Not-Really Portuguese Kale Soup

These tasty veggies from my South Central Farmers CSA (except for the potatoes), and were the ingredients in my tasty Portuguese soup.

One of the things I love about living in LA is that I can get great local produce.  I don’t take advantage of this as much as I should, but I’m trying to make it a habit to buy local more often.  In the past, I’ve really enjoyed getting CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes, which contain a mix of veggies and/or fruits from a local farm.  Typically they’re very reasonably priced, and I feel like the one I use (South Central Farmers) is a great value – I don’t think you’d be able to buy all of those things individually for the price you pay for a CSA box, either at a farmers market or at a regular grocery store.  What I’ve shown in the picture there is a mere fraction of what this box contained.

However, the challenge for a person who’s cooking for one is to try to eat all this food before it goes bad.  Maybe for someone with a bigger appetite or a greater love for vegetables, but for me, there’s no way.  Thus, I try to think of interesting ways of preserving things for the long term.  I’ve tried canning a couple times, but I’m so neurotic that I get terrified I’m going to give myself botulism.  Of course, being a medical librarian, I’ve looked up the facts on this.  According to the CDC, these days foodborne botulism is both very rare (of just 145 botulism cases in the US on average each year, only 15% or 22 cases are related to food) and not generally fatal (only 3-5% of cases are fatal).  Still, there are other ways to preserve things that are much easier!

I decided a good way to use up several of the vegetables in something that was easy to freeze was a soup, especially for those cold, biting Los Angeles winter days (ha). The email that I’d gotten earlier in the week had said there would be kale in the box, so I was thinking maybe a Portuguese-style kale soup.  The one I ended up making was a variation on a recipe from some place called Gertrude’s Gallery that was featured on Rachael Ray’s $40 a Day Show.  Several people were complaining in the comments that this wasn’t a traditional Portuguese kale soup, but I thought it sounded good and it also called for other veggies that I was expecting in the basket (carrots, turnips, and parsley).

When I got the box, naturally, it didn’t have kale in it.  The boxes are packed depending on what’s available, so sometimes your box doesn’t have exactly what the email earlier in the week said.  Instead, there was some broccoli, which I was happy to see, but it didn’t exactly do much good for this soup, for which I’d already gotten the other ingredients.  Luckily, they’d left the greens on the turnips, and I was pretty sure it would work out to substitute one bitter leafy green for another.  A quick glance in one of my favorite kitchen reference books, The Food Substitutions Bible, confirmed this was the case, and it actually turned out so good, possibly even better than I think kale might have been.  The turnip greens seem a little more delicate and maybe slightly less bitter than kale.  Plus, I love that I used pretty much the whole turnip.

The other thing that wasn’t quite to plan was the chourico.  I think this must be similar to the hard, cured chorizo, but I wasn’t able to find that.  Instead, I had to go with the uncooked kind, which came in a strange plastic casing that had to be removed before cooking (obviously).  It practically disintegrated over the course of the time that it simmered, but it actually ended up working out fine.  The spices from the sausage flavored the broth and made it just the tiniest bit spicy and very delicious.

This would be best served with a crusty piece of fresh-baked bread and a nice Portuguese wine.  I had neither tonight, but I have a Duoro that I’ve been wanting to open, so maybe next time.  I froze a bunch in 12 ounce mason jars, which looked like about a serving,  so whenever I decide I want it, I can just pop a jar in the fridge to defrost before I go to work, and then it’s ready to warm up when I get home.

Update, 1/24 – having now eaten this as a leftover, I would leave the beans out next time.  They were good the first time around, but had a weird texture the second night.  Also, if you make this ahead and refrigerate it, you can take the layer of fat off the top to make this healthier and just as delicious.

Not-Really Portuguese Soup

adapted from Gertrude’s Gallery/Rachael Ray recipe

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 onion, diced
3 turnips, diced (about 1/2 a cup)
5 smallish carrots, diced (about 1/2 a cup)
6 ounces chopped chorizo
the greens from the 3 turnips, coarsely chopped (remove as much of the stem as possible)
3 bay leaves
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
6 cups beef stock
1 15-oz can kidney beans
1 tomato, diced
1 potato, diced

  1. In a large stock pot, warm the oil over medium high heat, and then cook the garlic, onion, turnips (bot NOT the greens!), and carrots. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add the chorizo and cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the turnip greens, bay leaves, and parsley leaves and stir to combine all ingredients.
  4. Add the beef stock, beans, and tomato, stir, and bring to a boil.  After the soup has reached a boil, turn the heat down to simmer for about 35-40 minutes.
  5. In the meantime, bring salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Cook the potatoes for ten minutes and drain.
  6. After the soup has simmered for 35-40 minutes, remove from heat and add potatoes.  Remove the bay leaves.
  7. Serve warm with Portuguese wine and crusty bread.  Yum!

Surviving the Times: #HLTH, Data and Keeping Librarians Relevant

The library world has been disturbed to hear news of layoffs from Harvard’s Library. What can we do as librarians to help ourselves and our field?  (Image by Joseph Williams (originally posted to Flickr as Harvard) [CC-BY-2.0 (

An academic friend of mine sent me a Facebook message this evening.  He’d heard a rumor about something terrible going on at the Harvard Libraries – surely it couldn’t be true that Harvard had fired all of its librarians?

