Monthly Archives: December 2011

Holiday Book Series Book 4: At Knit’s End

Next up is a little book by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, otherwise known as the Yarn Harlot. She’s sort of a cross between Martha Stewart and Rosanne Barr, minus the ick factor and the psychological issues for both those ladies. She only writes about knitting, which I suppose you are doomed to knit when your maiden name is Pearl, and she’s very funny. She’s also Canadian, but that’s OK.

I’ve gotten several of her books before for Christmas. I guess if you absolutely have to buy a book for a knitter, then this seems to be a go to author. I like her a lot. But, there’s really only so much one can say about knitting, so there’s a sense like I’ve read this before.

This time, it’s based on a devotional book, so the cover has a landscape shot on it, except the grass looks to be made out of one whale of a knotted yarn and the road down the middle is like a stockinette stitch scarf. It’s still on the needles and coving over the purple mountains is a big ball of yellow yarn. Cute. In fact the entire cover is cute. There’s a whimsical font on the front and it’s just … a little too much for my taste. Plus, the peach and turquoise color mix on the front doesn’t work for me. I can’t exactly place it, but it feels familiar. which is probably why it’s leaving me unsettled.

The back has a picture of Ms. Pearl-McPhee and she’s clearly an everywoman. You feel that in her writing, but you can really see it in this shot. She has medium length hair, not particularly styled, glasses, a plain red tshirt and, of course, a knitted sweater. It almost feels like a school portrait.

The inside has one “devotional” a day on it, starting with a quote at the top from someone of note, some writing of humorous observation, and then a moral to the end of this. I won’t read this book all the way through as I don’t think it’s intended to be read in one sitting. It will probably sit on my nightstand and I’ll read three or four then go to sleep. It takes me almost no time to go to sleep, a trait which annoys my husband to no end.

Most of the essays are quite funny, such as that every knitter has a monstrous sweater and that we had to know while we were making it that it would be a disaster and yet we kept going. Why? That’s a good question and I wish I knew, but I too have made the monstrous sweater. In fact, I might have two that I’m in denial about.

She also writes about timid knitters, which she finds crazy. They are afraid to try cables or lace. She says “Be afraid of skydiving. Be afraid of wild boars. Be fearless in knitting.” I agree.

She also suggests to her readers not to underestimate projects for gifts. She reminds them that a book might make a good gift.

Just … not too many books, folks!

Grade: A. Design: B.


Holiday Series Book 3: Vegetarian

Turns out I got EIGHT books for Christmas as well as a journal. Crazy. So, today’s book is the one I got yesterday. This time, it’s a real cookbook.

Vegetarian, no author (A Parragon book)

Design-wise, a nice book. It has a padded cover, a bit decadent for a book that will end up fairly trashed in my kitchen. A nice green bunch of basil on the cover, with a clean sans serif font stating that it’s all about vegetarian. The type is consistent throughout the book, a positive. Nice bright pictures of food always helps with my desire to make these recipes. The recipes are simple enough as each one is presented neatly on a spread, the recipes taking up one page and a lovely picture taking up the right side of the spread. (The one I’ve linked to has a totally different cover.)

If you’re looking for a book to give you more information about being a vegetarian, keep looking. That isn’t at all what this book is trying to achieve. There are lots of great books about that, such as Kind Diet or the Moosewood books or even try the China Study. China Study will scare you into being vegetarian. (And, if you don’t like to read, which if you don’t not sure why you’re reading this post, then watch Forks Over Knives.)

Recipe-wise, it looks to be solid. Some true basics like stir fry broccoli, along with some more complex ones such as zucchini fritters. A nice balance of salads, soups, light bites, beans and beans (which is fabulous) along with way too many desserts. I love desserts but they truly are my downfall. So, I will be avoiding that section of the book. My only knock is that they tend to use a lot of dairy. Four recipes of risotto will please the meat-eating spouse, to be certain. A fair number of lentil recipes, which the kid actually likes lentils.

