appetizers, dear library, general information and events

dear library: a mini-series for national library week. (and spinach + ricotta turnovers)

spinach + ricotta turnovers.

I’ve talked about my love of libraries for some time now. This week (April 14-20) is National Library Week, and I’m going celebrate it by talking about why the library has been important in my own life for over three decades, and why it should be important to you. Hopefully, your library is awesome, and you visit it regularly. You can use it for a multitude of things, from music to movies to, yes, every conceivable type of book. In this little corner of the internet, you’ve seen it used most often for cookbooks; in fact, many of the recipes I’ve researched, toyed with and practiced on over the past few years have come from none other than my lovely library.

Which brings me to my next item of business: since I am a food blog and not a blog about libraries, I will be cooking things for you. Delicious things, all of which I found in books I borrowed from my local library. Each day you will get a story about why the library is awesome, combined with a recipe that is equally spectacular. This is my ode/love letter to The Saint Louis County Library: a library I have borrowed many a book from, owed many a fine to, and enjoyed many an hour in. I love you, library: this is why.

spinach + ricotta turnovers.

Dear Library:

Some of my earliest memories involve you. I was a big reader from a very young age, and I devoured books quickly. We had quite a few at home, but my mom was a big fan of taking me to you every week to get new books to read. I loved everything about it; the smell, the massive amount of books, and the feeling that I was doing some thing very grown up. It would take me what seemed like forever to pick out something I wanted to take home, because we were only allowed so many and I wanted to take all of them.

The Cliff Cave branch was my branch back then, and it was everything a library in the early eighties should look like: beige and brown and orange and wonderful, with lots of tables slightly too large for me. I remember we were always very quiet, lest we disturb something and not being allowed back. I was taught from a very early age to have a sort of reverence for the building (and the fellow readers found within) that I carry to this day.

This was also the era I fell in love with the best thing on wheels: the bookmobile. At that time, Library, your bookmobiles were light tan with brown writing, with wood shelves lining both sides. Never has their been a happier break from school than when the bookmobile would come. I would go straight to the Nancy Drew, Babysitters Club, or Sweet Valley Twins/Sweet Valley High section and grab the next in each series, anxious to see what happened next. I lost a few books that were yours, Library; some of which I have found recently.

i stole this book. inadvertently.

You are not getting this back, by the way; I consider it a souvenir of my youth.

Library, I should tell you; if you are reading this, and you remember someone recently calling and talking to you about perhaps there being an old bookmobile floating around somewhere to adopt/purchase? That was my mom. Our big life goal is to someday own an old bookmobile, and she is on the hunt. Someday I will have one, and I will fill it with books and use it as the best office/studio ever to exist on this earth.

You helped me learn to read, Library; more than that, you helped me learn how much I loved to read. You gave me access to a never-ending stream of books I may not have ever seen otherwise, because I read lightning-fast and we would have spent millions on books. You helped me through my first actual research papers and science projects; I even made a diorama for a book report based on an illustration I found in your copy of Tom Sawyer.

You gave me summer reading clubs so I didn’t feel like I was the only wee nerd out there who wanted to read during summer vacation. I spent so much time there I could draw a fairly accurate map (circa 1985-ish) of the Cliff Cave branch. Listen, I never knew what magic you were performing by rubbing my book spines up against that weird metal box, or why your door alarm used to make a muffled quadruple-tap ever time I walked in or out, but I loved it all. Thanks, Library.

spinach + ricotta turnovers.

Tomorrow, we talk about how big a role my library played in my high school life. Can you believe it? When I went to high school, there was no Google; looking back, I’m pretty happy about that. For now, I’m going to give you my first recipe of the week: an appetizer, because it seemed appropriate. This one I found in the only cookbook I hadn’t pre-requested: as I walked by the features shelf to grab my requests, this book caught my eye and I couldn’t resist. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for packaging (this book is beautiful) but it’s got some fantastic recipes within its pages. Interested? Check and see if your local library has it in their stacks.

Adapted from Green Market Baking Book: 100 Delicious Recipes for Naturally Sweet & Savory Treats by Laura C. Martin. Seriously, some really great things in here; I know several of these recipes reminded me quite a bit of a few of you when I was thumbing through.

