Monthly Archives: October 2012

SAVANNAH SEASONS/FOOD AND STORIES FROM ELIZABETH ON 37TH, by Elizabeth Terry

There is often a kind of synchronicity to my type of writing. I’ll write a cookbook review and then stumble across something closely related—like writing about blue ribbon recipes and then coming across half a dozen more books of the same genre.

I had posted SAVORING SAVANNAH in which one of the featured chefs was Elizabeth Terry, owner  of Elizabeth’s on 37th—and while looking through some of my southern cookbooks discovered I had SAVANNAH SEASONS/Food and Stories from Elizabeth on 37th.

Published in 1996 by Doubleday, SAVANNAH SEASONS features a foreword by famed southern author Pat Conroy. Writes Conroy, “When Elizabeth on 37th opened in Savannah in 1981, I was lucky enough to be one of the first among my friends in Atlanta to eat there. For years I had listened to disturbing rumors that the best restaurant in Atlanta was located in the home of Elizabeth Terry, and I could not figure out a way to wangle an invitation to her dinner table. Like most of the great Southern cooks of this century, Elizabeth worked her magic in the privacy of her own fragrant kitchen, where stocks simmered on the stove top and fresh herbs were grown on windowsills…then Elizabeth and her Harvard-trained lawyer husband, Michael, set their collective sights on opening a restaurant in the achingly lovely port of Savannah…”

Conroy reflects that the decision to move to the coast for a change of view and lifestyle also altered the history of food in the American Southeast. He observes that “Since Elizabeth Terry and her family arrived in Savannah, the whole city has eaten better and her sterling example has stimulated the kitchens of rival chefs and the palates of diners throughout the region….”

Conroy also writes, “Elizabeth Terry is a self-taught cook who carries an aura of authority and capability that makes you believe this is a woman who would develop expertise in any field she sought to enter. Once you walk through her well-ordered kitchen, you imagine that she would make a terrific astronaut or neurosurgeon…”  He says that Elizabeth possesses some second sight when it comes to organization and the way meals are put together. That farmers who come to her back door are on a first-name basis as they bring her the fruits and vegetables  picked that same day. That nothing about Elizabeth Terry and her restaurant is overdone or over-sauced. That he has been a devotee of Elizabeth on 37th for over sixteen years (and this was written sixteen years ago—but I checked Google for current information about the restaurant and it’s still going strong.)

Conroy observes that Elizabeth on 37th is a family affair. Michael Terry has always chosen the wine list; the Terrys ‘ daughters Alexis and Celeste grew up living in the restaurant  (And Alexis is a co-author of  SAVANNAH SEASONS).

Conroy reveals that one of the many pleasures he takes in writing novels is that it affords him great opportunities to praise whatever he loves  and ridicule those he doesn’t. In his novel “Beach Music”, the main character, Jack McCall, a cookbook writer and restaurant critic, is drawn straight from the dining room of Elizabeth on 37th.

Following Conroy’s foreword is Elizabeth’s Introduction and an in-depth look at the author/cook/chef. Throughout, there are stories written by Elizabeth that add to the interest of the recipes and her family—and recipes? There is something for everyone, whether you are a southerner or not—but what’s not to love about southern food?

Soups such as Warm Country Tomato and Red Pepper Soup, Cream of Cauliflower Soup, Chilled Cream of Fennel or Asparagus, Rich Crab Bisque or Corn Chowder with Vegetables—this is just a sampling of what you will find in Savannah Seasons. There is a lengthy list of salads and salad dressings, one more mouth-watering than the last, vegetables and fruit relishes ranging from Baked Potato Sundae to Pear Pecan Chutney, Corn Relish  or Eggplant Relish, to pickled onions with cranberries (and I love to make relishes! I can hardly wait to start working my way through this chapter!)

There is a list of Fish entrees that reads like who’s who in fish and seafood—an entire section just for seafood and an entire chapter dedicated to poultry—imagine, if you can, Pecan Crusted Chicken Breasts, Chicken and Black-Eyed Pea Salad, Chicken Potpie or  even Simple Roasted Chicken. Meats include Exotic Pork Tenderloin Kabobs, Honey-Roasted Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Pecans and Apricots, or Spiced Beef Tenderloin. There is a chapter dedicated to Sauces and Marinades (not something you find in most cookbooks) and my eye was immediately drawn to Cider Pomegranate Marinade (My son and I just picked fifty-something pounds of pomegranates from the tree belonging to a friend of his—I can hardly wait to try this recipe!) but I also want to try Red Pepper Sauced and Lime Mustard Glaze, Pecan Pesto and Garlic Sesame Butter!

Desserts and Breads include Sweet Nutmeg Whole Wheat Crust, Caramel Pecan Crust, Dark chocolate Sauce, Bourbon Butterscotch Sauce and Strawberries with thick Chocolate dipping Sauce…but you will want to try your hand at making Rich Dense Chocolate Pecan Torte—or one of the many other desserts/cakes/pies offered in Savannah Seasons. This is a huge cookbook with much to offer. If you could only choose one southern cookbook, this one should be given serious consideration.

The beauty of telling you about a cookbook that has been in circulation for a while is that you can often get a copy for very little. Amazon.com has SAVANNAH SEASONS new for about $15, and pre-owned starting at one cent. (plus $3.99 for shipping and handling – but where else would you get a book like this for $4.00?). Alibris.com has copies starting at 99c.

I have never been to Savannah (but I have a granddaughter named Savannah) – I attended a wedding in Atlanta years ago but never had the opportunity to visit Savannah—if you can’t actually visit a city, this has to be the next best thing to being there. SAVANNAH SEASONS – yum!

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

SAVORING SAVANNAH

For any cookbook collector who appreciates southern food, you are sure to want to add SAVORING SAVANNAH to your collection.

Subtitled “Feasts from the Low Country,” this innovative cookbook from Ten Speed Press features not one but five southern chefs, along with a foreword by Nathalie Dupree, whose name you surely recognize, and an introduction by Martha Giddens Nesbit.

Nathalie is a James Beard award-winning cookbook author and is also considered the founder of the “New Southern Cooking” movement, while Marthat Giddens Nesbit teaches cooking classes at Armstrong Atlantic State University. She also writes a monthly food feature for SAVANNAH magazine.

SAVORING SAVANNAH is a bit of a different twist in cookbooks; it features five chefs whose styles cover not only traditional Savannah cooking, but new southern cuisine – and everything in between.

Let’s start with the chefs themselves:

Elizabeth Terry of Elizabeth on 37th is the winner of numerous culinary awards among them the James Beard Best Chef, Southeast, Award.

Bernard Mc Donough, who looks like he could be at home with a fishing pole or behind the wheel of a racing car, is the executive chef at the Ford Plantation, the historic home of Henry Ford, which is now described as an exclusive second-home community.  Mc Donough says his food focuses on the purveyor: “My menus,” he explains, “are dictated by what’s in season, what’s fresh, and what is available to me…”

George Spriggs is co-owner (with George Jackson) and chef of North Beach Grill and of the upscale Georges’ of Tybee, both on Tybee Island, which is located just east of Savannah.

