Our favorite food books of 2011

Published by Friday, December 23, 2011 Permalink 0
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by Jonell Galloway


Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, by Maria Speck

My favorite cookbook of the year. Maria Speck knows how to incorporate ancient whole grains from around the world into dishes that remain rustic on the edges, but healthy, original and elegant at the same time. The technical explanations about ancient grains are excellent, as well as her explanations about general cooking techniques. The food stories she incorporates here and there about growing up in Greece and Germany add a touch of charm.

A must for any health-conscious real food lover who wants to eat interesting food combinations and dishes with a touch more sophistication that can pleasantly surprise guests, but not take them totally away from their references, because the dishes are for the most part influenced by Mediterranean cuisine.

For poetry-loving foodies:

The Poet’s Cookbook: Recipes from Germany, poems by 33 American poets with German translations

The Poet’s Cookbook: Recipes from Tuscany, poems by 28 Italian and American poets

I love the original concept of these books, pairing a food poem with a recipe. A poem by our Food Poetry Editor, Christina Daub, “Wine“, appears in the Tuscany version.

Farming: A Hand Book, by Wendell Berry

As a Kentuckian, Wendell Berry has forever been my mentor. He is, in my mind, the precursor of the Slow Food philosophy in the U.S., through the philosophy he has cultivated and spread for over 50 years now, well before Petrini and company started the Slow Food movement. Whether writing prose or poetry, he is always eloquent, and the same message of integrity, respect for others and for the land is the central message. This is one more inspiring book of poetry to add to our shelves of books to keep forever, that will comfort us in times of trouble, that we will pick up time and time again when we’re losing faith in humanity, devastated by the disrespect shown to the land, losing touch with our roots. Berry always says what he thinks in all his eloquence and with true gentillesse, but more than that, he lives the life he preaches, and that is consoling.

For food lovers, wine lovers, and culinary travelers:

Food Wine Rome, by David Downie and Alison Harris, published by The Little Bookroom, part of The Terroir Guides series

Food Wine Burgundy, by David Downie and Alison Harris, published by The Little Bookroom, part of The Terroir Guides series

Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light, by David Downie

David Downie writes wonderful articles for The Rambling Epicure and Alison does exquisite food photo exhibits for our Food Art section. I can never get enough of their work, because the writing is exquisite and full of literary and historical references, and the photos are truly art. Downie always shows you the insider’s view of whatever he writes about, and Alison has a great eye for catching the very essence of what they’re covering, whether it be truffle hunting or discovering little out-of-the way restaurants in isolated villages. You can never go wrong with their books.

For bread lovers:

Dictionnaire Universel du Pain, by Jean-Philippe de Tonnac

Jean-Philippe de Tonnac also writes for The Rambling Epicure, and has recently become THE bread writer all bakers want to meet. This book should in my mind be translated into English immediately. It offers a wealth of information about bread from time immemorial, covering techniques and breads from around the world, as well as spirituality, sex, gluten intolerance, bakers as poets, bakers as prophets and much more. “Encyclopedia” would be a more appropriate term than “dictionary”.

Mindful eating:

The Self-Compassion Diet: Guided Practices to Lose Weight with Loving-Kindness by Jean Fain

Jean Fain has tried every diet out there, so she can speak with authority about the subject of weight loss. She is also affiliated with Harvard Medical School as a psychotherapist, so she has the credentials to talk about the subject. Her book takes a totally different approach to weight loss than any I’ve seen. She doesn’t count calories and restrict what you eat. Her approach is instead through the mind, to become mindful of what we eat, when we eat (when stressed or lonely, for example), why we eat (out of need to nourish ourselves or out of boredom or frustration); to appreciate what we eat, and above all to be conscious of our entire relationship with food.

The book teaches you how to take control of yourself and your relationship to food so that you can change the way you think about food in general, so that eating becomes a totally different experience. Jean does this through loving-kindness, self-hypnosis, meditation and numerous other weight-loss approaches, which you follow gradually, not all in one go. She also offers a CD including guided meditations to help patients after they have stopped therapy.

Her main thrust is self-love, that we must not be too hard on ourselves, or we’ll fall back in to our old and bad habits quickly. The beauty of the book and CD combination is that you can live half way around the planet and still follow her method.

For lovers of literature: food essays and prose:

Slow Food: Collected Thoughts on Taste, Tradition, and the Honest Pleasures of Food, by Carlo Petrini and Ben Watson

This book consists of an anthology of articles by the world’s top food writers, making me remember the old days when we’d visit the family in the countryside and how I thought it odd that they grew all their vegetables themselves and knew how to can them; how they drank milk straight from the cow (one of my fondest childhood memories), and how we relished in those meals, how it built bonds between us. “Drawn from five years of the quarterly journal Slow (only recently available in America), this book includes more than 100 articles covering eclectic topics from “Falafel” to “Fat City.” From the market at Ulan Bator in Mongolia to Slow Food Down Under, this book offers an armchair tour of the exotic and bizarre. You’ll pass through Vietnam’s Snake Tavern, enjoy the Post-Industrial Pint of Beer, and learn why the lascivious villain in Indian cinema always eats Tandoori Chicken.”

For pastry makers and lovers:

Mich Turner’s  Masterclass: The Ultimate Guide to Cake Decorating Perfection, by Mich Turner, published by Jacqui Small LLP, London

Mitch Turner’s cake decorating book is worthy of a fine art book in its presentation, and of an encyclopedia in terms of the detailed explanations about cake decorating. Her pastry and cakes are truly works of art. A must for all pastry makers, whether professional or amateur.

Food art:

From Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography, by Hélène Dujardin

This book is special for many reasons. There are lots of people out there trying to learn food photography without a clue as to even the basic techniques required and no possibility of taking a food photography workshop. This is the book for them, because all the basics plus quite a lot more are explained in a clear, direct manner. It also verges on being an art book, because it is illustrated by Dujardin’s beautiful food photography.




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  • Jean Fain
    December 23, 2011

    I’m honored to be included in your holiday gift-giving article. The Self-Compassion Diet actually makes a special present to yourself any day of the year. As a gift to a friend or loved one, well, it’s a fine gift to those who are already somewhat self-compassionate. For someone sorely lacking in self-compassion, it’s possible that the recipient would take it the wrong way. More specifically, as if you’d written in the card: “Thinking of you and how much weight you need to lose!” In short, think before you gift! And happy holidays!!
    Jean Fain

  • Jean Fain
    December 23, 2011

    I’m honored to be featured in your holiday gift round-up. While “The Self-Compassion Diet” makes a special present to yourself any day of the year, think twice before giving it to a friend or a loved one. The last thing you want is for the recipient to react as if you’d written in the card: “Thinking of you and how much weight you need to lose!” I’ll be giving it to special friends and relatives who are already somewhat self-compassionate, but not those sorely lacking. Happy holidays!
    Jean Fain

  • Tony Armes
    July 27, 2012

    I also recommend “Home Economics” by Wendell Berry. It’s a compilation of fourteen essays dealing with community, travels abroad, national economy and much more.

    • Jonell Galloway
      July 30, 2012

      Thanks, I don’t believe I’ve read that one.