The latest local cookbooks, changes to the menu at Vespaio, and a special Boxing Day celebration at Becker Vineyards

Last-Minute Stocking Stuffers

Eastside Cafe soup queen Ruth Carter e-mailed last week to announce the publication of the Cafe's newest cookbook. Eastside's Inside Secrets: Recipes From the Eastside Cafe Menu (self-published, $12.95 paper) by Carter and Cafe owners Dorsey Barger and Elaine Martin, is now on sale in Pitchforks & Tablespoons (2113 Manor Road, 494-1464). While the original Inside the Eastside (self-published, $12.95 paper) is still available, the Cafe's menu has evolved somewhat since the earlier book was written, and the authors have received plenty of requests to share the recipes of newer menu items. The new volume is a great addition to the Eastside collection and would make the perfect gift for that Cafe fan who is eager to whip up a batch of Southwestern Caponata, Artichoke Manicotti, or those divine little Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread Muffins. Nothing says Austin quite so well as a cookbook from one of the city's most popular restaurants... Speaking of Austin cookbooks, word is that Carol Ann Sayle's new vegetarian cookbook Eating in Season: Recipes From Boggy Creek Farm (self-published, $12.95 paper) is just flying off the shelves at both Whole Foods stores, Breed & Co, Callahan's, BookPeople, and Jean-Luc's French Bistro. Get 'em while they're hot!

Italian Vacation Bears Delicious Fruit

Many folks were jealous when Vespaio (1610 S. Congress, 441-6100) chef/owner Alan Lazarus took a two-week eating tour of Italy in the early fall. Lazarus returned from Italy inspired to create new menu items for the very popular South Austin eatery. His new fall and winter menu reflects an Italian country influence liberally seasoned with fresh Gulf seafood. The appetizer selections include Texas Gulf oysters baked in the wood-fired oven with sauteed spinach, pernod cream, and asiago cheese. In the pasta lineup, check out the Capellini de Zucca en Brodo d'Anitra, a confit leg of duck and shallots served with pumpkin capellini in a rich duck broth, or Raviolo alla Polpa di Granchio, crab-stuffed saffron fennel pasta with spicy crawfish cream and grilled shrimp. There's a new pizza with boar sausage and two varieties of mushrooms, as well as a very inviting Cioppino. Not to worry -- the butternut squash pansoti and crispy boneless duck with port-soaked figs continue to star on the new menu.

Boxing Day

Here's a great idea to get you out in the country to avoid that after-Christmas letdown. The friendly folks at Becker Vineyards (Jenschke Lane, off Hwy. 290 W. near Stonewall, 830/644-2681) invite you to their first annual Boxing Day celebration, Sunday December 26, from noon-5pm. Entertainment will include Christmas music and a reading of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Ask about their new Port while you're there. FYI: Boxing Day is an English traditional holiday when gifts for domestic staff and tradespeople are "boxed up" and distributed.

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Becker Vineyards, Carol Ann Sayle, Alan Lazarus, Vespaio, Eastside Cafe, Ruth Carter, DOrsey Barger, Elaine Martin

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