Susan Mason is a famous low country caterer who, after 15 years, is the most in-demand caterer in Savannah. The biggest challenge, she admits, is – in Savannah – the heat. “It’s not easy,” she confesses, “to keep 1,500 crab cakes cold for a dinner that is being served in a picnic area fifty miles north of the home city…”

Some of her secrets include using only the best ingredients. She says she doesn’t cut corners, she always uses the highest quality cut of meat, the best produce, and the freshest seafood. Susan also knows the presentation is important, and is known for her elegant style.

Joe Kendall is a caterer and owner of Chef Joe Randall’s Cooking School.

Included are photographs and capsule biographies of the chefs, which I found to be most interesting. I always wonder just what it is that makes people (myself included) so fascinated with food and its preparation. For instance, Elizabeth Terry reveals that food has long been her passion. “I’ve always enjoyed poring over old manuscripts of recipes by Southern home cooks,” she says. It’s a passion I can relate to—and when I can’t find ‘manuscript cookbooks” I look for filled recipe boxes. Elizabeth Terry also says “The southern home cook’s practice of keeping a small kitchen garden where indigenous herbs and vegetables are cultivated so they can be immediately accessible, is an integral feature of Elizabeth’s on 37th… “

Elizabeth’s on 37th, as you may have surmised, is a renovated Victorian mansion turned restaurant in the heart of Savannah.

Another featured chef, George sprigs, is the co-owner, with George Jackson, and chef of North Beach grill and the upscale Georges’ of Tybee. George Spriggs related that he was enthralled with the preparation of meals on his grandparents’ farm in Florence, South Carolina, where dinner was always an event rather than a meal.

Such are the chefs that make up SAVORING SAVANNAH, a city I have always wanted to visit. Savannah is Georgia’s oldest city, known for its beauty, charm and hospitality.

SAVORING SAVANNAH is almost (not quite) as good as going (An an aside, I have always thought that the ideal vacation would be going from city to city, discovering their best restaurants and historical sites.

SAVORING SAVANNAH contains a wealth of recipes, featuring both the old south and the new.

Also included are bits taken from old southern cookbooks, such as Harriet Ross Colquitt’s THE SAVANNAH COOKBOOK, published in 1933.

You are sure to be tantalized with recipes such as Pan-Seared Halibut with Jasmine Rice…Sweet Potato Brioche…Southern Fried Catfish Fillets…Blackberry Cake with Seven Minute Frosting…Pickled Shrimp…Potato and Corn Salad with Buttermilk Dressing…or Stuffed Sirloin of Beef with Wild Mushroom Sauce! Yum!  Discover these and many others for yourself.

The beautiful food illustrations and dynamic black and white photographs of famous Savannah landmarks (such as the lighthouse at Tybee Island!) are the work of photographer Daemon Baizan.

SAVORING SAVANNAH from Ten Speed Press was originally published (and reviewed by me for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange) in 2002, so it’s quite possible that some of these chefs and caterers are working elsewhere a decade later – but this doesn’t detract in the least from the book as it was originally published. It’s a wonderful addition to your collection of southern cookbooks.

You can find this cookbook on Amazon.com for $11.00 (new) or $2.30 for a pre-owned copy. Alibris.com has copies starting at $2.95.

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLUE RIBBON WINNERS – AMERICA’S BEST STATE FAIR RECIPES

As you may know, if you happened to read my article CATCHING FAIR FEVER (September, 2012), one of my more recent discoveries amongst community-type cookbooks are those published by state and county fairs throughout the USA.

I suspect there are hundreds—perhaps thousands—of these cookbooks that I know nothing about (intriguing thought, isn’t it?). Well, if you stop to consider there are fifty states, therefore there are (presumably) fifty state fairs every year (does anyone know if Alaska and Hawaii have state fairs?) – and then there are all the COUNTY fairs throughout the USA every year—and who knows how many counties make up our fifty states?

Back in the 1980s I “discovered” the fun and charm of entering the San Fernando Valley and the Los Angeles County Fairs. (I had really gotten into canning around this time and loved finding and trying unusual recipes for jellies, jams, and preserves).  At this time, I also “discovered” that the Los Angeles County Fair Home Arts committee published the winning recipes if your entry won a first, second, or third place ribbon. The winning recipes for one year (say 1986) would then appear in a nice spiral bound cookbook the following year, in 1987. These cookbooks were sold for only $10.00 each and when I started to win some ribbons and received an invitation to submit the winning recipes—I was off and running. And the cookbooks made wonderful Christmas presents.

I wrote “discovered” in quotes because I felt like a Johnny-come-lately to this kind of cookbook – which I feel is more accurately described as regional cookbooks than community. I began searching for all of the Los Angeles Fair annual cookbooks and then began searching for other state and/or county fair cookbooks and acquired some from Iowa, some from Texas and others from Del Mar, California. What a bargain these books are! Not only do you have all of the prize winning recipes, the books are usually thick compilations of recipes, for an average price of ten dollars.

However, I have a couple of equally great bargains to share with you.  First is BLUE RIBBON WINNERS/AMERICA’S BEST STATE FAIR RECIPES by Catherine Hanley. When I first saw Ms. Hanley’s book, I thought “aha! I’m not the only one who has realized what a treasure trove the winning recipes from state fairs are!”

Ms. Hanley, former manager of consumer public relations for the Pillsbury Company, made an interesting discovery in her line of work involving the Pillsbury Bake-Off contest. Upon checking the biographies of some contestants who were superb cooks and bakers, she realized that a pattern emerged—many of these contestants were also state fair winners. As an enthusiastic fan of the Minnesota State Fair, Ms. Hanley had been interested in state fair competitions for many years.  The idea for her book was, to quote the publishers, “a natural result.”

BLUE RIBBON WINNERS/AMERICA’S BEST STATE FAIR RECIPES contains over 170 of the best blue ribbon recipes, carefully selected for this book.  Says the author, “During years of working with food, I have been intrigued by what happens when two people make the same recipes with contrasting results. Why does one person turn out a spectacular product and another an indifferent one from the same ingredients? Experience and cooking techniques obviously play a big part. (Italics mine—this is the very same thing I have been exploring for several years, what the Chinese refer to as Wok Presence, recently written about on my blog).

As British author Eden Phillpotts suggests  (in her quote, ‘No mean woman can cook well; it calls for a generous spirit, a light hand and a large heart’) – but how do you convey this information in a recipe?”

Hanley continues, “As I have had opportunities to learn about the women and men who win blue ribbons in the major state fairs, I realized that here you have a large group of people who are consistently achieving extraordinary results with recipes similar to those we all use. What is special about their recipes and what do these cooks do to make the prize-winning difference?  That’s what every other cook really wants to know and BLUE RIBBON WINNERS reveals.

In possibly the only noncommercial cooking contests left, tens of thousands of women and men compete annually in state fair competitions to see who has the best baked goods, pickles and preserves.

The money prizes are modest, not much more than covering the cost of the ingredients (true!) – but this is not important. What these good cooks want are the blue ribbons that signify first place.”

