Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

MORE TOP GIFT BOOK IDEAS FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON: Reference Books/Memoirs/Polemics, et al

C.Perhaps some reference books? Such as:
--KITCHEN SMARTS (America's Test Kitchen, 2017, 310 pages, $19.95
CAD paperbound) is from Cook's Illustrated magazine. It is in a Q & A
format designed to draw in the curious cook. Topics deal with myths,
substitutions, confidence, science, and terminology. There's a thematic
table of contents, covering baking, coffee, meat, pasta, seafood, salt,
equipment, veggies, dairy, etc. Plus an extended index.There are cheat
sheets galore plus advice on how to better use your fridge and oven, among
other appliances (such as ricers and food mills). It's a good tool, but a little
awkward and heavy to hold. Great for two-minute reading.
--THE BOOK OF CHEESE: the essential guide to discovering cheeses
you'll love (Flatiron Books, 2017, 406 pages, $56 CAD hardbound) is by Liz
Thorpe who has been working with cheese since she left a cubicle in 2002,
beginning with Murray's Cheese and now dealing with cheese in the New
Orleans area. Along the way she has authored The Cheese Chronicles.
Here she begins with exploring a world of cheese based on what you
already like or love via what she calls the Gateway cheeses: Swiss, blue,
Cheddar, Brie, and so forth. It's arranged by type, including Mozzarella,
Havarti, Taleggio, Manchego, Parmesan, and "Misfits", with appendices on
pasteurization, cheesemaking, flavours of gateways. Each type comes with
vertical and horizontal tastings for comparisons (e.g., gouda made from
goat, made from sheep, and made from cow milk).  There are also a few
recipes using cheeses from each section. A nice, nifty, and new approach.
--THE BOOK OF SPICE (Pegasus Books, 2016, 273 pages, $35.95 CAD
hardbound) is by John O'Connell. It's a dictionary-arranged tool A – Z, from
"ajowan" (used mainly  for Indian savouries and snacks, sometimes referred
to as Ethiopian cumin) to "zedoary" (widely used in Indonesian and Thai
food preps). Each is given a botanical name, none are illustrated, and there
are internal cross-references.  Also, there are end notes and  a bibliography.
The introductory chapter covers the importance and cultural history of
spices; the last chapter is a directory of 36 spice mixes, such as apple pie
mix, Cajun, Chinese five-spice powder, curry powder, harissa, quatre-
epices, za'atar, and more. No recipes, except for some of the mixes.
--PEPPERS OF THE AMERICAS (Lorena Jones Books, Ten Speed Press,
2017, 342 pages, $47 CAD hardbound) is about as comprehensive as they
come. Maricel E. Presilla is chef-owner of two restaurants, Cucharamama
and Zafra in New Jersey. She was a Beard Best Chef, Beard Cookbook of
the Year 2013, and has other accolades. As a food writer/columnist, she is
eminently qualified to write this researched reference tool on the Latin
American pepper. This the history of how "capsicum" traversed the various
foodways around the world, from its home in the  Amazon. She describes in
detail the 200 varieties, with illustrations (225 colour pix) and botanical
terms, tasting notes, recommended uses, plus info on growing. Buying,
storing, processing, and cooking. She's got the practical here: 40 recipes
for ground pepper blends, vinegars, sauces, and sides. A terrific gift for your
Scoville hound.
--HOW FOOD WORKS (DK, 2017, 256 pages, $26 CAD hardbound) is
from the project art team at DK. The shtick: the facts are visually explained,
So there are issues explored on nutrition basics, hunger and appetite,
flavour, smell and taste, digesting nutrients, carbos, fibre, fats, proteins, etc.
And more: water, fermentation, raw foods, processing, freezing, types of
food, drinks, diets, and the environments. Millennials will go nuts over this
multiple typeface, graphs, pix, timeline characterizations. Talk about rapid
eye movements! Usually it is two pages a topic. So diabetes is covered in
three body shots, a q & a, some graphs, and a lot of colour. Well-worth the
--THE FOOD LOVER'S HANDBOOK (Ebury Press, 2017, 319 pages,
$31.99 CAD paperbound) is by UK grocer Mark Price, formerly of
Waitrose. He deals with how history, geography and production affect
quality and price, albeit from a British perspective. It's a good tool for
uncovering data about beverages (tea, coffee, whisky, cider, beer), oils,
preserves, desserts, butter-milk-flour-eggs-sugar, meats, veggies, fruit, salt,
pepper, herbs and spices. Each has an invariable rationale about why the
price varies. Typical answers here include which tea has expensive buds
and needs golden scissors, how to  make the perfect cup of coffee, where
to find the world's best beef, and others in this treasure trove. A bibliography
and index concludes the tome.
