Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mary Poppins's Ceiling Scones

I am ashamed to admit that I never read Mary Poppins, by P. L. Travers, until just this week.  Sure, I've seen the movie dozens of times (and after reading it, want to watch it again), but I never got around to reading it.  I never even thought of reading it, in fact, until I saw the Mary Poppins Cookbook on the shelf at the local library (I was looking for Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon, which was - alas! - checked out.  Maybe next week).  And then I realized - I'd never read the book that the movie was based on! How unlike me!

So, quick-like-a-bunny, I ran over and - what luck!! - it was on the shelf.  Hooray!  So I've been reading it, and I gotta tell ya.  It's pretty darn good.  For the one person out there who is unfamiliar with this story, please allow me to explain.  Mary Poppins is a nanny in Britain in the early 1900's, who travels to Cherry Tree Lane in chapter 1 of the book, to be employed by the Banks family.  Ms. Poppins is no ordinary nanny, however - she is able to slide up banisters with ease, talk to animals and the weather, jump into chalk pictures on the sidewalk, and generally do things with ease that most of us would think impossible.

I have to admit, though, that this may be the first time I haven't  thought the book was amazingly better than its movie, probably because the movie is so ingrained in my head, and the book is vastly different.  Firstly, the characters are very different in the book - there are four children, not two; Mr. Banks is a very nice, though busy, man, rather than a stuffy one who doesn't seem to care about his family; and Mary Poppins herself is a brisk, nosy, perpetually-annoyed kind of character, rather than the sweet one played by Julie Andrews.

Secondly, the magic that one can imagine in, say, the Harry Potter books, isn't written in such a way as to pull the reader in.  Travers writes in a matter-of-fact way,  as if it would be odd for us to question what was going on.  Which works!  But then you lack the wonder that should rightfully be there when one sees a woman suddenly producing a floor lamp from an empty bag.  You have to supply that yourself.

Also, Bert isn't present in the book very much, and he's one of my favorite characters.  And there is no such thing as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in this book.  But there is a midnight visit to a zoo, along with stars being pasted into the sky straight off gingerbread cookies, a dancing cow, and a dog friendship that transcends the social classes.  There is also, my friends - and I'm so excited about this! - a tea party on the ceiling. 

Mary Poppins takes her charges, Jane and Michael (the babies being otherwise occupied) to have tea with her uncle, Mr. Wigg, who has the unfortunate blessing of being filled up with laughing gas on his birthday, whenever it happens to fall on a Friday.  He was such a sight, bobbing up in the air like that, that the children were affected as well, and the three of them were unable to return to the floor in time for their tea.  Always being one to make the best of a situation, Mary Poppins moved the tea party up to the ceiling, instead, where it was served while the group floated about.

But what would a tea party be without tasty things to snack on?  So, in honor of the Mary Poppins tea party, I give you:
Mary Poppins Ceiling Scones
NOTE: There are two ways to make these: by hand, and with the food processor.  I used a food processor, and it took all of 4 minutes to form the dough, so that is the way I'm going to give the directions to you.  If you want the other directions, go to and search for "Simple Scones," as that is the recipe I'm using here.
1 stick butter, frozen and cut into chunks
2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 egg
1 tbsp. sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 400.  In a food processor, add the butter, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal.
2. Add the chocolate chips and pulse a few more times, to chop them up a bit.
3. In a small bowl, stir the sour cream, almond extract and egg until well blended.  Add this to the food processor and pulse until the mixture starts to form small dough balls.
4. Turn out the dough onto a lightly-floured surface, and pat into a circle about 7 or 8 inches in diameter, and 3/4 of an inch thick.  Sprinkle the circle with the 1 tbsp. of sugar, and then cut into 8 pieces with a butter knife.  Arrange on a baking tray, leaving an inch or so of room between the slices.
5. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the scones are golden brown and delicious.  Let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.  These are tasty both warm and cold.

I set my scones onto a round pizza dish, so they would fit in the same circular way that I cut them from (just with spaces between the pieces).  It looked like this when I took it out:
Not too shabby!  Well... a little shabby, but they're supposed to have a rustic look to them, right?  Here's a close-up of one piece.
Mmmm!! The almond extract is light but present and adds a lovely flavor, and when you bite into a piece with a white chocolate chip, it really brings out the extra nutty yumminess.  These are also unlike other scones that I've had, in that they are moist, rather like a dinner biscuit instead of a drier, crackerier taste.

Not to tootle my own horn (or the horn of the author who posted the recipe on allrecipes), but I think these are worthy of a Mary Poppins Tea Party. And if she would like to come by, I am more than willing to share.

