T. Susan Chang

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.

The chicks arrived five months ago — eight gray, blond, black and tawny puffballs no bigger than the eggs they'd been hatched from a day earlier. They had a slavishly devoted audience within minutes and names within 24 hours. Every couple of weeks they doubled in size, and over the summer they ballooned from 2 ounces to 7 pounds as we furiously worked to complete their permanent coop.