Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On y va?

Shall we go and join Arlo on his adventure?
                         
   

I know I'm ready. Ready to hop into the passenger seat of that little red Citroën DS (I think I'll let Arlo drive) and become immersed in the magical sights, sounds, and especially, the tastes of Paris - all in the company of an armadillo. Such fun. Come along, get your imagination in gear - a fabulous journey awaits...c'est parti!

Julie Kraulis has created, in her words and pictures, An Armadillo in Paris, published by Tundra Books. Arlo, an armadillo from Brazil, explores the highlights of Paris. And all thanks to the inspiration provided in a collection of journals written for Arlo by his globe-trotting grandfather, Augustin - journals containing thoughts about his favourite places in the world. Treasured items left behind - a legacy of adventure. Génial!

In the pages of the Paris journal, Arlo is guided by his grandfather through the City of Lights to find the Dame de FerWho is this Iron Lady Arlo is in search of? Some may already know the answer. But clues are provided throughout this story of Arlo's first adventure, and as the book unfolds, these hints help him, as well as the reader, discover the Parisian icon along with the history, the food, the art, the landmarks and the joie de vivre of this city. And those ideas supply ongoing interest as well as encourage participation, taking the reader along for the ride. And since j'adore Paris...this book was rather hard for me to resist...

Miam...macarons!

And those pictures - graphite and oil illustrations capturing all the delights of Paris - detailed, accurate and all with a sense of softness and whimsy. From the opening spread of the wandering paw prints, we know Arlo is eager to begin his tour. I love browsing through all the small visual moments Julie has included - Arlo preparing for his adventure with his suitcase at the ready; the miniature replicas of artwork and posters; the overhead view of our armadillo, barely visible under a tree, playing chess with a new-found friend; the puppet play where Arlo has a front row seat; the shapes, colours and textures of the fruits and veggies at the market stand, and more. 

Then there's the icing on le gâteau of an oh-so long and tall poster of the Lady herself inside the jacket cover. And a 'fact page' at the end of the book provides the reader with items of interest and information about the Tour Eiffel

An Armadillo in Paris is a charming classroom read-aloud for children 5 - 9 years of age. And it's an ideal book to introduce journal writing to students who are ready to make their own marks on paper. Arlo's grandfather has set a wonderful example of recording his thoughts and ideas in these travelogues (retelling, relating, explaining, describing)...again, this is just the right book to share as one example of journal writing and perhaps a way of encouraging and sustaining interest of this practice in the primary grades. 
  
Arlo...with his nose into a book...browsing in a bookstore!

In an article from Inspire - The Journal of Literacy and Numeracy for Ontario on the Ontario Ministry of Education's site, Barnabas Emenogu makes mention of the importance of classroom journals: 

"Writing has been linked with critical thinking, particularly journal writing has been associated with promoting students' critical thinking and learning skills.

Writing in their journals helps students apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate information beyond just knowing it. Therefore, one effective way of having students write seems to be asking them to write in a daily journal. Journals can be used across subject areas to develop writing skills in different content areas. A student might have a journal for science, math, art, physical education, music and social studies thereby learning to use the language and thinking associated with these subjects."

...perhaps this book might inspire a journal of favourite places students have visited? Their writing might not include Paris or Toronto or even a city. It may be about going to stay with a grandparent or traveling on a bus to the library or walking to a friend's house? So many possibilities...
I cannot mention Paris, without thinking about the past year's events in this city - and wondering, at the same time, how a parent, grandparent, caregiver or teacher talks about or deals with a traumatic event such as this with young ones and older children, as well. There are such diverse views among us - some don't feel the news needs to be simplified for children, others feel that children need to be shielded, and then there are those whose beliefs lie somewhere in between. I know as a teacher, my students have come to class with varying amounts of information about world events. And so many children, no matter how young, have had to cope with tragedy, change, difficult situations. One of my sons shared quite a moving video of a little boy and his father in conversation about the Paris attacks. And, as I was driving home in December, I listened to a CBC broadcast regarding this very issue. Dona Matthews, Ph. D, co-author of Beyond Intelligence, published by House of Anansi, has written an excellent article on fostering resiliency in children during troubling times. Food for thought...   


