I was a little disappointed when I first glanced at Simply scratch : 120 wholesome homemade recipes made easy by Laurie McNamara only because I had thought perhaps it was going to be a book on preparing things for the pantry for later use. Well, there’s some of that, but not as much as I had expected. Her stated goal is to get back to basics, cooking like her mother did, making healthy food with ingredients she could pronounce. In 2010, feeling she had gotten a firm grip on cooking just about everything from scratch, she started a blog, Simply Scratch, devoted to “from scratch” cooking. This cookbook is a compilation of some of the best advice and recipes she has shared online so far.

Chapter One, “Basics,” covers what McNamara thinks we all should have in our kitchens, from three kinds of flour to 3 kinds of solid fats and various oils and applesauce (which she uses to replace fat in some baked goods). Next up, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, citrus fruits, and onions and garlic. These cover all the day-to-day staple ingredients and are followed by tools and equipment she finds indispensable, like a garlic press, box grater, kitchen scale, mesh strainers, etc.  She doesn’t eschew power equipment—food processors and blenders make the list, as well. She includes a rice cooker, acknowledging that lots of people can prepare rice without one, but she isn’t among them. There are also some basic and frequently used techniques outlined here. Aside from her enthusiasm for various vinegars, which I do not share, everything here seems right on track for those trying to get back to basics or just beginning to find their way around the kitchen.

Next comes the “Basics from Scratch” chapter which, again, I had thought would be the bulk of the book. There are some very good sounding (haven’t made any of these) recipes for mayonnaise and aiolis, ketchup and barbecue sauce, three pestos, six seasoning blends and chicken and vegetable broths. What caught my eye, though, having become rather more a “convenience” cook in my later years, are the recipes for “from scratch” creams of mushroom and chicken soups intended as ingredients in casseroles, etc. with each recipe making one “can” of soup. Both are essentially light veloutes (soups made with dairy and stock) and sound reasonably time-effective, particularly if you made double or triple batches and portioned and froze the extras for later use, although the recipes don’t mention that.

The next chapters include baking (including making your own seasoned bread crumbs and graham crackers); a slew of sauces, dressings and dips; breakfast/brunch foods;  soups, salads, and sandwiches including a chicken chili and a lentil salad; a nice selection of side dishes, including glazed carrots, parsnip fries, a broccoli cheddar gratin, twice baked sweet potatoes, a “fried rice” style farro,  and some yummy sounding baked beans.

The next chapter covers mostly meat-based main dishes including a very nice looking baked chicken dish using dark meat pieces, chicken and rolled dumplings, a turkey meat loaf, skirt steak fajitas, spaghetti and meatballs, and a cottage pie.

The book wraps up with, naturally, a chapter on desserts leading off with a fabulous sounding fudgy chocolate toffee-topped brownie which I fully intend to try. There are also mini French coconut tarts, a Mississippi mud pie (really a sheet cake that I remember from my youth), and a glazed butter rum bundt cake that sounds just right for the holidays.

All in all, not perhaps exactly what I anticipated, but a very sound collection of recipes truly made from scratch, with nary a processed box or can in sight and I think most of us could use a bit more of that in our kitchens. Stop by the library and check out this (or one of our other nearly 1,000 cookbooks) for your reading (and perhaps cooking) pleasure.

rbg

2015 could probably be considered the year that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made it in pop culture. After gaining notoriety for her dissenting opinion on the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling, Ginsburg began popping up here and there in pop culture.

Ginsburg became a fairly regular character on “Saturday Night Live.” A blog called “Notorious RBG” sprang up, comparing her to rapper Biggie Smalls. The more I heard about her, the more she sounded like the sort of person I’d want to adopt as an honorary grandparent. Stars aligned, cogs turned, and “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” came across my desk.

Appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg has led a career that puts her in the upper echelon of lawyers. Her career began in the 60’s as a clerk, helping research cases for Judge Edmund L. Palmieri. She wasn’t content to work behind the scenes, however, and by January 1973, she was presenting cases to the Supreme Court. RBG hasn’t slowed down since.

