Archive for the 'Books' Category

MWF Seeking BFF

One of my major new year’s resolutions this year is to “Make Friends.” Wow, putting that down on “paper” really makes me feel like a winner! Desperate much?

"My cats will never leave me!"

In all seriousness though, moving halfway across the country and not knowing a single soul (E doesn’t count, he’s like an extra appendage [he'd insert something dirty here]) within a 4-hour radius was much harder than I anticipated. (New Englanders aren’t exactly renowned for their inviting nature.)

I moved quite a bit as a kid (5 different schools) and tended to adapt well, so I never thought of myself as introverted. I did, however, grossly underestimate how much of a crutch academia is in our pursuit of friends. Being surrounded by hundreds or thousands of people your own age that are just as eager and insecure as yourself, all trying to connect with one other… like shooting fish in a barrel.*

Is it too much to ask for a similar situation?

To top it all off, I was extremely lucky (spoiled, in fact!) that my first job out of college landed me at a gallery staffed by some insanely kick-ass young people with similar interests, senses of humor, and goals. I’m in an entirely different situation now and the fact that I commute makes it all the more exasperating.

I informed my good friend Jill of my resolution and she has been determined to help me see it through (she even goes on scouting missions for my new BFF whenever she visits). Today she alerted me on our ritual morning-commute-chat of a book she thinks will be a perfect motivator:

MWF Seeking BFF: Here is the book trailer (how cool)!

This is precisely the out-of-comfort-zone kind of action I had in mind. I love the “About” section on her blog. I am also looking for “Miss Right,” the one I can text for spontaneous pedicures. I might even go buy a copy of the book this weekend! Haha, “Glass of wine in one hand, remote control in another.” That’s me – but let’s hope, not for long!

*I seriously did (DO) have an awesome group of friends back home. It was hands down the hardest part of leaving Chicago and why I was crying hysterics in O’hare airport while getting awkwardly consoled by complete strangers over bloody marys the weekend I moved out east. Miss you guys terribly!

Rachel Bertsche’s memoir seems to be all abuzz on the internet. While Googling the book I came across so many funny and spot-on reviews, it appears she touched upon a subject that resonates with a lot of adult women.

DIY Design Book

Flipping through Grace Bonney’s newly-released Design*Sponge at Home book tonight mining for inspiration.  Everyone keeps asking about the progress we’ve made on decorating the apartment and I keep having to embarrassingly repeat that there is nothing new to report.  I don’t know what my deal is… but between this summer’s job hunt and now our commitment to fall weekend trips, I have zero motivation to paint, upholster, or construct a damn thing.  The disorganization and provisional methods are really beginning to take a toll on my mood at home though, so it’s probably time to start tackling a few projects.

Who IS that giant dork at Grace Bonney's book signing?

We are in need of new media storage, badly, immediately… like, yesterday.  I’m digging this “faux-denza” made by The Brick House out of Ikea cabinetry.  Ideally, I’d love to find a rosewood or teak mid-century modern credenza for under $200.  But, ideally, I’d also like to own a yacht and look like Heidi Klum.  Ain’t gonna happen. This seems like a decent substitute and the cabinets would provide us with some much-needed storage and hopefully not dominate the room since it floats.

While I’m flagging a bunch of pages in D*S at Home, there are quite a few house tours included that are really not my style.  *I just had an epiphany.*  Wouldn’t it be great to compile your own curated design-inspiration in bound-book form?!  Yes, yes – it would make more sense to just tear out the sheets I want from decor books and use a binder… but I find demolishing books sacrilege, and it just wouldn’t be as pretty (duh).  I’m basically talking about taking all my Pinterest boards and uploading them to somewhere like Blurb.  Digital just can’t compete with bound books.  Sigh, only I’m sure the photo quality from the web shots will be pretty poor when translated into print… wish I could get my hands on all the original hi-res, cmyk source photos.  Might still be worth the shot.

