“I wasn’t always so interested in every detail of what went into my food; a few dramas shocked me into it,” writes Sofia Brandon in The Adventure Cookbook. In a completely fresh form–part memoir, part travel book, and part cookbook–she reveals how, after a decade in the corporate world she “pushed the eject button.”
A pair of traffic accidents and then a prolonged recovery period (where she discovered she was pre-diabetic) forced her to reconsider everything about her life. She writes:
For my entire life I’d been sporty and attentive to weight, so I had never imagined that I could get into such a mess in my early thirties. I had the kind of disease one suffers from when their life priorities are upside down. Instead of of spending time in nature and with people I loved, I had been working myself into oblivion, ignoring my needs, squeezing in five minutes of sunlight during lunch breaks. My body was giving me the finger.
Sophia was able to treat and ultimately reverse her conditions without pharmaceuticals by strictly monitoring her diet.
This process became her point of entry into a new way of life based on clean food (food made with fresh, local, and chemical-free ingredients), self-discovery, and travel, all mixed together.
The Adventure Cookbook follows Sofia over the next 6 years as she goes all over the world—India, Tibet, Turkey, Tunisia, Thailand, Australia, Italy, and Provence—living with and learning how to cook from locals.
The scenes will be familiar and oftentimes hilarious to anyone who has ever spent extended time living abroad: counting silent victories at the market after the vendors give you the local price, struggling to maintain cleanliness in a hostel kitchen, and having small culinary miracles occur in a single pot on a camping stove.
I love how the recipes are presented in this book. Each one comes at the end of a chapter, a kind of reflection, a way of bringing together the adventures and experiences in each place. Many of them are influenced by the spices and culinary tradition in Provence, where Sofia writes and essentially narrates the book from.
Sofia starts with the simplest possible recipes, things you ‘assemble’ more than cook (such as an olive oil and fresh herb dip, or spicy tofu spinach salad), then progresses through more involved dishes such as Fusilli Perisillade with Mushrooms:
Fusilli Persillade with Mushrooms
“I could kneel at the feet of the immortal genius who first came up with the idea of sautéing garlic with parsley. This magic alliance, known as persillade, is called upon by the Provençal to accompany fish and meat. . . ”
*1 pound wholegrain fusilli
*1 pound button mushrooms, coarsely chopped
*4 medium garlic cloves
*1/2 bunch Italian parsley
*3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
*1/4 lemon for corrections
*sea salt and cracked pepper to taste
The recipes are all accessible in terms of ingredients, implements, and level of cooking experience. Instead of esoteric, multi-step meals, Sofia focuses on the classics. She teaches you how to make Tabouleh. She shows you how to make Thai Green Curry. Paneer. Yogurt. Raspberry Jam. A fail-safe “formula” for “The Wow,” a one-pot meal with nearly endless variations.
There are also great general information sections, things like what makes extra virgin olive oil better, how to cook pasta al dente, how to improvise when things go wrong, and how to balance tastes.
Throughout all of the chapters is a tangible sense of Sofia’s intention. She’s not writing to impress you with her cooking skills or food knowledge; she wants you to begin building a new relationship with food.
“I don’t wear a string of initials like MD, MSC, PHD, but I’ve read from people who do that raw food injects us with vitamins and minerals. They’re also loaded with the fibers we need for transit and the enzymes that fuel digestion and give us vitality. Then there’s the theory that that disease simply cannot take hold in an alkaline body. Apparently, raw foods make your body less acidic, more alkaline.”
-Chapter 5 “Some Like It Raw”
One of the things I appreciated most about The Adventure Cookbook was the way Sofia explores the nutritional and health benefits of various foods without coming off as preachy or didactic.
She gives you the sense that she’s a student of nutrition rather than a teacher–writing hilariously about detox programs in Thailand, ‘fruitarians,’ and extreme ashram diet ‘experiments’ turned into extended love sessions. It makes you want to go out and learn more.
Mind, Body, Spirit
It’s unusual for a book to hit me on so many levels. I may appreciate the information or enjoy the writer’s style, and in rare instances I’ll find myself emotionally absorbed in a story. But with The Adventure Cookbook it went beyond these things. Since reading this book I can honestly say I’ve begun to consider more about the way I eat, and how we cook as a family.
For the most part, my family and I eat organic. My wife and daughter are vegetarians. But we find ourselves cooking up the same pastas, rices, and omelets. We always use the same spices. We don’t eat enough raw food. And we spend way too much money on yogurt and other foods that we could begin to make ourselves.
At its core, The Adventure Cookbook is about connection. No matter where you are, traveling or at home, what you eat reflects your relationship to (or lack thereof) the place and the people you’re with. This book inspires you to bring it back to the kitchen, to have fun with it, to bring it home.
Please visit The Adventure Cookbook website for more information, and to get the book.