Secondhand Bookstores

As the name of this blog, Cheapo Snobs, indicates, we are to the core of our beings frugal

and, we like to think, discerning people. Secondhand bookstores with their often astonishing contents at rock-bottom prices are right up our alley. The beauty of shopping in places such as these is that one can get good deals as well as unearth the occasional prize of a long-desired, out-of-print, signed, or even first edition. Shopping with care, one can pick up a few bargain birthday or Christmas gifts as well.

Although we regret the disappearance of stores such as the Bryn Mawr Book Shop from Lark Street, the Capital District still has a variety of places where one can discover literary
treasures. For one, there is Albany's Dove & Hudson, located (not surprisingly) at the intersection of the two downtown streets of its name. Relatively small and with limited hours—check before you go—it’s a cozy place to spend time searching the stacks. Farther afield on Phila Street in Saratoga, is the charming and poetically named Lyrical Ballad Bookstore. Obviously set in an old bank building, it comes complete with something you don’t see every day in an establishment of this sort: a vault! The collection—which includes prints and postcards as well as a great variety of books—spreads out over several rooms, creating a delightful maze to wander through and explore.

By far, however, my preferred used bookstore in the area is The Book Barn, in an unassuming strip-mall in Latham across from K-Mart on Troy-Schenectady Road. Naturally, the proximity to home makes it a favorite of mine, but other
factors enter into the equation. The wide assortment of books—from general fiction, mysteries, and children’s books to comics and cookbooks—is very well organized in a large well lit room and is nothing short of amazing. Besides, all of the books are to be had at very low prices, usually going for around four dollars apiece. I recently found two of Wally Lamb's novels for $3.95 each. The owner, who is nearly always on the premises, is quite helpful and only occasionally crotchety. Once you get him talking, too, he has a trove of tales about things he sees and hears dealing with the public. Like the person who came in looking for the author Annie Moss, which turned out to be anonymous. And another who thought the owner should allow people to exchange books each time they come. It’s not a library, people; it’s a business!

The last time I was in The Book Barn the owner was explaining to me the hit secondhand bookstores have taken both from the advent of the The Kindle and from the closing of Borders, which drew a lot of folks in with its going-out-of-business sales. I really hope that that secondhand bookstores like this one will weather the storm of issues such as these and of the current economic climate.

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All Things Pumpkin

I don’t think I’ve ever met a recipe containing pumpkin that I didn’t like! Be it sweet or savory, from pumpkin pie to pumpkin soup, I’m immediately attracted to dishes of this sort.  Here are three varied uses of canned pumpkin that our family has enjoyed over the years.

The first, Pumpkin Muffins, I adapted from a November 2006 issue of Gourmet Magazine. I love many things about this recipe: it’s easy to make, has no yucky ingredients (like Crisco) in it, and tastes great. You take 1½ cups of flour and mix with 1 teaspoon baking powder. In a separate bowl, whisk
together 1 cup of pumpkin purée, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, 2 large eggs, 1¼ cups of sugar, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon ground cloves, ¼ teaspoon powdered ginger, ½ teaspoon baking soda, and ½ teaspoon salt. Then stir the ingredients of both bowls together just until combined. Put the mixture into muffin tins (it makes about a dozen), about ¾ full, and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Test with a toothpick in the middle to check for doneness. These moist cake-like muffins are great for breakfast or a snack. Kids love them as much as adults!

Another fall and winter favorite is Zesty Pumpkin Soup, which is also a simple recipe. Sauté one cup chopped onion and one minced garlic clove in two tablespoons of butter and a little oil. Put in a dash of salt, about a teaspoon of curry (optional), ½ teaspoon ground coriander, and some crushed red pepper. Then pour in three cups of chicken broth and cook for 15-20 minutes. Finally, add in one can of pumpkin and about a cup of half & half, heating it for 5 minutes. Garnish with pumpkin seeds or sour cream and chives, if desired.

My husband is the family baker—and a very good one at that. In fact, for my birthday it’s a given that I prefer his pumpkin pie to just about any cake anywhere out there. But if I need to supply a quick and easy, as well as delicious dessert, I often turn to a recipe given to me by a friend years ago: Cinnamon Pumpkin Flan. No need to struggle with pie crust, of course, and the end result is as impressive as it is flavorful. You start out by melting ½ cup of sugar over low heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching, until it forms
a caramel-colored liquid. Immediately pour the golden syrup into the bottom of an 8X8X2” (or so) pre-heated cake pan; I use Pyrex or CorningWare. Turn and roll the pan to coat the bottom as evenly as possible. Combine ¾ cup sugar with ½ teaspoon of salt, and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Add in one cup of pumpkin purée with five eggs, beating well. After putting in 1½ cups of evaporated milk, 1/3 cup water, and 1½ teaspoon vanilla, you’re ready to pour the mixture into the caramel-coated pan. Set the pan into a larger container of hot water and place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Bake for an hour and fifteen minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool and then refrigerate. To serve, run a knife around the sides of the pan, place a serving dish on top, and carefully flip the flan over to unmold it.

Pumpkin really is very versatile, as you can see from the variety of recipes listed here. I'm wondering what other ways people have of using the vegetable, especially in foreign countries. Looking forward to any and all comments from my readers!

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