May 31, 2012


Tattoo a Banana and Other Ways to Turn Anything and Everything into Art. By Phil Hansen. Perigee. $15.

Grilling Vegan Style: 125 Fired-Up Recipes to Turn Every Bite into a Backyard BBQ. By John Schlimm. Da Capo. $20.

      Silliness abounds in Tattoo a Banana, but it’s all in the name of art, so that’s just fine.  Isn’t it?  Readers will have to decide for themselves as they observe the all-reality-can-be-art work of commercial artist Phil Hansen (who, inevitably, is popular on YouTube).  The title refers to an image created by cutting out one of three patterns provided in the book, taping it onto the banana, poking holes through the pattern, and waiting 24 hours for the full effect.  And this is scarcely the only food item subjected to Hansen’s art treatment.  One suggestion is to peel apart cookies that have filling, cut shapes into the cream halves, then assemble them into pictures.  Another idea is to pour alphabet soup into a bowl, pick out the letters of your name, put them on a plate, take a photo, and use it as an online signature.  Still another: cut out shapes from graham crackers, using templates in the book, then glue them together into an art object.  One more – a more-challenging one: put two colors of sugar-cookie batter (one ordinary and one darkened with cocoa) on specific places marked L (light) and D (dark) on pages in the book; then bake the result to create a famous face.  For even greater complexity, Hansen repeatedly tells readers to download a “challenge” of one sort or another from – a bit of self-plugging there, but all in good fun.  Except that this book seems intended to be more than fun – it is almost an advocacy book, suggesting that people stop regarding art as something “out there” and start looking at it in mundane places.  How to distinguish what is art from what is in fact mundane is a subject not taken up, but the basic “art is everything” notion, which has been around since the days of dada, seems to get some added life here.  And Hansen does not find art only in food, by any means.  One project involves digital-picture image transfer to one’s body to “check out the cool skin textures.”  Another suggests carving words backwards on the flat part of the sole of a shoe, then walking through a puddle to “leave your mark on the world.”  Still, food is a big part of Hansen’s interest: microwaved marshmallows, designs made of gummy bears, patterns created from chocolate chips, painting using three flavors of pudding (chocolate, caramel and vanilla), and so on.  Tattoo a Banana falls into the category of “suggestions about things to do if you have way too much time on your hands,” sort of like a lot of apps.  Whether the book has any meaning beyond idle indulgence will be for each reader to decide.

      John Schlimm’s Grilling Vegan Style isn’t anywhere near as far-out, but its underlying premise is unusual, given the longtime association of grills with food that vegans do not eat – which Schlimm acknowledges: “Until now, grilling has been almost exclusively associated with meat.”  He argues, though, that the flavors of the grill are every bit as well-suited to vegan fare as to steaks, hamburgers and hot dogs.  In fact, a number of his recipes are intended to sound as if they fit into grilling tradition: Mexican tortilla burgers, Southwestern burgers with salsa, tempeh steaks and more.  None of these is likely to attract meat-eaters, but the book is not intended for them – it is for people who have already decided on a vegan diet and are looking to add to it some flavors that are typically associated with a style of cooking usually reserved for meat lovers.  For vegans who do want to grill some foods that non-vegans might enjoy, there is an interesting chapter on “Picnic Desserts” that includes such offerings as “fruity kebabs brushed with brown sugar, cinnamon and mint” and “vanilla pound cake with lemon-lime glaze.”  The kebab recipe contains nothing with which non-vegans will be unfamiliar, and the pound cake’s use of tofu is unlikely to create a taste or texture to which non-vegans will object.  Both of these recipes include a touch of alcoholic beverage, as do many of the others, and in fact there is a whole chapter called “Grillside Happy Hour” that provides evidence of Schlimm’s strong interest in alcoholic beverages – he is a member of the Straub brewing family of Pennsylvania and has previously written such books as The Tipsy Vegan and The Ultimate Beer Lover’s Cookbook.  Look for Schlimm’s interest within the recipe sections, too: “This wickedly sophisticated bourbon blend can really perk up virtually anything,” he writes of a simple marinade called “Brown Sugar & Bourbon, Baby!”  Grilling Vegan Style is not a lifestyle-promoting book but an attempt to find ways for vegans to share in certain flavors not normally associated with the foods they choose to eat.  Committed vegans seeking something different will find much to enjoy here – although vegan teetotalers will need to check the ingredients of the recipes carefully.

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