Thursday, March 19, 2015

My Ten Favorite Cookbooks

My Ten Favorite Cookbooks
© Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved  
I'm a foodie. There, I said it. I have over 40 cookbooks marked with Post-its for recipes I want to try. Here they are on my kitchen counter. I don't even want to count the number of recipes I've gotten from magazines, newspapers and the Internet. Choosing just ten cookbooks is very hard. What about Lidia Bastianich, Rick Bayless, Burt Wolf, Julia Child, Martin Yan, Paul Prudhomme, and cookbooks from the New York Times, McCalls and Better Homes and Gardens?

Many of these cookbooks have newer versions or are out of print. This picture shows the books that I bought and use. 

My cookbooks can be divided into two groups, those on the kitchen counter and those in an improvised book shelf in the cabinet below. These are the cookbooks that I use the most and are on my kitchen counter. Enjoy!

"Betty Crocker's Cookbook"

© Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved  
Yes, that's duct tape holding my 1975 edition of "Betty Crocker's Cookbook" together. Did you know that Betty Crocker is a character, not a real person? The first edition of this classic cookbook was published in 1950 although the character was created in 1921 by General Mills. According to their Web site, the character was created in order to make responses to customers more personal. Check out the site for the complete story. Who cares if there wasn't an actual person named Betty Crocker? This is the cookbook I use the most.

"Betty Crocker's Cookbook" is the first cookbook I bought after I was married. It's still my go to cookbook for basics like roasting turkey, chicken, pork or beef. I do need to check if the internal temperatures needed for doneness have changed on the USDA Web site. The recipes are tried and true. Stuffing is always perfect. Cake and frosting are as easy as pie recipes.

The book certainly of a different era. A cake recipe for an 8" x 8" pan is called a "dinette cake for small families." Harvest gold, avocado green, and burnt orange form the color palette from the 1970's. I still have Tupperware in those colors! Convenience was a big deal at that time so there are a lot of prepared foods in the recipes, like canned soup.My favorite recipes are the coffee cake, stuffing, roasts, nut breads, and hot German potato salad.

"Crock-Pot Recipe Collection"

© Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved  
I bought my Crock-Pot in the 1980's and it's still cookin' away. A small pamphlet of recipes came with it. Most of those overcooked the food and spices were cooked out.

Image credit: Donna Cook
My copy
I bought "Crock-Pot Recipe Collection" a few years ago and it is just terrific. There are lots of recipes from other countries like Persian Eggplant Dip, Jamaican Chicken and Cuban Pork Sandwiches. Italian and Mexican style recipes are represented in abundance. Don't worry, there are plenty of American favorites including Yankee Pot Roast, Clam Chowder, and Wisconsin Beer and Cheese Soup.

My favorite chapter is Soups and Stocks. I still need to make Italian Sausage Soup. It looks very much like a soup I've had called Italian Wedding Soup. The Chicken Tortilla Soup would be a perfect after school treat. I'm sure that the Hot and Sour Soup and Greek Lemon and Rice Soup is as good as any restaurant. No soup chapter is complete without a tasty minestrone!

"Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving"

Image credit: Donna Cook
My copy
I didn't buy this canning book first but I should have. I call it the "grandmomma" of all canning books. I had put up two bushels of tomatoes before I realized how badly I needed the very best canning book of all time, first published in 1909. I live at an altitude of 5,203 feet in a Denver, Colorado suburb. I found too many different altitude adjustments in canning recipes from the Internet. The adjustments in the "Ball Blue Book" are conservative, like adding 10 minutes to processing instead of 5 minutes. I like that. I also like the detailed explanation of the importance acidity and preventing the growth of microorganisms. Although what I learned in college chemistry and biology is way outdated, pH and bug growth haven't changed (even if the names of the bugs have).

Water bath canning is covered in great detail and is probably the most popular type of canning. I would guess that tomatoes are the most popular food that is canned. I love the step by step directions at the end of chapters that show exactly how to can a particular food, especially tomatoes. There are recipes for tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, salsa, and all things tomato. The chapter on jams, jellies, and fruit spreads really helped me as I now make low sugar jams and jellies. I am afraid of pressure cookers, but the chapter on canning low acid foods such as meats and vegetables was very informative. I live near a bunch of farm markets and the idea of canning my own vegetables is very appealing. Preserving by freezing and dehydrating are covered. Dehydrating is intriguing but I would get a book on that subject alone because I would like in depth coverage of that topic.

This edition may not be available now. I would suggest checking you favorite book seller for the most recent edition. 

Church Cookbooks for Authentic Cooking

© Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved  
I treasure these two church cookbooks published in the early 1970's. My Volga Deutsch grandmother bought them at her church in Chicago and gave them to my mother who passed them down to me. I've labeled this "Authentic Cooking" because the recipes are mostly from immigrants from Eastern Europe or first generation daughters. I see German, Bohemian, Polish, and Hungarian recipes in abundance. There is a Bohemian egg bread with raisins called houska. I never learned to make it from my Bohemian grandmother. I've been able to adopt the recipe in one of these books to work with my bread machine. It's just like being with Babicka Kuchynka. The Fleisch Berok recipe makes me feel closer to all my Volga Deutsch relatives that live so far away.

I know that I'll never make the pig's knuckles with sauerkraut or the old fashioned liver sausage. However, kuchen and kolacky are on the cooking to do list, as are the sauerbraten and chicken paprika. This is not health food but everything in moderation.

"Betty Crocker's Best Bread Machine Cookbook"

Image credit: Donna Cook
My copy
I received a bread machine as a gift over ten years ago. I haven't bought a loaf of bread from the grocery store ever since. My first attempts at yeast breads and rolls were terrific door stops and hockey pucks, so I started making quick breads to compensate for my yeast failure. The bread machine restored my yeast self esteem as did the discovery that there is a flour specifically for bread. I don't remember my grandmother having bread flour and my mom did not make bread, so how was I to know? I set out on a yeast mission and got about half a dozen bread machine cookbooks. Quite frankly, a lot of them had recipes that I would never make like dill bread. I love dill pickles not dill in bread did not appeal to me. Then I realized that what would be better than a Betty Crocker cookbook for a bread machine? Thank goodness that I did, because this is my favorite bread machine cookbook. newer edition is available. 

