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food for thought & fine whining -- featuring food references in literature, recipes, author/illustrator interviews, book reviews, and musings about music, writing, and life
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1. alphabet soup has moved to wordpress!


Hi Everyone,

We are celebrating alphabet soup's 4th birthday by moving to Wordpress.

For a number of reasons, not the least of which are LJ's ongoing technical problems and vulnerability to hacker attacks, we felt it was time for a change and a fresh start.

Please stop by to say hello so I know you've found us, bookmark the site, update your blog rolls and/or add Jama's Alphabet Soup to your readers. We promise more of our usual mischief and look forward to having you join us at the table often.

For those of you on LiveJournal, I've created a feed so you can view my posts on your Friends Page: [info]alphasoup2 .

Thanks for your continuing support!

*The new blog's URL is jamarattigan (dot) com -- easy to remember, easy to find!

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2. summer blog break

   
                  

The sun is shining, a nice breeze is blowing, and Colin Firth summer fun is calling!

Going to take some time off from regular posting for a few weeks to pursue some new foodie adventures, tackle my just-for-fun TBR pile, and do a little blog housekeeping. I want to get all my letters in a row, since I always feel so much better when my kitchen is spit spot!

Meanwhile, I wish you many happy summer days, whether you're on vacation or staycation. Ahhhhh -- time for barbecue, fruit smoothies, potato salad, and corn on the cob. Enjoy these long, lazy days, have a spectacular Fourth of July weekend, and I'll see you in August!



**Dorothy Whidden illustrations from The Alphabet That Was Good to Eat written by Louise Price Bell (Harter Publishing, 1932). (Crossett Library Bennington College flickr photostream.)

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan's alphabet soup. All rights reserved.


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3. chatting with poetry man lee bennett hopkins


      

Roll out the purple carpet, pass the poetry and the pizza: the one and only Lee Bennett Hopkins is here!

For years and years, I'd see the name "Lee Bennett Hopkins" on dozens and dozens of book covers as poet, author and anthologist, but never once imagined one day I'd have the pleasure of welcoming him to my blog. No one, in the history of children's literature, has compiled more poetry anthologies than he has (100+ to date), and I'm certain most everyone -- whether poet, author, educator, librarian, editor, publisher or reader -- agrees that no one else has done as much to nurture, support and promote children's poetry with such full-hearted enthusiasm and tenacity. 

He's won numerous awards and honors as author and anthologist, such as the Christopher Award, Golden Kite Honor, and NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, and has established two awards: the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the Lee Bennett Hopkins/IRA Promising Poet Award.


TheCookingPhotographer/flickr

But apart from his long list of accomplishments and accolades, he's also someone who likes the color purple and a good pizza, and who, in his heart of hearts, truly believes that poetry is absolutely essential for all children, both at home and in the classroom. Bring books and children together, and teach them to love reading. I'm so honored to have Lee visit alphabet soup to tell us a little about the art of compiling anthologies and to share a few tidbits about the three books he's published so far this year:

I Am the Book (Holiday House, 2011), a collection of 13 exuberant poems celebrating the magic of reading with whimsical illustrations by Colombian artist Yayo,

Dizzy Dinosaurs: Silly Dino Poems (HarperCollins, 2011), 19 humorous poems selected especially for the beginning reader with vibrant cartoony illustrations by Barry Gott, and

Hear My Prayer (Zonderkidz, 2011), a selection of 13 simple verses on a variety of universal themes with illustrations by Gigi Moore.

Help yourself to a slice of pizza and enjoy my chat with Lee!

Jama: In previous interviews, you’ve stated that when creating an anthology, you begin with a theme and then select appropriate poems (some newly commissioned, some previously published). Which part of the overall process do you enjoy the most and why? 

Lee: I enjoy both, actually. It is always refreshing to go back and read the masters; I’ve reread, for example, the works of Sandburg and Hughes a zillion times. I also love working with contemporary poets, some of whom have never been published before. It gives writers a chance to be heard. Many times their work is reprinted in a variety of ways. It

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4. six happy things on a monday






1. It's always a good day when you have pancakes for breakfast (and lunch, and dinner) ☺. My pancakes of choice remain Orangette's Oatmeal Pancakes, a recipe she adapted from the pancakes served at the Inn at Fordhook Farm in Pennsylvania. Since I first mentioned Mollie's oatmeal pancakes here, we've made them at least six times, and it's become our favorite breakfast to serve houseguests. We haven't mashed in any blueberries yet; they're delicious without them. And as Mollie says, they are great the next day and the next . . . they freeze well, too.

 

2. Do you remember when Kevin Slattery declared May, Bob Dylan Month? And he ran his "Three for Free Giveaway" with copies of Ain't Gonna Hang No Pixel (his first Picture Book for Big Kids) as the prize? Eeeeee! I was one of the winners!

 

This 16-page pop phenomenon parody, inspired by Dylan's infamous decision to go electric in 1965, offers a tantalizing cross-section of Kevin's unique digital art. Movers and shakers Billie Holiday, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul McCartney (*swoon*), Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kerouac, Emily Dickinson, Alfred Hitchcock, and of course, Dylan -- are portrayed as never before. Kevin loves to mix things up and surprise you with unexpected juxtapositions: there's a beautiful pink and yellow floral Billie as well as a funky cartoony Hitchcock making quite the television appearance (or should I say, "emergence"?). Wish you had your own copy? Click here for more details about this book as well as the second book in Kevin's Picture Books for Big Kids series, Emily Comes to My House!

3. Big thanks to Zoe Toft at Playing by the Book for presenting alphabet soup with the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award!
 
