Book: Five Little Foxes and the Snow by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Cyndy Szekeres
1977, G.P. Putnam’s Sons
For Day 6 we have Five Little Foxes and the Snow. While The Mitten was about a boy who wanted his grandmother to knit him snow-white mittens, this little book is about a bunch of little foxes whose grandmother won’t let them play in the snow because their paws will get cold.
For five days the snow continues to fall, and to grow deeper and deeper around little foxes’ burrow. Each day one of the foxes asks their patient grandmother if they can play in the snow. Each day she puts them off by saying their paws will be cold, and suggesting another activity. Meanwhile she spends her time knitting by the fire.
Of course, when Christmas Day arrives they receive their gifts — five pairs of colourful mittens, so they can finally play in the snow!
This is a very cute and cozy little book. The main appeal comes from the illustrations, which have a very warm 70’s quality to them. The depictions of what the little foxes got up to are very detailed and amusing, and will be familiar to anyone who has ever been snowed in as a child — or snowed in with children!
The five little foxes had gingerbread men and warm cider on their snow days, but you can enjoy them whether you have snow or not. Just be sure to keep warm!
Book: Snow White by the Brothers Grimm, freely translated from the German by Paul Heins, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
1974, Little, Brown & Co.
Yesterday we went out into the fields to do our last foraging of the Autumn. We found blackberries, rose hips, haws, sloes, and damsons. Now is the time of year to finish storing up all the bounty you’ve gathered in for the Winter.
I think it’s fun to really get involved in each season. The time around Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night, and their less-remembered cousins, All Saints’, All Souls’, Samhain, and Winternights, are a reminder of how people used to view this time of year. It was a liminal time, when it was no longer safe to go out late, because of the spirits, elves or goblins which might be about. So instead it was the perfect time to stay in and be festive and cozy with your friends and family, and enjoy the fruits of the year.
This Hallowe’en I plan to spend doing just that. I don’t like anything too creepy, but I think it’s a nice time to read some of the older fairy tales, which certainly had their share of darkness and weirdness. If you look for the original Grimm’s tales, for example, they are a lot different from the ones we are familiar with.
This version of Snow White is translated from the original German and retains all of the darker elements from the folktale. I think we all know the basic story of Snow White, so I will focus on the ways in which it differs from the modern version.
The story opens immediately with some evocative imagery:
Once in the middle of winter, when snowflakes were falling like feathers from the sky, a Queen sat sewing by a window, and its frame was of black ebony. As she sewed, she glanced up at the snow and stuck her finger with the needle and three drops of blood fell into the snow. Since the red seemed so beautiful against the white, she thought to herself, “If only I had a child as white, as snow, as red as blood, and as dark as ebony.”
The story carries on with the birth of Snow White, the death of the Queen, and the introduction of the evil stepmother Queen and her obsession with being the fairest in the land. When she sends the huntsman to kill Snow White, however, she asks for her lungs and liver. And when she receives what she believes to be them (the huntsman actually kills a boar), she eats them.
Snow White finds the house of the Seven Dwarfs, where there is a nice little reverse Goldilocks sequence where she eats and drinks a little bit from each of the seven plates/cups because she doesn’t want to take too much from any one person. She then tries out several beds before she finds one the right size for her. The dwarfs come home and perform the three bears part of the sequence by exclaiming “who has been eating from my little plate?” and “who has been lying in my bed?” It would be interesting to find out whether this influenced The Three Bears, or the other way around, or if it was a common story trope at the time. After that the evil Queen comes after Snow White, of course, except in this version she does it three times. The first time she comes selling lacings for corsets. She pulls the laces so tight that Snow White cannot breath and falls down as if dead, but when the dwarfs loosen the laces she is fine again. The second time the Queen comes selling combs, which are poisoned so that when it is stuck into Snow White’s hair she again falls down as if dead. But the dwarfs remove the comb and she is fine. Each time the dwarfs warn Snow White to never, ever let anyone in when they are away, and to not take anything from anyone. It makes Snow White seem not too bright that she keeps doing this, but the story emphasises that she is young and trusting.
