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Archive for the ‘How-to’ Category

SouthernHerbGrowingI have tried gardening on several continents with many climates and soil types. I soon learned that a plant that grows well in one place may get resentful and sulk — or outright die— in another. That is why gardening books that address local conditions are spectacularly useful. Here in southeastern Virginia we are well served by Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way: 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardener, by Wesley Greene. When I was starting to grow herbs I was looking for a book about a particular type of plant rather than tightly focused on one place, and Southern Herb Growing has turned out to be a wonderful resource to help me with our hot and humid conditions.

The author Madalene Hill was  the national president of the Herb Society of America in the 1980s and her expertise shines through. The first part of the book is called “A Herbal Primer” and covers getting started with sections on soil, mulch and propagation. A large part of it is given over to design ideas including historical knot gardens and theme gardens. The before and after photos can be a little discouraging because the full, tangled cottage-garden look that I crave may take five years to grow. I guess I just have to be patient and wait for my two inch tall sprigs of rosemary to become bushes! And for those readers who can only dream of the space to grow a proper garden, the book includes container gardening (which herbs are well suited to).

Around half the book is the “Growing Guide” with hundreds of herbs listed alphabetically with advice for growing them in the hot, humid South, the herbs’ historical uses and significance, and their modern culinary and medicinal uses. Each listing has the scientific genus and species names, as well as alternate names, so from from Acanthus to Yarrow you should be able to find almost any rare or common herb you are interested in.

Southern Herb Growing is a great book for all gardeners, especially if you want prosaic advice poetically put such as “Basils go home to their fathers at the first sign of cold nights in the fall.” It includes hundreds of beautiful photographs of herb gardens growing throughout the South, so try it whether you are able to immediately use their advice to improve your current garden or look at the lovely pictures and dream…

Check the WRL catalog for Southern Herb Growing.

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somenerveSome Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave is part self-help and part memoir and a pleasure to read. Patty Anker was fast approaching forty when she realized that she said “no” to a lot of new experiences. She didn’t say “no” because she wasn’t interested, it was because she was afraid. Not wanting to leave a legacy to her daughters of not trying new things due to fear, she took up the gauntlet to approach her fears head on. Patty learns to swim, ride a bike, and surf but she also helps her friends tackle their fears of heights and driving too.

This is not a book about surviving big fears like being lost at sea or in the desert or being buried alive. It is a story about tackling the “little” and “common” fears that can have a significant impact on our quality of life and often prevent us from enjoying some of the simple pleasures in the world, such as going to the beach or enjoying the view from above or taking a drive just because you can.

With humor and grace Patty shares her own fears and insecurities interwoven with research and interviews by psychologists, clergy, and authors. She illustrates through her own story and others how tackling fears can make life more vibrant. The confidence gained by approaching fear head on often transfers to other aspects of life. Once you’ve read Some Nerve, you’ll recognize the courage it takes to tackle the small jobs and that the rewards are great, even if you “fail.”

Check the WRL catalog for Some Nerve

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VegetableGardeningIf you are able to make the trip to Colonial Williamsburg (and do pop in and visit us at the Williamsburg Library if you do!) you will notice the beautiful gardens. Like everything in Colonial Williamsburg, they strive to make the gardens authentic to colonial times, which means lots of cottage vegetable gardens grown in old-fashioned organic ways. Whether you can visit us or not Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way is a great book for both gardeners and history buffs.

For gardeners Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way offers a wealth of practical advice and techniques, as the author points out, “many gardening tasks have spanned the centuries relatively unchanged”. Coaxing food from the earth has always required the same patience, diligence and skill.

The historically minded can learn about the past of vegetables, for example did you know that “The onion and its relatives–leeks, shallots, garlic, and chives–are among the most ancient and important vegetables known to humankind”? More practically for a modern gardener, it lists varieties of seeds used in 18th-century Virginia and if they are now unobtainable, it lists Heirloom substitutes. To learn how to make their gardens authentic, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation turned to gardening books written hundreds of years ago like Philip Miller’s The Gardener’s Dictionary from the 1750s. Information found in these works had to be adapted to suit local conditions, such as the heat in Virginia summers.

Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way is filled with stunning crisp photographs, both decorative images of bountiful garden produce and many showing gardening techniques. As a bonus, spot the colonial Williamsburg staff in their costumes as they work in the gardens – terribly hot in the summer in coastal Virginia’s hot and humid climate!

This book is an obvious choice for gardeners, especially those interested in organic vegetable production. It will also fascinate history buffs with its wealth of information about how people lived and grew their own food over two hundred years ago. If you are a local resident be sure to pop into the library and check out our signed copy.

