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SUBMITTED PHOTO After a mild and dry winter in 2011-12, a cool and dry summer is forecast for the Midwest. Last year’s expectations, "The Old Farmer’s Almanac" admitted, didn’t go far enough geographically in predicting above-normal snowfall.

Grandma and Grandpa would be proud of "The Old Farmer's Almanac 2012" ($5.99). Ever since the initial 48-page version was printed and sold for about nine cents in 1792, the book still circles back to interpreting astronomical predictions for the earth today.

"The heart and soul is the cycle of nature that comes from the sky," said editor Janet Stillman.

The agrarian society during George Washington's first presidential term often owned two books — a Bible and an almanac. The original author, Robert B. Thomas, wanted his to be "useful, with a pleasant degree of humor." Its circulation tripled by the second year.

Stillman leads a staff of seven editors, now working on 2013.

"There is so much enthusiasm for moon phases and astronomy. Urban or not, people aspire to see the planets more and appreciate our place among them. The Almanac invites gardeners with curiosity about the sky to bring it down into their garden," she said.

The book keys in daily to moon phases, sunlight and things to see in the sky. It notes twilight and meteor showers. This edition's gardening section explains how to plan a garden, path or other area harnessing sky views of sunrise or sunset, noontime shadows or cardinal directions.

Many a gardener or farmer here can plant broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and radishes, based on the moon's phase, beginning March 7, the book says.

Admitting some information and stories are "quirky," the former teacher said some themes, like using manure, tend to return with old and new advice. Echoing the book's advice, Stillman found frozen flour can ease a kitchen burn.

A home and garden show demonstration launched the story about hydroponics, which she called "a spreading concept," dating to ancient Babylon.

"The one at the show was the one shown on a PVC rack. It was extremely practical in February in Providence, R.I. Three tiers and a way of pumping the water back into itself — you could do it at home when surrounded by pavement. You could leave and go on vacation," she said.

Variations on everyday weather, she said, are tracked at 80 percent correct. Recently the 'secret formula" didn't detect Hurricane Irene on the radar screen almost a year earlier, but did expect heavy rain the next week.

Eating is highly predictable, however. This edition introduces Wilbur Scoville, "The Patron Saint of Peppers," whose chart standardized chile peppers' heat. First-place winner in the 2011 Coffee Recipe contest was Mocha Truffle Loaf. Bacon recipes are in the skillet for next year.

Macaroni and cheese is a topic for recipes. "It's the spirit of our times for comfort and it's easy to make," Stillman said.

After a section on Macaroni 101, this two-cheeser leads variations with Greek seasonings, crab-cake ingredients and South Indian flavors.


8 oz. (2 cups) uncooked corkscrew pasta (cavatappi)

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1-1/2 cups sliced mushrooms

2 tbsp. flour

2-1/2 cups half-and-half

8 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup crumbled blue cheese

6 strips crisply cooked bacon, crumbled

1-1/2 cups Italian-style croutons

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 13-by-9-inch baking dish or 2-1/2-quart casserole.

In large nonstick saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Cook mushrooms, stirring often, over medium heat, partially covered, 4 to 5 minutes until softened. Uncover. Cook away most of liquid. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to pan. Stir in flour. Cook and stir 1 minute over medium-low heat. Whisk in half-and-half in two batches. Cook, whisking often, until it thickens. Add cheddar half at a time, whisking and cooking until it melts. Add salt. Whisk in blue cheese and half the bacon. Remove from heat.

Pour sauce over pasta. Stir well. Transfer to prepared dish and smooth the top. Partially crush croutons in plastic bag. Sprinkle on top. Bake in preheated oven 25 minutes or until bubbly.

Garnish with remaining bacon.

Makes 6 servings.