Black Friday Book Suggestions

While we don’t much approve of all the self-referential Black Friday hoopla each year, the fact is that it is difficult to get through this season without buy something for someone, and books make great presents, especially for do-it-yourselfer types. With that in mind, here’s a round-up of our favorite books of the year:


Wild Drinks & Cocktails: Handcrafted Squashes, Shrubs, Switchels, Tonics, and Infusions to Mix at Home by Emily Han.

Emily visited us on our podcast just a couple of weeks ago.  Wild Drinks is a really fun book which teaches you how to wildcraft both fancy artisanal cocktails and unusual non-alcoholic drinks like shrubs and switchels. Her emphasis is on foraged ingredients, but she also works with ingredients which might be foraged at the grocery store or farmers’ market. An excellent choice for the budding mixologist  or herbalist in your life, as well as anyone interested in unusual, healthful drinks.  (Kelly)

What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action by Per Epsen Stoknes.

Does anybody really want to get a climate change book for Christmas? Happy happy holidays!!!!  Santa’s Workshop is flooding! On the other hand, this might be the best gift you could give the downcast environmentalist or resigned doomer on your list. Here’s my review. (Kelly)

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

At this point, what more can we say? Many of you followed along as we decluttered using this book as a guide. (Here’s our original review and here’s a link to the whole series of posts inspired by this book.) In the meanwhile, this book became a bit of a media phenomenon in the U.S.. I’d go so far as to say that this has been a KonMarie kind of year, and decluttering has become a buzzword and a lifestyle. Hype aside, we liked this book more than others of the genre, and it helped us. However, decluttering is not a single event, but a way of life so I’m afraid we already need another round of tidying in our house. .. (Kelly)

Planting in a Post Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West

Of course this book is on the list! We’re talking about it right now on the blog as a part of our garden redesign series, so I won’t repeat myself here, except to say this my favorite new landscape design book. For the thoughtful gardeners in your life. (Kelly)


The Essential Oil Maker’s Handbook: Extracting, Distilling and Enjoying Plant Essenses by Bettina Malle and Helge Schmickl.
The Artisinal Vinegar Maker’s Handbook: Crafting Quality Vinegars–Fermenting, Distilling, Infusing
by Bettina Malle and Helge Schmickl.

The two books above, The Essential Oil Maker’s Handbook and The Vinegar Maker’s Handbook are both by the same authors and press. I’ve not reviewed them for the blog yet. I’m hard on “how-to” books — the projects have to work, and the project steps have to be clear and easy to follow, with no gaps in the steps or assumed knowledge. The only way to know if this is true of any book is to do several projects in each book to find out, and I haven’t had the time to delve into these two books yet–to actually try one of their projects.

However, I don’t want to pass them by in this roundup, because they make a good first inspection. They look and feel like AP chemistry text books–and I mean that in a good way! They are sturdy hardbacks with lots of pictures, step by step instructions and detailed reference charts.  They’re pretty intense in their obsession with detail–a world away from your usual lightweight “10 Quick n’ Easy Projects” type of books.

They strike me as books for a craftsperson ready to take that next step toward making these products as a home business. Malle and Schmickl are scientists–stern Austrian scientists, no less– and they are all about consistency and professional practice. So these books mean to take you from being someone a casual dabbler to a home chemist who could make batches of vinegar or essential oil with consistent, predictable –saleable–results.

I’d say the vinegar book would be good for someone who has already made some vinegar, perhaps in a more intuitive manner, a la Sandor Katz, and wants to make larger batches for gifts or sale, and is ready to really delve into the serious science of vinegar culture.

The essential oil book covers not just essential oil, but also some other basic perfume techniques, like enfleurage, and recipes for beauty products to make with your essential oils and hydrosols.  FYI: you need a still to make essential oil, and stills ain’t cheap–so gifting this book could lead to future expenses! They discuss different sorts of stills you could make or buy. They sell their own stills and mention them. This did raise a flag for me, but it’s not obnoxiously done, and they do give alternatives. (Kelly)

Microshelters: 59 Creative Cabins, Tiny Houses, Tree Houses, and Other Small Structures by Derek “Deek” Diedricksen.