Check the WRL catalog for Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way.

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Vegan and locavore enthusiast Jae Steele aims to educate us about food’s origins—that is, how far it might have traveled to reach your local grocery market. She wants to equip us with the know-how to minimize our impact on the planet and its inhabitants when shopping for plant-based food locally.

First, and foremost, she clearly values and encourages the infusion of fun and joy into your lifestyle, wherever you live. In her book, I finally met a vegan who acknowledges that there are eaters who just don’t like each and every vegetable—no force feeding here! You’ve only gotta eat foods you like.

It’s not enjoyable if you’re feeling shamed or guilted into it, so let’s focus on doing the best we can—and doing it joyfully.

Packed with useful information, Jae becomes an irresistible friend motivating you to thoughtfully plan weekly meals and seasonal produce shopping, and she makes it all so fun! Learn how to explore a variety of veggies and fruits seasonally. You already knew that folks are asking questions at the farmer’s market, but if you’re feeling tongue-tied, Jae will arm you with the knowledge to get out there and get to know your food and the farmers who grow it more intimately. She includes great details for creating an indoor composting system using red wriggler worms, which I seriously might try, because I’m not quite ready to garden beyond my deck and in pots, let alone start tilling the yard.

Recipes are supplemented with fact-filled charts on individual plants’ versatile uses and health benefits. Woven into Jae’s very clear instructions are tips that most cookbook authors fail to provide such as a thoughtful hint to zest the lemon before you slice into it for juicing—I tried to get the zest from an already-squeezed lemon once and have the scars to prove it!

Check the WRL catalog for Ripe from Around Here.

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Here, in the middle of the week, I’d like to address you middle-of-the-roaders about a book that ensures that veganism is not only for celebrities, that you mustn’t wait until you’re making big bucks to take the vegan plunge.

Victoria Moran gently instructs in the ways of being vegan, without judgment, without scolding those who claim to be vegans who eat fish (you either are or you aren’t a person who doesn’t eat animals), with only a subtle amount of coercion through the storytelling she feels obligated to impart, as a witness to the deaths of animals at slaughter and the horrific conditions of the dairy, poultry, pork, and other animal product industries. Some may have heard it all before—a lot of shocking videos circulate the internet—but for those of you who’ve been oblivious to this media outrage, her essays may cause you to pause before you order that next chicken sandwich.

Even if you’re already convinced that vegan is best, you feel handicapped by the outrageous price difference between organic, locally grown produce at the trendy farmers’ markets and the genetically modified, pesticide-coated, homogenous assortment in your supermarket and discount store grocery aisles! What to do???

Forty brief chapters with facts, personal stories, and guidelines introducing you to vegan concepts and cooking techniques each conclude with a recipe. It’s meant to make plant-based cuisine possible for every kind of eater with any kind of income, not just the elite many of us believe are the only folks who can actually afford to live a vegan, organic, eco-conscious, locavore’s lifestyle. Basically, the book is for those of us who live “main street” lives, not “Fifth Avenue” existences. Moran addresses the fact that wherever you are with these goals, it’s okay; you don’t have to do everything perfectly from the beginning.  Our heartstrings are often pulled by myriad causes. She nudges us in the most compassionate direction, and seems to want us to prioritize minimal impact on the animal world above concerns for our individual health if we truly wanna go vegan—are we okay with that? She challenges us to think about such things as we progress.

But you can only do what you can do, especially if you’re raising a family, and stretching paychecks has become an acrobatic feat.


For example, though we are encouraged to support the organic movement, which she says will become more affordable as demand increases (put your money where your mouth is), she’s realistic about such dilemmas as eating organic all the time being terribly more expensive. She helpfully elucidates a “dirty dozen” list of produce to avoid if not organic and a “clean 15″ list of more economical fruits and vegetables you can buy without worrying over the lack of an organic label (sourced from Environmental Working Group).

A very comprehensive collection of appendices provide additional resources and bibliographies for those who want to take things to the next level, from where to go online for further research to where to buy your clothes, shoes, and household cleaning supplies without harming animals. This book is worth picking up even if it’s just for the to-die-for-yet-guiltless Chocolate Mousse recipe—putting together the unexpected ingredients required a leap of faith but I was astounded by the results.

Check the WRL catalog for Main Street Vegan.

