Category Archives: Miscellany

Paella Perspective

Yesterday morning, I started writing a post about making paella while watching the marathon at my desk. I consider myself a runner but with no intentions of ever doing a marathon. Regardless, I’m a big fan of the race, watching people who were willing to work and train that hard for that one day.  The events of yesterday have left me and the entire city stunned. I’m feel a bit empty. When I went back to the post to try finish it today, I couldn’t find the right words to describe my attempt to make what turned out to be a pretty mediocre paella.

Mr. Bookdwarf can attest to the fact that I’m pretty hard on myself when it comes to cooking. Even a modest failure disappoints me. While the paella seemed like it was going to be great, for some reason it just didn’t come together on Sunday. I was frustrated that it hadn’t worked out, but that seems a lot less important now. I’ll come back to paella and get it right (next week, if I get the chance) but right now it just seems petty to worry about my rice being unevenly cooked. A dinner disaster is hardly the same as a real disaster.

What I’ve Been Reading plus Odds and End

Please excuse the hasty nature of the post but under the philosophy of “something written is better than nothing written” I’m trying to get my thoughts on books read out there quickly.

Back in 2008, I loved the first book in the Amitav Ghosh’s trilogy Sea of Poppies which began the story of the ship the Ibis and her passengers in the voyage across the Indian Ocean. We met Westerners and Easterners all affected by the colonial upheaval right before the Opium Wars. The first book was very personal, with each character’s story told in depth. I reread it before reading the second book, the delightful River of  Smoke, which in turn focuses on the politics of the time period. Many of our favorite characters from the first barely appear in the second. Instead we’re introduced to a new group of people to get to know.

Set mainly in Canton and Hong Kong, we go more in depth into the opium trade with actually opium merchants introduced to the story. We learn more about the effects of this stupifying drug on the population and on the politics. Ghosh also writes in the pidgin of the time period to give the reader a real feel for the time period. It slows down reading a bit but makes it all the more enjoyable. This second book lacks some of the vibrancy of the first but it’s definitely worth reading especially since there’s a third volume to look forward to in a few years time.

Now I’m onto Adam Gopnik’s book on food The Table Come First. I’m also starting The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson this weekend. Apparently I’m into reading books by authors whose names start with ‘A’ right now.

Tomorrow I’m making a 13 pound turkey plus a whole mess of sides for five people which is overkill I realize. Luckily I came across this delicious sounding recipe for what looks like a Turkey Pho from The Garum Factory, a blog written by Ken Rivard and his wife Jody Adams (yes, that Jody Adams). Doesn’t it look great? I find eating leftovers fairly boring, so this reuse of the turkey which will taste very different from the Thanksgiving day meal is very welcome.

I’ve also been thinking of holiday recommendations. Each year we put on a Buyers’ Night here at HBS–it’s on 12/9 at 7 pm this year. I need to go over my reading list and pull together titles. It’s usually a fun time, so if you’re in the area, please join us!

Sorry for the Silence

I went on a pretty magnificent vacation to Costa Rica at the beginning of the month. We were gone for almost two weeks! Lots of lazy mornings spent on the beach reading, swimming, lounging. Whereupon I got back and had to jump into a hectic end of the buying season. Four appointments in three days. Whew. I need a vacation.

And then we got a dog. I will try and promise not to blather on about her too much in future, so let me get this out of the way now. She’s a four month old beagle terrier mix we adopted from Canine Commitment in Maine.  We named her Lucy.

Meet Lucy

This is what I’ve been up to for the past month. I’ve read a lot of books too, including a few on dog training. I’ll try and get some of them written up over the weekend. I will say that I finished reading State of Wonder by Ann Patchett yesterday and really enjoyed it. Our Harper sales rep Anne kept recommending it to me. I should just learn to listen to her. I’ve never read Patchett before but perhaps I should go give Bel Canto a go?

Back from D.C. plus a book review

Please forgive my tardiness in posting. I got back from Washington, D.C. over a week ago and have been trying to catch up with everything. Plus there’s been a lot of snow. I’m going to blame everything on the snow right now–12 to 18 inches more snow on Wednesday!

Washington was lovely! I saw a lot of old friends, visited Politics and Prose, walked up and down the National Mall, met with a senator’s aide to discuss issues, visited the Library of Congress, and managed to read a whole book while stuck at Logan airport.

