There are certain books that I seem to pull out every year. They come to mind around the holidays, they are not necessarily about the festivities per se, they are about a feeling of warmth and community that I equate with the holidays. I've reread each of these books in the past few weeks, as the weather grew colder and the smell of gingerbread began to permeate the air. These publications are not about food science or haute cuisine, these books are about down home goodness and old fashioned comfort foods. Because that's mostly what I'm cooking for the holidays because that's what the people at our table really want to eat. Special meals at this time of the year are as much about memories and traditions as they are about cooking.
I was reading Arthur Schwartz's New York City Food just last night. It's a must for anyone who has grown up in New York or who has ever lived here for any significant amount of time. I feel like I grew up listening to Arthur Schwartz's Food Talk on WOR radio. Although I was not living in the city when he went off the radio, I was bereft at the idea that his voice was gone. His food tips and restaurant talk enlivened many a traffic jam over the 13 years that he was on the air. Who better to write a history of New York restaurants, complete with a variety of recipes for things you can no longer find on the streets of the city? It is a wonderful cookbook and reminiscence that I would recommend to anyone who loves food.
Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin are two of the best cookbooks ever. She was a wonderful writer of both fiction and food and these two books were my introduction to her work. I picked up More Home Cooking first and as soon as I finished it I headed out to the store to buy Home Cooking. The recipes are easy and delicious and the voice is irrepressible and unique. These are books to curl up with and enjoy. I come back to them periodically just because they are the kind of books that just make you feel good.
Miriam's Kitchen by Elizabeth Ehrlich is a different kind of food memoir. I have always been fascinated by how closely food is tied into the Jewish faith and traditions. In this book the author describes her uneasy relationship with the idea of Kashrut and her denial of and subsequent embrace of the Jewish dietary laws. Although this may sound a bit dry, the central theme is wrapped in stories of family, food, and a dawning self-awareness that people of any faith can relate to. The recipes are traditional and each one tells a story. It is not a religious book, instead it is a book about relationships and love.
This time of year my go-to guy is John Thorne. He is probably one of my very favorite writers. I found his first book Simple Cooking many years ago and never looked back. That one and Outlaw Cook are still my favorites, although over the years I have collected them all. His writing is thoughtful, whimsical and well researched. He writes about whatever he is passionate about at that moment and he draws you with him into his culinary obsessions. He and his wife, Matt Lewis Thorne, publish a newsletter, also called Simple Cooking, that theoretically is published quarterly, but in reality seems to come whenever the mood strikes. No matter, it is worth the wait. Every so often he collects all of these newsletters and a few other writings and publishes a new book. Their latest, Mouth Wide Open: A Cook and His Appetite, recently hit the bookstores and I expect that by Christmas morning I will have a copy in my hands. In the meantime I will go back and refresh my memory on how to make stifado or clotted cream or simply flip open the pages and visit with them for a while in Castine or Louisiana or Northampton or anywhere else the two of them may be.