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: A Dessert to Cry For

A sure sign of an accomplished artist (of any medium) is his/her ability to elicit an emotional response from the audience through his work.  The same holds true for the culinary arts.  Remember the scene from the movie Ratatouille when the food critic Anton Ego, tasting Remy’s ratatouille, is transported back to his childhood and his maman’s home cooking?

Such was the case for pastry chef Nancy Silverton, making a brioche tart for uber-chef Julia Child for the latter’s program Baking with Julia.  After two bites of the dessert, Child burst into tears, crying “It’s the best dessert I’ve ever eaten!”  Silverton, in a later interview, wondered if Child might have burned her mouth on some hot syrup that’s part of the dessert.  Personally, I think Child was simply moved.  Watch the episode and judge for yourself.

Another way to judge – and a yummier way – is to make the tart.  It takes a load of patience, lots of care and time, but is actually easy to make.  Brioche dough is made, shaped into a tart – a la galette – and spread with a crème fraiche custard.  The hardest part is making the desert sauce called a sabayon.  A syrup is made by caramelizing sugar and vanilla, which is whisked, while hot, into egg yolks.  Then the mixture is cooked over hot water, all the while being whisked.  (You have to do this for up to five minutes, or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs!)  Finally, fruit is poached in some of the syrup.  The whole dish is brought together for an elegant, yummy treat that is not cloyingly sweet, yet tasty and substantial to where you want more!

Brioche Tart with Sabayon and Poached Plums

A jury of four didn’t cry over my attempt at the tart, but were in agreement that it was the best dessert they’ve eaten!  The recipe can be found in Baking with Julia, available through CCLS.  Other versions of the brioche tart can be found using your favorite search engine:  sweet and savory recipes abound.  The end result is worth the effort!


Photos of last year’s tribute to Julia Child are in our photostream.  Click here to see them.

See some of the delicious dishes put together by the staff and myself in the 641 Project picture gallery.

Published in: on May 12, 2010 at 5:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

O Christmas Tree: A Short Survey of Christmas Trees in Children’s Picture Books

Christmas Tree Clip Art


Recalling Allen Say’s picture book Tree of Cranes, I wondered what other children’s books there are where a Christmas tree is a central element to the story.  Below is a short survey of such books in the CCLS collection:

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Charles M. Schulz; adapted by Justine and Ron Fontes) – A Charlie Brown Christmas focuses on Charlie Brown’s struggle to find the true meaning of Christmas amidst its commercialization.  Along the way, he finds the scrawny (and now iconic) little tree for the school Christmas play.  He “kills” it while attempting to decorate it, but the tree is miraculously transformed by story’s end.  Based on the classic television special, which in turn is based on the comic strip Peanuts.

Chita’s Christmas Tree (Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard) – Chita, an African-American girl in early 20th century Baltimore, goes to the woods with her father to choose a Christmas tree, and eagerly awaits for Santa to deliver it.  Like many titles in this survey, the book reflects how Chita spends her days preparing for Christmas.

My Prairie Christmas (Brett Harvey) – A little girl tries to adjust to her first Christmas at her new home on the prairie.  But this pales to when her father goes to find a Christmas tree and does not return.

Night Tree (Eve Bunting) – A family goes to the woods to find a Christmas tree, but not to bring home!  An endearing look at an unusual family tradition.

Tree of Cranes (Allen Say) – Author/illustrator Allen Say often celebrates his Japanese heritage in his books.  In Tree of Cranes, a Japanese boy experiences his first Christmas when his homesick Japanese-American mother decorates a small pine tree with candles and paper cranes.

The Tub People’s Christmas (Pam Conrad) – The Tub People – a set of wooden toys in Pam Conrad’s series of books – have no idea what a strange man in a red suit is doing in their home, especially when he brings a tree down the chimney!

Uncle Vova’s Tree (Patricia Polacco) – Like Say, Patricia Polacco draws on her heritage for inspiration for her stories.  She describes a traditional Russian Christmas in Uncle Vova’s Tree, where a spirited uncle implores his nieces and nephews to continue his tradition of decorating the tree that he planted when he and his wife first arrived in America.

Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree (Gloria Houston) – Set in the Appalachians near the end of WWI, Ruthie awaits her father’s return from Europe, so together they can harvest a tree that they’ve pledged for the church’s Christmas pageant.


There likely are more books about Christmas trees – for children and adults – than are listed here.  Tell us any that you know of by leaving a comment below.

