January 03, 2013
(+++) SPECIALTY FOODS
Skinny Smoothies: 101 Delicious Drinks That Help You Detox and Lose Weight. By Shell Harris and Elizabeth Johnson. Da Capo. $16.
Paleo Desserts: 125 Delicious Everyday Favorites, Gluten- and Grain-Free. By Jane Barthelemy. Da Capo. $18.99.
It is one of the most-common New Year’s resolutions, and one of the greatest sources of frustration when it is broken, as it so often is: to lose weight. There really is only one way to reduce body mass: eat less and exercise more. But that simple-sounding prescription is very difficult indeed to implement, and as a result, there is quite an industry out there of books purporting to make the whole process simpler: quick and painless exercise, delicious foods that prevent you from feeling deprived but that help the pounds melt away, etc. Skinny Smoothies is no different from many other “easy diet” books in its proclamations: “We’re not recommending a radical program that includes deprivation and starvation,” write Shell Harris and Elizabeth Johnson. “We’re recommending a lifestyle change that you can stick with for the rest of your life.” Smoothies should not be the only thing you consume, the authors say (rather obviously), but they can be the cornerstone of a diet that is better for you, helps you lose weight, and rids your body of toxins – one of those “food fad” prescriptions currently in vogue. True, the authors recognize that “there are so many ‘cleansing’ and ‘detox’ diets out there that it is hard to know what is healthy and safe and what is dangerous,” and they are careful to include the usual see-your-doctor disclaimers and warnings to seek medical advice if you notice health symptoms or if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, under 18, over 65, ill, recovering from illness, or left-handed (all right, they don’t mention that last one, but these lawyer-driven admonitions do become very tiresome very quickly). The meat (so to speak) of this book, though, is not the popular-health-science approach but the smoothie recipes themselves. They are decked out in all sorts of prescriptive clothing: best for different budgets, best for detoxing, best to get the day started, best for workouts (before and after), and so forth. But the reality is that this is a book for people who simply love smoothies: Harris runs the Web site www.smoothieweb.com. It can be fun to page through the book (or open it at random) and find different recipes that you may want to try. “The ‘Basic’ Weight Loss Smoothie,” for instance, includes skim milk, plain yogurt, banana and berries; the health-oriented “Peachy Fling” has peaches, lemon yogurt, protein powder and brewer’s yeast; “Tropical Ginger Smoothie” includes apple juice, coconut milk, banana, pineapple and ginger root; “Green Dew Mint Smoothie” contains cucumber, honeydew melon, pear juice, lime juice and mint leaves. A big attraction of all these recipes is that, once you assemble the ingredients, preparation is a snap: just blend together. There are no elaborate cooking requirements here. And since Harris and Johnson provide complete nutritional information about each smoothie, you can make your own decisions about which ones to try, when, and for what purpose. The health-related claims may or may not have value: “Ginger helps speed up your circulation, promoting healthy sweating and supporting liver function, therefore helping your body in its efforts to detoxify.” But smoothies themselves can be delicious as part of a balanced diet, and their ease of preparation makes them ideal for a quick breakfast, lunch or pick-me-up. They are really not ideal diet foods or solutions to a range of health problems, but they are tasty and easy to make, and the recipes in Skinny Smoothies certainly offer smoothie lovers a wide variety of possibilities.
A dietary-advocacy book of a different sort, Paleo Desserts is based on the Paleo diet, which supposedly helps modern people eat as hunter-gatherers did 10,000 years ago – ignoring inconvenient questions such as what a modern urban or suburban lifestyle has in common with a hunting-and-gathering, nomadic existence. Paleo advocates consider their approach more “natural” than that of modern diets, with an emphasis on fresh produce, nuts and roots, wild-caught fish, free-range poultry, grass-fed beef, and all the other trappings of the trendy (in fact, hunter-gatherers ate pretty much whatever they could grow or catch that appeared even reasonably edible; theirs was not an existence to be envied by today’s smartphone-equipped, computer-savvy food consumers). Paleo Desserts is interesting primarily because it applies the Paleo principles to desserts, offering gluten-free, grain-free, low-carb, diabetic-friendly meal-enders and taste treats such as Raspberry Rose Delight Mousse, Mocha Mudd Milkshake and Mint Grasshopper Ice Cream. Jane Barthelemy’s recipes are the antithesis of those in Skinny Smoothies, requiring a wide range of sometimes-exotic ingredients and often needing considerable preparation time and a fair degree of kitchen skill. Barthelemy’s inclusion of a where-to-buy section to find some of those specialized ingredients is quite helpful, but it also draws attention to just how many such ingredients there are. This is not a book for the time-pressed: even the chocolate-chip-cookie recipe requires 13 ingredients and contains the admonition to use medium-shredded unsweetened coconut flakes, not coconut flour. Committed Paleo enthusiasts will not mind being told, when making “Gell-o with Fruit and Whipped Cream,” to use “Just Like Sugar Table Top natural chicory root sweetener (not Baking) – I do not recommend any other sweetener for this,” but anyone who is not already devoted to Paleo beliefs will likely find the instructions on the overbearing side. Paleo Desserts is preaching to the choir: it is written for people so immersed in one particular style of eating that they accept as matters of course ingredient lists and preparation instructions that the majority of cooks and bakers will likely find overdone. For its intended audience, the book is just fine, and certainly the 16 pages of color photos make everything look scrumptious. But if you are not already a Paleo enthusiast, you will find plenty of other dessert books more appetizing.