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All Lifestyles Coverage

★ The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern and Ornament

I like to imagine the process of assembling the exquisite compendium that is The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern and Ornament. What a dizzying and delightful task! London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is home to one of the world’s largest collections of decorative and designed objects in the world, and in this tome, one can peruse thousands upon thousands of images adapted from the museum’s holdings. Spanning pottery, textiles, paintings, wallpaper, sculpture and pretty much any other patterned thing you can imagine, the contents are arranged into four categories—plants; animals; earth and the universe; and abstract patterns—with most pages featuring a grid of three or more images and a succinct set of captions identifying the source objects and their makers. As you page through swiftly or slowly, the effect is kaleidoscopic. It’s a veritable feast of patterns for the eyes and mind, full of color, intricate details and beautiful repetition. You’ll wish for two copies: one to keep and savor; one to cut up for collage art. Frankly, I’m besotted.

Sketch by Sketch

I recently purchased my first iPad and began exploring Procreate, a digital tool that, when paired with the Apple Pencil, opens one up to a new realm of two-dimensional artmaking. I’m finding a daily drawing practice to be a profoundly joyful and meditative pursuit. Sheila Darcey, founder of the SketchPoetic community on Instagram (@sketchpoetic), knows all about the therapeutic potential of low-stakes sketching, and in Sketch by Sketch, she encourages readers to try 21 exercises designed to help them dig deep internally and work through difficult emotions. Darcey doesn’t care how well you draw, and her exercises are not meant to build artistic skill. If you create something that makes you smile, all the better, but self-discovery, not technical mastery, is the goal. “This is not art,” she writes. “It is a visual learner’s version of freewriting.” Testimonials throughout from SketchPoetic acolytes demonstrate how the process has worked for others.

Snails & Monkey Tails

Speaking of details . . . it’s an interesting time for punctuation, isn’t it? Texting has completely upended the rules, such that a period now suggests a hostile vibe to some (my teenager confirms this), and even the meaning of certain emoticons seems to be shifting with the generations. But these symbols persist in print matter, and they are lovingly and fetchingly celebrated in Snails & Monkey Tails, graphic designer Michael Arndt’s spiffy salute to the “tiny designs that run interference among the letterforms.” If you don’t know what a grawlix is, you sure as $@%!* will if you read this book. Afterward, you may never call @ an “at” symbol again. Rather, try “little duck” as they do in Finland, or “cinnamon bun” like the Swedes. From silcrows to pilcrows to guillemets and the dinkus, Arndt’s book will up your word-nerd quotient, and it will do so with impeccable style.

Design takes center stage in this month’s lifestyles column, from intricate filigrees found in museums to the elegant curve of a silcrow.

New Native Kitchen

Perfect gift for: Your foodie spouse who loves gardening and open-fire grilling

In New Native Kitchen, Navajo chef Freddie Bitsoie, previously of the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, celebrates the cuisines of Indigenous cultures while respecting and revering “hyperlocal” regional distinctions in these foodways and traditions. Bitsoie, who came to cooking via cultural anthropology and art history, aims to tell “edible stories that allow people to appreciate the living artifact of food.” Here, with the help of James Beard Award-winning author James O. Fraioli, Bitsoie introduces readers to key elements of the Native pantry, such as nopales (cactus paddles), Navajo steam corn, sumac powder and tepary beans, many of which can be ordered online or found at specialty spice shops. From a sumac Navajo leg of lamb with onion sauce, to a Makah crab boil, to Choctaw bison chili, Bitsoie covers the vast North American continent and its islands in this important book.

Wild Sweetness

Perfect gift for: Your boho friend with a shortbread obsession

With full-page photographs of winter branches, gently wilting roses and foggy ponds, Thalia Ho’s Wild Sweetness is as much a moody evocation of nature’s evanescence as it is a sumptuous celebration of dessert. Grouped by season, the recipes range from comfy American standards like cinnamon buns and gingersnaps to frangipane tart and a fig clove fregolotta. All possess a delicate quality and some flower, spice or other ingredient redolent of the natural world. Cream seems a visual motif, showing up, for example, in a juniper ice cream, a frosted chamomile tea cake, a lemon curd streusel cake and amaretti. But deep, dark chocolate is at play too—in ganache thumbprints, drunken fig brownies and a beetroot mud cake, among others sheer delights.

À Table

Perfect gift for: The hip newlyweds next door with the adorable dog

Is anything sexier than a good French cookbook? Rebekah Peppler’s À Table reveals and revels in the charms of long, casual French dinners with friends, and Peppler leads with blithe wit as she shares a modern take on entertaining. (She won me over instantly with the words “Hemingway was a supreme ass” in a recipe for Chambéry cassis, an aperitif.) Women are at the center of Peppler’s vision, one in which we dispense with yesteryear’s formalities in favor of long, carefree nights of smart conversation, mismatched plates and zero pretension. Ouais, cherie. On to olives with saucisson and roast chicken with prunes! On to daube de boeuf and (vegan!) French onion soup with cognac! You’ll love the mellow-but-decadent vibe, even if you feel un petit peu jalouse of Peppler’s Parisian coterie.

Black Food

Perfect gift for: Cultural mavens, globetrotters and aesthetes

Chef and Vegetable Kingdom author Bryant Terry assembles a large all-star team for his glorious new Black Food, “a communal shrine to the shared culinary histories of the African diaspora.” I love this trend of cookbooks that are so openly ambitious, with essays and poetry, visual art and historical context, all of it standing strong alongside the food. Structured by themes such as motherland; Black women, food and power; and Black, queer, food—each with a corresponding playlist—this vibrant, immersive book pulls from many foodways and regions of the globe, with Black chefs, intellectuals and tastemakers leading the way. We encounter dishes as diverse as Somali lamb stew, Bajan fish cakes, Ghanaian crepe cake, vegan black-eyed pea beignets and, at last, for the perfect finish, Edna Lewis’ fresh peach cobbler. Terry also shares a recipe for Pili Pili oil, which adds an herbaceous, spicy kick to anything you drizzle it over.

Tables & Spreads

Perfect gift for: Your sister-in-law who loves to host and is always leveling up

I am not a big entertainer, but I love a good snack-meal. And there’s something delightful about artfully arranging a table full of nibbles for guests: curious cheeses, spiced nuts, tangy jams, decadent dips and a handful of rosemary sprigs plucked from the garden. Whether this sounds fun, anxiety-producing or a bit of both, Tables & Spreads is here to help you party. Shelly Westerhausen, master of Instagram-worthy tablescapes, shares themes for every occasion, from dips for dinner, to a savory focaccia party, to a Christmas morning Dutch baby party. Special attention is given to what Westerhausen dubs the “wow factor”: decorative and mood-setting details such as color themes, decanters and candles of varying heights, along with floral arrangements. Informational charts abound with practical assists; my favorite may be “Portioning a Spread,” right down to tablespoons of dip or pieces of crudites, so you don’t over- or under-buy.

This holiday season, whether you’re hosting or showing up with a single covered dish, let one of these outstanding cookbooks be your guide.

★ Tarot for Change

Times being what they are, an uptick in conversation around self-care and coping with grief feels appropriate. We’re all, it seems, looking for ways to make sense of, or at least soften, our experience of the everyday, and in this climate, interest in the ancient practice of tarot is resurgent. I’m among the curious dabblers who are digging deeper, and I’m glad to learn from Jessica Dore’s Tarot for Change: Using the Cards for Self-Care, Acceptance, and Growth. Dore, a licensed social worker, roots her study of tarot in psychology, but she also pulls from folk traditions, personal anecdotes, mythology, literature and much more for a depth-charged exploration of the major and minor arcana. Tarot, her book suggests, deserves to be seen as a therapeutic modality like any other. “Efforts to boil the study of the soul down to a science have led to great strides in the treatment of mental illness,” she writes, “but have relegated mystery and magic to the edges.”

Edible Flowers

I knew one could make jelly from violets and sprinkle nasturtiums into salad, but I had no idea just how many flowers were safe to consume until I cracked open Edible Flowers: How, Why, and When We Eat Flowers, which showcases more than 100 nourishing blossoms—and that’s counting only specimens from North America and Europe. But let’s not get hung up on stats. The key word for this gorgeous book is, as author Monica Nelson puts it, immersive. Color photographs by Adrianna Glaviano capture the striking presence and ephemerality of each bloom, and along with enticing recipes and historical and cultural context (“In Ancient Egypt, [calendula] was considered the ‘poor man’s saffron,’” for example), there are short essays by contemporary writers, summoning the reader deeper into the flower-eating experience. Even the petite trim size is by design, “allowing the book itself to also be lived with.” This one is a true sensual experience between two covers.

The Cocktail Workshop

Many boozy-beverage books have come this column’s way in recent years, but the clarity and spiffy organization of The Cocktail Workshop caught my attention and didn’t let it go. I’m an amateur when it comes to mixology, so the “first, the basics” approach holds appeal. Yes, please do give me the how-to (and nerdy details!) of classics like the Manhattan, margarita and Negroni. Not that connoisseurs won’t also find much to love here: The recipes grow far more complex with spirit-swapping, homemade tinctures and flaming garnishes. For each of 20 stable “banger” drinks, you’ll learn three spinoffs, plus a “workshop” recipe for the extra-ambitious. Mix a perfect martini, say, then try a vesper or a bijou before graduating to brewing your own vermouth. Or just, you know, splash some bubbly, seltzer and Aperol in a glass and call it a spritz.

