Tag Archives: Books

Best Bets: Using Books as Home Decor

When we moved into the Chophouse about a year and a half ago, we were basically starting from scratch. We had moved around so much previously that we had accumulated very little furniture, and what we did have was in desperate need of replacement. Since then, we’ve been slowly figuring out how to fill up all this space.

Roommate moved in and brought his furniture, then moved out and took it away again, so we’re in the strange position now of having a completely bare living room, while at the same time being ready to put the finishing touches on most other rooms. In just about all of our rooms, those finishing touches are going to include books.

Books should fit into a living space organically, without dominating the room.

Incorporating books into design is nothing new, and there are any number of ways to go about it. Sites like Book Decor and Books By The Foot will even sell you books in bulk to suit any design aesthetic you like, from goatskin covers to shelves arranged by size or color, or even books wrapped in custom covers. Just don’t try to actually read them though, since they’re selected solely for appearance and may not even be in English.

We see this as a tacky, slothful solution, and prefer a more organic approach. Books should say something about their owner, and need to pull their weight in any design scheme by actually being functional. If it’s not something we’d want to pick up and idly look over on any lazy Sunday afternoon, then it’s just not worth having around.

Aside from the library of novels in our home office, we’re envisioning a few choice vegetarian cookbooks living in the kitchen. It’s nice to have some fresh ideas for dinner close at hand, and trying to double check something on a smartphone while three burners are going and your hands are sticky is never a good idea.

The wine rack in our dining room has shelf space on it as well, perfect for a couple of cocktail compendiums and a book or two on wine. After all, no home is really complete without a copy of Imbibe! or The Modern Drunkard, is it?

We’ve got some stubborn empty space atop the wardrobe, and we’re thinking the bedroom would be the ideal spot to house a collection of the Harvard Classics or a vintage encyclopaedia set, easy enough to acquire on eBay. We’ve also got two nightstands and have been thinking of a floating shelf or two, which would be perfect for stacking a couple first edition hardbacks.

Of course, we’re still pretty far away from putting finishing touches on the living room, but there’s no end to the possibilities. Here’s a few we think we could live with throughout the house:

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Best Bets: Stay Away From E-Readers

We’re not gonna lie… we’ve really been digging this living alone business lately. With roommate gone from the house for evermore, the daylight savings time in full effect, and the weather turning warmer by the day, this is a perfect day for lounging around the house reading all day.

For us, that means good old fashioned paper books and magazines. For someone who travels as much as we do, and is forced to pack several pounds of paperbacks on each trip, you’d think we would have been among the first to adopt a digital e-reader. We’re still holding out though, and will continue to hold out until the publishing industry gets its shit together.

A visual approximation of the Chop's home library.

In an increasingly technological age, vinyl record sales continue to increase even as CD’s prepare to settle into the nation’s landfills once and for all. A major contributing factor in the resurgence of the LP is the inclusion of digital download codes with virtually all new records sold. Just a couple short years ago, whatever prescient indie label thought to include download codes in LP’s was a brilliant leader. Now it’s an industry standard, and the absence of a free download code can make or break record sales.

We don’t see any reason (short of bald-faced greed) why the publishing industry can’t do the same thing. It’s shameful that all downloads are still in proprietary formats, although this is a separate issue entirely. We’d go out and buy a Kindle tomorrow if every download came with a free hard copy. Hell, we’d probably buy a Kindle, a Nook, and whatever else you like. We’ve always liked keeping books, though. So much so that we’ve over-filled our giant Expedit shelf, and are quickly running out of space on the two smaller Expedit versions in our office.

We’re not going to quit collecting real books any time soon. Nor are we going to buy a magazine’s mobile app when we already get it in the mail. But we look forward to that day in the future when every book in the store comes with a little scratch-off section in the back cover to conceal and preserve a download code. We’ll be staying away from e-readers until then, and would suggest everyone else do likewise.

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How to Stock a Home Bar, Part 2

Welcome back, Choppers. In yesterday’s post we went over the problems with most bar-stocking advice at great length. Today we’re back to give you some solid advice on how to get started on building a bar that even Churchill himself would be proud of.

We told you yesterday that collecting 30 good bottles of liquor would not be as expensive or as difficult as one might imagine. Make no mistake though… it’s going to take a while. If you happen to have a large lump sum to blow on booze that’s all to the good. Most of you though, will be wanting to spread the cost out over time, by adding one or two bottles a week.

These posts make a couple of assumptions about you, Gentle Reader. They assume that if you’re going to acquire a piece of furniture for specific use as a bar or liquor cabinet, then you actually like to drink. We assume you’re the type who comes home from work and has three drinks to unwind, and then has a friend or a couple over on Saturday for four drinks. (And if anyone ever asks you how many drinks you’ve had, they’re an uncouth bastard. You will not answer with a number higher than 4 under any circumstance.) It assumes you know what you like and what your friends like, and that your tastes have evolved beyond your college years.

As we hinted before, we believe 30 bottles is the ideal number for the well stocked home bar. Any fewer might just leave you wanting for something particular in the wee hours. Any more will almost certainly gather dust and hang around way too long. Let us be very clear about this though; that 30 does not include wine. 90% Of bar guide books will suggest putting a few types of wine on your bar, and this is just plain wrong. Wine goes on the wine rack. We also assume that you own a wine rack.

This is pretty much what your weekends will look like with a proper bar in your house.

So with the wine out of the way, you can break down your 30 bottles into 7 different categories, which can be purchased individually in turn in the order of their utility. A hard and fast rule of bar stocking is this: Never return from the liquor store with a free hand. meaning that you should be buying at least 2 bottles at a time. One is the everyday bottle you went to the store to refill, and the other is stock to be put by for the future. In this way, in about 7 months of weekly trips to the liquor store, you should have a very well-supplied bar at home.

The Staples… 6 bottles.

These are what you definitely need to be shopping for first. They are the basic 6 liquors that you’ll find in any bar anywhere. They’re your everyday go-to’s, your speed rail, if you will. Whiskey, gin, vodka, brandy, rum and tequila. These don’t need to be very expensive at all, since you’re going to run through them. You do want to stick to name brands though. We’d recommend Jim Beam, Beefeater, Smirnoff, Bacardi, Cuervo, and Tariquet. (Which is actually Armagnac, but who cares? We like it and it makes a tasty Sidecar, so don’t be a nerd about it.) These are your minimums. You can adjust upwards as your taste and budget allows.

Variations… 8 Bottles

These are liquors of the same types as above, but of a slightly different type or a better quality. Example: One bottle of Cuervo might be plenty enough, but even though you like Beam okay, you still want to keep something better on hand like Buffalo Trace, as well as a good rye (Rittenhouse), 2 Scotches (Johnnie Walker and something in the $40-$50 range), a blend (Dickel) and an Irish (Tullamore Dew or Powers). You might even throw in a second gin and a dark rum.

Liqueurs… 6 Bottles.

These are going to be bottles that you use primarily as mellowing, sweetening, or flavoring agents in cocktails. They should be of at least the same quality as the base spirit, so do yourself a favor and stay away from the Mr. Boston and Bols shite down there on the bottom shelf. Six good choices would be: Kahlua, Cointreau, Domaine de Canton, St. Germain, Rumple Minze, and a Calvados or apple liqueur of some sort.

Vermouth… 2 Bottles.

Sweet red and dry white. You may think you can get by without them, but you can’t. Not even in the age of Red Bull. Smallish bottles of brand name stuff will pay dividends.

After Dinner Drinks… 2 bottles.

It’s handy to have something sweet on hand that you intend to drink one glass at a time. Nobody’s going to sit around and get drunk on sambucca, but sometimes it really hits the spot after a meal. Good choices in this category might be Pernod, Bailey’s, and Tia Maria.

Wild Cards… 4 bottles.

Use this category to fill in the gaps and experiment a bit. You might want to fill it up with more after dinner type drinks, or experiment with whatever catches your eye at the liquor store. At this point you’ve been collecting bottles for a while now, so you know what you’d like to try. You can also change it up once you empty a bottle.

Special Occasion Bottles… 2 Bottles.

These are your macho single malts and your VSOP or XO cognacs. Odds are you won’t even have to buy these bottles, as someone will likely notice you’ve built a hell of a bar, and may give you one as a gift. Likewise, they are what the name suggests. You’ll save them for a special occasion and share them as a gift with your guests for that occasion.

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You’ll need to round out the bar with mixers, maybe the two most important of which are bitters and simple syrup. get at least one bottle of bitters, and buy (or re-use) a dedicated bottle for simple syrup. you’re not going to be buying any of those pre-made gross grocery store mixers, so go ahead and boil some sugar. It’s really not hard.

For everything else, stick to small cans. You can skip whatever you’re in the habit of keeping in the fridge already. For instance, we usually have orange juice and ginger ale in the fridge at the Chophouse, so we don’t bother much with stocking bar sizes of it. You are going to want Coke, ginger ale, Sprite, club soda, tonic, OJ, cranberry, and the surprisingly versatile Minute Maid lemonade, as well as a can of tomato or v8 stashed way in the back just in case. We say experiment as much as you want with juice, but leave the flavored vodkas to the D.C. set.

The only other thing you’ll need is glassware. We swear by the double old-fashioned glass. It will in fact hold a nice double shot with room for sloshing if you’re drinking on the rocks, and is plenty big enough to build a highball in if you want some soda. It’s the only glass you’ll ever really need. If you have any room left, you might want to also go in for a decent set of cocktail glasses for serving drinks straight-up or neat. We recommend cocktail glasses without stems.

You won’t look or feel like Don Draper when you’re busy wiping that Negroni off your white sofa just because you wanted a set of “real martini glasses.”

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How to Stock a Home Bar, Part 1

As some of you may already know, we recently furnished our dining room here at the Chophouse. We’re exceedingly pleased with it, as it turned out looking and feeling even better than we thought it would. Thanks to the invention of the 180 degree flatscreen, we can even see the television from the head of the table, which means we might actually take meals in there more than once or twice a year.

Quite honestly; comparing furniture, installing lighting, trying to match napkins to placemats, and deciding from among thousands of paint colors can become a tedious chore after a while. There’s only been one step of the process which we’ve thoroughly enjoyed every step of the way… building the bar.

Every house should have a bar. Even if that house is a tent.

Well, not exactly. We already had a very serviceable home bar set up in the kitchen. But moving it into the dining room means it’s still a good opportunity to step things up an extra notch, and a good excuse to buy (and sample) a few new bottles.

As luck would have it, we also just picked up a copy of Jason Wilson’s Boozehound; On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits and after the first 60 pages or so, we’re finding it pretty good. It’s conversational in tone, and Wilson is someone we’d definitely have a drink with. Still, he manages to fall into the same traps that virtually all drink and cocktail writers fall into.

People who adopt drinking as a hobby are almost exclusively of two types: Nerds and Frat Boys. Frat Boys (of any age) are pretty much self explanatory. Cocktail Nerds are a little more nuanced.

There are several things that nerds of all stripes will have in common, and one of them is that if you ask a nerd a simple question, you will get a very complicated answer. Ask a Star Wars nerd on which planet the rebels hideout was, and you’re likely to get an answer which includes the prequels, a full explanation of the rebels guerrilla structure, and the particulars of the Lucasfilm soundstage in the 1970’s.

So it is with Cocktail Nerds. Even something as simple as “What goes into a Manhattan?” will earn you a lecture on the merits of rye whiskey vs. bourbon, the type and ratios of vermouth, a lesson on the prohibition era, and a full discourse on bitters. Plus a snarky remark about cherries. On top.

This is the exact pitfall that catches Wilson in his book. Open up any mixing guide or bartender’s bible and you’ve got to sort through scores of pages of ridiculous recipes featuring arcane ingredients, endangered brands and preposterous combinations. Even modern guides and books talk about things like egg whites, grenadine, and Lillet with a straight face. It’s 2010. When’s the last time you saw anyone drinking a cocktail with grenadine?

By the same token, these books, as well as virtually every website out there will give you just plain bad advice on how to stock your bar. Most of them will just assume that you’re going to have some kind of huge party (and that you have them all the time) and that you’re going to be wowing your guests with your extensive knowledge and skill on the history and practice of bartending. Give us a break! Even fairly social people are usually drinking alone when they’re at home. When company does come over, they usually come just a few people at a time. It’s rare to meet an adult who hosts more than 2 medium-to-large scale parties at home each year. One or none is the norm.

This is why the Chop knows people with cabinets full of wedding booze that gather dust years after the wedding; because they followed bad advice on bar stocking when they threw the biggest party of their lives.What should be a source of pleasure and a point of pride becomes little more than a dusty, clangy, expensive eyesore.

So tomorrow the Chop is going to explain exactly how to build an impressive home bar to suit your own tastes, without all the nerdistry. And when we say impressive, we mean it. By the time you’re done you’ll have 30 bottles. There will be no sour apple pucker, no ancient bottle of sherry to impress Grandma, and most importantly: no Red Bull.

The best part? Building a full bar is cheaper and easier than you think. Stay tuned.

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P.S.- If you want to read writers who manage to talk about drinking in an interesting, engaging, and entertaining way, check out our drinking blogs blogroll, especially Modern Drunkard, NY Barfly, and Boozeblogger.

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I thought My Eyes They Would Be Dry…

But now I see and know what is going on tonight. We’re keeping it low-key and heading up to Atomic Books for a reading of one of our old favorites, Dance of Days by Mark Andersen and Mark Jenkins. The Chop can clearly remember when the first edition was published by Soft Skull Press back in 2001, and our first introduction to the book was Andersen reading from it and making a very touching, personal speech about what DC punk has meant to him, and what it can mean to all of us. The tone was even more bittersweet, coming as it did during the last show at the Wilson Center.

Mark Andersen and Sab Grey read at Atomic Books tonight, 7pm.

Since then, Andersen has become the DC scene’s pre-eminent self-appointed historian, continuing to document the scene’s happenings and researching and cataloging the ‘salad days’, continuing to update the book with a Whitman-esque passion, in addition to his work writing for the Washington Post and Time Out New York, among others. He’s also a founding organizer of Positive Force DC and is the director of the We Are Family Group, which does settlement work in DC. Our hat is certainly off to anyone who can keep himself that busy, and effect so much positive change in his own community.

The new third edition of Dance of Days includes a new introduction and a whole new chapter, as well as other updates on DC bands such as Crispus Attucks, Scene Creamers, and the permanent hiatus of Fugazi.

Andersen will be reading from the book and signing copies alongside Baltimore’s own Sab Grey, frontman of the seminal skinhead band Iron Cross, and author of two novels, including Hated and Proud, from which he’ll be reading tonight.

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Round II: Book Signing, Then Back To The Sidebar.

Now, we know we said the Chop would be heading down to Howard County to see Valentino Deng, but those were plans, and plans change, you know?

While we still recommend What is the What, its the book we haven’t read which is catching our attention tonight, namely, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys.

Meet the Authors at Atomic books tonight. 7pm.

Yep. The Chop is headed back to Atomic Books for another reading, and hopefully this one will go a little more smoothly than the last one. This being Baltimore though, people do love their whores, so there may just be a good crowd on hand.

The Chop is especially interested to see Shawna Kenney, who we had a chance to see when she sat in on the panel discussion recently at 2640, and who is fascinating not only because she was a teenage dominatrix, but also because reading her work or listening to her is kind of like discussing sex with your sister. You can talk about the kinkiest stuff in the world, but none of it is going to be a turn-on.

Which is just as well, because the Chop actually bumped into our little cousin at the feminist sex discussion, who was there with some guy. It wasn’t as awkward as you might think though, and on the whole the discussion would have made for a better sex ed curriculum than most schools are currently teaching.

But what really changed our minds for tonight was the ability to jump right on 83 afterwards and get down to the Sidebar for Baltimore’s own Deep Sleep. Granted they would have been an even better fit on last night’s bill, but Deep Sleep is certainly good enough to stand alone.

