[guest post + recipe] Margo Sorenson, Secrets in Translation, and a Sip of Limoncello

Buongiorno! Come va?

Let’s escape to beautiful Positano on the Amalfi Coast. 🙂

Today I’m happy to welcome back award winning author Margo Sorenson, whose brand new YA/Crossover Adult Novel, Secrets in Translation (Fitzroy Books, 2018), officially hits shelves on Friday, October 19.

Limoncello, the popular lemon liqueur from Southern Italy, plays an integral role in this captivating story, a delightful blend of travel, culture, mystery, coming-of-age, and romance — ahhh, amore!

Thanks, Margo, for telling us more about limoncello and sharing your friend’s recipe. Everyone, lift your glasses, take a refreshing sip and enjoy!


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Special Guest Post: Deborah Hopkinson on Independence Cake

Award-winning author Deborah Hopkinson is here to talk about Independence Cake (Schwartz & Wade, 2017), her brand new picture book that officially hits shelves today.

Illustrated by Giselle Potter, this scrumptious “revolutionary confection” is a fictionalized account of how Amelia Simmons, who would go on to write the first American cookbook, bakes 13 Independence Cakes to celebrate George Washington’s inauguration.

Since I loved Deborah’s Fannie in the Kitchen (2001) and Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig (2016), I am especially excited about this new book: American culinary history! English dishes! Tea biscuits and flapjacks! CAKE! Another serving of this tasty read, please.


As an author for children and teens, I visit schools all over the country, and like to begin by asking students the difference between nonfiction and historical fiction. My new picture book, Independence Cake, is most decidedly fiction, as the subtitle makes clear: A Revolutionary Confection Inspired by Amelia Simmons, Whose True History is Unfortunately Unknown. In this light-hearted story with delicious illustrations by the incomparable Giselle Potter, we meet an orphan girl named Amelia, who is sent by the town to live with the fictional Bean family to help the exhausted mother of six sons and no daughter (“Definitely a recipe for domestic disaster in 1789”).

The real Amelia Simmons authored American Cookery, the first American cookbook. On the title page she identified herself as “An American Orphan.” Although historians know little about her, she may have been a “bound girl,” or indentured servant. In any case, the actual Amelia no doubt led a much harsher existence than her fictional counterpart.

In my story, Amelia’s reputation as a cook results in the town asking her to bake a special cake for George Washington at his 1789 inauguration. Amelia makes thirteen: one for each of the original colonies, which are carefully packed in wagons and driven off to New York to be pronounced “delicious” by the first president. (As the author’s note declares: this is entirely a confection!)

What is true about Amelia Simmons is that her cookbook expanded on traditional English cooking to include culinary influences and available ingredients in America. The legendary food historian Karen Hess, in an introduction to the second edition of American Cookery, published in Albany in fall 1796, speculated that the author may have lived near the Hudson Valley and been influenced by Dutch settlers. Simmons used terms such as “slaw” based on the Dutch “sla” for salad, and “cookey,” from “koekje.” In some recipes, Simmons substituted cornmeal for the oatmeal of English cooking, reflecting the influence of Native American traditions. Simmons seems to have been intentionally creating something new: the long subtitle of her cookbook notes that recipes are “Adapted to this Country, and All Grades of Life.”

The recipe for “Independence Cake” first appears in this second edition, directly following one for “Election Cake,” of which it is a variation; both contain raisins, brandy, and spices, similar to a traditional English fruitcake or plum cake. The cakes were part of the holiday spirit that surrounded early election days. Amelia’s patriotic fervor may have led her to call one “Independence Cake.”

I like to imagine Amelia as an American version of Daisy in Downton Abbey – a cook eager to try new things and embrace the future, although clearly Amelia had a pinch of Mrs. Patmore in her too. Here’s a snippet from her book in which she opines about the character-building properties of cultivating apple trees:

Apples…. ought to be more universally cultivated, excepting in the compactest cities. There is not a single family but might set a tree in some otherwise useless spot, which might serve the two fold use of shade and fruit; on which 12 or 14 kinds of fruit trees might easily be engrafted, and essentially preserve the orchard from the intrusions of boys, &c. which is too common in America.

If the boy who thus planted a tree, and guarded and protected it in a useless corner, and carefully engrafted different fruits, was to be indulged free access into orchards, whilst the neglectful boy was prohibited–how many millions of fruit trees would spring into growth–and what a saving to the union. The net saving would in time extinguish the public debt, and enrich our cookery.”

