In an almost unimaginably tumultuous political time—when politics invades every moment of our private and public lives—the most politically searing book of 2019 was a graphic memoir. If you have awake, compassionate people in your life (and if they aren’t—why are you buying presents for them?!) give them Mira Jacob’s Good Talk (One World, $30). When her young biracial son started asking difficult questions during the 2016 election cycle (“are white people afraid of brown people?”) Jacob needed a new language to try to answer some unanswerable questions and this uniquely intimate but universal document of drawings, conversational snippets, and challenging dialogues was forged.
Sean Brock burst onto the culinary scene with his ground-breaking restaurant Husk, where he grew all his own produce and worked to reclaim the integrity of Southern foodways; along the way he essentially created the entire New Southern food movement and picked up countless accolades. The beginning of his journey was detailed in his encyclopedic James Beard Award-winning Heritage and he now continues in South (Artisan, $40). Heritage was an astounding cultural guide but a bit off-putting as a cookbook. What a pleasant surprise, then, to encounter the clarity and simplicity of the recipes in the well-designed and intuitively-organized South. This book is both a useful resource for the experienced cook and a welcoming gateway for curious beginners. The selections are never obvious, but, like his recipes for ramp leaf oil or corn, green garlic and sweet potato purees, they are all boiled down to their beautiful core flavors and tastes.
If I have one industry hint for your holiday season, it’s this: buy a copy—or three—of Alison Roman’s entertaining-focused cookbook, Nothing Fancy (Clarkson Potter, $32.50), wrap it up, and leave it in your car for any emergency gift-giving. If you have children between the ages of twenty and forty, they will want this book, I promise you. Dining In, the first bestselling cookbook by Bon Appétit and New York Times food writer Alison Roman, lives in every millennial kitchen—right next to the CBD gummies—and while many people grasp for Alison Roman’s casual but precisely modulated mood, only she gets it exactly right. The Ina Garten for the fiddle-leaf fig set, Roman immediately explains Nothing Fancy’s mantra and her unfussy recipes follow: It’s not “entertaining,” it’s having people over. And don’t worry, even if friends aren't millennials, this gorgeously photographed, welcoming cookbook will inspire them and help them understand the new pulse of entertaining.