reginadelmar’s #CBR5 review #52 In Defense of Food: An Eaters’ Manifesto by Michael Pollan

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I am a fan of Michael Pollan, having read several of his books and heard him speak when he’s in town. I hadn’t read In Defense of Food because I heard him interviewed and attended a lecture right around the time the book was published. At the lecture he brought a shopping bag full of things he’d picked up at a grocery store: green tea infused sodas, yogurt with fiber added, and numerous other manufactured foods. His point was that in the United States we practice “nutritionalism” focusing on particular nutrients rather than whole foods, and eating manufactured foods in the process. This is the theme of the book.  Pollan goes through a history of food science, a description of what we are eating today, and his suggestions for a better way of eating.

The phenomenon of nutritionalism was named in the late 20th century, but has been in practice since the 19th century. Currently the popular “bad” nutrient is the carbohydrate. Athe end of the 20th century it was fat, in the 19th and early 20th century, John Kellogg and others extolled the harm of animal proteins. In general, our food research seeks to isolate certain nutrients and determine their harmful or beneficial effects. This isn’t all bad, science has discovered vitamins and other minerals in food and determined they were necessary. The problem is that this form of reductionism also creates over simplifications in our approach to food. Continue reading

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Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review 24: Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

This book is the tale of one woman and her family as they commit to one year of local eating: it just so happens the “woman” is famed author Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors and this book came recommended from a friend with similar interests. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, though I feel like I should read more so I was happy to give this go. As someone who has a passion for cooking, healthy eating, and supporting local whenever I can, I was particularly interested in the subject matter

I only read a few other reviews, but was surprised with some of the feedback. Some readers found the book preachy and dishonest because Kingsolver does paint an idyllic portrait of the year, but I suppose I took it I with a grain of (locally sourced) salt. For me she is a storyteller first and foremost and I thought that even though this was non-fiction it had a similar tone to her writing, which I liked. Though she does miss opportunities to share dirt about any struggles her family had with their mission, I feel like its because she is more focused on discussing farming and how attitudes toward food, and where it comes from have been shifted with negative consequence.

I loved the inclusion of writing from her husband and daughter: it really gave the novel a family feel. I didn’t feel the preachy vibe but merely thought she wrote with the zeal of a believer and I am able to draw my own conclusions.

I definitely feel like I learned a lot and have some food for thought (hardy har) but don’t feel pressured to make the same commitment. Instead, I’ll mull it over and make some changes where I can and go about my days a little more informed.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #36: Cooked by Michael Pollan

CookedIt was when I saw Michael Pollan on The Colbert Report that I realized he had written another book. I’ve already read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006) and In Defense of Food (2008) by Michael Pollan. I’m a fan of books about food and I’ve been impressed by Pollan’s previous book. So, I immediately jumped on my library’s website to join the waiting list for Cooked (2013).

I’ve especially enjoyed Pollans previous books about food. He gives general advice about what to eat and shows in interesting detail where our food comes from while avoiding the driving agenda that mars so many other books on food and nutrition. Instead of drastic requirements, Pollan tends to focus on common sense, and a healthy variety of foods that we can cook ourselves. And that’s where Cooked begins.

Click here for the rest of my review.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #45: Relish by Lucy Knisley

15786110Since I transferred to reading mostly library books (boo for being a responsible adult with a not very disposable income), there haven’t been many books I’ve felt the need to buy after I’ve checked them out from the library. I’ve read 55 books so far this year, and the last one I can remember is from last year, and that was Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Oh, wait. And Attachments. Sigh. I will buy that book and I will take it down from my shelves periodically, smell the pages, and then pet it like a baby kitten. And I don’t even care that ‘baby kitten’ is redundant so shut your face. ANYWAY my point is that I need to own my very own copy of this book because it’s pretty and it makes me happy and it has recipes inside, so it’s like, HELLO, you are a good book and also there is food inside of you. Can we please get married now?