Well, wait… maybe it would work better than I thought!  Here is a link to turn your blog into a book!  Hmmm, but again, what photos are they using?  This may require further investigation…

Rambling:  I generally get all these great ideas for posts during the day and then after the commute and nightly routine I have no energy left to write, edit, image-process, etc.  Going to try being more fluid like this and not over-thinking posts… see what forms as I begin to type.  Apologizes in advance for annoying-as-hell typos, but my boyfriend is ordering me to start going to bed at “real people time” and proof-reading is boring...

Hydrangeas are magic

I recently read The Reliable Wife* on a trip home from Chicago.  A fascinating tidbit I retained from the book was that your hydrangeas can change color once planted depending on the pH level of the soil!

There were hydrangeas, which the Italians grew in giant terra-cotta pots, hydrangeas which change color with the chemistry of the soil.  Acid soil would produce blooms of Prussian blue.  Alkaline would turn the blooms to pink, a rose that matched the ridiculous extremes of the setting sun.

Wiki states that most species are white.  The color-changing blooms are due to a reaction between the flower pigments and aluminum ions.  Neat!

Astilbe and hydrangea

*Such a bizarre book!  Gothic fiction set in the frozen tundra** of my home state, Wisconsin.  Lots of sex, deceit, madness… over-the-topness.  Entertaining read but probably not on the top of my recommendation list.  Parts reminded me of East of Eden (a book I love), but more like the CliffsNotes-meets-US-Weekly-meets-Victorian-Age telling of East of Eden.

** I can’t say “frozen tundra” without following it with a Go Pack Go! It’s involuntary.

Two Dudes, One Pan (unfortunate name, good cookbook)

This was slated to be posted last week.  That didn’t happen… I, er, like to keep you in suspense?  Then this weekend I pinched a nerve in my neck (it’s time to get that chiropractor on speed-dial once again) and spent a good portion of Saturday and Sunday in bed hugging ice packs trying not to cry.  This week I’m going to attempt to get back into the swing of this thing!  (I never really had a “swing”… but humor me.)

This weekend the weather was perfect and we woke up early Saturday morning motivated to go out and enjoy it.  One great thing about living next to Harvard is that we are surrounded by wicked-smaht people.  Wicked smart people like books.  Bookstores galore!  It’s no secret that my dream some day is to own my own bookstore (albeit a successful one – support your local book sellers, people!).  So I’m surprised ashamed it took me all summer to go on a bookstore-crawl to find my go-to neighborhood shop (my favorites in Chicago are The Book Cellar and Ravenswood Used Books):

Remote-controlled mountaineer's harness to peruse the two-story bookshelf in Erik Spiekermann's and Susanna Dulkinys' house in Berlin

Porter Square BooksDidn’t spend enough time here to make up my mind completely, but overall seems like a pretty cute neighborhood joint.  I adore that they have a “about the owners” section on their website.  I’m always curious about this!

Harvard Coop:  Meh.  Close and convenient to our place but lackluster with a Barnes & Noble atmosphere. 

Raven Used Books: Small, but very impressive used bookstore!  They only buy quality used books (not a cracked paperback in sight) and their organization is impeccable.  Plus, they had some great coffee table art books that I rarely ever find at used stores!  They had a Yves Klein book that almost came home with me.

Harvard Bookstore: With their gazillion dollar endowment, I know they don’t need my money… but this store is pretty great.  Big tables organized with staff picks (I always read and appreciate these blurbs), children’s books, and what appeared to be a full schedule of events.  I’m a fan.  (*update:  apparently this is a family-owned, independent book store!  Interesting.)

E and I have pretty dramatically different tastes in books.  I’m more into popular fiction, classics, and the occasional memoir.  He hardly ever strays from non-fiction with an emphasis on economics (I usually fall asleep just reading the titles of these).  But this weekend we found a common denominator – cookbooks.  I was actually searching for Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook (don’t judge me!  I fall in the non-hater GP minority) and came across the most awesomest cookbook ever.

