food for thought: la tartine gourmande

When I went gluten free, I sadly accepted the fact that there would essentially be no reason for me to travel to France or Italy anymore, even though I’ve never been. After all, in the land of pastries and pasta, what would be the point? But apparently Italy is leading the world in gluten free-ness (not surprising, when you think about it), and for the time being, I can bring France to me, thanks to La Tartine Gourmande by Beatrice Peltre.

The synopsis of this book was all I needed to read it: French and American recipes, all gluten free (and all soy free, though that’s technically not mentioned–it’s just a coincidence). Now I know how to make galettes (though I still haven’t tried because I’m scared)! I can make tarts! I can make soups and salads that are more interesting than the ones I make for myself! Just the premise of this book is awesome.

As far as the recipes go, they are easy to follow, and she begins the cooking section of the book with a section on guidelines and tips. If you are confused by the tons of gluten free flours out there (amaranth? almond? tapioca? buckwheat?) she explains their taste and weight clearly so that you know what substitutions might work, and what might appeal most to your tastebuds. In each recipe, too, measurements are given in standard and metric, so you can really tailor her book to your cooking lexicon. And it’s a book that covers the spectrum of recipes, so you can basically cook the entire day out of the book and eat like a Frenchie. Start with her basic recipes, which teach you how to do the doughs and stocks that are the base of a lot of the more complicated ones. She’ll also tell you great trivia and tips throughout, like how you can reuse a vanilla bean by washing and drying it.

It seems modeled after other cookbook-cum-memoirs, and its prose is certainly not as well done as, say, French Women Don’t Get Fat, which was a really great read that just happened to contain recipes. But even though La Tartine Gourmande isn’t much of a read, there’s something in it that isn’t in the more prose-y cookbooks–the photographs. Oh, the photographs! You could say that any cookbook is best loved for its photos, but Peltre takes it to a new level, because she’s not just a good photographer, she really gets color. The photos are probably the best part, but the recipes look delicious as well. Peltre makes cooking and entertaining look fun and achievable, and that’s especially welcome when you’re a gluten free eater. I wish I didn’t have to skip or modify so many recipes with dairy in them, but ultimately, this is a great tool for gluten free cooking that even your non-GF friends will want to eat.

food for thought: the kitchen counter cooking school

I read a lot of books, period, and lately I read a lot of food books. So I don’t think I’m being too cavalier when I say that this is the BEST food book I’ve read all year. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School (Kathleen Flinn) is a memoir cum cookbook that is just like taking cooking lessons without paying the exorbitant fees, and without being the awkward, food allergy-challenged person in the room.

I do not lie. First of all, Flinn is just really good at putting together a narrative, so the book is highly readable. That’s why it functions so well as a lesson, too–she’s a good teacher, well trained, who knows how to put together a lesson so that it’s engaging and understandable. The book follows her and her friend as they find nine women (not all female on purpose, but interesting sociologically nonetheless) and take it upon themselves to teach them to cook. And so they do, focusing each lesson on things that real people actually want to eat, are capable of cooking, and can afford to eat regularly, such as chicken and bread. Turning each lesson into a narrative chapter, Flinn offers you a lesson, too, not to mention teaches you things about the US food system, the economics of cooking and buying groceries, and tricks to understanding how to use spices and herbs. I now understand that “flavor profile” isn’t just a pretentious chef word but also something that will make my own cooking more interesting and more cohesive.

The book also delves into each of the students’ lives, which means the book also makes a lot of observations and uncoverings and statements about socioeconomics, gender issues, cultural issues, and age issues that surround food, food preparation, and nutrition. It’s hard to cook for one. It’s hard to cook for children. It’s hard to cook when you don’t have a healthy relationship with food, or with your mother, or with your spouse. It’s hard to cook when you have to work tons of part time jobs and still can only afford what SNAP lets you have. But it’s not hard to cook. That, Flinn teaches, is actually very easy, and only requires a couple tricks.

I’ve never been more inspired to change my life and my cooking and eating habits, and I already have pretty decent ones. I’ve never thought of some things as so simple and easy and endlessly versatile. And I don’t read self help books and hate any book that’s pegged as “inspirational.” I don’t think this one was, but it totally offers you just the tools you need to be a functional, healthy person without buying truffles or spending six hours a day in your kitchen. Finding a reference book within the same binding (or, in my case, the same Kindle file) as a good memoir is not something that happens every day. Add this book to the list of books I will be recommending to EVERYONE this winter.

food for thought: review of the raw truth

Okay, so this book is hella frou frou on the one hand. On the list of harmful and hurtful foods (chemicals, processed foods, hormone-filled foods, etc) it includes “food made with anger.” But when you ignore the sunshine and unicorns, it’s actually a rather well put together guide to kinds of food and what they can be used for. And I do think raw vegans have a point–raw food is good for your body, easily digested, and pretty much always safe. Also, if you like supporting local businesses and farmers, this diet pretty much requires that you do.

A fair amount of the recipes either sound really gross or include ingredients that I can’t have. Raw food actually does include “cooked” food, just at a very low temperature, so there is raw vegan bread that’s allowed, but it’s not gluten free. He also advocates using a lot of wheat germ and wheat grass, and obviously that’s full of gluten. But I still wanted this book because I felt like I owed it to my stomach to try and make it stop always hurting, even nearly a year after I’ve cut out gluten, and at least six months since I cut out dairy and soy. That said, this book is soy-happy, so that leaves out some of the recipes, though I suppose I could actually incorporate meat back into them.

I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet, and some are just impractical for my lifestyle. I don’t have the time, space, or windows with good sunlight to try sprouting seeds or buckwheat. So that cuts out some of the recipes, though I supposed they could be modified. This book probably has the only tabouleh I could actually eat, because his recipe uses quinoa instead of bulgur. But I would probably cook my quinoa rather than sprout it.

Since I have no plans to live a raw lifestyle and this is only meant to be supplementary for me, I think it’s a good resource. I’m most looking forward to trying the drink recipes, since I’ve been wanting to incorporate more fruit and tea into my diet. And many of the salad dressing recipes look bomb diggity. If you were just trying to find low-stress recipes or things that you could make in advance and keep for busy days or for a lunchbox, the recipes in here are perfect. There are cold soups, salads, smoothies, and little side dishes that I think would make an excellent addition to a non-raw meal, or, if you’re like me, you could make a meal of sides. Since I am on campus for 12 hours on Mondays and can’t bring food with me that needs to be refrigerated or heated up, I am planning on making the apple cinnamon cups and some of the pates and taking that with crackers or chips. Multiple-side-dish-no-entree meals definitely seem more and more to be the best option when you have my dietary restrictions and want to avoid the high calorie, high sugar gluten-free alternatives to normally gluten-full foods.

The Raw Truth by Jeremy A. Safron. Berkeley (where else?): Celestial Arts, 2003. 1st ed.