Monday, 30 March 2015

Fictional Food Adventure: Reading My Naughty Little Sister at the Party by Dorothy Edwards

I love My Naughty Little Sister, and always have done. Mum read these to me a lot when I was youngish and I really enjoyed them all. They are especially special because they are illustrated by Shirley Hughes.

I love the way the older sister is shares first-hand experience with her readers, and confides to them as she relates each shockingly cheeky episode of her little sibling's escapades. Each book contains many short chapters; each one is a separate story on its own. Perfect for bedtimes for small people. 

My absolute favourite story was My Naughty Little Sister Goes Fishing. We had a single story picture book version of this one, with colour illustrations, and I found it all so appealing- packing baskets of sandwiches and paddling about in rivers with nets, with the hope of catching fish. Of course it doesn't all go to plan when you have a sister as adept at misbehaving as this one and inevitably there are tears, and fully drenched clothes.
I also really liked Bad Harry's Loud Coat. And it was this particular Bad Harry, this best boy-friend of My Naughty Little Sister, who leads her so badly astray in this particular story, My Naughty Little Sister at the Party. It all starts when Harry is allowed to invite lots of children to his birthday tea party. My Naughty Little Sister is the first to arrive and Bad Harry proudly shows her the tea-table full of goodies; with Birthday cake, jellies and sandwiches. He then sneaks her into the pantry to view the special trifle. By this time all the other children have arrived and everyone starts joining in with Ring o' Roses. All that is, except Bad Harry and My Naughty Little Sister who are not interested, and who creep back to the pantry to look at the trifle again. However, looking is no longer enough and Bad Harry tells My Naughty Little Sister to take a sweetie from the top. She does so, and Bad Harry then takes one as well. 

Then she takes several, and so does Harry, and they have cream on them, which he realises tastes very good, so he plunges his hand into the cream and soon, in a team effort of great naughtiness, there is almost no trifle left. It is at this point that Bad Harry's mother comes looking for them, but before she is discovered, My Naughty Little Sister dashes out of the back door and runs all the way home. She is then very very sick and is never interested in trifle again. 

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Fictional Food Adventure: Making Ma's Pancake Men from The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

This is the second time I have made pancakes as part of this Fictional Food Adventure, and these thick, puffy pancakes are very different from the thin, crepe-like ones from Pippi Longstocking. 

Sundays, for me, are a perfect day to come down to the kitchen and make pancakes in a leisurely fashion. 

While Andy had a little bit of an extra lie-in (he'd heroically fed the cats early and brought up hot drinks, bananas and homemade hobnobs for us both), I pootled downstairs and started on the pancake batter. 

The cats were very intrigued about all the items I was bringing out from the cupboards and kept watchful eyes on me, both while I made the batter and while we cooked the pancakes. 

This batter differed from any batter recipe I've ever used before, because you begin by melting butter in milk and setting aside the pan to cool before adding it to some beaten egg. That mixture is then added to the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder to finish the batter. It makes quite a thick, bubblish batter, which the recipe advises you not to over-mix, and I think I should have left it well alone but I got tempted by a desire for a smooth batter when mine seemed lumpy after adding the wet ingredients to the dry. I sieved the whole lot back from the big mixing bowl into the jug, which had the benefit of being easy to pour straight into the frying pan. Although this made my batter smooth, I wonder if it over-mixed it rather, and whether the pancakes would have otherwise been a little thicker. They were, however, quite nicely thick so maybe it's not a big deal. 

I heated the pan and began to create my pancake men. The idea of this is charming. In the book, it describes Ma calling over each child to the stove in turn, to stand by with their plate ready, watching as Ma ladled the batter into the hot pan; a round tummy to begin with, then legs, arms and a small round head. I'm not quite sure what Ma's would have looked like, but here are mine. I think they are charmingly podgy.

I know you can get pretty clever with pancake batter, if you plan ahead, and have a nice squeezy bottle with a fine nozzle. I've seen some impressive artworks created in the pan, and people make it look so easy. 

Having no little ones of my own to call to the hob, I called for my sweet Andy man, who stood excitedly by, waiting for his pancake man to emerge. 

I love watching the bubbles rise up and burst from the batter as the pancakes fry. Once they're nearly all popped you can flip them, and when you turn them onto your plate, the holes are perfect for absorbing plenty of syrup. They actually taste just like crumpets and are pretty filling. 

We started out with just some syrup but then decided we really needed bacon too, so quickly got some frying while we cooked more pancakes. 

We've made fluffy pancakes before, Canadian style, and I'm sure there are countless methods, but the one we are used to involves properly whipping up the eggwhites separately and gently folding the fluff into the rest of the batter, producing a very thick mixture. Pleasing, but slightly faffy, especially as the mixture starts to go flat if it sits there for long, so before you've finished frying, the mixture is deflating before your eyes. This recipe from Turkish Delight and Treasure Hunts, inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilders' Ma, is really easy and quick to make and I think the results are pretty pleasing. Perfect for lazy Sundays.  

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Fictional Food Adventure: Reading The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I'm so glad I set myself this challenge. I'm relishing the discoveries of all these books that I would otherwise have dismissed forever, or taken another decade to bother reading. I do make a lot of assumptions about books and despite how much I love to read, my time to do so is limited so I would only embark on books that I had chosen carefully. Now I am much more open to just getting on with a book. 

The Little House books were on the shelves in our home as I grew up but I never once opened them. Despite knowing how much my brother and Mum loved them, they just didn't grab my attention. I kind of wished I loved them too but something told me I would find them boring. The truth is, I'm sure I would have loved them, as I now know having read the first in the series, The Little House in the Big Woods. 

Laura Ingalls Wilder describes, in great detail, the many experiences, big and small, that make up the home life of her childhood.  With Pa and his big gun, and Ma's gentle homely ways. With Laura and her older sister Mary, and baby sister Carrie seeing life through their young eyes. And their cosy cosy log cabin deep in the woods. With baking and homemade entertainment, stories told round the fire, songs shared together, meals relished, provisions gathered and preserved carefully. With the seasons flowing ever into one another, bringing their own unique treats and hardships.

I know now that the Little House books are going to be a part of my life. I'm glad that the next Little House book is part of the FFA list, but even if it wasn't I'd be adding it to my shelves, along with all the rest. To be opened often, and loved, by me. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Fictional Food Adventure: Making Mary Poppins Strike-me-pink Raspberry Jam Cakes

Well, if you were to consume an entire plateful of these cakes, as Mary Poppins and her friend Bert did, I think you would regret it, unless you are completely famished

These cakes are more like scones; they are made with a very loose, slightly sticky dough that is made in the same way as a scone mix, but with the addition of sugar and an egg. 

They are very simple and quick to make (providing you are not stopping as you go to take photos, or stop cats from eating packaging, or going next door to ask for help opening a jam jar!).

You just mix together flour, b.p and sugar, rub in butter to make fine breadcrumbs, then stir in a beaten egg and a bit of milk. You'll get a lovely golden lump of dough which you divide into 12. Each little lump gets gently pushed into a flat circle and a teaspoon of jam is dolloped in the centre. This is where I got held up as I couldn't find any raspberry jam in our supplies so I decided to use Damson jam instead. Firstly, we have rather a lot of it and it keeps well. And secondly, Andy loves it. 

The jar I was using ran out after filling 7 cakes so I went to select another pot. I struggled with the lid and just could not get it open. It was the same with all the other jars so in desperation I padded next door to see if our pricelessly brilliant neighbours had one of those grippy things. They did, in the shape of Mike. He answered the door looking very wobbly, having come home ill from work, but still managed to open the jar with seemingly no effort. 

Once the jam is all in, you pull up the sides, tuck them all firmly in to seal it, then flip it over, park on a lined baking tray, brush the top with milk and sprinkle with sugar. They bake at 180°C, until golden, but not golden brown. The recipe said 15-20 minutes but I'm glad I used my experience with our monster of an oven to check them early as they were perfect and ready when the timer went off after 12 minutes.

I didn't know what to expect visually, but they looked so beautiful. Lightly golden, cracking over the surface, with glimpses of dark, hot jam inside. Slightly domed and begging to be eaten. While they sat cooking for a moment I made a big mug of tea and took a plateful next door. These kind of things are definitely best on the day they are baked so I needed to get people eating them. Perhaps Mary Poppins and Bert knew that too, and were determined not to waste a single crumb! 

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Fictional Food Adventure: Reading Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

We all think we know Mary Poppins so well, don't we? But it turns out we really don't. Not if, that is, your only experience of her is through Walt Disney.

That film was a part of my childhood and I'm always happy to see it. I love the songs and the cheeriness and the Mary Poppins we are introduced to is a very sweet and light one in contrast to the Mary Poppins that P. L. Travers wrote onto the page.

I knew this, to some extent, before I started reading Mary Poppins the other day. Andy and I had rented the movie 'Saving Mr Banks', starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson and telling two stories that add up to one very special one; Pamela Traver's childhood in Australia, and her later involvement with the irrepressible Walt Disney as he attempts to win her over and gain the film rights to her story. P.L. Travers herself is perhaps much more like the original version of Mary Poppins; strict, straightlaced, stubborn and at times very sour. But with the insight of what Pamela experienced when she was very young, we watch this duel of wits with hope for a peacable agreement and with understanding for what is on her heart. As the movie, which is not altogether comfortable throughout, unfolded, I became ever more perplexed as to how Disney ever got to make his movie. So strong was Pamela's disgust and mistrust at the Disney treatment of her story that it seemed impossible she would ever relent. Immune to Walt's famous charm, she put her foot down time and time again, hating his animated penguins and pulling apart every last detail. Now, all authors must feel protective of their stories, and wary of changes, but there is an understanding that you have to let go and let your story have a new life in another form. Accept that it will be different, because books and films don't tell stories in the same way. What reads magically from a page can look dull on the screen. But Pamela's story is too close to her to allow any changes. Yet, Disney's film is there as evidence. It happened. And just how it eventually happened is what makes  the end of the film so worth waiting for.

When I began to read Mary Poppins, I was still startled by the Mary Poppins I encountered. I was also amazed at all the adventures that she and the children went on, which don't appear in the film at all. I won't tell you which ones, as you might like to read it for yourself, but there are all sorts of interludes which will delight you, or baffle you. I was touched by the chapter about Jane and Michael's baby brother and sister, twins John and Barbara. P. L. Travers must have been a very thoughtful soul to have thought up this chapter, alongside all the more active adventures.

I enjoyed reading Mary Poppins, and found it very interesting to at last read what was originally written about her, from her creator, and I'd recommend you do the same. Did you know there are several other books about her? I'll be reading Mary Poppins Comes Back as part of this FFA challenge, and I'll be baking a little something from Mary Poppins for you to see, spit-spot!