Snowpocalypse Reading List

Snowpocalypse. Oh thank goodness, the first two weeks of February are finally behind us. Yes, it actually happened. No, I didn’t enjoy it.* I mean, who would enjoy record-breaking snowfall in an area of the country not used to having snow accumulation at all, let alone several snowfalls piling up over such a short time?

*This is a lie. I completely enjoyed it to the very depths of my Midwestern soul! I didn’t enjoy having to call off work for the first two days since I couldn’t get out of my driveway, however. I mean, what self-respecting snow driver from Southern Illinois would I be if my pride didn’t hurt quite a bit admitting defeat like that?

The silver lining was the unexpected reading time that suddenly stretched out before me. Even though I had a ton of novels I picked up from a recent library conference, my mind was drawn to a few nonfiction books I had checked out from the library. These books became my Snowpocalypse reading list.

Hummingbirds: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species
When I woke up that first Monday morning to see the snow, I started freaking out about the Anna’s hummingbirds who hang out in my yard. Thank goodness I had spring on my mind the previous week and had checked out this comprehensive book about hummingbirds. What began as a curiosity to discover whether I could attract multiple species to my yard became a quest to keep my Anna’s alive. Page 335 declares this species status to be of least concern, but I knew locally our birds were in trouble. I practically memorized the section on feeding and trooped out back to wipe the snow off the one hanging feeder, also throwing seed down on clear patches for the seed-loving birds. Then I set to work making fresh nectar, filling two feeders, and rotating them out every few hours so the nectar wouldn’t freeze. One of my regular hummers buzzed me the first few times I did this, either out of appreciation or anger I couldn’t tell. But I did feel a little like Snow White the way the birds kept popping up in my yard so I choose to believe it was total appreciation.

Instant Pot Fast & Easy written by Urvashi Pitre with photographs by Ghazalle Badiozamani
There’s nothing quite like cold, dreary days to make me want something hot and filling to eat. Don’t worry–I’m not a French toaster. That’s something we Midwesterners call folks who stock up on milk, eggs, and bread anytime a snowflake appears in the forecast. But I did find myself with extra time and an extra empty belly from all the work I was doing in the yard for the birds. Enter food blogger and cookbook author Urvashi Pitre, whose blending of different cuisines was just what I needed. My favorite recipe I made was the deceptively simply titled Garlic Chicken. The mustard-based marinade and extra garlic in this recipe made my mouth water and my house smell amazing. This book is perfect for those times you can’t decide what type of food you’re craving. There is such a variety of recipes I’m sure you can find something for everyone.

No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien & Mollie West Duffy
Me: Why do you want this job?
Interviewee: I love reading and I would love to read all day like you do.
…crickets…
This was an actual conversation I had with someone I was interviewing for a job working the checkout desk at a small but very busy library. The myth of the aloof reader perpetuates library work, but the reality is that all day every day we library workers are moving from one task to the next, mostly interacting directly with real people. Customers, coworkers, and bosses alike–no one truly works alone. Good communication skills are the best tools to have in your tool belt, both at work and in your personal life. But the one thing most books about communication skip over are the emotions that each of us is walking around with all the time and how those can vary widely from person to person, hour to hour. That’s why when books like No Hard Feelings hit my radar I drop everything to read it cover-to-cover. With accessible language and helpful–and often humorous–illustrations, the authors break down the best ways to deal with both your emotions and those that surround you. Spoiler: you can’t make emotions go away or pretend they don’t exist, so don’t try. I was able to immediately try out some of the techniques at home, when the cabin fever hit my husband and me and our emotions were getting real. See? It’s not just another business book. The information can be applied to your whole life.

I was lucky to have entered the Snowpocalypse with a full slate of reading material whose information could immediately be used in activities to help keep animals alive and keep boredom at bay. Here are some of the ways I used what I learned. And while I can still hear the stacks of unread novels crying out to me, I know I did the right thing in reading nonfiction while trapped inside my house.

Warm Up with These Cookbooks

The days are getting shorter, the air is moving from crisp to cold, the furnace is kicking on more than I’d like to admit, and I’m staying inside as much as possible. It can be tempting to fall into the gloom of the season, but I’m one of those weirdos who loves the grey, rainy weather we get here in the winter. This is the time of year where I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, trying out new recipes and techniques as well as indulging in family favorites. There’s just something about walking into a warm house that smells like something amazing has been cooking for hours that makes me feel all cozy inside. If you want to bring some of that magic into your own home, I highly recommend giving these cookbooks a whirl.

