Friday, September 6, 2013

Miss Moneypennypincher | Book Traveling

This week I should have been thinking of great ways to save you money, or maybe embarked on a new Short Attention Span Challenge task, but I have been so incredibly engrossed in this book, The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson, it is leaving me unable to think of anything else but getting back to the book.  This is the most recent Pulitzer prize winner (and actually part of another one of my personal challenges - reading all the novel and fiction Pulitzer Prize winners).  The story is about Pak Jun Do, a North Korean orphan turned professional kidnapper, who loyally serves the "greatest country in the world" and the "supreme leader", Kim Jong-il . The book has plunged me into the mysterious and horrifically dark world of North Korea, and as far as I know, a book is probably the only look (difficult as it is) that I will ever get. 
As it is now, North Korea is not on my list of places to visit, but the book's explicit description and the author's attention to detail makes me think about some other books that have done the same thing: taken me to another place or time.  Unless I win the lottery or achieve immortality (I wonder which is more likely?), I will not be able to visit all the places in this world that fascinate or interest me.  There are not enough resources to make that happen.  However, books can get me close.  Isn't it amazing how we can take each other places, by accurate details and description of a setting?   
So anyway, this post might seem random, I am going from Pulitzer Prize winners to North Korea to descriptive settings.  I can tie this back to economics, I know it!  Here we go...My point, readers, is that you can travel into the library and use books to take you places, free! (P.S. I also checked the book out for free---saving myself around $14. Just thought I'd throw that in there too.) 

Here are some suggestions from library staff:
Ulysses by James Joyce (June 16, 1904 Dublin, Ireland)
My Antonia by Willa Cather (late 19th Century, Nebraska)
Fires of London by Janet Law ("You feel like you are walking through the suffocating and confining blacked-out streets of WWII London during the 1939 Blitz. It also evocatively explores the seeding underground of London life." available through Link Plus)
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (Texas, late 19th century)
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende (19th century Chile and San Francisco)
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (17th Century Delft)
Winter of the World by Ken Follett ("I have been in Germany as Hitler takes power, in the homes of the rich and famous in the U.S.  I have been in the Parliament of Great Britain.  And, unfortunately, the brutal chambers of the SS.  The world is changing right before my eyes and the way people and nations are impacted takes your breath away")
Redwall by Brian Jacques This is fantasy, but here's a great quote from the author.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Wanderlust Librarian| A Taste of Paris in the Bay Area (Throwback Thursday)

One of the things I miss most about my time in Paris (albeit short)  are the croissants. Many people told me that there are no bad patisseries in Paris. Lizzie and I tested that theory on our first day in the City of Light. We went to a patisserie across the street from our hotel. A huge window looking into the shop betrayed its contents. Inside was a warmly lit shop with a glass case full of pastries. As the door opened, there was a soft tinkling of a bell announcing our arrival. The smell was beyond intoxicating. The sweet scent of sugar and fresh baked bread air pushed past me in a dizzy blur.

My first French delight was a Pain au Chocolat (chocolate croissant) and a spot of Earl Grey tea. As I took my first bite, I was surprised at the crunch. I was accustomed to soft pastries. I savored every bit of butter, flaky, chocolaty goodness before I started my adventures in Paris. During my 3 day visit, I ingested many croissants (plain and chocolate!) and made sure to document every flavor in my brain.

Coming back to the United States, I was dismayed at my croissant choices. They were nothing like France. I longed for the cloudy mornings where the air was thick with history and charm. I wistfully looked out of my bedroom window and sighed.

That is... until I saw a show called The Best Thing I Ever Ate on the Food Network. A chef had talked about the Double Pain au Chocolat at a place called Tartine in San Francisco.  Did I hear this right? A DOUBLE Pain au Chocolat? I was on a new quest to find this miracle. I found it... and it did NOT disappoint. It met all of the rules on the "Proper Croissant" list. 

Here are the (non-official) rules that my friend (who studied in France for a year) and I made to designate a "Proper French Croissant" or PFC. The pictures are of Tartine Bakery's croissant that is as close to PFC I can get without hopping on a plane to Paris

1. The color: A PFC is a deep dark, striped affair. During baking, the top layer takes on a gorgeous mahogany hue. 

Stripey, crunchity, goodness

2. The bend: A lesser croissant will bend easily and let off a few flakes. A PFC will bend, but will shatter a million croissant flakes. It should make bread confetti. 
There were more flakes on my shirt and table.

3. The insides: PFCs take a long time to make. A lot of time is necessary to prep the dough with an insane amount of cold butter to make those gentle layers. When you break the croissant open, there should be folded layers of pillow soft dough.
Look how wafer thin and delicate those layers are!
I can't wait to dig in!

4. The Taste: PFCs should be buttery and rich...and crunchy. It should be like a soft piece of bread that's been buttered generously. It's satisfying to have croissant crumbs on my shirt and on the floor. It means that I enjoyed the croissant fully (and that I'll need to invest in a bib). 

I know that this is another "before" picture, but I think
that the full appreciation of the outside layers deserves
a second look. 

Book Bucket List | The Ideal Bookshelf of Rebecca Rupp

This year for One Book, One San Joaquin, we are featuring Rebecca Rupp's After Eli as our children's read.  This is a fantastic book about friendship, sorting out priorities, and healing after a tragic loss. Rebecca will also be featured in the Reading Meets Art: My Ideal Bookshelf program.  She gave us the list of the books that she couldn't live without and have the most meaning in her life.  We then took that list and had them illustrated by local artists.  Rebecca's painting will be featured during the Ideal Bookshelf Reception at the Cesar Chavez Library on Monday, September 9 at 6:00 p.m.

Along with their list of books, each participant submitted a write up discussing why their books have special meaning or hold a special place in their life.  These will be displayed with the renderings of the Ideal Bookshelves.  

As a little preview to the big event, I wanted to share what Rebecca wrote regarding her own Ideal Bookshelf.

Illustrated by Serena Cho
My (Sort of) Ideal Bookshelf
The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks by Robertson Davies
            Robertson Davies was a Canadian writer, playwright, and professor – who, by the time I belatedly discovered him, had a bushy white beard that made him look (depending on his expression) like Rasputin, Charles Darwin, or Santa Claus. He’s known for his rich, dense, wonderful novels (I love them) but the book that had practical impact on me was The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks.
            Samuel Marchbanks is Davies’s curmudgeonly alter-ego. Under the name of Marchbanks, Davies, in the 1940s, wrote essays and editorials for an Ontario newspaper, of which Papers is a collection of the best. Among these is a year’s-worth of Marchbanks’s irascible daily (daily!) journal. In it, he reflects and reports on an immense array of topics, comments on the human condition, skewers everything he doesn’t like (dogs, opera), and complains about his evil coal furnace. It’s funny, eccentric, caustic, and catchy.
I’d like to try that, I thought.
Now I keep a daily journal - part record, part writer’s notebook, part sounding board – and I can’t imagine how I ever did without it.
I owe it to Samuel.

 The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf

            The name Virginia Woolf is usually followed by the descriptor “author of To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway” – and yes, those are wonderful books and I love them. I am a Woolf groupie.
            However, the first of her books that I read were her essay collections, The Common Reader and The Second Common Reader. These essays, which left me in awe of Virginia, are all gorgeously crafted works of art – clever, perceptive, erudite, the sort of essays any writer would strive to emulate. But for me, Virginia packed a double whammy, because of Dorothy Osborne.
            Dorothy – the subject of Woolf’s essay “Dorothy Osborne’s Letters” – was born in 1627, and fell in love at the age of 19 with Sir William Temple, a suitor of whom her family violently disapproved. In the seven years before they could marry (they had to wait for the deaths of both objecting fathers), they wrote letters. None of William’s survives, but the British Library has 77 of Dorothy’s – all crammed with a vivid and opinionated personality, speaking her mind on any number of topics (including marriage; she’s not sure it’s a good idea).
            However, she eventually marries William and spends the rest of her life dutifully supporting his career and having seven children. She never wrote again, and all the sparkle that was Dorothy seems to have gone out of her. The last glimpse we have is a casual mention in a note from her husband’s secretary, who describes her as “mild.” (Dorothy, mild!) I hope she was happy, but it’s hard not to see her life, as Woolf does, as a feminist tragedy. You wonder what she might have done if only she’d had money and a room of her own.
I’ve loved many novels with feminist themes – Middlemarch, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Color Purple – but Dorothy just struck a lasting chord. Perhaps because she was real. Perhaps because she was born, so unfairly, 300 years too early. Perhaps because I’ve never liked the word mild.
            And perhaps because Virginia Woolf didn’t either.

