I enjoy it when patrons let me in on what they’re reading. Sometimes the book comes with a glowing recommendation, and other times it’s obvious the reader is not too keen on what they’ve read. As often as staff are asked for suggestions, many times the best suggestions come from the patrons.
This “cook book” is one of those suggested by a patron, and it is a wealth of material in regards to cooking and science. What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert L. Wolke is packed tighter than a can of sardines with information about what’s really going on with the ingredients that fill our cupboards.
Wolke, according to the bookcover, was a professor of chemistry and wrote the column Food 101 for the Washington Post.
What I particularly liked about this book is that you can pick it up and open it to any page and read. There are chapters, but those chapters are comprised of questions and answers covering the chapter topic. Wolke’s wit and ease with which he explains chemistry is entertaining and makes the book seem like easy reading, even though the knowledge is more than basic.
So what kind of questions are included, you ask? Everything. Here’s a sampling:
- Please tell me about sea salt. Why are so many chefs and recipes using it these days? How is it better than regular salt?
- The label on my baking powder can says it contains sodium aluminum sulfate. But isn’t aluminum dangerous to eat?
- Some of the wines I buy have “corks” made of plastic. Is there a world cork shortage, or are there technical reasons for this?
And that’s just a small sampling. Wolke also delves into different kitchen appliances and equipment and what exactly the crisper in your refrigerator does.
The book contains a few recipes scattered throughout. I did not make any of them. In a small way I feel that I have failed, but, in my defense, there weren’t any pictures, and those pictures are inspiring, and without that little inspiration, I didn’t have enough motivation. Also, though it seems a chemistry professor should be able to make some fine tasting stuff, I kept thinking about high school chemistry with Mr. Miller and how my lab partners and I broke one of the last glass syringes that he entrusted to our group because we were so trustworthy. I know there really isn’t any correlation between Mr. Miller’s chemistry class and my failing to make one of Wolke’s recipes, but somehow it makes sense to me.
Seriously, though, Wolke’s book is definitely worth a read. And if you try one of his recipes, let me know!
Are you looking for some fun and free activities to do over the school vacation next week? Topsham Public Library has you covered!
First of all, just a reminder that on Monday, February 17 the library will be closed for President’s Day, but we will reopen and resume regular operating hours on Tuesday, February 18 at 9am.
On Wednesday, February 19 from 1pm-4pm, Topsham Public Library is hosting Cabin Fever Reliever. Bring your family, or come alone, and chase away the winter blues! There will be games, activities, and snacks. All ages are welcome.
Then on Thursday, February 20 from 12pm-3pm it’s Legos at the Library. Come build with our Lego collection! We have giant bins full of Legos for older kids, and Duplos available for younger kids upon request.
And always a popular hit, on Friday, February 21 from 10am-2pm, the Maine 3 Railers O-Gauge Model Railroad Club will be running a model railroad display in our big meeting room! Come watch the trains, see how they work, and speak with club members.
And remember, if you cannot make it to our programs, our building is open to the public and we offer comfortable spaces for you to relax in for free. Your children driving you nuts? Bring them to Topsham Public Library and enjoy our children’s wing with trains and other age appropriate toys, and, of course, books.
Are you a teenager and looking for a place to hang out with your friends for free? Try our YA room. You can bring board games, or borrow one of ours, and play them with friends. The space has a table and chairs and there are grab bags with quick craft projects that are available as well. We have free wi-fi, too! Just get the password at the circulation desk.
Spring is on its way, but winter is still here, so if you need to get out of the house and rid yourself of the blues, we’ll be seeing you at Topsham Public Library!
Peanut brittle. I confess it’s not my favorite, but there are members of my household who would be tempted to sell their soul for that delight. I decided I would try to make this craved for sweet, so I scoured the Minerva catalog for candy making cookbooks. Some I will return to like Hand-Crafted Candy Bars: From Scratch, All Natural, Gloriously Grown-Up Confections by Susie Norris and Susan Heeger, but I settled on Chocolates and Confections: At Home With the Culinary Institute of America by Peter B. Greweling. And the Peanut Brittle was amazing although it almost didn’t turn out that way.
