The 641 Project: Gingerbread House Books at the Library


“The North Pole Library,” first place winner of the National Gingerbread House Competition, 2009.


If you’ve been following the 641 Project series The Gingerbread House Project, the talk about gingerbread and house building is making you think maybe about building your own house for the holidays.  I say, go for it!

Gingerbread house ideas, instructions and printable templates can be found easily on the web.  There are even videos that demonstrate different phases of construction.  If hard print is more your speed, the Clayton County Library System has a few books devoted to the art of the gingerbread house.  You may consult one or all of them to make a house or other goodies to show off your baking and decorating skills:

It’s a Gingerbread House : Bake it, Build it, Eat it! by Vera B. Williams

Carrie, Benny and Sam receive a gingerbread house from their grandfather.  When they eat it up before Christmas, they follow grandfather’s instructions for building a new house.

The story is an introduction to an excellent book for young readers/bakers.  With uncomplicated writing, kids should have no problem understanding the recipe and building instructions for baking and building a basic, seven inch tall house.  Like any recipe for any type of cooking, the recipe and instructions need to be read and studied thoroughly before beginning the project to achieve the best results.  The book suggests grown up assistance, especially when it comes to handling sharp knives and going into hot ovens.  Pictures show the tools, ingredients and assembly processes that should come in handy.

Making Great Gingerbread Houses by Aaron Morgan and Paige Gilchrist

Go ahead, say authors Morgan and Gilchrist, make a gingerbread house:  It’s good, messy fun!  Appealing to tactile, visual and olfactory senses, and even communal spirit, Morgan and Gilchrist convince the reader not to be intimidated by a seeming complex project, but to dive in and enjoy what is actually quite easy.  Step by step, they explain the basic house building process from mixing the dough to how to pipe icing.  From there on, your imagination’s the limit.

After the basics comes a full color gallery of gingerbread structure and tableaus.  The purpose is to inspire your own creations and/or how to achieve different effects (Patterns aren’t given for all of these houses, and in some cases not entire patterns).  The patterns given are not full sized:  You’ll need to enlarge many by two hundred percent on a photocopier.

The Gingerbread Book by Allen D. Bragdon

New to the Clayton County Libraries collection, The Gingerbread Book is a reprint of a 1984 book, and doesn’t appear to be revised:  the photos and print appear as they did nearly thirty years ago.  No matter really, because the ideas and most techniques have not changed significantly.

Bragdon’s premise is that gingerbread and gingerbread houses aren’t just for Christmastime.  To prove his point, he gives patterns for other holiday creations, ideas for party treats and centerpieces, and even some storybook scenarios.  He lists several different recipes for ginger cookies and cake – as well as for a building dough – and recounts an extensive history of gingerbread from the Middle Ages to the 1980s.

Sweet Dreams of Gingerbread by Jann Johnson

Author Jann Johnson believes as Allen Bragdon:  Decorated ginger cookies aren’t just a Christmas thing.  She too takes gingerbread around the calendar with the traditional holiday houses and décor pieces – such as a train, stockings, and Santa with sleigh and reindeer – as well as patterns for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Gingerbread men and women can be decorated for all seasons and occasions.

Johnson offers thorough but concise techniques for baking and building, with several different recipes for dough and icings for variety.  Color pictures and pointers accompany each project.  Attention must be given to copying patterns, as many overlap or must be pieced together from separate pieces.

This title is the one that I own and am using for my project (though I have gleaned tips and ideas from the other books listed).  It’s not in the CCLS collection, but can be requested through PINES; it’s also available from online book vendors.


Click the titles above to see the PINES catalog record for call number and availability.  Ask the staff at your nearest library for assistance.

Except for Making Great Gingerbread, these books direct the reader to trace the patterns from its pages.  I recommend photocopying instead to preserve the book; plus, it’s easier to make extra copies of templates.  If you must trace, lay a sheet of clear plastic over the page, then lay your tracing paper on top of the plastic and trace away.

Follow my baking adventure on The Gingerbread House Project blog.  Click here.


The 641 Project: The Gingerbread House Project

A real live sugar shack: Can he make one?

It’s been a long time since I’ve written an article for the 641 Project, my series of food and food related topics.  I’m now about to renew the series with a baking adventure!

The Gingerbread House Project” will journal my attempt to construct my first ever gingerbread house.  After years of thinking about it, I’m finally doing it! and will chronicle the steps from prep, dry runs and experiments to baking, construction and finally decorating a classic gingerbread house.  You’ll see everything, warts and all!  I’ll include some history, trivia and other educational stuff, too, along with pictures and links to relevant web sites.

