Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Free + Reading = Freading

Our recent bout of frigid weather has definitely kept me indoors.  The truth is that my wardrobe just doesn’t accommodate below-freezing temperatures.  My usual winter wear includes a windbreaker or barn coat, scarf and gloves and many layers of t-shirts and sweaters – no real match for a wind chill of 10 degrees.  So you can imagine how a quick walk from the office to the bank on Friday nearly took my breath away.

Thank goodness I visited the library last week for a short stack of gardening books and Boo: The Life of the World’s Cutest Dog.
But I’ve also been exploring Freading – a collection of downloadable books that is relatively new to our library.

Freading is the brain child of Library Ideas LLC, based in Fairfax, and through a partnership with the Library of Virginia, is available to all library patrons in the Commonwealth.  You can access the collection via your local library’s website or electronic catalog.  Freading may not offer the largest or even most up-to-date selection of books, but I appreciate that access to each book is unlimited.  It doesn’t matter how many other folks have checked it out.  Our library belongs to another e-book program, which simulates physical bookshelves.  Basically, an e-book can only be downloaded by one person at a time… much like real-life volumes.

Freading check-out is based on a system of tokens.  Every patron starts with a certain amount of free tokens (5 at our library), and books “cost” 1, 2 or 4 tokens each, depending on their newness and general popularity.  Each week, tokens are added to your total, which includes any unused tokens.  On the fourth week, you start afresh.

Your download lasts for a 2-week circulation period, but you can usually renew.

The Freading collection is rather heavy with how-to manuals, such as What to Expect When You’re Expecting and An Herbalist's Guide to Growing and Using Violets; a surprising number of “pet” books, including the popular Unlikely Friendships; some naughty romances; and, since Barnes and Noble is one of the participating publishers, a bunch of true classics.  So it’s easy to tackle Far From the Maddening Crowd or The Woman in White during your lunch hours.  At 1 token each, cookbooks are especially guilt-free downloads.  I think it’s a nice way to test drive a few recipes before investing in the actual… meaning a hold-in-your hand, jot-notes-in-the-borders, share-with-friends… book.
The Barcelona Cookbook: A Celebration of Food, Wine and Life
by Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andy Pforzheimer with Mary Goodbody
No matter where you live, ask your local librarian about Freading today.  It might just save you from winter chills and doldrums.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

More Mushroom Musings

Packing up Christmas is a forlorn task – a chore that consumes more energy… physically and emotionally… than “decking the halls”.

Perhaps it’s the general malaise of January.  Our wintry skies appear gloomy and unnecessarily gray.  And it takes an enormous effort to reinstate a regular routine:
moderate culinary treats;
run household errands;
respond to belated emails and phone calls and mail.

While some folks struggle with the blues during that hectic stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year, it is usually the aftermath that makes me melancholy.  I miss the sparkle and mysticism and general busyness of the Christmas season.  I mean, when else is it completely acceptable to fill our homes with glitter, glitz, felt and wired ribbon?  Not to mention the emblems and characters of storybooks and folklore?
Mushrooms are popular for trimming the Christmas tree or dressing a traditional Buche de Noel (in meringue, of course).
Contact Mackenzie Limited, in Maryland,
if you're not up to baking, rolling and decorating your own yule log cake.
They also make delicious mushroom tarts... delivered right to your door.
Like so many of our Western customs, rituals and iconography involving mushrooms were adapted over centuries, from ancient, pagan ideas of winter and the supernatural, to conform with Christian beliefs and the development of national identities, until they became entrenched in our yuletide celebrations and cuisine… in the very concept of modern Christmas.  Legend attributes Santa’s ability to fly to Amanita muscaria, the fanciful, red and white, toadstool-shaped mushroom, which is indigenous to the pine forests of northern Europe and the pages of fairytales.
My funky little ornament and this trio of mushrooms come from Medusa Copenhagen in Denmark
and are designed by the mother-daughter team of Maj-Britt and Rie Bidstrup.
But in truth, mushrooms, especially edible ones, have long been recognized, throughout the world, as a gift of nature and a symbol of good luck, peace and prosperity.

So mushrooms seem like the perfect decorative start to 2013.
Caitlin Hilton just opened her Etsy store, Caites Plates, in December.
She paints her comical illustrations on simple, white porcelain.
For decorative use only, not food safe.
They add wit,
Shrooms Salt and Pepper by Jonathan Adler
The Mushroom Duvet Cover and Shams from West Elm and
Benjamin Moore's Morrel (AF-125) make for a cozy guest room.
and whimsy
Mushroom Pouf from Anthropologie
to our homes.  Plus, for the last two months, I’ve been obsessed with this charming print from Duralee’s Delfina Collection and am determined to use it somewhere soon!