Spinach + Ricotta Turnovers

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 large handfuls of spinach, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese (the creamy sort, not the crumbly ricotta salata)
  • 1/4 cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • sea salt and fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry (or homemade, Fancypants; whatever you have on hand)*
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon water

*The original recipe calls for phyllo to be used versus puff pastry. Although I admit, phyllo is always elegant and lovely, I can’t in good conscience recommend something I couldn’t seem to do. Blame the quality of phyllo or my impatience, but it wasn’t working for me with the phyllo (and I’ve used it several times before with success), so I substituted puff pastry. Both options will yield you delicious results, so pick whichever you would rather work with.

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.

Set out your puff pastry (if you haven’t already) and thaw according to package instructions. I think it works best if you use the overnight thaw in the refrigerator, but if you must, setting it out at room temperature will work also.

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 4-5 minutes, then add the garlic at the end for about 20 seconds more, just until fragrant, being careful not to burn it.

Add the spinach and increase your heat to medium-high. Cook until spinach has wilted, about 3-4 minutes. Drain spinach mixture, using a wooden spoon to press out as much residual liquid as you can. Transfer to a medium bowl and allow to cool completely.

Once the spinach has cooled, add the ricotta, Parmesan, pine nuts, parsley, rosemary, and lemon zest. Stir together and season with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

When your puff pastry is completely thawed, lay one sheet out on a lightly floured surface, so the seams are vertical to you. Using a floured rolling pin (and adding a bit more flour on the top of the dough as needed), gently roll out the pastry vertically. You want a total of 12 squares for this recipe; the seams already divide your pastry into three equal lengths, so focus on lengthening the pastry so you can make three cuts horizontally – once in the middle, two to divide those sections in half – to form 12 equal squares. Use a thin knife or pizza cutter to make your cuts.

Place a slightly heaped tablespoon of the spinach mixture on each square and fold over into a triangle, using your fingers to seal each side. With the tines of a fork, press to tightly seal the edges. Place on the prepared sheet pan.

Once all the turnovers are filled, whisk your egg yolk and water together. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash over the tops of each turnover. Using a small skewer or toothpick, poke a few holes in the top of each turnover to allow steam to escape.

Bake for 20-22 minutes, until turnovers are golden in color. Remove and let cool slightly before serving. These are just as delicious at room temperature as they are warm, so no rush to get them out if you’re making multiple batches.

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  • Reply Faygie April 15, 2013 at 12:08 am

    Oh, how I love my library too! When I was growing up the local branch of the LAPL was just a few blocks away, and I’d go there ALL THE TIME (taking out as many books as they allowed at once). I, too, loved Nancy Drew, the BSC, and the Sweet Valley books (I don’t read them anymore, but I do still love them!). I still have a bunch of BSC & Sweet Valley books from when I was a kid, and Ella is loving the Sweet Valley Twins books. Lucky for us, we live just a short walk away from another local branch. We go there often. And I’ve been checking cookbooks out from the library for years!

    This recipe looks so good! Pastry dough & cheese? YUM! And before I even commented on this, I went to my library’s website and put this book on hold πŸ™‚

    • Reply shannon April 15, 2013 at 8:25 am

      Faygie, you are like my library twin! isn’t it fun to remember how much time you spent at the library when you were little? It’s like maybe you take it for granted as a kid, but i spent a good deal of time there, and it was great. I have those books too! Or rather, my mom kept them all and we’re working on getting them to my house. Ella is the perfect age for them! I love watching stella read my old kids’ books, and i can’t wait until she gets into Nancy Drew and all the rest of them. That’s awesome you live so close to a branch; we only have to drive a few minutes, and i’m grateful for that. The whole cookbook checkout thing has been a big money-saver for me, and i know you and i both check out SO MANY COOKBOOKS for our respective blogs (and just for regular life cooking)!

      I know! the original recipe calls for goat cheese, and obviously that would be delicious, but i felt like i had just done so many things with goat cheese. the ricotta worked out SO well and complemented the herbs and the pine nuts so much that i didn’t miss it. You’re one of the people I thought of when i flipped through this book: there’s some amazing bread recipes, and cakes…just all really fresh and full of fruit and vegetables. It reminds me of the Bi-Rite cookbook/market book. Tell me how you like it!!

      • Reply Faygie April 20, 2013 at 9:26 pm

        I picked this up from the library yesterday, and had a chance to look though it today. There are a bunch of recipes I want to try, but not enough to make me want to buy the book. I’ll probably just make copies of the ones that I think I’ll really make.

