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★ Wild Witchcraft

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

Booze & Vinyl 2

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

My America

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

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

New Native Kitchen

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

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

Wild Sweetness

Perfect gift for: Your boho friend with a shortbread obsession

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

À Table

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

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

Black Food

Perfect gift for: Cultural mavens, globetrotters and aesthetes

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

Tables & Spreads

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

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

This holiday season, whether you’re hosting or showing up with a single covered dish, let one of these outstanding cookbooks be your guide.

Like il timpano, the enormous layered pasta pie that starred in the 1996 movie Big Night alongside Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci, the latter’s new memoir, Taste: My Life Through Food, is a gastronome’s delight. It has piquant surprises tucked inside and will leave readers both sated and wanting more.

When it comes to Tucci, fans always want more. The award-winning actor and bestselling cookbook author was considered a standout guy even before his swoony Negroni tutorial video went viral at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. He’s known for scene-stealing roles in movies like Spotlight and The Devil Wears Prada, as well as in foodie films like Big Night and Julie & Julia

And like Julia Child before him, Tucci’s chef skills are as impressive as his boundless passion for eating. Such is the life of a gourmand, which he revels in and reflects on in Taste. The author takes readers on a grand tasting tour, from his childhood in Westchester, New York, to his 1980s New York City acting debut to bigger roles in major movies made around the world, where he always dined with gusto.

Tucci is quite opinionated about food. Well-placed “fuck”s signify outraged incredulity (e.g., an adult “cutting their spaghetti!!!!!!!” or the travesty of turkey in an alfredo) and offer hits of hilarity throughout. There are also dramatic renderings of memorable conversations, like the gasp-inducing time a chef told him, “I make a stock . . . of cheese.” 

He shares serious stories as well, like the pain and grief he and his family felt when his late wife, Kathryn, died in 2009, and their joy and hope when he married Felicity Blunt in 2012. He writes, too, about his recent cancer diagnosis and treatment, a grueling experience during which he had a feeding tube and worried “things would never return to the way they were, when life was edible.”

Thankfully he is now cancer-free, and via the artfully crafted recipes Tucci includes in Taste, readers can join him in celebrating food and drink once again. Under his tutelage, they might even dare to construct and consume their own timpano.

Like the enormous layered pasta pie that starred in the 1996 movie Big Night, Stanley Tucci’s new memoir is a gastronome’s delight.

A single whiff of a truffle can be nearly intoxicating. Depending on the variety, the inhaler might detect notes of garlic, fried cheese and gym socks (white truffles) or pineapple and banana (a young Oregon black). And one person sniffing may find those aromas enticing, while another might not understand the fuss.

Those fragrances, and the allure of the fungi that produce them, left James Beard Award-winning food writer Rowan Jacobsen (A Geography of Oysters) drunk on truffles and determined to learn all he could. Jacobsen spent two years traversing the globe in pursuit of not only truffles but also the stories of people who hunt and sell them. 

The result is Truffle Hound: On the Trail of the World’s Most Seductive Scent, With Dreamers, Schemers, and Some Extraordinary Dogs, an engaging work that blends history with travel and food writing. Jacobsen follows his nose and curiosity across Europe and back to North America, while considering studies that extend even farther. He meets hunters and farmers whose livelihoods depend on the elusive tubers, and along the way he challenges truffle myths. For example, they grow far outside of the Mediterranean region that’s most often credited for them.

Jacobsen delves into the sometimes twisting history of this food, as well as into the science that makes truffle farming possible. Even as he examines the fungi’s complex history and analyzes questions about who gets access to truffles, Jacobsen’s writing remains accessible, unlike the costly object of his desire.

Truffle Hound is a compelling story, but Jacobsen doesn’t leave readers empty-handed when the tale ends. The book also includes a glossary of truffle types, resources for acquiring your own truffles and recipes for after the decadent fungi arrives. It’s an appropriate finish to a delicious book.

Intoxicated by truffles and determined to learn all he could, Rowan Jacobsen spent two years traversing the globe in pursuit of this elusive, decadent fungi.

The best lifestyles books of the month will give you a creative boost from the workplace to the kitchen.

