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CHRISTMAS WITH THE KENNEDYS
Caroline Kennedy shares some of her family's most time-honored holiday traditions in A Family Christmas. After a brief introduction, and a reproduction of a letter Kennedy herself wrote to Santa from the White House in 1962, the book moves on to include dozens of musings on the season from authors, musicians and public figures. It encompasses the traditional (Irving Berlin songs, Bible verses, Robert Frost poems) as well as the surprising (who in the family is a Run-DMC fan?) and is beautifully illustrated in watercolor by award-winning artist Jon J. Muth, who also worked with Kennedy on her anthology A Family of Poems.

A Family Christmas is not quite as intimate as its title might imply the book includes few personal stories or anecdotes. But the solid selections easily stand on their own merit, and Kennedy's eclectic, erudite collection of poems, carols and stories is sure to become one that readers will return to year after year.

TRADITIONS AROUND THE WORLD
It's time to think about the whys behind the whats. Christmas Around the World, a beautiful pop-up book illustrated and engineered by Chuck Fischer, highlights the ways people worldwide (well, in Europe anyway, though there is a brief section on Latin America and the U.S.) celebrate the season. Dynamic 3-D spreads on Italy, Germany, France and Russia are complemented by pull-out books and fold-out flaps, where text by Anne Newgarden gives details on that region's unique holiday customs. Russia's pages are dominated by a large pop-up of their double-headed imperial eagle. The spread on France is particularly festive, with the white dome of Montmartre rising above charming cobblestone streets crossed with star-shaped garlands and filled with Parisian shoppers. Christmas Around the World is the perfect introduction to foreign customs for young children.

Meera Lester limits herself to investigating only 101 holiday customs in Why Does Santa Wear Red? . . . and 100 Other Christmas Curiosities Unwrapped. The 101 curiosities include songs, stories, craft ideas, pop-culture quizzes and recipes, in addition to solving the mystery of Santa's sartorial choices. Like Newgarden and Forbes, Lester shares European and American Christmas traditions, including more esoteric figures like France's Pre Fouttard (St. Nicholas' evil counterpart) and Italy's La Befana, who declined to accompany the Three Wise Men and has been looking for the Baby Jesus ever since. Not a book that's necessarily meant to be read from cover to cover, Why Does Santa Wear Red? is a portable size, making it easy to dip into whenever you have a moment to escape the holiday frenzy.

Christmas: A Candid History by Bruce David Forbes is a more in-depth look at Christmas customs and the reasons behind them. From the Puritans' ban on the holiday to today's Christmas culture wars, Forbes leaves no stone unturned, digging up every detail about the holiday in America. The result is an interesting book that is sure to make you the biggest Christmas know-it-all at the office party.

COOKING WITH SANTA
Everyone's favorite gift-giver has a taste for more than just Christmas cookies. In Santa's North Pole Cookbook, the jolly old elf shares Christmas recipes gleaned from his years of traveling around the world. More than 70 of Santa's favorites are presented here, as told to writer Jeff Guinn (The Autobiography of Santa Claus), and accompanied by stories from Santa and cooking tips from his personal North Pole chef, Lars.

CATCH HIM IF YOU CAN
At first it's not completely clear whether writer Bob Eckstein is making a serious attempt to find the first snowman in The History of the Snowman . . . until you reach the end of the first paragraph, that is, and realize you're off on a tongue-in-cheek look at the snowman in film, song, cartoons, advertising and literature throughout history. In the 1920s, for example, Frosty was a pickled, skirt-chasing, under-the-table lush who bore a striking resemblance to W.C. Fields ( Both started . . . parading crimson noses and enjoying prolific silent movie careers based on their reputations as charming drunks. ) before a short-lived rehabilitation in the 1960s. At the close of 20th century, the snowman endured the white trash years, appearing in (horrors!) a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen movie, and playing the villain in abysmal slasher pics like 1996's Jack Frost. Eckstein does claim to have found the very first snowman, but we won't ruin the fun by revealing when and where.

AUTHORS FIND HOLIDAY INSPIRATION
Christmas stories can warm even the coldest of hearts. Perhaps that's why every year, another best-selling author joins the crowd of writers who release books with holiday themes. This year, memoirist and teacher Frank McCourt enters the ring with Angela and the Baby Jesus, illustrated by Loren Long. This story, set in 1912 Ireland and starring a six-year-old Angela (McCourt's mother, of Angela's Ashes fame), is an endearing fable that will delight both adults and children in fact, Scribner is publishing a large-format picture book edition for the younger set to read on their own.

CHRISTMAS WITH THE KENNEDYS Caroline Kennedy shares some of her family's most time-honored holiday traditions in A Family Christmas. After a brief introduction, and a reproduction of a letter Kennedy herself wrote to Santa from the White House in 1962, the book moves on to include dozens of musings on the season from authors, musicians […]
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Mother’s Day is May 14! Honor mom with one of the engaging books featured below. Each provides a unique take on the challenges and rewards of motherhood.

