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I Love My Crock Pot

I use my crock pot year round, but there’s something about fall that draws me to use it much more often. Most of the time, I use my crock pot to make soups, stews, chowders, etc, but I tried The Whole30 Slow Cooker by Melissa Hartwig (it has some recipes for the Instant Pot, too!) because it has recipes that are more varied and not a re-take on chowder.

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I did not know what a Whole30 diet meant when I first saw this cookbook. I soon discovered that Whole30 is a month long (hence the 30) diet plan to eliminate certain foods and discover if there are food groups that are affecting your body negatively. I have not participated in a Whole30 diet and the recipes I tried I tried because I thought they looked good, but I did not choose this book to follow the diet, so my review will not comment on the affectiveness of a Whole30 diet plan.

Melissa Hartwig is a certified sports nutritionist and is the co-creator and CEO of the Whole30 program. She has written a number of books including The Whole30 Slow Cooker published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and released in 2018.

One of the best things, in my opinion, about a crock pot is the dump the stuff in, turn the power on, and walk away aspect of it. Most of the recipes in this cookbook offer that ease, but there are some that require a bit more preparation time. As long as you’re aware of the prep time – and they list a prep time for each recipe – you can plan ahead.

The first recipe I made was Spicy Italian Pot Roast With Fingerling Potatoes, Carrots, Onions, and Pepperoncini. Throughout the book, Hartwig includes recipes from guest chefs. This is one of those recipes and is from Simon Hall of Simon Hall Private Chef. I consider this to be a stew. And a yummy stew it was! It was my first introduction to pepperoncini and wow! It’s spicy – not hot, hot spicy but just a kick kind of spicy. The most labor intensive aspect of this recipe is searing the roast in a frying pan before adding it to the crock pot. This recipe does take all day to cook. It is lighter, though, and it doesn’t have the heaviness of a “normal” stew.

The second recipe I tried was the Mediterranean Chicken Wraps. This recipe is also light on the prep work – chopping some veggies and squeezing a lemon – but it was also quick on the cooking time needing only 2 1/2 hours to cook. The chicken is cooked with some onion, roasted red peppers, olives (but heaven forbid anyone in my house eat an olive so I omitted them), capers, and spices and it’s served on bibb lettuce. It really is pretty and fun to serve. There was only one little glitch. The bibb lettuce became limp from the heat of the chicken. Next time I would use a different lettuce that maintains its crispiness. Again, a light feel to the meal that is refreshing.

It’s probably a little odd to say, but my mouth felt “cleaner” after eating these meals. I keep describing them as light, but that’s exactly how I think of them. Not light in taste, but I felt lighter and full after eating them.

The cookbook is littered with pictures, but some recipes do not have photos. The extras included in the book concentrate on the Whole30 aspect of the cookbook, so if you are looking for how-tos, this might not be the cookbook for you. The recipes are eye appealing, and from what I’ve tried, they are delicious, so even if you have no interest in a Whole30 diet, this cookbook is worth trying.

 

Sense of Place and Nature’s Role

 

 

“An individual is not too distinct from his place. He is his place.”

— Gabriel Marcel

 

Sense of place.  Have you heard this phrase? I first heard it several years ago and although it was new terminology to me, the concept was familiar. To put it simply, it refers to the meaning attributed to a place as influenced by our interactions with it.

Close your eyes for a moment and think of the places that were important to you during your childhood. Was there a certain stream you loved exploring? A favorite climbing tree or place to build a fort? How about a market, museum, or place of worship? What memories are attached to these places? What significance do they hold for you? Chances are that you have strong emotional connections to these special places from your childhood. In addition to emotional ties, places can also hold historical, spiritual, or cultural significance.

Now take a few moments to think about your favorite places where you currently live and what special meaning each one holds. Perhaps the Topsham Public Library is one of these places. I dare guess that it is. Like Diane said in the annual report (pick up a copy at the circulation desk or in the latest Cryer), our library is a treasured resource for many. The nature that surrounds you is also an important aspect of your sense of place. If you haven’t done so already, I invite you to include the lovely grounds around the library as part of your visits – enjoy a read on our patio where you can breathe in fresh air and feel the sun warm your skin; stroll through the gardens (see the last post for ideas to deepen your experience) and notice what has changed since your last visit; venture down to the path along the river where you’ll discover a small fern forest, plants you may not have noticed before (did you know there’s Silverrod and Maple-leafed Viburnum growing there?), heron tracks in the mud, and maybe even startle some snoozing ducks.

