Santa Claus Saves Christmas  Again!

Classic Santa Stout courtesy of Coke.

No cultural icon seems to be safe from scrutiny in these critical times.  Over the last few years, two authors have created picture books showing little readers that there’s room for improvement in Santa Land.  Is this driven by data showing that kids don’t like him roly-poly, generous, and jolly?  That they aren’t in awe of the one-man international parcel delivery service powered by reindeer that Amazon Prime has yet to beat? No, it’s his size, which is laid to the door of poor food choices at meals and snacks.  A mature elf who eats a plate of cookies at even a fraction of the houses visited on Christmas Eve is going to put on weight without regular exercise..

The stories offer different solutions to the same dilemma: can Santa lose weight in time for the Christmas Eve run?  Ralph Packard tries to make The North Pole Goes on a Diet (2017) a low-key, inspirational story about controlling weight through mindful eating and regular activity.

Vigilant Timmy the Elf. Ralph Packard. The North Pole Goes on a Diet. Illustrated by Tracy Egan. [U.S.A.: no publisher], c.2017.

One year some of the North Pole gang noticed that everybody had gotten plump, sluggish and grumpy.  Six months later Mrs. Claus tells Santa sorrowfully that his red suit can’t be let out: it is either lose weight or have a bigger suit made.

Santa on the scale.

Being an enlightened employer, Santa has a doctor, nurse, dentist, and vet up to the Pole to evaluate the team’s overall health.  The news isn’t good, but everybody takes the pledge to get fit and trim by the twenty-fourth.  Poor Santa has the most trouble finding a form of exercise he can stick with.  After failing with jazzerecise, yoga, the stationary bike, and weight-lifting, he settles into a daily hour-long walk with the dogs.  He gets into the old suit, the workshop hums with energy and good cheer, and everyone looks forward to the Welcome Home banquet on Christmas Day.  Professional losers may click their tongues at food as a reward for shedding weight as counterproductive: the loser has to substitute new ones.

The diverse North Pole team around the dinner table enjoying a healthy low-fat, high-fiber meal.

Before and after the North Pole diet…

Gently fat-shaming a beloved imaginary character to demonstrate that change is possible may be a positive strategy, but it’s not without problems. Yes, it’s good to emphasize that walking is a fine form of exercise, and yes, it’s sensible to admit that it’s hard to follow an exercise program.  But these are grown-up problems and grown-ups are not the audience for this picture book.  The author proceeded on the risky assumption that four- to eight-year-old were going to be engaged by this situation set in the North Pole.

No one in Packard’s ackowledgments noticed that at the beginning none of the characters  were drawn as visibly overweight and at the end they are unchanged after a six-month diet  Some kids will giggle at what is probably an oversight in continuity on the illustrator’s part, but there will be children so sensitive about body image that may read it as an indication that people can be overweight even though if they don’t look heavy.   They may see this anxiety reflected in themselves when they look in the mirror or at themselves in photos.  Even putting younger obese children on a diet is extremely complicated–they are still growing and haven’t developed like the degree of self-control the process takes.

Charlene Christie. Santa Claus Goes on a Diet. Illustrated by Peipei. [U.S.] ChristieSolutions, c.2012.

After stuffing himself for the first ten months of the year with Mrs. Claus’s excellent cakes, cookies and cupcakes, Santa discovers that not only can’t he get into his red suit, he doesn’t fit in the sleigh.  Mrs. Claus admits her baking has been a factor in this crisis, but quickly conjures up a no-carbs diet menu for the next sixty days: three French hen eggs and veggies for breakfast, cream of mistletoe soup for lunch, and pickled turkey legs with cranberry cider for dinner (seems cruel not to vary it a jot for all those weeks).  For exercise, Santa chases Dasher the reindeer around the yard for a hour.

Thanks, but I won’t be needing that suit after all!

He makes his goal with twelve days to spare and rewards Mrs. Claus for her cleverness with a kiss under the mistletoe, not a celebratory sweetie.  The plot is much simpler than the one in The North Pole, but the focus is squarely on Santa’s perseverance in the face of  privations, which is the right kind of silly for the picture book crowd (a comment by Christie’s son is often the springboard for a new book).  You can hear a four-year-old shriek “Yeeeeew,” at the idea of mistletoe cooked up in soup or  laugh at the ridiculous spectacle of Santa’s belly flopping while he runs after Dasher.  And the reward for this effort is not a bowl of fruit, but the pleasure of achieving a goal with the help of someone else who has your back.

As children’s book writers,Packard and Christie would probably be quite happy to designated as values educators, and the market (insofar as it can be determined on Amazon, who sells the books) has validated Christie as a successful one in the verified customer reviews.  One person notes that  “in my son’s words ‘he loved this  because Santa never gave up and ate his vegetables and because Mrs. Clause helped him.’”   Another customer touched on the difficulty of writing about the subject for children:

Diet books often give me pause as they can feed into self-esteem problems while denying the goodness of the body, no matter what the physique is. This one, thankfully, is innocent enough, even accepting Santa in the end if he fails his diet (tailor made an extra-big suit, just in case). In fact, the story, promotes good healthy habits and is funny...

A third, who tried this book on the strength of her niece’s enjoyment of another Christie picture book, was not disappointed: “This was a hit with both my 3 year old niece and my 11 year old daughter who read it to her. I recommend reading both children’s book by this author. Looking forward for more books to come. “   And more have come in the form of translations into Spanish, French, and German, and Kindle downloads.

The North Pole Goes on a Diet, on the other hand, seems not to have found an audience, in spite of its author’s good intentions. He names his avocation as  an animal rescue volunteer and thanks his two dog-children.   Perhaps he should have kept his eye on the child, instead of the dogs….

Get Jack Horner out of the Corner with Treats from Children’s Cookbooks!

Set the butter on the counter to soften.  Rummage around the cupboards for mixing bowls in all sizes needed.   Arm yourself with wood spoons and electric mixers.  Run out to the store for parchment paper.  Invest in the latest in baking sheets.  And most important of all, don’t run out of sugar!  Still can’t decide what to make?  Take some inspiration from cookbooks for children in Cotsen highlighted in a previous holiday post.

In honor of little Jack Horner, here is a menu for a holiday dessert buffet concocted from children’s cookbooks in the Cotsen collection. The recipes, as prepared by some of the best-loved characters in children’s literature, have been edited for length, but were not tested in Cotsen’s curatorial or outreach kitchen.

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From Easy Steps in Cooking, or Mary Frances among the Kitchen People, written and illustrated by Jane Eayre Frye. Oakland, CA: Smithsonian Co., c1912. (Cotsen 40860).

CHRISTMAS DESSERT BUFFET

Pepparkakor

Inspired by Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking

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From Astrid Lindgren, Kaenner du Pippi Langstrump? Illustrated by Ingrid Nyman. Stockholm: Raben & Sjoegren, 1947.

3 1/2 C. flour; 2 tsp. ginger; 2 tsp. cinnamon; 2 tsp. cloves; 1 tsp. baking soda; 1/2 tsp. salt; 1/2 C. dark corn syrup; 1 tsp. grated orange zest; 1 C. butter; 1 C. sugar, 1 large egg, lightly beaten; pearl sugar

Whisk together dry ingredients in a bowl. In a small saucepan, warm the butter and sugar, stirring until melted. Cool to room temperature, then whisk in the egg. Pour over flour mixture and stir until blended. Form dough into ball, wrap tightly with two layers of plastic wrap and chill overnight. Preheat over to 375 degrees With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out dough on a lightly floured kitchen floor to 1/4 inch thickness. Using a star cutter, cut dough into cookies. Put stars on baking sheets covered with parchment paper and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake until edges begin to brown, about 7-8 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks.

Thanks to Epicurious for this recipe.

*****

Blackberry and Apple Meringue

Arabella Boxer, The Wind in the Willows Country Cookbook (1983). (Cotsen 15424)

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From Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows. Illustrated by E. H. Shepard. London: Methuen, 1970. (Cotsen 32085).

