Gift Cards? Buy These Books from Independent Bookstores!

There are very few gifts that thrill me more than one of those teeny little envelopes containing a gift card, especially if it's from one of our many local independent booksellers. I received one from my sister-in-law this Christmas—she knows me so well—and that same day I was on the computer ordering a book I've had my eye on for awhile.

Here are a few I'd like to recommend for you readers out there. First up, two new books from local authors.

Truffle in the Kitchen: A Cook's Guide, by Jack Czarnecki

If you want to know about the fungus among us, there is no better guide than mushroom guru Jack Czarnecki, founder with his wife Heidi of the famed Joel Palmer House. Housed in a historic Victorian home in Dayton, Oregon, and smack dab in the middle of Oregon's renowned wine country, it is now ably helmed by his son, chef Christopher Czarnecki. The restaurant is ground zero for lovers of local truffles and mushrooms and provided the laboratory where Jack honed his skills in the science, lore and use of these elusive fungi.

His latest effort is a cookbook, for sure, full of simple-to-prepare basics like truffle butter and oil, as well as what he terms "atmospheric infusions," along with recipes for main dishes and even desserts. But it also delves deeply into Czarnecki's background as a bacteriologist, discussing his theories on the complex relationship between our physiology and how it interacts with that of the truffle.

Truffle in the Kitchen is an ode to one of Oregon's most intoxicating native ingredients, and a compelling story of one man's decades-long fascination with its mysteries.

Read more about my mushroom and truffle adventures with this remarkable Oregonian.


Instant Pot Cheese, by Claudia Lucero

No one I know has worked harder to spread the gospel of cheese and how easy it is to make at home than local cheese maven Claudia Lucero. An evangelist for what she describes as "milk's leap toward immortality," she sees it as her mission to empower people with the knowledge of how to make their own food rather than relying on industrially processed products to feed themselves and their families.

The viral success of the Instant Pot cooker got Lucero to thinking about how this appliance might be used to make cheese. After all, it can be used to do just about anything: caramelize onions, boil eggs, steam rice, so it seemed sensible to her that the cooker's accurate and consistent temperatures should make it an ideal tool for cheesemaking.

Instant Pot Cheese presents cheesemaking basics, then covers classics such as paneer, ricotta, goat cheese and easy cottage cheese before introducing more sophisticated options like burrata and feta, and even dairy-free alternatives. For multicookers with a "Yogurt" function, there are recipes for cultured dairy products such as buttermilk, ghee, and sour cream, too.


The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape, by James Rebanks

I first became acquainted with James Rebanks through, believe it or not, his Twitter feed, mostly on account of his enchanting photos of his beloved Herdwick sheep and the hills they roam in the ancient Cumbrian countryside of England. When I read he was not only a steward of his land and his sheep as well as a fine photographer, but also an author of several books, I needed to know more. 

Deeply rooted in the land Rebanks' family has farmed for generations, The Shepherd's Life describes how "his way of life is ordered by the seasons and the work they demand. It hasn't changed for hundreds of years: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the grueling toil of winter when the sheep must be kept alive, and the light-headedness that comes with spring, as the lambs are born and the sheep get ready to return to the hills and valleys," according to one review.

Since his new book, English Pastoral, isn't yet available in the U.S., I thought it would be prudent to read this and get to know him just a wee bit better.

Katherine Deumling: Love Your Leftovers

"Food is beautiful. Food is nourishing and delicious and, yes, complicated.
However, food should be a joy, not elicit fear."

Teaching people to cook delicious food at home has been the life-long mission of Katherine Deumling, and is the driving force behind her business, Cook With What You Have. She has just released the third in her series of e-books, "Love Your Leftovers! Favorite Meals that Save Time, Money & Effort," which expands on her mantra of developing creativity and confidence in the kitchen so that you and your family can enjoy delicious, healthy food on a daily basis.

Author and educator Katherine Deumling.

Katherine spent her early childhood in West Germany, the daughter of a creative, efficient mother with a sprawling vegetable garden whose cooking centered around fresh produce and pantry staples, which became the inspiration for Katherine's own cook-with-you-have ethic. A post-college fellowship gave her the opportunity to travel to Italy and Mexico to study how and why people cook the way they do, then a decade of work with Slow Food—including a stint as Chair of Slow Food USA—expanded her awareness of food systems and regenerative agriculture, and gave her an enduring passion for the combination of pleasure and politics.

