Four Favorite Books

Four Favorite Books for May

Being fond of patterns, it’s pretty clear I have one where my Four Favorite Book posts are concerned. First, I am always surprised by how quickly the month has passed. Wouldn’t you know — it’s almost June!

Second, I have been, yet again, too busy to read anything longer than other people’s blog posts. So, I don’t have a work of fiction to share with you this month. Lucky for you though, my third pattern is I truly love books, look to them constantly for inspiration, and have every intention of sharing my favorites with you each month. So, here goes.

Instead of reading novels, Mike and I have been spending lots of time in our backyard.

image

We have plans to transform it into our perfect summer “staycation destination” and one of the books which I have found inspiring is Inside OUT, Relating Garden to House by Page Dickey, Photographs by Richard Felber, Published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2000.

image

The book features 13 distinct gardens attached to homes in diverse settings — including an arroyo in Phoenix, a rooftop in Manhattan, a suburban hacienda in Austin, Texas, and a backyard prairie in Lake Forest, Illinois:

image

That prairie almost makes me feel like we know what we’re doing with our backyard.

(Not even close!)

image

We love summer, fall, and early winter in Boise. We are however, considerably less fond of full-on winter, and the inversion — endless days of cold, flat grey skies and dry brown vistas. We are also tired of the doldrums that set in with the inevitable cabin fever we suffer as we wait for spring to arrive fully, sometime around the beginning of May.

Because we have felt this way for a while now, and because we find ourselves in a position of more freedom now that Logan has moved out and we only have our wee pack o’mutts to care for, Mike and I are thinking of spending our winters elsewhere.

Which brings me to my favorite book of Interior Design for this month: New Orleans, Elegance and Decadence, Narrative by Randolph Delehanty, Photographs by Richard Sexton, Published by Chronicle Books, 1993.

image

Truth be told, this is much more than a book of interiors. It covers New Orleans’ history, explains the roots of her unique ethnic melange, and entrenched social strata, gives some insight to her celebrations, and to her melancholy. New Orleans is not a place for people who do not like to feel their feelings. New Orleans is as messy and as sticky-sweet as your beating heart would be if you were to wear it, literally, on your sleeve.

image

If things work out they way we’re planning, our next winter may be a lot less grey, and a lot more, shall we say, sanguine?

For my favorite cookbook I have a real oldie but goodie for you…Mmmmm A Feastiary by Ruth Reichl, Published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972.

image

I was reminded of this book earlier this month when Pat Oleszko turned 67. She is featured throughout in her wonderful, crazy ensembles — highly unusual artwork for a cookbook I’d guess, even in the early ’70’s.

image

To be honest, I don’t really cook out of this book but it makes for very entertaining reading. Ruth Reichel grew up to be a pretty good writer (Tender at the Bone; Comfort Me with Apples; and Garlic and Sapphires) and editor (Gourmet magazine) and it’s fun to read about her early days and see pictures of her real family and friends back in the 60’s. Kind of gives you that mellow, home-grown feeling, like a nice batch of fresh brownies.

image

Finally, my art book for this month is 1000 Artist Journal Pages, Personal Pages and Inspirations, edited by Dawn DeVries Sokol, Published by Quarry Books, 2008.

image

This book is just what it says it is — photographs of 1000 art journal pages (spread over 299 pages in the book) showing all sorts of artists’ personal thoughts, inspirations, methods of visually remembering really important people, places and things or, the slightest of ephemeral snippets of time.

image

image

One of the spreads features some pages by local artist Lisa Cheney. Lisa teaches people how to create their own art journals. She will be giving a workshop for TVAA which should be awesome, so you might want to hurry and sign up for it!

image

Lisa will also be on a panel of artists talking about creating and keeping art journals on Monday, June 2nd at 6:00 at the Creative Access Arts Center (500 S. 8th St. in Boise), along with fellow artists Beau Van Greener, Pam McKnight, Jeanette Ross, and drumroll please…..little ol’ me.

And now, it’s time to go enjoy my backyard — while it vaguely resembles a prairie, and the poppies are still taller than the crab grass!