Well, no.  Not exactly.  The outlook is still grim as additional details roll in, but the truth is not quite as bad as initial reports would have it seem.  What I’m hearing, primarily from Chris Bourg’s very informative blog post, is that layoffs will affect technical services (like cataloging and metadata librarians), preservation, and access services, but not collection development, reference, or special collections, although I gather the situation isn’t necessarily looking super promising for these librarians, either.

Of course, there’s much wringing of hands over this news, as well there should be.  If something like this is happening at Harvard, with its deep pockets, what’s going to happen at struggling public institutions like the UCs, especially with a $100 million budget cut recently handed down from the state?  Librarians should be concerned, but I think hearing news like this serves as a great reminder that we need to be proactive in finding new roles for ourselves, as people seem to increasingly feel that they can “just Google it” and that they don’t need us.  What can we do to convince them otherwise?

My feeling is that we need to do more to demonstrate the library’s value as more than just a place where you go to check out books.  More importantly, we need to demonstrate the librarian’s value as more than just someone who you email when your electronic access to a journal isn’t working.  Most of us hold masters degrees, and those of us who don’t draw on valuable work expertise.  We know how to do a whole lot more than just tell people how to use the printer.  With our knowledge of information systems, metadata, needs assessments, technology, and tons of other stuff we know a lot about, we are invaluable campus resources.  It’s important that we make ourselves vocal and let people know about that.

I’ve been doing a lot of outreach to faculty that my library hasn’t been very connected with in the recent past, which involves me wrangling half an hour with a busy faculty member who is probably only seeing me to be polite.  When I got to go to a faculty meeting, I introduced myself and said how pleased I was to be there, and the chair looked at me and said, “this won’t take very long, right?”  I’ve gone into these meetings knowing that I had a very short window of opportunity to prove to these people that time spent talking to me and time given to me to stand in front of their classes was not going to be wasted time.  I did end up winning over that chair and her department – when I was walking out the door after my half hour was up, I heard one of them say, “I wish we could just talk about all of that for the rest of the meeting.”  So what did I say to win them over?

Rather than guess what I thought they might find most interesting and try to lead with that, I took the rather optimistic approach of basically listing off services we offered and other things that I’m able to talk on knowledgeably, and keeping an eye on them to see what they reacted to.  There were a couple of trends in all of the meetings I’ve had lately.  The one that surprised me a little: citation management software.  Everybody seems to know that citation management software is a great time saver, but no one seems to know how to use it.  When they heard that I did, they were thrilled.  The one that didn’t surprise me: data.

Scientists are inundated with data and are, on the whole, given no training in how to handle it.  Librarians, however, have a great deal of expertise in handling data.  No matter what your focus or specialty as a librarian, you probably have some sort of special knowledge that would make a scientist very happy to sit down with you and talk data.  Most significantly, those librarians in the groups affected at Harvard – cataloging and metadata, preservation, and access services – probably have the most valuable knowledge as it relates to data.  As someone who is increasingly working with scientists on data issues, I can say with absolute certainty that we will need these librarians and their knowledge and experience.  So it will be a real shame if they all get fired.

I feel terrible for all of the librarians at Harvard.  I can’t imagine how nerve-wracking it will be for these poor people to go back to work with this kind of thing hanging over their heads.  I’ll be keeping an eye on Twitter (#hlth) and I encourage my fellow librarians to do the same.  More importantly, though, I challenge my fellow librarians to do something tomorrow to fight against this tide: sign up for a continuing education class to learn a new skill, make an appointment with a faculty member you’ve never spoken to, schedule a workshop to teach something new to your patrons (I give you permission to steal from me and go with citation management software).  Whatever you do, make sure that your patrons (and more importantly, your chancellor or dean or whoever) knows that the library is about a lot more than just checking out books.

The Librarian’s Guide to Dallas: Itineraries for Your Every Delight

This was taken when the sculpture was in New York, but you can
now see this piece, Walking to the Sky, at the Nasher Sculpture Center.

This year, the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting will be held in my hometown of Dallas, TX.  I won’t be attending, but I thought I’d help out some of my colleagues by providing a guide to cool, fun, and bookish things to do when you’re in the Dallas area.  In this 4-part series, I’ll give you the lowdown on Dallas from the point of view of a very nerdy librarian and long-time former resident of the city.

Part One: Getting to Know the City
Part Two: Grabbing a Bite
Part Three: To See and to Do

I’ve given you a lot of random ideas for things to see and places to go in Dallas.  Here, I’ll put it altogether for you into fun itineraries that you can tailor to the amount of time you have.  Got a few hours to kill?  No problem.  Looking to spend a whole day of fun and excitement?  I’ve got you covered there, too! For your convenience, I’ve included a Google Map of all of these locales.

(By the way, I think I originally said I was going to do five itineraries, but it’s been a long day and I’m tired, so hopefully you can make do with four.)

The Luxury Afternoon

I recommend these together because they’re all in very close proximity to each other.  Plus, since there’s a DART stop not too far away, you could conceivably do this itinerary without a car.  However, any one of these is well worth a visit, depending on what you’re interested in.

