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January 2013

Pumpkin Pasties

Pumpkin shaped pumpkin pasties–magic!

When it comes to literary imagination, it is hard to trump J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. These ingeniously crafted books offer departures from reality across all aspects of the story–from language, to transportation, to food. Being a food lover, I read the books imagining what butter beer, pumpkin juice and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans actually tasted like. Writing this blog has made me stop wondering and start investigating! Recently I made a treat from the Honeydukes cart on the Hogwarts Express: Pumpkin Pasties.

Pasties (pronounced PAS-tees) are a staple of English cuisine. These small hand-pies are most widely associated with the county of Cornwall, and are traditionally filled with a mixture of beef and vegetables. The Cornish Pasty actually has a Protected Geographical Indication, meaning that the recipe is basically a culinary historic landmark (that you can eat!). Having watched many Food Network shows about stuffed pastry, I know that the pastie originated as a way for working people to transport their food with them. The crust originally had only a functional, not culinary, value–it held the filling until the owner was ready to eat it, and kept his hands clean while he did. Sometimes the crust was even discarded, not consumed. Now, the pastie has made it’s way into Harry Potter with an imaginative twist on filling: pumpkin.

When creating my pumpkin pasties, I quickly arrived at a puzzling question: are pumpkin pasties sweet or savory? Traditional pasties tend to be savory, but in the books they are available on the Honeydukes cart–which sells only candy and sweet treats. Instead of choosing between two equally appealing options, I opted to try out both. One savory, one sweet.

I used store bought pie crust, and made the following fillings (all measurements are approximate, I am an imprecise cook):


The savory filling is on the left, sweet is on the right.

1/2 can pure pumpkin

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cinnamon



1/2 can pure pumpkin

1 sauteed shallot, chopped

2 sauteed garlic cloves, chopped

2 boiled potatoes, smashed

salt and pepper to your liking

I made two fancy pumpkin shaped pasties using this little gem, but also baked a few standard circles. For each circular pastie, I laid out the bottom crust and added filling, leaving about a 1/8 inch boarder. Then I placed the top crust on and crimped the edges with a fork. For the pumpkin shaped ones, I simply laid the bottom dough in the mold, filled the dent in the center, put on the top crust and pinched it closed. All of the pasties got an egg wash, and the sweet ones also got a dusting of cinnamon sugar. Easy! I baked the whole batch for 25 minutes at 400 degrees, then removed the smaller circles and left the pumpkin shapes in for another 6 minutes (which was about a minute too long–it oven was a little smoky when I opened the door). The pasties did ooze a bit, but because of my amazing silicone baking mat, they didn’t stick at all.

The resulting pasties were DELICIOUS! The savory ones tasted like jazzed up mashed potatoes mixed with the top of a chicken pot pie, and were a great dinner on a chilly night. The sweet pasties were basically hand held pumpkin pies–I will definitely be reviving those as a fun and easy dessert twist for a party. The verdict:  While earwax flavored jelly beans are still a questionable choice to me, wizards really got it right with the pumpkin pastie, savory or sweet.

Just like Honeydukes!

Learning to Read Backwards

This post was indirectly inspired by Neil Gaiman’s excellent essay “What the [Very Bad Swearword] Is a Children’s Book Anyway?,”  from the November/December 2012 issue of the Horn Book Magazine. It is funny, thoughtful, and available via the Library databases!

But what does it MEAN!??!

In one of my earliest and strongest memories, I am four years old and poring over a beloved copy of something-or-other by Dr. Seuss. It was a book whose pages I had flipped many times, but now something was new: what about these words? Like hieroglyphics or Japanese, I knew that they meant something, and for the first time I was vexed that I did not know how to decipher that something. My determination to learn how to read words was born in that moment, but what I didn’t realize is that in the wake of this quest for literacy, there would be sacrifice. It wouldn’t be until years later that I re-learned how to really look at a picture book, and remember how to read all of the non-word stuff.

Mmm, forbidden book.

A similar thing happened again, a decade or so down the road. I was 13, and came home from the local Borders (R.I.P) with a copy of Tom Woolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I had a growing fascination with all things 1960’s (Hippies! Jimi Hendrix! Tie dye!) and was beyond excited to tear into this true account of drugged-out weirdos driving across the U.S. in a psychedelic bus. What I did not anticipate was my parents’ utter horror at my choice of reading material, and the book’s swift confiscation. These were, after all, the same parents who gamely encouraged my love of Stephen King at age ten—what could POSSIBLY be so objectionable, could so thoroughly corrupt my tender teenage brain? Obviously, I had to find out. I spent the better half of a year reading Acid Test huddled in my mother’s closet with a flashlight, in the half-hour bursts of time after I arrived home from school and before she returned from work. Honestly, I can’t say I loved the book beyond the illicit thrill of reading it, but another birth/death in my literary development took place in its wake: I was DONE with books written for my age group. From here on out, it was stuff about deadbeat grown-up miscreants or nothing (leading directly to my obligatory Beat Generation phase a couple years later, but that’s a story for another time).

