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Book Review

By Melissa Arnold

Author Lisa DeFini Lohmann with a photo of Wilson who was the inspiration for her book.

Lisa DeFini Lohmann never imagined that she would become a published author. But then her lovable dog, Wilson, changed her mind. Wilson wasn’t the best looking dog in the world, but that didn’t stop him from winning hearts with his sweet, lovable personality. Lohmann was inspired to share Wilson’s joy with others who may be struggling with self-esteem or personal trials. Her debut chapter book for children, Different Like Me, follows Wilson as he awaits his forever home, makes new friends, and goes on some incredible adventures. Along the way, he learns what it means to love yourself unconditionally, regardless of what others think.

Did you grow up wanting to be a writer?

I was born in the Bronx and moved to Long Island when I was 5 years old. I am a creative person, but my focus has always been on textiles, sewing and crafting. I’m an avid reader, though prior to this I had never written anything before. My paying job is in property management and development — I specialize in communities for people who are 55 and older.

So how did you decide to write a book?

About seven years ago, the real estate market took a hit and I was unemployed for a while. My boys are grown now, and I ended up spending a lot of that time with my dog, Wilson. He grew up to be the most precious of animals, so dear to my heart! We think he was a Shih Tzu mixed with either Brussels Griffon or Affenpinscher. He was 27 pounds but acted like a lion. He wasn’t the cutest of puppies, but he had the most wonderful personality. He was 9 months old when we brought him home.

When you’re not working, you have a lot of time to think about things in ways you may not have before. A friend of mine has a son with a pretty severe learning disability, and hearing of their day-to-day struggles gave me some perspective on what it’s like to be different. I truly believe that God put it on my heart to tell a story about the things that make us unique and different from my dog’s point of view to help kids who may be feeling self-conscious about themselves.

Why did you choose to turn the idea into a chapter book?

I didn’t necessarily set out to write a chapter book, but I knew I wanted the book to be a little deeper than an early children’s book with very few words. There was a certain depth and maturity I was looking for that made more sense as a longer book.

Tell us a bit about the plot.

Different Like Me is about a dog who lives in a pet store and doesn’t like himself because he consistently isn’t chosen to go home with a family. Through a series of events, he learns that he’s perfect just the way he is, and helps others to see that along the way.

What was the writing and publishing process like for you as a first-time author?

I truly believe that when you do something for good in this life, God helps you get it done. And that’s how it was for me. Writing was the easiest part. I didn’t know anybody else who had ever written a book, and so the Internet was a great resource. I did a lot of research online. Ultimately, I chose to work with a company called Outskirts Press. They do what’s called “semi-self-publishing,” which means they select your manuscript for publication and then offer you a number of different options to choose from, like editing. Each option is a la carte and paid for by the author. I’m not an illustrator or an editor, so that was where they came in handy for me.

Who is the illustrator, Richa Kinra? How did you decide to work with her?

The illustrator was connected to Outskirts Press. There were sample images from a number of artists I got to look through, and then I could choose who I wanted to work with. While I never got to meet her, she really captured the essence of the characters and what I was trying to convey with the book. The illustrators don’t have the time or resources to read each project they’re working on, so I needed to provide copious details about each character and image. I’m very happy [with the final product] — the illustrations are very charming.

Do you want to continue writing?

This is not an endeavor for my own financial gain at all. I have what I think are two more books in my head — there’s so much to expand on with these topics of self-acceptance, coping skills, and celebrating diversity. Ideally, I’d love to get picked up by a publisher who will support me financially so that I can focus on the writing.

What do you hope people will take away from reading this book?

Whether people are struggling with COVID, some kind of disability, not fitting in or anything else — I want them to see that the way they were put together, tall or short, fat or thin, is just fine. We were all made differently and have a unique purpose. Even thinking about my own childhood, I was sometimes perceived as stuck-up, when truthfully I was very insecure and shy. We all have an emotional battle that we’re fighting, no matter how old we are. That’s why I believe everyone can relate to this book.

Who would you say is the target audience for this book?

It’s hard to pin down, because I’ve heard that people of all ages are enjoying it — parents are reading it with their 5-year-olds, elementary kids are reading it, and there are even teenagers and college kids who have told me they liked it. So the book is for people of all ages.

Different Like Me is available at your favorite online retailer as well as several Long Island businesses including Book Revue in Huntington and the Reboli Center for Art and History in Stony Brook. Keep up with Lisa DeFini Lohmann on Instagram @wilsonhighstep and on Facebook by searching for Wilson Highstep.

Duff Goldman

By Melissa Arnold

Pastry chef Duff Goldman has risen to become one of the titans of the baking world over the past 20 years. His bakery, Charm City Cakes, has crafted incredible sweets for anything from a child’s first birthday to a presidential inauguration, and he’s a fixture on the Food Network. Since 2014, Goldman has judged the network’s Kids Baking Championship, gently encouraging the eager contestants with pro tips and a sense of humor.

This year, he released Super Good Baking for Kids (HarperCollins), an easy-to-read cookbook covering kitchen basics and unique, whimsical recipes for bakers of any skill level. Kids are encouraged to experiment and have fun in the kitchen as they whip up dessert pizzas and tacos, unicorn cupcakes, Boston creme donuts and much more. The book is also full of helpful photos and interesting facts — a great addition to any kid’s (or adult’s!) holiday haul.

Goldman took some time to chat with TBR News Media recently about the book, his early food memories, and how parents can support their kids’ culinary adventures.

Lately, you’ve been working with kids a lot. Did your own interest in baking begin as a child?

Definitely, the interest began with cooking in general. My mom is a really good cook, my grandmother was a really good cook, and my great-grandmother was a baker. So I was always around it, and some of my earliest memories are food-related. Good food is really important to our family as a “thing,” not just as something that keeps you going. It’s a part of who we are.

Why did you decide to write this book?

