Sunday, January 14, 2018

I'm told some people like to read about day-to-day lives...

Arising around nine in the morning as befits a retiree, I went out to the kitchen to foam the milk for my first latte. I drink two each day, very milky, and then poured TJ's O's into a bowl with blueberries, banana and walnuts topped off with more milk. I figure I'm ingesting calcium without having to take pills. I hate to take pills and resist as long as possible. I am 72 years old and various parts of me have begun to break down but I'm still enthused about mornings. I read some poetry by Robert Wilbur or Fannie Howe, or a bit of the paper - two papers, the Seattle Times and the New York Times, come to the backyard every morning. Leo the Labradoodle has the responsibility of fetching them in any weather for which he is rewarded with a treat as well as three hidden treats. That gives him something to do until his breakfast of cottage cheese over kibble is served.

If I don't look at my phone, giant sync hole that it is, I can be at my laptop in my study by 10:30 pecking out 750 words a day on Love the pace.

If it is MWF, then I hurry and put on a swimsuit to leave the house by 9:30 and head over to Green Lake's Evans Pool where I do water aerobics and chat with friends. Maybe we'll have coffee afterwards with a long standing group, chatting about books, theatre, art and tv shows. For years, there was a ban on discussing grandchildren but it's pretty much out of date as few of the surviving members have grandkids except Helen. And her grandkids are interesting and talented teens with various stages of sexual dysphoria giving us all sorts of cultural education on trans folk and use of pronouns. The group is interesting and living proof that growing old does not mean slowing down or dumbing down in any way. I can barely keep with the 90-year-old and her gallery hopping and volunteer work for the city's aging programs. I come from a line of long-living Swedes on my mom's side so I like to see how people age.

My grandpa was born in 1872 in Varmland, Sweden. The other day I reached for a tiny "Little Oxford Dictionary" that I keep beside my bed to look up a word and found pasted into the back of the book a yellowed clipping: "Victor Magnuson had a pleasant 95th birthday the first day of spring. Two daughter, Melva Reed and June Shepherd, and families, came to pay himi honor." So that tells me where I was March 21 of 1977, just shortly before I met Michael in April and a few week after my dad's death, assuming I joined the women . Funny parsing all of this info together. I think Grandpa was out chopping down trees well into his nineties. He was a vigorous soul and had his oldest daughter, Edee, to help. She never married and took care of her folks most of her life. I have her memories written in one of those Quillmark "My Memories" book and I am glad to filled it out. Much easier to track down Forsa, Halsingland and Varmaland in Sweden from whence they hailed. I also explored taking a transatlantic cruise on the QE2 or the like from Holland America. It seems a doable option to flying for our next trip to Europe.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Cookbooks again

Up at a reasonable hour to make a latte, then climbed back under the covers to read A Tuner of Silences, the book club novel about a kid in Mozambique hiding from war with his family of men. Made it to 106 and it's not a long book. It moves along but doesn't enchant so far.

I got up and made pastry for pie from Dorie Greenspan's Baking book, the one with 2.5 sticks of butter and 1/3 cup veg shortening for which I substitute leaf lard. Then I got out of the flannel nightie, took a shower, and dressed before caramelizing apples and adding some Dulce de Leche to them being short on heavy cream (1/2 cup needed). The recipe for the tart from The Lut├ęce Cookbook has you bake the crust on a cookie sheet by itself, cool and then add the caramelized apples which have been coated stovetop and then baked for ten minutes in the oven. All this is arranged atop the crust which hopefully still will be crisp by dinnertime.

Scanning about in Eat Your Books - I do love that website which I joined when it was Beta and free - I think they charge thirty bucks a year, perhaps more for an ad-free Premium membership, but it is well worth it. Every time I seek a recipe usually from one of my cookbooks (around 600 of which I have listed in my account and most are indexed, or from a popular blog (for instance, they have over 500 recipes from David Lebovitz website and over a thousand of Mark Bittman's recipes from his Minimalist days nad 80-some other blogs). Magazine recipes are indexed, too, including December 2017 issues. By indexed I mean the recipes are listed with page numbers for mags. For all, they include a shopping list of non-pantry items needed to make the dish. They do not include the actual recipe with specific amounts because they would run into conflict with copyrights. But you can use the phone app while at Safeway and see that you need scallops, saffron spinach and heavy cream for Bay Scallops with Spinach and Saffron Cream from James Peterson's cookbook and take it all home to start cooking. Or if you subscribe to a CSA, just put in "Jerusalem artichokes" to find 140 recipes in my owned books. And notes from other cooks, even photos. They have a running blog  plus notices of new cookbooks, errata from publishers on errors  (Sweet from Ottolenghi is rife with them). So Twenty-First Century all this assist for the cook, don't you think?  If only the site cooked.

