Eating in the Middle

“In the end, the more vegetables, fruits, and big leafy salads I introduced, the easier eating in moderation became.”

I’ll be honest, I expected not to like this book. But I was drawn to it; damn that Amazon ‘Look Inside’ feature. One recent wistful night, on the wrong side of too many delicious St Mungos, “looking inside” suggested that this might very well be a good book.

Click, click, buy. Cookbook therapy.

The fact is, in the cold light of day, I’ve always felt there are diet books, and then there are cookbooks, and that the two just really aren’t the same thing. Some books I’ve read, which don’t feature on the site, profess to be cookbooks but you find they’re diet books in disguise, and basically nail the twin achievements of making the simple fussy, while intimidating with a kind of porcelain-edged zeal. You’re left feeling a) I’m always going to be fat and unhealthy until I die and b) the science of food takes the fun away. And c) pass me that ice cream.

There’s nothing wrong with books of diet recipes, but they’re not cookbooks.

So, Eating in the Middle: A Mostly Wholesome Cookbook turned out to be a really pleasant surprise and an inspiration, I have to say. That subtitle gives the game away – it’s a book filled with recipes for lovely food, where mostly, little tweaks and snips reduce the calories, and mix with the occasional treat you wouldn’t eat every day: stand up, the amazing Peanut Butter Mousse Pie with Marshmallow Whipped Cream.

Author of the best-selling It Was Me All Along, Andie Mitchell is unflinching in her story of battling weight gain and over-eating, and some of the background sections are revealing and moving, and often quite funny. I particularly enjoy when her mother appears on the scene, for example: “That’s her thing: glazed carrots. And when I say ‘glazed’ I mean a pan of caramel with a carrot or two sliced into it.”

The voice is never preachy, and most often Mitchell uses her own experience to make a point. What I really like is the underlying acknowledgement, which is in the end encouraging, that it’s always going to be a wee bit of a struggle; that we must stop giving ourselves such a hard time. If we can just find a bit of moderation, no matter how long it takes, we’ll deal with eating less, better.

Some diet books, for example, just seem totally ill-equipped to deal with folk like me, for whom a whole packet of Tunnock’s Teacakes, an apple pie and two bottles of wine are the answer to everything. In Eating in the Middle there’s a very key moment in one of the narrative sections where Mitchell stares across a diner table at a friend who can “eat everything she wanted and stay thin” and you just know exactly where she’s coming from and begin to trust this voice. There isn’t a magic bullet promise, eating better and losing weight is long hard work, and it’s really a relief to read writing like this.

But this is a proper cookbook, not a diet book with recipes. It’s a cookbook that seeks out moderation for sure, and amendments to heavy food like Beef Stew and Chilli that mean the big fill is still possible. There are salads in here that haven’t been created in a laboratory – one of them is based on a Chinese Chicken salad in The Cheesecake Factory no less – that really do catch your imagination. There is a super-promotion of vegetables in the book that is inventive and infectious. What did I do half way through reading? I went out and bought vegetables.

And the mains, as they say, make for an endless array of really great looking dishes: Lemon-Herb Fish with Crispy Oven Fries, Chicken Curry with Ginger & Yoghurt, Beef Puttanesca, Meatballs & Sauce. There is page after page of stuff I’d like to eat, and for every one, a calorie count. Moderation, portion control – all there but subtly done. Eating in the middle, in itself, is a hopeful message.

Here’s the final thing – this book is filled with great recipes, it looks and feels really fine with some great photos, and the writing has a sparky and big-hearty quality to it. It’s a good cookbook that will help you think differently, sure, but you could strip out every single reference to weight loss, and it’d still be a good cookbook.

“The more I’ve learned about myself through cooking,” she says, “the more balance I’ve found.”

Good stuff, straight down the middle.