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A good old-fashioned yarn that spans generations and eras, A Generous Pour: Tall Tales From the Backroom of Jimmy Kelly’s traces the remarkable origins of a beloved Nashville, Tennessee, establishment: Jimmy Kelly’s Steakhouse. Mike Kelly, the restaurant’s current owner, tells the intriguing story of how his Irish immigrant family established a thriving restaurant business after an adventuresome start in whiskey making and liquor running. Filled with moonshiners, bootleggers and crooked cops, A Generous Pour is a book that’s as bracing as a shot of Kelly’s best.

Divided neatly into four parts, the narrative documents the rise of the Kelly family enterprise—an achievement made possible by the clan’s natural instinct for commerce and spirit of hardscrabble ingenuity. The author’s great-grandfather, James Michael Kelly, left Ireland in the 1840s, became a moonshiner in Tennessee at the age of 17 and lost an eye in the Civil War. His son John made clandestine liquor deliveries and, in 1934, opened a restaurant in Nashville called the 216 Club, “a respectable drinking alternative to the rowdy downtown speakeasies.” The 216 Club served a clientele that included notable politicians and musicians (Elvis Presley was a patron) with first-rate steaks and spirits.

John died in 1948. A year later, his son Jimmy opened Jimmy Kelly’s in Belle Meade, an upscale suburb within metro Nashville. Both restaurant locations flourished. Always a family enterprise, the business passed into the hands of Bill Kelly (Jimmy’s brother and the author’s father) after Jimmy retired.

Kelly handles the book’s complex chronology with wonderful assurance. He seasons the story with fascinating bits of Nashville trivia and demonstrates an undeniable gift for setting scenes. (The book’s sensational opening chapter chronicles the kidnapping of John Kelly by Al Capone’s henchmen.) Kelly himself was raised in the restaurant trade—as a boy, he bused tables with his brothers and slid down the banister of 216’s staircase—and his insider knowledge gives the book a special spark.

Mixed in with his colorful account of the ambitious Kelly clan is a fascinating survey of Music City history, from the upheaval of World War One to the payoffs and police raids of Prohibition, through economic booms and busts, to the landmark event of 1967: the legalization of liquor-by-the-drink in Davidson County, which Kelly identifies as the starting point for Nashville’s ascendance as a business center and major tourist destination. 

Today Kelly manages Jimmy Kelly’s at its current home on Louise Avenue in Midtown Nashville. His book is a charming, briskly written narrative, rich with adventure and detail, that provides a compelling look at Nashville’s past.

Filled with moonshiners, bootleggers and crooked cops, A Generous Pour is a book that’s as bracing as a shot of whiskey.
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 Everything, Beautiful

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

Lost Places

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

Forever Beirut

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

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

Things to Look Forward To

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

Nectar of the Gods

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

A warm loaf of bread, a mythologically charged tipple: These and other delights give readers something to look forward to in this month’s lifestyles column.
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Like much of human life, love can be messy. Add in the complications of conducting a very long-distance, mostly digital love affair, and you get a dubious recipe for happily ever after.

Jamaican American Sutanya Dacres was leading a rather humdrum, unsatisfactory life in New York City. Then one night she met a sexy Jewish Algerian Frenchman in a bar. There was instant attraction—but she lived in the Big Apple, he resided in the City of Light, and cultural and racial differences (she’s Black, he’s white) lay in the shadows. Despite these challenges, they sustained a three-year digital courtship until they decided to marry and make a life à deux in Paris. “It was us against the world,” Dacres writes, “and we would move through life’s ups and downs with ease and grace, together.”

In Dinner for One: How Cooking in Paris Saved Me, podcaster Dacres recounts how this fairy-tale romance went sour. Two years into the marriage, the Frenchman left. Now a heartbroken expat—alone, divorced and navigating the complications of being a single Black woman in Paris—Dacres tried to allay her fears, confusion and despair with too much wine and loveless encounters with men. But when “the deep shame that had been bubbling beneath the surface finally erupted,” she writes, “it was clear that I could no longer hide from myself.”