Alice in Wonderland is brilliant and I’ve loved it since I learned to read.  I come back to it time and again.
I think that we all could do worse than believe six impossible things before breakfast.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

There are a lot of books told from the point of view of a child – but very few that really, beautifully, work. Harper Lee puts you back in a kid’s bare feet and lets you walk around in them. This is a wonderful book for many reasons, but one of them is that it helps me remember what life – the confusing world of adults, the elusive world of childhood - truly looked like when I was eight.
It’s also a moral compass. When it comes to issues of right and wrong, I ask what Atticus Finch would do.

Illustrated by Brittany Montejano
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I got Little Women for my ninth birthday, read it that very night, and thought Jo made a huge mistake in chucking Laurie (heir to a fortune) in favor of that pudgy middle-aged German professor. I’ve since come around on the professor (who was, after all, played in the 1994 movie version by Gabriel Byrne) and anyway Laurie must have had problems since he went on to marry Amy. Amy. Please.
            Little Women is an inspirational classic for nine-(and up)-year-old female bookworms – along with Anne of Green Gables and Harriet the Spy.  We all identify with tomboy Jo, who wants to be a writer, is a whiz at amateur theatricals, and is disastrous when it comes to parties and clothes.
            But here’s the thing about Little Women: BETH DIED. It was my first experience of heartbreak. I can’t say this totally prepared me for future tragedy, but it did give me my first awful taste of what it might feel like.

J.B. by Archibald MacLeish

            J.B. is a poem, a play, and the story of Job. Job - J.B. – is a happy man, rolling in dough, with a wife, five children, and faith in the Almighty. Then – due to a bet between God and Satan – he’s divested of everything. (Children dead; wife and property gone.) It’s the quintessential story of horrible things happening to a good person – a problem formally known as a theodicy: how to explain evil in the world in the light of a supposedly loving God? MacLeish sums this up: “If God is God, he is not good/If God is good, he is not God.”
            Ultimately J.B. and his wife, Sarah, reunite, determined – even though there is no justice in the world – to overcome tragedy and forge a new life.
            It’s a powerful, painful, and uplifting play, and an object lesson in the power of human hope and love in the face of adversity.
            It contributed to making me an atheist.

 Le Ton Beaude Marot by Douglas Hofstadter

I love English. It’s such a lush and versatile language (look at all the synonyms we have). On the other hand, I wish I were bilingual. Or tri.
Hofstadter’s book is a 600+-page tome about literary translation. It takes as its theme a catchy little ditty by French Renaissance poet Clement Marot - a rhyming get-well wish to a sick little girl. The poem begins “Ma mignonne” – a word for which there is no direct equivalent in English. (Sweetie? Cupcake?) Throughout the book, dozens of volunteers and Hofstadter himself take stabs at translating the poem – and all attempts are wildly different. It’s an astounding look at the scope and span of language.
I’ve always loved language as the tool of my trade, but this book made me appreciate how truly miraculous it is that we can all talk to each other.

