Archives for category: food

Toronto skylineMy son and I spent a couple of days in Toronto recently. It was a first visit for him, and I hadn’t been there in over twenty years. So much has changed in that time that I hardly recognised the place!

We arrived by bus, and that brought us into the city along University Avenue, where a striking new sculpture caught my eye. It’s a shiny, silver, twisted tree root covered in silver birds, and it stands in front of the Shangri-La Hotel. The sculptor is Zhang Huan, a Chinese artist who does impressive large-scale sculptures with a dream-like quality. This one is called ‘Rising.’

Detail of 'Rising' by Zhang Huan. Photo ©Craig White.

Detail of ‘Rising’ by Zhang Huan. Photo ©Craig White.

Our first stop in Toronto was the Royal Ontario Museum, where by chance we found some more sculptures from China in the William Charles White Gallery. These were ancient gold Buddhas and life-size statues of Buddhist scholars and teachers.

Painted wooden statues from Shanxi province in China. Photo @Royal Ontario Museum.

Mounted on two walls of the gallery were enormous murals taken from a Buddhist monastery from the Yuan Dynasty (over 700 years old). They were very impressive, and remarkably well preserved. It’s hard to imagine how they managed to move such large and delicate wall paintings into the gallery.

Yuan Dynasty mural. Photo ©Royal Ontario Museum.

Yuan Dynasty mural. Photo ©Royal Ontario Museum.

After all this ancient history it was time to get back out into the 21st-century city! We walked through Queen’s Park past the Ontario Legislature (where we had just missed all the Canada Day celebrations) and found Dundas Square where a street performer was juggling flaming torches on top of a very tall unicycle! We stayed to watch but kept well back, just in case!

Dundas Square opposite the Eaton Centre in Toronto.

Dundas Square opposite the Eaton Centre in Toronto.

When I lived in Toronto, Dundas Square didn’t exist. It’s similar in feel to Times Square in New York, though on a smaller scale. The bright billboards look best at night, and we were there to have dinner at the local Hard Rock Café. I thought my teenage son would enjoy a truly North American experience, but later I found out there are lots of them in the UK! We sat next to a wall mounted with backlit boxes displaying Stevie Nicks’ boots, a hat worn by Tom Petty, and a guitar played by a member of Kiss, among other things. The boxes went right up to the ceiling and we were craning our necks trying to read all the labels. Perhaps the restaurant should issue telescopes to all their customers!

Toronto is a great place to take photographs, and I found an excellent page on the Tourism Toronto website called Top Picks for Pics. We got to a few of these places but sadly only had two days in the city which wasn’t enough time!

Tomorrow I’ll tell you all about our visit to Toronto’s Harbourfront and a brilliant tour we took of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres on Yonge Street.

Tiger English

March 2015 seemed ages away when I was working with the Scottish Book Trust and a group of fun, creative ladies in Fife to produce a picture book on the theme of healthy eating. But now it is nearly upon us! Being Early Years Writer-in-Residence 2013 was a brilliant experience, and I am delighted to announce that our finished book is now in print!

Tiger English back

Eilidh Muldoon has done a lovely job with her charming and comical illustrations. I’m sure they will be a huge hit with their target audience, ie. every toddler in Scotland! The Scottish Book Trust will be distributing our book free to thousands of children as part of their Bookbug scheme. It’s a fantastic initiative which encourages a love of reading from an early age, and facilitates the sharing of books between parents and their children.

This was my first collaborative writing project, and I really enjoyed working with the lovely ladies at Home-Start Levenmouth and the great group of mums who helped me formulate the story. If you want to read more about the whole process, we put together a blog about it called The Methil Makars. You can see some of the fun things we did to explore our healthy eating theme, like making food art and visiting the Buckhaven Community Garden.

I am very grateful to everyone at the Scottish Book Trust who helped bring this book to “fruition”! The Early Years team are a great bunch of people and it was a genuine pleasure to work with them. I’m looking forward to seeing them again (and meeting the illustrator Eilidh Muldoon for the first time) at our Book Launch in a few weeks.

And if you missed out on the 2015 distribution of Never Bite a Tiger on the Nose, you can still find a copy on my website HERE.

Patrick for invoice

The best thing about being a picture book writer is seeing your ideas come alive in the hands of a talented illustrator. Two of my stories are in the process of being illustrated just now, and it’s very exciting for me to see the way they are going to look!

Most of my stories start with a central character, and that was certainly true of Pink! which was illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain. She cleverly captured the personality of a little penguin called Patrick who woke up one morning to discover he had turned bright pink.

