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Posts Tagged ‘Quentin Blake’

25 SEPTEMBER, 2014

Real Recipes from Roald Dahl’s Beloved Children’s Books

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From Willy Wonka’s Nutty Crunch Surprise to Bird Pie à la The Twits.

As a lover of both children’s books and unusual cookbooks — particularly those that bring literature and art to the kitchen, such as Salvador Dalí’s little-known erotic recipes, the vintage gem Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, young Andy Warhol’s, illustrated cookery, the treats from the Modern Art Cookbook, and especially Dinah Fried’s magnificent photographs of meals from famous fiction — I was instantly smitten with Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes (public library): a compendium of recipes for treats that appear in Dahl’s beloved children’s books, affectionately compiled and made cookable by Dahl’s widow, Felicity.

For double delight, the recipes — ranging from Willy Wonka’s Nutty Crunch Surprise to Lickable Wallpaper — are garnished with illustrations by the great Sir Quentin Blake, who had previously illustrated most of Dahl’s stories (as well as Sylvia Plath’s little-known children’s book and the first Dr. Seuss book not illustrated by Geisel himself).

The concept for the cookbook came to the Dahls shortly before Roald’s death in 1990, as they were writing a memoir of sorts about the foods they loved. Friends kept suggesting that they should consider writing a recipe book for children, based on the many fanciful edibles in Dahl’s books. But whenever the idea resurfaced, Roald would bury his face in his hands and gasp to his wife, “Oh no, Liccy, the work! The thought daunts me!”

A few weeks after his death, as Mrs. Dahl was making her way through the grief, she noticed a neat pile of papers in the corner of her desk. Listed on the sheets was every single food ever consumed in Roald’s books. Atop the pile was a note in her husband’s handwriting: “It’s a great idea, but God knows how you will do it.”

For Felicity, there was no choice but to do it.

In the introduction to this gem of a result, she lovingly remembers her husband’s relationship to treats as both a token of the quirky habits to which many writers are prone and a testament to his immeasurable, mischievous generosity of spirit:

Treats were an essential part of Roald’s life — never too many, never too few, and always perfectly timed. He made you feel like a king receiving the finest gift in the land.

A treat could be a wine gum lifted silently in the middle of the night out of a large sweet jar kept permanently by his bedside. It could be a lobster and oyster feast placed on the table after a secret visit to the fishmonger, his favorite shop. It could be the first new potato, broad bean, or lettuce from the garden, a basket of field mushrooms, or a superb conker. A different kind of treat would be an unannounced visit to a school, causing chaos to teachers and, I suspect, a great deal of fun for the children.

Here is but a sampler taste of the full spread of delights:

WILLY WONKA’S NUTTY CRUNCH SURPRISE
(From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)

Serves 8

You will need:

Pyrex bowl
small saucepan
8×10 inch shallow pan
wax paper

7 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
5 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 ounces slivered almonds
6 plain vanilla cookies (Rich Tea biscuits are good) or graham crackers, finely crushed
1 ounce Rice Krispies
a few drops of vanilla extract

For the nutty crunch:

2 tablespoons water
½ cup sugar
2 ounces slivered almonds, finely chopped

For the chocolate coating:

7 ounces milk chocolate, broken into small pieces.

  1. Put the semisweet chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in a Pyrex bowl and place in a saucepan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted. (Or place the bowl in a microwave oven and cook on high for about 1 ½ minutes)
  2. Add the almonds, crushed cookies, Rice Krispies, and vanilla extract and mix well.
  3. Spoon the mixture into a shallow pan lined with wax paper. Press the mixture down firmly with the back of a fork, creating a level surface.
  4. Refrigerate until cool, then cut into bars.
  5. Once the bars are ready, make the nutty crunch. Begin by placing the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Do not stir, but occasionally swirl the pan around gently. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat and stir constantly until the sugar caramelizes and turns golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  6. Remove from the heat. Working quickly, add the chopped almonds, stir thoroughly, and dip one end of each bar in the mixture. Place the bars on a sheet of buttered wax paper to set.
  7. Melt the milk chocolate in a Pyrex bowl set in a saucepan of simmering water, or microwave as above. Once it has melted, remove from the heat and dip the other end of each bar in the chocolate.
  8. Let the bars cool on a sheet of wax paper.

FRESH MUDBURGERS
(From James and the Giant Peach)

Makes 10 mudburgers

You will need:

mixing bowl
grill or nonstick skillet

1 ½ pounds ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 to 3 tablespoons capers, drained
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
relish (optional)

  1. In a mixing bowl, break up the ground beef.
  2. Add all the ingredients except the egg and gently mix together.
  3. Add the egg, mix thoroughly, and pat into mudburgers.
  4. Preheat the grill and grill for 4–5 minutes on each side, or fry in a nonstick skillet.
    Serve in a bun with a “revolting” garnish. Relish is ideal!

