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Comfort Food Ideas

We all have favorite comfort foods or snack ideas that we rely on. They might be family recipes that date back a generation or two or they might be new concoctions of our own making. I asked the staff of Topsham Public Library to share some of their go-to favorite comfort foods. Below you will find their yummy ideas!

Pastries, doughnuts, cinnamon buns, cookies, pies, cakes, bars, breads and rolls. That’s where I find my comfort, but sometimes I’m so down I don’t have the energy or time to cook. When I need something quick my quick go-to comfort foods are: a good old bag of chips, and I’m not too picky about the flavor; a scoop of peanut butter topped with chocolate chips; Pepperidge Farm White Chocolate Macadamia Nut cookies and Twix bars.

Susan shares a breakfast idea that is easy to adapt to your own individual taste:

“Here’s a breakfast treat that we call “That Poofy Thing”  but normal people call it a Dutch Baby Pancake.

Heat oven to 425° Fahrenheit.  Melt 1.5-2 tablespoons of butter in a pie plate. Make sure it sloshes around the bottom of the pie plate so it is completely covered.   Beat 2 eggs with a hand whip or fork until completely combined.  Add ½ cup of milk and a “slosh” of vanilla (about a teaspoon-more or less.)  Combine well.  Add ½ cup of flour. (I take ½ cup of flour and fluff it with a fork in a separate bowl and then remeasure the ½ cup-who needs a sifter!)

Mix until combined—there may be a couple of small lumps in the mixture.  Pour it all into the pie plate and bake for about 20 min. (DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR or it will not “poof.”)  Take it out of the oven and play!  We put maple syrup on it or powdered sugar or jam or bacon or fruit or ice cream (yes—for breakfast.)  I know of someone who filled it with crab meat or lobster salad—they deleted the vanilla and added nutmeg instead.

It serves 2 in my house—you can cut it in half or in quarters—smaller if you have any self-control! When I had pneumonia a few years ago, it was the only thing I felt like eating.  I ate it as-is with no syrup or sugar and I am convinced that it restored my health and my spirit!”

Emma’s snack foods come from the store! Any type of chips and caramel M&Ms.

For those of you, and really, who isn’t, torn between healthy or unhealthy, Mariah has some suggestions:

“Unhealthy me is Swedish fish and all-dressed chips while binge watching New Girl on Netflix.

Healthy me is dried whole pitted dates filled with peanut butter, and my health tea (ginger tea, squeeze of lemon, spoonful of honey, 2 capfuls of apple cider vinegar) while reading a book on the couch.  I’ve been going back and forth between the two all week!”

Kettle chips and Helluvagood Onion dip are included in Julie’s comfort food prescription, but her favorite comfort food is fresh pasta (in the refrigerator section of the grocery store) with alfredo sauce (also in the refrigerator section) and chicken, “I pan-fry the chicken, usually those little strips, with some olive oil (flavored from Fiore) and Italian seasonings.  Nothing beats a good cup of hot tea with a cookie at night!  I like to snack on fresh pineapple too.”

If you’re looking for a meal that makes good leftovers, Dave has your covered:

“We were hankering for pulled pork. Easy enough in a crock-pot. Did not care for the smell of warm cider vinegar for the first 6 hours, but really liked the end result which gave us three different meals: pulled pork with veggies, pulled pork tacos, and finally, pulled pork sandwich.”

Lynne’s suggestions are all about comfort and she’s added a recipe for Butterscotch Nibbles :

“Soups, Stews and Chilis! I like to make a big pot of soup with whatever I have available. Start with a base (usually chicken or veggie broth) and then add stuff. Lentils are great with some carrots, celery and onions (add some ham if you’d like). Chicken soup is great. Vegetable soup is fun because you can add just about anything (except the kitchen sink). I like to add a can of tomatoes and then dice up whatever I have in the fridge. Add some rice or small size pasta and voila! Whatever you have leftover can be frozen. Stews are great with root veggies and spices (curry yum!). Chilis can be meat or meatless. Try adding sweet potatoes or butternut squash with a bit of grated dark chocolate, cumin and cinnamon! It’s fun to experiment. Grilled cheese and tuna! How about breakfast for Dinner?!”

