Arts & Entertainment

Reviewed by Leah Chiappino

Many Long Islanders have come to think of the former state psychiatric hospitals as mere eyesores, or frankly nuisances, as they are often sites for horror seekers and rebellious teenagers to trespass. However, as told by Joseph M. Galante, a former state hospital worker, in his new book “Long Island State Hospitals,” the mental health facilities were once practically their own metropolis. The book is a part of the Images of America series from Arcadia Publishing.

In the late 1800s, the city of New York transferred a few dozen patients to what was then called the St. Johnland farm colony, in hopes they would benefit from an outdoor experience. Another facility was opened in Central Islip, and in 1931 Pilgrim State was constructed to house the growing population of the mentally ill on Long Island.

Above, common features at all the state hospitals were the ornate stone buildings and neatly manicured grounds. The early 1900s image shows one of the buildings at Kings Park State Hospital in its heyday. 

The intake grew so large that Pilgrim State holds the record for the world’s largest psychiatric facility, with nearly 15,000 patients by 1955. Galante states the hospital’s principles focused on moral therapy, and they are “remembered for their legacy of humility, beneficence and a devotion to the mentally ill.” He assures readers practices like electrotherapy were only used in extreme cases, contrary to the commonly held belief that the patients were treated inhumanely.

This seems to be true from the beginning of its history. The St. Johnland facility had its name changed to Kings Park in 1891 and in 1898 graduated its first class of nurses. By then, each hospital had many independent medical surgical buildings, stores, powerhouses, a full-scale farm and ward buildings. The institutions became so self-sustainable that they produced as much as two-thirds of the food consumed there.

The Kings Park facility even had what they called York Hall, where patients would watch movies, play basketball, perform shows and attend functions. The facility also had its own water tower, railroad station, space for masonry work, independent fire and police force and the Veterans Memorial Hospital, which was a group of 17 buildings used to treat veterans that came home from World War I with mental conditions.

The staff at Kings Park provided 24-hour care to patients and worked 12-hour days, 6 days a week prior to the start of the 20th century. Men earned between $20 and $40 a month, while women earned between $14 and $18. They were granted uniforms, rubber coats and boots, food, laundry services, lodging and “chicken and candy every Sunday.”

Patients were encouraged to work within the facility, but were not forced. When they were not working, they engaged in social and recreational events, as well as attended medical clinics and occupational and psychiatric therapies. Up until the 1940s, there was an emphasis on dance, music, art and cooperative activities as a form of therapy.

Ultimately, the book shows a refreshing portrait of three institutions that were such an instrumental part of Long Island’s history. Pictures range from the 1925 Kings Park Fireman Squad to a heartwarming photo of nurses at Central Islip celebrating the 105th birthday of a woman with no family who received no visitors for decades.

There are also many photos of recreational activities, including a holiday celebration for patients wearing party hats, which masks the ominous bars on the window in the background.

Anyone who has ever driven around the Nissequogue River State Park, and has a feeling of curiosity about what was once there should without fail pick up the book, which provides a productive answer to curiosity, without the reader breaking a trespassing ordinance.

“Long Island State Hospitals” is available locally where books are sold and online at www.arcadiapublishing.com.

Images courtesy of Arcadia Publishing

Aerobic exercise and weight lifting may prevent cognitive decline, according to studies. Stock photo
Reducing carbohydrate and sugar intake may reduce risk

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is one of the more common disorders that occurs as we age. But age is not the only determinant. There are a number of modifiable risk factors. MCI is feared, not only for its own challenges but also because it may lead to dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia being the more common forms. Prevalence of MCI may be as high as one in five in those over age 70 (1). It is thought that those with MCI may have a 10 percent chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease (2).

Since there are very few medications presently that help prevent cognitive decline, the most compelling questions are: What increases risk and what can we do to minimize the risk of developing cognitive impairment?

Many chronic diseases and disorders contribute to MCI risk. These include diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and strokes. If we can control these maladies, we may reduce the risk of cognitive decline. We know that we can’t stop aging, but we can age gracefully.

Heart disease’s impact

In an observational study, results demonstrated that those suffering from years of heart disease are at a substantial risk of developing MCI (3). The study involved 1,450 participants who were between the ages of 70 and 89 and were not afflicted by cognitive decline at the beginning of the study. Patients with a history of cardiac disease had an almost two times greater risk of developing nonamnestic MCI, compared to those individuals without cardiac disease. Women with cardiac disease were affected even more, with a three times increased risk of cognitive impairment.

Nonamnestic MCI affects executive functioning — decision-making abilities, spatial relations, problem-solving capabilities, judgments and language. It is a more subtle form of impairment that may be more frustrating because of its subtlety. It may lead to vascular dementia and may be a result of clots.

Stroke location vs. frequency

Not surprisingly, stroke may have a role in cognitive impairment. Stroke is also referred to as a type of vascular brain injury. But what is surprising is that in a study, results showed that the location of the stroke was more relevant than the frequency or the multitude of strokes (4). If strokes occurred in the cortical and subcortical gray matter regions of the brain, executive functioning and memory were affected, respectively. Thus, the locations of strokes may be better predictors of subsequent cognitive decline than the number of strokes. Clinically silent strokes that were found incidentally by MRI scans had no direct effect on cognition, according to the authors.

Exercise’s effects

Stock photo

Exercise may play a significant role in preventing cognitive decline and possibly even improving MCI in patients who have the disorder. Interestingly, different types of exercise have different effects on the brain. Aerobic exercise may stimulate one type of neuronal development, while resistance training or weight lifting another.

In an animal study involving rats, researchers compared aerobic exercise to weight lifting (5). Weight lifting was simulated by attaching weights to the tails of rats while they climbed ladders. Both groups showed improvements in memory tests, however, there was an interesting divergence.

With aerobic exercise, the level of the protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) increased significantly. This is important because BDNF is involved in neurons and the connections among them, called synapses, related mostly to the hippocampus, or memory center. The rats that “lifted weights” had an increase in another protein, IGF (insulin growth factor), that promotes the development of neurons in a different area of the brain. The authors stressed the most important thing is to exercise, regardless of the type.

In another study that complements the previous study, women were found to have improved spatial memory when they exercised — either aerobic or weight lifting (6). Interestingly, verbal memory was improved more by aerobic exercise than by weight lifting. Spatial memory is the ability to recall where items were arranged, and verbal memory is the ability to recall words. The authors suggest that aerobic exercise and weight lifting affect different parts of the brain.

This was a randomized controlled trial that was six months in duration and involved women, ages 70 to 80, who had MCI at the trial’s start. There were three groups in the study: aerobic, weight lifting and stretching and toning. Those who did stretches or toning alone experienced deterioration in memory skills over the same period.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report claims the majority of the adult population is woefully deficient in exercise: Only about one in five Americans exercise regularly, both using weights and doing aerobic exercise (7).

Diet’s effects

Several studies show that the Mediterranean diet helps prevent MCI and possibly prevents conversion from MCI to Alzheimer’s (8, 9). In addition, a study showed that high levels of carbohydrates and sugars, when compared to lower levels, increased the risk of cognitive decline by more than three times (5). The authors surmise that carbohydrates have a negative impact on insulin and glucose utilization in the brain.

Cognitive decline is a disorder that should be taken very seriously, and everything that can be done to prevent it should be utilized. Exercise has potentially positive effects on neuron growth and development, and controlling carbohydrate and sugar intake may reduce risk. Let’s not squander the opportunity to reduce the risk of MCI, a potentially life-altering disorder.

References:

(1) Ann Intern Med. 2008;148:427-434. (2) uptodate.com. (3) JAMA Neurol. 2013;70:374-382. (4) JAMA Neurol. 2013;70:488-495. (5) J Alzheimers Dis. 2012;32:329-339. (6) J Aging Res. 2013;2013:861893. (7) Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2013;62:326-330. (8) Neurology 2013;80:1684-1692. (9) Arch Neurol. 2009 Feb.;66:216-225.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician. 

Stock photo

By Nancy Marr

Each Election Day we have the opportunity to vote for the candidates we think are best for our communities.

This Nov. 5, candidates will be on the ballot for positions as Suffolk County executive and legislators in each of the 18 county legislative districts. The county executive manages and supervises the county’s departments and agencies, establishing the efficiency and effectiveness of county government — setting policy, standards, goals and objectives and hiring and evaluating the performance of county management personnel.

