At the beginning of the gardening season, when everything was green and hopeful, I wondered: which of you will fail me this year?  Because no matter how good things look in May, there’s always something that disappoints you by September.  This year it was peas (netting crash), tomatoes (blight) and potatoes (blight again).

Everything else did OK – especially, for once, the cucumbers.  The vine borers laid off this year, taking just one squash plant as their token tax.  My cukes are still bearing after a couple months, and maybe they’ll continue right up till frost.  I’m not much for hardcore canning, so thank God for fridge pickles.

Fridge pickles are easy, thankfully, and even a harvest-time slob like me can pack a few away without much thought.

Click here to read today’s fridge pickle story in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version

A Susie Middleton cookbook is always an occasion for celebration.  As she demonstrated in Fast, Fresh & Green and The Fresh & Green Table, the former cooking magazine editor turned small farm owner has a feel for finely tuned, robustly flavored food using the freshest ingredients.

I tested this book at the beginning of the growing season, when few crops besides arugula and radishes were ready.  Now, at the end of the season, there have been the usual garden heartaches (fingerlings and tomatoes lost to blight, poor output from the new strawberries) but a few proud stands of greens and beans remain.  No matter how hard-won and scant your own end-of summer kitchen garden may look, you’ll find a fitting way to enjoy the last of it in these pages.

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘Fresh from the Farm’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Fresh from the Farm’ review

Summer’s usually a quiet time for me, work-wise, but I kept writing stories throughout most of this one.  In terms of testing, I think my two favorites were DIY soda and this one – because who can complain about having to eat fresh homemade ice cream in July, for work?

There’s a gazillion ice cream books out there, and the fact is that I don’t use many new ice cream recipes myself – I’ve got some tried-and-true favorites I tend to stick to. But I usually learn something from each new book, whether it’s a better technique for cooling the custard or using cream cheese for texture or whatever.

Today’s the first day of school, which is probably the last day of ice cream season.  All my homemade ice cream is long eaten, but I noticed a leftover store pint of something in the freezer.  And nobody here knows about it but me.

Click here to read today’s DIY ice cream story in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version

On October 27th of last year, the men of my family came home very late from a trip to upstate New York. “Route 9 was blocked off,” said my husband as he came in. “And you could see smoke coming up from somewhere.”

The smoke, it turned out, was rising from the Norwottuck Shoppes mini-mall in Hadley. A dozen businesses burned to the ground, including three of our favorites: Banh Mi Saigon, International Food Market, and Mi Tierra Mexican restaurant.

It was a total loss. But over the ensuing nine months, the owners and the community have made a heroic effort at rebuilding, and this fall a new Mi Tierra will rise on Route 9. To my very great pleasure, I got the chance to cover the story of Mi Tierra‘s return for the Boston Globe – a story of perseverance, good food, hard work, and some hyper-local heirloom corn tortillas. [Since filing the story, I've heard that Banh Mi Saigon is returning to business too.]

Click here to read the  Mi Tierra story in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version

Dora Saravia & Jorge Sosa, re-building their business out of their Springfield kitchen.

I’m sure there are those who can resist a Southern cookbook, but I am not one of them.  With his 2009 Real Cajun, Donald Link had already convinced me that he was the rare restaurant chef whose recipes could translate effortlessly to the home kitchen (though in this I’m sure his co-author, Paula Disbrowe, should also be given credit).

Southern cookbooks often make me cry for the ingredients I can’t easily get here in New England – the tasso ham, the lady peas, the crayfish – and this one was no exception.  Still, I found enough doable recipes to make for one flavor-forward, porky, and very satisfying week of testing.

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘Down South’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Down South’ review

On  Cookbook Finder, my cookbook-rating app, you’ll find write-ups of 250+ of the latest cookbooks, and regular cookbook news.  It’s the only up-to-the-minute cookbook app anywhere!

What, you say you’re already too much of a cookbook addict?  Ah, but you see, Cookbook Finder will help you get control of your problem.  Now you’ll only buy the good ones.

