MEMOIR

by Frank McCourt

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Before he became a hot new writer—at age 66—with his 1996 autobiography Angela's Ashes, McCourt spent three decades in New York City public schools, engaged in what he calls "the great American drama": the "clash of adolescence with middle age." Mostly he ignored the lesson plan and told stories, he confesses in this delightful third memoir. Slipping from one warmly funny anecdote to the next, he mocks himself more than anyone else, but it's clear that he was an inspired teacher. Once he got a rowdy class so interested in an assignment that they lingered after the bell (the assignment: "write an excuse note from Adam or Eve to God"); another time he took 29 rambunctious teens to see Hamlet, occasioning one to remark of Ophelia, "Everybody be pickin' on that poor girl and she not even black. How come?"

Before McCourt even got his teaching certificate, a friend gave him the secret to success: "A muckraking book from inside the school system.... Teach a year or two, complain about the terrible state of the schools, and you have a big seller." Decades later McCourt will have that big seller—writing exactly the opposite kind of book.

FICTION

by Deborah Bedford

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A star in the burgeoning Christian fiction genre, Bedford blends religion and romance in her enjoyable 12th novel. Dishing up meat loaf in his college cafeteria, Sam Tibbits gets "a holy urge" to become a minister. All he needs in addition, he decides, is Aubrey, the friend he fell for during childhood vacations to Oregon. After a crosscountry drive to propose, Sam finds that Aubrey's family has moved, leaving no trace. He never marries, and at midlife, feeling depleted and hoping for spiritual renewal, he revisits the spot he loved as a teen. Blessedly (and improbably), Aubrey has chosen the same time and beach to wrestle with her own demons.

Bedford's secondary characters never come fully alive, but there are probing questions here about why bad things happen to good people, and a gentle story about refrigerator blindness, as Sam realizes that what he was looking for was right in front of him all along.

THANKSGIVING INSPIRATION

Recipes

by Susan Spungen

Readers who are comfortable in the kitchen and who long to hone their skills will savor Recipes, a handsome volume from Susan Spungen, the founding food editor and former editorial director for food at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Thanksgiving is the perfect time for accomplished cooks to play around with new ideas and flavors; organized by technique—sauteeing, roasting and the like—Spungen's cookbook focuses on sensual dishes ranging from Polenta with Caramelized Corn to Honey-Roasted Squash to Grill-Roasted Chicken. Spungen's elegant lemon-curd cheesecake would make a stunning finale for a holiday feast, and her Little Black Dress Cake—"the goes-with-everything chocolate cake recipe"—is the kind of drop-dead dessert that every stylish baker needs.

by Sara Moulton

The executive chef at Gourmet as well as host of the Food Network's Sara's Secrets, Sara Moulton has a gift for creating quick, accessible renditions of fine cuisine. And while many of the recipes in her second cookbook are weekday-simple, others are just right for streamlining the holidays. Baked Risotto with Red Wine, Sweet Potatoes and Duck Confit, for example, allows you to skip the stirring; instead the rice cooks down in the oven. Made with wonton wrappers and canned pumpkin, Crispy Pumpkin Ravioli is an impressive starter, and Moulton's thyme-scented Thanksgiving Hens, stuffed with sausage, are ready in a dizzying 60 minutes. Who says you've got to suffer to make a gorgeous meal?

by Pam Anderson

More cooks seem to fret about Thanksgiving dinner than any other meal—hence the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. Good news: In her fourth cookbook Pam Anderson, formerly executive editor of Cook's Illustrated, offers foolproof recipes for festive dishes including Orange-Glazed Asparagus and Twin Turkeys with Rich Pan Gravy. With her advice, even an incorrigible worrier could feed a crowd without fear.

by Damon Lee Fowler

Soulful, evocative and well researched, Damon Lee Fowler's latest doesn't cut corners when it comes to authenticity: He calls for lard in biscuit recipes and notes that cheese straws are best made with cheddar "so sharp that it'll practically take the roof off your mouth." Blending memories of his South Carolina childhood with southern culinary history, Fowler, a food historian, has whipped up a fifth book that will please cookbook addicts as well as serious bakers.

Giving Thanks written by Sandra L. Oliver and Kathleen Curtin, Giving Thanks explores the history of America's homey holiday.

•Entrées at the first harvest feast at Plymouth Colony in 1621: venison, waterfowl and (perhaps) turkey.

•Diners didn't fret about which fork to use; colonists and Warmpanoag guests had only "knives, spoons and fingers."

•In 1876, 13 years after Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday, the first Thanksgiving Day college football game was held. Yale beat Princeton.

•The "fancy new food" on holiday tables in the 19th century: celery.

  • Contributors:
  • Kyle Smith,
  • Sue Corbett,
  • Michelle Green.