Tuesday, October 23, 2012

One Green Apple Cupcakes

Every children's literature enthusiast is familiar with Eve Bunting, and with good reason.  All told, she has written over 250 books!  Most of the titles are for children and teens, and while I haven't read every one of them, I do enjoy the ones I have read, which cover many various topics, from homelessness to a moose's Thanksgiving table.

One Green Apple was published in 2006, and is one of Bunting's more serious books.  Ted Lewin's illustrations really capture the emotions of the children in beautiful, realistic watercolor, and help to set the tone for the tale.  It tells the story of Farah, who is not only new in her school but new to the country, and doesn't yet speak a word of English.  Worse yet, Farah is the only one in the school wearing a dupatta (her head scarf) - everything is different, and she can't even explain that to anybody.  She wants to say, "it is not that I am stupid.  It is just that I am lost in this new place," but she doesn't have the words.

On Farah's second day, her class takes a field trip to a local apple orchard.  A classmate introduces herself, but Farah is still nervous and uncomfortable.  In the orchard, each student is allowed to pick one apple, which will all be blended together to make apple cider.  Farah sees a smaller tree with little green apples - "it is small and alone, like me" - and picks one.

After a while, Farah notices that there are some things that are the same in any language - like laughter.  She gets up the courage to join the other children in pressing the cider, and, eventually, to try her first word in English.

This book is a wonderful story for both those who are new and feel isolated, and for those who may be hesitant to welcome someone who is different.  It's also a good fall story - who doesn't like cider?  And what's my favorite thing to do with cider?  Bake with it!  (Actually, I prefer to just drink it, but baking with it turned out to be a very good thing.)

One Green Apple Cupcakes
For the cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 eggs
2 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 cups applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1) Preheat oven to 350.  Put cupcake liners into muffin tins - this recipe made me 28 cupcakes.  You could do a combination of cupcakes and regular cakes, or one bundt pan, or whatever you like.  If you use a non-cupcake pan, grease and flour it.
2) In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
3) Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and add the remaining ingredients.  Mix well, and pour into prepared pans.
4) Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  This took 25 minutes for my cupcakes.
5) Cool completely, and frost with apple cider buttercream (below).

Apple Cider Buttercream
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup apple cider
3-4 cups confectioner's sugar

1) Cream the butter and apple cider until well-blended, and then add in 3 cups confectioner's sugar until fully combined. Add additional sugar slowly, until the desired consistency.

I got the recipe for the applesauce cake here, at the allrecipes.com website.  The apple cider buttercream was found here, on the TLC website.  They came out rather well, if I say so myself - I sold most of them for a bake sale to fund the American Cancer Society.

Question of the day:
What's your favorite Fall book?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Walter the Farting Dog: Dog Biscuits

Walter the Farting Dog is the first book in a series written by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray, and illustrated by Audrey Colman.  To date, there are five Walter books.

The thing that most people notice about the books (poor Walter's flatulence) is the very reason that the book was banned.  There are a lot of people who object to "poop humor."  (I find this term particularly amusing, because those in the know will mention that the book has "scatological humor," thus removing the need to use the word "poop" - the very word they object to the first place!)

It's true that not a lot of people enjoy farting, even in a dog, and that's actually the plot of the first Walter book.  He gets adopted from the pound by Betty and Billy, but Mother and Father aren't big fans of his smell.  He gets baths, but being dirty isn't the issue.  He goes to the vet, but the low-flatulence dog biscuits make him even gassier!  Poor Walter is so stinky that Father eventually puts his foot down, and tells the kids that he is going back to the pound first thing in the morning.

What can poor Walter do?  He vows to never fart again, and just keep it all inside, no matter how much it hurts, while he thinks things over.  It's like things just get worse and worse for him.  We find out on the very first page that "nobody wanted him" at the pound, and when he finally has a loving home, Father wants to get rid of him!  It's all because he farts, but he can't help it; it's just how he is.  And then, just when all things seem as bleak as they can get, someone has broken into the house!  Can Walter save the day, and keep from being sent back to the pound?

