Review: “Sugar” by Monique X

Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? After her divorce, Monique suddenly finds herself struggling to make ends meet for herself and her two young daughters. When she loses her job on top of everything else, she decides to follow the advice of her friend, Amanda, and gives the world of Sugar Dating a try. This book chronicles her two-year adventure with various Sugar Daddies and duds. Monique enjoys gifts, travel, sex, and as a bonus learns how to become more self-confident. Finally, she decides to dedicate her professional life to writing.

If you think that all sounds like a load of fluff, you know how I felt about it. The cover art seems to support the idea, and honestly, in the middle of a stressful semester of teaching and taking another TEFL course on the side, I was very much down with the idea of gossipy brain candy. Alas, the content was more stale cotton candy (or candyfloss, to my Commonwealth readers) than Quality Street (that’s toffees and such, in case you’re not familiar with it). Monique likes to compare her Sugar Dating career favorably with other services, such as escorts, which she considers as soulless business arrangements for sex. Honestly, I don’t see how, if that were the case, any of them would be different than prostitution: you need money, so you meet men of different financial standing for sexual favors and, in the case of Sugar Dating, free extras like trips, clothes, and meals. If that is your choice, so be it, but don’t pretend like one form of arrangement is somehow morally superior to another.

The wealthy men who enjoy Monique’s company remain mere sketches, shadowy nobodies whose biggest qualifiers are the different ways in which they perform in bed (or other locations). Despite the fact that the reader is told several times throughout the book that Monique is in fact a writer, it’s pretty obvious that she is not an editor. Her choice of descriptors is rather limited and sometimes a bit unfortunate, as when she goes on and on about a client’s “Asian eyes.” She also loves the word ‘just.’ I mean, LOVES it. If the letter E is the most commonly used letter in the English language, then the word JUST is the most frequently used word in this memoir, which reminds me way too much of the teenagers I work with and gets a bit old after a chapter or two. I read every single word of the astonishing thirty (yes, 30!) chapters of this book and cannot find any reasons to change my initial assessment of ‘meh.’

Does that mean there isn’t an audience for “Sugar”? Not at all. Fans of E.L. James who are sad there aren’t any more “50 Shades” books might like it for the sex, even if it is described clumsily and explicitly in equal proportions. People looking for travel destinations might enjoy the occasional vivid descriptions of the places Monique is invited to. Readers looking for relationship advice may safely skip this book and take away this piece of wisdom: if it’s a personal connection you’re looking for, sugar dating is not the best choice for finding a partner.

“Sugar” is published by Thistle Publishing. I received an ARC in exchange for a review. It should be fairly obvious that all opinions are my own, unless otherwise stated.

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Review: “The Vegan 8” by Brandi Doming

This past week has been a bit stop and go. Fortunately, the go bits were pretty good, if I say so myself; I have an exciting surprise coming up for you guys, and I just finished two very different but equally interesting cookbooks. One of them is what I’m reviewing today.

If you’ve been in the vegan scene in the US at all, chances are that you have at least had fleeting contact with Brandi Doming’s blog, The Vegan 8. The premise is to create easy, delicious recipes with eight or fewer ingredients, which makes them ideal for beginners and busy people. It seems almost the norm now that when a blog is successful enough, a cookbook is sure to follow (not that I’m complaining), and voila!, here we are.

It’s very hard to dislike this book, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, Ms Doming just comes across as so darn likeable. She went vegetarian, then vegan, in order to optimize her husband’s diet (based on medical recommendations) to alleviate his gout, without having to sacrifice the enjoyment that comes from a good meal. Secondly, the first chapter, The Vegan 8 Kitchen, is a thorough introduction to tips, tricks, techniques, and ingredients to assure you get the most out of the recipes every time. I love that she starts out with a reminder to read the recipe ahead of time! You would not believe how many people criticize cookbooks again and again for recipes that “take too long,” have “exotic ingredients,” or require some planning-ahead. It’s called organization; hop to it and do it, people!

The recipe section is organized in a familiar manner according to meal type. Apparently, grouping recipes into meals for, let’s say, specific holidays, creates stress for more cooks than I would have guessed (read some reviews of Bryant Terry’s books if you don’t believe me), so again, for beginners and people who want to pick a meal rather than an occasion, this is just perfect! The individual chapters are: Breakfast, Scrumptious Snacks & Appetizers, Time-Crunch Lunches, Sauces & Dressings, Easy Entrees, Comforting Soups & Stews, Sides & Dips, Crowd-Pleasing Desserts, and Staples.

