I’m tickled pink (and red, green, yellow and blue) to welcome newly published author, faster-than-lightning reader, This Kid Reviews Books blogger and budding philanthropist Erik Weibel to Alphabet Soup today!
Eleven-year-old Erik is beloved in the kidlitosphere (he started blogging when he was just nine!), and continues to impress everyone with his consistently incisive and candid book reviews and irrepressible enthusiasm for reading and writing.
He worked on his new chapter book, THE ADVENTURES OF TOMATO AND PEA – Book 1: A Bad Idea, for 3 years (i.e., 1/4 of his life). It is the first in a planned trilogy featuring tiny aliens called Smidges from the planet Oarg, and is notable for its cast of colorful, quirky characters, lively narrative with hilarious rapid-fire dialogue, vivid descriptions, and enduring themes (friendship, cooperation, courage, the triumph of good over evil).
In Book 1, super crime-stopper Tomato, his techno-savvy sidekick Pea, and two other Smidges find themselves tricked, then trapped aboard the rocket ship S.S. Poofy with the evil Wintergreen and his unsavory cohorts. After they crash-land on planet EAR-TH, they must all learn to work together to ensure their survival and find a way to return home to Oarg.
Erik displays remarkable writing chops in this fun, quick read, and it’s exciting to see someone so young accomplish so much.
Yet one question remains:
Can this boy cook?
After all, he did include a character named Skew in the story, Tomato and Pea’s yellow friend who is a good, resourceful cook. Erik has said there’s a bit of him in each of his characters, and that he loves to cook. You can see why I had to investigate.
And so, my hungry readers –
for the first time on any blog anywhere –
Erik the Great Weibel dishes about food in The Adventures of Tomato and Pea, his plans to take over the world, his personal food preferences, and then (*drool*) cooks up two mouthwatering, out of this world, Smidge-approved recipes with his alien friends (including notes and tips). Intergalactic Yum!!
* * *
♥ MEET ERIK THE GREAT EATER ♥
So, I hear you’re planning to take over the world someday. What are some of the things you’re gonna do once you’re in charge?
Hmm… Good question. First, I would re-name the planet. Earth is a silly name. Erikway sounds much better. Then, after establishing world peace, being a kind and gentle and fair ruler, I would give out candy to all of the inhabitants of Erikway. I would make schools more fun and have only a 4-day school week. I would ban walking around in public in your PJ’s (and getting rid of PJ Day at schools) except on National Walk-Around-in-PJ’s Day (as created by Erik S. Weibel). Plus, I would outlaw that cheese in a spray-can thingy (blech).
Smidges are pretty tiny, only 3-5 inches tall. Theoretically, they could live off a dinner roll for a month. What is their typical diet on planet Oarg? Is there any fast food there?
Smidges are small, but they have a very fast metabolism so, much like hummingbirds, they eat a lot! They eat as much as they weigh in a day. There isn’t as much variety of food on Oarg as on EAR-TH, but their diet is very similar. They raise glufunky birds (similar to chickens) for their eggs and eat veggies like tomatoes and peas (see on Oarg, the inhabitants name their kids after vegetables sometimes, like we name our kids after flowers – Lily, Ivy, Rose, Hydrangea, etc.) and a few different kind of fruits.
Smidges don’t have many fast food places but they do have Starcups Caffeine Drinks Shop and Bendy’s (“We make it fresh!”). On Oarg, they mostly have slow food – places where it takes a long time to get your food so you can take a nap and play games. Family-type restaurants are very common too.
Skew, who’s not the best Oarg Law Enforcement agent, is my favorite character because “he could make a stew out of a carrot, some rubber bands and a cardboard box and everyone would stand in line for it!” Please describe, in mouthwatering detail, the smorgasbord he whips up for everyone near the end of the story.