I’m serious.  This is the most excited I’ve ever been about a cookbook (granted… I don’t buy many).  Usually I have to flip through them searching for one, maybe two recipes I’d take the time to make… in this book I had to actually go page-by-page until I found one that I didn’t want to whip up this weekend!  It’s unpretentious and easy enough for weekly dinners but unique and hearty enough (heads-up: it’s pretty meat-centric) to be great for dinner parties.

Plus, the recipes are organized by pan type (one per recipe!) and each segment has a handy guide on buying quality pans and includes cooking tips like:

  • “Arrowroot is a white powder used to thicken sauces.  Unlike cornstarch, it leaves sauces perfectly clear and without a hint of pastiness.  We think it offers a much cleaner flavor and appearance than cornstarch can, but if you can’t find it, cornstarch will work out fine.”
  • “Add 1/4 cup sour cream to guacamole to make it nice and creamy and the lactic acid prevents it from browning for a few hours”
  • “Get another 5 days out of red onions by pickling them and using in salads, burgers, and tacos (recipe included).”
  • “When buying a stainless skillet, be sure to choose one that transfers from stove-top to oven.  You want the flexibility of being able to finish a dish of in the oven.” (we almost always do this with meat)

On Sunday we made the Swordfish with Fried Green Tomatoes and Bacon Vinegarette but substituted the fried green tomatoes for fresh sweet corn we picked up at the orchard (we sautéed it like this).  It was so friggin’ good.  Here are a few more recipes I can’t wait to try (wish I had the links to share!):

  • Fried goat cheese, citrus and avocado salad
  • Seared Scallops, Shiitake Fricassee, and Garlicky Spinach
  • Ricotta and Pancetta-stuffed Pork Chops
  • Garlic-braised Brothy Escarole

Update:  We made the ricotta and pancetta-stuffed pork chops this weekend.  Really tasty!  Comfort food, for sure.  We made them with this marinara from Smitten Kitchen (added 10 cloves of garlic and red pepper flakes) that I will be making again ASAP.

Summer Reading List

I was able to put a dent in my bedside book pile this summer.  Here are a few rambling thoughts on some recent reads:

- The Hunger Games trilogy: I almost never read Young-Adult novels but guiltily watch most of the movies to keep up-to-date on my pop culture (just watch, I’m going to nail that Trivial Pursuit card one day!).  I kept hearing about these, saw good reviews on a few respected blogs, and my Reader pals gave the thumbs up… figured they were worth the time.  They so were!  I tore through these in a few days and was bummed out when I finished.  Almost everyone criticized the last book and I agree it wasn’t as great as the other two.  It ends abruptly but tidily… I guess befitting to the intended audience?  I still think these were really entertaining summer reads and can’t wait for the movies!  I sincerely hope they do a good job on them.  A great opportunity for Hollywood to carry a franchise with a strong female lead (good article in New York magazine about the TV aftermath following the success of Bridesmaids.  Awesome… but it’s 2011, right?)

- The Bone People:  Winner of the Booker Prize in 1984.  I highly recommend this book.  I tend to be a fast reader but this book gave me no other option than slowing down and reading it at its intended pace.  I almost put the book back on the shelf after the first few pages, but trust me, it is worth sticking it out and you slowly become accustomed to the odd writing style over time.  The book is set in New Zealand and Maori language is woven throughout.  There is a glossary in the back but after a while I found myself not referencing it as much and letting the context aid my interpretation (I don’t think it distracted from the story).  The plot is complex and emotional and I really wish I had read this along with someone or as part of a book club.  I’d be curious to hear other people’s reactions to the extremely flawed characters and their sometimes brutal actions but first-person narration that somehow makes you sympathize (not always).  To me, the mythology at the end was a bit heavy-handed but still fascinating.  If anyone reads it let me know your thoughts!

- Room: Room is narrated from the perspective of a 5 yr-old.  A 5 yr-old that is the product of rape and has lived his entire life in a 11 x 11 room with his captive mother.  I was intrigued by this book the same way I’m intrigued by Law & Order SVU.  I’m riveted by the psychology of the events but put up a wall that allows me to ignore the reality of the occurrences.  Many people criticized this book because of inconsistencies in the narration but 1) I applaud Donoghue for even attempting to create such a unique perspective 2) how can we even begin to understand the development of a child under these circumstances 3) the premise of the book carried me through, regardless.  It was especially creepy in light of the Jaycee Dugard case (Room was drafted before this came to horrifying light).

