Beyond the Books: August 2012

In Beyond the Books, Book Riot contributors recommend stuff that isn’t about books. From apps to zines, our recommendations are as wide-ranging and idiosyncratic as we are–and as we know you are too. 

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Food & Drink

Broadbent Vinho Verde
This Portuguese export (vinho verde is to Portugal as Champagne is to certain regions of France) is the Platonic ideal of summer wines: crisp, effervescent, and dry as a bone. I’ve tried a variety of vinhos verdes at a number of price points, and this one–which goes for 9 or 10 bucks a bottle–remains my favorite way to chill out from a stressful day, an adventure in the southern summer heat, or the latest social media meltdown.     -Rebecca

Innis & Gunn
Take one of liquid’s most perfect forms, beer, and mature it in a similar manner to another, whisky. The result is bottled Scottish lightning. The beer is held in a whisky cask for over a month, soaking up all its toffee, vanilla, caramelly flavours. Not to mention a good whack of alcohol. Initially just available in a few pubs around Edinburgh, Innis & Gunn has started to go global. Go to your nearest trusted fine ale establishment and demand it. Your tastebuds deserve better.  -Edd

Esquites (Mexican Street Corn Salad)
I’m no foodie. I live in Minnesota where salad often includes marshmallows and fruit fossilized in Jello, where people rave about things like Tator Tot Hotdish. Despite my non-foodiness, I do like to cook, which often finds me combing the internet looking for stuff to make that doesn’t require a can of Cream of Something soup. The problem with recipes on the internet is that they’re an unknown entity and sometimes you end up eating stuff that is just not very good. So when I find a recipe that rocks the Casbah, I like to share. In this case it’s the Esquites from Serious Eats. Not only is this corn salad super easy to make, even with all the corn shucking, which is kind of fun and makes you feel all Laura Ingalls Wilder-y, it’s so delicious that I haven’t been able to shut up about it. I tell everyone I know and talk to about this fabulous corn salad. So much yum.
-Jodi

Chocolate Hummus
There is a Mediterranean restaurant next to RiverRun Bookstore that serves chocolate hummus, and it has become my new obsession, much to the chagrin of my hips. I’m not going to lie – it looks like wet cat food. After the cat threw it up. But it tastes AMAZING. Like uncooked brownie batter. (Don’t even try and tell me you never licked the bowl.) And they serve it with what taste like giant pieces of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. This gets all the *muppet arms* – nay – it is like EATING *muppet arms*.   -Liberty

Fresca (yes, really)
Yes, I truly only had this for the first time last week. I’ve been trying to kick my Diet Coke addiction because I want to give up caffeine, but I’m really attached to the carbonation – I demand bubbles! – so my friend suggested I try Fresca. READY THE CONFETTI CANNON: Oh em gee – it is perfect! It is a tasty, fizzy, grapefruity nectar. It is MAGIC. It’s like drinking unicorn breast milk. Did I really just say that? Yes I did.   -Liberty

Anything In My Stupid Crockpot
I just rediscovered my crockpot a week ago, and I’ve used it pretty much on the daily since then. Despite the fact that dinner is something that occurs EVERY DAY, I tend to forget about it until it’s too late and I’m too hungry and OOPS GUESS THAT MEANS PIZZA. The crockpot has (so far) broken me of this habit. I throw a bunch of this that and the other thing into it in the morning, and by the time I want to put something in my mouth, it’s done. WHO NEEDS AN OVEN? NOT THIS GAL.  -Amanda

Peaches
Perfectly ripe, heavy peaches, always freestone, always arranged in a pyramid at a roadside stand.  -Elizabeth

Murray’s Cheese Bar
Just down the street from the Murray’s cheese shop, a new bar devoted to all things pungent and delicious. Cheerful, cherry-red barstools, a terrific wine list, and a glass case proudly displaying tempting specimens — what’s that cheese that looks like brain coral? You can keep your chicken wings, buster. I’ll be slicing my way through treats such as the Tarentaise from Spring Brook Farm, raw cow’s milk transubstantiated into smooth, firm blisscheese.  -Jen Paull