Evil Queen, beein’ spooky
The final time, the Queen makes the poisoned apple. This one is more clever though, as she predicts that Snow White will be more cautious after being nearly murdered twice. So she makes one side of the apple red and poisonous, and one side white and harmless. She shows Snow White that she will eat half the apple herself, so it must be safe. Of course Snow White gets the red half, and falls down dead.
This time, although the dwarfs try everything, they cannot wake her, so they make the glass coffin for her and keep watch over it.
Interestingly, in this version the Prince does not wake Snow White with a kiss, which is good, but instead asks the dwarfs if he can take her away with him so he can always look at her, which is also a bit creepy, but then again she’s dead so it hardly matters to her where her coffin is.
Except when the Prince’s men are carrying the coffin away, they stumble and jostle it, and the piece of apple is dislodged from Snow White’s throat. She wakes up, the Prince immediately proposes, which she is apparently perfectly happy with, and the wedding is arranged. There is a bit of a different ending, however. The Queen is invited to the wedding, but when she arrives, she is made to dance in red hot shoes of iron until she is dead.
Obviously this book is not for very young children, even though it is a picture book with fairly simple text. But older children can enjoy the creepiness and discuss why tales like this were told long ago. It is clearly a cautionary tale for young people about letting in strangers or accepting gifts, but also an aspirational story about being rewarded for kindness. It perhaps also is about the perils of being obsessed with physical beauty.
The illustrations, by Trina Schart Hyman, have a great moody, dark quality to them which complements the story. They are fun to pore over on a gloomy evening, to see all the details she put in.
To go with a dark story, I have made a dessert which is both red as blood and dark as ebony. It is not made with apples, but with damsons. If you cannot find damsons, you can use any other dark fruit instead, but you may have to thicken it more and adjust the sugar (as damsons are very tart). Kissel is a sort of syrup, popular in Eastern Europe and Russia, which can be either a drink, or a dessert with pancakes, ice cream, or cream.
Wash the damsons and put into a pan. Cover with water and bring to the boil, then simmer until the fruit is soft. Push through a sieve or squeeze in a cheesecloth or jelly bag to remove the stones and skins. At this point I had about 2 cups of purée. Add the sugar and warm in a pan until the sugar is dissolved. Put the cornflour or substitute into a bowl and dissolve in tablespoon or so of warm water, add it to the fruit puree and stir over a low heat until it is like a thick syrup. Pour into bowls and serve at room temperature, with yogurt, cream, pancakes, porridge, or milk kissel, which is pretty much the same thing but made with milk instead of fruit.
If you use a bit less cornstarch, this would be a very fun, slightly gruesome-looking drink for Hallowe’en! And as a syrup there are so many uses for it.
Book: Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers
2015, Clue Publishing Poem: Old October by Thomas Constable
So where have I been? Well, I’ve been moving house. We moved from one county to another, as well. As I’m sure you guys know, moving house is THE WORST, we’re still living out of boxes, and so I haven’t been reading a lot or making much food that doesn’t come out of a box or a tin.
However, I thought a little update was in order. So here is what I have been up to lately.
I don’t know if I ever mentioned it, but my favourite thing to read, besides kid’s books, is a good Golden Age mystery. And while I do prefer paper books, the Kindle app can be useful during busy times. I’m currently reading this:
I’m only a couple of chapters in, and I’m not sure what I think of it yet. While it’s hugely entertaining and has a great tone and sense of humour, I’m not quite sure where it’s going. It was written in 1913, and one of the chapters seems to be anti-suffragists, but that’s a risk you run with old books. Also, that chapter is narrated by a character who may be being made fun of by the author himself, so you never can tell. I am still really enjoying it, but I am thinking of waiting to finish it until the Winter, because I like my books to be seasonal, and it has a great snowed-in atmosphere.
I do recommend reading mysteries in the Fall. They are an inexhaustible resource; even when you have got through Christie and Sayers there are so many more obscure authors to read, and you might find a hidden gem. Seven Keys to Baldpate, for example, is free on the Kindle app, and you never know what you might find cheap by having a nose around Amazon or your library book sale.