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jacket.aspxPersonal chef to Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, Roberto trained as a master chef, not a master vegan chef! He learned to substitute meatless ingredients in his first week of employment with the celebrity couple who’d gone vegan. All I’m thinkin’ is: not vegan, doesn’t cook vegan, Ellen and Portia determined to live vegan, Roberto must have been spectacular in their eyes (and his references’) despite a lack of experience! I imagine a shortage of truly vegan chefs at this point in culinary history, so I suppose a truly fine chef can adapt. The proof is in the… truly tasty dishes you can create with his cookbook. Perhaps your favorite will be Red Beans and Rice—it’s Ellen’s—served each Monday.

Packed with “meaty” and “cheesy” recipes substituting vegan ingredients while aiming for equivalent texture and taste, vegans with a fond taste for burgers, quesadillas, pizza, pasta, and pork will find much to love. Now, in my household, in addition to trying to please the meat-lovers in my family with plant-based no-meat-or-dairy recipes, I’m avoiding refined sugars plus seeking real, cleaner food. And while some of the commercial ingredients need scrutiny, Roberto’s ingredients are fairly easy to identify, making vegan cooking more convenient for us busy folks. The “Breakfast” section delighted me by using no sugar other than natural fruits, Agave nectar, and pure maple syrup. Folks, it seems to me that going vegan shouldn’t equal loading up on sugar daily! “Desserts” will satisfy those who desire to live it up occasionally with such treats as the incredibly simple Pumpkin Pie and fiercely scrumptious chocolate cake, Vegan la Bête Noire (The Black Beast).

Very useful is the section “Condiments, Sauces, and Dressings,” recipes that should adequately substitute for some of the staple ingredients of meat-milk-and-cheese-eating culture, including cream cheese spread (using cashews, tofu, and savory seasonings), sweetened condensed nondairy milk with cornstarch, sugar, almond milk, and vanilla (used in “Desserts”), and a very passable Caesar Dressing with no eggs, anchovies, or cheese. I’d been looking for better natural salad dressings made without sugar or corn syrup and Roberto provides a variety.

This is a handsome book—well, Roberto’s on the cover, so that was easy—with color photos of real food, not fancy or over-garnished—how real [vegan] celebrities might eat on ordinary days in the privacy of their homes! Plus, this book helps you feed the true carnivores at your table without sacrificing your vegan principles. The text addresses ordinary cooks who love good food, family time, and entertaining. I absolutely love it when nearly all recipes are complemented with visuals to aid those of us without a personal chef. There are sweet photos of Roberto, his wife, and their son cooking together. Ellen wrote a nice afterword for their chef’s book and features him on her television show. Portia’s story told in the foreword brought tears to my eyes and may convert many a carnivore to veganism.

Search the WRL catalog for Vegan Cooking for Carnivores.

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Nothing speaks teatime more than freshly baked scones, slathered with strawberry jam, and topped with cream.

RoyalTeas

In my world real scones are plain and stodgy objects which I learned to bake a long time ago, first at Brownies and then as “quick breads” in Cooking class at Intermediate School. When I have made them ever since, I used my Grandmother’s ancient and annotated Edmonds Cookery Book. In the antediluvian antipodes I learned that, as the name quick breads suggests, they are meant to replace bread in a meal, not something sweet, so they are mostly flour and milk and never have eggs. But I am game to try most things once (especially if it involves baking), so tradition be hanged, I exactly followed the Basic Scones recipe from Royal Teas with Grace and Style.  These were not my grandmother’s scones, but light, airy, with cranberries and a crunchy sugary top–they were well worth making (and consuming!)

Author Eileen Shafer has run teashops and tea tours for many years and it shows in this engaging idea, etiquette and recipe book. Almost half the book is hints and advice for making the perfect elegant tea party, and with chapter headings like “Setting a Beautiful Table” and “Creating an Inviting Atmosphere” there is a lot to work with. It is full of exquisite photographs of table settings, tea sets, dignified rooms and (my favorite) food. Eileen Shafer lives part of the year in Williamsburg and the book is part of Williamsburg Regional Library’s Local Author Project.

Royal Teas with Grace and Style has smaller selection of savory tea time recipes such as sandwiches, but comes into its own with a great selection of cakes, cookies and slices. I got carried away one day and made so many cookies and cakes that the chocolate cake didn’t get eaten (unusual in my teenager-filled household). The book gives the splendid idea of using the left over chocolate pound cake to make trifle, but the recipe for trifle calling for cool whip and instant pudding didn’t sound nearly so splendid. This time I stuck with tradition and used whipped cream and custard from imported custard powder for a scrumptious trifle. I also made the lemon drop cookies and they were mouthwatering – strongly lemon flavored and slightly astringent. I like lemon flavor with other flavors so I had the idea of rolling the dough out with a batch of chocolate cookie dough to make lemon and chocolate swirl cookies, with triumphant results.

