When I was a kid we never put up the holiday tree until Dec. 24. No doubt that seems absurdly late to people who string their porches with Christmas lights at the same time they're removing the Halloween ones. But I bet even those eager beavers have a few last-minute gifts to scramble for.
Food books to the rescue. I can recommend the following, all published in 2008.
Hungry for Wisconsin: A Tasty Guide for Travelers
(Itchy Cat Press)
Mary Bergin clearly had a blast researching this book. She takesreaders on a statewide tour to meet "burger flippers and entrée artists," to enjoy "glimpses of dirt-in-the-nails farm life and coat-and-tie ambience," to get ideas about "what to savor while learning about the state's food heritage and diversity." In her signature warm and thoughtful style, the "Roads Traveled" columnist pays homage to Mr. Ed's Tee-Pee Supper Club, Ethiopian yebeg alitcha (lamb stew), Walleye Weekend, "funeral wieners" and the Carr Valley Cooking School. Bergin writes, "Food can be good theater as well as sustenance," and she proves it with her vivid language and photography. All in all, an award-worthy guide. And speaking of prizes, somebody should give one to Itchy Cat Press for the crisp, zippy design of this and several other regional food books the company has published in recent years.
The Cheeses of Wisconsin
(The Countryman Press)
Jeanette Hurt focuses on the state's fast-growing specialty cheese industry, and her pride and appreciation come through in every page. She explains how and why the Dairy State is the leader of the artisanal cheese movement, showcases dozens of top cheesemakers and their wares and shares recipes from chefs and other cheese lovers. I will be using this guide as a reference for years to come.
Milwaukee residents Martin Hintz and Pam Percy cover the culinary side of cheese in a tasty collection of more than 100 recipes contributed by top Wisconsin chefs, cheese producers, dairy associations and the authors themselves. There's also cheese history, cheese trivia, cheese company profiles and cheese tasting tips. I ate it all up.
Eat Smart in Sicily
Following the same successful format of her eight previous Eat Smart guides, Madison's country-hopping Joan Peterson gives travelers all they need to know about eating authentically in Sicily. With co-author Marcella Croce, a native Sicilian and journalist, she details the food history, ingredients and dishes of the Mediterranean's largest and perhaps most storied island. The book indeed eats smart and reads smart: It is as useful for tourists as it is intriguing to cook-bookworms.
Eat Feed Autumn Winter
(Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
Who says you can't cook local in northern climes? Not Anne Bramley, host of the seminal EatFeed.com podcast and author of this passionate, knowledgeable collection. Born in a Midwestern blizzard and now a resident of Boston, Bramley is a mastermind at cold-weather fare and a Wisconsin-ophile to boot. (She calls the state "a winter paradise on which I thrive even when far away.") Everything about her book is a pleasure, from its intriguing recipes and expressive voice, to the informative, often quirky sidebars and large-format photos (by Tina Rupp), right down to the lushly thick pages themselves. To anyone who still claims you can't eat seasonally in winter, the book is a joyous "Take that!"