Sunday, January 5, 2014

Having switched to a primal/paleo lifestyle in 2012, I’m always looking for cookbooks that support this eating plan. Some have been better than others. Danielle Walker scores high marks for Against all Grain. Not only is this a beautifully photographed work of art, the recipes are delectable, too. Danielle, who struggled for years with debilitating ulcerative colitis, gives a bit of her background and how her debut book came into being. She covers many topics in a friendly and informative manner in her topic Navigating a New Lifestyle. Here she covers some basics on paleo food ingredients (with a focus of fresh, organic and local) and kitchen equipment. Most of the rest of the book is divided into sections covering breakfasts(“to start off your morning”), appetizers (“small bites”), “soups, salads, and sides”, “the main event”, kid-friendly foods (“for the kid in us”), “muffins, loaves and morning cakes”, “sweets and treats”, “basics”, and finally a few drinks (“sip on this”). Two pages of menu suggestions—showing how some of her recipes can be combined, a resource guide and a substitutions and conversion page complete the contents. However, it would be a disservice to Ms. Walker to not go into a little detail about the book and the recipes. First of all, Against all Grain is a large format, 368-page volume with a classy folded cover and exquisite photography. The glossy pages are thick and have a quality feel to them. To keep from getting spatters while I tried the recipes, I used a stand-type acrylic book holder. I tried several recipes. Ms. Walker states that she has striven to create paleo recipes from foods she and her family knew and loved. Fortunately for me, her favorites are mine as well, so finding recipes to sample was easy peasy. I made the Thai “Peanut” Vinaigrette (p. 314) to serve with her Asian Mango Slaw (p. 106). We loved both taste and texture, however, since coconut oil solidifies when cold, I recommend giving it a few seconds in the microwave to liquefy the dressing. I also made her Currant Scones (p. 232) and found them delectable. I’m a scone lover and plan to try the Lemon Curd listed in the sweets section. Next I made the Slow Cooker Sesame-Orange Chicken (p. 130) and found the sauce way better than the sugar-laden creations in other Oriental recipes. I made the Orange-Cranberry Muffins, once with fresh cranberries and once with dried, and found them the best I’ve had. And today I made her Marinated Artichokes (p. 76) and World-Famous Sandwich Bread (p. 226). Both were very good, however, I admit to preferring Brazilian Cheese Buns over sandwich bread. (A tip from another reviewer suggests using the 7 ½-inch bread pan, which I did, with the result of a higher loaf.) My preference notwithstanding, Ms. Walker has created a gem of a cookbook with many delicious-sounding dishes. I will be making many more of the recipes featured in Against all Grain. It has just become my go-to cookbook. Thank you Ms. Walker.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Newcomer by Robyn Carr

Thunder Point Deputy Sheriff “Mac” McCain has struggled to keep his family together after being abandoned by his wife. It hasn't been easy, but with the help of a family member and his longtime friend Gina, things are moving along on an even keel. Mac has decided he and Gina will get together after the kids are grown. Mac has three and Gina has one, and she doesn't want to wait. In fact she's secretly wanted to explore a deeper relationship with the handsome law enforcement officer nicknamed “Mr. Yummypants.” As their romance grows, Mac's reasons for waiting evaporate, but then their lives are turned upside down when Mac's long-departed ex wife returns to Thunder Point. What will this do to their new-found love? The Newcomer is book two in Robyn Carr's new Thunder Point series, set along Oregon's rocky coast. It takes up where The Wanderer left off with the same delightful cast of characters and a few new surprises. I love Carr's storytelling, her delicious cast of characters and the pacing that keeps me turning pages long after I've decided I need to get some sleep. While I find it hard to replace my love of her Virgin River series, I'm feeling quite comfortable with this new locale and its characters. The drama of everyday life plays out beautifully in Thunder Point.

