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Unexpectedly, that state is no longer in effect.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.

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. 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”.

Kunten

Kunten 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 catchword

Manuscript 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 s

Signature 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 signature

Seal 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 piece

Decorative 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 device

A 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 binding

Binder’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 notation

Many 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 binding

This 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.

UPDATE, June 2016: The long-awaited, illustrated (!) 9th edition will be published by Oak Knoll Press this summer. It has been revised and edited by Nicolas Barker and Simran Thadani (of Letterform Archive) and has me completely swooning.

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.

Productivity of Necessity, and a Recipe

IMG_9607

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?

IMG_9629

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.

IMG_9595

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.

IMG_9592

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.

This is not shabby chic.

Respectfully

I made a depressing discovery the other day.

I’m not sure what took me so long to shed my apparently willful ignorance. I had seen Etsy listings for digital facsimiles of manuscript documents, being sold for digital scrapbooking or even printing out for physical crafts. But recently, while researching something in my library’s collection, I discovered that there are actual historical documents being sold. With the primary selling point being their suitability for découpage.

Découpage.

We in the cultural heritage world work so hard and apply so many resources collecting, conserving, and making accessible historical artifacts. We track down provenance so people can have context for the objects. We exhaust our supplies budgets buying custom boxes for broken volumes, carefully sleeving fragile documents in expensive Melinex, and sending out important items to private conservation agencies for repair.

Beyond repair

As a whole, we don’t discriminate, either. Each institution makes a judgment based on its collection development policy and sphere of interest. To be honest, your local public library may not love you for dropping off six boxes of papers from your aunt who lived two states away. But everything, written by the lowliest unknown servant or the President of the United States, can find a home in a library, archives, or museum collection somewhere. Everything is important to someone.

Crew list

If you possess something handwritten (or not!) or old (or not!), please don’t give up. The information contained in historical documents will always provide a piece, no matter how tiny, to the larger puzzle of history. Please don’t assume that its only value is its prettiness from far away. Those cursive letters may look lovely, but once they’re cut up, slathered in paste, and slapped on a collage, they will be of little use to anyone. And another part of the cultural record will be gone. It may not be an ancient monument or a priceless early printed book, but that schoolgirl’s diary, grocer’s account book, or cousin’s letter will be read by someone, someday, and it just might change them. It cannot do that if it’s the background of a page in your scrapbook.

log of French rivers and canals

This is not to shame or wrist-slap anyone but simply to encourage. I, too, find old handwriting and paper absolutely gorgeous. And no, I certainly don’t read every manuscript in my library’s collection. But I am a steward of those papers, and I help maintain them so that other people can read them. I keep them so that they are available for as long as they endure. I protect a bit of history, and that makes me happier than the sight of any craft project.

The next time you want something “olde” for your DIY, seek out one of those digital images. Buy a file you can use again and again, that won’t be irreversibly damaged. It will be just as beautiful to look at, and the real artifacts can continue to keep history alive.

GLAM-o-rama

Entrance, McKim building

I have been in the library field for over eight years (basically all of my professional life, including my brief return to school for my MS in LIS). I love information, and there are so many ways to find it in cultural heritage institutions. In the past eight years, I’ve had some amazing experiences and beheld some incredible treasures.

Astrolabe with Hebrew characters from Convivencia Spain (about 1350)

British Museum

The hull

Currently, I work in a rare books/special collections/art museum library. It has some truly spectacular collections, and I am really getting a kick out of it these days.

Freeport [No. 001]

Detail from an exhibition contender

These photos are [currently] part of a Flickr album with a variety of images from my work and play in galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. These run the gamut from pictures of my office to details of beautiful materials to touristy photos of institutions I’ve visited. I add to this album fairly regularly now. I know photographs are no substitute for personal experience, but I hope you enjoy these all the same. I try to give detail for those kindred souls who lust after data. If you ever want to know more about an object or other image subject, just ask! [UPDATE August 8, 2017: after some technical complications, Flickr is no longer my photo-hosting site of choice. When I find a new home for images, I will update links for this album.]

Even damage can be beautiful

 

The Dangerous Season

flame tree against blue sky

I had a moment the other day. It probably started with Facebook, as these things often do. I see a friend’s status trumpeting some amazing thing they’re doing in some amazing place. Or not! Sometimes it’s enough just to know that they’re living and working and running errands in some other place, some place I could only get to if several of my circumstances changed.

