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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Holiday Cookbooks and Winebooks for Gifting, Part One...

[stocking stuffers will be part two]


By Dean Tudor, Ryerson Journalism Professor Emeritus and Gothic Epicures Writing, (World Wine Watch Newsletter).




There are so many new food and wine books out there and people have such picky tastes!! What to choose? I have cast about for material and have come up with a decent selection to satisfy any pocketbook, any host, and any friend. All books and book-like materials that are listed here 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 fluctuations with Canada, all prices may vary. I have used CAD wherever I know it.





Art/travel books might be the best books to give a loved one (or yourself, since you are your own best loved one), because most may cost you an arm and a leg. But try for a discount. Books for the coffee table have their place in the gift scheme: just about every such book is only bought as a gift! And don't let the prices daunt you. Most such art books are available at a discount from Amazon.Ca. Because of the "economy", not too many pricey food and wine books were released last year, and book reviewers were cut off from foreign imports and expensive books. I found four such books that were good, and one other -



THE COUNTRY COOKING OF IRELAND (Chronicle Books, 2009, 392 pages, $60 CAD, hard covers) is by well-known food and travel writer Colman Andrews, with photos by Chris Hirsheimer. Log rolling endorsements come from Ruth Reichl, Alice Waters, Ruth Rogers, and Terence Conran, but why? I dunno, the book clearly speaks for itself with an acclaimed author. Unless the publisher got nervous about issuing a book at $50US. The book weighs over five pounds. Andrews talks about the people, the countryside, and the food. He gives us 250 classic recipes, accompanied by 100 touristy pix of pubs and countryside and people. Andrews also give us a lot of anecdotes, with some song, folklore and poetry. A great gift for your Irish friend, or a good gift for others.



WHY ITALIANS LOVE TO TALK ABOUT FOOD (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009, 449 pages, $44 CAD hard covers) is by Elena Kostioukovitch, a Ukrainian living in Milan. It was first published in Italy in 2006, and was a best seller in both Italy and Russia, picking up a few awards. This is a travelogue journey through Italy's regional cuisines, from the Alps to Sicily. As a newcomer to Italy, the author immediately noticed the differences of taste, language, and attitude in the ways that Italians talked about food. Local pride comes to mind. This memoir is loaded with illustrations, maps, menus, and explanations. No recipes but many prep indications and cook's notes sidebars.



MASTERING THE ART OF CHINESE COOKING (Chronicle Books, 2009, 384 pages, $60 CAD hard covers) is by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, who has written 11 other cookbooks on Chinese cuisine. Susie Cushner provides travel photos and food photos of the finished plates. There are step-by-step brush drawings to illustrate the Chinese cooking methods. This is a skills book, with a series of lessons for the home cook. Step-by-step notes cover the techniques, ingredients and equipment needed. Lo gives us 100 classic recipes in this five pound book. This is a useful book for the experienced home cook or one who wants to upgrade Oriental cooking skills. Or simply for the armchair traveler.



AD HOC AT HOME; family-style recipes (Artisan, 2009, 368 pages, $68.95 CAD hard covers) is by Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and Bouchon. Apparently, he only writes expensive and heavy (weight) art-like cookbooks. His last was about sous-vide, and it retailed for $104 CAD. This time, promoted as "the book every home cook has been waiting for", Keller visits American comfort foods closest to his heart. Do we really need an expensive book for this, when there are still Betty Crocker books for under $10? Well, if you want a gift book for an upper m idle-class host who wishes to scale down (but doesn't know how), then this is the book. He has more than 200 recipes for family-style meals, embracing such concepts as potato hash with bacon and melted onions, grilled-cheese sandwiches, and heartier fare. To top it off, there are actually full-color photographs for step-by-step lessons in kitchen basics. Truly a gift book, for the host who doesn't know how to cook and doesn't know how to express it. Chacun a son gout.



