Tag Archives: how-to

Yes We Can

One cooking project I’ve been scared to tackle is canning and preserving. A  year or two ago, I asked for a set of canning supplies for Christmas, received them, and promptly relegated them into the closet in my house where things go to be ignored, nestled cozily alongside an accordion binder of old tax returns and paperwork from the vet.

I did it!

I decided to get over my fear of messing up and give it a shot, and guess what? It’s not so difficult, after all.  I made some quick garlic pickles and a batch of strawberry jalapeno jam, and now I’m ready for more. Of course, I turned to some trusty library resources to show me the way:

Dare to Cook – Canning Basics (DVD) – Chef Tom doesn’t have the on-screen charisma of your favorite Food Network star, but what he lacks in panache he makes up for in know-how.  Watching this DVD is what finally convinced me that I could do this, and that my fear of giving all my loved ones botulism was unfounded, as long as I followed the clear and simple instructions.

Canning for a New Generation: Bold Fresh Flavors for a Modern Pantry – Almost every review you read of this book says something along the lines of: “If you think caning is just for oldsters, think again!”  It’s true that this book includes lots of contemporary twists on classic recipes and quite a few things you won’t find in other canning books, but it also has good practical advice and recipes for ideas on how to use the jams, sauces, relishes, and condiments you’ll be preserving.

The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving – I loved that this had a large number and variety of recipes, and small batch is just right for a beginner like me. It helped me feel like even if I messed something up, I wasn’t wasting a ton of ingredients.  There are lots of recipes in this book for sauces and jams that you don’t have to process and can, so if you are scared of pectin and want to get those skills down pat first, try this one out.

Strawberry Jam Print. Click through for the artist's portfolio.

Strawberry Jam Print. Click through for the artist’s portfolio.

More Canning & Preserving Resources:



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There is nothing quite like checking out a few books from the library and learning how to do something. We all love to learn and read and be entertained. But picking up a new skill or refining an old one is something very special. The Library has it all: home repair, building a canoe, raising goats, etc. …and knitting. I don’t think there is enough yarn in the world to make every project or idea available on CLP’s shelves.

Lately for me, it’s been all about drawing. There is something so wonderfully simple about it. You just need a pencil and some paper. No expensive set of paints or easel to buy, no special equipment necessary, nothing to it. Transitioning from a lifelong doodler to an amateur illustrator hasn’t been easy, but it’s been fun, and CLP has tons of titles to help us along.  I have flipped through at least a dozen titles learning basic techniques, perspective and anatomy.

One of the unexpected benefits of this reading splurge is the encouragement to draw from life. Most of us don’t have the luxury of taking art classes in our spare time and it can be difficult convincing someone to stand naked in the middle of a room for long periods, especially now that temperatures are dropping. But books like Figure Drawing Without a Model by Ron Tiner recommend drawing whoever and whatever is around. So far, no one on the bus has caught me.  For the basics, I have been gravitating toward older titles like The Art of Pencil Drawing by Ernie Watson and Wendon Blake’s Starting to Draw and Landscape Drawing Step by Step.  There is so much to choose from on the shelves. The humble pencil is capable of great things, as evidenced by artists like Paul Calle.

At this point, some of you out there are wringing your hands in frustration, crying out against cruel fate and bemoaning a perceived lack of artistic talent. “I can’t draw!” you say. Well, you are wrong. Few of us will become great artists, whatever that means now. But drawing is a skill, and skills can be learned. Ultimately drawing is a trick, representing a three dimensional object on a two dimensional plane. Lines don’t even exist in reality like they do in many illustrations. But our brains can figure it out.  So for the hard cases out there and the non-believers, start with this book: The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. This groundbreaking work breaks down the nuts and bolts of seeing, perceiving, and drawing based on hard science. Anyone can learn once the veil is lifted.  In a similar spirit, I will go ahead and admit that I could probably get better at math if I worked at it.

