Category Archives: Books

No Shame: I Love Reacher

I’m deeply distrustful of authors whose books appear on the tiny book rack at my local Walgreens . You know them: Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, James Patterson and his “co-writers,” Dean Koontz.

Now I’m scared that I’m an elitist asshole because I’ve discovered  Lee Child, another habitue of cheesy book racks everywhere, to say nothing of Hudson Books in airports. To quote Wikipedia, he started out in the tv biz , lost his job and moved on. His birth name is Grant.

“Grant joined Granada Television, part of the UK‘s ITVNetwork, in Manchester as a presentation director. There he was involved with shows including Brideshead RevisitedThe Jewel in the CrownPrime Suspect, andCracker.” (I still weep thinking about “The Jewel in the Crown.)He moved to New York City and started to write action novels. His series protagonist is Jack (None) Reacher , an ex MP Major. He’s six five, muscular and not big on nuance. He travels the country with no kit except what can fit in his pockets: an expired passport, an ATM card, a roll of bills and a folding toothbrush. He hitch hikes, and buys new clothes every three days because he fears the domestic delights of a house and a washer. I think I may be the first person to call him an existential hero.

Reacher is smart and invincible. There is — and this is the comfort factor in these scary books — the reality that Reacher will, every, every time, mangle, with his bare fists, the Bad Guys. He’s a modern cross between Sir Galahad and a mendicant monk.

Child writes a smart plot. Although he’s made huge progress as a writer, he’s no Elmore Leonard. But he’s learned St. Elmo’s greatest commandment: “Leave out the stuff people don’t read.”

The Tom Cruise Reacher movie is a bomb and I’m glad. The physical miscasting, for a start, is ludicrous. When you’ve been hooked into Reacher’s strange mind, you know it’s not going to be the basis of a Tom Cruise thriller. Totally lame.

So, the Reacher novels have got on to our reserve list at the Warrenville Library, along with Tess Gerritsen and Steve Hamilton. Maybe it time to read Nora Roberts? Nah.

 

 

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Filed under Books, Library Card

Dick Lit

I actually believed I’d made up the literary descriptor “Dick Lit” but a quick Google proved me behind the curve. But, whatever, I love it, because I’ve become so pissed with the “Chick Lit” thing. I mean, what happened to “Romance Novel?” Allison Pearson’s tremendous “I Don’t Know How She Does It.” was a star in the Chick Lit category, and now, big sigh, is a Major Motion Picture starring Ms. Parker. (Why couldn’t it have been set in its original London setting with a British cast?) Point is: “I Don’t Know How She Does It” had, um, literary merit.

“I Don’t Know How She Does It” is no Sophie Kinsella meringue about shopping. It’s no bodice ripper –it’s a witty straight-up novel about being a modern professional and mother.  Sorta like the hero of Joseph O’Neill’s hero in my fave literary novel of the last ten years: “Netherland.”

OK. I was going to say “Don’t get me started,” but my foot is hard on the gas pedal. My husband has admitted that he’s never read Jane Austen, George Eliot or Virginia Wolff. WTF? Why did I have to sit through endless paralyzing hours of Melville, Faulkner And Henry James in college? I mean not a single novel by a woman author?

Now, there are Good Dicks — Balzac and Trollope, for two — who cared about what women thought and felt. But why the heck is “Moby Dick” still required reading and “Sense and Sensibility” isn’t? I’m sorry if I’m sounding like a hairy-legged feminist in a Womyn’s Commune in the ’70s (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and I’ll return to the fascinating topic of Dick Lit.

(BTW, Lou adores Donna Leon, Louise Penney, Tess Gerritsen and Agatha Christie. He probably checks out more books from the Libe by women than by men.)

Dick Lit can be fabulous, as long as it’s  being written by say, Carl Hiassen, Elmore Leonard, and BOOK RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK: George Pelecanos’s The Cut. 

Pick it up and wave bye-bye to your day –and night. I’ve read all three of George’s previous novels with admiration and the feeling that there was a DC film over my body and mind that would never shower off. I’m haunted and coated by “The Cut” but the  new protagonist Spero gives me that rarest quality of a Pelcanos novel: hope. I’ll be waiting to take you out for a beer, Speros.

