Sunday, December 15, 2013

Holiday Gift Guide: Good Food Reads

I thought it would be fun to put together a list of some of my favorite food related books that would make wonderful holiday gifts for the cook(s) in your family. After all, there's more to read than the now consummate Omnivore's Dilemma, Blood, Bone's and Butter, Kitchen Confidential, and the great works of M.F.K. Fisher. In general, I find it's hard to buy gifts for people who enjoy cooking because you don't know what cookbooks or cooking gadgets already live in their kitchen. If you're desperate for some last minute gift ideas, hopefully this list will help! For more good food reads see here. Here's the list (in no particular order) of 10 books that will make great gifts this holiday season:

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen
By Jacques Pepin

Jacques Pepin's bestselling memoir traces his life from his childhood working in old world French kitchens to becoming one of the most celebrated and famous chefs in the world today. Pepin sheds light on being a pioneer in America's coming of age in the world of food. An insightful and inspiring firsthand account of what it takes to become a great chef.

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto
Edited by Joan Reardon 
As Always, Julia, is a collection of letters between Child and her close friend and pen pal, Avis DeVoto. Their correspondence sheds light on the struggles and frustrations of publishing 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' and reveals a very personal and private Child just before the success of her first cookbook and becoming an American icon. A fascinating and informative read for Julia Child fans.

Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food
By Wendell Berry

Long before "organic produce" was available in every American supermarket, Wendell Berry was the embodiment of mindful eating and farming. 'Bringing It to the Table' is a collection of Berry's educated, direct, and thoughtful essays from the past thirty years, which explore the responsible practices and principles of eating and farming well. His eloquent writing answers many difficult questions pertaining to the often confusing and misunderstood world of modern agriculture. A must read for anyone who enjoyed Omnivore's Dilemma

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
By Laurie Colwin
Laurie Colwin's memoir on cooking and food will have you laughing out loud. Published in the late 80's, 'Home Cooking' has since become a classic for many cooks. Colwin's often irreverent humor celebrates both her triumphant and disastrous meals.  Whether an amateur or professional cook, Laurie Colwin feels like your best friend in the kitchen, and is a constant reminder to have fun and not take cooking (or life) too seriously. 

Ideas In Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work
By Aki Kamozawa & Alexander Talbot

'Ideas in Food' by husband and wife chefs Aki Kamozawa and Aki Kamozawa, shares newfound knowledge and recipes that break the rules of many traditional cooking techniques. This book takes a unique in-depth look at many aspects of molecular gastronomy from the home cook's perspective. It's the perfect handbook for the experimental cook.

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing
By Anya Von Bremzen
Anya Von Bremzen's recently published book has garnered a lot of buzz in the food world, and with good reason. Her intensely personal and intimate memoir of life and eating in the USSR is paralleled in stark contrast with her eventual move to the US years later. Von Bremzen's thoughtful and observant writing weaves food, family, and politics together in an unforgettable way.

One Souffle at a Time: A Memoir of Food and France
By Anne Willan

Anne Willan's memoir recounts her creation and time as an instructor at the legendary La Varenne Cooking School in France amidst a male-dominated food culture. Willan recounts the birth of the modern day food obsession and brings the sights and smells of French cooking to life. A fascinating look into the life and teachings of an influential chef. 

Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste
By Luke Barr
'Provence, 1970,' written by the grandnephew of M.F.K. Fisher, pieces together the intimate dinner parties and private thoughts and letters of some of America's most influential culinary minds. The cast of characters includes M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard and Richard Olney. A fascinating page-turner that takes place on the eve of America's culinary reinvention; it's so engaging it reads like fiction. This was one of my favorites of the year!  

Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey
By Fred Minnick 

'Whiskey Women' tells the story of influential women throughout history, from Mesopotamia to Prohibition, who have shaped the liquor industry as we know it today. An empowering and informative look at the way women have influenced, developed, and marketed the liquor industry. This is a great read for the whiskey drinker in your family!

Wine & War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure
By Donald & Petie Kladstrup
'Wine and War' takes a historical look at the wine industry in Nazi occupied France during World War II. It tells the story of many winemakers who risked it all to protect their wine from falling into the hands of the Third Reich. An inspiring and triumphant look at one of the darkest chapters in French history. This is a perfect read for the wine and history lover in your family.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

End Table Makeover

Living in New York City I hear myself say all too often, "If only I had a garage I could_____." As every New Yorker knows, space has its limitations which requires most of who live here to get creative. If it can't be suspended from the ceiling, hung on the wall, or stored in a suitcase inside another suitcase under the bed, it probably has to go. Sometimes I feel having an apartment in the city is akin to living inside a set of Russian nesting dolls. In any case, I'd been determined to refinish an end table which Aaron and I've had since college. We bought it at a used furniture store in Boston off of Boylston St. for a whopping $30 and has since become the perfect table to hold our record player. It has just enough drawer space to hold takeout menus, a small flashlight, and the occasional safety pin. Over the years we've become attached to it, knowing it was a well-made piece, but fully aware it was an eyesore with its chipped and scratched finish. It had great potential and just needed a little love in the form of sanding and a fresh coat of paint. However, my lofty plans were always discouraged by the blatant reality that there just wasn't any space to take on such a project. If I only had a garage…. 

A couple months ago, I finally bit the bullet and decided to tackle this table once and for all. Luckily for us, we have a small "balcony" (in reality it's just a glorified flower box, which is only accessible by climbing out the window) with just enough room to shove the end table into a 2 foot space. We refer to it affectionately as "the terrace." By New York standards, it ain't bad! The so-called terrace is where was able to sand down the entire table with a bandana covering my nose and mouth, looking like a wild west bandit (I'm sure our neighbors have a delightful opinion of us). 

Since the table was in such bad shape, and we already have enough mismatched wood furniture in the room, we decided to paint it rather than re-stain it. The entire project only took me two days to complete from start to finish.  I thought a crackle finish would suit this piece well and give it some added character. It's a process that seems like it would take a long time, but is actually quite simple and only takes three coats of paint. 

Here's how to achieve a crackle finish on a project in 10 easy steps:
  1. Choose two contrasting colors of flat-finished paint (the greater the contrast the more intense the crackle finish will be) at your local hardware store, as well as clear crackle medium finish (if your local hardware store doesn't carry it, your local craft store will). Also purchase a clear satin finish, if desired.
  2. In a well ventilated area, sand your piece of furniture to remove any existing stain or finish. 
  3. Wipe the piece down with a damp cloth to remove any dust or debris.
  4. Place your piece of furniture on a drop cloth and remove any drawers. Remove any hardware from the drawers and set aside.
  5. Paint your piece with a single coat of your desired base paint and allow it to dry completely, preferably overnight.
  6. Apply a coat of crack-medium and allow it to dry for 30 minutes to 1 hour, but not more than 4 hours (follow the manufacturer's directions for best results). 
  7. Paint the piece with your chosen top coat in long even stokes and let it dry completely (you will see that the top coat will begin to crackle immediately).
  8. Allow the piece to dry for at least 24 hours before replacing any hardware or putting anything on top of it. 
  9. If desired, use a fine-grit sandpaper to gently sand the edges of the piece, giving it a worn look and further exposing the base coat. Wipe the furniture clean with a damp cloth.
  10. If desired, paint the piece with a clear satin finish to protect the finish (however, leaving the piece unfinished will give it the most authentic worn appearance). Let the furniture dry for at least 24 hours before placing anything on top of it.