From yellow packet adorned with an elephant

I began to play a game with myself…Picturing myself in a dacha surrounded by prickly gooseberry bushes, I’d mentally preserve and pickle the tastes and smells of my Soviet socialist past in an imaginary three-litre jar.

In went the Order of Lenin Red October chocolate bars with a mirthful kid on the wrapper. In went the scarlet-wrapped Bolshevik Factory Jubilee Biscuits, the one’s that dissolved so poignantly when dipped in tea from a yellow packet adorned with an elephant.

Anna von Bremzen’s Mastering the Art of Soviet Cookery is a fascinating and increasingly melancholy look at the development of Soviet Russia through Anna’s family history and her and her mother’s food memories. Starting with a Czarist feast of blinis “as plump as the shoulders of a merchant’s daughter” (Chekhov) and running up till the vodka rebellions of Gorbachev’s final years and splintering of the USSR its a total page turner.

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I’d no idea that Stalin – in a brief moment of generosity – sent his food minister to 1930s America, with the result that the socialist dream in late 30s Moscow was for every child to have a hamburger, ketchup and Pepsi, and that Khrushchev’s obsession with corn was also a legacy of Prairie dreams. Nor that the Russian emigrees to 20s Paris created a new kind of French cuisine. This book came via a recommendation on The Captive Reader blog, so go and check that out for more goodies too.

Mothers Before

 

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@mothersbefore is an Instagram feed full of daughters’ love for their mothers, for the strong and independent women they were before having families and for carrying that sense of self through with them. As someone with a mother like this, I really enjoyed it and related to the daughters.

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Stories of immigration, education and adventure show how much women’s lives have changed in the past half century (and how recent that change is! So many of the mothers married at 19.)

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My favourite is this one, where the caption explains how her mum built her own house whilst also working her way up the tech industry in the 80s. All stairs were built for her size 7 feet and none of the sinks had shaving mirrors.

Podcast of the week

The Lifestyle Edit Podcast (not to be confused with another podcast that is just called “The lifestyle edit” and had two women – Rosie and Flo – talking about life in a robustly jolly, Claire Baldwin-ish manner) by Naomi Mdudu is a regular listen & one guaranteed to leave you feeling fired up in the best possible way after listening.

Each week, Naomi interviews a female business owner about how they found their business idea, what made them go solo on it, how they’ve built their business and what tips they’d share with their entrepreneurs. It’s as far away from The Apprentice and macho, ghostwritten memoirs as you can imagine.

Instead you’ll come away with gems that help you decide when to take views and when to have confidence to do it your way; how to think about the financials behind your business (not all will apply, but it’s the fact that there are different models that make these interviews useful to me) and tips to help you identify the best opportunities for you. Some I loved recently were:

– The interview with Anna Hart (*so impressive*)

– the concept of looking for flexibility that is inherent and that which is on offer as an option

– the point that flexible working needs apply just as much to non-parents looking after ageing baby boomers as it does to parents

– the question “what would the village idiot say your brand is?”

– the idea that a recurring client doesn’t just help financially, but also with defining what your business is and does

So many gems here – go and listen to it. Naomi is a fantastic interviewer too, which I think really drives the quality of these sessions.

Mary Cassatt

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Earlier this year I was blown away by the range of Berthe Morisets at the Musee d’Orsay, and now I’ve come across this Mary Cassatt that is so much more interesting than the usual mother and child pictures that gets trotted out to represent her work. Those are good, but this is really original and shows a much less glamourised part of women’s lives before standard plumbing and the abandonment of corsets.