Book Review: The Basque Book

The Basque Book: a love letter in recipes from the kitchen of Txikito is a beautiful cookbook and guide to Basque food. When I chose the book, I had no idea what Basque food looked like, and I had a fun time finding out. book

The book is by Alexandra Raij and Eder Montero, the chefs of the restaurant Txikito based in NYC. The love Alexandra, who writes the introduction, and Eder have for really sharing the roots of their food come through in the book. They take time to explain what ‘the basics’ look like in Basque cuisine (how to cook an egg four ways, how to make your own mayonnaise, and many other stock items), how to put together a coherent meal using recipes they provide, and plenty of other information and anecdotes that go beyond the recipe.

The photos are really beautiful, the writing is meaningful, and the recipes range from pretty easy three-ingredient (albeit maybe more exotic ingredients than you can find at your chain grocery store) recipes to half-day endeavors within each division. While I am still not sure I could explain Basque cuisine to a friend, I do think I learned enough to know it doesn’t really suit my tastes (I’m not really into olives or anchovies or seafood in general…) but it was a wonderful journey regardless.

The book is available from the publishers here. Thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review

1Q84 – the Willow house

The dowager in Murakami’s 1Q84 is a very poised and elegant lady whose business acumen has served her well. She lives in what I imagine to be a beautiful and tasteful estate called ‘the Willow House,’ though her home is really more of a mansion. I mean, it has an attached glass house just for hosting rare butterflies, a mirrored room for ballet, and a sunroom that doubles as a massage room. Through the protagonist, Aomame, we catch glimpses of other rooms and outdoor spaces in the house. Each setting seems sparsely furnished yet luxurious. After all, in urban Japan, space is a luxury.

I ran across a house on curbed that I think would be a great Willow House (if it were set in Napa Valley). It is a midcentury home built in 1962 by the architect William Thomas Brooks, and is called the Petal House 🙂 There are a lot more pictures on the curbed link and a nice description of the grounds and some architectural highlights on zillow.

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Book Review: The Water-Saving Garden

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The Water-Saving Garden is a great book that is equally inspiring and technically helpful. The author, Pam Penick, is a garden designer and blogger who lives in Texas and so, as you can imagine, has a lot of experience creating gardens in water-scarce climates. As someone who works in the water resource management field, I think it is wonderful to see a book address the importance of smart landscaping and understanding your water source and usage.

The book is best for DIYers, for those who are ready and willing to put thought and effort into their gardens. I would say it is also good for people who are generally interested in creating a smarter garden but have not given it a lot of thought. This book will give you a lot of big-picture ideas as well as concrete examples. It made me eager to plan a garden even though I live in an apartment with zero outdoor space. A great pro of this book is that it really asks you to think of what you have, in terms of rainfall and temperature, native plant life, lot size and slope, and shows you how you can create a manageable and unique garden design that benefits rather than suffers from your natural environment.

It is divided into five somewhat thematic chapters. The first includes many case studies of thoughtful garden designs. The second chapter addresses water in many ways – how to save it, how to irrigate efficiently, how to create landscapes that move rainwater in a beneficial way. It is full of technical details and even explanations of some basic soil and fluid mechanics that reminded me of some of the design projects I did as an undergraduate in environmental engineering! I would say there’s a lot of good information in this book. The other chapters address plants, how to choose, when to plant, etc, and include a particularly whimsical section on how plants can evoke the idea of water.

The only cons I found about this book are that (1) I feel like the book would benefit from some more panoramic photos, aerial views, or even sketches of the garden layout and plans and (2) there are many tidbits of information but they feel spread out and at times unorganized. The book does not do well being read from page 1 to page 230 but probably works better if you pick the headers or chapter titles that you are most interested in at the time.

A final perk for me was that now I notice a lot of the techniques mentioned in the book being implemented all around me in southern California, and I really appreciate the homeowners and landscapers who made the decision to plant a less thirsty garden. 🙂

Thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review; for those interested, you can buy the book here.

Running in the Family – A Sinhalese meal

We are having a formal dinner. String hoppers, meat curry, egg rulang, papadams, potato curry. Alice’s date chutney, seeni sambol, mallung and brinjals and iced water. All the dishes are on the table and a good part of the meal is spent passing them around to each other. It is my favorite meal – anything that has string hoppers and egg rulang I eat with a lascivious hunger. For dessert there is buffalo curd and jaggery sauce – a sweet honey made from coconut, like maple syrup but with a smokey taste. – Ondaatje

For my last Running in the Family post, I wanted to explore Sinhalese food since I truthfully didn’t recognize half the foods in the above passage.