Much of her career was spent fighting to establish legal precedents for gender equality. She fought not only for the rights of women to move up in careers and make their own decisions about their bodies, but also for the rights of men who took on caregiver roles. Her goal for many of the cases she took on was to achieve gender equality under the law. One case, Duren v. Missouri, argued that jury duty for women shouldn’t be optional because it made women’s service on juries seem less important than men’s.

“Notorious RBG” also paints a picture of the Justice’s personal life, especially her marriage to Marty Ginsburg. The pair complemented each other well throughout their nearly 60 years of marriage. Ruth wasn’t a great cook, so Marty took over, much to everyone’s delight. They supported each other through all sorts of obstacles.

While he fought cancer in law school, she took notes for him and helped him complete his classwork. After she was done helping him each night, she would then work on her own assignments. Teamwork was the at the heart of their marriage, mirroring the overall theme her legal career. Sadly, Marty passed away in 2010, from a second encounter with cancer.

RBG has dealt with two bouts of cancer and in 2014 had a stent placed in her heart, but she shows no signs of stopping. One of the funniest portions of the book comes from her personal trainer, Bryant Johnson, who describes the tenacity with which RBG approaches her workouts. She once left early from a White House dinner to meet a training session, Johnson says.

On March 15, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg turned 83. When asked about retirement, RBG doesn’t have a date set. She seems to have a lot more in mind for her career and isn’t ready to stop working just yet. RBG’s sense of humor hasn’t faded over the years. Her office, the book’s authors report, is filled with memorabilia related to her recent rise in fame.

“Notorious RBG” is an interesting, humorous, and straightforward biography about one of the most influential women in the United States, maybe even in the world. While not tremendously in-depth, the authors included charts outlining RBG’s legal work, her dissents with commentary from other legal professionals, and even a quick guide to RBG’s workout regimen. “Notorious RBG” is probably best described as a gateway book: full of the sorts of interesting stories and details that will likely inspire readers to further investigate RBG and her astounding life.

With the unbelievable warm weather we’ve been enjoying this February, I’ve heard a lot of patrons say they’ve had a hard time staying inside and reading. That is not an issue I’ve ever found myself facing due to my reading addiction. At times, in fact, I’ve thought about starting a self-help group for bookaholics, but I’m pretty sure it would cut into my reading time.

This month I was excited to get to re-read a favorite book because of the year of classics my book club is reading. “Elmer Gantry” by Sinclair Lewis was February’s selection. I’ve read this novel multiple times, and each time discover something new about it.

Published in 1927, “Elmer Gantry” is a satire that explores the religious fervor that swept across America in the 1920s. It looks at the attitude held both by preachers and the everyday man about hypocrisy and fanatical belief.

The main character, Elmer Gantry, is a big and brash character who is fond of liquor, women and an easy life. A chance encounter results in him going to Bible college and becoming a Baptist preacher. His sins soon result in the loss of his church. Elmer then becomes involved with a female evangelist, but that ends dramatically as well. The Methodist Church quickly gains Elmer due to its liberal beliefs and chances for advancement. While he manages to set aside his addiction to nicotine and alcohol, he never loses his penchant for inappropriate liaisons with the fairer sex. The book is divided into three sections basically, with each one ending with his life path altered because of his encounters with a woman.

Sinclair Lewis’ book is solidly written, with a flair for description that brings alive not only the characters but their very surroundings. I find myself comparing his writing to a steak dinner: filling and hearty without being too sweet or overdone. Each character, regardless of being present for one page or 100, is completely developed, with a sense of a complete backstory ready to go.

When “Elmer Gantry” was published, it created a sensation by its derogatory attitude towards organized religion and the fact that its ne’er-do-well main character never received his comeuppance. It was banned at one point in Kansas City, Mo, and Boston, Mass. alike. The book was also denounced from pulpits across the nation, which I’m sure lead to an increase in sales, as it was the best-selling fiction book at one point.

Sinclair Lewis spent months researching religion in America before writing “Elmer Gantry”. He attended two to three services every Sunday for months and met with a group of ministers, rabbis and preachers weekly in what he called his “Sunday School” meetings. After the book was published, the author found himself threatened with violence, and he was even called “Satan’s cohort” by Billy Sunday, a leading religious leader of the time.

