What could be sweeter than having a lovely lady bring you a tray of freshly baked cupcakes?
Please help me welcome debut author Natasha Lowe, who’s just published an indescribably delicious middle grade novel that I absolutely adore!
The Power of Poppy Pendle (Paula Wiseman/S&S, 2012) is about a girl with a passion for baking who inherits an extraordinary gift of magic. Poppy’s parents enroll her in Ruthersfield Academy, an exclusive school for witchcraft, with high hopes she’ll follow in the footsteps of her famous Great-Granny Mabel.
But Poppy is miserable. She’s teased mercilessly in school because she’d rather create new recipes than cast spells. She repeatedly tells her parents she doesn’t like magic but they just won’t listen. Frustrated and angry at being misunderstood, and unwilling to give up her dreams of becoming a master baker someday, Poppy takes matters into her own hands, misusing her magic powers to disastrous results.
I love that minutes after Poppy is born on the floor of the Patisserie Marie Claire, she eats an entire bag of warm almond cakes, and throughout the story, we are treated to lots of mouthwatering goodies — lemon bars, coconut cupcakes, caramel cookies, brioche, chocolate butter bread. I love the central theme of following your passion, and the emphasis on the importance of listening to children, allowing them to be who they are, rather than what their parents might wish them to be.
Moreover, I love the dynamic quality of Natasha’s writing, which captivated me from page one with its interesting characters, enchanting descriptions and compelling narration. The Power of Poppy Pendle is baked from just the right ingredients — part magic, part adventure, lots of suspense. It’s an inspiring, charming, kid-friendly story about friendship and self realization that comes with a dozen must-try recipes for budding bakers.
Natasha, a London native now living in Massachusetts, is a lifelong baker who once ran the Tea House Bed and Breakfast, where she wowed guests with her grandmother’s shortbread cookies. Today she’s sharing her recipe for Coffee Cupcakes, and you even have a chance to win a brand new copy of her book.
So get comfy, sip your tea, nibble on shortbread (or steal a cupcake) and enjoy!
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♥A YUMMY CHAT WITH NATASHA LOWE ♥
How does it feel to have your first published children’s book out in the world?
Gosh, it’s been a roller coaster of emotions! I’ve gone through them all, from absolute terror to wild excitement. You have no control over what anyone will say, and to begin with that was really nerve-racking. I felt so exposed, waiting for people’s comments and reviews. I wanted to crawl under my bed, cover my ears and hide. Writing is such a private business and to have your story out there for everyone to see is kind of terrifying. But once I started to get feedback I was able to relax, and there is nothing better than having a child come racing up to tell you how much they love your book. Or even better, when they tell you they made one of the recipes and it was delicious. That’s the best feeling in the world!
I have also had to learn a whole new set of skills. Promoting a book is very different from the writing process, and I’m really happy to discover that I love reading to an audience and answering questions. That was a part I was quite nervous about but it’s turned out to be great fun. I love putting on different voices for all my characters and hearing people laugh at the funny bits. It brings my story to life.
Best of all, though, I’m so proud of Poppy. My editor, Paula Wiseman, did an amazing job, as did everyone who worked on the book. The cover is incredibly beautiful with this pretty raised gilt scrollwork and adorable illustration, and when I held a copy in my hands for the first time it was slightly surreal. I couldn’t quite believe I had written it!
How did you get the idea for this book and how did you go about getting it published?
My husband loves to go to auctions, and one day, a few years back, he brought home a stone goose. Not that we needed a stone goose at the time, but he thought it would look nice sitting under a tree in our garden. The goose had such a surprised, startled look on its face that my daughter started wondering what had happened to it. Maybe our goose was real, and if he was real, maybe someone had turned him to stone?
Well, I thought that perhaps a witch had put a spell on him, which scared my daughter because she wasn’t the biggest fan of witches at the time and she started to worry that this evil old woman might come marching right into our yard and take back our goose. So I told her that this witch was only a little girl, and she wasn’t evil at all, she was sad. Why was she sad, my daughter wanted to know, and after giving it some thought it became quite clear to me that she didn’t want to be a witch at all. She wanted to be a baker. And that was the start of Poppy Pendle!
Writing is something I’ve always loved to do. I had a couple of stories published in magazines and I wrote a series of children’s stories for radio in my twenties, but it wasn’t until my daughter started kindergarten that I decided to take getting published seriously.
