Teeny Tiny Apple Dumplings — Fifty in the Freezer

Tiny Apple Dumplings



I just finished this preparation for my book launch November 13, 7:30 at Women and Children First Books, 5233 N. Clark St. Reception to follow at neighboring gallery will feature tastes from the foods of the 1930’s novel, A Free, Unsullied Land. Protagonist Henriette Greenberg is seduced by the down-home, country cooking of her boyfriend’s mother. After a dinner of venison, mashed potatoes and lime jello salad, Rose, the mother, produces these dumplings (in  large version) for dessert.

From the novel: “Henriette poked at the construction, shattering the tender crust to reveal a whole baked apple, the core removed and stuffed with nuts. She collected fruit, crust and syrup in one spoonful, and a panoply of sensation flooded her mouth. Tart apple, crunch of nuts. She closed her eyes. How could crust be so crisp after baking in a swamp? And over all, brown sugar’s memory of molasses mixed with butter leached from the dough.”

  I learned about apple dumplings in my own life from my Aunt Jean, who learned them from her mother. Later my own mother found a near-identical recipe in a 1947 issue of Country Gentleman magazine.  In that recipe, a singing Betty Crocker advises us that “All You Have To Do” is “Button Up Your Overcoat,” as her manicured fingers wrap dough around each apple. The dumplings are baked and turn crisp in a sea of sugar-water syrup, which caramelizes at the same time.

Committed to serving food from the novel at the reception, I researched transforming six large dumplings into fifty individual tastes. My first try was a deep dish pie, which looked good but was horribly watery. Apparently the dough has to bake in the juice for it to thicken properly.

Apple Dumpling as Pie

In my final try I got out a ruler and rolled out each quarter of the dough into a thin sheet exactly 12″ x 16″ and cut it into 12 3 ” squares. With one or two small pieces of apple on each, each tented up into a tiny dumpling shape, and when baked, they sat crisply in a sea of caramel syrup.

Don’t miss a chance to try one on November 13, along with other fascinating anachronisms! And do leave your questions and comments on the blog.

Apple Dumpling as Pie Baked

Apple Dumpling as Pie Baked

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Review of A Free, Unsullied Land in Windy City Reviews

A review is up in Windy City Reviews.

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Novel Food: Mu Shu pancakes

UnsulliedLand Coverhighres

Book cover, painting by August Burns

In my novel,  A Free, Unsullied Land, Henriette’s brother Carl “wielded a knife with a surgeon’s precision and served each person crisp slices of skin and dark meat.” He’s aiming for so-called Peking duck, pumping air under the duck’s skin with a bicycle pump. So much easier to write food than to make it work as small tastes for a crowd!

I started with Mu Shu pancakes, lucky to find a detailed recipe in the March-April 2015 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Their precise instructions work! You make a dough with boiling hot water and flour:

  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 3/4 c. boiling water
  • 2 t. toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 t. vegetable oil

Mu Shu with Bubbles

Let it rest 1/2 hour, divide into 12 equal pieces,  pat each into a three inch round and paint one with sesame oil. Squish that one on top of another, sesame oil inside, and roll them out together into a 7″ pancake. Grease a skillet with that 1/2 t. vegetable oil and wipe out. Then fry  pancakes one by one until bubbles appear and a few brown spots can be seen on the bottom. Then turn and fry on the other side a few seconds until it, too, is freckled. Remove, and when it is cool enough to handle, peel the two apart.

This traditional technique really works! Especially good news for making ahead: they keep, they freeze, they don’t stick together, they reheat in the microwave without damage. Next step for me: figure out what goes inside.

If you have a question or comment (please do!) and are uncertain what to do, please view the list of recent posts on the right and select “Please Leave a Comment.” There you will find detailed and simple instructions. Thank you!

Mu Shu with Brown Spots

Mu Shu with Brown Spots

Peeling Apart Mu Shu

Peeling Apart Mu Shu

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Goodreads Giveaway Starts October 7 — Only Ten Books

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Free, Unsullied Land by Maggie Kast

A Free, Unsullied Land

by Maggie Kast

Giveaway ends November 07, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

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Please Leave a Comment

Dear friends of my generation,

Many have been baffled by the comment function on WordPress. I value any and all comments and will respond. Please speak up! Immediately under the post title you will see a date, my name and the words, “No comments.” Mouse over these words and they will turn red. Double click on them and the comment box will open. You will be asked to leave name and email address only, and you can use any sort of handle you want for your name. Enter your questions, thoughts, responses. No further identification or verification will be required. Your comment will be briefly held to check for spam or inappropriate content, but you need do nothing more  but press “submit.” WordPress will check and post. Comment early and often! Thank you.

