You Had Me at Profiteroles

Profiteroles. When a cookbook arrives at WPL all shiny and new, promoting 450 foolproof recipes AND it features a stunning cover image of beautiful pastries filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate well, who am I to resist? That book, even though it weighed a tonne, HAD to come home with me.

Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book is the latest in their series of comprehensive cookbooks. Cook’s Illustrated is a popular American bi-monthly magazine founded almost 40 years ago and known for its carefully tested recipes and very detailed instructions.

I must say the Baking Book is impressive. At the beginning there are 20 pages dedicated to giving absolute baking beginners key information on basic ingredients, the correct way to measure and kitchen equipment options. This is followed by 15 (yes, 15) chapters on everything from muffins to pizza, angel food cake to quiche.

Each recipe is accompanied by black and white method illustrations (which fans of the magazine will be well used to) as well as background info on the baked good. Most also have a beautiful colour photo. A feature I enjoyed was the alternatives/options listed beside the regular recipe just in case you’d like to switch things up a bit. The notes with answers to the “whys” of a recipe are interesting.

One thing I have to say I personally found very annoying is listing the measurement for butter/margarine in tablespoons. Who would measure out 24 tablespoons of butter? Why not just say 1 ½ cups? I’ve noticed this in a number of American cookbooks and, yes, it is a pet peeve of mine.

Anyhow, I tried two recipes from the Baking Book and no, not the profiteroles although I was tempted. The first was Classic Cream Scones with currants. My Mum has a wonderful recipe for sweet scones that has been a family favourite since the early 70s so this recipe was really going to be tested. It was an easy recipe and the dough came together quickly although I did have to add a bit more cream than listed to get the right consistency. Out of the oven they looked identical to the photo in the book. They were tasty and went very nicely with a cup of tea…but…my family’s recipe is safe. Mum, I still prefer your lighter, fluffier scones!

cooks illus 002The other recipe I tried were Thin & Crispy Oatmeal Cookies but I used one of the options offered and went with the oatmeal-coconut blend. Once again, the recipe was very easy. They did recommend using a stand mixer (as many new cookbooks do) but a wooden spoon worked just as well for me. I rolled the dough into balls and pressed to flatten to the advised thickness before baking. They smelled wonderful but didn’t really flatten or crisp up at all. The cookies had stayed thick and chewy and were really tasty. I would definitely make them again.

Will I be buying my own copy? No, but for a beginner baker Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book would be an excellent resource and most certainly worth borrowing from the library or buying from a favourite bookstore.

— Sandi H.

Thin & Crispy Oatmeal-Coconut Cookies

1 c. all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
14 tbsp (or ¾ c. plus 2 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
¼ c. light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups oatmeal
1 ½ c. sweetened flaked coconut

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350F. Prepare baking sheet.
2. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
3. In standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and sugars at medium-low speed until just combined, about 20 seconds. Increase speed to medium and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute longer. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula.
4. Add egg and vanilla and beat on medium-low until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl again.
5. With mixer running at low speed, add flour mixture until just incorporated and smooth, 10 seconds. With mixer still running on low, gradually add oats and coconut and mix until well-incorporated, 20 seconds.
6. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no flour pockets remain and ingredients are evenly distributed.
7. Divide dough into 24 equal portions, each about 2 tablespoons (I did smaller cookies…about 1 tbsp each), then roll between palms into balls. Place cookies on prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2 1/2 inches apart, 8 dough balls per sheet. Using fingertips, gently press each dough ball to 3/4-inch thickness.
8. Bake until cookies are deep golden brown, edges are crisp, and centers yield to slight pressure when pressed, 13 – 16 minutes
9. Cool cookies a minute or two before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

On the Come Up

After devouring and waxing poetic about Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, I was among the eager fans awaiting On The Come Up. It’s a coming-of-age story about a Black teenage girl named Bri who finds her calling, the power of her own voice and, ultimately, discovers who she wants to be.

I easily connected with Thomas’ writing style. It’s powerful, engaging and authentic as she shows Bri and her family’s struggles to make ends meet and deal with their complicated past. Through her dialogue, she reveals the bonds between the characters and adds humorous bits, delightful nerdy references and some solid banter.