Well, I read cookbooks all the time, and I’ve been reading a lot of kids’ cookbooks recently. I found myself thinking, “You know, these are okay, but if I were 9 or 10 years old I probably wouldn’t be that satisfied.” So I wanted to write a book that I thought I would enjoy [at that age]. When I think about the things I like in a cookbook, I’m looking for lots of details and things to discover. A good cookbook for kids is about a lot more than using bubble letters and crazy colors. Kids love facts, lists, pictures. And that’s what I wanted to give them.

Have the kids ever taught you something new?

Oh, yeah! One of the girls on Kids Baking Championship made a cupcake that had a graham cracker crust on the bottom, which I had never heard of before. I thought it was genius. So I decided to make a cookies-and-creme cupcake for this book that uses an Oreo crust because of what she taught me. There’s also a recipe in there for rainbow brownies — my wife and I took a big road trip for our honeymoon, and we visited some of her family. I asked one of her cousins who was 8 or 9 years old what recipe she would want in a cookbook, and she immediately said she wanted rainbow brownies. I told her, “You can’t have rainbow brownies — brownies are brown!” She told me to figure it out! So I did.

How do you go about deciding which recipes go into a cookbook?

We made a list of things that I’ve made in the past that people really tend to like, or recipes that get a lot of questions. There are certain things people are always asking how to make, so a lot of the process was about answering those questions people wonder about.

Some of the recipes I’ve included because I see them as a bit aspirational — something they can work toward and tackle as they get better. For example, the Boston creme donut recipe in there is the exact donut recipe I use in my own kitchen. There’s nothing different about it — nothing is made easier or safer, and they’re still being deep-fried in oil.

But watching kids on Kids Baking Championship shows you a lot about what kids can do. They can make fried stuff. They can use yeast. They can do it, as long as someone is there to help and make sure they work safely. The same can be said for working with knives when it’s appropriate — you can teach them that a knife is not a toy, that it’s sharp and it can hurt you.

Cooking can be dangerous, but it’s important to learn that you can do it safely if you treat it with respect. I wanted to include some of those lessons in the book as well and that we didn’t shy away from it, because I think sometimes people are excessively afraid. Just because there’s a risk involved doesn’t mean it should necessarily be avoided. I’m a big believer in giving kids a sense of accomplishment — it affects them in so many positive ways.

What are a couple of your favorite recipes in the book?

The brown butter blondies that are in there are one of my favorite things to eat, and they’re great to make for others because they’re so good. The dessert pizza recipe was actually suggested by my editor — I don’t really like them; I always thought it was a dumb idea. But I was challenged to make a dessert pizza I would enjoy, so I asked myself what it would be like — brownie stuffed crust! Red velvet sauce!

Dessert imposters [desserts that are made to resemble other foods] are a really big thing on Kids Baking Championship. The kids really look forward to it, so I wanted to make sure I included that as well. I love tacos, so I gave a lot of thought to what ingredients you could use in a dessert that looks like a taco but is still delicious.

What would you say to a kid who wants to become a baker?

The first thing to know is that it takes practice. The first chocolate cake you ever bake might not come out so good. And that’s okay. But as you keep baking, you’ll get better and better. It’s a new experience every time — sometimes it works out great, and sometimes things come out terrible. Even for me, when I make things today there’s always this feeling of excitement, like, “Oh boy, is this going to work out? I don’t know! Let’s see!”

What advice would you give a parent who is reluctant or nervous about letting their child cook or bake?

Honestly, truly ­— get over the fear! Seriously. I’m not saying that you should just let your kid go alone into the kitchen and deep fry some donuts. Go and be a part of it, do it with them! Read the directions, Google some safety tips, talk about it together. It doesn’t have to be scary. Some recipes or techniques can look intimidating just because you’ve never tried it before, and then you do it, and boom, you’ve gained a skill.

What age group is this book best for?

We’ve seen 9-year-olds come on Kids Baking Championship and totally school the other kids. So I don’t want to set an age requirement. And these recipes are legit — these aren’t little kid recipes where everything is a variation of a sugar cookie. You’re making donuts, puff pastry, pâte à choux — it’s all real pastry technique. I think the book is appropriate for any person, kid or adult, who shows interest and is willing to learn.

Super Good Baking for Kids is available at Book Revue in Huntington, Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“It’s not always about the time, but the place we are in our lives.”

Jeannie Moon’s Christmas in Angel Harbor (Tule Publishing Group, LLC) is a heartfelt romance of love deferred. As with all of her work, she creates engaging characters of charm and honesty. In this case, she has set her novel on Long Island, in the fictional town of Angel Harbor.

Author Jeannie Moon. Photo by Fox Gradin, Celestial Studios

Best-selling author Dan Gallo has returned home after an absence of several decades. It is revealed that his most recent novel inspired a psychopathic true-crime copycat. He has now decided to escape the fast lane and try to catch his breath by writing a more personal novel. He is also a man in search of himself; his quest is for an inner peace that his success has not provided. “He’d learned the hard way that a good life was a collection of small experiences. While big and flashy might impress in the short term, the millions of tiny details about an experience were what mattered.” He settles in with his sister’s family, living in a cottage on the property. He begins to unwind and to come alive.

Jane Fallon is the proprietor of Harbor Books. As a young woman, she had dreams of a world-spanning career in archeology. With her father’s sudden death, she felt obligated to return home to run the family bookstore. “It hadn’t been her dream job, but owning the store brought her many rewards and even more happy moments.” She is grateful for the life she has had — especially close bonds with both her mother, a retired school teacher, and her daughter, Tara. But Moon gives Jane a welcomed complexity: Jill still wonders about the life she could have had and that slight shadow of regret gives her an added dimension.

Throughout high school, Dan had used the table in the bookshop as his writing headquarters. Dan and Jane had been best friends since fifth grade and, while they had never been a couple, their relationship had an emotional intimacy. While Dan was getting ready for law school, Jane indicated that she wanted more. Spooked, Dan disconnected from Jane and the entire Angel Harbor community. Even when Jane’s father passed away, Dan maintained both distance and silence.

And now he has returned. Jane struggles with her feelings but, with great caution, allows him to begin writing at the table once again. “They were bound by an old friendship, and by the shared history of a small town that held one of them back, while the other shot forward.” Needless to say, they begin to rekindle what was snuffed out thirty plus years before.

