Friday, January 24, 2014

Burn the Fat. Feed the Muscle

by Tom Venuto
 Harmony Books     2013
384 pages     Nonfiction
The Shortlist

Well, first of all, I am 70 years old, and I am more into Tai Chi than I am into body building, but I have a few comments about Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle. I am a lifelong dieter, and I know diet gibberish when I see it. This book is not gibberish. It is solid advice for anyone, but particularly for people who are looking at their bodies realistically, and thinking, "What do I have to do to get fit." 

Two of the points the author makes are that "Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle is not only about looking better but also about becoming healthier." and "Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle is a lifestyle, not a quick fix." Realistically, the author says that the program is simple, but it's not easy.

Over a career of many years, Venuto has created a comprehensive plan for four elements necessary to creating a healthy, fit body. They are: nutrition, cardio training, weight training, and mental training. Venuto uses his body-builder secrets to help readers reach their fitness goals. He says, "Almost everyone is missing at least one piece of the puzzle, and that's what holds them back." He suggests trying this program out for 28 days and seeing what it does for your long-term lifestyle.

As an example of the usability of this advice, here is his list of foods that he believes burn the most fat. This is a practical list--something most people can plan on using.
whole fresh fruit
sweet potatoes
unsweetened oatmeal
brown rice
beans and legumes
100% whole wheat or whole grains
low- or nonfat dairy products
chicken and turkey breast
eggs and egg whites
lean cuts of red meat.
Seen a list like that before? Of course, we all have. Venuto mentions that some readers who lost over 100 pounds started their body transformation by eating foods from this list.

Frankly, I spent little time in the sections on training primarily because I have little expertise in any training other than cardio walking, Zumba, and Tai Chi. The advice seems sound. This is an extremely practical book utilizing a program that Venuto calls L.E.A. N. It means Learn, Eat, Activate and New body. It is one of the more useful and sensible books I have read on this subject. Besides that, I have never had a picture of a body builder on my blog before!

A disclaimer: The publicist sent me this book to review. I probably would not have looked at it on my own. 

Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle website:

Friday, January 17, 2014

Selected Stories

 by Alice Munro
Vintage Books     1996
662 pages     Short Stories

A reader could pick up any of the many collections of Alice Munro's stories and become immediately engrossed in the world of small town people of Ontario, including many children who observe with keen eyes the vagaries of life. Each story reads like a snapshot. I envisioned an itinerant photographer coming to town and snapping pictures of the people going about their business. Then Munro looked at the pictures of those people and imagined their worlds. If one thinks that small town life is boring, just read a few of Munro's stories. "Everybody in the community is on stage for all the other people,'' she says. ''There's a constant awareness of people watching and listening. And - and this may be particularly Canadian - the less you reveal, the more highly thought of you are.'' Munro writes about "emotions and places." The place she most often writes about is southwest Ontario, just east of Lake Huron. The emotions run the gamut from awe and wonderment, to fear, despair, and loneliness. 

The stories in Selected Stories were collected from short stories she wrote from 1968 to 1993, many of which appeared in The New Yorker. The reviewer in the London Telegraph says that "Munro's writing does what proper literature should do--plunges you into reality in all its knotty complexities." 

My favorite story in the collection was "Dance of the Happy Shades," the story of a piano recital. Miss Marsalles, the eccentric piano teacher, has been having recitals (she calls them parties) for many years, each year exactly the same. Many of the children in the recital are the children of parents who also took lessons from Miss Marsalles. "It will be understood that Miss Marsalles' idealistic view of children, her tender- or simple-mindedness in that regard, made her almost useless as a teacher." This year's recital, however, is different because some children from a school for mentally disabled children are also playing in the recital. One girl of about 10 plays beautifully--a surprise that the audience is not expecting, but which Miss Marsalles accepts as "natural and satisfying. . .To her, no gift is unexpected, no celebration will come as a surprise." At the same time, everyone knows that this will be Miss Marsalles last piano recital. It is a simple story, but at the same time profound. The story brought me back to my first recitals "taking" from Mrs. Bestel in Little Falls, Minnesota. I don't remember anything I played, but I do remember every dress I wore. I especially remember the year I had a new pair of shoes, but I got the flu before the recital and couldn't wear those shoes. Heartbreaking!

It takes a certain mindset to read a book of short stories. At my book club discussion last night, a couple of women complained that they wanted to know more--what happened before the story and what happened after the story. I really think that it takes more skill to write a short story because every word has to be so precise. Of course, this is why Alice Munro is this year's recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. She was recognized as a "master of the modern short story." It was the consensus of my book club that it was well-deserved.

 If you haven't read any Alice Munro, you can find ten of her short stories here:
Article about Munro in the New York Times in 1986:

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bold: A Cookbook of Big Flavors

by Susanna Hoffman and Victoria Wise
 Workman     2013
409 pages     Cookbook

Bold: A Cookbook of Big Flavors is a beautiful cookbook, as interesting to read as it is to cook from. The authors are chefs and long-time cookbook and cooking collaborators, but the book is much more than an interesting cookbook. It is also the story of how American cooking got its start and how it has evolved to its current eclectic state.

They say: "Although we both grew up with largely conventional cooking, like most Americans we had on our platters a smattering of diverse legacies and comestibles. As individuals we encompass the sort of generic hodgepodge that characterizes most Americans. . .In Bold, we bring the elements of all our and the country's culinary legacies to our cooking as we delight in sharing our part in America's changing food consciousness."

I particularly like the looks of the appetizer recipes, primarily because they are a combination of things that I wouldn't expect would be put together--such as beets, chickpeas, and almonds in a dip served with pita or edamame bruschetta. (I'm not sure that ten years ago I even knew what edamame was.) 

Graphically, the book is beautiful. There are no pictures of finished dishes, which some cooks like to have, but the pictures are scarcely missed because the design makes the book as appealing as the recipes.

The most interesting parts of the book are the origins of how certain foods came to be part of our palates. As an example, buried deep in the book is an entire page focused on celery in Kalamazoo. At one time it was the celery capital of the United States. Not so much anymore. There are a couple of farmers who have celery at the farmer's market, and I always buy it from them, just to keep the heritage going.

I tried two recipes and marked many more to try. I made the oven beef stew with kalamata olives and payloads of garlic. The recipe combined everything my husband really likes--beef, olives, and garlic. I served it over mashed potatoes and it was really delicious. The olives gave it a unique flavor. The other recipe we tried and enjoyed was crowded chowder with cod, shrimp, and corn. I don't make many chowders, but we really liked this one and the cod was delicious cooked in small pieces.

At Christmas time, my sister and I had a conversation with our grandchildren about the foods we never tried until we were adults, because we grew up in the Midwest, where there was very little food influence from cultures other than German, English, and Scandinavian. For instance, I never had a taco until I was about 21. And we could both remember the first time we tasted pizza. The kids were amazed. I also remember traveling to Greece and eating feta cheese for the first time on a  Greek salad. When I tried to find feta cheese in Kalamazoo to duplicate the recipe, I couldn't find it anywhere. Now feta cheese is ubiquitous. In the book Bold, all those elements of world cuisine are combined to make new, truly American tastes. 

One reviewer says: "Thanks to its combination of storytelling and well-written recipes, Bold will appeal both to people who read cookbooks as if they were novels and to adventurous cooks. They layer flavors in unexpected ways without succumbing to preciousness." Bold would be a great gift book for your favorite cook.

A cookbook blog review:

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hunting Shadows: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery

by Charles Todd
Wm. Morrow     201
330 pages     Fiction

 Inspector Ian Rutledge came up to Cambridgeshire from London because two men had been killed by the type of  rifle commonly used during the war (World War I, that is) and the local police needed the help of Scotland Yard. Upon arrival he found that the mystery was not a simple one. First, the returning soldiers were supposed to have turned in all the army rifles. Who still had a rifle? What was the relationship between the men who had been killed? How do you travel around in the intense fog?

Rutledge spends his days interrogating people in four towns that make up the area of England called the Fens, a lowland area north of Cambridge. It is an area prone to fog and on the night Rutledge arrives, he becomes completely lost and nearly runs into one of the old windmills that dot the area.
Ploddingly, he pieces together the case, and it is very complicated. The communities are small; people are tight lipped, and the war is too soon over--emotions are raw. He feels like he is hunting shadows.

Rutledge can't shake the all-consuming depression that has followed him over these past few years following WWI. Modern science calls this PTSD; following WWI, it was called shellshock and we know a lot more about it than we did in 1920. He feels "disgrace and cowardice and lack of moral fiber."  This is the sixteenth mystery starring Inspector Ian Rutledge, and apparently his PTSD has not improved any since the initial book, A Test of Wills. I can't vouch for this because this is the first one that I have read. However the reviewer in the NY Journal of Books says: "One wishes for the case that will somehow provide a breakthrough to alleviate the suffering that hangs over these stories like a dark shroud." Rutledge's misery slows the book down. 

The bright spot of the book is the setting. I knew nothing of the Fens until I read Hunting Shadows. The cathedral in Ely, the largest town in the area, figures prominently in the novel and is absolutely stunning. Rutledge muses: "Ely was, in a way, a glimpse of what churches and Cathedrals must have looked like before the Reformation, when there were frescoes and painted statues and ceilings. The Victorians had reveled in adding color too, but not always successfully." After reading that, I had to quickly look up the Ely Cathedral. Incredible. 

The Fens themselves appear to be very appealing, although Rutledge doesn't seem to be particularly attracted to them and is quite annoyed with the system of roads, ditches, and windmills that dot the area. I asked our British family member about the Fens, and he said that it is one of the lovelier areas in England, although most of the wildness has been cultivated and the swampland turned into irrigation ditches. The authors have done a good job of creating the atmosphere of the neighborhood.

The other fascinating aspect of this book is that the Ian Rutledge series of mysteries are written by an American mother-son team that call themselves Charles Todd.
The mother, Caroline, is an English history buff, and the son, Charles, has studied the history of wars. Together, they shape the books in the Ian Rutledge and the Bess Crawford series. My son and I are about to collaborate on a book--nonfiction--and I am a bit anxious about how we will do as a team. Perhaps I should contact the Todds and see how they function together. They seem to be able to order up all the elements of the classic mystery: hero, setting, and plot.

The Charles Todd website:

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

21-Day Tummy

By Liz Vaccariello
Readers Digest  2013
302 pages     Nonfiction
The Shortlist

Liz Vaccariello is the editor of the Reader's Digest books and the author of the Digest Diet which I looked over last year and wrote a blog piece about. 21-Day Tummy follows a similar format. It is big, attractive, and has a lot of good ideas and recipes. Its goal is to attack some specific dietary problems that cause people lots of problems.

The book is designed to diet away digestive disasters such as gas and bloating, heartburn and acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome. Yes, you can take medicine for all of those things, but Vaccariello suggests that many of these issues can be solved by diet. She names several belly buddies which will aid in losing weight but also in solving gastrointestinal problems. They include fiber, magnesium, and anti-inflammatory fats.  The system includes:
·         high-fiber and antioxidant-rich vegetables
·         balanced-fructose fruits
·         Low-FODMAP, high-fiber grains
·         Nuts and nut butters
·         Seeds
·         Healthy fats
·         Lean protein
·         Greek yogurt
·         Coconut milk
·         ginger
·         turmeric
·         maple syrup. 

After defining all of these things, Vaccariello and dietitian Kate Scarlata promote a 21-day eating plan which will help those who follow the plan lose weight and solve digestive problems. 21-Day Tummy is simple to understand and the dietary advice appears to be easy to follow. The recipes are appealing. Publisher's Weekly says, "With lively writing, inviting four-color format, pull-outs, sidebars, nine personal success stories (including the author’s), and enticing photography, this book is a winner."

Give it a try. See if it helps.

The brief review in Publisher's Weekly: