Bedtime Stories: The Eyre Affair

Post by Mark T. Locker.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.

This week, we’re talking a book for the grown-ups! A couple weeks back, I shared with you part of a series for young adults by Jasper Fforde, a book all about magicians and magical creatures. But before he launched into YA fiction, Jasper Fforde wrote several offbeat mystery novels for adults. The first of these novels, often described as “metafiction” was The Eyre Affair.  It’s not easy to summarize the unusual world created by Fforde, but suffice it to say that literature and literary figures are so lauded that there is a special branch of operatives who deal specifically with crimes of a literary nature. Often that is little more that fake original manuscripts or “lost” poems of great writers. But when the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit is stolen under inexplicable circumstances, things get much more serious. When a minor character from the novel suddenly disappears from the book, and his body is found in modern-day London, the mystery becomes deadly serious. And Lit Tec operative Thursday Next may be the only one who can get to the bottom of it all.

I’ll admit this book is totally weird. I also can’t wait to go on and read the other books in this series. This one focuses, as you might suspect, on the Brontë novel Jane Eyre. I believe that there is some Hamlet in the next one! And who knows what else in the others? So if you think you’d enjoy metafiction (fiction about fiction) this one is great to read as a bedtime story to yourself.

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Breakfast in Bed – Profiteroles

Post by: Alison Hein.

Profiteroles (aka cream puffs) are a divine bite of sweet something encased in an airy puff of a shell. Filled with the delight of your choice (ice cream, fruit, whipped cream, etc.), they make an impressive dessert, and sometimes an exceedingly decadent, melt-in-your-mouth breakfast in bed.

In this recipe, the airy, crêpe-like shells are filled with homemade Vanilla Pudding and topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream. Tiny lids are propped upon the cream and dusted with a fine powder of confectioner’s sugar. Tangy, colorful raspberries and blueberries balance and garnish the dish.

Ingredients

½ cup water
¼ cup butter
½ cup flour, sifted
2 eggs

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly grease a baking sheet and set aside.

Add water and butter to small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Mix in flour all at once. Stir continuously, until mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball, about 1 minute. Let cool for 5 minutes.

Beat eggs into flour mixture one at a time. Continue to mix until batter is thick and smooth. Drop onto prepared sheet into 12 equal portions. Bake until puffed up and golden, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool at least 30 minutes before slicing.

To assemble, gently slice profiteroles in half. Spoon some Vanilla Pudding (see recipe below) on top of one half. Cover with a spoonful of whipped cream. Place the top of the profiterole on the whipped cream. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with fresh berries, if you like.

Makes 12 profiteroles.

Vanilla Pudding

½ cup sugar
¼ cup flour (or 2 tablespoons cornstarch)
2 cups milk
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Dash of salt
1 cup heavy cream (optional)

Preparation

Combine sugar and flour in a heavy saucepan. Add milk, and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes, until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly. Gradually whisk about one half of the milk mixture into the beaten eggs, stirring constantly. Return egg mixture to the saucepan. Bring again to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, and cook for a few minutes until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in butter, vanilla and salt. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator until firm, at least 2 hours.

If you like, whip heavy cream, sweeten, and place on top of Profiteroles when ready to serve.

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Bedtime Stories: The Biggest House in the World

Post by Mark T. Locker.

So I know that just last week I was griping about how my son doesn’t bring home anything other than Star Wars books now that he gets to choose a book every week all on his own. Well, he must have read my blog post because lo and behold, the moment I make a judgement he makes an about-face and brings a picture book by one of the best-known children’s authors and illustrators of the 20th century. Some of his better-known books include Swimmy about a little fish, A Color of My Own about a chameleon trying to find his own identity, and a lot of books about mice. You’d totally recognize it if you saw it.

The one my boy chose is called The Biggest House in the World. I had never heard of this one; it turns out to be one of his first ever books. It’s a story about a little snail who wants to grow the biggest house ever on his back. His wise father replies with the story of a snail who did just that. It was a huge and beautiful house, it even had colorful spires and all the other creatures admired it. Unfortunately, the drawback was soon realized when it was time for the snails to move on to greener pastures and this poor snail couldn’t move for the sheer weight of his shell. He died. Needless to say, the little snail has some second thoughts about growing such a giant home after all. In fact, he decides to keep his shell small so he can go wherever he wants.