In My Mother’s Kitchen, Peter Gethers salutes his foodie mom, the cookbook writer and expert chef Judy Gethers. During the course of her culinary career, Judy shared counter space with the likes of Julia Child and Wolfgang Puck. When she suffers a debilitating stroke in her 80s, the author is heartsick. As a salute to his mom, Gethers decides to whip up her pet recipes—an intimidating selection of delicacies with instructions that range from complex to incomprehensible. The story of Gethers’ labor of love is filled with family anecdotes, scenes from his mother’s remarkable life and plenty of humor (“as soon as I saw things like ‘swirling’ and ‘fine mesh’ when it came to making simple poached eggs, I got woozy,” he writes). Gethers balances the bitter and the sweet with skill in this moving memoir. 

FOR NEWLY MINTED MOMS
“Adulthood, it seems to me, is about narrowing,” Sarah Menkedick writes in Homing Instincts. To combat that narrowing, Menkedick cultivates a life of travel and exploration that includes backpacking solo in South America. She feels most at home when on the way to a fresh destination, but after she becomes pregnant and moves with her husband to family property in rural Ohio, her attitude shifts. In the eight essays that comprise this poignant, probing memoir, Menkedick contemplates the mysteries of motherhood and the surprising pleasures of establishing a permanent home—a place where she can write, reflect and prepare for the arrival of her daughter. “For the first time, I recognize this delving into my own heart, mind, and body as a journey,” she says. This revealing book is a lovely exercise in self-inquiry that will resonate with mothers-to-be.

FOR MOMS OF THE FUTURE
Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie provides parental advice that will stand the test of time in Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. Adichie, author of the bestselling novel Americanah, began this brief tract as a letter to a friend who asked for her input on how to raise an empowered daughter. The letter grew to include 15 ideas for bringing up a fearless feminist. In a voice that’s companionable and open, she addresses critical mother-daughter issues such as sex, clothes and makeup, and she espouses an attitude of self-determination when it comes to marriage and career. Adichie, who has a daughter of her own, writes from experience—and from the heart—in this wise and inspiring book.

This article was originally published in the May 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Mother’s Day is May 14! Honor mom with one of the engaging books featured. Each provides a unique take on the challenges and rewards of motherhood.

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After a wild Christmas morning of unwrapping, there’s nothing better than the silence of children who are completely absorbed in their new gifts. With these books, kids can create, build, bake, imagine and marvel all year long.

Kids and adults alike will want to try out Oscar Sabini’s alluringly creative Paper Monsters: Make Monster Collages! Following on the heels of Paper Zoo, Italian illustrator and educator Sabini presents a variety of templates to make a menagerie of unbelievably cute critters. Cardstock and colorful paper are included, so all that’s needed is glue to follow his simple instructions for assembling a collage and slipping it into a pocket with a monster-shaped window. Add a few eyes, noses and teeth, and the creatures come to life. Sabini notes that any paper can be used, such as newspaper and even stamps. This self-contained art class will appeal to a wide variety of ages and act as a springboard for future collage projects. Believe me, you’ll want to try this yourself!

PINBALL WIZARDS
Open this ingenious box and have fun exploring Pinball Science: Everything That Matters About Matter by Ian Graham and Owen Davey. Inside you’ll find an instruction book and all the components needed to build a retro, science-themed pinball machine. There are no electronics here: Just insert and fold the tabs of 63 pieces of cardboard (a sturdy box slips out of the package to form the base of the pinball machine), and you’re ready to play. Meanwhile, there are accompanying lessons about gravity, force and acceleration—everything that matters when that pinball rolls out of its starting gate. In addition to instructions and science lessons, the book contains suggestions for very simple science projects using common household items. Budding scientists will have a ball.

FOR THE LITTLEST SOUS-CHEF
Roll up your sleeves and get out the oven mitts for Baking Class: 50 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Bake! This colorful, spiral-bound guide, presented by the aptly named kids’ cookbook writer Deanna F. Cook, features easy instructions paired with helpful pictures. There are eye-catching recipes for crispy cheese squares (think Cheez-Its) and brownie pizza, plus adorable bread art (bake an octopus or a snail) and cake and cookie decorating ideas, all rated for difficulty using a scale of one to three rolling pins. Who knew you could put designs and initials on toast using foil shields? A section on the basics gets young bakers started, and additional bonuses include stickers, bake-sale tags and design stencils to use with confectioner’s sugar.

READ AROUND THE WORLD
“How [do you] love a story?” asks prolific children’s author Jane Yolen. “Read it aloud. Let it melt in your mouth. There is magic between the mouth and ear when a story is involved.” Yolen has assembled a wonderful collection of more than 30 short folk tales for preschoolers, Once There Was a Story: Tales from Around the World, Perfect for Sharing. Old favorites (“The Gingerbread Man,” “The Ugly Ducking”) mix with little-known offerings, such as “The Little Old Lady Who Lost Her Dumpling” from Japan and “Plip, Plop,” a rabbit tale from Tibet. Yolen partners with longtime collaborator Jane Dyer, whose softly colored illustrations bring these stories to life. This enriching, thoughtful collection is sure to be a bedtime favorite.

