(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.

Today’s post is good for you and bad for you!

We’ve had a bounty of asparagus from the garden for the last 4 weeks.  Little did I realize when we planted them, in two batches some 10 years and 4 years ago, that we’d be talking about one bunch a day right through spring.  Finding new ways to prepare asparagus has taxed my ingenuity – but I’ve shared some of my favorites in today’s story.  After it went to press, I discovered I also love asparagus lightly oiled and grilled…not that you even need a recipe for that.

Then, some of the most memorable testing in months happened a couple of weeks ago when I tackled Fried & True - an entire book’s worth of fried chicken recipes.  My editor took pity on me and said I didn’t have to fry chicken all week, but I still did it twice (plus one oven-fry), and tested a whole bunch of high-octane sides for good measure.  Many thanks to our good friends Mark, Mark, Cindy and Bella for helping us make our way through glistening heaps of poultry.

Click here to read today’s asparagus story and review of ‘Fried & True’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of asparagus story or PDF version of Fried & True 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.

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

Now that NPR’s Kitchen Window series has come to its bittersweet conclusion, I’ve found myself once again with a little more time for local food reporting.  My first foray back on the beat took me an hour north to New Hampshire, where I spent the afternoon at a dairy farm owned by a family that’s lived and worked there for 200 years.

The realities of small farming being what they are, the family has diversified into cheese and small-batch ‘switchel’ vodka.  Never heard of switchel?  It’s a traditional farmhand drink also known as “haymaker’s punch” – and unique to New England.

Food reporting is a little more involved than cookbook reviewing, but I enjoyed learning about switchel – not to mention sampling it after – and seeing some less-well-known corners of the region.  More food-beat-cop work to come.

Click here to read today’s Boggy Meadow Farm story in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version

I’m a sucker for regional cookbooks (see regional Chinese cookbook review from 2 weeks ago).  I love learning about the nuances of a country’s many rich subcuisines – who eats bread, who eats rice; who grazes cattle and eats dairy, who doesn’t mind pork.  I feel like I’m getting some value, as if I’m going to a seminar or at least a weekend workshop to learn something a little more lasting than usual.

But ultimately,  it comes down to the recipes.  It’s often the case that international buy-ins are hard to use, as cookbooks.  The conversions hold endless possibility for typos and in a book of some 300 recipes, how likely is it that the Americanized versions were all tested?  So there are some snafu’s.  But the exhaustive step-by-step photos help, and more often than not the flavors hit it out of the park.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘The Complete Indian Regional Cookbook’ 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.

“A Cookbook of Big Flavors!” shouts the cover – and boy, is that true.

It was a week of sheer adrenaline and constellations of flavors I’d never tried together before:  Dill yogurt – lemon-apricot-harissa! Lamb-scallions-Coke!  Coffee-sun dried tomato-currants!!  And all of them worked!

As flavor combinations, anyway, they worked.  But a lot of them broke my heart anyway for other reasons, as you’ll see.

I found great consolation in the splendid backstories, tips, and history scattered throughout the book.  But I still hope they fix the heartbreak in the reprint.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘Bold: A Cookbook of Big Flavors’ 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.

recipe testing bw

Behind the scenes at Roundup Testing Central.

Thrilled to report that the NPR Summer Cookbook roundup is back! I’m deep in testing right now. Keep an eye on this space for the announcement and link, first week of June.

If you haven’t tried a Terry Tan cookbook before, you could do worse than to try this series finale (it follows books on Shanghai/East China, Sichuan/West China, and South China).

I don’t suggest you drop your Grace Young and Fuchsia Dunlop books and rush to buy the complete set.  The recipes are not foolproof, and there is some loss in translation from international metric.  But with their lavish photography, carefully curated recipes, and good production values, the Tan books are worth considering as an addition to your Chinese regional cooking collection.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘Mandarin Food & Cooking’ 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.

A cookbook might be the nicest thing you can give for Mother’s Day – it lasts longer than flowers or dinner, it’s less expensive than a trip to a spa, and it’s not as hard to pick as a scarf.  Chances are, if you have a mom who loves to cook, you already know what kind of cooking she likes.  So you might already have a sense of what kind of book she’d appreciate.

Just in case you’re stuck, though, I’ve compiled a list of hard-to-resist books in various categories.  Beautiful books, books that read as well as cook, books that are just plain fun are all good choices.  Steer clear of diet books (unless specifically requested) or books that basically say, “Feed Me” – most entertaining books; in short, or anything that might make Mom feel overworked or resentful.

Visual Feasts: You can’t go wrong with a beautiful book – especially these days, when food photography has gotten so phenomenal you can practically eat the dishes with your eyes.  Books like Canal House Cooks Every Day ($45) and David Tanis’  One Good Dish ($25.95) make you want to catch your breath when you open them, and linger for an hour to browse before you rush to the kitchen.

Armchair Traveler:  Charm,  out-of-the-ordinary flavors, clear instructions – well-edited ethnic and regional cookbooks have it all,  bringing the world’s table to your doorstep. The Little Paris Kitchen ($35) offers up sweet chic, Indian Cooking Unfolded (19.95) is colorful and accessible – and then there’s always the ever-popular Jerusalem ($35).

Tell Me A Story: Sometimes you just want to read a cookbook for its anecdotes and tales, its glimpses of culinary mishaps or delicious adventures.  I’m partial to the quirky Southern charm of Screen Doors and Sweet Tea ($32.50), but who can resist a chicken romance? like Janice Cole’s Chicken and Egg ($24.95).

Down the Garden Path – For moms with green thumbs, a handful of cookbooks make great garden companions: the lavish and handsome Grow Cook Eat ($29.95) has seed-to-harvest guidance and lots of wise tips, while Eliot Coleman’s and Barbara Damrosch’s  4-Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook ($22.95) offers up two lifetimes’  worth of cooking and growing expertise.

Treats: Some like diamonds, some like candy, but everyday indulgences like drinks and desserts make any evening a treasure as far as I’m concerned.  An Illustrated Guide to Cocktails ($20)is a lighthearted guide filled with graphic flair, while Faith Durand of the Kitchn’s Bakeless Sweets ($29.95) offers a summer’s worth of cool temptations.

For lots more Mother’s Day cookbook recommendations, check out  Cookbook Finder, my cookbook-rating app.  You’ll find write-ups of the latest cookbooks and regular cookbook news, and links to all my Boston Globe reviews.  It’s the only up-to-the-minute cookbook app anywhere!

I think it says something good about mainstream food culture that a cookbook jacket can now not only not display something baked and golden-brown on the cover but actually instead feature a blue-black close-up of octopus tentacles.

My daughter was very concerned about the octopus, but – though I love me a cephalopod – we didn’t test any this time.  From Maria Elia’s last book, I knew to expect big flavors and new ideas, and Smashing Plates – mostly – did not disappoint.

Click here to read today’s review of ‘Smashing Plates’ 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.

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