1 Favorite Book for April & 2 Tangential Inspirational Favorites

It’s happened again. Today is the last day of the month and by now I should have shared my 4 favorite books with you…but…but…but I didn’t read any books this month. Not one.

However, I do have 1 favorite book to share anyway — I didn’t read it (it’s 99% pictures), but I had a great time mentally reorganizing its contents into new collections — which I’ll tell you a bit more about in a minute.

The book is the one I mentioned my friend Betsy Balch loaned to me, called The Printed Square * Vintage Handkerchief Patterns for Fashion and Design * by Nicky Albrechtsen, Published by Harper Collins, 2012.

image

This is the kind of book that I want two copies of. One to keep as a book, and the other to tear the pages out of so I can frame my favorites and then play with them in a variety of arrangements. It’s divided into chapters with the handkerchiefs grouped by color — red, orange, yellow, green, azure, blue, pink, purple, beige, brown, black and white. Which makes me think, this book would be fun published as a folio so you could create your own sets. They could as easily be divided into floral, geometric, Oriental, Western, or by decades — 20’s, 30’s, 40’s or 50’s. So if you get this book, buy two, and make one into a folio!

And now, confession time. Though I didn’t read this month, I did watch plenty of Netflix. But before you get all up in my grill about brain-rot, remember that when I watch TV I can also make pom poms, carve wood blocks, ink altered magazine pages, Kantha stitch quilts, and paint my boots. All of which I have done. This month. Which brings me to my tangential inspirational favorites….

Here are 2 Netflix series I enjoyed in April, the best bon bons to eat while watching them, and the “collections” of vintage handkerchief patterns I mentally put together for each of the series’ heroines.

image

Series #1: “The Paradise” is a BBC costume drama loosely based on the Emile Zola novel, The Ladies’ Paradise. Denise Lovette is hired as a shop girl in the women’s department of The Paradise department store. She is a natural talent with lightning quick inspiration, obvious intelligence, a kind heart, and a working class background which means she starts at the bottom. Luckily John Moray, the owner of The Paradise, sees Denise’s true genius.

A cup of English Breakfast black tea with cream and honey, and some Turkish Delight are my bon bons of choice with this series. (Watch the powdered sugar if you are making pom poms!)

image

My Printed Square Collection for Denise Lovette…”Get Lost in Paradise!”

image

image

image

image

Series #2: “Hit & Miss” stars Chloe Sevigny who plays Mia, a transexual contract killer who finds out she has an ll year old son by her former girlfriend Wendy. Wendy has died leaving their son Ryan, as well as 3 other children in need of a parent though none of the kids is too sure about having a dad for a mom. Mia has almost saved enough money from her contract killings for her final transition operation, but now the kids are being threatened with eviction, and a really attractive man at the pub has just asked her out.

image

I hate when that happens. But when it does, I have some really strong coffee with cream, and Dark Roca with my Netflix marathon.

image

My Printed Square Collection for Mia…”Fire Away!”

image

image

image

image

We’ll see if there’s more time in my schedule for books next month when I don’t have any looming deadlines. Best guess right now? That’s a definite MAY-be.

Four Favorite Books for March ’14

Oh good grief! Another month has flown by and I have barely had time to read the “Suggestions for You” on my Netflix account, much less entire books.

As a result, this month I’ve chosen 3 old favorites and only 1 new book — the cookbook — which simplifies the time I spend dealing with meals and thus gives me more time to get to those sanity preserving Netflix marathons.

I’ve chosen A Big Storm Knocked it Over by Laurie Colwin as my novel, and yes, the title is a nod to the main distraction of my month.

image

Laurie Colwin, as you know, is my favorite author and after my little rant in last month’s Four Favorite Books for February the choice of this book should come as no surprise. In fact, the New York Times review of this novel said “Laurie Colwin was utterly fearless in writing about happiness….The novel makes the idea of happy endings for decent people seem entirely plausible, almost inevitable — no small feat for a writer these days and no small pleasure for a reader.”

This novel is about Jane Louise and her marriage to Teddy Parker, her becoming a mother to Miranda, her best-friendship with Edie and her partner Mokie, and the intertwining of their families and lives in Manhattan, and in Marshallville in the Parker family home on Cabbage Hill Road. It’s about belonging, even when you feel like a total outsider, and about the family we build with our hearts, not simply our bloodlines.

