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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bookmobile Needs New Driver – Bids Farewell to Mr. Mike

Bookmobile Needs New Driver – Bids Farewell to Mr. Mike

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 is National Bookmobile Day and on this occasion the South Brunswick Public Library is happy to share some big news about our Bookmobile service. 

While the SBPL bookmobile has been off-road since March it is hoped that it will be back in action by early May. A replacement engine and repairs are needed and the costs will be significant.

Meanwhile, the library’s longtime bookmobile driver Mike Birnberg will be retiring June 1 after more than 25 years of service. Rain, sun, sleet and snow, Mike has become as familiar as a next door neighbor to thousands of South Brunswick citizens, big and small.
It will take a special kind of person to drive the Library’s Bookmobile,” says Library Director Chris Carbone, adding that he will be seeking to fill Mike’s position.

As bookmobile operator, “Mr. Mike” has checked out items for patrons from all parts of the Township.  Idling the converted 44-foot-long bus at neighborhood cross streets, preschools, swim clubs, senior housing, and other various parking lots around town, he has helped students find books for school assignments, senior citizens get the new mystery novel they’ve wanted, teens and adults choose a popular movie or CD. 

The bookmobile serves residents throughout the Township at 49 unique stops throughout the year.  This includes 11 nursery schools, the Senior Center, low-income or subsidized housing developments and general neighborhoods.  The service has been a staple for 37 years.

While the Library has changed dramatically since bookmobile service began, key factors remain the same.  The Township is quite large at 41 square miles.  There is no means of public transportation to the Library.  Additionally, the population has grown significantly, including the number of children, seniors and others without transportation.
The SBPL Foundation has pledged $5,000 towards the cost of the repairs.  The Noor-Ul-Iman school, part of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey, has pledged an additional $2,000 towards repair costs.  Additional donations are being sought and the Trustees will pay the balance. 

Anyone in the community interested in making a donation to support the Bookmobile Outreach Service, please contact Library Director Chris Carbone at 732-329-4000, ext. 7287.

The Library is currently seeking a part-time bookmobile driver. For more information, visit


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

National Library Week at SBPL - April 13- 19

National Library Week at SBPL - April 13- 19

This week libraries across the country are celebrating National Library Week. The Week recognizes the important services provided by these community institutions and how they strive to improve the quality of life for all.

South Brunswick Public Library would like Township residents to take time this week to learn all it has to offer to them.  Please visit us. We welcome old and new friends to take a little time this week to discover our resources and enjoy our charms.

One such charm we want to show off is the Ellen Gambatese Room, named for a tireless library advocate and community supporter. During National Library Week, the room is being finished with painted panels featuring butterfly bushes lining its octagonal walls.  The permanent butterfly “garden” panels and entrance mural were all painted by local resident and artist Nesrin Avci.

Among other special attractions not to be missed are the SMART Lab, a recently dedicated digital learning space, and a free showing of the award-winning film Philomena on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.  Be sure to also view the reading display for GRIT, the community-wide reading program from SBPL and the South Brunswick School District. GRIT stands for Gumption, Resilience, Inner Strength, and Tenacity.

“95% agree library materials and resources play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed,” according to the Pew Research Center.

National Library Week is a time for libraries to show off a little and for residents to take notice. You may be missing resources for: employment, children’s literacy, digital learning, entertainment, ESL, special needs, and more. According to  Pew, “81 percent of Americans say libraries provide valuable services people would struggle to find elsewhere.”

While SBPL celebrates National Library Week each year with a little something extra special, promoting literacy is its daily mission.  The Library offers hundreds of programs for all ages and interests. For more information about what SBPL has for you, please visit

Friday, March 28, 2014

Milk and Cookies, Twitter and Bacon

Just as I was getting ready to teach my Twitter class* here at the Library, I saw this and laughed: "Bacon: the duct tape of food," tweeted by chef Michael Symon.  So true.  It's the all purpose fix-up for food that needs a little help.

Amazing when used well, but often overused, sometimes overpowering all else with its smoky salty flavor.  I admit that I have fallen under the spell of this seemingly magical ingredient and used it in some delicious preparations.  To wit:  bacon butter and bacon maple biscuits.  One bacon addition which I disliked:  Bacon Cookies from gourmet cookie shop The Milk and Cookies Bakery in the West Village of New York City.

