Vij’s at Home: Relax, Honey [it’s vegetarian]

Goat Curry

Goat Curry at Rangoli photo by mellowfood @ Flickr (Creative Commons License)

One of the best meals I’ve had in a while was the dinner we had last summer at Vij’s Rangoli in Vancouver, at the very end of our honeymoon. Rangoli is the more casual sister restaurant (which also sells prepared meals to take home) of the elegant Indian restaurant Vij’s; both restaurants are owned and operated by Vikram Vij and his wife Meeru Dhalwala. Vikram Vij also writes occasional articles for the Globe and Mail newspaper, including recipes, like this one for Boatman’s Curry.

What made our meal at Rangoli so good? We love love love Indian food, but that’s not why. It was because it was really really really good Indian food: the ingredients were fresher, the flavours were more interesting, and the combinations of dishes were satisfying and varied. One of the things I liked about the restaurant was the fact that, unlike in many Indian restaurants, you ordered a combination plate, with, for example, black chickpea pakoras, rice pilaf, and portobello mushrooms in creamy curry, or, quinoa salad, spicy beet greens and a lamb kebab, instead of ordering a number of dishes accompanied by plain rice. We still shared tastes of each other’s dishes – my husband and I were treating his aunt to dinner, which meant we sampled 9 dishes all together, I believe – but I liked having the preset combinations because a) the chef is probably better at picking combinations of flavours than I am and b) it meant that our starchy side dishes were more interesting than plain rice, and that the flavours of the pilafs, potatoes, grains, etc. could complement the other dishes.

So, you can imagine I was pretty excited to discover Vij’s at Home: Relax Honey: The Warmth and Ease of Indian Cooking on the new books shelf at the Madison Public Library (here’s the catalog record, FYI).

This cookbook is even better than I expected. The recipes range from dead easy to fairly uncomplicated, there are lots of interesting tidbits included about ingredients (especially spices) and life and business at the restaurant (including recommendations from the kitchen staff, who seem to be mainly, if not entirely, Punjabi immigrants to Canada who come from smaller villages than Vikram and Meeru, and therefore have different ideas about food). The couple has two daughters, who also appear in the book, along with some of their favourite dishes, including a really yummy-looking butter-chicken oven-fried schnitzel with dipping sauce. I also really enjoyed reading about Vikram and Meeru’s life at home, which appears to be more family-oriented and relaxed than the average restaurant power couple’s. The book opens with a quite evocative description of how Vikram and Meeru’s decision to turn their study/playroom nto a proper dining room had a powerful affect on their approach to both family meals and entertaining. But, I have a bone to pick here: there’s no proper photo of the dining room in question!

But that’s a small quibble, really, and it just serves to show how readable and friendly this book is. I think the strongest aspect of the book is the balance it strikes between teaching you how to make straightforward Indian specialties, and introducing you to new ideas, techniques, and ingredients. The result is food that is “Indianish,” while taking advantage of the excellent ingredients (especially seafood and produce), that is available locally in Vancouver. We’ve joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm-share for the summer, so our vegetable supply these days is quite varied; Vikram and Meeru also rely on a CSA to supply some of the produce for their restaurants, and the cookbook includes recipes to help you use up seasonal supplies like beet greens, celeriac/celery root, and less-than-perfect apples. It’s also really helpful that each recipe includes a “Serve With” suggestion that will help you to make good combinations like they serve at Rangoli.

Madhur Jaffrey in her Quick and Easy Indian Cooking, Vikram and Meeru also suggest that you use a pressure cooker for some of their recipes, particularly meat curries made with tougher cuts like goat. We don’t have a pressure cooker, and we eat vegetarian at home, so I’m unlikely to try out this suggestion, but I have to admit I’m intrigued by the idea of cooking dried chickpeas in a matter of minutes rather than hours! If anyone has used a pressure cooker to cook pulses or curry, please let me know in the comments! My parents did often use theirs to cook beets (another time-consuming vegetable to cook), and to make beef stew, which is not far from curry as cooking methods go.