NorthPark Center: I know sending people to a mall doesn’t seem very exciting, but if you do like shopping, NorthPark is really a very good mall.  It’s a place that combines a lot of my favorite stores that I can never seem to find in one place in LA, like Anthropologie, Lush, Steve Madden, Paper Source, H&M, and others.
La Duni: while you’re at NorthPark, have a nice lunch at La Duni.  It’s no quick food-court lunch, but it’s well worth taking some time out of your day to enjoy some of their delicious food.  As I’ve mentioned, the berry mojitos are great, and try one of the really yummy desserts.
Half Price Books: I can’t imagine a librarian not being in love with this store.  It’s literally like a toy store for librarians.  I could spend hours here.
Whole Foods: I know, it’s weird that I keep recommending grocery stores, but if, after your day of shopping, you fancy a glass of wine or beer, this is actually a great place to get one.  There’s a great little wine bar just past the produce section, behind the cheese counter, and they have some really enjoyable wines for very reasonable prices.  The cheese plates they have are really generous and could probably even be a meal for one.

The Movie Buff Outing

If you enjoy indie films and good food, this would be a great way to spend a day.  Going out for both lunch and dinner here would probably be a bit much with just a movie in between, but there’s some decent shopping in the area as well.  The area has the only Le Creuset store I’ve ever seen in the US, but good luck getting an enameled cast iron pan home in your luggage.

Breadwinners: start out with a great coffee drink and, more importantly, one of their really great baked goods.  If you actually sit down and get a table here, the bread you get in your bread basket is all different kinds of fresh baked and delicious breads, some sweet and some savory.
Inwood Theater: head over here next to catch a movie.  It’s a tiny theater, but one of the few in town where you can catch an indie film.  Supposedly it’s haunted – never had any paranormal experiences there, myself!  They used to have lots of chat-with-the-director kind of events, so if you’re into that kind of thing, check out their website.
Rise No. 1: after your movie, have dinner at one of my favorite restaurants – not just in Dallas, but almost anywhere.  As I mentioned in Part Two, if I had to choose a last dinner for some reason, it would be the salad, jambon et gruyere souffle, Sancerre, and bread pudding souffle.  I think it’s supposed to be very, very cold there this weekend, so warm up with a bowl of delicious French onion soup and a delicious souffle. This is like French comfort food.

The Downtown Art Day

This is another one you could do without a car, with the exception of breakfast at Breadwinner’s and drinks at Dragonfly (although you may need a long walk after breakfast if you indulge in the Normandy french toast I mention below).  Dallas’s art district is quite a nice place to spend some time, and these are just a couple of recommendations out of many great places in the area.

Breadwinners: “but I just went to the other Breadwinner’s for lunch on this movie day, and now you’re sending me back for breakfast?”  Yes!  It’s just that good.  Their breakfast is possibly even better than their lunch.  I usually get the Normandy french toast, which is a delicious french toast stuffed with cream cheese and raspberry jam, then topped with whipped cream.  I’m getting hungry thinking about it…
Nasher Sculpture Museum: after breakfast, head over to the Nasher to take in the great sculptures.  The best part is the cool sculpture garden in back, with the striking sculpture in the featured image above.  Also, they have quite a nice (although expensive) gift shop.
Dallas Museum of Art: walk across the street to the DMA – I’m not sure, but you may be able to get discounted admission if you’re going to both museums.  They have a decent-sized and pretty widely varied regular collection, and they tend to feature some pretty interesting traveling exhibits as well.
Stephan Pyles: head a block east from the museum and have dinner at this nice restaurant, named after its chef owner.  I also wrote about this in Part Two and will repeat my recommendation to sit at the ceviche bar, where you can order from both the ceviche and regular menus.
Dragonfly: if you’re still up for more, cross I-75 and get a drink at Dragonfly’s cool lounge.  It’s attached to a pretty cool hotel, and is also a restaurant, but I enjoy it for tasty adult beverages in a mellow, lounge-y kind of environment.

The Texas Experience Itinerary (aka the “Everything is Bigger in Texas”)

I’ve already explained that Dallas doesn’t really live up to the stereotypical expectations that many people have about Texas, but there are places you can go if you want to see people in cowboy boots and horses and such.  (Actually, you will probably see some cows when you’re near the airport, to be honest.)  This itinerary is the longest, as it takes you about half an hour west to Grapevine, and then on to Fort Worth.  If you do the whole thing, it’ll take you a day.  However, if you had a little extra time to kill before you flight home, Bass Pro is right by the airport, so you could always pop over to see the rattlesnakes!