Why is sense of place important?  Here are just some of the reasons:

  • Connecting to one’s surrounding environment establishes knowledge of and appreciation for its resources;
  • A sense of place supports the development of personal identity and purpose;
  • Having a strong sense of place can inspire stewardship;
  • Understanding sense of place can nurture empathy. 

Every trip to the farmer’s market or coffee shop, every exploration of surrounding trails and nature preserves, every time you pick wild berries (did you see Jen’s Lemon Posset with Blueberry-Cherry Wine Sauce?!), every event attended in our community, every observation made in our own backyard, is being woven together to create our own unique sense of place. How does the library fit into yours?

Until next time, stay curious & get outside to notice nature!

Monique
(your friendly library nature nerd)

 

Congratulations to Our Director!

If you haven’t heard the news, our very own Susan Preece, Director of Topsham Public Library, is the recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Librarian of the Year Award given by the Maine Library Association! We are so proud of her and her endeavors to ensure that Topsham Public Library is a community center for all.

The Outstanding Librarian of the Year Award was created in 1993 to highlight professional  achievement and service to the Maine Library Community. Each year, the Maine Library Association presents two awards: the Outstanding Librarian Award and the Maine Library Journalism Award. All nominations are reviewed by the Communications Committee, and awards are presented at the Annual Conference.

Susan has worked in libraries since she was 16 years old. A former children’s librarian, Susan enjoys reading all kinds of books but especially historical fiction and high fantasy. “Public libraries are an essential part of any community,” she says. Susan feels lucky to be working in a community with an exemplary staff, dedicated board and supportive patrons.

It doesn’t take long to realize that Susan is passionate about libraries and making sure all feel welcome in obtaining the services a library provides.

Congratulations, Susan! We are lucky to have you!

The Blueberry Cookbook

I love to pick strawberries. Every summer you’ll find me at a local farm picking those big, plump, juicy berries. I have a little raspberry patch in my yard, and I love picking berries for muffins or jam. But when it comes to blueberries, I confess, I just buy them. The local farmer’s markets sell them and when I run out of them I buy frozen ones from the store. It’s a real struggle for me to pick them. My father loved picking blueberries, but when I was little I felt like I was being punished when he would put a pail in my hand and take me with him to pick blueberries. I picked and picked and picked and after hours and hours and hours the bottom of the pail could still be seen. When I was older, the habit became one in which he picked, and I cleaned the berries when he returned. Regardless, though, whether they are handpicked or bought, I love blueberries.

What caught my attention when I saw this book, was not that it is a cookbook or that it is a blueberry cookbook. What I noticed right away is the beauty of the book itself. It is like a work of art. It’s just a bonus that it is also a blueberry cookbook. The Blueberry Cookbook by Sally Pasley Vargas is a 2019 release from Down East Books and it is delightful to the eye and the palate.

Vargas’ introduction is followed by a section in which she discusses the ingredient choices she makes and the methods she prefers. It is quite informative itself. As a matter of fact, I learned that if I add a little sour cream to heavy cream it will last a little longer once it’s whipped. Though the recipes are divided into six sections, they, practically speaking, can be divided into to groups: blueberries for breakfast and blueberry desserts. Many of the recipes are old recipes with a new twist, but they are well worth trying. There’s even a recipe for the Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins!

The book’s lay out is eye appealing and very easy to follow. Usually one recipe a page with an exquisite photo that makes it difficult to choose which recipe to make first. The instructions are clear and laid out in step-by-step format.

I made Lemon Posset with Blueberry-Cherry Wine Sauce. (A posset, for those like myself who might not know what a posset is, is a cold dessert made from thickened cream usually flavored with lemon or a drink made of hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or other alcoholic liquor and typically flavored with spices, drunk as a delicacy or as a remedy for colds. Thanks to Google for the definitions.) The lemon posset was firm and bursting with lemon flavor. My tongue tingled from it. My family is big on lemon and we loved it! I want make it again and try it as a filling in a layer cake. The sauce also had a strong flavor, but when they were put together the sauce tamed the posset and the flavors blended superbly. The recipe for the sauce called for cardamom pods, but I didn’t have any so I substituted a combination of cinnamon and nutmeg. The making of the dessert was quick, but I did let the posset sit in the refrigerator overnight and chilled the sauce before serving.

Just like lobster and potatoes, snow and sleet, the forests and the oceans, the lakes and the trails, blueberries are a part of Maine culture. The Blueberry Cookbook is a celebration of the blueberry, and in my opinion, should be a staple in every Maine kitchen!

What’s In Your Wallet?

Everyone, find your library card!  Topsham Public Library is offering its patrons more value with the rolling out of a state-wide pilot program which allows our patrons in good standing to check out items from participating libraries.

The Maine Reciprocal Borrowing Program allows anyone with a valid library card from one of 68 participating libraries to visit any of the other participating libraries and check out materials in person. It’s referred to as “walk-in” borrowing because it essentially turns your local library card into a “statewide” library card!

There are some important guidelines for you to keep in mind:

  1. You MUST visit Topsham Public Library with your library card. We will check your library account and, if you are a member in good standing, we will affix a sticker to your library card. If you are one of our patrons, and you have lost your card we will issue you a new one.
  2. Not every library in the state has chosen to participate in this program at this time, so you must check the list of participating libraries. If a library is not on that list, you cannot check out books from them in person. If they have an item you want, you may request it through the already established inter-library loan process.
  3. When you visit any one of the participating libraries, you MUST have your Topsham Public Library card with you. If you do not have your Topsham Public Library card you WILL NOT be able to check out items from that library.
  4. Each participating library reserves the right to limit what can be borrowed through this program. Generally, however, if an item is available to borrow through inter-library loan, then it is most likely available to borrow through this program.
  5. If you do check out an item from another library, you may return it to Topsham Public Library and it will be returned via the inter-library loan system. You do not have to take it back to the library from which you checked it out (but you can if it is convenient).
  6. The due dates are based on the system’s inter-library rules, so it may not be the same date as Topsham Public Library’s due date.
  7. If you have any questions, please ask! We are happy to help and we will all learn this new system together.

The purpose of the program is to make your experience borrowing materials – and returning them – as convenient as possible. This is an exciting new option that is in it’s beginning stages, so there may be glitches here and there, but we are striving to present you with more, so come join the fun!

 

Joy of the Pen Writing Competition is Open for Submissions

Are you a writer? Do you have some stories or poems that you’ve been working on? Is there a story hanging out in your mind but you haven’t had reason to get it out on paper? Now is the time! We are accepting submissions for our annual writing competition, The Joy of the Pen, from Saturday, September 7 through Saturday, October 5, 2019. The Joy of the Pen is Topsham Public Library’s annual writing competition open to Maine residents, both amateur and professional.

We accept previously unpublished submissions in the following categories: fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, Maine-related nonfiction and teen fiction and teen poetry. Submit online at joyofthepen.topshamlibrary.org.

The Joy of the Pen Reception will be held on Saturday, November 16 at 1:00PM to announce the winners. Joy of the Pen is sponsored by The Cryer, Friends of the Topsham Public Library, Just Write Books and the TPL Teen Room.

You won’t know until you try. Polish off the stories, poems, and/or remembrances and submit them. You’ve got nothing to lose!

Awaken Your Senses in the Garden

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
–  John Burroughs

Have you visited our gardens recently? Some blooms are starting to fade away but there is still plenty of color and interest. Sarah has done a wonderful job designing so that there’s always something in bloom throughout the garden out back and the Topsham Garden Club makes sure you are greeted with attractive plantings each time you visit. The weather has been lovely as of late. Why not take a stroll through our grounds the next time you visit? Before you do, may I share a secret with you? To enjoy the full beauty the garden offers, you must slow down and engage all of your senses. A world of details and sensations will open up for you and you’ll notice things that perhaps you haven’t before.

The more senses you use, the more information you will receive. Since each sensory system utilizes different parts of the brain, you’re also boosting your brain power; combining the use of one’s various senses leads to more and stronger connections within the brain and the result is a more thorough, meaningful experience. In addition, there’s increasing science-based evidence that tells us time spent in nature is good for us. A quick online search will lead you to some of the studies in a promising, growing collection. Benefits being reported include:

  • reduced stress and anxiety and lower risk of depression
  • improved blood pressure and cholesterol
  • better able to direct attention / focus
  • feeling more positive emotions and outlook on life
  • an increase in compassion, generosity and other prosocial behaviors.

I’m guessing that you already know through personal experience that you simply feel better and your mood is improved after spending some time outside. It takes only a few moments of your day to enjoy nature and reap the benefits. Here are some things to try to awaken your senses in the garden:

Before you begin, stand still for a moment to take in the general sights, sounds, smells, temperature, sun and breeze on your skin. Take a few deep breaths and center yourself in the present moment.

