Scissorhead BDR has rightfully criticized me in years past because I had forgotten to do a book list in time for Black Friday, which as we all know is Buy Nothing Day. I’ve added an exception to the Buy Nothing Day rule: you can shop at your local Indie Bookstore if you are so lucky as to have one.
My madness: 1) I flip through Amazon, and then B) check the book out of the Public Library and iii) if I like the book, I march over to my neighborhood Indie bookstore and buy it. I am a reverse show-roomer.
Editor’s note (Frances Langum): Don’t forget Small Business Saturday!
I hate going into my neighborhood shop and seeing people browsing books and then ordering them from Amazon AT THE INDIE STORE!!1! Don’t be that eff’ing person.
Some of these titles I own, and others I am hoping to own on Christmas morning. I’m keeping the list short and sweet.
Books for Your Political Friends
- Prequel, by Rachel Maddow. This is the true story of how the United States almost slid into fascism during the lead-up to World War II. There’s a lot of parallels to today, and it is chilling reading (and damned hard not to start playing, “Oh, that Trump/Putin/Elon…” If you remember Maddow’s serialized podcast from earlier this year, this is an expanded version of that. Very chilling, and a real page-turner.
Books for Bakers
I weep for people who have gluten problems. None of these titles address sourdough (it seems to me that the last time I did one of these lists, it was just a deep-dive into sourdough)
- Gateau: The Surprising Simplicity of French Cakes, by Aleksandra Crapanzano. I was given this book for my birthday and have made more cakes this year than ever before. Yes, it is French and très chic, but nothing in it is more challenging than making a banana bread. This is a game changer.
- Savory Baking: Recipes for Breakfast, Dinner, and Everything in Between by Erin Jeanne McDowell. I have picked up this book more often than any book on this list. Long time readers know that I reach for the flour when I’m in doubt about what to make for dinner, and usually the rest follows. Try the pita bread, then try the focaccia, then try some flat breads, then try the rye bread… and then try the drop biscuits.
- And speaking of biscuits, Still We Rise: A Love Letter to the Southern Biscuit with Over 70 Sweet and Savory Recipes, by Erika Council, who is the granddaughter of the legendary southern cook Mildred Council, who opened Mama Dip’s Kitchen in 1976. That makes Council Southern Baking Royalty. If you thought you already knew everything about biscuits, get ready to find out how wrong you are. Never have I ever had anything like the Butter Swim Biscuits. This book will completely up your biscuit game.
Books for Gardeners
Scratch a vegetable gardener and you will find a cook. But what is rare is a Chef who gardens. I went down a rabbit hole this year looking for books written by chefs to see what it was that they were growing. Some of them are very specific to even which variety of, say, tomato that they liked best and why. Given the size of my small community garden plot, why grow anything less than the best-flavored pepper? (I’m going to try Jimmy Nardello peppers this upcoming year, btw.) This information is what I was after.
- The Ark of Taste: Delicious and Distinctive Foods That Define the United States, by David S Shields. This is both more than a list of great foods, and less than a gardening or cooking book, but it is worth while to look at what the experts say are the best varieties of cultivated and heirloom foods.
- Herb: A cook’s companion, by Mark Diacono. Diacono is a Brit chef from the fabled River Cottage. As a California Master Gardener (emeritus since moving north), I often suggest to new gardeners to start with some herbs. Diacono will tell you how to grow them successfully and then provides about half the book with recipes on how to use them. His horticulture is completely solid, and the food is amazing. The stories he tells and the way he describes the flavor/scent of these herbs is fun to read. He’s definitely a stylist of a writer.
- The Art of Simple Food II: Recipes, Flavor, and Inspiration from the New Kitchen Garden: A Cookbook, by Alice Waters. This book is about 10 years old now, and I was surprised by how current it is in our seed-to-table world. Waters is the founder of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California and she is debatably the founder of California Cuisine. The horticulture in this book is very good, and the food is both simple and delicious. I think this is a much better book than its predecessor Simple Food I, but that’s because of the gardening.
- Ciao Italia: Plant, Harvest, Cook!, by Mary Ann Esposito, the venerable PBS chef. I was very surprised by the horticultural detail that Esposito writes in her familiar style (and it is really hard to not hear her New Jersey accent as you read this). Her husband is the gardener of the family, and boy-howdy she puts him to work. I’m not as much a fan of her food, but if you are, this is a solid book.
- Grow Cook Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening, Including 50 Recipes, Plus Harvesting and Storage Tips, by Willi Galloway. This is another older book, I believe it has just been re-released. Galloway is very focused on the gardening in this book, and it is jam-packed with great advice. I found myself putting sticky notes all over it. I have not cooked any of the recipes. Oops!
- Lush Life: Food & Drinks from the Garden, by Valerie Rice. Rice is a California Master Gardener from Santa Barbara, and is close friends with Suzanne Goin (another Chez Panisse alumni), and is easily one of the best chefs in California. The horticulture is solid (she has some what-to-start-when charts that are really brilliant on timing), the food is delicious (and I’m going to guess that Goin is an uncredited co-author), and the drinks? I’ll have another.
- And speaking of drinks, The Drunken Botanist, by Amy Stewart. This is about 10 years old (2013 must have been a good vintage), and the conceit here is about all the herbs and so forth that are included in the booze we love. So the focus is on growing a cocktail garden, often the somewhat secret ingredient in a type of liquor. I will never be a distiller, but I am an enthusiastic infuser. This book gives you a running start on figuring out what is in that amaro you like.
I checked this book out of the library after writing the list and adding it to my wish list:
- Start Here: Instructions for Becoming a Better Cook by Sola El-Waylly. This is a book I would add to my short list of what I would use in a cooking school, along with the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, and The Everlasting Meal. It’s not the recipes, its the techniques, for instance, there is an entire chapter on controlling the temperature which is really foundational, and it is amazing how overlooked that is. One of the tests that chefs often give applicants is to cook eggs because they want to see if you can control the heat. Read through this chapter, follow the instructions, learn how to do this, and you would pass the test.
So that’s it for this year’s list. All of these books are still in print, you can probably find many of them at your local Indie or even used bookstore. Buy local and keep your money in your communities, Jeff Bezos doesn’t need your hard-earned Ameros.
So… what are you reading and/or giving this year?
Republished with permission from Mock Paper Scissors