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About Mari Malcolm

If someone dropped a match next to Mari Malcolm’s bed, they’d ignite a pyre fuelled by disheveled piles of books—very select poetry, novels with varying levels of literary cred, and stacks of guides to being a better gardener, crafter, cook, designer, writer, and person. She rarely reads by candlelight.

Posts by Mari

Brooklyn Brewery's Steve Hindy on the Rise of Craft Beer

Craft-BeerIn the tumultuous early ‘80s, Steve Hindy was an AP correspondent in the Middle East--in the heart of the action when the Iraqi army when they invaded Iran, abducted in Lebanon (and lucky to escape with his life, while the people with him were tortured and killed), and sitting behind Egyptian president Anwar Sadat when he and 11 others were assassinated at a parade. During his time in Cairo, Hindy met American diplomats who had learned to brew beer while they were posted in Saudi Arabia. When his wife insisted they move back to Brooklyn, he talked their downstairs neighbor, Tom Potter, into leaving his banking career and starting the Brooklyn Brewery.

After 50 years of post-Prohibition industrialization of American beer, a few microbreweries had started popping up again the ‘70s, but it wasn’t until the ‘80s that it really got underway. Even then, Americans used to swilling Budweiser, Miller, and Coors had yet to develop a taste for craft beer--Hindy remembers early customers spitting out their Brooklyn Lager, saying it was too bitter. Since then, the craft brewery industry has exploded, with more than 2,700 capturing 10 percent of the dollar share of the U.S. market.

At Seattle’s Brave Horse Tavern, I talked with Hindy and George Hancock (cofounder and owner of the Phoenix Ale Brewery) about the story Hindy tells in The Craft Beer Revolution—the pioneers and mavericks who brewed the new craft beer movement, their David-and-Goliath fights against industrial brewers, and pleasures of putting your heart into beer. 

 

Deborah Madison Imagines the Future of Food--and Her Masterpiece, Circa 2030

Veg-CookingI met Deborah Madison for lunch in Seattle the day after her third James Beard Award win--this time for Vegetable Literacy, an elegant compendium of edible plant families. But her current tour was devoted to the sequel to her first Beard winner, The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

The book's original incarnation (published in 1998) was a tour de force, with over 400,000 copies in print--including one stained, margin-scribbled copy that guided me through the first years in my own kitchen. But in recent years, we've seen such a dramatic expansion of vegetarian food choices, while tastes have become more adventurous and the appetite for simple, delicious vegetarian recipes has become so voracious that Madison decided it was time to give her classic a thoroughly modern revamp.

The result? A meatless masterpiece with 200 more recipes--over 1,600 in all.

Gone are soy milk and unhealthy oils like canola. New and old recipes incorporate newly available ingredients like non-dairy beverages, ghee, coconut oil, and ancient grains like spelt and a wider variety of quinoa. A slimmed down stir-fry section makes room for more simple sautes. And she calls out the healthier options you can find at now-ubiquitous farmers' markets. (See more about these changes in Madison's interview with The Washington Post.)

Madison and I are both ardent gardeners, so over lunch we inevitably talked about how changes in weather patterns will impact what and how we eat (and grow) in the near future.

I came away wondering what kinds of changes Madison would imagine making to a third edition of the book, if she revised it again in 2030, so I asked. Her answer is equal parts sobering and hopeful.  -- Mari

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Drought, climate change, genetic engineering, nanoparticles in our food—these are things that worry me. I lose sleep over them. 

I think it will get increasingly difficult to truly nourish ourselves, even if we don't eat corporate food. That won't be enough, because what won’t be sullied? I also fear that the USDA Organic label, already disappointing, will mean even less--although I hope that's not the case, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure it's not. In short, I don’t feel hugely optimistic about the world of food 15 years hence.

But there will be some things to welcome, like the return of common sense, the sharing of meals, and probably smaller portions, as there might not be such a crazy abundance. I suspect grain will have changed to some extent, with more farmers growing pre-modern wheat varieties. That's starting to happen now, and that's good. But this better wheat, like all foods, will cost more and be less reliably available.

The upside of that is that we’ll have to learn to really value, care for, and be grateful for our food. We'll have to be willing to spend more time with it, not rushing home to cook up just the tender, fast-cooking parts of meats and vegetables. This will be hard on working families with low-wage jobs, and those who can provide food for themselves by cooking or gardening will be the privileged ones. I hope that there will be more cooking in the schools and more opportunities for kids to cook, so that they can take charge of their health and their lives and those of their siblings and parents.

If I were updating Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone in 15 years, it would be a different book. It wouldn't be just vegetarian, for one. I think the quality of most plant foods will be so much lower—with the exception of that raised by those relatively few farmers who really know how to grow their soil—that meat will be necessary. But by meat, I don't mean supermarket chops and steaks, but better-raised, more wholesome and nutritious animals. Except for the wealthy, meat will be an occasional food, served in small portions (a good idea that’s already been explored), and it will include eating offal—the nourishing foods we've cast aside for so long. We'll be using bones to make stocks and broths.

Continue reading "Deborah Madison Imagines the Future of Food--and Her Masterpiece, Circa 2030" »

Hillary's "Hard Choices" & More Big Political Memoirs

Hard-ChoicesFew windows into politics offer more revealing views than memoirs (despite their inevitable spin). This year has already brought a few blockbusters--most recently, Elizabeth Warren's A Fighting Chance has been a runaway best-seller with glowing reviews since it came out in April, and Timothy Geithner's Stress Test has elicited its own chorus of cheers (and boos).

Now, on June 10, the year's biggest political memoir, Hillary Rodham Clinton's Hard Choices, is being officially released. We all got a sneak peek at its most intriguing revelations via a much-publicized story originating with CBS News after some lucky staffer found it in a bookstore last Thursday--a week after Politico published the chapter on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. So we already know its big headlines and many of its most tantalizing quotes; some have even already dismissed the book as playing it too safe. A dearth of full-on bombshells is hardly a surprise from any politician gearing up for a potential presidential run, but Hard Choices plays it far less safe than her previous memoir, Living History, in which the biggest "revelation" was that Bill's betrayal (and his subsequent lies) were "the most devastating, shocking and hurtful experience of my life."

While Living History succeeded most soundly in humanizing Hillary, Hard Choices has to clear a higher bar: making the case that she will be the most capable, decisive, and globally experienced candidate in the 2016 presidential election.

If Hard Choices whets your appetite for memoirs on political life, keep an eye out for these potential blockbusters, coming this summer and fall. Coincidentally, most of these memoirs lean left, but Conservatives can look forward to two major memoirs in early 2015: Ross Perot: My Life and Bella's Gift by Rick and Karen Santorum.

 

PolMem-CuomoAll Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life by Andrew Cuomo (Coming August 19): New York governor Cuomo's memoir arrives amid growing rumors of a 2016 presidential bid. Key details have yet to be revealed, but an early Library Journal review reports that "this memoir will discuss not just politics but family and duty, setbacks and successes, as Cuomo considers what his zigzag trajectory has taught him." 

 

 

 

PolMem-DavisForgetting to Be Afraid by Wendy Davis (Coming September 2): Her 11-hour filibuster in the Texas Senate against abortion regulations made Wendy Davis a household name across the country--and a viable candidate in Texas's gubernatorial race, challenging Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott. Blue Rider Press describes her memoir as "A deeply personal memoir by one of the country’s brightest political stars,” while The Dallas Morning News speculates that it will give her and opportunity to "respond to disclosures about flaws in the original campaign version of her life story from teen-age mother to Harvard Law School grad." Releasing just weeks before the election, the book has the potential to sway some votes--though it will undoubtedly stay closely on-message.

 

PolMem-GilliOff the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World by Kirsten Gillibrand (Coming September 9): Kirsten Gillibrand was a young corporate lawyer when she heard Hillary Rodham Clinton deliver this tough-love message: “Decisions are being made every day in Washington, and if you are not part of those decisions, you might not like what they decide, and you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.” Fourteen years later, she succeeded Clinton as senator from New York. Off the Sidelines is her rallying cry to other women to make room in busy lives to help drive meaningful change. She shares her story of being a pregnant woman in Congress, making sacrifices as a working mother, and drawing on a strong support network. But it goes beyond the personal and offers a “a playbook for women who want to step up, whether in Congress or the boardroom or the local PTA.”

 

PolMem-PanettaWorthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace by Leon Panetta (Coming October 7): His 50-year career has spanned roles as Army intelligence officer, member of Congress, Clinton budget czar and White House chief of staff, and a period of “retirement” to establish the Panetta Institute before a return to political life in 2009 as director of the CIA. Credited with “moving it back to the vital center of America’s war against Al Quaeda” and overseeing the campaign that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, Panetta went on to become U.S. Secretary of Defense. Worthy Fights is billed as “a testament to a lost kind of political leadership, which favors progress and duty to country over partisanship.” There will be much he can't reveal, but with no elections on the horizon, Panetta's memoir should be more candid than most. We predict it will be one of fall's biggest books.