As manager of the county finances, the county executive creates and presents an annual budget to the Legislature. He or she represents the county at meetings, forums and intergovernmental relations with other levels of government. To learn more about the county executive, call to make an appointment with a staff member to discuss an issue of concern to you and ask what the executive can do about it.

The Suffolk County Legislature consists of 18 legislative districts, each of which elects a representative every two years. (Every 10 years, after each census is tallied, the districts are redrawn according to the redistribution of the population.) The Legislature is the elected body responsible for public health and public safety. Its presiding officer appoints the members and chairs of committees.

There are currently 12 committees, each one dealing with a different subject – health, economic development, transportation, etc. The members, schedule and agendas for meetings of the Legislature are on the county website at www.scnylegislature.us/. Committee meetings are held the week before the general meetings, and the public may attend and address the committee. A call to the chairperson of the committee you wish to visit may open up a line of communication.

When a bill is proposed, it is assigned to a committee which brings in experts to inform committee members, listens to testimony from concerned citizens and votes on it. If a bill is passed through the committee, it will move to the agenda of the next general meeting for consideration by the full Legislature.

Both the Suffolk County executive and the 18 Suffolk County legislator positions are term-limited. Each can serve up to 12 years (three 4-year terms for the county executive, and six 2-year terms for the legislators). Consult the League of Women Voter’s Directory of Public Officials at www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org/files/2019DPO_web_6-23-19.pdf for information on the 2019 officeholders and their contact details.

How can you know whether the incumbent represents your point of view about a particular issue? Attend any meetings where it will be discussed or listen to the streaming of the meetings on your phone or computer.

Each meeting, held in either Hauppauge or Riverhead, includes a Public Portion, when members of the public may make statements to the legislators about any of their concerns. (They may not answer questions asked by constituents at the meeting but can be reached at their office if you wish to speak with them.) What can we find out about the opposing candidates? Information from news articles, debates held by civic organizations, events where the candidates will be meeting voters and websites such as www.vote411.org/ are ways to learn more about all candidates.

The New York Civil Liberties Union, recognizing how hard it is to hold public officials accountable, has scheduled training sessions open to the public from 6 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 1 at the Deer Park Public Library, Oct. 3 at the Patchogue-Medford Library, Oct. 8 at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, and Oct. 9 at Middle Country Public Library in Centereach. Call 631-650-2301 or email suffolk@nyclu.org for more information or to register.

The election is but one step in the process. Our job continues with the candidate who has won. We can continue to speak at the Legislature and committee meetings, and at meetings with the legislator and/or staff to work toward action. Gathering others who share and support your concerns will strengthen your efforts to create positive change.

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Port Jefferson Station LIRR depot

By Daniel Dunaief

The development of steel highways beginning in the early 1800s has had an enormous impact on our society, especially on Long Island, where the Long Island Rail Road was chartered in 1834. To commemorate the 185-year history of trains in Suffolk and Nassau counties, the Port Jefferson Village Center will host a new exhibit titled Railroads: Tracking the History on Long Island from Sept. 5 to Oct. 30.

Sponsored by the Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy and the Incorporated Village of Port Jefferson, the unique show perfectly captures generations of railroad history with unique photos of trains, tracks and commuters from the Village of Port Jefferson archives, the Long Island Railroad Museum and the Queens Public Library’s Digital Collection.

Port Jefferson Station LIRR depot

In addition to the numerous images, the exhibit, which was curated by Port Jefferson village historian Chris Ryon, will also feature artifacts and a 50-foot time line, starting in 1834, that shows the history of a railroad that is the oldest in the country operating under its original name and with its original charter.

Currently, the train system carries over 350,000 commuters back and forth around the area each day, ranking it first among railroads in shuttling commuters.

According to Don Fisher, the president of the Railroad Museum of Long Island, laborers came from numerous countries to build the railroad. Initially, many of the workers were English and German, said Fisher. As more immigrants arrived, the workers included people of Italian and Irish descent as well as African Americans.

The railroad was originally designed to help people travel from New York to Boston. The trains brought people to Orient Point, where they took the ferry to Connecticut, which was harder to cross because many of its rivers didn’t have bridges.