Butterscotch Nibbles:

Melt 1 bag butterscotch chips and 1 cup peanut butter over low heat; remove from heat, stir in 8 cups rice chex cereal and 1-2 cups dry roasted peanuts. When all coated and a little cool add ½ bag chocolate chips. Stir until they stick but don’t melt. Pour on cookie sheet and refrigerate. Break apart and enjoy!

Linda has a love/hate relationship with Muddy Buddies: they’re yummy but she can’t stop eating them!

Muddy Buddies:

Measure 9 cups Chex cereal and set aside in a container with a tight lid. In 1 Qt microwavable bowl, stir together 1 cup chocolate chips, 1/2 cup peanut butter and 1/4 cup margarine. Microwave on high uncovered for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave about 30 seconds more and stir until smooth. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Pour over cereal and stir until cereal is evenly coated. Pour in 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar. Put lid tightly on container and shake well until cereal is evenly covered. Let cool and eat.

Not a big chocolate fan, Cyndi delights in peanut butter and what better than a good old peanut butter cookie?

Peanut butter cookies:

Mix together ½ cup granulated sugar, ½ cup brown sugar, ½ peanut butter, ¼ cup shortening, ¼ cup margarine or butter (softened), and 1 egg.

Then add 1 ¼ cup flour, ¾ tsp baking soda, ½ tsp baking powder, and ¼ tsp salt. Stir until combined.

Cover and refrigerate 3 hours (bummer, but necessary)

Heat oven to 375°, shape into 1 ¼ inch balls and place 3 inches apart on cookie sheet (do not grease the cookie sheet). Flatten balls in crisscross pattern with fork dipped in granulated sugar. Bake 9-10 minutes, cool for 2 minutes on cookie sheet, remove to wire rack. Makes about 3 dozen.

If you’re disappointed that you can’t get to Disney World right now, at least you can eat like you’re there. Lindsey shared these two Disney recipes that she enjoys and finishes with a pasta recipe she loves:

New England Pot Roast from Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Tree Tavern

‘Ohana Bread Pudding

 

Garlic Angel Hair Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes

 Heat a large pot of water and add a pinch of salt. Drop-in the Angel hair pasta (Any pasta will work!)

In a frying pan, heat olive oil on medium heat and drop in chopped garlic. Fry garlic until lightly golden brown. Add a spoonful of pasta water to the frying pan and continue cooking. Add chopped cherry tomatoes and fresh chopped basil.

Add the pasta into the frying pan and mix all the ingredients.

Add fresh chopped parsley and squeeze a fresh lemon over the pasta.

 

No matter your taste, I hope you’ve found some new ideas and recipes that inspire you and perhaps now is a good time to dig out those old favorite recipes of yours and share them!

 

 

 

 

 

Be You

Photo by Monique Marchilli-Barker

What a crazy few weeks it’s been. My activity level has dropped considerably, and yet, at the end of last week, I was so exhausted, and I realize it’s emotional exhaustion of so much change amongst so much uncertainty.

My youngest son is now home as his university closed. My daughter, a paramedic, is dealing with caring for others in a field already short of workers and having to increase her personal safety measures. My eldest is now concerned that he may not get his journeyman’s certification which he was just weeks away from receiving. My husband has worked from home for over five years now, so it hasn’t been much of a transition for him, although he’s dependent upon others for his work flow, and now that work flow is not quite so certain. And I am writing this blog from home because Topsham Public Library is closed for the foreseeable future.

So much change. Though your stage of life may be quite different from mine, the changes you are facing have been as much and possibly even more upending.

There are many out there who have advice on what to do at this time and how to handle the current situation. But what is important to remember is that we are all so different. What works for me may be totally wrong for you. Think about what works for you and your family and do it. Don’t get caught up in dos and don’ts.

I realized in thinking about why I was so exhausted that I was missing routine, so I’ve implemented routine back into my schedule, but you might thrive on lack of routine, or your routine will look different than my routine .

Take a walk. Or don’t take a walk.

