Sunday, November 10, 2019

Fantastical Feasts: Snow White's Apfelkuchen

Fairy Tale Geek:  Hello, friends.  It’s an unfortunate truth that one unpleasant encounter with a certain, usually harmless, food can sometimes ruin someone’s relationship with it.  To demonstrate, I’ve asked my friend Snow White to be here today.  Say hi, Snow.

Snow White:  Hello, everyone.

FTG: Now I’m going to offer Snow a certain piece of food and we’ll see how she reacts. [Turns to Snow]  Snow, how would you like a nice juicy apple? [presents apple to Snow]

SW: [slaps apple out of FTG’s hand] YOU KEEP THAT HORRIBLE THING AWAY FROM ME!

FTG:  Sad, isn’t it?  And all over a singular poisoning incident that happened something like 300 years ago.  Well, I think with the right recipe we can ease Snow’s fear of apples just a little bit.  For this I’m adapting a recipe from The Old World Kitchen by Elisabeth Luard, which is a cookbook based around recipes for European peasant food.  I did, however, tweak it to better suit the supplies and equipment in my kitchen.


For the Pastry-
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
8 ounces (1 cup) butter
Yolks of 2 eggs
3 to 4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon apple cider (replacing 1 tablespoon of brandy)

For the Filling-
2 Pounds of apples
2 tablespoons of butter
2 ounces raisins
1 tablespoon apple cider (again, replacing brandy)

1)      Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl.  Cut the butter for the pastry into cubes and mix it into the flour mixture with your fingers until it starts to look like fine bread crumbs.  Add the egg yolks, water and cider and mix with your fingers until it forms a soft dough.  Once the dough is mixed, stash in the refrigerator until later.

2)      Peel, core and slice the apples.  In a skillet or saucepan, lightly fry the apples in the butter.  Meanwhile, soak the raisins in the cider before adding them in with the apples.

3)      Preheat the oven to 425 degrees farenheit.
4)      Roll out 2/3 of the pastry with a rolling pin and use to line the bottom of an 8 inch round cake pan.  Roll out the remaining 1/3 into a circle to top the dish.  Fill the pan with the apple mixture.  Cover with the rest of the dough, seal the edges and cut slits for steam to escape.
5)      Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 55 minutes.
FTG:  And there you have it!  A nice German apfelkuchen to cure a German folk tale character’s apple-phobia.  Now, the moment of truth.  Snow, would you like to try some of this pastry I made? [Holds plate out to Snow]

SW:  Apfelkuchen?  I haven’t had that in a couple hundred years.  Well, I guess.  You know what to do in case of poisoning, right?

FTG: It’ll be fine, Snow.  No poison here.  No jealous queens.  Just some nice German pastry.

SW: [hesitantly takes a bit.   Face lights up upon tasting it]  MMMM!

FTG:  I should probably go over a couple of things like my substitutions.  The original recipe called for brandy.  I don’t drink alcohol and keeping brandy here in the Enchanted Condo would be a waste unless I made this recipe a lot.  So, since I still needed to keep the amount of liquid the same, I decided to replace it with another flavorful liquid.  You can adjust as you see fit.  It also called for a pie pan with a hinged side.  I guess that means a spring form pan like you’d use for cheesecake.  I tried it and it just didn’t work for me, so I instead made use of one of my trusty 8-inch round cake pans.  Something American readers will probably notice is that unlike a lot of apple recipes, this is an unspiced apple recipe.  A lot of modern apple recipes here in the U.S. are doctored up with warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves.  This one isn’t and there are a couple reasons that may be.  For one, not ever country and culture may like their apples combined with warm autumnal spices.  For another, this is based on a very old recipe and at one time in history spices would have been not only really hard to get but expensive as well.  Either way, it means that this apple pastry actually tastes a lot more like apples than others might.  Another thing is that when searching for an apfelkuchen recipe, you may run across another recipe called apple kuchen or German apple cake.  It’s a cake with sliced apples on top.  Assuming that the recipe I’m working from is authentic, I assume that German apple cake is a German-American extrapolation of this dish.  I can’t say for sure, but it’s something to keep in mind.

SW:  This is very good.  And I’m not poisoned, which is great.  But I can’t stay around here.  I’m going to be late for my shift at work.

FTG:  Oh, I keep forgetting that you fairy tale characters have to work like everyone else now that you don’t really fit into the old monarchies and nobilities anymore.  Where are you working these days?

SW: I work at Cinnabon now.

FTG:  Cinnabon?  You mean, like, at the mall?

SW:  Yeah.

FTG:  So, would that make you “the fairest of the mall”?

SW:  [Loud groan]

FTG:  Good night, everybody!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Fairy Tale Media Fix: Swan Lake (1981)

Hey, folks!  I guess it’s been a while.  These days it feels  a bit hard to come up with new material, but I’m still trying.  It’s even hard to get my hands on it.  I’m still waiting on a comic I wanted to review.  So, let’s go back to a couple of familiar subjects: animated movies and Swan Lake.

As you may recall, during the early days of this blog I did a three part project on the story from the ballet Swan Lake.  I looked at a picture book, the animated movie The Swan Princess and a recording of the actual ballet itself.  You may also recall that The Swan Princess wasn’t very good.  It took the story and bent it all out of shape in order to introduce the idea of Odette and Derec (Siegfried in the ballet) having this long history together.  It then just fell apart more from there.  I was absolutely baffled to find that the movie had a number of straight-to-video sequels.

I am happy to say though, that I have found an alternative!
In 1981, Toei Animation wanted to release a movie to celebrate their twentieth anniversary.  For those not in the know, Toei Company Ltd. is a Japanese film and television production company.  Toei Animation is the animation wing of Toei Company Ltd.  Toei in general is well known for producing a number of famous Japanese productions ranging from Super Sentai and Kamen Rider in live action to famous anime series like Sailor Moon, Dragon Bal, and Digimon.  And their animation wing is not unfamiliar with fairy tale content, as evidenced by the big, giant head of Puss-in-Boots in their logo.
Anyway, they celebrated their twentieth anniversary by releasing an animated film based on the story of Swan Lake.  The story, as is usual for Swan Lake, concerns the princess Odette who is cursed to be a swan during the day by the sorcerer Baron von Rothbart.  One fateful day she encounters Prince Siegfried and they fall in love at first sight.  He then invites her to a ball where he’s supposed to choose his intended bride.  Things don’t go as planned though when an impostor shows up in Odette’s place.

And that’s it.  That’s the plot of Swan Lake.  It’s also the plot of the Toei Swan Lake movie.  See how simple that is.  There’s a little more to it, but the plot still takes that basic shape.
So, will you enjoy the Toei Animation version of Swan Lake?   Well, that depends on a couple of things.  First of all, how are you at dealing with old-school fairy tale nonsense.  Second, how are you at dealing with old-school cartoon/anime nonsense.
In terms of fairy tale nonsense, be aware that Odette and Siegfried’s romantic relationship takes off very quickly.  It’s basically your usual “love at first sight” relationship.  I understand if it feels too abrupt for some people, but it works okay for me.  This is for two reasons.  One, it happened that way in the ballet too.  So, I’ve learned to accept it.  Two, trying to expand on the relationship was what threw The Swan Princess’s story out of whack in the first place.

