Posted in Fictional Feasts, Literary Gastronomy, Literature

Fictional Feasts / Literary Gastronomy, part 2

Welcome back for Literary Gastronomy, Part 2.

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” – Orson Welles

Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” (1861): Toasted Almond-bride cake

“As I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckled-legged spiders with blotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it . . . ‘I can’t guess what it is, ma’am.’ ‘It’s a great cake. A bride-cake. Mine!’”

Ann Leckie “Ancillary Justice” (2013): Fancy tea. 

“Tea was for officers. For humans. Ancillaries drank water. Tea was an extra, unnecessary expense. A luxury.” Breq in Ancillary Justice

Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” (2005): Vanilla Kipferls ( crescent cookies)

Growing up in the southern suburbs of Sydney, Australia, my family was a small oddity; our last name wasn’t Smith, Jones, or Johnson. Even as kids, we knew that our parents—who had immigrated separately from Germany and Austria—had brought a whole different world with them when they came to Australia. This was often felt most around Christmas, when we celebrated on Christmas Eve as opposed to Christmas Day. We cooked up weisswurst and leberkase and rouladen, with kraut and potato salad, and everything happened in the night.

The other memory I have of that time, of course, is the sweet things. For starters, my mother would make colossal gingerbread slabs and fashion them into houses. Sometimes her construction work was sound. Sometimes it wasn’t.

Us kids would decorate the houses with icing and lollies that ranged from smarties (like M&M’s), freckles, crunchie bars, and jaffas. The jaffas always went along the top, on the ridge. Sometimes small pretzels also found their way onto those rooftops, and it really was the time of our lives, especially given that we felt deprived all year of these things! Of course, we loved it when the houses collapsed as we decorated them—it just meant that they had to be eaten immediately . . . so there was always plenty going on at our place around Christmas.

Next to the gingerbread houses, the accompanying ritual was the making of Vanillekipferl. This is technically the wrong plural—in German there’s no s on the end—but I’ll go with the English version here. As a child, I remember making the mixture and taking clumps of it and rolling it into a long sausage. We would then chop it into the sizes we wanted and make them into horseshoe shapes.

Of course, these cookies were always best made on cold days, which can be hard to come by in Australia around December. Still, that’s what I do now. As soon as there’s a cooler day in the lead-up to Christmas, I start making Vanillekipferl. For the first time this year, I made them with my daughter, who just turned four. That’s the other good thing about this recipe. Kids can easily get involved. The ingredients are minimal, and if you destroy a cookie or two in the dough-making, it doesn’t matter. You just squash it up and try again.

The only warning I offer apart from choosing the right day to make them is that no matter how well you make these cookies, they’ll never taste as good as your mother’s. It’s just the way it goes.

Aimee Bender’s “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” (2010): Lemon Cake

My birthday cake was her latest project because it was not from a mix but instead built from scratch—the flour, the baking soda, lemon-flavored because at eight that had been my request; I had developed a strong love for sour. We’d looked through several cookbooks together to find just the right one, and the smell in the kitchen was overpoweringly pleasant. To be clear: the bite I ate was delicious. Warm citrus-baked batter lightness enfolded by cool deep dark swirled sugar.

Because the goodness of the ingredients—the fine chocolate, the freshest lemons—seemed like a cover over something larger and darker, and the taste of what was underneath was beginning to push up from the bite….None of it was a bad taste, so much, but there was a kind of lack of wholeness to the flavors that made it taste hollow, like the lemon and chocolate were just surrounding a hollowness

Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865): Queen of Hearts Tarts

“In the next moment, her eyes fell on the White Rabbit that was serving the court as a herald and was reading the accusation that the Knave of Hearts had stolen the Queen’s tarts. In the middle of the court, a large platter of tarts was on display.”

Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” (1987): Fried Green Tomatoes

“Idgie and Ruth had set a place for him at a table. He sat down to a plate of fried chicken, black-eyed peas, turnip greens, fried green tomatoes, cornbread, and iced tea.”

