Something kind of funny happened at the holidays: every member of my family was gifted a cookbook. I’m not sure if this is in recognition that we all like to play in the kitchen or the need to find some new recipes as we have grown seriously bored with our old usuals. Both?
Last year in a gift exchange, a colleague presented me with Plenty by Yotam Ottalenghi. I was only vaguely familiar with the author’s name but was no particular fan. He’s an Israeli-English chef, restauranteur, and cookbook author. He owns several delis and restaurants in London and specializes in Middle Eastern flavors and cuisines. I was immediately intrigued by the beautiful photography and the series of recipes that concentrate on types of foods. Vegetables, grains, and other plants are often side dishes on my table, and this book shows how to make them the stars. While some of the recipes required ingredients I don’t always keep on hand and the time to think my way through a new process, the couple I have tried have been wonderful. The green couscous, overflowing with fresh herbs and scallions, was a lovely addition to summertime meals.
For Christmas, my son gave me Ottolenghi Simple by the same chef author, having noticed my enjoyment of the previous book. As the name suggests, this book contains simpler recipes. SIMPLE is an acronym for recipes that stands for: Short on time, Ingredients ten or fewer, Make ahead, Pantry-led, Lazy-day dishes, and Easier than you think. Not every recipe partakes of all the categories, but it offers a nice shorthand at the top of the page. Ottolenghi’s pantry differs significantly from mine, but shopping provides part of the fun of new recipes. Discovering different tastes and textures is the main reason I like to check out cookbooks and get busy in the kitchen. I have tried one recipe from this book already: Baked rice with confit of tomatoes and garlic. Baked rice was easy and turned out perfectly. Next time, though, I will halve the recipe because we ended up eating it all week. I posted a picture of my newfound deliciousness on Facebook (like you do) and promptly recommended this book to a friend who wanted the recipe.
The library owns a wide array of cookbooks for you to borrow, from celebrity chefs such as Ottolenghi to cooking with certain kitchen appliances (Do you have an Instapot or slow cooker?) or even for specific dietary needs. Celebrity chefs is one of the current topics for Bundle Bags, where staff will browse the shelves for you. Or, you can always chat with us about what you’re looking for. I wish you happy cooking!
Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to spend winter reading, baking, and waiting for baseball to return.
With respect to racism, tell us about a time in the last six months you had an experience and thought “things have got to change.”
All of us have a story to tell, and we’d like to hear yours!
HCLS wants to provide community engagement and education that advances equity and connects people to opportunities to make a difference.
We invite you to join us at one of two virtual gatherings to hear and share stories related to racial equity. Please bring your experiences and insights, listening ears, and an open mind and heart.
We are excited that through this event, you will have two options to make your story part of something bigger: You can share your story with the library’s new collection of stories about local racial experiences. You also can share your stories and experiences with the County Council’s Racial Equity Task Force.
The Task Force is developing recommendations for the County Council about legislations that can advance equity. Stories shared with them will be official testimony for the Task Force to consider as it does its work.
These events are previews of additional story gathering efforts the library will launch this spring.
I love to travel (the past year has been rough, folks). I will go just about anywhere and enjoy a new location, different foods, and all the sights there are to see. Ask me for my list of favorites, and inevitably Florence, Italy will be in the top three. It’s a small, lovely, walkable city stuffed full of Renaissance art and history and overflowing with delicious food. What’s not to love? I am extremely excited to have Italy as the theme for our annual fundraiser.
This year’s Evening in the Stacks on February 27, while virtual, is going to be the party not to miss with three great authors presenting. A tour company based in Tuscany offers an online mini-vacation with truffle hunting, a pasta-making demonstration, and a virtual wine tasting. You can enjoy a taste of Italy with a delivered meal from a local caterer. Explore our various price points for meals, wine, swag, and books! Hope to see you at our Serata Virtuale!
I don’t like to plan trips in too much detail because sometimes you miss serendipitous occasions and lucky finds. Leaving a day to wander where the mood strikes always ends up as my favorite day of any vacation. You do need some clues about where to start, and Frommer’s travel guides can set your feet on good paths no matter where you go. Pauline Frommer is one of the three authors attending Evening in the Stacks! She is the co-president of Frommer Media LLC with her father, Arthur Frommer, founder of the Frommer’s guidebooks and Frommers.com. Pauline is also an award-winning writer and editor, and has authored six best-selling travel guides, as well as countless magazine and web articles.
