Recent Reads: Japanese, Japanese, Not-Japanese

Library books

I never stop reading, even in the midst of cross-country-move prep, but my interests rarely overlap with M’s. Which sucks, because sometimes you just want to talk about what you’ve been reading, you know? So, blog readers, you’re up. Here are some of my recent book choices and thoughts on the same. Agree? Disagree? Have other must-read suggestions? Feel free to comment!

Japanese Farm Food

Japanese Farm Food
Nancy Singleton Hachisu
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2012
ISBN 978-1-4494-1829-8
At a library near you

I was surprised and a little ashamed by my reaction to this book. Reviews were glowing, people were swooning, and I’d been putting off reading it because I wanted to savor the anticipation as long as possible. I believed I would fall completely in love with it. But… I didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful book. I’m a total sucker for pretty pictures of places and food. The typography is good, the color scheme is lovely, and the use of Japanese patterns for page edges and spine works well. I brought it home from the library and immediately sat down to read (I generally read cookbooks like novels first, then note recipes to try after). The reviews I had read were not wrong. Hachisu’s writing draws you into Japanese farm life (with a bit of an expat twist) and immerses you. She talks about how their bicultural life requires its own rules, but also notes how much they insist on maintaining old traditions. It left me feeling a little unsure of her point (of course, maybe she wasn’t trying to make one), and that feeling extended a bit into the recipes.

Sometimes she dismisses haute kaiseki cuisine and assures you that humble ingredients are just fine. But she is also sometimes extremely particular about local (virtually impossible to get elsewhere) and organic ingredients. This tied in well with her anecdotes and essays about local farmers and specialty food artisans, which were delightful and informative. But I was somehow left with the sense that apparently the only way to be authentically Japanese was to be a rural farmer. I own several Japanese-food cookbooks written by Americans and Japanese who didn’t marry farmers and move to the country, and the food is still authentic. I have (or try to have) no illusions about Japan. I know that it’s not all geisha and master craftsmen and high art. But I’d rather not swing the other way and ignore that part, either.

It’s telling that my favorite page in the book included images of traditional ryokan architecture and artisanal charcoal. Long story short: Hachisu’s work is immersive and it is evocative of her lifestyle. It’s just not a lifestyle that appeals to me. And that’s perfectly fine! I’ll check it out again. The recipes were still attractive, and I made note of a couple dozen to try. As an Elizabeth Andoh fan, I’m interested to compare the two approaches, both by American women married to Japanese men and living in the country for decades. I wonder if it will show a clear town-country distinction, or if it will simply be Japanese.

Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook

The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook
Susan Briscoe
KP Books, 2005
ISBN 0-89689-186-0
At a library near you

As previously mentioned, I’ve been dabbling in sewing lately. As with most things, it didn’t take me long to want to move from the basics to something new. My Japanophilia drove me toward sashiko, a traditional Japanese embroidery style generally acknowledge to have begun as decorative mending in rural villages. It’s just so simple and graphic that it immediately drew me in. I started looking for books to learn more (my eternal m.o.) but was generally disappointed. They always seemed to be about machine sewing, and I couldn’t let go of the feeling that sashiko was meant to be done by hand, that the machine was simply approximating the look and not the actual craft.

Reviews on Amazon led me to Briscoe, and I am so glad. Though the book cover looks similar to any number of those machine-based titles, the inside is anything but. The pattern library alone is swoon-worthy. It may be a shallow generalization for me to make, but I believe the Japanese have a word for everything, and it’s so interesting to learn the names of all the patterns. It’s also fascinating how much meaning is (or was traditionally) attached to each pattern. Different patterns were applied in hopes of particular outcomes (good harvest, safety, health of a child, etc.), and their popularity waxed and waned throughout history.

Speaking of history, Briscoe opens the book with possibly my favorite part: eight pages of the history of sashiko, liberally illustrated with objects and photographs from her own collection. She succinctly demonstrates the inspiration of various patterns, talks about how trade may have spread the art, and explains why it evolved the way it did. I love me some strong history to bolster the learning of a craft, so it was a no-brainer to fall for this book.

Interestingly, the only thing I wasn’t slavering over were the projects. Oh, I definitely aim to do some, like the samplers and greeting cards. But a coast-swapping move precludes starting new hobbies that require an outlay for tools and materials, so for now, I’m just getting inspired. Lots of promise but not practical yet. When I’m ready, though, this book (and Briscoe’s follow-up) will be my go-tos.

How to Archive Family Keepsakes

How to Archive Family Keepsakes
Denise S. May Levenick
Family Tree Books, 2012
ISBN 978-1-4403-2223-5
At a library near you

This book surprised me a little. I earned my library science Master’s with a focus in archives management, and I’m used to seeing popular writing on the topic that ranges from incomplete to downright wrong. I was pleasantly thrilled, then, when I flipped open Levenick’s book.

I found it when searching for works that bridged the scholarly-popular divide. I have a family reunion coming up, and lately there has been more discussion of the papers and (especially) photographs we hold that need some care. My training has taught me how to provide that care, but I do it almost exclusively in a library/archives repository setting. I’m unused to helping with the stewardship of private collections (aside from my own). I wanted some guidance on how to discuss the issues without, I hope, coming across as too academic or snobbish. (I also wanted a book I could just hand over for perusal, because let’s be honest: sometimes advice is easier to receive when it’s coming from a neutral party.)

Levenick’s book fit the bill so perfectly that, in a time when my impulse-shopping tendencies are firmly kept in check, I was ordering a copy on Amazon the day after I brought the book home from the library. Why, you ask?