Any Dick Lit faves? Lemme know.

Read it.

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Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Books, Into the Mystic, Library Card

Groovin’ With Grains

I’m not the crunchy granola type, but I’ve found decent whole wheat pasta, whole wheat couscous, and (maybe because my ancestors were Scots) I love barley. Bring on the bulgar! Smooches for spelt! Tonight, thanks to Lidia Bastianich, I’m fooling around with farro. It’s a kind of whole wheat barley, so packed with nutrients that it alone, with a few lentils, will keep you alive forever. And hot and lean forever.

Two nights ago we made Lidia’s “Farro With Pork Stew Potenza Style.” Well, the pork stew was ridiculously good and easy, but Dio Mio, we had to slum it with (white) rice. I was intrigued by farro, so yesterday we headed out to the local Whole Foods, and yes they had it — five bucks for a pound bag. Whoa, I was unworthy.

I hate to type, but I figure you’d like to read the whole label.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Montebello is an Italian classic. A monestary built in 1388 where authentic artisan famers use long forgotten Old World techniques to create premium 100% Italian foods full of distinctive flavors and aromas…And not far from the summit, overlooking the Adriatic, grow acres and acres of organic Farro and , that sustained the Roman legions centuries ago.”

The package said I should soak it for eight hours, then simmer for thirty minutes. I soaked it for an hour and cooked it for forty-five minutes, with a bay leaf and some fresh thyme , rosemary and oregano from my garden, A small blast of lemon juice and some parm — tastes fab, It has that creamy graininess with a teeny bit of bite that a well-made rissoto flaunts. But, amici: buy a cardboard cylinder of Uncle Ben’s Barley, cook it the same way and you’ll have the same end product. Not organic, sure, and not blessed by 14th century monks, but cheaper and with comparable food value.

Here it is plated up with the pork stew and a tomato/scallion/basil/ricotta salad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice that half slice of buttered bread at the top of the plate? I decided to go all responsible tonight and made  the Light Whole Wheat Bread from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes. I should have fussed more about the crust, but I didn’t. The flavor and grain is good, but I’m eating it warm so I can’t make a judgement on it’s quality until tomorrow, when it’s cool. All I ask for is a few decent slices for toast and a tuna salad sandwich.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve got to say, whole grains make you feel full, which is why they’re so valuable, globally, as a food source. On the other hand, they’re making me wonder why I don’t own Birkenstocks and sport temp henna tatoos. But, it was all good and I won’t need a late night snack tonight.

 

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Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Books, Food, Home

Wartime Chocolate Cake: Cheap, Cheerful, and God Help Me, Vegan

I’m lucky: publishers send me review copies of food related books, and I bless my not-zactly prodigious position in the food writing world that the mailbox serves up a delicious surprise once a month.

A couple of days ago I groaned when I tore open the envelope: I mean The 30-Day Vegan Challenge?” Oh Please. The author, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is not simply writing a vegan cookbook, she’s challenging us to eliminate all animal based foods from our diets and improve our karma with the animal universe. You can hear my molars grinding from here to Santiago, right?

Let me give you some of her speil:

“By choosing to look at what happens to other animals — human and non-human — on my behalf, for my convenience, I’m saying yes to my values of justice and service to theirs.

By standing up for what I believe in and speaking for those who have no voice [Ed. Note: chickens?] I’m saying yes to my values of justice and service to others.

By choosing to eat life-giving rather than life-taking foods I’m saying yes to my values of peace, kindness, compassion, health and simplicity.”

OK, come  get me and drag me to the Hague for crimes against bacon. I mean if I had to, I might be able to give up red meat, but only if I could pig out on fish, eggs and dairy. Between her rants, Patrick-Goudreau inserts recipes, and perhaps a third look edible — they’re in fact the soups and sides I make anyway! The rest of them , all that tofu and tempeh and condescension, make me want to buy shares in a slaughterhouse.