Then I drifted back in time to my first honeymoon in the mid-Sixties when we were staying at a college friend's parents' home in Palo Alto, CA. They had offered lodging on our drive south to LA and we were sleeping in the den or rec room. I can't imagine now why I was reading at any time that night, but I remember finding stacks of Gourmet Magazine on the bookshelves and I was besotted by an affection that would far outlive that marriage. I pored through back issues and by the time we got home, I too was a subscriber. I continued my subscription for the next forty-five years with only a few hiatuses. Of course, being me, I tried to save all of the issues but more rational minds prevailed in our peripatetic life and now I have only three volumes of past years: 1985 and 1987, and a garage sale treasure, 1947. I rarely look at them but get the same reassurance and cooking enthusiasm when I do drag them out recalling the time I was seduced into making rose petal jam or beef wellington.

And I started thinking about John Thorne of Simple Cooking and found a review of his work here from Sandy Ebner:

Much like Bourdain, part of Thorne’s appeal is that he seems so much like the rest of us. His recipes are for food that people really eat, not what they might want to eat but probably never will. Ironically, he doesn’t think of himself as a great cook, but neither does he consider that a shortcoming. In one of his best-known quotes he says, “You don’t have to be a good cook, or even aspire to be one, to be an interested cook.” That he’s interested is obvious.

I too am an "interested cook" even with the aspiring beef wellington and became interested in Thorne's passions for supermarket finds like Campbell's Pepper Pot Soup from Mexico, or his unique ideas on midnight snacks, or toast, or pine nuts. His voice convinces and gives it to his readers straight. He is also significantly to blame for my cookbook addiction because of his tantalizing reviews and sales of his own culinary book excesses. It's been two years since I received Newsletter SC95. I am ready to hear from him and Matt Thorne, his co-conspirator and a little worried about their well being.

We lost a great antiquarian book dealer this week, Louis Collins, who died of a heart attack at 77. I worked for him briefly before I moved on to the Library Answer Line. He was a genius bookseller with the right combination of memory and anecdote as he plied extensive travels in search of elusive volumes, the most memorable of which I saw was the rare edition David Roberts bound volume of Middle East sketches which I posted to a buyer in the UK.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Things I'm enjoying of late: Stranger, the Korean mystery on Netflix. The Crown part 2, all episodes but last night we got into Margaret & Snowden episode - hot stuff for royals.

Jane Kramer's book, The Reporter's Kitchen, which reminded me of my passion for cookbooks which had backed off of late. Oh, I buy the hot titles from Naomi Duguid and Ottolenghi and Vivian Howard of PBS' A Chef's Life who has a new cookbook, Deep Run Roots. I don't buy Ina Garten who is too easy, too shortcutty, and too TV-oriented. The same with most other television cooks. I like a scholarly bent to my cookbooks, a cook who has researched and tested thoroughly like Claudia Roden or the late Paula Wolfert and of course Diana Kennedy.  I do buy every Diana Kennedy (DK we call her) although I'm overdue on her new edition of Nothing Fancy which is as close to a memoir as she's published and includes British and other recipes from her youth and her travels. I have a special place in my heart for that book given to me by a friend lost to AIDS in the Eighties. The best DK to my mind is Essential Cuisines of Mexico but they are all different and each has its merits. The Oaxaca book is unique, thorough and glorious but has a lousy index. The Tortilla Book was the first I ever purchased and still my go-to- for simple enchilada and taco meals.

Kramer calls this research the Quest and it is so true. I've searched and found so many rarities, thanks to Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in Manhattan. For years, it was my goal to acquire - what is this acquiring gene of mine? - every cookbook cited in Richard Olney's Good Cook Series from Time Life. He supposedly selected the best recipes from hundreds of cookbooks to be anthologized by category in the series. Now, I use those books so infrequently although they still are reliable resources. In fact, I use most of my cookbooks a lot less often since I took up writing. In the morning, I think of making some elaborate recipe and by afternoon, I've lost my will or Michael has talked me out of it. Let's just grill that meat, lot less work, and I make a salad to go with grilled protein. Tonight however we're going for the Shrimp in Hot Lime Leaf Broth from Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia.

I love the idea of planning a week of meals out of my cookbooks and the planning would be a lark. But the execution is my bugaboo. I haven't even kept up the diary of past dinners served to guests although the few listed show delightful ambition.

