"No matter what anyone says, suicide takes guts. It's for heroes and martyrs, truly vainglorious men. Archie was none of these. He was a man whose significance in the Greater Scheme of Things could be figured along familiar ratios:
Pebble : Beach
Raindrop : Ocean
Needle : Haystack"
"White Teeth" by Zadie Smith is one of my favorite books and happens to start and end on or around New Year's Eve. It opens on New Year's Day, 1975. Like most of us, the main character Archie Jones is completely in his feelings that day, thinking about his life, which was recently torn apart in a bad divorce. Archie Jones is sitting in his Cavalier Musketeer station wagon, waiting for the exhaust fumes to fill the car and end his life. He is saved when the owner of a butcher shop comes out and asks Archie to stop blocking his delivery area. Having failed to successfully kill himself, he ends up at a party still going from the night before and ends up meeting his next wife, Clara--a beautiful Jamaican woman half his age.
The novel then skips ahead to follow two North London families--Archie, Clara and their daughter Irie, and the family of Archie's World War II buddy Samad Iqbal. Told from varying points of view, the book explores cultural identity, history, religion, crumbling marriages, arranged marriages--the list goes on. There are plenty of surprises and lots of heartbreak. Reading it, you grow up with Irie and Samad's twin sons, Millat and Magid, and you watch as the adults navigate religious, financial and marital issues.
None of that sounds funny, but somehow I found myself laughing at their awkward conversations and hilarious life failures. But at the same time I felt for Irie as she develops a crush and tries to fit in at school and I felt for Archie as he tries to avoid another disastrous New Year's Day. By the end we're left thinking about how far Archie has come since the opening scene, and if all other 'doomed' or 'unchangeable' people can achieve the same.
In celebration of New Year's Eve, the resolutions we're all making and that fresh hopeful feeling of being able to start over, I made champagne cupcakes and champagne icing! Simple and delicious.
You can actually just take regular cake mix and add champagne to the batter, but I'm a fan of homemade everything, so I took the longer route. Plus the sour cream really brings out the flavor. Plus, these are pretty simple to make.
White Teeth: 5 stars
Champagne cupcakes: 5 stars
“Every moment happens twice: inside and outside, and they are two different histories.”
“Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.”
“You must live life with the full knowledge that your actions will remain. We are creatures of consequence.”
“Where I come from," said Archie, "a bloke likes to get to know a girl before he marries her." "Where you come from it is customary to boil vegetables until they fall apart. This does not mean," said Samad tersely, "that it is a good idea.”
1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup salted butter, room temperature
3 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp champagne*
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
4 cups powdered sugar
4-5 tbsp champagne*
*Note: Normally when making boozy cupcakes, I say add however much booze you can stand. But for these cupcakes, it's really better to follow the recipe.
1. Mix together flour, sugar, baking soda and baking powder.
2. Add butter, egg whites, vanilla, sour cream and champagne. Mix until smooth.
3. Fill cupcake liners a little more than half way and bake for 18-20 minutes at 350 degrees.
4. Cool for 1-2 minutes in the pan, then remove to cooling rack to finish cooling.
1. Combine butter and shortening. Mix until smooth.
2. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
3. Mix in champagne.
4. Add remaining powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
5. Add A LITTLE more champagne, if needed, until desired consistency is reached.
Happy baking and HAPPY NEW YEAR'S EVE!