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Posts Tagged ‘cookbooks’

Winter can be a tough season: it’s cold, dark and frequently snowy where I live. This winter, I’m leaning hard into small everyday delights, and reaching for books that help me name and/or discover them.

Hannah Jane Parkinson’s witty, charming essay collection The Joy of Small Things is exactly what it sounds like: a compilation of Parkinson’s columns for The Guardian, celebrating quotidian, idiosyncratic joys. Techno music, red lipstick, night bus trips and cheating a hangover are among Parkinson’s delights, and her unabashed elation inspired me to notice my own pleasures. (I found this one at the wonderful Three Lives in NYC, and it was the perfect book for this season.)

I like cooking year-round, but am especially keen on baking in the winter. This year, I’ve reached for dessert inspiration in the form of Flour by Joanne Chang (which I’ve owned for years) and Nadiya Bakes by Nadiya Hussain, the 2015 winner of The Great British Baking Show. Chang, the founder-owner of Boston-based (and one of my faves) Flour Bakery + Cafe, delivers detailed recipes for her goodies, including raspberry crumb bars, lemon-ginger scones (with three kinds of ginger!) and the chunkiest chocolate-chip cookies. Hussain, sporting bright headscarves, showcases clever new recipes and bold twists on traditional desserts (blueberry scone pizza?!). Both women remind me that you don’t need an industrial kitchen to whip up tasty treats, though I do covet Hussain’s bright pink hand mixer.

Finally, Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee provides a tour of what Fetell Lee calls “the aesthetics of joy”: patterns, objects and modes of design that can enhance or inspire delight in our daily lives. Exploring harmony, magic, transcendence and other concepts, Fetell Lee shows how the physical environment (built or natural) can have a profound effect on our moods. As I wait for spring, I’ll be searching out every kind of joy–culinary, aesthetic or simply everyday–that I can find.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran a couple of weeks ago.

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We are halfway through January (almost) and the books have been saving my life, especially in this isolation period. Here’s what I have been reading:

Incognegro, Mat Johnson
My partner lent me this graphic novel, in which a (very) light-skinned Black reporter passes as white so he can report on lynchings in the American South. When he goes down to try and help his brother out of a murder accusation, things get (even more) dangerous. Compelling, heartbreaking, deeply unsettling.

If You Ask Me, Libby Hubscher
Advice columnist Violet Covington finds out her newspaper column is up for syndication – then comes home to find her husband in bed with a neighbor. She goes off the rails a bit trying to process the news and figure out how she wants to handle this new stage of life. I relished this smart, funny, mostly closed-door rom-com; the romance is fun but I also loved Violet’s relationships with her mother, her boss/college roommate and several friends. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 8).

An Eternal Lei, Naomi Hirahara
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Leilani Santiago and her sisters find a woman unconscious on a beach in Kaua’i. Leilani – an amateur sleuth – digs into the woman’s life and uncovers a few connections to their island community. A fun mystery with lots of Hawaiian details; the food especially reminded me of my trip there in college. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 22).

The Weekday Vegetarians, Jenny Rosenstrach
I love Jenny’s blog and her down-to-earth newsletters; I own her first cookbook, though I haven’t used it in a while. So naturally I was primed to enjoy this cookbook packed with recipes and tips for going vegetarian during the week (or any time). I’ve already made a couple of the recipes. Many of them are better shared with others, but I like her style and appreciated the inspiration here.

Home/Land: A Memoir of Departure and Return, Rebecca Mead
Increasingly worried by Trumpism in the U.S., Mead and her American husband (with their teenage son) decide to pull up stakes and move to London. Mead writes thoughtfully about her family history and her life split between two cities: her youth on England’s south coast, her two decades in NYC and the ways in which she discovers you can (and can’t) go home again. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 8).

Sisters of Night and Fog, Erika Robuck
As World War II sweeps Europe, two very different women find themselves working against the Nazis. Calm, quiet Virginia d’Albert Lake is determined to survive the war alongside her French husband, while fiery young French-British widow Violette Szabo will stop at nothing to destroy the regime that took her husband. Robuck weaves a gripping tale of the women’s stories, which intersect when both are captured by the Nazis. Well done, though heartrending at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 1).

Most Likely, Sarah Watson
Ava, CJ, Jordan and Martha have been BFFs since kindergarten. One of them will become president of the U.S. in 2049. But which one? Watson takes us through the girls’ senior year in high school, showing us their challenges, triumphs and deep bond. I loved this smart, warmhearted YA novel. Found at the wonderful Crow Bookshop in Burlington, VT.

Search, Michelle Huneven
Somewhat to my own surprise, I devoured this novel of a Unitarian Universalist pastoral search committee in California. It was both familiar and different from my own church experience; it was also funny, sharp and an insightful look at human nature. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 26).

The First Rule of Punk, Celia C. Pérez
Malú (don’t call her Maria Luisa!) is not happy about moving to Chicago with her mom. But gradually, she finds her way at her new school – forming a band, making friends, messing up and learning to own her mistakes. A sweet, funny middle-grade story.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson
I’ve been reading this one slowly for months; it is dense but readable, fascinating, multilayered, packed with good storytelling. Wilkerson brings the Great Migration to vivid life through the stories of her three protagonists, who all left the South for different regions. Just as thoughtful and important and interesting as everyone said it was.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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Now more than ever, I enjoy cooking, especially in the colder months: hearty soups, crumbly scones, buttery scrambled eggs (with endless cups of tea). Last July, though, I moved into a studio apartment during an unusually hot Boston summer. After weeks of takeout, stovetop huevos rancheros and ready meals from Trader Joe’s, I needed some new kitchen inspiration.