Port Jefferson Station LIRR depot

One of the featured artifacts is a huge lantern that has its own serendipitous story. A resident of Wading River donated the lantern three years ago to the railroad museum. Initially, the railroad experts at the museum weren’t sure where it came from or how old it was. Later, they received a call from a resident of Toms River, New Jersey, who had a picture of a steam engine from the late 1800s. The picture features a kerosene, whale oil-burning lantern that looked incredibly similar to the one donated.

“While this is not the exact same lantern, it likely came off a locomotive like this, so we could make the story come to life,” said Fisher who suggested that the LIRR is “our railroad, which we love to hate.”

While he thinks typical commuters who ride the trains each day may not be as drawn to the exhibit, Fisher expects families with young children enthralled by Thomas the Tank Engine or by stories and photos of railroads may find numerous train treasures at the upcoming exhibit. He also expects that some senior residents will come and reminisce about everything from the horror of a snowstorm to a ride aboard a steamy train without air conditioning on a hot day to stories about friends they met aboard the train.

Port Jefferson Station LIRR depot

“The history of the Long Island Rail Road is the history of Long Island,” said Stephen Quigley, president of the Long Island Sunrise Trail Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, who added that one of the many noteworthy railroad riders includes President Theodore Roosevelt who frequently took the LIRR to Oyster Bay while in office.

Quigley said he plans on contributing memorabilia to the exhibit, including a Dashing Dan logo, which is a popular feature from the 1950s trains. The typical Dashing Dan logo featured a commuter running with a briefcase, with half of his striped tie flying behind his head, as he’s checking his watch. The tagline on the logo was: The Route of the Dashing Commuter, which appeared above an LIRR placard.

The exhibit will also include numerous other versions of the Dashing Dan family, including a Dashing Sportsman, a Dashing Dottie and a Dashing Dan Weekend Chief, which features a commuter heading out aboard the train on the way to the beach.

Fisher and Quigley each have numerous stories about the history of the railroad and of their time aboard the trains.

In more modern times, Fisher said the Oakdale Station has featured at least two weddings. The LIRR has also been the setting for movies. The Mark Wahlberg film “Broken City,” which also stars Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones, included scenes filmed aboard a train going back and forth from Long Island City to Montauk. During the filming, the LIRR added two extra cars, Fisher said.

Quigley recalled how one commuter, who had become friends with several other riders during his trek back and forth from Babylon to Mineola, had a baby shower on board the train.

Fisher added that many people are aware of some of the stories related to the Transcontinental Railroad, which involved moving Native Americans and gerrymandering properties. What people don’t often know, however, is that the “shenanigans with Congress and political bodies, the payoffs to get property so the railroad could be built, the sweetheart deals with companies, all happened here [on Long Island] first.”

Railroads, Fisher said, were the “dot.com of the time. Anybody with a few bucks wanted to invest. It was a hot commodity. More people worked for the railroad than any other industry. It was an economic generator.”

The community is invited to an opening reception of the new exhibit on Thursday, Sept. 12 from 6 to 9 p.m. Ryon said he hopes to have a panel discussion featuring railroad experts at the reception and is in the process of reaching out to a number of train executives.

The Port Jefferson Village Center, located at 101A East Broadway in Port Jefferson, is open seven days a week, except holidays, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.. For more information, call 631-802-2160.

Photos  from the Kenneth Brady Collection

Photo from Northwell Health

Huntington Hospital has received a two-year designation as an Antimicrobial Stewardship Center of Excellence (AS CoE) by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). The hospital is one of only 35 hospitals nationwide to receive this recognition.

More than 700,000 people die worldwide each year due to antimicrobial-resistant infections. The AS CoE program recognizes institutions that have created stewardship programs led by infectious disease (ID) physicians and ID-trained pharmacists who have achieved standards established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC core elements for antibiotic stewardship include seven major areas: leadership commitment, accountability, drug expertise, action, tracking, reporting and education.

Dr. Cynthia Ann Hoey and Dr. Adrian Popp, infectious disease specialists, worked closely with pharmacists Agnieszka Pasternak  and Nina Yousefzadeh to ensure Huntington Hospital met the rigorous criteria to be recognized by the IDSA.