   

We truly appreciate this honor and are proud to be recognized along with these other blogs:

Kat Cooks the Books
Reading, Writing and Recipes
Storytelling, cooking and kids!
Children’s Books for Grown Ups – look out for Natasha’s Bookish Bites!
Maison Cupcake
The Tea Box

Check out Zoe's list of books about sweets and baking th

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5. a platter of vegetable picture books




Put on your bibs and lick your chops -- it's fresh veggie time!

Serving up a little of summer's bounty today in celebration of all that is green, purple, red, orange and yellow. Nothing better than the crunch of a carrot, the juicy ooze of a garden ripe tomato, the fresh snap of a sassy bean. A quick perusal of vegetable books at my library revealed a surprising number of varieties who took great pride in their ability to amaze and delight. Some call attention to themselves just by being BIG, while others excel at showmanship. Veggie vaudeville? Lima bean monsters? Whoever said vegetables were boring? 

Lots to nibble and chew on here. Have fun eating your veggies!


 
RAH, RAH, RADISHES!: A VEGETABLE CHANT by April Pulley Sayre (Beach Lane Books, 2011). Get ready to root for rutabagas and fall for fennel. This rollicking trip to the farmer's market will have you cheering in the stands and bouncing for beets. Over 40 different vegetable varieties are celebrated with gorgeous color photographs and a heaping bushel of simple a-peeling rhymes. Familiar friends like carrots, cucumbers and beans are tossed around with not-so-common types like kohlrabi, Swiss chard and bok choy to entice curious munchkins. A wondrous mix of colors, shapes and textures makes this feast irresistibly delectable, and there are seven kinds of peppers to spice things up (bell, banana, cayenne, poblano, habanero, jalapeño, and serrano). An Authors Note defines "vegetables," suggests ways to learn about new ones and touts the importance of incorporating different colored veggies for a healthy diet. Never seen such ravishing radishes, and what a fabulous read aloud!
   

THE ENORMOUS CARROT by Vladimir Vagin (Scholastic Press, 1998). So, Floyd and Daisy Rabbit plant a garden one spring and with their careful tending, everything comes up beautifully. One day they notice a huge carrot growing out of the ground and when they try to pick it, it won't budge. Soon, one friend after another drops by -- a cow, goat, hen, dog and cat, and they all heave and ho and ho and heave to no avail. Finally, Lester the mouse offers to help, but he is told he is too small. He helps anyway and that stubborn carrot finally COMES OUT. Nothing to do but throw a gigantic carrot feast for everyone. The double page spread showing all the animals eating carrot soup, carrot cake, carrot pie, carrot cookies and carrot ice cream is worth the price of admission. Based on a Russian folktale, this story's a great way to stress the importance of teamwork, and of course, who could resist the novelty and wonder of such a big carrot?

 

BRAVE POTATOES by Toby Speed and Barry Root (Putnam, 2000). When all's quiet at the County Fair, a bunch of prize potat

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6. a little adventure with sarah emma edmonds



    


It’s always fun and exciting when something you’ve read sparks your imagination and makes you want to learn more.  

That’s what happened when I read Carrie Jones’s new picture book biography about Civil War nurse and spy Sarah Emma Edmonds. When I studied American history in Hawai’i eons ago, I learned a lot of names and dates that I couldn’t really relate to. I certainly never dreamed that one day I’d live near a real battlefield site, meet people who like to don period garb to participate in battle re-enactments, and be steeped in heady historical richness that would actually mean something. 

I had heard of female Confederate spies, but knew very little about the ones spying for the Union army. Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender (Carolrhoda Books, 2011) is a provocative introduction to the feisty Canadian teenager who fled her home country, assumed the identity of a man (calling herself Frank Thompson), and then served in the Second Michigan Infantry, first as a field nurse and then as a spy under the command of Major General George B. McClellan. 


Sarah Edmonds in female and male garb.

Jones’s tightly woven narrative emphasizes Edmonds’s skill as a master of disguise. An adventurer at heart, Edmonds was motivated by a deep sense of patriotism to her adopted country because she was able to forge a new life, far away from her abusive father who hated that she was a girl and who tried to force her into an arranged marriage.

Steely, brave, clever and highly adaptable to whatever circumstances came her way, Edmonds assumed various guises, as an African American male slave, an Irish peddler woman, and a black laundress. She infiltrated enemy lines many times and returned with valuable information for the Union army. When she contracted malaria, she chose to recuperate in a private hospital in Illinois to avoid blowing her cover. After learning that she was listed as a deserter, she reclaimed her identity as a woman and returned to nursing, with no one the wiser. 



Further reading revealed that much, if not most, of Sarah’s exploits took place on Virginia soil. She participated in both the First and Second Battles of Bull Run, The Peninsula Campaign, Vicksburg, Fredericksburg, Antietam, Williamsburg and Yorktown in her various capacities as field nurse, postmaster and spy. When I read that she nursed wounded soldiers at an army hospital in the Old Stone Church in Centreville, I had to see the place for myself. I’ve lived in Virginia for 30 years and might never have heard about the church (only 10 minutes away) if I hadn’t read Carrie’s book. 


Old Stone Church circa 1860's (Library of Congress photo).

The Old Stone Church was first built by Methodists in 1854, and used as a hospital by both the Union and Confe

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7. happy father's day!


     


My dad, now 96, continues to amaze us. We feel so blessed to have him in our lives. He recently joined Facebook, where he shares lots of food pictures (must run in the family ☺), jokes, short videos, words of inspiration every Sunday, and whatever amuses or fascinates him in the news.

We wish him and all the other dads out there a Happy Father's Day, and special ((Hugs)) to those of you who might be missing your dads.

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8. birthday boy!



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9. friday feast: like father, like son




James Paul McCartney and his father James "Jim" McCartney at age 64.


