Showing posts with label Nonfiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nonfiction. Show all posts

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tales, Speeches, Essays, and Sketches by Mark Twain

My latest read was Tales, Speeches, Essays, and Sketches by Mark Twain.  Of course, I laughed my head off because it's dear Mark Twain.  I do love Mark Twain's writing style.  I'm in a bit of a dry spot, reading-wise and I've been aimlessly wandering around both my personal library and the public library feeling sorry for my book-less self.  Mark Twain stepped in and is helping me through this little bump and, oh, am I grateful to him.

This book is just a compilation of shorter writings that Twain wrote over the years.  In it is Letter from Carson City, A Dog's Tale, Story of the Bad Little Boy, and more.  The writings are contemplative, sarcastic, witty, biting...pretty much any descriptor that you could use for a book you could mention here.  And that's why his writing is so brilliant.  The skill of being able to effortlessly change tones and settings is something that few authors have mastered.

I have been reading Mark Twain since a little girl, but I never read this book.  Actually I was unfamiliar with a great number of the writings within this.  A lot of these writings are more obscure things that are not handed out to the average reader very frequently.  I felt like I got to know Twain in a new way as I read through this book.  My favorite was An Encounter with an Interviewer.  Twain managed to portray himself and the young interviewer in a sarcastic, hilariously funny light.  I have never read a piece of writing quite like this.  In this story, Twain is interview by a, "nervous, dapper,'peart' young man" who proceeds to assist him in holding a completely botched up interview.  I laughed and laughed and laughed.  Take this excerpt:

"Q. How old are you?
A. Nineteen, in June
Q. Indeed!  I would have taken you to be thirty-five or six.  Where were you born?
A. In Missouri.
Q. When did you begin to write?
A. In 1836.
Q. Why, how could that be, if you are only nineteen now?
A. I don't know.  It does seem curious somehow.
Q. It does, indeed.  Who do you consider the most remarkable man you ever met?
A. Aaron Burr.
Q. But you never could have met Aaron Burr, if you are only nineteen years-
A. Now, if you know more about me than I do, what do you ask me for?"

When you're done reading that (and have spent a good 5 minutes laughing), flip back a few pages and turn to The Story of a Bad Little Boy That Bore a Charmed Life.  And you will have had your amusement for the day.  I guarantee it.

Go read this book, dear readers.  You will quite enjoy it and you will be left feeling refreshed and ready to conquer any book.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen

This is a book that I have owned for years.  The title pretty much sums up what the book is about- letters that Jane Austen wrote throughout the years, most of them to her beloved sister, Cassandra.  Penelope Hughes-Hallett did a beautiful job of compiling these letters and introducing them.  Her voice comes through gently, without taking away anything from the beauty of Austen's writing.  So here, quickly, are some of my observations about this book:


  • I met Jane Austen in a new way while reading this book.  So often, we only read about Austen through somebody else's eyes.  Here, we can see Jane Austen herself, without any other author's interpretations or editing.  It's so refreshing!
  • The illustrations!  They are truly one of the highlights of the book.  I found that I am still a sucker for pretty pictures in books.  The illustrations are varied, from portraits that Cassandra, a budding artist drew, to little humorous sketches published in newspapers at the time to beautiful watercolor sketches done by famous people.  
  • The social rules fascinate me.  What accomplishments were expected of ladies, the proper way to accept a dance...the rules go on and on.  It's interesting, because Jane Austen, of course, accepts the rules as just the way things are.  So the reader picks up those social rules along the way through reading Austen's writing.
  • I am glad I don't have to wear regency dress.  I look at those pictures and hear Jane mention certain things about their clothes and I breathe a sigh of relief.  I am a dress-uppy kind of girl, but those teeny-tiny little plunging bodices and skirts that appear to be constantly sticking to ones legs does not sound pleasant.
  • For the first time, I got a very clear picture of the Austen family as a whole.  I have read biographies about Austen before, but this one is so interesting because it is Jane, herself, talking about her family and all of the little quirks that make up everybody.
  • Jane Austen was an observer, rather like me.  She writes to Cassandra all of her observations about people and the funny, strange, and interesting things that they do.  I think it's part of what makes her such a brilliant writer...that ability to observe something interesting, stow it away for future use, and then pull it out again and incorporate it into a novel.
This book was so wonderful, readers.  I think it was my favorite of my Austen in August reads.  I highly recommend it to any Austenites.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tea With Jane Austen

I'm finally getting around to doing some Austen in August posts.  On August 30th.  Oh well.  My Austen in August writing will probably go into September, but that's fine.

The first book that I picked up was Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson-a slim volume devoted to life in Jane Austen's day as it pertained to tea.  There were fascinating facts, quotes from letters Jane wrote, and all sorts of charming pictures and recipes.  I quite adored the book.  