Enter Cooking Solo, Klancy Miller’s brilliant, colorful cookbook about not only feeding yourself, but enjoying it. I’ve made her risotto, her lemon pancakes, her spicy coconut-sweet potato soup… the list goes on. But more than her recipes, I love Miller’s approach: she insists, as a longtime single person, that investing the time and effort to feed oneself well is worth it. As a recent divorcée, I need that reminder on the regular.

My success with Miller’s recipes inspired me to flip back through some perennial favorites, like Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. I bake Wizenberg’s Scottish scones at least twice a month, but recently made her ratatouille for the first (and second, and third) time in years. Like Wizenberg, when I am dining alone on something that delicious, “I lick my knife until it sparkles, because there’s no one there to catch me.”

For a broader perspective on solo cooking, I turn to Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, an eclectic essay collection edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. Inspired by Laurie Colwin’s eponymous essay (which kicks off the anthology), these pieces, some with recipes, recount the delightful, the depressing and the quirkily indulgent aspects of setting a solo table. Many of the contributors recall solitary meals (or seasons) with deep fondness, even nostalgia. Cooking for one can feel like a depressing prospect, but these books help remind me that there’s a wealth of flavor, adventure and–yes–true sustenance to be found at a table for one.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran at the end of March. I submitted it before the virus hit, but it’s more applicable in some ways now than ever.  

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I tend to go through phases in my reading (though I do read a variety of genres in any given month). My Agatha Christie kick is going strong, thanks in part to the read-along. And I cannot get enough of the Moffats and their antics. But there’s more:

The Thirteen Problems, Agatha Christie
I enjoyed this collection of short stories featuring Miss Marple and her friends – I was amazed again and again at Christie’s skill in rendering plot twists and key details. I’m not a very good amateur sleuth (I never could solve the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries as a kid) – so Miss Marple astonished me (and everyone else) every time.

Sisterhood Everlasting, Ann Brashares
I love the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books. LOVE them. So I was both excited and worried about this new chapter in the girls’ lives, right before they all turn 30. And it was more painful and tragic than I ever expected…but it wasn’t all heartbreak. Some wonderful moments of light and joy, too. Not my favorite of the series, but I enjoyed spending some more time with Bee, Carmen, Lena and Tibby (and all the people they love).

A Murder is Announced, Agatha Christie
Miss Marple does it again – playing the sweet-old-spinster shtick to the hilt, while calmly digging up everyone’s secrets right under their very noses. She even confounds the Scotland Yard folks, which makes me love her even more.

Cooking with My Sisters, Adriana Trigiani
A delicious memoir-cookbook, complete with family snapshots and interjections from each sister, as well as lots of yummy-looking recipes. I checked it out from the library, but I may end up buying it – the recipes are that good. (It doesn’t hurt that we love Italian food at our house.)

The Moffats, Eleanor Estes
It’s been ages since I read this book – a fun tale of four siblings in Cranbury, Connecticut in the 1940s. (Similar to the Melendy Quartet, but with a slightly different flavor.) Jane, the third Moffat, narrates most of the fun, and there’s something in every chapter to make me smile.

The Middle Moffat, Eleanor Estes
Jane decides to style herself as the mysterious middle Moffat – and oh, the fun she has being in the middle! Just as charming as The Moffats. Jane is funny, sweet and utterly original – I especially love her friendship with Mr. Buckle, the oldest inhabitant of Cranbury.

Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics, Alisa Harris
I’m reviewing this for Shelf Awareness, so more to come – but I will say what I said on Twitter: this is a thoughtful, well-written and witty look at one girl’s journey from uber-conservative homeschooler to a moderate with lots of questions.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, Kathleen Flinn
Review in the Shelf to come – but I loved this tale of a Cordon Bleu grad and her class of nine volunteers, gaining confidence by practicing knife skills, making their own vinaigrette and learning how to roast a chicken. A down-to-earth foodie memoir, with delicious-looking recipes.

Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses, Claire Dederer
After reading Lindsey’s gorgeous review, I picked this book up at the library. It’s a hilarious, often sad, poignant exploration of yoga as it relates to life – growing up, becoming a mother, learning how to argue with your spouse, learning to deal with quirky relatives, and coming to terms with the sadness of an unstable childhood. Really well done. (As an ambivalent sometime yogi, I could relate to Dederer’s mixed feelings about the practice.)

Rufus M., Eleanor Estes
The third book about the Moffats – more and more fun, with a dose of wartime travails (chilblains, too little coal, not enough money). The Moffats’ hardships never dampen their spirits for long, though. And the last chapter is purely beautiful.

Viola in the Spotlight, Adriana Trigiani
I find Trigiani’s books compulsively readable, and this second installment in the Viola series was no exception. Viola, teenage filmmaker, has grown up a bit since her first adventure (Viola in Reel Life), and she’s back in Brooklyn, learning to juggle two part-time jobs, figuring out how to be there for her friends and navigating life with a guy BFF who may feel something more. Good stuff.

Don’t Sing at the Table: Life Lessons from My Grandmothers, Adriana Trigiani
Because I’ve read all of Trigiani’s novels and Cooking with My Sisters (see above), I knew the basic outlines of Trigiani’s family history. But oh, there were so many delicious details about Viola and Lucy, the grandmothers, and so many great lessons, from fashion tips to relationship advice to smart business sense. They were two powerhouse women, and their granddaughter writes about them with such love.

Time for the perennial question: What are you reading these days?

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