Her chapters are concise and well-organized. She starts at the beginning (the idea of the family archive, the inevitability of someone becoming—not necessarily by choice—its keeper, the many and varied materials that might be involved) and takes the process step by step. There are plenty of checklists, worksheets, and resources to help keep track and take it further. Levenick addresses aspects of both intellectual organization and physical storage (including the dreaded plastic tubs), and she’s realistic in her advice.

That’s probably the biggest draw of this book as opposed to the more scholarly/professional books I own and consult for work purposes. The audience is not professional archivists but people who may abruptly find themselves caretakers of dirty objects, warped photographs, and disorganized files. Unlike professionals, who are expected (though not always able) to maintain industry best practices, the people Levenick addresses probably don’t have access to specialized tools and supplies, and she is matter-of-fact about that.

Her advice is remarkably thorough, covering physical objects, digital files, and genealogical recordkeeping in enough detail to be useful but not going so far as to be dizzying. It might help, frankly, that Levenick is not herself a professional. She does not have a library degree but instead pursued an informal education based on her genealogical and research needs. The information she collected formed this book, just as it informed her family archives stewardship. She learned these lessons honestly, and I hope I can share them with my family in the same spirit.

Note: This post was very spur-of-the-moment. I had some thoughts about a book and really wanted to get them out of my head and into a potential discussion. Though this is unlike anything I’ve written here before, I enjoyed it a lot and expect to make it an occasional series. There will be a brief break while we relocate, but my reading list for Portland is already nearing triple digits, so another Recent Reads post is inevitable.

BOS, PDX, and a Rich Chocolate Pudding

Fishing

A long, long time ago, this was a different post. It felt so good to write again with that last post that I immediately started drafting three others. I am a person who writes, and when the need builds too high, it has to be addressed. So I stuck with the spirit of doing things and did a lot of writing, and this post talked about doing that writing and other things. It situated that action in the relentless apprehension of the Layoff Life grind, especially how I was hitting the point of really missing financial security and really wishing for some certainty.

Unexpectedly, that state is no longer in effect. M has been offered a job, one that is right up his alley but far from our current home. So in a month, we will become residents of Oregon.

Lava field

To say that I’m terrified is a bit of an understatement. It is not to say, however, that I’m pessimistic about this change. I love the Pacific Northwest, and a relocation seems refreshing at the moment. The major hurdle for me is going to be the abrupt halt of my current career trajectory. I’ve been enjoying the hell out of my work lately, and I feel a frisson of panic at the thought of not having it to keep my brain occupied. Of course, becoming a sudden (if temporary) stay-at-home mom is going to challenge me. But it will be temporary, and it will be sweet to spend more time with our Little Bear, who is funnier and more articulate every day.

Besides, M and I both felt, upon hearing of the impending layoff, that good things were in store. M has found his, and now I get to seek mine.

Driftwood and mist

And in the meantime, I get to explore all the Portland/Oregon wonders I’ve heard about for years. Ice cream! Wasabi! Swedish food! But not doughnuts. At least not the big V. They just don’t appeal to me at all. I’d rather get a pan (finally) and hit up the farmers’ markets and local groceries and try my own.

Weeping tree

Speaking of cooking, there is pudding in this post. In the original version, there was plenty of context leading up to the recipe, discussing foundations that I feel are missing from my repertoire and the need I feel to distract myself from the rest of our stress. Now, all that has faded from my mind, leaving just chocolate. The pudding was great, so here is how I made it. It might be my last homemade dessert on the East Coast…

Rich Chocolate Pudding

Rich Chocolate Pudding

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Tenth Anniversary Edition

Until I tasted the final product, this was simply “Chocolate Pudding.” I added the “Rich” for a reason. I used one of the toddler’s little bowls for my serving, and I think I could have been satisfied with a single spoonful.

Ingredients for Rich Chocolate Pudding

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • scant ⅔ cup cane sugar
  • pinch fine sea salt
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

In a 1-quart or similar-sized saucepan, whisk together the heavy cream, sugar, and salt over medium-low heat. Cook, whisking occasionally, until the mixture begins to steam.

In a small bowl, whisk together the whole milk and cornstarch until completely smooth. Add to the cream mixture and whisk until smooth. Cook until the mixture is thickening and just begins to boil, whisking occasionally (paying particular attention to the corners of the pan).

Add the chocolate and stir until homogenous. Reduce heat to low and cook for another 5 minutes or so, stirring. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla bean paste.

Immediately pour the pudding through a fine-mesh sieve into a 1-quart glass dish. Scrape it through gently but don’t push lumps through. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin forming. Refrigerate until chilled. When ready to serve, stir until smooth and spoon into smaller dishes. Feel free to sprinkle with fleur de sel or (as here) finely shredded coconut, or drizzle with raspberry syrup or honey.

Doing Things

Trio

Sometimes life gets in the way of things you intend to do. In this case, I intended to write blog posts a lot more frequently than has happened lately. Happily, life only got in the way in the best ways, so I let it.

Snuggling with Mama's mama

Some of the things have been social. After my sister’s lovely visit a few weeks ago, my mom came to stay for a few days. My family is so geographically scattered that M (let alone Little Bear) hasn’t even met them all yet, so these two occasions were unusual and precious.

We also recently took a quick road trip to Maine for M’s cousin’s graduation. That was eventful, as everything seemed to be scheduled for Bear’s nap times, but it was so nice to see family. (And to hear bagpipes. Oh, Scotland.)

