Becoming

This book was a joy to read. I’ve been a fan of Michelle Obama for quite some time. I’ve always liked her strength, her passion to help others, her positive outlook and her strong devotion to her family and this book just made me appreciate her even more.

WPL has Becoming in three formats: hardcover, large print and recorded book (CD). I listened to the CD and found Michelle Obama to be an engaging narrator who allowed her warmth, humour, compassion and honesty shine through. She is the Michelle Obama you’ve seen in interviews and with Becoming, she brings readers into her personal triumphs, losses, insecurities and struggles from her early days as a young Black girl growing up in the south side area of Chicago, to her love of education and her years at Princeton, to meeting a fellow lawyer with a ‘weird name’ and her eventual role as First Lady of the United States. Readers are privy to the Obama’s early years as a couple, Barack’s increasing involvement in politics, parenting two daughters together, his run for the presidency of the USA and their eight years living in the fish bowl that is the White House.

Michelle Obama has always seemed like a regular kinda gal to me. She’s a mom, wife and daughter who just happens to be living an extraordinary life. As FLOTUS, she has lived under public scrutiny trying to balance family life with the daunting workload that she bore as First Lady. She wanted to give their children a reasonably normal childhood and use her role as First Lady to make positive changes in the country she so clearly loves. She gives readers a bird’s eye look at her life in the White House – the unique experiences made available to her as well as the limitations to her freedom and I appreciate that she doesn’t hold back on her opinions on some of the issues that have plagued and still plague the US.

Throughout the book Michelle Obama is well-spoken, genuine and she comes off as relatable and often inspirational as she shares personal anecdotes that show her fears, loves, struggles and accomplishments. Some of her anecdotes had me grinning, relating to her thoughts as a wife and mother, while several caused me to tear up as I listened to her speak about the devastation and loss her country has faced.

This is a moving, powerful and reflective book that readers, especially women and those who have ever felt unseen and ignored, will appreciate. You don’t have to be a Democrat (or even an American – says this proud Canadian) to enjoy this book. If you weren’t a fan of Michelle Obama’s before, you will be after reading Becoming.

— Laurie P.

Happy 30th Die Hard

It’s so hard to believe that Die Hard is 30 years old this year. Bruce Willis has been saving his estranged wife and her coworkers from Hans Gruber and his ruthless henchmen for decades now and it’s still one of the most enjoyable action movies of all time. It was nominated for a few Academy Awards in 1998, the ones you would expect, like Best Sound Effects and Best Visual Effects, but that doesn’t take into consideration that the writing was top-notch and Bruce Willis takes you on an emotional journey unlike any other in that genre. All two hours and twelve minutes of that film are filled with action and set the standard for movies in that genre that come to follow.

When the movie first came out I saw it with high school friends and we joined the rest of the audience in cheering each time John McClane made it through another terrifying moment against the despicable criminals – they were so calculated in their lawbreaking. As time has passed and I’ve seen the movie again and again (and with the help of my two daughters’ critical eyes) I can see that they carefully set everything up to make the whole film an endless barrage of moments that keep you on the edge of your seat. McClane removes his shirt (and shoes and socks, after his seatmate in the airplane suggests that it will help him to relax after his stressful airplane flight) to clean up after his flight to see his wife Holly and without this ‘armour’ he is even more vulnerable when the first shots are heard. The very fact that he has flown to Los Angeles from New York to try and mend some of the damage in their marriage makes the audience care for him even more. And when he just doesn’t stop, despite grueling injuries and the terrifying thought that his wife could be in danger, well, we are there with him every step of the way. We are watching through our fingers as he continues to battle, despite everything horrible that comes his way, we are on McClane’s side until the last bullet and flash of a bomb.

Of course, throughout all of those horrible moments comes what Bruce Willis was known for at the time, his perfect comic delivery. He made “Die Hard” while he was filming the TV show “Moonlighting” and the dialogue seems as if it were written specifically for him, even though in the years since the film was released we have learned that he wasn’t the first actor they considered for this role. I’ve read that Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone were possible leads. Even Frank Sinatra was considered. I can’t imagine anyone else saying some of the things McClane said as he crawled through those air ducts or as he wrapped his battered feet on the floor of the barren office tower.

Some of those things are filled with language that isn’t appropriate for this post but he was under such strain at the time so we need to forgive him. When he called for help from the top of Nakatomi Plaza, they didn’t believe him and told him that the phone line was for emergency calls only. Just imagine… that 911 operator had it coming to her when he said he wasn’t calling to order a pizza (or something very like that, I’m leaving out a few words). Each time it seemed like things were going his way the cup is dashed from his lips. It’s maddening and exciting at the same time and so, so watchable.

