Holiday Gift Ideas 2011 - Bookworms' Edition

In the spirit of holiday gift giving, and for those of you with birthdays to buy for as well, I offer a list of cookbooks that are guaranteed to delight the cooks on your list. I'm enriched beyond words by knowing many of these authors and inspired in ways I cannot count. I hope that you'll consider purchasing one of these lovely books for someone on your list:


Books' Staying Power

Despite the popularity of tablets, apps, and the shrinking attention spans of the majority of readers, I still believe in books. In fact, I love them. I admire my friends who are published and hope to join their ranks one day. I will join them one day.

Here's an interesting piece (particularly the comments; is print really dead? who can make such pronouncements?) on the value of indie bookstores. I support the Brookline Booksmith here in the Boston area. Powell's made it easier to partner with them so I have these books on my Powell's Partner shelf. If you buy from my shelf I make a few pennies (honestly, a very few but the thought and the action matters) and I thank you. It is no easy road to choose, this business of being a writer.

The article above was flagged for me by my new friend Maria Speck whose sexy Ancient Grains for Modern Meals tops the New York Times Holiday Year's Notable Cookbooks list. (and the list of lists that Maria's book is recognized on is growing daily - HUZZAH!) I adore her and her book and was inspired by it to add a dish to my Thanksgiving Buffet. Black Quinoa with Golden Beets and Pomegranate. A hit. Recipe soon.

Right now we're at the end of holiday shopping crunch time. Books make perfect gifts. Long after the last tinsel is vacuumed up, a gift of a cookbook will continue to nourish and inspire your kitchen-dwelling friends. Trust me, they'll thank you each time they open it. If you're lucky, maybe they'll even cook for you from it.


Seriously Sexy Food - I keep telling people that Maria's book is helping to address the PR problem grains have had. Hippie food in all shades of gray and brown has no appeal. That food, thankfully, does not appear here. Ancient Grains has captured attention in part, because it does not begin with admonishments, preaching or urging us toward healthy goals. It says simply 'here's some lovely, delicious food' and they happen to be dishes most anyone can make. As well, they come from the traditions of the healthy Mediterranean cuisine.

Listen up, Y'all - I have to give a big shout out to Virginia Willis' and her From Basic to Brilliant, Y'all. One of a newish surge of interest in Southern cuisine. In this cookbook, Virginia's second, she takes a basic recipe most anyone can do, and shows you how to alter it slightly to make it a dish for when company's coming. It's a great idea and we have already begun cooking from it. I loved the concept when Virginia shared it with me last year and am so delighted for her success. Did you see her on Martha Stewart? Like her first book, it's full of lovely vignettes and headnotes with grace. The language of the South with a French accent. That's our V. Lovely.

"Be interestED and you'll be interestING." It was advice given to single girls back in the day. Well, I took it as a given that I was not waiting around for someone else to make my life interesting! And, my corollary was that I would not wait for someone else to join me, to make a great meal. Regardless of whether anyone else is around to see it, don't you deserve to eat well? Joe Yonan's Serve Yourself cheerfully answers in the affirmative. with relish. It's not only a love letter to our single selves, it is a fun reminder that we matter, and we should care for ourselves, and love our selves, nourish and nurture our selves, just as we do others. Serve Yourself it's full of great recipes you can make at home when you're cooking for one. (Truthfully, many can be doubled for company or could be supplemented by a good salad and you could make dinner for two from them.) As someone who happily assumed I'd always be single, I used to cook wonderful meals for myself, but I had plenty of friends who did not. They might have done so with this book.

Becky Selengut was my kinda gal the moment I met her: irreverent and sharp and always willing to laugh at herself first (and then others, when they've earned it.) One thing is unquestionable, her devotion to the ocean. She does with Good Fish what Virginia does with Southern cuisine. She introduces us to basic sustainability concepts and recipes, then gives us recipes we can grow into as our skills and comfort level allow. Anyone could pick up the book and make a delicious, sustainable recipe in short order. Don't we all wish for that sort of competence and confidence in the kitchen? Oh, and we benefit from her proximity to a solid sommelier and partner April Pogue. Each recipe comes with suggested pairings. I was honored to be asked to contribute a quote and thrilled to have it appear at the end of the acknowledgements.


Few people have done more for sustainable seafood than Barton Seaver and he has been rocking along as a National Geographic fellow, a chef, a speaker and now, a published cookbook author. For Cod & Country is a hefty book but one worth adding to your bookshelf. His food is not too "cheffie" - you know, most of the dishes are things we could make at home, any one of us.


