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As an early adopter of sourcing recipes on the Internet, I’m getting a little (if you’ll excuse the expression) fed up. Now, I’ll admit, there’s something magical about looking at a dish of egg whites leftover from a recipe using only yolks, hitting a few keys on your smartphone, and reaping an abundance of ideas about what to do with them.
Questions that would once have involved calling your cooking obsessed friend, or leafing through dozens of cookbooks in your collection and possibly still coming up short, can now be answered in seconds.
This ridiculously easy access to information is one of the great assets of 21st-century cooking, but it’s not without its dark side. I refer, of course, to the ever-increasing number of overly monetized cooking blogs that recycle the same recipes while employing a minefield of pop-ups hawking everything from equipment and ingredients to adult diapers. “Oh, and please be sure to visit our YouTube channel”!
In any event, encountering the annoyances of the online recipe industry has made me nostalgic for the days when it didn’t exist. Oh, sure there were TV cooking shows and most of those TV chefs published at least one cookbook, but those shows were on PBS, hence, no commercials. (Well, maybe a pledge drive now and then.)
My earliest exposure to cookbooks was back in the dark ages when the Internet was just a gleam in the eyes of Cerf and Kahn. My mother, who didn’t really cook until much later in life, owned a copy of Fanny Merritt Farmer’s revolutionary The Boston Cooking School Cookbook which, she most likely received as a wedding present. As my sisters and I grew, we acquired another classic, Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls, a spiral-bound, heavily-illustrated marvel that still enchants readers today. Next on the shelf was Marian Burros and Lois Levine’s The Elegant But Easy Cookbook that finally inspired my fifty-something mother to roll up her sleeves and start entertaining.
I soon graduated to James Beard’s The New James Beard and began to see cookbooks differently, because the best cookbooks are not just a collection of recipes. They invite you into the mind of the chef. They include practical information about measurements, technique, witty prose and even philosophy.
Why use a cookbook when you can get recipes online? Because a cookbook frees you from being bombarded with advertising, links to ingredients and equipment on Amazon, and banal banter that we’ve all heard before. A cookbook invites you to walk with giants. The classics among cookbooks are written with passion and style. They elevate the experience and are worth reading even if you never intend to cook a thing. Here are some choice examples:
“Just like becoming an expert in wine–you learn by drinking it, the best you can afford–you learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simple or luxurious. Then you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences.”
― Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961)
“Grilling, broiling, barbecuing — whatever you want to call it — is an art, not just a matter of building a pyre and throwing on a piece of meat as a sacrifice to the gods of the stomach.”
– James Beard, Beard on Food (1974)
“Ham held the same rating as the basic black dress. If you had a ham in the meat house, any situation could be faced.”
― Edna Lewis, The Taste of Country Cooking (1976)
“You’re buying ‘White Heat’ because you want to cook well? Because you want to cook Michelin stars? Forget it. Save your money. Go and buy a saucepan.”
— Marco Pierre White, White Heat (1990)
So, here’s a suggestion. Go to a library (yes, they still exist) or a well-stocked, used bookstore and thumb through a few cookbooks. You’ll find some clunkers, of course, but the library is most likely to stock the classics. Pick one that looks interesting and read the introduction. If it’s one of the ones mentioned above, you may find yourself sitting there all afternoon.
Old cookbooks connect you to your past and explain the history of the world.— Jose Andres
Google the phrase “Hepburn’s brownies,” and you’ll come up with nearly 35,000 entries. That’s because the old family recipe actress Katharine Hepburn shared for the first time in the Ladies’ Home Journal in 1975 is beloved the world over. Unfortunately, not everyone can eat them.
Hepburn’s recipe is wildly popular, even with those who haven’t seen her movies, for a good reason. It’s quick and easy to prepare using the ingredients most people have on hand, and the result is fantastic. Many people claim they’re the best brownies they’ve ever tasted. The problem is that folks on a restricted diet for health issues such as celiac disease or diabetes, can’t enjoy the recipe as written. If you fall into that category, I came up with an alternative version that might work for you.
An 8 x 8-inch-square pan of brownies containing a cup of sugar is a dangerous thing. I can personally verify that it’s possible to consume an entire batch in a single day, which isn’t a good idea for anyone. Keep that up, and you will have a blood sugar problem if you don’t already!
My solution to the sugar problem is to replace it with Lakanto monk fruit sweetener.
