Sunday, September 19, 2010

How I Buy Books

First, an experiment:

Does a picture of my kitten, Stringer Bell appear there? If so, I'll post more pictures in the future.

Now, on to books. I buy them a lot. I got this from my father, who always talked about collecting beautiful and rare books, and having a supply of unread ones against a rainy day. Or a sunny day, both are good for reading. In the days before my budget, it was not at all unusual for me to buy 2-3 books a week, every week. Even since the budget, I still buy 3 or 4 a month. Some months more, like last April when I bought over 30.

Obviously used books make up the bulk of these purchases. Unlike my father I like paperbacks and am less concerned with the look of a book. Although I certainly do appreciate beautiful hardcovers, I don't generally buy them because he has so many and is generous about lending them to me, as long as I am very, very careful with them. I buy books to carry in my purse and read in the lunch room or on the bus.

Used bookstores are where I stock up on writers like Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, Robertson Davies, Graham Greene and other old reliables. Writers that I know I'll enjoy whatever they have to have to offer me. I don't need to read the back cover or check out a review. I'll get something out of it, anyway.

My number one favourite books to read can now only be found in used book stores. These are the Penguin paperbacks that were published in the 1970s. This has less to do with the content and more to do with the construction, although there are so many authors published this way. Lots of Hemmingways, Waughs, Conrads and others, as well as shorter classics. By shorter I here mean less than four hundred pages. Unlike modern paperback binders, the Penguins of this era were not so foolish as to try to construct a 1000 page novel that will not fall apart upon second reading. These paperbacks have the most wonderful paper. It's not stark white, but a very light cream and the feel of the paper is incredibly soft and just a bit thick, the print leaving a visible indent. I believe it is impossible to get a papercut from one of these. These may be a result of aging, but the effects remain the same. They have a simple illustration on the front cover, a blurb and a couple of reviews on the back (both covers are cream-coloured as well). The spine is orange with white type, not unlike the blogger template, now that I think about it. These become illegible after multiple readings, but the binding always holds together. Probably why there are so many of them still around after 40 years.

For larger classics I look for hardcovers from the 40s, 50s and 60s. These are often very small, just about 4 or 5 inches tall, so they fit perfectly in my hand. They usually have tiny print, which is a downside but a reasonable compromise to have a book of reasonable size. More than once I've had to limit my reading of a book that was too heavy to hold in one hand. My hands are small and peculiarly weak. This is something I'm working on. These are especially good for writers like George Elliot and Charles Dickens, and other behemoths of their type.

As for new books, there are no shortage of these either. Boyfriend and I usually go to Chapters at least a couple of times a month just for something to do. We get fancy coffees and wander the stacks, making mental lists. It's hard to resist the bargain section, which has been a good source for reference books like "Grandma's Household hints" and an illustrated book of Saints. You can sometimes find leftover hardcovers of books that have just come out as paperbacks. I got Lisa Moore's "Alligator" for $5 this way.

Which reminds me of a rant I'd like to have. This concerns paperbacks priced $17-$25. This is unreasonable. I understand that they generally higher quality, but the purpose of a paperback is to provide a cheaper option for a book. Hardcovers coming in at $40 in unreasonable too, but that's a bit less crazy. I will not pay that much.

So for recent books I look to other sources. Primarily and, to a lesser extent, Costco. Yes, you heard that right, I buy books at costco. The selection is small, and generally only current or recent bestsellers, but they're generally about 40% off the cover price.

Mostly, though, I use I also get my cds and dvds there. You can generally count on 20%-30% off, and shipping is free with a $35 purchase. I've also started using for further discounts on amazon. (swagbucks is kind of hard to explain, but if you do start using it, tell them thestuckduck sent you). This is where I go for Nick Hornby, Tom Robbins, Muriel Bradbery, Allan Bradley, cookbooks and other more recent books. Most of the same editions that go for $25 at Chapters can be had at $14, which is much better. I also do nearly all my Christmas shopping here, because I can do it in 15 minutes from my couch. It helps to already know what you're getting everyone.

So that's it, that's all my advice and bookbuying. I am also a big proponent of book-lending and book sharing, and any other means of bringing a book into your life.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Home Made Ice Cream: The Agony and the Ecstasy

The plan to make my own ice cream started a while ago. I’m not sure exactly when, a year at least. I planned and plotted this out for a while.

