I am so thrilled to be writing today about a big recent event that is incredibly near and dear to my heart…
The annual Edible Book Festival!
Now you can have your
cake <–yeah you can still have your cake, and book, and eat them both. And if you think the concept of an ‘edible book’ sounds silly, you can come and eat your words, too. Heh.
(Above: You can see some of my friends making the most of this event! As they do…)
As an English grad student and avid fan of all things literature, I bet it’s a total shocker that I absolutely adore this event. I’m pretty sure if this event was a hunky-dory man, we’d be in a serious relationship right now.
Once every 365-ish days, I weep with joy over this festival. I am
not joking joking. Sort of.
Lots of the beautiful photos you see here were taken by Jonathan Wilson, one among many of the very talented library staff who helped host this stellar event! And of course, we had a whole panel of talented library folks, as well as judges, here to make the festival a grand success (more on that in a few moments).
But before I start waxing way poetic about some of the stunning entries I had the pleasure of seeing last week, let me explain how this event works. Because Edible Books–sounds pretty intriguing, right?
The History: This annual event was started in 2000 by Judith A. Hoffberg and Beatrice Coron. It’s basically what it sounds like: it’s a celebration of books, and more specifically it’s a time for all participants–bakers, chefs, and eaters alike–to celebrate the wonderful world of literature-meets-taste-buds.
Leading up to the day of the event, entrants devote their time and energy to creating food-based masterpieces that are inspired by a literary text. The possibilities are quite virtually endless: try taking all the books in the world….and then multiply the possibilities by a gigglepoodle.
(I don’t know what number a gigglepoodle is supposed to be, but it sounds like a happy number because it has the words “giggle” and “poodle” in it, and this many possibilities for edible literature is definitely a happy thing, so that’s how much creativity you can use in this festival. A gigglepoodle of creative options!)
On the day of the event, entrants bring their edible masterpieces to the masses–that is, to the hungry people of UCLA. At our campus’s specific celebration, we set up in a huge library room called the Rotunda, which is aesthetically amazing and just gorgeous to the Maximus Awesomus.
When I first participated in the festival in 2012, I was absolutely floored by the quality and breadth of entries these talented bakers/chefs brought. Some of the things folks brought you wouldn’t even believe! The themes and books have changed every year since, but my amazement hasn’t. (Like that detailed Three Little Pigs buttercream transfer, shown above, which the artist told me it had taken hours to drawn on with toothpicks…wow!)
(Below: The Cat in the Hat, 2012)
Pictured above is the topsy-turvy six-layer Cat in the Hat cake I entered in 2012. I still love the concept and can fondly remember just how many hours I spent planning, drawing, buying, re-planning, baking, and then working with and decorating this cake! As someone who identifies as a children’s literature researcher by day, big bad bold baker by night, books + cakes = a total sweet spot, and I was amazed to discover how many half-baked ideas I suddenly wanted to try throwing in the oven.
It was also my first-ever layer/fondant cake (as you can tell, I still had a ways to go with my clean-up on that score). And this cake ultimately helped me win my very first food-related award, “Most Creative” at that year’s festival–which was a doubly pleasant surprise, because here’s the catch: when I entered I didn’t even know there were awards! So note to the wise: keep an eye out for those prizes…
Ever since then, I’ve been excited to enter and, more importantly, to really push my creativity to the limits and try something that makes me think, “Wow, that’d be impossible. I want to do that.”
And that’s how this whimsical, comical, and somewhat grotesque Calvin-ball inspired cake came to be. By being impossible.
Are you guys familiar with Calvin and Hobbes? I grew up with Bill Watterson’s comics on lazy Sunday afternoons when I would lie on my stomach in the patch of sunlight streaming through the living room window and read about the six-year old kid philosopher and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes. Like every Calvin reader, I wanted a Hobbes of my own. I desperately needed one. The Doomed Snowman Sculpture Garden pictured above, made of my favorite coconut poke cake recipe with an airy whipped butter-and-milk cream frosting, offers a nostalgic tribute to my very favorite comic strip of all time.
The Story Behind This Calvin and Hobbes Exhibit: Having participated in the festival two years in a row, I had seen plenty of gorgeous towering cakes and fondant molds, cupcake displays and wonderful buttercream transfers. As a children’s literature researcher who has been dabbling in visual media lately, I knew right away I wanted to do something different by using a comic book–because what better book format could there be for showcasing visual eats than the graphic novel? From there, my thoughts immediately turned to my favorite dynamic duo: Calvin & Hobbes. In the spirit of Calvin, it just made sense to make my display interactive–and with the notorious game Calvin-Ball as my inspiration (the only rule is that you can’t have the same rules twice!), I decided to transform ‘food’ into a series of exciting, participation-intensive food adventures.
If you’ve never read Calvin: a) you really need to (I’d recommend going to your local bookstore and supporting the author by buying a copy, but in a temporary pinch you can probably find some strips online), and b) you’re in for a treat. If you have read Calvin: a) I think we could be BFFL’s, and b) you’re in for a trip down nostalgia lane!
Here’s the instructions sheet that I created for the cake, as well as the comic strip that inspired this particular creation:
About this particular coconut poke cake–I have tried and tested at least a handful of coconut cake recipes, but nothing compares to this moist, soaked, in-your-face coconutty cake. Still, I was wowed when this cake pulled its weight in the “Best Tasting” category….not to mention “The Best Student Entry” for the overall concept of this design. Wow! And the French Laundry cookbook and The Silver Spoon cookbook they sent home with me? Most definitely going to be put to really good use these next few months. Thank you to the awesome folks at the UCLA Library!
