Modern Art Desserts

After admiring the cover and peeking inside virtually every time I visit Blue Bottle Coffee Co., I finally picked up a copy of Caitlin Freeman’s Modern Art Desserts.  I am so glad I did!  Freeman’s book is a gem.  Formerly of Miette, Freeman clearly knows her way around amazing desserts — backwards, forwards, and sideways, in fact.  What made this cookbook stand out for me was the fact that is not only full of stunning recipes, but also it serves as both a personal memoir and a mini-guide to some of the works at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  While Freeman and her beautiful desserts are no longer at SFMOMA, the cookbook that resulted from her tenure there is a pleasure for the pastry enthusiast and art lover alike.

Each dessert is presented with a photograph of the pastry, an image of the artwork it was inspired by, information about the work and the artist, and Freeman’s own experiences creating the dish.  Then follows the recipe, with clear, clean instructions.  Many of the recipes are quite aspirational — the complex Mondrian cake, for example, takes a whopping two days.  However, specialized supplies and ingredients are sourced in the book, out-of-the-ordinary equipment is highlighted and explained, and a section early on gives a great rundown of both the ingredients and cooking tools you’ll likely need throughout.  Freeman somehow manages to make incredibly complex recipes seem both aspirational and accessible.  Mixed in with culinary feats like the Mondrian cake are slightly lower key options like trifle, sodas, popcicles, and even a savory snack or two, so there are certainly options for those who prefer to measure their recipe timing in minutes or hours rather than days.

Overall I was surprised and delighted by Modern Art Desserts.  It is a diverting read above and beyond being a good cookbook.  If you’re a modern art fan, give this one a whirl.  Freeman has given us candy for the eyes and the taste buds in equal measure.

Dog Songs

While I was blissfully meandering in a bookstore in Seattle, I stumbled upon Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs.  I find her work to be meditative, insightful, and beautiful, and this slender volume about dogs did not disappoint.

Some of the poems seem to be simple, lyrical observations, but gradually you find yourself drawn into contemplations about life, love, and the simple joys and sorrows of being.  I read the whole book in a single quiet afternoon, my dogs sleeping at my feet — and in hindsight, I cannot think of a more restorative way to spend a Saturday.  Oliver’s keen eye and unabashed incorporation of nature into the fiber of her life make Dog Songs a unique entry in the canine companion poetry milieu.  A quietly moving read.

Hey, Seattle (part II)

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Welcome to Part II of my little Seattle guide, with things to do and places to stay.  If you missed Part I you can read it here for all kinds of great places to eat!

Visit:

Pike Place Market

No visit to Seattle would be complete without a stroll through the public market.  Amazingly fresh seafood, bites of all kinds (see! told you more food!), beautiful flower stalls, and the original Starbucks location await you here.  Grab a salmon pâté piroshky from Piroshky Piroshky, walk down to pick up some smoked salmon from Pure Food Fish Market, and then wander as you munch.  You can duck upstairs to Storyville Coffee to escape the bustle for a few minutes if you like.  Oh, and I highly recommend a stop at Le Panier before you leave — this boulangerie and patisserie offers the best pain au chocolat I’ve had since Paris.

 

Seattle Art Museum

With an excellent permanent collection and innovative exhibitions, SAM is well worth a visit.  The museum “contains nearly 25,000 works of art from around the world. Dating from antiquity to the present, the permanent collection represents a wide range of global cultures and historical perspectives.”  The current temporary exhibit, Double Exposure, is worth a look even on its own; it is a satisfyingly nuanced look at portrayals of Pacific Northwest native peoples over the last 150 years.

 

The Elliott Bay Book Company

This bookstore in the Capital Hill neighborhood has been serving Seattle for over four decades, and is a delight in every way.  Highlighted local authors and subjects, quirky giftware for the bibliophile, and an on-site cafe make for a lovely afternoon.  Despite the likelihood of an overly-heavy suitcase, I had to bring three books home with me.

 

Melrose Market

Melrose Market is like the teeny tiny well-curated cousin of Pike Place.  Meats, liquor, shellfish, homewares — all can be found in this little urban refuge.  Sitka and Spruce is located here, as it the most excellent homeware store Butter Home.  I wanted one of everything!  Their art prints and jewelry in particular caught my eye, but their are tons of other fun things to be had in this lovely little shop.  Visit if you can, and then grab a cocktail at Still Liquor.

 

Segway Tours of Seattle

Perhaps a little cheesy and touristy, but so much fun!  We spent a morning touring the city center by Segway, and got to see so many great spots.  The Space Needle, Lake Union, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center, and the Museum of Pop Culture were highlights, but the running commentary from our excellent guide was no less interesting.  We actually walked back to the Gates Foundation Discovery Center for a closer look later in the afternoon, which proved to be both fascinating and inspiring.