Patterns: The gardens are full of patterns! Pause to look at any one plant and you’re sure to notice a variety. Look for spirals & coils, symmetry, fractals & branching, spheres & circles, stars, spots & stripes. I’ve provided a book list below if you’re interested in learning more about patterns in nature.  Some of them are children’s books but I recommend you still take a peek.

Textures: When is the last time you felt a leaf out of curiosity? Chances are likely that is has been a while. It’s so easy for us adults to become indifferent to things we have experienced often enough. Reconnect with your childlike wonder and notice how some of the plants feel. The Lamb’s Ear is a favorite for children and adults alike – it’s so soft and fuzzy! Try contrasting the texture of the stiff Yucca leaves with some delicate and frilly leaves. I recommend you also feel both the top side and under of different leaves. Trust me, the two sides can feel quite different on many leaves.

Scents: You may be surprised to learn which plants in the garden have unique scents and that it’s not just flowers that can smell good. Rub the foliage of the Yarrow and take in the scent left on your fingers. Take a whiff of the flowering panicles of the Prairie Dropseed grass. What do you think it smells like? I’ve heard everything from cilantro to vanilla to buttered popcorn. What other plants can you find that have unique scents? Don’t be afraid… experiment a little and take a sniff.

Sounds: One of my favorite discoveries in the garden is that the dried seed pods of the False Indigo sounds like a rattle when shaken. Now I can’t help give them a shake when I pass by in late summer or fall. I also like how the stiff Yucca leaves sound against one another when I wiggle my hand back and forth among them. Notice other sounds around you – the breeze through tall grasses, birds calling, crickets chirping, etc. Closing your eyes can help you focus more when listening.

Color & Light: Compare and contrast the shades of green. You’ll find deep greens with a red or purple tint, pale yellow-greens, blue and silvery greens. Watch how foliage colors change throughout the seasons. Notice how light and shadows play on the plants highlighting certain features, changing the tone of a color, adding depth and contrast.

“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.”
–   Henry David Thoreau

If you have only a few brief moments or want to start with a limited amount, I suggest the following plants as you’ll be able to explore through most, if not all, of your senses.

  • Yarrow
  • Russian Sage
  • Wooly Thyme
  • Lamb’s Ear
  • Dianthus
  • Catmint
  • Salvia
  • Mullein

Be sure to visit regularly. You’ll notice something different each time you do and you’ll be well on your way to developing keener observation skills and awareness of the natural world.

Until next time, stay curious & get outside to notice nature!

Monique
(your friendly library nature nerd)

Resources to cultivate your curiosity:

What Happens to Damaged Items?

When an item is returned to Topsham Public Library it is not just checked in and placed on the cart to be shelved. Each item is inspected to see if anything like a bookmark, or a credit card, or a check, or an airplane ticket – you get the drift – is left in it. DVDs and audio books are checked to ensure the correct number of discs are there. It is not uncommon for us to call a patron and ask them to check their dvd player or cd player because an item was returned missing a disc.

And each item is checked for damage. Depending on the item and the type and extent of the damage, the item might need to be paid for, but if the damage is minor and/or is normal wear and tear and is a part of our collection, it might be able to be mended. (As a side note, please don’t try and fix anything for us. We have special tape and glues we use to repair books. If a library dvd or audio book is skipping and/or unplayable, please don’t clean it or buff it. We have equipment to use on the discs and staff who will tend to it. We only repair items that belong to Topsham Public Library. We do not repair items from other libraries or items from the public.)

We have a special spot for those items that need to be repaired: The Island of Misfit Items. There are a number of shelves and each is dedicated to a particular issue. There is a spot for discs that don’t play, a spot for new cases for audio/visual materials, a spot for books that need new covers, a spot for books that have binding issues, a spot for cataloging issues, and a spot to hold the books that we are weeding out of our collection.

Though the items are labeled with “Topsham Public Library” these are not our items. They belong to the community, and the resources that go into the purchase of these items we do not take for granted. It is our responsibility to care for what the public has entrusted to us and The Island of Misfit Items is one way we handle that responsibility.

It’s Grilling Season!

You know her as the Barefoot Contessa. She has a series of cookbooks, and I had heard of her, but I had never tried one of her recipes and the way Dave talks about her, I knew it should be sooner rather than later. Garten, not only has written numerous cookbooks, but also hosts cooking shows on the Food Network.