Download this e-book from our Library website!
However, way over on the plus side for me were the Chocolate Chip Cookies from the very same Milk and Cookies Bakery.  They absolutely do not need bacon to be delicious. They are memorable and perfect just the way they are. In fact, I booked my family on a food tour of Greenwich Village on the basis of my foodie hair stylist Stacy rhapsodizing about those cookies. (Our tasting tour completely confirmed their wonderfulness.)

Best of all in my opinion is you can make these cookies anytime yourself using the Milk and Cookies bakery cookbook. We have it available at our Library as an electronic book.  (Just use your library card, then you can read it in your browser, or download it to your computer,  e-reader or mobile device.  Call us at 732-329-4000 ext. 7286 if you need help. Choose Libraries of Middlesex Automation Consortium as your lending library from the drop down menu.)

Photo from the The Milk and Cookies Bakery
Back to those Chocolate Chip Cookies - 1. They have an amazing crunch due to the addition of oatmeal that's ground up and mixed into the batter.  2. They have great depth of chocolate flavor from two kinds of chocolate: bittersweet chocolate flakes (make these in your food processor or blender) which are streaked into the batter, and large semisweet chocolate chunks (not wimpy chocolate chips).  And 3. They have both a  crunchy exterior and a soft middle.

Result - cookie nirvana.  Cookies even a bakery would be proud of. Or as my friend Barb said:  "You should sell these!".

I'll let you in on a few secrets:  these cookies require a little attention to detail, but it's totally worth it.  The first time I made them I brought them in to the Library and they were pretty good - see items 1. and 2. above.  But the texture, well, it was not quite right - the cookies were too big and too crunchy.

First attempt:  too big, too flat, too crunchy.
Second attempt:  gone before I remembered to take a picture. But totally like the first photo above.
I was determined to make them taste as great as the ones we'd had at the Bakery, especially since now both my daughter Kate and Stacy had raved about them, and I wanted to surprise my daughter with them for her birthday.

The second time I made them was a couple days later and I changed three things:  I shaped them into 2 inch (not 2.5 inch) hockey-puck-shaped rounds and then, before I baked them, I chilled the shaped rounds on the cookie sheets in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, and finally, I was careful to take them out of the oven when they were firm on the outside but still soft in the middle.

We had them as dessert after Sunday dinner, and then I gave the rest to Kate to take home for a belated birthday treat (make that really belated - her birthday was in June!)  I asked her to share some with Stacy who consequently texted:

Kate:  They pretty much taste just like the cookies haha.
Stacy:  "They taste EXACTLY LIKE THEM!".

So here you go, click here for the link for the Milk and Cookies  Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, and just be sure to follow the caveats above.  And please don't add bacon.

Diane Whitman
Reference Librarian
Persistent Baker

P.S.  I read some of the comments for this recipe so there's one more thing to be sure to do:  when you cream the butter and sugar, be sure to use a standing type mixer (like a KitchenAid), not a hand held mixer, and when the recipe says "beat until very light and creamy", this means to be sure and beat it for 5 - 6 minutes until the color changes to very pale yellow and the mixture is noticeably light and fluffy!

* Check the Event Calendar for the next Twitter class, scheduled for early May 2014.

Friday, March 21, 2014

VB6 - Mark Bittman's Eat Vegan Before 6:00

I love vegetables, although I can't say I've never met a vegetable I didn't like - I cooked collard greens once and that was a disaster - too bitter for me - dumped the whole bowlful right in the garbage after everyone at the table had one bite and gagged - but I like almost every other veggie.

Eating vegetarian and having a meatless meal is no hardship in my book, especially now that spring is here and we're getting better produce in the markets.  But eating vegan is beyond the pale - what, no milk on my cereal?  no cream cheese on my bagel?  no parm on my eggplant parmesan? - that would be really tough. So Mark Bittman, cookbook writer, New York Times food columnist and wholesome food advocate, had his work cut out for him to convince me not only to go vegetarian, but vegan for breakfast and lunch.  On the plus side, there is a reprieve for dinner.

Chickpea Ratatouille: vegan, easy, delicious, make this tonight!

That's the conceit of Bittman's latest cookbook VB6, Eat Vegan Before 6:00. His reasons for it are health and long-term weight loss.  As the aforementioned vegetable lover, I thought, OK, sign me up. (Heaven knows I'm not losing any weight cooking from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook! Sadly.)

