[poem + recipe] a taste of Aunt Margaret’s Pudding by Alison Brackenbury

Recently, by lucky happenstance, I ran across Aunt Margaret’s Pudding as I was browsing the online shop of – *wait for it*HappenStance Press, a small indie publisher based in Fife, Scotland.

Truth is, I simply cannot resist a charming title, especially when it contains ‘Margaret’ (my mother’s name), and the word ‘pudding,’ which usually makes me want to hug myself, it’s so dang adorable.

Aunt Margaret’s Pudding, by British poet Alison Brackenbury, is a collection of poems and recipes inspired by her paternal grandmother Dorothy Eliza Barnes (“Dot”). 

photo of Dorothy Eliza Barnes via Rylands Blog.

Dot (b. 1894) worked as a professional Edwardian cook in Nottingham before marrying a shepherd and living in various cottages around Lincolnshire. She recorded her family’s favorite recipes in a black notebook which Brackenbury later inherited along with Dot’s wooden desk.

The poems are not only a revealing bit of family history, but an interesting glimpse of early 20th century East Midlands farm and country life. This was a time when almost everything was homemade, people walked to work, and neighbors “saved” each other (when Dot was bedridden after the birth of her fourth child, one of her neighbors cooked and washed for Dot’s husband and children for weeks).

Dot herself used to feed itinerant farm workers and invited children waiting at the school bus stop near her gate in for sweets. Practical, frugal, hardworking, and generous, Dot lived a quiet, isolated life. It is interesting to see that her smudged notebook contains not only her small, neat penmanship, but the hands of other women, suggesting that Dot liked to collect recipes from friends and neighbors. Their shared lives were “rich with old knowledge and individual talent.”

Enjoy a little taste of Brackenbury’s book with two sample poems and a recipe. Many thanks to Alison for permission to share her poems and for providing the wonderful photos!


photo of Dot’s notebook via The Carcanet Blog.

But you were tiny. Not one toe
could stretch from sofa to the floor.
Unwise to marry a tall man? For
the fourth child left you bed-bound, so
kind neighbours cooked. Your eyes were weak,
yet blue as harebells. You would go
sleepless, to cram old trunks with cake
the men took to the Royal Show.

I have one picture, leather-bound:
you as a young, still-anxious cook,
flowered velvet in your collar's tuck.
Like food, you could make cash go round.
Only your hair grew wild. Its fine
strong waves defied your careful buns.
French marigolds by your washing line
met cabbage, hoed by husband, sons.

You never cut your springing hair.
Time washed past you like rain, your skin
so soft a child's lips would sink in.
My face, rough from hill wind, stays bare
of blusher, gloss. No powder tins
littered your rooms. I stay up, too,
cook, type, as horizons dim.
My father said I looked like you.



Carrots kept Christmas pudding plain.
No gold leaf flattered Nottingham.
Choclate -- you wrote, brisk, young.
What sweetness touched your tongue?

Your first friends were cornflour, ground rice.
Your middle age still sang with spice,
spooned, generous to a fault.
Cinnamon. Ginger. Salt?

Steam smudged your letters. Leather Cups?
I squint. The words are: Quaker Oats.
Your trust in brand names shone.
King, Country, only one.

You knew dessert. You wrote
the old name: cocoanut.
Through bright Treacle I see
the dark Imperial tree.

A married student, money short,
I spooned rough ground rice at the start --
strong, workaday, low-cost --
like all the tastes we lost.

Christmas Pudding and Mincemeat recipes from Dot’s notebook in different handwritings via The Carcanet Blog.


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enchanted by Sidney Wade’s “Blue”

“Reimagined Cormorant” by Martin Haake

Today, a little avian appreciation. Bask in the blueness!