NATURE’S BUILDERS
“Welcome to nature’s very own super-clever construction world,” writes Moira Butterfield in How Animals Build. There are fun facts and lifting flaps galore in this lively compendium, with entire pages that unfold to reveal a bunny warren and a beehive, the many animals living in one tree and the wonders of a coral reef. Paired with Tim Hutchinson’s illuminating illustrations are brief discussions of everything from a naked mole rat’s burrow to the nearly five-foot wide nest of a European white stork. Readers also learn about some extreme builders, like two orb spiders who traveled to the International Space Station. This nicely laid out book will engage a variety of ages and interests.

DID YOU KNOW?
Somehow kids never tire of fun facts and trivia, especially when they’re alongside eye-popping photos. Middle school and older elementary readers will find plenty of tidbits to entertain everyone in the family with 13½ Incredible Things You Need to Know About Everything. Each of the book’s two-page spreads has a theme, such as “Blood Rush” (circulation), “Medical Marvels,” “A Way with Words” (language) and “On the Ball” (sports). In “Making Movies,” we learn that not everyone eats popcorn at the movies. In Norway, movie snacks can include reindeer jerky, while Indians might eat samosas, Japanese love dried sardines, and South Koreans munch on chewy dried cuttlefish. Each spread contains 13 facts, plus a “½” fact, which addresses a half-truth or misconception, such as: “Whales and dolphins don’t squirt water out of their blowholes—they use them to breathe. The stream of water vapor often seen shooting out is the result of the warm expelled air condensing when it meets the cold outside air.” Get ready for a trivia smackdown.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

After a wild Christmas morning of unwrapping, there’s nothing better than the silence of children who are completely absorbed in their new gifts. With these books, kids can create, build, bake, imagine and marvel all year long.

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If you’re lucky, your mom will always be your moon and stars, even after she’s gone. During the month of Mother’s Day, celebrate memorable moms and their adoring (and occasionally aggravating) children with these five books.

Margaret Bragg is an extraordinary octogenarian cook from Alabama who’s worn out 18 stoves and has no use for things like mixers, blenders or measuring cups. She whoops at the term “farm-to-table,” saying she had it in her day—it was called “a flatbed truck.” Even though Margaret proclaims that “a person can’t cook from a book,” her Pulitzer Prize-winning son and author of All Over but the Shoutin’, Rick Bragg, decided it was high time to collect her cooking stories and recipes in The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table. “I guess you would call it a food memoir,” Bragg writes, “but it is really just a cookbook, told the way we tell everything, with a certain amount of meandering.”

And what marvelous meandering it is. Each chapter contains a family photo, recipes and the often uproarious tales behind them, starting with the legendary tale of Bragg’s great-grandfather Jimmy Jim, who deserted his family after a bloody battle that may have involved a murder, but was summoned back years later to teach Bragg’s grandmother how to cook.

These stories shimmer and shine, casting a Southern spell with Bragg’s gorgeous prose, while the myriad of recipes—including Cracklin’ Cornbread, Spareribs Stewed in Butter Beans and a dessert called Butter Rolls—are guaranteed to leave readers drooling. Each recipe includes directions like, “Turn your stove eye to medium. My mother cooks damn near everything over medium.”

The Best Cook in the World is Julia Child by way of the Hatfields and McCoys. Margaret Bragg can cook up a storm, while Rick Bragg writes with a powerful, page-turning punch. The result is unimaginably delectable.

A LIFE LIVED WITH FLOWERS
Academy Award-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden writes an extended love letter to her mother in The Seasons of My Mother: A Memoir of Love, Family, and Flowers. Harden’s mother, Beverly, has always been her best friend and cheerleader; she prodded her reluctant daughter to try out for a local production of a Neil Simon play, which turned out to be her entree into show business.

Texas-born-and-bred Beverly married her college sweetheart at age 19 and soon had five children. As the family of a Naval officer who was frequently away at sea, Beverly and the children traveled the world, living in California, Maryland and Greece. “If Dad was our captain, she was our navigator,” Harden writes.

When their travels brought the family to Japan, Beverly fell in love with ikebana, the ancient art of flower arranging, which became her lifelong passion. Harden uses its imagery and philosophy to tell her mother’s story, interspersing chapters with photographs of ikebana arrangements specially created for her book. It’s a soulful tribute that’s framed with sadness and loss: Harden’s mother has been increasingly debilitated by Alzheimer’s since 2007.

“The details of a home are usually what fill up a mother’s life,” Harden notes, “but how often have her children stopped to consider that her sacrifices are actually gifts?” With The Seasons of My Mother, Harden lovingly shares her mother’s gifts with the world.

BREATHE, THEN GRIEVE
One day, while contemplating the horror of someday losing her mom, illustrator Hallie Bateman realized that a day-by-day book of instructions would be helpful at such an unimaginable time. Naturally, she turned to her writer mom, Suzy Hopkins, for help. Their collaboration has resulted in an exceptional self-help guide, What to Do When I’m Gone: A Mother’s Wisdom to Her Daughter.

From What to Do When I’m Gone, written by Suzy Hopkins and illustrated by Hallie Bateman. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury.

Bateman and Hopkins share a loving, humorous outlook, and their graphic memoir is filled with plenty of heartfelt wisdom and edgy humor reminiscent of Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? There are recipes to feed the soul (Day 1: Make fajitas.), burial instructions, tips for overcoming grief and advice for things like marriage, divorce, childbearing and aging. For example: “Things not to include in my obituary: Nobody but my immediate family needs to know that I made mosaic tile flower pots, played piano badly, bought season tickets but only saw two plays a year, or cooked with the same six ingredients for the past twenty-five years.”

What can you do to help someone who’s recently lost a mom? Give them a copy of What to Do When I’m Gone.

MAKE ’EM LAUGH
It takes real talent to be consistently funny while sharing both your worst fears and greatest dreams. Kimberly Harrington is a mother of two who does just that with her debut collection, Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words.

This always lively, sometimes sidesplitting series of short essays tackles everything from the exhausting days of early infancy to the dread of having one’s children grow up (“I worry about what I will do with that silence when you both are grown. What will I do with that? Is it payback for me shushing you and waving my hands at you when I was on a work call in that NO-NO-NO-OH-MY-GOD-GO-AWAY way that I did?”). Some essays are pure satire (“What Do You Think of My Son’s Senior Picture That Was Shot by Annie Leibovitz?”) while others are deadly serious (“Please Don’t Get Murdered at School Today”). Many are wonderful mixtures of both, such as the not-to-be missed “The Super Bowl of Interruptions.”

Whether she’s aiming for your funny bone or your heart, Harrington’s takes on motherhood are spot-on.

MOTHERING MADNESS
Life doesn’t always go as planned, as author Jennifer Fulwiler can tell you. “I used to be a career atheist who never wanted a family, yet I ended up having six babies in eight years,” she writes in One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both. This, coming from an introvert who “needed to minimize having people all up in [her] face.”

To add to the chaos of writing and parenting six young kids, Fulwiler hosts “The Jennifer Fulwiler Show” on SiriusXM radio. Before the children arrived, this Wonder Woman’s life had already taken a few surprising turns—she converted to Catholicism and left her job as a computer programmer, a journey chronicled in Something Other Than God.

Fulwiler is a likable, down-home Texan who never preaches or proselytizes. Thoughtful and funny, she whips off lines like, “Our home life had been utterly derailed when Netflix suddenly removed Penny’s favorite show, ‘Shaun the Sheep,’ from its lineup. The role Shaun played in our house was similar to the role a snake charmer might play in a cobra-infested village.” The morsels of wit and wisdom Fulwiler delivers are as delightful as fresh-baked cookies.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

If you’re lucky, your mom will always be your moon and stars, even after she’s gone. During the month of Mother’s Day, celebrate memorable moms and their adoring (and occasionally aggravating) children with these five books.

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Lots of cookbooks tell you which wine to pair with your pork ragout or pot-au-feu de poisson, but with Wine Food: New Adventures in Drinking and Cooking, sommelier Dana Frank and cookbook author Andrea Slonecker have turned that standard upside down. Here, the wine inspires the recipe: Each of these 75 recipes was chosen to go with a specific wine or wine style, and each wine is introduced with information on where it comes from, its recommended producers and why it works so well with the flavors of the food. Some of the wines are old friends: Zinfandel goes with Roots Tagine and Cauliflower “Couscous,” while barbera wine is paired with ruby-red Borscht Risotto. Some are welcome oeno-revelations: rosé of pinot noir with creamy Burrata and Strawberry Salad, a carignan red wine with an herb-perfumed, Parmesan-topped Ratatouille. Frank and Slonecker are a perfect pairing themselves, providing a savvy wine seminar partnered with inventive dishes that invite you to pop a cork and cook something wonderful every day.

FOOD IN A FLASH
As made clear by the title of his latest cookbook, Milk Street: Tuesday Nights, Christopher Kimball and his test-cook minions have been thinking about weeknight dinners that are quick, easy and vibrantly flavored. Kimball, one of the most trusted names in home cooking, shares that the secret to culinary success is combining familiar ingredients with spices, herbs, chiles, sauces, salsas and pungent pastes from around the world. Pork tenderloin combines with kimchi, fresh shiitake mushrooms and scallions for an umami- rich stir-fry; avocado puree and fresh tomato-cilantro salsa create a speedy, no-cook topping for seared salmon. Super sides include bright salads, pizzas and roasts, and there are also recipes for sweets to top off your dinner delights. Detailed instructions, with Kimball’s all-important “Don’ts,” and full-page color photos for each recipe make the making foolproof.

