At My Table … well, Nigella’s Table

OK, so the new Nigella is in hand and I have been perusing it – haven’t had time to cook or bake from it yet but that will come soon. I’m seeing a lot of warming, comforting things – and though she claims to not have a theme for each book, warming, home cooking IS rather a trait of hers. Nothing fancy or fussy here. Just as well since fancy and fussy are not my style.

I read cookbooks like other people read fiction, so I spend a lot of time (particularly on rainy days) thumbing through them and a well-written, well-produced book gets a lot return visits on days such as that in this household. Happily, this is one of those books.

Continue reading “At My Table … well, Nigella’s Table”

Armchair Travel for Foodies: A Bookshelf

I love to travel — well, not the airport part and increasingly not the airliner part. But the being there part. And I love to eat, learn about food, share what I’ve learned and then get up and do it all again the next day. These dual passions are very much at the heart of what I do. I write for both food and travel websites,  have a segment on the Jones on Food and Travel radio show, run the Fabulous Foodie blog as well as the Fabulous Foodie Facebook group and run a travel blog called Greater Gotham Going Global.

Sadly, like most people, I can’t always travel when I want (must try harder to win that lottery) and so I end up doing a lot of ‘armchair travel’ when not banking actual travel miles.

Luckily, there are a lot of other food and travel lovers with a passion and skill for writing who have shared their culinary wisdom. So there’s lots of material (travel guides, essays and memoirs, great cookbooks with a heavy helping of travel included, tv tie-ins, even inspirational fiction) to get us on our way – both in reality and virtually.

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Fabulous Finds for Your Favourite Foodie

It’s holiday time and once again we wrack our brains trying to come up with gifts that will be both appropriate and appreciated (and let’s be honest, not too expensive). For the foodie in your life, this usually comes in the shape of a cookbook or some culinary gadget. But how many whisks does one kitchen need (even whisks with egg heads or handles in the shape of pigs). So here’s a few ideas that might push the envelope a bit without breaking the bank.

normal_haribo-starmix-sweet-tree-square-vaseBBC Good Food has a gift guide – having gone out and collected links to products they like. You can search by category (baking, gadgets, kids, etc) or price range (and with 81 products under £15, it’s worth a look)

Not the High Street as quite a nice gifts for foodies selection that runs from £3 milk chocolate letters to a £170 monthly wine club membership. There’s a ton of reasonably priced goodies in between so even if you don’t find something for someone else, you might find a little something to treat yourself. Go on, you deserve it.

It’s sale season so it’s worth checking out the Gifts For Foodies at Lakeland. I admit that sometimes the prices here give me pause but during the holiday sale season, something a bit special is a bit more within reach.

I confess that my favourite thing at that particular site isn’t food-related at all. It’s the Grammar Grumble Mugs. I want ALL of them.

Naturally the newspapers, magazines and food websites have their round-ups as well but they seem, in the case of newspapers anyway, to be going for the goofy gadget angle or just see how pricey a list they can compile. But every now and again, there is something that sparks an idea.

fairy-tale-feasts-a-literary-cookbook-3451-p[ekm]250x250[ekm]Literary Gift Company has some unusual and fun cookbooks that you can almost guarantee your foodie won’t have:

Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook £20.00

The Bloomsbury Cookbook £24.95

The Jane Austen Cookbook £9.95

The Shakespeare Cookbook £10.99

Obviously this is just the tip of the holiday gift iceberg. I’ll be putting together other lists *(Cookbooks, Gadgets, Food Writing, etc) over the next couple of weeks. All out of the goodness of my heart, of course. And not because I just love online browsing. Not at all 🙂

Some later additions I found on other food blogs and are TOTALLY worth checking out

The Ultimate Foodies Christmas Gift Guide from FabFood4All

2014 Christmas Gifts for Foodies – Part 1 and of course, 2014 Christmas Gifts For Foodies – Part 2

Obviously this is just the tip of the holiday gift iceberg. I’ll be putting together other lists *(Cookbooks, Gadgets, Food Writing, etc) over the next couple of weeks. All out of the goodness of my heart, of course. And not because I just love online browsing. Not at all 🙂

Kitchen Full Of Books

I have a lot of books. I don’t say it to brag or complain. This is just a simple statement of fact. Another statement of fact is that I keep books everywhere.

In the living room – on shelves, table tops and stools. In the bedrooms on night stands, in closets, in bins under the bed. In the hallway (for fear of leaving the house without my keys AND something to read). In the bathroom, those books of trivia and essays one can dip into and set aside without being concerned about when it’ll get finished.

And of course, in the kitchen. (For clarity’s sake I should point out that the beautifully organized kitchen and kitchen books to the right are NOT my kitchen. I dream of such a kitchen. My kitchen and my books are more humble and not quite so fabulously lit). Food writing and culinary arts in one cupboard and cookbooks in the next. What about using all that potential food storage? Please. Food only lasts so long. Books are for a lifetime. There’s also a pile just outside the kitchen that I haven’t found a permanent home for yet… my kitchen library is starting to ooze out of the kitchen. Steps may soon need to be taken.

I don’t have massive piles of cookbooks (for that we must look to my mother – and I may do that one day soon) but I have what I consider to be a goodly pile. There are some classics (Joy of Cooking, Silver Palate, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, among others), some weird ones (Eat Tweet, Unofficial Lazy Slut Cookbook), some well known recent ones (How to Eat, How to Cook Everything, Real Food) and a few I’ve gotten as gifts (including one from someone I am going to assume meant well when they gave me “Cooking for One.”)

In addition to cookbooks, I have an equally treasured pile of books about food – food history, food trivia, food politics, books on other topics by cooks, etc. Books such as Devil’s Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee and the companion In the Devil’s Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food. Classics memoirs and essays from food writers like MKF Fisher (if you haven’t read How to Cook a Wolf you really should and if you can’t find that, get The Art of Eating). Books about foods long forgotten (The Land That Thyme Forgot) and food writers forgotten or never known such as Food of a Younger Land.

I won’t even think about what is going to happen next year when there is every possibility that my own library is going to be merged with that of another book lover and food geek. We’re gonna have some serious logistics to get through.

Hooray for Hot Chocolate Month!

I’ve been musing elsewhere about the snow.  Well, musing and whinging. So it was with great joy that I stumbled across the City Bakery calendar of flavors for the 2011 Hot Chocolate Festival (their annual Feb event). Don’t think there’s enough varieties of hot chocolate to fill a whole month – even if it’s a short month like February. Well behold!

The month kicks off with Banana Peel on Feb 1 – and frankly, I’m a bit hesitant about that but starting on Groundhog’s Day with Cinnamon we have a line-up I can really get behind. Espresso on Feb 3, Tropical on Feb 4 and Caramel on Feb 5. Fabulous.

Nothing can – or will – lift my snow-weary spirits like hot chocolate or cocoa. And while I do prefer to make it myself (and not from an envelope, thank you very much) sit curled up with it under a duvet, I do love City Bakery and I do find that while out and about in the wintery city, the hot chocolate urge can hit and hit hard so – looking forward to February and a month of yummy choices.

Food Writing via the WPA

July 15th is National Tapioca Pudding Day. I have nothing to say on the subject. No, seriously. I have never had tapioca pudding. I have no intention of trying tapioca pudding. I don’t even like the word ‘tapioca.’ Call it a peccadillo.

Food of A Younger LandWhat I’d much rather discuss is what I’ve been reading – in this case, Mark Kurlansky’s Food of a Younger Land. I first heard about the book when the author was interviewed on NPR and while I was interested in the topic (the subtitle is long enough to make description almost overkill —  “A Portrait of American Food Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants, and Before Frozen Food, When the Nation’s Food Was Seasonal”) I was particularly intrigued by the story behind the papers he describes – planned but never executed WPA writing project America Eats.

The book consists of a selection of the writings chosen by Kurlansky from the stash found at the Library of Congress along with his – well, annotations essentially. Not annotations in format per se but in intention. He either puts the piece or writer in context, or – in the case of some of the pieces (notably those from the Deep South) makes it clear that these remain as they were and were written in ‘Very Different Times.’

It’s not the comprehensive look at what America was eating at the time (as America Eats was intended to be). Oh sure, there is some of that – by virtue of the fact that the material being used. And I love the diner slang lists and the idea that there was a knock down drag out fight somewhere over mashed potatoes. Foodies With Views are always good for an evening’s heated debate. But I don’t think this book isn’t intended to reflect what America was eating at the time as much as was a look at the project that was undertaken, who was involved, what sort of obstacles and challenges they faced and – in the end, a glance at ‘What Might Have Been.’

