Mennonite Community Cookbook Peanut Brittle

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Do you like to make (or just eat!) peanut brittle at Christmas?

Thelma Swartzentruber shared some memories of her mother’s contributions to Mennonite Community Cookbook on Facebook earlier this year, but many may have missed them there. So we thought we’d highlight them here on the blog.

This also gives us a chance to highlight a recipe for Peanut Brittle—a treat many of us enjoy or make at Christmas if no other time of year. The recipe for Peanut Brittle in Mennonite Community Cookbook was contributed by Thelma’s mother, “Mrs. Paul Maust,” on page 445.

Thelma WROTE: “Your article brought back memories of how my mother received her cookbook. She was one of those who collected recipes for Mary Emma Showalter. This is the story my mother told me:

‘[As part of her master’s work] Showalter needed to test X amount of recipes and was also required to publish [something]. So she combined the two and did the cookbook.’

“I don’t read that in the cookbook, but I do read the part mom told me, about Showalter writing to people all across the country and asking them for recipes. Mom was one of those who collected recipes for her and was rewarded by receiving a free cookbook when they were published. I remember the day our cookbook came in the mail.

“Mom’s recipe for peanut brittle is on page 445, Mrs. Paul Maust. We used the Ice Cream Candy recipe to make taffy (p. 442) and also a favorite cake recipe was the Devil’s Food Cake (p. 208). In May 2015 we [celebrated] our 50th anniversary. On our wedding day we received a Mennonite Community Cookbook as a wedding gift from a friend with this inscription inside the front cover: ‘The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.’ The cookbook is very soiled and taped but sure brings back memories.”

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Here’s Thelma’s mother’s recipe for Peanut Brittle as it appeared in the 1950 version and the 2015 edition.

Peanut Brittle

2 cups sugar
1 cup white syrup [Karo]
½ cup water
3 cups raw peanuts
1 teaspoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine sugar, syrup and water.
Cook to the soft-ball stage (236 degrees).
Add peanuts and melted butter and continue cooking until syrup is a golden brown (290 degrees.) Stir during last few minutes of cooking.

Remove from heat and add soda and vanilla.
Stir until mixture thickens.
Pour into buttered tins and break into pieces when cold.
If roasted peanuts are used, add to syrup before removing from heat.

Recipe originally submitted by Mrs. Paul Maust, Montgomery, Ind. and  Mrs. M.T. Brackbill of Harrisonburg, Va., (who was the photographer for the original and longstanding photos used in the cookbook).

Thank you, Thelma, for sharing your story and highlighting this wonderful recipe for some good old fashioned homemade peanut brittle! Perhaps mix some up this weekend?

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And remember, the Mennonite Community Cookbook special 65th anniversary edition is still on sale until Christmas 2015 for 30% off! Stock up for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries to come!

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Mennonite Community Cookbook’s Vanilla Pie (Better than Shoo Fly?)

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Is it shoo fly pie or is it vanilla pie? You decide.

That shoo fly pie is associated with Mennonites, Amish, and in general plain people, is undeniable. What’s not so clear is how widespread is the love? (No pun intended.)

Pennsylvanians from Mennonite, Amish and other backgrounds from Anabaptist-related groups are frequent fans. But growing up in Indiana in a Mennonite home and church, I never tasted shoo fly pie until I went into Mennonite Voluntary Service with three Pennsylvanians in my unit/housing. Then I became a fan of the milder versions of shoo fly pie.

As I looked for a recipe I might like, someone mentioned Mennonite Community Cookbook’s recipe for vanilla pie. Vanilla pie? I had heard of wet bottomed shoo fly and dry bottomed shoo fly, but vanilla pie? What was that?

Eureka. There on page 382 of most editions is a recipe for this pie (and you’re getting the recipe here free, below). I’ll also include my tweaks and additional directions in italics, because these older cookbooks–even as good as Mennonite Community Cookbook is, are kind of lacking in the “extra” comments and directions that some of us love and need.

