Short Review of Asian Pickles by Karen Solomon

asian pickles karen solomonAsian Pickles: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Cured and Fermented Preserves by Karen Solomon is one of the most exquisite condiment and preserving books on the market today. A product (and reflection) of Solomon’s many travels throughout Asia, this book is organized into five geographic areas: Japan, Korea, China, India and Southeast Asia. It features among many other recipes, a fresh take on classic condiments and pickles such as Senmaizuke (“Thousand Slices” turnips) from Japan, several Kimchi and Banchan recipes from Korea, Chile sauces from China, Indian chutneys and the famed Fermented ‘Cock Sauce,” popular in Southeast Asian cuisine.

While you may find this book in the canning section of your local bookstore, Solomon notes in her introduction that most of the recipes featured in the book are not designed for long-term shelf storage. At first, to the ardent home canner like me, this may come across as a disappointing admission from the author. Solomon notes that the pickles and condiments included in this book are meant to be consumed within a few days and warns her readers that their refrigerators may soon become overcrowded with jars filled with delicious pickles and condiments. That’s a good problem to have when you’re into pickling and preserving. The fact that the recipes in Asian Pickles cannot be stored for long-term just gives me one more reason to continue experimenting using the condiments and pickles in my daily cooking.

With a beautifully designed layout and stylish photographs, Asian Pickles is more than a canning and preserving book. It can be looked at as an introductory guidebook into the condiments and pickles of the geographic regions Solomon discusses in it.  If you’ve ever been intimidated by making your own pickled ginger or congee, Solomon  takes the intimidation factor out of pickling ingredients and produce you may be unfamiliar with, as I was before reading this book.

Ramen – It’s What Dreams Are Made Of

I’ve become quite the ramen connoisseur (read: snob). A good friend of mine from high school recently introduced me to the culture of ramen in Boston. I’ve never had “real” ramen other than the instant kind I used to eat as a penniless college kid in New Hampshire. I was eager to indulge in and experience what I sensed everyone, including my friend, have been obsessing over.

Ramen noodles—like many things in Japanese culture—originated in China and are made of flour, water, salt and kansui, an alkaline-rich water that when combined with the rest of the ingredients in ramen, allows for that elastic texture that gives the noodles its wonderful appeal. Since the 1980s when ramen rose to fame in Japan, it has been “perfected” and every region has its own version of the noodles and broth—which is often cooked for hours until a rich, fatty flavor and delightful aroma are achieved. Depending on the style of ramen one orders at a restaurant, the toppings—which can include nori, sweet corn, a soft boiled egg, scallions, kimchi, pickled bamboo shoots and bean sprouts, also vary from shop to shop.

Ramen has become so popular outside of Japan that many shops have sprung up in countries all over the world, including the United States. In cities like Boston, even hotels and non-ramen restaurants are serving up the delectable dish one night a week as a special. Most of the establishments we’ve visited in the Boston-area are hole-in-the-wall places with limited seating, usually accept only cash and have very long lines to get in, but the reward is a comforting bowl of ramen in salty broth and invigorating flavors.

When my friend and I decided to meet-up and catch up on life, it was only natural that we chose Yume Wo Katare in Porter Square in Cambridge. The first of many visits to other ramen restaurants in the area, this popular shop—as a sign above the kitchen reads—doesn’t make ramen, it makes dreams. “Yume” translates to dreams in Japanese and “katare” to tell. Eating at Yume Wo Katare is an experience to be had by anyone who’s had a bowl of ramen before. Even if you think you’ve seen it all, this place should be at the top of your “ramen list,” if you have such a thing that is. From the long lines to the cheesy quotes that decorate the tiny room, finishing the small bowl—piled high with crunchy bean sprouts, garlic, chopped scallions and two pieces of very flavorful pork strips—of ramen at Yume Wo Katare can get you a loud “Good Job,” “Very Good Job,” or “Perfect” shout-out from the kitchen staff. And if you don’t, you’ll still get an encouraging “Next Time!” and regardless whether you finish your bowl or not, you’ll be asked to stand up, introduce yourself and share your dreams and aspirations with everyone present. And whether your dream is to cure cancer or travel the world, everyone will cheer you on, this is the place where dreams are made; not ramen.

