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Monday, December 5, 2016

Top Gift Food Reference Books/Memoirs/Literary Histories -- for 2016

--THE WURST OF LUCKY PEACH (Clarkson Potter, 2016, 240 pages, $34 CAD) is by Chris Ying and the editors of "Lucky Peach" magazine. It is a cookbook on sausages and making your own. Part one is geographic Europe and five other continents, exploring the history of choucroute garnie, currywurst, cevapi, boerewors, and merguez. Part two takes a look at chorizo, mortadella and various wieners. There are contributions by many chefs here, such as Rick Bayless. It is a definitive book.
--BLUE GUIDE: ITALY FOOD COMPANION (Somerset Books, 2016, 216 pages, $16.99 CAD paperbound) is a phrasebook and miscellany that will get you through the Italian peninsula: what to order, what it means, how to pronounce, navigating a menu, reading a wine label, plus other trivia. It's an A – Z dictionary format, with a section of useful phrases.
--WORLD ATLAS OF TEA (Firefly Books, 2016, 240 pages, $39.95 CAD hardbound) is via the UK; its author is Krisi Smith, co-owner of Bluebird Tea Company. She also runs courses in tea mixology. The market for tea in North America has quadrupled in just 20 years, and there is a need for a substantial printed and illustrated guide to existing tea areas around the world: from plantation to table. The four major sections include basics (varieties, grades, harvesting, history), brewing and drinking (tea tools, buying, storing, tasting, health benefits),  blending, and the tea-producing countries in Africa, India, Middle East, Far East, and South America. Well-illustrated with pictures and maps, a nifty title for the tea collector.
--WORLD WHISKEY. Rev. ed.  (DK, 2016, 352 pages,  $31 CAD hardbound) has been edited by Charles MacLean, author of ten books on whiskey (including the definitive "Scotch Whisky" and "Malt Whisky"). This is another "tell it all" book, international in scope, with 167 pages on Scotland, 34 for Irish, 12 on Canada, 50 on the USA, 25 for Japan, 13 for the
rest of Europe, and six for Australasia. The writers clearly show the impact of climate, water, heather, sea breeze, barley, peat, malting techniques, distillation processes, type of wood used for storage, maturation periods. General sections cover aromas and flavours, peats and bogs, regions, terroirs – with lots of illustrations and diagrams. There are short sections on whiskey cocktails (with recipes), and food and whiskey pairing. But this is principally a directory to some of the
finest distilled grain-based spirits in the world (over 700 of them, with 1200 colour photos). Tasting notes are also included.
--THE BOOK OF KITCHEN WITCHERY (CICO books, 2016, 144 pages, $29.95 CAD paperbound) is by Cerridwen Greenleaf who tells us how to turn our kitchen into a pagan power centre. She's got spells, recipes, and rituals for magical meals, and enchanted garden, and a happy house. I'll go along with that, since she wants us to learn how to cook enchanting meals. All the High Holidays are here, from the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, and she covers herbs, crystals, colours, and altars. She encourages us to grow our own gardens to make our own medicines, teas and tinctures. Through energy management, we can also eliminate negative energy emanating at home.
--HOW TO BAKE EVERYTHING (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, 703 pages, $50 CAD hardbound) is by the indefatigable Mark Bittman, who, believe it or not, still needs log rollers (Ottolenghi, Batali, Kimball and others) to sell his books. This is simplified and straightforward ways to bake. There are over 2,000 recipes here covering everything: quick breads, muffins, pancakes, cookies, cakes, pies, frozens, crackers, yeast breads, pastry, frostings – and more! A great resource, although serious bakers may be let down by the lack of scaling.
--THE SPICE COMPANION (Clarkson Potter, 2016, 305 pages, $59 CAD hardbound) is by Liev Lev Sercarz, founder of La Boite (biscuits and spices since 2009) in NYC. It is a guide to the world of 102 spices, the best and most commonly used. After the primer on history, sourcing, the importance of blending and storing there are 260 pages of alphabetically arranged spices, from Ajowan to Zuta. He's got the deets on flavour and aroma, origin, harvests, traditional uses, some pairings he recommends, recipe ideas, and a blend for each spice.  He's even got icon keys for usage. Throughout there are great illustrations of the spices and blends.
--FOOD ANATOMY; the curious parts & pieces of our edible world (Storey Publishing, 2016, 224 pages, $24.95 CAD paperbound French covers) is by Julia Rothman, author of other "anatomy" books. She's an illustrator with her own lines of wallpaper, stationery, dishware, and other items. Here she draws edible food from around the world, including street food, place settings, cooking tools, breads and dumplings, and fried foods. Food journalist Rachel Wharton adds text and editorial materials with some little-known facts to match up with the drawings. This book has foodie "gift" written all over it!
--F.SCOTT FITZGERALD'S TASTE OF FRANCE (CICO Books, 2016, 160 pages, $36.95 CAD hardbound) is by Carol Hiker. It's a series of recipes inspired by the cafes and bars of Fitzgerald's haunts in Paris and the Riviera in the 1920s. It is a culinary tour with 60 preps, ranging from breakfast to late night dinners. Each prep is headed with background and cultural detail, and there are extensive sidebars as well on Americans in Paris, the Riviera of the 1920s, "the jazz age", cafes, various chefs, and drinking before noon. There is a timeline and a list of further readings. Lots of good photos from the the period, plus finished plates.
