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If you still need a few last-minute gifts, don't panic. Just think "cookbook." Some of today's new food books belong in the kitchen. Others are more a feast for the eyes than the tummy and belong on a coffee table. But somewhere out there among the current crop of cookbooks is one that will suit even the most difficult-to-buy-for person. To whet your appetite, The Times' Food staff has reviewed a small sampling of the season's offerings. If these don't appeal, you should find plenty of others available at your nearest bookstore. : Herbs, Gardens, Decorations and Recipes, by Emelie Tolley and Chris Mead (Clarkson N. Potter: $30, 244 pp., illustrated.)

December 22, 1985|BETSY BALSLEY

Gorgeous! That's the only way to describe this fascinating book. It's a definitive piece on growing herbs, cooking with them and using them for aromatic decorations. There are more than 450 beautiful illustrations depicting herb gardens around the world, some exquisite suggestions for decorating with herbs and a most appetizing selection of recipes showing what to do with a successful crop of these natural flavorings. This book has much more to offer the reader than an ordinary cookbook. It's a book that whets your appetite for gardening and handcrafts as much as for cooking. The illustrations entice you to rush out and replant your entire yard in herbs.

The authors have been remarkably thorough in telling you just about everything there is to know about herbs. The gardening portion of the book covers the gamut of gardens from large plots to container gardening for those who are apartment dwellers with only small amounts of growing space. The decorating section shows how to prepare stunning seasonal wreaths, pomanders and wall, table and other household decorations, while the recipes were collected from food celebrities ranging from France's Simone Beck to former Los Angeleno, Jonathan Waxman, now with Jams restaurant in New York.

This is the sort of book that makes you want your own personal herb garden if you don't already have one.

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