When my pile of New Yorker back issues gets too high, first I find all the cartoons, then the “Shouts and Murmurs”  features.  If I don’t get to all those old articles, at least I have a good laugh.  Paul Rudnick is a frequent contributor to “Shouts and 9780545464260_p0_v4_s260x420Murmurs,” and before reading Rudnick’s novel – Gorgeous – I laughed at his reaction to Pope Benedict’s abdication in the February issue (“Fingers Crossed”) and his first person narrative as Gwyneth Paltrow -“named both the Most Hated Celebrity… and the World’s Most Beautiful Woman….” in the May issue.  So I knew he was brash, irreverent – downright sarcastic – and so funny.

Rudnick’s Gorgeous has a not so subtle message about the power and danger of superficiality.  After her obese mother’s untimely death, 18-year-old Becky leaves the Missouri trailer park for New York City.  Thanks to her mother’s bequest, punctuated with timely postmortem cell phone rings, Becky gets a makeover and new clothes from her mother’s former manager,  Tom Kelly, a fashion guru resembling Calvin Klein with a diabolical Dorian Gray look.  The fairy tale plot is predictable at first, but Rudnick spins a new twist on the Cinderella story.  Tom promises Becky beauty, fame, glamour, and a new life if she agrees to the wearing of his three dresses (strategically stamped with his logo), with the caveat that she must fall in love and marry within the year or the transformation, and the wardrobe, will disappear.

The first dress – red – transforms Becky into supermodel Rebecca.  She stars in the newest blockbuster movie; she meets the Prince (William before marrying Kate); she gets ready for her next dress – in bridal white.  Rudnick inserts comments on the Prince’s dead mother (Diana) – “only her death made her truly acceptable,” the Queen’s “seventy-two” corgis, and history lessons on the British empire that had me laughing:

“Years ago, centuries ago, England owned everything. America, India, Canada, Australia, South Africa, half the planet. But there were wars and uprisings and tiffs and gradually, it all went away. And now the English have nothing. They’ve even lost their shoulders, their chins, and the ability to carry a tune…all they have left are non-folding umbrellas, decent skin, and their pride…”

Although the book is categorized as young adult fiction, the profanity and level of sophistication of the characters is for adults – but not all – you need to appreciate Rudnick’s brand of humor to enjoy his jabbing at today’s shallow culture, flaunted mercilessly in unending reality shows.

“…nobody likes a whiner, especially a whiner whose most recent activities are preempting every top-rated sitcom, every major sporting event, and the president’s State of the Union address…”

Maybe, to appreciate the satire, you need to feel the same way.  I laughed through Rudnick’s clever gems, when I wasn’t quietly smirking as a fellow conspirator.  The plot mixes a modern version of Grimm’s fairytale with a Faustian bargain, and Becky’s identity crisis resolves in a happy fairy tale ending with a moral.

Just think of this as a lengthy “Shouts and Murmurs” and enjoy.

You Are What You Eat

Do chefs eat what they cook?  Not for long.  Television chef and cookbook author, Paula Deen,  changed her eating habits when she discovered she has type-2 diabetes, but she kept offering recipes for comfort food to unknowing fans.  Rachel Ray has been dieting, and Hawaiian chef Sam Choy, famous for his girth, has recently lost more than 140 pounds.

In his essay for the Sunday New York Times – Of Mouselike Bites and Marathons  – food and restaurant critic Frank Bruni exposes the secret behind “the people who invite us to wallow in food…”

“Here’s what we don’t see:  the yogurt and berries they had for breakfast; the salads and grilled vegetables they eat on nights off…the enormous exercise involved…”

  Bruni cites Allison Adams’ new book Smart Chefs Stay Slim: Adams interviews some well known chefs and reports that most svelte television chefs exercise fanatically – some have personal trainers – and all are careful about what they eat –  debunking the myth that chefs eat what you see them making.

Deen donut burger

In a nod to the queen of the donut burger (a hamburger between glazed donuts instead of a bun), Bruni concedes that Deen’s oven-fried potato wedges with mayo have fewer calories than French Laundry chef Thomas Keller’s “tasting of potatoes with black truffles” with cream and butter.

I’d forego the calorie savings and choose the Keller dish any day.

Related Articles:

Recipe for Keller’s potatoes with truffles

My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook, celebrating her father, has the actress on the cover looking healthy, beautiful, bright-eyed – just gorgeous.  Will I look like her if I cook and eat her recipes?

I remembered Paltrow as a vegan, so it was surprising to find that she’s abandoned her bedside conversion to macrobiotics, and found her level with food that is healthy, comforting, and, most of all, enjoyable.  She still avoids meats, especially red, and rationalizes that chicken is fine in moderation, as long as it is free range and organic.  She reminisces about her hot-dog eating father, and includes his famous pancakes, but her famous mother is not ignored.  The recipe for Blythe Danner’s blueberry muffins is included, as well as Paltrow’s “healthier” version – substituting spelt, Grade B maple syrup, and soy milk.  Blythe’s sounded better to me.

Meant as a tribute to her father and film director, Bruce, who died in 2002, Paltrow includes pictures of them together, and one particularly moving shot of them at dinner while on a trip through Italy; he died three days later.  Other pictures frame her cooking with her children, but most of the pictures are what you’d expect in a cookbook – luscious shots of the cooked dishes, tantalizingly ready to eat.  The homemade rotisserie chicken is almost dripping off the page.

On one page, Paltrow creates a chart titled – “If You Haven’t Had Time to Go To the Health Food or Specialty Store” – listing substitutes for the healthier fare, with a column indicating “why {you should} bother” to find the vegenaise instead of Hellman’s mayonnaise, or why turkey bacon is better than pork.  But, she doesn’t have the proselytizing fervor of Alicia Silverstone in The Kind Diet.  Paltrow allows that we all need a hot fudge sundae (with maple nut ice cream?), every now and then.  She even includes a recipe for homemade hot fudge made with heavy cream.

I plan to buy this book; it has a lot to offer: great pictures, comfort foods, easy recipes.  I tried Blythe Danner’s favorite salad dressing, and was happy to find she loves anchovies just like me.

Blend 6 olive-oil packed Spanish anchovies with 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard and 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar until anchovies are completely pureed.  With the motor on, slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup olive oil.  Season with pepper.  Yum!

Chef Mario Batali, Paltrow’s famous road trip partner through Spain, noted in the introduction “that GP can effortlessly down a whole pan of perfect paella…or eat an entire plate of marinated anchovies…”  My only question is – how can she eat all that and still be wafer thin?