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2017 Reading Challenge

posted by: December 23, 2016 - 4:14pm

2017 Reading ChallengeIn partnership with WBAL TV 11

 

Book lovers: Are you up for a challenge? Book clubs: Want topics for which books to discuss next? Baltimore County Public Library and WBAL-TV 11 have just the thing for you — the 2017 Baltimore County Public Library Reading Challenge.

 

The challenge, which is a yearlong list of topics from which readers choose a book to read each month, is designed as a fun way for our customers to explore a variety of genres and encourage a lifelong love of reading. It includes a variety of themes that range from important (February’s “Read a book honoring Black History Month”), nostalgic (June’s “Re-read a book from your childhood”), fun (July’s “Read a book you faked reading in high school"), provocative (September’s “Read a book that was banned at some point") and more.

 

Participants are encouraged to take a photograph of themselves holding the book (or just the book for those who are camera-shy) they’ve chosen for a particular month along with the hashtag #Bwellread on Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter. Two photographs will be randomly chosen on the last business day of each month and winners will receive $25 Amazon gift cards.


 
 

Outlander Kitchen

posted by: December 21, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Outlander KitchenJamie and Claire. If you easily recognized those two names, than you are wey ahead o' th' gam on this blog post. First published in 1991, the Outlander series — historical fiction that has taken its readers on the adventures of a time-traveling heroine to the Scottish Highlands during the mid-18th century — has reached the hearts, minds and now stomachs of its fans with the Outlander Kitchen: The Official Outlander Companion Cookbook by Theresa Carle-Sanders. The earthy nature of the recipes may inspire you to break convention this holiday season and create a feast that celebrates this popular story.

 

The book includes a forward by author Diana Gabaldon, who explains that it isn’t difficult to transform your 21st century kitchen into the ultimate Outlander Kitchen. As you prepare a Yuletide menu, why not make “Governor Tryon’s Potato Fritters,” a yummy pancake made up of only five simple ingredients — eggs, potato, flour, salt and onion. If you have a craving for sweets, there is the “Humble Crumble Apple Pie,” which probably speaks for itself, consisting of freshly cut apple slices within a light flaky crust. Included with each character-driven recipe is an excerpt from the book that wakes up the taste buds along with a vivid assortment of culinary photographs.

 

The Outlander series has captured the world and BCPL by storm — adapted as a television series available on DVD and also as a graphic novel. Set among the romantic backdrop of majestic hills and crags, it is easy to become spellbound with its natural beauty and rustic way of life. Traveling between two centuries and several different countries couldn’t be any easier this holiday season. Who knows, after trying out some recipes you may find yourself reciting the well-known Auld Lang Syne by Scottish poet Robert Burns. Sloch weel (eat well)!


 
 

American Cake

posted by: November 29, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for American CakeI have always fancied myself a baker, so I couldn’t wait to dig my teeth into Anne Byrn’s American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, the Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best-loved Cakes from Past to Present. In her latest, Byrn, the best-selling author of Cake Mix Doctor (which has one of my favorite, go to cake recipes — Chocolate Kahlua Cake), not only gives you delicious recipes, but the history behind some of your favorite cakes as well.

 

The book starts with baking in America in the mid-1600s and continues through the present. Home bakers did not always have modern day appliances, but they still baked wonderful cakes. There were times when some of the ingredients were scarce and people had to improvise, which, according to Byrn, is the mark of a good baker. We learn that early cake baking was done by the wealthy because the ingredients were expensive. Each recipe comes with a brief history. Maryland’s own Smith Island Cake has an entry. There were  “war cakes” and “Depression cakes,” which were  made without eggs, sugar or butter due to unavailability or rationing. Post-World War II, fictional character Betty Crocker had a large influence on women with her cake mixes and cookbooks.

 

American Cake tells the story of our nation’s history through my favorite treat, cake. Don’t worry, you don’t have to cook over an open fire — Byrn has updated the recipes for our modern bakers. Many of these recipes will be in my baking rotation. Happy baking and more importantly, happy eating.

 


 
 

Spring Cookbooks for Different Skill Levels

posted by: June 1, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Love and Lemons CookbookCover art for The Field to Table CookbookNow that it has finally warmed up, it’s time to get outdoors for a cookout or picnic and take advantage of the farmers markets! Here are some new cookbooks, on different levels of complexity, to inspire you and get you started.

 

Casual and home cooks will find serviceable recipes in The Love & Lemons Cookbook by Jeanine Donofrio. In this bright and engaging book, Donofrio takes a practical approach to food, contextualizing her meals by what is in season and readily available in the pantry. She is quick to provide advice for those nights when you don’t feel like laboring over a stove after work and includes suggestions for reenergizing leftovers. All of her recipes are vegetarian, and it is easy to pair them with a cut of meat or, in the opposite direction, adapt them to become vegan or gluten-free. If you have signed up for a CSA share this season, Love & Lemons can get you started figuring out what to do with the less common vegetables that might crop up in your share — like kohlrabi and parsnips. Many more recipes are also available on Donofrio’s award-winning blog.

