It’s odd to be thankful for a positive covid test in the household, but scuddled travel plans meant extra time for our editor’s favorite solo activity, multitasking.
“Yes, I love the magic of successfully doing two things at once,” says Cheryl Angelina Koehler, publisher and editor of Edible East Bay. “In this case, it was sitting out on the sunny patio peeling a pile of roasted chestnuts for this lovely salad recipe from our Winter Holidays 2022-23 issue while listening to an audiobook purchased through Libro.FM, an online service that lets me buy from a local, independent bookseller, and I can even gift audiobooks to others.”
Here’s our list of favorite titles published in the last 13 months. We always recommend supporting your local independent bookstore, so if you click on on the book covers below, you’ll get to IndieBound, where you can pick the store you want to support.
Bet the Farm: The Dollars and Sense of Growing Food in America
by Beth Hoffman
Island Press, October 2021
My Thanksgiving listen was Bet the Farm: The Dollars and Sense of Growing Food in America by Beth Hoffman, a food and agriculture journalist who lived for many years in Berkeley while teaching journalism at SFU. Hoffman’s opportunity to engage directly in farming arose in 2019 when her father-in-law, Leroy Hogeland, was looking for the off ramp from a lifetime of farming the family’s land in Lovilla, Iowa. Hoffman and her husband, John, pulled up their Bay Area roots and moved to Lovilla to begin taking take over as the next generation in the family business. In the way of many starry-eyed beginning farmers, they brought visions of rebuilding in a regenerative and (possibly) co-operative model. As Hoffman learned to farm, she kept her journalist eyes open, and with pen to paper, produced a startlingly clear-eyed narrative of their experience that she stitched together with details and data gathered from the matrix of businesses, banks, and bureaus they must engage with in their daily work. Her result is a book that paints a detailed picture of the daunting economic realities America’s farmers face as they play a game with debt while trying to hold onto their land and their health insurance. Hoffman exposes the dual myths that ride herd through the agrarian dream: the virtue of rugged individualism and the belief that bigger is always better. The reality is that the banks hold the purse strings. As Hoffman’s father-in law, Leroy Hogeland, describes in Chapter 9, “You basically agree to become a hired hand on your own farm.” This lively but intense read is recommended for anyone who found a little too much greenwash pouring through the beautifully romanticized vision of farming in the Biggest Little Farm movie, but if you missed that and want another reason to pick up Hoffman’s Bet the Farm, check out this review by Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Jane Smiley, which convinced me to re-listen to this book while peeling chestnuts for my Thanksgiving salad. —CAK
My Little Plague Journal
by L. John Harris
Villa Books, 2022
Not available in audiobook format, but a great source of amusement at a moment when covid is lurking in the next room is My Little Plague Journal by author, cartoonist, sometimes publisher, and longtime all-around Berkeley food personality L. John Harris. Unabashedly myopic as he recounts his vigil watching a potato sprout in his confinement kitchen through the bewildering year of 2020, Harris cleverly takes his readers on time travel journeys in opposite directions: back into the frightening medieval world of the bubonic plague and forward to a quaint brick-and-mortar-revival bookstore in 2050 Berkeley, where the author poses as a reader playing amateur anthropologist, who supplies a forward to the 2050 reissue of Harris’s book. The author applies his artful cartoonist hand to illustrate the journey, so there’s no letup in the onboard entertainment. Warning: Do not gift this book to your MAGA-smitten uncle unless you want to pick a fight. —CAK
Reem Assil is committed to producing delicious food that honors her Palestinian-Syrian heritage as well as her Bay Area present. Fiercely passionate about promoting Arab hospitality, she brings equal focus to her pursuits in community building, social justice, and sustainability. With a background in organizing to help marginalized people advocate for themselves in their workplaces, she’s also inspired by the way a bakery can help knit together a community’s cultural life. “Community is everything for us,” she said during an interview with Edible East Bay book review contributor Kristina Sepetys.
Read the rest of this fascinating review/interview and try one of the book’s recipes here.
