what we’re reading: The Gulps, Smart Chefs Stay Slim, Heart of the Artichoke

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A few moments ago, I went over to Amazon to fetch a link for The Gulps, the book Lu has requested most this week. After we found it at the island thrift store, she has grabbed it off the living room book shelf every morning, climbed up into my lap, and read it with me. The Gulps was written by Rosemary Wells, one of our very favorite children’s book author, an incredible woman who created the Bunny PLanet series, Max and Ruby books, and the Yoko stories. We love them all. Every one of them. (The Bunny Planet books are sort of sacred around here.) The Gulps is quite different than Wells’ other books. It’s not about small children, sibling rivalry, or imaginative worlds. It’s a quite brilliant satire of the state of mainstream American food. The Gulps are a family stuck in a bad state: eating junk food mindlessly, forgetting to move, and heading straight for terrible health problems. By some good fortune, their RV breaks down on a farm. The farmers invite them to stay until they can get it running again. The youngest daughter, who chooses salads when they pull up to the fast food joint for another set of Bloat Burgers with Ultrasized fries, announces to them the next morning: “Soda for breakfast is history. No snacks, candy, or chips. Nothing frozen, fried, or dyed. No heaping helpings. Fresh from the farm only. And lots of outdoor work!”

It’s as though Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign wrote this book.

Yes, the illustrations (by Marc Brown, who writes the Arthur books) are very much caricature. And the book is a little didactic, without the nuance of the conversation we should be having about health, eating, and weight in this country. And that’s because it’s written for four-year-olds.

That’s why I was so shocked when I went over to Amazon to see a slew of nasty, negative reviews of this book. Now, I’m no stranger to the crazy land of Amazon reviews. Whoo boy, people have some opinions. (Click on any book you love and you’ll find that someone was deeply offended by it. One of my favorites? For War and Peace by Tolstoy: “Tolstoy was such self-important, disrespectful, intolerant, bum! Tolstoy insults the intelligence of all people.” Okay.) Still, I wasn’t prepared for the barrage of furious reviews of this book.

“Disgusted. Since this book still exists I assume that the creators have no sense of how hateful and prejudice they are. A message to eat right and have healthy habits is a good one. But the author and illustrator are so stupid that they are teaching children to see all overweight people as lazy, dumb, incompetent. No more Rosemary Wells books for us.” Review after review says the same, with hysterical language. Several reviewers suggest that the book should be burned.

Wow. I guess it hit a nerve.

Look, Lucy doesn’t have a skinny mama. A few weeks ago, she reached up to give me a hug and said, “You have a big belly, Mama.”

Startled, I looked at her, then tousled her hair. “Yep, I do,” I said. “And what do you think about that? Is that a bad thing?”

She looked at me, a little shocked. “No! It’s a happy thing!”

This isn’t a book about hating fat people. It’s a book about transformation, about families working together, about eating healthy food and learning to love the taste of salad and warm zucchini-sweet corn bread. (I want to make that.)

Lucy adores this book. We love reading it to her. And I love that one day this week, I asked her about one of the first pages. The Gulps are loading choco-nut candies, snack pack puddings, pizza stix, koko snax, and nacho chips into their RV. “What did they forget to pack, Lucy?” I asked her.

“They didn’t pack any food, Mama.”

That’s right, kiddo. This is a book about the joys of eating real food.

This week I was moved and inspired by a book called Smart Chefs Stay Slim: Lessons in Eating and Living From America’s Best Chefs. This volume by Alison Adato arrived in my life at just the right time. For the past four months or so, I’ve been going through another medical crisis, a terrible storm of pain and lousy symptoms that just didn’t make sense. I might write about it soon but I’ll refrain for now. We’re still working it all out, but much of it had to do with a medication I have been on for three years, Tamoxifen, to try to prevent breast cancer. Once I hit perimenopause (and whoo boy! there’s some fun right there), it seems that medication turned against me. Let’s just say I’m feeling better in the last three weeks than I have in years. But part of this lousy storm of symptoms was weight gain, rapid weight gain. I may be the only person who gave up sugar entirely and gained 10 pounds. I’m the only person my doctor has ever met who tried the Paleo diet and gained weight. (All power to those of you who can do that. It’s not for me.) Once again, luckily, since I’ve been off the medication, that is reversing itself. But in the midst of this, I found Smart Chefs Stay Slim: Lessons in Eating and Living From America’s Best Chefs.

It’s an immensely readable book. I could have sped through it in a day. But I found myself putting it down so I could savor it more. Adato gathered anecdotes, advice, and recipes from some of the best chefs in this country. How do you maintain or lose weight when you live a life of food? She presents over 90 lessons she learned from Art Smith, Marcus Samuelsson, Rick Moonen, Susan Feninger, Nate Appleman, Cat Cora, and Mario Batali. And they’re not lessons about deprivation, cutting out entire food groups, or eating as little food as possible. They lessons like this: “Eat the food you love.…Eating what you love means limiting yourself to only the foods you really, truly enjoy and not wasting time eating what you do not absolutely adore.” I’ve been trying this lately. It changes everything. Pay attention, really pay attention, when I put food in my mouth? If it’s dry, under-seasoned, flavorless, or in my mouth because of mindlessness? I spit it out. There’s too little time to waste my life on food I don’t love.

And I really can’t stop experiencing this concept from Thomas Keller: “The most compelling portion of a dish is the first three or four bites. With the first bites you’re getting into it, by the second you start to realize it, and it is at the third or fourth bits you get the maximum appreciation and pleasure from that dish — you think ‘This is amazing!’ and you keep eating it because of that memory of it being really extraordinary.”

He’s right. When I pay attention, this is changing my life.

If you’re interested in eating the foods you love, mindfully, and finding a way to live a life of food without sacrificing yourself, buy this book.

Danny this week has been loving again a cookbook by David Tanis, Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys. Why? “There’s an artichoke on the cover. Artichokes are my favorite food in the world.” (He has a tattoo of a cut-open artichoke on his arm.)

Tanis gives menus for the entire year, dishes inspired by the season and the kind of cooking he wants to do. Halibut crudo with lemon oil. Layered tomato and bread salad. Rice salad with sweet herbs. Sweet pepper and cauliflower salad. Platter of jicama, avocado, radishes, and oranges. Slow-cooked carne adovada with hominy. Wild mushroom ragout with ziti.

“This is real food. It gives you cooking tasks to do throughout the entire year. Most of the dishes are not that hard to do. They’re uncomplicated, not fussy. It’s daily food for people who really love food.”

It doesn’t hurt that the photographs were taken by the incredible Christopher Hirsheimer, one of the powerhouses behind The Canal House. Ay god, I love her photography.

Danny says it best. “It’s really not that hard. Cook real food you love. Cook. Eat.”

Berry Protein Smoothie

Berry Protein Smoothie

Rating: 41

Total Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 3 Servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups frozen berries (we love raspberries and blueberries in particular)
  • 1/2 cup whole-fat yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin seed protein powder
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons chia seeds
  • 2 teaspoons golden flaxseeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 12 ounces coconut water (or whatever milk you choose)
    Instructions
  1. Throw it all into the blender and blend it up.
  2. This makes 3 good-sized servings of smoothie, with enough left over to make popsicles for the kiddo the next day.