by Christine Sismondo

There are those who approach the holiday shopping with cheerful enthusiasm and a near-scientific methodology. Armed with lists, they hit the stores they’ve carefully mapped out, picking up the gifts they’ve painstakingly scoped on-line.

And then there are the rest of us. But I’m not talking to those sorts right now, because they’re currently curled up in a fetal position and can’t read the screen.

(Incidentally, if you have one of those people in your life, I’d suggest buying them a Kindle.)

To tell the truth, I’m actually somewhere in the middle. I spend most of December in deep Christmas denial and then, a night or two before zero hour, I hit my own carefully mapped out stores: the liquor store, the gourmet food store and the book store. If I can’t find the right gift for somebody in one of those places, I ask myself: “Is this really a person I should have in my life?”

I usually just browse and then grab things in a great panic. In case you like to have things thought out in advance, though, here are a few suggestions for books you can find this season in your local bookstore.

For the gourmand in your life:

You can’t go wrong with Billy’s Best Bottles and Wines for 2010
and The World Cheese Book.

Billy Munnelly, antidote to wine snobs, is a man after my own heart. Not only does he write about wine in a straightforward and clear manner, most of his picks are under $20. It’s a slender volume and, therefore, makes an excellent stocking stuffer or a gift, if paired with one of Munnelly’s picks.

Alternatively, follow my suggestion and pair it with Juliet Harbutt’s The World Cheese Book – a stunning encyclopedia of over 750 cheeses. This is a thorough and beautiful reference and starting point for the beginner thinking about conquering the daunting world of cheese. Again, it’s user-friendly, straight up and full of useful tips like how to pair your cheese with wine.

Continuing along the theme of high-brow foodie books, The Provencal Cookbook, which promises to teach you how to “shop, cook and eat like a local,” is both a handy recipe book and a nice piece of food porn for the Francophile in your family. It’s written by Gui Gedda, a French restaurateur known as the “Pope of Provencal cuisine” and renowned food writer, Marie-Pierre Moine. My eye is immediately caught by the promise of stuffed sardines and plain old fish soup – proving that French food really not need by so intimidating.

Of course, in One Pot French, Jean-Pierre Challet, a French chef and food writer who now lives in Toronto and Jennifer Decorte, Cordon Bleu graduate, really take that idea up a notch or two. Not only are their recipes simple and approachable but they also require minimal clean up. This is a great book to have around the house to tempt people in a rut to try something new. I rarely think Cassoulet or Tatin on my own but, flipping through, I’m inspired. You might consider picking both books for the adventurous, yet uninspired cook in your life.

Speaking of meals prepared in a solitary pot, there’s the handsome new book Soup, which is lucky enough to have a forward by Eric Schlosser. I have to admit, I’ve been in the mood for soup for the past couple of years and so, this book hits the spot. The old standards are all in here for the novice and, for those of us looking to try something a little more challenging, there’s recipes for hamburg eel soup, mango curry and waterzooi (Flemish stew).

Finally, there’s a new book which addresses the same problem Rachael Ray does (except without pre-made sauces and hideous looking food as a result): The Illustrated Quick Cook. This tome, edited by food stylist Heather Whinney, assembles hundreds of tips and recipes for saving time and money and still manages to produce appetizing meals.

I’m always a little sceptical about promises that dishes can be completed in 20 or 30 minutes, since it seems to take me 15 minutes to make a nice piece of toast, but we take the point: the recipes Whinney has selected are relatively simple and fast. It’s an impressive book – especially if you have a harried cook on your shopping list.

Of course, if it’s a spouse, this may look like the equivalent of buying the man who cooks all your meals a new Cuisinart – not always a welcome gesture. If so, I’d suggest picking up a nice bottle of champagne and pairing it with that.

Can’t go wrong there – one size fits all.

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