Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mexico in a dish

We have a couple of new cookbooks that will help you spice up your kitchen and take you beyond tacos and fajitas (which is the extent of my forays into Mexican cooking, unfortunately).
If you are a completely new to making Mexican dishes, try Simply Mexican by Lourdes Castro. her collection of 60 simple recipes comes accompanied with 'Cooking Notes' that helps familiarize readers with techniques and ingredients central the the Mexican table. You can learn how to wrap meat in banana leaves, put together tamales (time consuming, but oh so good) and prepare an achiote marinade. These are nice, simple dishes that are quick to prepare and serve as a good introduction to Mexican dining.
If you would like to move on to dishes that are a little fancier, try Fresh Mexico: 100 simple recipes for true Mexican flavor by Marcela Valladolid. Her recipes use a wide range of ingredients, from cactus leaves to fresh guava to amaranth seeds. She also incorporates a little ethnic fusion as well, offering Mexican twists on sushi, osso bucco and Napoleons. The mascarpone-stuffed squash blossoms will transport you to the streets of Tijuana. Many of the recipes here are very elegant and would create a perfect meal for guests.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Banned Books Week

I'm not sure 'celebrate' is the word to use, since we're not exactly advocating the banning and censorship of books. Perhaps 'commemmerate' might be a better term for what we want to do: alert everyone to the fact that even in a country that prizes freedom, equality and the power of knowledge, there are people who want to restrict the access of others to information (books, usually) deemed 'unsuitable'.
I will willingly admit that there are books in the library that I don't like. I don't agree with the author's politics, their morals, their perception of history, or their writing ability. But I'm not here to dispense only the information that I personally like. I don't have the right to tell you what you can and can't listen to, read or watch. And censorship is a slippery slope.
You might agree with the banning of a particular book; it may fall perfectly in line with your sense of what is right and wrong. But book banning, like murder, gets easier and easier to accomplish as it gets done more often. So eventually you get to the point where people in the community start trying to block the information you are looking for and trying to ban the books you want to read.
The best way to preserve your rights is to exercise them: read a book today. We have lists of books that have been 'challenged' the last few years across America. Stop by and take I look, I guarantee the titles on the list will surprise you.

Friday, September 25, 2009

More Playaways

Our most popular audio collection just got a little bit larger. Here are the new Playaway titles on the shelf this month:

Borderline by Nevada Barr, narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. This is the 15th in the popular mystery series starring National Park ranger Anna Pigeon.

Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidson, read by Barbara Rosenblat. Another culinary cozy from mystery writer Davidson, this one centers around a wedding reception at a ritzy spa and a bride from Hell.

Fugitive by Philip Margolin, read by Jonathan Davis. This is a legal thriller, with attorney Amanda Jaffe defending a con man accused of murdering a Congressman. Her client's most immediate concern is the ruthless African dictator unhappy about being cuckolded by the con man.

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith, read by Lisette Lecat. The 10th installment in a delightful series set in Botswana. Catch up on the latest events in the lives of Precious Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni.

Wicked Prey by John Sandford, read by Richard Ferrone. Private investigator Lucas Davenport is back, and this time he's trying to prevent a crime at the Republican National Convention and save his daughter from a disabled pimp with an axe to grind against Davenport.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Walking for your health?

I took my customary lunch time walk along the 3rd avenue bypass today, and just as I came to the large rock outcropping above Gorge St., a black bear stepped out from behind the rock.
We both came to a complete stop and eyed one another for a second before the bear turned around and started climbing up the rock. I crossed the street to the upland side, turned around and saw the bear standing on its hindlegs looking down the street. A van drove between us (I'm pretty sure the driver didn't see the bear), and I started walking toward town. I glanced back and the bear was crossing over to my side of the street, so I immediately crossed back over to the sidewalk and then watched the bear scramble down into the gully where the little waterfall ends.
Looking back on the whole thing, I don't think I behaved quite as I ought. I didn't run (that's a good thing) but turning my back on a black bear (and - hello!- not turning off my mp3 player) was probably not the wisest thing I've ever done. If you are a frequent habitué of the bypass, you might want to brush up on your bear encounter etiquette. And perhaps carry a whistle.

Anarchy at a date to be determined later!

Although librarians have a reputation as being rabble-rousers for intellectual freedom, most of us don't promote anarchy and mass civil disobedience. That being said, I got a real kick* out of Causing a Scene: extraordinary pranks in ordinary places with Improv Everywhere by Charlie Todd and Alex Scordelis. The phenomenon of mass coordinated stranger pranks got it's start in 2001 when Charlie Todd decided to pass himself off in a restaurant as Ben Folds (of Ben Folds Five semi-fame). What started as a lark soon became a website and then the book.
Basically, it's all about devising a silly, Candid-Camera like stunt and getting a whole bunch of total strangers to participate - some knowingly and some not. For instance, one group staged an author reading and book signing at a Barnes & Noble store. The author: Anton Chekov (who died in 1904). Another prank, which seems to have gotten a life of its own, involved getting a whole bunch of people to ride the subway without wearing pants. The book explains how the whole project got started, showcases some of the more brilliant pranks - and fills you in on the 'aftermath' - and ends with the eventual outcome from the Ben Folds impersonation.
In accordance with the spirit of Improv Everywhere, the stunts are all benign goofiness. There's no humiliation of unsuspecting people, no property damage, no financial gain. This isn't solving world peace or contributing to the greater good of mankind, but it's funny and silly...and don't we all need to lighten up a little?

(*This kind of humor - much like 'Kick Me' signs - is always funnier when it happens to someone else. I don't know that I would find it quite so droll if I was the target)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Yarn Bee is back!!

Fall is here, the tourist season is winding to a close, the kids are back in school and all is right with the world. It's time to go back into cozy mode: high-carb meals, curling up with a good book, and dusting off all the craft projects you set aside in May.
We are starting up our monthly Yarn Bee again this Sunday, from 1 pm to 3 pm. Come down with your knitting, crocheting and felting projects and meet up with fellow crafters. Enjoy some cookies and hot coffee, and see what clever new crafting books the library has to offer. We've got new patterns for knitting socks, inspirations for blending color (including a beautiful shawl inspired by Monet's painting Water Lillies), and some adorable finger puppets that would make perfect stocking stuffers for the little ones on your Christmas list. We also have some wider-ranging craft ideas that are based on the techniques of knitting and crocheting.
Judith will be your host this month (we had a few schedule changes this month) and since she actually knows how to knit (unlike yours truly), it should be a great gathering. We hope to see some new faces this fall...tell your friends!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

So you'ld like to play an instrument

I think it would be a wonderful thing to touch an instrument and produce beautiful music. I took flute lessons in elementary school, but didn't have the discipline required to practice (and the flute is not forgiving of bad technique). I've toyed with the idea of trying to teach myself an instrument, but have yet to follow through on that ambition.
If you have more intestinal fortitude than I do, the public library has the resources you need. We have just gotten new guides on learning to play the acoustic guitar, fiddle - even the harmonica! We also have teaching guides for the piano, drums, banjo, concertina and the bagpipe. Our guitar manuals include acoustic, electric, bass and blues.
Are you a more of a visual learner? Then try our instructional videos on playing the piano, drums, guitar or the spoons (always a hit at parties). For aural learners, our bagpipe manuals are each accompanied by CDs. We even have an iPod-compatible instructional guide to playing Latin and African rhythms on the drum - just go to our ListenAlaska audiobook service.
So as the days get shorter and the cold rain drives you indoors, consider the possibility of learning a musical instrument. As you spend the next 6 months cooped up in the house, learning the bagpipe, it will be the perfect opportunity to test those family bonds of love and loyalty.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Cheating in sports has become big news lately, especially the issue of steroid use. As fans hear story after story about major league baseball players, cyclists, Olympic hopefuls and college players caught using illegal 'performance enhancing drugs' (odd that no one has started calling them 'peds' - 'roids' is a popular way to shorten the word steroids....but I digress) the public discourse often follows one of two patterns:
  • 1. Everybody does it, everybody's crooked. It's not really newsworthy, and it doesn't really matter.
  • 2. Sports used to be more honorable, and today's athletes are irresponsible criminals who are setting a terrible example for our kids.
So what's the truth? Is it steroid use any worse than using high-tech swimsuits or sleeping in hyperbaric chambers? Has the integrity of the sports world taken a sharp nosedive in recent years? Fran Zimniuch looks at these questions in his new book Crooked: a history of cheating in sports. From the 1905 Olympic marathon runner who used strychnine to overcome the heat to the BALCO scandal still causing shockwaves today (say it ain't so, Big Papi), Zimniuch looks at just how far people are willing to go to win. Biased referees, gambling fans, ambitious coaches and unscrupulous recruiters get their fair share of blame along with the athletes themselves. This is an interesting read for anyone who enjoys watching - or participating in - sports.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cheap eats

Everybody is very budget-conscious these days, and cutting costs means not just curtailing restaurant visits but trying to spend less at the grocery store as well. A couple of our new cookbooks can help you put delicious, filling meals on the table for a lot less money.
Eat Cheap But Eat Well: over 120 penny-pinching recipes is from Charles Mattocks (TV's The Poor Chef). He presents a variety of dishes that use either inexpensive cuts of meat or combine the meat with other ingredients to stretch it into more servings. As he points out, cutting out 12-oz steaks from your diet is not only good for your wallet, it's good for your health. Each recipe is simple to follow, the ingredients are easy to get here in Ketchikan, and he gives you a general idea of cost per serving (a note of caution here: this book is written for the readers Down South, who pay a lot less money for groceries than we do on our Alaskan island paradise. If Mattocks can get a pound of tilapia for under $5, more power to him. I know I can't). That being said, this book is a great way to start cutting your food budget.
Almost Meatless: recipes that are better for your health and the planet is focused on semi-vegetarianism as a health and ecology issue. But since the most expensive item on your dinner plate is the meat ($4 a pound for ground beef, for pete's sake!) - than the less meat you use, the cheaper your meals. Like Charles Mattocks, the authors of this cookbook propose a variety of ways to stretch a little bit of meat into many servings. Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond use chilis, casseroles, fajitias, soups, wraps, salads, stir-frys and pasta to make things interesting. Dine on Greek gyros, Albondigas meatballs, Shrimp risotto, Crab pad thai, Shepherd's pie or Tuna tartine. Good for you, and not hard on your pocketbook....

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rare or medium-rare?

I know summer is supposed to be the time for hamburgers, grilled chicken, hot dogs, ribs and anything barbecued, but I find that autumn is when my thoughts turn to fat-laden, protein-rich foods. Bring on the roast turkey, roast beef and roast pork! We do have some new cookbooks that will help you straddle the summer grilling season and the fall fat season...
Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries and Shakes. Flay shows you how to make the perfect french fry, blend the creamiest milkshake and grill up some truly juicy burgers. From a simple buttermilk onion ring to a peanut-butter-banana-marshmallow milkshake, this book is guaranteed to ladle on the insulating fat for winter. Bring on the arctic cold, I've just eaten a burger smothered in cheese, bacon and fried onion rings.
Emeril at the Grill: a cookbook for all seasons. This book is a little more upmarket than Bobby Flay (Rib-eye, new potato and portobello kebabs on rosemary skewers. Oh, man). Paninis, pizzas, roasted vegetables, grilled seafood and seared slabs of meat pop up all over this book, accompanied by gorgeous pictures. For Thanksgiving, you can even try Emeril's Turkey roulade with peach and sage gravy.
Grillin' With Gas: 150 mouthwatering recipes for great grilled food. Author Fred Thompson takes you on a global tour of grilled meats, preparing dishes with Asian, Caribbean, Mexican and Mediterranean flavors. He has a nice chapter on seafood, with an emphasis on salmon. The recipes are varied and easy to follow, and he even has vegetarian entrees to offer.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Techie craft

A few months ago we acquired a cookbook for the electrical engineer in all of us - The Hungry Scientist Handbook. We have a new addition to the science geek/homemaker genre: MAKE: the best of...75 projects from the pages of MAKE. It is jam-packed with craft ideas for anyone with a cabinet full of electrical components, a soldering tool and a knowledge of circuitry.
  • Make a mini-amplifier for your headphones out of an Altoids tin.
  • Turn your old VCR into an automatic cat-food dispenser.
  • Build a light-controlled robot from your computer mouse.
  • Construct a 'clock' that monitors the number of unread email messages in your inbox.
  • Launch potatoes over 200 yards with stun-gun power.
  • Build your own wind-powered generator.
The instructions assume that you know what you're doing when it comes to wiring, chemistry and model construction....the contributors have ironed out the bumps for you. Their ideas might ignite your own creativity, as well. This is the perfect book for the tinkerer in you, and who knows? You might actually get something useful out of it.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Memoir of a museum

Our new book A Museum of Their Own: National Museum of Women in the Arts is an interesting blend of books. It is a behind-the-scenes account of how art museums raise funds, plan exhibits and acquire pieces for the collection. It is a coffee-table book full of color images of the various statues, paintings, photographs, vessels, pottery and textiles that have been exhibited at the museum. It is also a brief autobiography of the driving force behind the creation of said museum, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay.
Her first experience with causes and fundraising was as a young mother, when she launched a campaign to construct a new building for the private school her daughter attended (don't be surprised to find the book liberally sprinkled with references to politicians, diplomats, art patrons, corporate executives and First Ladies - you have to operate in a certain level of Society to create a national museum). A part-time job in the gift shop of the National Gallery stirred her interest in art, and she began to be more interested in the work of female artists, slowly accumulating her own private collection.
For a while, her collection was open to public viewing in her own residence, with a docent leading tours. In 1987, however, years of fundraising paid off and the National Museum of Women Artists opened its doors to the public. Twenty-two years later, the museum is continuing to expand its collection and to preserve and display the artwork of many talented women, from 17th-century painters & 18th-century silversmiths to the Broadway costumes of Julie Taymor.
This is a very interesting book, and a good inspiration for anyone who is trying to champion an artistic or intellectual cause of their own. (New library building, anyone?)