Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On y va?

Shall we go and join Arlo on his adventure?

I know I'm ready. Ready to hop into the passenger seat of that little red Citroën DS (I think I'll let Arlo drive) and become immersed in the magical sights, sounds, and especially, the tastes of Paris - all in the company of an armadillo. Such fun. Come along, get your imagination in gear - a fabulous journey awaits...c'est parti!

Julie Kraulis has created, in her words and pictures, An Armadillo in Paris, published by Tundra Books. Arlo, an armadillo from Brazil, explores the highlights of Paris. And all thanks to the inspiration provided in a collection of journals written for Arlo by his globe-trotting grandfather, Augustin - journals containing thoughts about his favourite places in the world. Treasured items left behind - a legacy of adventure. Génial!

In the pages of the Paris journal, Arlo is guided by his grandfather through the City of Lights to find the Dame de FerWho is this Iron Lady Arlo is in search of? Some may already know the answer. But clues are provided throughout this story of Arlo's first adventure, and as the book unfolds, these hints help him, as well as the reader, discover the Parisian icon along with the history, the food, the art, the landmarks and the joie de vivre of this city. And those ideas supply ongoing interest as well as encourage participation, taking the reader along for the ride. And since j'adore Paris...this book was rather hard for me to resist...


And those pictures - graphite and oil illustrations capturing all the delights of Paris - detailed, accurate and all with a sense of softness and whimsy. From the opening spread of the wandering paw prints, we know Arlo is eager to begin his tour. I love browsing through all the small visual moments Julie has included - Arlo preparing for his adventure with his suitcase at the ready; the miniature replicas of artwork and posters; the overhead view of our armadillo, barely visible under a tree, playing chess with a new-found friend; the puppet play where Arlo has a front row seat; the shapes, colours and textures of the fruits and veggies at the market stand, and more. 

Then there's the icing on le gâteau of an oh-so long and tall poster of the Lady herself inside the jacket cover. And a 'fact page' at the end of the book provides the reader with items of interest and information about the Tour Eiffel

An Armadillo in Paris is a charming classroom read-aloud for children 5 - 9 years of age. And it's an ideal book to introduce journal writing to students who are ready to make their own marks on paper. Arlo's grandfather has set a wonderful example of recording his thoughts and ideas in these travelogues (retelling, relating, explaining, describing)...again, this is just the right book to share as one example of journal writing and perhaps a way of encouraging and sustaining interest of this practice in the primary grades. 
Arlo...with his nose into a book...browsing in a bookstore!

In an article from Inspire - The Journal of Literacy and Numeracy for Ontario on the Ontario Ministry of Education's site, Barnabas Emenogu makes mention of the importance of classroom journals: 

"Writing has been linked with critical thinking, particularly journal writing has been associated with promoting students' critical thinking and learning skills.

Writing in their journals helps students apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate information beyond just knowing it. Therefore, one effective way of having students write seems to be asking them to write in a daily journal. Journals can be used across subject areas to develop writing skills in different content areas. A student might have a journal for science, math, art, physical education, music and social studies thereby learning to use the language and thinking associated with these subjects."

...perhaps this book might inspire a journal of favourite places students have visited? Their writing might not include Paris or Toronto or even a city. It may be about going to stay with a grandparent or traveling on a bus to the library or walking to a friend's house? So many possibilities...
I cannot mention Paris, without thinking about the past year's events in this city - and wondering, at the same time, how a parent, grandparent, caregiver or teacher talks about or deals with a traumatic event such as this with young ones and older children, as well. There are such diverse views among us - some don't feel the news needs to be simplified for children, others feel that children need to be shielded, and then there are those whose beliefs lie somewhere in between. I know as a teacher, my students have come to class with varying amounts of information about world events. And so many children, no matter how young, have had to cope with tragedy, change, difficult situations. One of my sons shared quite a moving video of a little boy and his father in conversation about the Paris attacks. And, as I was driving home in December, I listened to a CBC broadcast regarding this very issue. Dona Matthews, Ph. D, co-author of Beyond Intelligence, published by House of Anansi, has written an excellent article on fostering resiliency in children during troubling times. Food for thought...   