These are the recipes from this book I want to try:

roasted eggplant raita
beet greens sauteed in ginger, lemon and cumin
cuuried deviled eggs
quinoa salad with lentil sprouts
portobello mushrooms with red bell peppers and creamy curry
rapini and shitake mushroom curry
black chickpea pakoras
eggplant and navy beans in kalonji and tamarind curry

I’ll definitely keep you posted on the results!

Loading EPUBs (including converted PDFs) onto your e-reader using Calibre

[this post is a follow-up to my post about converting PDFs to an e-reader friendly format using Calibre ebook management software]

Once you’ve got all your ebooks organized, with PDFs converted to the EPUB format, the next step is to load them onto your e-reader. I actually found this a bit confusing the first time I did it (it’s not actually hard – I just couldn’t figure out where to click when!), so I took some screenshots for you.

The first step is to plug in your e-reader. Check to make sure that it is loaded properly: my Kobo Touch shows up as an external drive in Finder when it’s properly loaded, looking like a USB drive, iPod or other external device.

It might take a few seconds for Calibre to recognize your device. When it does, it will let you know:

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(This notice will disappear quite quickly after it pops up, which I find a little frustrating). Once your device is loaded, you will see a “send to device” button in the top toolbar:

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Select the files you wish to send to your device, and click “Send to Device.” It will take a few seconds for the material to be loaded.

To check that your files are properly loaded, you can click on “Device” (next to “Library”) in the top toolbar, and you can view all the files on your e-reader:

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Unplug your e-reader and get reading!

Also, as this screenshot shows, it’s possible to convert PDF knitting patterns as well, although I’ve found that the results are somewhat more hit-and-miss than with articles and books, probably because designers (rightfully) add more white space and special formatting to PDF knitting patterns to facilitate readability. When the conversion does work, though, it can save you from lots of squinting at instructions:

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I hope these instructions are helpful! Although I originally conceived this little tutorial idea when I received a free PDF advance copy of Bowling Avenue, which is now available in non-PDF format for Kindle, Nook, and good old-fashioned paper, I realized that it might be useful and interesting for readers who are more generally interested in cleaning up and organizing their PDFs. I’ve certainly found it a godsend for storing and reading academic articles on the go.

If you like reading news on your ereader, you might also want to check out this article on ProfHacker about Calibre’s “News” feature as well.

Convert PDFs to a more pleasing format for your ereader using Calibre

(before getting to the meat of this post, can I just say that ebook readers need to be shipped with at least two extra charging cords? Or, better yet, may I suggest that someone should invent, if they haven’t already, just one cord  that would charge my laptop, my iPod, my cellphone, if I had one, and my ereader? In any case, apologies that my posts on Bowling Avenue, by Ann Shayne are so egregiously behind schedule. and now, on to our regular tech-nerd-lite programming)

Way back at the beginning of May, David Pogue of the New York Times made an offhand remark in a column about the new Sony e-reader stating that the problem with e-readers today lies in the incompatibility of formats, which means that you are limited to reading only Nook-formatted books on your Nook, Kindle-formatted books on your Kindle, etc. If you want to know more about whether this is, or is not, true, I’ll direct you to Pogue’s follow-up article, linked above. (short version: it’s true with commercial e-books that have embedded Digital Rights Management technology, which is most of them).

It is, however, possible, and fairly easy, to convert PDFs to the more ebook-friendly EPUB format, and then read them happily on your ereader, with the ability to manipulate font-size, add virtual post-its, mark your place (I don’t know about other e-readers, but when you bookmark a page on your Kobo touch, it folds down the corner little piece of virtual paper, leaving a triangular dog-ear, which I find very pleasing), and all the other things that e-reading allows.

Why would I want to convert PDFs to EPUB format? Well, in my case:

    • scholarly articles are widely available as PDFs, and I have to  choose to read many many articles in order to choose the ones I want my students to read, but PDFs are very unpleasing to read on my Kobo, and printing out 50 articles is a pain and a waste of paper, and since I like to read on campus/in coffee shops, I’d have to lug around a big binder everywhere, because I am too scatterbrained to manage individual articles without losing random sections of them everywhere. The ereader makes my life easier,* and, I hope, my course readings better.
    • and, secondarily but not unimportantly, I have in my inbox a 267-page PDF “Freeola” copy of this summer’s most highly anticipated Nashville-based real estate flooding-related chronicle of human drama, complete with knitting subplot and artisanal letterpress cover design and I’d like to be able to read in on my e-reader without printing it out.

Important note: This book is now for sale in several pleasing non-PDF versions, including Kindle, Nook book, and print-on-demand paperback here , so this process won’t actually be necessary to read it, but this tool is so handy for those who deal with a lot of PDFs that I thought I’d use Bowling Avenue as a good example to demonstrate it! Thanks again to Ann Shayne for sending me the freeola PDF.

So, to convert all those PDFs on my reading list into the EPUBformat, and load them onto my Kobo, I use
Calibre, an ebook management software that’s free to download for both Macs and PCs. I find it a lot more useful and easy-to-use than either the software provided by Kobo, or Adobe Digital Editions.

Once you’ve downloaded and installed Calibre (shown here on Mac OS Lion), you will be prompted to choose which type of e-reader you are using:

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This is really all the set-up that’s required, and then you can get on with organizing your ebooks, including converting PDFs, adding tags and other metadata, and loading them onto your ereader.

To convert PDFs, first click on the “Convert Books” button in the toolbar:

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Choose the PDF file from the folder where you saved it (your desktop, downloads folder, etc.):

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and then check to make sure that the “Input format” is set to PDF and the “Output format” is set to EPUB. You can add tags and fix the author and title information before you convert the file as well (Note: this is not actually the cover of Bowling Avenue: it’s a dummy cover that I added to the book by mistake)

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Press OK to start the conversion process, and wait for the “Jobs” status doohickey in the bottom corner to indicate that the processing is complete:

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The first time I did this with the Bowling Avenue file, the word-wrapping in the EPUB version was not correct, so I decided to try out the “Heuristic Processing” option offered by Calibre. Basically, what this function does is try and guess what the perfect formatting for your PDF will be in order to make it most easy-to-read and nice-looking in the EPUB version:

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This worked very well, leaving only a few minor formatting flubs in the final version. You can check how your EPUB will look on your e-reader by opening the file in the Calibre e-book viewer:

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In the next post, loading your converted PDF-to-EPUB file onto your ereader. . .

* It’s important to note that if you are using this process to convert articles in PDF format, it will not work well (or not work at all) with PDF scans of older journals, because, for want of a more elegant explanation, these scans behave more like photos than like textual files. I haven’t made an extensive study of why some articles work and some don’t, and the process isn’t hard or particularly time-consuming, so you might as well try it out and see what happens.

Little Free Library catalog #2 – Willy St. Co-op

This is the Little Free Library I peruse most often: it’s right outside the Willy Street Co-op on the east side of the isthmus in Madison. The little library box-on-a-stick is the typical model: less fancy than the two-story fancy one in my last LFL post.

LFLJennySt2

When I checked this one out, on May 15, to be exact, it contained quite a variety of reading material. Not surprising at all, considering the fact that it’s located in one of Madison’s more eccentric neighborhoods (local trends include Tibetan prayer flags, front-yard veggie gardens, and hanging your baby swing from your front porch so you can sit and chat with your neighbors while your baby sails out over the flowerbeds). What was surprising was the fact that this Little Free Library has a blisteringly fast turnover. I walk past it at least once a day, and every day the selection is different. The books I found in it on May 15 had all been replaced within a few days. Does the C0-op replenish them (there is also a “take-a-book, leave-a-book” shelf inside the Co-op store), or is it all passersby?

LFLJennySt1

 Here are the details:
5 issues of Spin magazine

The Amateur American, James Saunders Elmore

Simon & Schuster handbook for writers, Lynn Quitman Troyka

The challenge of local feminisms : women’s movements in global perspective 

Pretty little things

Reversible errors

Human natures : genes, cultures, and the human prospect

Next up in this series, a Little Free Library on (two) wheels.

