Monday, August 23, 2010

The Great Book of Chocolate

The Great Book of Chocolate
The Chocolate Lover's Guide with Recipes
by David Lebovitz
Ten Speed Press, 2004

Former Chez Panisse pastry chef and cookbook author David Lebovitz compiled this compact but far-reaching guide to all things chocolate.

"Chocolate, in my biased opinion, is the most universally provoking and addictive flavor," Lebovitz explains, describing his book as "a gift to all chocolate lovers," an informed tour of the world of chocolates and chocolate-making that includes cooking tips and recipes.

Lebovitz's tour includes an introduction to cacao beans and where they are grown, a primer on the different types of chocolates from couverture to white chocolate, some comments on the healthy benefits of chocolate, and some suggestions on choosing a chocolatier. He devotes a full chapter to the chocolates in Paris, which he claims has more fantastic chocolate boutiques than any other city in the world.

The recipes includes riffs on the classic brownie and Lebovitz's signature Rocky Road as well as Chocolat Tarte de Rue Tatin, Triple-Chocolate Parfait and Black-Bottom Cupcakes. There are 30 recipes in all preceeding a resource section of chocolatier websites.

The Great Book of Chocolate
Review: The Great Book of Chocolate
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Curse of the Labrador Duck

The Curse of the Labrador Duck
My Obsessive Quest to the Edge of Extinction
by Glen Chilton
Simon & Schuster, 2009

In this memoir of a curious obsession, ornithologist Glen Chilton recounts his travels through North America and Europe as he tracks down every known specimen of the extinct Labrador Duck.

"I embarked on an adventure to examine and measure every stuffed Labrador Duck specimen, no matter where it was, without exception. I was determined to see where the ducks nested (Labrador would be a good start) and where they wintered (the shallow waters around New York City). Not allowing myself to stop for a breath, I would examine every Labrador Duck egg in every museum, and visit every spot on the planet where the ducks were known to have been shot."

Both a travelogue and a lesson on extinction, Chilton's book takes readers along on his low-budget globe-trekking adventure, describing his visits to museum after museum, encounters with curators, flirtations with women, and the spare remnant evidence of the Labrador Duck. The destinations include Labrador and Nova Scotia in Canada, London and Liverpool in England, Paris, and several small German towns and Russian villages.

The last Labrador Duck sighting reportedly occurred at Elmira, New York on December 12, 1878. It was a striking black and white eider-like sea duck, never seen in large numbers, but thought to breed in Labrador. It wintered from Nova Scotia to as far south as Chesapeake Bay.

The last preserved specimen was shot in 1875 on Long Island, shortly before the duck became the first bird extinction in North America after 1500.

The Curse of the Labrador Duck
Review: The Curse of the Labrador Duck
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Now in Review: A Grouse Hunter's Almanac

A Grouse Hunter's Almanac
The Other Kind of Hunting
by Mark Parman
University of Wisconsin Press, 2009

In an evocative almanac that chronicles the early season of the grouse hunt through its end in the snows of January, Parman follows his dog through the changing trees and foliage, thrills to the sudden flush of beating wings, and holds a bird in hand, thankful for the meal it will provide.

Distilling twenty seasons of grouse hunting into these essays, he writes of old dogs and gun lust, cover and clear cutting, climate change, companions male and female, wildlife art, and stumps.

A Grouse Hunter's Almanac
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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When the Rains Come

When the Rains Come
A Naturalist's Year in the Sonoran Desert
by John Alcock
University of Arizona Press, 2009

This book follows the plants and animals of Arizona's Usery Mountains in the Sonoran Desert during the drought year of 2006 when the annual wait for rain went on far too long, detailing their responses to the dry spell and how they responded when the rains finally came down.

Authored by naturalist John Alcock, who has hiked the area for 30 years and is one of its most knowledgeable observers, the text follows the cycle of one year's seasons chronologically. Each month is worth a couple essays about the changes occuring during that time of year. These changes, he explains repeatedly, are related to and stimulated by the presence or absence of rain.

"Only very special plants and animals can survive and reproduce in a place that may receive as little as six inches of rain in a year," he points out, "a place where the temperature may rise above one hundred degrees each day for months on end."