BUNCE’S DOUGHNUTS
(From Fantastic Mr. Fox)

Makes 12 to 14

You will need:

food processor (optional)
plastic wrap
rolling pin
two round cookie cutters, 1 ¼ inches and 2 ½ inches
large bowl

½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 pound all-purpose flour
½ tablespoon baking powder
½ tablespoon cinnamon
a large pinch of salt
2 tablespoons hot water
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup milk
vegetable oil for deep frying
sugar for coating

These are best eaten warm. The dough needs to be made and refrigerated for at least two hours before cooking, and will keep overnight in the refrigerator.

  1. Cream the brown sugar and butter until pale and creamy — this can be done using a food processor.
  2. Gradually add the egg until blended.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients. The dough should be fairly stiff but smooth.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours
  5. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator.
  6. On a floured surface roll out the other half of the dough to a quarter-inch thick. With the cutters cut out as many doughnuts as possible, using the large one to cut the doughnut shape and the smaller one to make the hole.
  7. Gather up the scraps and roll and cut out as many additional doughnuts as possible. Repeat the rolling and cutting with the remaining half of the dough.
  8. Heat the vegetable oil to 375ºF.
  9. Fry the doughnuts in small batches, turning once, until deep golden brown.
  10. Drain on paper towels.
  11. Put the sugar in a bowl and add a few doughnuts at a time, shaking them in the sugar until coated. Serve immediately.

BIRD PIE
(From The Twits)

Serves 4 to 6

You will need:

large saucepan
blackbird (a black pastry funnel found in specialty cooks’ shops and mail order catalogs)
9-inch pie dish
rolling pin

¼ cup pearl barley
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 pound turkey breast, cut into thin strips
12 ounces pork sausage meat
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (optional)
5 ounces sour cream
5 ounces plain yogurt
1 level teaspoon cornstarch, mixed with 1 teaspoon cold water
½ cup chicken stock
2 eggs, one beaten, one hard-boiled and chopped
salt and pepper
2 ounces ham, chopped
9 ounces ready-made puff pastry or instant biscuit dough
1 egg yolk
8 parsley sprigs with the leaves pinched off or colored pipe cleaners

  1. Simmer the pearl barley in water for about 20 minutes, or until soft.
  2. In a large saucepan melt the butter and gently fry the onion until soft. Add the turkey strips and fry quickly until golden.
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the sausage meat. Mix well.
  4. Add the sage (if using), sour cream, yogurt, cornstarch mixture, chicken stock, and beaten egg. Season to taste with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.
  5. Place the blackbird in the middle of the pie dish. Surround with the turkey mixture. Sprinkle on the chopped ham, followed by the chopped egg.
  6. Preheat oven to 400ºF
  7. Roll out the pastry to a circle 1/8 inch thick. Make sure it is at least one inch wider than the pie dish all the way around.
  8. Cut the extra one inch from the pastry in one long circular strip (it should be slightly larger than the rim of the pie dish). Brush the pie dish rim with egg yolk, press the pastry strip down onto the rim, and brush the strip with egg yolk.
  9. Lift the remaining pastry carefully (you can drape it over the rolling pin) and lay it over the turkey mixture. Cut a slit in the center and ease the blackbird’s beak through the pastry, taking care not to stretch it. Press the pastry down firmly along the rim and cut away any excess. Use a fork to crimp the edge.
  10. Glaze the pastry with egg yolk and scatter the pearl barely on top. Form a “worm” out of a strip of pastry, glaze it with egg yolk, and place it inside the bird’s beak.
  11. Refrigerate the pie for ten minutes.
  12. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the pastry is well risen and golden brown.
  13. Stick the stripped parsley stalks, or folded pipe cleaners, in pairs into the pastry crust to look like birds’ legs. If you like, singe the ends to look like toes.

Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes is deeply delectable in its entirety. Complement it with 11 rules for a perfect meal from the Futurist Cookbook, George Orwell’s dessert recipes, and the endlessly delightful Alice in Wonderland Cookbook.

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24 JANUARY, 2014

Sir Quentin Blake’s Quirky Illustrated Alphabet Book

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“A is for apples, some green and some red, B is for breakfast we’re having in bed.”

As a lover of unusual alphabet books — including ones by Gertrude Stein, Maurice Sendak, and Edward Gorey — I was delighted to come across a new edition of the 1989 gem Quentin Blake’s ABC (public library) by the great Sir Quentin Blake who, besides being famous for illustrating many of Roald Dahl’s stories and the first Dr. Seuss book not illustrated by Geisel himself, also illustrated Sylvia Plath’s little-known, charming children’s book.

