Archive for the ‘books’ Category


Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Wow, that went by fast.  We are now on a regular schedule with open hours every Saturday from 11:00 to 5:00, or by appointment.  For clarification purposes, by appointment means you can call us and see if we are around when you would like to come visit.  If we’re already here we will be happy to welcome you.  Saturdays work well for most civilians, but for those who work in ‘the business’ it is almost always a workday. So for those who sling hash, or pints for a living, we can be flexible on your days off.  Since you are there for us when we need your loving care, we will do a level best to return the favor.

Reference Wall

Saturday was so much fun.  We saw smiling faces we hadn’t seen in months, as well as some new ones.  The flow of folks was consistent so at no point were we lonely, although I may not have had quite enough time with each person.  I apologise if you didn’t get enough time with either Don or me, but the beautiful thing is that you can just come back next Saturday, or the one after that, or….

Moving out of a retail space was bittersweet for both of us.  We desperately needed more room, and more quiet time for working, but we were very proud of the community that built up around Rabelais in Portland.  The constant flow of cooks, bartenders, farmers, dishwashers, home cooks, wine geeks and armchair gastronomes was extremely gratifying.  We started the business with an idea, an idea borne from the gastronomic integrity and diversity that is Portland, and Maine.  Rabelais was also making a point about brick and mortar book stores, and how they can still succeed in this electronic world.  But our needs and the machinations of the world of modern publishing diverged too greatly.  It became necessary for Rabelais to move.  The transition was smooth, but a bit anxious due to the unknown nature of where we were going and what this new location held for us.  We are so happy and relieved to discover that this new setting is just what we had hoped it would be.  Physically it is quite perfect, and if you haven’t yet checked us out in person you are in for a treat.  Two desks on opposite sides of the loft allow us each the room to spread out and take care of our business without getting in each other’s hair. The flow around the standing bookshelves is smooth, and since we have so many square feet, I cannot yet imagine it being overcrowded in here.  There is tons of light from the seven windows. The shelves can now hold all the editions of any given book we may have.  Oh how my heart sings at the full shelves of James Beard and Julia Child, among many others.

All of that would be great in itself, but then you add on the fact that you lovely people are seeking us out, traveling the distance, short or not, to check us out.  That is a beautiful thing.  For so many reasons.  Amazon be damned, to hell with ereaders.  Indie book ventures can thrive.  We look forward to re-inventing this concept in the future with your support. We are still fine tuning (!?) the kitchen, still filling out the inventory.  But the days ahead will only be better and fuller.  So thank you for being part of Rabelais and let’s get cracking!


May 12th

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Taking a book store apart, packing it all up in boxes, moving it to a different town and then not unpacking for a couple of months makes unpacking it challenging.  Some boxes you open and say, ‘hello old friend!’, others you open and say ‘I moved this?’.  When we first started un-boxing I had a very distinct feeling of panic that we just weren’t going to have enough shelf space.  Insane, you say, look at all that room they have!  But when it comes to actual shelf real estate, we had already filled a couple of locations with books, new books that had never seen light at 86 Middle Street.  Books that had been in boxes, or had come back from the West Coast with us.  These books took up a goodly amount of room.  So I expressed my fears to Don and he said, no worries, we’ll just set up some of the metro shelving from Portland.  So that’s what we’ve done.

Old & new shelvesHerewith the lovely wooden shelving we purchased from a fellow bookseller with two of the metal metro shelving units we had in Portland.  Don is not entirely sure of this mix yet.  I think he would prefer it to be all wood.   But we have not choice at the moment.  We have books still waiting in boxes to be given new homes.

smaller box pileSee, the pile has gotten smaller, can’t you tell?

We are getting closer to being fully unpacked.  Every day we chip away at the chaos a little  more.  But it is chaotic.  Once you have shelved books it is very hard to move them around much.  Back at 86 Middle Street there were various times when we said to ourselves, we should arrange these differently.  But moving them all would have taken a herculean effort and somehow something else would always take precedence.  Here we are setting Rabelais up again and having continuous discussions about how to organize the books on the shelf.  Do we put all books from America in the same section?  Same for France? Italy? etc.  What about books on French food by Americans?  Or Italian fish cookery? Do technique books get their own section?  Science?  What about the food writing, on Middle Street it was called Commentary, a term Don never liked.  How broad should it be here?  Will it include History?  And the wine books, oh the wine books.  I haven’t even really started to think about them. There is a Bee library we bought last year that could probably take up a whole bookcase itself.  Goodness.  It is a fraught process.  I thought we would just open boxes and out books on shelves. But Noooooo!

