Moby-Mix – Oceanic Book Recs

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Earlier this year, Sam and his dad started reading Moby-Dick at bedtime. It was an abridged version, from the dollar store, and it was a big hit, at least for Sam. While there are infinite layers of symbolism that he might explore when he reads Moby-Dick down the road, for now it lives in his mind as a great adventure tale, which is good enough for me.

The story became even more intriguing, when we recently found Moby-Dick In Pictures by Matt Kish. He really created one drawing for every page of the original novel, and each illustration is fascinating. Even though I didn’t start as a particularly rabid Moby-Dick fan, this is a book that I must own. That I will own!

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We’re both in love with the book, and with Matt’s art, so we also recommend his very fine blog.

I thought our whale tale was settling down, and then we found Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalist, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them. If you made it through the title, you might enjoy the book. It’s a dense, non-fiction account of exactly what the title describes. I’m reading it to Sam, and I think we’ll be maximizing our renewal limit on this one. But he loves it, so I’ll keep on reading, all for the love of a water-loving boy.

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What are your watery book recommendations? 

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Imagine Childhood

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“Of all nature’s materials, dirt is possibly one of the most underrated (except by those of you out there who are gardeners and know dirt, or rather soil, is kind). It’s a nuisance that’s tracked into the house, making your floors dirty; it’s the sand in your spinach that you couldn’t wash out completely. It always ends up somewhere you don’t want it. Yet for all its ability to be in the wrong place, when it’s in the right place, there’s no denying its versatility.”

-From Imagine Childhood, by Sarah Olmsted

I’m enjoying this book and the Olmsted family’s accompanying blog and web-site very much. I was reminded of this short passage about dirt, when Sam finished school today covered in mud, stripping off water-logged boots and socks before jumping in the car. We both smiled all the way home.

Imagine Childhood is a collection of nature essays, ideas for play, and simple projects. Sarah has divided the book into three major sections: nature, imagination, and play. The three areas are intertwined by her thoughtful text and beautiful photographs contributed by  many members of the Olmsted family.

Setting Intentions: A Hard Re-Start

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Somehow I fell off the planet, during the month I thought I’d be the most grounded. The plan was to focus on documenting and writing about our time outside. March is often the snowiest in Colorado, so consciously making an effort to spend more time outside was (and still is) a good plan for our family. We’ve had some beautiful snow, as well as balmy 60 degree days, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time outside so far.

Which is an excellent reason for not blogging very much, so I could just stick with that story. But like any good story, there’s more to it than that. Really I’ve been in a process of realigning myself with the world – trying to dig deeper into what really matters to me, rather than just going through the motions. Slowing down to ask myself what matters, and then actually listening to the answers.

My work colleague and I presented at the Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Conference here in Denver, which re-grounded me in my love of process-focused-art and Reggio-inspired systems. Re-grounding which has me floating up in the air, and re-launching the old Yo-Yo Reggio blog. The conversations we had with teachers were fascinating to me, and I realized that I need to continue to pursue ways to further that conversation, both in relation to education systems and to creativity in general. My focus on the Reggio-inspired blog will be the idea of “provocations” particularly within the visual arts.

I’ve also been immersed in the world of children’s literature. I’ve been busy writing about titles for our district library review committee – work that I love. In an effort to align all of my loves, I’m going to start posting more book reviews in this space, though I’m sure you’ll still find photos, quotes, resources, recipes and on-going projects.

Finally, I’ve been working on some children’s lit writing projects of my own, with encouragement from new friends at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. I’ve always had a million ideas to write about, but have rarely created the time and space to commit ideas to paper. And even when the words have made it to paper, I haven’t committed myself to the hard work of sharing, revising, and editing within a community of writers. Shyness is a formidable opponent, but I’m starting to stand up to that nemesis of mine.

So there you have it, my hard re-start (i.e. shutting down the entire system, counting to thirty, and then rebooting) has served me well. I’m back on the bike and ready to roll.

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What are you up to? How do you restart, when your system is overloaded?

Book Review: An Artful Alphabet

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Groom by Jennifer Kincaid

You might have gathered by now that we’re defining the category of Games pretty broadly. Anything that leads you to engagement and playfulness could be a game. Tonight’s book might bring exactly those elements into your life.

My step-sister, Jennifer Kincaid, is an artist and entrepreneur, based out of San Francisco. In addition to creating beautiful “traditional” abstract art, she plays with large-scale collaborative works that engage the public – crowdsource art. Six Factorial Times Four to the Sixth is a wonderful example of art morphing into game playing, with the whole process leading to conversation and community engagement. She’s taken that project and created an on-line beta version called Interactorial, which is very game-like and fun.

Jennifer’s current project is called An Artful Alphabet of Scribel Dudel. The first free coloring book in the series is A is for AbstractYou can download and print the free PDF version of the book, and then color and create to your heart’s content. Once you’ve scribbled and doodled some masterful work, you can upload photos of your work to a flickr pool, and see what others are up to.