Graduation party

Pond and a wisp of cloud

Some of the things have been experiential. We have, at the ides of May, finally emerged from the dull weight of endless winter to remember that spring still happens. M in particular has taken to outdoor excursions with a vengeance. He walks with LB every day, and I join them on weekends for trips to the beach or the woods. The Japanese term shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing”) has become a mantra for us, though we do need an equivalent for time spent with sand and salty air.

Moon over dunes

Ham and mushroom quiche

Finally, some of the things have been actions.

I’ve always been more of a dreamer than a doer. I mean, I want to do all the things, but first I want to read all about the history and procedure of each thing, figure out the best tools for doing the thing, and get inspiration on different approaches. It’s unfortunately rare for me to progress to the actual doing of said thing, but it has become easier to follow through the last few years as I’ve settled into a few certain areas of interest.

Baby lettuces

One of those is cooking and baking. One is writing, both the intellectual creation of works and the physical act involving paper and ink and pen or brush. One is gardening, or maybe just attempting to keep plants alive. And one is needlework.

Specifically, I like to sew (including embroidery, if we’re getting specific). I love needles, thread, and fabric. I do not love my sewing machine. I bought one an embarrassingly long time ago and remained terrified of and baffled by it until my mom’s visit brought a chance to move past the fear stage. So I hauled out the machine, set it up per the manual (this was more complicated than it should have been; do manual-writers not sit in front of the machines about which they are writing?), and let my mom guide me.

This episode was an important turnabout in our educational relationship. When my mother has a tech problem, she calls me. Trying to get my brain to step back to the point of pure computer basics is difficult and often frustrating. But I had to sympathize when she was trying to teach me how to sew with a machine. I finally had to remind her: “Mom, you know how I sometimes have to explain the difference between a file and folder? Take this back to a similar level.” We got there in the end, and I got a new handmade napkin out of the process.

Trying my hand at machine sewing

After the flush of that first triumph, I set aside the other three napkins to finish on my own. Several weeks later, I finally picked them up again, and it didn’t start all that well. I recognized one issue, called my mom regarding another, and had a minor frustration fit when it still stuttered. In my younger years, I would’ve flown into a full temper at this point, blamed my sewing machine, and left it alone to rot. But I am older now and (somewhat) wiser and recognize that tantrum-ing is not going to accomplish my goal. Also, it will feel so good when I work over the hurdles and achieve what I want through effort.

Though age 32 is kinda late to be learning these lessons, it’s better late than never. And when I eventually finished those napkins? It really did feel great, and I still grin when I see them on the kitchen table.

This one's for you, Mom

Strawberry-swirl tartlets on matcha or chocolate

The Grumps

Hear no evil

Winter, or something, is wearing me down. I am a little off lately. Despite things going relatively well and being utterly fascinated at work and winter showing (very) tentative signs of abating, I am not the happiest of campers. I catch myself griping and pouting and generally feeling low. In our toddler-based vocabulary, I am definitely “grumping.” I know the reason, even though I was trying mightily to avoid exactly this.

Life with layoff started surprisingly easily, but the severance honeymoon has ended, and it is tough. I feel the shift. We’re still busier than ever and charging ahead full-steam, but an underlying tension has crept in. We are constantly aware of numbers and paperwork and the amorphous deadline driven by money. I expect spring’s arrival to help combat this, but it is sure being lazy about showing up. In the meantime, I’m trying to find other ways to keep my spirits up.

I started a series about my work in rare books and special collections libraries, and I expect the first real post for that to go up soon. At work, I’ve written two recent blog posts (yes, the general theme there will resurface here), and I have another on the way. I love writing, and having more than one outlet for that is really making me happy.

Fifteen down, 2,121 to go

In conjunction with my work and general Japan obsession interest, I’ve been taking tiny steps into learning the language. I hit a definite wall at work in terms of not knowing how to read materials, so I have to step it up. I don’t have time for a full course, so I’m trying TextFugu and other self-study options for now. In general, I have a knack for languages, so hopefully this works for awhile. I’m fighting a tiny when-do-I-use-which-writing-system terror right now, but I love the newness of the characters as opposed to Latin letters.

That being said, I’m also working out my rusty fingers on Western handwriting. I let it drop a bit late last year as things got busy, but I surprised myself by picking up a Zig this past weekend. I only followed along worksheet-style with some pages from Italic Letters and The Italic Way to Beautiful Handwriting, but it served to get the ink flowing. I like changing up my daily handwriting too much to switch permanently to Italic, but it is so nice as a “special occasion” script. Little Bear sees it differently.

Scribbles

Cozy with Aunt Kate

I was able to slow down enough to pick up a pen thanks to my sister, who visited for the weekend. She was on spring break from PT school and had a limited time frame, but even those couple of days were really, really nice. We hardly see each other in person anymore (ours is a FaceTime family), so I treasured this rare visit. She hadn’t seen the kid since he was three months old, and the difference must have been shocking. From total immobility to full sentences is quite a change. She also visited me at work, and I got a kick out of showing off some treasures. Since we’re in such divergent fields, I know that we each glaze over a bit as the other talks shop, but I think she liked the show-and-tell.

Secretary hand

One other distraction is holding my attention. I have not done much in the kitchen the past couple of months. My love of winter cooking went into hibernation shortly after the first storm, and all I’ve wanted to do on weekends is get ahead on the life stuff. Recently, however, an insistent little voice in my head has been prodding me to bake. With matcha all over my favorite boards and blogs lately, I couldn’t resist the urge. I even tempted fate by trying two completely new recipes, and I don’t care at all that the result was homely. It was baking for the sake of it, and thus utterly fulfilling. So I triple my yoga time, pick up a pen, and bust out the baking pans. If the tension persists, I remind myself that we can handle this. It is merely the experience that we are currently having.