Remember when we told you Tony Pence was great? Here's more proof.

Twin Killing. 2 new Deep Sleep records out soon! (Photo: ChestyXBond)

Hell, it being the Sidebar, we might even drink enough cheap beer to close our eyes and half-believe that it actually is Los Angeles in 1984.

Its pretty unusual for the Chop to make such frequent trips down there. Over the years we’ve grown accustomed to the Sidebar hosting a lot of bands we just weren’t that into like Thee Lexington Arrows. So with the Talking Head closing up shop, we’d really like to see Sidebar continue in this direction. Hell, Landspeedrecord! even played there again 2 Saturdays ago.

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This Friday: Find Out What The What Is.

The Chop knows that you’re all dying to hear about Halloween with Louisville Slugger and the Roommate, and all the Sunday doings and advice, but we digress a moment.

Instead we want to tell you where you need to be this Friday, November 6 from 8-10 pm; namely Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in Highland, MD (Just outside of Columbia).
what

Friday night the church is going to present “An Evening With Valentino Achak Deng.” (PDF) Deng is of course the subject of Dave Eggers’ 2006 Book What is the What, which chronicles Achak’s experiences as a boy-refugee from the oppressive Sudanese government and tribal warlords during the Second Sudanese Civil War.

The Baltimore Chop was pleased to have the chance to read about the What last year in advance of our first trip to Africa, and we highly, highly recommend this book to anyone who will listen. We’re also a fan of his earlier novels ‘You Shall Know Our Velocity!‘ and ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius‘. Eggers is also the man behind McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and has enjoyed recent acclaim for his adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are for the big screen.

In all of Eggers’ various projects though, What is the What will remain as his most unique and most important work well into the future. Billed as a novel, What was actually written by Eggers in close collaboration with the real life Achak Deng, and hews as closely as possible to Deng’s own experiences. As he explains it in the preface:

“It should be known to readers that I was very young when some of the events in the book took place, and as a result, we simply had to pronounce What is the What a novel. I could not, for example, recount some conversations that took place seventeen years ago. However, it should be noted that all of the major events in the book are true. The book is historically accurate, and the world I have known is not different from the one depicted within these pages.We live in a time where even the most horrific events in this book could occur, and in most cases, did occur.”

And make no mistake, Gentle Reader this book describes in detail some of the most horrifying human rights abuses, cruelties, injustices, and atrocities that one can imagine. As a small orphaned boy, Achak witnessed firsthand unspeakable acts like murder, pillage, rape, child slavery, starvation, drownings, and children being eaten alive by lions, and that was before spending 12 years in a Kenyan refugee camp.

Throughout everything though, Achak emerges as one of the kindest, gentlest, and most sympathetic characters in recent literature. His Faith in both the Lord and humanity remained unshaken even in the face of Job-like challenges. Make no mistake, the Achak Deng that Eggers presents is a truly exceptional man, and will make the reader seriously reevaluate his own ego and place in the world.

And judging by the real life Achak Deng’s ceaseless and tireless work in founding and promoting the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation the Chop expects the real life Achak to entirely live up to his literary persona. The VADF was begun with the proceeds from sales of What is the What, and works year round toward building community development in Southern Sudan, assisting Sudanese refugees here in the United States, and advocating on Sudanese policy issues. The foundation also recently completed construction of the Marial Bai secondary school in Southern Sudan.

what 2

According to the Church’s Announcement, Friday night’s program includes a lecture, Q & A session, and a reception and book signing. (The Chop will be bringing our copy from home, but we assume there will be copies available for purchase, which we strongly recommend.)

It is also to be noted that the church asks for a very humble $25 (minimum) donation per person to benefit the foundation, and that 100% of monies raised will go toward the foundation’s work.

The Chop doesn’t mind saying either that this is our favorite kind of philanthropy… the kind where the donation is quite reasonable and the donor enjoys immediate gratification in the form of an interesting evening out. Plus its always nice to look certain hipsters in the eye and ask:

What have you done for the Sudan lately? Eh?

Google Maps & driving directions to Saint mark’s Episcopal from downtown.

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