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.