Category Archives: in my library

Recipes and Cookbooks in a Pinterest World

Better Homes and Gardens NEW COOK BOOK , 1989 editionFor the past few years, I’ve been going to Pinterest more and more for recipes. On Pinterest there’s an endless variety of choices, instant access to reviews, and of course that bottomless rabbit hole of internet clicks. A search for a quick supper recipe quickly unravels into a hunt for table setting ideas, crafts, and other nonsense. Basically, what should be a five minute search for something to eat becomes a thirty minute internet time-suck.

So lately, I’ve been craving the comfort of my own cookbooks. First of all, curling up with the iPad and falling into a net of random blogs and untested recipes is not the same as paging through an old cookbook of tested, tried and true recipes. I love sticking page flags on the top contenders and building a meal from several cookbooks. 
And–more importantly here for me–constant searching and making Pinterest recipes doesn’t leave a paper trail.

My mom has a metal box packed with delicious recipes that we’ve eaten through the years. It’s like a little family time capsule of yellowed 3-by-5 cards in her own handwriting, my great-grandmother’s handwriting, my grandma’s handwriting, my aunts’ handwritings… It’s so fun to poke through the box and see who brought each recipe into our mix of regular meals and family gatherings. She also has her Better Homes & Gardens cookbook from the 70s that is so well-used, the pages are falling out of it. 

My own recipe box consists of a handful of recipes in my college handwriting and has pretty much been untouched since then. My own cooking history lies in my Pinterest pins and my internet search history. If I don’t change things now, when I’m old, I won’t have that paper trail of my own recipes. I won’t have creased and yellowed cards in my mom’s handwriting. I won’t have little handwritten notes about what worked and what didn’t when I tried a new cookbook recipe. I won’t have stained and wrinkled cookbook pages, tangible evidence of a well-loved meal.

I’m trying to break the Pinterest habit and rely more on my cookbooks and recipe box for meals and desserts. (I mean, why have them if I’m not using them?) And I’m trying to write down some of the favorites I have found online, like Kathy’s grandmother’s cranberries

Naoto and I have a small collection of cookbooks, mostly vintage ones with a few Food Network titles mixed in. (We used to watch tons of Food Network shows together on Saturday and Sunday mornings.) The backbone to our collection is the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. We both brought versions of this cookbook into the marriage. Naoto’s is the 10th Edition (1989, pictured above) and he got it in college when Auntie Judy (his host mother in Hawaii) took him to Waldenbooks and bought it for him. Mine is the 11th Edition (1996) and I, too, got mine in college, as a Christmas gift from my parents. We are emotionally attached to our respective cookbooks so we’ve kept both of them. Plus, even though the editions are only a few years apart, mine has some newer recipes and even the old standards have slight changes to them. We have favorites in each edition. My mom is bringing her edition to Thanksgiving so I can see if we are missing out on some good 1970s standards. I will report back. 

In the meantime, I’m cracking open the cookbooks to get ready for Thanksgiving tomorrow. And cleaning…

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Mail Reads: The First Book of Letter Writing

The First Book of Letter Writing Out of the blue one day, long, long ago, I received a package from my online friend Holly. Inside was this fantastic children’s book, The First Book of Letter Writing by Helen Jacobson & Florence Mischel. The delightful illustrations were done by Lászlo Roth. The First Book of Letter WritingPublished in 1957, it covers everything the mid-century child needed to know about letter writing: how to write a letter, how to address the envelope, proper penmanship, writing celebrities, thank you notes, condolence notes, stationery, postage and more. The First Book of Letter Writing CoverThe book originally came with a book of stamps to get the letter writing started! The First Book of Letter WritingThe First Book of Letter WritingJust like yesterday’s book, some of the book reads as a time capsule of children’s correspondence in the fifties. I didn’t realize there were rules for children’s stationery: “boys always use a single, unfolded sheet of paper” while “girls may use folded stationery.” But most of the book is still helpful in its teachings of letter structure and helping children to learn that their letters should be a mix of news and questions for the recipient. I think it would still be a great introduction to letter writing. The First Book of Letter WritingReceiving this book–which is a technically a “destroyed” library book–made me both happy and sad. Of course I am thrilled that Holly found it and thought of me and sent it my way. I will treasure it forever. But I’m sad because this book about letter writing isn’t out there in a library for a child to discover. Maybe checking out a book like this would inspire a new generation of letter writers. In my personal book collection, it has a very limited reach…how sad! But thankfully it was rescued from the dumpster, right?!