We are having to be very frugal in our new circumstances, but two things which are cheap and comforting are tea and oatmeal. If you don’t eat oats I still recommend the lovely comfort of a hot bowl of something: soup or broth, for example. And tea is the best for making you feel like you are treating yourself! It does not need to be fancy. Here I am having Good Earth Sweet & Spicy tea which is maybe the yummiest tea ever made. And for bedtime you cannot beat Sleepytime.
As I said, moving takes over everything so we haven’t had time for much. But we have made time to explore the countryside around our new house. We are so lucky to be able to live in the cutest little village now, with lots of fields and hedgerows. But no matter where you are, there is usually a field or a park or a pick your own or a community garden where you can:
It’s a bit late in the year and a lot has been picked over, but we found rose hips, haws, sloes, bullace, damsons, and of course blackberries. There will hopefully be enough to make at least one jar of hedgerow jam or chutney for the Winter. And it is just fun to do!
What are you reading/eating/doing this October?
I will hopefully be back with another post before the end of October, as things settle in. As soon as the books are unpacked I will have to have another read of Squashed, for sure!
I’ll leave you with a poem for those of us who are all about this time of year and the coziness it brings!
Book: Summer Party by Cynthia Rylant; illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
2002, Aladdin Paperbacks Poem: Fairy Breadby Robert Louis Stevenson
How is everyone’s Summer? We haven’t had many nice days here. It’s been rather cold. But Summer is fleeting and you have to make the best of it! We have had a couple of barbecues and similar festivities. One Sunday we even got out the pool but it was too chilly!
Recently I read a book about making the best of things. Summer Party is about Lily, Rosie, and Tess (a pair of sisters and their cousin, all aged nine) who live with their Aunt Lucy for a year while their parents are travelling with the ballet. They get to live in an attic and it’s all very bohemian and charming.
Although this is a short book, a lot of detail is put into every character. Rosie is the most sentimental, Lily writes poems, Tess wants to be an actress, etc. Aunt Lucy has a flower shop, and her boyfriend Michael, who is from a wealthy family but is studying to be a botanist, always looks a bit shy and crumpled.
As the story opens the girls are all quite sad because when their parents get back they will have to leave their aunt and each other. They are feeling very conflicted and weepy in the first couple of chapters.
But their aunt and Michael try to help them cheer up, not by ignoring their feelings, but by addressing them in an active way. Their aunt says that a good way to do this is to find something to look forward to and make plans for the future. The girls realise that they will be able to have reunions with each other and the whole family every year. They are also encouraged to do something fun now, and so they plan a summer party. The girls plan the food and the entertainment as well. Lily writes a poem, Tess plans a song, and they make little funny fortunes to go at each table place. Rosie wants to make “little vegetable people” although she eventually changes her mind, thinking they will wilt. Here is their menu:
Pink lemonade with colored ice
Cookie cutter sandwiches
A punch called the Cousins’ Crayon Concoction The girls are nervous to see their parents after so long, but when they arrive everyone is happy. The party is a great success, and at the end Michael proposes to Lucy. Although everyone is still sad to say goodbye, the last line of the book is “There was so much to look forward to!” This is quite a fun little book. It is not long, but it is a chapter book and might be difficult for under sevens to read on their own. The subject matter is interesting and could be helpful in discussing with children how to deal with sadness, particularly that of a friend moving away, or themselves moving away. The children’s feelings are acknowledged, and they are helped to think of things that they do have control over, such as making the party and arranging meetings in the future. Aunt Lucy’s mantra of “Be brave. Have hope. Make plans for the future!” is pretty good advice for that stressful situation (and many others). Since we are moving house in a couple of months, it was certainly helpful for me to think about.
And if it is cold outside I think it is perfectly fine to have a Summer Party inside! I was inspired by the cousins’ menu but made a few changes. I didn’t make the little vegetable people, although that would be fun, particularly with children. To make the cookie cutter sandwiches even prettier, I made fairy bread. For anyone unfamiliar, fairy bread is just bread with sprinkles on top. I made some the usual way (as in just one slice), and some as sandwiches with the sprinkles then added to the top. Cookie Cutter Fairy Bread Sandwiches
Bread of choice (I used Schär’s gluten free seeded loaf)
Sandwich filling of choice (I used Nutella)
Sprinkles of choice (these should be small and colorful. Too big and they won’t provide even coverage)
Whipped cream Method
First make the sandwiches (I figure you all know how to do that!). Then cut out desired shapes using cookie cutters. You may have to be very careful extracting the sandwich from the cutter if it is a complicated shape. Don’t waste the crusts you cut off, just save them for bread pudding or something! Then spread the whipped cream on the top of the sandwich. Butter is traditional but I wanted something that would preserve the white color of the bread and also spread very easily, without being soggy. You need a thin, even layer all over the top slice. Then cover with sprinkles!
