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The 900-pound gorilla in the room—whose 1,600-odd pages give that term new weight—is Wine Advocate founder and national wine critic-in-chief Robert Parker and the seventh edition of his Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide. This edition, which happens to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the first mailing of what was then called the Washington/Baltimore Wine Advocate, focuses on wines currently available or expected to be released in the next two years and also puts a greater emphasis on value.

Parker's focus on accessible wines is echoed in the section of the introduction dealing with the issue of drinking wines young vs. cellaring them for long periods. It's satisfying (for those of us too indulgent to wait for more than a few years) to see Parker encouraging wine lovers to adopt a sort of carpe diem attitude, concluding that "only a small percentage [of wines] are more interesting or more enjoyable after extended cellaring than when originally released." Parker further puts himself on the side of the consumer by denouncing restaurants whose excessive markups discourage patrons from ordering good wine. And he displays an admirably democratic attitude toward price, valuing Penfolds Koonunga Hill line, one of its more inexpensive styles, as highly as some of the high – end releases. (Perhaps in a gesture of sympathy, Simon & Schuster is simultaneously releasing the "Guide" in paperback for a more affordable $35.)

However, it's a little less comfortable to find Parker taking aim at what he calls the "dark side" of wine production, especially "the growing international standardization of wine styles." This is arguably self-serving, as Parker's own 100-point scale is widely blamed for the bulking up of many classic wines. His pointing out that many of the wines in his cellars have scores of 87 or 88 likewise seems rather defensive, as many other wine writers (such as the author of our next book, Robin Goldstein) blame him for wine stores' increasing reluctance to stock any wine rated less than a 90. Nevertheless, the descriptions of wines and winemakers—some trenchant, some dismissive, some fulsome and some fully enthusiastic—are clear and absolute.

It seems likely that "Fearless Critic" food writer Robin Goldstein is hoping to get a rise out of the wine community with his myth-busting manifesto, The Wine Trials. Goldstein and co-conspirator/editor Alexis Herschkowitsch organized 17 double-blind tastings—mostly in Texas, where they're based, and New York—enlisting more than 500 wine professionals and amateurs to taste inexpensive wines and big-ticket bottles in a sort of viniferous smackdown. (One half-expects Bobby Flay to burst in and quaff a few glasses.)What they discover is that many of the tasters preferred the cheaper wines to the luxury versions, even when they would have predicted the opposite outcome. Goldstein attributes this result partly to psychological factors such as perceived value (we are still, of course, the most conspicuous consumer society in the world), manufacturers' expenditures on advertising and a set of rather distracting genetic speculations. He also points to the "Parkerization" of wines, which Goldstein feels leads to the homogenization of wines and their increasing in-your-face, jammy, high-alcohol style.

Eventually the book gets to listing 100 under-$15 wines of note, but having apparently exhausted themselves in trying to make the front matter "heavy," the authors go pretty light on the write-ups, spending nearly as much space on the label designs as the wine. Goldstein also seems to have a champion-of-the-underdog attitude, shrugging that while Dom Perignon "has a classic, expensive Champagne taste … a lot of our blind tasters didn't like that taste." However, the "smoothness of the bubbles" apparently trumps the metallic aftertaste of Freixenet. (Full disclosure: not the opinion of this Champagne freak.) It's a fun book and cheap enough for a stocking (or tucked in with a bottle), but should have been more focused.

Bold blends
Somewhere between the two selections above is the glossy, hefty 1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die—which, as it happens, describes Dom Perignon as "sublime." It seems to pander to the type of wine lover who is really a collector for appearance's sake, snapping up the right labels, the right vintages, etc. As a source of information for particular wines, it's very good, but as a "bucket list," it kicks.

It's a little hard to figure out The Wine Planner: Select the Right Wines to Complement Your Favorite Food by wine teacher Chris Hambleton, which is sort of a "Pat the Bunny" of wine and food pairings. It's a heavy spiral notebook with each page divided into four mini-pages, the top listing appetizers, the second main courses, the third desserts and the last cheeses. The idea is that you flip through looking for the food you want to serve wine with, and there's your drink recommendation and tasting notes on the flip side. But listing a specific Pinot Blanc for monkfish tacos or Zardetto prosecco di Conegliano for "peaches stuffed with cream cheese and walnuts," five vintages of the Chateau Lagrange St. Julien (at $50 plus) to dispense with "roast beef, roast lamb, or steak tartare" or (only) the 2005 De Ladoucette Pouilly-Fume for "salmon en croute, baked trout with almonds, or steamed bass" seems showy and somewhat arbitrary.

Top tier
The well-behaved dinner guest of the lot is WineWise: Your Complete Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Enjoying Wine by Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith and Michael A. Weiss. These three wine educators from the Culinary Institute of America have produced a clear and useful (if not particularly unique) primer with descriptions of major wine-producing regions, wine styles, etc., with full-color photos and maps. There's also a surprisingly useful final chapter that lists all three critics' favorite wine bargains of all styles—more than 650, with most in the $15 or less range. Now that's timely.

