Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook

ChineseFairyTaleFeasts.jpgA foreword by Jane Yolen introduces this title, which, like Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts (2013) carries on the tradition of Yolen’s original Fairy Tale Feasts book (2006). Excerpt:

Why food? Because food is an all-powerful motivator. Without it, we cannot live; with it we are productive, we have power, we thrive…. The connection between food and stories is profound and clear. Both are infinitely changeable, suiting the needs of the maker and the consumer. 

Jane’s foreword is followed by a note from the cook, Judy Chan, inviting adjustment and exploration and also reminding the reader that young aspiring clocks need adult supervision in the kitchen.

Shaoli Wang‘s illustrations brighten the pages from endpapers onward, adding lightness, detail, and humor to the stories.

Paul Yee‘s stories are delightful, funny, and thought-provoking, each followed by an author’s note and a related Chinese proverb. “Strech and Fold, Stretch and Fold” is an origin tale for noodles. “The Schoolmaster’s Autumn Festival,” a Chinese opera retelling, is a tale of generosity and sweet potatoes with a note on the global travel of this root vegetable in ancient times.  “Steamed Bread and Salt” is a cautionary tale about greed and the salt in the sea. The companion recipes are redolent with watercress and spring onion, mushrooms and garlic and spices. A powerful motivator indeed.

From Crocodile Books/Interlink. Review copy received from the publisher.

Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook

Gabriola Island, BC is twenty minutes by ferry from Vancouver Island and 22 square miles in area. It’s not on the way to anywhere.

Related fun fact: Sima Elizabeth Shefrin, the illustrator of Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, lives on Gabriola Island!

JewishFairyTaleFeasts.jpgShefrin’s collages brighten every corner of this book, including the flour-sacks and vegetables and loaded platters scattered colorfully across the endpapers, the charming collage portraits of the storyteller (Yolen) and cook (Stemple), and the textured assortments of single page and spot illustrations throughout.

Divided into sections that contain recipes and stories for Brunch, Soup, Main Courses, and Desserts, each chapter is prefaced by an epigraph. I have a hard time deciding which of them is the quirkiest and most charming but here are a few:

The eggs are wiser than the hens. (Old Jewish saying)

Nothing is certain but death and blintzes (Old Jewish comedy routine)

No human hand touches these matzos (B. Manischewitz Co. Slogan, 1880s)

Yolen’s deft storytelling pairs up with Stemple’s recipes for tables loaded with delights. IMG_2442.JPGThe pomegranate couscous recipe is accompanied by “The Pomegranate Seed,” in which a sultan recognizes the commonness of human frailty and pardons a hungry man for stealing a loaf of bread. “The Flour Barrel and the Water Jug,” in which charity comes back to the giver, pairs up with matzo balls.

Oddness and eccentricity abound in the stories, from the man whose dying whisper forbids his son to cross the River Danube to the potboy, studying to be a rabbi, who matches wits with a cheating customer.

There is not a more natural combination than food and story, and the delights of both brim over in this generous volume, complete with a ribbon to mark your story (or recipe) page. From Crocodile Books/Interlink. Review copy received from the publisher.

Consider the Owl

Aliens in bird form or remnants of ancient myth?


Rescue owl, Santa Fe Raptor Center, New Mexico, 2014

A picture book family whose iconic presence has gone from page to screen with its cuteness factor entirely intact.

And then there’s Jane Yolen‘s glorious Owl Moon, in which the search for these beautiful birds drives the gentle narrative through a winter night.

Owls are all this and more. I was lucky enough to see one tracking a squirrel the other day. The owl was a master of patience, and on the wing, it turned into a hunting machine. That prey had no chance. It was like seeing a David Attenborough film in real life, harshness and beauty in coexistence.

As Yolen puts it:

When you go owling you have to be brave.