A Real American Breakfast
by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison
Published by William Morrow
454 pages, 2002

I love breakfast. It's always been my favorite meal to eat out, especially on vacation: I still have fond memories of the incredible strawberry waffle I once encountered in Gillette, Wyoming, and occasionally I attempt to recreate the Danish breakfast treat of thin slices of Havarti cheese broiled on an open-face roll and then slathered with orange marmalade. And I can wax downright nostalgic about the grilled tomatoes and kippers my English friends prepare for me when I'm lucky enough to visit them in London. Kippers may stink up the house something awful, but you can't beat them for a quintessentially British breakfast. Since I can't be on holiday all the time (dang it), I'm always looking for new ideas for the morning repast -- something more exciting than your standard cereal and toast, or scrambled eggs and bacon. I must admit that I was rather concerned when I first picked up A Real American Breakfast and the book fell open to a recipe for menudo. (Sorry, but I don't want to think about menudo at any time of the day, and especially not at breakfast.) However, my fears were allayed when I turned the page and saw a photo of Cranberry-Cream Cheese Stuffed French Toast -- now, that's more like it! If it's meat you're hungry for, why not try the Pan-Seared Iowa Breakfast Chops or the Country-Fried Steak and Onions? That's one hearty American breakfast, pardner. -- Pamela C. Patterson

California Wine Country
by Randy Leffingwell
Published by Voyageur Press
176 pages, 2002

One of the ways that fascination for a region can be judged is by the number of books published about it. And if we allow that to be an indication, California's wine region -- the Napa Valley and nearby environs -- are of interest to many. And it's no wonder. In so many ways, the making of wine is an Old World activity: hillside vineyards, musty cellars, jovial tastings. To see it all transposed just a few hours drive from Disneyland... well, it's remarkable. And enchanting. While there have been more romantic -- and lovely -- books on the wine country published, Randy Leffingwell's California Wine Country seems the most workmanlike and useful on a practical level. Leffingwell has written books on topics as diverse as lighthouses and Harley-Davidsons. If he's a wine enthusiast, it's not mentioned in his bio material. He is, however, a journalist. He may or may not become misty when he sips from a sublime Cabernet-Shiraz, but he knows what kind of information is needed for a book to be useful to readers. California Wine Country begins with the history of wine making in California, then discusses varieties of grapes and wines, then on to how wine is made. In Part II he looks closely at California's winemaking regions: all of the well-known areas are here, of course. As well as a few winemaking areas you don't hear as much about. All in all, California Wine Country is a well thought out and executed book. Those with an interest in California industry of the grape could do a lot worse.

Honey: From Flower to Table
by Stephanie Rosenbaum
Published by Chronicle Books
120 pages, 2002

Though there are recipes here, Honey: From Flower to Table is as much the story of honey as it is a guide for cooking with it. This slender and elegant little book does a great job, touching nicely into the history, the place honey has played in mythology, how honey is made, some beekeeping basics, cooking with honey and using honey and beeswax for crafting. (Candles are just the tip of the hive.) A bit of a bonus: gift this book to a dedicated crafter and you're likely to get a bar of milk and honey soap or some beeswax candles next holiday.

The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook
by Erin Egenbright and Thisbe Nissen
Published by HarperCollins
175 pages, 2002

No: not a book to instruct you on the making of flambéed ex-boyfriend, but a collection of recipes from ex-boyfriends. As the subtitle says: They Came, They Cooked, They Left. As the authors write in their introduction: "People have written all sorts of books about the things lost and gained in relationships. ... But in our experience we've never come across a book of what we find to be one of the most valuable things one takes away from relationships: recipes." The recipes -- and they are good ones -- are divided into Sweet Things; Sort of Fluffy Things; Savory Things; Spicy Things; Slippery Things; and Substantial Things. Each recipe begins with a brief description of the relationship with the ex-boyfriend who -- unintentionally -- contributed a recipe. Judging from the number and variety of recipes included, these two have dated quite a lot! As good -- and varied -- as the recipes are, the author-created collages that appear throughout the book are just as good. The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook is a delight from beginning to... er... end.

The Foodlover's Atlas of the World
by Martha Rose Shulman
Published by Firefly Books
288 pages, 2002

The food of the world is so varied, whole books are written on just certain aspects of some regional foods. Provençal cooking, for instance, has been written about endlessly. As have various regions of Italy. And if you can do a whole book just on lemons or honey, what hope is there for getting all of the foods in the world into a single book? And, obviously, there's no way that anyone can do one book that covers all of the nuances from every country on Earth. However The Foodlover's Atlas of the World by Martha Rose Shulman (Light Basics Cookbook, Vegetarian Feast) does a good job of introducing us to the food influences of many countries. Shulman seems to have taken the book's title very seriously, as well: it does indeed function as an atlas. And so we learn that Laos is a "landlocked country, Laos has Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, Thailand to the west, and china to the North. While these countries have exerted a strong influence on Laotian food, some of its specialties are unique." And we're told about the specialties, and a lot of other things besides. What we don't get to do, with this country or any of the others, is sample the food. Not based on recipes from this book, at any rate, because there aren't very many. She does however take us on a tour of the cuisines of 90 countries and 43 regions of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australasia and the Americas. And it's a fascinating tour: I just wish there was more food.

