Sunday, December 7, 2014

Remind me again, please?

They say that an elephant never forgets.

But in Cybèle Young's latest and lovely picture book published by Tundra Books, Nancy Knows, an endearing elephant is having trouble remembering. I suppose even elephants have their moments of forgetfulness. Nancy knows that something is missing, but she's not sure what. She begins thinking, trying to recall that single important thought but she seems to have a lot of other things on her mind. When she stops trying so hard to remember, the special memory finally comes to mind. 

And isn't that often the way -  taking a break, having a rest, not overthinking things...and one may just remember the very thing that's been forgotten.

This book is a beautiful showcase of Cybèle's amazing miniature sculptures. The contrast of the illustrations is quite appealing - the enormous, ever-changing graphic outlines of Nancy and the photographs of the tiny, intricate paper pieces; the curving black forms and text on the white background versus the many, multi-coloured objects within the elephant's tummy; the concepts of opposites within the words. It's worth revisiting and rereading just for taking a closer look at the incredible creations. I think Dot, from Sara O'Leary's When I Was Small would cherish each and every one of these objects - they're just her size!

Size, as well as shape, are on-going concepts in this book. On one page, Nancy stre-e-e-tches out when she's remembering 'things from long ago'; on another, her ears grow large to make room for those things that make sounds. She becomes round and light as air when remembering things that float, and, at another point, her nose and belly become full of thoughts of food, flavours and fragrances.

Reading this book is like playing an 'I Spy with my Little Eye' game. And it does remind me of the 'I Spy' books that my children loved to pore over when they were small, always hunting for a certain object among the jumbles and heaps of items.

A couple of weeks ago, Cybèle Young, along with a few other authors (Kyo Maclear included) read from their books and offered follow-up activities for children and their parents at a get-together at the Lillian H. Smith Library in Toronto. Cybèle also explained the process of her amazing sculptural art - showing and sharing the delicate Japanese paper she uses, how the objects she creates often have moving parts, and so on. Many petite things, detailed things...and all are made by hand using very special tools, paper and book-binding glue. Cybèle's work is represented by various international galleries and I just noticed on her website that her art is even displayed at the Deer Park Streetcar Station. I'll have to remember to look for it next time I'm riding the rails along St. Clair Avenue.

Remembering things. As I grow older, I find that I often need to jot things down, otherwise, they're forgotten. I usually need to focus on the task at hand rather than multi-task, and then I'm okay. And when I'm in a similar state as Nancy, I'll retrace my steps and, eureka, whatever it is that's slipped my mind returns.

~ A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. - C.S. Lewis

~ God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December. - J. M. Barrie

~ Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us. - Oscar Wilde

Memories, recollections, reflections...often, while I'm baking, I'll remember my mom and think about the things that she taught and told me - remember to crack an egg into a separate bowl before you add it to the batter, just in case it's not quite fresh; remember to incorporate the flour gently and avoid over-mixing, so the dough doesn't become tough; remember to add some orange zest to the rhubarb pie filling for that little bit of fresh grandfather was a baker, my mother loved to bake, and yes, so do I.

'Baby Cakes' - little cakes with little apples - just to continue celebrating moments of the miniature. Oh, and I almost forgot - another reason for baking these? Elephants enjoy eating apples.

Oven-Roasted Apple Baby Cakes
Inspiration:  Oven-Roasted Plum Cakes from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Contributing Baker - Marcel Desaulniers

Makes 12 Babycakes

1 stick (125 ml) unsalted butter
2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup buttermilk
6 small apples*, peeled, halved and cored 

Melted butter, for coating the ramekins and the apples

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F. Position rack in centre of oven. Brush the insides of the twelve custard cups or ramekins with melted butter. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.

2.  Brush apples with melted butter. Place apples, sliced-side down, on separate rimmed baking sheet. Roast for approximately 10 - 12 minutes, until slightly golden and the apples are fork tender. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

3.  With a mixer on medium speed, cream the butter, 2 tbsp of the brown sugar and the granulated sugar together on medium speed for 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl, as needed, and until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla and blend. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the flour and baking soda and beat for about 15 seconds. Add the buttermilk and finish blending the ingredients with a spatula – this helps to avoid overmixing the batter!

4.  Spoon approximately 2 tbsp of batter into each of the buttered cups. Carefully place half an apple, cut side up into each cup. (Some of the apple will be above the batter level and when the cake rises, part of the apple will still show.) Sprinkle about one tbsp of the remaining brown sugar over the batter and cut surface of each of the apples. Place the rimmed baking pan on the centre rack of the oven. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the cake part of the dessert comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and cool the cakes in their cups for 8 -10 minutes.

5.  To unmould the cakes, run small offset spatula around the edge of the cakes. If necessary, work the knife gently under the cakes to release. Lift the cakes out with the spatula, and keeping them right side up, place them on individual dessert plates. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream or softly whipped cream.

* I tried this recipe with little 'Lady' apples - very small apples which you can find during the holiday season at specialty green grocers. Otherwise, use the smallest apples (perhaps Macintosh) you can find. Alternatively, you could quarter the apples.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Beth. Hope you are well! Miss you and our class together...

  2. These look delicious and a perfect baking treat to have for (and with) children. Can't wait until my grandbaby is old enough for solid cake. Errr, food.

  3. NANCY KNOWS was awarded the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book prize by the CCBC and TD Bank Group at a gala held at The Carlu in Toronto on Wednesday, November 18th!!!