I tried her Chocolate Cake recipe tonight, not because I wanted to spare the life-taking foods of butter and eggs, but because it reminded me of chocolate cakes of my fifties youth. Mothers were still cooking from the Depression/Wartime culinary codices; a recipe didn’t omit butter and eggs because  they were “life taking.” They were omitted because you had six mouths to fill and a ration card.

I remember this same Chocolate Cake recipe from my childhood, the vinegar and oil, the sponge cake texture, the way the cake improved over a few days held in a cookie tin. I baked it tonight and it gets the Cheap and Cheerful Seal of Approval. Here’s the recipe, a kind of no-fail wonder that can be mixed up in three minutes with no more equipment than a big kitchen spoon. My advive: bump up the cocoa from 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup; like most vegan dessert recipes, it’s much too sweet.

I added dribbles of a simple icing sugar/milk glaze.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking about the recipe, it would be a super Kid’s First Cake. It doesn’t take a lot of technique and it would be a baking primer about measuring.

Chocolate Cake

(From The 30-Day Vegan Challenge, Ballentine.)

1 1/2 c. unbleached all purpose flour

3/4 c. sugar

1/2 t. salt

1 t. baking soda

1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 t. vanilla extract

1/2 c. canola oil

1 T. distilled white vinegar

1 c. cold water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a bundt pan, 9=inch springform pan or muffin tins.

Combine the flour, sugar,salt, baking soda and cocoa powder in a bowl until thoroughly combined, Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and add the vanilla, oil, vinegar and water. Mix until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven for thirty minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If making cupcakes, check for doneness after 15 minutes”

(The thirty minute timing was dead-on for me. )

If you’re a vegan friend (Er, do I have any?) you might want to check out the book. If you eat “life-taking” food, as I do, I’ve given you the best recipe in the book, and you can serve it up after a roast chicken or meat loaf.

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Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Books, Food

Adventures in Bookbinding: Ten Minute Notebook

I’ve diddled about with bookbinding since my twenties, when a magazine article — who knows where, because there was no Martha Stewart Living back then —  with photos, showed me how to build a real book. Oh frabjous month! I cut pages of blank paper, sewed signatures, cut spines, chose end papers, learned the properties of PVA and starch paste, manufactured book cloth by the yard, and owned more clamps than Norm Abrams.

Turned out that (with a couple of false starts and wonky editions) I could make a book : real hardcover book, covered in whatever fabric I fancied, any dimensions I desired, thicker or thinner, sized like an atlas or an address book. Looking back on a lifetime of making things, that first mad flurry of bookbinding was one of the most satisfying periods ever. I learned that with zero formal instruction,trial and error, cheap materials and (very) little practice I could build a real book. 

Then I had a baby and decided that Xacto knives and pots of adhesives standing on every flat surface of a tiny apartment weren’t going to win us any Safe Parents Awards. I turned to smocking for a few years, and a few of those tiny dresses outlive the books.

I’ve never stopped making books, acquainting myself with brochures, Japanese stab binding, Leporello (or accordion) binding, single signature books and portfolios. In fact, I dropped $23.00 (!) bucks at Paper Source last week for a bookbinding awl that looks like a darning egg with a long nail driven through it, because I’m contemplating experimenting with stab-bound hardcovers.

What I created yesterday doesn’t deserve to belong to a post about bookbinding, because someone else bound the book — cheap.

I scored this, my favorite school notebook (a “scribbler, in Canada) for seventy five cents last week, because it was stacked in a tower next to the bakery department in my closest grocery store. I didn’t need it, but I find it hard to resist that dalmatian front cover and the tables of weights and measures inside the back cover. Where else to answer, instantly, any questions about the drams of Avoirdupois weights? So, I had it sitting on the table, next to my sewing machine, inches from a stack of cotton apron scraps and two feet from my glue stash. I pulled out the Mod Podge, a “bone” folder (plastic,)  grabbed a piece of paper from the printer and cut myself a paper pattern.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I grabbed the nearest remnant, cut out two covers, applied glue to the front and back of the book, and smoothed the fabric thereon with the bone folder.

