Seven Spoons

Seven Spoons“A Blogger Gets a Book Deal and Publishes a Cookbook. The Results Are Not What You Might Have Expected.” This could have been the click-bait title of this post, but the book does not deserve such title or such treatment. Seven Spoons by the Toronto-based food blogger Tara O’Brady, is the latest blog-cum-cookbook to have landed on my bookshelf and sadly, while I want to really love it, I don’t.

Seven Spoons is a contemptuous collection of recipes—many with ingredients not easily accessible by amateur cooks like me, unless you live in a big diverse city or go out of your way to find that “exotic” ingredient called for in the recipes. “I am less about innovation and more about getting supper on the table, doing so thoughtfully, and beautifully, too” writes O’Brady in the book’s introduction. With dishes like “specialty restaurant lentil kofta,” “braised beef with gremolata” and other labor-intensive recipes, getting supper on the table may not be as thoughtful or beautiful, if time is of essence to you. But if you live in a big city and have the time to make some of O’Brady’s recipes, you won’t be disappointed with the flavors, aromas and colors.

Like many of the cookbooks to have been published within the last five years or so, Seven Spoons is lavishly illustrated with beautiful photographs that really bring out the ingredients in O’Brady’s dishes.  At 285 pages, I appreciated O’Brady’s worldly approach to cooking—incorporating a fusion of dishes, ingredients and techniques from cultures as far away as Lebanon, India and Vietnam—but this is not a book I will be turning on a daily basis. For special occasions? Absolutely!

I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Observations: On the #SneakerCulture Exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t consider myself a sneakerhead. I don’t collect, have boxes of unworn kicks in a basement or resell my sneakers. I also don’t camp out and stand in line for hours hoping to get my hands on limited, rare and exclusive sneakers. I do possess some knowledge of sneakers and wear those that I like, which may not be the most coveted sneakers out there, but that doesn’t matter to me.

I recently checked out the Brooklyn Museum’s The Rise of Sneaker Culture exhibit, which is organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. The exhibit is billed as “first exhibition to explore the complex social history and cultural significance” of the sneaker and with almost 150 pairs of sneakers on display—many as beautiful and iconic as the next one—it is underwhelming in social and historical context.

What the exhibit lacks in depth and scope, it makes up for in the number of pairs of sneakers on display which for the “bro sneakerhead,” that might be an excellent thing. I am obsessed with sneakers, but my obsession is more about the history of footwear than about spending $800 on a pair of sneakers so exclusive only a handful of guys can get their hands on them. In spite of feeling like a kid in candy store, The Rise of Sneaker Culture left much to be desired, especially for those of us wanting more background on the social and cultural movements surrounding many of the iconic sneakers on display.

There’s too much emphasis on sneakers as design objects and very little on their cultural and historical significance. One part of the story missing for me was that of the influence of female sneakerheads. I did read a short, three-question interview with designer and illustrator Sophia Chang and head nodded to Missy Elliott’s 2005 music video “Lose Control,” but aside from this, most of the sneakers in the exhibit were designed for men and or popularized by men. One of the very few women’s sneakers on display is the iconic Reebok Freestyle (in pink) from 1982, but other than these, you’ll just have to imagine women’s contribution to sneaker culture.

Other parts of the sneaker culture story missing for me include an in-depth look at the early years of hip hop and its influence on sneakers and streetwear. Also the contributions of renowned design companies such as Marimekko, Commes des Garcons and Missoni with companies like Converse, is left out of the narrative. Yes, the exhibit features the Run-D.M.C. signed Adidas Superstars and Damien Hirst’s “All You Need is Love” red print with blue butterflies Chuck Taylor All-Stars, but this goes to show that placing a sneaker inside an acrylic box and expecting people to know the story and history behind them, adds very little context to an exhibit.

One of the more interesting elements of the exhibit was the wire hung from one end of gallery to another. Flung on it were what many consider to be the cream of the crop of high fashion sneakers—Rick Owens’ Geobasket Sneakers, Balmain high tops and another pair I regrettably can’t remember at this moment. The accompanying wall text mentions that hanging sneakers over a wire is considered to be a form of celebration known as “shoefiti,” but that it is also seen as a symbol of urban crime. This installation could’ve connected this history and reception of many of the sneakers in the exhibit as well as sparked conversations surrounding the murders over Nike Air Jordans in black communities across the country, but maybe I am asking for too much.

Other highlights included seeing local artist Josh Wisdumb’s gorgeous collaboration with New Balance, Pharrell Williams’ joint effort with Adidas: the Stan Smith Polka Dot (I was wearing a pair of polka dots during my visit) and the Geobasket sneakers, because oh, they’re some of the most beautiful sneakers I’ve ever laid my eyes on.  Another highlight was meeting in person after all these years fellow shoe, museum and twitter lover @MarkBSchlemmer.


On Printmaking, Japanese Culture and Encaustic Collagraphs: An Interview with Susan Paladino

indigofinal on paper In my time working as Program Director managing and programming visual arts courses at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know many artists and craftspeople. One of the programs I oversee is printmaking, which under the direction of Selma Bromberg, teaches students several printmaking techniques including relief, intaglio and silkscreen printing. I recently sat down with Susan Paladino—one of the printmaking instructors at the Cambridge Center to talk about printmaking, our shared interest in Japanese culture and her upcoming encaustic collagraph class in September 2015.  Susan began teaching experimental monoprints and monotypes at the Cambridge Center in 2012 and has exhibited her work nationally, including at the Fitchburg Art Museum, Provincetown Art Association, the Drawing Room in Portland, Maine, Cambridge Art Association and many other venues.

Anulfo Baez: Susan, I’m really glad I’ve had the opportunity to work with you over this past year at the Cambridge Center, especially in planning the summer term since this is when we talked about your work as printmaker. What is it about printmaking that attracts you to it?

Susan Paladino: I became curious about printmaking when I first saw that so many painters I admired also did prints that I liked.  When I began printmaking, I tried all kinds of techniques, etching, lithograph, and woodcut.  I quickly learned that making monoprints was what I enjoyed most and to this day I continue to refine my skills and conceptual process. I enjoy the element of surprise and flexibility that I find in monoprinting. I can be more spontaneous and more expressive and yet make variable prints for editions. It’s not important for me to make 30 identical prints.

Monotypes are for making one print whereas with monoprints you’re working with a matrix, though you can change and transform both with all kinds of printmaking paper, inking and mixed media. There’s so much room for experimenting.  Recently I’ve been using more Asian papers.

AB: You studied at the Museum School as well at the Artists Student League of New York and you’ve taught printmaking at several places, including here at the Cambridge Center.

SP: At the Museum School, where I studied printmaking, there was a terrific group of us that would, for years, get together at least once a week in an Open Studio.  We’d share what we were doing and very open about how we achieved certain results.  It was so much fun to be in a studio with other dedicated printmakers.   I hope the Open Studio at Cambridge Center inspires this kind of camaraderie and inspiration.

AB: From my understanding of printmaking and having friends who are printmakers, it seems that there’s a social aspect to making prints that makes the medium even more attractive to work in. Is this true for you as well?

SP: I do enjoy being around other creative people in a print shop.  I have my own studio but there are times when it can be fun and inspiring to catch up on what other people are doing.  It is good learn some new techniques and find out who is showing where but you can make some very good friends because of the mutual interest in art.
12 x 12 collagraph on wood panel 3

AB: I’ve noticed you have an interest in Japanese Folk Art, in particular Boro textiles. I don’t know if I’ve told you this, but I have always been interested in Japanese art and culture and even started studying the language here at CCAE. I think one of the things that attracted me to your work as a printmaker is your interest in Japanese art. Can you tell me more about this?

SP: I didn’t know that you were so interested in Japanese culture.  I, too, took a Japanese calligraphy course at CCAE and was very pleased to dip my foot (that is, my brush) into those waters.  I like combining Eastern aesthetics with Western ones, exploring the outcomes and working through them.

AB: When I was in college I took a course in the history of Japanese art and architecture which really cemented my love for the culture. Looking at your past work, I can see an affinity toward Eastern art, in particular the Japanese imagery I am familiar with.  At some point in your career you’ve also explored Netsuke—the miniature sculptures popular in 17th-century Japan. Have you always been interested in Japanese culture and history?

SP: When I was in my twenties, I’d go see as many black and white Japanese films such as Kurosawa and Ozu.  I loved the graphic contrast of the cinematography.  I’ve had a long-time affinity toward Eastern art, though I can’t necessarily explain all the reasons why. Over the last couple of years I created a body of work that used Netsukes as a starting point.  These characters came alive for me and I enlarged them and then put them into different environments, new ones. I found that they expressed what I was feeling at the time and their strong personalities spoke powerfully to me. Besides Japanese culture in and of itself, there is also an appreciation of  “cuteness” and pop among the artists, and I see it in the art all the time.  Takashi Murakami is just one of the more well-known ones here.umbrellaiweb-filtered

AB: Some of the work you’re making now is influenced by Boro textiles—a textile usually sewn by women from 19th and early 20th century rags and patches of indigo dyed cotton, popular in Edo Japan and even Showa-era Japan. What got you interested in these textiles?

SP: Many years ago I had a small pillow business and used antique textiles to make them.  I’ve quite a collection from the early 20th century.

Recently I became curious to learn about indigo dye and came across some collections of Boro textiles and I immediately fell in love.   It has not only renewed my interest in textiles, but also sparked new concepts for the art of printmaking and encaustic painting.

AB: Just a few seconds ago you mentioned indigo. I’ve always been fascinated by textiles and dyes, in particular the history of indigo. Have you experimented with using indigo in printmaking or is that something that is taboo?

SP: I have recently finished some work using indigo color with Akua inks.  You said you may post some of them here.  Some are on paper and some are on panels with encaustic medium.  I am happy with the results but plan on learning to use dye too which I think will work very well with certain papers.

AB: I’ve never taken a printmaking class, but have dabbed a little here and there and I’ve always been interested in the history of printmaking—particularly Japanese woodblock prints.