The sharing of dreams and aspirations doesn’t have to end at Yume Wo Katare, for every bowl of ramen deserves to be shared with great company. In my time going from ramen shop to ramen shop in Boston, I’ve learned that not all ramen is the same and no matter how many times you’ve got to explain it to people why this is not the same ramen they get at the supermarket, the best way to get them to experience the passion that goes into making this dish, is to take them on a ramen journey similar to the one I’m currently on. I’ve also learned from observation that most of the conversations that happen over ramen, happen in silence or over a cold beer after (unfortunately, we have yet to come across a ramen shop in Boston that serves some good ol’ Japanese brews). Slurping is encouraged and so is eating fast—you want the noodles to retain their elasticity and the broth its warmth.

With so many ramen options springing up all over Boston, I’m looking forward to many more conversations over a bowl of ramen with thoughtful company. If I’m going to keep pursuing learning Japanese and nurturing my interest in the culture, I might as well do it through the food.

Quick First Impressions of the Boston Public Library’s Renovated Second Floor

What’s red and orange all over? It’s the new Boston Public Library, of course! After many public meetings and countless moments of frustrations for many of its regular users (I admit it, I was at times pretty frustrated), the City of Boston finally opened to the public the renovated second floor of the 1972 Phillip Johnson Addition to the main branch of the Library. The $75.5 million renovation project campaign was commissioned to William Rawn Associates of Boston and aims at revitalizing program spaces and improving user services. Among its other goals are connecting the library to the city, creating an inviting first impression and strengthening its ties to the beloved McKim building.

Having attended several public forums on the future of the library and having been a user of the Johnson Building since I was a second grader at the nearby Hurley Elementary School in the South End, these renovations are exactly what the library has needed for years.  Rawn’s design of the second floor is playful and inviting. It defies age old stereotypes of what libraries should or shouldn’t be.  The second floor features a new children’s library, teen area with very comfortable couches, amazing vintage typewriters on display, a computer lab and even a 3D printer. The nonfiction collection is also on this floor as are reference services and a community reading area.  From my first visit this past Sunday, the interior  is welcoming and left me with a deep appreciation of what good  interior design can do to a public building, in particular to once somewhat neglected buildings from the 1970s such as this one.

While the second phase of the renovations will be unveiled by Summer 2016, I think it’s safe to say that the Boston Public Library has already reconnected itself to the city. Maybe it’s because I happen to love orange and red so much that I am really excited by what the firm of William Rawn has done with this iconic building in Boston. Or maybe it’s because this renovation has already proven that when you give love to unloved buildings, great things can happen (yes, I’m talking about you Boston City Hall, you need love too). But really, what’s not to love about an interior covered in orange, red, lime green and purple walls and carpets? Check out some images below and visit the library for yourself, I think you just might fall in love all over again with the Boston Public Library.

image image image image image image image imageimage



Instagramming Brutalism

This morning while riding the Green Line to work I overheard a conversation between two men commenting on the state of architecture in Boston. The men started discussing the current cold weather snap in the northeast and how when they were younger, schools never used to close. I wasn’t completely focused on the conversation and I’m uncertain how they ended up talking about Brutalism and Boston City Hall, but the brief exchange between the two was nothing short of inspiring.

One man told the other that Boston City Hall should be considered among the top 3 most beautiful and interesting buildings in the world. He spoke about the sculptural qualities of the building and how groundbreaking it was for Boston to commission a concrete building of its size and uniqueness in a city where brick seems to be the law of the land.

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for this blog, but my experience this morning inspired me to post some of my Instagrams of brutalist buildings in and around the city (some else where too). I hope to get back to blogging and exploring the arts and built environment more frequently, but in the meantime, this post should break my blogging silence.

Le Corbusier, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University. Cambridge, MA. 1962.
Paul Rudolph, Blue Cross Blue Shield Building. Boston, MA. 1960.
Marcel Breuer, O’Bryant High School, Boston, MA.
photo 2 (1)
Daniel Mann Johnson + Mendenhall, The Line Hotel, Los Angeles, CA. 1964.
photo 1 (4)
John M. Johansen, The Orlando Public Library building, 1966.
photo 3 (1)
John M. Johansen, The Orlando Public Library building, 1966.
photo 4
John M. Johansen, The Orlando Public Library building, 1966.
photo 2
Bertrand Goldberg, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA 1976-1980.
photo 3
Bertrand Goldberg, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA 1976-1980.
photo 1 (3)
The Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine comprises the Harvard Medical School library and Boston Medical Library, 1965.
photo 1 (2)
Shore Plaza East Apartments, 600 Border St., East Boston, MA.

Photographs with a View of Her Own

For those of us with an interest in Boston’s Gilded Age, the Women’s Suffrage Movement or 19th century female photographers, the name Clover Adams rings a bell. Marian “Clover” Hooper Adams—Gilded Age socialite and portrait photographer, is currently the subject of a small but delightful exhibition at the Massachusetts Historical Society.  

A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life: The Photographs of Clover Adams 1883-1885—traces the privileged life of “a fiercely intelligent Boston Brahmin.” Clover began experimenting with photography in the summer of 1883 while her husband Henry Adams—prominent historian, Harvard professor and novelist—was writing Esther, a novel loosely based on the making of Trinity Church in the City of Boston. Adams modeled the heroine of the novel after his wife Clover, whom he characterized in it as a “second rate amateur” painter.

“I’ve gone in for photography and find it very absorbing” wrote Clover on September 7 1883. “My wife does nothing except take photographs…” wrote Henry to Elizabeth Sherman Cameron on July 26 1883. Artistically dismissed by Henry, Clover continued to make compelling photographs that allowed for an intimate look at America’s Gilded Age. 

Clover’s photographs are marked by quotes or any information she recorded of the individual or place she photographed—often providing a glimpse into the personalities of highly respected figures. When photographed, Senator and future Supreme Court Justice Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar of Mississippi refused to have his photo taken until “he had rumpled [his hair] all up,” wrote Clover alongside his photograph on February 23 1884.

(Left) Henry Adams seated at desk in dark coat, writing, Photograph by Marian Hooper Adams, 1883 (Right)Umbrella tree at Smith’s Point, Photograph by Marian Hooper Adams. Both Photographs courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society.

Clover’s ability to communicate the personality of her sitters is evident in the arrangement of her albums.  She paired a photograph of Henry Adams in his study room alongside a photograph of a lonely tree perched on a mountain top. One can arrive at numerous conclusions, but we can all assume that this arrangement speaks to the lonely life that Henry led.

Organized by the seasons of the year, the exhibition highlights Clover’s three albums and displays them in the context of letters, loose photographs and ephemera—including her personal sketchbook with a watercolor by John La Farge.

Having lived in the immediate surroundings of Trinity Church before moving to Washington, DC, Henry Adams became close friends with Phillips Brooks, Trinity’s then charismatic preacher; America’s premier architect Henry Hobson Richardson and artist John La Farge. Clover photographed Trinity Church and the people behind one of America’s greatest architectural treasures. These photographs, many of them iconic—also form part of this exhibition.

The photographs of Clover Adams are as heartbreaking as the life she led. On the morning of Sunday December 6, 1885 she wrote “if I had a single point of character, I would stand on that and grow back to life.” That same Sunday morning, Clover committed suicide by drinking potassium cyanide, the chemical she used to develop her own photographs. She was 42.

Henry Adams never spoke of her or mentions her in his masterpiece “The Education of Henry Adams,” but he honored Clover’s memory with the bronze seated statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens–placed over her grave at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, DC.  

 A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life: The Photographs of Clover Adams 1883-1885 is accompanied by a biography of the same title by exhibition curator Natalie Dystra. The exhibition is on view until June 02, 2012.

Eso Eres / Marea

Video Still from Eso Eres. Image Courtesy of Maria Rondeau and Rafael Rondeau.

