DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Mar 10 2017

Small Great Things

by Camille B

Small Great Things(No Spoilers)

I have never been a member of a Book Club, but after reading this book I honestly wished that I was. Small Great Things left me so charged up- in a good way- that I wanted to sit down with others who had read it to hear what they had to say about it. Did the emotions they experienced mirror mine? Or were they totally opposite?

There is probably no author worth his salt, who has ever written a book that was totally loved the world over, no matter the effort, research, humility and best intentions he’d put into capturing a particular truth. There would always be the few who felt that the facts weren’t accurate, or if they were, they weren’t presented the right way. Or maybe they simply felt that the author was presumptuous to speak on the topic at all. To these folk I say, get it right when you write your book.

The blurb of Small Great Things actually sells itself, and I found myself being quickly reeled in as I read it: a black labor and delivery nurse, white supremacist parents; the black nurse is told not to touch their baby because of the color of her skin, she ends up doing so anyway in a moment of crisis, the baby dies and the story takes off! I placed a hold on the book immediately. Who was going to pay for this…crime? How? And most importantly…why?

Jodi Picoult uses the lives of her three main characters:  Ruth, a nurse; Turk, a white supremacist father; and Kennedy, a white public defender, each with different lives, cultures and backgrounds, to explore a topic that so many tiptoe around or find difficult to speak about. “Racism is hard to discuss,” says Picoult in the author’s note. “And as a result we often don’t.”  So she puts out the three pairs of shoes for us to walk in, and as we do we see firsthand the many cracks and crevices where racism can lie, sometimes hidden in plain sight. 

Parts of the book will make you squirm, and you may be tempted to skip over a few pages or even chapters. Some of the deeds done would seem atrocious and cause your blood to boil. There are words that may make you cringe, because you can’t imagine ever saying them yourself, but they’re necessary and the book won’t be complete without them.

And Picoult stays true to her characters and their voices throughout her book. I remember commenting to a friend while reading it that, had I written the book myself, I would have been drenched in sweat by the end of the final chapter from the sheer effort of having to keep those three voices as clear and distinct in the reader’s mind as they were throughout the entire novel- a black nurse, a white lawyer and a white supremacist.

The wealth of research that went into breathing life into Ruth Jefferson, Kennedy McQuarrie and Turk Bauer, and causing them to come alive for us on the pages included Jodi sitting down to speak with women of color- many of them mothers- who were willing to share with her openly what it really feels like to be black. She interviewed former skinheads who gave her an inside look of how white supremacists think and what they actually believe. She spoke with white mothers as well, many of whom admitted that they never discussed racism with their children. She spent hours poring over books on the topic and even enrolled in a social justice workshop called Undoing Racism.

I was learning about myself,” Picoult says in her author’s note. “I was exploring my past, my upbringing, my biases, and I was discovering that I was not as blameless and progressive as I had imagined.” Mrs. Picoult is white, I am black, but her words ring true for me as well, as I’m sure they will for you, whether you’re black, white, blue or purple.

For some, this might be a difficult book to read, but what growth is there if we only read the books that we’re comfortable with? The ones with easy answers and a happy ending? I think that it’s imperative that we also  read the ones that stretch us; the ones that make us look at life in another way, whether we agree with that way ourselves or not. And this is what Small Great Things does– it causes you to walk in the other person’s shoes, see through the other person’s eyes, even though doing so might be uncomfortable.

So if you’re looking for an easy read, this is not the book for you. Easy it’s not and change you it will, because there’s no way you can remain indifferent to the racism we see in our world everyday after the myriad of emotions you’re bound to experience as you go through the pages of this book.  There is no way you can continue to hide beneath a cloak of ignorance.

It’s the best book I’ve read so far this year, with a surprising twist that will knock your socks off. I urge you to get it, read it and pass it on to your friends, share it with your husband, wife and coworkers.  I guarantee you that unless your heart is made of stone, there is no way you can read it and not come away with a different imprint upon your  soul that wasn’t there before.

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way” 

                                                                   – Martin Luther King Jr.

Small Great Things– Jodi Picoult

 

 

 

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recyle

As the time for Spring cleaning approaches, some of us may find we have certain troublesome items we would like to be rid of, from old paint cans to spent batteries to used fluorescent bulbs. These materials aren’t suitable for normal garbage collection, but DeKalb County provides an environmentally-friendly alternative. On Saturday, March 25, the DeKalb County Sanitation Division will host its biannual household hazardous waste recycling event from 8 a.m. – noon at the Sanitation Division’s Central Transfer Station, 3720 Leroy Scott Drive, Decatur, GA 30032. The event is free and open to all DeKalb County residents. For more information, check out this flyer. Happy recycling!

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Mar 3 2017

Keeping It Simple

by Dea Anne M

I love to cook. This statement will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. In fact, I imagine that some regular readers of this blog might think of me as “…that one writer who goes on and on about cooking and food. I mean it’s non-stop. Talk about obsessed!” Well, maybe I am – a little obsessed that is – and I freely admit that I love having a day during which I have nothing to do but cook an elaborate meal – no groceries left to shop for, all cooking implements accounted for and ready, (presumably) grateful  guests already invited – I love it all! That being said, my life is a lot like yours in that although I want to eat well, and at home, most evenings – I don’t have unlimited cash or hours to spend in getting meals to the table. Basic templates work well for me – frittata or quiche and salad, protein and pan sauce with roasted vegetables, good old rice and beans – I do them all, and often.

Now I realize that being able to do this rests on the reality that I’ve been cooking a long time and I understand at this point how to do certain things. When I was first starting out in the kitchen, I relied on cookbooks with some pretty mixed results. Don’t get me wrong. Using cookbooks can be a great way to learn on your own but as is the case with so much in life definitions of such concepts as “simple” can be very subjective. For some recipe writers, “simple”means that the cook just needs to open a couple of boxes and cans – never mind that the resulting quick dish tastes exactly like a box or a can. Other recipe creators seem convinced that a “simple” dish means you needn’t grind or pluck something first in order to begin preparing dinner. What I mainly look for in a recipe these days, or really in any book about food and cooking, is inspiration for what I might create with my existing skills out of ingredients that won’t be too inaccessible or pricey. If an idea for a meal can use what I already have on hand – well, that’s a delicious bonus. Here are some resources available from DCPL that have been inspiring me lately. Some of these I’ve mentioned in other posts, but hey, a good book is a good book.

Poor Man’s Feast: a love story of comfort, desire, and the art of simple cooking by Elissa Altman is written not by a chef but by a feastwoman who simply loves food. For many years, the tendency in her own cooking was toward the elaborate – game birds, exotic vegetables arranged in towers, lobster bisque.  No ingredient was too expensive or outre. Then, Altman met the love of her life, a New Englander devoted to frugality and simple living, and everything for this born and bred New Yorker changed. This is a wonderful meditation on the power of love and what it is exactly that transforms mere ingredients into something delicious. The recipes that end each chapter are straight-forward, delicious and, as the title promises, simple.

While there are many recipes in Tamar Adler’s lovely book An mealEverlasting Meal: cooking with economy and grace, I wouldn’t call it primarily a cookbook. Instead, it is a meditation on how to live a practical yet elegant life. Surprisingly, it all starts by boiling a pot of water and twines beautifully and hypnotically from there. I have read this book quite a few times and I never fail to be inspired by it in my own kitchen. I guarantee that Adler’s book will help you approach leftover rice and roasted vegetables in a brand new way. Highly recommended.

I sometimes find Jamie Oliver’s rugby scrum mateyness and amplified energy a little hard to take, but you cannot deny his revolutionenthusiasm for what he does. The British chef is well known by now for his commitment to improving school lunches, both in his native country as well as here in the United States. Also, well known is Oliver’s “you can do it” attitude about cooking. It’s a refreshing approach when one grows weary of gorgeously photographed cooking tomes authored by imperious chefs who think nothing of ordering us to prepare five different sauces for the “peasant style” duckling that we’ll be eating for dinner (about five days from now) or to process coffee beans and hazelnuts into a fine powder (sift three times to remove impurities!) to sprinkle atop the cherimoya-kumquat ice cream that we have churned by hand. These are the cookbooks that make you fling down your spatula and decide to just call out for a pizza. The food photos in Jamie’s Food Revolution: rediscover how to cook simple, delicious, affordable meals certainly don’t resemble those in the “cheffy” books. In fact, these dishes look exactly like what you would produce at home in your own kitchen and that’s kind of the point. Straightforward roasts, pasta dishes, easy curries and stir fries – this really is simple food – bound to inspire novices and experienced home cooks alike in a way that the gorgeous yet complicated  cookbooks never could. I also love Oliver’s “pass it on” philosophy by which he advocates learning a couple of recipes and then teaching them to a few other people and ask that they pass them on to still others. Sure, it won’t bring any of us clearer skin, better gas mileage or world peace anytime soon but it might help make the world a better place. Also, think how much money you’ll save by not buying fancy cookbooks or pizza!

I’ve been concentrating here on titles that seek to inspire by simplepromoting a specific philosophy about cooking and food. I want to end by recommending two books that are focused purely on recipes but carry out the simple food theme beautifully. They are The Best Simple Recipes by the editors of America’s Test Kitchens and Simple Fare: rediscovering the pleasures of real food by Ronald Johnson. The Test Kitchens book, as with all that this team has produced, gives us recipes that have been exhaustively tested until they really are the best. Johnson’s book has a much older copyright (1989!) but the recipes are both budget conscious and really delicious. A home cook could use either of these books as a sole kitchen reference and be completely satisfied with the results for a very long time.

How about you? What’s your definition of simple cooking? And what, by the way, is your favorite cookbook or cooking guide?

 

 

 

 

 

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Feb 28 2017

Feeding America

by Camille B

OPEN_DOOR_SOUP_KITCHEN_122I came to the United States at the age of 34, still believing that no one in America ever went hungry. Growing up in Trinidad I had seen poverty aplenty, had lived with it and been surrounded by it for many years; but I was in America now, a land where there was more than enough for everyone to go around.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I had been quite naive and disillusioned in my thinking. The rose-colored glasses were swiftly snatched from my eyes, as I was forced to face the fact that America, like Trinidad, existed in a real world with real problems, and hunger was one of them.