Strawberry-Swirl Tartlets on Matcha and Chocolate

Strawberry-swirl tartlets on chocolate or matcha

This is not fancy pastry. I am a green tea fan, but M prefers chocolate. I kept the pastry cream simple. And I wanted another flavor, so I just swirled in some strawberry preserves. No straining, no excess cooking, no fuss. Obviously, I want to make them again with plenty of fuss, but this worked so well for what it was.

For the pastry cream (adapted from Alice Medrich‘s New Vanilla Pastry Cream)

  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon white rice flour (not glutinous)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • ¾ teaspoon vanilla bean paste

For the crusts (adapted from Sur La Table‘s Easy Chocolate Press-In Dough)

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1¼ tablespoons matcha

To finish

  • ¼ cup strawberry preserves
  • 1 tablespoon water

For the filling: Place a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl near the stove. Whisk together the sugar and rice flour in a small, heavy saucepan. Whisk in a bit of the milk until you have a paste. Whisk in the egg yolks until smooth, then whisk in the rest of the milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, scraping all around the pan (sides, bottom, and corners) frequently.

When the filling begins to simmer, cook and stir for 5 more minutes, turning the heat down if necessary. You want to maintain the simmer.

As soon as 5 minutes are up, pour the filling into the strainer. Gently scrape the custard through, but don’t push through any cooked eggs bits. Once the filling is through, scrape the remainder from the bottom of the strainer. Stir in the vanilla paste. Let the mixture cool for about a half an hour, then press a piece of plastic directly onto the surface and up the sides of the bowl to prevent a skin, and refrigerate until chilled (up to 3 days).

For the crusts: Beat the butter and sugar in a medium mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer) until creamy, smooth, and well-blended. Add the egg yolk and beat until smooth.

Sift ½ cup of the flour and the cocoa into a small mixing bowl. Scrape in half of the butter-sugar-egg mixture. Sift the other ½ cup of the flour and the matcha over the remaining butter mixture. Mix each until moist and uniform in color. Incorporate any patches of flour or lumps of butter, but don’t go beyond that. If you beat it until it becomes batter-like, chill the dough until it firms up.

Lightly butter 4 tartlet pans and place on a rimmed baking pan. Divide the cocoa dough mixture in two and press into two pans. Make sure the thickness is even, with maybe a little more in the corners for structure. Repeat with the matcha dough mixture. Put the baking pan in the fridge and chill the tartlet shells for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the tartlet shells for 10 minutes, then rotate and bake another 5-8 minutes. It can be difficult to tell when they’re done, but a light golden color and slightly drier look are good indicators. Move the tartlet pans to a rack to cool.

To assemble: Stir together the strawberry preserves and the water in a small heatproof bowl. Warm in the microwave until smooth and pourable, about 20 seconds. Fill each tartlet shell with ¼ of the pastry cream. Dollop a spoonful or two of the preserves on top of each and swirl through with a skewer or table knife. Chill until set, about 10 minutes.

You can make the crusts and pastry cream ahead of time. If you’re not going to eat all the tartlets right away, I recommend filling only what you need. Fill the rest when you’re ready to eat them. Alternatively, you can create a barrier to keep the pastry cream from soggying up the crust. Melt a little semisweet or white chocolate and spread on the crust. Chill until set, then fill with pastry cream, etc.

Continuing Education: My Quest to DIY Rare Book School

Gold tooling and raised bands

I’ve previously mentioned that I work as a special collections librarian. I was whining in my last post, preemptively bemoaning a potential but as yet hypothetical change in my professional life. I might end up in modern records or academic repositories or back in public libraries, true. But for now, I work in special collections. Generally, this means that I help steward a collection of manuscripts, rare books, maps, broadsides, art books, plans, ephemera, and photographs. One of the loveliest things about my current position is how astonishing that collection is, yet how unknown in many cases (notably some of the books). It provides opportunities for professional education that a larger organization might not. We have a small staff, and few of us are experts when we start. We learn as we go. Which is good, because otherwise I would just stay in school forever.

If you work in special collections, you have probably heard of the shining institution called Rare Book School. It is exactly what it sounds like: a school that offers week-long intensive courses in myriad aspects of the history of the book and bibliography. There are similar programs in California, London, and France, as well as various other seminars, workshops, and degree concentrations around the globe. Trouble is, if you’re a librarian, you have almost certainly spent a lot of money (or incurred a lot of debt) already in acquiring your Master’s. A week-long class at RBS costs about half the tuition of one of my grad school classes, and I went to a relatively expensive school. There are fellowships and whatnot, but they are fiercely competitive and, of course, require time for application. What is one to do when you’ve already hit the ground running in a full-time job (but haven’t been there long enough to afford the money or time off)?

If you’re like me, you find another way. I already work in a special collections repository. My work has always provided the catalyst for and direction of my learning. Now I’m just going to guide it in a (slightly) more focused way, and I’m going to occasionally present my findings here on my blog. (I do also write for my library’s blog, but we try to stay away from too many posts just exclaiming aren’t all these books so pretty?! Which are precisely the sort of posts you’re likely to find here.)

They say that you’ve mastered a subject when you can teach it to others. The point of this experiment, however, is that I am no master. Think of this more as inviting others to join me on a path of exploration. And because my interests run broader than rare books alone, it’s going to be mostly Rare Book School but occasionally Special Collections School. I hope to learn a lot, and if you’re interested, I hope you will learn something, too.