If you can’t travel in person, you can still read books that transport you to someplace new. If you want to travel to Calabria, Italy (back in time, too), you can dive intoThe Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames. Juliet will also be joining the party this year! Her novel draws heavily from her family’s experiences. Beginning just before World War I, the book details the overwhelming poverty of the mountainous region of Calabria, but the people shine despite their circumstances. I chuckled at some of the scenes of church and family, while being taken aback at the casual brutality of women’s lives in the early twentieth century. Stella Fortuna (which means lucky star) survives many mishaps (7 or 8 of them depending how you count) to have a sprawling, riotous family in Connecticut. It’s a story of the joys and heartaches of family, and it offers an honest look at Italian immigration experiences. Stella and her sister Concetta are strong, vital women who ruled and loved their family fiercely.
Another strong Italian-American woman, Chi Chi Donatelli is the main character of Tony’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani. Adriana is also coming to Evening in the Stacks! Cheech, as her family and friends call her, was born and raised on the Jersey Shore. She wants more than the expected life, continuing all the local traditions. Chi Chi can sing, and she dreams of fronting a big band while traveling the country. Tony Arma, stage name for Saverio Armandonada, lives the dream after leaving his job at a Detroit auto plant. They meet via mutual friends (or maybe it was cousins) at a wedding and again later when Chi Chi goes up to the big city to audition for a singer/songwriter position with the band Tony fronts. As it turns out, they are better friends than (eventually) spouses – sometimes dreams change and sometimes they don’t. Chi Chi Donatelli is my kind of gal, though – strong, ambitious, and no-nonsense, but with a huge heart. Personally, I think that Chi Chi and Stella Fortuna could have been friends. Both women wanted more from life than what their gender prescribed for them.
Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS and to be part of the team planning Evening in the Stacks. She likes to spend winter reading, baking, and waiting for baseball to return.
Winter is a great time to curl up with a cozy read. Cold and sometimes dreary weather begs for a blanket, a hot drink, and a fire. This month, the Elkridge branch staff members have collected a list of titles to encourage you to Stay Cozy! Keep an eye on the HCLS Facebook page to see titles for all ages highlighted throughout January, and make sure to track titles for the Winter Reading Challenge. Here are just a few of those titles.
Cozy up with canines and a large bowl of snark in The History of the World in Fifty Dogs by Mackenzi Lee, a compilation of Milkbone-sized, illustrated essays about interesting bits of human history accompanied by dogs. Dogs have won Pets in World Mythology Best in Show for millennia. While Cerberus, Anubis, and Fenrir take first place in name recognition, you can find other good dog deity stories such as Gourd Tray, a bug-turned-dog-turned-prince. I especially liked the guide dog to the underworld, Wepwawet, whose name I now consider the greatest dog name aside from Entropy. Sit, stay, and play an around-the-world game of Fetch the Friendship of doggo and hooman.
Now imagine a different sort of mutt–a sport with lineage derived from rugby, capture the flag, and Krav Maga. With magic. On dragons. Lana Torres eats, sleeps, and breathes Blazewrath. It connects her to her Papi and the golden age prior to her parents’ divorce when they lived together amid Puerto Rico’s Cayey mountains. Now, for the first time, her beloved homeland has the requisite number of dragons to play the game. Amid internal and external debates about identity and merit, pro-dragon terrorists attack. When the Dragon Knights threaten the World Cup, Lana fears it to be a Hydra. Runners do not run from the fight; they run toward it. With worldbuilding adventure at its finest, with a diverse cast of authentic LGBTQ+, POC, and disabled characters, this book enthralls.
One of the most engaging books I have read all year involves a ghost Springer Spaniel named Kirby and an unnamed ghost trilobite, because our Lipan Apache heroine enjoys paleontology. Elatsoe, Ellie for short, has the enviable ability to resurrect spirits. Magic, in all its multicultural glory, gore, and grace, exists, and Ellie can summon the spirits of dead animals, just like her Six-Great-Grandmother.
The story opens with the death of her older cousin, with whom she had been close. On the way to his afterlife, his spirit pops in to see Ellie. He tells her he was murdered, who murdered him, and tasks her with seeking justice for him while protecting his widow and newborn baby. Elatsoe gets help from her parents, friends, and the stories of her ancestors, which are an ever-present, essential aspect of her life. There’s a cyclical feel to the storytelling, as if the past, present, and future are one.
Dear Santa, aside from a ghost wooly mammoth, can I please have a billionaire bequeath me his entire fortune? No? Then I will follow Avery Grambs’s quest to understand why billionaire Tobias Hawthorne, a complete stranger, cut every blood relative out of his will to name Avery his heir. Sure, she’s appreciative, but also confused and curious. Raised by a single mother who treated every action and event as a game, be it chores, poverty, or cancer, Avery’s affinity for puzzles and games sends her down dangerous rabbit holes. With the help of three vastly different, handsome brothers, she unlocks truths about each member of the family. Everyone has a story, often entertaining, always suspect.