The AeroPress
You can’t be a vaguely literary 30-something dude in Brooklyn without spending a fair amount of time fussing over coffee. The AeroPress is my coffee-contraption of choice. If you don’t mind spending a couple of minutes to make a markedly improved cup of coffee, this thing is for you. It’s only about 20 bucks, which is worth it just for the snob factor alone. -Jeff

Music

‘Panorama Suite’ by Max Essa
Featured on the outstanding chillwave compilation Future Balearica Vol. 2: A New Wave Of Chill, this San Francisco native DJ/Composer crafts one of the most airy, groovy, and symphonic chillwave pieces I’ve ever heard. Easily the best song I’ve heard in the past six months, it’s over twenty minutes long and somehow leaves you wanting even more when its over. -Scott

The Smashing Pumpkins, Oceania
If you’re a casual (or non-alternative) music fan, you probably lost track of The Smashing Pumpkins some time in the late 1990s, when they got a little weird and started making pseudo-techno tunes (and then officially disbanded in 2000). So you may be surprised to learn that Billy Corgan brought the band (well, parts of it) back together in 2006, and they’ve been making really good new music ever since. Their latest, released in mid-June, is the Pumpkins’ best record since 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Oceania almost sounds like a Smashing Pumpkins career retrospective – and believe me, it’s very, very good.  -Greg

KEXP’s Music That Matters
Based out of Seattle’s University of Washington, KEXP is possibly the greatest radio station broadcasting between sea and shining sea. Their credo is to find the best new music out there and champion it with a conviction that borders on the religious. And it’s hard to be an athiest when you hear the gems they unearth and neatly package on their weekly new music podcast. Out every Friday, Music That Matters will make your life a better place. And your Spotify playlists a whole lot longer and hipper.  -Edd

Chicks with Hits Mix
Are you a shuffler? The type of person who puts the old music player of choice on shuffle and then consistently flips from song to song, barely listening to each song for more than a minute or so? When in the car do you flip from radio station to radio station always in search of the song that will hit the spot in that very moment? How about if you love chick singers from the 80s and 90s? Think Kim Carnes to PJ Harvey, Madonna to Bjork? If you answered yes to any of this questions get thee over to Chicks with Hits Mix, and hit play. You will not be disappointed. It’s a fun, endlessly entertaining mix of songs you know and love (and even if it includes a song you know and hate you need not worry, it will be on to something new soon enough).  -Jodi

“The Queen of America” by The Russian Apartments
This is one of the many reasons why I heart the internet: I discover wonderful things! I saw the YouTube video for this song on Facebook, and was instantly hooked when I heard it. It’s hella-catchy and hypnotic, with sweet-sad lyrics that sound like they are being sung underwater by a sonambulist. I love when a song grabs you right away. I’ve listened to it a bazillion times now.  -Liberty

This Will Destroy You
Here’s another party to which I’m showing up late (is this a trend? am I officially an old, un-with-it geezer?). The post-rock band from Texas has been producing their “wall of noise” since around 2005, but I only learned of them courtesy of the soundtrack to Moneyball which included the 11-minute slow-build “The Mighty Rio Grande.” I was, as they say, instantly destroyed. Normally, as I sit in my basement and write, I’ve got powdered-wig guys like Bach and Mozart playing in the background. For the past three months, it’s been nearly non-stop TWDY (after I snagged their eponymous album, plus Tunnel Blanket, Young Mountain and Field Studies).  TWDY’s self-proclaimed “doomgaze” style of guitars and drums perfectly fits my mood these days–which is like that moment after a Wuthering Heights-style thunderstorm has washed the sky and a ray of sunlight comes slicing through the turbulent clouds.  -David