Try Royal Teas with Grace and Style for great recipes and wonderful ideas about stylish teas. My colleague Janet wrote a lovely review of Eating Royally, by Darren McGrady in 2012, which features how the British Royals really eat. Royal Teas with Grace and Style may not have the British authenticity of Eating Royally but it has plenty to inspire fans of baking and fans of elegant tea parties.

Check the WRL catalog for Royal Teas with Grace and Style.

sconesLemonCookies

And here are some of the lemon cookies and scones that I made.

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geekI saw a pin about this book on my iPad, so in between watching Dr. Who and rereading Jane Austen, I paused my knitting to read Geek Girls Unite by Leslie Simon.

After a brief introduction where she argues, “Geek is the new cool,” Simon  breaks down girl geekdom into several categories: Fangirl, Literary, Film, Music, Funny-Girl, Domestic Goddess, and Miscellaneous Geek.

Each chapter highlights broad characteristics of the category of geekdom with a brief history, quizzes to assess your geekiness, short bios of important figures (called Geek Goddesses), and must-see websites and books/films/television shows/music to be a true master of your passion.

For the geek wannabe, it gives a great starting point to understanding the canon of the geekdom.  For those that are already immersed, it’s a fun way to compare what you know with Simon’s research.

There’s also a very funny section on “Frenemies” – a brief list of characteristics to watch out for that identify the posers against the true geeks.  You’ll want to make sure you aren’t making any of these faux pas!

This book came out in 2011, so I’m a little worried that as years go by, the references will be less timely, and the links to other resources will stop working. I hope Simon is working on updating the book…

Whether you read it from cover to cover, or just dip into your favorite obsession, embrace your geekiness and read this book, I think you’ll walk away with a good feeling.

Check the WRL catalog for Geek Girls Unite

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CrazyAboutPiesFor me, a pie is an object about which there is much to be crazy. Or perhaps that is not quite right, as pies are not “objects,” rather they are as manna contained within their own plane of being. To me, this isn’t so much a cookbook as a blueprint towards a better life.

Metaphysics aside, this is a great book that makes me hungry just looking at the pictures. It is beautifully illustrated with glowing photographs of creations that I know I could never bake as perfectly. The author, Krystina Castella, is an industrial designer as well as a successful cookbook writer, so it is not surprising that her pies are visually stunning. Crazy About Pies even has a section on “The Pie Decorator’s Tool Kit” although decorating pies is not something that had previously occurred to me beyond cutting out some leaves and an apple from left-over pastry or poking the vent holes in the shape of an “A.” Whether or not I would ever get around to putting a marzipan butterfly or a fondant blackbird on a pie, it is still lovely to look and dream…

Over the years I have perfected my one apple pie recipe to exactly how I like it, so I thought I would try something savory in the form of Bacon and Egg Pocket Pies. They took an unexpectedly long time to make, but the results were fabulously rich and incredibly yummy. Mixing little bits of bacon into pastry is not something that ever occurred to me before, but it worked out to be such a splendid idea, that I will have to try it again (but maybe not with apple pie). I managed to sneak one out of the fridge before my ravening hoards of teenagers pillaged them and (once warmed in the microwave), my colleagues agreed that they were just what we needed for breakfast.

For the sweet pies I am not sure whether to go with Mocha Pie or Cheesecake Pie with Marzipan Butterflies. Since I am at work, in the meantime, I will have to content myself with flicking through the book and drooling.

Definitely try Crazy About Pies if you want to expand your pie repertoire—you’ll get lots of great ideas. Or you can just look at it for the glamorous photographs of Pie Perfection.

Check the WRL catalog for Crazy About Pies.

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earthOh, get your mind out of a Hemingway novel.  There are more important things to be discussed–like earthmovers that outdo the largest mechanical monsters every hour of every day with no maintenance required.

Earthworms.

Some people get creeped out by these denizens of the humus and loam that builds up underground, but to writer Amy Stewart it is plain that few human endeavors would be possible without the earthworm. They are undoubtedly responsible for much of the fertile land that produced crops abundant enough for people to settle into communities and build cities. They are responsible for the gradual settling that preserves so many archaeological sites. And they may be one of myriad ways we can solve our current problems with treating contaminated soils and other human wastes, including human waste.