Dogs + snow = instant cozy. Fourteen-year-old Victoria Secord is angry. A local musher offered her dibs on his high-quality sled dogs. As an aspiring racer, Vicky recognizes the chance of a lifetime, but her mom has to work and apparently does not trust her daughter to drive her dog team across town alone. Vicky sneaks away with her team. Vicky is snow savvy with survival skills to rival Bear Grylls, thanks to her dad. Of course, Chris has none of these skills. Who is Chris? He’s the guy Vicky finds sprawled in the snow bleeding beside a smashed snowmobile. Actually, most household appliances possess more non-urban survival skills than Chris. Go ahead, start your worry. After Vicky administers first aid, she offers him a ride. They get lost. More fun, there’s a rising snowstorm, and by morning everything is hidden under an endless expanse of white, camouflaging all landmark vegetation. Have you started worrying yet?
Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) is the Danish word for the contentment that comes from embracing life’s simplest pleasures. Warm, inviting homes, quality time with family and close friends, and an appreciation for all things natural and handmade are just some of its components. Meik Wiking, author and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, recommends recipes, tips for interior design, and activities to enjoy from the comfort and safety of home, and describes how an approach of feeling gratitude for the everyday has helped make the Danes some of the happiest people in the world.
Based on the beloved podcast, Nothing Much Happens proves that we never outgrow the calming magic of a cozy bedtime story. This collection of short, sensory-delighting stories will lull even the busiest mind into a restful state. In describing everyday moments of joy and beauty, these stories conjure a deep and soothing sense that all is well. The included meditation practices, recipes, and relaxation techniques nurture the body and train the mind in the habit of wellbeing that begins with a good night’s sleep.
Knitting is a trendy hobby, and what’s cuter than a dog in a sweater? Cable-knit, ribbed, chunky, turtleneck – you name it. You’ll love the fifteen knitting projects, ranked from “one paw” for a straightforward pattern to “three paws” for more complicated projects, as well as stunning photographs of adorable canine models. Whether or not you have a furry companion to keep warm this winter, you’ll enjoy looking through these fun designs.
The Elkridge Branch + DIY Education Center opened the doors of its new building in March 2018. All our staff wish that we could see you in person, but we are happy to help you discover new reads while we are apart.
Howard County Library System (HCLS) has again been designated a 2020 Five Star Library by Library Journal for delivering excellence in public education for all ages. HCLS consistently earns the highest five-star ranking attained by fewer than one percent of public libraries in the U.S. and remains the only library system in Maryland to do so.
HCLS President and CEO Tonya Aikens said, “Everyone in Howard County can be proud of this honor. Our talented team is passionate about providing extraordinary customer service, engaging classes and activities, and a high-quality collection for our community of voracious readers and lifelong learners. And even during this pandemic, we continue to explore new ways to develop innovative ideas and bring more services to benefit our customers.”
The LJ Index rates U.S. public libraries based on selected per capita output measures: overall borrowing, borrowing of electronic materials (eContent), library visits, class and event attendance, and public internet computer use, wifi sessions, and (new this year) electronic information. The last item measures usage of online content, such as online research tools (databases).
HCLS per capita numbers (based on a population of 331,414) are as follows: overall borrowing (19.88), visits (6.08), eContent borrowing (3.16), class and event attendance (1.21), and public Internet computer users (1.92), and wifi sessions (.83).
The 2020 scores and ratings are based on FY 18 data from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Public Library Survey.
Sometimes, as the days get dark and cold, I prefer to read books that reflect the world around me. I’m not as drawn to these sorts of books in the summer, those are the marvelous, warm days of beach-y reads. HCLS has kicked off its Winter Reading challenge, which asks you to track what you read online. All ages can participate. Here are a couple of recent favorites with a fairy tale flavor that make the best use of their snowy settings to get you started.
Set in a Baltic look-alike world called Lithvas, this fantasy novel loosely retells Rumplestiltskin through the points of view of three strong but very different women: the daughter of a village money lender, her indentured servant, and a landowner’s daughter who becomes tsarina. Miryem has a much better head for business than her father and begins to require repayment of local loans so her own family doesn’t starve and freeze. This is how she ends up with an indentured servant, Wanda, who wants a better life for herself and her brothers. Irina, the reluctant princess, discovers that all is not as it seems at the highest levels of society, with the tsar secretly possessed by a fire demon. She discovers that she can escape into a strange winter world via old magic and jewelry made of Staryk silver. She also realizes that she’s much better at politics than her husband.