The second idea that I had was to attempt the Cousins’ Crayon Concoction. Presuming this does not contain actual crayons, I wanted to create something that contained multiple bright colors, and the only way I could think to do that was bubble tea. Cousins’ Crayon Concoction Bubble Tea
3 black tea bags or equivalent in loose tea
4 cups milk, almond milk or coconut milk
3 -4 Tbsp honey to taste
1 1/2 cups colored tapioca pearls or boba, preferably multicolored.
First make the milk tea. Boil a cup of water and steep the tea for 5 – 10 minutes. Remove the teabags, add honey to taste, and let the tea cool for another 15 minutes or so. Then add the tea and the milk (I used coconut milk, but if you prefer it not to taste coconutty, then use something different) into a large container with a lid. As you may guess this makes a very weak tea, but I did not want the color of the tea to interfere with the color of the boba, so I intentionally made it pale. You can make it stronger by using less milk or steeping the tea longer. Put the tea in the fridge to cool for a couple of hours. You could add ice and have it ready right away, but I prefer it this way. While the tea is cooling make the boba or tapioca pearls (If you can’t find multicolored ones I would recommend looking in an Asian grocer or online, but any color will do). Boil a large pot of water, add the pearls slowly, and stir. In a minute or so they will float to the surface of the water. Cover the pot and cook on medium heat for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and simmer another 2 -3 minutes. Strain the tapioca and rest in cold water for half a minute, then strain out and roll in a little sugar or honey.
Next, take out your cold tea and give it a good shake. You can use a cocktail shaker, froth it with a mixer or just shake it in the jar. Put a portion of tapioca pearls in the bottom of each glass and top up with the tea.
And lastly, the pink lemonade. I used this recipe from last Summer, but I added 1 1/2 cups pureed strawberries. You can use a blender, but if the strawberries are ripe you can also use a mortar and pestle. I personally like to have a little strawberry pulp in there. The only thing to remember is that you might need less sugar if the strawberries are very sweet.
Enjoy your Summer party and remember, there is so much to look forward to!
Book: The Willow Flute: a North Country Tale written and illustrated by D. William Johnson
1975, Little, Brown and Company.
Goodbye Winter! Many flowers are out now: snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodils. The mornings and evenings are lighter. Now when I have to get up before 6 am there is a slight brightness to the sky, which makes it a lot easier to drag myself out of bed!
However, it is still very, very cold — colder than it was in December (we’ve had a very weird Winter here). So here is a book for cold weather that looks forward to Spring.
The Willow Flute tells the story of Lewis Shrew, who lives in a great forest. One March evening, Lewis puts on his “boots and his old overcoat, his muffler and his mittens” to go out into “the white woods” to gather twigs for firewood.
When he goes out into the woods and sniffs the air, the woods seem different, even though they are still covered in ice and snow. But “a hint of springtime swirled in the wind.” After gathering twigs, Lewis sits down to rest and falls asleep. When he wakes he is disoriented by the night and cold, and he longs for his house and a cheery fire.
Lost and scared to go out on the surface because of owls, he starts to tunnel under the snow. His clothes are soon torn and he loses his muffler.
Eventually he finds shelter in an abandoned cabin. There he finds a willow flute and plays it.
As he plays, the world begins to warm and thaw. Rain falls and melts the snow, and Lewis can now see his own house. It’s a very interesting moment when Lewis begins to play the flute, as the black and white illustrations begin to have color, starting with himself:
This is a strange little book. The writing is simple and straightforward:
“He paused to breathe the good air. The sun sparkled through the trees and caught on the wonderful flute; a robin landed in a pine tree and green things were thinking of growing.”