Even the introduction is tremendously helpful with an explanation of the machine cycles, types of flour, and yeast. The photos of the failed loaves is worth the price of the book alone. The FAQ is a resource for either the newbie or the experienced bread machine user. The recipes range from basic white bread to rustic loaves and beyond. My favorite chapter is about sweet breads and coffee cakes. I just love the Cinnamon Roll recipe, although I use a glaze from my dear old Betty Crocker's Cookbook from the 1970's. I make the rolls as gifts only for very special people in my life.

"The Joy of Cooking"

Image credit: Donna Cook
My copy
I first bought "Joy of Cooking" as a paperback when I was ready to venture beyond basics and into high falutin' recipes. Of course, Joy is a terrific cookbook and fabulous cooking reference. I broke down and bought the hardcover edition so that it would lay flat when I was using it.

There are 18 chapters with recipes for abalone to zucchini and everything in between. There are diagrams on how to eat with chopsticks and submerging the neck end of a goose in boiling water. I doubt that I will ever need to know how to cook emu but I know that "Joy of Cooking" has the directions. The pictures of orange roughy and mahi-mahi show rather unattractive but very delicious fish. Monkfish will never be in my kitchen. I only use a couple kinds of pasta but I can refer to the chart that shows 27 types with their cooking times.

I probably use the stocks and sauces chapter the most, although I'm still trying to master hollandaise and Bearnaise sauces. The marinades and rubs chapter is terrific for preparing meats to barbecue. I never grill meats anymore without marinating for the richer, deeper flavors. There are a lot of international recipes included in the newer editions reflecting the trend towards a world cuisine. I see that there is a 75th anniversary edition available with a predominantly red cover

Just a side note about the movie "Julia and Julie." I just loved the scene with Irma Rombauer where she told Julia Child what it was really like to get "Joy of Cooking" published.

"The New Professional Chef"

Image credit: Donna Cook
My copy
Does the acronym CIA mean spies or cooking to you? The Culinary Institute of America was founded in 1946 and has trained many famous chefs such as Duff Goldman, Anthony Bourdain, Anne Burrell, Cat Cora, and Michael Symon. I was given "The New Professional Chef" by the Culinary Institute of America as a gift. It is one heavy duty cookbook weighing in at eight pounds. If you ever want to know anything about kind of food or technique, this is the cookbook to get! I have the 1996 edition and it's geared to towards future restaurateurs.

The recipes are set for 10 servings, which is great for large family, party or restaurant. Of course, the recipes can be cut in half. Fully one third of the book is devoted to safety, ingredients, equipment and basic techniques. This is the best cooking reference book that I have. There are diagrams, pictures and descriptions of knives, cookware, and cuts of all kinds of meat, poultry and fish.

My favorite section is The Raw Ingredients that has photos of an amazing amount of fruits, vegetables and spices as well as grains, nuts and beans. My next favorite section is Mise en Place which translates from French to "to put in place." I take it to mean preparation prior to cooking. Knife and cutting skill photographs will teach proper knife techniques. This section finally taught me the difference be between bouquet garni (herbs tied in a bundle) and sachet d'epices (herbs and spices in a cheesecloth bag.)

There are recipes for everything you can imagine in 10 serving sizes. There's just one recipe to each 8 1/2 x 11 page. The ingredients are listed in order and the preparation steps are numbered. I really should use this cookbook more. I have seen a new edition at my local bookstore. This cookbook will take your cooking to the next level!

Ball Blue Book and Kerr Canning Book from 1947

© Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved  
I'm a pack rat and hold onto some things for years because I think I'll need them again. Sometimes I do! Occasionally, I run across stuff that I didn't even know that I had, like these vintage canning books from 1947. I kept the few cookbooks that my mom had and these were inside of one of them. I only discovered them last year. They are a precious reminder of my mother. I never saw her do any canning although now that I think about it she did have a couple of canning utensils. We had a peach tree in the back yard and there are food stains on those recipes.

I didn't know that there were jars with glass lids and separate rubber rings to seal them or jars with bail wires to keep the lids closed. There is enough sugar in the jelly and jam recipes to rot your teeth just from reading them. The recipes call for three to four cups of sugar to one cup of fruit. No pectin is added, just sugar. I was surprised that the jars aren't sealed with paraffin.

When I was a kid, my dad would take me to the butcher in the old neighborhood, Cicero, IL. There was a large Bohemian community in Cicero in addition to the gangsters you may have heard about. Organ meats filled one entire meat case in the butcher shop. There are canning recipes for things I remember seeing like pigs feet, sweetbreads, tongue, and sulc (head cheese-you don't want to know.) I didn't see a recipe for tripe.

These two cookbooks are a wonderful window on the past and just how far canning has come since then.

Jacques Pepin's Cookbooks

Image credit: Donna Cook
My copies
I love to watch cooking shows. Before there was the Food Network and the Cooking channel, most cooking shows were on PBS on Saturday mornings in my home town of Chicago. Jacques Pepin shows were my introduction to French cooking. I love his practical methods that make gourmet cooking as easy as burgers. These are the two cookbooks from the 1990's that I have.

Jacques introduced me to the wonders of Herbes de Provence and ratatouille. I still make the Ragout of Potatoes. I would like to make the apple tart but don't have the patience to make the dough or lay out the apples. "The Short-Cut Cook" is my favorite of the two books with a newer edition available.
Charlie Trotter's Cookbooks

Image credit: Donna Cook
My copies
You may remember the late Charlie Trotter from his 1999 PBS show, The Kitchen Sessions. If you didn't see the show, get "Gourmet Cooking for Dummies", which he authored. I never liked the For Dummies series of books until I got this one. Like all the For Dummies books, the subject is taken seriously but with a wry sense of humor. Flavors have many complex layers. My favorite is the Barley Risotto. "The Kitchen Sessions" is a feast both for the eyes and the palette. Most recipes have one whole page with a photo of the dish on the facing page. Right now I'm looking at the Sea Scallops with blended Chicken Liver Sauce and Braised Collard Greens. This is a terrific example of how Chef Trotter blended and layered flavors for unbelievable food.