What is delightful is the innocence of the courtship between two fifty year-olds. There is a sense of wanting to recover what was lost, picking up almost where they left off. Moon gives us a couple that is reminiscent of Our Town’s George and Emily: love and hope and possibility.  “… there was something magical about her, something so centered it was seeping into him. Even as she faced huge changes in her own life, she found a way to focus on others … for the first time since he’d left home all those years ago, he wasn’t on edge.” But their relationship is not without heat, and the pull between them is genuinely strong.

The  story begins two weeks before Thanksgiving and carries through the Christmas holiday. Both Dan and Jane are going through struggles, internal and external. Dan’s current project is outside his comfort zone; he wants to inspire readers and allow his work to be a source of healing.  However, he is facing pressure from his “people” to stay with what works. Jane is facing her mother’s relocation to warmer climes and her daughter’s departure for college the following fall. As always, the store’s survival and growth is always present.

Playing as a backdrop for the story is a wonderful sense of village life in modern times. With shades of nostalgia, Moon finds the richness of a Long Island Christmas, from the perfect pastry to snowfall to walks in the brisk night air. The writing is easy and fluid, with characters rooted in personal realities as well the world she has vividly fashioned for them. It all rings romantically true.

A little past the half-way mark, the real crisis is introduced, throwing Jane’s fate into turmoil. It is not the suspense of what will happen but the painting of the community that rises to the surface. The denouement has shades of It’s a Wonderful Life.

Christmas in Angel Harbor gives us something that we need right now: the joy that can come in the Christmas season. Here is a romance with the sights and sounds but above all the heart that we associate with hope in the holidays. Looking for the gift of a little light in the darkness? This book is just the right present.

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A school librarian by day, and an established author by night, Jeannie Moon has written 17 books to date. Christmas in Angel Harbor is available at bookrevue.com, barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com.

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Author Ariana Glaser

Some of us have spent 2020 learning to make sourdough bread from scratch, catching up on TV, or working on our post-quarantine figures. Fourteen-year-old Ariana Glaser, on the other hand, has been putting the finishing touches on her newest novel.

The Smithtown High School East freshman published her first major story three years ago, when she was just 11 years old. Now, she’s back with She Remembers, a compelling story for teen readers about life after death, second chances, and family ties. The book was released on Nov. 16.

What was your childhood like? Were you very creative?

I was always a very avid reader — my mom would say I’d read books in my crib. When I was in 2nd grade, I wrote a book that was around 15 or 20 pages. It was called Fairies, Fairies, Fairies, and each page was about a different fairy. Obviously my writing style has changed a lot since then, but my second grade teacher really inspired me by saying there was a [distinct literary] voice in my writing, and that made me think, “Hey, maybe I’m not too bad at this!” I also do a lot of drawing and theater on the side.

What kinds of books do you like to read? Which authors inspire you?

I love all genres of fiction, but I really enjoy dystopian stories. My favorite books right now are a series called The Selection by Kiera Cass. I’m also really inspired by Lois Lowry ­­— her book Number the Stars has been a favorite of mine for a very long time.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

In 4th or 5th grade, I completed my first novella, and I knew it was something I wanted to continue doing for as long as I could, to perfect my skills.

How did your family respond?

My parents and grandparents were always the first to hear about my ideas, and they were huge supporters from the beginning. And the reality is that none of this would have been possible without their support and encouragement, not just practically but emotionally, too.

When did you write your first book? How did you go about getting published?

It was called The World I Never Knew. I finished writing it at the end of 6th grade after working on it off and on for about two years. We waited about a year after it was finished, and then we found Kindle Direct Publishing (from Amazon). I wasn’t looking for it to be a best-seller or anything, but I wanted to be able to say that I published my first book when I was 12.

How did it feel seeing your name in print for the first time?

It was a weird feeling! We were waiting for the mailman to deliver my copy of [my first book], and when he came, we were there to meet him and everyone was excited. The mailman said to my dad, “Oh, did she get a book she wanted?” and he said, “No, she wrote this book.” It was surreal to hear that and to hold my book for the first time.

Did you publish this book the same way?

No. We submitted She Remembers to traditional publishers. I got a lot of rejections simply because of my age — most places won’t accept a manuscript if you’re under 18 — and I also didn’t have a literary agent. But I didn’t want to sit around and wait to turn 18 when I had good stories that were ready now. Someone on Facebook recommended Foundations Publishing, and when I sent it to them, they said the story had potential and they’d be happy to have me on their team.

Tell us a bit about She Remembers.

When I was younger, I was very into American Girl dolls, and I joined an online community for others who liked them. One of the girls I met through that community was named Bella, and she was very popular. She also had cancer and ended up passing away. That had a big impact on me, and in 2019 I started to write She Remembers, about a girl who dies of cancer. She gets a chance to live another life, and discovers that she still has memories of her old life and family.

How do you find the time to balance writing, school and your social life?

You know, time management is always something that I struggle with. I have a lot of extracurriculars that take a lot of work, so in the course of a week I can spend hours on stage, dancing or singing. And then there’s all of my homework, spending time with my friends, and trying to write in the middle of all that. But every student struggles with that, even when they’re not a writer. I try to take advantage of pockets of free time, even if it’s 20 minutes at lunch or at night.

Is there a message you want people to take away from reading this novel?

It’s all about hope — the main character, Amber, comes to realize that good things can come out of bad experiences. We might not know what happens after death, but it’s important to have hope and to keep the memories of the people we’ve lost alive.

Is there a recommended age group?

There’s a range, from 12-year-olds looking for a character they can look up to, all the way up to 18 or even older readers who just enjoy a unique, interesting story.

Do you have any upcoming events?

It’s been tough with the pandemic, but we’re talking with Barnes & Noble about having some kind of event, whether that’s a virtual meet-and-greet, something in person, or just a table with books and information about me.

What’s next for you? Are you planning to write more books?

I actually finished writing my third book during quarantine. I have so much more to say, and the good thing about writing is if one book doesn’t go over well, you can keep writing. You never know when you’re going to have a big moment. I’d love to make the New York Times Best Seller List!