“Cormorant at Dusk” by Tony Fisher
by Sidney Wade

The great blue
song of the earth
is sung in all
the best venues—
treetop, marsh,
desert, shore—
and on this spring
day in the wetlands
where, under
a late sun,
we stand alone
and in love
with each other
and the passing day
we watch a cormorant
whose eye is ringed
in blue diamonds,
a shimmering lure,
and we love this blue
and this dark bird
and this deepening sky
that pinks and hums
in the west, and then

the bird opens his beak
and flutters his throat
and the late
afternoon light
the inside tissue
of his mouth
which is as blue
as his ocular jewelry,
as blue as the bluest
ocean, as blue
as the sky in all
its depth, as blue
as the back of the small
and determined beetle
who struggles to roll
his enormous dung ball
in his own breeding bid
to enchant another
small blue miracle.

~ Copyright © 2016 by Sidney Wade. Originally published in Poem-a-Day, May 18, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.


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nine cool things on a tuesday

1. April showers bring May flowers! We’re celebrating the merriest of months with stunning images by Japanese artist Shinya Okayama.

I wasn’t able to find much biographical information about him online in English. Wish I could read Japanese so I could have done additional detective work. 🙂

But we do know Okayama was born in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1982 and that he studied at Sokei Academy of Fine Art and Design (2003-2007).

I stumbled upon his work on Pinterest and was immediately taken with his beautiful colors, extraordinary level of detail, and gentle depictions of children and animals, who are portrayed on equal footing and living in total harmony.

He paints an idyllic world, where children are free to explore their surroundings and enjoy wonderful adventures with many wild creatures on land and from the sea. He injects elements of the surreal in some of his pictures, as boundaries between earth and ocean disappear.

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[leggy review] Animals in Pants by Suzy Levinson and Kristen & Kevin Howdeshell

What? You’ve never seen animals in pants?!? 

Slip into your sweats and get ready for a good giggle with the likes of pelicans in pedal pushers, polar bears in snow pants, and yaks in slacks. 🙂

These are just a few of the curiously clad critters in this hilarious new picture book, Animals in Pants by Suzy Levinson and Kristen & Kevin Howdeshell (Cameron Kids, 2023). 

Debut author Levinson has fashioned 23 pithy, playfully perky poems, tailor-made for discerning munchkins who like their animals tastefully trousered. After all, there’s nothing like a rollicking pants parade to get a leg up on the latest trends. 

Levinson’s menagerie includes both domestic and wild animals thriving in a variety of habitats (farm, suburb, range, ocean, jungle, North and South Poles). It’s uncanny how she’s able to capture each animal’s essence in such a short rhyme, delighting the reader with an element of surprise and brilliant comic timing. 

Of course a cat with an attitude would wear custom-made tiger-striped velour pants, a tracksuit would be the attire of choice for squirrels showing off their acrobatic skills, and monkeys would prefer cargo pants (gotta have those pockets to carry bananas). 🙂

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a little taste of Welcome to Monsterville by Laura Shovan and Michael Rothenberg

Feeling a little scared? How about sad or shy? Have you ever been surprised by a kind gesture or felt empowered by your dreams?

In Welcome to Monsterville (Apprentice House Press, 2023), Laura Shovan and Michael Rothenberg introduce us to sixteen fun and quirky monsters, each embodying a relatable human emotion or state of being.

The collection opens with this intriguing fellow:

Hello, children!
Please don't hide.
The gate is open.
Come inside.

We're glad you're here
in Monsterville.
Our tour today
is creature-filled.

Our residents
aren't ordinary.
They're friendly! Thoughtful!
Shy and scary.

They live with humans
side by side.
You want to meet them?
Come inside.

We soon sense our new monster friends are not only all around us, but within us. Have you ever stomped off to the green cave of anger? Want to be charmed by monsterflies, or revel in the pure joy of monster houses, who shiver and shake, kaboom and quake? 

Here’s a chance to consider, observe, and turn a feeling inside out via inventive personification, crackerjack wordplay, and imaginative art that makes the abstract visible. Here is validation and feeling understood. This book is an appealing reminder that poetry has the power to reveal as well as heal.

Michael and Laura

The backstory of this collection is interesting and poignant. On the eve of the pandemic, friends Laura and Michael (who sadly passed away last November) embarked on a ‘creative conversation’ after bonding over shared grief and confusion regarding their sons. Michael was unable to write for awhile, but found release and expression in art therapy.

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