Although I wrote Independence Cake long before the 2016 presidential election, I noticed some bakers took the election season as an opportunity to share historical tidbits about the culinary tradition of election cakes. I’ve included a few below.

And speaking of elections, given Amelia’s interest, noted above, in extinguishing the public debt, she might well have wished for a political career herself.

Except, of course, in 1789 women couldn’t vote. But that’s another story.

To read more about the history of Election Cakes:

NPR: A History of Election Cakes

Bon Appetit: “Election Cake” Makes a Modern Day Resurgence

What’s Cooking America: Election Day Cake History and Recipe


Deborah Hopkinson is the award-winning author of more than 45 books for young readers including picture books, historical fiction, and nonfiction.  She has won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for picture book text twice, for Apples to Oregon and A Band of Angels. Other titles include Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, winner of the IRA Award; and Sky Boys, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor book. In addition to Independence Cake (May 2017), she just published a contemporary picture book, A Letter to My Teacher (April 2017).

Deborah’s nonfiction includes Titanic, Voices from the Disaster, which received a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction honor and a Robert F. Sibert Honor and Dive! WWII Stories of Sailors and Submarines in the Pacific. Her nonfiction picture book, Keep On! The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-Discoverer of the North Pole, won an Oregon Book Award.

Visit Deborah Hopkinson online at www.deborahhopkinson.com, or follow her on Twitter @deborahopkinson and Instagram @deborah_hopkinson



INDEPENDENCE CAKE: A Revolutionary Confection Inspired by Amelia Simmons, Whose True History is Unfortunately Unknown
written by Deborah Hopkinson
illustrated by Giselle Potter
published by Schwartz & Wade (May 2017)
Historical Fiction Picture Book for ages 4-8, 44 pp.
*Includes Authors Note and Original Recipe
**Starred Review from Publishers Weekly**


📕 MORE 📘

♥ Check out the other stops on Deborah’s Double Blog Tour!

♥ Enjoy this interesting blog post about Election Cakes (+ a recipe) at Revolutionary Pie.

♥ See my reviews of Fannie in the Kitchen (+ Griddle Cakes) and Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig.

Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.









guest post: margo sorenson on norwegian lefse (flatbread)

I’m happy to welcome dear friend and award winning author Margo Sorenson back to Alphabet Soup today. 🙂

The good news is that her middle grade historical novel, Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue (first released in paperback back in 2003), is now available as an ebook!

Eleven-year-old Tori and her family are struggling with the Great Depression in North Dakota, and the death of her beloved Papa has been the severest blow of all. To aspiring writer Tori, everything is changing for the worse—her friends are acting too grown-up, and her little brother Otto invades her privacy. When a Norwegian bachelor-farmer begins courting Mama, Tori writes in her journal that her life will be ruined. What will Tori discover about forgiveness and acceptance as she tries to keep her life from changing?

I enjoyed learning about Scandinavian customs through this beautifully written novel, which reminded me of childhood favorites like All-of-a Kind Family and the Little House Books, where family ties, simple pleasures and a strong sense of community sustain the characters through difficult times.

In the chapter “Missing!”, Tori reluctantly helps her mother roll lefse for Thanksgiving. She usually loves making the traditional flatbread, but this would be their second Thanksgiving without Papa, and besides, she was angry that Mama had invited suitor Bjorn Oppestadt to dinner. How dare she? He wasn’t family!

Today, Margo talks about rolling lefse with her own family. It sounds like such delicious fun. Adopt me, please :).

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guest post: shelley rotner and sheila m. kelly on yummy!


How do you get kids involved in making healthy food choices that will set them on the right track for the rest of their lives?

Feasting on Yummy!: Good Food Makes Me Strong by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly (Holiday House, 2013), is a good place to start. 🙂

This gorgeous photo essay features an adorable, diverse group of kids reveling in the pleasures of growing, preparing and eating healthful foods. They’re shown in a variety of everyday settings (kitchen, playground, grocery store, garden) stirring oatmeal, pouring milk, devouring fruits, sandwiches, pizza, yogurt, and soup (!), picking fresh veggies, assembling tacos and green salads, making fruit shakes and freezer pops, even reading package labels in the supermarket. Just look at those happy, eager faces on the cover — who wouldn’t want to eat exactly what they’re eating?

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Of course since it’s actually parents and caregivers who buy and cook the food, Shelley and Sheila have also included helpful tips for them, all in accordance with the new USDA MyPlate Guidelines. Additional photos showing kids engaged in active play illustrates the importance of daily exercise along with a healthy diet, reinforcing the overall theme of “Good Food Makes Me Strong!”

