Everything Gwyneth does — Goop, her 2007 food tour with Mario Batali, “My Father’s Daughter” — 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, like a combination lock that will not open because you are misreading the eight as a nine. 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.
While I was shopping for ingredients for this story — $80 for a day’s worth of meals, though that included several jars of spices I’ll probably use again — the man behind me in the checkout aisle pointed to the copy of “It’s All Good” lying in my cart. “Is it out yet?” he asked. “I didn’t think it was out yet.”
I explained that this was an advance copy and that the official release wasn’t for another two weeks. “Do you think you’ll buy it?” I asked.
“Of course. Don’t you just haaate her?”
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 “It’s All Good” is undoubtedly a cookbook that only Gwyneth Paltrow could have composed. Literally, as she’s everywhere in it: riding a moped, carrying a bushel of greens, throwing her arm around her co-author 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. (She thought, she says, that she was going to die.) 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. I’ve been a vegetarian for a decade; blindfolded, I can differentiate between soy, almond, rice and hemp milks. But my day of cooking with Gwyneth sent me to heretofore uncharted crannies of Whole Foods Market.
For a condiment called Spicy Cashew Moment (“It’s hard to say exactly what this is,” Gwyneth enthuses), I’m blowing the dust off a tin of pimenton; for a grilled-corn recipe, I’m wondering whether regular chili powder will suffice or whether I need to drive to an Asian market for a jar of Korean gochugaru. I’m pondering philosophical questions: Is Avocado Toast — as Gwyneth claims — like “a favorite pair of jeans — so reliable and easy and always just what you want?”
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 dressing I whipped up for a salad 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 we sat down to bowls of 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.
The next day, while eating leftovers, I sneaked into the kitchen. I got down a box of crackers and crumbled them over the top of the chili, to prove to myself how wrong he was, and how worthy my labors had been.
But he was right, bless him, he was right. Don’t tell Gwyneth; it would break her heart.