I had grabbed Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones off my shelf before leaving because I was going to meet her at an author dinner while in D.C. The fact that it was set in Atlanta intrigued me first. My folks moved there about 6 years ago and I’ve been visiting ever since. It’s a large city, hard to navigate when only visiting for a few days at a time. I loved recognizing the names of places in Silver Sparrow and actually getting some context for them. It’s one thing to drive by a neighborhood, but so much more illuminating to read about who actually lives there.

The novel starts off with a punch: “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.” Set in a middle class neighborhood in the 80s, we meet the daughters from James Witherspoon’s two families–only one of them knows about the other family however. It’s pretty powerful how much much Jones’ has you empathizing with both families by the end. On the one hand you have the “outside family” who take whatever James has left to give. On the other, his first family struggles with their own sets of problems.

When the two girls finally meet, you know nothing good can come of it. What happens in the end is shocking and heartbreaking, but Jones’s great portrayal of the characters inner lives helps us understand how they react. I really enjoyed reading Silver Sparrow and hope that others will pick it up as well. She’s a talented writer, one that I’m going to keep my eye on.

Heading to D.C.

Tomorrow morning I’m off to Washington, D.C. for the 6th annual Winter Institute. It’s always a good time. Right now, I’m having the usual battle of what books to bring with me. Thankfully this is a book conference so if I finish something, there’ll be plenty to choose from there.

I’m looking forward to running on the Mall tomorrow and to visiting Politics & Prose tomorrow evening. We’ll be setting up some sort of informal meetup for twitter folks (and anyone else who wants to come). I’ll try to post here when the details are finalized.

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone has a great 2011. I’m not one to make resolutions normally, but I’m really going to try and write more on this blog, both about books and food. They’re two things that matter to me the most.

I’m also going to try a redesign of the ol’ blog. The look is getting old. It’s not terribly hard. I just need to find some images for the banners and so forth.

So far, I haven’t finished a book and it’s already the fifth of January! I’m in the middle of two books actually: Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser and The Fates will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard. I’m loving them both. Hesser has such a way with words and food. I particularly like how her tastes range from the fussy to simple and yet she seems so down to earth. I’m also enjoying Pittard’s look into the young male’s mind. They’re both talented, young writers to keep your eye on.

Happy Holidays!

This is it—the craziest day of the year here at Harvard Book Store. I love coming into the square in the morning on Christmas Eve. It’s so quiet and there’s no traffic. We’re all ready here for the last minute shopping madness.

I’m working most of today while my family does their last minute preparations. Then we’ll sit down to a dinner of California crab and manicotti. Can’t wait. We’re all for trying new things in my family. Tomorrow I’m making Julia Child’s Daube de Boeuf and Dorie Greenspan’s Au Gratin Potatoes for dinner. Wish me luck!

On the reading front, I’ve been doing a lot of light reading lately–I’m too tired and busy for much more. I finished a young adult novel called The Emerald Atlas, the first in a trilogy. It’s about three siblings Kate, Michael, and Emma who have been passed from orphanage to orphanage over the past ten years. Taken away from the parents at a young age for protection from dark forces, they’re no ordinary children, no. At their latest home, they end up on a quest.  It basically follows the same paths as most of these types of books. They discover they’re not ordinary, there’s magic and dwarves and otherworldly stuff, there’s a magic book and a prophecy of course. You get the drift. It’s a fine read but I didn’t find anything new and interesting there. Then again, I’m not the target audience.

Now I’m onto another Scandinavian mystery, this one by Camilla Lackberg called The Ice Princess.  So far, so good.

Happy holidays everyone!

What Does a Peck of Peppers Look like Anyway?

Scotch Bonnet Peppers

Peppers from My Garden

These are peppers I picked on my front porch. The odd shaped orange ones are Scotch Bonnet peppers! Supposedly they look like a tam, but they seem more UFO shaped to me. I’m a spice lover, but even I am terrified of these things. What should I do with them? There are four there, but the plant has about 20 more peppers growing on it. The red pepper in the background is a cayenne and the light green are some sort of  mild pepper.

I bought a new camera recently which I’m trying to learn more about it. It’s got way more features than my last point and shoot. This is my attempt at better food photography. The light is terrible but the peppers still look nice I think. Any suggestions for what to do with all these Scotch Bonnet peppers and recommendations on a book digital photography are welcome!