First, let’s talk techniques. I will pull a good recipe from anywhere: cookbooks, the internet, a cooking show, calling my mom up and having her recite it for me to transcribe–I will go anywhere for a good recipe! However, if I’m trying a new technique I always have questions. Luckily the geniuses at America’s Test Kitchen have put their heads together and published Kitchen Smarts: Questions and Answers to Boost Your Cooking IQ. I absolutely love how the book is laid out. There are two tables of contents. One breaks it down by ingredient/theme: baking, meat, herbs, etc. The other spells out the topics by chef problem: kitchen mythbusters, substitutions, confidence, science, and even a pronunciation guide so you don’t sound like a n00b when you discuss your new skills over dinner. Whether you’re just dabbling in cooking for the first time or you’re already a seasoned chef, you’ll want to ensure this book is as easily accessible as your pepper mill.


Now, on to the cookbooks! I can tell right away that The Winter Table by Lisa Lemke is going to become my go-to for cold weather comfort food. Easy to understand directions and beautiful photography make this one of those rare cookbooks you might be tempted to read cover-to-cover (I know I was!). There are lots of soups, casseroles, one pot meals, and other easy to prepare dishes perfect for long winter evenings. And if you’re looking to try your hand at make-ahead freezer cooking, check out Jane Butel’s Freezer Cookbook. This is an update to her classic cookbook that lead the charge for make-ahead chefs everywhere. What the book lacks in photographs it more than makes up for in quality recipes with instructions that are easy to follow. Freezer meals are great solutions for when you have time only sporadically to prepare meals but can still have something delicious and home-cooked whenever you need it.


If pressure cookers are more your thing, I have books for those, too! Dinner In an Instant by Melissa Clark features thorough recipes for everything from cheeses and yogurt (yes, homemade yogurt is A Thing!), to risotto and even mint crème brûlée. My engineer husband loves making crème brûlée, mainly because he loves the taste but also so he can torch it at the end with literal fire. Then we have The Art of Great Cooking with Your Instant Pot by Emily Sunwell-Vidaurri. Unlike most pressure cooker cookbooks, this one has photographs for every single recipe. When you’re trying something new in the kitchen it’s so helpful to have photographs to guide you during preparation. I’m already drooling over the breakfast recipes in this book, especially the Sausage & Gouda Breakfast Pudding (page 146).


If all else fails it’s time to bring out our old, trusted friend: the slow cooker. It’s difficult to argue that you don’t have time to cook when cooking can mean dumping ingredients into a machine, hitting a button, going to work, and coming home to dinner that’s waiting for you! Here are just a few of the new slow cooker cookbooks that you can try this winter:
Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook (revised & updated) by Phyllis Good
No-Prep Slow Cooker by Chrissy Taylor
The Complete Slow Cooker by America’s Test Kitchen
Fix-It and Forget-It Holiday Favorites by Hope Comerford
Stock the Crock by Phyllis Good

Whether I’m prepping for a holiday get-together or just trying to mix it up mid-week, these cookbooks have just what I need to see myself through these long winter nights. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s some chopping to be done and that butter knife isn’t going to lick itself.

Julie Does Some Cast-Iron Cooking

Enjoy this review, complete with an example of her excellent cooking, from Julie for the book:

The Cast-Iron Pies Cookbook by Dominique Devito

I usually only use my cast iron for searing steaks, but this cookbook changed all that. I made the Spinach Sun-Dried Tomato Quiche and it is delicious! I was nervous about it sticking to my pan, but it came out perfectly and did not ruin the pan. I will have to check this book out again, especially now that it is farmers’ market season.

Cook Without a Book: Meatless Meals

cookwithoutHmmm…. I wanted to write a review that isn’t a review for the cookbook Cook Without a Book: Meatless Meals by Pam Anderson. But any comments I write would be reviewing the book, so that doesn’t work! The principle behind the book is to show you that once you master a cooking formula, you open up a world of variations to help you break free of “cooking BY the book.” The recipes in the book are actually just a suggestion for ingredients and amounts, and you can add or subtract ingredients to accommodate your own tastes. Learn the technique for the item, be it soup, frittata, hash or quiche (just to name a few!), and you can whip up any of these later without dragging out a cook book!

