Kristina’s Holiday Bookshelf 2020

Good Books by Local Authors for Reading and Giving
By Kristina Sepetys


J. Kenji López-Alt
(photo: Aubrie Pick)


Every Night is Pizza Night
by J. Kenji López-Alt, illustrated by Gianna Ruggiero
Norton Young Readers, 2020

From Bay Area author and chef J. Kenji López-Alt and Oakland-based illustrator Gianna Ruggiero comes a charming children’s book about Pipo, a girl convinced that pizza is the very best food. As the pages turn, Pipo gradually learns that a world of delicious flavors abounds, and that everything tastes best when enjoyed with family and friends. This well-paced, engaging story, with its colorful, whimsical illustrations, will delight preschool- to elementary-aged children as well as their food-savvy parents.

For readers looking to expand their own food spheres like Pipo did, we asked the author and illustrator for some of their favorite East Bay eateries.

Gianna Ruggiero
(photo: Ben Radlinski)

“Beauty’s Bagels makes some of my favorite bagels in the world. Their lox sandwich on a toasted everything bagel is my go-to order,” López-Alt says. “Bing’s Dumplings in Fremont makes incredible Northern Chinese soup dumplings [tangbao], as well as great hand-pulled noodles and these unique lamb and pumpkin dumplings. There’s a chaat shop in the back of New India Bazar in Fremont where during non-Covid times, you can order panipuri by the half dozen and have them fed to you one at a time as they’re assembled. Augie’s Montreal Smoke Meat makes great Montreal-style pastrami and poutine.”

Gianna Ruggiero’s favorite spot? “Rotten City Pizza in Emeryville.”

Johanna Silver
(photo: Rachel Weill)


Growing Weed in the Garden: a No-Fuss, Seed-to-Stash Guide to Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation
by Johanna Silver, photographed by Rachel Weill
Abrams, 2020

Cannabis, a large and handsome plant, can be a useful addition to a home garden, or so Berkeley resident and former garden editor of Sunset magazine Johanna Silver discovered as she assembled the first-ever, outdoor-only comprehensive guide to growing weed. The book covers everything from growing weed in the home garden to harvesting and using it in the kitchen. Growing Weed in the Garden is an attractive, excellent, and informative step-by-step guide that should be of interest to anyone curious about growing and using cannabis at home.

Daisy Bateman
(photo: Andrea Scher)


Murder Goes to Market
by Daisy Bateman
Seventh Street Books, 2020

Alameda-resident Daisy Bateman’s first book is a “cozy mystery.” Unlike hard-boiled crime novels, “cozies” usually involve an amateur sleuth in a small, quaint town. Murder Goes to Market is set in Sonoma County, where Claudia Simcoe, a former computer programmer who is now the owner of an artisan food market, gets drawn into solving a murder case. Bateman’s wry sense of humor, unexpected plot twists, pickle jars, and cheese wire keep readers turning pages to figure out whodunit.

Kristen Loken (self portrait)


Food People (Are the Best People)
by Kristen Loken
Acorn Press, 2020

Photographer and visual storyteller Kristen Loken, a California native and Oakland resident, visits over 100 food leaders, including East Bay chefs Tanya Holland, Russell Moore, and Alice Waters to document how they have coped and helped others cope through the various crises of 2020. Their stories testify to the power of food and community. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the book goes to No Kid Hungry, a campaign that addresses food insecurity.



The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained + More Than 100 Essential Recipes

Nik Sharma (self portrait)

by Nik Sharma
Chronicle Books, 2020

In The Flavor Equation, molecular biologist, food blogger and writer, and former Oakland resident Nik Sharma explores the different components of flavor and how they come into play when we cook and eat. With more than 100 recipes, he shows readers how to use spices, herbs, and basics like salts, oils, sugars, vinegars, citrus, peppers, and other items to make simple, tasty dishes. The book includes more than 150 beautiful photographs, some of which Sharma took using a microscope. This informative book gives cooks a deeper understanding of what makes food taste good.

Bryant Terry
(photo: Celeste Noche)


Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes
by Bryant Terry
Ten Speed Press, 2020

From Oakland resident, food activist, author, and vegan chef Bryant Terry, another cookbook filled with recipes for cooking simple, inexpensive, and deeply flavorful vegan food. Organized by ingredient, the book makes it easy to plan meals based on what’s fresh at the market. Fans of his other cookbooks will be pleased to know Bryant continues to include songs—old and new rap, soul, funk, jazz—as playlists to accompany each recipe.