But the illustrations are idiosyncratic and striking, done in a very bold and graphic style in black & white, with the interesting choice to bring color in gradually with the arrival of Spring. Older children could explore these stylistic choices in art, with the creative use of hatching and crosshatching, detail and negative space, and other techniques to create an interesting image with just pen and ink.
Another interesting idea would be to explore the story itself, as the author makes the interesting choice to not really explain many things — whose cabin is it? How does the magic flute work? What is the meaning of the cryptic sign (“The bird, whistle please”) which is on the cabin door? Who put it there? Why? These could all be good prompts for creative writing.
This is a very interesting book in and of itself, and suitable for all ages. I myself have certainly had the experience of going out of doors in late Winter and finding that something is subtly different — a hint of Springtime is in the air. I have felt that this year already, but right now it is cold! It may well be where you are too. So here are some cold weather recipes.
Maybe my number one comfort food is beef stew. Daube is a French version, which is cheap, healthy and super comforting. I’ve added ox cheek, which is full of collagen to make it extra unctuous and amazing.
5 garlic cloves, chopped, or 2 Tbsp garlic paste
1/2 lb stewing beef
1 ox cheek (optional, you can replace it with more steak or chuck, but it’s well worth it if you’ve got it!)
1 cup carrots, chopped
2 cups onions, chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp thyme
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cup red wine
Chuck all the ingredients into a large Dutch oven or casserole dish with a lid. You can brown the meat and onions first, but I never bother, because who has the time? Cover and put in the oven at about 300 degrees F (that’s about 150 C). Bake for 2 1/2 to 2 hours (but check on it now and again to make sure the liquid isn’t drying out, and top up with water if it is). Once the meat is fork-tender, it is done! Serve on its own, or with egg noodles (I had mine with vareniki).
Since we could probably do with a hot drink, too, here is a recipe for Butter Tea! Butter tea (or po cha) is common in Tibet and neighboring countries, and is a good alternative for people who want to try Bulletproof-type coffee but don’t like coffee! It is very rich and nourishing.
2 cups water
2 black teabags, or loose equivalent (I used chai)
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter (yak butter is traditional, but if, like me, you haven’t got it, use some good yellow grass-fed butter)
1/2 cup cream or whole milk
1 tsp honey (optional) Method
Boil the water and then steep the tea. Steep for at least 3 minutes so it’s nice and strong. Add the cream, salt, and butter. If you have a churn or a blender you can use those, or shake in a jar. But be careful — hot liquids can expand and leak! Personally, I use a tiny whisk that I can roll between my hands — almost as quick as an electric mixer and I don’t have to plug it in! I have found that the butter emulsifies wonderfully. Drink while nice and hot! Note: it may be an acquired taste for those not used to it. You can add a teaspoon of honey, which changes it from salty to salty/sweet. Not necessarily authentic, but this recipe isn’t very authentic to begin with!
Books: Squashed by Joan Bauer
1996, Orion Children’s Books A Time to Keep by Tasha Tudor
1977, Rand McNally & Company
Happy Autumn! I’m sorry it’s been such a long time since my last post! I recently got a new job which is keeping me terribly busy and tired. Too tired to really enjoy many of the delights of my favorite time of year. But just because I can’t do everything I want to this Fall, it doesn’t mean I can’t do the most important things.
Undoubtably my most reread book of all time is Squashed by Joan Bauer. I read it every October. This is obviously a book for somewhat older children and teens. It deals with a lot of the issues of young adulthood, but in a very lighthearted and humorous way. The protagonist is Ellie Morgan, a 16-year-old girl in a small town in Iowa, whose dream is to grow a giant pumpkin big enough to win first prize at her local fair. Along the way she has to deal with a father who doesn’t understand her ambition, her struggle with her weight, the death of her mother, pumpkin thieves, and competition with her rival giant pumpkin grower, the “deeply despicable” Cyril Pool. It’s nice to have a well-written female protagonist with such a specific and unusual passion as pumpkin growing.
The novel begins in August, with forty-six days to go until the annual Rock River Pumpkin Weigh-In and Harvest Fair. I’m not sure how accurate the descriptions of giant pumpkin growing are (do people really feed their squash buttermilk?), but the writing is incredibly engaging and funny, particularly when Ellie is talking about her pumpkin, Max:
Noble Max, whose ancestors sustained the Pilgrims through their first winter in America.