Miryem’s ability to make money seemingly from nothing brings her to the attention of the Staryk – the immortal fairy creatures who live and thrive in a world of winter. The Staryk’s highly rigid, structured culture comes as a shock and mystery to Miriam when she marries their ruler. Her growing enlightenment brings together all the many threads of this story, which weave an enchanting tale filled with mountains of snow and ice, demons and magical jewels, tsars and servants, and most of all the power of names and of family. I loved each woman separately, as they discover their own talents and try to carve a place to thrive in a world ruled by men who use them but only rarely see them.
Continuing in the Slavic traditions: The first book in a trilogy, The Bear and the Nightingale repositions the traditional Russian Vasya the Brave tales for our heroine Vasilisa. The youngest daughter of a local boyar (landowner), she grows up idolizing and working alongside her older brothers after her mother dies. When her father goes to Moscow to find a young wife, Vasya’s world changes as her step-mother brings new rules to the house (mostly about wayward girl children) and a new faith, Christianity. Vasya lives very much attached to the old ways and the local spirits of the hearth and the woods. She befriends the spirit of death (or maybe winter), Morozko, and his magical horse as she battles an ancient evil bear/trickster spirit. As the two worldviews come into increasing conflict, neither the pagan traditions or the newer church are portrayed as completely good or evil. There’s a good bit of grey area for the characters to explore and reconcile as Vasya struggles to find a way to stay true to herself and save her family. The storytelling is masterful and the language beautiful, and you root for this wild, willful but somehow lost little girl to find her way home. The story continues in The Girl in the Tower and finishes spectacularly in The Winter of the Witch.
Last but by no means least: The third book in a YA series about young witch Tiffany Aching, Wintersmith is among my favorite installments of the sprawling Discworld universe. Discworld (the creation of genius satirist and prolific storyteller Terry Pratchett) really deserves its own blog post in the future. Please explore as you have time and interest, but you don’t necessarily have to read the first two Tiffany Aching books (The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky) to enjoy this one.
Tiffany Aching decides to become a witch because she is definitely not a princess and can’t be a woodcutter. Besides, witches get things done. In Wintersmith, as she becomes the firmly established apprentice to Granny Weatherwax, Tiffany accidentally draws the attention of the Wintersmith. The godling mistakes her for the never met but greatly desired spirit of summer, and he proceeds to court Tiffany with romantic notions like personalized snowflakes wearing her face. Pratchett’s turn of phrase often makes me snort with humor, then sit back and admire his way with words. Whether describing no-nonsense older witches or the joys of making good cheese, all of his master craftsmanship shines in this book. It takes Tiffany and her friends some doing, and some dancing, to make everything come right in the end of this lovely wintery caper about finding balance and maintaining boundaries (or maybe it’s maintaining balance and finding boundaries).
One last note: Tiffany’s accomplices on her adventures are the Nac Mac Feegle (see book cover above), who are bright blue, fierce, miniature, larcenous creatures with broad Scots accents (think combative Smurfs with major attitudes) that are simply the best thing ever. Given the Feegles’ dialect, the Tiffany Aching books are also terrific to read aloud or listen to.
Howard County Library System wishes you all the best during the holiday season. Thank you for reading our new blog, which we began in May. We hope you’ve enjoyed the reviews and maybe discovered a new electronic resource or two.
We published nearly 95 posts this year; here were some of the most-read posts of 2020:
This fall we designed and launched a new series of programs to educate customers about local diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, and connect participants to organizations taking action on those topics.
Why? Our mission to provide high-quality education for all must include education about our own community! As local news coverage has decreased, it is especially imperative to create conversations and presentations where our shared experience as Howard County residents is discussed and analyzed. We hope you come learn with us, and that our programming helps you contribute to our community.
Look forward to events on the county council’s Racial Equity Taskforce and more.
Learn about your neighbors!
In strategic planning events held with over 500 residents in 2019 and early 2020, HCLS staff heard loud and clear that people are interested in ways to learn about each other. People said they want opportunities to bridge what can feel like racial, cultural, and political divides in the country and build more community. At the excellent 2020 virtual Longest Table, participants voiced this request again.
Howard County is asking HCLS to make spaces for people to connect with and learn from each other. Look ahead to more programming in 2021 with small group discussion, especially on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics.