“We are honored to have received this prestigious IDSA recognition,” said Dr. Nick Fitterman, the hospital’s executive director. “We are committed to fighting antimicrobial resistance through our comprehensive training and educational outreach program with all of our infectious disease specialists and pharmacists. The antimicrobial stewardship program will improve patient care and preserve the integrity of current treatments for future generations.”

Pictured from left, Nina Yousefzadeh,  Dr. Cynthia Ann Hoey, Agnieszka Pasternak and Dr. Nick Fitterman.

Above, Leila Esmailzada, executive director of BeLocal observes a traditional charcoal making process in Madagascar. Photo from BeLocal

By Daniel Dunaief

BeLocal has progressed from the drawing board to the kitchen. The nonprofit group, which was started by the husband and wife team of Mickie and Jeff Nagel as well as data scientist Eric Bergerson, has been working to improve and enhance the lives of people living in Madagascar.

BeLocal, which started in 2016, has sent representatives, including Laurel Hollow resident Mickie Nagel and executive director Leila Esmailzada, to travel back and forth to the island nation off the southeast coast of the African continent.

Working with Stony Brook University students who identified and tried to come up with solutions for local challenges, BeLocal has focused its efforts on creating briquettes that use biomass instead of the current charcoal and hardwood, which not only produces smoke in Malagasy homes but also comes from cutting down trees necessary for the habitat and the wildlife it supports.

Biochar briquettes reduce the amount of hardwood Malagasy residents chop down to provide fuel for cooking. Photo from BeLocal

“In the summer of 2018 we figured out that we had something that works,” said Mickie Nagel. “We had all the agricultural waste and could turn it into fuel. Our goal is to start thinking about how to bring it into communities and into the daily lives” of people in Madagascar.

In January of this year, Esmailzada partnered up with Zee Rossi to introduce the new briquettes to residents of three villages, who were interested in the BeLocal process and offered feedback.

Rossi worked in Madagascar for three years as a part of the Agricultural Food Security Advisory Section of the Peace Corps, until he recently joined the staff at BeLocal.

At this point, BeLocal has helped create four working production sites for the briquettes, all of which are on the outskirts of the Ranomofana National Park, which Stony Brook Professor Patricia Wright helped inaugurate in 1991.

The biochar briquettes solve several problems simultaneously. For starters, they reduce the amount of hardwood Malagasy residents chop down to provide fuel for cooking. The biochar briquettes are made from agricultural waste, such as corn husks and cobs, rice stalks, leaves, small sticks and even unusable waste from the production of traditional charcoal.

The briquettes also produce less smoke in the homes of the Malagasy. At this point, BeLocal doesn’t have any data to compare the particulates in the air from the briquettes.

One of the current briquette makers is generating about 2,000 of the circular fuel cells per month. As a start-up effort, this could help with several families in the villages. Nagel estimates that it takes about 12 briquettes to cook a meal for a family of four. The families need to learn how to stoke the briquettes, which are slightly different from the cooking process with the charcoal and hardwood.

Esmailzada and Rossi had planned to return to Madagascar in July, where they hoped to understand how people are using these sources of energy.

Esmailzada has taught and workshopped with the Malagasy on how to make the briquettes. Since returning to the United States, where she recently completed a master’s program in public health with a focus on community health at Stony Brook University, she was eager to see how much progress has been made.

BeLocal has continued to refine the technique for creating these briquettes. Working across the border with Stony Brook graduate student Rob Myrick, Malagasy residents have tried to char the biomass in a barrel, instead of digging a pit.

“Hopefully there will be movement” with the barrel design, Nagel said.

Myrick is working on refining the airflow through the pit, which could enhance the briquette manufacturing process.

Myrick will “work on techniques [at Stony Brook] and [Rossi] will work on the process with the villagers over there,” Nagel explained in an email. Myrick has been “such a helpful and great addition to BeLocal.”

Esmailzada and Nagel are delighted that Rossi joined the BeLocal effort.

“It’s such a natural partnership,” Esmailzada said. “He built this incredible trust with this group of really dynamic people. Having him be the liaison between us and the community really came together nicely.”