I just requested a bunch of letter writing books from the library, so hopefully in the coming weeks, I’ll have more books to share. It will be nice to keep the spirit of Letter Month going a little longer, right?

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Mail Reads: The Etiquette of Letter Writing

vintage book: The Etiquette of Letter WritingMy friend Peggy gave me this tiny book, (A Desk Book on) The Etiquette of Letter Writing, last summer. It was published by Eaton, Crane & Pike Company in 1927. It is a tiny guide that outlines the basic social rules regarding correspondence. vintage book: The Etiquette of Letter WritingThe book comes from a time when married women signed their correspondence Mrs. Husband’s First & Last Name and when wives mailed handwritten invitations to dinner parties and responses came mailed back with handwritten notes. I grew up during a time when party invitations were mailed, but dinner invitations were offered with a phone call. Nowadays, we are lucky if we get a wedding invitation in the mail. Most invitations are offered through emails and texts. (I’m guilty of this too.) Think of the planning it would take to choose a date, write out your invitations, mail them, wait for responses and prepare for your party. You would have to have the proper-sized stationery (blind embossed with your family crest, of course!) ready to write out and respond to all of your invitations! While I am glad that we have fewer rules dictating our modern day correspondence, I really miss the days of real paper invitations. (I also miss the days of the R.S.V.P. but I can’t even talk about this or I’ll get ranty. This is a funny op-ed about the dying art of R.S.V.P.s.)vintage book: The Etiquette of Letter WritingDo you have simple, monogrammed stationery for everyday use (the initials “being placed in the left corner, of course”)? I’ve tried to limit myself when buying frivolous stationery with hopes that I could save up for some stunning engraved notecards. But there are too many good options out there and I like having a variety of paper and notecards to choose from. Still…think of how classy a gorgeously engraved monogram would be.
vintage book: The Etiquette of Letter WritingI love the suggestions for closing a letter: Cordially, Faithfully, Affectionately, Devotedly. When did we get stuck writing Sincerely over and over again at the end of our correspondence when there are so many other wonderful options?

I enjoy having this little gem on my desk to peruse and daydream about the formal days of visiting cards, handwritten invitation acceptances, summer home stationery, and family crests. Thank you, Peggy, for knowing me so well.

P.S. If you’d like to see a few more pages from the book, Donovan wrote a post for the Letter Writers Alliance blog here.

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Things To Make & Do For Valentine’s Day

Tomie de Paola Things to Make and Do for Valentine's DayI spent a few days with my parents last week and of course we went thrift shopping. I was in the store less than two minutes when this sweet book by Tomie dePaola jumped into my hands. It may be the best ten cents I’ve ever spent!

Tomie dePaola wrote Strega Nona and Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, two of my favorite books from my days working with children. His illustrations are charming and his stories are sweet and timeless. Things to Make and Do for Valentine’s Day is a how-to book with crafts, jokes, tongue twisters, games and recipes to share for the holiday.

The book is designed for kids, but I think some of the projects are fun for adults, too. I’m going to try one out this weekend and I will report back next week. If it works out, I may use the idea for my Valentine envelopes this year.

Have you planned your Valentine’s Day cards yet? I have my prototype ready…now the real work begins.

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A Simple Tool for Book Club Readers

notebook and book darts, book club toolsA long time ago, while reading Kathy’s blog, I learned about these neat little things called Book Darts. They are tiny, thin page markers made of metal that slide on and off the paper without leaving a mark. I know some people like to fold the edge of the page over or use little sticky note page flags. Those are fine options, too, but I usually get my books from the library so folding the edge is not an option and the sticky flags sometimes damage older paper. (Our book club reads so many old books that often, at least one of us is reading a crumbling copy from the library!) So far, I’ve never had a book dart hurt even the oldest books.

book dart, page point in actionThe most genius thing about them is that they can be used to point to the exact words on the page that you want. I often try to take notes while I am reading for book club so that I can remember what I want to talk about during our meetings. But sometimes, I’m so into a book that I don’t want to stop at take notes. Grabbing a dart and marking a passage is often enough for me to remember what I wanted to say.