  • Reply Jen @JuanitasCocina April 15, 2013 at 4:53 am

    Want to hear something sad? We don’t have a library. Like, at all. So, there’s no borrowing books or smelling the stacks here.

    But, but…BUT…they’re building one. Maybe by 2014.

    So, maybe sometime I can join you for library week.

    Also, p.s.~ yum.

    • Reply shannon April 15, 2013 at 8:27 am

      I learn something new every day. I think i just assume everyone has a library, and it makes me even more grateful for my own when i hear others don’t have one near them. *sad*

      i hope yours is built perhaps by national library week next year? and you can ALWAYS join me for library week, even vicariously for right now.

  • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats April 15, 2013 at 7:07 am

    I used to love going to the library too, it always seemed like such a special treat. I still prefer taking a book out from the library to buying one. Obviously it’s more cost effective, but also there’s just something about the way that plastic wrapped book crinkles and smells. I think I feel like a real adult when I read the books because I always remember my mom reading books she took out from the library.

    It has totally never occurred to me that the library has cookbooks! I will have to seek some out. This recipe looks really delicious. I love spinach-filled things in general πŸ™‚

    • Reply shannon April 15, 2013 at 8:32 am

      i love the crinkle and smell too! You can’t duplicate that with newly-purchased book either; i prefer my books aged and broken in. πŸ™‚ It is a special treat; now, did you grow up in NY? so if you did, i suppose you had a pretty epic library experience, potentially. or maybe; it’s what i imagine in my head, at least. I agree that it makes you feel like an adult; my mom did the same, and it always seemed like it was all adults at our library, so i felt accepted into some sort of special club or something.

      seriously, they have SO MANY cookbooks! I’ve only had very few occasions where a cookbook i’ve looked up hasn’t been there (and i’ve rented MANY a hard-to-find or not normal cookbook from there, so that’s a pretty stellar track record.) it’s honestly the best way to test-run a cookbook before i drop upwards of $30 on one.

  • Reply Wendy April 15, 2013 at 7:11 am

    Shannon, I couldn’t agree with you more. I adore the library. We actually are extremely lucky in St. Louis county because our library system is one of the best in the country (not sure how that happened!). My favorite perk is getting online, reserving my books, then just strolling into the library to get my requests off the shelf where they are waiting for me! I have a “real”book and an audio book (in the car) going at all times. πŸ™‚ Plus, audio books make my road trips to Chicago, where my son is in college, zip by. Checking out cookbooks is another favorite of mine. How do you know if you want to own a cookbook until you give it a trail run? I am excited to see which cookbooks you are going to highlight! This spinach ricotta filling looks delicious.

    • Reply shannon April 15, 2013 at 8:37 am

      Seriously, St. Louis County is the only library i have known, and i couldn’t ask for a better one. I didn’t know that they were one of the best in the country, but i could have guessed that. πŸ™‚ don’t you love the online ordering system?? It’s fantastic, i agree: how great is it to ask them to do the searching for you and deliver your requests basically to your doorstep! And you just reminded me; i haven’t listened to an audiobook in FOREVER, and they have so many. Such a great things for road trips.
      I like how similar our experiences are with our shared library system, Wendy. It’s nice to hear that someone else loves it as much as I do (and uses it for cookbooks, too!). I was really lucky in finding the ones i found for this week; a few were on hold and i grabbed them just in time; definitely they are all going on my “to purchase” list, i’ll say that.

  • Reply natalie @ wee eats April 15, 2013 at 8:22 am

    I still have the first book I ever checked out from the library, because I was a small child and it disappeared then reappeared somewhere in my mid teens and by then it was like “eh, no point in taking it back now” haha

    You’re totally motivating me to actually go to the library. I haven’t been to one since…. well, pretty much since the internet became super amazing.

    Also, that is adorable about you and your mom. I can say that the elementary school down the road from us DOES have a book mobile…. so they *DO* exist…. That much I am sure of.

    Also, your little puffs look delicious! Like a spanikopita of sorts (which I love). They look so good!