I don’t know why I always want to try to make everything myself. It’s a compulsion that started in childhood, when I would carefully sew pillows for my dolls and trim them with my stringy, awkwardly crocheted lace (Usually blackened by my dirty fingers by the time it was ready to be attached.

I guess it comes from the feeling of connection I have with things I’ve made, I talked about this a bit in my post about hand-made gifts. Also, the sense of pride I get from having produced something tangible. Either way, as ice cream and making things are my two favourite things, it was inevitable that I’d try my hand at ice cream making.

I ordered David Liebowitz’s book, “The Perfect Scoop” from Amazon a few months ago. The fuss the food blog community made over this book was more than recommendation enough. It seemed that even looking at another ice-cream recipe was tantamount to heresy. Over the following weeks I’d pick up the good book, casually flip through the pages, admire the bright photos, marvel at the exotic recipe names.

Then came The Big Move. Obviously all thoughts of making anything were pushed aside (although I did eat a shocking amount of store bought ice cream in this time). On one expedition to Wal-Mart for house things, I did find a Hamilton Beach ice cream maker on sale for $35. Not the fanciest model, by any means, but the price was right. It was actually one of the first things moved into the new house, as I laid it on a shelf when I walked in and there it sat for over a month.

After the move was the trip, and then there were guests. And then I didn’t want to do much of anything for a while. Finally Boyfriend returned and settled in. Last week was Labour Day, and the time was finally right.

Saturday over dinner we decided that we were really going to do it this time. Knowing that the canister needed to freeze for 24 hours, I popped it into the freezer, and we were on our way! Sunday, we bought the ingredients for chocolate ice cream (of course we were starting with chocolate, do you even know us?). This meant going to the grocery store and buying a 2L of 2% milk (we needed that anyway) 1L of whole milk, and a half litre of cream. Fortunately I’m immune to strange looks from my cashier at the grocery store.

Back home, I set about the recipe, with Boyfriend near by for amusement and support. It was an awfully fussy recipe. Heat this, chill that, strain, use every bowl in the house, etc. I got a bit frustrated here and there, but my frequent tastings assured me that I was making something delicious. Finally ready, we double checked the instructions and saw that the batter also had to chill for 24 hours. Darn. Into the fridge it went, and we waited another day.

Holy cow, I forgot to mention that we got a baby kitten during this time! His name is Stringer Bell and he’s 8 weeks old. He’s the cutest thing in the history of cute things, but isn’t allowed to have ice cream and so is unrelated to this blog post.

Monday night finally came. Our long weekend over, back to work and school the following day, it was at last time to make ice cream. I put together the machine, poured in the mixture (spilling a lot of it down the stove and onto the floor in the process) and waited. And waited. And waited. Our mixture did not become ice cream. It did not look like it would become ice cream. This was pretty disappointing.

We decided to save the mixture and try again tomorrow. As we poured it from the machine into a container we realized, we had way too much of it. The instructions for the machine had cautioned against using more than a litre, but as the recipe claimed to produce a litre we hadn’t thought much of it. As it happened, if you include what had spilled, we had nearly 2. We put the batter back in the fridge, washed the canister and put it back in the freezer, and waited another day.

After work on Tuesday, we made one last try. This time we only put in a half litre and, with fingers crossed, tried again. It took a little longer than the instructions said, and had a consistency more like melty soft serve, but it was ice cream! And it was the most delicious ice cream I have ever tasted. I’m not exaggerating, and I have eaten an awful lot of ice cream. It was so rich, but just shy of too rich, so creamy, so …. Perfect! It was unreal. It was worth it.

We made the rest of the batch the next day, with the same results. We wound up with about 1.5L all together (not including that which was spilled) and after a night in the freezer it had the consistency of regular ice cream.

I figure that this ice cream cost $4-$5 for ingredients. I can get ice cream for that much or maybe cheaper if I watch for sales. But not the brands I like. Premium ice cream costs more, Breyer's runs $6.99-$8.49 for 1.5L, Moo Moo's (local) is $15 per 1.5L, and Hagan-Daaz is a staggering $21. I think the taste of my ice cream ranks up with the higher end, maybe better.

There's obviously a bigger time commitment, but that sort of thing doesn't bother me too much. I like concocting. It's worth it for me. Besides, in time I may be able to streamline the process, I foresee quite a lot of home made ice cream in my future!