~  We’ll always have Paris.  – Howard Koch (spoken by Rick in 'Casablanca')

~  It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end. - Ursula K. Le Guin

~ If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. - Ernest Hemingway                                               
Look way up...

Arlo, the curious and inquisitive yet quiet and rather shy creature wanders and explores. And I wonder...where might Arlo go on his next adventure? Hint: It seems Arlo will be searching for another 'Lovely Lady' this spring in April 2016. Cannot wait!


And a recipe to pair with this French-inspired book? It must be macarons! And before you begin baking these sweet nothings, a little suggestion...have patience packed along with perhaps some Nina Simone or your favourite music to help keep calm and collected. I found that baking these beauties were a bit of challenge! There are so many variables that contribute to perfecting macarons. Be prepared to practice, practice, practice. If they don't work out as expected with satin tops and the lovely little ruffled 'foot'...no worries. They still taste delicious! Use those cracked, hollowed-out shells as a crumbly, crunchy topping for ice cream or whatever you might fancy. (Mine were definitely not as smoothly domed and perfectly shaped as the macarons I've had in Paris or Nadège Pâtisserie in Toronto or Linley's - A Food Shop in Stratford!) Bon courage!
                                                                          
French Macarons with Cranberry Jam
Inspiration:  Pâtissier/macaron classes with Olivier Sauvageau - Mon Père Était Pâtissier - St. Rémy de Provence - 2012, Martha Stewart Living & Epicurious 2004  

Makes about 2 dozen macarons



2/3 cup (71 grams) sliced blanched almonds
1 cup (117 grams) confectioner's/icing sugar
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 cup (53 grams) granulated sugar 
Juice from strained fresh raspberries or pomegranate seeds, as desired, for colour

1.  Preheat oven to 350° F (176° C) with the rack placed in the lower third. Place almonds in a food processor and process until fine, about 1 minute. Add confectioner's sugar and process until combined, about 1 minute. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Prepare a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch (2 cm) plain piping tip. (Try standing the bag in a tall glass when filling - it helps!)

2.  Press the combined almond flour and sugar through a fine sieve until there are no visible lumps. Set aside.

3.  In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites and granulated sugar. Continue until the mixture holds firm peaks, about 8 minutes. The mixture should be dry and hold stiff, glossy peaks. Add the juice from the strained raspberries or pomegranate. Beat for 30 seconds.

4.  With a spatula, begin folding the dry ingredients into the beaten egg whites. Then become more firm with the spatula, folding and pressing the mixture against the bottom of the bowl. This is called macaronnage which is basically deflating the whites. When the mixture is soft, smooth and combined (check at about 25 or so 'fold and presses') it should run like a ribbon - not too thick and not too thin. This will take about 35 or so complete strokes. Then transfer half the mixture to the pastry bag.

5.  Pipe the batter onto the baking sheets in 1inch (3 cm) circles, about a tbsp of batter, evenly-spaced 1 inch (3 cm) apart. (I like to use a cookie cutter or small glass to draw circles on one side of the parchment – flip it over and use the ‘unwritten’ side). 

6.  Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the countertop to release any air bubbles.

7.  Then bake for about 13 -15 minutes. Turn the sheet halfway through baking. Let the macarons cool completely and remove carefully from the baking sheet using an offset spatula.

                                           

These macarons are filled with a simple cranberry jam. I filled them just before serving so the delicate cookies would hold their shape and not become too moist. Try any favourite fruit jam or flavoured buttercream or chocolate ganache for the filling. 

Confiture de Canneberges:

3 cups (342 grams) fresh cranberries
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (125 ml) fresh orange juice
1 cup (250 ml) water

Bring all the ingredients to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. The jam will continue to thicken as it cools.

Press jam through a fine sieve into a bowl, discarding skins and seeds.

Cool, stirring occasionally.

Assembly:

Spread or pipe a small dollop of jam or buttercream or ganache onto the inside of one of the macarons and sandwich them gently together with a light twist. 