Ms. Hanley goes on to explain that winning blue ribbons at the biggest state and regional fairs in the country are not easily won—judges are often agriculture extension service home economists  or college-level food teachers, professionals who know how to measure quality and who have been trained to be objective. Also, she explains, that where commercial recipe contests may reflect the preferences and biases of judges and contest sponsors, state fair judging is done “by the book”—using scorecards, with a perfect product scoring 100%.

The author goes on to explain how her work with the Pillsbury Bake-Off contestants led to her discovery that contestants were often state fair entrants as well. She also explains how, before she learned otherwise, she assumed that the people who entered the fairs would be mostly rural homemakers. Now, she says, she knows that competition cuts across socio-economical boundaries, and in states where the fair is held in a metropolitan area, suburban and urban men and women contestants predominate, and vary in ages—from the youngest age allowed (14 years old in Minnesota)—to octogenarians.

Having told you this much, let me add that the recipes to be found in BLUE RIBBON WINNERS are some of the finest in various categories—there are pies and pastries, cakes, yeast breads, quick breads, cookies, candy and snack, sweet spreads, pickles and condiments.

Another feature of BLUE RIBBON WINNERS that I find especially valuable and interesting is that in the prefaces of each chapter, the author provides us with a closer look at judging criteria—for instance, the explains that the crust, in pies at a state fair, may count for up to 45% of the total score for a two-crust pie. She provides lots of tips for fair-competition wannabees” and cookie baking advice from a many-time winner.

I like the style of the recipes, which include the name and hometown of the winners—I even found a recipe for my absolute favorite candy recipes, (Cranlets—like aplets only made with cranberries) – that I can’t wait to try.

BLUE RIBBON WINNERS/AMERICA’S BEST STATE FAIR RECIPES certainly is a winner, one you will want to add to your cookbook collection.  But wait!  I’m not finished yet!

Do all of you remember the fabulous BROOKLYN COOKBOOK? Well, coauthors Lyn Stallworth and Rod Kennedy, Jr., returned to cookbook publishing with another winner, this time the title of their book was THE COUNTY FAIR COOKBOOK.  Says Bernard Clayton, Jr., author of COOKING ACROSS AMERICA, “I had hardly begun the delightful COUNTY FAIR COOKBOOK when a powerful urge came over me to (1) visit every fair in my part of the country, and (2) immediately7 go to the kitchen to prepare Minnie Briese’s Potato soup (North Dakota) and Liverity Davis’ chicken pie (Louisiana).

I know how Mr. Clayton feels. Since I started reading these two cookbooks I have made numerous forages to the kitchen to mix cookie dough, bake a ham, and search for my candy thermometer.

State the publishers of THE COUNTY FAIR COOKBOOK, the American county fair! Its tractor pulls and rodeos, racing pigs and three-hundred pound pumpkins, boisterous midways and—food. Nothing brings out the best in the nation’s regional chefs like a county fair, and this jam-packed collection of authentic American foods is a cooking connoisseur’s culinary dream come true. Ranging across all fifty states (with an excursion into Canada), THE COUNTY FAIR COOKBOOK visits the fairs in each region and serves up the personally tried-and-true recipes of devoted fair-participants.

Also, each region features its own distinctive specialties, so that—when in Maine, you may encounter Yankee Johnnycake, while when you read about southern fair favorites, you may find goodies like Georgia’s sweet potato pudding.

This is far more than just a cookbook, though.  Each fair that is featured in the book is accompanied by a brief synopsis of that fair, and even directions for getting there! There are lots of photographs taken at fair grounds throughout the country, from the tallest Ferris wheel in the western hemisphere (State Fair of Texas, in Dallas), to Doctor James Kemp judging country hams (Marion county in Kentucky); there is the happy face of a junior winner leading a Hereford bull (Rockingham County fair in Virginia) and square dancers at the Yavapal county Fair in Prescott, Arizona.  For those of us on the West Coast, the Orange County Fair and Riverside County’s National Date Festival are featured. I was nonplussed to find a recipe from the Orange County Fair Centennial cookbook of 1992—this is one of the cookbooks I lost in the 1994 earthquake.

Farther north, the Big Fresno Fair is featured along with the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee. Throughout, there are lots and lots of yummy sounding recipes that you will want to try, knowing they are all winners.

If you’ve been to some of your local fairs, I know you will enjoy these books and delight in having at your fingertips hundreds of the blue ribbon recipes. If you haven’t been to a fair, you will surely want to read THE COUNTY FAIR COOKBOOK to get an idea what’s in store for you…and who knows?  Maybe next year, those will be some of your blue ribbon winners!

You can find BLUE RIBBON WINNERS on Amazon.com, new for about $15.95 and pre-owned for one cent and up.  The COUNTY FAIR COOKBOOK is available on Amazon.com at $3.50 new, or one cent and up for pre-owned.

Both books are available on Alibris.com starting at 99c.

***

Reviews by Sandra Lee Smith

MISSISSIPPI MEMORIES, BY RICK RODGERS

Recently, I shared with you the cookbooks and recipes from cruise ships that take passengers on luxury cruises on the ocean.  But did you know there is another kind of cruise that you can take, on a river?

MISSISSIPPI MEMORIES, classic American cooking from the Heartland to the Louisiana Bayou is a wonderful collaboration between cookbook author Rick Rodgers and the Delta Queen Steamboat Company.

You may recognize the name of author Rick Rodgers from some of his other cookbooks. He is the author of READY AND WAITING, which is devoted to slow-cooker recipes (which inspired me to invest in a new slow-cooker). Rodgers also wrote MR. PASTA’S HEALTHY PASTA COOKBOOK, THE WILLIAMS SONOMA COMFORT FOOD cookbook published in 2010, PRESSURE COOKING FOR EVERYONE, published in December 2000. and more recently, THE MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD SIXTIES COOKBOOK which features over 100 retro recipes, published in May, 2012.

Per Google, I learned that Rick Rodgers is considered one of the most versatile professionals in the food business. Through his work as a cooking teacher, food writer, cookbook author, freelance cookbook editor, and radio and television guest chef, his infectious love of good food reaches countless cooks every day. He is the author of over forty cookbooks on a wide range of subjects.

The Delta Queen Steamboat Company is as the name suggests: the steamboat company—of the 12,000 steamboats that once traveled the rivers, only six are left and only half of these take on overnight passengers: the Delta Queen, the Mississippi Queen, and the American Queen.  Passengers board in cities such as Memphis, St Louis and St. Paul/Minnesota, and stop in towns along the way down the river, such as Natchez, Vicksburg, and Baton Rouge.

These three Queens do not travel exclusively the Mississippi River; they also glide along the Ohio, Tennessee, Arkansas, Cumberland and the Cajun country’s Atchafalaya Rivers. Steamboating cities such as my hometown of Cincinnati. Louisville, and Pittsburgh are also ports of call.

Ever since I read Mark Twain’s LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI years ago, I have longed to take a steamboat trip south to New Orleans.    Now we can all travel vicariously from our armchairs, with Rick Rodgers and MISSISSIPPI MEMORIES.

