Comment Home / Reviews

Eat, cook, blog, book

Super Natural Cooking presents healthful eating, not as a negative stop-gap to avoid disease, but as a toothsome celebration of the age we live in.
BOOK REVIEW: Heidi Swanson, Super Natural Cooking: Five Ways to Incorporate Whole & Natural Ingredients into Your Cooking. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts, 2007. Paperback, 224 pp. List price: US$20.00/C$24.95.
Supernatural Cooking

It used to be that incorporating quinoa, agave syrup, and amaranth into your diet was a clear sign of latent hippie-ness, and maybe moral questionability. After all, a good diet consisted mostly of meat and potatoes, perhaps with a side of cooked frozen vegetables; unfamiliar foods with funny names were suspicious.

My mother—apparently way ahead of her time—fed us millet and raw honey, carrot juice, black beans and brown basmati rice, spelt noodles, rice milk, carob, homemade bread made from freshly ground whole grains, and an alarming quantity of tofu-based "desserts." At home, that was normal food—it was just what we ate. But when I pulled out my almond-butter-on-whole-wheat-bread sandwich and blue corn chips for lunch at school, the other kids sometimes looked at me a little quizzically over their ham-and-cheese-on-white-bread and Fruit Roll-Ups.

Sometime in the last decade, that dynamic has shifted, and none too soon. It seems that every town has a natural foods store within driving distance, and in some places there's a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's on every corner. The reports on skyrocketing obesity levels, plummeting food quality, and myriad illnesses (both physical and mental) that blight the health news headlines should be enough to convince those of us who care about our health to take a second look at what we're eating. However, constructing meals around foods we've never learned to cook, no matter how good we know they are for our well-being, seems daunting at best and impossible at worst, and the results can seem less than appealing.

Into this confusing landscape steps Heidi Swanson, a photographer, blogger, and designer from San Francisco. Swanson began the celebrated 101 Cookbooks blog in early 2003, after she looked up at her extensive cookbook collection and realized she'd been cooking the same things over and over again. Since then, 101 Cookbooks has evolved into a site championing delectable, nourishing foods made with whole, natural ingredients, and her book, Super Natural Cooking, carries over the same sensibility.

Super Natural Cooking is stuffed full of simple, reasonable recipes with ingredients that seem neither scary nor obscure and which have gourmet-looking results. Beginning with a primer on building a natural foods pantry, Swanson instructs the reader in whole grains and their uses, "cooking by color" (fruits and vegetables), "knowing your superfoods" (particularly nutritious ingredients), and using alternative sweeteners to make desserts, drinks, and other low-glycemic goodies.

Its contents alone are enough reason to love the book, but Super Natural Cooking's construction, layout, and photography will delight any lover of good design. This is a book you want to hold in your hand and carefully read. Swanson writes with enthusiasm and optimism about the wealth of nutrition and taste to be found in these foods. All the recipes are vegetarian—most are vegan—but none use anything that couldn't be found in your local natural foods store.

And the food presented here is truly beautiful. I made the granola recently, which not only tastes amazing but is actually pretty, costs a fraction of what I pay for store-brand granola, and earned major husband kudos. There's an Indian carrot soup, millet "fried rice," curried tofu, guacamole, barley risotto, espresso banana muffins, and decadent desserts sweetened only with honey, bananas, or agave syrup. There's nothing bland or strange-tasting here; these recipes represent "upgrades" to your current menu, not deprivations. And they won't empty your wallet with strange, expensive ingredients.

Why is a book like Super Natural Cooking important in our time? First, the book presents a success story for writers, cooks, and bloggers looking to publish a book. Swanson works hard at 101 Cookbooks, skillfully photographing the results of her labors in the kitchen and building what is undoubtedly one of the loveliest cooking sites on the web. By establishing a reputation in this way she landed her book deal. Her imagination and perseverance is an excellent example for aspiring writers.

Swanson also presents healthful eating, not as a negative stop-gap to avoid disease, but as a toothsome celebration of the age we live in, where we can make food from all different cultures with the ingredients from our grocery shelves—food that is aesthetically pleasing, delicious, and good to serve to friends, family, and guests. This is not a book filled with "healthy" versions of old standbys, but creative foods that take advantage of their ingredients' natural properties to create something new, beautiful, and altogether good.

Help us spread the word:
Alissa Wilkinson Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in NYC, and chief film critic at Christianity Today. ... read more »

Posted in Arts.

Subscribe to the Comment Weekly Newsletter
Comment's online articles serve as bridges between print issues. Get an email in your inbox every Friday, so you don't miss out.
  • Stay up-to-date and informed
  • Only one concise digest email per week
  • We will never share your email address. No Spam!
We will never sell or rent your email address. Your privacy is important to us

Related Articles

We'd love to hear your comments. Tell us what you think of this article! We'll use the best comments in Comment's print edition, and top commenters each month will receive a free, signed copy of our editor's recent book: Discipleship in the Present Tense.

Copyright © 1974-2014 Cardus. All Rights Reserved.

Features

  1. Public Health and the Common Good

    October 16, 2014 | Matthew Loftus

    While the Church speaks out against abortion and euthanasia, it lags in creating a culture that supports the most vulnerable unwed mothers or fosters good end-of-life decision-m...

Reviews

  1. Zero to What, Zero to Where?

    October 30, 2014 | Peter Boumgarden

    The number of students interested in entrepreneurship is shooting up drastically. So what kinds of startups are they pursuing? And which should we invest in?
  2. Beyond "Engagement": The Next Conversation We Need About Politics

    May 1, 2014 | James K.A. Smith

    Looking elsewhere for the robust embrace of politics that will speak today—to our time and place and audience.

Cardus Blog

  1. The Imagination: Free, but Everywhere in Chains

    October 30, 2014 | Doug Sikkema

    How might we imagine something new? How might we even begin? This question has been on my mind since I read Jonathan Kay’s extraordinary piece on Jang Jin-Sung, a def...
  2. Canada: Back to Normal

    October 27, 2014 | Peter Stockland

    Normalcy seemed to make a quick Canadian comeback last week when CBC Radio convened a media panel to discuss how well the media covered the Oct. 22 attack on Parliament Hill. T...

Print Issue

  1. September 2014: Cracks in the Secular
    Comment Magazine - Cracks in the Secular An injection of hope: the fall issue of Comment will seriously challenge and confront the attempt of some to reconfigure North American public life in a way that diminishes and ...
Comment on iPad