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At the Crossroads of Write and Rite

Welcome to my new website, www.maggiekast.com and the new site for my blog, formerly Ritual and Rhubarb Pie on Blogger, now here on WordPress. I’ll still be reporting on meals and other rituals, stretching that term to include annual family reunions, nightly performances, daily writing practice as well as weekly public worship. Let’s say a blog at the crossroads of rite and write. A special welcome to all the new readers who have signed up as users on WordPress. I welcome comments and look forward to responding.

The birth of a book is a labor that can slow at mid-point and threaten to fail, just like the birth of a baby. A few weeks ago, when my novel, A Free, Unsullied Land, had been edited and the cover art chosen, the final print proof on its way to me, I found myself stuck in an in-between place. I felt as distracted as the character about whom I was writing a story, though he is a grieving widower and I’m a recovered and merry widow. I found myself switching from blog post to story draft, e-mail to website-in-progress, journal to press release to list of possible sponsors for events, much as my character ricocheted from acupuncture to magnets, talk to drugs, eye movement therapy to boiled Chinese herbs. That story is still in the works, tentatively titled “Checking Out.”

Then proof arrived, very clean, and I soon got advance reader copies and began sending them out, first to pre-publications reviewers like Publisher’s Weekly (for which I may well be too late), then local reviewers like newspapers, radio, book sites and more. The novel takes place in Chicago, 1930 and combines a rendering of character and story with an incisive depiction of a critical moment in history. The book transports nineteen-year-old Henriette Greenberg into the heart of the Jim Crow South to protest the 1931 conviction of the so-called Scottsboro Boys.

01 Jan 1934, Washington, DC, USA --- Hundreds of demonstrators march in Washington D.C. against the trials in the Scottsboro case. In the Scottsboro case nine young black men were falsely accused of raping two white women in a freight car. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

01 Jan 1934, Washington, DC, USA — Hundreds of demonstrators march in Washington D.C. against the trials in the Scottsboro case. In the Scottsboro case nine young black men were falsely accused of raping two white women in a freight car. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

“In the most surprising and wonderful ways, it is an epic novel,” says Kevin McIlvoy, author of 58 Octaves Below Middle C and former director of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Henriette seeks escape from her abusive home through immersion in jazz and bad sex that leaves her cold. Falling in love with Dilly Brannigan, a graduate student in anthropology, she adopts his work as her own. A powerful funeral ritual gives her hope of rewriting her family story but also tempts her to violate an Apache taboo, thus threatening her relationship with Dilly and her longed-for escape.

Fans of Sara Gruen’s At the Water’s Edge and Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale will relate to this story with its historical denial of sexual abuse and gay orientation, while any reader of today’s headlines will discover the precursors to recent events in Ferguson, Baltimore and Texas. At one point in the novel Henriette tells her lover, “You should know who I am.” David Jauss, author of Glossolalia: New and Selected Stories, says of Kast’s character, “Reader, you should too.” Sharon Solwitz, author of Blood and Milk and the forthcoming novel, Once in Lourdes, says, “Henriette’s striving to realize herself is as magical and terrifying as Alice in Wonderland.”

In addition to readings and guest blog posts, I’m seeking discussions about whether we are forging ahead or falling back in terms of race relations. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said philosopher George Santayana. Recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island and Baltimore have proved this statement true. Many have forgotten (or never knew) about the infamous Scottsboro trials of 1931, in which nine young African American men, all under age twenty-one, were unfairly convicted of rape and sentenced to death. The story of this trial and the long series of trials that followed explain much about today’s world.

I ask a related question about oppression of the LGBTQ community. In the 1930s so-called Pansy Clubs proliferated, a new one springing up each time the Vice Squad shut one down. In 1923 Henry Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights to defend gay rights but a police raid soon destroyed it. A young man could be arrested for “inversion” and threatened by thugs on the street. How much has changed besides the terms we use?

Publishing my novel with Fomite Press has been and experience of dialogue and mutual respect. You can read about it in my guest blog on SolLit blog at (scroll down to “Dialogue and Respect with an Indie Press.) I’ll be chairing a panel, “Pleasures and Perqs of Indie Publishing” at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs 2016 Conference March 30-April 2. If you’ll be there, come to hear from both publishers and writers.
If you are interested in a guest blog, reading or discussion, contact me on the contact form on this site or get in touch with PJ Nunn at Breakthrough Promotions, nunn.pj33@gmail.com.

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Martha’s Vineyard Redux—the Eighth Year


Panorama from top of the Cape Poge lighthouse, Chappaquiddick, Martha’s Vineyard, with Erica

The Kast family week on Martha’s Vineyard was just a wistful wish the year I turned 70. “You can have it,” said my daughter, Erica, and I did. Our motley mix includes the progeny and friends of many marriages, ranging in age from 2 (great-grandson Avi and granddaughter Arisha) to 77 (me). Some come now and then, some every year, some came once and not again. Births and deaths have altered us, but the event perdures.