Dacres recounts with self-deprecating, often brutal honesty her journey to understand and connect with her true self. Like a play, Dinner for One is structured with a prologue and successive acts, ending with Dacres’ gradual and passionate awakening to the very French art of cultivating pleasure, self-worth and an appreciation for well-conceived, delicious food. When Dacres began to cook for herself in her Montmartre apartment, she formed a healing relationship with food as a means of self-care and growth—a hard-won redemption via the myriad joys of French culture.

Often humorous and uplifting, Dacres’ writing is also a bit uneven in parts, sometimes due to superfluous details or unnecessary dialogue. But her true writer’s talent shines when she relates her forays into the world of French cookery. Overall, Dinner for One is hopeful, salubrious and, like a meal served with love, a balm for the spirit.

Sutanya Dacres’ memoir about recovering from heartbreak in Paris is hopeful, salubrious and, like a meal served with love, a balm for the spirit.
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It may seem impossible to ascertain what fish sauce, cardboard and volcanoes have in common, but as Ten Tomatoes That Changed the World: A History reveals, the answer is, well . . . tomatoes.

Author William Alexander takes readers on a world tour through history, from the tomato’s regional origins in Mexico to its ubiquity in the present day. (Thanks to pizza, the tomato is now the most famous fruit in the world.) Much of each chapter relies on historical research, even as Alexander frequently questions the veracity of what he uncovered during said research; after all, everyone wants to be celebrated for having invented some of the world’s favorite foods. But Ten Tomatoes is also a travelogue of sorts, as Alexander visits important locations from the tomato’s history, especially Italy, and enjoys many culinary experiences firsthand.

Alexander’s playful sense of humor—perhaps best described as “dad jokes about vegetables”—makes Ten Tomatoes a delight to read. It’s this humor that takes a range of disparate and unexpected topics, such as legends about who first brought tomatoes to North America and rumors that circulated during the 1800s cholera epidemic, and makes them equally digestible. (Yes, that was a tomato pun.)

However, Ten Tomatoes isn’t just filled with tidbits that will help readers dominate at pub trivia night (especially if “pasta” or “ketchup” are categories). More broadly, the book proves that food history isn’t a niche topic. Through entertaining stories and fun facts, Alexander shows how culinary decisions have often been made based on the politics or business interests of the day, rather than anything to do with flavor or health. Taken all together, this book about the history of this beloved fruit (or vegetable—it’s debatable!) is endlessly surprising.

With a combination of offbeat history, travelogue and dad jokes, William Alexander takes readers through the endlessly surprising history of the tomato.
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★ Wild Witchcraft

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

Booze & Vinyl 2

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

My America

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

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

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

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

Wild Sweetness

Perfect gift for: Your boho friend with a shortbread obsession

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

À Table

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

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

Black Food

Perfect gift for: Cultural mavens, globetrotters and aesthetes

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

Tables & Spreads

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

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

This holiday season, whether you’re hosting or showing up with a single covered dish, let one of these outstanding cookbooks be your guide.
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In his debut book, Matt Siegel takes intel from nutritionists, psychologists, food historians and paleoanthropologists and weaves together an entertaining account of the food we eat. These 12 surprising food facts offer a taste of the weird, wonderful backstories you’ll find in The Secret History of Food.

1. In 1893, the Supreme Court had to rule whether tomatoes were a fruit or a vegetable. This happened not long after people finally decided that tomatoes weren’t poisonous (a belief that lasted for hundreds of years, owing largely to their botanical relationship to mandrakes and deadly nightshade) and that they weren’t used to summon werewolves (the tomato’s scientific name, Solanum lycopersicum, literally means “wolf’s peach”).

2. People used to think potatoes caused syphilis and leprosy. This was chiefly because of their resemblance to the impacted body parts of the afflicted. Now, of course, potatoes are America’s favorite vegetable, largely thanks to french fries. (Tomatoes are in second place, owing largely to their use in frozen pizza and canned tomato sauce.)

3. Vanilla isn’t very “vanilla.” While vanilla has unfortunately become a synonym for “ordinary,” it’s really anything but. For starters, it’s the only edible fruit to come from orchids, even though they’re the largest family of flowers. Vanilla gets its name from Spanish conquistadors, who named it after the Spanish word for “vagina.” It has to be pollinated by hand using a technique developed by an enslaved 12-year-old named Edmond Albius. And it’s the world’s second most expensive spice behind saffron.

4. The first breakfast cereals were intentionally bland. Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals were created in the 1800s by religious health reformers who believed sugar and spices were sinful and that consuming them incited bodily temptation, leading to such sexual urges as chronic masturbation and adultery—and ultimately resulting in eternal damnation.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of The Secret History of Food.

5. Our affinity for certain comfort foods begins in the womb. Research suggests many of our adult food preferences are influenced by flavors (e.g., vanilla) present in breast milk and amniotic fluid, which absorb flavors and odors from the parent’s diet. Meanwhile, other food preferences, such as people’s polarized responses to cilantro, go back even earlier to the genetic inheritance of specific taste receptors.

6. People used to believe personality traits and intellect were passed on through breast milk. As a result, early wet nurses were screened for things like breast shape, manners and vices such as day-sleeping and gambling addiction to ensure their milk was “child friendly.”

7. An entire ear of ancient corn used to be about the size of a cigarette. Over thousands of years, corn was selectively bred from a nearly inedible weed into the modern staple many cultures now depend on.

8. There’s a decent chance the honey in your cupboard comes from lawn weeds or poison ivy. And that’s OK. (Though there’s also a chance it’s not honey at all but a mixture of corn syrup and yellow food coloring . . .)

"Cinnamon, it was said, came from giant bird nests and had to be transported using rafts without oars on a treacherous journey that took five years and was powered by courage alone."

9. Fidel Castro was obsessed with American dairy. He spent decades funding the genetic manipulation of a dairy “supercow” named Ubre Blanca (“White Udder”) that produced four times the milk of American cows, was assigned a security detail in an air-conditioned stable and was eulogized with military honors and a life-size marble statue after her death.  

10. No one wanted to eat Patagonian toothfish until they were rebranded as Chilean sea bass in 1994. Now they sell for $29.99 a pound at Whole Foods. 

11. Spice traders used to make up stories about the exotic origins of spices so they could sell them for more money. Cinnamon, it was said, came from giant bird nests and had to be transported using rafts without oars on a treacherous journey that took five years and was powered by courage alone. Black pepper was said to grow in forests guarded by serpents that had to be scared away by setting the trees on fire, which explained why black pepper pods were the color of ashes.

12. The adage “you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar” isn’t really true. Rather, catching flies depends on a host of complex variables including the age, gender, sex drive, mating status, thirst and stress level of each fly—as well as the concentration of the vinegar, the time of day and the season. (Even then, some research suggests you’ll catch even more flies with beer or human semen, with one scientist calling semen “the crack cocaine of the fly world.”)

Everything you never knew about Patagonian toothfish, Cuban supercows and cinnamon sticks
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For several years now, the holiday batch of wine books has become increasingly divided between the “elitists” and the “populists.” The former are the critics, who toss out bushel baskets of flavors (tar, black fruit, chocolate, licorice and old leather) and anthropomorphize wines. The others are the proud wine amateurs (aka “wine lovers”), whose diatribes against the “Parkerization” of wines—the reliance on numerical scores for wines and the trend toward bigger, fruitier, mine-is-bigger wines preferred by Wine Advocate founder Robert Parker—can be as stringent as their own self-promotion.
This polemical tug of war can easily bewilder those looking to give a wine book as a gift (which side are your friends on?), but there are some new volumes that can safely be delivered to any wine lover. Along with a bottle, of course.

Many guides to appreciating wine veer from cutesy to condescending, but food mag columnist Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl’s Drink This: Wine Made Simple, finds a happy medium, keeping the catchphrases to a minimum while gently prodding wine newbies through the nine varietals that dominate American shelves and restaurant lists. Each chapter winds through the pros and cons (what’s to love, what’s to hate) of each varietal, a brief history, major taste markers and a comparison of bottom-shelf and top-shelf styles. Each chapter ends with a quick cheat sheet and suggestions for gifts, from inexpensive to “knock-their-socks-off” labels.