According to the book jacket, Peter P. Greweling is “the award-winning author of Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner and is a professor of baking and pastry arts at The Culinary Institute of America, a Certified Master Baker, and a Certified Hospitality Educator.”
The book is a wealth of candy making information. Beginning with the equipment you need and equipment you don’t need and the right ingredients and the wrong ingredients, the book gives you all the information to be successful. From chocolates, even molded ones, to jellies to lollipops to fudge, nougats, toffees and more – it’s all in there.
There are a number of photographs, but I would have liked a few more. The instructions are clear and the ingredients are given by weight and by “normal” measuring means like cups and tablespoons. Throughout the book are “What If” sections to help with any issues you might run into such as, “What if my marzipan is oily and cracks?” Each recipe has “Keys to Success” to help with the final touches, and for some of the recipes, like the Caramel Cream Filling it offers suggestions for other ways it can be used. As a novice, I felt comfortable and confident making the recipe and ambitious to try more.
I am not a candy making professional, but I do make English toffee every holiday season, so I was a little familiar with the process, but I was still hesitant. Candy making deals with high temperatures and you have to be aware and alert to the temperature of the concoction as it cooks. So I had all my equipment and ingredients ready and waiting. (I’m the type of cook that begins cooking and then scrambles to get the ingredients.)
Once I had all I needed on standby, the fun began. I followed the step by step instructions. I was a whole lot nervous when the instructions told me to bring the mixture to a boil and then cover and let boil for 4 minutes without mixing. Having learned that English toffee is like a controlled burning of butter and sugar and constant mixing is vitally important to its success, I was certain smoke would billow out of the pot, my neighbors would hear my smoke detector yet again, and that I’d be throwing out the first batch. But I did what Greweling said, and believe it or not, he was spot on.
I thought I was in the clear, and once I added the peanuts, I wasn’t as vigilant with my mixing. Do you know that peanuts burn at lower temperatures? Fortunately, I caught it before the whole batch was ruined, but I did scoop out a couple scorched peanuts. I didn’t tell anyone about it and when the final product was being devoured, no one asked, “Do I detect a slight burnt taste?”, so I think I did ok. When I made the second batch of Peanut Brittle, yes, it was so yummy, my friends and family demanded a second batch, I wasn’t as neglectful and no peanuts were harmed in my second attempt.
I even brought some to work for my co-workers and they loved it. (I’m so glad they enjoy being my guinea pigs.) So, get on that Minerva catalog and have fun searching for cookbooks and try something new! Even if you make a mistake or two, it makes you more brave for next time.
Here it is. The final installment of Staff Picks 2019. May another year of great reading be ahead!
Linda leads the way:
Long Time Gone by J.A. Jance: This is the 17th book in this series featuring Seattle detective J.P. Beaumont. I had read the earlier ones years ago and somehow lost track of them. I had forgotten what good books they are. The stories are complete and complex as are her characters. This one is a page turner, full of twists and turns. It’s a very quick read. I finished it in a day. Her characters have grown and matured over the years and their relationships are deep. It might be good to read the first in the series to get a little background on them. Jance’s writing is so good, I was immersed in the setting and felt a part of the story, along for the ride, observing the chase. No, not observing, experiencing. It was a wild ride.
The Shaman’s Game by James D. Doss: With a full cast of complex and interesting characters, this book will immerse you in the culture and traditions of the Ute Nation in Colorado. Horace Antelope dies in the midst of a Dances Thirsty ritual, just as he taps into the power of The Great Mysterious One. He was old and dehydrated and exhausted from the demanding rite. His even older mother, Popeye Woman, dies of a heart attack from the shock. But there is much more here than meets the eye. Ute detective, Charlie Moon, spurred on by his own instincts and the spiritual insights of his Shaman Aunt Daisy, investigates what appears to be a death by natural causes. Suspects abound. Can Charlie Moon find the truth before anyone else dies?
Dave Slater series by P.F. Ford: I found this series free on Kindle and have enjoyed them very much. The author, apparently, went for years unable to get published and I don’t understand why. These are delightful, cozy British detective mysteries. They flow right along and are quick reads. I love the characters. They are quirky but intelligent and well suited to their jobs, and their relationships have humorous consequences even in the middle of their serious work. In each new volume, the plots get more complicated. So I recommend you go for a ride-along with DS Dave Slater and his partner, DS Norman Norman. (yes, really.) You won’t regret it. We are now carrying them in the library.