Two of a Kind by Susan Mallery

Four years earlier, logistics expert Felicia Swift had a one-time fling with a Black Ops soldier. Now she's in Fool's Gold, helping her former crew set up the logistics for a bodyguard training school. Following this, she wants out. Felicia wants a normal life with a picket fenced house, a loving non-military husband and the requisite children. Imagine her shock when the low, sexy voice of a local disk jockey is none other than the man to whom she willingly lost her virginity in Thailand. Gideon Boylan pretends to fit in to the small community while keeping his distance. Two years incarceration in a Taliban prison where his comrades were killed has damaged him to the point he cannot do more than stay alive. However, when he sees Felicia, all the hunger returns. He can't offer her anything but a place in his bed, but for now that will suffice. Felicia needs to learn how to be normal in order to fulfill her dream, and Gideon can help her. But can they date and not become involved? Then fate throws a monkey wrench into their plans, and Felicia is the one who can help Gideon. Great story by Fool's Gold author Susan Mallery. While I loved Justice (who is like a brother—a very protective brother—to Felicia), I enjoyed watching Gideon grow. Felicia and Gideon have an exciting chemistry and the banter between them is superb. Two of a Kind is just that, a story about two misfits striving for a semblance of normalcy. How they achieve it is part of the magic of storyteller Mallery. Two thumbs up for this one.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

An Exquisite Book

Since receiving this lovely book for review, I've been savoring the photos as well as the recipes. Authors and foodies Bill Staley and Haley Mason have created a book that speaks to all the senses. Not only is it beautiful, but the recipes are wonderful and the advice for memorable party planning is as good as it gets. There are seventeen themed menus from Urban Escape to Tropical Getaway and Harvest Dinner with one hundred dishes perfect for parties and everyday meals. Each page is replete with exquisite photos, most of them taken by the authors. You'll learn about timing so everything comes together in perfect order, also about table decorations that showcase your food. (After reading the book I did a major housecleaning, tossing my stained placemats and frayed napkins, then replacing them with Gather lookalikes.) The first dish I tried was the General Tso's Chicken. While it was time-consuming to make, the flavor made up for any deficiency in that area. To be perfectly honest, I prefer wheat-free tamari to coconut aminos, which to me don't have the zingy flavor I expect. Also, I found the arrowroot to be semi-transparent and gloopy, sort of like wallpaper paste, not a pleasing mouth texture. The Sweet and Tangy Venison Meatballs, however, were superb. Just the right amount of zing and sweetness to tame the slightly gamey flavor of the venison. The baked salmon with lemon and capers makes a delectable statement whether for party or family dining. I haven't tried the chocolate chip biscotti, however, the photos alone are enough to set me drooling. What I like most about Gather is the way Bill and Hayley walk the reader through each aspect of the planning and preparation of their menus so you'll know days ahead of the event exactly how to coordinate the logistics for a no-fail party. Each recipe is easy to follow, and there are abundant tips such as adding medjool dates (rather than sugar) to cranberry sauce to take away the bitterness. The menu events were photographed at the homes of friends so there's a fantastic array of glassware, place settings and decorations to inspire even a novice hostess. This book gets two thumbs up for innovative design, superb layout and photos and truly delightful recipes.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

I learned about Mark Sisson and The Primal Blueprint from my son who had been turned onto a primal eating style by my daughter. I bought a copy and began reading with interest. Mark Sisson, who also maintains a blog (Mark's Daily Apple), explains in humorous detail how you can reprogram your genes for better health and a longer life by adopting a hunter gatherer lifestyle. He backs up his statements with facts that show why a high fat, grain-free diet is best for optimal health. Readers will learn that by eliminating sugars and grains, an ideal weight can be achieved, inflammation can be reduced and a healthy immune system can be achieved. He offers, in addition, 10 Primal Blueprint lifestyle laws to tone your body, enjoy restful sleep and eliminate disease risk. One aspect of these lifestyle laws is to slow down your cardio workouts: it isn't necessary to push through a hardcore workout when a few minutes a day will accomplish the same thing without the wear and tear on your body. (Mark details his own experience with over-exercising and shows that ideal fitness can be achieved without weekly treks to a gym.) I found the writing style warm and engaging, the information practical and believable. Based on what I learned in Mark's book, I made some lifestyle changes last November and have reaped the benefits with weight loss (28 pounds and still losing), more energy, better sleep (I used to wake up at 2 a.m. and be unable to go back to sleep afterward.) My son also has followed the Primal Blueprint with a nearly 50 pound weight loss. We follow his exercise recommendations and consume grass-fed beef and lamb, pastured chickens, butter and cream, and fresh organic vegetables. Mark talks the talk and walks the walk, and he's convinced this reviewer that the Primal lifestyle is the one to follow for optimal health. Be forewarned, reading this book will whet your appetite for more information. Soon you'll be adding Primal/Paleo recipes to your cooking, reading Mark's Daily Apple for inspiration and scouring the Web for more.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