For many, the problem of hunger is not a pleasant one, and conversations of this nature make them uncomfortable, not for lack of caring but because they probably feel helpless in the face of such overwhelming need. And if you’re a woman it’s worse, since as caregivers we would feed everybody, everywhere if you gave us the chance.

Since America already grows enough food to feed 10 billion people, it is indeed worrisome that there are so many who still go to bed hungry at night. Could waste be one of the factors? American Wasteland

In his book American Wasteland Jonathan Bloom states that everyday America wastes enough food to fill the Rose Bowl- the 90,000 seat football stadium in Pasadena, California. We squander between a quarter and a half of all the food produced in the United States-according to the Washington Post $165 billion in food each year. Now that’s a lot of food.

Can the bridge be gapped between waste and hunger? For example, if restaurants donated their leftovers at the end of  the night to give to the hungry and homeless, would that help create some type of balance?

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. An article in the Huffington Post reported that a lot of restaurants are afraid of donating uneaten food for fear that they might get sued if someone gets sick. Since we do live in an age of lawsuits you can’t really blame them. However, according to that same article, these establishments have nothing to fear because the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 protects donors from civil and criminal liability should the product donated in good faith later cause harm to the recipient, except for cases of “gross negligence or intentional misconduct.”

Because of this we are now seeing more and more restaurants stepping up to contribute in a significant way to the hungry and to the charitable organizations that feed them. It was very heartening to see places like Starbucks, Olive Garden and LongHorn Stakehouse donating food, that would have otherwise been thrown away, to such a worthy cause. Take a look here at this video clip https://www.aol.com/article/news/2016/07/26/these-restaurants-arent-letting-food-go-to-waste/21439044/

This year the Library partnered once again with the Atlanta Community Food Bank in their annual canned food drive which took place between January 23rd and February 17th. Barrels were placed at all library branches during this time for patrons to put their food donations whenever they visited during regular branch hours.

So even though the thoughts of hunger and homelessness can sometimes seem daunting and leave you feeling helpless, rest assured that you do not have to be a millionaire or donate lump sums to charity in order to make an impact for the cause. It’s the drops that fill the bucket.

Below is a list of various organizations that will be more than happy to accept your contributions of generosity, whether it be monetary, in the form of actual food items or some other form:

FoodPantries.org

FoodHelpUSA.com

-Dosomething.org

Georgia Food Oasis.org

Georgia Food Bank Association

The Atlanta Community Food Bank

These are just some in over 99 organizations set up to provide food assistance in the U.S.

 

 

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How many of you check magazines and newspapers for the next best read?   Such as Red Book, Real Simple, Glamour, or USA Today?  These lists usually comprise what is currently the hottest books in the market.  I myself usually find these lists interesting to see what the selections are and which authors areThe Sun Is Also the Star included.

A website or blog has recently joined these hot magazines in offering the hottest books.  This site is Pop Sugar.  The posts are written by author Brenda Janowitz.  We currently have her latest book  The Dinner Party.  I thought it would be fun to see what titles DCPL has that were recently noted on her 50 Books of 2016 list.

So here are some titles from the best of 2016 that you can find at DCPL:

THE SUN IS ALSO THE STAR by Nicola Yoon

THE TRESPASSER by Tanya French

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Every Song Ever:  twenty ways to listen in an age of  musical plenty  by Ben Ratliff

Sons and Daughters of Ease and PlentySons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel

The Lonely City: adventures in the art of being alone by Olivia Liang

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeliene Thien

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Moon Glow by Michael Chabon

Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad

YOU WILL KNOW ME by Megan Abbott

And more…

Many of these books are available in audiobook format, ebook, and downloadable audio.  If you are looking for reader advisory then visit Pop Sugar for the 2017 list.  Happy Reading!

 

 

 

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Jan 25 2017

The Book and Its Cover

by Camille B

“The book cover is the window to your book’s soul.”   

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Book Image 5Book Image

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They say never judge a book by the cover– well, I do it all the time. I know that I shouldn’t. I know each book stands on its own merit, appealing cover or not, but I find myself being swayed anyway. I’m sure that in spite of your best efforts you do too; whether it’s the cool jacket or intriguing title, you find yourself passing over the blander looking dust jackets to pick up the ones that seem more enticing.

Even though those covers have misled us before. They either promised pages filled with intrigue and adventure and never delivered, or the book looked really dull on the outside and turned out to be fantastic!

So why is this? Why is it that against our better judgment we find ourselves drawn to book covers on the library and bookstore shelves that appeal to the eyes; without even checking the blurb on the inside to see what the books are about? Probably even robbing ourselves in the process, because who knows, that ugly looking book with the brown cover might turn out to be quite an interesting read.

According to an article in the Huffington Post, a book cover is the first thing a potential reader sees and it can make a lasting impression. “Our brains are wired to process images faster than words, when we see an image, it makes us feel something, a great cover can help the reader instantly recognize that this book is for them.”

So it’s human nature to have our curiosity piqued by pretty or unusual book covers. You should feel better knowing it’s not entirely your fault. It is the publisher’s job to lure you in with fancy and captivating book covers, using intriguing teasers and taglines, contrasting colors, and paying careful attention to details such as font style and text placement all in the purpose of getting you to pick up the book and take a closer look.

