No-Cost Travel

Cookbook Heaven II

Everyone's summer reading list is different. If you check out five different vacation reading lists, you'll find someone with a stack of Fabio romance novels, another with a collection of techno-thrillers, a reader with a penchant for steamy potboilers a la Jackie Collins, and then a reader with a fondness for historical fiction or biographies. When you check out the stacks of books around my office and bedroom, it's predominately cookbooks: cookbooks of every size, shape, and description; cookbooks that transport me to every area of this country and the far corners of the world, introducing me to various peoples and cultures through their cuisines. They are the next best thing to a genuine travel budget for a poor but happy food writer.

The first stop on the itinerary would have to be a visit with former Austinite Martha Rose Schulman. Schulman began her career as a caterer and food writer in the Seventies in a little cottage in Clarksville. From Austin, she moved to France, where her "supper club" served Mexican-inspired dishes to tout Paris, and she spent many seasons visiting, eating, cooking, and writing in Provençe. These days, Schulman is married and living in Berkeley, California, and her cookbook output is phenomenal. In the spring, she won a Julia Child Cookbook Award for her excellent Provençal Light (Bantam, $29.95 hard), which captures the fragrance and zest of that sun-drenched area of France on every page. There are three additional books from Martha Rose this summer, and after reading them, I feel as if we've had a good, long visit.

Great Breads (Chapters, $19.95 paper) is a collection of Schulman's favorite bread recipes from Europe, the British Isles, and the U.S. Some of the recipes are new and some have appeared in her other books. A frequent traveler who seeks out good bread wherever she visits, Schulman presents an inspiring selection of bread recipes clearly presented for home baking success. In keeping with the current trend toward naturally leavened breads based on the sponge (or levain) method, there is a section of hearty, whole-grain peasant breads. The wonderful recipes in Great Breads will encourage the reader to really get their hands in the dough, something Schulman does regularly.

Schulman wrote one of the first classic vegetarian cookbooks in 1979. The newly revised and updated The Vegetarian Feast (HarperPerennial, $14 trade paperback) demonstrates the growth and maturity of vegetarianism in the intervening 15 years. The current volume highlights a wider variety of fruits and vegetables, stresses the importance of grains, and presents lighter, more streamlined versions of some of the original recipes. There is also an emphasis on the healthy influences of ethnic cuisines. If you have a much-used copy of the original, the new version will be a welcome addition to your cookbook library.

As anyone who attended Schulman's informal supper club in that little Clarksville cottage can attest, she began her career entertaining at home. Who better, then, to write The Classic Party Fare Cookbook (Dorling Kindersley, $24.95 hard), a delightful compendium of party foods that reflects the author's love of festive occasions. This book would be a great addition to any professional caterer's library and a true inspiration for the enthusiastic hostess.

I can't spend my entire vaca- tionchez Martha Rose, so it's on to Colorado and a selection of books from Interweave Press, the folks who publish The Herb Companion magazine. Their spring catalogue includes a tempting array of cookbooks, including The Herb Companion Cooks (Interweave Press, $16.95 paper) with the recipes from the first five years of that publication. I'm particularly pleased to have this slim volume because I've only just discovered the magazine, and now ordering back issues won't be necessary. Another of their small wonders is Flowers in the Kitchen (Interweave, $14.95 paper) by Susan Belsinger, a beautifully photographed collection of edible flowers and recipes for their use. Try the Nasturtiums Stuffed with Guacamole, Herbed Bean Salads with Scarlet Runner Blossoms, or Scented Geranium Cake. The most comprehensive offering is Herbs in the Kitchen (Interweave, $24.95 hard) by Belsinger and Carolyn Dille, frequent contributors to the magazine. This celebration of herbal flavors is arranged by herb with photos, information, and several recipes utilizing each. It would be the perfect gift for the herb gardener in your life.

It wasn't necessary to journey to Athens, Greece, to meet food journalist Aglaia Kremezi. The Central Market cooking school brought her here in the spring; then her books brought the cuisine of her homeland into my kitchen. Kremezi's award-winning The Foods of Greece (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $35 hard) is an elegant revelation of the rich Greek culinary tradition. Exquisitely photographed by Martin Brigdale, The Foods of Greece presents Aglaia Kremezi's personal selection and adaptation of the earthy peasant foods of her homeland. The feisty and opinionated journalist is determined to preserve and defend the ancient Greek culinary traditions against the encroachment of bland tourist versions of Greek dishes and convenience foods such as pizza and burgers. The first sections of the book present a historical and cultural perspective and basic elements of Greek cuisine. Then there are the recipes illuminated by Brigdale's lovely, evocative photos.