 

Seattle is the city where Nordstrom was founded, so you can visit their original store location for kicks (and excellent shopping).  And the Chihuly Garden and Glass is definitely on my list for next time.

 

Stay:

Seattle is full of both excellent hotels and great AirBnB choices.  This visit we stayed at the Ballard Jungalow and had a delightful stay.  The host is kind, and her home is just the kind of serene escape I was craving.

If I you prefer a hotel, I have heard nothing but good things about the ever-hip Ace Hotel Seattle.  Reasonable prices, great vibes, and a great central location make this one a great pick.

Thank you for such a lovely week, Seattle!  We had so much fun and can’t wait to return!

 

Little Free Libraries

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I’m back from Seattle and will have a post about that delightful city soon, but in the meantime, let’s chat about little free libraries.  On our trip we stayed in the charming Seattle area of Ballard, and I saw tiny free community libraries whenever and wherever we walked.  They perched near the street in front of homes like oversized birdhouses, beckoning curious readers and fostering a lovely sense of community.  I. Was. Smitten.

After a bit of research, I found that Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring a love of reading by inspiring book exchanges all over the world.  Statistically, children growing up in homes without books can lag about three years behind their peers with lots of book access, and these tiny neighborhood gems aim to bridge that gap by providing 24/7 access to books in areas where they might otherwise be scarce.  Currently Little Free Library has over 70,000 libraries in 85 countries, with millions of books borrowed annually.  On their site they offer free instructions for building little libraries, support for obtaining free or discounted books to stock them, and a store where you can buy kits and pre-built models if you’d rather not build one for yourself.  On the user end of the spectrum, their site offers a map to help people find and share books wherever they are.  So great!

It makes me deeply happy that people are building their communities around a shared love of reading this way.  If I didn’t live so close to a good public library, I would add one to our yard.  Maybe I still should?  Either way, I know there is a thriving network of tiny libraries in Ballard, WA, to inspire me.

 

Fates, Furies, and Florida

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A couple weeks ago I had the immense pleasure of attending a book talk by none other than the amazing Lauren Groff.  She was at Vroman’s in Pasadena promoting her new book Florida with grace, poise, and temporary tattoos (!) for all of us in attendance.  As a huge fan of both Fates and Furies and Arcadia, it was a delight to hear her speak about reading, writing, politics, and a love/hate relationship with Guy de Maupassant.

Groff treated us first to a reading from the first story in Florida, “Ghosts and Empties,” followed by a refreshingly direct Q&A session.  When asked about a writer’s responsibility and political engagement, for example, Groff deftly explained how she abandoned a recently finished draft just after the 2016 U.S. elections — that it was a kind of book we could no longer afford to indulge in.  She does not write overtly politically, but rather tries to work sideways to get to the things that really matter right now.  She finds she is writing less and throwing more away, as I am, so I found immense comfort in her assurances that it is okay to admit we are struggling as writers in the current environment.  I was likewise pleased by her encouragement to spread empathy and be kind to each other.

Groff’s writing shows great consideration for words, so I was intrigued but not surprised by her ability with languages.  She spent time in France as a teenager where she discovered and loved the work of Guy de Maupassant, that master of the short story form, before beginning to hate him as an avatar of toxic masculinity.  To this day she tries to read in French at least once a week, and admits that French has deeply affected her English.  She self-deprecatingly says she is terrible at writing in French, although she she’d love to do so.  Or Italian.  Or German.  (I find written German to be deeply satisfying from a grammatical perspective because I am such a nerd, so I can relate.)

An anecdote about reading to her son, and how it created a special bond between them, really resonated with me.  It is amazing how reading together gives you the same points of reference.  You share and can understand each others’ canon.  It crystallized for me how much I enjoy reading the same books as a close friend, or watching a show with someone dear.  It enhances your ability to speak each others’ language.

As far as her new work, Florida is where she calls home, so the stories she weaves in this collection are steeped in a sense of place all the more authentically.  The women she writes about are her but not her.  And while she lives with her novels every day, her short stories orbit in the back of her mind until they demand to be written.  Personally, I can’t wait to see what comes out of her orbit.

Thank you, Lauren Groff!

