Category Archives: Food

Save Me the Plums, by Ruth Reichl

Save Me the PlumsWhen Ruth was a little girl, she accompanied her father to a used bookstore where she came across some tattered copies of Gourmet magazine. Immediately, she wanted to learn to cook, and since her parents treated her as a pint-sized adult, she was put in charge of meals. A lifetime of foodie adventures was launched.

In her earlier works, Reichl chronicled her rise through the kingdoms of food writing, from restaurant critic to celebrated memoirs, and in this latest volume, she regales us with the history of her years as editor-in-chief at Gourmet. Rather than dry journal entries, each chapter reads like juicy gossip from a lunch with the girls. Ms. Reichl sprinkles recipes occasionally and drops names like a flower girl throws petals. She knew everyone, so whether your taste runs to famous chefs or literary stars, you will be fascinated.

We all know the sad fate of Gourmet: like so many magazines, it went under during the recession years. In the beginning of her tenure, though, there were palatial offices, generous clothing and limo allowances, test kitchens filled with competing chefs, trips to far-flung locations to revel in the local cuisine, decadent parties in penthouses, and famous authors queued up for an opportunity to get their articles into the next issue. When Reichl took the helm, she hired a couple of great talents who could channel the rivers of creativity that were already flowing among the staff and added her own vast knowledge of the food world and its burgeoning trends. She knew how to put gifted people into just the right spots. The quality of the magazine bloomed, and sales flew upward.

When the first whiff of economic troubles came along, Condé Nast hired lots of bean counters. Creativity was out, the bottom line was everything, and the publisher ignored Reichl’s repeated requests for a web presence. By the time Gourmet had a unique website, they had lost the rights to their own recipes. Corners were cut on photography and kitchen staff, and the quality of the magazine began to erode. Despite issues touting frugality, such as “Paris on a shoestring,” and a booktour announcing their latest cookbook, it was too late.

Throughout the book, Reichl deals with life issues that touch every woman: work-life balance, guilt in child-raising, and her own changing self-concept. Her story is filled with many powerful men and women who played a role in teaching her that gifted people are all gifted differently and that wielding power may not look the same from one person to the next. For some, money and position do not change them, they only allow them to fulfill dreams that lift up those around them. For others, though, power freezes their souls and destroys those within their reach. When the crash comes, Ms. Reichl reflects on whether her time at Gourmet may have altered the course of her life so completely as to make it impossible to be that free-spirited Berkeley girl again.

This delicious memoir is perfect anyone who loves a fast-paced Cinderella story, tales about the Big Apple, fascinating personalities, a soupçon of haute couture, and, most of all, the foodie universe. All of Reichl’s books are captivating. I have also read Garlic and Sapphires, which relates her early adventures as a restaurant critic, when she began dressing in wild disguises to avoid being recognized when she walked into her latest venue. Save Me the Plums is great fun with a side of introspection that gives her unique experiences universal significance.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Thanks, Keto

When you work in a library, all of the latest trends in bookcovers parade past your eyes each day. Keto is definitely a trend, but I resisted reading about it for a long time. Shades of 1970s Dr. Atkins’ induction diet ran through my head. Steak and iceberg lettuce: so unhealthy. However, I recalled hearing once on Abel James’ Fat Burning Man podcast about the massive number of low-carb dieters like me who stop losing weight because, according to his guest, they are eating too much protein. Such a radical departure from earlier low-carb guidelines! Once I finally picked up a keto book, I saw that they were saying the same thing: You’re eating too much protein!

So— although my downward trend was interrupted by a week in France that may have included a baguette or two— I have lost 20 pounds and dropped my A1c into the “at risk” category, and of course, I have a few favorite books to share.

Keto AxeThere is an avalanche of books about the ketogenic diet. I have read or skimmed a bunch of them, and I still use the Quick Keto cookbook that I reviewed here. My new favorite beginner book that explains the science behind keto, though, is Dr. Josh Axe’s Keto Diet. First of all, Josh Axe is a doctor, so even though he does include recipes, most of the book is a scientific explanation of your body’s metabolism. It is shocking how many diabetics have no idea how insulin works in their bodies. How can you get well if you don’t know what’s making you sick? Secondly, Dr. Axe recommends what many experts are calling “clean keto,” a happy subculture in the ketogenic world. We’ve come a long way since Dr. Atkins, and low-carb eaters now spend a lot of time with what was once an unknown food group: vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables, to be exact. A little bacon may be alright, but come on, you know you can’t consider bacon to be a major food group.

One of the downfalls of the keto movement is that the need for fats in the diet can lead to all kinds of unhealthy choices. Yes, a large proportion of your calories should consist of fat, but one tablespoon of olive oil has 100 calories. Do you know how much kale you can eat before you reach 100 calories? I’m not sure of the exact amount, but I think it’s around a bale. So, keep it in perspective. Clean keto assumes that you’re not just trying to lose weight, but also to be a healthy person by the time you get to your goal. The careless choices you make are having a daily effect on your body.

Clean KetoOne cookbook that I bought is called The Clean Keto Lifestyle, by Karissa Long. It is filled with healthful, fat-burning recipes that are not difficult. I’ve made the Pork Fried Rice twice already. Of course, the “rice” is cauliflower. One unique feature of this cookbook is that the recipes, whenever possible, are portioned for one person. I’ve had to double them for us, but even if a dieter is single, I can’t imagine going through the trouble of cooking a meal without making enough for leftovers or freezing. Still, lots of nutritious veggies and delicious recipes.

Simply KetoSimply Keto, by Suzanne Ryan, is a beautiful, large cookbook. Suzanne has a great story and is the owner of the website Keto Karma. This is a comprehensive cookbook that contains basic recipes as well as wonderfully creative dishes. I am enjoying one of her Broccoli, Bacon, and Egg Muffins as I type. I made a big batch and put them into the freezer two by two. Ryan has everything from appetizers to desserts, and she uses Swerve, which is my favorite natural, low-carb sweetener. Since she is a mom, many of her recipes are kid-friendly. Definitely a keeper.

My latest blood tests are keeping me keto, and you may have similar results. If you’re already watching your carbs, keto is not a huge change, but you will see a big difference in your metabolism. On the other hand, if your average day contains soda, bread, and sweets, you need to at least read Dr. Axe’s book to see why cutting those carbs will make a world of difference to your health!

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Happy Hour!

We’ve received an abundance of new titles on tippling lately, some for serious tasters and others requiring tiny umbrellas. Please read responsibly.

Beach Cocktails: Favorite Surfside Sips and Bar Snacks

This bright and sunny volume by Oxmoor House offers almost 300 pages of fun recipes for summer drinks. Beginning with the tools of the trade and basic supplies, the cocktails are arranged loosely by the main spirit, with a full page devoted to the origin and production of each type of liquor. Although there are some fancy touches, such as the amazing blue Curaçao or whimsical bitters, most of the recipes use widely accessible ingredients. There are recipes to make your own syrups, such as Toasted Orgeat Syrup; mixes, such as Sweet-and-Sour Mix; shrubs, such as Lemongrass-Citrus Shrub syrup; and bitters, such as Homemade Peach-Vanilla Bitters. Yum.

For your young or expectant guests or those who do not indulge, they include a chapter of Mocktails, too. Nothing boring or derivative here. These nonalcoholic offerings are just as pretty and festive as the hard stuff. As a diabetic, a mocktail means a sugar-free version of a cocktail, but there are plenty of recipes in this book that are low enough in carbs on their own that there is no need to worry. And what is a bar without snacks? The last chapter is filled with savory bites that pair perfectly with the libations.

Fun and festive. A must-have for your next pool party.

A Field Guide to Whisky, by Hans Offringa

Subtitled An Expert Compendium to Take Your Passion and Knowledge to the Next Level, this handsome, chunky tome leaves no stone unturned in the quest for erudite knowledge of everything whisky—or should I say whiskey? The author even tells us why the spelling differs. Arranged by topic in a mostly question-and-answer format, the reader will learn about all the different types of whiskey, their places of origin, varying ingredients, aging, bottling, and how to read a whiskey label, among other detailed topics. There are stories of great distillers, discoveries of celebrated spirits, and interruptions like Prohibition. Here is a sample of some of the questions:

What is a rummager?

What is single pot still whisky?

What is the old bottle effect?

What is the devil’s cut?

What is the influence of water during mashing?

There are many more such in-depth inquiries in these 320 black-edged pages. After a thorough history of each country’s role in this amber liquid, the author also gives the current state of affairs for each geographic region involved in its production.

Thorough but readable, with both explanatory or just plain beautiful photos throughout. Pour a couple of fingers of your finest and sip your way through this one.

Moonshine Mixology, by Cory Straub

Now, to get really close to home here in North Carolina, this volume celebrates the (legal) revival of moonshine in the southeast. With the subtitle 60 Recipes for Flavoring Spirits & Making Cocktails, Straub brings the clear spirit out of that jug marked XXX. In the shiner tradition, this is a true do-it-yourself guide to everything moonshine.