There’s a lot more to deal with in terms of cartoon/anime nonsense though.  For one, it just looks and sounds like an ‘80s anime.  The art style looks like something out of Voltron crossed with Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics.  The soundtrack is the music from the ballet, but sometimes it seems to just stops as if they haven’t figured out how to accurately loop it or fade it in or out.  The villain, Rothbart, comes across as a straight-up ‘80s cartoon villain.  He’s dangerously powerful but often goofy and his lack of ambition seems odd in conjunction with his power.  His one motivation is that he wants Odette to marry him.  Not only marry him (which he could probably force her to do) but agree to marry him.  I’d compare him to Bowser from the game Super Mario Odyssey with the whole wedding obsession, but Bowser didn’t seem like he was waiting for Peach to agree to anything.  He was going to marry her if she wanted to or not.  Then there are the squirrels.  Throughout the movie, there’s a subplot about two squirrels named Hans and Margarita.  They have their own little love story going on and they observe a lot of the story as it goes on,  However, they’re only active players in the story for one part. 

Despite all that ‘80s anime silliness, I’m cool with it.  To me, all that is part of the movie’s charm.  It has that goofy old kids’ anime from the ‘80s feel, and that’s why I like it.

There are some other things worth noting.  They added an action set piece to the end of the movie in which Siegfried fights against Rothbart.  They also did it in such a way that it still involves an act of sacrifice that’s in keeping with how the ballet usually ends, but with a happy ending that most people would be wanting to see from a family film.  Also, for some reason I just love this movie’s version of Odile.
Odile is essentially Odette’s evil twin from the royal ball scene.  She’s also Rothbart’s daughter.  However, in the ballet she’s barely even a character.  And in The Swan Princess, her part was basically played by some old servant.  In this movie, she’s a sly, sassy teenage girl who’s mostly amused by her father’s narrow ambitions and constant attempts to get Odette to marry him.  She also seems a bit smarter than her father, in that she’s the one who comes up with the plan to go to the ball in Odette’s place.  To be fair, she does kind of have the air of a high school “mean girl” character but it works for her.  There’s something deliciously nasty about her.  I do wish they had stuck to the long implied symbolism of her as a black swan rather than having her bird form be an owl like Rothbart’s, but that’s a minor nitpick.

So, I’m saying give this one a chance if you can deal with the fairy tale and cartoon nonsense in it.  It’s probably my favorite animated adaptation of Swan Lake (though, granted, I haven’t seen the Barbie one yet).  One place I know it can be found is on Amazon Prime Video where you can view it for free.

See ya next time.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Fantastical Feasts: Goldilocks's Three-Grain Porridge.

Hey, guys!  Remember a while back when I spotlighted the Three Bears brand of instant porridge and I said I’d do a post someday on a better recipe for “Goldilocks” porridge.  Well, that day is today, apparently.  This recipe is adapted from a recipe in the Weight Watchers Power Foods Cookbook (don’t worry about that part too much.  The Power Foods program isn’t even a thing anymore).  I tweaked it to give it more of a “Three Bears in the forest” vibe.
For this recipe you’ll need:
            1 ½ cups fat free milk
-          Pinch salt
-          ¼ cup quick cooking barley
-          ¼ cup bulgur
-          ¼ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
-          ¼ cup dried blueberries
-          ¼ cup dried strawberries (cut to a more manageable size)
-          Pinch ground cinnamon
-          2 teaspoons honey
-          2 tablespoons sliced almonds (or nuts of your choice)

1)      Pour milk and salt into a small saucepan.  Bring milk just to a boil.  Keep an eye on the pot during this step.  Milk boils over easily.  What you’re looking for is bubbles just forming around the edges of the pot.

2)      Stir in oats, barley, bulgur, blueberries, strawberries and cinnamon.

3)      Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently until the milk is absorbed.  About ten minutes.  At this point the grains should be tender but still chewy.

4)      Remove from the heat and stir in the honey.  Spoon the porridge into bowls and sprinkle with the nuts of your choice (I use sliced almonds).  The recipe should serve about four, which means that Goldilocks won’t have to steal hers this time.

There you have it, porridge worth breaking into a bear’s house for (though I still wouldn’t suggest it).  Will there be more Fantastical Feasts in the future?  We’ll see.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Fantasy Literature Rewind: The Borrowers.

