Mmmmmm! There’s nothing like the tantalizing aroma of a brand new picture book to put me in a happy holiday mood. Even better when it’s been cooked up by two immensely talented women — multiple Emmy award winnerSonia Manzano and two-time Caldecott Honor recipient Marjorie Priceman.
Miracle on 133rd Street (Atheneum, 2015) contains just the right ingredients for a satisfying, heartwarming read: family, friends, neighbors, sharing, a little bit of magic, music, and even a mustached pizza chef!
Most important, this story is about the power of food — to soothe the savage breast, bring people together, and beget joy.
The food in question is a roast. A BIG roast. One that’s too big to fit in the oven. It’s Christmas Eve and Mami is beside herself. She’s also homesick for Puerto Rico, where she could have easily cooked the roast outside. Jokingly, young José says what they need is a big pizza oven. Papi thinks that’s actually a good idea, so they put the roast in a big box to take it to Regular Ray’s Pizzeria.
This poem made me smile and nod knowingly, but also wax nostalgic.
Who doesn’t love cyber shopping? Whose eyeballs don’t gleefully roll in their sockets at the words, “FREE SHIPPING”? Yay for the convenience of comparison shopping with just a few clicks, the ability to purchase online one day and find the spoils on your doorstep the next!
But SIGH. When it comes to Santa,I want him to stay exactly the same.
I need his holly-red suit, flowing white beard, and all his reindeer. I need this iconic symbol of joy, wonder, and magic to rekindle those happy childhood memories during a season when we inevitably think of those who are less fortunate, who can’t be or are no longer with us.
I’m so grateful we went to Hawai’i last year to celebrate Christmas with my family. It was my mother’s last, and though she’d been declining for awhile, none of us could have predicted she’d be gone just three months later. I baked several of her favorite treats — Russian Tea Cakes, Almond Christmas Trees, and Walnut Refrigerator Cookies. Whenever she knew I was coming, she’d remind me to bake Refrigerator Cookies for my brother since those are his favorite. But she liked them too. 🙂
During the holidays, I also think about one of my mother’s younger sisters, Auntie Ella. Unlike my mother, she was an avid baker and usually made gingerbread boys and fruit cakes and rafts of cookies. Who can forget her caramel popcorn balls wrapped in Saran?
When I was growing up, my mother’s family took turns hosting the Christmas Day gathering — a joyous, talky potluck usually featuring turkey, ham, Chinese noodles, sushi, a Jell-O-mold, salads, mashed potatoes, hot veggies, kimchi, pies, cakes and fruit punch with 7-Up and orange sherbet. After lunch we played games and got all excited over the prizes we’d won. The “big” door prize was often a 100-lb bag of rice. My favorite prize was a transistor radio I received for winning the limbo competition at Uncle Joe and Auntie Gladys’s house (one of the few times it was advantageous being short). 🙂
When we were little we were blessed with lots of presents from aunties and uncles (my mother was one of 12 children, my father one of 6). Among the most memorable: a 3-foot Ruthy Doll from Uncle Myung Ho and Auntie Susan, a beautiful lacy yellow cardigan (my first with covered buttons) from Uncle Charlie and Auntie Suney, a white wicker purse from Auntie Lily. We anxiously waited for our annual share of Auntie Esther’s scrumptious homemade cookies and the 5-lb box of See’s Candies Uncle Stan and Auntie Kyung Sin sent us every year from California. Grandma Yang was fond of slipping us some pin money along with a box of Hershey kisses.
Of course all this Christmas noshing and partying was just a warm-up for New Year’s, always held at Grandma Yang’s, always featuring dumpling soup — a two-day marathon of serious eating when we kids ran wild doing whatever we pleased while our parents were busy playing poker (did I ever mention that I was asked to leave that part out of my original Dumpling Soupmanuscript?).
My mom prepared her last New Year’s feast two years ago. At 88, she was still a champion chopper with hands that smelled of garlic, a tireless, generous cook who always made extra so everyone could take something home. Cooking, her special way of showing love, was so integral to her identity that she became somewhat despondent when failing health forced her to stop.
