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Edan Lepucki is extremely well-read, but she also has a not-so-secret passion for cookbooks. Thankfully she has decided to share the wealth with this guide to the year’s best.Over the past two years, my hobby for cooking food, (and then, eating it), has become a somewhat overwhelming passion. Now that I’m knee-deep in a MFA program, I often find myself fantasizing about quitting the life of a writer (so difficult! so lonely!) to become a chef. I dream about jetting off to some famed culinary institute, where I learn the right way to chop and braise and whisk in a room with a 5:1 male-to-female ratio. In the meantime, I’ve discovered some fantastic cookbooks to fuel the fire. I’ve voted these 3 the best of 2004.Italian Easy: Recipes from the London River Cafe by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers – The London River Cafe is where Jamie Oliver, the famed Naked Chef, got his start. I’m not normally a fan of Italian food–all those pastas and creamy sauces–but this book’s fare is light and surprisingly diverse. Try the porkchops in lemon, or the mozarella salad with roasted bell peppers, or the sausages in wine, or the chicken in nutmeg–you won’t be disappointed. All of the recipes are lo-fi and easy to follow, and the pictures will have you drooling.A Beautiful Bowl of Soup: The Best Vegetarian Recipes by Paulette Mitchell – Who knew that soup was easy to make? This is a little paperback cookbook that still manages to include a ton of recipes and beautiful, full-color photographs. I’m not a vegetarian, but I’ve nevertheless been impressed by what Mitchell has to offer: curried carrot with apple; Mediterranean stew; roasted butternut squash. This week I’m going to try to make sweet potato ancho bisque!Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten – I’ve attempted to convert every cook I know into a follower of Ina Garten, who’s funneled her success from her specialty food store, Barefoot Contessa, into the cookbook writing business. Garten’s recipes almost always call for kosher salt and olive oil, but somehow, with just a few more ingredients, each dish has its own unique, mouth-watering flavor. This time, we go with Ina to Paris, where we learn how to make string beans the French way; how to prepare a goat cheese tart; and how, sweet lord, to cook mussels in a white wine sauce. I only got this book a week or so ago, and already I’ve ripped through more than a handful of recipes. Barefoot in Paris also tops the 2004 list in terms of visual prowess. Photographer Quentin Bacon deserves a medal for his picture of Herb-Baked Eggs.
A Mansion in the Sky by Goli Taraghi: Taraghi is one of Iran’s most acclaimed literary practitioners with a wide audience. In the United States and Europe, however, she is virtually unknown. This slim selection of short stories is magnetic, drawing you into Iranian lives in the most intimate and distilled way. You won’t find a hint of politics or religion or disputation about the veil. Taraghi’s work is clean and moving, anchored in the exceptional instances when the concrete world slip-slides into indisputable truths.
Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih: Sudanese novelist Salih, acclaimed by African and Arab writers, died last year without an American publisher of this novel, his masterpiece. Three months later New York Review Books, champion of overlooked texts, finally published this edition. The novel’s central figure, Mustafa Sa’eed, is one of literature’s greatest contradictory creations, a hyper-sexualized flag bearer of intellection, an economist once celebrated in Europe who, as the novel opens, is reduced to farming oranges and watermelons in a small Sudanese village. Why he has come to this pass, and, who he really might
be–combine into a transfixing story.
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