From a fan: It's mostly all good

Turkey and Black Bean Chili With Sweet Potatoes was a little mild; the author ended up doubling the chili powder and pimenton for more flavor.
Turkey and Black Bean Chili With Sweet Potatoes was a little mild; the author ended up doubling the chili powder and pimenton for more flavor. (ANNE FARRAR / Washington Post)
Posted: April 11, 2013

I love Gwyneth Paltrow. I do - as an actress, as a celebrity, as an organic-hemp-clad organism gliding along the surface of life, occasionally shedding tendrils of blond hair that her followers may gather into some artisanal craft project for her Web site, Goop. I loved her when she and boyfriend Brad Pitt had matching hairstyles, and when she and boyfriend Ben Affleck had matching best friends, and when she and husband Chris Martin named their children Apple and Moses. I have seen her blockbuster movies, and her Britishy movies, and the movies for which I sat alone in empty theaters and murmured, "Oh, Gwynnie. Why?"

So pure is my devotion that on a weekday morning, I have risen early to peel a lemon and gently place it in the blender along with a cube of fresh ginger, a sprig of mint, a roughly chopped apple, and five de-spined leaves of kale. And when the pulpy mass doesn't pour through the strainer as it's supposed to, I am, in a very serene and enlightened manner, mashing it through with my bare hands. "It's all good," I tell myself. "It's. All. Good."

Gwyneth Paltrow has cowritten a cookbook, "It's All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great" - and sell great, too, because two weeks before its release, the book was the No. 1-ranked cookbook on Amazon.

While waiting for my pre-breakfast Best Green Juice to finish draining - "Just about as energizing as a cup of coffee," Gwyneth has promised - I begin the recipe for my actual breakfast: Millet Fig Muffins. I dutifully measure out gluten-free flour, raw millet, unsweetened almond milk. I grind flaxseed, pinch fine sea salt, chop figs, line my muffin tins with paper liners. It's only noon, and I'm almost done cooking my first meal of the day.

Time to settle down with my green juice, which has acquired a bright emerald color and tastes like a cross between a lemon and a lawn, and wait for the timer to buzz. Meanwhile, we have 20 to 25 minutes to ponder the meaning of Gwyneth.

Weeks before It's All Good was officially released, critics were preemptively despising it: One outlet calculated the ratio of pictures of Gwyneth to pictures of actual food; another posted a curated collection of its most absurd lines: "I once overnighted a batch from London to my manager in Los Angeles who was doing the clean program and was dying for a cookie!" or: "We basically can't live without Veganaise."

There are other celebrities in America who are more clueless, more doe-dazed than Gwyneth. But they don't lay themselves bare the way she does, nakedly offering herself up for scrutiny again and again, a flayed filet of fame. In 2008 she was just an actress, a good one, the Oscar-winner in the Pepto ball gown, who seemed coltish but kind. Then she launched Goop, billed as a way to help readers save time, simplify their lives, feel inspired, and share "all of life's positives."

Oh, Gwynnie. Why?

On Goop, Gwyneth prances about wearing Alexander McQueen skirts ($855) and carrying Valentino iPad cases ($795). She extols $1,000 throw-blankets, $400 nesting bowls.

Everything Gwyneth does - Goop, her 2007 food tour with Mario Batali - comes from such a heartfelt, helpful place. She wants the world to be beautiful. She wants you to find peace. She's never evil; she's just slightly tone-deaf, slightly off. There's something that people find repellent about Gwyneth - something beautifully, preciously repellent, a "Let them eat quinoa" mentality that infuses all of her work.

The Millet Fig Muffins come out of the oven, and they are a disgrace. The batter was tasty - no raw eggs, so I tried some - but the finished product is baking-soda bitter. I put them out at work for my coworkers; one e-mails 15 minutes later - a man who has been known to eat cold leftover french fries from other people's desks - and says, "These are, uh, interesting." It's All Goop.

Even so, I think hating Gwyneth is too easy. Lazy, really. I'd prefer to delve into It's All Good and come out with a better understanding of Gwyneth. Because this is undoubtedly a cookbook that only Gwyneth could have composed. Literally, as she's everywhere in it: riding a moped, carrying a bushel of greens, throwing her arm around her coauthor Julia Turshen in 300 pages of evolved foodery.

