The Pioneer Woman Cooks

The Pioneer Woman Cooks is an unique combination of cookbook and sociological essay. Ree Drummond got sidetracked on her journey from L.A. to Chicago, when she stopped in Oklahoma and met the cowboy who was to become her husband.

The photographs of horses, dogs, cowboys and rainbow straddled fields are sometimes cute and  funny, sometimes striking and romantic. They alone make you want to pack your bags and move to a ranch out West.

The recipes are clear and simple, and each step is accompanied by a photograph. They are not definitely not for someone looking for low-fat or low-cholesterol meals. However, if you go to her blog, http://thepioneerwoman.com, you’ll find a “Cowgirl Food” category with dishes like lettuce wraps and sundried tomato pasta salad. Drummond actually got her start as a blogger, and both the book and blog are breezy, personal and easy to digest.   🙂

Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner

Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner tells a story that seems all too familiar right now:  a politician is caught cheating on his loyal wife of three decades.  Sylvie, the wronged and distraught wife, isn’t sure what to do with herself, since her life has been solely about helping her husband with his political career for their entire marriage.  This book tells the story of how she, along with her daughters Diana and Lizzie, cope with the senator’s indescretions.  Sylvie finds solace, and unexpected company, when she decides to cope at her family’s old summer house in Connecticut.  The story gets complicated, since Sylvie’s daughters are going through troubles of their own when the scandal breaks:  Lizzie has just gotten through with another stint in rehab, and Diana is stuck in a loveless marriage and has responded by carrying on her own extramarital affair.

What I love about Jennifer Weiner’s books is that the characters are real and relatable.  They are flawed, and they remind you of people you know.  This is the case with this book.  It feels like a scandal ripped from the headlines, but with enough personality and emotion that you feel like you know Sylvie and want nothing more than to comfort her and tell her to be strong.  But my favorite character had to be Lizzie.  Though she struggled through a lot, she worked hard to overcome her demons and make a good life for herself and anyone else who surprisingly came along….

If you haven’t read them yet, I highly recommend checking out some of Jennifer Weiner’s other books, including In Her Shoes, which was later adapted into a hit movie starring Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz as sisters Rose and Maggie.  But my personal favorite of Jennifer Weiner’s works (and the favorite of so many other women I know) is Good In Bed.  The book is about a plus-sized woman who finds out her boyfriend is writing about her and her size in his column (titled Good In Bed) in a Cosmo-like magazine.  The book is both witty and emotional, and I kind of wanted to be Cannie’s best friend by the end.  Pick up any one of Jennifer Weiner’s books, and I bet you won’t be disappointed.

They’re Your Parents, Too! by Francine Russo

They’re Your Parents, Too! by Francine Russo is all too relevant for many baby boomers coping with their aging parents and siblings.

Russo notes that this is the first generation that has had to so frequently manage their parents’ long term illnesses -which may last for decades.  This places a strain on sibling relationships that may already be fraught with unresolved rivalries.  Dysfunctional sibling/parent relationships can be unaddressed for many years only to erupt when everyone is forced to deal with emotional and critical issues.

Some families are able to navigate this very painful terrain, respecting those that have been the primary caregiver(s); many would benefit from a third party such as a social worker or doctor, according to Russo, who has interviewed many, many families. She advises lots of honest communication and attempting to understand the points-of-view of others. It’s never an easy journey, but it can be made bearable if siblings support each other.

See the USA

At last! Summer is here! Time to get up off that couch and see something of the world. And what better part of the world to explore than our own beloved USA? There’s no shortage of exciting and interesting places to visit and lucky us, many of the most beautiful, most historic, most fragile have been set aside and protected, for us and for future generations – the National Parks.

National Geographic’s Complete National Parks of the United States is a great place to start if you’re not sure where you want to go. In fact, it might make you to realize you’d like to go everywhere, the pictures are so enticing and beautiful. The descriptions of each park are short and to the point – you will want to do more research if you are planning a major stay – but this gives you the highlights and must-sees. It’s also useful to show you places you might want to stop along the way – maybe schedule a stop at the lesser known Black Canyon of the Gunnison on your way to the Grand Canyon, or reroute to visit to the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site when heading to the Everglades.  Website and contact information is included for each site.

Now there’s no excuse for not getting out and participating in the great American summer vacation (Chevrolet optional!)

The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman

Sarah Silverman has found herself in some fairly high-profile tussles over the years regarding ironic portrayals of discriminatory language in a comedic setting.  Instead of more of the same, Silverman’s first book recounts these public drubbings over taboo subjects, as well as showing some of her more vulnerable and hurtful formative experiences.  It is refreshing to see what shaped the comedienne so often portrayed as the cruel bully.  But, fans of her show might find the ribaldry stops with the book’s off-color title.

BetterPhoto Basics by Jim Miotke

It’s that time of year again – great weather and important events have arrived! Graduations, weddings, reunions, holidays, vacations – they’re just around the corner.  Time to brush up on your photography skills so you can capture all those special moments.

There’s no better place to start than BetterPhoto Basics by Jim Miotke – whether you’re an enthusiastic amateur or an absolute beginner you’ll find lots of inspiration. The great thing about this book is that the majority of tips and ideas work with virtually any camera – Miotke even talks about using the camera on your iPhone! (proving once again that the best camera is the one you have with you) Tips are simple but effective – making the best use of available light, fill your frame with your subject, using the rule of thirds to compose a shot, checking the background. Throughout Miotke encourages creativity and experimenting – often simply looking at your world from a different angle can produce amazing shots. A series of simple photo assignments will help you apply these ideas. There’s even a chapter on easy fixes you can do with your photos on your computer.

Now there’s no more excuses for blurry, uninteresting photos – this book will fix those problems and make capturing memories fun!

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

After 48 years of marriage, Joseph has asked Betty for a divorce, citing “irreconcilable differences”. This confuses Betty because of course they have “irreconcilable differences” – what did that have to do with divorce? And thus begins a tale of manners and family ties, heartbreak and second chances.

To save money Betty and her two adult daughters – each facing life changing situations of their own – move into a dilapidated cottage on Long Island, loaned to them by an benevolent cousin. It is here that each woman faces her new future, making connections to their neighbors, town and each other that are both unexpected and comforting.

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine is a decidedly modern look at society, inspired by the novels of Jane Austen (you’ll recognize a lot of Sense and Sensibility and a bit of Pride and Prejudice here) Witty, thoughtful, sharply observant, this is a novel of picking up the pieces and starting anew.

The Calligrapher’s Daughter

Inspired by the life of the author’s Korean mother, this first novel by Eugenia Kim is a beautiful and satisfying story.  The Calligrapher’s Daughter spans 30 years of Korean history, from 1915-1945, and is narrated by najin Han, the daughter of an ultra-traditional and aristocratic calligrapher.  Born in 1910 at the beginning of the Japanese occupation of Korea, her life, through privileged, is restricted by strict social standards, including a very limited education for women.  When her father decides to marry her off at age 14, her mother bravely defies him by sending her instead to Seoul, where she serves as a companion to the young Princess Deokhye during the waning days of the centuries-old dynasty.

Later, Najin attends college and works as a teacher and school principal.  When her parents again choose a husband for her, she is pleasantly surprised to find that she concurs with their choice of Calvin Cho, who is leaving to study for the ministry in America.  However, only one day after her wedding, she is denied a passport.  An entire decade passes, separated from her husband with little hope for reunion, as she struggles to survive the hardships and poverty brought on by World War II.  Both lyrical and tragic, this novel celebrates the perseverance and strength of women — a thoroughly enjoyable coming-of-age saga.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

christmasmemory

If you’re like me and associate Truman Capote primarily with In Cold Blood, you might be pleasantly surprised to find something totally different in his “tiny gem of a short story,” A Christmas Memory.  It fits the bill if you are looking for something meaningful yet humorous, and something nostalgic but not excessively sentimental.

The story is largely autobiographical, a classic memoir of Capote’s childhood in rural Alabama in the early 1930’s.  Until he was ten, Capote lived with distant relatives and this is his recollection (written in the present tense) of the time spent with a favorite cousin, Miss Sook Faulk, when he was about seven.  Sook is a simple, older woman (perhaps mid-sixties) and is herself much like a child.  Together they make fruitcakes — some for friends and neighbors,  some to be shipped away.  They count the money they have saved over the year (somewhere between $12.73 and $13.00) and decide they have enough to purchase all the ingredients, including a quart of “sinful” whiskey.  Afterwards, they get a little tipsy on the leftover moonshine.  They also chop down their own Christmas tree and end up making kites for each other as presents.  The kleenex part comes at the end when Buddy is sent away to military school, never to see Sook again.

The Davenport Library also has a DVD version of this story, starring Patty Duke as Sook.  Unchararcteristically, the movie actually has more character development than what is actually revealed in the sparse print version.  However, the same message still comes through in both — that friendship and caring for each other, no matter the gap in years — never goes out of style.

The New Thanksgiving Table by Diane Morgan

It’s almost here – the non-stop food fest that we call “the Holiday Season”! The next six weeks, from Thanksgiving to New Years will be filled with eating opportunities galore. In any culture, sharing food – especially homemade food – brings together families, friends and communities, creating bonds that last. Putting together all of that food can be a lot of work though, so this week the Info Cafe blog is going to focus on some of the new cookbooks that are now available. Be sure to stop by the library and check out a copy!

newthanksgivingtableThanksgiving, a holiday celebrating the harvest, is all about food – there’s no pressure to find the perfect present or outdo the neighbors with your light display. It’s also maybe the most traditional – almost everyone automatically thinks of turkey when they think of Thanksgiving. It’s how you fix the turkey and your choice of side dishes where family traditions take over.

If you’re looking for something different, or if this is your first year hosting the big event, take a look at The New Thanksgiving Table by Diane Morgan with it’s traditional yet fresh approach to the meal. There is a nice variety of choices listed for the basics – turkey, stuffing, gravy, vegetables, deserts – with some interesting twists included. How about Spiced Pumpkin Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting instead of the ubiquitous  pumpkin pie? Or shake things up with Molly’s Pumpkin-and-Sage Lasagna.

Two chapters make this book a stand-out – “Regional Thanksgiving Menus with Timetables” that will help any cook plan for the big day, and “Leftover Favorites” which lists several tasty ways to deal with leftovers that go beyond the turkey sandwich.

And don’t despair if you can’t get ahold of this book in time for Thanksgiving – the autumn themed recipes will be just as delicious at Christmas or New Years, or any wintertime family gathering.