I love Gwyneth Paltrow. I do — as an actress, as a celebrity, as an organic-hemp-clad organism gliding along the surface of life, occasionally shedding tendrils of blond hair that her followers may gather into some artisanal craft project for her Web site, Goop. I loved her when she and boyfriend Brad Pitt had matching hairstyles, and when she and boyfriend Ben Affleck had matching best friends, and when she and husband Chris Martin named their children Apple and Moses. I have seen her blockbuster movies, and her Britishy movies, and the movies for which I sat alone in empty theaters and murmured, “Oh, Gwynnie. Why?”
So pure is my devotion that on a weekday morning, I have risen early to peel a lemon and gently place it in the blender along with a cube of fresh ginger, a sprig of mint, a roughly chopped apple and five de-spined leaves of kale. And that right now, when the pulpy mass doesn’t pour through the strainer the way it’s supposed to, I am, in a very serene and enlightened manner, mashing it through with my bare hands. “It’s all good,” I tell myself. “It’s. All. Good.”
Gwyneth Paltrow has co-written a cookbook, “It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great” — and sell great, too, because two weeks before its release, the book was the No. 1 ranked cookbook on Amazon.
While waiting for my pre-breakfast Best Green Juice to finish draining — “Just about as energizing as a cup of coffee,” Gwyneth has promised — I begin the recipe for my actual breakfast: Millet Fig Muffins. I dutifully measure out my gluten-free flour, my raw millet, my unsweetened almond milk. I grind flax seed, pinch fine sea salt, toss chopped figs in a spoonful of the dry ingredients, line my muffin tins with paper liners. It’s only noon, and I’m almost done cooking my first meal of the day.
Time to settle down with my green juice, which has acquired a bright emerald color and tastes like a cross between a lemon and a lawn, and wait for the timer to buzz.
Meanwhile, we have 20 to 25 minutes to ponder the meaning of Gwyneth Paltrow.
Weeks before “It’s All Good” was officially released, critics were preemptively despising it: One outlet bothered to calculate the ratio of pictures-of-Gwyneth to pictures-of-actual-food (The Washington Post did that with her previous cookbook, 2011’s “My Father’s Daughter”); another outlet posted a caustically curated collection of its most absurd lines; e.g., “I once overnighted a batch from London to my manager in Los Angeles who was doing the clean program and was dying for a cookie!” or: “We basically can’t live without Veganaise.”
(Not absurd, I would argue; merely Gwynethian, a particular state of lovely obliviousness, a well-intentioned froth.)
There are other celebrities in America who are more clueless, more doe-dazed than Gwyneth. But they don’t lay themselves bare the way she does, nakedly offering herself up for scrutiny again and again, a flayed fillet of fame. In 2008 she was just an actress, a good one, the Oscar-winner in the Pepto ball gown, who seemed coltish but kind. Then she launched Goop, billed as a way to help readers save time, simplify their lives, feel inspired and generally share “all of life’s positives.”
Oh, Gwynnie. Why?
On Goop, Gwyneth prances about wearing Alexander McQueen skirts ($855) and carrying Valentino iPad cases ($795). She extols thousand-dollar throw-blankets, hundred-dollar journals, four-hundred-dollar nesting bowls. On the site’s current home page, Gwyneth stares soulfully into visitors’ eyes and encourages them to buy “beautiful, rad” jewelry from a new collection, starting at $1,250 for an earring shaped like a safety pin.
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.
Spicy cashew moment
This rich, textured condiment was inspired by the smoked cashew salsa served at Empellon Taqueria, a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan’s West Village.
Serve with tortilla chips or on crackers, or as a topper for Turkey and Black Bean Chili With Sweet Potatoes (see related recipe at the end of this story).
Make ahead • The condiment can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Adapted from “It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great,” by Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen (Grand Central Life & Style, 2013).
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup raw unsalted cashews
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika (pimento dulce)
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 3 or 4 limes)
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Heat the 2 tablespoons of the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the cashews and stir to coat, then add the cumin, chili powder and sweet smoked paprika and stir to coat. Cook for about 2 minutes or until the nuts begin to brown.
Transfer the mixture to a food processor, then add the jalapeno, lime juice, water, sea salt and the remaining 1/3 cup of oil. Puree until smooth. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes a generous 1 1/4 cups.
Nutrition • Per tablespoon serving: 80 calories, 1 g protein, 2 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 125 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar