alcott’s little women: a pair of poems and yummy gingerbread (+ a holiday blog break)

“I do think that families are the most beautiful things in all the world!” ~ Jo March

 

Season’s Greetings!

Are you excited about the Little Women movie opening on Christmas Day?

To get us in the mood for all things Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, Marmee and Laurie, I’m sharing two poems from the novel and a recipe from the new Little Women Cookbook by Wini Moranville (Harvard Common Press, 2019).

 

 

I think most of us can remember when we first read Louisa May Alcott’s classic — I was nine, staying with two older girl cousins downtown for about a week during the summer. We spent most of our time playing “school,” and during one of our “classes,” I began reading Little Women.

 

 

Since I wasn’t able to finish before it was time to return home, my cousin Judy let me take her copy with me (it was an abridged edition published by Whitman in 1955). I can’t remember if it was a loan or a gift, but I do remember her telling me how much she loved the book and that I should definitely read it.

Fast forward to 6th grade, when we acted out the opening scene in English class. “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” was my Jo March ‘stage debut,’ marking the first time I would read the entire novel. Like so many others, generation after generation, I was hooked for life.

 

 

I so wanted to belong to the March family, to experience that deep bond of sisterhood. I had a huge crush on Laurie, and loved Mr. Laurence because just like Beth, I loved music and playing the piano. Of course I identified with Jo, because she was a writer, only wishing I could be as feisty and forthright. And wasn’t Marmee the best mother anyone could ever ask for? As the child of a working mother, I envied children whose moms had the time and patience to listen to all their concerns.

Just like The Secret Garden made me fall in love with England, Little Women made me long to visit New England — the gorgeous autumn colors and beautiful winter vistas! the rich history and Colonial architecture! the lobstah rolls, fish chowdah, maple syrup, brown bread, baked beans, boiled dinners, Indian pudding, Yankee pot roast . . . *drools* . . .  “licks chops”. . . oh wait, where was I?

 

 

With the new movie coming, I decided to reread the book, since it had been about a decade since I last gave it my full attention. When I scanned my bookshelves, I found Judy’s copy alongside my Little, Brown edition. Didn’t realize I still had it! It’s probably the only book that survived my childhood. My mother gave away my entire Golden Books collection (still grieving), and though I read voraciously, I didn’t own many novels — mostly everything came from the library.

 

 

One of the things I especially enjoyed this time around was taking a closer look at the poems Alcott included in the story. There was the elegaic “My Beth” of course, as well as the incantations in Jo’s play featuring Hagar, Roderigo, and Zara. In a letter Jo sent to Marmee, she included “a silly little thing” for her to pass on to Father about helping Hannah with the wash, the delightful “A Song from the Suds.” And who can forget that splendid Christmas when Jo and Laurie made a snow-maiden,  complete with a crown of holly, a basket of fruit and flowers, and a carol, “The Jungfrau to Beth,” to cheer up the convalescent?

 

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[tealicious review + recipe] Mr. Pumpkin’s Tea Party by Erin Barker

On a fine autumn day, what could be better than finding this lovely handwritten note in your mailbox?

You are cordially invited to a tea party in the back garden at dusk. ~ P

You probably know I’m always up for a tea party, and this one just happens to be doubly delightful. It’s being hosted by none other than the ever dapper Mr. Pumpkin, who really knows how to rock a waistcoat and top hat (I could never resist a top hat). Besides, taking tea at twilight is just too tempting. 🙂

Mr. Pumpkin’s Tea Party, a seasonally spooky story and counting book in one, was written and illustrated by Cincinnati-based author and illustrator Erin Barker, who first sketched a “pumpkin-head guy” having tea with a “skeleton person” for Inktober back in 2016.

They weren’t your average run-of-the-mill pumpkin and skeleton, though. They were dressed up as proper English gentlemen, and were saying things like, “I dare say,” and “Indeed.” Erin’s Instagram followers loved the sketch, and months later her editor suggested the characters should have their own book. So Erin developed a charming storyline inspired by her own love of hosting get-togethers with friends and good food.

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Macaroons and Madeleines from The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook

Good afternoon.

Please go through and have a seat in the library. You’re just in time for tea.

Must say, you look smart in that periwinkle frock and lovely felt cloche. Always the fashion plate!

Let’s celebrate the recent release of the Downton Abbey movie by taking a peek at (and a taste of) The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook by Annie Gray (Weldon Owen, 2019).

This is by no means the first Downton Abbey cookbook to be published. The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines came out in 2012 (a new, expanded edition with color photos was just released in August 2019), and there’s Larry Edwards’s, Edwardian Cooking: 80 Recipes Inspired by Downton Abbey’s Elegant Meals (Arcade, 2012).

