An Atlas of….

I’ve always been fascinated by atlases. So much so that if a book has the phrase ‘atlas of’ somewhere in the title my interest is instantly piqued. ‘The History of Paperclips’ sounds like a snooze fest. ‘An Atlas of Paperclips’ on the other hand just might be the ticket. If you haven’t looked at an atlas since high school and perhaps think of them as antiquated and stodgy, now is a great time to get back in the atlas game. You see long gone are the days when atlases simply depicted the geography of countries and continents. They have now branched out to cover a diverse number of really interesting topics. Still skeptical? Take a look at these new and on order titles here at the library and prepare to expand your definition of the atlas.

An Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist
In addition to having one of the greatest titles for an atlas that I’ve ever come across, this book is practically a work of art. Each map is die-cut out of the page and beautifully illustrated making this work more akin to an adult picture book than an atlas. Fascinating information about the history and claims to statehood of each country is included, however, making this work no fairy tale.

National Geographic Atlas of Beer
This is definitely an atlas with a singular theme and that theme is beer. Breaking down beers by country and region is the order of the day with graphs, charts and lots of detailed definitions that beer lovers are sure to appreciate. In addition, each geographical entry has a Beer Guide which points you to the best places to sample the suds of your dreams in each area.

Family Tree Historical Atlas of American Cities
Officially conceived as an aid to genealogical research, this atlas turns out to be much more. Maps for sixteen major American cities are produced in different historical periods so you can see how the cities changed over time and get a sense of the physical space the residents lived in. Though heavily east coast centric, with only San Francisco and Los Angeles representing the west, it is still a fascinating walk back through time.

The World Atlas of Street Fashion
Miles away from the world of haute couture, this atlas documents the clothes worn by everyday people trying to make a statement. Divided by continent, country and city you can learn about diverse clothing movements such as Modern Primitive, Normcore, Goth, Italo-Disco, K-Pop and many more. Particularly interesting is the way you can trace a style across continents, such as Punk, and see how it is interpreted by many different cultures.

Cinemaps: An Atlas of Great Movies
This unique and beautifully illustrated atlas creatively represents the plot lines and characters of key scenes in 35 beloved films. While a classic film or two is represented, including Metropolis and North by Northwest, most are thankfully on the popular side with maps for the likes of The Princess Bride, Back to the Future, several Star Wars and Star Trek incarnations, and even Shaun of the Dead. Each map is quite detailed so it is a help to have essays from film critic A.D. Jameson to help refresh your memory.

Lonely Planet’s Atlas of Adventure
Definitely not for the faint of heart, this atlas sets out to list the best places around the world for outdoor adventure. ‘Adventure’ can mean relatively benign activities such as hiking and biking, but also includes the rather terrifying, to this old man, activities of gorge scrambling, freeriding and skyrunning. With over 150 countries listed there is clearly plenty to do. Just be careful man.

So I hope this brief tour of new atlases has piqued your interest and shown you just how cool they can be. If not, I’m still fine with the label of atlas nerd. Though atlas aficionado does sound classier.

The Means of Production

Growing up, there was always one person on the block who made their own home brew. Usually it was something really appetizing like ‘wine’ made from cherries/dandelions/elderberries that you would be forced to taste, without making a gagging noise, when you visited their house. Nowadays, the creation of fermented beverages at home is no longer the purview of the neighborhood eccentric. In fact, the corporations are getting a run for their money with the masses producing a surprising number of formerly commercial products at home. Good evidence for this is the many books here at the library that will guide you through the process. Here is a just a sampling of the titles on offer.

Beer, Beer, Beer and Mead
The beer world has been decentralizing for years now with the advent of microbrewers and craft beers. Why not take it a step further and do some home brewing to create a truly unique and original elixir? While there is definitely a learning curve, brewing isn’t rocket science, so there is no reason not to give it a try.

Beer

We have several manuals for home brewing beer here at the library, but a good place to start is with Mastering Homebrew: The Complete Guide to Brewing Delicious Beer by Randy Mosher. Mosher lays out the basics of brewing at home, complete with colorful graphics and illustrations to help you through the process. Once you get the basics down, you will want to try out different recipes to get the perfect glass of suds. Craft Beer for the Homebrewer: Recipes from America’s Top Brewmasters by Michael Agnew and Make Some Beer: Small-Batch Recipes from Brooklyn to Bamburg by Erica Shea are both chock full of recipes to help you experiment. If you find the idea of brewing at home too time consuming, take a gander at Speed Brewing: Techniques and Recipes for Fast Fermenting Beers, Ciders, Meads and More by Mary Izett. Finally, if you want to get in touch with your inner Viking, sans the pillaging of monasteries one hopes, take a look at Make Mead Like a Viking by Jereme Zimmerman to learn all about this fermented honey-based brew.

