How Did My Holiday Wish List Get Overrun with Cookbooks Again?

stack of presents from Christmas 2010

I hadn't done a holiday wish list in years, before starting up again a few years ago at the request of my significant other's mom. Despite our sharing a common interest (loving to cook), since she rarely comes to see us in the City, she thus doesn't know what books and tools I have or do not. I get the impression it allows her to make some more informed gift choices.

I keep the Amazon wish list widget on my bookmarks bar so I can add things from anywhere I am on the web. That way I can tag adorable patterns on etsy or a Malificent pop vinyl doll on a geek news site. But somehow, every year, I end up with a stack of cookbooks in my list. Even though I have long been out of room for even 1 cookbook more on my shelves.

Here are the cookbooks that made my list this year:

  • Everyday Food made the list because of how often I make recipes from the magazine's pages.I love that on a whole, their recipes are always relatively quick and easy, yet do not rely on canned or processed food shortcuts to achieve the speed-to-table.
  • Both Bi-Rite and Cooking My Way Back Home are San Franciscan-authored, and focus on taking advantage of all the amazing seasonal produce and handcrafted food stuffs available to us in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have a feeling these two would give me a ton of new ideas for using up my Farmers' Market bounty.
  • And finally, Mozza. This one made the list due to my admiration of La Brea Bakery founder Nancy Silverton, and the fact that other than my well-worn Marcella Hazan paperbacks, I actually don't have a real Italian cookbook.

What's on your wish list this year?

Onward from a Dance with Dragons to NaNoWriMo

I've been devouring George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series for the past couple of months. I can't recall the last time a series of books has so captivated me that I've purchased the following books well before finishing the first tome. But that's how it has been with this series.

Yesterday, after a brunch of Spaten Optimator and Schnitzel at Steins on Clement (they opened on Monday in the old Pagan space), I popped in to Green Apple books with the hope that I would be able to pick up the 5th and latest book in the series, A Dance with Dragons, from their recently released used hardcover shelves. Luck was on my side -- they had one copy!

I was hit with the realisation, however, that after I zip through this book in a week or so, as I've done with the others, I don't have a next book to drop myself into. I do hope Martin doesn't take another 6 years to finish the 6th book int he series. I can't wait that long!

Timing wise, it will be good to finish up the series mid month, so I can start prepping for NaNoWriMo. I was considering skipping it this year, due to the incredibly hectic pace at work, but, frankly, you need to have some creative brain time and this is such a good, disciplined way of working that in. I have a couple of ideas to choose from, and am not yet quite sure which one is going to win out.

I think to get into the daily writing groove I'm also going to start following some of the daily writing prmpts, such as the Daily Post blog. If you have other favorite sources of writing prompts let me know.

City Living: A Crafty Sunday in SF

Green Apple BooksLast weekend, I had a quintessential city living day.

I hopped on the 28 bus and rode to Fort Mason Center to check out the Renegade Craft Fair. If you've never been to one of these, let me assure you it is not your grandmother's lace doily fest. Rather, it's a collection of all sorts of 20- and 30-something folks who make a wide range of things by hand.

Some of my favorites were:

Walking through and soaking up so much handmade creativity inspired me to head back to my neighborhood in search of some crafty projects of my own.

After enjoying Huevos Rancheros for lunch at Eats, I headed to Green Apple Books, where I picked up two books and a magazine for inspiration:

Inspirational materials in hand, I headed back towards home, stopping at Miracle Spa for a mani pedi, and relaxed while I flipped through my reading materials. Once my toes were dry, I stopped in at the hobby shop for some felt and some embroidery floss, then finally headed home.

There are days -- especially those sopping wet riding home on MUNI days-- where I ask myself: is it worth it to live in the City? Is it worth the high rent? Is it worth being dependent upon the somewhat unreliable transit? Days like this one remind me exactly why that answer is YES!

Reading a Homemade Life

Walking back from the neighborhood nail salon, enjoying the sunshine and light breeze, I started to become incredibly envious of Molly Wizenberg, whose book A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, I'd been reading while the polish dried on my toes.

I've long been a fan of her blog, Orangette. I like the long rambly stories that end in a recipe for something yummy. But while reading the book, I felt a wave of envy come over me, because so many of her stories told a tale of a truly engaged family, with a shared love of good food.

I started to think about what my imaginary book of recipes would be like... But mine was a childhood wherein I thought green beans were only available for purchase as a frozen food item, and my birthday cakes were from a boxed mix (though their amazing chocolate bar thick icing was made by hand.)

Yes, some of my initial forays into cooking and baking were beside my mother and grandmother, but on the whole it was really the absence of family around that prompted me to learn to bake, and later to cook. My joy in procuring treats from the farmers market came from moving to San Francisco and making my first trek to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, probably in 1997 or thereabouts.

It was there at that market that I discovered how different strawberries can taste when grown by different people in different locations around the Greater Bay Area. And fell in love with my favorite artichoke producer, Iacopi Farms. And the avocados from Brokaw. It opened up a whole new food world for me.

But back to the book. If you are a fan of the blog, you will find the book to be a thoroughly enjoyable, quick read. She starts out with her father's potato salad. If you read this recipe and think yum, like me, you will want to keep reading-- and dog ear some recipes for trying out soon. Highly recommended.

Green Apple Book Binge

I live in a dangerous neighborhood. It's dangerous because Green Apple Books is within walking distance. For over 40-years, it's been San Francisco's best used bookstore. My particular weakness is their robust selection of food lit, and aisles of new nonfiction that appeals to Harper's magazine readers such as myself. My last trip there I was good and didn't bring anything home. This time though, despite my overflowing bookcases, I brought home a few books.


The Omnivore's Dilemma
by Michael Pollan

It's almost embarrassing that I haven't read this yet. I can't count how many times this book has been name-checked in the NPR podcasts I listen to, blogs I read, etc. Although I do indulge in the occasional handful of cheetos and have a fondness for Kraft Mac n' cheese, I've made a conscious decision to try to think both locally and more healthfully about what I am eating. I've heard nothing but praise about how this book delves into the moral and social ramifications of our food choices as a nation.


The End of Overeating
by David A. Kessler, MD

Several of my coworkers have been raving about this book by a former FDA commissioner. Did you know that brand name ketchup served with your salty fast food fries has corn syrup? According to Kessler, these ubiquitous combinations of salt, fat and sugar is no accident. The book presents research and examinations of specific foods produced by giant food corporations and restaurant chains to explain  how the desire to eat—not to be confused with the act of eating—is stimulated in the brain by the unholy trio of salt, fat and sugar.

This Land is Their Land
by Barbara Ehrenreich

I've been a hug fan of Ehrenreich since I read her Harper's essay that became the book Nickel and Dimed (a firsthand account of life in low-hourly-wage America.) This book is a collection of short pieces that tackle current issues that contribute to the growing gap between the haves and have-nots (i.e. what used to be the middle class.)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!

by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Lewis just couldn't resist this one. I'll let you know how it turns out...

Cook the Book club

For some time now, I've been looking in all the wrong places for a way to share good food writing and feedback on food writing (both blog writing and pieces aimed for print.) I've tried courses (both online and in person) but so far have just not quite found what I was looking for within the confines of a course. Which brings me to this...

Cook the Book club

I'm looking for San Francisco food lovers who are interested in a food-related book club. My idea is for picking a cookbook or a food mag each month, and having the book club meeting have discussion of the book/mag plus a side dish of good eats. And depending on the people involved, possibly doing some sharing of food-related writing (blogging or for print) as well.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, leave me a comment or send me an email. I'm thinking get the group organized now, start the idea-generation for the reading list, and start meeting after the holidays if folks can't start sooner.



Lots to do in SF This Week

Your cup overfloweth for stuff to do in SF this week...

Keeping Harry Potter Spoiler-free

Around my house, we're doing everything we can to keep ourselves spoiler-free for the final installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Although our copy of the book doesn't arrive from Amazon until tomorrow, we had to start early with our spoiler-blackout tactics, thanks to the multiple bootleg PDF copies floating around and being voraciously consumed by fans.

Last time around, the World of Warcraft forums were overflowing with spoilers disguised as controversial posts. This year, amidst early reports of spoilers being in the forum post titles themselves despite Blizzard assertions that spoiler posters would potentially be banned from the forums, that became a no-click-to zone. For that same reason, my household's in-game general and trade channels are turned off. I don't want to find out who dies in the end until I actually REACH the end of the book tyvm.

I'm also avoiding after a livejournal friend noted they have a spoileriffic article. I'm just waiting to see someone on the street with a homemade t-shirt spoiling it for the rest of us. I am sure it is only a matter of time...

Continue reading "Keeping Harry Potter Spoiler-free" »

Support a Local Indie Bookstore and Save Money Too

Stacey's Annual License to Save Sale, 7/19-7/21

For three days only, Stacey’s Literary License members save 20% on everything (excluding periodicals) in the store. Their loyalty program is free to join --sign up at the Mezzanine Service Desk. In addition to this special sale, they give you a $10 certificate every time you spend $200 (it's cumulative not a one-shot thing), plus 10% off every book you buy every day.