SP: It sounds like you should take my class. Even if you take one workshop, it will open your eyes to printmaking in general.   Since you write about various kinds of art, you’ll have a better understanding of what is involved in the creation of prints. I found, too, that even when I learn something that I know I’m not going to use, my eyes open to an appreciation of other work at a deeper level of understanding.  A couple of years ago, I started exploring the process of encaustic paint using a medium of wax and resin with pigment and then fuse it.  I have set up my studio for this process.

AB: I think I will take the encaustic collagraphs class you’ll be teaching this Fall. It’s a new class at the Cambridge Center and you’re using beeswax on plexi-plates to create monoprints, which to my understanding is a rather newer method of printmaking, correct?

SP: This is a printmaking technique that uses beeswax with only white pigment to create textures on a plexi-plate to make prints with paper. The wonderful thing about using beeswax, as opposed to acrylic gel medium, is that you can carve and scrape into it, which allows me the opportunity to vary textures to suit the piece.

In addition, I have so many ideas that I like to share with students for combining and using different materials and tools.

AB: That sounds really exciting Susan! Encaustic art-making has become very popular nowadays and I hope this class really takes off here at the Center.

SP: We are talking a lot about process here, but I do want to help give students the means and techniques so that they can become free to find their own ideas and concepts and work them through. All of us can take comfort in this quote from Picasso, ”I am always doing things I can’t do, that’s how I get to do them.”

AB: How is your interest in beeswax and printmaking going?

SP: I became a new member of New England Wax (NEW) this past March. I’ll be attending their September meeting in Andover, and I’m excited to meet other artist members.  NEW is a community of artists that I want to work with and there will be opportunities to exhibit my new work in the medium of encaustic.

AB, August 2015

For more information on Susan Paladino, you can visit her website and see more of her work here.

Glassblowing Weekend: Learning How to Make My Own Drinking Glass

Soon after leaving architecture school almost eight years ago, I enrolled in a stained glass class at a local adult education program where I learned how to create small hanging panels. I modeled the work I was making in this class after the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright, since I found Wright’s geometry, lead work and color palette beautiful and striking.

It was also around the same time when I stumbled upon—after many years of not being inside it—the interior of Trinity Church, H.H. Richardson’s ecclesiastical masterpiece on Copley Square. Newly restored, I was so taken aback by the sumptuous Pompeian red and turquoise green walls, that I immediately inquired about church’s renowned docent program. I interviewed and was accepted into the program and gravitated toward the stained glass windows and its decorative arts during my training sessions. I made the stained glass windows the focal point of my tours and relished every opportunity I got to learn and share my knowledge of the windows, many of which are considered among the finest in the country.


I share these two anecdotes to show my fascination with glass. In my current position as Program Director at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, I get to work with many outstanding artists and craftspeople. While it’s impossible for me to enroll in every single class the Center offers, I do try to explore things I am interested in, such as Japanese language or the visual arts and crafts. I recently took part in a two-day glassblowing workshop at the North Cambridge Glass School which allowed me to continue exploring my fascination with glass. Among the visual arts and crafts classes I schedule and oversee at the Cambridge Center, glassblowing has always intrigued me, so I thought is give it a try.

After months of wondering what it would be like to learn how to make my own drinking glass, I finally ventured out of Harvard Square and into North Cambridge to meet for the first time Jesse Rasid, one of the instructors whose introductory glassblowing classes I schedule through the Center. A graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Jesse is also the Owner and Principal Instructor at NOCA Glass School, which he founded in 2006. If you’ve ever taken a class with Jesse through the Cambridge Center, you’re qualified to take his Beginner I: Intro to Glassblowing: Cups and Vases class at NOCA.


During the first day of the workshop, the emphasis is on acquiring the basic glassblowing vocabulary, introducing students to the hot shop, the equipment and tools along with proper working procedures and safety. Having never worked with hot glass before, I’ll admit that I was not only excited, but also a bit nervous considering that the glass is 2,000°F at times. Jesse and his teaching assistants at the NOCA Glass School create a supportive environment where students feel comfortable and encouraged by one another, so my nervousness was gone within the hour of being inside the shop, but it persisted until I made my first drinking glass the next day.

By the end of day one, we learned how to gather hot glass, how to blow a bubble and how to make a paperweight—all important steps that will help you make a cup. The second day, putting together all the skills we acquired the day before, we made two drinking glasses—one clear and one with color.

During this workshop, I learned many things but most importantly, to stay in the moment and remain aware of my surroundings at all times. One second of losing focus may result in a rustic-looking drinking glass (I have proof of this, but I gained confidence and took control of the situation by the time I made the second drinking glass, which still looks a bit rustic, but much better than my first one). By the end of the workshop, I gained a deeper appreciation and respect for the art glass I see in museums—the experts make it look effortless, but it takes lots of skills and coordination to make that sculpture you see in a museum or that mouth blown vase that holds your flowers.

The citron green drinking glass I made!
The orange red paperweight I made on the first day.


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.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

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.

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