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Monday, December 10, 2007

HOLIDAY GIFT BOOKS: stocking stuffer recommendations

For those of us at Gothic Epicures, it gets more difficult each year to
match a recipient with a food or wine book gift over the holidays -
there are so many new and newish items out there and people, lately at
least, have such picky tastes!! I have cast about for material for my
newsletters and my Internet site, and I have come up with a decent
selection to satisfy any pocketbook, any host, and any friend. All
books and book-like materials are recommended, and probably can be
purchased at a discount via Amazon.Ca or Chapters.Ca (with free
delivery on a total purchase of over $39). Price Alert: because of US
dollar parity and more, the Canadian prices quoted below may actually
drop. It will depend on the publisher, or the distributor, or the book
store, or the dollar itself. Unfortunately, the GST remains (it will
drop one percentage point on January 1, 2008)...


Stuffers --

Stocking stuffers are at the top of everybody's gift list: something
affordable (under $10 - $30) that can also double as a host gift,
something small and lightweight. Most of the books here are paperbacks.
And of course they can stuff an adult stocking. Typical is FOOD FOR
THOUGHT: fish and feather (Think Books, 2007, 160 pages, $12.95 hard
covers) which is a second collection of essays by Brit food writer
Simon Courtauld. They had originally appeared as part of his Spector
columns. The first collection was "Fruit, Herbs and Vegetables". Here
he observes and describes seafood and poultry. The essays are divided
by month (January through December) and the best eating season. There
are 51 recipes, in narrative style. A BUTLER'S GUIDE TO TABLE MANNERS
(National Trust Books, 2007, 136 pages, $16.95 hard
covers) is an etiquette book, British in tone, authored by Nicholas
Clayton who has been a butler for 11 years. The book shows how to wine
and how to dine, with material on eating habits, dressing habits,
cutlery, and table manners. There are diagrams for table placements and
folding napkins. There is also an index. THE CURRY COMPANION (Think
Books, 2007, 160 pages, $12.95 hard covers) is a deftly presented
handbook by Sonja Patel. It purports to tell you all about curries: as
she says, the British took India with gunpowder, and India took Britain
with curry powder. The spice trail is highlighted, as are the
individual spices which go into curry. Recipes are also here. It comes
complete with a bookmark ribbon and a bibliography of source material.
THE BEST OF MRS. BEETON'S CHRISTMAS (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007, 250
pages, $16.95 hard bound) has been hived off from her 1861 book - with
updates, of course. This is a good book for that Victorian Christmas
season. There's a traditional feast with all the trimmings, baking and
party food. There are menus, drinks, and formal table layout. There is
even a countdown for the Christmas preps, beginning a year in advance
with the pudding. It has been fully updated for freezing and

LOVER'S POCKET GUIDE (Ten Speed, 2007, 220 pages, $14.95 paper covers)
has more than 600 listings for the best and most interesting eateries,
market, and other food-related spots in the region (East Bay, Marin,
Napa). THE FOOD LOVER'S GUIDE TO FLORENCE, with culinary excursions in
Tuscany (Ten Speed, 2007, 256 pages, $18.95 paper covers) is in its
second edition, written by Emily Wise Miller. It purports to be the
only travel guide to Tuscany devoted solely to food. There are 100
restaurant reviews (ristorantes, trattorias, enotecas, and gelato
shops). She has a glossary and two maps, and for credibility, she is
based in Florence.

Still other smallish books include FRESH FROM THE OVEN (Hamlyn, 2007,
128 pages, $11.95 paperback) which is an anonymous collection of some
70 recipes for home baking of cakes, muffins and cookies, particularly
apt for holidays. ANTIPASTI MADE EASY (New Holland, 2007, 80 pages,
$14.95 paper covers), by Abigail Brown and Melissa Webb, is a
collection of small Italian dishes suitable for openers. There are
about 30 master recipes with variations. For a single food product
book, then look no further than EGGPLANT (Sterling, 2007, 128 pages,
$17.95 paper covers) by Ofir Jovani. It is a collation of some 75
recipes covering every course. The recipes are all well-chosen classics
(stuffed, moussaka, bolognaise lasagna).