Every recipe has a header, telling you whether it is oil-, gluten-, and/or nut-free. Each comes with a short introduction and ends with -unusual these days, but surely much appreciated by some cooks – nutritional information. There is a useful tip or note alongside each dish, and each and every one is accompanied by a full page, gorgeous color photo that’ll make you want to zip into the kitchen and get cooking right now!

Ms. Doming loves all things barbecue, and so this particular flavor profile appears in several dishes. She’s also not very big on fruit in desserts, and so that chapter is stuffed to the gills with chocolatey yumminess. If you feel bothered by this, this may not be the cookbook for your kitchen shelf.

I have already bookmarked several recipes to try before my preview copy expires, and I have a strong feeling this might make it onto the wishlist.

“The Vegan 8” is published by Oxmoor House. I received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own, unless otherwise stated.

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Review: “Happily Healthy” by Lea Lou (Lea Lüdemann)

I still don’t have a start date for the new job, so while I wait, I have time to… clean the house… sleep in… run 5 miles a day… read… yeah, ok, let’s go with read! And this is why you get three days of reviews in a row. Cool!

I had waffled about this particular book for a few weeks. Checked Amazon.com and .de. Waffled some more. Then decided to download the English language Kindle version (German Amazon has so much more selection!). Got mad while previewing: there were far too many errors in the text to make it worth keeping, so I returned it. Waffled some more. Then the price for the German Kindle version dropped six euros, and we were in business. I am happy to report that there are no repeats of the errors of the English version. Text is where it’s supposed to be. The arrangement of photos and text makes sense. There are no odd italics where none should be. This one’s a keeper.

What had appealed to me in this particular book was Lea’s attitude. Having overcome an eating disorder, she now enjoys food, does not believe in punishing yourself through your diet (rather, she subscribes to the oft-quoted notion of 80/20, namely, that if you eat clean -read: fresh and unprocessed- foods 80% of the time, you get to treat yourself the other 20%), has a good attitude towards exercise, and incorporates mental wellness into the package. Her writing style is easy going, never preachy. She encourages her readers to listen to their bodies’ needs and act accordingly. Nowadays, a lot of people seem to have unlearned that essential skill.

Lea begins with a chapter about food: her pantry staples, where to shop for which ingredients, eating seasonally, how you can eat healthy on a budget. The next chapter is about fitness and includes a HIIT (high intensity interval training) session as an example of how to get started. From there, we move on to mindfulness and yoga, complete with a vinyasa sequence that even beginners without major mobility issues should be able to follow. There are tips on breathing techniques that can be quite helpful for stress reduction. The chapter on Happiness gives tips and tricks on cultivating a positive mindset, not as a cure-all but rather another pillar to build a happy, fulfilled life on. Each chapter up to this point includes a quickie checklist of things you can do right now to support your goals.

Finally, we delve into the recipe section. Lea is a pescatarian, but all recipes are vegetarian. Although she promises in the introduction to food to add ways to veganize the recipes, the only two times this happens are rather silly. I don’t need to be told to simply omit the egg or leave out the cheese! Luckily, if you have a little experience with vegan cooking, you’ll quickly find that all the recipes can modified without difficulty. Use chia or flax eggs in baking, substitute non-dairy milk and butter, or add commercial vegan cheeze or flavored tofu in other recipes. We just had the shakshuka for lunch, the husband got his with two eggs, I had mine with tofu simmered in the sauce. THAT is modification.

Alas, I also found a mistake in this particular recipe: it calls for a red (bell) pepper cut in thin strips, but the pepper never makes an appearance again beyond the ingredient list! Add it with the onion and garlic, and be sure to read all recipes completely before getting stumped in the middle later! Oh, and how was it? Very fast, very easy, very tasty. I’ve also had a breakfast smoothie from the book, which I enjoyed, and I’m looking forward to incorporating more recipes in the meal plan in future. There are no “weird” or hard to get ingredients in these dishes; your local supermarket should be able to supply all of them.

There are plenty of photos in this book, but not every recipe has one, so bear that in mind if this is important to you. The photos for the HIIT and yoga sections are very good and helpful.

