A Year of Picnics


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recent acquisitions

Recent Acquisitions: Book Edition

It’s no big secret that I like books. If you stop into any room in our home, you’ll find books lying about. Packed into various spaces in the kitchen, stacked in shelves and on side tables in the living room, tucked into the bedside stand in the bedroom, piled high on the floor in the upstairs hall, or nestled into baskets and upon shelves in Huxley’s room, ours is a book-filled abode.

I’ve told you about my love of Common Ground Books, found beside the Screen Door here in the Asheville. My mom and grandmother came over Sunday, to watch Huxley while Glenn and I had our anniversary dinner. Capitalizing on their loving assistance, I asked if we could leave a wee bit earlier, so as to shop at the Screen Door without needing to glance over our shoulders every other second to ensure Huxley wasn’t ripping a page out of a book or attempting to scale some large antique mirror (he’s a wild monkey, this boy of ours). They heartily agreed (they love what I’ve taken to calling their “Granny Nanny” time), and we set off.

Above you’ll see several of our finds, alongside some birthday gifts for Glenn. While not always the case with us and book purchases, in this particular instance, they’re all food related. History, lore, agricultural tips, recipes-it’s all accounted for in these recent acquisitions. I’m excited with our finds, and think you will be, too.

Sugar: A Bittersweet History, Elizabeth Abbott A chronicle of the events paving the way for this history-laden sweetener to move from the domain of nobility to the pantry staple of modern times, and the human toll exacted along the way. This book was a gift to Glenn from my Dad, his wife, and my sisters. We’re big lovers of food history, so this promises to be a good read.

The Ultimate Practical Guide to Pruning and Training, Richard Bird With several established fruit trees in addition to a newly planted orchard, we’ve got plenty of pruning in our future. Add in some wisteria and rose bushes, and we’ve quite literally got our work cut out for us. We’ve long needed a guide to help us along our pruning journey, and this one offers just the step-by-step process photography and information we’ve been seeking.

Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast, Hank Shaw I’ve been a fan of Hank Shaw’s writing and recipes for several years now, which reads a good deal like poetry. This book, a compilation of his foraging wisdom, covers the spectrum of wild culinary delights. From dandelion wine to moose, and everything in between, Shaw shares tips, techniques, and tried-and-true recipes for gathering food in the wild. This book was one of my birthday gifts for Glenn.

Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories From A New Southern Kitchen, Ed Lee Ed Lee is the sort of guy I’d like to have a beer with. At least, that’s the vibe I’ve always gotten from every digital, visual, and literary interaction I’ve had with this Korean-American gentleman. He seems knowledgeable without being full of himself, affable and down for a good time while fully capable of taking care of business. Glenn had been flipping through a copy of Smoke & Pickles recently at a book store, and expressed an interest in not just the book’s recipes, but its format, design, and graphics, too. Birthday present nirvana! As a life-long Southerner myself, this book speaks my language. From country ham to pickled peaches, with a whiskey-ginger cake thrown in for good measure, Lee’s book hits all the notes in the southern food pantheon. I’ll drink to that!

Secrets of the Best Chefs: Recipes, Techniques, and Tricks From America’s Greatest Cooks, Adam Roberts What do you get if you spend a year visiting the best chefs in America? You get a load of seasoned wisdom, that’s what. And if you take all that wisdom you’ve amassed and render it into recipes easily approachable to the home chef, well, then, you’ve got a whopper of a book. Adam Roberts, creator of the blog The Amateur Gourmet, distilled his culinary pilgrimage into a wonderful book, full of inspiration and highly accessible recipes. Take that Blueberry Crostata pictured above. I am all over it. I’ve made many a crostata in my baking career (and galettes and pies and their kin), but this time, I’ll make it picking up some baking tips along the way. No matter how long you’ve been cooking, you can always improve your skills and Secrets of the Best Chefs will help turn you into a better chef (or, at least, that’s my hope, and what the book seems to indicate it’ll do).

In Praise of Apples: A Harvest of History, Horticulture, and Recipes, Mark Rosenstein Full disclosure: Mark Rosenstein is a personal friend. That said, my own praise for his apple praise has nothing to do with our friendship and everything to do with his legacy as an incredible chef, restauranteur, and food and agriculture enthusiast. He’s also wicked creative and uncommonly kind, but that’s a whole other post. You’d be remiss to think this book a mere cookbook. Oh, no. It’s so very much more than that. It’s full of recipes, yes, but it also contains information on planning your own orchard, selecting apple varieties, and how to can and preserve your harvest. It was printed in 1999 ,so some of the styling is a bit dated, but the information it contains is just as relevant today as it was before the turn of the century. 

