Monday, May 25, 2015

The River Cottage Curing and Smoking Handbook by Steven Lamb

book cover
The River Cottage
Curing and Smoking Handbook
by Steven Lamb

ISBN-13: 9781607747871
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Released: April 14, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Blogging for Books.

Book Description, Modified from Inside Cover:
This accessible, compact guide is bursting with essential information for sourcing, butchering, smoking, and curing the whole hog, cow, chicken, fish, and vegetable. Steven Lamb, a respected charcuterie authority, breaks down the traditional methods of curing and smoking to their most simple procedures, with abundant visual resources and 50 recipes.

This thorough, timely handbook begins with a detailed breakdown of tools (from sharp knives to sausage stuffers, for the gadget-loving cook) and an explanation of the preservation process, including a section on which cuts are best for various methods of curing and smoking. Lamb then dives into each method--from dry-curing to fermentation, brining to smoking--in a straightforward, comprehensive manner. And for each technique, there are many delicious recipes, including chorizo Scotch eggs, hot smoked mackerel, prosciutto, and dry-cured bacon.

My Review:
The River Cottage Curing and Smoking Handbook is a "how-to" book on curing and smoking your own meat. The author spent 133 pages on the how-to aspects and 113 pages on the recipes (which contained further how-to information), so this isn't just a cook book in disguise. I appreciated that he described ways to cure and smoke meat using equipment we may already have rather than sending us off to buy a lot of expensive tools. He did provide information on buying if you prefer to buy specialized, ready-to-use equipment.

The information was presented in a way that made me feel like I understood what would be going on during the process and that it was something I could do--and do safely. The author lives in England, but the book has been modified so that Americans can use it without having to convert everything. However, Americans will have to find a locally available brand of no-additives salt and so on rather than just use the exact same things that he does.

The book contained some step-by-step pictures with the recipes and in the section on butchering. There were also pictures of different types of cured and smoked meats, of the equipment, and to illustrate the curing and smoking methods. Many of the recipes focused on pork, but there were some for other meats, fish, and a few for vegetables and for cheese.

I have some minor experience with butchering and have seen some of these things done in person or on video. Overall, I'd say this was a good book for someone like me--someone familiar with these ideas but who needed the details before trying it for themselves.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bourbon Empire by Reid Mitenbuler

book cover
Bourbon Empire:
The Past and Future of America's Whiskey
by Reid Mitenbuler

ISBN-13: 9780670016839
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Viking
Released: May 12, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Unraveling the many myths and misconceptions surrounding America’s most iconic spirit, Bourbon Empire traces a history that spans frontier rebellion, Gilded Age corruption, and the magic of Madison Avenue. Whiskey has profoundly influenced America’s political, economic, and cultural destiny, just as those same factors have inspired the evolution and unique flavor of the whiskey itself.

Taking readers behind the curtain of an enchanting—and sometimes exasperating—industry, the work of writer Reid Mitenbuler crackles with attitude and commentary about taste, choice, and history. Few products better embody the United States, or American business, than bourbon.

A tale of innovation, success, downfall, and resurrection, Bourbon Empire is an exploration of the spirit in all its unique forms, creating an indelible portrait of both bourbon and the people who make it

My Review:
Bourbon Empire is a history of American whiskey with a focus on bourbon. The author covered why American farmers originally made whiskey, how it developed, how companies survived (or didn't) the Prohibition, and on through to the modern "craft whiskey" movement. We learn how whiskey is made and marketed, and what influences its taste for better and for worse. I've never tasted whiskey, but I felt like I had a good idea of what they taste like based on his descriptions. And if I ever try whiskey, I now have some idea of what might match my tastes at a price I can afford.

The book is written in a conversation tone with interesting stories. It held my attention from beginning to end. Overall, I'd recommend this book to people interested in whiskey for its taste (and history) and to those who enjoy learning history through the stories of specific products.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How to Get Dressed by Alison Freer

book cover
How to Get Dressed:
A Costume Designer's Secrets for Making Your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing
by Alison Freer

ISBN-13: 9781607747062
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Released: April 14, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
Costume designer Alison Freer’s styling kit is a magical bag of tricks, built to solve every single wardrobe malfunction on earth. TV and film productions wait for nothing, so her solutions have to work fast. In How to Get Dressed, Alison distills her secrets into a fun, comprehensive style guide focused on rethinking your wardrobe like a fashion expert and making what’s in your closet work for you. She provides real-world advice about everything style-related, including:

Making every garment you own fit better
Mastering closet organization
The undergarments you actually need
The scoop on tailors and which alterations are worth it
Shopping thrift and vintage like a rockstar

Instead of repeating boring style “rules,” Alison breaks the rules and gets real about everything from bras to how to deal with inevitable fashion disasters. Including helpful information such as how to skip ironing and the dry cleaners, remove every stain under the sun, and help clueless men get their acts together, How to Get Dressed has hundreds of insider tips from Alison’s arsenal of tools and expertise.