Astrid Lindgren’s “Pippi Longstocking” (1945, Sweden): sandwiches, pancakes, sausages, pineapple pudding

“And they shouted with delight when they saw all the good things Pippi had set out on the bare rock. There were lovely little sandwiches of meatloaf and ham, a whole pile of pancakes sprinkled with sugar, little brown sausages, and three pineapple puddings.”

Louise Fitzhugh’s “Harriet the Spy” (1964): Tomato Sandwiches

“‘Listen, Harriet, you’ve taken a tomato sandwich to school every day for five years. Don’t you get tired of them?’
‘No.’”

A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” (1926): Honey

“‘Well,’ said Pooh, ‘it’s the middle of the night, which is a good time for going to sleep. And to-morrow morning we’ll have some honey for breakfast. Do Tiggers like honey?’
‘They like everything,’ said Tigger cheerfully.”

What’s your favorite literary recipe or reference? Leave a comment down below!

Posted in From The Editor's Desk, Literature

Cartography and World Building

As an early reader, maps always kept me fascinated – especially when I had the image of where things were in my mind, only to be tracing the steps of the characters in Hundred Acre Woods and find that Rabbit’s house is closer than I thought it was. Plus, I always thought it was cool that Christopher Robin got to draw the map… I had many nights tracing the map trying to be in the room with him (hoping it was Me!)… from the note on it  “Drawn By Me And Mr Shepard Helpd.

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There’s the map showing the way to Toad Hall and the surrounding environs in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. How interesting that the same cartographer  (Ernest H. Shepard) did the Hundred Acre Woods map, and the map to The Wind in the Willows.  Now I understand why I loved both of those books so much as a child!  Both maps had the same design style  and it made me feel comfortable  and familiar, as if I was with an old friend by my side as I read the books. There wasn’t a learning curve, I knew how the map would look, even as a young child so it was easier to follow.  Having both the black and white and colored maps1 on the endpapers in the book, it was magical to see the colors come to life before my very eyes.

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The Wind in the Willows map, black and white, by E.H. Shepard

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The Wind in the Willows map, color, by E.H. Shepard

Then there’s the map of Emerald City and the Yellow Brick Road in Baum’s Wizard of Oz. Who didn’t want to take that walk down the road with Dorothy and Toto all the way to the Emerald City, with all the characters along the way. The movie was always on around Thanksgiving, and I had to watch it in my parent’s bedroom. To be fair, the Wicked Witch scared the daylights out of me … but I wanted those ruby slippers more than anything when I was younger.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s maps of Hobbiton and Middle Earth brought Tolkien’s world alive in my mind.

Map of Gondor from The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

Kids of all ages know the layout of Hogwarts from the Marauder’s Map in Harry Potter. One realizes how much detail you can get by enhancing the reading with visuals.

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The Marauder’s Map from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Authors who use maps, engage in world building by placing their characters inside the world and the geography of the area. Maps help readers, even at a young age, orient themselves to time and space and place. The legend of symbols helps them understand what a triangle is and what colors represent what topographical concept (rivers, mountains, roads).

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Simple map legend

“But why are maps so useful when employed in literature, and in particular in children’s books? Much like the novels themselves, maps too tell stories, and so writers increasingly employ them within their books as a way to go beyond the words themselves. Not only do they provide us with further supplementary information to complement the story, but maps also have the potential to provide gateways to the imaginary lands which may otherwise only exist within our imaginations. By showing us the shape of the land, beautiful forests and daunting mountain ranges, they build on our imagination, encouraging us to go beyond the words themselves and inviting us into these fictional lands presented right before our very eyes.”2

Footnotes:

1 Both the black and white and colored maps of The Wind in the Willows by E.H. Shepard come from Shepard’s website. Go take a peek and see what other childhood memories come up when you see all the cartography he has done!

2https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/nov/11/putting-childrens-literature-on-the-map-young-adult

Note: Featured Image of the Marauder’s Map courtesy of littlefallingstar