March 25, 2010


Your Baby’s First Year Week by Week, 3rd Edition. By Glade B. Curtis, M.D., M.P.H., and Judith Schuler, M.S. Da Capo. $16.95.

Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen: Recipes from the East for Health, Healing, and Long Life. By Yuan Wang, Warren Sheir and Mika Ono. Da Capo. $19.95.

     Babies may be pretty much the same, year in and year out, but their developmental patterns do change, and so do pediatric guidelines and recommendations for taking care of them. That makes the original edition of Your Baby’s First Year Week by Week seem positively ancient: it appeared all the way back in 2000. It was an outstanding (if dense) book then, and in the new third edition it remains outstanding (if dense). Glade Curtis and Judith Schuler provide 658 pages of clear, carefully written information – much of it highlighted in easy-to-read boxes – about what happens before a baby is born, in his or her first 48 hours, and then week by week in the first year. Obviously, babies in 2010 stubbornly refuse to adhere to any scientific developmental timetable – just as they did in 2000 and presumably for millennia before. But Your Baby’s First Year Week by Week is filled with so much material that, even if your child does not follow the exact order in which the data are presented (and he or she probably won’t), the book is excellent at putting early developmental milestones and difficulties in perspective. In fact, “perspective” is what this book – including its updated sections – is all about. Consider a brief comment on what to do about a child seat if you drive a pickup truck (yes, there is that level of specificity here). “One company, XSCI, has developed a rear-facing child seat that can withstand contact with a dashboard or front air bag in a collision. …The car seat is kind of pricey (about $250), but it may be worth it if it allows you to keep using a vehicle.” This same attentiveness pervades the book. In Week 16, you will find the recommendation, “To encourage finger dexterity, let baby play with some strips of yarn. Braid together several strands so each strand isn’t too thin.” You will find out that in Week 36, a baby usually “can stand up if he’s holding onto something” and generally “sits well in a chair.” In Week 42, a baby usually weighs about 20½ pounds and is 29 inches long – and is ready for his or her first pair of real (as opposed to decorative) shoes, which “should be light and flexible” and “should bend at the ball of the foot, not just [at] the arch.” The tremendous attention to detail and the easy-to-follow presentation of information are what make this book so valuable – especially for first-time parents, but also for anyone wanting a reminder of what to look for as a newborn grows toward toddlerhood. However, the voluminous amount of information is also the book’s weakness: there is so much here that the book will likely seem overwhelming, and certainly no harried, sleep-deprived parent will have time to read it cover to cover. But the truth is that that is not necessary. For most parents, skimming the first few chapters for early developmental signposts, then consulting later chapters as desired or when a problem arises, will be more than enough to make Your Baby’s First Year Week by Week, 3rd Edition a useful, trusted resource. This is a reference book, after all, not a novel, and parents who refer to it often during their baby’s first year will find it packed with solid information, intelligently presented.

     The basic information in Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen dates back quite a bit earlier than the year 2000 – by hundreds if not thousands of years. Just as Your Baby’s First Year Week by Week is a book about health as well as developmental milestones, Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen is about health as well as delicious food. The book is packed with recipes from China, Japan and Korea, modified somewhat for the typical Western palate (no jellyfish or chicken feet here). The recipes themselves would earn the book a high rating, but it is the context in which the authors place the food that really makes this book outstanding. Each recipe is followed by information on health issues that the recipe may be useful in addressing – according to the way Oriental medicine is practiced. The authors do not claim curative powers for anything and do not suggest that these recipes can take the place of traditional medical attention; but the comments or concerns that the recipes may help address are thought-provoking and in line with the increasingly common fusion of Western and Eastern ideas of medicine and health. Those who consider the idea of “medicinal food” bunk can simply skip those sections, which are separated from the recipes themselves. But they may still enjoy the personal memories that the authors also provide. For example, there is a recipe for simple winter melon soup here, with a note that the soup is considered good for “anyone who wants to reduce swelling and puffiness, for example, from premenstrual syndrome or menopause.” In a separate note, Yuan Wang writes, “Winter melon soup helped impress on me that food can be medicine” because of the effect that she personally saw it have on an ill old man who was only able to get a good night’s sleep when he could afford to make himself the dish. Cooks – and readers in general – can decide how much credence to give the ancillary historical and health information; people familiar with traditional Chinese medicine will find this material especially useful (that same winter melon soup, for example, “clears Heat, expels Dampness, and promotes urination”). But however you feel about the health tie-ins, you will find the recipes themselves delectable. Lotus root salad, ginkgo chicken in foil, lamb skewers, ginger-honey pear, smooth black sesame cereal, sticky sesame and walnut balls, roasted cassia seed tea – there are soups, main and side dishes, snacks, desserts, drinks, sauces and more. There are also legends, shopping hints, and excellent color photos of some ingredients with which Occidental cooks may not be familiar. All in all, Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen is a feast for the mind as well as the palate; and perhaps some readers will find that it can represent a few steps on the path toward wellness, too.

1 comment:

  1. Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen is an excellent book. I quite agree with this review - a feast in all ways!