My Review:
How to Get Dressed is about finding your unique style and making your clothing fit well. I love that she genuinely thinks that your body type is great--and it doesn't matter which body type you have. Instead of telling women to mimic the current fashion or her favorite style, the author encourages you to discover your own, unique style. Instead of telling you to buy expensive, uncomfortable clothes and underclothes to match the currently fashionable "look," she encourages you to get clothes that fit well and a tailor who can do some cheap alterations so that your clothes look great on you and you feel great in them. I love her general attitude and mindset.

The author discusses "fashion rules" and when they can be broken. She gives tips on how to deal with clothing emergencies (safety pins and toupee tape to the rescue! Plus how to get out any stain), how to find clothes that fit, what clothes can be cheaply altered to fit well if you like the style, and how to find good vintage clothing. She discusses proper care and washing of clothing, including when do you really need to use a dry cleaner. She tells how you can organize your clothing (including underclothes, shoes, etc.) in a way so that you can easily see everything you own. There's only one chapter on how men's clothing should fit, and the rest is focused on women.

Basically, she covered a little bit of everything clothing-related in an upbeat way. If you don't feel comfortable shopping for or in your clothing and don't know much about clothing care, this may be the book to help you.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Realism Challenge by Mark Crilley

book cover
The Realism Challenge:
Drawing and Painting Secrets from a Modern Master of Hyperrealism
by Mark Crilley

ISBN-13: 9780385346290
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Watson-Guptill
Released: May 5, 2015

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
A captivating, step-by-step guide that teaches artists to draw and paint exact duplicates of common objects, rendered in the trompe l'oeil, hyperrealistic style of artist Mark Crilley's popular YouTube video series.

With just watercolors, colored pencils, and white gouache, artist Mark Crilley takes you step-by-step through his process for producing stunning, hyperrealistic recreations of everyday items. The Realism Challenge contains thirty lessons demonstrating how to render mirror-like duplicates in the trompe l’oeil tradition of everything from shells, leaves, and candy bars to your very own still life arrangements. Each lesson builds off the previous one, as you’ll master essential artistic techniques like creating drop shadows, adding highlights, and building from light to dark. Learn the secrets of one of hyperrealism’s biggest stars.

My Review:
The Realism Challenge is a how-to art book on the hyperrealistic style of illustration. The author's step-by-step lessons use Bristol board paper, graphite pencils (usually just for the initial work), colored pencils (for color detail), and watercolor (for larger areas of color). He assumed that you're familiar with using graphite, colored pencils, and watercolor, but he also gave hints about how to get certain effects with them in case you're a beginner. You could probably get away with just colored pencils if you don't have or wish to use watercolor.

This book was very good at teaching the reader the skills needed to make hyperrealistic illustrations. Once learned, those skills can be applied to hyperrealistic illustration of any subject. He broke each step down enough that I could both understand and see what he was doing at that point in the illustration. I have currently completed some of the initial lessons/challenges, and my drawing has definitely improved.

I think this book would be a great help to anyone just starting with hyperrealism--or with any drawing, for that matter, as it forces you to really see the object you're drawing. It's appropriate for teenagers and adults as long as you have the patience to put in the necessary detail. And we're talking hours (though not necessarily all at one time) for the later projects.

The Challenges:
BLACK & WHITE: torn paper, crumbled paper, broken eggshell

BASIC COLOR: popcorn, sliced mushroom

BASIC TEXTURE IN COLOR: piece of cardboard, seashells, cookie

BRIGHT COLORS: Fall leaf, toast with jam

ADVANCED SURFACES: piece of porcelain plate, carved wood head, cut rose, folded lace doily, strawberries

TRANSPARENT OBJECTS: clear glass bottle, clear glass box, marbles (and a piece of string), clear plastic bottle, assortment of glass objects

METALLIC SURFACES: spoon, crinkled tin foil, rusted chrome hub, metal Christmas bell, assortment of metallic objects

MANUFACTURED OBJECTS: plastic turtles, torn envelope with stamps, metal salt and pepper shakers, candy bar with shiny packaging, assortment of all types

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: You can view a "Look Inside" this book at Amazon.