1 large cooking apple; 50 g. (2 oz) granulated sugar; 450 g. (1 lb. blackberries); juice of one lemon; 2 egg whites; 75 g. (3 oz) superfine sugar

Heat the oven to 150 degrees C (300 degrees F or Gas Mark 2) Peel and core the apple and cut into thinnish slices. Put the apples in a pan with 2 T water and the granulated sugar. Cook gently, covered, for 4 minutes, then add the berries, return to the simmer and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice. Tip into a pie dish. Beat the egg whites until stiff, fold in the superfine sugar, and pile over the fruit, covering the dish entirely. Bake for 30 minutes, then cool for about 30 minutes before serving with cream.

*****

Hidden Window Dessert

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Carolyn Keene, The Hidden Window Mystery. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, c1958. (Cotsen in process 7305311).

1 package EACH of cherry, orange, lemon, and lime gelatin; 1 C. pineapple juice; 1/4 C. sugar; 1 1/2 Tbsp. melted butter; 12 graham crackers, crushed; 4 C. whipped cream or other whipped topping

In a saucepan, boil enough water to make 1 cup. This means you must start with a little more than a cup. Dissolve the cherry gelatin in this. Stir well. Add 1/2 cup cold water and pour gelatin into a ice tray with no divider. Do the same with the orange and lime gelatin separately. (Use the same pan, but rinse it each time.) In the same pan again. boil the pinapple juice with sugar. Dissolve the lemon gelatin in this. Add 1/2 cup cold water. Let set in a large mixing bowl to the syrupy stage. Fold in the whipped cream. When firm, cut the cherry, orange, and lime gelatins into cubes. Fold them into the lemon gelatin mixture. Grease a springform pan. Stir melted butter into the crushed graham crumbs and spread on the bottom on the pan. Pour in the mixture. Chill 12 hours. You’ll have many colored windows in each slice of cake!

Mrs. Tiggy’s Tipsy Pudding

Margaret Lane, The Beatrix Potter Country Cookery Book (1983, c1981).

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Beatrix Potter’s prickly little washer woman from The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle.

1 large spongecake; 125 ml. (1/4 pint) sweet sherry; juice of an orange; 75 g. (3 oz) superfine sugar; 250 ml. (1/2 pint) double cream; raisins; 100 g. (4 oz flaked almonds)

Cut a hollow on the underside of the cake, keeping the bit for later. Fill the hollow with the sherry and orange juice; pour the remaining wine and juice over the top. Refrigerate overnight, spooning the mixture over the cake from time to time. In the morning, replace the bit of cake in the hollow. Split the almonds into narrow bits and brown lightly in the oven. Stick them all over the cake. Use the raisins for nose and eyes. Whip the cream stiff and fold in the sugar. Pile in peaky dollops all around the cake and serve.

*****

Treacle toffee from Hagrid

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Christmas at Hogwarts as imagined by Mary de Grandpre.

75 g. (3 oz) Golden Syrup; 75 gg (3 oz) black treacle or molasses; 150 g. (6 oz) brown sugar; 75 g. (3 oz) butter; 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

Line a 6 x 8 inch baking pan with non-stick parchment. Measure all ingredients into a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir occasionally until the butter is melted and sugar dissolved. When the mixture is smooth and nicely combined, bring to a rolling boil. When the mixture reaches 140 degrees C/ 285 degrees F on the candy thermometer (analog or digital), pour carefully into the pan. For even pieces, wait until the toffee is cool enough to hand, but leaves a slight impression if poked with a finger (15- 20 minutes). Cut into the toffee deeply enough to leaves lines and when it has cooled completely, break along the lines. For toffee that will break your teeth, let it cool completely, then break into pits with a hammer or rolling pin. Store in an airtight container with parchment in between layers.

With thanks to BBC Food

*****

Boston Cooler

Nika Hazelton, Raggedy Ann and Andy’s Cookbook (c1973). (Cotsen 28282).

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Endpapers for Johnny Gruelle, Raggedy Ann in Cookie Land. Joliet, Wisconsin: P. F. Volland & Co., c1931. (Cotsen in process 0000).

12 oz. can root beer; 4 small scoops vanilla ice cream

Pour the root beer into two glasses. Carefully put two scoops ice cream in each glass. Serve with a long spoon and a straw.

And happy holidays to all!

For a stronger sugar rush, read junk food in picture books…