Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Book Review: Wonderful Ways to Prepare Calorie Controlled Dishes

Title: Wonderful Ways to Prepare Calorie Controlled Dishes

Author: Jo Ann Shirley

Date: 1979

Publisher: Ayers & James / Playmore

ISBN: 0-86908-158-6

Length: 78 pages

Illustrations: drawings in red ink

Quote: “Slice the mushrooms thinly.”

There’s no expository text in this book, only recipes. “Wonderful” may be stretching a point but these vegetable-rich recipes are more appealing, if you have access to good-quality vegetables, than some toast-and-cottage-cheese-oriented dieters’ recipes.

Shirley’s approach to calorie control in main dishes is one that appeals to me. I suspect it reflects the times in which we grew up. Previous generations were influenced by culinary traditions that developed at a time when people didn’t know much about germs and sanitation except that food that hadn’t been boiled for an hour or two was likely to make them sick. To replace the flavor lost by boiling vegetables to death, those who could afford to be greedy (and didn’t know anything about cholesterol) smothered everything in butter, gravy, cream sauce, or some concoction of oil and vinegar (vinegar at least killed any vermin lurking in the vegetables). It became axiomatic that all children hated vegetables, that vegetables were an Acquired Taste.

Now that we know how to clean vegetables—using water that’s fit to drink, a luxury the great French chefs did not enjoy—Americans are gravitating toward the idea that vegetables actually provide the right flavor, that all those greasy “sauces” and “dressings” are unnecessary. And a waste of energy. And a lot of junk calories. And pretty yucky-tasting, too, compared with the clean crisp tastes of raw vegetables. Children actually like raw vegetables. So do adults.

So, when you’re not obsessively “dieting” and counting calories and weighing portions, but just trying to eat sensibly, you don’t have to hold back on the nutritious parts of a dish like tomatoes, sunflower seeds, or even nuts or potatoes; you hold back on the greasy, empty-calorie “dressings.” This was one of the first few cookbooks that dared to suggest serving a salad made of “1 lb (500 g) broccoli sprigs; 1 green pepper, chopped; 1 onion, finely chopped; 2 stalks celery,chopped; 4 tablespoons lemon juice; 3 tablespoons chopped parsley; salt and pepper.” No vinegar! No need to add oil to moderate the horrid taste of vinegar! Wow!

Some of Shirley’s salads do feature oil and vinegar, or “French dressing” (pre-mixed oil and vinegar), for those who’ve learned to crave that taste...but more than half do not. There are also some soup dishes that don’t begin by browning anything in butter, and several vegetable dishes that are dairy-free.

Wonderful Ways was first published in Australia; after ten pages of vegetable recipes that are substantial enough to be main dishes, eight pages of fish recipes, six of beef recipes, and ten of chicken recipes, it also includes four pages of lamb recipes. Local, organically grown lamb is becoming available in many parts of Virginia. If you want to eat local meat that hasn’t been bloated with chemicals in a feedlot, but don’t know many ways to use lamb, you need this book.

The best thing I can say for Shirley’s dessert ideas is that they support my view of dessert, which is: If you like to end every meal with something sweet, eat a piece of fruit, don’t use up another plate. If you feel that the occasion calls for an occasional treat, splurge. If you think a concoction of “2 cups (500 g) low-fat yogurt, 3 egg yolks, 6 oz (185 g) dried apricots soaked overnight,” and that’s all, is a way to add cruelty-free protein to your vegetarian diet, fine, but personally I would not confuse this with a dessert. (If the yogurt were not cooked with egg yolks, but only garnished with dried apricot slivers for textural appeal, it would be a nice natural alternative to taking acidophilus pills after antibiotics...but it still wouldn’t be a dessert. It would be a pleasant way to take medicine.)

Now another secret tip for people trying to lose weight. If you struggle to starve off a few pounds, and the minute you stop struggling those pounds come back, and usually they seem to have picked up a few friends wherever they were while they weren’t hanging out with you, the key is exercise. Get out of the house. Get out of the kitchen. Unless you have a job that requires you to watch news broadcasts, don’t even own a television set. There are actually two scientific reasons for this. One is that vigorous exercise, especially before breakfast, stimulates your thyroid gland to produce thyroxin, which helps your body metabolize calories. The other is that thinking about food stimulates your pancreas to produce insulin, and long before the point where the pancreas gives out and becomes diabetic, a constant flood of insulin can make you tired, draggy, and obsessed with food.

If you’ve tried the “grazing” approach to “dieting” and it has not turned your body into a lean mean fat-burning machine, it’s possible that you’re genetically vulnerable to a condition called insulin resistance, which causes people to crave carbohydrates, snack between meals, gain weight, eventually become diabetic, and die old at an early age. (I definitely don't have it, just as I definitely am not an alcoholic, but I am genetically vulnerable...yes, these conditions seem to be genetically connected.) The cure: Do eat good, balanced, fibre-rich, vegetable-based meals with a reasonable amount of protein...once or twice a day. (If possible, have a big breakfast and light supper.) Don’t eat anything between meals. Do be mindful of food while you’re cooking and eating it; enjoy every bite, because enjoying it helps your body digest it. Don’t think about food when you’re not cooking or eating.

Wonderful Ways just might help.

Is it a Fair Trade Book? At the time of posting, I'm not sure. Jo Ann Shirley doesn't have a web site. Obituaries displayed online seem to be for other people with similar names, and there's no way of knowing whether the author of this book and several other "Wonderful Ways" cookbooks used a name similar to "Jo Ann Shirley" in real life. If you buy this book from this web site, $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment, six books this size will fit into a $5 package for a total of $35 or $36, then I'll write to the publisher and try to track down the author. If she (or he) is alive, we'll send $1 per book to the author or the charity of her (or his) choice.