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The onset of cold weather can only mean one thing: It’s time to head to the kitchen and cook, bake and sauté up a variety of delicious, warming meals and treats to be eaten as the early dark creeps in.

Bliss on Toast

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if a person wishes to enter into the cozy state of mind, an episode or two of “The Great British Baking Show” will get you there. In Bliss on Toast, Prue Leith, a beloved judge on the show, tackles variations on that masterpiece of culinary perfection: toast. Inspired by the desire to fix something simple but elevated for a Sunday evening curled up by the television, Leith delivers on the promise of toast as an art form. If you’re looking for something creamy and warm, you might decide on a duck egg, rainbow chard and Dijon butter on multigrain toast. Vegetarians and vegans will delight in roasted red pepper hummus, avocado and zhoug (a simple-to-make Yemeni sauce) on rye. Apricots, almonds and Devonshire clotted cream on an English muffin will take you through dessert. With each recipe, there is just enough cooking to make you feel you are making something special, but never enough to complicate the simplicity of warm, crusty toast, eaten with one hand over a salad plate as you sink into a corner of the couch. What could be more comforting than that?

Modern Jewish Comfort Food

Soup, schnitzel, latkes and shakshuka: No matter your heritage, Jewish fare is always warming, filling and as nourishing to the heart as to the body. This is, after all, the culture that considers chicken soup to be one of its most revered dishes. In Shannon Sarna’s Modern Jewish Comfort Food, she breaks down the notion of Jewish cuisine as a monolith, noting that aspects of traditional dishes vary from region to region, and even from family to family. Sarna’s updates to well-known and well-loved dishes are deeply rooted in history and fully embody the wide variety of cultural influences on Jewish cuisine. As with her previous offering, Modern Jewish Baker, Sarna’s clear instructions and helpful tips for each recipe give you the ability to whip up previously intimidating but oh, so mouthwatering dishes such as sweet potato and sage butter knishes or lamb meatballs. The historical and cultural information she provides along with each recipe gives the food its soul. These dishes satisfy on their own, but the fact that you’re eating something enjoyed all across the world, across time even, lends them an extra-comforting quality.

Baking by Feel

How many times have we been guilty of eating our feelings? Becca Rea-Tucker (better known on social media as The Sweet Feminist for her social justice-themed cakes) would shrug and say, “So?” Feelings, as Rea-Tucker would like you to know, are not bad. And neither is food. A therapy session masquerading as a cookbook, Baking by Feel includes sections of serious mental health advice alongside conversion charts and lists of helpful baking tools to have on hand. Inspired by the now-infamous way the COVID-19 pandemic drove us all to our kitchens, Rea-Tucker has written an “emotionally agnostic” (read: no judgment) cookbook that acknowledges the comfort we get from creating something delicious. The recipes themselves are organized by which feeling might be driving you to bake or eat: A sunny lemon cake with poppyseed cream cheese frosting suggests itself to the cheerful; peach bourbon cake supports the heartbroken; black pepper snowballs conspire with the vengeful. Next to each recipe is a paragraph or two about the specific emotion associated with that food, and Rea-Tucker encourages her bakers to name and sit with their feelings. I have tried the buttermilk pie for stress and can confirm that the sugar and cream comfort and the advice helps parse out what exactly is going on with you.

Snackable Bakes

But sometimes, nothing is going on except that the familiar urge has hit: It’s 3:00 in the afternoon, you need something chocolatey, gooey and sweet, and you need it right now. Sure, you could pop down to the corner store and grab a Snickers, but that just doesn’t comfort you the way something home-baked would. Enter Jessie Sheehan’s Snackable Bakes. Short on time or needing that snack with some urgency? No problem: Sheehan promises that none of the 100 recipes in the book takes more than 20 minutes to assemble. Moreover, there is no creaming of butter or cream cheese and minimal need of tools (oven included), and use of the microwave is absolutely allowed. The baking might be effortless, but the end result is anything but halfhearted. Goodies such as blackberry lemon yogurt loaf cake and strawberry basil crumb bars taste like they were made during a lackadaisical Sunday afternoon, not whipped up in a spare 15 minutes. We all need to take a little time for ourselves, after all.