I was fortunate to have eaten at his Chicago restaurant, Charlie Trotter's, for a couple of special occasions. His mother was at the restaurant and gave guests tours of the kitchen and the area where the TV show was shot. I'm still lusting after the 55 gallon stockpots.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

My Favorite Sunscreen

I walk my dog almost every day here in Colorado. UV rays are stronger at altitude and we have 300 days of sunshine. According to my dermatologist, I have sensitive skin and a skin condition called rosacea. I was trying to find a gentle sun screen product to protect my skin from the damaging rays of the sun. I've always liked Neutrogena products and was happy to find that they have just what I wanted.  I chose Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Screen and just adore it. 

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen, SPF 70
Image credit:
I really like the texture of Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen. It's oil free and blends easily. I use it everyday and have had no breakouts or reactions. Neutrogena states that the product is PABA-free and won't clog pores. PABA can cause allergic reactions. Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen comes in SPF’s from 30 to 100. I'm using SPF 70 but intend to get SPF 100 next time. A tube lasts me a very long time which good because a 3 ounce tube costs about $12.00. Of course, you should do a patch test to make sure that your skin does not react to this or any skin care product. The only downside to the product is that parent company, Johnson and Johnson, does conduct animal testing. I checked the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Web site for this information. 

So what’s the big deal about SPF? SPF is an acronym for Sun Protection Factor. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for the regulation of sunscreen products. Although the manufacturer may suggest when to reapply sunscreen, the FDA says that the SPF does not apply to the time in the sun but the actual exposure. The sun is more intense in the middle of the day and different skin types absorb sunlight in variable amounts. The FDA also proposed a regulation limiting the maximum SPF to 50 as data is needed to confirm the higher SPF’s provide more protection. I don’t care if they’re waiting for data, I’ll use the highest SPF that I can get from a reputable manufacturer.

Several years ago, my dermatologist also recommended using a “sunblock” which at that time meant containing zinc oxide. Many people use zinc oxide on their noses for extra protection in some pretty wild colors. However, in 2015, the FDA mandated that the term “sunblock” cannot be used by manufacturers. A quick look at these products show SPF’s that are the same as other sunscreens. So much for purple noses. 

There is also the issue of UVA and UVB protection. What the heck are those and why should I care? UVA stands for ultraviolet A and UVB means ultraviolet B. Ultraviolet rays cause sunburn and skin damage. They are not visible to the human eye although some insects and birds see them. The electromagnetic wave length of ultraviolet light is shorter than visible light on the purple end of the spectrum. Therefore they were named ultra violet. UVA pass through the atmosphere. The ozone layer of the atmosphere absorbs some of the UVB rays while in transit. There’s even UVC rays but the ozone layer absorbs those completely. UVB rays penetrate the outer layer of skin, the epidermis. UVA rays penetrate more deeply to the middle layer, the dermis. The FDA requires that products labeled as “broad spectrum” pass a test that proves the product provides UVA protection in proportion to UVB rays.

I have many risk factors for skin cancer-fair skin, freckles, blistering sunburns as a child, and my red headed mother had basal cell carcinoma. I am so glad that I found Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ten Reasons I Like Dummies Books

Most of my collection

OK, I'll admit it right now, I like the "For Dummies" book series and here's my collection to prove it. They’re my guilty pleasure.  Whenever I am delving into a new topic, this is where I look after extensive on line searches. The books both entertain and inform. In no particular order, here are ten reasons why I like them.

The Part of Tens

I always read "The Part of Tens" at the end of the book first. I nibble around the edges of a project before diving in, so this is how I get started. There are always kibbles and bits of info that are good to know immediately.


This isn't a textbook for heaven's sake! Cartoons are the second thing I read in the book. Rich Tennant has been the resident cartoonist for the "For Dummies" series since 1991. The cartoons are called the "5th Wave" after the Ages in "Future Shock" by Alvin Toffler. I'm glad the cartoons are funny, since that book was so serious.

Consistent Icons

The same icons are used in all the "For Dummies" books. I see them as signposts along the way. A good way to skim a chapter is to just read the icons. The target icon has tips and shortcuts. The remember icon repeats important information just to be sure that the reader sees it. The warning icon with the bomb and short burning fuse scare me but is a good warning sign about problems, safety, etc. I love the technical stuff icon as I am something of a geek.

Lots of Diagrams

I'm a visual learner so I really appreciate all the diagrams in the books. Although the concepts may be obvious with a little bit of experience, the first time doing a task can be truly confusing. Remember the first time you tried knitting and learning to cast on stitches? How about trying to figure out how to make chicken stock without ending up with chicken jello? YouTube Videos are very helpful. However, I just like having the book opened to the task I'm working on. Then I don't have to stop, go back, and watch the same procedure five times before I can do it.

No Prior Knowledge

The "For Dummies" series assumes that you know nothing about a particular subject. For example, I inherited a lot of coins from an elderly relative. I had no idea if they had any value beyond face or metal value. "Coin Collecting for Dummies" taught me more about US Currency than I could ever have imagined. I haven't done anything else with coin collecting but the book gave me just what I needed to know. "For Dummies" can also serve as a gateway into whole new area of interest. I started with "Canning for Dummies" and now have over 100 jars of tomatoes, jelly, cabbage, salsa and oranges in my pantry. The next step is growing my own tomatoes so "Vegetable Gardening For Dummies" is on my Amazon shopping list.

Wide Variety of Topics

At last count there are 2,516 titles at, ranging from algebra to Zoho and everything in between. According to the Web site, the books have been translated in 30 languages including Spanish, Arabic, Estonian, Greek, Russian, and Vietnamese. The "For Dummies" series is the world's bestselling reference brand according to the publisher, Wiley. Personally, I prefer these books over Cliff's Notes! Do you need to know the rules for Australian football? There's a book for that. There are books for Hadoop (big data), Shakespeare, going Paleo, Vegetarian, or low carb. Jane Austen, Classical Music, Art history? There are books for that too. The list just goes on and on, but I won't.