~  We’ll always have Paris.  – Howard Koch (spoken by Rick in 'Casablanca')

~  It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end. - Ursula K. Le Guin

~ If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. - Ernest Hemingway                                               
Look way up...

Arlo, the curious and inquisitive yet quiet and rather shy creature wanders and explores. And I wonder...where might Arlo go on his next adventure? Hint: It seems Arlo will be searching for another 'Lovely Lady' this spring in April 2016. Cannot wait!

And a recipe to pair with this French-inspired book? It must be macarons! And before you begin baking these sweet nothings, a little suggestion...have patience packed along with perhaps some Nina Simone or your favourite music to help keep calm and collected. I found that baking these beauties were a bit of challenge! There are so many variables that contribute to perfecting macarons. Be prepared to practice, practice, practice. If they don't work out as expected with satin tops and the lovely little ruffled 'foot'...no worries. They still taste delicious! Use those cracked, hollowed-out shells as a crumbly, crunchy topping for ice cream or whatever you might fancy. (Mine were definitely not as smoothly domed and perfectly shaped as the macarons I've had in Paris or Nadège Pâtisserie in Toronto or Linley's - A Food Shop in Stratford!) Bon courage!
French Macarons with Cranberry Jam
Inspiration:  Pâtissier/macaron classes with Olivier Sauvageau - Mon Père Était Pâtissier - St. Rémy de Provence - 2012, Martha Stewart Living & Epicurious 2004  

Makes about 2 dozen macarons

2/3 cup (71 grams) sliced blanched almonds
1 cup (117 grams) confectioner's/icing sugar
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 cup (53 grams) granulated sugar 
Juice from strained fresh raspberries or pomegranate seeds, as desired, for colour

1.  Preheat oven to 350° F (176° C) with the rack placed in the lower third. Place almonds in a food processor and process until fine, about 1 minute. Add confectioner's sugar and process until combined, about 1 minute. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Prepare a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch (2 cm) plain piping tip. (Try standing the bag in a tall glass when filling - it helps!)

2.  Press the combined almond flour and sugar through a fine sieve until there are no visible lumps. Set aside.

3.  In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites and granulated sugar. Continue until the mixture holds firm peaks, about 8 minutes. The mixture should be dry and hold stiff, glossy peaks. Add the juice from the strained raspberries or pomegranate. Beat for 30 seconds.

4.  With a spatula, begin folding the dry ingredients into the beaten egg whites. Then become more firm with the spatula, folding and pressing the mixture against the bottom of the bowl. This is called macaronnage which is basically deflating the whites. When the mixture is soft, smooth and combined (check at about 25 or so 'fold and presses') it should run like a ribbon - not too thick and not too thin. This will take about 35 or so complete strokes. Then transfer half the mixture to the pastry bag.

5.  Pipe the batter onto the baking sheets in 1inch (3 cm) circles, about a tbsp of batter, evenly-spaced 1 inch (3 cm) apart. (I like to use a cookie cutter or small glass to draw circles on one side of the parchment – flip it over and use the ‘unwritten’ side). 

6.  Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the countertop to release any air bubbles.

7.  Then bake for about 13 -15 minutes. Turn the sheet halfway through baking. Let the macarons cool completely and remove carefully from the baking sheet using an offset spatula.


These macarons are filled with a simple cranberry jam. I filled them just before serving so the delicate cookies would hold their shape and not become too moist. Try any favourite fruit jam or flavoured buttercream or chocolate ganache for the filling. 

Confiture de Canneberges:

3 cups (342 grams) fresh cranberries
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (125 ml) fresh orange juice
1 cup (250 ml) water

Bring all the ingredients to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. The jam will continue to thicken as it cools.

Press jam through a fine sieve into a bowl, discarding skins and seeds.

Cool, stirring occasionally.


Spread or pipe a small dollop of jam or buttercream or ganache onto the inside of one of the macarons and sandwich them gently together with a light twist. 

Et voilà! 
A little taste of Paris! Perfect with a petit café or steaming pot of tea.
Arlo would approve, bien sûr...

*Photos & Macarons illustration by Ann Marie Stasiuk

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