Available for  iPhone/iPad and Android devices.

Charm.  It’s an elusive quality in cookbooks – and when it works, it’s a heady combination of good storytelling, intriguing recipes, and great book design.

Kim Sunée’s new book exudes charm – great, billowing waves of charm that overwhelm your senses and hijack your judgement.  It’s the kind of book you fall in love with in the store; when you bring it home, you make the recipe that looks most mouthwatering to you, and you love it.  From that point on, the book holds a cherished place in your heart – even if you try another recipe and it fails (it must be my fault! you think), or if you try no more recipes and it becomes one of those one-dish books we all have.

But when you test a book for a week and live with it, you get a slightly different perspective.  And after that dazzling first date, you may find a different personality hovers just beyond view.  And for me, A Mouthful of Stars turned out to be a book of many faces – a true mixed bag.

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘A Mouthful of Stars’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Mouthful of Stars’ review

On  Cookbook Finder, my cookbook-rating app, you’ll find write-ups of 250+ of the latest cookbooks, and regular cookbook news.  It’s the only up-to-the-minute cookbook app anywhere!

What, you say you’re already too much of a cookbook addict?  Ah, but you see, Cookbook Finder will help you get control of your problem.  Now you’ll only buy the good ones.

Available for  iPhone/iPad and Android devices.

Icy! Fizzy! Sparkling! Sweet!

Doesn’t that sound good?

Thanks to a new SodaStream Source and a sleek Mastrad PureFizz, our household has been enjoying much-needed liquid refreshment lately.  In my latest story, I cover a few different soda cookbooks that will have you on your way to bubbly nirvana in no time.

You might not think you want one more appliance to clutter your kitchen – that’s a song I sing all the time myself – but on these sweltering July afternoons, you’ll swear it was worth it.  Really!

Click here to read today’s  DIY soda story in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version

On  Cookbook Finder, my cookbook-rating app, you’ll find write-ups of 250+  of the latest cookbooks, and regular cookbook news.  It’s the only up-to-the-minute cookbook app anywhere!

What, you say you’re already too much of a cookbook addict?  Ah, but you see, Cookbook Finder will help you get control of your problem.  Now you’ll only buy the good ones.

Available for  iPhone/iPad and Android devices.

I know you’re wondering, so let’s get right to it: “B. T. C.” stands for “Be The Change,”  and you know right away that the story, when you get to it, is gonna be a heartwarmer.

And so it is.  The tale of the Little Grocery That Could – and several other small businesses that did – made it to the New York Times, which told a tale of rural revitalization in tiny Water Valley, Mississippi.

The story’s great, the design charming, the ethos both retro and sustainable.  The recipes?  Mixed bag.

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocry Cookbook’ review

On  Cookbook Finder, my cookbook-rating app, you’ll find write-ups of 250+ of the latest cookbooks, and regular cookbook news.  It’s the only up-to-the-minute cookbook app anywhere!

What, you say you’re already too much of a cookbook addict?  Ah, but you see, Cookbook Finder will help you get control of your problem.  Now you’ll only buy the good ones.

Available for  iPhone/iPad and Android devices.

Tandoori chicken. Falafel. Pad Thai. Gnocchi. Souvlaki. Goulash. Roghan josh. Empanadas. Pastitsio. Baklava. Gado gado.

It’s good to live in a melting pot, isn’t it?  Practically everything we love to eat comes from somewhere else.  After reaching these shores, it usually makes a stop for a while at somebody’s little first-generation restaurant, hanging out there for a few decades before the native-born have the nerve to try reproducing it in their home kitchens.

Cooking Light Global Kitchen may not pass the newness test, but it doesn’t have to.  These are streamlined – but not dumbed-down – versions of global classics.  And they do the most important thing a recipe can do when it comes to cuisines you’re not that familiar with: they work.

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘Cooking Light Global Kitchen’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘Cooking Light Global Kitchen’ review

On  Cookbook Finder, my cookbook-rating app, you’ll find write-ups of 250+ of the latest cookbooks, and regular cookbook news.  It’s the only up-to-the-minute cookbook app anywhere!