 

 

Earthly delights

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Recently I read the luminous novel Arcadia by Lauren Groff, and while I was not necessarily excited for a story about a commune, my experience with Fates and Furies earlier this year spurred me on.  I found I was drawn in imperceptibly by her graceful and vivid prose, and I found a softer, more immediate, delicately visceral version of Groff that I hadn’t expected.  Far from a simple chronicle of a commune, Arcadia weaves the reader vision of an experimental community through the eyes of its first child, a boy named Bit.  He watches life from his very soul, and through a series of episodes we get to know the unique cast of characters that make up this community.  Not only do we see the effects of Arcadia ripple through Bit’s childhood and then beyond into his adult life, but we do so experiencing the wonder of the young, the thorniness of growing up, and the ache of humanity’s quest for beauty.  I found myself teary more than once, and I’m guessing you may find the same.  Pick up Arcadia for a slice of Groff’s talent, but linger over it for the poignancy you’ll find within its pages.

Are we there yet?

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Last week I had the pleasure of attending a book signing with the delightful Mari Andrew for her first book, Am I There Yet?: The Loop-de-loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood.  I’ve enjoyed Mari’s insights on her Instagram and on the blog Cup of Jo for some time, but fell for her even more after hearing her speak at Vroman’s Bookstore on Thursday night.  She’s been a real inspiration for me: not only did she transition to illustrating full time only a couple of years ago (and already has a book that made the New York Times bestseller list? Amazing!), but she manages to say the things we all are thinking but afraid to articulate in a way that is fresh, disarming, candid, and compassionate — often all at the same time.

In her talk, Andrew held forth on things she thinks are valuable “wastes of time,” including making your own happiness reliable, working towards the person you want to be, pursuing fun, and sometimes having no goal at all.  “I am a person who is loved.  And I am a person who loves.”  These words resonated with me long after I walked out of the bookstore, signed book in hand.  In a culture that seems to privilege self-sacrifice to an impossible degree, sometimes these small reminders that fun is a good thing, and that prioritizing your own happiness is an even better thing, are exactly what is needed — especially when they are offered with a smile as genuine as Mari Andrew’s.

Bluets

This past weekend I had a lot on my plate.  All good things, either enjoyable or necessary or both, but an introvert like me sometimes just needs a bit of uninterrupted time to recharge.  I finally decided to give myself half a day off, which did me a world of good — I napped, had pasta for dinner, and read.  And oh, did I read.

nelson_bluets_coverI read Maggie Nelson’s Bluets on the couch that evening.  I loved it. I’m not even sure how to describe it.  Non-fiction. Numbered snippets about the color blue, simultaneously about and not about a breakup, entirely raw and honest and contemplative.  Hundreds of small poems in the form of lyric prose.  A three-year meditation on color and loss and suffering and limits.  I haven’t felt the desire to pick up a pencil and mark up a book in a long, long time, but passage after passage spoke to me.  It felt good to read and feel understood and hold that book and pencil in a lamp-lit room on my green velvet couch, with my favorite candle burning.  Yearning, and desire, fucking (she does not mince about), philosophy, musings — it is the kind of book I would want to write, the kind I feel like I could write, and I say that with an utter lack of hubris, but rather in the sense of finding a longed-for kindred voice.

Bluets was an outstanding read, bursting with emotion in a quiet, intense, meditative state all it’s own.  This is a slim tome I will be returning to again and again, like an old friend, or perhaps something even better: a sense of being understood.

 

Stories that stick with you

Arimah_coverSomewhere on your reading list, make room for Lesley Nneka Arimah’s dazzling and thoughtful debut collection of short stories: What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky.  These stories stayed with me for quite some time, getting up under my skin and lingering there, mildly disturbing, mildly haunting, and entirely memorable.  Arimah examines humanity and relationships in striking snippets, slices of lives extracted and told with precision by way of magical realism, flavors of dystopia, Nigerian cultural milieu, and creative mythology by turns.  Each has its own carefully crafted sense of place, and the aches and cares of each character all but pop off the page.

“Windfalls” stuck with me, the narrator’s flat acceptance of her life starkly contrasting with the shocking intentional injuries she suffers at the hands of her manipulative mother for payouts.  “Who Will Greet You at Home” likewise left an indelible impression on me, lingering long after I finished the book.  It is the story of a young woman who creates infants out of yarn, of paper, of human hair, hoping that Mama will bless them so she will have a child of her own, and she trades measures of her empathy and then even her joy in payment.  It begs the question, much are we willing to give to get what we want?  What society says we should want?  And how high is too high a cost?  What if the price becomes our humanity?

Arimah draws you in over and over, each story engaging in its own way. She is particularly good at teasing out the unique trials of being a girl in a world intent on extinguishing those who shine a little too brightly.  Grab this book, savor each story, and ponder the imprints they leave on you.