Eating History

If you want to live, you gotta eat. A pretty basic truth and one we tend to take for granted. While gourmands argue about what wine to pair with what fish and health gurus debate the merits of protein vs carbs, a lot of the interesting questions about food go unanswered: Why do we eat what we eat? Why do certain peoples and regions eat different things? What the heck is a ‘square meal’ and where did it come from? Luckily, if you want to find answers to these questions and more, the Everett Public Library is the place to be. There are actually a large number of works on the history of food and eating that are fascinating and help you appreciate this seemingly basic human need. Read on for a few choice examples.

EH1

A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell
Taking a pleasingly micro approach to the history of food, Sitwell lays out a fascinating chronology, based on actual recipes, that demonstrates the evolution of food preparation and our eating habits. Everything from Ancient Egyptian bread (1958-1913 BCE), Dried Fish (800 AD), Soufflé (1816) and Rice Krispies Treats (1941) are covered. Far from just a collection of eccentric dishes, however, this work is full of interesting insights into why and what we eat.

Consider the Fork: a History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
Instead of focusing on the food itself, this work tracks the history of cooking through the technologies used to create the dishes we eat. While we tend to take for granted many seemingly simple kitchen implements (like the knife, the rice cooker and the egg timer) Wilson describes the surprisingly complicated and significant histories behind them.

Sweet Invention: a History of Dessert by Michael Krondl
Whether you believe dessert is the last part of a meal or a meal in itself, this book will prove entertaining and informative reading. Part history and part travelogue, Krondl travels the globe talking with confectioners and examining the dessert traditions of different cultures and countries and how they evolved over time.

British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History by Colin Spencer
One of the most vilified cuisines deserves an extraordinary and entertaining history; Spencer does not disappoint in this engaging work. The ups, yes there were ups, and downs of Britain’s food reputation are lovingly cataloged. Interestingly, the author charts the most recent downturn to the Victorian period when raw food was frowned upon and every foodstuff imaginable was boiled.

EH2

Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal by Abigail Carroll
More than a history of breakfast, lunch, and dinner in America, Carroll traces the evolution of eating habits in the United States from the colonial era to the present day. As with much U.S. history, the one constant appears to be change itself. The biggest change turns out to be the industrial revolution and its regularization of the workday, leaving dinner as the only time available for a proper sit down meal with the family.

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Love and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen
A fascinating memoir and history told through classic Soviet dishes. The author was raised in a communal apartment with 18 other people and one kitchen before immigrating to the United States with her mother in the 1970s. Now the author of several international cookbooks, this is the tale of her upbringing and the food so closely associated with it.

Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding
Part travel guide and part food history, this book explores the deep and complicated food culture of Japan. Goulding travels throughout the country visiting the many different restaurants (including ramen, tempura, soba and sushi shops) exploring the food and history of each. The author is also not shy about giving recommendations of which restaurants to go to and which to avoid.

Dining with the Famous and Infamous by Fiona Ross
Taking food history to a personal level, Ross sets out to discover the eating habits of many interesting contemporary and historical figures. From George Orwell to Marilyn Monroe, the individual eating habits of the great and no so great are explored. This collection of food voyeurism is a guilty pleasure but impossible to ignore.

I hope you have enjoyed this small sampling of the many great works available on food, dinning and their history here at the library. Reading might actually burn calories so no need to worry about overindulgence.

641.84: A Tale of Two Burgers

pornburger

I. Love. Burgers.

At any given moment I would like nothing more than to sink my teeth into a couple of juicy, almost sizzling patties smothered in cheese, grilled onions, and topped with a slice of tomato and crispy thin bacon. I think Jimmy Buffet said it best:

I like mine with lettuce and tomato
Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes
Big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer
Well, good God Almighty which way do I steer?!
Apparently you steer toward the actual Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant in one of seven states (sadly, not Washington…yet).

So it should come as no surprise that two recently acquired cookbooks have sent my heart into a tizzy, not just because of all the cholesterol it’s now anticipating.

Pornburger: Hot Buns and Juicy Beefcakes by Mathew Ramsey is not just the winner for ‘Best Title of the Year’ in my mental book awards. It’s a mouthwatering cookbook perfect for summer evenings spent around the grill. I literally salivate every time I open the book. This cannot be stressed enough. Do not read this book on an empty stomach. You have been warned.