EATING INDIA; exploring the food and culture of the land of spices (Bloomsbury UK, 2009, reprinted from 2007, 265 pages, $19 US paper covers) is by Chitrita Banerji, who presents a memoir of Indian food by covering the waves of newcomers who brought innovative new ways to combine the Indian subcontinent's rich native spices. She concentrates on vegetables, fish, grains and pulses, and of course the spices themselves. Lavishly illustrated.



VENEZIA; food & dreams (Whitecap, 2009, 290 pages, $45 CAD hard covers) is another five pound book – in weight. It's by Tessa Kiros, once a peripatetic chef and cook. She found her husband in Italy and now lives in Tuscany. This is her fifth cookbook, and it just screams "gift". It is a posh production, complete with a ribbon bookmark, gold edging, and a gold ink for the fancy typeface. The photos are a mix of tourism travel and finished plates. The book was originally published in Australia last year, and this marks its first Canadian appearance. She covers the Venetian scene, commenting on why it is so important in Italian culinary history, with Prosecco and polenta and bussolai. She moves from cicchetti (small bites) to antipasti, zuppa, pasta, risotto, secondi, contorni (sides), and then dolci. Most of the preps come from local restaurants.




For the more literate person, there are the "memoirs" of writers, chefs, and wine people. Some have called these memoirs "creative non-fiction", suffering from embellishments and gilding. And also suffering from a lack of indexing, which makes it difficult to find what the writer said about another person or subject. But this also avoids the potential for lawsuits and disjointed noses. Nevertheless, they are rewarding to read. Who cares about poetic license? Here then are some that stood out from last year's run, and any of them would make great gifts for the reader. Here we go, in no particular order…


A top pick for me is the reissued THE PHYSIOLOGY OF TASTE, or meditations on transcendental gastronomy (Everyman's Library Classic, 2009, 446 pages, $29.95 CAD hard covers) by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. This is the M.F.K. Fisher translation of the 1825 work, and it comes with a new introduction by Bill Burford. This culinary classic has been defined by the phrase "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are". It's a philosophical collection of recipes, anecdotes, musings, taste, and gastronomy. It comes with a ribbon bookmark. Unfortunately, in today's society, with over-regulation, entitlement, and problems with the food chain, the new message is more "Tell me what you are, and I will tell you what you eat."



COOKING DIRTY; a story of life, sex, love and death in the kitchen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009, 355 pages, $32.50 CAD hard covers) is supposed to be an account of life "on the kitchen line" by Jason Sheehan, the food writer for Westworld in Denver. He won a Beard in 2003. Here he recounts all the mean jobs that he has held since the age of 15: scraping trays at a pizzeria, and at an all-night diner, a crab shack, a French colonial, a fusion resto, and others. He says that cooking is a series of personal challenges, and the kitchen is a place where people from the margins find their community. Nifty writing, in the vein of early Anthony Bourdain.



TRAUMA FARM; a rebel history of rural life (Greystone Books, 2009, 373 pages, $35 CAD hard covers) is a memoir by a farmer who's a published poet, book author, and monthly columnist: Brian Brett. Brett has been farming on Salt Spring Island for the past two decades. The publisher calls this an "entertaining meditation on small, mixed farming". Brett manages to be curmudgeonly as he talks about the terroir, criticizes agribusiness, abbatoirs, use and misuse of gates, globalization, and types of seeds. There's even a resource list of book references for further reading. The name of the farm says it all: Trauma Farm




THE GASTRONOMY OF MARRIAGE; a memoir of food and love (Random House, 2009, 237 pages, $18.95 CAD soft covers) is by Michelle Maisto, and it is the story of Michelle (Italian background) and Rich (Chinese background) living together before marriage – as they sort out their food likes and dislikes. Each background has traditions and rituals, and each has its own comfort foods. The couple has differences, disagreements, and displeasures – they all need to be sorted out. The nightly ritual of dinner becomes a testing ground for sorting out both of their lives, and they do it with love.