I’m not exactly sure how internet famous Lucy Knisley is, but I’ve been following her online comics for at least five years now, probably more, and her comics always have this great mix of whimsy and personal history. I always find myself nodding along in recognition when I’m reading them, like, yes, yes HOW DID YOU KNOW. Plus, she draws good cat. Not that there’s any cat in this book (to its detriment), but there is lots of food, it being a food memoir and all. In Relish, she chronicles her most vivid food-related memories with loving attention, painting lovely pictures of how food has been inextricably linked to important moments in her life. Plus, she’s funny.

With parents who were both foodies, and a mother who is a chef, she probably (definitely) had more exposure to classier types of food than most people, but she’s by no means a food snob, as is made clear by the chapter about her love of junk food (much to her parent’s disapproval). Even the more bittersweet parts of Knisley’s story (like her parent’s divorce) are tempered by the joy she obviously takes in both her art, and in her love of food. It’s a delicious book, in like every connotation of that word. If you like graphic memoirs or food, definitely check this out.

xoxoxoe’s #CBR5 Review #3 & #4: It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great & My Father’s Daughter: Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family & Togetherness by Gwyneth Paltrow

recently defended Gwyneth Paltrow’s new cookbook, It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great. There was an inordinate amount of internet snarking about the book, before it was even available to preview. Most of it seemed to be more related to the actress daring to style herself as a foodie and share recipes than the actual food she was showcasing. The book is peppered with glamorous shots of the actress with her kids and co-chef Julia Turshen as they gather and prep food in various lovely surroundings. Yes, Gwyneth lives the good life, but is she really living any higher on the hog than Martha Stewart or Ina Garten? There are also plenty of glamorous photos of the food in It’s All Good, which I found helpful, especially when my first (and second) try at one of the muffin recipes didn’t go as planned.

I’m not sure why there is still such vitriol surrounding “alternative” recipes. Many people, myself included, are finding that the food we eat, that we have always eaten, may no longer agree with us. In some cases it even causes pain. After my gallbladder surgery I have had to find a whole new way of thinking about and preparing food. I don’t have celiac disease, but I am finding that gluten can cause stomach distress on occasion. Dairy products and other refined and processed foods are also more difficult to digest. So a cookbook like Paltrow’s, which tries to take some “regular” food like muffins and meatballs and the like and come up with recipes that use more easily digested, less inflammatory ingredients definitely intrigued me. I’ve spent a week or so trying out some of the recipes and can say that a few of them are definite keepers.

Many have dismissed It’s All Good claiming that they don’t have $200 to spend on a recipe. I didn’t buy everything on her suggested pantry list, but I decided to go for it and marked the recipes I wanted to try. I ended up buying supplies for what I didn’t have at home. It was enough to make over 20 recipes and came to a little under $200 at a few combined shopping trips to Publix and Whole Foods. Here’s what I’ve made so far, and please keep in mind I’m not a professional food stylist, either:

Sweet Potato and Five-Spice Muffins (p. 41) – These muffins have been such a huge hit with everyone who has tried them. I am not much of a baker, and certainly have never made anything gluten-free before, but I was very pleased with the ease of the recipe and the end results, which were frankly, yum. The ingredient list is pretty basic — One large baked sweet potato, olive oil, almond milk, maple syrup, vanilla, gluten-free flour (I used oat), baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, and Chinese five-spice powder.The only items I didn’t already have in the house were the flour, baking powder (like I said, I don’t usually bake), maple syrup, and five spice powder (an amalgam of cinnamon, anise, fennel, ginger, clove, and licorice root). These muffins are going to become a regular thing around here.

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Batter for the Sweet Potato and Five-Spice Muffins
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Sweet Potato and Five-Spice Muffins out of the oven

Avocado Toast (p. 34) – Yes, it’s just sliced avocado on toast with some spice on top — hot chili flakes or vegetable salt or whatever floats your boat. Less a recipe than a snack suggestion, but it’s a tasty one.

Quinoa, A Bit Sweet (p. 33) – I made this for breakfast, using almond milk, maple syrup, a chopped date, dried figs, and shredded coconut. There are plenty of other suggestions for sweet toppings to try, as well as savory ones.

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Quinoa for breakfast, with lots of good, sweet stuff

Turkey meatballs (p. 105) – I’m part Italian and grew up with spaghetti and meatballs. I’ve been making turkey meatballs for years, usually dumping extra veggies in the tomato sauce to get folks to eat them. But what’s great about this recipe (and even more so the turkey burger one below) is how many greens and flavors are already in the meatball and how delicious it still tastes. Apart from the turkey, the meatballs contain onion, garlic, sage, basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley, olive oil and sea salt and ground pepper.)

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Turkey meatballs in the pan

Turkey burgers (p. 108) – I have already made this recipe twice, first as burgers and then as meatballs. They were delicious both ways and the leftover ones tasted great the next day. It’s All Good presents the recipe as Middle Eastern Turkey Burgers, with cucumber and yogurt sauce as an accompaniment. I’ll try that too, but I wanted to first try a more Italian presentation to see how my nine year-old daughter would like them. She loved them. Besides the turkey, the burgers/meatballs contain shallots, garlic, oregano, basil, baby spinach (three handfuls, chopped in a food processor), lemon zest, olive oil, sea salt and ground pepper. There is literally a whole serving of vegetables with the spinach and they are so good. Can’t wait to make them again.

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Spinach-packed Turkey Meatballs

Almond and Kale Smoothie (p. 207) – I have also made this smoothie twice. This yummy shake, with kale, almond milk, almond butter, coconut oil, a date, and soaked raw almonds is going to become a regular feature here, too. It’s yummy and a great way to get the kid (and me) to eat kale.

Creamy Avocado and Cacao Smoothie (p. 208) – This shake tasted great, but it’s hard to go wrong with cocoa, coconut water, almond milk, raw honey, an avocado and hempseeds. I woud just advise to strain it before you drink it if you want to share with kids (or even for yourself). My blender, although pretty good, still had tiny pieces of avocado and hempseeds that I know wouldn’t have gone over too well with the kid.

Banana Date Muffins (p. 46) – This is the only recipe I have made so far (twice) that flopped. The first time (using almond meal flour) was my fault, as I forgot to add the baking powder and the muffins didn’t rise properly. The second time (using tapioca flour) they didn’t seem to have the right consistency. They were too gooey, more like a pudding inside. Maybe it was the dates? I’m going to try again, as I love banana muffins, maybe this time using corn flour and no dates. Paltrow says in It’s All Goodthat gluten-free baking is not for the faint of heart. I now know what she means, but the success of those sweet potato muffins give me hope. We’ll see.

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The Banana Date Muffins look great, but I’m still struggling with the consistency

When I was at the library the other day I saw Paltrow’s first cookbook, My Father’s Daughter: Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family & Togetherness. After her father died in 2002 she wanted to pull together a lot of the recipes that they cooked together or were his favorites. It’s a sweet book, filled with her memories of him and his love of food, which she inherited. It’s also quite interesting, in view of her new cookbook, as she has completely changed her way of eating in just a few years. Paltrow still always leans toward making comfort food and food that children will enjoy eating.

Some of her recipes in My Father’s Daughter include some of the same go-to items that she praises in It’s All Good — Vegenaise, maple syrup, almond milk. But in her first book she is still using sugar, flour, and cow’s milk products, especially cheese, which, because of various family member food sensitivities, she has found substitutes for in her new diet and approach to cooking. I’m not sure if it’s just where I am at these days with my own ideas on diet and nutrition, but there were fewer recipes in My Father’s Daughter that I fell compelled to try. I did jot down Spaghetti Limone Parmeggiano (p. 128), Artichoke and Parmesan Frittata (p. 217), Blue Cheese Dressing (always a favorite, p. 72) and Anchovy Vinaigrette (p. 73).

But back to It’s All Good. On my shopping expeditions I have assembled supplies for many more recipes and am still intending to make:

Quinoa Granola with Olive Oil and Maple Syrup (p.30)
Chicken Burgers, Thai Style (p.111)
Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpeas with Mustard and Parsley (173)
Roasted Romanesco with Aioli and Fried Capers (p. 174)
Fresh Ginger Tea (p. 207)
Bernardo’s Pumpkin Pie Shake (p. 209)
The Best Green Juice (p.212)
Japanese Chicken Meatballs (p. 239)
Kale Chips (p. 246)
Candy Bars (p. 254)
Almond Butter Cookies with Maldon Salt (p. 260)

I think that’s a pretty good ratio of desirable recipes for a cookbook. There are still a handful more that I just haven’t bought the required meat or vegetable for. Grilled Steak with Melted Anchovies and Rosemary sounds like something I definitely have to try. I’ll be sure to post an update of any of recipes that are really great-tasting as I continue my gluten-free adventures.

As long as you’re not thrown off by the idea of switching out some tried-and-true kitchen staples (white sugar, flour, mayo) for something less fattening or hard on your system (maple syrup, gluten-free flour, Vegenaise) you might enjoy taste-testing these recipes. One of the best things about the recipes I have been trying from It’s All Good, besides the fact that I don’t feel crampy or uncomfortable after eating, is that some foods that I have been avoiding, like baked goods, may now be back on the menu. How good is that?

Related:

BlogHer, “To All the Gwyneth Paltrow Haters: Her New Cookbook Really Is ‘All Good'”

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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ABR’s #CBR5 Review #12: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

like-waterI saw the movie “Like Water for Chocolate” years ago, so I knew the story before reading the book. Even so, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the book.

The novel takes place in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. It is divided into 12 chapters, each representing a month, a recipe and a significant event in the life of Tita, the youngest daughter of Mama Elena De la Garza. Mama Elena is like a Disney villainess – hypocritical, sadistic, abusive and vain. According to tradition Tita cannot marry but must take care of Mama Elena. For generations no one questioned the tradition but then Tita meets Pedro, and he announces his intent to marry her.

Of course Mama Elena denies Pedro. Instead she offers her other daughter Rosaura, and Pedro accepts, if only to remain physically close to Tita. The rest of the novel rotates around the emotional love affair between Tita and Pedro, and their attempts to be together despite Rosaura, Pedro’s children, Mama Elena and the revolution that occasionally interrupts their lives.

But the thing that brings everyone in this novel together and ties all the stories together is food. The author uses the pleasures of food, meal preparation and eating a meal as metaphors for love and life and passion. Tita was literally born in the kitchen so she has always been “wrapped up in the delights of food.” She finds comfort, inspiration, refuge and confidence in the kitchen. And through her cooking she is able to affect her family, her surroundings and her fate. Rosaura lacks Tita’s passion for cooking; her life and her relationship with Pedro is bland and unappealing.

With Like Water for Chocolate Laura Esquivel has created a unique story that is appealing on many levels. It is a love story, a fairy tale and a cookbook. The relationship between Pedro and Tita is sad and sincere and intense. The descriptions of the food and the meals are lush and sensual. And the magical elements of the story – the potions and home remedies and old wives’ tales – add to the story’s appeal.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #26: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

kitchen-confidentialI picked up Anthony Bourdain’s first book, Kitchen Confidential, last month after a fellow Goodreader gushed about it, and I’m so glad I did. I was passingly familiar with Bourdain from his guest appearances on Top Chef. He always came off as an aging rock star, with the swagger and the lived-in skin of a war veteran (and indeed, reading about his life, I’d be willing to grant him honorary veteran status just for having lived through what must have been a pretty wild ride, to make a gross understatement — the guy was, and maybe still is, a crazy bastard). Just look at the picture of him on that cover; it tells you everything you need to know. The casual arm holding with the out-thrust hips; the way he’s clearly unafraid to wear that bracelet; the loosely splayed fingers; the smirky smile as he stares directly into the camera; the confident, maybe even arrogant, tilt of his manly, deeply tanned head. And what’s that he’s holding? I have no idea*, but it looks like something a pirate captain would hold while standing on the deck of his ship after having commandeered some sort of booty, casually assessing the damage he’s just caused. Anthony Bourdain is just that kind of a guy. He’s also a hell of a storyteller.

