May 08, 2014


iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know about Selfies, Sexting, Gaming, and Growing Up. By Janell Burley Hofmann. Rodale. $17.99.

Almonds Every Which Way: More than 150 Healthy & Delicious Almond Milk, Almond Flour, and Almond Butter Recipes. By Brooke McLay. Da Capo. $18.99.

     A recipe sets down, in a few words, a series of ingredients, precepts and requirements that, based on a series of underlying assumptions (such as the use of heat as a catalyst), will eventually produce something more than the sum of the ingredients themselves. And the notion of a recipe has long applied to far more than cooking or baking: we talk of recipes for happiness, recipes for accumulating wealth, recipes for long life, and so on. Janell Burley Hofmann, a mother of five, does not describe the basis of iRules as a recipe – she calls it a contract – but if the three-page writeup itself smacks of contractual language and design, the rest of her almost-290-page book, in interpreting and expanding upon the basic material, constitutes a recipe for producing satisfactory family life in our technology-focused age. iRules is much longer than the typical recipe, but its final product will take years to cook, so some indulgence is called for. “I do believe the iRules model will bring balance, dialogue, and success to your family’s relationship with technology,” Hofmann writes. She then presents the 18-point contract she gave one Christmas to her 13-year-old son, Gregory, along with an iPhone – and then proceeds to expand upon and deconstruct that contract, provision by provision, explaining what each element of it is designed to accomplish. It is Hofmann’s contract’s first provision that sets the tone and creates the foundation for all the others: “It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it. I am loaning it to you. Aren’t I the greatest?” A teenager willing to agree with that provision is fair game for accepting all the others, which involve ways to use the phone and not use it. In addition to the expected warnings against using the phone to lie, deceive or view porn, there are lots of little life lessons here: “Don’t take a zillion pictures and videos. There is no need to document everything. Live your experiences. They will be stored in your memory for eternity.” “Leave your phone home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision. It is not alive or an extension of you.” The final provision is a particularly sensible one: “You will mess up. I will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it.” That sort of plainspoken reassurance bespeaks a family relationship in which parents and children are already close enough, already willing enough to talk things out, so that the contract merely solidifies and specifies – it does not try to create a family culture of mutual respect and support. Thus, iRules makes sense only for families that have evolved along the lines of Hofmann’s own, long before parents make the decision to give a teenager a cell phone. Respect and mutuality not already present will not be mandated by Hofmann’s contract or any other, nor created by the presentation of a phone to a teenager. The foundation must be there already, and it must be a firm one – just as, in other recipes, there is an underlying if unstated assumption that when you turn on the oven, it will produce heat. Hofmann tries to put some of her eminently sensible rules in an “I was a teenager once myself” context, as when she headlines a box “Mom and Dad, Close Your Eyes” and explains, “During high school, I engaged in risky behaviors like sex and drinking. …But it was different. It wasn’t public. No one took pictures, never mind shared or posted them. It couldn’t follow me.” At the same time, she shows again and again that her family situation has very specific elements that other families may not possess: “I am lucky enough to say that on the summer days when [husband] Adam and I were working and the kids did not have camp, their grandparents were a great source of excitement and entertainment for our kids. …I think grandparents are sacred and get to make their own rules. As long as they closely resemble my rules, that is.” Hofmann’s recipe for managing technology with teenagers is well thought out and intelligently presented, but like any recipe, it requires you to have the ingredients already on hand before you start the preparation. If your family’s foundation resembles that of Hofmann’s family, iRules can help you whip up a tasty technological treat. Otherwise – well, it makes no sense to try vegan cooking if all you have in the house is bacon and steak.

     A much more traditional recipe book, albeit one with a narrow orientation, is Brooke McLay’s Almonds Every Which Way, a compendium of breakfast foods, smoothies, breads and muffins, snacks, sandwiches, soups, main courses and desserts that incorporate almond flour, almond butter, almond milk and, by the way, almonds themselves. Far too focused for the majority of cooks – for which reason it gets a (+++) rating – McLay’s book will be a delight for anyone who wants to spend a great deal of kitchen time with all things almond. The “homemade basics” – 35 pages of them – are themselves more than most cooks and bakers will ever produce. A number of them are delightful: five different types of almond milk, seven kinds of almond butter, and so on. However, it is the use of these basic ingredients in more-complex recipes that forms the heart of the book. You can make pumpkin-almond donut muffins, for example, or almond muffins in either Paleo or vegan style. There are almond butter breakfast sandwiches here, and Thai-style breakfast burritos. Among the drinks are almond white marshmallow hot cocoa, orange almond whippy, banana almond butter protein blast, and coconut-almond green smoothie – the names alone are deliciously evocative. Dinner recipes include almond-chicken satay, Spanish almond chicken, almond milk alfredo, even “stealthy healthy mac and cheese.” McLay does a particularly good job with the names of dishes, and the range of her ideas is exceptionally wide – although she also includes traditional almond-based foods, such as almond butter cookies. And she is careful to explain, before presenting a single recipe, what special equipment and specific ingredients the various recipes require. This is helpful – and also shows the limitations of Almonds Every Which Way. The fact is that very few individuals or families will ever use more than a small fraction of the recipes in this book: eating fads such as Paleo may catch on among some people, but there is not, at least so far, an Almonds Alone diet. Until there is, McLay’s book will be strictly a specialty item, akin to one about all the ways to prepare foods with, say, coconut milk. There is nothing wrong with a single-focus cookbook, and this is a good one for people who really love almonds. But if you only want to try an occasional almond-focused recipe, Almonds Every Which Way will be a case of almonds in a few too many ways.

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