This introductory post features images of details. One of the things I love most about the information field is the intricacy. There are details related to providing intellectual access (a typo can make an item impossible to locate). There are details of physical structure (though some of the most fascinating are hidden in the finished object). And there are details that accumulate during the life of the object (adding history and mystery along the way). I’ve assembled a small selection of some of those details here, and you can find more in my cultural heritage-focused Flickr album. Peruse, enjoy, ask questions, and correct me if you find a mistake! This is above all a learning process.

Long s and &c
This example shows the long or medial s (no, it’s not considered an “f”) that was once common in printed works. It also shows the archaic “&c” abbreviation used for “et cetera”.

KuntenKunten refers to the smaller characters to the right of the larger Chinese characters at the top of the page. They are a type of gloss that was used to guide Japanese pronunciation (then called furigana or rubi) or indicate Japanese readings in kanbun literature.

u/v and catchwordManuscript example of the early modern u used for what would now be a v in the middle of the word. In the bottom right, a manuscript example of a catchword, duplicating the first word on the next page. In printed works, it was meant to help guide the binder in correct placement.

Signature, catchword, and long sSignature mark “Q3”. Catchword “labours”, indicating the first word on the next page. Signature marks (and catchwords, as mentioned above) were meant to assist binders/printers in arranging pages correctly. You also see the long s throughout.

Wax seal and flourished signatureSeal impression in wax, accompanying the flourished signature of its owner. Wax seals are not always easy to find on manuscripts. Those used to seal correspondence were generally removed in the course of opening the letter. Those on legal documents like this one have a better survival rate.

Corner pieceDecorative cloth corner piece, or kadogire (角裂), on a traditional Japanese binding. They’re lovely but don’t allow air circulation, encouraging insects to take up residence. Rebound or newer books tend not to include them.

Printer's deviceA printer’s device, or a symbol or emblem used by printers in early printed books. Here, an imposing example in a work printed by Vincenzo Valgrisi in Venice. You still see echoes in modern books in the form of (generally) smaller icons, monograms, or logos of publishers.

Signed bindingBinder’s stamp: “Bound by Wood, London” in gold tooling on a front turn-in. One of several types of binders’ evidence, which is itself a form of provenance. I cannot get enough of this kind of information, which is why I follow the University of Pennsylvania’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library‘s Provenance Online Project photostream on Flickr. I’ve solved some mysteries thanks to their photos, and I also just love to browse.

Filing notationMany manuscript collections were formerly stored trifolded, with brief notations on one end to aid in filing. Most modern archivists do not find this charming, as large collections can take a long time to unfold. (Also, note the fractured wax seal.)

Clove brush line cover (and library label)Clove brush lines were a common decorative cover style on traditional Japanese books, particularly in the 18th century. A dye made from clove flower buds, safflower, or grey ash was painted by hand, generally as horizontal or vertical lines or a lattice pattern.

Armorial bindingThis work was rebound and gold tooled with the arms of the owner, William Henry Miller (1789-1848). Armorial bindings can be a rich source of provenance. An example of the process to trace them is this great post on Folger’s Collation blog. Incidentally, you should really follow their blog. It’s a fantastic glimpse into the work of a wonderful repository, made all the better for its decision to delve into cataloging and other issues that may pass the layman by. The comments on each post show that there is a healthy interest in such things among library and book folk (and others), and I am so glad that blog exists.

If you’ve made it this far, I assume that you might have at least a passing interest in the topic. In that case, allow me to suggest some follow-up reading… There won’t be a quiz, but it might whet your appetite for future posts.

Suggested Reading:

Carter, John. ABC for Book Collectors. 8th ed. New Castle, De.: Oak Knoll Press, 2004. At a library near you, or available as a PDF here.

Far and away the classic for rare book and bookbinding terms, this was one text assigned to me in my Rare Books and Special Collections Librarianship course. The print version is charmingly designed to include select terms on the appropriate parts of the book. The only thing that disappoints me, as I delve into non-Western books, is that its focus is very much European and North American. Still, it’s an authority for a reason and gives a great foundation.

Suarez, Michael, and H. F Woudhuysen, eds. The Book: A Global History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. At a library near you.

A far more affordable version of the OUP’s behemoth The Oxford Companion to the Book, this covers virtually every aspect of the history of the book in a series of neat, digestible chapters. From writing systems to the advent of print to censorship to books in virtually every region of the globe, you will probably find something of interest, and I hope you glance at the rest anyway.

Greenfield, Jane. ABC of Bookbinding: A Unique Glossary with over 700 Illustrations for Collectors & Librarians. New Castle, De.: Oak Knoll Press, 1998. At a library near you.

This work covers much the same territory as the bookbinding terms in the first item and the essays on structural evolution in the second, but it does so with hundreds of clear line-drawn illustrations. It also focuses on Western books, but it touches at least briefly on the other major structures from around the world. There’s also a list of notable binders, which I have taken to comparing to my library’s catalog, in hopes of finding examples in our collection.

Brookfield, Karen. Book. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2000. At a library near you.

If the other three options elude or exhaust you, seriously consider this one. It doesn’t matter that it was written for children (or maybe it does). DK’s Eyewitness series is stuffed full of pictures, and, much like this humble blog post’s, the ones in this book are meant to draw you in. It very quickly runs through many of the same topics as Suarez and Woudhuysen’s Global History, but it does so accompanied by full-color photographs of examples. Let it hook you and push you to search for more, and I’ll be back with another DIY Rare Book School post soon.