That first winter must have been a bust, and you can bet the pumpkins weren’t appreciated right off. Vegetables never are. The Pilgrim children were probably crabbing by December (‘Oh no, pumpkin again!’), never realizing a pumpkin had all those disease-fighting nutrients and was a key dietary staple since it was too big to be lugged off the settlement by wild, rabid bears. It just goes to show you that even ancient people couldn’t appreciate something right under their noses, which is probably why the Pilgrims went extinct. There’s a lesson here for all of us, especially my father.
Ellie is also a great cook, and there are lots of descriptions of food to choose from: Irish soda bread slathered in plum preserves, butter pecan seven-layer cake, baking powder cheese biscuits, split pea soup with sausage, and sautéed cinnamon apples.
However, since this last weekend was our local Apple Day, I’ve got a big thermos full of fresh apple cider to use up: the ultimate October treat. Cider is always a sensitive subject for me, since here in the UK you cannot find cider in the American sense. “Cider” is alcoholic cider. They have imported the Pumpkin Spice Latte, but not the Caramel Apple Spice…and I don’t like coffee! Misery!
The good news is that if you can get yourself to an Apple Day there will no doubt be someone with an apple press squeezing out delicious, unpasteurized, unfiltered apple cider. I usually wait a day for it to ferment just a little, and then it’s time to enjoy it — hot, cold, mulled.
Spiced Maple Apple Cider
Spices to taste: cloves, nutmeg, allspice, star anise, ginger, cardamom
1/2 cup extra-thick or whipped cream (optional)
2 pints fresh apple cider (or cloudy apple juice if you can’t find it)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup maple syrup
Pour the syrup into a medium hot pan with a dash of water. Add the vanilla. If your spices are whole, crush them slightly with a pestle or something heavy. You can add them to the pan as they are, or put them in a tea ball and then add. Finally, pour in the cider and bring to a simmer. Strain into a jar. If your spices are in a tea ball you can continue to steep them. When cool enough to drink, top with whipped cream if desired.
Enjoy hot in the most cozy fashion you can manage! This October, see if you can find an Apple Day, visit an orchard or a PYO farm, or go scrumping for wild apples!
A Time to Keep‘s October section shows how little the wholesome activity of cider-making has changed:
To add to the coziness, my husband made a split pea soup. Not with sausage, like Ellie’s, but still warming and hearty. He used this recipe, from a book we got last Christmas:
Book: 1 is One byTasha Tudor
1986, Aladdin Books, New York.
Last Friday (August 28th) would have been Tasha Tudor’s 100th birthday, so I thought we’d have a cream tea on the weekend and read some of her books.
Tasha and her family were very much into having iced tea in the garden.
But we need some reading material. 1 is One is a little rhyming counting book. It would be great for very young children, and useful for learning how to count 1 -20.
Adults and children alike can appreciate the beautiful and detailed illustrations, in both color and black and white. The subjects of the pictures are simple and relatable.
For our Tasha Tudor tea, we had iced tea, saffron buns, clotted cream and lemon curd. I made a fancied-up version of iced tea to go with the occasion. Iced Tea
2 fruity black teabags or loose tea in a tea ball
2 Tbsp honey or sweetener of choice
4 fresh mint leaves
Add hot water to teabags. Let steep for 5 minutes, then add sweetener to taste (you could use sugar, honey, or stevia.). Cut the lemon into slices, and add the slices and a squeeze of lemon juice, as well as the mint leaves. Pour into a large jug, adding cold water to fill, and leave in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
For the lemon curd I used this recipe, but roughly halved it. I’m the only one in my house who eats dairy so it often makes sense not to make too much!
1 egg yolk
2.5 Tblsp lemon juice
2 Tblsp butter
⅓ cup sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
Whisk together all the ingredients in a metal or glass bowl. Place the bowl over the top of a pot or pan of water and bring to a simmer, whisking frequently to prevent curdling. It may take about ten minutes. Eventually the mixture will thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add the butter and whisk well. Transfer to a clean jar and store in the fridge.
Assemble your tea and eat in the garden (under a crab apple tree if you have one). Hopefully it will be a delectable elevenish party!