At dinner, you don't go wild, but are eating entrees which are vegetable laden, and with much smaller quantities of meat, fish and dairy, which I prefer anyway.  I took the leap and tried a number of recipes, and I must say, I was duly impressed.

Big winners, mostly from the dinner category:

Fish Stew:  taste of Provence in a bowl
Fisherman's Stew,  a classic Mediterranean vegetable and seafood stew, made even more awesome if you have the time and inclination (yes to both on my part - I live to eat and cook!), by using Bittman's recipe for Fast and Flavorful Vegetable Stock, which in itself is worth making and adding to anything that calls for vegetable, chicken or beef stock.  (French Onion Soup  from The Food 52 Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs made with Bittman's stock was to die for - but that's a different post.)

Vegetable stock to be
D.I.Y. Flatbread, a whole wheat bread that you can form into sandwich bread, crusty bread, breadsticks or pizza.  Easy with a food processor and the hands on time is minimal.  Made pizza with ricotta, balsamic caramelized onions, and butternut squash, and another with ricotta, pesto, asparagus and scallions.  Great, easy, from scratch whole wheat recipe where the bread was worth eating. Click here to see Mark Bittman's video and the recipe.
Ricotta Pizza: butternut squash, balsamic caramelized onions - great combo.

Shrimp Tabbouleh, your classic bulgur and veggie salad, but way heavier on the veggies.  Keeps well in the fridge, too, especially if, like me, you hide the leftovers in the back of the refrigerator for yourself. (Guilty as charged, sorry.)

Eggplant Un-Parmesan, eggplant parm and, amazingly, you don't miss the cheese.  First, the sauce is very flavorful and then Bittman cleverly tops it all with a salty, peppery breadcrumb mix drizzled with good olive oil so that you don't miss that hit of parmesan at all.

No parm, no  problem.

Chickpea Ratatouille, a ratatouille recipe that is not only great tasting, but takes virtually no time because you roast all the veggies together in the oven.  Well, you do have to cut them up, but I love that - you're using all those beautiful veggies and then concentrate on the zen-ness of cutting them up evenly (ok, maybe that's only zen for me?). If you put them on a low rimmed half sheet pan lined with heavy duty aluminum foil amd then a sheet of non-stick foil, there's no scrubbing up afterwards either.

Near misses:

Made the Carrot Candy which was fun and ludicrous at the same time:  a pound of carrots cooked down to a tiny bowlful of little bits, which tasted more like vegetable leather than any candy I've ever had.

An entire pound of carrots reduced to tiny bits!
The Chocolatey Pineapple Kebabs were ok, pineapple dusted with cocoa powder and baked in the oven. These were okay, a little bitter, and people weren't thrilled with them.

Frozen Banana Bonbons - good, but this preparation is nothing new.

Creamed Mushrooms on Toast - cream replaced by white beans buzzed in a food processor or blender made a nice substitution.  Served over toasted whole wheat bread for dieters and slices of toasted baguette drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic for the indulgent. Can defeat the vegan-ism by topping with a little grated Parmesan.  Oops.

Following is the recipe I don't want you to miss because it's easy and perfect for an early spring dinner now that the eggplants and zucchinis are coming in the markets.  I know, I know, they're not local, but they're a nice break from root vegetables after a long, snowy, winter here in New Jersey.  And I think we deserve that, don't you?

Chickpea Ratatouille
adapted from Mark Bittman's VB6

1 lb. plum tomatoes OR 1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes, halved and drained, reserving the liquid (I like Muir Glen brand - and BTW whole tomatoes are generally better quality than diced in any brand)
1 lb. eggplant, cut into large chunks, 1 1/2 inches
3/4 lb. zucchini, cut into large chunks, 1 1/2 inches
1 onion, sliced
2 red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded and sliced
5 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
3 cups cooked chickpeas, or 2 cans, rinsed and drained
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or rosemary OR
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil or parsley (don't skimp here - with a dish this simple, you need fresh herbs)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a large roasting pan or sheet pan with heavy duty foil and then a layer of non-stick foil.  Combine first 5 ingredients in the pan, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and mix.

Roast until veggies are lightly browned and tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

Scrape into a pot, add the chickpeas, reserved tomato liquid and fresh herbs and cook over medium heat until heated through, 5 - 10 minutes.