Then there is the charming GENTLEMAN'S RELISH; a gourmet's guide
(National Trust Books, 2007, 143 pages, $16.95 hard covers) that is
packed with the strangest English culinary oddities that you would ever
want to read about. That includes "Bovril", "Piccalilli", the evil
"Marmite", "Spotted Dick", "Pickled Walnuts", "Buck's Fizz", etc. There
are about 80 of these, all with a little social history and in most
cases a recipe. Great fun (and why have many people named their cats
after these concoctions?).

Calendars are always monster hits and are often appreciated, both the
wall and the desk type. The best of the desk are the three "page-a-day"
(PAD) calendars from Workman. THE WINE LOVER'S CALENDAR 2008 (Workman,
2007, $13.95) has been put together by Karen MacNeil, author of "The
Wine Bible", and Emily K. Bell. There is a new varietal highlighted
each month, tips galore for pouring and tasting, food and wine
matching, bargains, pop quizzes, etc. etc. And 160 "must try" wines are
highlighted. 366 BOTTLES OF BEER FOR THE YEAR 2008 (Workman, 2007,
$13.95) is by Bob Klein, author of "The Beer Lover's Rating Guide".
It's a Leap Year, so we'll get one more page. Most of the beers appear
as imports in Canada, but otherwise there are few Canadian brews
included. Lights, lagers, ales, porters, stouts, and lambrics - they're
all here. Other material in the PAD includes beer festivals, beer
facts, label lore and vocabulary. If you buy any of the PAD calendars,
then you can go online to the website and pick up other stuff, usually
free at For wall calendars, there is THE COLLECTIBLE
TEAPOT & TEA CALENDAR 2008 (Workman, 2007, $15.99) with text by Joni
Miller. Size is 12" by 12". These are vintage teapots arranged in
settings, with historical details and lore. The teapots come mainly
from company archives. 12 colour postcards are also included. SCOTCH
CALENDAR 2008 (Workman, 2008, $17.99) is packaged in a die-cut gift box
that doubles as a mailer. It includes six punch-out custom coasters
with scotch-themes quotes. Each spread features a photograph of a
special bottle plus notes: aroma, appearance, flavour, tasting chart,
water source, casking, map, and history of the distillery. Meet Miss
March (The Balvenie) and Miss June (The Glenlivet).

Another non-book entry is the collection of recipe cards, often called
recipe decks. This year there is SEMI-HOMEMADE COOKING (Quirk Books,
2007, 55 two-colour cards and 5 dividers, $19.95 set) is from Sandra
Lee who has a Food Network show in combining 70 percent store bought
ingredients with 30 percent fresh foods to create a meal at home. The
recipes come from her two cookbooks. Check out

Clarkson Potter has a whole slew of decks, but only four concern food.
There is THE CRAFT OF THE COCKTAIL DECK; artful tips and delicious
recipes for serving masterful cocktails (Clarkson Potter, 2007, 50
cards, $20 set) is by Dale DeGroff. CHEESE DECK; a connoisseur's guide
to 50 of the world's best, is by Max McCalman and David Gibbons. It
concentrates on choosing, tasting, and sharing 50 cheeses, along with
wine pairing. They show how each one is made and who the best producers
are; the material is derived from their book CHEESE. TAPAS DECK; 50
little dishes that capture the essence of Spanish cooking, is by Jose
Andres, from his book TAPAS. Try the chorizo stewed in cider. SHORT &
SWEET DESSERT DECK; 50 mouthwatering recipes with 8 ingredients or
less, is by Gale Gand, and come from her books. The cards are tabbed so
that you can bring them to the grocery store or prop them up on the
counter - a good idea.

Other non-book items include WINE LOVERS GIFT TAGS (Crown, 2007, 50
tags, $15 set) which also includes ribbons for attaching the tag. There
are three colours for the ribbons, and three sizes for the tags.
Different quotes are used on each tag. This is a real charmer of a
gift. WINEPARTY; the sniff, swirl, and sip winetasting kit (Quirk
Books, 2007, 16 page guide, 24 wine wrappers, 36 stem tags, 12 aroma
sheets, tasting notepads, $29.95 set) is fun for a party. The guide
tells you how to set it up, plus gives some creative ideas for a party.
It also has material on aromas and flavours. It was pulled together by
Jennifer Elias and Julie Tucker (both San Francisco) who also did
WINESMARTS (Quirk Books, 2007, 12 page booklet, 100 cards, scorepad,
$21.95 set), a game of 100 Q and A in categories such as region, grape,
and vocabulary. It was created for the novice wine lover. It can be
played as a social game at a dinner party - no experience necessary.
All details are in the booklet, including a pronunciation guide. These
two authors were also involved in WINEPASSPORTS (Quirk Books, 2007, 24-
32 pages, $10.95 each paper covers), a series of five pocket guides
with pop-out maps, for California, Italy, France, Portugal (this one
authored by Amy Sherman) and "Bubbly". The grape and region guide gives
a brief overview of the country's forte. There is an explanation of
labeling requirements and local wine terminology.

