With only a few days remaining until Christmas, a last-minute stop at a good bookstore can yield the perfect gift for the gardeners and cooks on your shopping list, one that continues to give well into the new year. While there are many practical how-to gardening books, this is the time to choose one with an absorbing narrative or gorgeous illustrations, to encourage winter dreams.

As always, Portland, Oregon’s Timber Press has the best books on gardening, horticulture and natural history. As 2017 is the 150th anniversary of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birth, author of the much-loved “Little House” series, they have published “The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” by Marta McDowell, who also wrote “Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales.” McDowell’s latest offering explores Wilder’s relationship to the landscape, following the wagon trail of the series, from the Wisconsin setting of “Little House in the Big Woods” to the Dakotas and finally to Missouri. While Wilder’s stories are rich in adventure and pioneer history, they are also deeply rooted in the natural world. Plants, animals and landscapes are integral to the stories, and McDowell details how to visit the real places today and how to grow the plants and vegetables featured in the stories. The book includes original illustrations by Helen Sewell and Garth Williams, along with historical and contemporary photographs. Anyone who has ever been enchanted by Wilder’s stories would love this book, which is a perfect companion piece to the “Little House” series boxed set.

Also from Timber Press comes an unusual memoir. At 35, San Francisco garden designer Leslie Buck decided to put her very full life of friends, love and work on hold to pursue her passion, becoming the first American woman to learn pruning from Uetoh Zoen, one of the oldest and most highly acclaimed landscape companies in Japan. “Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto” gives Buck’s insights into Japanese gardening, where, along with pruning techniques, she learns that the best Kyoto gardens look so natural they appear untouched by human hands, even though her crew spends hours meticulously cleaning every pebble in the streams. Anyone with an interest in naturalistic Japanese gardens or travel memoirs, as well as anyone who’s dreamed of leaving it all behind and gambling on a new career, of stepping out of his or her comfort zone and taking a chance, will find this an absorbing read.



Because those who garden often eat the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors, cookbooks are welcome gifts. Even the best gardener/cooks, or even those who take part in a CSA, occasionally need some inspiration when it comes to getting those seven-plus servings of fresh produce onto the menu every day. From Workman Press comes the latest book by professional chef and New York Times City Kitchen columnist David Tanis, who embodied every cook’s fantasy when he operated a private supper club in his 17th-century walk-up in Paris, before moving to Manhattan. “David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes and Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient” is about deciding what to cook based on what looks good at the market — a very Parisian approach to cooking, and different from the once-a-week shopping practiced by most American families, but one that ensures cooking with the freshest local and seasonal ingredients. Tanis is one of my favorite food writers; his recipes are straightforward but with a surprise or twist in them that makes me wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The book is divided into sections of various vegetable groups such as alliums — garlic, onion, shallots, leeks, etc. — and then offers various ways to prepare them. If onions are what looks good in the market and you’ve brought home a bagful, choose from three incarnations: Lebanese Caramelized Onions, American Buttermilk Fried Onion Rings, or French Onion and Bacon Tart. This gives the fledgling cook techniques that will be useful in the future; think how many ways caramelized onions, once mastered, can liven up your winter menus: atop pizzas, piled on humble mashed potatoes, tucked inside a bun with burgers of all kinds. For a kitchen companion, I’d choose David Tanis over Fanny Farmer any day of the week.

Maine chefs have some new, well-received cookbooks out this year. “The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine,” by Erin French, a self-taught cook whose restaurant in an old mill draws diners from around the globe, contains recipes arranged by season that use often-local, easy-to-find ingredients. French’s approach to cooking is easy for the home chef to embrace, her writing homey and appealing.

Not exactly a gardening or cooking book, but something that spans both categories, is the Taproot 2018 calendar with photographs by Maine-based Stacey Cramp. In addition to Cramp’s lush photographs of fruits and vegetables, the calendar includes 12 recipe cards featuring seasonal recipes from Taproot magazine, which describes itself as “the magazine for makers, doers and dreamers.” Cramp regularly contributes images to the New York Times and Johnny’s Selected Seeds and has done the photography for eight cookbooks. Yes, you can find the date on your phone, but it won’t make your wall glow with images that rival those of the painters of the Dutch Golden Age.