These recipes are perfect to eat while you’re snug as a dormouse, watching the leaves turn.
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 The Curanderx Toolkit

In her expansive look at ancestral and herbal healing and wellness, Atava Garcia Swiecicki introduces us to curanderismo, a multifaceted approach to healing that draws from the folk medicine traditions of the Latinx diaspora. In The Curanderx Toolkit, readers will learn about the teyolia, or heart center, akin to the soul. Teyolia is one of our four energetic bodies; when it is harmed or imbalanced, we may experience depression or sadness. As founder of the Ancestral Apothecary School of Herbal, Folk and Indigenous Medicine and an expert in herbal medicine, Garcia Swiecicki provides an overview of herbalism and brujeria, or witchcraft, in Mexico and profiles the healers she has studied or practiced in community with for decades, most of whom are based in California. As Garcia Swiecicki observes, the effects of white supremacist patriarchy are all but impossible to ignore, and as a result, space is being claimed during this cultural moment for traditions and ways previously sidelined, silenced and dismissed. This book is part of that important work.

The Future Is Fungi

A few years ago I watched the documentary Fantastic Fungi and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Meanwhile, Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind is currently on my TBR pile. Which is to say: Count me curious about the mysteries, magic and medicine of mushrooms. There’s so much to learn—and so much yet to be unearthed by science. If this is the kind of thing you like to geek out about, too, you’ll be captivated by Michael Lim and Yun Shu’s The Future Is Fungi, with its 360-degree view of shrooms, spores and such. As if mirroring the depth and range of a mycelial network, the book covers mushrooms’ culinary and medicinal uses, psilocybin and even mycorestoration and mycoremediation (fungi deployed to fight pollutants and break down plastics). While this is a text-rich book, not scrimping on research and detail, the visuals are equally stunning.

Mission Vegan

Mission Vegan, the inventive new cookbook from Danny Bowien, co-founder of Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco and New York City and subject of the sixth season of “The Mind of a Chef,” makes my mouth water for dishes I could have never imagined, like smashed cucumbers with tingly granola and microwave mochi with sesame ganache. A Korean adoptee with white parents who raised him in Oklahoma, Bowien made his way to Korean cuisine peripatetically via kitchens on both coasts, and along the way he laid off the beef. While his new book doesn’t limit itself to straight-up Korean food—there’s a pomodoro recipe tucked within, in fact—it does draw fond inspiration from Korea’s traditions and ingredients, including many takes on kimchi and other banchan. With Mission Vegan, Bowien is, in his own words, “embarking on a new journey rather than documenting one I’ve already been on.”

You’ll find healing wisdom from Mexico, plant-based flavor from Korea and more in this month’s roundup of lifestyles books that are glossy, colorful and beautiful to behold.
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 Everything, Beautiful

In a world unspeakably darkened by crisis, it might seem trifling to even think about appreciating, cultivating or devoting our attention to beauty. Focusing on beauty might even read as an act of oblivious privilege. But perhaps a fuller contemplation of what beauty is, can be and has been, and what it can mean in our everyday lives, is in fact one step toward repairing massive-scale damage. Writer and illustrator Ella Frances Sanders believes it is. In Everything, Beautiful, she envisions learning to see beauty as a curative, even redemptive process, “like putting a delicate, very broken vase back together.” No matter how broken our world, it is nevertheless full of “tiny, beautiful things,” she writes. “Some are so invisible or silent that you may never see or understand them, but they are there.” Through text, illustration and guided prompts, Sanders upends and expands our notions of beauty and urges us to notice the ingredients for beauty that are all around us, such as “light, slowness, and the kind of air temperatures that feel like honey.”

Lost Places

I live in a boomtown where every old structure seems to either meet the wrecking ball or get a second life via adaptive reuse. Paging through the images in Lost Places, I’m swept into another world, one where the vestiges of America’s past are left, silent and uninhabited, to be transformed by weather and time. Heribert Niehues’ photographs of abandoned cars, houses, gas stations and other structures tell a story about our country’s past. They are also suffused with mystery: What lives did these places once contain? Who last passed through these doors? Scenes of decaying diner interiors are among the spookiest, with guests’ checks, condiment containers and fry baskets left behind. Car buffs will enjoy Niehues’ many images of rusted-out, early- to mid-20th-century models. Many of the abandoned edifices captured here fell victim to the interstate system when it rerouted travel in the 1950s and ’60; one wonders what of our present might be left behind a century from now, as climate change remaps the landscape.

