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Friday, July 29, 2011

Cookbooks for Cheaters

Ok, I admit it - I'm not that great a cook. I still need cookbooks! I'm not on Top Chef where they make everything off the top of their heads - how do they DO that?  (Many hours in the kitchen, encyclopedic memory, experience tasting all kinds of cuisines, ability to think creatively under pressure, no problem!)

So how do we amateurs decide which cookbook to use?

You can buy one on impulse and perhaps suffer buyer's remorse or, how about this? Borrow it from our Library.

It's kind of like speed dating: you flip through the book quickly at the store and are smitten with a few eyecatching recipes, so you want to take it out for a first date. (This is where the Library comes in.) Check it out here (or place a hold on it,) take it home and cook a few recipes from it. If you absolutely love it and can't bear to give it up, then commit and buy it. Happily ever after!

If the book's not all you hoped, just know that it will be available from the Library if you ever want to take it out again.

For example, here are some cookbooks I love but don't want to buy (and that our Library owns):

All books by Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa:
the original Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and the others -
BC Parties, BC Family Style, BC in Paris, BC at Home, BC Back to Basics, BC How Easy is That?

Each cookbook is lovely, but to me doesn't have enough recipes to justify the price of the book. 

Ina's latest book, How Easy is That, aptly titled,  has some recipes that are so simple they almost don't qualify as recipes.  For example, Roasted Figs - Wrap halved figs with prosciutto, brush with olive oil, and bake at 425 for 10 minutes.  Friends tried it this past weekend:  warm, sweet/salty and delicious, but do you really need a recipe for that, or is it just directions?  

My daughter and I also made the Crostini with Tuna Tapenade, this one was outstanding, with the whole being more than the sum of the parts - lemony and flavorful with kalamata olives.  (Note - you could sub out the mascarpone cheese with either cream cheese or sour cream so you don't have to purchase 1/3 cup of expensive mascarpone.)  Tuna and Hummus Sandwiches -  also good,  but just use good Italian tuna and a mustard vinaigrette with purchased hummus, serve them open faced on a toasted baguette and you're done.  Don't need the cookbook.

A few weeks back, we tried the Watermelon and Arugula Salad.  Savory watermelon salads are all the rage right now, and this one was good, not great.  The best one I've made is a watermelon, tomato and kalamata olive salad but not sure where that recipe is right now.  (I'll look it up! - said the Reference Librarian)

Also tried the Roasted Eggplant Caponata, which was very good, but I actually like Roasted Eggplant Spread from the Barefoot Contessa Family Style  better and it was easier too - just roast everything in the oven and process.

These books are certainly attractive, photos styled simply but beautifully, and the recipes are really very good and perfect for summer entertaining and enjoying.  Hope you come to our Library and take out these or other cookbooks, and let me know what you've made, good, bad or indifferent!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Musings on Maine

Maine: a Novel by J. Courtney Sullivan

Picture yourself sitting on the porch of your family’s ocean side cottage, no neighbors in sight, enjoying the tranquility of Maine in the summer. Sounds perfect, right? Add in an extended Irish Catholic family with a domineering matriarch and before you know it perhaps those family trips to Maine aren’t quite as perfect as you imagined. This excellent novel follows the Kelleher family on its annual trips to Maine complete with all the family baggage, secrets, and drama. Chapters are told from the perspective of four complex women encompassing three generations and all very different. Highly recommended — I didn’t want this book to end!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


If you are among the 59% of adults who now access the Internet wirelessly using a laptop or cell phone (“Mobile Access 2010” Pew Research Center) library apps should be on your desktop.

Today’s featured app is Bookmyne. This app lets you search for books, get book suggestions and check your account. You can also place holds on books that are checked out or renew the books that you have.

Once you download this from the App Store you need to pick South Brunswick Public Library as your library. You may have to do this more than once before the app will save your library. Your username and password will be the same one you currently use to login to your library account.

For answers to frequently asked questions and for links to Bookmyne tutorials go to .

For non-iPhone and iPad users, you can search for books and access your account from the library’s web page . Just click inside the Search the Catalog box and type in the title of the book you want to find, then; click on the Search button. When you have your book results you can login in the upper right-hand corner of the page. This way you can check your account, place holds and renew books.

Check Our Library Blog every Wednesday for more suggestions for online library gems. Future postings will talk about free e-books and audio books, free access to magazines and newspapers and more.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Great Option for a Weekend Getaway