 

Photo of blackberry empanadas

For gourmands looking for a challenge, there is The Field to Table Cookbook by Susan L Ebert, a manifesto that is the culmination of her previous work editing Rodale’s Organic Life (formerly Organic Gardening) and Texas Parks & Wildlife magazines. Ebert has shaped her life around a philosophy that puts the sustainability of her resources as the foremost consideration. She hunts, fishes, forages and farms for as much of her food as she can within the season and has closely researched where her food grows, including population statistics of the wildlife she shoots, chemical analyses of soil composition in her garden and snapshots on the history of American agricultural practices. It may take all day or longer to cook the meals precisely as Ebert does, but, through her writing, she demonstrates how sourcing your own food is not drudgery but an adventure. As much Jack London as Alice Waters, descriptions of tracking her quarry are laced with reminisces of stargazing and sunrises, meditations on the afternoons she spent as a child picking fruit and fishing trips spent with her own children. Those readers who might be squeamish or critical of Ebert’s hunting and fishing will be swayed by her reasoning and find a sympathetic pen from a woman not above crying for a goose she will later eat. It is worth noting that because Ebert’s lifestyle is so closely entwined with the environment and culture of her Texas home some of her meals, like Feral Hog Chile Verde, will be difficult to make here in Baltimore without relying on imports. Nevertheless, there is enough overlap between the Texas and Maryland climates to try out or adapt plenty of the recipes — homages to Chesapeake Bay seafood pop up surprisingly often!

Liz

Liz

 
 

The State of Play

posted by: February 9, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The State of PlayVideo gaming is one of the most rapidly growing and ever evolving hobbies of the 21st century. The gaming industry grosses more money each year than the movie and music industries combined. With figures like this, it’s no surprise that a gaming counterculture has arisen, eager to create and share games that shun traditional styles in favor of a more indie appeal. In The State of Play: Creators and Critics on Video Game Culture, notable game designers, players and critics sound off their opinions on the current trends and directions of both the AAA and indie game movements.

 

One of the topics most frequently discussed in The State of Play is the concept of player identity. Evan Narcisse’s “The Natural,” Hussein Ibrahim’s “What It Feels Like to Play the Bad Guy,” and Anita Sarkeesian and Katherine Cross’ “Your Humanity Is in Another Castle” all make great arguments for more diversity in every aspect of the characters players control and interact with.

 

Zoe Quinn, creator of the notable indie game Depression Quest, details her harrowing experiences developing, launching and living through her game and gives readers a glimpse into what it was like to come under fire during the infamous #Gamergate movement of late 2014. Merritt Kopas’ essay “Ludus Interruptus” makes a great argument for much more open-minded views of sexuality and acts of sex in Western gaming. Despite making massive strides in both technical and creative compositions in the past few years, video games have still remained very old-fashioned when it comes to sex and how it’s initiated, portrayed and perceived in media.

 

Readers who identify as gamers or are interested in the increasingly complex culture of video games should read The State of Play. Games are currently one of the most powerful creative mediums for expression, offering users the chance to become fully immersed in their experiences through interaction. The State of Play is a fantastic, unprecedented collection of reflective literature on different experiences from every angle. Every essay is spliced with Internet links and footnotes leading to resources for further exploration, and there is much to be learned.
 

Tom

Tom

 
 

Oyster

posted by: December 17, 2015 - 7:00pm

Cover art for OysterIn Oyster: A Gastronomic History (with Recipes), Drew Smith delves into everything you ever wanted to know about the briny bivalve, and then some. Smith takes a fascinating, in-depth look at the oyster's place in history — important in the diet of many cultures throughout the years but also to their economies. You would be hard pressed to find a better source of overall nutrition than the oyster. Low in fat and calories, it’s high in protein, calcium, vitamin B12, thiamine, riboflavin vitamin C and zinc, with trace amounts of other vitamins. Oysters eventually became an important industry in the colonies, with jobs for harvesting, opening, washing, measuring, selling and, eventually, canning. These jobs often went to those who would otherwise have had difficulty finding employment, including African Americans, women, immigrants and children. While people think of crabs when they hear Baltimore, we have been an oyster mecca for far longer. Baltimore was the first to become a canning center (way before any other city) in the early 1840s, where the stock was also labeled and shipped.  

 

Oysters have long been celebrated in writing as well as art — and of course they have a long-standing reputation as an aphrodisiac. Smith has included numerous color illustrations, photographs and maps to enhance the reading experience. There are recipes throughout the book, and even recommendations on what to drink with oysters. This scholarly yet entertaining and accessible look at oysters would make a great gift for the foodie and/or historian on your gift list. Fans of Mark Kurlansky’s microhistories Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World or Salt: A World History will be entranced by Oyster.