Maintain healthy eating, but devour that bag of chips from time to time.

Stay up late binge watching old shows, or turn off your TV.

Clean your bedroom, or let the dust pile up as you nap on your couch.

Tackle your to-do list, or throw away that to-do list.

Right now things are not normal, so, make a new normal.

I do encourage you, however, as you implement your new normal, stay safe, watch out for one another and wash your hands!

 

 

Adapting

Keith Spiro photo.

Surreal. It’s a word I keep going back to.

Merriam-Webster defines surreal asmarked by the intense irrational reality of a dream, alsounbelievablefantastic.”

Life has changed suddenly and drastically for us all. And, to me, it has the “reality of a dream” aspect to it. I know many of you are facing challenges that none of us thought imaginable. Topsham Public Library is trying to maintain a level of service to help you at this time.

One of the big issues for those now staying home is connectivity and internet access. Libraries provide computers and wi-fi that much of the public depends upon. If you know someone who needs internet, please let them know if they go to Topsham Public Library they can use the wi-fi from the parking lot. In order to access the wi-fi use the Topsham Public Library link (not the TPL link). Usually a password is needed, but while we remain closed the password is no longer necessary. Even if you have friends in other parts of the state who need internet, encourage them to try it at their public library as many libraries are trying to provide internet at this time.

Emma has been working hard to keep you all updated with resources and activities that you can access from home that may help keep you busy. Check out her stay at home mega list! Cyndi and Mariah have added items to Emma’s list for YA and children’s audiences as well. And Cyndi has started a page just for Teens to give them some easy craft ideas to do at home.

And to keep up with updates from Topsham Public Library check out this link.

For those who live in the MSAD 75 communities, all children 18 years old and younger qualify for a free meal. For more information check the MSAD 75 website or for the latest letter about the free meals click here.

Again, please don’t return items at this time. We have locked the drop slots, so just keep them home. Don’t worry about due dates or fines. Even if the item belongs to another library, just hold on to them for now. All fines will be waived once we are back in action.

The staff is working from home. We have staff meetings using Zoom, and we have our regular annual safety training that we are now doing online. Emma has purchased more ebooks and audiobooks for the CloudLibrary app. (What’s CloudLibrary, you ask? Check it out here!)  Mariah participated in an online meeting with other children’s librarians from around Maine in which they shared ways to stay connected and engaged with children. Linda and Emma are busy keeping the Topsham Public Library website updated. Cyndi, Dale and Julie are working to update records and keep technological systems running. Susan is working hard from home staying on top of best practices and latest developments and how that impacts us. The rest of us have online training and skill development we can work on from home.

For those concerned about the annual Joy of Lens contest sponsored by Friends of Topsham Public Library there is good news! The show is moving to an online forum. Check out the information here!

With the recent events, we are all facing challenges that are so unexpected. At Topsham Public Library, we are adapting in order to maintain a valuable level of service. We do love our community! In these surreal times, look out for one another, be safe, and wash your hands!

These Interesting Times

At noon on Monday, March 16, Topsham Public Library closed. We are aiming to re-open in two weeks, but please check our website for further updates.

This is a new experience for us, and we want to make sure you know that we will not be charging fines and you do not need to concern yourself about returning items while we remain closed. If you have something here that you requested earlier, it will be here when we re-open, but it is no longer possible to request items at this time. Once we re-open, things should be operational and back to normal.

Please, take care of yourself, and look out for one another. We so appreciate our community and wish you all well!