Who knew? I was looking for a book on how to repair drywall. I thought that I would have to dig through some huge generic home repair book that had maybe one page about drywall repair. Then, I would need to go to my local hardware store and buy stuff that I would use a couple of times. Wrong! There's a drywall repair kit "For Dummies" with everything needed for about $20.00. I could spend that on Spackle paste and a few tools alone! I'm going to get the kit this month and update this lens after I use it. Other home repair kits are available for weatherizing, HDTV cabling, bath refinishing, and TV wall mounting. Contractors may laugh at these kits but I think they're great for the do it yourself beginner. 

Craft kits include origami, embroidery, and punch needle. There are even guitar kits that include the guitar! Just choose electric, bass, acoustic or ukulele. OK, so the guitars included aren't a Gibson acoustic or Fender Stratocaster, but even Bruce Springsteen started on an $18 guitar.

Good Introduction to New Subjects

The "For Dummies" series is a good way to investigate a subject without spending a ton of money on a pursuit that you may not enjoy. I'm a dabbler. I like stringing beads and pearls, but don't want to get into metal clay or lamp-working glass. I attempted gourmet cooking and canning. The time, equipment, and enjoyment are well worth the investment. The HTML book is handy to understand what’s going on behind the code in Blogger. Get a few books or kits to check out a new interest and see where it takes you!

Written by People Who Know Their Stuff

Marsha Collier's many "For Dummies" books about eBay have helped a lot a people get started on eBay and other e-commerce sites. I found her product photography tips to be really helpful without having to buy books about photography. The Wikipedia bibliography lists twenty four books on e-commerce topics in English, Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese and German. 

Another well known author is David Pogue, technology columnist for the New York Times and host of Nova's "Making Stuff." He has written eight books for the For Dummies series, on both technology and classical music. I expected books on technology but opera? 

One of my favorite "For Dummies" books is "Gourmet Cooking for Dummies" by the late Charlie Trotter. This book changed my mind about the For Dummies series. I'm a native Chicagoan, have eaten at his restaurant, and watched his PBS shows. Mr. Trotter certainly has the "cred" to have written this book. These are just a few of the well known authors in the For Dummies series. Check to see if your personal guru has written one!

My Collection

After looking at the photo of the "For Dummies" books that I have, maybe I should get one of the books on photography. The books cover a wide variety of the subjects that I was and am interested in. I've lost interest in management and call centers since retiring, but cooking and canning have moved to the top of the list. I've added blogging and jewelry making books from the series since the photo was taken. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Canning & Preserving For Dummies

Canning and Preserving for Dummies
Image credit: Barnes and Noble
Not just for Dummies!

This is the first book about canning that I bought. I like the For Dummies books because they assume that you are new to a subject and really don't know anything about it. I'll admit that I love the cartoons and read the Part of Tens first! "Canning & Preserving For Dummies" is divided into five parts, each reviewed below.  Or as my Latin teacher would say, "Liber est divisa in partes quinque."

Getting Started

Part I "Getting Started" is exactly what I was looking for in a canning book. I was especially concerned about the equipment that would be needed. No problem, there's a whole chapter listing everything and anything that could possible used in canning with diagrams. I had never even seen a jar lifter or lid wand before reading this book! The authors provide an overview of the three main methods of preserving food-canning, freezing and drying. 

Canning methods to avoid are detailed. I have 1947 Ball and Kerr canning books from my mother which contain some of these methods. Even if Mom or Grandma sealed jelly jars with paraffin without any problems, botulism spores can still develop, so this technique is on the list. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) only approves canning by water bath canning or pressure canning. Finally, Part 1 covers how the acidity of food determines the type of canning to use and the various microorganisms that cause spoilage. I live in Denver so I really appreciated the explanation of how altitude affects canning. Methods for detecting spoiled food are described very thoroughly. I use them every time I open a jar.

Water Bath Canning

Part II "Water Bath Canning" dives right into the most common method of canning. The authors take the newbie by the hand and walk through the basic steps of canning common to all recipes. First, gather and prepare both equipment and ingredients. "Mise en place", which means getting everything ready, applies both to chefs and home foodies like me. The mysteries of filling, "debubbling", and head space are unraveled. Processing jars and testing seals are also demystified. The advice on reprocessing sealed jars boils down to don't unless every jar in the batch doesn't seal. The author's emphasis on food safety is consistent throughout the entire book. 

Now the fun begins! Charge into the "Simply Fruit" chapter for a wide variety of the classic fruits used in canning. These include apples for pie filing and applesauce, peaches, pears, and berries. Botanically, tomatoes are a fruit so recipes for tomato pieces, paste, and juice fall into this group. Next up are the jams, jellies, and marmalades that can be made from all types of fruit. The pieces of the pectin puzzle are clearly explained. Low sugar pectin is briefly mentioned but I would have liked to seen recipes using both regular and low sugar pectin. Also, there are very few classic jam or jelly recipes included.

The pickling chapter has all the recipes and techniques that one would hope. There's even a diagram about peeling and seeding a cucumber! Pickles and relish are on next year's canning list. Salsa and chutney recipes complete the water bath canning section.

Vintage Canning Books from 1947
Pressure Canning

Part III "Pressure Canning" does a very good job of taking the pressure and fear out of this technique for food preservation. Canned meat, vegetables, soups, and beans can make your pantry ready for any size of group that piles in at meal time! Choosing the right pressure canner is the most important step of the process. Multiple pictures and diagrams describe every aspect of the pressure canner. 

By the way, a pressure cooker is not the same as a pressure canner. I really appreciate the objective descriptions that don't favor any brand. Safety is strongly emphasized throughout the descriptions, which is very re-assuring. As in the water bath canning chapter, there is a step by step run through of the steps of pressure canning common to all recipes. Vegetable preserving alone is enough to get me to consider pressure canning. A cornucopia would not be enough to describe all the vegetable canning recipes in this chapter. Asparagus, corn, greens, and squash are just a few of the recipes. Particularly helpful is the list of vegetables not recommended for canning like broccoli, cucumbers, or root vegetables (parsnips, rutabagas and turnips). There are lots of illustrations of prepping vegetables for canning. 

