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.

Lamy A.L. Joy

The Big 3-1

I celebrated my birthday this past weekend. More precisely, I enjoyed several little celebrations over several days. I told M that I wanted to do three things: go out for Japanese food, bake myself a cake, and play some uninterrupted Skyrim. His reply? “Going big for the 3-1, huh?” I think he was being sarcastic.

In truth, I’ve never been a big birthday bash person. I don’t dislike parties, but I’m not fond of being their focus. It took a fair amount of faking comfort to get through the baby showers last summer. Something about opening all those presents in front of everyone.

Anyway, the festivities started early, thanks to a snow day last week. Since work usually gives the final say around 07:00, the baby and I were already up. I got a shower, saw the happy email, and decided to settle in for a little gaming. Something about snow just makes me want to play Skyrim. Incidentally, is there a mod to remove all the nonessential dragons? Fast-traveling is becoming a major pain. (Yes, I know dragons are basically the point of the game. I’m a scaredy-gamer, and I really just play to collect and craft. Or kill bandits. I can do that.)

baby and socktopus

Japanese food was Saturday’s task, checked off at Hana Japan in Newburyport. We gingerly took Little Bear with us, and, to my shock, he lasted the entire nearly-two-hour dinner without fussing once. He couldn’t seem to get enough of the charming ladies in kimonos, the paper lanterns, the carp streamers hanging from the ceiling. I, on the other hand, could not get enough of the food. Their rendition of nabeyaki udon was different than the one I used to order at Mr. Sushi in Brookline but was still excellent. The noodles were perfectly chewy, the broth was rich, and instead of cracking in an egg, they topped it with slices of tamago, or Japanese omelet. It added a great sweet counter to the savory. I also had agedashi tofu for the first time. I’ve wanted to try the dish for years, but I dragged my feet on making it myself. I can now add it to my repertoire without fear. Deep-fried tofu is wonderful.

agedashi tofu at Hana

My present from M arrived earlier than expected. Because I’d asked for it specifically, it wasn’t a surprise like he prefers (and is very good at). But it was eagerly anticipated and joyfully received. I’ve been dabbling more and more in writing, both everyday and decorative, so I asked for my first real fountain pen. This pen works for calligraphy, though I fully intend to use the 1.1 Italic nib I selected for everyday cursive. I chose this pen especially because it includes a converter, and I am mildly obsessed with bottled ink. I also got samples of this ink and this ink. I look forward to spending a messy hour learning how to swap them in.

Lamy A.L. JoyThe last step of my chosen fun was the cake. For some reason, I started getting really particular about baking birthday cakes once M and I moved in together. Except last year, when I prioritized homemade bao, though a blizzard nearly derailed that. Two years ago, I made almond champagne confetti cake. This year, I wanted something green tea and simpler, though you wouldn’t know it from how it turned out. I wanted something made with green tea. In googling, two cakes really stood out: a swiss roll and a mille-crêpes cake. Having never made génoise, I decided the modular style of a crêpe cake might be more forgiving this time. (Silly me.)

On a hunch, I thought chestnut might be really good with green tea. However, all I had on hand was sweetened chestnut spread, and I couldn’t find a pastry cream recipe that used sweet purée. I really didn’t want to try my hand at reducing the sugar when I’d never even made crème patisserie before. So I figured the chestnut spread could be its own component and flavored the pastry cream with white chocolate instead. As happens with a six-month-old in the house, I wound up making the components separately and in advance. I actually assembled the cake on my birthday night.

It was not great.

Mille-Crêpes messThe pastry cream was too thin, so things started sliding, then it essentially started weeping down the sides of the cake. The white chocolate seemed heavy to taste. The chestnut was strong and had to be mixed with cream to spread easily. The crêpes turned out well, at least. I’m adept at making American-style pancakes, but I’d always heard the first crêpe or two off the pan comes out badly. This was not the case for me, somehow. A small victory amidst the mess.

green tea crêpesI didn’t realize how badly I wanted a win until I didn’t get one. I don’t make a huge deal about birthdays, but it was so disappointing to work hard on my birthday cake and have such a subpar result. (Note: the flavor the next day was good, but it never really firmed up. I basically ate my cake with a spoon.) But hey, there is some silver lining. I discovered a taste for chestnut. My love for green tea continues unabated. And I’m a surprisingly dab hand at making crêpes. Just don’t ask me to layer them with pastry cream again.

The night of the cake, I was feeling a bit bleak. I don’t cook or bake often enough these days to be unperturbed when an effort goes awry. But I’ve had some time to reflect. Reading back over this post, I realize that this birthday was full of things that I love. Which means, despite the culinary disaster, it was a total success.

This is the way I begin again.

My academic career draws to a close, for now. As I readjust to professional life, I find myself restless to write. Will that lead me to actually tend my blog properly for once? We shall see.

I am optimistic about most things at the moment. The weather is cool and drizzly. I have Ben and Jerry’s S’mores ice cream to hand. The fiancé is playing Oblivion, and my Sims 3 is reinstalled and ready to go. Really, what more could one want?

Also, I made soda bread this morning, and it is delicious. Life is good.