Administrative Note

I am aware that this post adds a new subject to my blog that some people (hello, loving family!) find detracts from the previous focus on the toddler and food. In light of this, I’ve rearranged the structure a bit to better enable readers to stick to the parts they prefer. The menu at the top of the page has two main categories now: Life and Work, and each has a drop-down menu with related links. I will add separate RSS feeds soon to make it even easier, but for now clicking on “Posts” under either option gives you just those posts in that category. I appreciate any feedback on the effectiveness of this approach. Until I can afford the time and money to move to self-hosted WordPress, I have to work within the template at hand, and I’d really rather not set up a totally separate new blog. Comments, questions, or curses are welcome. 👇

Darkness and Light

Foster Pond sunset

During my blogging absence, another year began, and it began busily.

The holidays were a mess of one- and two-day work weeks, interspersed with a last-minute vacation week for me. All three of us had a bad cold that week, and then, unhappily, my aunt passed away. This lent a melancholy feeling to the holiday, exacerbated by the fact that, thanks to airline heartlessness, my mother then had to cancel her trip to spend Christmas with us.

Tree trimming

We did manage to have a wonderful time, though. It started with the solstice. Because Christmas day is always scheduled with family, M and I started celebrating the solstice as our own holiday. I love the family time of Christmas, but every year I get less and less enthused about the “holiday” of it; solstice fills the void. For me, it’s become a holiday on its own, and one that isn’t saddled with any baggage of commercialism or other trappings. It is a pure expression of winter joy, and I look forward to it every year.

Pumpkin-pecan bread

Pomander

We don’t make a splashy deal of it. We make sure to cook good food, always watch the same episode of “Little Bear” (yes, seriously), and light some candles. As I get less and less into Christmas, which was never a religious holiday for me anyway, I get more and more into the elemental quality of the solstice. It’s all about pine and fire and snow and being cozy on cold nights. This year, I explained a little bit to Little Bear about it being the longest night and how some cultures celebrate with candles or bonfires to symbolize the sun being reborn. Maybe next year I’ll risk putting out the goat.

Skinning hazelnuts

Homemade Nutella

Things progressed quickly after the solstice. Christmas was full and lovely. LB seemed to get it more than last year, of course, but he didn’t so much realize that presents were for him, per se. He loved playing “Santa’s helper” and handing out packages to everyone (“Can you give this to Mémé? No, Mémé. Mémé!”). He himself received a number of beautiful (and quiet!) wooden and/or building toys that he continues to enjoy daily. He is very into blocks and trains and nesting toys. It’s fascinating to watch.

Crêpe for the baby

In a blessing/curse way, we get more chances to observe him at play these days. Shortly after a quiet New Year’s (M and I made it to 11:30 this year!), M got the news we’d been dreading, and the big L-A-Y-O-F-F word became reality. Though we’d been expecting it, there was little we could do beyond lay out the few steps we would take when it actually happened. Now we’re still trying to deal with those steps, and things are terrifying, frustrating, and sometimes a little depressing. Little Bear is home with M during the day now, and we’re both having to squeeze in job applications. I’d love to believe that M will quickly find another position right in the area, but I know that I need to be prepared for the other thing.

Reader

Oddly enough, despite the obsessive monitoring of our bank accounts, the hair-tearingly-frustrating health insurance process, and the uncomfortable familiarity of the library-school-graduate-saturated New England market, we are both feeling good. I love my work and am happy at my job, but M was ready for something new. And though it is very scary to be a one-nonprofit-salary household in an expensive area, we feel strangely, buoyantly optimistic. There is a persistent sense that this is the next step and good things are soon to follow.

Yin Yu Tang near sunset

Obviously, we hope they follow really soon, but we’re doing the best we can to bring them about. There are plenty of options on the table. Information science is a vast and flexible field. I’m a little sad-in-advance, though. I love working in special collections, but jobs in the subfield are scarcer even than general library jobs. I know full well that, if I need to change jobs, I may have to move to a different professional area. I can only cross that bridge if I come to it, so instead I think about geography. My sister moved to Oregon after college, and ever since visiting her some years ago, I’ve felt the lure of the Pacific Northwest. So part of my brain is going, hey, if we have to move, why not move out there…?

Driftwood and mist

Long story short, there is a lot up in the air right now. I have always preferred to pin things down as quickly as I can, and that is just not possible in this situation. It’s an exercise in mindfulness, patience, and time management, and it’s actually kind of… fun. The level of fun is directly proportional to the balance of our savings account, though, so I channel the enjoyment into as much practical work as possible. Life is quite busy, but Little Bear (when he’s not proving himself quite a toddler) provides lovely little moments of joy and quiet. This is an interesting time in our lives, scary and cash-strapped, but clarifying and decluttering. We are certain that we’ll emerge from it stronger, clearer-headed, and with purpose. I keep smelling spring in the air, and I’m going to ride that high to our next stage.

Dark stone lantern

Pics are a montage from the past two months and a years-ago trip to Portland.

Kongobu-ji

Productivity of Necessity, and a Recipe

Night on the river

The past month has been a building whirlwind, though obviously not on the blogging front. I like this time of year, but man, it can be exhausting. This year, the buildup to the holidays has seemed coincidental to all the other things going on. That doesn’t make it all less crazy, though.

It also doesn’t negate the impact some recent illness has had on our growing to-do lists. I was just pondering my PTO accumulation, but apparently I tempted fate. An early-season daycare bug quickly swept to Little Bear and home, and I used up sick days in rapid succession.

The unforeseen upside to that, however, was that I suddenly became a productivity machine. I am not one of those people who claims to work best under pressure. The idea of cramming for tests or speed-writing papers still makes me cringe, years after school. But one thing I am good at is buckling down when I simply have no other choice. And so it has been recently (hence the blog-radio silence).