- A Visit from the Goon Squad: I’m having trouble deciding how to summarize this book.  Some have described it as a book of short stories, rather than a novel, but many of the characters are connected.  Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character – but also from a different time period (ranging from the ’70s to the future, and not chronologically).  After a few chapters I started paying attention anytime a new person was introduced (and flagging the page) wondering if they’d get a character study in an upcoming chapter.  I think this is a really creative book and I’m impressed with Egan’s imagination and ability with structure.

- BossypantsAs is almost every other female on this planet, I’m in love with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.  There are a lot of other female actresses I respect but usually that just means they’re normal and/or smart enough to have a good PR firm so their personalities seem a bit contrived, a little too glossy-magazine.  Fey and Poehler* are unique in that they have a comedic background and our expectations of them are shifted by this fact (not that this is a fair standard for non-comedic women).  Their wit and writing-chops take well-deserved center stage.   I love how intelligent, vulgar, and REAL they come off in interviews.  They’re for sure invited to my imaginary dinner party.  But, like anything that receives so much hype, I found myself disappointed at the beginning of this book.  It was funny and charming, but lackluster.  Thankfully, I ended up loving it more near the end!  The parts about SNL and 30 Rock were just far more interesting to me and I love the part when she writes fake responses to snarky online criticism.  You know it’s what every celebrity actually wants to say!  BS they don’t read any of it… 

- Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseAnother story narrated by a child, but this time a quirky 9 yr-old in New York City, post-911.  Probably why I should write my “reviews” (I hope no one is taking these that seriously) immediately after reading, but I can’t remember my exact thoughts on this book.  I know I enjoyed it but don’t remember many specifics except the engaging precocious nature of Oskar, the child-narrator, and the interesting relationship of his grandparents.  I’d read more by the author. 

- Just Kids: I actually read this in spring, but I couldn’t resist including it.  I loved this book, two artists faking-it-until-they-make-it in such a weird/awesome time and place in recent historyHere is the review I put on GoodReads*:

GREAT book!  Fascinating look into 1960s/70s New York for 2 young struggling artists fully committed to each other and validating their art.  The chapters about the Chelsea Hotel, with its revolving door of musicians and artists, were especially engrossing.  “The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in the Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe.”

I heard they are making a movie.  Ugh, again, here’s hoping they don’t mess it up.  And please, let’s not put the movie poster on the cover of the next book reprint.  It’s so frickin’ annoying, really one of my biggest pet peeves.

That’s it.  Currently I’m “reading” (mostly taking up space on my nightstand…) Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl, Cat Power: A Good Woman, and Age of Innocence.  But in reality, the non-fiction factoids and old-world flowery English has been no match for my mood, blogroll, and magazine stash lately.  Maybe fall will get me back on track…

*Kristin Wiig is entering the Fey/Poehler realm.  Since I really don’t enjoy her characters on SNL, I was surprised how much I took a liking to her since her short but brilliant scene in Knocked Up.  And did you know she co-wrote Bridesmaids?  I couldn’t believe I didn’t know this until just recently.  I’m hoping her post-SNL career is as promising as her predecessors.

** I love GoodReads.  It’s the first site I’ve committed to long-term for cataloging books.  I only wish more friends would join and actually use it so I could get more recommendations (always need more recommendations)!  It’s a great tool for keeping your “to-read” books organized and I like reading the reviews (much preferred over some of the crazies on Amazon). 


about me

Newly-minted New Englander (via Chicago). In pursuit of a stylish home, vast art collection, wardrobe of classics, sagging bookshelves, culinary prowess, and a fully-stamped passport. You know, just the basics.
-Heather

MixedElixir@gmail.com

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"The secret to happiness in life is to be conscious of what is uniquely great about your current situation and put your focus there."

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