Eight great books about eating, drinking and cooking.

Food For Thought :

Any gastronomy 101 course should include Laura Werlin’s  The All American Cheese and Wine Book: Pairings, Profiles & Recipes (Stewart, Jabori, & Chang; $37.50). In clear, easy-to-follow language with charts, Werlin explains jargon and imparts pairing knowledge. Her sections on cheese and wine describe fabrication methods, buying tips, and information on types. With those basics covered, Werlin gives ten guidelines for pairing wine and cheese. Some of these guidelines might surprise the reader, like matching up white wine with cheese. Werlin’s book will make you want to treat yourself to an all cheese and wine dinner.

In 1973, Louise and Alex Hargrave bought a run-down potato farm (dating from the 1680s on Long Island) so they could start a vineyard. Neither had any experience with growing things, not even a vegetable garden. Louise’s memoir, The Vineyard (Penguin; $14), recounts how hard work—psychological and physical—can make a dream come true. Hurricanes, hungry birds, plant disease, and professional jealousy are some of the obstacles Louise overcame that made her a successful vintner and a mature woman. Louise survives and thrives despite the book’s heartbreaking ending.

Hugh Johnson established himself as a leading authority on wine with the publication of his World Atlas of Wine. Now that everyone can find the wine regions, he has written a book to provide spirited discussions about wine’s contribution to Western civilization in Hugh Johnson’s Story of Wine (Mitchell Beazley; $40). His pleasure-loving approach to the subject announces itself in the book’s dedication to “women and song.” Johnson’s story, beginning in ancient Egypt and ending with New World challenges to Old World wine, reads like a novel and leaves you wondering what the next chapter will be.

Wondering about the life of the women who had inhabited her 150-year-old farmhouse inspired Laura Schenone to write A Thousand Years Over the Stove: A History of American Women Told Through Food, Recipes, and Remembrances (W.W. Norton; $35). Schenone’s history with recipes makes the long-neglected study of women’s contribution to civilization zesty reading. Adventurous cooks can experiment with historic and modern recipes that dish up America’s wonderful multicultural soup like Native American fry bread, African-American Hoppin’ John, Mexican Posole, Chinese Melon with Chicken, and Temperance Punch. The exhaustive bibliography provides more food for thought for kitchen counter historians.

Romping the world in search of culinary delights, anecdotes, and thrills was James Villas’s job for more than twenty-seven years at Town & Country magazine. He keeps up with his former duties in his latest book, Stalking the Green Fairy (John Wiley & Sons; $26.95). The green fairy in question is absinthe, the liquor outlawed in France for its deleterious effects on the drinker. Villas gleefully informs you that it is still made in Spain and that he has been drinking it for years…His Southerner’s talent for spinning a yarn will leave you craving for more of his travel tales.

A trip to San Francisco is hardly complete without a visit to one of the City’s cafés. The guidebook The Cafés of San Francisco (TCB-Café Publishing; $19.95) can lead you to some of those sublime spots. The cafés are arranged by neighborhood with separate chapters for the East and North Bay. An alphabetical index in the back allows you to look up cafés as you come across them in your meanderings. Each  entry comes with a photo and some teasers about café fare. A short recipe section follows the café listings.

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Jeannette Ferrary is a food writer’s food writer. She has written for the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle and co-authored six cookbooks in addition to teaching food writing. She details her lively career in Out of the Kitchen: Adventures of a Food Writer (Daniel Publishing; $15.00). Her Irish childhood taught her to eat when hungry and she took this attitude toward food until she had to make her first Thanksgiving dinner. Wanting to make this meal special awakened her to seeing food as “heritage and comfort and love.” Ferrary’s memoir with recipes is a well-rounded read.

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