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21 SEPTEMBER, 2012

The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook: A Delicious Time Machine to Post-Edwardian England

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More than 150 recipes from upstairs and downstairs.

With a documented soft spot for cross-disciplinary cookbooks and the intersection of food and fiction, I was instantly adrool over The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook: From Lady Mary’s Crab Canapes to Mrs. Patmore’s Christmas Pudding (public library) by baker and writer Emily Ansara Baines, who brings us “more than 150 recipes from upstairs and downstairs.” Whether you’re in the mood for Mr. Bates’ chicken and mushroom pie or Sybil’s ginger nut biscuits, each delicious bite of these surprisingly approachable dishes is a tiny time machine that transports you right back to the post-Edwardian era.

And for the hopeless tea-lovers among us, there’s an entire chapter dedicated to tea time. (Mrs. Isobel Crawley’s smoked salmon tea sandwiches — enough said.)

For a warm-up, watch the Dowager Countess make a proper cup of tea in between essential gossip:

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20 SEPTEMBER, 2012

Gertrude Stein on Understanding and Joy: Rare 1934 Radio Interview

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“If you enjoy it, you understand it.”

Gertrude Stein — beloved writer, poet, and art collector, fierce public intellectual, little-known author of children’s books. From PennSound, the audio archives of my alma mater (previously), comes this rare interview with Stein, most likely conducted upon her arrival at the Algonquin Hotel in November of 1934. After the interviewer asks her to explain her “Van or Twenty Years After. A Second Portrait of Carl Van Vechten” (1923), she proceeds to chide him for trying to “understand” the verse with the same kind of brilliant indignation with which Flannery O’Connor once scolded an English teacher for letting interpretation rob reading of joy.

Look here. Being intelligible is not what it seems. You mean by understanding that you can talk about it in the way that you have a habit of talking, putting it in other words. But I mean by understanding enjoyment. If you enjoy it, you understand it. And lots of people have enjoyed it so lots of people have understood it. . . . But after all you must enjoy my writing, and if you enjoy it you understand it. If you do not enjoy it, why do you make a fuss about it? There is the real answer.

Open Culture; Image: Portrait of Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso, 1906

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20 SEPTEMBER, 2012

The Frank Show: An Illustrated Homage to Grandparents and the Art of Looking Twice

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Because the most interesting stories sometimes come disguised in the least intriguing of packages.

As a lover of vintage and vintage-inspired children’s books, I was instantly enamored with The Frank Show (public library) by British illustrator and designer David Mackintosh — a charming homage to grandparents and the art of seeing beneath the grumpy exterior. Illustrated in a style that’s part Miroslav Šašek, part Paul Rand, it tells the story of a little boy forced to bring his Grandpa Frank — who’s always around and complains tirelessly about how things were better in the olden days — to school for show-and-tell. But, just as the young narrator is dreading total mortification at grandpa’s boringness, Frank rolls up his sleeve to reveal a curious tattoo and tells the wild story of how he got it, a tale of danger and heroism and, above all, a reminder that interestingness lurks beneath the surface of even the most insipid-seeming. Because, as artist Keri Smith wisely put it, “Aways be looking… Everything is interesting. Look closer.”.

Page illustrations courtesy Abrams Books

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