Tarot cards, check. Flower-garnished salad, check. Negronis, check. This month’s lifestyles column has all the ingredients for a lavish night in.

Like il timpano, the enormous layered pasta pie that starred in the 1996 movie Big Night alongside Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci, the latter’s new memoir, Taste: My Life Through Food, is a gastronome’s delight. It has piquant surprises tucked inside and will leave readers both sated and wanting more.

When it comes to Tucci, fans always want more. The award-winning actor and bestselling cookbook author was considered a standout guy even before his swoony Negroni tutorial video went viral at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. He’s known for scene-stealing roles in movies like Spotlight and The Devil Wears Prada, as well as in foodie films like Big Night and Julie & Julia

And like Julia Child before him, Tucci’s chef skills are as impressive as his boundless passion for eating. Such is the life of a gourmand, which he revels in and reflects on in Taste. The author takes readers on a grand tasting tour, from his childhood in Westchester, New York, to his 1980s New York City acting debut to bigger roles in major movies made around the world, where he always dined with gusto.

Tucci is quite opinionated about food. Well-placed “fuck”s signify outraged incredulity (e.g., an adult “cutting their spaghetti!!!!!!!” or the travesty of turkey in an alfredo) and offer hits of hilarity throughout. There are also dramatic renderings of memorable conversations, like the gasp-inducing time a chef told him, “I make a stock . . . of cheese.” 

He shares serious stories as well, like the pain and grief he and his family felt when his late wife, Kathryn, died in 2009, and their joy and hope when he married Felicity Blunt in 2012. He writes, too, about his recent cancer diagnosis and treatment, a grueling experience during which he had a feeding tube and worried “things would never return to the way they were, when life was edible.”

Thankfully he is now cancer-free, and via the artfully crafted recipes Tucci includes in Taste, readers can join him in celebrating food and drink once again. Under his tutelage, they might even dare to construct and consume their own timpano.

Like the enormous layered pasta pie that starred in the 1996 movie Big Night, Stanley Tucci’s new memoir is a gastronome’s delight.

If you think minimalism is a one-size-fits-all lifestyle and aesthetic, you clearly haven’t encountered Christine Platt, known on social media as the Afrominimalist. In her clearly written, approachable guide, The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living With Less (5.5 hours), Platt traces her journey—including plenty of initial resistance and more than a few missteps—toward deliberately choosing to live with fewer objects. The author’s calm, careful narration is both relatable and ressuring, and it’s punctuated by real-life, sometimes humorous anecdotes delivered by a cast of additional narrators. 

Platt’s guidance is enriched by sections titled “For the Culture,” in which she acknowledges how the history of racial oppression and systemic racism has, in many ways, made Black and other historically marginalized people of color more vulnerable to overconsumption and conspicuous consumption. She also notes that the Scandinavian aesthetic that permeates most mainstream minimalist guidebooks doesn’t come close to representing everybody. Platt’s friendly, flexible approach urges listeners to embrace a minimalism that celebrates cultural heritage and comes in all colors.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of print edition of The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living With Less.

Afrominimalist Christine Platt’s calm, careful narration of her journey toward living with less is both relatable and reassuring.

A single whiff of a truffle can be nearly intoxicating. Depending on the variety, the inhaler might detect notes of garlic, fried cheese and gym socks (white truffles) or pineapple and banana (a young Oregon black). And one person sniffing may find those aromas enticing, while another might not understand the fuss.

Those fragrances, and the allure of the fungi that produce them, left James Beard Award-winning food writer Rowan Jacobsen (A Geography of Oysters) drunk on truffles and determined to learn all he could. Jacobsen spent two years traversing the globe in pursuit of not only truffles but also the stories of people who hunt and sell them. 

The result is Truffle Hound: On the Trail of the World’s Most Seductive Scent, With Dreamers, Schemers, and Some Extraordinary Dogs, an engaging work that blends history with travel and food writing. Jacobsen follows his nose and curiosity across Europe and back to North America, while considering studies that extend even farther. He meets hunters and farmers whose livelihoods depend on the elusive tubers, and along the way he challenges truffle myths. For example, they grow far outside of the Mediterranean region that’s most often credited for them.

Jacobsen delves into the sometimes twisting history of this food, as well as into the science that makes truffle farming possible. Even as he examines the fungi’s complex history and analyzes questions about who gets access to truffles, Jacobsen’s writing remains accessible, unlike the costly object of his desire.

Truffle Hound is a compelling story, but Jacobsen doesn’t leave readers empty-handed when the tale ends. The book also includes a glossary of truffle types, resources for acquiring your own truffles and recipes for after the decadent fungi arrives. It’s an appropriate finish to a delicious book.

Intoxicated by truffles and determined to learn all he could, Rowan Jacobsen spent two years traversing the globe in pursuit of this elusive, decadent fungi.

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