The English version is called “Happily Healthy by Lea Lou: A Guide to Food, Fitness, Health & Happiness.” It is self-published by Lea Lüdemann. In German, the book is called “Happily Healthy: Mit Rezepten, Fitness und Yoga zum gesunden und glücklichen Leben.” It is published by ZS Verlag GmbH. Lea speaks English and German and did her own translation. She grew up in Germany and now lives in London. To learn more, also visit her blog.

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Review: “Eat Feel Fresh” by Sahara Rose Ketabi

I love food. I enjoy gorgeous photography. I practice yoga. And I feel that every day can be a good day when you learn a new thing or two. So, I was quite happy to snatch up a copy of “Eat Feel Fresh” for review. First of all, it is simply the most beautifully illustrated book I’ve had the pleasure to read this year. The colors explode off the pages and bring a smile to your face, which can only be a good thing. Secondly, it is chock-full of new spins on recipes but as always, let’s stick to the advice of the Red Queen and start at the beginning.

One thing you will likely notice right away is that Deepak Chopra is literally plastered all over this book, cover to cover and anywhere in between, having written the foreword and being quoted once or twice, as well. If you’re not a fan of Dr. Chopra’s, you won’t enjoy the close relationship he and Ms. Ketabi clearly have. Another point that didn’t take long to irritate me was the reference to an ‘alkaline diet.’ There is no evidence whatever that you can change the pH value of your body chemistry through diet, nor should you. Various parts of your body have different pH values, so what would you even be aiming at? Also, the term ‘detox’ is used, and saying something that silly even once costs you points in a review. Detoxing is done by your organs all the time, every minute of every day, and it is simply incorrect to claim that you need to change your diet to accomplish this. More correctly, you can assist your organs in their admittedly life-supporting function by avoiding to indiscriminately stuff yourself with items of questionable nutritional value. If we can agree on this, then let’s move on to the good stuff, and there is certainly plenty.

I had never heard of Ms. Ketabi before, but apparently, she is an expert in the field of ayurveda, the ancient Indian ‘science of life,’ a system of medicine that encompasses far more than simply treating symptoms of illness. “Eat Feel Fresh” gives you a semi-thorough introduction into ayurveda and the three doshas, or elements, that form a person’s body type and personality, frequently in a unique combination. The way you eat can help balance the doshas, leading to increased wellness. I find Ms. Ketabi’s writing personality quite accessible.  “Eat Feel Fresh” aims to bring a new, modern approach to ayurvedic principles so that they can be more easily integrated into the Western lifestyle. There is a spiritual component to this approach, as ayurveda is a holistic system. Some may find this esoteric, others refreshing and insightful.

Once you have determined your dosha, head right into the recipe part of the book which offers tridoshic meals, meaning there is a base recipe with variations, according to what you have learned in part one. All recipes are gluten-free and plant-based, and the number of recipes containing what some might consider exotic ingredients is very, very small. We love experimenting with food and frequently cook Indian dishes, so our kitchen is well stocked in that regard. If you are only starting to branch out into international cooking, the initial investment could possibly seem daunting, but you will use most spices and staples over and over.

There is good basic information about stocking your pantry, meal planning and prepping, what to do with leftovers, and how to prepare basic staples, like grains and legumes. The recipe section ecompasses everything, from breakfasts, bowls, dinners, snacks and sides, to desserts and potions (which actually means teas, mylks, and juices). You won’t be eating endless varieties of curry, either: there are colorful soups, burgers, pizza, shepherd’s pie, tacos, grain-free chapatis and naan, creative variations on hummus, delicious Indian sweets like kheer, and intriguing twists on American favorites, like Raw Rose and Pistachio Cheesecake, Chickpea Chocolate Crunch Bark, and several versions of brownies.

As is common these days, there is no nutritional information given for any of the dishes. Would I get a copy for myself? Likely. I am intrigued by the idea of maximizing my personal health and wellness, based on ayurvedic ideas, and most certainly fascinated by a lot of the recipes (I’ve bookmarked a couple to try but have not had the chance yet). I did find some of the information on balancing your doshas a bit confusing, though, and on days when I’m more skeptical than spiritual, the ‘esoteric babble’ would likely bug me to a point.

“Eat Feel Fresh” will be published by DK, a publisher with a huge catalog of informational and educational titles. I received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for a review. It should be fairly obvious that all opinions are my own.