All in all, Elmer Gantry is a character you love to hate and “Elmer Gantry” by Sinclair Lewis is a book you should hate to miss out on. Pick up your copy today at the Joplin Public Library.

I found today’s book while searching for a title for the next installment of the library’s Teen Book Club.  The First Part Last by Angela Johnson was first published in 2003. Since that time, both the book and its author have won several honors, including the American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King Award for demonstrating “an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values” and Michael L. Printz Award for “literary excellence in young adult literature”. It’s easy to see why. The First Part Last offers an intense, gut-wrenching look at a difficult topic using spare language to convey complex emotions.

Bobby receives a bombshell for his sixteenth birthday—his girlfriend Nia is pregnant. In an instant, his world is turned upside down. Neither he nor Nia planned for this to happen. Now both are left to find a way to “do the right thing” for themselves and the baby.

Although the book is a quick read (131 pages) with a simple plot line, it stands out for its power to tell a lesser-known tale concisely and beautifully. This is one of the few books exploring teen pregnancy from the male point of view. Angela Johnson uses concrete, contemporary language to create a portal into Bobby’s complex emotions. She allows us into Bobby’s physical world—sleepless nights, high school, “new baby” smell, New York City—with all five senses at work. She only includes what is necessary to share Bobby’s experiences and to advance the story—no extra drama or dialogue here.

The story alternates between scenes in the present when Bobby is a full-time father and scenes in the past starting with Nia’s pregnancy news and ending with baby Feather’s arrival. Throughout, Bobby struggles with his new responsibilities in the no-man’s-land between being a kid and an adult. He reels, just as we do, when a plot twist toward the end packs an extra emotional punch.

I was glad to find this book again as it had been several years since I last read it. It has been a powerful, amazing experience every time I’ve picked it up. The First Part Last speaks to both teens and adults. This is a great title for individual reading, but it is even better for inter-generational reading and discussion. Be sure to have tissues on hand.

The Teen Book Club meets the first Thursday of the month from 6:00-7:00 p.m. and is open to youth in grades 6-12. The program is free; no registration is necessary. Structured by teens for teens, the group’s goals are to generate and sustain enthusiasm for recreational reading and to provide opportunities for a respectful exchange of ideas. Participants read books of their choice relating to the monthly theme chosen by the group then meet to chat about their books and their responses to the titles. There are a wide variety of titles and opinions shared. (Plus, we have snacks.) The Teen Book Club meets again on Thursday, February 4; this month’s theme is “books with a number in the title”.

Do you like to get information and discover new things in a concise visually appealing way? You must be (or might want to be if you are not) a magazine reader.

Magazines, first published in the 17th century, were initially only for the rich. New methods of printing in the 1900s changed that and now they are a popular way for everyone to keep abreast of news, current trends and to be informed on just about anything.

Joplin Public Library has over 200 magazines and 20 newspapers available to users whenever the library is open.  Most of the magazines you can check out and take home to read.

The library has also offered users online magazine and newspaper articles for more than 15 years. These articles accessed through Ebscohost are indexed for easy research using keywords and can be used online anywhere with a library card number.  You can get lots of information but you can’t easily browse an issue.

About two years ago we added Flipster which lets you read a full issue of a magazine 24/7 using any internet-enabled device and your library card number. These full-page, full color issues give you access to some of the magazines you once had to visit the library to get and you can browse all you want.

Now we have another way for you to get magazines online using the same website you go to get ebooks, MoLib2Go.org.  Shared by a consortium of Missouri public libraries the site offers ebooks, audiobooks, and video.  Now some of the libraries are contributing to a shared collection of 138 magazines.

Unlike Flipster these magazines have to be checked out and downloaded to be viewed and they download to a Nook or Nook app.  But you find them in the same place you get your ebooks, you get to keep them longer, and the Nook app is easy to get and use.