Once the gears are oiled, I highly recommend this book The Art of Urban Sketching by Gabriel Campanario. This book was an amazing eye opener about the power and potential of field sketching in an urban environment. With pencil and sketchbook, the environment around us is potentially transformed and made more meaningful.  The book even includes a “manifesto” for the budding urban sketcher.  I hold manifestos to a pretty high standard. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels really set the bar high. Unless you are systematizing a new way of analyzing history, I think it’s better to call it a “guidebook.” That’s just me of course; the book is a can’t miss and will open your mind to the artistic possibilities of all the space and form we take for granted on a daily basis.  So, get to the library and start drawing.  Oh, and any urban sketchers out there with a doodle of CLP-Main, please send a copy to me. It’s an amazing building and I am very curious what people have done with it.



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The Day After Thanksgiving

This is the biggest shopping day of the year.  And yes, I know the U.S. economy is largely driven by consumer spending.

Instead of going to the mall like a zombie, though, you should go to the library’s CD collection and check out some classic anti-consumerist punk such as Crass and Conflict from the U.K. or the U.S.’s own Dead Kennedys.  I can’t repeat much of the lyrics of Crass’s “Buy Now, Pay As You Go” song here, but let’s just say that it’s a strong message to “consumer slaves.”

We’re living in a material world, but I appreciate those who try to avoid the incessant cycle of buying stuff and throwing it away.  Let us give thanks to those who craft, grow, and fix things.

A picture to promote the U.S. Department of Agriculture's WWII era "Share and Repair" program.

The library caters to them and, it logically follows,  so do my fellow library bloggers.  For example, Julie helps your garden grow, Dave shows you how and where to fix your bicycle, Leigh Anne would like to help you find the resources to make and do just about anything, and the same goes for the rest of the blog team.

And even if you just want to passively protest the shopping frenzy by quietly reading, Melissa will help you dive into a good book amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

I am thankful for all of that.

— Tim

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Dummies, Idiots, and Absolute Beginners

True confessions time:  I hate not being good at things. 

I blush to admit it, but it’s true. Even though I know, logically, that I can’t be a superstar at everything, it still kind of bugs me when I’m less than stellar at something. Knitting is currently driving me crazy – no matter how hard I try, I simply can’t cast on properly; I’m also pretty lousy at jewelry-making and (much to my parents’ chagrin) housecleaning.  So, unless you’re really desperate, please don’t ask me for a homemade sweater, DIY earrings, or the opportunity to eat dinner off my kitchen floor.

Despite my distaste for personal ineptitude, I keep stumbling across interesting hobbies and skills that I simply have to try; it still bugs me if I don’t master a thing right away, or ever, but I’m starting to come around to the notion that maybe the reward in trying a new thing is not in getting good at that thing.  Maybe the reward is in the trying.

In that spirit, here’s a short list of materials that aim to teach new skills. 

Quilting Through Life, Julia Teters-Zeigler. A collection of crafts meant to feed your soul as well as beautify your house. The content is meant to uplift and inspire, and give you some notions to dream on.

National Poetry Recitation Contest: Performing Poetry, An Audio Guide. Get pointers on how to read a poem out loud, and enjoy sample recitations from an all-star cast. To learn more about the actual competition, click here.

Divine Canine, the Monks of New Skete. Why not learn with a four-footed friend?  Bond with your dogs while teaching them obedience skills in a positive, productive way.

Learn to Play Cajun Accordion, Dirk Powell. If you’re going to learn something new, why not think outside the box? I had no idea this DVD existed until Tuesday, but you’d better believe I plan on mastering the Cajun accordion by 2012 (in case my presidential bid doesn’t work out).

The Chicks With Sticks Guide to Crochet, Nancy Queen. If you haven’t yet found a crochet club, this book is a great tide-me-over. It’s warm, it’s fun, and it’s easy to understand.

There are pros and cons to trying new things by yourself, of course.  If learning in a group is more your style, take a peek at the library’s events calendar. If you narrow your search with the “Classes and Presentations” option in the left-hand sidebar, you’ll find a list of interesting things you can try in a group setting.

This includes, of course, our knitting club, upon whose mercy I will have to throw myself if I ever want to make my own Gryffindor scarf. I suspect, however, that when it comes to the Cajun accordion, I’m on my own…

–Leigh Anne


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