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Are you getting your pie in gear for Thanksgiving?  I am!  Last week, I ordered 10 pounds of rendered leaf lard.  Next week comes the traditional trip to Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield for pie apples.   Following that, the traditional internet searches for better, nicer-looking crimps and troubleshooting pastry problems.

This week’s story looks at some recent cookbooks and some easyish, slightly non-traditional pies – an apple hand pie and a super-boozy whiskey crumble pie, and a couple of others- just in case you’re sick of your double-crust, or in case it’s giving you fits.

Click here to read today’s apple pie story in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version (the links won’t work, but at least you can read the story!). 

Just in time for what I call Fatstember and Carbuary – my two favorite baking months – the unapologetic and seductive new baking book from Dorie Greenspan.  It’s French home baking, and a sight easier than the high-flying pastries you may think of when you consider French desserts.  While there is one suitably neurotic macaron recipe, nearly everything in here is doable with the confectionery skills of a mortal.

This also marks my first collaboration ever with the Washington Post‘s terrific food section.  I hope there will be more to come.

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘Baking Chez Moi’ in the Washington Post. 

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.

The wind was so strong last night I dreamed a tree fell in our driveway, and the woodstove’s been going for a week.  October has us in its teeth, and it’s strange to think back to the green, tropical flavors – coconut, banana, heaps of herbs and ginger – I tested this past summer.

The week we ate from Caribbean Potluck was a satisfying one.  The thing that most surprised me was the authors’ liberal way with thyme, which I’d never thought of as particularly island-y.

Yet I came away from the book feeling like I’d missed a learning opportunity.  When it comes to ethnically or regionally organized cookbooks, I’m always looking for something that will teach me something fundamental I can apply elsewhere in my food (the way Simple Thai Food, from last week, did).  If not, I’ll take a book with two or three swooners for recipes.  This, though, is nothing more nor less than a collection of pretty good work – fun in July, forgotten by October.

What is foremost in my mind this fall, though, is the annual CiderDays festival here in western Massachusetts.  More varieties of apples and hard cider than you’ve ever tasted, as the orchard fling wide their gates for an end-of-season celebration.  All the deets here in my Globe post and here at their website.

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

I always thought the problem was me.

I love Thai food.  I have ever since my college roommate Christina (who had lived in Thailand as a teen) and I used to splurge on lunches at the Thai restaurant across the street from our dorm.  But every time I got a Thai cookbook – and all of them were colorful, inspiring productions you could almost taste – I just couldn’t get through them.

I could get the lemongrass and galangal and the kaffir lime leaf.  But there was always something: gaeng hang lae powder, green tamarind pods, dried salted radishes, one particular kind of fish.  I wanted to do it right! and so the best became the enemy of the good, and I never made those recipes.

Every so often I would get an “easy” Thai book.  But it would turn out to be all soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger and garlic – pretty much like an “easy” Chinese book.  Where was the easy Thai book that actually tasted Thai?

So here at last it is.  It’s not *totally* easy.  But it’s not dump-a-Maesri-curry-paste-in-some-coconut-milk either.   The writing’s entertaining, the recipes work, and the flavors will knock your socks off.  What more could you ask? (other than slightly larger print, as usual.)

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

Spice books – I almost never review them, because they tend not to teach me what I really want to learn.  I’m interested in Grand Unified Theories of spice – in botanical relationships and historically documented foodways.  More often, the message of spice books is more “This is how I use spices” or “Everyone should use more spices!”

But this book, which hails from Seattle’s World Spice Merchants at Pike Place, is smartly organized and thoroughly informative.  And I finally got the full benefit of the magnetic spice organization system I put in last year!  It took 22 tins to make ras el hanout, and it was worth it just to find out how (relatively) easy it was compared to the furtive, frantic searches in dark cabinets of years past.

spice tins

Click here to read today’s review of  ‘World Spice at Home’ in the Boston Globe.   Hit the paywall?  Click here for the PDF version of this week’s ‘World Spice at Home’ review

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.

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