First, Straub gives a short account of moonshine’s checkered history, followed by step-by-step instructions for distilling your own batch. The next section offers loads of suggestions for flavoring your basic moonshine, such as vanilla, cinnamon, coffee, and apricot. The cranberry flavor is so pretty it begs for holiday cocktails. The longest section of the book is filled with recipes for fun drinks made with your moonshine. Some are reworks of classic cocktails, such as a “Moonhattan,” but most are completely original and very easy, with color pictures on every page.

The last part of the book gives instructions on creating gifts with your moonshine, such as lollipops and chocolate-covered cherry bombs. As a real DIY touch, Straub provides pages of adorable labels that you can scan and print onto label sheets for your Mason jars!

I doubt that I’ll set up my own still, but I happen to know of a new distillery very close by. I believe it’s time for a field trip.

Bourbon, by Kathleen Purvis

This slender hardcover is part of the single-ingredient series called “a Savor the South cookbook,” published just down the road by the University of North Carolina press. Nice to know that higher education in this country is not entirely wasted.

For the Teals, Bourbon is the house wine, so I read this volume with great attention. After Ms. Purvis gives an explanation of how bourbon is made and its colorful history, including the Whiskey Rebellion and some apocryphal stories of the Reverend Elijah Craig, she launches into cocktail and other recipes. Did you know that the barrels used to age bourbon cannot be reused for more bourbon? However, they can be sold off to age other whiskeys, like Irish whiskey or Scotch. These days, foodie entrepreneurs are also using them to flavor gourmet foods, to which I can attest, since I have a bag of bourbon barrel-aged coffee beans in my freezer right now.

The cocktail recipes in this book range from the classic Old-Fashioned and Manhattan to the newfangled Rhythm & Soul. A Sazerac is the perfect cocktail for a winter’s evening, and our favorite Garden & Gun tailgating drink is here in a modified version called a Bourbon & Burn.

After the cocktail section, the author presents a few chapters of main dish and dessert recipes using bourbon as an essential ingredient. Bourbon’s vanilla and caramel flavors lend a smoky sweetness to many culinary creations, from meats to ice cream, not to mention the much-loved Bourbon Balls, here in several incarnations, including Chocolate Nut Bourbon Balls. How about Bourbon Pimento Cheese, which combines two of my husband’s favorite things in the world? Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon-Mango Sauce, Bourbon-Pecan Sweet Potatoes, and Bourbon-Fudge Pie are just a few of the mouthwatering offerings in this very southern little cookbook.

Thank goodness that bourbon, like all pure spirits, has no carbohydrates. Time for a Bourbon & Burn!

Disclaimer: I read library copies of all of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Two Sugarless Cookbooks

It’s been ten years since I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and I still don’t need to take medication because I follow a low-carb eating plan every single day—except for my birthday. So, I assumed that I had it down pat and didn’t need any new input. However, when these two new cookbooks came into our library, I just had to take them home.

SugarDetoxMe, by Summer Rayne Oakes

SugarDetoxMeSugarDetoxMe is a big, glossy hardcover filled with color photos of the author and her tasty recipes. After relating her experiences with sugar addiction, as well as the science behind this all-too-common modern affliction, Oakes helps the reader to set up her kitchen and pantry, and then launches into the eating plan. Granted, many of these recipes are still too high-carb for a diabetic, as she uses some grains and starchy vegetables, such as peas and potatoes.  However, if you are looking for a way to break out of the Standard American Diet, this is a great and delicious first step.

Here is the genius of this book: Oakes arranges her recipes according to Meal Maps. According to the author, Americans waste a massive amount of the food we buy. In order to avoid wasting money and resources, she creates a shopping list, and then gives the reader a week’s worth of meals that will use up all of the items on the list. Fantastic! I will warn you that the first Meal Map is all about eggs. If you cannot possibly face another egg in that week, by all means turn to other recipes in the book.

Beautiful and brilliantly formatted. Recipe I’m going to try: Spaghetti Squash Latkes.

 

Quick Keto: Meals in 30 Minutes or Less, by Martina Slajerova

Quick KetoThe ketogenic diet was first brought into popular awareness by Dr. Atkins back in the 1970s. Since then, this regimen of eating high fat/ no carbohydrates has been found to be effective in treating seizure disorders, which is certainly worth enduring what I considered the blandness of the limited food choices. What could a keto cookbook say, besides “eat a stick of butter”?

Quite a lot, it turns out. Slajerova gives a few short pages on the basics of the diet, and then launches into 100 easy recipes that are both mouthwatering and healthful. This paperback book shows pictures for almost all of the dishes, which range from tempting appetizers such as Crunchy Chili-Lime Nuts to beautiful desserts like Blackberry Lemon Mousse. The quintessential keto dessert is called a “fat bomb,” and sure enough, the last recipe in the book is No-Bake Blondie Fat Bombs. They have both cacao butter and coconut butter. There are entrées aplenty, too, such as the Prawn Cocktail Stuffed Avocado, which looks completely luscious. Low-carb diets in general seem to be very big on avocadoes these days, some in the most unlikely places.

These terrific recipes are quite simple, and I can eat every single one with no substitutions, so this book went into my Amazon cart. It’s a keeper.

Disclaimer: I read library copies of both of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own, and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Dude, Paleo Is So Rad

I spend my days, Monday through Friday, staring at books on a screen. Then I come home and stare at actual books— or Book TV, blogs, or other reading material that feeds my addiction. In the course of a day, the publishing world marketeers have great fun with me, sticking ads for all kinds of books in my face in the hopes that I will buy them— which I do, to the tune of almost a couple million dollars a year, but only children’s and teens’ books. However, the ads I see are for all kinds of books, and if I’m particularly interested, I’ll look them up.

wild dietLast week, a new Paleo book came out, and since I am a low-carber, I had to take a peek. Paleo is a diet and lifestyle that emphasizes eating food the way our very distant (as in, pre-row crop agriculture) ancestors did, as well as strength training, rather than aerobic exercise. The new book is called The Wild Diet, by Abel James, and as I continued to search, I saw that Mr. James has a website with a blog and a long series of podcasts. I sent a reminder to my home email so that I could listen later, since I doubt that my employer would be able to see a connection between Paleo bio-hackers and Pete the Cat.

Abel James is known as the Fat Burning Man, as seen on his website www.fatburningman.com, where he tells his life story and interviews all sorts of other health-conscious types. I listened to the podcast with Mark Divine, a former Navy Seal and founder of Sealfit, and they talked about de-stressing and the importance of life beyond biceps and burpees. I also listened to the one with Dr. Alan Christianson about thyroid, since hypothyroidism seems to be an epidemic among women these days.

Abel James

Abel James

The next day, I looked around at Paleo in general and found Robb Wolf, who wrote The Paleo Solution Diet five whole years ago, and who also happens to have a website with podcasts, called, very simply, www.robbwolf.com. When I looked at his latest podcast, guess what! It was Abel James. Apparently, it’s a very tight little world out there in PaleoLand. James has a great story to tell, though. He was a sickly child, but his mother, who was a nurse, understood nutrition and herbal medicine very well, and he grew up to thrive. Then he went to work in D.C. for the evil food industry and had to eat the foods he represented, and consequently, he became weak and sick. His doctor continued to give him more and more medication, until he didn’t know if his symptoms were caused by a disease or his medication. (This is uncomfortably familiar to me.) He was also placed on a low-fat, “heart-healthy” diet and felt worse every day. In the meantime, his brother, who was tall and scrawny at 140 pounds, started lifting weights and eating the high-protein and fat diet common to body-builders, and gained 60 pounds of pure muscle. Abel started to do some research, tried Paleo, and is in the best shape ever. I found it fascinating that he could not tell the whole story in his first book, because he was still under the non-disclosure agreements that he signed for the food industry! I think he got to reveal more in The Wild Diet, just because enough time has gone by. Can’t wait to get the scoop there.

These guys are so smart, with years of scientific information about nutrition and strength training, but their world is so testosterone-soaked it is hilarious sometimes. They can go from a meaningful exchange about some obscure chemical in the body to a conversation that sounds something like this:

“So, we were out there bouldering, man,…”

“Dude, that is so rad.”

“Totally.”

By the time we got to the end of the podcast this morning, I was wiping tears of laughter from my eyes, but my husband thought it was great, which is so terrific! Let’s face it, most diet and exercise books are for women/ by women, so getting guys into caring about health is an achievement. Granted, most of these men are on the radical fringe of health, bio-hacking with measured amounts of coffee with coconut oil or “intermittent fasting,” which is probably not a spiritual exercise. However, they are getting into the deep weeds of biological research, and we can benefit from their discoveries without all the discomfort. Furthermore, what guy doesn’t want to hear about mud runs and dead lifts and bouldering, whatever all that may be? Totally.