And as they mention on their website, this Saturday, July 21st is Harry Potter Day -- might as well get that hefty hardcover for less.

How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time

"How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time" is the kind of book you really should buy for your high school best friend if you're the kind of girls who spent hours on your bedroom floors reading Sassy and debating the latest "Cute Band Alert". I'm going to stop by Stacey's on my way home and grab a copy.

BOOKSHELF REVIEW: The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Judy Rodgers: The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco's Beloved Restaurant Zuni Cafe has long been one of my favorite San Francisco restaurants. I love that it is equally ideal for the romantic dinner for two as for the huge ladies luncheon. And when I crave french fries, it's the pile of crispy golden shoestring potatoes from Zuni that call my name. Given this love, I had to have the Zuni cookbook.

REVIEW: Rodgers, Judy, The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant

“I was smitten on sight when I walked into Zuni in 1987.” recalls Rodgers in her opening chapter, a sentiment many of her restaurant’s patrons would be quick to second. “The crowd was eclectic – young, old, middle aged, dressed up, dressed down, in noisy groups or quiet deuces. Some there for the place, some for the drinks, some for the food, some for each other. I took in the space and imagined you could eat as simply or as grandly as you wanted in this setting, and that the food would only be a part of the seduction.”

The casual reader is thus warned, upfront that this is not merely a treasury of time-tested recipes from one of San Francisco’s most popular and enduring restaurants. Rather, it is a chronicle of a chef’s love affair with a restaurant and with the cooking and eating it has allowed within its two-story window walls.

Her “cooking lessons” impart her key theories on cooking and eating, such as the importance of salting early, and are full of colorful, practical technique. For instance, in her lesson on reducing stock for use in sauces, she directs the home chef to “simmer steadily and gently, uncovered, skimming impurities as they veil the surface of the reducing stock. The most efficient way to remove these evanescent “skins” is to rest the underside of a wide, flat serving spoon on them – the veil will cling to the spoon. Lift the veil and gently pivot the spoon, so that the skin doesn’t slide back into the reduction, then rinse the spoon clean. Repeat as needed. This way you discard only impurities, not precious reduction.”

Rodgers learned to cook with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, and honed her skills with Marion Cunningham at Union Hotel, tenures which led to her appreciation of the artisanal, seasonal produce and ingredients the Bay Area has to offer. But it may be her stint as a foreign exchange student in high school, when she lived with a family that ran a 3-star restaurant in France, and subsequent apprenticeships in Italy and France, once she embraced her culinary vocation (all of which are mentioned in the headnotes and cooking lessons throughout) that most influenced her style.

Each of the 250 recipes has been adapted for the home cook who lacks Zuni’s signature wood-fired oven, with some recipes, such as the Zuni hamburger, providing detailed instructions for either grill, stovetop, or broiler to ensure best results for the cook who takes on the challenge of this “labor-of-love-intensive” dish. Each recipe is additionally paired with a wine suggestion (frequently for a lesser known, California wine) from Gourmet Wine Editor Gerald Asher. Rodgers includes the iconic roasted chicken and Caesar salad recipes, as well as directions for making the many house-pickled and cured pantry items that regularly show up on Zuni diners’ plates. When a recipe stars a seasonal item of produce, such as the "salami with raw favas" appetizer, Rodgers notes the time of year in which the produce is in season, thus saving a novice home cook from disappointment.

Rodgers goes out of her way to mention specific brands and resources for her less common ingredients, and includes 3-pages of resources for many of the pantry products she uses, plus a selected bibliography of food reference books. Unfortunately, neither the cheese course primer nor the resource list provides any leads for mail ordering cheese, which can be frustrating for a reader who, unlike Rodgers, doesn’t live in a city with major artisanal cheese importers. The same disappointment holds true for the wine pairings, several of which are for small production Santa Barbara County wineries with very limited distribution. These complaints, however, are minimal in light of the scope of the technique and solid recipes within Rodgers' first foray into cookbook writing.

Though many of the recipes may prove to be too time- or ingredient-intensive for a novice home cook, or someone looking for a quick way to recreate a memorable meal at Zuni, the Zuni Café Cookbook is well worth the time both as a culinary treatise on finding the best, most flavorful foods that are in season and available to you and how to prepare those culinary finds in a manner that highlights their specialness, and as a memoir of one woman’s love affair with a very special restaurant.