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The Malaysian Kitchen: 150 Recipes for Simple Home Cooking

Christina Arokiasamy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35 (352p) ISBN 978-0-5448-0999-4

Arokiasamy, a Malaysian native, professional chef, and cooking instructor, showcases a flavorful array of Malaysian dishes in this enticing and accessible collection. Heavily influenced by the country’s main ethnic groups—Malay, Indian, Chinese, Nyonya, and Portuguese—this cuisine often borrows ingredients from other cultures to provide an endless variety of flavors, as Arokiasamy’s welcoming dishes and flavors show. She includes a crash course in Malaysian history, highlights key items for a well-stocked pantry, and includes a useful and detailed spice chart that describes taste, aroma, health benefits, and uses for numerous spices. Dishes are grouped by flavor foundations, which include sambals and pastes, soups and salads, rice and noodles, and street food. The vibrant and exciting recipes include stir-fried bok choy with bacon and garlic; village fried rice with chicken and spinach; and pineapple sambal prawns. Desserts are plentiful and appealing, including chocolate cinnamon cheesecake and coconut-banana sponge cake. Arokiasamy also offers guidance on a variety of related topics including using a mortar and pestle, rice in Asian diets, and cooking with a wok. A mouthwatering introduction to Malaysian cooking, this book offers home cooks a wealth of delicious everyday meals sure to delight. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Jack’s Wife Freda: Cooking from New York’s West Village

Maya and Dean Jankelowitz. Blue Rider, $30 (256p) ISBN 978-0-399-57486-3

There are a pair of Jack’s Wife Freda cafes in New York, both owned by the Jankelowitzes and named for Dean’s grandparents. The menu, represented in this collection of breakfast, lunch, dinner and drink offerings, is both multigenerational and multicultural. Spelled out in a 12-page introduction, Jankelowitzes’ culinary influences include Ashkenazi comfort food and spicier Sephardic dishes, as well as regional inspiration from Israel, Johannesburg, and Greenwich Village. These recipes (crafted by Julia Jaksic, moonlighting from her executive chef role at the famed Employees Only), include a matzo ball soup made with duck fat; lamb tartare seasoned with capers, mint, and sriracha; and mustard seed–crusted tofu. The South African spice blend peri peri, with its mix of chili pepper, paprika, and brown sugar, turns up the heat on both chicken wings and chicken giblets. Either would pair well with a watermelon margarita that they call the Pink Guzzler, or a cantaloupe melon mimosa. The many color photos capture entrees in close-up, the restaurants filled with contented diners, and the happy couple enjoying their success. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Dinner: Changing the Game

Melissa Clark. Clarkson Potter, $35 (400p) ISBN 978-0-553-44823-8

Anyone seeking a cookbook for a 2016 time capsule should consider this volume by New York Times food writer and columnist Clark, which is designed to render evening meals enticing without excessive effort. It includes many of-the-moment ingredients, methods, and catchphrases, crispy chicken skin croutons in a roasted chicken salad, pizza crust based on dough used at Brooklyn pizzeria Franny’s, shades-of-Ottolenghi za’atar chicken with lemon yogurt, and a quinoa dish dressed with pomegranate molasses. A chapter titled “The Grind” includes coconut kafte kebabs, and seared sausage and rhubarb. Another on big salads features an escarole salad with crispy pimentón chickpeas and a runny egg. The green pea guacamole recipe that caused an uproar when it was published in the Times (President Obama weighed in via Twitter) also appears. Clark has skills beyond taking the temperature (with an instant-read thermometer, no doubt) of the eating zeitgeist: she is a crack recipe writer. Sharp, easy-to-follow instructions and helpful spreads on subjects such as cooking grains and using canned and dried beans round out this excellent volume. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen

Gonzalo Guzmán, with Stacy Adimando. Ten Speed, $30 (256p) ISBN 978-0-399-57828-1

Guzmán, chef at the Nopalito restaurants in San Francisco and native of the village of Catemaco in Veracruz, displays refreshing lack of pretension in this personal selection of 100 dishes that “have made the deepest impressions” on him. Chapter introductions are informative: “In the Mexican Kitchen,” for example, lays out three pillars of Mexican cooking (growing your own food, preserving food, using every scrap), and another piece describes how salsa writes a chef’s culinary biography. A primer on chiles and a guide to making masa are useful beyond the scope of this book. These dishes may be “humble,” but the author’s claim that many “are designed for easy weeknight home cooking” is often contradicted. The recipe for quesadillas rojas con chicharrónes requires the pork to braise for two hours, and readers will have to turn elsewhere to make salsa, ancho-corn tortillas (store bought is permitted), and pork rinds. Birria de res (a silky short rib stew with tomatoes) and enchiladas de mole poblano should be made a day in advance. The few simple sweets include camote enmielado, a sweet potato simmered in spiced syrup for an hour. The author’s welcoming affect and sure hand offer much-needed balance to these rewarding but sometimes challenging recipes. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Book of Greens: A Cook’s Compendium of 40 Varieties, from Arugula to Water- cress, with More Than 150 Recipes

Jenn Louis and Kathleen Squires. Ten Speed, $35 (328p) ISBN 978-1-60774-984-4

Louis, a Food & Wine Best New Chef and chef and owner of restaurants in Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles, and Squires, a winner of the M.F.K. Fisher Award for food writing, have written a comprehensive guide to over 40 varieties of leafy greens. The authors include helpful tips on how to choose, clean, and store the greens, along with often surprising nutritional information (for example, chrysanthemum leaves have more potassium per serving than a banana). The inspiring and unusual recipes make this book a great addition to anyone’s cookbook library. There are simple salads with complex flavors, such as mustard greens, aged gouda, and cashews, and carnivore-friendly main dishes that include chicken and pork belly paella with watercress and Yemeni braised beef short ribs with nettles. Cultures are mashed together in some of the recipes, with promising results: miso straciatella soup and an Italian-style kimchi made with Swiss chard both marry the flavors of Asia and Italy in a way that would make Marco Polo proud. Even a straightforward-sounding recipe such as Swiss chard frittata is bumped up to the next level with the addition of crème fraîche, pancetta, and kimchi. For the CSA-produce subscribers and enthusiastic farmers market shoppers who find themselves staring cluelessly at piles of unknown greens each week, Louis and Squires’s book is a boon. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Sea Is Quiet Tonight: A Memoir

Michael H. Ward. Querelle, , $19.99 ISBN 978-0-9967103-3-6

In his heart-wrenching debut memoir, former psychotherapist Ward provides an intimate portrait of the early days of the AIDS epidemic through the lens of his romantic relationship with the sea-loving Mark Halberstadt, the 100th patient in Massachusetts to be diagnosed with the disease. Following their chance encounter on Fire Island, a “combination of Mecca and Oz” for gay men in the 1970s and early ’80s, their infatuation blooms into a long-distance courtship between the East Coast and Florida before the tragic turn in Mark’s health. Ward’s attention to detail proves invaluable in documenting the anxiety of these uncertain years, when mysterious stomach pains and fevers suddenly progressed into fatal conditions that “arrived like lightning bolts.” The book includes important glimpses into the emerging AIDS subculture—such as Louis Hay’s first support groups and the founding of Boston’s AIDS Action Committee by Larry Kessler—but the disease is secondary to how romantic love and commitment are strained when confronted with the unimaginable. “I feel like a leper,” Mark says from his hospital room, which is labeled “Precautionary Isolation”; visitors are required to wear gowns, gloves, surgical caps, and masks. Ward never hesitates when peering into the abyss of this traumatic time, and the result is a courageous and necessary addition to the canon of AIDS literature. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Train Through Time: A Life, Real and Imagined

Elizabeth Farnsworth. Counterpoint, $25 (156p) ISBN 978-1-61902-843-2

Filmmaker and PBS foreign correspondent Farnsworth packs a life’s worth of pain and self-discovery into a slim memoir that fuses fiction and memory. The narrative shifts between a train trip nine-year-old Farnsworth took with her father in 1953 (from Topeka to San Francisco, following the death of her mother) and various conflict zones the adult Farnsworth covered as a journalist, from Chile on the brink of the coup in the 1970s to Iraq in 2003. The scenes of destruction abroad are chillingly real—Farnsworth describes, in haunting detail, meeting Chilean parents whose children were “disappeared” by Pinochet’s regime and likely met grisly ends—but she admits at the very end of the book that the train journey is largely a product of her imagination, a way for her to explore the deep sense of loss she still carries for her mother. In her narrative, the train becomes stranded in the snow for days and she and another little girl learn that a famous horse is on board and get to ride it. Readers will forgive Farnsworth’s admission that she “didn’t resist the imagining when it began” only because she’s such an able storyteller and her tale of loss, suffused with a child’s desire to attach meaning and reasoning to death, is so universal. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Six Encounters with Lincoln: A President Confronts Democracy and Its Demons