Forever Beirut

Forever Beirut, a cookbook with accompanying essays and stunning photographs, was conceptualized by Barbara Abdeni Massaad as a way to help her beloved home country in the aftermath of a terrible 2020 explosion at the port of Beirut. In response to disaster and economic collapse, the book passionately preserves the treasures of Beirut’s culinary heritage, with recipes for favorites such as kibbeh, a dish of ground lamb, beef or vegetables kneaded together with bulgur; man’oushe, a traditional flatbread; mezze, small dishes served together such as chickpeas and yogurt; and semolina cake. This is the stuff of my culinary dreams: food that is aromatically spiced, uncomplicated and yet bursting with flavor, served to the reader within a deep, loving sociocultural context.

Look a little closer, and you’ll find beauty lurking in unexpected places. The three books in this month’s lifestyles column will help you spot it.
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 Breadsong

Kitty and Al Tait may not be the first to write of the redemption and delight that can come from watching yeast and heat transform mere water, flour and salt into beautiful, delicious creations. But their memoir-cum-cookbook, Breadsong: How Baking Changed Our Lives, is the most charming version of that story I’ve yet come across. In it, the father-daughter team tells their origin story in alternating points of view before sharing over 50 recipes, both savory and sweet. As a young teen, Kitty began experiencing terrible depression and anxiety. Nothing seemed to help, until Al baked a no-knead loaf, sparking Kitty’s curiosity. In no time at all, the duo had opened what has become a tremendously successful family bakery in their tiny village in Oxfordshire, England. Their story is as heartwarming as it gets, accentuated by Kitty’s lively voice and infectious grin splashed across the pages along with her dad’s adorable illustrations. There’s a recipe for a caramel-covered Happy Bread here, which says a lot about this joyful book. Definitely follow Kitty, who’s now 17, on Instagram @kittytaitbaker for dopamine hits, too.

Things to Look Forward To

When my daughter was young, we enjoyed many books featuring Sophie Blackall’s cozy illustrations; the Ivy & Bean series was a particularly big hit. How fun to come across Things to Look Forward To, Blackall’s new picture book for all ages (that best and rarest of all genres). Not surprisingly, this project grew out of bleak days during the COVID-19 pandemic and was nudged along by community input via social media. Some of the assembled things to look forward to are as common as the sun coming up; in fact, that is literally one of them. Who can argue with coffee, finding something you thought you’d lost or seeing the sea? Other experiences here are a bit more nuanced (doing your taxes, looking at maps) or whimsical (drawing on eggs, flowers that look like brains!). What’s certain is that you can’t page through this book without feeling a renewed sense of appreciation for the everyday, and that’s something all of us can use, every day.

Nectar of the Gods

For a decidedly elevated sort of toga party, be sure to consult Nectar of the Gods. The work of mythology podcaster Liv Albert and beverage consultant Thea Engst, and brought to colorful life by illustrator Sara Richard, this book pairs inventive cocktail recipes with soupçons of Greek and Roman myth. Take, for example, Pandora’s Jar (yes, in fact, it was originally a jar, not a box!): a gin, blueberry and creme de violette concoction. Calypso’s Island Iced Tea, designed to bring out the sexy nymph in each of us, seems like the perfect poolside sipper: hibiscus iced tea, vodka, lemon juice and simple syrup. For a more complex and decadent drink, try the Phaedra Phizz, and pour one out for its ill-fated namesake.

A warm loaf of bread, a mythologically charged tipple: These and other delights give readers something to look forward to in this month’s lifestyles column.
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★ Wild Witchcraft

A while back I let my social network know I was interested in learning more about magic, herbalism, astrology and the like. It felt naive to group these things together, but I’ve since discovered there’s more than a little overlap. In Wild Witchcraft, North Carolina-based forager-witch Rebecca Beyer provides a well-researched history of European witchcraft and American folk healing practices, followed by a solid introduction to growing and foraging healing herbs. Readers learn how to use herbs in rituals and remedies and in harmony with the Wheel of the Year, a series of seasonal observances including the fall and spring equinoxes. Beyer covers much ground efficiently and makes a strong case for why these practices are especially necessary now. Amid rapid and cataclysmic climate change, “inspiring people to see value in plants and ecosystems can help to preserve them,” she writes, and “combat the total divorce of humans from their fellow animal, vegetable, and mineral kin.”