I can’t begin to do justice to MISSISSIPPI MEMORIES; the book is packed with old-timey photographs and enough steamboat history to satisfy the most devout history buff, trivia you are unlikely to find elsewhere (for instance, did you know that over 60% of the world’s supply of horseradish is grown in southern Illinois, across the Mississippi from St Louis?) and RECIPES? Yes, lots of good recipes. Mr. Rodgers had done his homework.

You will learn that “the landing of a riverboat cause quite a stir in small towns along the river. Some boats brought cotton, coal and other necessities, while others dealt in luxury items such as exotic foods, fashionable clothes, and fine furnishings. But perhaps most important, steamboats, especially the luxury boats, brought an influx of people and new ideas”.

The publishers explain that MISSISSIPPI MEMORIES recaptures the traditions of riverboat hospitality with more than 100 classic American recipes.

In this book, Rick Rodgers takes a leisurely trip along the Mississippi as it winds its way from the hills of Missouri to the wetlands of Louisiana. Along the way he cooks up fine American dishes, such as Roast Duck and Wile Rice Soup, Savory Corn Fritters, Spicy Chicken with Buttermilk Gravy, Jambalaya Pasta, Churchill Downs Burgoo, Apple Orchard Cole Slaw, and Peanut Butter Cake with Chocolate-Peanut Frosting.

From “Pushing Off” (appetizer, soup and beverage recipes) to “Weighing Anchor” (luscious desserts such as Blackberry Caramel Bread Pudding), MISSISSIPPI MEMORIES maintains the theme of steamboat excursions and re captures for us the flavor of a kind of traveling that was most common a hundred years ago.

This is truly a beautiful cookbook, published in 1994, wonderfully illustrated and thoroughly researched. It is available on Amazon.com new, from $7.95, collectible copies from $3.86 and plenty of pre-owned copies starting at one cent. Alibris.com has this book starting at $5.00.

Want to know more? Find a copy of Mark Twain’s LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI and learn how Samuel Clemons created his pen name of Mark Twain.

And, Mr. Rodgers has his own website; www.rickrodgers.com.  You can learn a lot more about the author and his recipes on this website.

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith

NORTH AFRICA, THE VEGETARIAN TABLE BY KITTY MORSE

NORTH AFRICA, THE VEGETABLE TABLE, published in 1996, by Chronicle Books, is one of those veggie cookbooks we need to take a second look at.

Cookbook author, Kitty Morse, is from the “real “kasbah” in Morocco. She was born in Casablanca to a French mother and British father, and immigrated to the United States in 1964.

She is the author of nine cookbooks, five of them on the cuisine of Morocco and North Africa. They include “Cooking at the Kasbah”: “Recipes from my Moroccan Kitchen” (Chronicle Books), “The Scent of Orange Blossoms” (Ten Speed Press), and “The California Farm Cookbook” (Pelican Publishing).

Kitty Morise’s career as a food writer, cooking teacher, and lecturer, spans more than twenty-five years. More recently, she became the author/publisher of the second edition of A Biblical Feast: Ancient Mediterranean Diet for Today’s Table. In addition, Morse has written many articles for magazines such as Bon Appetit.  She has also written for the Los Angeles Times and I think this is where I first became aware of her name, being a Southern Californian myself.

Today, however, I’d like to re-review NORTH AFRICA, THE VEGETABLE TABLE, with you. I first reviewed it for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in 1996.

In the Introduction, Ms. Morse explains her heritage and how this cookbook came about. “…The North African countries of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria [are] collectively known as the Maghreb” she tells us, “The land where the sun sets, a name given to the region by medieval Arab historians…is is also a cuisine based on ancient traditions that have been handed down, from mother to daughter…”

“Today,” states the author, “The foods of the Maghreb are generating intense interest among American culinary professionals, due in part to the increased awareness of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Indeed, current research has shown that the peoples of  the Mediterranean have one of the lowest incidents of heart disease in the world, leading nutritional experts to extol the virtues of a cuisine rich in fresh produce, legumes, cereals, pasta and olive oil—all staples of the North African diet.”

Ms. Morse tells us that when a North African woman shops for her family at the city marche’ or at the open air souk in the countryside, her basket overflows with the fruits and vegetables of the season, bunches of fresh herbs, fresh or dried fava beans, lentils, and of course, the pellets o cracked durum wheat, or semolina, called couscous…”

The author grew up in Dar Beida, the Arabic name for Casablanca, and attended high school with students not only of Moroccan descent, but also Tunisian, Algerian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. Because of this, she became familiar with “such diverse specialties as Tunisian breiks, Spanish churros, French cassoulet, Sephardic dafina and, of course, Moroccan couscous” which she says is still her favorite comfort food.

She goes on to explain the history of North Africa, beginning with the Phoenician sailors around 1000 B.C., moving through centuries of invaders and conquerors, showing us how each in turn influence the cuisine of North Africa.

For instance, she explains how the Spanish Inquisition led to the exile of Moslems and Jews, who took refuge in the Maghreb, bringing with them the rich traditions of the southwest region of Spain; they also brought with them quinces, Valencia oranges, cherries, apricots, turnips, carrots and eggplants, as well as potatoes, tomatoes, and chilies which had been imported to Spain from the Americas by the conquistadores.

Ms. Morse’s maternal grandfather was descended from Sephardic Jews who flew to North Africa following the expulsion from Spain at the time of the Inquisition and she tells us how her multicultural family background heavily influenced many of the recipes handed down to her by her great-grandmother. For the book, she says, she drew heavily from her own collection of recipes.

Just reading the insert on the inside cover of NORTH AFRICA, THE VEGETARIAN TABLE is enough to make your mouth water and send you scurrying to the kitchen in search of pot and pestle.

“Redolent of saffron, ginger, and cinnamon (some of my favorite spices!), and vivid with the sun-drenched colors of fresh fruits and vegetables, the cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia are as delicious as they are exotic. Collectively known as the Maghreb, ‘the land where the sun sets’ these North African Countries have developed a rich vegetarian tradition based on wholesome grains, fresh produce and plump, sweet fruits, along with olive oil, garlic and honey –all blended with uniquely flavorful seasonings and honed to perfection through time-honored cooking techniques….”

The publishers aren’t exaggerating when they tell you that their cookbook is lavishly illustrated with stunning, full color photographs…”  Deborah Jones is a San Francisco-based photographer and the wi8nner of an International Association of Culinary Professionals Award for her food photography and it’s easy to see why. This book has utterly mouth-watering photographs, never mind the cutlery and dishes, bowls and accessories that would be to die for.

(I have a passion for all kinds of old pottery so you can imagine my delight—and envy—over some of these illustrations—aha! You will have to find a copy of NORTH AFRICA, THE VEGETARIAN TABLE and see for yourself.

And, although I’m not a vegetarian per se, I’ve come to love many types of vegetarian dishes, for their color and combinations and the zap they give to your palate. There’s absolutely no reason for vegetarian food not to be exciting and tasty, and NORTH AFRICA, THE VEGETARIAN TABLE by Kitty Morse is proof of that.

