Only in Naples

What is it about Italy?  I am not Italian nor do I have any Italian blood in my ancestry but like millions of others, I enjoy preparing Italian dishes to savour, dream of visiting Italy (especially when shovelling the driveway again after the snow plow rumbles through), contemplate trying to learn the language online (free through Mango Languages with your library membership, by the way) and love to read about those travelling or relocating to Italia.

So, when I spied “Only in Naples” by Katherine Wilson on the new books display at the Main Library, it was a no brainer. Charming cover, combination foodie memoir and travelogue, set in ITALY.  Yes, this was a book for me.

American Katherine Wilson, a Princeton graduate from a privileged family, travelled to Italy on an unpaid internship. Through reaching out to a local contact, she meets Salvatore Avallone and his family. She quickly falls in love with one while being completely and warmly embraced by the other.

This memoir is light and humourous with Wilson sharing embarrassing moments and charming ones. And she also shares very important facts with her readers. For example, “Never eat the crust of a pizza first.” This is a major faux pas in Naples, the home of pizza.  Apparently pizza originally was a dish only enjoyed by the poor but soon became widely accepted, especially after the visit of Queen Margherita of Savoy. Yes, that Margherita pizza you enjoy at Famoso in UpTown Waterloo was first made in Naples.

Through the close relationship she forms with her future mother-in-law, Raffaella, Wilson learns about the culture and traditions of the Neapolitan people.  She is guided through the “do’s and don’ts” of her adopted homeland. She is also painstakingly taken through the careful preparation of dishes which Raffaella swears her Salvatore will not be able to live without!  Not that he’d have to since the newlyweds end up setting up house in the same apartment complex as the parents.  And, you guessed it, Raffaella sends some of her “famous” dishes (which Katherine struggles to duplicate exactly) to them daily via the elevator. Now that’s takeaway with a personal touch!

“Only in Naples” is a heartwarming book and I did enjoy it although I have to admit the smattering of Italian words and phrases started to feel a bit affected by halfway through the book.  Recipes are included but I wasn’t enticed enough to try them.  The descriptions of the food, the sauces, the cooking methods, will send you scurrying to Vincenzo’s for provisions as soon as you can!

I have been lucky enough to visit Italy and yes, it was a wonderful as I imagined, and yes, you should go if you ever have the opportunity. We visited northern Italy for an all-too-brief time, lingering in Milan and at Lake Como and having the most incredible and memorable meal of our lives.  (my husband still says the best pizza he ever had was in Innsbruck, Austria but that’s another story) Oh, and YES, we definitely plan to return to Italy and explore many other regions.

I don’t have a traditional, Neapolitan recipe to share from my own collection at this time so another favourite Italian recipe will simply have to do!

— Sandi H.

Chicken Marsala

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut crosswise into 3 pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp butter
1 onion, chopped
15 cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 tblsp minced garlic
1 c Marsala wine
3/4 c mascarpone cheese
2 tblsp Dijon mustard
2 tblsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
Fettucine or mashed potatoes

Instructions

Heat olive oil in heavy, large skillet.

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Cook until just brown, then remove to a plate and cool slightly

While the chicken cools, melt 2 tblsp of the butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute 2 minutes or until tender.  Add mushrooms and garlic. Saute 12 minute or until mushroom juices evaporate. Add wine and simmer 4 minutes or until the sauce reduces by half. Stir in mascarpone and mustard.

Cut the chicken into 1/3″ thick slices. Return to the skillet and coat with sauce. Cook for 2 minutes over medium-low heat until chicken is completely cooked through. Stir in parsley. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with buttered fettucine noodles or mashed potatoes. Smells divine and tastes even better! If serving with potato, I recommend roasted carrots as a side dish.

Favorite Books of 2016

Favourite Books of 2016 (according to Laurie P.)

Now that 2016 is coming to a close we start to think about what we’ve accomplished this year.  Some of us participate in reading challenges to encourage ourselves to try new books and read more.  As an avid reader I thought I’d share some of the books that stood out from the 127 (and counting) books that I’ve read this year.  From suspense and historical fiction to non-fiction, memoirs and more it’s been an exciting year in books.

Here are some of the books that I found compelling, emotional, intriguing and above all else captivating.