The book was arranged throughout a day, starting with tea for breakfast and finishing with tea for dinner, with stops all along the way.  The author carefully went through the steps that were taken to make tea, depending on class, and argues that tea was something extremely important to Jane.  Wilson quotes liberally from the novels with loving descriptions of taking tea and discussing tea and judging people who don't take tea seriously.  

Wilson obviously cares very deeply about tea and wants all of her readers to care as deeply about it as she does.  Now I am not a devoted tea drinker, but I love history and I love Jane Austen, so this was a perfect book.  And, really, this book was just a sort of history of that time period, seen through the lens of tea.  

The writing was not breathtaking, however.  There were some awkward, stumbling sentences and things were quoted with no clear source.  I believe that this is Wilson's first writing and so we'll credit the mistakes with a not-very-great editor and inexperience.  

I think that this book could be read as a coffee-table book; flipping through the pages at the pretty pictures and reading the quotes at the side.  However, I sat down and read the thing cover to cover and was glad I did.  Halfway through reading, I got up and made a pan of apple (the first of our own apples!), sage, and cheddar scones. I rooted around in the cupboard for a pretty, non-earthenware mug and curled up, feeling perfectly content.  Readers, it was lovely.  In fact, I think a pre-requisite when reading this book should be having a nice teacup filled with a period-appropriate tea (I chose Oolong), and a little something to eat.

One of the best parts was the recipes.  Wilson would quote from a letter or a paragraph in one of Jane's books that mentioned a recipe and then Wilson modernized the recipes and included them in the book.  I copied several down before I returned this book to the library.

If you have ever enjoyed reading anything about Austen, then this is a book for you.  It's fun and interesting...the perfect weekend read.  I quite enjoyed it.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Life Among the Savages

Life Among the Savages made me laugh until I cried.  This story is written by the famous Shirley Jackson who is most well-known for her short story The Lottery.  But after writing such dark stuff, she went on to write a memoir about raising her children in an old, rambling, New England farmhouse.

Shirley Jackson, along with her husband, raised 4 children, all of whom appear to have been spunky, rambunctious, hilariously funny children (although now that I think about it, isn't that the definition of most children?).  The story starts when Ms. Jackson and her husband are house hunting.  They have been kicked out of their apartment and they are looking at houses to raise their baby and toddler in.  After months of searching, a raggle-taggle farmhouse that is lacking in pretty much any modern convenience is secured and the family moves in.  From the story of Laurie heading off to school and returning a changed, swaggering man to the birth of Barry, their youngest son, when Jackson shouted at all of the nurses because of her pain medication, the stories are all captivating and enjoyable.

Each chapter (they're very long) is an essay-type story about one of her children's exploits.  My absolute favorite story was of the middle daughter, Joanne, who had a vivid imaginary life, with complicated relationships and many children, whom she could also become at times.  One day, they head to the department store (I do so want to step back in time to a 1940s department store) with Joanne and her imaginary family in tow.  The results are disastrous (and wildly funny).

Knowing Shirley Jackson's previous writing, I am in complete awe of how she manages to write in such a different tone.  The tone in these stories is one of warmth and love and humor, rather than dark bitterness.  It is a truly skilled author who can switch between such different writing styles.

This is one of those books that I could not put down.  I read and re-read each word, so as not to miss any little bit of Jackson's writing.  Her style is so captivating.  I laughed and laughed and then read aloud sections to my (sometimes) listening family members.  I was torn between gobbling up the whole book in one sitting and reading about 5 pages so as to make the book last.  Isn't that the best kind of book?

Some of the books I review, I end up saying, "Well, this is a book for (blank) type of person, but if you're not (blank) type of person, don't bother reading this."  This is not that type of book.  These witty, charming stories could be enjoyed by anybody.  If you have ever spent even half an hour with a child under the age of 12, you will instantly recognize so many of the experiences and adventures.  Please, please go read this, my dear readers.  I guarantee that you will thank me.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Miss Manners

(Well, I came back for a blog post!  I missed sitting down and writing out my thoughts so much!)

I can't believe I've never mentioned these books.  I would probably name Miss Manners as one of the top 10 most influential writers in my life.  Her no-nonsense, bitingly witty, perfectly correct writing is brilliant.  I was first introduced to Miss Manners through my mother, who has all of her books and would sit, reading them and laughing uproariously.  Some time in early high school, I picked up one and fell in love.

Miss Manners has written a manners advice column in newspapers for years, starting, I think, some time in the 80s.  People write in with some manners question or problem and then she addresses it, usually with a few biting remarks.  However, I was introduced to her through the books, not the newspaper column.  Miss Manners, or Judith Martin, has written many compilations of various categories of questions and her responses to them as well as essays that she has written.  The topics of the books are wide-ranging from childrearing to manners in a digital age (written in the 90s, but still surprisingly applicable to us today...although maybe not the part about answering pagers).

