Friday, August 23, 2013

The Telling Room

The reference librarian with whom I am interning at the Springville Public Library also orders adult non-fiction for the collection.  I got to help her work on an order today, and one of the books on the New York Times Bestseller hard cover nonfiction list this week is called The Telling Room (That link is to the NYT review) which is a book about the world's most expensive cheese.  The fact that there is a not only a BOOK about this subject, but that is on the best seller list, is one of the reason's I'm studying to be a librarian.  I LOVE that people write and read about so many interesting things!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The world's most expensive spice

Sometimes I think I should have a whole section on this blog called "Who decided this was edible?".  Although, that needs to be made more catchy somehow.....

Today at work, someone asked me about saffron threads.  I had heard of saffron, but never saffron threads.  Apparently, they are the individually hand harvest stamens of the crocus flower and is the most expensive spice in the world. 

The Deluxe Food Lovers Companion says this:

"It's no wonder that saffron—the yellow-orange stigmas from a small purple crocus (Crocus sativus)—is the world's most expensive spice. Each flower provides only three stigmas, which must be carefully hand-picked and then dried—an extremely labor-intensive process. It takes over 14,000 of these tiny stigmas for each ounce of saffron ... " (emphasis mine)

Interestingly, the Cambridge World History of Food posits the number of flowers as this:

"It has been estimated that, at three stigmas per plant, upwards of 250,000 of these crocus flowers are required to yield a pound of saffron. "

So I wonder, who figured out that the inside of a flower is so tasty?  Considering how long it takes to dry and how MANY flowers they have to harvest to make it usable, it just seems odd than anyone figured that out.   The Cambridge World History of Food has a whole section titled "Determining what our ancestors ate" which addresses how we know what people ate thousands of years ago; I think you could write an interesting book, or at least an essay about the stories of food 'discovery'. 

The history of Saffron:

Again, the Cambridge World History of Food:

"Native to the eastern Mediterranean, saffron was used in cooking for thousands of years before the Romans built their empire. Indeed, some credit Phoenician traders with introducing it in Spain - the country that today is the leading producer for the commercial market.

The word saffron comes from the Arabic word for “yellow,” and its distinctive color and taste grace Spanish, Cuban, French, and Indian cuisines, especially their rice dishes. It is a vital ingredient in an authentic bouillabaisse or paella as well as the saffron bread of a traditional Swedish feast. Saffron also goes well with poultry, in tomato-based sauces and stews, and in liqueurs such as Chartreuse. The spice is marketed as dried threads and in ground form. Unfortunately, much adulteration of ground saffron occurs, including its near-total replacement with turmeric - a crime that in fifteenth-century Germany drew a penalty of execution by burning or burying alive." (Cambridge World History of Food)

That last bit is one of my favorite items of interest.  Saffron was so special that you could be killed for replacing it with something else.

And a bit more info, from the Deluxe Food Lovers Companion:

"Thousands of years ago saffron was used not only to flavor food and beverages but to make medicines and to dye cloth and body oils a deep yellow. Today this pungent, aromatic spice is primarily used to flavor and tint food. Fortunately (because it's so pricey), a little saffron goes a long way. It's integral to hundreds of dishes like bouillabaisse, risotto Milanese and paella, and flavors many European baked goods."

Incidentally, from what I have found in other sources, the flavor of saffron is nearly impossible to replicate although some say safflower has some, minimal similarity.  The color of saffron can be replicated by several other additives including turmeric, safflower, annato seeds and marigold flowers


SAFFRON. (2000). In Cambridge World History of Food.  Accessed through University of North Texas Online Resources.Password required.

This resource is also available in hard copy and some preview elements are available on the official website.

SAFFRON :SPICE GLOSSARY. (2009). In The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion.   Accessed through University of North Texas Online Resources. Password required.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Dame of Dictionaries

So many interesting people in the world!  This article/profile was shared on the LM-Net listserv.  A woman in New York City collects dictionaries of all sorts.  This collection would be so fascinating to peruse as I love words and etymology.  Her name is Madeline Kripke, and you can read about her here.

The website is interesting as well; a site called It summarizes itself  in the 'footer' at the bottom of each page with this "Narratively is a community of talented storytellers who are devoted to uncovering and sharing in-depth local stories with a universal appeal."  Read their about page here.

The theme the website was focusing on this week was miniature museums (other featured collections included a woman's troll collection and a collection of things found left in books that had presumably been used as bookmarks.