My introduction to the work of Rafael Rondeau and Maria Rondeau occurred last summer in Close Distance—a terrific group exhibition highlighting six emerging Boston-area Latino artists. That summer at the Mills Gallery, we saw videos that explored architecture and its ability to frame our experience of place. Once again, this brother and sister duo have collaborated on two separate, experimental video installations that explore the synthesis between the intimate and the public, by engaging structure, image and sound.

Maria, a practicing architect and artist and Rafael, a violinist and composer—have furthered their work with Eso Eres and Marea, two non-narrative, fully immersive works that re-examine and question the spaces we inhabit.

Eso Eres, is projected on a suspended light screen with a reflective mylar background set five feet away from the wall. The video captures a man running along a linear path, but instead of seeing the man’s entire body, we only see his face–an attempt on behalf of the artists to locate a visage as a “place.”

Video Still from Marea. Image Courtesy of Maria Rondeau and Rafael Rondeau.

 Marea, the longest and most immersive of the two videos captures a social encounter—a man sitting at a table in what appears to be an outdoor restaurant overlooking one of New York City’s neighborhoods. Projected on two elongated screens that trace the perimeter of a table—the video holds both foreground and background in focus, creating a sweeping and fluid movement that wraps around the viewer—who is encouraged to weave in and out of both installations. The sound, conceived by Rafael not only considers the spaces projected in these two installations, but also the gallery space where these works are shown.

From the sound of a string quartet—composed and performed by Rafael—to the hustle and bustle of a rural market in Guatemala—to the murmured prayers of women at a pre-Colonial church, Marea takes you on journeys near and far in the span of 10 minutes. The images and sounds in these two videos often collide with one another to awaken and alter our senses, prompting us to reconsider the spaces we experience on a daily basis.

Eso Eres/Marea is on view until March 02, 2012 at La Galeria at the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts in the South End.

A Conversation: William Cordova at the Boston Center for the Arts

William Cordova, the House that Frank Lloyd Wright built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark, 2006 (installation view, Arndt & Partner, Berlin, 2006). Wood, books and suspended drawing, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist; courtesy Arndt & Partner Berlin

Born in Lima, Peru and raised in Miami, Florida, William Cordova is an internationally known artist practicing across multiple disciplines. Having earned his BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1996 and his MFA from Yale University in 2004, Mr. Cordova has exhibited at MoMA PS1, the 2008 Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial and Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston among many other national and international museums and galleries. Mr. Cordova was just awarded $25,000 as part of the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s 2011 Painters and Sculptors Grant Program.

The Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts is currently hosting William Cordova’s first solo exhibition in the city curated by Evan J. Garza—the Exhibitions and Public Programs Coordinator for the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  On view until April 15th, this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros) brings together new and recent works in sculpture, installation, video and works on paper that give meaning to the past in a contemporary context.

On Friday February 10, 2012 an informal conversation was held at the BCA’s Plaza Theater with William Cordova, Evan J. Garza and Jose Falconi, Curator for the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University.

Mr. Garza opened the conversation by briefly introducing Cordova’s the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark, a structure made of two by fours that remakes the apartment layout of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, two Black Panther members killed by the Chicago Police. The work, which is included in the exhibition at The Mills Gallery, formed the foundation for this Boston show.

William on his process and the evolution of the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark:

There are different ways that that piece evolved. In general, I’m interested in architecture and how to represent ideas of resistance through architecture. I’m often gravitating to material history that can represent that or does represent that.

I’m trying to activate certain materials, certain histories for us to reconsider ourselves, how we sometimes are seeing it from a detached perspective. While it may not be happening to us, we assume we have no relationship to that history or that situation, but in actuality, we are probably a lot closer than not.

I tend to create a lot of parallels even in the title, “Frank Lloyd Wright,” “Fred Hampton,” “Mark Clark.” Those relationships may not necessarily be obvious. The way I wanted to approach these projects or art making, was not by limiting myself to making a representation of an image or a situation by making a painting and putting it up on a wall. I wanted to provoke or challenge the way we think and painting can do that, I don’t think it would have been enough for what I wanted to do.

