My Account
You are here:  Home Staff Picks Blog

Staff Picks Blog

Archive for the ‘Home & Gardening’ Category

Hummingbirds & Butterflies

by Beth on April 17th, 2012
Hummingbirds & Butterflies Cover Image

Spring has come very early this year, and with it so have a few of my favorite visitors – Hummingbirds and Butterflies!

My neighbors are very into birds.  They have all sorts of feeders out, including Hummingbird feeders, but the big draw in their yard is the big orange Trumpet vine and the bight red Mandevalia vines growing between their house and mine.  Its not uncommon for us to sit on their big front porch in the summer and watch the territorial wars going on between the hummers.  But for now we have the feeders out.

One of my favorite websites to check each spring is the  Spring Ruby-throated Hummingbird Migration Map (here)  on  What makes this map so neat is that people report their first spring sighting of Ruby-throated hummingbirds, and when they are all  put together on a map you can watch the spring migration unfold.

We have a great new book in the ICPL collection right now about Hummers too:  Hummingbirds and Butterflies, by Bill Thompson III and Connie Toops.

Really two books in one, this well written and organized guide is half Hummer and half Butterfly, organized the same way in both halves.  Starting with a 40 page introduction to all things Hummingbird, including anatomy, identification and behavior.  Followed by a discussion of how, where and when to use feeders vs plantings to attract Hummers – including how to keep dominant birds too busy to run other birds off, and where and why rotting fruit is a great feeding choice.  The first half of the book concludes with chapters on flowering plants and garden plans and species profiles for for the 15 most common Hummingbird species in North America -which include descriptions, field markers, sounds, behaviors,  life-size color photos and habitat maps.

The second Butterfly half of the book is laid out in pretty much the same order, only with much longer sections on Gardening to attract Butterflies and Species Identification (with 40 species profiled).

Definitely a book I’m adding to my collection!


by Beth on April 6th, 2012
Herbs Cover Image

Recently ICPL and Project GREEN co-hosted the last Sunday garden forum for the winter. The guest speaker was Susan Appleget Hurst, and she gave a great program on growing herbs in Iowa.   If you missed the program,  you’ll soon be able to check out the DVD from the Library’s circulating collection, catch a rebroadcast on The Library Channel (cable channel 10) or find it on the ICPL’s streaming server.  It was a really great program.

Just in time for spring planting, ICPL has a great crop of new Herb books, and three of them are great for beginners:

Herb Gardening for Dummies by Karen Davis Cutler.  As with the rest of the “For Dummies” series, this is a well written, simply organized guide to the basics of Herb.   From deciding what herbs to plant, to planning, planting and caring for your herbs, this book will lead you step by step to a great garden.  It also includes an index of almost 70 common herbs.  The usual “For Dummies” tips, warnings, things to remember, and heads up make sure you don’t miss anything.

The Beginner’s Guide to Edible Herbs : 26 herbs everyone should grow & enjoy. By Charles W.G. Smith and Edward Smith c2010.   This small book not only talks about choosing, planting and growing herbs, but contains some fun recipes for trying each of the 26 common and not-so-common herbs.  I can’t wait to try making my own flavored salts and sugars!  Nice photographs throughout.

Herb Gardening From The Ground Up:  everything you need to know about growing your favorite herbs By  Sal Gilbertie, c 2012.  A much more in depth herb gardening book, leads you through the first three years of growing perennial herbs.  The best part is that there are garden plans for different types of Herb Gardens – I’m seriously thinking of putting in a Tex-Mex herb garden!


Other new herb titles:

Homegrown herbs: a complete guide to growing, using and enjoying more than 100 herbs, by Tammi  Hartung, c 2011.

Jekka’s Herb Coobook by Jekka McVicar, c 2011

The Herbal kitchen : 50 easy-to-find herbs and over 250 recipes to bring lasting health to you and your family.  By Kami McBride, c 2010.

The Complete Guide to Growing Healing and Medicinal Herbs: everything you need to know explained simply.  By  Wendy M. Vincent, c2011.

