Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Lorax - Truffula Trees with Dipping Sauces

"UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It's not," - The Lorax, Dr. Seuss

So. It's Banned Books Week and we're talking banned and challenged books. I thought long and hard about which book I wanted to feature this week. At first I had another title chosen but it was a book that my kids don't particularly enjoy. They really, really like Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, though, and guess what--this book was once banned. Really? Dr. Seuss? What about this book, with its peaceful message of environmentalism and sustainability (perhaps more relevant now than when it was published in 1971) could be cause for concern?

Uh, apparently that very message. Way back in 1989 some parents in the Laytonville (CA) Unified School District decided the book "criminalized the forestry industry" and had an "anti-logging message"; they attempted to get it removed from the elementary school's reading list. While their attempt to ban the book was unsuccessful, it goes to show that people can and will get upset about anything. We're used to hearing about books that are challenged due to profanity or their depictions of violence, sexuality, race or class relations. . . you get the idea. But attempting to ban a gentle children's story about the importance of respecting our environment? Now, Laytonville does happen to be a logging town (I'm highly amused by the idea of a bunch of burly loggers getting all up in arms over a Dr. Seuss book) so I can understand the concern but does that warrant restricting access to a book? Shouldn't kids--especially kids growing up in this industry--be exposed to the very real consequences of deforestation? Even if you didn't know that I send my son to the hippy dippiest kindergarten you can imagine (you do now!), the fact that I am writing a post speaking out against the censorship of books should tell you my thoughts on the subject.

As far as the story itself goes, The Lorax is a cautionary tale told by the Once-ler, a character who once found fame and fortune by chopping down Truffula Trees and making Thneeds from their tufts. There is such a demand for Thneeds that he brings in more workers, and machines, and builds factories. All the while he must deal with The Lorax, a nuisance of a guy who "speak[s] for the trees" and keeps popping up to tell him that cutting down the trees is wrong and that he's slowly poisoning the area. There is no more Truffula Fruit to feed the Bar-ba-loots and the polluted waters can't sustain the Humming-Fish population. Eventually, the Once-ler relates, there is no life left where the Truffula Trees once grew abundant. The last tree has been felled and the native wildlife has been driven away. As has The Lorax. The pictures, once vibrant oranges, purples, greens and pinks take on a grayish, nightmarish tone. The only hope, the Once-ler cautions, is for you (the reader) to care "a whole awful lot." Then, when the trees are replanted and life returns, The Lorax might come back.

As I type this I can't help but wonder if Wall-E was at least partially inspired by The Lorax.

The Lorax is a subtly powerful book and a wonderful way to introduce kids to the concepts of environmentalism and green living. Even though, admittedly, my kids weren't interested in pursuing that line of conversation right after we finished reading. Maybe it's enough that they're slowly absorbing the message each time we read it, and they don't even know it.

When I am choosing books and recipes to feature here I don't always have a plan. Sometimes I get the idea for a recipe as we're reading the book. Other times I choose a book and craft a recipe to fit the book. Or I choose a recipe and find a book that works. This time I chose the book well before I had any food ideas. I was struck with inspiration as I meandered through my local produce market and came face to face with a display of colored cauliflower. Is it just me or do the green, purple and orange crucifers look particularly Seussian? They became the inspiration for today's snack:

Truffula Trees with Dipping Sauces


  • Brightly hued cauliflower
  • Dipping sauces (we used hummus, raspberry dressing and garlic-Caesar dressing)

1. My plan, initially, was to simply serve the cauliflower alongside the dipping sauces and let the boys go to town. However, they were very insistent that we make the actual trees. My older son was the one to come up with a suggestion as to how we could make them: "Use celery!" We tried to attach the cauliflower to celery stalks using peanut butter as glue but the celery really couldn't support the weight of the cauliflower and the peanut butter was not the most effective glue so we settled for a pretty picture of what the trees would have looked like:

Here's the original:

2. What I actually ended up doing was putting the celery and cauliflower in a bowl and preparing small cups of our dipping "sauces."

I do realize it's a little ironic that this book is about conservation and I've chosen to prepare a snack that is supposed to represent the very trees that were being cut down. Personally, I consider it a victory that I got my children excited about eating vegetables as an after school snack.

This book is part of a Banned Books Week roundup hosted by Nikki of Are you there youth? It's me Nikki. Check out her blog on October 2 for links to other Banned Books Week posts from around the blogosphere. Her Banned Books Week review of the Harry Potter series can be found here.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Happy Banned Books Week!