Her love of leftovers was born out of both necessity—her husband likes to take his lunch to work and she's the busy mother of a teenage son—as well as frugality. She figures that by using leftovers her family saves more than $1,500 per year by not buying lunches, plus minimizing food waste by using or repurposing perfectly good (and delicious) food. Then there's the time and effort saved by having lunches packed and ready to go the night before.

Cauliflower mac'n'cheese.

"Love Your Leftovers" continues Deumling's quest to give people what she terms "agency" in the kitchen, that is, to feel creative and effective when it comes to making food. The 17 dishes in the book, 13 of which are plant-based, are designed to boost cooks' personal satisfaction and to short-circuit what she calls "the tyranny of the recipe-based structure." If a recipe calls for a half-teaspoon of thyme, she said, some people give up because they don't want to make a trip to the store instead of simply leaving it out or trying another herb.

"Even smart people shut down in the kitchen," she said, because they've never been given permission to be creative and develop their own tastes rather than slavishly following the dictates of a recipe. Or as Deumling said, her aim is to encourage people "to beat the system" by making deliciousness part of their daily lives.

Cauliflower Mac'n'Cheese

Vegetables can make for great comfort food! This makes a lot and is even better the next day, heated up in a skillet with just a splash of olive oil on high heat. It develops a crust and is sublime!

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium cauliflower, stems & florets chopped (about 8 cups)
1 lb. pasta (penne, rigatoni, rotini, corkscrew)
1 1/2-2 c. grated cheese (sharp cheddar, gruyere)
1 Tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. chili flakes
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
Black pepper
1 3/4-2 c. hot pasta/cauliflower cooking water
1/2 c. bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400°.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add salt. Cook the cauliflower in the boiling water until very tender, about 15 minutes. Scoop the cauliflower out of the water with a slotted spoon and transfer to a food processor or blender. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until just al dente. Scoop out 2 cups of hot, starchy cooking water and then drain the pasta and put it in a 9" by 13" baking dish or other similar baking dish.

Carefully process the cauliflower with the 1 3/4 cups of cooking water, olive oil, cheddar, mustard, chili flakes, nutmeg and pepper. (You may have to work in batches.) If the sauce seems too thick, add the remaining liquid or a bit more water—it will thicken when baking. Taste and adjust seasoning. You want it to be quite strongly flavored. Pour the sauce over the pasta, toss, and spread mixture evenly in dish. (You can make the dish to this point, cover, and refrigerate for up to a day.) Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs or additional grated cheese. Bake until the pasta is bubbling and the crumbs are browned, about 20 minutes if all your components were hot, 30 minutes if not. Pass under broiler for more browning if you’d like.

Serves 6

Photos by Shawn Linehan from "Love Your Leftovers."

Mid-Summer Book Report: Child Brides, French Dirt, Norma Paulus

All it took to breeze through three-and-a-half books was a week spent in a rustic cabin on Mt. Hood accompanied by a spate of cooler-than-normal weather that "forced" me to spend more time indoors than out. Yes, we got out for hikes, but then retreated to the comfort of books and coffee and lapdogs.

The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in Canada's Polygamous Mormon Sect, by Daphne Bramham, is an exposé of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), "one of the largest of the fundamentalist Mormon denominations and one of the largest organizations in the United States whose members practice polygamy" (Wikipedia). Bramham, an award-winning journalist and author (as well as a personal friend), has been doggedly reporting on this cult for the Vancouver Sun for the last 15 years.

Starting with a history of the sect when it broke away from the mainline Mormon church (the Latter-Day Saints or LDS) when the LDS banned "plural marriage" in 1904, Bramham traces the evolution of the FLDS—with settlements in Utah, Arizona, British Columbia, Colorado, Texas and South Dakota, all governed by a self-proclaimed "Prophet"—to the 2007 trial and conviction of one of those prophets, Warren Jeffs, for being an accomplice to the rape of an underaged girl.

At the time of the book's publication in 2008, Bramham wrote:

"Prophet Warren Jeffs controls every aspect of the lives of more than eight thousand people, from where they live to whom and when they marry. Jeffs has banned school, church, movies and television. He has outlawed the colour red and even forbidden his followers to use the word "fun." Along with his trusted councillors, Jeffs has arranged and forced hundreds of marriages, some involving girls as young as fourteeen and men as old as or older than their fathers and grandfathers. Many of the brides have been transported across state borders as well as international borders with Canada and Mexico."

A page-turner, it chronicles the dangerously wacky, power-hungry men who turn a so-called religion to their own ends, damaging the lives of gullible men, women and children in the process. Bramham doesn't spare criticism of government officials of both countries for taking an infuriatingly hands-off approach to the commonly acknowledged abuses happening right under their noses. It's a gripping story, well-told and thoroughly documented. Highly recommended.


