The Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline
Christina Baker Kline is best known for Orphan Train, her bestselling historical novel. Her new book, A Piece of the World, received lots of publicity, but I overlooked this appealing contemporary novel, published in 2007, until another librarian recommended it to me. Angela Russo, 33, an event planner in New York City, loses her job and heads to Maine to visit Rich, a guy she’s met only once. There’s not much to do on Mount Desert Island in the fall (except Acadia National Park, which barely gets a mention), and Angela starts working with Flynn at the local coffee shop. She rents a tiny shack, adopts a dog, and starts baking muffins and scones for the coffee shop. Angela inherited the gift of cooking from her Italian nonna, and hosts a few Italian cooking classes. Rich clearly isn’t her soul mate, but she’s surprisingly content. Back home in New Jersey for Christmas to visit her ailing nonna and the rest of her family, Angela has to decide whether to follow her head or her heart. Recipes are included, and they sound delicious. This is a good readalike for The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, by Louise Miller, although Kline’s book is more cheerful.
Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova
This short history of butter and butter making is a delicious read. Khosrova traveled around the world to watch butter being made and used, from sculpting butter cows in Iowa, to watching yaks being milked in Bhutan and discovering that yak butter tea made with fresh butter can be delicious. Butter has been made from the milk of camels, water buffaloes, goats, and sheep, as well as cows, for many thousands of years. Religious rituals using butter, superstitions about butter making, and a variety of churns are all described. The history of commercial butter making is included, along with butter’s possible health benefits and the mid-century battle of butter and margarine. Sadly, I grew up on margarine, but I don’t bake with it. I had no idea that butter has become trendy, tending to buy whatever brand of unsalted butter is on sale. I have recently sampled three premium butters: a sweet cream European style butter and cultured salted butters from Brittany and Wales. During a recent visit to a local chain supermarket, I found at least six more premium butters, including a two pound roll of Amish butter. A big box retailer has two selections, and a national chain of small grocery stores currently offers butter made from water buffalo milk with Himalayan sea salt. The butters I tried were all delicious, especially on bread. I will still use basic butter most of the time, but where butter is featured in a recipe, like shortbread cookies or puff pastry, I’m looking forward to using a richer tasting, lower moisture premium butter. Recipes from simple to sophisticated are included, including two methods for making your own butter. The author trained as a pastry chef, has worked as a food writer for a test kitchen, and edits a magazine about cheese. A long list of recommended butters is included. This is one of the most enjoyable microhistories I have read.
Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky
A long, leisurely read about the history of making and using paper, as well as papyrus and parchment. Wall screens, lanterns and lamp shades, kites, balloons, gun cartridges, and even clothing have been made from paper. One of the first uses of paper was to wrap food, and it’s long been used in prayer flags and to burn at religious ceremonies. The history of printing is also described, and the rise and fall of newspapers. Paper making involves a reliable supply of cold, running water, a large supply of linen or cotton rags or other plants, and skilled paper makers. With their arms constantly in cold water manipulating heavy frames, paper making was arduous work, but skilled workers could travel to another area to find work at another paper mill, or start a new mill. Over the centuries there has been a rising demand for paper, and also the plants or used cloth needed to make it. Surprisingly, paper wasn’t made from wood pulp until around 1850. The use of paper doesn’t seem to have declined in this century, and there is a renewed interest in handmade and other specialty papers for writing, painting, and drawing, and paper is still being made from a variety of materials. An interesting and informative microhistory, but not a page turner.
My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl
In October, 2009, Ruth, the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, was shocked to learn that the publisher was ceasing publication of Gourmet, which debuted in 1941. Even though the December issue was at the printers, and three more issues were planned, no more magazines would be published. Amidst this turmoil, she still has to launch “Adventures with Ruth”, a 10-episode travel and food television show, and go on tour for the brand new Gourmet Today cookbook, which she had edited. In the year that followed, Ruth wrote copy for the Gourmet Cookie Book, and tried to reinvent herself; not easy at 61. With her husband Michael, she spent a very cold and snowy winter at their country house, and decided to sublet their NYC apartment. Used to dining out on an expense account as a food critic, Ruth now has the leisure to visit farmers’ markets and to cook seasonally. Photographs of upstate New York and many recipes add to the appeal of this gorgeous book. Laid up part of the year recovering from an injury, Ruth also begins her first novel, Delicious!, which the Tuesday evening book group is discussing on January 26 at 7:00 p.m. Next I plan to read Garlic and Sapphires, about her life as a food critic, often in disguise.
Wishing you an adventurous year of reading!
If you’re looking for more memoirs, check out our book display called “A Year in the Life: Yearlong Projects, Adventures, and Travels”. Here is the accompanying booklist:
A Year in the Life: Yearlong Projects, Adventures, and Travels
028.8 San Sankovitch, Nina. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. 2011
028.9 Mil Miller, Andy. The Year of Reading Dangerously. 2014
158 Rub Rubin, Gretchen. The Happiness Project. 2009
158.1 Kir Kirshenbaum, Mira. The Gift of a Year. 2000
158.1 Kra Kravitz, Lee. Unfinished Business. 2015
277.3 She Shea, Suzanne Strempek. Sundays in America. 2008
278.95 Ros Roscher, Ellie. How Coffee Saved My Life. 2009
303.483 Bre Brende, Eric. Better Off. 2004
306.3 Bru Bruno, Dave. The 100 Thing Challenge. 2010
330.973 And Anderson, Maggie. Our Black Year. 2012
331.702 Aik Aiken, Sean. The One-Week Job Project. 2010
332.4 Wol Wolman, David. The End of Money. 2012
338.476 Cle Clemens, Paul. Punching Out. 2011
362.18 Kar Karam, J.A. Into the Breach. 2002
362.21 Vin Vincent, Norah. Voluntary Madness. 2008
365.43 Ker Kerman, Piper. Orange is the New Black. 2011
365.6 Smi Smith, Jeff. Mr. Smith Goes to Prison. 2015
371.1 Bro Brown, Dan. The Great Expectations School. 2007
371.1 Dan Danza, Tony. I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had. 2012
371.1 Foo Foote, Donna. Relentless Pursuit. 2008
382.60951 Bon Bongiorni, Sara. A Year Without “Made in China.” 2007
577.56 Hol Holmes, Hannah. Suburban Safari. 2005
595.78 Pyl Pyle, Robert Michael. Mariposa Road. 2010
598 Kau Kaufman, Kenn. Kingbird Highway. 1997
598.07 Obm Obmascik, Mark. The Big Year. 2004
598.159 Kro Kroodsma, Donald. Birdsong by the Seasons. 2009
599.773 Tha Thayer, Helen. Three Among the Wolves. 2004
610.92 Mcc McCarthy, Matt. The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly. 2015
613.2 Jac Jacobs, A.J. Drop Dead Healthy. 2012
613.2 Law Lawson, Tracey. A Year in the Village of Eternity. 2011
616.83 Spe Spencer-Wendel, Susan. Until I Say Good-Bye. 2013
616.8526 Kuf Kuffel, Frances. Angry Fat Girls. 2010
616.8589 Ell Ellison, Katherine. Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention. 2010
630.092 Kim Kimball, Kristin. The Dirty Life. 2010
630.584 Cha Chaskey, Scott. This Common Ground. 2005
635 Lap Lapp, Laura. An Amish Garden. 2013
635.0484 Bro Brockman, Terra. The Seasons of Henry’s Farm. 2009
636.7 Kat Katz, Jon. A Dog Year. 2002
636.7 Mil Miles, Kathryn. Adventures with Ari. 2009
636.7527 Abr Abramson, Jill. The Puppy Diaries. 2011
640.73 Lev Levine, Judith. Not Buying It. 2006
641.013 Maj Majumdar, Simon. Eat My Globe. 2009
641.3 Gre Greenslate, Christopher. On a Dollar a Day. 2010
641.3 Kin Kingsolver, Barbara. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. 2007
641.5 Erw Erway, Cathy. The Art of Eating In. 2010
641.5 Smi Smith, Alisa. Plenty. 2007
641.552 Mat Mather, Robin. The Feast Nearby. 2011
641.564 Rei Reichl, Ruth. My Kitchen Year. 2015
641.815 Ale Alexander, William. 52 Loaves. 2010
649.1 Wym Wyma, Kay Wills. Cleaning House: A Mom’s 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement. 2012
664.132 Why Whynott, Douglas. The Sugar Season. 2014
746.432 Mar Martini, Adrienne. Sweater Quest. 2010
788.9 Ree Rees, Jasper. A Devil to Play. 2008
791.43 Rub Rabin, Nathan. My Year of Flops. 2010
795.412 Hol Holden, Anthony. Bigger Deal. 2007
796.352 Fei Feinstein, John. Moment of Glory. 2010
796.357 Sha Shaugnessy, Dan. Senior Year. 2007
796.72 Bec Bechtel, Mark. He Crashed Me, So I Crashed Him Back. 2010
798.2 Hus Husher, Helen. Conversations With a Prince. 2003
798.4 Cho Chong, Kevin. My Year of the Racehorse. 2012
798.4 Smi Smiley, Jane. A Year at the Races. 2004
809 Beh Beha, Christopher. The Whole Five Feet. 2009
818.6 Lan Lancaster, Jen. The Tao of Martha. 2013
910.4 Gil Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, Pray, Love. 2006
956.70443 Ste Stewart, Rory. The Prince of the Marshes. 2006
974.7 Roa Roach, Margaret. And I Shall Have Some Peace There. 2011
BIO Han Hancock, Noelle. My Year with Eleanor. 2011
BIO Hel Heller, Peter. Kook. 2010
BIO Loh Loh, Sandra Tsing. The Madwoman in the Volvo. 2014
BIO Mah Mah, Ann. Mastering the Art of French Eating. 2013
BIO Okr Okrant, Robin. Living Oprah. 2008
BIO Oxe Oxenhandler, Noelle. The Wishing Year. 2008
BIO Per Perry, Michael. Coop. 2009
BIO Rhi Rhimes, Shonda. Year of Yes. 2015
BIO Wal Wallace, Danny. Friends Like These. 2009
Hannah is worried about her upcoming trial, but the judge’s sudden death starts Hannah, and everyone who visits The Cookie Jar, Hannah’s and Lisa’s cookie and coffee shop, started on a new investigation. Even better, a trip to Las Vegas with her sisters for their mother’s surprise wedding helps Hannah finally make up her mind about which of her two longtime boyfriends, a dentist and a police detective, she should marry. A mysterious subplot involving Hannah’s kleptomaniac cat Moishe adds humor, and the included recipes add sweetness. This cozy mystery series set in Lake Eden, Minnesota, had been getting too predictable, but not anymore. I listened to the audiobook, so I’ll have to look at the print book to try some of the recipes. If you want to start at the beginning of the series, read Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, or look for the movie version on television next month.