I’m happy to welcome Shelley and Sheila, who are here today to tell us about how they created Yummy! You’ll be inspired to share this delectable book and eat some feel-good food with your favorite munchkin(s) very soon!

Note: Because of copyright restrictions, the photos used in this post are close facsimiles rather than actual photos from Yummy!.

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friday feast: a special guest post by eat this poem blogger nicole gulotta

Since I’m a big fan of Nicole Gulotta’s uncommonly delicious literary food blog, I was tickled pink when she agreed to do a guest post featuring a children’s poet. Each week at Eat This Poem, Nicole serves up delectable original recipes inspired by poems, each post an elegantly written, thought-provoking blend of insightful analysis, personal anecdotes and gorgeous photography. When I learned Nicole had decided to feature Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s “Apple Pockets,” I asked Amy to tell us a little about the poem:

“Apple Pockets” is actually in [Lee Bennett Hopkins’s] SHARING THE SEASONS, and it’s based on walks we take here on our property. We live on an old farm, and there’s a small grove of wild apple trees bordering the forest. I like imagining the people who lived here before us: what they thought about and who they loved.

I know you’ll enjoy today’s doubly delightful feast featuring one of my fave food bloggers + one of my fave poets!  Guess what I’m having for breakfast this weekend? 🙂

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♥ Guest Post by Nicole Gulotta ♥

The first time I made these apple muffins, I had just started experimenting with whole grain flours in my baking. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with buckwheat pancakes and whole grain crackers, but it was a batch of muffins that helped me ease into embracing healthier baked goods.

When I read Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s poem “Apple Pockets,” I remembered these muffins. Her poem is deeply reflective, a nice state of mind to be in as a new year begins. The speaker isn’t just walking around with apples in her pockets, but the apples themselves help transport her mind to an orchard where “a hundred years ago they picked these apples.”

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Apple Pockets
by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

This morning I have apples in my pockets.
I feel them round and ready and remember
That every year for years (with apple pockets)
The people walk this orchard in September.

A hundred years ago they picked these apples
Small children skipping on their way to school
Young families coming home from Sunday church
Old lovers holding warm hands in the cool.

And when I walk alone I sometimes see them
With apples in their pockets and their skirts.
And when I’m quiet sometimes I can hear them
With merry laughs and boot-scuffs in the dirt.

I reach up for an apple and I twist it.
I bite into the white and taste September.
This morning I have apples in my pockets.
I feel them round and ready and remember.

~ Copyright © 2010 by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. First published in Sharing the Seasons: A Book of Poems, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, published Margaret K. McElderry Books. All Rights Reserved.

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I’m sure you can relate to the experience of standing in a place that so many others have before you, either while traveling, visiting a historic landmark, or even thinking about the families that may have lived in your home before you. My favorite phrase in the poem, “I bite into the white and taste September,” articulates how strongly scent and flavor can be tied to our memories. Like the speaker tasting a bright autumn day, I remembered these apple muffins, and how they have sustained me through many car rides and flights across the country, rushed mornings headed to work, or a leisurely weekend afternoon, which is perhaps the best time to enjoy them.


 Apple Crumb Muffins

Adapted from Ellie Krieger

Makes 12-14 muffins

3/4 cup plus two tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large eggs
1 cup organic applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and line a 12-capacity muffin pan with paper liners.

In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, the pecans, and cinnamon. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the remaining 3/4 cup brown sugar and oil until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Mix in the applesauce and vanilla.

Add the dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Blend until just combined, then gently stir in the apple chunks with a wooden spoon.

Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pan and sprinkle evenly with the topping. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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Nicole Gulotta is a grantmaker by day and gourmet home cook by night. She received an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 2011, she founded The Giving Table, a website that helps people change the food system through personal philanthropy. She is based in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and French bulldog.

Visit Eat This Poem and sign up for The Right Brains Society newsletter, which features musings on topics like reading, writing, poetry, blogging, living a creative life, how not to hate your day job and other inspiration.

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♥ Poetry Friday regulars may also be interested in seeing Nicole’s post featuring Charles Ghigna’s poem, “Hunting the Cotaco Creek,” which she paired with Butternut-Leek Soup.

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poetryfriday180The always welcoming and lovely Tabatha Yeatts is hosting today’s Roundup at The Opposite of Indifference. Sashay on over to check out the full menu of tantalizing poetic offerings on this week’s menu. Have a good weekend!

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weekend cooking button (2)180This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best bib and join the tasty fun!


Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.