Category Archives: What I’m Reading Right Now

It’s Simply Ramen Time

Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn

Monday: Teriyaki Beef-Wrapped Asparagus Ramen • Tuesday: Kabocha Ramen made with nutty winter squash and topped with mushrooms and arugula for a flavorful veges dish • Wednesday:  a trip to the sea with Southern Crawfish Ramen • Thursday: time to turn up the heat with spicy Chorizo Miso Ramen • Friday: Cheese Ramen, because cheese!

I consider cookbooks to be some of the most artistic books produced that also have a practical purpose. It’s terrific fun for me when I’m asked to review a cookbook. This week I’ve been having delicious fun with recipes from Amy Kimoto-Kahn’s debut cookbook SIMPLY RAMEN (Race Point Publishing 2016).

Cookbook author and blogger Amy Kimoto-Kahn

Cookbook author and blogger Amy Kimoto-Kahn

A cookbook that expertly focuses on one type of food—in this case, ramen—takes the home cook on a unique culinary journey. I often like such cookbooks because rather than being told to buy a bunch of ingredients to make one dish that I might cook once in a blue moon, I can learn how to prepare a type of food I like in lots of different ways. Being already acquainted with the originality and flair that Amy brings to a Japanese-American style of cooking, I was excited to learn that she was writing a ramen-centric cookbook.

I unabashedly confess to enjoying those ten-for-a-buck, salt-loaded packs of ramen I regularly bought as a college kid on a budget. Imagine my delight when I opened Amy’s beautifully written book and encountered the real deal: accessible ramen recipes, using healthful ingredients, that make it a pleasure to cook at home and feel better about what I’m eating or serving to family and friends. As a yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese-American), Amy merges contemporary and traditional foods and home cooking techniques and shows you how to make tasty ramen dishes prepared dozens of ways—from chicken to seafood, to spicy, to vegetable, to cold, to traditional recipes she learned in Japan.

She includes easy-to-learn recipes for soup bases and noodles that can be made ahead, dozens of flavorful toppings, and a bonus chapter of yummy sides, including tofu, rice, and even a Japanese rice cracker snack. Plus a ramen-yas tour of Tokyo at the end of the book offers a glimpse into the atmosphere and menu specialties of Japanese ramen shops. I’d tell you more, but it’s time to eat, and you can bet what’s for dinner. Here’s food for every night of the week and twice on Saturday! Simply Ramen is simply irresistible.

Amy Kimoto-Kahn is the creator of the website easypeasyjapanesey.com, which offers recipes, cooking tips, and stories. I can’t wait to see what she cooks up next!

XO Laurel Leigh

 

 

 

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Through a Distant Lens: Travel Poems

Hello from the Dogpatch!

My friend and mentor Dr. Alex Kuo (author of My Private China and the forthcoming shanghai.shanghai.shanghai) pointed me toward this poetry collection, and I’m so glad he did! Through a Distant Lens is one of those indie titles that launches with modest fanfare yet quietly and gracefully along the way promises to pick up more and more readers—this reader one of them—for its relatable, artful yet unpretentious poetry. Beautifully curated and arrayed, this assortment of travel poems is further enhanced by a sprinkling of gorgeous photography.

 

Through a Distant Lens

 

An invitation to “Depart” guides one into this eclectic collection of poetical musings, each piece navigating around the theme of travel, and with each of the four main sections prefaced by a striking black-and-white photograph evocative of the chapter’s overarching theme: A Buddhist Temple in the Himalayas opens the section entitled “Continental Drift; “Borders Less Defined,” the third of the quartet, is coupled with an approach view of Kells Priory in Ireland.

The book’s editor and publisher is Sheryl Clough, herself a well-published poet and essayist and founder of the Whidbey Island, Washington–based Write Wing Publishing. For this endeavor, Clough gathered the work of forty-six poets—the myriad voices offering singular definitions and experiences of journeys, from a memory of a boat trip on wind-blown Hawaiian waters to scatter the ashes of one’s brother to the hilarity of trying to maneuver the simple task of doing laundry in Dublin, Ireland. The layout of the book is accessible, letting the reader plot a straight course from cover to cover or simply thumb through and meander over land, on water, through the air and through time—en route finding beauty, surprises, angst, challenges, pain, and even joy in pain as in Sheila Nickerson’s “On Transplanting the Poppies,” commemorating both loss and gain of life.

Poet and Editor Sheryl Clough

Poet and Editor Sheryl Clough

“Funny how your mind takes you somewhere else,” Ann Curran’s “There, Not Here” [p. 5] comments at the opening, coaxing the reader to come willingly aboard this vessel of poem-stories to be carried away. The chapter “Continental Drift” drops the reader at India’s majestic Taj Mahal on one page, in the heart of an ancient Chinese dynasty on the next, then has one gazing off the Cape of Good Hope beholding a conspiring of life off the rocky headland. The poems filling this section gleefully dance among the continents, each most decidedly to its own tune while not only moving from place to place but between styles and perspectives. Diane Stone’s “Last Night’s Chicken Curry” [p. 14] delivers a vision of Nepal, distant and landlocked but easily reachable via the pleasing flavors and aromas of the recipe contained within this poem. Whereas Debra Marquart’s “Wild Thyme” [p. 24] is laugh-out-loud funny depicting the less-adventurous tourist compensating alongside her fellow intrepid explorers.

“In my rearview mirror Dallas fades. . . . Phoenix, where I am bound, materializes – / less like Brigadoon from Scottish mists, / than Petra carved from red sand” opines Ann Howells in “Moving On” [p. 28], the poem that opens the second main section, aptly christened “Snapshots from the Road.” Like “Odysseans, drunk on bliss,” to cull a line from Teddy Norris’s “Barging in Burgundy” [p. 43], the poems in this chapter invite the reader into a panoply of images and memories taken from the road. One encounters Marianne Patty’s touching image of “Our Lady of the Street” climbing “up the stairs of her broken world” [p. 29], jettisons back in time with Lois Parker Edstrom’s “Yellowstone Park, 1948” [p. 30], and then meets Gail Denham, who offers up a mix of memories married to that (in)famous war:

 

We had tea and succulent pastries at Betty’s

Café in York, a refuge for WWII airmen, where

they came to dance and forget war for an evening.

[“Treasured Journeys, A Memory Jumble, ” p. 38] Continue reading

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Living in the Great State of Lynch

There’s a conversation that’s been heard a lot over the years in these parts—that being upper Western Washington, near the Canadian border:

“Did you like Border Songs or The Highest Tide best?”

Note that there are built-in assumptions hard-wired into the DNA of any denizen of this rainy realm:

  • The listener has read both books by Jim Lynch.
  • The listener absolutely has an opinion.
  • If the listener agrees with the asker, both will nod smugly at their mutual rightness.
  • If the listener disagrees with the asker, it will be even more fun to argue the merits of each story, just like Norm and the professor hollering at each other across the ditch.

Truth Like the SunSince the publication of Jim’s third novel—yep, we call him “Jim,” because we feel like he is our author, in the sense that we live spittin’ distance from Border Songs’ setting on the Washington-Canadian border—the conversation widened to “Did you read/like/love Truth Like the Sun yet?” (There’s an awesome interview of Jim atop the Space Needle in Seattle.)

Again, some built-in assumptions:

  • The listener, like everyone around here, preordered book three and started reading it standing at the mailbox.
  • That Miles, Brandon, and Roger should probably have monuments built in the center of town (or the center of each town; arguably Roger does).
  • That having to choose a favorite among the books might be like admitting to loving one son/daughter more than his/her brothers/sisters—completely inappropriate yet sometimes done in secret.

Occasionally, some unfortunate soul admits in the barest of whispers to not having read one of the trio, or, god simply forbid, any of them. Far less often, someone blurts out awkwardly that they haven’t actually heard of Western Washington’s equivalent of a duke, at which point we refrain from scolding them outright because our mother taught us to be polite, but someone won’t be able to resist saying something like, “Were you kept underneath the stairs until recently, like those people in that creepy Wes Craven movie?”

Setting foot inside these borders—above or below the “ditch”—and remaining uneducated about the life and times of Brandon Vanderkool or Mr. Seattle is akin to living in San Francisco and never having been to MoMo’s. Some things just can’t and shouldn’t be forgiven. Picking up on the below stairs theme, and to help break any awkward silence, someone will then say that Jim Lynch has been known to write in his basement, at which everyone will nod knowingly, regardless of whether they knew that or believed it, but it just seems right. That will lead to fragments of knowledge and/or myth people presume to know:

  • His agent sold The Highest Tide when it was only half-written.
  • He wrote two other novels that he never bothered to publish; how cool would it be to read those, we say, reverently.
  • His next book (Before the Wind) involves sailing.
  • Oh yeah, he sails a lot, we say, as if we know exactly how much a lot is, but we know it’s enough that it’s gonna turn out to be another killer story.
  • (Read more about Jim on his website.)

Border Songs birdsAt any point, someone will inevitably yell, “Nineteen!” sending us all into peals of laughter, and god help the poor soul who doesn’t know and earns more pitying glances. There are inevitably a few showoffs in the party, who try to impress everyone by comparing Tom Robbins and Jim Lynch stylistically—well, we could compare snowflakes, too. It’s at least fair to say that both gentlemen dwell in the Pacific Northwest and have their own cult followings. Nonetheless, the comparisons often make for an extremely fun detour that can deteriorate to a lot of creative thumb waving and comparing to see who has the longest thumb—and there are also some overachievers who can name or have been to every locale used in the stories, sort of like this one woman I used to work with at the mental health center in Spokane who was an encyclopedia of Days of Our Lives and who could fill us all in on the lineage of relationships and feuds for the past decades of the show. This would occur during lunch in the quiet room, where we brought our lunch to eat and watched Days of Our Lives, and you guys don’t even begin to start laughing, because there were plenty of guys in that room who cared deeply about Bo and Hope.

