Paula Deen’s Diabetes

So, Paula Deen, the TV cook, restaurateur, and cookbook author, has Type II diabetes.

And, apparently, she’s known about it for quite some time. There’s speculation that she’s kept her diagnosis quiet to protect her lucrative career as Queen of Southern Cooking. Of course, now that it’s out in the open, she’s announced that she’s teaming with NovoNordisk to promote a new diabetes drug.

In a USA Today interview, Deen noted that she was sad, because she thought she’d have to change her whole lifestyle. But thanks to the drug–and the addition of some moderate exercise in addition to cutting out the gallons of sweet tea–she’s doing just fine.

While Deen has been criticized by Anthony Bourdain for her super-rich recipes (he called her the “most destructive influence on the Food Network”), she says that she doesn’t cook her high-butter, high-sugar recipes every day. And while I’m never excited about pharmaceutical answers to lifestyle questions (it makes so much sense to prevent Type 2 diabetes, because it’s largely preventable), I have to say I’m just not sure that Paula Deen deserves as much criticism as she gets.

And that’s because I am pretty sure that cooking–even somewhat heavy cooking–is more of a cure than a disease–even when we’re talking about Paula Deen’s cooking. Let’s not forget that Julia Child cooked with “slabs of butter and glugs of cream,” too.

To me, even “unhealthy” home cooking is nearly always healthier than preprocessed food for a few simple reasons:

1. Preprocessed food is engineered for hyperpalatability–meaning that it’s designed to be appealing, addictive, and to go down easy (more on that here.)

2. (related to #1) Preprocessed food has profit-motive in mind.

3. Preprocessed food is too easy. If you make French fries or doughnuts from scratch at home, you won’t make them that much, because they’re a major pain in the butt. So you’ll only make & eat them at reasonable intervals

and

4. The effort that goes into home cooking–if recognized properly by everyone involved in the eating--brings it’s own kind of reverence, which helps moderate appetite. (I think.)

That’s one reason why I like everyone to play a role in making family meals happen. When we have a strong sense of time and effort and cooperation it takes to get a meal to the table, we’re apt to eat more reverently and less mindlessly.

So while I would rather Paula Deen not capitalize on her diagnosis to make pharmaceutical endorsements, I can’t bring myself to “hate on” her. Neither she nor her recipes are responsible for childhood obesity or for the preponderance of preventable diet-related disease.

Because that’s a problem that’s bigger than any one person.

Harnessing the ‘New Domesticity’ Without Diminishing Women

from my most recent post at the Christianity Today women’s blog

“In a recent opinion piece for the Washington Post, Emily Matchar, who writes regularly on the phenomenon frequently called the ‘new domesticity,’ wonders whether the resurgence of interest in canning, knitting, and generally DIY-spirited homekeeping is not, in fact, regressive–a ‘step back’ for women. Homekeeping, and all the domestic arts, are a minefield in our culture, often thought of–and treated as–degrading and menial work. The more creative domestic arts–sewing clothes, preserving food–are enjoying renewed popularity, and while Matchar concedes the pleasure to be found in making for yourself that which you’d otherwise purchase, she’s suspicious: after all, domestic work is unpaid work, and in a culture where women still earn, on average, less than their male counterparts, celebrating the domestic arts as creative, liberating fun is, for her, potentially dangerous:

If history is any lesson, my just-for-fun jar of jam could turn into my daughter’s chore, and eventually into my granddaughter’s “liberating” lobster strudel.”

For many within evangelicalism, the issue is further complicated by the ongoing debate on gender roles.

{…}

But if God keeps house, then housekeeping is both worthwhile and loosened from gendered stereotypes.”

(although one of the commenters doesn’t think so–“I maintain that Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 show pretty clearly that domesticity is the primary domain of a wife, not a man.”

Read it all here!

And leave a comment or question, if you so desire.

What Chefs Feed Their Kids

One of my favorite things about blogging is the free books. I’m not much of a book-buyer–being that my library system is well-stocked, efficient, and user-friendly–but sometimes it is nice to have one’s Very Own Copy of a book. And last week I received two lovely books for my perusal (and possible review) in the mail, one of which was this:

Fanae Aaron is an art director, not a chef, but when it came time to feed her son, she wanted more for him than rice cereal, that staple North American “first food” for babies–the “blandest and least exciting food ever created.”

She writes:

“I wondered if there was a way to feed kids that both nourishes and stimulates them. Our brains are wired to burst to life with new sensations. They light up and chemicals are released in our brains as we experience the pleasure and delight of something new and interesting.”

I love how her artistic sensibilities shaped her motivation for this project: she wanted food to be what it truly is–a creative sensory experience and an experience of love, care, and nourishment–not merely ‘healthy fuel.’ And so Fanae interviewed twenty or so very different chefs–from Ana Sortun to Zack Gross–to illustrate their strategies and attitudes in feeding their children.