Does the cover actually sell the book? One blogger puts it this way “The front cover sells the back, the back cover sells the flap and by then you’ve sold the book.” Well, yes and no, because for me personally the blurb is the deciding factor; because pretty cover or not, if it doesn’t interest me, I’m not buying it.

There are some who won’t even get as far as reading the blurb on the inside of the book because they’re so turned off by its hideous cover. Says Naomi Blackburn, one of the world’s top  Goodreads reviewer and columnist for The Author CEO, “If the cover seems to be nothing more than a catalog photograph with block lettering, I bypass it,” she says. “If the author didn’t care enough to dedicate time/effort to their cover, I wonder how much time they put into the book itself.” 

And I agree. I think the cover should have appeal and make a potential customer or library patron want to pick it up. But what about those authors who don’t have a say in the design of their book covers? Because the truth is most of them don’t; just ask Anne Rice who’s Facebook fans were not too thrilled with the cover of her book Prince Lestat which they felt did not represent the story. “I have no control,” she said in her response. “Never have had. Of all the covers on my books over the years, I have liked a few”

And this is true of many authors. I guess for some it comes down to a matter of trust and loyalty after being with a publisher for so long, and depending on the working relationship they have together or contract in place. They may, or may not have approval  for the consulting and cover of their book. Sometimes they like the covers, sometimes they don’t, but at the end of the day it’s all just one of the realities of the publishing world.

So whether a book cover is flashy, lame, witty or simply leaves us with a question mark hanging over our heads, we have to admit that in today’s competitive world of book publishing they’ve made the phrase “Don’t judge a book by the cover” pretty darn hard to do.

Here is a survey that was taken to try and determine how much influence a book cover actually has in helping a customer decide whether to buy it or not.

Here are some other interesting links about book covers:

 18 Modern Redesigns of Classic Book Covers That Will Make You Want To Read Them Again

  50 of the Coolest Book Covers

Below are some suggested titles that you can find in our DCPL collection:

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Book Cover 3

 

 

 

 

Book design made simple- Fiona Raven & Glenna Collett

Creating the cover for your graphic novel– Frank Lee

Do you have a favorite book cover?

 

 

 

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Jan 23 2017

Sock Monkey Mind

by Dea Anne M

Many of us resolve to “do better” at the beginning of each year and for some that means losing weight, getting more exercise, or quitting an undesirable habit. What can happen though is that we dive into our new life style in a full-tilt manner only to find out (again) that most of us live lives which are subject to disruption and change. Too often, we experience a setback, see this as proof of our failure and then give up. It’s happened to me often enough that I resolved several years back not to make resolutions.

Well, this year has been a little different. It isn’t that I’ve made a bunch of, or any, actual resolutions, but I have decided that I want to slow down and be a little kinder to myself. One way that I’m doing that is by starting a meditation practice. Already I’ve been impressed with what a difference it’s made in how I feel – and more importantly – how I react not only to everyday stresses but the little surprises that life has a way of throwing at us. It is a practice that I can recommend without reservation. I’d hesitate to say that it has changed my life except it kind of has.

Do you think you might be interested in exploring meditation for yourself? If so, DCPL has resources to help.

If you’re the kind of person who wants to do a little self-study before you dive in or you’re curious but don’t know if meditation is right for you here are some books for beginners:meditation

Mindfulness: an eight-week plan for finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman

Meditation for Dummies by Stephen Bodian

Quiet Mind: a beginner’s guide to meditation compiled and edited by Susan Piver

whereverAnd here some sources that are widely considered classics in the field:

Wherever You Go, There You Are: mindfulness meditation in everyday life by Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Real Happiness: the power of meditation by Sharon Salzberg

If you have specific needs or concerns around meditation, be sure to check out the following:

In this country, African Americans overwhelmingly face issues and concerns that other people will rarely, or ever, be confronted with. Free Your Mind: an African American guide to meditation and freedom by Cortez R. Rainey addresses this reality with specific meditations and visualizations that freeencompass this reality.

Parents face specific challenges especially around helping children find mental health, happiness and security. If this is your situation, don’t miss Christopher Willard’s Growing Up Mindful: essential practices to help children, teens, and families find balance, calm and resilience.

Although all of the world’s major religions feature spiritual contemplation as a component, devout people can sometimes feel that the practice of meditation might run counter to what they believe. Christian Meditation: experiencing the presence of God by James Finley and Connecting to God: ancient kabbalah and modern psychology by Abner Weiss are two examples of resources available from DCPL that can help you explore these concerns.

happierFinally, let me wholeheartedly recommend Dan Harris’s wonderful 10% Happier: how I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works.  Harris, a co-anchor on Nightline and a longtime professional in the pressure cooker that is network news, has a very active brain – a quality that many of us share. He was able to rise to the top of his profession yet at the same time developed ways to mask his anxiety to the extent that he finally experienced an intense, and very public, panic attack while he was on the air. If you’re curious about meditation, but remain skeptical, then this is the book for you. Harris is a very funny writer and utterly convincing as he chronicles his journey toward greater happiness and focus all by way of learning to quiet the voice inside of his head that he was convinced would never shut up.