 

PolMem-GnarrGnarr: How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World by Jón Gnarr (Coming September 1): When Iceland’s financial meltdown precipitated the world-wide economic collapse and ignited widespread protests, Icelandic comedian and radio host Jón Gnarr founded the satirical Best Party and ran a joke campaign for major of its capitol city, Reykjavík. When it won in a landslide, Gnarr proposed a coalition government (excluding anyone who hadn’t yet watched all five seasons of The Wire). His story of going from crank calling the White House to working with international leaders is a refreshingly funny break from politics as usual.

 

 

Our Editors' Picks for the Best Summer Reading

The official first day of summer may be a few weeks away, but as far as we're concerned, Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer reading season, and we can't wait to tell you about our picks for this summer's most thrilling, romantic, and engrossing new books! We're talking about the kind of books that'll make you long for a cross-country plane ride, lazy Sunday mornings (after reading waaaaay too late the night before), and endless hours at the beach with nothing to do but relax and inhale pages.

Everyone has their own idea of great summer reading, but we've tried to make it easier to find yours by rounding up the biggest blockbusters, our picks for the best new paperbacks and beach reads, and our favorites for kids and teens.

We can't resist making a passionate pitch for our personal favorites, the ones we're telling all our friends to read. Watch us do our best to describe why they're so awesome (in 30 seconds or less), and scroll down to see the full list.

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Omni-SR-1-King Omni-SR-2-Hunting Omni-SR-3-BloodOmni-SR-FeverOmni-SR-GlassOmni-SR-8-Heist

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Travel-Inspired Decorating with Will Taylor of Bright Bazaar

Bright-BazaarI never thought I was shy about decorating with bold colors until I moved last fall into a tasteful townhouse whose freshly painted walls were a study in variations on beige and pale grey. It felt anonymous, but also airy in a way my previous house (with walls that ranged from mossy green to a soft violet) had not. So I've been uncharacteristically cautious about introducing bold hues into my new space--until I read interior design trendsetter and blogger Will Taylor's Bright Bazaar: Embracing Color for Make-You-Smile Style and realized how much I missed the fun of playing and living with vibrant colors.

Taylor gets the fear of color commitment, so he does some firm but gentle hand-holding and a lot of cheering as he bids readers to leave fear at the door, take things slowly, trust your instincts, and find a focus. I love his concept of a "courting period, where each new colour idea is a date." But he also believes passionately in falling head-over-heels for new colors and combos, and making them your own. And what better place to strike up a romance with color than on a trip that you'll always want to remember?

Here, Taylor shares how his stay on the Greek island of Santorini inspired his own master bedroom makeover.

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Santorini was unlike any other Greek island I've visited in the past. The traditional Greek blue adorned countless churches, weathered shutters, and doors, but nothing could have prepared me for the incredible island views. Santorini is almost horseshoe shaped because of a caldera (caused by the mouth of the volcano collapsing to create a crater of water), and you can look back at other parts of the island from almost anywhere. The topography alone is striking, but the juxtaposition of the still-as-a-millpond dark blue sea, a sky so clear it could be glass, and sun-soaked cave houses tumbling down the side of the cliffs makes it captivating.

I was keen to capture the spirit of this magical island when it came to redecorating my bedroom back home in London. Here's how I brought the colors of Santorini into the master bedroom in my apartment.

Colorful Greece

The picturesque town of Oia boosts a charming collection of white cliff houses with traditional Greek blue and sunshine yellow facades.

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Continue reading "Travel-Inspired Decorating with Will Taylor of Bright Bazaar" »

More Summer Eats: 5 Smokin' New Grilling & Barbecue Guides

Here in Seattle, we've just reached that annual tipping point when cooking much of anything inside seems too darn hot, while cooking outside makes us feel giddy with all the possibilities of summer.This year, we will become master of the smoke and the flame, the kicky marinade and complex rub, the tangy sauce, and the cooling, acidic side dish. We'll master them privately, and then we'll invite friends over to feast until their laughing mouths gleam greasily in candlelight. (There will also be cocktails and pie, but we'll talk about them another time.)

Vegetarians, at this point I'm going to suggest you take a look at Karen Adler and Judith Fertig's The Gardener & The Grill, and its 100+ incredible vegetarian recipes.

Then I'm going to tell the rest of you that all this year, meat has been a huge cookbook trend--I've been impressed by a few dozen new books on raising your own heritage animals, manuals on whole beast butchering, using traditional preserving techniques, and cooking it well. Here, I present my picks for the best meaty books on grilling and barbecue.

Grill-BoysroomSmokin' in the Boys' Room by Melissa Cookston: Barbecue can be a bit of an ol' boys' club, but Cookston masters a pit like the best of them, making her a two-time world champion and the winningest woman in barbecue. Her story of working her way to the top of the barbecue contest circuit--even making a name for herself with a new way to smoke a whole hog--is inspiring, and her Memphis-style and Delta recipes for sides and desserts have been honed in contests and in Melissa's Memphis Barbecue Company restaurants.

 

Grill-NolanThe Nolan Ryan Beef & Barbecue Cookbook: Hall of Fame baseball pitcher and cattle rancher Nolan Ryan shares 75 easy, authentic Texas-style beef and BBQ recipes, including Sunday roasts, steaks, burgers, and slow-cooked ribs.Teaming up with chef Cristobal Vazquez, Nolan presents new twists on traditional Tex-Mex dishes he loved as a kid. You’ll also find yummy sides and desserts, including a to-die-for carrot cake. Baseball fans will also appreciate Nolan’s stories about his life on the field and on the ranch.

 

 

Grill-GuyGuy on Fire by Guy Fieri: Anyone who's seen him on the Food Network knows that Guy is a big personality who loves to take eating and entertaining to the extreme. His latest book has 130 recipes for adventurous outdoor cooking and eating, from backyard barbecues to campfire feasts to tailgate parties. He doesn't over-complicate it, but he does go big with some real style: I can't wait to try those Bacon Wrapped Hot Dogs with Spicy Fruit Relish, Fire-Roasted Margherita Pizza and Brandied Green Peppercorn Hanger Steak. And I always appreciate an entertaining book with strategies for enjoying my own party.

 

Grill-LowLow & Slow: The Art & Technique of Braising, BBQ & Slow Roasting by the Culinary Institute of America: If you're looking to learn all "three pillars of low and slow cooking" that transform tough cuts into tender, succulent dishes, you can't find a better source than the CIA. This compact guide outlines how to make the most of any cut, from braised short ribs to barbecued beef brisket to slow oven-roasted lamb--accompanied by the perfect homemade rubs, sauces, and sides.

 

 

Grill-FireCooking with Fire by Paula Marcoux: Traditional wood-fire cooking has seen a restaurant renaissance lately, but it's still a novelty for home cooks. Francis Mallmann's Seven Fires gets our vote for the best book on cooking over fire, but Marcoux's take is well worth adding to your library. Over 100 recipes, she demonstrates dozens of traditional techniques for "partnering with fire" beyond the grill, from spit and plank roasting to baking in ash to cooking in fireplaces and wood-fired ovens. This is cooking at its most deliciously primal.

 

 

More standout new grilling and barbecue books: Haute Dogs, The Essential New York Times Grilling Cookbook, and The Big-Flavor Grill.

Cool Summer Cookbook Trend: Ice Creams & Frozen Treats

As a kid, one of my favorite family summertime traditions was homemade ice cream. It was usually relegated to holiday weekends, when folks could rotate at the crank of the a rock-salt "machine." These days, it's so easy to let an ice cream maker do the work for you, but the results are no less sublime, especially once you start playing with ingredients.

This summer's dishing up a larger-than-usual serving of "cookbooks" for ice creams and frozen desserts. These five are our favorite.

Ice-Cream-AmpleAmple Hills Creamery: Secrets and Stories from Brooklyn’s Favorite Ice Cream Shop by Brian Smith: Sci-fi screenwriter turned ice cream wizard Brian Smith's Ample Hills Creamery is a huge hit in his Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, 'hood. Now he's letting everyone in on his secrets for creating super-rich, custardy creams with premium ingredients. In a customer review, experienced homemade ice cream maker Pepperminta says, "If you are a novice, this is a great resource with a wealth of information. If you are more experienced, there are many new recipes for you to add to your collection with some special techniques. I love their ideas and their fresh approach." Another highlight: their waffle cone recipe, with dark brown sugar and vanilla bean seeds.

 

Ice-Cream-JenniJeni's Splendid Ice Cream Desserts by Jeni Britton Bauer: Winner of the James Beard Award for Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, Jeni Britton Bauer now presides over a growing ice creamery empire. Her new book expands on creative creams to the desserts they deliciously complement (and often incorporate), from berry cobblers and fritters to hot brown Bettys and cookies. You'll also find a month of sundaes, with sauces like Whiskey Caramel and Honey Spiked with Chilies—plus  crumbly toppings like Salty Graham Gravel. Sophisticated, playful, and amazing.

 

 

Ice-Cream-CoolhausCoolhaus Ice Cream Book by Natasha Case: Starting from an old postal van turned food truck, Coolhaus has drawn nation-wide attention for their innovative ice cream sandwiches inspired by famous architects. Here, they reveal the recipes for many of their most popular flavors, from the BuckMINTster Fuller (Dirty Mint Chip Ice Cream with Chocolate Chip Cookies) to the Frank Behry (Strawberry Gelato with Snickerdoodles). You'll find classics like Cookies and Sweet Cream alongside grown-up treats like Bourbon Manhattan and savory flavors, like Brown Butter Candied Bacon.

 

Ice-Cream-ScoopScoop Adventures: The Best Ice Cream of the 50 States by Lindsay Clendaniel: If you're intrigued by the thought of a cross-country ice cream road trip without leaving your kitchen, Scoop Adventures is the map you want to follow, with over 80 recipes from the best creameries across the US. Blogger Lindsay Clendaniel has singled out her favorites and adapted some of their signature recipes in an eclectic range of regional flavors, from Chipotle Raspberry to Prickly Pear Coconut to Lavender Caramel Swirl. America may be a melting pot, but these ice creams definitely won't last long enough to meet that fate.

 

 

Ice-Cream-RubyRuby Violet's Ice Cream Dreams by Julie Fisher: Across the pond in London, photographer turned "bespoke" ice cream maker Julie Fisher started selling Ruby Violet's homemade ice creams out of a van. She eventually opened a lovely parlor--one we can't wait to visit. For the sophisticated sweet tooth, gorgeous photos of show-stopping desserts, incorporating ingredients both local and exotic, set this book apart. But you'll also learn how to make spectacular layered bombes (bombe glacées, ice cream desserts frozen in spheres), sorbet flowers, and other enchanting twists on the ubiquitous dish. You'll find 50 flavors--from childhood favorites like raspberry ripple to adventurous combos like beetroot and horseradish--and accompaniments like mini meringues, crunchy almond nut brittle, and delectable sauces.

 

 

Molly Wizenberg's Wood-Fired Life

Delancey-coverWhen it came time for the Amazon editorial team to vote on the top 10 best books of May, I considered recusing myself: Delancey the restaurant is so near (e.g., about 10 blocks away from my house) and dear to me (as the scene of several evenings I don't intend to forget) that I wasn't entriely sure my love for Molly Wizenberg's new memoir about its inception came with the necessary dose of professional objectivity. But my compatriots backed the book up, and it made the top 10, wholeheartedly. 

One of my most memorable meals at Delancey was with Ms. Wizenberg herself, around the time the advanced copies of her book arrived at our offices. It was very early fall, mushroom season, and my favorite pizza that night was loaded with local porchini, fire-tongued to a meaty sear. This gluten-free girl hadn't indulged in pizza for months, and I could easily gush for pages about three slices; suffice it to say they were divine.

As I talked with Molly, I kept wishing I'd managed to wolf down at least a few chapters of the book before coming to dinner. I'd read A Homemade Life when it came out and casually followed her blog, Orangette, but I was fuzzy on how they'd lept from a life of her writing and Brandon heading to grad school in composing to all of this. From my vantage point at the table, I couldn't imagine a more delightful turn of events than running a pizza restaurant with your husband, but here Molly was, talking about how she'd had to learn to love a life she never would have chosen, one she had to carve out her own place in, to reconcile with. One that required daily sacrifices. I gathered that they'd made it to this point only by virtue of a lot of love and grit. And now she was a little nervous about spilling her guts.

As I read Delancey: A Man, A Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage, I felt nothing but admiration for her courage in owning her story, even the unflattering moments. There are no oversharingly cringey moments, but it's a hilariously unvarnished, poignant account of how she grew into this unexpected life, and exactly what it took from her and Brandon--as well as the friends, relatives, and strangers-turned-friends who rallied to their aid, many of whom became their staff--to transform an empty space into a community that feeds them, along with an expectant crowd that often snakes down the block (and occasionally feels like a zombie horde). Any fan of great food (especially pizza) will find much to love, including recipes for the meals they most enjoyed in the Delancey-opening era: food and cocktails that are improvisational, delicious, made memorable by time spent with excellent friends.

With this video, get a look inside Delancey, hear Wizenberg talk about the book, and start daydreaming about your next trip to Seattle. --Mari Malcolm

2014 James Beard Awards: The Winning Cookbooks

In the next few hours, the James Beard Foundation will bestow its prestigious Restaurant and Chef Awards at a swanky Lincoln Center event considered by many to be the food world’s Oscars--but I was more excited about the awards already announced over the weekend for the best cookbooks published in 2013. Here’s a run-down of the top award winners, along with my take on why you’ll want to make these books a permanent part of your cooking library. Hearty congrats to all of this year's cookbook winners!

HestonCookbook of the Year -- Historic Heston by Heston Blumenthal: The legendary self-taught UK chef already had one James Beard feather in his cap for The Big Fat Duck Cookbook (Best Photography), but Historic Heston is the book that demonstrates why Blumenthal is so often called a culinary alchemist, a wizard, a magician, and why his Fat Duck has twice been voted the Best Restaurant in the World. Here, he recreates thirty historic British dishes for the 21st century--playfully, meticulously, and beautifully. The book itself is a stunning slipcased number, emblazoned with a gold crest that commands you to "Question Everything." One of few cookbooks destined to become an heirloom. Watch this trailer to better appreciate its grandeur.

 

Diana-KennedyCookbook Hall of Fame Winner: What Julia Child was to French cooking in America, Diana Kennedy is to Mexican. She first went to Mexico in the late '50s, when she married Paul Kennedy, foreign correspondent for the New York Times. At the suggestion of Craig Claiborne, she started teaching Mexican cooking classes in '69 and published her first cookbook in the early '70s, and she went on to become the most celebrated authority on regional Mexican cuisine. We're thrilled to see her recognized for her marvelous books.

 

Midwestern-TableAmerican Cooking -- The New Midwestern Table by Amy Thielen: The popular host of Food Network's Heartland Table, Manhattan-trained chef and Minnesota native Amy Thielen is putting the Midwest's oft-overlooked cuisine smack-dab in the middle of American foodie's culinary radar, where it belongs. Her debut cookbook features 150 recipes for "dishes featuring our lake fish and our abundant venison, and vibrant takes on pot roasts and meat pies, recipes from simple salads to more elaborate preparations for headcheese and red current jelly" (Michael Ruhlman). We'll pass on the headcheese and take seconds of everything else.

 

Art-French-PastryBaking & Dessert -- The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer with Martha Rose Shulman: Oh, to be born into a long line of pastry chefs! Jacquy Pfeiffer learned to make pastry as a child in his father’s bakery in Alsace, but lucky for us, he's generously shared the good fortune of his birth: In The Art of French Pastry, he breaks down--with equal parts precision and charm--the techniques that are second nature to him, starting with the basics and expanding into a true master class. If pastry intimidates you in the least, this is the book you've been waiting for.

 

SmokeGeneral Cooking -- Smoke: New Firewood Cooking by Tim ByresThe most primal flavor has found its champion in Byres, proprietor of Smoke and Chicken Scratch restaurants in Dallas. Drawing inspiration from the full spectrum of Mexican, Texan, and Southern flavors and techniques, he takes deeply delicious creative leaps, while still balancing his spice and smoke with fresh acidity and sweetness. We dare you to savor this book and not be inspired to start a fire--or build a smokehouse, or dig a pig pit, or make a peck of pickles.

 

More 2014 James Beard Award winners:

Beverage -- The Cocktail Lab by Tony Conigliaro

Focus on Health -- Gluten-Free Girl Every Day by Shauna James Ahern

International -- Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop

Photography -- René Redzepi: A Work in Progress by Ali Kurshat Altinsoy, Ditte Isager, René Redzepi, Lars Williams, and the Noma Team and Historic Heston by Heston Blumenthal

Reference and Scholarship -- Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine by Adrian Miller

Single Subject -- Culinary Birds by John Ash

Vegetable Focused and Vegetarian -- Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

Writing and Literature -- Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

 

Dee Williams's Essential "Big Tiny" Library

Big-TinyTen years ago, Dee Williams had a charming older house in Portland with "the beautiful gardens and the accommodating floor plan, along with the mortgage, utility bills, the hours spent laboring to keep things from falling under the weight of time and the elements." To pay for it all, she had an hours-long interstate commute and a job that brought her face-to-face with industry's nasty impact on the natural world. Then she had a heart attack in the grocery store.

With a pacemaker that made her feel her mortality as strongly as her vitality, Dee fixated on an article in a doctor's office magazine about Jay Shafer, a man who'd built his own tiny house. "I just stared at it, mulled it over, daydreamed, and then I thought: What would happen if I just... sort of... did that?" She rang Shafer up through Directory Assistance, and then she bought a plane ticket to visit him in Iowa City.

So opens The Big Tiny, Dee's wholehearted memoir of trading in the time and money suck of the house she thought she'd wanted and building her own tiny home on wheels, eventually parked semi-permanently in the backyard of dear friends.

Dee and her story are immensely likeable—she can laugh at and cheer for herself, and we're right there with her. The shift she made is also immensely inspiring, even to this inveterate collector of things. She makes me remember that I too am a "girl who loved sleeping in her tree house and who preferred staying outside, who still thinks reading by headlamp is romantic." Maybe trading most of my beloved stuff for more time and freedom would feel genuinely awesome.

Shelf space is scarce in Dee's tiny house, so I was curious about which books (if any) had earned the privilege of staying. Her essentials cover the how and why of tiny house building and living. — Mari

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My friend Logan and I got into a discussion about what we’d want to wash up on shore if we were trapped on a desert island. Logan wanted an axe—a bad choice because it wouldn’t ever happen, because an axe would sink. I wanted a book. A good book. My point is... I love books!

Over the years, many books have rotated in and out of my little house—novels, memoirs, how-to manuals and more—and these seven have taken up permanent residence.

TinyBuilding1. I first purchased Francis D.K. Ching’s Building Construction Illustrated when I was in college. I then proceeded to drag that book over mountain passes and halfway across the country, packing and unpacking it at least a dozen times before building my little house. It saved me a thousand times during the construction process; it has it all, from the basics of platform framing to the nuances of passive solar design. It even provides the common dimension of kitchen counters, tables and couches… super helpful information while designing a little house.

 

Tiny-HomeWork2. My brother gave me a copy of Lloyd Kahn’s Home Work a year or so before I decided to build my little house. It became one of my greatest sources of inspiration and information with thousands of photos... snapshots of beach houses, rolling homes, adobe huts, stick-built houses and stone-built barns. This book inspired me to rethink form, function and materials, and also made me want to be more like the quirky, cool people that Lloyd interviewed for his book.

 

TinyMaterial3. Almost a decade before I built my little house, I sat on the floor at the local bookstore, pouring over Peter Menzel’s Material World. I was thunderstruck by the photos taken in thirty different countries, showing a typical family staged in front of their house with all their worldly possessions – goats, chickens, rugs, a soup pot or (less often) a car and a small sea of furniture. It was humbling to see the comparisons, but also incredibly beautiful in the way it showed that kids in Mongolia prank in front of a camera just like the kids in Texas. Thumbing through that book became a regular habit, and I still find myself jaw-dropped as I meander through the pages while sipping coffee on my front porch.

 

TinyHumble4. Over the past couple years, I’ve come close to peeing my pants laughing as I’ve read and then reread Deek Diedricksen’s Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages, Ramshackle Retreats, Funky Forts: And Whatever the Heck Else We Could Squeeze in Here. It’s not just funny, but educational—I’ve learned something new every time I’ve thumbed through this hilarious, well-informed encyclopedia of funky smallness.

 

Tiny-Morning5. I received Tammy Strobels’s new photography book, My Morning View, in the mail the other day, and man-o-man it blew me away. It chronicles Tammy’s journey of living in a tiny house on a ranch outside Mt. Shasta (effing beautiful!!!), and also of working through her grief after losing her dad to a stroke. Her iPhone photography project is absolutely beautiful, and full of helpful advice for would-be photographers like me.

 

TinySmall6. Jay Shafer’s Small House Book has been called “the book that started a movement,” and I believe it. I wish this book had existed before I built my house; it’s full of inspiring photos, as well as information about community development, small house design and the need for better urban infill.

 

Tiny-Shed7. Along with Ching’s book, Joseph Truini’s Building a Shed was practically my building bible during construction of my little house. It provides alternative ways of framing out the overhangs, windows, doors and roof. It also provided a lot of great advice for pouring footings and building a foundation if you’re building a “ground-bound” house instead of a tiny house on a trailer.

 

TinyDeePortraitOf course, there are many other books that I’ve totally enjoyed—books that have inspired, informed and encouraged me to build smarter, live better and take a bite out of life. — DW

Dee Williams is a teacher and sustainability advocate. She is the co-owner of Portland Alternative Dwellings, where she leads workshops focused on tiny houses, green building, and community design. Williams lives in Olympia, Washington, with an overly ambitious Australian shepherd, in the shadow of the house of dear friends.

"Sous Chef," an Homage to the Idiosyncratic Families Who Run the Best Restaurants

Sous-Chef-Gibney-2

Photo (c) UNGANO + AGRIODIMAS

Reading Michael Gibney's Sous Chef--a debut that plays at the outer bounds of memoir--may be the closest most of us will ever come to living a day as the second in command in a Michelin-starred New York City restaurant.

Written in the second person, it's intense, dramatic, and immediately devourable, but Gibney also turns out phrases to savor: this is kitchen writing on par with Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones & Butter. While Gibney doesn't challenge Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential characterization of kitchen folk as "wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths," he renders their efforts to beautifully prepare every plate they send out to satisfy the ravenous multitudes authentically noble, verging on heroic. 

We talked with Gibney about why he wrote it, how he created the characters, why he considers it a memoir, and which books he finds essential--plus a bit about his new restaurant, opening in Manhattan this summer.

Sous-Chef-Shadow On his storytelling mission

I’ve always been interested in writing, and I’d made attempts at other subjects. But when I found cooking as my subject, I realized that this was the story I had to tell, the one I knew best. For the past 15 years or so, I’ve been cooking, and it’s entrenched itself in my life. Even though people have been (at least over the past decade or so) really interested in what goes on in restaurants, it’s such a beautiful and intricate world, and it’s so dynamic that there’s much more to be added to the picture. I felt like this was the time to make my contribution.

My mission was to pay homage to the cooks, to the kitchen itself, to the calling. It’s not a story about me. It’s a story about all these people that do this every day. These people work hard in the service of others, an honorable undertaking. It’s a weird, idiosyncratic family of people, and there’s all the love and dysfunction of a family. We’re in it together. We’re here to help each other help the people in the dining room get the nourishment, the satisfaction, and the delight that they’re looking for as well. I want to let people know how beautiful that dynamic is.

On the “characters” that populate his story

The vast majority of the characters in this book are all actual, singular people I worked with, and many of the names are still the same. With each one, my task was to capture the best example of the fish cook and the meat cook and the entremetier, drawing from the people that I know. When it came to the chef, that was really difficult, because what “chef” means to me is an amalgamation of a lot of different people. So in order to stick the landing with the chef character, I borrowed the appearance of a particular guy and the résumé and backstory of another particular guy and the attitude of another guy--three people who are all very dear to me. The restaurant itself is primarily one place, with characteristics borrowed from others to make it as crisp a picture as possible.

On why he wrote a memoir in second person

I regard Sous Chef as a memoir, because this was my lived experience. It’s a sticky argument, but I’m not betraying the trust of the reader--this is just the reality of what it’s like. I wrote it in second person because the kitchen—not me—is the star of the show. I’m not trying to say, “Look at all my trials and tribulations. Look at what great food I made.” I’m saying, “Picture yourself in this role that I’ve lived. This is what a day will look like for you.”

On essential cookbooks and food writing

There are loads of amazing newer cookbooks out there, like Eleven Madison Park and To the Bone, the Paul Liebrandt that just came out.

French-LaundryBut you have to give credit to the godfather of these modern cookbooks: Thomas Keller, The French Laundry Cookbook. It changed the game for what we could expect from a cookbook in terms of the beauty of the food, treating the food with a tender touch in the pictures, and how in-depth the recipes are. But also the supplemental material, where Keller riffs on their philosophy at that restaurant and the reasons they did certain things. The French Laundry set a new tone for how we should be thinking about professional cooking in this country, and that was a really formative book in my life as a cook.

Then there's The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher. She’s the godmother of this kind of writing. She in her sort of Dorothy Parker way fuses light, beautiful language with really informative subject matter. She turned me on to nonfiction, especially food writing. Essential Cuisine by Michel Bras is another visual lodestar that changed my own plating game. And A Return to Cooking by Eric Ripert put me back in touch with how important it is to think not just that you’re a badass restaurant cook, but to remember what cooking is all about on a personal level, on a home level.

I really appreciate Daniel Boulud’s Letters to a Young Chef, and Marco Pierre White’s White Heat is another game-changer--he opens up and he’s like, “This is what I do. I’m not going to apologize for it, and I just try really hard.” There’s some naked vulnerability with that, accompanied by a power and audacity that I really appreciate.

The list really goes on. But I’d also have to include every Chez Panisse cookbook, where they explained, like, where they get the pig. Alice Waters started this whole awareness of where the pig is from, where the lettuce is from, what the earth is like that the carrots are plucked from.

We’d have to order in some lunch if you want to continue this conversation, but those are my essentials.

On his new restaurant, opening soon

It’s a fairly large space in Midtown, Manhattan, with a few different kitchens, not unlike a place called Eataly, Mario Batali’s place. The upstairs restaurant space will be my own, and I’m working with a team of two other people to open the entire space. It’s a large venue, and it’s been a long time coming. These things are slow moving, but we’re getting close, which feels great. We’re aiming and hoping for mid-summer.

Michael Gibney began working in restaurants at the age of sixteen and assumed his first sous chef position at twenty-two. He ascended to executive sous chef at Tavern on the Green, where he managed an eighty-person staff. Over the course of his career, he has had the opportunity to work alongside cooks and chefs from many of the nation’s best restaurants, including Alinea, Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Daniel, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, Bouley, Ducasse, Corton, wd~50, and Momofuku. In addition to his experience in the food service industry, Gibney also holds a BFA in painting from Pratt Institute and an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

 

10 Immortal Gifts Between Writers and Their Beloveds

Writers-CoversTo celebrate this amorous season, Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon, authors of Writers Between the Covers: The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads, present the 10 most memorable gestures of affection between writers and their lovers (including one that was mistakenly--and scandalously--delivered to the wrong woman).

 

1. Gustave Flaubert

Flaubert gave a whole new meaning to the idea of re-gifting in his novel Madame Bovary.

A heartfelt token he had received from his longtime mistress Louise Colet—a cigar holder engraved with the words “Amor nel cor” (Love in the heart)—inspired Emma Bovary to bestow a seal with the same motto on her rakish lover. The fictional rogue later breaks off their relationship in a letter he cruelly marks with the romantic insignia.

 

2. John Keats

The Romantic poet fell in love with the girl next door, Fanny Brawne, only to be parted from her by illness. Keats hoped a short stay in Italy would bolster his health, never imagining the parting gifts the couple exchanged would be their last.

He gave Fanny his cherished Shakespeare folio with personalized notes written in the margins, while she lined his traveling cap with silk and presented him with a lock of her hair.

 

Author-Shakespeare

3. William Shakespeare

When the Bard passed away, he ignited a four-hundred-year controversy by leaving his “second-best” bed to his wife, Anne. The perceived snub led many to speculate that his marriage had been unhappy.

But contrary to appearances, the bequest was probably a romantic gesture rather than a slight. Tudor custom dictated the best bed be reserved for guests, while the second-best bed would have been the one on which Anne conceived their children.

 

Author-Margaret-Mitchell Margaret-Mitchell-Typewrite4. Margaret Mitchell

The aspiring writer received more than tea and sympathy from her husband while she was housebound recovering from a car accident.

He presented her with a secondhand typewriter and a sheaf of paper, saying: “Madam, I greet you on the beginning of a great new career.”

By then Mitchell had read most of the books at the library, and her husband insisted she try writing one of her own. Taking up his challenge, she set to work on her masterpiece, Gone with the Wind.

 

Invisible-woman5. Charles Dickens

The Victorian novelist should have chosen his jeweler more carefully. When he ordered a bracelet inscribed to his mistress, Nelly Ternan, it was accidentally delivered to his wife instead.

The misdirected gift was the last straw in a string of indignities. Catherine Dickens finally left her philandering husband, engulfing him in a sea of scandal.

 

Author-Henry6. O. Henry

When the struggling scribe saved up money for his wife to attend the Chicago World’s Fair, she took the cash but never boarded the train. Instead she used the gift to spruce up their sparse cottage with muslin curtains and wicker chairs.

Later, while her husband was on the lam avoiding embezzlement charges, she made a lace handkerchief and auctioned it for twenty-five dollars in order to send him a Christmas care package. Her generous acts inspired his tale “The Gift of the Magi.”

 

7. Jack Kerouac

Edie Parker’s wedding gift to Jack Kerouac was bail money. She tapped into her inheritance to spring him from the slammer, with the stipulation that they tie the knot. The pair swapped vows while he was handcuffed to a police detective, after being arrested as a material witness in a murder investigation. Not surprisingly, the hasty nuptials ended in divorce six months later.

 

Hemingway The-farm-19228. Ernest Hemingway

Struggling writer Hemingway hit up friends for cash to buy his wife, Hadley, an impressive gift: Joan Miró’s oil painting The Farm.

A roll of the dice between Hemingway and an acquaintance decided who had dibs on buying the coveted canvas, which the novelist victoriously toted home to Hadley in a taxi.

Today The Farm is on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

 

9. George Sand

The stormy two-year liaison between French novelist George Sand and dissolute poet Alfred de Musset was rife with quarrels, breakups, and tearful reunions. When their relationship finally fell apart for good, Sand said farewell with a dramatic parting gesture. Like the heroine in her novel Indiana, she cut off her dark, waist-length hair and sent it to Musset in a skull.

10. Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The honeymoon phase was still going strong three years after Elizabeth Barrett Browning defied her tyrannical father to marry Robert and elope to Italy. On their third anniversary, she presented her beloved with forty-four sonnets she had secretly penned during their clandestine courtship. Among the intimate love poems is number 43, which begins with the now-famous lines “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

-- Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon are the authors of Writers Between the Covers and Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen’s Bath to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West. Joni lives in London; Shannon is a full-time traveler. They can be found at www.NovelDestinations.com.

 

2013 National Book Award Winners Announced

Good-Lord-Bird-CoverThe Amazon Books editors are thrilled to be in New York for the National Book Awards. The after-party calls, so we'll tell you about our favorite moments tomorrow.

Tonight, we salute the magnificent work of this year's winners.

Winner--Literarian Award: Dr. Maya Angelou

Winner--Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters: E. L. Doctorow

Fiction Winner: James McBride for The Good Lord Bird

Nonfiction Winner: George Packer for The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America

Young People's Literature Winner: Cynthia Kadohata for The Thing About Luck

Poetry Winner: Mary Szybist for Incarnadine

See this year's full longlist and finalists.

Amy Stewart's Cocktailian Tribute to Elizabeth Gilbert's "The Signature of All Things"

Sig-coverAmy Stewart's anecdotal guide to intoxicating plants, The Drunken Botanist, includes almost every family but moss, the lush creeper that's the object of Alma Whittaker's botanical affections in Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things.

But moss's mixological unsuitability didn't deter Stewart from concocting a signature cocktail in tribute to Gilbert's novel--an ideal drink for book clubs who've joined Alma in a state of intoxicated wonder at the natural world. Below, Stewart talks about her inspiration for a drink she readily admits is weird.

The Drunken Botanist and The Signature of All Things were both selected by Amazon's editors as two of the top 100 Best Books of 2013.

___________________________________________________________________________

Signature of All Things cocktailAmy Stewart: I ran into Elizabeth Gilbert at a party last spring where we swapped stories about botany for the better part of an hour. The woman was glowing—glowing!—with excitement over moss, weird botanical history, and obscure plant science, all of which figured into her newest work, The Signature of All Things.

I knew at that moment that Elizabeth would appreciate a deep green, mossy libation in a completely un-ironic way, and since I had just published The Drunken Botanist, I felt compelled to create the perfect botanical cocktail in celebration of her novel.

The rest of you are free to appreciate it in an ironic way. I'll admit that it's a weird-looking drink, but then again, moss is a weird-looking plant. This cocktail has been thoroughly taste-tested by a group of discerning drinkers and pronounced delightful. I only hope it is worthy of Alma Whittaker. Oh, and don't worry—no actual moss was harmed in the making of the drink.

The Signature of All Things Cocktail

1.5 oz. Odwalla Superfood, Naked Green Machine, or another fruity green juice

1 oz. Botanist Gin

.5 oz. St-Germain elderflower liqueur

1 dash orange bitters

Lemon wedge

2 oz. sparkling wine

Fern for garnish

Combine the first four ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Squeeze the lemon wedge into the shaker, add ice, and shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a fern or another unusual leaf.

(Note: Braken ferns can be toxic if eaten in large quantity. This garnish is not intended to be eaten.)

Savory Thanksgiving Side: Danielle’s Sweet Potato Gratin from "Ottolenghi"

Ottolenghi

We asked Yotam Ottolenghi (Plenty, Jerusalem) to share a recipe from the new American edition of his debut cookbook, Ottolenghi--something he considers a particularly smashing side dish at a holiday feast. He came back with a sweet potato gratin worhty of a face-off with the candied yams. Enjoy--and browse more of our editors' picks for the best cookbooks and more guides to Holiday Entertaining.

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This comforting dish was created by Danielle Postma, who is now back home in South Africa running her own blossoming food business, Moema’s. We would have loved to take some credit for Danielle’s success, but she actually had it all before coming to Ottolenghi. Danielle’s big personality and warmth make everybody fall in love with her in an instant. She has a natural gift for presentation and, like herself, her food constantly smiles.

This dish is simple but effective due to the way the potatoes are arranged in the baking dish. You can prepare everything a day in advance and have it ready in the fridge to just pop in the oven. The sage can be replaced with thyme, or you could use both. Make sure you choose orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (as opposed to the paler variety).

Serves 4 to 6

6 medium sweet potatoes (about 3¼ lb / 1.5 kg in total)

5 tbsp coarsely chopped sage, plus extra for garnish

6 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tsp coarse sea salt

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 cup / 250 ml heavy cream

1  Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. Wash the sweet potatoes (do not peel them) and cut them into disks ¼ inch / 5 mm thick. A mandoline is best for this job but you could use a sharp knife.

2  In a bowl, mix together the sweet potatoes, sage, garlic, salt, and pepper. Arrange the slices of sweet potato in a deep, medium-size ovenproof dish by taking tight packs of them and standing them up next to one another. They should fit together quite tightly so you get parallel lines of sweet potato slices (skins showing) along the length or width of the dish. Throw any remaining bits of garlic or sage from the bowl over the potatoes. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, place in the oven, and roast for 45 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and pour the cream evenly over the potatoes. Roast, uncovered, for a further 25 minutes. The cream should have thickened by now. Stick a sharp knife in different places in the dish to make sure the potatoes are cooked. They should be totally soft.

3  Serve immediately, garnished with sage, or leave to cool down. In any case, bringing the potatoes to the table in the baking dish, after scraping the outside clean, will make a strong impact.

Yotam Ottolenghi is co-owner of four Ottolenghi restaurants, co-author of Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, and author of the weekly New Vegetarian column in the Guardian newspaper. He lives in London.

Simply Exquisite App: Zucchini Patties from Einat Admony's "Balaboosta"

Balaboosta

This dish is so incredibly simple to make, but the results are exquisite. Serve with plain yogurt or, better, with Wild West Dressing.... In a pinch, bread crumbs from store-bought challah are fine too.

Serves 4 to 6

3 medium zucchini

1 medium yellow onion

1 leek, white and light green parts only, finely chopped

21⁄2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

1⁄3 cup crumbs made from Challah (page 24)

1 large egg, beaten

Canola oil

Kosher salt

1. Finely grate the zucchini and onion. Wrap the grated vegetables in a clean dish towel and twist both ends over the kitchen sink to squeeze out all the excess moisture.

2. Combine the zucchini, onion, leek, dill, and bread crumbs in a large bowl. Add the egg and use your hands to mix everything together. Shape the mixture into 2-inch patties.

3. Add 1/2 inch of oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Cook the zucchini patties in the hot oil until both sides are golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels and season with salt.

Einat Admony is a 21st-century balaboosta (Yiddish for “perfect housewife”). She’s a mother and wife, but also a chef busy running three bustling New York City restaurants. Her debut cookbook, Balaboosta, features 140 of the recipes she cooks for the people she loves—her children, her husband, and the many friends she regularly entertains.


Browse more Amazon Books editors' picks for the best cookbooks and more guides to Holiday Entertaining.

The 10 Scariest Books You've Ever Read

It-CoverIn the lead-up to All Hallows' Eve, we asked our Amazon Books Facebook fans to cast their vote (via comments) for the scariest book they'd ever read. Out of nearly 500 votes cast, 38% went to Stephen King. Fans split on which of his books were the freakiest, but there was one clear winner.

1. It by Stephen King: King's story of seven friends from a small Maine town who are drawn back as adults to vanquish the evil they fought as children got twice as many fan votes as any other book. Several said they were too scared to finish it, reported nightmares, and were never able to look at a clown the same way again ("hate those creepy clowns!").

2. The Shining by Stephen King: The Torrance family’s attempt at a fresh start caretaking the off-season Overlook Hotel goes horribly awry as sinister forces gather. Fans recalled being especially unnerved by the woman in the bathtub ("scared the crap out of me") and the playground scene ("Danny in the tube with something else! Terrifying!"). And one cited the Friends episode where Joey was so afraid of this book, he stored it in the freezer.

3. 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King: Senior Editor Jon Foro calls this "King's creepy riff on Dracula, shifting the angst from Victorian repression to the secrets of a small town that come out of the cellars after the sun goes down." One fan reported, "I could only read it during the day so the vampires couldn't get me," while others foiled the fangs by sleeping with a cross or blankets around the neck. Yet another swore off scary books for good after this one: "I haven't read a Stephen King book since. Or any other scary book, really."

4. Pet Sematary by Stephen King: As one of King's characters says of the cemetery's effects, "Heroin makes junkies feel good when they put it in their arms, but all the time it's poisoning their mind and body--this place can be like that and don't you ever forget it!" Fans insist the book's even scarier than the movie, and for those who were able to finish, its necrotic claws have left some scars: "Still can't look at cats!"

5. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty: One of the most terrifying, controversial novels ever published, The Exorcist became a phenomenal best-seller soon after its release in 1971. Several fans who read this book report being unable to watch the movie (out of self-preservation). Another explained simply, "I don't read scary books anymore."

6. The Stand by Stephen King: When a rapidly mutating flu virus escapes a U.S. military facility and wipes out nearly all the world's population, the stage is set for an apocalyptic showdown. For many, this book terrified because it's so plausible: "It just doesn't seem to be out of the realm of possibility." One fan reports, "I think of it every time I pass through a tunnel."

7. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: Speaking of real, Capote’s "nonfiction novel" about the brutal murder of the Clutter family by would-be robbers invented a new genre, creative nonfiction, and his scenes of bloody walls and the "thud-snap" of rope-broken necks terrified readers. One fan said, "it bothered me that there are people in the world like that," while another agreed, and noted that "I thought it would be a dull read, but really the creepiest thing out there."

8. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill: Amazon Senior Editor Robin Rothman notes that "while King is clearly supreme, I still can’t stop thinking about N0S4A2 by his son, Joe Hill. The apple doesn’t fall far from the twisted tree." Our Facebook fans favored Hill's creepy Heart-Shaped Box ("scared the bejesus out of me!"). One gave this testimonial: "I've read horror all my life, practically--the only book that gave me nightmares is Heart-Shaped Box."

9. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski: Our reviewer John Ponyicsanyi said, "Had The Blair Witch Project been a book instead of a film, and had it been written by, say, Nabokov at his most playful, revised by Stephen King at his most cerebral, and typeset by the futurist editors of Blast at their most avant-garde, the result might have been something like House of Leaves." One of our fans described the experience of reading it: "I felt like if I took my eyes off the page and looked up, the room would suddenly and inexplicably have acquired a new door or unfamiliar hallway. Terrifying."

10. The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson: In late 1975, the Lutz family moved into a Long Island house, knowing that a year earlier, Ronald DeFeo had murdered his parents, brothers, and sisters there. Less than a month later, they fled in terror. Whether it’s true or not, the story of a house possessed by evil became a huge best-seller, and it scared the pants off many fans, one of whom called it "absolutely the most frightening book I've ever read!" Another said, it "just made me feel unclean inside."

If you've already read everything on this list and want another jolt of pure literary fear, have you succumbed yet to Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House? Jon Foro calls this classic of the genre a "ghost story superbly crafted and unnerving as hell, a book best read alone."

Thanks to all our Facebook fans who shared their scariest reading moments! --Mari

 

An Autumnal Treat: Roasted-Pumpkin Ice Cream Recipe from "Bountiful"

Bountiful_Ice_Cream-FB

Photographers and foodies Todd Porter and Diane Cu have a phenomenally popular blog, WhiteonRiceCouple.com, where they share their love of cooking seasonally with veggies and fruits from their lush Californian garden. Their first cookbook, Bountiful, boasts 100 recipes (90 never-before-seen) with a vegetable or fruit in a starring role. We especially love this ingenious roasted-pumpkin ice cream (with simple and complex variations), a supremely autumnal indulgence, either alone or with your favorite fall pie. --Mari

ROASTED-PUMPKIN ICE CREAM

MAKES ABOUT 1½ QUARTS (1.5 L)

It seems as if just a few years ago it was almost impossible to find pie pumpkins, even in October, but now we are seeing them everywhere. Yay! Roasting a pumpkin for puree is one of the most minimal-effort-for-maximum-gain-over-store-bought things you can do in the kitchen. Make sure to use pie pumpkins or sugar pumpkins, not the jack-o’-lantern behemoths—those big boys don’t have the best taste or texture. If you are roasting a large heirloom pumpkin, cutting it in half and roasting it on an oiled sheet pan, cut side down, will shorten the cooking time.