When it finally drizzles one day in December, after many weeks of total dryness, Alcock hurries out to the desert and finds a colony of ants piled up several bodies deep around the entrance to their nests. Down on his hands and knees, he peers closely and sees that "many of the ants have small droplets of water adhering to their head, legs, or thorax, which supplies me with a hypothesis. Perhaps they have formed a rain-collecting brigade, using their bodies to intercept the droplets of drizzle before the water can reach the gravel."

Throughout the book, Alcock makes similar observations about the alarm calls of round-tailed ground squirrels, the mating competitions of male digger bees, the communal hunts of Harris's hawks, the adaptations of peccaries' reproductive cycle to the seasonal rains, the effects of urban sprawl, and more. Illustrated with the naturalist's photographs - many showing side-by-side versions of the same location ten or twenty years apart - the result is an impressive and highly readable document of the man's intimate knowledge of the place.

A professor emeritus at Arizona State University, Alcock also wrote the John Burroughs Medal winner In a Desert Garden as well as Sonoran Desert Spring and Sonoran Desert Summer, all revealing the surprising diversity of the desert's ecosystem.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Good Old Books: Citrus Cookbook

Citrus Cookbook
Tantalizing Food & Beverage Recipes from Around the World
by Frank Thomas and Marlene Leopold
Clear Light Publishers, 2001

Frank Thomas and Marlene Leopold illustrate their appreciation for good food, proving that delicious can also be healthy. The list of health benefits of citrus will undoubtedly grow, but it is what citrus does to taste that has maintained its popularity. It not only imparts a wonderful fresh flavour to foods, but also acts as a natural tenderiser to meat, poultry, and fish.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Good Old Cookbook: Appalachian Heritage Cookbook

Appalachian Heritage Cookbook
by Steelesburg Homemakers Club
Pocahontas Press, 1984

Appalachian homemakers share their cooking and quilt-making skills in this diverse collection of country recipes inherited and compiled by the Steelesburg Extension Homemakers Club of southwestern Virginia.

There are wise sayings, household hints, and snippets of poetry to inspire the imagination. Beautifully designed, and bound for a lifetime of use, this cookbook fulfills the Steelesburg Club's purpose the enrichment of home and family life.

Quilt patterns appear at the beginning of each tabbed section of recipes, divided as follows: Appetizers and Beverages, Bread, Cakes and Frostings, Confections, Cookies, Desserts, Main Dishes and Side Dishes, Pies, Preserving, Salads, Vegetables.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Now in Review: Culinary Careers

Culinary Careers
How to Get Your Dream Job in Food with Advice from Top Culinary Professionals
by Rick Smilow and Anne E. McBride
Clarkson N Potter Publishers, 2010

Culinary Careers is the only career book to offer candid portraits of dozens and dozens of coveted cul;inary industry jobs at all levels to help readers find their dream job.

Culinary Careers
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The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening

The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening
by Gene Logsdon
Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 1997

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1997. All rights reserved.

Mistress Mary, quite contrary
how does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
and pretty maids all in a row.

This summer our raised vegetable beds have produced berries, beans, peas, corn, carrots, lettuce, spinach, garlic, onions, leeks, tomatillos, tomatoes, squash, pumpkin, cucumbers, potatoes, radicchio and many assorted herbs. Our trees have offered pails full of cherries and apples.

An accounting of all the flowers my wife attends to would go on for pages. She's cultivated a half dozen flower beds and rock gardens and bloom-filled berms around our home and from March to October there's always a new splash of color and a sweet fragrance to be enjoyed.

But as much as we have tilled and planted, and despite the many hours we've invested, it seems there's always more ground to work and something else we want to try growing. And because of these unbridled ambitions, Gene Logsdon's book is particularly irritating.

Logsdon is one of my favorite farm writers. Based on a working farm in Ohio, he's an ardent advocate of American farmers and the farming lifestyle, promoting fair prices and open markets and ridiculing corporate agriculture and its reliance on chemicals. An onery cuss with a lot of provocative opinions, he's an entertaining read even when you disagree with the points he's making.

"Invitation to Gardening" is not so much an offer as a challenge -- a challenge to expand the definition of "garden" far beyond vegetable patches and flower beds. Logsdon asks why folks don't grow wheat in their gardens along with their corn and melons. He recommends chickens, pigeons, rabbits and earthworms in a chapter on "garden husbandry" and suggests water gardening both for food and aesthetics.