(Of course, for longer notes or questions about the book, I keep a trusty notebook set aside for book club. This one was a gift from my pen pal, Cath.)

Do you have anything special you use for book club?

P.S. Sorry for the quiet this week. I am hosting book club tomorrow morning and I’ve been reading and rushing around cleaning up and finally putting Christmas away.

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Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella GibbonsFor November, my book group read Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. It was a delight!

The book is completely ridiculous at first, and once you get beyond that and realize that not everything is going to be rational, you can just enjoy the book for what it is: jolly entertainment wrapped up in a parody of a traditional Victorian novel.

Flora Poste’s parents both die and leave her with only 100 pounds per year. Since she refuses to work and she cannot afford to live on her own, her only option is to join some cousins on Cold Comfort Farm. While her cousins’ lives are probably fine and satisfactory to them, she sees a different kind of potential in each of them and develops a strategy to change their paths and shake things up on the farm.

I love Flora Poste. She is feisty and outspoken and she refuses to share a room (solidarity, sister!) One of my favorite parts is when she meets her cousin Reuben for the first time. She invites him to tea and he clearly has no idea how to act around women and tea:

Defeated, Reuben came in.

He stood at the table facing Flora and blowing heavily on his tea and staring at her. Flora did not mind. It was quite interesting: like having tea with a rhinoceros.

I was excited to learn that there is a Christmas version, Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm, which looks delightful. And, the movie version of Cold Comfort Farm is currently on my desk waiting to be watched. (Kathy wrote a great review of both the book and the movie here, complete with screen shots of the fabulous wardrobe!)

For December, my book group is reading Emma. I’ve mentioned before that we’ve never read Austen in our group before, so it should be interesting…I’m hoping to get through it so I can enjoy a couple of Christmas reads during the holidays, too!

Have you read anything good lately?

P.S. I’m trying to be better about using Goodreads…you can find me here.

Our Pleasant Home Book Group

pleasant home book groupI’ve mentioned being in a book club a few times over the past few years, but I figured it’s time to write a post about it. It is one of my favorite things, so I can’t believe it’s taken so me so long to talk about it here.

I know a lot of people are in book clubs. They read a book, they (may) talk about it, they drink wine, they eat snacks and go home. Our version is a little bit different. Our book club was originally started in 2002 as a park district program with the Pleasant Home in Oak Park. The group met in the Pleasant Home library and read books that would have been in the home’s library during the John Farson era (early turn of the century.) The first book was So Big by Edna Ferber. Apparently there were close to fifty people at the first meeting and the group gradually whittled down to a small group of core members who came every month with a handful of people coming and trying it out for a bit and not returning. There are still four original members from that very first meeting.

I joined the group in 2008. I was taking a drawing class at Pleasant Home and my teacher told me about the group. I had never been in a book club before, but the premise really interested me. I was a literature major in college and I missed reading “the classics”. Actually, at the time, I was hardly reading anything because I was so busy working. A book club would force me back into the reading habit and this book club in particular was reading great older titles, something I knew I’d enjoy.

My first book was A Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. I read it diligently, loved it and went to the meeting. As I walked in the door, I noticed that everyone was older than me. I felt a little bit out of place for a quick second and then instantly at home. Anne took down my information to send me a book list, my (small) contribution to the discussion was met with interest, Peggy invited me to lunch with the group…it was welcoming and I remember going home thinking that I had found “my people”–a feeling only matched by meeting fellow letter writers.

Now, six years later, one thing I love most about our group is that we are multi-generational. Our ages span from twenty-ish to seventy-ish. (We’ve had three members pass away, most recently Anne, who was in her eighties.) Everyone brings such a different perspective to the book because of her age and background. Our discussions would be much different, I think, if we were all women in our thirties. The other thing I love is that the group formed organically. We are all friends/friendly now, but for the most part, it is a group of strangers who have the interest of old literature in common. And, while it is all women now, at a few points in the twelve year history of the group, there have been male members.