Now about the title of this post – Buddhist tradition has a term for the mind that is restless, confused and inconstant from which comes many of our mental and spiritual anxieties and that term is “monkey mind.” Well, meditation is starting to turn my own monkey (i.e. busy brain) into something more closely resembling a sock monkey. It isn’t something I’m not cuddling up with it every second of the day, but it sure doesn’t keep me from falling asleep at night. Try it for yourself…and do let me know how it goes.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dec 22 2016

A Taste of Tradition

by Dea Anne M

There were a few years, quite some time ago, when I rented a three bedroom house and shared it with a couple of housemates. One of these was a guy I had known in college who, unbeknownst to me, carried some culinary baggage that was interesting to say the least. A beloved tradition for him was to create, during the winter holiday, a concoction that he was pleased to call krupnik.

At the time, I believed that he called it that because he just liked saying the word because he did so, constantly, during the several days that he spent making this particular witch’s brew. I have since learned that krupnik is a beverage of Lithuanian origin which usually includes honey and a variety of whole spices and pretty much always includes a very hefty portion of the purest grain alcohol.

If one consults Wikipedia, one will learn that the drink is “sometimes heated before being served,” and I think that this has to be true because the application of heat would probably work as well as anything else to kill the taste of the stuff. I mean it’s no surprise to also read in the same source that Polish soldiers used krupnick during World War II as a disinfectant. A versatile potable was my housemate’s krupnick – disinfectant, insect repellent, paint stripper – it would have worked for any number of household uses except, of course, the one for which it was intended.

The stuff lived in a huge vat during the period that it took to drink it up thus taking up a large amount of real estate in our shared refrigerator. When I complained about this one evening while trying to put together my dinner, I was told that chilling was vital so that the krupnik wouldn’t “spoil.” I ventured the opinion that there was no possible way to know if the stuff was spoiled or not since it was guaranteed to kill all functioning taste receptors. I was then told that it was “pretty sad” that I didn’t have any holiday traditions of my own. I’m sure that my reply was something steeped in mature wisdom like “I do so!” but later I thought, “Well do I?”

When it came to culinary traditions relating to Christmas (which was the holiday my family celebrated) what could I claim? I’m afraid what did, and still does, come to mind is the special gravy that my grandmother would make year after year. It was a chicken gravy -amply supplied with giblets – which would have been okay (sort of) except for the fact that my grandmother also included sliced hard-boiled eggs. I liked eggs just fine but somehow the sight of those particular eggs – staring up at me from the gravy bowl like horrible yellow eyes – was simply too much –  and so year after year, I ate my dry turkey and looked forward to dessert.

Whatever holidays you celebrate around this time of year, your table might very well hold some sort of culinary tradition. It might be a tradition peculiar to your own family or it might be a tradition rooted in your heritage.  Please note that I’m looking specifically at Christmas here only because that’s the tradition that I was raised with, and I in no way want to deny or make light of the food traditions of other cultures. I will say that there are some culinary customs peculiar to this time of year that have always baffled me. These include Christmas tree centerpieces made of shrimp, cheese balls, turducken,  and – I’m sorry ya’ll – fruitcake.

So what are some of the food traditions of other countries? In France, a Yule Log cake is always baked and served during the winter holiday. It is a sponge cake filledparis with cream or jam, rolled into a log shape and iced and otherwise decorated to resemble a log. The old Yule Log was a European custom of burning a log toward the end of the year that was meant to light the first fire started in the new one. If you want to try constructing your own version of this tasty confection, you’ll find a good one in My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. Lebovitz’s cake is beautiful and includes a chocolate icing marked to resemble wood bark as well as the requisite meringue mushrooms.

Gluhwein, is a mulled wine flavored with various spices, that is beloved in part of Germany and Austria. The fact of those whole spices steeped in alcohol and served warm bring it a little too close to my erstwhile joyhousemate’s krupnick for my comfort. I’m sure though, that most who partake are raising one to two cups at most and are, no doubt, enjoying the beverage with food at the same time. Alas, you’ll find no recipe for Gluhwein in Frank Rosin’s Modern German Cookbook. I was able to locate a recipe for something called Glogg in  Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer. Rombauer was herself of German heritage and the many editions of her seminal cookbook certainly show that influence. Her glogg recipe calls for two bottles of port, one bottle of brandy and 2 cups of vodka. I dare not think of how many people this is meant to serve. In the finest tradition of holiday cheer, this drink features whole spices and is served warm with “small spoons” for adding raisins should you fancy such an embellishment.

Generally a group effort, and a true labor of love, are tamales – a holiday food particular to Mexico. Having mexicoparticipated in a tamale-making party myself, I can tell you that putting them together and cooking them is really fun, if the work is shared with friends and family, and the results are absolutely delicious. Tamales, if you aren’t familiar with them, are steamed bundles of masa filled with savory or sweet mixtures. You’ll find recipes for all sorts of tamales – bean, chicken, pork, cheese and yes, sweet – in The Essential Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy. If you have a notion to round up some friends for a participatory party I guarantee that you’ll all have a great time.