Miss Manners advocates bringing Victorian manners back into the 21st century.  Things like carrying a nice hanky with you when you go out and the proper way to introduce elders to one's contemporaries are carefully covered.   However, Miss Manners is also quick to point out the errors of societal mistakes made in earlier generations.  I appreciate this willingness to bring back some earlier customs and manners, but not to be too hasty to bring everything back.

I often read Miss Manners when I'm between books.  They're the kind of thing that you can pick up, read 10 pages of, and then drop, at least theoretically.  What actually happens is that you tell yourself that you're only going to read 5 pages and then get on your work and 2 hours later, you've read half of the book and you're completely worn out from laughing out loud.

The books are also useful.  When I have completely forgotten the correct format for writing a really nice sympathy note or I have clean forgotten that rule about wearing white shoes (it's Memorial Day to Labor Day, readers), I know that I can turn to Miss Manners and she will give me the answer along with a pithy remark that makes me laugh.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wretched Writing

This book was so. funny.  I laughed my head off and then read aloud large portions of it.  This was one of those infectious books that makes you want to read it aloud to everybody you walk past.   My poor family very kindly listened to long sections of this book.

Basically, Wretched Writing is a compendium of terrible writing in both old fiction (Little Women) and new (an article in the New York Times).  The point of the book is the acknowledgement that lots of people write terribly at times and the various ways they can screw up their writing. There are long paragraphs of run-on sentences and sentences where you have to wade through the knee-deep adjectives to get to the verbs and nouns and sentences so flowery and bad metaphor-filled that the reader is blushing for the author.

But among all of the various writing mishaps, my favorite is the dangling modifier.  Oh dear.  Whenever I read a string of those, I end up laughing my fool head off.  If you don't know what a dangling modifier is, here's an example, drawn from a random website:

"While driving on Greenwood Avenue yesterday afternoon, a tree began to fall toward Wendy H's car."  (Credit: http://englishplus.com/grammar/00000012.htm)
See the problem with this?  But you have to admit, it's a pretty funny picture.  This isn't the funniest I've seen.  There was one from the book that said, "Spreading a silk handkerchief on her lap to wipe the drips of the cantaloupe, she began to chew thoughtfully on it."  Hee!

My one complaint about this book would the the vulgarity of some of the examples.  I just skipped over some of them and read some of them and rolled my eyes, but the vulgarity is really not necessary.  Although maybe I've found a correlation…vulgar authors are terrible writers…?

In spite of this minor complaint, I would recommend this book.  It's funny and a perfect read for a stickily hot summer day.  I really enjoyed it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Homemade Pantry

Whew, readers!  I've been on a cooking streak the past few days!  One of the recipes on the docket for today was a whole bunch of flour tortillas.  Here's the wonderful cookbook that holds this recipe and many more:

The main premise of Homemade Pantry is that most convenience foods that we think of as being strictly store bought (eg. cheese crackers, breakfast cereal, graham crackers) are actually worth making at home from scratch.  It's a fairly generally acknowledged thought that homemade is always better, so why not extend that idea to our everyday boxed food?

I knew about a lot of the recipes.  For instance, I've been making granola forever.  It's no surprise to me that you don't have to eat store bought cornflakes for breakfast.  However, the recipes are so delicious and, at least in all the recipes I've tried, are fail-proof.  There's everything from the perfect pie crust to potato chips to homemade poptarts (pictured above).  The recipes are explained in careful (sometimes too careful) detail.  The author, Alana Chernila, is clearly working to make this cookbook accessible to readers that are not accustomed to working in the kitchen.

The book is laid out in a new and charming way.  There are 11 chapters, each labeled with an "aisle", like in a grocery store.  So there's aisle 1 with the dairy products and aisle 2 with the cereals and snacks.  If you're trying to find a good snack food, just turn to aisle 2 for some recipes for granola bars, cheese crackers, or beef jerky.  The other interesting thing about this book is the way that the recipes are presented.  Each recipe is preface by a little reflection by Chernila that ties into the recipe in some way.  Actually, they remind me of little blog posts, which is not surprising as she is also a blogger.  It gives the reader the distinct impression that she is reading in on a journal.

Aside from the great recipes and the gorgeous photographs (I so admire food photographers), the writing is eloquent and skilled.  No awkward, unwieldy sentences that desperately try and fail to explain something.  No bad grammar (thank you, editors) or tangled-up-mumbo-jumbo wording that ends up making less than no sense.  It's a pleasure just to sit down and read this book like a novel.

