ve been passionate about since early high-school and a hobby and skill I’ve been cultivating a long time. What I am #GARBAGE at is baking. I just do not have the patience for it. Cooking to me is easy peasy, you can eye-ball amounts, you can tailor it to your tastes, you can take the basics of a recipe and make it all your own.
That is however, definitely NOT the case with baking. The science that goes into baking, the finesse and preciseness of baking has just always been lost on me. Now, I’m not saying I can’t bake anything because I can follow a recipe as well as the next person, however, I mentioned wanting to make Russian honey-cake and I failed miserably at this. It requires cooking 8 thin cakes and making frosting, layering everything, coating it – IDK ya’ll but I ruined it. So you’re not getting a recipe for that because…well, I ruined it. What you are getting a recipe for is Zharkoye, a Russian beef stew! However, that’s after our review for The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden!!
So, first things first in this review: I LOVED THIS BOOK. It was magical and whimsical and absolutely not what I was expecting at all. I’ve seen all the hype around this book / series, I’ve seen the fantastic reviews but for some reason I just kept glazing it over for other books. This, was a huge mistake and I wish I would’ve read it sooner because this was absolutely lovely.
So, what is up with this book? The where: medieval Russia (Rus’). The who: a daughter named Vasalisa (or Vasya) is the youngest child born to Pyotr Vladimirovich and his beautiful wife Marina. Marina dies during childbirth and is the daughter of the Grand Prince of Moscow. Not only is she royalty, but her mother was a mysterious, aloof but stunning beggar girl with rumored mystical powers. Marina never felt like she’d had her mother’s daughter and despite the risks involved, had Vasya – knowing she was destined to be of her own mothers lineage.
Now hear me. Before the end, you will pluck snowdrops at midwinter, die by your own choosing and weep for a nightingale.
As Vasya grows up in the wilderness of northern Russia, she plays and learns from not just her brothers and sisters but from the folk of old. There’s the domovoi who guards her home, she finds friendship with the rusalka and a dangerous water spirit who lures people into her depths. Dunya is Vasya’s beloved nurse, and the only mother she’s ever known. Dunya is also the weaver of tales and recounts the old Russian folktale of Morozko – the frost king. As Vasya grows, she is willful, rebellious and challenges her families and communities beliefs of what a “proper” girl is to do and say. When her father remarries he brings home a young but fragile girl who is able to see the folk of the land, but considers them demons endangering her immortal soul.
Along with Pytor and his new wife Anna comes a new priest for the townspeople, Father Konstantin, who is as handsome as he is supposed to be pious. However, beneath his golden exterior lurks something far more sinister. As Konstantin and Anna urge the townspeople to shun the spirits of old, bad and sinister things begin breaking free of their prisons from within the forest and Vasya is thrust into a magical race to see who comes out on top. Little does Vasya know, that Morozko has been doing everything in his power since she was a child to ensure their paths cross…
I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed to me.
This is one of the hardest books I’ve ever tried to write a concise summary for. There is so much detail, history and folklore going on, on every single page that it’s an absolutely magical whirlwind of information. When I saw all the hype surrounding this book I added it to my TBR but kept pushing it off in favor of other books that seemed to appeal to me more directly. I borrowed this book from the library and only got around to it when they told me I only had a week left until it had to be returned. It took only a few chapters for me to become completely engrossed with Vasya’s story and completely and utterly enamored with Vasya herself.
Wild birds die in cages.
The Bear and the Nightingale is one of the most singularly outstanding books that I’ve read in a long time. The marriage of stunningly vivid and beautiful prose with a compelling story about a resilient girl left me aching for more. The imagery that Adren poured into this story absolutely transports the reader to an incredibly beautiful and foreign place. While I do think this book could be read any time of the year, there is something particularly magical about reading it during the winter because this definitely has all the *frosty* vibes (eh…eh….GET IT). This might be the most atmospheric novel I’ve ever read and beyond the lovely, lyrical prose and beautiful setting is this message that girls can be anything they want to be – no matter what society may dictate to them.