We love artichokes, so Artichauts Farcis is high on my list of recipes to try. This is a recipe for stuffed artichokes, from Tunisia. Another especially nice feature of Ms. Morse’s cookbook is that each recipe is introduced—for example, in presenting Artichauts Farcis, the author explains “Artichokes are native to the Mediterranean Basin, which explains their popularity in the local cuisine. The word itself is derived from the Arabic word Al Harshoof…” I love cookbooks that educate us in food history and lore, as they present their recipes.

The world, we have seen, has come to our local supermarkets—you can now find most exotic ingredients from all over the world, not just in the United States and our neighboring countries—but if you have any trouble finding any of the ingredients you need for these luscious recipes, you will find, included, a page of mail-order sources.

NORTH AFRICA, THE VEGETARIAN TABLE is a truly beautiful cookbook.

I would be remiss if I did not mention, however, for vegetarians everywhere, that this book is Volume 4 in a series:

Volume one, the Vegetarian Table – Thailand, was published in 1997

Volume two, the Vegetarian Table – Mexico, was published in 2000

Volume three, the Vegetarian Table, focused on India and was published in 2000.  These other volumes were written by other cookbook authors and I found all listed on Amazon.com.

Ms. Morse has her own website: www.KittyMorse.com.

You can find this book on Amazon.com and Alibris.com, pre-owned copies starting at $4.11. New copies are at regular prices along with some steep ones!

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

 

 

 

SOME KIND OF CHRISTMAS FOOL

SOME KIND OF CHRISTMAS FOOL

(The following, with some changes, was previously posted on my blog Nov 11. 2011).

“When we were young, there were moments of such perfectly crystallized happiness that we stood stock still and silently promised ourselves that we would remember them always. And we did.” (From the “FOUR MIDWESTERN SISTERS’ CHRISTMAS BOOK”, published in 1991 by Holly Burkhalter, with Kathy Lockard, Karol Crospie and Ruth Bosley.)

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. (From “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott.

This is the wonder of Christmas,

Sleigh bells and holly and snow,

Church chimes and mittens and pine cones,

Warmth from a fireside’s glow.

This is the wonder of Christmas,

Trinkets bedecking a tree,

Tinsel and strings of cranberries,

Children, all shouting with glee.

This is the wonder of Christmas,

Merriment, loving and caring,

This is the wonder of Christmas,

The happiness that comes from sharing.

This is the wonder of Christmas,

See the manger, there, under the tree,

With small statues symbolic of all that

The Christ child would want it to be.

Hobbies come in all shapes and sizes. I have various friends and acquaintances that enjoy hiking, horse-back riding, camping, and/or bowling. Some people collect stamps and call it a hobby, although to my mind, collecting something takes it out of the realm of hobbying and into the jurisdiction of collecting. Or perhaps the two are synonymous. I consulted my trusty friend, Webster, and was advised that “A hobby is something that a person likes to do or study in his spare time or avocation”. Another rare definition of hobby offered by Webster is “A subject that a person constantly talks about or returns to”.  I like the latter definition; it describes how I feel about Christmas.  Christmas is my hobby.

Back in medieval times, preparation for Christmas feasting began months in advance even though the common folk might only a few hours away from their duties, working for the upper classes and royalty Christmas celebrations would last two weeks, until the Feast of the Epiphany, on January 6th. It’s said that King Henry VIII of England raised revelry to a new high—few kinds could party as hearty as Henry.

Curiously, however, most historians agree that it’s very unlikely that Jesus Christ was actually born on December 25th. There is an interesting book titled “Christmas Feasts from History” by Lorna Sass, (published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Irena Chalmer’s Cookbooks, Inc. 1981), in which the first chapter is devoted entirely to the Roman Saturnalia Banquet. Ms. Sass quotes the poet, Virgil, (70-19 BC) who described the Saturnalia as a merry festival that was the traditional culmination of the ancient Roman year. “Named for Saturnus, the Roman god of seeds and sowing, the celebration probably began to commemorate the end of the autumn sowing season in southern Italy, a time of brief respite from the yearly round of farm chores, a time to pause and exchange good will with neighbors and friends..”

Saturnalia began around December 17 and all work was suspended for seven days…“Romans took to the streets with carnival-like abandon, shouting ‘To Saturnalia”. Slaves were free to do and say what they pleased and a mock king was chosen ruler. Characteristics of what was to become Christmas were already in evidence: halls festooned with laurel leaves, gifts exchanged—often little dolls made of clay or dough—and small wax tapers lit as protection against the hovering spirits of darkness…the week-long festival reached its peak on or about December 25, a day set aside for special reverence to the sun..”

Early church leaders often attempted to substitute  a Christian holiday for a pagan one and it is thought that Christmas became the substitute for Saturnalia. (Personally, I have often speculated that Jesus was born around in March—I think it’s plausible that He was a Pisces, the sign of the fish – for the fisher of men). In any event, the early church habit of substituting pagan holidays for Christian ones does not detract in the least from what it is that we are actually observing.

In medieval times, the court jester, or fool, was often called upon to entertain guests while they enjoyed their meal, along with tumblers and minstrels, and other paid entertainers.  Maggie Black, in her book “THE MEDIEVAL COOKBOOK” tells is that “Entertainment was the main part of any feast, especially a great one, and at the end when the alms baskets were carried out to the poor, and the last Twelfth Night toast was drunk, it was to be hoped that one and all could say “that was a good feast. The year ahead will go well!”

Centuries later, I find that I am some other kind of Christmas fool. I’m not likely to wait until Thanksgiving or after to start thinking about Christmas. It’s on my mind all year long.

My childhood Christmases are cherished memories. It seems that our holiday season began with the Feast of St Nicholas, on December 6th. We hung stockings (usually long white stockings of my father’s) and the next day found them filled with walnuts and tangerines and hard candies…sometimes a little toy. I had my own tangerine tree in Arleta, where we lived for 19 years and tangerines always remind me of the Feast of St Nicholas (I don’t remember ever having tangerines at any other time of the year, when I was growing up).

Many years later I had all but forgotten our family observation of the Feast of St Nicholas, part of our Dutch heritage, until one year when my sons were something like 8,5, 2, and 1 years old and turning into unholy terrors as Christmas approached and television commercials assaulted their impressionable little minds with the wonders and glories of toys that every-kid-just-had-to-have. The momentum continued to grow until I was ready to disown all four of them, whose every sentence began with “I want—“. Then I remembered the Feast of St Nicholas. We reinstated the tradition of stockings being hung on December 5th and observed this tradition for many years after. It was something to tide the children over until Christmas finally arrived.

Snow flakes. Pine needles. My grandma’s diamond shaped walnut and sugar studded butter cookies*. Grandma’s homemade pumpkin strudel (with Filo dough made from scratch!); A Christmas tree glowing with bubble lights. Weeks of rehearsing Christmas carols at school, which took on new meaning when I joined the choir. As a small child, the shivering anticipation of being allowed, one a week, to put away pencils and books, while we made cards and calendars and “tie racks” out of construction paper, library paste and cardboard tubes. On Friday afternoons, song books were passed out to the students and we learned the words to “Jolly Old St Nicholas” and “Up on the House Top”, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Silent Night”.  At home, we bought sheet music and learned the words and music to “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman”. I sang “Rudolph” with two clowns at a Christmas party sponsored by my Grandma Beckman’s club that year.

We took piano lessons and flute and clarinet, and practiced our favorite Christmas songs until everyone in hearing range was tired of hearing them. When we tired of listening to each other, my mother would sit down at our old upright piano and play “Silver Bells” which was, I think the only Christmas song she knew how to play. (My mother never learned to read music; she played entirely “by ear” and was really quite good).

I will always remember the Christmas that my older brother gave me five brand-spanking new Nancy Drew books—the first books of my very own. Such bounty! The first book that my mother ever bought for me was, incidentally, “Little Women”, which I practically memorized from reading it so often.

One year my mother was terribly sick in the hospital—but came home long enough to spend Christmas with us.

We children ironed the wrinkles out of the previous year’s gift wrap; we ironed out old ribbons too. We made our own gift tags out of index cards and those little glue on stickers—the kind that never stuck to anything else. (I wouldn’t say that we were poor, exactly, but we certainly were frugal.)

We did all our own Christmas shopping—my two younger brothers and I, making a once-a-year shopping excursion to downtown Cincinnati where we prudently shopped for cards of bobby pins or lilac splash cologne—or handkerchiefs with our daddy’s initial on them, or one of our favorites, “Midnight in Paris” which came in a distinctive blue bottle that we loved. We managed to see all of the Department store Santas (as much motivated by free candy canes as the desire to cover all our bases since you never could e sure which one might be the REAL Santa.)  We carefully guarded our meager pennies against potential shoplifters we had been warned about, and somehow bought presents for our parents, grandparents, siblings and dearest friends. Most incredibly, we usually managed to have some lunch at the Woolworth’s lunch counter—a grilled cheese sandwich with dill pickle slices, and a coca cola, split three ways—was, I think, about twenty-five cents. I should add, we did ALL of our shopping in Woolworth’s, Newberry’s and Kresge’s five and ten cent stores. They had the best “stuff”.  (Once, my childhood friend Carol confessed that she had always been jealous of me on those shopping trips.

“Me?” I exclaimed. “Whatever FOR?”

“Because,” she replied, “You could buy so much more with a dollar than anyone else”)

Over the years I have thought long and hard about those shopping trips which, incidentally, also cost us five cents bus fare to and from downtown Cincinnati.  How did we manage to do it?  I often think of loaves and fishes in the bible. That was the three Schmidt children shopping for Christmas presents for at least ten people, not counting anything for friends. We always, somehow, managed to have just enough. And, let me add – we didn’t have allowances or anything that frivolous in our lives. Every penny was a penny earned or money from cashing in pop bottles for the two cent refund.

We loved downtown Cincinnati during the holidays, the lights of Fountain Square, the “living crèche” in Garfield Park, all of the sidewalk Salvation Army Santas ringing their bells, and the gorgeous window displays in all of the department stores.

When we got back home with our treasures, we smuggled everything upstairs to my bedroom where we engaged in a frenzy of wrapping. We often ended up at my grandmother’s on Christmas Eve day; eventually my father would arrive with his cousin – my godmother, Barbara, who I only saw during those holidays and always seemed to me to be something like a fairy godmother. We would pile into the car to go home; we would see the lit tree from the street—for we NEVER had a Christmas tree before Christmas—and seeing the brightly lit tree, framed by the living room window, we would just know that Christmas had arrived. We would rush through the front door only to be told by our mother that we had “just missed Santa—he just went out the back door” whereupon we rushed to the back door to try to catch a glimpse.

We’d open the presents handed out to us one at a time by my mother and later, if you could stay awake, you might be able to go to midnight mass with the adults.

What I remember most clearly about Christmas mass is the crèche—the statues of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, finally uncovered (for they had been draped with cloths throughout Advent.)

There was singing and incense and the smell of wet coats and gloves—for it seems that it almost always started to snow on Christmas Eve. The choir sang “Silent Night” and “Adeste Fideles” and “Away in the Manger” – and IF the Baby Jesus was not actually born on December 25, it matters not a whit for we believed in Him and we believed in His birth.

Christmas Day—when I was a young child—usually found us having dinner at my paternal grandmother’s—it’s a wonder to me that in later years when she lived in the two front rooms of the first floor of her apartment house, she somehow managed to fit all of us—my parents, siblings, two aunts, two uncles and various cousins ALL into those two rooms. As soon as we had eaten, my Uncle Al gave us each a quarter for the movies—fifteen cents for admission, ten cents to spend—and then would drive us all to the movie theatre. (We thought Uncle Al was rich—handing all those quarters out so freely!) and by the time we got back, everything would be brought back to the table for a late supper. (While we were gone, the adults all played cards. You knew you were “of age” when you were allowed to join the adults playing cards).

So, is it any wonder that the love of Christmas spilled over into my adult life?  That we, in my household, think about Christmas all year long—beginning with the after Christmas sales but gaining momentum around in May when the first strawberries and blackberries ripened and could be made into jams and preserves, cordials and jellies. By August, the first Black Mission figs were ripening on our trees and the grapes in my arbor were slowly turning purple. Around in October, pomegranates turned ruby red and could be converted into pomegranate jelly  or a luscious liqueur. Pumpkins began to be displayed at produce stands (and now my youngest son and his son—my nine year old grandson, Ethan—have taken to growing their own pumpkins). From the pumpkins we made pumpkin bread and pumpkin butter.

We searched for just the right presents for everyone on our gift list, all through the year, and I discovered that Christmas shopping while on vacation in July could be a lot of fun, especially if you were doing it with a sister. We were all catalogue buffs and carried bundles of Christmassy mail order books all over the house, dropping thinly veiled hints in our wake. By September, some of my packages had to be wrapped and mailed to meet overseas deadlines—so September was never too soon to drag everything out of the Christmas closet and do an inventory.  I make up lists. Extra rolls of film (I DO still take photographs using actual FILM). Sugar and flour and jars of molasses go onto my list. Lots of scotch tape! (and WHAT do you suppose people did before Scotch tape was invented?)

I remember one year—in the 1970s, I think—when the price of sugar skyrocketed to something like $5.00 for a 5-lb bag of granulated sugar—even as I write this, the price sounds astronomical (even though a FOUR pound bag of sugar, on sale, now, is about $2.50). I hardly baked a thing that year and it was a terrible disappointment. For years after, I stockpiled sugar months in advance to safeguard against it ever happening again.