Film & Television

Friday Night Lights
The girlfriend and I just burned through the whole FNL saga in about two weeks. Centered on a top-tier Texas high school football program, FNL is probably both the best TV show about sports ever AND the best TV show about high school ever (yea I said it. Quiet down My So-Called Life and Dawson’s Creek). The best part of this show is the marriage between the head coach and his guidance counselor wife; it’s complicated but positive in a remarkably refreshing way. Also, the whole series is available on Netflix streaming, so go blow through all 76 episodes and tell me I’m wrong. You won’t be able to.
-Jeff

The Sentinel (1977)
Any lover of schlocky horror films will find this a movie after their own hearts. The plot: A woman buys a cheap brownstone in Brooklyn without realizing that it contains a portal to Hell. It’s cheesy in every way possible except what it signifies socially: the guilt and fear that accompanies gentrification. It also has an all-star cast: John Carradine, Burgess Meredith, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, Jeff Goldblum, and Tom Berenger. Yes, it’s streaming on Netflix. Give it a try!  -Scott

The Queen of Versailles (in theaters) and The Hollywood Complex (Netflix Instant)
These are the last two documentaries that made me remember why I eat documentaries up with a spoon and a fork. The Queen of Versailles is about an American billionaire and his family who go belly up in the 2008 financial crisis. It is all jaw-dropping scenes and characters who defy your going-into-the-theater expectations about a billionaire family. The Hollywood Complex follows child actors trying to become child stars during Hollywood’s television pilot scene. It is all jaw-dropping scenes and stage parents who defy human… everything.  -Kit

Battleground (TV)
Hulu’s first scripted television series and a winner right out of the gate. A mockumentary that breathes new life into TV’s almost-getting-tired-genre, Battleground takes us behind the scenes of a senate campaign, following a group of staffers as they struggle to get a dark horse candidate elected in the battleground state of Wisconsin. It’s a little bit The (American) Office (when it was good), a little bit The West Wing (when it was good), and at thirteen half-hour episodes, is a manageable week (or one bender of a night) of television watching.  -Kit

Monk
I have a weakness for police procedurals (of any kind, from any age- Columbo is my super-fave) and I’ve just started streaming Monk on Netflix Instant. He’s an ex-cop who was dismissed from the force for a psychological disorder- he has developed severe anxiety about pretty much everything since his wife was killed four years ago. Now he acts as a consultant to the police, solving crimes while trying not to touch anything or look at anyone or breath. And also while counting all the light poles, even while he’s running for his life.  -Amanda

Beasts of the Southern Wild
I should warn you, this indie film (in theaters now) will make you cry. It just will, accept it, bring tissues to the theater and move on. This wonderfully inventive movie is almost beyond description, but it has visual and imaginative twangs of the film version of Where the Wild Things Are juxtaposed against real-life tragedies like those in When the Levee Breaks. There is absolutely zero doubt in my mind that this one will be up for multiple Oscars come January. I mean, how can you not adore a six-year-old narrator named Hushpuppy that says things like, “I hope you die!” And after you die, I’ll go to your grave and eat birthday cake all by myself!” This one is a gamechanger, people.  -Rachel

The Wire
After much prodding by my television-savvy coworker, I finally started watching The Wire on HBOGo. I had a general, don’t-go-to-Baltimore-alone-after-dark awareness of the show, but I don’t think I realized how well-scripted it is. And though it’s been off the air for a while (evident in the old-school technology they use), it’s still really poignant and hard-hitting. And even though most people think of this as a crime show, it is – as the creator David Simon has said – a portrait of a city. As I get further and further into the subsequent seasons, I can see how true that really is. -Rachel