 

 

Five minutes, less than a buck, and I almost wish I were fourteen again, assembling my back to school kit.

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Filed under A yard of fabric, About a buck, Books, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Paper

Things I Learned This Week

It was a weather week and an insomnia week. Weather: grey skies, nearby tornadoes, humidity and temps in the sixties. The low sixties. Insomnia: Asleep by four am, though I’d been twitching in bed since midnight, then bolt upright at nine. Five hours sleep  = Margaret, Zombie Empress from Hell.

It was an unproductive week. It was too wet to garden, my mind was too fuzzy to write, yadda yadda yadda. So, I’ll try to scrape my errant brain cells together and try to sum up the things that I learned this week. Or relearned this week.

I won’t spring for cable, but these two weeks tempts me, every darned year. Why? Wimbledon. I want to see every match on the outside courts, the white tennis costumes against the green grass, the passion and brilliance. I’ll get over it in a couple of weeks. But then the US Open will commence and I’ll have to hold serve and stay tough not to call some Godawful cable company.

I admire the writing of Elizabeth Berg, and I’ll write a full Library Card post about her. She can string together a plot with poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I learned that stabbing a half onion on a fork then dipping it in olive oil is a swell way to oil a grill.

I’ll never stop missing my daughter and son-in-law. Ever.

I just don’t understand people who want to retire to a rustic farmette. I love the ‘Ville and all, but I want to walk out my front door and stroll to a street scattered with shops, restaurants and businesses run by folks I’ll get to know.

My archaeologist next-door-neighbor, “Little” Dale Simpson, (honorary nephew) was climbing Machu Picchu two days ago. I reel with jealousy, and salute Dale for his passion, and, as we say, following his dream.

I might not ever be a Jeopardy champ, but I could come home with a few thousand bucks.

Basil is always, always, reliable grown from seed.

No news here, but let me tell you, editing another writer’s work isn’t a clinical affair.

Friday night cheeseburgers with grilled onions and a beer is Friday night comfort.

I need insomnia advice.

And NBC is broadcasting Wimbledon tomorrow!

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Filed under Body, Books, Free, History, Into the Mystic, Library Card, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville

Boursin Boxes and Bliss

My readers have noticed , I’m sure, that I’m good at keeping myself entertained. Give me a piece of paper, half a pound of butter, a crochet hook, a yard of fabric or a book, and I’m all good. (In a couple of weeks a few package of seeds and a rake will keep me out of trouble until Memorial Day.)

Origami is my private place — it calms me, focuses my mind, satisfies my twin fondnesses for mystery and order. The mystery is trying to figure out how the hell anyway will I ever figure out the series of folds that emerge into a beautiful or practical object. The order comes from the knowledge that sometime, sooner or later, I will figure it out.

Saturday afternoon my fingers were twitching for a piece of paper and a challenge. I pulled Didier Boursin’s Advanced Origami from my bookshelf and decided that I’d try, for the seventieth time over a period of three years, to complete his Serving Dish. Biographical information on Boursin is scant — he’s a French architect and famous paper folder. His style is clean and modern and his fold patterns are, well, different. I’ve loved his work since I found it four years ago and I’ve wasted reams of paper trying to get it right. (By the way, my  piece on Boursin’s origami wallet is the most viewed post ever on this blog, so I’m not Didier’s only fan girl!)

Reader, I did it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love this little box so make, and was so relieved that I’d finally done it, that I tried to attempt two other boxes from Advanced Origami.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love these triangular boxes so much I’m going to post another picture. Humor me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was blissed out enough at my progress, and my boxes, to risk one more model I’d never completed before — this cunning cube box. You make two identical cubes, but there’s a tricky and satisfying series of folds that locks the inner box into the outer box — it opens by pulling opposite corners. It’s cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not preening — there are at least forty more forms in the book I may figure out before I draw Social Security. Mais, merci M. Boursin for two hours of  perfect peace.

 


 

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Filed under Art, Books, How Cool is That?, Into the Mystic, Less than 50 cents, Origami, Paper