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March 2013

Same Old Story

What if Rumpelstiltskin and the miller’s daughter had an affair?   Or if Cinderella held a fencing sword and said something like “I will slit you from navel to nose”?  Or if Rapunzel lived in the American Wild West?

I’m a reguOnce Upon a Time DVD coverlar viewer of the fantasy TV series, Once Upon a Time (OUAT).   I can go on about the show’s many faults, but one of the reasons that I keep going back for more is its retelling and re-envisioning of fairy tales and storybook characters.   Not all of the show’s retellings have been successful, but there is comfort in hearing familiar stories, knowing the characters and stories on a meta level, and making connections various incarnations.  There is also an anticipation in seeing a refreshing take on the characters and plot and seeing how it can still remain true to the most distinctive aspects of the “original” (if an official original even exists) tale.

The first “what-if” I posited references the stand-out retelling of Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale from a recent Once Upon a Time episode.  We have all the well-known ingredients:  a young woman having to prove rumpelstiltskinthat she can spin straw into gold or be executed; the help of the dealmaking imp, Rumpelstiltskin; a child being promised; the young woman’s marriage into royalty; and an ending where the tables are turned on the Rumpelstilstkin (who is supposed to be the bad guy).

However, the OUAT version fills in all the emotional notes and character motivations.    The miller’s daughter, Cora, is not a silently suffering martyr.   She is filled with anger at the contempt the royals had shown her because she is at the bottom rung of the social ladder.  She wants them to bow to her.  Under Rumpelstiltskin’s guidance, Cora channels her rage into creating the sort of magic that allows her to spin straw into gold.  The child being promised is not her firstborn, but Rumpelstiltskin’s.  And when she turns the tables on him in the end, it is an act of betrayal (they are sort of in a relationship).

Other retellings to check out:

  • Beauty by Robin McKinley.  Beauty isn’t quite beautiful, but her intelligence, practicality, and humor are sources of strength for her family and enable her to build a strong relationship with the Beast, who feels a lot more human than other incarnations I’ve seen.beauty by robin mckinley
  • Ever After (1998 movie).  The second “what-if” I posited references this retelling of Cinderella in fictional 16th century France (where everyone, inexplicably, has a British accent).   Cinderella Danielle de Babarac can floor a prince just by quoting Thomas More’s Utopia.
  • Princess and the Frog (2009 movie).   This is a movie based on a book based on the The Frog Prince fairytale.  I never really liked the early versions of the tale because I don’t think spoiled princesses deserve handsome princes.  However, in this movie, Tiana is a hardworking and talented young woman that I can cheer for.
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.  Ella is gifted with the curse of obedience (or is that cursed with the gift of obedience?), but she knows how to rebel in her own way.   She is not going to take it lying down and goes on a quest to remove the curse.

What are your favorite retellings?


Toggle Coats and Marmalade

I associate Paddington Bear, the lovable childhood character, with two things: toggle coats and marmalade. When Paddington Bear is found in a London train station by the Brown family, he informs them that “Bears like marmalade.” In fact, on his long journey from Peru, Paddington subsisted on marmalade sandwiches, his favorite treat. Since I am not the Style by the Book blogger, I decided to forgo talking about toggle coats, and focus on marmalade.

On Paddington’s first day at school in Paddington On Top, the thoughtful bear brings in 33 marmalade sandwiches to share with the class, “one each and three spare.”  That bear really loves marmalade. Marmalade is a jam made from citrus fruit–the pulp and juice as well as the peel. Those little strands of peel give marmalade a tart bite that set it apart from other more traditionally sweet fruit preserves. You can use any citrus to make marmalade; I chose meyer lemons, the sweet/tart fruit thought to be a hybrid of a lemon and a mandarin orange.

Using a peeler, I removed the yellow outer skin from 5 meyer lemons, leaving the white pith behind.

All the left over bits

After chopping the peel into fine strips, I added it to the pot and broke down the rest of the lemons–removing the ends, the white pith, and any hard membranes.

All of the pulp went into the pot with the peel. I added 1/4 cup water and 1 1/2 cups sugar, brought the mixture to a boil, then reduced the heat to a simmer. The recipe I was (admittedly, loosely) following said to simmer it for about 20-25 minutes…and here is where things started to go off the rails. I didn’t look at the clock. I didn’t set a timer. I just decided to wing it.

At this point, I think it had already gone too far

Bad idea–I overcooked the marmalade. What should have been 20 minutes was likely closer to 35, and what was supposed to be a dark orange jam had become something else all together. In the pot it maintained a fairly light color–but that, it turned out, was the result of the sugar boiling. As it cooled, it became a thick dark brown mess, much closer to a candy than a jam. Still, I pushed forward thinking that maybe it would stay liquid. I transferred the mixture to a jar and put it in the fridge. A few hours later I took it out to give it a try and found a completely solid mass. I had made meyer lemon hard candy–and it was clearly never coming out of the jar. The brown, peel-filled mass reminded me of the mosquito suspended in amber from Jurassic Park.

Millions of years from now scientists will be able to extract meyer lemon DNA

I think this stuff may well last for a millennium.

After that failure, I was undaunted. I was going to make marmalade if it took six tries! I ran to the store and picked up a box of strawberries and an orange. Strawberries are much easier to prep than citrus fruits, so I used them as the base, and the orange peel and juice for that marmalade touch. I put about 10 strawberries, the peel and juice of 1 orange, a splash of water and 1/2 cup sugar in a pot and brought it to a boil, then reduced it to a simmer.

Much better!

This time I paid close attention to the clock, and even pulled the marmalade off the heat just shy of 20 minutes because it had thickened up well. I poured the mixture into a jar, and put it in the fridge to thicken more. In anticipation of my marmalade adventure, I had baked a loaf of Dutch Oven Bread earlier in the day. This bread recipe is super easy, but you do need to plan ahead–it rises for up to 18 hours! After all of that waiting, however, you will be rewarded with a rustic, homemade loaf that goes really well with strawberry-orange marmalade.

So pretty in the jar!

Once the marmalade had cooled in the fridge for about an hour, I tried it with a slice of bread. Heaven! The natural sweetness and smooth texture of the strawberries were perfectly complemented by the slight tartness of the orange peel. The marmalade wasn’t too runny, nor too thick, and the bright red color was  an added bonus. I’ll likely try to make a more traditional marmalade again, but for right now, I think even Paddington would approve of my strawberry variation.

Success! Finally…