And speaking of what might have been – I’m not sure America Eats would have lived up to the standards set by the American Guides travel writing project, which is was loosely patterned on. The contributors writing is as wildly uneven as their topics are broad – and there seems to be no template any of them followed. There are poems and lists, recipes and essays. Seemingly whatever the food muses prompted them to put down, they put down. I’m not sure how America Eats would have ended up – and possibly it isn’t fair to judge based on these pieces (as incomplete and rushed as they apparently were) which are all that remain of a project interrupted by Pearl Harbor. Quite a lot of them were raw research reports from the field and wouldn’t have appeared in this format in the finished product. The best parts of the book are, in the end, Kurlansky’s as he explains how this book came about, describes the history and intentions of the project and profiles some of the participants – those known at the time and unknown now as well as the then unknowns whose names are now familiar to us all.

Stocking the Foodie Bookshelf

Epicurious caught my eye with one of the oldest headline tricks in the book today. The old “top items list” stratagem. This time it was Top 20 Essential Wine Books.

I don’t even care particularly about wine and I felt compelled to look. Sure, it might be my love of all things bibliocentric but it’s partially because I love Top Ten Lists, Top 20 Lists, “Best of” shows etc. Imagine my glee when I saw that they had put this post together as a sequel or response to one from last week (while I was still on tidbit hiatus) called The 20 Essential Cookbooks. Now, I know our own Fabulous Foodie has strong feelings on the top cookbooks, the must haves etc. So I was thrilled to see this and look forward to what Fab has to say.

  • American Cookery (1996), James Beard
  • Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico (2007), Rick Bayless
  • Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (2004)
  • Classic Indian Cooking (1980), Julie Sahni
  • Complete Techniques (2001), Jacques Pepin and Leon Pererr
  • Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (1995), Marcella Hazan
  • How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food (2006), Mark Bittman
  • The Joy of Cooking (2006), Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker
  • The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook (2003)
  • Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts (1999), Maida Heatter
  • Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeuvres Handbook (1999), Martha Stewart
  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume One (2001), Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck
  • The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking: Techniques and Recipes (1996) Barbara Tropp
  • The New Food Lover’s Companion (2007), Sharon Tyler Herbst
  • The Oxford Companion to Wine (2007), Jancis Robinson
  • Rick Stein’s Complete Seafood (2004), Rick Stein
  • The Silver Palate Cookbook (2007), Sheila Lukins and Julie Rosso
  • The Thrill of the Grill: Techniques, Recipes, and Down-Home Barbecue (2002), Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby
  • Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (2007), Deborah Madison
  • The Way to Cook (1993), Julia Child

My own view: I was SHOCKED to see Nigella’s How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food not among the list (it’s frankly one of the best BOOKS over all in my opinion much less cookbook) but equally shocked to see the 2006 edition of Joy of Cooking. Not that the 2006 Joy is a hideous edition (that would the 1997 edition) but it’s certainly no 1975 edition, widely considered to be the best. I will say with complete prejudice however that the index for the 2006 edition is the best index of any edition produced to date. What? I said with complete prejudice. Can I help it if a project lands on my desk?

What books do you think belong on the foodie shelf? Cookbooks or otherwise.

Culinary Site Seeing

measuring cupsThe Cooking Calculator. Convert pounds to grams, gallons to liters, and Fahrenheit to centigrade. My favorite conversion – “wineglass to cup.”

If you liked Foodie Fight, you’ll want to check out Celebrity Chef! The Board Game.

And finally, the Great Chef’s of Turkey are uniting to “brand” Turkish food.

What on earth does that mean? I am glad you asked because I wondered myself. Apparently they will get together and designate basic principles of Turkish cuisine — cooking techniques, choice of ingredients etc. and then they will write “the constitution of Turkish cuisine.” Now, they can do what they like but it sounds slightly wacky to me.

Actually, it sounds like something the French would do.

Product Watch: Food Snob’s Dictionary

The Food Snob’s Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Gastronomical Knowledge
(Price: $10.36)

A holiday must. I’m planning to get several as gifts. You know how it is. All your foodie friends spend the next few months trying to outdo each other by throwing parties, dinners and brunches They say it’s to ring in the holiday season but you know the truth. They want their   Pancetta Crisps with Goat Cheese and Pear to triumphantly obliterate the memory of the competing host’s Sesame Crusted Scallops.