The Long Call by Ann Cleeves: This is the first installment of a new series written by the author of the Shetland and Vera Stanhope series. We meet Detective Matthew Venn as he stands in a church yard watching the funeral of his father. He is not welcome there. Little does he know he will soon be involved with his estranged family and church, soon enough. A body is found on the beach. The victim is recognized by a local young woman with Down’s Syndrome as someone who has befriended her on the bus. Then, a friend of hers goes missing from the same day center that she attends, the one managed by Venn’s husband, Jon. This girl is also the daughter of Venn’s mother’s friend, a member of the strict church that rejected him. Now it’s Venn’s job to put all the pieces together and solve this puzzle, hopefully before another body turns up. Ms. Cleeves’ great talents at creating characters, scenes, and complex plots, once again presents a compelling, suspenseful novel you won’t want to put down.
Shetland, Season 5 – DVD: This series, based on the books by Ann Cleeves has beautiful scenery, complex characters, and intense plots. The acting is top notch and the stories are riveting. This particular season delves into the subject of human trafficking, and tests the mettle of all our favorite characters. If you haven’t seen any of these, you may want to start at the beginning. The books are also wonderfully written. Try them too.
Emma is next:
In the Dream House: a memoir by Carmen Maria Machado
After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones
Growing Things and Other Stories by Paul Tremblay
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
The Wicked + the Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Mariah’s top picks:
Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls by Dav Pilkey
The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant
Best Friends by Shannon Hale
The Power by Naomi Alderman
The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle by Christina Uss
The Walking Dead – TV series
Stranger Things – Netflix series
Center Point Road by Thomas Rhett – album
And Dale will finish things off:
Middlewest by Skottie Young
Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias
Joker – DVD
The Witcher – Netflix series
Geist by The Browning – album
Happy New Year and we wish you all an adventurous year of reading, watching, and listening! See you at Topsham Public Library!
Is the anticipation keeping you up at night? Are you anxious for more reading suggestions? Are you loving new reads or wondering, “what were they thinking?” Well, wait no further! Below is the second installment of Topsham Public Library’s Staff Picks of 2019.
I will kick things off this week:
2019 was a bit different for me as I read more nonfiction than I usually do. I tend to space the nonfiction sparingly throughout the year, but I found myself picking up one as I was finishing another and my Top Picks reflects this abnormality in my reading habits as half of them are nonfiction books.
I first heard about Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson when I saw the movie trailer for this book. Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he moved to Alabama to defend prisoners on death row. Though the book is primarily about one case regarding the wrongful conviction of an innocent man, it also tells the story about his founding of Equal Justice Initiative and highlights some of the atrocities he saw in the criminal justice system. It is a thoughtful look at how we treat people of all ages who are incarcerated.
Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions From Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty is an eye-opening look at what happens to dead bodies from natural processes to what morticians may do. Doughty is a mortician and funeral industry insider trying to help people become more comfortable with the dying process. This book is a collection of questions children have asked or might ask about dead bodies. It’s a quick read, and it’s hilarious, gross, and educational all in one.
Cyndi introduced this book to me and you will notice that is is on her Top of 2019 list as well. In some ways, I don’t know where to begin, but simply speaking American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan is the account of the capture of a serial killer who roamed the United States killing when the notion hit him, and no one was aware he even existed. To say killing was Israel Keyes craft is the best way I know how to say it, and that he was stopped was as accidental as he was purposeful. Callahan includes excerpts from the interrogations, and as a journalist, she knows how to keep the story going. There are aspects of this account that I still think about today.
A collection of seven short stories smuggled out of North Korea makes my list this year. The Accusation by Bandi, though fiction, introduces the reader to the realities of living in North Korea under such an oppressive, intrusive, and evil dictatorship.
When your niece, who is a night library aide at the University of Michigan texts you and says, “read The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old by Hendrik Groen; translated by Hester Velmans,” you do. It’s a hilarious and poignant look into aging that is set in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Though it is a work of fiction, you know it’s true.
