Thursday, November 28, 2019

Folk Tale Secret Stash: The Origin of Strawberries.

You know, we probably don’t think enough about how colonialism affects our diet.  Especially here in the United States.  The truth is that as people move around and take over other places, they bring the food animals and plants they like with them.  Even dishes as supposedly American as apple pie aren’t all that American in terms of the soil they started in (note: pies were common throughout Europe and apples originated in Central Asia).

Long before Europeans came to the Americas, native people ate too.  And they had their own game, their own livestock, their own crops and their own recipes.  Also, the stereotype that it was all simple survival fare is just that, a stereotype.

On Thanksgiving here at Fairy Tale Fandom, I like to spotlight something having to do with Native Americans.  Either some issue that’s impacting them or something accomplished by them, along with one of their stories (granted, I’m not as well versed in this stuff as my storytelling associate Gil Payette, but I try).  I’m lucky enough today to have found one of the accomplishments.

A Lakota man named Sean Sherman has founded a company called The Sioux Chef which is part catering company and part culinary history educator.  The intention is to create modern recipes using native ingredients inspired by the traditions of the 573 recognized tribal groups native to the United States.  This seems to include NATIFS, the  North American Traditional Indigenous Food System, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the economic and health crises affecting native communities by reestablishing traditional foodways.  There’s also a cookbook The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, which won the James Beard award for the Best American Cookbook in 2018.

It really is an interesting project.  If you are interested, you can check out their website or you can do like I did and check out this New York Times article that includes ten essential Native American recipes.
It’s nice to acknowledge the roots of the food we eat sometimes.  After all, familiar foods like turkey, corn, beans, avocados, chili peppers, all squashes both winter and summer (including pumpkins), blueberries and strawberries are all native to the Americas.

Mmm . . . strawberries. 

You know, one of my favorite food stories is about the origin of strawberries.

An old Cherokee story tells of the first man and woman in all of creation.  They were happy at first as husband and wife, but soon they began to quarrel.

One day, the woman became fed up and started heading toward Nundagunyi, the Sun Land.  Her husband, grieving, followed after her.  The Sun, Unelanunhi, felt bad for him and asked if he would like her back.  The man said that he would.

So, Unelanunhi first made a patch of ripe huckleberries grow along her path.  She passed by it, though.

The Sun then made a patch of blackberries grow beside her path.  She passed by that too.

Unelanuhani made different fruit after fruit grow along the woman’s path, but she passed by them all.

That is, until she came upon a patch of strawberries.  The first strawberries in the entire world.

She stooped down to pick some and as she did she turned her face toward the west where she had come from and thought of her husband.  She sat down to eat some but the longer she sat the more she thought of her husband.  So, she gathered up some more berries and went home to share them with him.  The two reunited and went back home together.
So, whether strawberries, roast turkey or pumpkin pie, maybe give the origins of your food and where they’re evolving to a thought on this (sometimes problematic) day of feasting.  Because folklore is always evolving, food always is too and maybe this holiday could too.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Four-Color Fairy Tales- The Legend of Oz: Wicked West.

Howdy, partners!

I’m here today to fulfill my promise of looking at some of the more creative takes on classic children’s literature in comics.  We’ve seen a horror-themed take on Pinocchio and Peter Pan go to war.  Now, we have something with a much more American flavor in a lot of ways.  Today we’re looking at The Legend of Oz: Wicked West.

