The art of summarizing great works, or “trucks turn in”

Pssst, do you ever read the New York Times bestseller list for children’s picture books?

Have you realized that each picture book listed includes a one-sentence summary?

(The one in the title is for Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site)

Take a look, either online or the next time you’re reading the NYT book review over Sunday breakfast. You might laugh into your coffee. . .

In Arcadia

Twin Valley beach
Twin Valley Beach at Governor Dodge State Park, via wonder_al on Flickr (Creative Commons)

A few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of discovering a new bookstore, Arcadia Books, in Spring Green, Wisconsin. (Why yes, the URL for the store’s website IS readinutopia.com – they are obviously able to laugh at the fact that some parts of southern Wisconsin don’t really seem like the real world). We were in Spring Green looking for a place to eat lunch before we headed to Governor Dodge State Park to go to the beach. Our lunch was so-so (if you can call a swiss-cheddar-cheeseburger with fried onions on toast grilled like a grilled cheese sandwich so-so), but our visit to this bookstore certainly made up for it.

The first sign that Arcadia Books was my kind of place was evident when we first entered: they have a large range of children’s book-cover t-shirts from Out of Print Clothing hanging above the shelves in the children’s section. I’m a huge fan. There is also a nice little cafe in the store. After we had done our shopping, we enjoyed sitting down and drinking an iced cold-brew coffee. I have found that cold-brew coffee is much more common in Wisconsin than it was in Toronto when I was visiting this summer, so I was excited to share the joy with my sister, who was visiting. Try it yourself! It’s got a much better flavour (less bitter) than iced hot coffee.

And, what did we shop for? My sister was looking for some children’s books, being as its birthday season in my family. We had a great chat with the store manager, who obviously has a great knowledge of children’s books, and a great memory for titles! The selection of children’s books in the store, especially chapter books for ages 6-12, is one of the best I’ve seen. And I visit A LOT of bookstores! They had some old favourites, like The Great Brain and many many Tintin books, but I was mostly impressed by the great selection of children’s books I’ve never heard of, including many many series. Two that books that stood out were:

Shoeless Joe and Me, part of the Baseball Card Adventure Series of stories about kids and baseball heroes in historical context, and

The Mysterious Benedict Society, the first in a series about four kids who answer an ad in a newspaper asking “Are you a gifted child looking for new opportunities?”

As everyone who was a voracious reader as a child knows that as soon as a kid finishes one book, he or she is bound to ask “What’s next??”. The store manager not only knew which series were likely to be attractive to kids of a certain age, he also knew which books came first in each series, and which books they had in stock for each series. Excellent!

We also received several recommendations for adult books, and my sister picked up a copy of The Night Circus. I had the chance to look at their great selection of NYRB Classics, a reprint series from the New York Review of Books which I had never seen “in person” before. They are very aesthetically pleasing but somewhat daunting. I’m not sure I’m ever going to pick up my own NYRB classics edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton – only 1392 pages of light reading! The store also keeps on hand a full set of all the plays being performed during the current season at American Players Theater in Spring Green, and, as one might expect, has a large number of books on Frank Lloyd Wright, who lived at nearby Taliesin.

Me, I opted for some beach reading, and picked up a copy of F in Exams: the Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers. I had browsed through this book earlier in the summer in a bookstore in Toronto, and I had been kicking myself for not buying it. I was not disappointed, and I sat in the cafe at Arcadia Books and laughed so hard at this book that I started crying.

I’ll definitely be back to Arcadia Books!

 

The Homesick Texan’s Green Chile Posole with Black Beans

You know it’s a good cookbook when you keep your library copy at home, accruing late fines, just so you can make a few recipes.

And yes, I did buy my own copy of The Homesick Texan Cookbook and I am eagerly awaiting its arrival. Using the library copy, I made two recipes: Austin-style black beans and Green Chile Posole with Black Beans. It is possible to make the posole (soup with hominy) with canned black beans, but I wanted to try the Austin-style black beans since the author explicitly says that she was trying to recreate the smokiness of a ham-based bean dish using only vegetarian ingredients. She does this using chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, which are smoked. The beans are very very good, although not as salty as they would be if made with ham or bacon; I will definitely make them again. I doubled the recipe, and can’t think why I wouldn’t do so again next time, as dried beans are cheap, and it takes a while to cook them (about 2 hours), so it just seems to make sense to make lots.

Using the Austin-style black beans, I then proceeded to make the green chile posole. I did make a few modifications to the recipe. I actually didn’t use any green chiles, since we had found the black beans to be quite spicy on their own. I also used vegetables from our CSA (community-supported agriculture) share as much as possible.

The first step was to weigh out the fresh tomatillos, and then boil them for five minutes until they were soft.

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(The tomatillos above are being kept company by a frog shaped silicone oven mitt, a regift from my husband’s granny that was one of my favorite wedding shower gifts. My friend’s daughter loves playing with it when she visits us as well).

I then assembled a big pile of lovely vegetables and herbs in preparation for making a puree: spinach, chives, green onions, garlic and cilantro.