So what have we been up to?

Minecraft pumpkin

M carved pumpkins.

His m.o. since we moved to this place (okay, so just the last two Halloweens) has been to carve while handing out the candy. Since he telecommutes, he’s out on the porch promptly as trick-or-treat starts, so he multitasks until I get home with Little Bear. It’s turned into a fun little two-year tradition that I think we might just continue.

This year’s main pumpkin was, as you can see, Minecraft themed. This was a big hit, particularly with the kids dressed in similar style. I was bemused by the mother who suggested that we must have some Minecraft-loving kids. Some people really do feel that games are not for adults, I guess.

Kabuki faces

I went to work.

The last couple weeks have included sick time and holidays but also work events and tons of checked-off tasks. Our director retired last month, but he continues as director emeritus, and we hosted some of his fellow Grolier Club members during the recent antiquarian book fair. It’s always fun to show off collection highlights, and our guests, booklovers all, were appreciative and interesting.

Books on tea

I’m especially enthusiastic about showing off materials lately, because I’ve been having a blast with our collections myself. I even finally finished a post for our library blog, and I’m planning my next draft. My current fascinations lean heavily toward book history and East Asia, so I’ve been hunting for great examples to support these themes. I took a little detour into Japanese maps, and I’m not sorry.

Temple

I even dragged Little Bear into the fun. My office’s proximity to his doctor means that he gets to accompany me occasionally. Now that he’s toddling, he’ll be reshelving in no time. He’s growing so fast, he will certainly be tall enough!

Training

Embroidery ready

Outside of work, I happily headed home for some domestic bliss.

I have finally, finally reached the end of the hand-stitching the quilt I’m making for Little Bear. I don’t mean that to sound bitter. I actually prefer hand sewing to machine, and it’s been a nice meditative way to end nights. It has simply taken so much longer than I originally intended. Now I’m preparing to add a little decoration in the form of French knots, and I’m looking forward to learning a bit of embroidery.

Cooking shrimp and baby bok choy

Aside from that, and all the housekeeping catch-up, I’ve been in the kitchen. Cookies, pancakes, and chili rolled out as we got over our bugs, and then I finally made soba with shrimp. I’ve been planning a dish made of these two components for weeks, and I made it now because I find soba noodles very comforting. They remain so in this recipe.

Soba with Baby Bok Choy and Shrimp

Shrimp and baby bok choy on soba

I aimed for light but warm, bright and nourishing. I adore baby bok choy, and the shrimp revived my strength after days of on-and-off illness and fatigue. I’m getting more confident at improvising Japanese food, and I considered this meal a success. Note that the sauce measurements are approximated and adjust to your liking. I’m a big fan of the Japanese seasoning blend of shichimi togarashi, but red pepper flakes and toasted sesame seeds would add the spice and crunch, too.

  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1½ tablespoons minced ginger (I used ginger paste)
  • 1½ tablespoons crushed garlic
  • pinch of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3 bundles of soba noodles
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil, or more as needed
  • 2 pounds baby bok choy, trimmed, halved, washed, and dried
  • 1 pound shelled shrimp, tails removed (I used thawed precooked shrimp because it was on hand but prefer raw)
  • shichimi togarashi

Whisk together the rice vinegar, mirin, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar, and sesame oil. Taste and adjust as necessary, then whisk in the cornstarch until smooth. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the soba noodles and cook until al dente, just a few minutes. Pour into a colander to drain, rinsing a bit to separate if necessary.

Place a wok over medium heat. When hot, add the canola oil and the baby bok choy and toss. Cook, stirring frequently, until stems soften a little and leaves wilt. Add the shrimp and cook until barely opaque, stirring frequently. Add the sauce, stir, and cook until bok choy retain just a bit of crunch and sauce has thickened, stirring regularly.

Divide the noodles among four bowls and top evenly with the shrimp and bok choy (and plenty of sauce. Sprinkle with shichimi togarashi to taste. Pick up your chopsticks and enjoy.

Miscellany: The Marks We Make

Priorities

I am an information geek. I cannot get enough of it. Lately, that obsession interest is stronger than ever, and I am reading and writing with a fierceness that surprises me. About what, you ask? I’ll tell you!

A colleague inquired after letters a few weeks ago, and it sparked a major obsession on my part. How has the folding evolved? What’s up with that filing system? How do you preserve wax seals? What is the subtle etiquette of salutation and signing-off? How did letters travel before the postal system? Most of the resources I want to read are academic tomes like this one, so I may be attempting some ILLs if I want to pursue this fascination.

DISCLAIMER: After the first (of an account book in my library’s collection), none of these photos have anything to do with the topic at hand. I just liked some of my recent shots from our autumn adventures.

Wet leaves

If I cannot get ahold of those, however, I know I can find books about books. I am a rare books and special collections librarian, and oh, how special the collections! Lately, I’ve been intensely interested in books as objects. Bindings, paper, marginalia, provenance… Give me all the information about the information. The textual content is great, but the physical evidence fleshes it all out. It makes each individual volume unique, and my library has so many unique objects. I’ve been wandering the stacks, pulling here and there to examine the endpapers and title pages. Anything bound in vellum catches my eye, because it immediately screams “old”, and that means a potentially visible history.

Little Bear and leaves

So I’ve been devouring these tomes visually, and then I’ve been researching them madly. I had to create a separate mini wish list for my immediate to-reads, because my “To Read – Information” list was too big to find anything in. [Aside: ALL of my wish lists are too big. I don’t think I could read all those books even if I did nothing but read, sleep, and eat.] Thankfully, I work in a library that holds not only a lot of rare book objects, but a number of excellent resources about rare books. I’m reading about paper and bookbinding and library history, though unfortunately only in brief snatches, because, you know, work.