Some of the titles are the same ones you’ll find in the library and/or on Flipster such as The Atlantic, National Geographic, Bloomberg Businessweek, Prevention, Better Homes and Gardens, and Reader’s Digest.  However many of the titles are new to our collection and cover a variety of interests.

If you like to read about the latest in health and fitness, you’ll find Shape, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, What Doctors Know, Amazing Wellness, and Oxygen.  Publications from associations are also available such AARP the Magazine, Weight Watchers Magazine and Arthritis Today.

I love perusing cookbooks and discovering new recipes and there are plenty of titles on food and cooking. I downloaded Allrecipes and am looking forward to viewing Cook’s Country, EveryDay with Rachel Ray, Taste of Home, Gluten-Free Living, and many others.

For those of you into crafts and hobbies look for Thread, Woodworker’s Journal, Hobby Farms, Bead & Button and Cloth Paper Scissors.  You will also find Do It Yourself, Family Handyman and House & Home among others.

With the election later this year many of us are taking more of an interest in current events and what is happening in the world. Newsweek, National Review, The Week, The Onion and mental_floss will keep you informed.

Lifestyle magazines are popular in our print collection and you will see several of those titles here – Redbook, Brides, O the Oprah Magazine, Country Living, and Reader’s Digest. In MoLib2Go you can also get American Cowboy, Guideposts, and More.

Another popular category is home and garden.  Look for Birds & Blooms, Dwell, HGTV Magazine, Country Gardens, and Elle Décor.  We also have several you can find in both print and online such as Good Housekeeping, House Beautiful, Midwest Living and Rodale’s Organic Life.

There are a lot more titles than I can list here like TV Guide Magazine, Air and Space Magazine, Guns and Ammo, Budget Travel, First for Women and Family Circle.  Go to MoLib2 Go and browse the titles.  You are sure to find something that interests you.

If you have any trouble with downloading or just want to be walked through the process first, call or come by the Reference Desk. We are happy to help.

It never ceases to amaze me that every other day, it seems, there’s a new story in the media about something being bad for you. Or good. Sometimes the same thing is bad one day and good next time you hear about it (or vice versa). So, I was eager to check out a clever flip-over book, Bad News About What’s Good for You/Good News About What’s Bad for You by Jeff Wilser. Wilser writes mostly for magazines but has four books to his credit as well. This one combines two of my favorite things: information and humor.

How can it be that coffee/wine/nuts/fat/you-name-it is bad for you? No, wait, good for you? No, wait. . . A lot of it can be explained by the simple fact that television and radio outlets are constantly on the alert for “the latest thing” to grab our attention. Unfortunately, it seems that the two best ways to grab our attention are one, fear and two, easy answers. So, if they can scare you with “how coffee is killing you,” works for them. If, a month or two later, they can tout “drinking three cups of coffee a day cures everything that ails you,” there you go. So, easy enough to understand the motivation behind the good for you/bad for you “news” cycling constantly, but how do they make the claims? Our old friend statistics.

As Disraeli (according to Mark Twain) said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Other books I’ve read (like Freakonomics and its kin and the previously reviewed Less Medicine, More Health have opened my eyes to the ways that data can be twisted like a pretzel to make a point, whether it’s valid or not. There’s a lot of that going on with the good/bad information out there. Small, sometimes tiny, studies are used as proof that something is good or bad, never mind that only 100 cases were looked at. Failure to account for other factors shows up a lot. Maybe the fact that people who floss regularly have better health is tied, not so much to flossing, but to those who floss regularly also being higher on the socioeconomic scale and able to afford better food. Or maybe flossers also tend to have something else in common which improves their health like eating less sugar to avoid dental decay. At any rate, there’s a lot of bad science out there being used to persuade us to eat/do one thing or avoid another.

So, you say, could you be specific? What’s good/bad/who-knows-which for you? Let’s take the aforementioned coffee. For years, we were warned against coffee, particularly the pernicious caffeine it contains. Heaven knows why coffee/caffeine was so condemned since, it turns out, that coffee (in reasonable amounts, mind you) can have some really positive health effects. Lowering the incidence of oral cancer and Type II diabetes, improving long-term memory, and an overall decrease of 10% in death rates. Wow! Sounds pretty good! Well, at least until the next study comes out.

