Beyond the Beach
The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization
By Alice Feiring
Calvin Trillin once wrote, "When I'm trying to select a bottle of wine, I'm strongly influenced by the picture on the label. I like a nice mountain, preferably in the middle distance." A vague but pleasant notion of unspoiled pastoralism continues to surround wines, but Alice Feiring is having none of it. In her memoir The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, Feiring shows that behind the nice mountain, most vintners engineer wines using designer yeasts, reverse osmosis, micro-oxygenation, powdered tannins, and an array of enzymes and other additives. The point of these Frankenstein-esque techniques? A big, uniform, fruity flavor profile that will earn big "Parker Points". (Robert Parker, the influential critic at the Wine Advocate, is, along with industrial agriculture, the Big Bad Wolf here.)
This is an impassioned and occasionally illuminating book (though stories of Feiring's beaux sprinkled throughout the text—all poorly defined blokes with Sex and the City–style monikers like Mr. Bow-tie and Owl Man—feel like an afterthought). But if Feiring fails to tell us much about these characters, her reason seems obvious: her real romance is with wines. To them she ascribes deep roots, lively characters, and peculiar personalities—a côt tasting of violets sucked through a chalk straw; a mascarello redolent of sandalwood, suede, tar, and dried roses—and writes with a warmth and specificity less frequently granted her human companions.
In the end, Feiring champions winemakers who eschew modern methods and let their wines express an authentic taste of time and place. Despite some shortcomings, The Battle for Wine offers a behind-the-scenes look at viticulture and puts the reader on alert to add terroir-true wines to his or her list of causes to support. —Karen Shimizu
Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer
By Tim Stark
(Broadway Books, 2008)
The subtitle of Tim Stark's memoir Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer hints at the unexpected career change that transformed his quiet Brooklyn life 12 years ago. Stark was an amateur gardener working as a government consultant when he stumbled on some lumber in a Dumpster, dragged it home, and decided to build tomato germination racks. To his surprise, the heirloom seedlings he planted thrived in his apartment. Soon afterward, armed with a bountiful harvest, Stark set up shop at New York City's Union Square farmers' market, where his juicy, multicolored specimens with names like Zapotec Pleated, Rose de Berne, and Cherokee Purple quickly gained a devoted following among chefs and home cooks.
Now, his days as an office drone behind him, Stark is settled on a sprawling Pennyslyvania farm, where he grows habanero chiles, microgreens, and, yes, tomatoes for chefs like Mario Batali and Daniel Boulud. In Heirloom, he recounts with some grit and some glee the obstacles he and other farmers tackle in order to supply produce to New York City's elite restaurants; for instance, one year Stark's back-breaking harvesting of spring peas was followed by a mad dash through the city to deliver them to kitchens before dinner service. Tales of his interactions with marquee chefs make for particularly engaging reading, as does his description of the close-knit (if sometimes kooky) Greenmarket culture. Here and there the writing drags— after all, the plowing of fields isn't really page-turning material—but Stark's book is bound to add another dimension to one's appreciation for the luscious, lumpy specimens that put supermarket tomatoes to shame. —Rebecca Dalzell
M.F.K. Fisher Among the Pots and Pans: Celebrating Her Kitchens
By Joan Reardon
(University of California Press, 2008)
In her new book, M.F.K. Fisher Among the Pots and Pans: Celebrating Her Kitchens, Joan Reardon, whose work also includes authoritative research on Julia Child and Alice Waters, sheds new light on one of modern gastronomy's most intriguing and inspiring figures. Published in July so that it would coincide with Fisher's 100th birthday, the book spotlights an aspect of the writer's life previously neglected by less inquisitive biographers: her experiences as a cook as revealed through her kitchens. Reardon's evocative vignettes describe both Fisher's life and the various homes she inhabited, from a closet-size apartment with a stoveless galley in Dijon, France, where she lived as a newlywed, to the sunny California kitchen of her later years. Though many of Fisher's kitchens imposed serious constraints, her cooking managed to flourish. Recipes, like the one for creamed mushrooms on toast that she picked up while living in Vevey, Switzerland, appear like gifts at the end of each chapter. —Liz McNamara
101 Sangrias & Pitcher Drinks
By Kim Haasarud
