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Sour: The Magical Element That Will Transform Your Cooking

Mark Diacono. Hardie Grant, $35 (288p) ISBN 978-1-78713-226-9

In this clever outing, British author Diacono (A Year at Otter Farm) posits that as “our wild affair with sugar” wanes, our love of sourness grows, then offers lip-puckering suggestions. Diacono devotes a sizeable chunk to narrative instructions for making yogurt, vinegar, and sourdough bread. One catchall chapter, titled “Small Things,” features focaccia topped with gooseberries and sage as well as classic hollandaise sauce and pickled quince; the remaining four cover main courses; sides, salads, and soups; desserts; and beverages. Diacono employs a chatty yet authoritative throughoutvoice as he suggests an artful meshing of flavors: a salad of halloumi cheese, mango, and arugula with spicy tamarind dressing is, for instance, “a fine tumble” of textures. Desserts include buttermilk pudding with roasted rhubarb and sour lemon-drop candies. Rounding out this collection are bracing vinegar-based cocktails called shrubs (one with lime, ginger, cider vinegar) and a drink that originated at Brooklyn’s Bushwick Country Club called a pickleback (a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice), which the author admits is a “total non-recipe; more of a suggestion, like ‘Wear a hat when it’s sunny.’ ” This quirky collection of solid recipes will entice home cooks. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Serial Griller: Grillmaster Secrets for Flame-Cooked Perfection

Matt Moore. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-358-18726-4

Despite the title being as unfortunate as his last (The South’s Best Butts), Moore thankfully keeps the puns to a minimum in this hearty collection of 125 “killer” recipes. The book is divided into three parts: The first is a short and basic overview of the art of cooking with fire, and covers various types of grills, charcoal, and accessories. Moore hits the road in part two, visiting a dozen grillmasters, primarily in the South, and profiling their eateries and supplying recipes for their specialties. The results are surprisingly and delightfully multicultural; there is octopus souvlaki from the Greek eatery Greko in East Nashville; Southeast Asia–inspired cajun-grilled pig tails from Marjie’s Grill in New Orleans; and an Israeli chicken shishlik with green garbanzo masabacha and gribenes from Zahav in Philadelphia. The third part contains Moore’s own recipes—eight different salads including a grilled Caesar in which both croutons and lettuce are charred; bayou pizza that’s topped with andouille and smoked gouda; and, for dessert, grilled-doughnut ice cream sandwiches bring fire to icing. In the debate between charcoal and gas cooking, Moore leans toward the former, offering in-depth directives for venting and lighting coal in each recipe. Variety is the spice of this lively and flavorful harbinger of spring. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants

Jennifer Jewell. Timber, $35 ISBN 978-1-60469-902-9

Jewell, host of the radio program and podcast Cultivating Place, offers a fine collection of profiles of women involved with horticulture. Though gardeners predominate, Jewell’s subjects also include newspaper columnists, photographers, educators, floral designers, farmers, and entrepreneurs, all of whom have a passion for sharing their love of the natural world. Some, such as Carol Bornstein, director of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s garden program, work to preserve rare plant species. Many talk specifically about environmental issues, as when designer and flower farmer Ariella Chezar discusses minimizing “the often toxic (to people and land) growing practices” of her industry. Others approach gardening as a tool for social justice. For instance, landscape designer Leslie Bennett works to create, in Jewell’s words, “garden spaces that center on people of color” and provide welcoming spaces to them. Beth Tuttle, president of the American Horticultural Society, sums up the book’s ethos best when she says “We are, and need to continue, moving our cultural understanding of gardening and our relationship to plants from nice to necessary.” Jewell provides generous lists of additional resources and beautiful photos of each woman and her work. This volume should be inspirational to anyone working with plants. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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H A Radically Practical Guide to Conscious Eating: Making Food Choices That Are Good for You, Others, and the Planet

Sophie Egan. Workman, $16.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-5235-0738-2

