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December Staff Picks: Favorite Recipes

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Seniors | Art & Culture

Visions of sugar plums may or may not be dancing in our heads…but with the arrival of winter this month, we’re thinking of a few of our favorite recipes and cookbooks from the stacks! Here are some ideas for comfort food, holiday dishes to share, or a simple recipe to warm a snowy eve.


Carrie’s Picks 

I love cookbooks! I love to read them like novels, savoring the language and feasting with my eyes. The Joy of Cooking (seventh edition) by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker is the only cookbook I still own. It is taped up, spilled upon, shoved full of hand written recipes and cherished family favorites, and generally looks ready to explode into a million scattered pages. But I love this book! Sushi rice? There’s a recipe. Vegan chocolate cake? Check. Absolute best way to roast a whole chicken? Done! Detailed, descriptive, and containing at least one recipe for nearly anything you may want to make, the Joy of Cooking (seventh edition) is everything a comprehensive cookbook should be.  

But if there was one cookbook on my wish list it would have to be The Forest Feast for Kids: Colorful Vegetarian Recipes That Are Simple To Make, by Erin Gleeson.  

Beautiful photography of ingredients, procedures, and completed recipes will help children understand what it takes to create balanced nutritious meals, and help them find recipes that include their favorite foods. Vegetarians rejoice, this whole book is for you, but never fear omnivorous friends, you can add any protein you want to the many inventive meal plans. Portobellos and polenta are two of my families go-to vegetarian main courses, and I am always on the lookout for new ways to present these old favorites. Putting them together sounds totally dreamy, and doable! Substitute your favorite cheese, or leave it out altogether, add more onions (please) or use red cabbage instead of Brussels sprouts. The possibilities, and pictures, are appetite inducing.  

Whether you go for scholarly tomes like the Joy of Cooking, or visual delights like The Forest Feast for Kids, gather together around a great cookbook this month and create a new family favorite.  

Jessie’s Pick 

Baking in America: Traditional and Contemporary Favorites from the Past 200 Years by Greg Patent includes so many terrific recipes and is fascinating reading as well. Patent weaves historical notes in among the detailed recipes for Parker House Rolls, California Forty-Niner Cake, and Apricot Coconut Walnut bars, the recipe that earned him second prize in the junior division of the Pillsbury Bake-Off when he was 18. Every time I open it I learn something new about historical baking. Did you know that in colonial times less affluent hostesses sometimes rented pineapples by the day to serve as exotic, extravagant centerpieces? Or that “chiffon” style cake was invented in the 1920s by an insurance salesman who sold his secret formula to General Mills in 1947?

Patent includes tales of his own baking history as well, like his family’s tradition of making fresh donuts on New Year’s Eve. Taking this as inspiration, for a birthday party I once made his updated version of Eliza Leslie’s Doughnuts (1851) and invited guests to fry their own, although we skipped the old-fashioned rose water flavoring and went with vanilla instead. They were a hit, and those who were in attendance years ago still occasionally mention those doughnuts with fondness. Patent’s love of baking shines on every page, his precise research is impressive, and his methods won’t fail you. 


Meg’s Picks 

Here are few that I go back to again and again:  

Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake is the reason I keep How to Be A Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking in my personal collection. Add a vanilla glaze and it’s perfect for colleagues’ birthdays: delicious and unfussy.   

When I need French onion soup, I turn to Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, because why mess with perfection?  


Sarah’s Picks

One of my favorite things to do this time of year is bake bread. Nothing turns a house into a warm and cozy home quite like the smell of freshly baked bread. Perhaps it’s the chemical reaction of salt and yeast, or quite possibly it’s the release of the love that goes into mixing, proofing, nurturing, shaping, and baking a loaf of bread. It’s also a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend a chilly afternoon. 

I always turn back to my trusty King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion for tried-and-true classic recipes like Hearth Bread and Honey Oatmeal Bread. This book taught me how to bake bread with its easy, approachable style, explanation of methods, and step-by-step illustrations of important techniques. I’m looking forward to expanding my repertoire with Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s How to Make Sourdough and sampling a few recipes from Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast this year.  

It’s quite remarkable, really, that four simple ingredients can turn into something so satisfying and nourishing. It’s also remarkable how many thoughtful gifts you can create for just the price of flour, salt, yeast, and water. Pair your loaves with one of these Life-Changing Compound Butters and wrap them both up in a swatch of fabric with inspiration from Wrapagami for the perfect gift from the heart! 


Gail’s Pick 

What if you don’t want to pay more than five dollars every time you want a loaf of sourdough bread with a delicious crusty crust? Ken Forkish comes to the rescue with Flour Water Salt Yeast, explaining how to vary the proportions of these four ingredients to make artisanal bread and pizza dough. This guy has done his homework so you don’t have to. A good how-to book for making great bread.  


Raminta’s Pick 

My favorite meal of the year is probably my family’s Lithuanian Christmas Eve dinner (Kūčios). I love it more for the traditions, than most of the actual food. My family follows Lithuanian Catholic traditions and therefor, there is no meat or dairy served on Christmas Eve. The dishes served during this meal contain many seasonal root vegetables, mushrooms and lots and lots of fish. Most of us don’t particularly like the fish dishes, but will eat them out of a sense of tradition. Imagine my surprise, after moving to Maine, to find that our primary fish, herring, was used as bait for lobster hauls. The heat of the summer on Commercial Street brings me strange memories. 

Over the years, my family has adapted and maybe even cheated here and there. My family down in Florida has added shrimp cocktail for my sister-in-law. My wife brings a pre-meal cheese plate to our celebrations in Massachusetts. On occasion we have even brought down our raclette machine for optimum ooey gooey cheesiness.  

Each dish of the evening’s celebrations has special connotations and timing. One of the first dishes of the evening is a simple mushroom broth paired with mushroom buns. The buns are my absolute favorite part of the entire meal. As a child, I would help my grandmother with the preparation and we would make two kinds of buns; mushroom and bacon. The bacon buns were not to be eaten on Christmas Eve, but were to be saved for Christmas. There was NEVER any way that a misshapen bacon bun wasn’t going to end up in my mouth. These buns are fairly simple to make and are seriously so incredibly tasty. My wife and I have been known to make them “out of season.”

Mushroom Buns 

  • Get a copy of the Joy of Cooking and prepare the dough according to the Parker House Rolls recipe 
  • 1 cup European mushrooms (porcini are awesome for this) – finely chopped (if using dried mushrooms, rehydrate first) 
  • 1 small onion – finely chopped 
  • Salt to taste 
  • 1 beaten egg 
  •  Sauté onions, mushrooms and salt. The mushroom to onion ration should be about 2 to 1. It really depends on how much you are making. Prepare the dough according to the recipe. 
  • Take out one small fist full of dough and stretch it out in your palm. Scoop in about one tablespoon of the mushroom/onion mixture and close. You should have a small, football shaped bun in your hand. Brush with egg before baking. Follow baking instructions from Joy of Cooking. 

Bacon Buns 

  • Follow the recipe above and replace finely chopped mushrooms with good quality bacon. 

And as my grandmother would tell us, Valgyk! 


Jim’s Picks 

My mother always made such great baked beans.  It’s not usually considered a difficult dish, but you would be surprised how many things can go wrong.  Anyway, with my limited talents, the Boston Baked Bean recipe in the Frugal Gourmet by Jeff Smith enabled me to be a successful bean-cook three out of four times.   

My one “fancy dish” is from this book as well. That is cooking in parchment: lamb chops in this case. Easy, and it keeps the lamb soooo moist.  Also impresses your guests as you present a paper package on their plates with a fully cooked chop inside. 

Nate’s Pick  

Kenji Lopez-Alt’s fantastic The Food Lab contains more than one recipe for hamburgers.  Whether you want to cook a classic, juicy burger on the grill, or a fast-food-style, thin, pan fried one, Kenji has you covered.  More than just exhaustively tested recipes, this volume contains a wealth of food science written with the home cook in mind.  Lopez-Alt breaks down everything from what cuts of meat to buy at the butcher to how many minutes you should boil your hardboiled eggs for.  I also appreciate the relative simplicity of the recipes included; you do not need access to an industrial kitchen to successfully recreate any of the dishes.  One of my favorite recipes is for Ultra-Smashed Cheeseburgers, a no-frills take on a classic diner-style hamburger.  High on heat and low on handling, this recipe is a go-to for the colder Maine months when grilling outside is a less than enticing option, yet you still find yourself pining for summer flavors.


Elizabeth’s Pick 

One snowy eve last winter, while I burrowed with books and blankets, my farmer friend and housemate Sean rustled up a Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette for a cold-night-comfort-sup, with cherry tomatoes (roasted and frozen in sunnier times) tucked in with the squash to boot.  Brown buttery onions, orange squash, gooey warm tomatoes, flaky pastry crust. Holy hot summer. A sweetness and a savory-ness. Reader, we ate it! You can find the recipe in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It works fine to swap flours for a gluten-free galette—that’s what we had.  

Wendy’s Pick 

Marjorie Standish’s Cooking Down East has been one of my favorite cookbooks since I learned to cook on my grandmother’s huge cast iron stove (what I wouldn’t give to have that stove in my kitchen today!).  Marjorie Standish wrote a column for the Portland Press Herald for over 25 years, and this is one of her compilations of her many recipes featured there.  The cookbook was well used when I was learning (originally published in 1969 and my grandmother had an original copy) and my current copy is newer but no less well used.  It falls open every time to my absolute favorite recipe – Melt-in-your-mouth Blueberry Cake – which, as all of her recipes do, features simple local ingredients.  The cake is light and delicious and a family favorite at holidays or just weekend breakfast (side note… it freezes lovely, so make a double batch and freeze one for another day!).  It is great for breakfast, dessert, birthdays or just as a snack and is easy to make.  My favorite trick that I learned from this recipe is to lightly coat the blueberries with some of the flour before mixing them in; if you do, they don’t sink to the bottom of the cake but stay delightfully distributed throughout.  Check out Cooking Down East or any of Marjorie’s other cookbooks for a wonderful taste of Maine – the way food should be… 

Eileen’s Pick 

Potluck, you say?  I’ll bring dessert! 

Pie always sounds like a good idea, but it usually looks better than it tastes, in my experience. The crust has to be right.  No soggy bottoms. Zigzag edges not so neat as to look contrived, not so heavy as to challenge Cousin Mae’s dental work.   It ought to be light but substantial, a container that delights the senses.  It has to be easy enough for a mere mortal to make and be proud of.   

And, please, the filling should be worth the trouble of making the crust.  The whole thing, above all else, should taste better than good. 

 Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie by Ken Haedrich (2004) will help you accomplish all that. With his many side notes and plenty of practical advice, you are bound to get it right. 

Nothing I have run up against in my dessert-eating life has ever made me consider saying, “This is too sweet.”  That means that I am happy to engage a generous slice of pecan pie any time.  A few holidays ago I had a hankering for just that and swooned, in a focused-research way, over scads of pecan pie recipes before finally settling on Haedrich’s “Louisiana Browned-Butter Pecan Pie.”  I bought the required dark corn syrup, knowing that it would sit in my fridge forever, 1/2 cup shy of full. I used his recipe for “Basic Flaky Pie Crust”, followed his directions for successful prebaking, and set to browning the eponymous butter for the gorgeous, gooey innards. Without going into too much detail (that’s what recipes are for) I will say the resulting pie was as close to perfect as I am likely to come, ever.  One great crust, a pecan-stuffed filling easily meeting the crust’s high standard, and we had some serious pecan pie that made me think maybe I’d have further use for that leftover dark corn syrup after all, and sooner rather than later.  


Hazel’s Picks

For further reading, here’s a book list from our collections: Favorite Feasts and Everyday Meals. You’ll find new cookbooks, plus links to our Cookbooks from Maine list, holiday cookbooks, and more.

Let Us Entertain You: Musicals from Videoport and PPL

posted: , by Patti DeLois
tags: Library Collections | Adults | Seniors | Art & Culture

This month the Library opens up Videoport’s collection of musicals for request, and in addition to featuring music and dance films on our display shelf at the Main Branch, we will be hosting a series of dance movies on Thursday nights in the Rines Auditorium, plus an all day, family friendly marathon on Saturday, December 9th.

For the series schedule, click here.

For a list of recommended dance films, click here.

For a list of our newest dance instruction videos, click here.

Once Upon a Time: November, Nostalgia, and Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Seniors | Art & Culture

It’s easy to enter a dreamy nostalgia in the library, maxing out your library card and hauling away tote bags heavy as sacks of potatoes. So. Many. Books. So many films. And music! Poetry! History! Nature! Art! There are favorite authors and worlds to remember, revisit, or to re-examine with an older, more critical eye or ear. It’s also a relief that more good stuff keeps coming, and that one of the greatest things about nostalgia is that exploring it can lead you to completely new finds.


Carrie’s Pick 

The Sunday morning paper. Learning to read…and then finally realizing you can read the comics all by yourself! Spending the whole week waiting to find out what Charlie Brown and the gang will do next. The joy of anticipation.  

Take a trip back to childhood with The Complete Peanuts collection.  


Sarah S’s Pick 

Nothing makes me quite as nostalgic as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series. I credit the adventures of Laura, Mary, Caroline, and Charles with developing my love for reading at an early age, and fondly recall many hours spent in a blanket fort with a flashlight and a growing pioneer spirit. So I was really excited to learn about a new biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder that is being published this month. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder was written by Caroline Fraser, editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House books.

Fraser has drawn from unpublished manuscripts, diaries, letters, and public records to give us the most complete Wilder biography to date. The publisher promises it will “reveal the complex woman who defined the American pioneer character, and whose artful blend of fact and fiction grips us to this day.” And as critic Patricia Nelson Limerick notes in The New York Times, “For anyone who has drifted into thinking of Wilder’s ‘Little House’ books as relics of a distant and irrelevant past, reading ‘Prairie Fires’ will provide a lasting cure. Just as effectively, for readers with a pre-existing condition of enthusiasm for western American history and literature, this book will refresh and revitalize interpretations that may be ready for some rattling.” 


Harper’s Pick 

When I heard that Philip Pullman was going to be releasing a new series of books set in the His Dark Materials universe, my reaction was threefold. First, I’m pretty sure that I stopped breathing for a second. Then I let out a high-pitched squeal that was probably audible to most of the houses on my street. And then I dropped everything and ran to find my well-worn copies of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass for immediate rereading.  

When I was growing up, the His Dark Materials series was a huge part of my life in a way I don’t really know how to explain. If you’ve ever picked up a book and immediately felt at home, you know what I’m talking about. From the first few pages, something about the world, the characters, the way they spoke and thought held me captive. I immediately connected to the idea of daemons — physical manifestations of a person’s soul that takes the form of an animal and can change shape in childhood but settles to one form as an adult. Much like the fun of figuring out what Hogwarts house you belong to, I loved trying to guess what people’s daemons would be, imagining how they would act, thinking about how our world would change with the addition of these creatures. (My daemon, if you’re wondering, settled as a red panda named Bantazion. What’s yours?)  

The His Dark Materials series is one of those that grow and mature with the characters. Being the same age as the main characters, Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon, when I was reading The Golden Compass, helped me make an immediate connection — and then as I moved through the series, the characters grew up with me. I like to think of the three books in the HDM series as spanning the traditional age groupings of fiction: The Golden Compass is a middle grade chapter book, The Subtle Knife is a Young Adult novel, and The Amber Spyglass begins to cross the border into adult fiction.  

I haven’t actually finished La Belle Sauvage — mostly because I don’t want to leave it behind quite yet. While there are going to be two more books in The Book of Dust trilogy, I still want to savor the magic of finally going back to this world of daemons & Dust. A prequel told mainly from the point of view of eleven-year-old Malcom and his daemon Asta, La Belle Sauvage is easily accessible to younger readers, while still providing fascinating insight into the political & philosophical mysteries that lead up to the world first encountered in The Golden Compass. Whether you were, like me, a childhood companion of Lyra’s, or are a newcomer to Pullman’s world, I highly recommend these books to all.  


Jim’s Picks 

My first nostalgic pick is The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn.  I read this for the first time as a freshman in college and eventually got my own copy.  It guided my efforts about how to train to be an artist.  I took Shahn’s exhortation for my own mantra: read everything, listen to everybody, do both manual and intellectual labor, look down on nobody. 

The second: Hoosiers with Gene Hackman. If you were raised in a small town and played basketball, then you know that this movie is spot on about how a single season of winning at high school basketball can seem to be the most important thing in the world during the winter months.  It is probably more of a wistful watch if your team never made it to a tournament; then the movie becomes a fantasy.  My high school basketball team was baaaddddd…and I rode the bench. 


Megan’s Pick 

Always Coming Home is Ursula K. Le Guin’s fictional record of a future civilization in northern California. This “archaeology of the future” includes poetry, illustrations, maps, songs, folklore, and campfire tales from the land of the Valley. On top of that, there’s a “back of the book” section with recipes, etiquette, descriptions and illustrations of musical instruments, medical practices…There’s so much packed into this book that I never get bored. Two of my favorite parts: “Teasing the Kitten,” an improvised poem making fun of a lazy cat (“You are holding the dirt down / sound asleep in the sunlight”) and “Dried Mice,” the story of Coyote’s human pup leaving the den.

When I picked this book up by chance in high school, it was a reading experience unlike any I’d ever had. On rereads, it pulls me back to my teenage times as well as the now-familiar world of the Kesh. I’d recommend it as a good book to read backwards, forwards, in pieces, and in any order you please. 


Kathleen’s Pick 

Nostalgia? For me, it would be T.H. White’s The Once and Future King… I wish I still had the worn, tattered, dog-eared copy that was the end result of my reading it in high school. At the time, I was completely transported by White’s version of the Arthurian legend. I don’t think I put it down until the end, despite its 600 pages! I still rate it as my favorite book of all. 


Meg’s Pick

While I’m far from nostalgic for the subject matter of Caleb Carr’s historical psychological thriller, The Alienist, the book represents a very specific point of time for me: the discovery of non-required reading worth reading late into the night and early into the morning. I recall a school break many winters ago where chemistry and A.P. history books were set aside for a chubby, weathered, mass paperback loaned from a teacher. I was tucked into a twin sized bed under a handmade pink quilt, with a wood stove crackling in the room below my bedroom, as I devoured every gruesome detail of a serial killer loose during New York City’s Gilded Age. The Alienist was the first of many books that I voluntarily lost sleep over, but out of those that have kept me up late, it is the only one that featured Teddy Roosevelt as a character. 


Hazel’s Picks 

Double pick! Mule Variations by Tom Waits + Hey Willy, See the Pyramids by Maira Kalman: 

Mule Variations was a permanent fixture of our very-fancy-for-1999 seven-disc home stereo. It was the soundtrack of choice that summer as I geared up for third grade (with my brand-new Pokémon handbook!), into winter while my mom rearranged the living room furniture and baked hazelnut biscotti, and for many seasons beyond. In typical Tom Waits fashion, some of the songs (“Filipino Box Spring Hog,” “Eyeball Kid”) both fascinated and disturbed me, while others (“Hold On,” “Take It With Me”) are more typically comforting tracks that recall for me the sudden, glowing chill of 4:00 sunsets in the country. The two experiences came together to cement the album as a unified whole in my nostalgic memory. 

Any of Maira Kalman’s picture books, and especially Hey Willy, See the Pyramids, also deserve a mention here. Her illustrations are so fantastic and bustling that they seem to go on buzzing, dancing, singing, and reciting poetry even while the pages sit closed and quiet. Reading one of her stories is like playing I Spy with someone else’s uncensored imagination, and several of them have lived on every book shelf I’ve called my own.  


Meghan’s Pick 

It doesn’t happen often, but every time someone comes to the desk to check out the epic album Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, I get the shiver, and wonder if they’re going to feel it, too. I keep my mouth shut, though, not wanting to interfere. 

When I first heard Loveless, I was in college. I was recently disentangled from everything, free and boundless. Which is also to say, alone, and yearning for all the things a person that age yearns for. 

The songs themselves defy shape, taking on instead a driving ethereal power that builds on itself. This was a bit how I was feeling, too. Eventually it became impractical to listen to music no matter what I was doing, and so MBV fell out of my life a bit. When I do make the time to listen to it now, it doesn’t hit me the same way. Not until I let the details of my current self fall away, until I inhabit that gloriously shapeless and searching person that I was.  


Elizabeth’s Picks 

Just outside of Chicago, I grew up in an ardently record-and-radio-focused family, and when we got to see him my grandpa played the jazz and blues albums he loved all through our brief time together.

Here in the lamp-lit Maine twilight each winter, with the snow drifting blue and darkness knocking, it’s a simple fix to transport and uplift myself in the warm nostalgia of horn, saxophone, piano, and the familiar vocals of a few bedrock albums from the library: John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Muddy Waters’ Folk Singer, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington Live at the Blue Note, Billie, Ella, Lena, Sarah! or Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners 


Eileen’s Picks 

I am six years old. Sea Hunt, starring Lloyd Bridges, is my very favorite television show. I have a piercing little-kid crush on its scuba diving main character, Mike Nelson, and his gravity-defying underwater hair, swaying like eel grass above his swim mask.  Oh, my.  I am lying in front of our tv, elbows planted on the carpet, chin cupped in my hands, in thrall to the guy in the wetsuit.  Remembering this, I feel safe, warm, happy…a wave of contentment. Nostalgia. 

It is 1980.  Reading The World According to Garp is my first encounter with the amazing, mesmerizing, boundary-bumping John Irving. I get swallowed up by his style and plotting.  Garp changes me as a reader.  It has upped the ante; I will expect more from everything I read hereafter.  I think on this now and I feel the surprise, wonder, expansiveness…a familiar revelatory frisson.  Nostalgia. 

Each of the foregoing constitutes a time in my life that I can date stamp.  In neither case am I able to watch or read them again and feel what I felt then.  I have tried.  It is more that I can remember feeling those things in the moment.  Nostalgia.  

The third title, well, that is a little different. 

I tumbled to Bruce Springsteen in 1975 when his album Born to Run was released, a few years later than the Asbury Park cognoscenti can claim.  Awareness came by way of a transistor radio perched on my bedroom window sill.  When I heard the opening notes of “Thunder Road” for the first time it was like nothing I had ever heard before, a resonance far bigger than the sound easing out of the tiny, tinny speaker.  Here is where Mr. Springsteen wins the day: every single time I hear “Thunder Road” I am right there again.  It feels brand new, but with the extra thrill of knowing that I already love it.  It is nostalgia and then some.  It is ongoing. 

Maybe nostalgia is all about remembering.  Maybe I should have stuck with Sea Hunt and The World According to Garp, my time-locked recollections tied securely to particular slices of life.  But there is something about hearing the first strains of “Thunder Road” and feeling it like the first time all over again, always fresh, always grabbing my gut for reasons I can’t catalog or understand, that made me rethink my first tidily contained notions for the nostalgia-themed Staff Picks blog and say, “Nope.  That’s not it.  There’s more.” 

The screen door slams.  Mary’s dress waves 

There it is again. 


 Thanks for reading. (And if you’re feeling nostalgic for older staff picks, consider revisiting last November’s blog post, where we discuss community, action, civic engagement, and rad women!)

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