Eat Your Books  is helpful in planning, notes and hints from other cooks regarding individual recipes indexed on the site. They only list ingredients, not amounts which would infringe on copyright issues, but I can access ingredients on my phone so I know what to pick up to prepare that night's recipe. I subscribed years ago when it was free or almost free. And many of my hundreds of cookbooks are indexed. I've got 462 cookbooks on the site and that yields 98,902 recipes including a few from eight blogs and a couple dozen magazines. I do not lack resources but when have I ever? Working as a reference librarian for twenty years made that a priority.

I have no ebooks on cooking. What's the fun in that?  Leafing through an ebook.

Now if I could just reduce the inventory a bit, I am sure I would not feel the pain. But which to unload? The French Laundry Cookbook, complicated, time-consuming and huge? Larousse which I've rarely opened or one of the old bound Gourmet books on Viennese cooking? Novelty cookbooks which don't appeal, they seem too desperate: Zucchini Cookbook, Tomato Cookbook, Jello Cookbook?

Few of them are worth anything. I have sold a few online, The Plantation Cookbook the other day and also the YMCA Cookbook of Malaya. I have a delightful oeuvre of old Mexican cookbooks and small tomes which speak to their times, i.e. Butterick Book of Recipes and Household Tips ("Fasten jewelry to clothing with a strong safety pin while traveling" or "A toothbrush used for dampening seams for pressing saves time" or, best yet, wash black lace in a solution of one tablespoon of ammonia in one cup of coffee." Or substitute pickled nasturtium seeds for capers. Cheese cutlets for the vegetarian?

Lady Jekyll in her Kitchen Essays offers a Shooting Party Luncheon (cold game pie, baked beans and burnt house cake), a Christmas Shopping Luncheon might include Oysters au Gratin or Malay Curry of Prawns, and  reveals a secret family recipe for a Bombe Caramel.
But a few pages later, she  talks of fat as "unbecoming, fatiguing, and impairs efficiency (while) oftener the result of defective metabolism than of undue or indiscriminate appetite." She does think however that "weight can be reduced by a diminished consumption of dairy produce, sugar and starchy foods" and includes a recipe for Lemon Tea (lemon and boiling water served in "a delicate china cup").

Fifty-two Sunday Dinners is a catalog of excess always beginning with a consomme, a bouillon or chowder, meat with gravy and vegetables, stewed fruit and dessert. This is exactly what the women consumed each day in the diaries I found from the Sixties .

Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery from the Forties (reprinted in 1970) offered "mouth-watering recipes which could be whipped up with one hand, while the other slaked the cook's thirst with a cold glass of the best brew." She originated in the Suds series of novels from Mary Lasswell. "It's a poor cook who won't lick her own fingers, so taste, taste, taste!" The recipes are inviting and I'm tempted to throw a One-Armed Cookery Dinner Party with plenty of cold beer.

I'll probably never make Oxtail Jelly or a Chicken Pie out of Magda Joicey's Cook-book Note-book from l946 ("if you're not sure of the tenderness of your bird, it is a good plan to steam it for a short time before joining."), I might try a Milanese Souffle of oranges or lemons or a Bakewell Pudding.

But there is always satisfaction in looking at history through cookbooks, or envisioning with mouth watering a table laden with sauces and soups and desserts which we rarely offer. I'm now about to open a can of sardines for lunch - all that anchovy paste in the old cookbooks nudged me to the can. And start planning this one-armed dinner party circa 1946.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Manhattan BeachManhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Manhattan Beach    It's been a good reading year for me. Stayed up til all hours finishing this absorbing chunk of a novel about a young woman of Irish descent who longs to be a diver for the Navy during WWII when women had a chance at male jobs, and her interactions with her disabled sister, her coworkers on base and other New York denizens of the era. Beautiful writing and characters along with a suspenseful alternate wartime story of her missing father and the well-drawn criminal Dexter and his film noir cronies. I can envision a movie. Historical fiction with the satisfying drama of an earlier age.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