This book was dedicated "for everyone who's ever felt misjudged or misunderstood."  That's a sentiment I can get behind (no pun intended), and I have made special dog biscuits for Walter.

Dog Biscuits for Walter the Farting Dog
You will need:
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 eggs
2 tbsp. peanut butter
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1) Preheat the oven to 350.
2) Whisk all ingredients together until well blended.  This took a couple minutes even with my stand mixer.
3) Add water if needed to make the dough workable and sticking together.  (I didn't need any water.)
4) The instructions here say to roll the dough to about 1/2" thickness and make 1/2" rounds.  I ignored this entirely and made balls out of the dough, which I flattened with my palm.
5) Bake until dried out and hard, about 40 minutes.

I got the recipe for these from AllRecipes.com, where it's listed as Peanut Butter and Pumpkin Dog Treats.  As I don't have a dog, I gave these to my boss, who has two.  I will post their reaction to the treats once they've tried them.

Question of the day: Can anybody guess what book we're talking about to round out Banned Books Week tomorrow?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bridge to Terabithia: Twinkies

Katherine Paterson has written several classic, award-winning novels, including Because of Winn-Dixie, The Great Gilly Hopkis, and Lyddie. Bridge to Terabithia, one of her most popular titles, was published in 1977, and won the Newbery Award in 1978.

Bridge to Terabithia is the story of Jesse Aarons, who lives with his family in rural Virginia.  Jess was the middle child and the only boy, with two older sisters (how awful!) and two younger sisters (how annoying!)  It was his goal to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade, and had been practicing all summer long for the first big recess race of the school year ... only to be beaten at the last minute by the new kid! A girl!

Leslie had just moved to town and didn't understand why she wasn't welcomed with open arms (after all, she was friendly!).  After she beat Jesse (and all the other boys) in the recess races, nobody wanted to talk to her at all.  And after Jesse had worked hard training all summer, too.  There were only two options after that: they could be best friends, or worst enemies.  Luckily, the friendship worked out, and Jess and Leslie became inseparable.  Jess made sure that Leslie knew the ins and outs of country life (she had moved from the city with her parents, who had decided to "reassess their value structure," and didn't know all the social norms), and Leslie made sure that Jesse had fun and imagination in his life.  Together, they created Terabithia, a world of magic and imagination set deep in the woods, that you could only get to by swinging on a rope swing over a creek.  There they would sit, King and Queen, with Leslie telling stories and Jess drawing pictures, surrounded by the magic of the forest.

This book is about transformation.  In the beginning, Jess was lonely, bored, and depressed.  As his friendship with Leslie developed, he became happier, more patient toward his sisters, and generally more outgoing.  Rather than just wishing things were different, be began to be proactive in making them better - even getting revenge on the school bully (a horrible seventh grader named Janice Avery) because she stole his little sister's Twinkies.  (When money is tight, as it was with the Aarons family, the Twinkies were a very special treat, snatched away before they could be enjoyed.)

So, why was this book banned?  There are a few answers, though none of them is very satisfactory.  The obvious answer is that it was banned because of a disturbing event that happens at the end of the book, but that isn't cited too often.  It's also said that it's banned because of witchcraft, but there is no magic in this book.  Everything that the kids imagine is pure imagination - none of it is real.  They know none of it is real.  It's all a game.  The answer you hear most often is that it's been banned for profanity, and while there may be a "damn" here and there, what most people are upset about is the fact that Jess says, "oh, Lord," when he's frustrated, which is Taking The Lord's Name In Vain, which is unforgivable.  Honestly, I don't get it.