Find other books in CCLS and PINES by searching the PINES catalog by the author’s name.

CCLS has many Christmas themed books for children and adults.  Ask staff at your nearest library for assistance.

Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Two Titles for Christmas Reading

It’s the time of year when Christmas themed books are hitting the shelves in bookstores as well as libraries, for gift giving or personal reading.  Here are two titles that I recommend for reading as you settle down for your winter’s nap:

I learned of the novel Mr. Ives Christmas about two years ago when correspondent Ray Suarez named it as his favorite book to read at Christmastime (read the story here).  Mr. Ives follows the life of an advertising artist from his childhood in an adoptive family to his own wife and two children.  When his teen-aged son is murdered just days before Christmas, Ives, a gentle and deeply spiritual man, questions his faith in God and the meaning of his own life, beginning a struggle for inner peace that lasts for many years.

What Suarez liked about Mr. Ives was how author Oscar Hijuelos evoked visual and sensory images of New York City’s people and places of eras long past.  While I can’t appreciate those images as deeply as Suarez, I was nonetheless drawn into that world, easily seeing it in my mind’s eye thanks to Hijuelos’ economic yet vivid description.  In this world, Hijuelos builds a character in Ives who is patient, sensitive, loving life, learning and humanity, and deeply spiritual.  Ives is a man to whom the reader can become emotionally attached, feeling his spiritual elation in his ruminations of God and his crushing pain as he grapples with tragedy.  Like Ives’ family and friends, we wonder why a good man must suffer such great loss, and hope with them that he can overcome and find peace in his golden years.

A Christmas Belle is another sequel to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (see my blog from December 2008 about two other sequels).  It’s Christmas Day and Ebenezer Scrooge is making amends to all the folks whom he has wronged the day before.  The Ghost of Christmas Past appears and informs him of one last wrong from his past that he must right:  His former fiancée Belle, who broke their engagement years ago in the face of Scrooge’s growing avarice.  Scrooge refuses at first: After all, it was she who left him.  But make the trial he must, lest the lessons of the night before come to mean nothing.

I was especially interested in this “little tome” because it is written by screenwriting team Claudia Johnson and Matt Stevens, both former teachers of mine.  Johnson and Stevens pay loving homage to Dickens by building on characters and situations in Carol, and quoting his text and dialogue from Carol and other writings throughout.   I must confess that I wished for less Dickens and more of their own voice:  Both writers are very insightful, and Johnson especially has a very witty style.  Nonetheless, Belle is an interesting take on Scrooge’s relationship with Belle – who was a passing character in Carol – with some surprising turns.


Mr. Ives’ Christmas is available through PINES.  Ask a librarian for assistance.

A Christmas Belle is not available through PINES currently, but can be purchased through stores and on-line vendors.

Ask a librarian about other Christmas books, both recent and older, available at CCLS.

Published in: on December 9, 2009 at 8:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

International Santa Claus Collection: New Look, New Faces

The Forest Park Branch Library’s collection of International Santa Claus figurines is on display for the holidays, and with a new look.  Previously, we displayed the figurines in a North Pole diorama. Now, the figurines – each representing a Santa or gift givers of countries or cultures around the world – stand proudly by the flag of his country.   The Santas represent countries in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. 

Sinter Klaas (l) and his assistant Black Peter of the Netherlands

Joining the collection for this year are Sinter Klaas and his assistant Black Peter, both of the Netherlands.  Sinter Klaas is closely associated with the legend of Saint Nicholas; Santa Claus of the United States is derived from him.  Sinter Klaas delivers gifts on December 6 in Holland, sailing in by boat from Spain and making his rounds riding a white horse.  At the homes of good children, Sinter Klaas orders Black Peter to drop gifts down the chimney; for bad kids, Peter delivers bundles of twigs.  Children fill their wooden shoes with hay or carrots for Sinter Klaas’ horse; in exchange, candy and small toys are left in the shoes.  The Sinter Klaas and Black Peter figurines are on loan from a staff member’s personal collection.

The collection will be on display through the month of December.


Read about Sinter Klaas and Black Peter (Zwarte Pete) at Wikipedia and Project Galactic Guide.

The web has a wealth of Santa Claus history and information.  Enter the terms “Santa Claus” and “history” in your favorite search engine.

Photos of our new display are also in the CCLS photostream (but it’s best to see the display in person!)

See photos of our former display in the CCLS photostream; then visit the CultureGrams database, accessible through the CCLS website, to read about the different countries of origin (library card required)

On Christmas Eve, track Santa’s progress around the world on NORAD Santa Tracker.

