Monday, November 15, 2010

For the Love of Print

Just when I had decided to severely limit the number of print magazines I subscribe to, I ran across mention (can't remember where now) of a new effort called Anthology (subtitled "Living with substance & style"). The initial attraction was the inaugural issue's theme "The Slow Life: Relax and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter." I'm a sucker for slow anything, so I succumbed.

My first issue arrived last week, and it turns out to be far more evocative and interesting than any shelter/design magazine I've encountered in years (with the possible exception of Selvedge)--and I'm both familiar with most of them and very choosy about the ones I pay attention to. Most of these I can read in the school library, like American Bungalow, Style 1900, Old House Journal, and Natural Home. I still occasionally pick up a copy of the British edition of Country Living, but have weaned myself completely from Martha Stewart Living, figuring that after fifteen years she didn't have that much more to offer me. Gone, too, are the subscriptions to Eating Well, La Cucina Italiana, and Cooking Light.

If I find myself going back to these old friends more than once in a while, I'll look for digital subscriptions. But since I don't toss 'em when I've finished with them (I usually recycle after I've excised interesting material), they had become a burden. It was clear that I was never really going to do anything with all of those articles anyway, even 99% of the recipes, so out they went. Some of them, like American Bungalow, were just too nice to pitch, so they've been shelved for future use and enjoyment.

I had pretty much vowed to subscribe online from now on whenever possible, but when I saw Anthology, and started reading the blog, the whole "print is not dead" notion began to resonate. After all, I am a great magazine sniffer from way back (see the comments on Esopus from a couple of years ago) and this one smells great. It's also full of quirky craftsmanship, eclectic design, and really interesting-sounding people. Check out the video introducing the first issue, with some cardboard sculpture I found particularly amusing:

Print Is Not Dead from Anthology Magazine on Vimeo.

For more cardboard sculpture, see the blog entry about Chris Gilmour.

I guess one reason I like this publication so much is that it combines craft with design; it marries two of my major concerns and it seems to welcome off-center ideas and views of what makes life beautiful. The fact that the creative director, Meg Mateo Ilasco, has also written a book called Crafting a Meaningful Home indicates that there's a real connection to some of the notions I deal with in my blogs, both here and on the Farm.

The admixture of esoteric aesthetics and nostalgia--as well as trendy stuff that's not as attractive to me, but will be to my daughter the designer, makes perusing the magazine itself and its digital augments a pleasure. I'll be looking forward to each issue, and have added the blog to the Cabinet's sidebar.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A New Poet Laureate

I don't encounter many poets any more, except for Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder--whose prose works are among my "usual reads." When I was younger, I read a great deal of Wallace Stevens and Wilfred Owen, and I was introduced to W. S. Merwin by Rainer Schulte at UT Dallas when I was a grad student. We read him in several classes, and studied his translations of others' works--which made them available to those of us who lacked anything but ancient or obscure languages.

I loved the clarity of Merwin's work, and its lack of sentimentality; his poems are personal, but also universal, so I don't feel like I'm reading autobiography. He writes about living in nature as an act of being--not just of observing.

As usual these days, I was surprised to learn that Merwin was still alive (he's 82) when a little pop-up box from the New York Times announced that he had been named the nation's newest poet laureate yesterday.

This news drew me back to his work, and reminded me of my former attachment to his poems. I was disappointed to discover that none of it rests on the copious bookshelves in this house, so to celebrate I'll start remedying that situation. A trip to Half Price Books should turn up a few of the earlier works, at least, and then perhaps I'll treat myself to one of the newer books.

In the meantime, here are some links to pages about him, some with further links to poems. Do try them if you don't already know him; he's well worth reading, especially when he focuses on nature and our life in the natural world. His poetry should resonate with anyone who reads any of the owl blogs.

Modern American Poetry

Dwight Garner, Finding Home and Inspiration in the World of Nature

Patricia Cohen, W. S. Merwin to Be Named Poet Laureate

Random House page on Merwin, with links to works (including poems)

The Mole, a poem that appears on the National Resources Defense Council's OnEarth page devoted to award-winning journalism.

