One of the ideas I keep returning to is the one Lily Diamond expresses in the introduction to her cookbook Kale & Caramel: Recipes for Body, Heart, and Table — the idea of longing: From my earliest memories, I was the longing kind (p.1). It’s the longing for tangible things (such as friends) and more intangible ones (love!) that I found myself relating to. With longing, my wanting and waiting are inextricably linked. It’s here that I am reminded of one of my favourite poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti — I am Waiting. Often what we long for is something that we hope if we wait enough the longing will be satisfied. Ferlinghetti’s refrain: I am perpetually awaiting a rebirth of wonder and I find that Diamond’s book is all about wonder and possibility. Honestly, before receiving her book in the mail I wasn’t that familiar with her blog and maybe this is why I’m so taken with her methods and practices regarding food, wellness, emotion, memory, and, most important, the aromatics she uses to connect and unlock the barriers between what we eat and how we feel. As she explains:
The name Kale & Caramel came from my desire to express healthfulness and a sense of luxuriant, delicious play, and over the years it has become a a 360-degree lifestyle approach: a means of living in a biodynamic household. Many of the ingredients used transcend the boundary between food and body product, introducing a seamless kind of lifestyle integrity (p4).
So those of you thinking that this book is about Kale recipes you are in for something far more wonderful. Her point is that whatever you put in your body should be natural and pure enough to use on the outside of your body and vice versa. I really appreciate her approach because when my three-year-old daughter was “helping” me to make the Citrus Blossom Sugar Brightening Scrub I had no reservations when she wanted to lick the “paddle” (her word for spatula. She thought it tasted “fantastic” in case you’re wondering). This was also the first time I had ever made a beauty product — natural or otherwise. Maybe it’s because I’m really cheap but the only things I use are a bar of Dove and Witch hazel but since trying her scrub I can’t wait to try some of her other beauty recipes. What I really loved about the scrub is that when the scrub had done it’s job, the coconut oil (an ingredient in the scrub) helped to moisturize my skin leaving it looking bright and dewy. It also felt really nice to take the time and relax in the shower — I know people swear by meditation but this scrub really takes relaxation to another level.
Each chapter in the cookbook is organized by different aromatics — herbs as well as flowers. All of the herbs I am familiar with: Basil, Cilantro, Fennel, Mint, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme. However I had never used (or purchased before the book) most of the floral ingredients: Lavender, Jasmine, Rose, and Orange Blossom. She does a really good job explaining how to source ingredients and how to store them properly (which I discovered that many of the tender herbs I was purchasing had been ill-stored. Tender herbs should be treated as you would a “bouquet of flowers” in case you’re wondering). Trust me — some of these ingredients sound exotic but were easy to find at the grocery store ( orange blossom and rose waters can be found in the international section of many grocery chains, and I was able to get edible rose petals for $7.50/oz at a local natural store here in Halifax). In her book she addresses the issue of cost directly and I felt she really appreciates that home cooks will try these recipes so that ingredients have been mindfully chosen and used well.
I found the recipes in Kale & Caramel to be easy to execute, and each dish with a remarkable taste all it’s own. The very first recipe I tried was the Butter Lettuce w/ Herbes de Provence Vinaigrette — as I typed that my mouth watered slightly at the memory of the delicate, slightly sweet lettuce, the beautiful aroma of lavender shining through the mixture of herbs, with the unmistakable umami of the dressing. A very different experience than the one eating her Blood Orange and Fennel Salad w/ Oil-Cured Olives. The distinctness of the anise flavour of the fennel really works well with the sweet, slightly sour blood orange and the dull saltiness of the olives. Bold flavours in both recipes but with unique pairings and flavour-profiles.
The book is full of mostly vegetarian recipes (cheese, dairy, and eggs are used). For some of the recipes — such as the ice creams — there really aren’t any appropriate substitutions you could make to create a vegan equivalent but for recipes (such as the White Bean Yogurt Dip w/ Warm Citrus Olives & Herby Flatbread pictured below) you can easily use a dairy-free yogurt or omit the cheese component. Most of these recipes lend themselves to flexibility and she does take the time to label those recipes which are vegan. In keeping with my reviewing style I have created a custom hashtag where you can check out what I’ve been making #kaleandcaramelsse (as I make different recipes, I’ll keep posting). You can also find what I’ve been making from this fabulous cookbook on my Facebook page.
Getting back to her wonderful writing style — somehow my descriptions of the dishes pale in comparison to the descriptions Diamond gives in the recipe headers. With words and phrases like: exquisite, alchemy of flavor, and nuance, she has a real gift for describing food in a way that just sounds magical. Maybe it was growing up on Maui — salt, wet sand, emerald strands of luminescent seaweed,…shining black lava, …Ocean, sky, the scent of plumeria (p.5)– doesn’t that sound like magic to you? Or maybe it was the influence of her parents, whom she so lovingly talks about in her introduction. With the sad passing of her mother (who wrote Living With Flowers) I can’t help but feel that this cookbook is a bit of an ode to the love between a child and a mother. Feeling her loss acutely, Diamond speaks about her mother often. I can’t image her loss but her emotion is another component found in each ingredient, recipe, and anecdote in her book. If ever there was a pulsing heart to be found within the pages of a book, surely, Kale and Caramel displays this heart on every page.
It seems that each recipe can be traced back to different people who have impacted her on her journey of self-discovery. I thought of Diamond and her mother and admired how she wove her spirituality into the Orange Blossom Pistachio Milk recipe — as she says, Orange blossom is, for me, the way to spirit conversations rooted here om earth. (p. 231) After making the milk I used it to make a simple chia pudding topped with her signature cacao nib – rose petal sprinkles (the recipe for the sprinkles can also be found in the book). There is something about this florally-perfumed pudding that really felt soothing. I think that this is a really beautiful and unique book that appeals to a desire to create and enjoy. When I shared this book at a playgroup get-together I know the other moms were very curious and excited about the uses of herbs and florals in unexpected ways (many also thought it would make an excellent Mother’s Day present). Personally, I think her book lends itself perfectly to a Cookbook Club — intelligent and beautiful prose, delicious recipes. For whatever reason you choose to add this book to your collection, I know I’m excited to continue exploring her recipes. Happy May everyone!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Atria Books and Simon and Schuster Canada for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.