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Welcome, NPR listeners, chowhounds and recipe hunters, and newcomers to my blog! Whether you’re here because you’ve just heard the NPR cookbooks segment on your local public radio affiliate or because you heard there’s a “Best Recipes of 2014″ countdown going on, you’ve come to the right place.

Just want the list?  OK!  NPR’s Top 11 Cookbooks of 2014 (in no particular order)

Of course, the cookbooks that made the roundup are just a small selection of the many wonderful titles published in 2014.  

What follows is my shortlist of titles equally notable in one way or another:

Best Actually Pretty Easy, Actually Thai Book Ever
Simple Thai Food, by Leela Punyaratabandhu

Generous Compendium From A Much-Missed Culinary Ambassador for Spain
1000 Spanish Recipes, by Penelope Casas

For Those Who Wonder What It’s Like Cooking in a Restaurant, Complete with No Handholding Whatsoever
Prune, by Gabrielle Hamilton

This Year’s “You Know You’re a New Yorker When…” Shibboleth
Eating Delancey, by Aaron Rezny and Jordan Schaps

This Year’s Convert-a-Carnivore Choice
Vegan Without Borders, by Robin Robertson

For Those Who Hate Wasting Food More Than Anything Else In the Whole World
The Kitchen Ecosystem, by Eugenia Bone

For Ambitious DIY-er’s Who Know No Fear
Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, by Cathy Barrow

For DIY-ers Who Are Fine With Just the One Food Group, Thanks
Fermented Vegetables, by Kirsten K. Shockey & Christopher Shockey

For Very Ambitious Pasta Lovers
Flour & Water, by Thomas McNaughton

For Pasta Lovers Who Just Want Something New In Their Pasta In 45 Minutes Flat
The Best Pasta Sauces, by Micol Negrin

For Bakers Who Own a Scale, and Are Proud Of It
The Baking Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Period poster from the heyday of absinthe.

Since I don’t have a cookbook review to post this week (I’m furiously testing for roundup season), here’s the audio commentary that ran this past Friday.

It’s all about that powerful and evocative spirit, absinthe –  known to bohemians of every age as “the green fairy”.  Just the idea of it was enough to make me fantasize, in my 20’s,  about being an artiste in fin-de-siècle Paris.

For better or worse, I was and remained a fairly well-brought-up Asian-American girl with a good education and all her shots.  Still, it was fun to dream.

The delightful poster was hunted down by NEPR’s ace producer Jill Kaufman.  I’m not quite sure why the station’s post is titled “Absinthe makes the heart grow ponder“. But it’s certainly making me do just that.

Hear my radio commentary on absinthe here.

Hooray for summer cookbooks!

 After a year’s budget-induced hiatus, NPR is back with the summer roundup!  10 new and juicy, sun-kissed, wave-splashed cookbooks for the well-intentioned and the self-indulgent alike.

Click here for the official NPR summer cookbooks roundup.

Here’s a quick and dirty rundown in case you just want to check out the list:[Please note that I’m taking a leaf out of Stephen Colbert’s book this month to show solidarity with those publishers struggling with Amazon’s monopolistic recent moves: This summer roundup list features Powell’s affiliate links instead of Amazon links. Powell’s has excellent prices, fantastic customer service, and ethical business practices, so shop with confidence.]

Top 10 Summer Cookbooks of 2014

And here’s the shortlist:

Because Kale Is Only the Beginning
Brassicas, by Laura Russell.

Memoir/Cookbook for Lovers of Whimsical Food Writing
Slices of Life, by Leah Eskin

Slightly Less Guilty Pleasures
Honey and Oats, by Jennifer Katzinger (Sasquatch)

Best Barbecue Book by a Former Baseball Star
The Nolan Ryan Beef & Barbecue Cookbook, by Nolan Ryan (Little, Brown)

Because Backyard Chickens Don’t Take a Vacation
Egg,  by Michael Ruhlman (Little, Brown)

Most Empowering Buttercream Book Ever
Sensational Buttercream Decorating, by Carey Madden (Robert Rose)

Eye-popping Tropical Savories from Our Island Neighbors
Caribbean Potluck: Modern Recipes from Our Family Kitchen, by Michelle Rousseau and Suzanne Rousseau

When I first started writing professionally, it wasn’t just cookbooks that I reviewed.  I’d just left academic publishing after 10 years in literary studies, and there was a bit of a transition. My very first clips ran in Publishers Weekly, and they were book reviews: tiny, 200-word reviews of literary biographies, books about the occult (!), and a few books about food.

Over the years my focus shifted to cookbooks only.  But this month I had a chance to re-visit the world of mainstream book reviewing when NPR asked me to have a look at an Chinese-American food memoir.

‘On the Noodle Road’ turned out to be a fascinating read, although I had a number of disagreements with it.  And because I adore radio work, I especially enjoyed working with NPR to convert my 700-word review into into a 2-minute audio synopsis.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat, even if there is a long queue of cookbooks that are first in line as usual.

Click here to read the full version and listen to my ‘On the Noodle Road’ review as heard on All Things Considered.

It’s a slightly different format this year:  a one-book report on a selection from the list.  I had a terrific time recording this piece at our local NPR affiliate (New England Public Radio) on the campus of U. Mass., and I got to put the phrase “bone-suckingly good” on the radio for possibly the first time ever.

You can hear the commentary and read the original story here.

You can also read my extended post with the complete 2012 cookbook shortlist  here.

I have a little food commentary on New England Public Radio today–these run about once every couple of months (or when I get around to writing them).  I really enjoy the whole process of doing these–drafting them in the quiet of the house, trying to write in radio-speak instead of my usual wrought style, editing them down with brilliant producer Jill Kaufman, recording them on the big mike while waving at John Montanari, who’s usually doing his show there on the other side of the glass studio window.

And I love the title Jill gave this one: Autumn Breeze Distracting for Commentator T. Susan Chang.  Ain’t it just!

Hear the commentary here.

A little story on what cooks’ hands know how to do, aired this morning on Morning Edition Extra, at 88.5 FM (New England Public Radio).  As cooks, we learn many things with our hands even more than our brains–but I haven’t forgot what it was like when my hands were young and unschooled in the kitchen.

I also learned a lot about studio recording on this one–for example, if I stand up, my voice is much clearer and freer than if I’m sitting down, I have better lung capacity, and it’s easier to see the paper I’m holding behind the mike.  If I stand to the side of the mike instead of in front of it, my very poppy p‘s don’t pop so loudly.

Hear the commentary here.

My food commentary – on the unbearable tedium of knife sharpening – aired this morning on WFCR.

Missed it?  Listen to the story here.

I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t heard of the online UK lifestyle magazine and website, The Monocle, till last week when they contacted me asking to do an interview on their weekly hourlong food show, “The Menu”.  Check it out–it’s a nicely produced series of segments from around the world.  And I so enjoyed speaking with the charming Markus Hippi about “A Spoonful of Promises” on my UK radio debut!

Hear the interview here, minutes 28:00-35:20.

My fourth radio commentary for New England Public Radio / 88.5 WFCR: Many have asked me what it’s like for my kids, having a mom who reviews cookbooks for a job.  Here’s the answer!

Listen here.

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