Other vegetarian cookbooks I’ve had have been very good, but sometimes they call for Southern California type of ingredients or are just not quite right. This one will fit very nicely in my kitchen so I’m excited to try some of these. I can work around the dairy!

I confess that I haven’t READ this as a traditional book. I flipped through it to see what it offered and I was pleased. I had planned to make one tonight for a party, but … well … turns out this book is a little shallow on appetizers. So, I made one from Kind Diet and made up a pizza bite recipe.

Still, I look forward to giving this one some test drives.

Grade: A. Design: A.


Book 2 of 7: A Garden Supper Tonight

This book is from my mother and she bought it while at Campbell Folk School with my niece. Together they learned to make pies and pie crust. Now I am not a huge fan of pie crust myself, since it’s basically flour and butter, but those that love pies apparently do well to take a class from this lady, Barbara Swell, who makes pie crusts look easy. They aren’t.

A Garden Supper TonightA Garden Supper Tonight, Barbara Swell

Started Christmas Day. Finished December 26.

This is an extremely curious book. It’s not so much a cookbook as a throwback to the old mountain ways circa the depression and before. Unfortunately, it reads like a manuscript. It’s not well designed. I thought perhaps it was an older book, because the design appeared to be early desktop publishing. Imagine my surprise to see it was 2009, not 1989. I was unaware that anyone used Benguiat anymore. There’s one font that I used to adore back in the 80s that I haven’t used in so long I no longer remember the name. The woman on the front of the book is holding up some canned fruit. This is a hint that there will be a lot of references to canning in this book. The inside has one column text within a border around the page and the way of differentiating what the text is about is to change the size. For me, I found this disconcerting. I’d use several columns, or perhaps a serif font if I were designing it. The book is organized into months, with a designed header (they make “Month of” and the name of the month fill the same width) and some cartoons on the outside. The idea is that the recipes within those pages are the types of food you will be getting out of your garden.

Anyway, the design of the book, for me, is totally distracting from the content of the book, which is quirky and odd and strange, yet entertaining. It is mostly recipes gleaned from much older sources (between 1880-1930) with some more modern recipes mixed in. However, she does tell you early on that she doesn’t own a measuring cup, so the recipes can be fairly vague. Apparently, they didn’t have many measuring cups in the past either, because the measurements might be “butter the size of half an egg.” I guess they didn’t exactly have scales or markings on the side of their butter sticks back in the day!

Clearly, I’m not a country girl. I’ve come a long way from eating processed foods, but I doubt I will be eating dandelion greens any time soon. There’s an interesting recipe for making bread out of trees, in case your larder runs really super low. She also encourages you to grist your own grains. A mock pork recipe sounds intriguing as it’s basically a stuffed squash. A good way to use up squash if you garden (which I don’t, I know I probably should but I’ve tried with little luck here on this one.) There are things in here I’ve never dreamed of using in a recipe or have even heard of: nasturnium greens, garlic scapes nd kirsch come to mind.

There are also some suggestions as to keeping pests out of your garden, both which the author publishes as humorous. One is for keeping crows out and involves boiling train oil and turpentine, then soaking rags and hanging it in your garden. The other involves mixing human urine, lime and manure together until it’s the consistency of paint and putting it at the base of your apple trees.

I will probably try a few recipes in here: many of them are pretty basic but the Carrot Ginger Soup is worth a go to be certain as well as a few others. She admits she’s stepping into dangerous ground with the biscuit recipes, but I am not a biscuit expert so I might try those as well. Mostly, however, this book is for historical record and reference. It makes me grateful not to live in times before the grocery store!

Grade: B. Design: D.

Book One of Seven: the Holiday Series (Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?)

For Christmas, I got a few things, but the majority of what I got was books. To be precise, I got seven books. SEVEN. I barely read any more because I’m either reading my FB feed or Twitter or I’m running, Jazzercising or knitting. (On occasion, working.) With each package, I could feel the weight of unread reading pressing down on me, as well as the weight of all the already unread books sitting at home.

