Books for Foodies: The First Annual Christmas Edition

I get a bit spastic when the holiday season officially hits.   I start baking like mad.  I start whipping out Christmas presents left and right.  I start trying to figure out the theme of this year’s holiday  EE posts.

Cook the Books is a great virtual book club and ever since I was asked to become a co-host, I seem to always be reading with culinary goggles.  I cannot tell you how a many notes I take in the margins, even if the book seems to have no culinary aspirations at all.  I have compiled quite a long list of Foodie Reads and wanted to share a few with you this holiday season.

So, in between the typical “these would be good to make for holiday gifts and treats” posts, I decided that this year I would also include some ideas for the bibliophiles out there.  Whether you want to buy these for yourself or gift them to a friend or relative, the choice is yours.

Let’s see how far I get with this year’s theme, shall we?   Up first will be a round-up memoirs that fit the category.


Paris in Love by Eloisa James

I had no idea about Eloisa James when I started this memoir.

In fact, I was drawn to this book because of her cancer survivor status. Her credibility was reinforced when I found out that she is also a Shakespeare professor. When I realized that “Eloisa James” is actually her pen-name for historical romance novels, I was a bit perplexed. I am a book snob sometimes but I kept reading.  I am glad I did.

Paris in Love is a compilation of loosely drawn essays interspersed with daily observations and anecdotes (mostly from and about her young daughter) as James and her husband (also an academic) take sabbaticals from their professorships and move the family to Paris for a year.

I found that I enjoyed James’ jumps from blatantly honest humor to a more poetic language and from her essays on adapting to Parisian life (without speaking the language) to her family observations.

I especially enjoyed her lyrical descriptions of food:

“It was in reality a custard tart with a glossy sheen: as if a pumpkin pie had been to Chanel and dressed for the occasion.” (64)

“My cocettes [a Parisian spontaneous purchase] will remind me that food is meant to be served to others, to be beautiful, to be original (even violet-colored), to be dreamed over. They will remind me that indulgence is not a virtue we should keep for the holiday season alone, and that saving time—when it comes to food—is more sinful than virtuous.” (74)

There’s also a recipe for a delicately flavored and comforting Lemon Barley Chicken Soup in this book.


My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl

Reichl’s latest work, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life (September 2015), deals with that unexpected demise of Gourmet and how she found herself unemployed and drifting.  That she felt a little unmoored is an understatement. Her kitchen saved her: “And so I did what I always do when I’m confused, lonely, or frightened: I disappeared into the kitchen.”

I am a cookbook reader but as I perused through My Kitchen Year, I realized I was reading more than just a mere cookbook. I was experiencing all the blood, sweat and tears (and confusion, and loneliness and fright) that Reichl had balanced and overcome. My Kitchen Year is beyond a cookbook. It’s a memoir about her driven and fast paced career life slashed short and her regaining of confidence through her cooking.

In between her plain spoken narrative are poetic tweets from this same time of her life. The poetry doesn’t stop there and in the recipes proper are glimpses of Reichl’s more lyrical language: “Peel a few different kinds of apples, enjoying the way they shrug reluctantly out of their skins” (from “Apple Crisp”).

The recipes that spoke to me the most were those in the fall and winter sections. The comfort that Reichl needed for herself is echoed in the food of this time—soups, stews, hearty desserts, roasted shanks of meat, bowls of noodles, gratins, pasta….  As spring arrives and she finds a new life direction (writing said cookbook), her prose becomes more succinct and sometimes are mere recipe hednotes for her new cookbook dream. I have earmarked her Lemon Pudding Cake (165), Cochinita Pibil (200), Three Day Short Ribs (214) and her Painless Pasta for Three (276).

As you read, you will feel like Reichl is speaking directly to you and she writes that she wanted the book and the recipes to be written in a “relaxed tone, as if we were standing in the kitchen, cooking together.”

If you’re an old Goumet fan, you will love this book.  (You can read my full review with recipe here.)


Blue Jelly: Love Lost & the Lessons of Canning  by Debby Bull

Bull’s depression drove her to jelly.  (Bull is a former reporter for Rolling Stone.)