I've been reading the newly released Digestive Health with Real Food by registered dietitian AglaĆ©e Jacob, a copy which was sent to me for an honest review. Here's my take on it: Firstly, it's a beautifully designed book, chock full of charts by the author detailing several digestive issues such as IBS, Crohn's disease, Celiac disease, GERD and more. Author Jacob explains the basics of digestion in the most complete manner I've ever read. Quotes such as this one by Hippocrates (“All diseases start in the gut”) and this one by Heather Morgan, M.S., N.L.C. (“Every time you eat or drink, you are either feeding disease or fighting it.”) explain the purpose of the book. Jacobs, who has dealt with digestive issues speaks from personal experience and strives to show the basics of digestion—what goes on in the gut—and what happens when digestion goes wrong. Charts showing food allergies and intolerances, a description of short-chain fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPS)--what they are and why to avoid, along with descriptions of small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and the foods that can cause a reaction are all shown in comprehensive yet simple-to-understand text and charts. Almost every digestive issue can be found with details of the why it occurs and how to minimize the problem through diet and restriction is given. Chapter 4 is devoted to nourishing foods with tables to measure and monitor your own health. Here, Jacob explains the micro-nutrient balance between fats, carbohydrates and protein and gives a list of safe vegetables and which to buy organic. You will learn about probiotics, safe natural seasonings, and which fluids to enjoy and which ones to avoid. For many digestive issues, healing is accomplished by discovering the allergens, eliminating them from the diet and finally, slowly reintroducing them. Ms. Jacob convinces the reader that a paleo diet is preferable to others to combat each digestive issue and then offers real food solutions. A troubleshooting chapter covers cravings, fatigue and what to do if the symptoms return. I was interested to see she gives recommendations for that nasty distress constipation, often a companion to other digestive issues. Her recommendations in a nutshell: eat more fat, be patient, avoid trigger foods, take probiotics, get enough water and exercise. And if these don't help, she offers info on managing stress, abdominal massage, taking magnesium, sipping ginger tea and more. In short, everything you can do to help yourself naturally is listed. Chapter 10 gives some wonderful basic recipes for digestive health such as making ghee, bone broth, basic soups and stews, all-in-one salads and some snack foods. Each is accompanied by a full page, full color photo to get the digestive juices flowing. It's not a complete cookbook but offers enough recipes to fuel your body and your imagination. If you are eliminating foods, there's a section offering a weekly meal plan to reintroduce foods back into the diet. In conclusion, this book should be the bible for anyone suffering from digestive disease who wants a step-by-step manual for a holistic therapy. Jacob did it using her methods and so can you. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Review - the 30 Day Guide to Paleo Cooking by Hayley Mason and Bill Staley

I've been reading—and sampling recipes from—the 30 Day Guide to Paleo Cooking, the soon-to-be released third cookbook by Hayley Mason and Bill Staley. A copy was sent to me for an honest review, and I am delighted with the content and the overall presentation. While this book is aimed more for the newcomer to Paleo nutrition with tear-out shopping lists and a 30 day menu, the recipes are a delightful extension of their innovative cuisine from Make it Paleo and Gather, with the exception that there are no desserts, appropriate for the 30-day detox period. The book, a sturdy nearly 9 x 12 paperback printed on quality glossy paper, is divided into three parts: 1. What is the Paleo Diet? with testimonials, helpful ideas on what to eat and drink, growing your own food and meal-building; 2. the 30 Day Meal Plan showing basic ingredients and shopping lists for each week; and 3. the Recipes which are sectioned by type: Breakfast, Chophouse, Fish and Seafood, Ground Meat, Pasta, Salads, Sides and so on. This is a beautiful book, well-written with timely information on the benefits of not only eating Paleo but of using high-quality ingredients. The recipes are wonderful. To date I have made the Kale Salad with Bacon and Fig Vinaigrette, Buttered Squash Ribbons, Roasted Rosemary Carrots with Onion (which worked perfectly with a Greek-style boneless leg of lamb) and the Smoky Roasted Turnips with Bacon. Each was a delight and had simple-to-follow directions. I am looking forward to testing the Garlic Ginger Chicken and the Italian Wedding Soup. Even if you're well on your way to Paleo cooking, this book is worth every penny just for the recipes. The publication date is June 11th but you can pre-order now from Amazon. Highly Recommended.