Your guide to parenting in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts

Doing it yourself: it's pretty much what any kind of bragging boils down to. From the proud toddler who pulls up his own underpants to the grandma who mixes perfect cocktails, everyone craves a sense of mastery. That's why Vanessa Barrington's D.I.Y. Delicious has such immediate appeal, whether you're dipping a pinky toe into DIY, or you're already fermenting beer in the back of your shoe cobbling studio.

Making things from scratch that most people don't is a hoot, especially when it's easy. And better yet: when it's cheap. I'm sure I'll send both of my children to fine private colleges with the money I've saved on vanilla extract (vanilla bean + rum + time). D.I.Y. Delicious came into my life at just the right time: I thought I had a pretty good thing going with the bread, kombucha, and an occasional pickle. But between the covers of this book resides a bounty of secrets heretofore unknown to me: vinegar, horchata, kimchi, tortillas. Hello!

Many of the recipes here are much like science projects (but easy science projects), so they're fun to carry out with kids. Spend a bit of time getting something started, leave it alone, and come back to witness the magic that has happened. Then eat it. Want faster results? Make the crackers. Please.

Written with brisk clarity, each recipe is devoid of old-timey fun. The reader is taken seriously and at face value, as someone who would like to make her own root beer, not as a perverse hobby or for use in a zany reenactment of ye olde times, but in order to create a refreshing drink. That, in itself, tingles with refreshment. Photo illustrations are inspiring and instructive--there are step-by-step spreads when needed--and reveal work surfaces that are as blemished as those you find in the actual homes of DIY-ers.

A pleasure to read or flip through with children, it's hard not to mark every page as a must-try. Vanessa Barrington's enthusiasm for trying new things is infectious. For a peek into the tastiness and fun, visit the author's blog or the video promo for the book. (Be warned, the promo will make your kids want to DIY their own dancing vegetable movie.)

Intellectually curious eaters will be delighted to know that meringue can be made from Metamucil. For a more scientific view on meringue, bread, mozzarella, and the like, Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot's Ideas in Food spills insider secrets of the kitchen. Divided into sections for home cooks and professional chefs, complicated chemistry lessons segue into dinner table goodness. Despite the lack of photographs and illustrations of any kind, everything is clear enough for a novice. Although explanations of how ingredients function could inspire improvisation, I'm more inclined to stick to the homey recipes in the book: bacony apple & cheddar risotto, a simple but luxe chocolate pudding, and no-knead whole wheat sweet potato bread. Take a peek at the authors' legendary blog for a taste.

The details:

D.I.Y. Delicious
by Vanessa Barrington with photography by Sara Remington
2010 Chronicle Books $25
Ideas in Food

by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot
2010 Clarkson Potter $25

Editor's note: Chronicle Books and Clarkson Potter sent Kidoinfo review copies for consideration. Kidoinfo never accepts payment for reviews, and we only run reviews of things we have tried and liked.

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