Friday, August 16, 2013

"My 2 favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles.  They both move people forward, without wasting anything.  The perfect day: riding a bike to the library"  Peter Golkin.

As seen on

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Mark Twain

I always knew Mark Twain was an interesting character; today I was perusing a site I've mentioned before (Today I found out) and came across an interesting article about his habit of 'collecting' young girls.  That immediately brought up creepy serial killer images for me, probably because I'm reading a book by Terri Reid called Bumpy Roads and the serial killer in the book calls his victims a 'collection'. 

Anyway, for Twain, apparently these girls were more like surrogate granddaughters; he called them the "Aquarium Club" and his "Angelfish" and had a guest room in his home specifically set up for them to come and stay as well as a room decorated with their pictures on his wall.  

You can read the post on "Today I found out" here.  Letters he exchanged with these girls have been collected and published in Mark Twain's Aquarium: The Samuel Clemens-Angelfish Correspondence, 1905-1910

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Thai Elephant Orchestra

I can't remember where I initially came across this story. In an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, a neuroscientist and composer named David Sulzer (in his musical work he uses the name Dave Soldier) has taken the time to create musical instruments sized specifically for elephants, and teach them how to play them.  He claims to have been inspired by seeing elephants appreciate the singing of their mahouts as well as other music they came across.
You can listen to the NPR story about the elephants here

The official website of the sanctuary is here. (It's apparently a big tourist draw)

You can find recordings of the Thai Elephant Orchestra here (They are also available on Amazon and other music sellers)

Monday, August 5, 2013


Chicken Croquettes @ Tapas On Main
  Image from Lehigh Valley, PA
Creative Commons
A random misspelling led to my curiosity about this food; I knew the word and that it was a food item, but little else. 

According to the International Dictionary of Food, this spelling of the term "croquettes" refers to the English or French usage, and means "Any mixture of minced cooked meat, etc. combined with mashed potatoes and/or breadcrumbs, herbs, onions, seasonings and egg or stock to form a stiff paste which is shaped into cylinders, spheres, rounds, ovals etc., panéed and deep-fried"

The Wikipedia article on the term indicates there are several different ethnic and regional variations but the all share a basic similarity.

José (a tapas bar), Bermondsey Street, London
Creative Commons

I wasn't sure what paneed meant either, so I looked it up.  To "An anglicization of the French paner, meaning to coat foods with seasoned flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs in that order, prior to frying them"

This website also offers some interesting insight into the croquette as well as a recipe for a lovely spinach artichoke version which is vegetarian friendly and egg free.

croquette. (2005). In Dictionary of Food: International Food and Cooking Terms from A to Z.
pané, to. (2005). In Dictionary of Food: International Food and Cooking Terms from A to Z.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Hutterites

I find religions fascinating.  A friend at work told me about this interesting group, which appears to be similar to the better known Amish in some ways.  Upon a little research it does appear that both groups are off-shoots of the larger Anabaptist belief system, although the Amish most direct religious 'ancestry' is the Mennonites.  Both groups also originated, like most American belief systems, in persecution of their group in Europe.  For the Hutterites, that area was Germany.  For the Amish, the original split lead to settlements in Switzerland as well the southern Rhine river region.

This page seems to be an official one by the Hutterite group and has some good overview information.  It's existence indicates (to me at least) that the Hutterites don't eschew technology to the level that I've heard most Amish do. Although there are multiple websites that offer Amish goods and services; it seems that most of these are third party groups which deal with the Amish through more traditional face to face means.  The Hutterite website even has blogs done by various community members and pictures make it appear that they use modern tractors.  Their clothing standards, while more conservative than most of the contemporary United States  (long dresses on the woman, dark slacks, long sleeved shirts on the men) the colors seem to be brighter and several photos have younger men wearing what look like baseball caps.

Certain elements of this faith really stand out to me.  One of them is the idea of adult baptism.  I find this a really sensible idea.  The site I mentioned above indicates that the community tends to request baptism between the ages of 20 and 30, after somewhere between five and ten years of Sunday School teaching.  Even then, the baptism is not instantaneous but requires several more months of specific teaching by community elders.

Other Information:

Hutterite Boys
Image by Kelly Hofer
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License

Hutterite men on horseback
Image by pverdonk
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License

American Colony by National Geographic 

Friday, August 2, 2013