Monday Musings: Read Across America Day

 Read Across America DayPart of my personal library with some really old books I inherited from my father.

Today on Emmet Street, we’re celebrating National Read Across America Day. This day was started back in 1997 by the National Education Association (NEA) to encourage children to read. It coincides with the birthday of Dr. Seuss, one of my favorite authors.

To celebrate, I’m turning off the television, curling up under a warm blanket and immersing myself in the final book of the Divergent trilogy,  Allegiant. I can’t wait to find out how it ends! No spoilers!

Looking for your next read? We wax poetic about the magic of books quite often on Emmet Street. Check out some of our past posts for ideas:

Have you seen our Home Library Lust board on Pinterest? (Why not jump on over and follow us?) Here are some of our recent book-related pins:

  • Books in the ceiling – Just getting a book down from this library would be a great adventure!
  • Little Free Library – Give a book, take a book, spread the joy.
  • TV library – Looking to recycle your old boxy television? There are some great ideas here, including a TV library!

There’s nothing worse than a good book

 There's nothing worse than a good book!Image credit: Mr. Potato Head Has His Nose in a Good Book by Enokson on Flickr. CC by 2.0.

Recently I mourned the passing of autumn and declared I had started a mental list of the books I plan to read while I’m hunkered down indoors this winter.

Despite my love of libraries and books, I have a confession to make: I hate reading fiction.

More precisely, I hate reading engaging fiction. When I’m immersed in a good tale, I can think of nothing else until the book is done.

The best feeling in the world is sitting on the couch or in a comfy chair, tucked into a snuggly blanket with a warm beverage nearby and getting lost in the world before me on the printed page. I feel warm inside and out; all my woes melt away.

Immersed in the story, I AM the adventurer, the solver of mysteries, the seductress. I fly through the pages, ravenous to see how it turns out.

Then I get to the last chapters.

A feeling of dread comes over me. “Is it really almost over?” I ask myself. I slow down, reluctant to read the last word, on the last page. When I get there, I suffer a feeling of loss. I’ve gotten to know and love the characters. They’ve become real to me. Is this really the end? It’s not fair. I want to see your love grow, your children grow, your achievements to get achieveier, your mysteries to get mysterier. I’ve stuck by your side this whole time and now you’re leaving me?

Then I come to my senses, remind myself it’s just a book and I have a huge backlog of others I need to get to. And so it begins anew…

What about you? Am I the only one with these obsessive tendencies? (Please validate that I’m not!) What was the last book you read that took over your life like this?

Celebrating Banned Books Week: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

As I was reviewing the American Library Association’s lists of frequently challenged books while researching Banned Books Week, I was stunned to see one of my childhood favorites Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume made the list. Even more stunning, five of her books made the list.

When I was in the fourth or fifth grade, Are You There, God? was a book I frequently borrowed from the library. While it didn’t explain the great mysteries of menstruation (I still don’t have all of them solved, but this piece over at BuzzFeed recently helped me articulate the experience to my boyfriend), it did help me feel like my friends and I were not the only ones obsessing over boys, bras and who would be the first to get their period.

I can’t imagine what could have replaced Are You There, God? if it had been banned from my public library. I certainly couldn’t have asked my mother, who had already proved she was not up to “the talk”–her attempt left me being one of those girls who thought you could get pregnant by simply kissing a boy. (Sorry, Mom. You were good at executing many aspects of parenting, but explaining the birds and the bees was not one of them.)

I’m not alone in feeling reassured by Ms. Blume’s books, and feeling like she was an adult kids could turn to when they had questions about what was “normal.” In fact, she published a book of the letters she received, along with her responses, in Letters to Judy: What Your Kids Wish They Could Tell You as a resource for parents. The book is no longer in print, but Maria Popova at Brain Pickings featured excerpts here and here. Reading them left me grateful Ms. Blume was brave enough to be honest about sexuality in her books and hopeful that those of us who grew up reading her books are brave enough to talk honestly with our kids.

It’s Banned Books Week! Celebrate by reading a banned book

2014 Banned Books Week

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association

It’s no secret that we love public libraries. Free and open access to libraries is a way to level the educational playing field, provide high-speed internet access to those who can’t get it otherwise, introduce people to ideas and insights they might not otherwise be exposed to and helps cultivate a healthy democracy. Despite these virtues, there are those that seek to censor the ideas libraries are tasked to curate. Each year, libraries must deal with book challenges. Sometimes these challenges result in material being removed from the library.