Book: Nursery songs & rhymes of England illustrated by Winifred Smith
1895, D. Nutt
Glad Midsommar! Last week was Midsummer, and it might have been a very festive one for you if you live in certain countries, particularly Scandinavian ones. It is not so much a thing in my neck of the woods, and I have had a busy couple of weeks with lots of work, but I wanted to do something to honor the festival. Last weekend we went to our local Pick Your Own farm, and brought home a punnet of gooseberries, a punnet of raspberries, and a punnet of strawberries.
A common food at Midsummer parties is strawberries, and I thought I would make something that would be satisfying without being too much work (or involve turning on the oven — we are having a heatwave here!).
I was inspired by this nursery rhyme:
contains most of the classic nursery rhymes, in all of their strangeness, alongside beautifully pristine black and white illustrations. “Curly Locks” itself is fairly straightforward, although it’s not clear whether it is aspirational on the part of Curly Locks herself, or whether she is not buying her suitor’s line. It might be a fun assignment to write her response to the proposal. As it is, it is pretty convincing. Of course, I can get curly locks with the help of rag curls, I already sit on cushions a lot and I definitely can’t sew a fine seam. But strawberries, sugar and cream? I’d sure like to try that.
Clearly, strawberries, sugar and cream are the ultimate in luxury. Now, there are two ways to have strawberries and cream. The best way is to come home with some strawberries freshly picked by yourself, immediately douse them in cream, and tuck in. But you might want to be a little fancier, maybe for an occasion such as the 4th of July this weekend. Strawberries, Sugar & Cream
1 cup of the nicest-looking strawberries, topped and halved
Sugar to taste (I used 1 tsp)
1 cup extra-thick (or whipped or clotted) cream
Fresh mint to garnish
Place the strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle sugar to taste on the cut halves. While I like the strawberries tart, the sugar helps draw out the juice. Leave for 5 minutes to let the sugar work and then cover the lot with cream. This dish is best left to marinate, so put it in the fridge for 2 – 6 hours, stirring a couple of times to incorporate the juice. Serve in a glass with mint leaves.
Eat in the garden and feel very luxurious since you are not currently washing dishes or feeding swine! To make further use of the strawberries, I also made some Pimm’s. This is for grownups only! Pimm’s is very popular in this part of England, and people do end up drinking a fair bit of it in the Summer, both the real stuff and knockoff versions. There’s lots you can do with Pimm’s, but the usual is (fizzy English) lemonade with additions as various as strawberries, mint & cucumber, sometimes with apples, lemons and/or oranges as well.
Pimm’s (no substitute for non-UK people, I’m afraid. Apparently it is gin-based but it does not taste like gin to me. You could try a dash of rum or brandy)
Fizzy lemonade or other lemony soda
Fresh mint leaves, torn
Other garnishes as desired
Pour the Pimm’s and add the lemonade, in a ratio of one part Pimm’s to 3 parts lemonade. Add garnishes to taste. Pimm’s is best made in a big pitcher and put in the fridge for half an hour or so, because it improves with time, the drink absorbing the flavours of the fruit and mint, and vice versa. It’s almost too hot to sit outside…so I might need to jump in the sprinkler setting on the garden hose before I enjoy my strawberries two ways!
Books: Lemonade sun: and other summer poems by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
1998, Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press The Days Are Just Packed by Bill Watterson
1994, Warner Books
While sadly, the kids here in the UK are still in school, they still get to take advantage of the outdoors when they can. I’m lucky enough to be involved in Girlguiding, so I try to provide that experience when I am able. Last weekend I took some of the girls on a trip to do some Forest School/minibeast hunting things. It was a bit damp (typical) but we still had a great time.
One of the highlights was the giant bubbles, made with a loop of rope strung between two sticks, dipped in water mixed with dish soap (washing up liquid). Here is a rather blurry, rainy picture of one of the girls running after one. As you can tell, giant bubbles are super exciting!
I don’t have giant bubble wands at home, but I actually think I might have a little tube of bubbles somewhere. So step one is the sit in the garden and blow bubbles. Next I am taking inspiration from another poem in Lemonade Sun.
