The holiday season is well upon us, and I thought I’d share some stocking-stuffer gift ideas for my readers. If you enjoy reading My Life in Food, than you might consider any or all of these books/films, which represent some of my favorites.
1. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan – For the nutrition-minded foodies, this book doesn’t contain any recipes, but it does provide a thoughtful discussion of food-eating patterns in the past 50 years, and draws some thought-provoking hypotheses about America’s eating habits and the cost of healthcare. Pollan’s writing style is compelling, and his suggestions for what and how to eat could spark some New Year’s resolutions.
2. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – I seriously read this book every year, and usually in the winter when the vegetation is, well, dormant, to help me get excited about planning for the spring. Kingsolver describes her first year of growing most of her own food (and getting the rest locally) with her family on an inherited Virginia farm. Many of the anecdotes are hilarious (my favorite details Kingsolver’s attempts to get her heritage breed turkeys to mate), others are touching (such as Kingsolver’s local birthday party), and still others are inspiring, especially to someone who enjoys (or dreams of) gardening, DIY-ing, or eating locally fresh foods. Best of all, she shows us that producing your own food is doable and even includes some recipes.
3. The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn – Though the title sounds a bit like a horror story, this account of a successful corporate executive who left her job and moved to Paris to follow her dream of attending the famous culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu, is perfect for the home chef who enjoys a good story and dreams of something bigger than his/her home kitchen. Flinn includes recipes in each section that correspond with a particular story of her journey through the rigorous program.
4. Julie and Julia (the film) – I have not yet read the book that inspired this movie, but the film is definitely worth owning. It’s a cute story about a woman stuck in a small apartment and a dead-end job in New York who turns to blogging when she decides to make every single recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year’s time. In so doing, she learns a lot about Julia Child’s life, and begins making comparisons between their lives and carrying on “conversations” with the spirit of Julia Child as she cooks. Two reasons I’d recommend the film over the book even though I haven’t yet read the book: 1) the shots of the food that is made are mouth-watering (and the actors really eat!); and 2) the acting is quite good, but the star is obviously Meryl Streep’s interpretation (not imitation) of Julia Child. Overall, an inspiring story that shows us no matter how busy or stressful our lives get, we can always find time to cook something.
5. Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver – I’ve talked about this cookbook before, but I’m recommending it again here. It is geared towards beginners and experienced cooks alike, sharing recipes that are simple, fresh, and exciting. Plus the photos in the book are absolutely killer and will make you want to try every single recipe. I received this book last year for Christmas and have thoroughly enjoyed it.
6. Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois – I talk about this book literally more than any other cookbook I own. And I
use it almost every day memorized the ratios of the recipes I use most frequently. This book empowers you to bake your own bread, and it’s so easy. When I was younger (say, like, 12 years old), I had this vision that my future kitchen would be covered (floor and wall) with black and white tiles with white cabinetry and would have a long island (isn’t that every 12 year-old’s dream?). Most importantly, my house would always smell of freshly baked bread. Always. Every day. But until I got my first bread machine, I worried that this vision semi-permanent fragrance would never become a reality–who in the working world has 3+ hours to devote to baking every day? Not I, said the goose. But I loved the smell of bread baking in the oven (heck, even the smell of the dough was appealing) when I was little, and I still love it today. After my bread machine wore out, I stumbled upon this option and I haven’t gone back once. I make all our bread now. I know what goes in it and I can control when I need it (so it doesn’t go all stale on me or have to worry about preservatives) and what kind. Also makes great gifts for co-workers, so really, this book is the gift that keeps on giving.
7. Smitten Kitchen Prints – You may have caught on by now that one of the food blogs I read regularly is Smitten Kitchen. Deb also happens to be a fantastic photographer, and you can buy prints of her work online. I’m thinking of getting a few and creating a display of some sort in our dining room (hint, hint, Alex…) but it’s so difficult to choose! In any case, the possibilities for using food photography are nearly endless. Group a few together to create a framed collage on a wall in places that are food related, such as the dining room or kitchen; I read in a feng shui book this summer that it’s good to hang pictures or art of food in the eating space because it creates the illusion of more abundance (and stimulates the appetite?). Or, use them as abstract art in any other room in your house. Find prints of a food from start to finish and create a series piece (e.g., apples, sliced apples, pie crust, and apple pie would make a lovely 4-part series). You might find similar food artists on Etsy, but Smitten Kitchen’s are truly one-of-a-kind.
8. Eat Tweet by Maureen Evans – (last-minute addition) This book was given to me as an early holiday gift this year, and it’s simply an ingenious, and dare I say, historical work. This is a collection of recipes that have been posted on Twitter. That means that each recipe is, in its entirety, 140 characters or less (that includes spaces!). For example, “pound4bonelessbreast1/4″;dredge w c brdcrmb/s+p.Brwn+T oil&buttr.Add to 3c simmring TomSauce; +c parm.Broil; +T parsly.” Can you figure out what this is a recipe for? It’s Chicken Parmesean! Of course, this would probably be most appreciated by someone who uses or is at least familiar with Twitter. And it would probably be most used by someone who already knows his/her way around the kitchen as such a person would be more likely to be able to decipher the abbreviations that are made. But Evans does a pretty good job of including cooking tips and explanations in between the recipes, which might make up for any explanatory notes that might ordinarily find themselves in a full-length recipe. All in all, this is really a unique book, and it’s certainly entertaining to read. (But if you’d rather just follow on twitter, the handle is @cookbook).
So there you have ’em. My top 8 recommendations for informative and entertaining food-related holiday gifts this year. I tried to include a variety of genres of “kitch lit,” but maybe I overlooked something? What are you gifting this year to the cooking enthusiast(s) in your life? What snazzy gadgets have you found? Anything food-related that you are secretly hoping to receive? (I’m getting ready to work on some tasty treats for gifts – are you making anything this year?) Leave a comment and spill! (But you might consider leaving your comment anonymously if you’re worried about giving away Santa’s secrets.)