Tomorrow is Sir Paul's birthday and Sunday is Father's Day -- what better time to feature a song Paul wrote with his dad in mind?

"When I'm Sixty Four" has always been one of my favorites. Whenever I hear it, I feel a little 'goofy-happy,' probably because of its rooty-toot rhythm and slightly mocking tone. Ah, those bouncy clarinets! You may know that Jim McCartney had a big influence on Paul's musical upbringing. Self taught on the piano and trumpet, Jim played in ragtime and jazz bands in Liverpool during the twenties and thirties. He encouraged Paul to take music lessons and taught him to sing harmony.
 
Music was central in the McCartney household -- they listened to the radio and Jim's 78 rpm records, and of course, Jim played popular dance hall tunes on the upright piano (which Paul, reputedly, still owns). Paul's granddad Joe was also musical. An opera lover who was more of a traditionalist, he played the double bass and tuba.  



Paul wrote the melody for "When I'm Sixty Four" with Jim's encouragement when he was just 16. When the Beatles were still the Quarrymen, the song was a "stand-in number" when the amps weren't working or the electricity went off. It wasn't until Jim turned 64 in 1966 that Paul decided to revise and record what would become the first completed cut for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, widely regarded as one of the most important and influential rock albums in popular music. When Paul himself turned 64, his children sang the song to him as a birthday present.

When I first heard the song as a teenager, 64 seemed positively ancient. Now, not so much . . . ☺.



♥ Full lyrics here.

♥ Jone has the Roundup today at
Check it Out. Dance on over and enjoy all the cool poems being shared around the blogosphere this week. 

   

Happy 69th Birthday, Sir Paul, and Happy Father's Day weekend to all!

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan's alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

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10. carl sandburg's soup

#4 in an eclectic collection of notable noshes to whet your appetite and brighten your day.


ed ed/flickr


  Fave writer soups: Truman Capote (Gumbo), Willa Cather (Vegetable), Bob Dylan (Split Pea), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Vegetable), George Bernard Shaw (Vegetable), William Makepeace Thackery (Bouillabaisse). Source: soupsong.com.

♥ More Tasty Tidbits here.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan's alphbet soup. All rights reserved. 


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11. illustrator chat: diane degroat on charlie the ranch dog


            
            Charlie, overwrought with excitement.

Well, flap my jowls and tickle my ears! 

Have you ever seen a more lovable dog? Yep, it's Charlie, easily the most famous basset hound in America. He lives with Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman herself, and his new picture book, Charlie the Ranch Dog (HarperCollins, 2011), has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for the past 6 weeks! Doggone awesome!
 

Is that bacon I smell on his breath?

Anyway, just in case you're not familiar with the book (where on the wide prairie have you been?), it chronicles a typical day on the cattle ranch from Charlie's point of view. Along with his best friend Suzie (a spunky Jack Russell terrier), he gets up too early every morning and works so hard (wink, wink) fixing fences, gardening, keeping cows and other critters in check, fishing, and rounding up cattle.

A dog this busy certainly deserves oodles of bacon a good meal and endless naps a little rest now and then just to keep his strength up. Why, if not for Charlie's steady vigilance, Daisy the cow could have destroyed the garden! Personally, I happen to admire those who've perfected the fine art of napping and bacon nipping, and I know exactly how Charlie feels: a dog's work is never done. ☺

Recently, Ree blogged about the experience of writing about Charlie (her first children's book), and I thought it would be fun to get the illustrator's side of the story. Of course I'm talking about the brilliant and talented award-winning author/illustrator Diane deGroat, who's visited with us before, and is known far and wide for the 120+ books she's illustrated (most notably her beloved self-illustrated Gilbert series). 

            

I sent Diane a few questions and she came back with some right chewy answers and lots of photos. She's done an outstanding job with the pictures in this book, and I think you'll enjoy learning more about how she created them. How did she manage to perfectly capture Charlie's ranch-roving, bacon-loving ways, and extend Ree's trademark wry humor? Grab a biscuit, tap your boot heels together, sit and stay. Roll over if you like, but do read on. (No need to beg.)

Congratulations on the great success of Charlie and the Ranch Dog! How did you get this gig, and what did you like most about doing it?

It's true that when one door closes, another opens. I had just learned that my Gilbert series at HarperCollins was ending. I anticipated using this time to work on a proposal for a whole new series when I received an email (from a different Harper department) asking me if I'd be interested in submitting some art samples f

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12. just for fun: laughable liffs for lunch


#32 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet.


MsBlueSky/flickr

Liff (lif) n. A common object or experience for which no word yet exists.

I'm guessing there are an infinite number of liffs floating free in the world, just hoping someone exceedingly clever will chance along and name them. Two clever someones, Douglas Adams and John Lloyd, compiled the first humorous dictionary of liffs back in 1983: The Meaning of Liff, followed by a revised and expanded edition, The Deeper Meaning of Liff (1990). Along with these "no name" objects, feelings and situations, Adams and Lloyd also noted "thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places."

   

Words like Dunfish, Jeffers, Knaptoft, Ranfurly. They were real places, but who ever heard of them? Better yet, who'd ever think of visiting them? Why not match these place names with a needy liff?

Our job, as we see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society.

Thought you might enjoy a Sampler Platter of Liff Lunchables, à la Adams and Lloyd. All but a couple are food related; I've added a few extras to compensate ☺. Nibble on them, maybe give them a good chew (you're bound to chuckle). There's plenty to go around!

ABINGER (n.)
One who washes up everything except the frying pan, the cheese grater and the saucepan which the chocolate sauce has been made in.

BECCLES (pl. n.)
The small bone buttons placed in bacon sandwiches by unemployed guerrilla dentists.

