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Buy the Books

Inexpensive, no-hassle holiday gifts for lovers of cuisine and cookbooks

By Andrew X. Pham

FOR GIVERS WHO LOATHE fumbling with ribbons, tape and colored paper, books make the perfect gifts--not only do they illuminate, entertain and have decorative value, but most bookstores offer free gift-wrapping services complete with gold stickers, ribbons and name labels. Best yet, browsing for books is far less stressful than trudging through shopping mall mobs. Here are a few choice titles that might make finding the right book for the right person even simpler.

For a friend who always brings bad wine when invited to dinner: Hugh Johnson's Pocket Encyclopedia of Wine 1998 (Simon & Schuster, $13 hardcover). Perfectly sized for the back pocket of a pair of jeans, this book has wine recommendations by type of cuisine, concise descriptions of grape varieties, a nifty wine vocabulary list and highlights of good wines that are great bargains for their price range. Another good pick along this line is The Wine Spectator Magazine 1997 Guide to Good Value Wines (Wine Spectator Magazine, paper $10).

For a college student freshly weaned from dormitory food: The Starving Students' Cookbook by Dede Hall (Warners Books, paper $9.99). This is an absolutely basic cookbook for the most clueless gourmet trapped in the collegiate lifestyle. For the more competent college cook, Geri Harrington's The College Cookbook: 200 Quick, Cheap, Nutritious Recipes (Storey Publishing, paper $12.95) is a better choice, stocked with lots of insights and shortcuts to good, healthy meals.

For the boss or that pesky neighbor: More Homebrew Favorites: More Than 260 New Brews (Storey Publishing, paper $14.95). Karl F. Lutzen and Mark Stevens, who brought America its first definitive homebrew bible, are back with a new collection of brew formulas gathered from sea to shining sea. Take it from yours truly, who has dabbled in this science, this gift practically guarantees a mess in the bathroom, kitchen or garage--wherever the brewing takes place. An even more direct approach is The Art of Brewing Beer: A Brewer's Handbook and Kit by Mark Henry (Simon & Schuster, paper $25). This is a veritable time bomb. Everything needed to brew a novice's very first batch of beer is included in a shrink-wrapped package the size of a toddler's shoe box.

For an epicure wading through a recent relationship breakup: Blue Jelly: Love Lost and the Lessons of Canning by Debby Bull (Hyperion, $18.95, 162 pages). Bull is a former editor and writer for Rolling Stone magazine. This collection of essays and 15 canning recipes is the fruit of her humorous, carthartic journey through canning a broken heart. It's a funny, illuminating read with a literary road map for those who might care to follow in her footsteps. She writes, "Crabapple juice is a dreamy pink. I've found that when you're really devastated, it's the best color to wear. People don't want to cream you when you're wearing pink. Instead they'll ask you if you need anything, which is probably a far cry from the way Bob was treating you before he left."

For the eclectic alcohol/caffeine buff: Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine by Stephen Braun (Penguin Books, paper $12.95, 214 pages). The recipient of this book must be able to endure dry, didactic prose thick with plenty of technical jargon. Scientist Stephen Braun takes the reader on a wild ride, flitting back and forth through history to explain the myths and roots of coffee and alcohol as well as the role both social drugs played in various societies. He quotes myriad studies, especially focusing on how both substances affect the libido. This book may be a gold mine of icebreakers for folks who like to strike up conversation with beautiful strangers in cafes or bars.

For the ardent-feminist epicure: Women of Taste: Recipes and Profiles of Famous Women Chefs by Beverly Russell, featuring an interview with Julia Child (Willy John Publishing, hardcover $35). One of the year's best cookbooks , this is a particularly good find because the recipes are from not one or two but 32 top chefs across the country. And like all the finest cookbooks, it makes the reader sigh with appreciation. The photos are so gorgeous, one can almost smell the food. The recipes are treasures.

It doesn't get much easier than this. Giving books coats the giver in a sheen of intelligence. If a book is well selected, it may last longer than most consumer electronics. If not, it'll at least look impressive on the shelf.

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From the Dec. 11-17, 1997 issue of Metro.

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