Groundbakers: 60 + Plant-Based Comfort Food Recipes and 16 Leaders Changing the Food System
by Mackenzie and Kathy Feldman
Kulani Publishing, 2022
Vegetable lovers can rejoice in Groundbakers, a new cookbook that serves up classic comfort food that’s also nutritious, delicious, and plant based. From burgers, shakes, and hash browns to enchiladas and pizza pinwheels, these 60-plus recipes offer a range of delightful options for all eaters. Along with the recipes, you’ll meet the groundbakers, 16 influential food leaders who share stories, recipes, and a personal letter to someone who inspired them. In case you’re wondering, a “groundbaker” is defined at the start of the book as “an individual who is an originator, innovator, or pioneer in the transformation toward a just and regenerative food system.”
This book review by Edible East Bay contributor Rachel Trachten continues here, where you can try out one of the recipes.
Tanya Holland is justifiably famous for many reasons, including her much-loved (sadly, now closed) Brown Sugar Kitchen in West Oakland, where she cooked up delicious buttermilk fried chicken and waffles, bacon-cheddar-scallion biscuits, thick shrimp gumbo, rich macaroni and cheese, and other deeply satisfying soul food dishes. The chef, restaurateur, and podcaster is also the author of three cookbooks, New Soul Cooking: Updating a Cuisine Rich in Flavor and Tradition, Brown Sugar Kitchen Cookbook, and the brand new California Soul: Recipes from a Culinary Journey West, which spotlights the chef’s culinary heritage, makes use of California’s bountiful seasonal produce and local ingredients, and shows her support for sustainable food system values.
Read the rest of this review by Edible East Bay book review contributor Kristina Sepetys and try some of the book’s recipes here.
Pasta Grannies: Comfort Cooking
by Vicky Bennison
Hardie Grant Books, 2022
In early November, Vicky Bennison, British author of the hit cookbook Pasta Grannies, spent time in Oakland with a group of local chefs and food media around two large wooden tables, where 89-year-old pasta grannie Maria Dito, a native of Calabria, demonstrated how to make “knitting needle pasta,” literally rolling dough around a knitting needle and deftly slipping it off to add to several large trays of fusilli to cook for our lunch. Maria’s daughter, Rosetta Costantino, notched up the demo when asked if she could show how to hand form six different pasta shapes. In the flick of a knitting needle, she came up with more like 12 shapes, and it was no surprise, since this master of her craft is the co-author (with Janet Fletcher) of the 2010 title, My Calabria (W.W. Norton) in which she detailed how her family has grown and hand-crafted much of their food from before they came to the United States in 1974 (when Rosetta was 14) until today. After the demos, we sat down to Rosetta and Nonna Maria’s rendition of the Pasta Grannies recipe for Franchina’s Fusilli con Grassato de Capra (recipe here) using goat meat procured from Halal Food & Meat Market at 1964 San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley. As if our meal needed any more blessings, one of Oakland’s brightest young Italian chefs, Michele Belotti of Belotti’s Ristoranti in Rockridge, showed up just in time to kiss the pasta grannie before tucking into the tiramisu. There’s no underestimating what can happen when you have a pasta grannie in the house. —CAK
Taking a break from shelling chestnuts on Thanksgiving, I picked up a book of art and poetry newly printed in Berkeley this October. The Daily Feast is a collection of paintings of food and libations by Sonoma master painter Chester Arnold with corresponding poems by Berkeley poet and novelist Bart Schneider. The immediate accessibility of the words and images made me think of a recent comment I heard in an interview with poet Billy Collins. Known for his breathtaking brevity, Collins often points out how quickly longer poems seem to run away from the ostensible subject. Schneider, in his Daily Feast poems wanders through a lifetime of memories but never so far from the food as to leave his readers hungry for the gustatory experience. And since this small book fits so neatly into the hand, Chester’s near-life-size renderings of food with titles like “Burger of Calais,” “C.D. Friedlander’s Fries,” “Hail Caesar,” and “Pint of Speckled” head easily toward the mouth. The two artists are friends. They describe how they collaborated on the book’s creation over endless meals, so the collaboration has an easy dialogue that reminds one of how meals often linger and mingle in memories of spiraled conversation, thoughts, and imprinted pictures of flavor and light. What makes a meal memorable? Reading and seeing this book reminds me to pay attention to all the gifts available at each daily feast. —CAK