Sometime in August, maybe as early as July, I would be digging through cookbooks and recipe files, pulling out the favorite cookie and candy and confection recipes.  October is not too soon to start mixing cookie dough, If you have a freezer to store it in and you have a lot of favorite cookie recipes. Some cookies can be baked well in advance—the ones that thrive on aging in a tightly fitted tin or Tupperware container—the Springerle and Pfeffernusse and cut out gingerbread cookies and those decadent rum balls. I try to get all of the cookies made a few weeks before Christmas, so that I can make up gift baskets and fill tins with cookies for neighbors and friends—and nowadays my favorite post office clerks and our mail lady, my manicurist and our family mechanic.  When Christmas is getting close, THEN it’s time to make the delicate Spritz cookies, lemon Madelines, and Russian Tea Cakes.

Back in the day – when my sons were growing up – we’d often make several dozen different kinds of cookies; they’d take them to school for their teachers, I’d take them to work for coworkers.  We’d make fruitcake bars and peanut brittle, Mamie Eisenhower’s fudge, and English Toffee, and my favorite New Orleans pecan pralines, Sherried walnuts and my Aunt Annie’s Opera Creams, my sister’s Buckeye Balls, Truffles, Caramel Corn—and the family favorites; Kelly’s M&M party cookies, Chris’ oatmeal raisin, Michael’s Butter Cut Out Cookies (*When Michael was five years old, I stayed up one night until about 4 am decorating each and every Butter Cut out cookie with frosting. I had them spread out to dry on every counter and table top. When I got up the next        morning, Michael had eaten the frosting off every single cookie. I’m not sure what happened after that—but Michael told me years later that the sight of frosting on butter cookies made him feel slightly queasy.

I believe it was that same year that Michael, then in kindergarten, questioned me persistently about reindeer.

“Mom,” he said “Can reindeer fly?”
“Hmm,” I hedged, “Well, I’ve always heard…certainly Santa’s reindeer—you know, Dasher and Dancer and then there’s Rudolph—why do you want to know, son?” to which he replied, matter-of-factly, leaving no room for doubt, “m TEACHER says they CAN’T!” and as anyone who has ever had a kindergartener knows, if teacher says they can’t, that’s the end of it.

When I was an 18 year old bride, in 1958, I clipped some cookie recipes out of a woman’s magazine and then into a 3-ring binder, and a tradition was born. Now, fifty-something years later, I have seven or eight 3-ring binders filled with JUST the cookie recipes, most clipped out of magazines. (I also began using those 3 ring binders for many other recipes as well—there are four or five just for my canning recipes—jellies, jams, chutneys, pickles, preserves, two for cakes, and so on.  Now there are over 50 of those 3 ring binders stuffed with recipes.

We built our own memories, my children and I.  We laughingly recall the year my husband & I stayed up until 4 am putting together a hot-wheels-type of racetrack that Michael, then about four years old, had dismantled by 5 am. There was the year that my girlfriend and I and our children made bread dough ornaments that didn’t quite turn out. We had bits of dough in our hair, clothing and all over the floor. (You may have discovered, as did we, that not everything turns out quite like the magazine illustrations, does it?)

One of my favorite stories involves my dear friend, Neva. She wanted to make a candyland house with me one year, such as I would make using a cardboard frame taped together to look like a cottage. Then I would liberally spread the exterior of the house with royal frosting and decorate it with small candies before the frosting dried. (Writing about how I made the candyland houses was one of the first articles I sold to Tower Press magazines). It would be some years before I worked up enough nerve to actually make a real gingerbread house. Anyway, Neva wanted to make a candyland house too – except for one thing – she wanted to make hers a castle. (it actually went with her house that looked somewhat like a miniature castle). No problem, I assured her. We could make a castle. I whipped up batch after batch of royal frosting, running around the house digging up cardboard tubes and digging through kitchen drawers for suitable accessories – while Neva, her daughter and my sons constructed and decorated a castle. It was truly an impressive work of art but I confess to being nonplussed when, some weeks later, the local Valley News ran a story (with photographs!) about Neva and her candyland castle, which – according to the newspaper story—was her “family tradition”.

One year when we lived in Florida, I was tearfully distraught trying to make one of our favorite Christmas cookies – like lace cookies, which wouldn’t harden, or stained glass cookies – that dripped away the stained glass part as they hung on a tree. I also set the oven on fire trying to make graham cracker houses  (which we had made successfully in California) because the melted sugar wasn’t hardening. I had a vague notion that putting them into the oven would help them dry out. Instead, the melted sugar dropped all over the coils of the electric oven and caught fire.

Somewhere along the way I began collecting Christmas ornaments. Like Topsy, it just grew and grew, until the time came when we needed a second tree for all the ornaments. I began searching for ornaments where ever I went on vacation and more than once found a Christmas store.  My favorite one is in Carmel California. The store is filled with year-round trees decorated with ornaments made by local artisans. Some of these are my absolute favorites.

One year my sister and I were there oohing and ahhing over the ornaments.

“Will you take a check?” I asked the owner.

“Of course,” she replied.

“Do you need to see some identification?” I asked.

“No,” she said, complacently, “Christmas people don’t cheat.”

These are some of my stories; if I thought long and hard I could come up with many more—but I want to tell you about some of my favorite Christmas cookbooks.  As you know, I collect cookbooks – and possibly my favorite topic in my cookbook collection are the Christmas cookbooks – along with cookies. A few years ago, a friend set up a database for me and I managed to get all of the Christmas cookbooks logged on before we had to move. There are over 500 of them.  But some are really FAVORITES—the cookbooks I turn to, year in and year out. If you need to get into the holiday mood, I guarantee that reading Christmas cookbooks will get you there. Maybe you can write to me and tell me about your favorite holiday recipes or your favorite Christmas cookbook!

I like THE FRUGAL GOURMET CELEBRATES CHRISTMAS and MYSTIC SEAPORT’S CHRISTMAS MEMORIES COOKBOOK; There’s MARTHA STEWART’S CHRISTMAS, (with directions for creating a gingerbread mansion) and 365 WAYS TO PREPARE FOR CHRISTMAS. I like John Clancy’s CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK and A YANKEE CHRISTMAS by Sally Ryder Brady; ROSE’S CHRISTMAS COOKIES by Rose Levy Barenbaum, and my beloved LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK OF CHRISTMAS ENTERTAINING by Dawn Navarro and Betsy Balsley. I love re-reading Mimi Sheraton’s VISIONS OF SUGARPLUMS and Virginia Pasley’s THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE BOOK (1949).

I need to mention the Farm Journal’s HOMEMADE COOKIES compiled by the Food Journal’s food editors and published in 1971—back when I didn’t have hundreds of cookbooks, this was my favorite go-to cookbook for baking Christmas cookies. (In fact, we collected all of the Farm Journal cookbooks back then. I think it was my penpal Penny who got me started on those).

