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While there have been some amazing new books coming out recently, I do also like to look backwards at some classics. These books are not only Still Good but they are also Important because they are often the books that inspired today's writers. One of the books that shaped my own love of reading is The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois.

This Newbery award winner is a book that I read and loved as a child, but then forgot about for many years. Every once in a while something would remind me of it and I'd wonder, "what was that book with the volcano and the hot air balloons and the crazy houses?" but like a distant dream it had faded into the haze of my memory. I was SO pleased to rediscover it several years ago and to find out it was just as good as I had remembered it being.

The Twenty-One Balloons is an adventure story--including the aforementioned hot air balloons, volcanoes, crazy inventions, and daring escapes. The main character is Professor William Waterman Sherman, a schoolteacher who's decided he's had enough of people and wants to go on a year-long journey to nowhere in particular, as long as he's alone. He chooses to do it via a giant hot air balloon, which captures the attention and imagination of San Francisco society, and he takes off amid much fanfare. But to the surprise of the world, he is found just three weeks later floating in the Atlantic amongst the wreckage of twenty hot air balloons. What happened to his balloon? Where did the other balloons come from? And how did he get into the wrong ocean?

Readers will soon find out that Professor Sherman had ended up crash landing and was picked up by the "locals" on the island of Krakatoa (history buffs will already know how this is going to end). The population of the island is mysteriously wealthy, and is comprised of 20 families organized into a rather strange society which centers around an alphabetical culinary arrangement. Each family has been assigned a different letter of the alphabet and a country/nationality that corresponds to that letter (A-American, B-British, C-Chinese, etc.) Each family takes turns hosting dinner for everyone else at their home and of course the home and the cuisine also matches the family's assigned nationality.
Professor Sherman is welcomed, introduced to everyone, and shown around each home--noting that they are beautiful and full of ingenious inventions. Then he is let in on the island's big secret. Which I'm not going to tell you. Because you need to read the book.

Did I mention that Pene du Bois includes a lot of fun illustrations?
The magic of this book is in the way it inspires imagination. A secret island society hidden from the rest of the world; travelling across the ocean in a hot air balloon; crazy inventions to make life easier (such as a sheet roller for beds where you just turn a crank and new sheets roll onto the mattress); and who doesn't love the idea of society centered on sharing culinary inventions? (or is that just me?) I used to try to decide which nationality I'd pick if I had to decorate my home and cook in that style for the rest of my life (still can't decide, though Italian is a strong contender). In my mind this book belongs alongside the old films of The Swiss Family Robinson and Around the World in 80 Days - adventure stories involving a lot of ingenuity, danger, and exotic places.

For my own culinary foray, I decided to make something French to go along with this book. Not because of Pene du Bois' French name (he was actually American) but because Mr. F is the one who introduces Professor Sherman to Krakatoan society.

I chose to make clafoutis as it's 1. easy, 2. summery, and 3. delicious.
I used this berry clafoutis recipe by Honest Fare and to be honest (...) I didn't change it much at all.


  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups berries

First, mise en place.

Then, preheat your oven to 350 F (177C).

Next you pretty much just blend the ingredients. Easy peasy. In your blender (or if you're me, your Ninja) put the milk, 1/3 cup of the sugar (the rest will be used a bit later), eggs, flour, salt, vanilla, lemon zest, and cinnamon.


Mmm, custardy.
Pour a quarter inch layer of the batter in a lightly buttered baking dish (I used a small pie dish) and put it in the preheated oven until batter firms up a bit. In my oven this took about 12 minutes.

Remove from the oven (don't turn off the oven) and sprinkle all your berries over the firmed up batter. Now here's where I give a word of warning: if your berries were frozen, make sure to thaw them completely and drain them. I didn't (I knew I should, but was lazy) and ended up with quite a lot of red liquid watering things down and making it take longer to cook.
Sprinkle on the remaining sugar and then pour on the rest of the batter evenly over it all.

Bake for 45-60 minutes. The clafoutis is done when puffed up and a knife stuck in the center comes out clean.
It's absolutely mandatory to serve this with fresh whipped cream.

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