It is an ongoing process and now we have a date to shoot towards.  We have decided to re-open our doors, quietly, on May 12th.  If you live nearby we hope you stop by.  There will be nibbles and sips.  We will be wearing clean clothes and on our best behavior.  But be gentle with us.  This very personal project of re-imagining Rabelais is a fluid concept and I think we will be working on it for a while now.

There will be more specific details about 5/12 in an email soon, and then here on the blog, and the Facebook page.  incidentally there are a couple more pix on the Rabelais Facebook page, which you should join (or like?) if you haven’t already.

Back to unpacking…


52nd New York Antiquarian Book Fair

Friday, April 20th, 2012

I sincerely apologize for taking so long to update you on this event.  We had a great show and were completely exhausted when we returned on Sunday night.  It has taken us a couple of days to catch up on sleep, paperwork, and staring at the wall.  Now beginning to feel communicative again.

We packed the car up nicely.  It was chock full.  Five large Pelican cases, four cardboard boxes and a couple of bags.  Needless to say there was the most minimal of room for the humans.  But we shoehorned ourselves in and set off.  We have loaded ourselves into and out of many book fairs since Rabelais came into being.  Don has done the same with his previous business and for others many, many times. However the New York fair is a big deal, if I haven’t mentioned that before, we were both anticipating the event so each part of this trip was new and different.  Load-in went smoothly.  The car went in a garage and the unpacking began. There were some issues with the booth size and the fixtures we had ordered, but it was all sorted out.  Don went back and forth between thinking we had way too many books and just enough.  He settled on the latter with plenty of time to sparkle for the opening of the doors.  I had baked a double batch of the lemon-rosemary butter cookies familiar to those who have visited the store in the month of December.  We filled our copper fumiere with potted herbs.  The new catalogue was stacked on the table.  Suddenly, with no warning from the house, the doors were open and the flood began.

I’m not sure I can convey how impressive the floor of this fair was.  Dealers were saying that the number of their brethren displaying was larger than in previous years.  Everyone had brought their most special, most impressive, most favoritest books.  You could feel the room vibrate with all the knowledge, information, expertise and color that a huge room of remarkable books will offer.  There were certainly examples of modern technology everywhere, (our booth neighbors-Lorne Bair Rare Books- and us were both using the Square to process credit cards on our iPhones), and there were plenty of the craned necks of the gadget-obsessed.  But the real star in that room was the books.  Printed matter on real paper.  Paper that in that collection was predominantly rag. Boards were wood in many cases.  Vellum, Morocco and calf were everywhere.  This fair really brings out the extraordinary items.

The crowd was thick and came in waves.  The first night was only four hours, but they were full hours.  These were the serious collectors.  Many of them made straight for their favorite dealers.  But others wandered, purposefully, from booth to booth.  Our subject matter brought more than one or two collectors up short.  “Cookbooks? really? All cookbooks?” For a few that meant a beeline out.  But for many more it meant a new approach to a venerable practice.   Over the course of the four days we met many new customers.  Some were from institutions/libraries.  Others were private collectors.  One woman loves to cook but had never thought about collecting cook books.  She came back after a night of tossing and turning and began her collection with a handful of our books.  Some of our regular customers from other book fairs showed up in the big room.  We were very happy to see them and catch up.

Many cookies were eaten.  Both by dealers and by customers.  One vertically challenged youngster kept coming back and back.  His Mother was surprised because he doesn’t usually eat anything but chocolate.  I took that as a compliment.  Chelsea Clinton perused the floor on Friday for quite a few hours.  Steve Martin and his gentlewoman companion shopped on Sunday, she bought a cocktail book from us.  Yoko Ono was seen making a pile to take with her.  I was particularly pleased to see the span of ages represented: a couple of toddlers seemed bemused by their parents obsessions; a pair of pre-teen girls asked me about good books to cook from; the young New York hipsters were on the scene.  It was really cool.  Yeah, cool.  Smart people know that books are cool.  We gave out dozens of catalogues, talked with dozens of people about food, books, life. By the end of the weekend we were both pretty talked out.  We sold some books.  Books that we had been honored to shepherd for a time.  Books that had been with us for a stretch, and others that we had known for only a short while. We bonded with our fellow booksellers about our love of books (and food) and the trials and tribulations of making a living from the pursuit.  Most who visit a book fair see wares on offer.  The subtext is a social world of people who hold the printed word close to their hearts.  Gathering that many dealers with that many books in one room, it is inevitably exciting, excitable, excited.