In February, we had our last meeting at Pleasant Home. They decided to stop hosting our group as a park district program. (The house is open very limited hours and apparently paying a staff member to be there to open the door for us was too much for the Home’s budget.) So, now we meet in our homes–our “pleasant homes”–and it’s quite nice. The hostess usually bakes a little something and serves coffee and tea. While meeting in the Pleasant Home library was always interesting, our own homes are much more comfortable.

One of our biggest challenges is finding solid books that are still in print or are still available in a large enough quantity for each of us to borrow a copy from the library system. A lot of times, a great title will come to our attention, but since it’s not widely available, we can’t read it. Right now, we are reading mostly from the 1930s and before, so obviously, even after twelve years, there is still a huge amount of literature yet to read. And, believe it or not, the group is reading Jane Austen for the first time in December!

I’m hoping to do another post about my favorite titles that we’ve read and of our top “scary reads” from past Octobers. In the meantime, I’d love to hear if you’re in a book club and what kinds of books you read!

P.S. That’s us pictured above (with the exception of Susan R and two new members) after one of our last meetings in the Pleasant Home library.

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In My Neighborhood: Little Free Library

Little Free Library Forest Park, ILI’ve been reading about Little Free Libraries popping up in cities all across the country. It’s an intriguing idea–build a tiny library, fill it with a few books and let people give and take on the honor system. It’s so community-driven and idealist…two things I love.

Imagine my surprise when Little Free Library recently popped up in front of a tiny house in my own neighborhood!

This house is only a block north of me, and one that I walk by almost every day on my way to get a coffee or go to work. It’s in a neighborhood of both houses and apartments a couple of blocks away from the train station. If you ask me, it’s a perfect neighborhood for something like this. People can pick up and drop off books on their way to their morning trains. Hopefully some of the neighborhood kids can find some titles in there eventually. Little Free Library Forest Park, ILThe little library house is surrounded by solar-operated twinkle lights, but I haven’t seen it all lit up at night yet. I don’t see any titles inside that I want to borrow yet (I am a huge user of our public library), but I have a few good classics on my shelf that I’m going to drop off later this week. Little Free Library Forest Park, ILDo you have a Little Free Library in your neighborhood? There’s a giant list of them here and a map here.

Speaking of reading…I’m going to go outside now and finish my book for book group this weekend. We’re reading Two Years Before the Mast. What an adventure!

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The Enchanted April

book club, Elizabeth von ArnimFor April, our book group read The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. It was my pick, based on a recommendation by Kathy, who has impeccable taste in old books. I don’t know if it was the fact that we read it just as spring started to creep into Chicago or that being home from Japan has made me want to travel again, but I looooooved reading this book. It made me crave spring and flowers and sunshine in the worst way, but I loved it.

The story of The Enchanted April is based around four women from London who rent an Italian castle for the month of April. The women are not friends, in fact, they are strangers, and have very different ideas for their vacations in Italy. Two are in kind of sad marriages and are looking forward to getting away from their husbands for a bit. And two are single, one is an attractive young woman who wants to get away from her admirers and the other is a cranky widow. Each woman goes through a transformation during her stay in the castle, coming into her own out of the shadow of the life in London. The Enchanted April is not an action-packed book, but the story moves quickly and the writing is both beautiful and funny at the same time.

Do you want to hear some of my favorite parts? This first passage comes when Mrs. Fisher (the widow) is served macaroni at lunch:

…Mrs. Fisher had never cared for macaroni, especially this long, worm-shaped variety. She found it difficult to eat–slippery, wriggling off her fork, making her look, she felt, undignified when, having got it as she supposed into her mouth, ends of it yet hung out. Always, too, when she ate it she was reminded of Mr. Fisher. He had during their married life behaved very much like macaroni. He had slipped, he had wriggled, he had made her feel undignified, and when at last she had got him safe, as she thought, there had invariably been little bits of him that still, as it were, hung out.

And, when Mrs. Fisher tries to find out what Rose’s husband does for a living:

“Who is your husband?” Asked Mrs. Fisher, carefully adjusting another nut between the crackers.

“Who should he be,” said Rose quickly, aroused at once by Mrs. Fisher’s to irritation, “except Mr. Arbuthnot?”