Because they don’t have a big variety of food on Oarg, Skew wanted to try out all kinds of food from all over EAR-TH. He made –
Chicharrón Pupusas (corn tortilla with meat filling) from El Salvador
Lamb Souvlaki from Greece
Crêpes Confiture de Framboise (crepes with raspberry jam) from France
Diri Dion Dion (black rice w/ shrimp and mushrooms) from Haiti
Shepherd’s Pie from Ireland
Moi-moi (steamed bean pudding) from Nigeria
Lumpia (eggroll) from the Philippines
Grilled Cheese and tomato soup from the USA
Sushi from Japan
Gujhia (sweet dumplings) from India
Fish and Chips from England
Panna Cotta (custard dessert) from Italy
Excuse me, I have to go get a snack after talking about all this food…
Poppy Cornelius Lobster, who’s always brimming with random facts, adds a lot of humor to your book. Who or what makes you laugh?
Mostly my family (Dad in particular, with my uncle a close second). I can (and probably will) laugh at anything. I put in some random facts that I thought had nothing to do with the story and put them in just to be funny. I also had to modify some facts to match the book (like cooking pies at a lower temperature). I put in stuff I thought was funny, and hoped that other people would think the same thing.
I know you’re now working on Book 2 in the series. Could you give us any hints about possible food scenes? Will Skew compete in an Alien Chef Challenge?
I like the idea of the Alien Chef Challenge. Right now, I have a couple of ideas like maybe Big Al’s Family Restaurant closes and they need to find another food source and Skew finds a farmers market. There also may be a part where the Smidges meet up with one of the inhabitants of EAR-TH and they need to make friends. Skew’s famous cookies may be involved.
Are you finding it easier or harder to write Book 2? Why?
I am finding it easier because I pretty much already have the story in my head. Right now I am having trouble finding the time to write it all down. Then I can see if the story makes sense to other people and if it fits well with the first book.
Do you believe in UFO’s? Do you think aliens are currently living amongst us?
DRAT! You’ve discovered my secret! Umm… I mean, ‘Why do you, my fine lady, ask that of me?’ Heh heh heh…
Actually, I do believe that there may be others in the universe. I don’t know about UFO’s though (although last year my family went through Roswell, NM and there was some pretty convincing stuff in the museum).
As for the aliens on Earth, well, I have proof of that being true. You see, *whispers* there’s this little girl in my family (pretending to be my sister), around 9 Earth-years-old, who is obviously an alien. But SHHH – don’t tell anybody!
When it comes to writing, which authors/books do you think have influenced you the most?
I think Brian Jacques writes stories so that you can see the story in your head. His descriptions make the story real. Roland Smith and Rick Riordan know how to mix the right amount of humor into their stories, especially at really tense parts. Michelle Isenhoff is a mentor to me and she helped me with making my story make sense and also made my grammar and sentence structure much better.
What is your favorite food-related book (or food scene in a book)?
Well, I do like The Redwall Cookbook by Brian Jacques which has a story (and recipes) for each season. The Redwall novels also have the best feast-scenes described in them. I also like Bunnicula (by Deborah and James Howe) and how he sinks his fangs into veggies. I also like the feasts in the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan. The people at the feast just think about what they want and it appears. If only that were real!
I have nicknamed you “Erik the Great Eater.” What food inspires your best writing? What three foods would you take with you if you were banished to another planet?
I do believe that Skittles and Cowtails and Twix are good for creativity (my parents don’t agree). I love trying new foods especially ones from different countries. I think you can learn a lot from the kind of food people eat.
Assuming I had water to drink and survival isn’t an issue, I would take creamed spinach, pizza burgers, and ice cream (caramel-toffee-pretzel flavored).
How long have you been interested in cooking? Tell us all about the recipes you’re sharing today.
I have been interested in cooking since the time I started helping my great-grandfather make deviled eggs and pickled beets (I think I was three or four). My mom got me a junior cooking set when I was really young. As long as I can remember, my parents let me help cook.
Skew, Tomato and Pea wanted to help! We decided to make Stuffed Tomatoes and Pea Soup.
Skew thought they turned out perfect, and I agree. Mom, though, isn’t sure. She’s very worrisome when it comes to cooking, but she is a great cook. I don’t get it.
* * *
♥ FIRST COURSE ♥
For the Stuffed Tomatoes, I learned that if you cut the garlic ends first before you peel them, it is easier to peel. I learned why we put salt in the hollowed-out tomatoes (to draw water out of the tomatoes so they aren’t too mushy). Fry bacon slowly so it doesn’t burn (and turn it lots of times). It’s better to use fresh herbs than dried herbs, but the dried will do if you don’t have any fresh.