She Remembers and other works by Ariana Glaser is available on Amazon.com or your favorite online bookseller. Keep up with Ariana on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok @ArianaNGlaser.

Painting by Vance Locke

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

History Close at Hand has published the noteworthy and informative Setauket and Brookhaven History, a book that relates its story through the murals of Old Field artist Vance Locke (1913-1977). Commissioned by philanthropists Ward and Dorothy Melville as a gift to the community, the murals, completed in 1952, adorn the walls of the Setauket School’s Woodhull Auditorium.

Author Beverly C. Tyler

Beverly C. Tyler’s prose is crisp and his materials are well-chosen, clearly explaining the content of the murals. Throughout, he posits questions to the reader which will prompt further exploration. He often indicates where the reader can see the referenced locations and offers additional resources. He has selected quotes from the late historian William B. Minuse to further develop the narrative. Tyler touches on Locke’s process of conceptualizing and painting as well as his revising to get the correct representations.

One of the first ideas in the book — and a powerful one — is an explanation of Indigenous Culture. Tyler’s recognition bears repeating:

We call the native people who were the first humans to live here Native Americans or American Indians. A more accurate description might be Indigenous People. Everyone else who came, beginning with the English settlers are immigrants. It is important for me (personally) to say, “I wish to acknowledge that I am sitting on the land of the Setalcott Indigenous People in Setauket and I pay respect to the Setalcott people whose land is where I live.”

The murals, along with archaeological studies, have helped piece together the evolution of the changing lives on Long Island. Tyler presents how and when the facts were discovered. The murals progress through time, highlighting farming and millwork, the blacksmith and the shipwright. There is the cutting of ice and the mercantile and the purchase of land. The last is appropriately followed by an explanation that the Setalcotts did not share the same view of land ownership proffered by the English settlers.

The book is about craft and skills, commerce and community. Short anecdotes woven into the chronicle’s fabric augment the comprehensive facts and general text. For example, there is a quick account of the Daisy that sunk from a leak created by beans swelled by seawater, bursting the ship’s hull.

Often, there is the intersection of work and communal gatherings, represented by the uniquely American general store. With each section of the mural, Tyler gives background on the various aspects of day-to-day existence as well its historical relevance. The aspects of general life are enhanced with specific sketches and personal histories that surround a particular topic. Many of the names will be familiar to Long Island denizens. 

The most extended section deals with Setauket’s place in the Revolutionary War — especially George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring which was based in Setauket. In many ways, the first half of the book is building to this, allowing for context of the events.

Tyler uses both primary and secondary sources to enrich his telling of the story, shedding light on the challenges and sacrifices, the humanity and the intrigue. It is appropriately thorough but equally succinct.     

In addition to reprinting the murals in vivid color, there are photos of artifacts as well as the current sites and artifacts, reprints of period maps and documents, and stills of historical recreations. The plethora of illustrations are well-chosen for their interest and variety, and they effectively supplement the text.

Setauket and Brookhaven History is a slender book that is rich in detail and will hold the interest of readers of all ages. The ease of Tyler’s writing belies the hundreds of research hours that undoubtedly went into its creation. This edifying work is ideal to be read aloud and discussed. It will certainly stimulate thought and conversation both in the family and the classroom.

“Murals tell a story, sometimes more than one. Could there be more than one story in this mural?” Tyler gives us a good deal to observe, a great deal to read, and even more to think about it.

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Author Beverly C. Tyler is the historian for the Three Village Historical Society and conducts walking tours and field trips as Revolutionary War farmer and spy Abraham Woodhull. He has appeared on the History Channel’s Histories Mysteries production Spies of the Revolutionary War and writes a local history column for TBR News Media’s Village Times Herald.

Pick up a signed copy of Setauket and Brookhaven History and meet the author at the upcoming outdoor Holiday Market at the Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket on Nov. 28, Dec. 5, 12 and 19 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The book will also be available at the Three Village Historical Society’s online gift shop at www.TVHS.org in January 2021.

Just in time for the holidays: Ina Garten’s new cookbook is soul-satisfying

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Ina Garten is best known as the host of the television cooking show Barefoot Contessa. On the air since 2002, it is the Food Network’s longest-running show and features Garten preparing multicourse meals, making them accessible for her viewers to recreate at home.

Modern Comfort Food (Penguin Random House/Clarkson Potter) marks her twelfth cookbook, a series of bestsellers that began in 1999 with The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. Subsequent entries included Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?, Barefoot Contessa in Paris, among other successful and popular titles.

Now Garten has turned her focus to comfort food. In these times, it is a welcome entry.  “I often say,” she writes, “that you can be miserable before eating a cookie and you can be miserable after eating a cookie, but you can never miserable while you’re eating a cookie.” This tongue-and-cheek remark sets up this collection of 85 all-new soul-satisfying ensuing recipes divided into six sections:  Cocktails (which is actually dominated by hors d’oeuvres); Lunch; Dinner: Vegetables & Sides; Dessert; and Breakfast.

Tomato & Goat Cheese Crostata

Her take is that food can both celebrate and soothe — whether a birthday cake or a gift to someone who is struggling. “Food can be so much more than simple sustenance.”

Garten acknowledges that comfort food is a very individual taste, often rooted in our earliest memories. To this end, she offers new takes on classic favorites. Her chicken soup (often considered physical and emotional nourishment) is a Chicken Pot Pie Soup. She remembers her mother’s canned split pea soup with cut-up hot dogs; she has taken this idea and created a Split Pea Soup with Crispy Kielbasa. She doesn’t ignore the beloved tuna fish sandwich and offers Ultimate Tuna Melts.

There is the Creamy Tomato Bisque, complimented by the Cheddar and Chutney Grilled Cheese, as the response to the often-sought tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich, the go-to of so many childhoods. Other options include a Lobster BLT and Truffled Mac & Cheese.

The “modern” in the book comes from Garten’s research into the roots of the traditional dish and then re-envisioning and often lightening the recipe, facilitating the cooking, and adding new or different flavors. Ultimately, her goal is “true home cooking but with a twist or update that makes it special enough to serve to company.” The cookbook has some international flavors as she notes that immigrants brought many of their tastes of home with them.

