The things I want to know are in books;
my best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ain't read.
– Abraham Lincoln
I love food. I love to eat. I have a food blog, after all. But while all the other food bloggers are putting up lists of their favorite recipes of 2011…well, it did cross my mind to do the same, but somehow my mind always wanders back to books. You see, as much as I love food and as much as I am always eating, and I am, I rarely enjoy a meal or a snack without a book in my hand. Food and books have been enchantingly interwoven together in my life and my memories from the earliest of times, from the moment I could feed myself, hold a book in my hand and read. My own secret garden, I could lose myself for hours in a book; hidden places, faraway lands, each book was a doorway to exotic places I could travel to, people I could become, adventures I could experience even while never leaving the safety and comfort of my home. Shy, self-conscious ugly duckling that I was, with each story that I read I was magically transformed into a smart, self-confident, beautiful heroine. And the treasure, the handsome Prince, the wonderful meal on some Parisian quay would be mine every single time.
but to go off with him and travel in his company.
– André Gide
A childhood spent with my behind securely wedged in the forked branches of a tree, sandwich in one hand, book in the other or scooched down in our big armchair, legs slung over one chair arm sideways, a plate of cookies perched upon the other within easy reach, no need to ever take my eyes from the page; getting up early for school to make and pack a brown bag lunch so I could save my lunch money in order to buy books (and maybe a bit of candy to enjoy while reading said books); Saturdays comfortably at home wandering up and down the aisles of the public library, flicking through the card catalog, breathing in the timeless, musty odor of old books, flying home, pedaling as fast as I could, with a bike basket packed with a week’s reading, the Ho Ho’s and Little Debbies just waiting for us all. I have always loved books, the magic and beauty of the written word. The years have flown by, faster than I would like but nothing has changed: books are still my joy, the breath in my body, the life that courses through my veins. I am never without a book (that is why my husband fell in love with me) and I rarely leave a bookstore without at least one purchase, I simply cannot stop myself. And happily I married a man as obsessed with books, if not more, than I. And one is still sure to find me reading – and eating – in my every spare moment. It’s rather Pavlovian; reading makes me hungry and, in turn, as soon as I pull a plate of something in front of me I crave something to read.
So while my fellow bloggers are offering lists of their favorite foods, recipes or photos, here am I offering something much closer to my heart: my favorite books of 2011.
and some few are to be chewed and digested.
– Francis Bacon
What makes a cookbook a favorite, one I turn to again and again? My shelves are groaning under the weight and heft of more cookbooks than I can count, more than one person could ever need. And with all that I have to choose from, it seems that I continue to pull the same few out of the bookcase over and over again whenever the urge to cook or bake hits me. Tried, trusted and true, a well-thumbed cookbook, pages marked with sticky notes, old grocery receipts and time, stained with butter, chocolate and jelly (while reading over breakfast), these well-worn favorites must breathe simplicity in both style and recipes; I don’t need nor do I desire haughty, chi-chi or over the top. What I want and require are recipes for a home cook who doesn’t like fuss or complication, who often, but not necessarily always, loses patience if confronted with something too fiddly or time consuming, daunted and turned off by the thought of a long, fruitless trot around town looking for impossible ingredients. I love the traditional and the traditionally inspired no matter how contemporary, ethnic or exotic, my eaters, my men, wanting food both delicious and recognizable. And, of course, as both a writer and a reader, I want to find my cookbooks as delightful to read as to cook from, cookbooks filled with prose, stories inspiring me with a personal or cultural history of each recipe, from whom and whence it came and what it means to the author. I want to savor a delectable description of what I should expect when the food is on the plate, in my mouth, words that sing, narrative from which emanates mouthwatering odors, textures, colors and tastes.
Each of these cookbook discoveries of 2011 is all of that combined, a joy to sit over and read and a joy to cook or bake from:
1) Every Night Italian and How to Cook Italian by Giulian Hazan
One of these great Italian cookbooks, if not both, should be on your kitchen shelf in 2012! One uncomplicated, delicious recipe after another, from the most traditional to more contemporary twists on the…traditional, super talented chef Giuliano Hazan offers the best of his Italian kitchen and allows you to bring it to your own table with ease and simplicity to the ooohs and ahhhhs of a very appreciative audience. Giuliano’s wonderful books allow me to prepare one fabulous Italian dish after the next, bringing all the sights and sounds, odors and flavors of my fabulous years in that marvelous country, a country where I truly learned the value of good food, straight to my table with simple cooking that turns basic, fresh, seasonal ingredients into something delectable, homey yet luxurious all at once.
2) The Weekend Baker by Abby Dodge
Abby Dodge is like the Patron Saint of Home Bakers: every one of her no-nonsense, minutely explained, mouthwatering recipes, both savory and sweet, turns out perfectly, deliciously every time. The Weekend Baker is a cookbook for bakers of every level, a wonderful collection of homey, comfy recipes both old fashioned cozy and contemporarily cool for every occasion. I have baked from this book again and again and my family, the toughest of critics, gobble up every single treat every single time. (Read my complete review of The Weekend Baker on The Huffington Post).
3) Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoë François
As wonderful and successful as Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day allows me to prepare all kinds of pizzas, focaccia and flatbreads for my pizza- and foccacia-loving family with the same ease, rapidity and perfection. Both of these books turn out incredible and perfect yeast breads and treats of all kinds with minimal time and effort, even for the most yeast-challenged! Personally, I want to make – and eat – every single thing in this book! The only bread baking books you’ll ever need.