Bass Pro: I described this in Part Three.  Besides just being an outdoor sports megastore, this place has a crazy aquarium with native Texas fish (which are mostly tremendously ugly, I’m sorry to say) and some live rattlesnakes.  The last time I was there, they also had tons of odd little things that would make interesting souvenirs.
The Gaylord Texan: head west down Highway 26 to get to this crazy, huge resort that recreates different parts of Texas in this huge indoor pavilion.  There’s literally a full-on river walk, reminiscent of the San Antonio Riverwalk.  It’s really most incredible when they have it all decorated for Christmas, but it’s still pretty impressive the rest of the year.  Have lunch at one of their restaurants – lots of different options.  I haven’t eaten at any of them, but I hear they’re all good.
Fort Worth Stockyards: going out here is quite a trek, but if you really want to have a Texas cowboy kind of experience, this is pretty much the place to do it.  I’ve only been here once, when I was taking some friends from France to see the stereotypical Texas scene.  There are some shops, and I think a museum, which seemed a little touristy, but we had some decent Texas-style barbecue there.
The Modern in Fort Worth: this has nothing to do with stereotypical Texas, but if you’re in Fort Worth, you owe it to yourself to check out the Modern Museum in Fort Worth.  Even if you’re not a fan of modern art, the architecture there is just gorgeous.

Photo by doreen from Shanghai, China (walk to the sky) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Librarian’s Guide to Dallas: To See and To Do

This year, the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting will be held in my hometown of Dallas, TX.  I won’t be attending, but I thought I’d help out some of my colleagues by providing a guide to cool, fun, and bookish things to do when you’re in the Dallas area.  In this 4-part series, I’ll give you the lowdown on Dallas from the point of view of a very nerdy librarian and long-time former resident of the city.

Part One: Getting to Know the City
Part Two: Grabbing a Bite

There’s quite a lot to see in Dallas, no matter what you’re interested in.  I’ve focused here on things that I think librarians might be interested in, but also things that are hard to find elsewhere or are truly unique to Dallas or Texas.

Places to Shop

For booklovers: Half Price Books
Ah, Half Price Books – I miss it so much.  As far as I’ve found, there’s nothing that comes close to it in LA.  In addition to nice quality used books, they do have some new ones, somehow available for half price (as their name implies).  In addition to books, there are also CDs, DVDs, and I think even records.  There are locations all over the Dallas area, but the best one is on Northwest Highway a few blocks east of I-75.  Librarian heaven, I tell you.  I challenge you to come out of there without at least a couple of awesome finds.

For fashionistas: NorthPark Center
This is the best mall in Dallas, hands down.  They have every store you could want, from your basic stuff to your fancy, high-end designers.  Highlights include a great Anthropologie, Lush (for the most incredible-smelling bath products you’ll ever try), a Lego store, and Paper Source (for beautiful stationary and crafting supplies).  There’s a La Duni here, too, so you can kill two birds with one stone!

For getting a taste of “Texas”: Bass Pro Shop
Dallas is a fairly cosmopolitan city.  Stereotypes that people generally hold about Texas and Texans don’t really apply to the people of Dallas.  Of course, there are still people in Dallas who are into hunting, ranching, fishing, boating, and other such activities that one might stereotypically associate with Texas.  Since everything is bigger in Texas, of course Dallas has the biggest, craziest amusement park of an outdoor store that I’ve ever seen.  Checking out the Bass Pro Shop in Grapevine, near DFW Airport, is like taking a trip into a strange back country hunting expedition.  Plus, there’s an enormous aquarium, several stories-high (like something you’d pay to see) of native Texas fish, and a display case with three live rattlesnakes that mostly just lay there all curled up.  I’m sorry to report that you’ll have just missed the Texas State Turkey Calling Championship, which was held there on January 14.

Landmarks and Points of Interest

For history buffs: The Sixth Floor Museum, JFK Memorial Plaza, and the Grassy Knoll
It’s a sad page in Dallas’s history, but of course the city was the home of Lee Harvey Oswald and the site of the JFK assassination.  Kennedy is remembered at a Memorial Plaza built in his honor, which is located about a block east of Dealey Plaza, the site of the Book Repository where Lee Harvey Oswald took aim from a sixth story window.  The Book Repository is now a museum.  It’s been a very, very long time since I was there, but if memory serves, I think you can actually go to the window from whence the fatal shots were fired.  Heading down to the street below, walk west along Main Street toward I-35 (the big freeway right in front of you).  Just before the Grassy Knoll, on your right, you’ll see an X painted on the curb.  This is the spot where the motorcade was when Kennedy was hit.  If you’re interested in the Kennedy assassination, check out Don DeLillo’s very strange novel Libra.  It’s fictional, but still an interesting read.

For those wanting a view of the city: Five Sixty at Reunion Tower
The featured pic on this post is Reunion Tower, located in the heart of downtown Dallas and the best spot to see all of the city.  The ball at the top of the tower revolves at a rate of one full rotation every 55 minutes, so don’t worry – it’s not so fast that you’re going to be falling all over the place or anything.  It’s beautifully illuminated at night, but if you want to check out the view, obviously I’d recommend going during the day.  The tower now houses a Wolfgang Puck restaurant called Five Sixty.  I can’t speak to the quality of the food, as I haven’t been since the restaurant changed hands (it used to be a sort of average and over-priced restaurant you mainly went to for the view), but even if you just go there for a drink or a quick bite, the view is well worth it.

For foodies: Central Market
I know it’s kind of weird to recommend a grocery store for a sight-seeing expedition, but this is no ordinary grocery store.  Also, I’m not the only person who thinks of this as a place for city visitors to check out, as when I used to shop there, I used to regularly see bus-loads of Japanese tourists touring the store. Central Market is a chain of absolutely incredible grocery stores for the food-obsessed.  The location most convenient to downtown is located on Lover’s Lane, a block east of I-75.  You’ll find difficult-to-find gourmet and ethnic/foreign foods; an incredible bulk section where you can buy as much or as little as you want of a spice, an unusual flour, granola, and tons of other stuff; a great wine and beer selection; and if you go on the weekends, lots and lots of delicious samples.  Truly a foodie heaven.