(i read banned books shirt, available through my Zazzle store)

Since 1982, the last week of September has been designated as Banned Books Week. According to the American Library Association, it is a time to draw attention to "the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States." Books in our local libraries, schools and bookstores are challenged all the time, usually by people who object to the book's content or message and want to prevent others from having access to the materials they find so offensive. As an avid reader, a writer and a mother, I have a problem with the few who attempt to take something away from everybody just because it does not gel with their moral code.

This is just a partial list of books I love, books that have been challenged at one time or another:

-Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume
-A Wrinkle in Time - Madeline  L'Engle
-The Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
-To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
-Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
-The Color Purple - Alice Walker
-The Kite Runner - Khaled Hossieni
-His Dark Materials Trilogy - Phillip Pullman
-Deenie - Judy Blume
-Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
-One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
-Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Mildred D. Taylor

With the exception of the more recent titles (Harry Potter, The Kite Runner, His Dark Materials), the above are all books I was required to read in class or that I found on my own in the library. I cannot imagine going through childhood without Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret or A Wrinkle in Time, books I found at my public and elementary school libraries, respectively. I was one of those kids who read everything she could get her hands on and I am very fortunate that my parents did not screen my reading material. I mean, maybe they did but if they did they didn't do a very great job of it, considering I read Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret when I was seven years old. I have a seven year old. I cannot imagine letting him read that book right now. (Not that it matters. I am quite sure he would have no interest in it.) And that's just the thing. You might say that I am a hypocrite, writing about freedom of speech and in the next breath saying I won't let my son read a certain book. That's not what I'm saying at all. As a parent, I have a responsibility to make sure the my kids' reading material is age and reading level appropriate. That's very different than wanting to keep the book out of my son's school library altogether. 

As my kids get older they will no doubt choose (or be required) to read books that have received challenges. I hope that when the time comes we'll actually be able to talk about not just the stories, but the reasons people felt threatened by them and why it's important that these books continue to remain available. And should one of their teachers ever come under fire for a book that he or she chooses to introduce in the classroom, I plan to be the mom who leads the charge to defend that teacher and that book.

Later this week I will be posting my own review (complete with recipe, of course) of a challenged book. For more information about Banned Books Week, please visit the American Library Association's page
on the topic. While there you can check out the list of the top 100 challenged books of the past decade (2000 - 2009). 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cookbook Review: Bean Appetit

Bean Appetit: Hip and Healthy Ways to Have Fun with Food

I picked Bean Appetit: Hip and Healthy Ways to Have Fun with Food off the New Arrivals shelf at our (new, state of the art!) library and boy, am I glad I did. As a kids' cookbook, this one does pretty much everything right. From the creative recipes to the full color, glossy pages to the games and activities (I would actually call it a cookbook/activity book), it's designed to appeal to kid chefs and it does. It appeals to my kid chefs, anyway.

The premise behind this book by Shannon Payette Seip and Kelly Parthen (who co-founded Bean Sprouts, a kids' cafe/cooking school in Wisconsin) is that cooking should be fun and creative. Thus we get recipes with names like Pear Penguins, Starry Night Bites and Bug Bites. The book gives equal time to games and activities families can play together in the kitchen or at the dinner table. One activity suggests playing Jenga using carrot sticks. Another has instructions for making a homemade memory game out of repurposed metal lids. "Table Talk" questions and food facts throughout the book are designed to get families talking. My husband and kids spent an evening going through the Table Talk questions while I was at a PTA meeting.

One of the things I look for in a cookbook--especially a cookbook aimed at kids--is recipes that are gluten-free or that can easily be converted to gluten-free. One of my children has to adhere to a gluten-free diet; a cookbook that he can't enjoy would not be practical at all. Fortunately, many of the recipes in this book call for gluten-free ingredients like fresh fruits and veggies, beans, rice and chocolate. There are also a number of recipes that call for a special flour blend. This flour blend (instructions are provided in the introduction) is not gluten-free. While we skipped those recipes, I do think my older son would enjoy them. (Or, I could do a little work and come up with a proper substitute flour blend.)

Most of the recipes in the book are snacks, side dishes and desserts--perfect for kids who are just delving into cooking. The recipes are geared toward children who are able to read and follow directions but even younger children will find these recipes easy to follow with the help of an adult. The instructions clearly indicate when an older caregiver's assistance is required (like when using appliances or slicing fruit).

While my kids were at school today I purchased the ingredients to make one of the recipes in the book: Pear Penguins. (If you remember my post about penguin books, you know we are big penguin fans in this house) After homework we went to town:

Quite often I check out kid cookbooks at the library and return them before we have a chance to make anything either because 1) the recipes are too involved and/or require ingredients we don't have on hand or 2) the recipes rely on gluten-containing ingredients. I am happy to say that this book will be staying with us for the entire three weeks we have it; the kids have already identified other recipes they want to try. This is a kids' cookbook that does everything right.

