In the mood for a raspberry popover, a heavenly slice of coconut cream pie, or a big bowl of strawberries and cream? Maybe you’d prefer something a little more substantial, like some southern barbecue, a hoagie, or even a roast leg of lamb?
Whatever your pleasure, did you know that each of these foods has its own designated holiday during the month of May? Of course one does not need a holiday to enjoy any food, but somehow it’s a little more fun that way.
Back in 2005, Alabama resident John-Bryan Hopkins coined the term “Foodimentary” while cooking with friends. He wanted to start a food blog (he had the perfect name for it), but wanted to do something different. He wanted to feature interesting food facts rather than write a personal blog with recipes. So he read, researched, and gathered all kinds of fascinating tidbits of food history and trivia, sharing them daily with his readers.
His blog gained a good following immediately, and he soon expanded his reach via various social media platforms, most notably, Twitter. His foodie info-bites were perfect for Twitter. People gobbled up his short nuggets and couldn’t get enough. Hopkins also noted that food holidays were one of the most popular and trending topics in the food category, so he decided to incorporate them into his Foodimentary website.
1. The old saying, “good things come in small packages,” couldn’t be truer when it comes to these cool leather-bound miniature books by Colorado artist Ericka VanHorn. These are 1/12 scale and reflect Ericka’s love of fantasy, whether it’s wizards, witches, or steampunk.
In addition to handmade mini books, she creates old curiosities like hourglasses, collector’s cabinets, celestial instruments, potions, scrolls, wands, and candelabras. Most of her items are one of a kind and sell quickly, so the best way to keep up with new pieces is to subscribe to her mailing list. Her brand is “EV Miniatures,” and you can see more of her work at her website (currently under construction), on Pinterest, or at her Facebook page.
2. Just in case you’re suffering from Downton Abbey withdrawal (and missing Mrs Patmore and Daisy in particular), take a look at these wonderful historic kitchens, all of which are open to the public. I especially like the working kitchen in Wordsworth’s childhood home in Cumbria with its hanging herbs, Queen Victoria’s holiday cottage on the Isle of Wight (built at 3/4 scale to teach children life skills), and the kitchen at Hampton Court Palace, at one time the largest kitchen in England (it would have to be to feed Henry VIII’s court of 600). Love the big fireplaces, work tables and rows of copper pots! Nice places to tour, but I wouldn’t want to actually work in any one of these with their hard-on-the-feet stone floors.
3. From the Cooler than Cool Department especially for Poetry Month: haiku to go. Really! Have you heard of The Haiku Guys & Gals? They’re a group of performance poets based in NYC, LA, DC, the Berkshires, and traveling worldwide. Next time you organize and/or host an event, consider commissioning these talented people to write on-the-spot custom haiku for all your guests. What could be more fun? Hand them a subject, watch them compose a 5-7-5 mini masterpiece on their antique typewriters. That’s what I call a cool party favor!
Read this article by Haiku Guys & Gals co-founder Lisa Markuson, who recently quit her job to become a full-time haikuist! What?! Yes! Talk about taking a leap of faith and following your dreams. Her words about confidence will inspire and hearten you. I also LOVE this wonderful review of the ovenly bakery in NYC (prose + senryu) from The Haiku Guys & Gals blog.
What’s that? You’re craving a haiku right this minute? Click over to the site and request a free haiku. Just provide a subject (as specific as possible), and you will receive a custom haiku in your mailbox within 48 hours. Of course I had to test this out for myself. I submitted “Colin Firth in the Kitchen” as my subject. And look what came back:
he can take an egg and turn it into heaven– hearts, into butter
LOVE! A swoon-worthy senryu! Do they know me, or what? I can tell Colin likes this poem too. Oh yes, I can tell. 🙂
4. Perhaps you have noticed that I am a little more than mad for English pottery. I’ve been collecting for years, most recently Emma Bridgewater pieces — so I was happy to read Emma’s memoir, Toast and Marmalade and Other Stories (Hodder & Stoughton, 2015), which shows how she built her business from the ground up with the help of family and friends, factoring in various life events, hard work, serendipity, and flying by the seat of her pants.
I think part of what draws collectors like me to Bridgewater pottery is that it feels personal. Usually when you buy dishes or other home goods, they’re made by a big faceless company and you have no idea who designed the styles and patterns. But Emma is a real person, married to another talented artist, Matthew Rice, and they seem to live an idyllic life in the English countryside, so you feel like you’re buying into that fantasy when you buy the dishes.