Years ago, the Junior League of the City of Washington published a book titled THINK CHRISTMAS (originally published in 1970 but often reprinted); the Junior League must have done well with their first effort since in 1983, they published JOY OF CHRISTMAS, both filled with great holiday entertainment ideas. One of my well thumbed and spattered Christmas cookbooks is titled TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS, compiled in 1974 by the Junior Women’s Group Pioneer Museum up in Stockton, California. I no longer remember where or how I found my copy which was already well worn and spattered when I acquired it – I DO know I have been making their recipe for Spinach Delight for over thirty years. Another favorite is THE GREATER CINCINNATI CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK compiled by the Greater Cincinnati Citizens Council in 1984; my sister Becky learned about it and we both invited to submit recipes—we both sent in many of our favorite Christmas recipes, congratulating ourselves for finding a way to get them all in one book. Of course, one downside to all of this is that some of your favorite recipes have a tendency to change from year to year. In 1984 I was making Texas fruitcake and “five pounds of fudge” while in more recent years I find myself reaching for the recipes of my youth—the Lebkuchen and Springerle my grandmother would make, or those wafer-thin Moravian Ginger cookies and Pfeffernusse.

More up to date Christmas cookbooks that you may want to search for might include CHRISTMAS WITH PAULA DEEN, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster, or The Goodhousekeeping little book THE GREAT CHRISTMAS COOKIE SWAP COOKBOOK, published in 2008 (and offering 60 large batch       recipes to cook and share) or you might want to look for a Favorite Brand Name 100 BEST HOLIDAY COOKIES published in 2007 by Publications International—both of these cookbooks are well illustrated with hidden spiral binding so they will lay flat on your kitchen counter. Personally, I don’t like having cookbooks in the kitchen so I usually copy the recipe on my  printer and stick it on the refrigerator door when I am baking.

Another 2007 cookbook is SANTA’S NORTH POLE COOKBOOK  by Jeff Guinn  who also wrote THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SANTA CLAUS, HOW MRS CLAUS SAVED CHRISTMAS and THE GREAT SANTA SEARCH.

These are a few of my favorite Christmas cookbooks—there are so many more! And amongst my treasures are pamphlets and leaflets published by the various gas companies in many different states—some of these were very well done and are so collectible!

And then there are all the gift-giving cookbooks and candy-making cookbooks!  But I see this post has grown very lengthy!  However, before I close I wanted to let you know about previous “Christmassy” posts on my blog.

Look for –

Christmas is Right Around the Corner 9/13/09

Homemade Christmas Candies 9/20/09

Oh, Fudge! Making Christmas Candy 9/16/09

Make Mine Light – Fruitcake 10/1/09

It’s Christmas Cookie Time, posted 11/22/09

Christmas 2009 Cookies 12/31/09 (PHOTOS)

MEMORIES OF CHRISTMASES IN CINCINNATI (ARTICLE) 12/9/09

A Few of my Favorite Things, Part 2 Cookies 12/16/09

Christmas Memories 2010

Happy cooking and happy cookbook collecting—Sandy

 

COMFORTABLE ENTERTAINING BY NATHALIE DUPREE

COMFORTABLE ENTERTAINING by Nathalie Dupree is one of those cookbooks everyone should have on their bookshelves.  With holidays quickly approaching, you may find yourself contemplating company meals and parties.

I think the one thing I have heard most often over the years is the fear many people have when it comes to entertaining.

I have enjoyed giving dinner parties for many years. As a matter of fact, in the early 1980s a group of us – four couples – formed a dinner party club which we kept going strong for about twenty years. We took turns entertaining once a month – the hostess provided the dining room, entrée and wine—then assigned accompanying dishes, such as a salad, vegetable or dessert – to the other three women.

The dinner party club would probably still be going strong but – one couple moved to the East Coast, another couple retired to the mountains. One of the husbands passed away and I went through a divorce and a few years ago,  moved to the desert. But those dinner parties were great fun while they lasted.

And before moving to the Antelope Valley, I generally hosted three or four other parties a year—but I digress. The point I really wanted to make is that I used to agonize for days over what to serve and getting things prepared.

Nathalie’s Golden Rules for Comfortable Entertaining, (Page 4, Introduction), seemed to have been written just for me. Think about who is coming and why   before you think about the menu, Nathalie advises.  Rule #2, serve what you know!  Making something you’ve never prepared before isn’t the best idea when planning a dinner party.  Over the years, I’ve kept that kernel of wisdom in the back of my mind—and often fall back on two favorite recipes -
Beef Burgundy and Pepper Steak. Both dishes can be made in about an hour, and go well with either rice or noodles. A salad and dessert and you’ve got it made.

Other rules include Plan ahead, start ahead, work ahead…make yourself and  your guests comfortable.

Nathalie tells a hilarious “cautionary tale’ about Rules #2 and #3 as she related the story of once deciding, along with her roommates, to make a roast pig for Thanksgiving dinner4. The pig ended up being roasted in a too-small fireplace and although, says the author, “…the pig was succulent and meltingly delicious” for those who cared enough to stay, it took hours and hours to cook.

“Entertaining is a mindset” the author instructs, “An attitude as well as a practice…not quite an art form but more than a craft. Like most artistic endeavors, it is a marriage of personal expression and technique learned through observation and experience. An exellen5t host may well be self-taught, with the desire to entertain in a way that is graceful and comfortable…”  She goes on to explain that this book talks about her mistakes as well as her successes, what she has learned not to do as well as what she hopes you will learn to do.

COMFORTABLE ENTERTAINING comes equipped with loads of party menus and the go-with recipes—and lovely illustrations! There are sit-down meals, “fork meals” “finger meals” (a seafood party, tortilla party, buffet for 12 to 50 in four hours or less! – and two hors d’oeuvres parties.

(For many years, we had an annual Christmas open house party and it took a lot of years of hit and miss dishes before I discovered that you can’t go wrong with wide variety of different hors d’oeuvres. I began collecting hors d’oeuvre recipes—and whenever anyone asked “what can I bring?” I would reply “Your favorite hors d’oeuvre or a bottle of wine – your choice!”)

One of the features I especially like about COMFORTABLE ENTERTAINING are the highlighted chatty-style true life experiences as told by the author, such as the roast pig tale. Also highlighted are lots of shopping and cooking tips..and another useful feature, many of the recipes contain a highlighted variation. COMFORTABLE ENTERAINING provides detailed instructions for preparing for your party—right down to cooking times, and which dishes can be prepared in part, if not completely, well in advance.

There are so many yummy sounding recipes; you may want to try them all; be sure to check out Cornish Hens with Lime Spice Marinade, the Spinach and Mushroom Strata, and for those of us who can’t get enough of anything made with spinach, there’s also Whole Baked Fish with Spinach and Tomatoes.  Also check out the Apricot and Almond Tartlets, and Whole Wheat Bread Pudding with Dried Cranberries.

Although COMFORTABLE ENTERTAINING is beautiful enough to lay out on your coffee table, trust me – this is a to-be-used-cookbook that you will find immensely helpful.

It is wonderfully illustrated with photographs by Tom Eckerle.

This is a book I first reviewed in 1999 for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange. It has aged well.

I found it listed on Amazon.com starting at one cent for pre-owned, collectible for $3.83 or new for $12.98.  I found it on Alibris.com starting at 99c.  Please remember that pre-owned books from private vendors, through Amazon or Alibris, come with a $3.99 charge for postage and handling. I have bought many cookbooks over the past decade from the private vendors – service is FAST and I have never been disappointed.

Review by Sandra Lee Smith