 

 

glory    a-house    scrappy    i-promised

HISTORICAL FICTION

Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

This book is the follow up to Canadian author Kathleen Grissom’s best-seller The Kitchen House (but can be read as a stand-alone). It is a page-turner that follows the life of Jamie Pyke as he makes a new life in Philadelphia while trying to hide a secret that could destroy all that he has built. When someone to whom he owes a large debt comes for his help Jamie realizes he must return to the South and face a very uncertain future with potentially dire consequences. The story is told via multiple narrators and is a fast-paced read that focuses on race, slavery and the Underground Railroad as well as family ties and how one’s upbringing continues to influence us.

 

NON-FICTION

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

This book was WPL’s One Book, One Community (OBOC) choice for 2016.  From Lindhout’s turbulent life in Alberta to backpacking across to globe to her 2008 abduction in Somalia where she and an Australian photographer were held captive for 15 months this book was hard to put down.  Even though I knew the outcome of her abduction I found this book riveting and, above all else, inspiring.

 

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

You may recognize Anna Kendrick from movies such as the Pitch Perfect series, Twilight and Into The Woods. What you may not realize is that she is Funny (with a capital F), sassy, charming and a self-proclaimed dork.  In this book she shares some of her life moments and whether she comes off as cool, funny or awkward you know that Anna will be candid. Her personal observations are served up with great self-deprecating humour but she is also inspiring and quite on the money with many of her observations involving relationships, friendships, work and generally not taking life too seriously. I listened to the audiobook and having her read the book to you is the icing on the cake.

 

I Promised Not To Tell: Raising A Transgender Child by Cheryl B Evans

This book shines a light on the emotional, social and personal implications of someone struggling to be their authentic gender.  This is Evans’ personal story as a mother of a transgender child and how her family helped her daughter Jordan transition from female to male within the Canadian health, educational and legal systems.  Her writing style is casual and has an easy-going conversational feel.  Yet she also provides a great resource for parents of transgender children as well as the general public to get a better idea about the struggles for those who are transgender.

 

CRIME, DRAMA AND SUSPENSE

darktown

Darktown by Thomas Mullen

This fictionalized story focuses on the first Black officers on the Atlanta police force in the late 1940’s. Mullen weaves a crime drama around these officers and this tumultuous time which was rife with racial tension and blatant bigotry.  With vivid and candid writing it is no wonder that Hollywood has noticed and has optioned this book as a TV drama with Jamie Foxx as executive producer.

 

 

findherFind Her by Lisa Gardner

This is a fast-paced and intense book that places the reader firmly in the minds of two of the characters – Boston PD, Detective D.D Warren and Flora, a young woman who had been abducted several years previously for 472 days and who, once again, disappears. Flora has lived through absolute horrors and she’s a survivor but is she someone who would take the law into her own hands to help other victims?  It is a gripping plot with several red herrings to keep you guessing but it is also about survivors and their fight to stay alive after much has been taken from them.

 

homeHome by Harlan Coben

I love the Myron Bolitar series.  It’s fast-paced and the characters will bring you back time and again – especially the friendship between Myron and Win. They are as close as brothers and have a wonderfully funny banter that gives the reader a sense of the depth of their long-term friendship. This lightheartedness is needed to balance some serious issues that are brought to light in this book, such as child abduction and prostitution. But make no mistake, while these two friends throw out some funny one-liners, they are smart, have each other’s backs and are quite dangerous if you get on their wrong side. This is a quick read with short chapters and has quite a few characters but Coben keeps everything clear for his readers. If Home is the first book of this series that you’ve picked up you’ll still enjoy the twists and turns but I think reading many (or all) of the previous books will help give you real sense of what these characters have been through together

 

coupleThe Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

This book is a fast-paced, twist-filled thriller that had me repeatedly questioning the identity of the culprit. Lapena includes the points of view of a few of her characters which gives readers brief glimpses into their personalities, fears and motivations. She then slowly unveils different aspects of these characters and the secrets they’ve been hiding that will cause readers to question if their earlier predictions were correct. What really happened? Who is lying? No one is as they seem and with twists sprinkled liberally throughout I was eager to find out the identity of the culprit. This is an impressive and well thought out psychological thriller that is a highly entertaining, ‘nothing-is-getting-done-until-I-know-whodunnit’ kind of read.

 

perfectThe Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen

This book focuses on the lives of four women who live in Newport Cove, a highly sought after neighbourhood. But even within this bucolic neighbourhood secrets abound. Readers are pulled into each of the women’s stories and as a reader I felt like I got a bird’s eye view of their family squabbles, issues and uncertainties. While all of the issues were quite serious some had a more emotional tone. To balance out the drama, at the beginning of chapters she includes funny posts from neighbourhood residents on their online interactive newsletter. These sometimes banal yet funny responses to the ‘issues’ of living in their neighbourhood helped to bring some levity to this issue laden read. The book focuses on the struggles each of these women face and while the mystery aspect was secondary it added a nice pull throughout the book and a suspenseful scene towards the end. Fans of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies will enjoy this book.

 

fieldingShe’s Not There by Joy Fielding

This is a hard-to-put-down mystery with some surprising twists and a lot of emotion. Fielding uses two time frames (present and 15 years ago at the time of the abduction) to tell her story which had me suspecting many of the characters. It focuses on Caroline, the mother of the abducted toddler, and how she deals with the abduction. She’s emotionally bereft and comes home to find that she’s been vilified in the media which affects her life for years to come. It’s Caroline and her daughter Michelle’s tumultuous and often volatile relationship that gave the book its emotional depth as they both continue to hurt over the loss of Samantha. Many of their exchanges are raw, hurtful and sometimes hard to read due to the emotions behind it all but I always felt like the emotion was realistically portrayed. This is a story about a family in turmoil whose relationships are broken or, at best, strained and all of their issues stem from that fatal night of the abduction.

As you can see it’s been a been a good year in books and luckily WPL has all of these titles (and so many more) on our shelves.  Wishing you a 2017 filled with all the great books, DVDs , CDs and more that WPL has to offer!

– -Laurie P.

Not New, But New to Me

We all love a shiny, new book, but sometimes a slightly scuffed cover, sitting on a book cart, returned to the library and awaiting reshelving, catches our eye.  These books can be gems, too, even if they no longer have the privilege of being displayed front and centre on the new book shelves.

The word “ingredients” jumped out at me since I am a keen amateur chef and am always on the lookout for a new (or new to me) foodie read.  I soon had “The School of Essential Ingredients” by Erica Bauermeister tucked away in my book bag.

In Bauermeister’s novel, Lillian, a restaurant owner and self-taught chef, had learned at an early age that the only way to reach her distant Mother was through food.

Lillian’s Father had walked out when she was a toddler, and her Mother found solace in books, escaping into the chapters of favourite novels any second she had. Lillian was lost and alone when her Mother disappeared behind the covers of her cherished tomes.

By the age of 8, she had taken over the cooking completely in their household of two and, with the help of friends’ sympathetic mothers, had developed decent skills. Realizing how people react to spices, to textures, to smells, she hatched her great plan.

“I’m going to cook her out.” Lillian proclaimed, determined that her food would entice her Mother to step out from behind her books and back into her daughter’s life.

Many years later, with a successful restaurant bearing her name, Lillian decided to start a small cooking school to share not only the art behind her tantalizing dishes, but to also show how food, and recipes shared, can transform friendships and even, in some cases, lives.

I really enjoyed this book. Each chapter is dedicated to one of the 8 students who meet each month at Lillian’s restaurant. We get to peek into their lives; their loves, their joys and their sorrows too. It was interesting to see how their lives intertwine and change through a chance meeting over the common interest of learning to cook.

And as for the descriptions of the food and its preparation, they made my mouth water and my fingers itch to get cooking, too.

To learn more about Erica Bauermeister and to check out her favourite recipes, visit her website.

— Sandi H.

Extra note: I recently read the sequel to “The School of Essential Ingredients” which is called “The Lost Art of Mixing” and, while it ties up some of the relationship loose ends from the first book, I felt it lacked a bit of the charm of “The School”. Was it worth reading? Yes, but only if you really enjoyed the first and wondered about the future of the characters.

As usual, I am happy to share a recipe along with my review. I’ve selected a recipe that is suitable for all levels of cooks. The recipe is easy, looks wonderful for presentation and is moist and flavourful each and every time.

FN_Ina Garten Lemon and Garlic Roast Chicken.tifLemon Roast Chicken

1 onion, sliced thickly
Carrots, peeled and cut into thick slices lengthwise
1 – 5 to 6 lb. roasting chicken, fresh or thawed
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 lemon, halved or quartered (depending on size of chicken)
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 425F.

Put onions and carrots in roasting pan.

Rinse chicken inside and out. Pat dry with paper towel.  Set chicken on top of vegetables.

Liberally salt and pepper inside the cavity, then stuff with the thyme, lemon and garlic.  Tie legs together with kitchen string and tuck wings up under the body.  Brush outside of chicken with melted butter; salt and pepper.

Roast for 90 minutes or until juices run clear when you pierce the flesh between leg and thigh.

Serve hot with roasted carrots and onion, and mashed potatoes.

Movies and Netflix

detectoristsA friend at work recently asked me if we had the Netflix streaming service at our home and I replied that we didn’t and then made a silly joke about why we don’t but, really, we don’t have it at home because we watch enough TV and movies with traditional cable.  I know that if we had constant access to that kind of entertainment in our home it would be a struggle to ever leave the couch.  But, I’ve been really thinking about this and I realize that WPL and the customers I regularly talk to are just like my own personal Netflix service.

A few weeks ago one of the customers who comes in often told me he thought I would enjoy the recent remake of the movie Tarzan and I said, “are you sure?  It looks pretty scary to me.”  His reassurance that it was worth the scare encouraged me to place a hold on a movie that I had previously discounted.  This is a customer who knows his movies and always has good suggestions so I knew he would provide a great recommendation.  Could Netflix tell me that the 2016 version of Tarzan is not too scary for me to watch?

Many mornings I check in DVDs from customers who provide commentary on things that they have enjoyed or not found to be as good as they have hoped.  These are fantastic reviews with smiles and detailed opinions about the quality of the acting, how well the filmmaker used special effects or whether the director made good decisions and they are so much more fun than what you read in the newspaper or read online.  I’ve had the most satisfying conversations with WPL customers about whether or not Woody Allen should keep making films, whether Independence Day should ever have been remade (the consensus is it should not), and why are so many films being made for the teen audience.  Would that kind of give and take ever come to me from Netflix?

About a month ago when I was enjoying a busy afternoon on our Circulation desk a man passed a DVD across the counter to me with the enthusiastic comment, “You have to watch this!”  When I asked him to tell me about it he said that it was almost too hard to describe but that it featured two men who were good friends and enjoyed an unusual hobby.  So, I checked it in and said that I would give it a try (if it didn’t have a customer hold on it, of course).  Once I had the DVD in my hand and had a look I saw that it was a truly unusual hobby – metal detecting – and I checked it out for the weekend.  That is definitely better service than Netflix, wouldn’t you say?  He handed the DVD right to me and told me to watch it.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out the BBC series called The Detectorists which is written, directed by and stars Mackenzie Crook then you are missing out.  It will instantly sweep you away with the friendship between these hobbyists who meet to share their finds of buttons, buckles and metal debris that they have unearthed in local fields.  It’s the pleasure of watching them walking slowly through these fields, talking about their lives, hoping that they will find something wonderful that endlessly charmed me.  In between the ‘detecting’ there is real drama of a sort – a lost love, friendships in turmoil, some competition over who would chair their club, and a secret from the past that is finally shared – but their faith that they will find treasure underneath the soil is so comforting that I simply could not stop watching.  I was binge watching a TV show for the first time… and it was about 40-year old men who use metal detecting as a hobby.  I would never have found this show without the help of a WPL customer.  Would I have found this treasure through Netflix?

The Waterloo Public Library and the customers here are my own personal Netflix service.  It is saving me time and money and I am having so much watching the suggestions I get.  Now if WPL could just do something about my laundry and dinner dishes life would be pretty close to perfect.

Penny M.

White Rage by Carol Anderson

 White Rage: the unspoken truth of our racial divide by Carol Andersonwhiterage

I like a book that takes conventional wisdom– and turns it on its head. To give you a whole new way of looking at things. White Rage by Carol Anderson is a book that does just that.

The author, an American historian, takes as a starting point the recent events of Ferguson, Missouri, in which an  unarmed black teenager was shot to death by police. Widespread looting and rioting by blacks followed, leading many commentators at the time to talk about “black rage.”

But Anderson flips that notion around, saying the real issue is, in fact, “white rage.” It is whites who will not accept full and equal citizenship of blacks and who are thus the main cause of race problems in America.

White Rage looks at black experience from the end of the Civil War (1861-65) to the present. Legislatures and courthouses were used time and time again to limit the rights of blacks.  Plenty of physical violence was also directed against them.

Much of this information I have heard before (though some of it forgotten). To have it all presented in one place makes for very shocking and sickening reading. A couple of things really jumped out at me.  For instance, the southern states did everything they could (poll taxes, literacy tests, among other things) to stop blacks from voting. Thus in the 1940s, of the millions of adult blacks in the deep South, only 5% were actually registered to vote. Not exactly democracy at its finest–or even democracy at all.

Or how about this. After the Civil War the federal government passed the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery), which all states were required to ratify. The last state to do so, Mississippi, finally got around to it in 2013 (yes, that’s 2013). Unbelievable.

I think the author makes a pretty solid case for re- framing the debate. A very thought-provoking book.

Penny D.

What I read when I had the flu

thanksabeelinereplica

Recently I found myself at home with the flu and I was woefully unprepared in the amount of reading material I had at home.  I had a nice assortment of cookbooks, one new cozy mystery, a celebrity autobiography and a YA-adult crossover so for a regular weekend that is a pretty good pile of books but when you are sick in bed with the flu.. you can run out of things to read pretty fast.  Even more so when you have to discard several of them right away because they are cookbooks filled with images of food.  Who wants to read Maria Rodale’s gorgeous new book called Scratch when even looking at that freshly roasted bird on the cover makes your stomach turn?  And, then Ina Garten’s new cookbook for her husband?  Well, it was a little easier to look at that cover because it is just the two of them smiling but it still had way too much food in it.  I just set the cookbooks aside right away.  Covers facing down.

The celebrity autobiography was written by Joel McHale.  The not so cleverly titled Thanks for the money: how to use my life story to become the best Joel McHale you can be seemed like a light choice for learning a bit about the world of a Hollywood star.  He played a character in a TV show that I enjoyed for several years called “Community”.  It is still one of the shows that I can dip into for a reliable laugh and find that their parodies of films and TV shows that I have loved will just pop into my head in the middle of a workday.  The book though?  It was okay.  It read a lot like his character in the TV show – sarcastic and very fond of himself – more of a quick read.  It didn’t really extend my knowledge of him as a person although I did learn that he was born in Rome which is a nice nugget I might pull out once in a while at parties and he is the middle child of three brothers which explains a fair bit about his personality.  It did not take a long time to read though so my time in bed with the flu loomed large.

The new cozy mystery was a treat but did not take up very much time to read through.  It’s the first in a series which is delightful and I enjoy meeting a supportive cast of characters in a quirky new setting for the first time so I was very happy with this little paperback called A beeline to murder.  Now, I am 100% aware that the cozy mystery genre is not for everyone and that is just fine with me.  If you aren’t reading that colourful paperback with the pun-laden title then it is much easier for me to get to it first.  This one was about a police officer who recently left the force and is running a small farm and also happens to be a beekeeper.  She was such an incredibly successful detective that when a local chef is found dead her colleagues ask her to help out.  How does it all end?  I won’t spoil it for you.  It was good enough for me to look forward to the second in this series.  It’s not the first time an apiarist has been featured in a cozy mystery though, if you were wondering.  Hannah Reed also does a nice cozy series about a beekeeper and we have four or five of those in the collection here at WPL.  Still, this sweet little paperback did not take up enough of my time although it did cheer me up a bit thinking about the next book.  Even more puns about bees and crime to look forward to.

 

The YA book was fun.  It’s the latest from Lauren Oliver, called Replica.  She is not in my top tier of YA authors but she is a reliable storyteller and you know that you will be kept turning the pages every time.  I can always pass her books on to someone with the reassurance that it will get them through a boring afternoon at the cottage or a long plane ride.  Her books would make great movies and I’ve read that more than one have been optioned for films.  The most recent one is actually two stories (both in the same book – you flip it upside down and begin from the other side to read the other character’s perspective) and I won’t tell you too much but it is set in a time very close to ours but with advances in science and medicine that you certainly hope are far into the future.  If these kinds of things are happening right now?  Oh dear.  There was a touch of romance and more than a smidgen of violence but it was the perfect way to spend a few hours in bed coughing and using up far too many tissues and cups of tea.

As my reading pile dwindled I started to panic and then turned to the Download Library for support – it’s available 24-hrs a day in the most convenient little package.  I just love showing it to customers but rarely have time to peruse the titles for my own pleasure and this extra time stuck at home with my germs gave me lots of time to settle down to find myself something comforting and diverting.  I went with… Alan Bradley.  That genius who has given us Flavia de Luce – called “part Harriet the Spy, part Violet Baudelaire” by the New York Times – has also given us a 3 book bundle of the first books in this series on the DownloadLibrary.   It’s as if he knew that I would need it someday.  And, since I was experiencing a most uncomfortable chill, I only went as far as downloading it to my smartphone so that I would just poke one finger out of the blankets to advance each page.  It was perfect, every other part of me could stay comfortably cozy inside a nest while I waited out my illness.

I’m perfectly shipshape now and have a new pile of books all ready to enjoy but I know that I have the DownloadLibrary (and my friend Flavia) if I need a little something extra when times get rough during the flu season.