When I was a teenager, I looked askance at the food sold in health food stores. I blame my senior English teacher.
Mrs. S had been teaching on the fringes of the school since the late 1960s. She had been teaching an alternative program — where students did not receive grades, and practiced macramé during class-time — for years. She never shaved her legs or under her arms, and she often wore shorts to school. She frequently smelled of patchouli.
I wanted to like her. I tried. However, when she asked us to do drawings of our vocabulary words with crayons, or had us lay down on the floor and close our eyes in order to listen to visualization tapes first period in the morning (“You’re approaching a bright light at the end of the tunnel.”), or made us sit in a big, loopy circle and give shoulder rubs to the person in front of us — thus ensuring she would receive one as well — I started to lose my faith. By the middle of the year, when every Friday was spent playing “The Compliment Game,” I started to actively dislike her. When it was April, in a year-long class, and we still hadn’t been asked to write a single essay — in a writing class — I had to work hard to not make fun of her, openly. The entire class grew so upset with her perpetual tardiness, and the fact that she never taught us a single useful skill, that we staged a walk-out one day, and sat in the grass of the 800 quad, to make her see how disgruntled we were. She walked up to us, beaming, praising our “homage to Thoreau.”
Mrs. S also owned the only health-food store in town. I never went in, for fear of having to spend any more time with her than was necessary.
Too bad. In the health food store in the early 80s is the only place I could have found out about sorghum, amaranth, and teff. They arrived in my life only after I realized I needed them. Now, I can’t imagine my life without them.
If you still have the idea that grains other than wheat are “weird,” that healthful food has to be boring, and that only out-of-fashion old hippies eat wild rice and millet, then you need to change your mind.
Luckily, Heidi Swanson will change your mind.
You may already know Heidi from 101 Cookbooks, or Mighty Foods, two of my favorite food websites. I’ve beeen an enormous fan of Heidi’s gorgeous photographs for years. In fact, she was one of my inspirations for pointing my camera toward my meals in the first place.
Heidi’s second book, Super Natural Cooking, is just hitting the stores. I feel lucky; I already have my own copy. Heidi sent it to me in the mail, as a thank you for testing the recipes. You see, I had to keep this quiet when the book was in production, and I certainly couldn’t take photographs, but I had the honor of testing a few recipes for Heidi, and giving her feedback. (You can even find my name in the page of acknowledgments!)
I can say, therefore, with no qualifications, that you should own this book. The photograps are stunning, the header notes are filled with interesting stories, and the recipes yield bright, alive food. This food is good for you, true. But you will want to eat it, and then eat some more.
And for those of us who are gluten-free? This book is a godsend. Heidi has an entire chapter on grains beyond wheat, with fascinating capsule descriptions of grains such as amaranth and teff, and even mequite flour, available to us. Even the few recipes that involve whole wheat can fairly easily be adapted to be gluten-free.
Don’t believe me yet? Listen to these recipes:
Millet Fried Rice
Red Indian Carrot Soup
Winter Rainbow Gratin
Quinoa and Corn Flour Crepes
Those are just some of the ones I tested. Oh, yum.
Add to that Heidi’s sexy, attentive photographs, filled with color and a sense of play, and you will quickly be drawn in to reading, more and more.
In the mornings, the Chef likes to read the entire newspaper. Me? After a few minutes, I usually switch to a cookbook, perusing recipes and figuring out what to cook for him that night, my mind enticed by all the ideas inside the pages. I can promise you this — for the next few days, I’ll have Super Natural Cooking by my bed. Grilled teff wedges, here I come.
Somewhere, Mrs. S is probably proud of me.