Celebrating the first month of her debut being out in the world, I’m happy to welcome middle-grade author, Rajani LaRocca here on Tale Out Loud for another blog episode of author spotlight I called Behind the Pages.
If you like a twist on your favorite classic comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and love food and magic, this book is for you!
by Rajani LaRocca
Published by: Yellow Jacket
Publication date: June 11, 2019
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Retelling
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Wordery
Can Mimi undo the mayhem caused by her baking in this contemporary-fantasy retelling of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
Eleven-year-old Mimi Mackson comes from a big Indian American family: Dad’s a renowned food writer, Mom’s a successful businesswoman, and her three older siblings all have their own respective accomplishments. It’s easy to feel invisible in such an impressive family, but Mimi’s dream of proving she’s not the least-talented member of her family seems possible when she discovers a contest at the new bakery in town. Plus, it’ll start her on the path to becoming a celebrity chef like her culinary idol, Puffy Fay.
But when Mimi’s dad returns from a business trip, he’s mysteriously lost his highly honed sense of taste. Without his help, Mimi will never be able to bake something impressive enough to propel her to gastronomic fame.
Drawn into the woods behind her house by a strangely familiar song, Mimi meets Vik, a boy who brings her to parts of the forest she’s never seen. Who knew there were banyan trees and wild boars in Massachusetts? Together they discover exotic ingredients and bake them into delectable and enchanting treats.
But as her dad acts stranger every day, and her siblings’ romantic entanglements cause trouble in their town, Mimi begins to wonder whether the ingredients she and Vik found are somehow the cause of it all. She needs to use her skills, deductive and epicurean, to uncover what’s happened. In the process, she learns that in life, as in baking, not everything is sweet. . . .
FOOD, FAMILY, AND FLOWERS
People have asked me what kind of research I did to write MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM, my Indian-American mashup of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and competitive baking. I had to research Shakespeare, of course. I also researched plants, trees, and forest creatures. And I had to do some hands-on research developing recipes for the baked goods in the book. Like my main character Mimi, I thought about some of my favorite flavors and desserts and how I might mix them up in new ways.
So many of my family memories are food memories. And a couple of my favorite dessert memories have to do with flowers, too.
By any other name…
We’re all familiar with roses. They are beautiful, fragrant, and represent everything from romantic love to remembrance. They proudly adorn gardens and are used in perfumes. But they can be used in cooking, too.
When I was a kid, I sometimes spent entire summers in India. I’ve always had a sweet tooth, and this was something I shared with one particular uncle and cousin. We would visit a favorite sweet shop in a busy shopping area of Bangalore, the city in south India where most of my family lives. My memories of this shop are always at night, with street lights shining and the sound of shoppers enjoying themselves. In the dim alley next to the shop was a gigantic pot, a cauldron of sorts, where a cook would be stirring a magical mass of sweet milk dumplings swimming in a rose-and-cardamom scented sugar syrup. They were called gulab jamun (“gulab” means “rose”). The cook would scoop a few of the soft delicacies into a paper cup along with copious amounts of syrup, and the three of us would eat them immediately, disregarding our slightly burnt tongues. It was heaven. And the fragrance of the rosewater in the syrup would stay with me for the rest of the night.
Who with thy saffron wings…
The world’s most expensive spice also comes from a flower. Saffron is the stamen of a crocus, and must be harvested by hand. The flower is a lovely purple, the spice itself is bright red, and it turns food a warm yellow, the color of summer sunshine.
Saffron flavors my all-time favorite dessert, kesari bhath (again, “kesari” means “saffron”). It’s a pudding-like dessert made with roasted semolina (cream of wheat), cooked on the stove with sugar, ghee, and saffron-infused milk, and lightly spiced with cardamom. Golden raisins and toasted cashews are stirred in at the end. It’s a traditional dessert from the state of Karnataka, where my family is from. It is golden, fragrant, sweet, and warm. There is no better way to end a meal. I’ve had it in restaurants, but the best version is my mom’s. Our whole family, including my husband and kids, adores this sweet treat.
These flowers and desserts play a role in MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM. I hope you enjoy reading, and then go try these treats, and experience a bit of real-life magic.
About The Author:
Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in eastern Massachusetts with her wonderful husband, two brilliant kids, and an impossibly cute dog. She spends her time writing middle grade novels and picture books, practicing medicine, and baking way too many sweet treats. Her debut middle grade, MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM, is a foodie Indian-American story inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the hours she’s spent watching TV baking competitions.