Lutefisk is a unique dish that has come in for a fair share of abuse from such cultural institutions as The Prairie norwgianHome Companion. Of Norwegian origin, this traditional favorite involves soaking dried fish in cold water for six days (changed daily), then soaking two days in a mixture of cold water and lye until the fish reaches a jelly-like consistency (notice my emphasis). My Wikipedia source goes on to say that in order “to make the fish edible a final treatment of yet another four to six days of soaking in cold water is needed.” Now I don’t know about you, but I am made wary by any instruction that includes the phrase “to make the fish edible…” Should you be of a mind to try making this delicacy yourself, you’ll find a recipe for it in Sylvia Munsen’s Cooking the Norwegian Way along with recipes for dishes less likely to have you saying “it must be an acquired taste” such as gingerbread cookies, potato soup and whipped cream cake.

Finally, I can’t leave this musing on holiday food traditions without commenting on an interesting Christmas phenomenon in Japan. Due to Kentucky Fried Chicken’s successful ad campaign launched in 1974, thousands of chickenJapanese people wait up to two hours on December 25th to purchase their bucket of holiday cheer. Some choose to order their dinners months in advance. The Colonel even offers customers chocolate cake and sparkling wine! It is truly “Kentucky for Christmas” and really, why not? Want to read read more about this iconic food? Check out Fried Chicken: an American story by John T. Edge. Edge is an engaging writer and this fun little book is part of a series he has done on quintessential American dishes that includes Apple Pie: an American story and Hamburgers and Fries: an American story.

What are some of the holiday food traditions that you have loved? What are some that you haven’t loved quite so much?

 

 

 

 

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Dec 19 2016

Behind Our Favorite Christmas Carols

by Camille B

christmas-caroling1Ah Christmas carols, how we love them. The gaiety of the festive season certainly wouldn’t be the same without them. Wouldn’t be the same without the halls a decking, chestnuts a roasting and good old Jack frost nipping at our nose.

To me a Christmas without carols would be like Thanksgiving without turkey or dressing–incomplete. It would be hard to imagine not hearing the sweet strains of Silent Night or White Christmas in the background while you do your holiday shopping; or the warmth of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas as you bake cookies or get ready for the Christmas Eve church service.

Below are 10 of our favorite Christmas carols and holiday songs that have become near and dear to our hearts. They have brought us comfort and joy throughout the years. These are some of the stories of how they came to be.

Do You Hear What I Hear?
Believe it or not, this song was actually inspired by the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Written by Noel Regney with the music arranged by his wife Gloria Shayne Baker, it was written by the couple as a plea for peace during that turbulent time in history when everyone was  anxiously waiting a resolution to the standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Says Regney in an interview “In the studio, the producer was listening to the radio to see if we had been obliterated, en route to my home, I saw two mothers with their babies in strollers. The little angels were looking at each other and smiling.” This inspired the first line of the song: “Said the night wind to the little lamb … ”  In an interview years later, Shayne said that neither of them could personally perform the entire song at the time they wrote it because of the emotions surrounding the Crisis. Since then the song has gone on to sell millions of copies and has been sung by hundreds of artists including Bing Crosby,  Frank Sinatra, Robert Goulet, Carrie Underwood, Mannheim Steamroller, Brenda Lee and many others.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
This  song was penned by songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine in 1944, for Judy Garland’s movie Meet me in St. Louis. It was felt that the first draft was too sad, and rightly so when you read some of the original lyrics:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Pop that champagne cork
Next year we may all be living in New York

Garland refused to sing it,  saying that it would be cruel to sing those lines to a brokenhearted sister. After she protested Martin did a re-write which she went on to sing in the movie, and the holiday song has become one of our favorites over the years, sung by artists like Frank Sinatra,  Bing Crosby, Sarah MacLachlan, Kelly Clarkston, Lady Antebellum and Michael Buble to name a few.

White Christmas
Of all the carols, this is probably the most wistful and melancholic of all. Written by Irving Berlin and first airing on the radio in 1941, this cozy little song went on to have an even deeper meaning because of the tragedy of the Pearl Harbor attack that happened just 18 days before the song aired. The following winter, the Armed forces played it repeatedly over the radio for the young American soldiers who had found themselves overseas during the war to remind them of home. It was said that whenever Bing Crosby traveled overseas to perform for the troops it was by far the most requested song, even though he had reservations about playing it because of its sad undertones. By the end of the war, White Christmas was the best-selling song of all time and held that spot for 56 years until Elton John’s remake of “Candle in the Wind” when Princess Diana died in 1997.

O Holy Night
This song was first written in 1847 as a poem by a local poet in France named Placide Cappeau. He later had music added to it by his friend Adolphe Charles Adams and weeks later the song was sung in the village on Christmas Eve. At first the song was well-loved and received by the church of France, but when it became common knowledge that Cappeau was a socialist and Adams a Jew, it was pronounced unsuitable for church services. The common French people loved it so much they continued singing it anyway. It eventually came to the U.S. through John Sullival Dwight, an abolitionist during the Civil War, and was published in his magazine, finding tremendous favor in the north during the war. On Christmas Eve of 1871, during the war between French and German soldiers, fighting ceased for 24 hours in honor of Christmas Day after a French soldier walked out onto the battlefield and sang three verses of the song, prompting a soldier from the German army to sing another popular hymn by Martin Luther. Soon after this event, the French Church re-embraced O Holy Night.

Over the years, the song has been recorded and sung by various artists including Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole,  Mariah Carey, Celine Deon,  Faith Hill, Josh Groban and Trans-Siberian Orchestra and many others.

Silver Bells
This famous song was originally called “Tinkle Bells”  and first appeared in The Lemon Drop Kid, the 1951 film starring Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. It was written by composers Jay Livingston and Ray Evans (Livingston the music and Evans the lyrics) when they were asked by Paramount Pictures to come up with a Christmas song for the film. The inspiration came from the tinkling bells of the department store Santa and Salvation Army workers. Completely satisfied with the song, and clueless to the fact that the word tinkle also had another meaning, Jay happily went home and played it for his wife who asked him if he was out of his mind and went on to explain him the bathroom connotation for the word tinkle. Luckily (for all of us) he listened to his wife and went back to the drawing board. Since the duo loved everything else about the song, they simply replaced the word “Tinkle” with “Silver.” Over the years, Silver Bells has been sung over the airwaves by artists such as Dean Martin, Perry Como, Jim Reeves, Johnny Mathis, Martina McBride and Peggy Lee to name a few.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas
This song, composed by Walter Kent and Kim Gannon and recorded by Bing Crosby, was first released in the Christmas of 1943, and written from the perspective of a soldier serving overseas during World War II. When Gannon first pitched the song to the people in the music industry, they turned it down because they felt that the final line “If only in my dreams” was too sad for those separated from their loved ones in the military, but when he sang it for Crosby, Crosby decided to record it. One of the most touching stories associated with the song was that of the Battleship North Carolina. The chaplain of that ship, realizing how homesick the men were, collected $5 from each crew member who had children back home. He then sent the money, together with the addresses of the men to Macy’s Department store, asking them to buy gifts for their children using the money and have the gifts mailed to their homes in time for Christmas. When Macy’s received the money they were so touched by the gesture that they decided to take it a little further by reaching out to the families and asking them to come in to make a special recording for their loved one who would not be home with them that Christmas. It was said that the men aboard the Battleship North Carolina wept and rejoiced that Christmas day in 1943 when they saw their wives, children and loved ones appear on the screen, since Macy’s had videotaped each of their families sending them a Christmas message. While I’ll Be Home for Christmas was not written on account of this story, it very well could have been and it certainly is clear to see the sentiment that connects them. The poignant Christmas song, has also been also recorded over the years by Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Sara Evans and Kelly Clarkston, to name a few.

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire
Also known as The Christmas Song, this classic was written by Bob Wells and Mel Tormé in 1945. Strangely enough, it was written during an extremely hot summer. The idea, according to Tormé was to”stay cool by thinking cool.” What first started as four playful lines penned by Wells , Chestnuts roasting, Jack Frost nipping, Yuletide carols and Folks dressed up like Eskimos, scribbled on a piece of paper and not at all meant to be lyrics to a song, ended up forty-five minutes later- with the addition of Tormé’s music- being the famous Christmas carol that we now know and love, sung by many well known artists like Trace Adkins, Johnny Mathis, Martina McBride, Bing Crosby and Justin Bieber.

Winter Wonderland
Even though this is one of the more jolly Christmas favorites, the story behind the song is anything but. The lyrics were actually written by Richard Smith while he was being treated for tuberculosis at the West Mountain Sanitarium in Scranton, Pennsylvania. As he spent long, lonely days in the comfort of his room, he daydreamed about what it would be like to be normal and healthy, living a life that would enable him to play outside in the snow like the children he was observing from his bedroom window. This inspired him to write a poem that captured the carefree, fun-filled, snowy day. He showed the lyrics to his friend and musician Felix Bernard in 1934 who, touched by the lovely poem, immediately set to work to compose a melody to go along with the words. Sadly Smith never got much of a chance to see all that the song would eventually become, passing away a year after its release in 1934; but Felix went on to enjoy the fame that resulted in the years following. The classic has been sung by over 200 artists. You can hear renditions of  it every year by artists such as Tony Bennett, Elvis Presley,  Barry Manilow, The Andrews Sisters, Michael Buble,  Harry Conick Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald.

We Wish You A Merry Christmas
The composer and author of this cheeky Carol with the demand for figgy pudding is to this day still unknown. It is an English folk song from the 1500s and goes back to a time when poor carolers would wander from house to house singing Christmas songs to the wealthy people of the community. The line “We wish you a Merry Christmas.” was sung as a greeting to the household,  while the lines “O, bring us some figgy pudding; we won’t go until we get some” was the call for treats they usually received as payment, and yes they would keep right on singing until they got them. It is said that the figgy pudding mentioned was once an integral part of the Christmas celebrations but has now seemingly lost its importance. The carol is a popular finale to many holiday events and is one of few to mention the New Year celebration.