What’s strange is that earthworms attract little or no serious scientific attention. At the time of Stewart’s writing, one of the few people involved in creating a taxonomy of earthworms supported himself with a variety of jobs, including a stint as a truck driver. Another wants to create a website where people can buy the naming rights to any of the unnamed worm species, much as people used to be able to name stars. The trouble is that, despite the few people making a career of oligochaetology (possibly because your in-laws can’t spell it), a dozen uncatalogued earthworm species can turn up in a single trip, with specimens left sitting in a lab waiting to be analyzed and named by the scientist. How can their impact be assessed if researchers can’t even put a name to the subject?

Yet no less a scientific luminary than Charles Darwin turned his fascination with earthworms into the last book of his career. After observing their habits for decades, even setting aside cataloguing his collection from the Beagle to study them, Darwin finally put those observations in print. He wrote of worms’ movement in the soil, of the castings they leave behind to enrich the dirt, even of the work they do to pull objects from the surface into their burrows. (They like triangular shapes best.) He credited them with intelligence and with a dignity that surprised a world that regarded them as pests.  (And, Stewart notes, they can be. When a well-meaning fisherman dumps his remaining bait worms into a different habitat, they can have an adverse effect on the environment.)

Stewart mingles the history and current studies with her own experiences as a vermicomposter. I can’t imagine anyone publishing a plain book on earthworm history, or earthworm studies, although books about raising earthworms are popular. The way Stewart turns it into a readable, thoughtful, and at times funny book shows how an odd little topic can change the way people view it.  Kind of like an earthworm changes the world.

Check the WRL catalog for The Earth Moved

It’s even available as an ebook and an audiobook.

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This is my favorite exercise video, not only for its glorious setting and background music, but because I can actually do each exercise, all the way through from beginning to end, without wasting precious time or feeling hopelessly out of shape. I feel great afterwards, especially if starting my day.  Now, that does not mean it lacks challenge for intermediate yogis, or that it’s appropriate for a beginning Yoga student. In fact, this program is best utilized by those who’ve received sound one-on-one or group instruction on the basic movements of Yoga. You want to make sure that you’re using proper form and posture, so as to prevent back injury or pulled tendons, etc…, and have received sound feedback and correction from a wise instructor. The most important thing I’ve learned about Yoga is never to feel you must compete with others, simply to improve yourself gradually at your own pace. There are always modifications and props to help you manage more difficult poses until your body gains the flexibility it needs to stretch as well as those featured in videos like this most awesome one.

Ali Macgraw and her gorgeous model yogis perform the workout designed and led by Erich Schiffman with his soothing voice against the breathtaking backdrop of the brilliant White Sands of New Mexico. The musical accompaniment, with original score by Lucia Hwong and tracks performed by the hypnotic band “Dead can Dance,” rich with exotic vocals and enchanting drumbeats, is so incredibly relaxing that I can not only use this routine to awaken and energize me early in the morning but alternatively find it to be a calming antidote for winding down at the close of a stressful day. I have found that the meditative aspects of practicing Yoga are essential to my enjoyment of it and make it more beneficial to my entire being, beyond the physical. Even though the year of this DVD’s release may seem dated, the music, cinematography, even the yoga attire and overall production still seem very cool.

Check the WRL catalog for Ali Macgraw: Yoga mind & body.

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TheRights of the ReaderReading should not be torture.

I’ll take a stab, and guess that you, today’s Gentle Readers, who are perusing a blog about books, created by a public library, are a special bunch. You, like your faithful librarians, are all enthusiastic and heavy readers. So, for all of us, it is difficult to imagine reading as torture. But, on the other hand, do we all remember that one book at high school that was cruel and unusual punishment? Maybe it was a book that you came to appreciate later, but wasn’t really suitable for school? I don’t know on which planet The Great Gatsby will excite middle schoolers, but I doubt it is this one.

Daniel Pennac is from France and I am not sure if French middle schoolers have The Great Gatsby forced on them, but  they obviously get similar treatment because the author dedicates his slim, humorous book with the admonition to “Parents, teachers, librarians, please on no account use these pages as an instrument of torture.”

The Rights of the Reader is divided into dozens of very short chapters, some only a few sentences long, interspersed with Quentin Blake’s quirky and appealing illustrations. This makes it great for dipping into. And “dipping in” is one of the rights Daniel Pennac assigns to readers in the last section of the book. He enumerates ten rights and I like them all, but they are not all universally acknowledged, even by librarians. For example, Number 4, “The Right to Read it Again.” I love to revisit old books, but sometimes we are encouraged to constantly read new books as life is short and so many great new books are being published.  But since life is short I want to keep the prerogative to go back to The Secret Garden simply “for the joy of being reunited with it.”

