autumn pleasures: three poems, butternut bisque, and gingerbread applesauce cake

Hello Friends. Can’t believe it’s already the end of October!

Fall is going much too fast for me. I wish there was a way to make it last longer — trees aflame with color, deep blue skies, crisp mornings, apple everything and friendly pumpkins! If I had my way, I would skip summer entirely and have two autumns in a row.

More than any other season, Fall reminds me to make the most of each moment. Lovely though it may be, there’s always this sense of reckoning, the gathering in and taking stock, and with that an acute awareness of life’s evanescence.

“Pumpkin Patch” by Paul Peel

AUTUMN
by Linda Pastan

I want to mention
summer ending
without meaning the death
of somebody loved

or even the death
of the trees.
Today in the market
I heard a mother say

Look at the pumpkins,
it’s finally autumn!
And the child didn’t think
of the death of her mother

which is due before her own
but tasted the sound
of the words on her clumsy tongue:
pumpkin; autumn.

Let the eye enlarge
with all it beholds.
I want to celebrate
color, how one red leaf

flickers like a match
held to a dry branch,
and the whole world goes up
in orange and gold.

~ from Heroes in Disguise (W.W. Norton, 1992)

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[review + giveaway] Alpha Beta Chowder by Jeanne Steig and William Steig

#52 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet.

Foreword

A chowder is a robust goop
That’s more akin to stew than soup.
It can be brackish or divine.
Sit down and take a taste of mine.

So begins Alpha Beta Chowder, a wry, witty, and deliciously wicked ABC poetry book by husband and wife team Jeanne Steig and William Steig. This classic 26-verse feast of wacky wordplay was originally published by HarperCollins in 1992 and reissued by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books last month.

I admit this title has been on my radar for years but I only recently had the chance to read it. Of course I’m a longtime William Steig fan — I still sigh and swoon over Brave Irene and Dr. DeSoto, especially  — but I wasn’t familiar with Jeanne Steig’s work, and boy, have I been missing out!

Nasty numbskull Naomi and her nitwit Ma and Pa (click to enlarge).

Goodbye, boring “A is for Apple” and “Z is for Zoo” — Jeanne’s cheeky alliterative rhyming poems feature a motley crew of odd and quirky mock heroes, many you’d rather read about than meet in person. God forbid you get stuck in a room with Noisome Naomi, a nervy newtish nightmare whose “voice is like a needle,” or come within hearing distance of Coaxing Carrotina and her blister inducing shrill cadenzas on the concertina. *covers ears* 

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[cookbook review + recipe + giveaway] Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts by Paul Yee, Judy Chan and Shaoli Wang

Imagine a sumptuous Chinese banquet with thirteen enchanting fairy tales on the menu — centuries-old stories of gods, ghosts, noblemen, monks, peasants, farmers, and merchants all motivated by some aspect of food — having or not having it, growing, cooking, relishing, transforming it.

Each tale is served alongside a tempting recipe and lovingly flavored with gorgeous folkloric illustrations (a visual feast in itself), making this literary banquet something to savor with family and friends across generations time and again.

Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook (Crocodile Books, 2014), is a delightful trifecta of tales by master storyteller and award-winning Canadian author Paul Yee, mouthwatering recipes by Judy Chan, and charming illustrations by Shaoli Wang. While this book is perfect for celebrating the Lunar New Year this week, it’s equally satisfying any time you wish to nourish the mind, heart, body, and spirit.

This is the third in the literary cookbook series following Fairy Tale Feasts (2009) and Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts (2013) by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple, books that have my name written all over them, as they explore and illuminate the fascinating connections between stories and food. As Jane Yolen says in her Foreword for Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts, the ability to make things up, to tell stories, distinguishes us from other animals:

And the connection between food and stories is profound and clear. Both are infinitely changeable, suiting the needs of the maker and the consumer.

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friday feast: bob raczka’s presidential misadventures (+ a giveaway!)

Clerihew? Achoo!

Pardon me, but whenever I see the word “clerihew” I think somebody’s just sneezed. Either that, or I picture a shell-shaped danish pastry or a new fangled brass musical instrument.

But all you poetry aficionados know very well that a clerihew is a cheeky four-line rhyming poem invented back in the late 19th century. Its sole purpose? To make fun of a famous person. In case you’re looking to liven up your President’s Day celebration on February 16, better check out Bob Raczka’s new book, Presidential Misadventures: Poems That Poke Fun at the Man in Charge (Roaring Brook Press, 2015). 

Officially released just last week, this smorgasbord of historical and hysterical verse features 43 juicy tidbits about each of our Presidents with clever caricatures by award-winning illustrator and cartoonist Dan E. Burr. All based on fact, some poems point to an important achievement or event (Louisiana Purchase, Monroe Doctrine, Manifest Destiny), but most highlight a quirky personal habit or idiosyncrasy (Harding’s size 14 feet, Pierce’s vanity, Van Buren’s pet tigers, John Quincy Adams’s early morning skinny dipping).

In keeping with the clerihew’s rules, the first lines of these poems end with the person’s name, and I like Raczka’s spot-on descriptions: “Toothache-prone George Washington,” “Fashion-conscious Chester Arthur,” “Electric-shock victim Benjamin Harrison,” “Fresca fanatic LBJ,” “Cover-upper Richard Nixon.” Best zinger of all? “Relaxer-in-chief George W. Bush.” Did you know he took more than 900 days of vacation while in office?😀

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a taste of melissa gilbert’s my prairie cookbook (soup + rice pudding!)

These days, I’m all about Laura Ingalls Wilder.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been enjoying Pamela Smith Hill’s online course, which compares Wilder’s Little House books with her soon-to-be published autobiography Pioneer Girl, and I must say all that talk of traveling to and from Walnut Grove in a covered wagon has made me hungry for some down home country food.

That’s why I was especially happy to see Melissa Gilbert’s recently released My Prairie Cookbook: Memories and Frontier Food from My Little House to Yours (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2014). I’m a longtime fan of the “Little House on the Prairie” TV series and always picture Melissa whenever Laura’s name is mentioned. Can you believe it’s been exactly 40 years since the series first aired on NBC?

My Prairie Cookbook is a must-have for Little House fans. In this scrapbook-cookbook, Melissa shares nearly 80 recipes and lots of wonderful behind-the-scenes photos, memorabilia, and personal recollections. She answers frequently asked questions from fans, lists her top ten favorite LH episodes, comments on LH bloopers and goofs, and writes so lovingly about Michael Landon, whom she considered to be her second “Pa” ( her own father died when she was just 11).

For those of us who’ve watched the series for many years, that image of a freckle-faced, somewhat fearless minx in pigtails and calico is so firmly entrenched in our minds that we might not realize that in real life Melissa raised four boys and liked nothing better than cooking lots of soul-nourishing comfort food for her family and friends.

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