Anyway, I loved the memoir and can’t wait to read Emma’s new book Pattern (& the Secrets of Lasting Design), which comes out at the end of May. It features the stories and inspirations behind her iconic designs, the research and collaborations that went into the creative process. This sounds like essential reading for Bridgewater collectors and design students, or anyone who might enjoy the human story behind a familiar piece of crockery. Years after many of the big pottery factories in Stoke-on-Trent closed, Bridgewater continues to thrive, and unlike some manufacturers who’ve transferred production to Asia, Bridgewater still makes all their pieces on-site. I like seeing that coveted “Made in England” backstamp. 🙂 You can read more about Emma here.
5.Korean food lovers! Found this piece about Korean small plates/side dishes, or “banchan” as they are called, interesting. I’ve eaten many of them, but learned about quite a few new ones. Blistered Shishito Peppers, Dried Squid and Gochujang, Daikon and Garlic Pickles, anyone? It certainly proves that when it comes to Korean cuisine, variety is the spice of life. Take a look if you’re curious about the names and ingredients of these palate pleasers beyond the usual varieties of kimchi and muchim.
6.New picture book alert: happy to report that Hawaii-born author Frances Kakugawa has published the fourth book in her popular Wordsworth the Poet series! The new one is called Wordsworth, It’s In Your Pocket(Watermark Publishing, 2016):
Wordsworth has hardly seen his friends all summer. They have been too caught up in their electronic devices to pay attention to anything around them, and now they are tangled in wires and gadgets! A mysterious old mouse tells him that the secret to saving his friends is in his pocket—what does he have that can help? Emphasizing creative play, imagination and the fun of the outdoors over the allure of video games, computers and cellular phones, this new Wordsworth adventure is a gentle reminder for families that it’s important for young minds to unplug and enjoy real-world friends and activities. Wordsworth, It’s In Your Pocket is the fourth book in the award-winning series of books featuring the poetry-loving mouse.
Sounds like many electronically ensnared adults should read this book too. What happened to the fine art of face to face conversation? Is it possible for people to go anywhere without constantly checking their cell phones? Like me, Frances is concerned about how overdevelopment is harming the planet and how technology has de-humanized society. If you missed it, read the interview we did when the third Wordsworth book was released a few years ago. All the Wordsworth books celebrate the power and wonder of poetry.
Available for the first time and collected in one volume, the letters of one of America’s most beloved authors, Laura Ingalls Wilder, a treasure trove that offers new and unexpected understanding of her life and work.
The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder is a vibrant, deeply personal portrait of this revered American author, illuminating her thoughts, travels, philosophies, writing career, and dealings with family, friends, and fans as never before.
This is a fresh look at the author in her own words. Gathered from museums, archives, and personal collections, the letters span over sixty years, from 1894 to 1956, and shed new light on Wilder’s day-to-day living. Here we see her as a businesswoman and an author through reflections on her beloved Little House books; her legendary editor, Ursula Nordstrom; and her readers and as a wife and a friend. In her letters, Wilder shares political opinions and reminiscences of frontier childhood. Also included are letters to her daughter, writer Rose Wilder Lane, who filled a silent role as editor and collaborator while the famous Little House books were being written.
Wilder biographer William Anderson collected and researched references throughout these letters, and the result is an invaluable historical collection, tracing Wilder’s life through the final days of covered wagon travel and her years of fame as the writer of the Little House books. Here we see her as a farm woman, a country journalist, and a Depression-era author. This collection is a sequel to her beloved stories and a snapshot of twentieth-century living.
Definitely on my Wish List!
8. A delicious treat for Tolkien fans: “Food in the Hobbit” from the Oakden website. Besides their hairy feet, I love that hobbits usually eat 6 meals a day (two dinners!). 🙂 This article provides a historical context for the foods they enjoyed + traditional recipes (seed cakes, pork pies, scones, mince pies, breads, griddle cakes). Oakden sells handmade reproductions of authentic and traditional English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh cookware, baking plates, griddles, and bakestones. Best to keep your larder stocked in case some hungry dwarves should drop by.
9. If you’re one of the millions of people who’ve gone crazy for coloring books and you just happen to be a Julie Paschkis fan, GOOD NEWS: she just added a coloring book to the cool items for sale at Julie Paprika. Since she believes coloring is a wonderful communal activity, her pages are unbound and perfect for sharing with friends. Just picture it — a laid-back evening around the table, everyone busy coloring and chatting and sipping wine or tea. . . Read Julie’s post about Imagination Unbound, which includes 21 images printed on heavy card stock suitable for crayons, markers, pencil, and watercolor.
