Too Many Tomatoes CookbookOK, I admit, this might not be the year that you’re worried about too many tomatoes; it may be the year that you’re worried about not enough! Just in case the weather takes a turn and starts to co-operate, we’ve got  all of your excessive tomato harvest problems solved with The Too Many Tomatoes Cookbook by Brian Yarvin.

You’ll find all the things you’d expect in a cookbook about tomatoes – sauces, soups and stews, pizza, lasagna and salads as well as tomato preservation basics – roasting, drying and freezing. There are also more unique entries such as Hawaiian-Style Salmon Salad, Korean-Style Tomatoes Sprinkled with Sugar, and South African Train Smash.  Recipes come from across the world, proving that this uniquely New World vegetable (or is it a fruit?) has been embraced by countries and cultures as diverse as Italy, Thailand, Greece, Albania, Turkey, Hungary and Japan. Scattered throughout are various essays on tomato farmers and vendors and chefs, tomato facts and tomato-centric events. Beautifully produced with lots of goroegous photos and an encouraging and friendly writing style, you’ll find yourself reaching for this book time after time.

Now, all we need is some tomato-growing weather!

Staycation2Here we are – already getting to the end of vacation season. Many  fellow library workers and customers are talking about all the fun trips they have planned before school starts (the New Windsor rodeo, Tabor Home Vineyards & Winery, the windmill in Fulton, Illinois, the Iowa State Fair) or the fun things they’ve done on their days off. If you’re one of them, we’d like to hear from you; the best ideas will win a prize.  The following rules apply:

The destination must be within a 1-day drive (round-trip) of the Quad-Cities.

Ok, there’s only the one rule.

Submit a comment to this post by August 21st , and you may be a winner! The Putnam Museum and IMAX Theatre have generously donated 2 tickets to Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa (showing through October). A perfect choice for all you travelers, armchair and otherwise. The winner will be announced August 25 – good luck!

norrisWhat happens when one unstoppable force meets an immovable object? That’s the subtext of this coffee-table style kitsch book, Chuck Norris Vs. Mr. T: 400 Facts About the Baddest Dudes in the History of Ever.   This 176 pages lets the reader ponder brief sarcastic koans about the strength, potency, and astrophysics-bending possibilities of these two demigods in a spin on the American tall tale.
I know Chuck Norris jokes are kind of 2005, but Mr. T is in this as well, and they’re pretty dang funny.

“Chuck Norris can beat a brick wall in tennis.”
“Mr. T sleeps with a pillow under his gun.”
‘The McRib sandwich only comes back when Chuck Norris is in the mood for one.”
“Mr. T doesn’t breathe.  He holds air hostage.”

For fans of Walker: Texas Ranger and A-Team alike.

s WifeAudrey Niffenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife will be released as a movie starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana on August 14th. This combines two excellent genres – novels featuring librarians and time travel. (There can never be enough stories about “hip, handsome” librarians).  Henry works for the Newberry library in Chicago and involuntarily pops up in his own past and future.

Add to this, time travel as an “impossible romantic trap” and you have box office magic. Consider the romantic traps inherent in movies such as Somewhere in Time, The Lake House and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. When your lover is aging at a different rate or is in a different time zone, so to speak, it makes for a relationship complication.

So, here’s your chance to expand your travel choices – really expand them. Outside our time/space continuum.

frugallibrarianThis is not a health blog.  Check here for the endless amounts of oatmeal benefits.

It’s funny how I used to view A.M. food as competition for coffee space.  Now I wouldn’t know what to do without a trough of it on the passenger side floormat.

Steel cut oats have a whole slew of advantages, the most important of which, they taste absolutely nothing like the stuff that comes in the cardboard tube with the old man on it. They’re actually…awesome.

Here’s the frugal part.  If you’re willing to pay what everyone else forks over, the lowest you’ll find in town is $3.20 a pound for a 24 oz. bag of Bob’s Red Mill.  This is America, and middle America at that.  We should be able to buy it by slow-moving-vehicle.  After much Internet scouring,  I feel foolish to admit the final stop was the QC’s own Greatest Grains store.  For maximum chagrin, say the business name slower.

If you’re willing to buy them in silo-sized amounts, they knock the already attractive $1.49 down to $1.19 per pound.  Use that savings to find yourself some big tupperware containers.  With 25 pounds of “organic” horse feed in your closet, you’ll need it.

weight of heavenAfter their only child, 7-year-old Benny, dies unexpectedly of meningitis, Frank and Ellie Benton find their once perfect life in Ann Arbor empty and unbearable. When Frank is subsequently offered a new job in Girbaug, India, they grasp at the opportunity for a fresh start. Ellie adapts beautifully, volunteering as a counselor in a free clinic, and relishing in the vibrant color and boisterous activity that is India. Frank, on the other hand, struggles, never quite fitting in or understanding the vast cultural differences. He does, however, befriend a young boy, Ramesh, and becomes consumed with offering this child every opportunity, despite the father’s jealous objections. In the meantime, as Frank neglects his business, labor difficulties continue to fester into riot proportions.

As a ready, I could viscerally sense impending disaster, and even partially predict it. Still, I was caught unawares at the ending and left to marvel at this storyteller’s technique. The Weight of Heaven would make an excellent book club choice. As there are several issues with varying viewpoints presented, the book certainly promises to reap a wealth of healthy discussion.

Julie and JuliaThe long anticipated movie Julie and Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, opens today and whatever the reviews, it’s sure to be filled with beautiful food. Based on the book Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, it follows the cooking adventures of a young woman who, in an attempt to bring some focus to her life, decides to make every recipe in Julia Child’s iconic Mastering the Art of French Cooking – in one year and all in her tiny kitchen.

This isn’t the first time food has been the centerpiece of a film. Take a look at these entries for more mouthwatering fun:

Big Night – An Italian restaurant on the brink of closing pulls out all the stops in one last attempt to keep the kitchen running.

Babette’s Feast – An unexpected windfall allows Babette to create a once-in-a-lifetime banquet for her longtime benefactors, a pious religious group that deny earthly pleasure.

Chocolat – When a mysterious single mother moves into a small French village and opens a chocolate shop, magic and controversy soon follow.

Sideways – Two best friends spend a week touring the California wine country, discovering passion, exploring their failures and searching for the perfect wine.

Like Water for Chocolate – In this romantic fantasy a couple is denied the chance to marry. To be near her, the young man marries her sister and she expresses her passion for him through her cooking.

sacred heartsSet in 1570 in northern Italy,  Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant gives us a fascinating look inside the fictional convent of Santa Caterina. The typical image of a nunnery may be of silence and quiet contemplation, but within those walls there is a community with it’s own secrets, intrigues and power plays.

While many women entered the convent voluntarily either as a religious calling or a refuge from a demanding father or husband (in many ways, convents allowed women a level of independence they could never enjoy in the outside world with time to pursue their interests in art, literature, science and education), many were forced to take the veil. In Italy in the late 1500s, the price of a wedding dowry had become so high that most noble families could only afford to marry off one daughter; the only alternative for an unmarried daughter was the convent. When one of these women is sent to Santa Caterina against her will, her fierce determination to escape shakes the very foundation of the power structure within the convent, creating new alliances and seismic shifts in fundamental beliefs.

Dunant is an excellent storyteller, peopling her novel with fascinating, complex characters, from Suora Zuana the convent’s apothocary who takes the heartbroken and angry novice Serafina under her wing, to the Abbess whose power – and secrets – are challenged. Readers will quickly become immersed in the politics and customs of 16th century Italy. There is – perhaps surprisingly – a lot of action and many tense moments; this book is a page turner. And finally, at it’s very center, it’s a love story – fierce and steadfast against great odds.

Rustic fruit dessertsTart, cobbler, grunt, slump, crisp, crumble, betty, pandowdy, buckle, teacake, galette, fool, trifle and pie – all of the evocative names (some unique to different parts of the country), all meant for one thing – delicious fruit desserts. Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber collects some of the best of these simple and satisfying dishes in this charming book.

Recipes are arranged by season, so you can take advantage of the beautiful peaches, nectarines and apricots that are available now, open it again in the fall when the pears, apples and figs arrive and then again in the spring for ideas for strawberries, rhubarb and cherries. In addition to recipes for the more common fruits from blueberries to raspberries, some lesser-known fruits – huckleberries, currants, marionberries, plumcots and pluots – are also represented. Recipes are straightforward and unintimadating – even the beginner will find success. And what better way to take advantage of the changing seasons than with fresh fruit desserts?

good dogGood Dog. Stay. by Pulitzer Prize winning author Anna Quindlen, is a delightful little book. It’s short, sad and sweet. Of its 82 pages, only 32 of them are text – the rest consists of expressive black and white photographs of adorable dogs gazing back at you with the liquid, loving eyes.

The book is also sad. The author reflects back on the life of her devoted black Labrador Retriever, Beau, who was part of her family for almost fifteen years. And yes, it does deal with the dreaded decision of having to put Beau down as his infirmities multiply and worsen. So keep your Kleenex handy, but your mind open. This is a tribute to all good dogs as well as an uncanny observationof what we humans can learn from our canine friends, fo what they can tell us withoug using words.

The book is also sweet – or bittersweet, to be more precise. It’s heartwarming, even humorous in parts. But the essence of the book is best expressed in its very last sentence, “Sometimes an old dog teaches you new tricks.” Recommended for dog lovers everywhere and perfectly appropriate for reading during these “dog days” of summer.