The Forsyte Saga
My wife and were latecomers to Dowtown Abbey and when we did get around to watching it, we streamed it over Netflix. Instant streaming is the good news; the really rotten-terrible-agonizing bad news is that (as of this date) only Season 1 is available. We felt like Charlie Brown running up to kick Lucy’s football. Arrrgggh!! Turning to the Netflix Recommendation Guru, however, I found several other mini-series from the Beeb which, the Great Red One assured me would fill that gaping DA cavity. The first series we test-drove was The Forsyte Saga, which first aired in 2002 and chronicles the lives of three generations of the upper-middle-class British family, the Forsytes, from the 1870s to 1920. Like Dowtown Abbey, it hooked us in the first episode. Plot, characters, and a cast of actors that are spot-on perfect down to the smallest role like the butler who coughs politely, “Your hat, sir.” As is true for any good British soap opera, the plot is far too complex to parse in this short space. Let’s just leave it this: my wife and I are so hooked on the Forsytes that Dowton is starting to fade behind a wall of fog. Lady Edith who?  -David

Anything about Marie Antoinette
Or other French queens, or that has the word Versailles in it. Also, Deadwood. The insults are Shakespearian. -Elisabeth

Ugly Betty
I stumbled across Ugly Betty in my post-Parks & Recreation doldrums, and wow. I vaguely remember when this show was on the air, but never really sat down to watch it. America Ferrera deserves all good things ever, if only for her role on this show — as do all the writers. Smart, funny, with amazing timing and tons of moxie, it’s also got just enough silliness to keep the social commentary from becoming heavy-handed. Plus, double bonus: Ashley Jensen, everyone’s favorite Scot from Extras; and who knew Vanessa Williams could act?!  -Jenn Northington

Podcasts

Sinica
This podcast was mentioned in This American Life’s recent episode “Americans in China.” Hosted by Kaiser Kuo (star of Act One of the TAL episode), Sinica is an English podcast, recorded in Beijing, focusing on all the BIG THINGS facing China right now, with a bunch of foreign journalists and correspondents who break it down for insiders in a way that includes outsiders. On iTunes, it’s filed under the Popup Chinese podcast- the twelve-minute episodes is the teaching conversational Chinese, the forty-ish minute episodes are the Sinica roundtable discussions.  -Kit

Radiolab and Love + Radio
As someone who is on a podcast, you’d think I’d be into them. But you’d be wrong! I don’t have much of a commute (walking to work is the best, yo) and somehow hadn’t quite figured out any other time to listen to longform audio. But then my friend went on a mission to get me to listen to her favorites, and I fell for Radiolab and Love + Radio hook, line, and sinker. They’re the audio versions of the kind of nonfiction I love — pop-science, human interest, with solid narratives — and oh my God the sound engineering is so freaking good. New routine: listen while I clean. The apartment has never been tidier!   -Jenn Northington

Apps & Software

Text Expander
My fellow Riot editor Jeff turned me on to this one, and after a month of use, I can’t imagine life without it. All those words, phrases, and even paragraphs you type over and over? Text Expander allows you to create keyboard shortcuts for them. For as many of them as you can think of! And it provides statistics to let you know just how much time and effort it’s saving you. In the five-ish weeks I’ve been using it, it’s saved me nearly 42,000 characters. If there’s any repetition at all in your writing life–or if you get off on productivity tools–you want this. Worth every penny of the $34.99 cost of admission. -Rebecca 

Dark Sky
This 3 buck app does one thing, but does it beautifully: it tells if and how much it is going to rain in the next hour. So if you need to walk the dog or take the toddler to the park, a quick glance will give you a damn accurate prediction. It also has the best radar animation tool I’ve seen: fast, simple, and easy to read.  –Jeff

SmartGo
Forget chess, Go is twice as easy (simple rules) and twice as complicated (so many more possible permutations of game endings), and this is the perfect app to introduce you to it. It actually changes the levels of difficulty for you, automatically, based on how well you’re playing. If you like strategy games at all, you’ll love this.  –Scott

Instapaper
I know, Instapaper is nothing new. Many of you have probably had it, or another one of the save-for-later reading apps (like Readability or Pocket), on your smartphone or tablet for awhile. But Instapaper just recently became available for Nook Tablet – and as a result, I’ve spent about 17 times more time reading articles from all over the Web now than I ever did before. Yes, I do feel smarter now – thanks for asking! If you’ve been skeptical about the save-for-later reading apps for any device, Instapaper’s great – it really does work well for that “oh crap, I want to read that, but can’t right now” feeling. Hey, you can even use it for Book Riot stories!    –Greg