Yet another non-book is the journal. I have one for food and two for
wine. The food journal is COOK'S RECIPE COLLECTION (Ryland, Peters &
Small, 2007, 144 pages with 8 card pockets, $24.95 spiral binding). You
can keep all your loose recipes in one place (unless you have hundreds
of them). There are many lined pages for making notes or indexing
recipes from books. There is a quality elastic closure band. One wine
journal is WINENOTES (Quirk Books, 2007, 112 pages, $14.95 paper
covers) which is pulled together by Elias and Tucker (see above). It
has material on winespeak, pronunciation, glossary, geography of wine,
and a quick guide to grapes. There is also a bibliography for more
reading, and 50 pages for notes (two wines to a page). It'll get filled
fast, which is unfortunate, and there seems to be no provision for
refills. But hey - you can always make photocopies of the lined pages,
and just attach them to the main book. Some of the same criticism can
be made for TOWN & COUNTRY WINE COMPANION; a tasting guide and journal
(Hearst Books, 2007, 175 pages, $14.95 hard covers). Author Ted Loos
covers the basics and then some fill-in-the-blank pages for your wines.
Each wine page is headed by a significant wine quote. Since they are
the same price, I might give the nod to Loos' book because it is a hard
cover edition.

There is a category of foodbooks called "little cookbooks"; these are
usually placed at POS (point-of-sales) spots. I've located a very good
collection, from Ryland Peters and Small, all published in 2007. They
are 64 pages each, and sell for $15 (cheaper than last year because of
the dollar) - but they are also hard covers, so they look a bit more
posh -- especially with the photography and the metric conversion
charts. There are about 30 recipes in each. First, there's WRAPS by
Jennie Shepter, proposed as an alternative to sandwiches or snacks.
These are just the basic wraps and rolls (chicken, spring rolls, lamb
wraps, corn flautas, etc. with flour and corn tortillas, chapattis,
crepes). Then, there's DINER (36 recipes) by Jennifer Joyce. There's
nothing much about American diners per se, just the recipes: Manhattan
clam chowder, Cobb salad, meatloaf, cheesecake, apple pie, et al. PATES
& TERRINES is by Fiona Smith, and embraces pork, chicken, livers,
lentils, mushrooms, goat cheese, veggies, and smoked fish. Mousses are
also included. OLIVE OIL has only 25 recipes, which includes bagna
cauda, sauces, dressings, pesto and pistou. TAPAS covers fish and
shellfish, such as garlic shrimp and mussels in overcoats, lamb with
lemon, and chorizo in red wine. PUMPKIN, BUTTERNUT & SQUASH by Elsa
Petersen-Schepelern includes salads, breads, and cakes - in addition to
pies and soups. Zucchini, acorn, hubbard and patty-pan squashes are in
the mix. TAGINE by Ghillie Basan is a closely focused book on the
Moroccan kitchen, using lamb or chicken or fish or beef. Vegetarians
can try a sweet yams and carrots and prunes tagine, or artichoke hearts
with peas and saffron. ONE-BOWL MEATS by Tonia George includes eggs and
pasta, such as a thin stew for a soup or a thick soup for a stew.
Chorizo, meatballs, beef polpetti, chick peas, and tagines are here.
Lastly, look at COFFEE INDULGENCES by Susannah Blake, emphasizing
dishes with coffee in them as well as dishes to eat with a drink of
coffee. Some chocolate is also here. A TASTE OF TEA by Brian Glover
only has 4 recipes, but is heavy with basic data about tea, from
delicate Oolongs to smoky Souchongs to sweet Darjeelings.