                               
Et voilà! 
A little taste of Paris! Perfect with a petit café or steaming pot of tea.
Arlo would approve, bien sûr...


*Photos & Macarons illustration by Ann Marie Stasiuk

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

HERE is what I know...


I've had the book, I KNOW HERE, written by Laurel Croza, illustrated by Matt James and published by Groundwood Books in 2010, on my bookshelf for a while. We're in the midst of book awards time across this country right now and I recently received an email from the Canadian Children's Book Centre about the nominations for the 2015 TD Children's Literature Book Awards. One of the finalists, FROM THERE TO HERE, which is the sequel to I KNOW HERE, is a nominee for the Marilyn Baillie Award for Best Picture Book. So, this was a little reminder to revisit that book on my shelf which received an abundance of  honourable mentions, has been a part of many best book lists and won numerous awards.



And deservedly...the book has such a poetic feel - the descriptive language, the movement in the words, the imagery, the repetition throughout. And in all of what the little girl knows of her HERE, the reader gains an understanding of how this family lives - what the climate and terrain and community and surroundings are like, and, what is important to this narrator. 

The illustrations have such a texture and bite to them. They seem like a relief map that I could run my fingers over and feel every nook and cranny, of raised hills, and gutted, grooved low points, the bark of the trees, the fur of the animals, the gravelly road. I love how it seems so windy all the time - the girl's hair blowing on almost every page. I can almost feel that wind in my own hair, blowing on my face. And a sky that seems ever-changing, endlessly moving as the girl is anticipating and preparing for her own change, a move, a new direction.  And there's that page with those noses. UP, UP in the air...and the red star on the map which marks the girl's new home. The primary-coloured, naif-like illustrations that support the words are so whimsical and strong, in their colour, shape and form.


I don't know the girl's HERE, but I know mine. And my HERE includes pine trees, too. As well as oak trees, linden, tulip and alder. Plants, shrubs, vines such as lilacs, hydrangea, clematis. And perennials of hollyhocks, lavender, cornflowers - bachelor buttons, as my mother named them. I know the dog across the way barking during the day. And a coyote, I think, late in the night. I know birdsong and the sound of crickets chirping. I don't know all the things this child knows. No moose or wolf or forest fire. But I know rabbits and deer. And I, too, have travelled in a tiny plane but in northern Ontario not Saskatchewan. And I've even watched TV outdoors in a small village. And tobogganing? Yes!

Some things in common. Others not. I know roads but not the road this child knows. And I know living in a trailer but only when on vacation. I know forests and creeks and beaver dams. I know of many things she knows - some experiences we do have in common though many years would separate us. So, it's about making connections. The girl wonders, "Have people in Toronto seen what I've seen?" For educators of Grades 2, 3 and 4, there's an excellent reading guide at Groundwood Books to support consideration of some of these issues and more. And children could relate and compare experiences, make connections, explore their own HEREI KNOW HERE would also be a just the right book for parents or caregivers to share with a child when looking forward, with eagerness and likely some hesitation, to a move.



I love the part of the book when the girl describes what she'll take to remember her HERE. She chooses to draw a picture of everything she knows HERE, fold it up and take it with her. Taking with us what we can when circumstances change. Taking with us physical things, yes, but mostly memories of sounds, smells, sights. Leaving other things behind. All those special and unique thoughts and feelings, needing a place - somewhere to keep those impressions, affections close. 

And I'm wondering...what will life be like in Toronto for this young girl and her family? What a different HERE from what Toronto will be - to where the dark-haired girl and her family are moving. Dealing with change, moving, leaving old friends, meeting new - a common event which many children have experienced or may about to...time to read FROM THERE TO HERE and discover the girl's new HERE. 



Everyone has their own HERE. And mine includes apple trees in an orchard aged one hundred years and more - with apples of red and yellow; some still on branches, many on the ground, others in baskets waiting to be made into applesauce, jelly, cider or just eaten as is. 



This apple orchard, for us here and now, is something new and it stirs a variety of emotions - excitement, nostalgia, a sense of calm. It's a pleasure to go out into the yard and gather apples from the trees. The pace slows while gathering. Almost all the apples we find are gnarly and blemished and misshapen, but they are crisp, tart and fresh.