1 small pie pumpkin (makes about 2 cups / 480ml puree)

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¹⁄8 teaspoon ground cloves

¼ cup (55g) packed brown sugar

1 quart (1L) Vanilla Rum Ice Cream (see recipe below) or store bought vanilla ice cream

NOTE: There is a long way and a short way to make this ice cream. Go crazy and make your own vanilla rum ice cream, stirring the puree and spices into the ice cream just after you finish churning. Or for the short version, let a container of your favorite vanilla ice cream soften up, then stir in the pumpkin and spices.

1 Turn the oven to 375°F (190°C); you do not need to preheat.

2 Place the pumpkin on a sheet pan and roast for about 1 hour, until it feels soft when you press its sides. Remove it from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.

3 Split the pumpkin open and remove all the seeds and stringy bits, then scrape out the flesh. Puree the flesh in a blender or food processor until smooth.

4 Stir the vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and brown sugar into the puree.

5 Allow the ice cream to soften and stir in the puree. You may either serve the soft ice cream immediately or allow it to harden up in the freezer before serving.

Boutiful-CoverVANILLA RUM ICE CREAM

MAKES ABOUT 1 QUART (1L)

1½ cups (360ml) heavy cream

1 cup (240ml) milk

½ cup (100g ) sugar

Pinch of kosher or sea salt

1 whole vanilla bean

5 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons dark rum

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: Ice cream machine

1 In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, milk, sugar, and salt. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the cream mixture, then add the bean pod as well.

2 Heat to a bare simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and cover. Set aside for 30 minutes.

3 In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly whisk the cream mixture into the yolks, then pour everything back into the saucepan.

4 Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom as you stir. Cook until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spatula or wooden spoon, 1 to 2 minutes after reaching a bare simmer. Remove the vanilla bean pod.

5 Pour the custard through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Place the container in an ice bath and stir the custard occasionally until it is cool, about 20 minutes.

6 Stir in the vanilla extract and rum. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

7 Freeze according to the ice cream machine directions. While churning the ice cream, place the container in which you will store the ice cream in the freezer to chill. Store the ice cream in the freezer until ready to serve.

Find more deliciously seasonal recipes in Todd Porter and Diane Cu's Bountiful: Recipes Inspired by Our Garden.

Finding Cosmos in a Bed of Moss: Our Interview with Elizabeth Gilbert

If you know Elizabeth Gilbert from her Eat, Pray, Love reputation or her books about rough men, a birth-to-death novel about a Victorian-era woman who becomes a moss taxonimist--in spite of staying largely confined to her family's estate until she's 50--probably sounds like a surprisingly introverted turn. But The Signature of All Things is an earthy, elegant, deeply sensual novel, dazzling in its breadth and passion. Through the life of her heroine, Alma, we glimpse the whole cosmos, its infinite worlds within worlds.

My conversation with Gilbert in Seattle last spring was one of the highlights of my book-loving life, so I decided to post a lightly edited transpcript of our conversation, broken it out by topic, so you can listen in and jump to the topics that most intrigue you.

On the Desire to Explore, Sublimated & Indulged

Mari Malcolm: There’s a persistent theme of exploration in your books—of yearning to become the person you need to be and going in search of it. When Eat, Pray, Love came out, a lot of people had the reaction of “I want to do that, but I can’t go travel and have these profound experiences because I don’t have the money, or I don’t have the time, or I’m just not at liberty to go anywhere.” I felt like that experience of frustrated longing was really beautifully explored in this book through Alma’s life—she figured out a way to explore, despite her constraints. Was that conscious?

Elizabeth Gilbert: It was conscious, but not in the sense of being a direct answer. That’s a question I get a lot from people after reading Eat, Pray, Love: “I want to do that, but I can’t do that, so what should I do?” I completely respect the ways people are bound in the lives that they have, whether it’s because of forces outside of their control or choices that they’ve made that they want to honor with their own responsibilities and obligations—taking care of people around them or being a part of a community, or their work, or whatever keeps them in one place, and those responsibilities may be in conflict with desires that they have to get divorced and move to India.” [Laughs]

I was really interested in the idea of 19th-century botanical exploration. There were so many great male botanical explorers, and there were so many great female botanical illustrators, because they couldn’t go on the trips. But when the men would come home with their drawings and sketches of these exotic plants, it was invariably the wives and daughters of the explorers who did that work for them, especially the painting and the lithography. And of course, women like flowers, and botany was the only science that women could really participate in because it wasn’t considered unladylike.

With Alma, I really wanted to explore what would happen to a woman with a tremendous mind, with tremendous potential and curiosity, if she couldn’t leave her home. What do you do? I’m interested in how people sublimate their desire for knowledge and exploration when they can’t leave their house. Half the book is about that.

And then it’s so funny, because about halfway through the book I fling her out into the world because even I couldn’t take it anymore. [Laughs] And I was like, ahhh, hell with it, she’s going on an adventure! She’s 50 years old, and it’s time for her to see the world. And her life as an adventurer really begins at 50, which also fascinated me, because I see that happen a lot for women who can’t travel when they’re young, and then their kids grow up and they become amazing adventurers. Travel is not only for the young. Sometimes it’s wasted on the young.

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On the Books That Inspired The Signature of All Things

MM: What sparked your obsession with botanical explorers?

EG: So this whole project came out of the rediscovery of a family treasure, something I had always known about but had not touched in many years. My great-grandfather was a book collector, and he had somehow—probably around 1915—acquired this exceedingly rare, very beautiful 1784, printed-in-London edition of Captain Cook’s Three Voyages Around the World. And it’s really a spectacular book. It looks like something that should be on a magician’s bookshelf, and we had it in our house when we were kids, and it was one of the objects in our house that we could not touch, ‘cause it was really much nicer than anything that my family deserved to have [laughs] in our farmhouse, on our Christmas tree farm. And because of the fact that it was the biggest book in the house, and one that looked the most exotic, and almost talismanic and hypnotic, of course I touched it all the time, and recently discovered—or my mother discovered—that I had in fact scrawled my name in it as a child, when I was four years old, misspelled, but I’d laid claim to that book.

That book ended up in my hands because I was the person who’d destroyed its value, so my parents were like, “Ah, you might as well have it.” And I found, at the age of forty, that I was just as fascinated with the book as I was at four.  And it led me to look more closely at Captain Cook and then very quickly to make that charismatic jump to Joseph Banks, who I think is a more interesting character, and his scientific passion and botanical exploration became the basis for the entire book.

MM: Which other books were essential?

LG: I read—oh God, I read so much. For three years, all I did was read for hours and hours and hours a day. Kind of ruined my eyes on this. But there was this weird kind of 19th-century glory in that, too, because all those guys ruined their eyes. They were always writing in letters, “I’ve ruined my eyes, I’ve ruined my health from my studiousness!”—they were such scholars. So I felt a kinship, like “I’m going blind!” [Laughs] There’s such a noble history in ruining your eyes by over-reading.

I read hundreds of books, but some of the key ones—there were some great biographies of Alfred Russel Wallace that were really important in shaping the end of the book. There were some writings of some of the wonderful 19th-century botanists. There was a woman named Mary Treat who lived in New Jersey and was a correspondent of Darwin, and she corrected him on carnivorous plants—she was an expert on them because of living in the swamps. So they had a long correspondence, and he really admired her. And there were other greats as well.

But their letters: that’s where you hear their voices. So I read so many letters, and not just letters of naturalists and scientists of the day, but there’s a great journal that a lot of historians reach for, that a late-19th-century Philadelphia housewife kept for her entire existence, and it’s become this kind of bedrock of Philadelphia history.

MM: Is that the journal you quote where she says that the weather’s backwards, during the Year Without a Summer? You reference in 1816 a housewife’s diary where she says “weather backwards.”

LG: Yes. And that’s where she says, “snowbells and bluebirds in the same day,” because there were these late snow storms. There’s all this very specific detail that comes from her. And also from Thoreau’s letters and Whitman’s letters, and Emerson’s and Dickinson’s letters—I read all of them just to get a tone, a 19th-century tone of speech and writing that would feel convincing. It was really important to me not to write a book that would pass as a 19th-century novel—I think about The Signature of All Things as a contemporary book about the 19th century. At the same time, I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a word in there that wouldn’t have existed at the time, and dialogue that felt true. And that you can only get from letters, because that’s the closest you can get to overhearing a conversation.

Continue reading "Finding Cosmos in a Bed of Moss: Our Interview with Elizabeth Gilbert" »

Picking Tips for Aspiring Mushroom Hunters

The Mushroom HuntersAfter Jon Foro highlighted Langdon Cook's The Mushroom Hunters--which he called "a collection of delightful stories of a mycelial underground filled with eccentrics and obsessives who at first seem strange (and maybe even unsettling), but grow more charming by the page"--in our Big Fall Books Preview, our whole editorial team got an unusual invitation: Langdon was headed out to the south end of the Olympic Peninsula, hunting the first chanterelles of the season with two of the pro pickers profiled in his book. They'd be shadowed by a crew shooting a new PBS show called Food Forward. Would we like to come? This was like being asked if we wanted to step into the book for a day, to meet the characters and experience the hunt--an opportunity too rare to miss.

Meeting Doug and Jeff in real life was surreal and awesome. They were exactly as Lang had described them--maybe a little more charming due to the presence of a lady--and almost immediately they felt like friends. Once we got to the patch, Langdon and the guys got us picking on one side of the hill, while they filmed take after take for the intrepid PBS crew.

It was an epic day, culminating with Lang giving Doug and Jeff their own copies of the book. We felt privileged to be a part of it. A few days later, Doug sent Lang this review: "On commercial fishing boats, you're working all the time so your free time is precious. I've tossed a lot of books aside without finishing. This is a book I would have finished on the boat." Now that's high praise.

Here's what we learned from our day of picking with the pros.

What to Bring

Even when you've relished many a mushroom on the plate, it can feel risky to pick in the wild without a guide. If you can't go with seasoned pickers, get a pack-sized fungi guide for your region (in the Pacific Northwest, All That the Rain Promises and More has long been a go-to source) and note the tell-tale signs of any lookalikes you might encounter.

You'll need a knife--but a sharp one might not be the right choice. Jon has a small collection of folding pocket knives that uses for camping and backpacking, and he chose his sharpest. He would have been better off with a cheap steak knife, like Lang, Doug, and Jeff had. While his blade squeaked and struggled against the stems, they made quick, clean cuts. Also consider a sheath for your belt. It’s easy to imagine how stumbling on wet, bushy slopes with a naked blade could lead to a bad outcome.

You’ll need picking buckets--the 5-gallon kind, with a lid to keep out the rain. Lang had been vague, so Mari bought cute little ones. Luckily, they had an extra bucket to share, and Doug wiped it out well, giving us our first lesson: start clean.

And don't forget to pack a lunch.

What to Wear

Doug with One Basket of His BountyExpect to get (as Lang says) “walking-through-a-car-wash wet,” especially if you're heading into the epicenter of North America’s chanterelle harvest, on the fringe of the Olympic rainforest. We drove down from Seattle through a hope-we’re-still-on-the-road downpour, and even under the dense evergreen canopy, the deluge comes through in thick drips.

Lang and Mari were decked in head-to-toe in rain gear—and very comfortable for it. But the pros don’t prioritize comfort. Doug and Jeff showed up in jeans, cotton, and flannel, clothing apparently designed to soak up water and suck the heat from your flesh. Doug explained: Mushrooming, especially in the rain, is a dirty business. He uses his cotton hoodie to wipe the dirt and needles from mushroom caps (not to mention hands and knives) before he drops them in his bucket. Try that with a slick rain shell, and you'll be wanting cotton. Just bring a change of clothes for later.

Lace up some burly boots. One of our biggest surprises--even after reading about the wild terrain--was how consciously we had to focus on finding and keeping our footing. The second-growth Douglas fir forests favored by chanterelles have steep, uneven ridges and folds, and the spongy duff is so thick in places, you feel like your foot just punched through a snowdrift. Rain-slicked logs and blackberry vines can trip and roll you. Many of the professional pickers—including Doug—are former loggers, to whom navigating rough woods is second nature; others are Southeast Asian refugees who survived in jungles with far greater hazards (like armed militants) before turning their foraging skills to our fungi. Whatever your experience level, you’re going to need footwear with solid tread. Just take care not to stomp the chanties.

How to Get There

Lobster Mushroom Fruiting Through the Moss

Whether you’re following a tip or your own instincts for good fungi habitat, know you’ll have to go far beyond the main roads; the easy patches get trampled and picked out. If you’re going to make any kind of haul (for profit or fun), you’re going to have to go adventuring. One of the reasons so many loggers made the transition to mushroom picking is that they knew the prime spots through years of working the forests—and many of those patches are accessible only through logging roads and other ad hoc access points. Expect to drive through mud, around stumps, and over fallen trees and strapping saplings.

When you can’t drive any further without fear of rupturing a vital vehicular organ, wade into the woods. If you’re in the right kind of place, any footpath you stumble across will have been made by a mushroom hunter, or some other woodland animal. But once you start picking, the trail is largely irrelevant--just do your best to avoid trampling plants and fungi.

This is when it pays to know your trees and the mushrooms who love them. Each mushroom species has their preferred growing environments, and those often include symbiotic relationships with certain trees. Much of the Olympic Peninsula has been logged (and re-logged), and the inheritors of much of the land are Douglas firs—the perfect growing hosts for chanterelles. So while you're dog-earring your mushroom guidebook, bone up on your trees, too. Know your pines from your spruce, and what might be hiding underneath their respective needles.

How to Pick

Chanterelles Drying Off at HomeRecalling the buy-stand scenes in the book, we already knew that the pros pick clean. Dirt on a mushroom stays on a mushroom, especially in the gills. That puts you on the bad side of potential buyers, who are already professionally grumpy from their competitive, low-margin market. The first trick to picking clean is picking dry—rain will cause dirt and forest detritus to stick to your 'shrooms. If you can’t pick dry (and mushroom season often follows rain), try to lift each chanty out of the duff with minimal disturbance, and get it in the bucket under your lid.

You'll also want to pick fast. Honestly, it’s incredible that anyone could do this for a living. In the two hours or so we spent hunting chanties, we probably picked three pounds between us. At the $2 per pound we’d get at a buying station, we were better off eating them. Given the time and gas it takes to get to premium patches, a professional mushroom picker is already staring at a deficit. But in the same afternoon, Doug and Jeff managed to pick 60 pounds, even while being stopped and directed by the camera crew. Uninhibited, they might have pulled 200 pounds or more, which is both amazing and barely adequate, financially.

Another conundrum is picking for size vs. quality. While larger “flowers” obviously weigh more, the smaller “buttons” will fetch more at market. The guys seemed mildly impressed by the volume of buttons in our bucket, and we imagined that Jeremy Faber, founder of Foraged & Found Edibles and one of the primary characters in The Mushroom Hunters, would have graded them favorably.

When you get home, dry any damp fungi on newspaper or paper towels overnight, and whatever doesn’t fall off will be more easily brushed away.

What to Cook

Lang's Creamy Chanterelle PastaIf you’re not trying to pick for a living, here’s the real reason to go: mushrooms you pick yourself taste more delicious than anything you’ll find at the store. Chanterelles will last for a week in the fridge, but the aroma—a piney apricot—is most intoxicating that first night, so if you have everything ready to make Langdon Cook’s Creamy Chanterelle Pasta, it will likely be one of your life's great meals.

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter

4 slices (1/4 pound) thick, quality bacon, diced (or the equivalent of pancetta)

1 or 2 shallots, finely chopped

1 pound shaped pasta

1 pound fresh chanterelles (or the equivalent frozen)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 pint heavy cream (or less)

4 ounces garden peas, fresh or frozen

1/2 cup grated Parmesan, with more for the table

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat and the diced bacon. Do not drain fat.

As bacon begins to crisp, add shallots and cook until tender, a few minutes. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and add pasta. Add chanterelles to skillet and cook several minutes, stirring occasionally, until they have released their water. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large glass or ceramic mixing bowl, add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and half the cream. Place mixing bowl in warm oven. Slowly add remaining cream to skillet and simmer, continuing to stir occasionally while pasta cooks. When pasta is nearly done, add peas to chanterelle sauce.

Remove pasta from heat, drain, and pour into warmed mixing bowl. Mix in sauce along with grated Parmesan and serve immediately.

If you’re worried about all that cream and butter, open an extra bottle of red wine. Serves 4.

Langdon Cook writes about the fascinating characters who live at the intersection of food and nature. He's the author of Fat of the Land and The Mushroom Hunters, an Amazon Best Book of the Month pick. Follow him at his blog, Fat of the Land.

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