Monday, May 11, 2015

"The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook" and "The Louisa May Alcott Cookbook" - Cucumber Boats and (Blueberry) Muffins

Date I made these recipes:  May 5, 2015

The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook by Kate Macdonald; illustrated by Barbara DiLella
Published by:  Oxford University Press
© 1985; ISBN 0-19-540496-3
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe"  "Cowcumber" (Cucumber) Boats – p. 9

The Louisa May Alcott Cookbook compiled by Gretchen Anderson; illustrated by Karen Milone
Published by:  Little, Brown and Company
© 1985; ISBN 0-316-03951-9
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe: (Blueberry) Muffins – p. 6

Every so often, my husband heads out of town to do "guy" things, and when he does, I usually call up my friends to see who wants to go out for drinks and dinner.  This year, I decided that while the cat was away, this mouse would also enjoy a home-cooked "chick-lit" dinner and so selected one item each from The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook and The Louisa May Alcott Cookbook.  Not that Andy wouldn't have appreciated the food I made – tuna salad in cucumber boats and muffins – but it wasn't exactly "guy" food, you know?

Part of the inspiration to use these two cookbooks came after reading the sad news that the actor who played Gilbert Blythe in the Canadian Broadcast Corporations' version of Anne of Green Gables, died at age 46.  That is very sad news.  For Anne fans, Gilbert played the nemesis, later true love of our heroine, Anne Shirley.  As soon as the news hit, Anne of Green Gables fans hit Facebook and Twitter full force to express sympathy and to console each others.  Books can be so powerful, can't they?

At the risk of sounding like I'm at an AA meeting, I am an avid reader, always have been, always will be.  In my younger days, at Sacred Heart Catholic grade school, I do believe I read every single Nancy Drew book in the school's tiny library. I also read all of The Bobbsey Twins, pretty much every Cherry Ames nursing books and countless other "young adult" fiction.

In junior high school, I realized early on that I would major in English (literature) in college because I enjoyed every single book or story we read, even if, by the time I graduated, I ended up reading some of them several times.  The Greek classic, Antigone and King Lear come to mind as books I never wanted to read again but alas, guess what some of my college English classes listed as required reading?  Yup—those two books.

I also managed to read and re-read some of the following:  Jane Eyre, The Red Badge of Courage, Candide and Animal Farm.  (On a 10th grade English quiz, my teacher asked us the name of Mr. Rochester's horse  - Mr. Rochester was a character in Jane Eyre - and I wrote very snarkily "I don't know.  Trigger?"  Hopefully, some of you are old enough to understand the reference to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans!) And then once in college majoring in English, I took classes in British Literature, American Literature, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton and endless others which required me to read and re-read some of the favorites all over again.  I even had to write and then recite Chaucer's Prologue to the Canterbury Tales as well as Hamlet's soliloquy which was fine but not exactly impressive to my dates:  "Hey, you want to hear me recite Hamlet?"

BUT.  I am almost certain that I never, ever was required to read Anne of Green Gables or Little Women.  Well, this puzzles, does it not?  I can see where the Anne of Green Gables series might have fallen through the cracks (it takes place in Canada – not that there's anything wrong with O Canada) but Little Women?  Or Little Men?  (But mostly Little Women?).  Years later, I still feel cheated!

Lucky for me, my Aunt Mary and Uncle Bud, gave me a copy of Anne of Avonlea for Christmas in 1972 so I was somewhat acquainted with Anne Shirley but still.  I loved that book though and still have it.  Even better, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation created a miniseries of all the Anne books which of course I watched, and Little Women was made into a movie several times over, my favorite being the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn as Jo.  Thank goodness for the "silver" screen or I would have completely missed out on these stories.  Completely.  Is it to late to write to my hometown board of education and/or my undergrad alma mater?

If you ask me, and you didn't, both of these books were way ahead of their time in writing such strong female characters – Anne Shirley and Jo March, most especially Jo March.  Louisa May Alcott published Little Women in 1868, just after the Civil War ended and methinks that more than a few eyebrows were raised about what a tour de force Jo March was.  That said, Jane Austen led the way with all of her female characters in her books that were written almost 50 years earlier so there is precedent but women authors writing strong female characters were not the norm unlike today's authors.

So a bit about these two classic books and classic characters:  In Anne of Green Gables, Anne Shirley is an orphan who was taken in by a brother and sister – Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert - who sought to adopt a boy to help with their farm but ended up instead with Anne.  As expected, Anne's arrival didn't exactly set them on fire and Anne was constantly mixing it up with Marilla (played by Colleen Dewhurst in the CBC series).  Anne fell in love with teaching and with Gilbert Blythe and their romance and coming of age is chronicled in all the Anne books.