Rossi explained some of the challenges in developing a collaboration that works for the Malagasy. “One of the biggest barriers is being a foreigner,” he said. “With any new thing you present to a farmer, you have to sell yourself first. It’s really important that you connect with a farmer on a person-to-person level.”

Numerous farmers are skeptical of the ongoing commitment foreign groups will have. Many of them have experience with a foreigner or a local nongovernmental organization coming in, doing a program and “not following up,” Rossi added.

Nagel is putting together a nongovernmental organization conference to get the organizations “working on projects in the same room,” she said.

Through this effort, BeLocal hopes to create new partnerships. The organization continues to work with Stony Brook’s VIP program, which stands for vertically integrated projects.

Students from sophomore year through graduate school can continue to work on the same projects. The goal is to enable a continued commitment, which the school hopes will lead to concrete results, instead of one-year efforts that often run into obstacles that are difficult to surmount in a short period of time.

Ultimately, Nagel believes the process of building briquettes could translate to other cross-border efforts and suggested that these goals should include the kind of information crowd-sourcing that benefits from other successful projects.

BeLocal is receptive to support from Long Islanders and elsewhere.

Nagel added that projects like the briquette effort keep the context and big picture in mind.

“Helping Patricia Wright save this rain forest and the lemurs will always be a goal and we know the only way to do that is to help with alternatives to food and fuel sources, and better farming techniques so they don’t have a need to slash and burn more rain forest to add more farming fields,” Nagel said.

Chase

This week’s shelter pet is Chase, an adorable 3-year-old shepherd/retriever mix at Kent Animal Shelter. Chase was originally adopted from the shelter two years ago, but his family had fallen on hard times and they had to bring him back.

Chase is the sweetest dog, fully housebroken, and loves to play with other dogs. He is neutered, microchipped and is up to date on all his vaccines.

Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. The adoption center is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information on Chase and other adoptable pets at Kent, call 631-727-5731 or visit www.kentanimalshelter.com.

Photo courtesy of Kent Animal Shelter

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is comprised of three collections of short horror stories written for children by Alvin Schwartz; the first book was published in 1981. Schwartz wrote original or curated well-known tales that ranged from traditional ghost stories and folklore to urban legends. Many a young reader came across these books at their school libraries and would remember them best for Stephen Gammell’s truly disturbing but incredibly powerful illustrations. 

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

In 2011, HarperCollins featured tame new art by Brett Helquist (Lemony Snicket), resulting in a good deal of discussion as the original pictures were very much part of the iconography. It should also be noted that the American Library Association listed the works as the most challenged series of books from the 1990s and has continued to stir controversy for its violence and macabre topics. 

Now these stories have been brought to the big screen in an intriguing film. This is not a horror anthology, a form that became popular in the 1960s and continued through the 1990s.  Instead, the stories are interwoven into a high-stakes plot that deals with a haunted tome where, “You don’t read the book; the book reads you.” 

It is Halloween 1968 and a trio of high school students along with a mysterious young man end up in a supposedly haunted house. Here, they unleash the spirit of  Sarah Bellows, a girl who was suspected of murdering children before the turn of the century. At the heart of the legend is her book of “Scary Stories.” In a traditional trope (think Candyman, Bloody Mary), it was rumored that she could be summoned by asking her to tell you a story — the last story you will ever read. This setup puts the group on a path whereby six of the tales from the book come to life, placing them in the midst of the stories.

The film is well-paced and well-acted.  There are a few jump-out scares and just a handful of mildly gross moments; the latter are handled stylishly and never cross the line. 

For the most part, “Scary Stories” centers on the characters in action and their search for the truth about Sarah and her family. Her past and the family’s history are gradually revealed and, ultimately, it is a morality tale where the monster is perhaps more sinned against than sinning. It is no coincidence that the film is played out during the height of the Vietnam War and, specifically, the final days of the 1968 election where the country would eventually experience a different kind of evil in the figure of Richard Nixon.

The cast is uniformly strong, with Zoe Colletti’s Stella being the driving force. She is a cross between the traditional scream queen and the self-actualized teenager we have come to expect in horror films.