Anyway, as I said, Twinkies were the start of the whole Janice Avery debacle, so I decided to make some.  Now, I am one of the lucky few to actually own a Twinkie making kit (no, really!), so I'm using it to make these, but mini loaf pans or even muffin tins would work just fine, as long as you don't mind the shape being quite right.
It even comes with a Twinkie The Kid official Twinkie holder!
Terabithian Twinkies
For the cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, plus one egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk

1) The directions specifically say to use a rack in the middle of the oven (I don't know why, but do I did it anyway).  Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease the pan.
2) Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
3) In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla.  Scrape down the bowl, lower the speed to low, and mix in the milk until smooth.
4) Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just blended.  Don't over-mix, or your Twinkies will be overly chewy.
5) Spoon the batter evenly into the pan, filling each Twinkie (or muffin cup, or loaf pan) about 3/4 full.  Bake 15 minutes, or until a toothpick poked into the middle comes out clean.
6) Cool for 15 minutes in the pan, and then remove to cool on a wire rack.
7) When completely cool, load frosting (you can use canned frosting, but the recipe below is really fantastic) into the flavor injector (or piping bag, or large ziploc bag with the corner snipped off), and squirt into the bottom of the cake.  Just like Hostess, I poked three holes into each cake.  If you're using a cupcake instead, you should be able to use just one.
Not that you needed to see this part, but how often do I get to use this, really?
8) Enjoy, preferably with a glass of milk.

Marshmallow Frosting
1/2 cup butter
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 cup Marshmallow Fluff
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1) Mix using a hand mixer or stand mixer until light and fluffy.

I got both of these recipes from the official Hostess Twinkies Brand Bake Set Recipe Book.  Personally, I think the cake is good, but the marshmallow filling really steals the show.  If you don't want to make both the cake and the filling, I'd recommend using a boxed mix for the cake and making this buttercream from scratch - it's that good!  Why did I never think of Marshmallow Buttercream?!

Question of the day:
Now that I've opened and used my Hostess Twinkies Brand Bake Set, what flavor combination should I make next?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing: Turtle Cookies

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume is the fourth installment in our Banned Books Week celebration.  (Why was it banned?  More on that later.)  This book was first published in 1972, which was shocking to me, because I read it as a kid and it didn't feel dated at all.  (Except the part where Fudge sticks himself all over with stamps from the grocery store.  That made no sense even when I was in fourth grade in the early 90s.)

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is the first in a series about Peter Hatcher, a fourth grade boy who feels like a great big nothing.  He lives in New York City with his parents and two-year-old brother, Farley (who goes by Fudge).  Fudge is the star of the books, and it's always up to poor Peter to clean up the messes.  If Fudge's birthday party guests don't behave, it's up to Peter to entertain them.  If Fudge won't eat, it's Peter who does handstands to make him open his mouth so Mom can pop a bite of food in.  And when Fudge tries to fly off the monkey bars and knocks out his two front teeth, who do you think gets all the blame?  Peter, that's who!

At least Peter has his turtle for company.  Wonderful, reliable Dribble, who sits around in his bowl doing turtle-y things, and never asks for anything.  And Dribble is one thing that Fudge isn't allowed to touch.  But... since when does Fudge follow the rules?

So, why was this book banned?  To tell you, I have to spoil the entire ending of the book.  So, SPOILER ALERT! When Fudge finally gets his hands on Peter's turtle, he eats him, and poor Dribble doesn't survive the ordeal (though Fudge does).  This is considered very cruel to animals.  END SPOILER!

Peter is the protagonist of a whole series of books, including Superfudge, Fudge-a-Mania, and Double Fudge.  The Hatcher family also appears in Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, which is told by Peter's neighbor and resident know-it-all, Sheila.

So, in honor of Peter's turtle, Dribble, I made turtle cookies!  (Why didn't I make fudge?  I have no idea.)

