From Amy Sedaris to Alicia Silverstone, celebrities have things to say about cooking and entertaining. Stanley Tucci talks Italian food and Tony Danza contributes to the conversation.
But Gwyneth Paltrow does not appear to be passing through the territory; she’s putting down some roots.
In 2011, she published My Father’s Daughter: Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family & Togetherness. In 2013, It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great.
Now, It’s All Easy: Delicious Weekday Recipes for the Super-Busy Home Cook.
Note the continued emphasis on deliciousness, but no more outward promises of celebration or feeling great: it’s understood.
Her third installment appears to build upon the foundations estalished in the earlier works, with a focus on clean-living and family-focussed meals, but with the intention of more completely satisfying devotees (who no longer have as much time for cooking as the earlier installments required) and/or drawing in new cooks who weren’t convinced they had time to celebrate or cook good things when the first two books came out.
With the advent of a third cookbook, I was too curious to resist.
And this was, ironically, due as much to Timothy Caulfield’s Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything? (subtitled When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash) as to her cookbooks, which I hadn’t leafed through yet.
When I did, I wasn’t sure there was room for me at this table. Let alone for my family. Everything in this cookbook is pretty and well-orchestrated, even when it’s presented as natural and spontaneous. The kids might be wearing sweatpants, and Gwyneth is in denim on the cover, but this is one classy set-up.
You know: just because someone is wearing distressed clothing and fleece doesn’t negate the fact that there’s a chandelier above the breakfast table, right?
The chapters are simply titled, often evoking a feeling or situation than truly describing the contents, so if you’re looking for “Something Sweet”, you’ll know to turn to page 223, but you will find all sorts of flavours under “In a Pinch”. (The other chapters are “First Thing”, “On the Go”, “Pick-Me-Ups”, “Cozy Evenings”, “Summer Nights”, “Unexpected Guests”, and “The Basics”.)
In the “Pantry” list, there were only a few items missing from our cupboards and drawers (four spices, three sauces, and some meat-related things), and not one recipe looked too complicated (though one bad crepe-making experience, twenty years ago, was enough to put me off making crepes for eternity, so even though her recipe looks simple, I shall remain a pancake-girl).
The emphasis on whole-foods ingredients, short lists of requirements, and the fact that she obviously enjoys a number of the same basics that our family enjoys: all of this combined to make me think that I could dress up my fleece.
One thing she loves, which is a huge hit in our family, too, is the spiralizer. I love veggie noodles, but I’ve always used them with sauces or as salads. Her Zucchini Cacio e Pepe is basically zucchini noodles, olive oil, black pepper, salt, and cheese. (See? Now you do want a spiralizer, don’t you?) That’s the kind of thing that fills plates around here, especially when it’s too hot to cook, although it doesn’t appear in her summer section, but under “In a Pinch”. (And we use ground nuts instead of parmesan.)
In her miso soup, she uses ramen noodles. But in her pho, she uses spiralized zucchini “noodles”. (She also uses chicken, but I do not.) But it simply hadn’t occurred to me to toss some veggie “noodles” in a soup. And, yet, why not?
There are also some very simple drinks, which have become staples in our house on cool mornings. (Largely because we already enjoy some of the other drinks she includes, like the Coconut Latte and the Ginger and Lemon Tea.) The Ginger, Sesame and Almond Drink is fantastic for damp days, and I’m sure will be even more enjoyable when winter rolls around once more.
One of the best parts of the cookbook for our family, however, was the discovery of the Socca Pizzas, which are both vegan and gluten-free. That sounds dramatic, but because they only contain chickpea flour and olive oil and salt, along with whatever toppings you choose, it’s pretty simple. (In some recipes, she calls for larger quantities of things like oil and garlic, toppings and sauces, than some cookbooks do, but it suits our family’s taste perfectly.)
The base is used elsewhere in the book, as a platform for some other tasty bits, but since we’ve packed up the gluten in our kitchen, we have been looking for a pizza-like thing that wasn’t about what-was-missing and was all about what’s-there. This doesn’t seem like a gluten-free pizza crust, but something else entirely: it works perfectly for us.
(Mind you, I don’t understand why a nonstick-pan is included in a cookbook which is all about health. But this is a cookbook for busy people, who don’t want to take the time to season a cast-iron pan, which doesn’t stick and isn’t linked to cancer-causing chemicals either.)
Now as to whether or not Gwyneth Paltrow is “wrong about everything”? Timothy Caulfield’s book is fascinating, really. Like Azar Ansari, he is interested in the stats and trends, and he is curious about the relationship between proximity and influence, especially as it relates to culture. For instance, people feel closer to celebrities now that social media offers a different way to interact (or seemingly interact), and this has changed the dimensions of the reach that (some) celebrities have culturally.
It’s All Easy is not very prescriptive, although there is more narrative in the earlier books she has presented. She does deliberately address the matter of specific foods which she “cleansed” from her kitchen in earlier books, in an effort to regain her compromised health. But some of those foods, which do not make an appearance in earlier menus are included in this book, in moderation. (And all the recipes are clearly marked under their titles, if they are particularly suited to a style of eating, like vegan or gluten-free.)
In his analysis, Caulfield takes a common-sense approach, reminding readers that eating more fruit and vegetables and home-cooked food are just plain healthy choices and, when coupled with other healthy habits (like sufficient rest and exercise), folks will see improvements if they’ve fallen into other kinds of habits.
He has no argument with her there. He does question her decision to avoid some particular food groups, and her preference for organically-grown/raised foodstuffs; he cites some studies which show that differences she feels are significant are either not significant or not identifiable. And he has some broader questions, about why people are inclined to turn to celebrities for information about health and wellness in the first place.
But I’m not looking for advice from Gwyneth Paltrow. I am less concerned about whether she is buying organic zucchini and simply interested in the fact that she likes to spiralize hers into soups sometimes.
And because that’s true, I can set aside the fact that the beautiful photographs (of cityscapes and rural landscapes, of the movie-star and her family, of leaves and plants and growing things) don’t really have anything to do with my not-usually-photogenic (but quite-often-damn-tasty) kitchen/dinner table/life.
It’s All Easy is beautifully presented, meticulously organized and aesthetically pleasing. And it is readily adaptable for a messy, lived-in, dairy-free, meat-free kitchen.