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Monday, November 26, 2012

All I want for Christmas is...BOOKS!

When I was eleven I had the best Christmas ever.  I got a set of five Nancy Drew books, two Trixie Beldon books, and Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.  I was in reading heaven!

I spent most of January curled up by the fireplace with my nose firmly planted in a book. Of course that was probably no different than any other winter.  I have always been a voracious reader and my night stand is often piled high with magazines, books, and articles to read.  And now that I have a kindle...oh my goodness - what a great invention for readers!

The top of my gift list is always something from the bookstore.  I do love reading on my Kindle.  It is much easier to pack ten books on my Kindle than ten physical books, but I still love the feel and look of regular print books.  And books rich in illustration are still best viewed in print version.  At lease in my humble opinion.

So for all of you readers out there - here are some books to add to your gift list.  You will enjoy receiving or giving every one of these great stories.

First on my list is Postcards of St. Charles.  For anyone who lives in the St. Charles area, this is a wonderful Christmas gift.  Arcadia Publishing is known for their amazing photographic histories of American towns and Valerie Battle Kienzle does a fantastic job bringing historic St. Charles to life.  I am of course excited because Valerie is a friend of mine, but friend or not - this is a great book!

I adore mysteries, especially series mysteries.  Once I meet a set of characters I want to visit with them again and again.  Blame it on Trixie and Nancy.  Two series that I have fallen in love with this year are Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen and The Bibliophile Mysteries by Kate Carlise.  Very different settings, but both are great fun to read.

Her Royal Spyness stars Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter to the Duke of Atholt and Rannoch and thirty-fourth in line for the throne of England.  Unfortunately the title does not come with money. She is flat broke, along with the rest of London in the 1930's.  Lady Georgie has to learn to make her way among the commoners and work for her tea and crumpets. Too bad there is a dead count in the bathtub and her brother is accused of murder!  This book is a great combination of mystery and comedy with plenty of fun royal antics.


Homicide in Hardcover is set in modern San Francisco where book restorer, Brooklyn Wainwright saves rare books from mold, mildew, and greedy thieves.  She gets more help than she wants from her hippie new age parents and not enough attention from the cute security agent, but Brooklyn still manages to solve the mysteries and save her beloved books.  I not only enjoy the mysteries in these novels but I also like learning about the art of bookbinding and book making.  Lots of great details about rare books!

Besides Mysteries I also like fantasy books.  Yes, I am a Tolkien fan.  And I really enjoy some of the new fantasy books like the Goblin Wars by Kersten Hamilton.  I know - the goblin wars sounds kind of gross, like zombie wars or something.  But it's not!  Hamilton uses the old myths and legends of Ireland to create a totally different kind of fantasy world of high born goblins and the underworld of Mag Mell. It is one of the most unique fantasy books I have read.  And there's not a single vampire to be found!

If you have children on your Christmas list, I must plug my favorite authors who also happen to be members of my  writing critique group.

For a great Young Adult novel try Kristin Nitz's, Suspect.  Set in Missouri wine country, this homegrown mystery has enough twists and turns to keep the most avid reader guessing.

Mama's Window, by Lynn Rubright, is a wonderful story of a boy's dream to fulfill his Mother's final wish for a stained glass window in their church.  An uplifting story that is perfect for the holiday season.

A delightful non-fiction picture book is Out on the Prairie by Donna Bateman.  Donna writes in perfect rhyme and does impeccable research.  She spent her vacation on the Dakota prairie researching the animals for this book.  It has starred reviews from Kirkus and is a must have for any child's library.

And for a great picture book mystery - that's right - a great mystery for little kids!  Pick up a copy of Jeanie Ransom's What Really Happened to Humpty?  You'll have a great time investigating with Joe Dumpty (Humpty's brother) and laughing at the eggs-ellent puns!

The best place to shop for all your gift book needs? The Main Street Bookstore in St. Charles.  Owner Vicki Erwin and her fine staff will help you select great titles for even the toughest critic.

Merry Christmas and Happy reading to all!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Everything Old Is New Again -- Lard, Rediscovered

By Valerie Battle Kienzle

What’s true of fashion trends often is true of food trends – wait long enough and what was once popular will be popular again.  Such is the case with lard.

By definition, lard is hog fat -- waste pig tissue that has been rendered or processed into more useful products for human consumption.  Sounds disgusting, but that’s what it is.  And it’s been used in food preparation for centuries.

Both of my grandmothers were Depression-era farm wives.  Their families raised hogs and each year slaughtered a few in the cool days of fall.  Cuts of meat from the hogs were preserved or prepared and provided a source of protein for their families in the months ahead.

In addition to providing hams, ribs, roasts, sausage and bacon, the butchering of hogs resulted in a lot of leftover fat and waste tissues.  These leftovers were boiled in huge pots of water over an open fire.  The rendered fat floated to the top of the pot, was skimmed from the water surface and saved as lard.  The lard was then used in the preparation of a variety of other foods, much like many of us today use shortening, oils, butter or margarine.

Large coffee cans filled with lard were regular fixtures near both grandmas’ stoves.  It’s a good thing I didn’t know exactly what that creamy substance was until I was much older.  I was a picky eater, and chances are I wouldn’t have touched much of anything they prepared if I’d paid attention to how often they dipped into those cans.

Grandma Bettye was known throughout her rural community as an outstanding cook.  Preparing large mid-day meals for her family and farm hands was a daily activity.  People still talk about her light, flaky pie crusts.  Her secret ingredient?  Lard.

Grandma Cleo served heaping bowls of vegetables grown in her own garden.  They were seasoned in such a way that others often found difficult to duplicate.  Her secret?  A big scoop of lard.  

Lard composition is mainly fats known as triglycerides.  High triglyceride levels are considered a health risk.  That, along with concerns in recent decades about high cholesterol levels and other dietary concerns, led to a switch from lard to vegetable-based oils in cooking.  Suddenly lard was viewed as unhealthy.

However, in recent years American consumers have become concerned about the health aspects of the trans fats found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.  Hydrogenation is a process where an unsaturated oil such as corn oil has hydrogen added to it to cause the creation of hydrogenated fats.  The fats become more solid at room temperature.  Then a few experts recognized that unhydrogenated lard has no trans fat.  It also has less cholesterol and saturated fat than an equal portion of butter.

In addition, a few noted chefs publically acknowledged the positive properties of lard in food preparation (sound familiar?).  This led to increased usage and popularity of lard with food aficionados, or foodies, throughout the world.  And now the use of lard in food preparation is again accepted and applauded.  The New York Times, Food & Wine magazine, Gourmet magazine and The Washington Examiner recently published stories praising the use of lard.  In addition, the editors of Grit magazine and Ogden Publications, Inc., have released a book about lard called, Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient.

The December issue of Southern Living magazine features an article about the art of frying foods.  It states that the secret of successful frying is selecting the right oil, which includes some vegetable oils and, you guessed it, LARD.

Obtaining lard today is much easier than it was in Grandma’s day.  Lard is available for purchase in most groceries in blocks or in cans.  It can be found alongside cooking oils.

So the grandmas were right!  This product, which isn’t at all appetizing when you think about its composition, is the latest trend in the food industry.  Who knew???