So then apples to bake, since it's fall...with winter on its way.




Something earthy, simple to put together. Pancakes. And for an added sweetness - Roasted Apples Slices. And the great thing about pancakes? They're good at anytime of the day. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. 

Oh, and a bit of a nod, a gesture to the young girl's new home, her new adventure...a star, in the centre of each apple slice - roasted to become mellow and sweet - to partner with the pancakes.

Pancakes 
Inspiration:  From a grocery store flyer dating back to 1996!
 About 12 pancakes depending on size

1 cup (250 ml) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp (15 ml) sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2 ml) baking soda
1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt

1 egg
1 cup (250 ml) milk
2 tbsp butter (melted)

Neutral-tasting cooking oil or butter

1.  Whisk together the first five ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.

2.  Pour milk into a separate small bowl, beat the egg and add it to the milk. Melt butter and add it to this mixture.

3.  Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and combine gently until the pancake batter is blended but still slightly lumpy. Let it stand for about 10 minutes.

4.  Prepare a hot griddle or pan. Brush the griddle or pan with cooking oil and/or a swirl of butter. Ladle batter in a circle about 3" (8 cm) in diameter. 

(For wolf paw pancakes, pour a circle of batter about 3" (8 cm) in diameter. Add 4 small circles, a bit bigger than the size of a quarter, side by side along the upper edge of the circle. Or use your imagination and create your own shapes!)

5.  Cook the pancakes until tiny bubbles form and the underside is brown; flip and cook until edges are dry.

6.  Serve with a drizzle of maple syrup or honey, a spread wild blueberry jam, a scatter of berries. Or starry roasted apple slices.




Starry Roasted Apples Slices
Inspiration:  Bon Appetit Magazine October 2015

3 firm apples, scrubbed, thinly sliced crosswise (to reveal the star within!) into 1/4 inch (6 mm) rounds, seeds removed
2 tbsp (30ml) apple cider vinegar
2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt
1/3 cup (80 ml) pure maple syrup, plus more for serving
4 tbsp unsalted butter

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.

2.  Toss apples, vinegar, vanilla, salt and 1/3 cup maple syrup in a shallow 3-qt (3-lt) baking dish. Dot surface with butter. 

3.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake until apples soften and have released their juices, 30 - 35 minutes. Remove foil, baste apples with juices and roast until apples are tender and curled around the edges, about 20 - 25 minutes. There should be a thin layer of liquid covering the bottom of the dish.

4. Stack or layer the pancakes and apple slices. Serve with sour cream or crème fraîche and a pour of maple syrup.

Here...and now.



Monday, August 31, 2015

Go wild!

The summer berry season has been amazing this year. In June - sweet strawberries. In July - raspberries, both red and golden. And August - blueberries! And oh, those wild ones are the best. Wild blueberries can be difficult to track down. It seems one needs to travel north to find them. And they have such a short season. They're also rather pricey but well worth the once-in-a-while treat as they have a completely different taste, texture and scent from cultivated blueberries. Fresh, fragrant and, yes, wild.

And, there's a perfect read to go with these delicious, almost frost-skinned, teeny-tiny berries - Wild Berries written and illustrated by Julie Flett and published by Simply Read Books. The book is a lovely tale of tradition - a story of a grandmother and a grandchild and their search for wild blueberries. The illustrations are earthy, graphic - and the expressions and postures of the characters (both human and animal) convey so much with such seemingly simple shapes, colours and lines. And oh, that gorgeous globe of persimmon sun. The circle of life. What goes around comes around. Yes. Tradition. Customs. Habits. Patterns one can count on. 



I was introduced to the work of Julie Flett through an instructor of mine, Kerry Clare, while at The School of Continuing Studies, University of Toronto. Kerry taught last October's The Art of Blogging course. And she posted an engaging interview with Julie on the 49th Shelf website in the fall of 2014. 