    • Reply shannon April 15, 2013 at 8:45 am

      That book is like, a sign you should return to the library, if ONLY to support your massive cookbook habit (because i know you have one). πŸ™‚

      listen: i just looked up your particular library system, and there’s like a million branches for you to use. also, they have a DRIVE UP WINDOW. um, that’s pretty awesome; we don’t even have drive up windows here! Maybe b/c it’s so hot, people utilize the drive thru so they won’t dehydrate carrying books from their car. πŸ™‚

      you know, i’ve looked up our bookmobiles, and they do have them; they do not look like my old ones (they’re brightly colored now, and i guess i don’t know if they’re repainted or brand new ones). aside from their school visits, they seem to visit old peoples’ homes? and if you think i haven’t thought about “accidentally” being at an old peoples’ home when the bookmobile visits there, you’re wrong. πŸ™‚

      i didn’t even think about the spanikopita similarities! you are so right! you would love these…they are very much like a version of that.

  • Reply Emma April 15, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Some of my earliest memories are of being at the public library. Interestingly, my memories are a bit peculiar and fuzzy, because when I was still relatively young, they tore that library down to build a new one in exactly the same place. And then, a couple years ago (when I had moved out), they did major renovations again so that while in the same place, there is basically a third library now. Three libraries in my lifetime! It’s a well-used library, but the place now is so very open that to me it seems less friendly. There aren’t nooks to go snuggle into, and the lights are so bright that it seems like a sterile environment. And while it’s bigger, it somehow seems smaller.

    I grew up singing this song every time I headed to the library.

    There is also this amazing song from a Reading Rainbow episode that I adore, that is about going to the library and getting a library card. I just spent fifteen minutes looking for it online, but I can’t find it. I’ll let you know if I do, it’s a winner.

    • Reply Emma April 15, 2013 at 10:07 am

      Phew here we go. Start around minute 18. Gosh I love this song. Especially when he goes “and it’s alllll for free!!” kind of creepy-like at 20:52.

      • Reply Emma April 15, 2013 at 10:08 am


        • Reply shannon April 17, 2013 at 6:55 pm

          a few notes on this:

          evidently i don’t remember this, but the title sequence got a wee bit snazzier as reading rainbow became more popular. it’s the same, but different, than my earlier memories. FANCY.

          i don’t remember my librarians wearing leotards, but i bet some of them did?

          that whole book/dance sequence amongst the shelves? That is, i mean, IDENTICAL to what the Headquarters branch stacks section looks like. It could have been filmed there. I do not believe they have burgundy carpet (at least not anymore), but otherwise, the same.

          this was good.

          • Emma April 18, 2013 at 3:31 pm

            I think they only changed that intro in the past decade, and then redid it online for all the shows, because it’s not familiar to me either. It’s a bit too futuristic, just like a rebuilt library?

    • Reply shannon April 17, 2013 at 6:49 pm

      All your library reno’s are nuts! Maybe we have a thing for old here, or maybe we just have too many branches, but i don’t think any of them have been torn down and redone. Some have had some interior work (mainly to make areas for kids or teens or computer labs and the like) but nothing massive. I dig that: the library built in 1958 looks largely the same as it did in 1958.

      am watching post-comment: i’m afraid my reply will get lost if i do anything. *internet pro*

      OMG. Reading. Rainbow.
      I’m googling that song. I could not heart Levar Burton anymore b/c of that show. I can still sing you the theme song from memory (including the high part at the end).

  • Reply Ashley April 15, 2013 at 11:18 am

    In my days of being a youngster, my mom took me to the library a ton. Like you, I read voraciously (Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Babysitter’s Club, and Boxcar Children were some of my favorites) and a library was the only way to prevent us from going broke buying books. I could be caught reading on the bus, in the car, or even during recess (nerd alert!). During college, I practically lived in the two libraries on campus (seriously, they had the most comfortable stuffed bean-bag-esque chairs ever). And now I still frequent the library for audiobooks to fill my daily commute and, thanks to your suggestion, for cookbooks. Oh, hooray for libraries!
    Love the theme of the week idea, too!

    • Reply shannon April 17, 2013 at 6:45 pm

      we are the SAME person with the books! I remember the Hardy Boys were right next to my beloved Nancy Drew section in the bookmobile, and i read a few of them. Same with Boxcar Children. i honestly think i may have read everything, because i too could be caught reading at recess (nerds unite!) and other places where other kids would be doing maybe more active things.

      those beanbag chairs? BEST. we have a few of those too.

      I miss audiobooks: i could do them at home (and have on occasion listened to a few of Neil Gaiman’s plays for voices on my cd player here) but i am lacking a commute nowadays. πŸ™‚ this has reminded me to get back in the habit of renting those as well.