CROMARTY (n.)
The brittle sludge which clings to the top of ketchup bottles and plastic tomatoes in nasty cafes.

DUDDO (n.)
The most deformed potato in any given collection of potatoes.

EPPING (participial vb.)
The futile movements of forefingers and eyebrows used when failing to attract the attention of waiters and barmen.

FINUGE (vb.)
In any division of foodstuffs equally between several people, to give yourself the extra slice left over.

GOOSNARGH (n.)
Something left over from preparing or eating a meal, which you store in the fridge despite the fact that you know full well you will never ever use it.

HENSTRIDGE (n.)
The dried yellow substance found between the prongs of forks in restaurants.

INIGONISH (adj.)
Descriptive of the expression on the face of a dinner party guest which is meant to indicate hug

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13. friday feast: noshing with maya angelou


1photos.com


This week I've been dipping into Maya Angelou's latest cookbook,
Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart (Random House, 2010). 

Inspired by her recent weight loss (35 pounds), the book features her favorite time-tested recipes and personal anecdotes. Her guiding philosophy is to frequently eat small portions of really tasty, savory food throughout the day, rather than obsess over counting calories or seeking "diet recipes."

     

In the section entitled, "Cooking Vegetarian with Courage I," she includes a satirical poem she wrote back in 1983, a kind of "self defense" prompted by a visit to Ye Olde Health Food Diner in Los Angeles. Although basically carnivorous, one day she craved broccoli and steamed rice. After placing her order, she took out a pack of cigarettes and was surprised when the waitress immediately chastized her for being a smoker. 

She looked around at the pale, pitiful customers in the diner and asked the waitress whether they were newcomers, hoping to "get better." The waitress assured her they were vegetarians who had been eating there for years, to which Maya replied, "Don't ever tell anyone that these people have been coming here for years, and are still looking no better than they do now."


I love seaweed salad! (Sifu Renka/flickr)


THE HEALTH-FOOD DINER
by Maya Angelou

No sprouted wheat and soya shoots
And Brussels in a cake,
Carrot straw and spinach raw,
(Today, I need a steak).

Not thick brown rice and rice pilau
Or mushrooms creamed on toast,
Turnips mashed and parsnips hashed,
(I'm dreaming of a roast).

Health-food folks around the world
Are thinned by anxious zeal,
They look for help in seafood kelp
(I count on breaded veal).

No smoking signs, raw mustard greens,
Zucchini by the ton,
Uncooked kale and bodies frail
Are sure to make me run

to

Loins of pork and chicken thighs
And standing rib, so prime,
Pork chops brown and fresh ground round
(I crave them all the time).

Irish stews and boiled corned beef
and hot dogs by the scores,
or any place that saves a space
For smoking carnivores.

Copyright © Maya Angelou. All rights reserved.

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14. soup of the day: the absolute value of mike by kathryn erskine!




Hey, hey!

The clock on the wall says it's time to celebrate Kathy Erskine's brand new middle grade novel, The Absolute Value of Mike (Philomel, 2011)!

Before we proceed any further, please select your party shoes. You may choose between yellow sneakers,



or duck slippers (quacking optional).

       

Heck, let's go all the way. Put on this pink "Life is Good" cap while you're at it.

       

There now! Ready?

I was very excited to read Kathy's new book because I absolutely adored her National Book Award winner, Mockingbird (Philomel, 2010). Maybe you're thinking what I was thinking: How could she possibly top that? By showcasing her versatility and writing something completely different, of course! 

This touching and refreshingly offbeat story is powered by Kathy's intuitive perception of human nature, flawless comic timing and keen ability to craft quirky, unforgettable characters. It reveals her deep conviction to tolerance and promotes mutual understanding as opposed to prejudgment.  

      
          Photo Literacy/flickr

When his math genius father decides to teach in Romania for six weeks one summer, Mike is sent to rural Pennsylvania to stay with relatives so he can help his great-uncle with a special engineering project (building an "artesian screw"). Since there's nothing Mike's dad would like more than to have his son follow in his footsteps, he hopes this experience will help Mike get into a prestigious math magnet school. He may be a brilliant mathematician, but sadly, Dr. Frost really doesn't know his son at all. Mike has a math learning disability, has no interest in engineering, and would really rather not be reminded of how pitifully short he falls of his father's expectations. Besides, he's never even met these relatives.

Once he gets to Do Over ("Donover," but the "n" in the town's sign went missing long ago), he discovers there is no artesian screw, just a town full of wacky people hoping to help the local minister adopt a boy from Romania. Most have recently lost someone and ultimately benefit from the "people smart" leadership skills Mike never realized he had. 

His great-uncle Poppy, for example, is physically and emotionally "frozen" following the death of his only son, and is unable to follow through with supervising an "artisan's crew" to build wooden boxes for the adoption project. Half-blind, wild driver, "collector of lost souls" great-aunt Moo is doing her best to cope despite her grief-paralyzed hus

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15. seven random things, hometown edition


             

A little while ago, the lovely and talented Susan Taylor Brown presented me with this wonderful Stylish Blogger Award! The alphabet soup kitchen helpers and I are tickled pink that Susan finds our aprons and oven mitts worthy of recognition ☺.

This award comes with these responsibilities:

1. Thank and link to the person(s) who nominated you.
2. Share seven random facts about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to five blogging buddies.
4. Contact those buddies to congratulate them.

For my seven random facts, I decided to focus on my hometown of Wahiawa on the island of O'ahu. I lived there for the first 25 years of my life, attended two elementary schools, middle school, and high school there.



