Late with my holiday preparations due to a friend’s serious illness, I’m just wrapping my head around making a big batch of Apricots in Cardamom Syrup and other food gifts as well as the few gifts I buy. Here’s are favorites — mostly books — that you still have time to mail-order.
We were thrilled to learn that a five-decade-spanning anthology of poems has at last been published, called Devotions $20. Oliver chose her favorite poems from her twenty-six books.
It has become our first-thing-in-the-morning reading, which we open at random to find ourselves deep in nature, and life.
I bought Flights by Olga Tokarczuk after reading a review in the New Yorker. It is a incredibly illuminating dazzler of a novel that is so impossible to describe, I offer these blurbs to point the way. I find myself opening it at random and ALWAYS finding something mind-blowing. $16.
“A revelation … Flights is a witty, imaginative, hard-to-classify work that is in the broadest sense about travel…. In this risky, restlessly mercurial book, [Tokarczuk has] found a way of turning…philosophy into writing that doesn’t just take flight but soars.” – NPR’s “Fresh Air”
“Her discerning eye shakes things up, in the same way that her book scrambles conventional forms… Like her characters, our narrator is always on the move, and is always noticing and theorizing, often brilliantly.” —The New Yorker
We keep a copy of Tantra Song by Franck Andre Jamme, propped open on our mantle, and have given it to many friends as gifts. The book is a rare collection of powerful modernist Tantric paintings from personal collections in Rajasthan, done on salvaged paper: “things of beauty used to awaken heightened states of consciousness.” The book, and the story behind it ia SO remarkable that it provides a resonating bang for $40.
Moominland Midwinter $7 is one of our favorite kid’s books, one of Tove Jansson’s beloved series about a family of Moomins, who are hippopotamus-like in looks, wise and eccentric in character. The Moomin stories take us far and are full of curious wisdom, like Too-ticky explaining the refrain of a song she wrote about a snow-lantern (above):
All things are so very uncertain, and that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured.
That one line is a very radical and daring approach to living. For kids AND adults.
The results from a mortar and pestle are incomparable to a food processor or blender, and we opt to use one whenever we can. They’re unfussy, functional, and classic. Good ones last a lifetime. One of our recent favorites is the Milton Brook Unglazed Mortar & Pestle $45-$65, which comes in a wide range of sizes. I recommend 6.5 inches and up for making sauces.
Around the holidays, we buy these sublime Bequet Sea Salt Caramels 5 pounds at a time, to divide into gift bags for the perfect holiday party gift. They’re the closest we’ve found to the real thing from France––handmade out of Bozeman, Montana.
Because it is essential these caramels be fresh, we’re sending you directly to Béquet to buy them. Buying them through Amazon is dicey; sometimes they’re fine and sometimes not so fresh.
The Donut Chef $8 is instant hit among little kids we know, by the great Bob Staake. A baker hangs out his sign on a small street, and soon the line for his donuts stretches down the block. But it’s not long before the competition arrives and a delectable battle of the bakers ensues…There’s a great fun riff on improvising and the messes and revelations that invariably occur.
A friend gave us The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse $14 last spring and we’ve opened to a poem in it almost daily since then. Pure illumination, with lots of the outdoors.
The Zen master and mountain hermit Stonehouse—considered one of the greatest Chinese Buddhist poets—used poetry as his medium of instruction. Near the end of his life, monks asked him to record what he found of interest on his mountain; Stonehouse delivered to them hundreds of poems and an admonition: “Do not to try singing these poems. Only if you sit on them will they do you any good.”
Ancient Trees: Portraits in Time, presents 60 astonishing images photographer Beth Moon made during fourteen years traveling the world photographing the most ancient living trees. She describes her work as “Portraits of Change. Portraits of Survival. Portraits of Time.”
It can be read as a sort of adult story book, due to the note on the history and origin of each tree that accompanies each rather magical image, many in remote parts of the world. Moon’s duotone photographs powerfully (and curiously) amplify the vitality of these remarkable trees. The images are interspersed with the occasional perfect poem. Ancient Trees: Portraits in Time is a deeply heartening book we will leave propped open, to keep in our field of vision as we go about our day. $39
It can be difficult to buy gifts for the food-o-philes who have everything, including great extra-virgin olive oils. So I’m always on the lookout for something the most likely won’t have had. My latest discovery is Duke’s Mayonnaise that every Southern person knows about but I came to only recently. Legend has it, it is the closest-to-homemade commercial mayo made, due to an extra egg in the recipe. And it’s true. Duke’s is the bomb. About $5/pint including shipping.