Yes, the love of her life left her and as she tries one lame therapy or technique after another, we learn that there is a string of ruined relationships. She leaves the details of the failed relationship to our imagination; we just know she hates her life at this point. Canning and preserving are her means back to some semblance of normalcy.

Each chapter ends with a jelly or jam or pickle recipe that somewhat illustrates the theme of the chapter. Don’t dismiss the recipes. You need to read them in their entirety. If you skip the instructions you will certainly miss her discussions about dating semi-famous men and interviewing the likes of Bob Marley.

As Bull tries to pull herself together, she seeks out different paths (besides canning) to ease her suffering and to try to find enlightenment and happiness.   Some are hilarious, some are odd, some are a bit hippy-dippy.

Blue Jelly is a quick read and although you might get a bit perturbed at the author and want to yell, “Snap outta’ it!”, I think by the final chapter you might smile. (Especially with her epilogue entitled “Better Than Botulism—A few things you need to know about canning.”)


The Mother-In-Law Cure (Originally Published as Only in Naples): Learning to Live and Eat in an Italian Family bKatherine Wilson

Wilson grew up in a prominent and somewhat cosmopolitan American family.   But, when she moved to Naples for an internship at the U.S. Embassy, she found herself adrift. Even though she had a rudimentary knowledge of the Italian language, she was unprepared for the dialectical differences and the traditions and customs of this southern Italian metropolis. These issues cause not a little humor (and a little heartache) for the young lady abroad.

Miraculously she is “adopted” by a prominent Neapolitan family and becomes mesmerized by their family life, especially the mother’s role in the household. She becomes a staple at the family table before she even officially starts dating the son.

Wilson traces her trials and tribulations with self-deprecating humor. There’s a bit of back story that she never fully develops, specifically her eating disorder. While I enjoyed the book and would recommend it, I wish that some of her characters (and there certainly are some authentic Italian characters in the book) would have been more fully developed.

The food references are abundant:  “laughingly delicious pizza,” Sartù di riso (Neapolitan Rice Timbale), rigatoni with ragu, insalata di polip (octopus salad), gateau di patate (w/potatoes, breadcrumbs, mortadella, proscuitto and mozzarella), lasagna, etc.  The list is almost infinite.


I hope you found inspiration for a special gift today (or at least something for your own wish list).

I am linking to December’s Foodies Read.

What’s to come this holiday season?

  • A totally different jelly recipe
  • Some New Mexican inspired “gifts from the kitchen”
  • An heirloom family fruitcake recipe
  • Some more book gift ideas

Please stay tuned.

I will be featuring the image of a vintage holiday postcard on each of my posts this December.  These are all from my grandfather’s collection and are actual cards that he received as a boy.

You can see all my “Foodie Reads” at Goodreads.

Foodie Reads

Paris In Love
really liked it

I had no idea who Eloisa James was when I started this memoir.In fact, I was drawn to this book because of her cancer survivor status. Her image was reinforced when I found out that she is also a Shakespeare professor.

When it dawned …

The Patriarch: A Mystery of the French Countryside
liked it

If you are a Martin Walker and Chief Bruno fan, I am sure you will think I am rating The Patriarch a bit low.Let me start by saying I am not much of a mystery fan. Never have been—I think it is my impatient nature. Walker’s cast of …

Farmer Boy
really liked it

This book, one of eight in Wilder’s “Little House” series, depicts the childhood of her husband, Almanzo Wilder, in New York state.When I was nine or ten, I was introduced to Wilder’s entire “Little House” series through my grandmothe…

Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-Law
liked it
Wilson grew up in a prominent and somewhat cosmopolitan family but when she moved to Naples for an internship at the US Embassy, she found herself a drift. Even though she had a rudimentary knowledge of the Italian language, she was unpr…
Houston Junior League Cook Book
really liked it

This cookbook (remember it was published in 1968) could have been partially entitled “Recipes from a Can” or “Supreme Fandango” (more about that later).I have a number (over thirty) of Junior League books from around the country from m…



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