If your tiny house seems like a mansion this book is for you. “Deek” is a master of re-purposing junk into cute micro-structures. There’s 59 great examples for inspiration and a couple of detailed plans in the back of the book. If you’d like to build a “thoughtstyling” shed or small outbuilding to escape the pressures of the main house Deek has you covered. This tome was worth it just to discover the PLB formula: pillow, lamp, books. Add those three things and a cardboard box will seem like a home. (Erik)

One Straw Revolutionary: The Philosophy and Work of Masanobu Fukuoka by Larry Korn.

Korn worked on Fukuoka’s farm in the 1970s and went on to work as his translator. We interviewed Korn at length on episode 64 of of our podcast. Fukuoka’s ideas can be quite challenging to wrap your head around and this book serves as a great introduction. (Erik)


Guerilla Furniture Design: How to Build Lean, Modern Furniture with Salvaged Materials by Will Holman.

Holman plays with our waste stream to craft handsome and easy to build furniture. This book reminds me of classic 60s and 70s DIY furniture manuals such as Victor Papanek’s Nomadic Furniture. Holman was our guest on episode 55 of our podcast. (Erik)


Josey Baker Bread: Get Baking-Make Awesome Bread-Share the Loaves
by Josey Baker.

When folks ask me how to learn how to bake bread I send them to Josey Baker. As a former science educator, Baker is the idea person to write a baking cookbook. The recipes go from easy to more challenging and if you work your way through the book you really will make awesome bread. The book also captures Josey’s infectious enthusiasm. I don’t think he’s physically capable of frowning. (Erik)


The following two books are just out. We haven’t seen them yet, but can hardly wait to get our hands on them. They were both written by friends, and we know they’ll be great:

The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir by Pascal Baudar.

Pascal and his partner Mia Wasilevich are rock stars of the local foraging scene. What they do with foraged ingredients is breathtaking. I can’t wait to see this book. (Erik)

Save the Bees with Natural Backyard Hives: The Easy and Treatment-Free Way to Attract and Keep Healthy Bees by Rob and Chelsea McFarland.

Rob and Chelsea are the dynamic founders of and are responsible for getting beekeeping legalized in Los Angeles. They are also proponents of treatment-free beekeeping and I’m looking forward to reading their take on this contentious method. (Erik)

What we think about when we try not to think about global warming

book cover

In the comments of a recent post, one of our readers recommended this long-titled book: What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action by Per Epsen Stoknes (Chelsea Green).  Of it, she said, “For the first time in a LONG time, I feel hope and possibility when it comes to climate change.”

So I read it, and now I feel the same way. Thanks, Brigitte!

And the introduction of the book says pretty much the same thing, except the praise is coming from Jorgen Randers, one of the co-authors of The Limits to Growth. This is a man who has been waiting, pretty much fruitlessly, for us to wake up and change our ways for the last 40 years. So in 2011 he gave up on us and wrote 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next 40 Years. It was not, as he said, a description of an attractive future.

He’s a doomer’s doomer, yet in the introduction he says, “This book gave me back the hope I’d lost over forty years of futile struggle.”

So, if Stoknes can help me, Brigitte and Jorgen, maybe he can help you, too.

Continue reading…

New Slow City


This Wednesday’s Root Simple Podcast will feature our interview of author William Powers. We just finished recording his interview a few minutes ago, and it’s a good one.

Some of you may have read Bill’s previous book, Twelve by Twelve, in which he chronicles his time in a small off-grid cabin. In New Slow City, he and his wife move to a micro-apartment in Manhattan, and, by slowing down consciously, finds he can work less and find connection with others and nature–even in the heart of the world’s “fastest” city.  It’s a beautifully written book, and covers more ground than the previous sentence even begins to suggest. Read it.

Bill is in the middle of a book tour right now, so I wanted to put up his schedule so you can catch him if he comes to your town. He’s an engaging speaker, so do get out and see him if you can.

See his events page for details on each event.