Egan (Devoured: How What We Eat Defines Who We Are), a contributor to the New York Times’s Well blog, offers a “radically practical” approach to eating both ethically and well in her insightful book. Using a three-question framework—asking whether something is good for oneself, for others, and for the planet—Egan presents thought-provoking ways to consider food choices, such as how much water a particular food item requires to produce. For instance, a handful of almonds require 23 gallons of water, while a stick of string cheese needs less. But cheese’s carbon footprint is higher, and the nuts are healthier. Or one could opt for peanuts, which use less water than other nuts and are more affordable to boot. The section on seafood encompasses not only safety (via checking Seafoodwatch.org) but the effect on ocean habitats as well as fair wages for fishermen. Egan displays a talent for making the environmental complexities of food choices comprehensible, so that even discussions of food waste intriguing. Setting a positive and encouraging tone throughout, she provides a thorough primer to combining health consciousness and environmental responsibility. Agent: Danielle Svetcov, Levine, Greenberg, Rostan Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Early: An Intimate History of Premature Birth and What It Teaches Us About Being Human

Sarah DiGregorio. . Harper, $27.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-282030-3

After giving birth at 28 weeks, food writer DiGregorio (Adventures in Slow Cooking) wanted to better understand her experience; the result is this compassionate exploration of preterm birth. Along with personal recollections of “the impossible, science-fiction smallness” of her one-pound, 13-ounce baby, DiGregorio describes the technologies, such as incubators and ventilators, that have improved survival rates for premature infants, and the improvements in care, such as a greater sensitivity to brain development, that have improved their quality of life. She also poses urgent, and as yet unresolved, questions, such as why African-American women have the highest rates of preterm birth, or at what point a preterm baby can still be considered viable—the latter question confronting parents with the agonizing choice between “active and comfort care.” Sensitively approaching the myriad practical and ethical challenges involved in caring for such fragile babies, DiGregorio gives vivid, individualized portraits of struggling parents, premature infants who developed into thriving children, and the specialists dedicated to helping them. Reassuringly emphasizing that most preterm babies develop into happy, fulfilled children, DiGregorio delivers a candid yet gentle work with appeal for prospective parents and anyone interested in “what premature birth [can] teach us about being human.” (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Little Gardener: Helping Children Connect with the Natural World

Julie A. Cerny. Princeton Architectural, $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-61689-860-1

Gardener and debut author Cerny advocates for “ecological literacy” in this appealing guide for adults trying to interest children in gardening. “If we don’t understand where natural resources come from, how can we ensure they will always be there for us?” Cerny asks. Her curriculum for remedying this defect covers designing, planting, and maintaining a garden, concentrating on ways to “garden like nature” (such as “companion planting, which simply means planting two or more species of plants close together to benefit at least one of them”) and feel more connected to the land. Very much following a textbook model, Cerny creates detailed plans for learning activities, chapter reviews, and previews of each upcoming lesson. Her easy-to-follow explanations of such topics as ecosystems and soil erosion (“losing soil faster than nature can replenish it”) should be illuminating for adults as well as kids. In addition to horticultural info, Cerny also dispenses some pointers on working with children with different learning styles. This informative and helpful primer will help grown-up gardeners inculcate a lifelong love of the natural world in young minds. With color illus. by Ysemay Dercon. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Modern Flexitarian: Plant-inspired Recipes You Can Flex to Add Fish, Meat, or Dairy

The Editors at DK. DK, $30 (256p) ISBN 978-1-46549-246-3

This enticing cookbook offers new options for those who eat plant-based meals, but still occasionally integrate meat or fish. Keeping in line with a Flexitarian diet, the recipes are primarily vegetarian and include tips for making the dishes vegan as well as suggestions for possible meat additions. Basic recipes such as vegetable stock, yogurt, fresh pasta dough, and nut milks (from almonds, hazelnuts, or cashews) give cooks a solid foundation to build upon. Breakfast options such as lentil cream cheese tartines, spinach and artichoke quiche, and black bean breakfast tostadas are familiar and comforting. Burgers and tacos are somewhat nontraditional but nonetheless appealing, including black-eyed pea sliders with pico de gallo, and Greek white bean tacos (to which shrimp or chicken can be added). Appetizing salads and soups abound, but the volume really shines with its baked dishes and casseroles, which include braised chickpeas with preserved lemon; zucchini, herb, and lemon tagine; creamy fontina and truffle lasagna; and baked lentil–spaghetti squash. Readers looking to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diet will find plenty of tasty options. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Meals, Music and Muses

