August 25th, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

school busForget January 1. As the parent of a school-age child, the first day of school rings in the real New Year where the optimism shines as brightly as the new first-day-of-school outfit.  My son, though, has never been able to fully revel in this joyful season.  Instead of inspiring him with talk of a new start or lofty resolutions, his ever cynical mother can offer only real-life, social-doom-related adages, such as never ever leave your lunch tray unattended at any time for any reason or let your cosmetologist cousin “fix” your hair the day before class pictures.

This summer, I resolved to rediscover the magic of a new year by reading and watching characters reinvent themselves. My favorites included:

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
Rebecca, a once famous photographer, finds herself stuck in a raccoon-infested cabin in rural New York consumed by worries about money and her stalled career.  Relaxing into daily life with her quirky neighbors and the roofer who traps the rampaging raccoon, Rebecca leaves her old self behind, finding inspiration and a late-in-life second chance in the upstate woods.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Once renowned L.A. architect Bernadette Fox finds both the people and weather of Seattle eroding her sanity. Attempting to plan a long promised family trip to Antarctica hilariously derails as Bernadette is forced to ever more eccentric means of hiding her agoraphobia. Bewildered by his wife’s behavior, Microsoft guru Elgin Branch attempts a mental health intervention, during which Bernadette mysteriously disappears. Compiled by her daughter, the story uses Internet postings, emails, magazine articles and FBI reports to trace Bernadette’s journey back to her family and a rediscovered life.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
A former stay-at-home dad whose wife has left him, Ben takes the job of caregiver to Trev, a teen with muscular dystrophy, hoping to find a purpose in life. Their subsequent road trip in search of Trev’s estranged father (during which they pick up a runaway, a pregnant farm girl and a tail in a Skylark) points the way to forgiveness for Ben’s past deeds.

Doctor Who: The Second Series – DVD

The poster child of reinvention, Dr. Who’s regeneration in “The Christmas Invasion” features murderous Santa robots, a deadly spinning Christmas tree and a plot by the alien Sycorax to enslave the human race.  Putting his own stamp on the beloved character, David Tennant’s debut as Dr. Who encapsulates both the confusion and excitement wrought by a brand new start.

Busy Monsters by William Giraldi
Jilted by his fiancée for a giant squid hunting oceanographer, Charles seeks to win her back by embarking on a manhood-proving quest of his own. Confronting Bigfoot, alien abductees and other questionable creatures, he fights his own self-created monsters on a comic road trip to true love.

All good intentions aside, as my son left the car to wait at the bus stop all I could think to say was to sit toward the front, keep your eyes forward, ears closed and hands to yourself. I was rewarded with a massive eye roll and just the hint of a smile. I guess there’s always next year.

What’s your favorite back-to-school advice?

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August 19th, 2014

A “Berry” Sweet End to Summer

blackberries 2

“Blackberry” has a certain connotation these days – a small hand-held device used for constant communication, right?

Well, at our house, instead of technology, we think of plump, dark, juicy berries, hanging in heavy clusters off riotous berry canes along a homemade fence. After planting a few bushes last fall, we were rewarded with a bumper crop of the most delicious blackberries we’ve ever eaten. We have blueberries and raspberries, too.

We’ve been picking daily for weeks, and started counting our bounty in gallons, not pints. We’ve eaten fresh berries to our heart’s content; we’ve frozen them for smoothies and made berry muffins. But now what?

My cousin told me about a curious fruit drink called a shrubthat you can make to create a home-made soda. Instead of making a simple syrup with berries and sugar, you add cider vinegar, too, to give it a more savory, sophisticated flavor when added to plain seltzer water. You can use your choice of berries.

CCPL has hosted local canning expert and author, J.R. Coffey, for a number of programs over the summer, including on Wednesday, August 20 at the Perryville Branch.

If you haven’t or can’t make his delicious and informative programs, check out this great list of canning and preserving resourcesand have you checked out CCPL’s Pinterest canning page?

I’ve also been getting ideas for using my berries from a variety of cooking magazines that CCPL offers via Zinio, which are digital magazines that I can download and keep on my home computer, or even my blackberry!

What are your favorite ways to preserve the taste of summer?

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