TOP PICK IN COOKBOOKS
“Simple” is not an adjective you’d ever think of when describing award-winning cookbook author and chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s cooking. But the latest addition to his growing list of gastro bestsellers is titled Ottolenghi Simple, and it’s definitely not an oxymoron. Here, the brilliant chef who has lured us into new realms of flavor and spicing is determined to give us dishes from brunch through dessert that are streamlined yet “still distinctly Ottolenghi.” Home cooks have very different ideas about what constitutes simple, so each of the 130 recipes is plainly marked with a degree of simplicity. I’m a make-ahead maven, big on long-simmering stews and one-dish wonders; you might be short on time and looking for recipes with fewer than 10 ingredients or a dinner that can be put together with pantry items. Now you can pick and choose according to your needs and the occasion, knowing that for Ottolenghi, simple equals sensational. His latest is guaranteed to excite and delight.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Lots of cookbooks tell you which wine to pair with your pork ragout or pot-au-feu de poisson, but with Wine Food: New Adventures in Drinking and Cooking, sommelier Dana Frank and cookbook author Andrea Slonecker have turned that standard upside down.

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Ina Garten is back and better than ever. Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and Tips for Home Cooks is Garten’s 11th cookbook and a super seminar on how to incorporate the time-tested kitchen tricks she’s come to rely on into your own cooking. Though she’s a true self-taught cook, Garten’s years as a caterer and specialty food-store owner and her close association with professional chefs and bakers have taught her how to make “flavors sing and presentations pop.” Now she shares her pro tips with us, along with a carefully curated collection of recipes, from cocktails, appetizers (Sausage & Mushroom Strudels) and breakfast delights to soups, salads and dinner (flaky Flounder Milanese topped with Arugula Salad), finished off with veggies, sides and desserts (Fresh Fig & Ricotta Cake). Sprinkled throughout this comestible cache, like informative amuse-bouches, are short essays on measuring, prepping, baking and testing for doneness like a pro. This is bound to be one of the season’s go-to gourmet gifts.

TESTED AND TRUSTED
Cook’s Illustrated magazine, champion of a thoughtful and no-nonsense approach to home cooking, is celebrating its 25th anniversary by giving us a present—Cook’s Illustrated Revolutionary Recipes. The “revolution” here is not exotic ingredients or wild flavor combos; it’s an insistent pursuit of perfect recipes and the foolproof way to make everything from poached eggs and the crispiest of Crispy Fried Chicken to rich Ragù alla Bolognese or a No-Knead Brioche. Each of these 180 recipes is a master class, starting with an essay that breaks the dish apart and explores how and why it works. Included along with the carefully detailed cooking directions, black-and-white photos and line drawings are tips on techniques and prep, what to look for when buying ingredients and intriguing variations to extend your repertoire.

TOP PICK IN COOKBOOKS
I read a lot of cookbooks, and it’s rare when I want to make—and eat—almost every recipe. But that’s what happened when I went through Dorie Greenspan’s latest, Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook. She’s out-“Doried” herself this time: The 150 recipes included here are fabulous and introduced with wonderfully written and informative header notes. Greenspan’s impeccable instructions, make-ahead advice and ideas for swapping out major ingredients are all seasoned with her casual, practical ease, culinary savvy and style. There are dishes for every occasion, with innovative riffs like Gougères with a zippy addition of Dijon mustard; classic Flounder Meunière with an added pizazz of Onion-Walnut Relish; a hot, spicy, slightly sweet Beef Stew with a handful of cranberries; Clam Chowder made with lemongrass, coconut milk and ginger; and of course, Greenspan’s ever-splendid desserts (check out her Apple Custard Crisp). Dining with Dorie never disappoints.

 

This article was originally published in the November 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Learn from the very best in this month's Cooking column.
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Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook’s first cookbook, Zahav, was named the Best International Cookbook in 2016 by the James Beard Foundation. Now the pair is back with Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious, an appreciative deep dive into iconic Israeli food, and its release is perfectly timed for Israel’s 70th anniversary. With fabulous photos of food and people, plus instructive, step-by-step photos, Israeli Soul is a home cook-friendly culinary tour of the dishes brought to Israel by immigrants and shaped by cultures “both ancient and modern.” Solomonov and Cook’s exuberant narrative details their “soul odyssey,” searching market stalls, restaurants, street carts and bakeries in big cities and remote villages for the best versions of gastronomic go-to’s like hummus, pita, shawarma and falafel, plus sabich, salads, soups, stuffed veggies, kebabs and sweets. It’s an irresistible invitation to enjoy the legendary soul food of Israel.

MANGIA BENE!
National Geographic and America’s Test Kitchen have combined their prodigious talents to produce the lusciously extravagant Tasting Italy: A Culinary Journey. With over 100 recipes, 300 photographs and 45 maps, it’s the perfect gift for Italophiles. It’s a wonderful coffee table book and top-notch cookbook, but it’s also a travel guide to Italy’s 20 regions, filled with vibrant, full-color photos and explorations of the edible treasures that make each area unique—cheese, wine, cured meats, produce and so much more. Brimming with tradition and tested to the nth degree, these recipes showcase the robust regional food that makes Italy a mosaic of magical flavors. Whether it’s Venetian Seafood Risotto, aromatic Tuscan White Bean Soup, Umbrian Sausage and Grapes, golden Roman Gnocchi or a light and bright Sicilian Fennel, Orange and Olive Salad, each dish takes you into the authentic heart of la cucina Italiana.