A book, or just a thicker magazine?

When it’s hot outside, and my brain needs some rest, I sometimes think I need to read a magazine. And often I do – a few weeks ago, for example, I read the May 21st issue of the New Yorker, which was particularly jam-packed. I was especially fascinated and touched by the story in that issue about the career and death of the Kenyan Marathon runner Samuel Wanjiru.

But often, I have to say, I don’t find magazines very satisfying. Too many ads, too few articles, too much of same-old, same-old. Although I have to say that I almost always buy the Oprah Magazine before going on long trips, I am getting sick and tired of being told by Dr. Oz how anti-oxidants will change my life, and Oprah’s mixed messages are annoying: am I supposed to be content with what I have, or am I supposed to buy more stuff?

(Note to self: I should probably read Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk)

So, what to do when you’re too hot and tired to read anything longer than 20 pages, but you can’t stand to buy a magazine? Short stories work for some (and I can recommend The Penguin Book of Summer Stories as a start). But this weekend, I read non-fiction instead: A.J. Jacobs’ Guinea Pig Diaries, which is a compilation of humorous essays about various experiments the author has tried on himself. The experiments include

  • being as rational as possible for a month (which Jacobs defines as avoiding cognitive biases)
  • acting like George Washington for a month (by following the list of 110 Rules of Civility, compiled by Jesuit instructors, on which Washington was known to model his behavior
  • outsourcing tasks in both his personal and professional life to two women working for companies in Bangalore (Jacobs  notes that his article on the subject preceded the enormous popularity of the 4-Hour Workweek craze
  • posing nude for a magazine
  • doing everything his wife desires for one month
  • “living as a woman” – or so the book cover claims
  • uni-tasking for one month, while musing on Nicholas Carr’s article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

Of all of these tasks (and I’m sure I’ve missed a few), the only one which failed to either make me laugh and think a little (mainly because I was too annoyed) was Jacobs’ quest to “live like a woman.” This is misleading – Jacobs simply spent a month collaborating with his single, 27-year old babysitter (who, he reminds us repeatedly in a way that even he acknowledges might be a little creepy, is very attractive) in her quest to find a boyfriend through online dating. Sorry, A.J., or more likely, A.J.’s publisher, if all that “living like a woman” entails is a stream of mild rejection, some embarrassment and a whole lot of complimentary emails from men, sign me up. It’s a bit more complicated than that.

Jacobs does get into a few more of these complications, in fact, in the essay for which he did everything his wife desired for a month. He acknowledges (as does his wife, in an interesting coda), that the most eye-opening moment of this experiment came when the couple sat down, and Jacobs’ wife simply wrote down every household task she completed every week. Surprise! She was working the second shift. As a person who is lucky enough to read reference books and talk about information behavior for a living, I also found Jacobs’ chapter on multitasking, or the avoidance thereof, to be both funny and extremely interesting. Mostly, though, it just made me feel incredibly focused. I don’t, for example

  • watch TV while eating dinner
  • listen to the radio in the shower
  • do anything except knit or surf the web while talking on the phone (my husband and I, to the shock of some of our friends, own a landline phone, just one, that plugs into the wall, without a portable handset, as our primary phone, and rarely use our (one) cellphone)

That being said, I could connect to, and laugh at, Jacobs’ essay on multitasking because I have struggled with focusing my attention and with decisions about where work begins and “not-work” begins (I am, after all, a librarian writing a book blog “for fun”). The themes examined in all of these essays, whether superficially or occasionally a little more deeply, are ones that will interest most readers: how do I work? how do I relate to my family? how do I treat my spouse? what makes me unique? how do I feel about my body? am I a good parent? how do I think? how do I present myself to the world?*

Some might claim that this book is disjointed; the quality of the essays is certainly uneven. But for the price of 3 magazines (or none, if you get this book from the library!), you’ll get a satisfying reading experience. I should say, though, that if you haven’t read anything by A.J. Jacobs, I wouldn’t start with this book, and I would opt instead for The Year of Living Biblically, which, to my mind, is a much better book, because it allows Jacobs to explore one particular experiment (to follow biblical rules strictly for one year) at much greater depth, with deeper research and a more interesting personal transformation.