Stephen King is an amazing storyteller. I haven’t read everything he has written because, well, I like sleeping at night, but this year I read The Green Mile and I couldn’t put it down. (He wrote it as a serial in six parts: Two Dead Girls, Mouse On the Mile, Coffey’s Hands, Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix, Night Journey, and Coffey On the Mile and the entire collection is titled The Green Mile.) Though some might call it a horror story, and there are definitely horrific aspects to the tale, I found it to be thoughtful and insightful into the workings of the human heart.
Helen continues the fun:
Old Bones by Douglas Preston
The Family Plot by Cherie Priest
The Escape Room by Megan Goldin
The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
The Pandora Room by Christopher Golden
Cyndi keeps things rolling:
The Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey never stays long on our shelves and I wanted to know why. Pilkey and I go way back to the beginning of the Dragon and Captain Underpants series which captured the attention of my children when they were young. I love the Dog Man series! Pilkey is a great illustrator and has perfected the art of blending important messages in silly humor.
Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern, an adult graphic novel, is a hilariously warped take on the classic Romantic literature.
Green River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case is a graphic novel depicting the true-life story of the capture of one of America’s notorious serial killers.
American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan is the true story of a serial killer that roamed the United States killing at will, but in a way that allowed him to go undetected for years.
In Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories by Sarah Lerner, students who lived through the school shooting share their experience through poems, letters, journal writings and more.
Cold Day in the Sun by Sara Biren is a Young Adult novel that looks at gender role expectations through the eyes of a female on the all-male hockey team.
In Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer Echo’s father is captured by a wolf and she must solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment or they will all be lost.
Susan will wrap things up this week:
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield
Tune in next week for the final installment of Topsham Public Library’s Staff Picks 2019!
And here we are again! It’s 2020!! Twenty years ago, we lived through the build up to 2000 and wondered if the doomsayers were correct that the future would be one of planes falling out of the sky and only those survivalists with underground bunkers and stashes of freeze-dried food would last the year. Well, here we are, and I can’t believe how fast the time has flown!
The staff of Topsham Public Library has been making their list, and checking it twice, and I’m happy to present their Top 5-ish List of 2019.
Dave will get the party started:
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
The Long Call by Ann Cleeves
The Lost Man by Jane Harper
The Long Flight Home by Alan Hlad
How to Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir by Kate Mulgrew
A Keeper by Graham Norton
Barry, seasons 1-2
The Kominsky Method, season 1-2
London Kills, season 1
Manhunt, season 1
Lindsey, new to the game, keeps the party going:
Star vs Forces of Evil, television program
Henchgirl by Kristen Gudsnuk
The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox
Julie keeps things rolling with her Top Picks:
You Suck at Cooking: The Absurdly Practical Guide to Sucking Slightly Less at Making Food by released by Clarkson Potter Publishers
Shirtless Bear-Fighter! Volume 1 by Jodi Leheup and Sebastian Girner
Chew: The Omnivore Edition, Volume 1 by John Layman
Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith
And Lynne will sing us home with her Top Picks:
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill
Murderbot Diaries Series by Martha Wells
The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
Tune in next week for Part 2 of Top 5-ish Picks of 2019!
It’s so hard to believe that the next time I write a blog post it will be 2020! Everyone at Topsham Public Library wishes you Happy Holidays!
Our holiday hours are (items in bold are a change in normal hours):
Tuesday, December 24 9am-3pm
Wednesday, December 25 closed
Thursday, December 26 9am-8pm
Friday, December 27 9am-5pm
Saturday, December 28 9am-4pm
Sunday, December 29 closed
Monday, December 30 9am-5pm
Tuesday, December 31 9am-3pm
Wednesday, January 1 closed
Thursday, January 2 normal operating hours resume
It can be hard to get out during this time of year, this transition time between fall and winter. It’s cold and things look brown and bare. What is there to do and see outside right now anyway? Well… plenty! Read through the list of nature to explore around Topsham Public Library (and anywhere else) and then bundle up and get outside.
With branches exposed it’s the perfect time of year to look for nests. Check trees for bird and squirrel nests and shrubs for abandoned wasp nests (there’s one in a lilac shrub here at the library) as well as bird nests. You may also notice signs of mice constructing their winter shelters. If you’re able, spend a few moments investigating a nest. They are amazing structures!