Happy reading, friends! What’s on your own bedside table, or kitchen counter, or coffee table, or bookshelves? Do share, if you please. Fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, cookbooks-let’s hear about the pages you’re turning!


Recent Acquisitions

Everyone has their own shopper’s paradise. For an ex-boyfriend, it was the vinyl section of Amoeba Records in San Francisco. For my sisters, it just might be the Frye boots section at Discount Shoes, which they plunder whenever they visit. For Glenn and I, though, it’s the bookstore at the Screen Door.

Whenever we stop by, we sort of mentally prep ourselves that we won’t be leaving empty handed. The selection of cooking, baking, gardening, children’s, and decorating books on offer there is seriously stellar, and amazingly affordable. During a visit this Monday, I met Gail, the buyer for the store. Turns out the bookstore is part of Common Ground, a wholesale book distributor. They have show rooms in Atlanta and New York. All of the books on sale at the Screen Door come from those show rooms, and are marked down considerably from their retail cost. That translates to books that are, say, $35 retail costing $20 or less there. Oh. Yes.

We went looking for some gifts for friends, as well as some books to fill out Huxley’s Easter basket (which I am SO excited about this year-it’s the first one we’ve made for him, and we’re having a ball filling it up!). We left with a stack, for our friends, Huxley, and ourselves. Yes, it happens. BUT, it’s a good thing, really. We’re patronizing a wonderful local business and expanding our literary horizons in the process! Three of the books above were part of our cache, while the last was a recent gift from my editor at Roost. Here’s what’s what:

People’s Pops. Yes, I’m excited about popsicles in what is turning out to be a very chilly March. And why? Because friends, hope springs eternal. It will (eventually) warm up again, and I intend to be ready, popsicle in hand, to greet the heat. This book, created by the Brooklyn-based business of the same name, is full of natural, delicious recipes. Can’t wait to pack the freezer full of frosty relief!

The Essential Herbal For Natural Health. This little gem of a book was sent to me by my editor at Roost, Jennifer Urban-Brown (LOVE her!). I am perpetually adding to our home apothecary, and Holly Bellebuono’s book is looking more and more like it will become my go-to herbal book of choice for creating tinctures, teas, salves, and more.

Free-Range Chicken Gardens. Not only is this book by Jessi Bloom gorgeous to look at, it’s rife with wonderful information for creating gardens your chickens will benefit from. Profiles of people and their chicken gardens fill the book, too, and I always love some anecdotal, first-person advocacy!

Handmade Houses. Some day, when time and fortune collide, we really, really, REALLY want to build a house from scratch. It’ll likely be made of wood and stone, full of organic, curving lines, and blend into the forest here completely. Until that day, Richard Olsen’s stunningly beautiful book showcasing the hand built homes of others will suffice. There is so much inspiration to be gleaned from this book!

What about you? What’re you reading these early spring days?

Recent Acquisitions


You know how it goes. You see something in a magazine, or perhaps at a book store, fall in love with it, pine for it, determine it is completely out of your price range and that you just need to get over it, and then turn around, a mere two days later, and find it for sale, half off? You know how that happens just about all of the time? No? It never happens to you? Right. Me neither. Until this weekend, that is.

I fell in love with British organic gardening expert Bob Flowerdew (the name! the braided pony tail!) when I picked up his book Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own several years ago. I was initially intrigued by the book itself, but came to be smitten more so by its author. He’s cheeky, and clever, and, well, it’s not every day that you find a Brit describing himself thusly:

I love: gardening, scented plants, good food, cats, beautiful women, erudite conversation, reading, etymology, public speaking, invention, outrageous ideas, scuba diving, and whinging on about the state of things. I dislike: bad, bland and factory food, over egged political correctness, the state of things, humour-less prigs, self-opinionated hypocrites and anyone else like me continually whinging on about the state of things.

You love him now too, right? So, when I first glanced his newest book 6-volume organic gardening series at a big book store a few weeks ago, I knew I wanted it straight away. But, alas, it was a bit out of my price range, at least, to acquire all 6 books at once. Then I saw that Martha was digging on Bob, too. The series, it would be mine, I decided, but when?