  • Wednesday, Sept 30 – SAN FRANCISCO
  • Friday, Oct 2  – CLAREMONT
  • Saturday, Oct 3 – LOS ANGELES
  • Tuesday, Oct 6 – ASHLAND
  • Wednesday, Oct 7 – CHICAGO
  • Thursday, Oct 8 – CHICAGO
  • Sunday, Oct 11  – ALBUQUERQUE
  • Thursday, Oct 15  – SANTA FE
  • Wednesday, Nov 4 – NEW YORK
  • Thursday, Nov 17 – LA PAZ (BOLIVIA)
  • Tuesday, Dec 1 – SANTA CRUZ (BOLIVIA)

That Sugar Film

Sugar has replaced fat on the ever rotating roster of demonized ingredients. But unlike fat, which we actually need, sugar fully deserves its villainous status. We could eliminate processed sugar from our diets entirely and be much healthier.

A new documentary, That Sugar Film is a Morgan Spurlokian spin on the anti-sugar crusade. It continues where last year’s Fed Up left off. At the center of the film is a stunt: Australian actor Damon Gameau’s goes on a supposedly healthy diet consisting of things like fruit juices, low-fat processed foods, yogurt and granola bars. Of course, all of these highly processed foods are made palatable with copious amounts of sugar. It’s the well documented Snackwell cookie syndrome: large food corporations have removed fat and replaced it with sugar to better keep us addicted to their products. During the course of the film we watch Gameau’s health decline precipitously.

A disclaimer: personally, when it comes to documentaries, I prefer a vérité approach and am not a fan of Spurlock-type hijinks or hyperactive animation, both of which this film has in abundance. Show me don’t tell me is a film making mantra seared into my brain during the brief period I took classes and edited with Jean-Pierre Gorin (Full disclosure: my inner Gorin drives Kelly crazy and makes me a grumpy, no-fun movie going companion.)

That said, what won me over to That Sugar Film is that its heart is decidedly in the right place. The strongest scenes were during visits to two disadvantaged communities, an Aboriginal town in the Australian outback and a poor community in rural Appalachia. You won’t ever forget the early graves of the Aboriginal graveyard and the tragic dental problems of one of the Appalachian protagonists. In these miserable communities, Gameau shows that our addiction to sugar is not a matter of personal choice, but instead a result of predatory capitalism. Large corporations are, to use a Luddite sentiment, engaged in actions “injurious to commonality.” Our solutions to the sugar problem are going to need to address the commons. And, like climate change, there are no easy answers to these larger societal problems. At best we can, like the dentist in That Sugar Film who donates his services in Appalachia, do what we can with whatever means we have. We can also press our cowardly political leaders about their relationships and patronage of the large corporations that rot our teeth give us obesity and diabetes.

But That Sugar Film also tells a personal story. Sugar has crept back into my diet after a period of abstinence following a screening of Fed Up and a brief period of Lenten virtuousness. On a personal level it might be a good idea to periodically ponder Gameau’s expanding gut and declining heath. That Sugar Film might just be the perfect film to bum out the family with or think about when reaching for that slice of cake. Our health may depend on periodic, scary reminders.

In the U.S., that Sugar Film is available on-demand an in theaters on July 31.

Project Update: The Carbonator

cats inspecting carbonator

A year ago on Valentine’s Day, Erik gave me a homebrew carbonator so that we could sparkle our own water at home. It’s a wonderfully industrial looking item, and sturdy as all heck. I’m pleased to say after a year of hard use, it’s still doing going strong and has become an indispensable part of our life.

It has saved the use of…gosh…I don’t know…at least 100 San Pellegrino/Gerolsteiner bottles over the course of the year. Back in the day, I bought a couple of bottles of mineral water on every shopping trip. That’s a two-fold savings: bottles kept out of the waste stream (recycled, yes, but still) and enough in cash savings to reimburse us for the carbonator–which cost around $150 in parts.

The best thing is that the CO2 tank lasted for 11 months of constant use (sparkling maybe two gallons a week) before needing a refill. And when we did refill it–down at the local homebrew shop–it cost all of twenty bucks. Twenty bucks, my friends. That is our sparkling water budget for the next year.

Happy as I am with the device itself, we could be doing better exploring its possibilities. We could be experimenting with adding minerals to the water to imitate famous mineral waters–there are recipes out there. We could also be experimenting with force carbonating other types of drinks, but for the most part we’ve been pretty content just drinking the water straight with a twist of lemon, or a splash of shrub. Maybe this year we’ll step up to the plate and get more experimental.

Erik’s how-to post about how to put one of these things together, and how to use it.

•  My initial post, in which I bubble over with excitement.