If you're not a cook already, then it probably wouldn't make a lot of sense to get this book.  However, if you have ever had any interest in cooking or preserving, then this is a must-read.  I really enjoyed it.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Library Loot- 7/19/2014

From the Captive Reader, "Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library."

I finally have a Library Loot post together!  After missing one and then writing a post for one and forgetting about it, here is my post.  I haven't been doing a ton of library reading, just because of a busy summer, but I still manage to have a nice little pile at all times.  So here's my list:


Code Name Verity-Yes, this is on my list again.  But it's first in line, once I finish just one more book.

The Elusive Pimpernel- You know the book The Scarlet Pimpernel that everybody reads?  I read it a couple years back and really enjoyed it.  I just recently discovered that there is a whole series of books about the Scarlet Pimpernel.  I was pleased that my library has some of the books!

Evelina by Fanny Burney- This is one of those books that has floated in and out of my request list and in and out of the house, but I have a firm grip on it this time and it's not leaving until I finish it!

Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson- Shirley Jackson, the well known dark-bordering-on-horror short story writer, also wrote this very funny memoir about raising her children.  The reviews on Good Reads all said that this book was fantastic.  I am really looking forward to reading this!

Wretched Writing by Ross Petras and Kathryn Petras- Just a funny book, filled with examples of horrible writing.  Is started it last night and sat on the couch, laughing my head off.

So that's my smallish Library Loot for the week!

Friday, July 18, 2014

She Got Up Off the Couch

I loved this book just as much as I did the first.  You know those books that you try to savor by reading each and every word, gently caressing each page as you turn it and seeing how long you can possibly read it?  This was one of those rare gems.

This memoir by Haven Kimmel is told with particular attention to Zippy's mother, a formerly deeply depressed woman who spent her life on the couch with pork rinds and science fiction.  Her mother, Delonda, finally gets off the couch and gets a degree in English, before becoming an English professor herself.  There are still the occasional mentions of Zippy's father, who was a star character in the first book, but Zippy's mother is the main focus of the book.

She Got Up Off the Couch is written with the same child's voice that Kimmel used in the first book.  I think that brilliant style of writing is even more apparent as you can hear Zippy's voice change as she grows up.  The tone is still that unmistakable child interpreting events voice, but the tone is different from the first books.  There is a new awareness.  Kimmel mentions realizing that, oh yeah, she only ever got a bath when she was at her friends' houses and the dawning realization that not everybody lives in a tenement house and has a gambling father.

The book's tone has a slightly more serious, growing-up tone to it, but it is still laugh-out-loud funny in many parts.  The same uproarious games with friends, colorful characters in the small town, and strange-but-true events are present here that were in the first one.

When you pick up a sequel to an adored book, there's always this fear that the second one won't quite match up to the first, that nothing can even try to compete.  But Haven Kimmel has created a second book as memorable as her first.  Please, please, please go and buy this book and read it and then come back and tell me I was right.




(I'm adding the amazon associates link this week because this is a book that I really, really think everybody should read this.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Saving the Season

It's canning season and I'm having fun looking through canning cookbooks for ideas and inspiration. There's something so exciting and anticipatory about looking through a really beautiful canning cookbook. One of my favorites this season is Saving the Season by Kevin West.  It's a big, fat canning cookbook, full of recipes for canned everything, from marmalades to pickles to syrups.  It also has the added advantage of being full of all kinds of eccentric fruits and vegetables, not just your basic strawberry freezer jam.

I love this cookbook for a number of reasons. The pictures are all gorgeous and perfectly portray the tone of the book.  The recipes are written with enough instructions to be clear, but not so much that the reader becomes bogged down by unnecessary details-a fine line to balance for cookbook writers.  The book has that lovely, crisp, new-book smell that I so adore.  And finally, the food all looks delicious.

As a little picture of the recipes that this cookbook holds, let me tell you what from this book is on my to-can list this summer:
-Watermelon Rind Pickles
-Elderberry Syrup
-Yellow Peach Slices in Tea Syrup
-Spicy Sweet Squash Pickle
-Apple Jelly with Mint
-Pine Cone Syrup

Actually, I would happily make anything from this cookbook, if given the time and ingredients, but these are the main things that I am itching to try.  I don't think I would regret trying any of these delicious recipes.  So for those of you who can, what is your favorite canning cookbook?  Do you have one, or do you stick to the basics?

Friday, July 4, 2014

Our Hearts Were Young and Gay

This is a book I read a while ago, loved, and then forgot about because I wasn't blogging yet.  I pulled it out again today and realized what a wonderful book it is and how much it needs to be talked about.  Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough is the story of two friends in the 1920s from rather upper crust backgrounds who travel Europe together after they leave Bryn Mawr. This book is so wonderful because it perfectly captures the utter innocence of these two post-college girls traveling through an unfamiliar part of the world.  The book has the added benefit of being hilarious.  It's a different kind of hilarious from A Girl Named Zippy, but it's still quite funny.  I laughed until I cried and my stomach ached.