In folk lore around the world, little people are everywhere.  Whether it’s the leprechauns of Ireland, the nisse of Norway, the menehune of Hawaii or any number of diminutive protagonists like Tom Thumb or Issun-Boshi, it’s hard to go far without finding smallish characters.  So, it stands to reason that they’d find their way into children’s fantasy fiction at some point.  Various points, actually.  But which point to actually take a look at?

Well, how about 1952?  The Borrowers by Mary Norton.  I’d been wanting to diversify this column with some 20th Century children’s books, including ones that aren’t made into Disney movies.  And this one is a Carnegie Medal winner. 
Now, I had heard of this book before but I hadn’t read it until recently as an adult.  The closest I had come before this is seeing the Studio Ghibli film The Secret World of Arriety, which is based on it.  But just because it’s Ghibli doesn’t mean it’s all that similar to the book.  Just ask fans of Howl’s Moving Castle.  There are other movies and TV shows based on The Borrowers, but I don't really have much exposure to them.
The story concerns the Clock family, Pod, Homily and their daughter Arriety, who are Borrowers.  Borrowers are tiny people who live hidden away in a human house and “borrow” various things to survive.  Usually “borrowing” means “stealing” and the stuff they take consists of small, easily misplaced things like buttons, stamps, needles, etc.  The Clocks happen to be the last family of Borrowers living in this particular house, the others having “emigrated” because they had been seen by the “human beans” as the Borrowers call them.  Needless to say, being “seen” is not considered a good thing for Borrowers.  So, things take an unexpected turn when Arriety goes on her first borrowing trip with her father and gets seen by a young boy who’s staying in the house.  Things turn out to be not so bad as Arriety and the boy become friends.  However, it’s not to last as older, crueler human beans discover the Borrowers and seek to find them and get rid of them.
There are a lot of different takes on “little people” in folklore.  One of the things that’s consistent among most of them is that the little people are magical or at least extremely skilled.  Sometimes both.  The Borrowers aren’t really magical and aren’t particularly good at anything besides taking things that don’t belong to them.  They actually act more like the anthropomorphized mice you might see in a cartoon (think Jerry from Tom & Jerry but less violent).  It’s a charming little story.  Most of it hinges on the Boy (whose name I don’t think was ever mentioned) and his friendship with Arriety.  The two bond over reading.  Apparently, living in India and being bilingual made reading difficult for the boy (not sure why that’s the case).  But the boy gets a friend and the Clock family gets help contacting distant relatives and furniture from the dollhouse upstairs.  There’s also some interesting commentary in there about how people both big and small see their place in the world.  The boy asks Arriety how they feel about stealing from humans.  Arriety basically responds that Borrowers don’t see it as stealing when they “borrow” from humans, only when they take from other Borrowers.  The reason is because “human beans are for Borrowers”.  That’s right, the Borrowers think humans exist as a resource to be used by the Borrowers.  As if the human being’s purpose is to make objects just so the Borrowers can take them.  Kind of seems like how some humans see other people and lifeforms on this planet, doesn’t it?  The Borrowers also seem to think that “human beans” are dying out because fewer and fewer people seem to come to the house.  With the help of the Boy and his books, Arriety does develop a more enlightened view of the world.
Beyond just “little people”, there is another place where The Borrowers brushes against the concept of folklore.  The way it’s told.  With folk stories, a story is passed from person to person.  Often with the end result of no one knowing who the story started with in the first place.  The story of the Borrowers may not have gotten that far, but it seemed to be on its way.  The book opens with young Kate hearing the story from her Aunt Mrs. May, who in turn heard it from her brother who was the Boy in the story.  The veracity of the story is even called into question because even though Mrs. May supposedly found Arriety’s little journal, she notes that her handwriting is very similar to her brother’s.

The Borrowers was successful enough that it spawned four sequels.  And last I checked, at least this first book is often still in print.  They may not be the magical little people of ages-old lore, but it’s nice to know the tradition continues in a way.