Again, this is just a very, very tiny sampling of everything Dallas has to offer.  If you’re in the mood to have a certain kind of experience, let me know about it in the comments, and I’ll send you where you need to go!

Image credit: By Batrak [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Librarian’s Guide to Dallas: Grabbing a Bite

The tasty treats at Society Bakery, home of some of the most sinfully
incredible desserts in Dallas.  Featured as one of Dallas’s best
bakeries on the Food Network show Sugar High!

This year, the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting will be held in my hometown of Dallas, TX.  I won’t be attending, but I thought I’d help out some of my colleagues by providing a guide to cool, fun, and bookish things to do when you’re in the Dallas area.  In this 4-part series, I’ll give you the lowdown on Dallas from the point of view of a very nerdy librarian and long-time former resident of the city.

Part One: Getting to Know the City
Part Three: To See and To Do

In part 2 of our 4-part series, we explore the myriad dining options in Dallas.  I assure you, I could easily make my list ten times longer.  Dallas has so many excellent options for fantastic food and libations, whatever your mood.  I’ve tried to focus here on spots that are unique to Dallas, close to where you’ll probably be staying, or so stellar in their offerings that you just shouldn’t miss them.

  • For a delicious whoopie pie or other tasty baked treat: Society Bakery
    My friend Monica works here and introduced me to possibly one of the best dessert’s I’ve ever had: a bread pudding whoopie pie.  It was one of those “I’ll just have a taste of this while I’m driving home” moments that turns into an “I just downed an entire whoopie pie in under two minutes because it was too good to stop” moments.  They have lots of tasty baked goods and have been on the Food Network a couple times, so you can pretend you’re a food or travel show host while you get your treat from Monica.
    Updated to add a special offer: mention “FRBR” on Jan 21/22 to get 20% off your food order at Society!
  • For an awesome, locally-source pizza: Fireside Pies.
    Pizzas topped with herbs grown on the rooftop garden, homemade sausages from local Italian market Jimmy’s, mozzarella from local artisan Paula Lambert – you can’t go wrong with any of the ones you pick.  There are several locations in Dallas, but the most convenient for ALA-goers would be the uptown location on Henderson, a block east of I-75.  Be ready for a wait.
  • For a great glass of wine: Mercy Wine Bar
    If you don’t have a car, you probably won’t be able to do this, but if you’re able to, head about 15 minutes north on the tollway into Addison (exit Beltline) to check out this great wine bar that has tons of wines from around the world by the glass at reasonable prices.  Full disclosure: I used to be their event coordinator. 🙂
  • For a cool fine dining experience: Stephan Pyles Restaurant
    Dallas is definitely a foodie town, so there are lots of places you can get a fantastic meal, but one of my favorite is Stephan Pyles, located just east of the art museums.  For a more casual and fun dining experience, sit at the communal table or even better, at the ceviche bar, where you can watch them cooking.  If you’re at the ceviche bar, strike up a conversation with one of the chefs, and you’ll probably get to try some interesting stuff when they have a little extra of something.
  • For an impromptu journey to France: Rise No 1
    It’s not far from downtown, but if you come to Rise, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a Parisian cafe.  Fantastic onion soup, a delicious house salad, and the souffles…well, I am not a talented enough writer to convey how phenomenal these souffles are.  I am being absolutely serious when I say that if I have to choose a last meal, it would be the Rise salad, the jambon et gruyere (ham and cheese) souffle, a nice crisp Sancerre (a French white wine), and a bread pudding souffle for dessert.
  • For an impromptu journey to South America: La Duni
    I’m not sure which of their multiple locations would be closest to where ALA is being held, but you’ve got to try La Duni’s fantastic South American-fusion food.  Their restaurants are beautiful, with fresh roses everywhere, the food is great, the tres leches cake is to die for, and the berry mojito will change your life.  Ever had a yucca fry?  They’re like big, thick french fries made out of yucca root, and La Duni has the best I’ve tried.  If you can make it for their Sunday brunch, you’re in for a real treat – try the enchiladas montadas, a pair of delicious chicken enchiladas topped with a fried egg and two different kinds of delicious sauce.
  • For an impromptu journey to Spain: Cafe Madrid
    You can find several tapas restaurants in Dallas, but my personal favorite is definitely Cafe Madrid.  They have a fantastically broad menu with choices for any taste, from the adventurous to the meat-and-potatoes.  Don’t miss the garlic shrimp, and be sure to order a basket of bread to mop up the sauce.  Well worth the $1 or whatever nominal fee you pay for it.  The classics are also hits: albondigas with almond sauce, Spanish tortilla, some nice chorizo dishes.  Their wine list is extensive, plus they have a nice selection of sherries, if you want to get really authentically Spanish.  You should do yourself a favor and give it a try – it’s not your grandma’s sherry!  Be forewarned that they’re often out of half their wine list.  Be prepared to have a backup or two when you make your order, or just ask your waiter to help you with your selection.

Please note that this is a mere smattering of the many, many good places to eat and drink in Dallas.  I could go on, but I don’t imagine that people really want to hear my take on every single restaurant in Dallas.  So if you have a food craving and would like to know how to fulfill it in Dallas, or if you’re thinking of a place to go and want to get a local’s take, let me know about it in the comments, so I can help make your dining dreams come true.

Image credit: Monica Waterston (the same one who works at the Bakery.  She’s multi-talented!)

The Librarian’s Guide to Dallas: Getting to Know the City

Downtown Dallas skyline as seen from the south.

This year, the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting will be held in my hometown of Dallas, TX.  I won’t be attending, but I thought I’d help out some of my colleagues by providing a guide to cool, fun, and bookish things to do when you’re in the Dallas area.  In this 4-part series, I’ll give you the lowdown on Dallas from the point of view of a very nerdy librarian and long-time former resident of the city.

Here’s what we’ll discuss to get you ready to make your way to the Big D.

  • Monday: Getting to Know the City.  Get yourself oriented with a guide to the major neighborhoods and figure out how to navigate the city.
  • Tuesday: Grabbing a Bite.  Check out some of the tastiest restaurants and best drink spots in town with options for your budget.
  • Wednesday: To See and to Do.  Places to shop and points of interest to see.
  • Thursday: Itineraries for Your Every Delight.  Got a few hours or even a half day to kill?  Here’s how to make the most of it!

So let’s get started, shall we?  Allow me to introduce my city to you.  I don’t say my “former” city, partly because I’m back there so often to visit family and friends, but also because it’s a place that has left an impression on me.  Even though I don’t claim the “Texan” identity, I don’t mind being associated with Dallas, which is a pretty awesome city in its own right.

One thing about Dallas is that it is very large and spread out, much as Los Angeles is.  Like Los Angeles, it also has its own unique neighborhoods.  Here, I will introduce you to some neighborhoods you might like to visit or where you might happen to find yourself and how to get to those neighborhoods, transportation-wise, as well as introduce you to some landmarks that will help you navigate the city.

The Neighborhoods

This list is by no means all-inclusive.  Dallas has so many neighborhoods, and spans many, many miles, so I will only touch on the ones I think it most likely that you might actually visit.

Bishop Arts District and Oak Cliff
This used to be the dangerous part of town.  Parts of it still are, from what I understand – I worked with a woman who lived there who was late to work on more than one occasion because the police shut her street down after a shooting.  You will likely have to go through some of these areas if you want to get to the cool parts, but I assure you it’s well worth it and not like going through what are considered the “bad” parts of LA.  When you get there, you’ll find a refreshingly bohemian neighborhood of artists, vintage clothes and furniture sellers, and stellar chefs and bar mixologists.  Places to check out: Shambhala Body Gallery for soaps and body products made in-house; Tillman’s Roadhouse for fantastic chef-driven restaurant that was previously featured on the Food Network for its Tableside Smores dessert, complete with made-in-house marshmallows in three flavors (which yours truly once had as her birthday celebration dessert); Bolsa for more tasty foods and fantastic drinks; and much more.

The area where your convention center, and likely your hotel, is located.  Downtown Dallas is not, unfortunately, the most happening place in the world.  Like many downtowns I’ve visited, it’s very much a business district that gets very quiet on the weekends.  You’ll probably be tempted to visit the West End; it’s very touristy, so just don’t get a mistaken impression about what Dallas is like based on that!  You might also find yourself near Victory Plaza, where the Dallas Mavericks (basketball) and Dallas Stars (hockey).  If you happen to find yourself down there on a night when one of the teams is playing, you’ll probably be able to connect with some of the players at the W Hotel’s Ghost Bar, right across the street.

Deep Ellum
The only reason I can think of to go here is if you want to get a tattoo or piercing or go to a dance club, though I will admit that there are a couple of good restaurants down here.  I’m thinking in particular of Local, home of one of the best champagne cocktails I’ve had in my life.  It’s champagne with a ball of rosemary grapefruit sorbet slowly melting into your glass and imparting its subtle and lovely flavors – truly a delight!

Lower Greenville
Unless you’re in a fraternity or would like to be, I’d avoid this area altogether.

At least when I lived there, sort of a more hip and trendy answer to the downtown area.  Just a few minutes north, you’ll find a much more hip neighborhood.  Uptown’s “main street” is McKinney, which runs up from downtown and further north.  Some highlights in Uptown: the West Village, featuring shopping, dining, and night life; Bread Winner’s, one of the top two places in Dallas to get brunch in my opinion and not too shabby for lunch and dinner, either; the Ginger Man, a fantastic pub for the beer lovers and also one of the few beer pubs that offers some options for the non-beer lovers as well!

Another great shopping/restaurant district that’s a little more mainstream than Bishop Arts.  Some places to check out: La Duni in a tie for best brunch spot, plus a great place for lunch or dinner and the best mojito you’ll find in Dallas; Cafe Toulouse for some of the most authentic French fare you’ll find in Dallas, with a fantastic Parisian-style patio; and Cafe Madrid for the best and widest variety of Spanish tapas in the city – don’t miss the albondigas and a nice glass of sherry or some of their fantastic sangria (this was a Lisa birthday spot on a different but equally fun year).