Additionally, HCLS will be launching a story collection effort on racial equity issues. We have two goals. First, we hope to build community – that sharing and listening to stories will increase our understanding of each other, provide recognition of diverse experiences, and spur new relationships. Second, we seek impact. We will use our stories to understand local diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts more precisely. We will publicly share stories and community-led analysis of these stories to help inform local decision-making. We can’t wait to start this process with you.
Brown Girl Dreaming may be one of the most beautifully poignant books I’ve ever had the privilege to read. This autobiographical text told in verse relates Woodson’s childhood memories of both Brooklyn, NY and her grandparents’ home in rural South Carolina. I loved the glow of fireflies appearing in the summer dusk, and my heart ached with the understanding that her brother had been lead poisoned by paint in an old tenement. This lovely volume brings us the complete open-hearted bewilderment of a child learning about her world. Dirt driveways and city asphalt combine into a mesmerizing memoir that, while it might be labelled for teens and children, brings truth to all its readers (also available as an eBook and eAudiobook). Woodson received a 2020 MacArthur Fellows Grant.
Woodson continues the coming-of-age theme in her novel, Another Brooklyn. In some ways, I read this as the grown-up version of Brown Girl Dreaming even though its more novel and less memoir. August is returning to Brooklyn for a funeral, and as she travels she can’t help but remember her childhood – the lives of the four fast friends growing up in the 1970s in Brooklyn. The storytelling is still lyrical, if not exactly in verse. The vignettes of the girls’ lives gave me both the feeling of being a young teen again, with all those emotions and upsets, as well as a glimpse of the bigger, national picture that was unfolding around them. Like in the previous book, you get the family nostalgia for an unkind South as well as the hard edges of the northern city. The author does not pull any punches as the girls get older, the problems get thornier, and the solutions ever more doubtful. (also available as an eAudiobook).
These are dreaming books, a little beautiful and a little disturbing, with a haze of remembering to them. But they carry truth, and truth can be hard to hear. Both of these books live on my keeper shelves, and I revisit them periodically. I hope you love them, too.
Kristen B. has worked for HCLS for more than 15 years, and currently hosts the Books on Tap discussion group at Hysteria Brewing Company. She loves reading, Orioles baseball, and baking.
HCLS and InLACE, the Initiative for Latin American Community Engagement, are partnering to offer Remembrance Trees, a community memorial for the Covid-19 pandemic from Dec 9 – 21, and Remembering Together, a virtual event on Monday, Dec 21, 6 – 7 pm. These efforts look to honor those loved ones who have passed and those who are struggling near and far due to the Covid-19 pandemic — and to help us remember that while we might be distanced, we’re deeply connected and can support each other.
Patricia Silva of InLACE approached the library and asked if HCLS wanted to collaborate on this important, meaningful idea during what will be a challenging holiday season for many. HCLS’s Katie DiSalvo-Thronson spoke with her about the inspiration and hopes for these projects. For more information about Remembrance Trees and Remembering Together, visit hclibrary.org/remembrance.
How did you get the idea for this effort?
I first was thinking about this because so many people were dying and how much despair they must have felt and how lonely people have been. When you hear that the families couldn’t say their goodbyes, that bonds were lost… We need to honor them.
I haven’t lost anyone, but when I hear people talking about their friends, sons and daughters being sick or dying that makes me sad and makes me want to reach out with information or emotional support and it makes me want to honor those lives.
Our losses are not reflected only in death, but people losing their jobs, not being able to have food in the house, or facing mental health difficulties. This pandemic affects your hope. What I want to honor also encompasses people who are living with those struggles and uncertainty.
What do you want to remember during this memorial and event?
I think that every life counts and no one should endure this alone. Solidarity.
For you, what does “community” mean in this moment?
Well, it’s a tricky one, because community is something that is immediate around you – but when you become a citizen of the world the notion of community just gets bigger, broader. I live in Howard County, but what happens in my native country of Brazil also affects me.
The other day I was walking through my neighborhood and I saw a lawn sign that said “together and apart.” I think that the same time that social distance makes us physically distant from each other, it could give us a sense of connectivity. We can support each other in ways that are less physical and concrete because what we do and don’t do impacts other people’s lives. If we do social distance, that will impact the curve and fewer people will get sick. The beauty of it in my view is that applies to everything. If we reach out to family and friends to support them, that can save lives, that can help someone. We are in this together. That’s true!
Who should participate in this memorial and event?
Oh my gosh! This is open to everyone who wants to express their solidarity, and in any sense grieve and mourn and remember.
Patricia Silva is InLACE’s Co-Founder and President and a community advocate.