I recommend this book for everyone. In our library The Rights of the Reader is shelved in the “Parents Corner” with books for parents and other adults about raising children. It definitely has utility for parents, but is also a manifesto for all readers. There are many reasons to read, and sometimes we should read for information, or to learn, or to better ourselves, but as in many aspects of life everyone has to allow time to read for sheer pleasure. For today’s gentle blog readers, this may be obvious, but I don’t think it hurts to be reminded.

Check the WRL catalog for The Rights of the Reader.

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UnapologeticFatGirlHanne Blank is most definitely “unapologetic.” One of her earlier books was Big Big Love: A Sex and Relationships Guide for People of Size (and Those Who Love Them).  In The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts her premise is that “the culture we live in is so hateful and abusive to everybody and every body that doesn’t measure up to its constantly shifting targets for ‘perfect'” that many women are ashamed to be seen exercising, although “it doesn’t seem to matter what size someone is. The beneficial side effects movement has on the body’s ability to maintain a healthy physical equilibrium appear to be among the few things in the world that seem genuinely to be one-size-fits-all.”

Hanne Blank has a witty, irreverent, and conversational style. She refers to her readers as “my glorious plumpling” and advises us to “flail proudly.” She claims to be “as intrinsically athletic as an oyster” and entitles a chapter about unsolicited, mean-spirited comments about size “Chub, Sweat and Jeers.”

The book includes lots of practical advice on things like how to choose a gym, bearing in mind factors like size of toilets stalls and general concerns like parking, friendliness and hours. Also how to choose a form exercise that you will enjoy and therefore continue doing. She gives two sample workouts and practical advice for swimsuits such as Aquatards you can buy if you prefer more coverage than a traditional swimsuit, and includes a Resource Guide with more books, DVDs, exercise programs and equipment.

The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts is affirming whether you consider yourself “a fat girl” or not. Hanne Blank points out the simple truism that, “your body will inevitably change in shape and size, contour and proportion over the course of your life.” And as an antidote to the constant harping she has experienced throughout her life, she counsels that, “Hunger is not a moral issue. It is not your body’s way of trying to trick you into doing something that is bad for you” and significantly, “the number on the scale… does not measure virtue or goodness.”

I recommend this book for anyone who has ever curtailed any activity because they feared others judging their body. Read it alongside books like Fat! So? : Because You Don’t Have to Apologize for Your Size! by Marilyn Wann.  And always remember what Hanne Blank says in her introduction, “Apologizing for having a body is basically the same thing as apologizing for being alive. “

Check the WRL catalog for The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts.

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The Science of Good Cooking

Books are always the best gifts. Any bibliophile knows this, but for fancier volumes there is always the risk of gifting a  pricey doorstop. The Science of Good Cooking certainly qualifies as a doorstop at 486 pages and almost 11 by 9 inches. I decided to get it for my son’s sixteenth birthday to encourage his known interest in chemistry and a burgeoning interest in cooking. Happily, it has been a rewarding gift on many levels. It was worth every penny to come home one day to a scrumptious meal of fried chicken, creamed corn and salad that my son had cooked. And the book was an even better deal because, besides from my strong self-interest in getting my teenagers in the kitchen, I know I can always improve my own cooking skills.

I was paging through the book one evening looking for something to grab me, and I was instantly snaffled up by the section called “Cocoa Powder Delivers Big Flavor.” Since I am inclined to be smug about cooking from scratch I am embarrassed to admit that I have only ever made something approximating chocolate  mousse by the method of empty-powder-from-box-into-milk-and-whisk. So mousse it was! Whilst making the mousse, I discovered (or more accurately confirmed) that I am lazy. I knew that maximum volume in beaten egg whites requires a bowl completely free of oil. I only have one bowl for my stand mixer and I had just made it greasy with the previous ingredients, and making it clean for the egg whites hand involved washing a bowl, that although greasy, was safe to eat from. My first inclination was to put it in the dishwasher, but that would have taken too long, so the only answer was to use a dirty bowl and egg white volume be darned! The resulting mousse, although not at maximum volume, still tasted very good…

After my mousse adventure I still have plenty more to go. As I read in the section on eggs, subheading: “Starches at work – Quiche,” the proteins in raw egg whites and yolks are long chains of amino acids coiled up in balls (p 190). Who knew? When I was a vegetarian for 11 years, quiche was a significant part of my repertoire. Now it is greeted with a great deal less than enthusiasm when I present it to my unrepentantly carnivorous family. It did seem to get tougher and drier over the years, so I am looking forward to finding out the scientific secret to superb quiche.