--SQUIRREL PIE (AND OTHER STORIES) (Bloomsbury, 2016, 387 pages, $37 CAD hardbound) is by the redoubtable Elisabeth Luard, who has been travelling all of her life. She's an award-winning food writer with over a dozen books:  "I write about food in its historical, geographical and social context. I've also written three memoirs with recipes and a couple of doorstopper novels. In an earlier life I was a natural history painter specialising in botany and birds." Here she continues her memoir, collecting stories about the forests of Maine, the islands of Crete and Sardinia, the Rhone and Danube Rivers, and even two deserts. Recipes are at the end of each chapter, and – miracle of miracles – there is even an index.
--MARIJUANA EDIBLES (DK, 2016, 128 pages, $18.95 CAD hardbound) is by Laurie and Mary Jane, a mother and daughter-in-law edibles company in Portland Oregon. It's small enough to be stocking stuffer, but I'd like it here in this category. Cooking with marijuana is a skill based on the infusion  method, with coconut oil. Here are 40 cannabis-infused desserts: cookies, bars, pies, tarts, pastries, cakes, puddings, candies, frozen desserts. The roasted sweet corn popsicle is amazing – a Field of Dreams!!
--KNIVES & INK (Bloomsbury, 2016, 195 pages, $32 CAD hardbound) is by Isaac Fitzgerald and Wendy MacNaughton. They interviewed 50 chefs, to get the stories behind their tattoos and their own food work. There are watercolour reproductions of the tattoos, and even a sourcing for the tattoo artists involved. 24 recipes are also included. Dominique Crenn of San Francisco is one of the chefs; she is the Celebrity leader at this year's DevourFest in Wolfville, NS which features women in the world of gastronomy.
--A THYME AND PLACE (Skyhorse Publishing, 164 pages, $30.99 CAD) is by Tricia Cohen and Lisa Graves (Lisa did the hand drawn illustrations). It recounts medieval feasts with 35 recipes for the modern table. They celebrate the festivals throughout the year. Each is tied to a Renaissance period event such as Twelfth Night, St. Bridgid's Day and Candlemas, Shrove Tuesday, St. Swithin's Day, Martinmas, and more. There are historical tidbits about each holiday, followed by an appropriate but modernized recipe (there are no original recipes from the medieval period).
--PEN & PALATE (Grand Central Life & Style, 2016, 296 pages, $31.50 CAD) is by Lucy Madison and Tram Nguyen, two young ladies who try to master the art of adulthood through cooking. These are the chills and spills of memorable meals spanning years; it is a joint memoir of the best of friends, with illustrations by Tram. Forty recipes (not indexed) and eighteen vignettes, worth a read.
--REAL FOOD/FAKE FOOD (Algonquin Books, 2016, 318 pages, $41.95 CAD hardbound) is by Larry Olmstead, food and travel writer, with appearances as a food expert on radio. His exposure of counterfeit  Kobe beef (a chapter in this book) was done for Forbes and was well-received. He looks at: Parmesan cheese made from sawdust (cellulose), lobster rolls without lobster, non-virgin olive oil, general fish. Only one chef in Canada is licensed to import and serve real Kobe beef from Japan (he's in Montreal). Prosciutto as a meat has its problems. You don't really want to talk about labelling in the wine world. Other foods: coffee, honey, juice. His polemic is part cautionary tale and part crusade. Deception is always about more money for profits, and relies heavily on bait-and-switch. But then you can read all about it here.
--FAST AND FEARLESS COOKING FOR THE GENIUS (For the Genius Press, 2016, $34.95 CAD paperbound) is by my wife Ann Tudor (MAJOR CONFLICT OF INTEREST HERE, THUS THE NEUTRAL REVIEW). She outlines a number of basic and easy principles and techniques for cooking, using ingredients and methods that are sometimes idiosyncratic but approachable and time-tested throughout her life. And she's got memoir stories of successes and failures. It's for the millennial who doesn't cook. Ann's creed: don't be afraid, have a basic pantry with both normal and new-to-you ingredients, and approach the whole business in a spirit of play. Contains no recipes to frighten you.
--FOOD CITY (.W.W. Norton, 2017 [sic], 460 pages, $38.95 hardbound) is by the late Joy Santlofer who spent her last five years researching and writing the food history of New York City. This tome covers four centuries of food-making in the area, from the Dutch to the modern times.  In dealing with the food supply, she conveniently breaks it down for us into four categories – bread (such as white flour and donuts), sugar and rationing, drink (milk, lager, stills, coffee), and meats (Manhattan cattle drives). It is loaded with black and white photos, both historical and contemporary, and engaging sidebars. At the back there are endnotes and an index.
--SORTING THE BEEF FROM THE BULL (Bloomsbury Sigma, 2016, 319 pages, $32 CAD hardbound) is by academics Richard Evershed and Nicola Temple. They deal with the science of food fraud forensics, looking into olive oils, horsemeat in burgers, bogus beverages, chicken eggs, melamine in infant's milk, nut shells in spices, and mislabeling of fish. They duplicate some of the material covered  by Olmstead but go on with others, meanwhile detailing the dishonesty, duplicity, and shortcuts of "food adulteration" that leads to false labeling. Of course, it is all motivated by higher profits. Their number one suggestion (and the easiest): simply read the small print on the back label – bring a magnifying glass with you to the store.
--DANGEROUS DIGESTION (University of California Press, 2016, 213 pages, $34.95 USD paperbound) is by E. Melanie DuPuis, an academic in Environmental Studies at Pace University.  It is another book in the California Studies in Food and Culture series. This is a book of social activism about the politics of American dietary advice over the years. Food rules have apparently been driven by an OCD (obsessive-compulsory disorder) need for purity, some of which applies to the American organic food movement (according to the author). At the other end there is the conventional "spray and pray" for a guaranteed crop. She deals with big agri-business too, although Monsanto is not in the tome.
--A TASTE OF POWER (University of California Press, 2016, 262 pages, $29.95 USD paperbound) is by Katharina Vester, who teaches at the American University in Washington DC. She believes  that cookbooks and other culinary texts taught Americans how to distinguish themselves from Europeans. They inspired women to participate in nation-building before they had the right to vote. Food writing shaped ideas about nationalism, gender, and sexuality. In addition to end notes and a bibliography, there is even a food noir discussion on the Maltese Falcon.
--RHAPSODY IN SCHMALTZ (St. Martin's Press, 2016, 297 pages, $37.99 CAD hardbound) is by Martin Wex, and Albertan living in Toronto. He writes here about Yiddish food and why we cannot stop eating it, beginning with a history and impact  of this cuisine brought over from Europe. There are some references to modern culture (TV and films) as well. It is written with good humour about the traditions, and comes complete with endnotes and bibliography.
--52 WEEKS OF COOKIES (Familius, 2016, 330 pages, $27.95 CAD paperbound) is by Maggie McCreath. She refused to get depressed by her son's deployment to Iraq, so she made cookies every week and sent them off as care packages. These are the stories (and the recipes) behind a year's worth of cookie developments. A good way to handle stress.
--SAVE ROOM FOR PIE (Farrar, Straus & Giraux, 2016, 290 pages, $29.99 CAD hardbound) is by Roy Blount Jr. It's an off-the-wall collection of food songs and "chewy marinations". The miscellany comes from previously published works and radio programs. Every food gets its turn in short poems or sidebar prose: song to the apple, to hot dogs, to grease, to eggs, and more.
--MY ORGANIC LIFE (Vintage Books, 2015, 2016, 284 pages, $21.95 CAD paperbound) is by Nora Pouillon. It's a reprint about how a pioneering chef helped to shape the daily eating patterns of North Americans. She was the founder of America's first certified organic restaurant, and was there at the birth of the farm-to-table movement. At the back of the time, there are 10 recipes.
--THE FRENCH CHEF IN AMERICA; Julia Child's second act (Appetite by Random House, 2016, 324 pages, $32.95 CAD hardcovers) is by Alex Prud'homme, Julia Child's great-nephew and the co-author of her autobiography "My Life in France" (2006). It covers the  PBS period from the sixties through to her death in 2004 at age 92. This period opens  post-tome "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and shows her vulnerabilities as she copes with finding her voice in middle age, dealing with envious colleagues, and handling fame. It is also a period of early mentoring and strong relationships, as with her long-time editor Judith Jones. She had strong principles, believing in butter and cream but not believing in vegetarianism and "nouvelle cuisine". There are extensive end-notes, a bibliography and a thorough index.
--A PROPER DRINK (Ten Speed Press, 2016, 342 pages, $36 CAD hardbound) is by Robert Simonson, the New York Times spirits writer. It's about the contemporary craft cocktail revival, and is based on over 200 interviews with movers and shakers from around the world, principally bartenders. Dates and places are cited for the references. These are the people who have, as the author states, "saved the civilized drinking world".  These are memories, stories, musings, and histories of bars, characters and restaurants. Some drinks may seem contrived, such as a White Negroni (around since 2001), but they all have their fans: 40 major newish cocktail recipes are included, such as Penicillin, Jasmine and Gin-Gin Mule.
--GENERATION CHEF (Avery, 2016, 312 pages, $35 CAD hardbound) is by Karen Stabiner, journalism teacher at Columbia who has written about food and cookbooks. It is the story of Jonah Miller, who at 24 quits as a sous chef to open a Basque-themed cuisine restaurant called Huertas in NYC's East Village. She follows the ambitious Miller through the location stage, the financial stage, the labour stage, and the opening stage (with material on critics). She's also got some stories about other ambitious young chefs who have TV appearances and how they got their restaurants. Thus, she looks at the restaurant culture in the US – and by extension, to all of North America, and the competitive success needed. A nice reminder gift for your chef (or budding chef) friend.

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