Wicked West is a series from independent comics publisher Big Dog Ink that reimagines the land of Oz as the setting of a fantastical Western.  It starts with cowgirl Dorothy Gale (who prefers to just be called “Gale”), her horse Toto and her whole barn being swept away by a twister.  When we next see her she’s now been in the land of Oz for three years and is equipped with a pair of ruby spurs and ruby-handled six-shooters, trying to follow a road of gold bricks that’s been picked apart for years.  Along the way, she meets some reimagined familiar faces.  There’s the Tin Man, who is a seemingly completely human axe-wielding lawman.  There’s the Scarecrow, someone who looks like some sort of Native American woman but is revealed to be a sort of artificial being filled with straw.  There’s also the Cowardly Lion, who now sports a face painted like a clown’s.  Not to mention other various and sundry Oz characters like the kalidahs, winged monkeys, Dr. Pipt, Patchwork Girl and General Jinjur (you’ll note that not all these characters are normally from the first Oz story).  And of course there’s a Wicked Witch trying to get her hands on the ruby spurs.
Writing the Wizard of Oz as a western seems like simultaneously the best and worst idea at the same time.  The strengths of the Oz books have always been whimsy and fantastical invention.  Westerns, on the other hand, have long emphasized grit and a certain element of historical verisimilitude.  Not truth, necessarily, but believability.  You have to at least believe that something in a western could have happened during the days of the U.S.A.’s westward expansion.  Whether or not they’re anything like actual history is another ball of wax.  At the same time, there’s something uniquely about both the western and the Oz books.  Both America’s westward expansion and most of the Oz books are also typified by long journeys over vast country in search of something (a way home, brains, heart, courage, land, prosperity, the Pacific Ocean, etc).  So, how do our comic creators Tom Hutchison and Alisson Borges manage?  Well, not too bad.  Some concessions are made.  For example, they pretty much tossed the verisimilitude in favor of fantasy, as you’ve probably already figured out.  The grit is there, though.  And compared to other works that tried to add grit to Oz, it does it in a more enjoyable way (I’m looking at you, Emerald City).  Also, the commonalities still exist: the long journey and the search for something.
In terms of character, it can be a bit of a mixed bag.  The witch is always compelling on the page, which is nice.  Since they’re borrowing a lot from Margaret Hamilton’s performance from the MGM movie, it makes sense.  Her performance was one of the most dominating things in that movie.  The Tin Man seems kind of standard as the grizzled old lawman.  Perhaps it would be more interesting if “the Tin Man as a tough old lawman” wasn’t already one of the basic ideas of a preexisting SyFy miniseries named Tin Man.  Neither the Lion or Scarecrow talk, which makes it a bit hard to get into their characters.  The Lion doesn’t seem so much like a coward as an animal that just wants to get away from its abusers, who then comes back to help his rescuer.  I’m also not sure what the significance of him being painted up like a clown is.  The Scarecrow I like a fair bit because she seems kind of free-spirited.  In fact, sometimes she reminds me more of the Patchwork Girl (who appears in the book but without any of her usual personality traits).  She’s fun to watch as a pantomime character, and there are some moments when she shows uncommon courage and kindness, but that’s it.  And the questionable Native American motif makes me cringe a little.  And then there’s Gale.  I’m realizing she may be my biggest problem with all the characters, actually.  For you see, we pretty much see all of them filtered through her perceptions.  For example, it’s not so much that the Tin Man is heartless, it’s that she thinks he’s heartless.  The Lion isn’t a coward, just a “sensitive soul” according to the Tin Man, but Gale thought he was a coward.  And the Scarecrow isn’t brainless, it’s just that Gale can’t figure out what’s going on in her head.  She is a strong character and frequently stands up for the downtrodden, which is good.  The thing is, that and a general grumbliness are all I tend to pick up from her.  I kind of wish I was seeing a wider range of emotions from this character.  I do think her way of taking out the Witch is rather clever, but I’m not going to give it away.  In terms of physical depictions, there are also moments when it feels like they’re embracing Zenescope’s attitude of “sexier is better”.  There are some notable butt-shots of our erstwhile Dorothy (including the title page) and among the variant covers shown in the back there is one of Gale in a bikini.  But maybe this is an issue for another day.
Exhibit A: The cover page.  (I'm not sure pants should physically be able to get that tight).
In terms of movie/book ratio in terms of what’s adapted, Hutchison and company seem to keep the movie references to the stuff that would most easily picked out as iconic movie stuff.  So, there are ruby spurs and pistols instead of silver ones.  There’s a green witch with a pointed hat and a broom who plays a big role in the story.  There’s even a reference to a “Lollipop Guild Candy Store”.  Most of the other stuff is drawn from the book.  They use the kalidahs.  They use the green glasses when entering the Emerald City (which is actually a mine in this case).  They have the part where the group is attacked by bees.  You get the picture.

Now I’m not a huge western fan so maybe I’m missing something, but I’m going to say that this one’s a good read but not necessarily a must-read.  I would like it a lot better if the characters were a little bit more multidimensional and we could get more out of Gale than some good shooting, some grumbling about how long her journey is taking and misjudgments of her new friends.  But hey, there are more Legend of Oz stories out there so maybe it does get better.  As for volume one, I’ll say it doesn’t hurt to read it but I wouldn’t suggest going out of your way for it.

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.