How libraries can nurture a love of nature

Are you a nature lover? Would you like to deepen your nature connection? Here are twenty ways the library can support your love of nature or help develop one in 2020:

Books

Let’s start with the obvious. What may not be so obvious, though, are the different genres that can feed your nature-loving soul. Nature-based poetry or fiction, for example, can offer unique observations and insights. Books about natural history and conservation will offer information you may not have considered before. And books featuring nature crafts? Even adults should engage in some playful creativity and working with natural found objects is a wonderful sensory experience that will help you notice features you may not have before. So why not live on the wild side and check out a genre that you don’t typically read:

  • nature crafts
  • camping/outdoor adventures
  • field guides/topic specific
  • poetry
  • fiction
  • science (physics, biology, ecology, astronomy, etc.)
  • memoirs/biographies
  • natural history/conservation
  • personal connection/transformation/parenting

Documentaries/Movies

Documentaries offer stunning footage and educational, sometimes witty, narratives. They allow us a glimpse of life in other parts of the world we may never get to see otherwise. Here’s a look at some in our collection. And don’t rule out movies made for entertainment to get your nature fix–there are some gems if you just do a little searching. Do you love birds? Try The Big Year or A Birder’s Guide to Everything or how about movies like Wild or A River Runs Through It?

Binoculars

Did you know you can check out a pair of binoculars? Stop in and see us before your next adventure.

Telescope

There’s always something interesting to see in the night sky, some of them better viewed with a telescope. For example, there will be a visible comet passing by this month that you may want to check out. Check out some astronomy books, too. We have a nice selection for kids and adults, like this one or this.

Fishing

Fishing season will be here soon. Don’t have a pole? We do! You can also join us for our annual fishing rally this summer. It’s always a fun morning.

Visiting Organization Talks/Presentations

We partner with the Cathance River Education Alliance to present the CREA Community Nature Programs Lecture Series which are held once a month. We have also hosted other organizations like the Center for Wildlife and Chewonki. Check our calendar from time to time to see if there’s a topic that interests you.

Book Groups

Currently, there is a Nature Speaks book group running at the library that focuses on environmental issues and what can be done on a local level. They are currently reading Hidden World Revealed: Musings of a Maine Naturalist by local author, Tom Seymour. If you’d like to join, pop in for one of their get-togethers.

Gardens/Topsham Garden Club

The Topsham Garden Club presents monthly programs at the library which are open to the public. Guest speakers present programs on a variety of horticultural and environmental interests. The topic for March is “Ecology of a Garden”. Check our schedule for dates and topics of future presentations.

And of course, we have lovely gardens to stroll through. They are full of color and texture and scents for most of the year. You may even notice something of interest in the winter.

Art Exhibits

Did you see the wildlife art exhibit this past December? The paintings were stunning. But not to worry, artists are often inspired by nature (pieces in the recent Joy of Art was a perfect example) and there will surely be many upcoming exhibits in the Crooker Gallery featuring beautiful images of nature.

Museum Passes

Speaking of art, the Portland Museum of Art has wonderful collections and visiting exhibits and we have passes. Reserve one for a time that’s convenient for you.

River Path

Located behind the rear lawn of the library is the Eagle Path, a short trail that follows a ridge alongside the Androscoggin River. While less than a half-mile long, the trail provides views of the rivers and provides access to a lush wetland ecosystem. Keep your eyes out for ducks, herons and a variety of plant life.

Bird Watching

You can certainly do some bird watching down at the river path but you can also hang out near our gardens and enjoy the birds that visit the feeders. Volunteers make sure they are always full for our feathered friends. If you need some help identifying birds you see or would like to learn more about them, check out one of our field guides to bring along.

The best resource, however, comes from you. There is no better tool than your curiosity.

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

This Month Various Nature Topics Presented

We’ve almost made it through another Maine winter! Thoughts of spring and the awakening of trees, plants, gardens, and wildlife bring hope. Topsham Public Library is offering a variety of ways to learn more about the nature and wildlife around us.

On Monday, March 9 at 4pm, the Nature Speaks Book Discussion Group is hosting an author talk. Ed Robinson, author of Nature Notes From Maine: River Otters, Moose, Skunks and More, will be here for an informal chat about his book and why he chose the examples he featured in it. There will also be a question and answer period. This meeting is open to the public.

Topsham Historical Society presents The Maine Ice Trade on Tuesday, March 10 at 6:30pm. Maine Maritime Museum’s Assistant Curator Paul Fuller will share his insights on organizing the museum’s winter exhibit “Frozen Kingdom,” and reveal some of Maine’s most intriguing stories connected to Maine’s notoriously frigid winters. The lecture will discuss ice harvesting, some of the ice business’s biggest players, and what happened to the industry.

From ice to green gardens: The Topsham Garden Club will meet Wednesday, March 11 at noon and the guest speaker will be Barbara Murphy who will discuss the ecology of a garden. Each garden contains its own little ecosystem which is far more than simply beautiful flowers or fresh vegetables. The health of a garden and its produce depends on a healthy soil and everything that lives in and on it and interacts with the plants. Barbara is a sought after speaker who is very knowledgeable and has a delightful sense of humor. Bring a bag lunch to eat after the talk. Snacks, dessert, and beverages will be provided.

Every month, Nature Speaks Book Discussion led by Dana Cary, meets at Topsham Public Library. This month’s meeting on Thursday, March 12 at 4pm will discuss Hidden World Revealed: Musings of a Maine Naturalist by Tom Seymour. They will read the Winter and Spring sections. This book discussion group focuses on our environment and the wonders of nature. New members always welcome.

The ever-popular CREA will present a talk about turtles on Tuesday, March 24 at 6pm. Turtles have fascinated people for millennia and occupy special places in their respective cultures and ecosystems. They are also among the most threatened group of vertebrates globally. We will hear from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s lead biologist on reptile issues, Derek Yorks, who will speak about the seven species of Maine’s freshwater turtle including those which are threatened.

Cooking and Science

I enjoy it when patrons let me in on what they’re reading. Sometimes the book comes with a glowing recommendation, and other times it’s obvious the reader is not too keen on what they’ve read. As often as staff are asked for suggestions, many times the best suggestions come from the patrons.

This “cook book” is one of those suggested by a patron, and it is a wealth of material in regards to cooking and science. What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert L. Wolke is packed tighter than a can of sardines with information about what’s really going on with the ingredients that fill our cupboards.

Wolke, according to the bookcover, was a professor of chemistry and wrote the column Food 101 for the Washington Post.

What I particularly liked about this book is that you can pick it up and open it to any page and read. There are chapters, but those chapters are comprised of questions and answers covering the chapter topic. Wolke’s wit and ease with which he explains chemistry is entertaining and makes the book seem like easy reading, even though the knowledge is more than basic.

So what kind of questions are included, you ask? Everything. Here’s a sampling:

  • Please tell me about sea salt. Why are so many chefs and recipes using it these days? How is it better than regular salt?
  • The label on my baking powder can says it contains sodium aluminum sulfate. But isn’t aluminum dangerous to eat?
  • Some of the wines I buy have “corks” made of plastic. Is there a world cork shortage, or are there technical reasons for this?

And that’s just a small sampling. Wolke also delves into different kitchen appliances and equipment and what exactly the crisper in your refrigerator does.

The book contains a few recipes scattered throughout. I did not make any of them. In a small way I feel that I have failed, but, in my defense, there weren’t any pictures, and those pictures are inspiring, and without that little inspiration, I didn’t have enough motivation. Also, though it seems a chemistry professor should be able to make some fine tasting stuff, I kept thinking about high school chemistry with Mr. Miller and how my lab partners and I broke one of the last glass syringes that he entrusted to our group because we were so trustworthy. I know there really isn’t any correlation between Mr. Miller’s chemistry class and my failing to make one of Wolke’s recipes, but somehow it makes sense to me.

Seriously, though, Wolke’s book is definitely worth a read. And if you try one of his recipes, let me know!

 

February’s School Vacation at Topsham Public Library

Are you looking for some fun and free activities to do over the school vacation next week? Topsham Public Library has you covered!

First of all, just a reminder that on Monday, February 17 the library will be closed for President’s Day, but we will reopen and resume regular operating hours on Tuesday, February 18 at 9am.

On Wednesday, February 19 from 1pm-4pm, Topsham Public Library is hosting Cabin Fever Reliever. Bring your family, or come alone, and chase away the winter blues! There will be games, activities, and snacks. All ages are welcome.

Then on Thursday, February 20 from 12pm-3pm it’s Legos at the Library. Come build with our Lego collection! We have giant bins full of Legos for older kids, and Duplos available for younger kids upon request.