Speaking of Santa and rekindling childhood memories, I only vaguely remember meeting Santa once, and there wasn’t any discussion of whether I’d been naughty or nice, or what was on my Christmas wish list. Judging from the only surviving Santa photo in our family album, I was quite terrified of the man in the red suit. Now, if he’d offered me a few sugar cookies we could have become fast friends. 🙂
Despite my early Santa trauma, I still believe in him, the spirit of Christmas, and the value of giving. Every day I still wish for peace on earth, good will towards men, and a time when all colors and stripes of human beings can live together in harmony. And if only we could somehow slow things down so kids can retain their innocence a little while longer!
But we are rich with Christmases past, striving to make Christmases present and future the best they can be. And yes, it’s too easy to lose sight of what really matters. So, bring on the “midnight mass and mistletoe/Christmas carols and candle glow/Sleigh bells ringing across the snow . . . ”
As much as I love my laptop, I mourn our loss of humanity, our allegiance to electronic screens vs. real face-to-face contact marked by kindness and respect. People are not machines.
This will be my final post of 2014, an eventful year marked by sadness as well as joy. I have lost one parent, but the other will celebrate his 100th Christmas next week. Thank you for spending some time here this past year — for your likes, comments and discussions, for always arriving hungry. As before, there will always be a place for you at the Alphabet Soup table, and we’ve much to look forward to in the New Year — cool author and illustrator interviews, reviews, delicious recipes, Indie Artist Spotlights, poetry, tea, Paddington movie, Colin Firth, Downton Abbey!
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or all three — enjoy and be merry!
May all your holiday wishes come true. Make some good memories, like “years and years ago,” worthy of the years to come.
See you in a bit. 🙂
Jama, Mr. Cornelius, and 30-something Paddingtons
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CATCH THAT COOKIE GIVEAWAY WINNER!
We’re pleased to announce that Anna E. Jordan has won a signed copy of Catch That Cookie by Hallie Durand and David Small. Congratulations, Anna! Please send your snail mail address to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com, and we’ll send your prize out to you today!! Thanks to everyone for entering this surprise giveaway, and thanks to Hallie and David for donating the book :)!
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The inimitable, immensely talented Buffy Silverman is hosting today’s Roundup at Buffy’s Blog (I love the name “Buffy”). Put on your elf shoes and scamper over to check out the full menu of poetic goodies being served up in the blogosphere this week.
I leave you with this beautiful rendition of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” (“Ellen’s Third Song”) sung in German by American vocalist Barbara Bonney. I had only heard it sung in Latin before and didn’t realize it was originally part of Schubert’s Opus 52, seven poems loosely translated from Sir Walter Scott’s epic poem, The Lady of the Lake. This sublime, soul-stirring piece is definitely worth a listen, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed by holiday craziness. It will comfort, make you remember, give you hope. ★
What do you get when you combine one part Gingerbread Boy with one part “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”?
A delightful recipe for a joyous, rollickingly suspenseful foodie-licious story, of course!
Cleverly riffing on Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” Oregon-based author Stephanie Shaw has cooked up an original adventure featuring our favorite iconic Christmas cookie, who narrowly escapes becoming Santa’s midnight snack.
‘Twas the night before Christmas,
And there on a plate,
Was a Gingerbread Boy
Awaiting his fate.
The children had baked him
And dressed him with care,
Using currants for eyes
and icing for hair.
They knew that St. Nick,
With his overstuffed pack,
Would be sorely in need
Of a fine midnight snack.
As the Gingerbread Boy nervously awaits his not-so-sweet fate, two rambunctious puppies bound into the room and begin to pounce, paw, and tear the holiday decorations apart. The plucky Gingerbread Boy knows he must do something to save Christmas, so he quickly distracts those frisky pups by dancing and spinning atop a big red ornament. Employing all his best moves, he’s able to get them to settle down until Santa arrives. After he helps Santa straighten things up, he’s extremely relieved when instead of being eaten, a highly impressed St. Nick asks him to be Night Watchman at his North Pole toy shop.
Stephanie’s bouncy rhyming text scans beautifully and will keep kids rooting for this adorably smart cookie, who ultimately gets his one Christmas wish. The narrative gambols right along and her spritely rhymes and turns of phrase never lapse into predictability.
‘Come Rascal! Come, Rowdy!’
He called them by name.
‘I’ll show you a much better
Christmas Eve game.’
‘A biscuit,’ they barked
With howling dog joy,
‘And one that can talk.
It’s a Gingerbread boy!’
And what he did next
Made those naughty pups stop.
‘Look at me!’ Cookie cried.
‘I can spin like a top!’