I keep forgetting that the Cabinet is the perfect spot for little gems of information like this. I spend so much time grousing about the human condition on the Farm and the sorry state of education on the Owl of Athena that I neglect the enjoyment of serendipity and gallimaufry--so I'll try to pay more attention.

Image credit: lacking a legitimate source (Wikimedia Commons has failed me!), I've stolen this photo from the Natural Resources Defense Council's blurb on Merwin. I'll take it off if they ask me, but maybe the link to their pages will count for something.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Culinary Meditations, One: Slow Oatmeal

I have always been interested in good, basic peasant food, so as I work harder to prevent further health-related crises, I've been thinking long and hard about more deliberate eating.

People seem more and more inclined to either obsess about food or to simply eat what's cheap or handy. Neither extreme requires thinking through what we eat, or considering what it all means. But since food is one of the few real basic needs (along with clothing and shelter), it's a significant part of what I go on and on about on Owl's Farm: the education of desire.

Seeking to educate my taste buds, I've embarked on a small program to spend time each week cooking and thinking. This morning I wanted something warm and filling to eat, so I decided to make some oatmeal. Sometime last year I found out that instant oatmeal is next to useless as a source of soluble fiber--the kind that helps regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and provide other good things to one's body. After that I bought steel-cut Irish oats, cooked them up in fairly large quantities, and kept them in the fridge to nuke for breakfast. But not long ago, in one of my more nostalgic moods, I picked up some organically grown rolled oats, and these are what I retrieved from the pantry this morning.

In an effort to keep the weevils at bay, I had removed the oats from their package and put them in an air-tight container, but forgot to put the cooking instructions in with them. Since I don't have much of a memory for quantities and proportions, I went to my old copy of The Joy of Cooking to look up oatmeal and found that Rombauer had left oatmeal out of her instructions for cereal grains. But I used her quantities for course grains as a starting point, and began with four cups of water and a cup and a half of oats.

I got the water boiling while I poured a cup of coffee, and added a few grinds of sea salt (probably no more than a quarter teaspoon). When the water hit a rolling boil, I started slowly pouring in the oats, and watched them perform their acrobatic roll around the pot. I held the last half cup back for a few moments, thinking that perhaps these would be a little less "done" in the end, and add some crunch.

Once you get the oats all boiling together, you have to keep stirring them so they don't stick and/or boil over--but you also have to lower the heat a bit.

I kept stirring for about ten more minutes, turned off the heat, and left the gruel to sit. It was still a bit watery, but I was pretty sure that the remaining moisture would be absorbed if I left it alone long enough to read the funnies and enjoy the rest of my coffee.

The living room, where I read the paper in my comfy chair, is three rooms away from the kitchen, but the aroma of warm oats reached me within a couple of minutes, mingling with the coffee and sending me back to my home town, and winter mornings around my grandmother's kitchen table.

When I returned to the pot, the oats were ready to eat, so I ladled some into a bowl, put a dollop of olive oil/butter spread in the center, drizzled it all with about a teaspoon full of ginger syrup, and added a handful of blueberries.

I sat down and stirred the melting butter into the oats with the ginger and blueberries. I'm pretty sure I've never tasted oatmeal quite as good as this. Whether the brand of oats was particularly well-milled, or whether my method made them better, or whether just paying attention made the difference, they were quite simply the best I've ever had. The flavor was subtly oaty, there was indeed a bit of crunch, and the tiny bit of salt was all it needed to round out the flavor. I got a serving of fruit from the blueberries, and a smidgen of fat from the teaspoon of butter.

At a time in my life when my senses seem to be either dwindling or getting lazy, it was an enormous pleasure to enjoy something so simple so much.

I look forward to the next experiment, in hopes that this marks a way to invigorate my experience of the world. It's far too easy to get lost in the rigors of teaching, grading, and administrating, especially in winter when it's difficult to occupy oneself in the garden. Small pleasures seem to reap large rewards when approached thoughtfully--something that seems far too easy to forget, even when one has teetered on the brink of existence all too recently.