Have you ever read a cookbook cover to cover? Me, neither. But one of the great joys of writing cookbook reviews is to read every single word, from introduction to chapter headings to analyzing each recipe and photograph. This immersion into a book can transport you to wonderful places: to Cyprus for a light lunch in the shade, to a North Fork farm stand for the ripest peaches, or to a Hamptons’ idyll so brightly colorized you’ll need to wear shades.
There are two new books out right now, “Love, Laughter, and Lunch” by Helen Tsanos Sheinman, published by Pointed Leaf Press ($50), and “The Hamptons: Food, Family, and History” by Ricky Lauren, published by Wiley ($39.95). I’ve included a third book, “Fresh From the Farm: Great Local Foods from New York State” by Susan Meisel and Natalie Sann, published by Rizzoli ($40), because somehow this fine baby slipped by me when it was published two years ago.
Ms. Tsanos Sheinman, a summer resident of Shelter Island, has written such a lovely, warm, colorful book that by page 33 I was craving Greek coffee and wishing for an invitation to one of her dinner parties. She explores her roots in Cyprus and covers a life lived in London and New York, always with an appreciation for her cultural heritage. Besides the food and family stories, the book is filled with the history of Greek textiles, embroidered linens, and pottery.
Her parents began extolling the virtues of food presentation to her at a young age. “It has to be pleasing to the eye so that the appetite grows bigger!” Indeed, by page 19, I was seeking out a source for halloumi cheese, to be prepared with fennel, cilantro, mint, olive oil, and plenty of lemon juice.
The recipe pages are handwritten, with the opposite page showing the completed dish or a nice array of the ingredients. Every picture includes the beautiful, bright woven fabrics, delicate lace linens, and rustic pottery of Cyprus. There is so much to learn from the book: Who knew you could make olive bread with orange soda? There are delicate Greek pastries such as kourabiethes, shortbread cookies, and melomakarona, honey cookies with walnuts.
Ms. Tsanos Sheinman’s family is large and loving, and every page is an homage to the past with an eye toward keeping the Greek Cypriot traditions alive for the future. There is a page dedicated to the culinary and medicinal uses of herbs, along with an explanation of how to make coffee in a briki: Plain is called “sketo,” sweetened is “metrio,” and super sweet is called “glyko.”
While “Love, Laughter, and Lunch” is a lusty, sensual adventure of a book, Ricky Lauren’s “The Hamptons” is a stylized peek into a picture-perfect life in . . . you guessed it . . . the Hamptons. The chapters are divided into the areas that the Lauren family has lived — first Southampton, then Amagansett, East Hampton, and Montauk.
Every single picture is themed in red, white, and blue, mostly blue. Blue, which was my favorite color until I reached the end of the book. There are charming little watercolors throughout, penned, I believe, by Ms. Lauren. There are also very good snippets on local history, architecture, artists, and writers. Ms. Lauren describes the recipes as “tried and true that we have enjoyed as a family.” Some she learned as a young wife and “many have come from the wonderful and talented chefs who we have been proud to claim as part of our family over the years,” she wrote.
Therein lies the rub for me. The recipes are no more original than those you would find in “Joy of Cooking.” The food styling is reminiscent of issues of Sunset magazine circa 1978. The color has been brightened and enhanced to the point that one chef friend asked if he was looking at Play-Doh when he saw a picture of scrambled eggs. If you need some simple recipes for omelettes, French toast, quiche, steamers, or sautéed breast of chicken, then by all means, this lifestyle cookbook may be for you. There are many beautiful family photos, along with pictures of polo, sailing, and some of Ralph’s vintage cars.
“Fresh From the Farm” is another book that really takes you places. You can almost smell the lavender growing in East Marion and taste the raspberry strudel of Junda’s Pastry Shop in Jamesport. It’s such a great book that I wish they would print an addendum every year, adding new gourmet shops and wineries and bakeries, kind of like a locavore’s Zagat guide. The pictures, stories, and recipes are thorough and engaging, and it offers charming vignettes and beautiful photography.
Without a doubt, the North and South Fork chapters are the lengthiest and most satisfying, perhaps because they are most familiar to me. And any book that has a picture of the Flanders Big Duck in its first few pages but refrains from referencing “the Hamptons” every other chapter is okay with me.
This book includes everything from the Catapano Dairy Farm in Peconic to East Hampton’s Dreesen’s doughnuts to Cavaniola’s Cheese Shop in Sag Harbor to the awesome sausage from Villa Italian Specialties, also in East Hampton, from the bigger, well-established farms and purveyors (Briermere, Braun, Mecox Bay Dairy) to the small and artisanal (the Tomato Lady, Widow’s Hole Oysters). “Fresh From the Farm” makes me feel proud and privileged to live here and be able to taste many of the delicious foods throughout the book. It reminds me that it’s time for a trip to Lavender by the Bay for honey, Iacono Farm for fine chicken, and Loaves and Fishes, if for no more than an inspiring chat with the tirelessly creative Anna Pump.
All three cookbooks would make wonderful coffee table gifts, one sunny and laughing, one filled with rich history, and one a useful guide to our many resources for local foods.