Containers, New Bedford


Kathy and Carter


Carter doing Barre

This year I spent the previous week with Carter Frank and Kathy Koch on Cuttyhunk, a tiny island with neither cars nor stores just off the Vineyard. Thus the crane in New Bedford hoisting containers of supplies onto the Cuttyhunk ferry. Carter did a barre each morning on the porch, followed by Cunningham 6’s and Tai Chi. I wrote, all read and hiked and swam.


Richard and Maggie on porch

Staying in Matthew Deyo’s East Chop house on Martha’s Vineyard (the place we like the best), we cooked each night with produce from the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market, swam on Jetty Beach (even Richard got wet once, and Avi loved the water). We kayaked on Sengekontacket Pond (Joan’s first time), rode the ancient carousel, bought fish to grill in Menemsha and ate a lobster roll along the harbor.


Ari, Avi and Oliver on Jetty Beach

Kim, Joan and Erica loved the stronger surf on Longpoint Beach, and I, as you can see, preferred to watch.

My son, Anton flew six hours each way to join us for a day, just in time for the family portrait.  Granddaughter Emma, interning for Bernie Sanders; had the fun but missed the portrait; Aza was en route to Asia; Tom and family had just settled outside Vienna and could not come.


Maggie at Longpoint Beach (photo by Erica)


Inside Cape Poge Lighthouse

Erica and I made our first trip to Cape Poge, way out on the tip of Chappaquiddick, where Oyster Catchers feed.


Oyster Catcher


Erica, Maggie, Kim, Eun, Joan, Oliver in back row; Anton, Avi, Ari, Richard in front


Menemsha Panorama, Kim and Maggie (photo by Erica)

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Climbing the Learning Curve


Over the last two or three days I’ve hoisted myself up a steep learning curve, one handhold after the other, and craned my neck to see the widening view. With terrific boosts from Ilan Mochari, fellow Fomite writer and author of Zinsky the Obscure; and from Lynne Griffin, writer and faculty member of Grub Street’s Launch Lab, I’m beginning to get it.


Galleys labelled for submission.

In this landscape, two worlds intersect: the one of pre-publication reviews and the other of indie presses. Fomite Press has given me the advantages of skillful, personal editing and cooperative decision making, but cannot possibly do the marketing traditionally done by a major publishing house, where submission for pre-publication review happens automatically. In that scenario, the publisher recommends the book in glowing terms, prepares galleys in a set format that includes marketing plans, and commissions an in-house publicist to do the footwork: package the galleys with that enthusiastic letter and a press release and send them out.

The job of the writer with an indie press is to reiterate this process, playing the roles of publisher, publicist and author as well. In other words, write that hyperbolic letter, no matter how much it may make you squirm, put it on the publisher’s letterhead (with their permission of course), send it to the publisher for signature and mail it out with a set of galleys. Most important of all, do this three to four months before the book’s release date. Often galleys will have marketing plans on the back, and some will have additional information on a title page. If yours don’t, you can include this information in your cover letter.


Back cover with information on marketing campaign.


This title page is hard to read but includes length, price and appropriate ages.


Another back cover.

Finally understanding this has persuaded me to defer my publication date so I can meet the four month deadline for Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist. It doesn’t guarantee that I will get reviewed, but I’m giving it my best shot. And before these three, I’ll pay for a Kirkus review and hope I get a juicy or at least usable quote to use along with my wonderful blurbs, for which I am extremely grateful.

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You Will Judge a Book by its Cover

Lucifer at the Starlight: Poems by Kim Addonizio

Lucifer at the Starlight: Poems by Kim Addonizio

You will judge a book by its cover, and so will every stranger who comes upon your book. Suddenly all those carefully crafted words must speak a visual language, must compress themselves into a single image. The cover on the left is one of my favorites for the way it integrates title and author’s name into a single, clear object. It’s hard to read in this reproduction, but the author’s name is on the matchbox and the title on the ashtray.

The Crack between the Worlds: Memoir

The Crack between the Worlds: Memoir

My novel, A Free, Unsullied Land, will be published by Fomite Press, and Donna Bister, half of the Press’ partnership, has asked for photos that represent the novel’s three locations: Chicago, Alabama and New Mexico, as well as its time period, 1930. A central event is the protagonist’s trip to Scottsboro, Alabama, to protest the unfair conviction of the nine so-called Scottsboro Boys.

I’m looking at photos, but I fear clutter and confusion. I was blessed with the cover of my memoir, above, a photo of myself at thirteen. It speaks to the child that every viewer once was as well as a sense of movement shared by many. For my novel, I hope to find something equally simple and compelling. So I search among book-cover websites and try to define what I like. The best ones, to me, function as two-way icons. They represent the book to the viewer but also speak to something in the viewer, inviting him or her into the book.