I hope you’ll check out Jennifer’s work, share it with friends, and then get in there and play!

Eat Your Words: The Fresh & Green Table

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When I found this weighty paperback on the new book shelf, I assumed its main selling-point would be the beautiful photographs. Since I’m easily seduced by beautiful photographs, that would have been enough. When I finally dug in to read The Fresh & Green Table (Chronicle Books, 2012), I was impressed by chef/author Susie Middleton’s knowledge base and her accessible writing style. From the introduction:

“You might think that cooking vegetables is all about the ingredients. (Vegetables are, after all, so sexy.) But I think the real secret to making delicious vegetable dishes is a repertoire of good and easy techniques, brought to life – of course – in detailed recipes.”

I’ve made more than a few good veggies go bad because of my poor cooking techniques, so I’m closely reading these recipes, rather than simply gawking at the gorgeous photos by Annabelle Breakey.  The recipes are diverse, and adaptable once you’ve mastered some of the basic techniques. The Fresh & Green Table isn’t meant to be exclusively vegetarian, so a few of the recipes include meat, making the book an excellent resource for bridging the culinary gap in herbivore vs. omnivore households. Vegans will need to adapt the recipes a bit more, as Middleton is absolutely (blessedly) in the Julia Child camp regarding the use of butter, cheeses, cream, and eggs.

The Fresh & Green Table is Middleton’s second cookbook, a semi-sequel to Fast, Fresh & Green. The two books complement each other: her first book focuses on vegetable based side-dishes, while her latest offering is meant to showcase main dishes. You can read more about Susie’s cooking and farming adventures on her blog, Six Burner Sue.

Eat Your Words: The Natural Kitchen and The Locavore Way

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If you’re looking for good resource books about sustainable food production, The Natural Kitchen (2010) by Deborah Eden Tull and The Locavore Way (2009) by Amy Cotler are both worthwhile choices. Though the books include some recipes, each author is more intent on addressing broader questions about systems, sustainability, and mindfulness. Both books are dense with advice and inspiration for moving toward greener food systems. I especially liked Cotler’s chapter on “Open Recipes and Improvisations,” a style of cooking that works well in our home.

Eat Your Words: D.I.Y. Delicious

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When city life starts to wear me down, my go-to escapist fantasy is to somehow have the time, space, and energy to make everything. I mean everything. This idea was probably covered on an episode of Portlandia, but I’ll give you a quick run down. First you should imagine a farm, then a house built by me and a crowd of handy friends; the house is filled with hand-crafted furniture and blankets and dishes and clothes and toys and books and jewelry and…food.

The food part of the fantasy is really the most important. You won’t find any factory-processed foods in the cupboards. There’s probably a pantry and an ice box, and those are filled with 100% homemade goodness. Everything has been made from scratch. The spices are grown in the kitchen garden and then ground by hand using a mortar and pestle. The alcohol is distilled in the barn. The coffee… That’ll be hard to grow. My utopia won’t fly without coffee. Wait, the farm has just transported to Hawaii, so I’m back on track, and I see an avocado tree in the back yard. Now I’ll need a lot of friends to help with the farming and cooking.

Vanessa Barrington and the folks at Chronicle Books must have had their own homestead survivalist fantasies, which led to D.I.Y. Delicious (2010). Barrington covers more than forty base ingredient recipes, ranging from aioli to kimchi, and then folds those ingredients into forty more recipes that look crazy delicious, like Sustainable Seafood Stew with Meyer Lemon and Parsley Aioli Croutons and Spicy Soft Tofu Soup with Kimchi. Sara Remington’s gorgeous photographs seal the deal. This is a book worth owning, if you’re longing to bring a kind of Laura Ingalls Wilder meets Anthony Bourdain flair to your kitchen. That’s a little weird to imagine the two of them together, but maybe it could have worked, in another time and place.

D.I.Y. Delicious makes returning to this time and place a little easier, because you have to stay present and focused if you expect to properly chop all of the fresh ingredients. We’re looking forward to trying many of the recipes, especially the cheeses and breads. And the condiments. And the drinks chapter looks really good. And here I go again…

Two for Tuesday

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In the spirit of being more present and focused this week, I have just two super-fantastic resource recommendations to share.

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The first came my way via Lisa – a link to Lea Redmond’s Recipe Dice. Lea has found a way to combine Story Cubes and Iron Chef, and I’m very excited to try the combination at our house. I think the dice might be a great way to pull Sam back into an interest in cooking and eating homemade food (he recently declared that the only homemade food he likes is cake). If you’re checking out the dice, you might want to lose your focus for a few minutes, or hours, and peruse more of Lea’s projects and quirky inventions at Leafcutter Designs.

