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Author Archives:dphillips


Mastering the Art

EscargotsI recently reacquainted myself with one of my favorite cookbooks, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. I added this book to my personal collection back in the late ‘80s when I was working at the Morrill Memorial Library as a page.  This particular edition of this classic was being withdrawn from the collection.  Even at my young age, I knew this was a deal I shouldn’t pass up, even if I wasn’t cooking for myself yet, as I was still in high school. At home, we ate the usual American fare, mostly meat and potatoes.  Occasionally, I’d have a taste of traditional dishes from Lithuania, as both sides of my family emigrated from the Baltics.  Why I decided to bring this selection home at that time was a bit of a mystery.

Despite having a rather unique cultural heritage, I never had an adventurous palate. Even when trying the Lithuanian dishes, my favorites were blynai or kugelis – both potato based recipes.  The only time I ever tried something really different was when I traveled to France for my junior year abroad in college.  I had the benefit of living with a woman whose father was a butcher and a bit of a home chef.  We would go to her parents’ house for dinner on Sundays where her mother and father would present me with a ‘mystery’ meal.  They never told me what they were serving until we finished dinner.  I had the opportunity to taste such French delicacies as Escargots à la Bourguignonne (snails with garlic and butter), Cuisse de Grenouille (frog legs), Lapin à la Moutarde (rabbit with Dijon mustard), Terrine de Foie Gras (goose liver) and much more.

After returning from France, my culinary habits didn’t stray too far from my American staples despite my experiences in France.  I would try different recipes for the basic proteins of beef, chicken, and pork but I always stuck to American based cookbooks like the “Joy of Cooking” or “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook” or even “The New York Times Cookbook.”  I started to venture out a little bit once The Food Network caught my attention but even then, I stuck to the basic American chefs like Alton Brown, Bobby Flay and Rachel Ray.  Occasionally, I would refer to their cookbooks such as, Alton’s “Good Eats: The Early Years,” “Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain Cookbook” or Rachel’s “30-Minute Meals.”  Once in a while, I’d branch out to try one of the Italian recipes in Giada De Laurentiis’ “Everyday Italian: 125 Simple and Delicious Recipes.” Things were perking up in the kitchen.

Then I got hooked on Bravo’s reality show, Top Chef.  Although I’m not a ‘foodie’ by any stretch of the imagination, I was mesmerized by this program and the amazing creativity and delicious looking meals the talented chefs were making in such a short period of time.  I started to scope out some of the cookbooks published in association with the show:  “Top Chef: The Cookbook”, “Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook,” and “How to Cook Like a Top Chef.”

Since I became so interested in the journey and recipes of these chefs, a colleague of mine recommended that I read “The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation”, by David Kamp. I’m learning all about the chefs and journalists who were instrumental in introducing the general American public to gourmet cuisine, including James Beard, Julia Child and Craig Claiborne.  It was during this engrossing read that I remembered that I had the two volume set of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”; a classic cookbook that I barely opened since I brought it home so many years ago.  The books had been sitting on my bookshelf in the kitchen the whole time.  I just hadn’t ventured to open the pages…yet — I decided now was the time.

I began with some of the basics and classics like: Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée, Vichyssoise, Coq au Vin, and Boeuf Bourguignon.  The dishes were delicious and it was fun to make something different.  I was recounting my new venture of cooking with a friend and she told me that I had to watch the movie, Julie & Julia, which is a tale about a young woman cooking all of the recipes in Julia Child’s classic cookbook during one year.  I wasn’t going to go to that extreme but the exercise did awaken in me a new love for cooking with ingredients that weren’t so common in my pantry.

My family never knows what might be on the table each evening.  Sometimes it’s an American staple like homemade macaroni and cheese from Rachel Ray’s cookbook or it could be quiche or even ratatouille.  The books and cooking shows brought a sense of fun back into the kitchen for me and family back to the table.

Diane Phillips is the Technical Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Diane’s column in the September 15, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.


Serial: Life After the Podcast

adnan-thumbnailThe story of two young star-crossed lovers could have remained a small story. In fact, it did for about fifteen years. Two high school seniors – one murdered and the other convicted of the crime. It was 1999 in Baltimore, Maryland. There was an ice storm that closed school for two days. There was hockey and wrestling. There were cars, and jobs, and friends, and teachers. There were two devastated families of two good kids – one Korean-American and the other Pakistani-American.