For my book of interior design I chose RENOVATE — What the Pros Know About Giving New Life to Your House, Loft, Condo or Apartment, edited by Fred A. Bernstein, and published by Barnes & Noble, 2004.

image

Remaking less than perfect spaces into ones which suit me and my family must be considered, after 9 houses, as one of my main focuses in life. I am always interested in what other people do to their homes and often find inspiration in their solutions. This book has one renovation in particular which I absolutely love.

image

It is Leo Adam’s home which started out as a small cabin on the edge of the Yakima Indian reservation and is now an expansive space graciously transitioning the outdoors in while expanding the inside out. Leo is a painter, but he has the ability to take the most humble of materials and transform them into art. In the photo above, the base of the table is an old washtub resting on a wheel hub. The cross shaped wall-hanging is the outside of an old refrigerator, which Leo found, rusted and shot at in the desert. Like me, he doesn’t like carpet so his floors are OSB, with “rugs” of masonite painted like oriental carpets in his earth-toned palette. And yes — those rugs were the original inspiration which led me to paint rugs directly on my floors. Genius.

The art book I selected this time is Fantasy Worlds published by Taschen, 1999. My friend Allison gave it to me a few years ago before I ever produced any public art but it was prescient nonetheless because in spite of the fact most of the examples in this book at least started out as private art, they are public art now, and an odd comfort to me as I struggle with familiar materials on an unfamiliar scale.

image

The book shows many examples which you may have seen before like the Watts Towers in LA, and the work of Niki de Saint Phalle — mosaic works works apparently hold up better in windstorms!

image

There are also many examples of surface pattern design which I find particularly inspiring.

image

My last choice this month is a brand new cookbook from one of my favorite bloggers – Michelle Tam, and her husband Henry Fong. It’s called nom nom paleo — FOOD FOR HUMANS and is published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2013.

image

Over the past 15 years I have transitioned from low-carb to Primal to essentially Paleo, and Michelle’s take on the Paleo paradigm is perfectly aligned with my current understanding of how best to meet our nutritional needs — while eating like gourmets.

image

All the recipes are made with whole foods using unprocessed ingredients. She even provides recipes for foods we are used to buying processed like mayonnaise and sriracha, and the right ingredients to replace those we no longer eat like using coconut or almond flour in place of wheat flour.

And of course there’s plenty of bacon.

image

So on that note, as Porky Pig would say… “Th-th-th-that’s All Folks!”

Four Favorite Books for February

Let us all prepare to dab our eyes, blow a kiss, and bid a fond farewell to February 2014 — the fastest little month in the year.

But before we do, let’s pause a moment to enjoy my Four Favorite Books for February. (You thought I was going to forget didn’t you?!)

Be forewarned however, my choice for Fiction comes with a nonspecific Spoiler Alert — i.e. I am going to tell you a little bit about what I DON’T like about this book first.

My choice for February’s Favorite Fiction (triple F, it must be good!) is Bel Canto, a novel by Ann Patchett.

image

OK, here’s what I don’t like. I don’t like that the whole time you are reading this lyrically written story and the magically realistic spell is being cast, seducing you into believing with your whole heart that it could happen, and beauty and truth will prevail, your whole heart is actually growing heavier and heavier with the dread that it couldn’t, and they won’t. (Hearts aren’t idiots.)

So what’s the story? In a small country somewhere in South America a lavish birthday party with opera’s most famous soprano as the entertainment is being held for a Japanese business man in the home of the country’s Vice President. As the lights go down after her final aria, all 250 guests are taken hostage by a small band of terrorists. The story is what happens, that you would not predict, and that makes perfect sense….if only.

I loved this book right up to the last chapter. If you are like me, and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook,

image

read this book. You’ll love it. Just DON’T READ THE LAST CHAPTER. There’s no reason to. It’s just a story after all. Let the story live forever ending with the penultimate chapter. You will thank me for that. (And by the way if you haven’t read Farewell to Arms, or Cold Mountain, yet, I’d recommend the same course of action with those books as well.)

For my book of Interior Design I chose PAD, The Guide to Ultra-Living by Matt Maranian. Photographs by Jack Gould, Illustrations by Susan Tudor. Published by Chronicle Books, 2000.

image

With sections titled Launch Pad (Introduction), Living Wombs, Sanitary Pads (Bathrooms), Crash Pads (Bedrooms) and Padios this book is a hoot. It actually features photos from the homes of eclectic artists like Jon Bok, and Dan Nadeau who decorates like “a tortured alcoholic homosexual priest with a passion for hunting.”

image

The book also has a lot of helpful how-to instructions for the DIY crowd, including my favorite, the GARISH GARNISHES:

image

Believe me, after almost finishing Bel Canto, and spending even a short month doing DIY projects, if you’re like me you are going to need your drink to have a garnish which is a meal in itself!

Which actually makes a nice segue to my February Cookbook: The ABC of Canapes from Peter Pauper Press, copyright 1953.

image

I am actually getting to be very much like Cher’s character Mrs. Flax in Mermaids who served hors d’oeurves for every meal. Her cookbook was called Fun Finger Foods, but I’d bet it didn’t have the recipe for Idiot’s Delight. Not that I would actually cook Idiot’s Delight — it’s made with Accent, which I think is MSG, which makes my throat itch. That would be silly.

image

Still, any cookbook that lets you swap out peanut butter for cheese gets attention at our house.

My final pick for February is the Art book, and my choice is Just Above the Mantelpiece: mass-market masterpieces, by Wayne Hemingway, published by Booth-Clibborn Editions, 2000.

image

The author was born in 1961 on the NW coast of England, and raised in his Nan’s “art gallery” filled with mass market masterpieces including windmills, playful gnomes, coiffured poodles, velvet bulls, vintage car ashtrays, as well as the paintings of “unreasonably vibrant-skinned oriental beauties [who] fought for precious wall space with big-eyed animals and even bigger-eyed children.”

image

image

He knows his subject upside and down, and has a true affection for it, as well as the artists who produced the work. It’s actually fascinating to follow the “big-eye” phenomena and to think about its expression now in Japanese anime and the Blythe doll craze, for example.

image

Well that was fun! I’m off to have some of Jenny’s Mock Caviar and a cocktail with a Crystal Craze GummiSaver Kabob garnish for dessert. Happy reading!

Four Favorite Books for January ’14

This wasn’t exactly one of those months when I could just sit around enjoying my stacks of books and pots of tea, though I did manage to sneak in a couple of cosy moments thanks to Action Girl having a very strong streak of self-indulgent preservation.

When I did find time to read I found myself turning to, or maybe returning to would be more accurate, ladies who have withstood the test of time and are being rediscovered and appreciated all over again — perhaps more now than they were before.

I usually choose one work of fiction for my monthly favorite, and this book is actually described, by its author, as “Faction” so though it is truth, embroidered, I am going with it instead of a novel…

image

DV. by Diana Vreeland, edited by George Plimpton and Christopher Hemphill, published by Da Capo Press in 1997.

Just read it. I have been sitting here with my fingers hovering over my keyboard…and… I. need. 1000. words. But I’ll try.

Diana Vreeland not only managed to be present at the heart of what made each decade from the 20’s through the 80’s special, but she managed to capture their essences and then visually transcribe those essences for the edification of the generations in the forms of Vogue and Harpers Bazaar — like Illuminated Manuscripts. And the way she understood color…. “Donkey!” Just read it.