And then. AND THEN. In a most auspicious pop into the book store attached to the Screen Door over the weekend, I saw the series. All 6 books. At half price. The deal was done. The books, they were mine. As we move into the season of seeds and soil and potting and planting, I can’t wait to have Bob alongside, sharing his sage advice with wit, humor, and whimsy. I too love scented plants, good food, cats, and the like. Me and Bob. We’d be tight. I might just even fashion my wild mane of hair into a braided ponytail, as an homage.

Recent Acquisitions

Alright, friends. Here it comes. Full disclosure time. All of my holiday decorations are still up. As in, the tree, the felt ornaments on the mantel, the pictures of Huxley with Santa, the globe lights in the dining room. All of it. It’s still on display in pretty near every room of the house.

Lest you think I’m lazy, let me assure you, that’s so, so not the case. The thing is, I really love holiday decorations, or, at least the simple, natural type of winter holiday decorating that I’m drawn to. After all of that glorious build-up to the big day, and the decorating, and the festooning, and the “Let’s go turn on the lights on the tree, Huxley” excitement that has characterized our last 6 or 7 weeks, packing it all up and hiding it away in the attic until next year feels so, well, sad, and anticlimactic.

That is, until today. This morning, I could feel the tide begin to turn, the pull of the rest of winter’s magic starting to build. A large part of that is due to my thumbing through Beautiful Winter. I picked this book up just before Thanksgiving, in a holiday sale at a book club I belong to. I’ve had it on a side table in the living room, looking pretty but otherwise neglected. In between working on manuscript edits today, I glanced over at it and picked it up.

And there it was, the other part of winter decor that I love so very much. Bulbs! Branches! Evergreens! This book is just what I needed to get me out of my “BUT I LOVE THE CHRISTMAS TREE” rut and into a bulb-planting, branch-forcing, twig-gathering groove. It’s full of fun projects, many of them that I know will serve as prompts and catalysts for interpretations of my own.

Here’s wishing you a beautiful winter of your own, and, if you opt to leave your holiday lights up year-round, then know that you’ve got a friend in me!

Recent Acquisitions

If you’ve been reading this little blog of mine for any length of time, you know I’m the sort of gal that typically likes to make things herself. Which is to say, I’d rather gather my own eggs, extract my own honey, make my own floor cleaner, and simmer my own mug of chai than purchase them. Sometimes, though, something comes along that gives me pause, makes me take note, and, on occasion, decide to go ahead and pony up the cash for the other guy’s version.

When Jen and I were recently shooting the images for my Homemade Irish Cream post on Design Sponge, she asked for a sip. Apparently she liked it, as her nearly immediate reply after taking a taste was “Trade ya some lavender bath products for a bottle!” Since my beauty regimen is super simple (apply SkinFare, morning and evening, wash my face with warm water, etc.), I was initially a bit leery of what these products might deliver, in terms of both ingredients and quality.

Jen, however, knows her stuff. She’s got a great eye for natural skin care and a beautiful complexion to prove it. After we finished shooting, she opened up a sample bottle of lavender salve, I took a whiff, read the ingredient listing, put some on my hands, and knew I’d found a winner.

Ever since, each night just before bed, I rub a bit of salve onto my lips and across my hands. The scent is perfectly balanced, not too heady with lavender like some products can be, and not so subtle that you’re nearly pressing your face into the product to find even the faintest whiff. The texture is creamy and substantive, just what you want to protect hands, elbows, and any other exposed bits during the ravages of winter (and beyond).

Jen carries these products, from New Mexico-based spa Los Poblanos, in her fantastically curated shop of leather goods, jewelry, and apothecary items, Cisthene. Here’s a description of the spa, from her site:

Los Poblanos is a historic inn, spa and organic farm in New Mexico. Their unique spa products are made from lavender from their own fields on a 1932 Garland stove. Lavender is one of the most ancient, and trusted homeopathic treatments for stress relief, restful nights and easing headaches.

Formulated by Los Poblanos owner, Penny Rembe to heal her rough gardener’s hands, this salve is a “miracle cream” and has rightfully earned cult-like status among beauty editors. Use it on rough hands, elbows and knees – it also soothes burns and insect bites. Rub on temples to relieve headaches or under the nose for insomnia. Made with beeswax, jojba oil, shea butter and lavender oil.

Like I said, I’m typically the DIY type. Some things, though, are just better left to the professionals. This little discovery is one of them. I invite you to check out Los Poblanos’ lavender line. I’ve taken to calling it “Ms. Jen’s Cream with Nite-Nite Juice” to Huxley. He approves just as much as I do.