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I think the only reason this is called Vanilla Pie and not Shoo Fly is because this uses vanilla! Otherwise, they are very similar.* There is also flour, egg, and brown sugar in the gooey part for this recipe, which softens the strong taste of the pure molasses, sorghum, or dark Karo or (or whatever you use). Someone also suggested King Syrup is less bold and more agreeable for newbies. (I also suggest reading the whole recipe plus directions before beginning.)

VANILLA PIE

Bottom part:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses (I used 1/4 cup molasses and 1/4 cup light corn syrup)
1 tablespoon flour
1 egg
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla

Top part:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup shortening (butter)
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pastry for 1 (9 inch) crust

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Thickening the gooey part.

Combine ingredients for bottom part and cook until thickened. [The thickening took awhile! Stir almost constantly. Also, a blog post at Our Heritage of Health recommends making your crumbs first–see directions below–so that the molasses part doesn’t lose frothiness while you mess with the crumbs.)

Pour into unbaked pie shell.

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Pastry cutter to make crumb topping.

Top with crumbs made by combining sugar, flour, soda, baking powder, and melted shortening. (I did not melt the shortening. That didn’t sound right. I cut it in with a pastry cutter–or use two knives–to make a traditional crumb type topping.)

Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes.  (I wish I had taken mine out at no more than 40 minutes, it looked a little brown, but it depends on your oven.)

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Makes 1 (9 inch) pie.

From: Mrs. Amos Leis, Wellesley, Ontario, Mrs. Noah Hunsberger, St Jacobs, Ontario, Mrs. M. C. Showalter, Broadway, Va. [no doubt a relative of Mary Emma’s. Can anyone confirm?]

I shared with our office staff who seemed to enjoy it–especially those who were accustomed to the strong taste of molasses. One said, “I don’t usually like shoo fly pie, but this is good.”

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That’s good enough for me. I did not have one crumb to take home. One grateful service-minded co-worker even came back to wash the pie plate for me. Now that’s appreciation.

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What is your favorite recipe for Shoo Fly Pie? Have you tried the Vanilla Pie? Any additional suggestions or tweaks? We welcome any and all feedback, photos of your attempts, someone eating a pie??

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*If you have an older version of Mennonite Community Cookbook, I noticed the ingredient list for Shoo Fly Pie changed fairly significantly somewhere between 1950 (my copy) and 2015, the current edition. Does anyone know when??

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To buy a copy of Mennonite Community Cookbook 65th Anniversary Edition, check here. It includes a fascinating 12-page historical section.

 

 

MelodieDavisBlogPhotoMelodie Davis, Managing Editor at Herald Press and sometimes food blogger at www.findingharmonyblog.com 

Vintage Potluck Dishes (Adapt-a-Recipe to Make Healthier)

Do you like to cook from vintage cookbooks? The staff located at MennoMedia/Herald Press offices in Harrisonburg, Va., recently had a “vintage potluck,” preparing dishes from two now-classic Mennonite cookbooks, Mennonite Community Cookbook by Mary Emma Showalter and Mennonite Country-Style Cooking by Esther Shank (both Shenandoah Valley, Va. natives, by the way.)

We enjoy a once-a-month potluck on various creative themes. Here’s a partial list from this past year:

  • From the Garden (vegetarian)
  • Wish I Was There (foods from travels)
  • It Came From Beyond (any way you want to interpret that)
  • I Know It’s Only Soup & Roll, But I Like It (soup and breads)
  • Christmas Party (needs no explanation, right?)
  • Funeral Foods (foods often served for family dinners at memorials or funerals)
  • Do the Can-Can (Mystery Tin Can Swap)
  • Old Menno’s Cupboard (Recipes from vintage Herald Press cookbooks, focusing on Mennonite)

Isn’t that a great list? You got it here–free–to use with your small group, Sunday school class, or office! We brainstormed this list at a staff break. Management’s dictum related to potlucks is: no sign up sheets, no planning, involve the least amount of staff time possible.

But we have fun and eat well.

Last week for our vintage “Old Menno’s Cupboard” theme left the entire office smelling like a church fellowship hall. My personal favorite? Dried corn. That was the dish I requested every year for my birthday dinner. We dried the corn ourselves. Angela Burkholder, whose family also dries corn, brought the dish. Yum.

