fantastic mr. fox and charred applesauce with yogurt (+ giveaway!)

Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday celebration blog tour stops here today at Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia for a Fantastic Mr. Fox-themed food celebration. Newly-redesigned paperback editions of Fantastic Mr. Fox and other Roald Dahl favorites are available from Puffin (Penguin Young Readers). Stay tuned until the end of the post for a giveaway of all 15 re-released editions and a special tote bag!

One of the first times I have a really vivid memory of someone other than my mother reading aloud to me is when my first grade teacher read Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach to my class.  That book is quite an adventure, but it also features a lot of eating.  My first thought (to this day!) when I remember the story is that I don’t know if I’d ever get sick of eating peaches. I might have been a perennially hungry child, can you tell?

Fantastic Mr. Fox didn’t reach quite as mainstream a status as that until Wes Anderson turned it into a stop-motion film (which I loved).  When I was considering what to do to celebrate Roald Dahl’s birthday week, I couldn’t pass the book itself up. It is the PERFECT. FALL. EATING. BOOK. I mean the whole thing revolves around Mr. Fox stealing chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, cider, and so on to feed his family. There’s even a huge community feast at the end! And if you open any recent cookbook about seasonal eating, apples, ducks and chicken will figure prominently in the autumn sections. It was meant to be.

While Fantastic Mr. Fox doesn’t specifically mention applesauce, one of the farmers (Bean, the cleverest one) is an apple farmer, and he subsists solely on gallons of strong apple cider. My applesauce recipe has non-alcoholic cider in it, so we’re going to call it good and say I stayed on theme, okay? Okay. The upside of all of this is that the recipe is ridiculously easy to make, so you too can have a delicious fall- and Dahl-inspired meal (if you want).

Charred Applesauce with Yogurt (adapted from a recipe in XX Dinners)


4 apples, any kind, but maybe stick to sweeter varieties – I used Pink Lady
1/4 cup sparkling apple cider
1 cinnamon stick
pinch of salt
pumpkin seeds, toasted  (optional)
yogurt, your favorite kind – I like plain, low-fat



Set the oven to broil and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. 

Wash the apples (and make sure to remove any produce stickers!) and place them on the sheet on a top rack right under the broiler.  Watch and turn the apples every 2-3 minutes, but let charred bits bubble up on the skin.

After you’ve turned the apples 4-5 times and have a few charred spots, lower oven temperature to 400 degrees F and bake for another 10 minutes. Before removing from oven, check with a skewer to see if apples are soft. Skewer should slide through apple easily. If it doesn’t, bake another 5 minutes and test again. Once the apples are done, remove from oven until cool enough to handle.

Use your fingers to separate the skins from the flesh and set aside (the skin separated from the flesh while I was baking the apples, so this step was really easy), and remove the core, stem, and seeds with a spoon or your fingers again. Place the apple flesh in a medium-sized bowl, mash to your liking (if at all), and add cider. Stir just to combine.

Chop up some of the charred skin and add to the bowl. Grate in cinnamon to taste – for me that’s about 2/3 of the cinnamon stick, and also add the pinch of salt. Mix, and you’re done!

If you won’t eat it all in one go (it’s also good on pork, chicken & duck!), refrigerate the remainder in an airtight container for 3-4 days.

To make the yogurt dish, simply layer the yogurt and applesauce in a bowl to your liking, and sprinkle with toasted pumpkin seeds.  I made toasted the pumpkin seeds by layering half a handful on a baking sheet with one spritz of baking spray and placing under the broiler for one minute (okay 2, I like them very crispy!) after I finished baking the apples. Add honey or other toppings to taste!

Recommended for: a taste of fall in your morning routine, and a good way to use up extra apples from that apple picking trip you have coming up.

Someone's been stealing from the three meanest farmers around, and they know the identity of the thief—it's Fantastic Mr. Fox! Working alone they could never catch him; but now fat Boggis, squat Bunce, and skinny Bean have joined forces, and they have Mr. Fox and his family surrounded. What they don't know is that they're not dealing with just any fox—Mr. Fox would rather die than surrender. Only the most fantastic plan can save him now.