TOP PICK IN COOKBOOKS
’Tis the season for baked sweets, and Christina Tosi, the two-time James Beard Award-winning baker, mastermind maven and chef/owner of Milk Bar, will amp up your cake-making capabilities. The wildly innovative Tosi, who found most cakes to be boringly blah, decided to find ways to give them the verve and variety her sugary sensations are renowned for. The remarkable results are all in All About Cake. These winners—from bundts and a Strawberry Layer Cake to cupcakes, sheet cakes, fancy layer cakes, cake truffles (yes, you can turn out a Cake Truffle Croquembouche for Christmas), microwave mug cakes and a Banana-Chocolate-Peanut Butter Crock-Pot Cake—tell flavor stories with creative fillings, craveable crunches, hidden gems of texture and Tosi’s signature unfrosted sides. Having at your side a wonderfully opinionated pro like Tosi who can’t—and shouldn’t—curb her enthusiasm and instructional fervor for all things baking is an unbeatable, delectable treat.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Take a culinary trip through Italy, embrace the soul food of Israel and more in this month's Cooking column!
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Let’s Eat France! by François-Régis Gaudry and friends is a big—as in, six pounds big—boisterously beautiful, ingeniously designed and illustrated book that answers every question you have about French cuisine and all the questions you didn’t know you needed answers to. There’s no table of contents, no chapters, no categories. Every turn of the page invites you to delight in an eclectic, serendipitous survey of France’s edible heritage. You’ll wander from an exploration of the crunchy cornichon pickle and a consideration of the great gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, to a recipe for an amazing Sardine Pâté, a family-friendly Pot-au-Feu (that’s beef stew, to you), a classic cherry-studded Clafoutis and 372 more remarkable French dishes, plus maps, charts and anecdotes. As a flâneur in the fertile fields of French gastronomy, you’ll learn about wines, hand-crafted liqueurs, cheeses, foie gras, oysters, breads, cakes, galettes, famous chefs and hors d’oeuvres. C’est merveilleux!

If “real” cooking is on your agenda for the new year, there’s a fresh cookbook about an old technique that’s a must. Searing Inspiration: Fast, Adaptable Entrées and Fresh Pan Sauces  by Susan Volland is your ticket to getting fabulous, four-star meals on the table in a flash. Using a skillet and the skills you’ll develop under Volland’s savvy tutelage, making Rib Steaks with Whiskey Béarnaise, a classic Sole Meunière or Tamarind-Glazed Chicken will be a breeze. The ingredients may vary, but the technique—sear, deglaze, embellish—is the same. You sear ingredients in a hot, oiled skillet and remove; deglaze with wine or another liquid; add the flavor-boosting aromatics you’ve chosen and prepped; re-add the seared ingredients and you’re a dinner diva.

Doug Crowell and chef Ryan Angulo, co-owners of two revered neighborhood restaurants in the restaurant-rich borough of Brooklyn, believe that the most important ingredients in any dish are kindness and salt. Their debut cookbook, appropriately titled Kindness & Salt: Recipes for the Care and Feeding of Your Friends and Neighbors, shows you how to salt early and generously to bring out the best in over 100 recipes, from Mushroom & Goat Cheese Scramble, Pommes Frites and Seared Scallops  to desserts and cocktails. Though you can’t sprinkle kindness on pasta or popovers, you can serve this superbly satisfying bistro food (Duck Meatloaf, Narragansett Mussels, Banana Foster Profiteroles) with warm, cordial confidence.

 

This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

If “real” cooking is on your agenda for the new year, there’s a fresh cookbook about an old technique that’s a must.

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Jamie Oliver, still proclaiming his “Naked Chef” credo, has been a fabulous fixture of our food scene for over 18 years, and he’s never lost his touch. His signature pizazz and irrepressible can-do confidence shine in his 20th cookbook, 5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food. Not one for modesty, Oliver promises that by using his “genius combinations of just five ingredients,” you can get these “utterly delicious” dishes on the table in under 30 minutes—or get the prep done in 10 minutes and let your cooker do the rest. The clever layout—visuals of the five ingredients on the left and a totally tempting photo of the finished product on the right, with super-simple instructions in between—is a big plus, as is Oliver’s joy in making from-scratch cooking truly doable, whether it’s Smoky Pancetta Cod with a side of lentils for a Wednesday night, or flambéed Peachy Pork Chops followed by marmalade-infused Speedy Steamed Pudding Pots for a Saturday night soirée.

The cultural identity of the Palestinian people persists, as does the pleasures of the Palestinian kitchen. Yasmin Khan, a human rights activist and award-winning cookbook author, celebrates its vibrant flavors in Zaitoun: Recipes from the Palestinian Kitchen, seasoned with many moving stories and fabulous photos from her culinary journey. Khan has gathered over 80 recipes with an emphasis on simple, seasonal, plant-based food. She collected classics from Palestinian grandmothers (Hummus with Spiced Lamb), contemporary dishes from friends (Freekah with Butternut Squash) and dishes inspired by local ingredients (Olive, Fig and Honey Tapenade) or techniques (Chocolate and Tahini Cookies). Khan’s instructions are detailed, her header notes informative and her enthusiasm infectious.