Booze & Vinyl 2

During the COVID-19 pandemic, vinyl record sales outnumbered those of CDs for the first time since the 1980s. This vinyl renaissance presents a timely backdrop for Booze & Vinyl 2, which builds on the genius of sister-and-brother duo André and Tenaya Darlington’s 2018 volume of album and craft cocktail pairings, Booze & Vinyl. How about a glow-in-the-dark vodka tonic paired with Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine or a moonshine-based sipper with Van Morrison’s Moondance? Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstong get a “Silver Fizz” to match Ella’s “silvery voice,” and citrus meets prosecco and brandy for two drinks inspired by Beyoncé’s Lemonade. There are even a few themed appetizers, such as “Deeez Nuuuts” for munching while spinning Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. The design freak in me loves how the book’s aesthetic shifts with each album, each turn of the page setting a vibe. Dim the lights, drop the needle and sip to the sounds. 

My America

In My America: Recipes From a Young Black Chef, a follow-up to his 2019 memoir, Notes From a Young Black Chef, James Beard Award winner Kwame Onwuachi filters the cuisine of the African diaspora through the lens of his family, his travels and peripatetic childhood, and the journeys of his ancestors. As Onwuachi notes, a close look at the cuisines of the American South, the Caribbean and Nigeria reveals many common threads and flavor echoes—from the jambalaya of Louisiana to the jollof of Nigeria. Black food tells a story—from groundnut stew and callaloo to crawfish pie and baby back ribs—and the recipes collected here tell it powerfully.

Reconnect to food, music and nature with this month’s best new lifestyles titles.
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The Second Half

One of my favorite finds of 2021 was a newsletter called Oldster, which features interviews with people from all walks of life musing on the aging process and what age means and feels like to them. A new work from portrait and travel photographer Ellen Warner, The Second Half: Forty Women Reveal Life After Fifty, beautifully mines similar territory. Warner crisscrossed the globe photographing and interviewing women over the age of 50, gathering reflections on change, pleasure, legacy, hope and more. She then edited these encounters into a trove of fascinating, brief narratives of life lived in a woman’s body. One woman buys a pub in her 60s; another meets her new life partner, a woman, after a 35-year marriage to a man. “Everything is a bit blurred when one is young, and then comes the second half—the time when you have to make clarity out of the blur,” one reflects. As these women and others divulge their most difficult and joyous moments, the result is a book bristling with energy and wisdom.

The Complete Cookbook for Teen Chefs

In terms of trusted authorities on cooking technique, you can’t get much more legit or consistently helpful than America’s Test Kitchen. (Lately, I’ve been saving nearly all of their Instagram posts.) So a new title from ATK, The Complete Cookbook for Teen Chefs, feels like cause for celebration. It remains to be seen whether a book designed for my 13-year-old will inspire her to prep dinner more often, but its format, with close attention paid to mise en place and the correct tools, should help her dodge frustration while widening both her comfort zone and palate. The recipes, labeled beginner, intermediate and advanced, range from the familiar (waffles, BLTs) to foodie faves like blistered shishito peppers, shiitake beef ramen and a fruit galette. My hunch, which I shall soon put to the test, is that parents, too, will absorb several valuable tips from this text as they play sous-chef to their kids. 

52 Ways to Walk

I’m not sure there’s a person on Earth who doesn’t know that walking is good for them. But how many of us know just how good, or in just how many ways? Annabel Streets presents loads of convincing evidence in 52 Ways to Walk: The Surprising Science of Walking for Wellness and Joy, One Week at a Time, a book equally geared toward dedicated perambulators and anyone who wishes to build a new healthy habit. She gives us research-backed ways of thinking about our daily (or occasional) stroll while presenting a fun challenge: From just how many angles might we go about the act of taking a walk this year? I can walk with attunement to what I hear in the world around me, or I can walk with a focus on posture and gait. I can think about ley lines, ions or fractals as I walk; I can walk alone or with a friend or a dog or by water or at night. Apparently I can even hop up from the couch, take a brisk 12-minute walk and wring a surprising level of health benefits from it—and so, my friend, can you.

The mundane stuff of life—such as cooking, walking and even aging—gets an exciting refresh in this month’s lifestyles column.
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★ Grist

James Beard Award-winning chef Abra Berens and her collaborators have created a most magical combination of aesthetics, soul and practical guidance in Grist, a cookbook focused on humble stuff: beans, legumes, grains and seeds. Let it be said that I love beans, and I really love the way Berens provides, along with specific recipes, a number of templates to follow for any combination of ingredients you crave or happen to have on hand. For example, a bean + vegetable + flavor + texture chart starts with beans (any kind), then lists four suggested ingredients for each step: add veg, add flavor, add extra texture and serve. Elsewhere, she walks us through a week’s worth of lentils without boredom, and her recipes regularly include three or more variations. Topping it all off are Lucy Engelman’s beautiful illustrations, which make this a true work of cookbook art. 

