Cookbook Review - Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source

Clean Food is more than just a cookbook and its author, Terry Walters, is more than just a cook. Walters is a holistic health counselor, food educator, and motivational speaker who brings the taste buds of a chef, the eye of a nutritionist, the soul of a spiritual advisor, and the heart of a loving mom, to her delightful writing style. The focus of the book is the preparation of locally sourced, minimally processed, fresh, healthy ingredients.

Walters advises us that food is about much more than subsistence, and her book reaches beyond protein, carbohydrate and fat calories to embrace both our nutritional and emotional health and wellness. Beyond targeting issues of health, she recognizes that food has become as much a political issue as a nutritional one, writing, "Our produce departments and grocery shelves are lined with unknowns - pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones, chemical additives and process upon process, stripping our food of its inherent nutritional value. Behind each glass of milk or piece of meat is an agenda, a lobbyist, a Fortune 500 company, a distribution chain, a processing plant... you need to squint to see the farmer and you need binoculars to find the cow!"

Walters coaches us to slow down and offers an easy meditative exercise to smooth the way, advising that getting in touch with our bodies should be one of the first steps along the road to becoming mindful about nutrition. She suggests that we examine our eating habits by keeping a journal to track not just what we ate and what we were doing, but to consider the results of those actions. Did that seemingly healthy lunch leave us logy? Maybe it wasn’t about the lunch itself; maybe it was the poor breakfast that preceded it. By thinking critically and challenging our assumptions about nutrition, patterns will begin to emerge. That’s important because you need to know what you're changing before you can change it. She goes on to present nine simple ways to improve health and eating, providing on those two pages alone more insight than entire books dedicated to the subject.

The source of our food is, of course, of paramount importance. Even her youngest students get the idea of clean food - "if you can imagine how it grows, it’s clean." She describes the differences between organic and conventional agriculture and why the issue takes on so much importance in these times.

Believe it or not, all of that wisdom is packed into the first 35 pages of the book! The remaining 241 pages are dedicated to the recipes themselves, and Walters weaves her viewpoint into all of them. They are arranged seasonally, with a fifth "Anytime" category for those crossovers that refuse to adhere to strict classification. The recipes are for the most part simple and straightforward, the better to truly appreciate the interaction of the flavors of the ingredients. Belying that simplicity, however, is an unexpected twist that Walters consistently brings to almost every recipe in the book, which makes each one very much her own. A salad of a few common ingredients, for example, becomes a signature piece with the addition of apricot juice and maple syrup. Sometimes it’s an unexpected combination of ingredients as in the Mango Sesame Tatsoi (Chinese cabbage) salad. Sometimes it’s one ingredient (like plum vinegar) that you may never have tried before. Some sound equally delicious and nutritious, like Quinoa and Black Bean Salad with Apricot Lime Vinaigrette. And then, some recipes are simply too tempting to pass up - Banana Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies springs to mind.

Often, the recipes offer options for those who cannot find (or don’t wish to employ) particular ingredients. Walters' open-mindedness extends beyond that, however. She even breaks her own rules just a bit, writing, "Let’s face it - we all have cravings we simply can’t deny! You might as well make peace with them and enjoy." Yes, there’s chocolate in the Chocolate Lover’s Tart, but she manages to pull it off without eggs, brown sugar, butter, or white flour. The recipes are not stereotyped: not all are egg-free or sugar-free or gluten-free, but every one is healthy and delicious.

Mention must be made about the thoughtful art direction of Clean Food as well. It is eloquent and elegant in its simplicity, and that is precisely as it should be: a perfect complement to the recipes themselves, clean and uncomplicated, yet innovative. Of particular note: the color of the pages in each season’s section captures the essence of that season in a subtle yet splendid way, and the accompanying artwork is delightful.

Walters' intelligence, knowledge, talent, passion and vivacity permeate Clean Food. She brings her own cachet to the subject and serves up a book that is a compelling must-have. If you've never become emotional over a cookbook, this one just might do it for you.