Check  The Gingerbread House Project on Tuesdays and Fridays for the next six weeks to read the latest postings.  Just click on the name to connect to the blog site.  And look to see new 641 Project postings here starting in January 2013!

The 641 Project: What’s New in Haunted Haute Cuisine!

Three years ago, I wrote here about the cookbook Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes.  Filled with recipes and illustrations of the foods named in Dahl’s books, some dishes are so odd and gross that they may suitable for a Halloween party table.  Revolting Recipes is not intended to be a Halloween cookbook; however, I recently found a relatively new book in our collection that fits the bill perfectly.

Ghoulish Goodies is called a frightful cookbook, and rightly so!  Cookbook author Sharon Bowers creates spooky and whimsical recipes for Halloween get togethers, whether a party with finger foods (pun intended) or a sit down meal.

The recipes are imaginative and not difficult to make.  Plus, as the color photos indicate, the finished products look darn cool!  How about bringing Monster Eyeballs, Chocolate Mice and Ladies’ Fingers (not lady fingers!) to the table, or cupcakes resembling the space aliens from The Simpsons, a cake modeled on Edvard Munch’s The Scream or a Jack O’Lantern?  Maybe Eyeball Meatloaf with a side of Orange Rice or Ghostly Mashed Potatoes is a tamer menu for you!  There are even a few recipes for using leftover candy.  Bowers also provides practical advice on working with ingredients, party planning and little Halloween history.

Though part of our children’s collection, Ghoulish Goodies is probably intended for adult cooks, so the young chef will require adult supervision; pre-teens and teens with some kitchen experience should be okay with even the more challenging dishes.

Between these two books, you’ll find foods for your Halloween party that will delight and fright your guests!


Ghoulish Goodies and Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes are available at CCLS libraries.  Click the titles above for availability, or ask a librarian at your nearest branch.

Other Halloween cookbook books are available at CCLS.  Click here to see available titles in the PINES catalog.

The 641 Project – Julia Child

In light of the new movie Julie and Julia, the internet and other media is abuzz with renewed interest in Julia Child.  The movie combines Child’s memoir My Life in France with Julie and Julia, Julie Powell’s anecdotal account of the year she attempted to make every recipe from Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  The movie parallels the two women’s journey to self-discovery, finding themselves in their passion for cooking.

Child’s own journey began in Pasadena, California in 1912.  A member of a well-to-do family, Child attended a prestigious college before working as copywriter, and later a spy for the Office of Strategic Services!  She met Paul Child, who also worked for OSS, whom she married in 1946.  She went with him when he was assigned to work in Paris, France.  It was there that she developed an appreciation for French cuisine.  She enrolled in the Cordon Bleu culinary school, and developed the skill that changed her life and the culinary world.

Child went on to author several cookbooks, including Mastering the Art of French Cooking (co-authored), and host a number of celebrated cooking shows on the Public Broadcasting System, the first being the landmark series The French Chef in 1962.   I don’t remember any of the episodes that I watched as a kid (only Dan Ackroyd’s parody on Saturday Night Live), but I recall a moment from a later series where Child observed a chef preparing a decadent chocolate pastry.  Upon sampling a bite, Child was overcome with ecstasy and burst into tears.  It was a moment that demonstrated Child’s genuine love of good food:  Pure joy without pretense and conceit.  Through her shows and writings, the 6 ‘ 2” woman with an easy going manner and funny accent brought a style to the kitchen that made the techniques of fine cooking accessible – perhaps demystified – for the home cook, with humor and fun to boot.  Over a career lasting over forty years, Child’s single-handedly changed the way we think about food in the US (, 2004)

Child’s influence was not lost on the professional chef, either.  Mastering the Art of French Cooking is considered a standard guide for the culinary community (, 2004).  She was a member and founder of several professional organizations, and received numerous awards and recognitions for her work in food preparation and knowledge.  At her death in 2004, many Food Network celebrity chefs testified to how she influenced their decision to pursue culinary careers.

Readers and foodies are rediscovering and embracing one of the world’s most influential chefs and best known cooking show personality.  Five years after her death, and at a time when Americans are seeking safer and more wholesome foods for the table, Child is poised to mold more generations in the way to cook and the fun in making a good meal.


Julie and Julia opens in theaters on August 7, 2009.