10. Love this video about Japanese school lunches. This is in sharp contrast to some situations in America, where students have only 15 minutes to wolf down a slice of greasy pizza between classes. In Japan the entire lunch period is a learning experience, a time to practice social etiquette and to share responsibilities for food service and clean-up. Love that everyone brings his/her own set of chopsticks, a placemat, and a toothbrush. The whole thing is so civilized and nurturing. Why can’t we do this in our schools?
11. Finally, if you’re still suffering from Downton Abbey withdrawal, rest easy: the brilliant and oh-so-thoughtful Julian Fellowes is coming to the rescue with his new novel, Belgravia (Grand Central Publishing, 2016)! The hardcover print version won’t be out until July 5, but in the meantime you can read the novel in 11 weekly installments just like they did back in Dickens’s day. Episodes 1 & 2 will be released and available for download on Thursday, April 14, 2016. Read or listen on your mobile phone, tablet or laptop.
There’s also a Progressive Blog Tour for Belgravia, with reviews and discussions of each weekly episode on different host blogs. The blog tour kicks off at Austen Prose on April 14, where you can view the full schedule. Download the app from the official Belgravia website, where Julian provides more details in a video. Kindle users, go here.
Once, when we were living in England, Len and I discovered some wild blackberry bushes growing in Wimbledon Common across the street from the school where I was teaching. I was excited because I’d never even seen a blackberry in person before, let alone eat one, and I remembered that famous last line from The Tale of Peter Rabbit:
Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail had bread and milk and blackberries for supper.
The ones we picked were a little sour, but good with sugar and a dollop of cream. Because of that fond memory, I’ll always associate blackberries with England. I also like to tell the story of how because we didn’t have a whisk or rotary beater in our little flat, Len whipped the cream with a fork! I knew then I had to marry that man with his power arm. 🙂
Thus enamored of blackberries, I recently devoured a gorgeous new picture book by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall featuring A Fine Dessertcalled blackberry fool, a decadent English sweet dating back to the 16th century consisting of blackberries, cream and sugar.
In this wholly delectable story, we are treated to not one, but FOUR servings of blackberry fool prepared by four families from four different centuries. Such a tasty slice of food and social history! The families all follow the same recipe steps, but of course ingredient sourcing, methods, tools, and technology change through time. They’re united by their love of this dessert and the joy, anticipation and satisfaction that come with making it. No surprise — they all love to lick the bowl — viable proof that some things never change. 🙂
If 19th century French chef Alexis Soyer were alive today, he’d likely have his own cooking show. His name brand sauces, cookbooks and kitchen utensils would fill store shelves, velvet berets would be all the rage, and lines of fans would snake around the block at all his public appearances.
Though he was deliciously famous during Victorian times and has been called the first celebrity chef, today Soyer is curiously the man history forgot.
I’ve been fascinated by his life and work ever since reading Ann Arnold’s beautifully written and illustrated picture book biography. You may know Ann as the illustrator of Alice Waters’s now classic Fanny at Chez Panisse,which is ‘the book’ that got me hooked on illustrated cookbooks.
In The Adventurous Chef: Alexis Soyer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002),Ann outlines Soyer’s life from his humble beginnings in the tiny French town of Meaux-en-Brie (1809), till his death from Crimean fever in London at the age of 48. He was quite a colorful and flamboyant character who enjoyed amusing people — not only a celebrated chef with a social conscience, but also an inventor, entrepreneur, and prolific cookbook author.
They’re a bit mad for giant savory pies in Denby Dale. Well, way more than a bit.
Every generation or so, the good folk in this picturesque West Yorkshire village decide to celebrate a notable event in the nation’s history by baking a monster meat and potatoes pie capable of feeding tens of thousands. Yes, you heard right. Tens of thousands.
And they’ve been at it for over 200 years! Thus far, they’ve baked 10 pies for 9 pie festivals (two pies were made in 1887 because the first went rancid).
This gravy guzzling Northern England tradition began in 1788, when they thought a BIG BIG BIG PIE would be a fine way to celebrate King George III’s recovery from mental illness. The most recent Millenium Pie filled 22,000+ rumbling tummies (a 12 ton whopper at 40 ft. long x 9 ft. wide x 3.5 ft. deep). It was the biggest yet; part of the fun, you see, is to make bigger and bigger pies each time. Where’s my fork?