As writers will, when gathered around a table breaking bread and sipping wine, the Indy‘s food writing team and our fearless editor recently fell to talking about food and wine books as comfort and joy and knowledge. Titles of old favoritesread and re-read as you would visit with an old friendflew around the table so fast no one could write them down. That unrecorded list, even off the cuff, was much longer than we offer here, but since eating and drinking go hand in hand with gift-giving this time of year, here are few suggestions from our collective shelves. Sheryl Cornett


Rosie’s Bakery All-Butter, Fresh Cream, Sugar-Packed, No-Holds-Barred Baking Book, by Judy Rosenberg, Workman Publishing, $14 (paperback). This was a gift from a good friend and fellow baker, and it’s one of her favorites too. That is just one of the many reasons I love it and reach for it! First of all, look at that title. All butter, fresh cream, no-holds-barred baking is my kind of baking. It’s paperback, so it’s easy to flip through, carry around and prop open. It has everything, complete with goofball names: “Smart Cookies,” “Cutie Pies” and “Harvard Squares” (bar cookies). But my favorite aspect, which is a great tip for any gift-giver, is that my friend marked it up which recipes she likes and uses. Next to apple cake, p. 54: “This is fab. Undercook it a little.” Next to “Sunken Kisses,” p. 104: “My son’s favorite, plus all his buddies!” Claire Cusick

Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, The Moosewood Collective, $24, paperback. This is a modern classic cookbook from the Ithaca, N.Y., institution with a bunch of family favorites in it. We eat a lot of vegetarian dishes, and this is an easy, interesting and chock-full book that includes tips on mixing and matching for menu planning and a great explanation of ingredients and substitutions. Subtitled “Ethnic and Regional Recipes from the Cooks at the Legendary Restaurant,” it’s organized by geographic regions and has great soups, appetizers, quick breads and main fare from Chile and China to the Carribbean (“Yellowman’s Banana-Lime Bread” is a staple in our house). Jennifer Strom

Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations, by Nancie McDermott, Chronicle Books, $20, paperback. She’s local (Chapel Hill) and this book is a collection of old-fashioned layer cakes (there are more than half a dozen varieties of coconut cake alone). Bill Smith at Crook’s Corner has been working his way through this book all fall, putting one cake at a time on his dessert menu. Generally, if a dessert isn’t chocolate, I don’t consider it worth the calories. But after having my arm twisted into tasting Smith’s incarnation of McDermott’s Lane Cake (yellow cake, bourbon and dried-cherry filling), I’ve had to make an exception. Jennifer Strom

French Provincial Cooking, by Elizabeth David, Penguin, $14, is less well-known than her Italian Cooking, but just as rich, varied and wonderfully writtenand especially endearing to Francophiles. Even if you never made a single recipe from this tome, you could still taste the flavors and see the landscape of France’s diverse countryside, since the book is organized by region. It reads like an orientation to real life geography, as comforting and challenging as any Jane Austen novel. Sheryl Cornett

The Organic Cook’s Bible, by Jeff Cox, Wiley and Sons, $40. I open this book all the time. It’s arranged by categories of food (root veggies, fruits, greens, etc.) and is another in a line of wonderful books that combines recipes and relevant background about the foods we eat. When I have abundant produce from the farmers’ market, this is the first book I open. It’s also quite pretty to look at, even though most of the pages are not in full color, that somehow adds to its charm. Suzanne Nelson

All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking, by Molly Stevens, Norton, $35. This book is beautiful and useful. Stevens taught me more about braising than I even imagined existed, and these simple one-pot meals are the antidote to fast food. Suzanne Nelson

River Road Recipes, collected and published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge, $18. The formative cookbook of Louisiana cuisine for me, a hick Alabaman who moved to la Nouvelle Orleans at 7 and spent the next 10 to 20 years trying to understand the very mysterious place I’d adopted as home. Jane Hobson Snyder

Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin, Harper Collins, $12. These are two of the funniest, honest books about food and life, with recipes, that I’ve read and re-read. Before her death in 1992, Colwin was a novelist and columnist for Gourmet, and many of these essays are collected from that magazine. Some teasers are: “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant,” “Jet Lag and How to Feed It” and “How to Face the Holidays.” These are great for reading aloud with a fellow foodie. The two slim volumes make good giving together or separately. Sheryl Cornett

Simple French Food, by Richard Olney, Wiley and Sons, $18. This is the book that moved me from an assiduous follower of recipes to a real cook. Olney’s book is a scattering of recipes interrupting paragraphs of luscious prose; the prose introduces genres (e.g., the stew) and educates as to what unites and differentiates their exemplars. David Auerbach