I always knew I wanted to be an author, and I had drawers full of manuscripts to prove it, but if I’m entirely honest here, part of the reason for my lack of follow-through is that I was scared of rejection. This is a tough, tough business and I wasn’t swimming in self-confidence, so I tended to write down my stories, read them out to my children and then file them away in my desk!
But one night, while sitting out on our porch, looking up at the sky, it hit me quite clearly that I didn’t want to be eighty years old with regrets. Getting published has always been my dream. I am constantly telling my children to reach for their goals, step outside their comfort zones, challenge themselves daily, and I wasn’t doing any of those things. So I decided to get brave, and follow my own advice.
I knew I needed to get an agent because so many publishing houses nowadays tend not to accept unsolicited manuscripts, and I was lucky enough to find a really wonderful agent quite quickly. She had been a children’s book editor for a number of years before becoming an agent, so she understood the market inside and out, and taught me the importance of editing.
We worked through rounds and rounds of revisions together, and by the time Poppy went out into the world the manuscript was in excellent shape. Then I had one of those dream come true moments, when twenty four hours after submitting Poppy to Simon & Schuster, my agent called me up to tell me that Paula Wiseman loved it! And I still smile when I think about that phone call!
What’s your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite?
Well I love that first woosh of excitement when you start writing a new story. You have this great idea and you can’t wait to get it all down. I tend to write first drafts very quickly because the creative process takes over and I can’t wait to see where the story leads me. I sometimes have a rough idea but I’m definitely not a planner. I like to be surprised when I write, that way the story has energy, and I think that energy gets passed along to the reader. When I’m in the middle of a first draft I tend to ignore things like laundry and errands because getting my story down is so much more entertaining. I literally cannot keep away from my desk and it’s almost a relief when I finish because then life can get back to normal.
The hardest part of writing for me is actually sitting my bottom down in my chair when I’m working on revising. I have to say, I’ve come to really love the revising process, cutting out scenes that aren’t necessary, trimming extra words, making it as perfect as I can make it. But actually sitting down to work on those changes is so hard. I make myself a cup of tea, I throw in a load of laundry, I’ll chop up an onion or two for soup, and then finally, when I can’t put it off any longer I’ll sit down at my computer and pull up the story I’m working on.
This is hard, and reading through what I’ve written can sometimes be really disheartening because I want to throw so much of it out, but if I stick with it and I keep my bottom in the chair, I can battle through the rough stuff and then it becomes fun. That final polishing, making your story as good as you can make it. This is my love/hate relationship with revision!
I love the underlying theme of the novel: “Follow your passion and strive for excellence.” Tell us about some of your passions and how they’ve played out in your life.
I suppose one of my biggest passions was meeting my husband and falling in love. I was twenty at the time and happened to be working in a flower shop for the summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on a student work visa. The only other thing we sold, apart from flowers, was Snapple juice, and my future husband came in every day to buy different flavors of Snapple!
Once he got brave enough to ask me out it wasn’t long before we decided to marry, and I give my parents full credit for their extremely calm reaction when I told them I had met a man ten years older and I was planning on moving to America! They came right over for my twenty-first birthday and gave him their seal of approval, and four children later we are still happily married!
Writing, of course, has always been a grand passion of mine, and working so hard on Poppy, first with my agent, and then my editor, really made me understand what “striving for excellence” is all about! There were times when I felt like this book would never be finished, when the rounds of revision would never end, but now, when I’m giving a reading, I’m so happy with the way Poppy turned out. I honestly wouldn’t change a word of it.
Anyone who knows me knows I love to bake. Just like Poppy, this is one of my biggest passions. There is something so soothing about mixing up a cake or a batch of cookies, and that warm, sweet smell of baking is one of the most comforting scents in the world. I bake when I’m happy, I bake to relax, I bake when I need cheering up.
In fact, the Christmas I was four weeks overdue with my second child I baked the most elaborate assortment of Christmas cookies ever, just because it kept me calm! I always thought it might be fun to open a little teashop, but the nearest I ever got to this was running our home as a bed and breakfast (called The Tea House B & B) for a while. I had the best time making creative, scrumptious breakfasts and one favorite that everyone always loved was chocolate butter bread French toast, an early version of Marie Claire’s chocolate butter bread. But the thing my guests loved best was afternoon tea. I would bake shortbread and drizzle cakes and serve them in front of a fire in the winter or outside, under our cherry blossom tree in the spring.
How and when did you first become interested in baking? Tell us about one of your most memorable “experiments.”
