T. Susan Chang

T. Susan Chang regularly writes about food and reviews cookbooks for The Boston Globe, NPR.org and the cookbook-indexing website Eat Your Books. She's the author of A Spoonful of Promises: Recipes and Stories From a Well-Tempered Table (Lyons Press, 2011). Her app, CookShelf, features reviews and recommendations for the latest cookbooks, and is available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Visit her blog, Cookbooks for Dinner, to find out more.

2014 was a year for faraway cuisines to take up residence in U.S. kitchens — cookbook authors cast their nets for flavors from Paris, the Middle East and Southeast Asia; from the ancient spice routes and every point in between.

Toss out the china and pick up the picnic basket! Summer cookbooks are fanciful creatures — high on whimsy and shamelessly devoted to making a good life better. For some, that means lingering in the farmers markets or gardening with the kids. For others it's indulging in some usually forbidden pleasures — the fried, the icy sweet, the charred and meaty. And for some, it means crossing oceans to sample less familiar fare — without ever leaving the porch. There's something for everyone, but all go just fine with bare toes and a sun hat.

Sous vide. Not that long ago, it sounded so exotic — or, at least, so French. It was a phrase that belonged in restaurants, amid white tablecloths and flower arrangements and hushed conversations. Alternatively, it was a word that belonged to the modernist kitchens just beyond the swinging doors — kitchens filled with gleaming dehydrators and transglutaminase "meat glues" and spherification siphons and more.

For me, the citrus fruits of winter have been bright spots in a long, frost-bound season. The lemons, the oranges, the sweet little clementines, the tart, brawny grapefruits — they glow like miniature suns on the grayest afternoons. As we — finally — turn the long, slow corner in the spring, I love them all the more for knowing they will soon be gone.

In first grade, my heart was stolen by Mark, who sat next to me and had an advanced phonics book (which I also craved). Then there were Peter, Eddie, Raja and Michael. These serial crushes continued right on up through my early 20s, at a rate of approximately three a year. Boys. I fell for their incipient mustaches, their bad attitudes and foul mouths, their poor poetry and bass guitars, their careless humor. I saw their swagger for what it was, but I loved it anyway.

As a young woman, I had an attack of nostalgia for a possibly imaginary cookie. It was prompted by a walk up New York's Third Avenue, where I saw in the bakery case of a local delicatessen a stack of small round cookies, covered in the tiny rainbow sprinkles known as nonpareils. Instantly, I was ambushed by a flashback to the tiny Italian pastry shop of the small riverside town just north of Manhattan where I grew up, and where, I felt sure, I had been given star-shaped sprinkle cookies of a similar kind as a reward for my excellent behavior.

At this time of year, we all love tomatoes. Many of us claim we'll "take a big juicy tomato and bite into it like it's an apple," although you won't often see that happen in actual fact.

On the Noodle Road is one attempt to answer an old chestnut: Did Marco Polo really bring noodles from China to Italy? If not, where did they really come from? Or — to put it another way — from what point along the storied byways of the Silk Road did that humble paste of flour and water first spring into its multifarious existence?

It started happening about 15 years ago. I'd be paging through a new cookbook or browsing through recipes online, and I'd suddenly stop. "Mmm, buttermilk biscuits. Doesn't that sound good?" I'd bookmark the site or dog-ear the page. The next week I'd see a recipe for waffles — buttermilk waffles, as it happened. What a splendid idea. Out came the yellow stickies.

If you've never grown garlic, here's how you do it: On a bright cool fall afternoon, before the ground has frozen, you pry an ordinary, unpeeled clove of garlic off the bulb. You plant it in the ground, about 4 inches down and pointy side up. Maybe you cover the soil with some straw to protect it from extremes of heat, cold and drought.

I'm a cookbook reviewer, which means that every night I try recipes from far-flung cuisines or idiosyncratic food bloggers or test-kitchen perfectionists. I've always made a point of steering readers towards practical, thoughtful cookbooks that they'll use every week and hand down to their kids. But privately, there are some cookbooks I never cook from at all: frivolous books full of whimsical sugar art, devoid of nutritional value, and really, best eaten with your eyes.

My mother didn't plant a great many spring bulbs. But over by the pachysandra patch, there was a single lovely pink tulip, and I kept my eye on it for two weeks before Mother's Day. When that Sunday morning arrived, I rushed out, snipped it and ran inside to where she lay sleeping to present it to her. "Did you pick that outside?" she inquired, her expression shifting from sleepy surprise to something more complicated. I nodded proudly. "Oh ... thank you, sweetie."

On many occasions in my longtime relationship with cookbooks, I have had this experience (which will sound familiar, if you like Middle Eastern flavors as much as I do). I'm happily paging through my new Moroccan or Lebanese or Israeli book, lost in dreams of lamb and sumac, saffron and figs. "Mmmm," I murmur over a glossy page, "that looks delicious."

I trace my finger down the ingredients list. Shallots, check. Tomatoes, check. Cinnamon stick, check. And then there it is: Preserved lemon. "Drat," I think. "Foiled again."

The year I discovered lentils, I was broke and lonely and didn't know how to cook. Lentils, it turned out, would have gone a long way toward providing the solution to some of these problems. However, when I first had them, they were a mystery.

They also were the cheapest thing on the menu at the Middle Eastern deli around the corner. The dish was mudardara, I was told. "What's that again?" I said, unable to untangle the knot of plosive consonants. It was repeated.

"What are those?" I asked my mom, suspiciously eyeing the little cardboard tub with its cellophane cover. It held a heap of pale, miniature cabbages. "They're Brussels sprouts," she said. "They're supposed to be good for you," she added, sealing my doom.

At dinnertime, the mystery vegetable reappeared, steaming hot and greenish-yellow but otherwise unaltered. It gave off a sulfurous stench. I recoiled, but I knew my job. I took a bite.