I’ll leave the dishes all a row here like at a potluck so you can enjoy them vicariously.

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Rice Vegetable Souffle from Mennonite Community Cookbook, p. 129, prepared by Beth Nealon.
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Chicken Curry from Mennonite Country-Style Recipes, prepared by Jerilyn Schrock.
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Dried Corn, Mennonite Community Cookbook, p. 154, prepared by Angela Burkholder.
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Scalloped Corn, Mennonite Community Cookbook, p. 151, prepared by Cindy Miller.
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Butterscotch Squares, Mennonite Community Cookbook, p. 282, prepared by Melodie Davis.
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Banana Tea Bread, Mennonite Community Cookbook, p. 12, prepared by Vica Shindyapin.
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Blueberry Muffins, Mennonite Community Cookbook, p. 16, prepared by Barbara Finnegan.
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Deluxe Chocolate Marshmallow Brownies, Mennonite Country-Style Recipes, prepared by Lois Priest.
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Luscious Cherry Cheese Pie, Mennonite Country-Style Recipes, prepared by Kimberly Metzler.

(Let us know how enjoying these dishes vicariously worked out for you. And contrary to what it looks like here, we have some awesome male cooks on staff who usually bring a dish.)

BUT! You might notice there are mostly main dishes and desserts here. No salads. No fruits really, except in desserts. And that could be a valid criticism of Mennonite Community Cookbook in 2015. You can find a few reviews on Amazon that worry about health consciousness in this cookbook.

That was vintage cooking in 1950 and earlier, when many of these recipes were popular and passed from cook to cook, from family reunion to church potluck to informal coffee or tea time in kitchens. Everyone knew how to prepare straight up vegetables, canned fruits, or simple salads, and so did not have, or use actual recipes for those items. I’m happy for how we eat in 2015.

And as Mary Emma points out in the introduction to her “Meats and Meat Dishes” chapter in Mennonite Community Cookbook, “The people who lived in houses that were inadequately heated, and who were up doing chores before the peep of dawn, required a heavier diet than we need today.” Grandfather butchered a beef on shares with a neighbor, six hogs, plus chickens as needed. “With such a bountiful supply of meat, it is no wonder that Grandmother’s menu could include scrapple for breakfast, meat potpie for dinner and fried ham for supper.”

And so we invite readers and fans of Mennonite Community Cookbook to submit your adaptations of these or other old family recipes to make them healthier for today’s families. March is National Nutrition Month and we’d love to share your healthy recipe on this blog, and our Facebook and Pinterest pages. Enter this contest by the end of March!

Directions: Send via Facebook, or by email: mennocooking@mennomedia.org. Our hashtag for all stuff related to the cookbook is #mennocooking.

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**Don’t have a Mennonite Community Cookbook? Buy the new 65th anniversary edition here!

**Sign up to get our free emails announcing each contest, with fascinating inside stories of Mary Emma Showalter, and more.

Winners (drawn from entries received) will get their choice of these popular cookbooks in paperback, each a $20-$30 value! Simply in SeasonMore with Less, Extending the Table,Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations, OR Saving the Seasons. Our goal is to get you cooking, sharing and talking about Mennonite Community Cookbooks and all the many fine books for sharing food and faith from Herald Press!

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While we’ve begun featuring great food photography in our cookbooks, these photos could have definitely used some stylin’ as in the lovely food photography over at Mennonite Girls Can Cook blog. But trust us. Mouth-watering good was the word here, in spite of any deficit in the photos (hastily grabbed by yours truly).

Managing editor, Melodie DavisMelodieDavisBlogPhoto

The Artist Behind Mennonite Community Cookbook: Naomi Nissley

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We’ve given a lot of attention to Mary Emma Showalter in recent weeks with an article in The Mennonite about how she came to compile Mennonite Community Cookbook, our own blog post “What Would Mary Emma Say,” and ongoing tidbits on the Facebook page. Newspapers are running stories about the cookbook’s revival as well.

NaomiNissleyArtist Naomi Nissley

But a second major player in the success and look of this famous cookbook was artist Naomi Nissley.

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Both Mary Emma and Naomi were relatively young and new in their fields—in fact both were still graduate students as they worked on the book. The great part is that Naomi’s husband Alexander “Sandy” Limont is still living and happy to talk about the book, and has been most helpful in our research into the history of the book, the covers, and the artwork. I was able to ask him and Naomi’s brother some questions about Naomi’s life and process in working with Mary Emma in creating the signature look of Mennonite Community Cookbook.

Naomi went to Eastern Mennonite College for a time and her brother Lowell Nissley felt sure that was how Mary Emma was acquainted with Naomi and her artwork. He recalled that Naomi was offered the opportunity to receive royalties from sale of the book, but took a cash payment instead: likely a big mistake considering the longevity of the cookbook. But as a grad student she likely  needed the cash. He recalled Naomi as being self-depreciating but very enthusiastic about the opportunity to work on a cookbook of this scope. She couldn’t have realized at the time it would become the work for which she was most well known.

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Naomi worked in careful concert with Mary Emma, corresponding back and forth. In one case, a detailed letter from Mary Emma gave gentle nudges toward tweaking drawings to better match Mary Emma’s considerable vision and opinion.

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A grandmother, perhaps, at her spinning wheel

The drawings included the ordinary things of daily life, the quotidian (double click on any of these to get closer up),

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A woman kneading dough in a huge bin
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A grandmother at her cook stove

 

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A picnic on a farm

 

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A vegetable garden

 

and much more. Many were on-the-spot sketches drawn from Mennonite communities in central Pennsylvania.

P1060453Naomi’s professional bio includes that she dreamed of becoming an artist as a child, and studied painting and drawing at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). She enrolled at additional art and graphic schools and her work was exhibited by invitation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Yale and Rutgers Universities, and Tyler School of Fine Art, in addition to PAFA and others. She once wrote about her work, “For me art is a constant dialogue between experience and artistic creation.”

Her husband Sandy was also an illustrator and graphic designer. He worked as an art director for an ad agency for a number of years. They were married for 55 years until Naomi died in 2010 at age 91. She was a member of the Highland Presbyterian Church in Lancaster and the Germantown Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

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All of Naomi’s drawings that were used in the original 1950 cookbook are used in the 65th anniversary edition, published in February 2015.

Today I touched a bit of this history. In the humble way of an amateur blogger and photographer, I headed over to Eastern Mennonite University’s Menno Simons Historical Library, where I had made an appointment with the special collections librarian, Simone Horst, to haul out boxes of these framed and matted prints from the archives. Neither she nor I were sure when and why they were framed. Perhaps they were for a special display and celebration that happened at the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, Pa., while Naomi was still living, when she was asked to sign copies of the cookbook for those who attended.

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The drawings are even more delightful in person than reprinted in the book. Perhaps we’ll have to work on getting these intriguing glimpses into heritage and history on display somewhere again.

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We’ll continue to share more behind-the-scenes stories, photos and looks that you won’t find anywhere else. So do share this with any of your friends who are Mennonite Community Cookbook aficionados so they can sign up to receive our periodic blog posts!

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Did you ever meet Naomi Nissley? Have a copy of the cookbook signed by her?

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Don’t miss the new edition: A great gift for any fan whose own copy likely looks like this.MarianThomas

Melodie Davis, Managing Editor

What Would Mary Emma Showalter Say?

What Would Mary Emma Showalter Say?

By Melodie M. Davis

We’re having a blast—with Mary Emma Showalter’s mammoth cookbook rolling out again Feb. 2 in its 65th year! No retirement party for Mennonite Community Cookbook, no siree, Bob. We want to keep this brainchild of Mary Emma’s cooking for another 50 years, at least!

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This is what a shipment of 8000 pounds of cookbooks looks like!

So what on earth would Mary Emma say if she were still living? She lived long enough to know about computers and the Internet and online marketing—but she wasn’t around when Facebook first launched on college campuses across the land and then, quickly, became the go-to social media of choice, even for those in the 65+ age bracket (and now mostly abandoned by the college-age crowd). She would be amazed to know she’s on Twitter and Pinterest and yes, even Instagram, a bit.

