Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Eating Well at the Holidays

With the holidays coming up I find that cooking and food are on mind quite a bit. So I thought I'd tell you all about some great "foodie" books that have come out recently that I am really excited about.

First is The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond, which I feel the need to at least mention again (see the archive for me waxing poetic about this book). We had a fantastic turnout with our signing with her at our Colfax store, learning that she has a legend of fans both in Denver and pretty much everywhere. TC just got lots more copies in, and I will say that it will make a fantastic gift for the holidays (hint, hint).

Another great book is Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock Prado. This book had me at its very short but very memorable first paragraph: "I saw the devil at the age of three and he gave me chocolate. It changed my life forever."

Gesine (pronounced geh see neh--don't mess it up because it makes her crazy when you do) had a glamourous Hollywood life running a production company with her sister Sandra Bullock. Red carpets, "doing" lunch, meetings and schmoozing made up her daily life. And she was miserable.
To make herself feel better, she turned to an old love, pastries. Specifically, making, even inventing, them. When, in a meeting, she referred to casting a movie as being like finding the right spices for an apple pie, she knew it was time to get out. She and her husband Rick Prado (a movie illustrator and barista extraordinaire) fell in love with Vermont and decided to make it their home. They found an old general store, gutted it and it became "Gesine's". It opened on Aug 4, 2004 to lines longer than anyone could have imagined thanks to a casual mention of the fabulous French macaroons Gesine makes (which are almond, not coconut) in an interview in In Style magazine. Well, that and the fact that Sandy manned the register that first day. Gesine
stayed in the back, being a self proclaimed "socially retarded misanthrope", and followed her passion for baking. They might have come the first time to see a movie star. They kept coming back because Gesine is a magician with flour and sugar and chocolate.

Her passion comes through in her book as well. There are fantastic recipes in it, but it's the reasons and rememeberances, the stories and the history that really make this book something special. Gesine is rather blunt at times, but I actually admired her for her honesty and
her wit. This is a book about the importance of baking, the love and intention that goes into it all. It's also about the importance of sitting down with people, especially people you love, and enjoying fine things with one another in the middle of our too hectic lives.

The retail shop is closed now as Gesine moves on to "Step Two" of her baking adventures, which involves consulting on a shop opening soon in Austin where she is " creating specialty confections with a Lonestar twist." (that from her Blogspot blog with the same name as the book). It sounds like Step 3 will be opening an online business that ships her famous macaroons and other confections.

Next, I'd recommend Suzan Colon's Cherries In Winter. This reads a little like sitting in the attic with your best friend going through a box of your great grandma's old recipes, filling her in on the stories that went along with the memories of those dishes. Puzzling over faded hand-writing and laughing at some of the ingredients that haven't seen a store shelf in years. That's the kind of chatty intimacy this slim book has--as well as fabulous recipes. Colon's family has always used the comfort of good, but practical, food to get them through hard times, and that wisdom is no less useful now than it was 50, 75 or 100 years ago. This book leaves you feeling like you just got a big hug from your Grandma right after she's dried your tears and slid a piece of warm cherry pie in front of you.

And, lastly, I'm really impressed with Mollie Katzen's (of Moosewood fame) Get Cooking.
It's designed for the beginning cook, complete with pages of what gear a kitchen needs, from
knives to storage. There is even a lengthy section--with plenty of pictures--of how to chop vegetables, which would have seemed odd to me if I hadn't just had to teach a young man I know that yes, you do need to peel a yellow onion before you slice it. Then begins the 150 simple recipes to make some cooking basics like soups and mashed potatoes. She starts with the absolute basics, then lists add ins and other ideas for a bit more flair, still keeping it as simple as
possible. Which I loved. I've read through her Moosewood books and often been frustrated by their complicated instructions or exotic ingredients. There is very little of that here, and it's confined to the "get creative" sections of each recipe. This book is accessible to everyone, with enough tips and twists on recipes to keep a seasoned cook interested. Heck, her version of Waldorf Salad actually sounds GOOD, which is a minor miracle in my pot-luck scarred opinion. This would make a great first cookbook for a person just starting out on their own, or a great addition to anyone's bulging cookbook shelves.

Okay, that's it. I've gotta stop writing and go eat something!

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