--THE BAKER'S APPENDIX (Clarkson Potter, 2017, 112 pages, $24.99
CAD hardbound) is by Jesica Reed. It's a handbook of tables with
conversions to/from avoirdupois and metric, fractions/decimals, unusual and
historical  measurement conversions (pinch, drops, gill, tumbler, wineglass,
dash, dram, jigger), sugar syrup temperatures, ingredient substitutions, DIY
extracts and natural food colourings, sprinkles, decorating tips for cakes
and cookies, adjustments for baking at high altitudes, and volume charts for
baking pans of all sizes. She's also got some basic recipes for cakes, quick
breads, cookies, frostings – all with variations.
--KNIFE (Quadrille, 2017, 224 pages, $41.99 CAD hardbound) is by food
writer Tim Hayward. It's an appreciation of the culture, the craft, and the cult
of the cook's knife. As log roller Anthony Bourdain manplains, it is "sheer
blade porn". He details the "anatomy" of the knife, the grips, the strokes,
knifemaking, knifemakers, and the differences and similarities of the major
40 knifes of the Western world, China , and Japan. Plus, of course, there is
the issue and technique of sharpness. No bibliography for further reading,
but there is a thorough index.
--9000 YEARS OF WINE; a world history (Whitecap, 2017, 438 pages,
$19.95 CAD paperbound) is by Rod Phillips. It's a revision of his earlier
work "A Short History of Wine" published in 2000, fully updated and
extended to the 21st century. He's comprehensive in coverage, looking at
different social classes and wine, trends in consumption, wine as a source
of pleasure through history, and as a cultural product, It's an engaging
reference tool noting dates, places and people, all with an index and a
bibliography. Illustrated with a few historical engravings. Nice little gift
package for your wine lover friends.
--THE NEW WINE RULES (Ten Speed Press, 2017, 152 pages, $19.99
CAD hardbound) is by Jon Bonne, award winning (Beards, Roederer) wine
writer and wine book author. Here he delves into 89 new rules of the wine
world, a tool which he says is a "genuinely" helpgul guide to everything you
need to know. His first new rule is to "drink the rainbow" -- all the colours of
wine from the clearness of Chablis through the ochreness of Syrah. His last
rule (#89) is "don't save a great bottle for anything more than a rainy day".
It's all wonderfully illustrated and can be read intermittently. My fave rule?
#39 - "the best time to buy a wine is when it's out of style" (as he points out,
"the upside to hating Merlot was that Merlot got much better").
D. For the more literate person, there are the histories, "memoirs", polemics
and humour of writers, chefs, and wine people. Some have called these
memoirs "creative non-fiction", some with embellishments and gilding. And
many of them may suffer 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  this year's run, and any of them would make great
gifts for the reader. Here we go, in no particular order…
--A HISTORY OF COOKBOOKS (University of California Press, 2017, 384
pages, $49.95 CAD hardbound) is by Henry Notaker, a literary historian
who has taught food culture. His numerous books and articles cover
European and Latin American food history and culinary literature. The dust
jacket promises a "sweeping"  overview of the cookbook genre, from the
Late Middle Ages onwards. It seems like a good survey text for the
burgeoning series of gastronomy courses. He's good at tracing the
transformation of recipes from brief notes with ingredients to detailed
recipes with a specific  structure, grammar and vocabulary. Along the way
he explores a lot of non-recipes found in cookbooks, that deal with nutrition,
morals, manners, history,  menus, and reflections/memoirs. Sub-genres
here include recipe naming, cookbook organization, didactic approaches,
recipe forms, vegetarian cookbooks, Jewish cookbooks, and the role of
cookbooks in promoting nationalism. There are also plenty of notes,
bibliographic references, and an index. With illustrations based on pages
from books and engravings of covers, this is a terrific tome for a gift.
--APRON STRINGS (Goose Lane, 2017, 380 pages, $24.95 CAD
paperbound) is by Jan Wong, an award-winning journalist who has written
about food off and on. Her father owned Ruby Foo's in Montreal. Here she
crafts a memoir with the subtitle "navigating food and family in France, Italy,
and China". These three countries excel at daily "haute cuisine" without
batting an eye, taking it all in stride. As a true reporter, Jan Wong narrates
the memoir of the journey she takes with her 22-year-old son Sam. She's full
of observations about the  globalization of food, families and culture. In
southeast France, they share with a family sheltering undocumented
immigrants; in Italy's slow food country they pick up authenticity of style; in
Shanghai they labour in the kitchen with some migrant maids of some of
China's "nouveaux riches". As with many mother- son stories there are levels
of disagreements, but they both share a central core. There are a dozen
recipes per country, but that's not really the point of the memoir. Good
stories, compellingly told.