I recommend this book for any cookbook fan. It has a variety of great recipes, although I found the organisation idiosyncratic. And it is a great book for sneaky people like me who want to feel noble that I am doing something “scientific” when I really just want to eat chocolate mousse.

Check the WRL catalog for The Science of Good Cooking.

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bullspottingFor one brief shining moment, the Internet showed its possibilities. Then some shark-livered varmints screwed it up. Somewhere along the line some crazy learned HTML and it was off to the races with conspiracy theories (There’s a special place in Internet hell where the souls of people who used spam to spread their conspiracy theories will reside. Dial-up is only the beginning of their torment). A tool meant to disseminate knowledge became a loudspeaker to spout misinformation and shout facts down. What used to be some nutjob on the corner muttering and passing out mimeographed sheets took on the air of authority, and a chorus spread across the land: “I read it on the Internet.”

Based on his own conversion experience, Loren Collins decided to walk out of the mudpit of one particular argument to examine the short supply of critical thinking skills. By looking in detail at a select few Internet memes, he distills the methodology of online “discussions” to illustrate the many paths people take to passionately uphold their beliefs in spite of evidence that they are wrong:

  • Denialism – It didn’t happen because I want it to not have happened.
  • Conspiracy theory – It happened, but not the way everybody else thinks it happened, and only I know the truth.
  • Rumor – It happened!  It really happened!  I know somebody whose sister had a friend…
  • Quotations – This famous person said it perfectly, and it just so happens to apply.
  • Hoaxes – You’re never going to believe what happened!
  • Pseudoscience – It happens, but not when anybody can actually study it.
  • Pseudohistory - This person says it happened, and I believe him even if so-called historians don’t
  • Pseudolaw – I happen to have read the Constitution, and the Supreme Court is wrong.

As a librarian, I like to think of myself as a dispassionate consumer of information with the ability to analyze and spot the kinds of fallacies Collins describes. I am certain that in my professional life I provide patrons with their requests even when I believe those materials are patently poor sources of information. But I utilize selective news and information sources to check when I hear a fact too good to be true or too inflammatory to be tolerated (I hope I’m wary enough to take their information with a grain of salt). And even though it never does any good, I still don’t let my wingnut uncle get away with his stunts over the Thanksgiving turkey. After all, Josh Billings said, “The trouble with people is not that they don’t know but that they know so much that ain’t so.”

Wait a minute.  That was Mark TwainWill Rogers?

Maybe I better stick with “Ignorance is bliss.  Knowledge is power. You’ve got a choice to make.”

Check the WRL catalog for Bullspotting

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Subtitled “A portrait of American food — before the national highway system, before chain restaurants, and before frozen food, when the nation’s food was seasonal, regional, and traditional–from the lost WPA files,” you must at least read the extremely interesting Introduction to this treasure mine sampled from what remains in the archives of America Eats, five dusty boxes of manuscript copy on onionskin.  Here Kurlansky showcases the best of what he uncovered, just as writer Merle Colby had hoped when writing the final report before the unedited, unpublished manuscripts were tucked away in the 1940s: “Here and there in America some talented boy or girl will stumble on some of this material, take fire from it, and turn it to creative use.”

The entries are informative and amusing excerpts from food writing and recipes gathered regionally for a federally funded writing project that employed out-of-work writers.  When spending priorities changed after Pearl Harbor, the unfinished project materials were abruptly preserved in the Library of Congress, and we can thank Kurlansky for digging out its most fascinating gems for our enlightenment.

Among the southern and eastern sections where I focused my perusal, I really got a kick out of the anecdotes and details on preparing such delicacies as squirrel, [o]possum, chittelins, and corn pone, how the hush puppy got its name & why some forms of cornbread were once much lower in status.  Of course, Virginians will find some definitive yet highly opinionated historical notes on the famed Brunswick Stew.

The WPA (Works Progress Administration) was a government agency that sprung up as one of  many efforts to alleviate poverty in 1930s America.   Some WPA projects designed programs according to individual skill, field of study or expertise. Remarkably, these included plans for the fields of art, music, drama, and literature. The Federal Writers’ Project commissioned writers to research, write, edit, and publish works and series on particular topics, usually with American themes or interests in mind; writers employed included Zora Neale Hurston and Eudora Welty. Following the successful production of numerous travel guidebooks, the concept for America Eats provided a means for capturing the distinct regional and cultural uniqueness of food and how it was prepared, served, and eaten in an America on the cusp of immense change. America’s culinary differences were destined to be homogenized through the diverse means that food production would soon become so heavily industrialized and globalized.