Bruno Robert’s bold, action-packed illustrations effectively capture all the fun and frolic of this clamorous caper. Close-ups of the Gingerbread Boy’s worried facial expressions and his overall body language elicit reader empathy, while the perky, playful pups are suitably frenetic but quite lovable. Kids will enjoy the focus on the cookie’s point of view, and appreciate that such a small little guy was able to put aside his big fears without hesitation to save the day.
When the work was all done
Cookie climbed on the dish.
He looked to the stars
And made one Christmas wish.
Then he heard Santa say . . .
A Cookie for Santa has received glowing reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal and Kirkus, and has earned a Preferred Choice Award from Creative Child Magazine. It begs to be read aloud in the classroom or at family Christmas gatherings. What a wonderful addition to the holiday book shelf, especially for those who like their classic ingredients served up with a refreshing twist! Who could resist this tasty tale, a lovingly baked gem sure to be welcomed in all the best (and politically correct) cookie circles. 🙂
Though I can’t personally guarantee that fewer gingerbread boys will be consumed as a result, I’m pretty confident kids of all ages will clamor for repeated readings. 😀
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C – O – O – K – I – E – S ! ! !
I asked Stephanie to share her favorite Gingerbread Cookie recipe, and she pointed me to this gluten-free one using Pamela’s Bread Mix. Seems more and more people are going gluten-free these days and this recipe sounds like it’s definitely worth a try. Thanks, Stephanie!
3-1/2 cups Pamela’s Bread Mix
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup molasses
12 tablespoons butter or margarine, chilled
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 350°. Use HEAVY DUTY STAND MIXER and paddle. In mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Add butter and mix well. Add molasses and milk, mix to combine thoroughly.
Divide dough and roll to 1/4 inch between two layers of parchment paper. Freeze for 15 minutes. Remove top sheet of each and cut out cookies and remove excess dough. Bake on parchment on cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes until edges begin to brown for soft cookies.
For crispy cookies, roll thinner to 1/8th inch and bake for 14 to18 minutes. Scraps can be rolled and cookies cut out again.
A COOKIE FOR SANTA written by Stephanie Shaw illustrated by Bruno Robert published by Sleeping Bear Press, 2014 Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp. Cool themes: holidays, Christmas, baking, food, Santa Claus, animals, rhyming fiction
Paul Hankins is hosting today’s Roundup at These 4 Corners. Scamper over and check out the full menu of poetic treats being served up in the blogosphere this week. Enjoy your weekend, a good time to make Gingerbread Boy Cookies. 🙂
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This 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 bibs and come join the fun!
Most of us remember when we first read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and how it profoundly changed and affected us. It’s just that kind of book.
I was in sixth grade and read it for Mrs. Whang’s English class. We were all a little afraid of Mrs. Whang — she was notorious for being unfailingly strict and rarely smiled. No matter the assignment, only the best would do. For Little Women, we were divided into groups of four and asked to act out our favorite scene(s).
We decided on the first chapter and I was to play Jo. We dressed up in long skirts and shawls and I remember bounding onto the “stage” in my best tomboy fashion and blurting out, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” So began a lifelong love for all of Alcott’s books and a fierce yearning for the quintessential New England Christmas — a dreamlike fantasy of snow-blanketed landscapes and cozy fires, something about as foreign as you can imagine when you live in the land of palm trees and eternal summers.
Heather Vogel Frederick’s new picture book adaptation of the Christmas episode from Little Women is a lovely way to meet the March sisters for the first time and bask in cherished holiday scenes brimming with the spirit of giving and gratitude. Frederick interweaves key elements from Alcott’s novel as she distills the essence of this holiday story (Beth’s frail health, Father away at war, Jo and Laurie’s friendship, Jo cutting and selling her hair, making do with what they have).
Now that the holidays are here with all the shopping, baking, decorating, socializing, and seemingly endless things to check off those long To Do Lists, quiet moments are hard to come by.
But I was blessed with a quiet day right before Thanksgiving, having just returned from Hawai’i where we celebrated my Dad’s 100th birthday. I had time to reflect on this momentous event and transition into full-on holiday mode by leisurely doing things that made me happy, truly a day likeAlice Walker describes in her lovely poem, “Grace.”
Gives me a day
I had thought
to stay indoors
washing my dishes
I am happy
to be inside
This, I think,
Just this choosing
a beautiful day