Seasons by the Sea: New Books to Cook By

Three new cookery-life­style-entertaining books

    There are three new cookery-life­style-entertaining books out with South Fork connections and they couldn’t be more different from one another. One is a new paperback printing of Ellen Wright’s “Hamptons Weekends,” originally published in 2000. Another is “Living the Good Long Life” by Martha Stewart, described as “a practical guide to caring for yourself and others.” Lastly, is “What’s a Hostess To Do?” by Susan Spungen, part of a series with other such titles as “What’s a Golfer to Do?” and “What’s a Disorganized Person to Do?”
    Ellen Wright’s book (East End Press, $24.95) is great fun to read. It is full of anecdotes, pictures, helpful hints, and historical tidbits. (It is worth noting that all proceeds from the book are to be donated to the Joe and Ellen Prosthetic Fund at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.) Since 1971, Ms. Wright and her family have spent summers and weekends in Bridgehampton, and the majority of photos in the book reflect this. Lots of white fences and horseys, big houses, big barns, paddocks, corrals, and more horseys.
    There are also lovely pictures of flowers and dunes and her tasty recipes. I like her style; it is casual and fun. She uses margarine and cake mixes and pancake mixes and cornbread mixes and canned soups when necessary. She studied with Julia Child and worked with James Beard. The book is divided into seasons and offers simple and delicious sounding menus throughout. Doesn’t this menu sound tempting? Tomato carrot soup with White House Saltines, swordfish my way, Mom’s marinated cucumbers, Chicago corn pudding, and cold berry pie. Ellen’s husband, Joe, worked in the Reagan White House where buttered and baked Saltines were served in the mess. That’s so Reagan!
    Ms. Wright shares her favorite sources for ingredients: Country Garden, Halsey Vegetable Stand, the Seafood Shop, etc. She entertains everyone from her ex-husband and his wife to Tom Brokaw and Mort Zuckerman. Her favorite serving platter is one made by her daughter, Lexie, when she was 10. She declares, “If I had my way, all dinners would be served early and end early.” My kinda gal. You probably won’t find any particularly new or original recipes in this book, but it is worthwhile for its helpful, simple, seasonal menus and engaging narrative.
    Ms. Stewart’s “Living the Good Long Life” (Clarkson Potter, $27.50) is quite different. It’s really more of a resource book with lots of common sense. But the common sense is filtered through Ms. Stewart’s philosophy and lifestyle. We should all know by now that the Mediterranean diet is the best overall way to eat. We also know we should “eat the rainbow,” i.e., eat colorful fruits and vegetables. Ms. Stewart shares personal anecdotes such as “sometimes when I’m horseback riding through my orchard, I’ll pick an apple right off the tree” and “caviar and salmon for one is far less expensive than caviar and salmon for a crowd so indulge yourself!” She recommends combining travel with exercise, for instance she has hiked Mount Kilimanjaro, the Inca Trail, and Northern Sikkim.
    The book is divided into sections like Healthy Eating, Healthy Fitness, Healthy Home, Healthy Looks, and so on. The Healthy Eating section has some recipes but none terribly exciting. Tuna with white beans, broiled grapefruit, and miso soup? Meh. Overall, it is an informative tome for those of us on the back nine of life. There are suggestions for keeping your brain active and functioning. Me, I struggle through the Tuesday New York Times crossword puzzle. Martha goes on “Law and Order SVU” to flex her gray matter muscles.
    She suggests spending time with children because this is not intimidating. In a section on wellness she begins “I can’t let myself get sick — with my busy schedule, there’s just no allowance for it.” Okay, that’s helpful for the rest of us.
    Her skin care routine section begins “I get up around 4 o’clock to start my work for the day.” She insists she has never had plastic surgery but does devote some pages to peels, fillers, Botox, etc. And I’m not sure I totally believe her because didn’t she spend some time in the pokey for telling fibs? When I reached the sentence “I walk barefoot on gravel” I put the book down and went back to Ellen Wright’s cozy and not so rigid book of recipe recommendations.
    “What’s a Hostess To Do?” by Susan Spungen (Artisan, $17.95) is part of a series of books all titled “What’s a Fill-In-Blank-Here to Do?” It is a retro-looking book that offers “313 ideas and inspirations for effortless entertaining and 121 recipes for spectacular party food.” Ms. Spungen is an accomplished author, food stylist, and recipe developer.
    As far as I’m concerned, no matter how much you know about entertaining and cooking, there is always more to learn. This book is great because it will help you with those pesky questions like “how much booze do I need to buy for my heavily Irish guest list?” There are suggestions for play lists, tabletop decor, and what kind of equipment you should have in your kitchen.
    One of my favorite intermittent features throughout the book is “What’s Wrong With This Menu?” Some of them sounded pretty awesome to me, but Ms. Spungen helpfully points out the flaws and offers alternative menus. One might have too much last-minute prep, one is all fried food, another has sticky ribs and peel and eat shrimp on a cocktail buffet. Messy, messy. Some other worthwhile instructions are illustrated guides to roasting and braising, cooking fish en papillote, outdoor grilling, and using up leftovers. Who knew you could layer slices of lemon on the grill to keep fish from sticking and impart added flavor? There are “five dinner party standby menus” and “ten great assembled desserts,” and “how to choose one special cheese.” I learned a lot from this book and will consider it a valuable resource from now on.

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