Her “good ingredients” list suggests items that are ideal for the recipes as well as brands to which she has an affinity. “I started calling for specific ingredients because they do make a difference … They don’t have to be expensive but they have to be chosen thoughtfully …”  Salt, in particular, is considered the most important.

No recipe is longer than a single page, with many of them shorter. The list of components rarely goes above a dozen and often contains half of that number. Each recipe is proceeded by a short introduction that personalizes what follows. There is something here for everyone’s tastes — sweet and savory, light and hearty, vegetarian and non. From the simple to the more complicated, the book is carefully presented, with clear and straightforward instructions.

In addition, there are informative interludes between sections. “Staying Engaged” advocates for the power of interaction and socializing over meals; eschewing cellphones and enriching your life by “enjoying one-another’s company face-to-face.” “Evolution of a recipe” shares Garten’s odyssey of creating her version of Boston Cream Pie. She writes with warmth and honesty, citing her challenges and successes. She connects to the readers by dispelling the mystery of cooking and the fear that often accompanies it.

Boston Creme Pie

She also suggests alternate ways to approach more difficult tasks. Hollandaise sauce usually demands a double boiler, a blender, and a good deal of focused time; instead, she presents a simpler take with a bowl, a whisk, and the microwave.

Of course, no cookbook is complete without visual support and there are dozens of vivid color photographs by Quentin Bacon, along with party pictures by Jean-Pierre Uys. These delightful illustrations ably function as a guide to the finished products.

Modern Comfort Food is a welcome addition to an already prolific author’s works. As Garten states:  “Whether you’re a beginning or an experienced cook, these recipes will help you feel confident that you can cook wonderful food for you family and friends and that will bring everyone to your table. And if you end up being happier — and healthier! — because of it, so much the better!”

Modern Comfort Food is available at Book Revue in Huntington, penguinrandomhouse.com, amazon.com and barnesand noble.com.

Photos by Quentin Bacon

By Heidi Sutton

When Catherine and Anthony Hoang’s young son A.J. lost a family heirloom during a visit to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in the winter of 2017, the security staff, including Ed Clampitt, helped the Huntington family retrace their steps through the sprawling grounds and estate. The two-day search finally produced the precious object and became the inspiration for a new children’s book, Patches and Stripes: A ‘Vanderbilt Magic’ Story. Written by Clampitt and his fellow Vanderbilt Museum colleague and friend Ellen Mason, the beautiful 20-page book, told entirely in rhyme, features gorgeous illustrations by Olga Levitskiy. A book launch held at the museum in mid-October sold over 300 copies. I recently had an opportunity to speak to the two authors about their latest venture.

Ed, tell us when you first met the Hoang family and what did they lose?

It was a very cold Sunday, around midday. I greeted the car as I do all our visitors. They explained to me that they had visited the day before and lost a hat. They inquired if one had been turned in to the lost and found. When I told them no hat had been turned in, they asked if it was OK if they searched the property themselves, revisiting all the areas where they had gone. Of course, I said yes and offered them a ride to the mansion where they would begin their search.

On the initial trip down, they explained to me the significance of the hat and how desperate they were to find it. I encountered them a few more times during the day and each time their despair became more evident. All I could do was offer them hope and reassure them that, if the hat was indeed on the property, we would find it. The hat was indeed found. I won’t give away the ending. To briefly sum it up, I will say that I was overcome with joy knowing we helped the family and their joy in getting back the hat was immeasurable.

Why was this hat so special to them?

EC: The hat was a precious heirloom passed down from previous family members, eventually coming to little A.J. The hat itself can best be described as a small engineer’s cap, a style from days past. It had blue and white stripes  and was adorned with vintage patches depicting various railroad lines.

What inspired you to turn this true story into a children’s book?

EC: When I started to tell people the story and saw their reactions I knew it was a story that needed to be shared. When I shared the story with Ellen she immediately agreed and it fueled an inspiration in her that led to the book.

EM: After Ed told me the story of the hat, I wrote 10 stanzas of the poem fairly quickly. I just felt the story had the makings of a children’s book.

What parts of the museum are explored in the book?

EM: The security guards search for the hat in different areas of the museum. They start at the two eagles near the entrance, which originally stood at Grand Central Station in New York City. They proceed to the 6 ancient columns from Carthage that are 1000 years old. The mansion’s courtyard and iconic bell tower are beautifully illustrated as are the Habitat with the whaleshark. This lower museum was built in 1929 as a private museum for the entertainment of the Vanderbilt’s guests. The animal dioramas will remind visitors of those in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

How did the Hoang family react when they heard you were writing a book based on their experiences?

EC: My first contact with Catherine about our plans for the book were via email. From the very beginning she was extremely honored and excited.

When did the family get to see the book for the first time?

EC: I believe they saw the book for the very first time at the book launch (see page B26). Ellen and I did our best to keep it under wraps as long as possible!

Tell us about the illustrator, Olga Levitskiy. How did you three connect?

EC: Olga is an immensely talented young woman that currently resides in New Jersey. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her in the past on previous projects. When Ellen and I decided to go forward with the book my only stipulation was that we use Olga as our illustrator. Having never met Olga, Ellen put her trust in me and I’m sure she would agree it was the right decision.

Her illustrations perfectly capture what the museum looks like. What was her process like?

EC: After we contracted with her, Olga visited the museum grounds and took photographs of just about everything imaginable. While I can’t speak to the exact process I can say that she first did a preliminary story board based on the text. She then does each illustration in pencil and eventually colorizes them in watercolor and colored pencil. Each page becomes an original piece of artwork, much larger than the pages of the book. Suffice to say that once you see the illustrations in the book you can really appreciate the painstaking process it involved.

EM: When Olga visited the museum she came on my mansion tour. Unbeknownst to me, she photographed me in the courtyard and later included me in one of her illustrations.

How did you go about getting published?