As you can see there’s lots to do! I do have a jump rope, actually. I think everyone should if they are able to skip. It’s great exercise, and actually fun. But if I get tuckered out from skipping rope, I think I will sit in the garden with a glass of lemon & limeade, “reading books outside at last.”
Mini Recipe: Lemon & Limeade
Follow the recipe for Old-Fashioned Lemonade, but substitute two limes for one of the lemons. That’s all!
Enjoy outside with a good book! I would recommend The Days Are Just Packed. Not only are Calvin and Hobbes suitable for kids of all ages, they are even more suitable, I would argue, for adults, because they will be attuned to some of the more poignant, philosophical and mature material which runs under the surface of many of the comic strips. It also is a great way to remind oneself of the vivid imagination and endless energy of a childhood Summer.
Book: Homer Price by Robert McCloskey.
1943, Scholastic, Inc.
Well, just when I was enjoying the Summer (big, florid pink and yellow roses, sun on my skin, red maple leaves, Bakewell tarts, thinking about doing an ice cream post), English Summer strikes again. Hard to feel Summery when it is 50 degrees Fahrenheit and you need to wear a coat! But I am keeping up my optimism.
Homer Price is a great reread for Summer. I have a charming copy from 1943 with yellowed pages which smell strongly of Old Book.
It’s a collection of stories about Homer Price, a little boy in a small town who has various adventures. I thought I would start with the first, The Case of the Sensational Scent. This is a cute story about Homer adopting a skunk which he names Aroma, who then goes on to help him capture a band of robbers.
Homer is a resourceful and cool-headed boy, who helps his parents, builds radios, and who gets up before it is light to go fishing alone (well, with his pet skunk as well). It might be more suitable for age seven and up, because there should probably be some conversations to accompany it about not adopting wild animals, not touching guns and not confronting robbers on your own! But most children are well able to distinguish fiction from reality, and it is a very cute story, with some quite funny touches, particularly with the educated robber who refers to Aroma as a “Musteline Mammal”.
The food in Homer Price, like everything else, is wholesome and simple. Homer’s mother makes fried chicken and hamburgers for the tourists. But Homer himself can most often be seen eating cookies and milk, which he usually gets for himself at bedtime.
We don’t have cookies very often in our house, but when we do, they are usually these. When I was a kid, my mother’s go-to cookie was oatmeal raisin — but not like those sugary slabs you’d buy in the stores. They were a kitchen-sink cookie, crammed full of thick rolled oats, raisins, seeds, anything else that happened to be in the house. Low sugar, real hippie stuff. And so one day I went looking for a similar cookie, but even healthier. I found this: Grain Free Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. I’ve made them many times since then, and the recipe is delicious and amazing, but I keep up the attitude of the kitchen-sink cookie, so I never follow the recipe exactly. Sometimes I’ll use apple, sometimes cooked sweet potato. I’ll add any number of dried fruits, nuts and seeds. I’ve even made them into jam thumbprints. This time I was feeling really lazy, so I used a nut butter instead of the apple (I also doubled the recipe, since my husband loves these cookies and was bound to gobble them up). So here is the variation I made this time:
“Oatmeal” Raisin Cookies
2 cups nut butter of choice
3 medium eggs
4 tablespoons honey
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup raisins (I added some mixed peel and chopped dates this time as well)
2 cups dessicated coconut
1 cup almond flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking soda
Mix all the ingredients together haphazardly because you are lazy and don’t mix dry and wet ingredients separately despite what your mama taught you! The mixture should be firm enough to drop in spoonfuls and not spread much. If it needs firming up, add more almond flour. Place tablespoons of the batter onto a cookie sheet, flattening out slightly. Bake at 325 degrees F (162 C) for 15 to 25 minutes until they are golden brown on top. Baking times may vary; I made mine quite big this time so they took half and hour.
Of course, as Homer knows, a cookie is best enjoyed with a big glass of milk. I don’t often have milk, but when I do, I do it right. This is the stuff I buy:
All that stuff on the side of the bottle is cream, because it’s whole and unhomogenized. So good. And because we are appreciating really good milk, here is a mini recipe. In Winter warm vanilla milk is comforting, in Summer iced vanilla milk is refreshing: