What books of this year (and years past) might make good gifts this holiday season? National Review Online’s recommendations of great books to go under the tree continues.
For food lovers and history buffs, William Grimes’s new book, Appetite City, (which I reviewed for the November 23 NR) is an exciting and meticulously researched book about New York’s rich culinary history. But it isn’t just New Yorkers who will enjoy it; everyone will take pleasure in Grimes’s imagery of New York’s early open markets and oyster bars and his amusing descriptions of some of the city’s food-related scandals.
For serious food-minded people, consider the revised and updated Larousse Gastronomique: The World’s Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia. At over 1,200 pages, it covers every imaginable question one might have in the middle of a food crisis. A good reference for any active home cook.
For a bit of kitsch, consider the The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl. The author, Ree Drummond, has written a blog — The Pioneer Woman — for years, recording her daily adventures on the ranch and in the kitchen. The recipes are basic and easy but they’re also good meat-and-potatoes fare that would satisfy the hungriest of ranch hands.
Looking for a gift for your mini Emeril or Ina? Consider The Silver Spoon for Children. Its adult companion — The Silver Spoon Cookbook – is considered by many to be one of the best works on Italian cooking. This new kids’ cookbook is a good gift for slightly older children looking for something beyond the wacky “green eggs and ham” and “peanut butter and jelly pancake” recipes so often included in children’s cookbooks. Kids will enjoy these slightly more sophisticated yet simple and delicious recipes — such as bruschetta, pizzas, simple pasta dishes, and creative Italian desserts.
Julia Child was 2008’s foodie It girl — best-selling books about her life, a high-grossing film starring an Academy Award–winning actress — Julia Child posthumously received the credit she deserved for educating the American cook. And while most of the attention has been focused on her seminal work, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child authored several additional books that would make a nice addition to anyone’s collection. In Julia’s Delicious Little Dinners: Six Perfect Small Dinner Parties to Share with Family and Friends, Julia offers lessons in entertaining, proper menu planning, and wine pairing. Similarly, Julia’s Casual Dinners: Seven Glorious Menus for Informal Occasions offers the reader a solid lesson in keeping it elegant even when it’s less formal. However, keep in mind, Child’s idea of casual is a bit different from today’s standards — she nonchalantly calls for chafing dishes to heat the items on one’s buffet table because doesn’t everyone own a own collection of chafing dishes? Nevertheless, the book offers a wealth of information and some solid entertaining tips.
If you’re looking for something besides a cookbook for that food-and wine-obsessed friend, how about a foodocentric board game? Foodie Fight is the Trivial Pursuit of the foodie set, and while the questions can be tough (“What shape of whisk is best for blending flour into fat?”), not all are impossible, making it a fun family game — even for your Hot Pocket–eating younger brother.
And if you’re trying to find some sort of cooking implement or a small food-related stocking stuffer, here’s an idea for a reasonably priced and very clever kitchen gadget. I’m generally not a gadget girl in the kitchen. I think a good knife and a proper pan are all one needs to cook a good meal. But I have to admit, I was impressed with this new find: the julienne peeler. While it looks exactly like a regular peeler, the julienne version has a serrated blade, so that when you drag it over a carrot, squash, cucumber, whatever, long skinny ribbons are released rather than the wider sheets. Julienning a vegetable can be a rather laborious task requiring time, patience, and pretty good knife skills. So save time (and a finger) with this peeler.
– Julie Gunlock, a former congressional staffer, is now a stay-at-home mom.
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON
Donald Kagan’s recently released Thucydides: The Reinvention of History is a different and much-welcomed take on the greatest of Western historians. Kagan, in methodical fashion, shows Thucydidean primacy in establishing history as a discipline — but then demonstrates how Thucydides’s own conclusions are not only often eccentric and at odds with popular consensus, but even contrary to the historian’s own evidence earlier adduced in his history. A fascinating read, whose implications go well beyond the Peloponnesian War.