Whenever I go back to visit, I am struck by how ramshackle and sad it looks. It's a small country town that time forgot and I only have a handful of relatives still living there. But this is where I spent my childhood during a time when you could walk or bike almost anywhere, hamburgers cost 25 cents, and big excitement was seeing a new Elvis movie at the Wahiawa Theatre with my cousins.

SEVEN (MOSTLY FOOD) MEMORIES and the photos that prompted them:

1. I loved my second grade teacher, Miss Tomita, who had short perky hair and wore flats like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. I think she liked me, too, until she overheard me call her "Miss Tomato" while joking with friends. Even then, I was all about word play and food.


I attended Wahiawa Elementary School for grades K-3.

2. At Ka'ala ES, I suffered a grievous injustice. *shudders* I used to sit next to Arleen S. every day in the cafeteria. We always bought our lunch (excellent shortbread cookies!). One day we had peas, which we hated. We were trying to think of a way to make them disappear, since we couldn't go out to play until we ate everything.



Well, Arleen hid a couple of peas in my still-full milk carton, and when I expressed my disgust, the on-duty teacher came over to investigate. She saw the peas and scolded me for playing with my food -- then assigned me to detention for a week! Arleen, giggling, got off scott free. Though it was humiliating sitting in detention with all the troublemakers in school, the greater injustice was that Miss Maeda didn't give me a chance to explain. I never ate lunch with Arleen again.

3. For a couple of years, Gail H. was my very best friend. We always walked home from school together and stopped at B-Sweet, a small candy store, where we stocked up on orange sherbet, cracked seed, shredded mango, Red Whips, and the best rainbow-flavored lollipops in the world. We had fun joking with Bill, the owner, who lived above the store with his parents and daughter. Then we went to my house, where we listened to the Everly Brothers, paraded around in my mother's high heels, and devoured our snacks.

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16. olivia walton's applesauce cake


"Two applesauce cakes were on display in the middle of the kitchen table when Clay-Boy walked in. He breathed in the spicy aroma appreciatively. Something had happened during his absence. There was some quickening of excitement, a sense of Christmas rushing inexorably down upon them, but in spite of the two proud cakes, he knew that his mother was not really prepared for the day." ~ Earl Hamner (The Homecoming)

    
    Miss Michael Learned earned 3 Emmy Awards for her role as Olivia Walton.


When I heard June 6th was National Applesauce Cake Day, the first person I thought of was Olivia Walton.

Though she and Grandma spend a lot of time in the kitchen serving up good old-fashioned country dishes like fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, beef stew, fresh corn on the cob, scrambled eggs, bacon and heavenly peach pie, it is her applesauce cake that holds special favor. Whenever there is something to celebrate, Olivia makes an applesauce cake, and it seems to work wonders with anyone needing a good serving of down home comfort.

      
          "The Homecoming: A Christmas Story" aired in 1971.

In Earl Hamner's novel, The Homecoming (1970), upon which the series pilot is based, Olivia Spencer makes two applesauce cakes for Christmas. She is apprehensive because her husband Clay, who's been working in the city far from home, is late returning home on Christmas Eve. She tries to hide her worry from the children by asking them to help her crack black walnuts for the cakes.

She eventually sends her eldest son, Clay-Boy, to go look for his father. One of his stops is the Staples home, where spinster sisters Etta and Emma ply him with whiskey-spiked eggnog. Though he is unable to locate his father, Clay-Boy returns home with a Mason jar of "Recipe." A devout Baptist, Olivia eschews all alcoholic beverages, but decides she can use some of the Recipe to make frosting for her applesauce cakes. Just goes to show how special those cakes are!

        
            Patricia Neal played Olivia in "The Homecoming: A Christmas Story"

After years and years of hearing about Olivia's Applesauce Cake, I finally made some, using the recipe included in The Homecoming.

Those who bake know that things turn out better when you're in the "mood" and have plenty of time. I declared a "no internet day" and set to work. If there's one thing I love, it's baking with spices. The cake calls for cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves, all of which smelled divine as I sifted them with the flour, even better when their aroma wafted from the oven during baking. These spices always evoke pleasant holiday memories, since I also use them to make gingerbread, pumpkin pie, molasses cookies and carrot cake. I pictured Olivia's kitchen with its woodburning stove, Hoosier cabinet and small icebox, and smiled at my own baking cupboard, which I designed after Olivia's.

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17. friday feast: two poetic peas in a pod




Did you know that June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month?
 
Let's celebrate with PEAS!


*gele*/flickr

Today, we have not one, but TWO perfectly penned pea poems (one of them by a poet named Penny). I've titled this post "Two Poetic Peas in a Pod," because the similarities between the poems are quite uncanny. Both are entitled "Shelling Peas," both refer to fond childhood memories with grandmothers, both contain references to little boats from children's literature, and both are written in seven stanzas. To top it off, both poets live in New Jersey (the Garden State), and their first names contain five letters ("e" + double consonant + "y"). I mean, what are the chances?!

Maybe when it comes to pea poems, there's this gigantico cosmic pod that all poets share, some freaky pea collective unconscious they tap into. When you consider peas, it makes perfect sense. Except for The Princess and the Pea, they rarely go anywhere alone; they're definitely social vegetables who like to hang in groups. One thing for sure, both of these poems are excellent -- wonderful examples of the power of food to trigger vivid memories. Each reveals the poet's unique sensibility and it's interesting to see where their emotional journeys took them. I'd like to thank Kelly Fineman and Penny Harter for allowing me to post their poems and for providing a little backstory. Of course my curiosity was peaqued (sorry) -- why peas? why seven stanzas?, etc. Now I want to find a porch swing or vintage dinette table and shell some peas of my own!


kightp/flickr

SHELLING PEAS
by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

1
Shelling peas after a day at the farmer's market, I am transported
to one of three mismatched chairs at the formica dinette table
in my grandmother's postage-stamp kitchen,
trying to keep pace with her, my small efforts no match
for the experience in her old hands.