Check out Julia Child’s PBS site devoted to her cooking series.

While she declined offers for a series on Food Network, Child made appearances on its shows, and was appreciated with an episode of the Chefography series.  Watch the episode here.

View her kitchen from her Massachusetts home, which she donated to the Smithsonian Institute in 2001.

Read Julie Powell’s Julie/Julia Project blog on the web (Warning:  Contains profanity)

More information on Julia Child, including biographies, news articles, blogs and video clips, can be found on the world wide web.  Simply search her name in your favorite search engine.

Find cookbooks by Julia Child in CCLS and PINES by searching “Child, Julia” in the PINES catalog.

Published in: on August 8, 2009 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

The 641 Project: Jeff Henderson

jeff and kids

At age twenty, the only cooking Jeff Henderson knew was to make crack cocaine.  Some 10 years later, he had learned to cook dishes worthy of fine dining restaurants with a skillset that rivaled any culinary school grad’s.

Henderson tells his story in his autobiography Cooked.  Henderson was one of many at-risk kids growing up in South Central Los Angeles in the 1970s.  He came into a life of petty crime at a young age; in his teens, he was taken under the wing of a drug dealer, who mentored him in the world of drug trafficking.  Henderson quickly rose from peddler to cocaine dealer, making a name for himself in the trade and making hundreds of thousands of dollars per week.

It all came to a crashing end when, at twenty-four, Henderson was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to twenty years in federal prison.  He spent his time in lockdown in reflection and self-discovery, and discovered a passion for cooking.  Using his penchant for learning and perfection that made him a success in drug dealing, Henderson learned how to cook and rose through the ranks of prison kitchens, eventually heading a kitchen in a Las Vegas penitentiary.  After his release, Henderson again worked his way up through the kitchens, this time in gourmet restaurants and five star hotels under the tutelage of some of southern California’s best chefs, acquiring skills and knowledge often learned only in culinary schools.  The ex-con cook eventually landed the executive chef position at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas – the first for an African-American – and later at the Bellagio.

Cooked is an entertaining and engaging read.  The intriguing rise-and-fall-and-redemption story also gives perspective into the personality of a working chef.  Henderson shows – at least for the non-schooled chef – the kind of drive and dedication needed to succeed in the culinary world.  In doing so, he gives a glimpse into what goes on in the kitchens of fine dining restaurants: The competition, politics and reasons for the high turnover.

Cooked is not just the story of the rise of a great culinary talent, but a redemption story.  As Henderson sees his true potential and realizes the harm he has brought to his community, he aspires to become himself a better man.  It’s not an easy journey, as he often falls back on his “street” habits to earn respect in competitive kitchens.  But Henderson transforms from a man in pursuit of ill-gotten gain to a man who earns respect – despite his past – through a pursuit of excellence in the kitchen. 


Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, From Cocaine to Foie Gras and the cookbook Chef Jeff Cooks are available through PINES.  Ask a librarian for assistance.

Learn more about Chef Jeff Henderson and his activities at his website.

Read or view an interview from the Tavis Smiley talk show.

Try some of Chef Jeff’s recipes from the Good Morning, America website.

Published in: on May 14, 2009 at 7:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

Book vs. Movie: Marley & Me

WARNING!! Beyond this place, there be SPOILERS!!!

 He’s incorrigible, disobedient, destructive, hyperactive… and maybe mentally unbalanced. He’s the world’s worst dog, and John Grogan wouldn’t have him any other way. Grogan wrote about his Labrador Retriever Marley in his book Marley and Me. The columnist and his wife Jenny decide to buy a dog to hone their nurturing skills before having children.  They pick a puppy and instantly fall in love.  Though the love affair never ends, Marley – as the dog is named – truly tests their love and patience on a daily basis.  Grogan writes of Marley’s bad habits and antics, his terror of thunderstorms, his insatiable appetite for anything that can get in his mouth and the numerous attempts at obedience training. But with Marley’s behavioral issues are traits of loyalty, devotion, protectiveness and love that he gives to the master and his family throughout his life and the weeks before his death.

 The movie version of Marley and Me follows the book’s structure rather loosely; events are re-arranged and meaning re-interpreted in order to fit thirteen years into two hours.  The focus is on John and Jenny’s relationship and growth, and John’s accepting his destiny as a columnist instead of a crack reporter.  Of course, we see Marley’s antics, and seeing them come to life on-screen makes for hilarious moments.