For my Cookbook selection I chose Frida’s Fiesta’s — Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo, published by Clarkson Potter, 1994.

image

The book is written by Guadalupe Rivera, Diego Rivera’s daughter with Marie-Pierre Colle, and is divided into 12 fiestas which were special to Frida and Diego.

image

There are gorgeous photos of their home in Coyoacan, as well as of the prepared recipes which are all autentico, delicioso and made with ingredients you can find at your local grocery store — and if not there, then at the Mexican mercado next door. At least that’s what las chingonas tell me.

image

My selection for Interior Design is really more of an Exterior Design book, though some interiors are featured, and the “lady” is in fact many “ladies”… America’s Painted Ladies, The Ultimate Celebration of Our Victorian’s. It’s written by Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen and published by Penguin Books, 1992. There are examples of spectacular Painted Ladies from all over the country and lots of inspiration if you find yourself with the opportunity to choose more than 2 colors for an exterior paint job.

image

While in Woodstock, IL we lived in a Victorian and I had the great pleasure of selecting 5 colors with which to dress her up for the first time in her 100 year long life. I scandalized the neighborhood. People actually yelled things at me and my painters, Juan and Adrian (who had flown North for the winter from Puebla), as they covered her boring white and pale yellow with navy blue, cappuccino, persimmon, apple red, and gold.

When we were getting ready to move back to Boise I had a yard sale, and EVERY neighbor who dropped by told me how much they loved that we had brought out the true spirit of our house and our neighborhood with the new paint!

Finally, my Art book selection for January is Vera, The Art and Life of an Icon, by Susan Seid, published by Abrams in 2010.

image

I’ve been kicking myself because I had a Vera linen dishtowel with beautiful red tomatoes on a deep orange background which belonged to my Gramma Dottie, who kept it in perfect condition. I inherited it, and beat the crap out of it drying dishes, and now I don’t have it any more. What would Vera say?

Actually, I think Vera would have been delighted because her whole intent was to bring color and art and a little bit of sunshine and playfulness into the mundane and often drab lives of the “ordinary housewife.” Why shouldn’t your dishtowel make you smile while you dry the bazillionth dish? Of course, as this book so beautifully shows you, Vera’s vision, and her business model, went miles beyond dishtowels!

image

So those are my favorites for this month — mostly pictures, and just before the month runs out, but all worth a look, or a second look. Some things just get better with time.

Four Favorite Books for December

Picking Favorites isn’t easy! I thought I knew which books I was going to choose a month ago but now that I’m actually composing my post I’ve completely changed my mind. The fiction in particular was difficult because the book I thought I wanted to suggest was just too dark. It had a definite December orientation, but there was too much bitter with the sweet. So, I have a different book which has more sweet than bitter. Let’s start with it:

image

A lanky redheaded magician with a crinkly smile named Adam, and his talking dog Mopsy, travel to the walled city of Mageia in order to apply to the Guild of Master Magicians. There’s just one problem. Adam is truly Magic and that causes the other magicians to be jealous and fearful and to rise up against him in a murderous riot. What ever happened to peace, love, community and collaboration? Anybody?

The Man Who Was Magic, by Paul Gallico, was written for young adults, though I would extend to it the “children of all ages” categorization. It was written in 1966 and unfortunately it is now out of print. My friend Allison tracked down this used library edition for me (a First Edition, well loved). Yeah, she’s a little magic too. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s available on Kindle though, or you might find it at your local Library!

This book is sweet, sentimental, and even while reading the worrisome parts you know how it will all turn out. That may make me a sap for liking it. So be it. It’s any easy “Feel Good” on a wintery afternoon.

***********************************************************************

My favorite book of Interior Design is Calder at Home, The Joyous Environment of Alexander Calder by Pedro E. Guerrero, published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang in 1998.

image

The author first met the Calders in 1963 when Alexander Calder was 64 and Guerrero was assigned to photograph the Calder kitchen for a House & Garden article. The Calder’s house wasn’t exactly the sort of house the magazine was at all used to showing. Maybe not exactly H&G’s cup of tea, but for Guerrero it was “complete happiness and heart-stopping clutter.”

image

One of the many reasons I love this book is because it shows not only the interweaving of art-making and home-making which I am so keen on, but you can also see so clearly what a wonderful pair Alexander and Louisa were and how they inspired each other.

image

***********************************************************************

My favorite Art book is really just a bit of Christmas fluff. It is Greetings from Andy (Warhol) – Christmas at Tiffany’s, by John Loring, published by Harry N. Abrams, INC. in 2004.

image

I’ve always preferred Warhol’s early advertising artwork from the 1950’s to his later work. What I didn’t know was his process. He liked to create the look of a print by doing a wet offset image with lots of ink splotches and then pressing two sheets of paper together. Later he would tip in watercolor loosely, purposely not worrying about staying inside the lines to give it a childlike feel.

