cafe mama

finding magic every day

the dinner diaries . a book review . september 01 . 2008


When I received an email asking if I'd like to review Betsy Block's The Dinner Diaries, Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World, at first I was a little miffed. That's the book I wanted to write! I told myself. I awaited its arrival with anticipation and dread.

Thankfully, The Dinner Diaries isn't my book. It's something else entirely. It's parts funny and honest, inspiring and useful. But its flaws are several. Naturally, I'm eager to exploit those with my upcoming tome (in which I will pour my heart out and tell you how to do things, how to pick a fig, how to peel a tomato, how to infuse jam with lavender, how to tell if a sourdough starter is bubbly enough, how to get comfortable with eating what is essentially milk past its prime).

Betsy's voice is comfortable, personable, matter-of-fact. She is a story-teller who is all about the process. In the beginning, we have a woman who writes about food and gets a book deal. She sets out on a project to convince her children and husband -- who each have a list of "won't eat" a mile long -- to change their diets to more healthy foods. But what is healthy? Betsy asks. And we're along for the ride, driving with her to meetings and CSA pickups, farm visits and de-licings. We sit on the phone with her as she talks to nutritionists. We reschedule interviews with her when her daughter, Maya, is sick. We agonize with her over why her husband won't eat delicious things like blue cheese, casseroles, gravy, tomatoes and (!!) dessert.

I'll admit I got bogged down in all this pickiness. I enjoyed her exploration but the details dragged. I did not want to discuss the many ways in which she could conduct an interview. I did not wish to be reminded how much Andy, her husband, did not like beets-squash-sour cream-etc. I did not care to hear any more about Maya's several bouts with minor illness and injury. I did not agree with many of her assumptions; specifically, that low-fat diets are more healthy (I embrace natural animal fats from sustainably-raised animals -- raw milk, cultured butter, the skin and fat from free-range chickens, and oh! creme fraiche!), that entirely local foods diets are achingly dull in the winter, that keeping chickens in your backyard is a bad idea (she flirts, gives up far too easily, what, me biased?), that sugar is ok as long as you're not swilling sodas and stuffing your face with Twizzlers. I won't bore you by picking apart her recipes, but the embracing of tofu, canola oil, "light cream," low-salt chicken broth, low-fat milk and spray oil (yick!) had me convinced her main inspiration was Cooking Light magazine.

So don't use her recipes (mostly). But you might want to read her book, if only because she has the most detailed discourse on the many tradeoffs of eating fish today that I've ever encountered. In fact, I'm now completely avoiding fish but for anchovies, sardines and the occasional wild-caught salmon from the farmer's market. She writes about her family with love, and she's obviously trying hard in the face of extreme cultural skepticism, and the proliferation of cupcakes. I admire her for trying, I acclaim her for leading other mothers down the whole grain path, but at the same time I want to whisper, go further! try harder! eat butter for God's sake!

If your food choices have thus far been mainstream and you're looking for an entertaining read that won't push you too much, go for it. But if you're already cooking out of Nourishing Traditions, you may find her discoveries a wee bit wide-eyed. This is not to say that I wouldn't sit down for a good chat and a fair trade coffee with Betsy; she is likeable and relatable. But, this is not my book, this is not my nutrition.

paying the bills

read my previous post . preserving obsession . august 29 . 2008