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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

TOP GIFT BOOKS, part 2: Beverage and Reference Books

…and how about gift books for the beverage drinker? Try –
--DIVIDED SPIRITS (University of California Press, 2015,  260 pages,  $29.95 US paper covers) is by Sarah Bowen, professor at North Carolina State. It is an engaging look at the politics of tequila and mezcal production in Mexico. Currently it is a market-based model, but Bowen calls for more democratic and inclusive systems that involve the participation of the small producers, the agave farmers, and many of the workers. Rural development should be supported. It's a scholarly book with end notes and a bibliography, but on a topic to think about over the holidays.
--THE HOME DISTILLER'S GUIDE TO SPIRITS: reviving the art of home distilling (Firefly Books, 2015, 160 pages, $29.95 hard covers) is by Steve Coomes, an American food and drink writer. Here he gives a history of the process, advice on everything you need to know, and recipes to help enjoy the fruits of the labours. If you are looking to set up a home moonshine operation, this is a safe too to begin with. Vodka is the easiest, just plain alcohol (made with grains, grapes [as in grappa], fruit [schnapps], molasses, or tubers). Most others require some aging, although rum and gin can be quickly done. Whiskey and brandy take time for aging. Check out the rules and regulations for your community.
--A FIELD GUIDE TO CANADIAN COCKTAILS (Appetite by Random House, 2015, 214 pages, $24.95 CAN hard covers) has been collected by Victoria Walsh and Scott McCallum. There are over 100 preps here inspired by Canadian ingredients and spirits. They've got syrup and infusion recipes, quick advice, technique and equipment guides, and some narrative-memoir material from their cross-country travels. Try the distinctly Canadian gin, Ungava Gin, with its native botanicals of nordic juniper, Labrador tea, crowberry, cloudberry, and wild rose hips. Creations are sourced, such as Fiddlehead Martini from New Brunswick.
--DRINKING IN AMERICA (Twelve, Grand Central Publishing, 2015, 258 pages, $34 CAN hard covers) is by Susan Cheever, a writer daughter of John. It tells the North American secret history of drinking and inebriation, and how the consumption of alcohol has shaped the American character and events. There are end notes and a bibliography.
--DRINKING THE DEVIL'S ACRE (Chronicle Books, 2015, 256 pages, $30 CAN hardcovers) is by Duggan McDonnell. The book is about San Francisco and its drinks. The Devil's Acre was a bar-filled block in Frisco's Barbary Coast  area; these are tales and preps from the area. 25 iconic recipes for such as Pisco Punch, Mai Tai, Gold Rush Sazerac, plus 45 other contemporary spinoffs. Historical photographs and stories, beginning with the Martinez.
--GIN GLORIOUS GIN (Headline Books, 2015, 319 pages, $16.99 CAN paperback) is by Olivia Williams, a UK journalist. This is a cultural history of London seen through gin. There is the underbelly of the Georgian city (Gin Craze), the Empire (G & T, G & It), cocktail bars in the West End. Gin is a split personality: the drink of the fabulous and the poor. Read about it here.
--THE BEER BIBLE (Workman, 2015, 644 pages, $24.95 CAN paper covers) is another beer too  by Jeff Alworth. This "essential beer lover's guide" covers more than 100 different styles of beers (IPA, stout, lambic, barley wine, saison, pilsner, weiss, et al.). It is pretty through but of course there are probably millions of tiny craft beers not here. US craft beer is worth about $15 billion US. The work is divided in to four: ales, lagers, wheat, and tart and wild. There are links between beers, so that if you like one kind, you might want to try another of a different but related kind. Other material here includes art of tasting, glassware, bitterness units, mouthfeel, and a few food pairings.
...perhaps some reference books? Such as:
--1,000 FOOD TO EAT BEFORE YOU DIE (Workman, 2015, 990 pages, $32.95 CAN paperback) is by Mimi Sheraton – it is a great catalogue of all the foods you should eat, selected from the best cuisines around the world (French , Italian, Chines, Senegalese, Mexican, etc.). It is not just about type of food, but where to eat them. Over 550 colour photos and 70 recipes, plus 14 or more log rollers to compel us to read the tome. I'm still reading it, maybe 3 items a day, enough for a year. Mimi looks at tastes, dishes, ingredients, and restaurants. And there are multiple indexes for easier access. Maybe a CD-ROM or PDF for retrieval searches in the future?
--THE FOOD LAB (Norton, 2015, 960 pages, $58 CAN hard covers) is by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, who proposes "better home cooking through science". He's a director at, author of a column The Food Lab (which was a Beard nominee), and a columnist for Cooking Light. It comes with endorsements by Myhrvold, Steingarten, Lebovitz, and Michael Ruhlman. Kenji covers the mundane (how to make mac and cheese more gooey and velvety smooth) and pooh-poohs such techniques as succulence through brining. There are hundreds of recipes here and over 1,000 images of techniques (e.g., Hollandaise Sauce in two minutes, creamy potato casserole).  Unlike the hard science of the McGee books, Kenji is more practical and concentrates on the how rather than on the why – and with many pix. Recipes are set up by courses (breakfast, soups & stews, etc.). The emphasis is definitely on American home cookery dishes. But Kenji has also written about ethnic food in his columns, so maybe these will be along in volume two. Hey, a good tome for the science nerd who wants to cook.
--KITCHEN HACKS (America's Test Kitchen, 2015, 358 pages, $19.95 CAN paper covers) is a golden tool well-priced for our market. These are quick tips, time-savers, and shortcuts. They help you organize, repair mistakes, clean up, store food and impress your company. Both food ingredients and equipment are covered, as well as techniques.
Typical are: removing coconut meat from the shell, steaming milk for a cappuccino, taking pictures of food. A nice collection from the folks at Cook's Illustrated.
--FAST AND FEARLESS COOKING FOR THE GENIUS (For the Genius Press, 2015, $24.95 US paper covers) 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 through her life. And she's got 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.
--WASTE FREE KITCHEN HANDBOOK (Chronicle Books, 2015, 200 pages, $23 CAN soft covers) is by Dana Gunders; it is a guide to eating well and saving money by wasting less food (she says that the average North American tosses away about $30 each month in uneaten food). There are suggestions, checklists, recipes, and a kitchen waste audit. Major keys: good shopping, proper storage, eating leftovers and holdovers.


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