Sunday, January 1, 2012


The things I want to know are in books;
my best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ain't read.
Abraham Lincoln

I love food. I love to eat. I have a food blog, after all. But while all the other food bloggers are putting up lists of their favorite recipes of 2011…well, it did cross my mind to do the same, but somehow my mind always wanders back to books. You see, as much as I love food and as much as I am always eating, and I am, I rarely enjoy a meal or a snack without a book in my hand. Food and books have been enchantingly interwoven together in my life and my memories from the earliest of times, from the moment I could feed myself, hold a book in my hand and read. My own secret garden, I could lose myself for hours in a book; hidden places, faraway lands, each book was a doorway to exotic places I could travel to, people I could become, adventures I could experience even while never leaving the safety and comfort of my home. Shy, self-conscious ugly duckling that I was, with each story that I read I was magically transformed into a smart, self-confident, beautiful heroine. And the treasure, the handsome Prince, the wonderful meal on some Parisian quay would be mine every single time.

To read a writer is for me not merely to get an idea of what he says,
but to go off with him and travel in his company.
André Gide

A childhood spent with my behind securely wedged in the forked branches of a tree, sandwich in one hand, book in the other or scooched down in our big armchair, legs slung over one chair arm sideways, a plate of cookies perched upon the other within easy reach, no need to ever take my eyes from the page; getting up early for school to make and pack a brown bag lunch so I could save my lunch money in order to buy books (and maybe a bit of candy to enjoy while reading said books); Saturdays comfortably at home wandering up and down the aisles of the public library, flicking through the card catalog, breathing in the timeless, musty odor of old books, flying home, pedaling as fast as I could, with a bike basket packed with a week’s reading, the Ho Ho’s and Little Debbies just waiting for us all. I have always loved books, the magic and beauty of the written word. The years have flown by, faster than I would like but nothing has changed: books are still my joy, the breath in my body, the life that courses through my veins. I am never without a book (that is why my husband fell in love with me) and I rarely leave a bookstore without at least one purchase, I simply cannot stop myself. And happily I married a man as obsessed with books, if not more, than I. And one is still sure to find me reading – and eating – in my every spare moment. It’s rather Pavlovian; reading makes me hungry and, in turn, as soon as I pull a plate of something in front of me I crave something to read.

So while my fellow bloggers are offering lists of their favorite foods, recipes or photos, here am I offering something much closer to my heart: my favorite books of 2011.

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed,
and some few are to be chewed and digested.
Francis Bacon

What makes a cookbook a favorite, one I turn to again and again? My shelves are groaning under the weight and heft of more cookbooks than I can count, more than one person could ever need. And with all that I have to choose from, it seems that I continue to pull the same few out of the bookcase over and over again whenever the urge to cook or bake hits me. Tried, trusted and true, a well-thumbed cookbook, pages marked with sticky notes, old grocery receipts and time, stained with butter, chocolate and jelly (while reading over breakfast), these well-worn favorites must breathe simplicity in both style and recipes; I don’t need nor do I desire haughty, chi-chi or over the top. What I want and require are recipes for a home cook who doesn’t like fuss or complication, who often, but not necessarily always, loses patience if confronted with something too fiddly or time consuming, daunted and turned off by the thought of a long, fruitless trot around town looking for impossible ingredients. I love the traditional and the traditionally inspired no matter how contemporary, ethnic or exotic, my eaters, my men, wanting food both delicious and recognizable. And, of course, as both a writer and a reader, I want to find my cookbooks as delightful to read as to cook from, cookbooks filled with prose, stories inspiring me with a personal or cultural history of each recipe, from whom and whence it came and what it means to the author. I want to savor a delectable description of what I should expect when the food is on the plate, in my mouth, words that sing, narrative from which emanates mouthwatering odors, textures, colors and tastes.

Each of these cookbook discoveries of 2011 is all of that combined, a joy to sit over and read and a joy to cook or bake from:

1) Every Night Italian and How to Cook Italian by Giulian Hazan

One of these great Italian cookbooks, if not both, should be on your kitchen shelf in 2012! One uncomplicated, delicious recipe after another, from the most traditional to more contemporary twists on the…traditional, super talented chef Giuliano Hazan offers the best of his Italian kitchen and allows you to bring it to your own table with ease and simplicity to the ooohs and ahhhhs of a very appreciative audience. Giuliano’s wonderful books allow me to prepare one fabulous Italian dish after the next, bringing all the sights and sounds, odors and flavors of my fabulous years in that marvelous country, a country where I truly learned the value of good food, straight to my table with simple cooking that turns basic, fresh, seasonal ingredients into something delectable, homey yet luxurious all at once.