The Essential Herbal for Natural Health: how to transform easy-to-find herbs into healing remedies for the whole family. By Holly Bellebuono, c 2012.

National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: the world’s most effective healing plants. By Rebecca L. Johnson, c2012.

And here’s your little plus for reading this far.  Do you know what the difference is between Herbs and Spices?  I do now!   Herbs are the leaves of plants, used either fresh or dried, and Spices are dried roots, stems, fruits or seeds of the plants.  And some plants, like Dill or Cilantro/Coriander are both!

New Gardening Books

by Beth on March 16th, 2012
New Gardening Books Cover Image

We gardeners are a strange breed. The sight of bare ground appearing as the snow melts makes us itch to sink our hands into the soil and get things growing.  Most of us have to remind ourselves rather sternly that spring is still weeks away.

Many gardeners start planning their gardens while the snow is still flying. Especially vegetable gardeners, since most of what they plant grows, produces, and dies all in one year, and they get to start new every spring.  For some of us, before we can start thinking of plants, we think of garden beds.

In my case, raised beds.  My yard is home to not only vegetables and flowers, but a very large dog.  Raised beds were the easiest way to get him to stay out of my veggie gardens.  I built my first raised beds eight years ago, and last spring I promised myself that it would be the last time I shored up the sides with stakes. This year I have to start over.

This time I’m doing it right. I’m going to build raised beds that drain better and are varmint resistant – no more free dinners for moles. I’m not building a raised bed in the soupiest part of the yard this time either. In that spot I’m going to try creating a rain garden to let Mother Nature deal with her bounty.

Thankfully, the Iowa City Public Library has a great collection of gardening books – from planning guides to plant care and everything in between. Two of the new books that are helping me with my planning as I wait for spring:

The vegetable gardener’s book of building projects: raised beds, cold frames, compost bins, planters, plant supports, trellises, harvesting and storage aids, by Cindy Littelfield and Kevin Ayer, c2010. For a gardener with a bit of DIY experience and a few power tools, the 39 projects in this book can help you transform your yard and gardens.

Rain gardens: sustainable landscaping for a beautiful yard and a healthy world by Lynn M. Steiner and Robert W. Domm, c2012. This well written and easy to follow guide to rain gardens starts with a thorough introduction to storm water and rain gardens,  and follows with chapters on planning, building, planting and maintaining your garden. Plant suggestions are given throughout, and a large plant index of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees follows. Features lots of color photographs and illustrations throughout.

Other new gardening books for the spring:

The Complete Guide to Greenhouses & Garden Projects: greenhouses, cold frames, compost bins, trellises, planting beds, potting benches & more created by the editors of Creative Publishing in cooperation with Black & Decker, c2011.


The essential guide to creating rain gardens: capturing rain for your own water-efficient garden by Cleo Woelfle-Erskine and Apryl Uncapher, c2012.

Backyard Harvest: a year-round guide to growing fruits and vegetables by Jo Whittingham c 2011.

The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour, c2012.

The Ultimate Guide to Growing Your Own Food by Monte Burch, c2011.

The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables: the 100 easiest-to-grow, tastiest vegetables for your garden by Marie Iannotti, c2011.

I LOVE Cupcakes!

by Kara on February 11th, 2012
I LOVE Cupcakes! Cover Image

Cupcakes are a big deal these days.  And with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, cupcakes may be the ticket if you are looking for something crafty and sweet your sweetie. Of course my favorite cupcakes are Kara’s Cupcakes, but traveling to California is a bit too far.  Fortunately the Library has a number of great cupcake books with lots of great pictures and ideas.

Cupcakes, Cookies & Pie, Oh My! by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson shares lots of great ideas for creating something sweet and eye-catching. The pictures are inspiring and the step-by-step details are very helpful.  They also offer many great hints for how to transform basic ingredients into a masterpiece.

Tack and Richardson also have two older titles that are fun. Hello Cupcake! and What’s New, Cupcake? both have many creative ideas and good information about techniques and supplies.