Patrick and pals

Margaret has also illustrated another of my picture books, I Do Not Eat the Colour Green. In that story I imagined a determined little girl called Marlene with curly red hair (I’m not sure why) and this is what Margaret came up with:

Marlene McKean

She does look very stroppy, doesn’t she? Luckily the story ends with a smile as she discovers she does like green things after all.

Another illustrator whose work has been the perfect complement to my stories is Gabby Grant, who illustrated my two puffin books, Lewis Clowns Around and Harris the Hero. She is brilliant at drawing animals, so she was the right choice for these two books!

cute acrobats.jpg

Lewis and Harris are puffin brothers, but Lewis decides he belongs in the circus. Here you can see him performing with his fellow clown Karla the Koala. When Lewis flies off to town, his brother Harris is left all alone. Feeling lonely without a friend, Harris decides to go on his own adventure, which of course ends happily!

Harris on his own

Gabby has managed to show Harris looking sad here, which is no mean feat when it’s a stripy-beaked puffin! She is also very good at painting water and clouds, and I especially like her bird’s-eye-view angles.

Another book whose illustrations I was very pleased with is Jacob O’Reilly Wants a Pet. I didn’t really have an idea of what Jacob should look like, but this story was also full of animals (a whole range of pets) which illustrator Lee Wildish has drawn with lots of humour.

Jacob O'Reilly

The publisher decided the cover should have a walrus in the bathtub (one of the pets Jacob asks for) and it’s quite a good choice I think!

Authors don’t often get a say in who the illustrator will be. Sometimes if we’re lucky we get to see a few sample drawings and say which style we prefer. As the book is being illustrated, we can usually see the rough pencil sketches of each page and help check the text to make sure no mistakes have crept in. Later we get to see the colour “proofs” and at that point it’s pretty much too late to make any changes.

Last week I was sent rough sketches for two of my books, which was very exciting! The first is a book all about healthy eating which is called Never Bite a Tiger on the Nose. The illustrator is Eilidh Muldoon and she has done some lovely things with all my characters who are trying to eat tigers and alligators and elephants!

Abigail and Crocodile

I love the way Eilidh creates sweeping curves in her illustrations. Here we have a little girl called Abigail who wants to eat an alligator’s tail. There are also children called Emmylou, Humperdink, Lola Rose and Leopold.

veg and fruit baskets

As you can see, Eilidh has done some charming sketches of all the healthy food these children should be eating, and I think the book is going to look great when it’s done! Take a look at this clever little monkey:

monkey with banana

Once the book is finished it will be given out to preschool children across Scotland as part of the Scottish Book Trust’s Bookbug scheme. I can’t wait!

The other book that’s in the works is called One Potato. This was inspired both by the healthy eating theme and by a special request from a boy in P4 at Comely Park Primary School where I am Patron of Reading. One afternoon when I was visiting the school, Kofi put up his hand and told me that he and his friend Adam were writing a story about a runaway potato and an eagle. He asked me to write one too, and I agreed, thinking it would be a good exercise.

When I finally got down to writing my potato story, I decided to start with the rhyme, One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Four. When the story was finished I sent it to Kofi’s teacher and the whole P4 year group spent some time doing illustrations for me!

One potato, two potato, three potato, four. Nice and cosy underground, they don't know what's in store...

One potato, two potato, three potato, four.
Nice and cosy underground, they don’t know what’s in store…

Suddenly a farmer's fork comes down to dig them out. They roll around upon the ground - what can this be about?

Suddenly a farmer’s fork comes down to dig them out.
They roll around upon the ground – what can this be about?

Then one by one they're tossed inside a bucket made of tin. Clatter, clang, bump and bang, we hear them going in.

Then one by one they’re tossed inside a bucket made of tin.
Clatter, clang, bump and bang, we hear them going in.

Thanks to Willow Reed, Olivia Kinloch and Abby Reid for providing those three illustrations. (There were lots more, so I’m sorry not to have room for them all here. I keep them all in my special Comely Park Primary folder).

The potato decides he does not want to go into the soup pot, and he rolls into the garden and tells the farmer’s wife she should put some other vegetables in her soup instead. She chases him all around the garden but he is too quick for her, and as he rolls down the road he says, “Nobody’s cooking me!”

I was delighted when my potato story was picked up for the Collins Big Cat series, so I have Kofi and Adam to thank for that! The preliminary sketches for One Potato are looking great, so I’ll let you know when that one comes out. The illustrator they have chosen is brilliant, but more about that later…

There are so many wonderful children’s illustrators out there that I could write about it all day! Maybe the next blog post will be about all the artists I would like to illustrate my stories. Seeing these two books come alive has certainly inspired me to get writing more!