Enter to Win the Roald Dahl 100 Celebratory Prize Pack! (Ends Sep. 19)

Interested in other food-related posts? Check out Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking!

Fine print: I received a copy of Fantastic Mr. Fox from the publisher for review consideration. I did not receive any compensation for this post. Giveaway and giveaway prize under the direction of the publisher.

the christmas eve tree

My mother and grandmother did their best to foster a love a reading in my siblings and me. That meant gifts of books at birthdays, Christmas, as rewards for good behavior or excellence, and sometimes “just because.” My birthday falls just after Christmas, so for much of my childhood those gift books were Christmas books (or if they weren’t explicitly holiday-themed they were winter-themed!).  To this day I have a soft spot for picture books that depict snowy landscapes, holiday cheer, and/or hibernating animals. I picked up a proof of The Christmas Eve Tree by Delia Huddy and illustrator Emily Sutton on a whim at Book Expo America, and it has already found a special place in my heart.  This picture book is sure to join other classics on the shelves of any family that celebrates Christmas.

the christmas eve tree by delia huddy illustrated by emily sutton cover
In a deeply moving story with the hallmarks of a classic, a homeless boy’s rescue of a spindly Christmas tree sparks a glimmer of hope that has far-reaching effects.

It’s late on Christmas Eve, and the little fir tree is the only tree left in the shop. What a poor thing I am, it thinks. But then a young boy enters the store, drawn in from the damp by the warmth and lights and the wonderful smell of Christmas, and he doesn’t seem to mind that the scrawny tree isn’t tall and straight like the others… This magical story, beautifully illustrated by Emily Sutton, captures an unexpected and unforgettable moment of happiness that brings a whole city together.

Delia Huddy’s story of a misshapen Christmas tree that finds its way into the exact place it was meant to be is the sort of tender, heartwarming tale that could easily veer into maudlin territory.  Instead, the story strikes a balance with poignant, bittersweet moments juxtaposed with Christmas cheer and community spirit. 

Huddy includes themes of feeling unwanted and introduces homeless characters with care, highlighting both issues without downplaying their seriousness.  That said, there are a couple of convenient loose ends and a resulting happy finale. The result is warm, heartfelt, and sure to spark important family conversations (and possibly new traditions!).  This story might not be 100% perfect, but it is very good and it has the hallmarks of a classic.

It’s a little crazy that I’ve gotten this far into the review without talking about Emily Hutton’s fantastic illustrations.  They’re… everything.  The rows of Christmas goodies in the shops, the holiday lights in the night, the cityscapes – they’re fantastic.  I don’t know the last time I was this charmed by the complimentary combination of text and pictures.  Hutton’s art is vibrant, evokes a sort of every-city-at-Christmas feeling, and takes the titular crooked little tree through its life cycle.  Humans feature in the story but the tree is the understated star of each page (even if the reader must search for it in a different location on every spread), an artistic choice that elevates the pictures from sweet to layered and read-again worthy.

All told, The Christmas Eve Tree is a treasure. I’ll be gifting it to all of the children I know this upcoming holiday season.

Recommended for: anyone who celebrates Christmas and enjoys gorgeously-illustrated picture books.

The Christmas Eve Tree will be released by Candlewick on September 27, 2016.

THE CHRISTMAS EVE TREE. Text copyright © 2015 by Delia Huddy. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Emily Sutton. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

Additional fine print: I picked up a copy of this title for review consideration at BEA.  I did not receive any compensation for this post.

home baked

Here’s where I am with baking: it started as therapy, then it was a creative outlet, then it became part of “who Cecelia is (especially at parties).” Now I my goal is to find new, exciting, unfamiliar things to make – basically, to challenge myself. And as much as I love getting recommendations from friends or seeing what the New York Times cooking section has on offer, the recipes rarely surprise me. So it’s a good thing that I won an Abrams Instagram contest and a handful of new-to-me cookbooks.  Yvette van Boven’s Home Baked has been surprising me since January, and it has been the jump-start I needed to get out of my baking comfort zone.

home baked by yvette van boven book cover
Food stylist and cook Yvette van Boven has offered delicious seasonal recipes in Home MadeHome Made Summer, and HomeMade Winter that highlight the fresh produce available throughout the year. In her much-anticipated follow-up, Home Baked, she celebrates the art of baking.

