Master French cooking after a visit to the library

Posted: Thursday, March 11, 2010

There's something for nearly every taste on the new non-fiction shelves at the Juneau Public Libraries.

"I Know How to Cook," by Ginette Mathiot.

Ah, France, where chestnut soup is popular enough to have variations and one can find both hare and rabbit in the butcher's shop! First published in 1932, this is France's version of "Joy of Cooking;" spare, to the point, and very, very thorough. Julia Child translated restaurant recipes for the American cook, but here Mathiot focuses on home cooking and as a result, these recipes are much more approachable. Photos are pooled up throughout - and, happily, each photo is captioned with the name of its dish and the page number on which it can be found - but since they are not the selling point you'll have to exercise your imagination over recipes like Savory Potato Loaf and Lake Trout with Crème Fraiche. Besides the recipes, there are menu ideas, charts of seasonal foods, wine suggestions, and even a section of menus suggested by celebrated chefs, complete with recipes. (For a look at Spain's home-cooking bible, try "1080 Recipes," by Simone Ortega, also available at the library.)

"Baking," by James Peterson.

This straightforward cookbook is like a baking class on paper: Peterson shows and tells each step of the process for making cakes, pies, cookies, frostings, meringues, and much more with clear instructions and photos of the process plus the finished product. Have you ever been frustrated by not having enough frosting to cover a cake? Peterson tells you how to estimate frosting needs. Want to make a really spectacular-looking dessert for an event? Take a look at Peterson's how-tos for decorating cakes with chocolate-ribbons, colorful fondant, ladyfingers, piped frosting and caramel cages, or learn how make a pond of elegant puff pastry swans, or fruit tartlets. Learn the subtleties of crème caramels, chocolate mousse, and pot de crème, and how to make and use rolled and liquid fondants. Purists may be put off a bit because the measurements are all by volume instead of by weight, but the rest of us will be busy satisfying our baking urges.

"A Paradise Built in Hell," by Rebecca Solnit.

Common thought is that in disasters, panic rules, chaos ensues, and it's every individual for him or herself, but disaster sociologists (yes, it's a real field) have come to realize that the reality is quite different. Survivors run to help put out fires, feed and clothe the hungry, and care for the injured, and if we can't be involved in primary activities, we improvise, like the woman who handed out pieces of torn bedsheet as makeshift dust masks after the towers fell. It's as if we are hardwired to come together into small, helpful (though temporary) communities. Solnit focuses on five major disasters to prove her point: the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the 1917 explosion of the munitions ship Mont Blanc, the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina. She takes to task government bureaucracies whose policies are built on the idea that they need to first control the populace and only second provide assistance, and points the way to a more efficient and effective response. These are fascinating stories that will reaffirm your faith in humanity and a conclusion that will leave you with food for thought.

"Cranioklepty," by Colin Dickey.

There was a time that scientists believed that the bumps on a person's skull could be "read" to indicate their personalities and talents. Ultimately, the science of phrenology was declared invalid, but for over a century, the bodies of the famous and infamous both were in danger of losing their heads. Musicians Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, philosopher Thomas Browne, and artist Goya, have all been headless at some point after their death, and some have not yet been put back together. Here is the story of phrenology, from Franz Josef Gall's initial idea that students with large eyes had naturally good memories, to his attempt to prove that all mental traits could be correlated to physical evidence on the skull. This took lots of research - and skulls - which he got from insane asylums and prisons, though eventually he needed more. Here are the stories of collectors, grave robbers, and their victims.

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The downtown library will host the Poetry Omnibus reception on Saturday, March 13, at 7 p.m. Then on Sunday, March 14, at 4 p.m., the Douglas Library will host this month's Family Movie. For more information, or to place a hold, visit www.juneau.org/library or call 586-5249.



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