Alexander Smalls, with Veronica Chambers. Flatiron, $35 (240p) ISBN 978-1-250-09809-2

Chef Smalls, a Grammy-winning opera singer and New York City restaurateur, shares more than 75 Creole and Low Country recipes in this passionate and clever collection. With food writer Chambers, Smalls creates a “playlist” of “essential African-American dishes” in which each chapter is inspired by a different musical tradition. The chapter entitled “Spirituals” provides a bounty of comfort food, heavy on pasta and rice (Gullah rice; buttermilk mac and cheese), while the “Gospel” chapter is a garden harvest filled with okra, corn, and beans (fried okra, and a corn-catfish soup with bacon and mint). “Gravy is the ambassador of flavor for the taste buds,” Smalls proclaims, and indeed it is put on heavy rotation, as are a variety of sauces (many of which are spiked with bourbon) intended to intensify entrees like roast quail in bourbon cream sauce. Other standout fare includes prime rib roast with crawfish onion gravy in the “Diva” chapter, and a blackberry cobbler included in the concluding “Sweet Serenades” section. Home cooks are sure to give this excellent recipe collection a standing ovation. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Kitchen Without Boundaries: Recipes and Stories from Refugee and Immigrant Chefs

The Eat Offbeat Chefs. Workman, $24.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-5235-0404-6

Founded in 2015, Eat Offbeat is a New York City catering company with revolving menus created by immigrant and refugee chefs, whose eclectic and inventive cuisine is showcased in this delightful collection of 70 flavor-packed recipes. Dishes range from the familiar (samosas, hummus, and fried plantains) to such ingenious riffs as Nepali Pizza (a flatbread-like dish with bell peppers, cheese, and a hot and sweet chili sauce atop a spice-laden semolina crust); a sumac salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion dressed in an herby lemon-sumac vinaigrette); and two takes on classic baklava (as a Iranian cake, and in the form of a jelly roll, from Iraq). Each entry is described in detail (and with ingredients likely found in the cupboard), ensuring readers have an understanding of a dish’s flavors, as well as its cultural significance. Biographies and photos of many of the book’s contributors, from Iran, Algeria, Sri Lanka, and Eritrea, are included, adding depth and insight into the immigrant and refugee experience. Informative and engaging, this volume is sure to inspire home cooks. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Artful Embroidery on Canvas: Get Creative with Thread, Fabric, Paper, Acrylic Mediums & More

Irene Schlesinger. . C&T, $21.95 trade paper (64p) ISBN 978-1-61745-884-2

The worlds of canvas art and embroidery merge in this thorough debut guide from Schlesinger, a Bay Area artist. Beginning stitchers will benefit from the “Stitching on Canvas” section, which explains how to make basic stitches, while advanced stitchers can find inspiration in the visual gallery of finished pieces. Large, attractive color layouts show the variety of materials used, such as thread, floss, and yarn. In addition to going over technique, Schlesinger gives suggestions on finding inspiration for projects, and on incorporating other mediums, such as glass bead gel. She outlines three sample projects—Start with a Heart, which uses paper and fabric on canvas; Calavera, a Day of the Dead–themed sugar skull made with embellishments like charms and mirrors; and Butterfly, which involves painting canvas—providing pictures of the finished products and step-by-step instructions for making them. These steps make each project suitable for beginners, but Schlesinger also provides variations for those desiring further ideas and challenges. Finally, Conner draws on her exhibition background for a detailed section of “Tips on Showing Your Art.” The result is a well-presented guidebook that those interested in artful embroidery will find inspiring. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/15/2019 | Details & Permalink

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