 Whatever Happened to Justice? by Richard Maybury

            Randy, my husband, and I homeschooled our three sons – in the course of which we hit a number of books with themes that have popped up ever since in the course of various heated arguments. Among these are Dr. Seuss’s Butter Battle Book, Eleanor Farjeon’s “The Goldfish,” Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and John Ralston Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards. And Whatever Happened to Justice?
            Whatever Happened to Justice? is a homely paperback published by a teeny press in which the author (in the role of “Uncle Eric;” the book is aimed at teenagers) discusses the nature of law. Maybury is a proponent of natural or scientific law, which is based on time-honored historical precedent, as opposed to political law, which is arbitrary and changeable. (Natural law: Do not steal. Political law: in Massachusetts, it is illegal to put tomatoes in clam chowder.)
All laws, according to Maybury, can and should be boiled down to two: (1) Do all you have agreed to do, and (2) Don’t encroach on other people and their property.
This changed the way in which, ever since, I have viewed our legal system, our political process, and Congress.

The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan’s birthday falls on November 9th, and around here, we celebrate it.
My education, from freshman year to Ph.D., is science all the way – a discipline in which I was hooked by books (the kids in The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom planet built a spaceship; Meg Murry’s mother has her own laboratory off the kitchen in The Wind in the Door) - plus a chemistry set, a dissecting kit, and a couple of pickled frogs. I’m passionate about science, and I deeply regret the loss of Carl Sagan – public defender of skepticism and critical thinking, master communicator of the wonder and excitement of the scientific world.
This, perhaps my favorite of his books, is subtitled “Science as a Candle in the Dark.”

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

The lesson of Barbara Cooney’s picture book Miss Rumphius is “Do something to make the world more beautiful” – and Miss Rumphius, the original guerilla gardener, does just that, by seeding her sea-coast neighborhood with lupines.
If only we were all like her.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

            When I was in fourth or fifth grade, my best friend Jeannie passed on to me her brother’s discarded collection of science-fiction comic books. I’ve been a science fiction fan ever since. The above title, in all fairness, should read Jeannie’s Brother’s Cast-Off Comic Books.
            That said, for me the appeal of science fiction – aside from sheer entertainment value – is the fact that it’s all an enormous thought experiment, the ultimate in What ifs? There are, of course, many terrific science fiction books, but outstanding among them are those by Ursula LeGuin, whose wonderfully imagined worlds give us a chance to re-evaluate ours.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

            I found The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy in a bookstore on a long-ago school-class trip and forked over every penny of my lunch and spending money to buy them. It was my first and never-forgotten experience of beggaring myself for books.
            But not the last.
Oranges by John McPhee
Connections by James Burke         
            Blast. I should have picked Pliny’s Natural History here, all 37 books of it. Pliny the Elder, first-century Roman, set out to record all the knowledge of the world in his encyclopedic multi-book. He was an indefatigable researcher, a fanatical collector of facts, and a bottomless pit of curiosity. He is my hero.
            I write both fiction and non-fiction, and as a non-fiction writer I’m perennially inspired by Pliny – and by John McPhee and James Burke. These two share the ability to make us look at things that we often take for granted – oranges, rocks, horseshoes - and see them as the wonders.
            At the end of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Emily (dead) says good-bye to the world - to all the ordinary things, clocks and sunflowers, new-ironed dresses, coffee, hot baths. “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you,” she says.
            That’s what I take away from good non-fiction: that we live in an amazing world and are so lucky to be here.

            That’s what I believe.


Book Bucket List | Nancy Pearl

This Saturday is a big day!  The library is welcoming celebrated librarian and author Nancy Pearl to kick off this year's One Book, One San Joaquin reading program.  Pearl, who is a regular on NPR and even has the Librarian Action Figure modeled in her likeness, will be speaking at University of the Pacific's Janet Leigh Theatre.  Pearl, author of Book lust : recommended reading for every mood, moment, and reason, More book lust : recommended reading for every mood, moment, and reason, and Book crush : for kids and teens : recommended reading for every mood, moment, and interest is known for her book recommendations and finding books for even the pickiest of readers.

 Join us as we welcome her Saturday, September 7 at 2:00 p.m. at University of the Pacific's Janet Leigh Theater.

In her books, Pearl has made it easy for those who are stuck in a reading rut. The books are organized by category.  Interested in Japanese Fiction?  She has a list for that with explanations of why she recommends them.  She has some really interesting categories thrown in there too.  My favorite is "First Lines to Remember".  She lists books that have first lines that really hook the reader into the story.  My favorite is from Robert Sapolsky's A Primate's Memoir: a Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons.
"I joined the baboon troop during my twenty-first year.  I had never planned to become a savanna baboon when I grew up; instead, I had always assumed I would become a mountain gorilla."
 If you're interested in meeting this esteemed author, please join us as we welcome her Saturday, September 7 at 2:00 p.m. at University of the Pacific's Janet Leigh Theater.  We hope to see you there.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Learning | Charlie Goes to School

SSJCPL bloggers have been posting about the back to school theme quite a bit lately. I hope you can indulge me while I write about yet another book on the topic of school.

Most of our back-to-school posts are assuming that children are learning in a school building that is designed only for that purpose. They leave their home in the morning, have their lessons in the school building with children from other families, and return home at the end of the day. Of course, there are plenty of families whose children are homeschooled, in the same building where they live, like the characters in Charlie Goes to School.

[Cover]Charlie Goes to School is a picture book by Ree Drummond, with beautiful illustrations by Diane de Groat. You may already be familiar with the main character from Ree Drummond's I Can Read Book, Charlie the Ranch Dog: Where's the Bacon?  Charlie is based on Ree Drummond's real-life basset hound. 

Charlie sees his human family learning at home on their ranch, and he starts thinking about all of the things he knows. It isn't very long before he decides to open his own school.  His students are the other animals on the farm--and he encounters a few classroom management issues. (Can you imagine teaching a kitten and a puppy to read and count?  It wouldn't be easy.)

Homeschooling families will especially enjoy this book. Children who like animals will like it, too. It reminds me of a story about one of my sons' favorite preschool teachers, Miss Barbara. Miss Barbara's mother told me that she used to pretend she was a teacher when she was a little girl; she put all of her dolls and stuffed animals in chairs, and wrote assignments on the blackboard.  I can imagine this book inspiring a child or two to teach their pets, friends, siblings or toys how to say the alphabet or count. 

The target audience for Charlie Goes to School ranges from preschoolers to third grade.  

P.S.  Here's the link for Ree Drummond's The Pioneer Woman Cooks : Food from My Frontier, which Rena mentioned in her comment below.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Just Life | Persian Food #2 Persian Kotlet

Have you had Persian kotlets yet? 

If your answer is no, then you should be adventerous and try to make them.

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to make these delicious kotlets in her kitchen downstairs and as soon as we smelled it from our house on the second floor, me and my brother would rush to her kitchen to eat a couple.

Now a days, my daughter does the exact same thing whenever I cook them.

Here is the recipe:

  • 1 pound of ground beef (%80)
  • 1 medium onion 
  • 1 large potato
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tablespoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder (or grated fresh garlic)
  • 2 cups of bread crumbs
  • Cooking oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Cook and peel the potato. Grate the potato and add it to the ground beef.
  2. Grate the onion and add it to the ground beef. 
  3. Add the egg, salt, pepper, turmeric and garlic powder to the mix.
  4. Add 1/3 cup of bread crumbs to the mix. (This prevents the meat from falling apart when you start frying the kotlets)
Massage all the ingredients together. At the end, the mixture should have the consistency of a meatloaf.  

Pull the size of a lemon out of the mix, then flatten it into an oval shape. 

Cover both sides of your kotlet with a layer of bread crumb.

Add enough oil to a frying pan to cover the entire surface of the pan. Let the oil get hot before placing your kotlets in the frying pan.

Kotlets should sizzle when you put it in the pan. Don't flip it until one side is almost brown and crispy.

Kotlets should be crispy and brown on the outside and soft and mushy on the inside.

To drain the extra oil, put a paper towel on a plate and place the cooked kotlets on top of it.

At home, I usually serve it with a side of white rice and green salad. I hope you give this recipe a try.

Don't forget that your local library has a treasury of cook books for free checkout.

Family table : favorite staff meals from our restaurants to your home

Eating on the wild side : the missing link to optimum health

Signing off until next Monday- Panteha