I grew up in a house where teatime was celebrated on a daily basis. There was nothing nicer than coming home from school after a particularly awful day and being greeted with the comforting smell of baking. My mother is a fabulous cook, and when I was little I loved to sit on the counter next to her while she baked. There was always something good coming out of the oven, but my fondest memories are of weekend teas. We would all watch Dr. Who (which I never liked but everyone else did!) and eat crumpets dripping with butter, sticky squares of gingerbread, or little warm sponge cakes dotted with currants.
One Christmas, when I was about six, I got given my very own children’s cookbook and the first thing I made was something called Apple Snow. It was utterly disgusting and I’ll never forget the shock of that first taste – unsweetened mushy apples mixed with beaten egg whites. I knew I could do better so I invented some rock hard dough balls that I dyed different colors and baked to the consistency of rocks. Even my mother, who had eaten a whole bowlful of Apple Snow couldn’t manage one of these. Luckily my cooking skills have improved since then. Now I’m the one who gets to eat my children’s experiments!
How did you go about selecting the recipes to include in Poppy’s story?
This was so much fun. When we originally submitted Poppy to Simon & Schuster there were no recipes included with the story, but one of the first questions Paula Wiseman asked me was if I would mind adding some. Since this had been my dream from the very beginning I was absolutely thrilled to oblige. I wanted to choose recipes that weren’t too difficult to make and that children might actually try at home, and I really wanted to show kids that it’s as easy to make a cake from scratch as it is from a box mix, and far more tasty!
Most important of all I wanted everything to taste as delicious as it sounded in the book. As a child I loved reading stories that had recipes included in them but whenever I tried them out with my mother, they never tasted as good as I imagined, so I didn’t want Poppy’s recipes to disappoint. The chocolate melt-aways are a variation on a cookie my grandmother used to make so they had to go in for sentimental reasons. And I wanted a really good lemon bar, one with the right proportion of filling to crust, with enough lemon flavor to make your mouth pucker.
There had to be a recipe for little warm almond cakes since this is the first thing Poppy eats, and Marie Claire’s special chocolate butter bread, of course, but the recipe I’m most proud of is the one for caramel cookies. I had never had a caramel cookie before, not like I imagined Poppy’s would taste, so I spent months perfecting them with the help of a good friend.
Between us we made batches and batches of cookies, and my children were at the point where they would get off the school bus, see me coming towards them with a plate of caramel cookies to taste and run in the opposite direction. I actually remember my daughter begging me not to make any more caramel cookies or lemon bars because she couldn’t face another one. The only recipe they never got tired of was Mrs. Plunket’s rainy day brownies, which they can whip up by themselves, and do, regularly!
Is Potts Bottom modeled on a real place? Did you base the personalities of Poppy, her best friend Charlie or Marie Claire on anyone you know?
Potts Bottom is loosely modeled on the small Lancashire village where my grandmother lived. There was a canal nearby that we used to take walks beside, but just like the canal in Poppy it wasn’t used very much and I have memories of swans floating down it.
There are definitely bits of me in Poppy, her love of baking, her klutziness, the way she gets flour all over her clothes when she cooks! But the big difference is that I have been blessed with incredibly supportive parents who always encouraged me to follow my passions, and I knew I wanted to write about a little girl who had to fight for her dream.
My daughter Juliette was the inspiration for Charlie. One day, just after she had started kindergarten, I was waving her off on the school bus, and she had her pale little face pressed right up against the window with this halo of frizzy blond curls. I knew, right then, that this was exactly what I wanted Charlie to look like, except that she would be tiny whereas my daughter is beanpole tall. I also gave Charlie the same sense of loyalty towards friendships that my daughter has and her fiercely stubborn streak of never giving up.
What are some of your favorite food-related children’s books? Your favorite food scene from a children’s book?
All of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books have the most wonderful descriptions of food in them. I can still remember reading about buckwheat pancakes drenched in maple syrup which she writes about in Farmer Boy, and I had no idea what salt pork was growing up, we certainly never ate it in London, but I knew it would taste all crispy and good, fried up in Ma’s cast iron skillet!
The food scenes I remember most vividly, though, are from The Little White Horse, written by Elizabeth Goudge. Orphaned Maria goes to live with her uncle at Moonacre Manor, and throughout the story Marmaduke Scarlett, the cook, prepares the most lavish meals. “Twelve eggs went into the making of the syllabub, a pint of cream and cinnamon.” I would read and reread those pages over and over again. One meal consisted of “homemade crusty bread, hot onion soup, butter the color of marigolds and hot roasted chestnuts folded into a napkin.”