Colletti is well-supported by Michael Garza as Ramón, the stranger with an important and surprising secret. The sidekicks, Auggie and Chuck, played by Gabriel Rush and August Zajur, respectively, are funny but grounded. It is this quartet that is central to the film. Unlike most latter-day horror and slasher films, this one centers on real friendship and, therefore, we are able to invest in their fates. In a supporting role, Dean Norris is particularly sensitive as Stella’s single father. 

The monsters, as would be expected given the source, are one-dimensional. This is intentional and appropriate as they are rooted childhood scares and fears — those terrors associated with the campfire and what lies underneath the bed. There are only occasional nods to the Gammell visuals, and the film would have perhaps been more frightening if these had been more prevalent.

Smartly directed by André Øvredal, the screenplay was adapted by Dan and Kevin Hageman, from a screen story by producer Guillermo del Toro, as well as by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. They have done their work well, finding a nice balance between humor and horror. Rated PG-13, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is a clever outing, making a welcome addition to the genre.

Fresh Sliced Tomatoes with Herbs. Stock photo

By Barbara Beltrami

As late August slides into Labor Day, the summer livin’ has become so easy that, like all evanescent things, these languorous afternoons and evenings become soft and fragile.

These are days that, for me, recall cold suppers served on a wraparound porch at my grandma’s summer house, days when lazy afternoons were punctuated by the creak of her rocker on the gray floorboards as she gently fanned herself with the afternoon paper. Sometimes that rhythm would be punctuated by the ping of peas in the colander in her lap or the thhhrip of corn being shucked, sounds that meant that soon I would have to put aside whatever novel was holding me spellbound and leave the lulling cocoon of the dark green glider with its faded striped cushions and set the table.

I knew the routine by heart, heard the admonitions before they were spoken. “Use the green glass dishes, dear, not the Blue Willow.” Out would come one of the many tablecloths that seemed to be in endless rotation between the sagging clothesline and the warped buffet drawer in the dining room. In those days, a cold supper meant salads, cool creamy soups, cold sliced meat or roasted chicken, everything redolent with fresh herbs she picked from the little garden near her back door.

Predictably, “Seems a shame not to slice a few tomatoes,” as if each evening it were a new idea when, in fact, they were as much a staple of summer suppers as the fresh corn picked up daily by my grandpa on his way home from work. When I grew up, I would sometimes exclaim to my family, “Hey, let’s have a cold supper!” and knowing the aforementioned stream of reminiscences that would set off, they would just roll their eyes.

Cold Garlic Soup

Cold Garlic Soup

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

10-12 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil

2 large potatoes, peeled and diced

2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup milk

1 cup cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 pint sour cream

1/4 cup fresh chives, snipped

DIRECTIONS:

In a large saucepan lightly saute garlic and onion in oil over medium heat. Add potatoes and broth, bring to a boil, then simmer until potatoes are very tender. Let cool, then puree mixture in a blender or food processor, pour into a container, and cover tightly and refrigerate. Just before serving stir in milk and cream, add seasonings, stir, and ladle into soup dishes. Garnish each serving with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with chives. Serve with rustic bread.

Fresh Sliced Tomatoes with Herbs

Fresh Sliced Tomatoes with Herbs

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 fresh ripe garden tomatoes

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

Slice tomatoes about ¼-inch thick; arrange on platter; sprinkle with herbs, salt and pepper; cover and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Do not refrigerate. When ready to serve drizzle with oil. Serve with crusty Italian or French bread and dip it in the juices.

Rice and Vegetable Salad

Rice and Vegetable Salad

 

YIELD: Makes 8 to 10 servings

INGREDIENTS:

8 cups hot cooked rice (not instant)

12/3 cups vinaigrette dressing

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, cored and diced

1 yellow or green bell pepper, stemmed, cored and diced

1 medium red onion, peeled and minced

4 scallions, thinly sliced

Kernels from 2 to 3 ears fresh corn, raw or cooked

1 pound fresh or frozen peas, cooked till tender

6 fresh radishes, scrubbed and thinly sliced

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl combine the rice and vinaigrette; mix thoroughly; set aside to cool to room temperature. Add vegetables, herbs and seasoning; mix thoroughly again. Transfer to platter or serving bowl and serve at room temperature or chilled with cold sliced meat or poultry.