Various of our colleagues write about books and the life of booksellers.  If you are interested in anything I have said here, you should read their words.  Lorne Bair wrote most recently about this fair and the importance, to all of us, of books.  You can read him on his blog.  Sunday Steinkirschner has been enlisted to write about rare book selling for Forbes, her blog can be found here.

Your behind must be pretty flat from sitting and reading.  You should get up and move around.  I’ll write more later.


postscript: Bon Appetit visited us at the fair, see what they had to say.

Ambrose Heath

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Ambrose Heath (1891-1969) was a food writer and broadcaster who wrote over seventy books on food and cooking.  We have amassed upwards of thirty of his titles.  It is lovely to have what we have out and on display instead of cooped up in a box somewhere.  There is obviously more collecting to do if we are to be complete on this author.  I am looking forward to cooking from his books when the kitchen in fully functional.  In the meantime they are lovely to look at, all lined up on the shelf….


Temperate days

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Mother Nature is one confused broad these days.  She has been showering us with hot sunny days at a time of year when we should be wet, muddy and grey.  I think it will all go back to normal this weekend, but for the past week we have been playing at Summer, before having gone through Spring.

garlic sprouts

The garlic has sprung from it’s cold Winters bed.  We may need to close the garden back up so the chickens can’t get in to scratch at the tender shoots.  My chicken wire defense only partially works. But the green is a welcome sight.  Someone asked me at yoga the other day if I had planted my peas on St. Patrick’s Day.  This is common wisdom further South in New England, I have planted peas this early in other gardens, in other lifetimes.  Here in Maine we wait until Patriots Day, a holiday I was fully unaware of until we moved up here.  It comes right around tax day, a full month later than St. Patty’s.  I suppose if one was bold one could try putting some peas in the ground now.  Our soil was too frozen in the beginning of this week.  By now it has probably warmed up enough for an attempt.  For me however, that entails plotting out where I will plant what for the whole season, as I try to rotate my crops (!?) as much as possible to keep down disease and pests.  Somehow I am just not there yet.  Perhaps in another week or so, after it has gotten cold again, and I am longing for days planting with the sun on my back.  Then I will plot it all out, so the next time it gets even close to warm enough, I can run right out and plant those darling peas.

birthday cake In the meantime, we spent Thursday at home, having made an executive decision to enjoy its lovely weather and forgo our usual Sunday off, as rain is forecast for that day.  Our friend Peter came over for lunch and we sat on the patio, eating, talking and staring out at the still brown field.  We grilled some Scup, or Porgys as our fishmonger compared them. They were delicious.  Just brushed with olive oil, salt & pepper and a few slices of lemon in their cavities. The crackling skin was marvelous, the meat sweet and tender.  Accompanied by a Cauliflower and Red Pepper salad (because it is still March and here in Maine we have fewer fresh vegetable options this time of year) it was a tasty afternoon meal outdoors. The only thing missing was some green, no leaves anywhere with those temps was just plain queer.

We finished up with my new favorite cake, the Brown Sugar Lightning cake from The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider.  It is just as it sounds, brown sugary goodness that comes together lightning fast.  Split, filled with some Mangoes that had been macerating with brown sugar and lime juice, and frosted with whipped cream laced with Greek yogurt (full fat, thank you) and, wait for it, brown sugar.  It was dreamy.  Turns out it was Peter’s birthday, so we didn’t have any candles, and we didn’t sing at him, but it was his birthday cake.

The Gentlewoman

Monday, March 12th, 2012

“Nature has laid us under the necessity of eating and drinking, but at the same time has endowed us with faculties to choose and prepare the diet that is most salutary and agreeable to our tastes.”

“Refinement belongs only to those whose tastes accord with perfection, and it is beyond all question that the characteristics of those that feed upon half-dressed or spoiled food are barbarous in mind and barbarous in complexion, which is the cause of so many jaundiced complaints that quacks undertake to cure, but which end in weakness, exhaustion, and early death.”

“The great social evil is not that which is talked of by gentlemen in black at midnight meetings; but it is the great evil that besets the English, from the highest to the lowest, every man, woman and child suffers from it, and thousands die or only experience a lingering existence from its neglect.  The great social evil is the want of persons of education and practical knowledge, worthy to be entrusted in the preparation of food with that care and nicety that is practiced in every nation in Europe except England.”