Glad we got that out of the way! Pornburger has some incredible basic and not-so-basic burger recipes to satisfy both your burger cravings and your need to create something magical in the kitchen. Ramsey calls the book “an ingredient-driven Choose Your Own Adventure-style experiment, where all roads lead into the mouth of burger madness.” And it’s true! You are the boss of your own burger recipe. You can mix and match sauces, condiments, veggies, pickles, buns, etc.

You’re not limited to just ground beef patties either. Venison, pork, lamb, chicken (ground or fried–yes, fried chicken!) or even lobster can be your main attraction. There’s even a great recipe for a veggie burger that looks so much better than those sad frozen pucks you buy in a box.

And don’t stop there! Make your own pickles and condiments and wow the pants off of your dinner party (not literally–though, whatever floats your boat). Some examples include mustard caviar, pumpkin aioli, bacon jam, relish, and even bacon peanut butter. Why I haven’t made that last one yet is obviously a major oversight on my part. There are also recipes to make your own buns and breads, as well as sides and drinks sure to compliment your creations.

But wait, there’s more! While Pornburger is everything I’ve ever wanted in a burger cookbook, I’m also a rabid fan of the TV show Bob’s Burgers which just recently aired their 100th episode. Since the first episode was broadcast, my friend and colleague Jennifer was on my case to watch that show. “You’re going to love it!” was a phrase I heard until my ears bled. Like a fool I resisted until about season 3. She convinced me to give it one episode and if I didn’t love it, she’d never mention it again.

Reader, I loved it to pieces.

If you’re not familiar, Bob’s Burgers is both the name of an animated TV show and the name of the burger restaurant featured in the show. The Belcher family runs this small burger joint in a small seaside community on the East Coast.

Smash-cut to two years later and the world has been gifted with the publication of The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers. For those in the know, Bob keeps a daily burger board behind the counter. Each day on the show the burger of the day changes, and there’s usually a dad pun involved in the name. Well, the geniuses at Fox decided that they should take all those pun-burgers and turn them into actual recipes.

bobs burgers with beefsquatch

What better way to introduce this cookbook than to replicate the Beefsquatch episode (season 2, episode 9)? Bob gets cast as a TV chef on a local morning show, and Gene steals the show as the burger-mad Beefsquatch. The recipe for that episode’s Bruschetta ‘Bout It burger is on page 25.

I know what you’re thinking. The pun burgers on Bob’s Burgers are so simple, why would I need a recipe to create them at home? I see where you’re going but I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. Or, just not right. Not only do the recipes go into greater detail than Bob’s burger board could ever hope to go, the recipes are actually funny to read.

Here’s a great example. It’s the Don’t You Four Cheddar ‘Bout Me Burger from the episode Linda-Pendent Woman (season 3, episode 13). Behold the description ahead of the ingredient list:

How many cheddars are too many in a burger? Science doesn’t know yet. This burger handles four safely and deliciously. The all-beef patty is stuffed with two different cheddars, cooked in bacon fat, and then topped with two other completely different cheddars. Throw some crispy bacon on it along with lettuce and onions, and call it a beautiful, fantastic, cheesy day.

The recipes are all peppered with Bob’s humor in this way. Fans of the show will recognize the way he drops those dad puns and how sometimes he even goes back to emphasize them, in a ‘see what I did there?’ sort of way. Reading this in Bob’s voice adds another layer of hilarity to the process.

You vegetarians will enjoy the veggie burger recipes inside. I have been pleasantly surprised to find veggie-tastic recipes in both of these burger books, and I hope you’ll find something you enjoy making and love to eat.

So there you have it: a porn burger and a pun burger. Not only do these cookbooks provide mouthwatering hunks of deliciousness, they’re also some of the few cookbooks I’ve run across that are actually a joy to read cover-to-cover. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a grill that’s begging for my attention. I just need to put a DVD in first and tilt the speakers toward the sliding door.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Valentine’s Day

my love-hate relationship with valentines day

When I was a little girl, Valentine’s Day was a special time. The green and grey corridors of my school would be awash in reds, pinks, and whites. It was an intense pop of color among all the grey plaid jumpers the girls wore and blue shirts and pants the boys wore. The teacher would lead us in crafting a box where classmates would dutifully deliver Valentines designed with She-Ra, He-Man, Rainbow Brite, or G.I. Joe. It was fun to pick out what I’d give my classmates, and even more fun to read through them all at the end of the day and see if I could read anything into the one I got from my secret crush.

Oh, to be 8 again!