If you haven’t had the inclination, time, or interest to listen to the Serial: Season One podcast, here is a very brief recap. On January 13, 1999, Hae Min Lee was murdered sometime after she left school after her last class at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, Maryland. This was sometime after 2:15 pm. She did not show up as usual to pick up a young cousin at 3:00 pm. She and Adnan Syed had been boyfriend and girlfriend for at least a year, but Hae had a new, older boyfriend who was a coworker at one of the local LensCrafters stores.

Adnan Syed was a member of a large Muslim community of Baltimore County. Both he and Hae Min Lee were typical high school students, attending proms, participating in sports, and hanging out with friends. Both worked and both were good students looking forward to furthering their education in college in the fall.

Hae’s body was found in late February 1999 amongst the wooded underbrush of Leakin Park in Baltimore. Adnan was arrested for the murder the next morning on February 28, 1999. After a first mistrial, he was convicted of the murder on February 25, 2000. He was given a life sentence and has been in jail ever since, still pleading his innocence.

The podcast about this crime and conviction began as a segment of This American Life, a public radio broadcast produced by Chicago Public Media. Sarah Koenig, a staff producer at TAL, quickly realized that the story could not be told in one hour and Serial, a spin-off of TAL, was born and became one of the most popular podcasts in listening history. It debuted on October 3, 2014 and the last episode was aired on December 18, 2014. Since that time, with the help of legal experts and the publicity to an entirely international public, a post-conviction relief hearing lasted five days from February 3-9, 2016. On June 30, 2016, Syed was granted a new trial based on evidence that his attorney was ineffective and that important evidence related to cell tower locations was unreliable. Also important to the new trial is an alibi that was overlooked in 1999 and 2000. Adnan’s conviction has been vacated. However, a long road for Adnan is ahead as the State of Maryland is appealing the new ruling. Adnan’s attorneys can only hope for bail so that Adnan can return home and await a new trail which will take months and possibly years.

I became an obsessed and avid Serial listener late in the game. Episode 12 of Season One had aired weeks earlier and the spin-offs were all in full-swing before I caught on and joined the ranks of the “serial obsessed.” I hungrily binge-listened to all 12 hour-long episodes with a week. I couldn’t get enough of it. I talked it up, chatting endlessly about it, reading everything that I could find online.

I soon caught up with my favorite police chief and discussed the podcast (and case of Adnan Syed). Chief William Brooks is an advocate against wrongful conviction. He was, in fact, honored in 2013 by the Innocence Network at their annual conference held in Charlotte, North Carolina. They presented him with the 2012 Champion of Justice award. Brooks and other police officers favor reforms such as eyewitness identification and others that wrongfully convict innocent people. I admire Norwood’s police chief and I am always proud to know that not only is he my fellow colleague and department head in Norwood, but he is the current President of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and a member of the Executive Committee of the International Chiefs of Police Association.

After finishing Serial: Season One, many listeners were torn between skepticism of Adnan Syed’s innocence, and at the same time wistfully hoping that Syed would be granted a new trial. In retrospect, that is exactly what Sarah Koenig wanted: to leave her listeners questioning everything about the case. She did not intend to solve it.

I began to listen to the other podcasts about the murder of Hae Min Lee: Serially Obsessed, The Serial Serial, Serial Dynasty, Crime Writers on Serial, Slate’s Serial Spoiler Specials, and more. Only one, Undisclosed, was of any interest to me. After listening to a few episodes of the others, I found that most of them were too chatty, sensationalized, and opinionated.

Undisclosed began as a podcast that is described on its website as “a detailed examination of the State of Maryland’s case against Adnan Syed.” Attorneys Susan Simpson and Colin Miller were assisted by Rabia Chaudry to “revisit the case,” including updates on Adnan’s legal battle, the investigation, new or overlooked evidence, and facts and analysis that was not found in the Serial podcast. The important component of the Undisclosed podcast is that Ms. Chaudry has been working on Adnan’s defense for 17 years. Not only is she an attorney, but she is the sister of Adnan Syed’s best friend. She is close to the family and was a spectator the day that Adnan was convicted by a jury in 2000. Rabia Chaudry’s new book, “Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial” was published in August and I read it as soon as I got my hands on it. While criticism of her involvement, her one-sided defense of Adnan, and her attacks on the State’s case, Chaudry’s book is packed with facts about the case. Her analyses and theories are included in the last chapters of the book and I have been further convinced of Adnan’s innocence. What haunts me, however, is that a killer other than Adnan Syed has not been found, investigated, or charged with the crime. I will be watching, and listening, in the future.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the September 8, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.