Where They Purr

A bedroom decked out in lush linens and pillows—and a cat, luxuriating on the bespoke duvet. A kitchen with floor-to-ceiling windows—and a cat, nonchalantly surveying the room from atop the dining table. This is the fabulous world of Where They Purr: Inspirational Interiors and the Cats Who Call Them Home, in which images of sleek interiors foreground the homes’ feline overlords. Photographer Paul Barbera got the idea for a cat-centric home design book while working on a previous project, Where They Create, and the result takes those “how they styled it” shots we’ve all seen while shopping online—a sofa, say, captured with the owner’s pet proudly lounging—to the next-next level. The homes featured here are mostly high-end and very modern, full of sharp angles and long lines. You might be inclined to call some of them cold, except how could you when fluffy Pud or Pippi or Gustov is lurking or perched or sprawled in their midst? As a cat lover, my only quibble with this purrfectly delightful book is that there are too few orange tabbies in the mix. I suppose we all, like our cats, have our own prefurences.

Wanderess

As I prepare for a solo journey to the Southwest, I’m happy to have in my pocket Wanderess: The Unearth Women Guide to Traveling Smart, Safe, and Solo, a guide for women, by women, and geared toward solo travelers. Whether you’re going it alone for the first time or planning a girls’ trip, the editors from Unearth Women have assembled in this colorful book all the resources, hacks and advice you could ask for, including tips for traveling while pregnant and specific recommendations for women of color and travelers who are trans, lesbian or queer. The writers also offer an outline for creating your own Feminist City Guide, which centers women-owned businesses; if you like, you can pitch your guide(s) to Unearth Women for possible publication.

From the humble bean to the high and mighty feline, the books in this month’s lifestyles column colorfully celebrate the joys of food, art and travel.
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New Native Kitchen

Perfect gift for: Your foodie spouse who loves gardening and open-fire grilling

In New Native Kitchen, Navajo chef Freddie Bitsoie, previously of the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, celebrates the cuisines of Indigenous cultures while respecting and revering “hyperlocal” regional distinctions in these foodways and traditions. Bitsoie, who came to cooking via cultural anthropology and art history, aims to tell “edible stories that allow people to appreciate the living artifact of food.” Here, with the help of James Beard Award-winning author James O. Fraioli, Bitsoie introduces readers to key elements of the Native pantry, such as nopales (cactus paddles), Navajo steam corn, sumac powder and tepary beans, many of which can be ordered online or found at specialty spice shops. From a sumac Navajo leg of lamb with onion sauce, to a Makah crab boil, to Choctaw bison chili, Bitsoie covers the vast North American continent and its islands in this important book.

Wild Sweetness

Perfect gift for: Your boho friend with a shortbread obsession

With full-page photographs of winter branches, gently wilting roses and foggy ponds, Thalia Ho’s Wild Sweetness is as much a moody evocation of nature’s evanescence as it is a sumptuous celebration of dessert. Grouped by season, the recipes range from comfy American standards like cinnamon buns and gingersnaps to frangipane tart and a fig clove fregolotta. All possess a delicate quality and some flower, spice or other ingredient redolent of the natural world. Cream seems a visual motif, showing up, for example, in a juniper ice cream, a frosted chamomile tea cake, a lemon curd streusel cake and amaretti. But deep, dark chocolate is at play too—in ganache thumbprints, drunken fig brownies and a beetroot mud cake, among others sheer delights.

À Table

Perfect gift for: The hip newlyweds next door with the adorable dog

Is anything sexier than a good French cookbook? Rebekah Peppler’s À Table reveals and revels in the charms of long, casual French dinners with friends, and Peppler leads with blithe wit as she shares a modern take on entertaining. (She won me over instantly with the words “Hemingway was a supreme ass” in a recipe for Chambéry cassis, an aperitif.) Women are at the center of Peppler’s vision, one in which we dispense with yesteryear’s formalities in favor of long, carefree nights of smart conversation, mismatched plates and zero pretension. Ouais, cherie. On to olives with saucisson and roast chicken with prunes! On to daube de boeuf and (vegan!) French onion soup with cognac! You’ll love the mellow-but-decadent vibe, even if you feel un petit peu jalouse of Peppler’s Parisian coterie.