On the other side, how about something we all know is good for us? Stepping away from food (hard as that may be for me), we’ll look at something I’ve read about in the aforementioned Less Medicine, More Health. The we-all-know-it’s-best annual physical. Weren’t we all taught in health class in school that we should all get an annual physical? It’s the “gold standard” of health care, right? Catch it early, get it fixed in the best case. Worst case? Spending a few dollars and a little time to find out nothing’s wrong, right? Well. . . Not so fast. There can be distinct downsides to annual physicals and arrays of tests. False positives lead to unnecessary tests and treatments that can cause real harm in addition to simple unnecessary worry. I’m not saying (nor is the author or any responsible party) that you should never see a doctor. If you have symptoms or a family history that warrants concern, by all means seek medical advice and help. If, on the other hand, you live healthily, feel well, have no symptoms and no genetic predispositions to worry about, take the annual physical off your to-do list. Or not. Maybe next week there will be a study proving that annual physicals would save 100,000 lives a year. I guess we’ll just have to wait and watch the news.

Well-written, informative and amusing, I recommend Bad News/Good News to get the info on kale, red wine, yoga, procrastination and apologizing and a plethora of other things that are bad for you. Or good.

 

I didn’t set out to be a “weird book” reviewer, but I guess that’s what I’ve been drawn to lately. It’s been fun reading books that take typical plots and turn them sideways. I’ve always been a SciFi fan, so getting to read weird, award-winning SciFi made me a happy reviewer.

In 2014, author Jeff VanderMeer released three books, all part of the Southern Reach Trilogy. These books quickly gained some notoriety in the SciFi world and Mr. VanderMeer won both the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson award that year. I heard that a movie was going to be made based on the books and sat down to find out what all the fuss was about.

Thankfully, the trilogy is pretty short–about 900 pages. I found them both entertaining and compelling and couldn’t put them down. A quick word of warning: this trilogy is not for people who need every loose end tied up by the last page of the book. You will have lots of questions and pretty much none of them will be answered.

What I can tell you is that there is a place known as the Southern Reach, which is somewhere in Florida. The area is infected with some kind of alien life form and can keep things out if it chooses, but humankind has found a way in and has sent in expeditions to explore the growing infection. These expeditions never end well, but the government keeps sending them anyway.

Annihilation is the first of the trilogy. A team of four women – an anthropologist, surveyor, biologist, and psychologist – are exploring the Southern Reach. The Biologist and her team discover an underground silo filled with ominous writing. They also explore a lighthouse, which holds secrets about the previous missions and their outcomes.

The Biologist’s fears about the expedition are brought to light when she realizes that the Psychologist is using hypnotism to control the group. After the Anthropologist goes missing, the mission falls apart completely. Fighting the very team she was supposed to trust, the Biologist must find a way to survive the swamps of the Southern Reach and the horrific creatures she discovers there.

Very little about the history of the Southern Reach and the previous expeditions is revealed in Annihilation. We only know what the Biologist knows, but she barely trusts herself. I think it was the list of questions I had about just what was really going on that propelled me through the next two books in the series.

Authority takes place after the events of Annihilation. A new Director for the Southern Reach facility arrives. This man, who prefers to be called Control, is a hugely conflicted character. As he interacts with the Biologist, Control begins to discover that he has been misled about the purpose of the Southern Reach and the experiments that have gone on there. He begins to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the previous Director and finds that she may have had a deeper connection to the Southern Reach than anyone realized.

Acceptance, the final book, takes place as a prequel. The point of view jumps back and forth between several characters and pieces together what the Southern Reach was like before explorations, clone-monsters, and glow-in-the-dark lighthouse keepers. There are several plots that are explored in Acceptance and they each serve to give us more information about the characters and stories that hold the previous two books together.

While Mr. VanderMeer had a great opportunity to answer all our questions in Acceptance, he chose not to. Instead, he uses the trilogy to explore human nature and what we might do when we’re faced with an unknowable entity. If you like wacky, weird fiction without answers, this should be right up your alley.

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