2
I pop the stem of a pea pod back,
pull the string down the outside curve,
unzipping a jacket, only to find
a row of fat green pearl buttons inside.

3
Pea pods are the oysters of the garden –
inside some pods, a string of perfect pearls
in others, disappointment.

4
Pulling a string along the inside curve of a pea pod,
I create Thumbelina's canoe.

5
On first opening the outside curve of a pod,
I spy one row – a steady green caterpillar;
opening further, the hinge unclasps:
every other pea held to opposite sides
of this green womb by a tiny umbilicus.

6
Unzipping pods to strip reveal their insides,
I think about Charles Darwin:
Here three are fat and one is left unformed;
there, seven peas crowd so tightly their sides are flat,
blocks in a row that do not wish to separate.
Opening the last one, peas burst out;
avoiding my bowl, my hands,
they scatter four feet away on the floor.
The cat lies in wait to strike them.

7
I feel that I should write thank-you note
To the compost-bound empty husks

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18. random cuppie-o-gram #90765456




Mosque cupcake by Rosina M/flickr.


It's been awhile since our last Cuppie-o-Gram, but this one was truly worth waiting for.

We are extremely pleased to congratulate fellow Virginia author Maha Addasi on receiving an Arab American Book Award Honorable Mention for her 2010 picture book, Time to Pray (Boyds Mills Press)!! 

   

This award is given each year in the categories of Adult Fiction, Adult Nonfiction, Children's/Young Adult and Poetry, and was established in 2006 by the Arab American National Museum and faculty members at the University of Toledo. Selected groups of readers consisting of respected authors, university professors, artists, and members of the AANM staff choose the winning titles. The purpose of the Award is to inspire authors, educate readers and foster a respect and understanding of the Arab American culture.

To see the full list of 2011 winners, click here.

CONGRATULATIONS, MAHA!!

 ♥ My review of Time to Pray, which was illustrated by Ned Gannon and translated into Arabic by Maha's mother, Nuha Albitar, is here.

♥ More Random Cuppie-o-Grams here.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan's alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

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19. six happy things on a tuesday



1. Amiable houseguest: our great-nephew Charlie, surely the sweetest, most adorable munchkin in the land, was here over the weekend. To his credit: good looking in PJs, can pronounce my name correctly, puts trash in the bin, likes my bread pudding, eats his veggies, good napper, smiles 99% of the time, likes washing machine buttons. We are presently negotiating his employment here as a duster.
 

          
          Charlie with his dad, Brad. Want one of those monkey bibs.


2. Made an egg custard pie after being inspired by Candice Ransom's guest post about her mom's great baking prowess. Sprinkled extra nutmeg on top just like Candice likes it. Can you say smooth and velvety?



3. Fox sightings! Fuzzy the Fox has a brand new family -- a wife and two kits. One afternoon I spotted one of the babies out and about by himself while everyone else was asleep. Finally captured the rascal playing near the den, which is quite a comfy compound with 3 mounded entrances and an impressive series of underground tunnels. The babies' names: Kit and Kaboodle, of course!




4. Finally got a Kindle. First book I'm reading is Robin Brande's YA novel, Doggirl. Loving it. Think I might subscribe to a few magazines to cut down on the clutter around here.

        

5. Baby bird: Every year, we have a bird's nest in the same corner of our porch roof. The mama bird sat for days on end and finally, little beaks appeared! In a tragic turn of events, one of the nestlings fell out of the nest, but its sibling survived. This jumbo fledgling likely needed more room. Hope Mama makes the nest a little larger next year.



6. More pie! Recently went to Hill High Country Store and scored a divine cherry pie. Bar none, these are some of the best pies around, with crusts so light and flaky your eyes roll back in your head. Definitely worth the hour's drive. Gonna try their peach next time. ☺



Happy Tuesday, All! Whatever's on your agenda, have fun and remember to smile at the next person you see. And eat some pie. One can never have too much pie. Did I mention I like pie?

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan's alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

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20. slurp slurp yum: plenty saimin by feng feng hutchins and adriano abatayo




Know what would taste really ono right about now?

A big bowl of warm, steamy, soul satisfying saimin!

At this very moment, I'm dreaming of dipping my chopsticks in hot dashi and slurping up some fresh saimin noodles -- just the right firmness, a little curly -- with a bit of char-siu (sweet roast pork), kamaboko (fish cake), fried egg and crunchy wonbok cabbage. See those chopped green onions nestled atop the noodles? I'm gonna scoop them up and slurp again. Mmmmm!


James Rubio/flickr

Saimin is truly "Hawai'i in a bowl," a ubiquitous snack turned main dish inspired by Japanese ramen, Chinese mein, and Filipino pancit. It always, always hits the spot. Now there's a brand new award winning picture book called Plenty Saimin by Feng Feng Hutchins and Adriano Abatayo (Island Paradise Publishing, 2010), a tasty tale sure to satisfy the appetites of diehard saimin lovers and curious foodies.

For his birthday, Ah Kee's mom is making his favorite long-life noodles. On the way to the market, Ah Kee can't quell his excitement nor stem his enthusiastic generosity as he invites friend after friend to share their meal. Ma worries they won't have enough to feed everyone, but Ah Kee can't help but invite whomever they run into. She needn't have worried, since each friend arrives with an ingredient to add to the dish.

   

This deceptively simple stone-soup-like narrative, set in a 1950's rural plantation village, echoes saimin's unique evolution -- a noodle dish containing Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Portuguese and Hawaiian elements, informally and spontaneously created by sugarcane and pineapple plantation workers of the early 1900's. Plenty Saimin captures the essence of Island eating, a lively communal event where ethnicities blend, friendships are fostered, and each bite is flavored with captivating talk story.
 

