FF Reads: January Book Reviews

One of my 2019 goals is to REFINE…meaning to perfect, to improve by polishing or practicing. When it comes to reading and my reading life, I reluctantly admit that I’m typically a seldom, yet random, binge reader and usually with fast reads such as Hunger Games, Twilight (!!), etc and usually only when I’m on a beach. As a child, I used to be a voracious reader — reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. But as life happened and time-suck inventions like social media and Netflix came about, sitting down to read a book has become less and less of a priority for me. Until now…

This year, I have committed to growing and nourishing my practice of reading, for enjoyment, yes, but also to expand my knowledge and vocabulary around things that interest me.

As you can see from this blog, my Instagram or any time there’s a plate in front of me…food is DEFINITELY a priority and a passion. So it might come as no surprise that my first set of book reviews for the year are in the food genre. I’m hoping to post a review of 2-3 books each month (probably NOT all food-related, but maybe), so we will see how this goes. <3

First Up:

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

by Samin Nosrat

I pre-ordered this book on my Kindle back in 2017, but truth be told, I NEED the printed version ASAP because this piece of work is and will forever be part of my cooking repertoire. A textbook for life in the kitchen, really. It is one of the most beautifully written books, and the way that Nosrat describes cooking through her simplistic, yet overwhelmingly gorgeous depiction of the most basic elements of cooking is nothing more than pure GENIUS.

The connecting thread through the entire book is one of heart and of the ultimate JOY that comes from not only eating amazing food, but also from understanding it and taking the time to know and respect the craft of cooking.

“Whether you’ve never picked up a knife or you’re an accomplished chef, there are only four basic factors that determine how good your food will taste: salt…fat…acid…heat…As you discover these secrets, you’ll find yourself improvising more and more in the kitchen. Liberated from recipes and precise shopping lists, you’ll feel comfortable buying what looks best…confident in your ability to transform it in to a balanced meal.”

This book has forever changed the way I think about cooking and eating…finding my way around the kitchen differently, more comfortably than ever before. I do, in fact, feel more liberated.

From her lesson on effectively layering with salt to the different ways fat is used a cooking medium to the beautiful illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton (that I would like to frame around my kitchen) to the many, many keepsake recipes included throughout, this book will forever hold a place in my heart and in my kitchen that I will most definitely revisit, time and time again.

If you like to cook at all or want to learn, this book is the perfect place to start. You can’t help but feel the love and joy that emanates from it’s pages. And yes for those visual learners, there’s a wildly popular Netflix edition of this, so go check that out as well. I may or may not have started weeping in the first episode when that sweet Italian lady made handmade pesto…and have since wept through every single episode…it’s THAT beautiful.

Freckled Fork Rating: 4 of 4


Next:

Food Whore

by Jessica Tom

You may be thinking…wait, what? To go from such a lovely book above to this…I must have lost my damn mind…but I JUST got back into reading for fun, and this book sounded fun to me and it was JUST. THAT. Give me a break.

The story follows a recent Yale graduate student, Tia Monroe, who travels to New York City (thus another reason this book piqued my interest…I heart all things NY) to become an intern with a former NY Times cookbook author through a program at Columbia University. Instead, she is duped and placed as a coat check at a restaurant, which turns out to be a ruse orchestrated by Michael Saltz, the (fictitious) highly feared NY Times food critic (sounding eerily similar to a Pete Wells-type). Saltz uses Monroe to ghostwrite his reviews when he discovers he’s lost his sense of taste (can you imagine?!). I won’t go too much more into detail because it is a good, quick and entertaining read, and I don’t want to give away the story.

What really drew me into this book was not the salaciousness of the NYC food scene storyline (which was pretty good, btw) but the way Monroe talked about and described the food she was eating and experiencing at these highly reputable New York establishments.

I KNOW that’s one area in my own life — especially when it comes to cooking and food — that I want to grow and expand. I want to be better equipped with an expanded vocabulary beyond my typical “awesome”, “amazing”, “incredible” and “delicious” when it comes to describing food, or really anything.