Pattern 21025 is 95% cotton and comes in "Burlap" with mustard and blue accents,
"Aqua and Cocoa"
and "Moss" with red and burnt orange.
The repeat is about 12" vertically and horizontally.
Mushroom motifs are especially effective when the scale is a little out of whack.  The more miniature reinforces their enchanting, otherworldly qualities.
Pincushion from Foxtail Creek Studio
Terrarium accessories by Foxtail Creek Studio
Felt mushrooms fit for Thumbellina... by Feltville
And pastel ornaments for Christmas or Easter or any party favor, also by Feltville
The Maze and Vale Tiny Forest linen-cotton print shows how "little" can make a big impact.
Australian artist, Leslie Keating, screenprints her fabrics using natural dyes and fibers.
While the extraordinarily-large draws us into the story.

Mushroom Forest Coffee Table by California-based Thomas Wold.
Thomas crafts custom case goods and humorous furniture,
often pieced together from found objects and recycled shapes.
Mushroom Garden Stool from the Winterthur catalog
Trump Floor Lamp by Arteriors was recently featured in House Beautiful.
The image of the mushroom is recognizably commonplace and compellingly strange.  And the most appealing accessories somehow capture this dichotomy of mundane and magical.

Alberto Pinto's mushroom illustrations are beautiful,
but it's really the faux bois border that completes the fantasy.
Sous Bois Dinner Plate #4

Sous Bois Dinner Plate #5
Sous Bois Dinner Plate #6
The Fungi Lamp, by German designer Andreas Kowalewski, is constructed out of simple nylon webbing
and looks amazing when lit!

The juxtaposition of clean, white stoneware and cast pewter
is perfect on the Vegetable Dish by Vagabond House.
Joel Philip Myers served as Design Director at Blenko Glass through the 1960s,
and his creations, such as these decanters, combined function with fashion and fun.
Check out Culture Object for a stunning selection of Blenko and other Mid-Century glass.
Even these place card holders from Williams-Sonoma add a bit of enchantment to everyday life.
Use them to label food on a party buffet or book and magazine stacks in a personal library.
Lamps, particularly lamps of the 20th century, intrinsically mimic that familiar cap-and-stem shape… some more literally than others!
Cypriot Glass Lamp by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Clement Massier,
c. 1895-1910, blown and iridized glass, lustered ceramic base with bronze fittings,
from the permanent collection of The Corning Museum of Glass
Rattan Amanita Lamp, designed for Alessi, by brothers Humberto and Fernando Campana

Pair of vintage Laurel Lamps from Maurice Beane Art & Design in Richmond, Virginia
Maze and Vale's Gathering fabric looks like a collection of spores
or dissections of mushroom gills.
Seen here in mustard... it's a wonderful match to the Laurel lamps.
Filaments of New York specializes in restoring and selling Art Deco and Mid-Century light fixtures.  And it’s a great place to indulge any mushroom cravings.
A Murano glass mushroom light,
two Italian, etched glass table lamps,
a pair of traditional student lamps
and these absolutely exquisite ceramic lamps... all from Filaments of New York.
You can visit them in Greenwich Village or online to seek guidance and shop for fabulous and surprisingly affordable lamps.

Keep in mind that fungi-inspired décor can avoid the kitschy or quaint.

Elizabeth Lyons Glass Mushrooms

Chanterelle ceramic vase from Janus et Cie
Iconic Chanterelle glass vase was designed by Tapio Wirkkala for Finnish lifestyle company Iittala.
I adore these Shady Side Candlesticks by Lindsey Adelman.

Detail of Shady Side Candlesticks
Stunning, early-20th century mushroom vase by Swedish ceramicist Wilhelm Kage.
Originally trained in decorative painting,
Wilhelm served as creative director of the prominent Gustavsberg Porcelain Factory
from 1917 until 1949, and influenced generations of Scandinavian potters and designers.
This vase is available for sale at the Jason Jacques Gallery in New York.
But I have to admit that, when it comes to toadstools, as in most things, I’m usually attracted to the quirky;

Pair of cement, fungi-forest lamps from Harris Kratz Antiques

Benjamin Moore's Mushroom Cap (177)

Shroompers' Morella,
and Rosepe are the sweetest wool felt dolls, only 2-3" tall,
brought to life by Canadian artists Charlotte Kolff and Damon Langlois.
and splendidly lush.

Instead of creating realistic, botanical guides, Art Nouveau artists, like Maurice Pillard Verneuil,
looked to nature for ornamental patterns: sinuous, sumptuously-colored and imaginative patterns.
These specific plates from his 1897 L'Animal dans la Decoration pattern book
(Lucans et Champignons, above, and Oiseaux, below)
are in the permanent collection of the New York Public Library.
But you can purchase originals of your own from Grey Heron Prints in Georgia.
Walter’s favorite mushrooms are Meiji's Chocorooms… those bite-size crispy, cracker-like cookies covered in milk chocolate.
The Japanese confectioner makes similar sweets in chopsticks and tiny Christmas-tree cones, but Walter swears they just don’t taste as good.  There’s something about that mushroom shape, like an elfin umbrella or pixie parasol, that makes all the difference.

So munch on Chocorooms.  One at a time, please.  And add a few mushrooms to your home décor for a little fun, and lots of luck, in 2013.