Against Happiness— In Praise of Melancholy

Against Happiness—
In Praise of Melancholy

Against Happiness’ cover is a sort of visual pun. The viewer will have the joy of recognition, compounded by whatever positive or negative feeling she has about smiley faces.


The Disappointment Artist: Essays

The Disappointment Artist’s cover is a single visual example of the book’s subject. It will awaken vivid memories of taste and touch as well as feelings of floundering in many readers. I like The Road‘s cover best of all for the way it uses scale. It makes the viewer feel how small he is on the scale of trees and roads. My novel’s title, A Free, Unsullied Land, suggests a vast landscape, but I shrink from the Southwest’s gorgeous but well-known red-rock vistas. Perhaps a plain background with a sense of translucence and shading from top to bottom, like a sky without clouds. Perhaps a black-and-white image of a march protesting the unfair Scottsboro convictions layered in half-tone over part of the sky.


The Road: Novel

Meg Wollitzer, in her essay “Second Shelf,” wrote about the tendency to relegate so-called women’s fiction to that lower shelf, and she talked about that genre’s typical covers: “Laundry hanging on a line. A little girl in a field of wildflowers. A pair of shoes on a beach. An empty swing on the porch of an old yellow house.” But I would not exclude any of those images or demand the big, bold type face often reserved for novels by well-known men, as long as I can find the right face to put on the body of my work.

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A Novel’s Journey: Bringing What Could Have Been to Life

Easter Mass

Easter Mass

After a joyful, dance-filled Easter Mass a few weeks ago I got on a plane and flew to Vienna, then took a train, fighting sleep, to the Austrian town of Klagenfurt am Wörthersee, near the Italian border. There my son Tom, his wife Katya and their two-year-old baby Arisha met me. “Hallo,” she said, greeting me with the friendly wave she bestows equally upon friends and strangers.

Arisha and mango ice cream

Arisha and mango ice cream

For a week I responded to her invitation, “Mmplay?” each morning on awaking. She’d take my hand and lead me to her room, where we’d take a bus, go to Europa Park and  have a picnic, all without leaving home.

When I returned to Chicago, I was sucked into the maelstrom of pre-publication for my novel, A Free, Unsullied Land, forthcoming from Fomite Press. I arranged the launch October 16, 7:30 pm at Women and Children First Bookstore, 5233 N. Clark St., Chicago, and marveled at the bumpy journey the book had made from conception to launch.

The Crack between the Worlds: Memoir

The Crack between the Worlds: Memoir

In 2007, thinking my memoir, The Crack between the Worlds: a dancer’s journey of loss, faith and family, would never see the light of day, I traveled with writing friend Tsivia Cohen to Tepoztlan in Mexico. We spent a week in the beautiful house and around the pool of my long-time friend Silvia Pandolfi, writing mornings and exploring the markets and byways of the town afternoons. As I wrote, I was sounding out the subject matter of my parents’ time and place, Chicago 1930, to see if I could make it into fiction. It was like taking depth measurements, asking: can I probe this moment or this feeling and find its living heart?

Three years earlier, my mother had died, and I’d acquired correspondence from her youth. In those pages I met a young woman I’d never known. She was smart, irreverent, in love with poetry and word-play, but also fragile, oppressed by her own dominating mother and dangerously affectionate father. The mother I knew growing up had already sacrificed that young girl’s saucy daring for stability, and she’d raised me and my sister with calm care. Reading the letters I wanted to give that girl a chance to enter into the struggles of her time, find her voice and speak her mind, to do the things my real mother never dared. In Tepoztlan I tried out moments, scenes and feelings, searching for the ones that rang a bell. I ended up with text like scrambling eggs, lumps of specificity barely taking shape in a thick and formless muck.

Arisha and Maggie in the back yard, Klagenfurt

Arisha and Maggie in the back yard, Klagenfurt

In 2009 my memoir was published, and a year of book promotion followed. Meanwhile, my novel simmered acquiring two narrators, a man and a woman. I read Douglas Glover, Charles Baxter, E.K. Brown and others on the novel and took an early version of the story to my writing group and friends who volunteered to read. The best advice I got was to drop the male voice and leave the story to my sassy protagonist, and this I did. But the book-in-progress had promises to keep and miles to go.

Flying back from Austria less than a week ago, I only wished Arisha could have joined the jubilant children at the Easter Mass, dancing in the aisles and on the stage at the back of the gym. But I can take a page from her book of adventures, where Europa Park is no less exciting in her room than in the real world. For the distance between what could have and was is precisely what first lured me to my mother’s letters and now fills the pages of my novel.


Waterworks in Europa Park, Klagenfurt, where children can build damns, pump water, create and empty lakes

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