If you’re one of the many readers eagerly devouring information on real food, whole foods, traditional foods, or even paleolithic foods, in what seems like a mass revolution against modern food (in which I’m still trying to figure out what works best for my lifestyle), you’ll find much to inform and inspire you in Kurlansky’s book.  Some will reminisce; others will find a lot of eye-opening and useful knowledge about the way we once were; all we be entertained.

Check the WRL catalog for The Food of a Younger Land

I read the title in the e-book version.

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YarnGirlsCoverKnitting is enjoying a resurgence, and the library owns dozens of books about it. Many are beautiful books with sparkling colorful photographs of wonderful projects of wonderful complexity.  Every now and then I check one out with great intentions to knit. The last time I actually finished a project of any size was when I was pregnant (and my children are now starting to leave the nest). Back then, my late mother helped me with the tricky bits and (I am embarrassed to admit) did the tedious sewing up.

I was inspired to pull out my needles to contribute to a granny square project for a colleague’s upcoming happy event. I found it very therapeutic making granny squares and soon turned out enough squares for a Queen-sized crib (I must need a lot of therapy). I needed a new project and the word “Simple” in this book’s title grabbed me.

The book starts with basic techniques and useful line drawings. Their drawings show hands, yarn, needles and finished work as the knitter will see her own hands looking down.

The one problem I found with the directions is that each pattern gives only one brand and make of yarn to use. Many of these yarns are gorgeous! And some of them also contain mohair, angora and other luxurious fibers, which make them very expensive. Others are a discontinued line. With my beginners knowledge of yarn, I had trouble working out substitutions, although I managed with the help of Google searches. To give them credit, as in all instructions of this sort, the knitter has to use the exact yarn they suggest to get the results that they illustrated, but I am sure I am not the only person interested in substitution!

I decided to start with a small and simple project, a hat with the appealing name of “Feeling Fuzzy.” I planned it as a gift to my daughter, being aware that at my pace she may be wearing it next winter! My hat is going very slowly, but I know that displays a lack in my skill, not a lack in the book! (I will post a comment later when it is finished).

I recommend this book for people who, like me, are returning to knitting after a long break. It will also help absolute beginners.  For the experienced knitter the book also offers attractive, quick projects that they may be able to complete in a weekend.
Check the WRL catalog for The Yarn Girls’ Guide to Simple Knits

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I’ve always wanted to take a peek behind the proverbial royal curtain—to see what life is really like on the other side of those British royal walls. I’m talking about food of course—life in the royal kitchen— as those who know me would assume! I’m not overly concerned about the grand banquets and the pomp and circumstance; the everyday minutiae interests me much more. What do the royals choose for a late night snack? Do they really prefer mac and cheese to roasted quail with truffles, cognac and prunes? Do they ever eat fish and chips the traditional way—out of a newspaper? So many questions…

I found Eating Royally to be an interesting mix of personal memories and great recipes. Chef Darren McGrady—who was the Royal Chef to Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana, Prince William, and Prince Harry for 15 years—gives us a glimpse into the private world of the royal family, along with sharing recipes for some of their favorite dishes. He includes interesting photographs, memorabilia, personal notes, and lots of anecdotal stories about the royal household. The stories are told with lighthearted humor and warmth. Chef McGrady obviously thoroughly enjoyed working with the royal family, and there was a mutual respect between them. Unlike others, he did not write about them to profit personally— in fact he gives 100% of the profits to Princess Diana’s charity.

The book is divided into chapters covering each of the royal residences— including the royal yacht. So, the reader gets a behind the scenes peek at all the royal kitchens, and an insight into the particular culinary characteristics and challenges of each location. Most recipes are preceded by an interesting tidbit. For example, regarding Royal Tea Scones: “While the Queen insisted on them as part of her tea, I suspect she didn’t actually like scones. I say this because she never, ever, ate them. Instead, at the end of her daily tea, the Queen would take a scone and crumble it onto the floor for the corgis. It seems the dogs quite liked them.”

Eating Royally is a great way to get an insider’s glimpse of how royals really live their day-to-day lives when they are out of the  spotlight, and to taste the very same dishes that have graced the tables of Buckingham Palace, Windsor, and Balmoral.  After all, wouldn’t you like to have your very own slice of Her Majesty’s Birthday Chocolate Cake? I know I would.

Check the WRL catalog for Eating Royally

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