Blake’s quirky watercolor-and-ink drawings and zany verses emanate his irreverent humor, enchanting young readers as much as they tickle grown-up imaginations.

Quentin Blake’s ABC is an absolute treat from A-Z. Complement it with advice to kids on becoming an artist from Blake, Sendak, Carle, and other illustrators.

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09 SEPTEMBER, 2013

Sendak, Carle, Provensen, and 20 Other Beloved Illustrators’ Advice to Children on Being an Artist

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“No story is worth the writing, no picture worth the making, if it’s not the work of the imagination.”

“Every child is an artist,” Picasso is all too often cited as having declared. And yet not every adult is an artist — at least not a conscious, active, self-identifying one. How, then, do we lose the creative spark as we emerge from childhood, and what can we do to keep it forever ablaze?

That’s precisely what great and prolific Eric Carle (b. June 25, 1929), one of modern history’s most influential picture-book artists, sets out to answer in Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art (public library), which he envisioned and edited — at once a soul-lifting treasure for creative minds of all ages and a warm invitation for children to feel “among friends, fellow dreamers and scribblers” through the personal stories of such celebrated artists as Maurice Sendak, Leo Lionni, Alice Provensen, Steven Kellogg, and Jane Dyer. Accompanying these short and lovely letters, which do for art what Big Questions from Little People & Simple Answers from Great Minds did for science and philosophy, are charming self-portraits by each of the artists, most created specifically for this project, along with fold-outs of artists’ notable works. The best part? All proceeds from the book benefit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

Self-portrait by Eric Carle

Eric Carle, who dreamt up the project, shares his own story:

Ever since I was very young, as far back as I can remember, I have loved making pictures. I knew even as a child that, when I grew up, I would be an artist of some kind. The lovely feeling of my pencil touching paper, a crayon making a star shape in my sketchbook, or my brush dipping into bright and colorful paints — these things affect me as joyfully today as they did all those years ago.

Carle, like a number of creative greats, including Dr. Seuss, Sherwood Anderson, and Wendy MacNaughton, came into illustration by way of the commercial arts — in his case, graphic design, an influence so wonderfully evident in his work:

My own style grew out of my work as a graphic designer. I try to express the essence of my stories and ideals very clearly, using simple shapes, often in bright colors against a white background. You might almost think of my illustrations, and especially the cover art, as little posters.

In his celebrated picture-books, Carle aims for imaginative clarity, relying on emotional intuition over rationalization and always listening to that universal inner child:

I do my best to simplify and refine, to be logical and harmonious. But I also try to keep an open mind, to listen to my intuition and allow for the unexpected, the coincidental, even the quirky to enter into my work. Ultimately, my aim is to entertain, and sometimes to enlighten, the child who still lives inside of me. This is always where I begin.

And just as in my boyhood, making pictures is how I express my truest feelings.

Self-portrait by Sir Quentin Blake

The remarkable Sir Quentin Blake, who among other feats illustrated Sylvia Plath’s little-known and lovely children’s book, discovered his calling by realizing what he could not be, speaking to the importance of having a great mentor and amassing a diverse arsenal of creative influences:

I suppose that really I had a training or education not so very different from a lot of other artists and illustrators — it’s just that I didn’t have it in the normal order. When I was at school I liked drawing, and I liked anything to do with humor, and I liked writing too. When I was about fourteen, I was lucky enough to be introduced to a man who both painted pictures and drew cartoons for newspapers and magazines, including Punch, the most famous English humorous magazine at the time. He was called Alfred Jackson and every few months I would take him a collection of my drawings to look at. Now I look back and realize these were in fact lessons or tutorials, and what was especially good about them was that he talked not only about the cartoonists’ drawings in Punch at the time, but also about Michelangelo and Modigliani as well.

Thanks to Jackson’s encouragement, Blake began submitting his own humorous drawings to Punch. Two “not very good” ones were eventually accepted when he was only sixteen and became that pivotal ignition spark for a long and successful career. But despite this early nod of approval, Blake didn’t go to art school — instead, he enrolled at Cambridge University to study English literature, training to become a teacher, then honed his art by the sheer force of grit and doggedness:

I thought that if I couldn’t make a living as an artist, at least I shouldn’t starve.

By the time I had finished these studies, I had realized that I simply did not draw well enough to be the kind of artist and illustrator that I wanted to be, and so for two days a week over two years I drew — and drew and drew — from the models in the life classes at Chelsea School of Art. I really found out how people looked and moved and balanced, and though nowadays I almost never use a sketchbook and just make everything up as I go along, it’s those days in the life room that are the back of it all.

Self-portrait by Alice Provensen

Alice Provensen — one of my all-time favorite artists, who together with her husband Martin illustrated such vintage gems as The Animal Fair, an adaptation of Homer for kids, a cookbook by James Beard, and Aesop’s Fables, and who continues to draw into her nineties — shares a delightfully heartening ugly-duckling story of creative purpose:

When people look at my work, they often say, “Your picture is so good. I can’t even draw a straight line.” I think everyone can learn to draw. The important thing is to keep trying, keep drawing.

[…]

Young children make marvelous pictures. There is nothing they can’t draw. They paint and draw from their imaginations and the world around them. And they are not afraid to draw anything.

I saw a child’s picture, a country landscape. It had fifteen trees that looked like lollipops, both a sun and a moon in the sky and a crazy river running through. It wasn’t very realistic, but it was a miracle of design. … And when children draw people or portraits of themselves, even if they are only stick figures, they have an animate quality that a professional rarely gets.

She speaks to the momentous role of early encouragement:

My mother encouraged my efforts. Pens, paper, glue and scissors, crayons, oil paints and canvas were always available to me. My sixth-grade teacher entered one of my pictures in a contest. I won a scholarship to the Chicago Art Institute’s program for public school children and I have been drawing ever since.

Inversely, it is adults’ active discouragement that leads kids to self-censor the precious, uninhibited imagination that lends their drawings such magic:

It isn’t until an adult criticizes the picture and makes derogatory comments … that children lose their confidence and stop drawing. If young people spent as much time drawing as they do learning [the] alphabet … they would all make good pictures and maybe never even need to draw a straight line.

Self-portrait by Paul O. Zelinsky

Paul O. Zelinsky, who recently penned this beautiful essay on what it was like to have Maurice Sendak as a teacher at Yale and who modeled his distinctive style after the old Italian masters, shares a more technical and hands-on glimpse of his process:

The old master oil paintings were usually done in transparent oil colors on top of a black-and-white underpainting, which was often painted in egg temperas. My version of this technique was to start with a watercolor underpainting, which is fast drying like tempera, but I have an easier time controlling it. Then I seal the underpainting with a coat of clear, matte acrylic medium. That keeps the oil paints, which come next, from soaking into the paper, where they would turn dull and flat. Instead, thin layers of transparent oil paint can be smoothed into glowing colors and bold, glossy surfaces, with a depth and space that I don’t think can be gotten any other way. It isn’t easy to do, but when it works, the results can still surprise me.

Self-portrait by Maurice Sendak

But my favorite has to be Maurice Sendak himself, who has delighted and continues to delight generations with his heart-warming picture-books, his literary illustrations, his vintage posters celebrating the joy of reading, and his irreverent wit. His heartening story, which echoes Joan Didion’s insistence on the importance of keeping a notebook, is a bittersweet celebration of art as self-therapy:

I was sickly as a child and gravitated to books and drawing. During my early teen years, I spent hundreds of hours at my window, sketching neighborhood children at play. I sketched and listened, and those notebooks became the fertile field of my work later on. There is not a book I have written or a picture I have drawn that does not, in some way, owe them its existence.

He attests to the notion that sharpening emotional recall is the key to genius:

If I have an unusual gift, it’s not that I draw particularly better than other people — I’ve never fooled myself about that. Rather it’s that I remember things other people don’t recall: the sounds and feelings and images — the emotional quality — of particular moments in childhood. Happily an essential part of myself — my dreaming life — still lives in the light of childhood.

Reflecting on the art of picture-book storytelling, Sendak shares his strong opinions about the interplay between words and pictures:

An illustration is an enlargement, and interpretation of the text, so that the reader will comprehend the words better. As an artist, you are always serving the words.

You must never illustrate exactly what is written. You must find a space in the text so that the pictures can do the work. Then you must let the words take over where words do it best. It’s a funny kind of juggling act.

Like Herbert Spencer, who thought the same of writing, Sendak believes that confining yourself to one artistic style is creatively impoverishing. He ends with some invaluable advice to aspiring artists:

Artistic style is only a means to an end, and the more styles you have, the better. To get trapped in a style is to lose all flexibility. If you have only one style, then you’re going to do the same book over and over, which is pretty dull. Lots of styles permit you to walk in and out of books. So, develop a fine style, a fat style, and fairly slim style, and a really rough style.

As an aspiring artist, you should strive for originality of vision. Have something to say and a fresh way of saying it. No story is worth the writing, no picture worth the making, if it’s not the work of the imagination.

Do treat yourself to Artist to Artist — it’s immeasurably wonderful.

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