While hoppers are like thin, crispy pancakes of rice flour and coconut milk made in a bowl-shape (which look really incredibly delicious), string hoppers or idyyappam are steamed and springy in texture. Their name is fairly evident once you’ve compared the two types of hoppers.

 

Egg rulang is a scramble of eggs and sliced onions. Papadums I have actually had before but never learned the name of! They are thin and disc-shaped, typically made from a black gram flour or a variety of other materials like lentil, chickpea, or rice flours. A typical variety I’ve had include ground black pepper and garlic.

Now, I’m not sure what Alice’s date chutney is like, but this chutney recipe is sweet and tangy with ginger and red chili spices.

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Seeni sambol is a sweet caramelized onion relish that, like what I’ve been learning about Sri Lankan food, comes with a punch of spices.

Mallung, also called mallum, is a dry dish of cooked chopped greens and coconut. One version with kale is shown below. Brinjals are what we know as eggplants!

Finally for dessert, a buffalo curd with jaggery sauce is like a yogurt and honey mix.

Here is an excellent introductory article to Sri Lankan food. More egg hoppers! They look so good.

Running in the Family – Resthouses

Resthouses are an old tradition in Ceylon. The roads are so dangerous that there is one every fifteen miles. You can drive in to relax, have a drink or lunch or get a room for the night. – Ondaatje

Ondaatje is wonderful at creating rich scenes with few sentences. For me, the passage about the resthouses his father visited evoked images of rattan chairs, beautiful fabrics, broad dark green plants all around, and mixed indoor/outdoor spaces.

Here is the design board I put together for my Ceylon resthouse!

The living room used to belong to David Bowie while the bedroom on the bottom row is from one of Calvin Klein’s houses. Find the outdoor shower along with others here, one bedroom along with more tropical ideas here, the table settings are here. The foyer is part of a pretty cool house in Mexico, and the space with the reflection pool is from a Moroccan house. I think they were pretty fun links to browse through, and I hope you will think so too 🙂

Running in the Family – Lalla’s Flowers

She was full of the “passions,” whether drunk or not. She had always loved flowers but in her last decade couldn’t be bothered to grow them. Still, whenever she arrived on a visit she would be carrying an armful of flowers and announce, “Darling, I’ve just been to church and I’ve stolen some flowers for you. These are Mrs. Abeysekare’s, the lilies are from Mrs. Ratnayake’s, the agapanthus is from Violet Meedeniya, and the rest are from your garden.”  – Ondaatje, Running in the Family

Michael’s grandmother, Lalla, brings energy, mischief, and flowers wherever she goes. In reading and reviewing the Flower Workshop, I thought of Lalla while browsing the wild, organic, and wonderful arrangements of Ariella Chezar‘s. I’ve included a photo and the recipe for one arrangement that I think Lalla would really enjoy.

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“Dutch masters”
12 white miniature rose canes
5 green viburnum branches
5 purple parrot tulips
5 peach parrot tulips
5 orange parrot tulips
5 white peony tulips with red edging
5 purple fringed tulips
6 green picotee ranunculus with plum edges
6 orange-peach ranunculus
5 plum-toned chrysanthemums
10 checkered lilies
6 purple fritillaria persica
6 white fritillaria persica
6 fritillaria uva-vulpis
5 green hellebores

Flower Workshop

This book is meant to inspire.

Ariella Chezar has certainly accomplished that and more with her book, The Flower Workshop. This book is full of beautiful photos full of color and texture, a reflection of Chezar’s belief that floral arrangements ought to be ‘painterly’ in composition. She is well known within the floral community (which I am learning is a thing) for her free-form and wonderfully natural work. Her book is a visual feast.

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I loved looking through the photos, which comprise mostly of finished bouquets but also include a few step-by-step demonstrations and many sort of inspirational boards where she has lain out flowers, twigs and greenery, fruits, vases, and any other object that suits the theme of the chapter. The labeling of the flowers was helpful to me and will surely help all build their flower vocabulary. Chapters address topics such as focusing on color tones, highlighting specific and favorite flowers, using branches, fruits, or berries, and more. The text is fairly slim and is meant mostly to accompany the photos.