The book says that it is written by both Emily Kimbrough and Cornelia Otis Skinner, but all of the writing is told from Cornelia's point of view, so I'm not sure what Emily was doing.  However, the writing is brilliantly done and does not appear to need any added input from anybody.  Each chapter follows some part of the girls' travels.  I am amazed at all of the details remembered after such a long time (1942).  There is nothing vague and fishing through memories about the writing.  It is told as though each event happened yesterday.  From a disastrous tennis game (This is story I cried with laughter through) to buying two little dogs that proceed to pee on chairs in the Ritz Hotel, every single story is captivating and most of them are very funny.

I really have no complaints about this book, other than I laughed too hard.  There are some mildly racist remarks made about Italians for about 2 pages, but definitely not strong enough to make any huge difference in the book.

The illustrations are fantastic.  They are all pencil drawings, done of various events throughout the book.  They had the added bonus of being very funny and perfectly mirroring the writing style of the authors.  Here's an example of what they look like:
A picture taken shamelessly from Flickr.
I wish I could force everybody I know to read this book.  If you are in need of a little reading pick-me-up, or if you aren't, you simply must read this book.  Each anecdote is told at a crisp pace, filled with hilarious events that sound almost as if they were made up.  If you only can read one memoir for the rest of your life, this is the one you should choose.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Girl Named Zippy

I devoured this book, I tell you.  Devoured it.  I read and read and howled with laughter and read some more.  It was one of those books that refuses to let you go about your normal business.  I found myself wishing that it was Sunday so I could cheerfully forget about any work and read instead.  I cannot impress it hard enough upon all of you how much I loved A Girl Named Zippy.

Zippy is the memoir of a girl growing up in Mooreland, Indiana in the 60s.  That might sound pretty straightforward, but Haven Kimmel, the author, has a brilliant way of writing in her childhood voice.  I've heard it said that children make excellent reporters, but terrible interpreters.  This is exactly what is happening in this story.  Kimmel writes down all of her childhood memories with no adult interjection.  The little-girl voice she produces is amazing.

Kimmel's family was anything but functioning.  Her father was a drunk who never held down a job and gambled away everything from her pet pony to her mother's wedding rings.  Her mother, mired down in depression, spent Kimmel's early years on the couch.  However, the book is by no means a sob story.  It is witty and poignant and fun to read.  In spite of all the challenges that I am sure faced her, Kimmel writes about them as a child would-simply stating, Yes my mother lived on the couch for 7 years, what's funny about that?  Then there are wonderful stories about growing up in a colorful community, from the funny Quaker church where she grew up to the best friend who had all her teeth knocked out.

You know how after you read a really, really well-written book you feel kind of spoiled and like no mediocre writing will suit?  That's how I feel right now.  Luckily, Haven Kimmel has written a sequel and you can be sure that I will be reading it very soon.
The second book

It's after reading a book like this that I feel like I praise books too indiscriminately.  I almost never review a book and give it a really nit-picky review, but now I'm thinking that, perhaps, it would be better to do that.  Think what a big impression it would make, then, if I reviewed this book and gave it a whole-hearted praise without any reservations.  My new goal is to write reviews that delve deeper into my likes and dislikes about books, that critique the writing at a deeper level.  So here's to writing nit-picking reviews in the future!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Yes Sister, No Sister

Recently, I've been reading the memoir Yes Sister, No Sister.  I've mentioned it several times on this blog.  It ended up being a really fun story of a young woman in the 50s who leaves her military parents in India to go to study nursing in Yorkshire.  She starts work with her school friends at Leeds General Infirmary and proceeds to have all kinds of fun and challenges in her path to nursing.

Jennifer Ross (the author's real name is Jennifer Craig) tells the partly gripping, partly humorous, partly moving story of nursing in a warm, affectionate voice.  It is obvious that her early years as a nurse spent in Yorkshire were very good years, in spite of the long hours and sometimes cranky head sisters who ran the hospital.  There is also a whole host of likable characters, from kind Sister Busby who fixes the young surgeons' mistakes to Jennifer's best friends, Jess and Sandy.

I won't lie, there are definitely gory parts and Jennifer Craig does not gloss over the nasty hours of cleaning out bedpans and the man whose leg she felt pull off of his body.  This doesn't repulse me like it does some people, so I wouldn't recommend this book to just anyone because of that.  But to counteract the sometimes dark parts of nursing, such as seeing a dead body for the first time, there are things like the old man with the funny Yorkshire accent and the hours spent laughing with fellow nurses over funny incidents.