The Butch Bakery Cookbook features recipes and designs from the Butch Bakery in New York.  The Butch Bakery’s brand is “Where Butch Meets Buttercream” and the cookbook features an eclectic collection of recipes for a “grown-up” taste.  Recipes include ingredients such as bacon, cayenne pepper, coffee, liquors, and other unique flavors.

Another trend these days is Cake Pops. Cake Pops are basically a cupcake on a stick dipped in chocolate – what’s not to love about that!  Clare O’connell’s Pop Bakery shares step-by-step information to create penguins, clowns, frogs, and many other designs.  There’s even a chapter about creating cupcake pops!

Cake Pops by Bakerella features ideas from the blog.  I enjoyed the book AND the blog!  I especially liked the ideas for Valentine’s Day!

Discover a new world of sweet creativity with the thousands of ideas for cupcakes and cake pops. And remember the Library has a great collection of books to get you started.  ~~Enjoy!!~~

Food and Family

by Candice on December 21st, 2011
Food and Family Cover Image

The holiday season is here, and that often means, among other things, eating lots of food with lots of family. Of course, everyone’s holidays (and families) are different, but I would imagine that many people have a meal or two coming up that will be more crowded than normal, more festive than normal, and probably a little more hectic than normal. What’s that I hear…more stressful than normal? Who said that?? Oh wait, I did.

No matter. I can admit that family stresses me out, and going this place and that to dine and celebrate this holiday or that achievement with my nearest and dearest can lead me to drink have moments of frustration and/or panic. That’s on the way there. Something always happens though, at these magical, busy, frenzied, loud, alternately endearing and enraging gatherings…and on the way home, I inevitably turn to my husband in the car (bless his heart for not just leaving me at my childhood home after one of these meals…yet) and say ‘that wasn’t bad at all…I really had a nice time…we should all see each other more often!’ Yes, the family meal is something special, filling the mind, heart and belly at the same time. It strengthens family bonds, and it provides comfort in many ways.

Apparently I’m not the only one who feels that way…there are several new cookbooks out right now that, in addition to having recipes and meal planning advice, focus in some way on the importance of the family meal, of cooking for family and cooking at home. And they do a much better job at it than I do, so without further ado, here are some books I think you should take a look at, and start planning a family meal to remember.

My Family Table: A Passionate Plea For Home Cooking by John Besh, New Orleans chef/restaurateur, James Beard Award-winner; this book has simple but elegant recipes and many photos of family gatherings.

The Family Meal: Home Cooking With Ferran Adria, containing favorite recipes from the famed el Bulli restaurant in Spain, simple enough to be made at home, for gatherings of 2 to 75 (yikes!).

Molto Batali: Simple Family Meals From My Home To Yours contains a year’s worth of seasonal menus meant for sharing and celebrating with the family.

what’s new at 746.46 ?

by Beth on October 17th, 2011
what’s new at 746.46 ? Cover Image

If you’re a regular library user, you probably have a favorite area of the Library. A call number or area you go to on a regular basis, or scope out on the new book shelf to see if there’s anything new.  For me it’s the number 746.46 – Quilting books.  There are quite a few new quilting books on the shelves these days! Here are a few to whet your appetite.

Stash Happy Patchwork by Cynthia Shaffer
Want to sew, but not in the mood to take on a big quilt?  How about Cupcake Flags, a clothespin caddy, a cactus pincushion, a Bento box, or a candle cozy?  Stash Happy Patchwork has 25 fun, simple, patchy projects, for any time you’re in the mood to sew.

The Practical Guide to Patchwork: new basics for the modern quiltmaker by Elizabeth Hartman.  Do you like the idea of making a quilt, but aren’t really into the traditional quilt designs?  Have a thing for bright modern fabrics?  Then this book is for you!  Hartman will lead you step by step through constructing a quilt, and the 12 projects included give a fresh color and design pallet to your project.  No old school browns and tans here.