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What I liked: Again, the photos are really beautiful and inspirational in themselves (the photos above come from her website; I want the pictures in the book to be a surprise for those who choose read it!). Chezar includes many photos of bouquets along with the ‘recipe’ to go along with that were a lot of fun to look through. She includes some useful and basic tips on how to make bouquets, what tools she uses, and a chart in the back of which flowers are in which season (probably what I will use the most often).

My absolute favorite thing about the book are her double-page photos of flowers arranged by specific colors (‘smoky mauve’, ‘blue mood’, ‘luminous yellow’).

What I am not so sure about: There’s nothing I dislike about the book! The only thing I was unclear about is who exactly is the target audience? Buying and growing flowers take a good amount of time and money. For me, it will be a long time until I have the resources needed to collect the ingredients for making any single one of her arrangements, but it sure is nice to have this book to look at in the mean time.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review!

 

The Watercolor Course You’ve Always Wanted

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I’ve dabbled a little in watercolors for a few years and really enjoy them, but I’ve never had guided lessons or a book to follow until recently (Jessica bought me some great books for my birthday last year). I’ve always thought I could make faster progress if I had some instruction or guidance, so I was naturally interested in this book.

The Watercolor Course You’ve Always Wanted is by Leslie Frontz, an experienced artist and teacher who says the book is to be like a workshop in book format that

… guides everyone – absolute beginners as well as seasoned artists – beyond the basics.

The title of the book along with that introduction gave me pretty high expectations and as a result, I was a little unimpressed with the content. The book is divided into several chapters that the author suggests you read in sequential order, but if you aren’t a total beginner, I’m not sure it’s necessary. The seven chapters cover topics such as materials, shapes, values, colors, ‘the fundamentals of line’, textures, and mood.

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Interpreter of Maladies – “Sexy”

A saleswoman took one look at the paper and began to open drawers. She produced an oblong cake of soap in a black case, a hydrating mask, a vial of cell renewal drops, and two tubes of face cream. – Lahiri

The third book I am reading this summer is Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. In the short story “Sexy”, Miranda enjoys walking through the cosmetic department, where she sees a man buying the above items for his wife. I also think there is something soothing and pleasing about browsing high-end cosmetics, but I’ve never bought any. I’ve done some browsing on etsy and this is perhaps what I would put on my list; what would be on yours?

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Cosmetic Bag

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Coconut and Rose Lip Balm

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Sage and Lemongrass Shaving Cream

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Citrus and Sea Salt Soap

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Honeysuckle Lotion

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A Matcha Green Tea and Jasmine Set

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Aromatherapy Charm (which I didn’t know was a thing)

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And a very summer-y Red Berry and Sea Salt Body Scrub

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And these are fancy bathroom soaps too much fun 🙂

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion – Tsukumogami

Towards the end of the book, Mizoguchi considers his next big action (and if you know anything about the book, you know what I’m talking about) to be something that would “open the eyes of men to the disasters of the Tsukumogami and save them from those disasters.”

Tsukumogami are part of Japanese folklore and were also used in some Buddhist teachings. They are household items (silverware, pots, brooms, so on) that, having ‘served’ for 100 years, receive their own souls. They are mostly harmless, maybe mischievous and happy to prank their past owners, or maybe angry if they were mistreated or broken…

There are stories of specific types of Tsukumogami; some are loyal and kind, others are characterized as malevolent. Many seek the company of their own kind. The abumi-guchi was once a stirrup. Upon becoming a Tsukumogami, he lies and waits for his soldier, who is probably deceased, to return for him. Boroborotons were once futons. Those that were neglected may wander the house at night and throw people off their beds or even try to strangle them (unfortunately, it isn’t the only item that tends to want to strangle you…). Others might just throw a party with the other Tsukumogami of the house while you’re away. Koto-furunushis are the Tsukumogami of koto instruments. Those that were played often and with love are often content and will perform songs for you, especially the ones that you practiced often. Kotos that are neglected, however, turn sad and run away with other Tsukumogami.

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Thus before spring equinox, you should conduct a “house-sweeping”, where one gathers all the old items and utensils in the house and throws them out. Still worried? Consider building a shrine for the items you have broken and neglected and apologize!