Life in a Northern Town by Mary Dougherty


IMG_0185Having lived my entire life on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, I was drawn to this lovely book about Great Lakes life on the shores of Lake Superior. I was curious to see if there were similarities, despite the distance between western New York and the upper peninsula of Wisconsin. In many ways, this was like reading my own life, and I finished this exquisite book feeling as though Mary Dougherty and I are old friends.

Dougherty – a former restaurant owner, blogger, Mom to 5, and activist – has written a sumptuous, supremely readable cookbook/memoir that is organized by seasons. It has been a very long time since I’ve read a cookbook that better reflects the life lived by the author, and Dougherty has done a remarkable job of connecting the food and the people of Bayfield, Wisconsin to the land and the Lake.

While living in a remote, small town of less than 500 people, Dougherty has managed to stock her pantry with exotic spices and fill her kitchen with adventurous cooking, blending local with global in an appealing, delicious melange of meals ranging from Thai Corn Chowder to Whitefish in Foil. Enhanced by gorgeous photography and a chatty style, this book takes you deep into the forest and then out on the blue water of Lake Superior, through all four seasons. Dougherty is my kind of cook – while all the recipes are detailed enough for a beginning cook, she makes a point of encouraging the reader to experiment, taste, and adjust as necessary. Some of the recipes are familiar (Nicoise Salad in a Jar), but the stories accompanying nearly every recipe create a moment that makes each special.

I was pleasantly surprised at the commonalities I found between Bayfield, Wisconsin and western NY. I know that many early settlers in the western NY region eventually migrated west, and I’m betting that some of them ended up in Wisconsin. Here are just a few of the familiar things I discovered here:

  • Canned potatoes – this story could have been told by my kids, who ate canned potatoes at their Grandmother’s house every Tuesday night for years when they were little. Nothing matches that consistency and taste!
  • Penzey’s Spices – my sister gives me a box of Penzey’s for Christmas every year!
  • Parades – community parades are a Big Deal where I live, where pretty much any group who wants to participate can walk the route, tossing candy into the crowd. Here’s a photo of the Lawn Chair Ladies taken at the Hilton Firemen’s Parade a couple weeks ago.IMG_1954
  • Chautauqua – The settlers in Wisconsin HAD to pass through New York. This name is just too unusual. Chautauqua County NY is home to the Chautauqua Institute, which hosts amazing concerts and other events.
  • Salt potatoes – totally a Central/Western NY thing! No BBQ is complete without salt potatoes and sweet corn!
  • AppleFest – My favorite event of the year is the Hilton Apple Fest. One year, they set the world’s record for largest baked apple crisp. I bet Bayfield’s Fest has done something similar!
  • And finally, I could not believe it when I turned the page to find my mother’s recipe for Angel Pie! I have never encountered this recipe outside of my family!

It’s rare that I highlight the text in a cookbook, but Dougherty’s witty prose is as good as her recipes. Here are a few gems that I enjoyed:

  • It just may be that the most radical act we can commit is to stay home.
  • Maple syrup: capturing spring awakenings in a bottle, one year at a time.
  • Think of it at the little black dress of appetizers: always appropriate and never over done.
  • Fall is a pause between the riotous abundance of summer and the muffled repose of winter.

Mary Dougherty has produced a fabulous, readable cookbook/memoir that I will go back to again and again. Her sense of family and community is refreshing, and her creative approach to cooking is totally authentic. The recipes are interesting and delicious, and mostly suitable for beginning cooks. I used a digital advanced copy for this review, but will be buying this book in hardcover and probably giving a couple as Christmas gifts this year. I’ll end with a lovely quote that touched my heart:

I never expected quiet perfection because I knew the good stuff always comes from the messy and brilliant business of living a life in a way that brings you to your knees in gratitude every now and then.

Highly recommended.

Holiday Cookies by Elisabet der Nederlanden

IMG_0091Those of you who know me, know I am a maniac when it comes to baking cookies for Christmas. My baking frenzy begins right after Halloween and, by mid-December all the freezers in my home are filled to the brim with dozens of varieties of cookies.

The rest of the year, I am on the look-out for new recipes, so I was happy to find this gem of a book through NetGalley. There are plenty of tips here for beginning bakers, covering baking, decorating, and storing cookies. The author divides the recipes into classics, cookies suitable for a cookie exchange, spiced cookies, cookies from around the world, cookies suitable for fancy decorating, and confections.

The recipes are simple and straightforward. If special equipment is required, it’s noted clearly. These are tasty, good-for-the-soul cookies that don’t require tons of special ingredients, equipment, or talent. The recipes are accompanied by tasteful and colorful photos of cookies that look like even a beginner could make them. The writing is warm and casual, inviting the reader to give the recipes a try without judgement. I thoroughly enjoyed reading through this and saved some recipes to try this year.

Recommended for all bakers.

In Her Kitchen by Gabriele Galimberti

kitchenIs there anything better than food cooked by your grandma? Not likely, but the dishes you’ll find in this lovely book are not your typical Sunday gravy.

Galimberti shares a story early in the narrative about how his grandmother, who lived her entire life in the same small Italian village, was worried about what he would eat during a two-year assignment traveling the world. He realized then that he had an opportunity to explore the concepts of food and family by seeking out people just like his grandmother and looking for common ground. His journey begins with his grandmother, Marisa Batini of Castiglion Fiorentino Italy, and concludes with his mother, Paola Agnelli, a new grandmother herself. In between are the stories and recipes of women, of grandmothers, the world over.