Disclosure: As an affiliate, I earn a small commission when purchases are made via Amazon links on this site. Thank you for helping to support Eat Their Words!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Harold and the Purple Crayon - Chocolate Pie

"But there were all nine kinds of pie that Harold liked best" - Harold and the Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson

Well hi there. Long time no blog, right? I have no excuse, other than a combination of laziness/busyness. In the weeks between my older son beginning school and my younger son finally starting (he's doing kindergarten at a private school) things were kind of chaotic. It was a combination of wanting to spend some one on one time with my youngest before he headed off to full-day kindergarten, dealing with some health issues, helping my second grader adjust to the new school year, school meetings and general blogging apathy.  I needed a break. My youngest started school last week, just in time for a weekend of house guests. I am finally getting it together again and dipping my toe back into the Kidlitosphere.

This doesn't mean that we weren't spending a lot of time reading and visiting our library and the bookstore. One of the things that we enjoyed during my blogging hiatus was the Crockett Johnson classic Harold and the Purple Crayon. My younger son picked it out on a recent trip to the bookstore and he is now hooked on the Harold series. My older son enjoys them too but it's the little one who carries his books around with him and asks to read them multiple times a day. He had the book mostly memorized on the second evening it was in our home.

I remember checking Harold and the Purple Crayon out from the library as a child and I find it just as enchanting now as I did then. Harold is an imaginative little boy who uses his purple crayon to create entire worlds for himself. One night, Harold decides to take a walk in the moonlight, so he draws a moon . . . and a sidewalk . . . and eventually a forest, the ocean, a city . . . until he finds his way back home to his own bed. It's all very cleverly done, with a subtle sense of humor and a lot of whimsy. Other than the brown outline of Harold, the only colors in the book are the white background and the purple outline of Harold's drawings. I love the purple and the brown, I love Harold's pointy turned up nose, I love that Johnson uses turns of phrase like "a hungry moose and a deserving porcupine."

The moose and porcupine in question are the recipients of the pie feast Harold has to abandon as he travels on his way. Nine kinds of pie. Maybe someday we'll make all nine kinds of pie; that would make an interesting ongoing feature on this blog, wouldn't it? But today we only made one kind of pie. Since the book did not specify "all nine kinds of pie that Harold liked best" I had to take some liberties and assume that one of those kinds of pie would be chocolate. Who doesn't like chocolate pie, right?

Chocolate Pie

  • 1 package chocolate sandwich cookies (we used gluten-free K-Toos)
  • 2 ounces melted butter
  • 1 (large) package chocolate instant pudding

This is a gluten-free version of a simple dessert my mother-in-law makes. If you don't have to worry about the gluten thing then it's even simpler, as you can buy a premade Oreo cookie crust. But we are gluten-free so we make our crust. The cookies are available at Whole Foods, some Targets (ours has a newly expanded grocery section) and I used one package but my crust was a little small--I recommend using a package and a half.

1. Carefully twist the cookies apart and scrape the creme filling out using a knife. Set the filling aside, eat it as you go, whatever. It's of no importance to this recipe.

2. Place the cookies in a plastic zip-top bag and smash the heck out of them with a rolling pin. Or grind in a food processor. My boys wanted to go the rolling pin route:

3. While the boys were mashing the cookies I prepared the pudding according to the directions on the box. I used the instructions for pie filling.

4. Place cookie crumbs in small bowl and add the melted butter:

5. Use a fork to blend the cookies with the butter. You'll have a crumbly, slightly dry mixture:

6. Press cookie crumbs into pie pan. As you can see, my crust doesn't quite go all the way up the sides of the pan. This is why I recommend using one and a half packages of cookies.

7. With a spatula, scrape the pudding into the pie crust. Let set in fridge for several hours before serving.

This turned out really well. The only thing I would do differently is spray the bottom of the pie plate with  a little more non-stick spray. I used a little but the crust still stuck a bit. As far as the flavor goes, I had a hard time telling I had used gluten-free sandwich cookies in place of Oreos. It had a rich chocolatey flavor and none of the "grit" that some gluten-free cookies tend to have. This was a winner. Now that I know how easy it is to make the gluten-free cookie crust I'll have to experiment with other types of pie.

Other Harold books we have enjoyed these past two weeks: Harold at the North PoleHarold's Trip to the Sky (I LOVE the section with purple line drawings on the dark brown background) and A Picture for Harold's Room (this last one being an easy reader my older son read last year).

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