Rhode Island

Rhode Island: Not Just Family Guy

Rhode IslandI give directions by referencing where things used-to-be; I drink cabinets from Newport Creamery, and I drank coffee milk and Del’s Lemonade growing up (I still do, but that’s our secret).  And like most people believe themselves to be, I am a questionably qualified driver–although I’ve been told Massachusetts-people (Massachusettites?  Massachusettans?  You all really need to work on that…) don’t agree. I’m used to telling people, “No, Quahog is not an actual town,” when I am asked about the television show Family Guy.  I may be a stereotypical Rhode Islander.

But Rhode Islanders are more than coffee milk and quahogs, and Rhode Island is more than the small, dowdy sibling of Massachusetts; it is more than Family Guy references and Iggy’s Doughboys.  It is more than blossoming waterfire during summertime, beautiful anytime beaches and hiking trails, artists and theatre and literature and music.  It is the home to many including “model politicians,” Ann Hood, James Woods, Family Guy, and myself; I grew up there–near where the old homestead used to be.  I know the secrets.

My secret is the hiking trail, hidden in the heart of Rhode Island, past farms and the small freshwater pond where kids cannonball into clear water to frighten the sunfish swimming below.  Cars can reach it, but only after bumping along miles of dirt roads.  A left here, a right there.  Ignore the “Private Property” signs long enough to get to the preserve, and you’ll find it.  An unassuming wooden sign marks the trail with it’s name (I can’t tell; it’s a secret), and beyond the sign the trail snakes up and over boulders split in half from time and the earth’s shifting.  Rhododendrons have invaded every inch of the forest floor here, crawled over fallen trees, and grown larger than beachside bungalows.

When I go, I can’t bring much.  At least not anything I have to carry.  To hike the trail, I have to climb.  One hand grasped around the pine tree to the right and another on the boulder to help lower me down.  At the bottom of the first hill, I always turn around.  The trail seems impossible from that angle, from the bottom, where the incline is almost vertical–a wall of trees and rocks.  The trail disappears somewhere beyond and above my line of sight. Not many people know, but Moonrise Kingdom was filmed here (and other parts of Rhode Island); Sam (what a coincidence!) and Suzy trekked through these woods, climbing rocks, and hoisting their luggage across babbling rivers.

I walk the same paths Sam and Suzy do, pushing aside leaves and using roots as stairs to propel myself higher.  From a distance, someone’s voice echoes, deep and quiet, off leaves and swaying trees. Fluorescent pink pops through the branches; it is the someone’s shirt. The faraway voices talk about fatigue, about how far along the one-and-a-half mile trail they are.  Half way, another voice responds.  They’re at the next peak, looking out, watching the calm pond below and the darkening clouds swirl over the forest.  Leaves are shifting, and the dewey scent of rain is moving in.  I’ll be caught in the downpour, but I don’t care.

I climb while the the two people pack their hammock and pass me on their way down from the peak.  We say hello, and they disappear into the rhododendrons.  I pull myself up the trail, fingernails dirty in the way my mother would have hated, sweat beading on my forehead.  The first raindrops fall when I plant my feet in the dried pine needles and oak leaves at the peak.  I lift my face to the rain and allow my eyes to settle on the rippling pond below.  I have written about this place before, and I have called it “the place where the entire world opens up.”  Nothing but endless green trees and a deep clear pond and the silence one can experience only in a forest. Each time, its beauty reminds me of how beautiful Rhode Island is, especially if you know its secrets.

Adventurous types might be interested in finding this path.  And, while I won’t reveal the secret through its name, curious travelers may be able to find it in Walks and Rambles in Rhode Island by Ken Weber or Discover Rhode Island by Christie Matheson.  Or, to whet your hiking appetite, you may want to watch Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom to see some beautiful Rhode Island vistas, beaches, and forests.  If you wouldn’t be caught dead on a hiking trail, but might want to make fun of Rhode Island, then Family Guy is the show for you.

Samuel Simas is the technology assistant at the Morrill Memorial library; he is a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. Read Samuel’s column in the May 5th issue of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

xkcd comic window

Your Daily Funnies

xkcd comic window

xkcd #1110 - Click and Drag - by Randall Munroe

Growing up, I had a morning routine. I’d fix a bowl of cereal, pour myself a glass of juice and open up the Globe to the comics. My early favorites included Garfield and Mother Goose and Grimm – the punchlines didn’t change much, but Odie falling off the table was funny every time. As I got older, I preferred the family humor of FoxTrot and For Better or Worse. I even eventually began to appreciate the adult political takes found in Doonesbury and Bloom County/Outland.

I didn’t get the daily paper after I went away to college, but the late 90s and early 2000s brought with them the birth of w
ebcomics. Unconstrained by the need to fill three or four little black and white boxes in a daily paper, by the need to appeal to everyone, or to be family friendly, dozens of artists and authors began to produce comedy and compelling stories online.

One of the earliest and, to date, most successful comics has been Penny Arcade, written by Jerry Holkins and illustrated by Mike Krahulik. Dedicated to videogame culture and filled with a dedicated irreverence, the comic has grown since its debut in 1998 to attract 3.5 million weekly readers and hosts a yearly game convention. Penny Arcade stuck to the basic format of the newspaper comic strip, but succeeded with writing and art that attracted a niche audience and did it well.

A similar pattern can be seen in xkcd, a comic that mainly relies on stick figure art, but focuses on the intersection of science and pop culture. Randall Munroe, a roboticist and computer programmer at NASA, started drawing xkcd in his spare time and it expanded to become a full time job. He continues to write new comics three times a week, but in addition to the traditional “boxes with words and pictures” approach, he also uses his programming skills to create interactive games on his site and has expanded several ideas to book length projects. Thing Explainer (2015) offers explanations of complicated scientific ideas using only the thousand most common words in English and What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (2014) is just what it sounds like.

On the social sciences end of the spectrum, Kate Beaton takes vignettes from medieval Europe to modern Canada and transforms them into hilarious but educational little slices of history. One of my favorites on both fronts is about Australian Gen. Sir John Monash. I’d never heard of Monash before, but the comic shows him responding to a critical British officer during the first World War saying, “Yes, let’s look at what you’ve been doing so far. Ah, I see, some losing here, some dying in the trenches over here.” Now I want to know more! Beaton does most of her work online, but Hark! A Vagrant! and two other collections of her comics are available in book form at the library. She’s also written a couple of children’s books and is currently producing a graphic novel, Ducks, about her time working in the tar sands of Alberta.

Other webcomics are more focused on long, slice of life storytelling and provide years of narrative and character development. Two that I’ve read for a long time are Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran and Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques. Both feature art and language that could never appear in a newspaper, but the lives of the twenty-somethings in the comics are all the more compelling because their relationships and conflicts seem more honest and open. Questionable Content is particularly notable for dealing frankly with depression, substance abuse, and LGBT relationships. And there are also funny, cake-eating robots, all in full color, five days a week.

Science fiction and fantasy make for popular subjects for long-running webcomics as well. Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell features some of the best artwork online and an exciting, funny, and touching Harry Potter-esque story about a young girl attending a mysterious school that blends advanced technology and magic. Homestuck by Andrew Hussie stands out as the comic that makes the most of its online format, including interactive storytelling, music, and even short films. The convoluted narrative follows a group of teenage friends who get sucked into a video game world and face time travel paradoxes and aliens threatening the Earth.

All of these comics have some element of humor in them, but have some other hook to really pull you in – whether that’s a focus on a subject that interests you or a long, ongoing story. Some, though, are more inspired by classics like Krazy Kat or The Far Side where the joke is everything. Dinosaur Comics by Ryan North takes this to an extreme by featuring the same art for every strip, but different dialog between dinosaurs that exchange quips about language, pop culture, and social expectations. Dorothy Gambrell’s Cat and Girl follows the title characters around their bizarre bohemian existence while they ask questions like: what’s the meaning of life? why is poverty so intractable? how did I get this flamethrower? and what should I have for breakfast?

Whether you want a short chapter of a long story every day, or just a quick laugh first thing in the morning, webcomics are a fun online option. I started with just one or two, recommended by more traditional authors, but quickly followed links to a list of more than a dozen pages that I visit at least once a week. Search for these titles online or try out the print collections for many of them here at the library!

Jeff Hartman is the Senior Circulation Assistant, Paging Supervisor, and Graphics Designer at the Morrill Memorial Library.

Jigsaw Puzzle

Piecing It Together @ the Library

Growing up, my family was not a puzzling one; to clarify, we did not do jigsaw puzzles. Of course, we had small puzzle toys for our family of four children when we were young but I don’t remember doing jigsaw puzzles with my family or friends as a young child or teen.

I think I must have first fallen in love with jigsaws when my children were babies – when I had very short or very long stretches of time on my hands between their naps or after their bedtimes. We lived in Ireland at the time and the toy shops in Cork and Dublin were filled with wonderful European puzzles of rich scenes and thousands of pieces and they captivated me.

My puzzling bug hit hard over the next few decades and for the past thirty-five years, with few interruptions, there has usually been a jigsaw puzzle set up in my home. I’ve always received jigsaw puzzles as gifts from my families and friends who are aware of my hobby. Everyone who visits can rely on spending time with me chatting over a puzzle because Gerry and I always have a puzzle in the works on our family room coffee table. It sits on a spinning puzzle board with a removable acrylic cover that protects it from a grandchild’s tiny hands, spills from drinking glasses, and crumbs of cheese and crackers. We have an entire closet shelf devoted to jigsaw puzzles that we think we might do again or ones that lie in wait to be unwrapped and the box’s contents spilled. Or sometimes, we simply save the horribly challenging ones to share with friends whose lives we want to make difficult.

The history of the jigsaw puzzle is a relatively recent one; it’s only three hundred years old. In Anne Williams book, The Jigsaw Puzzle – Piecing Together a History (2004), she writes that jigsaw puzzles were first created in the mid-1700s as an educational tool for children. Ms. Williams is an economics professor at Bates College in Maine but is also a puzzle collector and puzzle historian.

Berkshire Puzzles, a company in Northampton, Massachusetts (they create handcrafted wooden puzzles) also attributes the first puzzles to cartographer John Spilsbury. Spilsbury created these learning tools by cutting up a wooden map of Great Britain with a jigsaw so that children could learn their geography. (Today, Spilsbury is also an online company that uses the cartographer’s name to offer puzzles of every type for sale.)

In the early 1900s, the jigsaw puzzle craze found its way from Europe and across the Atlantic to Salem, Massachusetts. That is where Parker Brothers began creating puzzles for the wealthy adult population who loved working puzzles, most often pictures of landscape and famous art. Game maker Milton Bradley soon joined the fun and during the Great Depression puzzles took off when they were first manufactured and mass-produced using die cuts and cardboard instead of the traditional wood and jigsaw machinery. They had become affordable to the common family.

The Consolidated Paper Company in Somerville, Massachusetts produced weekly Perfect Picture Puzzles for middle and lower class families. In Master Pieces: The Art History of Jigsaw Puzzles by Chris McCann (1999), the author refers to the Great Depression puzzling craze in the 1930s as the Great Puzzle Panic. Jigsaw puzzles, pieced by a multitude of American families, created the perfect, cheap family entertainment during a difficult time. And, back in the box, the puzzle could be taken out again and again. A radio and a puzzle made up the family together time.

Puzzles are now created by so many companies you can search for hours on the internet for both the companies that sell them and companies that make them. My favorite puzzlemaker is Eric Dowdle Folkart Puzzles and one reason is that the company will send you a new puzzle if you are missing a piece. All Dowdle puzzles are wonderfully artistic and depict scenes from across the USA and the world. The majority of Dowdle puzzles are 500 and 1000 pieces and are moderately difficult to complete. Other great puzzle companies are Ravensburger and Heye in Germany and White Mountain Puzzles and Master Pieces in the United States. The Puzzle Warehouse online store carries puzzles made by 80 manufacturers.

1000-piece puzzles are a perfect size to work on at the dining room table, a folding card table, or some larger coffee tables. The Puzzle Warehouse boasts that Ravensburger currently has the record of making the largest puzzle – at 32,256 pieces it measures 17 by 6 feet when completed. Their 32,000-piece puzzle of New York City will set you back about $300 or about a penny each piece.

Wooden puzzles are still crafted by companies like Berkshire Puzzle in New Hampshire and others. You can have your own puzzle made by companies who will take your high resolution photographs and make them into puzzles of various sizes. Jigsaws are made two-sided or three-dimensional. A traditionalist, I still like my puzzles flat, one-sided, and with no particular mystery to its construction.

So, what does this have to do with your library here in Norwood?

This past winter, we added a wonderful spinning puzzle board that sits in a corner on the second floor. Not only do we have dozens of puzzles to lend (once we find out all the pieces are intact), but we have an ongoing puzzle for patrons to complete. We have received donations of puzzles and purchased some for the library. We’ve even had a puzzle-share with the Morse Institute (the public library in neighboring Natick.)

Do people really come to the library to work on jigsaw puzzles? You bet they do. Sometimes visitors to the puzzle table complete a 1000-piece puzzle in a single day. Puzzlers come for different reasons – to get out of the house, to meet friends after work, to spend a few moments in quiet solitude, or to exercise their brains. It is becoming commonly believed that jigsaw puzzle-making may help to offset the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia. They also come for different seasons – to enjoy the cozy warmth or the cool air conditioning on the library’s second floor.

Stop by the library and work on our current ongoing puzzle or browse our collection of jigsaw puzzles to check out. It’s always something new at the library!

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the June 30, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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