EC: Having previous experience self publishing children’s books, I was familiar with process. We used a printer that I have worked with in the past as well. They are based in Ohio. Another part of the blessing working with Olga is that she handled all of the technical aspects of the job for us.

From left, illustrator Olga Levitskiy, authors Ellen Mason and Ed Clampitt, and the Hoang family: Catherine, Anthony, son A.J., daughter Clara and grandfather John Gembinski, pose for a photo in the Vanderbilt Museum’s Carriage House during a book launch on Oct. 17. The family was presented with a family membership to the museum by Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, Executive Director of the museum, a portrait of A.J. wearing his precious hat and copies of the book. The Hoang family gave the authors and illustrator each a railroad hat of their own. Photo by Heidi Sutton

This is also a great way to introduce children to the Vanderbilt Museum, yes?

EC: Absolutely! From the beginning our hope was to have the book become an extension of the museum, a way of being able to take the property home with you. The intent was to have the story take you on a tour of the museum and the grounds.

EM: Yes, the book may elicit interest in visiting to see the actual sites and exhibits highlighted in the book and can also reinforce a previous visit as well.

EM: Many school groups and summer day camps visit yearly. There are plans to perhaps offer the book in birthday party packages booked at the museum.

What type of response has the book been getting?

EC: The response has been amazing! Everyone has been so impressed and supportive. We are so proud of the finished product. It represents the Vanderbilt well and has allowed us to realize our dream.

EM: The Vanderbilt staff is so appreciative of how the illustrations capture the smallest details of the architecture and exhibits. Ed and I feel especially proud that this is the only children’s book ever written about Eagle’s Nest and it includes Max the cat, who now basks in his fame at the gatehouse.

What message do you want children  to take away from reading your book?

EC: On the forefront, the message is that the Vanderbilt is a true treasure, a place that we hope we inspire all to visit and continue to support. Additionally, it is a story of teamwork, hope and magic!

EM: The message is that there is value in studying history and the natural world; that one man’s life and generosity can enrich many other lives as well; and that goodness spreads; and the realization that all families have traditions that are important to them, sometimes symbolized by a treasured object.

Why do you think the Vanderbilt Museum is such a ‘magical’ place?

EC: Stories such as this one, the story that inspired the book, do not happen elsewhere. The place has an energy to it. It’s hard to explain. For those of us who are blessed to be able to work and spend time there, there is a love we share for the place … it makes you love it.

EM: I think it’s magical because of its romanticism — William K. Vanderbilt II built the estate out of love for his wife, Rosamond. The architecture and breathtaking setting that have been chosen by so many couples for their weddings.

Where can we pick up a copy of this book?

EC: Right now the books are sold exclusively in the Vanderbilt Museum’s gift shop. There will be the ability to purchase them online from the museum website soon. This entire project was intended as a donation to the Vanderbilt and proceeds go directly to benefit the museum.

Is there a recommended age group?

EC: I would say early readers but personally I am a big advocate of reading with a parent or as a family. I think this book is the perfect vehicle for that.

EM: Because the book is written as a 44 stanza poem, the musicality is suitable for younger children to be read to. Independent readers (grades 3 and 4) will pick up on the rhythm and rhyming pattern. I would love “Patches and Stripes” to inspire young readers to write their own poems showcasing a treasured possession.

Any more books on the horizon?

EM: One is already in the works, featuring Max the museum’s resident cat and his friend, security guard Ed. This one is also a narrative poem, like “Patches and Stripes.”

Catherine and A.J. Hoang

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of writing a book?

EC: Write! Write! Write! If you have a story to tell, tell it! To write and create something that you can share with others is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do!

EM: My advice is to be patient. The process can move slowly, especially if illustrations are involved, but is well worth it. It never occurred to me to write any book, least of all one that rhymes. Yet here it is and I am so proud of it and grateful to Ed for suggesting that we collaborate on it. We present it as our gift to the Vanderbilt Museum for the many wonderful times it has given to us.

Anything else you would like to add?

EC: From the very beginning of all of this I have felt so strongly that this entire story, from the back story of the day the family visited, to the day we launched the book, is a story that needs to be told, from our point of view as well as the family’s. It is a story of how fate stepped in and changed lives … all for the better … how a simple visit to a local museum brought despair, then joy, validation, inspiration, pride and do much more … for the family, for Ellen and me and yes, even for the Vanderbilt … just a place, a piece of property devoid of feelings and emotions … unless you believe in magic.

Forensic expert delves into disappearance of Stony Brook heiress

Reviewed by Rita J. Egan

The only thing more intriguing than a mystery is a true story that happened practically in the reader’s back yard. That’s the case with author Steven C. Drielak’s book Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping recently released by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press.

Drielak tells the tale of the real-life kidnapping case of 38-year-old Alice McDonell Parsons, the heir to a vast fortune, who disappeared from Long Meadow Farm in Stony Brook on  June 9, 1937. The accounts of three witnesses — her husband, the housekeeper and the housekeeper’s son — were reported in newspapers across the United States. It was a case where the Federal Bureau of Investigation stepped in to help solve, but despite countless interviews, crews combing and revisiting beaches along the north and south shores of Long Island, and the careful excavation of the farm, a body was never discovered.

For Long Islanders, the story will have added appeal with the familiar backdrop of Stony Brook and other local areas mentioned such as Huntington, Bay Shore, Glen Cove and more. While many may be familiar with the case of Alice Parsons, who reportedly was last seen getting into a large black sedan with a couple to show them a family estate in Huntington, there is so much more to learn as Drielak takes the reader on a trip into the past using articles from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, The New York Daily News, The New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune as well as FBI case files.

Right from the beginning, the author shows immense attention to detail as he takes us step by step through the infamous day starting at  6:30 a.m. as Alice Parsons’ husband, William, starts the morning feeding the livestock. He also describes what the Parsons’ Russian housekeeper Anna Kupryanova was doing that morning as well as Anna’s 10-year-old son Roy. We also get to meet Alice before her disappearance.

Early chapters give some background on the main players in this unsolved case. The reader learns of Alice’s privileged past, how William Parsons became involved in agriculture and events that led to Anna’s arrival to the United States. Delving into everyone’s pasts and characters, as well as how they interacted, helps the reader in understanding the possible motives of all the suspects in this case.