Entertaining sidebars (what really causes the famous “cat pee” smell in Sauvignon Blanc?) and interviews with respected winemakers, along with sensibly straightforward tips on hosting low-key wine tastings (example: put a tablespoon of peppercorns or some shaved chocolate in a wine glass and sniff before tasting a Zinfandel or Pinot Noir), make this a solid primer. And, unlike most guides, Drink This occasionally includes pronunciations of wines (rhyming Shiraz with pizzazz, for instance).

Can’t-miss bargains
It’s a serious sign of the economic times that Robert Parker and his Wine Advocate team have produced Parker’s Wine Bargains: The World’s Best Wine Values Under $25. It’s a paperback, described as Zagat guide-sized, though in fact it’s a little hefty for the pocket. It reveals a little about the magazine’s biases—France is divided into eight regions, while all the regions of Italy are lumped together; and only California, Oregon and Washington wines are covered in the United States. Nevertheless, this might be a great book for someone looking to acquire collectable wines without breaking the bank. Wines are marked by price ($ for under $10, etc.) and relative dryness.

The guide’s other concession to more modern wine culture is its emphasis on the fact that less expensive wines need much less aging than the big names, so that most whites and rosés listed should be consumed within a year or so and the reds within three to five years. In other words, you can stop fretting about laying it down and start drinking it up.

A browser’s delight
The third sort of wine book—after the how-tos and the must-haves—might be called the bedside wine book: collections of anecdotes or literary references or ruminations on wine, generally short enough to be consumed a few at a time (presumably over a nightcap). Is This Bottle Corked? The Secret Life of Wine by Kathleen Burk and Michael Bywater is one of those, a combination of fact (what is corkage?) and fiction. What color “wine-dark sea” did Homer really see? Could the Duke of Clarence really have been drowned in a butt of Malmsey? And what is Malmsey, anyway? The Bible, Beaujolais Nouveau, Omar Khayyam, Napoleon, Jane Austen, Pliny and (of course) Robert Parker; phylloxera, absinthe, unami, foot-stomping, silver wine goblets and the dreaded “winespeak”—these and scores of other characters and controversies cohabitate comfortably in this chatty little collection.

A classic returns
Grumdahl’s guide notwithstanding, it would be ungenerous not to toast one notable perennial on these lists: Kevin Zraly, onetime wine director at New York’s Windows on the World, who turned his master classes for the staff into a course that eventually graduated 19,000 people. (When the World Trade Center was destroyed on 9/11, it had nearly 100,000 bottles in the cellar; Zraly himself had taken the day off to celebrate his son’s birthday.) Zraly has been updating his eminently sensible and accessible Windows on the World Complete Wine Course on a pretty regular basis, but he’s just released the 25th anniversary edition. For someone who’s already a little more at ease ordering wine and wanting to expand his palate, or for a sentimental New Yorker, this might be the perfect choice.

Eve Zibart is a former restaurant critic for the Washington Post.

For several years now, the holiday batch of wine books has become increasingly divided between the “elitists” and the “populists.” The former are the critics, who toss out bushel baskets of flavors (tar, black fruit, chocolate, licorice and old leather) and anthropomorphize wines. The others are the proud wine amateurs (aka “wine lovers”), whose diatribes […]
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Whether you’re planning a trip, imagining a radical move across the globe or simply hoping to explore from the couch, travelogues provide entertainment and inspiration.

The premise of Lonely Planet’s latest anthology is one upon which we can all agree: “Wherever we go, we need to eat.” In A Moveable Feast, edited by veteran travel writer Don George, eating is something to relish on trips—sometimes it’s even the point of the trip. Thirty-eight essays will take you from a hospitable yurt in Mongolia, where Stanley Stewart happily samples sheep intestines and fermented mare’s milk, to barbeque capital Kansas City, where Doug Mack and his father have some long-anticipated bonding time over a plate of heavenly ribs. The essays are short and easily digestible—A Moveable Feast would be perfect for stop-and-go reading while you’re in transit to your next destination (or for anytime you want to fantasize about being somewhere more exotic). In one of my favorite essays of the collection, Alexander Lobrano writes of getting “almost teary” as he muses on a “magical meal” in Portugal—pork and clams in tomato sauce, juicy chicken, fried potatoes and rice. You may find yourself salivating as you read about these fabulous food experiences and charming international characters, and the stories will inspire you to remember your own magical meals while traveling.