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen and The Cooking of Southwest France, by Paula Wolfert, Wiley and Sons, $38 (hardcover). My collection of Wolfert’s books are stained and broken-backed, these two in particular. These are meticulously researched, stunningly flavorful recipes with the most interesting headnotes in the cookbook world. David Auerbach

Nonfiction and memoir

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, Penguin, $16. Everything about this book has already been said, so I’ll just say this: Pollan is a god. Suzanne Nelson

A Guide to North Carolina’s Wineries, second edition, Joseph Mills and Danielle Tarmey, John F. Blair, $17. This version is far better than the original edition. It providesuseful information on North Carolina’s 64 bonded wineries, and is especially good at capturing the excitement that is currently being generated across the state. Better photography would be a great plus in a future incarnation. Arturo Ciompi

Tender at the Bone, by Ruth Reichl, Broadway Books, $13. Reichl is a former food editor and restaurant critic at the Los Angeles Times, a former restaurant critic at The New York Times and the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine since 1999. She is a wonderful writer and author of many books. This one is my favorite, because it shows how food tied together all the crazy threads of her chaotic childhood and young adulthood. Her mother shipped her off to a Canadian boarding school. She wandered around North Africa with her college roommate; she even dumpster dived. Claire Cusick

Full Moon Feast, by Jessica Prentice, Chelsea Green Publishing, $16. This book rocks! So much of what is wrong with our food culture hasn’t yet even been fully recognizedwe’ve lost our connection to food and the people we share it with. Our bodies are literally starving for the nutrition of the slow-cooked meals of old and the family and friends we once shared them with. The writing in this book is amazing, and Prentice manages to capture how we can get back to feeling full and connected once again. Much of this book is about locally and humanely grown food, but the accomplished chef also manages to delve beautifully into the spiritual and communal aspects of eating. So inspiring, with recipes. Suzanne Nelson

First Big Crush: The Down and Dirty on Making Great Wine down under, by Eric Arnold, Scribner, $24. This is a down-to-earth, ribald account of a year in New Zealand’s wine country. It offers totally fresh and hilarious insights of a young man finding tough love in the vineyard. Arturo Ciompi

Heat, by Bill Buford, Knopf, $26. A work of memoir/creative nonfiction, this is a great book on Italy and New York and the beautiful, diabolical experience that it is to apprentice in Mario Batali’s kitchen. I think of it often, which is how I know it has staying power. Jane Hobson Snyder

Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia, by Elizabeth Gilbert, Norton, $15. Getting lots of recent attention, this memoir is about a year old. It’s not just a food book. The first section is about her moving to Italy for four months, in desperation after a messy divorce. She’s 34 and unattached for the first time and learning Italian for no good reason, and spends all day every day not touring museums, but eating. She gains 23 pounds in 16 weeks. It’s about the veneration of food: as comfort, as hedonism and as a way to connect with people who don’t share your language. Jane Hobson Snyder

Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century, Modern Library, $13, and Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America, Viking-Penguin, $13, both by Laura Shapiro. These two are cultural histories full of stuff that will make you go, “I didn’t realize that!” and “So that’s how ….!” David Auerbach

Other guides

Cook’s Illustrated magazine, six issues a year, $25. I love this magazine, which accepts no advertising and is published by the most charmingly uptight kitchen staff I’ve ever encountered. They’re uptight so you and I don’t have to be. They will test a simple brownie recipe 17 ways, using 17 kinds of chocolate, just to find the best. The recipes read like a suspense novel. What do you mean the version with the sour cream collapsed in the middle? How dare it? Claire Cusick

Wine Blue, 12 issues a year, $25. For e-mail aficionados, a concise, worthy guide to the best wine values across the globe. It’s no-nonsense, to the point and a Dilbert dream of truncated, useful information for the buyer. A brisk kick of knowledge. (Each issue is printable once upon receipt.) Arturo Ciompi


Crescent, by Diana Abu-Jaber, Norton, $14. A novel set in the Persian- and Arab-American world of Los Angeles, the story takes place in Nadia’s Café, around its chef-protagonist Sirine. The aromas, recipes and community that abound at the café are as much pleasure to partake in as the vivid storyline involving poetry, politics and risk-taking for love. Sheryl Cornett

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, Random House, $15. This book is brilliant, and getting extra attention because the film No Country for Old Men has just come out. OK, it’s a post-apocalyptic story, but the father and son are starving, truly starving, in a world of ash and snow, and they at times encounter some miracle stash of food (one can of pears, in particular, whose sweetness the reader just inhales along with the characters). Once, the father finds one lone Coca-Cola and gives it to his child, who has never before tasted soda and never will again. It’s about the vividness of taste when every other sense has been dulled by fear or exhaustion. Jane Hobson Snyder