Hepburn’s original recipe uses only a quarter cup of flour, but even that’s too much for some people. I substituted King Arthur Grain-Free Paleo Baking Flour. It’s gluten-free and provides the added benefit of 4 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber per serving.
Here is my healthier version of Hepburn’s Brownies. You can find Hepburn’s original version here on the New York Times cooking site. Enjoy!
This recipe was adapted based on the original version as it appears on the New York Times cooking site. My notes are in italics.
Yield: 12 brownies
NOTE: Please don’t eat the whole pan yourself. There’s a whole stick of butter in there! If tempted, have a couple and keep the rest in a sealed container in the freezer. They’ll be waiting for you whenever you want a sweet treat.
Photo credit: hookedonhouses.com
We may not be able to visit our loved ones face-to-face, but a basket of goodies on their doorstep will be sure to brighten their day. Here are a few ideas of what to pack, inspired by your favorite fairytales.
These days, the Big Bad Wolf is the least of our worries.
A trip to grandma’s house isn’t likely to involve any lengthy discussion of eyes, ears, and teeth size, either.
Just pack up some goodies, ring the bell, set them down on the doorstep, and go.
(You should probably text the recipient first and let them know it’s coming.)
The basic goody basket can be adapted to suit the tastes and interests of the receiver. Other fairy tales can provide some inspiration
It’s a bit on the nose, I’ll admit, but a pan of fresh, delicious gingerbread is always a welcome treat.
You can whip one up in a jiffy, and even the kids can help.
If you’re not much for baking, a package of Pepperidge Farm Gingerman cookies is a great substitute.
Add a jar of clotted cream for dobbing or dipping, and a bottle of milk from a local dairy.
If the recipient has a sweet tooth, a packet of candied ginger is an excellent addition.
Convenience foods are especially welcome these days when many people are obliged to cook for themselves.
Single-serve oatmeal options like Quaker Instant Oatmeal Express Cups Variety Pack are as easy as it gets.
If your loved one is health-conscious, instant oatmeal packets by thinkThin are a great choice. They’re only 190 calories each and loaded with protein, so one feels full longer.
Oatmeal isn’t the only porridge out there. Uncle Ben now has to-go versions of their hot cereals. They even provide spoons. Yummy flavors like Cinnabon and Maple Brown Sugar Walnut are sure to please. Their mixed berry Cream of Rice is gluten-free.
Whether or not the porridge is too hot or too cold will not be your problem. Bonus: no “breaking and entering” required!
Carrie Fisher’s role as Princess Leia Organa in the Star Wars saga gained her the adoration of the masses, but she also wrote some terrifically funny, wise, and engrossing books. If you’ve never read any of them, here are some titles you should check out:
Postcards From the Edge is Fisher’s best-selling first novel loosely based on her own life. The main character, Suzanne Vale, is the daughter of an iconic golden-era movie star and is struggling with drug addiction, mental health issues, and the pressures that come with growing up in Hollywood.
Fisher’s parents were actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, and her struggles with substance abuse and bipolar disorder are well-documented in the press, interviews she gave, and her writing.
What might have been a grim exploration of an all-too-familiar Hollywood horror story is elevated by the incomparable wit and wisdom of its author and her exceptional ability for self-examination that pulls no punches.
In her second novel, Surrender the Pink, Fisher follows the adventures of Dinah Kaufman, a soap opera writer who attempts to force her way back into the life of her ex-husband Rudy, a famous playwright. It isn’t until she nearly succeeds that she’s able to write him, quite literally, out of her life.
Like most of Fisher’s books, Delusions of Grandma is semi-autobiographical. This time her heroine is Cora Sharpe, a pregnant screenwriter whose relationship with her baby’s father is rocky. Afraid that she’ll die in childbirth, Cora begins to write long letters to her unborn child detailing the events leading up to her pregnancy.
What follows is an exploration of love, family, and relationships that will leave you breathless with laughter and touch your heart.
Fisher returns to the story of Suzanne Vale, the protagonist of Postcards From the Edge in The Best Awful. The book is essentially an exploration of her relationship with Bryan Lourd, the real-life father of her daughter, Billie, and her battle to stay sane.
When we rejoin Suzanne’s story, she’s a successful celebrity talk-show host with a gay ex-husband and a six-year-old daughter. When bipolar Suzanne decides to stop taking her medication, all hell breaks loose. A psychotic break lands Suzanne in a mental institution, and she must struggle to get well so she can be with her daughter.