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My second recommendation is The Food52 Cookbook: Volume 2,  by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. I hadn’t heard of Food52 until I found the cookbook at the library today, but I’m already sold on the concept. The book is a compilation of 52 seasonal recipes, that were the winners of weekly contests on the Food52 web-site. The Food52 community is still going strong, and is an excellent source for inspiration and endless eye candy.

I hope you enjoy both of these recommendations as much as I am!

Eat Your Words: Party Edition

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If I was forced to choose just two current cookbooks featuring party foods, I’d go with Hors d’Oeuvres (DK, 2012) by Victoria Blashford-Snell and Eric Treuille and Real Snacks (Sasquatch Books, 2012) by Lara Ferroni.

Both titles are filled with beautiful photographs, if not the simplest of recipes. I’ll take gorgeous food shots over easy recipes any day, because the photos are the key to getting me re-inspired and re-interested in cooking and eating. Not that I’ve ever had any real trouble eating, but every once in a while I dip into a phase of just going through the motions, either eating unconsciously or eating for energy alone, enjoyment forgotten in the wake of five thousand responsibilities.

Hors d’Oeuvres is a lovely book that will strengthen your will to host honest to goodness parties, and hopefully inspire you to liven up your day-to-day meals. The authors have created “6 ways with…” features, which include innovative approaches to crostini, wraps, skewered foods, and more. I think that skewered foods are going to be a big hit at our house.

Real Snacks is basically Pandora’s jar (yes, I do mean jar!) in book form. If you open it, even once, I cannot guarantee your safety. You’ll most likely be persecuted by snack demons, demanding that you try every last recipe. Think of any favorite, guilt-inducing processed food snack (goldfish crackers! potato chips! TWINKIES!), and chances are that Lara has created a sublime and somewhat healthy version. So far we’ve only drooled over the book, but the first recipe we plan to try (hopefully tomorrow night) is her version of fried mozzarella sticks. Lara’s blog and web-site are also amazing, and to top it all off, this photography and snack food goddess is from Portland. As if I didn’t have enough reasons to want to move back…

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Eat Your Words

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My rough plan for Wednesdays, is to share book reviews (though you might see summaries or lists), based on the topic of the month. I’ll aim to include titles from the past year or two, but there will always be exceptions. Today I’m focusing on two writers who’ve always been able to reignite my interest in food, even during dark times.

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At the top of the stacks, by my bedside and on the kitchen counter, is everything and anything I can find by M.F.K. Fisher. I feel like she’s been overlooked during recent years, because of the Julia Child frenzy. Mary Francis didn’t host a television program or become the focus of a year-long blog project (oh, now there’s an idea…), but she wrote and lived beautifully:

“It is said that a few connoisseurs, such as old George Saintsbury, can recall physically the bouquet of certain great vintages a half century after tasting them. I am a mouse among elephants now, but I can say just as surely that this minute, in a northern California valley, I can taste-smell-hear-see and then feel between my teeth the potato chips I ate slowly one afternoon in 1936, in the bar of the Lausanne Palace.”
― M.F.K. Fisher, Once a Tramp, Always…

Doesn’t that make you want to find or make potato chips, immediately?  The down to earth quality of Fisher’s work is why she’s the go-to food writer for so many chefs and gastronomes – she adored potato chips as much as caviar. I’m reading the 50th Anniversary Edition of The Art of Eating. If you’re considering adding to your culinary library this is the one I’d buy, because it includes Serve It Forth, Consider the Oyster, How To Cook A Wolf, The Gastronomical Me, and An Alphabet For Gourmets. Enough reading to nourish you through the entire year.

One of Fisher’s many fans is Ruth Reichl, the renowned writer and editor. She struck fear in the hearts of New York restauranteurs during her stint as food critic for the Times, and then went on to lead Gourmet magazine from 1999 to 2009. She’s also written a series of funny, smart, culinary memoirs. I had the pleasure of surfing through her stories in non-chronological order, beginning with Garlic and Sapphires, then moving back in time to  Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples. Her most recent title is  For You Mom, Finally

Of course hundreds of other writers have dug into food writing and reporting with aplomb. Molly Wizenberg is a favorite, for her memoir A Homemade Life, and for her blog Orangette.  I’m also reading Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Writing From Gourmet, edited by Reichl. The collection includes pieces by a few expected food writers (Fisher, James Beard), and many unexpected contributors, including Annie Proulx, Paul Theroux, and Laurie Colwin. I’ll leave you with this short excerpt from Colwin’s short essay A Harried Cook’s Guide to Some Fast Food.

“The refined slob does not, for instance, even tie up her chicken. Her fancy imported linen kitchen string – which she bought at a snooty cooking shop at great expense and which was, she told her family, for trussing the chicken only – has been purloined by her child, who has used it to make spider webs by tying all the chairs together. Before I had a child, I would no more have cooked an untrussed chicken than I would have re-used the dead coffee grounds, but today I know an untrussed chicken is perfectly fine.”

Laurie Colwin, February 1992

Who are some of your favorite food writers? Or writers who happen to write about food from time to time?