Sunday, January 25, 2015

A better way...

When I think of ‘spic and span’, I think of neat, clean, fresh and everything in its place. In author Monica Kulling’s case, SPIC-AND-SPAN! , published by Tundra Books, is a picture book biography about Lillian Gilbreth, a woman who wanted to make things better - that is, 'spic and span'. This book is the latest addition to Monica's Great Ideas Series about inventors. To be honest, I'm rather fond of fiction. But I was quite captivated by this book of non-fiction. I love that it opens with a pleasant poem, Lillian's Time. It sets the tone for the story and the state of mind - calm, restful and relaxed - that Lillian was hoping to help others achieve through her innovations.

Lillian was an impressive woman; a superwoman of her era. It's difficult to believe that the book is about ONE woman. Learning that she was an expert in workplace efficiency, an inventor, a psychologist, an author, an instructor and a mother to eleven children was incredible. She was not only intelligent, exacting and creative but she was an empathic person, striving to find ways to improve the lives of others in the workplace and at home. Throughout the book, one feels Lillian's generosity and thoughtfulness, in the loving interactions with her children and their 'happiness minutes' (hmm, perhaps a bit on the scientific side though...).

On becoming a single parent after the death of her husband, Frank, Lillian realized that she would need to enlist the help of her numerous children in one way or another. And the kitchen seemed to be one of the best places to begin. Her two older daughters, Ernestine and Martha, learned how to cook. And it reminded me of an recent article I read in the Globe and Mail about kids in the kitchen and the importance of involving children in food preparation at home.

Lillian believed that the kitchen was the most important room in the house. And I couldn't agree more. I love my kitchen. It's where you'll often find me. I, too, grew up in a household where the kitchen was the heart of the home. And that focus remains within my own family today. Not only is food shared but there is the opportunity to stop for a while, to slow down, to relax, to enjoy, to talk, to laugh, to savour...important qualities of everyday life Lillian was aspiring to with her inventions. So to discover that Lillian Gilbreth developed the design for the kitchen work triangle, the levered waste basket, the electric mixer and refrigerator compartments was fascinating - she actually invented the modern kitchen; the 'wonder kitchen'. Thank you, Lillian! As I sit at the desk in my kitchen (similar in style to the Gilbreth Management Desk), I notice so much has changed and yet so little since Lillian created these improvements. She truly was a visionary.

This book would enhance any classroom library in the Kindergarten and Elementary Grades. It lends itself to cross-curricular and integrated learning - language, social studies, science/technology - and is just the right real-aloud for kickstarting a conversation in Grade One about energy in our lives or changing families in Grade Two. And David Parkins' illustrations of the characters, whether happy, sad or worried, are emotional and powerful. Students could easily relate to these expressive, animated faces - his attention to detail is quite skillful. And the poster on the reverse of the dust jacket is an added bonus.

~ The inventor...looks upon the world and is not contented with things as they are. He wants to improve whatever he sees, he wants to benefit the world; he is haunted by an idea. - Alexander Graham Bell

~ Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions. - Albert Einstein

~ Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity. - T.S. Eliot

~ Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos." - Mary Shelley

~ Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not. - Pablo Picasso

A special thank you to Samantha Devotta and the Tundra Reading Club for sharing a copy of SPIC-AND-SPAN! and the opportunity to read and review this engaging book.

So...for a recipe to pair with this picture book, I absolutely had to bake Frank's beloved apple cake. I searched for THE original recipe but alas, it was not to be found. I felt the cake needed to be something a bit traditional but also inspired and fresh - hence, Maple-Apple Upside-Down Cake!

Maple–Apple Upside-Down Cake (or my version of 'Frank's Beloved Apple Cake')
Inspiration:  Food & Wine Magazine - Joanne Chang

Active Time:  25 minutes
Total Time:  3 hours (I know, it seems like a long time...)
Servings:  12

1 cup pure maple syrup
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 large eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar

Crème fraîche, for serving

1.  Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C). Butter and flour a 10-inch (25 cm) round cake pan. In a large saucepan, bring the maple syrup to a boil over high heat, then simmer over low heat until very thick and reduced to ¾ cup, about 20 minutes. Let cook slightly. Pour the thickened syrup into the cake pan. Arrange the apples in the pan in 2 concentric circles.

2.  In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a glass measuring cup, whisk the eggs with the buttermilk and vanilla. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the wet and dry ingredients in 3 alternating batches (ending with the dry) until the batter is smooth; scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3.  Scrape the batter over the apples and spread it in an even layer. Bake the cake for about 1 ½ hours, until golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Let the cake cool on a rack for 45 minutes.

4.  Place a round platter on top of the cake. Invert the cake onto the plate; tap lightly to release the cake. Remove the pan. Let the cake cool lightly, then cut into wedges and serve with crème fraîche (and a dash of cinnamon!).

...a sweet conclusion.


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