Resources to inspire:
Most plants shed their leaves in the fall but there are a few that hold on to them (or most of them anyway). This phenomenon is called marcescence: the trait of retaining plant parts after they are dead and dry. Some trees in our area that exhibit this are oaks, and Witch Hazels (leaves & flower corollas) and the most common – American Beech. If you’re driving or walking and notice trees with pale tan or copper leaves when all others trees are bare, they are most likely beech.
Branches, Bark & Buds
When was the last time you took a good look at a tree? I mean really observe it. Notice the branching pattern. Is it opposite or alternate? What does the bark look like? How would you describe the texture (smooth, furrowed, scaly, papery, etc) and color? Some bark even has a distinctive scent. Scratch the bark of a Yellow Birch and you’ll get a whiff of wintergreen. Crush some bark or twigs of Sassafras and you’ll notice a spicy odor. Then move on to the buds. You should see the same growth pattern as the branches. Characteristics to notice are color, shape, texture, and scale arrangement. You might be amazed at the variety.
Resources to inspire:
Winter Tree Finder by Watts & Watts
Bark : A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech
The Trees in My Forest by Bernd Heinrich
Trees Up Close : The Beauty of Bark, Leaves, Flowers, and Seeds by Hugo & Llewellyn
Ice & Frost Formations
Not everyone loves seeing frost on windows, appreciates icy spots or admires tiny flakes but you may learn to after noticing their interesting features. Be intentional about slowing down to notice these fascinating structures.
Resources to inspire:
- Frost (National Geographic)
- Guide to Frost (CalTech)
Ken Libbrecht’s Field Guide to Snowflakes by Kenneth Libbrecht
Curious About Snow by Gina Shaw
Now you have some ideas to keep in mind. Next time you are outside be intentional about slowing down to notice nature. Come back here anytime and let us know what you are seeing!
Until next time, stay curious & get outside to notice nature!
Not only are the holidays are upon us, but then there’s New Year’s Eve, the Superbowl, and random “I’m tired of winter so let’s have people over to keep the doldrums at bay” parties. Well, Delish by Joanna Saltz and the Editors of Delish is a must have for any “raising a ruckus” party menu.
There is nothing subtle about this cookbook. From the pictures to the recipes to the extras throughout, it shouts, “Get some people together and have fun!” And it is a fun cookbook. They add pop culture references like a picture of Jennifer Lawrence saying, “I see you talking, but all I can think about is getting fries,” on the corner of a picture of their Parmesan Garlic Carrot Fries.
Food related pages are included covering topics like interesting food finds at the Minnesota State Fair and the Sonic Skate-Off. Who knew there was such a thing as the Sonic Skate-Off?! And mixed in are pages with multiple ideas for a basic food. For example, there is a layout on 5 Ways to Use Pizza Dough and one 4 Ways to Use Rotisserie Chicken, but imagine my delight when I saw 31 Mix-Ins for Boxed Mac and Cheese! They speak my language.
The cookbook is broken up into twelve sections: But First, Drinks; Party Starters; Fun Dips; ‘Witches, Bitches; What the Fork’s For Dinner?; You Wanna Pizza This?; Carb Your Enthusiasm; Tex-Mex Madness; Good For You!; Brunch Time; There’s Always Room…; and Friendsgiving and More. Sweet, salty, vegetarian, meat lovers, breakfast, lunch and supper. It’s all in there. All but subtlety.
I made Tex-Mex Meatballs. On Fridays my brother, with his adorable granddaughter, have taken to dropping by, so I try to have something planned for supper. And when there’s a 2 1/2 year old running around, it’s always a party. I tried the meatballs on them. They were a hit. My family. His family. The meatballs were loved. They are spicy, and oh so cheesy and yummy. The recipe was straight forward, easy-ish (the most “difficult” aspect was rolling the balls), and quick.
And that is how it seems with all of the recipes: straight forward, easy, and quick. Not everything is from scratch. Many of the recipes calling for bread or dough use store bought bread or dough. If you prefer from scratch, you could make the bread/dough needed and just adjust the recipe for such.
If you’re looking for some delicious, fun recipes you must try this cookbook. Whether you are having friends over or not, there is something, probably many somethings, in this book that will delight your taste buds.