*Seriously, can someone tell me what he’s holding? Are those giant knives? Why do they have gold handles? Is he getting ready to beat someone? My pirate theory is looking to be more and more apt.

It’s no wonder that after this book came out, Bourdain was launched into superchefdom. He’s since left the full-time chef’s life, and his position as executive chef at Les Halles in New York, for the life of a food and television personality. He’s written books (both fiction and non-fiction), hosted his own television program (No Reservations), and guest-judged on other programs, like the previously mentioned Top Chef. There’s been talk recently that Bourdain has been softening up and selling out as his fame has grown (reaction to his latest show, The Taste, was mixed, and No Reservations was recently canceled, although I heard that was because he had always refused to do product placement in the show, and the network was putting pressure on him to give in). Regardless, he certainly lives a different life now than the one he lived up until the publication of this book.

Kitchen Confidential chronicles Bourdain’s life in food from the taste of his first oyster while summering in France at five years old (a practically sexual experience, the way he tells it), through his cocaine-fueled dark days, his redemption with an unnamed chef he only calls Bigfoot, and his subsequent elevation to executive chef of one of the best restaurants in New York City. Along the way, as the title suggests, he lets us in on all the dirty secrets of kitchen life: the habits of chefs, their codes of behavior, the gross things they do, and the outrageous things that have happened to him over the years. He gives the impression that most cooks — and he always calls them cooks, outright stating that he believes cooking to be a craft and not an art — have criminal minds and damaged psyches. To Bourdain, cooks are like pirates, or rockstars. Women, drugs (so much drugs), thievery, backstabbing, illicit encounters and backroom deals . . . you’d think this was a book about some sort of underground cult, the way he talks about it. But it’s just about people who serve food. (Bourdain does admit at the end that his perspective is probably skewed, and that there are probably kitchens out there that are significantly less ribald, profane (pick your adjective) than his.)

But the best part about Kitchen Confidential is Bourdain’s voice. It’s fun to hear about the backstage shenanigans of the restaurant industry, sure, but it wouldn’t be half as fun without Bourdain’s wry, painfully honest confessional style. Perhaps confessional is even the wrong word here, as it implies not an insignificant amount of penance, or regret. And regret isn’t really something that Bourdain expresses. Even his mistakes — which he admits are numerous — he looks upon with a sort of affectionate pride, because they shaped him into being the chef he is. And the chef he is is above all supremely self-assured. He proudly states his dislike for the behavior of certain celebrity chefs (Emeril Lagasse* is the clear reference here, but his extreme dislike of other chefs such as Sandra Lee and Paul Deen is well documented) and vegetarians (and his absolute loathing for vegans) without fear of being judged. He spills kitchen secrets like he’s throwing candy out to small children (some tips: never buy fish on Mondays, the best food is reserved for Tuesday-Thursday, Saturday diners are scorned upon, and brunch is full of the weekend’s leftovers). My only issue with the book is that each chapter is a sort of self-contained essay, and a few of them aren’t in chronological order, which was a bit confusing. If he would have linked his chapters together in a more fluid manner, this book would have been practically perfect.

*Apparently Bourdain has since softened on the subject of Emeril. Later experiences proved Emeril to be a talented cook in Bourdain’s eyes, and the updated version of this book (which I haven’t read) has more to say about it.

Highly recommend this book to everyone. Get the audiobook if you can — I can’t imagine the story without his delivery.