Turtle Cookies
You will need:
Vanilla wafers
Chocolate chips

1) Place vanilla wafers on a microwave-safe plate.  I only made six cookies, so I did them all at once, but I would hesitate to make more than that in a batch, because the caramel would cool too quickly.
2) Cut the caramels in half lengthwise, so you have two flat rectangles.  Place one half-caramel onto each vanilla wafer, and microwave the plate until the caramels are soft (in my microwave, it took 25 seconds, but I recommend starting with 15 seconds and poke one to see if it's soft yet, and then adding 10 seconds at a time until they're soft).
3) When the caramels are soft, poke four pecans into each one.  Set aside to cool.  They should look like this:
4) In a small bowl, pour a handful of chocolate chips.  Zap in the microwave at 15-second increments, stirring well after each increment.  Be very careful to not let the chocolate scorch! When the chocolate is smooth, dollop some on top of each cookie, smoothing it out with the back of a spoon.  Let cool on the counter or in the fridge before consuming.

Using vanilla wafers as a base for these treats was my own idea, though they play off the traditional Turtle candy (caramel, chocolate and pecans).  The idea to make turtles was Shannon's.  Thank you, Shannon!

Question of the day: This is one of my favorite banned books.  Which ones do you like best?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

And Tango Makes Three: Penguin Cookies

Penguin love story!

And Tango Makes Three is our third spotlight for Banned Books Week, and one of my favorites.  This picture book has been on the list of ALA's most banned books every year since its publication in 2005.  Who wouldn't love a true-life love story starring penguins?  Well, this one is controversial because it's about two male penguins.

Roy and Silo lived in the Central Park zoo with lots of other penguins.  They were the best of friends, and did everything together.  They walked together, swam together, and sang to each other.  "Wherever Roy went, Silo went too."  They even built a nest together, and did their best to hatch a stone.  Their zookeeper, Mr. Gramzay, had noticed Roy and Silo together, and brought them an egg that another penguin couple couldn't care for.  This egg, which Roy and Silo took great care sitting on, eventually hatched into a beautiful, healthy baby girl penguin, which Mr. Gramzay named Tango ("because it makes two to make a tango").

Roy and Silo gave her everything she needed.  They fed her, cuddled her, and taught her to swim.  "Tango was the very first penguin in the zoo to have two daddies," the book tells us.  She was special, in that regard, but her little family was still very much like all the other penguin families in the zoo.

So, no.  This isn't the most exciting story ever told.  But it is a really adorable little love story, perfectly suitable for a conversation about adoption.  And with all the anger and controversy over this book, I had to make something super special for Banned Book Week.

And Tango Makes Three Penguin Cookies

You will need:
- Your favorite sugar cookie dough (I used the Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix that comes in a pouch.  It is delicious and very, very easy.)  Given the option, use dough for rolling out and cutting shapes out of instead of dough for drop cookies.
- Food coloring

This is a little confusing to write out, so I have taken photos of each step.  Are you ready?  Here we go!

1) Prepare your cookie dough according to package directions.  Using food coloring, dye 1/3 of the dough blue, and half of the remaining dough orange.

2) Make one large and two medium balls out of the blue dough, one medium ball out of the un-dyed dough, and three small balls out of the orange dough.  It should look like this:

3) Smush flat the large blue dough ball, the un-dyed dough ball, and two of the orange dough balls.  Make flat teardrops of the remaining blue dough, and a triangle of the remaining orange.  It should look like this:
(HINT: If your dough is too sticky, you might have to stick it in the fridge for a few minutes.  Likewise, if the dough is sticking to your fingers a lot, you can wet them with a wet paper towel you have off to the side, and this will help a lot.)

4) Stack the un-dyed ball on top of the large blue dough ball, toward the bottom.  This will be the penguin's tummy.  Place one of the blue teardrops on each side of the un-dyed ball to make wings.  The orange triangle should overlap the blue and white to make a beak.  The remaining orange dough is the penguin's feet.  Assembled, it should look like this:

5) Bake according to recipe directions (in my case, 375 for 8 minutes).  Remember, these cookies are rather large and thicker than most, so they may take a little bit longer.  I got only 9 penguins out of my dough, with a few small discs of various colors left over.