Complete with her signature illustrations and scenic photographs of Ireland and Paris, Home Baked is a beautiful collection of van Boven’s favorite baked goods—warm bread from the oven, sweet banana bread, a gooey cinnamon and caramel pull-apart loaf, rich chocolate cake, shortbread cookies, and more. And alongside these beautiful images of delicious treats, van Boven provides step- by-step instructions for how to make them in your own home. And she leaves no one out—working with different types of flours (including gluten-free) so there is something for everyone to bake. Her inviting voice, easy-to-follow recipes, and beautiful photographs make Home Baked a staple for every kitchen and lovely enough to show off in other rooms as well.

Talented cook, artist, and food stylist Yvette van Boven tackles home baking in a gorgeously–conceived and –executed cookbook.  Van Boven introduces a range of Irish, Dutch and French recipes (and some that are a mix or none of those three!) under the headings of Viennoiserie (breakfast pastries), Bread, Pound Cake, Bars and Slices, Cookies, Pie, Birthday Cakes, P√Ętisserie and “Do Not Forget the Dog,” aka recipes for canine companions.

Home Baked provides a fresh take on baking inspired by van Boven’s personal preferences, changes to diet, and special occasions, all with a homey feel (and most importantly, reproducible by the home baker!). Some of the European-influenced recipes may be familiar to North American bakers, but van Boven includes detail about why certain ingredients are included that was new to this reader.  In addition, all of the recipes are labeled if they are wheat-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, sugar-free or refined sugars-free, which is very useful for anyone dealing with dietary restrictions.

The overall presentation of this cookbook is one of its best features (what, you thought it was just a book of recipes?!).  Along with gorgeous photos of the food, its pages are filled with watercolor-washed backgrounds, lovely full-page spreads of photographs of Irish and French landscapes, and hand-inked recipe illustrations.  It’s a cookbook that can double as a coffee table art book (and I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of a cookbook that way before!).

Now that I’ve done the official “review” things, I can give you my honest feedback on the book, right?  Well, it’s great.  I found it both an inspiration and a bit of a learning experience.  Van Boven makes all of her recipes in a convection oven, and the majority of the goodies don’t call for expensive kitchenware. I used more eggs and lemon zest in baking than ever before, experimented with oven times, substituted ingredients, and liked the results. Who knew? I thoroughly tested (read: enjoyed) the cookbook by baking that gorgeous cake on the cover (Super-Light Lemon Poppy Seed Cake), the Cherry Cream Pie with Raspberry-Campari Sauce, the Far Breton Aux Pruneaux, and two kinds of cookies.  All of the recipes turned out well and won major kudos from friends.

One minor nit: I found a couple of recipes that either had ingredients or amounts transposed or misspelled, or that were missing bit of the recipe.  For a book so beautiful, it’s a shame that they didn’t do just one more copyedit.

In the preface, Yvette van Boven writes that “Baking will not only make you very happy; it will make you beloved.” Home Baked is a homey, accessible homage to baking, a breath of fresh air, and its recipes prove the author right.

Recommended for: home bakers who want to round out their baking game with European-inspired delicacies, and anyone who can appreciate a beautifully constructed book.

Interested in other food-related posts? Check out Beth FishReads’ Weekend Cooking!

Fine print: I received this book from the publisher as a prize in an Instagram contest.  I did not receive any compensation for this post.

winning at life, aka 10 bookish things that give me joy

Monday, August 15, 2016 | | 6 comments

I’ve had several lovely bookish things happening in my life, and I thought I’d share the joy a bit, in case they give you an idea or the nudge you need to add something book- or reading-related to your routine. I found many of these through excellent recommendations from the Twitter book world (thanks, all!).