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Review: “Clean Enough” by Katzie Guy-Hamilton

Let’s go back to what I love doing best: dissecting cookbooks. I chose this particular one because I found both the title and the cover photo appealing, and because ‘katzie’ in German is a pet name for a cat (sympathy points!). The beautiful photography continues inside the book and really gets you revved up for cooking… unless you’re a beginner. One recurring problem with cookbooks authored by professional chefs is that they love to be very specific with ingredients and, unlike most normal people, think nothing of a twenty-five-ingredient spice list. Ok, I slightly exaggerated that number, but you get my drift.

But let us start at the beginning: Ms. Guy-Hamilton’s introduction to “Clean Enough”, alongside her story, pretty much makes it clear that this book is yours to customize, which is a very important point to bear in mind later. I like her holistic approach to food and life, and her relaxed attitude about occasional indulgences. After all, eating clean enough should be good enough, and sweets can play a stress-free part in one’s diet, as well. Please note that when I say ‘diet,’ I use the word in its original meaning of ‘way of eating,’ not in the sense of ‘trying your darndest to make your body comply to shed those x number of pounds you keep trying to lose whenever you come back from vacation.’

The reader receives an invitation to examine his or her own lifestyle to maximize wellness with some helpful pointers, then it’s on to the recipe section…

…and we’ve circled back to the beginning where now some people will start crying at terms like “oat flaker,” “Sicilian pistachios,” “pine pollen,” and “raw licorice powder” (I did at that last one, primarily because I find licorice disgusting and would never want to ruin a perfectly good breakfast with it). Ignore all those terms and skip straight to the various recipe notes that tell you that you can SUBSTITUTE whatever you have on hand or simply leave things out that you don’t have/don’t want to use. Phew. Ok, deep breath and on with it…

I’m not sure if anyone really needs a recipe for hot lemon water, which contains, gasp!, hot water and lemon. Or instructions to cook a runny, five-minute egg (cook egg for five minutes, plus some extraneous stuff that’s not really necessary). But if you’ve never made eggs before and feel a bit lost, there is a section on preparing eggs in a variety of ways that will assist you in becoming more kitchen confident. You may have guessed from my lingering on this particular part of the book that this is a vegetarian cookbook. Ms. Guy-Hamilton enjoys eggs and cheeses, and that is one reason why I personally would not get a copy but still recommend it to anyone wishing to go meat-free more often or looking for new spins on cooking for their veggie lifestyle.

I notice that, as most other hip chefs these days, Ms. Guy-Hamilton is a huge proponent of Himalayan Pink salt, to which I will repeat my remark from an earlier review: salt mining is not environmentally friendly, nor is salt a sustainable resource, and nobody should go digging around in sensitive areas like the Himalayas just so people can use pink salt that nobody will be able to see in the finished dish later, anyway. As a second concern, unless you eat a lot of seafood or sea vegetables, reliance on “raw” salts will leave you with low levels of iodine. This is why regular table salt has iodine added to it, and as much as it is en vogue to poo-poo anything labeled ‘processed’, you need iodine in your diet. Eat it, hipster!

In the second recipe section, Enough, you are immediately reminded that the author is a trained pastry chef. If your mind wasn’t boggled before, it will be now as you peruse the rather extensive list of recommended equipment. A bit less scary and possibly more useful are the explanations of various preparation techniques. The treats themselves are as simple or extravagant as you choose, from cookie varieties to tortes, tarts, cakes, pies, and an assortment of small baked goods like muffins, scones, brioche, and even hot cross buns. Merengue lovers will find a fine selection here, but the good old chocolate pudding makes an appearance, as well, as do custards, sorbets, and ice creams. A selection of sweet pantry staples rounds out the book.

Please note that it is absolutely essential to read every recipe through before you spontaneously discover that it will take fourteen days to prepare certain parts in advance and that your pantry is lacking a key ingredient, because I make fun of people like you who leave angry ranting reviews like that. I repeat, some recipes do require you to make parts of it in advance, then assemble the whole later, like the Israeli breakfast.

In short, if you can get over your fear of long lists and feel comfortable enough to make substitutions to accommodate your cooking style, this is a lovely book to add to your shelf.

“Clean Enough” is published by The Experiment, whom I love for their variety of titles. I received a free copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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