Though it’s got gorgeous illustrations and fabulous recipes, this is more than another cookbook–there’s a lot of child development in there–examining why adventurous eaters suddenly become picky, for example, and explaining why certain foods and combinations simply don’t appeal to kids. Plus, the recipes are recipes that can be made for the whole family–not simply for the baby–with simple modifications for the young ones.

Son #1, with sweet potato

And there’s plenty of advice on how to get kids interested in trying new things–from cooking with them (with the aid of things like the learning tower) to reading books involving food and cooking.

(Our favorite children’s book involving cooking is Eddie’s Kitchen by Sarah Garland.)

Whether you’re a seasoned foodie with kids or a newbie foodie with kids or simply a parent who wants to start your kid on something tastier than rice cereal (we started with avocado!), I think this book will appeal to all your senses. It’s lovely.

Son #2, with avocado

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the other.”

~M.F.K. Fisher

Amen.

Many thanks to Jessica at Globe Pequot for the review copy of this book! You can buy yours here or here.

My New Favorite Cookbook

Okay, so well before “buy nothing day” I bought myself a present: The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook: 2,000 Recipes from 20 Years of America’s Most Trusted Food Magazine. I love Cook’s Illustrated (though I’ve never subscribed) and the previous cookbooks from America’s Test Kitchen, which also produces the magazine, although I don’t own any of them.

There are a few reasons why the recipes, magazines, and books from America’s Test Kitchen appeal to me–first, I love how obsessively they test each recipe. Have you had recipes from cookbooks fail? I certainly have. And let me tell you–it’s not always your fault. What I love about the recipes from ATK is that they’ve been tested and re-tested to achieve a very particular result (hence the very different recipes–ingredients and techniques–to produce soft and chewy chocolate chip cookies versus thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies.)

Related to this, each recipe comes with an explanation for why it’s formulated as it is. I love knowing why a recipe works as it does–why it’s important (or unimportant) to cream the butter and sugar first when making muffins, why to use a certain variety of flour, why to cook things over a certain temperature. It seems to me that knowing some of the theory behind the choices of ingredients and techniques makes a better cook, and ATK resources provide just that.

Much of that theory includes science, which is the third reason I love this new cookbook. I was never too keen on science in school (except for biology, because I liked dissecting things and learning about genetics and the digestive system) but this cookbook delivers just enough practical cooking science so as to make me take delight in the earthy job of cooking.

As Robert Farrar Capon wrote:

“Creation is vast in every direction. It is as hugely small as it is large. The number of water-filled interstices in my three tablespoonfuls of flour runs the interstellar distances a fair second; the appeal to size [implying that people, small in relation to the universe’s magnitude, are insignificant] is a self-canceling argument. Plying my whisk, I know that what goes on here is neither less mysterious nor less marvelous that what happens there…saucepan in hand, I refuse to be snowed.”

{Fr. R.F. Capon, The Supper of the Lamb}

So all that to say, I heartily recommend this cookbook. Take up, read, and follow closely–with lots of love and attention!–and the results are very likely to bring you (and others!) joy.

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

I don’t know about you, but I love Thanksgiving–a day for feasting and giving thanks for God’s good gifts.

Since there are relatively few truly American food traditions, Thanksgiving has always appealed to me–even though I realize that, of course, the historical origins of the holiday are not as clear-cut as they appear in the Magic Tree House Thanksgiving book:

(A very different story that’s actually true is Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving. It tells the story of writer Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote letters to American presidents to ask for the creation of Thanksgiving for 40 years!)

Anyway! Now that I’ve said that about loving traditional Thanksgiving food, I might as well confess that I’m not cooking a turkey. No one in my family likes turkey all that much, and they’re expensive, especially if you buy a free range heritage bird (which I’d like to try.)

I’m going to make a chicken instead, which I’ll brine for 1 hour in 2 quarts of water + 1/2 cup each of sugar and salt.

The other traditional Thanksgiving dishes–cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole–I can’t give up. Occasionally I read about “updating” Thanksgiving with steamed veggies tossed with toasted nuts, or roasted sweet potatoes tossed with olive oil, and it just makes me feel depressed. I don’t go so far as to include mini-marshmallows on my sweet potatoes–everyone, including me, is just as happy with some pecan streusel on top–but my green beans must be lovingly bathed in a cream sauce or Thanksgiving is not complete.

What makes your Thanksgiving complete, food-wise?

Here are some links to recipes very similar to the ones in my Thanksgiving recipe file:

Green Bean Casserole (Cook’s Illustrated)

Cranberry Fruit Conserve (Ina Garten)

Classic Bread Stuffing with Sage and Thyme (Cook’s Illustrated)

Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Streusel (Cook’s Illustrated)

And I wish you and yours a peaceful Thankgiving full of joy and gratitude!

(See you on Friday.)