Thursday, October 07, 2010

Great Gifting: Book by Book

It's not too early to start thinking about the holidays, about the food you're going to serve and the gifts you're going to give. I've sworn off gifts that require displaying or dusting, preferring instead to give items that are 1) consumable or 2) useful in some way. And books rank high on my list of useful items, especially cookbooks. There are two that I'm not only planning to give but would also love to get, one brand new from a favorite author and the other a classic that is a must-have for anyone interesting in cooking.

I've been an admirer of Diana Kennedy's work for a long time, and I have several of her what are not so much cookbooks as anthropological explorations of the complex cuisines of Mexico. She writes to document and preserve this under-appreciated and ancient corner of the food world, so I was very excited to hear that her newest book, "Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy,"had just been released. At 450-plus pages and weighing nearly seven pounds, it's a thorough and engaging examination of the region through its food. Kennedy, now 87, is said to be as vital and active as ever. She moved to Mexico with her husband, Paul Kennedy, a writer for the New York Times, in 1957, and published her first book, "The Cuisines of Mexico,"in 1972.

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I had the good fortune to see Paul Bertolli this last weekend. Twice. The first was at Foster & Dobbs, my source for cheesy goodness, laughter and great lunches. Oh, and the Spanish anchovy-stuffed olives that are a requirement for martinis here at the homestead. But I digress. The second was at Provvista's annual Open House the next day, an extravaganza of good food that gathers their best suppliers and some of the best food vendors in the city, along with a who's who of Portland's food culture for a five-hour marathon of snacking and schmoozing. Bertolli was there with his crew from Fra' Mani, passing out samples of their extraordinary cured meats to the slavering mobs, but he spent several minutes casually shooting the bull with me in the middle of the whole thing. World-famous author, charcutier and Chez Panisse alum he may be, but he's a total sweetheart of a guy, approachable and casual. And it's his book, "Cooking by Hand,"that's going on my gotta-give-it list. "With stimulating essays on everything from gathering wild mushrooms and types of pasta flour to a 14-page section on the wonders of balsamic vinegar, Bertolli is nothing less than a pied piper for the Italian kitchen," according to Publsihers Weekly. Having had his food and talked with the man himself, I don't doubt a word.

Check out other suggestions in the series: Classic Design, Giving From the Heart, Not Dead Yet! (food magazines you'll love) and Class Acts.

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