 But the movie misses out on Marley’s finer moments that are the substance of the book: His standing guard in protection of a stabbing victim; his taking Jenny’s physical blows of post-partum frustration; his “getting” obedience training; and his bonding with Grogan. In fact, aside from the comic relief, Marley is largely absent from the movie. We don’t see how movie Marley impacts the Grogans’ lives except in brief instances, like a scene where Jenny dances with him. Other than that, movie Marley chomps and tears and charges about scenes that are great for laughs.

 I thought the movie would shy away from Marley’s death and opt for a happier ending, but it did show Marley’s suffering through the maladies of old age and John and Jenny’s painful decision to euthanize him. The movie John and family draw closer to Marley, understanding that his time is short; book Marley, however, manages to keep up his puppy-like exuberance until the end, continuing the life lessons that book John cherishes.

 All in all, the book and movie differ vastly on their approaches to the main subjects.  The book focuses on the dog at his worst and best and how the Grogans love him despite; the movie shows the ups and downs of John and Jenny’s relationship and John’s acceptance of his destiny, with Marley there for comic relief or to spur conflict. Both acknowledge that Marley, the “world’s worst dog,” is the best thing ever to happen to the Grogans.


The book Marley and Me is available at CCLS libraries.

 The movie version is available on DVD. Check a video retailer or rental store for availability.

 In an interview, John Grogan advises to think seriously about owning a dog, especially Labrador Retrievers, before purchasing one.  CCLS has books on various dog breeds, like The Complete Dog Book, specific breeds, like Labrador Retrievers, and for training dogs.  Ask a librarian for assistance.



Published in: on April 14, 2009 at 2:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Pardon for Jack Johnson

Senator John McCain has launched a campaign seeking a presidential pardon for boxer Jack Johnson.  Johnson, whose life is traced in the Ken Burns documentary Unforgivable Blackness, rose from poverty to become the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion in the 1910s. His extravagant lifestyle and live-out-loud attitude was frowned on the white establishment, not to mention his consorting with white women:  Black men at that time weren’t to behave that way. When Johnson could not be defeated by white opponents in the boxing ring, circumstances and the justice system were manipulated to find him in violation of the Mann Act, for which he eventually served jail time. Johnson died in 1946 in an automobile accident.

McCain faces an uphill battle.  According to an Associated Press article, Ken Burns’ efforts with the G. W. Bush Administration fizzled in 2004; and posthumous presidential pardons are rare. But McCain feels the pardon is important enough to merit the effort. A pardon, coming from President Obama specially, “would be indicative of the distance we’ve come, and also indicative of the distance we still have to go.” (McCain, quoted in the AP)

I tend to agree more with Burns’ point of view:  The pardon would be a matter of justice, not color. Johnson was persecuted because of his race and what he achieved as a black man; recalling my blog on the film The Lena Baker Story, Lena Baker‘s conviction and execution was based on the fact that she – a black woman – killed a white man, the circumstances and intent of the act not withstanding. In these and countless other cases, justice was miscarried, if not denied, because of skin color in a society where justice is supposed to be blind.

A pardon for Johnson, whether it comes from the President or from the court that convicted him, would right a wrong, not a symbolic gesture.

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The book of Unforgivable Blackness, a companion to Ken Burns’ documentary, is available at CCLS.

The Great White Hope, a play based on Johnson’s life, is available at CCLS in the collection Best Plays of the Sixties, and as a single volume through PINES.

As of this writing, The Lena Baker Story is playing at four metro-Atlanta theaters. Check local listings for showtimes.

Published in: on April 1, 2009 at 9:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

The 641 Project: The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro

The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro is unique among community cookbooks.  No doubt that any community cookbook is unique in and of itself – it is often a reflection of the community or organization that authors it – but HCAN was created to be more than a celebration of the African-American community.

Authored by the National Council of Negro Women, the HCAN was conceived and assembled to address the lack of African-American history in schools and colleges.  In the 1950s, while several well known African-Americans were taught in white dictated grade school curriculums, African-American history as a whole was not taught in much detail, if at all.  Even among predominantly black colleges, few offered black history courses.  NCNW member Sue Bailey Thurman proposed a way to address the problem:  Create a cookbook “as a means of stimulating awareness and appreciation of our history.” 