Anyway, whatever the spur, I felt a sudden, very pure moment of wishing I was alone. Not even just wishing I wasn’t a parent, but wishing I wasn’t married. It was a first, and it passed as quickly as it arrived, but it did leave an impression.

No matter how far removed I am from school, autumn, for me, remains a season of beginnings. I feel a deep, almost primal impulse to buy new things, start new projects, and even embark on Major Life Changes. Oddly enough, now that I have the dual ties of marriage and family, the big changes are even more tempting. Since those things are locked down, it makes the uncertainties I feel in other areas more acute. When the leaves start turning and sweaters are required, I start getting restless. I wonder what could be different.

Now that Little Bear is in our lives, almost every day brings a discussion of potential change, from the mundane (we should rearrange some kitchen cabinets) to the monumental (is the seriously high cost of daycare worth it when measured against my relatively low salary?). What this ambiguity means for a person like me, who lives more in the future, is that I am pretty constantly questioning. Sometimes I ponder my career, and I dream daily of living in the UK, but mostly I just look at tasks.

I have always loved an ambitious to-do list, even if I don’t accomplish much of it. Nowadays, that list is incredibly long, complicatedly hierarchical, and mostly mental. Just walking around the apartment triggers list-making. My mind applies an augmented reality-like layer of labels to almost everything at home: move that furniture, wrangle those cables, plant the crocuses, read that library book before it’s due, put away the laundry, buy more diapers in a few days. And running quietly in the corner of this imaginary interface is a little ticker of the very meager free time I have in which to accomplish any of these things.

So when I say that I had a moment the other day, I don’t mean that I wished to be without my matrimonial and familial bonds and all the benefits they bring. I just longed, for a moment, for that time when, instead of mulling over everything from overhauling my closet to upending my career, the only thing I had on my mind as the weather turned crisp was buying new colored pencils and tennis shoes.

Sigh.

Being an adult, amirite?

Miscellany: Into Autumn

The season has decidedly changed, and my mind has shifted with it. Here are the new things I’m mulling.

The costs of daycare, both financial and familial. I love working, and I need it intellectually. But in what form? Maybe there are more options than I think. It is really difficult to leave Little Bear every day, partly because I spent so much of the last twelve weeks with him, and partly because I have a sort of fundamental issue with daycare. This stems from my own mother staying at home, but it’s surely almost impossible to look at a little baby and be okay with them spending more waking hours with strangers than with their own family. So I want some time apart for working, and I hate being apart. It’s complicated.

Fall foods are my favorites, and certain flavors embody that love. I’ll take honey any time, but combined with pumpkin, it’s perfect right now.

We’ve been catching up on The Legend of Korra, and I am enjoying it. I have minor beefs with both this series and its predecessor, but overall, it is such good entertainment. I like that the creators put serious thought into a kids’ show. I’m not hugely fond of the overly-similar-to-Book-1 political storyline they have going in Book 2, but I am looking forward to the spirit world thread.

Scandinavian things. Though I’m really only one-quarter Swedish, that ancestry has loomed large in my family’s collective psyche. Mostly that meant decorating with a few tomten at Christmas and enjoying rice pudding and attending family reunions with lots of blue-eyed, blond relatives. Increasingly for me, particularly as I explore genealogy, it means traditional foods, design, and way of living. This year, that means making lussekatter for the second time. And possibly (gasp!) attempting a trip to IKEA with the young lad. And happily hanging my beloved straw ornaments on the Christmas tree…

In keeping with my yearning for all things Nordic, I’m also feeling winter already. It seems I can never really enjoy a season. As soon as it starts, I start longing for the next one. This year, I want winter especially because these are a possibility.

This necklace from Madewell. I just can’t quite justify the cost. Come on, sale…

We’ve had a few gorgeously crisp, foggy autumn days lately, at least in the morning. Now it’s in the mid-70s, but I am still stuck on cool and rainy. Since our honeymoon, that weather evokes the memory of our visit to Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. We traipsed the length of the Royal Mile despite some gloomy skies, and it was great. We had lunch in the cafe there, and I especially remember drinking a Fentimans dandelion and burdock soda. After that, I tried Fentimans whenever I came across it. Now I really want to track some down here.

My new Fitbit One, courtesy of M. I really wanted a tracker for my return to work. So far, I’m doing about half my goal each day, with no extra effort. Now I need to find ways to add more steps, like taking the baby son for a walk. And hey, at least I’m not parked on the couch for hours anymore. Though I suspect I’ll start to miss the “lazy” sweatpants days of maternity leave soon…