Have been reading “Dearie” the new biography of Julia Child by Bob Spitz and thinking about books and the holiday season. My favorite Christmas presents, as far back as I can remember, have always been books, and reading is a lifelong addiction that I haven’t been able to conquer. My perfect fantasy of a Christmas vacation allows for long solitary hours spent with a pile of newly launched volumes — or, maybe — a large and expensive gift card and some peaceful space in a well-stocked bookstore.
As a result of this obsession, the weight of the printed paper in my small condo’ is now threatening to suffocate me. I know that I should buy a Kobo, or a Kindle, or a tablet, or whatever those things are called — and I will eventually — but I don’t think that I will ever be able to stop buying cookbooks. “Dearie” has no recipes, but is a fascinating portrait of an eccentric and powerful woman who revolutionized North American cooking and eating. It would be a great gift for anyone who is interested in gastronomic issues.
Herewith are some other completely biased, absolutely random and very subjective suggestions for last minute literary gifts for the food lovers in your life:
Lynn Ogryzlo has appeared as one of our guest chefs at Go Cooking and her newest cookbook “The Ontario Table” <www.ontariotable.com/about-lynn-ogryzlo/> is brimful of recipes which depend on the freshest local produce. Ogryzlo’s determination to eat locally-produced food in order to support nearby farmers and agriculture makes a lot of sense to me. The recipes are straightforward technically, yet imaginative in content and the ones that I have tried have worked well. One thing that I really like is the lack of fanaticism. Ogryzlo realizes that we’re not about to give up oranges and coffee. Instead, she challenges us to devote $10 of our weekly food budget to local produce — and this should be more than easy to accomplish.
Another cookbook that preaches the “eat locally” gospel is Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann’s “Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm.” Crump is the executive chef of the Ancaster Old Mill, among other well-known restaurants, and this is not a new book; it was first published in 2009 and became an instant classic. Part cookbook, part autobiography, part organic food doctrine, the book is organized seasonally. The recipes are very sophisticated and there is lots of additional reading material. The photography is exceptional and this seems important to me. I want my cookbook to be accurate, but there is also an undeniable element of theatricality needed to stimulate my desire to actually try out the recipes.
For those contrarians (and you know who you are) who are fed up with being beaten over the head with the “eat locally” message, “The Locavore’s Dilemma” provides lots of ammunition for dinner table debates. Written by Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu, the book is subtitled “In praise of the 10,000 mile diet.” I’ve read it; I get it. But I always come back to this one incontrovertible fact. Locally grown, seasonal food simply tastes better. But then, I’m privileged, I know, in that I’m not buying groceries for a family of five.
And just one more cookbook that I have to mention: I bought Michael Smith’s new cookbook, “Fast Flavours”, for myself, for two reasons: First, of all, I’m a longtime Michael Smith fan because his recipes are uncomplicated and the food is always tasty. And secondly, because the book is devoted to “speedy recipes” which is something that has become a priority for me the last few years.
One final recommendation: If you have a slightly twisted foodie friend with a well-honed sense of irony, you might want to gift him/her with John Lanchester’s “The Debt to Pleasure.” This is a novel, not a cookbook, although it does contain recipes. It stands as a wonderful antidote to any forced, seasonal sentimentality.
I’ll leave you with a recipe from Lynn Ogryzlo’s “The Ontario Table.” A delectable adaptation of an old favorite.
Apple Cider Muffins
from Lynn Ogryzlo’s “The Ontario Table”
1/2 cup (124 ml) country fresh butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (180 ml) brown sugar
1 farm fresh egg
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) baking soda
pinch of salt
3/4 cup (180 ml) Ontario apple cider
2 farm fresh egg whites
pinch of Ontario salt
4 tablespoons (60 ml) water
1/2 cup (125 ml) dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons (45 ml) Kittling Ridge 40 Creek Whisky (optional)
1/2 cup (125 ml) farm fresh butter, room temperature
Ontario apple slices for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 F (180C). In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat until well incorporated.
Meanwhile, in another bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Add to the butter cream mixture alternately with apple cider. Beat on medium speed until ingredients are just combined.
Scoop the batter into 12 muffin cups and bake for 30 minutes or until muffins are beginning to brown around the edges. Completely cool before icing.
Whip the egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Put the water and brown sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for approximately 3 minutes. Remove the brown sugar syrup from heat and slowly drizzle into the egg whites while the whisk is running on medium speed. Drizzle until half the syrup is used. Add the whisky (optional). Add butter and continue to whisk, but do not over whisk or it will begin to curdle. Chill frosting before topping the muffins. Garnish with slices of Ontario apple. Makes 12 muffins.
Easy and elegant. Just be sure to cool everything before icing.