1. One Book At A Time literacy project – This fantastic program pairs children in after school programs who don’t have access to books with someone (anyone!) willing to buy and send one book per month over the course of a year. Participants also get to exchange letters with their “book buddy.” I corresponded with a 14 year-old girl over the last school year and it was seriously SO REWARDING. I felt so proud when I finally figured out her reading preferences, and I just about burst with happiness every time one of her letters arrived in my mailbox. I can’t wait to be assigned to a new book buddy when school starts up again next month.

2. Matched graphic novels & kids for a reading teacher – I have two close friends who work as reading teachers in local elementary schools. When we get together we often talk about their kids and the books they’re reading (or having trouble reading, as the case may be). One of those friends told me a heart-breaking story about two 10 year-old girls she tutors. The first student has no confidence in her reading, and her classroom teacher only cements that. I immediately thought of Dav Pilkey’s latest, Dog Man. The other student is stronger in math and science than reading, so I went to Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders. Thanks to my trip to BEA, I had ARCs of both on hand and donated them right then and there. My friend reported back that both girls were ecstatic about the books, boasted that they read “graphic novels” to teachers and friends alike, and that the reading practice helped them pass their end-of-the-year tests with confidence. It legit made me cry (happy tears).

3. Adult summer reading at my local library – Does your local library have a summer reading program for adults? Mine does, and it is GENIUS. I mean, I’m reading anyway, but it’s great incentive to log books read, and there are prizes!

4. Audiofile’s free ebook program SYNC – Two free audiobook downloads each week for 15 weeks over the course of the summer. Does that sound good to you? If so, you should totally sign up for the weekly reminder emails. I don’t even like audiobooks, but this offer is too good to pass up.

5. Crowdsourcing book suggestions – A coworker of mine mentors a 17 year-old boy, and she told me about him over a lunch one day. Her description of a curious, sharp, private kid who has seen way too much hardship hit me in the feels. I asked her if I could send him a book. When I got the okay, I turned to Twitter for recommendations. They delivered. I ended up ordering two of the suggested titles for a kid I don’t know. I really hope he likes them. I feel like a hero anyway.

6. OTSP Secret Sister – Have you seen the #otspsecretsister tag on the web and wondered what it meant? It’s six months of bookish secret santa, with an emphasis on cheer and sending thoughtful letters. It’s FUN to organize gifts and letters and little surprises for a new friend. And of course receiving little things in the mail isn’t too shabby, either. I signed up last month for my 3rd round because I keep having such a great time. 10/10 would recommend.

7. Book club (in real life and everything!) – Many years ago in a galaxy far, far away I didn’t have any close friends who read the sort of books I liked. Then I discovered Forever Young Adult’s book club network and joined the DC chapter. I now know many excellent people who read YA for fun, and we meet up and talk at book club and outside of it too. It’s super gratifying to have friends who want to see the latest teen film-to-book adaptation (like I do!).

8. eBook of the Month Club – If you read sci-fi and fantasy, get thee over to and sign up for their free ebook of the month club! You get a free download that is yours to keep no matter what, and the titles are fab. Just do it.

9. Talking to my 97-year old grandmother about the formative books of her childhood, and what she’s reading now – I spent some time with family over a long weekend, and I got to chat with my grandmother about reading. Which, for the record, is the best. She’s so smart and strong – I’m honored to be related to her. By the way, she just finished David McCullough’s biography of the Wright brothers.

10. Reading a cookbook in French! – I’m headed to Paris for the first time next month for a short vacation, and I’ve been teaching myself elementary French via Duolingo. I helped a family friend make a sorbet recipe over the weekend and I read it in French (with help)! So exciting.

Honorable mention: It hasn’t happened yet, but I plan to attend Kate Milford’s book launch next week in Annapolis, MD for her new middle grade novel The Left-Handed Fate.

What are some bookish happenings in your life?
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