Cookbook Reviews, Reviews

Cookbook Review: Honestly Healthy for Life is Honestly Bollocks.

Here’s the T: I wouldn’t have agreed to review Honestly Healthy for Life if I’d realised it was a cookbook pushing a fad diet. The tagline – healthy alternatives for everyday eating – sounded innocuous enough, and when I skimmed through a PDF preview of the book, I skipped the verbose 57 page intro straight to the spread of recipes. Honestly Healthy appeared to be serving up wholesome vegetarian meals and snacks with a strong foundation in fresh ingredients that looked simple, delicious and healthy.

Honestly Healthy is actually the name of the latest anti-cancer-live-forever-quack-don’t-crack miracle diet in which you mostly eat foods that “turn alkaline in the stomach” and in return you become like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable. The Honestly Healthy diet claims to cure everything from heartburn, psoriasis and cystitis to stammering, allergies and miscarriages – oh, and you can ditch the antidepressants because everything will come up roses once you quit eating steak, miso and honey.

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I gave my copy of Honestly Healthy for Life to my resident beardo Smokin Brofu, who gesticulated a lot as he worked his way through all the Bad Science. He explained that you can no more turn acid into alkaline than you can turn a pig into a duck. A quick Google pulled up more anti-bullshit articles and it quickly became apparent that Honestly Healthy is Honestly Bollocks.

The thing is, I’m sure following this diet to the letter would result in weight loss, reduced blood pressure, clearer skin and all that jazz: that’s the nature of preparing all your own meals, reducing your intake of fatty snacks, fizzy drinks, caffeine, booze, dairy, red meat, corn syrup and living a bland but virtuous lifestyle. This is healthy eating 101 with a new name slapped on its rump, a new arbitrary list of bad foods to avoid and the same old irresponsible promises.

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It’s frustrating because it is otherwise a brilliant book: yeah the ‘Girls Night In’ chapter made my eye twitch (must we? MUST WE?) and I think I verbally sighed at the ‘Flat Tummy’ chapter (yo, French Women Don’t Get Fat called and wants its pro-ana bullshit back), but the photography is gorgeous and the recipes are actually surprisingly great.

I whipped up the sundried tomato pesto, watermelon gazpacho and the ‘Perfect Salad Dressing’ – three very basic recipes, with easily sourced corner shop ingredients. Truthfully, each one was delicious, healthy and fresh, easy to prepare and store in bulk. We stirred the pesto over pasta, spread it on bruschetta and in sandwiches and we also used a smear as a pizza base. The watermelon soup was the perfect chilled accompaniment to a hot summer evening. The recipes are solid, the food photography is solid. The foundation is as shaky as a shitting dog.

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I’m torn: on the one hand, this is a brilliant collection of vegetarian and vegan recipes. On the other hand, they are draped over a framework of straight up bollocks. I’ve held onto this book for a long time, debating whether or not it’s fair to write a negative review for a book that’s almost fantastic, but ultimately my inability to keep my mouth shut won. Pick it up for the food inspiration, but don’t spend too long picking over the intro.

If anyone has any reputable links to scientific papers that support the Honestly Healthy alkaline diet, hit me up in the comments because I’m genuinely curious.

Instagram

In Defence of Instagram Food Porn.

P1030870Tofu po boy from Lost Love Lounge in New Orleans (2013).

I will drunkenly defend the following to death:

1. The lyrical nuances of 90s smash Butterfly by cultural icons Crazy Town.
2. Grilled pub nachos.
3. Crushed velvet.
4. Men in crushed velvet.
5. The Dome, a Tuffnell Park nightclub with a dubious door policy, from 2000 to 2004.
6. The musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (but never Xander, who gives me the heebeejeebies with his socially inept sexual predatory and his cold dead eyes).
7. The shittiest piss-stained pubs in Camden and drinking Srongbow in their dismal concrete gardens.
8. The HIM cover of Chris Isaac’s Wicked Game, which has been my jam since Greatest Love Songs Vol. 666 circa 1998.
9. The life and work of the UK’s greatest punk outfit, The Stranglers.

And, the wild card at number ten: food photos on social media.

(… yeah, and the rest. I could honestly go on for years which I suspect means I have questionable taste).