First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
First Frost is a pleasant, mostly gentle read that may make you hungry. I didn’t realize at first that it’s a sequel to the author’s first book, Garden Spells, set ten years later in Bascom, North Carolina. Claire is living in the house she inherited from her Waverley grandmother, but now makes candy with edible flowers instead of catering. Her niece Bay enjoys helping out, but Claire is increasingly tense. The Waverley women all have minor magical talents. Elderly cousin Evanelle gives people unusual gifts they may need later, such as a spatula. Claire’s affinity is for flowers and cooking, while her sister Sydney is a wonderful hair stylist. But Claire’s young daughter seems quite ordinary. Bay knows where some people and things belong, making her a great organizer, but when she gives Josh a note telling him that he belongs in her life, he doesn’t know how to respond. When a stranger in town tries to convince Claire that she’s not really a Waverley, it takes the magic of first frost, when their apple tree blooms, to set things to rights. It’s nice to visit with the Waverleys again, and Bay is an appealing narrator, but I wanted more back story to remind me what happened in the first book. Actually, I’d really like a book set earlier than First Frost. Complaints aside, this was a very enjoyable book to read, and I will probably re-read Garden Spells.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing, by Anya von Bremzen
Anya von Bremzen describes life and food in 20th century Russia, the Soviet Union, and former Soviet republics. Born in Moscow in 1963, Anya and her mother Larisa moved to Philadelphia in 1974. By telling the stories of her grandparents and parents, Anya describes each decade of the 20th century, along with the food popular then. Her Jewish grandmother Liza was from Odessa on the Black Sea, her grandmother Alla was an orphan born in Turkestan and raised by a Bolshevik feminist in Uzbekistan. Her grandfather Naum was an intelligence officer, and her father Sergei helped preserve Lenin’s body through science. Through visits to family with her mother and later travels in the former republics with her boyfriend, Anya immerses the reader in the food and culture of each place and time. Trained as a pianist at Julliard, she became a James Beard award-winning food writer. We learn that standing in lines in Moscow could be a social event, as was the case when her parents met in a line for ballet tickets. The alternating availability and scarcity of various foods, such as bread and corn, could make anyone obsess over food, especially if forced to use a communal kitchen or eat caviar in kindergarten. While I don’t know if I’ll be trying any of the recipes at the end of the book, Anya’s memoir really kept my interest.
Here is a varied list of some of the best cookbooks published this fall. Enjoy! -Brenda
The Baking Bible. Rose Levy Berenbaum
A collection of recipes from simple to elaborate from an author known for her foolproof recipes, with plenty of baking advice and gorgeous photos.
Impressive but not too fussy recipes for a variety of French desserts from a well-known cookbook author who lives part-time in Paris.
Holiday Cookies. Chicago Tribune staff
Three decades of award-winning cookies created by Chicago Tribune readers.
How to Cook Everything Fast. Mark Bittman
Clear, step-by-step recipes with variations make efficient use of a cook’s time, but some of these delicious recipes are not what I’d consider fast.
The Kitchn Cookbook. Sara Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand
Part cookbook and part friendly advice on stocking, organizing, cleaning, and designing kitchens, from the editors of a popular food blog.
Make it Ahead. Ina Garten
One Pot. Editors of Martha Stewart Living
120 recipes for weekday dinners, including desserts, using skillets, slow cookers, large pots, roasting pans, and more.
Plenty More. Yotam Ottolenghi
New recipes from a London chef known for his very creative Mediterranean and Middle Eastern-inspired vegetable dishes.
Prune. Gabrielle Hamilton
Unconventional, minimalist recipes with hand-written notes from a New York chef.
Twelve Recipes. Cal Peternell
Originally written for his son in college, these detailed recipes (actually several dozen) may inspire a love of food and cooking.