Jennifer Craig, along with being a good nurse (or so it appears from the stories), is also a good writer.  She doesn't bog the reader down with piles of technical writing and parts of medical procedures that are mentioned are explain in layperson's language.  Her writing style is breezy and funny and there is nothing pedantic or solemn about the way she presents this life story.  I think that it's kind of the nurse's version of the James Herriot stories.   I've always loved Herriot's writing style, so it's great to find somebody else who has the gift of being good at their profession and at telling a story.

If you are completely put off by the occasional mention of blood and guts, then please do not pick up this book.  But if that doesn't faze you, then go ahead and read this.  The stories are fantastic.  I had a heck of a time finding this book.  It appears to be only sold with Amazon UK and I couldn't find it at the library.  I finally found some place in North Carolina that had the book used.  So if you have this book at your library or close to you somewhere, you're very lucky!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Dessert Cookbook

As I sit writing this, I am eating the most delectable thing.  It is a pink, creamy, quivering mass, gently perfumed with the scent of garden strawberries-a strawberry yogurt panna cotta.  I made the recipe two days ago and, like a bad blogger, completely forgot to take any pictures.  But this book still deserves a glowing review from me.  It's called Bakeless Sweets and it's by Faith Durand who is the editor of the wonderful cooking blog, The Kitchn. The cookbook is composed of desserts that are bakeless, most of them things like pudding and panna cotta, but also icebox cakes and no-bake bars.  

Yesterday, I made my first recipe out of the cookbook, a strawberry panna cotta, and it turned out perfectly.  Faith Durand perfectly broke down the steps without going overboard in her instructions and after a night in the fridge in a vintage jello mold, the panna cotta came out perfectly and I ate some for breakfast (yes, breakfast *blush*).  Panna cotta is made by mixing gelatin with something cold, be it a fruit puree, juice, or water.  Then, you simmer cream or milk or coconut milk or something with sugar and stir in the juice and gelatin until the gelatin is completely dissolved.  The final step is to pour it into a jello mold or little ramekins and stick in the fridge until it sets up.
The recipe I made-photograph from the book.

Walnut, Fig, and Barley Pudding, Coffee and Cream Jelly Cups, Deepest Chocolate Mousse, Vietnamese Coconut Tapioca Pudding, No-Bake Meyer Lemon Bars...the list goes on and on in this gorgeous cookbook and I am determined to make them all.  The title makes me think of a slapdash cooking 80s cookbook title (you know the type-"Why the heck would you go to any work in the kitchen when you can throw something together that, you know, kind of tastes like food?!"), but that is not at all how the cookbook comes across.  The pictures are gorgeous and the book is well written.  Each recipe in this cookbook makes me hungry.
Vietnamese Tapioca Pudding-the next recipe I want to try,
also a photograph from the book.

I have a special soft spot in my heart for the old fashioned comfort of jelled things and puddings, but even if you don't, this cookbook is sure to win you over.  Really, you must read it and make a least 5 things out of this wonderful cookbook.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday- Top Ten Books on my Summer TBR List

(Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly link-up from the blog The Broke and Bookish.)

This week, The Broke and Bookish is asking about the top ten books on your summer TBR (to be read) list.  I had a really hard time with this question, not because I don't have a huuuuge TBR list, but because I have so many to choose from!

1.  The Lost Art of Dress by Linda Przybyzewski- I already read this, but it was most definitely on my to-read list!

2.  The Mary Stewart books-I had a goal of reading all of them this summer, but now I'm second-guessing my abilities to read about 10 of her books along with everything else.

3. Gone With the Wind-After this was mentioned on the blog Girl With Her Head in a Book, I decided that I needed to get over my aversion to this book and read it this summer

4.  Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis-My dad read this recently and told me that it was fantastic, so I'm going to hunt this out and read it.

5. Evelina by France Burney-This was something that was on my Library Loot post about 4 weeks ago and I checked it out of the library, then forgot it, then considered checking it out again, and then forgot.

6. The Baker Street Letters- A book that the library annoyingly refused to put on hold because it was on the new book shelf.  I requested it again and I'm getting it soon

7. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman-A book that, apparently, inspired some kind of controversy (must read up on it).  I saw the movie when it came out and really loved it, so of course, I must read the books.

And then I've discovered a new genre: memoirs that I actually like!  Remember how a couple of weeks ago I had about 3 memoirs on my Library Loot pile?  Well, one of them went missing on the hold shelf and the other just wasn't available, even though it was on the library website (grrr).

So, 8, 9, and 10 are all memoirs that I want to read.  I can't remember all of the titles.  The one I just got in the mail (you know that happy feeling you get when you see that brown, book-sized box?) is called Yes Sister, No Sister: My Life as a Trainee Nurse in 1950s Yorkshire.  It's a fabulous, pretty light book and I'm really excited to read it!