In Vino Veritas
While wine and winemaking tends to have a lofty reputation, don’t let that scare you away from trying to make your own. Long before wine experts were declaring their favorite chardonnay ‘busy but never precocious’ the Roman plebs were quaffing the stuff by the amphora while cheering on their favorite charioteer. Why not throw caution to the wind and give it a try?

wine

While there is, of course, Home Winemaking for Dummies, you might want to start with First Steps in Winemaking: A Complete Month-by-Month Guide to Winemaking in Your Home by Cyrill Berry for a yearlong approach to winemaking. Once the basics are down, move on to The Home Winemaker’s Companion by Gene Spazani and Ed Halloran with more than 100 recipes for different types of wine and easy to understand diagrams. If you don’t have access to grapes or other fruits, Winemaking with Concentrates by Peter Duncan is for you. Using concentrates allows for the creation of small batches and a wide variety of types of wine. If you want to move on from winemaking as a hobby and take it to the next level, both the Winemaker’s Answer Book by Alison Crowe and From Vines to Wines: The Complete Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Your Own Wine by Jeff Cox will give you sage advice about selecting land, vines and equipment to get your wine vineyard up and running.

Teetotaler
While for many the whole point of brewing and fermenting at home is to produce beverages with alcohol, there are actually a surprising number of items that you can produce at home that are alcohol free. Cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, vinegar, and kimchi, to name but a few, are all products of fermentation and can be made at home. As always, the library has your back. Take a look at these books to get you started.

fermentation

Fermentation for Beginners and The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz are two great books to get you on the road to home fermentation with detailed instructions and easy to understand concepts. Once you have gotten the basics down, definitely check out Mastering Fermentation by Mary Karlin to hone your skills with more than 70 recipes including sourdough, vinegar and mustards. It is easy to think of vinegar as simply wine ‘gone bad’ but that is far from case as you will find out in the book The Artisanal Vinegar Maker’s Handbook.  Learn the ins and outs of vinegar fermentation, distillation, and infusion from the Austrian distillers Helge Schickl and Bettina Malle. Kombucha, a type of fermented tea, is gaining popularity but there is no need to buy it at the store. Instead check out The Big Book of Kombucha by Hannah Crum and Kombucha Revolution by Stephen Lee to learn how to make your own at home.

The means of production are now in your hands. Go forth and ferment!

Tackling Mixology

Summer is fast approaching, and the social calendar is already filling up. One of the things my husband and I enjoy most is hosting groups of friends at our place for dinners and parties. When we host get-togethers, I always gravitate towards the kitchen, while Dan plays mixologist. There’s something about mixing cocktails that has always spooked me by seeming a bit too precise. In order to get over this fear, I decided to hunt down some accessible books on how to make the perfect drink for the perfect party. Here’s my short list:

Cover image of DIY CocktailsDIY Cocktails: a Simple Guide to Creating your Own Signature Drink by Marcia Simmons and Jonas Halpren. This is one recipe book where it’s in your best interest to start at the beginning and read on through. I tend to pick up cookbooks and dive right into the middle, skipping all the intro materials, but the beginning of this book is extremely helpful in explaining the nature of cocktail recipes, the tools and measurements used, and how you can improvise. From there, the authors provide you with recipes for many classic and obscure drinks, as well as creative ways to personalize them to make them your own. This appeals to me because I tend to ‘riff’ on the dishes I like according to what I happen to have in the kitchen at the time; this book allows you to do the same with your liquor cabinet.

Cover image for The Punch BowlThe Punch Bowl: 75 Recipes Spanning Four Centuries of Wanton Revelry by Dan Searing. I was first attracted to this title because punch seems to work well when entertaining large groups of people. Upon closer inspection, I found that this book was actually 2 parts alcohol, 1 part history: a perfect ratio for a historian hostess. Early sections of this book are devoted to the history of punch, how old recipes are modernized, and information about antique punch-serving equipment. Liberally sprinkled through the book are lovely photos of punch bowls, service sets, goblets, and well-garnished drinks. The recipes themselves are a mix of very accessible drinks with common ingredients and impossible beverages with ingredient lists that seem unlikely to be filled unless you live in a major city or have a lot of time on your hands. I guess that’s understandable when you take into account the fact that the author includes beverages that were en vogue hundreds of years ago. Thankfully the former outweighs the latter and makes this book a worthwhile read.

Cover image for Cocktails for a CrowdCocktails for a Crowd by Kara Newman. This is essentially the light version of The Punch Bowl. Most of the cocktails listed in this book are designed to be served in pitchers or bowls to make life easier for hosts. Absent are the random obscure ingredients, unless they are simple items that you could make at home to enhance your recipe. In the front part of the book there is ample information about preparing garnishes, as well as infused bitters and syrups. This seems like an excellent pick for beginner mixologists who aren’t in the mood for a history lesson.

Cover image for Beer CocktailsBeer Cocktails by Howard and Ashley Stelzer. For those of you who haven’t been introduced to the world of beer cocktails, this a game-changer for casual get-togethers. The recipes in this book are a far cry from the beermosas and makeshift micheladas my friends and I would whip together using car camping ingredients on groggy Sunday mornings. Beer Cocktails is helpfully arranged by style of beer, so that you can start your experimenting with beers that already appeal to you.

Happy mixing – enjoy responsibly!