*(tip: George Washington presented himself to the world with his shapely right foot and calf extended, and never, never, never, wiped his nose on the tablecloth)

Out of Print Clothing, or Reason #342 why I Love Being a Librarian

I love being a librarian because . . .

I can wear a Harold and the Purple Crayon t-shirt to work whenever I want, and what’s more, my students (future librarians all) will give me compliments!

Harold and the Purple Crayon t-shirt - Out of Print Clothing

My Harold and the Purple Crayon t-shirt is one of two t-shirts I own from the excellent Out of Print Clothing, a company based in Brooklyn that sells t-shirts, sweatshirts and accessories (think tote bags and ereader covers) emblazoned with book covers; sometimes the cover is of the first edition of the book, sometimes of a later cover with interesting design. They’ve recently expanded their line of t-shirts based on children’s books, hence my new Harold t-shirt. I first saw these shirts in an extremely out-of-the-way coffee shop in Ucluelet, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and bought my first shirt, The Origin of Species last fall. The shirts are well-made and they fit stylishly, unlike a lot of other librarian/book-themed garb – the fit is slimmer than my radical militant librarian t-shirt made by local Madisonian Maureen O’Grady, which also rocks.

Hmm, is Charlotte’s Web next on my list of acquisitions? Or perhaps, in light of Maurice Sendak’s recent death, it might be time for In the Night Kitchen. Perhaps I could wear it while listening, again, to Sendak’s beautiful, funny and sad interviews with Terry Gross on NPR over the years.

Oh, and before I forget, for each t-shirt bought, Out of Print donates one book to Books for Africa, an established charity that aims to alleviate the book famine in Africa.

PS This is not a sponsored review, at all. I just love these t-shirts.

Listen [list]

Do you know about the RUSA Listen List?

I hadn’t heard of it until recently: it’s a new award established by the Reference and User Service Association of the American Library Association, to honor excellent audiobook narration. While it’s really difficult to see if you like the narrator of an audiobook until you actually listen, this list is still an excellent idea, I think. I especially like the way that “listen-alikes” for each book are suggested, so that if you enjoy the winner, you can find three more titles with a similar style or content.

I will admit that, compared to many people I know (especially knitters!), I’m not a huge listener of audiobooks. This is likely to do with the fact that my commute is only a short bus ride, if I do take the bus, and I often ditch the bus and ride my bike. But I think, also, that it’s because of the way that I consume text: I find it hard to maintain my attention while someone is reading a complex text (or giving a complex lecture), without having something to look at: it’s hard to explain, but I feel like I consume text in chunks, rather than in lines, and I like to be able to go back and forth between pages often as I read. That being said, I do enjoy audiobooks in specific situations, like during long car trips or when I have a tedious household task to complete. In fact, I first listened to Bachelor Brothers’ Bed & Breakfast while hand-sanding the finishing touches on a wall that my Dad had installed in my teenage bedroom!

I also know, from experience and from professional reading, that it can be difficult to find e-audiobooks to borrow from your public library, since they are often listed along with print ebooks in catalogs that can be hard to use. Here are a few of the titles on this year’s RUSA Listen List that I’m looking forward to taking out of my public library – I’ve linked each one to WorldCat, where you can enter your zip code or location and find a copy in a library near you.

All Clear by Connie Willis. Narrated by Katherine Kellgren

Bossypants by Tina Fey. Narrated by Tina Fey.

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley. Narrated by Dominic Hoffman.

Middlemarch by George Eliot. Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht. Narrated by Susan Duerden and Robin Sachs.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Narrated by Simon Prebble. Blackstone Audio.

One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde. Narrated by Emily Gray