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Current Affairs

Nov 1 2013

Marcella says…

by Dea Anne M

On September 29th, one of the great culinary lights passed away. Marcella Hazan was 89 years old, and since the late 1970’s has been considered by many (very many) to be the absolute authority on authentic Italian cooking.  While some people found her difficult, Hazan did not suffer fools gladly and was notably impatient. Her precision and genius level palate made her a revered figure in the culinary world.
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Marcella Hazan (nee Polini) was born in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and trained as a scientist, graduating with a doctorate in biology and natural sciences. Up until her marriage in 1955 to Victor Hazan, she had never done any cooking. She did, however, grow up in a family of talented and enthusiastic cooks and her taste memories served her well once she and her husband moved to New York City shortly after their marriage. Hazan found that she could easily reproduce the dishes that she had grown up with in Italy. Eventually, she began giving cooking lessons in her apartment and in 1969 she opened The School of Classic Italian Cooking. Soon, she came to the attention of Craig Claiborne, then the food editor of the New York Times, who did a story about her. A book contract soon followed and in 1973 The Classic Italian Cook Book appeared. More Classic Italian Cooking came out in 1978. Combined into one book, the two volumes became Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking which came out in 1992 and remains the authoritative resource for Italian cuisine. Hazan retired in 1998 and moved with Victor to Longboat Key, Florida but even then another cookbook was to follow (from which I have gratefully borrowed this post’s title). Marcella Says…Italian cooking wisdom from the legendary teacher’s master classes is the book that Hazan
decided to write when she could no longer find the type of authentic ingredients that came so easily to her in New York City.

marcellaIn a time when cooking shows are all the rage and people like Lidia, Mario, and Giada enjoy celebrity status, it might be difficult to comprehend the enormous impact that Hazan’s Essentials… had on the American culinary scene. Polenta, risotto, braised squid, and sauteed swiss chard were a revelation to palates long accustomed to the type of Italian-American cooking associated with spaghetti and meatballs and pizza. Along with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Hazan’s books revolutionized the way in which Americans ate and cooked. Though some of Hazan’s recipes are complicated, many more are incredibly simple. Take her recipe for Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter. It consists of a 28 ounce can of tomatoes, an onion peeled and cut in half, butter, and salt. That’s all…no garlic, no crushed red pepper, no grated carrot or zucchini. You gently simmer for 45 minutes, put the sauce on cooked pasta, eat it, and (as someone who has made this sauce many times) become very, very happy. Hazan’s classic recipe for pork loin braised in milk is another favorite of mine for dinner parties. It looks and tastes complex but is actually as easy as can be (and absolutely delicious!).

cucinaAlso available at DCPL are Marcella’s Italian Kitchen  and Marcella Cucina, which won both a James Beard Award and a Julia Child Award in 1997.

For a moving tribute to Marcella Hazan and her influence, check out this piece written by David Sipress for the New Yorker.

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Oct 29 2013

Jack-o’-lanterns!

by Jesse M

There are a lot of things to love about Halloween: the haunted houses, the costumes, the candy! But perhaps my favorite aspect of Halloween is one I observe every year, even when I don’t elect to dress up or decorate much, and that is pumpkin carving.

Extreme pumpkin carving coverThe origin of pumpkin carving is uncertain. In the United States, the first jack-o-lantern associated with Halloween was recorded in 1866, although carved pumpkins were first associated with the harvest season in general long before they became emblematic of Halloween.

Freakishly cool pumpkins coverThese days, the art of pumpkin carving has evolved into a complex affair, with numerous contests showcasing elaborate and inventive works of art that most of us couldn’t hope to equal. Yet there are resources available through DCPL that can help you create the jack-o-lantern of your dreams (or perhaps nightmares?), such as How to Carve Freakishly Cool Pumpkins and Extreme Pumpkin Carving. Other good resources for techniques and ideas are available online.

Did you carve an awesome jack-o’-lantern this year? Snap a picture and share a link to it in the comments! Here is one I’m particularly impressed by: R2D2 of Star Wars fame, carved just yesterday by my girlfriend. Below photos courtesy of Amy E.