The 900-pound gorilla in the room—whose 1,600-odd pages give that term new weight—is Wine Advocate founder and national wine critic-in-chief Robert Parker and the seventh edition of his Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide. This edition, which happens to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the first mailing of what was then called the Washington/Baltimore Wine Advocate, […]
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In the dust jacket blurb for Mark Leonard's What Does China Think? rests an important pair of sentences: "Very few things that happen in our lifetime will be remembered after we are dead. But China's rise is different, like the rise and fall of Rome or the Soviet Empire, its after-effects will reverberate for generations to come." In a scholarly (but by no means dry) treatise, Leonard explores the conundrum that is modern China, through the views of the thinkers, movers and shakers who are leading the recently backward land into a position of prominence (and perhaps dominance) in the 21st century. In one essay titled "Meritocracy vs. majority rule," Leonard quotes Beijing University's Pan Wei, who believes Westerners have it wrong in assuming that their countries are prosperous and stable because of democracy; rather, he suggests prosperity and stability spring forth from the rule of law, and law and democracy are like yin and yang, in constant conflict with one another. What Does China Think? should be on the short list for anyone who wants insight into China's idea of its rightful place in the world order.

Encyclopedia Sinologica

Every now and then one's radar is blipped by someone or something that should have been taught in school, but somehow wasn't. Such is the case with Englishman Joseph Needham, who went to China in the 1930s and embarked on a lifelong project to catalog all of the inventions for which the Chinese were responsible. Big deal, you say. That's what I thought as well, until I had the opportunity to read Simon Winchester's The Man Who Loved China. This unforgettable (and unputdownable) book is a major revelation both about Chinese ingenuity and the remarkable man who spent his life unearthing and cataloging it. Among the notable inventions credited to the Chinese: paper, the compass, gunpowder, chopsticks (OK, that was probably a given), the toothbrush, toilet paper, the abacus, the bellows, the cannon, canal locks (as in the Panama Canal), paper money, grenades, the suspension bridge, vaccinations and the wheelbarrow, to mention but a handful. Whew! In the end, Needham produced 17 exhaustive volumes, rendering him a legend in the annals of encyclopedia. The Man Who Loved China should appeal strongly to fans of John McPhee or Michael Sims, or anyone interested in the history of China as seen through the eyes of an inquisitive Westerner.

The land in pictures

If a single picture is worth a thousand words, then Yann Layma's China should be worth at least 210,000 descriptors. The pictures are first-rate, of National Geographic quality. Each rates a two-page spread, without margins or captions to distract from the images (the pictures are all reproduced in thumbnail size in the back of the book, along with descriptive captions). Layma displays a rare sensitivity and humor in depicting daily life in China. One picture shows stately houseboats wending their way down a misty canal; another depicts the elaborate geometric pattern of a rice paddy. Still others offer glimpses into the daily lives of such diverse groups as falconers, runway models, fishermen, factory workers, religious figures and martial arts practitioners. Also included are essays by five noted Chinese writers: one section deals with the teachings of Lao Tzu and Confucius, another with famous Chinese inventions; a third covers Chinese calligraphy, a fourth gives a brief look at milestones in Chinese history. The other books in this article each illustrate a facet of the modern miracle that is China, but this is the one that will make you long to pay a visit to the Middle Kingdom.

What's on the menu

No report on modern-day China would be complete without at least a look at Chinese cuisine. Of course, everyone in the West is familiar with the staples: egg rolls, sweet and sour pork, General Tso's chicken and egg foo young. Less known are such culinary delights as red-braised bear paw, dried orangutan lips (I am not making this up), camel hump and the ovarian fat of the Chinese forest frog. For a historical (and often hysterical) glimpse at these and other fascinating facets of Chinese cooking, look no further than Fuchsia Dunlop's Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, a tale of travel in modern China, with appended recipes for meals that tend more toward the delicious end of Chinese cuisine spectrum, rather than, say, the aforementioned orangutan lips. Dunlop's writing style is conversational and engaging, and she poses several perplexing questions (for instance, when she inadvertently cooks a caterpillar along with some homegrown veggies in England, should she eat it, as she has done many times in China, or shiver in revulsion, as befits her upbringing?).

This could happen to you

And now for the fun part, the book that made me laugh out loud more times than I can remember, J. Maarten Troost's Lost on Planet China. After spending too long in Sacramento ("a little corner of Oklahoma that got lost and found itself on the other side of the Sierra Nevada. . ."), Troost decided a new place to live was in order. "I'm thinking China," he suggested to his wife, Sylvia. "I'm thinking Monterey," Sylvia countered. Clearly a compromise was required, and so it came to pass that Troost set forth on a solo exploratory mission to Old Cathay. After learning some vital Chinese phrases ("I am not proficient at squatting; is there another toilet option?," "Are you sure that's chicken?"), Troost found himself waving goodbye to his family. He would soon be saying hello again, though, as he had forgotten his backpack containing his passport, plane ticket and traveler's checks: " 'I'm trying to envision you in China,' Sylvia said, 'and I can't decide whether to laugh or weep.' I empathized. It's a thin line that separates tragedy from farce." As you might imagine, it only gets more frenetic and exponentially more humorous from this point forward. Troost is already being lauded as the new generation's answer to Bill Bryson; in my view, his writing is markedly different, but it will definitely find an appreciative audience among Bryson fans.