 

Earlier this month, Plenty Saimin won a 2011 Ka Palapala Po'okela Award for Excellence in Children's Literature as well as an Honorable Mention citation for Excellence in Children's Illustrative/Photographic Books. It was also nominated for the Ezra Jack Keats Award and the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature. We're thrilled for debut picture book author Feng Feng Hutchins and artist Adriano Abatayo, whose detailed, muted color pencil illustrations gracefully evoke times past when life was simpler, the pace was slower, and people were more attuned to nurturing one another.


Feng and Adriano with publisher Kerry Germain at Native Books launch, Honolulu, HI.

As you can imagine, it was probably quite a thrill to have one's first published children's book garner such glowing accolade

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21. friday feast: round and round we go, or, once upon another time


          
          PlayStation.blog/flickr


FAT IS NOT A FAIRY TALE
by Jane Yolen

I am thinking of a fairy tale,
Cinder Elephant,
Sleeping Tubby,
Snow Weight,
where the princess is not
anorexic, wasp-waisted,
flinging herself down the stairs.

I am thinking of a fairy tale,
Hansel and Great,
Repoundsel,
Bounty and the Beast,
where the beauty
has a pillowed breast,
and fingers plump as sausage.

I am thinking of a fairy tale
that is not yet written,
for a teller not yet born,
for a listener not yet conceived,
for a world not yet won,
where everything round is good:
the sun, wheels, cookies, and the princess.

~ from Such a Pretty Face (Meisha-Merlin Publishing, Inc.), Copyright © 2000 Jane Yolen. All rights reserved. Posted with permission of the author.


seedsinanapple/flickr

That Jane. She runs rings around us all, doesn't she?

"Everything round is good" -- and when it comes to food, everything good just happens to be round.

FEAST ON THESE:


smcgee/flickr


CruSTABakes/flickr


Salim Virji/flickr


megpi/flickr


The Pink Princess/flickr




Iban/flickr


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22. let's celebrate: when bob met woody by gary golio and marc burckhardt!


"All I can do is be me, whoever that is." ~ Bob Dylan

                


Hey, hey! Today is Bob Dylan's 70th birthday!!

We could celebrate by listening to 70 of our favorite Dylan songs, singing "Like a Rolling Stone" seventy times, or by letting out 70 WooHoo's! for this brand new picture book biography, When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan (Little, Brown, 2011). (I vote for all of the above.)

Honey Babe, I was soooooooo excited when I first heard this book was coming out, but disappointed when I couldn't get my hands on a review copy -- until the ever thoughtful and generous Jules of 7-Imp offered to share hers (kiss kiss hug hug love on that beautiful woman). Now, I'm no longer a sad-eyed lady of the lowlands, because I've devoured Gary Golio's wonderful words and pored over Marc Burckhardt's crackerjack illustrations.

Though there are several middle grade Dylan biographies, and two recent picture books illuminating his song lyrics -- Man Gave Names to All the Animals illustrated by Jim Arnosky (Sterling, 2010), and Forever Young illustrated by Paul Rogers (Atheneum, 2008) -- Golio's is the first trade picture book biography featuring the iconic music legend.

       

Even a casual fan knows there are tons of books published about Dylan (latest count: approximately 1000 titles in English), including biographies and retrospectives, songbooks, photo albums, graphic interpretations of his lyrics, collections of articles and interviews, academic analyses of his ouevre by hardcore Dylanologists, even an encyclopedia containing every bit and bob about Bob. And of course, there's Dylan's own critically acclaimed memoir, Chronicles, Volume One (S&S, 2005). So Mr. Golio's task must have been quite daunting, sifting through the available resources and creating a narrative captivating enough to interest young readers who've probably never heard of our favorite Archbishop of Anarchy. And then there's that little matter of Dylan fabricating parts of his life, especially his early years.

In his Author's Note, Golio says:

As a boy, I was always looking for heroes, just as Bob was looking for Woody even before he'd ever heard of him. Babe Ruth, Leonardo da Vinci, Spider-Man, Amelia Earhart, and Harry Houdini -- they were just a few of my inner stars, and I came to them for guidance, hoping to learn more of life's secrets. But it was Bob's search for his guiding star that inspired me to write this book.

So we read about young Bobby Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minnesota, the brilliant blue-eyed boy who taught himself to play the guitar and piano, who stayed up late listening to Hank Williams, Muddy Waters and B.B. King on the radio, who worked in his father's store to earn money for records and an electric guitar. Music was both passion and refuge for the teenager who dreamed of traveling to faraway places and felt more and more like an outsider in his hometown.

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23. quack up!



Blurry? Is this picture blurry? Have you ever tried to photograph a quazy duck?

Quackity quack quack!

Look who waddled into town over the weekend -- yes, that's Max the Duck, star of the New York Times Bestselling picture book series with his uber-talented creator, Jackie Urbanovic!



Jackie was on the panel at the Mid Atlantic SCBWI New Member Welcome held at the Reston Regional Library, sharing her thoughts on "The Creative Life: Navigating the Peaks and Valleys of Writing and Illustrating for Children," along with Lezlie Evans, Valerie Patterson and Regional Advisor Ellen Braaf.

Though I had interviewed Jackie a couple of times for alphabet soup, we'd never met in person. When I finally introduced myself following the panel discussion, she let out a little scream, jumped out of her seat and gave me a big hug. "I can't believe you're here!" she kept saying. Just ducky!!