2) The Weekend Baker by Abby Dodge

Abby Dodge is like the Patron Saint of Home Bakers: every one of her no-nonsense, minutely explained, mouthwatering recipes, both savory and sweet, turns out perfectly, deliciously every time. The Weekend Baker is a cookbook for bakers of every level, a wonderful collection of homey, comfy recipes both old fashioned cozy and contemporarily cool for every occasion. I have baked from this book again and again and my family, the toughest of critics, gobble up every single treat every single time. (Read my complete review of The Weekend Baker on The Huffington Post).

3) Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoë François

As wonderful and successful as Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day allows me to prepare all kinds of pizzas, focaccia and flatbreads for my pizza- and foccacia-loving family with the same ease, rapidity and perfection. Both of these books turn out incredible and perfect yeast breads and treats of all kinds with minimal time and effort, even for the most yeast-challenged! Personally, I want to make – and eat – every single thing in this book! The only bread baking books you’ll ever need.

4) Southern Pies by Nancie McDermott

Southern Pies is a compendium of more than 60 stunning, delectable pies from the South, a neat and simple cookbook offering homey, comforting and nostalgic recipes sourced from some of the greatest bakers of the modern-day South, from professional to home bakers including Nancie McDermott’s own family and kitchen. Nancie’s own southern charm and heritage (and her contagious humor and generosity) shine through in every well-researched and thought-out recipe for pies for every season and every occasion, fruit, cream, custard pies and more! For the pie lover in all of us, with a kiss of the past.

5) Taste of Home Baking

Taste of Home Baking is yet another cookbook filled with recipes for cakes, pies, cookies, breads and more, both savory and sweet, that I quickly fell in love with. A gift from Taste of Home for our Plate to Page goodie bags, this is everything a baking cookbook should be: well-tested recipes for all levels of expertise, recipes that work every time, each one more tempting than the next! This is another book that now stays in my kitchen and is flipped through, recipes bookmarked, and baked from over and over again.

6) Jewish Holiday Cooking by Jayne Cohen

Alongside Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food, Jayne Cohen's The Gefilte Variations has always been my go-to cookbook for all the Jewish Holidays. Her updated Jewish Holiday Cooking is even better: a compilation of her already-published selection of fabulous, inventive, unexpected contemporary renditions and reinterpretations of Jewish classics with even more recipes. Her beautiful prose and magical storytelling enchant us with tales of her upbringing, she regales us deliciously with Jewish history and lore and tempts and titilates with extraordinary descriptions of each recipe, each dish. An absolute must for every Jewish - and non-Jewish kitchen.

Honorable Mentions: Cookbooks I have purchased or been offered as gifts in 2011 that have been on my desk waiting to be discovered with joy. Great reading…and cookbooks that promise the best.

La Cuisine de Vefa by Vefa Alexiadou
Kopiaste to Greek Hospitality (an e-cookbook) by Ivy Liacopoulou
Big Night In by Domenica Marchetti
In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark
Quick & Easy Chinese by Nancie McDermott
Cooking Up a Storm edited by Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker

A good library will never be too neat, or too dusty, because somebody will always be in it,
taking books off the shelves and staying up late reading them.
– Lemoney Snicket (Daniel Handler)

Curling up in bed or, better yet, sitting at the kitchen table, steaming mug of café au lait and a plate of cookies or a slice of cake before me, or snuggled into my corner of the sofa, bowl of popcorn in my lap with a really good book is my way to relax, wind down, refresh and reinvigorate. Nose buried in the pages of a novel I hide from my family, wind down from my work, escape from my worries. Memoirs that make me dream, that pull me into someone else’s world and that inspire me to write my own; books of letters, biographies or history that make me laugh, cry and think…these are what I turn to every day, my constant companions. I have read many books this past year, but these are the few that stay with me; the beautiful writing and the fascinating stories make each of these books “repeaters” – books that won’t gather dust on a shelf but will be read and savored over and over again.

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set,
I go into the other room and read a book.
– Groucho Marx

My requirements are strict; my expectations high: a perfectly constructed story from page one to the end; characters so written that they are loved or despised, pitied or laughed at, fallen in love with, empathized with or ridiculed just as they should be, as the author meant them to be. I crave masterful writing, masterful storytelling that makes my breath come in short gasps, my heart pound, writing that makes me feel yet also makes me think…and a book that, upon my closing the pages as I finish the story inspires me to not only want to pick it up and start it all over again but makes me want to write one just as good.

1) A Restaurateur Remembers by Michael Olivier

At first glance, a cookbook filled with wonderful South African recipes, yet this is a book written by master storyteller, chef and wine expert Michael Olivier, tales of his growing up on a Cape farm to his learning to cook and running some of the Cape’s most prestigious restaurants. people & places; wine & food… enchanting.

2) The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn

I wish I had had her experience in Paris and I wish I had written this book. Beautiful.

3) My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’Homme

followed by

As Always, Julia edited by Joan Reardon

Do I even need to explain?

4) Mostly True by Molly O’Neill

Gorgeous, vibrant writing, an amazing, entertaining tale by a truly talented woman.

5) Will Write For Food by Dianne Jacob

Why mention this book here? This past year, I purchased the updated version and it has accompanied me throughout the year, never out of reach, and will follow me well into 2012. As a writer, this is my guide and the book I turn to each step along my path to becoming a professional, published writer.

6) The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Brilliant novel, brilliant movie.

7) 97 Orchard by Jane Ziegelman

This book feeds both my passion for food and the history of food and my obsession with the history of my own Jewish family.

8) Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz

Just get it and read it! A fascinating, rambunctious, well-written and well-told story of Mr. Horwitz’ adventure wandering through the American South looking for the history and psychological remnants of the Civil War, spending much time with passionate, quasi-professional re-enactors and “hardcores”. Great fun and very informative!

9) Martin Chuzzlewitt by Charles Dickens

What? Yes, you see, no list is complete without my favorite book. I read it once a year. Passionately.

Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious,
for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.
– Gustave Flaubert

Wishing my friends, followers and readers a very Joyous, Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year. Thank you for your support, kind words, generosity and encouragement - and I invite you to continue this ride along with me in 2012.


WiseMóna said...

You are already a very professional published writer! I love this list of books. A lot of them I have never heard of so nice to make note of a few for my bedside table Happy New Year to you both and I can't wait to see where your journey takes you xx

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Thanks for sharing your favorite reads with us! A great list. Will go through it when I have more time...

Happy New Year!



Sanjeeta kk said...

You are absolutely right when you said that when most of the foodies are busy listing out what they cooked in 2011, you thought to post something different..list of your favotite cook books...the list is very interesting and informative.
Happy 2012 to you and yours, thanks for being there for me and for all your love and support. Looking forward to more of your wonderful write ups and recipes here.

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

Great list Jamie and full of a multitude of topics. I've read a few of in the list and I highly recommend Diane Jacob's book. I read her blog as you do and have learned so much from her about writing.

You've seemed to cover it all from Italian food, to baking and Julia's life in France to adventures of a cooking school in Paris. I've been to several re-enactments of the Civil War and I'm sure I would enjoy that book as well. We saw the movie The Help. I lived in the south a little before the time depicted and a woman very similar to some in the movie raised me as a small child. Thank goodness not every family treated their help like the one in the movie.

Thanks for sharing a list I shall keep to help me add to my ever expanding library.

Baker Street said...

Wow Jamie! This is such a lovely list! Really appreciate you taking the time to put this list of delicious books together. I've been eyeing a few for a while.
Wish you and JP a very happy new year!

A Thought For Food said...

There are a lot of books here that I haven't even heard of! Can't wait to check them out!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

My favorite cookbooks are the ones that wrap recipes in a good story. I read the books more than cook from them; that's true with all cookbooks. So the best really stand out. Thanks for this list -- so refreshing -- and I've already added some of these books to my list to read in 2012.

A Canadian Foodie said...

What a thorough list! My goodness - I wish I could get through as many books in a year - I get through some, and bits of others... I have read about 1/3 of those on your list and am most inspired to read some others now. And I agree with wisemonda - you are already an excellent writer. People with half your skill set get published here all of the time.
Happy 2012!

Nuts about food said...

Dear Jamie, I hope you had a wonderful holiday season with your family reunited. Wishing you a happy 2012 and thank you for this lovely list of books. Like you, I cannot live without them, cannot fall asleep with out reading a few pages. Ever.

Fresh Local and Best said...

Love that Francis Bacon quote. Tried, trusted and true recipes are what I seek too in a cookbook. This is an impressive list of recommendations for its breadth of cuisine and stories that bring life to the recipes. All the best in 2012!

Lora said...

A great roundup. Made me curious to check out several I haven't heard of. Thanks!

samovar said...

a great round-up! books and food-a dangerous combination! happy new year!andrea aka @3samovar

Ivy said...