There’s a lot to love about Alan Paul’s Big in China, a story about plunging into life in a foreign culture—and rocking out with a Chinese blues band. Paul and his wife moved their three young kids to Beijing after she got a posting as China bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. A journalist with a flexible schedule, Paul became one of the few male “trailing spouses” in their neighborhood in Beijing, an identity he embraced as it allowed him to pursue creative opportunities he never could have imagined prior to moving around the world. He wrote an award-winning column for titled “The Expat Life” and fronted a blues and jam band called Woodie Alan with three Chinese men and another American. The group rose to prominence in Beijing, and Paul writes poignantly about performing in a multicultural band that became like a second family. Besides telling a good story, Paul honestly addresses the complexity of uprooting kids, making career sacrifices for a spouse and living in a foreign land. He writes, “One of the lessons I had taken from expat life was that no one was destined to live by any single reality.” In Big in China, Paul learns that “home” is where the people you love happen to be.

Lisa Napoli’s Radio Shangri-La will undoubtedly be compared to Eat, Pray, Love—in both, women in the midst of midlife crises find peace on adventures far away from the U.S. But Napoli’s destination of Bhutan is no Bali. Americans rarely visit this small nation in South Asia because of a steep tourist tax and limited plane access, and the country is remarkably sheltered from outside influences: Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, is the only one in the world without a traffic light, and the king legalized television in the country just 12 years ago. Napoli was working for NPR’s Marketplace when a chance encounter led to an invitation to advise Kuzoo FM, Bhutan’s youth radio station. Sick of producing 90-second segments, Napoli “felt hungry for knowledge, deeper meaning, time to synthesize the world.” So she went to Bhutan in a time of great transition for the country: new king, new constitution, impending democracy. And though she initially envisioned a “media-free universe,” she quickly realized that new technologies in Bhutan meant that things were changing fast. Radio Shangri-La is as much about the charming characters at Kuzoo FM and the culture of Bhutan as it is about Napoli’s personal transformation. Readers will enjoy learning about a part of the world far different from our own, a place where success is measured not by GDP, but by Gross National Happiness.

Several travel publishers are introducing new series and destinations in 2011—here are some of the most notable additions.

•DK Eyewitness Guides: This popular series is getting an overhaul in 2011, with pull-out maps and a cleaner look. New destinations added this year include Back Roads Germany, Chile & Easter Island and Cambodia & Laos.

•Fodor’s Guides: Celebrating their 75th anniversary this year, America’s oldest travel guide company is adding Honduras & the Bay Islands, Prague & the Czech Republic, Venice & the Best of Northern Italy and Essential India to their roster of more than 600 destinations.

•Lonely Planet Discover Guides: Brand new in 2011, this series of focused, full-color, portable guides covers hotspots like London and Paris as well as less traveled destinations like Peru, China and Barcelona.

•Pocket Rough Guides: Billed as “slim, stylish and pocketable” these smaller versions of the best-selling Rough Guides are full-color and city focused—the 10 destinations include Barcelona, Prague and Rome.

Whether you’re planning a trip, imagining a radical move across the globe or simply hoping to explore from the couch, travelogues provide entertainment and inspiration. BON APPÉTIT The premise of Lonely Planet’s latest anthology is one upon which we can all agree: “Wherever we go, we need to eat.” In A Moveable Feast, edited by […]
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New wine books used to be a holiday staple, but these days, wine talk has been replaced by sophisticated (and occasionally cultish) culinary chat, haute beer debates and retro cocktail repartee–all easily indulged tastes when it comes to your gift list.

