Friday, March 23, 2012

Adventures in Lickable Wallpaper with Roald Dahl and Charlie Bucket

It is time to Cook the Books once again with the best darn tootin' online foodie book club, and this time round we are reading that childhood classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I have seen a couple of different illustrated versions of this book but I think Quentin Blake's artwork invokes the playful spirit of Dahl's words just right.

 I zipped through all of Dahl's juvenile novels as a youngster and freshly enjoying reading them aloud to my daughters when they were small. We all especially loved The Twits, his book about a thoroughly obnoxious, smelly man and wife who get their comeuppance from the children, monkeys and birds they torment.

It was a pleasure to dip in again with little Charlie Bucket and his sprightly Grandpa Joe as they explore the wonders of Willy Wonka's amazing Chocolate Factory with a bunch of rotten kids and their equally revolting parents. The kids represent several vices:  Augustus Gloop is a glutton, Mike Teavee embodies rudeness and lack of imagination (he watches TV all day long), Veruca Salt is the eptitome of the spoiled brat (and veruca means wart, I just found out, ha!) and Violet Beauregarde is pushy.  I would recommend this witty book to anyone looking for a wacky, slightly sardonic romp, old and young alike.

With Cook the Books, we read our selected book and then come up with some kind of dish inspired by our reading. The book is full of all kinds of fantastical sweets, but I was most taken with Wonka's description of his Lickable Wallpaper for Nurseries:
"Lovely stuff, lickable wallpaper!" cried Mr. Wonka, rushing past. "It has pictures of fruits on it - bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, pineapples, strawberries, and snozzberries..."
"Snozzberries?" said Mike Teavee.
 "Don't interrupt!" said Mr. Wonka. "The wallpaper has pictures of all these fruits printed on it, and when you lick the picture of a banana, it tastes of banana. When you lick a strawberry, it tastes of strawberry. And when you lick a snozzberry, it tastes just exactly like a snozzberry..."
"But what does a snozzberry taste like?"
"You're mumbling again," said Mr. Wonka. "Speak louder next time. On we go! Hurry up!" (pp.104-105 of my copy)
 I'm not sure what I think a snozzberry would taste like. I keep seeing an extra "h" in there and thinking "schnozz-berry" and that conjures up awful suggestions of nose boogers. So I wasn't going to go the snozzberry route.

However, I also possess another wonderful book, Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes (by Felicity Dahl and Josie Fison), which is a cookbook that brings to life many of the wild foods discussed in Dahl's oeuvre (with the bonus of featuring Quentin Blake as illustrator again). There is a beautiful rendition of lickable wallpaper there made with an apple-gelatin puree, which, after being rolled out and dried, is like a sticky sort of fruit leather that can be decorated with various fruits and edible garnishes.

Continuing on with my exploration of lickable wallpaper, I found a web link to a BBC show featuring chef Heston Blumenthal and his creation of a Chocolate Factory Feast in which celebrity guests got to lick up some tomato soup and prawn cocktail flavored wallpaper. That was getting more interesting to me, though I do have some hygienic concerns.

First, unless you tear off the sheets of this lickable wallpaper or have some sort of crazy conveyor belt to keep fresh spots of wallpaper available for new lickers, there will be sodden, bacteria-laden patches that someone else may inadvertently plant their lips on. I just keep thinking of petri dishes or flypaper.

Then I thought about licking wallpaper and then tearing off a strip to eat. I thought about those homemade flyers that have strips at the bottom with people's phone numbers to rip off, and then that got me thinking about making edible wallpaper using nori, those sheets of roasted seaweed that one uses to roll sushi. With some inspiration from these Internet recipes: here and here, I set off to experiment with some toasted nori as my lickable wallpaper base.

Nori is certainly handsome enough to hang as edible wallpaper on its own, but I thought about painting it with all sorts of condiments from the inexhaustible supply that festoons my larder and fridge and then toasting it to a crackling, CRISPY-edged goodness. I get these bags of Japanese seaweed snacks at Albany's Asian markets and they are so addictive. They come in Tom Yum, Tomato, Wasabi, Spicy Squid and Plain Salt flavors and I am hooked.

Surrounded by a counter full of sauces, seeds and spices, I set to work on my

Lickable Nori Wallpaper Snacks:

First, I preheated my oven to 250 degrees F. Then I painted, drizzled or sprinkled on my nori wallpaper adornments and baked each batch for ten minutes.

Experiment One: I mixed a little Thai green curry paste with soy sauce and painted that on two pieces of nori. One also got a sprinkle of sesame seeds.  Result: Too salty, though I was pleased to see that the sesame seeds adhered to the nori after baking.

Experiment Two: I beat up an egg white and brushed it on two pieces of nori. One was sprinkled with Five-Spice Powder and the other was dusted with Smoked Paprika. Verdict: Good adhesion of spices, both flavors good.

Experiment Three: Some leftover pesto spread on one sheet of nori. Some chili-garlic-black bean paste spread on the other. Verdict: Both tasted good, but they result in soggy nori centers.

Experiment Four: Drops of liquid smoke on one sheet of nori and splash of hot pepper sauce on another. Both spritzed with Dr. Bragg's Liquid Aminos (it's like soy sauce in a spray bottle, very handy). Verdict: Liquid Smoke nori is inedible. Hot pepper sauce version okay.

Experiment Five: Two sheets of nori brushed with egg white and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Quick shot of Dr. Bragg's to serve as fixative. Verdict: Best tasting and looking version. Not too salty, but pleasantly so.

Ultimately, this experiment with lickable, edible wallpaper proved that the simplest adornments proved the best. Just a simple spritz of Dr. Bragg's or a painting of beaten egg white and a sprinkling of sesame seeds made the CRISPIEST, tastiest toasted nori snacks, though for visual beauty, I must say I fancy the nori with chili, garlic, and black bean paste. And while I thought about making my family line up to the kitchen wall to chomp off a portion of these nori snacks, I ended up snipping them into strips with kitchen shears and offering them up a bit more elegantly.

Though I sped through a full ten-sheet pack of nori, this would be a splendid way to use up leftover nori sheets after a bout of sushi-making.

Our Cook the Books hostess for this round, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen, will be back after the March 26 deadline to post a roundup of all the great dishes. You still have time to join in the fun, or you could wait until the next round of Cook the Books when we will be reading "The United States of Arugula" by David Kamp.


Eliotseats said...

Rachel, this is genius---so creative. Dahl really sparked you imagination. I am just tweaking my post a bit (but now I think I took an easy way out---especially compared to your post.) Excellent and inventive idea! I would love to try this recipe with the nephews (and I must get them reading this book instead of The Hunger Games.

Deb in Hawaii said...

These are so fun and creative. I love the little nori sheets for snacks and wrapping up rice and stuff but you have taken them to a whole new level--such a great idea.

I am glad you had fun going back to childhood with me for this round--such fun! ;-)

Rachel said...

Eliot: I am actually waiting for those Hunger Games books to show up in the bookshop. So far nobody has brought them in but they sound interesting. I had a guy ask if we had any of the books in "some sort of new series about a cooking contest" and after I kept quizzing him for more clues about what he was talking about it turned out to be The Hunger Games. Hah!

Deb: Great pick for Cook the Books. I really enjoy Dahl's writing so much.

JV said...

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It will make you laugh!!