So, I decided, as I do with so many things, to just get them read and get them done. Yes, this interfered with my knitting, but those books were really stressing me out. And, once I’m faced with something like that, I feel the need to buzz through it and put it behind me.

Here’s a review for the first book:

Mindy's bookIs Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy Kaling

Started reading Christmas Day. Finished reading Christmas Day.

The book cover is solid: I like the smirk on her face and the wallpaper, where she looks like a wallflower. Cute. And she’s in pink, which I think is supposed to make us think she’s shallow. She loves pop culture and all, but she’s really fairly smart and clever so not sure if playing into the whole Kelly Kapoor thing is the right way to go. The title is in Futura. Sure, it’s a classic font, but I’m not wild about it with this picture. I guess it’s OK. The fact that they’ve used a white drop shadow to pick up the author’s name from the picture kind of bothers me (even if I’ve done the same thing, but I’ve not designing book covers.) The book flap is set in something like Helvetica Neue, which means the distinctive M of the future is totally different on the flap, which bugged me quite a bit. The inside of the book is standard stuff, clean. I think the titles are set in Bodoni as well as the headers. The titles are OK; the headers are small and those serifs just totally disappear.

Oh, you wanted to know about the contents of the book? Well, she’s amusing to be certain. I didn’t cry myself with laughter throughout the book, but it was quite funny, sure. She’s more sincere than Tina Fey, gentler I suppose. Less snarky. The problem is … I like snark. There are sections I wish for my 12-year old daughter to read, such as “Don’t Peak in High School.” (Not necessarily concerned that she will, just want her to know it gets better.) I loved the chapter about movies coming to a theater near you after she had a meeting where the producers were looking for ideas derived from board games. And the different types of women in romantic comedies is a total hoot. Recognize these? The klutz, the ethereal weirdo, the woman who is obsessed with her career and is no fun at all, the 42-yo mother of the 30-yo lead, the sassy best friend, the skinny woman who is beautiful and tone but also gluttonous and disgusting and the woman who works in an art gallery. You gotta admire a person who will show her office at work which looks like a disaster area, as well as a picture of her writing in bed. Well, maybe. I guess you can get away with that if you’re doing really well.

In short, this is a book that can be digested in an afternoon. Light, amusing, cute. Much like Mindy. A good book to read if your Christmas morning was kind of a disaster.

Grade: B. Graphic design: B-.

The last gift

Swanky hat

Georgeanne must have thought I forgot about her! The fall just got away from me, with work and freelance and running and knitting but I have her gift ready to go, so now it’s time to talk about this last gift.

Georgeanne was the first Director of Religious Education that I knew. She and Larry, who was the religious education chair, went on the suggestion from my mother that I teach Sunday school. Knowing that I’d be reluctant, one of them called up my father and said “your daughter is willing to teach RE if you are” and then the other one called me about the same time and said “your dad is willing to teach if you are.” That was the beginning of teaching RE, which I’ve now done for about eight years.

I didn’t realize that teaching RE would come in handy for other things. It’s certainly given me the confidence to stand up at a large event and make announcements. If you can survive a room of very smart 8- to 12-year olds, nothing else seems as daunting. I also realized it came in extremely handy when conducting focus groups, which we just finished. Trying to coax answers out of 17- and 18-year olds was a lot easier because I’d been doing the same thing with kids for a long time.

Georgeanne made the job look incredibly easy and we didn’t have any idea how good she was until she left. She’d done the job for a long time and decided she didn’t need to do it any longer. We still miss her. She ended up moving to the Charlotte area to be around her grandkids, but she knows she always has a home here at UUFC.

Georgeanne is also a knitter and always been kind about the posting I do about my knitting. She suggested a hat and since everything she has suggested I do has worked out in the past, she gets a hat. It’s another one of these Stitch Diva hats, similar to the one I made for my old fifth grade teacher. It’s not exactly a winter hat, but then again, I’m not sure how much winter weather we’ll get anyway. Wear it down in the South Park area and look swanky, Georgeanne! I’ll get it in the mail tomorrow.