Though playful in tone, and packed with the wordplay that (among other critical tropes) he both tweaks and enjoys, Adam Gopnik’s The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food is no mere “The Man Who Ate Everything and Then Considered It Philosophically.” It is more a sort of literate confessional, a series of meditations on cooking and, inevitably, consuming. Locavores, carnivores, gourmets and gourmands, historians, commentators, chefs and cooks all have their say, alongside Gopnik’s epigrammatic musings. What distinguishes dining from eating? What is morality (i.e., “who” or what should we eat) and is indulgence a sin? What is taste, the importance of the table or the value of tradition? And how did the restaurant, a relatively modern invention—created in Paris, just before the Revolution—become not simply a cultural icon but a kind of cult?

Much of The Table Comes First originated as pieces for The New Yorker, where Gopnik has glittered for a quarter-century, so this is a feast best consumed in discrete courses. Gopnick’s encounters with London snout-to-tail maven Fergus Henderson and the great Catalonian innovators behind elBulli, Ferran and Albert Adrià, are fascinating; his quixotic mission to prepare an entirely locavore, only-in-New York dinner is unexpectedly funny. His comments on food and wine critics are at once acute and sympathetic. And, of course, the writing is a pleasure (“the chastened, improved look of the egg yolks mixed with sugar”).

If Gopnik’s book is the menu de degustation, Balzac’s Omelette: A Delicious Tour of French Food and Culture with Honoré de Balzac is a lovely trifle. Written by the Paris-born, New York-based biographer Anka Muhlstein, and translated from French by Adriana Hunter, it uses quotations from the writer deemed a French Trollope (a pun he would have enjoyed) to portray a city and culture evolving alongside the restaurant. (Muhlstein and Gopnik disagree on a few facts, but they have historical sentiment in common.) Balzac’s characters eat in real-life cafes or in private homes, and the provenance of the fare, as well as its quality, reflect the new egalité (or not). The book’s French title is “Garçon, un cent d’huitres” (Waiter, a hundred oysters”); though Balzac ate almost nothing while working, between novels he could have given Diamond Jim Brady a run for his bivalves. Lovers of France, food and literature will find this a welcome gift.

The Great American Ale Trail: The Craft Beer Lover’s Guide to the Best Watering Holes in the Nation, by Christian DeBenedetti, is an exuberant, if arbitrary, “Route 66” of a jaunt through brewpubs and craft breweries. It is also a series of snapshots of brewers (including the famously unruly and charming Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head) and worthy but beer-less landmarks (New Orleans’ Central Grocery of muffaletta fame)—a sort of beerlover’s verbal Viewmaster. There are detours into history, regulatory scuffles, brewpubs lost and found and more. The descriptions of various brews are almost amorously tasty, and will doubtless inspire lovers of microbrews to add some names to their “must try” lists.

Brian D. Murphy’s See Mix Drink: A Refreshingly Simple Guide to Crafting the World’s Most Popular Cocktails is a Mr. Boston’s for beginners that looks like the prototype for a smartphone app. Each recipe is loaded with “intuitive icons” (shapes of the bottles, implements, garnishes and glasses required) that act out the drink-making process, plus an illustration of the glass filled with proportional layers of ingredients (see illustration). The additional pie charts—a Black Velvet clearly illustrated as three ounces of stout and three ounces of Champagne in a flute is also displayed as a 50% brown, 50% tan circle—have the virtue of displaying a calorie count, 96 in this case. While most of the ­recipes are classic, some are perhaps more “app-propos.” His rendition of a Ramos Gin Fizz uses egg white powder and makes no mention of orange flower water, its characteristic flavoring. And while Murphy feels the need to explain what a blender does, he doesn’t define many of the additional ingredients, such as orgeat syrup or orange bitters, that may be less familiar to newbies. Still, the lively presentation is likely to help wean the junior “Mad Men” off chocolate martinis—a worthy cause.

New wine books used to be a holiday staple, but these days, wine talk has been replaced by sophisticated (and occasionally cultish) culinary chat, haute beer debates and retro cocktail repartee–all easily indulged tastes when it comes to your gift list. TOUR THE TABLEThough playful in tone, and packed with the wordplay that (among other […]

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