       

Such a thrill -- I've been a Jackie fan since I discovered Duck at the Door at my public library back in 2007 -- and have enjoyed each and every installment in the series: Duck Soup, Duck and Cover, and Sitting Duck. Okay, guess which one is my favorite?



HOW COULD I NOT LOVE SOMEONE WHO WRITES ABOUT SOUP?!

Anyway, I got her to sign my books, and then we quipped and quacked for a few minutes. Jackie's positive energy is contaigious, and she's able to convey so much joy and exuberance in her art. Zip, jump, run. Badda-bing! Quazy good (with a side of quisp).


Possibly my most favorite inscription EVER!

Her latest title, released earlier this year, is IF YOU'RE HOPPY, written by April Pulley Sayre (Greenwillow, 2011). Full of hoppy sloppy animals growling and flapping all over the place (review coming soon). Big, big dose of Happy.

      

I'm a lucky duck, no? ☺

♥ More Jackie posts here.



*skips away*

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24. lip-smacking feast: hot, hot roti for dada-ji by f. zia and ken min


                       

Are you hungry, baba?

You've come to the right place! Let's fire up the skillet and cook some lip-smacking, oh-so-yummy, belly-rubbing roti! 


Harry R/flickr

There's so much more to this homey unleavened Indian flatbread than meets the eye (or the stomach). Yes, it's perfect for scooping up curries and vegetables (love love it with dahl), but did you know it also has the power to inspire really good stories? Hunh-ji! Yes Sir!

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji (Lee & Low Books, 2011) contains all the ingredients I love most in a children's story: food, family, and high octane fun. I can say unequivocally that it's my favorite picture book thus far about contemporary Indian American life. How to blend the old with the new? Find an interesting way to bridge the generations? Introduce young readers to an unfamiliar culture? Lace a story with tasty specifics that tap into universal themes? Debut author F. Zia accomplishes all these things with her beautifully crafted "story within a story" that never misses a beat and is an absolute hoot to read aloud.

Young Aneel is thrilled his grandparents have come to stay. He likes Dadi-ma's fragrant incense and soothing prayer song, and Dada-ji is "teaching him to stand on his head and to sit like a serene lotus." But what he loves most are Dada-ji's stories about the "faraway village with the green wheat fields and the swaying coconut palms."


(click to enlarge)

You see, when Dada-ji was a boy (wink, wink), he astonished the villagers with all manner of amazing feats -- he could wrestle snorting water buffalos, tie hissing cobras into knots, even spin three trumpeting elephants by their tails. Everyone stared in amazement and shouted "Wah! Wah! (Wow! Wow!)." 

And where did Dada-ji get such incredible strength? By eating his mother's hot, hot fluffy-puffy roti, of course! It was SO good, people "trampled tall fields and swam angry rivers" for just one taste or sniff of the bread that sizzled and wizzled on Badi-ma's hot tavva pan. Dada-ji ate a tall stack every day with a side of tongue-burning mango pickle, and this gave him the power of the tiger ("ARRE WAH!").


(click to enlarge)

Telling these tall tales makes Dada-ji's tummy rumble. Aneel wonders, does Dada-ji still have the power? Who can make some roti? Everyone is busy, so Aneel will make it! After combining flour, water and salt, Aneel kneads, punches, pulls, then shapes the dough into balls. He rolls them out and Dadi-ma helps him cook up a tall stack. Wah! How Dada-ji loves A

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25. jammin' into june


"Then followed that beautiful season . . . Summer . . .
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape/Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood." ~
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



Okay, how did this happen? It's June already?

Doesn't matter what the calendar says. Summer has already hit Virginia with my "favorite" menu of H's: hazy, hot, humid. Hell's bells, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!

Since I can't and don't want to do that, I'll just have to requisition a few extra hunkalicious hotties to cool me off with palm fronds and tall glasses of sweet tea. (It would help tremendously if they all resembled Colin Firth and/or George Clooney and had the songwriting chops of Bob Dylan.)

Ooh, ooh! Have to share this video that was posted on the When Bob Met Woody Facebook Page. Hubba hubba! Hopefully, this will temporarily silence some of the misguided folks who constantly complain about Dylan's singing voice. Every word is intelligible.




Okay, where was I? So, what mischief have you been up to? Did you have a good Memorial Day weekend? We took it easy and slow; actually, we were forced to on Sunday since we had a morning power outage. Couldn't plug in, charge up, cook or flush -- when the power goes out, our well pump doesn't work, so no water to wash or rinse. You'll be happy to know we somehow managed to remain fair of face. Amazing what bathing in a few dewdrops will do. ☺

Though I often complain about the heat, I remain enamoured with the idea of summer -- long, sun-drenched days marked by leisurely mornings, lazy afternoons, relaxed, starlit evenings. And the food is the best -- lots of fresh fruits and veggies and good things on the grill. I'm perfectly happy with all-American burgers, steak and ribs, but like my share of marinated Portobello mushrooms, green peppers, eggplant, zucchini, asparagus and onions. We also enjoy grilling seafood and teriyaki chicken; Len feels especially accomplished when he slices fresh corn off the cob and grills the kernels with lots of butter in a foil packet.



And who doesn't welcome the much-anticipated "summer reading?" Books you've been dying to get to all year, saving them for those extended, uninterrupted periods of pure immersion. Summer also gives us permission to indulge in the guilty pleasure of "trashy" books, so-called beach reading. For me, this would include rock/celebrity biographies and memoirs, anything food-related, some popular women's fiction. I do draw the line at formula romances, though (even though I actually wrote one once), and continue to avoid anything self-help. But one girl's "trash" is another girl's gold, so who's to judge? 

As
Jules of 7-Imp would say, "whatever blows your hair back." There is inestimable value in reading as widely as possible -- especially in those genres you may have

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