Because it’s summer I wanted to find something for the grill. I love grilling. (I don’t do the actual grilling – Dwight does that – I’m not good with flames, fire, extreme heat, and not burning things. You have to pay attention when you’re grilling and well, he’s better at the detail kind of stuff…) We don’t grill year round, but pretty close to it. Anyway, in Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics I found a perfect recipe: Herb Marinated Loin of Pork.

Garten’s cookbooks are appealing to the eye, and include a picture for every recipe which I appreciate immensely. In an attempt to describe her recipes, the best way I can come up with is to say that they are an un-intimidating touch of fancy. Back to Basics includes menus in the back consisting of the recipes in the book. There is also a FAQ section that answers questions about everything from eggs to how to adjust recipes if you don’t like cooking with certain ingredients or if you don’t have certain equipment how that might or might not effect the recipe. But what I enjoyed, and what took me by surprise, is the page of tips that begin each section of her cookbook. For example, the soup section begins with a page offering tips on how to “arrange flowers like a pro”, the dinner section begins with “10 things not to serve at a dinner party”, and the vegetable section starts things off with tips on how to “set a table like a pro”.

(Of course, I wanted a side dish of some type of grilled vegetable. Not long ago I shared with you my great experience with The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila. Well, she has another cookbook Eating From the Ground Up. I chose the recipe for Grilled Summer Squash with Basil Ricotta. As I expected, after using The Homemade Pantry, Eating From the Ground Up is a beautiful book – almost a picture for every recipe – and a wide variety of vegetarian recipes are included.)

 

The pork was a hit, and it disappeared quickly. I marinated it overnight, so the only thing we had to do was throw it on the grill. My daring eaters tried the Grilled Summer Squash and were pleasantly surprised. The squash was also marinated and is delicious alone, but the recipe included a Basil Ricotta topping that you kind of just plop on top and that is what was a delightful addition to the already delicious dish. It had a light basil/lemon flavor that went so nicely with the squash.

(As a side note: my pictures aren’t the best quality because we were in the midst of a family poker tournament. Mayhem was ensuing.)

But I was not done with Back To Basics. I decided the Baked Blintzes with Fresh Blueberry Sauce would be a perfect recipe to try on my unwitting guinea pig who was coming over because we needed to catch up. I was just taking it out of the oven when she arrived, so we gabbed while it cooled. It worked out well, too, because the recipe called for ricotta cheese so I was able to use up the ricotta cheese that I didn’t use in the summer squash recipe. We were not disappointed and my friend was delighted I experimented with her. We finished our visit because I had to run off to a staff meeting at Topsham Public Library. I thought I’d take the rest of the dessert with me because I knew if it stayed at my house, I’d eat the whole thing. My co-workers were happy that I shared.

The Baked Blintzes are like a crepe sandwich filled with a slightly sweet cheese filling that’s baked and topped with a blueberry sauce. How can that not taste yummy?! (Yes, I may have added a little too much sauce, but oh my goodness! It was yummy!)

The recipes were such a success that I’m duplicating the menu for our guests who are coming in September. Back to Basics  is a source for delicious, get me out of the rut recipes.

 

 

She’s Back!

You may remember, in the fall of 2018, we introduced you to Lindsey who, at the time, was a University of Maine Augusta student completing her internship at Topsham Public Library as she was earning her Bachelor of Science Degree in Information and Library Science. But now she’s back as a staff member!

When Lindsey isn’t at Topsham Public Library, she is enjoying Korean TV which she streams online. She enjoys the romance or comedy shows they offer. When she isn’t watching Korean TV or listening to K-Pop, you might find her at an anime or comic book convention. So it might not surprise you that if money were no object, Lindsey would begin a company that specializes in 2-D animation. That or be a pastry chef.

One thing I noticed about Lindsey when we were speaking with each other is how quickly she responds. For instance I barely had the question, “What’s your favorite book or genre” out of my mouth when she answered, “Jane Eyre [by Charlotte Brontë], Tuck Everlasting [by Natalie Babbitt] and anything Victorian supernatural or drama.” She knows what she likes!

She was also quick to say that if she could sit down with anyone (dead, alive or a character from a book) she would love to sit down with Judy Garland, Stevie Nicks, and Jimmy Stewart. Lindsey prefers pie over cake, summer over winter, mountain over ocean, and chocolate over vanilla. And when I asked whether she was an early bird or a night owl, she immediately replied, “Both!”

Lindsey is eager to help you find what you’re looking for, so stop by and say hi!