Wasn't that easier than any ratatouille recipe you've ever made?  Just as tasty too. Also totally satisfying with the addition of the chickpeas, and still vegan!

Find many more of Mark Bittman's cookbooks and great recipes here at the Library, and have fun this spring cooking with lots of fresh vegetables!

Diane Whitman
Veg Advocate
Reference Librarian

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

More Good Movies You Might Have Missed...

Hi Everyone,

Check out these high-intensity dramatic shows that you shouldn't miss:



Starring Sidse Babette KnudsenBirgitte Hjort SorensenJohan Philip AsbaekMikael BirkkjaerBenedikte Hansen

This highly rated Danish series explores the insular world of high-stakes politics and the press corps that covers it in instantaneous, relentless news cycles. Birgitte Nyborg becomes Prime Minister of Denmark through a political fluke and has to learn the ways of power, quickly. She's an altruistic public servant in an old boys club and must master the art of the deal overnight, manage her image and perform the impossible juggling act of maintaining a family life. Drama, not rated. In Danish with English subtitles.

The White Queen 


Starring Max IronsRebecca FergusonJanet McTeerAmanda HaleJames Frain

This British series based on Philippa Gregory's The Cousins' War historical novel series is a riveting portrayal of one of the most dramatic and turbulent times in English history. A story of love and lust, seduction and deception, betrayal and murder, it is uniquely told through the perspective of three different yet equally relentless women: Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort (both grandmothers of Henry VIII), and Anne Neville (wife of Richard III). In their quest for power, they will scheme, manipulate, and seduce their way onto the English throne. Drama, not rated.



Starring Bruce DernWill ForteJune Squibb

After receiving a sweepstakes letter in the mail, a cantankerous father thinks he's struck it rich, and wrangles his estranged son into taking a road trip to claim the fortune. Getting waylaid in the father's hometown in Nebraska, the son tries to reconnect with his impenetrable father. Drama, rated R.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Sweet Indulgence: Liddabit Sweets Hip-to-be Squares

Cornflakes for breakfast?   Not exactly: the other morning I could be found at my kitchen island crushing (not eating) cupfuls of cornflakes and combining them with Guittard milk chocolate and, yes, half a jar of Nutella. After spreading this delectable mixture in an 8 x 8 inch pan and popping it in the fridge for an hour, and coating the resulting bars top and botton with Ghirardelli dark chocolate:  Voila -  Hip-to-be-Squares a la the Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook.

Written with wry good humor by Brooklynites Liz Gutman and Jen King,  the Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook is the ultimate confection cookbook for someone like me who loves the thrill of making something sweet, delicious and at times, kind of challenging.

The recipe for Hip-to-be Squares appears simple, and if you decide not to temper the chocolate, it really would be.  But I have made chocolate candies before without tempering and the resulting chocolates inevitably are not the lovely, glossy showpieces I was hoping for, but chocolates that were dull and definitely not professional looking.  Liz and Jen and the Liddabit Sweets Cookbook to the rescue!

Not wanting to go the easy route, I skipped over the instructions for "Cheater's Chocolate Coating " and went directly to the "The Best-Tempered Chocolate You Ever Met" instructions.  Last Christmas I had asked for this cookbook and a chocolate thermometer to go with it so that I could do justice to these recipes.   It's over a year later and I finally got around to making one of the recipes, but for the life of me I could not find that thermometer.

No matter, there were instructions in the book for judging the temperature of the chocolate by putting a drop on your lip and deciding whether it was distinctly warm or distinctly cool.  So I went ahead without the doggone thermometer.

That worked just fine, the filling itself was easy first of all, and the tempering was fun, albeit a little time consuming.  I confess I did have to improvise a little because I cooled the chocolate down too far and needed to slightly re-heat it to make it spreadable.

Sidebar:  tempering chocolate is taking bars or discs of chocolate (which already are in temper and shiny) and heating the chocolate to a specific temperature (dark chocolate to 108 degrees) and then cooling it down to another specific temperature (90 degrees) all the while beating it like crazy to aerate and cool it before using it in your recipe.  The resulting chocolate should have snap and shine without any whitish "bloom" or chalkiness.

Forthwith, a photo of the completed chocolates, not absolutely perfect, but pretty good looking, and certainly mighty tasty.

