On The Page: Cooked and Eating On The Wild Side

Quite awhile ago, I won a giveaway from Modern Steader and received multiple boxes of awesomeness. Last year was super busy and as much as I wanted to jump into everything all at once, I was facing some uncertainty about where I was living (which made planting stuff a little difficult), staying in a place without an oven (which makes baking bread not an option), and I was generally overwhelmed with everything happening around me.

This summer, I had a little bit of time to myself and was finally able to sit down and read a book! Or two!

The first thing I picked up was Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health by Jo Robinson. This book is somehow simultaneously a breezy read and absolutely crammed with information. Robinson delves into the natural history of vegetables and fruits and relates how they changed when certain traits were selected for.

Each chapter deals with a subset of plants (apples, stone fruits, legumes, tomatoes, corn, etc.) and discusses the best choices in each area (generally dark colors are good … but not always) and how to best prepare the food so that its nutritional value is maximized (cook your carrots!). Conveniently, each chapter has a summary at the end because I know I’ll need to reference things as I try to shift some of my buying habits to healthier choices.

One of the things that found so awesome about this book was that the ideas for changing buying habits aren’t necessarily any more expensive or harder to prepare than the things that I’m already buying. This book was mostly just full of tools to make what I’m already doing (or know I should be doing) better and I really appreciated that.

Generally pumped up about eating better after finishing Eating on the Wild Side, I moved on to Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. I have read a couple of Pollan’s other books (The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto) and very much enjoyed them. In fact, In Defense of Food contains my favorite line about food ever: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Cooked was more classic Pollan awesomeness. In each of four sections, he examines a way of transforming food through cooking. The first section examines transformation with fire by exploring the barbecue traditions of the south. I really struggled to get through this section mostly because I was laying in the back of the Jeep after eating a bagel for dinner and I just wanted a good barbecue sandwich. The second section, transformation with water, looked at cooking and mostly at “pot cooking.” Pollan sings the praises of learning how to braise and I’m excited to give it another shot this fall.

Transformation with air focused on bread baking. Pollan, with trademark thoroughness, starts with baking with white flour and a sourdough culture but continues on to exploring a variety of whole wheat flour options and the challenges they present for a baker. (My Modern Steader prize package included a copy of Bread Alone and some bread baking goodies so I’m excited to jump in this fall.)

The final section was on fermentation (transformation by “soil”). It was obvious that Pollan was particularly invested in this transformation and explored cheese making, pickling, mead making, and beer making. I definitely identified with some of the arguments that are made about how our sterilization obsession has decreased our bodies access to good microbes. Cheese and beer are some of my favorite things to eat and in the last few years, have discovered pickled vegetables beyond cucumbers and would really like to experiment with that more.

In conclusion, there was a ton of history and science wrapped up in this book. I absolutely loved it and the reading went really fast once I got over the fact that I wasn’t eating all the deliciousness I was learning about on the pages. This is somethings worth reading for anyone: I’m not much of a chef myself but we all eat and my enjoyment of things is pretty much universally enhanced by knowing more about it.

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