We meet grandmothers from Brazil, Armenia, Canada, Alaska, Morocco, Albania, Mexico, Colombia, Thailand, Malta, Norway, Bolivia, India, Zambia, Fiji Islands, Japan, Sweden, Haiti, and many others. We meet grandmothers who cook over open fires and high-tech ranges, who have all the amenities of the modern world or no running water or electricity, who buy their food in a supermarket or hunt and kill it in the wild. The common thread that ties all these women together is the reason they cook, and it is always family. Grandmothers who cook for their children and grandchildren, whose task is to nourish the family and make them strong. We learn about favorite recipes that have been handed down in the families for generations, treasured plates and bowls that belonged to long dead grandmothers, food and ritual that has great meaning.

Galimberti’s format here gives great honor to the grandmothers. Lovely, full-page color photos of each grandmother in her kitchen or cooking space, followed by photos of the food and then the recipes makes this an easy, pleasant book to read. What lifts this above an ordinary book are Galimberti’s short essays about each grandmother, her country, her recipes, and her family. We learn about his experiences cooking with these women and how the project changed him and many ways. What comes through so clearly is the love in the households of these women. I have many favorites throughout the book, but one that spoke out loud to me is Natalie Bakradze of Tbilisi, Georgia, whose special recipe is Khinkali (traditional pork & beef dumplings). Her photo shows an ordinary woman wearing a mischievous, somewhat self-conscious smile, as though she is thinking “why is this boy taking my picture?” Galimberti’s essay about her says “Everybody in the family wears sweaters and scarves that she knitted for them, and everybody – including her daughter-in-law – brags that she is the best cook in town.”

The admiration, respect, and love shown these women is truly touching and heartwarming. They all welcomed Galimberti into their homes and kitchens, cooked with him, and shared their food – all extremely personal actions. He, in turn, has captured the universal essence of family and food in a readable, very accessible book.

Highly recommended.

Go Fresh: A Heart Healthy Cookbook

American Heart Association Go Fresh: A Heart-Healthy Cookbook with Shopping and Storage TipsMy typical routine when reviewing books is to read them, then place them near my computer so I have them handy when writing the review (and so I *remember* to write the review!) In this case, I *did* forget to write the review because this book hasn’t left my kitchen! Go Fresh by the American Heart Association is packed with tasty, healthy, and easy recipes that can satisfy even the most reluctant healthy eater.

Beginning with short, easy to read sections on how to build healthy eating habits, this book includes everything from how to buy and store fresh foods, to kitchen & cooking tips, to lucid, straightforward advice on how to achieve a healthy lifestyle, to dozens of delicious recipes. I really appreciate a cookbook that is written in a simple, consistent style, and Go Fresh is definitely that. The recipe layout is uncluttered and includes clear, step by step directions. Boxes listing serving sizes, prep time, cook time, and standing time appear in the upper corners of each recipe page. In addition, there are numerous “Cook’s Tip” boxes throughout the book, offering useful advice for the novice to the experienced cook.

A center section of lovely, full-color photos adds a nice touch to the book. Every recipe I tried came out beautifully and all were well-received by my family. Some new favorites include: Parmesan-Spinach Soup, Citrus-Soy Tilapia, Espresso-Rubbed Flank Steak, and Broccolini with Toasted Walnuts. It was a special treat to have this book during the summer harvest season, when so much fresh food is available.

I have tried many, many healthy eating cookbooks over the years and always seem to come back to those from the AHA. There are no gimmicks, no strange foods that cost the earth, or special cooking utensils required here – just good, fresh food. I highly recommend this book.

The Pickled Pantry

The Pickled Pantry by Andrea Chesman

Last summer, on a whim, I bought a bushel of mini cucumbers at a local farmers’ market. I reasoned that my husband, who loves cukes, would eat them, which he did – for about a week. Then I found myself with two thirds of a bushel of lovely little glossy green cucumbers that I could not bear to see go to waste.

Tired of hearing me moan about what to do with this bounty, my husband uttered a phrase that changed my whole summer.

“Why don’t you make pickles?”


So, I searched the internet and found an abundance of recipes for bread and butter pickles, brined pickles, garlic pickles, refrigerator pickles, dill pickles, basil pickles, even kool-aid pickles. While the recipes seemed like something I could manage, I found the lack of good directions a big problem. So, I headed to the library and spent a lovely afternoon browsing through cookbooks on pickles and canning, but came away feeling very intimidated. I eventually tried the simplest refrigerator pickle recipe I could find and they turned out okay. Nothing special, but certainly edible.

The Pickled Pantry has changed all that. This is the book I wanted last summer. Chesman writes in an engaging conversational style, and isn’t afraid to talk about her successes and failures in pickle making. She explains why it’s important to take certain steps, but also offers alternatives for various ingredients or processes. Recipes for a variety of pickles, from cucumber to cauliflower, are presented in clear language that can be understood by a novice. As an added bonus, Chesman also profiles famous pickle makers (who would have thought there were so many!?) in appealing inserts throughout the book.

The Pickled Pantry is one of those rare cookbooks that you can read straight through like a novel. I sincerely hope Chesman has other culinary expertise and will be writing more books like this one!