This story is a little bit macabre but with a happy ending. I was afraid his shell being too small would make him vulnerable so I was grateful when this was not a problem. It’s not his greatest book ever and the message is a bit obscure, but it’s got lovely images and is a fun read for little ones.

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Breakfast in Bed –Buckwheat Pancakes

Post by Alison Hein.

Buckwheat, despite its name, is more closely related to sorrel and rhubarb than to wheat. In the usual way of confusing food etymology, the plant’s misleading name is derived from the Dutch “boecweite” or German “Buchweizen,” meaning “beech wheat.” The triangular seeds resembled the much larger seed of the beech nut, and the plant was used as a substitute for wheat in cooking and baking.

Cultivated and popularized around the globe, buckwheat was a common crop in the USduring the 18th and 19th centuries. The introduction of nitrogen fertilizer in the early 20th century led to an increase in corn and wheat production, and a sad but equal decrease in buckwheat cultivation. According to Wikipedia, more than one million acres of buckwheat were harvested in the United States in 1918, and by 1964, only 50,000 acres were grown.

Buckwheat is gluten-free and has an earthy, nut-like flavor and a deep richness. This good old-fashioned recipe for Buckwheat Pancakes calls for a cup of white flour – simply use two full cups of buckwheat flour if you want to keep it gluten-free. I like to separate the eggs and fold the beaten whites into the batter for a fluffier texture. If you’re in a hurry, simply beat the eggs into the batter. The cakes may be a little flatter but their griddled goodness will remain for an old-fashioned breakfast in bed that’s due for a revival.

Ingredients

1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
2 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled, plus additional butter for cooking
2 tablespoons honey

Preparation

Combine buckwheat flour, white flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl. In separate bowl, stir together milk and egg yolks. Pour melted butter and honey into liquid mixture and stir well. Using a wooden spoon or hand mixer, gradually add liquid mixture to dry ingredients until batter is smooth. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into batter.

Place pan or griddle on burner over medium to medium-low heat. Melt a small amount of butter in the pan for the first pancake. Ladle batter by ¼ cupfuls into pan and cook until small bubbles appear throughout pancakes. Flip once with spatula and continue cooking until rich brown, one to two minutes, adding more butter and adjusting heat as necessary. Keep warm while making the remainder of pancakes. Serve hot with real maple syrup.

Makes 8 to 10 4-inch diameter pancakes.

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Bedtime Stories: The Song of the Quarkbeast

The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde.

Post by Mark T. Locker.

Jasper Fforde is probably best known as the author of metafiction mysteries. Which means fiction about fiction. He writes about a detective who enters the plots of stories to solve crimes. Another is DI Jack Spratt who, as you may guess, is involved in crimes related to fairy tales and nursery rhymes. It’s known as the Nursery Crime Division. Yuk yuk. Recently, and to my great delight, he has branched out into young adult literature. The Last Dragonslayer came out last summer and I have been eagerly awaiting the follow-up novel.

Jennifer Strange is a foundling in the kingdom of Snodd in the Ununited Kingdom. She is taken in by the Great Zambini, a powerful wizard who runs a company which supplies wizidrical services to the kingdom. But when he disappears (and fails to reappear) Jennifer, at sixteen, is tasked with managing a building full of absent-minded and sometimes ethereal wizards. To add to the problem, they are in the middle of a bitter rivalry with iMagic, the flashier but less effective wizard’s group across town.

Excitement mounts as her team of wizards begin disappearing. At the same time, there are signs that a Quarkbeast has come to town, a fearsome magical creature that feeds on metal and sports a mouthful of sharp granite teeth. To the few who know better, like Jennifer, these creatures are loyal and wonderful protectors. Finding the Quarkbeast could prove very useful.

Jasper Fforde is a funny and clever author who manages to blend mystery and excitement with a healthy dose of silliness which makes him perfect as a young adult author. If you have a tween in your house who enjoys magic, humor, and mystery this series is a definite must.

 

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