Meat preservation by canning doesn't appeal to me. I'd just as soon freeze meat. I'm a city girl and just get meat at the grocery store as needed. However, I do see the utility of canning meat in large amounts such as after obtaining half a cow or a successful hunting or fishing trip. Basic recipes for game, beef, poultry, and fish will fill your shelves with these high protein staples. Finally, there are recipes for what the authors call combined foods. I would call them meals in a jar. Homemade baked beans, chicken stock, and spaghetti sauce with meat make quick and easy dinners on a busy day. As with all canning, preparation is the key to tasty food. I would be tempted to just eat the food after it is cooked without canning!


There's much more to freezing than just putting food into a zippered freezer bag and into the freezer. Fresh vegetables need to be blanched, food should be wrapped to prevent freezer burn-just to mention a few techniques. Also reviewed are foods that shouldn't be frozen such as dairy and egg products (except butter). Choosing the correct containment is very important whether a rigid container, freezer bag, vacuum sealing, or wrapping in butcher wrap. All foods need to be labeled and dated so that there is a good rotation old to new items. 

The authors recommend a written inventory which would probably be most useful if you use an upright or chest freezer in addition to the freezer compartment of your refrigerator. Safety is emphasized again in the best options for thawing. It's just easier for me to freeze prepared foods like soup, stews, and vegetables than to pressure can them. The authors cover a wide variety of instructions for freezing these items. Frozen fresh herbs are a very good way to save money over buying them in winter at the supermarket.

Drying and Storing

Did you know that sun drying food is the oldest method of preservation? I didn't. Successful food drying uses many of the principles as canning and freezing. Have the right tools for the job, pick high quality food, and watch for spoilage.The tools of the trade are electric dehydrators, your oven, or the sun. The sun is free but weather dependent so only a very few areas are suitable due to the need for dry
, clear weather and consistent temperatures. I would suggest checking with your local university agricultural extension for more information. You probably have an oven so there's no additional up front cost. However, the oven can't be used for anything else while food is drying. 

Purchasing an electric dehydrator may be the best option if you are going to do a lot of preserving by drying. Dried fresh fruits are probably the most popular because of their many uses-lunches, hiking, or a quick snack to keep a toddler occupied! To prevent discoloration and oxidation, fruit can be blanched or dipped in an antioxidant like citrus juice, ascorbic acid, or commercial preparations. Recipes for a wide variety of fruits are provided-apples, apricots, bananas, cherries and more. The directions for making fruit leathers, another kid favorite, are particularly easy to follow. 

Drying vegetables will assist in storing a large harvest or great sale in a small space. I'm going to try drying tomatoes next year because the canned ones are so expensive. Too many zucchini? Make zucchini chips! For a quick soup and stew mix, combine dried potatoes, carrots, peas, and onions. Dried herbs are probably the next most popular dried food. The authors describe how to air dry commonly used herbs such as dill, oregano, sage, rosemary and thyme. Sorry no parsley! The herbal tea recipes appeal to folks like me that just hate to buy anything at the grocery store if I can make it at home. 

Have a root cellar or stairs that lead from your basement directly outside? You may be able to store root vegetables (beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, turnips) this way. Food quality, containers, and safety are described, as for other preserving methods. The additional considerations of temperature and humidity are thoroughly explained. A tried and true method of preserving.

Image credit -

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Chicago Accent

How can you tell I'm from da Windy City? I say two sentences at the most and people know I'm from Chicago. I'm from da nort' side and root for da Cubs and da Bears.

Image Credit:
I was born and raised in the Chicagoland area. I lived there for fifty years in the Western suburbs. I moved to Colorado in 2000. Even after all this time, my Chicago accent is obvious as soon as i start to speak. Apparently, my accent is much thicker than I realized and I hope I never lose it!

I was riding a ski lift here in Colorado. One guy was bragging that no one could ever guess where he was from. The two other people on the quad chair guessed wrong. He was stunned when I said he was from Chicago and asked how I knew. I simply said I knew because it didn't sound like he had an accent to me.

I'm not a linguist so this article isn't going to be a treatise with technical jargon about the influence of the multiple ethnicities and immigration waves on the speaking patterns of Chicago. I'm just going to do some translating so that folks visiting Chicago or Chicagoans can understand what we say.

Classic pronunciations

First of all, I do not find the Saturday Night Live skit about "da Bears and da Cubs" funny at all. That's how I've said it all my life especially after my "fodder" (father) took me to my first Cubs game as a kid. I don't talk about "da Sox" (no color reference needed), because most of my family is from "da nort' side not da sout' side." You may have noticed that the "th" sound is not really necessary. I had a "fodder and mudder". I would go "troo da yard to see tree of my friends dat live on da udder side of da block." Translation - I would go through the yard to see three of my friends that live on the other side of the block. I had a good friend "wit da name of Katdee" (with the name of Kathy).

Chicagoans often have to check "da roof (as in woof) of da garaj" to make sure it hasn't caved in from the snow, as mine did one time. That is, check the rooooooof of the gar-ahzh for a cave-in.

Apparently, houses are different in Chicagoland than other places, maybe it's all the Berwyn bungalows. Houses have a "frunchroom and bejrooms" (where we keep the frunches and bejjes). Just kidding, I'm sure your house has a living room or front room and bedrooms. Mine doesn't. I usually eat my cheese and "sah-sej pizza in da frunchroom." Translation-Saw-sej pizza in the frontroom.

Local geography confuses non natives. If I'm in the city, I know where I'm going because I've asked what "hunnert nort is dat?" The city is on a numbered grid system so it's very easy to find things. For example, Lawrence Avenue is seventy two hundred north and Western Avenue is twenty four hundred west. I don't need to ask what "hunnert sout" anything is because streets south of Lake Street have number names, like 22nd Street and 12th Street. Well, sometimes not really because 22nd Street is also called Cermak and 12th Street is also called Row-se-velt, not Roooosevelt. There's an L stop (elevated train) at Ray-seen, not Ruh-seen (Racine). There's only a little bit of "hunnerts east." Lake Michigan isn't numbered. LSD is numbered and a great way to see the city. I mean Lake Shore Drive, just in case you thought it meant something else.

While I was writing this, I said to myself "enough a dat stuff" (enough of that stuff). I guess I don't have to worry about losing my so called accent.