The NCNW published its “unique and ‘palatable’ approach to history” in 1958.  The HCAN contains recipes contributed by NCNW councils and members from around the country as well as African-American women’s social and service organizations.  The recipes often reflect the regional influence of a particular council, and some are international cuisine.  The HCAN is not a historical record of African-American cooking, as Ohio State University professor Anne Bower points out.  There are some traditional southern dishes that are associated with African-American cuisine, but the majority is European inspired fare, reflecting the bourgeoisie and upwardly mobile state of African-Americans in the 1950s:  Recipes for Lobster in Curry Sauce, Brussels Sprouts with Paprika Sour Cream and Coeur a la Crème Fraisette are side by side with Mugwump in a Hole, Boiled Turnip Greens and Southern Hoppin’ John.

The Emancipation Proclamation Breakfast Cake: Good for January 1 celebrations

The Emancipation Proclamation Breakfast Cake: Good for January 1 celebrations

What makes the HCAN different from other community cookbooks – or any cookbook, possibly – is its other content.  Organized by calendar year, recipes are grouped around persons and events in African-American history that occurred in a given month, rather than by food group or seasonal fare.  Anecdotes, biographies, facsimiles and illustrations are side-by-side with foods associated with or that are in tribute to an event or person.  True to Thurman’s purpose, not only are the prominent events and individuals highlighted, but little known persons and facts, too:  Along with some recipes developed by George Washington Carver are two South Carolina recipes in tribute to “Pilot” Robert Smalls, for example.

The reprint edition that is available currently retains the contents of the original edition, adding an index and a helpful user’s guide to understanding some of the dated cooking terms.  An introduction by Bower gives excellent insight into the time and historical context in which the cookbook was created.  In today’s context, the cookbook serves as a look into the culinary and social habits of the 1950s, particularly African-Americans.

The HCAN was created to fill a void in black history and heritage, and more that 50 years later, continues to educate through the power of food.  The HCAN is a cookbook and history book all in one package.


The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro is available through PINES.  Ask a librarian for assistance.

Published in: on March 27, 2009 at 7:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Lena Baker Story: A Piece of Georgia History

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Playing in Atlanta this weekend is a film based on a dark episode of Georgia history.

The Lena Baker Story is based on events in the life of Lena Baker, who, in 1944, shot and killed her employer whom she claimed held her captive against her will.  The racial climate of the day led to a too swift conviction of capital murder and a death sentence.  Baker was executed on March 5, 1945, becoming the first and, to date, only woman to be executed by the state of Georgia. 

The Lena Baker Story was filmed in Colquit, Georgia by an independent production company and stars Tichina Arnold.  Most may remember her as Martin Lawrence’s nemesis on the TV comedy Martin, and as Chris Rock’s mom on Everybody Hates Chris; but reviews of the film say that she is delivers a riveting dramatic performance in this film.  Arnold and the film’s key actors, including local actor Chris Burns, will attend tonight’s red carpet opening at Movies ATL.  Check the theatre’s website for showtimes and location.

More information on the film and Lena Baker can be found on the film’s website.

The book on which the film is based, The Lena Baker Story, is available through PINES.  Ask your librarian for assistance.

Published in: on March 13, 2009 at 3:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Restoring Beauty: Animals and Prostethics

Biologist Jane Fink Cantwell, holds Beauty, a bald eagle, after ...

Beauty, an American Bald Eagle, lost part of her beak to a poacher’s bullet three years ago.  This week, a team of biologists and engineers constructed and fitted a temporary prosthetic to the damaged portion of her beak; a permanent one will be fitted on her later.  


Yahoo! News reported on this procedure in a June 6 article.  The amazing effort reminded me of a Time Magazine article from August 23, 2007.  It describes the amazing advancements in animal prosthetic science that not only replace missing or damaged limbs, but restore natural function and movement.  Some prosthetics can integrate with natural tissue, making them more secure than straps and other fasteners.


The artificial limbs cannot always give the animal total self-reliance, however, and most of the animals will have to remain in captivity.  But having the limbs make them less reliant on humans for basic functions like eating.  Some even argue that they bolster the animal’s self-esteem!


With advancements in animal prosthetics, Beauty will be able to drink and grip food on her own; dolphins can swim again; kangaroos can bounce about naturally; and dogs do not have to get around with those wheeled carts.


Read more about Beauty and other birds of prey at the Birds of Prey Northwest website.


Fake Fins, Beaks and Paws shows pictures of animal who have benefited from artificial limbs.


Try constructing this paper model of an American Bald Eagle!  The finished model measures about half the size of an actual eagle.

Published in: on June 7, 2008 at 7:13 pm  Leave a Comment