Attention must also be paid to the dialogue that they wrote for McClane’s worthy adversary, Hans Gruber, because he was equally enjoyable to watch. Alan Rickman was so incredible in this part that you feel as if the writers were giving one snappy line to McClane and then one to Gruber like they were shelling out for Hallowe’en. His character is never at a loss, always a step ahead, and terrifying. When he and McClane cross paths he is able to quickly switch to an American accent and convince McClane that he is a victim – as if he were one of his own hostages! I almost always feel like shouting at the screen when this happens. He is ruthless, cool under the extreme pressure of their heist and is oh, so clever. When he is trying to convince Mr. Takagi to give him the code he says “I could talk about industrialization and men’s fashion all day but I’m afraid work must intrude.” in a voice that makes you believe that perhaps he might be willing to talk but he also might be willing to kill at any moment. It’s eerie.

The impact of McClane and Gruber’s fight to the finish might not have resulted in multiple Oscars but it does cause people to discuss whether or not this film should be considered a “Christmas Movie” every few years. I am firmly on the side of watching it during the holiday season – McClane is going home for the holidays, Holly and her co-workers are taken hostage during their Christmas party and the soundtrack includes classics like “Winter Wonderland”, “Let it snow” and Run-D.M.C.‘s “Christmas in Hollis”. It’s an absolutely fun watch and it has a happy ending – that all says Christmas movie to me. The movie has been listed in many ‘Best Of’ lists, it spawned a franchise for Bruce Willis, and his sweaty undershirt and police badge are now in the Smithsonian. (see image below)

If you search the Internet you will find t-shirts, Christmas sweaters and gifts with all of the best Die Hard quotes printed in various fonts. You can purchase a box set of the DVDs in a Nakatomi Plaza-shaped commemorative box (I’ve seriously considered it) and we recently added a graphic novel to the collection called A Million Ways to Die Hard by a group of authors and illustrators who have worked for Marvel and D.C. You can read it and find out what these artists imagine McClane’s life is like now that he is in retirement, or could have been like if he wasn’t dragged back into the world of policing to face a psychotic serial killer.

Die Hard and John McClane will be with us for years to come and I am thrilled. This movie goes out regularly throughout the year at all library locations and every holiday season we have requests for it to go home with someone for a special festive viewing. I know that I’m looking forward to watching it again, probably not exactly for the 30th time but I’ll take a minute to contemplate how much I’ve enjoyed it through the years and perhaps I’ll walk barefoot on the carpet for a while, just making fists with my toes, like someone I know.

— Penny M.

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It Really is Delish!

delish-ht-ml-181017_hpEmbed_8x9_608It’s no secret. I love baking. I love cooking. I love trying new recipes. I enjoy TV shows revolving around food but rarely have time to sit down and watch them. And although I follow some favourite restaurants, chefs and food writers on social media, I am still more old school. Yes, you’ll find me browsing the cookbook section of the library or my favourite bookstores. So, when I took home the new cookbook “Delish”, I wasn’t aware of their “buzzy” background. In case you aren’t either, here’s the barebones version of their story.

Delish is a super popular food website with a very powerful presence on social media:

  • 19 million likes AND 19 million follows on Facebook
  • 1 million + followers on Instagram
  • Over 200,000 subscribers to their YouTube channel
  • 50,000 followers on Twitter

Relaunched in 2015, Delish is all about food and fun. According to their website, they wanted to “…create a place that was as much about delicious, easy recipes as it was about food as a fun lifestyle and cultural phenomenon.” Their youthful, energized team produce almost 200 new recipes a month, which is impressive to say the least. They also share crazy food stories, videos about their fav brands, info on celebrities and their eating habits and a whole lot more via their website and various social media platforms.
I don’t have time to look at their 18,000 + images on Facebook or thousands on Insta but what I did see looked yummmmmmy (that should probably be in caps!).

crack-chickenSo, although I’m not into the super-hype surrounding Delish (and the vibe made me feel a bit old, lol) I checked it out and set about testing a few recipes. The first was Crack Chicken which is basically boneless BBQ chicken wings. They are baked, not fried, and the panko crumb crust gives them good texture. The sauce, scrumptious, although it could be made with less sugar. They were easy to make and just delicious; a 10/10 from my husband, who was very sad there weren’t more stashed away! I also tried the Creamy Chicken Broccoli Bake which was, once again, easy and tasty and comforting on a cold winter evening. For a sweet, I made the Snickerdoodle Blondies. They were moist and rich. The next time I’d only make ½ of the cinnamon sugar that they recommend for sprinkling though.

Three recipes. Three successes. I didn’t have to buy any special ingredients for any of the recipes. There are quite a few other recipes throughout the book that I want to try. Mermaid Lemonade and Prosecco Grapes are on that list, as are Chicken Enchilada Skillets and Avocado Pesto Linguine. For these reasons I am hoping “Delish” shows up under the tree on December 25th for me.

— Sandi H.

Snickerdoodle Blondies

3/4 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. cinnamon sugar (note from SH: using half this amount is plenty)

Preheat oven to 350° and grease a 9×9-inch pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat butter and both sugars until light and fluffy.

Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and beat until just combined.

Press batter into prepared pan and sprinkle top with cinnamon sugar. Bake until golden and still slightly soft in the middle, 25 to 30 minutes.

Let cool completely before slicing into squares.

100 Books That Changed the World

Wow, this is such a fascinating book! Flip through this book, pick a page–any page–and you are guaranteed to learn something.

That’s what I did when I borrowed 100 Books That Changed the World by Scott Christianson & Colin Salterand. And here’s what I found. A title, previously unknown to me, so intrigued me that I immediately went and grabbed it off the library shelves. The book is Maus by Art Spiegelman. It’s the author’s Pulitzer-Prize winning account of his father’s experiences during the Holocaust, told in graphic novel form. Now, I am not a graphic novel person but Maus is amazing.

100 Books that Changed the World is arranged chronologically, from I Ching (2,800 BC) to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything (2014). Each listing comes with information about the book and why the authors considered it to be significant. The book is split about 50/50 between fiction and non-fiction.

Some of the 100 books are religious or moral teachings, such as the Bible, the Torah, the Koran and the writings of Confucious. There are books about scientific discovery (for example, books by Stephen Hawking, Charles Darwin and Rachel Carson) and works related to culture/economics/politics (for example, books by Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Dr. Benjamin Spock).

Turning to fiction, some of the choices are hundreds or thousands of years old and still widely read today. How amazing is that! Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey (got to read those one day) and Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales rub elbows with more recent picks that include Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and George Orwell’s 1984. Even a couple works of children’s literature get the nod. Can you guess what they might be?

Most of the choices in this book I would certainly agree with. Though to be completely honest a few I had never even heard of. And here are two titles not part of this book that I would have included: The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

— Penny D.

Books About Snow

I feel like most children’s books about snow owe a debt of gratitude to Peter and his walk through the fresh snow in a bright red snowsuit. In The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats created a simple but beautiful story of a little boy experiencing the joys of winter as he looks back at his footprints, makes a snow angel, tries to keep a snowball and crunches through the city while the snowflakes fall around him. Although it was written in the early 1960s the images come back to me each time I crack open a new book that celebrates this wonderful time of year.

Kevin Henkes and Laura Dronzek are teaming up again to observe the change in the season with their new book Winter is Here. The language is perfect for a read aloud and the images invite you to come back and read it more than once. I was especially fond of the pages where they show that winter can appear to be two different things – grey in the morning and then blue in the night – by using the same landscape at different times of day (with a lovely little bunny tucked into the corner). They also provide a visual example of a child experiencing the slowly colder temperatures adding more snow and layers of clothing while he plays. On the next pages they share examples of how the warmer weather will arrive as the snow melts away and the first shoots of spring arrive. It’s a book that will become a favourite in any household and seeing the animals and children enjoy the season makes it almost impossible to want to stay indoors.

The animals on the cover of Daniel Salmieri’s book about the coldest season are quite different from the ones in Henkes and Dronzek’s series. In Bear and Wolf we are a part of the story of how wild animals experience different elements of the weather – from the smell of the wet bark on the trees and the small sounds that the snowflakes make on their fur. Although Bear and Wolf are wild animals who are hibernating and following the scent of caribou, it’s still possible to get a sense of their friendship in this picture book about winter. The author-illustrator has created images that almost feel like they could have been lifted from a Wes Anderson film because you feel so much emotion as you turn each page. On one both animals have their faces turned upwards as they notice a beautiful white owl and then on the next page they are tiny spots in a great white clearing, surrounded by trees that are entirely bare of leaves. It’s a chance to be a part of a trip through the forest with two animals who enjoy the season so much and become friends while they explore.

And, it’s very important to read that animals aren’t the only creatures who enjoy snow. Teagan White has illustrated an absolutely perfect book written by Kerri Kokias and it is called Snow Sisters! with two girls enjoying a cold day in exactly the way they choose. They approach the first flakes of snow in very different fashions and it’s a pleasure to read. One sister is so excited to wake up to see the snow from their bedroom window that she steps outside in her nightgown and socks while the second sister looks out at the snowy landscape with a touch of trepidation. The first sister bundles herself up to go out and play while the other stays indoors with cocoa, books and a blanket. While she moves on to making cookies, her stuffed bunny watches the cold-loving sister throw snowballs in the company of a brown squirrel with a very bushy tail. As the day progresses their places swap and they wave at each other when the first sister comes inside to enjoy a cozy house and the second heads outside for some fun in the snow. This marvelous book ends with the two girls snuggled up together inside in a blanket fort making paper snowflakes – the perfect way to celebrate the end of a snowy day. It’s a book that celebrates all of the different ways you can enjoy a winter day and is sure to encourage indoor and outdoor activities with the merry illustrations and encouraging text.

Great picture books are so much more than just the illustrations married with text. A book like Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day has had decades of staying power just as many books from this year’s selection will in the years to come. I love seeing the way that the blustery winds and frosty temperatures have inspired these artists to share their own version of winter with us – perhaps you will enjoy them in your own cozy blanket fort someday soon.

— Penny M.

Headin’ South

My Mum is a big fan of HGTV. Not that she is taking on any home renovations but she loves to see what other people are doing with theirs! As for me, I’m more apt to be watching something on BBC-Canada or a DVD borrowed from the library, so when I stopped by one day and Mum was watching a program starring Joanna Gaines, the name was new to me. Checking Instagram later, I discovered that I’m obviously in the minority as Gaines has 9.2 million followers!

In one of those funny happenstances, not long after this I was given a copy of Magnolia Table : a collection of recipes for gathering by Joanna Gaines with Marah Stets. I’d never heard of Joanna Gaines and now here she was, popping up in my life twice.

Gaines, who describes herself as “Wife. Mom. Renovator. Designer. Shop owner. Homebody.” has a number of businesses in Waco, Texas along with husband Chip. They opened their first “Magnolia Market” in 2003 but closed it later as they focused their energy on raising 5 children and expanding their construction company. In 2014, she turned her attention back to Magnolia.

The book looked just beautiful. There was a mixture of images taken around the Gaines’ farmstead and photos of delicious, traditional meals. Apparently this cookbook sold almost 170,000 copies the first week it hit bookstore shelves.

IMG_20181125_1548242I first tried the Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Cookies. They were easy to make and pretty tasty although I have better shortbread recipes, I must say. I forwent dipping them in chocolate and instead used a little leftover icing from another bake and a bit of jam to create little sandwich cookies. My husband liked them…but didn’t love them.

I decided to try a second recipe. I had chicken thawing for dinner and thought I’d use Magnolia Table to create something different. I have to say, many of the chicken recipes were either fried or seemed to require cream cheese, heavy cream or Velveeta cheese. Now, I’m not the most virtuous eater but these rich dishes weren’t what I was looking for. The Almond Chicken Tenders sounded good and I had all of the ingredients in my pantry already.

I simplified the instructions, lightened up the amount of butter and oil, and ended up with a very tasty dish. The coating was light, the flavour from the almond flour was wonderful and the lemon juice added a brightness to the chicken.

While it is an attractive cookbook, I can’t say it’s personally a keeper for my own collection. Besides real BBQ (which I leave to the masters like the folks at Lancaster Smokehouse) I’m not a big fan of southern cooking. I am sharing Gaines’ recipe for the Almond Chicken Tenderloins below but with my own twists. However, if you want to go full-on Southern with this recipe, borrow the book from WPL (there’s just a short waiting list), buy it from your favourite bookseller or you could WIN my copy.

— Sandi H.

WIN “Magnolia Table”

2018-THE-MAGNOLIA-TABLE-COOKBOOK-1_1024x1024To have a chance at winning my copy of “Magnolia Table”:

Follow WPL on Instagram @waterloolibrary

Like the post about “Magnolia Table” with the comment “I love my library.”

The random draw will take place on Thursday, December 6, 2018.

The winner will need to pick their prize at WPL. Good luck!

Almond Chicken Tenders

½ c almond flour
½ c all purpose flour
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp oregano
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp salt
1 ½ lb chicken tenders, thawed
2 tbsp salted butter
4 tbsp olive oil
½ c sliced almonds (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
Dried parsley (optional)

Combine dry ingredients and put in large ziplock bag. Add tenders to dry mixture. Seal bag and shake until coated.

In no-stick pan (I used a deep, electric skillet and set it at 325F), melt butter and add oil.

Add chicken (throw away leftover coating) and cook until done. Remove to serving platter.

Add lemon juice and almonds to pan. Cook, stirring continually with spatula, scraping everything together, for 1 minute. Pour over the chicken, sprinkle with parsley and serve.