[review + recipe] Beatrix Potter, Scientist by Lindsay H. Metcalf and Junyi Wu

Sometimes in late summer, especially after we‘ve had a lot of rain, giant white mushrooms sprout up in our woods. Their tops can grow as large as dinner plates if the deer don’t take a bite out of them first.

They seem quite magical; I like to imagine fairies or gnomes using the flat mushroom tops as writing desks or tabletops, happily setting out their acorn teacups for special guests.

I actually became more interested in mushrooms about 20 years ago after learning about Beatrix Potter’s fascination with fungi, and then seeing her incredibly beautiful botanical drawings.

While most everyone knows Beatrix as the author and illustrator of the Peter Rabbit books, and perhaps as an ardent conservationist who helped preserve some 4,000 acres of pristine countryside in the Lake District, few may know she was also a dedicated naturalist who devoted about a decade of her life to mycology (the study of fungi), with a special interest in mushrooms.

I was understandably excited when Beatrix Potter, Scientist (Albert Whitman, 2020) came out last summer, because so far it’s the only picture book biography that takes a closer look at this lesser known aspect of Beatrix’s life.

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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.



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

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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out of my gourd for sophie’s squash + a recipe for butternut bisque

All autumn long, I’ve been harboring a big love for Sophie’s Squash (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2013), Pat Zietlow Miller’s heartwarming debut picture book illustrated to perfection by Anne Wilsdorf.

I had my eye on it well before its official release date back in August, marveling like everyone else when it proceeded to rack up *starred review* after *starred review* (Booklist, PW, SLJ, Kirkus), my excitement steadily building until I finally held a copy in my hands and devoured every word. Oh my, oh yes! No wonder! Every accolade this book has received is so well deserved.

One bright fall day, Sophie chose a squash at the farmers’ market.

Her parents planned to serve it for supper, but Sophie had other ideas.

These ideas included naming her squash Bernice, holding her, bouncing her on her knee, tucking her into bed and taking her everywhere. Ever the steadfast friend, Sophie refuses her mother’s gentle prodding to cook Bernice and rejects her father’s attempts to pacify her with a new toy to take Bernice’s place.

But as time goes on, Bernice develops splotchy “freckles,” so Sophie decides to act on a farmer’s advice to keep Bernice healthy. She tucks her into “a bed of soft soil”, then waits out a wistful winter, hoping Bernice is okay. Come Spring, with all the snow melted, Bernice magically re-emerges, soon gifting Sophie with two wonderful surprises, as only the best of friends can do.

Art © 2013 Anne Wilsdorf

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melissa iwai’s snowy day vegetable soup

“Little is nobler than presiding over a kettle of homemade soup.” ~ Marty Martindale, food writer and bon vivant

As you can see if you peek behind Chef Paddington through the dining room window, we recently had some proper snow, something that always happens in these parts during the third week of January.

I couldn’t have ordered more perfect weather for making the vegetable soup that’s included in Melissa Iwai’s charming picture book, Soup Day, a recipe I’d been wanting to try ever since I reviewed the book last year. Of course one doesn’t have to wait for snow to make soup, but in this case it deepened my connection to this sweet story of a mother and daughter in the kitchen.

The recipe is designed with simplicity, common ingredients, and child participation in mind. As the story suggests, asking hungry munchkins to help select colorful veggies at the grocers and later allowing them (with an adult’s guiding hand) to slice the soft ingredients like mushroom and zucchini, enables them to master new skills and develop a sense of pride. Melissa admits this is how she got her son Jamie to eat mushrooms!

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friday feast: one potato two potato three potato five

Paprika via Food Additives World

They say one man’s potato is another man’s soup.

And I say there is nothing more endearing than a college student learning how to make his first soup from his mother and his aunt. Via laptop, of course.

I was tickled pink to find Daniel Nyikos’s poem happily simmering over at Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. Love the juxtaposition of old world and new, the easy family banter, and proof once again that love is the best seasoning for any soup.


by Daniel Nyikos

I set up my computer and webcam in the kitchen
so I can ask my mother’s and aunt’s advice
as I cook soup for the first time alone.
My mother is in Utah. My aunt is in Hungary.
I show the onions to my mother with the webcam.
“Cut them smaller,” she advises.
“You only need a taste.”
I chop potatoes as the onions fry in my pan.
When I say I have no paprika to add to the broth,
they argue whether it can be called potato soup.
My mother says it will be white potato soup,
my aunt says potato soup must be red.
When I add sliced peppers, I ask many times
if I should put the water in now,
but they both say to wait until I add the potatoes.
I add Polish sausage because I can’t find Hungarian,
and I cook it so long the potatoes fall apart.
“You’ve made stew,” my mother says
when I hold up the whole pot to the camera.
They laugh and say I must get married soon.
I turn off the computer and eat alone.
Copyright © 2010 Daniel Nyikos. All rights reserved.

Daniel’s poem prompted a recipe search for Hungarian Potato Soup. There were many variations, of course, some were clear and some were creamy. Some were simple concoctions of potatoes, water, milk, onions, salt and paprika — while others called for sour cream, celery, tomatoes, even garlic.

I also learned a bit more about Hungarian paprika and its varying degrees of hotness. Didn’t want to set my mouth on fire, so with apologies to Daniel’s aunt, I adapted a simple crock pot recipe and used both hot and sweet paprika. Like Daniel, I couldn’t find any Hungarian sausage, so substituted Polish Kielbasa. And like Daniel’s, my soup eventually turned into a “stew.” But it made a nice winter’s meal, along with crusty bread and fresh creamery butter. Next time, I’ll experiment with smoky paprika. I feel like part of the family now ☺.




5-6 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2″ cubes
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 white onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup fat-free or low-fat milk
1 ring turkey kielbasa 

Place potatoes, broth, paprikas, celery seeds and salt in 4-quart or large slow cooker. Stir to combine.

Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Transfer to cooker.

Cover. Cook on low 4 to 6 hours, or until potatoes are tender. Stir to break up potatoes into broth for a slightly chunky consistency.

Add dill, nutmeg, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Stir in milk. Add sliced sausage and cover. Cook 20 to 30 more minutes, or until heated through.


Poet and fiction writer Daniel Nyikos was born in Germany to a Hungarian mother and an American father of Hungarian descent. He earned his B.A. and M.A. at Utah State University and is currently working towards his doctorate in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska. I wonder if he has finally perfected his Potato Soup?

What was the first soup you ever made? Who taught you the recipe?

♥ Talented poet, proud grandmother and excellent cook Elaine Magliaro is hosting today’s Poetry Friday Roundup at Wild Rose Reader. Get thee hence and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week.

♥ Learn more about Hungarian Paprika here.


Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.