“Speaking of which, do you think you know who and you know who will make it?” someone might ask.

The after story of Lynch’s characters is something we care about deeply. In a place where educated folks drop their g’s because they do, and socks and sandals make a weird kind of sense in the climate (having moved here from the SF Bay Area, I confidently double-dog dare you to resist more than three seasons), the zany ensemble of Lynch’s gives voice to the sort of experiences and issues that characterize us near-the-border dwellers and our frenemies to the north. Continue reading

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Say What?

Dogpatch dog pug faceHello from the Dogpatch. A while back, Amy Blackwood told us about her book club’s very unique take on book clubbing. Ever since, we’ve been after her to tell us more—and she did! Today’s post is courtesy of Amy, and we’d love to know what you think, because according to Amy:

It’s not about the book.

Is your book club feeling stale? Do you find you rarely ever talk about (or even read) the chosen book at your book club? Do you wish there was a way to liven up the evening’s discussion while still talking about great reads at your club’s gatherings?

Been there, my friend. Done that.

Don’t worry, there is hope for your book club yet! And I speak from experience.

WorkshelfYou see, I have a confession to make. I’ve never been very good at book clubs.

There! I said it. You all know my dirty little secret. And if you know me at all, you’re probably thinking, how can this be? Amy is an avid reader, working-at-it writer and hopeless bibliophile; book clubs should totally be her thing, right?

Bookshelves 029Wrong. And it kills me. I really want to be a great book club participant! I mean, I love everything about them. Let’s see, there’s wine, snacks, books, fellow book lovers, a kid-free evening to discuss grownup literature, wine … What’s not to love?

And really, I am excellent at certain aspects of the concept (see above). However, it’s the structure to which I could never fully commit: Read this book, talk about this book, pick next month’s book, repeat. I guess I found it a little stifling.

Dogpatch dog at Esprit ParkAnd yet, I tried. I joined clubs enthusiastically, even started a couple! I’d arrive promptly at the gatherings, chosen paperback duly tucked under arm (and wine bottle in hand), ready to discuss The Book with a group of intelligent, wonderful people who shared my love for all things literature. And every time the evening ended, I left feeling refreshed and energized, happy to have such a creative social outlet.

Except, wait … my eyes would drift to the novel in my hand (the wine bottle long emptied and recycled), and I’d realize: We hadn’t really talked about The Book.

Wasn’t that the whole point??

No, it really wasn’t. Deep down, it was not the main mission of our gatherings – it was all a (gasp) front! Although we all adored reading, we just weren’t that into talking about the selected title. Oh, we’d start out dutifully enough, paging through a few chapters (those of us who had managed to actually read the book, that is). But soon the conversation turned to other things, and we pleasantly chatted amongst ourselves about daily life and current events. No one seemed to mind that our book club never really lived up to its purpose.

Reading PileWhich is fine, we all need a little social time! But like I said, these likeminded ladies and I really did enjoy books and reading! We wanted to talk literature!

Then one night, it all came together. Continue reading

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Dammed if he does . . .

Dear Writers:

“Reading Alex Kuo is best done twice.” — Robert Wallace

With characters on opposite sides of the Pacific, Alex Kuo’s The Man Who Dammed the Yangtze  may have some of its readers on opposite sides of its equations.

Published last year by Haven Books, if one chases the various reviews of this  mathematical novel with doppelganger protagonists—some love it, some damn it!—it was laughingly mentioned to me by the man behind the math that a comment thread starts to emerge:

What does the math have to do with it?, or, I didn’t get the math. Continue reading

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Scavenging for Fuel

What fuels my writing process—aside from caffeine and chocolate? Sometimes I’m tempted to turn to books that are far too familiar or similar to what I’m writing. (And sometimes that is just what my process needs.) But I am often better served by books (or other media) that are “foreign” to me in some way. Whether it’s poetry, essays, science writing, or other nonfiction, books written by authors from another culture or country, new music, or art galleries, I think exploration “shakes things up,” allowing the unexpected to percolate through my subconscious and enrich my work.

For example, this past month or two, I’ve read (or have read portions of) the following: Continue reading

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StretchyHead

Love, love, love, this little book! Picked it up at Green Apple Books in San Francisco last night. The vignettes are set in, and inspired by, various SF pubs and eateries. From the back jacket: “Will the cocktails break your heart? Will the ice cream make you call your mother? Reviews are plentiful. Menus can be found online. But there is more to dining out than what arrives on the plate. Somewhere between making eye contact with the server and figuring out the tip, we fall in love, make plans to escape, dream of other worlds.” 

This work has been described as a blend of Richard Brautigan and Raymond Carver. 

Writing: Ian Tuttle

Illustrations: Jason Toney

Lovely book design: Megan Enright

If you don’t live in SF, you can buy it through PayPal. And no, I have not met the author, but he’ll be at The Stable in San Francisco for the Cincinnati Review Release Party on March 26, 2012.

 

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by | March 21, 2012 · 1:31 pm