The Gift of Words About Food

Anyone looking for cookbooks to give your kitchen-dwelling friends--as well as those who may need some coaxing to go near a stove--has no dearth of Favorites and Recommendations lists to consult this year, including Heidi of 101 Cookbooks' article for NPR and Barbara's commentary on the big newspapers' roundups at Tigers and Strawberries, a blog I recently discovered through the Food Blog Award nominations I urged you all to check out last week. I'll leave the cookbooks to them and share instead my list of beloved books about food and wine.I can't pretend to be an expert on cookbooks. I love reading them and I have a reasonably sized collection crammed into a large cabinet in my kitchen, along with a few favorite theme issues of Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Food and Wine, and Saveur and a thick stack of photocopies, tear-outs, and hand-written recipes from Mom. Not only do I not have room for more cookbooks without some major changes, but the reality is that I don't consult the ones I have as often as I wish I did. I do use The Silver Palate, The Joy of Cooking, and a few other classics whenever I bake, but that's become rare enough that when I do, I usually go for an old favorite. Savory items tend to be inspired by something I've had or read more than directed by a recipe, in part because of limited time and/or poor planning and my particular tastes and dietary preferences and partly because I have fun being creative in the kitchen.All this said, I was excited to hear about the first English release of The Silver Spoon, the Italian equivalent of The Joy of Cooking. I'm not sure what rock I was living under, even while in Italy, that I had never even heard about this book until now. Though it shows up on Barbara's list, I'm less convinced I need it after reading Heidi's review. Now, moving on to books I am sure should be read, owned, and given:The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael PollanA masterful look at domestication and how the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato have evolved to satisfy the basic needs of humans. This New York Times bestseller and Notable Book combines historical, philosophical, and scientific research for a quick and engaging read.Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth ReichlThese beautifully written, charming, and sometimes painful books about the life of critic and current Gourmet Editor in Chief Reichl also include some recipes and are perfect for anyone with even a casual interest in food. The third book in the series, Garlic and Sapphires, is now out in hardcover and I'm looking forward to reading it soon.What Einstein Told His Cook by Robert L. WolkeThis is too basic for the experienced cook, but offers a perfect way for the curious novice to build a foundational knowledge of kitchen science, including answers to questions like why cooked foods turn brown, how can you remove excess salt from a soup, what's the difference between fat and fatty acid and baking power and baking soda, and is gas or charcoal better for grilling.On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGeeThe food science bible, completely revised and updated. This is the serious chef or scientist's version of What Einstein Told His Cook. An exceptional reference that will tell you more than you thought there was to know about the hows, whys, and wherefores of everything in the kitchen.The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis RobinsonThis outstanding reference book by two of the world's foremost wine writers is filled with complete and accessible information on varietals and regions, as well as maps, charts and photos. Perfect to keep in your cellar or on your coffee table (where mine lives).Cheese Primer by Steven JenkinsA useful resources that includes introductory information about cheese and each cheese-making region plus details on the history, making, and character of a huge range of cheeses. It doesn't wine and food pairings as much as I had hoped, but since wines usually pair well with cheeses from the same region, there is plenty here to point you in the right direction.I'm looking for more captivating, cover-to-cover food reads like the first two entries in this list, and would love to hear your recommendations!