How to sound like a native Chicagoan

Traffic reports confuse a lot of visitors. We know the expressways (not freeways except for the tollways) personally by name not by the number. I've been stuck in traffic on the Ryan, Kennedy and Eisenhower. Well, it was the Congress originally but got changed. Traffic reports talk about Hubbard's Cave (Hubbard and the Kennedy), the Hillside Strangler (multiple highways converging in the tiny suburb of Hillside). There are often gaper's blocks at the Spaghetti Bowl, where the Kennedy, Ryan and Eisenhower converge just west of "da Loop." The Loop is that area of downtown Chicago encircled by the L (elevated train). The L is always shown in movies like "While You Were Sleeping" and "High Fidelity." Of course, the L was prominent in the chase scenes of the "Blues Brothers."

If you need to get to "charm school in Joliet", take the Stevenson. Joliet is pronounced Joe-lee-et not Jah-lee-et. The charm school is Stateville Prison, shown in the opening scenes of the "Blues Brothers." I first remember Stateville being called the charm school by the late great Steve Goodman in the song "Lincoln Park Pirates".

You take "da Nortwest Highway to get to "Dezz Planes," formally known as Des Plaines. The Northwest Highway is one of the major angle streets like Elston or Mil-wah-kee. If you say "Deh Plane" like Des Moines, no one will know what city you're talking about. Folks in the city won't go to Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg because "Shahmburg is da edge of da ert".

You'll see two flats and three flats all over the area, not duplexes or triplexes. Paul-eye-na (not Paul-eee-na) has a lot of them, Go-thee doesn't. Go-thee is spelled Goethe but not pronounced as "ger-ta", despite the large German population. On "da Nort side" you'll hit De-VOHN Avenue, not "Devin" Avenue, spelled Devon.

Finally, we wear gym shoes not sneakers, drink pop not soda and put our hair in ponytails using rubber bands, not elastics. I go to the cash station at the bank, not the ATM. Softball is correctly played with a 16 inch ball and no gloves.

Chicago Celebrity Accents

A lot of great actors and celebrities are from Chicago. Some sound like it, some don't any more. Dennis Farina, Joe Montegna, Bill and Bryan Murray, John and Jim Belushi lay on the accent like mozzarella on a deep dish pizza. Here is a YouTube clip of Dennis Franz  at "da best." Even the Geico gecko did a pretty good job.

Some folks that seem to have lost most the that sweet sound are John and Joan Cusack, Gary Sinise, and John Malkovich. They are all amazingly talented people, just not "dat" noticeably Chicago natives.

Movies and the Chicago Accent

"The Blues Brothers" is at the top of my list for authenticity of accent. After all, John Belushi grew up in the Western suburbs. Canadian Dan Akroyd does a decent job with his accent. "Continental Divide", also starring Belushi, is accurate in displaying accents and the city.

I hate it when movies are shot or set in Chicago but the accents are very wrong. In "While You Were Sleeping," Sandra Bullock's neighbor had a terrific New "Yawk" accent as did Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines in "Running Scared." There were great shots of the State of Illinois Center though. The only thing Chicago about the movie "Chicago" were a very few exterior shots, not the voice work.

Image credit:

The Picasso Sculpture in Daley Center Plaza
Remember it from "The Blues Brothers?"

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Retirement Story

Modway Rocker Molded Plastic Lounge Chair, White
Image credit:
I've retired but I'm not ready for a rocking chair! Here's my story about retirement for your perusal. Some people plan and count down the days until retirement. Not me, my retirement was sudden and of my own choosing. A supervisor more than half my age was telling me that I had to work ten hours a day through the winter holidays. I went to Human Resources and just quit. In retrospect, I was planning subliminally. I knew what my insurance premium under the Affordable Health Care Act would be and I knew that I could pay my bills with the Social Security and a pension that I was already receiving. I also know that I'm lucky that I could walk out. 

I'm not going to pontificate about financial planning for retirement or what you should do to prepare for your own retirement. This is just my own story.The first few weeks felt like long weekend. Then I got my act together, took action on some of the ideas below. Now, I'm busier than I've ever been. How did I have time to work?

Set Up a Routine

It's best for me to keep a regular routine, even now. I've found that if I sleep and eat at about the same time, I feel much better. I have started losing track of the day of the week, so I'm doing chores like laundry or grocery shopping on specific days. The same goes for exercise or yard work. After breakfast, I walk the dog at a variety of parks and work in the yard. After lunch, I'm at the computer writing or sometimes take a nap.

My family always ate supper at 5:00 PM because my dad insisted that supper be on the table when he got home from work. Even after 40 years of working, my stomach expected an early dinner. This was a real problem when working until 7:00 or 8:00 PM. I'm so happy I can go back the supper schedule that I had as a kid.

Of course I have stayed up until 4 AM and slept in until 11 AM on a few occasions. Why not? I'm retired!

Develop New Interests

All of a sudden I had all the time I wanted for whatever I wanted to do. What the heck did I want to do all day? After a little thought, I decided that I wanted to try some new things. I discovered Blogger while researching social media. Now I write and love it! I didn't know how much I would like writing since my last experience was college term papers. I have lists and lists of ideas so I know that I'll keep writing. I'm planning to continue and expand vegetable gardening for canning, now that I have time to do it right. I've grown my own tomatoes for canning and plan to grow raspberries this year. 

Other skills I want to learn are how to play piano and write HTML. I've considered doing volunteer work, I just don't know what I want to do yet. If I volunteered at an animal shelter, I would take all the animals home, except for reptiles. I already knit hats for the homeless. I'm not good with kids so schools wouldn't work for me. I've worked in hospitals so that's not a possibility. As a co worker once said "Hospitals are full of sick people." As I get mailers from the park district or local junior colleges, I want to take some classes like yoga or the aforementioned piano. Now's the time to train for a 5K run, teach a class or climb all the Fourteeners in Colorado. It's not my cup of tea, but it may be yours.

Expand an Existing Interest

© Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved  
Like most people, I never had enough time to get really involved in my main interests. I've been able to expand the social media outreach for my my blog. I've been cooking up a storm, taking photographs, and posting the recipes here on Donna's Blog. I love to knit and have finally started to do Fair Isle knitting now that I've had the time to figure it out! I'm so proud of that hat in the picture.

