The Novel: Water for Elephants
The Author: Sara Gruen
The Book Blurb: As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie.
It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.
Why This Book? Water for Elephants is another one of my all-time favorite books. I’ve read it at least 5 times and still love it each time. And I saw the movie a couple of weeks ago…which is always pretty risky. I mean, when have you seen the movie adaptation of a favorite book and really enjoyed it? Probably not very often. The movie had great potential, except for Robert Pattinson. But that’s a rant for another day.
This book is pretty magical. It takes you away, and in my opinion, that’s the mark of a truly great book. Gruen’s writing style is descriptive in all the right places, without being too heavy or overbearing. The subject itself is fascinating: I’d never read fiction focusing on a circus before. After reading this I actually looked around trying to find something similar, since Gruen hasn’t written much yet (although I have just started reading Ape House, which so far is just as enthralling as Water for Elephants). I found a few, but none really compared.
Recipe: Lemonade Cake
Name the top things that come into your head when you hear the word “circus.” Now narrow it a bit to “circus food.” I’m guessing that at the top of the list was popcorn, peanuts, cotton candy, and…lemonade! So lemonade cake (which I’d never heard of before) fits pretty nicely with the theme. Also, the elephant, Rosie, is obsessed with lemonade. Well, that and moonshine. But I figured lemonade is the safer bet to go with here.
At one point in the book/movie, Rosie drinks all of the lemonade for the day’s events, and the owner, Auggie, is left in quite a mess. He comes up with a gross imitation of fresh lemonade, which the rubes (visitors – gotta throw some of the language in here) buy up none the wiser.
Baking Notes: This recipe was so easy to follow! Part of that (well, a big part of it, to be honest) comes from the use of a cake mix. Instead of just depending on that, though, the batter is enhanced with additional ingredients that really make it rich and flavorful. The cake is topped with a homemade icing made of sugar and frozen lemonade concentrate, which seeps into the cake as it is cooling in the pan. Yum.
Also, being at home for a week and a half is pretty handy; it’s so nice having a kitchen that’s fully stocked. And, there’s even an angel food cake pan, which I was able to use for this cake. It’s going to be hard to adjust to the college kitchen again after this.
The End Result: Finally a Novel Baking experiment gone right! This cake is delicious: moist, rich, and extremely flavorful. I’m currently at home, waiting until this weekend to move up to Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus for the summer, so my only test subjects were my parents. Which, as we all know, can be pretty risky: I had awful, asymetrical blunt bangs for most of my childhood, as well as a pixie cut, wedge cut (horrifying), and traditional boy cut in rotation for most of my childhood, and my parents always thought I looked beautiful.
But – my dad did eat two slices in quick succession, which is a pretty clear vote of confidence. It was tasty: very lemony, though, so if that’s not really your thing then I would suggest you bypass this recipe completely.
The Finished Product!