Black Food

Perfect gift for: Cultural mavens, globetrotters and aesthetes

Chef and Vegetable Kingdom author Bryant Terry assembles a large all-star team for his glorious new Black Food, “a communal shrine to the shared culinary histories of the African diaspora.” I love this trend of cookbooks that are so openly ambitious, with essays and poetry, visual art and historical context, all of it standing strong alongside the food. Structured by themes such as motherland; Black women, food and power; and Black, queer, food—each with a corresponding playlist—this vibrant, immersive book pulls from many foodways and regions of the globe, with Black chefs, intellectuals and tastemakers leading the way. We encounter dishes as diverse as Somali lamb stew, Bajan fish cakes, Ghanaian crepe cake, vegan black-eyed pea beignets and, at last, for the perfect finish, Edna Lewis’ fresh peach cobbler. Terry also shares a recipe for Pili Pili oil, which adds an herbaceous, spicy kick to anything you drizzle it over.

Tables & Spreads

Perfect gift for: Your sister-in-law who loves to host and is always leveling up

I am not a big entertainer, but I love a good snack-meal. And there’s something delightful about artfully arranging a table full of nibbles for guests: curious cheeses, spiced nuts, tangy jams, decadent dips and a handful of rosemary sprigs plucked from the garden. Whether this sounds fun, anxiety-producing or a bit of both, Tables & Spreads is here to help you party. Shelly Westerhausen, master of Instagram-worthy tablescapes, shares themes for every occasion, from dips for dinner, to a savory focaccia party, to a Christmas morning Dutch baby party. Special attention is given to what Westerhausen dubs the “wow factor”: decorative and mood-setting details such as color themes, decanters and candles of varying heights, along with floral arrangements. Informational charts abound with practical assists; my favorite may be “Portioning a Spread,” right down to tablespoons of dip or pieces of crudites, so you don’t over- or under-buy.

This holiday season, whether you’re hosting or showing up with a single covered dish, let one of these outstanding cookbooks be your guide.
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You see her on TV, you use her cookbooks, you may even be lucky enough to eat in her restaurant, soon you’ll be able to read her new lifestyle magazine and see her brilliant smile on the silver screen (she’s in Elizabethtown, a major motion picture in theaters this fall, directed by Cameron Crowe and produced by Tom Cruise). We’re not talking Martha here, we’re talking Paula Deen, the queen of the Savannah cooking scene make that the Southern cooking scene. As her audience grows, so grows the demand for her down-home Southern recipes. Paula Deen’s Kitchen Classics, a one-volume edition of her first two mega- selling tributes to the cuisine she knows and loves, The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook and The Lady & Sons, Too!, will be in stores in early October just in time for holiday giving and getting put it on your holiday hit list and reserve your copies ASAP.

Paula is big-time now a one-woman media conglomerate, outstanding restaurateur, creator of a line of food products and fun accessories, from biscuit mix and butt-rub to aprons, T-shirts and hats, star of the ever-popular Paula’s Home Cooking on the Food Network, loving mother of her two handsome, talented sons and devoted sister to her younger brother, Bubba, who, with her help and guidance, opened Bubba’s Oyster Bar, another Savannah success, just a few months ago.

But life for Paula hasn’t always been a picnic. She married her high-school sweetheart without much thought to starting a career for herself and by the time she was 23 had two baby boys under three, had lost both her beloved parents and taken in her 16-year-old brother to raise, too. Overwhelmed, fear of the outside seeped in and soon she was all but paralyzed. Paula had developed a full-blown case of agoraphobia and couldn’t leave the house. Not good for her, her kids or her marriage. Her husband moved the family to Savannah and Paula still suffered from her immobilizing malaise. Then, as she tells it, she woke up one morning (June 19, 1989, to be exact) and began the rest of her life. And that life is as successful as it is inspirational.

A feisty, female phoenix, Paula found a career by going back to what she knew best cooking. Newly divorced, with only $200 and two willing teenage sons, she began The Bag Lady, a home-based lunch delivery service; she made the food and her boys delivered it. The Bag Lady, an uncommon success, paved the way to The Lady &and Sons, Paula’s now famous Savannah restaurant where she serves the food she loves, the food she learned to cook in her grandmother’s South Georgia kitchen. Southern cooking, according to Paula, is a hand-me-down art, it comes from within and it’s how we show our love, by what we cook and create in the kitchen. It’s full of flavor. It’s filling. It just makes you feel good. Paula’s food made so many people feel so good that she self-published her first cookbook in 1997. It was quickly picked up by a major publishing house and followed by three more super-popular cookbooks. It’s hard to think of Paula who married tugboat pilot Michael Groover last year as anything but bubbly, warm, irrepressible and irresistible. But knowing something about her life, her troubles and the way she overcame adversity makes her an even more appealing personality. John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, has caught her essence when he describes her as an example of the extraordinary phenomenon of Southern womanhood, the steel magnolia. And all that effervescent energy and Southern pride is here for y’all to enjoy in Paula Deen’s Kitchen Classics.

You see her on TV, you use her cookbooks, you may even be lucky enough to eat in her restaurant, soon you’ll be able to read her new lifestyle magazine and see her brilliant smile on the silver screen (she’s in Elizabethtown, a major motion picture in theaters this fall, directed by Cameron Crowe and […]
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Gingerbread and dirty Santas, nativity scenes and maxed-out credit cards: the holidays bring both highs and lows. During this most special time of year, there are cooks cooking, crafters crafting—and people creating wacky Christmases of their own making, as celebrated in these new books.

Strange stories of the season
Count on Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors, A Wolf at the Table) to have a droll but dysfunctional take on the most sacred of holidays. You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas is a stepbrother of sorts to that antidote for forced merriment, David Sedaris’ Holidays on Ice. In “Two Eyes Made Out of Coal,” Burroughs attempts to impress his mother with a gingerbread house as seen in a magazine but decides to use “imagination” instead of the chump’s choice—following the recipe—and ends up with less fairy tale castle and more “public housing unit.” The mandatory participation of the holiday season strains Burroughs’ spirits in “Why Do You Reward Me Thus?” as he realizes how much he despises the “sheep shoppers,” the being-with-friends thing and the hijacking of Hanukkah. So he searches Manhattan for Jews, Chinese and others “on the outside of the snow globe” who “don’t give a [expletive] about Christmas either.” In a denouement worthy of O. Henry, he finds bums wanting to talk semiotics and a homeless angel who brings Burroughs out of his despondent drunken stupor with a Puccini aria instead of “The Chipmunk Song.”

It’s the hap-happiest season of all, so take a spin through the holiday madness in The Upside-Down Christmas Tree: And Other Bizarre Yuletide Tales. Authors Delilah Scott and Emma Troy uncover kooky traditions, presents from hell, weird holiday food and drink, unusual decorations and dysfunctional family antics from Christmases around the world. From the festive kiviak—or rotten auk meat—of Greenland and trees decorated in tampon “ornaments” to the clever “divide-and-conquer” in-laws’ Christmas, the “Yankee Swap” created by the original frugal re-gifters and the number of Santas peed on by children (34 percent), this compendium of all things kooky, charming and Christmas will provide plenty of laughs at the holiday table.

Pop-culture writer Hank Stuever enters the world of the Christmas crazy willingly in Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present. Relocating to a Dallas suburb over the course of three years to follow “true holiday believers,” Stuever—an award-winning writer for the Washington Post Style section and author of Off Ramp—creates an utterly charming yet sobering profile of the music, traditions, money, pressure and sheer nuttiness of the city’s seasonal celebration. Traveling with the proprietor of Two Elves with a Twist home trimming service, visiting with homeowners who light up their house so brightly it’s visible from space, meeting collectors of the twee Department 56 miniature villages and witnessing a single mom as she tries to provide a good holiday for her kids, Stuever is part sociologist, part psychologist and always a perceptive observer, placing American holiday rituals in a new light. “Our sense of Christmas is nothing without the narrative of heartbreaking need,” he writes. “Mary needed a place to give birth and nobody would give her one. This need for need exists so that our children can distinguish it from the concept of want.”

Help for the holidays
Hostesses who fear they won’t have the mostest this holiday season only need a few hours with Best of Christmas Ideas to boost their spirits. The editors and stylists of Better Homes and Gardens magazine can be counted on for “fresh, fast and fabulous” ideas for stylish holiday decor, table settings, floral centerpieces, wreaths, cards, wrapping and treats in styles that range from fashion-forward (lime-green tree trimmings, blue velvet stockings) to traditional-contemporary (feather tree decorated with dried orange slices and pine cones). Need fast decorations? A Tiered Meringue Tree of either homemade or store-bought meringue cookies looks like it took hours but only requires a bit of stacking skills. Expecting last-minute guests? Spend an afternoon making and freezing hearty soups—like Smoked Sausage Split Pea—along with easy rolls and ice cream sandwiches (recipes included), and you’ve got dinner-in-a-minute for a crowd. Kids driving you crazy? Put them to work making paper cones stuffed with ornaments or pinecones to decorate the tree. Need quick hostess gifts? Try Herbed Toasted Almonds, or dress up a store-bought red pillar candle by gluing stick peppermints along its base. Each recipe, craft or sewing project is illustrated with full-color pictures and complete instructions and patterns (most only require basic crafting or sewing skills), and a list of sources at the back will help harried cooks or crafters place their overnight orders.

