Saturday, August 25, 2012

Look Again

Dowdy Corners Cookbook Club
I joined the Dowdy Corners Cookbook Club! This might not seem newsworthy to you but it shows a shift in terrain for me. Holly Jennings (third from left in the photo above) is the founder of the club--amazingly patient cook (read her past posts), photographer, and alumni of same graduate school as me. That's how we met--introduced via email by a mutual friend from school. I couldn't quite believe that someone else from Cranbrook had moved to this small town, but she had. When we first met, and she told me about the cookbook club, I was definitely interested in joining; but that was a period when I was pulling back from everything. I remember telling her that I had a tendency to join and then quit, so I would save us both the trouble and just not join. That was several years ago, and though I didn't join, I did read her blog and even bought one of the books and cooked from it.

Holly and Wendy (second from left in photo above) stopped by our porch during the town's July 4th parade and Wendy was very enthusiastic about the cookbook club and encouraged me and Marianne (left in photo above) to join. Suddenly it made sense to me. I love cooking (sometimes). It is one of the few things that really gets my attention these days, and I want to learn more about it, I want to get better. I even want to go back and get a degree in baking, though I doubt I will do that. So I said yes. And then I did it. I actually signed up on line and bought the current selection, Ripe by Nigel Slater. In fact, I actually bought a different Ripe first--amazed that it was so much less expensive at Jessica's Biscuits than on Amazon--not noticing that it was a different price because it had a different author. Both books are pictured above.

I think of Slater's book as a non-recipe book. It is a beautiful book--inspiring pictures, luscious words, and simple instructions. Sort of, wash a peach and eat it. But I used it (and Cheryl Sternman Rule's book) for many dishes (his blueberry pancakes made with ricotta cheese are excellent, and once I made them with glutton-free flour and they might have been even better than the first round which were also delicious) and felt that both books had something to offer. But when I went to the pot luck last week I was amazed at how wonderful the meal was--how every dish enhanced the other. Nothing was too sweet. Everything tasted fresh and satisfying. I think the other people (Melanie is 2nd from right, and Tamara is on the right) all felt the same. Maybe this book (Slater's) has more to it than I gave him credit for. I can't wait to read Holly's evaluation on the blog. By the way, she encourages people from other areas to join, and to start their own group for potlucks. I love the idea of communities of cooks gathering together all over the country comparing dishes they made from the same book.

I often don't spend money on anything except the monthly bills (boring and annoyingly regular) but I do spend money on food shopping and books. For awhile now I have managed not to buy books--and the Kimball Library here in Randolph is fantastic about getting books that are requested (and the staff are super excellent)--but I admit that a perk of joining the club is that I now can legitimately buy cookbooks. I have to--library loan just won't do for something like this (so I say). You should see my wish lists on various sites (but I think I made them private).

Beyond Craft: The Art Fabric by Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen
(Top Right: detail of Space Hanging by Lyn Alexander; Middle Left: detail of Orange Weaving by Olga de Amaral; Middle Right: detail of HUM by Susan Weitzman; Bottom Left: detail of La Visite Di Aldebaran by Jindrich Vohanka, Bottom Right: detail of Raumelement, Yellow by Moik Schiele)
I had a visitor the other day who had some questions about fiber processes and during the discussion I pulled out my copy of Beyond Craft: The Art Fabric by Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen. Most of you know this was the first definitive book on fiber art. I have looked at this book hundreds of times. Some works, like Susan Weitzman's HUM, have always left me breathless. She is one of those mysterious artists who made such an impact on people but who removed herself from the spotlight, something else drew her attention. But what she contributed has withstood the decades of change since she made that work. It still pulls me in and holds my attention. Other works are just invisible to my eyes and sensibilities, though I recognize their ambition and creativity.

But I must say, this is a time to pull that book off your shelves again and look through it. It is full of the most amazing work, by artists who truly were pioneers, working with materials in ways no one had thought of before and in a scale that is, even now, mind-boggling. I have just put a few details of works above, pieces that have great subtlety, simplicity, imagination, and skill. None of them tell stories per se. They are not the works that would have attracted me (except Weitzman's) when I first saw the book. But WOW--they sure look interesting to me today. And of course, the great tragedy, in this current time of anything goes--where fiber seems to be the material of choice for many young artists--the works in this book are not known. So pull that book off your shelves and start showing it to everyone you know who says they are interested in art. It really is a book that has retained its relevancy.

Nomad (Panels 1, 2 and 3) by Bhakti Ziek, 2010
Just a final note to say that I have completed re-finishing my six panels of Nomad. I don't have a wall large enough to photograph the six panels together so I had to do it three by three. No lights either, but....The Fuller Craft Museum has posted the exhibition information: Grand Tales of the Loom: Four Master Weavers. The exhibition will run from September 22, 2012 through January 20, 2013. There will be an artists' reception on Sunday, September 30th from 2-5 pm and all of us (myself, Cyndy Barbone, Deborah Carlson, and Fuyuko Matsubara) will be there. The four of us "came of age" as artists in the 1980s, a generation after the artists in Beyond Craft. We stayed with the loom, really mastering its possibilities, rather than working away from it, as did most of the artists in that book. We had our own "time" and as artists and teachers, we influenced others. I do hope this show will again prove that working at the loom in a careful, thoughtful way is still relevant.

Nomad (Panels 4, 5 and 6) by Bhakti Ziek, 2010

Okay, one comment more about Joan Didion's book, Blue Nights. I read the book straight through yesterday. At the back of the book, a library book, was a page where readers could leave comments. The first commenter felt she had never encountered a more self-centered woman, and added, "get a life." The second comment noted how sad the book was. I wasn't going to add anything but just couldn't help coming to Didion's defense, so I added something to the effect that she talks about truths that others want to ignore, deny, or hide from. The loss of her husband and daughter within 20 months of each other is almost too sad to bear. The way she keeps repeating certain phrases over and over reminds me of the way our minds gloam onto something and get stuck, the way records used to do. A life full of memories but always the same few come back to haunt us. And her writing about aging, so stark and honest, is almost terrifying. I note in my own life how 66 is nothing like I imagined it. It is both better and worse. And honestly, I don't think my friends who are younger can understand until they get here. I might think I am 12 inside, but when the young man at the liquor store tells me I shouldn't waste my money on an expensive (we are talking $20 here) bottle of wine because "older people can't taste things anymore" I admit that I am shocked at both his rudeness and the fact that he sees me as old. So Didion's experiences of vulnerability and insult are ones I can hear. I haven't read much by her, but I found this book compelling. And the shift of terrain I mentioned at the start of this post is something about aging, and finding new ways to engage with the preciousness of time.


  1. Great entry full of interesting and tantalizing info. I absolutely love the Nomad work. And of course I had to buy the "Beyond Craft: The Art of Fabric" book. Thanks for a great blog!

  2. If you like Nigel Slaters food, you might like his autobiographical story of growing up: 'Toast'. There is also a film, both are good. I like that he calls himself a cook, not a chef.

    I'll have to dig 'Beyond Craft' out again now!

  3. a post full of interesting insights! thank you