Jingle Bells
This is one of the best-known and most commonly sung American songs in the world. It was written by James Lord Pierpont and published under the title One Horse Open Sleigh in the autumn of 1857.  Pierpont, at the time, was hired as an organist at his brother’s church in Savannah, Georgia. It was there that he composed the song originally written for a Thanksgiving program. It wasn’t very popular when he released it in 1857. He tried again in 1859 under the new title Jingle Bells  which flopped again. It slowly gained popularity over the years, becoming associated with Christmas rather than just a regular sleigh song which was very popular at the time among teenagers. In 1890, three years before Pierpont’s death the song had become a huge Christmas hit, and from 1890-1954 held a spot on the top 25 most recorded songs in the world. Over the decades it has been sung by many, including The Beatles, Gene Autry, The Carpenters, Louis Armstrong, Nsync, Nat King Cole and Barbara Streisand.

Which Christmas Carol is your favorite this time of year? And which artist sings it best?

Here is a link to some fun Christmas music quizzesmistletoe

christmas-book

 

 

 A treasury of Christmas songs and carols – Henry W Simon

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Dec 12 2016

Cooking Up Some Comfort

by Dea Anne M

Regardless of your views and feelings about current events, tumultuous weather and the presidential election, I think that it’s safe to say that most of us could use a little comfort and joy at this point in the year. Now I don’t know about you, but the point of the season, for me at least, isn’t the gifts. Of course, I’m always grateful to receive – and it really is the thought that counts – but I really don’t need another object for which I have to find a place. No, at the risk of sounding a little trite, the winter holiday season for me is all about giving rather than getting. And there isn’t any sort of giving that gratifies me as much as providing the people I love (and sometimes even people I don’t know that well!) with luscious things to eat and drink. You might agree – no matter what holiday(s) you celebrate – and DCPL has resources to help you get in that spirit.

First, let’s give a thought to comfort food. Now that can be a loaded term. I happen to think that almost nothing beatsone-dish a traditional tuna noodle casserole for sheer comfort eating, but my partner considers it a dish that is completely beyond the pale. Call it a throwback to my childhood, but casseroles in general tend to soothe any tantrum prone urges that I might be feeling, and I know that I can’t be the only one. There’s just something about having a whole meal tucked into my bowl that makes me feel as though I’ve just had a warm bath and jumped into a pair of flannel pajamas. Feeling in need? Check out 101 One Dish Dinners – hearty recipes for the dutch oven, skillet and casserole pan by Andrea Chesman for easy (and delicious!) meals in a dish. From Jambalaya to Irish Stew to Risotto Primavera, you’ll find here a truly international array of dishes guaranteed to keep you from stamping your foot and refusing to play nicely with the other children.

chickenOf course, many people would agree that, for sheer comfort, nothing beats the aroma of a roasting chicken as well as the eating of it when it’s done. Explore the mystique of this, and other, tantalizing dishes in  Simon Hopkinson’s charming books Roast Chicken and Other Stories and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken. And if you’re aiming for the broadest range of choices when it comes to chicken dishes, don’t miss Linda Amster’s New York Times Chicken Cookbook. Chicken-wise, whatever you’re looking for is bound to be here. Along with such toothsome-sounding exotica as Armenian Style Chicken and Bulgar and Chicken Tagine with Olives and Lemons, I counted twenty-eight recipes for roast chicken alone.

For many, comfort eating can be summed up in one word…chocolate. If you count yourself among that number, epiphanyconsider first the many virtues of Chocolate Epiphany: exceptional cookies, cakes and confections for everyone by Francois Payard. The author is a renowned pastry chef and owner of (among other concerns) Francois Payard Bakery – one of New York City’s best known and beloved store fronts. From custards to tarts, you’ll find wonderful treats here and none seem outrageously “cheffy,” although I figure that the Milk Chocolate and Candied Kumquat Napoleons will probably take you the better part of an afternoon to construct. For something a little more “down home,” you’ll never go wrong with the classics and that’s exactly what you’ll find in Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts by Maida Heatter. You might feel dubious about such recipe titles as Positively-the Absolute-Best-Chocolate Chip Cookies but keep in mind that the proof is in the baking, so to speak, and there seem to be a lot of happy bakers out there who say that these cookies moniker is no exaggeration.

cocktailFor some folks, the holidays just wouldn’t be the holidays without the opportunity to lift a glass of cheer with friends. If this is you, and you need some fresh ideas for what exactly to put in those glasses, check out The New Cocktail Hour: the essential guide to hand-crafted drinks by Andre Darlington and Tenaya Darlington. Here you’ll find recipes for classics like the Sidecar and the Martini, and yes, good old Eggnog, but there are plenty of bewitching sounding gems here like the Silver Fizz and the Boulevardier. The author-siblings devote space to wine as well as appropriate food pairings, and if you aren’t much of a drinker (or not one at all) never fear! You’ll also discover in these pages plenty of low and no-proof cocktails like the Lime Cordial Soda and the Black Julep.

On a final note, you might be a part of that rare and select group that swears by two words in regard to comfort buttercooking. Those two words are “butter” and “bacon.” If you think that this could describe you, although, really,you know if it does, then don’t miss The Great Big Butter Cookbook edited by Diana von Glahn which has over 450 pages of recipes and Theresa Gilliam’s Bacon 24/seven: recipes for curing, smoking and eating.

What food or drink spells “comfort” for you during the holidays?

 

 

 

 

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