If Mother Earth is on the gift list, Anna Getty’s I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas: Gifts, Decorations, and Recipes That Use Less and Mean More has stylish ideas for celebrating, giving and reflecting on the season that recycle and reuse but still give plenty of joy. Sections on Nesting and Entertaining feature homemade decor and place settings using natural and recycled elements (Recycled Wool Wreath, Newspaper Stocking), and Trimming has ideas for earthy decorations (Sugared Crabapple Ornaments, Twig Stars). The Giving section suggests packaging homemade treats in repurposed containers, such as bamboo steamer baskets. Sophisticated but easy recipes are also included (Cranberry Prosecco Cocktails, Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Ginger and Mascarpone, Pan-Fried Chicken Breasts with Chestnut Stuffing and Port Gravy), and the book is rounded out with lush photographs, “green tips” by famous eco-experts, a resource section listing useful websites and sidebars on green greetings and shipping, recyclable parties, low-impact gift and wrapping ideas and “composting Christmas.”

Bakers who are mystified by royal icing and luster dust will feel merry about the elegant designs in Cookie Craft Christmas. Valerie Peterson and Janice Fryer—the bakers behind the Cookie Craft series—have created a tiny treasure of a book complete with full-color illustrations of their bakery-worthy holiday creations ranging from easy to elaborate. A few basic rolled-cookie recipes and lessons on pre- and post-baking decorative techniques are followed by instructions for more than 70 distinctive designs, plus tips on freezing, shipping and swapping home-baked treats. From white reindeer and gingerbread sleighs to sweet treats for New Year’s and Hanukkah, these cookies are designed to create lasting memories.

Deanna Larson writes from Nashville.

Gingerbread and dirty Santas, nativity scenes and maxed-out credit cards: the holidays bring both highs and lows. During this most special time of year, there are cooks cooking, crafters crafting—and people creating wacky Christmases of their own making, as celebrated in these new books. Strange stories of the season Count on Augusten Burroughs (Running with […]
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A celebration of the best that the Tex-Mex tradition offers, The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook, illustrated with 75 archival and new photographs, takes you on a tour of famous Tex-Mex restaurants, taco trucks, cook-offs and tailgating extravaganzas, and has all the recipes you'll need to make these spicy treasures in your own backyard. No Tex-Mex fiesta could start without a Margarita, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more welcoming summer cocktail than this super-seasonal, rosy-pink Watermelon version. If you can't find "watermelon liquor," no problema—just add little more tequila!

Serves 4

Thanks to Gramercy Tavern manager Nick Mautone for the frozen watermelon ice cube idea.

1/2 small watermelon
8 ounces Simple Syrup
4 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
12 ounces gold tequila
8 ounces watermelon liqueur
12 mint leaves

Cut the watermelon into 1-inch cubes, removing the seeds as you go. Place the cubes in a colander set inside a bowl. Stir the cubes gently to extract juice without breaking up the cubes. You should have at least 8 ounces of juice. Put the watermelon cubes on a tray and freeze until solid—about an hour.

Mix the syrup, lemon juice, and lime juice with the watermelon juice. To serve, divide the frozen cubes among 4 glasses. Add the tequila, then the liqueur, and then the juice mixture and stir. Garnish with the mint leaves.

Recipe from The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook; Broadway Books.

A celebration of the best that the Tex-Mex tradition offers, The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook, illustrated with 75 archival and new photographs, takes you on a tour of famous Tex-Mex restaurants, taco trucks, cook-offs and tailgating extravaganzas, and has all the recipes you'll need to make these spicy treasures in your own backyard. […]

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Carter Sickels’ The Prettiest Star imagines a difficult prodigal son homecoming. It’s 1986, and Brian Jackson has returned to his small southern Ohio hometown. Six years before, Brian left home for New York City, where he found friends, a measure of acceptance and love with his partner, Shawn. Now Brian is 24 and ill with late-stage AIDS. He’s also alone; Shawn has already died, isolated in a hospital ward. 

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