      You know, i know when my writing comes fast and easy (as it has for these posts) that i really must have a big passion for the topic; that’s just how it is with my writing style. So I must super love the library, because this has been so much fun.

  • Reply Monica April 15, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    I’m a regular at the local library even now and it’s always been a haven for me as well. I’ll never forget when I first discovered a good book and how it opened up a whole new world for me (yay for The Babysitter’s Club and Encyclopedia Brown! : ) I’m definitely grateful for libraries, where I continue to check out books (cookbooks and otherwise) almost weekly.
    Your turnovers looks delicious, btw! : )

    • Reply shannon April 17, 2013 at 6:40 pm

      i love hearing how the library has been so important to you! and Encyclopedia Brown – i completely forgot about those books. it’s so great to here how many of us use them for cookbooks, especially; so expensive when you do buy them (and i ran into a few at Barnes and Noble the other day which were sealed; i couldn’t even flip through them!) that the library is the great way to test them out.
      thank you. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Angie April 15, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Right now I have both Momofuku and the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbooks from the library because of trying the cookie recipes on your site which I’ve loved, as well as Sky High Cakes. Getting cookbooks from the library is new for me, but I’ve loved the library since I was small enough to sit in the plexiglass bubble windows of the branch near my house as a kid. I could myself so lucky that I have a great library branch just 1 mile from my house now, so my kids can grow up visiting a great library too!

    • Reply shannon April 17, 2013 at 6:37 pm

      that makes me feel so happy, Angie! I hope you’re enjoying them, and i’m proud to be part of you getting them. I’m putting Sky High Cakes on my list (because truly, how could i not). It’s so great to hear how much people use the library for cookbooks.

      what a great memory of the library from childhood! isn’t it amazing how much little stuff like going to the library really can affect your adult life? I hope your kids grow up to love it just as much as you do, and what a great example to set for them. makes me smile. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Peggy April 15, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    I could never get used to Cliff Cave. Tesson Ferry was my favorite branch from an early age, and as you know, my “early age” was eons ago!

    • Reply shannon April 15, 2013 at 9:18 pm

      I love Tesson Ferry! I have good memories from there, too; in fact, Tesson Ferry will make an appearance in “dear library, day three: the college years” as one of my favorites. πŸ™‚ i guess it’s just now occurring to me that Cliff Cave was a new branch back when i was little.

  • Reply Abbe@This is How I Cook April 16, 2013 at 10:50 am

    I say bury me in the library. Love the place and it always gives me a sense of peace when I’m there. Plus it makes me feel so smart. And I check out cookbooks all the time. Love the library!

    • Reply shannon April 17, 2013 at 6:21 pm

      Abbe, i completely second that emotion. ALL the emotions. Here, here!

  • Reply amused librarian April 17, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    You should consider reading “The night bookmobile” by Audrey Niffenegger

    • Reply shannon April 18, 2013 at 7:20 am

      dear amused librarian:
      I have, as of this morning, added that to my requests. I should be able to pick it up in a day or two; thank you for the recommendation! I love Audrey Niffenegger, and i’ve read both the Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry; the latter is one of my favorite books of that genre.

  • Reply movita beaucoup April 21, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Oh, I’m gunna like this series! I’m so in love with my library that I would marry it if I could! And don’t get me started on the library at school…

    • Reply Katherine {eggton} April 22, 2013 at 11:09 am

      Dude. Please do not marry the library. I hate wedding receptions where you can’t bring food or drink inside.

      • Reply shannon April 23, 2013 at 10:04 am

        the “no food and drink” rule would really be a damper on the reception, for sure. and everyone would have to be SO quiet.

  • Reply Katherine {eggton} April 22, 2013 at 11:09 am

    This sounds really food-dorky, but: What beautiful fork lines on your turnovers! Mine are never that clean and deep.

  • Reply Carla September 14, 2013 at 11:45 am

    I love our school library! The public library not so much. When there once and had to go through so much hassle borrowing (not take out) that I never went back.
    Read all those books too plus the Bobbsey Twins. So when I found good quality BT books 1-5 I immediately bought it for my daughter’s birthday which was 6 months in advance! I got so excited to share those books with her. Sadly she didn’t show much interest in them.

    • Reply Carla September 14, 2013 at 11:47 am


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