Periplus Editions (Ten Speed Press) also has a series, for less money.
This publisher specializes in SEA food. WOK COOKING MADE EASY
(Periplus, 2007, 128 pages, $12 spiral bound) has easy instructions for
stir-frying - and not everything need be done in a wok. There are v65
recipes with good illustrations from all over SE Asia and India, plus
websites for more data. QUICK & EASY ASIAN TAPAS AND NOODLES (Periplus
Editions, 2007, 128 pages, $12 spiral bound) deals with SEA appetizers
and picnic meals, about 60 recipes. It is matched by QUICK & EASY ASIAN
VEGETARIAN RECIPES and includes rice and tofu dishes. The spiral
binding is always a good idea for the kitchen. There are four other
previously published books in this series.

There is also the River Cafe pocket book series from Ebury Press, 2007,
192 pages apiece, $23.95 paper covers. Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers,
founders of the River Cafe in London, have re-packaged and re-
positioned recipes from their cookbooks and their restaurant. There is
FISH AND SHELLFISH (100 recipes, as in all the books) with basic stuff
about grilling, roasting, poaching and curing, as well as salads and
risottos. PASTA AND RAVIOLI has 105 recipes, with raw sauces, cheese
sauces, vegetarian, fish, meat, gnocchi, and stuffed pasta. SALADS AND
the books have large print too.

Kyle Cathie has a Festive Food series, all 96 pages, $12.95 hard
covers, which cover ethnic celebratory foods. Each book provides
historical information on its country's religious, cultural and
culinary festivals and holidays. THE FESTIVE FOOD OF CHINA is by Deh-Ta
Hsiung, THE FESTIVE FOOD OF FRANCE is by Marie-Pierre Moine, THE
from Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, THE FESTIVE FOOD OF SPAIN is from
Nicholas Butcher, and THE FESTIVE FOOD OF THAILAND is by Jacki
Passmore. There are about 50 colour photos throughout, and about four
dozen recipes.

Small drink guides abound this season. There is the Mini Bar series
from Chronicle Books in San Francisco. Each has been called "A Little
Book of Big Drinks", with 50 recipes for the home bartender. They are
about 80 pages in length, with 16 colour photos, and only $9.95 in hard
covers. Mittie Helmich has put them all together, at 4" by 5.75". There
cider, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, spiced punch, and spirits (Ten
Speed, 2007, 96 pages, $19.95 hard covers), a collection by Mary Lou
and Robert J. Heiss of 50 hotties for the winter season, both alcoholic
and non-alcoholic. The classics are augmented by new twists such as Hot
Root Beer Float or Candy Cane Mojito. WHISKY; a brief history (Facts,
Figures and Fun, 2007; distr. Canadian Manda Group, 96 pages, $6.95
hard bound) is by Gavin Smith. He has, ahem, distilled as much as he
could to present the techniques, the history, the lore and anecdotes
about Scotch whisk. Then he goes on to give background about whiskies
of the world and cocktails, festivals and awards, visitors' centres,
statistics, and a bibliography. It's just too bad that he mentions the
Seagram Museum in Waterloo, which has been gone for years...

Annuals --

There is a sub-category of stocking stuffers that is really appreciated
by wine and food lovers: the ANNUAL.Most of these books are pocket
guides, at least the wine ones are. The food books are regular-sized.
But you can wedge them into a stocking -- somehow.

BEST OF THE BEST, v10; the best recipes from the 25 best cookbooks of
the year [i.e. 2006] (American Express, 2007, 287 pages, $35.95) has
more than 100 recipes, about four from each book, all re-tested.
Cookbooks include "Biba's Italy" (Biba Caggiano), "Jamie's Italy"
(Jamie Oliver), "Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook", "Kitchen Diaries"
(Nigel Slater), and four other Italian-themed cookbooks. Twenty brand
new recipes have been contributed by the cookbook authors. In addition,
there are interviews, quotes, extra reading, and ingredient and
technique advice. Websites are listed for even more recipes. This is a
great formula annual.

FOOD & WINE ANNUAL COOKBOOK 2007 (American Express, 2007, 408 pages,
$38.95) delivers good value in its more than 500 recipes: and then why
bother to subscribe to the magazine? There are no adverts here in this
book. There are accompanying wine recommendations for just about every
prep. Some categories have been rearranged to allow for a section on
fast foods, healthy foods, comfort foods, and "chef recipes for home
use". There is a plethora of advice (50 new ones this year, plus a
glossary of accessible wines). Unfortunately, the year covered is 2006,
so the book will always be a year behind. Too bad.