But also because it so perfectly illustrates everything that her detractors find off-putting. The book opens with Gwyneth describing her quest to clean out her system and become more healthy after having a migraine she mistook for a stroke. Her doctor prescribes a diet: "No coffee, no alcohol, no dairy, no eggs, no sugar, no shellfish, no deepwater fish, no potatoes, no tomatoes, no bell pepper, no eggplant, no wheat, no meat, no soy."

It's fascinating to witness a cookbook composed from a place of such intense deprivation - a purported goal of simple nutrition transformed into a complicated Gwynethian odyssey.

The kick of it is that the food is good. Really, all of it, aside from the muffins. The Korean corn was good, the tahini salad dressing was delicious, and the vegetarian version of her black bean chili was better than the black bean chili recipe I've been making - and bragging about - for years, though I ended up doubling the chili powder and pimenton for more flavor. Preparing it made me feel healthy and pure; I felt compelled, in the middle of the cooking day, to stop and do an hour of yoga.

"The Cashew Moment is what really makes this," my husband said as he ate the chili that night, topped with said condiment.

"Thank you," I said, and then proceeded to tell him how I'd lovingly sauteed the raw cashews in olive oil and spices, then blended the mixture until it was creamy; how I had a hot oil burn from a Cashew Moment incident but thought it was all worth it.

"It tastes like mashed saltines," he said.

"Nuh-uh."

The next day, while eating leftovers, I sneaked into the kitchen, got a box of crackers and crumbled them over the chili, to prove to myself how wrong he was, how worthy my labors had been.

But he was right, bless him, he was right. Don't tell Gwyneth; it would break her heart.


Turkey and Black Bean Chili With Sweet Potatoes

Makes 4 servings

14 ounces sweet potatoes, peeled

   and cut into 3/4-inch chunks

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Coarse sea salt

1 large yellow onion, diced

   (11/2 cups)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin, or more

   to taste

1/2 teaspoon sweet Spanish smoked

   paprika (pimento dulce), or

   more to taste

1/2 teaspoon mild chili powder, or

   more to taste

1 pound ground turkey, preferably

   dark meat

28 ounces canned,   no-salt-

added whole peeled   tomatoes

1/2 cup water

14 ounces cooked or canned no-salt-

   added black beans (if using

   canned, drain and rinse; see

   note)

Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving

Chopped fresh scallions, white and

   light-green parts, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

2. Toss the sweet potato chunks with 2 tablespoons of the oil until well coated, then spread on the baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle with a good pinch of the sea salt. Roast for about 20 minutes or until softened, stirring a few times. Let cool.

3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion, garlic, cumin, paprika, chili powder, and a big pinch of salt, stirring to coat. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until softened.

4. Add the turkey; cook, stirring a few times, until the meat is cooked through and its moisture has evaporated, which should take about 20 minutes. The turkey should be well incorporated into the onion mixture.

5. Add the tomatoes and a big pinch of salt; increase the heat to high and add the water. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

6. Stir in the beans and the cooled sweet potatoes; taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. Cook for 15 minutes to blend the flavors.

7. Divide among individual bowls; top with the cilantro and scallions. Serve hot.

- Courtesy of the Washington Post and adapted from It's All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great, by Paltrow and Julia Turshen (Grand Central Life & Style, 2013)

Note: The sweet potato can be roasted, cooled, and refrigerated a few days in advance. The chili can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

Per serving: 530 calories, 29 grams protein, 49 grams carbohydrates, 24 grams fat, 12 grams sugar, 90 milligrams cholesterol, 330 milligrams sodium, 11 grams dietary fiber.


Spicy Cashew Moment

Makes a generous 11/4 cups

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons

   extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup raw unsalted cashews

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

(pimento dulce)

1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and

   coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/3 cup water

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the cashews and stir to coat, then add the cumin, chili powder, and sweet smoked paprika and stir to coat. Cook for about 2 minutes or until the nuts begin to brown.

2. Transfer the mixture to a food processor, then add the jalapeno, lime juice, water, sea salt and the remaining 1/3 cup of oil. Puree until smooth.

3. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until ready to serve.

- Adapted from It's All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great, by Paltrow and Julia Turshen (Grand Central Life & Style, 2013)

Per one-tablespoon serving: 80 calories, 1 gram protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, no sugar, 8 grams fat, no cholesterol, 125 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.

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