This large, elegant book would definitely qualify in the coffee-table category, but to simply assign it to the shelf would be such a waste. Get into the kitchen and prepare some of Kremezi's accessible recipes, such as her mother's version of Moshari Lemonato (Veal and Potatoes in Lemon Sauce), Trahana (traditional homemade Greek pasta), or Hortopita (Traditional Greens Pie). For the truly adventurous, there is even a recipe for homemade phyllo dough. Anyone who bemoans the lack of good Greek food in Austin can create their own with Kremezi's expert guidance.

The Mediterranean Pantry (Artisan, $25 hard) is Aglaia Kremezi's excellent new book, also photographed by her talented British collaborator, Martin Brigdale. The new book features recipes and instructions for creating and using the condiments and seasonings from the Mediterranean rim. Because of her passionate interest in food as it relates to culture, Kremezi has explored the traditional seasonings and preserved foods of the area, in many instances drawing on ancient customs and weaving together historical, mythological, and botanical information with the recipes.

Use the Sicilian Garlic and Mint Sauce on grilled meats this summer, experiment with Peach and Rosemary Vinegar or sample one of the refreshing formulas for Ratafia (fruit liqueurs). The tasty Olive and Herb Spread or tapenade is inspired by a preparation described by the Roman statesman Cato (234-149 B.C.) and the Preserved Lemons are a North African specialty used to season salads, steamed potatoes, and Tunisian Carrot Salad. This volume adds historical and ethnic depth to any collection of books on canning and preserving foods.

One of the most informative ethnic cookbooks on the summer reading list is Flatbreads & Flavors (Wm. Morrow & Co., $30 hard), a baker's atlas of the flatbreads of the world by globetrotting photojournalists Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Alford and Duguid operate a stock photo library, Asia Access, that specializes in food and agriculture and the documentation of traditional cultures. Their vast knowledge and investigative expertise are evident in this fascinating book.

Flatbreads are probably the most ancient prepared food, dating back at least 6,000 years, developed simultaneously almost everywhere there was a perennial supply of grain. You'll find recipes for Armenian lavash and Bedouin fatir, two breads that are made in essentially the same manner today as they have been for centuries, plus many other flatbreads from eight regions around the globe. There is also an extensive collection of accompaniments such as curries, salsas, chutneys, spreads, stews, and appetizers. Sample the Hot Peanut Chutney from Nepal, the Bulgur Pilaf from Kurdistan, the Peanut Dipping Sauce from Vietnam, Hopi Bean Stew, or the Spelt Breakfast Bread from the Swiss Alps. This book makes for enjoyable beach, armchair, or bedtime reading without any messy crumbs.

The biggest reading feast to it my library this summer is Irena Chalmers' The Great Food Almanac (Collins, $25 trade paperback), a gigantic, encyclopedic tome packed with food information on subjects from airline food to yogurt. Chalmers is an experienced and authoritative cook and publisher, and this almanac is obviously a labor of love. In her introduction, Chalmers says that she hopes the book is as enjoyable as a good dinner, and she even includes her phone number for readers who might have a tidbit of food-related information they'd like to share. If you were one of those kids who could disappear into a volume of the encyclopedia for an entire afternoon, The Great Food Almanac is a must-read.

What culinary vacation would be complete without a foray into Mexico? The newest addition to the Stewart, Tabor & Chang "Best of the Chefs" series is The Best of Quintana (STC, $25 hard) a charming collection of 60 favorite recipes from one of the most accomplished ambassadors of Mexican cuisine, Patricia Quintana. The author has dedicated her career to chronicling the excellent regional foods of her native land, and the recipes collected here demonstrate the sophistication and incredible diversity of Mexican cuisine. For example, try the Ensalada de Alcachofa con Flor de Calbaza (Artichoke Salad with Squash Blossoms) or the Sopa de Hongos Silvestres (Wild Mushroom Soup). Deliciosas.

[[exclamdown]]Estoy encantado con este libro! My absolute favorite new cookbook has to be Frida's Fiestas (Clarkson/Potter, $35 hard) - recipes, anecdotes, photos, and recuerdos of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, written by her stepdaughter, Guadalupe Rivera. The book is arranged month by month, with recipes for corresponding celebrations such as Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Diez y Sies (September 16). There are many family photos of Kahlo with famed muralist Diego Rivera (her husband and the author's father) in their homes and studios. There are also reproductions of some of Kahlo's still lifes and self portraits, as well as photographs of menus presented in homes of their famous friends. The perfect birthday gift for a longtime student of the language, culture, and cuisine of Mexico. I'm enchanted with this book.

It's already the middle of the summer, I'm not even halfway through the stack of cookbooks, and more will be arriving in the fall. So many voyages, so few bookshelves. n

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