I was thinking about building materials, structures, symbols that represent something in transition.

I am sure everyone is familiar seeing a house—half-way built before there are dry walls; before the electrical parts are installed; before the roof. What I wanted to do was show that first part where you have the foundation and stop there; suggest to the viewer, to provoke them questions. What’s next? Are you going to add something else? Why isn’t there something else in here? Why does it suppose to be revealing?  What does that have to do in relationship to the title, to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, to the individuals—the activists.

The piece in a way is a transitional piece, is a labyrinth, it’s also a monument, it’s a shrine.  It has different entry points; it’s also very layered. It isn’t specifically about one thing—it isn’t about Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Frank Lloyd Wright—but about many situations or histories.

The conversation then shifted to the idea of forgotten historical narratives and how we perceive monuments. This part of the discussion focused on the installation the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark. Cordova discussed his interest in language as it develops in his works, in particular in the title piece of the exhibition this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros)—a video-sound installation that juxtaposes audio from Federico Garcia Hurtado’s  1984 film Tupac Amaru and video from the documentary by Peter Spirer Thug Angel—about Tupac Amaru Shakur.

William Cordova on language, its meaning, and how titles emerge in his works:

I’m interested in language. I am interested in language and how we interpret it. How we communicate. I am interested in presence and how that is represented or how we represent with others. But I am also aware that in our society of the condition of trying to divide things, categorize and separate and so we might not be able to relate to one another because we’re conditioned just to have certain divisions, even though they may not inherently be there.

I’m more interested in the commonalities than the divisions. I am interested in writing and literature; that’s a big influence in my work.

Untitled (geronimo I & II), 2006-2012. Reclaimed paper bag, feathers, aerosol can. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

Mr. Cordova on the lyrical quality in his titles:

I try to appeal to many different groups, many different audiences and a lot of it is through written word. Some of it is more abstract, some of it is more literal—in order to appeal to as many people as possible.

I incorporate popular culture imagery to a certain extent. I don’t want to promote it or rely on it when I question it and slow it down—how we consume that type of imagery or any type of imagery. A lot of times visual art is considered entertainment. It’s like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, you get it?—and then you move on. It shouldn’t be about that.

Certain work rely more on certain titles, but I am not relying on the title to do the work for the visual art.

The work that I do is completely installation based, so all the works and all the components are in conversation and isolated they may not function the same way. It is really important that all the ingredients are in the same bowl. Otherwise certain things might not necessarily trigger the initial idea I had in mind, but it is all open for interpretation. It just depends on how we are conditioned to absorb, receive or interpret it.

this is not 4 U (I miss U already…), 2009 Aluminum foil, cardboard, reclaimed Plexiglas, tape 17 x 29.5 x 7 inches 43.2 x 74.9 x 17.8 cm. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

Mr. Cordova on the concept of temporality and how he treats the life of the object he creates (there is a work influenced by the Nazca lines in the window space of the gallery that was created specifically for this show and for that space—therefore will not exist in any other gallery or museum):

A lot of times we rely on digital cameras or digital recordings and everything comes really quick. We don’t necessarily take time to value that moment. When we see something, we to start taking pictures with our phones—and there is something that is lost when we have so much access. It’s like always having candy in a bowl–you won’t desire it because it’s always there. I did this site-specific piece on the floor of the institution [Mills Gallery] and I wanted to represent something that is very close to me, but at the same time it is not something that can be transported and displayed somewhere else. I didn’t want to put any type of financial or superficial value to it. I wanted it to exist. It is not something that you see at every installation. It depends on the space.

The conversation ended with the concept of constellations and how we form our own ideas of representations. Mr. Garza commented on William’s ability to take points that exist in different points in time and in space and connect them to create bridges between them. These connections and bridges are observed throughout this exhibition at Mills Gallery.

This talk  illuminated many of the works in this exhibition and allowed those in attendance to search for a deeper meaning in Mr. Cordova’s works. William Cordova provided a framework to not only better understand the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark, but also invited us to draw our own parallels with this and other works within the exhibition. William Cordova: this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros) is on view until April 15, 2012.