The Gentlewoman

a pseudonymous book

Chapman & Hall, London 1864

Printed matter

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Today comes the news that Kodak will discontinue the manufacture of slide film. What does this have to do with books on food, you ask?

If you had visited Rabelais at 86 Middle Street anytime in the past few years there was a good chance you overheard or participated in a conversation about the state of the modern book world. Our decision to shift our focus from predominantly new books (in terms of inventory) to antiquarian books was due to no small part to the trajectory of the modern world of publishing. Don and I have turned this issue over and over in our minds, trying very hard to find some logical or even rational way in. To our minds modern publishers, for the most part, are on a downward spiral, tolling their own death knell before they even get there. They have given away the store to Amazon, who now has them over a barrel and they are walking away from the printed book and it’s sale in brick and mortar shops.

We firmly believe in books, and that they will never go away entirely, Fahrenheit 451 be damned. But their form is changing rapidly, no doubt, and their method of dissemination as well. The super book stores (Barnes & Noble, Borders) killed a large segment of the local independent market. Then the big box stores (Walmart, Costco) undercut the big guys and sent them under, taking along the way another round of indies. Now we hear that Home Depot is discontinuing the sale of books and others are rumored to follow. So where will we buy our books? Well, maybe it doesn’t matter because so many people are reading on electronic devices, be they phones, tablets or Kindles.  For most, these methods will suffice.  But for the rest of us?

This brings me round to the Kodak reference. I have been shooting photos all my life, had a short career as a wedding photographer, before spending a decade as a photo editor at some major magazines. I have a special place in my heart for the craft. When photography first became widely recognized there was much hue and cry that no one would ever paint again, who would need to when you could take an exact likeness of someone with a camera. While painting has changed in some senses in it’s import in society, it has certainly not died as a medium. I am choosing to think the same thing about the physical printed book.

But what does it say about photography that Kodak has declared bankruptcy and they will stop making slide film? Perhaps it just points to how fast our technology is changing these days. People shoot millions of images with their digital cameras, judging by the number of images I see on Facebook. They just don’t need to take the film to the lab and wait for it to be processed any longer. What is the analogy for books? Will the codex go back to an earlier form, created only for the collector? I suppose there are many possible options. I just sincerely hope they stay in the public sphere for any who wants to have access to them.  Rabelais will stand guard.


Table arrangements

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Having returned from our travels we are setting about to make the Mill a proper home for Rabelais in its new incarnation. We’ve got desks set up, shelves are installed and being filled slowly.  The boxes from Middle Street remain sealed.  The integration will need our full attention and there are other parts of the working space that are calling to us at the moment. Moving a business is a tricky proposition.  We were gratified by the expressions of good will from so many of our customers in our last weeks at 86 Middle Street.

Don at his desk
Rabelais is will remain in hibernation for another month. Boxes need to be unpacked. Systems need to be set up. Everything needs to find its home. The kitchen is still a work in progress(!). That wall of books behind Don?  All reference.  He is thrilled to have it all out of boxes and in one place.

I have set up a mini photo studio to shoot books for catalogs and the website.  It feels luxurious to have a space dedicated to photography that doesn’t need to be broken down after use.  If we need some pictures I can simply take the books to the studio, shoot, download and we’re good to go.  Simple.

The backdrop is a beautiful pale blue Irish linen tablecloth that was a wedding gift, and that Raleigh chewed a hole in shortly after he first came to live with us. It is actually a perfect backdrop so I am glad the item has another life.  Was very sad to discover the hole by the new dog years ago. Shooting digitally on a tripod means that I can make a studio anywhere that the light is decent. The mill has big windows and we are on the second floor facing West Southwest, so the light changes in ways that make for creativity in my photography.  A good thing because honestly books are a little dull for photographing.  But I am seeing it as a challenge to make dynamic photos out of static subjects.

Rabelais is also gearing up for the biggest book fair of the year: The New York Antiquarian Book Fair at the Park Avenue Armory, April 12-15. Don is furiously cataloguing new material from our travels and plotting what should and what should not come with us.  This will be our first outing at the New York fair, which is widely considered the most important book fair of the year. We are excited to see the reaction to our books and to meet new customers. For our first showing we will be sharing a booth with another dealer, which was not our choice.  We are happy to be sharing with our friends at Schubertiade, music goes so well with food, but wish that we could have had our own booth all to ourselves.  Space will be at a premium, so our choices of what to bring must be made very carefully.  If you are in New York  April 12th through the 15th, please stop in and say hello. There are some gorgeous new books that we will be bringing to New York.  And who knows there might even be some cookies….



Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

We had a snowstorm the other day.  A real snowstorm with snow that fell for a full twenty four hours. It left a foot of snow around our house.  An executive decision was made not to leave the house, even though it was a ‘workday’.  One of the benefits of being your own boss, and having a business without posted retail hours just yet. These kinds of days are one of the beautiful parts of winter in the Northeast. Sometimes you just have to stay indoors for a whole day. Being housebound leads to various trains of thought, one of which is: what do I have on hand to cook with?  My brain focused on Spaetzle for some reason.  Well, actually I’ve been mulling over Gnocchi since we had a delicious meal with Gallit and Chris of Fishbowl Farm last week.  Gallit made the best Gnocchi I have ever had with a magnificent lamb shoulder and some of their spinach.  I have never tried to make Gnocchi.  Always thought it was beyond me somehow, and that if I tried it I would fail.  Bad judgment on my part, but there it is.I have seen them made many times including when I was working in the kitchen at Craft and Damon Wise would make them every morning.  I would watch furtively from the pastry section.  So since we ate Gallit’s Gnocchi I have been toying with trying them, over and over, in my head.  I have all the ingredients at home.  Full disclosure here, I have still not yet tried, although I may tonight.

No, I thought I would dip my toe in the water with some Spaetzle. A hand-made noodle (dumpling?) of some similarity to Gnocchi, Spaetzle are generally considered a simpler enterprise.  They are made of just three ingredients: flour; egg, salt and a sprinkle of water.  Guess that’s four ingredients.   When Gallit was was giving me her tips on making Gnocchi she pulled out her battered copy of Beard on Pasta by the venerable James Beard.  I have one of those I remembered.  I haven’t pulled it out in a while, but it wasn’t buried too deep in our collection.  Not getting much use lately, it has seen better days.

It was a gift from my Father when I was in college.    He had been introduced to James Beard by his friend Raymond Sokolov who has written about food for decades, including most recently the Wall Street Journal.  When my parents divorced, Ray helped Dad set up his batterie de cuisine, including his early culinary library which included the likes of James Beard, Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey.   Dad had a brand new copy of Beard on Pasta the summer it came out and I made the fettucine with striped bass, except being on Martha’s Vineyard at the time, I substituted bluefish for the bass.  It was a hit at dinner that night so for my birthday, which falls in September, I was gifted my very own copy of this iconic title.

This is a book that has traveled a lot of ground with me.  It has been through many moves, various relationships, and at different points has inspired many meals.  When I took it back to college that first year I would make the fresh tomato sauce (to think I needed a recipe, but I was just 19) that called for four tablespoons of butter to be melted into the sauce at the end.  For some reason I remember it being a whole stick of butter, and that being the reason that I and all my house mates loved that pasta.  However I can no longer find mention of this step in the book.  Did I make it all up?

I look at this book now- dust jacket torn and stained- and see my culinary history. I just put a mylar cover on it.  Don asked why I was mylaring such a damaged dust jacket instead of just finding a clean copy.  Because it’s my copy.  I caused that book to look like that, it holds a small piece of my history and the stories that I carry from cooking from it. I may not cook from this book that frequently, but I am comforted by knowing that it is on my shelf.  Very proud that I did not get rid of it during the no-carb frenzy a decade or so ago.  It’s part of my library.  Something I hold dear.

So of course I was going to turn to Beard if I was to make Spaetzle. He has two variations, one called Spaetzle and another called Spatzen.  The difference is just the addition of a pinch of baking powder. Despite not having a Spaetzle-maker, I think my efforts were successful.  The delicate flavor of the dumplings was overwhelmed by the baked ham and roasted beet that I served it with.  But I will make them again.  And I am one step closer to making Gnocchi.

The things you do on a snowy day.

Moved in

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

This past Monday, on one of the coldest days the year, we moved into the Mills in Biddeford.  It was a very seamless  move, we thank Local Muscle for making the whole experience smooth and without incident.  Being moved by a wine rep and a chef seemed very appropriate for Rabelais.  The following are some images both of the move and the moved in.

All packed up and ready to go.

Packing was pretty fast with help from Karen.

While we would both love to tear into the boxes and start setting the new space up, we’ve got some traveling to do first.  Two book fairs in California: San Francisco and Pasadena.  If you are in either of these towns please come visit us, click through on the link for details.