Reading about blueberries (ininimina or pikaci minisa) reminded me of my long-ago summer travels in Northern Ontario when as a child I traveled with my family to visit relatives - aunts, uncles and cousins - in Thunder Bay (although back then, it was known as Fort William and Port Arthur, yet I loved its other name, 'Land of The Sleeping Giant') along with places such as Geraldton, Red Rock. We stopped all along the way - collecting gems (so we thought), my mother with her geologist's hammer in hand; fishing at Longlac for pickerel and often snagging pike; and, of course, picking wild blueberries in the heat of the sun at the side of the road - all seven of us! Our car would be weighed down with baskets full of rocks and stone, fish for frying, the berries long gone.


A favourite page of the book? It's the one where the young boy shows his consideration for his feathery friends by leaving a leaf full of berries for the birds on which to nibble. Such a thoughtful gesture on the boy's part. All of the interactions with nature and the creatures throughout the book are tiny treasures.



At our home, we had birds nesting most of the spring and summer. Three clutches of barn swallows - the adults building nests and hatching young, their constant to-and-fro feeding of the nestlings, and then young fledglings learning to sail, swoop and dive. These birds return each year to the house using the same sites for their nests. Gorgeous snippets of nature. We long for and await their return next May. Another tradition.

Oh, and I loved learning words such as grandma, long time, birds, woods, and thank you in the Cree Language along with the pronunciation guide. Exploring another language and celebrating another culture - so illuminating.

There is also a simple, tasty recipe for 'wild blueberry jam' toward the end of the book. So good with just about anything - bread, pancakes, scones...


Wild Blueberry Jam
Recipe from Wild Berries by Julie Flett

4 cups wild blueberries
1/2 cup maple syrup 
1 tbsp lemon juice

optional
2 tsp finely chopped mint

Combine ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Simmer ingredients and stir occasionally for 20 - 30 minutes until thickened.
Once the jam has cooled to room temperature, pour into sterilized glass jar and store in fridge.

This jam will keep for a week refrigerated. There are no preservatives in this recipe.


                           

Lemon Cream Scones
Inspired by: Martha Stewart Living Magazine

3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt

Finely grated zest of one large lemon

8 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

3/4 cup heavy cream, plus 3 tbsp for topping
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the dry ingredients. Cut in butter with pastry cutter or rub in with your fingers. (The largest pieces should be the size of small peas.) Stir in the lemon zest. Make a well in the centre.

2.  In a separate bowl, whisk cream, eggs and vanilla. Add the cream mixture to the flour mixture. Mix with a fork until just dough begins to come together. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead a few times to combine (the dough will be slightly sticky).

3.  Pat dough into a 6-inch/ square. Cut into six 2-inch by 3-inch rectangles using a floured knife. (Alternatively, to make 12 scones, cut each rectangle on the diagonal to create triangles.) Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush tops of scones with cream, and sprinkle with sugar. 

4.  Bake on middle rack of oven until tops are golden brown and cooked through, about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to wire cooling rack. 

5. While still slightly warm, enjoy with a dab of unsalted butter and a spread of wild blueberry jam. Blueberries and lemon - a sweet and tangy combination!


                                             

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A ramble through the garden...

A bit of a break from baking and books...a sense of the 'more' element.
So...today, a brief and quiet ramble through the garden.
Gazing. Considering. Gathering a few chosen blooms.














Sunday, March 22, 2015

It all adds up...

When I first read the title of this book, The Highest Number in the World, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Was this a picture book about counting? Perhaps about a googol? Maybe something to do with infinity? I looked at the cover. A bird's eye view of a girl geared up for hockey. Standing in the middle of an ice rink. Looking upward. At some sort of banner. But what exactly was so important about the banner and what did this 'highest number' mean, I wondered. 



The Highest Number in the World written by Roy MacGregor, illustrated by Geneviève Deprés and published by Tundra Books is a touching story of a talented nine-year-old hockey player named Gabe (short for Gabriella), her struggle of coming to terms with disappointment and a passionate, caring grandmother. 

