Here are the books I brought to WBRC Fox 6 this month. Each of these books is a keeper, but they’d also make excellent gifts.
The Atomic Lounge by Feizal Valli and Rachael Roberts
Alas, the James Beard-nominated Birmingham bar, The Atomic Lounge, is no more, but a beautiful and fun and informative book of its cocktails can be yours. More than mixed drinks, this book is a compendium of cocktails (classics and Atomic-specific), characters (with lovely portraits of people you might know) and costumes (which patrons were encouraged to put on). The Atomic Lounge was known for its signature drink, The Sex Panther (those who ordered it got a little temporary tattoo), and its other drinks (cleverly named for folks around town). One of my favorite cocktails here (and her portrait is beautiful) is the Cristina Almanza (vodka, Aperol, lime juice, agave syrup and Jarritos mandarin soda). There are recipes for classics like an Old Fashioned, a Sidecar and a French 75 as well as for syrups flavored with blood orange, chai, ginger, coffee and cucumber. A short tutorial on essential tools will have you mixing interesting, tasty drinks like a pro. The book is available on The Atomic Lounge website.
Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou by Melissa Martin
This beautiful cookbook won Cookbook of The Year and Best American Cookbook at the recent conference for the International Association of Culinary Professionals. It was also an NPR Best Book of the Year. All that’s a big deal, and this book would make a great gift for anyone who loves to cook and who loves our American South. More than just a cookbook, it’s a primer on all things Cajun—the traditions, history and customs. The photos here, of course, are amazing. Then there are great recipes for things like skillet-roasted okra, oyster bisque, crab jambalaya, crawfish étouffée, duck gumbo and pecan pie. Martin teaches in these recipes, offering tips on sourcing, prepping and serving. She grew up on the Louisiana coast and lived in New Orleans for 20 years before honing her self-taught culinary skills at restaurants and wineries in California. She then moved back to New Orleans and opened Satsuma Café, a casual farm-to-table restaurant, and worked at Café Hope, a nonprofit restaurant, teaching at-risk youth to cook seasonal food. In 2014, she opened Mosquito Supper Club, where she serves family-style meals to small groups of guests who reserve a place at her table months in advance. Find her on Instagram @mosquitosupperclub.
Changing Moods: Sixty Years in Black and White by John Alexander Dersham
This beautiful coffee-table-worthy book, published by NewSouth Books, showcases stunning black-and-white photography from sixty years of work. Dersham, an Alabama artist who lives on Lookout Mountain near Fort Payne, started his career as a teenager with a simple box camera. (Actually, he traces the beginning of his career to November 1, 1960, when he took his first picture with his father’s 1930 Kodak Brownie.) This book illustrates Dersham’s personal growth as an artist, showing the path from photo to darkroom to gallery. His landscapes are dramatic; his photos of everyday objects, ordinary places and regular people are moving. I especially love the shots of old homesteads. His Cahaba lilies are magical. Every shot shows the dedication of a photographer who, throughout his life, would get up before dawn, carry all his heavy equipment out and get into position in time for the perfect light. And every photo lists the place, the camera, the lens, any filter, the film and the developer he used in the darkroom.
The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country by Amanda Gorman, with a foreword by Oprah Winfrey
This instant No. 1 bestselling book of Gorman’s historic poem, “The Hill We Climb,” which she read at President Biden’s inauguration, is available as a collectible gift edition. On January 20, 2021, Amanda Gorman became the sixth—and youngest—poet to deliver a poetry reading at a presidential inauguration. That day, Gorman captivated the nation (and the world) with her uplifting words and her call for unity and healing. Gorman is a committed advocate for the environment, racial equality and gender justice. Her activism and poetry have been featured on The Today Show, PBS Kids and CBS This Morning, and in the New York Times, Vogue, Essence and O, The Oprah Magazine. In 2017, Urban Word named her the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States.
I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and Books, The Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit our local libraries in person and online.