The Quest

With the holiday season already far in the rear-view mirror, and the joys of summer still months off, I’m deep into winter escapist reading. This season I seem to be drawn to books about people on quests. Whether it’s for healing or wild edibles, each writer I’ve engaged with has taken me along on a fascinating journey of discovery. Here are three titles that will set your mind wandering:

The Mushroom Hunters cover imageThe Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of Secrets, Eccentrics, and the American Dream  (Langdon Cook)This title is a great fit for foodies, hikers, lovers of the Pacific Northwest, and those who appreciate investigative journalism that takes you deep inside the story. I enjoyed traveling off the beaten path, literally and sometimes legally, with Cook and his group of wild food foraging contacts. This is a good book to pick up if you’re the type of consumer who is interested in where your food comes from and why it costs what it does. I found it remarkable that items that you can find at any upscale market reach the selling table as a result of so many moving (and potentially unreliable) parts.

Fairyland cover imageFairyland: A Memoir of My Father  (Alysia Abbott). In some cases, quests can be taken without traveling at all. In Fairyland, author Alysia Abbott journeys back into her unorthodox childhood using her father’s prodigious journal archive. Abbott’s path twists and turns through the complexities of being raised by an openly gay single father at a time when the nation was only first awakening to the gay rights movement. Along the way the author pulls no punches describing her father as loving though aloof and herself as too self-involved to be able to see that he needed her as much as she needed him. Despite these and other hurdles, this small family managed to create a home in improbable places. While readers are often left with a sense of regret for opportunities lost, the overall tone of the memoir is one of grace and acceptance.

Wild cover imageWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Cheryl Strayed). Part of my own personal quest this January is to finish this book; I’m currently in the middle of it. Like Alysia Abbott, Cheryl Strayed had an unusual upbringing. After her abusive father exited the picture, her mother barely scraped by raising her small family. When she eventually remarried, the family moved to the wilds of northern Minnesota where they built their own tar-paper cabin and lived off the land. Though this lifestyle may sound difficult, the family was happy. Strayed goes on to marry shortly after high school and seems to have things on track until her mother suddenly dies of lung cancer. Unable to cope with her loss, Strayed spirals out of control and moves out on her own. In order to regain focus after her divorce, she picks up a guide to the Pacific Crest Trail and decides to set off on her own. One part travelogue for the curious traveler, and one part memoir for those working through their own loss, this book has a lot to offer to the questing reader.

Holiday Meal Helper, Part 3: Finishing Flourishes

If you’ve been following my recent posts, you’ll know we’re on a shared journey together. We’re on the quest for a simple, stress-free holiday party. You may not be a master chef but you’ve learned a lot of techniques that enable you to try more complicated recipes and maybe even have some fun as well. Now I give to you the final installment. Today I’ll go over the little extras that will take your holiday party from just a success to an absolutely stellar occasion.

1A Baker’s Field Guide to Christmas Cookies by Dede Wilson contains the number one absolute easiest recipe for cookies ever. You don’t need an oven, but you do need some high-quality alcohol. And let’s be honest: if you’re taking a few nips of the top shelf stuff while prepping cookies (as I assure you is required by law) you really have no business near an oven. Hey, I’m just looking out for you. Chocolate bourbon balls (page 40) combine the best food groups: booze, chocolate and sugar. There are variations where you can substitute other liquors and get an entirely different product. I wonder if anyone has shared this recipe with Hannah Hart of My Drunk Kitchen yet?

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Top 100 Step-By-Step Napkin Folds by Denise Vivaldo is full of simple ways to make any place setting outstanding. Toss aside those napkin rings: you won’t need them this year. I’ll be honest: outside of a cruise I went on last year, I’ve never actually eaten someplace where the napkin has a special fold—except maybe a fan in a wine glass. Who thinks of doing this, anyway? Only the most accomplished hosts and hostesses like you. Bird in flight (pages 26-27), buffet roll (pages 36-37), fir tree (pages 58-59), and shield (pages 90-91) are simple to make but are special enough to add that little bit of flair to your table. Your guests will be surprised and flattered that you took the time to pay such attention to detail…and that you used cloth napkins in the first place.

3The Kitchen Pantry Cookbook by Erin Coopey shows you how to make your own condiments, chips, stocks, and more. What we’re going to care about is in chapter six: dips. There’s nothing I look forward to more at a party than dip—except maybe the drinks. But we’ll get there, so slow it down, champ. If you’re feeling ambitious you can make the potato chips (page 140) or pita chips (page 152) but I confess I’ll just buy some pre-made. The French onion dip (page 146), herb dip (page 148),  and even the spinach dip (page 158) are simple to make and don’t require those seasoning packets you can buy at the store. I guarantee you everyone will be impressed when you tell them that you made these dips. From scratch. I mean, who does that? You do.