Little Women follows a similar plot although instead of teaching, Joe March wants to be a writer.  In the story, Jo (my favorite) is one of four March sisters who are all helping out their mother during the Civil War while their father has gone off to fight.  Like me, Jo was interested in reading and writing and ultimately (although not like me) was employed as a contributing writer to a newspaper.  And this is good—I like women characters who refused to become the traditional housewife and mother as was expected all women at that time.  That said, in 1979, an Australian movie, My Brilliant Career, was released starring Australian actress Judy Davis and New Zealand actor Sam Neill and I temporarily changed my mind on the whole career before marriage thing. The movie is set in 1897 and Judy Davis is yet another woman determined to have a writing career.  She almost derails that plan after meeting the very handsome Sam Neill but then dash it all, comes to her senses and refuses to marry him, instead wanting what the title promises – My Brilliant Career.  Refused to marry Sam Neill – what?!  I remain peeved to this day that she didn't give up her career. Seriously.  Well, you know—every rule has an exception and this was mine.  For the record, I would have gladly married him even if it meant I had to live in the Australian outback.  I think (read:  probably not).

But I digress.  Let's talk about the recipes and these books.  Each book is targeted toward kids rather than adults (which means the recipes are a snap) and it was a challenge for me to find two items that I could cobble together for my chick-lit meal.  Each book is heavy also on the sweets and not so primed for the savory items but at last, I decided to make Anne Shirley's "cowcumber" (cucumber) boats and Louisa May Alcott's muffins (mine were blueberry) and I have to tell you that they were not half bad.  Instead of making cucumber boats though, I diced up a cucumber and added it to the salad as it was just easier that way.  And I loaded up the muffins (which are not super sweet at all) with blueberries after careful contemplation of blueberry alternatives in the fruit section of my grocery store.

At the end of the day, I had my chick-lit food, I had my waltz down memory lane of these two classic books, ruminated about the writer I might have been had I put any amount of effort into it (I didn't), and with that, just stretched out and relaxed while enjoying my latest in modern-day chick-lit thrillers which I probably shouldn't read when home alone because ew, some parts are just gruesome and spooky, but do it nevertheless because I enjoy the genre.  There's a time and place for Shakespeare, folks, and this ain't it!

And THAT is how you have a chick-lit evening and a chick-lit repast.  Enjoy!

"Cowcumber" (Cucumber) Boats – makes 6 "boats"
1/3 cup elbow macaroni
1 7-ounce can tuna
1 medium carrot
1 medium celery stalk
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of pepper
3 medium cucumbers
*Ann's Note:  I decided to forgo the cucumber boats and instead made up the salad as directed, but added chopped cucumbers to the mix.  It was so much easier this way!  I increased the macaroni to about 1.5 cups (how much you make is up to you) and increased most of the other ingredients accordingly.  I also added a pinch of sugar to offset the lemon juice.

Put about 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt into the small saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Add the elbow macaroni gradually and boil until tender – about 8 to 10 minutes.  Drain the macaroni a wire strainer and put it in a mixing bowl.

Open the can of tuna and drain it in the wire strainer.  Add the tuna to the macaroni.

Wash and peel the carrot and grate it into the bowl.  Wash and dry the celery and chop it into tiny pieces on the cutting board.  Add it to the macaroni and tuna.

Measure the mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Add to the bowl and stir with the fork.

Peel the cucumber with the vegetable peeler and cut off the ends.  Cut each cucumber in half,  lengthwise.  With the spoon scoop out and discard the seeds and watery flesh.  Fill each cucumber boat with tuna mixture.

Muffins – makes 18 muffins (Ann's Note:  12 if you heap the muffin pan)
3 ½ cups flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 ¾ cups milk
1 egg well beaten
3 tablespoons melted butter
½ cup cranberries, dates, apples, berries, or nuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease the muffin pans.

Sift dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar) into a large bowl.

Add the milk, egg, melted butter, and optional ingredients.  Stir until smooth.

Pour into greased muffin tins.  (Ann's Note:  The batter was way too sticky to pour so I used a spoon and spooned the mixture into the pans.)

Bake for 25 minutes.  (Ann's Note:  I really heaped my muffin tin cups so if you do that, bake until the center is cooked through.  I think I went about another 10 minutes.)

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