As I grew older, the appeal of the day lost its luster. Don’t get me wrong: I still enjoyed putting out Red Hots candies and Sweetarts, but it seemed that there was a ton of pressure on adults to get it right, and it all boiled down to the bottom line. How much money did you spend on your honey? Did you upend both of your lives for the entire day to make ‘A Grand Gesture?’ No? Well, then you’re obviously not in love like you thought.

Ahem. BS!

All of these feelings were reaffirmed when I met the man whom I now call my husband. “Valentine’s Day is just a commercial holiday manufactured to sell greeting cards, flowers, and chocolates,” he said as he handed me all three of those things on our first Valentine’s Day together. In a bold move that later solidified our mutual affection and everlasting bond, I asked why he bought me stuff if he thought it was all bull. He did it all because it was expected. Once we compared notes and realized we both would rather celebrate milestone dates in our relationship (first date, wedding anniversary, etc.) we ditched the Valentines and never looked back.

Whether you’re like my husband and me and eschew this holiday, or if you count down the days until you can surprise your honey with the biggest box of chocolates imaginable, I have some books that will appeal to your Valentines sensibilities.

be mine sally j shimBe Mine
by Sally J. Shim
Guys, you really need to stop buying us ladies those giant red heart boxes of assorted chocolates. They’re never as good as we think they’ll be, and there’s always at least one variety that makes us gag. Why not make something instead? From adorable greeting cards to eye-catching garlands, this book will become your go-to resource for everything Valentine’s Day. Your sweetie will be impressed and amazed when you present him/her with an in-your-face pop-up card or a personalized message in a (tiny) bottle, complete with confetti hearts and an honest-to-goodness cork sealing the deal. The supplies are easy to acquire (you crafty people may already have a lot of them already) and the instructions are clear and easy to read. Just a little bit of time with some scissors and glue will impress your Valentine more than some random card you grabbed at the market on the way home from work. The thoughtfulness and effort you put into any of these projects will show your love in a way a store-bought something can’t.

one pan two plates carla snyderOne Pan, Two Plates by Carla Snyder
Sure, for Valentine’s Day you could make a reservation at a favorite restaurant, and wait before and throughout the meal for your food to arrive because you are eating out on one of the busiest nights in the restaurant industry. It’ll probably cost a pretty penny (more, if you’re going the valet route with the car) and depending on where you go, the atmosphere might not be quite as intimate as you’d hoped. Instead, why not cook at home? You can cook together, which is an activity that can actually be fun and bring you closer together. Or you can surprise your lovey with a home-cooked meal that will be just the perfect amount for the two of you. Most, if not all, of the recipes in One Pan, Two Plates are so quick and easy to make you’ll probably want to keep making these recipes all year long. All recipes include a beverage pairing and ways to make the meal more filling. Sauteed pork chops with sweet potato, apple, and mustard sauce is tart and flavorful and takes 40 minutes. Balsamic turkey with artichokes and eggplant caponata marries some really complex flavors and is ready in just 30 minutes. You get the idea. So tie on that apron and get cooking!

tinder nightmares unspirationalTinder Nightmares
In the grand tradition of Richard Benson’s F in Exams and F This Test comes Tinder Nightmares. Benson compiled some of the most outrageous and ridiculous answers college students used on tests and exams. Now the infamous Unspirational shows us the absolutely absurd side to the dating app Tinder. I mean, assuming there’s a side to Tinder that isn’t absurd. Granted, I’ve never had the need to swipe right since I was married years before Tinder was invented. But it doesn’t take a seasoned Tinder user to appreciate the cluster of stupid in this book. It’s full of bad pickup lines like “Hey, did you fall from the sky? Cuz you look like a dead bird.” You’ll also find bizarre date ideas like “I would take you on a date to Popeye’s for some light appetizers. Then, I would bring you back to my place for some TV dinners, grape soda, and two hours straight of Full House!” I like to think these are trolling texts, but I’ve met enough people to know that sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

This year I decided we shouldn’t let Valentine’s Day slip by unnoticed. That’s why my husband and I have plans to see the Deadpool movie on February 14th. We’re going to pig out on movie theater popcorn and puns courtesy of Mr. Sir Deadpool, Esq. Then we’re going to go back to our place for a jointly-prepared, mutually agreed upon home cooked meal, and we’ll follow it up with binge-watching old episodes of The League. Because that’s what romance means to me. ❤