Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Art of the Book

I love books.

I love to read them, hold them, touch their spines and pages, smell them, admire their covers, collect them, discuss them and even write them. There are hundreds of books already in this house, but I still can't resist adding more or searching for new ones in bookstores.

I consider myself a true bibliophile and as such, I'm becoming concerned that this whole e-book phenomena means it won't be long before books as most of us know them will be found only in libraries, yard sales and antique shops. Or in expensive homes, all with color-coordinated redone covers, as I read about in a recent New York Times article about using books in decorating.

But over the weekend, when there was no escaping to fantasy land with two snowstorms barrelling toward NH and a last-minute trip out of town seemed the only way to preserve my sanity, I was delighted to stumble upon a "Temporium" selling handicrafts that included books recycled into new uses and works of art. Even if e-books are taking over the world, it's clear there are those who still appreciate that art can be found in a book in its traditional form.

Instead of thinking about the craft of writing books, it was fascinating to find books being used in crafts. These purses made from book covers were selling at over $100 each but many female mystery fans would die to own a Nancy Drew handbag like these.
Another crafter turned book covers into small and large wallets, such as the Robin Hood one to the left.

There also were garlands made from creative cutouts of book pages. And an artist who appreciated the nuances of the phrases used in the Romance novel genre turned some of them into pins called "Naughty Bits" such as "He Wanted to Punish." (I am reluctant to relate most of the others, but suffice it to say they were titillating enough to make a woman my age blush.)

But my favorite reuse of books involved the creations of a woman identifying herself as "The Naughty Librarian" who "lives out every librarian's evil fantasy; taking paint, glue and even (gasp) A KNIFE to the precious books."

Artist and librarian Robn Delaloyle rescues and recycles unwanted books, sculpting them "into beautiful and unusual works of art" such as the three on the shelves to the right (one of which is now on my own bookshelf) and the crazy one below.
It had never occurred to me that a literary work of art could become a visual one, as well. Can anyone say the same about an e-book?

To see more examples of the creative recycling of touchable books, visit

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Day and Chocolate

Given that Valentine's Day is this week, I've been thinking a lot about chocolate, which in my view has always qualified as a major food group. There's a reason the Aztecs called it the "food of the gods," you know.

There are estimates that over $1 billion worth of chocolate is purchased for Valentine's Day and while 75% of chocolate purchases are made by women during most of the year, in the days and minutes before Valentine's Day, 75% of the chocolate buying is done by men. Yes, chocolate and Valentine's Day have become synonymous for many.

But I don't mind. Do you?

I am, however, somewhat discriminating when it comes to this delightful food. I don't like all kinds of chocolate, particularly the cheap varieties as I find them too sweet. I tolerate milk chocolate. And white chocolate isn't really chocolate anyway (according to regulations, chocolate must be comprised of at least 19% cocoa solids).

These days my favorite chocolates are Frango mints. First created in 1918, they were associated with Chicago's Marshall Fields department stores from 1929 on and for years, were produced in large melting pots on the 13th floor of the Midwestern chain's flagship store. When Macy's consumed Marshall Fields a few years ago, it also became the official distributor of Frangos. But these incredible mints are very difficult to find in New England except at Christmas time and even then, the offerings are scarce or in the case of my local Macy's, non-existent.

Nonetheless, No. 2 son and I are major fans of these chocolate truffles, which we believe only reach optimum flavor following refrigeration. We rely on the kindness of others to import these delicacies and there are some cooling in my fridge right now that will be judiciously parceled out and individually savored on Valentine's Day and beyond.

I confess that I am such a chocolate fan that I eat it nearly every day, but usually not in candy. I have a favorite low-cal muffin recipe that allows me to have my chocolate fix with minimum guilt. And when I don't care about calories, I turn to a molten chocolate cake recipe that has become a family favorite. And as my Valentine's Day gift to you, I am repeating both recipes below.

The healthy low-cal recipe
Chocolate muffins (makes 18)
1 box of Devil's food chocolate cake mix (any brand)
1 can pure pumpkin
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Mix ingredients. Spoon into muffin tins. Bake for 18 minutes. Makes 18.

The definitely not low-cal recipe
Molten Chocolate Cakes (makes 4 or 8, explanation below)
4 squares Baker's semi-sweet baking chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
6 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup Cool Whip topping, thawed (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Butter 4 (3/4 cup) custard cups or souffle dishes. Place on a baking sheet. Microwave chocolate and butter in large microwavable bowl on HIGH 1 min. or until butter is melted. Stir with wire whisk until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar until well blended. Whisk in eggs and egg yolks. Stir in flour. Divide batter between prepared custard cups.
Bake 13 to 14 min. or until sides are firm but centers are soft. Let stand 1 min. Carefully run small knife around cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto dessert dishes. Top with 1 tbsp. of whipped topping and serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings (ONLY if you plan to divide the cakes in half, but in my experience no one can eat just half of the cake. Better plan for 4 servings instead). Batter can be made a day ahead. Pour into prepared custard cups, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bake as directed.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cruisin' Back from the Caribbean

I have just returned from a seven-day cruise in the Caribbean with my best friends from high school and while I do feel bad that at least two feet of snow and ice were dumped on New England in my absence, I feel even worse about returning to the mountains of snow piled so high that they're now towering about four feet above the mailbox and halfway up the house.

Have I mentioned how much I hate New England in February?

But lest you fail to have any sympathy for me, I will add here that I suffered more than hangovers from this cruise that had the three of us on a first-name basis with the wine steward and earned us a reputation in the piano bar. Apparently someone was wishing revenge on me because I came home with sun poisoning, as well as a few other unpleasant skin eruptions that I'd like to blame on swimming with the stingrays (except honestly -- they, the shark and piranhas freaked me out too much to spend much time in the water with them).

In any case, if you think some sun-drenched photos from the Caribbean might cheer you up amid this unpleasant winter weather, or you'd just like to see what I look like after scoring three free pina coladas in Puerto Rico, click on this link: and then click on the first photo to see the album. If you click on "next" at the upper right of the photo, you'll be able to see all of them and their captions. (You don't have to be a Facebook member to view them.)

I'd like to write more about this great adventure but now I have to go try to treat my physical reaction to cruising -- and it ain't nearly as pretty as these photos!