For tea Marmaduke served all sorts of scrumptious goodies. There were cherry cakes, cream horns, éclairs and lemon curd, but one of the food scenes I loved best in the book took place at Maria’s friend, Robin’s house. There was fresh bread with butter and honey, cold creamy milk and wedges of sticky parkin (which is a northern variation of gingerbread). Gosh, just thinking about that book makes me hungry.
Please list any other children’s books/authors who’ve influenced (or continue to influence/inspire) your writing today.
Well, The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, obviously! As well as having fabulous food scenes in it, I loved the whimsical magic throughout. And to this day I can still remember the feeling I had when I finished reading The Little White Horse for the first time. It made me want to write down my own stories and offer readers that same sense of wonder.
I adore all of Susan Cooper’s books, especially The Bogart and her Dark Is Rising series. No one weaves magic into everyday life better. For atmosphere and setting, I loved I capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and all of Daphne Du Maurier’s books, Frenchman’s Creek and Rebecca, in particular, which I read and reread as a teenager. But one of my biggest influences has to be Roald Dahl. He is a brilliant storyteller with a wickedly dark sense of humor and an over-the-top imagination. He knows what children love and his stories are never, ever boring!
What was it like running a B&B? Your most memorable guest?
It was hard work, but very satisfying. We were a small bed and breakfast so I did everything myself, cleaning rooms, all the cooking, but I loved gathering people around the breakfast table who might not necessarily spend time together. Some of those breakfasts went on for hours and we made many good friends that we still keep in touch with today.
Being an intimate little bed and breakfast with an emphasis on good food, we had a lot of proposals take place. One time I was asked to hide the engagement ring under a guest’s pancake and she almost swallowed it! We had a lot of regulars who came back year after year to celebrate their anniversaries and when we stopped running the bed and breakfast they came back to stay as friends.
No question as to who our most memorable guest was. King Abdullah of Jordan stayed with us when he came back to Deerfield for a high school reunion. He wasn’t actually King at the time, only a prince, but it was still pretty memorable. He was rather shorter than I’d imagined, which makes no sense because there’s nothing that says princes have to be tall. I just assumed he would be!
He was dressed in jeans (no crown) and looked just like the sort of bloke you’d want to share a pint of beer or a cup of tea with. My second child, Oliver, was a rather active eighteen month old at the time who liked to climb on everything and had a hard time keeping still. The prince had come into my kitchen for a royal chat and Oliver was charging around the room banging a carrot against all the cabinet doors. Bits of carrot were flying everywhere and there was no way I could politely remove the carrot from him without causing a huge tantrum (which I must confess I didn’t want the prince to have to witness). Luckily he didn’t mind one bit, just smiled and sipped his tea, brushed a bit of carrot off his jeans and showed me pictures of his brand new baby!
Please describe your ultimate fantasy tea. Who would be there? What would be on the menu?
That’s an easy one. It would take place at my grandmother’s old farmhouse in Lancashire. We’d have tea outside in the garden and it would be a beautiful June afternoon. Since this is a fantasy tea, my gran (who died twenty years ago) would be there, along with the rest of my family.
I thought about inviting the Queen since I had a major Queen infatuation as a child and wrote her numerous letters, but that would make everyone a little bit tense. We’d have to be on our best behavior and the children couldn’t roll down the bank, or make a lot of noise and run around.
There would be pots of Assam tea for those who like a nice strong brew and Earl Grey for the rest. Our china would be Spode, one of the blue and white patterns, I think. We’d eat egg salad, and cucumber sandwiches on white bread, smoked salmon sandwiches on whole wheat bread, all with the crusts cut off, of course. There would be freshly baked scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, little chocolate éclairs, lemon curd tarts, and a big coffee walnut cake with coffee butter-cream icing. Then we’d all have to take a nice long walk across the fields to work up an appetite for supper!
What’s next for you?
I have a couple of different projects that I’m revising. One set in Scotland with Celtic folklore and magic woven throughout, and the other has more of a Roald Dahl feel with a younger boy MC and lots of over-the-top magic. Right now, I don’t think there’ll be a follow-up to Poppy. I really see Poppy as a stand-alone book. It has been described as Matilda on cupcakes which I think is pretty accurate!