In the dust jacket blurb for Mark Leonard's What Does China Think? rests an important pair of sentences: "Very few things that happen in our lifetime will be remembered after we are dead. But China's rise is different, like the rise and fall of Rome or the Soviet Empire, its after-effects will reverberate for generations […]
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Unlike the days when the European apprentice system was the only way to become an established chef, today there is no one route to the kitchen. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in How I Learned to Cook: Culinary Educations of the World’s Greatest Chefs, a collection of essays by 40 acclaimed chefs. Edited by Kimberly Witherspoon and Peter Meehan, the book is a satisfying follow-up to Don’t Try This at Home, their collection of culinary catastrophe stories. While the first book was heavy on entertainment, this one delivers more in the practical wisdom department.

Each essay in How I Learned to Cook opens with a short bio of a chef, hardly necessary in most cases (Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Marcella Hazan), essential in others (Raymond Blanc, Chris Bianco). Each chef takes a slightly different tack, telling about childhood experiences in the kitchen, early inspirations and mentors, twists of fate or epiphanies that came later in life. All the essays are less than 10 pages long and hold a reader’s attention with their sheer diversity.

This is not just a book for culinary school students or aspiring professionals the inspiration in these chefs’ tales works for the weekend cook as well. Despite the breadth of experiences recounted from cooking under the master French chef Paul Bocuse (Daniel Boulud) to deep-frying at the snack bar of the local swim club (Tom Colicchio) cooks of every ability level will recognize the one constant throughout: passion for good food.

Lisa Waddle is a pastry baker and food writer in Nashville.

Unlike the days when the European apprentice system was the only way to become an established chef, today there is no one route to the kitchen. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in How I Learned to Cook: Culinary Educations of the World’s Greatest Chefs, a collection of essays by 40 acclaimed chefs. Edited by […]
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Wine books make corking good presents, and this year's offerings run the gamut from info-packed to irreverent. George Taber's smart and highly readable To Cork or Not to Cork: Tradition, Romance, Science, and the Battle for the Wine Bottle is firmly in the former camp. Taber, whose 2005 bestseller Judgment of Paris detailed the crucial 1976 victory of California's Stag's Leap and Chateau Montelena wines over their French rivals, takes a widely researched (as per the subtitle) but highly entertaining tale about how the issue of cork spoilage has roiled the winemaking industry and lifted the once lowly screwtop and other non-cork options to at least relative respectability. Not surprisingly, Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm and Australian Riesling star Jeffrey Grosset come in for applause. Taber's chapter lead-ins are great anecdotes of how bad corks have spoiled great moments for winemakers, collectors and critics.

Just as screwtops regularly get the (Thunder)bird from wine snobs, Beaujolais Nouveau are routinely ridiculed as the $10 version of, well, screwtop wines definitely dernier cru. (Wine Bible author Karen MacNeil, who wrote the foreword for To Cork or Not to Cork, famously compared it to cookie dough.) Beaujolais wines are immensely food-friendly, fruity and light, which is why these wines were traditionally tasted as soon as bottled. The man who made this tasting into a worldwide event every year on the third Thursday of November is village winemaker turned importer George Duboeuf, hero of I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World's Most Popular Wine by Rudolph Chelminski. He may have started out, in some eyes, as a simple peasant though his palate has repeatedly been validated but the Beaujolais Nouveau with his imprint now sells some 2.5 million bottles a year in this country alone.

VIN NOUVEAU
Hip Tastes: The Fresh Guide to Wine, an oh-so-chatty primer by 28-year-old San Francisco sommelier-cum-social events organizer Courtney Cochran, is like one of those infomercials where you hear more about what you're going to learn than anything else but there's a much better, albeit very small book buried under all the cuteness. Cochran, who organizes monthly tasting parties for wine newbies, as she would say, seems to have taken a microphone to one of her events and simply transcribed her spiel, with bums me out, kick-ass and juvenile sexual innuendoes intact. Luckily, the useful explanations of terroir, flavors and aromas to look for and so on are in a much more straightforward tone.

For those who prefer the Year in Provence-style memoir (albeit with an R rating), Eric Arnold's First Big Crush: The Down and Dirty on Making Great Wine . . . Down Under is the choice book on this list. Would-be standup comedian Arnold takes a year's apprenticeship at Allen Scott's Marlborough winery, during which he nearly kills several people, drinks and eats extensively and occasionally imparts good information about the process amid the profanity and locker-room jokes. The two strains of the memoir becoming one of the wine boys, and the actual Wine 101 stuff don't always flow smoothly, but his workplace is a first-rate down-and-dirty winery, anyway. (Incidentally, there is a short and quite subjective but memorable explanation of the screwtop vs. cork debate included here.)

