Who doesn't love a good read during lazy days of summer spent at the beach, on the patio, by the pool or just lounging on the couch? I like to use some of my downtime to catch up on the stacks of cookbooks, food fiction, wine writing and the like that are piled around my desk. For this summer, I've assembled a collection of culinary- and libation-oriented publications—some new, some classics—to enjoy as the temperatures soar.
Mexican-style "street" tacos have, along with Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, become the darlings of the culinary world. Fancy restaurants that wouldn't serve customers wearing flip-flops now proudly boast duck confit and kale tacos on their menus. Think you know tacos? So did I. That is, until I got my hands on Tacopedia by Déborah Holtz and Juan Carlos Mena. This wonderful book leaves no tortilla unturned. Part cookbook, part geography lesson, part reference guide and part restaurant guide, Tacopedia is the definitive resource for all things taco. Spread out among the in-depth history of regional Mexican tacos and recipes to recreate hundreds of them, are guides to the best taquerías in Mexico and the U.S., broken out into taco types: best cochinita pibil tacos, best seafood/fish tacos, best stewed tacos and so on. There are even poems, such as "La Taquiza: The lovely girl who ate and ate."
My wife recently mentioned that she'd like to learn more about wine in order to become better at her restaurant job. Well, there are hundreds—probably thousands—of books to help with this. One of the more useful ones—and a not-too-technical book that's easy to read—is This Calls for a Drink! The Best Wines & Beers to Pair with Every Situation by certified sommelier Diane McMartin. At first, I thought this would be another boring compilation of lists: what to pair with game, what to pair with pastas and, of course, what to pair with the always-tricky salad, artichoke or asparagus. But it isn't. Both extremely useful and informative, it's also entertaining to read. The book is organized by events and the types of foods that are likely to need wine or beer matching, such as predictable ones like weddings, birthdays and anniversaries, as well as less common occasions like blind dates, breakups and one-night stands.
And there are surprises. McMartin's out-of-the-box suggestion for a bachelorette party is Belgian saison, and she recommends something "tense and nervy" like New Zealand sauvignon blanc for binge-watching a series like Battlestar Galactica. And for those one-night stands? A frothy, fruity and fizzy "less mature version of Champagne," like France's Clairette de Die.
For a breezy peak at our own town, take a look at 100 Things to Do in Salt Lake City Before You Die by local writer and editor Jeremy Pugh. This light-hearted (but actually useful to newcomers) collection covers entertainment, the outdoors, sports, culture, history, shopping and—my favorite section—food and drink. From the oldest bar in Utah (Shooting Star Saloon) and the funeral potatoes served up at the Garage on Beck, to celebrating peaches on Utah's "Fruit Way" and a GREENBikes pub crawl, Pugh points tourists and locals alike in some delicious directions.
Foodies are very familiar with restaurant kitchen exposés like Tony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential and Heat: An Amateur Cook in a Professional Kitchen by Bill Buford. Well, here's a slightly different perspective on restaurant work: a novel based on author Stephanie Danier's experiences working in high-octane restaurant atmospheres such as NYC's Union Square Café. In SweetBitter, Danier completely captures how "punishing" the restaurant world and work can be, and does it in a way that makes you actually care about the drug-addled chefs, naughty bartenders and sometimes-sleazy servers who inhabit that world. Excellent beach reading.
Susan Branch fans will be thrilled to learn of the just-released 30th anniversary edition of her New York Times bestseller Heart of the Home: Notes From a Vineyard Kitchen. This revised and expanded edition from the Martha's Vineyard resident includes all the classic recipes from the original version, plus some newer ones. I don't recall beef carpaccio, for example, being in the 1986 volume. As with everything Susan Branch does, Heart of the Home is beautifully illustrated, and most recipes are accompanied by warm, homey sentiments befitting a cookbook that belongs in its place next to the hearth. And hey, when was the last time you saw a cookbook with recipes as comforting as chipped beef on toast, classic banana cream pie or rainbow Jell-O?
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't shout out one of America's finest under-the-radar food writers: John Thorne. He publishes an occasional newsletter that you can subscribe to and have it delivered via old-fashioned snail mail, called Simple Cooking, which is also the name of one of his excellent books, along with Outlaw Cook, Serious Pig: An American Cook in Search of His Roots, Pot on the Fire: Further Exploits of a Renegade Cook and Mouth Wide Open: A Cook and His Appetite. Thorne considers himself to be an amateur cook, and to my knowledge he never worked in a restaurant. But man, oh man, does he make food come alive. His writing is as mouth-watering as his recipes—many of which have become staples in my kitchen. Not just for summer, reading John Thorne is an anytime treat.