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I don't consider myself a foodie. I'm not picky enough to pull off that moniker. But I do love food, and I love cooking. I am a recipe hog, taking pictures of recipes in magazines, or having innumerable tabs open on my phone to curious concoctions I’ve stumbled across. I’ll try anything, and try to make anything. And very occasionally, I stumble across some unusual cookbooks that really challenge me.

 

My partner and I just completed the Whole30 diet in February. Well, to be fair, it was a Whole28 (leap days don’t count). Now, I’m not one for dieting; I believe that diet culture is as malicious and poisonous as gluttony. Folk have enough body image issues without policing what they eat, and I won’t feed that beast. I believe that food is life’s great pleasures, and should be celebrated in all its configurations. There should be no guilt, no feeling like you have cheated, and no deniying yourself something you love or something you need because of society’s pressures. It turned out though that the Whole30 “meal plan” wasn’t that different from how I normally eat, so in solidarity, I took it on.

 

Whole30 recommends removing grains, dairy, and sugar from your diet for a month. It is a meat-protein and vegetable heavy course, and helped me to realize a deep inner truth about myself: I love bread. I knew I loved cheese, and being cheeseless for a month was hard enough. But never have I so crystalized the notion that bread is an intrinsic part of the my being. You better believe the first thing I did on the 29th was slap a grilled cheese on the skillet. Never has a sandwich tasted so good.

 

I took the tact of seeing Whole30 as a challenge rather than a diet. I have a food comfort zone, the lulls we all fall into when we have neither the time nor energy to attempt a grand production. For some it is frozen fish sticks and crinkle cut fries. For me, its jasmine rice and stir-fry. And a lot of take out. Too much take out. If nothing else, the last month has done my wallet a courtesy. Whole30 made me have to think about my meals again. What are rice alternatives? What are bread alternatives? What are sauce alternatives, sauces purchased in stores laden with excess salts and sugars?

 

There are a myriad of Whole30 recipes books by Melissa Hartwig, but the one I found the most helpful and enjoyable was Whole30 Friends and Family: 150 Recipes for Every Social Occasion. This was more of a snacks and hors d'oeuvre compendium. Sweet potato stuffed dates, for instance, wrapped in bacon was a hit. Potato sausage breakfast bites became a Sunday staple for sure. Lemon garlic sautéed zucchini noodles were a terrific replacement for pasta. Sweet potato waffles (or pancakes) were a quick and easy addition to any meal, made all the tastier with the discovery of a syrup replacement made from pureed dates. While dietitians can argue the health ramifications of diets, I at least found these books a unique looks at how to shake up my food rut.

 

But I’m glad to be back on the bread.

 

As for other books that adorn my shelf, one I return to often is Feeding Hannibal: a Connoisseur's Cookbook by Janice Poon. Ms Poon was Toronto-based the food stylist for the TV series Hannibal, which followed Hannibal Lecter’s murderous and cannibalistic culinary adventures. Her challenge was preparing meals in a way that it looked gorgeous on camera, and the legally available food could reasonably be cooked human. This cookbook brings those recipes to life. While Hannibal might have been cutting into a bit of man-thigh, readers can recreate the recipe with Clay-baked Chicken. Can’t enjoy the mythical French dish of ortolan? Why not sculpt the small birds out of tofu. If you are feeling adventurous, you can make Heart Tartare Tarts from veal heart instead of insurance broker. And despite Hannibal’s insistence, there are vegetarian dishes here too.

 

Speaking of Vegetarian, Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck is a terrific resource for those looking for less meat in their diet, but not wanting to sacrifice fun or flavor. Their motto of verbally abusing you into a healthier diet holds up, as the pages are littered with obscenities as well as delicious recipes. Looking for a pulled pork alternative, why not give the Cola Braised Jackfruit a shot? The Crispy Crabless Cakes make surprising use of artichoke hearts instead of shellfish. And it you’re searching for something hearty, give the pumpkin chili a whirl; all the flavor, none of the beef!

 

And now we come to my favourite way of making food: waffling it. Waffles are not a singular food, they are a genre. Anything can be a waffle if you believe it can be. And there is a whole cookbook with exactly that premise: Will It Waffle by Daniel Shumski. The basic notion is, there are far far more foods that you can cook on a waffle iron than just batter. And you should. If I had my way, all food would come in waffle form. The waffle pocket is the perfect flavor delivery device.

 

Think outside the waffle box. Mix some shredded cheese into mash potato, cook that on the iron, and pour over with gravy, and you’ve got poutine waffles. Want to keep things vegetarian, how about a falafel waffle with hummus? A personal favourite of mine: panko crusted mac and cheese, done in the Belgian style. It’s not just savory and cheese based options. Cinnamon buns are ideal for the waffle treatment, as are double chocolate brownies or cookies or pretty much any construction. Just make sure your iron is hot and well greased!

 

Cookbooks are one of the most published genres of book, and if you dig, there are more than a few that will scratch the itch of an oddball in the kitchen. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go waffle a grilled cheese.

 

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Yours, Fictionally

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