Alright, fine, here’s one more book-related image. This is a teeny tiny book a colleague and I just discovered in our miniature book collection. (DISCLAIMER THE SECOND: When a librarian/archivist/curator says they “discovered” something, it doesn’t mean it was physically lost, like they found it under a couch cushion. It was simply not known to them. Try as we might, it remains impossible to memorize all holdings of a not-small collection.)

Anyway, all of this leads me to writing. My fountain pen love is still going strong, but now I’m getting restless to dig out my dip pen and attempt more actual calligraphy. That seems exceedingly difficult to fathom right now, as the rambunctious toddler requires frequent wrestling away from forbidden things or wrangling from the chair he somehow got stuck under, etc. But I have to try.

Wet flower

In the meantime, I’ve been writing some letters and notes. One of them is soon to be sent to my great-aunt, the doyenne of our family history, who is so graciously helping me with my genealogy work. (Speaking of, I will be really annoying by saying that the most incredible object I’ve seen lately, which haunts my handwriting dreams, is a bound manuscript genealogy that I can’t share publicly because it’s on deposit. Maybe soon…) I’m making headway on dates and names, and perhaps soon I can start mocking up calligraphy-written family trees.

Or maybe I’ll start collecting wax seals (since ordering a custom one of my own is out of the financial question). Or I’ll delve into bookbinding. Or… or… probably chase a toddler around all day.

Puzzle time at the library

Or maybe I’ll just get some sleep. Somehow, I have thought myself into exhaustion. That sounds so lame that I have no choice but to wrap this up, get some rest, and write some more tomorrow.

Autumn flowers

Autumn, Suddenly

Fall flowers.

Just like that, it’s cooler and crisper and obviously the season has changed. I love this time of year. The transitional times in general are my favorite. Typically, it’s right about now that the long, endless slog of hot summer days has me down, and cooler weather sweeps in to relieve me. This year, however, summer was surprisingly mild, and I actually enjoyed it. That means that not only am I excited by autumn, I’m still energized instead of drained by constant humidity.

Stacking is a pretty big deal these days.

Perhaps that’s why I feel a bit restless and eager to tackle some work. I would love to say that means I’m throwing myself into big projects. But I am finding it more satisfying to chip away, little by little, at countless small tasks that have been nagging at me. And, in the midst of the fresh fall housekeeping, I’m swinging back into cooking.

Pizza with blue cheese, arugula, and pear.

Pizza with arugula, pear, salami, and Brie.

I have a difficult time with cooking in summer. It’s often too hot, and by the time I get home from work, I am not in the mood to stand and chop things for salads or other cool foods. Fall food is a different story. Fall food seduces me. I make long, lovely lists of produce I want to use and recipes I want to try.

Pizza with blue cheese, arugula, and pear.

This one is an interpretation of a salad recipe I have stashed in my MacGourmet database. Don’t ask me why I utterly refused to consider making the actual salad. No, it had to be pizza, and boy, am I glad I stuck to that instinct. I kept the main flavor profile for the first pizza, then, why not, we traded in some leftover Brie and salami for the other. Both variations were something of an experiment, and both were good, but we preferred the first. It was a little less salty and a little more nuanced. Even the baby found it to be just the thing to fuel his rapidly-wrinkling brain.

Now if only Little Bear and I weren’t overcome with sniffles. My sinuses started creeping into cold-weather mode a week ago. I’ve had a constant grumpy headache ever since, and it is getting old. I’m so preoccupied with the expectation that a major cold is about to kick in that I cannot enjoy the fact that a major cold has not kicked in. Oh well. At least I can enjoy food like this pizza, or porridge, or chili, or any number of sweet things

Pizza with Blue Cheese, Arugula, and Pear

Inspired by Williams-Sonoma’s Harvest Salad with Blue Cheese and Roasted Pears

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons golden balsamic vinegar
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • all-purpose flour, for rolling
  • 2 balls of pizza dough, store-bought or homemade
  • honey, any varietal, to taste
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • 4 cups baby arugula leaves, washed and spun dry
  • ½ pound whole-milk mozzarella, grated
  • 1 firm Bosc pear, cored and thinly sliced
  • ½ crumbled blue cheese

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Use a baking stone, or prepare a pizza pan the way you like it.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Roll out one ball of dough on a floured work surface. Brush with half the vinaigrette. Drizzle lightly with honey. Sprinkle with half the shallot and tarragon.

Scatter half the arugula over the dough evenly. Sprinkle with half the mozzarella. Spread half the pear slices on top. Sprinkle evenly with half the blue cheese. Bake on the stone or prepared pan for 12-15 minutes, until arugula is wilted and cheese and crust are golden brown. Repeat with the other half of ingredients. Serve immediately.

Brie, Salami, and Thyme Variation
Replace the golden balsamic with red wine vinegar. Replace the tarragon with thyme. Replace the blue cheese with Brie. Sprinkle with ¼ cup chopped salami or pancetta.

Pizza with arugula, pear, salami, and Brie.

Saltire over Edinburgh Castle

Scotland on my mind

Scotland on my mind

I love the UK, as an entity, but in its separate parts as well. I cannot imagine having to decide on such an important question. I have many fond memories of Scotland, and I look forward to making more, whether my passport gets stamped in London or Edinburgh. Whatever the outcome, people of Scotland, I wish you the very best today. I am thinking of you and your land.