#notboring

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Alan Levinovitz is a professor of philosophy and religious studies and so it may be surprising that his latest book is about American diets. In The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat (deliberately provocative title, jeez!), he explores the myths and pseudoscience that much of our culture’s dietary understanding is based upon. He makes smart observations about the ways we use religious ideas and arguments to talk about food. And argues for a relationship with food that is less anxiety-ridden and fearful.

Once, at a farmers’ market, I asked a juice vendor whether her juice counted as “processed”—yet another vague, unscientific epithet that gets thrown around in discussions of food. After a moment of shock, she impressed upon me that processing fruit into juice doesn’t result in processed food. Only corporations, she insisted, were capable of making processed food. Not only that, but it wasn’t the processing that made something processed, so much as the presence of chemicals and additives.

Did the optional protein powder she offered count as a chemical additive, I pressed? A tan, gaunt customer interrupted us.

“It’s easy,” she said, staring at me intensely. “Processed food is evil.”

Processed food is evil. Natural food is good. These are religious mantras, the condensed version of simplistic fairy tales that divide up foods, and the world, according to moralistic binaries. Genuine nutritional science, like all science, rejects oversimplification. “Natural” and “processed” are not scientific categories, and neither is good nor evil. These terms should be employed by monks and gurus, not doctors and scientists. Yet it is precisely such categories, largely unquestioned, that determine most people’s supposedly scientific decisions about what and how to eat.

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Lovage

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Farmers Markets are slowly reopening in Chicago. I like this time of year, the produce tastes good, and it’s fun to be outdoors. But I often buy stuff just for the novelty of buying stuff, which is stupid. Sometimes, though, it pays off—like with the bunch of lovage that I impulse-bought at Green City Market on Saturday. I don’t see lovage very often, and I got excited. For those of you unfamiliar, lovage is herbaceous plant that tastes somewhat like celery—though more intense, and perhaps also a bit like lime. It’s delicious.  read more+++

Lottie + Doof + Dana Cree!!

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I met Dana Cree this past autumn when I moderated a Taste Talks panel on one of my favorite topics, ice cream. Dana is one of Chicago’s most celebrated and beloved pastry chefs and is responsible for the sweets at both Blackbird and Avec, two of Chicago’s most celebrated and beloved restaurants. She has twice been nominated for a James Beard award for her work at Blackbird. Dana really loves making (and eating) ice cream. She’s been selling small batches of her carefully produced pints at Chicago’s Publican Quality Meats, where each one warmly introduces itself with a “Hello my name is…” tag. Someday she’ll undoubtedly have her own ice cream shop (I can’t wait!), but for now we hoard pints. Her ice cream landed her on that panel with me where I learned that Dana is funny (she talked about poop!), smart (further evidence available on her beautiful blog) and generous (here she is!). read more+++

Saffron-Infused Tomato Sauce with Vermouth

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Maria Speck has written a second cookbook, Simply Ancient Grains, and it is reason to celebrate. I fell in love with Maria’s cooking and writing a couple of years ago when she published her first book, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals. It’s a book that has become a favorite in our house and taught me a lot about cooking with whole grains. I know I need more delicious grain recipes in my life, you probably do, too.  read more+++

Cookbook Review: Cookie Love

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There are a lot of cookbooks written by professional chefs who seem to have no memory of what it is like to cook at home. They often include complex recipes full of ingredients that are only available foraged from the forests of Northern California. Some of these books are perfectly lovely books and can be enjoyed for other reasons, but they’re unlikely to get much use in my kitchen. They’re aspirational, which I’m okay with—sometimes. More often, I want a book I can and will use regularly. On the other end of the spectrum there are books specifically designed for home cooks that include uninspired recipes for things like chocolate chip cookies or roasted chicken. Apparently, they’ve never heard about the internet. It is some seriously boring stuff. The current cookbook landscape leaves one feeling a bit like Goldilocks, looking for just right.

Mindy Segal, Chicago’s most iconic pastry chef, released her first cookbook, Cookie Love, this week. Segal is a James Beard award-winning (and frequently nominated) pastry chef who has been pushing sweets at Hot Chocolate, her restaurant/dessert bar, for the past decade. I learned to love pastry at Hot Chocolate. I lived near the restaurant for years and was a frequent and enthusiastic patron. The sweets she made were progressive and exciting, as well as totally satisfying and familiar. She never served a dessert so weird that you could not relax and enjoy it; her focus was on pleasure. She used salt and acid and temperature in her desserts, the way a savory cook might (and the way all pastry cooks should!). It lead to some incredible stuff. I have often hoped she would write a book—I was desperate for her secrets. About a year ago I learned that a book was finally happening, and that it would focus on cookies, the uncontested highest form of dessert. A food writer I admire, Kate Leahy, signed on to write the book with Segal. She has past experience translating the work of chefs to the home kitchen. Their book, published by Ten Speed Press, turns out to be exactly what this Goldilocks has been looking for. read more+++

Black Pepper Grapefruit Meringue Pie

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I ate a lot of good food on our recent trip to Detroit, but the best thing I ate was the pie from Sister Pie. I’d heard about them through one of their bakers, who kindly wrote and offered me some advice when she heard I was traveling to Detroit. At the time, you ordered pies online and picked them up from the charming Parker Street Market . But soon Sister Pie will have their own beautiful shop, thanks to one amazing dance party, lots of hard work, and the support of the community. It is one of many reasons that I will soon return to Detroit.

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Vegetable and Soba Salad with Mapled Tofu

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I’m going to keep this one simple: This is our current favorite thing to eat. It is so delicious, full of the flavors and textures that we often crave. And unlike salted caramel pound cake, it is actually healthy. It comes from the new book Bowl and Spoon by the smarties over at The Sprouted Kitchen, Sara and Hugh Forte. I like the food they make, and I like their books. This one is full of delicious recipes that are served in (#?)bowls, large and small. It feels just right for spring, and I have a lot of recipes bookmarked to try. read more+++

Salted Caramel Pound Cake

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Occasionally I come across Martha Stewart’s baking show on PBS. It is strange for many reasons, not the least of which are the lighting (there seem to be multiple suns in her world because the “natural” light coming in through windows is coming from all sorts of directions), and her pronunciation of the word pretty (priht-tea, with a strong emphasis on each syllable). The whole thing is mesmerizing. I would probably join a cult if Martha Stewart started one. Maybe I already have. read more+++