Ladies, the Fat Burning Man website does have recipes and articles on misleading food labels and such, so it really is interesting. But guys, there is also a podcast called “100 Awesome Ways to Eat Bacon.”

Haven’t you clicked over there yet?

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Salad Love, by David Bez

Salad LoveEvery weekday morning at six-thirty, I pack a salad to take to work. Every weekday afternoon at one-thirty, I eat my salad.

I am not fond of salad.

As a diabetic, it is tough to come up with portable meals that are nutritious and can be eaten at a desk. Sandwiches are out, of course, and there are not enough leftovers to be assured of a satisfying meal every day. Plus, it works very well to have all of my meals except dinner take place on automatic pilot: David makes eggs for breakfast, late morning is plain yogurt with fruit-only jam, lunch is salad. No thinking required, which is good, because thinking does not engage until around eight AM. I try to change up the ingredients in the salad, but I really just vary two basic recipes.

David BezWhen I saw the book Salad Love come into the library, my first thought was, “Salad. Bleh.” Then I opened the book, and “love” is exactly the right word for what I felt. Author David Bez, who is a very friendly-looking guy, decided to make a different salad at his desk every day for three years! Here, he has chosen 260 different salads, one for each workday of the year, arranged by season.  Each recipe is on one page, with a stunning picture of the salad at the top. Every single page has a picture. So gorgeous! Yet there are really very few exotic ingredients. Hemp seeds were probably the most unusual item I saw.

Bez begins by explaining the five layers of successful salad building, and then has four pages of dressing recipes—24 of them!—each with a picture of a tiny white bowl holding that dressing. Then he goes into the salad recipes, and gives alternatives for all of them according to diet. For example, a salad with roast beef in it may feature a vegan alternative, or a salad with cooked grain may offer a raw foods alternative.

I am happy to say that when you look up this book on Amazon, you can see the beautiful photography inside. At the library, we just riffled through the pages when someone walked by, and every single person took it home. I might have to buy this one.

As David Bez says, “Buon appetito!”

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. I do not receive money from Amazon when you click through, because Amazon does not play well with us in North Carolina.

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Shine On!

2015-02-07 17.32.11Last week, we went to my mother’s house in South Carolina, where most of my family was gathering to visit with my brother from New Jersey. We had all the usual family activities planned: playing bridge, walking my sister’s beloved dogs, and eating huge meals. Within the last year, though, a new business has opened up in Lexington that just demanded our attention: The Moonlight Distillery. Yes, makers of moonshine, that hitherto illegal brew tucked into a wooded holler and guarded from revenuers by shotgun. Despite its checkered past, however, legitimate moonshine distilleries are becoming quite au courant, at least in the South. Since we have such a close connection to this one— my sister’s next-door neighbor’s son’s wife’s parents own it—we had to have a look-see. And maybe more than a look.

2015-02-07 17.16.53Have you ever seen such a happy group of people? And we hadn’t even gone inside yet! It must have been the anticipation of tastiness that had my extended family looking so gleeful. That and the fact that we’d all been singing Earth, Wind, and Fire songs at the top of our lungs on the way over. We quickly discovered that we didn’t actually know the words, so we just faked it until we got to the brilliant chorus: “Ba-de-ya! Dancing in September! Ba-de-ya!” What in the world does that mean, anyway?

Once inside, and after license checks all around (even my white-bearded, 66-year-old brother), the owners poured out teeny tastes of all their many flavors for the whole crew. The most amazing, to me, was the Apple Pie flavor. It didn’t just taste like apple, it tasted like apple pie. My brother liked the blackberry, but brought home the Twisted Cinnamon for his daughter, since she loves spice. We bought a Fuzzy Peach, although I’m sure it has way more sugar in it than I should have. We haven’t opened it, but later we did taste some of my sister’s batch mixed with diet ginger ale. Yum! I can imagine this concoction in the summer with lots of ice and a mint sprig. We had received the plain moonshine for Christmas and I can attest that it is very good without extra flavors. Kind of on the idea of vodka, but with a hint of a sweet flavor that I can’t quite place.

The Moonlight Distillery website is under construction, and I have a feeling that you can’t buy it online. State laws, perhaps? Anyhow, you can ask your local establishment to get it for you. In the meantime, the website now boasts its first few recipes that look absolutely delectable. And just to prove that moonshine and moonlight lead to good things, here is what we saw written on an old loading dock door just outside of the distillery:

2015-02-07 17.33.45

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