Lemon Zest
by Lori Longbottom
Published by Broadway Books
256 pages, 2002

"Everything about a lemon is lovely: its shape, its flavor, its color, and its fragrance." So begins Lemon Zest a celebration of all the things that can be done with the happy yellow citrus fruit. And there are a lot of things you've probably never thought of, plus new lemony twists on old favorites. The fact that citrus often makes us think of the holidays makes this a good one to think of when buying for your foody friends. Also, when you start replacing a lot of different things in recipes with lemon you often end up with a lighter, more healthful meal. No photos here, but the recipes are great. A simple little book to help zest up the table.

Martin Yan's Chinatown Cooking
by Martin Yan
Published by Morrow
364 pages, 2002

After all of the years Martin Yan has spent teaching us to cook in the Chinese style -- on television and through his 10 books -- it's amazing to me that he's got anything left to talk about. But he does. Oh, yes! He does. In fact, this latest entry, Martin Yan's Chinatown Cooking, is Yan's most lavish, most generous, most overall pleasing book to date. With 200 "traditional recipes from 11 Chinatowns around the world" Yan's latest book is meant to be a companion to his television series Martin Yan's Chinatowns. But even if you don't follow the show, Martin Yan's Chinatown Cooking is a rich and rewarding tour. The book opens with a foreword by Julia Child and an introduction by Yan. In the book itself, there are chapters on dim sum, appetizers, soups, vegetables and salads, tofu and eggs, seafood, poultry, meat, rice and noodles, desserts and the Chinese pantry. The recipes are easy-to-follow, the design is open and inviting, the photography second to none. A gorgeous book.

Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe
by Mollie Katzen
Published by Hyperion
302 pages, 2002

You won't find any recipes calling for bacon or sausage in Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Café, but that's all right with me -- Katzen has demonstrated through her previous best-selling cookbooks that vegetarian meals needn't be bland, and there are hundreds of healthy choices on the menu at the Sunlight Café. You can try one of the many tempting muffin recipes, or be adventurous and whip up some Vietnamese Coconut-Rice Flour Crêpes with Hot-Sweet-Sour Dipping Sauce. (But don't wait until you're starving to start this one: the preparation time is nearly an hour.) Katzen's luminous artwork appears throughout the book, and just looking at those pictures makes me want to curl up in my jammies with a mug of hot coffee in Mollie's kitchen while I wait for her to serve me something warm and comforting for breakfast. What? I have to make it myself? -- Pamela C. Patterson

The Soups of France
by Lois Anne Rothert
Published by Chronicle Books
224 pages, 2002

Beautifully illustrated, executed and presented, The Soups of France is a coffeetable book-sized celebration to French soups -- classic and contemporary -- of all types. Indiana-based restaurateur Lois Anne Rothert has spent much of the last decade collecting soup recipes and traveling the French countryside in search of their origin. The Soups of France is the final word necessary on its topic. Rothert begins by talking about things that have influenced soup, from ingredients to regions, then goes on to discuss the regions in some detail. The soups themselves are organized by type: The French Garden: Fresh Vegetables; The Harvest Reserves: Dried Beans and Grains; The Coastal Waters: Fish and Shellfish; The Farmhouse Kitchens: Meat and Poultry; The Streams and Woodlands: Game and Wild Delicacies; and The Dairy: Cheese and Eggs. There are more than 80 recipes in this lovely and well-produced book.

The Star Wars Party Book: Recipes and Ideas for Galactic Occasions
by Mikyla Bruder
Published by Chronicle Books
62 pages, 2002

OK: it sounds like a goofy idea. And, in many ways, it really is. But The Star Wars Party Book is also fun, silly and useful enough to make a great gift for that special someone who-has-everything-but-also-loves-Star-Wars. The book begins on an off-world note: "There are as many reasons to have a party as there are midi-chlorians in a Jedi's bloodstream." While, strictly speaking, The Star Wars Party Book is more of a child's activity book than a cookbook, more than half of the "recipes" are, in fact, for comestibles. And we think that things like "Kamino Starry Night Lights" and the "Death Star Piñata" would be just as much fun for Star Wars-lovin' adults as they would be for kids. Maybe more.

Sushi Modern
by Hideo Dekura
Published by Periplus
112 pages, 2002

Sushi as made by any competent sushi chef is high art: frameable if it weren't so delicious. In the hands of a master, however -- one with a passion for his subject and the creativity to do something about it -- becomes something even more fine and beautiful. Hideo Dekura, author of Sushi Modern, learned about classic Japanese food preparation in his father's Tokyo restaurant. Later, Dekura traveled to France to study classic French cuisine and, later still, he went to the United States and England where he would learn still more. In Sushi Modern Dekura is able to combine all of these sensibilities in a way that is occasionally startling, occasionally awe-inspiring, but always beautiful and inviting. Dekura writes that, "sushi is the Japanese equivalent of the Western sandwich: a portable, staple food that can be served simply or dressed up for special occasions, and there is no limit to the variations that can be created." Included are sushi staples -- California rolls and kappa maki -- as well as Dekura originals like Blue Cheese and Sea Urchin roe in an Eggshell; Couscous Inari; Ruby Grapefruit and Apple Mint Cone Rolls; Mille-Feuille Sushi with Blue Cheese and Pastrami and many, many others. Even if you never try the more far-out recipes, Sushi Modern is a superior sushi primer: taking you through the baby steps of sushi making so gently you barely know you're moving at all.