Seasons by the Sea: Barefoot, Baldwin, and Seinfeld

Local celebrity cookbooks

Here is the latest roundup of local celebrity cookbooks. One of them “Living Clearly,” is more of a healthy lifestyle with yoga instruction book by Hilaria Baldwin, the wife of the actor Alec Baldwin. Another is titled “Food Swings” and is by Jessica Seinfeld, philanthropist and wife of the comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The third is by Ina Garten, who is famous in her own right for her cooking, cookbooks, and television show, “Barefoot Contessa.” This is her 10th cookbook, titled “Cooking for Jeffrey.”

Ms. Baldwin’s book is full of the pictures you may have seen of her on Instagram, striking impossible poses in public places, sometimes looking like a petite Catwoman in six-inch-heeled boots, stretched across a fire escape high in the sky. Many pictures are of her with Alec and their babies, cozy and sweet. She is exceptionally beautiful and her book is well written. It is basically an instruction manual on how to apply the five principles of yoga (perspective, breathing, grounding, balance, and letting go) to all aspects of your life. 

She suggests that in order to have a healthy relationship with food (ruh-roh!) you need to follow five similar principles, which she calls the Five Big Ideas: Choose quality, green your plate, make friends with fat, nix the tricky snacks, and don’t forget to hydrate. It turns out that Hilaria, for a good part of her young life (20 years of it), suffered from bulimia. She says “in all my years of teaching, I have yet to find one person who has always had a completely healthy relationship with food,” and “it took me years to develop a clear and healthy relationship with eating.” It’s a distressing revelation, but it should be no surprise to any of us that many professional ballet dancers, gymnasts, models, and other athletes suffer from eating disorders.

The section of her book that is about food is well balanced and has some tasty sounding recipes. She does not shy away from the use of plenty of garlic and lemons and spices to make things interesting. The chile-lime dressing looks like it would be good on anything, and especially good as a marinade for fish right before you pop it on the grill. While all the recipes are healthy, there are some creative twists, like a vegetarian version of hearty shepherd’s pie, a riff on paella, and a decadent (kinda) carrot cake with coconut cream icing. While most of the book is about yoga and has detailed photos of poses, it is also a warm and revealing book  about Ms. Baldwin’s life and how she has learned how to “live clearly.” Brava.

Ina Garten’s 10th tome, “Cooking for Jeffrey,” is pretty much like most of her other cookbooks, which is a good thing for her diehard fans. The housewife in Ohio will always be able to find the ingredients for these recipes: chicken, chicken, steak, veg, apples, and other supermarket staples. What gives the book its charm are the stories about her meeting her husband of almost 50 years (they met when she was sixteen), their courtship, their early life together, their high-powered careers in Washington, D.C., and her decision to open the first Barefoot Contessa shop in Westhampton Beach, all moves and actions that her husband fully supported. She calls him “the first feminist I ever knew.” Their love story is genuine; the spark and curiosity remain bright.

But will you find any new and exciting recipes in this volume? I’m sorry to say that I did not. In almost every other Barefoot Contessa cookbook I have dog-eared a page and thought “that looks amazing, I can’t wait to try that dish.” This one is certainly a good book, and if you are a collector of her books, as I am, you will perhaps find a new way to bake a chicken, roast a ribeye steak, poach a lobster, or assemble a shrimp salad.

Of the three books, I must confess that Jessica Seinfeld’s “Food Swings” was my favorite. The concept is clever: The first half of the book is virtuous recipes and the second half has somewhat more indulgent dishes. She preaches moderation, which is really the only thing you need to know about food and nutrition. Moderation. Preach, sister.

When I turned to the first page and was greeted by a pan of frosted, swirly, homemade cinnamon buns, I said, “Be still my heart” and “Where is scratch ’n’ sniff when you need it?”

Ms. Seinfeld’s first books had cumbersome titles like “Deceptively Delicious, Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food,” and “Double Delicious! Good, Simple Food for Busy Complicated Lives.” “Food Swings” is a good title. Get it? Like mood swings? 

The Virtue half of the book has riffs on popular foods of the moment like kale salad and Brussels sprouts. Onions and almonds go into the kale to make it better, and toasted hazelnuts and Parmesan cheese perk up the Brussels sprouts

Growing up with a working mother, Jessica learned to cook and help feed the family at an early age. The anecdotes about her granny are hilarious. Granny had no tolerance for “food allergies” and “was big with the eye roll when it came to food issues.” Cocktail hour at the grandparents included NPR on the radio, many guests coming and going, and conversations so engaging that sometimes they forgot to get around to dinner. “These evenings instilled in me a love of gregarious company, great food and good booze.”

The Virtue section also has vegetarian meatballs that look very tasty and a dish called “sp’eggs” a baked spinach, egg, and cheese combo that I’m going to try very soon. The Vice section, however, already has some dog-eared pages: salad with crispy prosciutto, green enchiladas made with fresh poblano peppers, lemon macaroon pie, coconut rum cake, crispy chorizo rice with crisp eggs, peach and sriracha chicken over coconut rice. . . .

When Ms. Seinfeld first started dating Jerry, he wanted to take her out for dinner. She demured, saying she’d rather cook for him. “You cook?!” he exclaimed. Yes, she can, and yes, she does.

I enjoyed all three books. Ms. Baldwin’s for her touching story and Ms. Garten’s to add to the collection. “Food Swings,” though, will be the one getting the most use and spatters of stain in my kitchen.

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