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♥ POPPY’S COFFEE CUPCAKES ♥
Makes 12 regular-sized cupcakes or about 36 mini cupcakes
Poppy dreamed up [these rich espresso cupcakes topped with coffee buttercream ] after her first sip of French brewed coffee at Patisserie Marie Claire. Coffee walnut cake is a traditional English teatime cake and it’s probably the cake my mum made most often for weekend teas. We all loved it, and now I make it for my own family. Since one of my sons has a nut allergy, I don’t put in walnuts and I make the batter into cupcakes because they are so much more fun to eat, especially with a chocolate coffee bean on top.
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon espresso powder
½ cup (1 stick) softened butter
½ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup + 2 tablespoons self-raising flour (or you can use regular flour and 1 ¼ teaspoons of baking powder and mix well together before adding to the batter)
¼ teaspoon of salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Pour the tablespoon of milk into a little dish (a small china ramekin is ideal) and warm in the microwave for about ten seconds. If you don’t have a microwave just warm some milk gently in a saucepan and measure out 1 tablespoon into a little dish. Then sprinkle the espresso powder over the milk and stir to blend.
3. If there is a food processor in your home, ask an adult to help you set it up and whiz all the cake ingredients together, including the espresso flavored milk. Then go directly to step 5. Otherwise, put your stick of softened butter into a large bowl and using a hand-held mixer, whiz the butter around until it is nice and fluffy. Pour the sugar on top and beat together with the butter until well blended. Go slowly at first because you don’t want sugar flying all over the counter.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. You can ask an adult to help you with this if you like because you don’t want bits of eggshell in the batter. Add the vanilla extract, then the self-raising flour (or flour and baking powder), and ¼ teaspoon salt and mix quickly again. You don’t want to over mix the ingredients or your cakes will be tough.
5. Now, mix the powerful espresso flavored milk into your cake batter, scraping around the little dish to make sure you get it all in. The batter will turn a rich coffee color and smell delicious.
6. Arrange 12 paper cupcake wrappers inside a muffin tin or if you want to make miniature cupcakes, you will need about 36 mini paper wrappers for a mini muffin pan. Fill each cup half-full with cake batter and bake 16-20 minutes for regular cup cakes, 9 -14 minutes for minis. You might want to ask an adult to help you get the cakes into and out of the oven. Let cool on a wire rack.
You can make this while the cupcakes are baking.
1 stick softened butter
1 ¼ cups confectioners sugar
2 ½ tablespoons milk
1 ½ teaspoons espresso powder
1. Pour the milk into a tiny dish. Warm the milk in the microwave for about 10 seconds and sprinkle the espresso powder on top. Stir to blend.
2. Put the softened butter into a large bowl and shake over the confectioners sugar. Using a big wooden spoon or a hand-held mixer (I like to use a hand held mixer because it makes the frosting really smooth and creamy) gently stir the espresso flavored milk into the mixture, and blend together until soft and creamy. Go slowly to begin with otherwise you will have sugar all over your counter! If you want a softer frosting just add a drop or two more milk.
3. Using a dinner knife, smooth the frosting on top of the cupcakes and decorate with a coffee-flavored chocolate bean.
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THE POWER OF POPPY PENDLE
written by Natasha Lowe
published by Paula Wiseman Books/S&S, 2012
Middle grade fantasy fiction for ages 8-12, 272 pp.
Cool themes: Baking and bakeries, witchcraft, friendship, family, self-realization, magic
*Includes a dozen mouthwatering recipes
♥ ♥ ♥ BOOK GIVEAWAY ♥ ♥ ♥
For a chance to win a brand new copy of The Power of Poppy Pendle, simply leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EDT) Sunday, October 28, 2012. Extra entries for blogging, tweeting, or Facebooking about the giveaway (please mention in your comment). You may also enter by sending an email with POPPY PENDLE in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Open to U.S. residents only, please. Winner will be announced on Halloween!
* * * * * SPECIAL TREAT * * * * *
Listen to Natasha read the first chapter:
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♥ EVEN MORE ♥
♥ Visit Natasha’s Official Website.
♥ The Power of Poppy Pendle Facebook Page is here.
♥ Upcoming Events/Appearances
- Saturday, October 27: Willow Books & Cafe, Acton, MA, 3 p.m.
- Sunday, October 28: Books of Wonder, NYC, 1 p.m.
- Friday, November 9: World Eye Bookshop, Florence, MA, 4 p.m.
- Saturday, December 1: Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA, 1 p.m.
* Lemon Curd Tarts via ruby door
* Cucumber sandwiches via All Toasty
* Chocolate eclairs via katbaro
* Strawberry cream scones via Just Easy Recipes
Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.