A neighborhood located a bit north of downtown that’s also known as “restaurant row,” as it features just about any chain restaurant you can think of, plus some innovative ones.  Some, but not as much, in the way of fine dining.

A small college town about an hour north of Dallas; I only mention it because they have an excellent library school and one of the best medical library programs in the nation.  It may well be that they will be hosting events in relation to the ALA meeting.  (Also, it is my alma mater for my MA in English and my BAs in English and French, but I got my MLIS at UCLA.  Also, Dr. Phil and Norah Jones went there, too.)

Of course Dallas is far bigger than that, stretching for miles in all four directions.  I’m leaving out tons of stuff and I’m grossly generalizing as far as the neighborhoods go, but this should give you a start, especially if you don’t have a car.  If you do have a car, here are some points of reference.

  • I-35 is the highway that borders downtown on the west and runs north-south.  Incidentally, I-35 passes through the state capitols of Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Minnesota.  Drive about 4-5 hours south on I-35 and you’ll end up in Austin, the capitol of Texas.  Take it an hour north and you’ll be in Denton.
  • I-75 is the highway that borders downtown on the east and also runs north-south.  Just below downtown, it turns into I-45, which continues south to Houston.
  • I-635: you may not make it this far north, but this it the main west-east highway through the Dallas area.
  • “the tollway”: there are several tollways in Dallas and Texas in general, thank to Rick Perry’s, um, unique ideas about financing the Texas state budget, but the one that’s referred to as “the” tollway in Dallas is the Dallas North Tollway, which runs north-south and connects downtown to several interesting neighborhoods, and eventually Addison and I-635.

Public transportation in Dallas, as far as I know, is not great.  They have a bus system, but I cannot speak to its utility, as I’ve never taken it.  I think it’s probably like any city’s bus system – it will get you where you need to go, but it will probably take longer and cost more than it really ought to.  Dallas also has a very limited light rail system called DART – Dallas Area Rapid Transit.  It will get you to some of the close-by areas, but it definitely doesn’t go all over Dallas.

So that’s your down and dirty, very, very abridged version of an introduction to Dallas.  In the next few days, I’ll take you through some of the highlights for dining and shopping and general gallivanting in Dallas.  Whatever your pleasure, I bet I can get you to where you want to go in my fair former city!

Got a question or want to know where to find something?  Let me know about it in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer!

Looking for Answers in the Medical Library

Medicine has come a long way since 1942, when this was taken,
but what about communication between doctor and patient?

I work in an academic medical library, but at a public institution, so while our main mission is serving our students, faculty, and staff, we do also serve the general public to the extent that we can.  This means that occasionally, a patient will come in or call the reference desk and want to talk to us in detail about their medical condition.  Mostly I think they just need to talk; it’s not even so much about looking for information as it is just getting someone to listen.

Now that I don’t work out at the reference desk, I don’t deal as much with these patrons, but there has been one recently who was becoming too much for my student desk staff to handle, so they referred her to me twice.  The first time, she called while I was at a conference, and I got back to a screaming message about why did I never answer my phone, why don’t my staff even know where I am (they totally did and told her more than once I was away and when I’d be back), and how she was elderly and dying of cancer and didn’t have internet access and I HAD to help her.  When I called her, I got some more screaming and then we got down to the question.  With all the urgency she’d had when she left the message and the demands she’d made on my staff, I expected it to be something like “I need more information about this potentially life-saving cancer treatment that could bring me back from the brink of death!”  No.  In fact, it had to do with what doctors would have written in medical records in the 1950s and how certain diseases of infants were diagnosed at that time.

I told her that was going to be extremely difficult information to find and that I would need a few days, if I could get it at all.  She said she needed it right then.  I told her I’d call her back in a few days and that was the best I could do.  When I did finally get it, I called her and left several messages saying I’d found the information, but she never called back.  That was kind of annoying, after I’d gone to the trouble of finding all of this out for her, but what really struck me was how desperate she was to find this information that, as far as I could tell, didn’t really matter.  I could be wrong, but I’m guessing she had gotten a hold of her own medical records and was trying to place some sort of blame on a doctor all these years later for something that he missed.  I’m sure the statute of limitations for a malpractice suit would be up by now, not to mention I doubt the doctor would still be practicing or even alive. So why was she so desperate for this information?

This was back in November.  For awhile, I actually kind of worried that she had been as close to the brink of death as she claimed and that she had passed away before I could get the information to her.  I felt really bad about it.  However, she called back again this week and my staff referred her to me again.  She had more questions about medical records and basically wanted to read me her entire medical record and have me decipher it for her.  I told her that I couldn’t do that and that she should talk to her doctor.  Then she would say, “but what about this one thing – what does this mean?” and I’d tell her again, please, ask your doctor.  I ended up giving her a few definitions, but told her I wasn’t comfortable doing more than that, as I’m a librarian, not a doctor. She seemed somewhat satisfied when we hung up, which is good, but I wonder how long it will be before I hear from her again.  When I think about this consuming need she has to find out what these records mean, I feel bad for her, and I wonder what will change for her if she finds out the answers to her questions.