Underpinned by the logic that you can never have too much of a good thing, Kim Hassarud's new cocktail compilation, 101 Sangrias & Pitcher Drinks, presents a host of appealing riffs on the classic summertime libation of wine, fresh fruit, and spirits. A perfect bar manual for the sultry months, Haasarud's imaginative roundup puts particular emphasis on fresh ingredients like peaches, bartlett pears, and ginger, and her recipes run the gamut from simple, ultra-traditional Spanish versions to modern pomegranate and kiwi-infused twists, with consistently delicious results. Topping off Hassarud's bag of party tricks is a panoply of colorful pitcher drinks, punches, cocktail, and sangarees (boozy concoctions of wine, spirits, and spices). Our testers couldn't get enough of her potent singapore sling—a tropical favorite whose origins date to the turn of the century—and macadamia nut brûlée, an indulgent, frothy milk punch topped with crushed nuts. —Rachel Kalt
The River Cottage Family Cookbook
By Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall & Fizz Carr
(Ten Speed Press, 2008)
If you doubt that a toddler could help make béchamel, take note: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall will respectfully disagree. The British cook and culinary personality has partnered with writer and activist Fizz Carr to write The River Cottage Family Cookbook, a book that aims to teach kids that "lunch begins with raw ingredients, rather than…the opening of a jar". The authors believe that the best way to introduce their philosophy of self-sufficiency, food integrity, and a commitment to local and seasonal produce is to get the whole family involved and busy in the kitchen.
Crammed with tempting recipes like ones for crisp salmon cakes and a French-style apple tart, the Family Cookbook also contains food-centered projects and a wealth of historic and scientific tidbits. Young children will be seduced by the step-by-step guide to making pizza, and older kids will be equally diverted by the pages devoted to food politics. Simon Wheeler's photographs—depicting kids rapt in concentration as they toss pancakes, dig themselves wrist deep into bowls of gooey dough, and carefully gut a fish—are sure to persuade even the pickiest eater to enter the kitchen to help and, certainly, to eat. —Liz McNamara
The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper
By Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift
(Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2008)
The acclaimed public radio series The Splendid Table has delighted listeners around the country for years with its amusing food-related tales and tips. Now, with the publication of The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper, Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift—the show's host and producer, respectively—have taken their kitchen mission a step further and crafted a lovely cookbook that brings the humor and charm of their radio show to print.
Rossetto Kasper and Swift set themselves an ambitious challenge; in addition to introducing a mouthwatering range of recipes, they take pains to debunk common food myths, share culinary anecdotes, and give advice on everything from the making of a luxurious omelette with green apple, asiago cheese, and swiss chard to uses for leftover parmigiano-reggiano rind (FYI, simmer it in stews and soups to enhance flavor). —Rachel Kalt
Food Bites: The Science of the Foods We Eat
By Richard W. Hartel and AnnaKate Hartel
Ever wondered why the slurping of a milk shake causes a brain freeze? Richard Hartel, professor of food engineering at the University of Wisconsin, and his daughter Anna Kate Hartel, have. (It has to do with the constriction of blood vessels in the mouth.) In their new book, Food Bites: The Science of the Food We Eat, which hits bookstores this August, the authors answer a slew of other questions and explore the chemistry, physics, and engineering at work inside the American pantry. Drawn from Richard Hartel's weekly columns for Madison's Capital Times, the short, easy-to-read chapters puzzle over questions like why peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth and why fruitcake is so notoriously unpopular. Other tangents take readers into the quirky histories of junk food; who would have guessed, for example, that Lucky Charms was invented when a General Mills employee sliced Circus Peanuts, the puffy, peanut-shaped marshmallows, into a bowl of Cheerios? Readers more interested in practical advice than in trivia will find plenty to assimilate, too. To produce thicker cookies, for instance, the Hartels suggest the use of shortening instead of butter because butter melts at a lower temperature, making them thinner and crisper. Though a few chapters are less edifying (who hasn't figured out that homemade cake tastes better than the version from a boxed mix?), Food Bites is an entertaining reference for curious cooks and will come in handy the next time you wonder, say, how to keep guacamole from turning brown before a summer picnic. —Rebecca Dalzell