Some of the signs guests made from the paper, toothpicks, and tape I laid out on the table were downright hilarious, and so in the spirit of Calvin! Among my favorites were “Future snow cone,” “God have mercy on our snowls!”, and “Do you want to build a snowman?” (For the record, the answer is YES!) When a little girl came up to my cake and saw that, and when she started singing the Frozen song in a real-life Anna voice, I felt my ‘snowl’ flutter up like a little white bird…
(Psst, do you love coconut or know somebody who does? Make sure you stay tuned for the acclaimed coconut poke cake recipe when I post it next Sunday!).
One of my other entries (not pictured) was an interactive ‘dig site’ made of my favorite vegan chocolate cake recipe–two 9″ moist round cakes crumbled to look like dirt and scattered with buried M&M’s for attendees to dig up…
One of the most fun items to make was this interactive sugar cookie scramble puzzle I thought up–each puzzle consists of 20 sugar cookie ’tiles’ (i.e. a huge cookie slab with a hand-drawn pictures of Calvin and Hobbes that is dried and then cut into smaller rectangles) and could actually be deconstructed and reassembled by guests! I think all the folks had a blast with this one, and not just the kids…
Here’s the Hobbes sugar cookie scramble I made, again with black-on-white icing on sugar cookies (don’t worry, I’ll make those again and post that recipe soon, too–I was shocked at how fast people wanted to gobble them up!):
And here’s a picture of me excitedly explaining my display to eager listeners–I swear I get such a kick out of connecting people with my baking, this should be my new dissertation topic (I mean, it kind of is already):
Isn’t that fun?
The last item I made (pictured above at the very left) was inspired by Calvin’s great ‘life advice’ series, where he basically stands behind a cardboard box and gives you the most terrible, realistic tips on surviving in a philosophical world imaginable:
This was definitely my favorite cake to design, make, and decorate, despite its apparent simplicity. It’s a rum Kahlua cake, and it tastes incredible. (Yes, the recipe for this will also be posted next Sunday, so don’t forget to subscribe in the upper-right hand corner or follow me on Facebook or Twitter for that! I cannot recommend it enough.)
As you can see, I baked this cake and secured it to a cake decorating table that guests could spin and find out their life advice. It’s amazing to learn how thrilled folks can get about something as simple but unimagined like spinning a cake! Each letter to which the arrow can point has a corresponding little sheet of paper with a comic strip of ‘life advice’ from Calvin, as well as a nifty little ‘business card’ for Wallflour Girl on the back. Tons of tasters were so excited to hear about my blog, I felt really welcomed and inspired to keep working hard at expanding my site afterwards! I hope some of you guys are here today browsing, and that I’ve done this incredible event justice 🙂
I’ve even uploaded the life advice cards so you can get your advice from Calvin here if you missed out. (Just pick a random letter between A-H, then open the document and see what Calvin has to say to you!)
In the end, I was so glad I decided to come back to this festival for the third time. I’ll admit it, I almost didn’t enter this year–I had just returned from a major trip and had caught a bad cold, so I was definitely not feeling up for the 50-odd hours of intensive work that went into designing and baking this Calvin & Hobbes display–but Shannon, one of the wonderful librarians at the Clark, was so enthused about it that I got really stoked, too. And of course, I have to do something if I’m excited about it!
(Good Samaritan note about the picture above: I met the girl on the far right of this picture two hours before the actual festival started, when I was struggling from my apartment with three heavy trays. She offered to help and ended up carrying one huge tray with me all the way to the library! Major gratitude for a wonderful girl–it’s the small gestures that really make or break your attitude to each new day. Thank you!)
Something else I haven’t mentioned is that we had some really wonderful judges in attendance this year! I even recognized a few of the faces from previous years…The panel listed on the Library Facebook page says:
Joshua Lu, member of the Bruin Culinary Community
Professor Amy Rowat, Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology
Jonathan Gold, Los Angeles Times restaurant critic
Virginia Steel, University Librarian
Carol Block, UCLA Associate of the Chancellor
It was such a blast explaining all of the creative process behind making my entry!
Not to mention, I even got an awesome keepsake out of this photograph, which is of me shaking hands with the self-proclaimed (and widely-acclaimed) “Belly of Los Angeles” LA Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, who I also follow on Twitter:
Yeah, I saved that little gem for the end 😉 If you’ve ever read his work, you’ll know that he is an extremely accessible writer with amazing talent, and I definitely aspire to continue blogging, writing, eating, and creating because of his work. After I briefly mentioned him on Twitter, he even sent me an incredibly kind message of congrats for my work that day! Inspiration for the future? You betcha.
And so that’s it! After an entire week of prep, dozens more weeks of creative designing and planning, and two fun-filled, excitement-packed hours of really putting my work on display, the 2014 Edible Books Festival has been another amazing success for the UCLA Library. If you think your school or organization might be interested in hosting one, you can visit the official site for more details on how to organize your own Edible Book Festival next year.
And don’t forget to subscribe or follow me on social media so that you can get the awesome (and now award-winning) recipe for coconut poke cake and Kahlua rum cake next Sunday! Quite a few participants who tried the cakes asked for the recipes in particular, so you’ll definitely see them up by next week.
Here’s to another great year–thanks!
What cool book or design would you want to see at an Edible Book Festival?
I’d love to hear your ideas–I’m sure they’ll be awesome!
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