What really strikes me here, and the reason I’m writing this post, is how strange people’s interactions with doctors are.  I’m not sure what this woman’s reasons were, but many of the patient patrons I’ve dealt with seem unwilling to “bother” their doctor with questions and instead come to the library for answers.  That’s part of the doctor’s job! Doctors are of course very busy and pressed for time, but if a patient leaves a doctor’s office with questions, I feel like the doctor hasn’t fully done their job.  Of course the onus is also on the patient to ask questions, as doctors are not mind-readers, but I think there are many doctors who discourage that either outright or through their demeanor.  That’s not to say that I don’t think people should educate themselves and seek out information about their health, and as a medical librarian, I’m more than happy to point them to some good sources for doing that.  However, people should leave the office with fewer, not more, questions than they had when they came in, in my opinion.

I think part of this comes from the fact that we as a society seem to hold doctors in such a high esteem, as though they’re not people but some sort of minor gods.  They’re not.  The more I work with doctors, the more I see that they are just as fallible as the rest of us.  They say stuff with certainty – pronouncements on diagnoses and treatments seem like 100% fact, but more often than you’d think, it’s all really sort of a best guess.  For all that we know about medicine today, there’s still so much that we just don’t understand, and I don’t think patients realize that.  If you want a book that exemplifies this beautifully and is also quite a pleasure to read, I recommend Atul Gawande’s Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science.

I don’t think the mystique of the doctor will fade anytime soon, but I think in an ideal world, patients would have more of an open relationship with their doctors.  Sure, they’re smart and very educated and have worked very hard, but they’re not gods.  If you aren’t comfortable asking your doctor questions about your care, you might want to think about finding a new doctor with whom you have a better relationship.  In the meantime, the medical librarians (well, speaking for myself at least) are here to help.

A Threat to Open Access: the Research Works Act

As I discussed in a recent post, quite a bit of scientific research these days is federally funded.  If your funding comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), you are required to make your work publicly available by depositing it in PubMed Central, a database of full-text scientific articles.  The reasoning is that the public should have access to the research that they are funding through the tax dollars, which I think seems reasonable enough.

Not surprisingly, the publishers who print the articles in the journals don’t agree, and they have lobbied for the introduction of a piece of legislation that would put an end to the NIH Public Access Policy and similar measures to ensure public access to federally funded works.  The bill, called the Research Works Act, would prevent the government from requiring free dissemination of research articles that have been funded by federal dollars and also prohibit the government from developing open access repositories, like PubMed Central.  According to its proponents, this legislation is necessary to protect publishers from having to give away their articles for free, which would discourage them from investing in the publication process.  The Association of American Publishers’ response is available here.

As a librarian and a proponent of open access, I’m very opposed to this and am concerned by what I feel is the very misleading language of the bill and the misrepresentations of the publishers who are arguing for it.  Here’s what the publishers would probably prefer you not know:

    • NIH Public Access Policy allows for an embargo period of 12 months, meaning that articles that fall within the scope of the policy do not need to be made freely available until a year after they’ve been published.  A year is kind of a long time when it comes to the biomedical literature.  There is little danger of publishers losing subscriptions from libraries, medical centers, or even individuals, because people aren’t going to sit around and wait a year to read something just because they can get it for free at that point.
    • The publishers do not seem to be hurting financially.  Between 2000 and 2009, for example, the revenue of two major biomedical publishers increased by 138%.  Their profits in 2009 were $1.241 billion.  Yes, billion.  For reference, the NIH policy went into effect in 2008, so from thsi data, it would seem that the policy didn’t have a serious effect on publisher profits.  By the way, you can read more about this in an open access article available for free to you in PubMed Central!  (Dorsey, E R, George, B P, Dayoub, E J, et al. (2011). Finances of the publishers of the most highly cited US medical journals. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 99(3), 255-8.)
    • The publishers argue that they add value to the articles by facilitating the peer review process.  While it’s true that peer review is an important process that ideally assures only the highest quality research ends up in print, I don’t really know if the publishers can get away with claims that they’re making huge investments in peer review, as peer reviewers, known as referees, volunteer their services for the most part.  In much the same way that academics are expected to publish, they are expected to contribute to their field by serving as referees for relevant journals.  While I’m sure there’s some cost to the publishers for this, making the claim that they are making huge investments to ensure peer review seems unfair to me.

I was shocked when I became a librarian to see how pricing for journals and other library resources works.  Publishers know we can’t not subscribe to their journals.  If we just stopped subscribing to major journals, we’d never hear the end of it from our faculty and researchers who rely on these resources to do their work.  Of course I work at an institution that has the kind of clout to call some publishers’ bluffs, as happened last year when the Nature Publishing Group tried to raise the UC’s pricing by an outright insane 400%.  However, even with our collective power, we are still facing constant and often substantial increases in what we have to pay for our resources.  We’re making cuts right and left – to resources, to staff, to library hours – while the publishers are raking in record profits.  Of course, publisher pricing policies aside, I am very concerned with this move to undo the good work that the NIH has done to democratize scientific knowledge, in the name of publisher profits.

Image credit: By Raysonho@Open Grid Scheduler (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons