I always found spring the hardest season for cooking. Fall has an abundance of squash and sweet potatoes. You can do so much with summer tomatoes and eggplant. But spring, there are lots and lots of greens. And asparagus. You eventually grow tired of both. However, one of my favorite things about the Farmers Market is exploring new ingredients, which matches nicely with one of my favorite things about the library’s cookbook collection: finding new recipes. And through both of these Iowa City institutions, I’ve learned that I am wrong about spring. There are many ingredients available and dishes to make with them.
A friend recommended Blood and Thunder: an epic of the American West to me awhile back, but I was reluctant to read it. It had been some time since I had read a history and had unreservedly enjoyed it. Take Charles Mann’s 1491 and 1493, for example. They’re both great. You will be enlightened, and you will learn all sorts of fascinating things if you read them. I’ll go ahead and say that you will be a better person. But I’d guess that you’ll also find the level of detail tedious at times.
My experience with Hampton Sides has been different. He is a master storyteller.
In Blood and Thunder, Sides focuses on the American Southwest from the 1840s to the 1860s and on the life of Kit Carson in particular. Carson participated in the conquest of the West and gave his loyalty to the American military and government. He also married two Indian women and spoke many Indian languages. Popular westerns of the time – blood and thunders they were called – portrayed Carson as a swashbuckling hero protecting settlers from marauding Indians. More contemporary histories have tended to the reverse these roles. Sides is more interested in telling stories about human beings whose actions and motivations are complex and develop over time. The story of the Navajo people and their land is particularly interesting.
Hellhound on his Trail is both history and true crime, and it’s riveting. Martin Luther King, Jr’s last days are chronicled and details of his assassin’s life and flight from justice are doled out at a measured pace. The manhunt for King’s killer, who had been living under an alias or two, was massive, and it eventually reached overseas. Please note that Sides gives no credence to the government conspiracy theory of the assassination, so you’ll have to look elsewhere (one-star Amazon reviews) if you’re inclined that way.
I’ll give his latest, In the Kingdom of Ice, another thumbs up. I’m about a third of the way into it, and I’ve never looked forward more to hearing about shivering, miserable sailors in the Arctic. The mission was operating on the notion that there might very well be an open polar sea. There was a current in the Pacific Ocean, it was thought, similar to the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic, and that current was flowing through the Bering Strait and warming the Arctic Ocean at the Pole. They imagined the wonders.
Many of you know that I am a huge Beatrix Potter fan and as a children’s librarian, have been charmed by her 23 small books about Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle Duck, Squirrel Nutkin, Benjamin Bunny and her other animal friends for many years. I have collected Beatrix Potter books and related merchandise my entire career and have displayed my collection at the Iowa City Public Library and the Coralville Public Library. So when I accidentally came across Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales, needless to say, I was thrilled. Oh, and did I tell you that I am a flower gardener? Author Marta McDowell from the New York Botanical Garden gives an account of the famous children’s writer and illustrator’s life. Included in the book are old photographs, quotes from Potter’s books, letters, book illustrations, journal entrees, and her beautiful watercolor sketches of flowers and book characters. The second part of the book is a seasonal overview of what is blooming in Potter’s gardens at Hill Top Farm and her other properties in the Lake District of England. The book culminates in a traveler’s guide with information about visiting Potter’s home and gardens today. Readers may not have known that Beatrix Potter left her privileged life in London to farm, raise sheep, write, garden, and conserve the beautiful landscapes in the north of England. Most impressive are all the thousands of acres of land she left to the National Trust upon her death. I’ve read several biographies about Beatrix Potter so I didn’t learn anything new about her life; however, her passion for gardening and the expert information by the author, a consulting horticulturalist, was most informative and a pleasure to read. Someday I hope to travel to the Lake District and visit Hill Top Farm and before I do, I’ll re-read this fascinating book.
We have a new smoker/grill at our house, just in time for summer. Our challenge now is to learn how to use it. Have no fear, the Library is here! We’ve had some delicious meals including Slaw Burgers (a family favorite of smoked pork on a bun with traditional cole slaw), marinated smoked vegetables and some great salmon. Now we’re ready to try some new meals.
A quick search of the Library’s catalog shows there are many books to help learn how to use a smoker. Subject headings of “Barbequing” and “Smoked Foods” were most helpful. I found a new book, Smoke and Spice 3rd Edition, that had some great recipes. Two recipes looked especially good – Peabody-Style Stuffed Onions and Deep-Dish Smoked Mozzarella Pizza. Yummy!
If you are ready to relax and enjoy some great summer food, but need some culinary inspiration, give us a call or stop by. The call numbers 641.5784 and 641.61 are a great place to start.
Librarian Ashley Weaver’s debut novel is the kind of cozy mystery I really enjoy. Set in 1930′s England, wealthy Amory and Milo Ames have been married five years and Amory’s charming playboy husband is still acting like he’s a bachelor. He’s just returned from the French Riviera when her old fiance, Gil Trent, looks Amory up and asks her to join him at a seaside resort to hopefully dissuade his sister, Emmeline, from marrying a cad, Rupert Howe. On the second day at the posh Brightwell Hotel, Emory finds Howe’s body, apparently pushed over a railing onto a terrace below. Lots of friends and acquaintances staying for the week are possible suspects, but Gil is the primary target of the investigation. Then Milo appears on the scene and things get complicated as Amory wants to clear Gil’s name and figure out if her marriage to Milo is worth saving. Another murder takes place and the group of secondary characters each have their own secrets and reasons not to be trusted. Red herrings abound and Milo’s reluctant assistance in helping Amory find the killer keeps the readers’ interest. The sarcastic repartee between Amory and Milo is amusing and the the reader will keep wondering who Amory will end up with, Milo or Gil. The clues start adding up for the detective, but will the mystery be solved before another murder is committed? The romance aspect of the story adds to a fun light read set in a lavish location and time period. I recommend this engaging mystery to fans of Agatha Christie’s books. This first novel would make a great series with Amory Ames as the amateur sleuth.
The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin is a fictionalized account of Mary, mother of Jesus, in her old age. This well-reviewed novella was published in 2012 and shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. I did not read it at the time, but recently checked out the audio version read by Meryl Streep. It is a fantastic reading, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys listening to books on disc.
Toibin’s novella has Mary being coaxed by the disciples to share the story of her son’s rise in popularity and power, and then his crucifixion. The disciples have a larger message they want to impart to the world and facts that do not fit that message are conveniently ignored; Mary’s memories are those of a mother who has no agenda other than to raise and love her son. The clash between the two purposes creates impatience in the disciples and anger in Mary.
Meryl Streep brilliantly expresses the confusion, anger and grief Mary feels as she watches the sacrifice of her son’s life and the manipulation of the story in the years that followed. Streep delivers Mary’s short and clipped sentences, and bits of sarcasm directed at the disciples, in a way that is fitting to a woman who has little time left to tell her side of the story to an unsympathetic audience. Streep captures the weariness of the old Mary, still trying to make sense of what happened.
This story is not the Mary in popularly-known Christian theology. But if you are open to a different interpretation of her, Meryl Streep brings to life an intelligent, strong, flawed and believable Mary whose grief at the loss of her son is inconsolable.
Not only do wild flowers emerge in the spring, but wild animal young do, too. We’ve had questions about what to do when someone has found a nest of baby bunnies or a young robin on the ground or even a fawn without a doe nearby. Our natural inclination to think the young animal has been abandoned, but that may not be the case at all. Books on animal rescue and rehabilitation as well as websites devoted to wildlife suggest that the first step you take is determining whether the young animal is orphaned, injured or just fine.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) posted the article Leave Wildlife Babies in the Wild . “If you find an animal baby that appears to be on its own, don’t worry. Generally, one of its parents is nearby, watching. They’re teaching their offspring to be independent, and in the case of danger, some animal parents will take off in order to create a distraction away from their young,” suggests the DNR.