I have to mention as a side note, this is my 100th post!  Yippee!

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Pretty Cookbook

I heard the Kinfolk Cookbook mentioned briefly on a blog and was fascinated.  Wonder of wonders, our public library actually had it on the new book shelf, so I snapped it up and read it aloud on the way home from the library.  I am familiar with Kinfolk and I think we even got a few issues of the magazine.  It is, essentially, a hipster lifestyle magazine.  Actually, I think it's food and entertaining specifically, but really, it's pictures of pretty stuff and then short essays and recipes, most of which are about food.  The pictures are absolutely gorgeous and make me want to find a rough wooden table and mismatched, chipped china (it sounds weird, I know...you just need to see these pictures).  The magazine fascinates me because it's so different from the 90s ideal.  It's still very much this idyllic perfection just like Martha Stewart's magazines, but what you're supposed to be trying to attain is radically different.

So when I found out about this, I was looking forward to a good cookbook read.  Like I said earlier, some of the pictures are absolutely gorgeous and make me want to spend hours with my camera.  However, the writing is...meh.  I think that the writers could do with a little lesson on sparse use of adjectives and avoiding flowery language.  The run-on sentences abound, filled with an adverb or an adjective every 5th word.  It makes for funny, but slightly tiring reading.

However, in spite of the writing, the overall tone of the book is inspiring in that they're encouraging people to get back into the home and cook and entertain.  All of the recipes look delicious.  The format of the book is a short bio about one of the Kinfolk editor's friends, and then recipes that the friends shared.  I wanted to warn you about the writing, but the overall message of the book, the photography, and the recipes make up for it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish

I'm reading a delightfully academic book about the history of dressing well in America.  Its title is the title of this post (no, I'm not going to write out that whole, long title again).  It's written by Linda Przybyszewski, a history professor at the University of Notre Dame and the author of several other history books.  In this book, she takes a new subject upon herself: what women wore in the past, the women who inspired and taught them, and what we have to learn from them.  Przybyszewski fondly refers to these teachers of good fashion as "the dress doctors".  Their leader was Mary Brooks Picken, who inspired many women to use home-sewing to their advantage to create beautiful, thrifty wardrobes.

The dress doctors were home-ec teachers, writers, designers, and many more things.  Przybyszewski argues that they have really important advice for us today.  It's not a secret that many American women have lost all interest in dressing for occasion and this author is passionate about bringing practical beauty through clothes back into our daily lives.  The dress doctors taught that beauty was achieved through several simple rules of dress.  The rules for dress, summarized, are:
1. Sensibility- A wardrobe that serves you, rather than you serving your wardrobe.  This means a relatively inexpensive wardrobe as a whole made up of several good-quality expensive pieces that can be used in a variety of settings.
2. Good Design Principles and Overall Beauty- Clothing that has harmony, proportion, balance, and rhythm.  The clothing should be pleasing to the eye, but needs to answer first and foremost to the sensibility rule.  Sure, a mink coat is gorgeous, but how often are you going to wear it?  That said, sensibility isn't everything and if something is strictly sensible without any beauty, there's no joy in wearing it.
3.  Appropriate Setting- The dress doctors (and the author) firmly believed (believe) that there is a time and place for everything.  Out in public, you shouldn't be wearing your plunging necklines.  That should be reserved for your family and closest friends.

I agree with these rules pretty much.  There is a rather ridiculous emphasis on colors "going" together, which I find unnecessary.  Instead of this rule, I would say, "Colors that I, personally, find pleasing to the eye."  I find the rules about, "Well, I can't wear this color because I'm too light and never wear pink and read together!" to be tiresome and not something that needs to be dredged up from the past.  But aside from that, I really wish that there were some strict dress doctors walking up and down our streets today.

The book was really well written.  It was academic, while managing to be amusing and inspiring.  The perfect kind of book.  Przybyszewski tells of how clothing has evolved from the dress doctors of the 1900s to today and its ups and downs along the way (boy, is she scathing of 70s fashion) in a truly amusing way.  Honestly, I really can't do this book justice in a measly blog post.  However, I highly recommend it.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Pick-Up Triggers

This post is thanks to the blog, The Story Girl.  That post was my inspiration.  Pick-Up Triggers are categories of books that you just have to read.  I thought I would put together my own little list of pick-up triggers.

Our gorgeous chive plant.  I do love me
some pretty greenery pictures.

1. Cozy vintage family life

2. History of clothing

3. Books about language and reading- if they're funny, that's all the better.

4. A good, cozy mystery

5. Books that I know will greatly inspire me and spur me onward-I guess that's a little vague...

6. Anything music-based

7. Interesting histories-pretty much any era, as long as it's written by a person who obviously cares about the subject

8. Interesting science-same criteria as with interesting histories

9.  1930s/40s/50s cozy fiction

What are your "pick-up triggers"?