image

***********************************************************************

And finally, my favorite cookbook(s) for December are two tiny books inscribed from my mom to my Gramma Dottie: To Mother, Christmas, 1954.
They are Holiday Punches, Party Bowls and Soft Drinks, and The Holiday Cookbook, both published by Peter Pauper Press in 1953 and 1950, respectively.

image

I’m actually having a cup of Hot Mulled Cider as I write this. It’s a little recipe from the Holiday Punches book, just cider, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar. Very nice as it is currently 21 degrees and partly cloudy according to my weather app. Might as well enjoy it!

image

I hope you take some time to enjoy a cup of something hot and sweet and a good book or two this month as well. My horoscope keeps reminding me this is the time of year to slow down. My guess is that would be a good idea for everyone!

My Four Favorite Books for November

Today I’m introducing a new feature! Every month I’ll post four of my favorite books: one house book (Interior Design), one novel, one cookbook, and one book of art or design. All of them will be from my bookshelves and will be books which I use and love.

These are my picks for November:

image

The house book this month is HAND and HOME, The Homes of American Craftsmen by Tommy Simpson and William Bennet Seitz. Published in 1994 by Little, Brown & Company. I bought this book soon after it came out and I have poured over it with a magnifying glass literally in hand, completely absorbed in the detailed work of the craftsmen and women who live in the houses featured.

image

The homes in the book belong to some serious heavyweights in the craft world: Tommy Simpson and Missy Stevens, Bennett Bean, Thomas Mann, Sam Maloof, Lenore Tawney, Leo Sewell, and Wendell Castle. My knees are raw from genuflecting.

What inspires me the most about their houses is that they make, or alter, or embellish, or simply decorate with their own designs all the parts that make up their homes. Gee, I wonder if that’s had any affect on how I approach my own interior design?

***********************************************************************

My favorite novel this month is Happy All the Time, by Laurie Colwin, copyright 1978. Laurie Colwin is my favorite author.

image

I have every book she ever wrote. Every novel, book of short stories, and cooking memoir. Laurie was a Domestic Sensualist. Her stories are familiar, homely, bittersweet. You don’t want them to end, which is why I read them over and over and over. Laurie Colwin died in 1992, but her books are a refreshing pause on the continuum. Do yourself a favor and take a break with one of them. Happy All the Time is a great place to start.

***********************************************************************

My favorite cookbook for November is: New Mexico’s Prized Recipes from The Albuquerque Tribune’s GREAT GREEN CHILI COOKING CLASSIC, copyright 1974. I inherited this cookbook in a book purge from my mom, after a cookbook purge from her mother. Thank you Gramma Dottie!

I have made many recipes from this book over the years but the one that gets made over and over, especially this time of year when you want a big pot of something hot and spicy steaming up the kitchen, is GREAT GREEN BEAN CHILI….

image

This is one of those recipes that’s easy to adapt. Make it meatier, or beanier. Add more cumin, chili powder or garlic. Throw in some hominy. Whatever you want, just make a lot of it because it’s even better the next day. Duh.

***********************************************************************

My fourth favorite for the month is the art book, and my pick for November is JUXTAPOZ HANDMADE, published 2010 by Gingko Press, Inc.

JUXTAPOZ is an art magazine we subscribe to and this is a book they’ve published of established and emerging artists who have “dedicated their careers to preserving the “hands-on” method to creating fine artwork and commercial products…both 2D and 3D works that use materials and methods such as paper, fabric, wood, fiber arts, sewing, embroidery, collage, papier-mache, clay and ceramics…both functional and non-functional.” Can’t imagine what I would find to relate to in this book either. Yeah, I’m pretty much an enigma wrapped up in a conundrum today!

image

image

image

And now, as much as I’d truly love to sit down with a big bowl of green bean chili and reread Happy All the Time for the umpteenth time, I think I better get back to my house rearrangement. I have a Sewing Studio to outfit and Big Ass closet to fill. Action Girl: Activate, and Awaaaay!