Chew on that for a minute: Materials being removed from the library. Materials like the Harry Potter series, the Hunger Games trilogy, To Kill a Mockingbird and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Sure, some of the materials that appear on the list contain content that is difficult for some to digest but so does life. Having these materials available may provide relief to someone going through a difficult life challenge and develop empathy in others who will never face that particular challenge, but have people in their life who are dealing with it.

John F. Kennedy said: “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”

Don’t be afraid of your fellow Americans. Support your local library, celebrate your freedom to read and pick up a “banned” book!

Eat your books: Little House on the Prairie

When I was young I loved the Little House on the Prairie book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. (Actually, as an adult, I still do. Maybe it’s because I’ve been an urban dweller for too long, but the idea of living off the land with no annoying neighbors is appealing.)

One thing I remember vividly is the kind of food Laura talked about in the books. Foods that sounds old-fashioned, yet exotic, like horehound candy, cracklings and johnnycake.

In honor of National Library Week, I wanted to make a recipe mentioned in the Little House books. The one thing I always wanted to try was a pie described in The Long Winter. If I remember correctly, there’s an early fall frost so Pa is out trying to harvest what he can before the crops are ruined (forgive me if I got that plot line wrong; it’s been a while and I don’t have a copy of the book handy). Ma wanted to make something special but, since the cupboards were kind of bare, she had to think creatively. So she went out into the garden, brought in a green pumpkin and hacked it up to make a pie. A green pumpkin pie. When Pa tasted it, he was pleased and surprised that Ma had gotten her hands on some apples. He was even more surprised (and impressed by Ma’s culinary cleverness) when he learned that the pie was made from an unripe pumpkin.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the hook up to get my hands on a green pumpkin, so I had to make something else. I took a recipe from The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories, by Barbara M. Walker and tried to recreate it. Whoo boy! There’s a lot of interesting things in that cookbook (so much lard!); I decided to make Fried Apples ‘N’ Onions, which was described as one of Almanzo’s favorites in Farmer Boy. No lard required for this recipe, but there is bacon. Mmm, bacon.

Your first step is to fry up a half pound of bacon until it’s nice and crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan and set it aside (sorry I forgot to snap a pic, but I’m pretty sure you know what cooked bacon looks like).

Next, pour all of the bacon fat from the pan into a bowl or a measuring cup. Add about a tablespoon of the fat back to the pan. Layer your sliced onions on the bottom of the pan and let them cook over medium-high heat until they just start to get brown. (I turned them over so you can see how they’ll look).

caramelized onions

Your next step is to layer your sliced apples over the onions. Like so:

apples n onions 1

Then, sprinkle brown sugar over the top and cover.

apples n onions 2

Cook until the apples are tender. After 10 minutes or so (I might have been distracted and forgot to pay attention to the time), you’ll end up with something like this:

apples n onions 3

Serve your creation with bacon. It took a lot of restraint not to eat all the bacon while I was waiting for the rest of the dish to cook, but it was worth the wait.

apples n onions 4

Other than the prep work for the apples (which reminded me I need to buy an apple corer) and onions (onion tears!), this was a simple recipe to make. It was really tasty and, in my opinion, would not be negatively impacted if you wanted to make it vegan friendly and omit the bacon. I ate my creation for breakfast, but it would make a tasty side dish to pork loin.

You probably want the recipe specifics now, right? Here you go:

Fried Apples ‘N’ Onions

Serves 6,  abridged from The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories, by Barbara M. Walker

1/2 pound sliced bacon

2 pounds yellow onion, thinly sliced

2 pounds tart apples (I used Granny Smith), cored and sliced crosswise

2 T. brown sugar

Fry bacon in skillet until crisp; set aside. Drain all bacon fat from skillet, except for 1 T. Layer onion on bottom of skillet. Cook for 3-5 minutes over medium-high heat. Layer apples slices on top and sprinkle 2 T. brown sugar over the apples. Cover and cook until the apples are tender. Serve with bacon on the side or crumbled on top.