Friends, I have made a mistake.  In my haste to try to be fair to Ms. Travers and respectful of her work, I neglected to give you a fair recommendation of this book.  My honest opinion is that, while it may be worthwhile to read this if you have grown up watching Disney's Mary Poppins, and see how you like it... don't read this to children.  It was written in 1934, and as such, has some really horrible-awful offensive things in it that were okay back then, but aren't anymore.  For example, they find a magic compass and travel around the world, visiting "savages" in Africa and a village in China, among other places.  In the interest of honesty, I feel that I must tell you, it's rather disturbing.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatball Calzone

In 1982, history was made.  An event so historic, so amazing, that it probably helped form the idea for this blog a year before I was even born.  In 1982, the world first was able to read Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett.  Firstly, the illustrations.  I love these even more having read Molly Bang's Picture This: How Picture's Work (she analyzes lines, colors, shapes... trust me, it's enlightening), but I've always been drawn to the illustrations in this book.  I remember flipping through and looking at all the pictures before I was able to read.

The story itself is crafted by our narrator's Grandpa as a bedtime story, and features the far-away town of Chewandswallow.  This city is normal in most respects, except that, instead of rain from the clouds, residents get orange juice.  Instead of snow, hamburgers and fries might fall from the sky.

There are a few small problems with this - firstly, you don't know what kind of food will fall, or when.  And secondly, you don't know how much you'll get.  For a long time, residents are ok with this.  The weather report would tell you what was for dinner, and sanitation workers would collect uneaten food for the wildlife.  Life was idyllic.

But then, the weather stopped being so friendly.  One time, they had snowdrifts of cream cheese and jelly sandwiches, and everybody ate themselves silly.  Another time, nothing came down but overcooked broccoli all day.  And then, the food wasn't just bigger in quantity - it started getting bigger in size, too!  The school was squashed under a giant pancake!  Meatballs would roll down the road and cause destruction!  A giant pickle fell right through somebody's roof!  Things were starting to get dangerous... and the residents of Chewandswallow had to decide what to do about it.

I've already ruined so much of this book that I'm not going to tell you what happens.  I'm sorry, but you're just going to have to read it.

Anyhow.  In honor of this wonderful book - which, incidentally, is one of those that, when people find out I write this blog, people tell me that I have to do something with - I have decided to make a calzone for you today.  Okay, yes, I was going to make spaghetti and meatballs.  But I did spaghetti with the puttanesca, and it's somewhat predictable.  I like to throw a wrench in the works sometimes.  So, calzone.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatball Calzone
1 package of prepared pizza dough (this can be found in the frozen section, the biscuit-dough section, or sometimes in the bakery, depending on the store)
1 can of your favorite pizza or pasta sauce
1 lb. of prepared meatballs (fresh or frozen)
1 cup of shredded cheese (I used "Italian Blend")
1 small tub of ricotta cheese
Olive oil

1. Bring the dough to room temperature and roll it out flat.  If you have gotten your dough from a tube, it will be a giant rectangle; prepared fresh or frozen dough in blob-form will probably roll out to a rounder shape.  Either is ok.  After it is rolled out to the desired size, let it sit for about 5 minutes (this will help it settle and it won't tear as easily later).
2. Preheat your oven to 350 and heat up the meatballs in the microwave; I used prepared, frozen meatballs, with 16 meatballs to a pound, and heated them according to the package instructions.  After they have been warmed up, cut them into roughly bite- or two-bite-sized pieces. 
3. Mentally divide the dough in half.  On one half, spread a thin layer of the pizza sauce.  Sprinkle on the cheese, then top with the meatballs.  Scoop ricotta from the tub and drop at random intervals over the other toppings. 
4. Once your toppings have been added, fold the un-topped half of the dough over the toppings, and pinch the crust together to make one large mound of goodness.  Brush on a little olive oil (I actually used olive oil cooking spray) to promote browning, and cut a few slits in the top of the calzone so it doesn't explode.
5. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes (you'll know when it's done, because it will be golden brown and your house will smell amazing).  Let it sit for a couple minutes, then slice up and enjoy.  You can use the pizza sauce you didn't use inside the calzone for dipping in.

Here are a few photos for you.  This is how it will look when it's just out of the oven - perhaps not the prettiest thing ever, but still.

When sliced, you can see the layers inside.  Oooh, that's good stuff.
And then plate it up.  See the puffy ricotta clouds?  Yum!
 One final note before I let you go.  Firstly, thanks for sticking with me during my long absences - I am in the middle of a practicum and a class, and I'm loving them both, but it leaves very little time for me to cook.  Secondly, mostly what I cook for this blog is very unhealthy, by virtue of it being fun, so I'm going to *try* to make things slightly less bad for you than they are.
And lastly - yes, that is my hand in the first photo.  And my lovely plaid pajamas.  You're welcome.