Instead of an Instant Pot, an air fryer or a slew of newfangled kitchen appliances, the accomplished cooks and testers from America’s Test Kitchen suggest you take out that tried-and-true multitasker resting quietly in the back of a cabinet. They’re convinced that a big, enameled Dutch oven is “very nearly the only pot you’ll ever need in your kitchen,” and they offer a revelatory roster of over 150 recipes that take advantage of its best features in Cook It in Your Dutch Oven. These dishes go way beyond stews—just try some of the one-pot wonders like Weeknight Pasta Bolognese or Green Shakshuka. Go for Braised Cod Peperonata, deep fry to your heart’s content, then bake a crisp-crusted Spicy Olive Loaf, and for a grand finale, serve up a fudgy Chocolate Lava Cake.

 

This article was originally published in the February 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Jamie Oliver, still proclaiming his “Naked Chef” credo, has been a fabulous fixture of our food scene for over 18 years, and he’s never lost his touch. His signature pizazz and irrepressible can-do confidence shine in his 20th cookbook, 5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food. Not one for modesty, Oliver promises that by using his […]
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TOP PICK
What good can’t a walk do you—especially with the perfect sidekick? The beautifully designed Afoot and Lighthearted: A Journal for Mindful Walking, a combination of journal and quote compendium, is just that. Each of the book’s six sections—Sense of Place, Well-Being, Attention, Exploration, Devotion and Transcendence—helps you attain the benefits of walking in a different way. Each features thoughtful prompts for filling the blank pages and a wealth of passages from diverse literary and philosophical texts. Author and Belmont University professor Bonnie Smith Whitehouse brings a deep knowledge to this endeavor, so even if you never pen a word on these pages, you’ll be wiser just having perused them. Should you wish to track down the books, poems and essays she draws from, “For Further Reading” at the back of the book is a fine place to start. I’d like to give a copy of this smart, fetching book to everyone I know.

A cookbook is a popular wedding present, so why not gift one specifically written for a new duo? The Newlywed Table: A Cookbook to Start Your Life Together makes the brilliant assumption that both spouses will be getting their hands dirty at mealtime: “Let’s do away with any notions of who should be responsible for cooking and start with a clean slate,” writes author Maria Zizka. “You’re in this together. You’re a team.” This solid, basic guide is full of modern recipes with origins in diverse culinary traditions. A section on “Common Cooking Issues and How to Fix Them” is a godsend. And there’s a recipe for Chocolate Toast. Um, hello. Newlywed I am not, but my husband of 13 years and I will find much to work with here.

“Perhaps we have reached peak distraction,” Rob Walker writes in the introduction to The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday. “Attention panic” is another term he uses to describe this modern crisis. In this ingenious book, Walker compiles 131 specific ways to restore our capacity for attention. These activities are designed to employ the senses strategically: look with the eyes of a child or historian; listen selectively; create sound maps and inventories of objects around you. Some of these exercises are more surprising than others, as Walker draws from his own experience teaching at the School of Visual Arts as well as research on artists, designers, writers and entertainers. One of my favorites? A prompt from cartoonist Lynda Barry. What do you notice and why? It matters, and you can control it, and this book will show you how. 

What good can’t a walk do you—especially with the perfect sidekick? The beautifully designed Afoot and Lighthearted: A Journal for Mindful Walking, a combination of journal and quote compendium, is just that. Each of the book’s six sections—Sense of Place, Well-Being, Attention, Exploration, Devotion and Transcendence—helps you attain the benefits of walking in a different way.
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With plenty of observations on success, love and health, The Algebra of Happiness offers concise, invaluable lessons on how to create a joy-filled life. Author and NYU professor Scott Galloway gives glimpses into his own experiences, like how he was initially rejected from UCLA but later wrote the admissions office, got accepted and then ended up founding nine firms and being named one of the “World’s 50 Best Business School Professors.” But that kind of success isn’t everything: “In the end,” Galloway concludes, “relationships are all that matter.”

For more on living well, you can’t go wrong with The Atlas of Happiness. Expanding on the hygge craze, happiness researcher Helen Russell takes readers on a world tour, presenting “a catalog of cultural customs” on living well. This attractive, intriguing book—chock-full of colorful illustrations and breezy, informative essays—will be enjoyed by all, young or old. 

Those who are college-bound may want to put How to College at the top of their summer reading list. This no-nonsense, comprehensive guide covers everything from term papers to roommates and on-campus health care. Author and professor Andrea Malkin Brenner knows the nitty-gritty, having created American University’s first-year experience course. This book is well-organized and packed with tips, illustrated charts and useful exercises.