I don't have the urge to travel just so I'm going to do "staycation" things here in Denver and the Rocky Mountains. There's so much terrific hiking that I could become a mountain goat. I've never really explored Denver itself so I'm finally able to get to Natural History and Art Museum as well as the Aquarium. Being the cheapskate that I am, I intend to take advantage of matinee tickets at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Next year, I hope to be able to go skiing during the week to avoid crowds and traffic.

Here are a few other ideas that you might enjoy. Now's the time to work on your golf handicap, bowling average or tennis game. Put some miles on that motorcycle, maybe even go to Sturgis. Go to a daytime baseball game or to a weeknight sports event without having to worry about getting up the next morning for work. I don't like the term "bucket list" but knock things off the "when I retire I'm going to" list. Sky dive, go to Paris or Peking. Get off the sofa and get going!

Regular Exercise

Buffy-my fur-kid
I'm glad to have reached the age where I have to move it or lose it. No more excuses about not having enough time. I'm actually making some progress now that the weather is getting better. I have an exercise app on my smart phone that's very motivational for walking. The app calculates mileage and calories burned so I can track my (slow) progress. Every little bit helps.I live within a mile of both a regular city sponsored fitness center and a senior center. I finally plan to take advantage of them next winter. I probably will swim laps and take some yoga classes. More fun than exercise videos at home!

The best choice I've made to get more exercise is to adopt a dog. I had cats while I was working since they are so low maintenance. I always said that I would get a dog when I retired, so I did! Adopting Buffy is one of my best retirement decisions. She helps me keep a regular routine and exercise every day. There's no living with her unless we walk at least a mile or preferably two. I've dropped about 10 pounds in three months from the walking.


Image credit:
Who's had the time for a social life? I plan to see friends and family more regularly. If you don’t have any friends, get out and make some! I'm going to take the time to talk to the neighbors or meet the ones on my block that I don't know. I've retired from dating so that won't take up any of my time.

Many people spend more time with their pets, like taking the dog(s) to the park more often. Cats will be confused and and probably disappear under the bed. Why not get the band back together? The Stones still tour after all. Finally, make a to do list and then throw it out! There are no more deadlines and if something really needs to be done, you'll get around to it.

A Little Extra Cash

Stretching Social Security for a full month took some getting used to after getting a bi-weekly paycheck. If I need a little extra cash, I do some surveys and transcribing on Amazon MTurk as needed. You can't make a living there but it does help to make ends meet. 

Image credit:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cary Grant Comedies

The Inimitable Cary Grant
Source: By Trailer screenshot (The Philadelphia Story trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cary Grant

Cary Grant defines the suave and debonair man. He rose from a troubled childhood in Bristol, England to a world wide superstar. Known for both his dramatic and comedic roles in over 75 movies, he was only nominated for the Oscar award twice. He was finally given a special Academy Award in 1970. Many actors have been called "the next Cary Grant" but there is only one original.  Here are my favorite Cary Grant comedies.

"Arsenic and Old Lace"

"Arsenic and Old Lace" is so hilarious that one forgets that the plot is about three serial killers, two very sweet little old ladies and their scary nephew. Cary Grant plays Mortimer Brewster. Mortimer marries the girl next door at City Hall. The couple goes first to Brooklyn to tell Mortimer's aunts about the marriage and then intend to go to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon.

It doesn't quite work out quite that way. Cary Grant makes a very surprising discovery about Aunts Martha and Abby while sitting on a window seat. Let's just say that the elderberry wine that the aunts serve their guests has an extra kick. Mortimer's brother, Teddy, is very busy burying "yellow fever victims" in the basement. Teddy thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt digging locks in the Panama Canal. He is always dashing up San Juan Hill (the stairs) yelling "Charge!"

To complicate matters even further, his other brother, Jonathan, is on the lam. He arrives with his accomplice, Dr. Einstein, to hide out and bury his latest victim. The roles are played to perfection by Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre. Another running gag in the movie is multiple characters telling Jonathan that he looks like Boris Karloff. Peter Lorre manages to be both menacing and funny at the same time.

Elaine, Mortimer's wife, eagerly wants to go on her honeymoon. Mortimer keeps delaying until he finds out that he's the "son of a sea cook" and not a Brewster after all. It's too bad that the censors would not let Cary Grant say, "I'm not a Brewster - I'm a bastard!" The alliteration is better in the original line. Lots of funny subplots play out during the movie, adding to the hilarity. Edward Everett Horton wants to get the commitment(s) finalized. Raymond Massey wants plastic surgery to hide his identity. Officer O'Hara keeps trying to tell Mortimer about the play he's written.

Director Frank Capra skillfully keeps the pot from boiling over. Although known for directing "It's a Wonderful Life", "It Happened One Night" and many other great films, this is my personal favorite. According to, "Cary Grant considered his acting in this film to be horribly over the top and often called it his least favorite of all his movies." Grant's exaggerated facial expressions and overreactions are the best part of the movie!

Available for download on iTunes for $9.99
Available on DVD from Barnes and Noble for $7.53
Run time: 1 hours 58 minutes
Released in 1944 by Warner Brothers

"Arsenic and Old Lace" Trailer

"He looks like Boris Karloff"

"The Philadelphia Story"

"The Philadelphia Story" is a sparkling comedy with sharp repartee between all the leads. High society gal, Katherine Hepburn, is about to marry a self made man who doesn't quite fit in with her social set. Her ex-husband, Cary Grant, shows up the night before the wedding. There's blackmail in the air which brings James Stewart and Ruth Hussey to the family home, as reporters covering the wedding. A midnight mix-up fueled by Champagne complicates matters but there's a happy Hollywood ending.

Acerbic comments about the upper class abound. One of my favorites is when Jimmy Stewart observes "the privileged class enjoying its privileges". Of course there's also Katherine Helpburn's "the nice judge gave me a full pardon" in reference to her marriage to Cary Grant.

Cary Grant's performance is as subtle in this film as it was manic in "Arsenic and Old Lace." Katherine Hepburn rid herself of the title "box office poison" by playing Tracy Lord both in the Broadway play and the movie. One best scenes is between Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart after Stewart has had too much Champagne. Stewart ad-libbed the hiccuping. Grant's reaction is priceless. Check out the clip below! Director George Cukor was known as a "woman's director." His other films include "Sylvia Scarlett", "The Women", and "My Fair Lady" just to name a few.