Kevin M. and Bonnie J. Martino (photos courtesy of the authors)

Our Italian Family Recipes
by Kevin M. Martino and Bonnie J. Martino
Independently published, 2020

The mother-son team of Bonnie and Kevin Martino has self-published a book of more than 100 recipes based on dishes from their family roots in the Southern Italian regions of Basilicata and Calabria as they have been passed down through generations of cooks adapting to changing times. Kevin, who owns Chef Kev’s Specialty Foods in Concord, makes seasoned peanuts sold at breweries and shops around the East Bay. Purchase the book here.


John Birdsall
(photo: Brad Nagel)


The Man Who Ate Too Much: The Life of James Beard
by John Birdsall
W.W. Norton, 2020

East Bay readers may remember John Birdsall’s food writing for the Contra Costa Times and East Bay Express, his 2014 James Beard Award–winning article “America, Your Food is So Gay” in Lucky Peach, or his book Hawker Fare with James Syhabout. His latest work is a well-researched and carefully written biography of the “Dean of American Cookery,” James Beard. It explores the chef’s personal life and the way Beard shaped American cuisine.

Kaori Becker
(© Nordeck Photography, Inc.)

Mochi Magic Cookbook: 50 Traditional and Modern Recipes for the Japanese Treat
by Kaori Becker
Storey, 2020

Edible East Bay contributor Kaori Becker and her mother, Yukiko, have been offering Asian cooking classes through their business, Kaori’s Kitchen. In her new cookbook, Kaori gives a comprehensive guide to turning rice, sugar, and water into mochi, a chewy, Japanese rice-dough confection. Straightforward recipes and loads of colorful illustrations provide all the guidance you need to make delicious and whimsical mochi treats at home.

Fanny Singer
(photo: Brigitte Lacombe)

Always Home: A Daughter’s Recipes and Stories
by Fanny Singer, forward by Alice Waters
Knopf, 2020

Fanny Singer is a writer and cofounder of the design brand Permanent Collection. Always Home is her very personal culinary memoir about growing up as the daughter of revered chef/restaurateur Alice Waters. Singer shares dozens of vignettes from life with her family, together with 60 recipes for some of the defining dishes of her life.



Phyllis Grant (photo: Isabel Ross)

by Phyllis Grant
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020

The Berkeley-based author of the popular blog-turned-Instagram account Dash and Bella, Food52 contributor Phyllis Grant describes her childhood in Berkeley, making her way after studying dance at Julliard, working at high-end kitchens in New York City, leaving New York for California after 9/11, becoming a mother, and sustaining herself and her family. Through it all, she cooks. This detailed, immersive, and transporting narrative also includes recipes.


'The Best American Food Writing 2020
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Silvia Killingsworth (editors)
Mariner Books, 2020

I especially enjoyed the good writing in this collection for its overview of food issues that were occupying people’s minds in 2019, when nobody could have foreseen all that would happen in 2020. The editors, including Bay Area chef and author J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, have added thoughtful introductions commenting on the effects of Covid-19 on the food sector. The 25 essays address a range of intriguing and provocative topics such as the disappearance of supermarkets, confronting abusive kitchen culture, the baby food industry, New Coke, and neighborhood groceries. Among the essayists is Sara Kay, an Oakland-based educator and consultant, who wrote "Yelp Reviewers’ Authenticity Fetish is White Supremacy in Action,” based on work she did for her masters in food studies at New York University. Personal, political, and timely, the book is a nice collection of short pieces that will engage anyone interested in food.



An Onion in My Pocket: My Life with Vegetables
by Deborah Madison
Knopf, 2020

This list of books would have been sorely incomplete had we not taken this chance to add in former Berkeley resident Deborah Madison’s new memoir. Madison, author of a raft of seminal vegetarian cookbooks (14 to date) plus numerous articles has long been revered as a leading voice in vegetarian cooking. Her work changed the way Americans think about vegetables, and it helped to bring vegetarian food into the mainstream. Madison, not herself a vegetarian, devotes a chapter to “My Vegetarian Problem,” explaining her struggles with the term. Before she started down her food path, Madison spent nearly 20 years as an ordained Buddhist priest. Her memoir tells the story of what she describes as “Twenty Missing Years,” and how they led to work in the newly established Chez Panisse, and then to opening Greens Restaurant. With a focus on local foods and farmers' markets, Madison’s personal journey reflects many of the changes in American food culture over the past several decades.