This morning on the news I heard that many children (and some of their parents) are unsure of how the fruit and vegetables we eat actually grow. It’s not all that surprising, since most of us only see fruit and vegetables in beautiful and colourful displays at the supermarket. Unless you have a garden or an allotment and grow your own, you won’t get a chance to see anything as it grows. Until now!

There are three main ways a vegetable can grow. Some are roots that grow underground. These include parsnips (shown above), carrots and radishes. When you plant the seeds you have to be very patient and wait for the green shoots to grow big and leafy above the ground. It’s important to wait – NO PEEKING – because if you pull them up too soon you will break their little root tendrils and they will stop growing.

Other vegetables that grow underground are onions (shown above) and potatoes. These are not quite the same as root vegetables. The part of the onion that we eat is a bulb that grows below ground, with small roots extending into the soil and green leaves sprouting above ground. A potato is what’s called a tuber, which forms part of the potato plant’s root system.

The illustration above was taken from an excellent website called Potato2008 (which has disappeared). Here’s another one that shows you how to grow your own potatoes, explains the stages of growth and shows you how the potatoes develop under the ground.

The second way vegetables can grow is on a vine. This includes the big, heavy ones like pumpkins, squash, courgette (or zucchini) and cucumbers which lie on the ground, and also smaller, lighter ones like peas, beans and tomatoes (technically a fruit) which can be supported with poles or nets to help the vine grow upward. Each of these vegetables is actually a seed pod, and you can easily see that when you open them up. Think of how many little seeds are inside a tomato, or how much slimy goop full of seeds you have to dig out of your Hallowe’en pumpkin!

The third way vegetables grow is sprouting up above ground with strong roots holding them up. This is true of asparagus, shown above (something I didn’t know!), leeks, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. I found another fun website called Secret Seed Society that shows how Brussels sprouts grow on big stalks. I think they are the weirdest vegetables I’ve seen yet!

Another vegetable I can think of that grows on a big tall stalk is sweet corn. When I was young I used to love eating corn-on-the-cob smothered in butter and salt! We would buy them fresh from the market, and I always liked to help peel back the green leaves and the stringy hair at the top. Like vegetables that grow on vines, corn cobs are made up of lots of seeds (the little yellow kernels that we eat). These are the same kernels we use to make popcorn.

Most of the vegetable photographs I’ve used above come from Chanel 4’s website, Grow Your Own Food. It’s amazing how many things you can grow, even without a garden!

Now, “What about fruit?” I hear you say. Most of the fruit we eat is grown on trees. It is also full of seeds and is designed to fall from the tree and decay, allowing the seeds to take root in the ground to make a new plant. Before that can happen, we gather up all the fruit and eat it ourselves, throwing the seeds away! Perhaps next time you eat some fruit you should save the seeds and try and plant them.

Above you can see some yummy looking Gala apples from Aston Fruit Farm in Herefordshire. Most fruit trees are fairly small (which makes picking the fruit much easier!) There are hundreds of varieties of apples alone. Other fruits that grow this way include oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, clementines, tangerines, pears, plums, pomegranates, dates, figs, apricots, cherries, peaches, and many more!

Other fruit you might enjoy grows on a vine. I was quite aware that both green and red grapes grow this way, but I was very surprised when researching this topic to find that kiwi fruit does too! The picture above came from, so if you want to know more about kiwi fruit just click HERE. There are other vine fruits that can get quite big. These include all sorts of different melons, including gallia, canteloupe, honeydew and of course the biggest of all, watermelon!

Another type of fruit you might wonder about is the berry. These usually grow on bushes, so they make picking easy! The strawberry photo above comes from Bullscroft Farm, where you can pick your own if you like. I remember picking strawberries when I was a child, and it’s quite hard work bending down for hours. Back then I didn’t like strawberries, so I wasn’t even tempted to nibble on them as I picked! You can also pick raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, boysenberries and logan berries, which grow on taller bushes, but watch out as some of them are prickly!

Blueberries also grow on low bushes, and they are very delicate so it’s especially hard to pick them. Often you find blueberries baked in muffins, but they are even better when you put fresh ones on cereal or ice cream.

The last fruit I want to show you is one that grows on a small bush but is very different from any berry. I saw this in the Amazon and had to take a picture because it was so surprising! It’s one of my favourite fruits, and it grows on a very spiky bush. The pineapple!