Happy new Year Jamie. Thanks for including my e-cookbook in your list and will also check out the other books as well.

El said...

A wonderful collection to choose from this year. Thanks for the tips and Happy 2012!

Lisa said...

What a great twist on 'TOP' 2011. I read The Help and saw the movie - loved it. I used o read a novel a week -always with some kind of snack nearby, nd my collection of cookbooks is reaching 'insane'. Now that I've read your recommendations, insanity will soon turn to complete lunacy. I'm dying to check your favorites out!

Last night D and I were talking about Nooks and Kindles, and we both came to the conclusion that we like turning pages, we like the smell and ambiance of book stores and libraries. I pray none of the above become obsolete like so many other things in this rapid moving age of technology.

Finally, I'm so glad we got to know each other so much better in 2011, and 2012 will be the year we finally meet! SO looking forward to it! The comment you left was beautiful and perfect - the same sentiments are extended right back to you many times over. Happy New Year, my dear friend, and I can't wait to see YOUR book on the shelves in my library and every bookstore! xoxoxox

Magic of Spice said...

Wow that is quite a list, and so many here I have not seen yet. And love all of the quotes, especially Francis Bacon's...perfect!
Happy New Year!

Mairi @ Toast said...

Wonderful....more to add to the 'must have' list! Like you my shelves groan with the weight of books....cook books & all sorts, some so well worn they almost fall apart!

Nancy said...

I see I am going to have to add another bookcase to my office after reading this list! As an avid reader, I love booklists!

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen said...

Looks like I have a lot of reading to do! Some I've read but most I have not and must look into.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Great list Jamie! And now I have more books to look for! :D Happy New Year to you and your beloved!

La Table De Nana said...

What a great post..You have tempted me much..The first 3 G Hazan books seem like must haves..All the ephemera you added is great too..
Love Marilyn's photo..
I do love books also.
Thank you for taking the time to have put all this together in such a nice way.
All the best to you this year..I am sure I will be back to see his list..again and again:)

Elle said...

What a great, comprehensive list! I'm going to be adding several of these to my wishlist, I'm sure. Thank you!

Katrina {In Katrina's Kitchen} said...

Jamie I love this list. I'm a sucker for books too. My husband bought me a NookColor this past summer. I wasn't sure how I'd like it but I am hooked! Don't get me wrong- I will always love the feel of turning those pages between my fingers- but I am also enjoying the INSTANT access to almost any nook I want. INSTANT!!!! ;)

Priscilla - She's Cookin' said...

Your readers see you as a masterful writer, so we know with confidence that these books are must-reads if we can pull ourselves away from "Real Housewives" - kidding! Love My Life in France and have read a few of the others you listed. Been meaning to buy Diane Jacobs' book to aid me in my sophomoric attempts. Enjoy your writing, punctuated with nostalgic images and quotes, so much. May 2012 bring all that you wish for, Jamie!

bunkycooks said...

Hi Jamie. As always, what a thoughtful post and a great list of wonderful reads and cookbooks. I am looking forward to the day when I can compile one of these lists and your book is among them!! :-)

Anh said...

what a beautiful list Jamie! I love the recommendation of non-food books, too!

Rambling Tart said...

I love reading so much too, Jamie. :-) I have a stack of new treasures culled from local thrift stores that I can't wait to delve into. :-) Your list is inspiring!! I will have to check out the ones that intrigued me for sure. :-) Happy New Year, dear Jamie! :-)

Mary said...

Happy New Year, Jamie. I hope your holidays were wonderful and that 2012 brings only good things your way. Hugs and blessings...Mary

Jan said...

I think I will transform a few of your "best of 2011" books into my own 2012 reading list! Haha! I am so embarrassed that I had never heard of "As always, Julia"! I think it's going to be the 1st book I tackle this year, happily, with a bowl of popcorn, nestled in the corner of my sofa!

Maris (In Good Taste) said...

What a great post. You are a stellar writer as well as reader. I loved the photos

Jeanne said...

A great list - both the familar and the unfamiliar! I have a pile of books next to my bed waiting to be read - I think you've just added to it :)

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

What a fabulous list Jamie - such a nice change from the regular "best of" posts :)

Sandy said...

Hi Jamie,
great ideas for the new year!
Dianne's book is like an everlasting guideline. Never seen such useful hints.
Kathryn Stockett is now on the run. And I would like to recommend two new books: "Super natural every day" by Heidi Swanson and the spectacular "Girl Hunter" by Georgia Pelligrini. My highlight last year was "Tart Love" by Holly Herrick.
warmly, Sandy


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