Of course we must also mention Pamela Foster’s wonderful website and blog, Downton Abbey Cooks — a fabulous archive of period recipes, musings, and food history that sustained us through all six seasons of the PBS TV series. Pamela’s eBooks are still available for download: there are two editions of Abbey Cooks Entertain, as well as a Relaxing Over Afternoon Tea cookbook.

On October 26, Christmas at Highclere: Recipes and Traditions from the Real Downton Abbey by The Countess of Carnarvon (Preface Publishing, 2019) will hit shelves.

So, if you want to sip, eat, nibble, feast, dine, indulge, or entertain Downton style, there are many resources available to help you get your Crawley on.

 

 

That said, it’s still nice to have an “official” Downton Abbey cookbook to drool over, now that the movie is finally out. When it comes to dining like the Crawleys, and learning more about the dishes Mrs Patmore and Daisy are busy cooking downstairs, we can never have enough. It’s by far the most delicious way to wholly emerge ourselves in that once-upon-a-romantic-time-gone-by upstairs/downstairs world.

 

 

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[author chat + recipe + giveaway] Pick a Pumpkin by Patricia Toht and Jarvis

Hooray for October — time for gorgeous autumn leaves, hot apple cider, pumpkins and squashes galore, toffee apples, hayrides, costume parties, and Halloween!

We’re so pleased Patty Toht is back to talk about her newest picture book, Pick a Pumpkin (Candlewick, 2019), which like its companion book, Pick a Pine Tree (2017), is illustrated by British artist Jarvis.

Pick a Pumpkin captures all the joy, anticipation, excitement, community spirit, and rustic beauty of the season as a family happily picks and carves pumpkins before going out to trick-or-treat.

There’s nothing like visiting the pumpkin patch on a crisp fall afternoon and finding just the right globular beauty:

 

 

Pick a pumpkin
from the patch —

tall and lean
or short and fat.

Vivid orange,
ghostly white,
or speckled green
might be just right.

 

After enjoying spicy punch and toffee apples, mom and her two kids load their pumpkin stash in their truck and head home, where dad and the baby greet them. They clean and polish their pumpkins, gather the tools they need, and invite some friends over to help them carve.

 

 

We follow them through every step, from cutting the pumpkins open, to scooping out seeds and strings, to carving out eyes, noses and mouths. So many different shapes, facial expressions, and pumpkin personalities!

Then it’s time for outdoor decorations:

Cobwebs strung from post to post,
Rings of gauzy dancing ghosts.
Spiders. Tombstones.
Dangling bats.
Skeletons and witches’ hats.

Now that the scene is set, everyone dons their costumes before proudly carrying their pumpkins outside. Then it’s that magical moment when the pumpkins are lit — turning them into spooky jack-o’-lanterns!

 

 

Its red-hot eyes
will gaze
and flicker.

Its fiery grin
will blaze and snicker,
to guard your house
while you have fun.

 

With the neighborhood aglow, mummies, ghosts, witches, skeletons and vampires take to the streets for a howling good time.

 

 

Patty’s rhythmic, exuberant text is a joy to read aloud and is packed with vivid sensory details that place the reader smack dab in the middle of all the action.

Lumpy chunks. Sticky strings,
Clumpy seeds. Guts and things.
With a spoon, scrape sides neatly.
Clean the inside out completely.

And how I love Jarvis’s pencil, chalk, paint and digitally colored illustrations! Gorgeous composition and layering resplendent with fall colors and textures. You can just about hear those leaves crunching underfoot, feel the chilly autumn wind on your cheeks, hear the happy chatter of family and friends as they carve pumpkins together.

 

 

Just as he did with Pick a Pine Tree, where he included a white cat, this time there’s a winsome black cat for keen eyes to track from spread to spread. Not sure if the cat followed the family home from the pumpkin patch, or if he belonged to them in the first place, but he’s adorable as he balances on fences, plays with the blackbirds, peers out the front window, or sticks his little paw into a bowl of pumpkin “guts.”

I can easily see Pick a Pumpkin becoming a fall classic; it positively glows with fun and goodness!

Now let’s hear from Patty! 🙂

*

 

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an easter tale starring mr cornelius and his checkmates

Happy Good Friday!

We’ve just read Tasha Tudor’s A Tale for Easter, and loved the part that said, “You can never really tell, for anything might happen on Easter.”

In the story, a little girl dreamed that a fawn took her on a magical ride through the woods and fields, where she saw  “rabbits smoothing their sleek coats for Easter morning,” “little lambs in fields of buttercups,” and “Easter ducklings swimming among the lily pads.” She even got to ride up over the “misty moisty clouds,” a place “where the bluebirds dye their feathers, and the robins find the color for their eggs.”

Mr Cornelius especially liked the part about having hot cross buns (or any other treat) on Good Friday, so he invited a few friends over for fun, food, and games. After all, it’s almost Easter, and anything might happen. 🙂

 

 

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