CONFECTIONS OF A CLOSET MASTER BAKER (Broadway Books, 2009, 226 pages, $29.95 CAD hard covers) is by Gesine Bullock Prado, Sandra's sister and head of her production company. But she was unhappy and baked sugar/butter goods to assuage her misery. Eventually, she left Hollywood for Vermont, opening Gesine Confectionary. This memoir deals with her sugary childhood and her attempts to come to grips by cooking the stuff and confronting it. Her confections have been on national US television and in magazines. The book also covers basic baking processes and recipes. One for the host/hostess suffering from the sugar blues.



FAT OF THE LAND; adventures of a 21st century forager (Skipstone, 2009, 222 pages, $26.95 US) is by Langdon Cook, a freelance wilderness writer who explores the Pacific Northwest in food, natural history, and oddball characters. Wild edibles are free food, as he never lets us forget. The book is arranged by season, Winter to Fall, with 15 recipes. It is nicely written, with great style, but apparently still needed some log rolling from Molly Wizenberg and Betty Fussell.



HUNGRY MONKEY; a food-loving father's quest to raise an adventurous eater (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009, 260 pages, $30 CAD hard covers) is by Matthew Amster-Burton, a former restaurant critic and food writer who is now a stay-at-home dad. This book is really about feeding difficult kids, and he has dozens of recipes listed in the table of contents. He writes about the highs and lows of teaching a child about food. The memoir is engaging, especially since it covers the joys of food and parenting. Good to read, and good to learn from.


Things are a little slow in the memoir world of wines. I saw only a handful. One was CORKED (Wiley, 2009, 237 pages, $29.95 hard covers) by Kathryn Borel, a former wine writer with Eye newspaper (some of this book was previously published there), and involved with Fresh Air (CBC). She wants to bond with her father, a chef-hotelier (Phillipe Borel), by accompanying him to France for a two-week trip through various wine regions (Alsace, Burgundy, Rhone, Languedoc). We learn about wine, which she had pretended to know a bit about but actually knew little, and then we also learn about her father and herself, and the father-daughter relationship. It's a tough love in some places, but eminently readable for this time of the year when family relationships are usually examined.



Another was the more practical TONY ASPLER'S CELLAR BOOK; how to design, build, stock and manage your wine cellar wherever you live (Random House Canada, 2009, 340 pages, $32.95 CAD hard covers) by Canada's most well-known wine writer and Member of the Order of Canada. It comes complete with printed wine stains, an interesting innovation. I contributed to this book, so I am not allowed to be overly-excited by it (conflict of interest rules). But Tony does have a memoir-ish style since most chapters are expressed in the form of his journeys through life. His book is about guidelines without boundaries for modest to expensive wine safekeeping, whether in a professional cellar or temporarily in a kitchen. Of importance is his chapter on condos (he recently bought a condo and had to make a wine cellar work). He has recommendations for what wines should be in a wine cellar, to accommodate most budgets and expenses. There are plenty of charts and tables for wine names, grape comparisons, regions, and wine styles, plus food and wine matches (and wine and food matches) and "dream" cellars. Other sections include a wine vocabulary.


And what's a holiday without humour or a novel to curl up with? We seem to have another bumper crop this year…


LAMBRUSCO (Anchor Books, 2009, 352 pages, $16.95 CAD soft cover reprint) was published last year, but it reappears in Canada as an affordable paperback reprint. Ellen Cooney has chosen to write about a comic journey that embraces wine, restaurants, and 1943 wartime Italy. It is focused on Aldo's Ristorante on the Adriatic coast, and the Lucia Fantini (the heroine) sings opera too. Her son is involved with the Resistance, but then disappears. An entertaining read.



THE VINTAGE CAPER (Knopf, 2009, 223 pages, $29.95 hard covers) is by Peter Mayle of "Year in Provence" fame. He's written about four other novels. This one is a mystery: a Los Angeles wine connoisseur has had his wine cellar go missing. Sam Levitt, wine aficionado working for an insurance company, must solve the multimillion dollar claim. Of course, he follows his leads through Bordeaux and thence to Provence, where Mayle can show off his food and wine expertise. The frame does work somewhat in showing off gastronomic toys, but it is a good thing that Mayle is an engaging writer.