Gabe is playing for a new team and hopes to wear a team jersey displaying her idol’s #22 (of course, Hayley Wickenheiser). But it’s not meant to be…she is given the #9 jersey by her coach. Gabe is shattered. Her mom tries to convince Gabe that it's "just a number". But it’s her grandmother’s guidance, empathy and sharing of some hockey history about the legendary #9 that inspires Gabe to make her decision to accept the number - 'the highest number in the world'.

The author, Roy MacGregor, clearly understands hockey. After all, he's been and continues to be a sports/hockey journalist. And this comes through in the book's text and dialogue. He's also written a series of hockey mystery books, Screech Owls (22 books in all at the moment - there's that number again!)

The illustrations by Geneviève Deprés are fresh, colourful and detailed. She shows the physicality of Gabe’s emotional reactions. My favourite picture is of Gabe under the bedcovers with her arm dangling down and her sock monkey in the very same position! Oh those drooping arms – they say it all.

It's a book both boys and girls, ages six to nine, will enjoy. Parents and teachers (and grandmothers!), too. And it's a book not only for the hockey or sports enthusiast. There are some terrific topics for discussion at home and in the classroom:  dealing with disappointment, family relationships, stereotypes, gender-equality.

This book has been nominated for the Ontario Library Association's 2015 Blue Spruce Award. You can go to your school or local public library and participate by voting for your favourite book. Perhaps this is it!

For me, this book all adds up to a hat-trick - in its story, words and images!


I come from a hockey-loving family. My brothers all played hockey (me, too...I was often goalie in our games of driveway and street hockey...hmm) and even against the great Wayne Gretzky as well as Murray Howe - just as Roy MacGregor, I found out, played against the amazing Bobby Orr. My children played organized hockey as well. We continue to watch Hockey Night in Canada. And my nieces and sister-in-law are SUPER-FANS of Hayley Wickenheiser. (We've also often teased ourselves with the notion that Vic Stasiuk is our uncle!) So I was very pleased to take part in this month’s hockey-themed Tundra Reading Club discussion. And thank you, Samantha Devotta, for sharing the PDF version of the book and illustrations!

What Gabe needs before a practice or a game is some energy food. A good breakfast to begin the day. Some homemade granola is just the right teammate for this tale!


Breakfast Granola
Inspiration:  A really delicious recipe borrowed from a friend...thank you, Fran Perkins!



1.  Mix together in a large bowl:

     5 cups (500 g) large flake oats
     1 cup (100 g) sliced almonds
     1 cup (125 g) broken walnuts and/or pecans
     ½ cup (75 g) sun flower seeds
     ½ cup (75 g) pumpkin seeds
     ½ cup (65 g) sesame seeds
     

2.  In a small bowl mix together:

     ½ cup (125 ml) liquid honey
     ½ cup (100 g) packed light or dark brown sugar
     a scant ½ cup (125 ml) extra virgin olive oil
     Scraped seeds of 1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
     ½ tsp sea salt
(This mixture will be quite thick and may not totally come together - don't worry - it will when it combines with the dry ingredients.)

3.  Combine the dry and wet ingredients until evenly mixed. (And here's where you'll likely need to get your hands in the bowl!)

4.  Spread on a large cookie sheet and bake for about 1½ hours at 250°F (120°C) stirring about every 20 minutes or so, until golden. 

5.  Let cool. The mixture will become dry and crispy. Store in an airtight container. The granola will keep for approximately one week.

5.  Enjoy with a dollop of yogurt or a splash of milk (almond milk is good, too!) and a sprinkling of fresh or dried fruit of your choice.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

A midwinter's tale

“Once upon a northern night
while you lay sleeping,
wrapped in a downy blanket,
I painted you a picture.

It began with one tiny flake,
perfect
and beautiful
and special,
just like you.
Then there were two,
and then three.

Soon 
the night sky filled with sparkling specks of white, crowding,
and floating,
tumbling down to the welcoming
ground
until the earth was
wrapped in a downy blanket, just like you.”

And so begins Once upon a northern night (Groundwood Booksby Jean E. Penziwol with illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault, a beautiful book which was listed as a Finalist for the 2014 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award.