Simplify with Camille Roskelley
Pre-cut fabric packs can take much of the guess work out of selecting fabrics for a project.  Fabric is produced in lines of up to 40 different coordinated prints and colors versions, and a pre-cut pack will have a piece of each fabric in a line, cut to a specific size. Fat Quarters (18″x 22″), Layer Cakes (10” squares), Charm Packs (5” squares), Jelly Rolls (strips 2.5” wide by the width of the fabric) Honey Buns (strips 1.5” wide by WOF), and Turnovers ( two 6” half square triangles per design).  Roskelley has designed 14 projects using pre-cut fabric packs. Introductory chapters on the basics of making a quilt are well written and easy to follow and the appendix includes the few patterns needed to complete each of the projects.

Little Bits Quilting Bee: 20 quilts using Charm Squares, Jelly Rolls, Layer Cakes, and Fat Quarters by Katheren Ricketson is another book full of projects for pre-cut fabrics.  Ricketson is also a fan of community quilting. The modern version of the traditional quilting bee, today they are just as likely to be and online community or a blog as they are to be a real life meeting of friends,  and  Ricketson devotes her first chapter to a discussion of this fun social aspect of quilting.   A chapter each devoted to tools, supplies and quilt basics and then you’ll find 20 bright and colorful projects to choose from.

Pennies from Heaven by Gretchen Gibbons
If working with wool is your thing, this one’s for you. Well written and easy to follow, this book is based on Gibbons’ 12 block wool applique quilt “Pennies from Heaven.”  Each of the blocks are beautiful, and could be used on their own as a penny rug or wall hanging. There are also 8 additional patterns for penny rugs, table mats and table runners.


More Kitchen Funny Business

by Debb Green on January 31st, 2011
More Kitchen Funny Business Cover Image

Not long ago, I posted about a great book called The Crabby Cook Cookbook. After reading this collection of culinary treats and horror stories, I started thinking about humor in cooking and why it’s so darn appealing. Certainly we’ve all had our moments in the kitchen when the best thing to do is, well, laugh about it.

In my own family, we’ve actually given numbers to some of our cooking stories. As in #9 – the year when my mother thawed the Thanksgiving turkey on top of the refrigerator for a big family feast. To her chagrin, this did not deter our two sneaky cats. Who managed to jump seven feet and gnaw through the wrapping AND the turkey breast before she returned. Back then, there were no 24 hour grocery stores and everything was closed. So she did what she had to (i.e., cut out the chewed parts.) And told everyone the turkey was a mutant.

So in keeping with the topic of comic kitchens, I searched for more cooking titles that tickle the funny bone. They may not always inspire you to try the recipes. But they are guaranteed to make you laugh. And, hopefully, without squirting milk out your nose!

The Gallery of Regrettable Food (2001) by James Lileks. The book cover says it all – “liberties taken with peas, random meats, salty salts – highlights from classic American recipe books.” But classic only in the tabloid 1940′s to 60′s. Otherwise known as the Golden Age of Salt and Starch. Where else would one find some of the worst recipes and badly photographed foods ever? Complete with chapters like “Glop in a Pot,” “Submit to the Power of Ketchup,” and “Poultry for the Glum,” this book shows in vivid color just how frightening a jello mold can be.

I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence (2006) by Amy Sedaris. Whatever your take is on this author and humorist, this witty book contains over 100 recipes, menus for all types of special occasions, and even decorating and crafting ideas for the non-humor impaired. Sedaris’s one-liners, snappy stories, and staged photos make the pages fly.

The Sweet Potato Queens’ Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner) (2003) by Jill Conner Browne. The third book by Boss Queen Conner Brown and her wild, in-your-face Sweet Potato Queens, this time they take on Betty Crocker and the tyranny of haute cuisine. As well as financial planners like Suze Orman (financial tip #1: hope Big Daddy don’t die first.)  Full of artery clogging recipes and hilarious anecdotes about life after forty.

Are You a Crabby Cook?

by Debb Green on January 24th, 2011
Are You a Crabby Cook? Cover Image

Truth be told, I’m not really. I enjoy the “joy of cooking”. Other than when working until 7 p.m. And coming home to find my nearest and dearest wasting away, wondering if dinner will be on his plate in five minutes. Even then, I enjoy the act of preparing a meal to be shared. Though, in fact, it may end up being salad in a bag with take out pizza (as always, thank you Pagliai’s!)