Come all ye virgins - canning for everyone! You may remember my trepidatious start to home canning. What with the cuts and the mismatched pots, it is a miracle that I got anything done. But I did and it is in no small measure owing to the good cheer and steady tutelage of friends like Sherri Brooks Vinton. (See Confessions of a Canning Virgin) Sherri's jalapeño pickled heirloom carrots were gobbled up so quickly at Thanksgiving only a precious few guests got to sample them. Come see me in January or February when we pop open a jar of tomato corn salsa or make a cobbler from summer peaches preserved in spicy vanilla syrup.

Speaking of spice - que caliente y delicioso - Sandra Guttierez' New Southern-Latino table shows us a multifaceted side of Southern cuisine rounded out by spices, techniques and recipes of the many cultures that give true sabor to the South. I learned sopes and tomatillo-avocado salsa at Sandra's side and I cannot wait to see what else lies inside this well-received unique guide to Latino tastes in the US.


From the elegant dining rooms of our top toques to frigid rain and ice-drenched days, Erin Byers Murray goes from urban editor to oyster-poop cleaner and shares a unique story with us. Her story is part investigative journalism, part self-renewal, part sheer voyeuristic joy. For anyone who's looked at their umpteenth ridiculous email and wondered why, this story lends a rare window into the glorious but not often glamourous life of oystermen. For those who did not grow up near the shore, for those with an interest in a small business success story, for those who have a curiosity about our beloved bivalves - Shucked - gives one woman's insights into the stories that unfold when one simply looks up and says "what if?"

Because oysters have always held that sense of joy and wonder -- of possibility -- for me, Erin's story holds particular fascination. It's a quick read, and a peek into one aspect of our "farm to table" food systems. It really makes you wonder how and why we should enjoy delectable plump, briny-sweet gems of ocean kisses for a buck or two -- when you know what went into their cultivation. Wait, did I just say that out loud? Don't tell!


Really? You used to be a vegetarian? - It's true but as unbelievable to me as it is to those who've seen me chow down on meat. What I'll tell you is that my childhood was not filled with gorgeous prime ribs or rib eye steaks, we were all about the chuck roast (still probably my favorite). Since coming to know more about how beef is raised, I've taken a "less is more" approach with this resource-heavy, expensive luxury item. I'd rather eat it less often and eat better quality (Grass-fed, local, safely and hopefully humanely butchered). Where ever you may be on the journey from nondescript grocery story "meat" to a local, sustainable option - this book will show you exactly what cuts are good for what styles of preparation and also give you instructions from a professionsl butcher (who just happens to be a woman) on how best to cut, cook and enjoy your beef. Just as it helps to understand how a car works even if you never intend to change the engine block yourself, I'm a firm believer in being an educated consumer. Besides, if you know what to ask for a the butcher (or the mechanic's) you're likely to get treated with more respect. Why take what you eat any less seriously than what you drive?

(See also In Heels and Backwards. Women Butchers Breaking Bones and Barriers)

Goat Gone Wild - Yes, it is true. I'm a member of the Goaterie. We're a goat loving group of food writers and cooks who took up the call to arms and joined in some fun goat cookery. After meeting Mark and Bruce online and chatting over sustainable meats, pork, and of course, goat, I decided to have a look at this book which I'd been tipped off to by its food savvy publicist, Marisa Dobson. The book is charming, laugh out loud funny in many parts, and just plain good. You will certainly enjoy the Empanadas de Cabrito but I don't require you to make them at Medianoche (midnight.) Just make them. They're that good.

Finally,our entry in the "Wish I could cook more from it but can't" category is SugarBaby. What a delightful introduction to candy making. If you don't think you can do it, let me just give an image. People elbowing each other to get the last crumbs of some candy in the bottom of the cookie jar in my kitchen. And some of those elbows might've belonged to some in-laws. Who can cast blame? These treats are so good. Most of them not hard, but many of the most enticing recipes call for butter, so my hips are spared by the allergy. Small consolation.


A Giveaway to Brighten your Holiday

Drop a comment here and tell me:

1. what book you've most enjoyed getting or giving? (any)

2. Or, tell me which of these book you most look forward to cooking from and why?


3. Tweet a link to this post (#bookwormsXmas) and you will be entered in a random drawing to receive:

- copy of Shucked - Or-

-  copy of For Cod and Country.


_ Hurry! Contest closes midnight Tuesday! _


Contest Closed: and the Winners are:

  • David: gets Shucked ( Timestamp: 2011-12-21 05:09:46 UTC)
  • Kristina: gets For Cod and Country ( Timestamp: 2011-12-21 05:10:47 UTC)

CONGRATULATIONS! We look forward to hearing how you like these books. 


Thanks to everyone for commenting, tweeting, now who's up for some sustainable seafood?