On to the wine annuals. The two leaders are HUGH JOHNSON'S POCKET WINE
BOOK 2008 (Mitchell Beazley, 2007, 304 pages, $17.95 hard bound) and OZ
CLARKE'S POCKET WINE GUIDE 2008 (Harcourt Books, 2007, 344 pages,
$16.50 hardbound). Both are guides to wines from all around the world,
not just to the "best" wines. Similarities: Johnson claims more than
6000 wines are listed, while Clarke says more than 7000, but then
recommends 4000 producers. News, vintage charts and data, glossaries,
best value wines, and what to drink now are in both books. The major
differences: Johnson has been at it longer - this is his 31st edition -
- and has more respect from erudite readers for his exactitude and
scholarliness. Johnson also gives a thirty year overview, as a sort of
celebration of his achievement. Bravo! His book is arranged by region;
Clarke's book is in dictionary, A - Z form (about 1600 main entries).
It is really six of one, or half a dozen of another which one to use.
Johnson's entry for Canada is 1.2 pages (big deal). Oz has only one
paragraph apiece on Canada, Okanagan (recommending just red wines), and
Niagara (recommending just icewines). Both books have notes on the 2006
vintage, along with a closer look at the 2005. It is fun to look at
both books and find out where they diverge. Note that Oz is selling for
$1.45 less. Both books could profit from online accessibility or a CD-
ROM production.

Other wine annuals - mostly paperbacks -- deal with "recommended"
wines, not all of the wines in the world. Thus, they can afford the
space for more in-depth tasting notes (TNs) of what they actually do
cover (usually just wines available in their local marketplace). FOOD &
WINE's WINE GUIDE 2008 (American Express Publishing, 2007, 320 pages,
$13.95 paper covers) offers notes on 1500 wines from all over the
globe; there are plenty of European wines here. Sections cover the
elements of tasting, a Bargain Wine Finder (a listing of 50 rated wines
that offer the best value for the price: thankfully, only five
chardonnays are listed). New to this edition are food pairing guides,
wine country trend reports and the year in wine. Canada is listed along
with Mexico and Uruguay. Glossaries, guides, tips, wine and food
pairing charts, best of lists - it goes on and on, and his top 230 star
producers are highlighted. Many of the wines can also be found in

FOOD & WINE COCKTAILS 2007 (American Express Publishing, 2007, 232
pages, $18.95 paper covers) is a spirits companion to the wine guide.
It keeps tabs on the trendiest nightlife and drinks. These are the top
150 drinks that bartenders get asked for again and again. The
arrangement is by type of spirit, and there are plenty of anecdotes.
KEVIN ZRALY'S AMERICAN WINE GUIDE 2008 (Sterling, 2007, 246 pages,
$16.95 paper covers) tries to cover all 50 United States. It is by the
author of the best selling "Windows on the World Complete Wine Course".
Not all wines in his book are derived from grapes; some come from other
fruit such as pineapple, rhubarb, pears, apples, and the like. He has
maps for each state, with grape-growing areas clearly presented as well
as illustrations of noble labels. The accompanying fact box highlights
state wine production, the number of wineries producing what types of
wines, and the key varietals. There are also wine trails and guides,
vineyard tours too. Zraly also has a recap on wine tasting and wine
history in the US. Most of the detail is on big state producers, which
are (in order) California, Washington, New York, and Oregon. Websites
of well-known wineries are also listed. The back of the book has lists
of his hot picks and best values under $50.

WINE REPORT 2008 (Dorling Kindersley, 2007, 432 pages, $18 paper
covers) is edited by Tom Stevenson, author of The New Sotheby's Wine
Encyclopedia and other great and useful reference books. This book
reports on what happened during the previous 12 months in the wine
business. It will never go out-of-date, so hang onto your copy of the
previous year. The Wine Report is a sort of insiders' guide to the
world of wine, with the latest data from each wine region, plus tips on
recent vintages and on your wine investments. There are sections for
new wine finds, bargains, the latest harvests, wine science and the
greatest wines. The contents are arranged by country and region within,
with local experts (each credited, and with a photo). Many have MWs.
The 40 or so contributors include David Peppercorn on Bordeaux, Clive
Coates on Burgundy, Nicholas Belfrage on Italy, Julian Jeffs on Sherry,
Dan Berger on California, and our own Tony Aspler on Canada. Each has
key top ten type lists of the greatest wine producers, the fastest-
improving producers, up and coming producers, best-value producers,
greatest quality, best bargains, and "Most exciting or unusual finds".

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