What many will find interesting is a case such as this one in the 1930s relied more on interviews and interrogations than forensic science as it wasn’t as developed as it is today. As the story unfolds, so do the clues, confessions and lies.

Making the story even more compelling is a disappearing chloroform bottle, paper found in the house that matches the kidnapper’s ransom note, a near confession and, to add even more to the intrigue, an affair that cannot be ignored.

What will leave the reader even more suspicious of Alice’s husband and housekeeper is the marriage of William and Anna in 1940 before the heiress is declared legally dead. The new couple never waited for a body to be found before starting a life together in California as husband and wife. Their relationship definitely raised eyebrows, especially since Anna was the last to see Alice alive.

There are also transcripts of recorded interviews between William and Anna that were part of the investigation. The conversations are interesting in that it seems as if Anna was dominant in the relationship, telling William he didn’t know what he was talking about when it came to a chloroform bottle being found. She also mentions that Alice is still alive. The conversations are an example of how difficult it was to solve how the heiress disappeared or if she was kidnapped or murdered.

Last but not least, the photos used in the book, many from the author’s personal collection and the Three Village Historical Society, are interesting to see. Local history buffs especially will enjoy them as some of the photos depict Stony Brook in the 1930s with William addressing reporters outside of his home, and volunteers ready to search the area standing outside The Stony Brook School. The photos drive home that this unsolved mystery happened right here in our own back yard.


Author Steven C. Drielak is an internationally recognized expert in the area of Hot Zone Forensic Attribution. He received his master’s degrees from John Jay College of Criminal Justic and has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience. He has authored six textbooks in the areas of environmental crimes, weapons of mass destruction and forensic attribution, as well as two historical fiction novels. Long Island’s Vanished Heiress is available at ArcadiaPublishing.com, Book Revue in Huntington, Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

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Jerry Seinfeld revisits his best work across five decades of comedy in new book

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“Is this anything?” is what every comedian says to every other comedian about any new bit. Ideas that come from nowhere and mean nothing. But in the world of stand-up comedy, literal bars of gold. You see that same comedian later and you will be asked, “Did it get anything?” All comedians are slightly amazed when anything works.

Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld. Photo by Mark Seliger

Is This Anything? (Simon & Schuster) is a wonderful window into the brilliant mind of one of the most successful comedians of the last thirty years. Jerry Seinfeld started out as a stand-up comic, playing clubs on both coasts, before launching to stardom in his eponymous sitcom, Seinfeld, which ran for nine seasons (1989 to 1998). The 180 episodes have been a syndication mainstay, and it is a rare day when you can’t settle down to an episode or three. It was awarded Emmy’s, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild Awards; in 2002, TV Guide named it the greatest television show of all time.

The driving force behind the show was the wit and insight of its star, Jerry Seinfeld. The plot was simple: It followed the mostly minor trials and tribulations of a New York stand-up comic named Jerry and his oddball friends. It became known as the “show about nothing.” But it really was a mirror of Seinfeld’s take on the world; a point of view he had been developing since he entered the comedy scene in the 1970’s.

Seinfeld’s new book is an assemblage of all his material created over the years, broken down by decades. Each section is preceded by a short introduction, and, while they are amusing, they are also introspective. Here, he will use a joke to illustrate a point but mostly he’s giving an intimate access to his process as well as reflecting on that period of his life.

At the outset, he shares his earliest influences: Phil Berger’s book The Last Laugh, about the world of stand-up comedy, and Dustin Hoffman in Lenny, the film based on the stage play about the life of Lenny Bruce. Even at a young age, he marveled: “Comedians seem to hurtle through space and time untethered to anything but the sound of a laugh.”

Even in exploring his own work,Seinfeld  remains unsure. “I still don’t know exactly for sure where jokes come from. I think it’s from some emotional cocktail of boredom, aggression, intense visual acuity and a kind of Silly Putty of the mind that enables you to re-form what you see into what you want it to be.” He also zeroes in on the main challenge. “The real problem of stand-up, of course, is that you must constantly justify why you are the only one talking while a room full of people sit quietly.”

The book records the dozens of jokes that have been part of a four-decade career. It is like visiting old friends, full of ah-hah moments of remembering a particular line or seeing the source for an episode of Seinfeld. (A perfect example is “Dry Cleaning” where he imagines bumping into his dry cleaner wearing his clothes.) It is fortunate that he has kept all his material from the beginning of his career, every idea, every scrap of paper. Even some of his earliest jokes remained in his repertoire twenty and thirty years later. It is a pleasure to read the book and, of course, hear his flawless timing in your mind’s ear.

Seinfeld is unique in his domination of the world of observational humor. (Perhaps the only challenger would be the late George Carlin.) All of the wonderful pieces are here:  dogs and pockets, ruining an appetite, musings on laundry, etc. Some topics are just in passing and others get the epic treatment: milk, coffee, cereal, cars, driving. There are moments of tirade — friends we could do without, other people’s children, the post office. These are contrasted with more existential thoughts, such as in “Northeast Guy.” “TV Flip,” with its refrains, sings almost as a tone poem.  Seinfeld’s ability to anthropomorphize reaches true heights with “Cookies”: “You can almost feel their little chocolate chip eyes on you.”

In “Halloween/Candy,” he traces a child’s whole history of Halloween from costume to trick-or-treating to aging out of it. He also shows that everything with children is “up” — wait up, hold up, shut up, clean up, stay up — while everything with parents is the opposite — calm down, slow down, come down here, sit down, put that down, you are GROUNDED. They’re wry observations but underneath is something much more profound.

It’s not just that his observations are funny; they are also reflections of the truth. His perception of relationships is dead-on. He bridges his dating years into his marriage at 45 and subsequent fatherhood. As he grew, so did the depth of his understanding.

The stories in the sections titled “2000’s” and “The Teens” focus a great deal on marriage and weddings. Seinfeld skillfully compares marriage to “a bit of a chess game … except the board is flowing water, and all the chess pieces are made of … smoke.” He easily shifts to a comparison of marriage as a game show and “you’re always in the lightning round.”