4Make Your Own Soda by Anton Nocito has dozens of syrup recipes you can use either with a home carbonating device or simple seltzer water to make your own sodas. And we’re not just talking cola. Guava (page 28), sarsaparilla (page 58), spiced maple (page 68) and hibiscus (page 70) are just a few flavors you can create to delight your unsuspecting guests. There are recipes for egg creams, cocktails, and even warm drinks, like the hot apple toddy (page 139). When I hear “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” I can practically taste a nice, warm hot toddy and smell the cinnamon.

5Cocktails for a Crowd by Kara Newman has over 40 recipes for a good time. Many of my guests enjoy being offered a nicely crafted drink but I do not enjoy spending my time bartending. That’s why this book is so incredible. Your group can enjoy one of several beverages that you can prepare in bulk (can you ever own too many pitchers?) and actually spend time socializing with your guests. Raspberry Bellinis (page 30) serves 16. French 75 punch (page 32) serves 8. Spiked and spiced apple cider (page 42) serves 8. Those all feature flavors that go well with a typical holiday feast. On the other hand, Suffering Bastard (page 77) serves 8 and is more of a summer drink. However, if you are suffering from ‘Too Much Family at the Holidays Syndrome’ you might get a secret thrill by serving these to your family. Quick, someone tell John Green!

Still looking for a little bit of extra polish? Why not whip together a fun holiday playlist? I’ve created a list of holiday tunes that combines the classics with some of today’s more modern spins. If you celebrate Christmas and you actually have your party on December 25, this will be your last chance until next year to hear those carols without someone clobbering you. I say go all-out and don’t turn the music off until bedtime.

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Take my advice. The right mix of fancy napkins, alcohol (or non-alcoholic fizzy beverages), music, and homemade dips will be sure to cement your place as future host or hostess of your family/friends’ annual gathering. Try to stay modest, though. You had help getting where you are today. You can send praise to my boss. It’s performance review time!

Carol

Holiday Meal Helper, Part 2: Planning Perfection

Welcome to the menu portion of my three-part series intended to help you master your holiday host or hostess responsibilities in style. Part I introduced you to the basic cooking skills you need as a foundation for cooking confidence. Today I’ll share delicious and simple recipes guaranteed to bring applause and tears (the good kind, at last!) to your gathering. Or, more realistically, you’ll be sure to stress less and have more fun this holiday season, even if you’re not a pro in the kitchen…yet.

1After Toast: Recipes for Aspiring Cooks by Kate Gibbs appears to be designed for the post-college crowd—but any budding chef can benefit from the recipes inside. I found two great snacks you can scatter in small dishes around your living areas. Guests can nosh on spiced crispy chickpeas (page 175) made with smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, and ground cumin. Sugar-and-spice nuts (page 176) feature walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. The beauty of both recipes? You can make them ahead of time, they’ll make your house smell amazing, and they are as simple as tossing the ingredients together and baking in the oven.

2High Flavor Low Labor by J.M. Hirsch proclaims to “reinvent weeknight cooking.” You just need to know it has decadent appetizers that are perfect for your holiday gathering—or any time. Grilled bacon-wrapped figs with blue cheese (page 9) are simple and make a dramatic presentation. Polenta cakes topped with prosciutto and peppadew slivers (page 11) are so pretty, yet so easy. Half the work is already done for you with ready-made polenta. Fig and manchego puff pastries (page 21) pair the dream team of flavors: sweet and salty. Once you master this recipe it’s easy to switch it up later to make mini pizzas, perfect for movie night. Pesto-drenched tomato wedges (page 35) show off the red and green color combination perfect for the holiday season. Blend ingredients in the food processor and pour over sliced tomatoes. How easy is that?

3Aida Mollenkamp’s Keys to the Kitchen is “the essential reference for becoming a more accomplished, adventurous cook.” While this is indeed a fantastic cooking reference (are you paying attention, Santa?) what it’s bringing to our party is the salad. Butter lettuce salad with tahini-honey dressing (page 200) is a great basic salad to get your palette revved up. I’m not sure why I haven’t made my own dressings before—it’s super easy. Step 1: put stuff in food processor. Step 2: blend. Step 3: let’s eat! Or if you’d like to be more adventurous, try the raw kale salad with heirloom tomatoes and roasted cashews (pages 202-203). Aida swears that making this salad ahead and letting it sit helps wilt and soften the kale. It makes for a fabulous presentation on a serving platter. And your health-fad cousin will love that you used kale, that trendy ingredient.

4Come Home to Supper by Christy Jordan has the dough—meaning there are some terrific bread and roll recipes in here. Cheesy garlic biscuits (page 219) are super-simple to make. And they happen to be my favorite type of biscuit: drop. That means you just mix the ingredients and drop them onto a baking sheet. Ten minutes later you have biscuit nirvana. Need an even quicker recipe? Ten-minute rolls (page 224) utilizes muffin tins and has a secret ingredient: mayonnaise: “The mayonnaise gives them a subtle flavor as a sour cream would, acts as shortening, and produces a tender crumb.” Sometimes the shortcut recipes turn out to be the most rewarding, both in time saved and flavor savored.

5Choosing Sides by Tara Mataraza Desmond contains nothing but recipes for side dishes. I implore you to look beyond the mashed potatoes (pages 201-204) and focus instead on switching up the holiday menu a bit. There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll just be listing the recipe names and pages. Please try not to drool as you read them. Charred asparagus with shaved parmesan (page 84), chimichurri green beans (page 85), crisply roasted garlic potatoes (page 90), sugar snap peas with grana padano crust (page 95), ginger honey carrots (page 101), golden cauliflower with herbed breadcrumbs (page 133), red quinoa with cherries and smoked almonds (page 142), legacy cornbread dressing (page 199), and sugar-glazed sweet potatoes (page 205). Now wipe your chin. Drool is very unbecoming in a host or hostess.

6Christmas Slow Cooking by Dominique DeVito is like the holy grail of holiday cooking. It really does cover every course of the meal and then some, but I like it best for the hassle-free main courses. I don’t know why I’d never considered using my slow-cooker for a holiday roast. Short ribs of beef with rosemary and fennel (page 113) become so tender after ten hours in the slow cooker. Prime rib (page 117) has exactly four ingredients: rib roast, olive oil, salt and pepper but it looks incredible. Turkey, bacon, cranberry bliss (page 125) blends some of my favorite ingredients: just use one turkey breast, bacon, apples, cranberries and spices. Holiday ham (page 131) requires a spiral-cut precooked ham and not a lot of effort. Remember, all of these recipes are made in the slow cooker. Your stress level will automatically lower when making one of these easy recipes.

Layout 1One Bowl Baking by Yvonne Ruperti takes the guesswork out of baking. I’m an okay cook but I’m not a great baker. That’s probably mostly due to the fact that I am impatient and imprecise in the kitchen. But this book makes me wonder why I freak out over baking so much. Pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust (page 186) uses crushed gingersnap cookies in the crust and a can of pumpkin puree in the filling. With those serious flavors taken care of, the rest just seems like child’s play. Deep dish plum pie tart (page 198) is a decadent—and simple—alternative to either making a pie from scratch or buying one of the pre-made frozen variety.

You have just read an incredibly simple road map to Party Successville. Population: you. If you make some things a day ahead (snacks, salad) and use the slow cooker to do your main dish’s heavy lifting, you’ll be free to whip up multiple appetizers and side dishes your whole family will love.

Stay tuned for part 3, where I will share the little details that transform a good holiday party into a great one.

Carol

Holiday Meal Helper, Part 1: Cooking with Confidence

Uh oh. You really did it this time. You have achieved the goal you’ve dreamed of since childhood. You’ve secured the designation of host or hostess for your family’s holiday gathering. Why the long face? You don’t know how to cook, do you? Well never fear—I’ve got your back! The library has tons of great resources to help you pull off the party of the decade. And it all starts with learning the ropes. Get some practice with basic cooking techniques now and you won’t sweat it on opening night.

SeinfeldThe Can’t Cook Book by Jessica Seinfeld is a great place to start choosing some simple recipes that will become your kitchen staples. Seinfeld knows that the number one thing holding most ‘Can’t Cooks’ back is fear of failure—either real or imagined. She takes the guesswork out of buying the right equipment and using it correctly. She also has a fantastic how-to section that literally illustrates important skills step-by-step, from chopping herbs to pitting an avocado and even the best ways to wash different ingredients. The recipes are amazingly simple and have a “don’t panic” tip right off the bat that addresses a part of each recipe that might make a ‘Can’t Cook’ hesitate. There’s also a photo for each recipe. If you’re like me this is one of the most important pieces of a recipe–it illustrates exactly what your finished product should look like. This is usually where I notice that I forgot the carrots because there is orange in the photo. You get the idea. Now get this book!

200 skills200 Skills Every Cook Must Have by Clara Paul and Eric Treuillé is not a cookbook. Let me get that out of the way right now. It is, however, exactly what the title proclaims. There are two hundred skills that the authors illustrate step-by-step. While there are a few recipes, it’s mostly what I would call a great companion book to any cookbook you may be using. I find it an especially handy reference when using an old family recipe that may not be very descriptive in its instructions. Right now I’m working on skill 174: soaking and cooking dried beans. I’m on a mission this winter to discover the best chili recipe and I have a feeling that recipe won’t start with canned beans.

everyoneEveryone’s Time to Cook by Robert L. Blakeslee promises to be “the best starter cookbook you’ll ever need.” It also aims to teach you “how to start a love affair with cooking.” From the ideal kitchen layout to choosing the best bean roast and grind for the perfect coffee, this book is a must-read for anyone hoping to create delicious meals that aren’t too complicated to make. Cooking with dried beans is covered in detail starting on page 214 with recipes following. Did you know you could make refried beans at home without a can? It sounds like a no-brainer but it’s not something I’d ever considered before. After seeing the mouth-watering image of the finished product of “OMG! Refried Beans” I am raring to go!