In addition to her novels, Fisher was a screenwriter, script doctor, a playwright, and a non-fiction author. Star Wars fans should be especially interested in her 2016 memoir The Princess Diarist, based on the personal journals she kept while filming the Star Wars movies.
Carrie Fisher was a remarkable woman. She will be remembered for her iconic film roles and perhaps, more importantly, for raising awareness regarding mental health and substance abuse issues, and for her fearless, funny, and uncompromising prose.
So, you’ve decided to sell the vintage 1930s to mid-1970s comic book collection you’ve hoarded for decades, inherited, or stumbled across at a yard sale. Good for you! You may be sitting on a small fortune, or at least some serious vacation money.
As tempting as it would be to list the whole batch on eBay or Craig’s List, or take it down to your local comic shop and see what they’ll give you for it, those are the last things you should do. If you want to sell a comic book collection of any value, and you want to get as much for it as you can, you’re going to have to work for it. You’re also going to have to spend a little money before you see a dime.
Here’s how to get started.
1. Buy a top-notch guide to comic book grading
Before you do anything else, you’ll want to get a good idea of the value of your collection. When it comes to comics, one of the most significant factors impacting value is condition. Comics are graded on a scale from 1 to 10 and points in between. (Grading can go as low as 0.1 but anything below a 1, no matter how rare, has virtually no value to a collector.)
There are online sources that explain how to do this, but I’ve found the easiest to use and most comprehensive source of information is the Overstreet Guide to Grading Comics. The guide goes into minute detail about the grading process and includes examples of each grade with over 200 full-color images and additional valuable information.
Most people overvalue the condition of their comics. Overstreet is a great reality check. If you price a book as an 8 and it’s really a 6, you’re either not going to be able to sell it or whoever buys it will very likely end up asking for their money back. That’s a headache you don’t need.
2. Subscribe to an online comic book price guide
The value of a collectible comic book rises and falls based on various factors. Is there a movie featuring the title character coming out? Did a movie come out, but it flopped? Is it a sought-after key issue that introduces a new character or involves the death of an existing character? How many issues of that particular title, at that specific grade, are on the market at the moment? My favorite online price guide is GoCollect, which bills itself as “the stock ticker” for comics.
GoCollect tracks sales of professionally graded comics and provides a search engine where you can see how much a particular title at a specific grade is selling for at any given time. A subscription costs $5.99 a month, but it’s well worth the investment. Once you’ve identified your key issues and their grades, you’ll want to check in to GoCollect regularly to monitor sales of comparable issues. You can find out whether or not a specific item sold at auction and where it sold, such as eBay, ComicLink, or Heritage Auctions.
There’s also information about the market in general and advice about which issues you should sell now and which ones are worth holding on to for a bit longer. GoCollect is an invaluable resource for setting the right sales price.
3. Consider CGC Certification
The Certified Guaranty Company (CGC) is the leading third-party grading service for comic books, magazines, and other collectibles. If, after comparing one or more your comics to the examples in the Overstreet guide, you have reason to believe that it is worth over $500, you may want to consider submitting it to CGC for grading.
The company provides precise, objective, and impartial assessments of authenticity and grade. CGC certification assures a prospective buyer that the comic you are selling as a grade 7, for instance, is indeed a grade 7.
After grading, CGC seals the comic in a plastic holder that allows the owner to store and display the book safely. Unfortunately, if you break the seal, the grade is no longer valid, so, once sealed, you can no longer read it.
CGC provides this service for any comic, regardless of value. The process costs between $20 and $100 per book or 3% of the fair market value for books worth over $3,000. The price is dependent upon the value of the book, so you probably don’t want to spend the money on a book that is only worth, say, $50 since it cuts so sharply into your profit margin. For more valuable comics, CGC makes more sense because it makes them easier to sell. Not many people are going to spend $1,000 on a comic unless they have some kind of professional assessment that it’s worth that much.
You can certainly sell a very valuable comic without CGC certification, but there’s a whole host of problems that can accompany that decision. CGC provides both buyer and seller a measure of security that’s well worth the expense.
Whether or not you plan to sell your collection piece by piece or as a whole, these three tools will put you in a position to get the best possible price. There are numerous sales channels where you can sell your comics, but that’s a topic for another day.
To get your comics ready for professional grading or sale, here are a few more things you will probably need:
Plastic comic book bags and backing boards are essential to maintaining the all-important condition of your comics. They come in different sizes, so make sure you get the right ones. A Golden Age comic won’t fit in a Modern Age comic book bag. Always use acid-free boards that will not only keep your comic from bending, but they will also protect it from chemical disintegration.
