Recent posts with visuals

April 3, 2015

Beautiful books & buttered eggs

     "You look a little worried, Bunter," said his lordship kindly to his manservant. "Is there anything I can do?"
     The valet’s face brightened as he released his employer’s grey trousers from the press.
     "Perhaps your lordship could be so good as to think," he said hopefully, "of a word in seven letters with S in the middle, meaning two."
     "Also," suggested Lord Peter thoughtlessly.
     "I beg your lordship’s pardon. T-w-o. And seven letters."
     "Nonsense!" said Lord Peter. "How about that bath?"
     "It should be just about ready, my lord."
     Lord Peter Wimsey swung his mauve silk legs lightly over the edge of the bed and stretched appreciatively. It was a beautiful June that year. Through the open door he saw the delicate coils of steam wreathing across a shaft of yellow sunlight. Every step he took into the bathroom was a conscious act of enjoyment. In the husky light tenor he carolled a few bars of ‘Maman, dites-moi.’ Then a thought struck him, and he turned back.
     "My lord?"
     "No bacon this morning. Quite the wrong smell."
     "I was thinking of buttered eggs, my lord."
     "Excellent. Like primroses. The Beaconsfield touch," said his lordship approvingly.

~ Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter Views the Body

      Upon such occasions poor Mr. Woodhouse's feelings were in sad warfare. He loved to have the cloth laid, because it had been the fashion of his youth, but his conviction of suppers being very unwholesome made him rather sorry to see any thing put on it; and while his hospitality would have welcomed his visitors to every thing, his care for their health made him grieve that they would eat.
      Such another small basin of thin gruel as his own was all that he could, with thorough self-approbation, recommend; though he might constrain himself, while the ladies were comfortably clearing the nicer things, to say:
     "Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than any body. I would not recommend an egg boiled by any body else; but you need not be afraid, they are very small, you see - one of our small eggs will not hurt you. Miss Bates, let Emma help you to a little bit of tart - a very little bit. Ours are all apple-tarts. You need not be afraid of unwholesome preserves here. I do not advise the custard. Mrs. Goddard, what say you to half a glass of wine? A small half-glass, put into a tumbler of water? I do not think it could disagree with you."
      Emma allowed her father to talk - but supplied her visitors in a much more satisfactory style, and on the present evening had particular pleasure in sending them away happy.

~ Jane Austen, Emma

If cooking is more appealing than reading, click here to go directly to the recipes.
A well-written book and a delicious meal have much in common. The reader and the diner both experience intense pleasure, simultaneously relishing the moment and eagerly awaiting to see what will come next. The joy outlasts the event, continuing in memory, discussion and anticipation of a return, even though it is often impossible to recreate that initial sense of discovery and wonder. I always feel a pang of envy when recommending a great book to a friend - they will have the joy of reading it for the first time! A beautiful book cover, like a carefully plated dish, elevates the experience by engaging our senses.

Several years ago, Coralie Bickford-Smith designed new covers for literary classics from Penguin Books. Bound in broadcloth, the books immediately create a tactile connection. The embossed designs add a second textural layer - running your fingers over the imprinted cloth creates a immediate sense of satisfaction. The substantial tomes harken back to a time when a book was more than a temporary possession; it was something to be kept and cherished for many years.

The bright graphics feel incredibly modern and at the same time offer a perfect compliment to the venerable contents. The cover for Emma features the eponymous Regency chair; the color is evocative of the early 19th century cerulean blue, a greenish-blue tint that was the precursor to the Victorian sky-blue shade of the same name.

© Penguin Books Drawing room chairs. 1826. NYPL Digital Collection

The color was popular in both fashion and home decor. The desired hue was achieved with a copper-cobalt dye pigment; as the copper oxidized, the fabric would take on a greenish tint.
The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions, and Politics: No. XX. England, London, August 1810. LACMA Collections Online Source unknown
A quick side note: The fabric sample card on the left was included in the August 1810 issue of the Repository of arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, fashions, and politics, colloquially known as Ackermann's Repository, or, simply, Ackerman's. This publication was the Vogue of Jane Austen's time, setting the trends for architecture, fashion and literature. It would be fabulous if modern shelter magazines included fabric samples!

Ms. Bickford-Smith's designs for Austen's other works continue the period color scheme. The graphics feel inspired by fashionable Regency colors such as evening primrose (a deep, rich yellow) and coquelicot (a red so vibrant it was not permissible for well-bred ladies to wear it except in trimmings or accessories).
© Juniper Books LLC

Ms. Bickford-Smith's clever covers are not limited to period romances. The dark and moody design for Bram Stocker's Dracula features garlic scapes and flowers, a sly allusion to the antagonist's well-known allium allergy. The Hound of the Baskervilles cover is a seemingly innocuous collage of moth specimens; hidden in plain sight is a death's-head moth with its sinister skull-like markings - the friendly amateur entomologist who is concealing dark secrets.

© Penguin Books © Juniper Books LLC

In 2012, Open Road Media released new Kindle editions of the complete detective works of Dorothy L. Sayers, proving that an e-book can be just as charming as a leather-bound tome.
Cover art and design by Katrina Damkoehler
Between 1923 and 1937, Dorothy L. Sayers published a series of detective novels and short stories featuring the aristocratic sleuth Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey. Sayers herself led an extraordinary life - one of the first women to matriculate at Oxford University, she was a poet, playwright, translator and dedicated Christian scholar. Her life's work was the translation of Dante's Divine Comedy (unfinished at her death); her fame came from writing detective fiction.

Sayers' personal life reads like a great story - tempestuous affairs with writers and artists; an unexpected pregnancy, the illegitimate child left with relatives to be raised under an assumed parentage; an eventual happy marriage and, at the reading of her will, a posthumous revelation that her nephew was really her son (and sole heir). Sayers incorporated some details of her personal life into the Wimsey stories - a woman's unhappy affair becomes a plot thread that weaves through seven novels. This co-mingling of life and art flowed in both directions - although Sayers abandoned her last Lord Peter novel unfinished on the eve of World War II, she referred to him as a "permanent resident in the house of her mind" and said she found herself "bringing all her actions and opinions to the bar of his silent criticism"1.

Ms. Damkoehler's covers for the Lord Peter books perfectly capture the many aspects of the man himself in illuminating, exquisite detail. Lord Peter is a scholar, a dandy, a collector of fine wines and rare editions, a brilliant detective and a cosmopolitan man about town. His monocle is more than an distinguishing affectation - it is both a tool of the detective trade and a disguise which his lordship uses to hide his emotions. The witty use of garments gives clues as to the novel's when and where - linen suit for a summer at a seaside bathing resort; red tartan jacket and an argyle sweater for Scotland; a fur-trimmed coat for a winter drive through the Fenlands; hunting tweeds for a shooting party in Yorkshire in October. The designs make it clear that our hero is, along with other quests crucial to the plot, attempting to achieve sartorial splendor.
                                                                                                                                                                                         Click here to see larger images

Lord Peter is a gourmet with an unrivaled palate, but not a snob. He demands the best on his plate, be it perdrix aux choux or boiled peas - it does not have to be complicated, although it does have to be of the best quality and delicious. As his lordship himself put it: "I have never regretted Paradise Lost since I discovered that it contained no eggs-and-bacon.”2 His interest in food is so profound and self-evident in the novels that an entire book has been published on the subject. Sadly, it was missing the delicious-sounding buttered eggs. I have attempted to rectify this omission; you can judge the results for yourself.

Bunter's buttered eggs
This makes the most tender, creamiest scrambled eggs I have ever eaten, without any milk or cream.
It is important to use a non-stick pan, preferably one with a heavy bottom.

Per person:
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-3 teaspoons butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Put the butter and eggs into a cold pan. Place the pan on the lowest heat possible and start stirring. The eggs and the butter will first be broken, then form a homogenous mass.

As the eggs heat, they will start forming soft curds on the bottom of the pan. Stir the cooked egg up to the surface to ensure gentle, even cooking. Once the spatula leaves a clean mark on the bottom of the pan, sprinkle the eggs with a pinch of salt. For the first few minutes it will seem as if nothing is happening - keep stirring and resist the temptation to increase the heat!

If the egg curds are setting too quickly, remove the pan from heat for about 30 seconds and stir well before returning to the stove.
Cook, stirring continuously, until the eggs reach desired consistency, around 3 minutes. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and serve.

Serle's boiled eggs
Adapted from The Breakfast Book, an excellent addition to any cookbook shelf. The plate tip is from the chef extraordinaire Heston Blumenthal.

My perfect boiled egg has a well-set white and a warm, creamy yolk. The simple task of cooking a soft-boiled egg is complicated by fact that the albumen (white) has a higher setting temperature than the yolk. To solve this challenge what follows is not so much a recipe as a process description.
Bring a pot of water to a boil3. Exact amount of water will depend on the dimensions of the pot - the egg should be covered by at least an inch of water; it is better to use a larger pot if making more than one egg - the larger the water volume, the smaller the drop in water temperature when the eggs are added.

When the water comes to a boil,lower the heat to a simmer and place a small plate in the bottom of the pot - this will insulate the egg from direct heat. Using a spoon, gently lower the desired number of eggs into the pot. After 7 minutes (exact time depends on egg size and your personal preference), the white should be set and the yolk silky. If the egg is over or under for your taste, adjust the cooking time accordingly. Rinse under cold water to stop the cooking and serve, preferably with some buttered toast soldiers.

If you are interested in learning more about the process of designing a book jacket, Wired magazine published an interview with Peter Mendelsund, the artist behind the cheery yellow cover for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

1 Dorothy L. Sayers & Jill Patton Walsh, Thrones, Dominations, Author's Note.
2 Dorothy L. Sayers, Busman's Honeymoon, Chapter IV: Household Gods.
3 This is a perfect time to use an electric kettle, if you have one. It will be both much faster and more energy efficient than boiling the water on the stove.

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