What you need:
- 4 small tomatoes (we get the ones on the vine) cut in half
- 1 piece of bread with the crust cut off
- 4 tablespoons of milk
- olive oil
- 5 strips of crisp bacon crumbled up small
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 egg white
- 1 sprig fresh parsley chopped
- 1 sprig fresh basil chopped
- 1 garlic clove
- Salt and papper
Scoop out the inside of the tomatoes and sprinkle them with salt. Turn them upside down on a paper towel to drain.
Preheat the oven to 350°F and spray an 8×8 baking dish with cooking oil.
Cut the bread up into very small cubes and put it in a bowl with the milk. Add the bacon and cheese.
Beat the egg and egg white together in another bowl. Add the eggs and the parsley, basil and garlic to the stuff in the bowl. Mix it all together.
Put the stuffing in the tomato halves and grind pepper over the top (just a little). Put the tomatoes in the baking dish. Cook for 20 minutes. The stuffing should be brownish when it’s done.
* My mom found the recipe in the Silver Spoon Cookbook by Phaidon Press (they are called Baked Tomatoes in the book). My mom loves this cookbook. I’ve helped make them before, and they’re a family favorite.
* * *
♥ SECOND COURSE ♥
For the Split-Pea Soup, I learned that split-peas can be liquefied (well, that doesn’t have much to do with the actual COOKING, but it’s cool . . . ). I also learned that the split-peas you should use for the soup shouldn’t be too old, or else they won’t liquefy right and they get grainy.
For the soup, we made lots of changes (and sometimes the changes change my mom says ).
First of all, we don’t always use ham hocks (I also learned what a ham hock is). Sometimes we use ham with a bone in it, or a ham butt (heehee ). The recipe calls for fresh pork hocks but my mom uses smoked (I also learned the differences between fresh and smoked meats). The recipe calls for kielbasa that we don’t put in, because Mom thinks it makes the soup too greasy. It calls for bay leaf, but Mom doesn’t like that flavor in this type of soup. The recipe uses green onions and regular onions, but we leave out the greenies and just use yellow onion.
The cooking time varies for us — Mom cooks until the soup is “done.”
What you need:
- 1 pound split green peas
- 2 smoked pork hocks
- 2 celery stalks
- 2 medium onions
- 2 fresh parsley sprigs
- 6 pieces of bacon
- 1/8 teaspoon of dried rosemary
- 1 carrot
Rinse the peas and ham hocks. Put in a BIG pot with enough water to cover everything. Bring it to a boil and then simmer (covered) for about an hour. While that is cooking, dice the celery and onion and put it away for later. Fry the bacon until it is crispy. Take it out of the pan and fry the onion and celery in the same pan until the onion gets kind of clear, then take it out of the pan and drain the grease off.
Crumble up the bacon and add it with the celery and onion to the ham and peas. Shred up the carrot and add it to the mix. Simmer for 2 hours covered. When it is done, take the ham out and remove all the fat and bones. Take any fat off the top of the pea mixture by skimming it off. Shred up the ham and add it back to the peas.
*My mom makes homemade bread to go with the soup usually but since we had the stuffed tomatoes we didn’t this time.
*We got this recipe from the 1984 McCall’s Cooking School cookbook.
* * *
Didn’t I tell you Erik was amazing, talented and too awesome for words?
If you haven’t already scored a copy of The Adventures of Tomato and Pea, what are you waiting for?!
Share it with all the kids you know — it’s the perfect holiday treat, and will likely inspire them to write stories of their own.
THE ADVENTURES OF TOMATO AND PEA – Book 1: A Bad Idea
written by Erik Weibel
published via CreateSpace, 2013
Chapter Book for ages 7-13, 72 pp.
*Available in paperback and ebook formats
Visit Erik’s excellent blog, This Kid Reviews Books!
Click here for the This Kid Reviews Books Facebook Page
Find Erik on Twitter
** A SPECIAL THANK YOU to Erik’s mom for helping with the recipes!!
Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.