I do not understand “damned”. You are. And because you are, you can walk where you will, into peace, oblivion, or pits of fire, but you will always choose.
This isn’t a “race to the finish” novel, it’s like watching a flower slowly bloom. The longer you wait, the more you watch, the more beautiful it becomes. Arden honored these folktales and wove an intricate and inspiring story with a resilient and inspiring main character in Vasya and I think any reader could easily find pieces of themselves within her story. This was an absolutely stunning read from the first page to the last and while it’s a bit slower than typical fantasy novels – readers of all genres would do well to pick it up!
Long story short:
Suggested For: Pretty much everyone but namely fans of fantasy, folklore retellings or those with an interest in books set in Russia!
Well there you have it folks! Another stunning read to add to my 2019 reading list – and so far, 2019 is KILLIN’ IT with the amazing books. In addition to today’s review I wanted to bring ya’ll a recipe for Zharkoye (Russian beef stew). Zharkoye is a traditional Russian peasant food made of chopped potatoes, carrots, celery root, parsnips and cubed meat. Any meat can be used and all of the ingredients are pan fried until a light golden brown and then cooked in the oven. I don’t use these ingredients very often (and I’ve never used celery root) but the smells that came from this and the taste was absolutely divine. This is a warm and hearty stew that’s perfect for a cold winter day.
- Servings: 6 (the left overs are slammin’)
- Pans: *rapt audience asking themselves “can she get any more redundant?” No, no I can not – you guessed it 1 enameled cast iron dutch oven!
- Prep-Time: 10-20 minutes (depending on how fast you chop)
- This is another great one to pre-chop your veggies on a Sunday and then throw together for an easy week night meal!
- Cook-Time: 30 minutes (but it can sit for a minute if you need it to)
- 1 lb beef roast (cubed)
- 4 small-medium potatoes, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
- 2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
- 1 celery root, peeled and chopped
- 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/2 tablespoon sour cream
- 1 tablespoon dill
- 1 34 ounce container of beef broth
- Salt and pepper to taste
Easy edits to make, per preference:
- I’ve mentioned it before but I vastly prefer red potatoes – you only have to clean these instead of peeling them.
- Celery root is NOT celery – I had to google it and it’s a strange little vegetable and managed to win the prize for the most difficult thing to prepare (beating out the previous winner of this category: the butternut squash).
- I do not like large pieces of meat, or overly large pieces of cooked vegetables in my soup. So I cut everything bite sized but a lot of things I saw online show them in larger chunks.
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Once all the veggies are chopped, fry potatoes in butter until golden brown.
- I did not fry everything together – but I think you could if you wanted to but I wanted to ensure everything was truly “golden brown” so I fried separately.
- Remove the potatoes and set in a bowl, next pan fry the onion, carrots and roots until golden brown. Remove and place in bowl with potatoes.
- Pan fry beef until light brown (flipping only once). You may have to do this in batches as to not crowd the pan.
- On the last batch of beef, once it’s nearly done add in garlic and pan fry for about 1 minute until fragrant.
- Add in all the veggies, stock and season with salt and pepper.
- Cook (covered) in the oven for 30 minutes at 350.
- 10 minutes before the dish is finished, stir in the sour cream and dill.
Serve and be warm and toasty!
Quote: Dinner in the summer kitchen was a raucous affair. The forest was kind, in the golden months, and the kitchen garden overflowed. Dunya outdid herself with delicate stews. “And then we ran like hares,” said Alyosha, from the other side of the hearth. Beside him, Vasya blushed and covered her face. The kitchen rang with laughter.
Music Mood: Spirit Cold by Tall Heights
Another round of Recipe and a Read is in the books! What are some comfort meals that you love when it’s cold out? Have you read The Bear and the Nightingale? If so, what did you think? Drop me a note in the comments and let me know!