The Humane Society of the United States cautions that “unless the animal appears injured or in distress, there may be no need to rescue them.” They do suggest you follow up if -a cat or dog presents the wild animal to you; there is evidence of bleeding; there is an apparent or obvious broken limb; there is a featherless or nearly featherless bird on the ground or the baby animal is shivering or there is a dead parent nearby.
The next step, according to the DNR is to contact a certified wildlife rehabilitator. The DNR maintains a list on its website. If you cannot reach a rehabilitator, you should contact your conservation officer or animal control officer. If you would like to learn more about what an wildlife rehabilitator does, Talk of Iowa, an Iowa Public Radio program, recently hosted several rehabilitators and they shared their stories of helping return the young back into the wild.
I love the Iowa City Farmer’s Market. I grew up in Iowa City, so I have happy memories of going to the Market when I was young. My children have also grown up going to the Farmer’s Market and one of their favorite Saturday morning activities is breakfast at the Market.
We typically bring our coffee cups and stop at Cafe del Sol for a refill, and then take in the Market. Once we’ve checked out all the booths we wander over to Washington Street and scope out all the different choices for breakfast food.
Our final decision for what to order is typically based on what looks good and where the shortest lines are. My personal favorite is the breakfast burritos while my kids like the breakfast sandwiches that use pancakes as the outer layer and yummy eggs and other fillings in the middle.
Once we have our food, we typically pull up a seat on the curb and people watch. We always see lots of friends so it turns into a social occasion too.
A trip to the Market would also not be complete without our beloved kolaches. I grew up with a Czech grandmother who made the best kolaches in the world, so finding a good kolache is a real treat. My favorites are poppy seed while my family prefers apricot, cherry, and peach. We all agree the prune kolaches are to be avoided.
Writing this blog post inspired me to investigate the books about Czech cooking at the Library. I found many awesome selections at the call number 641.59437. One book has recipes for poppy seed and cheese filling as well as the dreaded prune filling.
It’s so exciting to welcome the Iowa City Farmer’s Markets back into our weekly routine. I look forward to the food, fun and meeting friends. See you at the Market!
Lisa Lutz’s new novel is different from her previous novels, and yet the same. Lutz is known for her quirky characters, fast moving pace, and unanticipated plot twists. The difference with this novel is the characters – the characters are more developed and real. Half way through the book I realized I cared about the characters and their story.
How to Start a Fire is about three college friends and the paths their lives take. The story develops by revealing events between 1993 and 2014. Reading the book is like river rafting. Sometimes there are rapids and the rafter has to pay attention while other times the river meanders and the rafter can relax and enjoy the scenery. Ultimately the book is about friendship, loyalty, choices, forgiveness, accountability and expectations about life.
I thoroughly enjoyed the new Lisa Lutz novel and think it will be a popular summer title.
Erik Larson knows how to tell a story. In The Devil in the White City, he masterfully intertwines the story of the 1893 World’s Fair with that of H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who thrived in the growing city of Chicago. In the Garden of Beasts follows the diplomatically unexperienced William Dodd, a professor assigned to the post of American Ambassador to Germany as the National Socialist Party rose to power. Larson’s latest book, Dead Wake: the last crossing of the Lusitania is another fascinating story told well.
There are many ways to tell this one. There’s the conspiracy angle. Did Britain let the Lusitania come along a German submarine because it believed this type of sinking would push the United States to enter World War I? There’s the negligence angle. Did Captain Turner ignore crucial information about active submarines off the Irish coast and not respond appropriately to the threat? Larson’s angle is that this story is about people. He makes individuals’ experience come alive on the page, whether it is the Lusitania’s passengers, U-20’s Captain Schweiger, or President Wilson in his courtship with Edith Bolling Galt. All of these stories are expertly woven to create a compelling and tense narrative that was hard to put down but just as hard to read. The Lusitania’s sinking was a terrible event. It sank it eighteen minutes. Almost two thousand people perished. As I began to know more and more about these individuals, the weight of their fate became heavier and heavier.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the Lusitania’s sinking.