Logsdon keeps pushing on the definition of gardening until it begins to resemble the small-scale farming of earlier generations, albeit with modern implements, amenities and techniques. Can we really feed our families from backyard hobby gardens? Logsdon argues that properly managed kitchen gardens will not only reduce grocery bills, but improve the family's health and even provide some income.

Take wheat, for example. Here's how he figures the economics of home-grown grain:

"If a typical family today decided to produce annually 200 pounds of bread flour (1 pound per loaf of bread) and 50 pounds of cornmeal (1/2 pound per pound of cornbread), the amount of land needed would be minimal. For the wheat flour, figuring a yield of 50 bushels (about 300 pounds) of wheat per acre, you would need a plot approximately thirty feet by one hundred feet. For 50 pounds of cornmeal, at an average yield of 120 bushels per acre, you would need a plot roughly twenty-feet square. Yields could be much higher in both cases, and so less space might be required."

Logsdon goes on to provide more specific examples of his "home grown" economics, showing how to grow more with less space, time, effort and non-organic inputs.

If you're happy with your garden and don't want to change anything, or if you're satisfied with the way things are going and don't need anyone disturbing your nest, then by all means avoid this book.

Review: The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening
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Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Healthy College Cookbook

The Healthy College Cookbook
Quick, Cheap, Easy by Alexandra Nimetz, Jason Stanley, Emeline Starr. Storey Books, 1999

"We know that it's easy to settle for unhealthy food when you don't have the time to prepare something," say the authors of The Healthy College Cookbook, all of them college students with busy schedules and tight budgets. "We hope that this book will provide you with alternatives to the evils of fast food."

You don't have to be in college to appreciate the recipes these self-taught cooks put together. Ranging from Frittatas for breakfast and Sesame Chicken for dinner to Baked Garlic appetizers and Blueberry Scones for dessert, they offer more than 200 recipes that are cheap, convenient, and surprisingly nutritious when compared to the normal student diet.

This cookbook shortens the learning curve for most beginning cooks with an opening chapter on setting up your first kitchen and stocking the shelves. Most recipes are made up of six ingredients or less and take less than a half hour to prepare.

Low-fat, low-calorie, low-cholesterol, low-sodium, and vegetarian options are highlighted, with a full chapter devoted to meatless cuisine. Other chapters focus on soups and salads, pasta, seafood, side dishes, sauces and breads.

Monday, August 2, 2010

How to Build Animal Housing

How to Build Animal Housing
60 Plans for Coops, Hutches, Barns, Sheds, Pens, Nest Boxes, Feeders, Stanchions, and Much More
by Carol Ekarius
Storey Publishing, 2004

Hobby farmer Carol Ekarius compiled the 60 plans for animal shelters featured in this book, all of them designed specifically for small-scale and backyard livestock raising.

Ekarius begins the book with an introductory section that explains the housing needs of animals and discusses issues like drainage, prevailing winds and government regulation that must be considered prior to construction. The plans, from a simple rabbit hutch to a full-service milking barn, occupy the bulk of the pages, followed by a useful construction guide in the back of the book covering everything from screw and nail types to trusses and foundations.

"Take plenty of time to think and plan before starting your project," Ekarius advises. This workbook covers most of the issues that need to be considered before breaking ground.

"If you plan to embark on a construction project but have limited experience, I urge you to start with a small project, like a shed, before trying your hand at a large barn or stable," she says. "It is much easier to learn techniques when building a simple 10'x10' shed than it is when trying to build a 3000-square-foot barn with a full wall foundation, complete upper story, and bathrooms and guest quarters."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Shallows

The Shallows
What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
by Nicholas Carr
W. W. Norton & Co, 2010

Carr acknowledges that several of the bloggers he follows, while aware of the changes the Internet has made in their reading and thinking habits, are not overly concerned about this and actually see more benefits than losses in the exchange. Bruce Friedman, a pathologist at the University of Michigan Medical School tells him that he's "never been more creative" and attributes this to "my blog and the ability to review/scan 'tons' of information on the web."

The Shallows
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