“I mean, of course, what is Mr. Arbuthnot?”

And Rose, gone painfully red at this, said after a tiny pause, “My husband.”

Naturally Mrs. Fisher was incensed. She couldn’t have believed it of this one, with her decent hair and gentle voice, that she too should be impertinent.

And, when Rose, who is deeply conservative and religious, is getting dressed:

She dressed with care, though she knew Mr. Briggs would no longer see her, but it gave her pleasure to see how pretty, while she was about it, she could make herself look; and very nearly she stuck a crimson camellia in her hair down by her ear. She did hold it there for a minute, and it looked almost sinfully attractive and was exactly the color of her mouth, but she took it out again with a smile and a sigh and put it in the proper place for flowers, which is water. She mustn’t be silly, she thought. Think of the poor. Soon she would be back with them again, and what would a camellia behind her ear seem like then? Simply fantastic.

The Enchanted April was a perfect spring read, and I highly recommend it as a great, light garden read. Perfect with a cup of tea.

In May we are reading Call It Sleep by Henry Roth. I imagine it will be sliiiightly darker and heavier. I’ll let you know.

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Spending in San Francisco

office supplies patrick & coWith our upcoming trip to Japan planned, I was able to restrain myself from spending too much in San Francisco. Don’t consider it saving though…consider it delayed spending. (I’m already making my wish list for Japan.)

Patrick and Co. is an old school office supply store much like Pieritz Bros in Oak Park. It is simple and charming and they had an awesome selection of pens and pencils. I’ve never owned a Palomino Blackwing pencil–which is regarded by pencil lovers as the best pencil ever–so I figured I would try out all three versions. I also picked up a Prismacolor Turquoise pencil, just because of its snappy color. And do you remember taking essay tests in the Blue Books? When I saw them on a shelf at Patrick’s I had instant flashbacks of staring at the blank pages in high school and college. I thought it might be fun to write a letter in one. Finally, I bought a bunch of postcards at Patrick’s, too…but those are traveling through the mail. I’m happy that the kind clerk at Patrick’s gave me a bag. (In San Francisco, stores charge ten cents per bag.) Those graphics–including a floppy disk!–are going straight into my San Francisco mini book! midori sakura paper clipsMaido is a sweet Japanese stationery shop that seems to be the go-to spot for Japanese pens and paper items in San Francisco. I’ve been coveting those Midori Cherry Blossom paper clips for a long time…and I didn’t find them the last time I was in Japan, so I bit the bullet and turned over an arm and a leg for them. Totally worth it…they will be used in my datebook and in my future Japan mini book. I also snagged those California stickers to stick on my San Francisco postcards and in my mini book. They are made by Candyspotting and ohmygoodness, they come in every state and you can customize where you put the heart! (I may have Illinois in my Candyspotting shopping cart right now!)coiccoina glueI’ve shared my love for my Coccoina glue stick before and I’ve had my eyes peeled for the glue pot. I finally found it at Arch, an amazing art supply store (and more!). The glue pot is a bit messier than the glue stick (you apply the glue with a teeny brush) but it smells delicious and it is so fun to use! Saturday Morning VintageAt Ex Postal Facto, I splurged on several items in the Saturday Morning Vintage booth. I was so excited to meet Xenia and to see her selections in person. As it turns out, it’s very difficult to resist old paper in person. I bought a giant book of trading stamps, some first day of issue envelopes, an Ex Postal Facto paper pack, some awesome skiing labels, lotto cards and World’s Fair tickets. paper pastries printI picked up this cat print at the Paper Pastries booth. Margaret had so many cute things that I’m having regrets about not shopping more. The cat print is going to hang above the desk…as soon as I decide what else I’m doing up there…(I’ve changed a few things since that post.)confessions of a yakuzaAnd finally, I got Confessions of a Yakuza in a Japan Town bookstore. I bought it for plane reading, but I was too distracted on the flight home to read it. But, it will make excellent reading for the flight to Japan. Naoto and I are obsessed with the Yakuza (Japanese “mafia”) so I figured we would both get some mileage out of this paperback.

So that was my restrained shopping in San Francisco…I think I may have one more post about San Francisco before I start obsessing about Japan again.

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