My 10 Favorite Books of 2006
Here’s a list of 10 books, in no particular order, that I’ve enjoyed this year.
Since I don’t have easy access to English-language books, I chose mine carefully. Although I usually like to read books about food, I got a bit literate and discovered few books about Paris that were truly enlightening…which is really saying something for someone that hasn’t lifted the lid on a history book since high school.
In addition to the books I’ve listed below, I’ve also enjoyed La Bonne Cuisine de Madame St-Ange, the updated On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, and Rememberence of Things Paris, some of the greatest food writing from Gourmet magazine from the past sixty years that is still some of the freshest and liveliest food prose happily back in print.
And on a sad note, I’ve finally given up on La Poste and assumed the two cases of cookbooks I shipped three years ago probably aren’t going to ever show up (hope is no longer springing eternal…), so I ordered a fresh, brand-new copy of Julia Child’s classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
A few books I’m looking forward to reading in 2007 are The Sweet Life: The Desserts from Chanterelle by pastry chef Kate Zuckerman, and books from my favorite bloggers, including Shauna, Adam’s untitled masterwork, Chocolate & Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier, and Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks.
The most talked-about food book of the year, New Yorker writer Bill Buford starts from scratch in the kitchen of Mario Batali, then learns to make pasta by hand from an Italian master, and ends up butchering in Tuscany.
The first part of the book is a great read, although it loses steam near the end when I found it hard to sustain interest once he left New York.
And there’s an overuse of colons: they’re everywhere.
Still, for the behind-the-scenes look at life at Babbo and all the backstabbing that goes on in a professional, combative restaurant kitchen, it was spot-on.
Is there anyone in America who doesn’t who Julia Child is?
If you stop and think about it, that’s rather amazing. How this six-foot-plus towering woman who taught Americans how to fry crêpes and makeboeuf Bourguignon without fear, endeared herself to everyone from school teachers to sanitation workers, was quite a feat. Here’s the tale of how her career began here in Paris, and the anguish and birth of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, still considered the best cookbook ever published. A terrific read.
Finally, a comprehensive, exhaustive history of Paris that’s highly-readable and fascinating. Beginning in the middle ages, when Paris was a muddy swamp, this books takes you right through the revolutions, wars, famines, and liberations. What I liked most about this book was how Jones brings the social aspects of the city to life, not just reciting historical facts but revealing much about daily life in the city. This is far from a dry history book, but a intimate look at what life was like from the beginning, which explains much of the Paris that we know today.
Newly released in paperback, Mort Rosenblum’s award-winning book features a series of stories covering the world of chocolate, from the growers in tropical regions, to the fine chocolatiers from around the world, including Paris, New York, and San Francisco.
A long-time resident of Paris, David Downie has lived in the city since 1986, and adeptly presents thirty fascinating vignettes of the city. Included are essays on what caused the demise of Les Halles, why the Marais is changing for the worse, and how Pompidou almost killed Paris. There’s also a noteworthy chapter on the people who make Paris shine so brightly after dark. (Quelle surprise!: It’s all part of a government agency.) I loved his collection of essays and anyone who’s visited Paris in the past, or plans to visit in the future, will be equally charmed as well.
The heart, and belly, of Paris lies in the various bistros, brasseries, and wine bars that line the streets and boulevards. Many have disappeared, but plenty still thrive and Daniel Young not only profiles many of them (including addresses) but he coaxed the best recipes from his favorites. You’ll find the Panna Cotta served at Le Régulade to the famed French Onion Soup from Au Pied de Cochon in here. But this is more than just a book of recipes; there’s pages and pages of useful information about the bistros listed, including what’s best there to eat once you’ve secured your seat. And I learned my favorite bistro will fry up a batch of homemade French Fries to order, if you simply ask. How useful was that to me last time I went? You tell me!
The long-awaited book from ScharffenBerger chocolate is here, including recipes from pastry chefs, bakers and cooks from across America…including me! And who can resist a book with a shiny pour of chocolate like that on the cover? I’m looking forward to baking my way through many, many of the recipes.
There isn’t a more meticulous baker in America. Dorie Greenspan, who’s written books with Julia Child and Pierre Hermé, presents a collection of her own recipes intended for the home baker. What makes Dorie’s book stand apart for all the others is that although she always includes many simple recipes, she also has a knack for making even the most complicated recipe projects completely do-able.
Lastly, I know doing this may be wrong, but I’ve heard so much about the Tartine cookbook, that it’s probably worth picking up since all I’ve heard are raves. Chad’s bread is perhaps the best in San Francisco, but Elisabeth’s pastries, from biscotti to bread pudding, having people lining up daily.
My only regret is that the space in San Francisco where Tartine is located, was once offered to me…but I moved to France instead!
What was I thinking?
I only mentioned nine books in this years Top Ten!
Check out the comments, where readers posted their favorites..for the tenth.
Previous posts featuring cookbooks in 2006:
Will Write For Food by Dianne Jacob
Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri
The Chocolate Connoisseur by Chloé Doutre-Roussel
What To Drink With What You Eat by Karen Page & Andrew Dornenburg
Cooking At Home On Rue Tatin by Susan Loomis