What, you say you’re already too much of a cookbook addict?  Ah, but you see, Cookbook Finder will help you get control of your problem.  Now you’ll only buy the good ones.

Available for  iPhone/iPad and Android devices.

(This post originally appeared on Eat Your Books 06/10/14)

Every once in a while I like to catch up with what’s going on with kids’ cookbooks. I’ve looked at cookbooks for little kids (both story-based and picture-based) and cookbooks meant for teens.  And, of course, family cookbooks, which tend to train a laserlike focus on Getting It Done on a Weeknight.

Yet for a long time, I wasn’t finding that these cookbooks played much of a role in my own family.  Even though everyone here – age 54, 44, 13, or 8 – maintains a healthy obsession with food, my kids’ cookbooks seemed to hold no appeal for the kids themselves.  I’d leave them out casually in common areas, or read them at storytime, but that’s as far as it went.  The little one is good with flour and would join me in a heartbeat if she saw I was on a baking project.  But she rarely followed even a stripped-down recipe.  The big one avoided the kitchen entirely unless something snackable was out, or he had to put away the dishes.

I had little interest in pushing them to cook, knowing that when you’re a kid, being forced to do something by someone who’s an expert at it is a pretty good recipe for hating it.  I decided to worry about other stuff, like car repairs and tuition and blackfly aphids on my broad beans.

But recently, something happened.  The 13-year-old’s school year finished in the end of May.  His school tablet computer was returned to the school’s tech department, and he suddenly found himself at home, faced with what I call the Gift of Boredom.  He mooned around the house awhile, draping himself over furniture, pestering me while I worked, dipping in and out of a Game Of Thrones book.

I explained that he’d be making his own breakfast and lunch (cries of protest!) but that I’d help him if he needed me.  He quickly got bored of his usual breakfast – eggs, scrambled flat and hard, with bacon – so I taught him mine, okonomiyaki.  It’s just an egg batter plus whatever vegetables you have around, teased into a chunky pancake and glazed on one side.  He started by mixing the flour and leavening and gradually progressed to chopping the vegetables, flipping the pancake (using a tart pan bottom), and cooking the sauce.  His surprise and pride when he tasted his first okonomiyaki filled my heart – but I played it cool.

We ate at the kitchen table, where this season’s cookbooks were piled high.  On top was The Soda Fountain, just sitting there waiting for a bored teen’s eyes to fall on it. He flipped through the pages, chewing thoughtfully.  “These don’t look so hard.”

I sipped my coffee.

“Mom, why do they call it an egg cream?”

“Dunno, what does it say?”

Then, “Mom, do we have citric acid?” Then, “Mom, what are blanched almonds?”

Before I knew it, my son who hates to cook had occupied the kitchen like it was the Western Front in 1945.  This was a week ago.  Since then, nearly every day has started with okonomiyaki.  Syrup after syrup has filled the fridge.  Dinner often ends with an egg cream.  Ants have come exploring for sugar spills and the dishwasher’s running twice a day.

Meanwhile, the 8-year-old suddenly remembered about Pretend Soup, which I bought a year ago.  Post-Its were affixed.  Ingredients were requested.  And so my precious Me Time at 5:00 – that is, me with my cookbooks starting dinner while listening to the news and sipping my bourbon/ginger beer – got requisitioned for Projects.  One day, a noodle pudding.  The day before, a homemade lemon lime soda.

I make faces.  I nag people to put away their stuff.  I swear when I’m trying to fit things in the fridge and there’s no room next to the mason jars full of syrup.  And both sets of measuring spoons are now always dirty when I want them.  But secretly, I’m overjoyed.  Even if it doesn’t last – even if they grow up and go through a ramen phase or a bagel phase or a nothing-but-kale-chips-from-the-store phase – I still have a feeling that a seed’s been planted, somehow or other.

Just don’t tell the kids.

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