Miscellaneous Obsessions

Sewing Blogs
Didn’t mean to make this The Domestic Post, guys. My bad. But anyway, my mother gave me her sewing machine a few months ago, and I’ve been experimenting with making my own clothes (still kinda hard to fit these hips after twins, even though they’re too old to use an excuse anymore). Manuals and sewing books are super-technical and hard to follow, so I turned to the blogosphere for some tips for garment-making newbs. I’m really enjoying Tilly and the Buttons, which has easy-to-follow tutorials about stuff like threading the damned machine, and Lladybird, who is a super-cute tattooed-and-pierced-wearer-of-adorable-handmande-vintage-stuff. Basically, I want to be her when I grow up.   –Amanda

Horny Toad
Ever find that one piece of clothing that feels like pajamas and yet is so flattering that you pretty much want to wear it all the time? Every single piece of clothing from California-based activewear maker Horny Toad is like that. My parents went on vacation last summer and bought me one of their short-sleeved Rosemarie dresses. I’ve subsequently managed to replace half my wardrobe with pieces that have become absolute essentials. Their 2012 fall collection has just been released, but you can still snag some of their summer pieces on sale. I’m a big fan of the Oolong Sleeveless and Electra Cardie. Beware though – you’ll be tempted to spontaneously nap in unusual places, you’ll be THAT comfortable.  –Rachel

Small, old fashioned natural history museums
The kind that have collections, things behind glass, drawers full of butterflies, bird eggs in descending order of size, like Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.  –Elisabeth

The Shores, La Jolla, California.
It’s not the most dramatically beautiful beach, or the most glamorous, but it’s a terrific all-rounder. Powder-fine sand, good for drip castles near the waterline. No dropoff, very little seaweed, no rocks, making it perfect for little kids and beginning body- and board-surfing. Nets of sunlight that shimmer through the clear, pale-olive water. Occasional small sharks you can see from a kayak. Sometimes you can spot paragliders over the ocean. Best of all, you can run straight into the water and just keep going until you’re picked up by the first big swell.  –Jen Paull

Edinburgh Fringe Festival
You might have noticed something strange in your neighbourhood. Y’know all those dramatic, funny, articulate, attention-seeking people that usually inhabit your performance spaces and street corners? They’ve disappeared, haven’t they? It’s like a rapture of the creative. That’s because they are all in Edinburgh for the world’s biggest festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Every August the arts world migrates to this chilly, windy and hilly corner of the world to colonise every single inch of the city and do what they do best: perform. I’ve been reviewing shows here for a decade now. With 2700 dance, comedy, theatre, spoken word, and music shows to choose from, it is the most amazing time. The city completely transforms, talent and surprise lurk everywhere. I’ve seen shows in hotel rooms, catacombs, up a crane, in public toilets, on top of a mountain, on nearby islands. Sleep and regular meals are for the weak in August. Why would you want to be anywhere else?  –Edd

1154 Lill Studio custom handbags
I am the stereotypical, owns-20-pairs-of-black-shoes woman, but I must have been absent the day they covered handbag addictions in the How to Be a Girl class. I’ve been carrying around the same super-versatile, perfect-number-of-pockets 1154 Lill bag for nigh on 5 years–it’s gone all over (and out of) the country with me–and I finally just caved in and bought a second one, even though the original is still in incredible condition. And it’s half the price of that Kate Spade I’ve had your eye on and designed exactly to my specifications. In-store or online, Lill lets you choose from dozens of templates and hundreds of fabrics, from clutches to laptop bags to weekenders, for a bag that’s uniquely yours and built to last. Also: they make great gifts (think personalized wristlets for your wedding party). Also also: custom ereader covers!  –Rebecca

 

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