For something completely different, French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France, by Richard Goodman, begins with the author recalling how, as a 20-something aspiring writer, he was presented with the following classified ad by his Dutch girlfriend: "SOUTHERN FRANCE: Stone house in Village near Nimes/Avignon/Uzes. 4 BR, 2 baths, fireplace, books, desk, bikes. Perfect for writing, painting, exploring and experiencing la France profonde. $450 mo. plus utilities." With the adventurous spirit of youth, they rent the house for a year and move to a small village where Goodman is moved to start a garden on a small patch of ground loaned by a villager.

Far from the cutesy tales told of the quaint inhabitants of small villages in France or Italy—Peter Mayle and Frances Mayes being perhaps the best-known practitioners of the genre—this is the story of a young man falling in love with a garden and learning about himself in the process. Charming and well-told, it even received the unsolicited imprimatur of none other than M.F.K. Fisher herself:

"I possess a deep prejudice against anything written by Anglo-Saxons about their lives in or near French villages, especially in Provence. I really cannot stand the lip-licking enjoyment of local peasantry by these visitors from America and England. So, Richard, I thank you for breaking the spell. I like very much what you wrote. It did not sound supercilious at all. All my best always, M.F.K. Fisher"

I couldn't agree more.


The Only Woman in the Room: The Norma Paulus Story by Norma Paulus with Gail Wells and Pat McCord Amacher, startled me on many levels. As a native Oregonian who lived through the years covered by this biography and knew many of the names and issues described in it, I was fascinated to learn of the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing involved in some of the biggest headlines—think the bottle bill, saving Oregon's beaches for public access, the Land Conservation and Development Commission, which baked land use planning into our way of life—as well as more personal insights into pioneering Oregon luminaries like Tom McCall, L.B. Day, Betty Roberts and Gretchen Kafoury.

The book recounts that Paulus, a representative of a more moderate Republican party than we know today, and many in her party were pro-environment, advocated for women's rights—Oregon ratified the Equal Rights Amendment not once, but twice—and helped give Oregon its (now sadly diminished) reputation as a bastion of progressive government.

As the first woman elected to statewide office, as Secretary of State in 1976, Paulus was a practical yet visionary leader in her public career, though her dream to become Oregon's first woman governor was dashed in a bitter (if close) loss to Neil Goldschmidt in 1986; Barbara Roberts was to earn that distinction in 1991.

A chronicle of Oregon politics during a critical time in our history as well as the remarkable personal story of a woman's growth from humble beginnings to acclaim on a national stage, this is good read for longtime and newer Oregonians alike.


In case you're counting, the other (half) book, which I'd started before we arrived at the cabin and finished soon after, was the excellent Raw Material: Working Wool in the West by Stephany Wilkes, reviewed here.

Summer Reading List for Food-ophiles

Civil Eats, which I like to think of as a national version of Good Stuff NW (ahem…), has just put out its summer reading list of books about our food system, 21 New and Noteworthy Food and Farming Books to Read This Summer.

Included are a wide range of topics, from Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, D.C., by Ashanté M. Reese; to Robyn Metcalfe's Food Routes: Growing Bananas in Iceland and Other Tales from the Logistics of Eating. There are a few more traditional(-ish) cookbooks, too, like Indian(-ish): Recipes and Antics From a Modern American Family by Priya Krishna with Ritu Krishna, and Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables, 100 Recipes and 230 Variations by Abra Berens. There's even a celebrity(-ish) tome from author and journalist Michael Pollan's mom and three sisters called Mostly Plants: 101 Delicious Flexitarian Recipes from the Pollan Family.

I also contributed a review to this collection, of an engaging book from first-time author Stephany Wilkes called Raw Material: Working Wool in the West (top photo) that describes her transition from high tech executive in Silicon Valley to itinerant sheep shearer in the American West. My review said, in part, that she "brings to life the cast of the interesting characters and ornery sheep she encounters on her journey to understand the ranchers and the land they steward, and [to] discover the terroir of wool."

 

Summer Book Report, Part II: Two in the Far North

Memoir. History. Love story. Ecological screed. A meditation on our place in nature. Astute political analysis. Even some murder and mayhem (of the natural world sort).

With one of her beloved sled dogs.