The way to a college student’s heart is often through their stomach, and at some point cafeteria food is bound to get tiresome. Katie Sullivan Morford’s Prep is the perfect antidote, filled with plenty of basics and crystal-clear instructions. Recipes include dishes like Spicy Sweet Potato Rounds and Mix-in-the-Pan Applesauce Cake (with frosting!), while other chapters cover topics like “Fix a Killer Plate of Pasta” and “Turn a Pot of Beans Into a Meal.” This is a wonderful crash course in Cooking 101.

Got a graduate in your life? Give the priceless gift of wisdom with one of these four books.
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★ You Suck at Cooking
I had just perused several stunning cookbooks, replete with jaw-dropping dishes that made me both hungry and in want of a nap, when I picked up You Suck at Cooking and saw recipes like “Toasted Walnut Cauliflower Stuff” and “Broccoli Cheddar Quiche Cupcake Muffin-­Type Things.” This book is the antidote to precious food culture, and it’s the first cookbook to ever make me repeatedly LOL. The (anonymous) author turns the expected on its head in a voice that’s perhaps best described as Super Mock Textbook. In the “Things You Might Need” section, for example: “There are many heat sources to choose from, each more dangerous than the next. . . . Make sure you choose the heat source that is just dangerous enough for you.” Thing is, the recipes herein could become anyone’s favorite go-tos. Don’t dare miss the section on sandwiches.

Embrace Your Weird
Someone once told me I reminded her of the actor Felicia Day. I didn’t know who Day was at the time, but now I’m glad to see she’s written a book called Embrace Your Weird, a concept I can fully get behind. Building on the success of her previous title, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), Day returns with a creativity guide that positively vibrates with her bubbly comedic sensibility. If you are exclamation point- or ALL CAPS-averse, this is not the book for YOU! But she isn’t wrong when she writes, “Playfulness is the root of all creation.” Her book delights in manifesting that idea, with the help of cute illustrations, meme jokes and many parenthetical asides.

Shared Living
Our journey into the wilds of adulting begins with Emily Hutchinson’s Shared Living, which takes features of the best modern interior design books—Q&As with stylish folks around the globe, tip lists, gorgeous photography on matte stock—and applies them to spaces shared by two or more people. Communal living, after all, is on the uptick these days, with home ownership ever further out of reach. A number of lofts and open floor plans are featured here, with ideas for breaking up the space and balancing housemates’ varying styles. It’s fun to examine how these individuals bring their cherished and whimsical objects together in ways that work, and this would make a great gift for someone signing their first lease with a roomie.

★ You Suck at Cooking I had just perused several stunning cookbooks, replete with jaw-dropping dishes that made me both hungry and in want of a nap, when I picked up You Suck at Cooking and saw recipes like “Toasted Walnut Cauliflower Stuff” and “Broccoli Cheddar Quiche Cupcake Muffin-­Type Things.” This book is the antidote to precious […]
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★ Garden to Glass
Mike Wolf’s Garden to Glass, which explores the intersection of gardening, foraging and beverage design, offers instant appeal. Wolf, who worked with chef Sean Brock at Husk in Nashville, is a curious and passionate guide, taking readers into his garden and onto trails where he gathers ingredients for bitters, cordials, shrubs and more. These are featured in recipes that will enhance any bar program or make you one hell of a home mixologist. Beautiful watercolor illustrations and interviews with specialists give this study of botanical cocktails a dimension not achieved in other guides.

Pity the Reader
Pity the Reader
, a hefty, essential new volume of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing advice and life stories, is certainly a book first and foremost for writers, with chapters on plot, character, talent and diligence. But it’s also a gold mine for any Vonnegut fan or creative seeker. Suzanne McConnell, our trusty guide through the book and a student and friend of the late author, exhaustively plumbs Vonnegut’s archives, revealing choice bits from interviews, letters, drafts and published novels. It’s fascinating to observe Vonnegut’s revisions (and rejections) and fascinating, too, to learn how the nitty-gritty of his life shaped his works. And it’s a joy to see how McConnell interacts with the ideas and words of her mentor, weaving and contrasting them with insight from her own multidecade teaching career. 

A Place at the Table
Now more than ever, America must celebrate the countless contributions of its foreign-born population. A Place at the Table, a project from the Vilcek Foundation, which recognizes the work of immigrants in the arts, sciences and humanities, takes up this cause in stunning fashion. The editors gather profiles of 40 of the best foreign-born chefs working in cities across the U.S. today and share recipes from each. The result is a trip around the world through cuisine, from Thai Dang’s grilled salmon and snow fungus salad with Vietnamese herbs, to Erik Bruner-Yang’s takoyaki hush puppies, to Maneet Chauhan’s naanzanella. Simply scanning the ingredient lists and gazing upon the photographs of each dish feels like a journey, something of a foodie fever dream. 

★ Garden to Glass Mike Wolf’s Garden to Glass, which explores the intersection of gardening, foraging and beverage design, offers instant appeal. Wolf, who worked with chef Sean Brock at Husk in Nashville, is a curious and passionate guide, taking readers into his garden and onto trails where he gathers ingredients for bitters, cordials, shrubs and […]

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