Monthly Archives: May 2016

‘The Oh She Glows Cookbook: Vegan Recipes to Glow from the Inside Out’ by Angela Liddon

Oh She GlowsstarstarstarstarIt’s always good to know if your dinner guests have any dietary restrictions. I think we have become quite comfortable dealing with the gluten free and vegetarian diets, whether those are health related choices or medical restrictions. But the word “vegan” still strikes fear in my heart, and maybe yours too, wondering what on earth I could cook with a no-animal-products-whatsoever consideration!

Blogger, self-trained chef, and food photographer Angela Liddon comes to the rescue with a creative and lovely cookbook brimming with great ideas and recipes using wholesome plant-based foods. Click on her name to see her blog. In addition to being meat and dairy free, Liddon’s recipes are also mostly free of gluten, soy, and processed foods. What’s left you might ask? Well, how do these recipe names grab you:

Spa Day Bircher Muesli
Out-the-Door Chia Power Doughnuts
Cheerful Chocolate Smoothie
Mushroom-Walnut Pesto Tart
Glowing Strawberry-Mango Guacamole
Festive Kale Salad with Sweet Apple-Cinnamon Vinaigrette & Pecan Parmesan
Crowd-Pleasing Tex-Mex Casserole
Lentil-Walnut Loaf
Sweet Potato & Black Bean Enchiladas with Avocado-Cilantro Cream Sauce
Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes with Easy Mushroom Gravy
Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Bites
Raw Pumpkin-Maple Pie with Baked Oat Crust
Chilled Chocolate-Espresso Torte with Toasted Hazelnut Crust
Homemade Yolos

This cookbook begins with a helpful introduction and discussion about  non-dairy milk, sweeteners, fats/oils, salt, herbs and spices, nuts/seeds, beans/legumes, vegetable broth, soy products, acids, and chocolate. I think this section is important to take the mystery out of whole foods and encourage the cook to shop well and take advice on how to stock the pantry in order to tackle vegan dishes without much fuss. I think we have been bamboozled by the fast food industry into thinking that only unhealthy foods are quick and easy.  There is also a helpful section on tools and equipment.

There is nothing fancy or unpronounceable in the things Liddon mentions for use. The ingredients are simple and available, especially in whole food stores. And if you are not actually vegan yourself, you could use non-vegan ingredients to make the same recipes. You can substitute cheese for nutritional yeast (an inactive, dead form of yeast not to be confused with brewer’s yeast which lends a cheesy, nutty flavour to vegan recipes), or throw in some meat if you want.

What I love about this book is the creative food combinations and gorgeous photographs. My daughter gave the book to me (Thanks Kristin!) and she says the recipes that she tried were simple, wholesome, and accessible. I am excited to road-test and experiment with them myself!

‘Purple Hibiscus’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscusstarstarstarstar“We did not scale the rod because we believed we could, we scaled it because we were terrified that we couldn’t.”

This book, set in Nigeria, has been on my TBR pile for years and I’m so glad my book club assignment finally moved it to the top of the list. What a beautifully written and moving story! I loved it as much as Adichie’s other novels Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah.

The author, while portraying the curious mix of love and fear in an abusive family situation, very articulately draws a portrait of a country filled with incredible beauty but also fraught with heartbreaking struggle. The book is so readable and the characters are very vivid. An African novel not to miss!

Kambili is living a life of wealthy privilege but also of abuse. Along with her mother and brother, the family endure physical and emotional trauma from her fanatically religious and extremely controlling father. It is an all too typical tragedy where the patriarch is revered in the community, and makes positive contributions to strangers, but abandons the needs of those closest to him.

When the political climate becomes dangerous because of a military coup, her father sends the two children away to stay with his sister Ifeoma. Their Aunty’s modest home is so very different–full of laughter, lively conversation, and so obviously devoid of cruel authority. Everyone helps, people encourage and tease each other, there is freedom to make choices, and doing the responsible thing is motivated from within rather than beaten into them. Kambili and her brother Jaja get a taste of freedom and unconditional love for the first time. Their minds are opened and things will never be the same again.

‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Airstarstarstarstarstar“Even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I’m still living.”

Paul Kalanithi, like any medical student, spent countless hours in the hospital, working gruellingly long shifts as a neurosurgeon. So when his back began to ache and he was fatigued, he was not unduly alarmed. However, when he began to lose a lot of weight and the pain grew worse, tests revealed that this promising young physician was about to become a patient himself.

Diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, Paul and his wife Lucy embarked on a journey that was more about living than dying. They decided to go ahead and start a family and their daughter Cady was Paul’s pride and joy, born just months before he died. The early chapters of the book outline the kind of person Paul was–a brave, thoughtful student of literature and philosophy as well as of neuroscience. Even before his illness, he was often occupied with questions about the meaning of life because as a neurosurgeon he was used to making life and death decisions for and with his patients. In addition to becoming a surgeon, he also wanted to write, and he got that opportunity with this book. His poetic prose show what a talent he has. I use the present tense purposefully here, because as novelist Abraham Verghese says in the Foreword to this book, it’s as if Paul is still with us, his hopeful voice still seems to linger in our hearts and minds.

This dying doctor’s gripping memoir is a natural, honest, and unflinching account of his journey. Paul’s willingness to reflect and share and not avert his eyes from death, will undoubtedly inspire and comfort others who are ill or who experience loss. The final paragraph is directed towards his infant daughter and it is breathtakingly beautiful. The Epilogue is written by Paul’s wife, because Paul did die before he could finish the book. Lucy’s voice rounds out the story. I loved hearing from her as well.

I fully agree with novelist Ann Patchett who called this book a “universal donor,” one to recommend to anyone and everyone.

‘The Portable Veblen’ by Elizabeth McKenzie

The Portable VeblenstarstarstarThis nutty confection of a novel is a rom-com that’s not super-sweet and very original. Squirrels figure prominently in the story and are responsible for much of the foreshadowing at the beginning of the book. The Portable Veblen is partly rumination on marriage and family, partly statement about materialism and consumerism, and partly revealing about corruption in big business.

Veblen and Paul become engaged quite quickly, and then begin to get to know each other. This leads to a rather tentative engagement, especially when their eccentric families come into the picture and they realize how opposite they really are about doing life. And then there are squirrels portrayed both as pesky pests and as wise confidantes. It is mostly a whimsical morality tale about the values we choose to live by, and felt a bit like a modern fairy tail….er, tale.

Veblen (named after a Norwegian economist) is a passionate defender of anti-consumerism and a translator of Norwegian. Paul is a neuroscientist working on a new device to minimize battlefield brain trauma. He, in sharp contrast to his fiancé, is lured by fame and fortune and finds himself in a shady deal.

Described as “riotously funny and slyly profound,”  I must say that all rang true when I started and I liked what the author was trying to do, but it did not sustain (or in my opinion succeed) as the quirky thoughtful novel it could have been. Even though I normally love a good character study, I found this one quite boring and the characters as unremarkable and random as the deadpan black and white photos scattered throughout the book. Nothing much happens to propel the story forward and I found Veblen and Paul were woefully undeveloped and two dimensional. They felt like props put there for the purpose of the novel. The witty appendices at the end, including the word squirrel in 65 languages, was too little too late and felt like a cheap trick. I struggle to give it three stars, but do so only because it must be on the Bailey’s shortlist for a reason and has received many glowing reviews. Perhaps it just wasn’t my bowl of acorns.

‘Father’s Day’ by Simon Van Booy

Father's DaystarstarstarThis book starts with tragedy–it says so on the back cover. So the opening pages about Harvey and her parents are poignant. Her mother mentions an uncle she has never met,  but not in a positive way. “Jason is not part of our family anymore…He’s not a nice man.” Jason, Harvey’s father’s brother, is a disabled felon with a criminal record.

Suddenly the book jumps ahead 20 years. Harvey is living in Paris and her father is coming to visit. She has prepared a Father’s Day gift for him—a box full of memorabilia. She also has a mysterious envelope which contains some official documents which she is nervous about sharing with him.

When Harvey is orphaned, her case is handled by an intuitive social worker named Wanda who sees potential and a capacity for love in Harvey’s uncle Jason that he is not even aware of himself. This social worker takes a risk and the story that ensues is an honest and earthy portrayal of the challenges of parenting and the tricky business of adoption. It’s about believing in others and about believing in yourself.

I loved the characters in this novel and how they develop. Van Booy is himself no stranger to tragedy, which gives the book an authentic feel. There was an amazing surprise in that envelope of documents and a further twist at the end of the story which will no doubt generate discussion. Van Booy’s simple straightforward writing style felt slightly awkward at times, but overall I found this to be a captivating story about family, belonging, and home.

Note: I’m on the Reviewer’s List for Father’s Day was sent to me as an advance copy. It comes out later this spring to coincide with Father’s Day!