ATKThe America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook is going on my list for Santa. I’ve always sworn by the ATK to provide well-researched recipes and this book is no different. Like the other books I’ve already mentioned, this one goes in-depth with the techniques required to make each recipe. Also included, in true ATK style, are the reasons why one particular ingredient should be used over another. ATK tests consistency of flavor and texture, so you know you’re getting a crowd-pleasing recipe from them. As an example of how far this book goes, let’s look at the BBQ section. It shows you how to set up both charcoal and gas grills, using wood in a grill for added smoke flavor—and then follows that up with incredible recipes. ATK is not afraid to warn you in advance as to what may go wrong with each recipe. So, like Jessica Seinfeld, ATK is setting you up for success.

BurrellOwn Your Kitchen by Food Network star Anne Burrell was written with the beginner in mind, with “recipes to inspire and empower.” Let me share with you Anne’s ten ways to own your kitchen:

Read a recipe all the way through before you start cooking
Do your mise en place (prep work)
Taste and season as you go
Embrace salt
Salt and pepper are not married, they’re only dating (they don’t always have to be used together)
Fresh herbs rock, dried herbs don’t
Spices are sexy!
Toast your nuts
The right equipment makes cooking fun
Keep your pantry stocked

I have a very difficult time with the first few items, as I am always well-intentioned but not necessarily well-prepared. This can lead to a total meltdown on my part before the oven is even preheated. The recipes in this book aren’t exactly basic, but once you’ve gained some confidence mastering the skills above, you can attempt more. This is the cookbook meant to bridge that gap between beginner and intermediate chef. Wouldn’t you like to try your hand at homemade ricotta cheese? I would! Fried rice made right in your own kitchen? Sign me up! How do I know Anne will steer me in the right direction? She doesn’t use a lot of fancy cooking terms (aside from mise en place) but instead uses wordage more apropos of girl talk. My favorite term? Crud: the delicious brown bits on the bottom of the pan that help develop deep, rich, meaty flavors. Oh, yum!

So there you have it—my five best no-fail cookbooks to bring out the inner Julia Child in you. Julia always reminded me of my maternal grandmother, Helen: she made mistakes but made cooking fun. If I can run my kitchen like Julia or Helen I think I will be doing quite nicely indeed.

Stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll break down the perfect holiday meal that even you can’t mess up.

Carol

Did You Know? (Egg Edition)

Eggs contain almost all vitamins except C and are a wealth of minerals including iodine, phosphorous, sulphur, zinc, iron, selenium and potassium?

eggsI found this information on page 9 in the book How to Boil an Egg by Rose Carrarini. The author shows how versatile eggs can be. You can eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner and they are also used in snacks and desserts. The book gives tips for cooking this humble ingredient as well as some yummy looking recipes. For more egg recipes look at Eggs by Michel Roux. There are all kinds of ideas and recipes in this book, from crepes to custards & quiches.

joyofchickensDigestive Wellness by Elizabeth Lipski Ph.D. tells us that it is best to eat eggs that have not been oxidized (exposed to oxygen) to keep your cholesterol level down. Examples of eggs cooked this way are hard-boiled, soft-boiled or poached. It is also best to eat organic eggs, whether you buy them or raise your own.

The Joy of Keeping Chickens by Jennifer Megyesi and Raising Chickens for Dummies by Kimberly Willis are dinosaureggs“must have” references if you are going to raise your own eggs by keeping chickens. Everything you want to know about keeping poultry and more are in these two books.

And, keep in mind that chickens aren’t the only ones to lay eggs! Eggs, Nests, and Baby Dinosaurs by Kenneth Carpenter is a fascinating book about dinosaurs and how they reproduced. It shows fossilized decoratingeggsdinosaur eggs and excavations sites of nests. Eggs by Marilyn Singer, also shows us many other different kinds of eggs. Bird, snake, frog and insect eggs are all pictured. She also shows some bird nests and the way eggs hatch.

Finally, once you have used all those eggs, take a look at Decorating Eggs: Exquisite Designs with Wax & Dye by Jane Pollak for some lovely ways to decorate eggs either for yourself or as gifts.

Linda

Grilled Salmon and DEET

Lisa with apple in front of mountains

Demonstrating advanced trail food preparation

When my husband and I moved here from Chicago, I thought that I was finally coming into my element. Mountains, ocean – all the things the Midwest couldn’t provide. We had mastered what the flatland could offer us in regards to camping, so we were ready to up our game. For those of you lucky enough to have been born and raised in this lovely region, you know that my attitude was like thinking I was ready to play in the MLB because I batted cleanup in t-ball. Thankfully my husband was more experienced in these matters, and managed to keep up safe, dry, happy, and entertained in the wild. He’s since joined the Mountaineers and has been scrambling on the tops of mountains, while I have contented myself with scrambling eggs at camp and taking photos of mountains from the relative safety of familiar flat land.

Needless to say, I have some learning to do. I think I’m finally over the hump of thinking I’m always on the verge of being eaten by bears. Seeing a bear retreat in horror from my loud approach last weekend helped me realize that they don’t want to deal with me either. Now I’m going through the enjoyable process of checking out the library’s resources on all things outdoors. I know this isn’t a shock, but there is a lot here to get through.

Scout's Backpacking Cookbook

Not surprisingly, my first foray into outdoor ed. was the cooking section. It looks like I may be able to salvage that ill-conceived food dehydrator purchase from the kitchen gadget bone-yard after all. There are a ton of books in this area, so I quickly eliminated anything to do with RV or car camping (we’ve got that down). My favorite was The Scout’s Backpacking Cookbook, by Tim and Christine Conners. This book was packed with useful information about equipment, cooking techniques, meal planning, safety, ‘Leave No Trace’ cooking and camping, and recipes. There were also wonderful appendices that provided measurement advice, additional reading, and helpful websites.

Other picks:

The Trailside Cookbook by Don Philpott

Camp Cooking in the Wild by Mark Scriver

Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Washington CascadesWith the food taken care of, choosing a destination was my next priority. When we camp, we choose our destination based on a few different things. Weather is the most obvious determining factor; last weekend we went over the mountains to find the sun. On other trips we’ve selected sites because they were off pleasant drives, or offered a selection of excellent hikes. The Mountaineers Books has a fantastic series of Day Hiking titles that cover different regions of Washington and Oregon. My favorite book that I found about exploring Washignton was the Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Washington Cascades, by Allan May. May created a guide to geography, history (human and natural), and recreation in the Washington Cascades, all wrapped into a very enjoyable read.

Note: Sometimes published info about campgrounds, trails, and roads can be outdated. To be certain that you can actually get to where you’d like to go, call ahead to the ranger station in the area you’re planning to visit to make sure that everything is open.

The Backpacker's ManualLast, and certainly not least, I looked into info on safety and preparation. This is perhaps the largest section of outdoor materials we have because there is much to be said on the topic. For a beginner’s overview to all things backpacking, The Smart Guide to Hiking and Backpacking is a good place to start. More advanced advice on trip planning, cooking equipment, and more can be found in The Backpacker’s Field Manual, by Rick Curtis. I found some really helpful illustrations and ‘how to’s’ in Basic Illustrated Wilderness First Aid, but I strongly recommend attending some courses on the topic if you are serious about venturing into remote areas. If not, be sure to trek with someone who has.

Other titles that I found helpful tips in:

Hiking with Dogs by Linda B. Mullally

Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips by Mike Clelland

Making Camp: A Complete Guide for Hikers, Mountain Bikers, Paddlers & Skiers by Steve Howe, et al.

So there you have it – my newbie backpacker reading list. Come in and browse the shelves; there’s a lot more here for those who are more advanced than I am. As for me? I have a date with the food dehydrator – who doesn’t want to try powdered cheese?

Lisa

Cookbooks for Free

“How much does this book cost?” is a question I get occasionally from pre-school aged children on the library’s bookmobile. The idea of the free public library is a foreign one to some young minds. You probably totally get this concept since you’re reading this blog. Free books? Of course! Count me in!

I love to check out all of the glossy, beautiful cookbooks that our library has to offer just to see if they are worth purchasing for personal home use. Here are the ones that I’ve found at the library and loved so much that I just had to add them to my home cookbook shelf:

stirfryingStir Frying to the Sky’s Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery with Authentic recipes and Stories by Grace Young. This is a complete guide to stir frying with over 100 recipes, stunning photos, and many great tips. We especially love the Cashew Chicken recipe at our house.

inthekitchenIn the Kitchen With a Good Appetite: 150 Recipes and Stories about the Food You Love by Melissa Clark. The only thing lacking in this cookbook is photos, but it is full of stories, and fantastic recipes to cook delicious meals and fill you up. We love the Spicy Chicken Barley Soup. Try it!

whattocookHere’s one that I purchased as a gift for a new cook. What to Cook & How to Cook it:  Fresh & Easy by Jane Hornby. The fantastic thing about this book is that it is so visual, almost like a visual menu. It has photos for each step of each recipe, from laying out all of the ingredients to the finished product. It shows you everything. How easy is that?

I’m in the ‘holds’ line to check out these cook books:

barefootcontessaBarefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten looks like a keeper. I love all of Ina Garten’s cookbooks and this one probably won’t disappoint. I’ll check it out from the library first just to be sure.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman is very popular these days. There’s quite a buzz about this one, so, of course, I must check it out. Literally.

myfavoriteAnd, finally, here’s one that I just found on the new book shelf. Oh, my, but this one is gorgeous and glossy. Home Cooking with Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes by Jean-Georges Vongerichten. With a name like that, he must be a great chef, right?  That’s Stone Fruit Bruschetta on the cover. Each of the recipes have a stunning photo and look delicious.

I can answer that child’s question for you: books cost a lot of money! Check out these fabulous cookbooks and others at your free public library.

You hungry now? I am. Buh-bye, I’m off to cook!

Leslie

Fail Magnificently

Here we are, firmly wedged into the month of January. The magical glow of New Year’s Eve and memories of our ambitious resolutions have already started to fade. While some just might make this the year that they actually stick to their three-times-a-week gym pledges, others may be looking for a way to gracefully bow out of their publicly-announced best intentions. Thankfully, the Everett Public Library is here not only to support us in our triumphs, but also to help us get through our moments of weakness. So, if you want to kill your resolutions softly by making the best of your surrender, I have a list of books for you.

Here are my recommendations for failing magnificently at some of the more common New Year’s resolutions.

The Butchers Guide to Well-Raised Meat

Eat Healthier and Lose Weight

This is the granddaddy of them all. Who hasn’t sworn, after a long night of New Year’s Eve snacking, that it was time to get the potbelly situation under control? Perhaps you’ve spent the last couple weeks faithfully logging calories and exercise on your new My Fitness Pal app, but today you find yourself caring less than usual. Before you hop in the car after work, blow by the YMCA, and hit the drive through, consider picking up one of the following books to help you break your resolution with a bit more class.

The Pastry Chef’s Apprentice, by Mitch Stamm, provides a really accessible introduction to creating delicious pastries in your home kitchen. Stamm includes a lot of what I like to call ‘action shots’ of what dishes should look like during crucial stages of each recipe. If you’re as lousy of a baker as I am, you know how valuable it is to actually see what the recipe means when it tells you to mix the dough to a certain consistency.

If you prefer savory over sweet, Warren R. Anderson’s Mastering the Craft of Making Sausage may be up your alley. The first half of this book is a richly-illustrated discussion of different methods of making and smoking sausages; the second is a collection of great recipes to try your hand at.

Other sweet and savory honorable mentions to consider:
Chocolate, from Practical Cookery
The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat, by Joshua and Jessica Applestone

Who knows? Perhaps making your own guilty pleasures from scratch might burn some calories in the process and ensure that you’re using healthier ingredients.

The Home Winemaker's CompanionDrink Less

This one generally goes the way of weight loss pledges, so in order to help you fail in the same spirit, I suggest the alternative of taking up home brewing, wine making,or distilling. You may find that in the end you’ll opt for quality over quantity because you’ll come to prefer the fruits of your own labor to a couple of Sessions. For the beer drinkers, I recommend checking out The Complete Joy of Home Brewing and The Brewers Apprentice. If wine is more your thing, you can try The Home Winemaker’s Companion. For those of you who secretly harbor dreams of bootlegging and rum-running, you can try your hand at hooch with Making Pure Corn Whiskey. Please remember to brew, stomp, and moonshine responsibly.

Fly SoloSpend More Quality Time with the Kids

Dads of the world, my apologies, because it looks like the fun books for breaking this resolution are more geared towards the ladies. A quick stroll through our travel books turned up these gems:

Fly Solo: the 50 Best Places on Earth for a Girl to Travel Alone, by Teresa Rodriguez Williamson
Best Girlfriends Getaways Worldwide, by Marybeth Bond
Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips, by Lea Lane

Get Rid of that Old Junk in the Garage

But isn’t one man’s trash another man’s treasure? Are you really going to let that other man steal your carefully horded booty? Absolutely not! American Junk and This Old House Salvage-Style Projects may give you the inspiration you need to turn mom’s odd obsession with fancy antique doorknobs into a lucrative business making pretty coat racks.

Driveways, Paths and Patios

Keep the Lawn and Garden Tidy

Technically my recommendations here won’t break this resolution, but they will help you fulfill it a way that you might not have intended. It may be that you love a serene outdoor environment but the closest you’ve ever come to having a green thumb was the result of a misguided attempt to paint the Silvertips logo on your garage door. If that’s the case, you can design your outdoor space to look tidy while being relatively maintenance-free by exploring other options. Walks, Walls & Patio Floors and Driveways, Paths and Patios will tell you all you need to know about designing an attractive, zero-gardening landscape. If you can’t bear the thought of having a yard that isn’t lovely and green, consider going au naturel with the help of Beautiful No-Mow Yards, by Evelyn J. Hadden. This approach will require you to put in a fair amount of gardening effort at the beginning, but after a while you should have easy sailing.

Swear Less

If you find that your cuss jar is rapidly filling once again, it might be time to let go and embrace the fact that you have a potty mouth and you find swearing amusing. To help you along the way to self-acceptance, I recommend a couple foul-mouthed titles that are designed to make you laugh. The F**king Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel tells the sometimes true, sometimes fanciful, and completely inappropriate story of the 2011 mayoral election in Chicago. If they ever made an audio book out of this title, you wouldn’t want to listen to it with the kids around. Speaking of audio books – my other recommendation, Go the F**k to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortes, was just narrated by Samuel L. Jackson (the video is on YouTube – I recommend listening with earphones). I’m also happy to report that we carry ¡Duérmete, carajo!the Spanish-language adaptation of this recent best seller.