I loved that Bri is so different compared to Starr (the main character of The Hate U Give). She is brash, headstrong, outspoken and occasionally makes poor choices but its through those choices, and their consequences, that we see Bri find out who she wants to be. She is flawed but passionate and once she focuses on what’s important to her, she is a force to be reckoned with.

Angie Thomas need not worry about Sophomoric Writer Blues. On The Come Up is a wonderful, thought-provoking read about self-discovery and while many readers may not connect with Bri’s hip hop world, Thomas has written a story about relatable issues (loss, friendship, the messiness of family, standing up for yourself) and allows her readers to take a look at the world through Bri’s eyes and walk in her Timberlands for at least a few hundred pages.

— Laurie P.

Shade

In Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents author Pete Souza throws plenty of shade and how.

Souza was the official White House photographer for Barack Obama. When Donald Trump became President, Souza took to Instagram @petesouza to highlight the differences between the two presidents. So, he takes say, a newspaper headline or a Donald Trump tweet and juxtapositions it with one of his own photos of Barack Obama, and serves it up with a caption. People started to notice Souza’s work and some commented that he was “throwing shade.”

What does that mean, “throwing shade”? I didn’t know and neither apparently did Souza. So he consulted a dictionary which told him it’s “a subtle, sneering expression of contempt or disgust with someone.” Though as Souza says “You can call it shade. I just call it the truth.”

Shade is a compilation of Souza’s Instagram posts. Some of them are sooo funny. When I first picked up the book I started laughing so hard I think I scared a few people. Other posts made me feel sad or appalled—in a how-did-we-get-here kind of way.

Here are a couple of Pete Souza’s posts that grabbed my attention (though really you have to get the book and see for yourself. And yes, you really have to.)

Donald Trump’s tweet: “Throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.” juxtaposed with a photo of Barack Obama and someone dressed up as Abraham Lincoln with the caption “Two, like, really smart Presidents.” Ouch, ouch, ouch.

And here is the one that really got me. Trump at the time of the neo-Nazi, white supremacist rally in Charlottesville very famously — or is it infamously — said there were “…very fine people…” on “…both sides.” And Obama on that occasion? He took to Twitter and quoted Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin … People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” Just let that sink in — the stark, worlds-apart difference between those two men.

pete-souza-white-house-obama-favorites-51I would also highly recommend Pete Souza’s previous book: Obama: an Intimate Portrait. Obama is a collection of Souza’s photos of the former president. I especially loved the photos of Obama and his family and of Obama interacting with ordinary Americans.

— Penny D.

Turning 100

Frank’s Jewellers and the Ellis Little History Room

There is a prevailing perception that libraries are a place for books only. Like most library customers, I’ve spent most of my years visiting WPL for the sole purpose of checking out books. It wasn’t until my teen years that I discovered that the library also has a vast collection of movies, CDs, audio books and programs. Yet the one resource that remained elusive to me over the years was the Ellis Little Local History room. The door was always open and inviting, but I didn’t have a reason to venture inside. It wasn’t until the summer of 2017 that I went in for the first time.

I’ve grown up in Waterloo with a strong connection to the King Street business community. My father was the owner of Mr. Sub for forty-one years. I spent many summers and weekends serving sandwiches and smiles to both Waterloo patrons and neighbouring business owners regularly. The King Street business community as I remember it was tight knit and familial. While we were known as the place to pick up a quick lunch, there were other businesses on King Street that were known for other things: McPhail’s for sports equipment, Tora Tattoo for piercings and tattoos, Ontario Seed for seeds (and a handful of peanuts for my dad), and Frank’s Jewellers for jewellery and gifts.

franks 001Since my dad retired in July 2016, I’ve found myself missing that connection to the Uptown Waterloo community. It wasn’t until Bob Frank, owner of Frank’s Jewellers, approached me with a local history inquiry that I found a way to reconnect with the uptown business community. How was I going to do my research? I would begin by visiting the Ellis Little Local History room.

His inquiry was simple. Bob, the third-generation owner and operator of Frank’s Jewellers on King Street, wanted to confirm that his business was indeed celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2019. Realizing that the Ellis Little Local History Room was the best place to begin my research, I made my first visit and began exploring the shelves of Vernon business directories, local business news clippings, and archives of photo negatives to find evidence that in 1919, Bob’s grandfather, W.P. Frank, took over operations from the previous owner.

During this search, my research expanded from finding evidence to solve this important question to finding any artifacts that trace the mark Frank’s Jewellers has had on the Uptown business community for the past one hundred years. The search has been fruitful! I’ve found many old articles and pictures in the Ellis Little Local History room. I’ve found pictures that reflect the changing landscape of King Street over the years like the image above of Frank’s Jewellers from the mid-1970’s when Bob’s father was the owner.

franks 002

 I’ve also found pictures that reflect the strength and camaraderie of the Waterloo business community that traces back to July 27, 1938 when a wide landscape of Waterloo merchants gathered for a first annual picnic which Bob’s grandfather, W.P. Frank (Picture left: middle row center with striped tie) attended.

I’ve lost myself for hours poring over business directories, maps, and books that map the history of Waterloo Region by local authors. I know I’ve only scratched the surface but these discovers have allowed me to appreciate the library for another purpose: being a local history keeper. The library not only brings people together for a love of reading, but for a shared history of our community that has grown from the small farming town to a modern tech start-up city.

Another local history resource that I’ve perused is OurOntario where I’ve searched through thousands of photographs as well as digitized Waterloo Chronicle newspapers. It’s an excellent resource that saves the time and energy previously spent going through microfilm and has been a very helpful resource.

The online and offline history collection at the Waterloo Public Library has been and continues to be an excellent resource to find answers to any local history inquiries. Should you require help with more specific requests, contact Janet Seally to assist your local history missions. To see Frank’s Jeweller’s collection of historical artifacts, follow them on Instagram and/or Facebook.

It’s easy to live somewhere for your whole life without questioning where you live. You may have just moved to Waterloo two years ago. You may be a third-generation resident. It’s worth questioning and learning about the place you live in because each of us plays a part in how it became the place you inhabit today. History may be the story of our past, but it’s easy to overlook our place in the present.

— Eleni Z.

The Matchmaker’s List

The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli is a heartwarming and impressive debut novel that is a mix of a few things. It’s a sweet coming-of-age story with a touch of romance, a sprinkle of humour and a dash of Canadian pride that looks at the positive aspects and complications of family, friendship, culture and community.

While it appears to be a cute romantic comedy (and it is!), Lalli also introduces several deeper issues into a story that focuses on one determined grandmother as she tries to find her single granddaughter Raina a husband. Readers get a look into the rich Canadian-Indian culture of Raina’s family and also witness the pressures it puts on three generations of women. It’s through these relationships of family and friends that Lalli shows how cultural expectations can sometimes clash with individual needs.

The story is set in “Toronno” (aka Toronto) and with Lalli’s vivid descriptions of that vibrant city and its diversity, it makes it a great setting for this story. And can I just say how much I love it when a Canadian author sets their story in Canada?!!

My only issue with the book is how Raina, in one instance, tries to curtail her grandmother’s husband hunting. It just didn’t sit well with me. While I appreciated the discussions it will create and the insight it gives readers about an aspect of the Indian community, I wasn’t fond of the execution and felt this misunderstanding went on for too long. However, it will spark some good book club discussions!

Overall, this was an enjoyable multi-cultural romance that had a touch of humour and went beyond the typical romantic fluff. I applaud the author for tackling larger issues including diversity, acceptance versus shame, multicultural and generational differences, and the deep influence tradition and culture have on people of all generations.

— Laurie P.

Bibliophile : an illustrated miscellany

As the cliché goes, never judge a book by its cover. Judging a book by its cover enables us to prejudge the worth or value of stories by its initial outward appearance.  Yet, what if we celebrated books by creating a book of curated lists of books while illustrating their covers? Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount is a book about books, or more accurately, a book with illustrations of curated stacks of the most defining books in every genre you can think of. But that’s not all this book is about. There are five-word literary quizzes that challenge readers to guess the book by a five-word summary and there are pages dedicated to authors’ workspaces including the likes of Dylan Thomas and Roald Dahl.  Other pages are devoted to illustrating notable bookstores, libraries, and even bookmobiles around the world.

Bibliophie is a book for book lovers. For a person like me who likes the written word so much, it was a refreshing wonder to see a visual celebration of the most influential books over the years. Each page stacks iconic book spine atop of iconic book spine. It’s a treasure trove of literary facts and wonders. It’s delightful to not only read through, but get lost in looking at each title on the spines of every book, either seeing perennial favourites, or discovering an unfamiliar cover, a new intriguing title to add to a new ending TBR pile.

I think readers can be the hardest on books because of their covers. We tend to judge them in seconds based on whether they catch our eye, how the design is meant to symbolize what the story is ultimately about, or we even judge a book by its dense length. This book seems to minimize those impulses and aims at making you focus on not its cover, but the spine: The title. What does the title say about the story? Do the words themselves entice you? What do they allude to?

Bibliophile is a playful book that is as delightful as it is whimsical. It’s a celebration of the rich collections of books that humanity has circulated for centuries. It is also the epitome of modern bookish culture that in our ever-present digital world continues to grow and preserve our storytelling tradition. For all booklovers, this is a book to check out, test your bookish knowledge, and discover other miscellaneous facts that will fuel your passion for books.

— Eleni Z.

Back to Basics

Not to be conceited but my baking skills are beyond basic. That being said, I am far (far) from being a professional baker and am always ready to learn something new and try something new. When I saw Rose’s Baking Basics on the new book display with a beautiful meringue-topped pie on the cover, I tucked it away in my book bag along with 3 other new cookbooks.

Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of 12 cookbooks, blogger, award-winning food writer and baker, is also known as the “Diva of Desserts”. She is a 3-time winner of a James Beard Award, had her own TV series on PBS and has a line of cookware. This is all super impressive but as many readers know, just because an author/book wins an award doesn’t mean the book will be a winner with us!

At first her name wasn’t familiar to me but as I did a little research for this review I recognized the covers for “Rose’s Christmas Cookies” (c1990) and “Rose’s Pie & Pastry Bible” (c1998). So I actually revisiting recipes by Rose Levy Beranbaum and it was a triumphant return.

With all the sweets popping up lately, first over Christmas and New Year’s and now with Valentine’s Day on the horizon,  I was ready to make something less sugary. The first recipe I tried from Rose’s Baking Basics was the Butter Biscuits. I’ve made biscuits before of course and they were okay-to-good but nothing to write home about, if I’m honest. This changed on the weekend when I tried Rose’s recipe.

In “Baking Basics” there are detailed, step-by-step instructions along with lots of photos of the process as well as the finished product. As I looked at the list of ingredients for the biscuits I was puzzled by the first on the list: 3 large eggs, hard cooked, yolks only. Hardboiled egg yolks? In biscuits? I read the recipe again. These are biscuits, right? Yes. Then I took the time to read the intro to the recipe:

“These biscuits are exceptionally soft, tender and velvety. The secret ingredient is from James Beard, with whom I studied fifty years ago: hard cooked egg yolk.”

rose_biscuits_003Who am I to argue with James Beard and Rose Levy Beranbaum? I followed the recipe, cutting the amounts by 50% to make just a half batch. The dough came together with hardly any kneading at all. I cut out my biscuits and popped them in the oven. Fifteen minutes later I had fresh, warm biscuits that looked exactly like the photo in the book. My husband could hardly wait for them to cool. They were fantastic! The first one I tried with some butter but really they are absolutely delicious on their own. This is a recipe to keep forever.

I also made the Peanut Butter & Jelly Thumprint cookies. They were easy to make and pretty tasty. I must say though that I have used the same peanut butter cookie recipe for my entire life and although Beranbaum’s recipe is a good one, I think next time I’ll use my cookie recipe but steal her idea re: the jammy thumbprint.

This gorgeous cookbook is a wonderful addition to the WPL collection and would also be a great addition to a personal collection, whether you’re a newbie to baking or a seasoned baker.

— Sandi H.

Butter Biscuits

3 large eggs, hard cooked, yolks only
1 ½ c. all purpose flour
¾ c cake & pastry self raising flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¼ c white sugar
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3/4 c heavy (whipping) cream

Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly grease baking sheets.

Press egg yolks through mesh strainer (I used a tea strainer) into small bowl. Set aside.

In large bowl, combine flours, powder, salt and sugar. With a pastry blender, work in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cream until the flour is moistened and coming together in a ball.

Empty dough onto a lightly floured counter or baking board. Knead a couple of times until it feels smooth and not sticky.

Pat until 3/4” thickness. Using cutters (I just use a glass tumbler), cut into medium-sized circles. Place on baking sheet and put in oven.

Increase heat to 400F. Bake for 5 minutes then lower the temperature back to 375F. Bake for 10 more minutes or until golden.

Remove from oven. Transfer to cooling rack. Serve plain, or with butter or jam. They are best served warm from the oven or eaten within a day or so of baking.

NOTE: this is a condensed version of the instructions. If you would like more details and information on freezing the biscuits, or info on baking with soft sides vs crisp sides, borrow Rose’s Baking Basics from the library.

Waffles, Knope & Galentine’s Day

February needs all the help it can get. It’s the shortest month in the calendar but just seems so long. Breaking it up midway with a cheerful holiday on the 14th really helps give February a much needed boost. Here at the library we celebrate Library Lovers month in February so it’s a special month for us and in recent years I have also been participating in the wonderful celebration of Galentine’s Day, on February 13th, with the encouragement of friends. I’ve found that this makes all the difference in getting me through the second month of the year.

If you aren’t yet participating in this worldwide celebration sensation you can get started by watching Parks and Recreation, Season Two (Episode Sixteen) where the always enthusiastic Leslie Knope first brings all of her very best female friends together for a brunch which she describes as being “…like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus frittatas!”

Knope honours her friends with appropriate gifts (Leslie is the best at gift giving) and the personalized gift bags include fabulous items including gorgeous mosaics she has made of their faces. In seasons four and six of the show the writers return to Galentine’s Day and the theme of enjoying breakfast foods continues as does the emphasis on the strength of friendship. These are traditions worth adopting and you can find inspiration across the Internet as the special season arrives.

Turn to Etsy for gifts and cards made by talented artists. Or look to our collection of books that can help you to craft something special for your friends. I think a sweet little origami box made in your BFF’s favourite colour that you fill with delicious treats could be just the thing to drop into her book bag on February 13th. Or, if you really want to do this Knope-style you can make that mosaic of her face but you’d better get started now. That kind of gifting magic takes a long time to pull together.

Cover.final_.wAnother great way to celebrate Galentine’s Day is with a wonderful meal. We have so many great spots in town that you can hit for a delicious meal but how about you invite some friends over to your house for some treats and a good long chat about your friendship. There really is nothing better. When you eat at home there is no chance of feeling like you need to give up your table because the restaurant is getting busy – it’s your table. Just brew some more coffee or boil additional water for tea and make the fun last longer. It’s the best feeling. You can choose to go with a Parks and Rec classic and make the very best waffles or splash out make frittatas. You can’t help but be inspired by this 2017 cookbook from Rebecca Wellman, called First, we brunch: recipes and stories from Victoria’s best breakfast joints – your breakfast and brunch will really never be the same.

Should you feel like you want to keep your Parks and Rec vibe going after February 13th I heartily recommend the books of actors Amy Poehler and Retta (both women narrate their own audiobooks so you could listen to their wonderful voices tell you the secrets behind filming the television show where they first met – it is so much fun).

And finally. A personal tip. If you cut up your waffles in advance and make a small pool of whipped cream on your plate, you can dip each bite one-handed while you hold your book in the other hand and make it seem like you are celebrating a one person Galentine’s Day at any time of the year. We are all, as Lesley Knope says, “…beautiful rule-breaking moths.”

— Penny M.