DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!


Aug 8 2016

The Great Indoors

by Dea Anne M

Despite my abiding love of gardening and the ocean, I’ve never been what you’d call an “outdoorsy” sort of person. While I was growing up, my decided preference for indoor activities never presented much of an issue except when it came to my yearly summer visit with my maternal grandmother. Every summer, my brother and I spent several weeks away from our parents and with grandparents and a wide assortment of aunts, uncles and cousins. Mostly this was a wonderful time and something to which  I greatly looked forward – the only hitch in the unalloyed pleasure for me being the fact that Grandma was of a generation who resolutely believed that all children (along with other animals), belonged outdoors. This was fine with my brother and cousins who spent the days happily outdoors coming inside only for lunch.

I, on the other hand, preferred reading and drawing to almost any activity available outside. Anytime of day presented its problems – afternoon (sun!), dusk (mosquitoes!), nighttime (slugs!) and unless it was early morning, or we were at a pool, I opted for the indoors every time. This presented a dilemma for Grandma who truly needed for there to be no children “underfoot” in order to do her daily housework but who also had a genuine desire to help her eldest grandchild (me) enjoy the summer. So, I wound up inside tucked away with my book or drawing pad in an unobstrusive corner. Grandma eventually even stopped commenting on how odd it was any child would rather be inside rather than out in “the sunshine and fresh air.”Actually, I think Grandma wound up enjoying my company, especially when it came to watching her “stories” each afternoon. Usually unenthusiastic about most contemporary culture, Grandma sure enjoyed her daily soap operas although she often reminded me that the shows were better “back before aliens or the FBI started showing up in every episode.”

Well, I don’t keep up with the soaps anymore, but these days I still venture outside as little as possible, at least between June and sometime in late September. As a gardener, I have to devote daily time to my plants but this happens in the early hours of the day. Other than that, you’ll find me inside and happily so.  Maybe you feel the same way but need some suggestions for new and different ways to “nest” when it’s ridiculously hot outside. Well, allow this list give you a few ideas – along with suggestions for resources available from DCPL.

1. Practice preservation.

Canning has changed, a lot, from the stress-filled and steam-weary marathon sessions of decades ago. Small batch canning is entirely possible now – and even more desirable for many of us who don’t possess the large living spaces and their attendent storage options that people once had access to. Say you return from a local farmers marketpreserve with an extra pound or two of peaches or a gardening friend planted a little more okra than she could use herself and gifted you with some of it. With a large pot, a few ingredients and some sealable jars you can turn that surplus into jam or pickles in quantities that won’t have you renting a storage locker for the overflow. I recommend America’s Test Kitchen’s excellent Foolproof Preserving: a guide to small batch jams, jellies, pickles, condiments and more to provide you with all the tips and recipes you’ll need to keep your own pantry stocked with just the right amount of luscious and useful treats.

2. Organize something!

Most of us have a closet, a shelf or a drawer somewhere inside of our living space that could use some rethinking and persona blazing hot day might be the perfect time to pour a cold glass of lemonade and tackle the job. And don’t think that you need to purchase a lot of tools and supplies in order to get organized. According to Marie Kondo in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you already have all the space, tools and containers that you need to organize perfectly. After applying Kondo’s method to my own clothes closets and all of my bookshelves, I have to say that I think that she’s right. Kondo’s method has worked well for me, but some of you may find it a little more off-beat or time-consuming than feels comfortable. Check out The 8 Minute Organizer by Regina Leeds or Stacy Platt’s What’s A Disorganized Person To Do? for practical tips and bite-sized projects that anyone can tackle, and feel good about, in record time.

3 Rediscover the power of cool.

Remember going to the refrigerator for a glass of ice water that hot July afternoon when you were nine years old andpops finding the chocolate wafer cream cake resting on the middle shelf atop Grandma’s special cut glass platter like a treasure hunt prize? “Don’t you touch that cake!” Grandma (who seemed to have eyes everywhere) yelled from upstairs. “It’s for after supper!” Remember playing with your cousins out in the backyard when someone would hear the distant lilt of the ice cream truck playing its music from a couple of streets away? Remember running to meet it with everyone clutching their change and jostling to be first in line? Recreate those days with Icebox Cakes: recipes for the coolest cakes in town by Jean Sagendorph and Jessie Sheehan or Cesar and Nadia Roden’s Ice Pops!: 50 delicious, fresh and fabulous icy treats.

4. Stretch your boundaries.

Awhile back, one of my co-workers told me that she sets herself a challenge every summer to read at least one book countthat falls outside the scope of her usual preferred genres. I have yet to try this myself, but I think that it’s such a great idea. Say you read almost exclusively books about science or military history – why not try a western or a contemporary romance? Do you only read young novels? Try a collection of political essays or a work of popular history such as How to Be a Tudor: a dawn to dusk guide to Tudor life by Ruth Goodman. And remember, summer is a great time to dip into a classic such as David Copperfield by Charles Dickens or Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Christo.  Or you could try a few titles from a well-regarded list such as Books All Georgians Should Read or the American Library Associations list of Banned and Challenged Books.

I don’t know about you, but I believe the height of summer seems like the true inclement season here in the Southeast, and I plan to stay inside. What about you? What’s your favorite way/plan to while away the hot weather days?







May 16 2014

Seeing Red

by Dea Anne M

I suppose that I’ve always had a thing for red fruit.  One piece of family lore has it that when I was about two years old my aunt, a recent bride, and her new husband volunteered to keep me for a week. Maybe my parents were otherwise occupied–probably with my newborn brother–or, I don’t know, maybe Aunt Libby and Uncle Tommy just wanted the practice. Anyway, the two of them apparently convinced me to eat all of my dinner each night of my stay by promising me sliced tomatoes for dessert. Apparently, the taste of summer tomatoes held much more allure for me than say ice cream or pie.

Well, that’s still true.  I believe that tomatoes are the supreme fruit (and they are a fruit botanically speaking) followed closely by strawberries. I also believe that the best of both are those acquired in as fresh a condition as possible–and for me that means the ones that I grow in my very own back yard.  I’m still waiting for the tomatoes to start coming in, but (and feel free to accuse me of bragging here…because, well, I am) to say that the strawberry crop this year has been “bumper” would be putting it mildly. So much bumper in fact that I have had enough to freeze and make refrigerator jam.

And that’s the thing about having a garden–you have to plan for the surplus if you are “lucky” enough to have it. My plan this year includes lots of canning (I hope), or as both my grandmothers called it, “putting up.” I’ve posted here before about canning and preserving but since then, DCPL has added some new and exciting resources. Check these out whether you’re growing your own or picking out the best of the season at a farmers market.

First up, and a fun find, is Food In Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round by Marisa McClellan. McClellan creates the charming canning blog Food In Jars and her emphasis in the book is on preserving seasonal food in small batches. Such an approach is bound to help a canning novice feel more comfortable diving into the process–quite a change from the month-long canning marathons I remember from my childhood. Steam-fogged kitchens and frazzled nerves are no longer necessary to preserving the good tastes of the season. Also by McClellan is Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces, which is similar in philosophy and approach. (DCPL owns this only as an eBook for now.)

A very beautiful book is The Art of Preserving by Lisa Atwood, Rebecca artCourchesne, and Rick Field. Copiously illustrated with gorgeous photographs by France Ruffenach, the book is equally abundant in its recipe offerings. You’ll find plenty here to guide you in making jams, preserves, pickles and salsas along with suggestions on how to use the resulting bounty. Chicken Lime Soup with Pickled Jalapenos anyone?

Speaking of using your preserves in recipes (because you don’t, after all, want to just line your shelves with jars in order to simply fruitadmire them…although maybe you do!), Put ‘Em Up! Fruit: A Preserving Guide & Cookbook: Creative Ways to Put ’em Up, Tasty Ways to Use ‘Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton will provide you with plenty of innovative ideas. Eighteen types of fruit are represented in this nifty little book (including tomatoes!) and offerings range from Spring Rolls with Asian Dipping Sauce to Momma’s Manhattan (made with cherries that you “maraschino” yourself). Yum! Also by Vinton is Put ‘Em Up!: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling.

Finally, my current favorite canning guide is Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling and Preserving by Kevin West. This book is gorgeous, with beautiful photography throughout along with a wonderfully written text that chronicles West’s preserving journey. From a “ramp dig” in Cass, WV to Plymouth, MA for a cranberry harvest, you will be charmed with West’s engaging and lively reports of his many road trips taken in search of the finest in preserving traditions. Equally intriguing are the recipes. I for one can’t wait to try Sunshine Pickles and Canadian Ketchup although it might take me awhile to work up to Nostradamus’s Quince Jelly.

Do you can and preserve or do you know someone who does? Do you have memories, fond or not so much, of canning?

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Jun 27 2012

A fine pickle

by Dea Anne M

For me, every gardening season brings its own unique excitment and pleasures, and right now I’m re-experiencing the joys of the first summer produce. Ripe tomatoes, snappy beans, tart tomatillos—I love them all. This year, with the increased yields due to our raised bed garden, I’m eager to really dive in and start canning, pickling, and otherwise preserving the fruits of my labor. In the meantime, I’ve been discovering inspiration at the farmers market. While shopping a few weeks back, I selected a bag of Kirby cucumbers. These are the cute, chubby cukes (I think of them as the Golden Retriever puppy of the vegetable world) and they are meant for pickles. I wanted to start out with something easy and refrigerator pickles fill that bill. I’d been casting around for a good recipe/technique. One was too sweet. Another rendered my crisp little cukes into tasteless mini-blimps hued an unappetizing grayish green. Finally, I tried Ted Allen’s recipe from his fun new cookbook In My Kitchen: 100 recipes for food-lovers, passionate cooks, and enthusiastic eaters. This was it! An abundance of whole spices like coriander and mustard seeds along with plenty of garlic and chile peppers make for the crispy savory pickle of my dreams. I was planning to include a photo of my latest batch but I’m a little embarrassed to say that the jar already looks pretty picked over since, at my house, we can’t seem to stay away from it. Here’s an image of the recipe from the Food Network website. You’ll see that Ted’s pickles include cauliflower and carrot. I have used only cukes so far – with great results – but now that I have the technique more or less mastered I am looking forward to trying it with other types of produce.

Pretty much anyone who knows me knows that I love kitchen oriented “projects.” Does that describe you too? If so, DCPL has resources to help. I’m amused to look back and see that I posted on this exact topic just a little over a year ago, but I suppose that’s a testament to my seasonal enthusiasm. Here are some new books that will be of interest to those just coming to canning and preserving as well as those more experienced in the art of putting food by.

Food in jars: preserving in small batches year-round by Marisa McClellan

Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It: and other kitchen projects by Karen Solomon

Canning and Preserving All-In-One for Dummies by Eve Adamson

The Preservation Kitchen: the craft of making and cooking with pickles, preserves, and aigre-doux by Paul Virant

As an aside, one of my ongoing kitchen projects has been making a batch of yogurt every week. The technique involves no exotic equipment—just a saucepan, a bowl, a strainer, and some porous cloth—and the only ingredients are milk and a spoonful of the current batch of yogurt. It’s so easy to do and makes an absolutely delicious quart of  Greek style yogurt. I learned how from Jennifer Reese’s wonderful book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: what you should and shouldn’t cook from scratch – over 120 recipes for the best homemade foods. This book is very entertaining, often hilarious, and it truly does tell you what costs less or tastes better to make and what you’ll do better to buy. Highly recommended!

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Jun 29 2011


by Dea Anne M

At the beginning of every summer, my parents handed me and my younger brother over to our grandparents. Mom and Dad stayed at home and enjoyed the luxury of private time as a couple while we kids spent three blissful months with our extended family in south Georgia.  I think everyone involved thought they had the best of the bargain.

Both of my grandparents were avid gardeners and part of the allure of staying with them was their huge vegetable garden as well as  the grape arbors, the strawberry beds and the thickets of wild blackberries that grew in the woods nearby. My brother and I were picky eaters, and most vegetables were a hard sell, but we loved the abundance of it all and would make up wild adventures when my grandmother sent us out with our buckets to pick berries.

Grandaddy and Mother gardened seriously, and by that I mean that they intended what they grew to feed them not only through the growing season but into the year.  Every August saw a frenzy of activity as Mother canned vegetables, made pickles and jams, and froze what seemed like bag after bag of corn, beans, and fruit. I remained a mere observer of this food preservation marathon but  I found it quite fascinating. As an older child, I took on some, shall we say,  less than becoming attitudes which the family put up with fairly graciously. My comment “You know, you can buy all of this at the grocery store”  provoked nothing more than gentle smiles from my grandmother and aunts. They, of course, knew that a home preserved jar of strawberry jam beats the grocery variety every time and that the bags of field peas blanched and frozen at the peak of flavor would be very welcome in the middle of February.

Well, since becoming a gardener myself, I have changed my thinking. My small garden is in no way comparable to my grandparents’ so my interest in canning and preserving is more on the small batch scale. Of course, you don’t have to be a gardener to preserve food. On any day of the week, there is a farmers market going on somewhere in our area and a good one will have the freshest and best tasting of local produce. Of course, you’ll want to use most of it as soon as possible,  but why not preserve some of your purchase to enjoy later in the year? Preserving on a small scale is doable, and pleasurable, and you don’t need the whole month of August, a large kitchen, or multiple helpers to accomplish it. [read the rest of this post…]

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