But would she be supportive of these newfangled marketing efforts?

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Artist Naomi Nissley, left, and author Mary Emma Showalter inspect the first printing of Mennonite Community Cookbook, 1950.

I’ve gotten to know her a bit through all my research in the past year–in office files, interviews, the archives at Eastern Mennonite University Historical Library, talking to relatives, the husband of the illustrator, friends, and combing endlessly through past articles that she wrote or that were written about her (and you’ll hear more about all these in weeks and months to come). But there is one incident that tells me perhaps she would be a little put off at first, maybe even a little aghast, and then she’d dig in and do whatever needed to be done to help see her baby reach new audiences, new generations, new cooks—even though cooking has changed so MUCH in the last 65 years.

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Mary Emma serving tea–reprinted from The Way We Are: A Celebration of 75 years of Eastern Mennonite College.

That incident is told in the back of the new 12-page historical section for this book. So of course I can’t spill the cookies here, but it does have to do with baking lots and lots of cookies. Right at the end of the semester, when grades were due from professors, and what she, as head of a college home economics department, told the PR firm who requested the Mennonite cookies. And what they told her back.

If you love the cookbook or are fascinated by vintage Mennonite cooking or adapting recipes for your tastes today, or admit to being a bit of a foodie or love a good Mennonite potluck meal or reunion, you’ll love the stories in our new edition.

Mary Emma did put her foot down in response to certain promotional stunts. You’ll find that story too.

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Gravestone of Mary Emma Showalter Eby near Broadway, Va.

I’ve been in her former house. I’ve talked to her grad school roommate. I’ve devoured a historical piece about her written by a colleague. I learned she had a great sense of humor. I’ve cooked from her book. I’d love to take people on a Mennonite Community Cookbook tour and drop by her gravesite or at least pass by the outside of the home she lived in, where the original photographs for the cookbook were taken.

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The home Mary Emma was living in when the original Mennonite Community Cookbook food photos were staged, using beloved heirloom antique family dishes and place settings.

I don’t know for sure how she’d feel about the new edition and all the social media we’re going for here: the contests with weekly cookbook prizes on fun themes. I think they’d give her pause and then she’d say, if it keeps the book alive, if it keeps people eating more purposefully and meaningfully, go for it.

That’s just my take.

What do you think?

I know one thing. Mary Emma would have LOVED to see these photos below and hear the thoughts and memories so many people associate with their copy of Mennonite Community Cookbook. Below are just some of the cookbook covers sent or posted by fans and readers.

And before we lose you, if you want to get a copy of the new edition at a great 25% discount, for just $18.74 until Feb. 2, act fast, and go here, or call 800-245-7894. (Discounted price will appear in cart until Feb. 2, 2015.)

And get cooking to enter the current contest showing one of your fav recipes from Mennonite Community Cookbook: two drawings will be held, one this Friday Jan. 30, and one Feb. 6. More info here! Entries to be featured here on the blog in the future. Thanks!

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The remains of food stylist Cherise Harper’s mother’s #MennoCooking cookbook.

 

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The well used cookbook of Alma Unrau, head of customer service for Herald Press and MennoMedia.

 

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The still shiny copy of Sylvia Hertzler Saunders, which came from her grandparents in 1976 as a birthday gift.

 

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Wilma Cender shared the backcover jacket for the cookbook, which she received for a bridal shower gift from a special aunt and cousin.

 

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From Dorothy Friesen: This copy belonged to and was heavily used by a gay Mennonite couple in Chicago, who, not welcomed in the church gave it to me in the 1980s.

 

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Book belonging to Sue Stuckey, who says she’s excited to see the new edition!

 

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Amy Hertzler says: “My favorite cookbook! It was a Christmas gift from my great aunt, Florence E. Horst, in 1978.”

 

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Marian Thomas’s shot of “my beloved old friend.”

 

MelodieDavisBlogPhotoBlog post by Melodie M. Davis, managing editor for this edition.