There are miles and miles of waterfront on the Chesapeake Bay (more than 11,000 miles to be more precise) and most of the Eastern Shore (of the bay, that is, which is actually on the west side of the Delmarva Peninsula) is no more than 3-4 hours drive from central New Jersey. There are dozens of picturesque maritime towns and villages all along the bay that trace their origins all the way back to Colonial America. The activities you can find in the area range from boating, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, fishing, golf, tennis, bicycling, hiking, shopping, museum hopping, dining and just plain relaxing. And the best way to get close to the water is to find a bed and breakfast in one of the quaint costal communities. One such community that my husband and I visited this past weekend was St. Michael’s Maryland. This charming community boasts some great shopping and dining, the wonderful Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum that includes an example of one of the bay’s “screw pile” type lighthouses and a number of very comfortable bed and breakfasts. There are some that are inn type establishments right in the downtown area and there are some that are in homes in the community, often with a waterfront view. The one that we stayed in is run by an ex-New Jersey resident who has converted two bedrooms in her family’s summer home into a very cozy retreat with a waterfront view of the town of St. Michaels and the maritime museum across the Miles River basin. The B&B is called Point Breeze and the owner offers free use of kayaks, canoes and bicycles for the guests to use to explore the town. The breakfasts are scrumptious, served on a lovely screened veranda overlooking the water. The owner will gladly arrange a cruise on one of the sail or steam boats that tour the bay or make you a reservation at one of the area’s fine seafood restaurants. The area is known for crab, prepared in just about any way you can imagine. The Eastern Shore is also known for its many art events and galleries. We went this past weekend to attend the Plein-Air Competition and Arts Festival in Easton, the town that lies at the head of the of peninsula where St. Michaels is located which ends at scenic Tilghman Island. If you want to read a great account of what the area is all about before you go or if you are just an armchair traveler, there is no better choice than James Michener’s bestseller Chesapeake.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Reading Opens Doors to Travel

July 25, 2011

While reading can be an imaginative escape for me it has more often than not become an open door to real destinations. And so it is fitting that the 2011 Summer Reading theme is about travel and experiencing other cultures in the world.

This past weekend my family and I visited Chincoteague and Assateague Islands in Virginia where wild ponies have been protected in a National Wildlife Refuge for more than 100 years. One wild pony in particular became well known after author Marguerite Henry wrote the children’s book Misty of Chincoteague in 1947 at Miss Molly’s Inn there. Just up the street at the Island Roxy Movie Theater you can still see Misty’s hoof prints in the front sidewalk. Misty actually attended the book’s 1962 movie premiere.

Like a lot of little girls in the 1960s I remember reading about Misty and the other wild ponies that live on the islands. I dreamed of visiting one day and many years later shared my love of the story with my children.

Hundreds of tourists still flock to see the home of Misty and the subsequent generations of wild ponies that continue to live there and take the annual swim to auction every July.

At the same time I was living my “Misty” experience I sat on the beach and read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and “walked” through yet another door, this time it led me to Sweden. I have never been there but the story (which is set in Sweden) gave me some glimpses of Swedish culture I had not “seen” before, such as typical lunch fare being herring and pickle sandwiches!

But before I start planning any trips to Sweden I am hoping to visit the Missouri home of another popular author from my childhood, Laura Ingall’s Wilder. I am keeping a list.

While books can lead to travels, travels can lead to books. I recently read At the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolfe because of a trip I am planning to Cornwall, England. I had learned that the legendary author had spent her childhood summers here and had written this book as a semi-autobiographical account of one such summer. My plans prompted an opportunity to experience a well-known author I had not read before and to learn more about my destination. I also picked up an interesting French recipe from the book and plan to give that a try just for fun.

Some people might see reading as a passive activity, but for the curious mind it can be anything but passive.

Stop by the library and open your own doors to the world around you!


Friday, July 22, 2011

Cool Cookbook for a Hot Day

'wichcraft is a fantastic cookbook of 'just' sandwiches. Tom Colicchio, head judge on Top Chef as well as owner of numerous restaurants, is the author of this cookbook which takes sandwiches to a whole new level. Try the Cheddar with Smoked Ham, Poached Pear and Mustard for example. Ham and cheddar - yawn! - but add the poached pear, dijon mustard and put it on cranberry pecan bread, and it's a wow! Each sandwich recipe is composed of several elements, which can all be done from scratch, BUT don't have to be. You can cheat and substitute or buy prepared ingredients and you will have the blueprint to make some easy and truly gourmet combinations.

There are some good basic ideas here too, such as how to poach a chicken breast so it stays moist and delicious. Each recipe faces its photo making this a fun browsing book too.

Colicchio takes such care in fashioning his food and his recipes that even the humble BLT merits a description of just how to build the sandwich (toast the country bread on one side, put the toasted side IN) to make it the best of its kind. Of course you are using heirloom tomatoes, and thick cut bacon, but hey, do you want to make a great sandwich or not?

I made about 15 of the recipes from 'wichcraft, and each one has been special in some way. OK, so the guys didn't absolutely love the Raw Yellow Beets with Avocado and Grapefruit Sandwich, but the women in my group did. And the Roasted Turkey with Onion Marmalade was universally enjoyed, as were the Tuna and Roasted Tomato Melt as well as the Red Wine Braised Steak with Gruyere.

There are even dessert sandwiches. For my son who loves banana bread, I made the Banana Bread Sandwich with Caramel Ice Cream (I purchased Dulce de Leche ice cream) and Pecan Brittle. A-maze-ing!

The library has some great new cookbooks, and I highly recommend this one. Let me know if you've seen Tom Colicchio, have tried any of his recipes or restaurants, and what you think.