Bubble wrap, painter’s tape, and packing tape are especially important when shipping multiple comics to be graded or sold. Most dealers provide wrapping instructions on their websites. You can use the painter’s tape to seal bags, and it guards against damage from sticking when you remove the book.
When shipping individual comics or just a few at a time, comic book mailers can be handy and provide additional protection. For more valuable books, I sometimes use these and add them to a larger box when I’m shipping multiple comics of varying grades. If you are sending an extensive collection and can fill a whole box, comic book storage boxes can be employed successfully without additional packing material. They come in both short (150 to 175 books) and long (200–225 books) sizes.
“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.”
Google “growing tomatoes,” and you’ll get 110 million results. You can’t go through all of them, so here are three of the tips I gleaned online that worked for me.
1. Drip water below ground level
Start saving those plastic milk jugs! The principle is simple. Wet leaves promote the growth of fungal diseases in tomatoes, so you should water them at the root. This method also lessens water loss from evaporation and makes applying liquid fertilizer easy.
There are several variations on this technique, but the one I use is to punch a small hole in the bottom corner of a clean, half-gallon milk jug. I then dig a hole next to the plant, big enough and deep enough to bury the jug halfway, placing the corner with the hole in it nearest the stem. You should do this when the plant is small to avoid disturbing the roots.
If you live in a place with hot summers, like Texas, you’ll want to use the gallon size jug. Where I live in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, we get a fair amount of summer rain, so I’ve found the half-gallon size to be adequate. Simply remove the cap from the jug, fill it with water, and let it drip. To apply liquid fertilizer, add the amount recommended for the capacity of the container you’re using and enough water to fill the jug. No pre-mixing required! Some people like to replace the cap after watering, but I never have. I imagine it may slow evaporation when the temperatures soar.
2. Jumpstart the season with tomato teepees
A couple of years ago, I planted my tomatoes before the ground temperature was consistently at 60 degrees in the daytime and 50 degrees at night. For a solid month, they just sat there and didn’t grow an inch. Last year, I started using tomato teepees, and everything changed.
The tomato teepee is a cylinder of plastic pockets filled with water that surrounds the tomato plant. This arrangement allows the water to store heat from the sun to warm the soil and protect the plant. The trick is to place the filled tomato teepee over the spot where the plant will go for at least a week before you plant it. Teepees allow the soil to warm to an optimum temperature so that when you plant your tomatoes, they’re ready to roll.
Insert a one-by-one inch, four-foot stake next to the plant before replacing the teepee. The stake will provide not only support for the plant, but it will keep the teepee from blowing over in a high wind. You may need help to lift it over the stake or to squeeze some water out of the teepee first if it’s too heavy to lift. Afterward, keep the teepee filled with water, and it will provide protection and warmth throughout the early part of the season. Once the weather heats up, I squeeze the water out but leave the empty teepee bunched around the base of the plant. It acts as a mulch and helps keep critters away. Buy the red ones since red mulch is proven to increase tomato yields.
3. Reap the dual benefits of grafted heirloom tomato plants
If you’ve grown tomato plants before, you have no doubt experienced the heartbreak that fungal diseases can bring. Your once lush, green, glorious plant starts to look like the crypt keeper. Production slows to a crawl, and the plague spreads to other plants. Seed companies have engineered disease-resistant varieties, but if you have your heart set on growing heirloom tomatoes because they taste better, grafted plants can provide some of the same protection without sacrificing flavor. You can buy them already grafted or graft them yourself. There are several How-To videos online that can show you what to do.
The grafting process marries heirloom tomato plants to a hearty, disease-resistant rootstock. As long as the heirloom part of the plant stays above the soil and does not put out roots, it will be protected and nourished by the rootstock below. There is a plastic clip at the graft point that will eventually fall off as the plant grows. A grafted plant may still contract a fungal disease, but the plant will be able to cope with it better and keep producing.
Last year, I had a grafted Amish Paste plant that was a superstar, growing bigger than any of my other plants and producing numerous tomatoes continuously until the first freeze.
As I stated before, you’ll find no shortage of information online about how to grow tomatoes. These are just a few of the tips I found to be exceptionally good. Is there anything that has worked well for you? Please shoot me an email and let me know.
Read about how some garden suppliers mislead you about what you should expect from their products here.