MADE IN THE USA
Wine Across America: A Photographic Road Trip, by husband-and-wife team Charles O'Rear and Daphne Larkin, took two years and 80,000 miles to create; but as a coffee-table book, it makes a pretty travel brochure. O'Rear, a longtime photographer for National Geographic, has already produced seven wine books; Lardin reports on the wine industry for various magazines. But here her reporting is limited mostly to captions, some useful and some simply descriptive. Ultimately, it seems the best way to use this book is if a friend has visited a particular winery included here, and wrap it with a bottle. There is a spread of American wine labels glossily reproduced that would make a great wall poster, ˆ la the pub signs of London or bottles of hot sauce; I'd order several myself.

Wine books make corking good presents, and this year's offerings run the gamut from info-packed to irreverent. George Taber's smart and highly readable To Cork or Not to Cork: Tradition, Romance, Science, and the Battle for the Wine Bottle is firmly in the former camp. Taber, whose 2005 bestseller Judgment of Paris detailed the crucial […]
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Chef Frank Stitt revolutionizes Southern cooking Back in 1982, back when the only good restaurant towns in the South were (grudgingly) considered to be New Orleans and perhaps Charleston, Frank Stitt opened the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama. It set out Stitt’s personal culinary mission to blend Southern ingredients and traditions with French provincial style and technique and showcased the sort of truck-farm seasonal produce the fast-food generation had almost forgotten. It was a quiet revolution, but one all the same, and it didn’t stay quiet long. By 2001, Stitt had won the James Beard award as best chef in the Southeast, opened two other restaurants and begun work on a much-anticipated cookbook.

At last, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill is in print, and it’s a beaut, warmly and generously written, with more than 150 recipes and many gorgeous photographs all shot in natural light, and with unbelievably seductive texture by former Saveur and Metropolitan Home editor Christopher Hirscheimer. The recipes run the gamut from fried green tomatoes and real pimiento cheese spread and grits (a fabulously rich version guaranteed to knock the polenta pretensions out of anyone) to roast quail with apples and pecans and guinea hen with onions and truffles. They are not essentially fancy, not unnecessarily frilly, but their freshness almost leaps off the page. And the less traditional combinations smoked trout salad with blood oranges, avocado and frisŽe; warm cabbage soup with goat cheese and cornbread crostini; grilled grouper with artichoke-charred onion relish display a stunning grasp of texture and interplay.

I’m very much influenced by my time in California and Boston and London and France and in the markets, Stitt says in an interview with BookPage, but I wanted to bring all that back to a very solid home base. I do not subscribe to fusion cooking. I’m really dedicated to authentic cultural roots. I think that’s what makes Southern writers and artists so distinctive; they grow up on the farm but then they leave for years to travel and explore and gain that sophistication, and then they come back to enrich the culture. When I was in France, I realized that the food on my grandmother’s table those butter beans and baby peas and okra and cornbread it wasn’t Ôfine food,’ but the devotion to and the reverence for those ingredients really moved me. Like many Southerners born in the ’50s and ’60s, Stitt fled north as soon as he could, first to Europe for a summer, then to Tufts University and then to Berkeley to study philosophy. But there the lure of fine food, in a city where Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse was already fueling the green food movement, began to take hold. He talked his way into a series of basic kitchen jobs, eventually getting a job (with no pay) working for Waters at Chez Panisse, and then, with her help, becoming assistant to Richard Olney, the respected editor of the Time-Life Good Cook series, and later Olney’s personal assistant in France.

It all really came together for Stitt when, 10 days into a wine-picking stint in the south of France, he had what he calls an Alabama epiphany. He began to contemplate the cycle of planting and harvest, the rhythm of exhausting work and spiritual satisfaction, and to feel a nostalgic regret for the old farmer’s markets and county fairs that showcased home preserving and perfect peaches a process of seasonal recreation that seemed both noble and familiar. And so he returned to Birmingham, to transform a daily task into a glorious event. (This writer admits to a personal peeve: Southern regional food keeps getting rediscovered not because it’s obscure, but because it’s not cuisine : it’s cooking. All those fancy food magazines that tout New York as the nation’s restaurant capital may have a point, but it’s a misleading one, because Southerners know how to cook for themselves. Who cooks at home in New York? The only recipes with Manhattan in the title are a cocktail and cheap clam chowder. So when the big-name chefs cook homestyle, they can’t just admit it, they have to turn it into some sort of trend call it comfort food, or modern American or something. So a cookbook like this, with its seemingly effortless blend of simplicity and sophistication, is especially welcome.) For Stitt, who describes himself as definitely a seat-of-the-pants, instinctual kind of chef, the strict measurement and formulation of recipes was a little uncomfortable. I never make the same thing the same way. I’m much better at being inspired by what’s in the cooler and trying to combine ingredients into the most complementary way. But having survived the process, he says he is amazed by the book, a little intimidated by it, astonished by it, gratified by it. I think it captures a lot of our spirit. We want it to be charming, kind, intelligent, and we want people to really use it. With his love of fresh ingredients, it’s no surprise that Stitt actively promotes sustainable and humane agriculture (he is active in both the Chef’s Collaborative and Slow Food) and hopes his cookbook will encourage more people to purchase local produce whenever possible. Almost his first words in the cookbook ring a near-sacred chord of memory for real food lovers: The seasons define [the restaurant menu]. If it’s springtime, we talk asparagus, favas, baby artichokes, sweet baby Vidalias, little sweet peas, spring lettuces. The cobia season is winding down, the Apalachicola flounder have been fat and iridescent, the occasional speckled trout shiny and firm . . . . and so on. It’s impossible to read such passages without seeing, and smelling, the bounties of the nation.

Stitt says he loves his other two restaurants the regional Italian Bottega, with its wood-fired pizza oven and Beaux Arts limestone facade; and Chef Fonfon, the French bistro of my dreams, which offers mussels and steak frites and croque monsieur but Highlands is still the first child, the one that demands the most attention, the one where I start my morning. He can just begin to contemplate another book, but right now, he says, it’s like contemplating having another child or falling in love again; I just want to savor the energy of this one. Eve Zibart is a restaurant reviewer for the Washington Post and author of The Ethnic Food Lover’s Companion.

Chef Frank Stitt revolutionizes Southern cooking Back in 1982, back when the only good restaurant towns in the South were (grudgingly) considered to be New Orleans and perhaps Charleston, Frank Stitt opened the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama. It set out Stitt’s personal culinary mission to blend Southern ingredients and traditions with French […]
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Beloved book survives personal tragedy A life course when picked often seems utterly focused, then direction shifts and the chosen course leads to destinations unknown. Such is my story. It is the tale of how an anthropologist became a restaurant owner and cookbook author. Then, how, due to a personal tragedy, she became a disaster expert, lecturing worldwide on catastrophe. And finally, how she put it all together in a work she loves beyond all others: a cookbook and memoir celebrating Greek food, history, language, custom and life called The Olive and the Caper. It is a story of change, loss, recovery and new horizons that, I hope, is satisfying to heart and palate. I originally went to live in a Greek village as a serious-minded graduate student, but was quickly swept into workaday village life a daily, year-round, never-ceasing cycle of gathering provender and preparing it. At first, I was drafted into the life of women. With them, I simmered soup over a propane burner, gathered snails after rainstorms, baked black barley rings and bargained over fish in the market. I was welcomed every day with rounds of fresh goat’s cheese which I fried into cheese chip omelets. I picked capers and brined them, collected greens to boil and oil. All the women, sister and American stranger, baked together, each of us bringing an armful of grape twigs to fire the communal oven. Today, when I return to the village, now equipped with electric stoves, we still collect in great chatting groups to make Easter cakes and roast fig sandwiches. I then joined the life of men. I harvested barley with a sickle, threshed and winnowed kernel from shaft, picked and weighed tomatoes, stamped grapes into juice for wine. I drank grappa in taverns, and after a long day’s work, toasted a good backgammon game with a bang of my glass on the table. My unexpected affair with the glorious food of Greece led to another shift. Though I held a professorship in anthropology, I became one of the owners of the famed Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley. Soon after, Chez Panisse chef Victoria Wise and I opened a restaurant of our own and wrote three cookbooks together. Throughout, I returned to Greece constantly, exploring the life, the food and the joy of it all. Eventually I was approached to write a Greek cookbook. The book was moving along, half done, when on October 20, 1991, a spark from an old fire in Oakland re-ignited. A ferocious firestorm developed, sweeping down the hills and in four short days destroyed over 3,000 homes. Mine was one.

Ironically, I was in Greece at the time attending a food and wine conference and was able to save neither a page nor a frying pan. Twenty-five people died in the fire and 6,000 were left homeless. I lost my home and all my possessions: my photographs, heirlooms, artwork, every kitchen utensil, one car and two pets. Since my office was in my home, I lost all my years of anthropological research, my writings and my entire library. I had no salt, none to put upon my food and none left for tears. I had no thread, none to stitch my daughter’s hem and none to hold my days together. The scheme of my life was irrevocably ruptured. Who I was and what I intended to do utterly unraveled. The Olive and the Caper completely burned. I was about to let the book go when Victoria offered to help. Workman, my publisher, was supportive, but at first I demurred. As an anthropologist, and now a survivor, I knew I had to write about enduring devastation. I co-authored and edited two books on disaster. Only then did I return to my beloved Olive and Caper. The basics of life prevail: family, friends, love. I know, I have been there. For me the simplicity of carrying on, of meals, of care, both in America and Greece, has been sustenance. In the new Olive and Caper I speak of it all, of memories when none on paper remain, of rich bounty at hand, of cooking and sharing, of stories from times ancient and modern, of recovering and coming to new vistas, of vicissitudes and strength and survival, of endeavors never planned for, but once met, relished. An anthropologist, cooking enthusiast and author, Susannah Hoffman lived and worked in Greece on and off for more than 30 years. Her latest cookbook, The Olive and the Caper: Adventures in Greek Cooking, includes 325 recipes and dozens of essays on Greek food and customs.

