Two new cookbooks, Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook by Kim Barnouin and Glutton For Pleasure: Signature Recipes, Epic Stories and Surreal Etiquette by Bob Blumer, pretty much sum up our lovely city. Or at least the made-for-television version that the rest of the country just loves to believe is so Beverly Hills 90210, where everyone has a personal trainer and lives for shock-value publicity. But there are a lot of folks in L.A. -- several million of us, actually -- who really don't order, and send back, ground sirloin for our dogs. But it seems perception really is reality, at least in the eyes of some cookbook publishers.
Which gets us to an overall cookbook review dilemma. In the old days, when print space was at a premium, only the best books would end up in those newspaper or magazine reviews, and silly titles would be casually discarded. The better cookbooks would then be reviewed by folks who had no personal connection to the author (and in an ideal review world, pros and cons would be addressed). That is apparently not always the case in the blogosphere, where we've seen some bloggers-turned-cookbook authors, even those whose cookbooks we praised, offer recipes from their upcoming books in exchange for promises of positive reviews of those peanut butter brownies. Which means those titles get a lot more Tweet time than multi-decade career culminations on Oaxacan cooking or Jewish food encyclopedias. Not that we suspect Diana Kennedy or Gil Marks are crying over lost Tweets.
Which brings us to our current skinny-glutton online dilemma. Do we politely pulp those sub-par books that arrive on our desk, or do we give them an honest review?
If we're to the point of handing out peanut butter brownie recipes with conditions, we're going to have to go with honesty. And so we took a closer look at that Skinny Bitch cookbook, Barnouin's sequel to "the New York Times bestselling Skinny Bitch," or so we are told in the author's biography (stellar sales are no doubt why we are being subjected to a cookbook sequel). No word on what happened to her co-author somewhere along the way (together the two published five more books in the popular Skinny Bitch series).
According to the jacket cover, the entire point of the new book from Santa Monica resident Barnuoin is to: "Look hot. Feel great. Have fun while you cook. Do good to the earth. Can a skinny bitch really have it all? Kim Barnouin says, Duh." Flashback to high school.
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Fine, sometimes book jackets are a bit off the mark. And so we flipped through the pages, hoping for something other than "look hot" stovetop insight. With the second chapter titled "The Secret to being a Skinny Bitch," and sidebars like "Bitchifying your Pantry" -- which in plain English means keeping a well stocked pantry (or as Barnouin likes to say, "Time to get organized, bitch."), that was probably wishful thinking.
Certainly some of the recipes are interesting taken out of the cutesy "bitch" context, or at least when they don't get too preachy, like that citrus mint vinaigrette with cilantro, a pearl barley and bean-bell pepper side dish, and spaghetti with spinach in white wine garlic sauce. All perfectly delicious sounding on their own when they're not smeared on your face: in one of her "The Skinny" sidebars, Barnouin proclaims bananas a wrinkle-fighting fruit when used as a face mask.
But many of the meat substitute recipes (vegan ginger mock chicken, tempeh "no-meatloaf"), and that two page spread of "spice up your sex life" foods (including chocolate and chile peppers), sound so very twenty years ago. And so we wonder, is "bitching" up your basic vegan cookbook with cute titles and snarky sidebars what home cooks want in a cookbook these days? We sure hope not. If that's the case, we'll stick to 1950s baking books.
Which gets us to Bob Blumer's latest cookbook, Glutton For Pleasure. Check back later this week for that review. We need a break from bitching.