Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

A new mouthwatering book on artisan cheeses, singer-songwriter Freedy Johnston's lastest album, History Channel's new 'American Pickers' series, and more.

History Channel
Courtesy of The Countryman Press
Courtesy of Chris Carroll

Dream cheese

A small cheesemaking company in Vermont has made the world of specialty cheese, so long associated with a trip to Europe, a distinctly American affair. “In a Cheesemaker’s Kitchen” ($19.95), Allison Hooper, cofounder of the Vermont Butter & Cheese Company, gives a tour of artisan cheesemaking while the chefs who rely on the company’s award-winning dairy products offer their own recipes – a crème fraîche-lover’s dream.

American troubadour

Freedy Johnston’s love of the 1970s singer-songwriter era, from Burt Bacharach to Jimmy Webb, does not mean his own music is awash in soft-focus rainbows or glitterball beats. One of the most beloved songwriters of the 1990s, whose new album of originals, “Rain on the City” (Bar None), is the first in eight years. Johnston casts hard-worn sentiments inside lovely melodies built for rainy afternoons. Ranging from folk-pop to jazz, these songs are crafted so well every moment is a warm fit.

‘Fame’ seekers

The presence of such heavy hitters as Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth, Megan Mullally, and Debbie Allen suggested that filmmakers had little confidence in the 2009 remake of the 1980 fan favorite, “Fame.” But the update is a worthy reinvention of the populist yet insightful tale about a high school for gifted young artists. The film is still a showcase for new talent and the new DVD out Jan. 12 includes highlights of the national talent search along with outtakes.

Survival tactics

One of the many Iraq war movies produced in the last decade, “The Hurt Locker,” just out on DVD, is about Army bomb-squad technicians in Baghdad. It’s documentarylike style creates a riveting immediacy as the film unravels the tale of Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), an adrenaline junkie whose double-edged heroism threatens those he has pledged to protect.

Travel easy

Travel plans for 2010 won’t take hours to book with Type the details of your trip just once into the site, which launches eight travel sites (including Travelocity, Orbitz, and Expedia) for a side-by-side price comparison. New Facebook integration notifies friends of your trip and identifies friends living near your destination. Make sure to read the site’s wink-worthy comments, like “Hey, good lookin’ ” and “May your flight be completely free of crying babies.”

Trash or treasure

A Ferris wheel, a rusty Harley Davidson crank, a 1930s boy’s bicycle – these are the “rusty gold” found by Mike and Frank, the one-man’s-junk-is-another-man’s-treasure hunters on History Channel’s new 10-part series, “American Pickers,” launching Jan. 18 at 9 p.m. This duo digs through the barns and basements of the nation’s pack rats, feeding the pipeline of antiques and collectible sellers coast to coast – not to mention everyone’s secret dream that the old painting in Grandma’s house is a Rembrandt.

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