Beloved book survives personal tragedy A life course when picked often seems utterly focused, then direction shifts and the chosen course leads to destinations unknown. Such is my story. It is the tale of how an anthropologist became a restaurant owner and cookbook author. Then, how, due to a personal tragedy, she became a disaster […]
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Though most Americans may not think of orchids when they hear the word vanilla, the exotic Mexican tropical plant produces the fruit we know as the vanilla bean or pod. Centuries before Cortez invaded Mexico in 1519, the Mesoamerican Indians held the plant (Vanilla planifolia) in high esteem as a blessing of nature, and used it for trade and exchange.

In 1572, Bernal Diaz de Castillo described how chocolate was first drunk as a beverage, a bitter-tasting drink made from the cocoa plant and flavored with ground vanilla. Cortez himself tasted it at Montezuma’s court. Shortly thereafter, the Spaniards shipped vanilla back to Europe, where it was touted as an antidote to poisons as well as an aphrodisiac.

Author Tim Ecott’s new book Vanilla: Travels In Search of the Ice Cream Orchid is a fascinating blend of history, science and travelogue. Ecott’s pages are filled with legends and surprising stories about the world’s most exotic and sensual plant: an orchid that traveled the world but would not bear fruit outside of Mexico until a 12-year-old African boy named Edmond Albuis developed a process for cultivating it in 1841.

In keeping with his penchant for obscure subjects (his first bestseller, Neutral Buoyancy: Adventures in a Liquid World, captures his scuba-diving adventures), Ecott presents a cast of interesting characters including farmers, brokers and ice cream makers he tracked down in Mexico, Tahiti, Madagascar, England and America.

Vanilla is a compelling book along the lines of The Orchid Thief and Orchid Fever that fans of the fascinating subculture of orchid growing are sure to love, and one that will make others wonder what the world would be like without vanilla. After all those centuries, it is more valuable today than at any time in history. Cooking instructor Wuanda M.T. Walls is finishing a cultural memoir cookbook.

Though most Americans may not think of orchids when they hear the word vanilla, the exotic Mexican tropical plant produces the fruit we know as the vanilla bean or pod. Centuries before Cortez invaded Mexico in 1519, the Mesoamerican Indians held the plant (Vanilla planifolia) in high esteem as a blessing of nature, and used […]
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We think we live in an time of great cooking and we do but in 18th-century England, the worldwide boom in travel and trade was mirrored by housewives’ discovery of an equally wide world of foods: exotic spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper and cloves; nuts and fruits; new vegetables (including American corn, tomatoes, chilies and beans); chocolate, vanilla, tea and coffee. It was also a time when prominent writers began extolling the virtues of fresh vegetables, scientific farming, botanical research and so on. Once cooking became not a chore but a profession, simple recipes became ambitious cookbooks.

Sandra Sherman’s fascinating Fresh from the Past: Recipes and Revelations from Moll Flanders’ Kitchen is a culinary and cultural history with 120 revamped and modernized recipes developed by Maryland caterers Henry and Karen Chotkowski. A professor of English lit and history at the University of Arkansas, Sherman puts not just food but politics, trade policy, etiquette, social climbers (witness her titular heroine), rakes and rouŽs (the Earl of Sandwich and his famous gambling snack) and even the fragile male ego on the table. (British men swore by those notoriously huge slabs of roast beef of Old England because they believed meat increased virility.) The Chotkowskis have come up with everything from sweet pumpkin soup to black pudding and gooseberry trifle, from roast turkey with crayfish to Polish chicken, from pickled lemon to Parmesan ice cream. And the many woodcut reproductions and folk songs make this book a prize.

We think we live in an time of great cooking and we do but in 18th-century England, the worldwide boom in travel and trade was mirrored by housewives’ discovery of an equally wide world of foods: exotic spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper and cloves; nuts and fruits; new vegetables (including American corn, tomatoes, chilies […]
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Hallelujah! Ruby Ann Boxcar, "Dame Edna of the double-wide world," is back and giving St. Nick a run for his money in Move Over, Santa Ruby's Doin' Christmas!. Ruby Ann and the folks at the High Chaparral Trailer Park are celebrating the 12 days before Christmas in true down-home style with a cornucopia of kitschy crafts, thrifty decorating ideas, rustically exotic recipes and kicky entertaining tips. "I wanted to show the world what a real-life Christmas is like, warts and all," she declares. Replete with Ruby's holiday makeup suggestions, tales of Chaparral Christmases past, a blessing from Pastor Ida May Bee of the Holier Than Most Baptist Church, and 12 days of yuletide advice, this hilarious little bible will rock your Christmas present, especially after a shot of sister Donna Sue's Jingle Bell Punch. And when you're finally finished making that wooden spoon reindeer and shotgun shell Santa for your mantel, you can relax with a plateful of O, Tanenbaum, Taters and Velveeta Cheese Fudge. Yum, y'all!