4) Southern Pies by Nancie McDermott
Southern Pies is a compendium of more than 60 stunning, delectable pies from the South, a neat and simple cookbook offering homey, comforting and nostalgic recipes sourced from some of the greatest bakers of the modern-day South, from professional to home bakers including Nancie McDermott’s own family and kitchen. Nancie’s own southern charm and heritage (and her contagious humor and generosity) shine through in every well-researched and thought-out recipe for pies for every season and every occasion, fruit, cream, custard pies and more! For the pie lover in all of us, with a kiss of the past.
5) Taste of Home Baking
Taste of Home Baking is yet another cookbook filled with recipes for cakes, pies, cookies, breads and more, both savory and sweet, that I quickly fell in love with. A gift from Taste of Home for our Plate to Page goodie bags, this is everything a baking cookbook should be: well-tested recipes for all levels of expertise, recipes that work every time, each one more tempting than the next! This is another book that now stays in my kitchen and is flipped through, recipes bookmarked, and baked from over and over again.
6) Jewish Holiday Cooking by Jayne Cohen
Alongside Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food, Jayne Cohen's The Gefilte Variations has always been my go-to cookbook for all the Jewish Holidays. Her updated Jewish Holiday Cooking is even better: a compilation of her already-published selection of fabulous, inventive, unexpected contemporary renditions and reinterpretations of Jewish classics with even more recipes. Her beautiful prose and magical storytelling enchant us with tales of her upbringing, she regales us deliciously with Jewish history and lore and tempts and titilates with extraordinary descriptions of each recipe, each dish. An absolute must for every Jewish - and non-Jewish kitchen.
Honorable Mentions: Cookbooks I have purchased or been offered as gifts in 2011 that have been on my desk waiting to be discovered with joy. Great reading…and cookbooks that promise the best.
La Cuisine de Vefa by Vefa Alexiadou
Kopiaste to Greek Hospitality (an e-cookbook) by Ivy Liacopoulou
Big Night In by Domenica Marchetti
In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark
Quick & Easy Chinese by Nancie McDermott
Cooking Up a Storm edited by Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker
taking books off the shelves and staying up late reading them.
– Lemoney Snicket (Daniel Handler)
Curling up in bed or, better yet, sitting at the kitchen table, steaming mug of café au lait and a plate of cookies or a slice of cake before me, or snuggled into my corner of the sofa, bowl of popcorn in my lap with a really good book is my way to relax, wind down, refresh and reinvigorate. Nose buried in the pages of a novel I hide from my family, wind down from my work, escape from my worries. Memoirs that make me dream, that pull me into someone else’s world and that inspire me to write my own; books of letters, biographies or history that make me laugh, cry and think…these are what I turn to every day, my constant companions. I have read many books this past year, but these are the few that stay with me; the beautiful writing and the fascinating stories make each of these books “repeaters” – books that won’t gather dust on a shelf but will be read and savored over and over again.
I go into the other room and read a book.
– Groucho Marx
My requirements are strict; my expectations high: a perfectly constructed story from page one to the end; characters so written that they are loved or despised, pitied or laughed at, fallen in love with, empathized with or ridiculed just as they should be, as the author meant them to be. I crave masterful writing, masterful storytelling that makes my breath come in short gasps, my heart pound, writing that makes me feel yet also makes me think…and a book that, upon my closing the pages as I finish the story inspires me to not only want to pick it up and start it all over again but makes me want to write one just as good.
1) A Restaurateur Remembers by Michael Olivier
At first glance, a cookbook filled with wonderful South African recipes, yet this is a book written by master storyteller, chef and wine expert Michael Olivier, tales of his growing up on a Cape farm to his learning to cook and running some of the Cape’s most prestigious restaurants. people & places; wine & food… enchanting.
2) The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn
I wish I had had her experience in Paris and I wish I had written this book. Beautiful.
3) My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’Homme
As Always, Julia edited by Joan Reardon
Do I even need to explain?
4) Mostly True by Molly O’Neill
Gorgeous, vibrant writing, an amazing, entertaining tale by a truly talented woman.
5) Will Write For Food by Dianne Jacob
Why mention this book here? This past year, I purchased the updated version and it has accompanied me throughout the year, never out of reach, and will follow me well into 2012. As a writer, this is my guide and the book I turn to each step along my path to becoming a professional, published writer.
6) The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Brilliant novel, brilliant movie.
7) 97 Orchard by Jane Ziegelman
This book feeds both my passion for food and the history of food and my obsession with the history of my own Jewish family.
8) Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz
Just get it and read it! A fascinating, rambunctious, well-written and well-told story of Mr. Horwitz’ adventure wandering through the American South looking for the history and psychological remnants of the Civil War, spending much time with passionate, quasi-professional re-enactors and “hardcores”. Great fun and very informative!
9) Martin Chuzzlewitt by Charles Dickens
What? Yes, you see, no list is complete without my favorite book. I read it once a year. Passionately.
for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.
– Gustave Flaubert
Wishing my friends, followers and readers a very Joyous, Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year. Thank you for your support, kind words, generosity and encouragement - and I invite you to continue this ride along with me in 2012.