P1030512Brunch at Boot and Shoe, Oakland (2013).

But seriously, for my sins, I love Instagrammers who just post endless pictures of food. I love Facebook albums that have more pictures of meals than sights, and I love Twitter accounts that specialise in plates over people. From intricate and expensive dinners to fastfood in car parks, homecooked feasts to snacks on the go: I love them. I love them more than I lOvEd TyPiNg LiKe ThIs In ThE NiNeTiEs On MsN. I love them more than I love April from Parks and Rec, but less than I love Kat Stratford from 10 Things I Hate About You.

People dislike foodie photos on social for the same reason they hate people who spend entire gigs with their iPhones held aloft: if you’re busy documenting it, you can’t be enjoying it, so if you’re not enjoying it, why are you bragging about doing it by documenting it in the first place? Either that, or because they simply find them tedious. Well, here are some things I find tedious on Instagram:

1. Cars in absolutely any context apart from driver selfies on road trips.
2. Children unless they are being impressive, ridiculous or stylish.
3. Before/after weightloss propaganda.
4. Competition regrams for things that I don’t want.
5. Stills of the Netflix homepage and a duvet to denote cosiness.
6. Literally anything tagged #liveclean unless it’s one of my beloved fats trolling.
7. Inspirational quotes.
8. Ironic Danny Dyer quotes in an inspirational-quote context.
9. Screencaps of text conversations.
10. Screencaps of the results of a reality TV show I have been avoiding spoilers for since January.

London01 - CopyGoodbye lunch at the Oxo Tower Brasserie, London (2012).

But foodie pics, foodie pics I can really get behind. I love taking them, I love seeing them. I like piles of raw ingredients, the calmness before the storm of plate composition, mid-feast action shots, empty dishes scattered with crumbs. Smell, taste and texture are so evocative, so very present, in photos.

Rhuby Spritz from The Oxo Tower BrasserieCocktails at the Oxo Tower Brasserie, London (2012).

This Instagram of a pink cocktail, for example, reminds me of our goodbye dinner with Bhavna at the Oxo Tower Brasserie, because she’d always wanted to go and it felt like our last chance to take her even though, of course, it wasn’t. The picture reminds me of childhood too, because the drink tasted like rhubarb and custards, those old fashioned sweets from red-topped spaghetti jars that we used to buy from the corner store next door to my father’s favourite Italian deli.

When I look at this cocktail, I remember walking through Southbank afterwards, a buzz from the pricey liquor in our blood, past the book stalls beneath Waterloo Bridge. I remember saying goodbye at the tube station, the way Nisha and I cried on the escalator as we watched Bhavna walk away because she was leaving for Dubai that afternoon.

Of course, these specific memories are very personal and Instagram is all about sharing, but there’s no denying the evocative nature of food: you can practically smell the fried batter and tang of vinegar on chippy Instagrams. Images of meals, drinks and snacks tell stories of a different mood or time, of celebrations and hangovers and busyness, of experiments and achievements, of love and loss, of different cities in different countries in different parts of the world.

IMG_1345Tofu bacos at Ba Chi Canteen, New Orleans (2014).

What I’m getting around to saying is that I love all these photos.  and if I hadn’t taken it, perhaps I wouldn’t remember as much detail as I do about the meal, the sounds, textures and weather. I hate reading snide little pops aimed at social media foodies, or that tired sigh of ennui – ‘do you have to take a photo of every plate? Why can’t you just enjoy a meal without taking a photo of it? Are you taking another photo of food?’

You know the type of comment I mean: they reach peak passive aggression at Christmas and I assume it’s because they only eat bland, beige foods like ready salted crisps dipped in Smash, and there isn’t a filter on earth that’ll make that shit look appealing.

P1030576Raspberry and fig macarons from Bouchon, California (2013).

And you know what? Anyone who’s ever felt anxious about taking a perfectly legit photo will know that having your photo mocked before the shutter’s even closed feels quite disheartening. Perhaps what I want to do is take a fucking photo of my burrito, then eat my fucking burrito and then post the picture on the internet like a glorious foil-wrapped guacamole trophy. If everyone else can post bland pictures of things they’re proud of – cars, dissertations, offspring, mediocre crafts – why can’t we simply document our achievements too? (Achievements including but not limited to: well honed ordering skills, on point toppings, luxury bitch cocktails, getting out of bed in time for brunch or even a meal that could legitimately be called breakfast – of course, I’m preaching to the choir here, but that is a genuine slither of my CV).

e025cc96196111e3a3eb22000a1fbdaa_7Breakfast at Boot and Shoe, Oakland (2013).

The wonderful thing about camera phones, Instagram and the like is that we’re compiling photo diaries, documenting the everyday minutiae that will eventually seem distant, old-fashioned, comedically of the time. Macarons will be totally naff, a twee equivalent to pastel pink prawn cocktail served in a martini glass with limp lambs lettuce.

Some people like to take endless selfies, some document every power haircut or shopping spree or sunset. Others specialise in snaps of various drinks paired with paperbacks. It’s all good, pals. Continue to create your virtual scrapbook of whatever the fuck you like. Personally, I like my Instagrammers to keep a ratio of 70:30 (that’s food to pets, with occasional wild cards like bookshelves, acrylic jewellery and parties that look cool).

So go forth, eat everything and d o c u m e n t   i t   a l l.

Follow me @smokintofu. Adios.

Blog News, Body Positivity

Fuck Yeah Babes Eating In Public: A Blog About Eating Because Eating is Important

Let’s just get one thing really fucking clear: the Facebook group that posts candid snaps of women eating on the tube is fucking bullshit. At the time of writing, Women Who Eat on Tubes has over 14,000 fans. Over 14000. When I first heard about this insipid corner of the internet, the group had around 5000 followers. Since then – less than a month – their numbers have almost trebled. This blows my fragile, booze-addled mind: their numbers have trebled. Why are 14000 people into this shit?

There are worse groups on the internet than a collective that posts covert snaps of women eating in public. No one is going to lose their job, their business, or their family over a covert image of themselves eating a pasty on the Victoria line. I know that, that’s a fucking given.

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Charlotte of Black Heart Creatives chowing down on a big ol’ burger.

Despite that, Women Who Eat on Tubes rests somewhere between vaginal speculums and Primark knicker-induced thrush on the scale of irritants that get right up my fucking cunt. The only difference is that speculums are essential for cancer screenings and thrush is one of those pesky natural visitors, like black mould or coldsores, that we just have to grin and bear whilst we apply special cream until they go the fuck away. I’ve asked my local pharmacist, and she confirms that there’s no special cream for online fuckwittery.

Taking unconsensual photos of strangers in public with the explicit intention of sharing them online to be mocked, shamed – or yeah man, even celebrated – is not something that adults should do. Those last few words – “not something that adults should do” – belong to teachers bollocking year elevens for blowing up condoms like balloons or having water fights in the science lab. It’s not a phrase that we should be using amongst ourselves, amongst legitimate grown ups that can legally buy vodka or vote in general elections or write for the FT, to describe behaviour that’s inappropriate

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Bethany of Arched Eyebrow getting stuck into some serious banger action.

For a lark, I created a tumblr to spread pictures of babes noshing the fuck out. It’s called Fuck Yeah Babes Eating in Public. It’s my way of sticking two riotous fingers up to this pack vacuous twats. Check it out, submit badass pictures and eat the fuck up. Cheers.

 

Blog News

Lately, I’ve Been Mostly…

WELL, it’s been a while. I’m still uhmming and ahhing over what to do with Smokin Tofu. I guess you can expect more travel posts and more body positivity, less restaurant reviews but more food porn. That’s the craic at the moment. I’ve not been resting on my laurels though. This month I’ve:

– interviewed ‘A Girl Called’ Jack Monroe for For Books’ Sake.

– written a thing for Vol Up 2 about fat and the Final Girl in horror movies.

– contributed to the For Books’ Sake feature in Geeked’s Intersectionality Issue.

– prepared for my forthcoming trip to New Orleans (so excited – it’s for my pal Nisha’s wedding!).

– started a Tumblr called Fuck Yeah Babes Eating in Public, which is unsurprisingly dedicated to celebrating women eating in public (because apparently we shouldn’t).

– worn a pretty banging doughnut necklace (review coming soon) from Black Heart Creatives.

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We fly to New Orleans in two weeks! I’m so fucking excited to introduce my boyfriend to one of my favourite cities in the world. I’m looking forward to listening to jazz, eating bacos at Ba Chi Canteen, visiting the sculpture garden and going on another ghost walk of the French Quarter. There really is nowhere else on earth like New Orleans. I’m also psyched because a big chunk of my book is set in the city, so I’m going to be wondering round with a notebook in hand and camera stuck to my face for our ten day stay, gathering as much rich detail as I can.

Cookbook Reviews

Cookbook Review: World Food Café Vegetarian Bible.

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Last summer, the kind folk of Frances Lincoln sent Smokin’ Tofu a copy of World Food Café: Quick and Easy Recipes from a Vegetarian Journey to review. You may recall that review it I did, and I absolutely chuffing loved it. What a lucky bunny I am, because I’ve also had the opportunity to take the follow up cookbook, World Food Café Vegetarian Bible, out for a spin.

P1030386I’m currently sitting in my living room drinking black instant coffee. Outside, the sky is the colour of cooked rice and there’s a chill in the air that completely spoils the illusion that spring is about to give way to summer. My boyfriend is sitting on a mattress on our living room floor, freshly showered, with a bowl of leftover Thai takeaway from our anniversary treat last night. The smell of garlic and coconut, lime juice and chilli, mingled with the boyish scent of body spray and shampoo, permeates the air. He is happily munching, lost in his bowl.

There are three types of cookery books, in my experience: books of basic staples P1030110like the perfect arrabbiata sauce or how to bake a simple loaf of bread; books of ambitious recipes that, with a little practice, can become part of any confident cook’s repertoire. And then there’s the super involved, ten-page-per-recipe books that use a never ending supply of obscure ingredients. They are complicated, beautiful and kind of hard to understand, like gastropoetry. They are more like arty coffee table books than cookery books. World Food Café books are the best of all three – staples, show-stoppers and absolutely beautiful – in one.

The 200 recipes span 38 different countries, islands and regions, from North Africa to French Polynesia, Southeast Asia to Central and Southern America. Whilst recipes like Moroccan mint tea, Marrakesh tajine, falafel and homemade harissa paste form the basics for the North African chapter, the more adventurous cook can skip straight to the Ouarzazate Couscous or the Briq Á L’Oeuf.

2013-02-14 14.23.09Thai green curry was the first dish I cooked from World Food Café Vegetarian Bible. It wasn’t so much that I set out to cook something from the book, but that I wanted to use a Thai spice set Brendan gave me for Christmas and after some fruitless internet searching, it occurred to me to check my new culinary bible for a simple paste recipe. Sure enough, there was a recipe for vegetarian Thai green curry, from paste to accompaniments.

Living in a multicultural quarter of London, I have easy access to most of the ingredients featured in the book, like jaggery and tempeh, but authors Chris and Carolyn Caldicott are always mindful to suggest alternatives when a particularly regional ingredient is listed. On the most part, the recipes are comprised of simple core ingredients that are available from even the crappiest supermarkets, and any cook with a spice cupboard worth her salt should be able to navigate the longer ingredients lists with ease. We are living in a post-Ottolenghi world, after all.

I’ve found, over the few months I’ve had World Food Cafeé Vegetarian Bible knocking around my kitchen, I reach for it often, whether I’ve just got a load of shiny cheap aubergines from the market and am wondering if there’s a decent baba ganoush recipe (there is), or if I feel like cooking something completely new. It’s a brilliant Mother’s Day gift if you have a mom that likes to whip veggies into shape, otherwise it’s just a handy volume to have knocking around, should you spontaneously decide that today is the day you try refrying your own refried beans or try your hand at homemade flat bread.

You can order yourself a copy of World Food Cafe Vegetarian Bible for £16.00 spondoolies including free UK p&p (RRP: £20.00), by givng Littlehampton Book Services a bell on 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk and quote the offer code APG58.

 

Instagram, Veggie Friendly London

Veggie London: Gujarati Rasoi, Dalston.

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If you’re one of those people that likes to flap your gums on Twitter about how tedious you find, pastel filters, pretty desserts, cat photos and happiness, this post probably isn’t for you. You’ll feel more at home over on Thug Kitchen for a bit, cos shit around here is about to get seriously fucking twee. I’m going to use the words “pop up” and “magical” and post hazy-hued Instagram pics of pretty dishes and that’s just the way it’s going down today.

My boyfriend and I have a soft spot for Tayaabs in Whitechapel, but we decided it was too far to take his dad and partner when they were in town. Brendan found Gujarati Rasoi online, and with its chipboard walls and colourful bunting, I fell in love.

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Gujarati Rasoi started out as a family-run business, known for their traditional Indian sauces and spice blends. The mother-son business duo serve up home cooked vegetarian dishes along with their signature sauces at Borough Market (Monday – Saturday) and Broadway Market (Saturdays only). The pair established a restaurant in 2012, and that is where we found ourselves dining one drizzly December evening.

Gujarati Rasoi has a minimalist interior with clean candlelit tables and a few homey touches, like the sunset bunting draped above the diners’ heads, to cosy up the space. The menu matches the pared down interior: spanning just one side of A4, Gujarati Rasoi offer a handful of starters and sides, three veggie main courses and a couple of desserts to choose between. 

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Luckily, each dish is perfect like a kitten’s sneeze or the sound of someone offering to go the bar. The menu is ever-changing, so you won’t necessarily be having a taste-party with saag paneer, coconut kulfi or Sooji Ka Halwa as pictured, but everything we tasted was divine, so you may as well take a roll of the dice.

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Blog News, Travel, We Are Adventuring: World Food

Smokin’ Tofu: 2013 Retrospective & an Announcement of Sorts.

Here it is, chaps: the ol’ obligatory end of year round up. I’ll try not to yawn on too much but feel free to skip to the end.

// Trips // I went on three trips to four cities abroad this year:

P1020785My boyfriend and I went to Amsterdam in the spring, where we hung out in coffee shops with cats and drank beers by the canals. 

P1020309In April, I quelled a hangover with vegan currywurst in a very snowy Berlin with my big brother.

38a971aa231811e3bba622000a1fbc9c_7I popped my New Orleans veggie cherry, listened to jazz in the streets and drank in a toilet-themed bar called The John with my pal Nisha in the autumn.

P1030512And finally, I brunched the fuck out of Oakland with My Byfriend’s Kitchen author Brett. 

// Travel in 2014 // I’ve already got TWO flippin’ trips booked for this year: my darling Nisha is marrying her boo in April, so Brendan and I are heading back to New Orleans to join the raucous celebrations and I cannot WAIT to share this amazing city with someone I love so much (okay, real talk: I can’t wait to eat at Ba Chi Canteen again). For Christmas, my mother is taking my brother and I to Iceland for a long weekend in Reykjavik (I’m a lucky son of a gun). My brother and I have been scheming a trip to Budapest this year, and I’ve promised a pal in Montreal and another in New York that I’ll visit soon. I’ve also got a friend in Malmö and another living near Vienna that I’d like to visit, but I’m just a humble bookseller and not all of these dreams will be able to come into fruition. Wahh.

// Blog // In 2013, I was honoured to be nominated for Blogger of the Year at the annual VegFest UK Awards. Smokin’ Tofu came in fifth place – a massive achievement for this young cider-soaked blog. It marks the end of an important chapter for Smokin’ Tofu: regular readers may have noticed that Smokin’ Tofu is no longer an exclusively vegan blog. There are going to be some further changes around these parts, namely that I will no longer be posting recipes. I just can’t be arsed, folks. It’s a flooded market and I don’t particularly enjoy the pressure of sharing my kitchen creations. Instead, the emphasis of Smokin’ Tofu is shifting to more illustrated restaurant reviews, an abundance of food porn pics and an increase in cookbook reviews. I intend to up my travel blogging game, with more posts about things to do in the places I visit, aside from stuffing my drunken gob with vegetarian grub.

Thanks for sticking around in 2013 and I hope 2014 will be a blinder.

Here’s to us. CHEERS! *knocks cider can against ice cold radiator in a pathetic display of online camaraderie*

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Alice xx