I was a bit too young to engage in the best parts of the 70’s apres ski culture, but I do remember lodges with sunken circular booths in front of a blazing fire, lots of cool clothing you wouldn’t be caught dead in back home, and specialized, wintery foods, like fondue and flaming cocktails. The ski lodge was a glimpse into alpine/nordic/winter styles; styles which are apparently one way of dealing with long, dark winters and months spent primarily indoors.
Jane Lawson, the author of Snowflakes and Schnapps and previously of far-ranging books including Grub, Cocina Nueva and Yoshoku, channels the wintery styles into a cookbook that is at once useful and beautiful. The recipes are drawn from a variety of cold-climate cultures: Scandinavia, Northern Russia, The Alps of Austria, Switzerland and France, and Central and Northern Europe. But these don’t claim to be ‘authentic’ representations of any specific cuisine, just a series of delicious recipes inspired by the need to stay warm and cozy and out of the snow. My favorites so far include ‘Meatballs with a Vodka, Dill Cream Sauce’, ‘Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks with Janssen’s Temptation’, ‘Veal with Beetroot, Spaetzle and Herbed Cream’, ‘Pot au Feu’, and ‘Juniper-Dusted Venison Fillet with Gjetost Sauce and Beetroot Relish’.
The desserts are equally warming and evocative, ‘Prune-Filled Crepes Baked in Caramel with Spiced Cookie Cream’ and ‘Pumpkin-Seed Marzipan Pastries with Glace Pumpkin’ pretty much do it for me. Warm fruits, creams, seeds, and gingerbread all make repeat, and welcome appearances. There is also a section of inspiring drinks to heat you up, like ‘Buttered Balsam’, ‘Elderflower Gin and Lemon Sipper’ and a ‘Honey and Saffron Liqueur’.
All of this is delivered in what I think is the best designed cookbook of the year (and there were some real contenders this year). Every aspect of Snowflakes and Schnapps invokes the textures of wintery living: shag carpet on the endpapers, dark horsehair felt blankets for the jacket flaps, cloud-filtered grey-blue light of the out-of-doors and intimate, candlelit tables for the food images within. The design is full of smart details which are a pleasure to discover, so I won’t go into them here, but I’d like to see just one American-published cookbook come even close in 2011. And if the recipes within can be as engaging as what Jane Lawson gives us here, I’m sure it will be on next year’s list.