I've never read anything quite like Margaret Murie's Two in the Far North, which is, at its core, a memoir of her life growing up in pre-statehood Alaska, meeting her husband, Olaus, a wildlife biologist, and spending much of their lives together studying and working to preserve Alaska's wild places. It was a lifetime of effort and advocacy that eventually led to the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWAR) in 1960.

First woman to graduate from Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines.

We meet Murie when she is just nine years old, at the point when she and her mother traveled from Seattle to meet her father, an assistant U.S. attorney for what was then called the Territory of Alaska. In the early 1900s, that meant a several-day journey via steamship from Seattle to Skagway, in Alaska's southeast panhandle, then another several days to travel by train to Whitehorse in Canada's Yukon. The next leg took the pair up the Yukon River to Dawson where they were met by Murie's father, and then traveling together up the Tanana River to Fairbanks on a river steamer.

"In 1911 the river steamer was queen. There was a great fleet then, nearly all with feminine names, churning and chuffing their stern wheels up the rivers and sliding briskly down them. When the great two-stacker Mississippi-style steamer came in to any dock, she came like a confident southern beauty making a graceful curtsy at a ball. [These steamers] lived their lives between St. Michael at the mouth of the river and Dawson, sixteen hundred miles upstream."

Dressed for the trail.

Arriving in Fairbanks, the family moved into the one vacant house which Murie describes as "way out on the edge of town," with only four rooms, a handpump in the kitchen and a woodstove that heated the house.

Murie's early life is described from her vivid memories growing up in the far north, cooking on that woodstove, walking to school even in fifty-below-zero weather and exploring the world of the gold rush town where "there were no others nearer than eight days by horse sleigh or ten days by river steamer.

Going off to college—in Portland, to Reed College, no less—at the age of fifteen, she traveled by dogsled accompanied only by a driver and his dogs for nine days, traversing frozen rivers and mountains and staying in rough-and-tumble roadhouses along the way. From this point on, Murie quotes extensively from her astonishingly descriptive diaries about meeting her husband and spending their honeymoon on a research expedition above the Arctic Circle, studying its flora and fauna with the idea that documenting this unexplored region could help to preserve it for future generations.

On Lake Lobo on the Sheenjek River above the Arctic Circle.

This love of the wilderness, her enchantment with the natural world and the difficult, funny and moving experiences they had together that bring the times and places to life, putting flesh on the characters they meet along the way, some in the most unexpected circumstances. Murie is a storyteller of great warmth and humanity, and I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Read Part One of my summer book report, "Henry David Thoreau: A Life."

Photos from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Alaska's Digital Archives.

Summer Book Report, Part I: Thoreau (and Alaska)

No, in case, after reading this post's title, you're thinking, "Whaaaaat?"…Henry David never went to Alaska. (Just wanted to clear that up before we went any further. See end of this post for details.)

Henry David Thoreau in 1856,
age 39.

In fact, Thoreau rarely left the region surrounding Concord, Massachusetts—a few trips to Maine, New Jersey and Connecticut notwithstanding—preferring to make an intimate connection with the flora and fauna of his New England home. Despite that, in Henry David Thoreau, A Life, author Laura Dassow Walls places him squarely in the middle of the great debates and characters of his time, flying in the face of my impression of him as a hermitic recluse living in a hut by a pond.

Thoreau was just shy of his 28th birthday when he moved from his family's home in town and into the simple cabin he built on Walden Pond, the subject of his most popular book. A little more than two years later, he returned to his family's home and lived there for much of the rest of his life. Thoreau earned his primary living as a surveyor, but pursued his writing, speaking tours and correspondence with the likes of poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, a lifelong friend; the poet Walt Whitman; abolitionist Frederick Douglass; Margaret Fuller, a journalist and women's rights activist; and the well-known naturalist Louis Agassiz, with whom he had several very public disagreements.

Title page of Walden, drawing by his sister Sophia.

Despite recurring bouts of chronic tuberculosis which he'd contracted as a young man, he traveled widely throughout New England, lecturing on a range of topics, from Trancendentalism to the abolition of slavery—he raised money and defended the campaign of John Brown, even issuing a fiery defense after Harper's Ferry—and, of course, the need to conserve the nation's natural areas for future generations.

Immensely engaging and well-written, this biography is going on my own list of books I've loved. Walls quotes extensively from Thoreau's writing and personal journals but, rather than being pedantic, it drew me into his inner life and thoughts, breathing life into a colorful, fascinating man I only thought I knew.

The second book is one that has been on my favorites list since the first time I read it years ago, and is one I've given as a gift many times. Here's my review of Two in the Far North by Margaret Murie.