6) Let these cool before trying to remove them from cookie sheets, or you risk breaking off (or squishing) the penguins' feet.

I got the design for these from the Better Homes and Gardens Special Publications: Christmas Cookies magazine from Christmas 2012.  Their penguins were black, but black food coloring stains everything, so I went with blue, which seemed like more of a penguin color than brown.  Their's also had eyes, which I didn't put on for the sake of simplicity.  And the BHG ones were peppermint, where mine were just sugar cookies. Maybe next time I make them, I will make them peppermint penguins, as suggested.

So, what do you think?  Will you be making Tango penguin cookies any time soon?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Strega Nona Noodles

Strega Nona, how much do I love you?  And really, how could anybody not?  This character, invented by Tomie de Paola and first published in 1975, is a lovely grandmotherly Italian woman, who uses her magic to help cure headaches and warts and to help lonely girls find love.

Unsurprisingly (as this is Banned Books Week), not everybody loves Strega Nona; this book has been banned many times because Strega Nona is a witch (her name actually means "Grandma Witch").  Worse than that - Strega Nona is a good witch!  This tells children that, not only is magic and witchcraft possible, but it's desirable, and being a witch is an acceptable career path, which is wholly unacceptable, and it shouldn't be up to the parents to teach their children that there is such a thing in life as make-believe.  After all, we can't let children enjoy themselves too much.

Sigh.  Moving on.

Strega Nona is a lovely woman, but she realizes that she's getting old.  She hires Big Anthony to do her housework and chores for her, so that she can concentrate on her magic.  Unfortunately, Big Anthony doesn't pay attention very well, so when he hears her singing to a pot to call forth pasta for dinner, he doesn't think past how amazing the magic is.  When she goes out for the day to visit a friend, he decides that he will supply a pasta meal for the entire town, and starts up the pot... but how can he possibly stop the pasta from flowing when he didn't pay enough attention to learn the whole spell?  (And what will Strega Nona think when she comes home?)

Many people believe that Strega Nona is an old Italian folktale, but according to the author, she's a creation of his very own mind.  (Yes, the cover says, "an old tale retold."  The old tale is that of the porridge pot.)  I think it is a credit to Mr. de Paola that Strega Nona has taken on such a life that people believe that she has always existed.  It takes an incredible character to stand the test of time, and one even more impressive to pervade our collective memories and insist that she has always been there.  Such is her magic.

Of course, this story is all about pasta, and here's the best way to make your own:
Strega Nona Noodles

1) Get your favorite magic pasta pot, and sing this spell:
         Bubble, bubble, pasta pot,
         Boil me some pasta, nice and hot,
         I'm hungry and it's time to sup,
         Boil enough pasta to fill me up.
2) When you have enough pasta to fill your needs, sing this spell:
         Enough, enough, pasta pot
         I have my pasta, nice and hot,
         So simmer down my pot of clay,
         Until I'm hungry another day.
3) Blow three kisses to the pot.  Do not skip this step!  Let Big Anthony serve as your warning!

Of course, if you don't have a favorite magic pasta pot, you can always try it this way:

1) Fill your favorite spaghetti pot about 3/4 full with water, and sprinkle in some salt.  Bring to a boil.
2) Add your favorite pasta and cook according to package directions.  I used egg noodles, and it took me 7 minutes to cook.  I prefer my pasta al dente (chewy but not crunchy - literally, "to the tooth"), but make it however you like it.  Seriously, though, look at the cooking times: I have a good friend who used to tell me she hated how mushy angel hair pasta was, and it turns out she was cooking it for 7 minutes instead of the 2-3 minutes it actually takes.
3) Drain your pasta and garnish as desired.  Tonight, I used a little butter and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese - delicious!

Question of the day: Strega Nona is one of my favorite fictional witches.  I also enjoy Glinda and Professor McGonagall.  Who tops your witch list?