Alison Hood still waits up for Santa every Christmas Eve and eats way too many cookies while keeping watch at the hearth.

Hallelujah! Ruby Ann Boxcar, "Dame Edna of the double-wide world," is back and giving St. Nick a run for his money in Move Over, Santa Ruby's Doin' Christmas!. Ruby Ann and the folks at the High Chaparral Trailer Park are celebrating the 12 days before Christmas in true down-home style with a cornucopia of kitschy […]
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Writer Steve Almond has these three obsessions: sex, candy and heartbreak. His acclaimed short story collection, My Life in Heavy Metal, told tales of physical desire, love and longing. A new nonfiction book, Candyfreak chronicles Almond’s lifelong passion for candy (especially the discontinued Caravelle bar) as he undertakes a sugar- and nostalgia-fueled exploration of America’s confectionary industry. “Art arises from loss,” avers Almond dolefully, “this entire book arose from the loss of a single candy bar.” (Guess which one!) Candyfreak is witty, hip and deftly written, a gonzo hybrid of a book that is part memoir, part culinary journalism. Almond’s funny, soul-baring story takes him to our nation’s small, independent candy factories. Yes, he’s an “unbridled candyfreak,” drawn there by the promise of free samples. But he’s also out to uncover the voraciousness of American candy capitalism, and why it led to the demise of the Caravelle. Almond’s narrative ranges from sensual to Zen-like zany. There are melting accounts of silky dark chocolate, salty roasted peanuts and gorgeous, gooey marshmallow. There is a strange haiku inspired by witnessing Goo Goo Clusters receive an assembly line chocolate bath: “Brown rivers released/From cold silver machines sing/For a stunned wet tongue.” But the ultimate appeal of this wonderful, quirky book is its soft center of surprise: yearning and existential loneliness hide inside the chewy layers of fact and zingy, acerbic humor.

Writer Steve Almond has these three obsessions: sex, candy and heartbreak. His acclaimed short story collection, My Life in Heavy Metal, told tales of physical desire, love and longing. A new nonfiction book, Candyfreak chronicles Almond’s lifelong passion for candy (especially the discontinued Caravelle bar) as he undertakes a sugar- and nostalgia-fueled exploration of America’s […]
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Former Newsweek writer Laura Shapiro continues her exploration of America’s relationship with food in Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America. Part women’s studies, part cultural study, Shapiro’s entertaining and enlightening book charts a revolution in food creation and preparation. Ready-made food proponents were baffled when their “wave of the future” failed to catch on immediately. After all, didn’t women hate to cook? (Surveys from the 1950s show that, in fact, cooking was consistently among the top two favorite household chores.) This food was easy to make, and, often, cheaper than fresh alternatives. What manufacturers didn’t realize was that while prepared foods (which originated from soldiers’ rations during World War II) were definitely time-savers, quality and taste varied, and it was difficult to find a place for them within America’s strong notions about cooking for the family. Cooking was an integral part of the “perfect wife” package, and women who used pre-packaged foods even those as commonplace as instant coffee were perceived by their peers as lazy. Advertisers fought back. Prepared foods, they proclaimed, made gourmet taste accessible to the everyday cook. Soon, food writers began incorporating this message into their recipes. Shapiro comes to a different conclusion. Far from liberating cooks, pre-packaged foods were often another way of restricting them, changing cooking from an enterprise where the cook had the power to a practice devoid of creativity, a step-by-step, follow-the-rules procedure. Still, pre-packaged foods were seen as the way forward. It wasn’t until the publication of two seminal works Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and Julia Child’s The French Chef that cooking would regain its equilibrium and offer choice once again. Shapiro’s comprehensive study of a watershed moment in America’s past evokes the paradoxes of post-war life, and makes the reader contemplate the history behind the question, “what’s for dinner?”

Former Newsweek writer Laura Shapiro continues her exploration of America’s relationship with food in Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America. Part women’s studies, part cultural study, Shapiro’s entertaining and enlightening book charts a revolution in food creation and preparation. Ready-made food proponents were baffled when their “wave of the future” failed to […]
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<B>What love’s got to do with it</B> You might fight like cats and dogs, but where would you be without dear old mom? Without her attention and affection? And endless advice? Sure, her helpful hints are often unasked-for (and sometimes shrilly delivered), but they’re sent with unconditional love the kind only mothers can provide. So take a tip from BookPage and remember mom this month with one of the terrific titles listed below.

Motivational speaker Cherie Carter-Scott, Ph.

D., commemorates the maternal role in <!–BPLINK=–>0767904281<B>The Gift of Motherhood: 10 Truths for Every Mother</B><!–ENDBPLINK–>. Author of the best-selling advice book, <I>f Life is a Game, These are the Rules</I>, Scott, who has worked with Fortune 500 companies like American Express and IBM, offers 10 insights about motherhood that she has gleaned from personal experience and from years of coaching women all over the world. The universals she presents in the book Remembering to care for yourself is essential and Love shows up in many different forms are examined in-depth and illustrated by inspiring anecdotes from real-life moms. <B>The Gift of Motherhood</B> also functions as a how-to guide to parenting, proposing practical strategies for dealing with mother-daughter conflicts, for envisioning the type of mother you want to become and achieving that vision for being both friend and authority figure to your child. Each of Scott’s truths serves to demystify the role of mother, providing support for the struggling parent. Transcending race, religion and nationality, her words of wisdom and humor will energize future and seasoned mothers alike. With <B>Busy Woman’s Cookbook</B>, authors Sharon and Gene McFall share more than 500 recipes that are sure to ease a mother’s greatest domestic burden. For those without the time or inclination to experiment in the kitchen, this back-to-the-basics book offers three- and four-element recipes, composed of easily accessible ingredients, that take the complexity out of cooking. From Old Time Meat Loaf to Skinny Minny Pork Chops, from Cinnamon Coffee Cake to Sopaipillas, creative ideas for appetizers, entrees, salads and desserts are simply and briefly presented. Downhome or exotic, old-fashioned or new-fangled, there’s a dish for every food preference. Amusing anecdotes and fascinating facts (200 to be exact) about famous women enliven the text. A sturdy cover and spiral binding make the book easy to handle in the kitchen. <B>Busy Woman</B> lets the overwhelmed mother put meal planning where it belongs on the back burner.

For moms who are coming-of-age, consider <!–BPLINK=–>0696213907<B>Fifty Celebrate Fifty: Fifty Extraordinary Women Talk About Facing, Turning and Being Fifty</B><!–ENDBPLINK–>, a book of sparkling photos and fabulous interviews from the editors of <I>More</I> magazine. The volume features candid talks with women who are better than ever at mid-life, including Diane Sawyer, Amy Tan, Susan Sarandon and Phylicia Rashad. The book includes a broad range of voices women from various cultures and career arenas who testify with pride about hitting their stride at 50. AIDS activist Beverly Mosley talks about living with HIV. Newscaster Judy Woodruff discusses coping with her son’s brain injury. These honest accounts of juggling family and career, of overcoming obstacles and achieving inner peace will inspire females of any age. Experience is sexy, says Susan Sarandon. And today, women can be sexy and 50. Indeed, the future has never looked brighter for these confident, accomplished women, each of whom combines the poise of youth with the wisdom that only age can bring. A tribute to diversity, beauty and individuality, <B>Fifty Celebrate Fifty</B> is a great way to remind mom that the best really is yet to come. <I> The job of mother most often plays itself out not on the lofty levels of Hallmark splendor but rather in the trenches of day-to-day life. </I> Cherie Carter-Scott <I>The Gift of Motherhood</I>

<B>What love’s got to do with it</B> You might fight like cats and dogs, but where would you be without dear old mom? Without her attention and affection? And endless advice? Sure, her helpful hints are often unasked-for (and sometimes shrilly delivered), but they’re sent with unconditional love the kind only mothers can provide. So […]
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In this year’s very strong field of sports gifts, The Football Book probably leads the pack. This stunning coffee table item, put together by the editors at Sports Illustrated, will thrill both committed and casual fans of pro football. Hundreds of amazing action photographs, most of them in bright color, are held together by more than three dozen essays by such topnotch SI veteran contributors as Peter King, Paul Zimmerman, Dan Jenkins and Rick Telander. The coverage reveals the NFL in all its diversified historical glory: the players, the coaches, the big games, the equipment, the crowds, the great single moments, the ecstatic victories and the tough defeats. The photos are, in some cases, simply breathtaking, whether it’s a tableaux of jewel-encrusted Super Bowl rings, a series of close-ups of old game balls, a shot of Joe Montana unleashing a pass while surrounded by attacking defenders or a glimpse of a thoughtful Vince Lombardi surveying his troops from the sideline. Heck, even the dust jacket here is a beauty, featuring helmeted head shots of 75 of the game’s greats. Among the interesting textual entries are conversation-starting listings of the top 25 all-time players at each position, as well as a tribute to former Arizona Cardinals defensive back Pat Tillman, who left football in his prime to serve in Iraq and was killed in the line of duty. Suprisingly, this treasure trove is as attractive in its affordable price ($29.95) as it is in its engrossing content. Martin Brady is making out his Christmas list at home in Nashville.

In this year’s very strong field of sports gifts, The Football Book probably leads the pack. This stunning coffee table item, put together by the editors at Sports Illustrated, will thrill both committed and casual fans of pro football. Hundreds of amazing action photographs, most of them in bright color, are held together by more […]

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