"Arsenic and Old Lace" and "The Philadelphia Story" are both nearly two hours long. I suggest curling up with a large bowl of popcorn and binge-watching both of them.

Available for download on iTunes for $14.99
Available on DVD from Barnes and Noble for $7.49
Run time: 1 hours 52 minutes

Released in 1940 by MGM
                                              "The Philadelphia Story" Trailer

Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart

"Bringing Up Baby"

"Bringing Up Baby" defines the phrase "screwball comedy." Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant pair up again in this movie that has a plot that is as thin and light as air. The story line includes a clavicle, leopard, dog and a million dollar endowment.

Cary Grant plays a somewhat nerdy paleontologist. He's trying to assemble a complete dinosaur skeleton but is missing the clavicle. In addition, Grant is about to marry a very focused, serious woman, but meets the breezy Hepburn. Hepburn immediately falls in love with him and won't leave him alone. Grant gets the bone but Katherine Hepburn's dog steals and buries it. A leopard named Baby appears, causes mayhem, and only calms down to the song "I Can't Give You Anything but Love." The wedding is cancelled, Hepburn finds the bone, and everyone lives happily ever after.

"Bringing Up Baby" was initially considered a failure and is the cause of Hepburn being labeled box office poison. The film became popular after it began running on television. Apparently, director Howard Hawks and Hepburn did not get along very well. He did more movies with Grant including "His Girl Friday" and "I Was a Male War Bride."

There are many outrageously funny sight gags in the movie. Katherine Hepburn tears her dress in a restaurant. Cary Grant walks in tandem with her out of the restaurant to protect her modesty. Grant had done this routine in vaudeville, which contributed to the perfectly synchronized walk. Another famous scene in the movie has Cary Grant running around in a feathered robe. Hepburn's aunt asks him why he is wearing the robe. Grant famously ad-libbed "Because I just went gay all of a sudden!" There's a lot of speculation as to what the intended meaning of the word gay is in that line. I just think the sight of Grant in the robe is funnier than any connotation of the word. The final scene is my favorite. Although I'm sure that stunt doubles were used, Cary Grant is clearly hanging onto Katherine Hepburn as the skeleton collapses.

If released today, "Bringing Up Baby" would probably be called a "rom-com" (romantic comedy). In my opinion, the light as air plot and comedic performances are simply wonderful.

Available for download on iTunes for $14.99
Available on DVD from Barnes and Noble for $7.49
Run time: 1 hours 42 minutes
Released in 1938 by RKO Radio Pictures

"Bringing Up Baby" Trailer

"Gay All of a Sudden" 

"Once Upon A Honeymoon"

“Once Upon a Honeymoon” offers an interesting look back at World War II style propaganda. Although released in 1942, the same year as “Casablanca,” this film has faded into obscurity. Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers elevate “Once Upon a Honeymoon” to an interesting time capsule of a troubled era.

The complex plot takes nearly two hours from exposition to denouement. Ginger Rogers dons a pseudo upper class accent even though she is a burlesque dancer from Brooklyn named Katie O’Hara. She’s using the name Katherine Butt-Smith in Vienna and marries an Austrian baron. He showers her with “jew-els”, her exaggerated pronunciation. Unbeknownst to her, he works for the Nazis and helps to bring down the governments in the countries that they visit. Cary Grant play’s Patrick O’Toole, a reporter trying to expose Baron Von Luber as a Nazi collaborator. He meets and falls in love with Ginger Rogers, who is now Baroness Von Luber. Grant tries to convince her about her husband’s true intentions but she refuses to believe him. Finally, in Warsaw, Rogers sees the truth about the Baron. She helps her Jewish maid escape by giving the maid her passport. Unfortunately, Rogers is stopped by the Gestapo carrying her maid’s passport. Both she and Grant nearly go to a concentration camp. Grant puts her name on a casualty list and provides one of her diamond bracelets as proof of identity. Paraphrasing Grant, “The Baron will really know that you had to be dead to give this up.”

After hop scotching across Europe, Grant and Rogers go to Paris where they meet a double agent posing as a photographer, Gaston Le Blanc. In a memorable scene, the agent convinces the couple that he is an American by going through a compendium of American slang. Rogers agrees to resurface as the Baroness to bring down the Baron for the last time. Grant runs into the Baron and agrees to do a Nazi broadcast aimed at Americans. Grant laces the broadcast with double entendres that an American listener would recognize, negating the propaganda value. For example, he states "Germany wants peace, a piece of Poland, a piece of Holland, a piece of France". At the end, he exhorts the listener to tell everyone about the Nazis, including “tell it to the Marines" meaning that the broadcast was untruthful.

Rogers and Grant leave on a ship for America, only to find that the Baron is escaping on the same ship. Rogers runs into the Baron and takes action by pushing him overboard. She tells Grant “"He said it came down to me or him and I guess, in my mind, it came down to him."

Leo McCarey notably directed Cary Grant in “The Awful Truth” and “An Affair to Remember.” McCarey brings the comedy skills shown in the classic “Duck Soup” to “Once Upon A Honeymoon.”

If you like “Casablanca”, Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”, or Jack Benny’s “To Be or Not To Be”, watch “Once Upon a Honeymoon” to immerse yourself in another time and place.

Available for download on iTunes for $9.99
Available on DVD from Barnes and Noble for $17.99
Run time: 1 hours 57 minutes
Released in 1942 by RKO Radio Pictures

"Once Upon A Honeymoon" Trailer

So Many More!

I've only scratched the surface. Other great Cary Grant comedies include and aren't limited to "She Done Him Wrong," "His Girl Friday," "Monkey Business," "I Was a Male War Bride," "Topper," "Bachelor and The Bobby Soxer," "Operation Petticoat," and "Father Goose."

Cary Grant's comedies are still funny, even at today's standards.  His dramatic acting in "North by Northwest" and "Suspicious" is outstanding. However, the comedies are in a class by themselves.These are just a few of the many hilarious comedies starring Cary Grant. I've chosen my personal favorites. Hope you enjoy them!