But for those who don’t enjoy the act, have picky eaters to feed, or simply have more to do than cooking a five course meal from scratch each day allows, there’s a great new book at ICPL. The Crabby Cook Cookbook, by Jessica Harper, is a compendium of “almost effortless” recipes and plenty of survival tips from a writer who is a born storyteller. In fact, Harper is a movie actress (anyone remember the cult movies The Phantom of the Paradise or Suspira?) She’s also a children’s musician and author, and a wickedly funny lady. Her sense of humor and clear expertise in the kitchen shine throughout the book, making it a fun read whether you’re standing in the kitchen or not. And the recipes sound both tasty and easy to make!

Here are just a few of the storytelling recipes she shares with readers: the Hell of Lasagna; the Famous Tuna Melt of ’96; the Killer Cheese Ball; Pain-in-the-Ass Minestrone; Dog-Proof Caprese Salad; and, Criminal Coconut Cake.

Jessica Harper isn’t just fun to read though. She also has a website called, not surprisingly, The Crabby Cook.  There you can find more kitchen survival ideas and tips plus some hilarious video clips. Take a look at Harper’s sly and clever approach to cooking for a ladies book group:

Julia Child might end this with a hearty “bon appetite!” I’ll just say try cooking “The Crabby Cook” way, then kick off your shoes and relax…

Nigella Christmas

by Heidi on November 24th, 2010
Nigella Christmas Cover Image

I love listening to Nigella Lawson when she is an occasional guest on NPR; I imagine many tv-watching cooks enjoy her program on the Food Network as well.  Her down-to-earth approach to cooking and entertaining, and her self-admitted indulgent love of eating are as apparent in her cookbooks as they are in her media appearances.  Nigella Christmas, published late last year, is a prime example.

Lawson’s approach to Christmas is a secular one that revels in hospitality, gift-giving, celebration, and sharing food with others.  There are recipes for old standards and menu plans for groups of six to sixteen.  There are lots of make-ahead tips, suggestions for leftovers, and edible presents to make and give.  This is not a cookbook with nutritional information after each recipe, but when the dish is called Girdlebuster Pie, do you really need the numbers?

The chapter on desserts (titled “Joy to the World”–if I wasn’t hooked already, this would have done it) includes recipes for a yule log, fruitcakes, and mini minced pies.  Three pages are devoted to her Christmas pudding alone.

What I liked best about the book was her commentary about the special joys and burdens of entertaining at holiday time.  For instance, she makes a pitch for inviting new friends to Christmas dinner because of “the stabilizing effect of the stranger factor:  someone with whom your family doesn’t quite feel at home enough to behave badly.”  Lawson does a good job of suggesting ways to mitigate the stress of entertaining at Christmas–a holiday that seems to come with heightened expectations and traditions that cannot be forfeited.  I know I’ll never pull off the “Main Event” Christmas dinner she describes, but her book definitely puts me in the mood for celebrating the holiday with food, friends and family.  (The recipe for Girdlebuster Pie is on page 87.)

Stuff : compulsive hoarding and the meaning of things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee

by Maeve on November 5th, 2010
Stuff : compulsive hoarding and the meaning of things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee Cover Image

Are you looking for a more comprehensive and scientific approach to hoarding than the one given by the cable television shows Hoarding: Buried Alive or Hoarders ? If so, “Stuff : compulsive hoarding and the meaning of things” is the book for you. Frost and Steketee, psychology professors, begin the book with the story of the Collyer brothers. After the reclusive pair died in 1947 their New York brownstone, sanitation workers found more than 130 tons of garbage in their home. The two became the cause celebre of hoarders.

While none of the hoarders chronicled in “Stuff” reach the level of the Collyers they all have compelling stories. In fact, most of them are not nearly as extreme as we might think. They are often very bright and aware of what they are doing, but are powerless to stop. “Stuff” is a fascinating look into the hoarding phenomenon. We all probably know someone who might just be a hoarder. Reading “Stuff” may give you a better understanding why some people collect and some people hoard.

Entries (RSS) | Comments (RSS).