Elizabeth Brown Pryor. Viking, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-0-670-02590-9

The late historian and diplomat Pryor (Reading the Man) left behind a manuscript that will cinch her legacy as a creative scholar. She uses six little-known interactions between American citizens and President Lincoln—either individually or in groups—as a means to parse the president’s thoughts on important political issues. What makes the encounters particularly fascinating is that the participants recorded them at the time, so they remain uncolored by the sentimentality of post-assassination remembrance. Pryor is intrigued by the ways in which the encounters demonstrate how Lincoln “both responded to and helped shape a new way of looking at democratic inclusion, not necessarily because he wanted to but because he had to.” An uncomfortable meeting between U.S. Army officers and their new commander-in-chief in March 1861 serves as an exploration of Lincoln’s abilities as a military leader. The recounting of a nearly botched flag-raising during the christening of a new Marine bandstand launches a meditation on what Lincoln’s storytelling abilities meant for his presidency. Meetings with the Cherokee leader John Ross and the writer Harriet Beecher Stowe show the president profoundly uncomfortable around people who weren’t white men. Pryor’s impressive final book will be of great appeal to legions of Lincoln aficionados. Illus. Agent: Deborah Grosvenor, Grosvenor Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation

Daina Ramey Berry. Beacon, $27.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8070-4762-0

In this “financial recapitulation of black bodies and souls,” Berry, associate professor of history and African and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin, examines how slaveholders ascribed pecuniary worth to women, men, and children. Slavery took many forms across the antebellum U.S., but all enslaved people experienced their reduction to the status of chattel, bought and sold at their owner’s will. Yet surprisingly little scholarship has examined the monetary value of these individuals, whose worth increased from infancy through adolescence, peaking at the height of their productive and reproductive capacities, and declining steadily to the point where the elderly were considered nearly valueless. Upon their deaths, they might regain some financial significance, as the bodies of many were sold to medical schools for purposes of dissection. Crucially, Berry also delves into the annals of slave communities to explore the emotional strategies by which the enslaved resisted their reduction to an “exchangeable commodity,” centering their lives on spiritual beliefs that defined the soul, rather than the body, as the true location of their individuality. Berry’s groundbreaking work in the historiography of American slavery deserves a wide readership beyond academia. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Portable Cosmos: Revealing the Antikythera Mechanism, a Scientific Wonder of the Ancient World

Alexander Jones. Oxford Univ., $34.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-19-973934-9

Jones, professor of the history of exact sciences in antiquity at NYU, exhaustively analyzes the famed Antikythera mechanism, a mysterious bronze astronomical device of ancient Greek origins that many modern commentators thought exceeded the technological capabilities of its time. After recounting how it was found in 1901, Jones discusses the investigations and initial theories about the mechanism’s nature and origins. With this foundation set, he delves into its historical context, addressing culture, religion, astronomy, technology, and more. These chapters, which make up the book’s bulk, provide a surprisingly vivid picture of Mediterranean and Mesopotamian cultures at the time of the mechanism’s likely creation, around 200 B.C.E., and dispel the myth that the mechanism was somehow ahead of its time by explaining the apparent reasons for its multiple functions, which include a zodiac scale, an Egyptian calendar scale, a Moon phase display, and means to track planetary motion. Moreover, Jones includes painstaking technical descriptions and diagrams of the materials, construction, and probable inner workings of the mechanism, making clear that the scientific knowledge and craftsmanship of the day was sufficient for its design and manufacture. Though Jones’s dense and straightforward prose makes this closer to a textbook than a popular science book, his comprehensive look at the Antikythera mechanism and its context will suit readers interested in the mechanism or the history of science in general. Illus. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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