Machida Karate-Do

Manage Stress Better

Or just take up a contact sport to help let out your frustrations in a healthy way. I have never been very good at managing the different areas of life that cause me stress, so instead once or twice a week I go play ice hockey. Problem solved. So, if you need to get out some pent-up aggression, but you don’t have the budget to pick up an expensive team sport, consider some alternatives. May I suggest Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Taekwondo, or Mixed Martial Arts?

Step Away from the Internet

If you’re reading this post, you’ve already failed at this resolution. That’s all right, you can still learn to spend your time online doing something more productive. We have many great books on creating and marketing an online business, using social media to make money, and using the internet to help you find a better job. Here are just a handful of titles that can get you started:

Social Networking for Career Success, by Miriam Salpeter
Likeable Social Media, by Dave Kerpen
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Crowdsourcing, by Aliza Sherman
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Social Media Marketing, by Jennifer Abernathy

For those of you who are still sticking to you goals I salute you! Let me take this opportunity to remind you that the library also has books to assist you in leaving the rest of us in your dust. For my fellow magnificent failures out there, happy 2013, and have fun making lemonade out of your lemons.

Lisa

Feast for a Voyeur

In the spirit of giving thanks, breaking bread with friends and family, and cooking for the masses, library staff recently gathered around the table for a most delicious feast: a meal of literary delights.

What started out as a seasonal celebration for our Facebook page turned out to be one of the most creative and enjoyable projects I’ve worked on in recent memory.

All of this feasting, got me to thinking…

You may recall a post I did a couple of years back called Voyeuristic Literature. If you enjoyed peeking into the lives of others through their personal writings and forgotten grocery lists, you’ll really like what I have in store for you today. With my mind turning towards holiday parties and, inevitably, food, I give to you a plentiful peeper’s cornucopia, a feast for a voyeur.

Handwritten Recipes: a Bookseller’s Collection of Curious and Wonderful Recipes Forgotten Between the Pages by Michael Popek is exactly what it says it is in the title. Popek has found hundreds of handwritten recipes on cards, scraps of paper, even the backs of restaurant checks.

I feel like there are two great treasures preserved here. First, of course, are the handwritten recipes themselves. Both the penmanship and content of the recipes harken back to olden times, where my Grandmother worked full-time and still came home and put dinner on the table for her family. Recipes like eggs in a basket, sour milk biscuits, and orange kiss-me cake take me back to her kitchen where I first learned how to use a gas stove and the simple joy of eating raw almonds while stirring, kneading, or basting. 

On the other hand, there are definitely unrecognizable recipes as well. Dishes like rinktum tiddy, rice dainty, and chocolate porcupine make me think of someone getting into the rum before making the rum balls and waving a culinary wand to create such unrecognizable dishes. If urban foraging is considered culinary wizardry using only found ingredients, I propose we all start trying these old-fashioned, WTF recipes and call it wizardry using only found recipes.

But not to be overlooked are the books into which these recipes were actually wedged. The juxtaposing  of a recipe for pasta with artichokes, capers, and tomatoes found inside a 1969 edition of Dune: Messiah by Frank Herbert or a recipe for red pepper quiche inside a 1986 edition of It Came From Schenectady by Barry B. Longyear is, to me, the whole reason to become a fan of literary voyeurism.

Mainstream media has, for years, portrayed the cooks and chefs of America as somewhat plain individuals who are more concerned with proper garlic mincing techniques than the possibility of a Godzilla-like creature overtaking the Earth in the near future. Everyone is capable of pursuing whatever hobbies they like, even if these hobbies aren’t necessarily thought of as being complimentary. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that reading Science Fiction isn’t that far off from working with me in my kitchen. You just never know what the ending will ultimately be.

Come In, We’re Closed: an Invitation to Staff Meals at the World’s Best Restaurants by Christine Carroll and Jody Eddy is a different sort of window into someone else’s kitchen. Each chapter features a different restaurant and the meals the staff create for themselves after hours. Staff photos and pictures of the meal are interspersed with the recipes and stories from the staff and owners.

I was salivating to see what the people who spend their work shifts cooking for others would cook for themselves after closing time. It turns out that different restaurants cook different things—this didn’t surprise me. But what did surprise me is how easy to replicate some of these recipes truly are. That’s not to say all are simple, basic recipes—this is far from the truth. But if you’re looking to give yourself and your family a taste of haute cuisine you’re sure to find some gems in this tome.

Local restaurant The Herbfarm in Woodinville is featured in the middle of the book:

Fittingly, The Herbfarm’s family meal starts—and often ends—amidst the herbs. In fact, few staff meals here are ever created without the cooks first foraging in the quarter-acre of raised beds outside their back door. It is a time-worn tradition. Decades before the term “local” became a trendy restaurant catchphrase, The Herbfarm’s founders, Ron Zimmerman and Carrie Van Dyck, used the Seattle seasons to craft their menus and educate their customers. With a near fanatical devotion to the harvest—some have even referred to The Herbfarm’s style as “micro-seasonal”—the menus change bimonthly to accommodate local crops. Along with fruits and vegetables from their nearby four-acre farm, all the meals here are literally built from the ground up.

So, we know the restaurant changes its menu all the time. But we still get a sample after hours menu from the day the authors interviewed the staff on location. How does this sound to you? Whole herb vinaigrette with mixed greens, Iowa-style fried chicken, strawberry cake with orange and thyme biscuits, homemade tarragon and cherry soda. My stomach is rumbling and I just ate breakfast—sign me up.

While the joys of reading this book lie in the peek behind the scenes and after hours of some of the world’s most renowned restaurants, I am delighted to earn a bonus: learning about an amazing local restaurant. I can’t wait to try it out in person.

No matter how you spend your holidays, I truly hope you are fortunate enough to spend your time with people who appreciate you and your cooking. While I have plans to enjoy a wonderful evening with friends and their new baby at Thanksgiving and head home to family in St. Louis at Christmastime, I will always enjoy metaphorically (and sometimes literally) peeking through the window into the world of other people’s’ cooking. So keep your curtains closed!

Carol

Slow Cooking With Your Kindle

I’ve been exploring Everett Public’s Kindle holdings on Overdrive, which one can link to from our homepage. E-Readers have their detractors, but I enjoy the convenience of selecting a book at any hour of the day and being able to read it instantly. Also, it’s ideal for travel as it takes up almost no space in your carry on and you don’t run the risk of leaving your library book on the plane.

I recently purchased a slow cooker. It’s great because it doesn’t heat up the house or me on those hot summer days.

I wanted to expand my horizons beyond the cookbook that came with it, so I searched ‘slow cooker’ on Overdrive.  I found two titles: The Art of the Slow Cooker and The Everything Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook.

The Art of the Slow Cooker by Andrew Schloss has, as the title page says, ’80 Exciting New recipes’. Some of Schloss’ recipes will probably be a bit overwhelming for novice slow cooks. However, his creations are quite impressive. He takes slow cooking to a gourmet level, beyond tossing a bunch of ingredients into a pot and letting them cook all day. Most of the recipes are packed with ingredients and seem to be geared toward people who actually know how to cook, unlike myself. The recipes have prep times of between 5 and 45 minutes.

There are times when Schloss gets a bit pretentious. For example, his description of the ‘glory of curry’ in the recipe for Curried Vegetables and Dal: “The blend of aromas aerating your head and the cacophony of sensations titillating your throat are as complex as any food in existence.” I feel a bit light-headed after that description.

One dish I hope to try soon is a Corn Chowder with Jalapeno.  It is one of the easier dishes to prepare, with easily found ingredients. Apparently, the jalapeno is included to titillate rather than burn.  “Every bite should provide a tingle; every bowl should leave your lips with a characteristic jalapeno glow”, Schloss says.

The Art of the Slow Cooker is illustrated with photos of many of the dishes.  However, unless you have the Kindle Fire, which has a color display, you will see, for example, a rather unappetizing black and white photo of a bowl of corn chowder.

The Everything Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook by Rachel Rappaport is geared to a more general audience. It has 300 recipes for various occasions. The emphasis here seems to be on healthy meals with just a few minutes of prep time. Each recipe has nutritional information for a serving of that dish, something that The Art of the Slow Cooker lacked.

The book has 17 chapters including chapters with pork, beef, vegetarian, and vegan dishes. Chapter 6 covers one of my favorites, Chili.  There are 16 Chili recipes!

‘Secret Ingredient Beef Chili’ looks to be particularly delicious.  The ‘secret’ ingredient in the recipe is mango.  Rappaport says, “The mango melts into the chili and adds a fruity depth of flavor.”  The recipe serves 8 and it looks like a fairly nutritious dish with 200 calories per serving, just 3.5 grams of fat, sodium is 450 mg, carbs at 25 grams, 9 grams of fiber, and 19 grams of protein.

This book also has a chapter of breakfast recipes. With the slow cooker, one need never miss breakfast again. A number of the breakfast recipes in the book are started just before bed and are ready when you get up in the morning.

One of the best, in my opinion, is the ‘Ham and Egg Casserole’. It only has seven ingredients and can be ready for the slow cooker in about 5 minutes. One just pours a mixture of eggs, spices, cheddar cheese, chiles and ham into the cooker over two slices of sandwich bread. Set the cooker to low and cook for seven hours. When you wake up, breakfast is ready!  Just lift the casserole out of the cooker and slice it up on your cutting board. It serves six, and each serving has 140 calories and 11 grams of protein.

The Kindle won’t replace paper, but for convenience it can’t be beat. A search for cooking and food on Overdrive will bring up over twenty cookbooks. That’s a lot of books to carry out of the library, but with a Kindle or whatever eReader you might have, you can leave your book bag at home and carry those books with ease.

David