Here, the traffic has slowed to a creep. The streets are quiet. The lights are dimming. And the snow is softly whirling. There's a bit of a hush to the city. I've been looking out my window at a wintry (and very cold!) wonderland, and so, was inspired to read Once upon a northern night. It's a perfect time for this lovely lullaby read. 

The words are expressive and soothing. Just what I'm needing tonight. A mother paints a wintry yet warm poem for her safely snuggled child while the animals of this northern landscape quietly come to life - searching, playing, wandering amid gathering drifts and under the gradual unwrapping of a starlit sky. 

Recently, I watched and listened to an interview with the author. Jean read her book and shared her thoughts with a children’s Book Club in Calgary. She spoke about her childhood in Thunder Bay, the inspiration for the book and answered questions from the children. Jean believes this is a book which seems to be loved by chiIdren and adults alike. And aren't those the best kind of picture books - ones cherished not just by the young but grown-ups as well - to be read and re-read... Jean recounted how she had received an email from a woman who had been hospitalized. Each day while at the hospital, the woman read the book as it provided a level of comfort throughout a stressful time. Jean also shared that not only is there is the literal message of how life carries on through the night during sleep but also there is the metaphorical aspect of darkness and light; how life goes on although we may be going through dark and difficult times. There is light ahead. There is another day. There is hope. 

There are layers here not only of snow but of other messages to be found.
Yes, this book is a lullaby, it's poetry, it's art and it's more...and isn't that what reading - books and poems and stories - is all about? Being thoughtful about what we've read, observed, explored in books - especially picture books - together with their artwork. Making connections. Making meaning. Wondering. Thinking on other, deeper levels. It's what we as adults do. And this is also so important for the development of our young listeners, readers, learners. Going beyond...


The illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault in harmony with the book's lyrical lines have such a dreamlike and subdued quality. The pictures are almost exclusively black, gray and white yet each spread has a subtle touch of colour. Rosy pink cheeks on romping hares. Forest green pine needles peeking from within snow-covered branches. Crimson red frozen fruit dangling from twigs. And the wildlife in these drawings leaving their prints and markings in the snow; further evidence, proof of the life, light and nature around us, even in the darkness, even while we slumber.

So, look closely, very closely, at the pictures. And read the words slowly. Quietly. In a whisper. The language, the words, the images. So magical and poetic. It really is a tender and sweet bedtime tale. Especially fitting for a night like tonight.


~ Moonlight is sculpture. - Nathaniel Hawthorne 

~ In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary. - Aaron Rose

~ Moonlight floods the whole sky from horizon to horizon; how much it can fill your room

   depends on its windows. - Rumi 

~ I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again". - Lewis Carroll (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass)

~ ...and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?
- Vincent van Gogh



So to carry on with this gentle theme - delicate cookies in shapes of a moonlit winter sky dusted with a sprinkling of snow...

Cinnamon Snowflakes & Stars (and perhaps a moon…)
Inspiration:  Country Living Magazine – December 2014 (British Edition) 
Recipe by Alison Walker

Prep Time:  25 minutes, plus chilling
Baking Time:  10 minutes

Makes 25 – 30 cookies (depending on size)

1/2 cup (125 g) butter, at room temperature (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup (110 g) packed light brown sugar 
1 large egg yolk
1 1/3 cups (150 g) all purpose flour  
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp icing sugar plus 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

2.  Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, on medium speed of an electric mixer. 

3.  Beat in the egg yolk. Then slowly sift in flour and cinnamon. Blend together oh-so-very gently with a fork until the mixture forms clumps, then gather together with your hands. Shape into a flat disc, wrap and chill for 1 – 2 hours.  

4.  Lightly dust the worktop with flour and roll out the dough to a 4mm (1/8”) thickness. Cut out shapes with snowflake cookie cutters (or your choice) and transfer to your prepared baking sheets, spacing well apart. Place baking tray(s) in fridge for about 20 minutes to firm up the dough. 

5.  Heat the oven to 350°F. Bake cookies for approximately 8 -10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool slightly on baking sheets for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack. 
6.  Combine icing sugar and cinnamon. Once cookies have cooled, gently dust them with the cinnamon-flavoured icing sugar.

Doux rêves...