Photo courtesy of Amy E.

Photo courtesy of Amy E.

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The holidays are upon us, whether we are ready or not. As soon as Halloween ends, we start thinking of Thanksgiving and Christmas and all of the happiness these holidays bring us. However we never think about all of the problems these holidays bring. I really love Thanksgiving, because my mom makes all of the food that she does not make all year long. However getting the food is the problem. The grocery stores—all of them—are a nightmare the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. During this time of the year cheese, sugar and flour become hot items; they are even featured on the cover of the weekly ads in the grocery store. But once you have done all of your grocery shopping, including those last minute items that you always forget to buy, like eggs, you are okay, right? Wrong! Because the granddaddy of them all is on the way—Christmas. Christmas, not only does it monopolize the grocery stores, but all of the other stores as well. Traffic is horrible everywhere and there is never anywhere to park. Christmas is just a shoppers nightmare.

To help deal with the holiday stress, check out these books.

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Oct 22 2013

Scare Me Silly!

by Hope L

scared-woman-retroI like to be scared.  Not grossed out, and not shocked by violent images.

A good scary movie—the kind I like—is hard to find, especially nowadays. The scariest movie I can remember seeing as an adult was when I saw The Blair Witch Project by myself (during a time in my life when I lived in a house in the woods—the movie and the screech owls in South Carolina had me running into my house after I got out of the car at night).

The Conjuring, released this year, was not that scary, but then of course, I no longer live in the woods or by myself. Nor do we have screech owls bidding their hellos at night where I now live.

The Conjuring tells the story of Lorraine and Ed Warren, paranormal investigators who founded the New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952 and who had dealt with the case made famous by Jay Anson’s 1977 book, The Amityville Horror (which was itself the basis for ten films released between 1979 and 2011).

Now, just in time for Halloween, here are some other scary movies I’ve loved:

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Oct 9 2013

Are You Ready for Read Pink?

by Jencey G

whataliceforgotOctober is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. In the past three years, Penguin has offered selected special edition Read Pink titles that feature Read Pink seals on the cover and additional information in the back of the book underlining Penguin’s support of The Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s mission and urging readers to become actively involved in supporting the organization.

This is the fourth year of the program for Penguin, and they will donate $25,000 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation regardless of sales. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation is responsible for many important discoveries in the fight against breast cancer. Some of the Read Pink selections are available at the library. Check them out:

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captnunderpantsIn honor of banned books week last week, today’s post will discuss the popular children’s book series Captain Underpants by author Dav Pilkey.

The Captain Underpants series revolves around two fourth graders, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, and Captain Underpants himself, the superhero alter-ego of Mr. Krupp, the cruel and antagonistic school principal, who first becomes Captain Underpants after being hypnotized by the two boys. The book series includes 10 books and 3 spin-offs, and won a Disney Adventures Kids’ Choice Award in 2007.

And according to the American Library Association, it also has the distinction of being the most frequently challenged book of 2012. It has appeared on the list in the past but this is the first year it made it to the top spot; reasons cited were “Offensive language” and “unsuited for age group”. And admittedly, the subject matter, primarily toilet humor and gross-out gags, as well as a subversive and somewhat anti-authoritarian message, might raise eyebrows for some parents. But as children’s librarian Laura Giunta explains in this recent essay, banned books week is all about

[celebrating] the freedom to read, even if that includes reading material that others deem to be objectionable or inappropriate. The freedom to read is linked to our first amendment rights, specifically that we are not only entitled to our beliefs, but that we have the freedom to express them without the threat of censorship. Public and school libraries have a duty to uphold these rights and to provide a forum for all ideas to be represented, even if we don’t necessarily agree with them all. As outlined in the Library Bill of Rights, the library is not simply a place to get books, but one that affirms intellectual freedom – that is, an entity that ensures equal and uncensored access to information for all people, including information that represents varying viewpoints, beliefs, or cultural perspectives…As we celebrate “Banned Books Week,” we celebrate the freedom to read, not just for ourselves, but for everyone, including those with different beliefs, views, and values than our own. We celebrate the freedom to be subversive and irreverent, to dissent against the majority perspective, to challenge societal norms, and to disagree with authority.

So consider picking up a copy of Captain Underpants (or any of the many other frequently challenged books) and enjoy not only the “Action”, “Thrills” and “Laffs”, but also the freedom to read whatever you wish.

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Aug 19 2013

Books on Bikes

by Jesse M

Books on BikesWe’ve discussed bookmobiles on the blog a couple of times in the past (once in 2010 and again in 2011), but today’s post is about a bookmobile with a slight twist; in addition to having books available for checkout, Seattle Public Library system’s new Books on Bikes program also offers another high-demand library service: internet access.

Conceived by librarian Jared Mills, the Books on Bikes program will feature 11 librarians on bikes hauling custom-made trailers that carry 500lb (227kg) of books, a large sign and a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. The library-cycles will show up at festivals, parades, and parks, utilizing social media like facebook and twitter to keep the community informed of their upcoming appearances. By breaking down the physical boundaries of the library, Books on Bikes hopes to reach out to a new demographic, the Millennials, whose support of libraries will mean the difference between public libraries growing or becoming obsolete. The pilot project will run through the summer months and officials will decide in October whether to continue the program.

For more information, check out these articles from the Economist and NPR.

Are programs like this the future of library outreach? Would a similar program be successful in your community? Let us know in the comments.

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Aug 12 2013

Remembering Emmett

by Hope L

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Now, I don’t know if you know about Emmett Till, but you definitely should.

This time every year—but especially now with Trayvon Martin’s death and the trial of George Zimmerman—I think of Emmett. It is a sad time.

14-year-old Emmett Till was savagely murdered August 28, 1955, while visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi.

Death of Innocence—The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America by Mamie Till-Mobley and Christopher Benson, tells the story as only a mother could. I loved this woman’s courage.

Her son’s ‘crime’? Entering a small grocery store for sweets and supposedly whistling at a white woman, the wife of the proprietor.

Emmett’s mama insisted his casket be open at the Chicago funeral (in order to do so without the smell, a glass-covered casket was used) with thousands of people filing in to view the body. Photographers took pictures of her son—photos that appeared in a black newspaper and Jet magazine. The result was shock, horror, and—some say—the impetus for the civil rights movement.

“People had to face my son and realize just how twisted, how distorted, how terrifying race hatred could be. People had to consider all of that as they viewed Emmett’s body. The whole nation had to bear witness to this,” she said.

Heartbreaking as it is, Till-Mobley’s account of her son’s murder is a testament to her strength, vision and tenacity. And her words ring especially true today.

She writes, “If you look at Emmett’s century, you see that the men who lived important lives, significant lives, were truly gifted. They were blessed with good mothers, mothers who gave them exactly what they needed—unconditional love. That, and the freedom to express themselves, to fulfill their promise. In that way, these mothers helped their sons come to believe that there was nothing they couldn’t achieve. This was a gift I gave my own son—a boy of great potential.”

Sadly, potential never realized. As Mamie Till-Mobley said during the 1989 dedication of the Civil Rights Memorial (at the Southern Poverty Law Center Headquarters, Montgomery, Alabama):

“We cannot afford the luxury of self-pity. Our top priority now is to get on with the building process. My personal peace has come through helping boys and girls reach beyond the ordinary and strive for the extraordinary. We must teach our children to weather the hurricanes of life, pick up the pieces, and rebuild. We must impress upon our children that even when troubles rise to seven-point-one on life’s Richter scale, they must be anchored so deeply that, though they sway, they will not topple.”

The murder of her son pushed her into activism:  the NAACP  asked Till-Mobley to tour the country relating the details of her son’s life, death, and the 1955 trial that acquitted his murderers. (Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam confessed in Look magazine, reportedly earning $4,000 for their participation in the 1956 article.) In 1956 she graduated from Chicago’s Teacher’s College; in 1976 she obtained her master’s degree in administration at Loyola University Chicago.

Till-Mobley died in 2003 at age 81 during the writing of her book,  and although she sought justice for her son her entire life, no one has ever been convicted of the crime. The state of Mississippi had to exhume Emmett’s body in 2005 to reopen the case, and his casket now resides in the Smithsonian.

But perhaps Emmett and Mamie led the way for that other boy of color with a single mother, born six years after Emmett’s death:  Barry Obama.

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Jul 31 2013

National Back To School Month

by Glenda

Back to SchoolAs summer comes to a close, parents and students all over the country will celebrate National Back to School Month. As we all begin to prepare for school, children all over will be doing back to school shopping and parents will be looking for information to ensure their students are prepared. One helpful series of books for this is The Core Knowledge Series. What your kindergartner needs to know: preparing your child for a lifetime of learning edited by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. and John Holdren is an excellent book for parents who have kindergartners starting school. This series continues through sixth grade with What your sixth grader needs to know: fundamentals of a good sixth grade education.

Some students may also be looking for something more light-hearted such as Back to school for Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos, Seventeen things i’m not allowed to do anymore by Jenny Offill, or Back to school with Betsy by Carolyn Haywood. For kids in middle school a couple of great books are Middle school is worse than meatloaf: a year told through stuff  by Jennifer Holm and Middle school, the worst years of my life by James Patterson. An excellent book for high school student is 97 things to do before you finish high school by Steven Jenkins and Erika Stalder.

These are just a few titles that will help both parents and students preparing for school, so stop by your local library and pick up a great back to school book.

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Jun 26 2013

June is National Soul Food Month

by Glenda

Soul_Food_DinnerSoul food originated in Africa and came to the United States with African slaves. Foods such as okra and rice, which are common in West Africa, were introduced to the Americas as a result of the transatlantic slave trade. These foods were dietary staples among the slaves. Foods such as corn from the Americas, turnips from Morocco and cabbage from Portugal would become staples in African-American cuisine. Slaves were fed as cheaply as possible; they were given the scraps: pig ears, pig feet, ox tail, ham hocks, hog jowls, trip and skin of animals. The slaves developed dishes using the scrap parts and these dishes became a part of their daily diet. They used onions and garlic to add flavor and lard for baking and frying. In addition to the scrap animal parts they were given the small intestine of the pig, or chitterlings, which were a poor dish for Europeans during medieval times.

These cooking rituals would be passed on from generation to generation of African-Americans, and these recipes are alive and well even today. Of course these dishes are not prepared in the same manner as during slave times, but they have not changed a whole lot. For instance, chitterlings are prepared in African-American homes during the holidays every year. In my family, my mother, grandmother and aunts prepare chitterlings every Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. Chitterlings are cooked with onions and garlic the same as the slaves, but are prepared in much nicer cookware and maybe with a little vinegar. Fried corn, a major staple in soul food, was introduced to the slaves by the Native Americans and continues to be a popular dish today. Other products made from corn, such as cornbread, grits, whiskey and moonshine are still a part of the African-American diet.

When I think of soul food, I think of Sunday dinners that include fried chicken, fried corn, macaroni casserole, collard greens, turnip greens, cornbread, fried pork chops smothered in gravy, black eyed peas, potato salad and sweet potato pie. I can smell these wonderful dishes right now. Some people say soul food is not exactly the food a person cooks; it’s that the person cooks from the heart. Personally I think the enslaved African women put their heart and soul into the food they were cooking for their families.

If you would like to cook some of these wonderful dishes, you should come to the library and check out African-American Kitchen: Cooking from our heritage by Angela Shelf Medearis, The Welcome Table: African-American heritage cooking by Jessica B. Harris, and Down Home with the Neely’s: A southern family cookbook by Patrick Neely.  Or for a lighter version of soul food try Healthy Soul Food Cooking by Fabiola Gaines.

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