Throughout, the book briefly touches on the milestones: his debut on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, his television show, and his HBO special, I’m Telling You for the Last Time, in which he retired his material to date. When he decided to return to the stand-up world two years later, it meant that he had to embark on a whole new leg of his career, starting in small clubs, night after night, month after month, to develop new material.

Is This Anything? could simply be looked at as a compendium of Seinfeld’s jokes. But it is more than that. It’s a peek into a brilliant and insightful performer’s inner thoughts, someone who is able to dissect and articulate a unique view of the world. We both get inside his mind as he gets inside ours. The simplicity of a statement like “it’s not hard to not go to the gym” speaks volumes to the listener. He manages to be every man and yet no one is quite like him.

In the end, Seinfeld says he has returned to where he began — like a horse in a race who ends up back at the start. But, unlike the horse, he is where he wants to be.

Is This Anything? offers select but deeper insight into one of the great comedic minds of our time. It presents his fears and his doubts. It shows that success is a combination of perseverance, hard work, and more than a touch of genius. But, ultimately, the book is just very funny. Really, really funny.

Is This Anything? is available in hardcover, ebook, and audio formats at Book Revue in Huntington, Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

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Parallel Perspective cover

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

‘It was uncanny how we discovered that similar subject matter had attracted our attention, as did our affinity for color and light.  When Ward explained that he changed color, moved things around and added and replaced shapes according to his inner vision, I laughed and replied that that was exactly how I created my images!  Parallels between his painting and my photography continued to reveal themselves as our relationship developed. Pure serendipity … or were we destined to meet?’ — Holly Gordon

The word “celebration” echoes within Parallel Perspectives (City Point Press), and that word — “celebration” — perfectly reflects the work of Holly Gordon and Ward Hooper. The book celebrates the extraordinary joining of an aesthetic. It shows the work of these exceptional artists, but, like in all great art, it is impossible to fully define. The fusion of these talents is alchemical. Striking, beautiful, mesmerizing on their own … but together, something that is harmoniously “more than.”

In her preface to the book, Denise Bibro uses words like “combustible” and “urgency” contrasted with “companionship.”  How these disparate concepts came together is what the Gordon-Hooper connection is about.

Authors Ward Hooper and Holly Gordon

As Peter Pitzele sites in his foreword:  “Far from wishing to mark how different brush is from lens, I think Holly Gordon and Ward Hooper say something about how the two can relate to one another as dancers rather than adversaries.” The idea of unification rather than the conflict is what creates the synergy in their works. He takes this further:  “If one thinks of color metaphorically as having, say, a musical quality, then part of what you ‘hear’ in their work is their harmonies, the color duets, their riffs …”

As a rule, the visual arts — as opposed to the performing arts — are a solo venture. It is an isolating endeavor, even after creation. Here, the creative impulse has found a complementary existence for two exceptional and exceptionally bold artists, and Parallel Perspectives gives insight into its root and growth.

On a personal level, art — and this collaboration — was a lifesaver. Their work brought them together when they were both dealing with challenging life-events. A brief sketch is offered on their individual histories before focusing on their joint ventures.

Hooper, who lives in Northport, was a package designer and design director in New York City. Sketches made on the LIRR grew to bold watercolors, influenced by the “West Coast School” (Brandt, Wood, Kingman, etc.). He painted for many years, winning awards and having his work published. When his wife became ill, he stopped painting to care for her. “My wounds were still open from my wife’s death when Holly walked into my life.”

Gordon was first given a camera at 5 years old, and the photographic passion has stayed with her ever since. The Bay Shore resident studied and created art throughout her entire life. But it was her husband’s sudden death that brought her back more intensely to photography.  “Traveling at every opportunity, I photographed my way throughout the world with no preconceived notions it would lead anywhere except to keep me afloat during this turbulent time.”  In 2001, she began working with a digital camera and this expanded her range of styles.

Gordon and Hooper were brought together by a journalist who had written about them independently but was unaware of their personal struggles. Gordon first saw Hooper’s work — his painting Long Island City — on Facebook and immediately thought of her own Night Lights. She reached out to him to see if he saw a correlation. Thus began dialogue that led to a meeting. “Here were two strangers,” says Hooper “serendipitously brought together who found that within our own individuality and mediums of expression, we had been living, working, and creating in parallel lives.”

Throughout the book, they share artistic as well as personal anecdotes. These include frustrations born of health issues. The mutual support in this unique and intimate relationship is honestly disclosed.

Parallel Perspectives cover

The book offers not just the finished works but the preliminary sketches and photos that would metamorphize into fully realized pieces. This glimpse behind the curtain further enhances the richness of the book’s offerings. Noted is the similarity with the collaborative work of artists Arthur Dove and Helen Torr. Much of this is neatly clarified by Bree Shirvell, who also provides excellent perspective on the mediums and their historical significance. Gordon’s photo-liminalism (creating layers by adding and removing shapes and adjusting opacities) is also explained, along with much of her process.

The pleasure of the book is also in the ability to flip back and forward, tracing certain visual themes. And while seeing art in the context of a show is always satisfying, the tome allows for a more extended perusal that grows with each viewing. As much of the work is of Long Island, there is the additional pleasure of recognizing many of the subjects and seeing the breath-taking transformations. (On a personal note, over the days of reading the book, I found myself returning to about a half a dozen studies that I found particularly moving and inspirational. To know that I can revisit these pictures at will is a further reminder of the power of a book of art.)

One can only hope that their work becomes the subject of a documentary. The added layer of seeing the works as well as the artists in process would be an additional record of this unusual and fascinating story.

Through his or her work, an artist gives a glimpse into thought and soul. There is power in a single image that often hundreds of words cannot match. Here, we are treated to nearly two hundred of them, exquisite in their vivid colors and intriguing invention. Their work is a mutual reflection of life, heart, and mind and Parallel Perspectives celebrates that art.

Distributed by Simon & Schuster, Parallel Perspectives is available at Book Revue in Huntington, Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.