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

KaZual Holiday

The Forest Park Branch Library starts off the holiday season with A Holiday Celebration this weekend, offering seasonal music with smooth stylings and a modern take on a holiday literature standard, all guaranteed to make the season bright!

Featured performer KaZual

Our program will feature music from the rising R&B vocal group KaZual (pronounced like “casual”).  A cappella singing is their specialty, and their harmonies are as rich and on point as groups like Boyz II Men and Take 6.  But as surely as they can stand toe-to-toe with these groups, KaZual’s style is unique and distinct.  Ask audiences who have seen and heard them as opening acts for Jahiem, Destiny’s Child, Nelly and Ginuwine, or on television shows America’s Got Talent (season 3), The Maury Show and Showtime at the Apollo.  Or check them out at their website.

File:William Sydney Porter.jpg

O. Henry

Also on program is a performance of the holiday classic The Gift of the Magi.  This adaptation of O. Henry’s acclaimed short story premiered on our 2005 program “Three Tales of the Magi.”  The central character Della is transformed from a young urban housewife of the early nineteen hundreds to a twenty-first century co-ed, struggling to balance school and a new marriage, living on a student’s budget.  Her problem – how to give her husband a special Christmas gift – and ultimate solution remain the same. This version of Magi has been a long time project of staff member Stephen Hart.  Originally conceived as a dramatic monologue, Hart worked on a screen version off and on for many years before finally writing the stage version he had envisioned.

A Holiday Celebration starts at 2 o’clock PM on Saturday, December 5 at the Forest Park Branch Library.  A drawing for door prizes follows the program.


Hear KaZual in performance at YouTube.  Search using the term “Kazual” (no quotes)

Read the original short story of The Gift of the Magi, then compare with our stage version.  Click here for an online version, or find a print version at CCLS.

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 3:53 am  Leave a Comment  

October Displays at Forest Park Branch

The Forest Park Branch offers two displays for the month of October.
The original publicity still
portrait 005

Our diorama model

In our display case is our annual “haunted house” diorama, a tribute to the 1960 classic thriller Psycho.  Inspired by a famous publicity still and the work of another Haunted Dimensions model builder, uses graphic artist Ray Keim’s paper model of the Bates House sits on a rise overlooking the infamous Bates Motel.  Norman Bates stands before the house, silhouetted by the setting sun, as “Mother” sits at her bedroom window. 

The diorama will be displayed through mid-November.

genathan Gibson with potraitLocal artist Genathan Gibson made a painting of the Forest Park Library Building, which he donated to us this past Spring.  Thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Library and Frames and Frames in Forest Park, the painting is framed for permanent display at the Library. 

The painting will be prominently displayed through November 6, then moved to another location in the Library.


Visit the Haunted Dimensions website to download and build the Bates House and other spooky paper models.

The movie Psycho is available on DVD from retailers and rental stores.  Turner Classic Movies airs the film on occasion. Check their website for future broadcasts.

The books Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho and Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller are available at CCLS.  Ask a librarian for assistance.

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 6:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

Blue Jesus

I first heard mention of the book Blue Jesus on WABE back in April.  I was intrigued by the storyline, and after waiting eagerly for its release and wrapping up some other reading,  I recently finished the book.  My anticipation was rewarded.

Blue Jesus is a story of Buddy and Early, two pre-teens living in a small town in the North Georgia mountains.  Buddy is a sensitive type, viewed by many as a “sissy” and suffers indignities from his schoolmates because of it.  Early belongs to a group of “blue people,” whose skin has a blue tint instead of pink, and live apart from the townspeople as outcasts.  Things change for the boys when they find an infant’s body in the town dump.  Early picks up the child and appears to bring it back to life.  On hearing this, the townspeople hold up Early as a miracle worker, and he and Buddy become instant celebrities. 

The story centers on the friendship between the boys.  As each boy faces challenges at home and in the community and to their own characters, their mutual loyalty protects and sustains each other, even more than the love and support of family members.  Buddy looks after Early’s emotional and physical well-being during the frenzy of his newfound fame, while Early encourages Buddy’s spiritual growth and healing as he deals with the death of his mother.