The Lucky OnesThe Lucky Ones by Julianne Pachico
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Lucky Ones is a collection of linked short stories about the fates of a group of wealthy Colombian schoolkids and their parents, servants and teachers affected by the country's war between 1993 and 2013. Each story's narrator is different and sometimes different points of view are portrayed, one chapter as wild as a bunny rabbit hooked on cocaine, another of a coke-sniffing hipster in the US and yet another of a birthday party for children on the Pablo Escobar-like estate with caged tigers of one of the parents; most are third person, but some are second or first person. Each story manages to be compelling and cover the horrors of war, disappearances, drug addiction and injury over the range of time periods and places near Cali where the author grew up.
The writing is exceptional and the book is compelling and well written. I couldn't put it down even in the face of Netflix latest streaming offer.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your LifeDear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Today I awoke eager to read more of the Yiyun Li memoir, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life. Pondering her life and rich literary history, her teachers, her mentors, the books she wrote and read that mattered to her, she also circles back to her two suicide attempts and experience with depression. She talks of memory and time. as well as transitions ordered by a new language. Born in China which she left to go to college in Iowa, she writes in English. This is another moving memoir expanding my to-read list by a dozen or more titles. During the time she is unwell, she focuses on journals and letters: Tolstoy, Turgenev, Stefan Zweig, William Trevor, Katherine Mansfield. A cover blurb from Mary Gaitskill says it perfectly: "A must read for anyone trying to stay sane in a world that might be perceived as insane."

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

My Reference Shelves

    My Reference Shelves (with thanks to Mark Lammers of for the idea)

    When I was in my mid-thirties, single and a bit lonely, living in a townhouse with a roommate who was not a reader, I was hired to work Sundays in a bookstore in Larkspur, CA. During the week, I had a regular job suitable to my marketing degree but this afternoon stint was my nirvana. We were allowed to read any book in the store as long as we treated it with care and took off the dust jacket. For Christmas, we got to choose one title as our gift. I chose The Complete Oscar Wilde. After a year or two, I threw caution to the wind and took a managerial position running a new Doubleday bookstore opening in San Rafael. A huge store of 5,000 square feet, much of the backlist was provided, but I had ample leeway to buy anything I thought would sell. And I could buy books at cost.  I went crazy, like the proverbial cat with catnip or chocoholic left in the sweet shop, I decided that this was the time to amass the reference collection of a lifetime. Even though I didn't speak German or Italian or Latin yet alone Kurdish, I knew I needed dictionaries in these languages. Every payday I brought home at least one of the books listed below. Then I married Michael,  a fellow bibliophile, and the collection expanded. When we knew we were moving back to Seattle, perhaps never to have access to books at cost again, we went into overdrive. Now, after years of service, one day they will have to go, be weeded and sent to a library sale.  We have Google.

Guide to Mexican Witchcraft
Spurred by a friend's interest in full moons south of the border, we used this for ritual ideas.
Webster's New Geographical Dictionary
A Child's Geography of the World (hillyer)
Once there was no Google and we looked up obscure lakes and islands and seas in these helpful tomes.

The Penguin Dictionary of Saints
Not for religious reasons, but for literary purposes, I was glad to have this at hand when a saint was referenced in a novel or poem.

Modern Proverbs and Proverbial Sayings
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs
Who doesn't love a proverb? A picture is worth a thousand words. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Easy come,easy go.

Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: From a Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English by Eric Pa
New Dictionary of American Slang
The Slang Dictionary: Or, the vulgar words, street phrases, and "fast" expressions of high and low society :  Many with Their Etymology, and a Few with Their History Traced - Scholar's Choice Edition
Before there was an Urban Dictionary online, there were slang dictionaries you could sit and pore over to learn new words and weird associations. "Juke box or juke joint" is possibly from the Gullah word "juk" meaning infamous and disorderly, but scholars still research the word and attribute it to West African Wolof, Bahamian or Haitian, or even Scottish roots. See, how easy it is to get lost in etymology.

Oxford Companion to Classical Literature
This is a gem if you care about poetry or literature. It won't be weeded.
The World Treasury of Children's Literature 
The New Guide to Modern World Literature
Not objective at all, I delight in the author's strong opinions.
Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia Masterpieces of world literature
Was it Heathcliff who died? Or Mr. Rochester?
The Penguin Book of Infidelities
The Oxford Companion to American Literature
The Oxford Companion to English Literature
The Oxford Companion to American Literature
These were my bibliophilic favorites, lists of books and authors and characters and plots. My passions ebbed and flowed back and forth between these and the travel bibliographies and the cooking bibliographies like The Traveler's reading guide : ready-made reading lists for the armchair traveler.
The American Guide: A Source Book and Complete Travel Guide for the United States

Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques
The Remarkable Lives of 100 Women Artists (20th Century Women
Roman art and architecture
The Herder Dictionary of Symbols: Symbols from Art, Archaeology, Mythology, Literature, and Religion
You can't put this one down. Symbols indexed by shape.

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations : A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature
Macgill's Quotations in Context
Brush Up Your Shakespeare
Dictionary Travellers Quotations
The Oxford Book of Ages
Inquire Within or Three Thousand Seven Hundred Facts Worth Knowing
This very old book was a gift, tongue-in-cheek because I worked in library reference, but who could resist? A trivia addict's dream.

Schott's Original Miscellany 
New York Times Crossword Puzzle Dictionary by Tom Pulliam

Great Composers: Reviews and Bombardments by Bernard Shaw
The Lives of the Great Composers
The Encyclopedia of Jazz
New Kobbe's Complete Opera Book
The Grove Press Guide to the Blues on CD
"Rolling Stone" Jazz Record Guide
The NPR guide to building a classical CD collection

The New Biographical Dictionary of Film
Dark city : the lost world of film noir
Somewhere in the Night
The Film Encyclopedia
Movies, the Ultimate Insider's Guide

Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide
     Our is from the 90's. Internet headline reads "Ending After 45 Years – Internet Kills Iconic Print Paperback." With and, Leonard has crossed over online.

A Book of One's Own: People and Their Diaries

ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter

Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables : A Commonsense Guide
Fruit: A Connoisseur's Guide and Cookbook (Alan Davidson)
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
The New Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst
Food Lover's Companion, The (Barron's Cooking Guide) 3rd Edition
The New Larousse Gastronomique: The Encyclopedia of Food, Wine & Cookery
Schott's Food and Drink Miscellany
Culinary Americana
Cookbooks Worth Collecting by Mary Barile
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America: 2-Volume Set
Food:  A Culinary History from Antiquity to the Present by Jean-Louis Flandrin

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by Ivor H. Evans
The Classic Fairy Tales (Opie)
Aegean Mythology
Mythology, Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton
An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton

The Penguin Book of Infidelities by Stephen Brook
The Oxford Book of Death (Oxford Books of Prose & Verse)
Dead Ends: An Irreverent Field Guide to the Graves of the Famous (Plume)
Infidelity and death, Oxford has us covered.

Kurdish/Turkish French English Dictionary
The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged by Jess Stein
Cassell's Standard French Dictionary by Denis Girard
Langenscheidt's Shorter German-English, English-German Dictionary
 Portuguese-English Dictionary (English and Portuguese Edition) by James L. Taylor
Collins-Sansoni Italian Dictionary by Vladimiro Macchi
Langenscheidt New College German Dictionary: German-English - English German T… by Langenscheidt
Col Robert French Dict (English, French and French Edition) by Robert Le
Langenscheidt's Pocket Dictionary: Spanish-English / English-Spanish (Engl… by Langenscheidt
Cassell's New Latin Dictionary (Thumb-indexed) by D. P. Simpson
Random House American College Dictionary 
The American College Dictionary by Clarence editor Barnhart
The Little Oxford Dictionary
Merriam-Webster Dictionary (pocket paperback)
The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, New 5th Edition (mass market, paperback) 2014 copyright
My mom played Scrabble regularly as did many friends. Now M and I play a couple times a week and update the dictionary with each new edition. We played daily on our rainy Mexican honeymoon and he never won. Now, he wins about one out of every three or four games and continues to improve. I do fine but stay the same, still forgetting if "le" is a word, or is it "te?" Le is not a word. Te is.

Roget's International Thesaurus 

Indian Herbology of North America
The American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Gardening
American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants
The Apples of New York 
      How my pomologist (apple-grower) spouse coveted this, and finally there it was in a stack in MacLeod's Book Store in Vancouver, BC. Money was no object. This was the bible.
      Speaking of bibles, I do have a couple of King James editions with my name imprinted by devout grandparents, almost new.

Trees of Seattle: The Complete Tree-Finder's Guide to the City's 740 Varieties
Book of Fresh Flowers: A Complete Guide to Selecting and Arranging
The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Western Region (Audubon Society Field Guide Series)
National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Rocks and Minerals (National Audubon Society Field Guides)
National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky (Audubon Society Field Guide Series)
The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers: Western Region

These horticultural books and guides were heavily expanded during my gardening period which has now passed. I am not sure why, perhaps the knee replacements, perhaps the seduction was in planning not planting. The yard is stuffed with greenery, most of the exotics have passed on.

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica 15th Edition with Great Books
The 30-volume 1984 edition which we will still take out to do in-depth research. The last thing we sought was after a play about Alexander the Great and his teacher, Socrates. The Britannica info and the Great Books were exemplary resources.