--IN VINO DUPLICITAS (The Experiment, 2017, 248 pages, $37.95 CAD
hardbound) is by Peter Hellman, a long time journalist with writing credits at
Wine Spectator, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and others, along with
a string of investigative books (e.g. Kitty Genovese). Here he tackles the
"rise and fall of a wine forger extraordinaire", the Indonesian Rudy
Kurniawan, who, with a skilled palate, began promoting a limitless supply of
the rarest wines in the world. It reads like a crime novel, with tens of  millions
of dollars at stake in what later became spurious wines. Rudy slipped when
he tried to sell a particular red burgundy from 1945:  the winery was actually
first producing wine in 1982. Hellman does many skilful interviews to come
up with the story, which had appeared earlier as the 2016 documentary
"Sour Grapes".  (Duplicitas is a play on the word Veritas; it is actually a
medical term related to siamese twins). A fascinating read.
--SWEET SPOT (Dutton, 2017, 309 pages, $35 CAD hardbound) is by Amt
Ettinger, free lance writer. Here she  crosses the USA looking for the best
artisanal ice cream brands. In addition, she evokes childhood memories of
her love for ice cream, writes a few chapters on the cultural-social history of
ice cream in the USA, and attends seminars on making it. Her trips include
a visit to the one place in the USA that makes real frozen custard in a huge
machine known as the "iron lung", turf wars among ice cream trucks,
artisanal competitions, and even extreme flavours such as foie gas and
oyster. It comes complete with end notes that can serve as a bibliography,
and a great topical index.
--WHAT SHE ATE: six remarkable women and the food that tells their
stories (Viking, 2017, 307 pages, $36 CAD hardbound) is by culinary
historian  Laura Shapiro (Pefection Salad, Something from the Oven). Here
are stories about women who, apart from Rosa Lewis, have a tenuous
relationship with food. Yet good memoir writers can relate fascinating
stories about anybody from a specific angle, whether it is their relationship
to driving a car, doing home repairs, or just simply eating. Eva Braun is
here, with the food angle of Hitler; Eleanor Roosevelt and the menus at the
White House; and writer Barbara Pym. Also: Dorothy Woodsworth and
Helen Gurley Brown, and, in an Afterword, Laura Shapiro herself. Parts of
the work have appeared in The New Yorker. There are end notes, sources
and bibliographies, and even an index. Marvellous gift book.
--THE TEN (FOOD) COMMANDMENTS (Penguin, 2017, 140 pages, $15
CAD paperbound) is a worthy commentary. The "original" Ten
Commandments do not offer much in the way of food advice, so Jay Rayner
(restaurant critic for the Observer for 15 years, multiple appearances on UK
TV) has stepped in. In separate chapters, he deals with 10 Thou Shalts
(e.g., eat with thy hands, honour thou leftovers, not cut off the fat, celebrate
the stinky,  honour thy pig). Something decent to read on the commuter
--GIVE A GIRL A KNIFE (Clarkson Potter, 2017, 311 pages, $35 CAD
hardbound) is by Amy Thielen, a Beard cookbook winner and host of a TV
show on the Food Network. This is a food memoir about her life's journey
from the US Midwest to New York City and then back again. It's a
humourous coming-of-age story, made all the better by the inclusion of a
index for retrieving specific stories, such as those about women working in
restaurants (many references here). Check out the work in  top end NYC
restaurants. Nicely written and worth reading, a good gift for the holiday
--MEXICAN ICE CREAM (Ten Speed Press, 2017, 174 pages, $29 CAD
hardbound) is a delicious cookbook by Mexico City native Fany Gerson.
These are stories and cultural histories of the ice cream tradition in Mexico:
tropical fruits, chiles, and nuts. The range is from the ice cream parlours
(heladerias) to the mobile carts and roadside stands. Classic recipes
include Oaxacan lime sherbet, chocolate-chile ice cream, and horchata
(almond) ice cream with cinnamon. Added attractions include preps with
spicy and boozy flavours, plus an unusual assortment of toppings and
sauces. Great niche cookbook gift.
cooking with a Canadian Classic (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2017,
540 pages, $39.95 CAD paperbound) has been edited by academic
Nathalie Cooke (editor of "What's to Eat?") and Fiona Lucas (co-founder of
the Culinary Historians of Canada). It is an amazing work. Originally
published in 1855, the Traill classic is full of recipes and advice, with tips on
local food sourcing (in 1855) and  describes daily domestic and seasonal
routines of settler life: make your own cheese, butcher your own hog, collect
your own eggs, drink your own homemade beer (reserve dregs for bread
yeast risings). The book has been annotated for modern living, with updated
preps, conversion charts, a large glossary, and an index for retrieval. Not
only is it about survival in Victorian Ontario, it is about the emigrant
experience. Very difficult to put down, and a perfect gift for the millennial to
understand context in life.