So, yes, this book was definitely entertaining, but more so, it gave an interesting glimpse into the lives of those who critique and write about food. So there.

Freckled Fork Rating: 2 of 4


And lastly:

Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line

by Michael Gibney

After the lightheartedness and enterntainment of Food Whore, I jumped into Gibney’s account of 24 hours in the fast-paced balls-to-the-wall chaotic, but beautiful, world in the kitchen of a NYC fine dining restaurant. Right from the beginning, Gibney starts by inviting you in to what feels like a very personal, special insiders peek into the close-knit, seemingly elusive members-only club that is the industry kitchen.

He takes time to intricately describe every single movement, thought, interaction and moment that comes about for the every important Number 2 to a top-ranked Chef. Every piece of the puzzle is essential and plays a key part in the culinary choreography of a restaurant kitchen. The people are just as important as the cookware as is the cleanliness of the setup as is the flow of order as is the relationships between the Front of House and the Kitchen, etc., etc. Just like the human body, every part has a very specific role, purpose and part to play in order for everything to work as it should…bringing you to the end result of ultimate success in Gibney’s eyes…Service (performance of work for another) + Alimentation (provision of nourishment) + Soigné (the French word for “to take care of”, to look after and to love).

The process of creating beautifully complex, creative and perfectly made food, presented thoughtfully and purposefully on a plate for you — the consumer — to eat, enjoy and experience the way the Chef envisioned.

“We’re here to feed people…to take care of them. Cooking is altruism. It’s not about you. It never will be. It’s only about what you do for others. There’s honor in that.”

There were so many parts of the book where I felt like I was truly a fly-on-the-wall or even better (in my perfect world), a culinary student told to sit quietly in the corner and just watch, learn and take it all in. I felt like I should highlight and write down every cooking term and culinary vocabulary word sprinkled throughout the book to keep as a reference.

There is so much beauty in Gibney’s in-depth depiction of the entire day beginning with planning the specials, checking the kitchen stations, to the human aspect of checking in with each cook, to the minutia of the dinner prep, to the kitchen politics when things get heated during the thick of service, to jumping on the line when someone can’t hack it, to ultimately doing what needs to be done in order to achieve that excellence for which they strive for every day, for every meal served.

I loved every minute of this book. It gave me a greater appreciation for the incredible work that goes into delivering what I now understand to be so much more than just a pretty plate of food.

I am especially grateful for the ones who truly amaze you with the works of art they create on the plate, for the spaces and places where it all seems to work together so harmoniously, for those who make it look so effortless.

I suppose for some, for those who have committed their heart, soul, sweat and tears to this work, the ultimate goal is for it to be just that…effortless. Not because of complacency or lack of skill, but because it’s in their bones. It’s so ingrained into who they are, they can’t help but to deliver a meal so distinctive, so warm and so welcoming that you keep coming back for more because you KNOW you are experiencing and witnessing, firsthand, a purpose being fulfilled.

We are lucky to have a number of Chefs here in Charlotte who I think fall into this group. They were meant to do this work, and I’m so grateful that they do and that I get to enjoy it with a front row seat, usually at the bar.

Freckled Fork Rating: 4 of 4, no doubt.


What book(s) did you get into this month?

I’d love to know, share in the comments! Anything I should add to my list for February?


Word(s) for 2019

The new year is funny. Honestly, January 1 is just another day. I mean, in reality, we get a new chance, a new fresh start, every time the sun sets and we are blessed to wake with a new morning…Every. Day.

Whether it’s September 15th, April 2nd or February 22nd, we have the choice each time we wake to approach the day as one with a purpose, a plan, a goal.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the amount of expectation and anticipation that comes with the new calendar year. I used to set silly goals that made me laugh, lofty goals I never would be able to achieve without a large random rain of cash or even some easy peasy ones so that I could feel accomplished.

This year, I knew better than to approach the new year with those mindsets. I feel like at 35 years old, I’m closer to knowing who I am, accepting it and finding a way to be proud of it. For the most part this year, I’ve avoided comparing myself to others, I feel the most comfortable in my skin than I ever have, I have a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging. I’ve taken a wide range of “discover yourself” tests, classes, etc. I’m an “I/D” on the Disc, I’m an “influencer/relationship builder” on StrengthsFinder, I’m an ENFJ on Myers Briggs, I’m a 3w2 on the Enneagram, I’m a “Performer” on the Sparketype…on and on and on. I need no more tests to tell me who I am…they all say the same thing…so, I get it now.

This year, I began the new year approaching goals for 2019 in a more reflective way. My friend, Keia, passed along this incredibly helpful resource, Unravel Your Year by Susannah Conway. Over the holiday break, with coffee in hand and a quiet place to work, I dove into reflecting on 2018…What did I embrace? What did I let go of? What changed? What am I most grateful for? Accomplishments? What have I learned? Situations that tested your limits? Favorite moments? etc…

My word or intention for 2018 was Kintsugi…the art of repairing broken pottery with gold, but more abstractly applied to my life. Healing took place and all of those “discover yourself” tests also played their part as well. Healing happened, this blog happened, Freckled Fork dinner parties & catering gigs happened, travel happened…this year was Exciting…full of Experiences…and full of Growth.

As I thought of my plans for 2019, the exercise that helped me the most was the YES/NO lists of “Things I’m saying YES to in 2019” and “Things I’m saying NO to in 2019”. YES to my health (mental & physical), YES to discipline and pulling away from the social media suck, YES to a manageable work schedule, YES to reading actual books, YES to intentional friendships, boundaries, patience & grace and a LOT of fun w/Amelia & Jay.

NO to debt, NO to social media binging, NO to excessive screen time, NO to selfishness and anger, NO to needing to be in control, NO to over-committing, NO to fear and an unhealthy focus on my body.


Instead of choosing one word or intention for this year, I had a FEW that kept resurfacing throughout my time of reflection. I did choose one main intention and then a few additional words to help me focus on certain areas of my life:

REFINE

My main word for the year….to clarify & improve, to remove impurities, to make better, more defined. I love the life we have built so far, I am beginning to like who I am and speak life into who I want to be. I don’t need nor want a major life overhaul, I need refinement, discipline. All areas of my life could use some refining at this point.

CULTIVATE

My intention for my work life in 2019 — to improve & grow by attention, labor & practice. I’ve been a graphic designer now going on 15+ years, I don’t want to get comfortable or lazy in that work. I want to grow and improve. And who knows what this year has in store for The Freckled Fork?! Not me, but I know I want to continue practicing, reading and learning everything I can about food, cooking and the joy of being around the table.

NOURISH

My intention for my health & for my relationships in 2019 — to cherish, foster, strengthen and build. I crave discipline and intention to move my body and stay strong. I need to watch less TV (rewatching 90210 should NOT take priority over real life:) I want to nourish my relationships with my husband, my daughter, my family and my friends.

HYGGE

This word kept coming up in one form or another and in my desires for our home and for our finances in 2019 — to create an atmosphere of well-being, warmth & coziness, being at peace & able to enjoy simple pleasures; being IN THE PRESENT. We moved in our new home and neighborhood (Shoutout to Oakhurst!) a year ago and of course, things are still not fully “together” and functional like we would want. So this year, room by room, I want to start that process. Finances are CRAZY. Last year we were HEAVILY burdened by a crazy tax bill and frankly, still trying to climb out of that madness, so for finances, I want to go back to the place where we were disciplined with our spending, living MORE with less, doing life and making intentional decisions as to where our money will go.


I know this post is WAY longer than my usual and not really about food at all, but accountability comes with sharing out the plans we have, so I guess if anything, I’ve typed this out for my little slice of the blogging world to see in a way to hold myself accountable. To “speak” it all into existence.

Happy 2019! What’s your intention for the year?

And because this is primarily a food blog, here’s a picture of food. Not just ANY food, but my very first attempt at making dessert. I’m terrible at baking (the precision is my weakness), but new year, new goals, new risks…Here’s my first attempt at Lemon Ginger Bars. They were incredible. <3

Whole 30+5

This past weekend, I have officially completed my 35th lap around the sun! About a month ago, I made the decision to explore Whole30 before my 35th birthday.

At this point Whole30 is not a new subject. There are about a bajillion blogs, articles and opinions covering what I had previously considered to be the “NO this, NO that” program. I’ve done my fair share of eye-rolling when my sister did it last year, when my friends have done it in the past, and I’ve even cheered along, cynically, when said friends bailed half-way through.

I’ve never been one for dieting. One of my life mantras has been “everything in moderation”…especially when it comes to food. Growing up in a culture of body-shaming, fashionable eating disorders and the like, I’ve tried to maintain a healthy mindset when it comes to my body and the food I consume. Food is meant to be life-giving, to provide sustenance and to help maintain our health. My love affair with cooking truly began when I started to really understand food, it’s purpose and how to prepare it. I found SO much joy in cooking, in plating and definitely in eating food when it’s beautiful and delicious. So, when it comes to diets, or anything marketed as the ONLY or the BEST or the ANSWER to all your problems, I quickly run the other way.

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Now, over the past few years, I have read more and more about integrative health, and specifically had my interest piqued by the study of how different foods can effect your body and your health. These studies are individualized and tailored to YOUR body and YOUR health. Long story short, my mom got a somewhat worrisome health report, and her doctor prescribed an elimination diet to isolate and pinpoint the issue. She suggested Whole30. Mom calls me, her resident recipe-finder, and I jumped right in to helping her. I knew the best way for me to help her would be for me to be an accountability partner and do the program alongside her. Sure, I rolled my eyes at first too, but the more I read, the more I understood. My mom needed to do this and I, too, could benefit from this 30-day nutrition reset. The goal being to restore a healthy metabolism, heal the digestive tract and balance the immune system.

Being a (borderline psychotic) planner, I read and researched everything about Whole30 in a matter of days. The resources provided for FREE on the Whole30 website are pretty incredible. There’s no gimmick, there’s no “pay a fee to access the content,” there’s no secret riddle to figuring it all out. They spell it out, clear as day:

For 30 days, eat WHOLE foods. Meats, seafood, vegetables, fruit, natural fats, herbs, etc. Do NOT eat/consume dairy, sugar, grains, legumes, alcohol, additives/MSG, etc.

I’ve given up one thing or another for a time (for Lent, etc.), but I’ve never had to give up multiple things at the same time. I knew this would be difficult. Not impossible, but definitely difficult, and mostly annoying.

So I made a plan, searched for ALL. THE. THINGS. Whole30…breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack recipes, and then planned for the month. I cleared out my cabinets of the guilty pleasures such as my midnight cereal, chips & salsa, etc…and had to preload a few Whole30-compliant staples such as avocado oil, avocado mayo, salad dressing, etc. I think all-in-all, I spent around $25 on Whole30-specific items to last me through the month.

I found it to be almost impossible to dine out without being the annoying customer asking too many questions and a laundry list of substitutions, but now that I’m done with it, I can say it was all worth it.

It felt great to recalibrate my body, and now I can slowly start to add things back in and really see how different foods make me feel. In celebration of my completion of Whole30 and my birthday week, my husband and I ate our weight in sushi at Rusan’s lunch buffet. Ha! Probably not the BEST idea food-wise, but DANG was it delicious, I enjoyed every bite and THAT’s what it’s all about.

So I’m technically officially “done” with Whole30, but here are four thoughts and habits that will remain:

  • Little to No Sugar: Kisses, yes, always:) Straight up sugar, no. One of the most eye-opening parts of this process was the realization of how much sugar is in EVERYTHING. It’s crazy. Even things that don’t really need sugar, it’s there. Talk about a hidden epidemic…we are all addicted to sugar and have no idea. So, from here on out, I’m LOOKING for that sneaky sweetness and deciding for myself when and how I will consume it.
  • Little “Fails”, Don’t Bail: Just because I might choose to have a beer here or a cupcake there, does NOT mean I have to bail on my newly discovered food goals. I want to still enjoy everything, in moderation, so that means I don’t have to feel bad over little “fails” (read: too many nachos) because they aren’t really fails. It just means that I can choose to make different food choices afterwards and continue on the journey.
  • Intentionality for All: I’ve decided to be more intentional about the things I consume. This habit of intentionality has been seeping it’s way into various parts of my life and here, now, with food and drinks. I want to avoid mindlessly eating (or drinking) just because…I appreciate and enjoy beautiful things, so why not choose quality over quantity? If I want bread, I’m not going to buy the mass-produced kind…I’m hitting up my neighbor for that incredibly delicious, homemade Verdant Bread loaf and I will feel MUCH better, inside and out, for it.
  • Plans are Worthless, but Planning is Everything (Thanks, Eisenhower): Making plans is all about establishing a goal, which is great! But better than the ability to plan is the ability to adapt and be flexible. Sure, I planned the ENTIRE month of Whole30 with recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But did I stick to that plan 100%? No way. Do I feel bad about it or bail completely when something didn’t go according to my “plan”? Absolutely not. For me now, this is SUPER important. Now that I’ve detoxed and reset my body over the past 30 days, where do I go from here? I make plans, but also know that those plans coupled with my ability to adapt and be flexible are going to be the keys to an actual lifestyle change vs. just a fad.

If you’re looking to do something similar or you’ve contemplated Whole30, feel free to leave a comment or message me. I’d love to help you through your journey. In fact, if you need a little more helping on the planning front, I’m available to come help you meal plan, grocery shop and get started on your journey. Seriously, let me know, I’d LOVE to help, <3


Side Note: Tickets are still available for my next Sobremesa dinner — this will sellout and there are only a few limited seats, so don’t wait to buy yours! Click here for details & tickets.


Now for a recipe! I just have to share one of my favorites from the past 30 days. This Barramundi dish was SO light, SO savory and SO refreshing. Enjoy <3

Whole30 Roasted Barramundi w/Lemon Olive Relish

Adapted from an older Bon Appetit recipe, the quick-picked red onions paired with the savory green olives and acid from the lemons all pairs beautifully with my choice of a sustainable white fish, Barramundi. You might even find yourself licking the plate...I sure did:)
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Keyword: barramundi, fish, Whole30
Servings: 4
Author: jess masanotti

Ingredients

  • 1 Large Lemon (or 2 medium)
  • 1 Cup Manzanilla Olives Sliced
  • 1 Shallot Thinly Sliced
  • 2 Tbsp Capers Drained
  • 1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 4 Barramundi Filets
  • 1 Tsp Tarragon
  • Salt & Pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  • Quick Pickle Shallots: Add a pinch of salt and the thinly sliced shallot rings to a bowl, massage and let sit for at least 10minutes.
  • Zest lemon. Cut the ends off the lemon and peel the remaining white parts, using a sharp pairing knife. Cut lemon slices (away from the membranes) into nice, clean pith-free supremes. (Keep the lemon skins and pieces to squeeze on the fish before roasting.)
  • Combine shallots, lemon supremes, sliced Manzanilla olives, capers, lemon zest and 3/4 cup of EVOO into the bowl. Cover and chill in refrigerator.
  • Using a paper towel, dry the Barramundi filets. 
    In a shallow glass baking dish, coat the filets with the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, add a dash of salt & pepper and tarragon to each side. 
    Squeeze the remaining lemon pieces on the fish and place in the oven to roast for 30 minutes. 
    *Note: At the 20min mark, remove the relish from the refrigerator to bring up to room temp.
  • Once fish is cooked through, remove and add to serving platter and top with the relish.