Make Your Holiday One For The Books

Dec 13, 2017

Credit jspatchwork / Flickr

Need a perfect gift that’s guaranteed to fit? One that doesn’t pack on the calories, get stale, or break if you drop it?

Of course you do. But you don’t want to grab just anything from the best seller list. Here at WFAEats we’ve been digging in our seasonal stacks for new and unusual books that will delight anyone with an appetite for food and the stories that make it special. So take a look at this delicious sampler we’ve selected.

The Farmhouse Chef: Recipes and Stories from My Carolina Farm is the first book from Durham restaurateur Jamie DeMent. She and her partner Richard Holcomb are proprietors of the 55-acre Coon Rock Farm in Hillsborough, and this lovely book contains recipes, stories, and lore that showcase the importance of their dedication to sustainable farming and foodways. Cornmeal-Dusted Okra, Tomato and Fresh Herb Pie, and Sage-Rubbed Pork Chops represent the best of Carolina cooking, especially when accompanied by no-nonsense advice from DeMent. “Don’t go to the grocery and buy something that says ‘other white meat.’ Go to the farmers’ market and buy real pasture-raised pork from a farmer….You’ll have gorgeous healthy pink meat that will grill beautifully.” Luscious photos by Felicia Perry Trujillo complete this culinary portrait.

Jamie Schler grew up in Florida so it’s only natural she’d gravitate to her state’s most famous crop. Orange Appeal: Savory and Sweet explores the humble fruit in truly imaginative ways (with gorgeous photos by Ilva Beretta). Fascinated, we tracked down Schler. She replied, “With every recipe I found myself more and more intrigued by the thoroughly unexpected transformation, surprised by the startling flavor metamorphosis of every dish, sauce, or dessert with just the addition of the fruit, the juice, marmalade, orange blossom water.... This inspired me I to push myself further, to develop more unique dishes, more unexpected pairings, such as orange with hummus or wine, in a savory quiche or adding it to cream or tomato sauces, creating more unpredictable dishes.”

Armchair travelers and culinary explorers will enjoy Nourished: A Memoir of Food, Faith and Enduring Love (with Recipes). Food writer Lia Huber takes readers on a far-flung international journey in this memoir that explores hunger and our shared search for fulfillment, both physical and spiritual. The goal: “Being free to enjoy a richer, more delicious life.”

More intrepid trekkers should grab a copy of Best Served Wild: Read Food for Real Adventures by Brendan Leonard and Anna Brones. We love the irreverent attitude of make-ahead items such as Protein Bars that Don’t Taste Like Chalk along with campsite cookery recipes that include No Puffy Jacket Required Dried Mushroom Pasta. Ruminations on dishwashing, digestion, and how to kick the freeze-dried habit will making roughing it outdoors a whole lot smoother.

Here’s a title that’s a mouthful: Home Grown Pantry: A Gardener’s Guide to Selecting the Best Varieties and Planting Perfect Amounts for What You Want to Eat Year-Round by Barbara Pleasant. Colorful photos, calendars, and tips clearly explain how to select plants according to whether your goal is canning, pickling, fermenting, root cellaring, or dehydrating. During the dreary days of winter, it will help hasten spring for anyone who has a green thumb or hopes to develop one.

There’s a lot to chew on in Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating by Charles Spence. This new area of “sensory science” examines our experiences and perceptions of food and drink, and how those ultimately shape our behavior. For example: What makes crispy potato chips so appealing and soggy ones so disgusting? Why do we eat 75 percent more food when dining with three other people? Does the price of a particular wine affect how much we like it? (No spoilers, but there’s a handy graph that explains the brain activation patterns that control our responses.) While the book offers up lots of science, Spence’s conversational tone and sheer geekery about his subject make Gastrophysics a lot of fun – not to mention your new favorite source for cocktail party trivia.

For The Art of Flavor: Practices and Principles for Creating Delicious Food, chef Daniel Patterson collaborated with artisanal perfumer Mandy Aftel to inspire and instruct home cooks to deepen their understand of basic cookery and make it more satisfying. Through concepts such as “locking” and “burying,” the authors explore what they term the “alchemy” of cooking. It sounds mystical but the book beautifully details these unfamiliar concepts by exploring the “Four Rules of Flavor,” the “Flavor Compass,” the “Seven Dials,” and more. It’s a truly original work and sure to captivate anyone who wants to think differently about the practice of cooking.

Elements of Taste: Understanding What We Like and Why isn’t actually a food book, although it cleverly examines what we like to eat in a broader cultural context. Author Benjamin Errett pushes readers to consider these connections in literal and less obvious ways by grouping our experiences according to their “flavors.” For example, sweet foods and the appeal of Hello Kitty are connected to our need for innocence, while partaking of coffee, beer, and Kanye West allow us to express our bitterness. Shakespeare, Coldplay, Gilmore Girls, Jonathan Franzen, and Star Wars: Our love or disdain for these reveals something surprising about who truly has good taste and who will never acquire it.

Pie and Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter and Booze grew out of an event series run by Kate Lebo and Samuel Ligon, who gave authors “pie” and “whiskey” as writing prompts – then served both to the audience. “All we really wanted to do was make sure it was a good reading…and that no one fell asleep. Which can happen at literary readings. But not at ‘Pie and Whiskey.’ Sugar and booze make the reading a party,” Lebo and Ligon explain in the book. Like its namesake title, this collection of mostly prose sprinkled with poetry has a satisfying and complex flavor profile. Recipes include Chocolate Pecan Pie Whiskey Shots, which sure seems like the best of both worlds.

Finally, anyone who cares about food, culture, history, justice, or racial reconciliation must have a copy Michael W. Twitty’s  The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South. It’s a ground-breaking work that challenge readers to confront the misperceptions and straight-up lies we’ve been fed about the food on our plate and how it got there. Twitty has just returned from Africa, where he visited several of his ancestral homelands for the first time. Stopping to speak and cook in Charlotte in late November, he was eloquent as always in his remarks. “There is an image of Africa of a place where people are waiting to be helped.” That’s not correct, he states. “People in Africa help themselves every day.” He described thriving open-air markets selling food, clothes, and medicine; how the people “dress to the nines in Senegal, the ‘African Paris.’” Twitty peels back the layers of time to reveal harsh truths, but it’s valuable to do so. “I wrote the book to heal a hole inside me, with an urge to discover who we are through food and DNA.”

Food has the power not simply to feed us, but to nurture, challenge, entertain, educate, spark debate, and fulfill us in countless ways. Whatever you and yours enjoy eating – and reading – during this holiday season, we hope it’s wonderful.