Early and his family are based on an actual group of blue-skinned people who live in the Appalachian Mountain regions of Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee.  The blue people’s appearance is due to a blood disorder called methemoglobinemia, a hereditary trait.  Isolation and intermarriage has kept the trait largely within a single community in the Appalachians.  Rather than be viewed and treated as curiosities, the blue people live in apart from general society.  Their detachment and the prejudice of the townspeople are a basis of conflict in Blue Jesus.  Both of these attitudes are tested when Early’s supernatural abilities are revealed and desired.  Early finds a way to use his power to bring the diverse peoples in the town together.

Blue Jesus is the debut novel of Atlanta writer Tom Edwards.  The book is not available in CCLS as of this writing, and the only copy in PINES is not yet available for request.  The book is available in stores and from online vendors, and is worth seeking out.


This article discusses a brief history of the blue people, methemoglobinemia and the doctor who discovered a cure.

Published in: on September 28, 2009 at 9:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Julia Child Tribute at Forest Park


Inspired by the movie Julie and Julia and the renewed interest in Julia Child, the Forest Park Branch offers a new display in tribute to America’s first celebrity chef.

The display features copies of Child’s most popular cookbooks Mastering the Art of French Cooking and The Way to Cook, both from the Branch Manager’s personal collection, and food and cooking utensils that reflects her legacy of good food and enjoyment through cooking. 

The tribute is on display through the month of September, after which we’ll bring another haunted house diorama featuring models from the Haunted Dimensions website!

See photos of the display on the CCLS photostream.

Read the previous blog to learn about Julia Child.  The blog contains several links to related sites and holdings of her books.

Published in: on August 29, 2009 at 4:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Carnival of Rio and Black Orpheus

Carnival celebrations abound this time of year in Europe and Latin America, and as Mardi Gras in New Orleans and other US cities.  Recent news articles and photo collections reminded me of the 1959 Academy Award winning film Orfeu Negro, known as Black Orpheus in the U.S.  In essence a modern re-telling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth with an all black cast, it is set against the backdrop of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.

Marpessa Dawn (left) and Breno Mello as Eurydice and Orpheus in "Orfeu Negro"

Eurydice arrives in Rio de Janeiro just at the start of Carnival.  But she isn’t there to party: She’s on the run from a mysterious man who is intent on killing her.  While hiding with her cousin in a favela, she meets Orpheus, local ladies’ man and leader of a samba school.  They fall in love, as they believe they are destined.  Eurydice’s stalker appears, and pursues her until she loses her life.  Orpheus, refusing to believe she’s dead, begins a search to find her, leading him through the streets and dark places of Rio and Carnival.

Black Orpheus introduced the world to the culture of Rio de Janeiro with colorful vistas of the surrounding hills and the modern city, and of the joyful dances and activities of Carnival.  There is even a glimpse of a Macumba rite of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion. 

And there is the samba.  In nearly every minute of the film can be heard the incessant beat of drums and cowbells: the infectious rhythm of the samba.  The samba music and dance was relatively new to Carnival in the 1950s, having been banned in Rio for many years, and the beat drives the celebration.  The bossa nova, a blend of jazz, poetic lyrics and samba rhythm, made its introduction in Black Orpheus.  Leading bossa nova creator Antonio Carlos Jobim released an album of bossa nova music a year before he and Luis Bonfa wrote the film’s soundtrack.  The soundtrack was as great a hit as the movie, and bossa nova became and remains a popular music style.

Despite its popularity around the world, Black Orpheus was not without its critics.  Some felt that the French director Marcel Camus focused more on the locales and the pageantry of Carnival, making the film more like a travelogue than a narrative, and completely ignoring the perspective of native Brazilians.  Others said that the poverty of the “favelistas” – people who live in the favelas – was romanticized, downplayed and whitewashed, the characters being “charming, carefree, sexually joyful people.”  Still others compared the characters to the black stereotypes seen in Hollywood films. 

Though valid points, audiences embraced the film.  For Brazilians, it was their culture displayed on film for the world to see, and one of few films where Afro-Brazilians see themselves.  For others, it was a fascinating look at a culture during its most revered festival, set to one of the most vibrant music styles in the world.  Black Orpheus won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1959.

The face of Carnival of Rio has changed, if pictures from this year’s festivities are any indication.  However, the spirit of gaiety and spectacle of Carnival remains, just as it was documented in Black Orpheus.


The above blog is based on my article appearing in the Summer 2007 issue of CinemATL magazine.

Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus) is not available at CCLS libraries, and cannot be requested through PINES.  Check a video rental store that carries foreign and art house titles for availability.

Read more about Carnival in Rio, as well as see images and video here.

Published in: on February 22, 2009 at 8:21 pm  Leave a Comment