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August food books

(article, Marissa Lippert)

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The remaining few weeks of summer are the perfect time to disengage from the stressors of day-to-day life. I can think of few things better than relaxing on vacation (or at home on a staycation!) and taking my mind and taste buds to another place — all thanks to the pages of a great book. 

Which is precisely why I decided to devote this month’s column to great reads for the final days of August. Here’s a smattering of some of my favorite and often delectable reads. Happy summer reading and eating! 
In Defense of Food. Michael Pollan’s most recent book grew out of a poignant essay he wrote for the New York Times. The book speaks realistically to readers and it sits prominently on my bookshelf. Plain and simple, it’s back-to-basics advice, which is probably why I like it so much. 

Pollan writes about the “over-nutritioning” and industrialization of our culture and food system, and how we’ve lost sight of what good-quality, wholesome food really is and should be — and what it shouldn’t. 

He also doles out one of my favorite pieces of no-brainer wisdom: “You shouldn’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t eat.” And he’s right. Not only does food taste volumes better when it’s as unadulterated as possible, but the health contents skyrocket. 

The book’s tagline is clear and concise: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” 
[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Kick back with a good read."]

Julie & Julia. This blog-turned-memoir-turned-film (the movie was just released earlier this month) features Julie Powell, a bored secretary who decides to plunge into a massive culinary project: cooking up all 524 recipes in Julia Child's cult classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days, blogging about each and every victory and catastrophe along the way. 

The book describes Powell’s attempt to save her marriage, her career ambitions, and her sanity/soul all at once as she sifts through each and every recipe. The film dovetails Powell's memoir with Child's life abroad and at home. (In fact, Child's memoir, My Life in France, written with her nephew Alex Prud'homme, is also worth reading.)

Food Matters. A smart, cut-to-the-chase book by one of my favorite (and very funny) newspaper writers, Mark Bittman. Bittman breaks down how government lobbying, big business, and the economy influence what ends up on our plates. He goes on to define buzzwords of the moment, like “sustainable” and “local,” in a real-life way, and provides simple advice on how to lessen your carbon footprint and your waistline without sending your life into complete upheaval. 

He’s not big on counting calories, but is a huge fan of vegetables, encouraging readers to skip the animal protein until dinnertime and curb overall quantities. The overall message is to eat more vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains, and eat less meat, sugar, junk food, and overrefined carbs. 

The back of the book holds a few good handfuls of recipes from Bittman’s kitchen. What's best is that he always works with the absolute basics, just good solid food done easy and fast. 

Bittman's principles are similar to Pollan's: “Deny nothing; enjoy everything, but eat plants first and most. There’s no gimmick, no dogma, no guilt, and no food police.” Again, totally straightforward, and dead on.    

The Art of Simple Food. Alice Waters’ most recent cookbook highlights fresh, seasonal food — what to do with it and how to build it up. She sets the foundation of solid cooking skills and recipes and lets the reader get creative. Waters focuses much of the book on produce, building a good percentage of recipes around it (everything from peach salsa to an onion tart). 

Her take is simple and fresh, and she encourages a shared experience around cooking and eating together, keeping in mind that food is precious. I’m constantly grabbing for this book — it’s a great primer and guidebook for the basics.     

French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure. I had to throw this fun, feel-good read into the mix simply because it makes me smile — not to mention yearn to go back to France or elsewhere in Europe for a few weeks. 

Mireille Guiliano, the CEO of Veuve Clicquot, tells her own tale of visiting the U.S. as a teenager abroad and the dietary horrors (and extra pounds) that she suffered. Her goal is to impart non-scientific, warm-hearted, and practical advice highlighting the pleasure we should be taking in extraordinary food. 

She talks about how to balance out a croissant at breakfast with a simple light salad for lunch and a glass of Champagne or two along with dinner. There are no scales and no stressing over regimented diet plans; instead, she asserts, how your clothes fit and how you feel say it all. 

As a bonus, Guiliano tossed in a few recipes here and there — think Chicken au Champagne or Chocolate Rice Pudding — to keep you hungry and excited.  
Canyon Ranch: Nourish. Canyon Ranch, the well-known spa destination, has been turning out incredibly delicious, light, and healthful dishes for nearly three decades. This colorful cookbook features recipes packed with nutritional quality and great taste. It’s definitely “spa cuisine” at its best, and the gorgeous photography might just leave your mouth watering (well, I’ll speak for myself on that one). 

The recipes, created by chef Scott Uehlein, focus on serious flavor and seasonality. Each recipe includes a calorie and nutrient breakdown as well as a “nutrition note” highlighting the health benefits of the particular ingredients used. From Beef Tenderloin with Bourbon Cherries to Artichoke Tomato Flatbread, the recipes are uncomplicated and enticing. Dinner can’t get much better than that.

p(bio). Marissa Lippert is a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant in New York City.

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