Friday, June 6, 2014

What the World Eats

I took a little break from my usual reads, cozy pre-1980 novels, to pick up a very inspiring and fascinating book called What the World Eats.  This was a much-talked-about book (I think it was originally meant for children, but you can't tell in the least) when it came out in 2008 and I just never bothered to pick it up.  Then several weeks ago, I was reading a blog post that mentioned this book and warmly recommended it.  So I headed off to the library and picked this up and read it right away.  I was writing a post in my head while picking strawberries and now I've come in to write it.  Be prepared for a (minor) rant, everybody.

What the World Eats covers families in different countries, describing their daily work and what they eat in a week.  The family poses next to their table (or the ground) covered with all of the food they eat in one week.  All different people are mentioned in this book, from the French family with two college-aged daughters to the large, multi-generational Bhutanese family.  
That's probably the worst picture I've ever taken.  But you get the gist- those
people don't have enough food.

As would be expected, there is a heartbreaking difference in the amounts of food.  The poor family in Chad with 16 people in their family have about 1/4 of the food of the American family of 4.  The disparity in quantity was so strikingly unfair.  
...Aaaand the American family.  Sigh.

The other thing that struck me was the *ahem* crap (for lack of a nicer word) that so many people in the western world are eating.  Now I'm not just talking about the occasional box of Oreos as a little treat or the gorgeous green bottles of seltzer water (which I do adore) or perhaps some boxed cereal.  Oh my, no.  We're talking the whole table covered with boxes and plastic bags of stuff and then one sad, measly head of broccoli (I kid you not).  And please remember that this was the food in a week, not a month.  Oh dear, and the McDonalds.  It was everywhere, from the Chinese family to the Mexican family.  In this book, the Mexican family has 6 gallons of Coca-Cola a week.  I'm sure they're thanking America for handing them a nice helping of diabetes.  
Beautiful, beautiful green kale growing in a flower bed.

So now that I've gotten my rant out, I'll give some practical thoughts.  First, let's look at some of the families in the book who had enough (that's key) and were eating fairly responsibly.  The Mongolian family had eggs grown by a neighbor, fresh meat from the market, some oil, rice, salt, and soy sauce from a store.  Added to this was lots of produce, most of it grown locally or preserved (fermented, I think).  The large Turkish family had great food on their table.  The only prepared thing that was bought was some sesame seed paste cookies from the market.  There were eggs, fish, beef, potatoes, yogurt, pasta, feta, and milk.  And there was a nice long list of vegetables, some of them grown locally. Well, there was the pack of cigarettes, but aside from that, they had good choices.  I think it's important to look at the people that are making better decisions for inspiration.
The strawberries are starting to come on fast.  6 quarts
in one morning!  Yippee! 

Second, I think it takes baby steps (and the authors of this book back me up in the introduction).  For instance, in my part of the world right now, everything is flooded with beautiful, local produce.  We happen to have a large garden, but there are markets in pretty much every city nowadays.  It would be ridiculous to be buying Central American strawberries right now.  If we just got rid of, say, 3/4s of the packaged stuff just from March to October, we would make such a difference.  And as if cutting out all that nasty stuff wasn't enough of a reward, we'll be stealing less from people like the family from Chad because we won't be shipping unneeded resources from halfway around the world to ourselves.  

This book is fantastic and if you are the least bit skeptical after reading this post, go read this book and you won't be. Oh, and I'd love to hear what you think about this.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Library Loot 6/5- Or, The Week of Memoirs

I'm here with this week's library loot.  For those of you who don't know, Library Loot is a blogger's collections of reads for the week that she/he has gotten from the library.  Library Loot is hosted by the wonderful blog, The Captive Reader.

Most of the books in my library loot pile are not yet in my library loot pile.  This appears to be the week of the memoirs.  I have a total of three!  As a rather memoir-averse person, this is strange.  But they all look so good.  Anyway, here are the books that are on my to-read-in-the-very-near-future list.  So, here goes:

1.  Her Royal Spyness- I just started this book and I'm really liking it!  It's the story of a young minor royal in the 30s who becomes a spy.  It's the first in a series.


2.  Yes, I Could Care Less: How to Be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk- Looks funny.

3. A Girl Named Zippy- A memoir about a girl in Mooreland, Indiana

4.  A Nurse in Time- A memoir about a nurse in 1930s England.

5. Yes Sister, No Sister: My Life as a Trainee Nurse in 1950s Yorkshire- Yet another nursing memoir

So that's the rundown of what's on my library loot pile!  What are you reading?