I think these sorts of literary purges are essential to children and adolescents learning to navigate the world of Adult Content. It is only after swearing off of kids’ stuff, and many years of reading books by grown-ups, for grown-ups, that I have come around to loving picture books and YA literature once again. I find genuine pleasure in sifting through a beautifully illustrated 32-pager, and sometimes scarcely pay attention to those words that once caused me such agony. And re-living teenage years from a safe distance is akin to bungee jumping, or roller coasters: you get to experience the thrill of something wild & terrifying, well-shielded from any actual trauma.

To conclude, here are my recommendations for adults like me, who temporarily abandoned their literary roots and are ready to dive back into what made us book-lovers to begin with. All available at your local Library!

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Gorgeously illustrated and sneakily hilarious. Also excellent: This is Not My Hat, by the same author/illustrator. Get it at Wheelock: J-P K67i.







Gathering Blue by Lois LowryI read The Giver as a tween, but never bothered with this or any of Lowry’s other follow-ups in the series until recently. WHEW am I glad I did. Get it at Wheelock: J L95gaMessenger, number 3 in the series, is also great.






Illustration from Along a Long Road by Frank Viva



I don’t know what it is about France, but I love the picture books coming out of that country. Get it at Wheelock: J-P V83a. Also check out the gorgeous work of fellow-Frenchie Blexbolex.



The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

The first book in a trilogy called His Dark Materials. If you liked Harry Potter but could’ve used more character nuance & moral complexity (and more bear fights) (like, between actual talking bears), this is your series. Get it at Wheelock: J P96g.

These are just four titles among so, so many other excellent picture and young adult books. You can search around for more, or better yet, ask a librarian! Most public libraries boast experts on this stuff who would be thrilled to send you home with a mountain of new reading material…

On the Perils of Being a Parent (in YA Fiction)

There is a surprisingly high body count in young adult fiction.  First you have your realistic contemporary causes of death ranging from the tragically common (cancer in books like Deadline by Chris Crutcher or Before I Die by Jenny Downham, or suicide like in13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher) to the more unique (bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Going Bovine by Libba Bray).  Then have your standard mortal peril, where teenagers go off and take on evil beasties, fall in love with sparkly vampires, lend angst to the Hero’s Journey and whatnot (like in most books widely sold in the last several years).  Even so, it is not the young protagonists of young adult fiction that have the most alarming mortality rate.  It is their parents.  Mostly their mothers.


Mothers don’t fare well in children’s stories.  Disney almost always kills them off.  Bambie, Fox and the Hound, nearly every princess movie I can think off—they all have one thing in common.  Dead mom, dead mom, oh so many dead moms.  It’s amazing populations aren’t erased from the story worlds entirely, given this spate of cosmic matricide.  (Though, to be fair, some recent post-apocalyptic YA throws that possibility out there too.)  I was deeply impressed when Sonya Sones released her book One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies.  She, too, is an author who kills off the protagonist’s mother to start the action of the book’s plot.  But she is gracious enough to insert irony.

I was at first perplexed at the lack of mothers.  Then annoyed.  Then outright enraged when I became a mother myself.  But soon thereafter, I realized that maybe YA did not have a grand conspiracy to wipe parents off the earth.  There is the possibility that such fiction kills off parents in its pages because parents do die in “real” life and many want to read about it in stories to cope.  But, more than that, I think authors do it because parents can seriously hamper the life of a hero.  If my daughter one day said she was going on a journey to defeat demons, pursue her angel lover, and save humankind, I would never let it happen.  I’d tell her to eat her vegetables, go to bed, and leave the world saving to someone else’s kid.  And if she didn’t listen I would track her down and ground her, sitting outside her bedroom door with my own divine sword of wrath.  “Hero’s Journey?”  I’d say, my tone righteous.  “No archetypical quests on my watch, young lady, thank you very much.  Do your homework.  Play the savior when you are no longer a minor.”

I fear it is that I would be killed off pretty early in the book.  If I were lucky my fictional daughter would mourn me, perhaps keeping some necklace of mine as a talisman to ward off danger.  Though I would hate to be one of those deadbeat, incompetent parents that propel other YA protagonists forward more than I would mind simply being killed off.  Maybe it’s a testament to parenthood that good moms and dads often don’t live to see another chapter.  Because plot is what happens when parents aren’t looking.