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Everything except for the garlic and cilantro was from our CSA share from Harmony Valley farm in Viroqua, Wisconsin. The recipe originally called for onions, but we are drowning in chives and green onions from our weekly veggie delivery, so this seemed like a good chance to use them up. We are really enjoying our first CSA experience – the vegetables are really excellent quality and it is fun to try out new foods.

I whizzed it all up in our lovely food processor, another excellent wedding present:

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I then took the leftover black beans out of the fridge: yum! And took out a can of hominy as well. In the meantime, I had added some vegetable bouillon to the water leftover from boiling the tomatillos, and this was simmering on the stove.

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I had never eaten hominy before: it’s corn kernels that have been treated with lime to remove the hulls. The addition of an alkali also increases the nutritional value, and this process, known as nixtamilization is very ancient. (For Little House on the Prairie fans, this is the same process used when Ma makes “hulled corn” in Little House in the Big Woods: there’s a recipe for how to do this, using lye instead of lime, in The Little House Cookbook).

Here’s what hominy looks like, to the unitiated.

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I really enjoyed the flavour: it basically tastes like corn tortillas, but with a more chewy texture, of course.

After you’ve made the beans and pureed all the greens, the rest of the soup is very easy. You just dump the puree, beans and hominy into the boiling broth and let it cook for half an hour. Because the spinach is pureed along with the rest of the ingredients, it turned out less green than I thought was appetizing, so I added a few fresh spinach leaves at the end to add some colour and texture.

We’ve really been enjoying eating outside in our little backyard these last few weeks:

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The verdict: delicious! and easy! I need to try some more recipes from this book, and I need to use my food processor more often as well.

I’ve got a project in the works for the blog that I’m excited to share with you, by the way . . .

Out of Print Clothing, or Reason #342 why I Love Being a Librarian

I love being a librarian because . . .

I can wear a Harold and the Purple Crayon t-shirt to work whenever I want, and what’s more, my students (future librarians all) will give me compliments!

Harold and the Purple Crayon t-shirt - Out of Print Clothing

My Harold and the Purple Crayon t-shirt is one of two t-shirts I own from the excellent Out of Print Clothing, a company based in Brooklyn that sells t-shirts, sweatshirts and accessories (think tote bags and ereader covers) emblazoned with book covers; sometimes the cover is of the first edition of the book, sometimes of a later cover with interesting design. They’ve recently expanded their line of t-shirts based on children’s books, hence my new Harold t-shirt. I first saw these shirts in an extremely out-of-the-way coffee shop in Ucluelet, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and bought my first shirt, The Origin of Species last fall. The shirts are well-made and they fit stylishly, unlike a lot of other librarian/book-themed garb – the fit is slimmer than my radical militant librarian t-shirt made by local Madisonian Maureen O’Grady, which also rocks.

Hmm, is Charlotte’s Web next on my list of acquisitions? Or perhaps, in light of Maurice Sendak’s recent death, it might be time for In the Night Kitchen. Perhaps I could wear it while listening, again, to Sendak’s beautiful, funny and sad interviews with Terry Gross on NPR over the years.

Oh, and before I forget, for each t-shirt bought, Out of Print donates one book to Books for Africa, an established charity that aims to alleviate the book famine in Africa.

PS This is not a sponsored review, at all. I just love these t-shirts.

“I hate those ebooks. They cannot be the future. They may well be. . . I will be dead” – Maurice Sendak

OK, so I said in my last post that I couldn’t really get into Maurice Sendak books. Good thing Kristin of Briney Deep Designs set me (sort of) straight and directed me to Stephen Colbert’s hilarious two-part interview with Maurice Sendak, which aired in January. It will not be surprising that this interview is not G-rated (among other things, the two discuss Colbert’s book idea, the masterfully ungrammatically titled “I’m a Pole (and so Can You)” and you might be able to see where that goes. Sendak hits so many nails on so many heads, and Colbert is a genius of poker face. It’s a masterpiece. Thanks, Kristin!

I also can’t recommend enough this video interview with Judith Kerr (from the Guardian), the author of “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” and all the Mog picture books.

A completely fascinating look at a delightful woman, who, come to think of it, might agree with Sendak on what kids can handle in their picture books. The kind of woman who writes Goodbye Mog, a more than slightly weird book which her most beloved creation, Mog the Cat, dies of old age, and then follows it up with My Henry, a book she describes in this interview:

“It’s about being a widow, but it’s very jolly . . . it’s sort of slightly ridiculous. I mean, it’s totally ridiculous.”

P/FLOTUS read “Where the Wild Things Are”

Perhaps Barack and Michelle Obama missed their calling as children’s librarians? See them reading Where the Wild Things Are here. I’ve never really been into Maurice Sendak (don’t know why, really, feel free to convince me otherwise in the comments) but I do appreciate someone who gets into reading aloud.

I’ve got a longer post brewing about some of my favorite books have read out loud to me when I was little. I’d love to hear about your favourites, too.