 Creative Acts for Curious People

Tell the story of your worst first date using only LEGOs. Design an ad campaign for bananas. Describe an ability you’d use to survive a zombie apocalypse. Ask someone to tell you the story of their name. These are but a few of the assignments in Creative Acts for Curious People: How to Think, Create, and Lead in Unconventional Ways, developed from the teachings of Stanford University’s well-respected design school (known as the d.school), where students collaborate and innovate in fresh, surprising ways for the greater good. Need a change of perspective on a project or an escape hatch from routine thinking? Want to encourage your team to loosen up, give helpful feedback or challenge biases? Look no further. “In the face of current challenges—those here today and those yet to come—we all need ways to prepare to act even when we are uncertain,” writes d.school executive director Sarah Stein Greenberg. Whether you’re an independent artist seeking new approaches to your work or a leader aiming to mentor and galvanize your people, this book has an experience for you. I plan to put it to use in my own nonprofit leadership and personal creative projects.

The Tiny Kitchen Cookbook

Annie Mahle spent many years cooking for groups of 24 in the galley kitchen of a schooner, so you could say she’s earned her small-space stripes. In The Tiny Kitchen Cookbook: Strategies and Recipes for Creating Amazing Meals in Small Spaces, Mahle gathers recipes requiring little cookware or fuss, including one-pan dinners, toaster oven-friendly bakes and small dishes that can serve as snacks or light entrees. She shares tips for making the best of your (limited) workspace and, in a genius section called “Use It Up,” offers ideas for what to do with ingredients that tend to linger, like buttermilk, cauliflower and pumpkin puree. In the tiny (vacation) house of my dream-future, this will be the only cookbook on hand, but for now it will be a welcome addition to my home kitchen, with its charming lack of counter space.

Sandor Katz’s Fermentation Journeys

I happen to live in the same state as Sandor Katz, and he’s the sort of fellow Tennessean that makes me proud to call this place home. Katz gained an international following with his 2003 bestseller, The Art of Fermentation, the success of which took him across the globe. Now he’s back with Sandor Katz’s Fermentation Journeys: Recipes, Techniques, and Traditions From Around the World, which explores microbial activity in the culinary traditions of China, Peru and other places far, far from Cannon County, Tennessee. Think tepache in Mexico, sour cabbages in Croatia, pickled tea leaves in Burma, koji in Japan and much more. Part travelogue, part cookbook, part chemistry experiment, Katz’s new book is a fascinating look at fermented foods the world over, and it aims, always, to be a respectful one.

The best lifestyles books of the month will give you a creative boost from the workplace to the kitchen.

When we pour a bowl of cereal or enjoy a dish of vanilla ice cream, we’re not usually thinking about the origins of these foods. We consume them because they are nutritionally beneficial or taste delicious. But even though food is a basic need (and one of life’s great pleasures!), its story is still vastly misunderstood.

For example, try to imagine a life without french fries, ketchup or tomato sauce. These are some of the most popular foods in America, yet their sources were once feared and shunned. Tomatoes were thought to be poisonous, and people believed potatoes harbored an illicit connection to witchcraft and devil worship. Food and culture writer Matt Siegel dishes out these and hundreds of other little-known nuggets in his fascinating debut book, The Secret History of Food: Strange but True Stories About the Origins of Everything We Eat.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Matt Siegel describes the top 12 weirdest moments in food history, from Patagonian toothfish to Cuban supercows.


Organized into 10 chapters focusing on themes ranging from the history of swallowing to obsolete and dated food beliefs, Siegel shares countless “did you know?” factoids. Foodstuffs have been used as weaponry, for example, and the domestication of corn is considered an anthropological game changer on par with the discovery of fire. His choice of subjects is ever surprising, such as the conundrum that is the chili pepper. This fiery fruit (botanically, it’s a berry) contains pain-inducing capsaicin yet is consumed by humans across the world. As it turns out, spicy food is a natural preservative and “may have functioned as a primitive form of air conditioning” in hot climates.

Siegel’s book is as entertaining as it is informative, sprinkled with humorous anecdotes and connections to popular culture. He takes intel gathered from nutritionists, psychologists, food historians and paleoanthropologists and weaves together a tale that moves seamlessly from one topic to the next. Written in a style that is accessible yet scholarly, The Secret History of Food will delight and enlighten anyone looking to find out more about food’s rich backstory.

Matt Siegel takes intel from nutritionists, psychologists and historians and weaves together an entertaining, enlightening account of food’s rich backstory.

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