Maine 3 Railers at Topsham Public Library, February, 2019

And always a popular hit, on Friday, February 21 from 10am-2pm, the Maine 3 Railers O-Gauge Model Railroad Club will be running a model railroad display in our big meeting room! Come watch the trains, see how they work, and speak with club members.

And remember, if you cannot make it to our programs, our building is open to the public and we offer comfortable spaces for you to relax in for free. Your children driving you nuts? Bring them to Topsham Public Library and enjoy our children’s wing with trains and other age appropriate toys, and, of course, books.

Are you a teenager and looking for a place to hang out with your friends for free? Try our YA room. You can bring board games, or borrow one of ours, and play them with friends. The space has a table and chairs and there are grab bags with quick craft projects that are available as well. We have free wi-fi, too! Just get the password at the circulation desk.

Spring is on its way, but winter is still here, so if you need to get out of the house and rid yourself of the blues, we’ll be seeing you at Topsham Public Library!

 

Sweet Confections

Peanut brittle. I confess it’s not my favorite, but there are members of my household who would be tempted to sell their soul for that delight. I decided I would try to make this craved for sweet, so I scoured the Minerva catalog for candy making cookbooks. Some I will return to like Hand-Crafted Candy Bars: From Scratch, All Natural, Gloriously Grown-Up Confections by Susie Norris and Susan Heeger, but I settled on Chocolates and Confections: At Home With the Culinary Institute of America by Peter B. Greweling. And the Peanut Brittle was amazing although it almost didn’t turn out that way.

According to the book jacket, Peter P. Greweling is “the award-winning author of Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner and is a professor of baking and pastry arts at The Culinary Institute of America, a Certified Master Baker, and a Certified Hospitality Educator.”

The book is a wealth of candy making information. Beginning with the equipment you need and equipment you don’t need and the right ingredients and the wrong ingredients, the book gives you all the information to be successful. From chocolates, even molded ones, to jellies to lollipops to fudge, nougats, toffees and more – it’s all in there.

There are a number of photographs, but I would have liked a few more. The instructions are clear and the ingredients are given by weight and by “normal” measuring means like cups and tablespoons. Throughout the book are “What If” sections to help with any issues you might run into such as, “What if my marzipan is oily and cracks?” Each recipe has “Keys to Success” to help with the final touches, and for some of the recipes, like the Caramel Cream Filling it offers suggestions for other ways it can be used. As a novice, I felt comfortable and confident making the recipe and ambitious to try more.

I am not a candy making professional, but I do make English toffee every holiday season, so I was a little familiar with the process, but I was still hesitant. Candy making deals with high temperatures and you have to be aware and alert to the temperature of the concoction as it cooks. So I had all my equipment and ingredients ready and waiting. (I’m the type of cook that begins cooking and then scrambles to get the ingredients.)

Once I had all I needed on standby, the fun began. I followed the step by step instructions. I was a whole lot nervous when the instructions told me to bring the mixture to a boil and then cover and let boil for 4 minutes without mixing. Having learned that English toffee is like a controlled burning of butter and sugar and constant mixing is vitally important to its success, I was certain smoke would billow out of the pot, my neighbors would hear my smoke detector yet again, and that I’d be throwing out the first batch. But I did what Greweling said, and believe it or not, he was spot on.

I thought I was in the clear, and once I added the peanuts, I wasn’t as vigilant with my mixing. Do you know that peanuts burn at lower temperatures? Fortunately, I caught it before the whole batch was ruined, but I did scoop out a couple scorched peanuts. I didn’t tell anyone about it and when the final product was being devoured, no one asked, “Do I detect a slight burnt taste?”, so I think I did ok. When I made the second batch of Peanut Brittle, yes, it was so yummy, my friends and family demanded a second batch, I wasn’t as neglectful and no peanuts were harmed in my second attempt.

I even brought some to work for my co-workers and they loved it. (I’m so glad they enjoy being my guinea pigs.) So, get on that Minerva catalog and have fun searching for cookbooks and try something new! Even if you make a mistake or two, it makes you more brave for next time.