A LITTLE DISTILLERY IN NOWGONG (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2009, 456 pages, $27.95 CAD hard covers) is by Ashok Mathur. It's his third novel, and all have been published by Arsenal. His previous "The Short, Happy Life of Harry Kumar" was short listed for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. This is both a fantasy and an historical novel, tracing the lives of three generations of a Parsi family in India from 1899 to the present. It's the story of leaving village life for the urban life in turbulent pre- and post-independence, moving on to the UK and Canada. Jamshed, the protagonist, is obsessed with the concept of free will, and eventually decides to take on the management of the family distillery. He discovers the magical properties of its main product, a rum called Asha. The liquor becomes a leit-motif, reappearing throughout the novel as the family moves on to Atlantic Canada and Toronto. An engaging read.


THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2009, 240 pages, $27.50 CAD hard covers) is by Erica Bauermeister. It follows the lives of eight students who gather in Lillian's Restaurant every Monday night for a cooking class. The book shows every evidence of "chick lit" as each student seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen. They all come to appreciate the sensitivity behind food and how it can help emotionally. There's the young mother, the recent immigrant, the grieving widower, and the chef herself. A good skilful weave of reflections on life. My wife thought it was a "sweet book". There are some recipes here, and the best one is on page 24: hot chocolate.



GONE WITH THE WINE; the wine cartoons of Doug Pike (Wine Appreciation Guild, 2009, 114 pages, $12.95 US paperback) is loaded with gags from the wine world. Pike is a regular feature on (Parker contributes a Foreword here). The 100 cartoons are arranged by topic (retail experience, waiters, winemakers, parties, etc.). My fave: a customer is asking a wine store clerk – "What have you got in the way of a Cabernet Sauvignon for people who like Zinfandel when they can't find Merlot?" Anybody know the answer? Please email me…


KITCHEN SCRAPS; a humourous illustrated cookbook (Whitecap Books, 2009, 198 pages, $29.95 CAD soft covers) is an overly large 8.5 by 11 paperback crafted by Pierre Lamielle who is obviously nuts – in a nice way. He is imaginative, both in the recipes and in the presentations. Chapters are divided into dishes you eat with a spoon, those you eat with a fork, those you eat with your hands, and those you eat with a forkenknife. It is eccentric in prose, but it all works. You just have to read the recipe directions very carefully to avoid any overthetop excesses. In other words, you need to know when he is just kidding. As we said in high school, "quelle fun".  Check out his blog at



Okay, this is now the hard part since we must pay for our sins of overeating during the December period. It is January 1, and the start of a New Year (2010) means new resolutions and intentions to keep or break. If you are really comfortable with your friends, you could give them health books for the holiday. And, you might be able to use them for yourself! Here are two new ones –



WEIGHT WATCHER'S NEW COMPLETE COOKBOOK (J. Wiley, 2009, $29.95 CAD hard covers) is the Momentum Program edition, which includes point values and program recipes. There are 500 preps here, for all types of occasions. Plus 100 tips to help keep you satisfied between meals. New to this edition is the international holiday baking chapter. The book also has the usual nutritional information for each recipe, and as well, there are graphic icons attached to each prep to indicate whether the recipe is 25 minutes or less in cooking time, or whether it is spicy. Weight Watchers is one of the most consistent forms of weight reduction in North America.



THE AMERICAN DIABETES ASSOCIATION GUIDE TO HERBS & NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS; what you need to know from Aloe to Zinc (McGraw-Hill Canada, 2009, 191 pages, $20.95 CAD, paper covers). The book clearly explains terms and gives pertinent information about herbs and supplements. There is a complete rundown on 40 popular easily accessible botanicals and minerals and the like. As well, there are easy-to-use tables summarizing everything.

Part Two next week: stocking stuffers!!

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