 


 
 

101 Easy Asian Recipes

posted by: November 27, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for 101 Easy Asian RecipesAs a serious home cook who loves to read cookbooks, I was excited to get my hands on 101 Easy Asian Recipes, by Peter Meehan and the editors of Lucky Peach. I’m a longtime fan of Lucky Peach magazine, a quarterly journal that focuses on food writing of all kinds. Their first cookbook is very approachable. It features simple, clear instructions, plenty of procedural drawings (like how to properly fill and seal a dumpling) and glossy color photographs of finished dishes. Meehan admits that “Asian” is a wide catch-all term — for example, there are no Indian recipes in the book — and they’re not necessarily aiming for authenticity. A recipe for “mall chicken” is a nod to the sauce-doused chicken chunks sampled on toothpicks at nearly every food court you’ve ever visited. This version is baked rather than fried, but is no less craveable.

 

A trip to an Asian supermarket to stock your pantry is a must as you’ll need things you probably won’t find at your local supermarket. Not only does the book provide a frequently used ingredient list, but there are photographic spreads of the actual items. This helps remove any possible confusion, as many of the ingredients may be unfamiliar. These include things like black vinegar, fish sauce, sesame oil, sambal oelek, dashi and white pepper. Recipes call for all types of noodles, from ramen and udon to gluten-free Korean glass noodles (made from sweet potato starch) and rice sticks.

 

Meehan has a great sense of humor that shines through in the notes, the recipes are easy to follow and the results are impressive. I’ve made several dishes with great success in the last couple of weeks, including a smashed cucumber salad with chili, cilantro and peanuts; braised baby bok choy with oyster sauce and crispy garlic; and homemade “dollar dumplings” with dipping sauce. Borrow 101 Easy Asian Recipes now and you’ll likely buy your own copy later.


 
 

Cookie Love

posted by: August 11, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Cookie LoveWho doesn’t love a cookie? As a baker and lover of cookies and all things sweet, I couldn't pass up this book once I saw it on the new book shelf. Cookie Love by Mindy Segal is getting some love from the critics. It even made the Epicurious list of 30 spring cookbooks. They are excited about it, and for good reason.

 

Deliciousness abounds in eight chapters of various types of cookies, from drop to sandwich to twice baked. You'll want to bake all 60 recipes. Segal provides us with an introduction to each cookie, how she came to love it, tips for baking each cookie and information about the ingredients. As any baker knows, Segal says she never bakes a recipe just once, but rather tries to improve upon it each time. Segal is a James Beard Award-winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef, so this book is sure to please.

 

If you're looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, this is the book for you! The recipes are detailed enough that any baker new or old will be at home in the kitchen. I can’t wait to try out some of these recipes. Chunky Bars were my favorite candy bar as a child, so I'll be making Ode to the Chunky Bar very soon.

 


 
 

Recipes for Outdoor Entertaining

posted by: June 10, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for "Endless Summer Cookbook"Cover art for "Chia, Quinoa, Kale, Oh My!"Cover art for "The Norske Nook Book of Pies and Other Recipes"Katie Lee’s Endless Summer Cookbook embodies all the smells and tastes of a warm July day. A West Virginia native, Lee has relocated to the Hamptons, and now co-hosts "The Kitchen" on Food Network. Her enthusiasm for using farmers’ market ingredients in her largely simple recipes shines through. Burger variations, beverages (honeydew margaritas!), and seasonal sides — everything that you can imagine for a summer party is included in this beautifully photographed paean to summer entertaining.

 

Cassie Johnston’s Chia, Quinoa, Kale, Oh My!: Recipes for 40+ Delicious, Super-Nutritious Superfoods combines nutritional research with healthy recipes featuring over 40 superfoods. While the title ingredients have been some of the darlings of the clean-eating food world for the past few years, Johnston, author of the popular Back to Her Roots blog, introduces the reader to many other common superfoods, such as barley, grapes and sweet potatoes. She explains the reasons why a food is considered super, and stresses the importance of looking beyond calories to determine the real value of the plate of food before you. Keep your partygoers nibbling on these delicious and sensible snacks and entrées.

 

And what is a summer party without a table full of desserts beckoning? The Norske Nook Book of Pies and Other Recipes by Jerry Bechard and Cindee Borton-Parker uncovers the recipes of the famous northern Wisconsin restaurants’ pies and treats. Starting with the basics of crusts and puddings, each of the many desserts featured is simply laid out so that the home cook can have as much success as the Nook’s pastry chefs. Rounding out the cookbook are a few “Scandinavian specialities” that harken back to the old country. Sky-high lemon meringues, lingonberry-apple cream cheese and sour cream peach pies will have you throwing caution to the wind and putting your beach body diet off…for one more day.


 
 

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