I halved the recipe because the cost of good chocolate can be prohibitive, and I want to try some of the other chocolate recipes from this cookbook too!  Also, this recipe as originally written makes a giant batch: 117 one inch chocolates from a 13 x 9 pan.  I think it's entirely enough to make 64 one-inch chocolates in an 8 x 8 pan.

I've included tips along with the adapted recipe to make it easier for y'all.

Hip-to-be Squares, halved and adapted from the Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook

Yield:  64 one-inch square chocolates

For the bars:
generous 3/4 cup of chopped milk or dark chocolate, or chocolate chips (I used Guittard milk chocolate - 5 ounces)
1 1/2 generous cups of Nutella (14.5 ounces)
3/4 teaspoon of kosher salt or fine sea salt (if only regular table salt is available, use 1/4 teaspoon) - you can double this to get that salty/sweet flavor so popular now - I did!
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil such as sunflower or safflower
1 cup crushed cornflakes (I crushed about 2 cups of flakes in my Vitamix to yield 1 cup crushed - a food processor works well too)

For the coating:
1 1/2 cups or 9.5 ounces chopped dark chocolate ( I used half  Ghirardelli 60% chocolate and half 72% chocolate)
(For Cheater's Chocolate add:  1/4 cup vegetable oil)

Line the bottom and 2 sides of an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with parchment paper.  Line with a second piece of parchment over the bottom and remaining 2 sides.

Melt the 3/4 cup of chopped chocolate in a large bowl in the microwave (zap in 20 second increments, stirring in between).

[Alternate method: add water to about an inch depth to a medium saucepan, and bring to a simmer.  Place a large metal bowl over a medium saucepan filled to a depth of about an inch with simmering water.  Stir frequently until all the chocolate has melted. Remove from heat.]

Add the Nutella to the melted chocolate and stir until blended.  Add the salt, oil, and crushed cornflakes, stirring again until well blended.  Turn into the parchment paper lined pan, smoothing the top.  Refrigerate for 60 to 90 minutes, until firm.

Melt and temper your dark chocolate.  For full directions for tempering chocolate with a thermometer:  click here (if you don't have a thermometer, just use the "lip test" described above).

[Alternate: for cheater's chocolate:  melt the chocolate over simmering water or in the microwave.  Off heat, gradually beat in the oil.  Let cool for 15 to 20 minutes until about the thickness of warm hot fudge.

Turn out the the candy onto a parchment lined cutting board and remove the parchment.  Coat the bottom of the bars with about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the melted chocolate, spreading with an offset spatula if you have one (or just use a knife).  Let set up - anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes. Turn right side up.  Coat the other side with the rest of the chocolate.  Let set only about 1 minute, and quickly, using the tines of a fork, make wavy lines in the chocolate before it sets completely.

Let set again about 2 minutes.  Then score just the top layer of chocolate into 1 inch squares.  Let set another 5 minutes, and then cut through the candy completely into 1 inch squares.  Be sure to cut through completely to the bottom layer of chocolate in order to get neat squares.

Store in an airtight container at cool room temperature for up to 3 weeks (doubt they will last that long!).

Good luck, be sure to share, and get cooking with some great cookbooks from our Library!

Diane Whitman
Reference Librarian

Friday, January 24, 2014

Buzzing About the National Geo Bee!

It's never too early (or too late) to start preparing for the National Geography Bee

South Brunswick Public Library has some fantastic books to help you get ready for the Geo Bee, but don't worry if those books are checked out! The library has plenty of ways to help with your Bee preparation!
Check out the Databases and Research page on our website to start strong with your studies! Facts on File World Atlas, Ebsco Student Research Center, and Britannica Encyclopedia are terrific places to learn more about different countries and regions of the world.

If you still feel the need for the Bee, however, here are even more terrific online resources:

Flash Cards & Sample Questions
Quizlet Geo Bee Study Cards
Fact Monster Geo Bee Quiz

Online Quizzes & Games
National Geographic Geo Bee Quiz
National Geographic Geo Bee Training
Sheppard Software Geography Games

Tips & Tricks
Top Ten Tips: Preparing for the National Geo Bee
Teachtopia: National Geo Bee Unofficial Study Guide

Country by Country Info
Library of Congress: Country Studies
infoplease: Countries of the World
Eldis: Country & Region Profiles