--IN MEMORY OF BREAD (Clarkson Potter, 2016, 262 pages, $35 CAD
hardbound) is by Paul Graham, an academic who teaches English. He's an
essayist, and these 20 gems take us through his new life as a celiac victim
and forced to rethink his eating and cooking patterns. It's a paean to the
memory and to the cherishing of food.  Gluten-free eating  is his journey.
He's got end notes and a bibliography, and there is even an index!  But no
--TASTES LIKE CHICKEN (Pegasus Books, 2016, 273 pages, $36.95
CAD hardbound) is by Emelyn Rude. It is a history of North America's
favourite poultry. The first 50 pages covers the essentials of the bird in
history; the rest of the book is about the US development of the bird through
the fast food movement and the military might of  Colonel Sanders and
General Tso, leading up to the Freedom Rangers (my own term for free-
range chicken). Eggs are also discussed, and there are extensive end
notes and bibliography. Older recipes (and some modern ones) are used
and cited. In the middle of the book there is a collection of archival shots of
ads and people and farms from the past.
--THE NEW FOOD ACTIVISM (University of California Press, 2017, 336
pages, $37.95 CAD paperbound) is a collection of 11 major essays on
opposition, cooperation and collective action on food issues of today. In
addition to statements about pesticide regulatory-reform in California, there
are essays on food workers and food justice, Boston's emerging food
solidarity, and cooperative social practices in Chicago. There's even a
chapter on how Canadian farmers fought and won the battle against GM
wheat. The collection has been curated by Alison Hope Alkon and Julie
Guthman, both west coast US academics. They provide an introduction and
an epilogue for constructing a new food politics schematic. There are also
end notes and references plus a description of the contributors and an index
to tie it all together. Engaging, and well-worth reading over the holidays as a
reminder of what we are and how privileged we all are in North America
within the current global food structure.
--THE MEATY TRUTH (Skyhorse Publishing, 2017, 224 pages, $ 25.99
CAD paperbound) is a polemic by Shushana Castle and Amy-Lee
Goodman, outlining why our food is destroying our health and environment –
and who is responsible for the massive problems caused by the food supply
chain. Water, meat and milk-dairy are filled with toxins, antibiotics, growth
hormones, ammonia, and animal waste. Eating organic is not enough –
because there is not enough organic food for the world. So what to do? One
possibility is to shift to a plant-based diet.
--MY MOTHER'S KITCHEN (Henry Holt and Company, 2017, 306 pages,
$39 CAD hardbound) is a combo biography and autobiography by prolific
author Peter Gethers. His mother Judy Gethers was the daughter of a
restaurateur (Ratner's) in New York and a cookbook writer. In her 80s she
suffered a bad stroke and could no longer cook. Son Peter eventually
decided to prepare a birthday meal for her. But first he had to learn how to
cook better! He visits her regularly, they share meals together, they talk
about the meal that he will cook for her to tell the story of her life. His
mother's friends and  family will be brought to the table one last time. She
passed on but not before  tasting most of his food. She did not experience
the salmon coulibiac, filet mignon, tarte tatin or the challah. Scattered
throughout there are some recipes. This is a terrific memoir about how food
and family can do much more than feed us.
--EAT THIS POEM (Roost Books, 2017, 206 pages, $24.95 CAD
paperbound) is by Nicole Gulotta. She's got 25 inspirational poems dealing
with food and 75 recipes that were relevant to the poem. For example, to
Mary Oliver's "Mushrooms", she has preps for truffle risotto with
chanterelles, mushroom pizza with taleggio and thyme, and mushroom and
brie quenelles. Great fun for the poetry lovers among your friends. Recipes
are indexed and there is a listing by category for breakfast, soups, mains,
--FOOD, HEALTH AND HAPPINESS (Flatiron Books, 2017, 232 pages,
$45 CAD hardbound) is by Oprah Winfrey She's got 115 recipes for great
meals and a better life. Her preps, some with seven named chefs, are
paired with personal essays and memoirs from her life. There is also an
insight into her kitchen and how she works. Lots of it is simple, such as
"unfried chicken" or "kale and apple salad". She strongly believes that food
is a ritual to be shared in life, although I suspect that there is unfortunately 
strong competition from "texting". WeightWatchers SmartPoints are in each
--EMPIRE OF BOOZE (Unbound; Random House Canada, 2017, 291
pages, $27.99 CAD hardcovers) is by Henry Jeffreys, a freelance UK wine
writer. His premise: "if not for Britain, most of the world's favourite drinks
would not exist, not even the French ones." His history of  the British Empire
is told through the filter of how the fave alcoholic beverages came to be. He
starts with cider, port, marsala, beer, madeira, gin, cognac, "claret",
champagne (with a direct connection to cider), and whisky. Compelling
evidence, or is it just coincidence? Also covered is the impact of alcohol on
literature, science, philosophy, and culture – quite a big overview here, with
interesting trivia and nicely written.
--AN IRISH COUNTRY COOKBOOK (Forge Books, 2017, 368 pages,
$24.99 CAD paperbound) is by Patrick Taylor, originally from Northern
Ireland but now living in BC. It's a collection of ten new short stories with
Kinky Kincaid, Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly, and others, complemented by 140
authentic family recipes such as champ, potted herrings, sweet mince,
potato and pumpkin seed bread, and classics such as colcannon and soda
bread. For your Irish friends, or Irish lovers.
240 pages, $22.95 CAD softcovers) is by Marissa Landrigan, a professor
of creative writing. It is the story of a young woman's search for ethical food,
told in memoir form. She grew up in a food-loving Italian-American
household, but transformed into a vegan activist at college. She says that
eating ethically was far from simple and cutting out meat was not the
answer. She then realized that the most ethical way of eating was to know
her food (meat or veggie) and prepare it herself. Read how she found the
ethical approach.
--PRESERVING ON PAPER: 17TH century Englishwomen's receipt books
(University of Toronto Press, 2017, 352 pages, $34.95 CAD softcovers) has
been edited by Kristine Kowalchuk. It's a critical edition of three handwritten
"receipt" books that includes culinary recipes, medical remedies, and
household tips which document the work of women at home. This was
shared knowledge that was passed on from generation to generation. Her
study offers insights into early women's writings and the original sharing
economy. Typical preps include stewed calf's head, boiled capon larded
with lemons, and plague water.
--BADDITIVES! (Skyhorse Publishing, 2017, 181 pages, $22.99 CAD
softcovers) should win  the award for the best play on words in titling. Food
safety journalists Linda and Bill Bonvie take on food corporations with their
notes about the 13 most harmful food additives in our diet. Then they tell us
how to avoid them. A well-researched account of toxicity: aluminum, artificial
colours, aspartame,  BHA/BMT, GMOs, High Fructose Corn Syrup, MSG –
and more, about 15 pages on each, along with an index, end notes and
bibliography. Well-worth reading.
--A GEOGRAPHY OF DIGESTION (University of California Press, 2017,
222 pages, $43.95 CAD paperbound) is by Nicholas Bauch, an academic
at the University of Oklahoma. It's all about biotechnology and Kellogg
cereals, number 62 in the California Studies in Food and Culture. It's
scholarly, of course, with many end notes, bibliography, and an index.
Kellogg was experimenting with nutritional and medical science at his
sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan. He believed that good health
depended on digesting the right food in the right manner. He created a
relationship between food, body and the environment. This is his story, as
researched and told by the author, and involves Seventh Day Adventists, the
Sanitarium, modern nutrition and health, and the rise of new medical
technologies. Fascinating.
--CORK DORK (Penguin Books, 2017, 329 pages, $23 CAD paperbound)
is by Bianca Bosker, who writes about food and wine for major US and UK
magazines and newspapers. The subtitle pretty well says it all -- "a wine-
fueled adventure among the obsessive sommeliers, big bottle hunters, and
rogue scientists who taught me to live for taste." It is also about a wine
epiphany: tasting wine. She looks at what drives people's tastings –
pursuing flavours through underground tasting groups, sommeliers at
restaurants, large wineries, neuroscientists, and the like. She briefly alludes
to the concept of "supertaster": one-quarter of the population has a higher
concentration of taste buds on the tongue, and with training, can pick out a
larger variety of flavours. I'm a verified supertaster; unfortunately, she is not.
So that makes it harder for her, and she spends 18 months pursuing this
goal of tasting. Does she succeed? Well, read the book, it's worth a shot.


No comments: