I’m that girl who tends to fall down rabbit holes. Very. Far. Down. My current rabbit hole began with this simple National Geographic Magazine.
I’d heard about Blue Zones before. Yup, those five longevity hotspots (Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California) where residents tend to live longer, healthier lives.
This simple read caused me to request from my library any Blue Zone book available. That seemed to be a good idea — until all of the books arrived at the same time. All of them! To add to my juggling challenge, Island Eats and Nothing Fancy (both books that I ordered months ago) also arrived on cue. Then, The Professor (my sole Amazon book order) was delivered in sync. Seriously, how does this happen?
I took a deep breath and systematically began to plow through each book. First up was Island Eats: Signature Chefs’ Recipes from Vancouver Island and the Salish Sea, written by Dawn Postnikoff and Joanne Sasvari.
Island Eats turned out to be a true gem (and a book that I will be requesting from Santa). It is part cookbook (with actual recipes from some of Vancouver Island’s top restaurants). It is also an invaluable map of our island’s regional cuisine, restaurants, chefs, and unique ingredients. In addition, it is promoted as a guide for culinary tourism.
Island Eats: Signature Recipes from Vancouver Island and the Salish Sea
Together, Richard and I made the Spicy Kung Pao Bowl from Glo Restaurant in Victoria. Richard diligently chopped veggies while I made the Szechuan sauce. The results were light, satisfying and delicious. We will undoubtedly make this one again. Other delights on my To Be Tried list include: Gnocchi with Roasted Squash and Beets (10 Acres Bistro), Roasted Broccolini with Romesco Sauce and Pecorino (Boom and Batten), Shakshuka (French Press Coffee Roasters, Coombs) and Sliced Almond Cinnamon Buns with Cream Cheese Frosting (Old Town Bakery, Ladysmith, my FAVOURITE bakery in the whole wide world)! And these are just a few of the recipes and restaurants included.
My next book to explore was Nothing Fancy: Recipes and Recollections of Soul Satisfying Food. Hilary of Positive Letters, Inspirational Stories recently recommended this book on her blog. Diana Kennedy is a well-known British Food Writer often referred to as ‘the Grand Dame of Mexican Cuisine.’ Unfortunately, I reserved this book with false expectations. For me, this was not a practical cookbook of simple (nor) Mexican cuisine. e.g. A recipe for Diana’s favourite meat, ‘Corned Tongue,’ needs to be started five days ahead of time. The ‘Jacques Pepin’s Headcheese begins with 1/2 pig’s head. These and many of her recipes were not to my (plant slant) tastes, nor did they accommodate my (slacker) style of cooking. First published in 1984, there are no recipe photos nor nutritional values included. And fat-free or dairy-free options? Fuggedaboutit! But, in terms of ‘recollections,’ this is truly an engrossing read. Diana proudly confesses that she had been tagged as the “scourge of gastronomy,” and she doesn’t hold back. If you read just one section, don’t miss ‘My Bête Noires.’ Kosher salt? Pedestrian. Brining? SO boring. Canola Oil? Banned from Quinta Diana. Chocolate chips added to oatmeal cookies? Sacrilege! Fiesty, opinionated and not one to suffer fools, she is wonderfully entertaining.
Not surprisingly, I did pass on making the Corned Tongue and the Headcheese. But I did quickly notice Diana’s recipe for Sauteed Spinach. Try as I may, I can never get mine right. Her recipe worked perfectly. I did adlib at the very end and garnished with a handful of chopped almonds. Shhhh, please don’t tell Diana!
Finally, onto the Blue Zones — The Blue Zone Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100 by Dan Buettner. This cookbook is divided into the five identified ‘Blue Zones’ offering recipes and other healthy living tips from each area. The first recipe that I tried (One Pot Lasagna) was from Loma Linda, California. Loma Linda contains a large concentration of Seventh-day Adventists (who predominantly follow a diet of grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables prepared as simply and naturally as possible). In fact, the diet that Seventh-day Adventists have long advocated is quite similar to the current dietary guidelines recommended by the American Cancer Society. The One Pot Lasagna was filled with brown lentils, veggies and whole-grain noodles. It also contained a 1/2 cup of red wine which surprised me (but I definitely included it). The final results were a very flavourful soup that predominantly used ingredients that I already had on hand. Win-win!
Sticking with my soup theme, I also tried the Minestrone with Fennel and Wild Garlic from the Sardinia section. This dish was loaded with legumes and fresh vegetables. It was especially comforting on a cold autumn evening.
I then went onto Thrive (also by Dan Buettner). The focus here was on how a community could be shaped to increase the overall contentment of its residents. The cynic in me constantly struggled with how you can accurately measure happiness…especially of an entire community, city or island. Still, this was quite a thought-provoking read that offered good insights into increasing joy on the individual level. Nothing on this list was too surprising, but the reminders were useful.
Because I felt I got what I needed from the above Blue Zones books, I did a rapid read of Buettner’s The Blue Zones of Happiness. (Seriously, didn’t I just discuss that book?) Of particular note in this edition is the Blue Zones Happiness Test, which gives the reader overall scores for Pleasure, Purpose and Pride. My results surprised me. You can take a similar test here.
Wrapping up this longer than planned post, I also read Moon Madness, and my classics book club finished Villette. You can catch my reviews here:
Villette, Charlotte Brontë
Moon Madness: Dr, Louise All, 60 Years of Healing in Africa, Alan Twigg
National Geographic Blue Zones (Single Edition Magazine), National Geographic Society
Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way, Dan Buettner
Nothing Fancy: Recipes and Recollections of Soul Satisfying Food, Diana Kennedy
Island Eats: Signature Chef’s Recipes from Vancouver Island and the Salish Sea, Dawn Postnikoff, J. Sasvari
The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100, Dan Buettner
The Blue Zones of Happiness, Dan Buettner
What’s been on your bookshelf recently?