Thursday, December 20, 2012

Great Gifting: A Way with Words

Call me old-fashioned, but I love books. It's obvious from the piles of them we have around the house, sitting in boxes, stacked on the floor and spilling out of bookshelves. We have books in every room in the house, including the bathrooms—no joke—as those who've been here can attest.

One person even started referring to our abode as "The House of Books" for our tendency to pull out reference material whenever a favorite subject (poetry, photography, literature, etc.) came up. And I'm always a bit shocked when I walk into a home that doesn't have any in sight, even for a polite display on the coffee table. What is up with that? It makes me want to start snooping around to see if they've got them hidden out of sight. The bedroom? The oven? The fuse box? Surely they must be someplace!

So when it comes to giving gifts, books are always on my mind. Here are a few that I'll be wrapping up this holiday:
  • Beautiful Corn by Anthony Boutard. Farmer and naturalist Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston says he fell in love over an ad in a seed catalog. “Boy seeking corn. Ad says ‘makes good cornbread,’" he said. "It could have failed, but it grew and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.” This book is a paen to that passion, his lyrical, thoughtful writing based on years of observation, noting and photographing the effects of weather and season on his land. Anyone with an interest in the natural world or organic farming may well fall under its spell, as well.
  • Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast by Hank Shaw. A perfect gift for guys. It's got that living-off-the land attitude without the rough-and-tough, macho baggage. Author Hank Shaw gets readers to start thinking with great essays, plant descriptions and recipes for everything from acorn flour fritters to squirrel stew. A great read…see my review.
  • The Farm to Table Cookbook and The Adaptable Feast by Ivy Manning. Ivy, a Portland food and travel writer for publications like FoodDay, Bon Appetit and Sunset magazine, is one of the most rigorous chefs I know, testing recipes till she knows they're foolproof. Her first book is a guide to eating fresh, seasonal dishes year round with simple recipes that are totally delicious. The second is more personal, documenting her struggle with being an omnivore married to a vegetarian. Her solution to cooking two meals (one for him, one for her) is to make a dish that goes both ways—add beef for her, add enough flavor for him—is conveyed with humor and plenty of recipes.
  • Salty Snacks: Make Your Own Chips, Crisps, Crackers, Pretzels, Dips, and Other Savory Bites by Cynthia Nims. Seattle food writer Cynthia Nims acknowledges our love of all that is salty and crispy but gives us alternatives to buying them in a box full of chemicals and crappy ingredients. Instead, she provides easy recipes to make at home that are full of creative combinations and, most important, lots of flavor: Carrot and Parsnip Chips, Stilton and Walnut Pinwheels, Fennel and Orange Crackers, Salami Chips with Grainy Mustard Dip and so many more.
  • Roots by Diane Morgan. Thank goodness Diane, another widely published Portland writer and teacher, wrote this book and saved me from years of research and trial and error (heavy emphasis on the error). Here is a virtual encyclopedia of all those funny looking-but-incredibly-delicious vegetables I see at our farmers' markets but am sometimes too intimidated to buy. Thank you, Diane!

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